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War Is The True Horror
This film combines multiple genres: War -- Action, and Horror -- and does it well. There are no dull moments, few lulls in the action, and enough scares to please. Good performances from all the actors as well despite the war film cliches in the character choices from the nearly-psychopathic Ford to the wisecracking Tibbet to the sensitive Boyce who toughens up when he nees to.. However, the target audience will need to be reminded that American soldiers were racially segregated in the military during this period, so the communications and exchanges between these characters would not have happened during this war. The Dr Frankenstein of this tale is a mere cypher compared to the charismatic figures cut by excellent British actors of past generations, but evil is banal.
If you have a chance, see this in an IMAX theatre where you will feel like you are in the picture. The explosions, flames, and smoke will be loud and up close enough to give you the feel of danger that is in the reactions of the characters.
The Hellfire Club (1961)
There are only three good reasons to watch this
Those reasons are two actors and the production look.
This early look at Keith Michell was a treat, to see him as he was prior to his true star turn as Henry VIII in that excellent BBC miniseries. He is a great historical chameleon who looks authentic in any period of history and can speak all versions of English. Peter Cushing is virtually unrecognizable as the lawyer whose beard is totally out of fashion in this era of both vice and enlightenment. Good performances by both.
The 18-century costumes were spectacularly accurate and well-done and the actors wore and moved in them well. The sets were worth of Hammer's usual period setting work.
However, the harem-girl stuff on the exploited females will always remind me of Hollywood drivel.
The story is an Alexandre Dumas-style cliché which could have worked with a little more effort on the writers' part. In the hands of actors less capable than Keith Michell, Peter Cushing, and Peter Arne, this would have been an even bigger mess.
La que no podía amar (2011)
Good Story, Superb Performances
Despite this being a remake -- and a 2nd one at that -- this novela stands up there with the outstanding performances of Jorge Salinas and Susanna Gonzales as two contentious siblings, Ana Brenda Contreras as the woman they argue about, and Ana Bertha Espin as the scheming aunt whose actions have a domino effect on the lives of almost all the characters.
Jorge Salinas' Rogelio is a study in depression as the result of an accident that ultimately caused him to question his value as a man. He reacts in typical male fashion with serious anger-management issues, wielding his riding crop and inspiring fear in everyone around him until the right woman arrives in his life. His interactions with Maria (Ana Martin) show that he does not have to live permanently in a private hell and prepare him for Ana Paula (Ana Brenda Contreras), the pretty nurse who has the patience to deal with his difficult personality. Rogelio's sister, Cinthia, is a lazy, spoiled young woman who secretly defies his authority by carrying on with the foreman (Fabian Robles) and constantly whines about the inheritance she isn't allowed to touch. She forever complains about him keeping her prisoner at the ranch, not allowing her to get an education or have friends, but she in fact is too lazy to do any of this. She is also a total ingrate when Ana Paula's presence changes her bother's outlook and begins her personal campaign to break them up.
Ana Bertha Espin is also excellent as the aunt whose greed and hunger for status puts Ana Paula into Rogelio's path. She is a manipulative leech, pretending to love her niece and nephew while conspiring with the equally greedy and vengeful Bruno Rey (Julian Gil), a predator who will stop at nothing to satisfy his sadistic goals.
Great atmospheric music underscores the action. The writing was mostly good, although the several illogical plot turns may have been due to some emergency rewrites through the middle of the series to accommodate Jorge Salinas' medical situation and recovery. Although other actors might have been available to replace him (Sebastian Rulli was considered as a possibility), it was better that it turned out this way. While Sebastian Rulli might have been a decent first choice for this role, nobody could have lived up to it after Jorge Salinas. He is Televisa's ultimate alpha male.
Dark Shadows (2012)
Should have been titled "Tim Burton's Dark Shadows"
After seeing the trailers for this film I was prepared to hate it. The trailer promises something it (fortunately) doesn't deliver: Endless fish-out-of-water jokes about a vampire being released from a locked coffin after two centuries. Since that wears thin after two minutes it's well that this film didn't spend all its time there. Nor was this film a true comedy or even a satire. In fact, I'm hard-pressed to define it with any exactitude.
After a good, atmospheric prologue to explain Barnabas' backstory, the film becomes somewhat uneven. The comedy was slapdash in places, juvenile in others, and mostly pulling teeth in the rest. The best laughs in this film are actually from lines such as Barnabas' response to Carolyn's "Are you stoned?" when he says "They tried stoning me, my dear; it did not work." While this is a fish-out-of-water joke because of the gap in vernacular, it points to the realization that any humor that should be transfused into DARK SHADOWS should have been on the order of Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw. Visual jokes such as Barnabas brushing his fangs to no reflection in the mirror and his reactions to objects unknown in his own time should have seemed too obvious to be included in anything that purports to be original.
While Tim Burton's visual sense for sets and costumes is admirable and well done in this film, the makeup and lighting leave much to be desired. He is a one-trick pony with overpale complexions and whiteface makeup and dark sunken eyes on the characters and hair colors that look like nothing from nature or like they don't belong on the actress that wears it. His fascination with jailbait females is somewhat disturbing and accounts for a Carolyn who is significantly younger than in the TV series and a Victoria Winters who doesn't look remotely old enough to be a governess. In contrast, the makeup on Eva Green is designed to make her look cheap and hard, which is in absolute contrast to Lara Parker, the original Angelique. The special effects that make her farther away from human also do nothing positive for either the character or the story.
There were several lines lifted or adapted from the original series (fans will recognize them) and this is where we see Depp's appreciation of it. The power of the original series lay in the humanity of Barnabas and Angelique, not fully realized in this film. While it is impossible for a two-hour film to do what a stripped television program can do, we don't get enough of Barnabas' guilt nor do we get any sense that Angelique felt anything real for him. Which is a pity because Johnny Depp showed that he could have been an excellent Barnabas with a better script and without the Max Shreck fingernails and white foundation.
