28 October 2013

Ed Wood

Ed Wood 1994
  • Director: Tim Burton
  • Based on book: no.
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Martin Landau, Sarah Jessica Parker, Patricia Arquette, Jeffrey Jones, Bill Murray, Vincent D’Onofrio, Lisa Marie
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Johnny Depp  Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, Slow Burn, Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Arizona Dream, Benny and Joon, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick of Time, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Ninth Gate, The Astronaut’s Wife, Sleepy Hollow, The Man Who Cried, Chocolat, Blow, From Hell, Lost in La Mancha, Pirates of the Caribbean (all four of them), Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Secret Window, Finding Neverland, Libertine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist
    • Martin Landau – Sleepy Hollow, EDtv, Mission Impossible (the entire series as it was broadcast) plus many other series episodes.
    • Patricia Arquette  – Holes, Bringing Out the Dead, True Romance, The Indian Runner
    • Sarah Jessica Parker – Smart People, State and Main, Mars Attacks!, First Wives Club, Footloose
    • Jeffrey Jones – Sleepy Hollow, The Devil’s Advocate, Beetlejuice, Amadeus,  
    • Bill Murray – Darjeeling Limited, Broken Flowers, Lost in Translation, The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, Cradle Will Rock, Rushmore, Hamlet, Groundhog Day, What About Bob?, Ghostbusters
    • Vincent D’Onofrio – Men in Black, Feeling Minnesota, Strange Days, JFK,
    • Lisa Marie – Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow, Mars Attacks!
  • Why? Johnny Depp. Ninth movie of JD marathon.
  • Seen: Twice.  Now: October 25, 2013.

       If Johnny Depp was trying to break what might have become a pattern of quiet introverted vulnerable young guys, he succeeded. His Ed Wood is vulnerable but doesn’t know it; he’s talkative to the point of babbling and frantically sociable. In this film we see signs of JD in his manic mode that he hones to perfection in Jack Straw.
       Here, I’m sorry to say, he hasn’t quite reached perfection though some critics regard his performance as outstanding. For me his irrationally optimistic Ed Wood doesn’t quite ring true. Ed Wood probably really was like this but the tone of the movie is an affectionate parody rather than a portrait.
       It’s supposed to be funny – isn’t it? – and Ed Wood’s encounter with the Baptists is funny. It is fun to see the making of Plan 9 from Outer Space which is truly a stupid movie (but not the stupidest I’ve seen). But generally I just feel sorry for everyone.
       You know I love JD.  I am also extremely fond of Tim Burton’s films. But I just can’t get into the spirit of this one.  Maybe next time.


2* of 5

King Lear (Olivier)

King Lear 1983
  • Director: Michael Elliot
  • Based on: Shakespeare
  • Cast: Laurence Olivier, Colin Blakeley, Anna Calder-Marshall, Robert Lindsay, Leo McKern, David Threlfall, Dorothy Tutin, John Hurt, Diana Rigg
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Laurence Olivier  As You Like It, Richard III, Hamlet, Spartacus, Sleuth, Oh! What a Lovely War.
    • Colin Blakeley  The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Murder on the Orient Express, A Man for All Seasons
    • Anna Calder.Marshall  The Winter’s Tale
    • Robert Lindsay  – Extras, Absolutely Fabulous, Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline, Midsummer Night’s Dream, All’s Well that Ends Well, Twelfth Night,
    • Leo McKern – The French Lieutenant’s Woman, A Man for All Seasons, Help!
    • John Hurt – Merlin, Harry Potter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Brighton Rock, Melancholia, Rob Roy, V for Vendetta, The Elephant Man, Hellboy,  I Claudius, and more
    • Diana Rigg – The Avengers
  • Why? Shakespeare
  • Seen: October 21, 2013


      In the opening scene Stonehenge looms in the mist and the characters move in and around the giant monoliths. It’s one of the best opening scenes I’ve seen and it sets the stage for an impressive early medieval – or even earlier, pre Christian – kingdom that is sustained throughout, ending again at Stonehenge when Lear and Cordelia lie in the center, surrounded by a ring of knights with torches. A long camera shot. The end.
       Olivier’s films are always visually beautiful and this one is no exception. Olivier himself gives possibly his best performance, at least in his quiet moments when he is simply a nasty but sad old man.
       The first half of the film is best. The entire cast is excellent in presenting a rather normal dysfunctional family (excuse the oxymoron), bickering over what families bicker over, inheritances and who loves whom most.
       Unfortunately the film doesn’t take the opportunity so tantalizingly at hand to show how Lear’s viciousness turns Regan and Goneril into the hateful women they become.  Suddenly they just are.
       The film also simply loses momentum in the storm scene and in portraying Lear’s madness. Instead of drama and pain he just shouts a lot with the rain pouring down on his head and Mad Tom just babbles frantically and we can’t hear a word he’s saying.
       Linsday is most consistent as bad boy Edmund and Hurt does fine as the Fool though I would have liked to see him as Lear.
       Even though my high hopes in the beginning were not fulfilled it’s a Lear well worth seeing.


