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Marie Antoinette

Coppola's Costume Drama Experiment
Marie Antoinette (2006): Starring Kirsten Dunst, Jason Schwartzman, Marianne Faithful, Rip Torn, Asia Argento, Judy Davis, Danny Huston, Molly Shannon, Shirley Henderson, Mary Nighy, Sebastian Armesto, Jamie Dornan, Steve Coogan. Directed by Sofia Coppola, screenplay by Sofia Coppola.

Released in 2006, Coppola's Marie Antoinette is heavily flawed. Far from faithful to the historical reality of Marie Antoinette - her personality, her life and times - it's really more of an offbeat colorful costume comedy set in Versailles in the late 18th century. This should come as no surprise when you consider the number of comedic actors in leading roles - Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette, Jason Schwartzman as Louis the 16th, even Molly Shannon and Shirley Henderson as Louis' aunts Sophie and Victoire. Adding to the mix is the very accomplished British actress Judy Davis as Comtesse DE Noailles, head supervisor of etiquette at the court of Versailles and Rip Torn as the old King Louis the 15th. This film isn't about the complete life of Marie Antoinette therefore it's not a biopic. The film's strongest focus is on Marie's difficult life at Versailles. Marie finds it challenging to please everyone and she turns heads with her inexperience and her continuous breaking of social customs and protocol. Marie's only role is to mother Louis the 16th's children, the heirs to the throne of France. For years, she is childless, owing to Louis' sexual dysfunction, upsetting the nation who consider her to be uninterested in her husband, in her people and caring only for parties, luxuries and an extravagant lifestyle of jewelry, gowns and pastries. When at last Marie gives birth and becomes Queen, her life becomes increasingly dull. She escapes the growing pressures at court and the disdain of her enemies by spending time at the fake country château of the Petit Trianon where she has established a small farm. She has a brief sexual affair with the Swedish Count Axel Von Fersen (Jamie Dornan), something which might not have occurred at all.

This film omits the Revolution and we hear of it only from word of mouth. The film never loses the perspective of Marie Antoinette. Also missing is the very significant Affair of the Necklace incident involving the thief Jeanne Remy, the Cardinal DE Rohan and a diamond necklace. The scandal ruined the Queen's reputation and made her very unpopular and hated by the people. The film is unnecessarily long and very hollow, highlighting on the stereotypical aspects of Marie Antoinette's life, the parties, the fashions and the excesses; the very things that made her a hated figure by the French. Kirsten Dunst is woefully miscast and delivers an unsatisfying performance. Clearly historical drama is not suited to her abilities as an actress. She never delves into the character's inner suffering and psychology, never gives us enough for us to care and sympathize. She's wooden and never becomes Marie Antoinette, she's just being Kirsten Dunst, modern comedienne in dress up. Jason Schwartzman is worse with the minimalist dialog and lifeless persona. He doesn't do anything with his character. The superior performances are from Judy Davis as the Countess DE Noailles and Marianne Faithful as the Empress Maria Teresa, minor roles and appearing only briefly in early portions of the film. We would benefit from at least one other person's perspective because Marie's life was sheltered from reality and her geography was limited to Versailles. Looking at this movie, we don't truly understand why they hated her in Paris, nor see just how seriously her position as Queen was threatened.

Perhaps the reason this film is terrible lies in the poor screenplay and bad writing. Coppola is better suited as director but not as writer. She might have done better by hiring a good writer. Her direction is generally good. The cinematography is excellent. There are beautiful vistas of the palace of Versailles and it's gardens, including also the Petit Trianon and the Queen's farm. The costumes may be over the top and far too colorful to be realistic and authentic but they are beautiful to look at. The cast and crew were allowed to film at the actual palace of Versailles. Only a few films have done this and it's good to know that it's not a fake set. This is a lovely movie visually but it's an insubstantial film with unimpressive writing. and acting. It also suffers from the fact that it wants to take itself seriously as a historical drama but it's far from it. On the plus side, Coppola did her homework and the details of Marie's frustration at Versailles is accurate. Everything is generally faithful to the real events of Marie's time in Versailles such as her correspondence with her mother Empress Maria Teresa and the visit by the concerned brother Josef. But in many ways, this film falls into the genre of experiment because Coppola lost track of the more personal tragedy and human side of Marie Antoinette. We never see her being a good mother and wife, both of which she truly was. Another downside is the modern music for the soundtrack. Although Coppola has a few excerpts of Baroque and late 18th century classical music as well as opera, she also varies it with modern pop which is unnecessary and freakishly anachronistic. Coppola seems to want us to relate to Marie with the heavy emphasis on modern attitudes by Kirsten's performance, but she fails miserably because it just doesn't suit a period film which should be restricted to the milieu and the attitudes of the people of that long ago period, which has no immediate connection with our modern society. This film could have been better if Coppola had opted to make a serious drama about the life and death of Marie Antoinette and the events of the French Revolution. Only the cinematography and lavish costumes are worth watching.

The Adventures of Marco Polo

Entertaining Historical Adventure Film From 1938
The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938): Gary Cooper, Basil Rathbone, Sigrid Gurie, George Barbier, Lana Turner, Binnie Barnes, Ernest Ruex, AlanHale, Ward Bond, H.B. Warner, Robert Greig, Henry Kolker, Lotus Liu, Harold Huber, Reginald Barlow, Harry Cording, Richard Farnsworth, Leo Fielding, Anne Graham, Hale Hamilton, Eugene Hoo, Greta Granstedt, Granville Bates.....Director Archie Mayo, Story by N.A. Pogson, Screenplay Robert. E. Sherwood.

By 1938, Gary Cooper was as big a star in Hollywood as Clark Gable. Cooper's Western films always drew crowds. "The Adventures of Marco Polo" was a different type of film for him and originally, audiences did not flock to see it. Playing a historical figure, although with a heroic and fictional slant, this was a sort of a departure from his usual roles. He was paired with an actress who never made it big - European-born Sigrid Gurie. Basil Rathbone as the villain and a young, previously unknown Lana Turner as a maid. She would become famous in the 40's shortly after this film. The results are a highly entertaining adventure film that is not historically accurate. The real Marco Polo never behaved the way Cooper does in the movie, nor did he ever experience the type of encounters he has in this film. It was a trend in the 30's to show adventure films, escapist films and it had been this way since the start of the Depression. For such a film, this one is well worth viewing, especially if you're a fan of Gary Cooper or have an interest in classic films.

1300's era Italian/Venetian explorer Marco Polo (Cooper) is assigned to explore China, namely the capital of Peking, the home of the Great Emperor Kublai Kan (Barbier). Italy hopes to make trade/commercial relations with China. Before long, Marco and his servant, carrying on his back, reach Peking and the Palace. Kan treats him hospitably. He discovers the beautiful Princess Kookoo-Chin (Gurie) who although engaged to marry the Prince of Persia, falls madly for Marco. Trouble arises when Marco is sent to dangerous enemy territory, as part of a carefully constructed plot by the Emperor's adviser Ahmed(played by Basil Rathbone). With Marco away, and shortly after the Emperor himself, Ahmed devises a plan to marry the Princess himself and usurp the throne of China. Will Marco be able to save China from this dastardly plot ? Will the Princess Koo-koo Chin and Maro have a happily ever after ? With exciting music, exotic costumes and sets (and yes this is a set picture) this type of film was a standard of most escapist adventures. Gary Cooper is no swashbuckler icon like Douglas Fairbanks or Errol Flynn, who was in '38 at this time, the only swashbuckler icon, but he holds his own and does a marvelous job. It's part comedy, part romance, mostly adventure. It's sad to think that audiences did not seem to enjoy it. Now it's a wonderful reminder of an older form of cinema and a credit to the many acting styles of Hollywood star Gary Cooper.

Rear Window

Classic Hitchcock Films: Rear Window
Rear Window (1954): James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey, Raymond Burr, Judith Evelyn, Ross Bagdasarian, Georgine Darcy, Sarah Berner, Frank Cady, Jesslyn Fax, Rand Harper, Irene Winston, Havis Davenport, Alan Lee, Anthony Warde, Benny Bartlett, Harry Landers, Iphigenie Castiglioni....Director Alfred Hitchcock, Writer/Screenplay John Michael Hayes, based on the short story "It Had To Be Murder" by Cornell Woolrich.

With "Rear Window" director Alfred Hitchcock began his greatest hits decade, the 1950's. A master of suspense and what was at the time considered thrillers, Hitchock created a successful franchise of movies that endured into the mid 1960's. He also had his own TV series with half-hour episodes full of suspense and intrigue. "Rear Window" released in '54, starred James Stewart, a veteran of Hollywood whose popularity had not yet diminished. Hitchcock would cast him again as a lead in the 1958 "Vertigo", which was also a hit. Opposite Stewart is the equally iconic Grace Kelly, who was for Hitchcock, the perfect Hitchcock film heroine - blonde, beautiful, cool and a damsel in distress. He would later cast his favorite leading lady in another classic winner Dial M for Murder released the same year. With two big names as Stewart and Kelly, Hitchcock took Hollywood by the horns.

Plot: Wheelchair bound Jeff Jefferies (Stewart) lives in a crowded tenement slum in New York City. His fiancée Lisa (Kelly) loves him despite her privileged background and distance. Having nothing else to do, Jeff becomes a voyeur at his window and observes the daily rituals and snippets of the lives of his neighbors, who just happen to leave their windows open all the time. It's a colorful cast: Miss Lonelyhearts (Judith Evelyn) a lonely, single middle-aged woman who longs for love and cannot seem to find it, the Songwriter (Ross Bagdasarian) who labors over the same tune and entertains party guests, "Miss Torso" the gorgeous ballerina who draws a lot of male attention, a newlywed couple, a couple that are NOT so newlywed and the main draw - Lars Thorwald (Burr) whose invalid, bed-ridden wife mysteriously disappears. Jeff is convinced Lars has murdered his wife but all he has are suspicions. There are nightly departures from his apartment, a missing wife whose whereabouts are not known, mysterious long distance phone calls and some other things that seem very odd such as the missing clothes and jewels of his wife. Before long, he gets his nurse involved (Thelma Ritter), his landlord and yes his girlfriend. Are Jeff's suspicious unfounded ? Has his voyeurism led him to some fantastic conclusions that are not real ? What really goes on behind closed doors ? What do people do when they think they are not being watched ? The voyeuristic slant of this film seems to be one of many of the "neurosis" or psychosis themed films with characters whose problems are on the inside but whose world we are sucked into with horrifying force. This film is not violent, nor is it even the least bit eerie. It's a mystery plain and simple with an A list cast and with Hitchcock doing his best early in his career as America's King of Suspense at a time when these types of films were quite new. It's interesting to note how there are besides Stewart and Kelly, 2 other big names - Raymond Burr and Ross Bagdasarian. Burr was a well known figure in Hollywood himself and became the iconic TV star "Perry Mason". Ross Bagdaarian went on to become a songwriter (much like his character in this film) who wrote successful hits in the early 60's via the animated cartoons The Chipmunks - "Witch Doctor", "Hurry Christmas" and other hit songs.

