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The Female Animal

A lot of meat for film buffs - not much for regulars
Were a regular movie watcher to dismiss "The Female Animal" as cheap trash, they would not be wrong. However, for movie buffs there's much enjoyment to be had, despite the glaring weaknesses

It's certainly not the plot that holds our interest, nor the dialog, though there are a couple of memorable lines; it's simply the somewhat miscast headliners Hedy Lamarr, George Nader and Jane Powell - whose ages hardly approximate the characters they portray. One needs to have some awareness of their personal lives and careers in order to perceive the added layers of meaning their very presence lends to the film.

Forty-four-year-old Hedy Lamarr still lovely to behold, apparently much aided by various surgeries, was coming to the end of her career, so playing an older movie actress in what seem to be B movies adds much resonance. Her beauty is legendary, but alas not her acting talent which was always a couple of notches below her contemporaries. However she turns in one of her better performances in what would be her last screen role. In the final scene, a nurse tending to her says, "Maybe I shouldn't say this, but I've always thought you were a much better actress than the roles they gave you." It's hardly a line you would expect from the character but clearly something probably Lamarr herself wanted aired. She thanks her and the nurse goes on: "Because the one great thing you have on the screen is believability". She then turns out the light and exits. Hedy rolls over and says, "Believability; I certainly hope so". Hedy's swan song.

George Nader was one of the hunks from the Universal stable. It's widely rumoured that he left Hollywood after being outed by the notorious Confidential magazine in some sort of deal the studios made to save Rock Hudson, his lifelong friend, from the same fate. Some sources claim it was to save Rory Calhoun's career. However in later years Nader emphatically denied all that, though he did say "every month when Confidential came out, our stomachs began to turn. Which of us would be in it?" Whatever the case, he realised he wasn't making much headway in Hollywood and turned to Europe where he enjoyed much success in a series of German films. He was a fairly competent actor and an extremely good-looking one. Physically he was at his very prime at this particular point in his career. He spends much screen time bare-chested, uncharacteristically waxed. Other scenes show him off in elegant evening wear and an extremely tight T-shirt. All in all, his film career was hardly a distinguished one and "The Female Animal" is certainly one of his better moments.

Former MGM star Jane Powell totally discards her effervescent girl-next-door image and plunges into fifties misunderstood daughter a la Rebel Without a Cause, acting out, boozing it up and flinging herself at men. You get the picture. A brave move for Powell, sometimes bordering on the ludicrous.

Jan Sterling in a bit part with some delightful lines also deserves special mention.

What gives "The Female Animal" a certain veneer of class is the work of master cameraman Russel Metty, Douglas Sirks favorite DP. Even someone of lesser talent could hardly go wrong with the likes of Lamarr, Nader and Powell, but Metty, as always, makes them luminous.

Put your critical faculties on hold and join this somewhat odd ride, one I find I enjoy more and more each time I take it.

Not Now Darling

British farce at its best
Farce doesn't film well. There's are very few exceptions to that axiom (Peter Bogdanovich's "Noises Off" (1992) is one of them.) What can be hilarious on the stage often falls totally flat on the big screen. The sheer physicality of madcap farce gets lost as does the frenetic excitement inherent to the genre. Even the classic Feydeau farces "A Flea in Her Ear" (1968) and "Hotel Parasdiso" (1966) failed to deliver the goods, despite their star casts.

Farce became a mainstay of the British theatre where for decades there was hardly a time when some farce wasn't pulling in the crowds in the West End. Noted farceur Ray Cooney enjoyed particular success with a string of hit plays which were performed all over the world and have become staple fare for amateur dramatic societies.

It's seems only natural that a stage success should be put onto the big screen. "No Sex Please We're British" (1973), "Not Now Comrade" (1976) and "Don't Just Lie There Say Something" (1974) were all lame affairs and Cooney's "Run for Your Wife" (2012) bombed.

In the light of that preamble, 1973's "Not Now Darling" is something of a miracle. One of the reason's for the success of the movie is that it is in fact not really a movie at all, but rather a filmed stage play. The wise decision was made not to open it out, something screen adaptions felt obliged to do in an attempt to avoid staginess. Opening out a farce drops the pace which can be ruinous. "Not Now Darling" remains a rare record of British farce at its best.

