Archives for posts with tag: drama

MV5BYWY5ZjhjNGYtZmI2Ny00ODM0LWFkNzgtZmI1YzA2N2MxMzA0XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjUwNzk3NDc@._V1_UY268_CR2,0,182,268_AL_.jpgThis movie is perfect.

In it, you watch a man go mad as European empires destroy the Middle East on purpose.

It is not happy.

T. E. Lawrence (Peter O’Toole, terrifyingly young and beautiful) is seconded from his minor post in an office in Cairo to the Arab revolt against the Turks, under Prince Feisal (Alec Guinness). His companions in this are Sherif Ali (Omar Sharif), whom we meet when he shoots, sight unseen, a man drinking from one of his wells, and Harry Brighton (Anthony Quayle), who puts in a masterful performance as a stolid and unimaginative British soldier. There are some higher-ups about, as well: General Allenby (Jack Hawkins) and the éminence grise Mr. Dryden (Claude Rains, who incidentally lets you get from Humphrey Bogart to Orlando Bloom in three moves).

There to help you with the difficult bits is an American reporter (Arthur Kennedy), who asks Lawrence pertinent questions to which he can give dotty answers, and documents the whole spectacular swashbuckling thing.

And it is spectacular. Lawrence swans about in white robes, his followers achieve the impossible, and even the Army in Cairo gives grudging and then unstinting respect. Then of course it goes badly and the War barrels towards its close and we, Lawrence, and Harry watch Dryden mention a Mr. Sykes and a Mr. Picot and Feisal make one or two extremely cutting remarks and it is emotionally draining.

No expense was spared in the production and it is splendid. The soundtrack you have heard and it it is great. The film is slow, but this is not old-fashioned pacing; it is meant to convey the distances and the desperation. Nowadays Alec Guinness would not be cast as Prince Feisal nor Anthony Quinn as Auda; this is certainly some sort of victory but not necessarily a cinematic one. Sir Alec in particular is just really good in the role. He gets most of the best lines.

The story-telling is superb. It is surprisingly lacking in both moralizing and melodrama, but your sympathies are constantly shifting. Lawrence, from naïve but attractive, becomes horrible yet still compelling. Ali, who kills a man before you meet him, becomes in some ways the moral center of the piece. And Harry–watch Harry.

Stray observations:

  • What, in your opinion, do these people hope to gain from this war?” “They hope to gain their freedom. …Freedom.”
  • It is technically rated PG, but it is worse than that for anyone with a rudimentary imagination and sense of humanity.
  • Possibly I recommend breaking it over two days, both for convenience and palatability.
  • This is my favorite movie, and I think it is the best movie ever made.

Director: Sir David Lean
Rating: PG
Length: 216 minutes
Score: 5/5, but also unrateable

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You know how this goes.  Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) fights in WWII, is romantically involved with a New England WASP, Kay (Diane Keaton), and seems unlikely to become involved in his father’s crime family.  But his father (Marlon Brando) is shot and his brother Sonny (James Caan) is a hothead, so poor Michael has to become a mobster. His sister Connie (Talia Shire) is also around, and she is so badly treated and her psychology is so opaque that I pray for her to go back to Rocky.

In the second installment, we see young Don Vito Corleone (Robert DeNiro), from his tragic childhood in Sicily through his gradual and seemingly passive slide into organized crime in New York. This is in parallel to Michael’s rise through casinos and hotels from Las Vegas to Cuba, where of course he sees the revolution happen. Kay’s not sold, and then he has to murder his brother Fredo (John Cazale). Also he blackmails some senators.

In the third installment, we see a director’s ego run amok.  I haven’t seen it in ten years and I hope I never do again.

I was re-watching these because you’re supposed to be familiar with them. I internalized so little of them last time that I didn’t get the “IT Crowd” episode entitled “Jen the Fredo.” So on the one hand it’s probably good that I can get references, but on the other: I still hate mob movies. Yes, these films are grand and the drama is sweeping, but everyone is unpleasant and hateful and sometimes you end up with a horse’s head in your bed. And Pacino, while he has not yet got to the point where his acting seems to be dictated by a sadist with pins, is an unconvincing blank. Everyone else is better, but that mostly tends to throw his flatness in your face.

