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Entertainingly Different B-Movie
I liked it and find the extremely low rating puzzling, although the problems are clear -- some bad editing, particularly of reaction shots; a horrible theme song; and one of the most oddly presented sex scenes ever.
But there are also some intentionally funny moments, decent dialogue, good location work throughout Southern California, and a lot of exciting, and even inventive, violent action. Plus (I at least view it as a plus), Mitchell is a jerk! And he's obviously supposed to be! It's not as though they failed at presenting a fun, quirky guy; they succeeded in presenting a hard-to-get-along-with slob, which I thought was a great change of pace.
Vyzhit posle (2013)
Better than Average Post-Apocalypse Series
Imagine if Fear the Walking Dead featured mostly likable and intelligent Muscovites instead of relentlessly annoying, half-wit Angelenos. That may give you some idea of what The Day After (Vyzhit Posle) is like.
Also, The Day After's infinitely better scripts are performed by more charismatic actors. Unfortunately, those scripts are translated by a person or people who lack an understanding of idiomatic English. This is a typical example of the ridiculous subtitles: "He was a good variant" (instead of "He was a nice change," I think).
Another weakness is that the last episode is pretty far-fetched (though still enjoyable) as the writers contrive to bring all the characters together for a big showdown.
In general, though, I found this a suspenseful and engaging series, and I'm looking forward to the next season.
Dream West (1986)
Much Better than Anticipated!
I saw this recently on the Warner Archive channel and was very pleasantly surprised -- the mediocre 6.9 rating on IMDb (at the moment) is much too low, in my view. Still, that rating is in line with the lukewarm critical reception that Dream West got when originally shown.
For instance, the New York Times thought that the miniseries overemphasized the love story and took too many liberties with the facts. Also, in that paper's view, Mr. Chamberlain was not quite as convincing as usual - - "even out in the wilds, he seems to have stepped out of an Abercrombie & Fitch ad." Still, the Times found the series as a whole a breath of fresh-air in comparison to the Sidney Sheldon/Judith Krantz-style shows that were so popular at the time, and also thought that two of the most significant roles were very well-played (Alice Krige is "especially appealing" as Mrs. Fremont, and Rip Torn is "terrific" as Kit Carson).
Although I can understand the basis for the negative comments made about Dream West on its original airing, I mostly don't agree with them. I think the main problem is that the first half-hour or so is, indeed, a bit too soapy. But in retrospect, the opening "star-crossed lovers" approach grounds the relationship between Fremont and his wife in a way that pays off as they face various obstacles over a long life together.
Also, Dream West is filled with vivid, well-produced outdoor scenes that convincingly suggest the grueling conditions faced by explorers of the American continent in the early to mid 19th century.
And last -- I thought Chamberlain was excellent and that he and Krige played well off each other. If the subject matter sounds like it might appeal to you, I'd strongly recommend this miniseries.
Funny, Harsh Parody of Hippie Culture
Parts of this video made me laugh as hard as I ever have. It's an extremely funny but also very harsh, dark parody of Woodstock, hippies, drug use, protests, and the pop culture of the time (late 60s-early 70s).
There are wonderful impersonations of a cynical Dylan, a bitter yet boring Joni Mitchell, the sanctimonious "bummer" Joan Baez, and many others. And virtually every member of the cast has some great moments, with John Belushi particularly excellent as the MC. Not everything works, but the things that do are incredible.
Plus, it is currently available for viewing on a major, legal streaming video site.
Rigoletto e la sua tragedia (1956)
Light on Music but Visually Attractive
This is pretty good, but it's more a musical than an opera. Characters speak in dubbed English and only occasionally break into song, in dubbed Italian.
It's got colorful costumes and sets and some attractive location photography of old buildings and the countryside. There are moments when you really feel as though you've stepped into the past.
I liked it. You may, too, as long as you're not expecting an opera.
Current minimum line requirements promote verbosity and devalue concision.
DVD Bonus: Three enjoyable, well-restored audio performances from Caruso.
Rough for Theatre II (2000)
A Sort of Twist on It's A Wonderful Life
Two businessmen discuss whether a blue-collar type ought to commit suicide. One of the businessmen seems to want to push the guy over the edge, the other seems to want to pull him back. As the play progresses, they become less detached.
Taking place in a nearly empty room with a door opening out into the sky, it's easy to guess at various symbolic possibilities, but hard to pin anything down. Sometimes, the businessmen seem to be from another world; at other times just businessmen whose job is to decide who lives and dies (potentially symbolic in itself). At still other times, they appear to be part of the possible suicide's own thoughts. And yet again, they sometimes come across as everyday people making value judgments about the lives of others (and, in turn, themselves).
