Monday, July 04, 2011

Movie and Television Reviews for June

I usually try to post these on the first of the following month but, as you may have noticed, I already had all kinds of stuff posting on the first which is why I postponed this post to the fourth.  I think there's some logic in there somewhere but I wouldn't hurt myself trying to get at it.

A Touch of Greatness

This is a documentary about Albert Cullum, a man whose inspired teaching influenced many young minds in the late 50s and early 60s.  Imagine teaching grade school children Shakespeare, Shaw, and Sophocles, having them research the presidents and then ask their fellow classmates, who were acting as the president they were assigned questions meaning that the entire class had to know what questions to ask and how to answer them.  The audacity of this man thinking that children should be taught words that are not already in their vocabulary and encouraged to use them.  And to read!  Not just Dick and Jane books but novels.  This is the kind of teacher I hoped to be but some things obviously weren’t meant to be.  I avoid documentaries like this because they excite me and also make me sad.  Oh well.  Life goes on.

Thirtysomething, Season 1

After watching My So-Called Life I was more inclined to watch this television series.  I remembered watching a few episodes at some point and I can only guess that none of them were from the first season because nothing looked remotely familiar beyond the names and faces of the characters.  I can’t say I’m blown away by the series.  It seems more understated and effective for that reason, not overdramatizing the tediousness of life.  Sometimes silly things happen and at other times there seem to be convenient coincidences but I don’t expect much more from a television series.  The acting is excellent and the characters are, more or less, interesting.  I do like the relationship between Michael and Hope very much and I simply adore Melissa.  For all its complications, I also like the relationship between Eliot and Nancy because it seems honest; the conflict rooted in the kind of reality anyone who’s lived long enough has either experienced or at least witnessed.  I guess Ellen and the other guy . . . ummm . . . what’s his name?  I obviously can’t remember.  Neither of them really fascinates me.

Sense and Sensibility

After reading the novel, it only made sense to watch the movie starting Emma Watson and Kate Winslet.  I didn’t realize it was directed by Ang Lee or I’d have likely tried to watch this movie much sooner.  This is a good adaptation with only a few modifications to the original story.  I suppose if one must have every scene and character included, one can simply turn to a BBC production on PBS.  However, nothing essential is lost and the characters are wonderfully and believably portrayed by great actors throughout.  It’s a pretty film that doesn’t necessarily challenge the viewer because, ultimately, it is a chick flick. What else could an Austen adapted novel be, really?


This made-for-television miniseries aired long before I had a television but I remember reading the novel and finding it pretty forgettable.  I far preferred The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk, both of which were both turned into television miniseries.  There is some irony here.  Last year, I watched The Winds of War and was surprised that I found the acting, for the most part, dreadful.  I mean, seriously horrible.  And yet, I enjoyed the novels enough to suffer through the miniseries.  And so I watched Holocaust, for the first time, and was discouraged to find that the acting was far superior from beginning to end but that the story was so tedious I realized why I had forgotten the novel.  So better acting wasted on a story that simply didn’t do history justice versus a mini-series with terrible acting that does the story some justice.  I don’t know.  I think I should just stick with books.

The Piano

I watched this movie for a film class and remembered it as being lightly erotic, beautifully filmed, and very well acted.  My memory did not misgive me upon seeing it a second time.  However, I had completely forgotten the ending which is why I wanted to watch it again.  Also, for some reason I thought that Anna Panquin looked a lot like Claire Danes in the Xmen movies and I was trying to recall if she always looked like the other actress.  Yes, she does and now I know why I forgot the ending.  It was a willful choice on my part, given that I didn’t like it this time and I can safely assume I didn’t like it the first time.

And then Rob had some input in our movie choices.

Hellbound: Hellraiser II

And Rob says I pick movies that are dark and twisted.  Really, what more can I possibly say about this movie?  As seems par for the course with such things, at the end of this film the Cenobites seem to be pretty much defeated but seeing as how there are eight movies in the series they obviously come back.  How?  I don’t know.  I’ll probably never know because the odds that I’ll watch another of these movies is slim to none.  Or maybe I’ll get sick with a fever again and I’ll end up putting the third movie on.  I wouldn’t hold my breath.  I don’t get sick very often.  After all, I have a hurt knee as I type this and I have vertigo.  My being sick is merely an unnecessary and annoying redundancy.

