June 29, 2005

National Treasure not so precious

I just watched National Treasure. Well, it was entertaining in a TV kind of way, I suppose. But I've gotta tell you ... it ain't no Indiana Jones, as some people suggested.

The thing is, it had it's moments. But a few moments don't make a good movie.

I'd say it's a rental. Too much sticking to formula to be anything more than that.

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June 27, 2005

Bewitched is bewitching (the TV show, that is)

I picked up the first season of Bewitched and I'm loving it. (For what it's worth, I got the black and white version, the way it was originally made, rather than the colourized version. Geez, if you’re the kind of moron who insists that everything be in colour, why are you watching old television or old movies? You like it the way it was made or you don't.)

Anyway ... The series is essentially silly. It's a silly premise. The storylines are silly. And it's one of the few things I've seen recently that I actually laugh out loud as I watch. This is big - I don't normally laugh out loud.

Maybe you need to have a certain sense of humour to appreciate it. Maybe you simply have to be old enough to be acclimated to the period style (and it's very period, at least the first season is - it is SO early sixties).

But this first season of Bewitched makes me laugh. And good heavens, I absolutely love Aunt Clara (Marion Lorne) and Gladys Kravitz (Alice Pearce, and later Sandra Gould) and her oblivious hubbie, Abner (George Tobias).

Just in case I haven't been very clear: I am absolutely loving Bewitched.

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June 26, 2005

Ford's Drums Along the Mohawk

Heaven knows if you want to watch a John Ford movie there are a lot to choose from. Personally, I'm not sure which one would be my favourite (though I do have a hankering for both My Darling Clementine and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance).

So now I've just watched one of his 1939 efforts, Drums Along the Mohawk. (The other one from 1939 is The Young Mr. Lincoln - both movies star Henry Fonda).

While I enjoyed Drums Along the Mohawk, I can't say it's one of the better John Ford movies. And although some restoring went into the film we get on the DVD, I can't say the film is in the best condition.

But you can read what I thought of this movie in my review.

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Correcting my Tom Cruise post

I had to do an edit on my earlier post "Tom Cruise, Matt Lauer and a media muddle" because, frankly, I'm a lazy moron. Not paying attention, I confused the terms psychiatry and psychology, and they are not the same. (As a writer, I should be sent to my room with no supper for this.)

Online, you can find a number of definitions for the terms. From the EMHS Glossary of Medical Specialties, I found these:

The study, treatment and prevention of mental disorders, including the prescription of drugs, by a medical doctor who specializes in human behavior.

The care of behavioral and emotional problems by a professional other than a medical doctor through psychotherapy, counseling and psychoanalysis.

Anyway ... I stand self-corrected.

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Not the man I use to be

I was just going over my posts from a year ago, June 2004. They were much more entertaining than what I've been writing recently. Mind you, they weren't terribly focused, but at least they were mildly amusing.

It appears I've gone all to hell. Must work on that.

(How quickly we fade!)

June 25, 2005

Tom Cruise, Matt Lauer and a media muddle

A few days ago there was the story about Tom Cruise on the Today Show being interviewed by Matt Lauer and how it turned into some brouhaha about drugs, psychiatry and so on.

Of course, the media gave us snippets - clips, quotes, etc. But I kept wondering, "Yeah, but what was actually said? What was the context?" Frankly, I don't trust those sound bites.

So ... here's what was actually said: 'I'm passionate about life' (transcript of the interview).

It seems to me the conversation was a bit muddled (as these things often are). I wouldn't call it an argument - maybe, stretching things, you could say it was a disagreement but I'd say it was more two people talking at cross purposes.

In a way, I agree with what both were saying. Cruise is correct in his assessment that drugs mask problems. This is because they tend to address symptoms. Where I think he's off base, at least a bit, is in the implicit assumption that psychiatry is all about drugs. Helping someone recognize and change destructive patterns of behaviour, without the use of drugs, is also a form of psychiatry. I'm not an expert but I don't believe treatment necessarily has to include drugs.

I suspect, from what he said, that his definition of psychiatry and mine (and perhaps Lauer's) are a bit different and, if that's the case, it explains some of the muddle. I don't equate treatment with the application of drugs (though it can include this). However, Cruise may be correct in that this may be increasingly what psychiatric treatment amounts to (as opposed to focusing on non-drug related ways of dealing with mental disorders).

Cruise, I believe, would take issue with how disorders are treated and, perhaps in some cases, even that a disorder exists.

But the issue he is really addressing is the missue and abuse of drugs - whether that be the "recreational" and street variety or the ones we like to think are medically warranted. Sometimes these latter kinds are, but we often start using them higgledy-piggledy for just about everything. ("Hmmm ... stay home and get a good night's sleep? Or take Prozac? I'll take the Prozac.")

