IMDb member since December 2003
    Lifetime Total
    Lifetime Filmo
    Lifetime Plot
    Lifetime Trivia
    Lifetime Image
    Lifetime Title
    Top Reviewer
    IMDb Member
    19 years


Detective Story

Pretty Darn Good
Viewing 1951's "The Detective Story" I could not help but see the yet to be fleshed out bones of his 1958 film "The Big Country".

Both feature the juxtaposition of vast scale (in this case an opening aerial sequence of the city streets) with characters in close physical association. Both feature an observer (in this case Lee Grant's shoplifter) who is the placid but nonplussed normalcy around which the frenzied action spins. And both feature two characters who are unaware that they have fallen in love with each other.

Of course "The Detective Story" is a noir film that is obligated to include some perverse twists just as the viewer begins to think that this collection of stereotypes and story tropes could not get more unoriginal.

Great casting with a collection of actors well matched with Wyler's obsessive but strangely hands-off acting for the camera style of directing as he challenges his cast to pull their character out of themselves. While this is second nature to naturals like Grant, Kirk Douglas, Joseph Wiseman, Michael Strong, and probably Cathy O'Donnell (who had worked with Wyler five years early in "The Best Years of Our Lives"); it was likely quite a learning experience for most of the other cast members who were used to more explicit direction.

Like the play the pacing is surprisingly engaging and viewing it is a very entertaining experience. It seems much shorter that it is and the final roller-coaster 15 minutes may leave you feeling like you have been duped by a sort of Hitchcock Macguffin into focusing on the wrong things.

The Green Promise

A Bit Out Of Joint
If you have watched "The Green Promise" and found it rather strange, you can blame MGM for altering the story. It was one of those fluid script situations where the rewrites could not entirely keep pace with the production, leaving it to post-production to paste over the inconsistencies as much as possible. But it was not possible to sand down all the clues to the original story.

MGM wanted a vehicle to feature rising star Natalie Wood. To insert her they gave her Connie Marshall's original Abigail role which had centered on the coming of age story of a teenage girl who slowly comes to realize the huge character flaws of her idealized father. 15 year-old Buzz Wexford was to be her love interest. They awkwardly shoehorned the ten year-old Wood into the role and named her Susan. Making her Abigail's younger sister, Marshall was relegated to a demon seed middle child and the father's one dimensional ally. And with that the film lost any trace of nuance, in it's place you get a creepy story of a 15 year-old boy flirting with a 10 year-old girl.

Since the original New Deal theme of collectiveness had now became a Cold War political issue it was replaced by "individualism", which was entirely out of joint with its 4H promotional purpose although they did manage to go out with a collectivist response to the natural disaster. Ironically the awkwardly inserted rants about the virtues of individualism are contradicted on the screen by the self-destructive individualistic and imperious behavior of the father.

So you have a naturally likable Connie Marshall finally getting a chance to play against type which she does almost as well as Bonita Granville in "These Three", assisted by an incredibly unflattering hairstyle. And you have a naturally likable Walter Brennen, miscast and unsuccessfully playing against type. And finally Marguerite Chapman and Robert Paige playing the courtship of Ward and June Cleaver.

Wood carries the film, which was the intention of the studio, the role was constructed entirely in the service of promoting her. It is arguably her best performance and certainly the most demanding role of her career. The film works as a good time capsule and as a promo for the 4H Club.

The Runaway

A Film With An Interesting History
TCM claims that "The Runaway" was not released but I recall seeing it in 1964. The confusion might have been because the release was three years after it was made; and only after the producers were able to persuade Allied Artists to release it.

The story is set in Tijuana.

In October 1964 Dell Publishing got into the act and released a comic book of the film, complete with an inside cover with five black & white stills from the film and this short description of the story: "There is excitement in a boy's life when all his food and every stitch of clothing comes by hard work and cunning. The fun is gone when the stakes are today's supper or tonight's rest. Felipe discovered this early in his young life, long before he met his only real friends, Father Dugan and Mike, his pup. The father knew there was a lot of good in Felipe; what did it matter if he was called ... THE RUNAWAY ....

The Outer Limits: Second Chance
Episode 23, Season 1

My Favorite OL Episode
TCM is showing "Spencer's Mountain" tonight, in which Mimsy Farmer has a supporting role. This started up my memory churn as I recalled her appearance in my favorite episode of "Outer Limits" - "Second Chance" - which was originally broadcast in March 1964 (she was born in 1945 so do the math on the age).

A carnival space ride becomes frighteningly real when an alien secretly rigs it to fly. The ominous bird-man carefully picks his unknowing crew including the carny ride captain who's a closet intellectual, an angry middle-aged man, and a star quarterback accompanied by his adoring buddy and his steady girl. The plot involved persuading a group of people whose lives were absolutely miserable (for a variety of reasons) to undertake a mission which would save the earth from destruction sometime in the distant future. The alien was confident that the humans would grab this last chance for personal redemption, he calls it their second chance, especially after being shown that they had nothing to lose given their hopelessly miserable lives on earth. The episode had little good to say about the human race and philosophically plays even better today than it did in 1964.

Black Scorpion

Can't Hardly Exploit
Roger Corman's Black Scorpion ran for only one season, 22 episodes broadcast during the first six months of 2001. It was an interesting idea, satirize men who avidly watch exploitation cinema by featuring bumbling and corrupt male characters exhibiting the standard misandrist caricatured behaviors. But in the tradition of "Batman", cancel much of that out by also featuring young exploitation babes in scorching hot costumes.

Done right you expand your target audience, getting not just those tuning in for young babes but those who also appreciate the opportunity to laugh at themselves. You might even get some female viewers who appreciate a nice bit of irony and the relatively well written banter that goes on during each episode. The problem was that unlike "Batman", "Black Scorpion" was a show that canceled itself out. Casting was the biggest problem. Michelle Lintel in the title role seemed like a good choice physically. She had the looks and the athletic ability, filling out her costume nicely enough. But she was far too sterile and few of the episodes were directed well enough from a acting-for-the-camera perspective to move her character into erotic territory.

