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Somewhere in Time (1980)
A great idea not fully fleshed out
The concept of the film, "Somewhere in Time" are terrific. Romance, time travel, finding a lost love and so on are wonderful. When the film came out years ago, it was perceived as a great date movie and so off I went with my then girlfriend and another couple to see it. We were quite eager to enjoy and did in parts, but found the film wanting in others. Again, this is just all imho as I know others truly love the film and are apt to either see through the flaws or not care about them.
The idea of how Richard (Chris Reeve) goes back in time seemed about the hokiest. Repeating over and over again the date and then taping it became a bit laughable in the theatre and to us who were indeed there to enjoy the film. Had they come up with some other plausible fantasy idea that the audience could have bought more easily it would have served to help the audience buy into the film more so. For example, if in his search for a means of time travel he would have sought out some master from the east who would have taught him some technique meditative or otherwise that could bring him into the past. But the real catch in either case that kind of ruins the film is that regardless of the method of time travel, why could Richard summon up the same will to return to McKenna? You don't see him trying that much after his return, but rather giving up and wandering around in a state of depression. His giving up after all that didn't make sense. Perhaps it was more clearly stated in the book, but it wasn't in the film.
The cast is largely good, the whole film really revolves around Reeves, Jane Seymour and the great Christopher Plummer. Plummer is fine as the protective and mysterious manager. Isn't he always good in every film? A truly amazing actor. Jane Seymour is lovely as McKenna. You believe indeed that she is a woman of the time and a great actress like the great Maude Adams, who the role is patterned after. The chemistry between her and Reeves is good. Christopher Reeve himself is very sincere and earnest in the role, albeit a bit stiff. Christopher Reeves always a very serious actor is someone who really grew in talent and skill over the years. His departure into character roles like that of Jack Lewis in "Remains of the Day", revealed a future world of great possibilities of wonderful roles for this ever growing actor. But at this time, despite his wonderful charm and sincerity, I think the role of Richard Collier also needed a bit more humor and depth. I can't think of an actor at the time that might have pulled it off except perhaps Robert Redford or even a quirkier choice like Dustin Hoffman. Again, I mean no offense to those who love the film as is, or to the memory and talent of Christopher Reeve who I had the pleasure of seeing on stage once shortly before he was chosen to play Superman. And even in that role at that time, you got the very same earnest sincerity and seriousness about acting. But not a wide scope of skill. None the less, he was very charming in that role as well and serviced the part.
An interesting side note to that story was that we saw Chris Reeve many months before the announcement of his taking the role of Superman. I know that afterwords there was this whole pr thing about Reeve having to work out beforehand to bulk up. I can tell you that was one thing he did not need to do. Reeve on stage was the most impressive man I ever saw, far more so than he ever was on film. His body was perfectly sculpted and formed like a Greek statue. The women I went with all fell in love with him and my male friends including me all felt like little weenies in comparison, lol. God bless, Chris.
Back to the film, it was in my opinion a near miss that could have been a real movie classic. Just needed better writing and justifying of the turns of the plot.
He's Just Not That Into You (2009)
I Was Just Not That Into It
When this film came out my wife and I were looking forward to it. The cast was excellent. Full of some very good actors; a number of whom have carried films all by themselves and are actors that we've enjoyed a great deal in other films as well. When the film opened the reviews were not that good. But there have been times in the past where we've disagreed with the critics and decided to go see H.J.N.T.I.Y. and-- we were sadly disappointed. A lot of time when reviews are not that good, you can be pleasantly surprised. But not this time.
What a waste of some great talent and the potential for a wonderful story. The cast at large does a heroic job of trying to make something out of the poorly written situations and dialogue, but they just can't make it work. It is as if the director left them on their own to fend for themselves. The humor and situations are often forced and the direction is heavy handed. Ben Affleck and Drew Barrymore (also a producer) in particular are literally wasted in very small almost throw-away roles. I won't bother to tell the story or further review the film except to say; don't waste your money. If it comes on TV at some point and there's nothing else to watch, maybe then, give it a shot.
As Otto in "A Fish Called Wanda" once said: "Disappointed!"
A Flawed Adaptation of a Much Better Play
Picnic has become known more as a highly melodramatic soap opera due to this 1955 production than it was originally known and appreciated for as a highly successful play on Broadway.
Many viewers who don't like the film, blame it on the miscasting of the great William Holden who was more than a few years to old for the role. While he gives the role a great effort, he seems very self-conscious in the role. He was too old and too weathered and his innate intelligence just comes right through.
