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Grace Quigley (1984)
I watched the full-lenght version back in 1991. Here's what I remember.
In November 1991, this movie was aired on TV in Spain (I'm certain of the date because there's currently a videotape-ripped TV ad for it on YouTube). It was dubbed into Spanish, common practice on the country's TV, but it was definitely the full-lenght version, as I discovered much later when finding the most common cut online and comparing the completely different openings both versions have. I was not aware of that version being so obscure, as since it was on TV I guessed it would be the default one, but no info seems to be found online about anything else from it than the original drowning ending, which this definitely had. But I'll post what else I remember, just in case people might find it interesting.
My memory is a bit hazy since it was quite a long time ago, hence why I'm posting this as a comment instead of as a trivia item or an alternate versions listing. Can't be positive on all the details. But in any case, the opening was completely different and much more surreal. It stuck with me all these years.
Instead of the footage of Katharine Hepburn wandering around the streets of New York (I'm not sure if that footage appeared later in the movie or not), it opened with a scene set on an old time train, in what appeared to be around the 1920s. Hepburn's character was there, travelling with her family, which if I remember correctly included a younger couple, either daughter and son-in-law or son and daughter-in-law, and two twin kids around 10 or 12 years old, dressed in those old-time sailor suits kids used to wear in those days. All looking pretty happy. They arrived at a beach, and then someone, either Hepburn or another family member, walked into the water and drowned. Turns out it was a dream Hepburn was having, which seemed to haunt her all the time since the movie went back to the drowning footage at several spots of the story, and which of course fits with the original ending. That scene had the credits over it, which had more ornate lettering than the common version, and I'm pretty sure the onscreen title was "The Ultimate Solution of Grace Quigley".
I'm not aware of it being on TV again ever since, and as far as I know the current DVD version that can be found in Spain is the common shorter cut. But I assume the long version is what played in cinemas back then, and what was released on videotape as well. A company called CB Films (whose logo, and not Cannon's, did open the TV screening) released it on video, and used videotapes can be found on auction sites from time to time. Of course, they're still the Spanish dub, so I don't know how valuable they might be.
The movie itself? To be honest I didn't much care for it, found it too mean-spirited, but that might be because I was too young to get the intended satire. I didn't bother to watch the cut version due to its terrible reputation, but if I ever come across the full version again I'd be willing to give it another chance, if only out of curiosity. I wish I knew it was that rare, I would have taped and kept it!
La canción del olvido (1969)
Why didn't José Sacristán play Toribio?
This is one of a series of zarzuela adaptations made for Spanish television in the late sixties, and the first of the bunch I have seen. I guess it's representative of the lot in being amusing and watchable but coming across as phony, since they cast screen actors and dubbed singing voices over them instead of using singing stage actors-singers, and it's also one of those screen productions in which a character sits in front of a piano, starts singing while pretending to play it, and out of nowhere comes a full orchestra that includes everything... except for a piano. If that kind of stuff is okay with you and you're musically inclined, you could do worse than watching this one.
However, there's a gigantic missed opportunity here: the potentially funniest and most memorable character is Toribio Clarinetti the street musician turned fake prince, and the cast includes the great José Sacristán, which if cast in that role would have easily stolen the picture and created something truly memorable with it. Unfortunately Sacristán is wasted in the comparatively dull role of the innkeeper while Toribio is played by one Antonio Martelo that I wasn't familiar with before and while he's not terrible he doesn't do much in the role either, plus he looks too old for the part. Since they're both non-singing characters, they could have easily switched roles for the viewer's benefit.
This is the only filming of this particular zarzuela so if one likes the genre it may be interesting, and also Rosanna Yanni looks gorgeous as the courtesan. Though a version with real singing actors would have been much preferable, for my tastes at least. 5/10.
Clever little film but DON'T LOOK AT THE POSTER!
Fate demanded that this short film dealing with the death of Fidel Castro would have its first public screening just three days before Castro's actual death. Of course, it makes the short become instantly outdated in a way because of the circumstances of his real death being quite different, but one way or the other I thought it was very clever in its premise, funny and tragic at the same time.
However, I must advise you to do your best at not looking at the short's promotional poster seen here on IMDb without watching the film first. Are you familiar with that infamous video cover of "Planet of the Apes" that has the twist ending in plain sight? Well, the poster here is exactly the same case. So much as to make watching the short redundant and unnecessary, as it's all spoiled there. It would be like putting the Skywalker family tree in the first release poster for "The Empire Strikes Back".
It you bend the poster bullet, the short itself is more than recommended, regardless of what one thinks of Fidel Castro. Also I think it's Eduardo Casanova's best work yet, the couple shorts by him I've seen before, including the controversial "Eat my Sh*t", left me quite cold for being way too over the top kitschy for my tastes, kind of Almodóvar up to 11. This one is kinda kitschy too, but less over the top and I think it works better. It's on YouTube at the moment of this posting, and it has no spoken dialogue so you can watch it regardless of your language. Just, you know, avoid looking at the poster until afterwards.