3 * of 5 

21 October 2013

Benny and Joon

Benny and Joon 1993
  • Director: Jeremiah S. Chechik
  • Based on book: by Peter Hedges
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Mary Stuart Masterson, Aidan Quinn, Julianne Moore, Oliver Platt, CCH Pounder, Dan Hedaya, William H. Macy
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Johnny Depp  Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, Slow Burn, Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilber Grape, Arizona Dream, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick of Time, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Ninth Gate, The Astronaut’s Wife, Sleepy Hollow, The Man Who Cried, Chocolat, Blow, From Hell, Lost in La Mancha, Pirates of the Caribbean (all four of them), Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Secret Window, Finding Neverland, Libertine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist
    • Mary Stuart Masterson  Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café, The Stepford Wives
    • Aidan Quinn  Sarah’s Key, Music of the Heart, Practical Magic, Looking for Richard, The Stars Fell on Henrietta, Frankenstein, Desperately Seeking Susan
    • Julianne Moore  – The Kids are All Right, The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, I’m Not There, Children of Men, The Forgotten, The Hours, Far From Heaven, The Shipping News, A Map of the World, The Big Lebowski, Boogie Night, Jurassic Park, Surviving Picasso, Safe, The Fugitive
    • Oliver Platt – 2012, Frost/Nixon,
    • CCH Pounder – Avatar, The Number One Ladies Detective Bureau, Face/Off, RoboCop 3, Postcards from the Edge, Baghdad Café, Prizzi’s Honor
    • Dan Hedaya – Alien Resurrection, A Life Less Ordinary, The First Wives Club, Clueless, The Usual Suspects, Slow Burn, Joe and the Volcano, Hill Street Blues
    • William H. Macy – The Cooler, State and Main, Happy Texas, Pleasantville, Boogie Nights, Fargo, The Client
  • Why? Johnny Depp. Eighth movie of JD marathon (slightly out of chronological order, maybe).
  • Seen: About five times. Most recently February 13, 2009 and February 15, 2009 in French to practice my French.  Now: October 18, 2013.


      The dancing bread rolls capture the whimsy of this film. Maltin calls it a fable. Good description.  None of it feels real; it’s an unlikely story with unlikely characters. It’s almost as much a fairy tale as Edward Scissorhands, but with a happy (sort of) ending.  In fact the story bothers me just a little.  Mental illness is not whimsical and it can’t be cured by love, not even the love of Johnny Depp. Well, it isn’t here either, really. but the ending is hopeful because of love. Fair enough.
       It’s a sweet story and a sweet film populated by many of my acting favorites. Aidan Quinn and Julianne Moore have played a lot of roles more suited to their skills but it’s nice to see them here. Mary Stuart Masterson is a bit pale, both literally and figuratively but she has a bit of bite to her at times and she’s sadly convincing in her breakdown on the bus.
       The whole film, however, is Johnny Depp’s. He’s not actually in it all that much and as is often the case he doesn’t say a whole lot but it’s his endearing, gentle, tentative out-of-it-ness and nerdy passion for mime and old movies and unorthodox housekeeping that carry the whole thing.
       It’s a film to love in spite of its flaws.