Bugsy Malone

1975 Classic Musical: Bugsy Malone
Bugsy Malone (1976): Scott Baio, Jodie Foster, John Cassisi, Florrie Dugger, Martin Lev, Paul Murphy, Sheridan Earl Russell, Albin Humpty Jenkins, Paul Chirelstein, Andrew Paul, Davidson Knight, Michael Jackson, Jeffrey Stevens, Peter Holder, Donald Wagh, Michael Kirkby, Jorge Valdez, jon Zebrowski, Ron Meleleu, Paul Besterman, Brian Hardy, Dexter Fletcher, Bonnie Langford, Mark Curry, Vivienne McKone, Helen Corran...Director Alan Parker, Writer Alan Parker....

The 1970's was still a big decade for musicals, only its musicals had become more modern in their content. Although this is not a "rock" musical that was common then (Rocky Horror Picture Show, Tommy, Jesus Christ Superstar, etc) it was instead an homage to the Roaring 20's and Gangster Movies. Far from containing violence, sex and foul language, as a standard 1970's gangster movie would have had, we instead have an ensemble cast made up of minors with their lead stars being Scott Baio and Jodie Foster. Foster had already made several movies as a child star and this was the first hit movie of actor Scott Baio who would later become famed as a TV star in the 1980's series "Charles In Charge". John Cassisi as a tough-talking Speakeasy owner and Florrie Dugger as the sweet, Hollywood-bound Blousy. With many song and dance numbers, historically accurate costumes, cars, guns and music, a lot of jokes, and pies-in-the-face, this is a movie that can be enjoyed by the whole family. It's first theatrical release earned it a G rating and although there are guns in the film and gangster wars, there is no violence. Instead of firing bullets, they fire pie cream. This film is a feel-good comedy musical that spoofs gangster movies from an earlier period such like the 1940's. The story is original but it was drawn from real life mob wars such as those in Chicago during the Al Capone Era and those in New York City in the 30's and 40's.Plot: Bugsy Malone (Baio) falls for the aspiring actress/singer Blousy Brown (Dugger)but they are both down-on-their luck until Busy works for the shifty Speakeasy owner and Mafia boss Fat Sam (Cassisi) who is currently in a gang war with his rival. But Fat Sam has Bugsy on his side and a new weapon: cream-of-pie bullets. Much attention at this time went to the maturity of Jodie Foster who plays a sultry lounge singer Tallulah. Already noticeable are the qualities she would display as an adult actress. Although this film has been dismissed as campy and nothing significant, this is still a fine family film that proves to be a hit even years later. Many drama schools still produce this musical and the role of Tallulah particularly is one some singers aspire to.

The Innocents

Gothic Mystery Horror Drama
The Innocents (1961): Starring Deborah Kerr, Martin Stephens, Pamela Franklin, Peter Wyngarde, Meg Jenkins, Michael Redgrave, Clytie Jessop, Isla Cameron, Eric Woodburn.....Director Jack Clayton, Screenplay William Archibald, Truman Capote and John Mortimer.

"Gone is my lord, and the grave is his prison. What shall I say when my lord comes a-calling? What shall I say when he knocks on my door? What shall I say when his feet enter softly, Leaving the marks of his grave on my floor? Enter my lord, come from your prison Come from your grave, for the moon is arisen!"............

Loosely based on Henry James novel "The Turn of the Screw", The Innocents was actually taken from a successful stage play at the time but made into a suspense-filled Gothic ghost story which for the early 1960's was absolutely groundbreaking. Released in 1961, it was directed by Jack Clayton and starred the well-known British actress Deborah Kerr. Although Kerr had done many excellent films before "The Innocents" (including From Here To Eternity and The King and I) Kerr delivers what she considered to be her greatest performance, in part because so much of the dialog is taken from theater which had always been her forte. Kerr portrays Miss Giddens, a 19th century Victorian nanny, known at the time as a governess who is sent to care for two orphan children whose guardian is their busy, distant and indifferent uncle. The boy Miles (Martin Stephens) comes home after being expelled from school. He is a strange boy with an adult mind and personality. His sister Flora (Pamela Franklin) although sweet and innocent, also has a creepy quality about her. The housekeeper Anna (Isla Cameron) tells Miss Giddens about the sordid past in the house. The children's previous governess, Miss Jessel, had a torrid affair with the valet Peter Quint (Peter Wyngarde). The children were exposed to the lovers' erotic trysts and Quint's brutality and were consequently corrupted by them. Quint died under mysterious circumstances and Miss Jessel committed suicide by drowning herself in a lake. Their ghosts still haunt the estate and later, after seeing the apparitions for herself, Miss Giddens is convinced that the spirits of the adult couple have possessed the bodies of the children. The writing is brilliant. Some of the script, lifted from the original play, was written by Truman Capote, who manages to slip in subtle, discreet innuendo, particularly in the scenes with the precocious boy Miles, who behaves like a miniature Truman Capote. He always speaks to his nanny as if he were an adult gentleman and not just a little boy she's taking care of. There is enough evidence in the film to suggest that Miss Gidden is not just imagining things or has lost her mind, unlike the more ambiguous Henry James novel. In the film, we see what Miss Giddens sees through the window during a game of hide and seek when she first sees the specter of Quint face to face and when she encounters Miss Jessel as seen from a distance by the lake where she drowned and also in the library where she again sees her this time far closer in person and even touches her tears. There are many unforgettable moments in the film that paved the way for later horror movies. There have been many film versions of The Turn of the Screw and a recent adaptation was with Nicole Kidman entitled "The Others". The ghostly presence of former residents of a house has also been seen in recent films like "The Grudge" or "A Haunting In Conneticut". Two scenes that stand out is when the children are reading an eerie poem "What shall I sing to my lord at the window?' which is actually about the relationship with Miles and the dead Quint and the scene when Miss Giddens, alone in the house in the dark with a lantern, hears a melange of eerie noises and screams that seem to fit inside a haunted house attraction ride! At this time in early 60's horror films, sound effects were more sophisticated and this film definitely makes use of them - the children's song serves as an eerie, unsettling musical theme, the children's laughter, Quint's sinister laugh and voice, Miss Jessel's cries of pain, screams, sudden gusts of wind and doors closing with powerful force. The story reaches dramatic heights toward the end when Miss Giddens attempts to get rid of the ghosts and their influence over the children. The finale is both climatic and disturbing. With eerie and exciting music by Georges Auric and a Gothic cinematography by Freddie Francis, this is a classic horror movie that although tame by today's standards is a perfect example of drama and mystery coming together and the results are spine-tingling.

Sleeping Beauty

Disney's Animated Epic Classic: Sleeping Beauty
Sleeping Beauty (1959): Verna Felton, Barbara Jo Allen, Barbara Luddy, Eleanor Audley, Mary Costa, Bill Shirley, Taylor Holmes, Bill Thompson, Candy Candido, Bill Amsbery, Pinto Colvig, Dal MacKennon, Marvin Miller, Thurl Ravenscroft...Director...Clyde Geronimi..Screenplay/Writing...Erdaman Penner, Joe Rinaldi, Winston Hibler, Bill Peet, Ted Sears, Ralph Wright, Milt Banta...Based on the Charles Perrault fairy tale and the ballet by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky with music arranged by George Bruns.

The Masterpiece: When released in 1959, Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty heralded a new era in it's company's animated films that would continue into the 1960's. It was a film that cost Disney 6 million dollars and his most cherished creation that took the entire decade of the 1950's to complete. The result was a beloved and world renowned fairy tale come to epic life on the big screen in Technorama, with amazing sound, color and beautiful music and melodies/themes lifted from Tchaikovsky's ballet score. It was for the folks at Disney their masterpiece not unlike epic movies that had been impressing audiences by the late 50's to compete with home television - The Ten Commandments, Ben Hur, etc. But the crown is definitely the animation and bold new cinematic look. This brilliant new look was breathtaking for 1959 audiences who had never seen anything like it. It was a kind of animated epic drama or opera. It owed to principal animator Eyvin Earle's stylistic and artsy technique, plus the contributions of great animators like Don Bluth (who would later in the 80's create films like The Land Before Time, etc) and even Chuck Jones who did work for Looney Tunes. Despite following the "fairy tale book" genre that Disney had done with "Snow White" and "Cinderella", the fairy tale presented in the film is not based on the simplistic original. It is an original Disney re-make of the old and distinctly European tale. Rather than seeing it as a fairy tale, one must see it as being fantasy fiction. Its look borrows from 1400's pre-Renaissance/Gothic Medieval paintings, "Joan of Arc" times, Christian and Catholic Europe, coat of arms, embroidery, drapes, banners and architecture. The castles are very European and in fact resemble castles depicted in illustrated manuscripts and even King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein castle in Bavaria, Germany, for which Disney modeled the Disneyland castle in California. Everything is bigger than what it was originally in the tale and it ultimately deals with good versus evil and the protection of an innocent princess by the forces of good from an evil prophecy. The epic battle between Prince Phillip and Maleficent as a Dragon suddenly becomes a sword-and-sorcery fantasy complete with a hero and heroine.Plot: King Stefan and his Queen have their long awaited child/heir Princess Aurora and the whole kingdom celebrates by a lavish and ritualistic, almost Catholic Christening. The Three Good Fairies (in primary colors red, green and blue) Flora (Verna Felton), Fauna (Barbara Jo Allen) and the feisty Merriwether (Barbara Luddy) bestow Aurora with blessings and gifts of beauty, grace and song. But the country's outcast fairy, who is in fact an evil sorceress Maleficent, bitter at not being invited and more so for not being "wanted" takes revenge by cursing Aurora with an evil prophecy: On her 16th birthday she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Merriwether's gift: the reverse spell of putting her to sleep until her true love kisses her. The 3 Fairies take no chances and decide to raise the girl as their own ward in a secluded cottage in the deep woods. Aurora grows into a beautiful young maiden with a beautiful singing voice (Mary Costa vocalizes). Before she knows it, she's met Prince Phillip, out for a ride in the woods, and does not know that he was her betrothed all along. Neither of them are aware of their previous roles as future Prince and Princess. Upon Aurora's return to the castle where she was born, Maleficent uses her dark magic to hypnotize the princess and have her prick her finger on a dark spinning wheel made by witchcraft. The 3 Faries put the entire kingdom to sleep. Maleficent kidnaps Prince Phillip, complicating things until the Fairies rescue him. It's now a direct conflict between Maleficent and the Prince, between good and evil, for the fate of Princess Aurora.The films of Walt Disney, beginning with Snow White, including Fantasia, and the films made in the 50's- Peter Pan, Alice In Wonderland, and Lady And The Tramp, seemed to climax with the "new" style of Sleeping Beauty. It was the pinnacle of Disney's animated movies at the time and a fitting fireworks finale to a decade of great movies.

