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A visual, and aural, feast for the viewer
I really enjoyed this movie. Two disparate people - one, an American art collector (Larry Pine), the other, an elderly but spry British woman (Peggy Ashcroft) who represents a British museum - arrive at a Maharaja's palace in Jodhpur, India and commence a sort of cat-and-mouse competition for the privilege to purchase a large, and apparently quite valuable, collection of old paintings which are in the Maharaja's possession -- a collection which, it seems, the Maharaja may not even be interested in selling.
Apparently it was made for TV, so it wasn't exactly what you would call "big budget," and yet I found it to be a rich feast of images of at least one part of India, both past and present. The scenery in and around the Maharaja's palace (filmed on location at Umaid Bhavan Palace in Jodhpur, India) was quite fascinating. In addition to authentic sets and scenery, there was lots of interesting Indian music, playing not only in the background but also in the "foreground," in the form of a few colorful dance sequences.
For a movie that's scarcely a little more than eighty minutes in length, I thought it held riches galore. The aforementioned scenery and music are only part of the rich tapestry found herein. The plot becomes a bit complex, but in a playful and gently comic manner, so you start to feel good as the story rolls along. The ending has a nice resolution to everything, and leaves you feeling good inside.
The actual paintings, what little we see of them, are quite wondrous, and are probably worth the proverbial price of admission.
Good performances all around, with a very literate script penned by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Of note is the teaming of Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft, and Saeed Jaffrey, all of whom would later appear together in 1984's "A Passage to India." Also look for a very compelling performance by Aparna Sen, who plays the Maharaja's intelligent, beautiful - and frustrated - sister, Bonnie.
Hitler's Bodyguard (2008)
Excellent miniseries: it's like a flash review of WW2 history
This is an enthralling, informative - and sometimes painful to watch - history of Hitler's precarious hold on power. The series makes clear that lots of people hated Hitler, and truly wanted to bump him off. Many people - both inside Germany as well as outside - put together various plots and schemes to do exactly that, but nearly every effort ended in abysmal failure. Only one or two of the plots really came even close. Some of the plots were downright inspired lunacy, like the proposal offered to New Zealand test pilot A.E. Clouston that he fly a British long-range plane all the way from England to Berlin, bomb Hitler as the fuhrer sat in a parade viewing stand, then high-tail it back to Britain - all on one tank of gas! Clouston thoughtfully and respectfully declined, but the series really makes you ponder the "what if?" aspects of such attempts on Hitler's life.
Anyway, this is a great series for people who want a refresher course on the dark days of Nazi power consolidation and other events leading up to WWII. In addition to footage from after WWII started, the series contains fantastic amounts of footage from the early to late 1930's; also many clips are shown in well-preserved color film. Plus, the series puts things in a global perspective, and also reveals things that make you scratch your head and say, "Wow, I never knew that before!"
I DVR'd the whole series off of the Military Channel. I believe you can go to their website and order the series on DVD. Highly recommended for war and history buffs.
Shanghai Surprise (1986)
25 years later: it's mellowed with age
The thought struck me recently that this movie was unfavorably received by critics and audiences alike at the time of its release (1986) because of the celebrity status of the two leading stars - Madonna and Sean Penn. But, if you watch the movie today, some twenty five years later, and if you are able to put the hype and the celebrity status of those two stars out of your mind, then, the movie doesn't seem so bad. In fact, it's actually a pretty good escapist adventure romp along the lines of an Indiana Jones movie.
I watched this movie for the first time just recently, as I was scared away from viewing it all those many years prior, simply because of all the negative hype surrounding it - the hype that said it was a real stinker. But I actually found it to be a pretty engrossing story, with a nicely done cinematography that oozed a colorful, exotic, sometimes even enchanting Oriental atmosphere that was hard to dismiss. Some of the shots, as filmed, were... beautiful! So don't let 1980's critics scare you away: this movie is worth a shot, and if you can mentally distill the two leads down to just being a guy and a girl from 1930's America thrust into an adventure escapade set in a faraway exotic locale, then you just might enjoy this movie for what it was meant to be: pure escapist entertainment.
Not perfect, but then again, NOT the stinker it has been made out to be.
A movie with a lot of feel
While sloshing back copious amounts of alcohol with his buddies at a bar in Seoul, our hero, the quiet but amiable chump Hyuk-jin, gets duped into meeting up with his drinking buddies the following day at a resort town somewhere in rural Korea, in what appears to be the dead of winter. Hyuk-jin dutifully gets on a bus the following morning to make the appointed rendezvous, but alas, his friends - who were apparently full of both hot air and alcohol - fail to show up. This leaves Hyuk-jin to fend for himself and still try to have a good time at, well, at a resort town in rural Korea in the dead of winter.
As if this isn't dismal enough, well, trust me, things start to go from bad to worse for our luckless hero. But it's the way in which things start to deteriorate for him that makes this movie so compelling. The movie is almost entirely free of the loud, obvious gags and pratfalls that you'd expect to find in, say, a Hollywood movie. This movie is a masterpiece of subtlety and understatement. Events move at a slow but steady pace - maybe too slow for the patience of some viewers who are more accustomed to faster action. But for me, that was a big part of the charm of this movie: the way it just rolled along at a gradual pace, absolutely sucking me into Hyuk-jin's steadily deteriorating adventure.
As I said in the summary line, the movie has a lot of feel. The action takes place in winter, and you actually feel the icy cold. There's a poignant scene where Hyuk-jin gets robbed - oh, and the robbers also had the "courtesy" of stealing his pants - and he's dumped by the side of the highway. Dead of winter. Rural Korea. Far away from a police station. Nobody bothers to help him. No pants Believe me, YOUR legs will be shivering when you watch that scene! Our hero encounters a bevy of questionable and at times really unlikable people, and believe me, you too will actually feel a palpable dislike for them!