4* of 5

13 October 2013

What's Eating Gilbert Grape

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape 1993
  • Director: Lasse Hallström
  • Based on book: by Peter Hedges
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Juliette Lewis, Mary Steenburgen, Darlene Cates, Laura Harrington, Mary Kate Schellhardt, Kevin Tighe, John C. Reilly, Crispin Glover
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Johnny Depp  Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, Slow Burn, Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny and Joon, Arizona Dream, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick of Time, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Ninth Gate, The Astronaut’s Wife, Sleepy Hollow, The Man Who Cried, Chocolat, Blow, From Hell, Lost in La Mancha, Pirates of the Caribbean (all four of them), Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Secret Window, Finding Neverland, Libertine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist
    • Leonardo DiCaprio  Romeo and Juliet, Marvin’s Room, Titanic, The Beach, The Gangs of New York, Catch Me If You Can, The Aviator, Blood Diamond, Shutter Island, Inception, The Great Gatsby
    • Juliette Lewis  The Darwin Awards, Hysterical Blindness, Strange Days, The Basketball Diaries, Romeo is Bleeding
    • Mary Steenburgen  – The Help, Honeydripper, Sunshine State, I Am Sam, Philadelphia, Ragtime
    • Laura Harrington – The Devil’s Advocate
    • John C. Reilly – A Prairie Home Companion, The Aviator, The Hours, Chicago, Gangs of New York,  The Good Girl, The Perfect Storm, The Thin Red Line, Boogie Nights, Georgia, Delores Claiborne
    • Crispin Glover – Alice in Wonderland, Dead Man, Wild at Heart, Racing with the Moon
  • Why? Guess. Seventh movie of JD marathon (slightly out of chronological order, maybe).
  • Seen: About ten times. Most recently August 7, 2009 and July 2, 2010.  Now: October 12, 2013, with Y, K, and Hal.


      There’s no way this is going to be an analytical review of the film.  It’ll probably just be a love letter.  When people ask me what my favorite movie is, this one is usually on the list.
       It’s the one my students most often choose as end-of-summer-course film and often I watch it with them instead of grading National Tests.
       And now I’ve watched it again, in the JD marathon, with the added spice of including it in our read-book-watch-film trio.  Actually I read the novel before ever seeing the movie.  It must have been when the novel first came out in the early 90’s. I loved it.  A while later I saw a notice in the newspaper that a movie was going to be made. It was undoubtedly newsworthy because of Lasse Hallström (it was a Swedish newspaper after all) and not because of JD. I don’t remember if I reacted to the fact that JD was going to be in it. I remember that they had found a non-professional to play the mother.
       Anyway. Years later the movie is part of my bloodstream. The book was good again too but grimmer than the movie.  It is Lasse Hallström after all. I love his movies. I love JD. Oh, you’ve noticed…
       Like Edward Scissorhands it’s so sadly sweet. But realistic (in its way) so even sadder. And dignified. Somehow these people get on with it in spite of the weirdness of their lives. Or let go with self-esteem.
       The cast. Well. It goes without saying that JD is the perfect Gilbert. I won’t go on about it. DiCaprio is brilliant and should have gotten the Oscar he was nominated for (it went to Tommy Lee Jones in The Fugitive; he was good too but…)  Darlene Cates as the mother is excellent as are the sisters and everybody else.
       In the spirit of the moment I’ve given movies 10 * of 10 which may be too generous but I stand by my spontaneous ratings.  This one has been twenty years in the development. And how can you rate your first (or at least early) love affair? Let’s say
13 * of 13 (It is, coincidentally, the 113th film reviewed on this blog.)

Doomsday

Doomsday 2008
  • Director: Neil Marshall
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Rhona Mitra, Adrian Lester, Bob Hoskins, David O’Hara, Martin Compston, Cal Macaninch, Malcolm McDowell
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Rhona Mitra – nothing
    • Adrian Lester – Merlin, Day After Tomorrow, Hustle, As You Like It, Hamlet, Born Romantic, Love’s Labour’s Lost,
    • Bob Hoskins – Paris je t’aime, Stay, Mrs. Henderson Presents, David Copperfield, Felicia’s Journey, Othello, Rock Follies, Mermaids
    • David O’Hara – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I, Hotel Rwanda, Braveheart
    • Martin Compston – Red Road, Sweet Sixteen
    • Cal Macaninch – Merlin, Downton Abbey, Dear Frankie
    • Malcolm McDowell – The Artist, The Book of Eli, In Good Company, Hidalgo, My Life So Far, Star Trek Generations, Bopha!, Voyage of the Damned, O Lucky Man, A Clockwork Orange
  • Why bought: Adrian Lester
  • Seen:  October 11, 2013.


