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Hidden Figures (2016)
Great story, delivered in TV movie style, with many silly lapses
I had looked forward to this movie ever since hearing about it. I am a big space program buff, and delight in little-known stories being told.
There may be some spoilers in what I write below, so proceed with caution!
I did enjoy the movie while watching it, but was constantly taken out of the moment by the never ending stream of silly, sloppy mistakes. I have no problem with creative license and dramatizing stories for better results. But there were a LOT of real honkers throughout. I got the impression the everyone was so focused on the story that all the details went by without review or supervision.
I don't plan to write a comprehensive list of all that was wrong. But I will illustrate just a few things:
- The inside of a Mercury capsule was barely larger than the astronaut. Yet the scenes inside the capsule looked like something on the accuracy level of "Plan 9 From Outer Space". Just throw a knob and a duct on a piece of gray plywood behind the astronaut and call it a day. And when entering the Mercury capsule, the threshold looks for all the world like it is made from a white painted window frame bought at Home Depot.
- From day to day in the NASA parking lot, it looks like nothing changes...maybe all those engineers never moved their cars.
- Sound effects and foley sounds throughout are often inappropriate or inaccurate, and for no good reason. I just don't think the film makers were trying in this regard. One example, the IBM computer room printer sounds like a completely different kind of printer...this is as jarring as seeing the jet in "Airplane" with the sound of a propeller plane in the soundtrack, but unlike that movie it is not funny.
- When John Glenn's capsule is discovered to have possible heat shield issues, that concern (which did not last long) has time to be carried to the press,distributed to the public, and there is time for all of them to get all worked up over it and fret in front of TV sets. And when the engineers are fretting over the possibly loose heat shield, the female 'computer' (the focus of the story) chimes in authoritatively with some wisdom that she almost certainly could not have known....yes she was a brilliant mathematician and knew lots of things, but was she also suddenly a materials scientist, a spacecraft engineer with expertise in heat shields and re-entry physics, who would be the only one in the room full of experts who seemed to know anything about the matter at hand?
- Apparently nobody on the film crew knows that the heat shield is on the bottom of the capsule, not the side.
Does this kind of thing ruin the movie? No, it does not. But if more attention had been paid these details this would have been a greater movie and not just a decent, feel-good, 'made for TV style' movie.
The Pirates of Penzance (1994)
Flawed rendition, yet not without merit
I think I own every video version of Pirates now, and am quite familiar with the material, having performed it (I was the Pirate King, and also Frederic once when the other actor forgot his lines!), and have seen many amateur and professional performances over many years.
In my analysis, both of the Papp versions (the live one in the park, and the later movie version of the same, i.e. the Kevin Kline/Linda Ronstadt versions) remain the best overall in terms of: - sticking to the source material for the most part - good sense of style and humor - excellent performances all around - slightly updated without forgetting it is a Victorian comedy - good set and costume design (albeit with Mabel's parts take down a few steps, the only real vocal disappointment here)
The Australian version being reviewed here is a confounding mash-up of the Papp version and a more modernized, 'forget its roots' treatment. Some thoughts: - Overall, Fredric and Mabel here are voiced by the best sounding (and appropriately styled) singers when compared to all the others - Major General Stanley is done by an actor who looks far too young, and who is given FAR too many digressions in his patter song, and yet otherwise he plays the role well and sings well - The Pirate King is just awful...the worst I have ever seen and I can think of no excuse for the director letting the actor get away with it; he sings poorly, mugs to the camera, has a mullet haircut, looks like an aging rock star instead of a pirate king, etc - Ruth is actually quite good, and her lines are intelligible, although she fakes some notes and speaks others at times - The other daughters are played by a mere trio of women, the 'Singlettes', apparently some sort of pop trio that was enlisted for the roles....they harmonize in ways not called for in the original, but this does not hurt, and they break into rap and pop styles for no apparent reason, and their slapstick actions often detract from the more important action and/or singing going on by others. They are indeed funny, but I would rather have seen them in another show and kept them out of this one - The action takes place almost entirely on a simple (and small) stage with minimal sets, and for the most part looks like it was shot from the audience with a couple hand-held camera; both Papp versions, by contrast, have much better scenery
If this version, with most of the singers, had been staged a bit better, and with a different Pirate King, more restraint on the part of the Major General, and a more traditional role for the daughters, I would have to count it among my favorite versions. But with its significant flaws and misfires, it is funny but disappointing.
Really lame movie about a great plane
I happen love unusual and iconic old aircraft, and this included the Howard Hughes "Hercules", a.k.a. "Spruce Goose", arguably the largest plane ever built (at least by wingspan). I have on video every film and documentary I know of that features it, so I had to get this movie, even though I know that Yogi and the 'gang' pretty much guaranteed that it would be lame beyond comprehension. What did anyone see on most of the Hanna-Barbera cartoons anyway, with the possible exception of the Flintstones (and that was entirely outclassed by ANYTHING the Warner studio churned out).