Cooney was at the top of his game, penning smart and funny dialog delivered here by some true pros, all, or almost all, with vast stage experience, and all exhibiting spot-on timing, First and foremost is the great Leslie Philips, doing pretty much what he always did: the charming cad. He is partnered by Ray Cooney himself, in a hilarious turn. They are wonderfully supported by Carry On stalwarts Joan Sims and Barbara Windsor, together with seasoned stage performers Moira Lister, Bill Fraser and Derren Nesbitt. Rounding out the top-notch cast are the husband-and-wife veteran stage and screen stars Jack Hulbert and Cicely Courtneidge (her last screen performance) who are a joy to behold.

And then there's former beauty queen Julie Ege. No self-respecting sixties farce was without one or more sexy ladies who did little besides show off their bodies. Unlike her co-stars, Ege had no stage experience at all and after a brief and very minor screen career, returned to her native Norway and became a nurse. She had previously been signed to Hammer films who hoped "Creatures the World Forgot" would shoot her to international stardom as their "One Million Years B. C." had done for Raquel Welch. It was not to be. Ege's finest hour on screen is without doubt her appearance in "Not Now Darling". She is stunning to look at and turns in a very competent and funny performance and seems to be enjoying every minute.

Farce isn't for all tastes. While considered a lowbrow genre, done well it clearly demands dramatic skill, impeccable timing, physicality and great teamwork. "Not Now Darling" has all of those and shouldn't be missed by fans of the genre.

The Pleasure of His Company

Absentee dads never had it so good
"The Pleasure of His Company" tells the story of an absentee father (Fred Astaire) who after leaving when his daughter Jessica (Debbie Reynolds) was a little girl, returns a few days before her wedding to Roger (Tab Hunter).

According to his ex-wife (Lili Palmer) "in fifteen years he's written to Jessica three times, he's remembered her birthday twice, and he's never heard of Christmas".

Playwrights Samuel Taylor and Cornelia Otis Skinner take a disturbingly light view of this, and expect the audience to find the absentee dad a lovable heel, despite that after basically forgetting her for years, he's now come back to "rescue" her from the boy she loves by seducing her - there's no better word for it – to join him travelling the world, and stands a chance since his daughter has something of crush – there's no better word for it – on her absentee dad.

The fact that the movie is an entertaining diversion is due to the professionalism of Taylor and Skinner, but more so to some very good performances from Debbie Reynolds, too old for the part (likewise Astaire) and particularly Lili Palmer showing true comic flair. Astaire I found irritating but that might have much to do with his part which is largely caricature.

There is one very short dialogue in which Tab Hunter confronts Astaire about his absenteeism and idle life. They are a welcome, but very brief few seconds of sanity and reality.

Tab Hunter acquits himself very well, showing signs of the actor he could have become. But sadly this was to be his last "A" film. Tired of being exploited by his studio he took the bold step of buying out his contract, in the hope of being offered more serious roles. By that point he had the talent and certainly the looks; perhaps it was the silly name that got in the way.

"The Pleasure of His Company" remains a mixed bag. Worth seeing for the actors, but leaving something of a bad taste.

The Star

Camp fest
To compare "The Star" to "Sunset Boulevard" and "All About Eve" is to do an injustice to those films. They are classics because at their helm were Billy Wilder and Jospeh Mankiewicz, directors of great intelligence and above all great style – qualities blatantly missing in "The Star".

"The Star" has no style whatsoever. All it has is a big star, Bette Davis. Ironically her character boasts having directed more than one director and that's exactly what seems to be happening here. Hers was a talent that needed to be harnessed by a strong director. Stuart Heisler clearly leaves Davis to her own devices and what results is an over the top, campy, mannered performance. Of course her fans will eat it up. But this is not good acting. Its acting that weakens what from the start is not a strongly scripted film.

"The Star" should have been memorable as a film about ageing in Hollywood, an ever pertinent subject, rather than being memorable as Bette Davis camp fest.


An unappealing bunch of caricatures
The feisty tough as nails grandmother is hardly new to the cinema, but at this point in time she can now be uninhibitedly foul-mouthed and lesbian.

At some point we are supposed to make the transition of warming to Grandma whose crusty exterior shields and warm loving centre deep down. For me this did not happen. At the start I found Lily Tomlin's character obnoxious and infantile, (and somewhat of a stretch as an academic and a supposed intellectual) – and by the end of the movie I found her even more obnoxious and infantile.

