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Taken Too Far (2017 TV Movie)
A fun indulgence
20 June 2017
Deadly Dance Mom is one of those movies you have to be in the mood for. If you want women-in-jeopardy, Lifetime Channel-type fare, it might be just the ticket. Acting is adequately over the top when it needs to be, the production values are surprisingly good for a low budget TVM, and the story moves along at a healthy clip. Beverley Mitchell is sweet but not saccharine as the mother of the more talented dance girl, and Christina Cox as the malicious titular dance mom is so out of control she almost elicits sympathy. As she weaves her tangled web of malice and deceit, we are swept along for the ride, wondering what evil deed she has next up her sleeve. When she receives her comeuppance (and a probable prison term) at the end, the ultimate family tragedy of a broken home is made good by the dad's renewed commitment to her daughter, and the bond of friendship now reaffirmed between the two girls. Perfectly suited to a "personal day" at home with a hot tea or glass of chardonnay, some fluffy pillows, and a turned-off cell phone.
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Our Wife (1931)
6 March 2009
Our Wife is one of those Laurel and Hardy comedies that at first seem so broad and farcical (it is) but upon multiple viewings, reveal a surprising number of beautiful subtleties. I know, because my two-year- old son loves it and constantly requests it…sometimes twice a day. Look at Stan, re-entering the room after having been quickly ushered out by Ollie, who wants some privacy to talk to his beloved. It is a completely guileless gesture, just like(need I say it) a two-year-old's response to a restriction he doesn't recognize as such. And Stan's satisfied smile when Ollie explains "Why, you're the best man!" And no small credit goes to Babe London as Ollie's betrothed. Just look at her expression of guarded optimism as Justice of the Peace Ben Turpin goes through his auctioneering gibberish during the ceremony. Then, notice Ben at the fadeout. After mistakenly marrying Stan to Ollie, all he seems interested in is pushing through the group in his living room and rushing back to bed. Even their struggles to get into that 1930 American Austin Coupe, the depression era's version of the Mini-Cooper, is doubly funny when considering the context, that of a rushed getaway. The time-space continuum "takes five" as they try to maneuver themselves into the car. Ollie's exasperated query: "What did you want to hire a thing like this for?" goes unanswered, hinting at an excised shot or two, but it also signifies the boy's quick acceptance of obstacles thrown in their path and their earnest attempts to overcome them. The whole movie is a series of set pieces in which the boys go through the minimal obligatory motions of an adult rite-of-passage: the one-layer cake, frosting peeling off like a tree shedding bark, the minimal wedding decorations, the quick spray of dried rice and a shoe to the head, the mumbled wedding vows, the pro-forma "Congratulations, my boy, you've married the sweetest girl in all the world!" from the justice of the peace… it's all about two little boys playing grown-up, and overcoming the brief lacuna of adulthood and ending up back together again.
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Juncture (2007)
Less Than Thrilled
18 October 2007
I saw "Juncture" recently at the Mill Valley Film Festival and I'll start off by saying I left 15 minutes before the end. A few twists, yes, but I found this thriller mind-numbingly repetitive, with less than mediocre performances and dialog. It was impressive visually, and I credit the filmmakers for squeezing the most production value out of a small budget. Unfortunately, it was rife with stereotypes, and there have been movies about female vigilantes before so I can't give it high marks in the originality department. I came to the conclusion after 90 minutes that even the most incredibly shocking twist ending couldn't make up for the hour and a half of dreariness I was subjected to. The lead, Kristine Blackport is a beautiful woman to look at, but her performance was just plain leaden. The earthy girlfriend, the sensitive love interest, the CEO mentor who could have walked out of any number of 80's plots, and the too-easy-to-hate "perps" she knocks off were just sloppy stereotypes plain and simple. Throw in a few clumsy homages, and you have something which might be an amusing diversion on DVD at three in the morning, washed down with cold pizza and beer. I would like to say it might do okay in the Direct-to-DVD market, but I'd still end up hitting the fast forward button.