Well, Yogi and his unfunny, un-entertaining, boring, stupid friends go to Long Beach, California (NOT the Evergreen Aviation Museum in Oregon as one other reviewer states), so see the Spruce Goose. The plane was there at the time this film was made, but has since then been obtained by Evergreen...so they cannot be blamed for causing this abomination to be created. Through nothing except random and boring bumbling around, they start her up and fly away. Somehow the plane is magical what that 'explains away' holes in the 'plot', but then suddenly un-magical when the writers decide they want to put it in danger of a crash or something. This is sloppy and uninspired screen writing at its lamest.
The plane itself is not all that badly drawn, and the film opens with a brief black and while clip of the actual plane being flown by Hughes; that is the only good part of the film and much better examples of actual plane footage can be seen in many other places that don't bore us and insult us. Granted, I am middle aged, but I still see the entertainment value in well-done kid's cartoons, and this turkey bores the young one in the house as badly as it does me.
Really, there is no justification to buy or watch this video unless, like me, you have an obsessive streak that makes you NEED to add it to a video collection for the sake of completeness (in my case, to have all Spruce Goose films).
I Set My Sights Low, And Thus Had a Pretty Good Time
I really did not expect much from 'Crystal Skull'. I thought, Ford's too old, Denholm Elliot is dead, the kid will be a distracting punk, and Lucas will have written the script. Well, I discovered that no, yes, no, yes, equals not too shabby.
The basic formula is identical, although many others have correctly commented that there is very little character development and the bad guys hardly seem very bad - you almost want them to get what they are after. Ray Winstone's character could have been left out an nobody would have noticed or cared if they did. It was fun to see the best Indy babe back, namely Karen Allen, and Cate Blanchett looked pretty hot in her shades and suit (wait, she is supposed to be scary? someone screwed up!) The main things that really bugged me were basic sloppiness and simple goofs that went far beyond the suspension of disbelief: ******* Here be spoilers ******* - In Hanger 51 before the blast, there is a large red LED display counting down. Somebody should have told the production designers that visible-spectrum LEDs would not be invented until about 10 years after the time frame of the movie...this just looked so WRONG! - It's bad enough that George Bush can't remember to pronounce 'nuclear' correctly, but SOMEONE on the set should have noticed Harrison Ford making that same unscientist-like blunder and had him fix it in ADR.
- Did refrigerators in the 50's have lead linings? Even if they did for some reason, things close to atomic bomb blasts get VERY hot and it seems that Indy's fridge should have melted or something. Well, alright, some airplanes were put near A-bomb tests and survived, but they were further away from the ground-zero, and EVEN THEN the G-forces from being thrown so far and crashing to earth would have killed him.
- Why is it that every crappy and mentally-retarded person that has a shingle saying "Hollywood screenwriter" thinks that magnets attract EVERYTHING, or at least ALL METALS? And why is it that directors can so easily forger that in a scene with a super powerful magnet nearby, which can pull a man's glasses off and throw them through the air, that soldiers right next to the magnet with guns don't have any problems aiming those guns? - 90% of all high school educated Americans could tidy up a script better than George Lucas, who should be congratulated once more for coming up with the three original Stars Wars films then be forcibly retired to a desert island somewhere for the rest of his natural life.
Deja Vu (2006)
Above Average Example of Typical Hollywood Dumb Thriller
"Deja Vu" is a movie along the lines of "Enemy of the State", where the basic premise is acceptable and the actors likable, but the plot depends on too much contrivance and a lazy script that insults the viewers' intelligence. Contrast this with exceptional genre films like "In the Line of Fire", and you can see how much more memorable such a film will be when the plot is both realistic AND thrilling.
While I was generally entertained by the action, I was also constantly distracted by things that just made no sense: SPOILERS***** When Denzel Washington's character is shot through the body (not just a flesh wound), he is not at all bothered by it...he is not hurting, not in shock, not inconvenienced or disabled, and not even really bleeding....are these actors and directors intelligent enough to at least add some small element of incapacitation when characters are injured like this? This reminds me of "The Bourne Identity", where Matt Damon's character is fished out of the sea with multiple bullet wounds. All he is wearing is a foam wetsuit, yet the bullets stop just inside the skin, as if he had a steel body under the outer layer...this makes him recover immediately after the ship crew digs the slugs out of, oh, 1/2" inch deep holes...what, no punctured lungs, arteries, nerve damage, internal bleeding? What crap! One has to suspend a certain amount of credulity when viewing fictional films of this genre, but what cretins the screenwriters must think the viewers are when they come up with these amazing computer labs where only a few talented, and very young, people have such immediate access to everything. Anything the lazy script writers find convenient for the plot is suddenly possible with the wiggle of a joystick or the tapping of a few keys. I wonder where the lab is that it can be hooked to the power grid in such a way that it can cause a black out over a huge region? Must be a really big extension cord. Sorry, but a single load cannot do this...I'm in the power industry, but almost anyone can figure this out easily enough.