"Grandma" is peopled with an unappealing bunch of caricatures devoid of nuance or subtlety. This is screen writing by numbers. Pushing all the right buttons, and judging from the positive reviews, succeeding in eliciting the required response. I have always found this approach manipulative and insulting.

Lily Tomlin's performance poses no challenge to her at all. It's an extended sketch. Doing cranky is not that hard. It's a pity, because an intelligently written screenplay and an astute director could have given Tomlin a real chance to extend herself.

The Go-Between

One can understand the BBC's desire to remake "Cider with Rosie" and "Lady Chatterley's Lover", and perhaps even "An Inspector Calls", although the last has at least two fine filmed versions, but their decision to remake "The Go-Between" was a misguided one.

Jospeh Losey's 1971 version is one of those rare occasions in which everything seemed to be right - a top notch cast, beautiful cinematography, a terrific Michel Legrand score and a superb Harold Pinter screenplay. L.P. Hartley himself was moved to tears after seeing the film. So then why remake it? How could it possibly fare in comparison?

This television version does not even begin to complete with its predecessor. Adrian Hodge shows little faith in his audience forgoing any subtlety in his dialogue and general characterisation. The cast are a pale and uncharismatic bunch.

Seek out Hartley's novel and Losey's film – they are masterpieces. Skip this one.

Plein sud

Disappointing to say the least
I would have to agree with the reviewer who judged "Plen Sud" as regressive as far as the work of director Sebastian Lifshitz goes. "The Wild Side" was a fine film and "Presque Rien" simply outstanding.

"Plein Sud" has the feeling of a director out of control and worse a director devoid of vision. The film ambles, has unnecessary musical interludes and is imbued with an off putting vagueness of intention.

Where the film fails most is the lack of chemistry between the players especially between the Yannick Renier and Theo Frilet characters. Liftshitz's previous films abounded with a sense of genuine feeling between the characters. Remove that from a film and not much remains.

There are shots on the beach which are replicas from "Presque Rien" - and in my book that is not a good sign.

There are films which exude a sense of everything going right - sadly, "Plein Sud" is the flip side.

Tomorrow Is Another Day

A Very "A" Class B Movie
"Tomorrow is Another Day" is a B movie; those often looked down upon stepchildren of the Hollywood system peopled with so called second stringers. When a B movie is as good as "Tomorrow is Another Day", one realizes just what an amazing factory Hollywood was in its heyday. Helmed by the not too well known director Felix E. Feist it stars Ruth Roman and Steve Cochran in the leads. They were both dependable performers with a fairly strong screen presence, but here they both turn in compelling performances and indeed carry the film wonderfully. These characters have come from tough backgrounds and as the film progresses we sense them softening as their relationship develops. The transition is subtle and well handled. While the story itself may have its pitfalls, the dialogue is crisp and credible with some of those wonderful noir one liners one comes to expect from such fare. What elevates "Tomorrow is Another Day" so far above its peers is the wonderful work of cameraman Robert Burks. No wonder Burks was often chosen by Hitchcock for his masterly work, ("The Birds" and others.) Despite the modest proportions of this B movie, Burk takes great pains with each shot; selecting interesting and effective angles. It's his work that puts the stamp of class on this movie. While certainly not a classic, the poorly titled "Tomorrow is Another Day" offers a very satisfying movie watching experience.

May We Borrow Your Husband?

Homosexuality is no laughing matter
If you have ever read Graham Greene's short story "May We Borrow Your Husband" you are more than likely to be quite perplexed by this screen adaptation. Greene's story is a fairly breezy affair laced with a biting wit. This screen adaptation is handled in a very dour manner. The credit should rather state "suggested " by a story of Graham Greene since only its bare bones are up on the screen. The whimsical title which is so fitting to Greene's story is totally out of place and should have been abandoned. It is perfunctorily inserted in the opening scene, simply to justify the use of the original title.

Besides taking the starring role, Dirk Bogarde himself had a hand in the screenplay and therein lies the interest of this venture. One senses Bogarde has invested much in this project and to some extent seems to be playing himself. Apparently he even wore his own clothing in this film. A lot has been written about Dirk Bogarde and there have been a number of illuminating film documentaries too. He was a talented, intelligent man, but a man not entirely at peace with himself. The often irritable person we see in "May We Borrow Your Husband" confirms much of what comes across in accounts from those who knew him. Most interesting is his cat and mouse treatment of homosexuality.

