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Creepy and riveting
This is one of a handful of episodes dealing with the Marian Crane storyline that is available to watch on youtube. It really gives you a glimpse into this creepy and suspenseful storyline and it shows why Frank Beaty was nominated for an Emmy. In a previous episode, Brent wanted to move into the boarding house to get close to Lucy so he sabotaged a construction work project so that Lucy's friend David Grant (Russell Curry) would be injured (and possibly die), so that way, the room he occupied would be vacant. David had minor injuries and would be able to go home soon, ruining Brent's plan.
Lucy happened to be at the hospital to visit David and she confided to Marian about her rape (not knowing of course, that Marian was actually Brent), and how she hated Brent for what he did to her. Marian told Lucy that she was raped and asked Lucy for a ride home. Lucy agreed and asked Marian to wait in the parking lot for her. Brent, in a rage, smashed Lucy's car, vowing to make her pay. When Lucy came down the elevator and saw her vandalized car, Marian claimed that three men damaged it, and comforted Lucy, and made the ominous remark, "It could have been you."
There were obvious "Psycho" parallels, and Brent's abuse at the hands of his mother, coupled with masquerading as Marian caused him to become increasingly unhinged (although you can make the argument that he wasn't all there to begin with). This is another element that makes the story both compelling and scary.
Temporary recast during a major plot point
Because Frank Beaty, who originated the role of Brent Lawrence had to take time off for personal reasons, Marc Wolf (who is now primarily a writer) was brought on to temporarily replace him. I was very confused at the time, as I didn't know about any of the behind-the-scenes stuff and wondered why Brent looked different. No disrespect to Wolf, as being a recast has to be very difficult, but his Brent was over-the-top at times and often came across as silly. In a recent interview, Sonia Satra (Lucy Cooper) stated that she loved working with Frank Beaty and when he had to be replaced it was a hard adjustment to make.
Although Frank Beaty did return for two episodes, Wolf had to take on the role of Brent again for the next few weeks until Beaty was able to return and finish the storyline before leaving the series. It's my understanding that Beaty struggled with the role and the dark material he had to work with, but he really was amazing and no one could have played it better, but I have to give props to Wolf for giving it his best shot.
Terrifying; hasn't lost any of its punch
"Guiding Light" fans will forever remember this episode, where Brent Lawrence (Frank Beaty) disguised as Marian Crane, kills Nadine Cooper (Jean Carol) after he finds her in his apartment. Nadine was leaving town, but had a premonition that Marian was in danger. She got into Marian's apartment to warn her, only to find that Marian was obsessed with Lucy Cooper (Sonia Satra) and had altered her HIV test results so that Lucy would think she was infected. Brent revealed who he really was and told a terrified Nadine how he had faked his death, and had come back to Springfield seeking revenge on Lucy for accusing him of raping her on a date. He then killed Nadine to silence her.
This episode exudes creepiness. As a teenager who caught bits and pieces of this storyline, I found this very frightening and Frank Beaty was phenomenal in the part, and was deservedly nominated for an Emmy, but unfortunately did not win. Brent Lawrence easily goes down as one of the best villains in daytime history. Beaty managed to make the character complex and even sympathetic at times, no easy feat, especially given all the despicable acts that Brent committed. Soft-spoken and handsome, Frank Beaty could have had a long career in soaps if he chose to. At any rate, this remains a very memorable storyline in this long-running daytime series, which began as a radio show in the 1940s, and went off the air in 2009.
The Imposter (2012)
Truth Can Be Stranger Than Fiction
In 1994, a 13-year-old boy named Nicholas Barclay disappeared from his hometown of San Antonio, Texas. That's really the only thing anyone knows for sure. Even the exact date of his disappearance is debatable.
While "The Imposter" and the person of that title, Frederic Bourdin, is intriguing and watchable, there is a sadness knowing that the boy whom he impersonated has never been found and that when he went missing, it wasn't properly investigated. Did his family know more than they let on? They weren't exactly the Brady Bunch. Drug use and domestic violence were rampant, and the child was a troubled youth who clearly was not taken care of as he should have been. Will we ever know what happened to Nicholas Barclay?
