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Orpheus Descending (1990)
Redgrave channels the late Magnani
Only someone who has never heard of Anna Magnani could watch Vanessa Redgrave's performance and not think of her. To be fair the part in Tennessee Williams' original play was written for Magnani; I just wish somehow she could have made it her own. When she spits out Lady Torrance's best lines, she might as well just look skyward and give the late Italian star a wink. As for the story itself, it is still provocative even viewed by todays eyes--perhaps even more, as thankfully fewer people are accustomed to seeing such deeply rooted racism. However, in this era in which we've come to expect plot twists and character development, there is surprisingly little change in any character from beginning to end. Each person in this story is exactly who he/she appears to be, which will be very frustrating viewing for those who like to see a moral or have someone at least learn something from what has transpired. And since a rather repulsive gossipy woman reveals a rather important detail at the very beginning, I kept hoping for other secrets of some sort to be unveiled. The affected young (by comparison), ghostly Charlotte (Anne Twomey) surely has a story or two to tell, but it never comes. This is not so much a flaw in the script, but rather a warning that it's not the kind of story I expected it to be. It is a clear style choice by Williams, I'm just not sure that less is more in this case. If anything, it made me long for a depiction of the ancient mythical Orpheus on which this play is based.
The Iron Lady (2011)
Oliver Stone should have done this.
Oliver Stone did a decent job doing Nixon, a political leader who was almost universally loathed at the end of his administration, so it stand to reason he could have done a great job on a biopic of the leader to whom British musician Danielle Dax referred as "Bad Miss M". Instead you get a Lifetime intimate portrait, starting with the unwise decision to wrap the film in Thatcher's current declining years (HInt: Politics is not the only thing Ronald Reagan had in common with her.) Meryl Streep's usual excellence is on display, and there are some interesting moments with her daughter; but with the longest serving prime minister, there's a lot of ground to cover, and you can't help but wonder what was sacrificed to make time for the twilight years. What really ticked me off was the directer seems to have gone so out of her way to make sure the film was balanced that she went in completely to the other side! Thatcher's opponent's are portrayed as rabid rage-a-holics, while her own party was completely devoid of even a single greedy bureaucrat or corrupt conservative. Little thought seems to have been given to the cause of the angry protesters featured in a few shots, which seem to have been included for the sole purpose of showing her bravely riding through them in a car. Since Streep went to all the trouble of channeling Maggie, you'd think she'd have demanded a better script.
The quality has plummeted beyond repair.
Since the departure of Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs, there is not a scrap of the show that 20/20 used to be left. It's as if they put Geraldo Rivera in charge. With every story, be it a murder case, political story, or profile of a company, they manage to find the LEAST credible interviewees to discuss the subject, to the point where you have to assume they were the absolute last program to pick of the scraps of the few remaining people on any given story who would talk to the press. As for the correspondents on the show, they are no longer of the quality of, say, Lynn Sherr. They tend to ask the most insipid questions in a tone of voice that suggests they think they're brilliant. They are so not. I wrote the show off the day I turned it on and saw smarmy John Stossel and vapid Elizabeth Vargas staring back at me from the anchor desk, the perfect symbol of how OVER the show was, and is.
The Group (1966)
Not a Group you'd want to join
This film would have been very refreshing if it had been released in the era in which it is set; but even in 1966 it must have been out of place when much more daring material was in theaters--despite the subjects upon which it touches. So how much more dated is it now? Very. You'd think being more educated than the average women of their generation, they'd be...well, INTERESTING.
They're not, unfortunately. And when they keep doing dumb things, you'd expect them to at least get into some interesting trouble. They sorta do, but there was better trouble to be found on movie screens in 1966. For a better bad marriage than the one seen here, a moviegoer could have sought out "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" For socio-political content (very limply handled in the script), "Fahrenheit 451" was playing the same year.
Given that the next ten years were about to bring about a very exciting time in women's history, this film really didn't do much to help it along. The film, while well-directed and acted save a few annoying quirks, is missing a theme, a message. Instead of anticipating a good ending, I was starting to think, "let's wrap this up, shall we?" And when the film finally did, it appeared as if no one learned a thing.
