efitness

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Reviews

Witness to Murder
(1954)

I saw what you did / you're imagining things. Ad infinitum
Like a horror movie that requires the potential victims to be hollow-headedly dumb and virtually serve themselves up to the serial killer, the entire plot of this movie is hinged on frustratingly inept police work. Even for the LAPD these guys are a pretty lazy bunch; expecting a person to supply all the evidence and proof of a case before reporting it.

Barbara Stanwyck sees Nazi-neighbor George Sanders commit a murder in his apartment and tells the police a totally plausible, non-sensational story (in that level-headed, Stanwyck manner). Pretty much based on a landlord's claim that Sanders is a model tenant, two alarmingly disinterested cops just assume that because there is not a dead body for them to trip over and Sanders doesn't just blurt out "Yes! I did it, I did it!", that a murder couldn't have possibly taken place.

What follows is a very drawn out drama of Stanwyck going to the police with her assertions only to be patted on the hand and told to "calm down." Though Sanders makes for an impressive villain and Stanwyck is always wonderful, the plot has nowhere to go because the cops (Gary Merrill and Jesse White) regard evidence not as something you investigate, but something that jumps out at you and lands in your lap.

It ultimately gets too repetitive and tiresome with the deck so stacked against Stanwyck that you just know everything will work out in the end. The writer just doesn't try hard enough to make plausible everyone's lack of belief in Stanwyck's story.

A pleasant enough film if you imagine it to be an episode of one of those anthology TV shows like "Thriller," but very disappointing given the cast.

The Big Bus
(1976)

The bus gave a moving performance (a joke as bad as any in this film).
The saying goes, dying is easy, comedy is hard. You ain't kiddin'. About 30 minutes into "The Big Bus" I was wishing for death. A spoof of disaster films that was made when disaster films were still popular, "The Big Bus" is one of those films that keep your interest because you keep searching the actor's faces to see if they betray any trace of the desperation that must come from trying to make the most of terrible material. When a film is as boring as this, you have a lot of time for random thoughts: I watched a puffy-looking Stockard Channing (resembling 70's era Elizabeth Taylor) and wondered how she managed the magic act of salvaging her career after this; Sally Kellerman performs as if she's in a funnier film than the one I'm watching; I wonder why all of Lynn Redgrave's scenes fall so flat; I speculate over what sort of nepotism or deal with the devil resulted in the casting of the hammy and thuddingly unfunny Stuart Margolin; I think about the studio contract system and the feckless charm of John Beck; I try to count how many films in which Ruth Gordon did the same "foul-mouthed granny" bit ... anything to keep me from paying attention to how ugly this film looks (It was so flatly lit, I thought it was a Universal film) and how badly I wanted it to end. Comedy is so subjective and personal, I totally understand that some people may find it hilarious. I'm just in the camp that didn't laugh even once. View at your own risk - it may become your favorite film, or, like me, you may want to scratch your eyes out at the 30 minute point.

The Informant!
(2009)

Boring, yes. Pointless, yes. But more annoying than anything else.
Like the ad campaign that suggests the wide-eyed nerd of "The 40 year-old Virgin" and the oh, so ironic soundtrack and title fonts, everything about "The Informant" tips its hat too heavily and feels belabored and clueless. I get it that we are seeing things somewhat from the skewed perspective of the pathologically lying protagonist Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) who fancies his megalomaniacal personal greed as rooted in a desire to do the right thing and bring down the price-fixing corporation for which he is the vice president. Whitacre sees the unfolding of events as if he were in some kind of delusional corporate spy flick, ignorant of his own string-pulling and illegal activities.

What escapes me about this venture is how Steven Soderberg thought it was a good idea to play the whole lying escapade as a comedy. Casting in the supporting roles a large roster of individuals known for comic acting rather than dramatic (Patton Oswalt, Dick Smothers, Joel McHale) makes the film feel more smart-ass than hip, as each escalating lie that gets unearthed about Whitacre is greeted with the kind of looks normally reserved for "Dennis the Menace" when caught in a fib.

I find guys like Whitacre scary and dangerous. The film treats him like he's nothing more than a self-defeating scamp. That tone is way out of touch with the average person's experience unless that person is a sociopath. Hollywood is always being accused of being out of touch,but in this case the accusations are right. Who thought it would be a good idea to make a film that invites audiences to laugh at a film about the kind of corporate greed that brought this country to its knees. Sure, you can say "The Informant" is the blackest of black comedies, but it doesn't come off as satiric. It comes off as blandly clueless. I don't care how charming Matt Damon is, no one in his right mind is going to want to spend more than 20 minutes in the all-white corporate environs of this film and find his character anything less than a despicable weasel. The "Ain't this guy something?" head-shaking tone of the film needs the distance of time. In this recession, I'd rather watch a totally escapist film or comedy with a conscience. "The Informant" is the kind of comedy made by snide, super-rich people in Hollywood for whom this whole recession is nothing more than a bunch of anecdotes to mine for stories. UGH!

Piranha 3D
(2010)

I actually sought this piece of garbage out...so I guess I deserve what I got.
I am a big fan of 70s exploitation pics, but it burns me when contemporary filmmakers assume they are so above the genre that they think they can assemble the basic components and come out with a superior product. As lousy as the original "Piranha" was, the remake (which wastes millions in the process) is 10 times worse. The only entertainment I got from this embarrassingly inept film was in reading the raves for it on IMDb. Seriously, anyone giving this film 10 stars has to be a kid or a cretin (or both). Bandying around words like "fun", "escapist", "spoof", "homage", etc. doesn't absolve a film from making basic narrative sense. "Piranha" is a gimmick that forced itself to be a film. And a bad one at that. Not funny, not scary, not suspenseful, not competently made (the CGI looks like the cartoon in "Xanadu") not interesting, not even remotely ambitious enough to even be the kind of Z-grade entertainment it professes to be. It's merely the visual representation of the lack of respect Hollywood has for the intelligence of modern audiences. A moronic film for what it perceives as the moronic masses. The film made millions...nice job of sizing up the public's appetite for crap, Hollywood. If this is all the public needs to make them happy, I guess I see your point. Why bother even trying to make good product? Not when there are many who actually rate this dreck as "the best film I ever saw!" God help us. The inmates have taken over the asylum.

Method
(2004)

No method to this madness
Three stars for the gorgeous Elizabeth Hurley in her fetching white outfits, but that's about it. After seeing "Method" I can understand why I never heard of the film before. This hodge-podge thriller is off the mark on so many levels it makes the head spin.