Decent version spoiled by Bergen and McCarthy
It's quite hard to understand today, but back in the day ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy Charlie McCarthy were immensely popular, mostly from their radio show (the point of doing a ventriloquist act on the radio, where you can just make voices without having to pretend your mouth is shut and it's the dummy who does the talking, kind of defies me), even becoming, unknowingly, part of the cause of the Orson Welles War of the Worlds scare, since most of the audience missed the beginning of Welles' broadcast in which it was properly introduced as a fictional radio play, due to the masses being listening to Bergen's show on a rival station and only switching the dial when it ended. That's how big it was.
So, considering this, I guess getting Bergen and McCarthy, as themselves, into a production of Alice in Wonderland must have been one of the strongest selling points of it, but to modern audiences they pretty much spoil the show by participating. It's Lewis Carroll what I want to watch, not a ventriloquist and his dummy cracking quite lame jokes all the time as they appear as a sort of Greek chorus all through the show and eating up a lot of screen time that could have been used to get more parts of the book into this abridged production.
Their prominence is a pity, since the rest of this version is a fairly good adaptation that, as expected, doesn't capture the multiple layers of the book but is pretty true in a simplified way and well-acted overall. The Caterpillar, for instance, played by an actor named Chandler Cowles, is the meanest version of the character I've seen on screen, speaking to Alice in a quite angry condescending way, and this is true to the book, in which he was meant to represent a kind of strict professor, not the laid back portrayal it tends to have in other versions (no doubt due to the water pipe interpreted as a "stoner" factor). The highlight of this production for me was the Duchess scene, with a great portrayal by Cliff Hall plus a perfectly cast Una O'Connor, complete with a prosthetic nose, as the cook (fear not, she doesn't do any of her trademark Invisible Man shrieking here), though this segment is ruined at its ending by changing the baby into something very different from the book, something to be blamed also to the Bergen factor (sigh). I got excited upon learning that the Queen of Hearts was played here by the sadly non-prolific Blanche Yurka, who greatly impressed me in A Tale of Two Cities, but alas, while she's good here, her part is greatly reduced in comparison to the book, the only one of her appearances that makes it into the show is the trial, and even there it reverses Carroll by having the King of Hearts be the strongest half of the couple. As such, Yurka is little more than a glorified extra. I would have loved to see her perform all of the Queen of Hearts material in the book, but I guess it was more important to make room for Bergen.
Still it remains a decent version, and remarkably while most of the cast were well-known performers (including TV star Art Carney in a fun performance as the Hatter) they DO play the characters instead of adapting them to their usual persona's like some better known adaptations do. Yes, 1985 disaster with Natalie Gregory, I'm looking at you. The actress playing Alice here, Robin Morgan, while understandably an adult since it would be hard to find a child suitable enough to do live theater on TV, is pretty good.
This forgotten adaptation can be watched on YouTube at the time of this writing, but keep in mind this was broadcast live so expect to see crew members walking in front of the camera, set borders in plain sight due to incorrect framing, and actors flubbing their entrances or briefly forgetting their cues, all of which happens in this. Yet it is a nice curio for Alice fans, as long as Bergen and McCarthy don't put you too off. 6/10.
Worst case of a completely misleading title since "Bram Stoker's Dracula".
The difference being, of course, that "Bram Stoker's Dracula" is an excellent movie on its own terms and this one is just blah, but still it's a blatant lie. It could as well have been called "Calvin & Hobbes and the Marble Gang" and it would have exactly as much to do with Calvin & Hobbes as it does with Zipi y Zape, that is, absolutely NOTHING. Which is a term overused when discussing not-so-faithful adaptations, but in this case it's literal. Other than the names of the lead characters, this has nothing in common with Escobar's creation.
What it is, is an evident try to copy the Harry Potter formula, minus the magic. We have a duplicate Harry in Zipi y Zape, a duplicate Ron in Micro and Filo, and Matilde is our Hermione. The Esperanza school stands in for Hogwarts, and the whole search for the Esperanza treasure is a cross between the typical Potter plot and Indiana Jones (Last Crusade, specifically). Even the promotional poster is a Harry Potter ripoff. None of the members of the lenghty supporting cast of the comic (Don Pantuflo, Doña Jaimita, Don Minervo, Peloto, Lechuzo, Don Ángel, El Manitas, Nati and Tina...) appear at all, not even in cameos, and aren't even referenced. And Zipi and Zape themselves speak in modern slang, nothing to do with the educated, somewhat pedantic (but charmingly so) language of the comics which was one of their most recognizable features. It's noticeable that the director was not interested at all in making a Zipi y Zape movie, he just wanted a formula hit and just tacked on the names of the characters for box-office recognition purposes. I wish he hadn't bothered.