Il fantasma dell'opera

R-Rated Phantom Without The Romance
Dario Argento's Phantom Of The Opera (1998: Starring Julian Sands, Asia Argento, Nadia Rinaldi, Andrea Di Stefano, Lucia Gazzardi, Aldo Massasso, Iztvan Bubik, David D'Ingeo, Zoltan Barabas, Kitti Kerri, Leonardo Treviglio, Enzo Cardogna, Itala Bekes, Tania Nagel, Csilla Ward, Gianni Franco, Gabor Harsai....Director Dario Argento, Written By Dario Argento.

Released in 1998, this is Italian cinema director Dario Argento's Phantom but not the Phantom of the Opera as most people are familiar with nor the truest and most faithful adaptation of the old French novel by Gaston Leroux. This one is clearly a horror movie without any touch of romance. Fans of the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical and the earlier Phantom movies from Lon Cheney's classic performance to Claude Rains, Herbert Lom and Charles Dance, this film is entirely on a different level. It falls under the category of Italian horror and international casting in an unpleasant, disturbing and gory independent film. No wonder it did not do well in the box office and most Phantom fans aren't even aware of its existence. Dario Argento cast his own daughter in the role of Christine Daee, and British actor Julian Sands as the Phantom. This time around, the Phantom is NOT disfigured, which is the strongest violation of the original premise. Instead of having facial deformities, the Phantom is an abandoned child who was raised by telepathic rats that kill people. Living under the opera house with his rats, he's developed telepathy himself and a dirty, dark, predatory and disgusting personality. He looks like either a vampire or rock star but there is no real sense of romance. His feelings for Christine are carnal and nothing more. She becomes his lover but other than music and her voice, theirs is a purely sexual relationship. Because of this, and because he kills anyone he dislikes, he's not a sympathetic figure. Without the romance, we can't really feel anything for this Phantom who is pure evil. The story is only partially faithful to the original tale. It is set at the Paris Opera of the 1870's and the Count Raoul De Chagny is Christine's choice of a mate, but this time around we genuinely feel that she belongs with the normal, secure and more romantic Count than the sadistic and no good Phantom. The performances are over-the-top and boring, even Carlotta, the fat soprano who thinks she is above all else. The classic chandelier drop is here but this time it's far more bloody than usual. There are scenes of graphic violence that earned this movie an R rating and ought not to be viewed by sensitive audiences or children. The music is beautiful, haunting and evocative of the period (with the use of the aria from Lakme) and the cinematography, costumes and art direction is truly very Phantom, including the "Degas ballerinas" touches, but there is very little to like about this movie. For comic relief, there is a rat exterminator and a midget which seem absurd and out of place for this tale. The real problem is the lack of direction and lack of romanticism. It's just one movie of Dario Argento's dark ouevre that happens to have the Phantom of the Opera as subject, but he twisted it around to make it his work and his style. Unless you're a fan of the Italian director, you'll otherwise find it too dark and disturbing. The only other "horror-themed" Phantom I can think of is the 1989 Robert Englund Phantom, an American film starring the actor of the Freddy Kueger films, but even that one had more interesting qualities. This one is too sick.

Shock Treatment

The Lesser Sequel To Rocky Horror Picture Show And Satire on Reality TV
Shock Treatment (1981): Richard O'Brien, Cliff De Young, Jessica Harper, Patricia Quinn, Charles Grey, Nelle Campbell, Rik Mayall, Barry Humphries, Darlene Johnson, Manning Redwood, Jeremy Newson, Betsy Brantley, Perry Bedden, Christopher Malcolm, Ray Charleson, Imgone Claire, Eugene Lipinski, Barry Dennen....Original Music by Richard O'Brien, Richard Harley...Director Jim Sharman.

Shock Treatment, released in 1981, was the follow-up to the far more popular and successful musical "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" of 1975. Richard O'Brien, the lyricist and Richard Harley the composer, teamed up once again to make this lesser sequel for the new MTV generation of the 1980's. Despite using the same characters of Brad and Janet, and some of the same actors from Rocky Horror, namely Richard O'Brien, Patricia Quinn, Nelle "Little Nelle" Campbell and Charles Grey (who was the narrator in Rocky Horror), there is still no real semblance to Rocky Horror Picture Show and it's a completely different animal. Gone is the vulgarity of the original, the in-your-face raunchy humor, the camp and the overall fun spirit of Rocky Horror. Also, the plot in this sequel is painfully thin compared to the science fiction/horror parody of the first and it turns out to be simply a boring musical satire about empty glamour of the 80's, the consumerism and materialism of pop culture. Why the creative genius of the Rocky Horror Picture Show should want to make a "thinking man's comedy" is beyond me. If you're like me, you only watched this because it's got the Rocky Horror Picture Show team working on a new musical but it's no Rocky Horror Picture Show. Ultimately, it's too long, boring and the songs aren't even as good. But here's the plot for those curious enough to see this train wreck of a film: Brad and Janet, fresh from their adventures with the ghouls from the Rocky Horror Picture Show (Frank'N'Furter is dead, Riff Raff and Magenta and the rest return to Transsexual Transylvania), return to their beloved and wholesome American small town of Denton. But they soon discover that even this Rockefeller painting of a town is not what it used to be. The whole town has been invaded by the phenomenon of Television and everyone is part of the audience or performers of a hugely popular game show. The whole thing is eerily like what today we call reality television. The "real lives" of certain people are seen as either glamorous or deplorable. In the case of Brad and Janet, Janet decides to liberate herself from her formerly submissive "housewife" role of Brad's woman and turns into a glamorous TV soap star, with the ad and flattery of creepy, agenda-driven producers. The industry mogul is himself Brad Majors' own long lost brother who intends to crush his brother whom he is jealous of and win the heart of Janet Weiss. Brad is sent to a mental asylum where he undergoes the eponymous "shock treatment" by its managers played by Richard O'Brien and Patricia Quinn, who are NOT Riff Raff and Magenta but entirely new characters. In the end, even Janet realizes she's been brainwashed and turned into a product rather than a whole person and she, Brad, her best friend Betty and Betty's new boyfriend (Charles Grey) decide to leave the crazy TV-infected town.The songs are creatively written, no doubt, and only a few are actually good including "Denton USA" and "Shock Treatment" but this time around the songs are too "intellectual" and satirical. They contain none of the nonsense and campy humor of Rocky Horror Picture Show and therefore are forgettable songs. Everyone knows the songs from Rocky Horror Picture Show and their respective scenes/plot point/ from the movie but with Shock Treatment, the whole thing is like some weird and crazy MTV video spoof. Nevertheless, it contains fine cinematography, and often it does seem to fit into MTV individualized videos. But the story itself is too dull and meaningless. At least with RHPS there was an obvious satire of science fiction and horror mixed with 1970's decadence. Shock Treatment manages to put you in a state of shock, straps you into a chair and gives you high dosage of insane music, color, 80's fashion and pop culture. It's really very sad that this was the last we saw or heard of the Rocy Horror team.

Carnal Cravings

A "Relationship" Softcore Flick For Women
Carnal Cravings (2007): Starring Monique Parent, Danny Pape, Monique Alexander, Tyler Faith, Jassie, Dino Bravo, Billy Chappell, Cytherea.....Director.. J. W. McHausen...Screenplay..April White, Edward Gorsuch...Original Music..Bruce Edwards, Cinematography...David Ortkiese....Casting...Robert C. Lombard...Produced By...Marc L. Greenberg, Elena Shuman.

In this soft core adult B movie, made by the creative forces that do these type of adult films on Cable TV, namely late night Cinemax, Showtime or The Movie Channel, Monique Parent stars as Natalie, a beautiful and mature psychiatrist who organizes a "sex therapy" class for relationships whose sex lives are in trouble. Three beautiful young women, Debbie (Monique Alexander), Sharon (Tyler Faith) and Brooke (Jassie) are having problems with their men - Rob (Danny Pape), Mitch (Dino Bravo) and Jeff (Billy Chappell). They complain to their therapist that their sex lives are missing a spark, that it's routine and dull. After each session, they attempt to practice what they've learned but each time a problem ensues. For Debbie, things get really complicated when her boyfriend's wife (whom he hasn't divorced yet) shows up again and lures him to bed (played by Cytherea). This throws her into the arms of her girlfriend Sharon with whom she had once experimented sexually. But this time Sharon and Debbie engage in a threesome with Sharon's man Mitch. That doesn't work out either since Sharon becomes jealous of Debbie. It's not until at the end when everyone confronts each other and their problems directly in a therapy session that their problems are resolved and everyone's sex life is good again - and a foursome in a hot tub marks their celebration! As for as the sex goes, there are several sex scenes between each couple, female masturbation scenes, a threesome and foursome finale. The quality of the sex scenes are the same kind of eroticism regularly seen on cable TV late night, without graphic or actual hardcore sex. Great music plays as the slow motion sex happens and if you're a fan of soft core adult movies, this one is a good one. But since it has lots of dialog scenes and couples being couples, it's going to be dubbed a woman's porno and or "couples' porno". If you're sex life really needs improvement, this movie might help you! Keep in mind that all this is the stuff Cinemax is made of, so despite the realism of couples with problems, this sort of stuff does not happen in real life. It's rather long for the usual one hour deals on cable, and it does have lots of dialog and acting (which I like). The therapist played by Monique Parent, while a good performance, is unrealistic. All that sex in her own home! Sex is still the focus of this film and the objective is to get the couples to prioritize sex, albeit to save their relationship. "Carnal Cravings" is a soft core adult film for women. It's obvious that some male viewers, as shown by the previous review, find "relationship" talk and "thinking man's sex" too much of a "chick flick" kinda movie, and seems oddly out of place in the real of porno. But one has to remember that soft core is not exactly mainstream porno. These movies are made by independent movie companies and the actors are not actual adult film stars (though some are) and they specialize in soft core adult films, which usually entails dialog, acting and a PLOT. When a real plot is thrown into an adult film, it suddenly becomes a little more than a porno. This is what classic porno of the 70's was like, but nowadays the porn industry has eliminated plot, character and good scripts in favor of solid hardcore sex scenes. It's refreshing to see an adult movie that leaves you thinking, feeling and even learning something. I liked the acting, especially by Monique Parent, whose done several of these kind of movies. It's a really cool film in the end. Women should enjoy this! I know I did.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Cult Classic Comedy Musical
The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975): Starring Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, Barry Bostwick, Richard O'Brien, Charles Gray, Patricia Quinn, Nell Campbell, Meatloaf, Peter Hinwood, Jonathan Adams, Jeremy Newson...Director Jim Sharman, Screenplay Richard O'Brien, Based On The Stage Musical/Music and Lyrics Richard O'Brien. Produced By Lou Adler, Michael Whiet and John Goldstone, Cinematography Peter Suschitzky, Costume Design By Sue Blane Since 1975, The Rocky Horror Pictures Show has delighted audiences during its long run of midnight movie showings and it has a high place among cult classic films. Outwardly, it's a hilarious, campy, nutty homage to sci fi movies and horror movies pre-1970's (RKO films like King Kong are spoofed, Frankenstein, Dracula, and 50's aliens from outer space movies). But its inner magic comes from the no hold-bars liberal spirit which belonged to the 1970's, a time of gay pride, open sexuality, vulgarity, craziness and overall non-conformity. The film showed an openly bisexual transvestite as its lead character. The movie was released after the success of the stage musical in London by Richard O'Brien who did the music and lyrics (and starred in the film version as Riff Raff). O'Brien followed the success of Rocky Horror with a less successful sequel "Shock Treatment" in 1982.

