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The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing

Fairly Horrible Movie
It's curious that such a DEAD film can be made about what was considered "The Crime of the Century" at one time. A young Joan Collins is unbelievably lovely as the title character, but plays the role in a humble, eyes-downcast, saccharine-sweet way that, while it may possibly be what Nesbitt was really like, has an unvarying dullness to it.

The rest of the cast is wooden as well, and the entire design of the movie is obviously expensive, yet completely unimaginative. But the real problem with this movie is the script, which not only is too leisurely, but features some of the stuffiest, most phony-sounding dialogue I've heard.

This isn't actual dialogue from the movie (which I refuse to re-listen to), but it may as well be: "Oh my goodness, I thought this room was empty." / "No, my dear, it is not." / "I am sorry that I have disturbed you. I am afraid that you shall think me a goose." / "There is no need to run away, my child. Come here, and let me look at your face. Why, you are most beautiful. Yes, indeed. Most, most beautiful. But, you blush?" ETC. ETC. AD NAUSEAM! Again, Collins is beautiful to look at here (even though the movie curiously avoids spectacular closeups), but she's the film's sole virtue. (And even saying that, her contribution is her physical appeal rather than her acting performance.)

Love Crimes

Fizzle, Not Flame

The truly exquisite Sean Young (who in some scenes, with her hair poofed up, looks something like Elizabeth Taylor) is striking in her opening moments in this film. Sitting in the back of a police car waiting to signal a bust, her face and body are tense and distracted. Unfortunately, once the bust is over Young's strained demeanor never changes. This is one fatally inhibited actress.

One has only to compare Young to the performer playing her coworker and best friend, Arnetia Walker, to grasp what is missing in Young. Walker is open, emotional, and at ease at all that there's no apparent barrier between what she may be feeling and her expression of it. She is an open book. Young, on the other hand, acts in the skittish, self-conscious way you might expect your neighbor to act were they suddenly thrown into starring in a film. Basically, she doesn't have a clue.

With this major void looming at the center of the movie, we're left to ponder the implausiblities of the story. For instance, after Miss Young is kidnapped by the criminal she's trailing and locked in a closet, she breaks the door down when left alone. Granted, she's dressed only in a bra and panties, but in a similar situation, with a psycho captor due to return any moment, would you head for the door...or take the time to go through his dresser, take out some clothes and get dressed? I would guess that this and other scenes are trying to suggest some sort of mixed emotions Miss Young's character is experiencing, but Young can not convey this type of complexity.

There are a few affecting moments in the film, such as the short police interviews with the criminal's past victims, but overall this is an aimless endeavor. It's too bad Miss Young was replaced while filming the pair of comic book style films that might have exploited her limitations with some humor (BATMAN and DICK TRACY), because her floundering while attempting to play actual people is oddly touching. Watching Miss Young try to act, at least in this "thriller", is a sad spectacle.

Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star

Superbly Done
This is an engrossing and faultlessly researched documentary with excellent movie clips. (The montages are GREAT!) I especially liked seeing the bit where you can actually glimpse Crawford playing for a fleeting second with Norma Shearer as her double in LADY OF THE NIGHT in 1925, and the sound clip from her radio recording of Ibsen's classic drama A DOLL'S HOUSE. (It's intriguing that some of her contemporaries have said elsewhere she was surprisingly effective in the plays she mounted with husband Franchot Tone in their little home theater, making us wonder if she might have actually been able to pull off classic stage roles if she'd taken it further.)

I do have to take issue with this comment from the review below, though:

<< I noticed Christina seemed all too eager to bring forth the darker side of Joan -- how she forced the children to do the cleaning, the wire hanger incident, taking over her role in "The Secret Storm" and all I sense from Christina is an incessant need to repeat to the public how nasty Crawford was. The damage has been done already with the book and MOMMIE DEAREST, isn't it time to move on?...It's the only headache in the entire documentary >>

We don't know how much tape the producers shot with Christina Crawford or what else she was asked, all we know is what they finally chose to use. To say that Christina is "still" focusing on that aspect of Crawford's life and should "move on" is like saying that Cliff Robertson is "still" focusing on AUTUMN LEAVES and should do likewise.

When the 20th Anniversary edition of her memoir MOMMIE DEAREST was released, Christina gave many interviews in which she praised her mother's career and effective performances. Those professional issues have never been in dispute, though, and what Crawford's daughter has to offer that's unique is insight into what the star's home life was like at specific periods of time.