And unlike "Batman" the female guest stars brought very little sizzle to the production. The series seemed intent on employing aging actresses who looked like they had just arrived at the studio after dropping a station wagon of kids at soccer practice. Pretty much all the main female villains (Athena Massey, Sherrie Rose, Renee Allman, etc.) were pushing forty and had been physically unexceptional even in their prime.

Some of the sidekicks (Faith Salie, Ava Fabian, Kimber West, and Patricia Ford for example) were absolutely sizzling but that brings up the other main issue with the series. These actresses were hopelessly underutilized and the hyper-editing of the action sequences typically cut away from them after a few poorly lite frames. Their costumes were certainly gratuitous but with the horrible lighting and the wide master shots it was impossible to became engaged. The situation cried out for some well-lighted lingering close-ups, but the producers arrived ticketless at the clue-bus station. It was just too antiseptic to even be a gentle tease.

Catalina Caper

A Must Watch For The Creepy Girl Segments
Although "Catalina Caper" (1967) was made more entertaining by the MST3K treatment, it is no worse or any more moronic than a lot of the teenage genre trash of the early and mid 1960's.

Style-wise what this reminded me of the most is "Out of Sight" (1966), a teenage/secret agent/musical comedy about Big Daddy who's been "driven mad by rock 'n' roll".

In both films the real attraction was the assortment of hot babes in revealing or erotic outfits (Catalina even includes girls in scuba gear). Both films have several of the most sizzling actresses of the era. In Catalina the best two are Venita Wolf and Ulla Strömstedt; and they both get the most screen time as rivals for the affections of former Disney child star Tommy Kirk.

"Out of Sight" definitely had better music by an assortment of relevant performers. "Catalina" has a throw away number by Little Richard and then showcases "The Cascades", a band of San Diego Naval Base sailers whose one-hit wonder status was from their one hit: "Rhythm of the Rain"; which came out five years before the movie and is not included in the soundtrack. The Bots have a lot of mockfest moments at their expense.

The best of the MST3K added material is Tom Servo doing an "Earth Angel" style tribute to Strömstedt's character, who he has fallen for and nicknamed the "Creepy Girl". You don't fully appreciate former figure skater Strömstedt until she hits the beach midway though the film in a bikini. Before that she appears creepy because of her Swedish accent and really horrible wig, in a movie full of blondes for some reason they turned her into a brunette. Go figure.

The again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Bon Voyage!

One Of Disney's Few Complete Fails
During the 1955-65 golden era of Disney live action movies targeting baby boomers, there were many hits and only a rare miss; what with huge pre-sold theater audiences who automatically lapped up any Disney comedy that came to their local theaters. There was little risk to studio and to viewer because these things utilized a proven formula and featured a narrow ensemble of likable Disney actors. Interestingly "Bon Voyage!", released in May 1962, was probably the studio's biggest miss.

It is likely I was one of those who paid money that summer to see this film, but if so it made so little of an impression on me that during a recent viewing my normally excellent memory failed to find anything familiar enough convince me that I had seen it 50+ years ago. But assuming that I had seen it and given my sudden and extreme infatuation with Deborah Walley after seeing her one year later in "Summer Magic", "Bon Voyage!" must have been completely erased from my memory within hours of viewing it as I am certain I never connected Walley's Cousin Julia to Amy Willard.

The only virtue of "Bon Voyage!" today is that it evokes a nostalgic reaction of baby boomer family vacations in general and to ocean liner and Paris family vacations in particular. But in the early sixties such a future would not have been a factor in green lighting a production. If you look back on the successful Disney comedies of the era you can easily see the standard formula that was pitched to the studios. Familiar inoffensive actors playing wholesome characters, mild comedy that disparaged no one and was typically at the expense of a harried but well meaning father, and most importantly a hook or gimmick that engaged the audience and made them willing to suspend their disbelief and identify with whichever character targeted their demographic.

Disney first would find a tried and tested hook and then use their stock elements to build a movie around it. "Flubber" was the best of these hooks and worked across several movies, although it was just an unoriginal reprise of "It Happens Every Spring". "Summer Magic" was the application of acute nostalgia to "Mother Carey's Chickens". "Swiss family Robinson", "Babes In Toyland" and "Mary Poppins" were established children's stories given a magical Disney flourish. Apparently something convinced the studio in 1962 that the family European vacation hook was foolproof and the pitch for "Bon Voyage!" got the green light.

Compared to their standard film the concept was original, relatively big budget, and full of location shooting. Making it an odd blend of Disney nature documentary and light comedy. So its crash and burn taught the studio to not be seduced by originally. And also that a inoffensive ensemble of lightweight actors could not save a production doomed by a faulty concept and an extraordinarily weak script.

I suspect that the fundamental failure of the film was in just having too many stories, none of which fostered much viewer identification or otherwise connected with the audience. One of lame bumbling father comedy (Fred MacMurray), one of boringly overwrought romantic melodrama (Walley), and one of gratuitous sleaze (Tommy Kirk). The standard Disney audience was willing to suspend disbelief and even go with a self-knowing whimsy; but only if they strongly identified with one or more of the central characters.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Live a Little, Love a Little

Truly Scary
Rebecca: This is so bad it's almost good.

Enid: This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.

"Live a Little, Love a Little" (1968) is one of those rare films so bad that it has gone past good and back to bad. To its entertainment value it has a surreal lameness that makes you stop and contemplate things like how a group of highly paid industry professionals could have produced something so staggeringly horrible.

Granted it nicely illustrates my Elvis movie theory that the closer Elvis got to an ocean in a film the worse the film. In "Live a Little, Love a Little" Elvis plays a character who is a blend of Tony Curtis in "Don't Make Waves" (1967) and Jerry Lewis in "The Big Mouth (1967). Apparently those two films served as inspiration for this disaster. This is not a pleasant thing but its many mockfest moments can be perversely amusing. Most mockfest worthy is the horribly staged fight scene at the newspaper, which is both inexplicable and unnecessary; something that seems to be scotched-taped into the story because Elvis otherwise looks like a total wimp.