There was very little used of Robert Cobert's music from the original series and little new Danny Elfman music in favor of using actual 1970s music that was meant mostly to serve as ironic commentary to the action (such as the Barry White song used for the demonic sex scene whose action reminded me of the aerial fight in THE LOST BOYS). As in the TV series, the 1970s music should have been restricted to the party scene and scenes in the Blue Whale or other venues where such music would have been heard. Not doing so served to take away from what should have been the atmosphere of the film.
Why did they blow up a story with so much potential?
This series had a lot of promise and potential. It had a science- fiction premise, interesting characters to develop, and an appealing cast, including two dogs. It started to go seriously wrong when Elisabeth became a serial killer AND started messing with Aurora's head. Either of these would have been acceptable; both was excess.
Beyond that there was an excess of excess, most of which was not well thought-out. This led to some serious continuity issues including – but no limited to – Martin's sudden inheritance. Nothing about that made any sense in view of Lorenzo's previous comments about his ex and nothing about what happened to her after she walked out on him made any sense either.
Once Rebecca arrived everything fell like dominoes. Right behind her was Catalina The Soulless, devoid of all human feeling and ethics, with a collection of gangster minions. Her personality went a long way to explaining Vanessa's own twisted emotions but could never have been reformed.
Mandatory forgiveness is a novela cliché I could seriously do without because it isn't humanly realistic. Some of the characters would have to be saints in view of their ability to forgive the most egregious sins of these villains, which I will not enumerate here. If Telemundo wants to break any new ground in the world of telenovelas it should remove the mandatory forgiveness and unrealistic redemption and recognize that there are such toxic people in this world that they do not deserve forgiveness.
The relationships in this series are far more convoluted than in any other novela I can remember. Particularly disturbing are the cross- generational relationships: In what world would Natalia not be going daft at her daughter getting involved with the former suitor of her old friend and later see this guy marrying her other best friend? Nina and Victoria are best friends in school and Nina doesn't flip out completely at the prospect of Victoria getting involved with her father? Aurora herself should have had more issues than she did about her father and Natalia, considering that she was only 20 years old for all practical purposes.
It also made no sense that Nina would have the hots for Martin when they grew up as brother and sister no matter how hot he is.
This story could have dealt with more science-fiction issues such as the effects of cryonics, ethical issues over whether this is even a good idea, and possible government interference in the entire process. None of this was even touched upon. However, those things don't involve much emotion.
What was truly disturbing was the constant media coverage of Aurora's frozen state and revival, but that is a possible prediction of where "reality television" is heading.
Vanessa's first husband is still on ice at the end. Who forgot that?
Criminal trials are conducted in English in New York. The trial scenes and the behavior of the lawyers were not remotely realistic, nor did the courtrooms even look like any New York City ones.
Finally, there is no good reason this story should have continued much beyond Aurora's death. She was named for a fictional princess and she died like a real one with Lorenzo chewing out the media for their role in her death. If this series wasn't doing well in the ratings, they should have wrapped things up at this point.
Telemundo also has a tendency to extend their novelas excessively if the ratings are good enough and probably to pander to viewer reaction. This greatly compromises the quality of writing and is something they should reconsider.
Mujeres asesinas (2005)
Just when you thought it couldn't get more perverse....
...your gag reflex kicks in again.
This anthology series from Argentina is the original of this name, based on the book by Marisa Grinstein. The cases are real, from Argentine police files. The killers' motives, methods, and mental states run the full spectrum. Some are sympathetic, others despicable, others pathetic. Most of the stories are compelling and all are played for maximum shock value.
Crime has been a popular subject for entertainment since ancient times and the brutality of the crimes in this series would please any audience that knew the Caesars. The presentations are formatted in one of two ways: a linear story told by a fly on the wall or with an investigation context as witnesses and perps talk to detectives. There is no single police precinct or regular cast of police characters, so the viewer doesn't quite know what to expect from week to week in this series. This is different from the Mexican version, which has a single police division and a regular cast of law-enforcement and forensic personnel.
Although the acting is good to excellent, the production values are flat. Unlike Mexican television, Argentine television is very studio- and backlot-bound, so the visuals feel almost two-dimensional. What compensates for this is the unpredictable nature of the stories to anyone encountering them for the first time. When you see "Margarita, la maldita", which is presented in linear fashion, you have no idea who her victim is or what the murder weapon will be. The Mexican version has forensic experts discussing this at the opening of the episode. What remains a mystery in the original is her motive for the crime while the Mexican version supplies at least a partial explanation.
I am not as familiar with Argentine television as I have only seen one novela produced there, but my feeling about the Argentine MUJERES ASESINAS is that the cast is mostly made up of people who don't get lead roles in novelas. Several actresses have played more than two of the killer women, where two has been the limit so far in Mexico; Cristina Banegas has done five episodes as the killer. This series therefore probably lacks the promotional hook of casting against type that helped make the Mexican series a hit. The majority of the episodes are set in working-class environments, with occasional episodes having middle-class characters. As in the Mexican version, all episodes end on the crime itself, followed by the crawl explaining the legal outcome of the case.
Since a significant number of these episodes concern women who kill abusive men, rape victim status is a frequent motive for murder. The general depiction of sex in this series is more than enough to turn viewers' stomachs. The episode "Ana, Sometida" shows a husband who begins the S&M married sex life in the honeymoon suite, followed by escalating scenes of humiliation that build toward motivating the crime. If a psychiatrist needed to use aversion therapy for sex addicts, this series could be a valuable tool.
