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Curse of the Pink Panther
directed by Blake Edwards
written by Blake Edwards, Geoffrey Edwards
starring David Niven, Capucine, Robert Wagner, Herbert Lom, Joanna Lumley, Robert Loggia, Harvey Korman, Burt Kwouk, Ted Wass
As the film opens, the theft of the diamond from the previous film is repeated. A mysterious man tries to sell it to Countess Chandra (Lumley) but she shoots him dead just after Clouseau appears as if he is about to foil the transaction. Chandra points the gun at Clouseau and the opening credits begin.
Clouseau is still missing and the Sűreté are looking for the world?s greatest detective to track him down. Chief Inspector Dreyfus (Lom) is less than enthusiastic over the search and devises a plan to ensure that the exact opposite of what is programmed into the computer is tabulated in locating the best man (or woman) for the job. Subsequently, another bumbling, clumsy idiot in the guise of Sergeant Clifton Sleigh (Wass) is found and put on the case.
Sergeant Sleigh in this film is entirely ineffectual as a physical presence in this film. The character, an obvious pacifier for those who deeply lament the loss of Peter Sellers and who nevertheless will settle for a substitute, lacks Sellers?s solidity and strong sense of place. Despite his buffoonish behavior Seller?s Clouseau was grounded albeit it directionless at times and anathema to any objects put in his path. Sleigh is as much of a stumblebum as the man he is attempting to find. Clearly, the film wants us to satisfy ourselves with Nutrasweet while the real stuff is tragically out of reach. Wass?s dialog is often wooden and combined with his presentation the result is a character who isn?t particularly easy to like or root for.
The mob, led by the affable and utterly winning Bruno Langois (Loggia) naturally do not want Clouseau found so they put out a number of hits on Sleigh which manage to fail in the same manner they did with Clouseau.
Sleigh meets with the luxuriating Sir Charles Lytton (Niven) and his gallant wife Lady Simone (Capucine) who remain surprised that Clouseau hasn?t turned up yet. They discuss the diamond and the disappearance of Clouseau. This scene features one of several blatant sexual references in the film. Somehow Sleigh manages to get a rubber raft in the shape of a duck attached to his bottom so that when he sits down the ducks head peaks out between his legs so it looks like wood. They play with this gag for quite a long time as every time he moves or falls down the same head keeps bobbing away.
Also, there is a scene where Sleigh has just left Professor Auguste Balls?s disguise shop with an inflatable companion that Balls has sold him for a diversion. The scene changes and Sleigh sits outside a French café with his new toy. He lights her a cigarette and the ashes burn a hole in the doll. So, Sleigh puts his head very suggestively between the doll?s legs in order to attempt to blow her up or whatever you want to call it.
Sleigh is certainly a bumbling, stumbling mess but he moves and speaks like a character from ?The Forbidden Zone?. It?s amazing if you compare the film and this cop. It?s as if he stepped straight off of that set onto this one and remained the same character for both films. After a while it becomes easier to like Sleigh because one begins to feel horribly for him; one develops a feeling of pity for him. He is lowly and unfortunate throughout although he does manage to get a girl interested in him. She is named Juleta Shane as well as Julie Morgan (Leslie Ash) and she meets Sleigh at a club where she is clearly interested. They had actually seen each other at the hotel they are staying at and later when she appears in his room she is ready to go. She?s one of the more ribald and blatantly sexual female characters in this series and she is basically grinding for it.
There is a tremendous openness at Countess Chandra (Lumley)?s health spa which includes hot mud baths and other various extravagances. It?s an exceedingly clean and vital place and every time the film goes back to it, it is infused with an intense energy that comes directly from the various stations at the spa.
The clumsy antics of Sleigh are over the top to put it mildly. It?s possible that he?s even more vertically challenged than Clouseau is in the first several films. Regardless, he?s a serious wreck and cannot step two feet without stumbling over himself and putting others at serious risk. There are really none of his falls that are particularly amusing. They have the physical characteristics of Sellers?s work but none of the style or grace. They are ugly and perhaps less choreographed but in the end they come across as second rate when compared to the master. But, one can hardly blame young Wass for this. He does what he can in his role which is an attempt to capture the essence of Sellers in the body of another character. It certainly is a smarter move than taking another stab at a Clouseau replacement which lowered the impact of ?Inspector Clouseau? with Alan Arkin.
The end of the film is certainly curious and it involves Roger Moore tripping over everything in sight, speaking in an exaggerated French accent, and spending most of his scenes with an ice bucket on his head. It?s clear from the beginning who this really is and it?s a whole lot of fun because Moore isn?t exactly known for slapstick and this display shows him in fine form. These scenes tie the film together and make sense of it. In a way it?s too much, too soon as prior to that the film seems to meander a ways before finally getting to the point. Still, the ending is very appealing in its way and ultimately satisfactory. Indeed, it?s the perfect ending for this part of the series. It would be ten years before another one, ?Son of the Pink Panther?, was attempted and that film really has little to do with the tremendous 20 year ride between the original Panther and ?Curse?.
This film combines extended gags with short riffs where Sleigh trips over his feet and destroys a piece of furniture or a display. In its way it is successful at what it is attempting to do. It creates a character who is similar enough to Clouseau to not be a shock to long term fans of the series while molding a passably entertaining story around it. It works quite well and the film maintains its directive throughout without succumbing to self-parody.