In his long career Bogarde was associated with some films containing overt homosexual elements ("Victim", "Death in Venice") and many with a strong gay undercurrent ("The Damned", "The Singer not the Song",. "The Servant", "Darling" – and more.) And yet to the very end of his days, he staunchly refused to acknowledge his own homosexuality. He rose to fame at a time when being outed would have ended his career before it began. One can empathise with the difficulties of having to guard this secret while riding the wave of huge adoration from the British public– similarly to Rock Hudson in the USA. But when the climate of acceptance changed, Bogarde would not budge an inch from his original stand on this issue. He wrote an autobiography made up of seven volumes in which he chose to omit the major story of his life, his 40 year relationship with Tony Forwood. In these writings his lover is portrayed as his manager/driver and is usually mentioned by surname only. There is no hint of this astonishingly enduring relationship.

While being attracted to Greene's biting tale of uncertain sexuality, Bogarde clearly was not impressed by the humor. For him being homosexual was no laughing matter. So what we are left with is this unappealing, ponderous and hugely misguided adaptation.

Fans of Graham Greene are advised to steer clear, but those interest in Bogarde will find much of interest.

The Sea Gull

Chekhov is well served by a stellar cast and a top director
Sidney Lumet has a mighty reputation for adaptations of classic theater to the screen. "Long Day's Journey Into Night" remains something of a masterpiece while "Twelve Angry Men", "A View From the Bridge" and "The Fugitive Kind" are works of distinction. (I have intentionally passed over "Equus" which to my mind was a largely misguided effort).

Like "A View from the Bridge", "The Sea Gull" seems to have been absurdly banished to oblivion. It seems incomprehensible that such a fine film of Chekhov's classic play should deserve such a fate, especially when so many mediocrities are rereleased. The stellar cast alone is reason enough for making "The Sea Gull" available..

Lumet does great service to Chekhov in thankfully preserving the play. The cast is astonishing with all turning in finely tuned and thoroughly convincing performances. Vanessa Redgrave's Nina is luminescent and David Warner brings to Konstantin a palpable intensity. As many critics have noted, the casting of Simone Signoret as Arkadina is problematic since her heavy accent is somewhat out of place, especially when her brother is played by Harry Andrews. English does not come easy to Signoret and some of her speeches are slightly clumsy. Still, overall this does not spoil the film. Arkadina is a prima donna actress and Signoret brings such presence and charisma that one soon forgets the accent.

What more could you ask when a classic play is beautifully filmed, wonderfully acted and superbly directed ? That it should be made available to all who value art.

Einayim Pekukhoth

Small, unpretentious and extremely moving
"Eyes Wide Open" has a wonderful sense of sincerity to it. It's a small, unpretentious film which manages to plunge to emotional depths without being showy or sensational. This restraint imbues the film with much power and conviction in telling the story of a family man whose inner world is torn apart when he falls in love with a young man. What makes this scenario unique is that the milieu in which this is played out, is that of the ultra Orthodox Jewish society in Jerusalem. As with all extreme religions there is of course no place for deviants from the norm.

Aharon, the protagonist, is a deeply religious man searching for truths who has to face the truth of his own heart. In perhaps the most poignant scene of the film, he confesses to his horrified spiritual mentor that he feels he's truly come alive for the first time.

"Eyes Wide Open" is the debut feature film of director Haim Tabakman. It is unusual for a first time director to demonstrate such assurance of style and tone. What would make or break a film of this nature is the quality of the performances. All the secondary parts are well played, but it is Zohar Strauss utterly convincing lead performance which makes the film work. There is not one false moment. This makes the inherent tragic situation an extremely moving one to behold. Highly recommended.

The Blind Side

Shades of Walt Disney
This relentlessly feel good movie strives and succeeds in all it sets out to do. It reassures us all that not only is all well with the world, it really is a pretty wonderful place. Walt Disney would be proud.

Disney's family fare of the sixties portrayed characters as totally one dimensional. The mean were mean, the kind were kind, etc. etc. Characters simply had no inner conflicts or doubts. Audiences, particularly children, found this spoon fed story telling very enjoyable. If only life were that simple.