Also, wow, are the costumes bad.  Some effort is made with cars and the width of ladies’ skirts, but hair, suits, and decor are just early 70s, and it’s dire.

Director: Francis Ford Coppola
Rating: R
Length: a billion trillion minutes
Score: unrateable

MV5BNThjMzczMjctZmIwOC00NTQ4LWJhZWItZDdhNTk5ZTdiMWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDYyMDk5MTU@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_Nope, I don’t like mob movies. Even the good ones. Just like prison movies. There’s just something about the squalor and the casual violence that puts me off.

This one is a true story! Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) goes from childhood to mob peon to informer. He can’t actually achieve much, because he’s not all Sicilian (his father’s Irish), in which boat he joins Jimmy Conway (the very Irish Robert DeNiro). The chappie who can become a made man, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), is rather unfortunately a touchy, sadistic nutbar. The film opens as we dispose of the body of a man who reminded Tommy he used to shine shoes. It turns out he’s not quite dead. It’s disgusting.

On the way, we meet Henry’s wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who doesn’t seem very bright, but she will give him a blow job when he gives her shopping money and doesn’t seem to mind being slapped around, so that’s nice. He cheats on her repeatedly and flagrantly. Sometimes with Debi Mazar!

The film is well-written, well-shot, and well-paced, but it’s also super fucking gross. And the tone is not lacking in admiration. Which bothers me. Sometimes you have to make movies about things that aren’t nice, but this is too glamorizing. Henry is supposed to be sexy and appealing, at least until the coke really makes his face go blooey. And then you’re supposed to feel bad for him when Paulie (Paul Sorvino) will only give him $3200 to go away. I don’t.

The only good thing about this, as far as I can tell, is that Robert DeNiro is still trying.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Rating: R
Length: 156 minutes
Score: 3/5

Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s least appreciated book, at least by me, for much of my life. I thought it would be like the others, but it’s not. It’s even spoofier, and it’s a spoof of Gothic novels. Now, Gothic novels are kind of bad. The Mysteries of Udolpho is remarkable chiefly because absolutely nothing (and nothing shocking) happens in it.

Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) has read too many novels, and she thinks life resembles them. When she ends up in an old country house, she nearly ruins her life by treating it and its inhabitants as if it were a castle in a Gothic novel.

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This TV adaptation is near-perfect. The younger son of the Tilney house, Henry (JJ Feild), likes her, and is tolerant of her many faults. He calls her on them, but not insultingly. His sister, Eleanor (Catherine Walker), is gentle and mature. If they were the only three people in the novel, you might observe, it would be very boring. But Catherine also encounters less virtuous and much dumber people: Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan), who is an insincere fortune-hunter who tries to entrap both Catherine’s brother and Henry’s; John Thorpe (William Beck), Isabella’s brother, who is a blowhard and wants to marry Catherine for her (nonexistent) money; Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and General Tilney (Liam Cunningham), who are cold-hearted and generally unpleasant.

My only real quibble with it is that John Thorpe is not good-looking enough to be a plausible alternative to Henry. He’s unbearable and he looks like the back end of a cab. It’s not charming for Catherine to be taken in. But everyone else is great–JJ Feild is exactly handsome enough for Henry, Felicity Jones is adorably but not irritatingly naïve, and all the adults are hilariously one-dimensional dramatic types. Carey Mulligan is hateful.

Of this run of made-for-TV Austens, this is the most pleasant. It’s like a small gelato of period cuteness.

Director: Jon Jones
Rating: so delightfully light
Length: 84 minutes
Score: 4/5

There isn’t a strong chance for a movie called The Only Living Boy in New York not to be pretentious and terrible, and this one…does not take it. It is bad. It is over-written and under-directed, boring and vacuous.