I really enjoyed this movie. It has lots of subtle attention to detail, and although it's a bit slow paced, it makes up for it by constantly making you really care about what happens to the main character. The ending is a bit abrupt and enigmatic, which is a little jarring, I guess because you actually want to see what else lies ahead for our hapless hero, Hyuk-jin. But I like to think that he's somewhere safely back in Seoul and, having learned a few of life's hard lessons, will never make this sort of "adventure" again.
Mister Buddwing (1966)
Fascinating New York Story with some strange twists
I only recently caught this on TCM cable the other day. After watching it twice (and yes, it really does merit multiple viewings) I asked myself, "where has this little gem been hiding?" This movie came out in 1966, and this is the first time I've ever seen it.
Jim Garner is cast somewhat against type as the not-so-granite character we've come to know and love: here, he plays a man suffering from a bad case of amnesia. He wakes up on a park bench in New York City and, armed with only a few scant clues found in his pockets - a scribbled phone number without a name, some pills, a train schedule - he starts on a scatter-shot quest through the edges and byways of New York City in an attempt to discover who he really is.
The movie has some interesting vibes going on: it's edgy, dark and suspenseful, also eerie and at times darkly comic. The plot is a bit convoluted, with odd flashback scenes juxtaposed with odd events and characters that occur in present time. If all of this makes the viewer a little disoriented, then the director has done his job well, because that is precisely how James Garner's character feels throughout the movie, right up until the very end.
Along the way he encounters a colorful batch of characters, each of whom directs (or misdirects as the case may be) our hero to his final destination and ultimate discovery of who he really is, and how he came to end up on a park bench in New York. The interplay between Garner and these assorted characters - who play like a sort of human sampler of New York City - is what makes the movie so worthwhile. There's lots of interesting dialog going on, enough to make it worth your while to watch the movie several times.
Nicely filmed in black and white, with an excellent supporting cast and excellent soundtrack, this is an engrossing and fast-moving story that never bogs down, and turns out to be one of the best offbeat movies I've seen in a long time. Highly recommended.
March or Die (1977)
Really a very good war movie, but could have been epic
This movie *could* have been as epic a movie as, say, "Apocalypse Now," "Lawrence of Arabia," or "Platoon." Instead we have a colorful, atmospheric period piece, set largely in the Moroccan desert, that plays like a wealthier version of "The Siege of Firebase Gloria." Not that that in itself serves to denigrate this movie. Not at all. Heck, "The Siege of Firebase Gloria" is a pretty decent war pic in its own right. It's just that I get this nagging feeling, that "March or Die," with a little extra input on production values, wider desert shots, more background flashbacks, etc., *could* have been a much more memorable, larger-than-life sort of picture.
But what "March or Die" lacks in the sheer epic expanse of other big-name war movies, it more than makes up for with carefully measured performances by the principal characters, not the least of which is that turned in by Gene Hackman, who plays a certain Major Foster - a cynical but nonetheless highly disciplined former American officer, booted from the "vaunted" army of America, who has found his military niche in the austere, almost mysterious world of the French Foreign Legion.
How exactly a Yank ends up in command of a Foreign Legion battalion leaves a little to the imagination - or at least prompts the viewer to make the necessary allowances for artistic license. True, the FFL was, and is, open to recruits from just about any country, but most of the officer ranks are usually reserved for the French. Some of the officers do in fact work their way up from the bottom, so maybe this explains Major Foster's leadership position.
In any case, I felt it was one of the better performances of Hackman's career. Though his Major Foster is an officer clearly under a lot of personal stress, with a lot of "ghosts in his closet," Hackman carefully avoids the temptation to imbue this man with excessive amounts of passion that I seem to associate with a Gene Hackman performance. And it works well in this movie, because he is *supposed* to be a man of discipline. In fact one of his more memorable lines in the movie is when he reminds a group of unruly recruits, on their way to joining up with the Legion, that "the Legion is the most disciplined army in the world."
The movie itself is a fairly engrossing mixture of military action and political intrigue - namely, certain powers in France saw fit to use Major Foster's Legion battalion as a sort of "protection squad" to help protect a vital archaeological dig in the Moroccan desert, on lands traditionally inhabited by various Arab tribes. Neither the Arab tribesmen, nor Major Foster himself, are really too keen on the prospect of foreigners coming in to usurp other peoples' wealth. But Major Foster, ever the military man in spite of creeping cynicism, does what he is told, or, as he coldly explains to El Krim, the leader of one of the militant tribes (nicely played, oddly enough, by British actor Ian Holm): "A soldier goes where he is sent."
A very interesting host of characters comes into play throughout the movie, including Max Von Sydow as the archaeologist intent on digging up the treasure in the desert - not only for the glory and coffers of France, but, we can assume, for his own personal aggrandizement.
The Legionnaires themselves are an odd and, at times, colorful lot, much as you'd expect from a disparate group of desperate lads, all seeking anonymity, adventure, escape, redemption, or whatever else it is they expect to find in the Foreign Legion: there is Marco, a slippery jewel thief who seems to con his way in and out of everyone's life, but nevertheless has a heart of gold (though, at times, you wonder if he didn't steal that gold in a heist); there is a tragically inept soldier known only as Top Hat, a former musician whose background and reasons for being in the Legion are never really explained; there is a hard-as-nails battalion officer, a certain Lt. Fontaine, who gives no mercy to the troops, and expects none in return - only discipline. There are assorted other nationalities represented in this odd mix of Legion troops, including a young British lad who meets a particularly unpleasant fate at the hands of the Arabs; a handful of ex-German soldiers, joining up after Germany's defeat in the recently-ended Great War; and also an expatriate Russian, named Ivan, who seems to represent some of the human global spillage caused by the Russian Revolution, just then occurring in his homeland. The Legion seems to be not only the best, but perhaps the only, place for him, and the rest of them, to call home.