First off, if you're going to take the chance of showing us a film within a film and attempt to illustrate the subtle differences and similarities (a la "The French Lieutenant's Woman"), then you need actors skillful enough to show us the difference between their "acting" and their real selves. Pretty as she is, Hurley is a terribly inexpressive actress (the film gets points for having someone actually say on screen that she can't act) and is so bad in the period film sequences you'd like to believe it's intentional, but I think not. Jeremy Sisto's acting style consists exclusively of lowering his chin and looking up at everybody, hoping, one would assume, that this conveys some kind of brooding intensity. Unfortunately it only makes him look like Tony Perkins in "Psycho." Sisto should also take it easy on the eyebrow tweezing...they look exactly like Hurley's.

The plot (a troubled actress becomes too immersed in playing the role of a serial killer) is too convoluted by half - leisurely when it should be tense, abrupt when we could be helped out by some exposition. Really didn't like the film at all but can't say I minded looking at Elizabeth Hurley and that ever-adorable hunk John Barrowman

Deep End
(1970)

Travis Bickle: The Teen Years
I'm all for films with unique, personal perspectives of the seamier side of life, but I'm baffled at reviews that describe "Deep End" as a coming-of-age story. Only if the boy coming of age is Norman Bates. This look at the disturbingly creepy fascination a 15 year-old bathhouse worker (John Moulder-Brown) develops for his hardened but lovely co-worker (Jane Asher), "Deep End" struck me more like "Taxi Driver: The Teen Years."

I haven't read much that details the film as a psycho-sexual drama that depicts the gradual unraveling of an already damaged teen's psyche. Sort of a non-sensationalistic / art house "Who Killed Teddy Bear." What I have read are baffling accounts as to how the film so accurately captures male teen sexual awakening. Yikes! I don't care how many hormones are raging, the young man at the center of the film is not just your average adolescent with an obsessive crush on an older co-worker. He's nothing short of batty from the first frame. He's exceedingly socially retarded and hasn't the coping skills of a four year old. What I think is supposed to be the awkward first steps of sexual attraction are so downright odd that he comes off every bit like a sexual predator in training.

I simply found it impossible to relate to the played-for-laughs creepy antics of the lead. He's not love struck, he's dangerous.

Adding further to the intentionally distasteful vibe of the film is the perhaps unintentionally pervasive air of misogyny that hangs over the entire film. I know we're supposed to be seeing the world through this boy's eyes, but the women in the film are portrayed unvaryingly as: whores, teases, users, terrifying, or grotesques.

I think the skill of the director and the natural performances he has extracted from his cast has created an "Emperor's New Clothes" situation here. "Deep End" is decidedly accomplished in creating a seamy view of London akin to what Scorsese would do later in "Taxi Driver", but however well- observed, no one should take this look at a budding sexual psychotic as an image of puberty run wild. Not a love story and not a story about sex. It's a horror film.

Funny Lady
(1975)

Grumpy Lady
Watching "Funny Lady" always makes me laugh. Not because it's particularly humorous (the only scene I think that works for humor is Streisand's hotel room shout-fest that follows Billy's disastrous opening night), but because each time I see it I am reminded of the one-sentence review a friend gave it back when it opened in 1975: "Why did they call it 'Funny Lady'? They should have called it 'Mean Barbra'!" Indeed, Streisand seems to be in a constant state of pique throughout most of the film's 2+ hours. (It's well known that she didn't want to do it and had to be sued to take on the job.) Fanny Brice has indeed grown up, and in place of the ambitious but lovable "Funny Girl" from the original, we have a scowling, foul-mouthed, perpetually angry and upset harridan in anachronistically overdone gowns.

"Funny Lady" exists because "Funny Girl" was a success. There is really nothing going on in Fanny's adult life that warrants the mammoth film built around it. She has no emotional mountains to climb (unless you count the need of a Nicky Arnstein detox) and Billy Rose is not the love of her life, so what do we have? We have the Barbra Streisand show. A musical and costume fix for Streisand junkies, but not much of a movie.

I like Streisand a lot, but here her face looks hard and mad all the time and she seems to be striking one pose after another in her extravagant costumes that bear that unmistakable Bob Mackie stamp that recalls the look of every 70s Vegas revue. It's kind of entertaining to see such an abrasive Fanny Brice, but scene after scene of her being bossy and telling musicians and producers how to do their job, you kind of lose the feeling this is Brice you're watching. It's Barbra.

All that being said, the movie is somehow so light and inconsequential that it is rather watchable. It requires absolutely no brain work on your part and just asks you to sit back and admire Barbra for a couple of hours. Which, even in her caustic mode, is pretty easy to do.

James Caan is pretty good but miscast as the teeny-tiny Billie Rose, and poor Omar Sharif is hung out to dry as Fanny's punctured romance, Nick Arnstein. They really don't give him much to do.

So, if you like your Streisand hard edged, singing up a storm, decked out like a Christmas tree, lovingly photographed and serving up ample glimpses of bosom and behind, perhaps "Funny Lady" is for you. If you're looking for a really good movie, better rent "Funny Girl."

For Colored Girls
(2010)

Perry's best and most accomplished film to date...but lacking
I'm a little torn in this review of "For Colored Girls:" one part of me wants to criticize the film for what it isn't and the other is determined to sing its praises for what it tries to do. It's no secret that Tyler Perry needs to grow as a director. His prodigious and profitable output has been very uneven. But while directors like Eli Roth (the dregs), Quentin Tarantino (self-referential) and Edward Burns (about as weak as Perry) are equally weak, in my eyes, mainstream critics always seem to cut these guys some slack...taking note of their growth, acknowledging their efforts, failed or otherwise, and encouraging us to stick with these guys, noting that their work is sure to improve.

In a world where even the director of the knucklehead "Jackass 3D" is treated kindly by critics because he aimed for and appealed to the lowest common audience denominator, I find it hard to rake Tyler Perry over the coals for: 1) adapting a project no on else in Hollywood seemed interested in doing; 2) proving meaty roles for a phalanx of underutilized actresses of color (many of them over the age of 50); consistently making movies about humanity and values when so many of his peers (Roth, Tarantino and the cretins behind the "Saw" franchise) would make their millions wallowing in torture porn and brutality.

Ntozake Shange's play required a director with more cinematic virtuosity than Tyler Perry. The flat visuals don't do justice to the poetry of the words. Indeed, artistry along the lines of the film's internet ad campaign is in order on screen. The film ultimately falls upon the shoulders of the actresses, and they are all rather wonderful in varying degrees. There are some powerful, moving scenes, others come up rhythmically short or fall victim to Perry's rather endearing tendency to make sure that the evil are punished or have their comeuppance before the final credits.

