Category Archives: Movies & Blu-Ray

“You wanna play rough? SAY HELLO TO MY LITTLE FRIEND!!!!!!”

Scarface

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Multi-Format $19.99 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Pacino, De Palma’s direction, classic line

Cons: Giorgio Moroder’s synth score.

(This review originally appeared in different form on Epinions.com)

In 1983, Brian De Palma was offered the opportunity to direct Flashdance. He declined. Instead, he chose to direct a 1980s re-make of a 1932 Howard Hawks film starring Paul Muni. De Palma made the right decision. While Flashdance has moments (most of them involving Jennifer Beals) that make it worth watching, it hasn’t gone down as a full fledged classic the way the movie De Palma decided to do instead has.

That movie of course turned out to be Scarface. Starring Al Pacino, with De Palma in the directors chair and a script penned by Oliver Stone, the result is a gangster movie that none too subtly comments on the decade of excess.

Scarface begins with some documentary footage of the Mariel boatlift. It is revealed that when Castro allowed Cubans to migrate to the United States in 1980 he didn’t just allow the innocent people who wanted a chance at freedom and opportunity. No, he emptied his jails and mental hospitals. Among those criminals who migrated to the US is a fictional one named Tony Montana (Al Pacino).

We first see Montana scheming his way past some immigration officials. He ends up in a refugee camp with his best bud Manny (Steven Bauer). Opportunity comes his way when he is offered a chance to get a green card for himself and Manny by killing a Cuban who worked for Castro. He agrees and soon has the card. However, his first job is working as a dishwasher at a Cuban sandwich stand. Tony wants the American dream. But he has no desire to do any real work for it. So when offered a crack at the South Florida drug trade he takes it. Before long, he’s risen through the ranks and rules the roost (apologies for mixing metaphors).

Scarface is (like Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas) a portrayal of a man who so desperately loves material wealth that he’s willing to go to any length to get it. But it is way less subtle about this than Scorsese’s film was. It is probably the most over the top studio gangster movie ever made. That alone makes it a classic. The movie is three hours long. But I’ve never been bored while watching it.

If the over the top aspect of the movie is what has made it a classic, it also keeps it from reaching masterpiece status the way the aforementioned Goodfellas has. In that film, Scorsese knew when to go over the top and when to reign it in. De Palma does not know when to reign it in. Subtlety was not in his vocabulary (nor in Stone’s for that matter) in 1983.

Pacino gives what may be the most iconic performance he’s ever given. What makes it work is that he knows when to dial down. He goes over the top 90% of the time and the film calls for that. The other 10% in scenes where he refuses to kill an innocent woman and child and scenes involving his younger sister (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) helps make Montana a real character, not a comic book caricature.

Like I said earlier, De Palma’s direction here is not subtle at all. But that’s not a criticism per se. Unsubtlety is what Scarface needs to really work and he gives it his all. It’s a film about the excesses of the 80s sure. But it still holds up today for a couple reasons. One is the influence the movie has on the hip-hop culture of today, particularly the gangsta rap element. The other is that Tony Montana is not much different from the white collar thieves of today. Take the guns away from Tony and you’d have Bernie Madoff.

The one part of Scarface that has become dated is Giorgio Moroder’s score. The synth beats immediately scream 80s.

The direction, characters, acting by Pacino, Bauer, Robert Loggia and Mastrantonio and Stone’s script combine to make Scarface the classic that it is. Even though it may be a great movie instead of a full fledged masterpiece, it’s still worthy of its status.

“And if you don’t know”, well it won’t tell you anything you don’t already know.

Notorious

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$9.99 at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: Pretty good direction, some good acting by Basset and Luke, the music of cou

Cons: Nothing revealed, rushed feel.

(This review originally appeared in different form on Epinions.com)

When I first saw a trailer for Notorious, my initial thought was “wow they did the Biggie movie pretty quickly. Next up, the Tupac movie”.

Yet I was curious to see it seeing as I own and love both of Biggie Smalls’ albums. Seeing as I like director George Tillman Jr’s work (Soul Food, Men Of Honor) as melodramatic as it can get at times. Seeing as I find myself drawn to bio-pics of musicians I like even as many of them turn out tto e average or bad for every good one.