Plot: Brad Majors (Bostwick) and Janet Weiss (Sarandon) have just gotten engaged after attending a friend's wedding in the old-fashioned, 1950's like town of Denton, USA. During a rainstorm, their car breaks down and they enter an old castle to call for roadside assistance. Here, they immediately become the new prisoners and playthings for its decadent and wild master, the scientist/vampire Frank'N'Furter (Curry). After a Transylvanian party, Frank'N'Furter invites his new guests to witness his latest creation- a muscular blonde man named Rocky (Hinwood) whom he later marries. But Frank'N'Furter's crazy sexual cravings soon includes both Brad and Janet, whose morals are corrupted. Not used to the craziness of the castle, they soon become victims. Before long, it becomes necessary for wheelchair-bound Dr. Scott (Adams)to save them. Wo are Frank'N'Furter and his servants Riff-Raff and Magenta? Ghouls ? Aliens ? What devilish plan has Frank'N'Furter formed ? Tim Curry's performance as the transvestite castle master is sheer comic brilliance. With his powerful rock star voice and over the top personality, he shines in such scenes/songs as "Sweet Transvestite" and "I Can Make You A Man". Other numbers include an homage to rock music "Hot Patoo-tie" by Meatloaf as a psychotic motorcycle rider. There's the famous dance number "Time Warp" and more moving and artful songs "Science Fiction Double Feature" which opens the film and "Over At The Frankenstein's Plac" and the sad concluding songs "I'm Going Home" and "Super Heroes". Nelle Campelle "Little Nelle" is delightful as his groupie Columbia and Patricia Quinn is exotic as the Transylvanian maid Magenta. The cinematography by Sushutzky is meant to resemble the Hammer studios/Eastman color horror movies with its depiction of haunted houses. There is never a dull moment in this highly entertaining 2 hour film. But keep in mind, this movie has always been an adult movie, not so much because it includes partial nudity, but because it deals with the themes of bisexuality, transvestite lifestyle and jokes that adults could understand but are lost to minors. Also, the age of this film shows when compared to comedies of today. It's a classic that is still beloved by many who still flock to midnight showings.

Erinnerungen an die Zukunft

Chariots of the Gods: The Controversial Documentary About Aliens
Chariots of the Gods (1970): Heinz-Detlev Bock, Kalus Kindler,Christian Marshall, Hans Domnick, Thor Heyerdahl, Aleksandr Kazantsev, Hermann Oberth....Director Harald Reinl, Writers Harald Reinl, Wilhelm Roggersdof, From The Book By Erich Van Daniken.

"Chariots of the Gods" was a hit documentary when released in 1970. Based on the controversial and best-selling book by Swedish writer Erich Von Daniken, the film was shot in various world locations (Italy, Egypt, Africa, South America, Mexico, Easter Island) exploring "tell-tale" signs that aliens from outer space visited the earth in ancient times. The in-your-face theory is considered flawed, old-fashioned and has even been proved wrong. The documentary is more than 30 years old now and the book was released in 1968. At the time, it was typical sensational theory material and the subsequent documentary was made according to the standards and formula of documentaries at the time. The narration style, the slow pacing and constant change of locations is similar to the "Endless Summer" documentaries. The music by Peter Thomas and his Orchestra is gorgeous, full of exotic and beautifully wistful melodies. These components, together with the stunning cinematography by Ernst Wild make for a very enjoyable experience as if we are watching a documentary that can never fall into the realm of the bland and the boring. It is as artistically made as the primitive art depicted in the film. Curiously, Erich Von Daniken himself did not take any part in the making of this documentary; but it is a faithful adaptation of his book into documentary form. A generation of science fiction movies like Steven Spielberg's "Close Encounters" and "E.T." Ron Howard's "Cacoon" and TV series like "Stargate" are clearly influenced by Chariots of the Gods. The ancient astronaut theory claims that beings from other planets visited the earth when it was in early stages of civilization. This is shown in the film as exemplified by the curious "Martians" depicted on the high walls of the canyons in Tassili in the Sahara desert, the alien-like beings in the cave paintings in Australia, the mysterious Easter Island statues and the pyramids of both Aztec Mexico and ancient Egypt at the time of the Pharaohs. History's mysteries seem to be the theme but Daniken is fully convinced that aliens had been around since ancient times. The most striking visuals for me are the faded chalk-like drawings in Italy depicting two astronauts, the flying rockets piloted by men just above the sight of the Crucifixion of Jesus in a church in Da Sani, Yugoslavia and of course the most fascinating of them all - the Nazca lines in Peru. For the film maker and for Daniken this is the trump card as he believes the Nazca lines are an abandoned airport made for flying saucers. Those enigmatic lines, the forms of birds, monkey, insects, a human pointing downward and looking at the heavens and the little martian-like entities, all seen from the air and yet being made on the ground in mysterious precision. Time and again, this documentary has fascinated many scientists, theologians and the general public. It may be a bunch of B.S. hoax or just possibly the grandest and most flamboyant evidence of extraterrestrial life and its communion with humans over centuries' time. Enjoy this fascinating film, keep an open mind and come to your own conclusions but we can all be sure of one thing, this one is a classic.

The Shawshank Redemption

1990's Movies: A Poignant Film
The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

I've seen this film in its entirety now. Initially, I was afraid it would be a violent prison movie with very little meaning and would have very little to move me to tears. But it did. The film was Oscar worthy but it was a film that lost that year to "Forest Gump". Its release on VHS made the film very popular. Cable television airs the film frequently and it's even the stuff that film screenplay classes study as a sample of brilliant movie. Based on the short story by Stephen King "Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption" it tells the story of wealthy banker Andy (Tim Robbins) accused of murdering his wife and her lover. The time at the start of the film is the 1940's and by the end of the film it's the 1960's. Andy has been sent to Shawshank, a notorious prison (in Washington state or Oregon) where harsh discipline is provided by the Warden (Bob Gunton) and by its captain of prison guards. The elements of a prison movie are indeed here (nightmarish conditions, cruel punishment, gay prisoners raping straight/hetero prisoners) but it becomes a prison movie at a higher level with its theme of redemption and humanity, hope and perseverance. The bond between Morgan Freeman's character and Tim Robbins is perhaps the most poignant relationship of any two men portrayed on film. The prisoners have lost hope and although not bitter, become very comfortable with prison life and know no other type of life. This was the tragedy of the prison librarian who after decades of prison life, could not cope with the real world that had changed after his release. His suicide is extremely depressing. The "bad guys" turn out to be not the criminals who attempt to rehabilitate themselves but the hypocritical and cruel Warden. Andy is innocent as proved by a later inmate's confession to knowing the true culprit (played by Gil Bellows) but the Warden is too bent on keeping his image of having always done justice and keeps Andy in prison. The grim aspects of the film are nevertheless lightened by humor, good writing, nuance in character and scenes that have such power and subtlety. The scene in which Andy plays an opera album (Le Nozze Di Figaro by Mozart, duet "Sull'aria from the 1968 Karl Bohm album with Edith Mathis and Gundula Janowitz) is so moving and so touching. Andy's subsequent escape and the table-turned justice when the investigation into the corruption of the prison leads to the demise of the administration.

This movie ranks as one of the finest made in the 1990's, with excellent writing and fine acting. It's a movie that has become a classic and that continues to hold audiences enthralled.


Erotic Adventure Classic From 1968
Barbarella (1968): Jane Fonda, John Phillip Law, Anita Pallenberg, Claude Dauphin, Marcel Marceau, Milo O'Shea, Giancarlo Cobelli, Veronique Vendell, Serge Marquand, Nino Musco, Franco Gula, Catherine Chevalier, Umberto Di Grazia, David Hemmings, Honey Autumn, Diane Bond, Tania De Paolis, Joan Greenwood.....Director Roger Vadim, Screenplay Claude Brule from the French comic book by Jean-Claude Forest.

"An angel is love".....

Barbarella became a cult classic not after its initial theatrical release (the hype then was Jane Fonda's "nudity" on film) but when it was re-issued as a video cassette, joining such "midnight" B movie classics as "The Rocky Horror Picture Show". Loosely based on the French science fiction comic book by Jean-Claude Forest, it was director by French director Roger Vadim, at the time married to American actress Jane Fonda. Why she did this role we'll never know; it appears to have been made to please her husband, whose views of American and French/European sexuality is clearly stamped into the film while at the same time selling out to American 1960's pop culture. But free love and pop art aren't things that really form part of "Barbarella" which is ultimately a silly erotic adventure that classifies as soft-core pornography. Barbarella (Fonda) is an American government agent in the far-out future as only the wild 1960's could conjure up. War has become a thing of the past, and the planets are aligned in peace. Free love reigns. But the ambitious and demented scientist Dr. Durand Durand has left earth with a newly invented planet and escaped into another planet. The "French" Earth President (Claude Dauphine) assigns Barbarella to find the missing scientist. Off she goes on her adventure. Throughout the film, she encounters a variety of bizarre, mysterious and exotic characters from a blind angel (John Phillip Law) who, after a sexual encounter, inspires him to fly once more, a Catch-Man who makes love the old-fashioned way, lost souls entrapped in a labyrinth, leather-made, souless soldiers and the Black Queen, a bisexual and wicked tyrant who rules the decadent Soddom-and-Gomorrah type City of Night. Upon her arrival into the city, the angel is crucified and taken prisoner of the Black Queen who uses him for sex, and Barbarella is subject to Durand Durand's "orgasm" machine, whose powerful keys can trigger a fatal orgasm.