"For Colored Girls" is flawed but is far from a failure and is Perry's most accomplished film to date. The film encourages me about what Perry is capable of should he ever relinquish a little of his control (no one as artistically limited as he is should write, direct AND produce...he needs collaborative input) and grow into the artist I think he can be.

Clint Eastwood had to make several weak films before he was capable of directing a classic like "Unforgiven." I would love to report that "For Colored Girls" is a classic, but it is mostly a modest triumph. But watching it, you do get a sense of what Perry can grow to become. I'll be looking forward to seeing his progress.

Alex in Wonderland
(1970)

Does anyone really care about the problems of film directors? Ask Fellini.
Contemporary audiences who wonder how loony, "What were they thinking?" early 70s Hollywood studio disasters like "Myra Breckinridge" were ever made would do well to take a look at "Alex in Wonderland": a near anthropologic look at the confused atmosphere that was Hollywood in the 70s.

Donald Sutherland (looking alarmingly like "Myra Breckinridge"s latter-day hippie director, Michael Sarne) plays a young, hot, filmmaker of the sort Hollywood was blindly courting in the years following "Easy Rider." With the entire industry opening up their doors to him to do whatever he wants, Sutherland is hamstrung by his inability to latch onto what his next film project should be. Torn between a desire to do something meaningful and yet still operate within the "system" of Hollywood success, Sutherland, through a series of fantasies and vignette encounters, grapples with the very real possibility that he really hasn't any more depth in him than the Hollywood hacks he derides, and that his half-hearted hippie-era beliefs bring him no closer to happiness or self awareness than anyone else.

There is much to dislike about the structure of "Alex in Wonderland" (riffing on Fellini's "8 1/2", the film is mired in too many 70s era movie clichés), but I enjoyed how it shined a refreshingly candid light on that point in time when Hollywood was so unsure of itself that it was handing over millions to any and everyone calling themselves a "director" so long as they were young and espoused a "now" and "with it" philosophy. It implodes the romanticism that shrouds Hollywood's most recent "Golden Age" and provides a well-observed character study to boot.

If there is a problem with Hollywood films about Hollywood, it's that those involved (understandably) take the business of making movies so very seriously, but most of us average folks find it hard to identify meaningfully with individuals who agonize and fret in palatial homes and near-perfect weather, while producing for the most part, escapist (sometimes willfully mindless) entertainment motivated principally by the desire to make enough money to buy even bigger palatial homes.

A Matter of Time
(1976)

The Oscar curse struck Liza pretty quickly, it would seem
It took Merchant-Ivory several decades before they were able to reassemble their original cut of 1975's "The Wild Party" after American-International Pictures butchered it. Vincent Minnelli's last film, "A Matter of Time" suffered a similar editing fate at the hands of the almost pathologically self-destructive American-International, but I seriously don't think choppy editing is the only thing wrong with this film. Nostalgia aside, Minnelli was clearly losing his touch and his later films doggedly ignored the reality of film styles changing. "A Matter of Time" looks like it was made in 1956, not 1976.

Hamstrung by very very bad and intrusive post-dubbing that makes all the actors sound like robots and the dialog ring like clanging tin to the ear, "A Matter of Time" also boasts some wildly uneven performances, questionable aesthetic choices (that's an awfully tailored suit for a peasant girl to be heading off to Rome in, and what's with Ingrid Bergman's raccoon eyes?) and a storyline that is not nearly as interesting as the director seems to think.

This one-time-only collaboration between Liza and her esteemed father provides Liza with one of her worst screen performances ever. All wide eyed and photographed unflatteringly (the camera is kinder to her in "New York, New York") Liza plays a mousy chambermaid in 1946 Italy who comes under the wing of a batty Countess (Ingrid Bergman) who, through her reveries and ramblings, inspires Liza to be a swan. Aside from quick flashes of her flawless comedy timing, Liza's performance has virtually no emotional authenticity.

The countess' life is presented as an example of one lived fully, but honestly, the film plays like a cautionary tale against wasting your youth coasting by on your looks and latching onto talented, rich men without ever developing any talents or riches of your own.

The acting is all over the map, the characterizations are inconsistent, plot points are distasteful (what's up with the screenwriter character and his rape movie?), and the songs by Kander and Ebb are most unfortunate (though the musical score by Nino Oliviero is terrific). Even the much beloved "Do it Again" sequence, the lone flash of inspiration in the entire film, is marred by Liza in a black Little Orphan Annie wig and groaning embarrassingly and making bug-eyed faces while conveying sexual ecstasy.

The one thing that seemed to keep Minnelli's attention is the art direction, which is sumptuous.

Even films that are grand miscalculations can be interesting, and while not very good, "A Matter of Time" is certainly fascinating for its cast, missed potential and flawed legacy.

Wise Blood
(1979)

Over-reverence for the original sinks adaptation
When novels are adapted by writers who know the book so well that they are unable to see past their familiarity to judgeif the screenplay stands on its own as a cohesive, compelling story with three acts and understandable character motivations, the result is something like John Huston's "Wise Blood." A movie so academically faithful to its source material that it fails miserably as a motion picture that makes any narrative sense.

As a companion piece to Flannery O'Connor's novel, it is a fine visual representation of the characters and events recounted. As a stand alone film, it virtually makes no sense and things happen only because the book says so, not because the film gives them any organic reason to.

I defy anyone who hasn't read the book to make any sense out of the character of Enoch Emory. Likewise the origins of the matrimonial feelings of the boarding house landlady. Both parts are well acted, but the writers leave in all the novel's "business" and are hamstrung at finding a way to convey the motivations behind them.

The best things about the film are Brad Dourif and Amy Wright. Dourif especially works miracles with a character that is underwritten on the screen but vivid on the page. In fact, most of the cast works extremely hard to bring some humanity to their characters, but they are ill-served by a script that fails to understand the special considerations required of telling a story on film and telling one on the page. The screenwriter obviously held O'Connor in such awe that he was afraid to do any thinking on his own.

Dark Mirror
(2007)

All Concept, No Brains
Few things are more frustrating than a horror film that fails to do right by its premise. "Dark Mirror" has a lot going for it initially: an earthy, expressive lead actress (the wonderful Lisa Vidal), a contemporary haunted house plot with lots of potential, and a cast of strange neighbors and red herrings. Unfortunately, after a pretty good start that has Vidal, her dull, stiff of a husband and their bland son moving into a new home and things going wrong right away, the movie develops a case of "the stupids."