Yet I missed seeing Notorious during its theatrical run. In fact I more or less forgot about it until about a year ago when I went iinto my local FYE and bought the remastered version of Ready To Die to replace the original (which got stolen from me at a party in the late 90s). After taking the album home and giving it a re-listen for the first time in a couple years, I remembered Notorious. So I rented it from Netflix.

Tillman’s direction is very good here. The film is shot well, there is some good acting and the way he integrates the music into the story is very good. Unfortunately, on the whole, Notorious is a letdown.

First off, this movie doesn’t really tell me anything about Biggie that I didn’t already know or couldn’t just as easily learn from reading his WIkipedia entry. We see him played in a sort of fast-forward fashion. His life is shown and high points are touched on. But we never really get a feel for the man. The movie has a rushed feel, similar to Oliver Stone’s George W Bush movie, although this one is better put together that the Stone film.

As other reviewers have pointed out, the movie doesn’t really show the talent in Christopher Wallace, the drive that made him successful for a brief period in the mid 90s. It depicts what happened to him as being based primarily on luck and while luck did play something of a role, he would not be as well-regarded today if the talent wasn’t there.

On the plus side, there is some good acting here. The best performance is by (the underused nowadays) Angela Basset as Voletta Wallace, Biggie’s mother. There’s also good acting by Derek Luke as Sean “Puffy’Puff Daddy/P Diddy/Diddy/Diddy Whatever He’s Callimg Himself nowadays” Combs and Anthony Mackie as Biggie’s friend turned foe Tupac. This leads to another plus for Notorious: it gets the details of the Biggie-Tupac feud down right as far as I can tell. Jamal Woolard is okay as Biggie. He looks like him. But he never really brings him to life.

In some ways I suspect that the problem might be that Tillman and his screenwriters were not sure how to handle a Biggie bio-pic. It’s easy to forget that Biggie’s time in the spotlight was relatively short. Unlike with a Ray or Walk The Line, there wasn’t a massive wealth of material for the filmmakers to draw from. So in trying to follow the conventional approach, they ended up short-changing their subject.

Notorious is far from the level of a Walk The Line. But it’s ahead of misfires like The Doors and Why Do Fools Fall In Love. But if you want to learn about Biggie Smalls I’d suggest reading the book Unbelievable that this movie was based on. Of course I’d also suggest buying both Ready To Die and Life After Death if you don’t own them already.

The Cinematic Equivalent of “put a little pep in your step!”

Larry Crowne

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$6.22 at Amazon 

(2/5)

Pros: Likable characters.

Cons: Who are all Mary Sue types.

(This Review Originally Appeared On Epinions.com)

Tom Hanks “Larry Crowne” is what a meal at Hooters would be like if the waitresses wore regular waitress clothing. It goes down easy, much like the food itself at that chain. But it’s bland as hell and instantly forgettable.

“Crowne” is Hanks’ second effort behind the camera after 1996’s “That Thing You Do”. That movie, while also relatively lightweight as far as movies about musicians go, at least had some ambition and conflict to it. It wasn’t the edgiest movie ever. But it worked.

To the extent that “Crowne” does work, it’s on account of the fact that the movie has heart. The titular character (played by Hanks) is a genuinely likable guy. We begin the film feeling sympathy for him. The problem is, he’s also kind of one dimensional.

As the film begins we see Crowne at work at his job as a manager at a Wal-Mart type retail store. It;s a dead end job. But it pays good, Larry’s good at it and he seems to like it. Then he’s called to the break room for what he thinks will be his fourth consecutive selection as employee of the month. Instead he’s informed that his lack of a college degree renders him unfit for advancement within the company and so Crowne is sent packing.

Crowne maintains his sunny demeanor throughout this even as frustration is hinted from time to time. In some ways that can be endearing. In other ways, it gets annoying after a while. There’s time where we wish for Larry to cut loose, tell us how he really feels at being fired for what is at heart a ridiculous reason. Instead we don’t see it.