Anyway ... read what was actually said and decide for yourself who was right, if anyone. I think you'll find it was what it was - a guy talking off the top of his head, not a research paper and, as when people talk in this way (as interviews are designed for), you'll see some is a bit muddled but his essential point comes across: people use drugs for issues that don't really require them. What's required is information, focus, a non-drug related strategy and, most important, support from people who care.

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Falling behind and The Best Years of Our Lives

It was quite a week at work etc., so I haven't scribbled anything about movies - though I've seen some good ones. For instance, I finally watched Hotel Rwanda. Also Truffault's 1962 movie, Jules and Jim.

Last night? It was Howard's End.

Yet I haven't had time to write anything about them (or to revisit Femme Fatale, which I said I would).

I do have a review, though, of the 1946 Academy Award winner (7 of them!), William Wyler's The Best Years of Our Lives. It's a wonderful movie which, as I mention, didn't generate much enthusiasm in me until I actually watched it. Here's the review.

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June 19, 2005

The Scallywag Errol Flynn

I usually read several books at the same time. Actually, to be accurate, I don’t read them at the same time. I have several going at once and I alternate back and forth between them.

One of the books I’m currently reading, and having a helluva great time enjoying, is My Wicked, Wicked Ways: The Autobiography of Errol Flynn, originally published somewhere around 1959, available now through Cooper Square Press (part of Taylor Trade Publishing group).

Good heavens, what a read. Is anything he says true? Well, maybe. Probably, at least some of it. But that’s not really the point, not for me.

It reads as if it’s the transcript of a recording of a great raconteur, a teller of tall-tales whose favourite tale is his own life. You get the sense of a man who is totally self-absorbed but, somehow, has such a winning personality you love him for it.

I originally picked up the book because I was interested in finding a unique character I might make use of in a story, a model for a supporting player. Well, geez … did I ever get my money’s worth in Flynn. It’s not simply a matter of a long, episodic tale but also one of style. The words, syntax … everything that goes into creating a “voice” in writing, is here.

It’s the breezy voice of a kid who never grew up.

For me, the incidents are less important than the personality that comes across (although the incidents are quite remarkable). Together, personality and incidents, it makes for an incredibly entertaining book.

Flynn is a character, in the truest sense. He’s marvellous and if I had known him, I don’t think I would have trusted him any further than I could throw him.

(By the way, it sounds as if the writing of My Wicked, Wicked Ways was a great story too, or so the book’s introduction suggests.)

My Wicked, Wicked Ways:
- Amazon.com
- Amazon.ca
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Revising my opinion of Femme Fatale

I think I may have to revise my opinion of Femme Fatale. Maybe even update my rating. On a second look, it's much better than I had originally thought. In noir terms, it's very good and, I think, it's the kind of movie that builds a reputation as time goes on. In other words, thirty years from now it may be viewed as a classic.

Or not. I'm still mulling this one over. But it definitely is a movie that needs to be seen twice. (But that prompts the question, is a movie a "good" movie if you need to see it a second time to get it?)

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June 18, 2005

Survey says people prefer movies at home

A recent AP-AOL poll about movies has turned up a number of interesting things, such as a general preference people have for watching movies at home.

To start, I'd be interested in knowing when this poll was taken. What sort of answers do you get when you ask these questions in the early part of the year as opposed to the end of the year when the industry is releasing its "better" films as studios grab at Academy Awards?

Still, there are some interesting results. Like three quarters of those polled saying they prefer watching movies at home.

"Young adults, single people and those with college degrees were most likely to say they preferred going to the movie theater."

That's not surprising. Older people, particularly those with families, save money on ticket prices, snacks and baby-sitting by simply renting or buying a DVD.

Home theatres are bigger and better now too so, while the theatre still has that big screen, it doesn't feel like such great advantage unless you're a genuine cinema aficionado. Besides, depending on what theatre you see a film in, the big screen may not be all that hot. I’ve been in theatres where the movie didn’t appear bright enough, wasn’t quite fitted to the screen and didn’t sound all that great.

An advantage home viewing has over the theatre is control. I’ve actually been in theatres watching a movie and tried to press the pause or back button then realized, “Hey, wait! I have no remote!”

Another interesting tidbit from the poll was this:

“People were most fond of comedies, followed by dramas and action-adventure movies.”

Again … when were the questions asked? If Hollywood has a glut of action-adventure movies, there is a good chance people will say they want comedies simply because the action-adventure films have worn out their welcome.

My own take on all of this is that, like all polls, the results can be read numerous ways. But I do think you can safely conclude people are generally finding the convenience and control of home viewing has greater appeal than the traditional appeal of theatres, the spectacle of the big screen. It’s not that home viewing is a better way to see a movie, it’s simply that its advantages are increasing whereas the advantage of the theatre is roughly static. Or, if not static, the additional attractions added to the theatre experience are not of the same kind as home viewing, convenience and control.