American Psycho 2

The premise doesn’t even make sense and I can’t explain how it doesn’t make sense without also giving away spoilers for the first movie so I can’t adequately bitch about how silly this movie is.  And it’s rather tongue-in-cheek throughout so, rather than being an intelligent and twisted movie, it’s just violent and rather dumb.  Mila Kunis is adorable but I don’t know if she lacks the acting chops to be genuinely quirky or if this movie just wasn’t enough of a challenge for her.  Either way, this movie is why I took over choosing movies again.

The Crow: Wicked Prayer

Edward Furlong (Terminator 2) and David Boreanz (Angel/Bones) should have made this movie better.  Maybe with a better script they could have.  Doubtful though.  The entire time I suffered through this mess I thought to myself the following:

Why would anyone make a sequel of a movie that is good but not great yet iconic?
Why would anyone then make a sequel so derivative as to be insulting to the original?
Why would anyone then go on to make another sequel that, if not derivative, was plain and simply dull and dumb?
And the, why, pray tell, would anyone create still another sequel that is not only derivative but is also dull and dumb?
I can only pray that this movie stops the madness altogether and nobody, but nobody, will try to make another sequel to what was, at best, an interesting attempt at what could have been a good movie (but if we were all honest with ourselves, wasn’t really).

Anneliese: The Exorcist Tapes

Hello, movie goer and dvd buyer.  It is our hope that you will be foolish enough to invest your hard earned cash into investing more than merely time in seeing this bunch of bullshit . . . we mean, this documentary that is the true story behind The Exorcist . . . erm . . we mean The Exorcism of Emily Rose.  Just ignore the recognizable character actor you meet almost at the very beginning of the film.  Real people can look like character actors.  Seriously.  Would we lie to you?  And we just know that you are gullib . . . intelligent enough to see how horrifying this movie really is.  Derivative?  But of course this looks familiar if you’ve seen the Hollywood interpretation of these very true and undeniable fak . . factual films of poor Anneliese’s possession.

At some point, I had to take back control because things were clearly getting out of hand with what we were watching.

Black Swan

Dark and twisted again?  I can’t even blame Rob for this choice because it was enthusiastically mutual.  Natalie Portman is proving herself to be a powerful actress and, while I found the ending a bit silly, the rest of the movie is so intense and interesting and . . . violent.  Holy crap.  I wasn’t expecting it to be so very violent.  My son, thankfully, forewarned me.  I still wasn’t fully prepared for it and cringed more than once.  I also don’t know how Darren Arenofsky gets his actors to do the things they do but he manages to pull brilliance from everyone he touches and I am blown away every time I see one of his films.  Blown away but vowing every time that this is the last time I’ll watch this movie.  I haven’t rewatched Requiem for a Dream nor π but I recommend them both.  And this movie.  Highly.  Only, don’t be surprised if you walk away feeling dirty or in need of absolution or something because there is a mental perversity to his movies that is simply impossible to overlook or, when you get right down to it, forget.

US of Tara

Series finale for a series that I watched and which I honestly can’t say I liked.  Oddly enough, I liked some of the characters and I thought the premise was interesting which you would think is enough to make me like the show altogether but I almost didn’t watch this season at all.  The premise, for those of you who don’t know, is that Tara has dissociative identity disorder (DID) and is “happily” married and the mother of two.  Needless to say, the family is incredibly dysfunctional as Tara slips in and out of her various personalities.  I just didn’t think that the premise did justice to the reality and the big surprise at the end of season one wasn’t big or really a surprise to me.  Or anyone else who knows even one thing about DID, frankly.  Why did I end up watching season 2?  Because it was coupled with Nurse Jackie which Rob and I both enjoy.  I was sucked into season 3 because Eddie Izzard joined the cast as a psychology professor who doesn’t believe in DID and then meets Tara.  Uh oh.  Now what?  Nothing, really.  Season ends with a (once again unsurprising) ambiguity and all of the emotional manipulation of the audience ends up being nothing at all when all is said and done.  And with all of that said, the actors in this show were all great and deserved much better than this rather silly show.