At least "Live a Little, Love a Little" has some Elvis songs. Of course those other films have Sharon Tate and Jeannine Riley, effortlessly sizzling actress. "Live a Little, Love a Little" has to rely on Michelle Carey, who manically works to get your attention like a one-trick pony mad for a carrot. But she is so hopelessly sterile that a viewer keeps wishing she would put on more clothes.

Carey heads up what is Elvis' worst ever supporting cast, none of them capable of generating a laugh or serving the audience identification function. I suspect that he lived in fear of being upstaged by someone with comedic talent or a trendy image as by 1968 the world had moved on and The King was still stuck in a Patti Page 50's time warp.

The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Coping With being Left Behind
The is movie about two strangers who have been left behind by the most significant person in their lives, and about how this bonds them as they engage in a bold project to sail from New Orleans to the Azores on a homemade raft.

Much of the wisdom is communicated by the voice-over commentary of 16 year-old Millie (Maisie Williams) who sounds like a deep south version of Christina Ricci's character in "The Opposite of Sex". The film is a little clumsy and Millie's accent is unnecessarily over-the-top but it is a good message and an overall pleasing effort.

Most profound is Millie's ambiguous statement about people dying when nobody is looking and living while nobody is watching. By which she is expounding on both their bold but by design unobserved rafting effort and on the human condition where many lives are lived without making a ripple in the fabric of society. And perhaps a third meaning, that the cool kids are so caught up in their clique that they have defined and made a cursory dismissal of everyone, blissfully unaware that awesome things are happening all around them.

There is a particularly interesting image early in the film, a shopping cart tipped over at the water's edge with a helium balloon trapped inside the inverted basket. Again this has lots of meanings, free spirit Penny trapped in the twisted metal of her wrecked car and unable to soar, Henry trapped by his grief, and Millie trapped by her defenses and unable to connect with anyone.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Jane Wants a Boyfriend

"I am a spirit of no common rate. The summer still doth tend upon my state"

declares Titania to Bottom in Act III Scene 1 of "A Midsummer Night's Dream". The gracious fairy queen has become a victim of a potion that has everybody falling in love with the wrong people. Her husband thought it would teach her a lesson for denying him. But after being dosed with the potion, she falls in love with Bottom (a commoner), who has been turned into a donkey. Love being blind, the joke is on her.

In the play within a play of "Jane Wants A Boyfriend" (2015), Titania is being played by a stressed out Bianca, the title character's older sister.

Shakespeare lets the audience share in his joke while viewers of "Jane Wants A Boyfriend" have to work a bit to figure it out. The joke being that Bianca's protectiveness toward her little sister is largely misplaced. Not only is it unnecessarily stressing out Bianca, it has become an obstacle to Jane's growth.

Jane has Aspergers, but processes a lot more than she is given credited for by Bianca. Childlike in many ways she is perceptive enough at age 25 to realize that her existence is becoming precarious, that her dependency on her parents cannot continue much longer. Accordingly, she is forcing herself to interact more with people. Guidance for this interaction is provided by watching old movies and observing people, mimicking their speech patterns and facial expressions. She refers to this as practicing.

Jack is the boyfriend that Jane wants. But like Titania's resentment of her husband's infidelities, Bianca disapproves of Jack's bed hopping and fear of commitment. She underestimates her little sister's off-kilter appeal and is afraid that any relationship she enters into with Jack will be brief.

Another parallel between the two stories is the unlikelihood of the match; the play's fairy queen loving a commoner becomes a neurotypical loving an Aspie. In "Dream" this is part of the joke, in "Jane" it is in large part the reason I embraced the film.

I like this film better than anything over the past couple of years. The ensemble casting and scripting was excellent, the acting-for-the-camera direction as good as you will find, the pacing perfect, and the editing solid. I especially like the scene transitions where the audio tracks begin a second before the new video track cuts in. The best of these when the film's title is said by Bianca over Jane's face and then later when the cheers and applause of the theater audience plays over the kiss.

The film is full of tiny touches that you barely notice during the first viewing, like when Bianca thanks the janitor for not running the sweeper while she was talking to Jane. They go out on Bianca and not the title character. With that you realize that this is actually Bianca's story, that she is the character who changed during the course of the narrative. And with this you suddenly realize that Dushku's underplayed performance is every bit as good as that of Krause, something quite unexpected as she is rarely asked to do something this restrained.

And be sure to watch the entire credit sequence because additional lines from the play are featured along with a several black and white sequences.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The Hunting Party

A Disturbing Film Working On Several Levels
I first saw "Hunting Party" (1971) at the base theater during my Air Force days. Films on base typically ran for only one day (three shows) and this was one of a handful that drew capacity crowds to the second and third shows due to "word of mouth" praise by those who attended the first screening.

If you liked Monte Hellman's "The Shooting" (1966) you will love this film as it appears to have served as the inspiration. It would in turn provide much of the inspiration the next year for "Chato's Land". All three films have the same tone and they share a lot of philosophical elements.

At the time of my first viewing I found the film extremely troubling as it aggressively broke many conventions of the western genre and introduced an almost unparalleled level of moral ambiguity; going well beyond "Bonnie & Clyde" and "The Wild Bunch". I dwelled on the film's themes endlessly after that viewing and I caution all potential viewers that they may find it deeply disturbing. Nevertheless it is an important film that blazes a lot of new territory, putting it on a very short list of "must see" features.

What with all the graphic violence it works surprisingly well as a love story. Because Candice Bergen went far deeper than her standard sterile heroine her improbable romance with Oliver Reed's character required little suspension of disbelief.

For me the two most memorable scenes are the ambush at the water hole and the sharing of the jar of peaches, scenes of incredible contrast which occur midway through the film. The acting for the camera direction of the peaches scene is extraordinary, with the unbridled joy of the threesome believably reinforcing earlier clues that many of the outlaws are simply people who have had to subordinate their basic goodness in order to survive in this environment.