The performances in this film are all impressive. I?ve decided that Ted Wass is brilliantly playing a wooden character with no rhythm and that he is supposed to be that way. Wass has a certain affability that he exploits routinely. He?s got natural comic timing which comes in to play throughout the film. Joanna Lumley also possess a fantastic comedic touch. She and Roger Moore have excellent chemistry here and it works to the film?s advantage. Herbert Lom is, as usual, very discomforted as Dreyfus and phenomenally agitated at the prospect of Clouseau being alive. It?s a testament to the series that it manages to make Dreyfus?s neuroses regarding Clouseau fresh and novel every time they attack it. Dreyfus is really the central character in these films and Clouseau is merely the comic relief.
Overall, this film captures the spirit of the earlier films without quite managing to create their elegance or style. Tedd Wass of course isn?t as dynamic and thrilling as Sellers but that isn?t what the film is going for here. Wass is an entirely different animal even though he shares the same afflictions as Sellers in terms of his lack of balance and inability to avoid falling down. He is a repressed, buttoned-up nerd with no clue about the world, and especially women. Next to him Clouseau is Casanova. Seller?s Clouseau, despite his tendency to destroy inanimate objects, is a man of the world. He?s sophisticated in a way that Wass?s is not. The film wonderfully gives us a character who doesn?t try to be a mock-up of Clouseau and instead carries on with his own personality quirks that come in the end to define the character.
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This Dust of Words
written and directed by Bill Rose
In 1999, fifty year old Elizabeth Wiltsee went missing. This film traces her steps from her precocious childhood to the final journey she undertook after saying she was going home.
By all accounts Elizabeth Wiltsee was exceedingly uncommon. Rated with an IQ of 200 she was always on the fast track for tremendous success. She read Homer in the original Greek, taught herself Mandarin Chinese, and was equally adept at both Science and Literature. She possessed an uncanny ability to penetrate into the very heart of things and much of this film is based upon an essay written by one of her Stanford English Professors, a man named John Felstiner. Felstiner relates his take on Elizabeth and its fraught with tension and tenderness and allows for something of a portrait to emerge.
After Graduation Elizabeth eschewed furthering her education and au paired in Paris for a bit before moving to Spain for a year. She moved back to the States and found work in various libraries along the way. She also wrote feverishly completing two novels, numerous plays, and critical essays. She took a job as a proofreader but she couldn?t restrain herself from adding her own editorial commentary on the works as well. Eventually, she ended up in California where she rented a room in Watsonville. A few years later she was kicked out and became from that point on a homeless person. At some point she began hearing voices and became acutely paranoid that her phone was being tapped and that she was being watched.
Elizabeth?s family have put the pieces together and concluded that she suffered from Paranoid Schizophrenia although she was never properly diagnosed mainly because she both feared and loathed the prospects of visiting a doctor for any reason. She fell ill with adult-set measles when she was thirty and her family believed that the difficulties she later faced were born with that sickness. This is never discussed in the film because director Bill Rose felt it would pervert the narrative.
Regardless of the source of her illness, one cannot help but ponder over the connection between near genius and mental illness. Elizabeth seemed to be the classic free spirit who refused to be pinned down and who moved around without constraint. There is no explanations here about what happened to her or why. All we are left with is a portrait of a beautiful, vivacious young woman who managed to slip into the skull of Samuel Beckett in her 1970 senior thesis.
This is a story that proves the adage, ?There but by the grace of God go I?. The line between mental illness and so-called normalcy is of course paper thin. One feels baffled that such a gifted person, with rare and possessive talents, could ever find herself grappling with imaginary voices and periodic fits of absolute rage. She took refuge in a parish and slept in the doorway. She spent her days in Watsonville at the library where she studied Chinese poets and read everything she could get her hands on. One wonders about her lucidity and perhaps if she did indeed retain her unassailable ability to see more clearly than just about everyone else. What solace did it give her if any? What does a brilliant mind do when parts of it start to shut down?
Elizabeth Wiltsee is a phantom who haunts this film from start to finish. Through a voice over artist we hear her words from her novel as the camera moves slowly over water. It?s calming, soothing, but her words are deeply melancholic and fueled with dread and a quiet resignation.
A key aspect of this documentary are the individuals who stretched out a hand when Elizabeth was sleeping on the steps of the parish. One concerned woman named Toni Breese gave her peanut butter, yogurt and apples as well as a list of all the church goers along with their pictures so she might be able to connect with them. Another was a man named Walter Washington, a language arts teacher at the school attached to the parish, who brought her into the Fishes and Loaves soup kitchen and managed to get her to open up to him about her past. In fact a reporter wrote a piece on Elizabeth whom everyone seemed to know and concluded that the entire town had pitched in and were supporting her.
This film does not attempt to capture its subject because she will always remain elusive. She is an enigma that forever will remain distant and strange to anyone who attempts to solve her if only for a short while. All that is left are fragments that do not remotely express a viable truth about this single individual. Indeed, this film articulates a basic fact that will always separate even the closest friends. It is impossible to effectively read every facet of another person and there will always be gulfs that develop, lacks of understanding and empathy. Elizabeth Wiltsee lived through texts. They became her escape and most likely kept much of the violence in her head from spilling out in even more dramatic outbursts.
Elizabeth existed in a mental realm populated by the very few. Clearly her life was consumed with a mad array of possibilities regarding any type of future she might have desired. She turned her back on it and decided to pursue a more low-key existence on her own terms. It?s not easy to understand the nature of her motivation for skipping out on the brilliant future others had already mapped out for her. Perhaps it has most to do with her disdainful attitude for academe. She wrote furiously for much of her life and many of her later works were politically-oriented plays although she herself did not confess to being remotely political. Somewhere along the line the words betrayed her and began to come at her in frightening and unpredictable ways. She who filled her mind with phrases, formulas, arguments was ultimately crushed underneath their collective weight.