Vidal and husband clearly have some domestic issues they're working through, but to goose up the suspense the writers see fit to have him doubt every little thing she says from the start to an annoying degree. "I know that woman!" Vidal says when she sees the face of a missing person on TV. "Are you sure?" says supportive husband. What? Wouldn't the natural response be something like "Really, you met this woman? Maybe we should tell someone." I know he's supposed to think she is losing it, but we as an audience need some normalcy before they jump into later plot points that should develop over the course of the film.

As the film progresses and the wife grows increasingly certain that the house is haunted, the number of these kind of exchanges grow tiresomely frequent.

Another complaint: The movie can't make up its mind what it wants to be and as such makes little sense. Part ghost story (what's with the ghost mom who is of no help?), part sleuthing mystery (the story behind the former owners of the house not only remains unsolved but the motivations don't connect with the puzzle), and what's with the Chinese spirituality and its complete lack of connection with the mysterious artist theme and her Latina roots?

SPOILERS

As "Dark Mirror" moves towards its big reveal in the latter scenes, the overall shock is undermined by the dumb actions of the characters. The husband suspects the wife is losing her mind and possibly a homicidal maniac, but he thinks nothing of leaving their defenseless and easily spooked child alone with her as he puts in fourteen hour work days where he apparently keeps his fingers crossed that she won't murder any of the neighbors before he comes home.

Also, the cops in their neighborhood are so inept they must be the LAPD...several people die within feet of this household and no one questions the housewife who is there all day and might have seen something. Really, at the end there is this laugh out loud scene when an inspector enters a bloody bedroom, examines the damage and then has to have the blood trail pointed out to him...a two foot wide trail of blood virtually blocking the entryway he obviously had to step over to get into the room. Incredible.

On the plus side, I gotta say I can't fault Lisa Vidal with anything. She is a wonderfully natural actress and actually makes her virtual nothing role into something interesting. She is the only reason I was even motivated to stick around for the conclusion.

"Dark Mirror" is just another one of the recent slate of horror films that are all concept and no brains.

Down to Earth
(2001)

An Embarrassment
I am a big fan of the film "Heaven Can Wait" and I also like Chris Rock (I thought), but this movie shows a strangely charmless side of the comedian when he really needs to be likable for this film to work.

A misconceived idea from the get-go, "Down to Earth" at least would have worked comically if it had emulated that old Lily Tomlin/Steve Martin soul-switching comedy, "All of Me." In that movie the filmmakers understood that the comedy is to be found in seeing both sides of the soul switch. An old white comedian should have been cast as the body that Rock inhabits (Steve Martin or Chevy Chase)and the comedy would come from Rock doing what he always does and from seeing a white guy acting like Rock. Seeing Chris Rock essentially just be Chris Rock (he is a HORRIBLE, expressionless actor to boot) throws the comedy off-kilter. We rarely see the white body he inhabits and no humor is derived from his having to navigate his youthful self through a puffy, 53 year old body.

It's like it was made by people who had no training in comedy before. Don't they know that filming someone saying funny things and cutting away to people laughing uproariously is a killer of comedy? Don't they know that comedies of misunderstandings and mistaken identity require consistent points of view? I started the film with high hopes but it grew dumber and dumber as it went along, blithely missing every opportunity for real humor. And don't get me started on the "romance". Regina King is wonderful but Rock is such a limited actor that she has nothing to play off of.

By the time they got around to recreating the finale that is so touching in the Beatty film and so embarrassingly flat here, I had had it. A totally valueless film and probably not a very smart premise to start with.

Zee and Co.
(1972)

Susannah York's shag haircut upstages impressive cast
"X, Y & Zee" is a timepiece from that awkward, transitional period in Elizabeth Taylor's career when her legendary Hollywood glamour began to give way to a more earthy blowsiness. Unfortunately, her film choices during this phase suggest a disinterest in doing any actual acting and more of a penchant for taking on roles that suited her personal needs (exotic locations, proximity to husband and family, size of paycheck, etc.)

If the title "X, Y & Zee" suggests a love triangle, then you'll know all there is to know about this colorful but airless game of sexual one-upmanship where the clothes and decor are more interesting than the people inhabiting them. Two years later Hal Ashby's "Shampoo" would skewer these amoral, directionless types more entertainingly.

Perhaps thinking she had a mod, swinging London update of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" on her hands, Taylor as Zee once again allows herself to be cast as the braying, shrill harpy to a weak, watery-eyed husband (the always charming Michael Caine). Taylor and Caine have one of those functional dysfunctional marriages that are probably an accurate representation of what comprise many so-called happy marriages. Regrettably neither performer is able to make me believe that they were ever a couple in the first place. They just don't fit. That wounded hound dog Richard Burton would have been much better.

Anyhow, things get shaken up pretty quickly once Caine sets eyes on pretty, husky-voiced boutique owner, Susannah York and starts romancing her right under Taylor's heavily made-up nose.

As the trio uncomfortably navigate the decidedly choppy waters of love and sex, the film struggles mightily to be bitchy and witty and NOW but never heats up much and has nothing up its sleeve but a pretty nice final act (it probably was a good deal more daring back in 1972). York, as always is an exceptionally interesting actress, but her character sometimes makes even less sense than Taylor's and Caine's. For me, the single most fascinating element of the film was Susannah York's shag haircut. What a weird hairstyle. Glistening, shining, intricately layered and geometrically perfect, it is the one image that has stayed with me long after the film had ended.

Shanks
(1974)

William Castle should have stayed out of the director's chair
If ever there was a director who should have remained solely a producer it is William Castle. Though an extremely likable presence in his films (he cameos as the grocer in this one), the lovely man hasn't an ounce of talent as a director. Inspired in his choice of projects and endlessly innovative in promotion, he is hopelessly at sea when it comes to the most basic rudiments of competent film-making. His entire career reads like a catalogue of ingeniously promising themes ruined by his pedestrian direction and artless execution.

"Shanks" is no exception. It is so flat and unsophisticated that it is rather hard to believe that this film was released a year after "The Exorcist". Apparently Castle failed to learn anything about pacing, camera placement or the handling of actors after working with Roman Polanski on "Rosemary's Baby" (one shudders at the thought that for a brief moment William Castle actually intended to direct "Rosemary's Baby"). In fact, in Castle's own memoirs he practically admits to being so preoccupied with budget and time constraints on "Shanks" that Marceau virtually directed himself. The premise of "Shanks" is enticingly weird, it's too bad another director wasn't at the helm.