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Hopping Mad
22 February 2007
As an avid Laurel and Hardy fan, I have always been somewhat disappointed in the early solo comedies of both Stan and Ollie. They are just too much a throwback to the early films of Sennett and co., one physical gag heaped upon another with no attempt to vary the frenetic pacing or establish character. So it was with unexpected delight that I watched Dr. Pyckle and Mr. Pryde on the new Kino collection of Stan Laurel solo shorts. Once we dispense with the first ten minutes of generally desultory humor as he mixes his concoction, things get really funny. Laurel's transformation into the naughty Mr. Hyde is priceless. Hopped up (literally) on his potion, he gleefully runs amok, stealing ice cream from children, scaring women with popping paper bags, etc. He isn't the truly malevolent Hyde of Stevenson's story, but merely an unrepentant prankster…a naughty little boy. Later, when his dog laps up some of the spilled potion and starts nipping at Stan's backside while sporting the same fright wig as Mr. Hyde…well, you have to see it to truly appreciate it.
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Barbary Coast (1935)
Miriam acts with her eyebrows
16 September 2005
Somewhat run-of-the-mill period piece combining characters and story points probably seen to better effect elsewhere. I could accept E. G. Robinson in his role as a swaggering casino owner in his puffy shirt and earring (and severe sidechops), and he leavens his evildoing with a little bit of pathos in his yearning for a woman who will love him for himself. Poor sap hasn't learned that having people shot in the back is a poor way to impress a woman. Miriam Hopkins does a fine job, mostly, but she sometimes uses her eyebrows to punctuate her dialog a little too much. Hawks should have told her to tone down the brow action a little. The opening sequence as the ship pulls into a fog-enshrouded San Francisco Bay is beautifully shot.
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Looks aren't everything
8 June 2005
My problem with this film is that it tries to do too much, and doesn't have the time to adequately develop any of its themes to a satisfying conclusion. Romantic comedy, screwball comedy, political intrigue, comedy of manners—it has so many angles that it leaves one rather unsatisfied. Monroe, even with her sometimes doe-eyed stupor, is still captivating---I am a fan, and part of her appeal to me is her sometimes obvious lack of polished acting tricks. She sometimes walks a tightrope in her performance, just on the edge of tumbling into abject amateurism, and that tension is definitely part of her appeal. You can't take her eyes off of her…a bit like watching the Indy 500 and secretly dreading yet anticipating a fatal crash, all the while captivated by the sheer beauty of the event. Laurence Olivier, on the other hand, is imminently forgettable in this…choosing to play the character as a stereotype. We learn so little about what makes him tick, other than the obvious fact that he keeps his emotions bottled-up. And there is something reptilian about his eyes which keep me from ever regarding him as someone's romantic interest. They always looked narrow and conniving, and it just got worse with age. Yes, there seemed little chemistry between them, and in spite of what I just said about his eyes, there just wasn't any time devoted to letting that chemistry develop. Did I miss something, or did Marilyn announce her love for him in the midst of his predictable, bumbling attempts to be seductive? If so, I must assume she was just overwhelmed by his looks, and I find this incomprehensible. Overall, this remains a weak entry in Marilyn's oeuvre. It was visually delightful, with a sort of premeditated artifice which lent it a storybook charm. If only the writing could have accomplished the same.
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Martin Short, thanks for being yewwww!
10 May 2005
If Jiminy Glick was interviewing Martin Short after seeing this movie, it might go something like this:

JG: "Bobby Short…,why did you change your name from Martin?"

MS:"No…Bobby Short is someone else. A singer actually. African American. "

JG: "That was going to be my next question. Were you inspired by Jacko to bleach your skin? Do you feel white is the new black?"

MS: "I'm not Bobby Short. I'm Martin Short. I was born Martin Short."

JG:(A patronizing pat on Martin's knee) "Work it out on your own time, dear. Now, about this movie of yours---I JUST LOVED IT. 'Jiminy Glick…' searching his memory—-looks down at his cheat-sheet-—'In LaLaWood!' It's sad and funny. Bittersweet, without much substance and a threadbare story who's sole purpose is to hang little bits of comic business with a few interviews thrown in. Not a very good movie, BUT I LOVED IT! Bobby, thanks for being yewww."

MS: "It's Martin. You know, I've always wanted to put Jiminy Glick in a feature—"

JG:"No time, dear. We have to move on."