That’s one of the movies main problems: the characters are all what are commonly referred to as Mary Sue types. For the uninitiated that means “Completely flawless and perky”. The only character in here who could be considered a jerk in any way is Bryan Crnaston and he’s a total jerk. No depth to these characters at all.

The most interesting character in the film is George Takei as an economics professor. Takei plays up his Star Trek past in a way that doesn’t directly reference it. He’s easily the most fun of all the characters in this movie.

Crowne, based upon a recommendation from his neighbor (Cedric The Entertainer), decides to enroll at the local community classes. The classes he takes include the economics one taught by Takei and a public speaking one taught by Julia Roberts. It’s in the public speaking class where the romantic subplot gets introduced. Of course we know that Hanks and Roberts will end up together. Never a doubt as to that.

Roberts does nothing new in her role as the put upon teacher with a husband (Cranston) who spends his days surfing the web for porn while he claims to be writing.

Hanks direction here is workmanlike. He’s not a show-off when it comes to his work behind the camera. He presents the story in an easy to follow way, which is appropriate for it. No, the direction is not the problem with Larry Crowne. The main problems have to do with the script.

The premise of Larry Crowne isn’t a bad one per se. The main problem is that the premise is used in the service of what is at heart filler. Consider that Hanks co-wrote the aforementioned script with Nia Vardalos. Vardalos, who wrote the much overpraised My Big Fat Greek Wedding, specializes in writing cinematic bubblegum (and acting in it as well). It’s hard to tell whether it’s her or Hanks who’s responsible for the screenplays lack of conflict and one-dimensionality. At heart, the movie is fun. But there’s limited personality and no depth at all. I strongly suspect that a director like Cameron Crowe could have given this movie a lot more depth and more developed personality.

Larry Crowne isn’t a disaster. It’s entertaining enough to serve as an alternative to bottom of the barrel claptrap. But at heart it’s like the boss who constantly says “Come on people. Put a little PEP in your step!”. When a movie gets like that, most people will have little desire to see it more than once.

“Y’all got cocaine eyes”

Blow

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$4.99 at Amazon 

(4/5)

Pros: Lead performance by Johnny Depp and Ted Demme’s direction

Cons: Penelope Cruz, basic story somewhat familiar.

(This review originally appeared in different form on Epinions.com)

Consider this story: a young man comes from a modest background and aspires to make something of himself as most people do. His father tries to teach him about the value of hard work. But his advice goes unheeded. Instead the young man is attracted to the other side of the law. He soon becomes a focal point in his area of criminal expertise. But this will ultimately lead to his downfall.

That’s the story told in “Blow”, Ted Demme’s 2001 (final) film. It’s an entertaining story. But many experienced moviegoers will note the obvious similarities to works by cinematic masters like Scorsese (Goodfellas), De Palma (Scarface) and Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights).

Similarities to previous masterworks aside, “Blow” is a pretty good film in its own right for a couple reasons. One is superb direction by Demme, The other is a fantastic lead performance by Johnny Depp.

Blow tells the story of George Jung (Depp), who, as the film begins is a teenager living with his parents. His father (Ray Liotta) is a workingman while his mother is very materialistic. Jung sees his father do lots of backbreaking work for little money and does not want to follow in his footsteps. His father tries to tell him that “money doesn’t really matter”. Needless to say, his advice is unheeded.

In 1968, George is a young man who goes to California with his best friend. Out there he takes to lazing on the beach and soon meets some people who introduce him to a new lucrative world, the world of drug dealing.

First off George establishes himself as a mid-level pot dealer. He gets pretty successful at that until 1972 when he gets busted. He attempts to plead innocence with Bob Dylan lyrics and his claim that he “crossed an invisible line with a plant”. His plea fails and he is jailed. It’s in prison where he meets another inmate who introduces him to a more lucrative type of drug dealing, that of cocaine.

After getting out of prison, George attempts to establish himself as a cocaine dealer. And he becomes quite good at it. He has soon built up quite a “respectable” business. This business draws the attention of South American drug lord Pablo Escobar (Cliff Curtis). Escobar and Jung come up with a plan to import cocaine into the US. This is what would gain Jung his infamy, when he helps to establish the cocaine market in the US.