The time warp machine has a limited radius, but it can magically fold time at a remote location over a low power headset device? Geez. We need better writers, Hollywood! That said, the dual car chase, with a car in the present chasing a car in the past was a pretty cool concept.
I just got all clammy when Denzel aimed a laser pen at a flat screen monitor showing the folded-time woman in the past, and she saw it on the wall of her house. I don't care how the machine works, a monitor is a monitor and does not work backwards. Even if it was a special two way monitor designed by the creators of the lab, then it follows that the people in the past would all be standing around looking at the funny people in the lab watching them like so many zoo animals...if it is two-way, then all light would go through backwards, not just the laser pen light, for God's sake! I'm just getting started, but you get the idea.
In my opinion, this movie will insult and bother intelligent, thinking viewers. Only through deliberate effort can such a viewer shut down their higher cognitive functions sufficiently for the film to be enjoyable.
Why We Fight (2005)
Interesting yet sadly incomplete
I saw "Why We Fight" in a small theater in a largely liberal town, and most of the others in the place were chuckling with self congratulation whenever one of the interviewed faces said something about how bad the United States was or how the government and the military-industrial complex had turned our land into an evil place.
I was disgusted with these people, since they seemed to be so thrilled at being made to look right in their own viewpoints that the implication of the downfall of the good old USA in the bargain did not temper their laughter.
I found myself thinking, "This is actually a pretty well done movie, but....". What are those 'buts'? For one thing, the film cannot really be called a true documentary, since it is almost exclusively made up of personal opinions without backup - people say things with a straight face and authoritative voices, but how qualified are they and how accurate are their assertions? Few actual facts are presented and what remains amounts to little more than a parade of opinions. Another thing, I got the impression that many of these people on the screen had more complex ideas and understanding of the issues than what ended up after editing. Is the result an accurate portrayal or is it biased, accidentally or deliberately? The movie does not say and the viewer is left without an answer to the question posed by the film's title.
If the film maker's intention was to simply ask a question and present an overview of the many reasons that might qualify as answers, then I would say that it is a job well done. If the intention was to tell the viewer what the answer is, then it fails miserably.
I think in truth the reasons why the USA goes to war are as numerous as the stars in the sky. Some reasons are noble, some understandable, some self-serving, and some very regrettable. Few are evil, although I have little doubt that at least some of our leaders and public servants, past and present, ARE evil. And, most of our targets in these wars are even more evil (Nazis, dictators, war lords, etc), but this film never really addresses the possibility that good reasons figure into the mix in any significant way. And that is where this film really fails us.
A film Fondly Remembered
Of this film's three re-enacted fairy tales, I can recall the first segment's carriage ride and the third segment's dragon cave from when I was little kid, and I remember loving those parts. Over the decades, I have tried to figure out which movie had those sequences, but without success. Finally I happened across this video tape in the library, and my eyes probably popped out of my head! The librarian gave me a look that said, "Aren't you a little old for this movie?".
Having watched it now, I am impressed by the extensive use of wonderful German locations, including Neuschwanstein Castle, Rothenburg, and so on. The stop motion animation is a bit cheesy, but in many ways is really very well choreographed...live actors move convincingly around the animated characters. I also wonder what technique was used for the magic cloak of invisibility in the first segment, it looks pretty good.
It seems that only the pan-and-scan version is available on video at this time, and the version I saw had a noticeable pair of vertical lines on either side of the image; I had not realized that the original film was in Cinerama with it's three screen projection - I suppose that those lines are the places where the outer two images merge with the center image. I wonder if they were as visible when viewed on the big screen? Still, there are many good things about this movie, and if one were to edit out just the fairy tale segments to another video, it would be worthwhile for kids.
Partly Saved By Sykes & Stritch
I went to see Monster In Law mostly because I was curious how Jane Fonda would come across in her first movie in years. Unfortunately, she never seemed to become her character, and seemed be just making faces and reading lines; perhaps she forgot how to act? Lopez never could act beyond a basic level, and has depended mostly on her face and figure in previous film roles. Unfortunately, her figure is slipping a bit, as this movie pointedly observes (at least she can be a good sport when they write it into the script). There was really nothing new in this film, and I was pretty much bored throughout, getting downright antsy near the end.
