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The Great Gatsby (2000)
A modest, realistic take on the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel
This 2000 A&E television adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" is possibly the closest of the four surviving adaptations (the others being 1949, 1974 and 2013) to the source material, despite some omissions (likely due to time constraints), a few small liberties and its modest budget.
Baz Lurhmann's presentation of the Fitzgerald novel has overshadowed the other versions and sparked unfavorable comparisons. There was a time when real locations were used and films were not dominated by special effects; not all productions had limitless budgets and not every writer adapts material the same way.
While it's not perfect, this "Great Gatsby" is more low-key in its portrayal. Paul Rudd is my favorite Nick Carraway; he is boy-next-door handsome, uncomfortable with "high society" types, but is able to listen and observe, even if he doesn't always see what it right in front of him until later. Toby Stephens does a decent job as Gatsby but he overdoes it with the smiles and occasionally his British accent slips through. Some of Gatsby's backstory was left out, but here we get a few more hints of Gatsby's shady business dealings. Mira Sorvino's Daisy is the most sympathetic; which is both a positive and a negative. You know that she is unhappy in her marriage to Tom Buchanan (Martin Donovan), and you do feel that she reciprocates Gatsby's love but she's also trapped in a life that was essentially chosen for her. Yet it is this sympathetic quality that makes it hard to see her as careless and flighty; however, since Daisy is something of an underwritten character in the novel and therefore an ideal slate for others to project their fantasies and thoughts on this may benefit the film more than detract from it. Donovan is one of the weaker links; although he does well with what he is given he is not the aggressive, overbearing athletic "old-money" brute he is supposed to be. Jordan Baker, a role that seems to be well-played all around, is portrayed by Francie Swift, who does well with her limited screen time, as does Heather Goldenhersh as Tom's lover Myrtle and Bill Camp as her husband, the mechanic Wilson.
Carl Davis provided a jazz score which is very enjoyable, even if it seems more suited for neo-noir than the 1920s at times; the party scenes are not as flashy or extravagant as the 1974 or 2013 versions, but again this can likely be attributed to the television budget. Montreal was an interesting double for Long Island; location is important and the buildings, and "The Eyes Of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg" has its best depiction here, and Fitzgerald's prose was put more to use. While this Gatsby may not be as mysterious as some of his other incarnations, his romantic side and his refusal to accept the reality and his determination to recapture the past is very much in evidence. Lurhmann's movie omits a crucial scene when Gatsby sees Daisy and Tom's young daughter, whereas here and in the 1974 movie the inclusion of this small but vitally important moment enhances the story; the child is proof that Daisy and Tom have in fact, been intimate and possibly there is some love there and this is something that Gatsby has worked hard to ignore.
In some cases, less can be more. Subtlety and nuance may say more than dialogue or overdone graphics. Nick Carraway's narration carries the film in a way that I haven't seen before or since in other on-screen depictions of "The Great Gatsby". I've enjoyed the other adaptations but this one will always have a special quality to me.
Seeds of Yesterday (2015)
Seeds Continue To Grow
The last movie based on the V.C. Andrews Dollanganger series ranks, along with the previous installment, "If There Be Thorns" (2015) as the best of the bunch, and in the case of "Seeds Of Yesterday" that is in large part due to James Maslow's performance as Bart. In addition to being immensely good-looking, he has a commanding and magnetic presence and he shows the character's inner torment well, especially considering the running time. Rachel Carpani and Jason Lewis return as Cathy and Chris, and while I feel the chemistry and emotional pull of the characters is lacking, it does make this last sequel feel more consistent. Jory (Anthony Konechy) is portrayed quite well, although is character takes a backseat to Bart; the young females in the cast, particularly Sammi Hanratty as the adopted daughter and sister Cindy do well with what they were given, but once again, the lack of character development was an issue.
Fans of the novel will be disappointed and annoyed that the presumed dead uncle of Cathy and Chris, Joel Foxworth, who was a major character in the novel, was completely omitted and that the relationship between Bart and Cindy was turned sexual and romantic, which did not happen in the book. It is likely that both time constraints and loosely adapting the material was at fault. Another problem as I stated previously is that Cathy and Chris had larger roles in the novel as well and what is missing is the emotional investment in the characters and the direction their lives ultimately take. The conclusion wraps things up rather hastily and as a result, the tragedy of the story, as well as hope for a new beginning for the descendants isn't nearly as moving as it could have been.
Watch this for James Maslow, and the slightly better budget and music, and put aside any expectations you might have if you have read the novels, and you might enjoy this film and the other movies in this series if you take them for what they are - glossy soap operas.
If There Be Thorns (2015)
The Sharp Thorns That Prick
The third installment of the Lifetime series based on The Dollanganger Saga by V.C. Andrews is an improvement over its predecessors, although it suffers from its rushed pace and poor character development. While it's understandable that Cathy and Chris were recast once again, Rachel Carpani and Jason Lewis don't have the chemistry that Rose McIver and Wyatt Nash displayed in "Petals On The Wind" (2014). However, acting honors must be bestowed upon Mason Cook, who undoubtedly gives the most powerful performance of a child actor in the series. As the young Bart, he is believable as a boy who finds out that his family harbors some dark secrets and comes under the influence of two supposed strangers who move in next door. A mysterious lady in black and her butler draw Bart and to lesser extent, his brother Jory (Jedidiah Goodacre) into their world and manage to corrupt the former. This is Heather Graham's best performance in the series, although the make-up in order for her to appear elderly is obvious at times. While she clearly has an ulterior motive, you get the sense that Corrine really does harbor guilt regarding her treatment of her children, resulting in two of them dying tragically young. John Amos (Mackenzie Gray) is a different story, an evil man bent on revenge.
Things are wrapped up too quickly, once again it was a mistake on the part of the Lifetime network to cram the story into a 90 minute running time rather than making each adaptation into at least a two-part miniseries, but the disturbing cliffhanger ending does make you wonder what will happen from there.
Nothing overly special, but not a complete waste of time either; it could and should have been better.
Petals on the Wind (2014)
These Petals Are Windblown
I was very disappointed with Lifetime's adaptation of "Flowers In The Attic" (2014) but I decided to give the first sequel they produced a try, hoping that it would get better. The answer? Yes and no. While Ellen Burstyn once again walks away with the "Best Acting" honors (despite her role being significantly smaller than in the first movie), the acting in "Petals" was generally better than in "Flowers"; even Heather Graham improved somewhat. The real problems with this Lifetime presentation are the rushed directorial pace, cheap budget, and the weak way the story has been adapted from the book. If you haven't read the novel, you will probably enjoy the film for what it is; a soap opera-like time waster. If you've read the books in the series, as I have, you will see how far it deviates from the source material.
Of course, there's no such thing as a completely faithful adaptation; time constraints and plot are often altered to make things move quickly or to create more drama. However, not only is the timeline off (reducing Paul Sheffield and his relationship to Cathy, Chris and Carrie to a backstory) but so many things have been added that simply did not happen in the book. Cathy's relationship with Julian (Will Kemp) as well as his mother and other ballet dancers in the company she joins is either watered down or left out completely. We don't understand why she marries Julian here, or why she puts up with his abusive behavior. Carrie's death is pushed ahead (when in fact, she pre-deceased Paul in the book) and there is very little character development as to the trials she faced at school or trying to live a normal life after being deprived of sunlight and food to the point where her growth was stunted.
A love interest was invented for Christopher, a young woman named Sarah (Whitney Hoy), who evidently serves no purpose other than to lead to Cathy and Chris being "discovered" as to their forbidden love and desire for one another, and for them to move to another state where no one knows them. In the book, Cathy spends most of it not only consumed with revenge (which does play a part here) but also fighting her love for Chris (who tells her he will never love anyone but her) by becoming involved with Paul, Julian, and later her mother's husband, Bart Winslow (Dylan Bruce). The latter two men do have roles here, but the complex nature of their relationships to Cathy are not really explored, no doubt due to the 90-minute running time. Which begs the question: why not make the these adaptations of V.C. Andrews' book into a two-part miniseries for each installment? Maybe Lifetime just didn't have the budget, but these films could have been so much better.