Hombres de honor (2005)
Romeo and Juliet Meets The Godfather
What a prime story for a telenovela: Two crime families competing for dominance over illegal businesses is the background for romance for their firstborns.
As our story opens in Buenas Aires in 1940, Luca Onoratto is released from prison after serving three years for the murder of the twin brother of Don Carlo Paternostra, a crime he did not commit. His father, Don Lorenzo Onoratto, is murdered a scene or so later and Luca's mother, Alberta, decides to take the reins of the family business. Although most of the men scoff at this, she is far more level-headed than they as she lacks their hair-trigger tempers.
The succeeding episodes are filled with scenes long familiar to fans of mob movies: The restaurant whacking, the wedding massacre, the taping of a pistol in a hidden spot for future use, and the clandestine meetings where anything can happen. Novela viewers will not be disappointed because certain standard novela plot points are also present: The romance that is not approved by either set of parents, family secrets, paternity issues, disguises, madness, jealousy, and revenge. There is also occasional comic relief, especially in the brothel scenes.
Hmm... this also is beginning to sound like Shakespeare.
Unlike Shakespeare's most famous pair of lovers, Luca Onoratto and Maria Paternostra are adults who seem to know what they're doing. They are thwarted mostly by her father and his men in their attempts at elopement, but they are not giving up no matter what obstacle they find in their way, including the repeated misunderstandings.
Unlike Mexican novelas this one is very studio- and backlot-bound, but the period detail is excellent. Vintage cars, interior design, props (especially tableware and telephones), wardrobe, and coiffures are right out of old Hollywood movies. My main criticism is the scarcity of incidental music of the period that would play up the film noir aspects of the story (note the opening title music, which sounds like it comes from THE GODFATHER soundtrack).
The cast -- many of whom have Italian names -- is flawless. Gerardo Romano is the perfect Hollywood image of the Mafia don, complete with thick silvering grey hair, elegant suits, Italian accent, and gestures. Leonor Benedetto -- who looks here like a cross between Tallulah Bankhead and Joan Crawford -- gives us a Mafia widow you don't dare mess with. Laura Novoa has something of a Lois Lane look as Maria, who is as tough as her father, while Gabriel Corrado (who looks like Chris Noth with blue eyes) provides machismo and romance as Luca.
The plot thickens on Latelenovela Network, but if you can find the episodes online, this series is worth your while.
Dark Shadows (2005)
Anyone who knows and loves the original and the 1991 revival will cringe at this travesty, shown only at conventions and festivals.
This was clearly produced for the "Scream" audience, without regard for the Gothic heritage of the stories that made up the original's various chapters. The treatment of Angelique was egregiously bad. The casting of Alec Newman as Barnabas might have worked if this were being produced now; he wasn't mature enough at the time of this production although he appeared to understand the character.
If anyone ever considers making a new TV series, they should realize that its original atmosphere and stellar cast were what made it work despite the stagey acting style and the continuity errors.
Fans of DARK SHADOWS, FOREVER KNIGHT, and ANGEL: Take note!
You will all appreciate this miniseries starring an A-list of Latin American actors led by Chayanne as the title character. Gabriel Marquez, a three hundred-year-old vampire, has a LaCroix, a Josette, and a Reverend Trask all at once in a stylish tale set in present-day Miami with historical flashbacks in Venice and Cartagena de Indias. He seeks redemption for his past sins, beginning with not having killed in a century and consuming only animal blood (which causes other vampires to call him a "vegetarian") while attempting to protect Eva, who is the reincarnation of Viviana, the woman stolen from him when he became a vampire three centuries ago.
The new elements to the story include two local priests in conflict over how to handle the "invasion of demons", a stalker who has been following Gabriel for reasons of his own, and the goth scene in Miami when it is infiltrated by genuine vampires. All this works well to provide a riveting story with excellent cliffhangers at the end of each episode. Special effects are kept only to the necessary ones and the photography is excellent. My only problems with this series are that the humor doesn't always work and the inclusion of pop music in some scenes that doesn't suit the mood of the series.
The cast all gave excellent performances, but someone should have thought about creating a slightly different look for Jose Luis Rodriguez, whose latter-day Pizarro looks like a twin for Paulie Walnuts in THE SOPRANOS. It's a look that would draw more attention than a vampire probably wants. It compounded the humor that didn't work because it made Rodriguez a parody of himself in some scenes.
The series was probably rated TV-14 for violence and some sexual content. There is also one nightmare sequence that is absolutely guaranteed to shock.
Mad Men (2007)
They threw it down the well and it made a hell of a splash
Mad Men, despite a generation of fast-action, quick-cut entertainment junkies who claim they find it boring, is a huge artistic success as a series with both style and substance. It has inspired a retro fashion trend, interest in cocktails nobody has mixed in decades, and countless intergenerational debates about business and personal ethics.
All while providing a riveting character study of the 1950s mindset. Despite the calendar, the minds of the older characters are firmly in the 1950s, a decade rife with racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. From Roger Sterling of the silver baby spoon set to secret upstart Don Draper we span the social spectrum of white America at a time when the world is changing. The pulse of the Future Shock of youthquake, race relations dialogue, and the sexual revolution is something Madison Avenue needed to have its finger on, but Sterling, Cooper, some of their staff, and most of their clients have their heads in the sand. The Season 4 scene between Freddie Rumsen and Peggy Olsen discussing women's motives for using cold cream is almost painful to watch to anyone who remembers the women's movement. Later Boomers watch this series grateful to have been born during the 50s instead of having come of age then. Younger viewers are incredulous that the world was so socially fractious and that people ever smoked that much.
The latter might not be such a bad thing.