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Frontline: Memory of the Camps (1985)
Season 3, Episode 18
Holocaust deniers, look at this
4 May 2005
This was recently aired on "Frontline", presumably reconstructed, although I don't know how it differs from the version already available in region 2. Trevor Howard's narration lends a straightforward narration minus any attempt to color it with gravity. There is no music score to let us know that what we are seeing is monumental tragedy. Neither embellishment is needed and would probably be disrespectful to the victims of what we are witnessing through the lenses of Allied cameramen as they documented the horrors of the death camps in Germany. The endless shots of the faces of dead men, women and children, the piles of naked corpses thrown haphazardly upon one another in mass graves of 5000 each, and all in one of many was overwhelming to realize how many hopes and dreams--how many lives--were snuffed out in such a short time, to end up nameless under a mound of earth. The passage of 60 years, and the litany of mass murders that have occurred since fail to diminish the shock and horror of these images, rarely visible on such a massive scale to those of us who weren't there. How can any holocaust-denier look at this film and still maintain their delusion?
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Trekkies 2 (2004)
An Ongoing Enterprise
9 February 2005
Trekkies 2 is the logical continuation of Trekkies, as it follows the Star Trek phenomenon outside the borders of the United States, to the far reaches of the civilized world. Which makes me wonder why they focused as much as they did on the United States as well…I think I would have preferred the international angle exclusively. That said, it is still an enjoyable, and at times touching, look at a fan experience that is both benign and in many cases, beneficent. What this documentary has to offer is the striking realization that Star Trek (in its various incarnations) has become a mythology and even a religion for the disaffected of much of the world, and that its influence seems to be expanding, despite the concerns of fans as to the future of Trek. Substitute a belief in an afterlife with a belief in a better future, and you have a group of acolytes who have faith that they'll get there, if they embrace the precepts of Trek. There are no agnostics when it comes to Star Trek. Either you're a believer or not. As of this writing, the fate of the latest Trek show has been sealed, and the future of the franchise is in doubt. But those of us who have loved Trek since its inception in 1966 know better. After some time off to re-group and re-think, we know that Star Trek cannot die, just as faith in the future cannot die. Just wait and see.
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The Aviator (2004)
Little Howie Hughes
6 January 2005
Warning: Spoilers
I had mixed feelings as I left the theater after seeing The Aviator. What I experienced were moments of inspired film-making interspersed with rather tepid interludes illustrating the life of a man suffering from OCD who just happened to be Howard Hughes. I never really discovered what made this man tick, and if you're going to do a biopic of an historical figure like Hughes, it seems to me that to plumb the depths of someone so well-known, to discover what isn't so well-known, is the whole point. Adding to my frustration was the casting of DiCaprio himself. I just felt he was too baby-faced(or maybe baby-voiced) to convince me that here was a man who had experienced life, on the edges and otherwise. He sounded too much like a fresh-faced actor "playing" old, complete with faux-raspiness to his voice. Hughes was a good-looking man, but there was something dark behind his eyes and deeply cynical in his voice and manners, judging from the few film clips I've seen of the man. I just didn't feel like DiCaprio nailed it. Cate Blanchett is another matter…at first, I was a trifle embarrassed by her mannered performance--actually more like mimicking--as Kate Hepburn. Did Kate Hepburn really act like…Kate Hepburn, in private? Despite my considerable initial misgivings, I thought she warmed to the role and began to portray her as a person and not a caricature. Finally, I have to say that the ending did seem rather arbitrary to me. It's as if Scorcese, realizing the limitations of capturing the arc of someone with so full a life of Hughes in less than long-form (miniseries) format, decided to end it with a somewhat predictable moment…the flight of the Hercules. It's become rather formulaic for biopics now--- let's end it at the crowning achievement of our subject's life because we don't have the time or perhaps inclination to follow a life to its (sometimes bitter) end. All said though, there were moments of truly exhilarating film-making, moments I rarely experience any more, where the sheer joy of cinema creates a kind of euphoria apart from the emotions or mood conveyed on screen. The test flight of the XF-11, scored to Bach, was one. Baroque music, with its emphasis on complexity and technicality, seemed an appropriate accompaniment to a complex and sophisticated machine like an airplane which also has the means to awe and move us with beauty and power, and the scene just soared. If such scenes had been accompanied by a little more back-story, The Aviator would have been a more satisfying experience.