"Shanks" doesn't quite know if it wants to be a dark comedy, a horror film or macabre fantasy. Firing on all guns, William Castle fails to make any of those elements gel. It's merely a showcase for some very tedious mime antics and sloppy editing (the death of Shanks' drunken brother is so poorly done that it wouldn't pass muster on YouTube). Budget limitations keep hitting you in the face along with the meager talents of the supporting cast (What's up with the 48 year-old Marceau being paired with the 16 year-old female lead...even as just friends they look pretty creepy together...and really, by 1973 weren't biker gangs sort of played out as embodiments of anarchic evil?). It lacks any semblance of mood or atmosphere. The look is strictly 70s TV movie and the "performances" are MST3 worthy.

I sat through "Shanks" somewhat flabbergasted that this was the best that Marcel Marceau's first starring role and William Castle's last directing effort could yield. After waiting several decades to see this film (the ad campaign was more inventive than the film) I couldn't have been more bored or disappointed. Castle wastes a great idea, a talented mime, and the time of every viewer. Talk about out with a whimper

Kitten with a Whip
(1964)

Sexy Ann-Margret puts the "Act" in Hyperactive
"You poke that finger at that dial mister, and that's when I start screaming rape!" I usually find bad acting and poor performances boring to watch and frustrating to subject myself to, but Ann-Margret's performance in "Kitten With A Whip" is so kinetically awful that she virtually invents a whole new kind of awfulness.

As Jody Dvorak, the wildly unbalanced kitten of the title, Ann-Margret affects the line readings, attitudes and camp posturings that most drag queens can only dream about. It's a strangely compelling performance because it's like one given by a person who's never seen acting before. If you've ever seen Katherine O'Hara's Lola Heatherton character on "SCTV," you get a pretty good idea of Ann-Margret's brand of naturalism.

The film is so overheated that it defies being taken seriously, so much of it comes off like a comedy of errors that befall the woodenly sincere John Forsythe as he attempts to extricate himself from the spiraling mess his life has become since crossing paths with Jody.

The film is so undistinguished that everybody involved should be indebted to Ann-Margret. She is terrible, to be sure, but she is the only life the film has and is endlessly watchable. She gives even the most innocuous lines megatons of energy…so much that she's almost too much for the screen. That her career actually survived this delectable mess and she went on to become a rather nuanced actress in later years should give hope to lousy young actresses everywhere.

"Kitten With A Whip" is not only a treat for the eyes (Ann-Margret looks as good as her acting is bad) but for the ears as well. There is so much 60's bop talk that you might need subtitles. My favorite line (among many) : "You musclehead! How come you think you're such a smoky something when you're so nothing painted blue?"

Has to be seen to be believed. Now cool it you creep, and coexist!

The Deep End
(2001)

Dad Can't Find Out!
Once I had finished watching "The Deep End" I had to look at the Netflix packaging to find out what year it was made because I couldn't believe that in the year 2001 an entire suspense melodrama could be mounted on the lone homophobic premise, "Dad Can't Find Out!"

This tale of a Mad-Mom (as in insane) who goes to great lengths to prevent the world from finding out that *gasp* her 17 year-old son is gay (she can't even say the word!) is like a perverse remake of the 1950's Loretta Young feature "Cause for Alarm!" in which an average housewife does numerous stupid things trying to conceal a death she had nothing to do with.

Here the wonderful Tilda Swinton (a good deal less wonderful here) plays a mom whose protectiveness of her near-adult son borders on the psychotic. Indeed, as the film progressed and she acted wackier and wackier, I was sure that it would come out that she is unwholesomely possessive of her son. Sonny boy (sullen and closed-mouthed) is carrying on with a much older man and mom interferes in a way that even a 13 year old would find mortifying, much less a 17 year old. She operates under the assumption that her gay son has been seduced and lured into contact with this man, but from what we see, he is just a young man who has fallen in with a bad crowd and is drawn to an older guy. A creepy guy albeit, but when we later find out how absent the father is and would not understand his son's gayness no matter what, then subtext kicks in and you start to imagine that Sonny boy is drawn to bad boys and inappropriate partners for a reason.

Mom, however is hearing none of this. Even when said son wrecks a car drunk driving with his lover, the mom convinces herself that it is the sole fault of the 30 year-old man, not her son who was actually behind the wheel. Her son seems troubled and she seems like a reactionary nut, but is this what the film focuses on? No. The film has the creepy older gay guy accidentally die on their property and mom spends the entire film covering it up because she thinks in some way her son is involved. Since this family is severely screwed up (to me, that is, the filmmakers seem to think this affluent family of non-communicative, isolated individuals is worth protecting from scary gamblin', screwin' and blackmailin' homosexuals) she never actually asks the son what happened, calls the police, or even wonders how she could think her son capable of murder. The son mourns his ex lover for about ten minutes and never loses much sleep over the possibility that he may have been the last one to see him alive. No, everything is a whirlwind of dance classes, music lessons, baseball games and laundry for this bunch. Who has time to talk?

After a series of plot contrivances too ridiculous to recount (among them an empathetic blackmailer who doesn't have the heart for the job...oh yeah, there are lots of those around), an alarming amount of people pay with their lives for the sole purpose of keeping Sonny boy's big, dark secret from daddy and maintaining the privileged class status quo. Oh, brother!

Much of the stupidity that preceded it would have been forgivable if at the end there was perhaps an awareness on the mother's part that the distasteful acts she engaged in were not equal to what she thought she was protecting: the problem was not that her son was gay, nor that he rebelliously got mixed up with a guy almost twice his age, the problem was that her son's father would not understand and that she raised her son in an environment where who he was was not as important as what he appeared to be to others. She was less concerned with his lying, underage drinking and hanging out with guys with possible mob ties than she was with his being gay and "outed." What are the biggest moral transgressions here?

"The Deep End" is so woefully shallow and is content to sacrifice psychological depth for artificially earned suspense.

I can't remember when I've been so put off by the unintended offensiveness of a film's premise. Loathed it.

