Desert Bloom - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Desert Bloom Reviews

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October 20, 2012
A decent coming of age period melodrama set in the 1950's that never really quite lifts itself from the made-for-tv feel. There are plenty of interesting ideas tied together here, but I'm convinced if this didn't have such great performances this is the type of script that would be fit for Lifetime. I think the problem is that not everything feels like it's tightly connected even though it avoids plenty of terrible cliches that could have filled the ending. Rose tells us the story of what it was like at the age of 13 when the A-bomb was about to be tested near Las Vegas, where she was living at the time. Her stepfather, Jack, has PTSD from WWII. He's constantly listening in to his radio that can pick up messages from the military. As the film progresses, he gets worse and worse. I liked how it opened up by not telling us what their history was. We get to figure out what it was like as the film progresses. The problem is that I don't understand why Jack appears to get worse and worse. Is he feeling the pressure again because they are re-introducing the A-bomb? The scene at the dinner table when he repeats the explanation on how an atomic bomb works could support this theory, but I don't feel like it was explored enough. The atomic bomb's a big part of the film and Jack's life, so it's there enough, but not spoken of in a way that connects things very well. None of this is the fault of Jon Voight. This is a brilliant performance. If there's anything memorable here it's the scenes where he breaks down. Just the look in his eyes tells us how he feels. Not many actors have this ability. One of them that can do it just as well is Anthony Hopkins. I found it creepy how Lily continues to call Jack "daddy". That's her husband. If my wife were to call me daddy I would probably get the biggest renob. Is their unhealthy relationship explored very much? Not really. We see the things he does to her, but it's all things that you'd expect from someone as distressed as Jack. He gives her the cold shoulder, yells at her, treats her like she doesn't know anything. Then there's Starr. She's Lily's sister who comes to stay with them during her divorce. Rose looks up to Starr. She's beautiful and confident, whereas Rose believes she's just a "beanstalk," as the kids at school call her. Unfortunately with the introduction of Starr we can guess that Jack's either going to rape her or have consensual sex with her. Her character never gets out of that idea for me. I felt like I was just waiting for her big scene, and of course it does come eventually. It's okay to have something like that set up so the audience knows what's going to come, but at least bring the character to life as well. I felt like they never seek out to explain her more than just that she's a frivolous woman who enjoys a man's touch. And Lily's character never feels too fleshed out either. She's just the battered wife who wants out of her relationship but can't because she doesn't want to abandon her husband. He can change and she's going to help him. It was a good idea to put the scene between Jack and Starr right before the big spelling bee. When Jack walks in and Rose sees him I thought that Rose was going to lose for sure. It made it that much more special for when she actually got it right. I also really liked the way the kids were wearing the dog tags and Rose explains they wore dog tags in case if anything happened to them their parents would know they were dead. It's a grim and sad idea to have that hanging around your neck all the time, especially when you're 13. No one wants to think of death, especially at that age. Then there's the character Robin whose father died in the war and he feels a close relation to Jack. He wants to help because he can't imagine what he went through. What he doesn't realize is what he's putting Rose through. I really wish they would have gone through the dad that helps out Rose more. It seems like he's just there to keep Jack in line, but he doesn't really get covered enough to have more of a purpose. Perhaps that explains this for me: the characters are all there for a single purpose and never really come to life except for Rose and Jack. Everyone meant a great deal to Rose at this time in her life so they should not feel so wooden. And like I said, I'm glad they didn't screw up the ending by having one of the characters die just because they don't know how to get out of the situation. Much drama has been built up and a death would have been a copout, like most of the time. Like I said, I'm not really sure how the A-bomb story ties in with Rose. Perhaps Eugene Corr just wanted to capture the era and show a girl during the time, but it seems like he's trying to use it as a metaphor since it ends on the mushroom cloud. And it's called Desert Bloom, which could symbolize the girl's coming of age mixed with the bloom of the atomic bomb. Whatever that was intended for was lost on me, as I'm sure it was on many people. Like I said, it's decent, but never really comes to life.
July 5, 2010
(***): Thumbs Up

Interesting and well-acted.
½ April 16, 2009
This sensitive coming-of-age tale is framed by the narration of its grown-up protagonist, recalling her childhood in the 1950s, an era defined by the A-bomb and the culture it created.
January 30, 2008
Saw this by accident on AMC. Brilliant, harsh and honest look at the American psyche. Loved it.
½ November 14, 2007
A nice little gem of a movie. Haven't seen in at least 10 years, but I recall it was a coming of age movie.
October 8, 2007
"The Nuclear Family Meets the Atomic Age."