If there is one good thing to come out of Frederic Bourdin's scam, it's that it did bring attention to the case, even though the homicide investigation had to be closed due to lack of evidence.
Bourdin himself came from a less than ideal background and wasn't happy with himself, so he impersonated other people (mostly fabricated identities, but he did attempt to impersonate other missing people, but he was usually found out right away). Watching this, I'm torn on whether to believe him or believe the family. I want to feel sorry for the mother, sister, brother-in-law and nephew of Nicholas Barclay, but their behavior and their supposed blind acceptance of someone who didn't look or act remotely like their missing loved one is hard to swallow.
Re-enactments were used to recall events of the case, and Welsh actor Adam O'Brian did a remarkable job portraying Frederic Bourdin. The DVD also includes a making-of-featurette, which is a must-see if you are interested in the case. This documentary is thought-provoking, and leaves you to draw your own conclusions.
UPDATE: In the ten years since this documentary was released, it has gained a wider audience as it has been made available on Netflix. A 2008 news article reveals the notification of Child Protective Services shortly before Nicholas Barclay went missing.
My Sweet Audrina (2016)
Okay as a movie, but disappointing as an adaptation
On its own, this is not a bad film. The production values are quite good (especially with the interior scenes), and it has a reasonably gothic atmosphere, the music is decent, as is most of the acting. If you haven't read the book, you may like the film.
As an adaptation of the novel, this is an extremely watered-down presentation. Granted, the book is quite massive, covers a lot of years and no doubt some of it would have been difficult to translate to the screen. However, several important characters are either missing or have very little screen time, so their importance to the plot and to the main characters doesn't register. Some of the characters were whitewashed to make them more likable.
As another reviewer noted, 90 minutes just isn't enough time to tell these stories. Lifetime would have done better if they had produced them as miniseries. The complex nature of these novels by V. C. Andrews doesn't always translate well within a limited budget.
India Eisley was a good choice to play the older Audrina, but I don't know why Lifetime seems to have a problem with giving the actresses wigs when hair color is such a crucial part of the characters. James Tupper did well as Audrina's father Damian although he's not nearly as detestable as he was in the book, and Tess Atkins did what she could as Vera in the limited amount of screen time she had.
Nothing remarkable, but enjoyable enough if you can let go of any expectations as to following the source material.
It Chapter Two (2019)
What the hell did I just watch?
As disappointed as I was with Chapter 1, it was definitely the better of the two films, although that's not saying much. Even the second half of the 1990 miniseries (which has been much maligned) is, for the most part, more believable and watchable.
Again, the acting was good, but the film itself is very much an incoherent mess, with once again, using special effects to fill up and carry the story. I didn't for a second buy that these were old friends reconnecting and joining forces again to stop and kill the evil monster who tormented them as children. As before, the changing of the timeline from the novel and the miniseries did this movie no favors.
It's unfortunate that so many of these re-workings or new adaptations feel the need to discard character development and the psychological aspect for overblown special effects, gore, nudity and graphic violence. As I stated in my review of Chapter 1, Pennywise is just too obvious to be able to lure in his victims, when he's got "demonic clown from hell" practically plastered on his forehead. The sense of tension and dread is completely missing in this film, and pretty much in the previous one. Say what you will about the miniseries, but despite its limitations, it created a level of psychological suspense for the most part. This movie does not.
I'm sure some will prefer these recent adaptations of Stephen King's novel (including the author himself) but these movies just didn't do it for me. I did like the closing scene, but that's literally the best part of the movie. A disaster, period.
This latest adaptation of Stephen King's novel does have good performances and nice cinematography, but it lacks in many other areas. The use of CGI is overkill (pardon the expression). When movies start relying on visual effects to carry it, you know there is a problem. Yes, special effects are important, especially in stories like these, but it shouldn't consume the film. This, coupled with jump scares and gore, takes away much of the suspense and dread.