"Hunting Party" included several allegorical elements ranging from fundamental commentary on the "Human Condition" to contemporary issues like the Viet Nam war. Brandt Ruger (Gene Hackman) describes his tactics as "hit and run", early 1970's audiences could not help but relate this to the Viet Cong. Ruger's ultimately self-destructive quest to recover his manhood reflected the country's inability to "cut & run" when it became clear that our intervention in Viet Nam was an exercise in futility.

The most interesting element is the way the film juxtapositions "taming of the west" elements with "Heart of Darkness" inspired descents into savagery. Thus evolving contrasts with devolving, with learning to read a civilizing element for the outlaw group and primitive rage the motivator for the civilized group.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.


So Far Quite Impressive
It's called "Bizaardvark" and involves the video production efforts of two teenage girls whose straight-laced school with its standardized uniforms and robotic student body does not get them. Lacking a creative outlet at school they have turned to online videos to express themselves, discover their identities, and maintain some level of sanity.

This unapologetic "iCarly" clone is of interest because it amps up the script sophistication while dialing down the gross-out infantile humor of that series; all the while taking a gentler tone. On its face this would appear illogical as it seems to be contradictory, saying goodbye to the "basket of deplorables" portion of the "iCarly" demographic while trying to attract some younger viewers and at the same time a more sophisticated audience segment.

Amazingly they seem to have succeeded in both, mostly by vastly improving on"iCarly" four main characters, while adding a hilarious Southern Belle version of Caroline Sunshine's "Shake-It-Up" character. As you become familiar with the series you begin to realize that it is closer in spirit to "Victorious" than to "ICarly", with much the same undercurrent of healthy subversion.

All five of these actors are easy to take. Olivia Rodrigo and Madison Hu bring a lot of effortless charm to Paige and Frankie. Jack Paul's and Ethan Wacker's characters grow on you after watching and re-watching several episodes. And DeVore Ledridge's Amelia is an absolute gem. The show might be derivative but Amelia breaks conventions by defying stereotypes, she is in effect a parody of herself beneath which one finds that she has considerable dimensionality.

Amelia best illustrates the unifying theme of the show, which is all about Paige and Frankie discovering that the cost of rushing to define and dismiss people is failure to discover important depth and dimensionality in each one of them. They already know this from how they are treated at school but are learning that it applies universally.

The videos each character creates for their respective internet audiences represent them living in their imaginations. And it is at this point that the link to "Victorious" becomes most obvious:

'Cause you know that if you live in your imagination, Tomorrow you'll be everybody's fascination

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Gunsmoke: The Bobsy Twins
Episode 36, Season 5

Last night I happened to see an episode of Gunsmoke called "The Bobsy Twins" which was originally broadcast on May 21, 1960. This was the most philosophically ambitious episode of the entire long-running series. It concerns two aging brothers (Merle and Harvey Finney) who come west with the simplistic mission of ridding it of Indians. The viewer is introduced to them immediately as they cluelessly stumble across the prairie in search of Dodge City; hillbilly eastern rubes completely unequipped for navigation and survival in the sparsely populated vastness of the West. They are on foot, have not eaten in two days, and look scruffy enough to be Lil' Abner characters. "The Bobsy Twins" title is gradually explained as the viewer comes to understand that like Bert and Nan, these two brothers are children forever - at least mentally.

One of the most fascinating things about the Bobbseys is that they never aged. After the first books the publisher of the series realized that in real time Bert and Nan were soon going to be too old for their target audience, and he put the brakes on their aging. After that Bert and Nan were forever twelve and Flossie and Freddie forever six.

In the allegorical Gunsmoke episode Merle and Harvey are childlike characters, almost witless. They trace their simplistic but somewhat contradictory value system back to a revered father who among other things felt that it was not proper to murder anyone on Sundays, not because it is wrong to randomly kill but because Sunday should be a day of rest. But these impulsive and bloodthirsty "twins" find it impossible to keep even this basic commandment. Frustrated at encountering no Indians they instead kill a man who refuses to share his Sunday dinner with them and then kill a friendly cowboy in order to keep their involvement in the first murder a secret. Both murders are a little contrived, with the brothers basically looking for an excuse to kill someone.

Once in Dodge a cowboy (Richard Chamberlain) in the Long Branch tells them that the livery store owner is a full-blooded Cherokee and they set out to hang him.

What makes the episode so special is that writer John Meston (who originally wrote the story for radio) is not really going off on the hypocrisy of Christianity or of religion in general. Although after the murders they repent having done these deeds on what should have been for them a day of rest, Meston is using the "day of rest" thing allegorically to represent the many childlike minds that grasp hold of whatever simplistic influence is out there as a way to justify their self-indulgence. And their revered father represents those who would use the fear, hate, and prejudices of simpletons like the Finney's to manipulate them for their own purposes (a certain presidential candidate comes to mind).

While the brothers' nativist banter in this episode is sometimes amusing, it is mostly in the script to humanize them enough so that they cannot simply be dismissed by viewers as creatures of a more barbaric species.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

Deeply & Profoundly Bad
Rebecca: This is so bad it's almost good.

Enid: This is so bad it's gone past good and back to bad again.

Felt far more like a dumbed-down version of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969) than a remake of a 1960's secret agent show. Ill-conceived and poorly executed attempt to cash in once again on the pre-sold audience for anything "remotely" related to the U.N.C.L.E. franchise.

Since the main appeal of the original 1960's television show was its campy take on the 60's secret agent craze, a direction that the James Bond films would not take for another ten years, viewers would expect a homage with more of the same. This would mean cheapo production design, unrealistic action sequences, and Napoleon Solo in lip lock with six different beautiful young actresses every thirty minutes. More importantly those shows were fun for anyone willing to engage in a little self-knowing whimsy, identify with one of the characters, and go on that week's campy little adventure.

Unfortunately nobody associated with the 2015 production had much of a grasp on subtle or even unsubtle comedy and the thing is turned into an typical exercise in special effects excess and hyper-editing. Pretty much the opposite of everything that gave the original series its charm.