But the larger flaws in the production first comes from the need to dampen down the sexual references and repression of the piece so that it might perhaps fit the film codes of the day.
Daniel Taradash's screenplay, most probably inhibited by the film codes, is still stiff and has none of the internal angst of the play.
Also, Joshua Logan seemed more intent on making a "big" film out of something far more intimate and intense. The play has light moments, but it is really more brooding and intense. You have s sense that these people are either sleep-walking through their lives or are about to explode from their own personal repression or shame. Only the wise Mrs. Potts in both play and film is finally at home with herself; perhaps so because now at the end of her days she just is at peace with her expectations versus her actual life. But Logan loses the subtly in favor of a big film, with big shots and sets, wonderful (but at times way to dramatic) film music. The film needed the intimacy that films like "Streetcar Named Desire" or even "A Place in the Sun" could provide. Now the latter is a good example of a big film that doesn't lose the intimate nature and intensity of the characters. This is not Logan's forte' and he too was not the best choice for the film's director. I think Kazan would have been one of the few at the time to breathe the kind of life in the film that enhanced the plays best qualities. This is a story of very real and desperate people trying to live in a rather sterile environment while not realizing how suffocating that environment is to their souls. It is Hal and Madge who are at least for the moment able to break free.
It is Logan's broad interpretation of the story that not only loses the heat and intensity of the play, but makes the film itself more dated today.
Supporting performances range from okay to wonderful. The wonderful being in particular Verna Felton as Mrs. Potts. Also great is Arthur O'Connell as Howard (oscar nomination for best supporting actor). Betty Field is one of the few who really creates the angst and multi-layered-inner struggle that is in the play itself. Rosalind Russell almost pushes the limit to overacting, but in the long run; it is a very affecting performance. Cliff Robertson does a capable job in a more poorly written screen role and maybe the least well written role in the play. Susan Straberg is great and outshines many in the film with her energy and sense of truth. She is spot on throughout and it almost makes those around her like Holden or Novak look more out of place or stiff. What a real film talent was lost in the lack of studios to know what to do with Ms. Strasberg.
I would love to see the real heat and intensity of the play be revisited in a remake today where you could see it all.
David and Bathsheba (1951)
Grand Biblical Epic That Humanizes The Characters
This film has all the size and grandeur of many of the great biblical epics of the 1950's and '60's. But it is also perhaps the first that really humanizes the biblical characters themselves. This is a unique and compelling balance that helps us to realize that even great figures like King David are flawed people who can find their faith and greatness in facing these very flaws.
The actors are all first rate in the film from Gilbert Barnett as David's second son Absolom through to the wonderful Susan Hayward as Bathsheba. Hayward is at her best in this film. Her own larger than life but very truthful style of acting is quite at home on the TV screen as it was when first seen on the wide cinimascope screens of the 1950's. She is the seductress of the piece, but she plays the role in such a way that you sympathize with her.
Raymond Massey does a great job as Nathan the prophet. As a child when I first saw the film, Massey seemed like he truly had just conversed with the Lord himself and was an awesome sight. No doubt helped also by the great music composed by the always amazing Alfred Newman who also had great successes in other biblical epics like "The Robe" and "The Greatest Story Ever Told" along with perhaps 100 other films too! The cinema photography by Leon Shamroy is well done and adds to the size but also the intimacy of the film. Henry King, a truly underrated film director who like William Wyler never really pigeon-holed himself into any one genre, pulls together a larger than life production that never loses sight of the love story between David and Bathsheba and David's own deep struggle with his faith in God. The path tread in this film could have been very hokey, but King keeps it real and interesting all the way. Plus we never lose the sense of mystery about trying to understand the will of God, just as David himself is struggling with the same. From the first scene where a soldier dies trying to save the ark from destruction. David is not satisfied with Nathan's answer, (to paraphrase)that no one can understand the will of God. This is the journey we embark on right through to the powerful ending where David is finally confronted with himself.
Finally this film belongs to Gregory Peck who is wonderful as King David. His David is a man you can believe could rule a country as King and Warrior but who was also at one time a gentle and faithful singer of psalms. This is one of his best performances.
I don't see this movie on television much anymore, but when I do I never fail to watch it. I think it still holds up very well today.
The Godfather: Part III (1990)
Could Have Been as Good as the First Two Parts of the Trilogy
The idea of basing Godfather III around the conspiracy of the assassination of a Pope was a powerful choice and one that would have brought the trilogy to an even more amazing close had all things worked out. This is especially exciting when given the long held real-life suspicions about the death of the "30-day Pope".