The writing is sharp with superb dry wit and gallows humor when required; most lines have two or three layers of meaning. The production design is impeccable and the performances are stellar and on the money. The almost sledgehammer depiction of sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace is shocking to those who didn't experience it as is the huge contrast of the comparative emotional restraint shown to clients and the emotional disasters experienced by the characters in their private and privileged lives. Every actor is perfectly cast from the stunningly handsome Jon Hamm as our Man in a Grey Flannel Suit to the coldly beautiful January Jones as his Stepford Wife. That their characters are endlessly argued about speaks well of their performances.
Let younger viewers who want car chases and blood spatter watch the programs that exist for those things while their more curious peers can tune in to find out what they missed about the 1960s and why they should feel happy about that. Mad Men drives that point home well.
Mi pecado (2009)
Romeo and Juliet meet the Seven Deadly Sins
The seven deadly sins are played out among four old friends and their families in a small town rife with gossip and the willingness -- perhaps eagerness -- to believe the worst of others.
The rift between the Cordobas and the Huertas begins when Rosario Cordoba unjustly accuses Julian Huerta of killing her beloved son César when both were children, resulting in Julian's later inability to find employment with anyone except Gambino Roura. Greed and lust drive Gambino, who married out of greed and later committed adultery with Justina, who married Rudolfo Huerta to move up socially. Ironically, she ends up envying others who have more money and a higher social position. Paulino's pride (and possible fear) forbids him from seeking psychiatric help for his wife Rosario, whose insane wrath is aimed at their innocent daughter Lucrezia. She abuses her emotionally and systematically before attempting to banish her permanently from the house at the age of ten. Envy will drive Lucrezia's cousin Renata to excesses similar to those of Rosario, while sloth is the sin of Gambino's son Carmello, who looks to make a fast peso without working for it and Justina's son Josué, who wants what Julian has but doesn't work for it. A suitable punishment for a father who murdered his wife as soon as he found out she was about to change her will and a woman who cheats on a good man with an evil one. There is a Cain and Abel dynamic between Julian and Josué, both of whom want Lucrezia.
Lucrezia and Julian will have a long, hard time fighting the sins of their parents and the machinations of their peers before they can be together.
Thus far Daniela Castro delivers the goods as the coldly insane Rosario, a more manic version of Beth from ORDINARY PEOPLE. After failing to get rid of Lucrezia, she attempts to control her every move, every thought. Her hard beauty must have once been a little softer to have attracted her husband in the first place and she has over the years gradually coerced him into completely catering to her whims which are not by any means capricious. Roberto Blandón's Paulino is the classic workaholic husband who is not home enough to see the true levels of evil within it and he appears unwilling to face them. Sabine Moussier as the adulterous Justina exemplifies the social-climbing wannabe Rosario accuses her of being, making all the etiquette faux pas (like wearing a sexy dress to a funeral) and failing to learn other appropriate public behaviors. This detracts from her usual femme fatal sex appeal, perhaps intentionally. Sergio Goyri is appropriately creepy as Gambino, who has gotten away with murder so far but will ultimately pay in the end. Francisco Gattorno is less appealing than usual as Rudolfo, the cuckolded husband who may not know the truth until almost the end of the story. None of the mature characters are particularly effective parents except for the Cordobas' housekeeper, Delphina. Magda Karina shines in this role, the only voice of reason Lucrezia can hear in that household. The other voice of reason is that of Padre Mattias, ably portrayed by Salvador Sánchez. The younger actors hold their own in this drama, with Eugenio Siller particularly appealing as the much-maligned Julian.
The Biblical themes are emphasized by two of the families being in the apple business.
Lluego, cual es tu pecado?
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Good SFX Doesn't Compensate for Bad Mythology
With the advent of 3D it was inevitable that this would be remade, but why do the story and the dialog have to suffer? The mythological creatures look more real and scarier (although Pegasus should be white) and the scorpion battle is about as nasty as it should be, but the story changes do nothing to improve this version. Perseus -- instead of being likable and heroic -- is a bit of a jerk in his determination to reject his divine origins instead of deciding to use them to the advantage of the human race (the ultimate revenge within this context). The sibling rivalry of Zeus and Hades would have been long over by the period of this story, but merely serves here to be an argument about atheism vs. religion. Which only serves to prove most humanists' point that a god who behaves like a toxic parent should not be worshipped in the first place.
There is no counterpart to the character of Ammon from the 1981 version, so this film lacks the wit and wisdom that was in his dialog. The numerous minor characters serve mostly as fodder for the monsters and there is not enough screen time for most of them to give us a chance to care about them. It also looks like the other gods all got left on the cutting room floor and somebody clearly forgot that Apollo is supposed to have golden hair.
Let's not even get started about the hair and the armor on the human characters.
I normally comment on the acting, but the script was so bad that these actors had almost nothing to work with.
If you haven't experienced 3D yet, you may want to see this. Since most are saying it's substandard, it should be used as a point of comparison for 3D that is considered to be good or superior.
En nombre del amor (2008)
Somewhat predictable, but with a few good shocks
This story, set in a smallish town, is mainly about obsession and the desperation it drives its sufferers to. However, don't be mistaken in your sympathy: Carlota and Romina don't deserve it.
Carlota, a 40-something spinster, is determined to force her niece to live the same lonely, loveless, and narrowly defined life she has. From the moment she becomes Paloma's guardian she systematically removes any source of pleasure, comfort, and even achievement, exactly as she has done to her long-suffering -- and unmarried -- sister, Macarena. From the moment you see her taking Paloma's little dog (the last gift from the child's parents) from Paloma's bed, you know the poor little guy is a goner. When a local doctor expresses romantic interest in Macarena Carlota's insults escalate... along with her sabotage of Macarena's medications. That is nothing, however, compared to what happens when the man they competed for 18 years previously returns to their town.