Love! Valour! Compassion! (1997)
Dated, and better seen live--but still watchable despite a miscast Buzz.
This is one of those stage productions that for some reason works best on stage and loses something when brought from three-dimensional live theater to two-dimensional cinema. It probably loses even more when seen on home video or (even worse) broadcast on television with commercial interruption. The intimate tone of the story requires the attention one gives to a performance on a stage.
There is an advantage, of course, to filming: The actual surroundings can be used, rather than the best facsimile that can be achieved on stage. So what the film lacks in intimacy, it makes up for somewhat with the realism of the location, which is practically a character itself.
The cast includes most of the original play's New York cast, with one notable exception: Jason Alexander steps in as the most broadly drawn of the eight characters, which makes his miscasting all the more obvious. I have often stated that it shouldn't matter if a gay man were to play a heterosexual role. If you're caught up in the story, and the actor fits the role, it works. However, the reverse it NOT always true--especially in this case. Buzz needs to be played by a gay actor, or it comes across as mockery of gay mannerisms. However well- intentioned Alexander was when he went into the film, the result is a cringe-inducing minstrel act. I have seen a live version of L!V!C!, and the actor playing Buzz nailed it, so having seen Buzz played well made it all the more obvious.
That being said, the script is a good one. The story takes you back to the 1980s and a generation of men hovering around 40, and it was told from their point of view, not through heterosexual eyes. This was not common when the play premiered. So younger viewers may not appreciate how groundbreaking it was for gay male characters to speak openly and unapologetically this way. And AIDS was seen as much more of a terminal illness than it is now, with so many men you can see in a gym who could be HIV+ and still pictures of health.
So take it for what it is and enjoy what still works.
Travels with My Aunt (1972)
Forty years later, now delightfully "retro".
This is one of those filmed novels--like "The Prince of Tides", "The Object of My Affection", or "THe Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy"--which readers of the book will find disappointing.
I'm guessing, however, that most people who discover it now will not have read the book. And as a stand-alone film, how could you not like it? Maggie Smith is hilarious; and now that she IS the age of the character she was playing at the time, it makes her broad performance even more amazing. (There are hints of this character in the role she played 29 years later in "Gosford Park".)
The real gift for first-time viewers will be discovering Alec McCowen's wonderful acting as the stiff, stodgy nephew. He's one of those actors you see once, and then immediately you'll want to find out what else he's done. Lou Gossett Jr, and Cindy WIlliams are also enjoyable in early career roles.
This film was made in an era where greats like George Cukor were getting in a few last licks out of lengthy, distinguished career. (William Wyler and Joseph L. Mankiewicz were also showing they still had greatness in them during this period.) The film's score deserves mention, as it teleported me back to 1972, where I could imagine myself seeing this in a theatre wearing bell-bottoms and sporting a shag haircut (like WIlliams' in the movie). The theme song, "Serenade of Love", should have been nominated for an Oscar.
So again, if I'd read the book--which I now plan to do--I might feel differently; but compared to much of today's dreck, this is a whole lot of fun. From the moment that portrait winked at me at the beginning, I enjoyed it.
Low-budget cautionary tale for deadbeat fathers.
Should you decide to stream this online from Amazon, know that --as the other reviewer alluded--the synopsis was obviously written by someone who only sat through the first five minutes of this film. The correct story is simply this: a young man in his late teens, angry at the world because his father long ago abandoned his late mother, picks up a drifter on the way to the beach with two friends.
The decent looking but hardly gorgeous prostituted woman described in the misleading synopsis has one pointless scene. The drifter, for someone who spends his first scene waking up in a junkyard, is unrealistically well-spoken, dressed, and groomed. Heh, who wouldn't pick him up? This could have been an interesting character study, but the poster for the film and background music would have you believe it's an exploitation flick. Turns out it's quite innocuous--a lot of build up to what really is just a day at the beach for people with, um, issues.