Last but not least is beautiful Catherine Deneuve, in a minor role, playing a war-weary French widow, thrown into this Moroccan mix due to circumstances beyond her control. I really liked her appearance in this movie. Though she didn't have a particularly heavy part, I would not call her the obligatory female "fluff" - she did in fact add some balance and nuance to the story that, for me anyway, was really quite meaningful.
The movie ends with an epic battle scene reminiscent of other siege-type movies, where the onslaught of seemingly endless streams of enemy soldiers against a thinly-defended garrison IS the battle royale, the raison d'etre of the entire movie. The battle scene is well-done and ultimately poignant. In fact, the entire movie was well-done and poignant. It just seemed to be lacking those few extra points that snatched it from the jaws of greatness. Be that as it may, it is a great war movie worth seeing by any die-hard war movie fan. And if it prompts you to study further about the history of the French Foreign Legion, as it did me, then, so much the better.
Tôkyô no kôrasu (1931)
A charmer of a film - great commentary on life's ups and downs, and ups
Here we follow the tragi-comic story of one Shinji Okajima, a young Japanese man who seems more destined in life for clowning about than being a responsible, productive worker. We meet him early on, in his college years (which some people may mistake for a military training camp), acting pretty much the goof-off or "class clown," basically doing everything he can to diss his exasperated instructor while at the same time hamming it up for his beloved classmates.
Fast forward a few years, and we now find our hero married, with children, and working for an insurance company. One fine day - bonus day, at that - he takes it upon himself to stand up to the boss, who has just fired one of Shinji's older co-worker who seems adept at writing policies for people who promptly die or somehow meet a quick demise, forcing said insurance company to pay out big yen. The boss apparently doesn't have a yen for doing that on a regular basis. Our hero passionately (TOO passionately) sticks up for the older man, which in turn ends up costing him his job as well. The story continues from there, showcasing the travails of our not-so-happy-go-lucky hero and his young family as they soberly tread the muck and mire of Depression-era Tokyo, rife with unemployment, stodgy with traditional Japanese values and honor, treacherous with impending shame if you do the wrong thing in the eyes of your family and peers.
There's a poignant scene in which Shinji, erstwhile white-collar professional, is reduced to plying the streets of Tokyo, carrying an advertising banner and passing out leaflets for a small restaurant run by his former college teacher, whom we met earlier. When his kids and wife become aware of this "degradation," the shame of it all nearly devastates the family.
This movie is a fascinating portrait of a man, of a time, a place, a culture, that all seem so foreign yet so instantly recognizable. Like many silent movies from this era, this movie is NOT in good condition, heavily marred here and there with scratches and "salt and pepper." And yet you sometimes have to remind yourself that the movie was made some 80 years ago in pre-war Japan: in spite of conspicuous examples of an earlier Japan - people wearing kimonos or being transported via rickshaw - there are nevertheless ample scenes of modernization and Westernization. You'll almost do a double take when our hero is served a plate of rice and curried pork chops, and is then given not chopsticks, but a large spoon with which to eat it. In some of the scenes where the men are gathered and dressed in crisp Western-style business suits and ties, you almost expect any one of them could whip out a cell phone and call a client across town
The point is, the movie is nearly timeless in its keen observations of the human experience, and that's what makes it such a joy to watch. Not to mention that it ends on basically a hopeful and uplifting note. One sad note is that the actor, Tokihiko Okada, who plays our hero, died a mere three years after this film was made. He was only 30! I marvel at what wondrous films director Ozu could have made with him, had he lived on.
Anyway, with this film Ozu has crafted a wonderfully hopeful world, and in so doing gives the viewer a chance to glimpse inside that world and be a part of it for nearly 100 minutes. Those, in my opinion, are 100 very well-spent minutes of your life. See it if you get the chance.
Billy Two Hats (1974)
Underrated western... or maybe just not seen by enough people?
I think this movie is underrated as a western. Or maybe it's just under-seen, which is really a pity. With nice color photography, it's got some really great western visuals, a meaty storyline, a collection of disparate characters whose fates you really start to care about, and some memorable, quotable dialogue here and there. Jack Warden is excellent as a gruff frontier sheriff "just doing his job," as it were. He's a toned-down and more accessible version of Gene Hackman's over-the-top bastardly sheriff in "Unforgiven." Gregory Peck, playing a words-of-wisdom-spouting Scottish outlaw with a big heart, is really quite good with his Scottish accent (no, it's not perfect, but passable), and has some memorable lines. Desi Arnaz Jr. is quite the sympathetic character as a half-breed Kiowa Indian outlaw being brought to justice by the sheriff. The supporting cast is quite good, and oh.. that nasty little band of outlaw Apaches they run into is truly a scary lot. You can't help but wonder how many white settlers they raped, murdered and pillaged.
All in all, the movie is packed with memorable western images and meaningful lines of dialogue . See it if you get a chance. I'd love for this movie to get more air time.
Mitsuko – my favorite woman from Tokyo
I really love this film, for no better reason than to watch, eyes agape and heart throbbing, at the beautiful performance of Ayako Wakao as Mitsuko. Mitsuko is SO charming, seductive and sexy in this, that I almost pay no attention to the somewhat twisty plot of the movie. It has something to do with wily women working their wicked ways on each other and a couple of men in their lives. And it all ends up in a sort of crazy, tragic finale. But none of that really matters to me. What's important is to watch Mitsuko – truly one of the most charmingly seductive flirts to ever grace the screen.