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The Eyes Had It
8 December 2004
For anyone interested in Peter Sellers life and work, this film is certainly worth watching, if for nothing more than the incredible re-creations of scenes from Sellers' films. Geoffrey Rush is transformed into a nearly dead-ringer for Sellers, through the magic of make up and prosthetics. But as talented as he may be, no one can recreate the subtleties of the master, especially the use of his eyes…Sellers' eyes were by far the funniest aspect of his physicality: narrowing, widening, always moving, punctuating his actions and illuminating the emotions within, even as part of the most farcical of performances.

Such a rich and varied life would lend itself to a miniseries but of course it would be a copout to suggest that at least a glimmer into the life of a man couldn't be done successfully within two hours. What this movie drove home for me was how terribly short the human lifespan really is, and how little time we have to truly discover ourselves and come to terms with our own frailties. I felt that the basis of Sellers unhappiness, which manifested itself in inexcusable cruelty to his family, friends and co-workers, was a direct result of his childhood, which was never really addressed in this film. It was, in his own words to Michael Parkinson, not a very happy time in his life. Growing up in the theater circuit, being in the company of boozy and abusive 'theatricals', and being raised by a domineering mother and what I gather was a rather passive and emotionally unavailable father set the stage for a man who obviously felt deprived of the things that give us self-esteem and confidence. No one in his adult life could give him the things he should've received from his parents as a child, and he took out that frustration on those closest to him.

Also interesting were the glimpses of his fellow Goons (Spike Milligan and Harry Secombe) at various chapters in his life-in the church at his mother's funeral, in the crowd at the premiere of 'The Pink Panther'. They represented what he considered the happiest time of his life and they were a constant presence, flitting in an out of his life at key moments in the film, like the ghosts of Christmas Past.

Interesting also in how one decision, in this case his delusional infatuation with Sophia Loren, set in motion a series of dovetailing mistakes in his life, which took him further and further away from a relatively healthy existence. He had twenty years more to live and it turned out to be not enough time to turn things around.
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Hats Off (1927)
The Missing Link
2 December 2004
For those of us who consider ourselves Laurel and Hardy aficionados, Hats Off is truly the Holy Grail of their lost films, as this title is often characterized. Not merely because it represents the only subject of theirs to be missing in its entirety, but because it represents, in a way, the very first official Laurel and Hardy film in which the die was cast as far as their costumes, manners, and even storyline go. The Second Hundred Years may have been made earlier, but the pacing and gags of that film could have been used by any number of lesser comics at the time and been perhaps equally as successful…Stan and Ollie's basic personas are not really integrated into the story and their standard costumes, accoutrements and distinctive hairstyles were not present. Hats Off is perhaps the first to exploit the chemistry between Stan and Ollie and create the successful alloy between them and their story--the confrontation with Fin, women, and inanimate objects; the slow burns and quiet despair and the final orgy of destruction as release. All these things would become trademarks of The Boys, coming to fruition in classics such as 'Big Business' and 'Two Tars', arguably the best of their silent films. It truly represents the Missing Link of their career, the bridge between their earliest incarnations as a team, where story and character were still searching for the perfect pas de duex, and their late silents, where perfect harmony of style, character and content reign.