I'm assuming that the original storyline with Tom Hagen (Robert Duvall) was more potent and up to the standards of the prior Godfather films. Apparently Coppola himself was not very happy with the last minute changes he had to make when Paramount refused Duvall's salary demands. The storyline as is moved quite slowly in parts. This was especially so with the scenes involving Michael's re-courting of Kay. Both Pacino and Keaton are amazing actors; but they suffered with rather trite dialogue and a difficult circumstance to make believable. It seemed like filler dialogue to me. The same scenes rewritten more believably might have worked with these two fine actors; but they came off like bad soap opera scenes. Also the scenes with Vincent (Andy Garcia)and Mary (Sofia Coppola)this was also in part due to writing but also because of Sofia's lack of experience as an actress. Being the daughter of the director, she was raked over the coals for her performance. This was a bit unfair as the final choice rested with her father, not her. I can't believe that there were not a large number of very good actresses out there known and unknown that could have pulled the part off. Sofia as we know is not without talent. She has become quite an amazing filmmaker herself. Bridget Fonda, who's part was pretty much gratuitous, would have made a fine Mary.
The other problem with the film are the lack of layers of excellent supporting players. Instead of the likes of actors of the caliber of Duvall, Sterling Hayden, Richard Castellano, Joe Spinell and Richard Conte in supporting roles, we have the likes of George Hamilton and Don Novello who are talented actors. who although were capable in their roles were not up to the gold standard of the previous films.
I think had more time been spent on the central plot of Michael Corleone's desire to finally go straight through the recognition and partnership with the church and the resulting conspiracies this would have made for a better film even with the existing cast and script changes. However such are the ways of Studio filmaking where deadlines ended up putting too much pressure on Coppola to come up with last minute changes that would have perhaps preserved the greatness of the film.
Beyond the Sea (2004)
A Noble Effort by Kevin Spacey That Falls Short
I am a big fan of both Kevin Spacey and Bobby Darin. IMHO, Kevin gave it a great try in portraying Bobby Darin. But one that was lacking.
Spacy has a fine voice; and he is an excellent actor. But, in this case there were a few critical things missing in his game effort to act, direct and assist in the writing of "Beyond the Sea". Bobby Darin had a rare combination of qualities in his persona. He had certain swagger; a very natural charisma, looseness and cool-- and also an intensity, humor and confidence that came off in performing as both singer and actor. You can even hear these qualities when just listening to the great crooner. And although he was always a sickly kid, Darin was from the Bronx. He was a boy who knew the streets and that element was always there too; as well as that Bronx accent that also stamped his persona. Kevin didn't have any of these elements going very well for him. He seemed stiff in comparison to the singer/actor Bobby Darin who I remembered so well and still love to see in films from time to time. I think the role needed to be played by an actor with a little more electricity. One person that comes to mind is Johnny Depp, who probably could have sung the role, but surely had that inner fire and charisma that Darin had. I'm not saying that Spacey had to do an impersonation. But in a biopic like this a with a very recognizable figure, you need to capture the qualities that made that person compelling.
I think too that the format of the older Darin going back in time helped to justify the much older looking Spacey playing against the beautiful and youthful Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth) but more than his age, Spacey didn't have the charisma to make it believable that Sandra would fall for him. Case in point, no matter how old he was, a charismatic actor like Cary Grant would have oozed the charm to make anyone of any age fall form him. Although, Darin did not have the looks of Cary Grant, he, like his idol Frank Sinatra (who was also not a truly handsome man but still drew women like white on rice), was the type of man who had a very natural romantic appeal, which Kevin does not in this film. The roles that Spacey has been most compelling in have usually been less romantic roles and more about disaffected outsiders like his roles in American Beauty, cynical wise-guys in "L.A. Confidential" or down right mercenary types in "Glenn Gary Glenn Ross". Ironically, I think that these are the very same roles that Darin himself would have loved to have played.
The screenplay had the look of something that had been worked on and rewritten so many times to suit a variety of stars and/or directors that like a game of telephone, it had lost it's way from the original intention and through-line.
The cast is excellent and everyone in it looks like they are giving it their all. But the directing, also by Spacey, seems to suffer from the same stiffness that makes even this great cast seem a little forced or artificial at times. This as a first time directing job for Spacey is no easy task. To combine it with acting in it as well, was imho too much to take on.