The target for this box office disaster was ladies and pre-teen girls getting off on Superman/Clark Kent actor Henry Cavill; whose minimalist acting style (or perhaps absence of acting talent) make him a worthy successor to expression challenged Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo. But this is a prequel and we learn that the first time Napoleon and Illya operated as a team was in pre - U.N.C.L.E. days. Robert Redford reboot Armie Hammer painfully plays the blonde Russian. For obvious reasons Hammer has generally been the kiss of death for all movies in which he has appeared over the past ten years. A "Springtime for Hitler" sort of thing.

In an effort to expand the target demographic the producers seem to have geared the promotional campaign around eye scorching Elizabeth Debicki who plays the bad girl. Those viewing the film for that reason will be somewhat disappointed. Although Debicki's performance is fine her screen time is brief and almost entirely in wide master shots. And while the promotional campaign sets you up for a decisive catfight sequence with the other actress (someone named Alicia Vikander); nothing happens between them. Despite all this Debicki easily wins the memorable character battle and you forget that Vikander and her tedious character were even in the film.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch

A Fascinating Dynamic
"A girl, sent by her parents to live with her two eccentric aunts and attend a new high school, finds out on her sixteenth birthday that she is a witch". This premise sets up Sabrina the Teenage Witch (1996) to be a blend of "Bewitched" and "Mean Girls".

This teen movie belongs to the "high-school-queen-bee-gets-her-comeuppance" sub-genre of which there are endless examples. Apparently there is a huge viewing demographic who on some basic level repeatedly get off erotically or emotionally on this humiliation dynamic. The friendship and coming-of-age elements are almost incidental to the story.

More central for your thinking viewer are the moral dilemma and ethical considerations raised by the story. Sabrina competes with other girls in track and field events; winning several of them by using her powers to cheat. Little effort is made to show her in any sort of quandary over her decision to cheat. The story hedges a bit on this issue, as her magic is mostly used in response to unwarranted attacks by her rival; but in several of the track & field events her cheating makes losers out of all the other participants and no attempt is made at rationalization or justification.

The problem with casting someone like Melissa Joan Hart as your good girl love interest is the absence of even a hint of physical sizzle. Which means that to stay remotely credible with viewers, the bad girl she plays off has to be several erotic levels below Megan Fox; hence Tori Spelling lookalike Lalainia Lindbjerg as Katy Lemore (apparently a play on L'Amore). And Hart's rival Libby in the 1996-2003 series would be played by the even less sizzling Jenna Leigh Green. Which makes their inevitable comeuppances almost sterile. And since Katy does not rank especially high on the queen bee badness scale Sabrina's extreme revenge is way out of proportion. To appreciate the missed opportunity just check out Samantha's inspired abuse of rival Sheila Sommers (played by gorgeous Nancy Kovack) in several episodes of "Bewitched".

But the producers should get some credit for a glammed up Katy in the "Zapped" (1982) inspired final comeuppance scene. Although Sabina has tortured Katy throughout the movie she saves the most extreme for the end, reducing her rival to a disheveled and whimpering wreck. With this "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" sets a new standard in teen movie queen bee degradation, if that is your idea of a turn on or a good time. Going any further with this sort of thing would cross into "Carrie" territory and that is an entirely different genre.

Sabina's bad boy hunk Seth is played by sleepy looking Ryan Reynolds, he is relatively harmless and almost cluelessly disengaged. Reynolds would play an almost identical character three years later in "Dick". "Dead Like Me's" Daisy - Laura Harris - plays one of Katy's friends and has a lot of what the main actresses are missing.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments

Currently the Best "Eye Candy" On Television
Wow, "Shadowhunters" in tight and shiny spandex, latex, and leather outfits; shades of "Barbarella"! Best eye-candy on television, at least until "Lab Rats" decides to lure viewers by prominently featuring Kelly Berglund parading around in her original spandex uniform with the knee-high black boots. And way better than Victoria Justice's short-lived and misnamed "Eye'Candy" MTV series. After watching the "Beyond the Shadows: The Making of Shadowhunter" I did not expect to like the actual episodes but so far they have exceeded my expectations.

I see a lot of Joss Weedon influences, especially in the creative ways the production designer gets a lot of mileage out of a modest budget. "Shadowhunters" is most like his "Dollhouse" (2009-10) series, or at least if "Angel" had been working out of that location.

Katherine McNamara has always been incredibly videogenic, but extremely sterile. She's a little older now and her Clary Fay costumes and action sequences give her actual sizzle.

Emeraude Toubia's "Isabelle Lightwood" character simply scorches your eyeballs in both close-ups and wide-shots. And she delightfully teases this role with a nice tongue-in-cheek parody quality that works to make Isabelle more accessible to viewers.

I'll leave it to others to comment on the three main brooding male cast members.

Like all the "Hunger Games" films, the series can be painful and insulting to viewers who have read the books.

The acting is weak, McNamara has a squeaky voice, and the story lines could be more engaging. But pretty much everything in the production is on a level far above such mainstream garbage as "Supergirl"; and given "Shadowhunters" elevation above that sort of dreck it is hard to understand the one star comments. Ratings should on a relative scale.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child. Comment

Gunsmoke: Call Me Dodie
Episode 2, Season 8

Kathy Nolan Channels Mary Pickford
"Call Me Dodie" is my personal favorite of the many "Gunsmoke" episodes. The story has considerable charm and a remarkable portrayal of the title character. And it introduces a nice bit of symbolism, bookending the 60 minute September 1962 episode with a kite. In fact, it goes out on a shot (panning up) of the kite and its string tangled in the Pleasant Valley Orphanage sign; symbolic of the controlled freedom of Dodie's expected future. An absolutely brilliant ending.

Dodie was one of the first parts 30-year-old Kathleen Nolan played after leaving "The Real McCoys", at the conclusion of the series' fifth season. It was a remarkable performance as Dodie was a wide-eyed seventeen year-old orphan out to aggressively experience the world, starting with Dodge City. That Nolan is completely convincing in this part, both from an acting and a physical perspective, is simply amazing. You recognize her voice but there is complete physical transformation, wiping years off her Kate McCoy character.