If all these elements sound like the plot to a 1970's porno-theater movie, this is exactly what Barbarella is like, only without the graphic sex scenes. While there is nudity (such as the opening scene in which Barbarella strips in zero gravity) it's done in the softest of soft-core manner, worthy of the images in 1960's Playboy magazines. The sex is implied but never shown, but while Barbarella engages in sex with men to thank them for assisting a government agent, the sex is worthy of soft-core porn set to really good music. The script is as lousy as a porno and attempts to be very comical. The problem is the British, French and Italian actors in the movie are not trained in comedy (neither is Fonda who mostly spews one-liners like "I'm not tube kind of girl") so the result is mostly dry comedy without any real ha-ha-ha moments. But the best parts of the film: the 1960's signature. It's a time capsule of late 60's pop culture, from references to "the pill" to the easy sexuality and "free love" to the total irreverence (i.e. an angel, always associated with holy love and God/religion, succumbs to sex by both Barbarella and the evil Black Queen). The "Matmos", a primal force of nature looks like the inside of a lava lamp waiting to break through the glass. While there is not much drug use, there is a scene in which men and women are getting high on "essence of man" and resembles smoking pot or weed. It's also a very campy, kitschy, surreal film designed to look like some hippie's drug trip. The colorful sets and imagery is unlike anything audiences had seen before, like some sprawling work of graphic novel art. The music by Michel Magne and James Campbell is absolutely wonderful, dramatic and yet fun, loose, light jazzy melodies, a terrific composition of film music. The cinematography by Claude Renoir is a combination of "Flash Gordon" type of sci-fi imagery (bizarre spaceships, rock formations, planets) and the costumes by Jacques Fonteray and Paco Rabane are delicious 1960's camp and very sexy. The film is meant to be a lot of fun, despite the slight longeur and slow pace. Be warned: this film is hardly feminist, despite the female heroine looking like a space warrior. She is the figure of Roger Vadim's fantasies about seductive women using sex as their only form of power over men. Barbarella never once really uses her brains or brawns. It's all sex. The movie influenced "space warrior girl" movies found in pornography of later years like the 1980's and 1990's as well as comedies like "Austin Powers" (Duran Duran and Dr. Evil are very similar). Barbarella is a movie of it's era.


A French 1980's Thriller Romance: Diva
Diva (1981): Frederic Andrei, Wilhelmenia Fernandez, Thuy An Lu, Richard Bohringer, Jacques Fabbri, Chantal Deruaz, Anny Romand, Roland Bertin, Gerard Darmon, Dominique Pinon, Jean Jacques Moreau, Patrick Floersheim, Raymond Aquilon, Eugene Berthier, Gerard Chaillou....Director Jean Jacques Beineix, Screenplay Jean Jacques Beineix Adapted from the novel by Daniel Odier, this 1981-1982 film from French director Jean Jacques Beineix marked a new wave of French cinema for the 1980's. Previous French films in the 1970's were darker and moodier, more pretentious in many ways and a lot more philosophical/intellectually serious in their art-house endeavor. But "Diva" is a combination of art-house, comedy and thriller made up in a colorful fabric of cinematography, nuanced acting, beautiful music and an engaging story. It's "deluxe look" employs many of the "advertisement" gimmicks from popular 1980's French magazines. It's a slow moving movie, so for anyone seeing it for the first time, it should feel as long as any foreign film usually does. The topping on the artsy cake is Italian opera - the constant use of the soprano aria "Ebben N'andro lontano" from Catalani's "La Wally" is forever linked to this movie. The French cultural signature is on this but it's nothing heavy. It does lead up to a climatic finale and has all the ingredients of the typical thriller fiction - detectives trying to locate the bad guy and bring him to justice. There are chases both by car and foot, attempted murder and a murder, and the seedier side of Paris (prostitution, drugs, white slavery, poverty) despite the genuine goodness of the lead characters. It's a movie that seems to want to emulate modern American movies, especially in its touches of comedy and comic relief, and in the attitudes of the characters, who, despite being youth of the 1980's, also seem to be reminders of counterculture from the 1960's and 1970's, free spirited, hippie-intellectuals.

Set in President Mitterand's early 1980's Paris, the film follows what appears to be an episode in the life of a poor, bohemian dreamer and postal worker Jules (Frederic Andrei). His romantic obsession for the African-American opera singer Cynthia Hawkins (Wilhelmenia Fernandez) leads him to secretly tape record her singing voice at a Paris concert. His intentions are pure. He wants to keep a memento of her and to have access to her beautiful voice from his own home. He also boldly steals one of her expensive gowns (this out of sexual longing, like stealing a woman's panties). But before long, he finds himself involved in a plot involving a murdered prostitute, two police detectives and the head of a drug cartel and prostitution ring. The recording also featured the confession of the prostitute who was murdered, who had sought to expose a corrupt Police Captain who had been operating as prostitution ring from Africa and Paris. This forces Jules to become involved in a sticky situation and he's soon being hunted by both the cops and the baddies, each trying to get that tape that's in his possession. It also calls for the eponymous diva, who has long refused to make recordings, to consider finally recording her voice to save herself.

Among the characters that compose the "good guy" group are Gorodish Richard Bohringer) and his Vietnamese lover Alba (Thuy An Luu) who is a kind of chic "thief" and bohemian girl. Gorodish is a loner, lives in a large but unfurnished loft where he is constantly meditating to low-bass New Age music and thinking of strange things like trying to stop the "ocean waves". Jules is himself an artist and collects (through theft) various objects which he uses for artwork a la Andy Warhol. Strangely enough, it's this strange poor prophet who saves Jules' lives when it's endangered by the Mafia-type men who seek to destroy the tape he made. But even these bad guys (Gerard Darmon and Dominique Pinon) are straight of comedy as Le Cure constantly expresses his hatred of garages, police and everything. The comedy is in the perfectly timed dialogue scenes. This is also a cop movie. Jean and Nadia (Jacques Fabbri and Chantal Deruaz) are a male-female detective duo who are hot on the trail of the men responsible for killing the hooker and eventually discover the police Captain's corrupt alter ego.

Perhaps the most touching aspect of the film is the romance. Jules and Cynthia Hawkins have a connection - opera. Jules is an opera connoisseur and admires Cynthia so much he followed her from Paris to Munich, always on his mini bike/motorcycle/mobilette. He is physically drawn to her but they don't engage in sexual activity, not even after what seems to be a romantic date. Cynthia is a proud black artist (probably modeled after real life 80's divas like Jessye Norman and Kathleen Battle) who believes that business ought to work its way around art. She has integrity and refuses to be part of a commercial enterprise and to "sell out". A more romantic and yet restrained and sober relationship on film you'll be hard-pressed to find. I enjoyed this film and highly recommend it to any French culture class. This is one of the early masterpieces of French cinema "du look" from the 1980's.


1970's Science Fiction Movies: Zardoz
Zardoz (1974): Sean Connery, Charlotte Rampling, Niall Buggy, Sarah Kestelman, John Alderton, Sally Anne Newton, Bosco Hogan, Jessica Swift, Bairbre Dowling, Christopher Casson, Reginald Jarman, John Boorman, Katrine Boorman, Telsche Boorman....... Director John Boorman, Screenplay John Boorman.

Zardoz was director John Boorman's early underrated masterpiece, though it's a category of film that's not to everyone's tastes. In the early 1970's, and indeed throughout the 70's, a passion for science fiction developed with mainstream sci-fi hitting bookstores and names like Ursula K. Leguin, Isaac Asimov, Heilen and Vonnegut became popular. Zardoz seems to come out of this period of science fiction with philosophical and existential themes, "artsy" intellectual science fiction as opposed to space opera/comic book-type action genre science fiction. Boorman's talents as a director show flashes of genius with this film, though it would be his later films, "Excalibur" in particular, that would be his claim to fame. But Zardoz is a film that should delight science fiction readers and enthusiasts, even if certain aspects of this film fall under the sad label of campy, bizarre, cult classic B movie. In truth, it's not a B movie as the production values are high and Boorman invested much thought (and money) into the look of the film, the costumes, the atmosphere and the general loftiness of the film. It's a combination of science fiction and fantasy.

Zardoz, an original story by Boorman, is set in a distant "but possible" future on earth. The world has become a primitive place again, and divided into two classes of people - the Brutals and the Immortals. The Immortals, through vicious ambition and cunning and God knows what other tactics, have bestowed upon themselves the gift of eternal life. They've escaped civilization after years of war, destruction and violence and made a quiet and pastoral home for themselves across "the vortex". The Brutals who dwell on the other side of this vortex. They are mortals and they are considered savage barbarians who only live to satisfy their most basic needs to kill and to procreate. Zed (Sean Connery post-James Bond) is a Brutal Exterminator who has been assigned to kill and to farm along with others like him by a mysterious God named Zardoz who flies around as a giant stone head and equips his people with guns. Zed discovers that Zardoz is a phony, an Immortal (Niall Boggy)who fancies himself a wizard and who took inspiration from the L. Frank Baum novel "The Wizard of Oz" to manipulate people through deception. Zed gets rid of Zadoz and flies over to the other side of the vortex. His entry into the forbidden paradise of the Immortals stirs up controversy and conflict. The Immortals dislike him as he is a brutal reminder of reality and the world as it once was. Things are further complicated when they learn he is a mutant who has above mortal powers as well. One of the women (Charlotte Rampling) falls in love with him and together they destroy "The Tabernacle" - the mysterious force that offers them eternal life. Death, mortality and reality return as the Brutals break through the vortex and shoot/kill all the Immortals who have ultimately desired death after a meaningless and dull eternity. Zed and his mate procreate, have a son and die. The natural order of humanity has been restored.

Rich in visual details, the film was shot in the same location as Boorman's Excalibur. The dream-like, dark milieu of this film, enhanced by a Beethoven symphony, may at times border on pretentiousness but it seems to work great for science fiction of this kind. This movie paved the way for other similar films (i.e. "The Lathe of Heaven") and was a direct contrast to the more commercial, action-oriented and suspenseful sci-fi movies like "Westworld", "Soylent Green" "The Omega Man" and "Logan's Run". Zardoz is easy to understand, even when it seems to be entrapped in bizarre visualization, odd dialogue and overall weirdness. It's about humanity and its labeling people into classes and status, it's about seeking truth and destroying large lies/illusions (like the more recent "Matrix" movies, man's relationship with an unseen God and with each other, and the irony of living eternally but without any passion, happiness or meaning and actually seeking death as a way out. The Immortals, made up of mainly women, seem to be in a cult-like environment, a Communist,socialist, female worshiping society that is doomed for its lack of substance. It's even surprising to see how similar they are to the 1990's Heavens Gate cult which adapted similar customs- no sex, no attachment to worldly things or to humanity's achievements, living only for some weird unknown force. This movie is a classic of sci fi fantasy and ought to be viewed by serious fans of the genre.