Overall, the film provides a rich portrait, one of many possible portraits, of a complicated woman who was difficult for many to effectively know as far as it is possible to know another person. Her mind soaked up everything she encountered and she is remembered as impossibly bright, vibrant, and consumed with an overarching desire to know everything. She never lost her thirst for knowledge, not even when the voices were attempting to impede her progress. There is something terribly romantic about someone spending most of her day obsessing over this or that special text. One can?t help but wonder if her ability to process all this material changed as her disorder worsened. Did she move from more or less a full understanding to one that was more fragmented or were the fragments always there? Are there always signs that precede the development of major mental afflictions? Can these be extracted from her Samuel Beckett thesis, plays and novels?
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Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains
directed by Lou Adler
written by Nancy Dowd
starring Diane Lane, Ray Winstone, Laura Dern, David Clennon, Cynthia Sikes, Marin Kanter, Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Barry Ford, Paul Simonon, Christine Lahti, Fee Waybill, John Morris
It must have been brilliant to be a young girl trapped in a dead town watching this film for the first time in the early to mid eighties. Just the sight of three fifteen year old girls banging about on stage must have sent shivers down their spines and galvanized them to do the same thing for themselves. Indeed it did spawn numerous attempts to capture the same energy, the gnawing vitality of the Stains; riot grrls, Courtney Love and various others were highly influenced by the sight of these girls shouting their agonies and traipsing through the graveyards of everything that came before.
As the film opens Corinne Burns (Lane) has just been fired from her shit job on local TV. She is subsequently interviewed and puts off all of the lazy boredom one expects to have been fostered in her grey, drab environment where pain is supposed to be internalized and not given voice. Corinne talks about her dead mother but also manages to mention that she?s the manager and lead singer of the Stains, offering hope that it is possible to escape if only but for a short while.
The Stains consist of Corinne, Tracey (Kanter) and Jessica (Dern). They really suck at first because none of them have bothered to learn how to play. Still, they have the requisite urgency that all punk music must first and foremost embody. They have the anger and a forum to express that anger and quickly climb the rusty rung of small time fame. Corinne creates a hair do that is subsequently copied by thousands of girls who are all clinging to the same pestilent dream. She looks rather fierce and terrifying and her coy, expressionless mien creates a rabid following of rootless girls who possess neither the originality or the gumption to take Corrine?s lead particularly seriously and find something equally vital for themselves.
The film features a roster of accomplished musicians who have all left a legitimate mark in the annals of punk extravagance. Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols are joined by Paul Simonon of the Clash, Fee Waybill of the Tubes and Black Randy. They add an authenticity to the film and contribute to a number of memorable songs.
Ray Winstone plays Billy, the lead singer of the Looters. He?s fantastically snarly, pent up, and presents a true performer who rages on stage and captures the base need of the performance. Billy fronts Cook and Jones playing ?The Professional?, a song about the draft. Indeed, it comes across as basically a Sex Pistols song with a different vocalist. Billy does his best John Lydon impression and the song works considerably well. It?s played many times throughout the film especially after its stolen by the Stains and made their own. Their version, in fact the entire output of the band seems a million miles away from Punk and is really more power pop than anything else. Several bands are aped in this film including the Pistols, Talking Heads, Kiss and the Buzzcocks.
This isn?t a film about music as much as it is a stabbing attack on commercialization, the role of the media, and commodification of original ideas that strike a chord. After the Stains have developed a massive fan base of ?skunks? who all do their shop-worn best to mimic Corinne, Billy chastises them after they have done their best to boo him off the stage. He blasts them by calling them commercials and it?s an apt description. They are merely advertising a certain look without realizing how their individuality has been sucked dry by the illusion, the fraud that is being perpetrated upon them. Once they realize this they turn on the Stains and the resultant performance is a fiasco. They just switch off as quickly as they switched on and their cool reception signifies yet an another example of lemmings being led to their disaster. They have no will of their own and are easily manipulated without pausing to think about the efficacy of their reaction. It?s all a critique of how fans of various groups develop into mere carbon copies of their idols and live under the impression that they are individuals. It?s not individual when you suddenly find yourself looking just like everyone else.
The film spends a great deal of time on a giant bus operated by a Rastafarian named Lawnboy (Ford). It?s interesting that he listens to Reggae because the Clash were heavily influence by it as well as dub. The kids don?t get it whatsoever and Lawnboy is left to lament this fact while essentially talking to himself. The road winds on to various towns the bands play on their full-on US tour. The headlining act, fronted by Lou Corpse (Waybill) is called the Metal Corpse and their music seems rather incongruous with the overall spirit of the film. They really do sound like Kiss and it?s not just because Lou wears dodgy face paint. They aren?t well received at their first gig even though Lou claims their single ?Road Map of my Tears? has been Number One for seven weeks. Later their guitarist Jerry Jervy (Vince Welnick) OD?s ending their participation on the tour. This opens the door for the Looters and the Stains but the Stains?s popularity relegates the Looters to an opening act.
The film isn?t as threatening as it could be. There isn?t any menace to most of the material and subsequently no danger. It?s just a bunch of silly girls going to see someone they have latched onto as somehow speaking just for them. Only she doesn?t. She speaks for nobody but herself and the film makes this point clearly. Music is more than fashion accessories and press. Maybe at first certain bands garnered attention because of their look while the music takes a backseat. But sooner or later the press sees through acts that have nothing more to offer than a quasi-Nazi get-up or multi-tone hair styles. The music is what leads to durability and without it, bands really are nothing but walking and talking adverts for disaffection. The Stains are not really about the music at all. They are cute, novel, and innocuous enough to attract a certain obsequious audience who lap up everything they do. They are made famous for their look and a few comments Corinne makes before every song. She speaks, they listen and imagine her to be given expression to the paltry voices in their heads.