Again, this is an extremely well done documentary, giving an excellent overview of Joan Crawford's life.


Most Effective
Although I'm familiar with a lot of movies, it's taken me 30 years to finally see this film from beginning to end. Wow. Greta Garbo is SUPERB in this role, to the extend that it's hard to imagine anyone else playing it. It's like Marlon Brando's performance in STREETCAR; why even attempt to improve on perfection? If you're an actress considering taking on this role, sometime, somewhere, do NOT watch this 1936 version because you'll give up.

(PLOT SPOILER ALERT) Garbo is especially fascinating in this film because she melds so well with the role. She's playing a European from an antiquated time, and certainly there was nothing contemporary about this actress even back in the 1930's and 40's. Her face is so special in its carved, theatrical beauty ("As if it were worked out with slide rules," as film historian Julie Birchill has said), it becomes even more heightened with all the swirling gobs of lace and ruffles and jewels the designer Adrian heaps on her here. Yet she can stand up to simplicity, as well; her most striking dress is a (relatively) plain white satin, cut low across the front and back, exposing half naked, perfectly chiseled bones and what appears to be flawless tawny skin. This woman truly belongs in a museum.

Marguerite's basic personality taps into what we know of Greta Garbo's, too. The character can appreciate a good time, yet has a deeply fatalistic, jaded streak. It's not hard to believe that she's dying, that she is truly generous, erotic, enraptured by fine possessions, or that she can be stirred by love. Garbo plays all of these aspects so faithfully and simply. And underneath many of her scenes, she's also committed to showing that this woman is increasingly sick and feverish; she clutches things and shakes, sometimes subtly and sometimes openly. And while the material can become melodramatic, she is not.

This is a remarkable, very special and timeless performance. It's difficult for me to watch many Garbo films because they're downright silly and dated (SUSAN LENOX: HER FALL AND RISE anyone?), but this is an opulent and deeply felt production that I'll watch again with pleasure.

I do gag on the fact that the story's big, climactic conflict has to do with Camille giving up Armand because her past as a "fallen woman" will cost him a respectable future. ("Don't you realize he will never walk into a room where you would not be welcome?" her potential father-in-law asks, as if this would be some heroic sacrifice for a husband. Who'd want to walk into such a cold, judgmental room, anyway?? Get a life!) Depressingly, it often seems our entire history the world over has hinged in some way on woman's "virtue." What a waste of time! Bleech.

I'm glad times have least a little.

Angels and Insects

Gorgeous, Stately...Mysterious
I remember all the critics raving about this when it came out, but I avoided it because I have to be in a special mood to swallow costume dramas. (I usually just can't relate, and the men are more often than not a tiresome drag, popping out of heavy draperies to shout "Tally Ho, you young rascal" or some such swill. Stow it, Brother!)

I was therefor surprised to find this movie so compelling. First of all, the acting is very naturalistic, especially that of the male lead. (I absolutely loved the pretty, babbling, OBESE mother, always groaning over tarts or berries in cream. What a weird yet perfectly plausible character for the time period!) The strange, brilliantly colored costumes are imaginative and sumptuously designed, with a psychology all their own.

What's really interesting about the film is its subtle, controlled sense of menace. Specifically threatening things don't happen in the story until the final third, but you just know something's festering beneath the surface. Maybe it's because this bloated household is so isolated? I'll definitely watch this movie again. It's made with taste, style, and a creepy intelligence.

The Boys of St. Vincent

Deeply Disturbing, Well Acted
This is an expertly produced film that's truly scary. With its subtle, realistic acting, the situation at the orphanage comes across as chilling, nauseating, and so very, very sad. Henry Czerny gives a stunning, expertly controlled performance as the psycho priest, and what was especially interesting to me was the way in which his character was explored in Part II, set 15 years after the abuse. A dramatist I once knew said that a writer should give "every dog his day in court," meaning that it's far more effective if a villain is shown to have some redeeming qualities or is given a chance to explain their actions. (They're supposed to be actual human beings who believe in themselves and their choices, no matter how sick, after all.) This film differs from the similarly themed "The Madgalene Sisters" in that the sadistic clergy members in that film were painted as black and white monsters. Brother Lavin is clearly a torn man (he weeps while kissing the boys) with probable abuse in his own past, and he's clearly very confused about what love is and is not. This in no way makes his actions acceptable on any level, but it does bring the viewer deeper into a textured situation. I also thought it was brave for the filmmakers to not shy away from frankly depicting the scenes of abuse. The young actors are not exploited or eroticized, but you do see them in the shower with soap suds dripping down them, etc., and since this is a film about a stark sexual situation, not simply cutting away from the physicality of its world makes it all the more more powerful. (Your skin crawls but you can't stop watching, and you truly get a sense of what these orphans are going through.) It's frightening to think that orphaned children are at the mercy of twisted institutions such as this...and sadly, always will be. An extremely memorable film that you'll only want to see once.