The script is uninspired and pedestrian, the jokes recycled from countless other films. Even when the two women 'ramp up' their mutual revenge plots, there is not much there. I came to realize that whenever I laughed, it was because of some wise cracking comment by the Fonda character's assistant, played by Wanda Sykes. Sykes does bug-eyed double takes and delivers a seemingly endless series of one-liners, mostly aimed at Fonda. Good work, Ms. Sykes. Towards the end, when any momentum is lost and the steam has run out, even Sykes can't push the film through to the end. This is where the veteran Elaine Stritch is trotted out, taking over with pointed barbs and insults until the final last gasp before the credits.
If you have nothing better to do, you might see this at a reduced rate showing, but wait a week or two when some better movies are expected to open.
Lackluster and forgettable
Movie lovers who appreciate computer animated films find that only about half are worthwhile. Things that make any film good are as applicable to animated (computer or traditional) movies as they are to live action. These include having a compelling story, a good script, good performances and good visuals.
Having said this, there is a reason why the Pixar animated features have been consistently excellent and memorable. The reason is that they work very hard at refining each and every one of these elements until they have achieved excellence across the board. I understand that they routinely work plot and script for a couple of years before starting the animation. Once animation starts, they work the fine details that make for great animation. They know, and use, all of the old tricks, then invent new ones too.
Now, what is right with a movie like Robots? Well, is has a good concept. What is wrong with Robots? Just about everything else.
The film makers have taken a cute idea and almost totally failed to make it interesting at either the story or script level. Then, they have done a decent but largely uninspired job at the actual animation. People who know what to look for will see lots of fairly basic things, learned back with the better Disney and Warner Brothers animated films, that were apparently forgotten by the makers of Robots. Yes, there are a few nice touches, like the Rube Goldberg transportation system, but this does not carry the movie and is actually not very well animated. One glaring thing I noticed is that when characters or objects move fast, they disappear. This is because the rate of movement is too fast given the frame rate of the animation. Disney and Chuck Jones (et al) and Pixar have learned tricks to compensate for this. Not so the makers of Robots.
The next thing that many will notice is that Robots (like Shark Tale) is sold primarily on the strength of the voice talent, all actors who have been in lots of things recently and will appeal, on name recognition alone, to viewers. Ever notice that most voices in Pixar films are done by people you never heard about, or even by the animators themselves, or their family members? Even Robin Williams cannot make a single word of Robots interesting or entertaining.
I sort of enjoyed Robots, but before I had walked out of the theater door I had forgotten half of what was in the movie, and had no desire to recommend it to anyone else, or to buy a DVD.
Not a good kid's movie, and not a good adult movie. Just a piece of forgettable fluff.
Flight of the Phoenix (2004)
What a waste
The original Flight of the Phoenix is a classic film for many good reasons. The people who have remade it in 2004 have mostly failed to understand those reasons and have made a disappointing movie where a very good one should have been easily within their grasp.
My first complaint is the general dumbing down of the plot elements. The story line is pretty much intact, but the writers obviously are either stupid themselves or believe that the viewers are.
Second, even while the story is dumbed down, the film makers have failed to present some basic points in ways that were clearly dealt with in the original. For example, the initial mysterious and unexplained shot of the starter cartridge for the motor, while an otherwise normal takeoff is performed (this would be a good time for them to explain how these old engines often needed to be started using modified shotgun style explosives), then later when the engine of the Phoenix is started, their use is not really made clear. People were leaving the theater asking what happened to the shotgun shells. How dumb of the film makers to screw things like this up so badly.
Third, the disaster level is sensationalized to a point far beyond reason. A simple sand storm in the original was plenty effective, and suitably scary, to bring the plane down in the desert. Here, they have to whip up such a stupendous storm that you'd think the world was coming to an end. Also, the plane gets buried in sand twice; this is stupid because the work involved dwarfs the work of making a new plane (which should be the focus of the movie), and because when they dig the plane out they also seem to have dug out all of the surrounding desert as well. This is just god-awful stupid. And when the Phoenix is taking off, a character gets to crawl out on the tail to splice a broken cable (as if just getting it off the ground was not exciting enough), which would be pretty much impossible just down wind from the prop wash on a plane that is at take-off speed. Furthermore, piloting such a contraption should take all of a pilot's attention, but here everyone is high-fiving, goofing around and generally NOT PAYING ATTENTION the moment that the plane lifts off. Insanely stupid! What did they get right? Well, they obviously made a study of key plot points and made sure they had them in the new movie as well, even while they failed at everything else around. They got the interaction between the pilot and the designer right, the bit about special water usage, the alarming "one blast to clear out the cylinders", the point where the pilot has to concede that he is no longer in charge in order to keep the designer happy. The plane, both before and after the crash, look great.