The episode simply transplants the storyline of "Sparrows" (United Artists' 1926 silent feature) to Dodge City with Nolan playing Mary Pickford's Molly character. Molly was also the oldest child at an orphanage. The orphans in both stories are treated like slaves. Pickford was 34 when she played the 17 year-old Molly. I suspect that the casting of Nolan was inspired by Pickford's believability in this similar age disparity situation. In both the character takes on a dimensionality from the stretch required of both actresses, who sell their young characters so effectively that little suspension of disbelief is required of viewers.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The Hunger Games

Excellent Book - Very Ordinary Adaptation
Like many adaptations, this one leaves you amazed at Lionsgate's staggering contempt for the movie viewing public, a contempt similar to the "Capital's" contempt for the populations of the "Districts"; so perhaps their attitude is appropriate.

Susan Collins' source novel (she is complicit in this insult as she had a least some part in the adaptation), the first of a trilogy, is the story of an existential heroine (Katniss Everdeen) who performs a single heroic act, volunteering to take the place of her younger sister in the post-apocalyptic games from which the grim trilogy gets its name.

But Katniss immediately knows that there was nothing heroic about her action, that her lightening fast decision required no contemplation but was something she was compelled to do. For the rest of the first book (upon which the 2012 film is based) Katniss is buffeted along by mix of free will and destiny, second-guessing each of her decisions and feeling far more guilt than satisfaction over the consequences and (more fundamentally) over her decision to essentially prostitute herself to the Capital in the service of survival.

And the reader gets full access to the inner working of her mind because the story is told entirely (100%) from her point of view. This storytelling device shrinks the scale of the story, as a reader never goes out beyond the reach of the first person storyteller. This fosters the sort of reader identification Edgar Rice Burroughs brought to his "John Carter of Mars" series.

Apparently Lionsgate felt that viewers were not up to the mental challenge of Collins' storytelling technique and they converted to a third person POV, going so far as to completely dispense with a voice-over narration by the main character. A puzzling decision since film offers wonderful opportunities for the juxtaposition of objects of contrasting scale.

Lionsgate also felt the need to draw in characters and events from the second book in the series (endless scenes of President Snow and signs of the beginning of dissent in the Districts). These immediately destroy the scale unique to the first book and the concept of a faceless enemy, so that the progression of the trilogy from small to vast is compromised. Overt dissent in the Districts appears far too soon in the adaptation, effectively spoiling both the intimacy of the first book and the expansion of the struggle in later books.

The film's ham-handed treatment of the story is reflected in Haymitch's explanation for the high score Katness receives after shooting the apple out of the pig's month. He says it is because they liked her guts; but his explanation in the book is that they liked her temper, that this exhibition of her fierceness has made her a player who they believe will bring some heat to the games. Guts are not going to attract sponsors or win the games, nor are they going to incite anyone to revolt. It is a critical change of phrase because throughout the trilogy it is not her courage but her mix of fierceness and humanity that is the difference maker for Katniss, and it is this mix that gives the character the dimensionality necessary for reader identification.

Most remarkable, however, is Lionsgate's inexplicable failure to feature the most powerful and most memorable moment in the entire trilogy; the moment Katniss receives the bread from District 11. Arguably the most intense segment ever written. This is really the first book's climatic scene, as Katniss slowly grasps that the bread was originally intended for Rue, with those in her district making a great sacrifice in order to support her. And that after Rue's death they elected to redirect the gift to a participant from another district, the first time in the 70+ year history of the games that such a gesture was made. And the first hint of a unification of the twelve intentionally isolated districts.

This is the turning point of the entire story, much like the moment in "The Magnificent Seven" when the Villagers tell Chris they collected everything of value in their village to hire him and he accepts this small sum, saying: "I have been offered a lot for my work, but never everything".

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Screwball Hotel

"Miss Walsh, Time for Dictation"
I can't in good conscience give "Screwball Hotel" more than four stars but it is still a must see. Buried throughout what is otherwise a moronic exercise in low-budget torture are short vignettes between the hotel manager and his secretary Miss Walsh (Laurah Guillen). These inspired scenes feature their active costume and fantasy sex life, these assorted scenes are inventive and hilarious enough to belong in a much better film. Despite their almost nonstop silly coupling, the two characters never call each other by their first names; maintaining the executive - secretary formality as they do erotic takeoffs on "The Wizard of Oz", "Star Trek", "Raider of the Lost Ark", "Snow White", and "Jaws". At one point a bellboy dresses up in a frog costume hoping to make it with Miss Walsh.

Miss Walsh is arguably the most erotic character in movie history (Guillen being an irresistible combination of cute face, killer body, and self-knowing whimsy). She surprisingly upstages Penthouse Pet-Of-The-Year Corinne Alphen (whose scenes are the only other ones worth watching) in the sizzle department.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The Ambushers

A Flying Saucer and A Villainess With Orange Skin
"The Ambushers" (1967) is the third film in Dean Martin's four-film "Matt Helm" franchise. It is significantly weaker than the other three and the only one which does not feature a song by the Steubenville Thrush, I don't think that omission impacted the film's relative quality. Martin was not in Sinatra's class as a singer or an actor but he was effortlessly likable and had some comedic talent. "The Ambushers" gets two stars instead of one because Janice Rule gives a solid performance in the face of what must have been a professionally embarrassing production for her. She looks extremely uncomfortable when she is not looking bored - I imagine her mind alternated between these two states. I can't imagine that the typical Irwin Allen production design motivated any of the cast.

That said the film works quite well as a window into the pre-Woodstock era cultural vacuum. It throws a bevy of pretty young starlets onto the screen, none having the slightest dimensionality or being involved in anything remotely erotic. Sizzle-wise it's all form over substance.

Rule (whose character physically looks a lot like Mrs. Peel) does provide a bit of erotic voltage in much the same classy detached way Diana Rigg did in a standard episode of "The Avengers". Working against all the females in the cast are some of the worst costume choices you can imagine. Apparently for a few days in 1967 dull finish boots that look to be made from shag carpet were trendy, unfortunately those days appear to have been the days when the wardrobe choices were made.

The film had a villainess or at least the Francesca Madeiros character was intended to serve such a purpose. Francesca is played by a foreign actress named Senta Berger. She has orange skin, no waist, and wears large Christmas tree ornaments for earrings. It is rumored that Francesca's look served as the inspiration for the Oompa, Loompa characters in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory".