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Benjamin Braddock's evil twin
29 April 2004
Warning: Spoilers
`The Heartbreak Kid' is a curious mix of light and dark comedy. I couldn't help thinking of `The Graduate', made four years earlier, and in many ways it was the flip-side of `The Graduate's' reflections on youthful ennui and dissatisfaction with the status quo. Charles Grodin as Lenny actually pursues the status quo, in terms of conventional standards of taste and beauty and his relentless pursuit of middle America and its acceptance. Whereas The Graduate maintained a mix of light and dark in equal measures, The Heartbreak Kid starts out as a wince-inducing comedy of manners (and mannerisms) and then slowly becomes darker as it unfolds, leaving the abandoned wife halfway through Act II, as he pursues Cybil Shephard to the frozen Midwest. The ending…well, one can only assume from Lenny's gradual separation from his new wife during the last scene and his dismal efforts to make conversation with his in-laws and newly-extended family that he'll never be more than a poseur. Even the two little kids shun him at the end. He ends up alone on the sofa humming `Close to You', which was played at his first wedding, oblivious to any sense of irony or sadness. It's pretty clear by now that he's a shallow and selfish man who can't see beyond surface blemishes (such as Lila's tics and mannerisms) and becomes infatuated with exterior sheen (Cybil Shephard's beauty and the respectability of marrying into a whitebread and wealthy goyish family). In the end, we realize that he doesn't know himself and never will. The disappearance of Lila, never to return to the story, left me a little unsatisfied, but overall I think it's worth a look, if only for the terrific scene-work of Grodin and Jeannie Berlin, and Grodin's hilarious dead-pan attempts at subterfuge.
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Night Court (1932)
Corruption exposed!
23 April 2004
Night Court was a slight, but interesting, entry in the pre-code genre of social commentary or expose´ films of the early 1930s…I would say the same group that included the seminal `Public Enemy'. What made this film a joy to watch was not the revelatory peek of criminal machinations pervading the lower levels of the NYC justice system, but the relationship between the cabbie and his wife, unfettered by Production Code standards in effect just a few years later. The scenes of Mike and Mary and their baby in the one bedroom flat they shared were charming, and Anita Page evoked a warmth and naturalism uncommon in those days when the talkie was only 3 years old. No wonder she's still working 70 years later! Walter Huston was downright despicable, and his speeches to his night court denizens about maintaining law and order were rather chilling considering the depth of his criminal manipulations of the justice system. And the setting up of Mary Thomas as a prostitute to discredit her was an eye-opener and quite frank. The film moved along at a good clip, facilitated in no small measure I'm sure by the breezy direction of `One-Take' Woody Van Dyke who had a reputation for bringing a film ahead of schedule and under budget. Perhaps it is for this reason that scenes play out naturalistically, with the actors given what appears to be some latitude with the dialogue and action in order to move things along. Some occasional hammy acting doesn't really detract from the pre-code forthrightness of the picture.
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Madam Satan (1930)
A Tepid Affair to Remember
14 April 2004
I found Madam Satan a rather strange hybrid of melodrama and musical, with elements of sex farce thrown in for good measure. It is divided into two distinct halves: the first takes place at the home of Bob and Angela, and at Trixie's flat. Then, it's aboard a moored Zeppelin for the second half for the party and the bulk of the musical numbers. A few witty ripostes here and there, some occasionally charming musical numbers, but overall a rather tepid affair. I just don't think Reginald Denny and Kay Johnson have the onscreen charisma to do this story justice. Roland Young is always amusing with his befuddled manner, in a sort of warm up to his Topper movies, but with Denny and Johnson to play against, he becomes the most interesting character by default.

But the film is interesting in its moralizing about straying husbands and a wife's duty to spice up the marriage, considering DeMille's own unsatisfactory marriage and philandering ways. Setting the second half aboard a Zeppelin with its sinking ship analogies probably seemed very modern at the time, and it is interesting to note that even six years before the Hindenburg disaster, a Hollywood movie exploits the inherent danger to such a mode of transportation. Perhaps with a really sparkling script by a master screenwriter such as Robert Riskin, and more luminous leads, this could have been a major delight instead of a trifle.
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The Pilgrim (1923)
Rather pedestrian for Chaplin
26 March 2004
I consider The Pilgrim one of Chaplin's weaker efforts, in no small part because of the odd running time; somewhere between a short and a feature, it suffers from too much padding considering its slight story, and it's too short to fully develop the inter-relationships of the characters and plumb the depths of social satire that Chaplin's later features did so adeptly. I also found the character strangely at odds with Chaplin's persona-- someone who is forced to stifle his anti-social tendencies in service to his disguise as a clergyman. I could picture more of a misanthrope in the role, perhaps someone like W.C. Fields, especially in the scenes with the bothersome little kid. It somehow didn't work as well with Chaplin, whose own child-like ego would seem more akin, rather than counterpoint, to the little brat. And with the characters apparent sense of innate honesty, one wonders what he was incarcerated for in the first place. Some amusing set pieces but overall it seemed more of an experiment which Chaplin felt license to indulge in at the end of his First National contract.