What else could they have done away with and simultaneously improved the movie? Well, the local bandits were a distraction; the original movie barely had the local Arabs, and it was not a major plot point. They could really have left out the jerkily (albeit currently trendy) missing-frame editing in the 'exciting' spots. And they could have certainly left out the distracting and irritating rock sound track (movie soundtracks are supposed to heighten the emotions or otherwise add something, NOT call attention to themselves). And having the plane fall into a canyon only to swoop out at high-Gs was another ill-conceived addition.
My only hope is that people will go see this one, and in the course of doing so will hear that there is a much better version out there from 1965 IN WHICH THEY FLEW THE PHOENIX WITHOUT SPECIAL EFFECTS (OK, so it crashed later), then will rent or buy the excellent original and be re-introduced to a real classic.
The Village (2004)
A decent and atmospheric film
I almost stayed away from The Village, since just about every review I read said it was horrible. I'm glad that I decided to give it a chance after all, and go into the theatre with an open mind and no special expectations for what it would be about (as one always SHOULD, if it were not for the often stupid, insulting, and misleading previews).
The photography and atmosphere were beautiful, and by and large the acting was very good as well. Some complain about stilted dialogue or language, but when you realize who these people really are and what they are actually doing, it pretty well fits right in. It makes sense!
The overall plot held together as well as any Hollywood film, although I am surprised by the number of viewers who apparently cannot comprehend such a simple plot once they have seen it, and still come up with outlandish takes on the film. Maybe they were not really paying attention or listening to the dialogue.
When it all comes to a head, the twists at the end, and I counted about three places where the audience's train of thought was deliberately rerouted, are suitably explained, or at least hinted at, by what came before. And this writer/director's film's have never been really profound OR scary, after all, but they usually make some sort of sense and he has not cheated anywhere.
The following might be considered by some to be a spoiler, so be warned! I think The Village is primarily a human story, a commentary on how bad our modern society has become and to what lengths people of like mind might go to find something better, and it is a romance and a tragedy. Go to it with expectations for nothing else, and you will probably enjoy it.
De-lovely film with de-sasterous singing
Cole Porter wrote many of the wittiest and most beautiful songs ever, and had a very unconventional love life to back them up. Overall, this movie does a fair-to-excellent job of showing both the highs and lows of a complex relationship and of the man himself.
I was pleased to see that accomplished singer Kline was able to croak out the songs that his character wrote, because Porter was known to be a poor singer. It would have been a big mistake to have him sing like an angel.
That said, I can only presume that the studio's desire to pander to a young audience is the explanation for an absolutely horrible series of botched attempts by various pop artists to sing Porter's songs. Some, like Elvis Costello's effort, are just able to slide in under the radar, and Natalie Cole's is pretty reasonable. But somebody in charge should have stricken the songs sung by Alannis Morissete ("Let's Do It") and the even worse Sheryl Crowe ("Begin the Beguine"), or at least replaced them with other singers in body or at least in voice. I can see how Morissete's croaky, glitchy vocal stylings work for her in her own pop music, but they only annoy in this context; she also has no sense of the style required. Crowe's voice is actually less irritating in her number, but what were they thinking otherwise? Doesn't she know the melody? Does she only have a range of 5 notes? Instead of attracting younger people to Porter's songs, I expect that it will only make them ask 'why do people like this rubbish', not realizing who is really at fault.
This one would be a DVD keeper for me, if it were not for this glaring problem.
Shrek 2 (2004)
Funny, but a bit flat
I watched Shrek 2 in a full theater, and all of us had a good time. This is indeed a very funny movie. So what if it does not seem as fresh and original as the first movie?
There are a few points that I, after reading other reviews, want to make:
1) This is not a musical, and neither was the first. The songs in both films are clearly there as parody. Remember the song that Fiona sings with the bird in the first? It's not there for it's musical value, it is there because the scene is a parody of the similar scene from Snow White. Likewise, Shrek 2 has songs which are necessary because of what the associated scene is all about; for example, if you have seen Cinderella, you know that Fairy Godmothers have to have their 'magic' song. And so on. Are the songs good, or in any way memorable? No, and I don't think they were intended to be. Probably just the opposite.
2) The movie will suffer, both to older audience members, and to future audience years from now, because of the nature of it's topical references. The first movie satirized fairy tales and the movie made from them, and almost everyone knows those stories and can recognize and laugh at these references. In Shrek 2, a large percentage of references are to subjects other that fairy tales. For example, if older or future viewers don't know who Justin Timberlake is, and what his relationship is/was with a certain actress who provides a voice in this film, they are going to totally miss a funny gag. There are probably hundreds of tiny things like this scattered throughout this movie, and missing them will serious diminish it's humorous quality.