The film features a flying saucer and I wonder if the original script called for Francesca to be from Venus, perhaps they forgot to communicate the changes to the wardrobe people. That might explain the incredible leaps of logic and obvious gaps in the development of her character. Berger's character is so garishly moronic that it elevates Rule's character or at least helps you appreciate the degree to which Rule was able to transcend this hopeless mess.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.


Now almost forgotten, C.O.D. (1981) (German title "Snap") was a staple of the old "usa-up-all-night's" programming. The humor was a bit more sophisticated and satirical than most of their exploitation film selections; perhaps reflecting the German influence in the writing and the production. And unlike most it had a quality cast, many of whom have gone on to assemble impressive acting resumes.

Chris Lemmon plays Albert Zack, a relatively dim young advertising executive whose client is the financially failing Beaver Bra Company. The company chairman believes the enterprise can be saved if Albert can get their bra line endorsed by famous busty woman. He has selected five celebrity women and the film consists of five separate segments with the blundering Albert and his female secretary / good-girl-love-interest (played by Olivia Pascal) devising ways to meet them and pitch the endorsement idea. Getting past the escorts and security people involves an assortment of costumes and subterfuge. Working against them is a board member who wants the company to fail, with the biggest laughs coming from his female associate's (played by Jennifer Richards) attempts to stop Albert.

Corinne Alphen and Carole Davis play two of the celebrity women. They were arguably the two most erotic actresses of their decade and are both nicely showcased in their segments. Both had an instinctive acting for-the-camera ability. Former Penthouse Pet-Of-The-Year Alphen was the Nancy Kovack of the 80's, with a remarkably low upper arm to bust ratio. Even in this early role Davis radiates an intelligence and self-knowing whimsy that nicely complements her obvious physical assets.

The front-end-loaded pun refers to the ordering of the segments, as Alphen and Davis are featured early and the other three actresses are simply not up to their standard. Although "The Toy's" Teresa Ganzel does her standard airhead blonde quite competently. This peaking early is the film's only weakness, with little to hold your interest after Davis' hilarious film-stealing appearance as the mega-erotic Contessa Bazzini.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

The Last Tycoon

What Is the Antonym of Synergy?
F. Scott Fitzgerald's time in Hollywood inspired him to write "The Last Tycoon", his final novel. Fitzgerald had a tendency to model his heroes on men he admired and then infuse them with a lot of himself. In this case he choose Irving Thalberg, who for a brief period in the late 20's and 30's was the "boy genius" production chief at M-G-M, until his death at the age of 37 in 1936. Thalberg was second to none in his instinctive feel for what would make a successful film but he only provided the bones for Fitzgerald's protagonist, the author fleshed the character out with little or no attempt to incorporate Thalberg's personality or private life. Instead Fitzgerald opted for Abraham Lincoln as the model for much of what was Monroe Stahr - including his novel's title, as Lincoln was frequently referred to by contemporary media as "The Tycoon" and like Stahr was fighting a war on many fronts.

As a film, the "The Last Tycoon" (1976) is far less than the sum of its generally excellent parts, which could also be said of its unfinished source novel. It is full of structural discord that many viewers will find quite frustrating. A relatively large budget, excellent production design, fine performances by a cast nicely matched to the characters they play, clever editing, and first-class cinematography. Then throw in a screenplay that is true to its unfinished source novel. Yet instead of box office and critical success you get one of the more expensive flops in movie history. But you also get a very ambitious film that is about as interesting as any you will find, with a cutting edge story that is no less powerful for its extremely small target audience; all nicely matched by the ambitious, paternalistically cast, and expensive film-within-a-film that the title character is pushing though despite it being an obvious money-loser for the studio.

The adaptation's trouble lies almost solely with the film's love interest, Kathleen Moore, played by Ingrid Boulting. Kathleen is all Fitzgerald, an Irish will-of-the-wisp given to irresponsible self-indulgences and beguiling frankness. Woman such as Kathleen were central to Fitzgerald's world view, he believed that they inspired and tortured any man cerebral and imaginative enough to appreciate them. While such a relationship can be translated to the screen (often easier than in a book because film is a visual medium), it will only connect with a small segment of viewers, most others will find it puzzling.

The most interesting detail of the entire production is the way Boulting is costumed, lit, and filmed in her scenes. She glows in these shots because Kathleen is even more of an ethereal character than Gatsby's "Daisy", Monroe sees her as extremely delicate and light in a way that seems too perfect for his world. She is elusive to him, almost translucent, which only makes her all the more precious. Three years later this concept would be carried to its extreme in "All That Jazz" with Jessica Lange's "Angelique" who literally had no physical substance. The point from a "language of film" perspective is that a filmmaker presents a character in this manner to immediately clue viewers into that character representing an all-consuming motivational force that will drive the hero throughout the story - often to doom.

Kathleen makes her entrance in one of the best scenes in cinema history; with the post-earthquake chaos of the flooding studio lot looking like 'thirty acres of fairyland' at night, a radiant mystery woman climbs down from a gigantic floating head (fabricated to be used by the studio as a prop the following week) and smiles at Monroe Stahr, the last of the great Hollywood princes.

To its credit, the screenplay is true to Fitzgerald's vision and Boulting and DeNiro effectively bring their relationship dynamic to the big screen. But potential viewers should understand that their often nonverbal relationship is the core element of the entire film, the rest of the story is simply a backdrop. Fitzgerald struggled with "The Last Tycoon" because he was in effect writing two books in one: a "psychological" novel about Stahr and a social commentary about Hollywood. Harold Pinter's difficulties with the screenplay stemmed from the same issue Fitzgerald had been unable to resolve, just where to strike the balance between the two stories.

The emphasis on Stahr means that the excellent supporting cast, from Tony Curtis as a troubled movie star to Robert Mitchum as a cynical studio head to Donald Pleasence as a perplexed English writer, do not get any substantial screen time; but are relegated to insubstantial supporting parts in the service of giving DeNiro the room to showcase his character's roller coaster of elation and sadness. The only exception is Teresa Russell's Cecilia (the story's Nick Carraway) whose sense of right and wrong helps to elevate her above the others.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.