Well in "The Blind Side" life is that simple. The characters in the movie are unashamedly one dimensional. This good natured family doesn't bat an eyelid about taking in an underprivileged over-sized young black teenager into their smart home. They might as well have picked up a stray pet. Those squeaky clean smiling children take to Big Mike from the projects without a hint of hesitation.

There is nothing wrong with movies reaffirming the basic goodness of mankind. God knows there are enough that have succeeded in proving the opposite. But pandering to the need to believe in such goodness in such a simplistic, needless to say, unrealistic manner is misguided. It's making us feel good at the cost of integrity - and succeeding.

Sandra Bullock does with the role exactly what she's demanded to do and that really is not very much in the way of an acting stretch. We've seen her good nature shine numerous times before. Why this time it garnered her an Oscar is very probably as she herself put it, she

simply wore them down.

A Fine Madness

Despite all - well worth a look
"A Fine Madness" despite being something of a bumpy ride won me over with its well meaning driving energy. It has a certain wild charm about it, but ultimately what really makes it worth a look is the performance of Sean Connery.

Connery clearly desperate to escape the James Bond mould takes on the role of a non conformist borderline nutcase poet with the unlikely name of Samson Shilitoe. Although this might sound like an impossible transition, Connery with his powerful presence and loads of charisma plunges into the role and turns in a riveting performance.

There's also fine support from Joanne Woodward, Colleen Dewhurst and Clive Revill. The only disappointment is Jean Seberg who seems wasted in an underwritten thankless part.

For Connery fans this is essential viewing but others too may be surprised by this somewhat beguiling movie.

Never Fear

Competent and well worthwhile watching if lacking in style
Ida Lupino's place in Hollywood film history is so unique and unusual that it's no wonder there is a general tendency to overate her output as a director Her moving from actress to director with great control over content was virtually unprecedented.

Although Lupino is not really an especially innovative or important director, (would that she were), she most certainly was a very competent film maker and as such should be remembered.

"The Yound Lovers" of "Never Fear" is a case in point. There is a lot going for this movie. The decidedly B cast of Sally Forest, Keefe Brasselle and Hugh O'Brian are completely convincing and turn in strong performances. This story too, is involving and moving making this all in all \ very watchable.

The problem is Lupino's lack of cinematic style. There's little chance you could spot that this was a Lupino work as you may do with Sirt, Siodamak. Lang, Mann and others of note.

Still, she was an important figure and her movies should be watched.

The Rebound

One can only pity the creator's of this bomb for simply getting everything wrong.

"The Rebound" is a movie which tries so hard to be smart, funny, romantic, entertaining and heartwarming but falls oh so flat on its face on all accounts.

I was initially tempted to point out its abundant faults and foibles, but honestly, it simply isn't worth the time and effort. The overriding feeling is one of pity for all involved in such a failed effort.

The fact that it has received some favorable reviews on this site indicates the voracious appetite for romantic comedy, even at this lame level.

Moment to Moment

And she shone like a gem in a 5 and dime store
What makes this rather preposterous movie so highly watchable is its fortunate casting of Jean Seberg in the lead and Honor Blackman in a supporting role. Seberg with her own particular mystique is riveting, even making the absurd story palatable - and that is no easy feat since the plot is risible to say the least. She really is the gem in this 5 and dime store of a movie.

Perhaps in the hands of a Douglas Sirk or an Alfred Hitchcock it could have been compelling. (Seberg would have made an intriguing Hitchcock blonde.) Director Mervyn Le Roy simply does not have the skill to elevate this hokum.

Honor Blackman has the looks and presence to milk the most out of her part but Sean Garrison and Arthur Hill are pretty leaden.

Still it is highly watchable and a definite must for Seberg fans.

The Hireling

Presumption and disrespect
After watching "The Go-Between", author L.P. Hartley cried, being so moved by the cinematic representation of his novel. Had he been alive he may well have cried after watching "The Hireling" for the way his subtle novel had been vulgarized. But Hartley had died just before "The Hireling" was made and playwright Wolf Mankovwitz felt himself free to do as he pleased with Hartley's book. That in itself seems to be an act of great disrespect and worse, his changes are greatly detrimental to the work. It calls into question just what right does one have to so radically alter a work. There is little doubt that Hartley would ever have agreed to this version.

It's a great pity. The bulk of the film is well done, both Robert Shaw and Sarah Miles delivering strong performances. Adhereing to Hartley novel the overall effect would have so much more compelling.

