The film is a peculiar mixture of lukewarm nostalgia and cold, upper-crust alienation, showing more forbearance than might otherwise be expected from a story about child abuse. But the meager budget isn't enough to convincingly recreate the (somewhat arbitrary) 1958 setting, effectively isolating the action in a dramatic vacuum. A little more background detail might have made it more involving.
Look for cult director David Lynch in a small role, alongside his then girlfriend Isabella Rossellini.
The subsequent rite of passage doesn't stray too far from the patented coming-of-age blueprint (laughter leading to tragedy leading to bittersweet wisdom), but writer-director John Duigan's affectionate screenplay avoids falling into any sentimental traps, and the isolated Australian outback setting recalls some of the melancholy nostalgia of 'The Last Picture Show'. If not much else the film is a welcome throwback to a time when Australian movie-making meant well-crafted, unpretentious entertainment, before the Down Under film industry devolved to the level of 'Crocodile Dundee'.
Your guide will be Jason Robards, Jr., who as a carefree ten year old boy can be seen thrilling to the sights and sounds of this greatest of all international expositions, and cheerfully mugging for the camera in his father's home movies!
He'll lead you through a Utopian Never-Never Land of scientific wonders and social achievements, including the popular Futurama Exhibit, featuring a scale model of Democracity, the perfect planned community for the next generation!
Follow the all-American Middletons (Mom, Dad, Babs and Bud) from Main Street, Indiana, a promotional film family touring pavilions representing all the mightiest nations on Earth, with the notable exception of Germany, which at that moment was planning a world event of an altogether different sort!
The ironies of hindsight make this a fascinating documentary, suggesting (not without regret) that optimism is no match for the harsh reality of current events. The film includes plenty of rare color archival footage.
The script is nothing new, but François Truffaut's intelligent treatment of the otherwise familiar story avoids the more obvious clichés of popular romantic fiction. It hardly ranks among the director's best efforts, but a pair of talented co-stars and the typically French pre-occupation with l'amour fou help maintain interest all the way to the startling conclusion.
That the film succeeds more on a personal level in no way diminishes its political message, which unlike other anti-Apartheid dramas is never force-fed in condescending spoonfuls ("I know that already; stop treating me like a baby!" cries the frustrated young heroine after yet another lecture from mom). No easy solutions are offered, and the film ends in just another riot, suggesting with cautious optimism the hope for ultimate victory after what promises to be a long and difficult struggle.
Before the age of home entertainment most people knew the movie only from its frequent television screenings (always introduced, in our youth, by Danny Kaye), but seeing the film uninterrupted by commercials (and preferably on a big screen) is the best way to appreciate the fairy-tale simplicity of L. Frank Baum's story and the wealth of his imagination, in no way compromised by the economy of the film's Depression-era 1939 budget. This is one of those rare adaptations that is actually better than the original book: a film that will never grow old, for people who will never grow old.
It's a convenient (if sometimes slightly antagonistic) arrangement, with Watson finding the clues and Holmes getting the credit, and both Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley play the one-joke premise for all its worth, having a lot of fun with their respective characters. Caine is the idiotic, clumsy, lecherous and vain Sherlock Holmes, but Kingsley's Watson is no less temperamental: he has to solve the mysteries and match wits with the fiendish Moriarty while keeping his petulant alter ego under control.
The plotting is conventional and Henry Mancini's cartoon music score makes the film sound at times like a mediocre sit-com, but it's a pleasure watching two award-winning talents trample a literary icon with such impeccable comic timing and malicious glee.
No one who lived through the '60s is likely to remember the decade quite like this...but of course no one who drank as much liquor or dropped as many pills as the arrogant Withnail and his anonymous roommate is likely to remember much of anything. Writer-director Bruce Robinson lends a disarming comic masochism to his own loosely rendered autobiography, creating an oddly eccentric (but not unkind) portrait of two misfits on the edge of a society in transit, both of them out of touch with changing times and facing an uncertain future with equal parts contempt (from Withnail) and paranoia (from his anxious companion).
The film itself is only slightly more eccentric than its characters, but such offbeat originality could only have come from personal experience, and Robinson (author of 'The Killing Fields', and the otherwise unnamed 'I' in this film's title) fills in the blanks with caustic black humor and 20-20 hindsight. Even the flamboyantly self-centered, cynical Withnail earns a degree of sympathy by the film's end, as he wanders off into the rain, a soon to be forgotten relic who couldn't quite adapt to changing times.
But what should have been a foolproof subject for a documentary film is hurt by the routine organization of material, shortchanging some lively footage of the comics on stage plying their trade in favor of too much backstage analysis. The hit-or-miss humor speaks volumes by itself (there obviously aren't too many dead spots in a compilation film), but the best jokes ironically have nothing to do with tampons or idiot boyfriends.
From the opening aerial shots to the last (admittedly long-winded) soliloquy, the film is a provocative look at a world that has long since lost its innocence, as witnessed by a pair of benevolent guardian angels invisibly cataloguing human daydreams and emotions, and occasionally offering mute comfort in moments of private spiritual crisis. In the divided city of Berlin what they most often overhear are poetic expressions of longing and despair, but it isn't enough to stop one empathetic angel from trading in his wings for a chance to experience all the mundane, earthbound luxuries of mortal life, from something as simple as a cup of hot coffee to something as complicated as falling in love.
In less sensitive hands the idea might never have gone beyond a simple romantic fantasy (as in the inevitable Hollywood remake, starring Nicholas Cage), but Wenders and co-writer Peter Handke are more interested in making the film a vicarious tour of the human condition, overheard in passing: an infant's first joyous observations; the final thoughts of an auto accident victim; the calm resignation of a man on the brink of suicide; and the recollections of an actor (Peter Falk, playing himself, but with a whimsical twist) on location during the making of a war movie.
Wenders' typically moody soul searches aren't always easy to sit through, but the unexpected element of fantasy lifts the film completely out of the ordinary, and the soaring imagery (shot mostly in luminous black and white) goes a long way toward balancing the occasional clutter of repetitive prose-poetry during the sometimes protracted interior monologues. Viewers may find it either exhilarating or annoying, but behind all the angst and alienation is a stubborn, almost childlike faith in the benevolence of human nature.
The token storyline, adapted (rather freely) from a novel by Barry Gifford, follows two rebellious young lovers on the lam from an assortment of warped sideshow villains and the usual pathological refugees from Lynch's overwrought imagination. With its almost epic displays of bloodshed and sex the film certainly lives up to its title, but there's a disturbing sense of familiarity about it. By now the peculiar habits and dark obsessions of its director are too well known, and this postmodern nightmare only redefines the same evil undercurrents of his earlier 'Blue Velvet' on a bigger budget and even more outrageous scale.
At its best (in some of the more offbeat digressions) the details are morbidly amusing in a way that recalls Fellini or Buñuel, and the director's hallmark visionary style and outer-limit dream logic are still compelling. But a colorful rut is still a rut, and controversy for its own sake is always an artistic dead-end. In the end the film is just another excuse for Lynch to test how far he can push the censors, with results ranging from brilliantly perverse to just plain embarrassing, and not even the occasional arcane reference to The Wizard of Oz will endear the film to anyone but the most die-hard of the director's fans.