Good tagline, nice little encompassing description, too.

This is one of those many titles I grabbed on the ultra cheap at discount pricing from warehouse dumping at Big Lots (honestly, I'm one short of finishing the first wave, so then it's back to movies you might have actually heard of again--oh, I know, I've sprinkled in famous enough titles, but still) and in this case, while I did check all titles I bought against both Leonard Maltin (I've never found him a definitive source, but often if he does think it IS good, he's right, even if he's too hard on most things for me) and IMDb averaging, I often had some catch that pulled me in, usually actor, director, strange quirk or trivia. In this case--Jon Voight.

I'm not sure when it is that I started liking Jon Voight. I remember seeing Anaconda in theatres (I've felt no need to see it since, just for the record) and noting that he was in it, but that was when I was just starting to be able to name people outside the huge, huge names. I know it was around 2000 or 2001 that I developed my belief that Angelina Jolie was the hottest woman on earth (she has since been topped) and soon discovered who her father was, but I remember thinking it was exciting that she came from that lineage, so it can't be then, either. Still, it occurred at some point, and it was my enthusiasm at seeing he had a STARRING role here that brought me into the movie with some awareness and interest.

What we have here, since I imagine you don't know (most of you, at least) is the story of a small family in the early 1950's in the small town (!) of Las Vegas. Stepfather Jack (Voight) is a wounded war hero from World War II who runs a local gas station and autoshop, his wife Lily (JoBeth Williams) works at "the hotel part" of one of the local casinos, her sister Starr (Ellen Barkin) has just moved in because of messy plans for divorce with her husband Frank, and we center on the story of the eldest of three daughters, Rosalie Chismore (Annabeth Gish, many years before geeks like me would know her as Agent Monica Reyes in later seasons of The X-Files) who is thirteen as the movie opens.

We see both her view of Jack, and an observer's, a third person view, and for the first time in my recollection, we see both the justifiable anger at a drunken, somewhat abusive stepfather, and the shattered shell of a man he is that drives him to that point. Annabeth is very believable as a thirteen year old--though, she was fifteen, so I suppose it wasn't a huge stretch--caught between the impulsive questioning of extreme youth and the growing awareness of how people act when you should leave a subject alone. She shows a pretty deep loathing for her stepfather, which we can't blame her for when his drinking gets far enough out of hand that he strikes her, or leads him to project his anger and frustration at her over everything else in his life.

But we do see what has done this to him; we see how much he treasures his past, patriotically proud of his role in the war, and of the importance of his country and the protection of his family. We see that he is proud and stubborn whenever he does something despicable--but we can see in his face that on some level he is half-questioning the wisdom of his choices. Of course he is not one to apologize, admit error or even admit when he's unsure of himself, and feels that his interests and passions are those that everyone should have, but we know that he thinks he's doing right. This doesn't justify most of his actions, no, but we can see where he's coming from, and often see shades of the man hiding underneath that surface.

A pretty solid little drama, really, that manages to feel very much like it must be what the fifties were like. As someone who sees little appeal in the culture and attitudes of the time, it was very impressive how well-conveyed it was here. It didn't feel like a distortion, or like I had much of it obscured by a focus on a single aspect. Maybe I was helped by the nostalgia it induced through its--oh you knew this was coming from me when you saw the year, didn't you?--very 80s style, though not in fashion or anything of that sort, but simply in its rich, lived in filmstock and full, natural colours. Or maybe I was just suckered in when Rose said that she liked books, movies and not much else. That could be it.

My little interesting tidbit--the composer's name caught my eye in the opening credits. Brad Fiedel. I know this composer's name for one film--The Terminator. Slight change in style, both for him musically and for the film he was composing for. As you might imagine.
September 21, 2007
"The safest place in the world is behind the stove at grandma's..."
½ September 15, 2007
Exceptional film, and a real effort was made to capture the feel of the times. Great cast - they all do a good job. Excellent screenplay.
½ September 3, 2007
my cousin is in this movie!!!
½ July 19, 2007
It wasn't great but I wasn't bad either. I'd watch it again.
May 11, 2007
and agen orlandooo !!! xx
January 18, 2007
this movie is pointless!
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