The climax again, feels very rushed; atmosphere is also lacking. The confrontation between Cathy and Corinne contained none of the power that it had in the novel. I have to say, however, that Rose McIver and Wyatt Nash give better performances than Kiernan Shipka and Mason Dye, and it was nice to see Carrie (Bailey De Young) get more screen time and she did well with the little that she was given.
It's okay for what it is, just don't expect it to reflect the book.
Flowers in the Attic (2014)
Where Have All The Flowers Gone?
. . . . . and when will they ever learn?
That was what was going through my mind as I watched this attempt by Lifetime. Some have raved about it because it included more of the incestuous relationship between the two oldest siblings (toned down though it was for television) but that alone does NOT make it a better film. With one exception, the acting was atrocious. Heather Graham has given some decent performances over the years, but this was not one of them. She seemed to be sleepwalking through the entire movie. Kiernan Shipka was monotonous and irritating as Cathy (her voice-over included); Mason Dye was stiff, and there was no chemistry between Christopher and Cathy. Cory (Maxwell Kovach) and Carrie (Ava Telek) were pretty much non-entities in this version. Ellen Burstyn, fine actress that she is, gives a good performance but she was completely miscast as the grandmother. Not menacing, dominant or intimidating and far too sympathetic. It's hard to imagine the older kids being scared of her; the twins, maybe.
CGI took the place of the family mansion, Foxworth Hall (doesn't anyone scout for locations anymore?), and the sets, frankly, looked like sets. The music was also nothing special. Worse, the movie feels extremely rushed; while it is mentioned that Cathy, Chris, Cory and Carrie were locked away for three years, no attempt was made to make them look sunlight-deprived or lacking for food. The bond between the two older siblings was downplayed, and their role as parenting the twins barely shown, making their closeness and growing romantic feelings for each other come out of nowhere. Cathy's love for dance is hardly mentioned, and they were not really locked away as they were in the book or the 1987 version. Corinne is such a blank slate and it's never explained why she left her kids there for so long. The attic seemed to have lost much of its significance as well.
While the 1987 film is flawed, V.C. Andrews did have script approval and the intent of the director (who also penned the screenplay) was to be as close to the book as possible. Unfortunately, a negative reaction at test screening caused the studio to severely cut the film and add an ending that fans of the novel rightly despised. Even with those changes, it is still superior to the TV adaptation in terms of acting, chemistry, location, atmosphere and music. Louise Fletcher was terrifying as the grandmother, and Ellen Burstyn just wasn't, despite giving the best performance in the Lifetime presentation. The 1987 movie has a very haunting feeling that will stay with you after it is over (helped by Christopher Young's amazing score). Let's hope that the original director's cut will see the light of day and will hopefully obliterate this vapid, hollow Lifetime tripe from memory.
Slightly Dangerous (1943)
This romantic comedy was the first time Lana Turner received top billing, and she does a wonderful job here, showing what the cinema missed in terms of her comedic timing, which was rarely put to use (a few of her films in the 1960s did pick up where this one left off). She plays a working girl Peggy Evans, who is bored with her hum-drum life and her job at a soda fountain. She clashes with her new boss, Bob Stuart (Robert Young), and this results in her disappearing from her old life and starting a new one, complete with a makeover. In doing so, it is believed that she committed suicide; Bob is blamed and loses his job. When she is accidentally knocked unconscious, it is assumed she has amnesia. Desperate to not return to her previous mundane existence, she poses as a long-lost heiress who disappeared as a child, and she is welcomed by the girl's wealthy father, Cornelius Burden (Walter Brennan) and the child's nurse, played by Dame Mae Witty. Bob comes across a photo of the recently returned Carol Burden and recognizes her, and sets out to prove that she is, in fact, Peggy Evans. From there, the comedic and romantic complications ensue.
Also in the cast are Ward Bond as the Burden family bodyguard, Eugene Palette as the newspaper owner who takes Peggy in until her "father" comes for her; Alan Mowbray as a stranger whom Bob confides after tracking Peggy down at a concert; Pamela Blake as Peggy's co-worker at the soda fountain, and young Robert Blake has a small role as well. Turner and Young have an appealing chemistry and while they had previously worked together in "Rich Man, Poor Girl" (1938), this second film marked the first and last time they were paired on- screen. It's a shame because they could have been a wonderful movie team (pay close attention to their final kiss - quite steamy for 1943). Young, before he branched out into television, didn't always get the roles that he should have, which is unfortunate. He also had great comedic timing and was handsome and likable; Turner here is still very fresh and innocent, before her deadly femme fatale/blonde bombshell phase. If you love classic romantic comedies or if you are fan of the actors, you will most certainly enjoy this one.
(The title of my review was in fact one of the considered titles for the film; others included "Nothing Ventured" and "Lawless" before "Slightly Dangerous" was ultimately chosen).
Flowers in the Attic (1987)
I saw the film before I read the novel by V.C. Andrews (who appears briefly as a maid, and who died before the movie was released), so I wasn't as disappointed as fans of the novel were when I initially viewed it as a preteen. Of course, it pales in comparison but it does boast some decent performances, nice cinematography and locations, as well as a haunting score.
Most are probably familiar with the general plot, and while it must be said that both Kristy Swanson (aged 16 at the time) and Jeb Stuart Adams (approximately 25 years old during filming) are too old for the roles of the two oldest children, Cathy and Christopher, they make their characters believable. Because the general incest sub-plot was edited out of the theatrical cut of the film, due to negative reaction at a test screening, the viewer is left wondering just how deep the connection is between Cathy and Christopher. A few scenes are suggestive and leave an impression that more is going on. Also, early in the story, there appears to be some jealousy from the children's mother, Corinne (Victoria Tennant) over Cathy's relationship with her father (Marshall Colt) but again, it is not really expanded upon. Corinne was disinherited and fell out of favor with her parents (Louise Fletcher and Nathan Davis) due to marrying her half-uncle, and following her husband's tragic death, must take her children to beg forgiveness and hope to inherit some of the family's wealth. Cathy, Christopher and the twins, Cory (Ben Ryan Ganger) and Carrie (Lindsay Parker), are virtually imprisoned in a far away wing of the mansion, known as Foxworth Hall, so that Corinne can endear herself to her dying father once more. Her pious, evil, nasty mother terrorizes her grandchildren, through starvation, physical and emotional torture (again, not overly graphic) and Corinne lets the wealth and privilege go to her head and decides that her offspring would only be in the way of her new life. This leads to tragedy.
The title is derived from the "special place" where the children try to make the best of a terrible situation; the spacious attic where they make a garden of paper flowers. It is also symbolic of the innocence, freedom and beauty of the outside world that was denied to them.
The novel is set primarily in the south, possibly Virginia, but most of the film was shot at an estate in Massachusetts, which is an interesting double but lacks the "southern Gothic" atmosphere of the book. While the novel takes place in the 1950s, the movie is very much a product of its time - 80s glam and yuppie sensibilities. The ending was also re-shot and feels abrupt, especially if you know how the novel ends.
Louise Fletcher is terrific as the menacing grandmother; Victoria Tennant is decent for the most part as the mother whose motives are (rightly) questionable, Kristy Swanson makes the role of Cathy her own, Jeb Stuart Adams, well, it's easy to see why so many teenage girls had a crush on him after his film. Ben Ryan Ganger and Lindsay Parker are adorable. It's a shame that the director's cut and alternate footage has not been released.
The 2014 Lifetime remake, despite being closer to the book, is vastly inferior in almost every other respect, lacking the atmosphere, compelling score, solid performances and chemistry that this film displays very well; with the exception of the tacked-on studio ending, it does not feel rushed. The recent Region B Blu-ray edition contains quite a bit of bonus material, including the original shooting script, interviews and the ending that was used a the 1986 test screening, which wasn't true to the novel either but would have left the door open for a sequel.