Paloma eventually experiences some of Macarena's fate when she and Romina -- who had hitherto been her best friend -- fall in love with the same man. Romina's obsession with any man who shows interest in her leads her into a collusion with Carlota that forces the unfortunate young man into marrying her when he is in love with Paloma. Meanwhile, his mother is obsessed with holding on to her husband while attempting to prevent an old love from getting involved with Romina's divorced mother... etc.
Leticia Calderon gives a chilling performance as the soulless Carlota whose hypocrisy and sociopathic behavior destroys everyone around her. This is her first series villain and she's off to a good start in the stock role of controlling parent figure. Victoria Ruffo is the contrasting Macarena, loving and sincere, and long-suffering under Carlota's tyranny. Altair Jarabo and Alisson Lozz are the junior versions of them, with both sets demonstrating that there is no greater ugliness than that which can come between sisters or best friends. Arturo Peniche and Sebastian Zurita give good performances as the men these women fight over.
The writing is mostly good, the music suspenseful (though sometimes loud enough to drown out the actors), and most of the cast are likable enough. There are a few filler scenes concerned with other characters deceiving each other in various ways, and enough suspense to satisfy. As with many other novelas there needs to be some suspension of disbelief to become absorbed in the story, but EN NOMBRE DEL AMOR says much about the human capacity for good and evil.
It shocked... and moved me to read the book
Emile Zola is probably one of the major sources of information about day to day life and morality in the France of this period, and those details are presented in this series with shocking reality when the characters talk about the price of a diamond necklace or a monthly bill from the baker. The characters are fascinating, amusing, shocking, and some are sympathetic as they show us the ultimate 19th century French decadence. Katherine Schofield was brilliant in the title role, backed by an excellent cast. The dialogue was biting, ironic, and iconoclastic. Where else would you hear a line like "How is God these days? Doing well, I hope, for all our sakes."?
This miniseries has it all: Great performances, sets, costumes, music, and writing. So who is the idiot who lost the master tapes? This deserves a DVD.
Corazón salvaje (2009)
It was going to be done eventually
The popularity of this classic story dictated that there would eventually be a fourth telenovela version and that each new generation of viewers will experience a new one as it comes out of post-production. Not having read the book nor seen the first two series on which it was based, I have no idea how far any version deviates from Caridad Bravo Adams' original novel, but this one is likely the one farthest afield.
However, the writers' choice to combine the basic story with the equally riveting YO COMPRO ESA MUJER isn't a bad one. Televisa's formula of a controlling parent for at least one of the lovers in a story always works and now we have two controlling parents portrayed by veteran actors who have excelled in such signature roles. Liliana Abud, who was head writer of YO COMPRO ESA MUJER, teams up again with Olga Ruilópez to incorporate this story into the love quadrangle of Juan del Diablo, his meeker brother (here cousin), and the two sisters and despite a few truly incredulous early situations this story fusion will work pretty well.
What must also be helping the publicity – and controversy – of this series is the return of Enrique Rocha and Eduardo Yáñez to the roles they portrayed in 1991. Only now, instead of Alejandro Aldama our hero is called Juan del Diablo. Here he is the son of the tragic Maria del Rosario (previously Blancaflor) Montes de Oca and the studly fisherman Juan de Dios; he promises the latter to get revenge on Rodrigo for his parents' tragedy. Yáñez' casting has been controversial because of his age, but he is an excellent actor who understands this character well since he's the same guy, essentially, as in both previous novelas. He's also in excellent shape and isn't showing his age. The other – and bigger – controversy is the casting of Aracely Arámbula as both sisters after a 7-year acting hiatus. Her early episodes demonstrate that she has an obvious appetite for playing the bad girl, something she never previously had an opportunity to do. However, as the "nice" sister she lacks the depth of Edith Gonzáles and Leticia Calderón, the stars of the 1990s series. Her Regina so far is a porcelain doll dressed and made up to look like the young Leticia Calderón. She's in over her head with the rest of the excellent cast. Helena Rojo and Enrique Rocha are always first-rate and the supporting players were well-chosen. Unlike previously, the role of Juan's father is done by a different actor, the Fabio look-alike Osvaldo Rios (who was the father of Aracely Arámbula's character in 1997's ABRAZAME MUY FUERTE). He is a treat for the eyes during the prologue, dressed in the same style as Yáñez in the earlier series.
The production is beautiful and more elaborate than either of the 90s series; probably with day-for-night shooting, which makes for better picture clarity. The incidental music is excellent and incorporates music of the story's period and a performance of the cancan in the ship's ballroom by Madame Marlene's courtesans. The one production problem so far is the network's standard use of a current popular song as a title theme rather than something more in keeping with the incidental music and mood of the series. This hurts all of Televisa's novelas de epoca.
This series will undoubtedly have numerous nominations at the awards presentation next year despite its controversial elements and is likely to win for production and costume design. If they also provide awards for makeup, it's an out-of-the-park home run for its ability to shave years off some of the older actors. The very long hair on Eduardo Yáñez is the only egregious mistake so far, as it isn't compatible with his facial type. The makeup contrast on Arámbula's two sisters is obviously meant to recall Leticia Calderón and Ana Colchero from the two earlier series. One wonders whether that is meant to compensate for any anticipated deficiencies in her acting, but time will tell.
Give this series a chance and if I have cause to change my mind about it I will revise this review at the midpoint.
Why even attempt to remake this classic?