Salome: Teresa Stratas Most Dramatic Role
Salome (1974): Teresa Stratas, Bernard Weikl, Astrid Varnay, Hans Beirer, Wieslaw Ochman, Hanna Schwarz....Director Gotz Friedrich.. Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra Conducted by Karl Bohm...Opera composed by Richard Strauss, libretto based on the German translation of Oscar Wilde's play.

"The Mystery of Love is greater than the Mystery of Death".......

This was a production made exclusively for Austrian TV in 1974. It was based on performances that were being shown at the Salzburg Festival at the time. The great post-World War II German Bayreuth Festival/Wagnerian conductor Karl Bohm was conductor for these performances and shared the title with the equally esteemed Herbert Von Karajan. The productions at this time ranged from Verdi (Il Trovatore) to Mozart (Don Giovanni) to Strauss, whose opera Salome was the most popular. Earlier, Bohm had conducted and recorded sopranos Leonie Rysanek and Gwyneth Jones in the title role of Salome. Karajan would mount a production of Salome a few years later in 1977 starring Hildegard Behrens.

But this was Teresa Stratas' turn and everything about this production revolves around her, made to fit her acting abilities which make up for her lack of true German/Wagnerian/Strauss category of dramatic voice. Stratas was a Greek-Canadian soprano who had never attained stardom until this Salome. She had sung mostly lyric soprano roles like Mimi in La Boheme and Violetta in Traviata. But early on, she attempted a variety of roles that were more modern and more demanding like Alberg's Lulu which she also recorded. Salome was the one role which must have truly challenged her vocally, for it is not suited to her category of voice. But she mastered the part thanks not only to her musicality but her dramatic acting skills. Hers is one of the few Salomes that is still considered one of the most convincing and most "young" sounding, appropriate to the part of the confused, passionate and crazy teenage Salome.

The performance in this film was not seen by any audience. What you see is a set with costumes, props and set design used in the Salzburg Festival performances at the time. The voices were pre-recorded and then added to the film. This was perhaps the only time Bohm experimented with film but Karajan took over filming productions at the Salzburg Festival.

As for this Salome, Bohm goes above and beyond in regards to casting. What drama comes out of these singers! The production may not be lavish nor interesting as other Salomes (like the one for the Covent Garden Salome with Maria Ewing or the Metropolitan Opera performances in the 60's with Birgit Nilsson which used Gustav Klimt art motifs and Oscar Wilde's Decadence period art. It's also not period-perfect like the rare Montserrat Caballe Salome which aired on Spanish television, also shown in the 1970's). This feels like a claustrophobic production, with everyone and everything bunched up together in what appears to be a cave (Herod's Palace has zero ostentation) under a prop moon. There is no sense of period either. The Jews of Herod's court look like Renaissance nobility or priests. Other figures in the court resemble toga-wearing Greeks, others Egyptian and Ethiopian. Perhaps this is to represent the Ancient World at the time of Jesus Christ but this doesn't seem to be very authentic to the period. Teresa Stratas physically looks like the most convincing Salome that was ever performed by any soprano. She is young, slender and her white body and her pretty face even has flashes of innocence. Of course, all this innocence seems to disappear once she becomes obsessed with John the Baptist. The scene in which she demands for his head on a silver charger is riveting. Yes, her Dance of the Seven Veils isn't quite what it should be. It is very slow (Bohm's pacing slows down only for this scene) and it has no trace of sensuality or conniving which is what it out to be (Salome had already made up her mind to ask for Jochaanan's head even before dancing). But it is death-like and mysterious, giving it an eerie feeling of foreboding. Stratas lives the part. She is vain, bloodthirsty, spoiled, petulant and passionate. Her famous last scene almost resembles a religious transformation, albeit a blasphemous one. Every pose and every dramatic gesture that Strataus provides us is dramatically alert and very realistic. She is a consummate actress and never goes over-the-top, which has been the fault of many sopranos in the role. Stratas may not have a big enough voice for Salome (Stratas was a lyric soprano) but she sails through the music with sweetness and ease, and is inclined to delve briefly into chest register for the more dramatic moments. Herodias, played by veteran Wagnerian soprano Astrid Varnay who herself had once sung Salome, is made up to look manly, obese and unattractive (like Herod's brother probably to remind us that she is the wife of his brother) but most likely to contrast with Teresa Strata's more youthful and pretty Salome. The Herod of Hans Beirer is right on the money as far as the fat, careless, decadent and lusty Dionysian Jewish king who lusts after his own step-daughter and who fears Jochanaan's connection to God. Bernard Weikl is a thunderous and very spiritual sounding Jochanaan and truly lives the role. Wieslaw Ochman and Hanna Schwarz portray palace security Narraboth and Herodia's page with real aplomb. They are good looking people and cast most likely because of these looks combined with their wonderful singing abilities. All in all, this is a terrific production but I wish they had stepped it up a notch by giving it more sensationalism, more intensity and more vulgarity in accordance to the once shocking and controversial subject matter. It's a production that relies on eeriness more than elaborate sensationalism.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

The Last We'll Hear Of Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull (2008): Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Cate Blanchett, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Jim Broadbent...Director Steven Spielberg, Screenplay by George Lucas...

This is the 4th movie in the Indiana Jones franchise. It should not have been made, or should have been made in the 1990's with a better storyline and more ambitious plot. Harrison Ford, ever so much older than fifty, reprises his role as the adventuresome Professor who fights bad guys, saves magical relics and has one hell of an adventure. It is very sad to see Ford, white-haired and clumsy, trying to re-capture the spirit of the character. All he's reduced to now is spewing witty one-line remarks and doing less physical stunts than in the previous three films. The plot: It's the late 1950's, the height of the Cold War, and nuclear testing is being done outside Las Vegas, Nevada. The Soviets are after a great unknown power. Indiana Jones meets up with his ex love interest Marion Ravenswood, and his estranged son. They unlock the mystery of the ancient Peruvian lost city El Dorado. Aliens from outer space helped to shape the Inca civilization and harnessed a great destructive power, this power being in a crystal skull the Soviets are after.

Although a few times you get the feeling that this is still Indiana Jones in every way - the whip, the hat, the action hero poses, the jungle, the danger, the action adventure, the music by John Williams, but for the most part this movie feels like it should not have been made at all. The outer space alien storyline is too sensational and too over-the-top even for Indiana Jones which in the past featured religious supernatural artifacts. There is no real depth to this story, no romance, no intelligent script, no passion, no escapism except through the bombardment of specialized computer graphic effects thrown into it. It is an endeavor that was completed only to make money for the summer blockbuster season. It seems to have been been toned down considerably in sophistication and intelligence so that it could appeal to really really young kids who have never really heard of Indiana Jones. It was a farewell to the franchise.


Willow: "the" epic fantasy of the 1980's
Plot: Willow Ufgood is a Nelwyn (if you know what a Hobbit is you'll understand) a member of a dwarf race in a magical fantasy realm that looks, interestingly enough, a lot like New Zealand). He comes across a special baby, Elora Dannen, the heiress to the throne of the land by prophecy. This spells bad news for the wicked Empress Barmovda, who took over the realm through violence and black magic. Her rival, the good witch Raziel was banished and she has a ton of evil minions including wild pigs, a skull-masked General and a great army. Secure in her power, she feels all it will take is to find the baby Elora and destroy her. But Willow, a rebel named Mad Martigan and the wild warrior daughter of Bavmorda herself, will team up with Raziel to save the day. Willow's confrontation with Bavmorda results in goodness' triumph.

I've seen Willow two times. The first viewing was as a child of the 1980's, when Willow would show up on television, usually on a Saturday night on either basic TV's Channel 13 (back then called "Very Independent", and would also air other children's classic fantasies of the 80's like "The Never Ending Story" from '84 and "Excalibur" from '81) and or Channel 5 now known as the WB. Willow was larger than life, a huge epic, as I recall and everything about it was pure magic adventure.

Basically, it was the Lord of the Rings of the 1980's, and no other fantasy movie of the decade topped Willow. It was unbelievable. I still have strong feelings about this movie connected to the first viewing as a child and this is always the case with children who grew up on adventure fantasy films of the 80's. Everything was like something as epic as the Bible - a child with a destiny who floats down a river on a basket like the baby Moses,an evil Queen and Sorcereress who wants to keep her power from being replaced, a dwarf with a heart of gold and courage, magic spells,beautiful locations, evil characters (the skull-masked General Kael was especially frightening). Being a child, and a sensitive one, certain scenes were violent, scary, beautiful and awe-inspiring. The fairy queen Cherlindrea, who manifests herself to Willow in the forest was a very memorable scene. There were many things I did not understand about the film, particularly the importance of the quest to save the baby, and the grown-up dialog went beyond my understanding. The movie, too, was too long and long-winded for a child to fully pay attention. The battle outside Queen Bavmorda's castle, her evil ritual and her fantastic death (that cloud of red smoke) was all very intense the first time I saw it.

The second viewing was as an adult, I hadn't seen it in years, not since probably 1989. I'm a girl so I enjoy romance and adventure films so I have a fondness for the fantasy genre. I sincerely think Willow is one of the best fantasy films of the 80's. It was very special and ahead of its time. Sure, I can be cynical and analytical about it now. The script is intelligently written but the characters are very one-dimensional, underdeveloped and lacking any real complexity. It's just black-and-white in terms of who is good and who is evil. Bavmorda (Jean Marsh) is pure evil as she is a "bad witch" as opposed to a good "witch" like her rival Raziel (Patricia Hayes). They don't explain just how Bavmorda took over the land and the extent of her evil. Obviously she is unpopular with her own countrymen and she ruled the land with an iron fist like a tyrant. The baby Elora Danan is considered special and magical but there is no hint of magic in her (she would not do one little magic trick) and throughout the movie she just makes cute faces and needs rescuing all the time. Willow, the hero of the film, seems to take second chair when Val Kilmer's character Madmartigan, enters the movie and soon becomes the sword-wielding, paperback novel romantic hero (complete with long Indian-style hair and shirt open to reveal his chest) who can really fight. Sorsha (Joanne Whalley) is the worst character in the film. There is no real conflict in her when she betrays her mother Bavmorda and falls for Madmartigan and joins the good guys. Jean Marsh' Bavmorda is also flat and her scenes could have been extended so that we can see just how wicked she really is. It seems like they toned down her character so as not to be too frightening. Willow is also too much like a Hobbit and Bavmorda is evil without any depth. So, yes, the film has its flaws, these flaws being in the story (apparently there was lots of back story but Ron Howard and Lucas did not want the film to be longer than standard movie time). Both Howard and Lucas did this film because it was their retaliation at their denial of buying the movie rights to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. This is their alternative to Tolkien, a story so right for the late 80's, with special effects and computer graphics, then in its infancy, used sparingly and yet beautifully, never killing the story and in fact appropriately enhancing the action adventure. Today's fantasy movies contain far too many special effects and CG effects that they completely take over the story. Willow is an example of a story that can be told through good acting, fine script, great cinematography and great music (James Horner's second fantasy movie score; his first was Krull in '83). This is a movie that you can escape into. It is perfect in every sense and no fantasy movies made today can compare to Willow.