The performances in this film are all strong. Ray Winstone simply looks like a punk god when he commands the stage. I could have used much more of that than the syrupy discharge put on by the Stains. Their music isn?t even crossing the disco line into new wave. It?s straight up Pop and ruffles the feathers of nobody whatsoever. It sounds like three young girls who don?t know what the hell they are doing on stage. Granted they get better and their version of ?Professional? does have a certain vitality to it. But it isn?t punk. I suppose that doesn?t much matter in the end because this isn?t a film about punk at all. It?s about the cruel whims of the industry and how it turns on people when they least expect it. It?s about the long haul, the physical work required for low-rent bands to play on tour. Diane Lane is infectious in this film and she does have tremendous stage presence. I would have liked blistering three minute exorcisms from her but that?s not the point of the film. I just wanted her angrier, more wounded, and capable of fronting the scariest punk band ever to reach the stage. Laura Dern seems quiet throughout the film. She hardly raises her voice and comes off as meek. Jessica looks ridiculous early on but eventually gets her hair sorted out.
Overall, this is a necessary film that exposes the cold underbelly of the music industry. It?s a bit extreme in how it handles the fickle bitch of fame. One minute they love you and the next they despise you. It doesn?t really work so sharply. The shift downward is usually more gradual and you don?t so readily fall of the cliff to your death. The film condenses this process to make it much more dramatic than it truly is. The overall message of this film might be that there is a price for individuality. Seeing hundreds of people dressed exactly like you must be a tremendous mind fuck. There is pain to fame and the only moments a musician is truly free is when they are on stage. It doesn?t seem to matter enough to the Stains. They do not play as if their fingers are going to melt away. They don?t appear to be living and dying with each note. This is what I wanted to see and instead I got MTV friendly pop music diluted and pissed away for instant fame. It?s a statement in and of itself which I imagine might be the real intention of the film. Great ideas often get turned into rehashed versions of themselves. Self-parody as artistic expression.
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Star Wars: The Clone Wars
directed by Dave Filoni
written by Henry Gilroy, Steven Melching, and Scott Murphy
story, characters and universe by George Lucas
starring voices of Matt Lanter, Ashley Eckstein, James Arnold Taylor, Dee Bradley Baker, Tom Kane, Nika Futterman, Ian Abercrombie, Corey Burton, Catherine Taber, Kevin Michael Richardson, David Acord, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Lee
The saga gets a whole new look as this animated installment, the first not directed by George Lucas, effectively adds to the mystery and conveys a well-constructed story that is visually arresting and deftly constructed.
The story begins with a intense battle between the Clone army and the Retail Clan forces. The surge of droids creates an immensely difficult situation as Obi-Wan Kenobi (Taylor) and Anakin Skywalker (Lanter) are left to maintain order and do whatever they can to hold back the tide. A shuttle lands containing a padewan youngling named Ahsoka Tano (Eckstein) who has been assigned to Anakin. A massive shield has proceeded the droid army and Anakin and Ahsoka destroy the tower. The battle continues with the Republic forces defeating the Separatists. Meanwhile Jabba the Hutt?s (Richardson) son Rotta (Acord) has been kidnapped and Chancellor Palpatine (Abercrombie) gives the order to retrieve the Huttlet in order to appease Jabba who controls certain vital passages needed to defeat the Separtists.
The story is simply told and easy to follow along. It has been argued that it is essentially a children?s tale but this must not be considered a criticism because the sophistication of the CG animation is certainly enough to keep adults fascinated to the end. This is a visually rich telling that repeatedly wows with the realism conveys by the animators. The personages are not meant to be strictly anthropomorphic and are tweaked just enough to give them a distinct look. Many shots of space, cities, and landscape are quite arresting in their realism which are the product of great attention to detail.
This is a story of intrigue and betrayal. It involves deceit that is employed to turn the balance of power and is directly relatable to the war between the Republic and the Separatists. In this story the audience is necessarily supposed to root for the Republic because we are introduced to the treachery of the Separatists and their sinister leader Count Dooku (Lee). However, for me, I get suckered in every time by a chick who can wield a sword or lightsaber or anything really. In this case my loyalty is rewarded by the person of Asajj Ventress (Futterman) who is an assassin in the employ of the Separatists. She is supremely talented, sexy, intense, and brutally effective with her technique. So naturally I fell immediately in love and wanted her to make great inroads into defeating the Republican forces, including Kenobi and Anakin. They really didn?t impress me?a bit too self-righteous as they always are in every rendition?so their immediate deaths would not particularly bother me. Alas, all I get is a couple of great fights where Ventress holds her own and then her quick and terrible demise.
I was also attracted on a protective level to the padewan Ahsoka. She?s deliriously cute in a non-threatening way and equally deft with her saber. She?s the primary focus of interest when she?s fighting off droids and saving Anakin?s wretched life. There?s a particularly effective relationship between Ahsoka and the Huttling. It?s maternal, loving, and it?s clearly the most fascinating relationship in the film. In many ways it?s the only legitimate personal relationship as all the others are based on logistics and military strategy. Ahsoka is the eager warrior who wants to jump in to the action and prove her legitimacy as a Jedi. She is given the opportunity and successfully shows her mettle in a number of battles.
A rather humorous aspect of the film is the chatter of the droids who repeatedly argue with one another over various strategies. They bicker amongst themselves just before their unceremoniously blown up and dispatched to that haunted land that all droid-bots go when they are no longer useful. Indeed, they were the most consistently entertaining aspect of the entire production and reminded me of just how easy it is to amuse me when I?m practically alone in the dark.