I marvel at every breathless syllable, every sly tilt of the head, every deceitful flicker of the eyes that this woman carries out. Perfection! Nice hair, too! She is so fluid and natural, that one never entertains the notion that this is an actress performing a role. I've had the opportunity to see Ms. Wakao in other films, where she can be much more cold and reserved, so this performance of hers in Manji was truly a pleasant surprise, and really, quite a gift to someone like me who appreciates a woman's charm and beauty – in spite of the fact that, in this film anyway, it's all for the most manipulative of reasons.
I would add that there is excellent supporting work done by Kyoko Kishida (Sonoko) who plays opposite Mitsuko as the woman who falls irrevocably under her spell. Her final line at the end of the movie is so heart-wrenchingly memorable. (I couldn't help but think that it would have been great if they could have gotten Toshiro Mifune to play the part of her husband.)
The DVD from which I viewed this (2002 release, letterbox format) is a very nice transfer but for one small segment where, for some strange reason, the colors nearly vanished and the picture went to a near-sepia tone. The movie was beautifully filmed - thankfully in color - and features nice use of color in areas such as costumes and set design. And I'll just add one more gratuitous nod to the beauty of Mitsuko: the use of color ensures that she looks ravishing in her print dresses. One other area of note: the very effective background music. At times it has a rather somber, foreboding element, somewhat resembling the slow, deliberate piano intro of Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.
All in all a nicely done, memorable movie, but I'll always remember it for Mitsuko.
Nice "sampler" package of Hollywood treats from an important period in time
I really enjoyed this "sampler" of Hollywood's greatest hits of 1939 - a year which (as the title implies) many consider to be Hollywood's greatest. Somewhat thin and rushed in its overall feel, one nevertheless can't deny that this documentary makes a sincere effort to open the eyes of today's movie lovers to a bygone era of Hollywood greatness.
The deficiency of this documentary can best be explained very simply: Not enough time! That is to say, the subject matter is really too vast to be condensed neatly into a 75-minute documentary with any expectation that it will reveal enough facts, figures, anecdotes, history and lore of late-30's Hollywood to even begin to satisfy the more serious film buff. So in effect, the documentary comes across more as a compilation of trailers and previews of all those great films of 1939, rather than any sort of serious history lesson.
The viewer nevertheless does get a sense of the historical "place" of 1939 Hollywood: it is made apparent that the preceding 8 or 9 years of hard economic times, i.e. The Great Depression, culminated in an end-of-decade perfect storm of masterful film productions. Whether this is cause and effect or something else entirely, is left up to the viewer to decide. Also, one can see that 1939 was a transitional year on a global scale, what with war clouds looming on the horizon, which indubitably cast long shadows into the movie studios of the time. Further, there were some interesting comments about the manner by which major Hollywood studios controlled not only production of their films, but distribution as well (in the form of wholly-owned theater chains), leading to members of U.S. Congress leveling charges of monopoly tactics.
I wish there would have been a lot more to this documentary, but I also wonder, how much could they really do with 75 minutes? At what point did they decide to "draw the line," and leave much of the historical context on the cutting room floor, and simply concentrate more on showcasing the finished product - i.e. the films themselves? I think in that regard they did the right thing. As I noted above, the subject matter is too vast for a 75-minute documentary.
As a movie lover, and as someone who enjoys exploring movies from the bygone era of Hollywood, I commend this documentary for allowing me to see some of my favorites - Ninotchka, Gone With The Wind, Gunga Din, Stagecoach, etc. - in a new light. In addition, I thank this work for showing some snippets of movies that I have not yet seen, but really must check out: Midnight, Dodge City, The Women, Confessions of a Nazi Spy, etc. If nothing else, I would highly recommend this documentary to anyone interested in getting some "movie night" ideas. Hopefully there is a video store near you that carries many of these movie titles from 1939, "Hollywood's Greatest Year."
Production Notes for a far-out movie
This is a great little movie: it's one of the most far-out and over-the-top movies I've seen, yet at its core it tells a fairly heartfelt story of underdog misfit high school girls bucking a corrupt and at times downright evil school system. Over-the-top though it is, you sometimes can't help but wonder if what you're seeing is a more-or-less true depiction of actual events that took place in a Japanese high school some where, some time, not terribly long ago...
Anyway, I thought I'd include here the Production Notes as they appear on the Special Features portion of the DVD:
The "Terrifying Girls' High School" pictures were a kind of spin-off to the "Girl Boss" series. Reiko Ike stars in all four. Miki Sugimoto co-stars in the first two, and the outrageousness factor is in just as full flower. However, here the girls are not former reform school inmates, they're high school girls – albeit emotionally warped, perverse, violent, sexually precocious high school girls. The tone of the entire quartet is pretty dark, even compared to most of the "Girl Boss" sagas, with less of the goofy, adolescent humor that sometimes overstayed its welcome in that series.
The second episode, "Terrifying Girls' High School: Lynch Law Classroom (Kyofu Joshikoku: Boko Rinchi Kyoshitsu, 1973)" is the best – a lunatic erotic/grotesque sleaze fest that remains one of director (Norifumi) Suzuki's wildest movies. Sugimoto is the leader of a trio of underdog delinquents at a super-strict girls' school. Independent yakuza biker chick and all-around free spirit Reiko Ike arrives midway to assist Sugimoto and her pals in fighting a homicidally fascist band of schoolgirls whom the principal (Kenji Imai) has recruited to keep the rowdier misfits cowed. These neo-nazi types are merciless sadists who love to drain their victims' blood, burn them with hot light bulbs, and generally make their lives miserable enough that they'll commit suicide! Ike, in turn, is helped by her yakuza pal, the suave but somewhat klutzy Tsunehiko Watase. Watase engineers blackmail scenarios by setting up sex stings on various hypocritical school staff and a corrupt member of the Diet (Nobuo Kaneko), a bunch unable to put the brakes on their voracious appetite for underage poontang.