Not only a disappointment, but a great annoyance at the presumption of lesser artists to tamper with the work of their betters.

(500) Days of Summer

Great chemistry wasted on a very, very flimsy movie
Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel are amongst the more interesting actors of their generations. Levitt wisely chooses roles that challenge and as a result he's developed into a fine young actor with great potential for future projects. Deschanel's delightful off centre kookiness somehow does not wear off. They work really well together, which is ultimately what makes "500 Days of Summer" something of a let down. Had their roles been played by lesser talents this movie would surely not have attracted much attention. The chemistry between these intriguing leads is wasted on this very, very flimsy movie.

You may enjoy it as it passes before you're eyes, but the next day you'll most likely have forgotten it completely. Pity.

Julie & Julia

No flies on Julia
Essentially two movies rolled into one. The rise of Julia Child to cooking guru status and the quest of a young woman to cook her way through Child's famous cookbook.

The Julia Child part is as entertaining and fun to watch as you could expect from the likes of Meryl Streep in the title role; no more, no less.

As for the second story, well…… Nora Ephron must have sorely wished to conclude her movie with young Julie inviting her idol and guardian cooking angel Julia Child for dinner. Unfortunately for her, in reality the no nonsense Julia Child clearly wanted no part of this circus. Nobody could pull the wool over Julia's eyes – she was not one bit impressed by some misguided young woman cooking her way through her famous book and reporting on this daily on a blog. How right she was. Even for someone like myself with an interest in cooking, its hard to muster up interest in the spurious and somewhat hedonistic aforementioned quest.

The film wastes Streep's wonderful performance by bogging it down with the irritating and unnecessary second story. Pity. With a different concept, this could have been one terrific movie.

Summer Story

Summer of '82
While a number of Israeli films have become prominent over the past few years, "Summer Story" somehow fell through the cracks. Perhaps its too small, modest and unpretentious. But that is precisely what makes it such a winning, albeit minor film.

As a summer holiday coming of age story, it's a somewhat innocuous sort of "Summer of 82" – sans the melodrama of the original. Well filmed in what seems to be a small farming community, one gets a strong sense of place in which the story unfolds.

There is a genuineness in all the character portrayal, from the leads to the most minor parts, a sure sign of good direction. Coming of age films tend to work or not, on the strength of the protagonist's acting abilities. First timer Costa Kaplan carries the film effortlessly often underplaying his part and creating a real person, facilitating an empathy vital for films of this nature.

Most pleasing is the avoidance of tragic overtones which may have tempted lesser sure hands. On the contrary, the film is imbued with an offbeat if vague sense of humor. The sheer warmth and honesty of this little film remains with one longer than one may expect.

Margot at the Wedding

Watching people act out is not necessarily art
While I was less enthusiastic about "The Squid and the Whale" than most, it clearly had it merits. In particular director Noah Baumbach obviously worked extremely well with his actors, drawing fine performances from all. Its not surprising that actors took note of this new talent on the block. To their credit, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jack Black all worked for way below their usual fees, simply to do this movie with Baumbach.

All three turn in great performances. There's no doubt about that. The thing is when all is said and done, watching dysfunctional families is not necessarily riveting viewing. At some point you ask yourself, do I really need to see this? "Margot at the Wedding" leaves you with very little other than the performances.

Watching people act out is not art. There really has to be more than this.


Maybe not as bad as it gets but a very lacking vehicle
James L. Brook has quite a record. He's often been at the helm of projects in which everything seemed so right, ("Broadcast News", "Terms of Endearment", "As Good As it Gets"). These were all deservedly mammoth hits, (not to mention his TV work on Mary Tyler Moore, Rhoda and others.) In the light of this "Spanglish" has a distinct feeling of a film that just doesn't work. It falters in the vital areas of screenplay and casting. The screenplay is passable, but severely lacking the depth and humor of his previous work. Where "Spanglish" really comes apart in its unfortunate casting. There is a singular lack of chemistry between Adam Sandler and Tea Leoni. They just don't come off as man and wife, neither do their children fare any better. Each of them may be competent, even talented actors, but in this ensemble they somehow fail to click. Sandler, perhaps the last person to play a top chef, should have turned this one down. Leoni succeeds in irritating and completely misses the comic element in her character.