At the time of its release, Blow attracted quite a bit of controversy. Many people, especially those of the social conservative variety, claimed that it was too sympathetic in its portrayal of a drug dealer. I can’t really agree. It shows that Jung did do some bad things. But it never forgot that he was a human being. Plus, let’s not forget that many individual users choose to use the cocaine themselves.

Depp is superb. It’s easy to forget now after all the variations he’s played on Jack Sparrow for the past 12 year or so. But he’s truly an excellent character actor. He plays Jung as neither hero nor villain. But as man with both good and bad points.

Also great in the acting department are Liotta, Cliff Curtis as Pablo Escobar and Paul Reubens as a California drug dealer. However, the film’s weakest link in the acting department is Penelope Cruz. Cruz is pretty to look at. But her character here comes off as shallow and annoying. Maybe that’s how the character was in real life. But her constant screeching grated on my nerves after a while.

Also making the film a cut above is Demme’s direction. Demme, while clearly influenced by Scorsese, manages to make the film his own. He lets the tension in it unfold naturally and the atmosphere perfectly evokes the period it was set in. Also like the Italian American titan, his choice of music selections is well-done.

Blow, while not quite a full-fledged classic on the level of its cinematic forebears, is a well-done cinematic study of a complicated man.

Darkness Coming Down

Taxi Driver

 

$18.46 at Amazon 

(5/5)

Pros: Scorsese’s direction, Schrader’s screenplay, the acting, the cinematography and atmosphere.

Cons: Will get under your skin big time.

(This review originally appeared in somewhat different form on Epinions.com)

It’s a line. It’s one that you’ve doubtlessly heard many times. One that you’ve probably said many times. Sometime when you’re on the phone with a person and they say something and you’re not sure it was directed at you. So what do you say?

You talkin’ to me?

Of course 99% of people will know that line even if they haven’t seen Taxi Driver. That line has joined the likes of “Here’s Looking At You Kid” and “May the force be with you” in cinematic history.

As for the film itself: It would be an understatement to say that it holds up. It did not win any Oscars. Yet it still can be watched and admired (“enjoyed” might be too strong a word to use here) nowadays (I wonder how many people will watch and admire Titanic in 10 years).

Most people familiar with cinematic history will know the background on Taxi Driver. How Paul Schrader wrote the script while going through a time of personal torment living in Los Angeles. How Martin Scorsese ended up with the script after Brian De Palma turned it down. How Taxi Driver became his second collaboration with Robert De Niro after Mean Streets (the movie that put Scorsese on the cinematic map). How the MPAA threatened the film with an X rating for (surprise surprise in this paranoid of sex day and age) graphic violence. How Scorsese desaturated the colors in the scene the MPAA complained about and this made the film even more effective. How Taxi Driver went on to become something of a box office hit (albeit not quite a smash on the level of say Jaws) and a critical favorite. How it got overlooked at the Oscars in favor of a certain boxing movie not named Raging Bull. If not, then that last paragraph was the summary.

De Niro plays Travis Bickle, an insomniac Vietnam vet loner. It’s the insomnia that leads him to apply for a job driving cabs. When we first meet Travis we learn a few minor details about his life. He seems at first like many loners we’ve known, both in the movies and in real life. As the story progresses we see him gradually become unhinged. There have been numerous movies that show the lead character doing just that. Some have done quite well. But few have done it as well as Taxi Driver.

While on one of his runs, Travis sees Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) a campaign worker for Senator Palantine (a senator whose rhetoric mirrors that of then future would be aspirants to public office like Ross Perot and Jesse Ventura). He starts becoming somewhat obsessed with her and starts putting the moves on. At first she rebuffs him. But after a little pushing agrees to accompany him to a movie. Unfortunately, Travis chooses a porno movie and this of course does not go over well. The next woman to figure prominently in Travis’s life is 13-year old prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster). Travis simultaneously becomes obsessed with rescuing her from her pimp (Harvey Keitel) and taking out Senator Palantine.

Up until the late 1960s, early 1970s, movies had more or less clearly established their heroes and villains. Then with the likes of Bonnie and Clyde in 1968 things began to change. The antihero began to emerge.