The climax sees a full-scale riot at the school, with the girls keeping the hordes of cops at bay with rocks and fire hoses. Supremely anarchic entertainment. This film is really the strongest of all of Miki Sugimoto's performances and the first time she ever really carried a film without Reiko Ike. Ike's presence was greatly scaled down, in order for the producers to build a more antagonistic relationship between the two leads. It also allowed an opportunity to build stars out of the other supporting cast members like Misuzu Ota, Yuko Kano, Ryoko Ema, and Rena Ichinose. The fact that none of them ever reached the heights that Ike or Sugimoto attained is more a tribute to Reiko and Miki than criticism of the others.
Lost Reality (2004)
Bad but Good
I discovered this little oddity the other day while stumbling aimlessly amongst the aisles and wall racks at my local Blockbuster video store.
National Lampoon does its job pretty well here: they lampoon the whole "Reality TV" phenomenon under which many of us modern-day TV viewers are quite frankly suffocating.
This video is a fairly convincing attempt to portray what appears to be a mixed bag of segments from "Reality" TV shows that purportedly were actually made, but for various reasons (mainly legal) never aired on TV. The shows themselves are absurd beyond belief. Of course, that's part of the joke: how could anybody actually believe that reality TV-show concepts such as "Casting Couch", "The Whore", "The Amazing Racist" etc. ever be considered by any sane network executive? Yet the shows are convincingly-enough acted that frequently you will believe that what you are watching is REAL, and not an elaborate National Lampoon joke.
The video hits the mark in three areas: 1) it lampoons the whole recent genre of "reality TV" and does it quite well. 2) it is amusingly anti-P.C. without being too hateful. 3) a lot of it is actually really FUNNY, such as when a guy is challenged to shoplift items from a sex shop, and he is shown stuffing down his pants leg various sexual "devices" - some of which are... ahem... big and long.
Anyway, it's bad but good, and I'm glad I rented it. I must warn you though that it's NOT for the young or squeamish, as it contains lots of raw language and images of a naughty or disgusting nature. But do see it with your buddies in a frat or sorority party setting and you will prolly have some jolly good fun with it.
Starsky & Hutch (2004)
You need to appreciate that it's a parody of the T.V. series...
I think they should expand the genre listing to include "Parody". Under genre, this movie is listed as "Action, Comedy, Crime" - which is correct, but not quite complete. "Parody" really needs to be included (and emphasized) here. That's because viewers wishing to see this movie might bring with them preconceived notions based on the old "Starsky and Hutch" T.V. series from the mid-seventies, and as a result they might be disappointed with this film. Letting them know full well in advance that this is a parody of that T.V. show might help to take away some of the let-down.
I really enjoyed the film. In a nutshell: delightful characterizations, and never a dull moment. Seventies soundtrack was good, too. It had a pleasant mix of absurdity and seriousness (with more of a tilt towards the absurd) that kept me entertained throughout. Yes, I know that crime is no joke, but still I found it refreshing to see a movie that poked fun at the all-too-serious "cop show" format, which was so all-pervasive back in the seventies.
If you watch this on DVD (which I highly recommend), make sure you check out the deleted scenes. I especially enjoyed the deleted scene where the two leads were in a bar, and Starsky was telling Hutch about how he was still single. Hutch's reaction and comments to that revelation were priceless.
BTW, If you like this sort of Crime/Comedy/Parody-of-a-T.V.-series sort of movie, I heartily recommend you also watch "Dragnet" (1987) with Dan Aykroyd and Tom Hanks.
Pete and Gladys (1960)
The day Kennedy was shot...
...my mom and little sister were watching a rerun of "Pete and Gladys" when the local news announcer interrupted the program to deliver the grim news about Kennedy's assassination.
Even today, some 40 years after the event, I can't get my mom to make a comment about the day Kennedy was shot without her prefacing her recollections by first mentioning that she and my little sis were at home watching "Pete and Gladys".
I don't remember too clearly what I was doing that day. I know I was in second grade, and they put the news on the school intercom and we listened to it non-stop until school let out. Then I went home. But I've always wondered what it must have been like to have been watching "Pete and Gladys" only to have the show interrupted by news of the president's assassination.
It Must Be Love (2004)
Nice Valentine's Day movie
I enjoyed this movie. It made for a nice Valentine's Day movie. Ted Danson (George) and Mary Steenburgen (Clem) were excellent in their respective roles as a man and wife on the verge of working out a simple and amicable divorce that unfortunately got a bit more complicated than they bargained for.
The acting was smooth, the script was thoughtful, and there was just something that seemed so believable about the whole story (could it be that the two leads are actually husband and wife in real life?? Nah...) I also liked the way they depicted them being stranded, in their camper, in a freak snowstorm out in the wilds of Maine. It was convincingly done (at least as much as can be expected for a made-for-TV movie), and you couldn't help finding yourself caring about the individual fates of the characters involved.
The supporting characters (namely Joe and Tess who played the son and daughter of this couple, plus the women who played the grandmothers) were excellent, and I really liked the rather quirky side-stories going on with the kids - the daughter, for example, freaked out on the very first night of her honeymoon, and decided to ditch the marriage right on the spot!
I also couldn't help but notice that there were some excellent songs added to the movie as well. All in all a very nicely done made-for-TV movie, rightfully shown around Valentine's Day. Hopefully they'll show it again sometime so if anybody missed it, they can get a chance to see it.
Afraid of the Dark (1991)
Good movie, though sadly misunderstood. Give it a second chance.