This film is still the best of the two adaptations, despite its flaws, and will leave you with a haunting feeling.
Provides a more balanced look at a notorious murder case
This is one of the few documentaries about this case that has been produced in recent years (not counting the recent episode of "Snapped!") that attempts to show the other side of the Menendez murder case and what led up to it.
Many continue to view Lyle and Erik Menendez as "spoiled rich kids" who murdered their parents, Jose and Kitty Menendez in the family's Beverly Hills mansion in August, 1989, in order to inherit the family fortune. This theory has been presented as fact so much that it needs to be stated that there has never been any real evidence that money was the motive, other than behavior of the brothers that aroused suspicion. But even that that could be tied to the environment in which they were raised and the trauma of their childhood, which looked privileged on the outside but was a private hell behind closed doors.
Journalist Robert Rand, who began investigating the case shortly after the murder occurred, is a voice of reason as he conducted interviews with both Erik Menendez and Donovan Goodreau, who was a friend of Lyle Menendez, both of which suggested that there was something disturbing under the surface. Jose Menendez, a Cuban immigrant who rose high in the entertainment world as an executive, was a powerful individual who was despised and feared by many. His wife, former beauty queen Mary Louise "Kitty" Andersen, was relegated to a secondary role while Jose climbed the business ladder, groomed his sons for success, and conducted extra-marital affairs. The brothers did not receive the proper nurturing, unconditional love and guidance that they needed due to growing up in such a dysfunctional, stifling household where their narcissistic father ruled with an iron fist and their emotionally dependent and unstable mother retreated into prescription drugs and alcohol. This is the type of home where sexual abuse often thrives. Some suspected that the brothers concocted the abuse stories to save them from being convicted and possibly being sentenced to death, but there is compelling evidence to suggest that they were telling the truth.
It ends on a haunting note, after revealing that in their second murder trial (the first highly publicized, televised trial ended in hung juries), that the brothers had virtually no defense due to the judge not allowing previous defense witnesses to testify until the penalty phase. Just this year, a law was passed which can allow the brothers to appeal their case again for this very reason. The last line of the episode sticks in my mind - "We may never know. Jose and Kitty Menendez died with their secrets. The only other people who know what really happened aren't talking."
Not as good as the other Menendez murders TV movie
This TV movie about the Menendez murders is not as well-acted as the other version released the same year, "Menendez: A Killing In Beverly Hills" but presents many of the details of the case more accurately. James Farentino does very well in the role of Jose Menendez but the other actors don't come off as well. The film does however, give the viewer more than pause to consider what might have happened that led to the murders of Jose and Kitty Menendez by their two sons, Lyle and Erik.
There is one scene that is disturbing in retrospect, when Jose is trying to persuade his son Erik into a sexual act with him and when the son refuses he gets slapped, comforted and told, "get back on the bed". Not graphic, but still chilling. As for the truth, who knows.
Full House (1987)
Tanner Family Fun Night!
I grew up watching "Full House" and loved it for the most part. It was interesting to see an unconventional, but overall very loving family depicted, having real-life issues (at least as much as could be dealt with in a half hour episode, or the occasional two-parter). I was in between the ages of the oldest daughter, Donna Jo aka DJ Tanner (Candace Cameron) and middle child Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) so I identified with them both at different times. The baby of the family, Michelle (Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) was adorable in the first few seasons, but she later became a rather know-it-all brat, reminding me of my own sister, and that grated on my nerves. Still, it's nice to re-watch the show and recall a time when sitcoms and television in general were funny and entertaining, but still family-friendly and not full of crude jokes and sexual innuendo. "Full House" lasted eight seasons, proving that it did have a lot of appeal.
Danny Tanner (Bob Saget, father of three daughters in real life), suffers a terrible tragedy when his wife, Pam, dies in an accident caused by a drunk driver. He asks his brother-in-law, Jesse Cochran, later Katsopolis, (John Stamos) and his best friend, Joey Gladstone (Dave Coulier) to move in with him and help him raise his children. This adds an interesting and very funny dynamic as all three men are very clueless (especially in the first season) regarding running a household and caring for small children. The pilot episode where Jesse and Joey are left alone with the girls and have to change Michelle's diaper for the first time is very memorable. While Danny is a loving and sometimes, irritatingly over-protective father, and kind of nerdy, he is the glue that holds the family together, even if his neat- freak routine is over the top. The rapport that the kids have with Jesse and Joey is very special, as both, especially Joey, are just big kids themselves. Jesse, with his daredevil reputation, rock star ambitions (accentuated by the actor's real-life musical talent) and occasionally bossy and grouchy exterior, is actually a gentle, sensitive soul who adores his family, and the girls know that he his always there for them. It was also evident in his relationship with Becky Donaldson (Lori Loughlin), the co-host of Danny's television show, "Wake Up, San Francisco", who would become Jesse's wife and the mother of their twin boys, Nicki and Alex (Blake and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit). Joey, a struggling stand-up comedian, is reflective of Coulier's real-life background and his impressions and love for cartoons is also a hoot to watch. The family dog, Comet, is a welcome addition and has his own special and welcome scene-stealing moments.
The girls go through the normal stages of adjusting to the loss of their mother, having to share a bedroom (DJ and Stephanie at the beginning, and later, Steph and Michelle become roomies), making the transitions from elementary school to junior high and high school, crushes, peer pressure, etc. DJ, being the eldest, is the first to experience most of these, and in the later seasons has a boyfriend named Steve (Scott Weinger), who is a seemingly bottomless pit but is charming and cute, and her somewhat eccentric best friend, Kimmy Gibbler (Andrea Barber), is also the next-door neighbor, and while she is often treated as an annoyance by the rest of the Tanner clan, she is oddly endearing and lovable.
Of course, no series is perfect, and "Full House" is no exception. It can be a bit saccharine and corny at times; there are, inevitably, continuity errors (glaringly how Danny suddenly becomes a neat- obsessed nut in the second season, with no explanation, among others), and as with most shows that feature very young children, as the kids get older the dynamic changes. Michelle, as I stated earlier, was the youngest and often got away with way too much, even as she became more and more obnoxious at times. Her cuteness wore off by the time she was about 5, and when I compare the acting of the Olsen twins at the age to that of Jodie Sweetin in the show's early years, I can help but think that Sweetin was a much more natural actress. Stephanie often suffers from the middle child syndrome but I actually found her to be the funniest of the three Tanner daughters. I found it increasingly annoying that Michelle was very jealous of anyone who Jesse spent time with, including his own sons. It was also inevitable that the cuteness factor would shift to Nicki and Alex, and some fans may have found that difficult to adjust to.
John Stamos, of course, was the heartthrob of the series (and who can argue with that?), although Jesse's Elvis obsession occasionally was too much of a theme. Although for several years, Stamos tried to distance himself from the series in order to be taken seriously as an actor, "Full House" was a great showcase for his talent in both comedy and drama. Candace Cameron and Lori Loughlin, like Stamos, appeared in many television movies in the 1990s, and were always very capable no matter what the material. Both Bob Saget and Dave Coulier had their own shows on the side - Saget "America's Funniest Home Videos" and Coulier, "America's Funniest People". The rapport between the actors was obvious and was still apparent when Netflix premiered the spin-off, "Fuller House", in which Cameron, Sweetin and Barber reprised their roles and the rest of the cast (with the exception of Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, who no longer act professionally), made guest appearances. "Fuller House" received mixed reviews, and while the chemistry is still there, let's face it - television ain't what it used to be. "Full House" lives on in syndication, on DVD, and in the hearts of its fans.