Travis Bickle in a way is the perfect big screen antihero. He begins the film as a more or less ordinary guy and gradually goes insane (although the movie does subtly hint there may have been signs of that beforehand). What makes him go crazy? The movie shows how the crime and pollution he witnesses around him is a factor albeit not the sole reason. Part of it is also a desire to leave a mark of some kind on the world. In a way by looking at Travis Bickle we also get a look into the minds of real life disturbed lunatics like John Hinckley and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold.

Scorsese’s direction helps keep the tension in the film at just the right level. He knows when to underplay it and when to let it boil over. This is an instinct that has served him well throughout his career.

The cinematography works well. New York city is portrayed as neither heaven nor hell. But as a sort of purgatory. We see the demons all around be they Keitel’s pimp or a psychotic passenger in Travis’s cab (played by Scorsese himself) who talks openly about brutally murdering his former wife. Scenes of driving through rain or seeing the high amount of trash resulting from a garbage strike that affected NY at the time this was filmed help us join in Travis’ descent into madness. Bernard Herman’s score is another of the elements that make this film so effective.

As far as the acting goes, what more needs to be said? De Niro has given many a great performance over the years and some of the weak jobs he has taken recently cannot erase that. This may be his definitive performance. He shows Travis evolve from paranoid loner to crazy man to would be assassin to wherever he may be after the credits roll. Jodi Foster is just as good as the should be innocent girl who’s got a certain sense of wisdom beyond her years. Keitel, Peter Boyle and Scorsese himself are good in their supporting roles. Shepherd is a little wooden here and there. But this does not damage the film at all.

Taxi Driver, in addition to being a landmark of the cinema of the 70s, also opened the door for many of the films that would come along later. Movies like Joel Schumacher’s Falling Down and Neil Jordan’s The Brave One (also with Foster) owe a debt in both style and content to Scorsese’s masterpiece. So if you’re looking for a film with great acting, a compelling story and one that does not pull punches at all, then Taxi Driver is the film to see.

Unsettling fiction-making

In the House (2012)

bed (4.5/5)

Pros: strong script, strong performances

Cons: ending is less arresting than buildup to it

Adapted by prolific French auteur François Ozon from a play by Juan Mayorga, “In the House” (Dans la maison, 2012) is a Pirnadellian dark comedy about writing, invasion of privacy, expropriation and manipulation of the lives of others.

A failed writer turned teacher (Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach) Germain Germain (Fabrice Luchini [Bicylcing with Molière]) is surprised and delighted to find a boy with talent in his literature class, Claude Garcia (Ernst Umhauer). Even what Claude writes for the first assignment in unsettling in subject matter: c

hronicling his success at getting into the house of what seems to Claude (whose mother long ago left his crippled father) a normal family. Claude is helping Rapha Artole (fils—the son) with trigonometry problems, while spying on the mother, Esther Artole (Roman Polanski’s wife and lead in his “Venus in Furs,” Emmanuelle Seigner) and, to a lesser extent the father, hearty Rapha Artole père (Denis Ménochet).

In the House by François Ozon

Claude’s serial stories entrance while troubling both his teacher and the teacher’s wife Jeanne Germain (Kristin Scott Thomas, who not only speaks perfect French but has the look and body language down). The teacher advocates Flaubertian detachment, though the unfolding story is about forming or counterfeiting attachment (from all three Garcias). Jeanne, even more than her husband, assumes that everything Claude writes is reportage of what he does and sees. There are scenes in which Germain scolds Claude within the scenes Claude is writing. Germain presses Claude to find an ending that is unexpected yet after being read feels both satisfying and inevitable.

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This sets a high demand on the screenplay, and for me the ending was inevitable enough but expected (and less than satisfying, anticlimactic). Still, I found the movie more interesting and less repellant than some other Ozon movies (See the Sea, Criminal Lovers, Water Drops on Burning Rocks), though not as good as some others (5×2, 8 Women, Time to Leave), in the league with Ozon’s previous (2010) “Potiche” (in which Luchini played a major part).

In addition to uncertainty about what is fictional in what Claude writes about his embededness (eventually literal) in the Artole house, the viewer cannot be certain what the Germains are reading into the installments they both read and discuss, with Mme. Germain judging the characters while her husband attempts to hold onto judging the writing.