It becomes very uncomfortable to watch them flounder. Give this a miss.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Very much to my surprise....
I am one of those Sondheim devotees. "Sweeney Todd" is up there with my favorite Sondheim works. I've seen it a number of times on stage including some very fine productions.

I have never liked a single film I ever saw by Tim Burton, not one. I have always thought Johnny Depp the most overrated actor of his generation. In the light of this I was not at all pleased to find out that Tim Burton would be bringing Sweeney to the screen and with Depp in the title role.

I thought that I would give this movie a miss but my curiosity got the better of me. Despite my justified misgivings, the film simply works and surprisingly well at that. Burton's cinematic treatment comes closer to the core of the story than any stage production seems able to do. It does this at the expense of the music. In the theater the music dominates in all it's brilliance and beauty. In the movie with its under sung performances, the music serves its function without overshadowing the elements of story or the characters themselves. Depp (sounding much like David Bowie) and Bonham Carter, while vastly different from any Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett you've ever heard, do make it work by giving character driven performances rather than musically informed ones. Mrs. Lovett, indelibly stamped by Angela Lansbury's whackiness becomes far more real with Helen Bonham Carters more nuanced treatment which still manages to maintain a certain comic edge.

It might not be my ideal screen version; I still believe stronger voices are required, (Alan Rickman in particular barely makes it), but its a well made very forceful piece of cinema.

Beyond the Sea

Bobby Dearest - The Kevin Spacey Show
Kevin Spacey, a purported major fan of Bobby Darin goes all the way on this one, he produces, directs, acts, sings and dances, all fairly competently. Unfortunately he also co-writes an abominable screenplay, resulting in a great disservice to Darin. It's as if the screen writers did a quick search on "Bobby Darin", came up with a few lines about his life and strung them together in a shabby, cliché ridden fashion. There's not even an attempt to look beneath what was surely a complex character.

Darin was not a great singer but he certainly had some charm. In "Beyond the Sea" he comes off distinctly unlikable and totally devoid of any charm. Spacey plays him as a constantly petulant and frustrated person. Ironically Spacey, a reputable actor demonstrates a total lack of subtlety in this atrocious script. It would seem he just wanted to show the word that he can sing and dance and that that would carry the movie. The screenplay is merely filler for the Kevin Spacey show.

I recently watched "Pressure Point", a movie from 1962 in which Darin reveals a startling and surprising acting ability. It's a powerful and sensitive portrayal. Spacey, despite his mighty reputation goes for mimicry rather than creating a character. It's a talent he's often displayed on various talk shows. While fun for a few minutes, mimicry cannot withstand an entire movie.

Kevin Spacey can sing. It's a nice surprise and yet it must be said, he has a distinctly forgettable voice and seldom really hits home. The only song in which approaches being a singer, rather than someone who can sing, is "The Curtain Falls". When Diana Ross sang as Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings the Blues" it was not a case of imitation. She's no Billie Holiday, but she is a singer who put her own personal stamp on the music.

Spacey on this embarrassing ego trip surrounds himself with characters so badly written that even veterans such as Bob Hoskins and John Goodman are made to look ridiculous. Others come off even worse.

From watching "Beyond the Sea" one learns a whole lot more about Kevin Spacey than one does about Bobby Darin. Skip this lesson.

As far as biopics go it's up there with "Mommie Dearest".

A Countess from Hong Kong

Chaplin and Brando's blemish - Sophia's triumph
When it was announced that Chaplin was to direct a new film, naturally expectations were sky high. The casting of Brando and Loren further boosted these expectations. To call the final result disappointing is to be kind.

While "A Countess from Hong Kong" does have an antiquated charm about it, it remains an unsightly blemish on Chaplin's career as well as Brando's. Having been away from making movies for a number of years, the ageing Chaplin had lost touch with the media. There's precious little in this film that remotely recalls his genius. It's only the old fashioned and overdone musical score that recall the Chaplin of times gone by.

Those who remark on Brando being miscast in the role insinuate that he was incapable of playing light comedy which simply is not the case. ("Bedtime Story" being a case in point). He simply turns in a very poor performance. He seems remote from his character and from the whole project as a whole.

The real surprise is Sophia Loren. Despite the mediocre material and a wooden acting partner, she is on top form proving to be a terrific comedienne as well as touching in the tender moments. Combine that with her stunning looks and you have the only reason to possibly want to give this one another look.

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