I have read the book and saw the miniseries as a kid and have re-watched it since. The latter had to be toned down as it was made for TV and some of the special effects are dated. The second half isn't as strong as the first. However, what really sells the 1990 TV production is the atmosphere, music, and the performances - especially Tim Curry and the child/teen actors. The performers are all very natural, their relationships, whether that of friends or antagonists - were believable.
The changing of the timeline (1958 in the book, 1960 in the miniseries) was not a good idea, in my opinion. The innocence of the late 1950s/early 1960s was one of the story's strengths. 1989 just was not as innocent of a time, making the threat of Pennywise less influential. And contrary to what defenders of this movie will claim, the kids did NOT curse that much in the book.
In terms of performance, most of the acting was good. However, I didn't feel for or connect with the characters as I did in the TV production and especially the book. The friendship doesn't seem as strong. Mike Hanlon, in particular, lacked even more character development than he did in the previous incarnation. His knowledge of the history of Derry - one of the key important parts of his character - was completely stripped away and given to Ben. Why? And why was Beverly the one who looked into IT's deadlights (and changed to a damsel in distress rather than the one who did the most in bringing IT down) and not Stan, when that was an important factor in his later suicide? Why was Stan so unlikeable? Why was Georgie's death not discovered immediately after it happened?
The biggest gripe I have is with Pennywise (so much of it was CGI). It really has nothing to do with Bill Skarsgard's performance per se, but how Pennywise is presented. One of the strengths of Tim Curry's portrayal and presentation of the character is that at first glance, he seems like a typical clown, which is why he was able to draw children to him. Skarsgard's Pennywise is so obviously evil and creepy that you can't understand why kids wouldn't run away from him screaming.
I was willing to give this movie a chance, but it was a disappointment.
The Jewel In The Crown, If Somewhat Tarnished
This is easily the best of Lifetime's adaptations of V. C. Andrews' Casteel family saga, but that's not to say it doesn't have issues. The acting is decent enough, but once again, Lifetime ignores the significance of the female protagonist's hair color, which is extremely important in these stories. Couldn't they have the actresses dye their hair or wear wigs? The same house that was used as the new Foxworth Hall in Lifetime's adaptation of "Seeds Of Yesterday" was used throughout this series as Farthingale Manor. While it's definitely a beautiful upper-class home, it simply doesn't evoke the dark, fairytale aspect that both of these mansions are supposed to have. Time constraints are always an issue, and the last 15 minutes of the film do seem rushed, but it doesn't suffer as some of the other movies based on Andrews (and the ghostwriter, Andrew Neiderman) have.
However, most of the story was conveyed here and it was easily the most engrossing of all the Casteel movies (although "Gates Of Paradise" was somewhat entertaining as well). It's really sad to see such a selfish and cruel mother basically setting up her teenage daughter to be abused by her stepfather and then blame her daughter for "seducing him", but unfortunately these situations do happen in real life. This is based on the prequel book of the series, showing how the mother of the main heroine struggled and overcame her troubled home life, only to find brief happiness before dying in childbirth. This film would have made an excellent miniseries.
Like the other Lifetime movies produced based on the work of this author and ghostwriter, there is something of a campy soap-opera quality to this film but not as much as some of the others. Probably the only movie in this set I would re-watch. Not perfect, but good enough.
Anne of Green Gables (1919)
Tragic Loss For Silent Film Fans
I can't really review this title as it is a lost film, but as another reviewer noted, its loss is terrible for fans of silent film and actress Mary Miles Minter. As a Canadian, I enjoy adaptations of one of our country's most beloved novels. While author Lucy Maud Montgomery was not fond of it (she was slightly more favorable towards the 1934 film version, despite the issues she had with the liberties it took), it would be very interesting to view it. I can only hope it is not truly lost forever and will surface one day.