MV5BODEzODA5NjU2NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwODkwNzA5MjI@._V1_UX182_CR0,0,182,268_AL_The titular Boy is Thomas Webb–always Thomas, of course, never Tom–and he is played by Callum Turner, which is how you know he’s going to swan about looking like a Romantic poet and probably seduce an older woman. He’d like to be a writer, but his father (Pierce Brosnan) is in publishing and has crapped all over his dreams. His mother (Cynthia Nixon) keeps her moods in balance chemically and throws dinner parties with insufferable people (inexplicably played by proper actors such as Tate Donovan, Debi Mazar, and Wallace Shawn, I have no idea why). Thomas also has a crush on a hipster nymph, Mimi (Kiersey Clemons), who is dating a guy in a band but enjoys keeping Thomas on the hook. They are both unbearable, so maybe they deserve each other.

There is a wise old recluse who lives in Thomas’s building: Jeff Bridges, playing someone whose name doesn’t matter, and who is so hackneyed it’s almost hard to believe. He understands love, he understands writing, he is the father Thomas always wanted–it beggars belief and induces nausea.

But it gets worse! Thomas’s dad is having an affair with a beautiful woman, Johanna (Kate Beckinsale). And Thomas finds out, so he has an affair with her too. No one makes any sense. No one is trying not to be the worst.

The writing is inhuman, the pacing is nonsensical, and it’s just…bad.

Director: Marc Webb
Rating: R
Length: 89 minutes
Score: 1/5

I am too dumb for Coen Brothers movies and I didn’t need to see Steve Buscemi get stuffed in a wood chipper.

Frances McDormand is great.

Director: Joel & Ethan Coen
Rating: R
Length: 98 minutes
Score: 3/5

MV5BMjE5MTEwNjIxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODk1NzYyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR3,0,182,268_AL_Unsurprisingly, War and Remembrance the miniseries is the sequel to The Winds of War, as the novel is. The book is worse than Winds of War, but the miniseries is much, much better. It is no more faithful to the source material, but the screenwriting and acting are drastically improved.

Leading the charge here is the recasting of several major characters. Jane Seymour replaces Ali MacGraw as Natalie Jastrow and is so much better in the rôle it’s hard to believe. John Gielgud replaces John Houseman as Aaron Jastrow–this, too, is an improvement, though less marked (and is no real reflection on John Houseman). Finally, Hart Bochner takes over for Jan-Michael Vincent as Byron Henry, and he is better looking and more convincing.

The war is on, and Herman Wouk bows to statistical necessity and starts killing off major characters, although he still manages to pull some punches. The Henrys lose Warren (Michael Woods) on a bombing run in the Pacific, and his widow Janice (Sharon Stone! Sharon Stone!) starts messing around with Byron’s XO, even though Byron’s XO is terrible. Rhoda Henry (still Polly Bergen) takes this as an opportunity to have an attack of conscience about her infidelities and starts emotionally blackmailing Pug (still Robert Mitchum), so he, man-like, gets all guilty and Protestant. This makes poor Pamela Tudsbury (still Victoria Tennant) have feelings.

This is all largely to remind you that there’s a war in the Pacific and in Russia and sometimes in England, but the heart of the story is Natalie and Aaron Jastrow. It begins in their villa in Siena, and ends, via Marseilles, Geneva, and Theresienstadt, in Auschwitz. Avram Rabinowitz (Sami Frey) tries to get them to Palestine on a refugee ship, but under pressure of various kinds they decide against it, and a long, inexorable process is set in motion. In parallel with this, Byron moves heaven and earth in an attempt to find and rescue them. It is hideous to watch, but well done.

The production is overall more careful than the first installment, though there are inevitably bits on which they cheap out. The clothes are marginally better, although again we fall back on uniform and Natalie in rags. The main problem is that it is so, so long. Feature film length is a more palatable amount of the War. This is Wouk’s point, of course, so it’s not an accident.

Stray observations:

  • I suspect General Eisenhower is impossible to cast–his particular brand of funny looks is not common.  E. G. Marshall does not work for me. Ralph Bellamy as FDR and the recently late Robert Hardy as Churchill are better.
  • Obviously we have to deal with the Valkyrie plot. It’s not as good as the film, but Sky du Mont is an acceptable Stauffenberg.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: TV-MA
Length: 27 hours
Score: 4/5

How much I liked this hovers between 1 and 2 out of 5. How capable an adaptation of the book it is hovers between 4 and 5 out of 5. How good a movie it is probably lands about average.