Merlin meets Terminator. That is to say Merlin without Merlin, Arthur, Gwen, Morgana, charm, humor or magic but lots of sword fighting, torches, castles, tunnels and monster type meanies. And Terminator (and maybe Godzilla - I’ve never seen it so I’m just imagining) goes gothic punk heavy metal.
In other words Doomsday is a mishmash.
The story is interesting enough. A viral epidemic kills hundreds of thousands in Glasgow (poor Glasgow – last night in the grim Red Road, and now utter destruction), so all of Scotland is isolated behind a big wall to keep the sickies out of England.  But England is in a bad way anyway and when the same virus strikes London thirty years later and the powers-that-be have detected survivors in Scotland they figure there must be a cure so they send…
You get the picture. Most of the film is extremely violent, there is a lot of running and horse galloping (why is it that in movies everybody knows how to just jump on a horse and gallop off?), and a ridiculous amount of car chases. Ho hum.
What in the world is Adrian Lester doing in this movie?  Or Bob Hoskins, Malcolm McDowell and all the rest in this decent-to-excellent cast?  Maybe it looked good on paper.
They get one star because I like them. The make-up, hairdos, costumes and glass eye were kind of cool so I’ll add another half, and the premise gets a half.

2 * of 5



Red Road

Red Road 2006
  • Director: Andrea Arnold (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights)
  • Based on Book: no
  • Cast: Kate Dickie, Tony Curran, Natalie Press, Martin Compston
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Kate Dickie – nothing yet but she’s in Prometheus which we will watch one day soon
    • Tony Curran – Gladiator, Great Expectations, Go Now, Shallow Grave and many more I haven’t seen
    • Natalie Press – Island, My Summer of Love
    • Martin Compston – Sweet Sixteen
  • Why bought: Natalie Press. A good movie
  • Seen:  Twice. September 12, 2010 and now: October 10, 2013.

       One of the most disturbing films I’ve seen, Red Road fascinates from the first frame to the last.  The pace is very slow.  How exciting can it be to watch in close-up a woman watching a bunch of TV surveillance screens?  The answer: very.
Jackie has a past. She’s traumatized. Either she’s completely numb, her emotions destroyed, or she’s insane, just barely holding them in.
She sees Clyde on one of her screens. Gradually we realize that Clyde is the cause of everything and we soon figure out what he’s done. But not why or how.
Jackie starts stalking him and drawing him into her net. But why? Why? With an uneasiness that grows into an almost painful apprehension we watch as they seduce each other. But which one is the victim?  Which one is the aggressor?
Clyde is clearly the villain.  He’s a thoroughly obnoxious sexist pig.  I hate him. Jackie hates him.  But.  There’s more to him than that. He’s gentle. He’s supportive.  He’s artistic. He’s trying to reform. Or is he?
Revenge is sweet.  Or is it?               
As I watch it I think, “Oh I don’t like this film.” It’s unpleasant. It’s horrible.  But I can’t stop. The web these two weave, Jackie and Clyde, together with Clyde’s two wretched friends Stevie and April - in a grim Glasgow of graffiti, litter, surveillance cameras, stark skyscrapers on an isolated plain – are completely captivating.
The acting is superb. I bought the DVD after seeing Natalie Press in Island. She’s someone to keep an eye on. They all are.

4  * of 5



7 October 2013

Arizona Dream

Arizona Dream 1992
  • Director: Emir Kusturica
  • Based on book: No
  • Cast: Johnny Depp, Faye Dunaway, Lily Taylor, Jerry Lewis, Vincent Gallo
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Johnny Depp  Nightmare on Elm Street, Platoon, Slow Burn, Cry-Baby, Edward Scissorhands, Benny and Joon, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, Dead Man, Nick of Time, Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, The Ninth Gate, The Astronaut’s Wife, Sleepy Hollow, The Man Who Cried, Chocolat, Blow, From Hell, Lost in La Mancha, Pirates of the Caribbean (all four of them), Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Secret Window, Finding Neverland, Libertine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Public Enemies, Alice in Wonderland, The Tourist
    • Faye Dunaway  Don Juan DeMarco, Voyage of the Damned, Network, The Towering Inferno, Chinatown, Little Big Man, Bonnie and Clyde
    • Lily Taylor  Six Feet Under, Public Enemies, A Slipping Down Life, I Shot Andy Warhol, High Fidelity, Born on the Fourth of July, The Addiction
    • Jerry Lewis  – The Nutty Professor and a lot of other old movies
    • Vincent Gallo – Palookaville, The House of the Spirits
  • Why? Johnny Depp. Sixth movie of JD marathon.
  • Seen: Three times. Most recently in October 2010.  Now: October 6, 2013


      The story is muddled and the symbols are obscure, if not downright silly. It’s not so much a dream as a hallucination.  To tell the truth, I couldn’t stay awake all the time.
       But there’s something appealing about the film. The kooky tragedy works its way into me and suddenly I find myself captured by the disconnected rambling suspense.
       The appeal– big surprise – is in the cast. Johnny Depp is emerging as a character actor. Faye Dunaway is more interesting as a flaky aging beautiful oddball than in her cooler more sophisticated roles. Lily Taylor is solidly quirky as always.
       And I love movies with snowstorms. In Arizona?  You might well ask.
       Great cast notwithstanding, I’d like to know why they’re all so weird. Even dreams need some story.

