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Cheesy, trashy fun!
Deliciously cheesy 1970s T&A television! Was shrieking with laughter during the gratuitous strip search / shower scene and the delousing spray treatment by prison guard "Maxine." And all the southern prison clichés were hauled out: corrupt southern sheriff, the leering, inbred-looking deputy, the Dukes of Hazard - like car chase, the work farm and the hints of cell block lesbianism. Better still, the production values: the cheap interior sets, and the California exteriors (the episode was set in fictitious Pine Parish, Louisiana, but the browned hills and dust betray the S. California back lot.) And then the cocktail dresses for the cat house. Great fun! A must see classic of 1970s television.
The Black Dahlia (2006)
Style Over Substance
I long for the days of Jack Warner whose studio could produce densely plotted 90-minute film noirs that were not only atmospheric but told an engaging, entertaining and, above all, comprehensible story. The characters were well drawn, plot points clear, the writing crisp and energetic. There was substance and style. And always a hero, flawed as he may be. Alas, like so much in our culture today the genre has been debased and we find ourselves with the over-stylized, zero-substance, slightly smutty, voyeuristic, almost campy Black Dahlia.
The disappointments in this film are numerous. Most flawed is the writing. It's as if an over- eager film student pasted together random paragraphs from every sixth or seventh page of the James Elmore book padded by long scenes that did not advance the plot or were there just to shock, and completely over-the-top, camp moments. (Guilty pleasure: Fiona Shaw's drunkologues as Mama Linscott). The writing is at times almost telegraphic and digital at other times turgid and flabby. It screams for a competent editor.
And then there is the sound. Why is it that as sound technology has advanced, dialog becomes harder and harder to understand. I have perfect hearing and the theatre has the latest and greatest acoustics and speakers, but too many of the lines were just muffled. The net effect of the choppy writing and sound was that audience members were constantly turning to each other and asking "What happened?" "He said what?" "Did she say ?"
That said, the sets, costumes and mid-century L.A. ambiance are gorgeous. De Palma gets this right. But all visuals, no plot make for thin gruel.
As for the cast, Josh Hartnett (Bucky) was wildly miscast. He's way too young, fresh-faced and "pretty" for his role as boxer-turned cop a cross between an A&F model and an Eagle Scout. Aaron Eckhart, who plays the older partner Lee Blanchard is one-dimensional and not very convincing in his obsessions and weaknesses. But Kudos to Mia Kirshner who delivers a memorable performance as the needy, too-willing-to-please Elizabeth Short in the smarmy film-within-a-film. And special mention to Shaw who deliciously camps it up as the Crawfordesque matriarch of the dysfunctional clan Linscott.
Unsatisfying, but strangely engaging
This is a very minimalistic movie. Spare dialog. Simple sets and locations. Bare bones plot. Undeveloped characters. It left me unsatisfied and feeling a little cheated. Yet, the lack of detail was somehow engaging -- I felt as if I had to constantly fill in the blanks, especially the characters' motivations, with my own back story, like a cinematic paint-by-numbers. I have to go back to high school lit for this, but the motiveless characters reminded me of something out of Camus -- maybe the Stranger. The austerity of this film, and certainly the running jokes about golf tips, the big softball game and "my day at work," are good metaphors for the banality and meaninglessness of modern life. All in all, refreshingly different than the usual overly plotted, visually dense concoctions turned out by bigger-budget producers.