The Rapture

Kick Ass Film
I like many different kinds of movies, but this is one of my very favorites because it's among the rare few that really touched me. The film takes on a HUGE subject (the price of devotion) in a very direct and simple way, and truly brought me inside the heroine's world.

I think a lot of us can identify with Sharon's yearning to get something more out of life; I mean, who can claim this is really the best of all possible worlds? (Look around!) The scene where Sharon breaks down after showering in scalding water, weeping that she's tired of all the pain and emptiness, is unforgettable. Mimi Rogers plays the part with complete conviction, and I especially like her glowing serenity in the middle section in which she's saved. (The actress' delivery is occasionally a bit flat, but I actually think that's brilliant. Roger's isn't playing a rocket scientist, just a lost, ordinary woman.) As for the poster who made the brilliant observation that the character "looks just as bored and unfulfilled by random group sex as she is by answering telephones all day," um, that's the point. In the first group sex scene Sharon enjoys herself, yet she eventually leaves the swingers scene when she feels unfulfilled.

I also love the sequence where the born-again Sharon is at work, proselytizing The Word to people who've only called Directory Assistance for phone numbers. ("Well I'm sure you're in a hurry, but don't you think you could take time out to get to know your Lord and Savior?") The scene where Sharon tells her old party pal that she's met a really great guy (Jesus) is priceless as well, and the scene where she's pulled over by a cop near the end and breaks down is extremely powerful.

The film does look a little low budget, especially near the end, but it's a movie about ideas and emotion, not spectacle. It's a thoughtful and thorough film, with an articulate point of view that doesn't judge its characters who enjoy evangelical faith...which is rather unlike the judgmental view of the God we're usually presented with.

Mortal Thoughts

Striking Change of Pace for Alan Rudolph
When I first rented this film (I don't remember it being in movie theaters) I was excited to see what Alan Rudolph, who I associate with looser style character studies, would do with the taut, slick format of a thriller. Indeed, the whole presentation of the film is very different from the funky CHOOSE ME, one of my favorite films. The music, the pacing, the INTENT of the film-making are markedly different from this director's other works.

MORTAL THOUGHTS is not a wholly satisfying film, but I am humbled to say that I was amazed by Demi Moore's performance. I have never sought out a film starring this husky voiced pinup, and have found her off-screen persona to be arrogant and grating. In the big films of hers that I'd seen, I considered her adequate...striking to look at, but slightly mechanical and hollow. Here, playing a working class beautician from New Jersey, her emotions are very real and she has a human warmth and vulnerability. Plus, with the tricky lighting and creamy lenses of big budget cinematography taken away, one can see what a natural, diminutive beauty she really is.

Moore's interaction with the rest of the cast is never false. This is understandable with Bruce Willis (as he was her husband at the time) but she plays equally well with respected "serious" actors Glenne Headley and Harvey Keitel. In fact, in one midpoint interrogation scene in which he's slow coming in on a few cues, Keitel actually seems to be holding Moore BACK! Who would have thought?

Maybe the surprise of seeing Moore be so convincing makes the performance seem stronger than it actually is, but I truly was deeply impressed with her work here. Perhaps playing a woman close to her own roots (Moore was raised in a series of trailer parks) unleashed something in the actress and let her relate to the role on a more personal level. Maybe having Rudolph, who is famous for drawing tender, intimate performances from his actors (see AFTERGLOW!), at the helm is the explanation. Whatever the reason, Moore is a knockout here, and the film gave me new respect for her. She is very affecting, and unforgettable.

The L Word

Why is the acting so bad?
I watched my first episode of this last night at a friend's house (the one where the couple runs off to Vegas) and couldn't believe how blechy and artificial the acting was. This is a major television series, isn't it? Uggh, that blonde girl who plays Anne Archer's daughter is SO annoying! Why does she have that stupid chart on the wall keeping all the relationships in her circle straight; is she a writer? That's the most self-involved thing I've ever seen. And what's with the horrific, messy that someone's idea of how hip chicks do their hair now? Ew. Even Pam Grier sounds flat. When Karina Lombard and Jennifer Beals come across as the most talented member of a cast, you know you're in trouble.