Very interesting, with an enigmatic ending.
Cacique Bandeira (1975)
Decent Western with Good Score, Good Dialogue
Murderer flees the big city and becomes an arms dealer in the borderlands of Argentina. He grows increasingly cocky, taking more and more risks.
Nothing incredible, but solidly enjoyable, with a good guitar-based score and some dialogue that's both colorful and symbolic. The location shooting is also evocative.
In all, this is sort of a Latin American spaghetti western. At times it evokes Leone -- especially at the end, with its grandiose close-ups and swirling, operatic qualities. At other times it's fairly low-key and subtle.
Starts Promisingly, Turns into Young Lust on a Bus
This film is all over the place. There are a lot of good ideas and potentially interesting situations, but many are badly handled.
Most of the scenes with the guerrillas work well, with good dialogue and a fair amount of tension. But almost the entire midsection is a bus ride with a drunken paramilitary, his drunk girlfriend, and the naive teen babe he's hitting on. Then the paramilitary and the guerrillas meet up for a melodramatic near-finale, followed by a couple of brief epilogues, one violent, the other ambiguously hopeful.
A disappointment, especially given the possibilities offered by the basic story.
Walken and Sarandon are Excellent
Walken gives a funny, sweet performance as a community theater acting dynamo and heart-throb -- who's so shy he can't hold a conversation unless it's scripted.
Sarandon is also very good as the woman who falls in love with him and attempts to bring him out of his off-stage shell.
To be honest, though, this TV movie suffers a bit from very cheap production values, occasionally weak direction, and mediocre performances by much of the rest of the cast -- even apart from their purposely amateurish play-within-a-play acting.
In addition, it's one of the few movies I've seen that's actually too short. It would have benefited from at least one more off-stage scene further developing Walken's and Sarandon's characters.
Still, I like it a lot and highly recommend it.
A Doll's House (1959)
Well Done, Believable TV Adaptation of the Play
Despite the current description, this live TV drama from the late '50s is not in color, although it does include a color introduction by Richard Thomas, who played a bit part as one of Nora's kids.
There are also interviews with Robards, Plummer, Harris, and director Schaefer that are a bit more candid than one usually expects. For instance, Plummer and Robards got so hammered the night before the broadcast that they both showed up late for the dress rehearsal. Plummer even adds that he vaguely remembers being with a girl he'd picked up, but had probably been unable to "perform" with her.
Meanwhile, Robards and Harris can't help smirking a bit about Schaefer, who would regularly fall asleep in a wheelchair midway through rehearsals. He didn't *need* the wheelchair -- he simply didn't like walking!
In any case, the whole group came up with a first rate, streamlined version of the play. Harris is believably superficial and dishonest early on, and doesn't overplay her final act epiphany. Robards, who may well still have been drunk, has no trouble appearing "under the weather" but is also believably low-key in his hushed admissions of love.
Plummer is a bit too smooth, perhaps, as Torvald, the sometimes smug, sometimes insecure husband. Honestly, I kept thinking, "He's far too charismatic and attractive to play a moralizing, stick-in-the-mud banker."
Best of all is Hume Cronyn. As with everyone in this production, he's obviously (and wisely) been directed to steer clear of melodramatics. And even though, on paper, he's the least sympathetic character (a blackmailer), in performance he's the most understandable and convincing.
In all, this is better than the more familiar, easily available versions from the '70s (with Claire Bloom and Jane Fonda). Worth seeing if you can find it.
Psychologically Believable but at Times Amateurish
This hour-long docudrama presents Wordsworth's sister Dorothy as his muse and true love, as well as a talented poet in her own right. As Dorothy lies on her deathbed, William remembers their lives together, including his arguable betrayal of his sister through marriage to another woman.
The deep, almost incestuous feeling between the two is believable and moving, but every now and then something goes terribly wrong in the production -- a particularly goofy close-up or montage, some very badly delivered dialogue, etc.
Still, I liked it and will probably watch it again. It's especially good at showing the passion that exists in Wordsworth's verse, presenting it as more than just "nature poetry" (although there are many lovely shots of the landscape that inspired him).
Playing Shakespeare (1982)
Great If You're Interested in Acting, Directing or Shakespeare
Incredibly informative and interesting. I especially liked the dueling Shylocks episode, in which Suchet and Stewart play the same scenes back to back and explain why they made their different choices.
Also very interesting is the episode in which each actor does a brief speech from Troilus and Cressida, then gets direction from Barton and redoes it, usually for the better.