An Absolutely Gorgeous Film
Very cool movie. "The Girl" (2009) should be required viewing for all film and video production students. Each shot is a creative tapestry of composition, light, and shadow. Fredrick Edfeldt's acting-for-the camera direction is inspired and Blanca Engstrom gives the perfect nuanced and underplayed performance needed to match the pace and tone of his film.

But the real star of this remarkable film is Swiss cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who has since been the Director of Photography for "Interstellar" (2014). The film is worth a second watch just to appreciate each carefully composed shot. I've never seen anyone do it better, even breaking the 180 rule several times in the service of underscoring the girl's increasingly disoriented drift from reality.

It is not an entirely original story. There are many of the creepy elements from "Tideland" (2005) and some from "The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane" (1976), but "The Girl" is much more naturalistic and gentle than those two films. It could also be considered a placid "Alice In Wonderland", subtly off-kilter with Louis Carroll's illogic replaced by the mundane but equally disturbing logic of the modern adult world.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

Saving Mr. Banks

"Sorry Daddy"
"I dropped the pears ... sorry daddy" says the stunned child who will grow up to become the creator of Mary Poppins. The child (wonderfully underplayed by Annie Rose Buckley) has returned from the pear fetching errand to find that her long-suffering father has passed away from influenza during her brief absence. Thus begins a life of atonement for P.L. Travers, who will take her father's first name as her surname and adopt a rather strait-laced no-nonsense existence. The whimsical person she was to have become is instead incorporated into her creation, a character modeled on the physical characteristics of her Aunt Ellie (played by Rachel Griffiths) and the style of J. M. Barrie - who she admired. The film confirms this in the closing credits with two different drawings of Mary Poppins, the first one appears when Buckley is credited and the second one a little later when Griffiths is credited.

Buckley's is the key performance of the production as she must non-verbally sell the child's absolute and unqualified adoration of her father, if the parallel story of Travers' efforts at atonement for not saving him are to ring true. In this the young Australian actress is absolutely convincing and John Lee Hancock demonstrates his considerable acting-for-the-camera directing skills.

The film is an extremely well-crafted tale with two parallel time-lines, Travers' traumatic coming-of-age story and Walt Disney's ultimately successful efforts to secure the rights to bring Mary Poppins to the big screen. Both proceed chronologically, with Travers recalling her childhood in sequenced flashbacks. More subtle is a third story, minimalist references to Disney's own childhood, which serve as a compare and contrast with Travers; with portions of both fathers blending into the 1964 film's version of Mr. Banks (played by David Tomlinson who appears at the center of that film's cast photo in the closing credits) . The film teasingly alludes to a similarity between these two creative people. Both brought a lot of childhood baggage with them into adulthood in the way of father issues. And for both these issues are reflected in the dichotomy of their adult lives. Early in the film they cut-away to the second floor window of Elias Disney's office on Disneyland's Main Street, Walt's tribute to the work ethic instilled in him by his father. Later Disney attributes the motivation behind his retreat into imagination to bitterness about a childhood which was anything but whimsical.

Those behind "Saving Mr. Banks" understood what it is like to still be wrestling with childhood demons throughout adulthood and they knew how to make the viewer feel the struggle.

On the other hand the saving of Mr. Banks premise is a non-factor in the Mary Poppins books (the original and the sequels). The film would be more accurately named "Saving Mr. (Elias) Disney". Apparently Travers was appalled before, during, and after the screening of the dumbed down film adaptation of her books. And by all accounts she carried her litany of objections to her grave, never permitting a sequel. For 50 years avid readers have been mystified by the adaptation's unrecognizable theme and its peculiar areas of emphasis. The adaptation did not include Travers' best chapter (Mary Popping's birthday party at the zoo among the animals) nor her best character (the star Maia from the Pleiades cluster of the Taurus constellation - who Jane and Michael help in her human form to pick out Christmas gifts for her six sisters). Instead they fabricated additional scenes for the horribly miscast Dick Van Dyke - whose casting even "Saving Mr. Banks" acknowledges as being entirely for commercial purposes.

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.


"Hit Girl" meets "The Incredible Shrinking Man"
"We've codified our existence to bring it down to human size, to make it comprehensible, we've created a scale so we can forget its unfathomable scale" says Lucy (Scarlett Johansson) by way of summation of the insights she has achieved under an accidental overdose of a new and powerful synthetic drug.

This is to date Johansson's best performance, full of tight close-ups on her face as her character nonverbally radiates a dimensionality seldom seen on the screen. I suspect that Evan Rachel Wood's Dolores Abernathy character in "Westword" was influenced by Johansson's take on her title character. Both characters drift seamlessly in and out of a distanced robotic mindset. Especially remarkable is Lucy's overseas phone call to her mother.

"Lucy" is a philosophical film being marketed as science fiction - action adventure. Since it worked for "2001: A Space Odyssey" back in 1968 I guess they thought it would work here. But the mismatch has caused "Lucy" to miss much of Luc Besson's intended audience and to disappoint those looking for Scarlett doing a "Leon" inspired "Kick-Ass" number in tight shiny "Black Widow" latex.

The mismatch between the film and its promotional campaign is my only major criticism. A minor criticism is the poor quality of the digital effects (the car chase doesn't hold a candle to the old fashion way, insert 1998's "Ronin" here). Given the budget limitations, the POV, and the transforming mental condition of the title character; the film would have been far better served had Beeson substituted expressionism for realism. Cinema greatness was there for the taking.

As in "The Incredible Shrinking Man" and "2001: A Space Odyssey" the existential theme is not anti-God (or even pro Übermensch), but anti-ego. With a character slowly losing their connection with humanity, finally connecting with the infinite at the moment they become infinitesimal.

"Man's task in life is the paradoxical one of realizing his individuality and at the same time transcending it to arrive at the experience of universality. Only the fully developed self can drop the ego." -Erich Fromm

Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.

See all reviews