Nurse Jackie

No surprise that this show is not canceled, although it’s scheduled-sister-show is.  Superior writing and more realistic issues make this show far more interesting.  Okay.  Maybe realistic is stretching the point but even the quirky things are less silly now that we’re a few seasons into the show.  And the relationships that the characters have are complex and interesting.  The big surprise ending for this season was not a surprise.  I told Rob during the “next week on Nurse Jackie” exactly what I expected to happen and, sure enough, it did.  But that isn’t really a denigration of the show and/or the writers.  I just tend to be good at predicting things like that because truly original programs are simply too few and far between.

Secret Diary of a Call Girl

This is my guilty pleasure because this show is just stupid all around.  I mean, seriously . . . Billie Piper is cute and the whole fourth wall premise has its moments.  To say it glamorizes an industry that is rarely as pretty as the show makes it out to be is stating the all too obvious.  And this was the series finale.  Oh.  Okay.  Well, I hardly noticed it was there to begin with and typically just caught it on “on demand” anyway.  Too bad, though, because there was an element that was added the last season that I found very interesting and even potentially (and finally) sexy but . . . season ended with what I suppose was meant to be a woman empowerment sort of thing.  It’s debatable whether the sex industry empowers or exploits women but that, too, is stating the obvious.  The show is gone now.  I hope the actress moves on to some more roles with which she can have fun because she has the talent, even with her clothes on.

Welcome to the Rileys

And not only did I finally get back to watching a movie (after too much television) but I even watched an independent one.  I’ve gradually been falling in love with Kristen Stewart–in spite of the Twilight movies and her painfully skinny physique.  After seeing her as Joan Jett in Runaways, it didn’t surprise me to see her pull off playing a hardened teenager who is working as a prostitute.  She delivers most of her performance with her typical understated muttering style which I realize annoys some people.  But the writers allow her to show more than one emotion and, when it’s called for, Stewart can lash out.  Needless to say, the rest of the cast is great and I really like this movie.  If you like slow paced, independent movies that are truly character driven then make time for this one.


Remember when Jessica Lange couldn’t act?  No?  That’s because she has the intelligence and apparently latent talent to study acting and then started getting juicy roles like this one, playing Frances Farmer, a barely known actress who pretty much destroyed her own career by being too much of a nonconformist.  To be honest, I thought this movie was rather bleak and not very interesting.  Then I read up on Farmer’s life, curious about what happened to her beyond what the film describes.  Ends up, the movie is not even close to true because it draws inspiration from an autobiography that was ghost written by an author who admitted to adding most of the most horrifying and distressing parts of the story.  Lange does a brilliant job in the role but it’s a shame that the truth of Farmer’s experiences is so polluted by lies.

The Tourist

Take pretty actors (Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie) and put them into a pretty place (Italy, Venice no less) and you can hardly go wrong.  Not a brilliant movie by any means and certainly beneath the caliber of talent of both Depp and Jolie.  But oooh . . . look . . . pretty.  Pretty and amusing.  And let me say that Jolie’s wardrobe is stunning.  She wears a suit in one scene that is gorgeous and then a grey dress that is equally gorgeous.  And then there’s the necklace she’s wearing in the final scene.  Lust lust and more lust.  Ironically, the whole move wasn’t nearly as lusty as I thought it would be but it makes for bit of escapist (fluffy) fun.  

Here are movies that fall into “Movies I’ve Avoided Seeing Until Now” list.  I’ll explain why I avoided each before I give my thoughts about each movie.


As “sacrilegious” as it may seem, I never admired James Dean as an actor.  I thought he was too intense in East of Eden and I swear I found Rebel Without a Cause completely forgettable.  So I wasn’t eager to watch this incredibly long movie.

I walked away from watching this movie thinking that Edna Ferber was a bold writer who dared to write about subjects that were simply untouchable.  That her novels were turned into movies and even musicals is a testament to the power of her prose.  So why haven’t I read any of her novels?  I don’t know.  As for this movie, it’s long in the way that multi-generational stories tend to be both epic and small all at once.  Great acting, throughout.  Dean’s slouching in the beginning and smarmy new money tycoon towards the end never put me off.  Elizabeth Taylor is lovely.  Rock Hudson is manly.  But sheesh . . . this movie is long.