Controversial Film Remains Somewhat Powerful Despite Credibility Issues
I have a strong memory of first viewing Barry Levinson's film of Lorenzo Carcaterra's controversial novel, which the author insisted was autobiographical, despite detractors who have challenged his claim. Regardless, the story of four childhood friends who pull a foolish stunt that changes their lives forever, remains emotionally powerful for the most part, and certainly there's no denying that situations like have happened and will likely continue to happen. The film loses credibility in the second half, but the impression it leaves will stay with you.
The story opens in the 1960s in New York's Hell's Kitchen, which is masterfully re-created. Neighborhood pals Shakes (Joe Perrino), Michael (the tragic Brad Renfro), John (Geoffrey Wigdor) and Tommy (Jonathan Tucker) grow up together in a world that is an odd mix of childhood innocence, religion and organized crime. Their ally is Father Robert "Bobby" Carillo (Robert De Niro, who else?) who tries to guide them and encourage them to see beyond Hell's Kitchen. An enjoyable oldies soundtrack adds to the spirit of the story until things change for the worse for the young protagonists. A prank goes terribly wrong, critically injuring an innocent bystander and the boys find themselves sentenced to do time at the Wilkinson's Home For Boys, a juvenile institution where dangerous offenders are housed. Shakes, Michael, John and Tommy find the grimness of the institution difficult, but that does little to prepare them for the nightmare they end up enduring at the hands of sadistic guards, lead by Sean Nokes (Kevin Bacon, in another villainous turn), and it's easy to despise him and the other guards (played by Terry Kinney, Jeffrey Donovan and Lenny Loftkin respectively) for their brutality towards these vulnerable adolescents. Sexual abuse is implied but not shown graphically, but the disturbing sounds of screaming and the broken looks on the faces of the boys more than gets the point across. I'm always somewhat surprised that many reviews overlook just how effective the child actors are, and how they essentially carry the first half of the film. They are all extremely natural, their rapport is believable, and they convey much more with facial expressions than any dialogue. Brad Renfro's performance is especially poignant in retrospect, not only due to his tragically early death but the strong likelihood that he was victimized himself in real life. It adds a more disturbing and touching aspect to the viewing experience.
Fast forward to 1981, and John (now played by Ron Eldard) and Tommy (now portrayed by Billy Crudup, in his film debut) have become hardened criminals and one night they come across Sean Nokes by chance in a pub. They take this opportunity to exact revenge, and both Eldard and Crudup give powerhouse performances. Unfortunately, after that, they take a backseat until the film's conclusion. The same can be said for Minnie Driver, who plays the adult Carol Martinez, who was a companion to the young men in the past and still cares deeply for them. Michael (Brad Pitt in the adult role) and Shakes (Jason Patric, who also provides voice-over narration) are both portrayed by competent actors, but their performances are uneven; at times they seem emotionally invested and other times they just seem to be going through the motions. Michael is now a prosecutor and he uses the case as a way to get revenge in his own way, and to do his best to make sure that his friends are acquitted. But will he be able to pull it off? Robert De Niro remains the constant throughout as the priest who will do anything for his boys, while Dustin Hoffman as defense attorney Danny Snyder has little more than a cameo. Bruno Kirby and Vittorio Gassman give respectable supporting turns, but the film belongs to the child actors, De Niro and to a lesser extent Eldard and Crudup. In some ways, "Sleepers" suffers the same fate as similarly flashback-driven movies such as "Stephen King's It" (1990) and "Now And Then" (1995), where the adult actors aren't nearly as compelling as their child counterparts, despite the talent involved.
The questions raised here are valid and worth examining. Surely the trauma of abuse, particularly sexual abuse is extremely damaging and soul-destroying, but is it ever acceptable to take the law into one's own hands? Is vigilante justice the answer or does violence simply beget more violence and bloodshed?
True story or not, this is an issue that needs to be addressed on both counts.
Heart of Midnight (1988)
What Lies At The Heart Of Midnight?
I was surprised that I hadn't heard of this film until recently, being a Jennifer Jason Leigh fan. It's not for all tastes and this may account for why so few have heard of it. The recent release on Blu- Ray may remedy that. Many reviewers here are not sure what genre it falls into, as it seems to have elements of several. That makes it all the more fascinating and compelling to see the directions it could go.
Carol Rivers (Leigh) is hoping for a fresh start after a history of mental instability and the club that her uncle Fletcher left to her seems the ideal place to start. Despite her mother's (Brenda Vaccaro) objections, Carol feels that this may be her last chance at independence and goes for it. Although her uncle had been estranged from the family, Carol has a few fond memories of him, despite the fact that the nightclub, "The Midnight" had a seedy and dark reputation. She has contractors working, and hopes to turn it into a respectable place, but she gets more than she bargained for, in more ways than one. The place is filled with strange rooms, lurid videos that seem to play on their own, and Carol begins to feel uneasy as she senses that she's not alone. Is it all in her head or is someone or something out to get her? After being attacked by three of the construction workers (lead by Steve Buscemi), Carol is dismissed and ridiculed by police lieutenant Ledray (Frank Stallone) who throws her history of mental instability in her face. Only social worker Mariana (Denise Dumont) shows Carol any compassion. Ledray does make a point of saying that they will send an officer, Detective Sharpe, over to check on Carol, and not long after, a mysterious man (Peter Coyote) shows up and claims to be the said policeman. He seems to know much more than he's willing to reveal to the traumatized young woman. Who is he and what does he know? As the film progresses, Carol begins to realize that she and Uncle Fletcher had a "special" relationship, and that it was far more disturbing than she initially thought.
It's not a perfect film, as some have stated, the low-budget often shows, and there are some plot holes, but writer/director Matthew Chapman keeps you guessing, and the use of sound and colors (particularly red) have a significance to the story. All of the actors do excellent jobs but it is Leigh who holds it all together, and as always, she does a magnificent job. She carefully researches her roles and here she creates a character who has been so damaged by something in her past that is buried in her subconscious mind, and the movie serves as a reminder that even suppressed memories can manifest in other ways. Carol struggles with low self-esteem and recoils at physical contact with others, particularly men. Emotionally fragile and very vulnerable, Carol is a sympathetic figure and Leigh has the quality that often makes audiences want to protect her.
Although the similarities between this movie and Roman Polanski's "Repulsion" (1965) cannot be denied, "Heart Of Midnight" has a unique quality all its own. You may find yourself jumping at the slightest noise after seeing this, but more than that, it will make you think, and maybe look at some things differently. Jennifer Jason Leigh should be commended for portraying a character whose past experiences and issues are unfortunately very relevant today.
The Great Gatsby (2013)
The Greatness Of Gatsby?
For people unfamiliar with F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel and other film adaptations of it, this movie may have been a disappointment in terms of how it ended, perhaps because they were expecting an epic love story. In fact, in the book, the "romance" between Gatsby and Daisy is deliberately underplayed, it's more of an expose of the decadence and carelessness of the 1920s decade, and how the past simply cannot be recaptured, despite the actions that are taken in hopes of doing so. Baz Luhrmann's film does place a large amount of emphasis on the "love story" aspect, which may have led audiences to expect more than was ultimately delivered.
Not to say that this movie is not entertaining or good. It is, in many ways. Like other reviewers, I found the usage of hip-hop songs out of place, but luckily, the film does incorporate music that does seem to suit the era. Despite not being a period song, Lana Del Rey's "Young And Beautiful" works perfectly. The CGI does get a bit much at times, to the point where it looks unreal and a bit too much like animation, but it's still glorious to look at. I suppose that in a way, it was fitting as Fitzgerald was constantly describing light, natural and artificial, throughout "The Great Gatsby".