Salomé in Low Land

The 10 Minute "Salome"
"Salome In Low Land" (2006): Christian Zagler, Christian Fuchs, Fritz Ostermayer, using the recorded singing voices of Birgit Nilsson, Eberhard Wachter and Grace Hoffman with the Vienna Philharmonic, George Solti conductor....written by Christian Zagler, Directed by Christian Zagler.

In 2006, Austrian director Christian Zagler made this cute, short animated film (lasts approximately 10 minutes)entitled Salome In Low Land, modeled after the primitive graphics of a 1980's Nintendo video game. The result is a visually creative re-telling of the Salome story, but not as told in the Bible; this is the Salome of Oscar Wilde's famous stage play and Richard Strauss' opera. Zagler had done similar short animated films in Austria but this one garnered a lot of attention. In the span of 10 minutes, Zagler covers the whole plot of Strauss' opera, which is still a short one-act opera. Zagler skips much of the scenes involving Tetrach Herod's arguing with the Hebrews and Jochanaan's sermons and prophecies. All the major highlights are here - including the famed Dance of the Seven Veils. The music which was used for this animated short are excerpts from the classic 1962 Decca studio recording of Salome with Birgit Nilsson and the Vienna Philharmonic as conducted by Sir Georg Solti. The voices (other than the singers) are Christian Zagler himself in the humble part of a Page, Christian Fuchs as Narraboth who slays himself upon rejection from Salome and Fritz Ostermayer who speaks the part of King Herod. Even though it's short, the spoken dialogue is taken from the opera text. Herod has imprisoned John the Baptist (Jochanaan/Iokanaan) for having accused his wife of the crime of marrying him and murdering his brother. Herodias the Queen (voiced by singer Grace Hoffman) is jealous of her own stepdaughter the spoiled princess Salome owing to Herod's new found lascivious attention to her. Drunk at a big party, he asks that Salome dance for his guests. Salome will only dance to get what she wants. She has visited the Prophet John and experienced her own first feelings of lust (or love as she puts it). Because the Holy Man will not return her feelings, she becomes enraged and uses her Dance to get back at him. As a reward for her dance, Herod promises to give her anything she wants. Salome asks for the head of Jon the Baptist. He is decapitated and she rhapsodizes about how she can now finally kiss him and conquer him, albeit in a necrophiliac manner. Horrified by her actions, Herod orders her to be killed.

For anyone who has never seen the opera performed or heard any recording of it (there are several) this is a great introduction. Zagler must love this shock-opera and in particular the recording with Birgit Nilsson, whose high, sharp and dramatic voice can be exciting to hear, especially balanced with the dramatic flair of the Vienna Philharmonic under Georg Solti's baton. Zagler uses low-quality graphics which were once part of old Nintendo games, even naming his short film "Salome In Low Land" as if it were itself a video game. The greatest moment, though, comes when Zagler chooses to take us away from Herod's court when Salome does her Dance. She is in ecstasy and the music soars to passionate heights while we are bombarded with images of stars in outer space. Some conductors and artistic directors who work on Salome (Herbert Von Karajan for instance) aimed for this "transcendent" quality even though it's nowhere near what Oscar Wilde envisioned. It seems to work fine in this short film, even though it looks more like Salome is high on a drug and seeing things. A great short film, featuring great music and great voices and perfectly captures the spirit of the drama that is Salome.


A Spectacular Turandot At The Met
Turandot (1988): Eva Marton, Placido Domingo, Leona Mitchell, Paul Plishka, Hugues Cuenod, Briang Schexnayder, Allan Glassman, Anthony Laciura, Arthur Thompson....Director Kirk Browning.

Live from New York City's Metropolitan Opera, this is a 1988 performance captured on tape, and enjoyed success in VHS form for a long time. Directed by Kirk Browning who had done this sort of thing many times before, this is a lavish and eye-popping performance where not only are the singers in top shape but the air is alive with a sense of magic and power, as if trying to capture the legendary Turandot performances of the past, namely that of Birgit Nilsson's portrayal. Tenor Placido Domingo and soprano Eva Marton, both able to sing lyrically and heavily, are in excellent form as Turandot and Prince Calaf, singing against each other in the first act and with each other in the last act. Leona Mitchell is a dignified and wonderful Liu, reminiscent of Leontyne Price. Veteran baritone Paul Plishka as Timur is another plus. Film director Franco Zefferelli, a long time opera fan in his native Italy, is behind the artistic direction and lavishes the scenery and set with exquisite detail. Costumes are like those of a Mandarin drama, authentic to the period, and the Palace and nocturnal feel to this opera is captured in Oscar winning sets and backdrops. This performance was sold out when it premiered in 1988 after a lot of hype. Actress Elizabeth Taylor attended. Eva Marton would go on to record Turandot and Domingo's repertoire switched from pure lyric to heavy tenor roles. In many ways, this performance is a real winner, possibly the greatest Turandot ever produced on stage.

The plot: Puccini(composer of Madame Butterfly and Tosca) composed his last opera Turandot and set it to an ancient mythical China. Turandot is the "divine" daughter of the Emperor. The land is darkness and ruled by fear for the Emperor wishes for his virgin daughter to take a husband to rule with her as king. But Turandot has ice running through her veins and has vowed never to love a man. She will never forget the inhuman crime against her ancestor, Princess Lou-Ling, who was raped and killed by foreign invaders. But the cocky Prince Calaf falls for Turandot at first sight and is determined to have her. But there is a challenge. He must answer three riddles, none of which have been successfully answered by princes who tried their luck and were executed. What follows is his triumph over the riddles and Turandot's plot to rid herself of him, a plot which ultimately costs the life of the innocent slave girl Liu, who loves only Calaf. The cold man-hating Princess melts after her first kiss and becomes warm and human, living for love. Redemption, salvation and love are the themes of this elaborately produced Chinese fable. Puccini's music is grandiose and yet warm and accessible. This is one performance that should successfully plant interest in Puccini's operas and in opera itself.


A Terrific French Art House Movie
Persepolis (2007): Chiara Mastroianni, Catherine Deneuve, Danielle Darrieux, Simon Abrikan, Gabrielle Lopes, Francois Jerosme, ARie Elmahleh, Jean-Francois Gallote, Stephane Foenkinos, Tilly Mandelbrot...Director Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi, Screenplay Vincent Paronnaud, Marjane Satrapi.

Based on Marjane Satrapi's novel and Graphic Novel Comic Book of her own memoirs, this is its French animated film version. Marjane Satrapi grew up in Europe and lives in Paris, after having seen the atrocities of Saddam Hussein's version of Islam taking over her native country of Iran. Directed by Vincent Paronnaud, the film stars Chiara Mastroiani and French film star Catherine Deneuve. The look of the film follows the comic book closely and is a dark, brooding very introspective piece. This was one of the few films that gained international attention at the Oscars but it's a very fresh, unique and modern film dealing with the subject of Islam. As France today currently holds a huge Muslim population, this film is targeting an audience who would relate with Marjane and her world. She is a child born in a revolution period, and who would later become Westernized in Vienna, Austria and later Paris, never quite fitting in with the repressive world of Saddam's regime. This is a deeply moving tale, often funny and poignant, an autobiography and a literary sort of animated film.

The story: Marjane is a little girl in the late 1970's living with her mother, father and grandmother when an English-influenced Sha still ruled the country. His rule came to an end when Saddam's forces took over. Times became too dangerous for the lively and often rebellious Marjane (she likes to listen to "Western" American rock music like Iron Maiden, ABBA, and Punk Rock, Michael Jackson, etc) so her parents send her to a Catholic school in Vienna, Austria during the 80's. She is too much trouble for the nuns so she moves out on her own, paying rent and sharing a house with a judgemental older woman. In Vienna, she befriends anarchistic youth and rock-lovers, loses her virginity to a young man who decides to be homosexual afterward and falls in love with a young novelist who betrays her. She becomes depressed and disoriented, homeless and destitute. She returns to her native Iran only to find that it has changed a lot since she left. Although schools for girls are permitted, they are always wearing veils and have to show too much submission to males. The military is always around and Hussein's dictatorship is too much for her. She marries, divorces and remains too unhappy in Tehran. She leaves for Paris.

This is an exquisite, captivating, dark, humorous and yet powerful film despite the misleading cutesy animation. This is a film with a PG-13 rating for some mild violence (this is a film about a war-torn country and a dictatorship after all) and because of the adult language. But it can indeed be enjoyed by students of modern history and by French film fanatics. It has won some film awards and has become a favorite of art house film lovers. Catherine Deneuve as Grandmother is possibly her greatest role in recent years. Deneuve is a veteran of French films and one of the most beloved and famous actresses of French cinema. Her contributions to films of every genre and kind show her versatility and appreciation of modern culture. With wonderful original music, great animation and acting (they truly act with their voices) This is ultimately Miss Satrapi's work and she is a brilliant woman with a story that must be told.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Finally A Film Version: Sweeney Todd
Sweeney Todd Demon Barber Of Fleet Street (2007): Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Laura Michelle Kelly, Alan Rickman, Jayne Wisener, Jamie Campbell Bower, Timothy Spall, Ed Sanders, Jody Halse, Lee Whitlock, Mandy Holliday, Nick Haverson, John Paton, Phill Woodfine, Charlotte Child, Kira Woolman, Buck Holland, Jerry Judge, Norman Campbell Rees, Laura Sanchez, Jon-Paul Hevey, Liza Sadovy...Director Tim Burton, Screenplay John Logan.