Look, Gone Girl the novel has a lot of aspirations about being a satire, and it’s well enough executed that you often wonder whether the over-writing is deliberate. The film compounds the problem–were the casting choices likewise deliberate, to emphasize the hollowness and artificiality at the heart of the narrative? Or is it just bad casting? I think it might just be bad casting.

Amy Elliott (Rosamund Pike) grows up rich and beautiful in Manhattan, and eventually marries Nick Dunne (Ben Affleck), even though he is from Missouri. Her parents (David Clennon and Lisa Banes) buy them a brownstone (notably not a brownstone in the film, though it is still called so), and life is wonderful for the first few years of marriage, until they lose their jobs, because both of them work for magazines.

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They move back to Missouri to take care of Nick’s dying mother, and Nick buys a bar with his sister Margo (Carrie Coon). He calls her “Go.” It’s trying too hard to be verisimilitudinous. I suspect that she is the best actress in the film. Nick also adjuncts in the journalism department at the local college. Amy doesn’t work. Obviously Nick meets a hot young student, Andie (Emily Ratajkowski), and has an affair with her. It’s not obvious to me that Andie can read, much less write, but sure.

Then Amy disappears, and it looks like Nick murdered her and incompetently covered it up. Detective Rhonda Boney (Kim Dickens) and Officer James Gilpin (Patrick Fugit) investigate. They are the only people in the film you can stand, and they don’t have enough to do. Amy’s parents arrive, a nationwide campaign to find her begins, and so forth. It’s worse, because her parents wrote a series of books about her as a child, so she’s universally beloved. And everybody hates Nick, because he has a charming smile (ha! Ben Affleck in 2014! as if!). Because of course.

There are some other people around. Tyler Perry plays the lawyer, the last chance option for men everyone thinks killed their wives. Missi Pyle is a gloriously angry Nancy Grace type. Lola Kirke condescendingly plays a trashy woman on the run from her abusive boyfriend. And Neil Patrick Harris plays Desi Collings, a man Amy dated at her posh boarding school and has kept on the hook ever since. He’s awful. I’m sure Harris can act, but he’s totally ludicrous as Midwestern old money, and I don’t think it’s on purpose. Sorry, Barney.

In the novel, the suspense and innovation more or less made up for the cringingly terrible gender politics and the vacuity was arguably by design. Here, no.

Directors: David Fincher
Rating: R
Length: 149 minutes
Score: 3/5

This is one of those productions which really makes me wonder how the economics of it could possibly work. Costumes are lush, the cast is frankly amazing, and it can’t have been cheap. But it’s awful. The writing is insulting and incoherent, the battle scenes are worse than nothing, and the directors have no idea how to get their actors to resemble human beings. And since it ran on TV, presumably it had no real way to recoup the outlay? How does this happen?

We open with Catherine’s (Catherine Zeta-Jones) marriage. Mel Ferrer is the priest! She is marrying the heir to the Russian throne, who is a non-entity with smallpox scars. Apparently he’s also incapable in the bedroom, so the Empress (Jeanne Moreau of blessed memory) recruits some slab of a nobleman (Craig McLachlan) as stud. Catherine falls heavily, has a kid whom we won’t see again, and is disappointed when this chap turns out to be gross.

MV5BMjA2Nzg4MTg4MF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNDc1NjkxMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR4,0,182,268_AL_Then she launches a coup against her husband, the circumstances of which are not clear. That is: I didn’t already know them, and this production did not help me. Brian Blessed and Ian Richardson are there being sinister, but to what purpose it is impossible to say. The army seems to be important, and she has an affair with some guy called Orlov (Mark McGann), whose main skill seems to consist of being so manly he must use a pocketknife to unlace a corset.

Eventually Potemkin (Paul McGann) shows up, and they shout at each other and sleep together and he acquires a stylish facial scar. Approximately two dozen Ottomans make trouble, and Petersburg totters. Meanwhile some peasant (John Rhys Davies) pretends to the throne and both Catherine and Potemkin have a lot of angst about it.

Everyone in this production deserved better. I’m almost mad I watched it.