The movie itself as a self-contained entity and ignoring the source, well, it's okayish, watchable for the kids to kill 90 minutes if nothing else is playing. But still, it tries way too hard to be Harry Potter and to copy the Hollywood blockbuster formula, down to the primary colors in about every shot being the ubiquitous teal and orange that's so annoyingly overused in modern Hollywood movies today, particularly in posters.
One made exclusively for commercial reasons. It's watchable, so this might rate a 5 or even a 6 from me, but drops down to a 4 due to the false advertising. This is just NOT what they're selling us to be.
I think I'll be skipping "Zipi & Zape and the Chamber of Secrets".
El lápiz del carpintero (2003)
Sucking it up to the easy box-office
Once again a Galician language book gets lost in translation and ends up becoming a Spanish language movie. However, unlike cases like "La lengua de las mariposas", sourced in the works of the same writer, Manuel Rivas, as this one is, they should have known better because this time around the director/producer was a Galician, and used to be a "galeguista" (active supporter of the everyday use and presence of the Galician language and culture, literally a "Galicianist").
Antón Reixa was probably the best known figure of the Galician "movida" of the eighties, as a musician and performance artist with his band "Os Resentidos" (who can forget "Galicia caníbal"?), a counter-culture icon, and an outspoken "galeguista", even said by some to be connected with the most radical activist groups. Then in the late nineties he became a TV producer/director and gave the world the series "Mareas vivas", in Galician, an enormous hit among the audiences and, while lacking subtlety and complexity in the treatment of its subjects, a gigantic step forward in the normalization of the Galician language use (and the revelation of the great Luis Tosar to the world). It's 2003 and the once anti-system icon is now a filthy rich producer about to direct his first feature film. So what does he do? Become a pioneer and give the Galician language a more prominent place in the audiovisual industry, by adapting a Galician book into a Galician language film?
Of course not. He succumbs to the easy Spanish box-office, and makes the movie in Spanish with one of the main characters being played by a non-Galician, María Adánez, that while doesn't stink too much, does nothing that any Galician actress couldn't have done, and probably better. Adánez was cast, as it's sadly common in Spanish cinema, not for her acting ability or for being right for the role, but for being famous as the star of a very successful Spanish sitcom, so deemed as a marketable "production value". As a result, we have a movie set in Galicia and including characters that are "galeguistas", in which no one speaks Galician. Okay, the Fascist would likely speak Spanish, all right, so the use of both languages would have been perfect, but if one has to choose, Galician is what the movie deserved, and the movie was needed for the invisible presence of Galician language in cinema. Given the sweeping TV success of "Mareas vivas", this movie would have probably worked wonders for the language's normalization in theaters, had it been in Galician. Reixa was just in that position. However, he sadly preferred the quick buck (and misfired, this wasn't exactly "Avatar" in the box-office either).
Oh, yes, of course, a Galician dubbed version of the movie exists, but a German language dubbed version of "Star Wars" exists too, and that does not make "Star Wars" a German language movie, if you know what I mean.
Sorry for the rant. I realize this is difficult to understand for someone who's not Galician and doesn't live the language conflict, but try to imagine a French movie set in Nazi-occupied France, filmed all in German, in which no one speaks French, including the Resistance. Same effect here.
And, as for the movie on its own merits? Weak, and a missed opportunity. What could have been a masterpiece had it been an introspective exploration of the character of Herbal (they even had the right actor in Tosar) and what makes him tick, becomes yet another shallow Spanish Civil War movie that barely scratches the surface of its conflict, and is ultimately about good guys that are not only idealists to the point of moving mountains, but are also super-attractive and beloved to everyone including the Civil Guards (the main character played by Tristán Ulloa convincing the Guards to let him enjoy a hotel night with his wife is a howler), except for the evil Fascists that hate him purely because they are evil, and are seen as repulsive by everyone around. I truly wish things had been this simple in real life, that would have spared us forty years of dictatorship!
The good things to look for are Tosar and a lot of well known Galician actors in supporting and bit roles. Aside from Adánez, the two other non-Galician cast members are Carlos Sobera and Anne Igartiburu, both much better known as TV hosts than as actors, which are kind of excusable because they play non-Galicians, but pretty much suck in their performances, particularly Igartiburu as a highly unlikely glamour nun. The moment in which she removes her headpiece to reveal her long blonde hair in a carefully crafted hairstyle beats any camp classic of the past.
Years have passed and Galician language is still almost unheard of in theatrical features, with about only Ignacio Vilar going against the Spanish-imposing trend. And as for Reixa, he went on to direct another feature, also in Spanish. The "galeguista" belongs in the past, so let him enjoy the extra bucks he made by sucking it up, and forget about him. 4/10.