As a native -- and highly chauvinistic -- New Yorker I am very critical about films that are about my city. This is a magnificent example of a New York-themed film that feels right and looks right (except for the lack of graffiti in the subway train, very common at the time). The film is perfect in every other way, from the clever dialog with its highly appropriate gallows humor to the dark photography that provides the gritty look, to the performances by a stellar cast, to the music.
Walter Matthau's Lt. Garber is a New York Everyman unlucky enough to be on duty when this happens. He has prejudices we don't approve of today, but wants to do the right thing. He's also streetwise and savvy enough about the human condition to know what he's dealing with. Robert Shaw's Blue is cold, calculating, and sociopathic. Only we know there's a chink in his armor, but it isn't obvious to Garber who only knows him as a voice over the radio. Blue is perfectly composed most of the time, only losing control very briefly. The vibe between him and his accomplices is fractious, with the potential to explode at any time. This keeps us guessing as to when and how the entire scheme will fall apart. Earl Hindman, Hector Elizondo, and Martin Balsam provide excellent performances as the varied accomplices whom we know could turn on each other at any moment.
All the supporting characters are authentically portrayed, from the other MTA employees to the police, to the mayor's staff, down to the hapless mayor himself. Was it coincidence that he bore a great resemblance to Ed Koch, who was elected three years later? If that was a coincidence it was a very lucky one. The passengers are also excellent, mostly sympathetic, and absolute New Yorkers in their diversity from the WASP executive to the hippy, the hooker to the Puerto Rican praying woman, the Jewish senior to the smart-mouthed pimp. The actors were largely unknowns and types who would today populate LAW & ORDER episodes.
The music perfectly matched the energy of the story and the feel of New York and the always-in-a-hurry manner of its people. The rhythm of the theme feels like a subway train from the start; even the more romantic break in the closing theme feels like the nicer side of a subway ride as it pulls into a desirable destination when it suddenly returns to its "back to business" tone to remind us of what we just saw. It's a total winner.
The 1998 TV remake was a joke with no actor chemistry and no feel of authenticity. The current release is somewhat better in that it provides two good performances and some logical updates in the story details, but it still can't beat this original for anything mentioned in this review.
Nurse Jackie (2009)
Professional Nurses Will Be Up In Arms
Having known a nurse who needed to retire because of a bad back, I started wondering how many get hooked on painkillers when that happens to them. In that vein, it's an excellent premise for a TV series. Unlike Gregory House, however, Jackie gives a damn about her patients to the same degree she flouts basic ethics from time to time.
Edie Falco is perfectly cast in this role as an unsaintly nurse who gets our sympathy. You applaud her when she flushes the severed ear of the "diplomat" who repeatedly stabbed a prostitute, but we don't want to end up in her ER lest we get on her bad side. The situations are compelling despite the cliché characters that surround Jackie, and we hope that they will develop into 3-dimensional people. On that note, we still hope Cooper gets what's coming to him.
The series has already been renewed for a second season, so the writers will have plenty of time to develop this dark dramedy. Only Showtime can do it.
The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Not As Bad As I Anticipated But...
...it lacks two things that made the original a brilliant film: the gallows humor and the taste of New York.
The dialog of the original 1974 film was snarky, sardonic, and filled with irony and a touch of film noir. While there was swearing in the original, it was realistic and not over the top. The repeated use of the f- and mf-words in the current version add nothing to the tension and merely make us think the writer had no further motive beyond making this story more appealing to a less educated audience.
The original gave us a sea of characters -- major and minor -- to sink our teeth into. The passengers were New York stereotypes we all knew: Hookers, a pimp, an activist, an executive, a passed-out drunk, a sharp senior, a mother and her two boys, and gave them an ethnic mix realistic for the city. The passengers have so little dialog we get no real sense of that in the current version. What is perhaps most disturbing about this remake is the degree to which the violence acted out in front of the passengers appears not to affect the 8-year-old boy. How realistic is this, even today? Travolta's Ryder is the only one of the criminals to have any character development; the others barely have dialog and we lose the conflict between them, which made the original story have more tension.
The focus of this version is the mind game played entirely between Garber and Ryder, with questionable assistance from Camonetti. There is no conflict between the mayor and his staff, no sarcastic humor about the city's financial issues and no conflict regarding the mayor's vulnerable position with his city. While I like James Gandolfini very much I feel that the NYC mayor of this story should have resembled Rudi Giuliani in both appearance and attitude. I was expecting him to want to get tougher with the hijackers.
Updating the story to include modern technology and equally modern motives and methods for committing this crime was to be expected and that worked. It gave an interesting twist for Ryder's motive for the crime. However, the writers didn't research the subway well: Any New Yorker knows the Lexington Avenue line does not go to Coney Island.
Decent performances by Washingtonn and Travolta combine with the updated look to move this film along for a generation who weren't yet born when the brilliant original came out. The hyper-kinetic chases emphasize the critical nature of the situation, but do not provide information or character nuance.
Finally, the music provided no New York flavor, but only the hostility of Ryder as he planned and committed this crime. The score of the original expressed the kinetic energy of New York, the movement of the train, and the story dynamic. I got no sense of these things from it here.
If you've never seen the original, watch this one first, then watch the original with Walter Matthau and Robert Shaw. When you compare the above items and the two endings, you'll see why the original -- for all its dated appearance -- is the superior film.
Mujeres asesinas (2008)
Killer Series -- Not for Everyone
This anthology series with female leads is a huge departure from CASOS DE LA VIDA REAL and LA ROSA DE GUADALUPE and the first comment I will make is that it's not for family viewing hour. The series looks at women who kill, usually with an emphasis on their psychological issues and motives. The violence is very graphic, quite realistic, and definitely played for shock value.