The Fair Colleen
While this film doesn't quite rank with some of the earlier Warner Brothers' musicals, there are many things to enjoy. Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler were always wonderful together and had a special chemistry. However, they didn't get nearly as much screen time as they should have (Keeler played the title character, after all), and that's unfortunate, as this ended up being their final screen teaming (although that was probably not intended). When they are onscreen, they are a delight. Jack Oakie and Joan Blondell provide great comic relief, even if their scenes seem a bit out of place. Paul Draper was an excellent dancer but not much of an actor or screen personality, but he provides his function in the plot well enough. Louise Fazenda is fun to watch and it's too bad she's not fondly remembered as one of the great character actresses.
The biggest gripe is the amount of screen time given to Hugh Herbert, who is amusing in a few scenes in a movie but he just gets far too much here. It hurts the plot to a degree, and this is what I was referring to when I stated that it takes away the focus of the film. It's supposed to be about the romance between Donald Ames (Powell) and Colleen Reilly (Keeler), and while the sub-plot of Herbert "adopting" Minnie (Blondell) is fun for a little while, it becomes tiresome. To Blondell's credit, she does a great job in the wisecracking and silly role. Oakie was a good partner for her.
The songs and musical numbers are pleasant if not particularly special, lacking the Busby Berkley choreography of the earlier films featuring Powell, Keeler and Blondell. Still, it's a nice way to spend an hour and a half.
The DVD from the Warner Archive is watchable but there are quite a few scratches on the print; it could use restoration. Also, Powell and Keeler should have been featured on the cover.
The Better Of The Two TV Movies On This Case Released In 1994
At least it is in terms of character development and the family dynamic, however, as another reviewer noted, there are many inaccuracies (Jose Menendez had been a music executive at the company formerly known as RCA when the family resided on the east coast, but he became an executive in the film industry in California, etc). The actors did a decent job, especially Edward James Olmos as the evil, monstrous and abusive patriarch, Jose Menendez. His performance literally gave me chills.
However, this is not the best dramatic representation of this case (that honor goes to the "Law & Order: True Crime" miniseries) and as with the previous TV movie, it was produced at the conclusion of the first trial, so the outcome of the case is excluded. There's also the fact that this was in large part based on the biased and gossip-ridden articles on the case written by Dominick Dunne for Vanity Fair Magazine, so this miniseries is very much in favor of the prosecution.
The Black Dahlia (2006)
A new appreciation but this film could have been so much better!
I've come to appreciate this film more now than I initially did back in 2007 when I first saw it on DVD. Does it have issues? Undoubtedly. From what I understand, the original cut ran nearly three hours and James Ellroy (author of the novel) praised it but Brian De Palma, probably under studio pressure, cut the film down to two hours. This explains why the plot is convoluted, but I loved the recreation of the 1940s period, the cinematography, the music, set design, etc.
Mark Isham's score is wonderful and atmospheric, and the actors did a decent job all things considered. Scarlett Johansson looks like a woman of the era and Mia Kirshner is heartbreaking and poignant in her (all too brief) screen time. Rose McGowan makes the most of her one scene as an aspiring starlet. Josh Hartnett handled the lead role better than expected and Aaron Eckart is always a welcome presence. Johansson's Kay Lake, while flawed, represents the safe, warm and gentle while Hilary Swank's Madeline Linscott is the dark, dangerous, and untrustworthy. I did have an issue, however, in that Swank and Kirshner's characters are supposed to resemble each other when the two actresses don't look remotely alike.
Makes you wonder what might have been; here's hoping the original director's cut will be released.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
"I Don't Want An Opinion On The Matter; In Fact, I Forbid It!"
With these words uttered by Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), I'll take my chances and express mine. There is much to enjoy about this film, most of the acting is good, the cinematography is breathtaking, as are the costumes and production design, not to mention the soundtrack by Craig Armstrong. People who were not familiar with the story prior to seeing Thomas Vinterberg's take on the classic 1874 Thomas Hardy novel may not understand why the story takes the twists and turns it does, when on the surface, the path of the heroine seems so simple.