So, back to sex. Is it profane to wax all hot and bothered over an animated creature that is most certainly not remotely human? What kind of hybrid makes such a being and would it be considered bestiality to even consider a filthy union of skin slapping with the fierce, animalistic warrior Priestess? And why does Ziro the Hutt sound suspiciously like Truman Capote? These are just the kind of questions that are worth asking about this film. Beyond that, I?ve only got to say that I was dazzled by the C.G and the story kept my interest from beginning to end without even one period of mind-numbing boredom to interrupt the spectacle.
Overall, this film covers the territory adequately without losing its style or immediacy. It is far from an embarrassment to the franchise and keeps on task for most of the production. There is actual tension in this film that is maintained through a series of intense skirmishes. It injects some much needed sex appeal through the inclusion of tenacious females shredding through their assignments with class and elegance. So, yeah, I?m a slave to glamour when its slicing off the heads of enemy droids or causing the Jedi leadership to soak their panties.
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The Witching of Ben Wagner
directed by Paul Annett
written by Malcolm Marmorstein
based on the novel by Mary Jane Auch
starring Sam Bottoms, Harriet Hall, Bettina Rae, Justin Gocke, Sylvia Sidney, Elizabeth Shelmway, Jamie Ballard, Craig Clyde
This is part of the exhaustive Feature Films for Families collection. Each film stresses various values that are apparently important for healthy bones and a definitive urgency that defines the aching, orchestrated modern living experience. This one focuses on believing in oneself and not harboring prejudices that might stand in the way of a frighteningly good time. Gorgeously shot it what I assume to be Utah, the film conveys a legitimate connection to nature that informs the narrative structure and the message trying to be conveyed. It?s something of an idyllic family that nevertheless faces legitimate struggles as it attempts to maintain its core unity. There is a realism to the story that is only occasionally interrupted by some rather wonky acting techniques.
Oh, the sweet agony of young lust. The thumping heart, sweaty palms, the brutal insistence that she is watching you, behind you, following your every movement and snickering coldly to herself. Poor Ben Wagner (Gocke). He?s at that terrible age when it all turns murky and he can no longer control just what it is that sucks him in. His parents, George (Bottoms) and Kathy (Hall) are trying desperately to establish themselves in a brand new neighborhood. George is far too busy impressing his new boss to spend any quality time with the boy and Ben must fend for himself. Mom is coddling but it does nothing to help Ben sort out the mysteries of bodies thrusting, angels singing, and the churning insides as the mesmeric harlot beckons. So Ben wanders and soon apprehends the beguiling and impossible Regina (Rae), a darkly clad vixen who Ben assumes is witchy. Certainly she looks like a witch with all that black clothing and her eyes are most definitely the eyes of a witch. They are too penetrating, satanic, and Ben finds himself falling into their depths.
There?s a dual story here about both the importance of believing in oneself and overcoming the tendency to judge others based on hearsay and rumor. Also, George must face himself and reestablish his values as he attempts to impress upon his son that he isn?t as much of an asshole as Ben might have been led to believe. Regina lives with her Grammy (Sidney) in an awesome old, old house that looks rickety but possesses a certain charm once you?ve been invited in. Grammy looks like a witch too and has a habit of threatening to cast spells if anyone attempts to take away her house. Naturally this is just what happens as George?s boss, Mr. Romano (Clyde) hits on the idea to develop the beach upon which the great house sits. Oh, the terrible tension. George finds himself in a real mess because he too enjoyed the company of Regina and Grammy and now he?s forced to endorse the destruction of their very lives. Will the prick develop a conscience at the last moment? Oh, it?s a mystery that must be solved and only one of several dilemmas that face our characters as they work together too gain terrific insights into the nature of existence and the right way of handling sticky social situations.
This film possesses a very strange quality that lends it a surrealistic aspect on occasion. It?s difficult to read it straight as several scenes are fraught with so much tension that underlines everything that is being depicted on screen. Perhaps its sexual to a certain extent but it creates a vibe that is unsettling at best. The nature of the story lends itself to interpretations that prove to be informed by an erotic element that cannot be denied. Certainly, the film doesn?t intend this to be the case but there is something rather untoward going on beneath the surface.
Regina is a goth princess whose look far surpasses in elegance and style than anyone else at her school. Indeed, she?s the only one who doesn?t look like they?ve been raped by every horrific 80's fashion atrocity and come back for more. Regina is perhaps one of the great teen-age characters to come around in some time. Along with heeding the call of high Gothic in her presentation she possesses an attitude that can only be described as fatefully optimistic. The core of this story relates to just how Regina supplies Ben with the idea that he is capable of doing the things he?s convinced he is incapable of doing. It?s an important message to be sure and the film is never heavy handed about it. This is a film with a definite focus as it attempts to convey a specific message about how people ought to behave to one another.
This film can be read as a story about projecting the anima upon an object of desire. Ben is thirteen and his sexual impulses are starting to afflict him with regularity. Regina represents his fears about his own budding sexuality and so he projects them upon her in order to comfortably deal with them. It?s not made manifest but it?s easy to assume this is a religious family, possibly Mormon, and if so Ben is also facing certain prohibitions on his sexuality. This would make sensible his projection onto Regina the figure of a witch because a witch is anathema to the tenets of his religion and the most dangerous female imaginable. Ben takes things a bit further by insisting that he too desires to be a witch. Of course he doesn?t at all know what a witch actually is only that he?s become obsessed with Regina and wants desperately to connect with her on whatever level is possible.