8 Mile
(2002) more, no less
This is actually a pretty mild movie, without much drama. Eminem is sympathetic in the lead role and doesn't embarrass himself as an actor...but what I was most looking forward to was finally hearing his music. (I don't listen to the radio much or buy rap albums.) All this time, throughout all the controversy, people have said, "Yeah, he might want to kill gays and women and cops and everyone else, but he's a GREAT ARTIST." So when we got scenes where this guy raps away in the limelight, I was like...that's it? That's the ART part? What a letdown. I did think the sex scene was erotic, where Brittany Murphy pulls the hero behind some crates to do him at work. Overall, the atmosphere seemed realistic, etc., but not very much happened! Kim Basinger deserved a bigger part; you'd think that since she was onhand and an Oscar winning actress, they'd give her more to do. Guess not. That's movies for ya.

The Blue Lagoon

Island Goddess
I was flipping channels last month when I caught a little of this movie on TV...I must have seen it three times in theaters when I was a teenager. I was SO in love with Brooke Shields back then...there simply wasn't anyone else around who looked like her. Those eyes, that nose, those lips, that skin, that hair!!! And she looked especially great in this film because she basically wore a tan and very little (apparent) makeup. Yes, the dialogue is silly and neither of the leads can act...but BROOKE! BROOKE! BROOKE! BROOKE! When I finally moved to L.A., I ended up at a party she was at once, and my friend said, "Look slowly across the room; it's your idol!" Then my friend said, "Okay, we have to go outside now. Your eyes are actually starting to tear up. She's going to think you're a stalker." I guess it was truly endless love.

Charlotte Gray

Stop picking on lack of subtitles!
I was actually glad they didn't signify the scenes set in France by having people speak French with subtitles underneath...I mean, we get that we're supposed to be in France, right? A little French accent and suspension of belief is fine. Besides which, if they HAD used subtitled French, at some point there'd be some fakey scene where the hero would say, "Let's all vow to practice our English with Charlotte!" or something, and then they'd all be speaking English anyway. We're adults; just cut to the chase.

Choose Me

Really one of my favorites
This film has always struck a special chord with me, although not all of the friends I've recommended it to over the years have liked it. I think you have to be a city person who's gone through some hard knocks in love to really embrace it. The scenes featuring Rae Dawn Chong aren't so special...(she's the weakest link)...but the scene where Bujold chats with Carradine after sex while getting dressed for work, the scenes with Dr. Love on the radio, the scene where Warren comes home from work to find that her roommate has stolen her boyfriend...these all have an immediate, bittersweet quality that's very haunting. Overall, the acting is flawless, and the whole film is an original. I only wish it were longer.

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Okay, this is an awful movie . . .
It's sad that after going to all the trouble of assembling this elaborate, magical world on the other side of the globe and then gathering an enormous cast there for an entire year to film it, that no one in charge of this movie had the sense to structure a decent script for it all to rest on. I guess if you're a fan of the book, simply seeing it come to life in any form is interesting, but for the rest of us....what a snooze-fest! The four hobbits have practically interchangeable personalities, (except that one of them is quieter than the others and looks like Winona Ryder), the crown prince and that other tall guy on the quest look identical, and the whole thing takes itself SO SERIOUSLY! The story becomes tiresome because it's the same predicament playing out over and over and over, ("We're in trouble!" / "Run!"), and you just have to accept that the plot unfolds the way it does because that's how it happened in the book. For instance, at one point Cate Blanchett encourages Elijah Wood to look into a magic mirror that lets him see the future. (Actually, it looks more like some sort of magic birdbath.) But why does she even care what he sees? The special effects are sort of pretty, but aside from that, this is a looooooooooooong movie for Tolkien fanatics only.

The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean

The revelation here is Victoria Principal, of all things...
This whimsical western is a mixed bag, though I was slightly distracted throughout waiting for the appearance of a young Victoria Principal. Only knowing her "work" from FANTASY ISLAND, DALLAS and EARTHQUAKE, I expected her to be hopelessly flat in the company of higher echelon performers like Paul Newman. Well, was I ever shocked and humbled to note in the closing credits that our Miss P. had slipped right past my poised-to-be-nasty laser vision by slipping seamlessly into the role of Judge Roy Bean's young Mexican mistress. Principal is mellow, charming and realistic in the part, coming across like a more talented Claudia Cardinale. After making a debut like this in a John Huston film....WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED???

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