However, with Thomas Hardy, nothing is that clear-cut when it comes to human beings (specifically, human emotions), class differences, society rules and most importantly, fate. That is a word that is always present in his novels.
As I said, the acting is good, but what really mars this film is its condensed running time; because of that, character development and several important plot-points are either downplayed, glossed over, or completely omitted. Perhaps the filmmakers and studio thought that 21st-century audiences wouldn't have the patience to sit through a film that was longer than two hours (the 1967 John Schlesinger epic-style movie ran nearly three hours, while the 1998 Masterpiece Theater miniseries clocked in at about 208 minutes), and in order to play up the romantic aspect of the film and to ensure that the audiences would get a pay-off, a few scenes were invented to capitalize on the relationship between Mulligan's Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts). If you have read the novel or have seen the earlier adaptations, you already know how the story ends, but Vinterberg apparently felt that particular aspect needed to be emphasized more. While that's not necessarily a complaint, it does hinder some of the other characters and their dynamics that they shared in the original story.
Michael Sheen, as the second of Bathsheba's suitors, the lonely and repressed William Boldwood, is something of a casualty (although not the only one) because his obsession with Bathsheba, who is almost young enough to be his daughter, is just hinted at, but not expanded upon. His rivalry with Sargeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) is virtually non-existent, which was an important key to his character, and builds up to the story's climax. Troy, who succeeds in winning Bathsheba's heart for a short time, before his true character is revealed to her, is very one-dimensional here, again due to lack of character development and motivation, as well as the fact that his relationship with one of Bathsheba's farm workers, Fanny Robin (Juno Temple, who is not seen nearly enough in the movie) is treated in almost a fleeting manner. The tragedy that ensues doesn't feel as powerful as it should have been, in large part because of this. Bathsheba could have used more development as well; while she did manage a farm (an unusual position of power for a woman to have at that time), she was still a female in the Victorian era and her choices were limited; she had no romantic experience when Oak and Boldwood entered her life; she mistook passion for love with Troy and his deceiving ways made her a victim in that situation (as was Fanny). Troy is actually the true villain of the piece; while Bathsheba is careless and thoughtless at times, she doesn't really mean to cause harm to anyone. That's the difference between her and the man she married on a whim without really giving it much thought. Since, however, Troy is not given the screen time to show this to the audience, and a very important plot development that leads up to the climax in the book and the other two film versions is completely absent here, it may be hard for some to see what the point of the film really is.
As the man who loves Bathsheba ("More than my own life," as he states in the novel), Schoenaerts is fine, but I would have liked a little more emotion and passion in his portrayal. While Gabriel is a steadfast, kind and patient man, despite his love for Bathsheba, he's not afraid to stand up to her or voice his opinion when he believes that she's wrong or being foolish. Schoenearts doesn't really convey Oak's frustration and heartbreak where Bathsheba is concerned. Mulligan does well with what she is given to work with, as do the other performers (Sheen is particularly effective). Mulligan and Sheen's rendition of the folk song, "Let No Man Steal Your Thyme" was a very good choice as the title and lyrics of the song clearly have a double meaning and even foreshadowing. Hardy's love of folk music was always present in his books and his prose.
Entertaining enough and glorious to look at (although perhaps a tad too clean in terms of its depiction of rural life of the time), but if you want to see an expanded version of the story, watch the 1967 film or the 1998 miniseries. The book is, of course, in a class all its own.
Mysterious, Well-Acted, Entertaining . . . Too Bad The Series Was Cut Short!