You also learn a little about the actors as people. For instance, Patrick Stewart is a bit of a ham. Ben Kingsley is soft-spoken and quick to admit what he sees as faults in his acting style. Ian McKellen is rather teacherly, expounding at length whenever he's given the chance.
Stanley and the Women (1991)
Thaw Is a Perfect Stanley, But It's a Bit Melodramatic
The title "Stanley and the Women" really is accurate for Amis's book, which I liked a lot. But this miniseries ought to be called "Stanley and His Schizophrenic Son." Even at four hours, Stanley's relationships with his wife, ex-wife, female coworker, and the female psychiatrist are given short-shrift. With the exception of the coworker, all these characters are drawn with broad strokes, especially the psychiatrist, who seems like a bizarre Dr. Frankenstein from the first -- someone to whom the reasonable, well-off Stanley would never entrust his son.
Still, Thaw's performance is so good that I watched all four hours straight through.
Michael Elphick, who plays the current husband of Stanley's ex-wife, is also good. The low-key scenes between him and Stanley are the most believable in the production.
Cutter's Way (1981)
Love Story, Thriller, Character Study -- And They All Work
One of my favorite films. I don't have much to add to the positive reviews here except to say that Cutter's Way repeatedly alludes to Herman Melville, especially Moby Dick --
A character explicitly refers to Moby Dick early in the film; Cutter has a false limb, like Captain Ahab; his wife's name is "Mo"; he says, "Thar she blows" when he sees the villain's huge office building; after that part of the pursuit, he angrily shoots at an animal in the water; the whole story takes place in and around boats, and it begins at the "El Encantado" (Melville wrote "The Encantadas, or the Enchanted Isles").
What does all this add up to? I don't know exactly, but this film is an excellent mix of character studies, love stories, and suspense -- with great dialog and performances.
I watch it every few years and am never disappointed, except by the fact that one of the main characters (the sister) suddenly and permanently disappears, as if she'd never been in the movie at all. It's not a great loss, but it's certainly one of the worst continuity errors I know of.
As You Like It (1936)
Uneven but Likable, Especially Bergner as Rosalind
The main role, Rosalind, is well-played by the cute, vivacious Bergner. Olivier is good with the physical stuff (very graceful) and the repartee. He tends to fall flat on the soliloquies and extended reveries, though. (And he's wearing way too much makeup, including at times some very crooked lipstick.) The costumes and sets are vivid, probably meant to suggest a fairy-tale, and thus account for the ridiculous plot devices.
And despite the comments of another reviewer, the camera-work is not all "point-and-shoot." It is a bit static by today's standards, but not by those of 1936.
The biggest liability is the muddy, distant sound.
All in all, I liked it more than the average filmed Shakespeare, though it's not great by any means.
The Merchant of Venice (2004)
Heavy Editing Brings Mixed Results
The original Merchant of Venice has serious weaknesses, particularly the casket and rings foolishness, which takes up far too much time.
But Radford makes these scenes much weaker than necessary. For example, he allows the suitors to overact laughably and also cuts their dialog in a way that limits their complexity -- especially with the Duke, who appears stuck-up but smart in the full text, merely stupidly foppish in the movie. In short, Radford wipes out any hope for either comedy or pathos -- both of which can be found in better productions.
In contrast to the cheesy heterosexuality, the clearly homosexual love of Antonio for Bassanio is quite moving, in large part because it's subtly played by an excellent Jeremy Irons. For that matter, Lynn Collins is much better at portraying Portia in drag than Portia the beautiful, expectant young maiden.
Meanwhile, the Shylock plot is compelling as always and benefits from an excellent performance by Pacino. However, a whole strand of Shylock's character has been more or less eliminated. In the full text, Shylock repeatedly makes it clear that he does *not* merely want revenge for mistreatment -- rather he wants to kill Antonio because Antonio is cutting into his business and bringing down interest rates by lending for free:
"I hate him for he is a Christian; but more for that in low simplicity he lends out money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice."
That's also why Shylock refuses Bassanio's offer of many times more than Antonio owes -- Shylock knows that it still won't equal what he can make in higher interest if Antonio is dead:
"I will have the heart of him, if he forfeit; for, were he out of Venice, I can make what merchandise I will."
To make Shylock more sympathetic, such cold-hearted calculation is excised almost entirely from this screen version.
Still, by making Shylock less an outright villain, the director arguably improves on the original -- Pacino can appear more intriguingly human, less like the Jewish Snidely Whiplash that Shakespeare frequently gives us.