3) The animation is still basically just as sloppy as that in the first film. My guess is that they have some very good people at Dreamworks, but those people are good at computer design and making the characters look good and three dimensional in a static sense. What they are missing are good ANIMATORS, those folks that design and fine tune how things move and get from point A to point B. This is where the two big computer animation studios differ; Dreamworks usually has very good stories, good actors, and good looking but poorly animated films. Pixar, on the other hand, has consistently excellent stories, good actors, and great looking and expertly animated films. It seems like every year or two, both studios come out with big movies, and Dreamworks is first to release, I will see theirs, and say wow! Then, a month or two later, Pixar comes out with theirs, done during the same time period, and I will say WOW!!!
4) This movie need to be seen twice to appreciate the visual gags. There are just too many small things going on, in the corners of the frame or for very short durations, for a viewer to catch the first time around. Look for the Spinal Tap poster, the sharks and the mermaid, the Headless Horseman's sobriety test, etc.
Welcome back, old friend
Finally, the best version of The Hound of the Baskervilles, and arguably the best filmed Sherlock Holmes has made the transition to DVD. The script is quite close to the book, and interestingly, subsequent film versions copied many of the differences pioneered by this 1939 treatment. Basil Rathbone IS Sherlock Holmes, and Nigel Bruce is the definitive Dr. Watson (given a more sober and realistic portrayal in this film than in subsequent Rathbone/Bruce pairings). If you only see one Holmes film, make this the one.
A few interesting points on this version. The film was shot entirely on sound stages, and if you listen carefully, you can hear the indoor-sounding echoes as they converse 'outdoors' in the moor. The actress who plays Miss Stapleton's first name is Wendy; I have heard that she is one of the first people to be so named, as she is a close relation to the author of Peter Pan, who apparently invented that name for his heroine. The name of the butler was changed from the original Barrymore to Barryman, to avoid audience confusion with the then-popular Barrymore acting family. The original actor who played the Notting Hill murderer bowed out and all his scenes has to be re-shot, causing the film to end up a bit too short. The famous last line in the movie "Oh, Watson, the needle!" was cut from all British releases of the film until recently, apparently because Holmes drug use (administered by Dr. Watson), was politically unpopular.
The Pirates of Penzance (1983)
Worthy staging of G&S's best operetta
I recently had the task, for a organization's class, to assemble various performances of the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta "The Pirates of Penzance". This has always been my favorite G&S work, and I have heard many live performances, plus I have played the Pirate King in a revue type staging of the work.
I recall seeing the Kevin Kline version many years ago, and did not recall the details. Obtaining a copy to view for my project, I was very impressed with the wit and overall quality of the performances. There are a few small issues, such as the fudging of Linda Ronstadt's and Rex Smith's vocal parts (It is clear, whenever Smith sings, that lots of electronic enhancement is being used to bring his voice into the same universe with the other more capable singers, but still he has right delivery and it works well; for Ronstadt, she does very well, but for "Poor Wandering One" her part has been transposed down a bit, probably so that she can manage the highest notes), and the overdubbing of a couple other performer's singing by better singers, but overall the dancing and singing is as good as any I have seen.
The staging is deliberately campy, somewhere between traditional stagecraft and a movie set, and it adds extra charm to the proceedings. There has been some carping about Angela Lansbury's singing, but what she does is in line with the requirements of the role, and is in fact typical of other performances of Ruth's character (I recall the director, during casting of the performance I was in, saying of Ruth, "we don't need a GOOD singer, only a FUNNY singer).
A quick review of the offerings of Pirates on Amazon reveals that the only DVD version of this cast is taken from an outdoor staging in New York (and without Lansbury). It is one of the mysteries of DVD releases that the film version does not exist on on DVD; it certainly one of the best.
Can't say enough
This movie had me in tears, not just because of the emotion of the story lines wrapping up, but because of the realization of the totally spectacular job Jackson and company have done. I have no reservations in saying that as a complete work, the trilogy is the best movie ever made (I will allow that a great many other movies are better than any single installment of the trilogy, taken alone).
I do have one point to make, in response to some earlier reviews. I very much doubt that Frodo and Sam would be burnt to a crisp while perched on the rock outcrop on the slopes of Mount Doom as lava flows below. While I am no expert on lava and volcanos, I do recall seeing footage of people walking a similar distance away from flowing lava in Hawaii, and while they look uncomfortable, they are certainly not bursting into flame or anything. They might not even be as hot as fire fighters who enter a burning building.
Easily the best sailing ship war movie I have seen
I have only a few things to say about this movie:
1) While I want to be generous to those with different opinions, in this case I have to say that those who carp about this movie being slow or boring are simply immature and are obviously creatures of the crappy car chase and explosion films that pass for movies these days. People, if you cannot find a film like this exciting, stay home and leave the theaters to the adults.