I can't blame the man for trying to do what seems to be a real labor of love. It is obvious that he loved Bobby Darin and really had a real ambition to not only bring the story to screen, but to portray the Darin as well. Coming off of a string of great successes and now having the clout to pull off a project like this; I commend Kevin for taking a risk. But effort is no guarantee of success. As much as I respect and am a continued fan of Kevin Spacey's work, I think this film just falls a little flat. At best, it may inspire people to check out Darin. He was an amazing singer/songwriter and a very compelling actor who always challenged himself to strike out in new territory. See his performances in "Captain Newman, MD", "Hell is for Heroes" and most especially, "Pressure Point". In each film he plays off of and holds his own with some of the greatest film actors of the time, Gregory Peck, Steve McQueen and Sidney Poitier to name a few. He proved that he could be successful in all film genres from romantic comedies, musicals to war pictures and intense dramas. He was nominated for one Oscar and at least five Golden Globes for his acting alone. And of course his music speaks for itself as we still often hear him on radio, TV and film.
How the West Was Won (1962)
Great to see in Cinerama with a great cast, but thin story.
Before I critique the actual film, I think it is important to recount the surrounding events that would occur in seeing a film like this back in the 50's and 60's when giant screens still dominated many American movie theatres. I had the pleasure of seeing this film on a Cinerama screen when it opened many years ago. As a young child, I was blown away by the size and spectacle of the film; from the sprawling landscapes, the amazing special effects that were almost 3-D in impact (yes when those wagons came barreling down in the western scene people would almost jump in their seats trying to move out of the way!) and the wonderful cast and directors. These were the days when movie theaters themselves were a treat beyond words, with spectacular architecture and design that made you feel like you were in a cathedral (some places included live organ music like Radio City). There were programs for sale, a short subject and a cartoon prior to the film. There was also an intermission. This type of event was at the time mostly reserved for big films like How the West Was Won, Ben-Hur and one of the last ones were "The Sound of Music" and "2001".
With all this involved in the viewing of the film who could help but be drawn into the magic of it all. And I sure was, as well as my family which included grandparents. It was a major event and we were all dressed up for it. People still treated films in this circumstance like a live performance; applauding and laughing and booing (at the villains) and cheering (when the bad-guy gets it... in this case, Eli Wallach's great portrayal of very bad-guy Charlie Gant.) The film was carried by the sweep of the event and the size and amazing impact of the Cinerama screen. The directors, Ford, Hathaway, Marshall and Thorpe were all masters of their craft. The cast is outstanding and probably the largest cast of real heavyweight stars that were ever assembled in a film. You even had the great Spencer Tracy as narrator. Ken Darby's music is unforgettable and size-appropriate to the sprawling expanse of both screen and story. The amazing camera work, art direction, costumes, etc all filled out the details of what was probably the last hurrah of MGM as a real massive studio production.
There are obvious flaws that the size and magic of the event helped us to overlook. The two severe lines that cut the screen in thirds, we understood because of this new exciting three camera technology. And you know this was still the day where special effects were not so great and there was a suspension of belief and imagination that the audience could still bring to a film that would allow us to overlook flaws like that.
The storyline is covered in quick and broad strokes. This film has no intention of getting very deep or being any kind of history lesson. The film has a strongly sentimental tone for the hard life of the settlers who made their way west and sadly like most films of the time and prior, they ignore the holocaust of the Native Americans that went on as our government encouraged the ideas of "Manifest Destiny" on a populace of white Americans and Europeans who were desperate for a better life. In the third segment of the film they do lightly touch on how the Native Americans were forced to resist the coming of the railroad. But that is all you see.
The reality of slavery is overlooked totally; as also the plight of women and Asians and other ethnic groups that were an important part of this time of American expansion. Again, most fans of the film will say as I stated before that this was just entertainment; and so it was. But looking back on it as an older man, I see the flaw in the perpetual ignoring of these critical flaws. It still exists today as many of us celebrate our culture for it's greatness but really ignore it's giant flaws which lead us to ignore opportunities to learn and grow as individuals and as a people.
I think that the film would have been an even greater testament to the American story if it had included more of what really was; which could have been addressed in short as it was in John Ford's great Shiloh sequence where Zeb Rawlings (Goerge Peppard)is forced to kill a confederate soldier he has befriended in order to save a despairing General Grant. The additional irony and tragedy of that moment is also that unbeknownst to him, his father Linus has just died of wounds in the same battle.
I know this review may incur the displeasure of fans of the film. But I for one believe that you can't tell the great American story without it's great accomplishments and it's great flaws. It is the stuff not only of entertainment, but of catharsis and education. What could be a better history lesson for young and old? What could better serve to bring us all together?