Besides being Rapha’s math tutor, Claude also helps Rapha write an attack on Germain for humiliating Rapha in class (making him read his essay about his best friend, Claude, and then tearing it apart, sentence by sentence). And to ensure Claude’s success in raising Rapha’s math grade, Germain has stolen a math exam and supplied it to Claude.

Yes, Claude has bewitched two households and eventually gets into the apartment of the Germains, where he is not surprised that Jeanne knows the story he has been writing for her husband. Or that she has been disturbed by her husband’s fascination with the sixteen year-old boy, even as she also hangs on the cliff of expectation while waiting for the next installment of his serial (all of which end with “to be continued”).

The other voyeur, the viewer of the movie, does not know if the movie s/he is watching is going to veer into thriller violence or remain a bitter comedy (both Germain Germain and Claude are bitter as well as being aspiring and once-aspiring writers). Teacher tells student he must have more conflict to make an interesting story and then (along with the viewer) wonders how much of the conflict that then occurs in the serial is reportage, how much imagination. That is, how much is writing, how much living the story Claude is telling?

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The Blu-Ray has an hour making-of feature and twelve minutes of deleted scenes, a poster gallery, and a trailer. The trailer may be viewed at

Been there, done that.

Jersey Boys

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$19.54 Blu-Ray at Amazon 

(3/5)

Pros: Superb music performances.

Cons: Overly familiar and emotionally inert

Jersey Boys is a movie one wants to like better than they actually do. The 2014 cinematic adaptation of the long running Broadway play offers up a look at the career of the Four Seasons. The play was a musical complete with singing and dancing numbers. This interpretation is a drama with music. The one traditional musical number is saved until the closing credits.

The music contained in the film is superb. The Four Seasons music, while more dated than that of many of their contemporaries, still sounds good. But it doesn’t have the same cross-generational appeal as that of contemporaries like the Beatles or Stones.

Unfortunately, especially for those who have seen a lot of musical bio-pics, the story has a been there done that feel. Certain elements recall Goodfellas, certain ones bring to mind Dreamgirls and still others evoke The Fighter.

When it was announced that a movie version of Jersey Boys was on the way and that Clint Eastwood would be directing, people wondered whether or not he was the best choice. Eastwood is a great director. But his economical approach to filmmaking would not appear to mesh that well with what a musical calls for. Having seen Jersey Boys twice bears out that suspicion.

Of course that approach explains why this movie version is less a musical than a drama with music. To really get the essence of Jersey Boys on screen, a different director was needed. Bob Fosse would’ve been the best choice. But he’s long gone. So maybe Bill Condon who scripted Chicago and wrote and directed the aforementioned adaptation of Dreamgirls. Or Paul Thomas Anderson whose Boogie Nights crackled and popped with a rhythmic fever. Or the British Alan Parker whose work is often both gritty and lyrical.

The basic story follows the rise and fall of the Four Seasons. Of course, many of the elements are familiar from other musical bio-pics. If you’ve seen Ray or Walk The Line or The Buddy Holly Story or La Bamba or The Doors or Straight Outta Compton, you already have a fairly good idea of what to expect.

What makes Jersey Boys worth watching is the music. A number of Four Seasons songs are performed in their entirety by the cast and those are sunng superbly.

Eastwood for the most part used the same actors who’d appeared in the original Broadway version of Jersey Boys. While that approach backfired in the 2005 film version of Rent (by the time it went into production, those actors were too old to play people in their late teens/early twenties) it works here. You get some decent acting and some very good singing. Plus, the actors are able to slip into the characters more easily than if big name stars had been cast.

So there isn’t really a lot wrong with jersey Boys. It’s main flaw is the aforementioned “been there done that” feeling and the fact that it doesn’t have the musical feel a movie of this type should have. So it’s worth seeing for the good songs. But it isn’t the full-on masterpiece it so desperately wants to be.