I can't think of another actor of the past few years who could have played Jay Gatsby other than Leonardo DiCaprio. While not a huge fan of the actor since my teenage years, there's no denying that he is a compelling presence on film. You believe that this self-made millionaire or whatever he was, achieved all that he did through blind ambition to win back his first love, Daisy (Carey Mulligan). I have to give Mulligan credit because Daisy is not an easy role to play, largely because the character was deliberately underwritten in the novel. There is a reason for this, because Daisy is idealized in Gatsby's eyes, as well as in the eyes of her cousin Nick Carraway (played here by Tobey Maguire, adequate but nothing more), although to a lesser extent. Basically, Daisy is someone that others project their fantasies on to. Hence why I've never really believed that it was intended to be a love story, because it was not about real love, but trying to recapture the past, to achieve a dream and attempting to obtain the unobtainable. Gatsby does not truly love Daisy, but the image he had of her in his mind. Daisy, no matter what her feelings were for him could not simply walk away from her life; she was married to Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) and had a child with him. The differences between old money and new money aside, there was no way that her husband would ever have let her go, and at some point, Daisy does realize this. Gatsby never does.
Elizabeth Debicki, Isla Fisher, Jason Clarke and Amitabh Bachchan all do reasonably well in their under-developed roles. Luhrmann clearly was busy focusing on Gatsby and Daisy's relationship, but it's curious that despite the love scenes, which are well-acted and beautifully photographed, they exhibit little on-screen chemistry. The actors tried, but it never quite comes off. Ironically, there are far more sparks between Mulligan and Edgerton, in spite of the fact that Daisy is unhappy in her marriage and Tom is a brutish philanderer. The way Daisy and Tom look at each other, respond and react to one another says far more than any speeches, declarations of love or "romantic moments" with Gatsby. While some may feel that Edgerton over did it in portraying Tom's brash ways, he does show vulnerability, particularly when Gatsby starts pressuring Daisy to claim that she never loved her husband. I've never found Tom to be particularly sympathetic, but Edgerton manages to pull it off, as does Mulligan. Daisy as a character is much maligned but when push comes to shove, she was trapped in the high-society mindset into which she was born, and never pretended to be anything she was not. It was Gatsby who refused to accept reality, and this what ultimately led to his downfall. In fact, even when Gatsby tells Nick about his past, we can't even be entirely sure he is telling the truth, as he is so prone to fantasy. We are also not sure as viewers what was inside Daisy's heart and mind, perhaps she loved both men, but had to make the choice that was best for her, but not without consequences.
The costumes and sets will literally take your breath away, but the exclusion of a few crucial scenes (one of which does show up in the deleted scenes section of the special features of the DVD) may have helped to clear some things up.
It's not my favorite film adaptation of the novel but it's not as terrible as some are making it out to be.
Respectable Adaptation Of Stephen King's Most Complex Novel
Director Tommy Lee Wallace had a massive job adapting this book as a television miniseries, and he was as faithful as he could be considering time and budget constraints, not to mention the richness of the plot, and graphic detail that could not be included or could only be hinted at. I understand the disappointment of some, but let's face it, it's impossible to put every aspect of this story into a teleplay or screenplay, it just can't be done. Stephen King's work, in particular, can never really be as well depicted on screen due to his vast imagination.
I first saw "IT" as an eleven-year-old back in 1990, and like many others, I have intensely disliked and feared clowns ever since. Viewing it as an adult, it doesn't seem quite as scary, but many scenes still pack a pretty good wallop.
The themes of the story will strike a chord with some viewers. Echoes of "Stand By Me" (1986), involving childhood friendship and facing up to issues like sadistic bullies and abusive parents, but unlike the aforementioned film, "IT" deals with a terrifying, malevolent force that murders small children, in the small town of Derry, Maine. The first half shifts quite well between modern-day and flashback, as town librarian Mike Hanlon (Tim Reid) realizes that a new wave of child killings is a sign that the evil he and his six friends battled as kids has returned, and he calls them individually to inform them and remind them of the promise they made to each other if their fight to destroy the evil force wasn't successful. Bill Denbourgh (Richard Thomas) is a writer living in England with his wife, Audra (Olivia Hussey) and he has suppressed the memory of that summer, as well as the murder of his younger brother, Georgie (Tony Dakota). Ben Hanscom (John Ritter) is a successful architect who conquered a weight problem; Beverly Marsh (Annette O'Toole) is a clothing designer whose relationship with her business partner is filled with the kind of mistreatment she once endured from her father. Hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrack (Dennis Christopher) is still something of a mama's boy despite his own success in business; Richie Tozier (Harry Anderson) is a stand-up comedian who hides his insecurity behind humor; and Stanley Uris (Richard Masur) is the lone member who cannot face up to the past, and who never really overcame the trauma he suffered.
Each of the principal players flashes back to the year 1960, when their bond with one another began. This is where most of the power of the story lies. For much of the first installment we watch the young performers fill their roles and portray the childhood innocence touched by evil that only they can see. The adults are oblivious, even as more kids end up missing or dead. Young Bill (the ill-fated Jonathan Brandis), his frail friend Eddie (Adam Farazil), new kid in town Ben (Brandon Crane), Beverly (Emily Perkins) the lone girl in the group, goofball Richie (Seth Green), and logical Stan (Ben Heller) become close while building a dam in the barrens. Later, Mike (Marlon Taylor) joins them in what they call "The Loser's Club" or "Lucky 7" after he is terrorized by the school bully, Henry Bowers (Jarred Blancard) and his equally nasty followers. Together, they discover that they are all being stalked by an entity they dub "IT", which often takes the guise of Pennywise The Dancing Clown (played brilliantly by Tim Curry). Of course this clown can take the shape of pretty much anything that terrifies you. Shivering yet? Determined to put a stop to the carnage and devastation, the group decides to battle it out with Pennywise. These kids are smart, resourceful and courageous.
Unfortunately, the second half doesn't hold up quite as well, due to the decreasing budget, too much focus on the adult characters and too little flashbacks. While the adult actors give decent performances, they are upstaged by the youngsters, and even the few flashback sequences that do briefly grace the first thirty minutes of Part 2 make it abundantly clear that the child/adolescent performers are superior to their adult counterparts. John Ritter and Annette O'Toole always worked very well together, and Curry seemed to be having a ball with his role. Sinister, yet strangely comic, he nearly steals the show. The final battle is a let down and the lovely Olivia Hussey is pretty much wasted. It's also very hard to believe that the cherubic Ben Heller would grow up to be Richard Masur (who does a fine job during his all too brief screen time).
The only special features on this flip-sided disc (which by the way, doesn't tell you what part is on which side), is a commentary by director Tommy Lee Wallace, and actors Richard Thomas, John Ritter, Tim Reid and Dennis Christopher. For some reason, Wallace and Thomas were recorded individually, while the others are on the commentary together. Despite the issues with budget and weather (British Columbia doubling for Maine), they all seemed to have fond memories of the production and working together. It's somewhat bitter sweet to hear John Ritter's comments, knowing he would pass away soon after. The disc is in widescreen and looks very good, with only minor signs of damage and age showing from time to time.
I don't think "IT" is as terrible as some of the novel purists claim, and certainly, there are worse ways to spend an evening. Tim Curry and the child actors have been deservedly singled out for praise; a television show could have been built around their characters alone. Worth seeing.
"He rang twice for Cora, and now he's ringing twice for me!"
Although I've been classic movie buff for years, I only saw this movie a few years ago. I'd heard about it, of course, and seen photos, but hadn't actually gotten around to viewing it. I bought the DVD and it sat on my shelf for a while. When I finally popped into my DVD player, I found myself highly entertained, if a bit mystified by some of the plot twists, some of which made sense, some of which did not. But on the whole, it was essential viewing for a film noir fan, or any fan of Lana Turner or John Garfield.
A plot synopsis is unnecessary, because so many other reviewers have already done so, and wonderfully detailed descriptions. The heat that is generated on screen between Turner and Garfield is no myth; from the moment their characters cross paths, there's passion and doom written all over them. The attraction is instant, and with the Production Code in place, the subtlety and innuendo does more than explicit sex scenes could. Although the 1981 film version was able to be truer to the details of James M. Cain's novel, the chemistry between the leads was lacking, and no amount of lurid sex can disguise that. Turner and Garfield were Cora Smith and Frank Chambers, period. Their individual coloring provided an intriguing contrast which also contributed to their on screen dynamic. The rest of the cast, including Cecil Kellaway as Cora's elderly husband, Leon Ames as the District Attorney, Hume Cronyn as the defense lawyer and Audrey Totter as the girl Frank picks up outside a diner, are also no less than stellar.