The family dynamic is filled with grand tensions between the children, particularly centering around the fiendishly unattractive Liz (Ballard) who attends highschool with a most gruesome haircut that does nothing for the sad girl?s face. The Wagners are considered poor even though they live in a rather posh house but Liz demands more money and attempts to blackmail her little sister Susan (Shelmway) who inadvertently broke one of her mother?s priceless nick-knacks. She?s pretty much gross and unseemly throughout the film and even her crocodile tears at the end do nothing to redeem her. Susan prances about like a tit, mooning a bit, making cutesy at the camera. It?s what is expected in films of this nature but they don?t overdo it here which is refreshing.
The acting in this film doesn?t draw attention to itself and manages to convey the proper emotions as necessary. There are several moments of over acting but they only add to the freakishness of several of the scenes. Sam Bottoms suffers through the occasional foray into melodrama but manages to relate his character?s tensions and struggle with his conscience. Bottoms is a natural actor who brings a nice nervous energy to the role that fuels much of the narrative. Harriet Hall doesn?t have much to do save comforting Ben in various scenes. Still, she manages to create a believable character with needs of her own. Bettina Rae is quite good as Regina. She has a calmness about her throughout the film that comes off in the several scenes where Regina is instilling values into Ben. Regina is charming in a quiet, inviting way and this is conveyed mostly through Rae?s intense eyes that do have a tremendous impact on the viewer. Justin Gocke has an unnerving quality about him and perhaps this is his reading of the character but he?s just too creepy at times as he plays out his obsessive games with Regina. Certainly, Ben is beguiled and possessed by Regina and struggles to handle his intense feelings for her. It?s far too easy to view her as a witch because that removes the stigma of his actual desire to be consumed by her, to be subsumed into her. Sylvia Sidney, an actress of tremendous range and strength, plays the wizened old woman in this film, a rather sympathetic, grounded character who acts as a ballast. Grammy plays with our sensibilities by exhibiting behaviors that are traditionally associated with witchcraft, namely herbal medication and strange recipes with secret ingredients.
Overall, this film presents a favorable verdict regarding witchcraft even as it refuses to embrace it as a viable component of the human experience. The possibility that it might actually exist informs every frame of the picture. Ben is definitely bewitched by Regina and becomes convinced that she has cast a spell over him but these are merely various aspects of the mating process. Certainly, the film does not in any way endorse the idea that sexual urgency is at play in the relationship between Ben and Regina. It?s played as wholly innocent and utterly divorced from any lascivious shenanigans which is befitting a family film of this ilk. Still, as a matter of course it does manage to come into play whenever adolescents meet however blind to its effects they might be.
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The Big Lift
written and directed by George Seaton
starring Montgomery Clift, Paul Douglas, Cornell Borchers, Bruni Löbel
Ah, swirling love strategies amidst the glorious ruins of post war Berlin. In this film, the beginning of the Berlin Air Lift brings food and other supplies to the starving, weak and infirm. Two participants in these drops, Sgt. Danny MacCullough (Clift) and Sgt. Hank Kowalski (Douglas) find themselves involved with two women who pose a grave number of complications.
MacCullough meets Fraulein Frederica Burkhardt while being rewarded at a public spectacle for his work with the air lift. She?s desirable, he needs to kill some time, so she agrees to show him around Berlin some time if he is ever allowed back in Berlin. Naturally, he does just that and heads on over to her workspace where she digs out bricks from the rubble of one of those swanky buildings that have been nearly obliterated during the great conflict. Meanwhile Kowalski hooks up with his own little bird named Gerda (Löbel). The film focuses much of its attention on conveying realistic flight maneuvers and specific landing specs. Indeed, a great portion of it takes place inside a cockpit and the resultant fury of these drops is both unnerving and exhilarating. Still, the film errs on the side of realism as much of the dialog that is exchanged proves to be nearly incomprehensible to those of us locked out of the jargon that makes up so much of the conversations between the plane and the landing tower as well as within the planes proper.
The film is notable primarily for the fact that is was filmed in Berlin a short time after Stalin lifted the blockade. Much of the film feels like a documentary and this effect is accentuated by the countless actual military personnel who make up much of the cast. There is a genuine distinction portrayed in this film between the Russian section of Berlin and the rest of it. The Russians are creepy and prove to be the true enemies of the film. They?ve got their finger on the trigger and it could be released at any time, for any reason whatsoever. Montgomery Clift doesn?t do a tremendous amount of acting in this film and that?s most likely a result of his character?s essential reticence. Most of Paul Douglas?s best moments are as comic relief in a story that is too serious at times by half. Bruni Löbel is quite charming as a Berlin girl utterly transfixed with learning everything about America. When Kowalski, the big brute who loathes everything German, attempts to explain the concept of Democracy, Gerda stares at him incredulously and demands an explanation. ?Democracy is democracy? is all he can offer. Later when she memorizes bits from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, she tosses them back in Kowalski?s face to prove she?s been liberated from his meaty, thick paws.
The character of Kowalski in this film is by far the most fascinating. He?s a simple bigot who would have most Berliners turned in for aiding and abetting the Nazi cause. Upon meeting Gerda he comments on the Nazi father complex where the citizenry merely acquiesced with their true desire to be loved by a Great Father who will in turn tell them when to sit, when to stand, etc. MacCullough points out to Kowalski that he is behaving in just this manner with Gerda. Kowalski thinks for a moment and agrees.