It was a dark and stormy 19th century

“The Woodlanders” (1997the-woodlanders

 

(3.5/5)

Pros: Rufus Sewell, Emily Woof

Cons: predictable

Although I have never read a novel by Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), from having watched the screen adaptations of his novels Far from the Madding Crowd and Tess of the d’Ubervilles, I was pretty much able to anticipate the plot of “The Woodlanders” (1997) from very early on. I knew that Grace Melbury (Emily Woof) was going to let her social-climbing father (Tony Haygarth) push her into a disastrous match and that the soulful, yearning Giles Winterbourne (Rufus Sewell) would have his heart broken. Grace was his childhood sweetheart (five years younger than he) and when she returned from school (finishing school?), he expected she would wed him.

Successful timber-merchant Melbury had had his only child polished for a husband of higher status. Dr. Ftizpiers (Cal Macaninch) does not exude Giles’s virility and the emotionally (not to mention sexually!) inexperienced Grace weds him more from a sense of duty to obey her father than any feelings for him.

Giles continues to ignore Marti South (Jodhi May) a young woman whose feelings for him are as strong, if not quite so obvious, as his for Grace, and everyone (even Mr. Melbury) ends up heartbroken. I think this includes the rich widow, Mrs. Charmond (Polly Walker) who seduces Dr. Fitzpiers, though she is not seen after a meeting in the woods with Grace in which Grace refuses to pressure her husband to give up his mistress, more or less cursing Mrs. Charmond “See him as much as you want — until you wish you had never known him.”

Despite her husband’s desertion of her, the new divorce laws do not allow a divorce without physical cruelty, thwarting Mr. Melbury’s efforts to undo some of the damage his social-climbing has done his only child.

Giles manages to die preserving Grace’s honor in highly melodramatic fashion. And despite the timber business, the woods and green hills endure human follies and heartbreaks.

the-woodlanders-2üSewell who often played rascals (Cold Comfort Farm, Carrington) before being typecast as a villain (A Knight’s Tale, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) can also do stolid, like the sometimes flamboyant Alan Bates in John Schleisinger’s version of “Far from the Maddening Crowd” (though that character’s patience is better rewarded than Giles’s is!). Though not a great beauty (indeed, arguable less beautiful than Sewell ca. 1997), Woof delivered a solid performance as the young woman deferential to male authority (however misguided). Macaninch was suitably feckless (and lost in a rural setting) and Haygarth was suitably insensitive to his daughter’s feelings (and, indeed, nature!).

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Production values were BBC/Masterpiece Theater solid, effectively shot by Ashley Rowe (Calender Girls, Hot Fuzz). Producer/director Phil Agland has mostly directed documentaries (including five cinematographer credits along with six other directing ones), most recently (2012) “Baka: A Cry from the Rainforest” (of Cameroon).

BTW, -The Woodlanders_ was first published in 1887, between the more famous Thomas Hardy novels The Mayor of Casterbridge (1886) and Tess of the d’Ubervilles (1891).

Robert Altman increased the length and perhaps upped the ante of “Persona”

3 Women (1977)

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(3/5)

Pros: Shelly Duvall, Gerald Busby soundtrack

Cons: too long and slow and wince-inducing

I find Robert Altman’s 1977 “3 Women” excruciating watching—excruciatingly slow and wince-inducing for all three of the women. The hearty, gauche vision in yellow, Millie Lammoreaux (big-eyed, buckteethed and otherwise gawky Shelly Duvall) does not seem to me to deserve the scorn with which everyone except the new hire whom she shows the ropes and takes on as a roommate, Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek, 27 when the movie was shot and seeming even younger) treats her. Millie is pretty unflappable and/or oblivious. Pinky is naïve and more than a little oblivious. There is little indication what the pregnant painter/barmaid Willie Hart (Janice Rule) notices or feels. She does not say a single word for considerably more than an hour into the movie. Her husband, Edgar (Robert Fortier) is a horndog cad, whom Millie unwisely beds, evicting Pinky from the other bed in the bedroom.

3a

90-year-old long-time director John Cromwell (father of Jason), who also appeared in Altman’s “The Wedding”, was too old to be Pinkie’s father, so her denying it has some plausibility (perhaps her grandfather?). The 72-year-old Ruth Nelson was also (if not as much) too old to be Pinkie’s mother.