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Genesis of My Darling Clementine
25 March 2004
What's most interesting about Frontier Marshal is the fact that it is clearly the genesis of My Darling Clementine, directed by John Ford seven years later. It is hard to view this movie without automatically thinking of the parallel scenes in MDC, and Ford's film draws heavily on the inter-relationships of Doc Holliday, Wyatt Earp, Sarah(Clementine in Ford's film) and the saloon girl, Jerry(Chihuahua). Other scenes are reworked into Ford's film as well…the disarming of the drunken Indian, dunking of the saloon girl into the trough, Doc Holliday attempting to redeem himself by performing surgery on a gunshot victim(in this case, the son of the Mexican bartender(in Ford's film, it was Chihuahua, Doc's `girl'), and a wandering theatric (a comic here, a Shakespearian thespian in MDC). This film is much slighter, with fewer themes and subtexts than Ford's and concentrates mostly on the relationship between Earp and Holliday and Holliday's redemption at the end. It plays out like a programmer, running a mere 71 minutes, so granted there isn't much time to devote to anything else. The themes of chaos versus order, civilization versus wilderness are only hinted at, and Randolph Scott is adequate as Wyatt Earp but without the underlying vulnerability(and humor) of Fonda's performance. The same might be said of Cesar Romero as Doc Holliday (for some reason changed to Halliday). He doesn't have the depth of Victor Mature's tortured Doc, in what was perhaps his best performance in any film, but the same self-destructive streak is evident as he attempts to drink himself to death, only to be stopped by Earp. Clearly, MDC was the more thought provoking of the two, but it cannot be denied that without Frontier Marshal, there would have been no MDC, or at least the one I consider a true western classic. What a quirk of fate that Ward Bond is in both films--the ineffective town marshal here, and later promoted to the role of Morgan Earp in Ford's version.
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Monster (2003)
The Rainman Syndrome Strikes Again
10 March 2004
A film which will be remembered primarily for the physical transformation of Charlize Theron into Aileen Wuornos, the female serial killer who was executed in 2002. I appreciated the bravura acting of Ms. Theron, but it seems to me to be another product of what I call the Rainman Syndrome.someone who takes physical mannerisms and gross caricature in the service of a socially marginalized character (be they mentally or physically handicapped or suffer from some form of psychosis) and builds a performance primarily out of those elements. Throw in some Austin Powers teeth and feathered hair, and you've got the Oscar wrapped up. I also felt the real heart of the story was that of Selby. Here is the true tragedy.a shy young woman who gradually accepts her homosexuality and fights a running battle with her family and peers. She sees the strength and fighting spirit in Wuornos, and begins to assert herself because of it. She is marginalized, but she is not a sociopath. Fortunately for her, she comes to realize the depths of Wuornos mental illness and her crimes. She is saved by her social conscience, but Wuornos is not. It is also a tragedy that such a clearly ill woman is executed, but this is only dealt with in a throwaway manner in the film's ultimate scene. I think Ricci's performance is in some ways more touching and heartfelt, subtle and therefore unsung. To me, Wuornos clearly had no chance from the get-go. Although her defiance and desperation were palpable, she really had no where to go once the inciting incident (the first murder) occurred. One annoyance: the rock soundtrack used to underscore the blossoming sexual energy between Theron and Ricci. I felt it was inappropriate to employ the kind of crass manipulative technique which would be more at home in a Joe Eszterhas movie, rather than in a sober portrayal of a real life serial killer.