In all, I felt that about two-thirds of this Merchant was excellent drama, and one third was tedious romantic "comedy."
Team America: World Police (2004)
The Comedy is Stretched Pretty Thin
A few moments were very funny, several were kind of cute, and many were just boring.
I felt that almost all the good parts were nonpolitical -- the traumatic "Cats" story, extreme vomiting, the discussion of relationship-problems during a dogfight, Gary's character in general.
However, a big part of this film involves nothing more than heavy-handed criticism of know-it-all Hollywood liberals, and there simply AREN'T many jokes here. "Alec Baldwin -- F.A.G." is kind of funny once, but it gets repeated with little variation over and over.
In fact, most of the time the many left-wing actors aren't even the target of jokes -- just bullets and other forms of violent death.
This didn't offend me, but it didn't interest me either. Whenever the naive-yet-vicious-liberal-actor part of the plot took over, I started thinking, "Well, Alec is kind of pompous, but he starred in 'Glengarry Glen Ross,' and that's much better than this movie. And Sean's made at least half-a-dozen films that I'd rather be watching right now...."
In all, Team America has about as many laughs as a good South Park episode. Unfortunately, a "Bigger, Longer" film needs a lot more substance than a 30-minute TV show does.
This film is boring and frequently stupid.
It's got a "colorized" look that is meant to evoke old tinted photos, I think. But obviously it's so dark and muddy because the filmmakers wanted to hide the more obvious signs of computer animation.
The dialogue is weak and indifferently delivered.
And, among the action scenes, only the flight through Manhattan generates any excitement.
Also, as someone else pointed out here, the ending is A LOT like "I, Robot," a slightly less bad film.
Watch Raiders of the Lost Ark again, instead.
Crime and Punishment (1979)
Decent but Seriously Flawed
This miniseries has its good points. Raskolnikov's farewell to his mother is moving; Sonya is believably sweet; the interrogation scenes are better than average; Marmeladov's long soliloquy is very well-acted.
However, there are a lot of problems. First, too many of the characters are too creepy and overdrawn, bordering on the freakish. The overacting gets seriously out of hand, especially during the funeral luncheon and its aftermath.
And, as weak as the novel's epilogue is, the film version's is even weaker, amounting to a trite exchange between Porfiry and Sonya and a reprint of the last paragraph of the book over a shot of someone crying.
And I don't think that Svidrigailov should end up as one of the story's more sympathetic characters -- thanks partly to the fact that the actor shows restraint in his role, and therefore seems recognizably human; and partly to the fact that the character's most unsavory urges have been excised from the teleplay.
Finally, I had mixed feelings about Hurt's performance. He spends a lot of the time looking scared and sweaty, but only occasionally conveys Raskolnikov's intelligence and sensitivity.
Reed, México insurgente (1973)
Realistic But Dull
"Reed" has a number of strengths, including its realistic presentation, good B/W photography, and location work.
However, the film is exceptionally boring. There are extended (and repeated) shots of Reed doing nothing more than walking or running. Similarly, we see him sitting and bathing for prolonged periods.
It's one thing to avoid sensationalism, but to linger on so many everyday actions is a mistake -- even if they are symbolic or somehow representative of the film's themes of cowardice, engagement, etc.
In the end, it doesn't add up to much, although there are a few striking moments.
Great Book, Weak Film
Victory is one of my favorite books. Victory is not one of my favorite movies. The film sticks pretty close to the original plot, but all the feeling is lost. In the novel, the relationship between Lena and Heyst is heartbreaking. In the film, it's just another bland romance.
Also, Mr. Jones in the book is an extremely thin, spectral character, while Axel Heyst is a solid businessman. So, to me the casting of Dafoe as Heyst and Neill as Jones is completely backwards.
This isn't a horrible picture by any means, but it could have easily been far better.
Excellent Film with a Great Soundtrack
I have never seen a film with so many terrific songs used to such great effect. American critics stupidly trashed this movie when it first came out, saying it desecrated the memory of the French original. Several French critics disagreed and named this remake one of the top ten films of the year.
Uncle Vanya (1963)
Invaluable Record of a Legendary Production
This film is a record of probably the most famous English-language Chekhov production. Of course it's not the same as actually being in the theatre with Olivier and Redgrave, but it's still terrific.
Another reviewer commented negatively about the difference between stage and film acting, but in fact this "Vanya" offers one of Olivier's best *film* performances -- it's subtle and biting, cold-hearted and sweet-natured, incredibly complex and great. And Redgrave isn't far behind him.
10 out of 10