Duvall was the only set decorator listed for the film in IMDB, and presumably improvised more than a few of her lines. An uncredited Patricia Resnick (credited for story and screenplay of the later (1979) Altman debacle, “Quintet”) prepared a treatment based on a dream (complete with the two leads) dreamt by Robert Altman, who acknowledged being influenced by Bergman’s “Persona” with its famed mysterious personality switch between two women, the care-supplier and the taken-care-of woman).3Women2

Mildred (Pinky) and Millie may be aspects of a single person, though I don’t see Willie as part of a unity, except the quasi-family at the ambiguous end (I don’t see her as having absorbed the other two).

Altman himself said: “I’m trying to reach toward a picture that’s totally emotional—not narrative or intellectual—where an audience walks out and they can’t say anything about it except what they feel.” And counterpoised to Pinky absorbing Millie, there is a pair of twins at the geriatric facility where Pinky has just been hired at the start of the movie. She speculated that they switch back and forth who they are, though no personality differences between them registers. Sometimes a twin is just a twin

Gerald Busby contributed an atonal, rather ominous-sounding score. And as a pitiable worm who turns, Spacek had just played the title role in “Carrie” the previous year. Duvall was nominated for a BAFT best actress award and won best actress awards at Cannes and from the Los Angeles Critics Association, while Spacek (whom I think is the protagonist of the movie) won a best supporting actress award from the New York Film Critics for her performance. Duvall was runner-up to Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall for the New York film critics.

 

More than a chance of precipitation

The Weather Man (2005)

“Who wants to be foretold the weather? It is bad enough when it comes, without our having the misery of knowing about it beforehand.”       —Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat

Weather-Man

 

[Rating: 3.4/5]

Pros: Phedon Papamichael ‘s cinematography

Cons: piling on frustrations

I found it very hard to get into “The Weather Man,” a 2005 box-office bomb written by Steve Conrad for Nicolas Cage, who plays the title role (with the “stage name” Dave Spritz) and directed by “Pirates of the Caribbean” money-maker Gore Verbinski (who went on to another commercial disaster that was also a critical disaster in “The Lone Ranger” in 2013). Dave is frustrated by the silliness/meaninglessness of his job as a Chicago tv weather announcer with no meteorology education. People in passing cars keep hurling fast food products at him, perhaps not liking the weather or frustrated at its unpredictability or not liking him. Analyzing it, he concludes that food is thrown at clowns and that that is how he is seen.

I find it difficult to believe that a national broadcast could be considering hiring Dave. Nicolas Cage is undeniably a movie star despite his odd look, but a national tv weatherman?

the-weather-manAside from “professional” “success,” he doesn’t really have the tribulations of Job. He alienated the wife he wants back, Noreen (Hope Davis), feels rejected by his successful novelist father (Michael Caine), and his children are somewhat troubled: his overweight daughter Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña) whose peers call her “Camel Foot” and insists on clothes that maker her look absurd and attempting ballet with a totally unballerina figure, and Mike (Nicholas Hoult between “About a Boy” and “A Single Man”) who is in some kind of rehab for some kind of antisocial behavior. One of his counselors (Gil Bellows) wants to bed Mike, who does not respond positively.

houltDave takes over the bow and arrow he bought for Shelly, when she expressed an interest in archery, which leads to some striking images of ice-encrusted targets. In the last half hour, there are a number of beautiful images and Dave’s father makes an attempt to reach out to the son who continues to disappoint him (not for his job, but for inappropriate behaviors of various kinds).

Dave is not likable, especially when he is recognized by autograph-seekers (I think he should be flattered, not least considering what a low opinion of his “profession” he has.) Nicolas Cage is good at puzzlement and at having difficulty keeping his temper; Michael Caine is capable of underplaying. I eventually had to sympathize some with Dave, if more with Noreen, whose irritations with him seem amply justified both before and after their divorce. The acting was good all-around, the writing less so, and the cinematography of Phedon Papamichael (The Descendants, Nebraska, 3:10 to Yuma) exceptionally good.

I think “Quiz Show” with similar father-son dynamics is better, but “The Weather Man” is better than many (probably most) Nicolas Cage movies.