The Arrangement
(1969)

American Dream fails yet another Ad Man
Being well past middle age, it's fascinating for me to watch films about middle-age that were made during my adolescence. I come to them hoping to get a clearer understanding of themes and concerns that I would have had no idea about at the time. This is not necessarily the case with Elia Kazan's "The Arrangement." At age 60, director and writer Kazan really really thinks he is saying something deep and profound about the emptiness of The American Dream, and attempts to do it with a candor he was not afforded in his earlier (better made) films like "A Streetcar Named Desire " and "Splendor in the Grass." Unfortunately in "The Arrangement" Kazan has the cinematic tools of the Now Generation working like a Trojan to put over a very old-fashioned story. No amount of nudity, quick cutting, raw language and clever juxtapositioning of fantasy and reality can breathe new life into this tired tale of a rich and successful ad exec (Kirk Douglas…his chin doing all the acting) who finds out at age 45 that all he has acquired "Isn't enough." Were this the only film made in the 60s about the subject, perhaps it would have played better, but the late 60's and early 70's were jampacked with one movie after another about the same suburban ennui, and by comparison "The Arrangement" with its rather misogynistic undertones and off-puttingly distasteful protagonist, comes off as REALLY old-fashioned.

The pleasures to be found for me now are the reminders of what a beautiful and electric actress Faye Dunaway used to be. As the mistress, Dunaway is saddled with one of those male-fantasy roles of a woman who embodies all that men are drawn to and are afraid of. Cast as "The Redeemer of lost male souls", her character has no job to speak of, no goals, no shattered dreams of her own…she just wants to be wanted by a man. Poor Deborah Kerr is really wonderful as the wife, but she spends most of the film chasing after the disinterested Douglas. Her character speaks of love, but one senses that Kazan thinks she is there for the money and security. Kazan seems unable (or unwilling) to entertain the notion that being the wife or mistress to a self-involved lout may not have been the fulfillment of The American Dream for either of these women either.

Though I enjoyed the film's glossy shooting style, period clothes and dated attempts at social commentary (Look! TV's in every room! Look! Commercials are everywhere! Look! The only ethnics these people come into contact with are the hired help!), I about had it when the film attempted to romanticize Douglas' comically loud-mouthed brute of a father. His death is seen as the end to a certain kind of male pride…after seeing him smack around his wife and tear up the son's college application, death seemed like good riddance to me.

Though it is painfully clear that "The Arrangement" is Kazan revealing deep deep truths about how he sees life, alas, in 2010 and at middle-age myself, the film had nothing to share with me. It was beautiful to look at but as emotionally superficial as if it were a movie made by the SPIKE TV network.

As a final note: Kirk Douglas is an ad exec in this film. As of this writing TV's MAD MEN is a big hit...just goes to show you that the media NEVER seems to tire of using the advertising industry as a metaphor for American artificiality. Zzzzzzz

Doctor Dolittle
(1967)

With Sleepwalking Harrison in the lead, the title sounds ironic and cynical
The thing about getting older is that nostalgia begins to rear its head and one looks at films from one's youth through a haze of sentimentality. Back in 1967 when I was ten years old, "Doctor Dolittle" was all over the place. Toys, dolls, games and posters were everywhere, and the radio and TV variety shows were full of Sammy Davis Jr. singing "If I Could Talk to the Animals." Even with all of this, "Doctor Dolittle" seemed just the kind of family entertainment that I tended to avoid. Now, more than 40 years later, I've finally got around to seeing the film, but I'm no closer to knowing if I would have liked it any better at age ten.

The problem with the film seems to be one of mistaken premises. Studios looked at "The Sound of Music," "Mary Poppins" and "My Fair Lady" and tried to duplicate their success, but they seemed to have paid attention to all the wrong things.

The adaptation of a popular children's book (like "Mary Poppins") was a good idea, but rather than attempt to recreate the rather dumpy doctor described in the books ("Mary Popping"s David Tomlinson would have been great, but he lacked marquee value, likewise "Dolittle"s, circus-owner, Richard Attenborough would have made a great Dolittle…certainly a livelier one) they opted for the stiff and starchy Rex Harrison. The actor's lack of warmth may have fit the character's unease with humans, but his clear disinterest in anyone else in the film comes across as merely distant and bored. The apathetic Harrison doesn't even try to make Dolittle even a little bit different from "My Fair Lady"s Professor Higgins. Coming across solidly as a misanthrope, he fails also to demonstrate any real rapport with the menagerie of animals on display.

The charmless Harrison was greatly helped by the winning softness of Audrey Hepburn in "My Fair Lady." Here Harrison has zero chemistry with Anthony Newly (whom it's reported he disliked for being Jewish) nor the requisite veddy-British female love interest, Samantha Eggar who is not only waaaay to young for him, but, despite her stunning looks, adds absolutely nothing to the film because she seems even more distracted and bored than Harrison.

Lastly, there is a mush-mouthed little boy thrown in for no apparent reason (William Dix) beyond giving Newly someone remotely human to give plot exposition to.

The songs from "Mary Poppins" and, to a somewhat lesser extent, "The Sound of Music" had the quality of being witty and smart while having a sing-song, nursery-rhyme quality that made it easy for kids to remember and want to sing along. The undistinguished collection of songs in "Doctor Dolittle" sound more like they were written with hopes of becoming standards or Oscar contenders than on being anything that kids might find fun to listen to.

From beginning to end "Doctor Dolittle" is a clumsy musical almost on par with "Lost Horizon" in its inability to entertain on even the simplest levels.

I think fans of Rex Harrison may like the movie, for it is what he does film after film, and it is a pretty good showcase for the phenomenon that was Anthony Newly (an oddly fascinating actor/singer whose unconventional looks and singing style could only have made it in the 60s), but "Doctor Dolittle" is dreary when it should be cheerful, lumbering when it should be light-hearted, and long-long-long. If the filmmakers were less cynical about tapping into the "The Sound of Music" money-making zeitgeist and more concerned with actually making a fun children's classic, there's no telling how much could have been done musically with the "Doctor Dolittle" books.

The Pumpkin Eater
(1964)

Bancroft at her Best
Wow! How did I miss ever seeing this little gem? Made the mistake of watching this film as part of a "bad marriages" movie marathon that included Jean Simmons in "The Happy Ending" and Joanne Woodward in "Summer Wishes, Winter Dreams," so by the time "The Pumpkin Eater" came on, I was a tad weary of dissatisfied, wealthy wives.

That being said, even in my fatigue and near-stupor, the almost radiant beauty of Ann Bancroft hit me right between the eyes. Not only is she a stunner, but she has the most expressive eyes and dramatically compelling face ever. One could watch it for hours. I really never saw her better. I wish I had watched this film first.

Loved the ending, by the way. It made me cry.

The Ghost Writer
(2010)

An Intelligent, Topical Thrill Ride
Got to see this at a pre-release screening and wound up chewing my thumbnails down to the quick with the tension!