After years of waiting by some fans, the film version to Stephen Sondheim's musical "Sweeney Todd" was released in theaters in December of 2007. The film did not garner any real Oscar buzz as most musical films often do, though it did win Golden Globes (much like Phantom of the Opera back in 2004). The musical film genre is dead and no attempt to revive it really works. But here we have a terrific film that combines thriller mainstream cinema with musical. Tim Burton as Director (Edwardd Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas) is perfect for the Gothic, dark feel to this musical. The cinematography and look (mostly noctural colors black and grey, sunless, pasty faced people, etc) captures a nightmarish and fatalistic quality. Sweeney Todd (Depp) once a prosperous middle-class barber, is accused of a crime he did not commit by Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) who had set his eyes on Todd's wife (Laura Michelle Kelly). After satisfying his lust for her, he throws her out like garbage and she is destitute and becomes a crazed beggar woman. Years later, Todd is out of prison and seeking his wife and revenge against Turpin. He teams up with Mrs. Lovett (Bonham-Carter) who runs an unsuccessful pie shop. After beating the Italian barber Pirelli (Sacha Baron Cohen in a hilarious role) he acquires his apprentice Toby (Ed Sanders). After murdering a man who recognized him from his past, Sweeney Todd begins to conjure up a plan to avenge himself. He sets up a joint barber shop and pie shop business. Murdering his paying customers, Mrs. Lovett makes the dead bodies into pies. Ultimately, their crime is uncovered and Todd has been consumed with so much bloodlust and revenge that he unknowingly kills his own wife in a final scene that is straight out of Italian opera with echoes of Pagliacci. All this is built up in a great climax as far as this film goes. In the theater, the musical is witty, darkly humorous and thought-provoking but the medium of film has stepped it up a notch. The problem lies in the fact that there is too much emphasis on blood and gore. The R rating is clearly marked and so this is only suited to mature audiences who can handle it. As for the performances, Johnny Depp does not make this role his own. He is still Johnny Depp, in another one of his countless costumes and roles (he was Willy Wonka not long before this film) and he offers no real depth to the performance. Helena Bonham Carter does not try to imitate the terrific Angela Lansbury who owned the role on Broadway. This is good for so many reasons. She makes Mrs. Lovett appear dysfunctional rather than "warm and cutesy" like Lansbury did. It's easier to believe Bonham Carter as equally deranged as Todd than Lansbury. Another thing is that in the original Broadway musical, Lansbury was an equal star to her Sweeney Todd. In this film, Helena B. Carter has to take second chair next to Johnny Depp, who is a big star with a huge fandom and lets everyone know it, too. Much of the film shows too many close-ups of him. Alan Rickman does not make a villanious enough Judge Turpin and plays the part as a cold and aging womanizer. He has lost his ability to play really nasty villain (compare him to his performance as Sheriff Nottingham in "Prince of Thieves). The rest of the actors are not Broadway trained and it shows so hardcore Broadway fans will feel the same way about this film as they did "Phantom of the Opera" back in 2004. Though nothing like the stage musical, this film has its moments. It was for me one of the few good films of 2007. Watch this film if you're a fan of Sondheim's musical and of Johnny Depp.

The Creature Walks Among Us

Curtains For The Creature
The Creature Walks Among Us (1956): Jeff Morrow, Leigh Snowden, Gregg Palmer, Rex Reason, Ricou Browning, Don Megowan, Maurice Manson, James Rawley, David McMahon, Paul Fierro, Lilian Molieri, Larry Hudson, Frank Chase....Director John Sherwood, Screenplay Arthur A. Ross The last film in Universal Pictures' "Creature Trilogy", "The Creature Walks Among Us", this time directed by John Sherwood, is the lesser quality, more "cerebral/philosohical and ultimately less engaging of the series, nothing like the atmospheric and eerie adventure that was the first film, nor the action-filled one of the second. The same formula plot is still here which is basically the following: Men search for the Monster in a body of water (a lake or river), find the monster, subdue it with tranquilizers and take him back to civilization for experiments. The only missing formulaic aspect in this last film is the "Beauty and the Beast" element found in the previous films in which the Monster lusts and falls for the beautiful girl. The Gill-Man (a costumed Ricou Browning and Don Megowan) is located in the Florida Everglades after its escape from the lab in the "Revenge". The ambitious and somewhat mad scientist Dr. William Barton (Jeff Morrow) finds the Monster and after putting it in a comatose state, brings him to his home lab in Florida (coincidentally where the movie was filmed). Aboard their ship, marital problems occur as he has difficulty controlling his wife's will. His wife, Marcia (the beautiful Leigh Snowden) is in turn pursued by the lusty and manly Jed Grant (Gregg Palmer) a friend of the doctor's and a sailor aboard the ship. When the Creature is taken to the lab, Dr. Barton discovers that the Monster is shedding its fins and gills and becoming more human every second. In an effort to humanize him and to get the "monster" out of him, he isolates him in a large pen with other animals and puts men's clothes on him. But the Creature, despite some initial progress, begins to remember his origins as a sea creature and his tendency toward aggression and violence first by witnessing a wild cougar attacking other animals and then Dr. Barton murdering Jed after he suspects he has conducted an adulterous affair with his wife. Unlike "Lagoon" and "Revenge", this final installment is more of a "thinking man's sci-fi" and lacks the mystery, adventure and the lengthy underwater sequences and the action of the previous two films. It seems to have a stronger social message and was not even intended to entertain the audience with camp or thrills. The script, full of scientific mumbo-jumbo and philosophy, reads like one of Rod Serling's episodes of "The Twilight Zone". The "operation" that the Monster undergoes is also borrowing from Universal Pictures' "Frankenstein" and "The Wolf Man" who both underwent surgeries and operations by scientists who wanted to change them for the better. The message here is that the Monster is Man, and that the Gil-Man only resorted to his violent ways only after seeing the same kind of animal violence in both animal and in Man. It seems to be hinting that early man learned violence from watching animals or that it is a human instinct to be violent for survival and dominance.In other words, Man and Animal are very much alike in the end. All these themes are of course great but it is a real shame that this movies is very short, very uninspired, with a hurried and ultimately messy feeling, specially in the ending, which leaves no solid resolution. The Monster stares out into the Ocean, and that's the last we see of him. But the Creature movies remain a popular retro 50's classic.

Revenge of the Creature

A Splendid Sequel To "Creature From The Black Lagoon"
Revenge Of The Creature (1955): John Agar, Lori Nelson, John Bromfield, Nestor Paiva, Clint Eastwood, Ricou Browning, Tom Hennesy, Grandon Rhodes, Dave Willock, Robert Williams, Charles Crane, Diane DeLaire, Charles Gibb, Brett Halsey, Bert Stevens, Charles Victor...Director Jack Arnold, Screenplay William Alland, Martin Berkeley.

This is the sequel to Universal Pictures' "Creature From The Black Lagoon" (1954) using the same formula as the first but with different actors. "Creature" was such a hit that audiences flocked to see the story unfold in two more films. Despite the campiness to this film and the 3-D thrills of watching the Creature run amok in the city, it's still a fine quality film in many ways. John Agar and Lori Nelson star as Professor Ferguson and Helen, a teacher and student couple (not uncommon in the 50's world of academia) who journey back to the Amazon river in search of the Creature, possibly talked about by word of mouth from the original expedition in the first film. As luck has it, they come across the Creature and use tranquilizers to subdue him into a comatose state. They take him back to the US, to a lab and tank in Florida where they conduct various tests on him. They find that he is indeed half-man and half-fish, the last of his kind, a creature unlike any other. But soon, the experiments and the zoo-like environment anger the Creature and what's more, he becomes jealous of the budding romance between the Professor and Helen. Before long, he breaks loose from his tank, kills fellow scientist Joe Hayes (John Bromfield) and runs amok in the coast of Florida. He soon stalks Helen and abducts her at a party in plain sight of the guests. A monster hunt conducted by Police and authorities ensues. This riveting sequel has the same music by Herman Stein - who employs a dissonant passage to mark the Creature's motif- and has excellent 3-D style cinematography which was a big draw for audiences in the 50's. "Revenge" was the highest grossing box-office film of its kind at this time and the most exciting of the three movies. The first was a classic but was layered with mystery and "Heart of Darkness" style adventure, and the last film was a hurried and sloppy affair. This one got it right in terms of action and adventure. A permanent classic in 50's cinema, don't miss your chance to see Clint Eastwood before his rise to Hollywood stardom as a lab scientist working with mice early in the film. The script, cinematography and music, as well as fine acting (with just the right touches of humor here and there) make a great sequel to "Black Lagoon". There's also the sensuality of the "swimming/underwater sequences". Perhaps a bit sexy for the time was the scene in which the Professor and Helen kiss passionately, clinging together under water. Another audience-pleaser was the fact that in each of the Creature film we have a physically fit and beautiful actress who could swim and the object of the Creature's lust. The "Creature" movies spawned a 1970's novel, Comic Books/Graphic Novels, a pin ball machine, great Halloween Costumes and to many, fond drive-in memories.

Creature from the Black Lagoon

A Drive-In Horror Classic
Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954): Richard Carlson, Julie Adams, Richard Denning, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Whit Bissell, Bernie Gozier, Henry A. Escalante, Ricou Browning, Ben Chapman, Sidney Mason, Rodd Redwing....Director Jack Arnold, Screenplay Harry Essex, Arthur A. Ross, Maurice Zimm.

Universal Pictures, the studio behind the great horror classics like Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy and The Wolf Man, were still at the height of their success when they released their "Creature" trilogy, beginning with "Creature From The Black Lagoon". In 1954, cinema was the new wave of entertainment and people left their homes and TV to escape into the movies. As a bonus, many of the more over-the-top sci-fi films were in 3-D, allowing audiences to really feel the action. And so audiences came to now the Gill-Man, a half-man, half-aquatic creature that became an icon of classic 50's drive-in horror movies. Directed by Jack Arnold, the film takes place in South America, on an unidentified lake simply known as the Black Lagoon in the Amazon River. A team of marine biologists and fossil-finders are in search of new forms of aquatic life but little do they know the horror that await them. Richard Carlson portrays David Reed, the head scientist, Julie Adams portrays his beautiful wife Kay, Richad Denning portrays fellow biologist Mark Williams, Antonio Moreno as Dr. Carl Maia and Nestor Paiva as their Spanish guide Lucas who tells them of the legendary "Gill Man". The Gill Man is the last of its kind, a prehistoric creature still lurking in the river. The legend becomes all too real when they find themselves in the mercy of the Gill Man (portrayed by Ben Chapman and Ricou Browning in costumes for the land sequences and underwater sequences). A human touch can be seen in the scaly monster's eyes and body and even more when his voyeuristic tendencies take over. He spies on the swimmers and scuba-divers and falls for the beautiful Kay when she goes swimming alone. They attempt to capture the creature and sedate him but he goes on a murderous rampage before he is finally vanquished. Or is he ? Besides the exciting adventure plot, there is also the gorgeous cinematography by William E. Snyder. Filmed in the beautiful river wildlife of Florida, you'd hardly know it. Then there's the Creature himself, long associated with American horror cinema just as much as Frankenstein. Behind all the sci-fi and horror, there is a sense of poignancy to the tragic tale of a nearly extinct creature who is, after all, part human, seeking to understand the human world but belonging to the savage world of pre-historic man. This was the first film in the series. "Revenge of the Creature" and "The Creature Walks Among Us" were filmed in a hurry and released in 1955 and 1956 using different actors but same location and same formula. This first installment is the greatest of the three, with a terrific script, fine acting for this kind of film and not to mention dramatic almost dissonant Stravinsky like music by an uncredited Henry Mancini early in his career as well as Hans J. Salter and Herman Stein. Sit back, grab some popcorn and get ready for one of the all-time greatest horror classics from the 1950's, a decade full of horror/sci-fi film in 3-D.

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