2 2/3 * of 5

Ran

Ran 1985
  • Director: Akira Kurosawa
  • Based on Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Akira Terao, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryô. Mieko Harada,  Mansai Nomura
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in: None of them
  • Why bought: Shakespeare
  • Seen:  October 5, 2013 as second in the King Lear film sessions.

      A visual tour-de-force that time and again astonishes the eye with color, starkness and sweeping magnificent landscapes, this masterpiece still doesn’t do much for me.  Half the time I have no idea what’s going on and most of that time I don’t really care.  Old King Lear, or Lord Hiditora Ichimonji as his name is here, is interesting to watch but the other characters don’t move me. Well, the blind kid does, a bit.
I think it’s because I haven’t learned to appreciate the stylized acting here that I imagine is akin to the Noh theater tradition.
There is much that is impressive but little that is gripping. There is an awful lot of pounding hooves of lots of galloping horses. There are a lot of gravelly voiced soldiers and a lot of blood.
Oh yes, the Lear connection.  It starts out clear enough except that he’s dividing his kingdom up among son instead of daughters.  Many images parallel the original but this turns into a war film with lots of battles, which Lear doesn’t have.
It’s worth watching and deserves a second viewing too but I have no burning need to do it again soon.
2½  * of 5


A Thousand Acres

A Thousand Acres 1997
  • Director: Jocelyn Moorhouse
  • Based on Book: by Jane Smiley and loosely on Shakespeare’s King Lear
  • Cast: Jessica Lange, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jason Robards, Jenifer Jason Leigh, Colin Firth
  • Personal “oh yeah him/her” reaction, i.e. have seen this actor/actress in:
    • Jessica Lange - Broken Flowers, Titus, Big Fish, Sweet Dreams, Frances, Tootsie, The Postman Always Rings Twice
    • Michelle Pfeiffer – Stardust, White Oleander, I Am Sam, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love Field, The Fantastic Baker Boys, Married to the Mafia, Frankie and Johnny, To Gillian on Her Thirty-Seventh Birthday, The Witches of Eastwick and many more
    • Jason Robards – Philadelphia, Julia, All the President’s Men, Johnny Got His Gun, old TV programs
    • Jennifer Jason Leigh – Margo at the Wedding, The Road to Perdition, eXistenZ, Kansas City, Georgia, Dolores Claiborne, Fast Times at Ridgemont High
    • Colin Firth – Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The King’s Speech, Mamma Mia, Then She Found Me, Nanny McPhee, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Love Actually, Girl with the Pearl Earring, Shakespeare in Love, Fever Pitch, The English Patient. Pride and Prejudice
  • Why bought: liked the book
  • Seen:  Three times. First time about 15 years ago. Now: September 29, 2013 as the start of the King Lear film sessions.


The parallels to Lear are there.  Cruel old patriarch decides to divide his thousand acres among his three daughters. The two oldest, who already farm the land with their husbands, are happy about it.  The youngest, a lawyer in Des Moines, wants to think about it. Angry father, rejection, family council…
It’s a good basis for a modern dysfunctional family drama.  And dysfunctional they certainly are. Robards’ Larry makes Lear seem almost…well, no he doesn’t.  Lear is a horrible old man – though we can find pity for him at times – and Larry is a horrible old man.
The story focuses on the two older sisters Ginny and Rose, outstandingly played by Lange and Pfeiffer. Rose remembers every detail of their dreadful childhood. Ginny has suppressed it, trying to be the supportive, cheerful daughter and wife.  But then she starts remembering.
The youngest daughter Caroline helps the father sue to get the farm back.  Family bitterness and the scorn and contempt of the neighbors, who are regard Ginny and Rose as cruel and greedy, tear them apart.
Pfeiffer and Lange are phenomenal. The film is powerful in the interpretation of the story from the two older daughters’ point of view, an aspect which has fascinated me since I first read King Lear.
But it’s a grim film.  It’s not a film to love. It’s a film to suffer through.

3½  * of 5


PS It was fun to catch a glimpse of a very young Elizabeth Moss (Mad Men, Top of the Lake) as one of Rose’s daughters.