The script makes use of the male voice-over/narration so common in the genre, and it works well since Garfield is in almost every scene. There are questions, though as to the first murder plot and the obvious stupidity of Cora's husband Nick, and the legal wrangling in the courtroom sequences. However, the performances almost make you overlook the plot holes. In the end, Turner, Garfield and the rest of the cast won me over. Cora and Frank are not experienced criminals, and they inevitably make mistakes that end up costing them dearly. But their desire and eventual love for each other never really fades, despite the mistrust and anger that often comes to the surface. The title refers to death coming more than once, and it certainly does in this case.
Although the DVD was released by Warner Brothers (John Garfield's home studio at the time), the movie was made by MGM, which may account for the lack of grittiness that is to be expected in film noir. Director Tay Garnett had a fairly long career, but was never considered a top director. Both Lana Turner and John Garfield made their film debuts in the late 1930s; while Turner, the blonde glamour girl who proved she had presence on film to make her one of the screen immortals went on to even greater fame in melodramas (both on screen and off) in the 50s and 60s, Garfield only had a few years left; his heart condition was made worse by his interrogation and blacklisting during the McCarthy witch hunts. He truly never gave a bad performance, and "Postman" is one of his best. He continued to work until the last year of his life, and is considered to be one of the finest actors of his generation, and of course, was one of the first Method actors in film. His early passing was a great loss to the film industry, but the impressive body of work he left behind will undoubtedly endure.
It's not a perfect film, but a fascinating one.
Deep Waters (1948)
"Deep Waters" Makes Its DVD Debut
Until recently, this obscure film from 20th Century Fox was often not even listed in the filmographies of its cast and crew. Thankfully, Fox released it as part of their Cinema Archives Collection, so that many lovers of classic movies can enjoy it.
The plot is simple and pretty straightforward, and of course everything is resolved in the end. The Oscar-nominated black and white cinematography (the exteriors were shot on location in Maine) has been nicely restored on the DVD print. Sound is fine, and the actors are believable in their roles. Dean Stockwell, as with many child actors of the classic era, was often cast as orphans looking for a place to belong. In this case, he is the son of a fisherman, but his social worker (Jean Peters) and the woman with whom he is placed (Anne Revere, who had played Stockwell's grandmother in the previous year's "Gentleman's Agreement"), try to keep on him on dry land, but the boy longs to be near the sea. Another complication is the fisherman (Dana Andrews) who Peters deeply loves and the feeling is mutual, but she cannot bring herself to accept his chosen profession. Rounding out the cast are Caesar Romero, Ed Begley, Mae Marsh and Will Geer. Dana Andrews was one of those underrated performers who never even received an Oscar nomination, although he most certainly deserved one. Anne Revere was blacklisted not long after this, a shame since she was such a wonderful and commanding presence on film. Jean Peters was a more than competent actress who worked with many of the great actors and stars of the era, but never really got the recognition she should have. Dean Stockwell is of course, still with us, and was one of the few child performers who made the successful transition to adult actor.
"Deep Waters" is no longer forgotten! Fine family viewing.
Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)
A Fine Movie That Doesn't Get The Recognition It Deserves
Many critics have since referred to this 1967 epic as "shamefully underrated" and I have to say that I agree. It took many years before I was able to view this production due to the relative unavailability in North America. While in the UK it was well- received at the time of its release, in the US it was a flop and MGM saw fit to cut the film down to a 2-hour running time, which did nothing to increase box office sales. When "Far From The Madding Crowd" was finally released on Region 1 DVD, my excitement couldn't be concealed. I watched it and was deeply impressed, and it remains my favorite of the adaptations of this novel that I have seen (although I did enjoy the 1998 Masterpiece Theatre miniseries and am looking forward to the new film version now in theaters). Director John Schlesinger expertly captured the tone of the story while cinematographer Nichoals Roeg displayed the richness of the landscape of England's West Country (Thomas Hardy's "Wessex"). The cast is also in top form. The three young actors, Julie Christie, Alan Bates and Terence Stamp, were all hot commodities at the time, fresh from successful hit movies that garnered acclaim around the world, so casting them was an indication of their talent and appeal.
Christie's portrayal of the likable but headstrong Bathsheba Everdene is nothing short of breathtaking. She really seems to be a country girl, but also a young woman who dares to take over a position that for the era was very uncommon - managing her late uncle's farm. Her beauty and charm catches the attention of three men, and while Bathsheba is foolish at times, she's not really the femme fatale that some have made her out to be; she doesn't really mean anyone any harm. Unfortunately, the middle-aged wealthy farmer William Boldwood (Peter Finch, another first-rate performance), misinterprets a gesture from the young woman and his obsession over her begins. He wants her to marry him, but she is understandably hesitant. But the first man we see come into her life is the farmer Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates), who clearly loves her but is rejected when he makes his feelings known. And his love remains apparent throughout, even when he becomes frustrated by her behavior at times. Bathsheba relies on Gabriel, and confides in him in times of crisis. We know as viewers that he is the right man for her, but she's too blind to see it. Into this complex web arrives Sergeant Frank Troy (Terence Stamp), a roguish soldier who charms and thrills Bathsheba and she allows him to court her, causing a ripple of gossip among the workers on the farm and jealousy from Boldwood. Troy has had a liaison with one of Bathsheba's housemaids, Fanny Robin (Prunella Ransome) who loves him dearly but he abandons her in favor of her mistress. All of these factors, combined with Hardy's themes of fate and the unpredictability of both nature and human behavior brings about misunderstanding and tragedy.
Troy is charming and romantic when he chooses to be, but the viewer ultimately wonders if he is truly capable of caring for anyone besides himself. Stamp is ideally cast as the opportunistic rascal who leaves hearts broken in his wake. Boyishly handsome with piercing eyes, and a voice that can be sweet or cold when the mood suits him, Stamp's Troy is both appealing and repulsive. Boldwood, while not outwardly threatening or menacing, displays a kind of deep disturbance that one can see in his eyes; when he fixes his gaze on Bathsheba we know that he feels he must have her. Finch displays the ability to convey more with facial expressions and gestures than with words. Alan Bates gives his portrayal of Gabriel Oak not only a natural and open quality, but also that of a man who will do what he can for the woman he loves. While Bates was not handsome in the way of Terence Stamp, he had an earthy ruggedness and a sincerity that made him undeniably attractive. He established a nice chemistry with Julie Christie, and the two actors would go on to co-star in three more projects, one of which, Joseph Losey's "The Go-Between" (1971) is hard to find but worth seeing if you come across it.
Richard Rodney Bennett's Oscar-nominated score is evocative and captures the drama, the changing of the seasons and the torrent of human emotions. The use of folk songs (performed by Isla Cameron) is a wonderful touch. The Dorset locations and the loving photography make for a rich viewing experience. While I've seen the film's detractors admonish the slow-pace and the hairstyles and make up sported by Julie Christie, it should be remembered that this is not a fast-moving story and that 60s styles showing up in period films of the era was common at the time (as Christie's earlier hit "Doctor Zhivago" demonstrated). It doesn't necessarily deter from the film's merits, unless you decide to make an issue out of it.
Every minute is worth it, and the story and performances are fantastic. Don't miss it!
Not what I expected, in a good way
This particular episode of "Ben Casey" involves a husband and wife who are shot - the man fatally, the woman (played by character actress Jeanette Nolan) is critically injured and requires surgery. Seems that their 18-year-old daughter Melanie (Tuesday Weld) came home from shopping to find this disturbing scene. Ben takes a special interest in the case, given that Melanie's father was not only a doctor but someone he knew and respected. He believes the version of events as told to him but the police detective on the case (Simon Oakland) is persistent in finding holes in Melanie and her mother's story. As time goes on, it becomes apparent that things are not what they seem and that the Gardner family held some dark and tortured secrets.