The opening episode stars Leticia Calderon -- as you have never seen her before -- as a mentally ill woman who kidnaps a younger woman to torture and kill her. While her motives and backstory might otherwise have made her sympathetic, her sadism and coldness take all of that away. I won't give away the ending, but while it is intellectually satisfying it lacks the emotional satisfaction of watching villains meeting their fates in novela finales. Excellent performances by Calderon and Raul Ochoa as her creepy father, though, and adequate performances by Juan Soler as her husband, Grettel Valdez as her victim, and Nuria Bages as the victim's mother.
Other outstanding episodes in season 1 include Nailea Norvind as a Medea figure, Maria Rojo as a Mexican Mrs. Lovett, and Isela Vega as a religious fanatic who tortures and kills in the name of "purification." The episode with Natalia Esperon as a drug addict has perhaps been the biggest casting departure to date... which is one of the points of this series. Most of the actresses have little or no previous screen time as villains. It will be interesting to see Angelica Maria and her daughter take on this challenge next season.
The photography is sometimes too dark and looks as though it's meant to be a film noir or cinema verite approach. The stories are supposed to come from real cases. That works well for this series, and the combination of these elements is delivering more male viewers. This series is not for the faint-hearted. True crime buffs, however, will be in their element.
Doña Bárbara (2008)
A classic in the making
The classic anti-heroine couldn't be coming to TV again at a better time and Edith Gonzales is Telemundo's greatest casting coup. The role of Joselyn in MUNDO DE FIERAS was excellent preparation for this interpretation of "la devoradora", the devourer of men. She is seductive, but has no relationship skills. She has no maternal feelings toward her own daughter. We're not supposed to like Doña Bárbara, but the many women who have suffered the sort of abuse she did undoubtedly were cheering when she disposed of Perro de Agua and want to see her get away with it. She uses witchcraft and murder to get what she wants. She is clearly driven by the abuse she suffered in her youth, but has no idea that completing her revenge will not lead to peace or even satisfaction.
Most of the other cast members are quite good, especially Christian Meier, Lucy Martinez, Katie Barbieri, Paolo Quevedo, Arap Bethke, and Roberto Mateo. At least most of their accents blend or match; Genesis Rodriguez' does not, which contributes to the ongoing annoyance factor with her character. We're supposed to sympathize with the childlike Marisela, but I mostly find her annoying and not just when she's difficult to understand.
The period of the novel is the early 20th century; however like many recent novelas -- the production is flawed because of its mixing of anachronisms. There are old-fashioned typewriters and no telephones in a town where people have no idea what a movie is, but Mauricio has a 1980s boom box and music CDs and a laptop computer. The spoiled, frivolous, and petulant Luisana has breasts that are obviously enhanced by a plastic surgeon, and Bárbara comments on this. There was no such thing in the period of Gallegos' masterpiece, which was written as a statement on social change involving progress from ignorant superstition into enlightened modernism. I find it rather difficult to believe that there is anywhere in Venezuela where any of these things are presently unknown. This would have definitely been better done as 1928 instead of 2008.
The music in this production mixes character leitmotifs with suspense, romance, black magic, and ironic humor, the latter element somewhat unexpected but somehow appropriately handled. The monotone of the opening lines of the theme song reflects the hypnotism that the title character practices on her victims as the lyrics talk about what she wants and can't have. It's a sharp contrast with the savage atmosphere around the characters, the river scenes, and the feeling of near-isolation from any semblance of civilization. It calls for a soundtrack CD.
Definitely worth your while and I hope it follows the novel to the letter.
La rosa de Guadalupe (2008)
As Emotionally Manipulative As It Gets
This anthology series could be called the religious version of MUJER, CASOS EN LA VIDA REAL; the situations and stock characters are about the same. Each episode features an emotional and/or dangerous situation whose protagonist prays to the Virgen de Guadalupe for a miracle. Which is always granted at the end.
Overly simplistic; these stories are resolved in an hour and designed to play on the emotions. A recent one concerning a pregnant teenager featured the voice of the fetus begging her to not have an abortion as she visits questionable clinics while trying not to tell her parents. Of course the story ends with her telling her parents and having the baby.
The episode airing as I am typing features a young woman who was never loved by her father because her mother died in childbirth. Grossly mistreated by her father, stepmother, and half-siblings, she attempts to take her own life only to be saved by a sweet young man... and afterwards discovering that her father needs a liver transplant. Despite his abuse of her she donates part of hers, to the selfish relief of the stepmother and the fear of the loving nanny, the one person who loved this girl since birth. She finally gains the love of her father while suffering the aftereffects of the surgery. All stories close with a close-up of the white rose as it vanishes into a puff of smoke during the final prayer.
Many of Televisa's second-string actors and minor players take on these extremely melodramatic stories in between novelas and they do the best they can with them. I guess they have to pay their dues somehow.
5 Branded Women (1960)
High-Level Exploitation Film
I saw this film on television when I was about 11 or 12 and it made a deep impression on me. While I had little understanding of war and certainly no personal experience of it, it pointed out the danger of isolation in the midst of endless violence and the horror of rejection for what would in peacetime have been regarded as a youthful transgression.
The casting of Vera Miles and Barbara Bel Geddes among the European actresses was a clear ploy to make this film resonate with American audiences whom during this period were more accustomed to light, frivolous films. Films of a more serious and thoughtful nature were mostly coming from Europe. At the dawn of the 60s this was a shocking exploitation film, preying on women's feelings of vanity, Americans' collective puritanism about sex, and our waning jingoism. It would be interesting to see how audiences would react to it now.
Fuego en la sangre (2008)
Exciting Mexican Remake of the Classic Tale
Televisa is often unfairly criticized for remaking novelas, either their own or other networks'. The success of Telemundo's Pasión de Gavilanes (itself a remake) almost made it inevitable that Televisa would do a version that is quintessentially Mexican, right down to the music soundtrack and the horses and broad-brimmed sombreros of the story's three heroes. In the 9PM time slot in which this program will air, it's a guaranteed home run.