Tuesday Weld, making her second and ultimately final appearance on "The Dick Powell Show" plays a young woman named Stacy Palmer, relentlessly pursued by a private detective by the name of Henderson (Bert Freed). She ditches her car, and ducks in a casino in Las Vegas, where she meets handsome drifter Jake Cobb (Fabian). The two hit off right away and he agrees to drive her to San Francisco, where she says her aunt lives. Things aren't quite what they seem, Henderson will not let up, and Jake falls for Stacy, who seems to have a love of speed and adventure and yet she has a fear of being touched. Of course they fall in love, but it's ill-fated from the start. Jake is also running away from his obligation to marry a girl back home and run his father's ranch. We never really find out why Stacy is running, or why Henderson (whose methods, particularly in the scene a motel room, come across as somewhat sinister) was sent by her father to bring her back. We can surmise that her father mistreated her, which would explain Stacy's almost manic behavior at times. Henderson's telling line near the end, "You can't run away; there's no where to go" seems both painfully true but also somewhat ominous.
Weld and Fabian (who had previously worked together in the 1960 college comedy "High Time") are both excellent; Fabian had just appeared in the controversial episode "A Lion Walks Among Us" (1961) of the short-lived series "Bus Stop" (Tuesday Weld had appeared in the pilot episode) in which his memorable performance as a psychopathic killer impressed Dick Powell and led to his guest spot here. Fabian has always gotten flack for being a "manufactured idol" in terms of his singing career, but his television work gave him the opportunity to show his acting chops. Tuesday Weld was a favorite of Dick Powell; she had appeared in his earlier series, "The Zane Grey Theater" and in a previous episode of "The Dick Powell Show". She was supposed to star in a third installment, but Powell's premature death midway through the second season prevented that. Weld has always had a unique talent and prolonged her career for three more decades. In addition to their talent, Tuesday and Fabian are both so strikingly beautiful, making "Run Till It's Dark" great for eye candy as well as moving and dramatic acting. The jazz score has film-noir vibe which suits the mood of the story very well.
Powell was quite humorous in the introduction; while praising the talent of the two young stars, he couldn't help but insert a little in-joke regarding his early career as a singing "juvenile" at Warner Brothers in the 1930s and he considerately mentioned his frequent (and favorite of that time) leading lady, Ruby Keeler. He clearly saw something of his younger self in Fabian.
Who knows when or if "The Dick Powell Show" will ever be released on DVD; from the small handful of episodes I have seen, it was a very good series that would have had a longer run if not for the untimely death of its host and producer.
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 can listen and observe, even if he doesn't always see what is 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 for me.
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 romantic, which did not happen in the book (although there was a sexual undertone that was never acted on). 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.
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). Another issue is that both Carpani and Lewis have tanned, olive skin; in the books, Cathy and Chris are nicknamed "The Dresden Dolls" because of their fair complexions, even before they were imprisoned in the attic. 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.
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 becomes involved with 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 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 explored, no doubt due to the 90-minute running time. Which begs the question: why not make 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 Corrine 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.
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 nearly 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. Christopher's ambition to become a doctor, which was an important part of his character and the story, is completely omitted. 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. Corrine 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.
What people who put down this film in regards to comparing it to the book don't realize is that V.C. Andrews had script approval and she liked director Jeffrey Bloom's script in its original form; she even appears in the film as a maid, although she died before it was released. The original cut did contain more of the incestuous relationship between the two oldest siblings (more so than the hints that were left in the theatrical version) and the film had a different ending in its original cut. Most notably, it was the studio who edited the film and changed the ending (using a different director) because the test audience reacted negatively, and because the studio wanted to secure a PG-13 rating so to ensure a wider audience than an R rating would have allowed.
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, as stated above, 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, Corrine (Victoria Tennant) over Cathy's relationship with her father (Marshall Colt) but again, it is not really expanded upon. Corrine 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 Corrine 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 Corrine 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.
Update: I received the special edition Blu-ray from Arrow video and it does contain the ending that was used in the 1986 test screening (taken from a badly damaged Betamax tape), interviews with the cinematographer, production designer, actor Jeb Stuart Adams (Chris) and composer Christopher Young, along with a behind-the-scenes photo gallery as well as storyboards; and a commentary by Diabolique magazine editor-in-chief Kat Ellinger. The liner notes include comments from the film's director, Jeffrey Bloom. Perhaps someday more deleted scenes will surface.
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 a few of the basic 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 killing 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.
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.