Montgomery Clift is less brooding and emotionally available in this film than he has been in most of his other work. He?s distant in this film and doesn?t seem particularly present in many of the scenes in which he appears. He offers no insight into his basic character so subsequently we learn very little of what MacCullough is on about. With Kowalski, we receive the burden of many of his prejudices. We see what makes him angry and what he?s been carrying around for years. He was held in a POW camp and tortured by a German. When he sees this man he can?t help himself and pounds him into a pulp. Contrarily, Clift?s character isn?t given much of anything that might prove to reveal interesting aspects of his personality. He?s relatively faceless, but not without his charm.
Overall, this film fails to soar as high as the planes dropping the goods into Berlin. The flying sequences are certainly give the impression of realism but they are ultimately too claustrophobic and tend to choke the life out of the film. This sort of realism, this inane attention to detail for the sake of detail, has its place if the story itself is notable, but that doesn?t ultimately occur in this films. The characters just aren?t memorable enough and lack even a modicum of depth. In the end, it doesn?t much matter what happens to the characters because of a failure to bring them to life.
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On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly
directed by Max Kaiser
starring Monem Salam, Iman Salam
On a Wing and a Prayer is a documentary that tells the story of Monem Salam, an American Muslim who makes the decision that he is going to learn how to fly. The film plots his progress and provides background data as to what it means to be a Muslim living in America post 9/11. Monem is the only student at his flight school to ever draw the attention of the FBI. Still, Monem is not convinced that he has received any special attention from the Bureau due to his ethnicity or religious beliefs. Shot in Bellingham, WA, Kaiser's film captures the natural beauty of the area in a series of glorious overhead shots that add a sense of grandeur to the production. Monem is a naturally charismatic subject who projects a sense of reserved confidence that helps him gain his desire to become airborne.
The film focuses on Salam's family life and the role his wife Iman plays in keeping him on an even keel. Iman is particularly suited for this type of treatment as she possesses an edgy charm that proves to be a strong force that enables Monem to risk his health and sanity in pursuing his dream. Iman jokes about wanting to be the Muslim Martha Stewart and laughingly complains that she should be compensated for the documentary with new chairs. As the school mascot in high school Iman was verbally assaulted with a number of derogatory names. She wears the hijab head covering because the Koran says that women should remain modest. To her, wearing the hijab is a choice and not something that is forced upon Muslim women.
Monem's progress is meticulously tracked as he tries to learn how to navigate through the treacherous art of taking off and landing without complications. Flying the plane can be read as a metaphor for the difficulties American Muslims face in attempting to launch their lives in this country. The film is made entirely on the personalities of the main players. We meet a number of slightly-eccentric folks who work for the flight school and who help guide Monem toward actualizing his ambition. Of particular note is the nebbish Matthew Munson who is responsible for teaching Monem every aspect of handling a small plane. As Monem struggles to learn all the right procedures and terminology, his teacher is there to chide him in order to create the proper amount of tension which he inevitably will feel once airborne with no one to rely on should he forget something vital.
Monem is Pakistani and Iman is Palestinian. They've managed to navigate the potential social clashes by clinging faithfully to Islam. They are dedicated Muslims who are instilling the values of Islam into their three children. They are doing this without the support of a large Muslim community as Bellingham features perhaps 70-100 practicing Muslims. This is an entirely sympathetic portrait of Islam and Kaiser effortlessly weaves it into the narrative so it comes across as a decisive element in the lives of the Salam family. Monem works directly with Muslims all across the country teaching them about Investment opportunities that might allow them to improve their financial situation. He works hard, tirelessly making long treks across the country, to help ensure that he is able to provided much needed services for American Muslims in search of investment opportunities.
Overall, this is a touching, warm portrait of a American family just trying to do what is necessary to improve the quality of their lives. It's a simple story that resonates with anyone who has ever taken on a difficult project with a tremendous payoff once its completed. It also relates the lives of an optimistic, devoted family and their struggle to gain a stranglehold in the ever-shifting American economic climate. The natural charisma of the subjects and the stunning natural photography give this film a currency that goes beyond the effort it took to bring this project together. This is a seminal film that needs to be seen by more people. It leaves a lasting impact that will not be washed away by the tide of so many mediocre American film releases surely to come.
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Prince Caspian and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
directed by Alex Kirby
written by Alan Seymour
based on the novel by C.S. Lewis
starring Richard Dempsey, Jonathan R. Scott, Sophie Cook, Sophie Wilcox, David Thwaites, Samuel West, Warwick Davis, Jean Marc Perret
Part two and three e of the BBC made-for-tv series filmed in the late ?80's, this installment combines two books and tells the story of the Pevensie clan?s return to Narnia to help Prince Caspian defeat the tyranny of his uncle, the present King Miraz (Robert Lang). The journey sees the kids diligently fighting off myriad forces to ensure that Caspian gain his rightful throne and vanquish the forces that stand in his way.
The story introduces the character of Eustace, a boy who starts off as sniveling and thoroughly objectionable and loathsome but is forced into a wakening that changes his essential personality into something far more tolerable. Initially, he is such a despicable little snot that one only wishes that something terrible will happen to him. Then he undergoes a massive transformation that completely alters his entire way of being and as a result he comes back less disagreeable and filled with good cheer and an enthusiasm for the voyage.
There is a tremendous amount of energy throughout this piece and the action proves to be thrilling and occasionally quite treacherous. The special effects are more polished than the ?The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? and manage to accentuate the harrowing qualities of the battle sequences in which the Pevensies prove to be able warriors providing their services in helping the beguiled prince.
Each of the creatures is possessed of a distinct personality that helps propel the narrative forward with few glitches that would otherwise take over the story rendering it impotent. The film never strays from a consistent telling of the essential story and the actors do their part to ensure that there are no moments where the narrative seems to slip through their fingers. The struggles that are faced come across as legitimately threatening to the integrity of each character involved in the fight.