The Accused

I didn’t relish the thought of watching a movie in which a woman is gang raped but I wanted very much to see Jodie Foster’s performance and one preference finally over-rode the other.

The music was laughable and loud but the movie was interesting, as much about sexual politics as it was about class issues.  In fact, I think it had more to do with how education and circumstance can often define a person’s future.  One of the men who is arrested is a straight A college student with a promising career and one gets a sense that the woman lawyer realizes that the only thing the really separates her from the woman who is raped is merely a matter of being in the right places at the right times.  Being raped is not defined by your education, how you dress, nor how you live your life.  I’m not sure that the ambiguity of the title was communicated as clearly as I’d anticipated.  I would like to think a movie like this couldn’t be made because we’ve come a long way.  Unfortunately, I know better.

9 1/2 Weeks

Not a Kim Bassinger fan, by a long shot.  And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young Mickey Rourke in anything.  I can say that when people would say he was a sex symbol once upon a time it was hard for me to grasp.  Combined, there wasn’t much motivation for me to see this one.

Holy cow.  You mean Mickey Rourke used to be sexy? I mean, seriously?  Wow!  And Kim Bassinger has never seemed lovely to me but in this film she is everything I have been told she is but felt she never lived up to the reputation which preceded her.  And she has lovely breasts.  There are some steamy scenes but the entire movie lacked any psychological depth.  It was all more like a weird soft-core porn that couldn’t even live up to the pornography potential and barely fulfilled any relevant eroticism.   I don’t know if it was because most of the sex scenes were either foreplay or had a rape-quality to them.  Or maybe it was that between the sexy seductive scenes Bassinger was allowed to be giggly and quirky which didn’t align at all with the woman she was under Rourke’s dominance.  Which is why I felt it lacked psychological depth because too much was left without a context.  I wonder if the novel, upon which the movie was based, is able to explore some of the psychology behind the relationship dynamic.  Has anyone read it who can tell me whether the novel has any depth or not?

The English Patient

The more praise I heard for this movie, the more people tried to convince me I would love it, the more I realized that these people really don’t pay any attention to what movies I usually like or ignore the books I read because nothing about this movie sounded remotely interesting.

Beautifully acted with a cast that is so gloriously cast I should be breathless.  I adore Juliette Binoche.  Truly.  But this movie is long.  Long and boring.  Very long and incredibly boring.  No.  It’s credibly boring because I was correct in knowing that this is not the type of movie I would enjoy and the only thing that redeemed it is that I was also busy doing other things so I was able to distract myself sufficiently that I didn’t do what I wanted to do most: fall asleep.  Did it really take nearly three hours to tell this non-story?  Apparently someone thought so.  I obviously did not.  Sheesh.  Thank goodness I never read the novel.  I think it would have been one of those novels I’d want to throw with great force.

Valley of the Dolls

I didn’t want to see this because I read the novel as a teenager and found it to be boring and utterly silly.  A trashy novel could only result in a trashy movie.  Plus, Judy Garland had turned down a role in the movie and I love Garland.  And as if this were not reason enough not to see it, I figured seeing Sharon Tate on film would be kind of sad.

The formula I mention above is right–a trashy novel equals a trashy movie.  Patty Duke obviously wanted to break away from her girl-next-door image and does a good job of it, right up until the final scenery chewing meltdown moment, a scene that was probably the impetus for her taking the role to begin with.  Sharon Tate doesn’t act so much as whisper her lines while looking very pretty.  And the rest of the movie is soap-opera melodrama.  Blah blah blah.  A nice song sung by Dionne Warwick can’t elevate this movie to anything more than fluff.  At this point, I stopped suffering through the movies I’ve been avoiding because I obviously know enough about my personal taste to recognize what I should avoid and can’t really justify putting myself through one more of these films.  Not in June, anyway.


  1. Is it sad I have seen most of these...and while I didn't hate the tourist I did find it very, very predictible.

  2. Samael, If it were remotely sad that you'd seen some of them then my having seen all of them would make it downright pathetic so let's pretend we're neither sad nor pathetic and move along.