2) This must be the sailing ship equivalent to Das Boot; it does a perfect job of placing the viewer THERE, instead of simply sitting back and watching from a distance. The viewer gets the sense of confinement, discomfort and rough unpleasantness on board a ship like this for months at a time. You can almost feel your feet slip on bloody decks and the smell of vomit is virtually in the air.
3) My sail ship enthusiast friends tell me the movie is accurate about many lesser-known aspects of ship board life: The contingent of red-coated marines (who did the rifle work and were supposed to be first to board other ships), the young officers still in their teens (often including sons of nobility, put there to make men out of them), the majority of the non-officer crew who were taken (while drunk or in jail) onboard, only to come to their senses after the ship had sailed...and kept in line then by threat of severe punishment, the list goes on. It is the multitude of details like this that SHOULD make even the slower sections interesting for INTELLIGENT viewers.
4) The plot has clever bits of military strategy, where one party can overcome another by wits, not by explosions and incredible stunts that get script writers out of plot problems in lesser movies.
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (2003)
Don't bother taking the kids
This new Looney Tunes film looked pathetic in the previews, and I guessed that it would be even worse than the Space Jam film of a few years ago. However, I have been working my way through my new 4-DVD set of Warner Brothers cartoon classics, and was in Looney Tunes mode when the picture opened in the theater. So I decided that I had to give it a chance.
Actually, the movie is not bad at all. Even though the concept is in many ways similar to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where cartoon characters inhabit the same universe as real people, this is NOT up to the same quality standards as that earlier film. While there are nice touches (a cartoon character's reflection in the side of a grand piano was so realistic that I almost did not believe it), by and large the animated characters do not seem to really be THERE with the humans to the same degree that they were in Roger Rabbit. On the other hand, many characters from various animation studios appeared in Roger, and some of them did not seem to be drawn (or move) as they did on the original cartoons, but in the new Looney Tunes movie they did a better job in this regard (perhaps because its a Warner Brothers movie with almost exclusively WB animated characters).
Also, the movie is actually funny, and the 'toons mostly seem to have the same personalities that they had in their heyday. The plot itself is silly and is really just a device to hang the short scenes on. My major beef with the plot is that is has Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck working together (something they never did before) AND working to help somebody else (by nature, they were always out for themselves). Another thing, they got good talents to do the voices, and with few exceptions they are close enough to the originals of Mel Blanc, June Foray and Stan Freberg to be readily accepted by most audience members (actually, I noticed that June Foray WAS on hand to do Granny and Freberg reprised the voice role of Baby Bear).
What makes this film work is that it has an inexhaustible supply of gags that reference to other movies, historical events, you name it, including a brilliant romp through classic paintings. And this is where I get my title for this review....very few of the gags in the movie will work for kids (or even for younger adults). If I had to guess, I would say that viewers younger than, say, 40 will miss a lot of the jokes. Indeed, during my viewing, the kids were noticeably bored or were always asking parents about what they were seeing on the screen. After the film, younger parents and adults were leaving with comments indicating that they had not thoroughly enjoyed it. Then I noticed that the people who remained were mostly a bit older, and they did not have kids in tow, and they stayed through the closing credits. THIS is the real audience for this movie.
Runaway Jury (2003)
Change of target industry cheapens otherwise good film
This movie is an effective treatment of Grisham's novel, although the film makers stray too far into the realm of science fiction (as did the movie "Enemy of the State") where the bad guys have impossibly resourceful team members and unrealistically advanced research/spying/tapping/etc equipment at their disposal. The overall concept is interesting, and the movie is very well cast. Hackman, Hoffman, Cusack, and Rachel W. are both good and entertaining in their roles.
However, in the book, they target an industry with a known and much disliked reputation for actively and secretly doing bad things simply to maintain profits. Here, the writers decided to switch the target to the gun industry. This cheapens the feel and quality of the movie, since the target group is much less despicable than the original. Extreme liberals will probably think this is OK and maybe even a good thing, while the rest of the film going population will most likely feel either ill at ease or simply angry at the fury aimed at a relatively respectable industry group.
The other problem with the film, although anyone who has served on a jury will recognize some truth there, is the cartoonish portrayal of jury stereotypes and simplistic view of what goes on in their deliberations. This movie has a dozen drunks and weirdos, instead of the real cross section of humanity that really ends up deliberating cases.
Flawed but respectable history lesson
Writing about "Luther' as a somewhat lapsed Lutheran, I want to avoid generating yet another "Oscars all around" review. However, I went in to this film with a lot of curiosity...how will they portray the life and pivotal issues of this important historical figure so that non-Lutherans will understand and appreciate it?
I have to report that, while they tried to jam way too much detail into the two hours for the film's own good, it was a noble effort and the result is, well, respectable. I imagine that many folks who are not already predisposed to like the movie (read: Lutherans and other Protestants) might actually be fascinated and end up liking the movie. Luther, the man, was in fact a major scholar of the time, and did some very important historic things that are usually overlooked these days. We forget, or never realized, just how many things in the Western world were turned on their heads because of him.