I was surprised to find that Tuesday Weld's role is quite similar to the one she would play in the cult classic "Pretty Poison" (1968) some six years later. While Melanie is more tormented than Sue Ann, she is just as devious. Yet, we feel sympathy for her. Vince Edwards, as usual, does a more than decent job as the hot-headed doctor who still has a heart for humanity, supported by the fantastic Sam Jaffe. Jeanette Nolan is as always, wonderful. Yet another reminder that the complete series of "Ben Casey" needs to be officially released on DVD.
Mulholland Falls (1996)
Interesting Premise That Falls Apart During The Second Half
"Mulholland Falls" (1996) is not a bad film. The performances are more than adequate, the attention to period detail and the cinematography is breathtaking at times. The problem lies with the screenplay, and the editing (it seems that MGM saw fit to trim the original cut of the film down to a more acceptable running time), leaving much to be desired with character development (or lack thereof) and plot holes.
The opening sequence is pure noir, or neo-noir as the genre that it falls into. "The Hat Squad" in which Max Hoover (Nick Nolte) is the leader is both comical and interesting. Unfortunately, the other characters (Chazz Palminteri, and particularly Michael Madsen and Chris Penn) are give little to do by comparison. And although Jennifer Connelly is featured prominently in the trailer and on the DVD cover, she also has very little do but look gorgeous and sexy (which she does very well) in a series of all too brief flashbacks and 8mm footage. Melanie Griffith, as Hoover's wronged wife, makes the most of her limited screen time but again, the film could have benefited from seeing more of her (and I say this as someone who is not particularly a fan, but she is extremely sympathetic and likable here). Andrew McCarthy gets the thankless role as the friend of Allison Pond (Connelly) who knows too much. John Malkovich seems to think he's in another movie, Treat Williams tries hard but never fully convinces as a military man. Blink and you'll miss Rob Lowe in a cameo and William Peterson is uncredited.
The main problem with "Mulholland Falls" is that it does feel like two movies slapped together. The military/government angle felt very out of place; what started off as a promising detective story dealing with the murder of a young woman who has connections to both the police force and the corrupt underworld of Los Angeles turns into a bland maze of incoherent and uninteresting plot points.
Some may argue that this attempt at neo-noir is unjustly compared to "Chinatown" (1974) and "L.A. Confidential" (1997), but it does fall short. As I mentioned before, perhaps the editing is to blame. It would be interesting if a director's cut exists. Perhaps that would make more sense out of the plot.
Dave Grusin's score is nice enough, but only briefly evokes the feeling associated with the genre.
In conclusion, "Mulholland Falls" is not a waste of time, it was an interesting premise that simply ran out of steam. Still, if you're an admirer of period pieces or films set in Los Angeles, you may want to give it a try.
The Restless Years (1958)
"The Story Of A Town With A Dirty Mind!"
. . . and the young people it tries to corrupt! If that tag line alone brings to mind images of "Peyton Place" (1957), you're not alone. However, "The Restless Years", is less known than the aforementioned film, but it deserves more recognition for its talented cast. John Saxon, Sandra Dee, Teresa Wright, James Whitmore, Margaret Lindsay, Luana Patten, Jody McCrea and Virginia Grey all did a decent job of portraying folks of a small town, beset by gossip and whispers. More intimate than "Peyton Place" but obviously shot on a lower budget (black and white CinemaScope), this effort is memorable in its own right. Sandra Dee, in only her second film, shows considerable promise as a dramatic actress, as she would demonstrate in later efforts such as "A Summer Place" and "Imitation Of Life" (both 1959). John Saxon, with just a few movies under his belt, already was displaying the intensity that he later became famous for.
Produced by Ross Hunter, the film seems tame by today's standards but is very entertaining and true to the emotions that ran at the time. It's truly a 50s melodrama, and that's really where the entertainment value lies.
Just recently, "The Restless Years" made its debut on DVD in the Universal Vault Series Collection. Unfortunately, the print is in non-anamorphic widescreen. Universal could and should do better.
John Saxon and Sandra Dee were a fine screen team, and also displayed this in two other films, "The Reluctant Debutante" (1958) and "Portrait In Black" (1960).
Once a Thief (1996)
"Once A Thief" - brief but brilliant television series
I remember this show when it initially aired on CTV in Canada. I took an immediate liking to it and was extremely disappointed that it was cancelled after one season. The episodes were well-written and performed and came off very well despite the low-budget. Even better that it was filmed and set in Vancouver.
John Woo directed the two-hour movie that served as the pilot for the series. I won't rehash the plot too much but the love triangle between the three leads is both amusing and touching. By the last four episodes it becomes clear which man Li Ann Tsei (Sandrine Holt) belongs with, which unfortunately due to the series cancellation was not explored further, but if you watch it from the beginning you'll have it figured out. Holt has great chemistry with both her leading men, Ivan Sergei (as Mac Ramsey) and Nicholas Lea (as Victor Mansfield), who of course, also had a prominent recurring role on the hit TV series "The X-Files". Rounding out the main cast is Jennifer Dale, who plays "The Director" of the agency that the trio works for. In the latter part of the season, Vicky Pratt became a semi-regular as a former mob queen who is eager to be "reformed" (cough). Canadian viewers will also get a kick out the guest stars, which include Colin Mochrie, Ron Lea, Pat Mastroianni and Katherine Greenwood, just to name a few. Michael Wong is also a standout in his appearances.
While each disc starts with an advisory about condition of the source material, for the most part the picture is very good, with only minor issues here and there. The show has aged quite well, and the music and wardrobe is just another reason to love it. As another reviewer pointed out, the writers did some clever spoofs of "The X-Files", "The Maltese Falcon" and the "James Bond" series of films. Humor, action, romance and drama abound. The only special feature is an alternate ending, which was evidently used when the show later aired in the US. I wasn't aware that there was an alternate ending until recently, and it's a good option for those who didn't like the way the series ended.
The only thing that is jarring is that the 17th episode, "Little Sister" was obviously shot earlier in the season; key factors give this away, and that makes the continuity a bit confusing. Why the episode aired so late is anybody's guess.
On the whole, I was pleased to be able to watch this again, and even catch up on the few episodes that I missed. While "Once A Thief" had a brief life on television, the show lives on in the hearts of its fans.
I Walk the Line (1970)
Underrated And Neglected Little Masterpiece
Not to be confused with the 2005 Johnny Cash biopic "Walk The Line", this 1970 film directed by John Frankenheimer tells the story of a middle-aged, small-town sheriff, Henry Tawes (Gregory Peck) , who finds himself becoming increasingly disillusioned with his life as a husband and father, and coming to resent his humdrum existence. It could also be argued that he is entering a mid-life crisis, and one day, he stops the daughter of a local moonshiner (played by Ralph Meeker), pretty Alma McCain (Tuesday Weld) and her younger brother for driving without a permit. Captivated by her beauty, he begins a secret affair with her, all the while turning a blind eye to her family's illegal activities. Things become increasingly out of hand as inspectors begin to investigate the goings on in town and Henry's devious deputy (Charles Durning) discovers the liaison and the McCain family's profession. Henry also finds his distraught wife (Estelle Parsons) has also discovered the affair, and he decides to throw all caution to the wind and run away with Alma. Torn between her affection for Henry and her loyalty to her family, Alma's choice and Henry's recklessness result in tragedy and heartbreak.
This movie was very much overlooked when it was first released, but it is a good flick and the performances are superb. The production was shot mainly on location in Tennessee and Johnny Cash provides the soundtrack. This role was a very different one for Gregory Peck, especially at this stage of his career, but he embodies the tightly-wound sheriff expertly. Tuesday Weld is convincing and captivating as a young woman caught in a way of life that not only limits her opportunities but also her choices. Used by her father to keep Henry smitten in order to keep the family business secret, she makes the only choice she feels she can make, but not without cost to Henry.