**Spoiler Alert: Possible explanatory SPOILERS ahead, necessary for my review**
"Afraid of the Dark" is a movie about a young British boy, Lucas, who suffers from an eye condition which, if not corrected with a surgical operation, will certainly cause him to go blind. The movie shows how he mentally fades in and out of his "real" world, often times creating a hellish imaginary world that only a young, impressionable, and, namely, SCARED little boy could create.
I saw it once, didn't understand it, and didn't much care for it, as it seemed a confusing, unentertaining hodge-podge of an art-house film although I did enjoy the dark, moody, atmospheric feel to it. I also liked the London row-house setting. It is a quiet movie, a virtually humorless movie, with a rather somber, at times slightly eerie soundtrack.
Interestingly, I had recorded it on tape, and, not wishing to re-record something over it without giving it at least another chance, I decided to watch it again surprisingly, it was more compelling viewing the second time through, and I'm glad I saved my tape.
It helps to understand that the movie combines healthy doses of artistic license as well as portrayal of events that are purely a child's fantasy, which, upon first viewing can be so confusing and off-putting that I can see why the average viewer might not like this movie. You will spend a lot of time wondering what's real, and what's not.
But give it a chance. You may have to watch it twice, like I did, but you will be rewarded. Just remember that many of the "twisted" scenes in the movie are not real: they are scenes that merely reflect a nightmare world as concocted by the hyper-imaginative mind of the scared young boy, Lucas, who is terrified of his upcoming eye operation/possible blindness. So I must give the film great credit for not only being imaginative, but also very sobering, as it is a thought-provoking glimpse into the frightened mind of a child faced with possible blindness.
Compelling viewing despite being somewhat flawed
I really enjoyed the new made-for-TV miniseries "Traffic". It's important to note that this was roughly based on another miniseries called "Traffik" (spelled with a 'k'), made in 1989 by the BBC. I liked that one immensely, it is easily one of the best movies I've ever seen. But I would still rate this new effort as way above average.
The story is compelling viewing, mainly because it hits so close to home - literally and figuratively. The movie is roughly organized around two main scenarios: one involves the illegal smuggling into the United States - by way of the commercial seaport of Seattle, Washington - of cargos of illegal immigrants; the other deals with a terrorist-organized shipment of smallpox, meant to wipe out huge masses of population in the U.S. In a post 9-11 world it's the kind of story that ought to make one sit up and take note.
Both stories grab your attention: both are dark and tragic enough to really make you feel empathy towards all involved. I found myself really caring about the fates of each of the main characters, I anxiously awaited the following episodes, and was willing to tune in for three nights consecutively - something I don't often do with made-for-TV stuff nowadays.
I couldn't help but note a few flaws, probably because I was subconsciously comparing this film with the aforementioned "Traffik", the BBC miniseries of 1989, which was generally a superior film. I felt this current miniseries got a bit too melodramatic and sensationalistic here and there, and it seemed that characters were doing things that seemed too contrived for reality. (Made-for-TV says it all!). Another distraction was the fact that the seaport in the story was purportedly supposed to be Seattle, Washington. Well, it turns out the whole thing was filmed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Since I'm from Seattle and know what my city looks like, I had a good chuckle out of watching the film trying to pass off Vancouver as Seattle.
But these flaws are minor and largely cosmetic compared to the real gist of the film, which is essentially the dark and seamy nature of the "trafficking" which the movie addresses: the smuggling of illegal immigrants is a reality, as is the threat of terrorists using shipping containers to smuggle in WMD's. (A couple of years ago here in Seattle, customs inspectors found a freight van on board a cargo ship that had about 15 dead Chinese illegals in it. Seems they didn't survive the trip across the Pacific. So the human smuggling that is depicted in the movie is a real issue and is based on actual events.)
If you get a chance, watch this miniseries (hopefully it will be out on DVD or videocassette someday). I also heartily recommend that you find a copy of the aforementioned BBC miniseries "Traffik". Both films cover serious issues that, in this day and age - especially post 9-11 - are impossible to ignore.
Boat Trip (2002)
Harmless vulgar sex-farce on a Ship of Poofs
I picked this one up (the DVD version) totally on impulse the other night, not having a clue as to what it would really be like. The title, cover design and descriptive blurb on the back of the DVD would indicate something quite different than a couple of guys who accidentally wind up on a cruise for gay men.
But no matter, as the film turned out to be a "guilty pleasure" sort of comedy. In that respect it's not unlike "Deuce Bigalow, Male Gigolo", or some of the more risqué Benny Hill skits: sure it's stupid, vulgar and corny, but sometimes exactly those kinds of comedies can fill a comedy niche with certain viewers.
Most of the humor IS combination corny/vulgar - with some of it venturing into the gross-out variety. But, I did laugh out loud more than once, and at least found myself chuckling throughout most of it. The scenery is great - I mean, you've got the Swedish suntanning team prancing around in bikinis, providing proof that Swedes aren't all a bunch of square-heads afterall. (Victoria Silvstedt, who really is from Sweden, is quite beautiful, BTW). In addition, there are some picturesque scenes of a Mediterranean coastal town where the cruise ship makes a port visit. The cruise-ship set - created on a soundstage in Cologne, Germany, believe it or not - is quite well done (I was going to say "gorgeous", but since I'm straight, I guess I shouldn't use that word).
Roger Moore co-stars, and I wasn't shocked or disappointed or disgusted (as some other commenters appear to have been) to see the great former James Bond, 007 make an appearance in the film, playing a double-oh-gay, double-okay sort of old poof. He actually has some pretty funny lines in the film, especially at the end when they are preparing to sky-dive.
The other actors - Cuba Gooding Jr., Horatio Sanz, Roselyn Sanchez, et al - were certainly more than adequate to convey the whole silly sex-farce comedy of the film.
So, I would have to recommend it as worth seeing - the caveat being that it's probably intended more for adults, and for those times when you want a light-hearted, zany, not mean-spirited sex-farce sort of comedy. (You'll never look at Roger Moore in a James Bond film the same way again, I guarantee it!).