There may be some cult interest in this due to 1.) the scene at the gym with many scantily short-shorted shirtless men, and 2.) the presence of Barbara Joyce as the teenage girl who would like to be fast and loose, but is really just kind of a goofball. Before her 2010 death, Ms. Joyce's more infamous contribution to pop culture was as the first (and thus far only) person to portray in live action the DC comics superheroine The Huntress, in two one- hour so-bad-they're-good television specials known as Legends of the Superheroes. This specials aired two decades after Hothead was filmed (the IMDb date goes by release, but the copyright shown on screen is 1958, when she was 17).
Bottom line: Slightly better than I thought it would be, only because I thought I wouldn't even be able to sit through it.
Piranha 3D (2010)
No redeeming value whatsoever.
I know someone who views gore scenes in films like this as "art", knows the work that goes into the special effects, and she probably will not be disappointed. The rest of us, on the other hand, will watch it as a whole and it is the cinematic equivalent of really bad, cheap junk food devoid of substance, and not satisfying even on a guilty pleasure level.
I remember seeing the movie "Very Bad Things" and feeling bad just for having sat through it. Watching this film tops (or I should say, "bottoms") even that. What's worse is the presence of people who occasionally appear in good films (including one Oscar winner and a onetime nominee) legitimizing it. It is sexist (with the typical female nudity used for titillation and male nudity used for comic relief or as a turn-Off rather than On), gruesome, and crass--a little of which can be used to great effect, as in The Hangover, but here it's extremely poorly executed.
This is not an all-in-good-fun horror movie, it's the kind of film that just fuels the fire of people who want to trample the first amendment by showing the awful results achieved by creativity totally devoid of actual meaning. As for the humor, maybe a Morning Zoo-type radio personality would find it funny, but we thought it lame. (Jerry O'Connell gives his all as a scumbag video producer, but it seemed beneath even his B-list dignity.) Sadly, this was nothing more than dramatized Snuff.
China Sky (1945)
Engaging, but a little too predictable war melodrama.
Randolph Scott gets top billing, but ultimately this is Ruth Warrick's picture. She's a doctor holding together a makeshift hospital in China while its founder (Scott) is on his way back with much needed supplies--and a new wife, to her thinly-veiled disappointment. Having seen Warrick in a few other 1940s films, I can understand why the doc failed to notice her: despite her attractiveness, she never really exuded any sex appeal. But her character is very likable, while the new wife's shallowness becomes apparent within minutes of her entrance. And that's the problem with this picture--too easy. In fact, all it does is lower the audience's opinion of the foolish doctor for not seeing what's painfully apparent even to the other character's who don't speak the language. There's a similar subplot involving another doctor and a nurse, that's equally obvious. A wounded Japanese villain provides more action for the story, whose loose ends get tied up all too neatly and quickly. Either Pearl S. Buck's original novel just wasn't one of her better ones, or this movie doesn't do it justice. Nevertheless, it probably made for a decent lead-in on a double-feature back in the day.
The Last House on the Left (2009)
The fact that they deserve it doesn't make it any better.
I often lament that writers rarely get their due when a film is praised. So many times directors and actors get lauded for movies that have outstanding screenplays and stories, while the person who gave them their words escapes notice.
Well, turnabout is fair play; so if I'm willing to give credit where credit is due, I shall place the blame where it is due in this case. It's Wes Craven's story and Adam Alleca and Carl Ellsworth's screenplay.
I have not seen Wes Craven's original film, so looking at this film on it's own merits, I must say there are few. It's not that I'm squeamish, I just needed more to justify all I was witnessing on screen. We basically see two scenarios unfold, innocent people being violently victimized, and then what when the perpetrators "meet the parents".
What could have been a psychological drama (and they still could have kept the horror) just turns into pure carnage. It would have been interesting to see the main characters (Tony Goldwyn and Monica Potter) wrestle with moral ambiguity of facing their daughter's torturers, but they are not given time to process anything in the kill-or-be situation as it is presented. So the film quickly devolves into just another torture-porn flick, with a tacked on ending just to please TP aficionados. Count me out.