Columbia released the movie on DVD a few years back, and it is unforgivably very bare-bones (there isn't even a menu), but it is in widescreen and the transfer looks wonderful, capturing the bleak yet lush countryside.
If you're a fan of Gregory Peck and Tuesday Weld, this is a film that must be viewed.
"The Young One" - A Look Back At The '50s
First of all, the baby-faced Carol Lynley played very well against type as a bratty Lolita-like teen named Janice who wants to escape her miserable existence in a nameless town, where she is forced to live with her controlling aunt Mae (Jeanette Nolan). Her boyfriend Stan (Stephen Joyce, who made me wonder if the costume department was trying to portray him as a James Dean lookalike/knockoff with that windbreaker) refuses to marry her to take her away from surroundings she hates so much, so she catches the attention of hunky drifter Tex (Vince Edwards, that's "hunky" with a capital H), at a roadhouse, which puts a whole chain of events in motion.
Sure, there may not be a whole lot of suspense in this episode, but it builds a tension that actually makes the climax pack a wallop. One of the many interesting things about this instalment is how much more politically correct the world is today, even though the 1950s in many ways was a much more conservative era (with hints of change coming) and there still was some of the production code remaining. In this day and age, eyebrows would be raised if one saw Janice in such deep and flirtatious conversation with an older man, and Tex would certainly have been arrested for being in the company of an underage girl (the description states that Janice is 17 but Lynley was about 15 at the time and could easily have been mistaken for younger). Janice also had begun to master the art of manipulating situations, past and present, spinning fantasies and wrapping men around her finger. Her confrontation with her frustrated aunt highlights this. I can see why Janice wanted out so badly, but at the same time I sympathized with Mae for her difficulties in controlling her niece and trying to "bring her up properly", even though compared to what is going on in today's world it seems that some of the "forbidden" things Janice does and lies about seem quite tame. Even the Wooly Bear seems like a friendly place rather than a seedy hang-out.
I began to notice that as much as Janice claimed to like Tex (and who can blame her!), she didn't want to let him get really close. And he, a hardened young man who was obviously very cynical and world-weary but not as much of a insensitive jerk as he seemed at times, was completely in the dark (both somewhat literally and figuratively). How ironic that Stan, the guy she dissed was the one who would have taken her away if she would have waited a little while. But Janice only cared for what she wanted and what these guys could bring her. She was prepared to let Tex take the blame for what she did, but her actions came back to bite her.
I have seen Vince Edwards criticized for his portrayal but his role didn't call for a wide range of emotion, and either way, he had enough presence and realism to make Tex believable, although his character's motives seemed to be something of a puzzle and a contradiction. And honestly, I don't want to over-analyze it because, well, it's Vince Edwards. The man was sexy and versatile, with more than enough magnetism to spare.
I think I've said enough, so I'll close with this: "The Young One" is a damn good, yet understated episode.
Family of Strangers (1993)
Touching With A Surprising Revelation
Count me in as someone else who is glad this movie has made it to DVD. I taped it several years back as well and it really is a very underrated TV movie. Melissa Gilbert and Patty Duke always work very well together; they have a respect and ease with each other that comes off on screen. The film was shot on location in British Columbia and many Canadian actors are featured. It is also based on a true story from the book "Jody" written by Jerry Hulse. As I have not read it, I don't know what liberties were taken with it for this TV drama.
Julie (Gilbert) is a young mother who is separated from her husband Sam (Eric McCormack, looking very young and sporting a believable American accent), and is living in Seattle with her daughter Megan (the late Ashleigh Aston Moore, who then went by Ashley Rogers) and her recently widowed father Earl (William Shatner).
One day while driving to work, Julie suffers a blockage in her brain and requires surgery, but she must find out if there is a history of strokes in her family. When she asks Earl for information on their family medical history, he reveals that she was adopted as an infant and he has no idea who her biological parents were. This sends Julie reeling and she sets out to discover her true parentage - after all, her life is at risk. A researcher, she discovers her birth mother came from Cloverton, British Columbia. When she tracks down Beth (Patty Duke), at first she meets with resistance and then a painful truth - Beth does not know the identity of Julie's father because she was raped. The women form a bond as they work together to uncover the rapist's identity - all Beth knows for certain is one of the boys who were in her circle of friends was the perpetrator, but as the rape occurred on a dark night following a homecoming dance in 1964, the pair must investigate and try to track the now grown men down. The identity of Julie's father and Beth's rapist is quite a surprise - at least it was to me. A few red herrings appear to throw the viewer off, making it even more shocking when the truth is revealed.
The film also features flashback sequences that recreate the mid-sixties quite well, and the director did the best to make it seem like it was shot on 8mm, and making the attack very frightening and the features of the rapist hard see clearly. The young actors do very well in their brief scenes although most bear little resemblance to their adult counterparts. It's also painful to watch as young Beth was made to feel dirty by her own mother, who refused to tell anyone (even Beth's father) about the rape and subsequent pregnancy, for which Beth was sent away to Seattle with the ruse that she was attending beauty school out of town when in fact she was waiting to give birth and was forced to give her baby up for adoption. Julie was taken from her right after she delivered and Duke's acting proves that her Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress as a teenager was no fluke. The pain, grief, anger and vulnerability in Beth is just superbly portrayed, and Gilbert's Julie matches her.
Watching this is also a very moving experience. Julie's quest to find herself, and realize the love around her, and Beth's journey into healing and reuniting with the child she never had the chance to know.
Recommended, but keep the tissues handy.
Don't Go to Sleep (1982)
You May Never Wake Up!
I'd heard so much about this 1982 TV movie that I decided to seek it out. I finally viewed it online, and I can see why this movie has gotten so much praise by audiences. It's a very well-paced, written, acted and directed piece, miles ahead of many of the TV movies that air today. Is it just me or are the television movies of the 70s, 80s and 90s much better and more entertaining? At first, we don't realize there's more going on beneath the surface of this "typical American family" until about 15 minutes in. We discover then that they are all still coping with a terrible tragedy that occurred the year before. The oldest daughter, Jennifer (Kristen Cumming), was killed in a car accident while the rest of the family survived. The father, Phillip (Dennis Weaver) is clearly a borderline alcoholic who would rather not discuss or deal with what happened, and doesn't want to accept how Jennifer's death affected the children. Mother Laura (Valerie Harper) is far more open-minded regarding the latter but they, along with her mother Bernice (the always reliable Ruth Gordon), are still blaming themselves and to an extent, each other - for what happened. However, most traumatized seems to be Mary (Robin Ignico), the remaining daughter. She hears voices and begins to encounter her sister's spirit - and the two begin to plan revenge on the family. It seems that young Mary was the only one who really loved Jennifer and misses her - at least that is what Jennifer would have us and Mary believe. But as things escalate and fatal "accidents" begin to occur, we begin to suspect that there's more to the story - and there is. The climax is indeed a twist ending that most will not see coming - things are not as they seem. And that alone is enough to recommend this movie.
Young actors Robin Ignico, Kristen Cumming and Oliver Robins (of "Poltergiest" fame, who here plays brother Kevin) are all very natural in their roles - Cumming is both childlike and eerie, Ignico is amazing as Mary (I only remembered her as Duffy from "Annie"), and Robins is totally believable as the annoying younger brother. Valerie Harper rips your heart out as Laura - Dennis Weaver's portrayal is a bit more understated but he also is very good. And what more can be said about Ruth Gordon - she is incredible as the eccentric granny. Director Richard Lang and writer Ned Wynn need more recognition for their work on this film, as do the actors.
I can see why the title is "Don't Go To Sleep" because I sure had a hard time nodding off after watching it! Guaranteed to have the same affect on you.
Now, where is the DVD?