The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
Save Your Money. See the Elaine May, Neil Simon Original
How can talented filmmakers like the Farrelly Brothers screw up a gem like the Heartbreak Kid. They destroyed a great story in the hopes of what-I-don't-know. The original is a classic film that was directed by the great Elaine May and written by Neil Simon. The original had great laughs, pathos and some amazingly funny and sometimes shocking scenes with Charles Grodin as Lenny Cantrow who chases after blond goddess Kelly played by Cybill Shepherd. That cast from top to bottom was picture perfect and the film was impeccably written and directed. This remake has no edge or plot and the talented cast seems like they are trying all too hard to work with awful material. With Ben Stiller on board this remake could have been as good or better than the original. Take my advice-- don't waste your time paying this version. Don't get me wrong there are some good laughs in it, but we are talking a remake of a near screen classic that could have been much better with the talented filmmakers and cast on board. See it for free when it comes on cable and then rent the original. You won't regret it.
Sex and the City (2008)
My wife isn't an avid TV watcher, but she has always LOVED to watch Sex and the City. In time I too learned to appreciate the great humor, outrageous situations (bizarre as they are many rang quite true). To this day we both often sit and watch the reruns together. The movie was something my wife really looked forward to as many people did. Going to the local theater was quite the event. People were quite chatty and the few men that were there were indeed earning some good points with the women. After all that the movie proved to be a major disappointment. I would not recommend to anyone, fan or newcomer to see this in the theater. Wait till it comes on cable or rent the DVD (maybe). Michael Patrick King, who wrote many of the early episodes on TV, really blew this one. All the humor of the show was gone and it turned into some bad soap opera that ran way too long. The great dynamics between the women was flat and trite. They all seemed to be caricatures of their former TV incarnations. The men were totally wasted with nothing to do at all. Smith's part was totally untrue to the very loyal boyfriend that he was throughout his time on the show. The directing was slow and ponderous and devoid of the pace and spark that existed in virtually every episode in the show. The actors were game and tried their best, but they all looked a wee bit uncomfortable and lost. Jennifer Hudson's character was a total waste of time and did nothing to advance the storyline (altho she does a good job). They could have done without her character and have had more time for the main characters. Oh well. Hope the next one is better.
Brooklyn Rules (2007)
I Hoped for Better
Brooklyn Rules has a premise that has been done before. Having grown up in Brooklyn and being a fan of Alec Baldwin I took a chance and rented the film. I have to say that I really wanted to enjoy this film as I am a fan of the genre, can relate to the life and am from the same generation as the characters in the film.
The storyline is a coming of age story of three friends from Brooklyn. A storyline such as this would rest heavily on crisp direction, a good solid script and the rapport between the three buddies played by Freddie Prinz Jr., Scott Caan and Gerry Ferrara. The rapport and connection just wasn't there. Although individually there were some bright spots, it didn't seem like these guys really knew each other. Their affection seemed forced and false. The contact between the younger actors that played the same characters as school boys at the start of the film was more honest, spontaneous and interesting than their older counterparts. Scott Caan gives a solid and understated performance as the friend who initially seeks his future in the mob life. Gerry Ferrara is fine as the good hearted cheapskate Bobby. As the main character and narrator of the film, Freddie Prinz comes off the weakest of the three with a performance that lacks in energy and played with a very fake accent. The latter sounding like a preppies stereotyped version of a mob/Brooklyn accent. The rapport between Prinz's character and his love interest also suffers in the film. Mena Suvari and Mr. Prinz, both who have turned in much better performances in other films, seemed to be trying desperately to find their way through the awkward dialog and couldn't make it work. The script and the direction, IMHO was the greatest problems with the film. I understood from the DVD interviews that the movie was based on the writers actual life experience. It must have meant a great deal to Mr. Winter to bring this to life. It is most commendable effort, but the dialog is forced, labored and artificial. It needed a great deal of polish to smooth out the rough edges and bring a little more truth, less forced humor and more energy to the story. I'm a fan of many of the films that this movie has spawned from ie. Goodfellas, Bronx Tale and the genres progenitor, Mean Streets. But those films had an energy, truth, humor and spontaneity that this film lacks. Alec Baldwin is as usual fun to watch and one can only wish that we saw more of him and that he didn't die as soon as he did. When Baldwin is no longer in the film it sort of flounders to it's ponderous ending. Gerry Ferrara's last tragic scene is the only moving moment, much in part due to Mr. Ferrara's excellent performance in that scene.
The direction was equally awkward and labored and served to make the film a stereotype of the intense and complicated world that takes place on the streets of Brooklyn. It is a shame because the story idea was a good one and could have been served better.