Fantastic sea voyage, with realism that shocked
I just saw Master and Commander today. I was quite literally shocked by the gut-wrenching reality of the battle scenes. Seems like I had barely snuggled into my cozy theater seat, expecting a "boring" sea story (as some critics have panned it), when suddenly the opening salvos of cannon fire from the French warship "Acheron" came coursing over the gunwales of the HMS "Surprise". The cannon shot came hurtling across and through the ship, with a distinct audible sonic roar - like screaming evil demons - and I was physically shaken by the sheer carnage that the cannon salvos caused for the ship and crew.
I thought the movie was excellent, it was beautifully filmed and there was such an incredible feel of realism about the whole film. I found it not at all boring as some critics have said it was. But then again, I spent six years in the Navy, and another five years at sea in the fishing business, so I could relate to the whole on-board scene of life at sea. I thought the movie had just superb maritime atmosphere and great attention to detail. I also thought the movie had great suspense - especially after that opening skirmish.
I enjoyed all the little touches that gave the movie depth and body, such as the detours to the Galapagos Islands, and I liked Captain Jack's dry humor and banter with his fellow officers and crew. The violin playing needed a little work, but it was a charming touch. So was the little cricket match.
The only slight criticism I had was that often times, during dialogue, actors seemed to be speaking in very low voices, making it hard to hear. But other than that, it was quite a well put-together film. So, put me down as a big fan of the movie. I will definitely buy the DVD when it comes out, but to all who haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend you don't pass up the opportunity to see this in a big-screen theater. It will definitely lose a lot of its "punch" if you view it on a small TV screen.
The Haunting of Seacliff Inn (1994)
Yuppies came, they saw, they were vanquished by... ghosts???
Wonderful movie in which California yuppies, largely on a speculative whim, buy a wonderful old 19th-century mansion and attempt to turn it into a profitable bed & breakfast joint (which they name "Seacliff Inn", hence the name of the film).
Little do they realize that the old inn is infested with spirits of the past, some of whom are hell-bent on revenge and destruction.
The movie has great filming locations (Mendocino, Northern California coast), a nice "supernatural" atmosphere, lots of old-style architecture, and should be a delight to anyone who loves the California coast, antiques, old-style architecture, the sea, ghost stories, etc. etc.
Ally Sheedy's character (Susan Enright) is probably one of the most spoiled and grating female characters I've encountered in film in a long time, but thankfully her negative vibes are countered by the lovely "ghost lady", Sara, portrayed by Lucinda Weist. There's also a really scary dog in the movie, who's appearances are well-timed for shock and horror value. Louise Fletcher (remember her from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest??) also has a poignant role in the film.
Nicely done ghost story, should appeal to anyone who likes ghosts, hauntings, the supernatural. Also fun to look at around Halloween time (which is when I last saw it).
See Spot Run (2001)
This movie had me wagging my tail
I actually thought the movie was pretty good. But first let me emphasize, that it really helps if you come to this film with no other preconceived notion other than that it is intended as a rather light, perhaps kid- or family-oriented sort of entertainment. It never set out to be a "Schindler's List" or a "Gone With the Wind". But it still delivers some quality goods.
I thought the film had some quality film-making behind it. The cinematography was just fine, the setting was beautiful (filmed in and around beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia - a city I've been lucky enough to visit more than once in my life), and the actors were all (to me, anyway) quite likable and enjoyable in their roles.
David Arquette, whom you wouldn't ordinarily consider a comic, in fact does surprisingly well with the physical and often-times slapstick humor in the film. Michael Clark Duncan is really the sympathetic character here, playing a HUGE (and highly muscular) FBI agent who has an almost over-the-top attachment to the dog. The kid, played by Angus T. Jones, is really quite adorable, in fact I was surprised at how winning a personality he has (I don't always like child actors, sometimes they can be horrendous brats, but this kid was truly exceptional). The kid's mom, Stephanie, played by Leslie Bibb, was also quite charming (and always good to look at, even when she was covered in mud). Anthony Anderson, whom many of you may remember as Jamaal Baileygates (one of Jim Carrey's sons in "Me, Myself and Irene") was extremely likable, and I was glad to see him in a role where he was not required to resort to vulgar language like he did in "Me, Myself and Irene".
Other roles in the film were also very well played. And last but not least, let's not forget the dog himself, who was at least as compelling as any or all of the other members of the cast. How they trained the dog to do some of those stunts that he did is way beyond me!
This movie will probably best be enjoyed by families with young kids, and also by dog-lovers, as this film definitely made man's best friend look really, really good (in spite of the fact that they had about a whole five minute sequence devoted to the hilarious consequences of someone stepping in dog-doo at precisely the wrong time...).
So if you want a thoroughly enjoyable light comedy with a dog theme, go rent it: you won't be barking up the wrong tree, I guarantee it.
The Lost Prince (2003)
Touching movie that plays like a post-card version of your high school history classes
(Aired over two nights this week on the Canadian station, CBUT, which we get here in Seattle...)
Superbly photographed and exquisitely acted, this movie primarily focuses on England's Prince John, youngest son of George V and Queen Mary who, in his tragically short life, suffered not only from periodic epileptic seizures but was also handicapped by what appeared to be some form of retarded mental development.
The creators of this film were kindly and charitable in not showing the boy's ailments in too negative a light. Enough was shown though to give the viewer to understand that the poor lad had problems - so much so that his immediate family and caretakers felt that he clearly wasn't cut out for royal service. As a result he was whisked away to a sort of royal "nether-world" out in the English countryside, away from public view, where hopefully he would not become an object of curiosity, scorn, ridicule, etc.