The acting in this film is consistent throughout. Of particular note is Sophie Wilcox as Lucy. In the first one she appeared to be more self-conscious but in this one she proves to have a strong grasp on nuance and allowing her character?s idiosyncratic nature come through in every scene. Also, Warwick Davis as Reepicheep the giant mouse comes through with a playful intensity that he maintains for the duration of the film. Davis gives his character a singular intensity that he plays with extensively as the film develops.
Overall, this film maintains a consistent mood and allows the actors to breathe without overwhelming them with unnecessary burdens that would otherwise bog the story down. This is an inexpensive production that manages to take advantage of every penny spent. It doesn?t look cheap or timeworn and holds up as a thrilling adventure story that does the book great service. Each character is expertly rendered and comes across as necessary to the overall thrust of the story.
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Coffee and Cigarettes
directed by Jim Jarmusch
written by Jim Jarmusc
This collection of vignettes, filmed between 1984 and 2003 offer an insightful, occasionally exasperating look into the myriad nuances of the mundane. The scenes are consumed with wry and droll observations about Nikola Tesla, caffeine pop sickles, and the joys of smoking once you?ve quit. Each scene features either one or two individuals caught in the web of their own intriguing fascinations and the results are often decidedly illuminating, despite their often rudimentary content.
What follows is a selection of the various scenarios played out in this film.
Steven Wright and Roberto Beningi play strained nervous cultural confusion as they suffer through a terribly awkward piece that culminates with a couple of Wright?s jokes and is consumed with impossible moments that prove to be exceedingly painful to watch in the end. Beningi is just too eager to put on the happy foreigner face for Steven who he repeatedly calls ?Steve? much to Wright?s chagrin.
In a scene between Cinque and Joie Lee, Steve Buscemi gives his theory of why Elvis went bloated and to Vegas Hell. He blames it on Elvis?s ?evil? stillborn twin, Jesse Garon? who went on, according to this theory, to impersonate Elvis at the King?s behest and ended up sucking down the fried butter sandwiches and butchering the King?s songs on tour.
Tom Waits and Iggy Pop play one last stand with each other as they toss each other petty insults. Mr. Waits introduces himself in a way one would most certainly expect from him. His off-kilter public persona is perfect for the words and one wonders how much of it is improvised by Tom. Iggy insults Tom by suggesting that Tom use an industrial drummer he knows for his band. ?Are you saying my band sucks?? The resultant dead silence is the funniest thing in the whole film.
Renee French is poised, elegant and impossible to look at in her short piece that includes a randy waiter who won?t leave her alone until she so coyly snaps at him, leaving him with his poor tail between his legs. She is exacting in the precise color and temperature of her coffee and casually looks through a magazine featuring a wide array of guns. It?s cute and deliberately off putting but somehow it makes sense with this woman. She?s precisely the type one would imagine looks at guns when she?s idling away at a café.
Cate Blanchett packs double the punch by playing a version of herself and her cousin Shelly in a hotel lobby. As herself, Blanchett is almost too compliant and polite to a fault. Blanchett plays herself as the internationally renowned actress and none of the other performers in this film dissect their own personas with such tenacity. She plays both characters so effortlessly that the novelty of her playing two roles wears off and one becomes submerged in each personality. Cate Blanchett?s public persona is a bit more aggressive than this so one wonders if this is private Cate, divorced from cameras and the tyranny of her fame. If so, how accurate is this and how much did she contribute to the script. If Jarmusch wrote this specifically for her, it shows an awful amount of insight into the nature of the whole private/public question.
Jack and Meg White play with Jack?s Tesla Coil in another awkward, but infinitely delightful foray into mock-sibling bonding. Jack explains the Coil and demonstrates it before it shorts out. He relates that Tesla considered the Earth to be a conductor of acoustic resonance and after he leaves Meg taps her spoon against her cup and sighs winsomely.
GZA and RZA chat about alternative medicine and the fact that Old Dirty Bastard ought to be left at home. Bill Murray as a waiter comes by drinking coffee straight out of the pot. It?s funny because he?s supposed to be hiding out and doesn?t want to know that he, Bill Murray, has suddenly decided to become a waiter. It?s the second example in the film where the celebrity of a character is directly called out. For the others there isn?t a moment where the celebrity is forced to have to deal with their societal role. The others are allowed to escape for a few minutes into relative comfort.
Taylor Mead and Bill Rice play two old codgers hanging out in an armory, on a smoke break. Mead is all sighs and tortured recollections. He reminds Bill of the Mahler song ?Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen? (?I?ve lost track of the world?) and the song begins to play quietly in the background. Mead wants to pretend the coffee is champagne and reminisces sadly about Paris in the 1920's. Then he either dies or goes to sleep and the credits roll.
Overall, this film offers up an interesting slice of life that doesn?t come off as contrived or too clever. The conversations are natural and build upon one another like normal conversations do. There are no moments where one shakes her head at the implausibility of the whole thing. There are themes running throughout the film such as ?Is that all you?re going to eat. Coffee and cigarettes? That?s not very healthy.? Tesla?s line about acoustical resonance comes back in the Mead-Rice scene and both GZA and Tom Waits are doctors.
Ultimately, this collection of shorts provides an opportunity to watch various celebrities comment on themselves in often hysterical ways. Some treat their image through an absurdist lens like Tom Waits, some exaggerate it like Roberto Beningi, Alfred Molina and Bill Murray. Then there are the myriad other methods of conveying various aspects of each celebrity?s genuine personality. As an outsider, it?s refreshing to see even a glimpse into the celebrity death machine just for a second to see what interesting personalities emerge from the wreckage and the ruin.
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