Although a number of details have changed, the story is the same basic tale so far, with the three Reyes brothers seeking revenge against those they hold responsible for the tragic death of their sister. They gain entrance to the Elizondo ranch using the same ruse, with the same assistance from Eva, the ama de llaves who has her own motives for assisting them. What is absolutely different about this series is the faster speed at which the story moves along with fine details not present in PDG. The sets look more "lived-in" and the outdoor shooting looks more authentic, along with the proverbial shots of the pool below the waterfall that Televisa directors are so fond of. When we watch Juan kneading bread dough in the bakery scenes and the title shots, it's obvious that Eduardo Yañez did a fair amount of homework learning the technique. Of course, he's only doing this completely shirtless because that will please the series' female viewers.
As in PDG, there is a fudging of the story's time period. There are motor vehicles that look completely modern, but the Reyes brothers get around on horseback. Also, you don't see a single character ever using a telephone. It's almost as though the producers were unable to decide whether this story is contemporary or should be done as a 19th century period piece. This story could work in any period because it's about universal human issues; my issue with this production is that the producers should have committed themselves to a specific era for consistency's sake.
Another flaw of this series is the attempt to provide comic relief in almost all the episodes. Columbian writers are accustomed to doing this and it worked well in PDG, but the authors of this series should be sticking to the melodrama with occasional notes of gallows humor. That has worked very well in the past and would have worked better in this series.
The top-notch cast works well, despite a huge discrepancy between the lead actors' real ages and those of their characters. Eduardo Yañez' Juan is the same protective soul as Mario Cimarro's, but a little more articulate and much more emotionally expressive. His very tender scene with Sherlyn (Libia) demonstrates Juan's emotional depth as he describes holding her as a baby and feeling both protective and afraid of her fragility. Jorge Salinas as Oscar is the same wisecracking, materialistic smart aleck as before, but he does it with a greater sense of authority. As I predicted on the message board, Pablo Montero's Franco has a stronger personality, with the added obvious bonus of giving him musical talent that is integrated into the story. I don't think we will have an Eduvina Truevas character because of this. All three of these studly and intense leading men bring their emotional authenticity to this story and appear to have excellent chemistry with each other and the three leading ladies.
Adele Noriega's Sofia is more openly rebellious and simultaneously more emotionally fragile. She wasn't my first choice for this character, but she has convinced me that she is Sofia. Nora Salinas' Sarita is less straitlaced than in PDG and while she is the least rebellious she is not a carbon copy of her mother at any time. Elizabeth Alvarez' Jimena is still flirtatious, and a major tease.
As predicted, the two villains are more melodramatic and actually much more evil. Diana Bracho is the perfect choice for Gabriela; she could instruct Bernarda Alba in the ways of cruelty. Guillermo García Cantú eats up the role of Fernando Escandon, who will have more crimes on his rap sheet than his PDG counterpart before much more time goes by. Ninel Condé provides a more complex Rosario than in PDG, with a few major secrets to be unfolded. Joaquin Cordero appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself as Gabriela's eccentric father who loves his granddaughters and takes their side in the family conflict. Finally, René Casados plays Padré Tadeo perfectly straight as the kind and just priest who desperately wants to bend the rules when the confessional is abused once again.
The obvious theme of this story is that the definitions of rich and poor are relative, and that it is certainly possible to live simultaneously in material luxury and emotional poverty. And vice versa.
Tune in when this begins airing on Univision on April 28th. It's appointment TV at its best.
Los 5 magníficos (2007)
What will they come up with next?
In the world of celebrity competition shows, this has to be one of the most daring. I vaguely remember a "Circus of the Stars" from years ago, which involved soap opera stars doing circus acts, but this one beats it by miles. This show is catnip to anyone whose childhood fantasy was to run away and join a circus.
The celebrity team captains were well-chosen from among the more athletic actors on Televisa's payroll. Millions of viewers must have been tuning in week after week to watch Televisa's Adonis, Eugenio Siller, and its wonderful modern Amazon, Lis Vega, as they learned and performed circus acts normally out of reach for most adults (due to the development of normal fears of doing such things). Marco Antonio Regil is obviously having a great time as ringmaster, and looks wonderful in the uniforms for this job. The professional circus performers that completed the teams are all wonderful with some very charismatic stand-outs among them. The Cirque du Soliel-style acts were also excellent and fun to watch. The versatility of the circus pros is very impressive and the use of music was superb.
There were a few very unfair rules imposed during the course of the program and I think some of the "controversy" was contrived. It seems disruptive to me to force changes on the teams in the midst of the competition except for replacing injured performers. Also, some of the competitions involved very different activities that don't compare in terms of difficulty and danger; how do you compare a clowning act to an aerial one, for example? Having said that, you can't beat the thrill of seeing Eugenio Siller in the cage with those beautiful tigers (though they could have given him a better costume jacket). He definitely proved his alpha status in this perfect sequence.
Frasier: The Ski Lodge (1998)
For SEINFELD it was "The Contest:"
This episode, thanks to great dialog and the excellent sense of comic timing, had the hilarity of a French boulevard sex comedy. It's the best episode of the series.
James Patrick Stuart was a treat as Guy, the gorgeous French ski instructor whose sexuality is no doubt a big surprise to both Daphne and Niles while Martin, temporarily deaf from a major cold, hilariously misinterprets everyone's actions. Frasier, who sadly feels rejected, can take it all philosophically while we wonder how two psychologists can miss all the signals. If someone with the DVDs invites you to try the series, ask for this episode.