Stray observations:

  • Yes, the actors who play Orlov and Potemkin are brothers, and there’s actually a third brother as well, and yes, it is jarring. Orlov basically looks like a slightly coarsened Potemkin, and they’re both called Grigory.

Directors: Marvin J. Chomsky, John Goldsmith
Rating: tame TV
Length: 100 minutes
Score: 1/5

Herman Wouk’s novel about the last few years before the Second World War goes for coverage, both geographically and circumstantially. It smacks, rather, of a modern War & Peace, following several, sometimes overlapping threads. This works better in a book, but this series gives it the old college try.

MV5BMzY1NTEzODA4OV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzM0NzUyMQ@@._V1_UY268_CR50,0,182,268_AL_Pug Henry (Robert Mitchum) is a career naval officer. His life ambition is to command a battleship. A cursory knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent naval history will indicate that this is an ambition unlikely to be realized. Luckily, Pug has a host of other qualifications, like a working knowledge of German and Russian and an uncanny ability to predict geopolitical developments (he alone of everyone in the world predicts the collapse of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, e.g.). He starts out as military liaison in Berlin and ends up a military observer of Lend-Lease efficacy in Moscow.

He has a lot of relatives, and they get into various scrapes. His wife, Rhoda (Polly Bergen), is dumb and shallow but has kept her figure, so that’s going to go badly. His daughter, Madeline (Lisa Eilbacher), is very young and goes into radio; she’s not interesting until later. His elder son, Warren (Ben Murphy), is a naval aviator in Hawai’i; his younger, Byron (Jan-Michael Vincent), is a Columbia grad and naval reservist who finds himself in Siena doing research for a famous author because he can’t settle to anything else.

This introduces the second thread, Aaron Jastrow (John Houseman) and his niece Natalie (Ali MacGraw). Dr. Jastrow is a Jewish author, which will allow the series to follow in detail the declining status of Jews in Europe, because he is stubborn and flighty, which means he refuses to leave when it is simple and then lacks the paperwork and wherewithal when it becomes difficult. Natalie is…an asshole. I had forgotten. She spends all her time keeping men on a leash and then being unpleasant when they venture to be concerned for her welfare. With a better actress in the rôle, it is broadly possible that Natalie would be captivating and impulsive, but…she’s just awful. Also, people keep looking at her askance because she’s so very Jewish-looking, and that is just insultingly silly.

Through Natalie we meet her distant cousin Berel Jastrow (Topol!), a Polish Jew who documents the early activities of the SS Einsatzgruppen. No one believes him, except Leslie Slote (David Dukes), who is a minor functionary in the US State Department and also manages to be in interesting dangerous places at interesting dangerous times. He’s very in love with Natalie and she treats him like dirt. I like Leslie, possibly the best of everyone, because all he ever does is try his best for people and get no credit. Leslie knows Pamela Tudsbury (Victoria Tennant), a young Englishwoman with a journalist father and an airman fiancé who globetrots around after her dad and incontinently falls in love with Pug. We come full circle!

Apparently no expense was spared in this production, and it was filmed on approximately nine thousand locations. This is a plus, but it doesn’t fix the problem: this was made in the early 80s, when subtlety was unknown and costumes only made a bare minimum of effort. In general, women’s dresses and hats are more or less in the style of the 40s, but in hideous fabrics, and no attempt for verisimilitude is made with respect to hairstyles. Men’s clothes, fortunately, escape disaster by retreating to uniform. The large cast, as usual, results in a quality of acting most generously described as uneven. This is not helped by Wouk’s limited talents as a screenwriter, which pale in comparison to his skills as a novelist.

At about twelve hours, it doesn’t save all that much time over reading the book, and is worse. But it is to be admired for its ambitions and its care.

Stray observations:

  • There is something inescapably 70s about Ali MacGraw, and she doesn’t even try to escape here. Also I think she might be a terrible actress. She’s definitely a terrible Natalie Jastrow.
  • The most affecting moment is FDR’s walk across the gangway to the Prince of Wales to accept Churchill’s invitation to church. Ralph Bellamy is generally excellent in the part.

Director: Dan Curtis
Rating: PGish
Length: 720 minutes
Score: 3/5