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Curse of the Curse
24 February 2004
I decided to watch this movie with no expectations other than enjoying a mildly amusing romp on the high seas with cutthroats, scalawags and beloved rogues. What I got instead was a jumble of noise, special effects and long, boring stretches of interminable action. I guess I'm getting too jaded for this type of thrill-ride, cartoon-like picture, and it depresses me. Johnny Depp nominated by an Academy Award? Now I think I know why he always looks so somber at the last two awards ceremonies he's attended. He's probably realized he must be in a dream and it can't possibly be true, and he is sitting there in dread of waking up. Anyway, about the time the curse manifested itself and Captain Barbarossa's crew turned into ghosts, I began thinking about my list of household chores to do the next day. How can an audience, even those under 20, experience the vicarious thrill of impending menace from a bunch of comical skeletons dressed in tattered pirate gear who are immune to death? Who cares to watch dueling ghosts plunging cutlasses into each other with no ill effect? Boring. Pirate movies are by their very nature a far remove from reality, but still…once things became supernatural I lost all interest. Scenes of skeleton pirates dueling with each other belong in a videogame or perhaps a Silly Symphony cartoon of the 1930s. I think future reviews on IMDb should require the viewers to post their ages since I can't believe this movie appealed to anyone over 30. And can't we have a crowd pleaser without stereotypes, and wall-to-wall noise? One has only to look at the pacing of such classic pirate movies as `The Sea Wolf' or the first two versions of `Treasure Island' or even the silent `The Black Pirate' to see how it should be done. Dialogue peppered with token British and pirate slang rang hollow and it was all just too cute. Perhaps I've lost touch with what constitutes entertainment today, but I also think what used to be solely the realm of animation has inappropriately been conscripted into live-action just because technology and economics allow us to do it. What a tiresome exercise this was, and its only claim to immortality will be how well the special effects hold up in ten years.
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Nice Spare Storytelling
3 February 2004
`Wild Boys of the Road' is another fine example of the spare storytelling prevalent in the 1930's-- before egos, the demise of double features and the birth of multiplexes conspired to inflate movie running times to over two hours. Wearing its heart on its sleeve at times, Wellman nevertheless creates a story in true Warner Bros fashion--grim reality washed down with a dose of social commentary. One wonders if the rosy ending was considered necessary because of the age of the protagonists involved. Downbeat endings were certainly in evidence during that time from Warners: as the denouement of `Public Enemy' will bear witness. As the young tramps ride the rails, Wellman infuses the scenes with such energy and dynamism as to render them almost euphoric, despite the somber subject matter. As a veteran flyer from World War I, he seemed especially adept at combining humans we care about with dangerous, hurtling machines. And pre-code shocks abound-in addition to the implied rape and dismemberment, it seems apparent that young Sally's aunt, in Chicago, has established a business of dubious respectability in her own home, just before the kids fly the coop to avoid a police raid. Striking location photography.
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The Hoose-Gow (1929)
They were only watching the raid.
6 January 2004
An early Laurel & Hardy talkie, `The Hoose-Gow' is strongest in its first half…the pathetic attempts at escape, the sheer terror on Stan's face as he tries to dislodge the apple from his mouth, the absolute fear and despondency of two child-souls set down amongst a hardened prison population. Also priceless: Ollie's guileless explanation to guard Tiny Sanford: "Honest, officer, we were only watching the raid." Somehow, coming from Stan and Ollie, the statement rings of truth. In the work camp, things settle into the traditional Stan and Ollie mealtime gags. When they chop down the lookout's post it's another of those gags of anticipation which was such an integral part of their humor. And it's to their credit that most of the film is shot on location, something uncommonly problematic for the early sound technology of the late 20s. There is also something wistfully nostalgic about those Arcadian, windswept eucalyptus-lined locations of southern California, so unpopulated in 1929. Once they get involved in the creamed rice fight at the end, it descends into rather standard fare.