Sad though the plight of the boy was, you couldn't help but feel that he and his dysfunctional condition was a metaphor for the plight of the entire royal or aristocratic system which held sway over most all of Europe at the time. The boy's ailments and weaknesses eventually lead to his downfall, and all of this plays out simultaneously with the royal families of Europe (most of whom are shown being connected through marriage or bloodline) attempting to cope quite ineffectually with the onslaught of the tragedy of World War One.
The film includes several scenes of interaction between the British royal family and the Russian royal family (the Czar and Czarina and their wonderful kids). They are closely related, which makes their death (or shall we say murder, at the hands of the Bolsheviks, which is graphically depicted) all the more chilling, tragic and thought provoking.
There is so much to contemplate in this movie that I'd rather not sit here and prattle on about it, but instead would rather simply recommend that people go rent a copy and just watch it. It may not be for everyone, as it is a bit long and covers many facets of early 20th century history that will glide right over your head if you weren't paying attention in history class. But even if you ignore entirely the historical aspects of the movie, it is nonetheless a very touching picture: sad, compelling, and ultimately life-affirming, with wonderful performances and beautifully photographed images that will stick in your mind for a long time to come.
Houston... We have a comedy...
Giant asteroid is heading for Earth, hell bent on destroying the planet. What??! Better notify NASA. Since I guess maybe Superman, Ahnold, or the Ghostbusters weren't available, NASA has no choice but to call this motley crew of oil drilling experts (headed by Bruce Willis) and enlist them to go on the mother of all space missions: land on the asteroid, drill a deep hole, plug it with a nuke, beat it, detonate the nuke, and save Earth.
You will have to put me down as one of the people who liked this film - simply because I thought it was funny as hell. I haven't laughed so hard at a sci-fi-comedy since "Mars Attacks!". Almost from the very start you could easily tell that the movie, though purportedly about a horrific doomsday scenario - namely, an asteroid the size of Texas careening into planet Earth (where everybody in the world lives, wouldn't ya' know it!) - never intended itself to be taken too seriously.
It seems that every serious scene or sequence in the film was immediately followed by something totally comic or ludicrous. And it just got ludicrouser and ludicrouser as the film went on. By the time Steve Buscemi's character, Rockhound, got "space mania" and had to be duct-taped to a chair, I was nearly in stitches from laughing so hard. [If the "real" end of the world is even half as funny, well, I'm ready for it NOW.]
The movie is chock full of wonderfully wacky characters and off-the-wall dialogue that (assuming you have even a smidgen of a sense of humor) should keep you at least grinning, if not guffawing, throughout. The movie is filled with rapid-fire action sequences, almost none of which is remotely believable or even scientifically possible, but hey, it looks good, and it just adds to the overall zaniness of the film.
So for all of you space cadets who are out there in space looking for a great science fiction drama about the end of Earth, but instead found "Armageddon", a truly decent space comedy, I now command you to get on the radio and call back to Earth: "Houston... We have a comedy."
Night-time soap opera set in a nonexistent New Hampshire
This show, judging by the pilot episode which I just saw tonight, has limited promise. It seems like a night-time soap opera set in a New Hampshire/New England setting that I don't really believe exists.
Though I'm not a native of New England, I used to live in Maine, not too far from New Hampshire, so perhaps allow me to make some qualified observations nevertheless: I just didn't get a New England "feel" to this show, I just don't "recognize" any of these characters as being truly New Englander types. Sure, they can doll them up in LL Bean attire until the cows come home, but that in itself a New Englander does not make.
I think the show runs the risk of bombing because it brings too much of a Hollywood/California frame of mind to a New England setting. The men in this show seem way too giddy for real New Englanders, and all seem WAY too preoccupied with their personal "issues"; the women seem more like annoying busy-bodies from some rich enclave of Sausalito, California; the kids - at least those that have appeared so far - seem more like big city high school kids in Los Angeles dealing with image problems and the like, etc. These are not the New Englanders that I remember from oh, twenty or so years ago when I used to live in that glorious part of America. Have times really changed that much? I thinketh not.
One positive about the show is the incredible depth of the cast. Randy Quaid, Mare Winningham and Elizabeth McGovern just to name a few. I like these actors a lot, and hope the show really works for them, but the writing and the whole "atmoshpere" of the show really needs some work.
If this show develops further, I hope it loses some of the soap opera feel. Just a thought, but it would be kinda' cool (for me anyway) if the show took a sort of David Lynch/Twin Peaks detour and got rather twisty. New England lends itself to that. It can be very twisty there. Very twisty indeed. ("Ya can't get there from here" - Bert and I).
Cat Scratch Fever? Attack of the psycho-kitties? Kitten with a Whip?
I've heard of a "wolf pack" (think Nazi U-boats). I've heard of the "Rat Pack" (think Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. etc.). Now we have the "Cat Pack": think gang of furry ferocious crazed felines on a bloodthirsty rampage in some old house out in the middle of nowhere, terrorizing a hapless young family, and you basically have the premise for this movie.
I can't say it's entirely a bad premise, but unfortunately it doesn't come off well in this movie. 'Lame and un-scary' doesn't begin to describe this mess of a film. My overall reaction: much like you'd do with a bad kitty who claws the sofa legs, you want to take a rolled up newspaper and give this movie a good swat on the rear end.
The acting by everyone involved is embarrasing (especially the wife and kid, who, traumatized by cat-induced fear and shock, overplay their overblown reactions so bad that you'd swear you'd seen better acting in your junior high school play). As for Claudia Christian, who later went on to fame and fortune in Babylon 5 as Susan Ivanova, well, the less said the better.
A great theme song for this movie would have been "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads - only with the name and lyrics changed to "Psycho Kitty". Now that would have been a nice touch. Meow. Purrrrrr.