Though I am a huge Roman Polanski fan (of his work, not necessarily the man) I haven't really been crazy about any of his films since "Death and the Maiden" ("The Pianist" was technically superb but left me cold). At last, my patience has been rewarded.

"The Ghost Writer" is a stylish, edge-of-your-seat political thriller that, on the basis of suspense, twists, corruption, and an ensnared hero unable to grasp the enormity of what he's up against, can be looked on as a contemporary companion piece to Roman Polanski's "Chinatown." It's Polanski reveling in the art of skillful storytelling, and at age 76, it's clear he has not lost his touch.

Collaborating with author Robert Harris from his novel "The Ghost" (film title expanded, no doubt, to avoid misleading Polanski fans who would assume a return to the supernatural) Polanski has fashioned a real nail-biter that, thanks to the solid performances and deft plotting, plays extremely well whether you like politics or know much about foreign policy.

Ewan McGregor is a writer hired to ghost-write the memoirs of a former British Prime Minister (Pierce Brosnan) after the previous collaborator commits suicide (maybe). Almost immediately life begins to get, shall I say, complicated for McGregor as he is shuttled off to a spartan, fortress-like mansion on the American East Coast to work on the book and there encounters a catalog of the kind of slightly-off kilter characters that Polanski casts and directs so well. There's the unsettlingly mercurial Prime Minister, his caustic wife (Olivia Williams, who, simply put, steals the movie out from under everyone's noses), the icy assistant (Kim Cattrall, better than I thought she could ever be), and an entire corps of strange and secretive supporting players, all the better to keep you guessing just what is going on up to the absolutely socko conclusion.

Can't say what readers of the novel will think of the film, but as someone who went into the film ignorant of the plot, I have to say it was a real thrill ride and held many didn't-see-that-coming surprises. So many of Polanski's trademark themes are showcased (black humor, a preoccupation with "foreignness," paranoia, the pervasiveness of evil), but best of all, it's a pleasure to see an intelligent thriller that is extremely well acted.

The look of the film is as chilly as the underlying message, and the cast is populated with some startling casting choices very well used (I would have liked to have seen more of Eli Wallach, though).

There is much to recommend in "The Ghost Writer," not the least of which being that Nicholas Cage (originally cast) dropped out before filming!

The Big Cube
(1969)

Mr. Chakiris, it's the Academy…they'd like their award back.
When cineastes look back at Hollywood's second "Golden Age" that started in the late 60's, it's a cinch they're remembering films like "Rosemary's Baby" and "Bonnie & Clyde" while willfully blocking out mind-blowing atrocities like "The Big Cube." Surely the late 60's must have been a weird time for fading glamour queens if Jennifer Jones ("Angel, Angel, Down We Go"), Eleanor Parker ("Eye of the Cat") and, in this mess, Lana Turner, felt the need to debase themselves in inferior product for the sake of a paycheck. Was it ego? Desperation? Perhaps without those fatherly moguls overseeing every step of their careers, these ladies had no idea of what a decent script looked like. What is certain in Lana Turner's case is that without a strong director at the helm, she is incapable of giving a performance at all. She is so absolutely terrible in "The Big Cube" that I have a hard time associating her with the actress who dazzled in "The Postman Always Rings Twice." What's most embarrassing is that she can't even play what she is…a bad actress. Cast here as Adriana Roman, darling of the stage, Turner (who looks like she starved herself for the role and is shot through heavy gauze) pops her eyes and gives outlandishly artificial readings of equally outlandish dialog. Example: Adriana- (speaking of her stepdaughter) "The resemblance is remarkable. We even look alike!" That sentence makes no sense! To cut her some slack, she IS holding a drink during the scene, so perhaps she is so drunk she forgot that the word resemblance actually means to look like someone.

Turner would win prizes for her cartoonish acting if she wasn't trumped in every scene by the almost superhuman ineptness of one Karin Mossberg. A woman of great beauty whose face is allergic to expression and whose accent and odd vocal emphasis makes for one dicey ingénue.

Not to be outdone, Academy Award winner George Chakiris (who, as the villain, appears to have been inspired by Mighty Mouse's Oil Can Harry) thoroughly embarrasses himself throughout, but especially in a big drug freak-out scene. I guess the reason that Pamela Rodgers' campy, ditzy act comes off so well is that she doesn't even try to act. She seems to know she's wading hip-deep in crap and gives the film the level of performance it deserves.

Shot in the overlit, circus color style of a Russ Meyer film, "The Big Cube" does offer the pleasurable fascination of getting a glimpse at the dances, hairstyles, fashion and architecture (not to mention the derisible slang) of an era so over the top that Lady Gaga looks tame in comparison.

The Shout
(1978)

Great Thriller Not Everyone's Cup of Tea.
Alan Bates plays a mysterious, potentially insane man who insinuates himself into the lives of a British couple (Susannah York, John Hurt) claiming his years studying Aboriginal magic have left him with, among other powers, the ability to kill with a shout.

Given that I was in film school in 1978 and enamored of any and all films that were enigmatic and aggressively non-linear in their storytelling (the more indecipherable the better), I am rather surprised that "The Shout" somehow got by me. Seeing it now, I can tell that it is just the kind of film that I would have loved as a youthful, elitist film scholar. (As in "The Emperor's New Clothes," many of us who fancy ourselves serious film fans have the tendency, with films like this, to adopt the self-flattering position of: "How could you possibly not understand what this film is about? Go back to your formulaic Hollywood product that spells everything out!" - ignoring the very real fact that self-conscious incomprehensibility was often the raison d'etre of many 70's films and frequently indicated nothing deeper than a willingness to depart from the traditional at any cost).

To my adult eyes, "The Shout" is an engrossing metaphysical puzzle. A chilling & superbly acted thriller that is nevertheless cluttered up with so many artsy touches that they serve to undercut the overall effectiveness of the story.

I liked the film very much and have watched it twice, but, should you find yourself on the other side of this opinion, don't buy into any of the postings that would have you think yourself a mouth-breathing plebeian if you don't understand it…that's youth talking. "The Shout" is constructed PRECISELY so that it is not easy to understand, and edited in a way that defies the attribution of a single, absolute conclusion being drawn. Like "Don't Look Now," "3 Women" and "Images," "The Shout" is designed to invite differing (sometimes conflicting) interpretations.