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not quite the bee's knees
19 December 2003
I sat down to watch `Man of the Century' with a certain amount of guarded anticipation. Fish-out-of-water stories have always appealed to me, and the idea that this fish is an anachronism stepping out from the twenties and thirties (for his characteristics come from both decades) is irresistible. I certainly give it points for originality and the overarching sweetness of it, but it doesn't quite work. Gibson Frazier's Johnny Twennies is too unvarying from the wise-cracking, eternally optimistic character to be really engaging. There wasn't enough variety in his performance and it did wear a little thin after the first 15 minutes. Physically, he was just right-sort of a cross between Charley Chase and Harold Lloyd. But even they expressed a wide range of human emotion in those sunny short comedies of the 20s, experiencing moments of self-doubt, anger and fear. I think Johnny needed more of that. Pardon me for being a traditionalist, but for an effective drama, the protagonist still needs to be a fully-formed character. As to the humor-apart from the absurd circumstances and situations, there were a few moments of amusing word-play, but not enough to categorize this as a truly funny film. As to the premise-I can accept it on face value, but it wouldn't have hurt to have at least hinted at a back-story as to why Johnny was the way he was. His mother could have hinted at a possible explanation-perhaps she raised him in the mores and milieu of 1930s American culture for her own psychotic reasons. Finally, `Man of the Century' touches on various genres from the period: musicals, crime dramas, slapstick, and screwball comedy, but doesn't really do them full justice. A great premise which falters in execution. With a little more forethought and truly sparkling wit, this could have been a really thought-provoking and hilarious experience rather than the pleasant trifle that it is.
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Big Business (1929)
The smell of burning Model T in the morning
12 December 2003
As an avowed Laurel and Hardy fan, I must say that Big Business falls into a special category all its own. I find the simple, deliberate nature of it immensely appealing. There is something downright innocent about the long-lost freshness of those semi-developed streets of Culver City and environs on that sunny December morning in ‘28 and they add a quality of mise-en-scene which was surely never foreseen back then. The snowballing reciprocal destruction starts innocently enough: an errant branch of Christmas tree--that symbol of peace and goodwill to men--gets caught in Jimmy Finlayson's front door once too often…and ends up with extensive property damage on both sides. But each step in the progressively destructive game is almost reasonable…its just when one contrasts point A with point Z that the absurdity, and the comedy, of the situation is so apparent. Produced on the cusp of the talkies, Big Business is also a sort of frantic paean to a lost art. And, in a strange way, unlike so many of their other films, Stan and Ollie are triumphant as they run from officer Tiny Sanford into the fade out. For as Jimmy lights up his exploding cigar, they are the ones lucky enough to have gotten in their last licks. In spite of losing the battle, they have won the war. One can almost smell the fragrance of pine needles intermingling with the stench of burning Model T…
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Moby Dick (1930)
some original turns
24 September 2003
Although this film does suffer from Warner Bros. attempt to sex up the story from Melville's meditative original, it has some interesting original qualities all its own. First, it looks great. The rich details of the port, seedy taverns and docks lent a realism which was a delight to behold in itself. Second, Ahab is merely a harpoonist first class(or whatever they were called) at the beginning of the story, rather than captain. I wasn't sure where he got the funds to buy the old whaling vessel, but he transforms himself into the Ahab of the book--an interesting character arc of its own. I would never have envisioned Ahab as the care-free rascal engaging in crow's nest acrobatics as he does in this movie, but it serves as a contrast to the bitter, obsessed tyrant he becomes later on. His final triumph over Moby Dick and return to his sweetheart make for typical Hollywood pablum, but what's new, even after 70-odd years? In addition, much of the story is so land-locked, I was getting antsy for them to get to sea and get it on with MD.
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About Schmidt (2002)
Not great, but that's okay
7 July 2003
The thing I admire most about `About Schmidt' (or should I say about `Schmidt'?), is the fact that Jack Nicholson is a character you must submerge yourself in as an audience. If you don't, the movie is `boring' or `dull' in the words of other viewers. This is a risk most Hollywood Filmmakers are not willing to take anymore. Jack isn't `bigger than life', or `crazy like a Fox'. His character doesn't grab you by the throat and say `Watch me.' I'm a long way off from Warren's point in life, but there were times when I felt his discontent with his life, his love, and his rapidly diminishing future. Here was a man of average intelligence searching for a way out of a rapidly encroaching darkness and I felt that made him all the more poignant, but certainly not unlikeable. I guess that makes this a good movie, rather than a really great one. Great ones manage to transcend the differences we bring to the theater as an audience, allowing messages and themes to cross all manner of life experiences. Perhaps when a film succeeds in moving only a segment of that audience, it doesn't quite make it into the pantheon of `great' films, or at least one definition of them. So be it. The world needs more `good' films like this.
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