The acting of the lead characters is first rate, in that they all had delicate roles to play, and pulled it off very well. Most of the secondary characters are played by German actors, and most of those apparently spoke either German or poorly delivered English, because their parts are very clearly dubbed with all the finesse of the laughable lip-sync of Hong Kong action films.
Still, the film is nicely done otherwise, and it does not drag, and it does an excellent job of explaining the key issues.
Secondhand Lions (2003)
Lightweight feel-good film, but not a must-see
This is a nice film that is sure to please most viewers. It has charm, nice work by loved actors, and a decent script. Ultimately, it's a piece of fluff, and it is NOT one you should feel you need to see (there are some loftier films out there). Still, very enjoyable.
One thing did keep me at odds, though. It used to be that films needing to show characters in different stages of life went through some bother to find actors that looked the same. Second Hand Lions is one of the more recent crop that clearly wasted no effort whatsoever on having it's three main characters look like their younger/older versions. In today's world, this seems like pure carelessness.
And, what happened to the giraffe?
Man of the Century (1999)
I read Ebert's review of Man of the Century back in 1999, and wanted to see it ever since. Just noticed it on the Blockbuster new releases shelf and immediately forget what it was I went there for. What a treat this little gem is! The wisecracking dialogue, the homage to old movies, the snappy old songs and even some neat dance scenes contribute to the offbeat comedy. Unless you are a teenager with a 5 minute attention span and a chip on your shoulder, you will love this film.
Roxie Hart (1942)
Watch this before or after seeing "Chicago"
Here is a fast paced and sassy treatment of the same true story that inspired the recent movie musical "Chicago" with Zeta-Jones and Zellweger. I have great admiration for Ginger Rogers, so when I saw Chicago I went straight to the library and borrowed this one.
The remarkable thing is that the makers of Chicago clearly studied this film in great detail. Both movies come from the same book and stage play, so the commonality in dialogue is easily explained, but the sets and costumes and camera angles are virtually identical.
With the exception of one song and dance number in Roxie Hart (which incidentally is NOT in Chicago), and a quick tap dance later on, this is NOT a musical. It stays in the real world and does not constantly segue to fantasy musical versions of the events in Roxie's mind, as Chicago does. Accordingly, it has more straight dialogue, and what witty dialogue it is! Had me laughing start to finish.
This is also a good chance to see some old character actors in their prime, doing what they do best.
A lot of jazzy fun
I have never seen Moulon Rouge or the earlier settings of Chicago, so I am free to view Chicago in the light of it's own merits. I do see a lot of musical theatre on the Chicago area, and can at least write a comment or two based on that general familiarity.
The story of Chicago, such as it is, is little more than a hanger for the song and dance numbers - this is typical of most musicals. Chicago does better than most because there IS a lot of wit in the songs and between them. Also, Chicago does not suffer from the curse of other popular musicals such as Carousel, in that it does not boringly recycle the same two or three musical themes. Only the opening number gets a brief reprise at the end.
A lot has been written about the singing and acting of the main actors in Chicago. We all know that Zeta-Jones (who, contrary to certain other reviews, comes from Wales instead of Scotland) started her career as a singing hoofer in London. Was she very good then? Can she still do it? The answer is that to the viewer's eye she does wonderfully. With any movie version of a musical, the viewer cannot possibly know what they are REALLY seeing. I have to imagine that others such Gere and Zellweger had at least some training and experience with singing and dancing early in their lives; most real actors have (it is a common error made by viewers and reviewers that a performer is only trained and capable in that one facet of show business that they are BEST known for). Has the dancing of one or more of the performers been enhanced by clever camera angles, quick cuts to the feet of better dancers, viewer distraction due to surrounding masses of better dancers, digital cleanup, etc? I think it is a sure bet that they have, and who cares?! Have their voices been enhanced by re-recording in a studio, reverb, digital pitch correction, etc? This is also a certainty, as even non-singing films do these things routinely. Again, who cares when the overall result is so fine?
This film version of Chicago stands on its own as a very well made and entertaining movie musical, and lots more will like it than will dislike it.
Auto Focus (2002)
I cannot say much about Auto Focus that has not already been said by other reviewers on this website. It is in fact a well realized, and serious, look into the rise and fall of a basically decent man. It does a good job of reminding us that everyone one really needs a hobby to call their own, to let off steam and so on, but it should be something they have actual passion for.
However, the most impressive thing about this movie is the amazing job of Kurt Fuller as Werner Klemperer (Col. Klink). I kept losing track of whether I was watching the re-enactment scenes or the actual Hogan's Heros. The guy had the role down perfectly.