Whether or not one likes the film is a matter of taste, not intelligence. Perfectly bright people who find it a muddled and ultimately pointless exercise are no less perceptive than those who consider this one of the best films ever made. For my money, I enjoyed its mysteries and ambiguities, but there is no denying that the same film could have been made a great deal more entertainingly (and comprehensibly) without losing any of its spiritual heft.

Confessions of a Superhero
(2007)

Lifestyles of the Self-Obsessed and Delusional
Just Fascinating! Like watching a train wreck…I couldn't take my eyes off the screen. This documentary put me through at least seven levels of humiliation and shame on behalf of the four profiled "subjects." Not since "The Day of The Locust" have I seen such a painful exploration of the dark underside of pursuing the Hollywood Dream.

"Confessions of a Superhero" profiles four struggling, wannabe Hollywood actors who work as costumed street performers while they wait for their big break. As an indictment of America's obsession with fame over talent, this documentary should be required viewing for everyone raised in the post-"American Idol" era where it matters less if you study, train, or even have respect for your craft; all that matters is that you have a "dream."

First we have Superman. A nice guy to be sure, but creepily delusional, obsessive and downright odd. What charm he may possess as an obviously psychologically and drug damaged soul is mitigated by his living in a virtual fantasy world 24 / 7. This is no judgment, because Lord knows, he should be applauded for channeling his mental illness into such a harmless outlet. But a fleeting resemblance to Christopher Reeve has been blown up out of all proportion to the extent that the film is actually wince-inducing whenever we see him interacting with real people (that is, anyone who exists outside of the world he inhabits inside his head) or hear of his hopes of making it as leading man.

Were this fellow working in something like an office, someone certainly would have suggested psychiatric help long ago (don't even get me started on his inamorata). Unfortunately, the allure of the Hollywood dream machine is such that wacko fantasies and actual, I-want-to-work hard-to-be-a-good-actor-not-necessarily-a-star, ambitions all look the same.

Next there is Wonder Woman, a small town girl of average beauty and a straight-to-video level of acting talent, whose life reads like a cautionary blueprint for every dreamy-eyed teen who ever starred in a high-school play. She seems sweet and sane (one of the few) but is wholly unremarkable and more than a little ordinary. Your heart aches when, as she describes her youth, it becomes painfully obvious why she clung to dreams to survive.

Equally touching is The Hulk, an average type of guy who really seems like he "gets it" and doesn't think his sidewalk panhandling is a way of being discovered by producers and directors. But he too is following a dream attached to making it big rather than a dream of actually being good at something first. It's a recurring motif in this film that everybody is married to the idea of luck and chance catapulting them to fame. No one seems too interested in the avant-garde notion that fame may be the result of excelling at their craft and distinguishing themselves through the development of their talent. No, these folks (like many) think that just wanting to be famous is enough of a dream and should be respected. God forbid someone should ask them if they even DESERVE fame. Narcissisism makes its own rules.

Lastly, and most entertainingly, is Batman, a character you couldn't make up. A scary, overaged wannabe actor with real anger issues, and signs of being a pathological liar and probable mental case. He is everything that is wrong with wanting to be famous yet not being particularly good at anything. To listen to him INSIST that he looks like George Clooney (if Clooney was a debauched, crazy eyed nutcase) while recounting his dubious history of mob violence is to really dance with the devil by the pale moonlight.

"Confessions of a Superhero" is not a deep documentary, but I think, in this age of reality shows and the current public mania to be seen, noticed, appreciated...FAMOUS at any cost, it at least poses the question: Is a dream unsupported by intelligence, aptitude and study, anything but fantasy?

Nine
(2009)

Ghost of Rob Marshall Past
I have to agree with the person who wrote that he wanted to like "Nine" more than he did. Unlike some, I fell in love with the Broadway show "Nine" back in the 80's and have seen it staged many times. I love the music and, as I grow older, the themes of midlife crisis and artistic stasis become more poignant. All the more disheartening then that, as accomplished a film as it is, Rob Marshall's "Nine" falls short in delivering on the promise of its insanely talented cast.

Historically, those of us who love movie musicals usually have had to to put up with weak actors to get good singing and dancing (Cyd Charisse, Ann Miller) or dubbed voices and stiff dancing to get good acting ( Liv Ullman, Natalie Wood). With "Nine" Marshall has assembled a dream cast of marvelous actors who all meet their musical challenges with impressive and sometimes breathtaking results.

So why is the result so lacking? One, if Marshall's "Chicago" didn't exist, "Nine" would play a lot better. Too often what was dazzlingly original in "Chicago" becomes merely "nice" in "Nine." Fergie's number recalls the "Cell Block Tango," the inner-monologue that explodes into musical fantasy device that worked so well in "Chicago" is used in exactly the same way here. Daniel Day-Lewis has a anguished solo that'll remind you of Richard Gere's solo in "Chicago". Likewise, Judi Dench's feather-festooned "Folies Bergere" number will have you thinking of "Chicago"s "Razzle Dazzle." Also, the score has been streamlined in a very unusual way (smirk, smirk)…songs that would have provided more insight into the source of Daniel Day-Lewis's problems and given his wounded-eyed wife (Marion Cotillard) a terrific tell-off scene have been excised completely or replaced with ones that say very little and take up a lot of time.

It makes sense to me that when you have musical performers of limited acting range (like Fred Astaire), you let the dancing and singing carry some of the emotional weight. But when you have the kind of actors we have in "Nine" you have the opportunity to make a film that satisfies dramatically yet soars to new heights when music is introduced. Marshall seems content to give us pretty images and music-video set pieces. Not bad in and of itself, but why hire heavy hitters like Penelope Cruz and Sophia Loren when you just need them to punt?

And has Rob Marshall made so many films that he can afford to repeat himself so soon? Has he run out of ideas? The story, cast and songs are too good to be given the rehash treatment. I wish that Marshall could have devised a fresher approach because he is well served by everyone involved. Marion Cotillard and Penelope Cruz do wonderful things with their roles and are never less than captivating. And who would have thought Daniel Day-Lewis such a graceful singer? Complaint: I wish there were more Sophia Loren and Judi Dench.

Since I never really thought that anyone would ever make a film of "Nine," part of me is very grateful that someone has made such a gorgeous movie with such a dazzling cast. The other part of me just wishes that it lived up to the expectations of its trailer.

Lastly and on a slightly different note, Nicole Kidman used to be one of my favorite modern actresses. Stunningly beautiful and an astonishingly resourceful actress. Now her face doesn't even move. Please Hollywood actors and actresses, we know the pressure is on to always look youthful, but what good is an actor without a face capable of expressing emotions?

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