And the movie business continues to be run by business people who believe hoo-hah, the usual snake-oil flash, is a safer bet than a good story. I have a bias, true, but I think a good story beats flash almost every time. It certainly does where longevity is concerned. Flash may take the opening weekend, but a good story often means doing well over several weekends and in DVD sales and rentals.

Does this mean more money? Maybe not. Maybe that one big opening weekend is where all the money is to be made. But I think it's also safe to conclude that a movie designed for a big opening weekend take doesn't have "legs." My impression is that they are largely forgettable.

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Time for a gander at Femme Fatale?

Hmm. I don't know why, but I looked back today at what I wrote a few years ago about Brian De Palma's 2002 movie, Femme Fatale.

(That's the one with Rebecca Romijn-Stamos and Antonio Banderas.)

It didn't seem to go over terribly well with audiences and I apparently was less than overwhelmed by it too. Yet I mentioned it probably required a second look. Whatever the reasons are, I've never found the time to take that second look. So I think tonight might be the night.

I looked at a few of the reviews the movie received when it came out and many of them were quite positive. (Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars. Mind you, he's a De Palma fan.)

Last night, by the way, I took in Jaws. I'd been putting off getting the DVD for quite a while. But someone seemed to want me to get it since they keep releasing new editions of it every few years. I grabbed (at a pretty good price) the latest, two-disc affair: Jaws - 30th Anniversary Edition.

By the way, when you haven't seen a film, such as Jaws, for quite a few years some of those scenes can still make you jump.

That's good movie-making.

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June 14, 2005

No cigar for Libeled Lady

I've always liked William Powell and Myrna Loy (whom I like almost as much as the team of Cary Grant and Irene Dunne), and I'm particularly thinking of The Thin Man.

With that in mind, I re-watched Libeled Lady (which also stars Spencer Tracy and Jean Harlow). You know, I love all the actors in this movie.

I especially love Myrna Loy throughout, Jean Harlow in the last half, and William Powell being the on-screen William Powell from beginning to end. (Spencer Tracy ... well, maybe I wasn't quite so thrilled with him - the role less, rather than the performance.)

But while this movie has its moments, it doesn't really cohere well as a film. I'm not really sure where the problem lies. The story conceit is sort of okay for a comedy. But it just doesn't gel. Somehow, it tries too hard. Honestly, I just don't know what the problem is here. But as movies go, it's a little bit forgettable.

Of course, it doesn't help that the DVD is a pretty weak transfer. There is a lot of scratching on this one. No effort at cleaning it up.

Bottom line? There are amusing moments in this poorly transferred DVD but overall it doesn't hang together well as a 98 minute movie.

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June 12, 2005

Adaptations: Whose story is this anyway?

I’ve just started reading Adaptations: From Short Story to Big Screen (see Amazon.com, Amazon.ca). It’s a big and fascinating collection of thirty-five short stories that have been adapted to screenplays, though it’s considerably more than that.

It covers older movies (like Bringing Up Baby) and more recent ones (like Minority Report). But the collection begins with an introduction by its editor, Stephanie Harrison, and the book is divided into eleven thematic sections, and each of these has an introduction.

The introductions are wonderful. While they “introduce” the section and its theme, they also have some intriguing background tidbits of information (such as the way Brian Aldiss and Arthur C. Clarke worked with Stanley Kubrick).

It’s fascinating to see the similarities and, even more interesting, the differences between the stories and the films made from them. For example, in the story on which Hitchcock’s Rear Window was based, there is no Grace Kelly character. (Good grief! No Grace Kelly?)

Also interesting, to me at least, is the story Supertoys Last All Summer Long, written by Brian Aldiss and the basis for A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. It’s a great short story but heavens, was it ever expanded upon for what became the final film (directed by Steven Spielberg).

Also directed by Spielberg is Minority Report, based on Philip K. Dick’s short story The Minority Report. Here, while the differences are interesting, what I find most caught my attention was the pacing. The movie is incredibly fast-paced – just as the story is. In fact, Dick’s tale is almost ludicrously fast-paced. It reads like a condensed hard-boiled detective novel.

And while the story stretches credibility in the quick way things happen, once you start reading it you can’t stop. It grabs you immediately and just goes. (If anything, Spielberg eased the pace a bit and added material to make it a more credible tale.)

Adaptations is over 600 pages long – there’s a lot of material here. I’ve barely started getting into it. But it’s a subject I find fascinating – the different takes artists have on the same story. In this case, the differences between a story in written form and the story on screen. Those differences are a combination between different forms and different artists.

It’s interesting that I began the book on the same day I watched Michael Radford’s movie The Merchant of Venice – a filmmaker’s take on a play (and one by Shakespeare, no less).

There is sometimes a kind of kneejerk, default response to adapted material, especially when its based on popular novels. The response says the movie is a poor version of the original. Yet I always think of Hitchcock’s Rebecca when this pops up – based on Daphne de Maurier’s novel of the same name. I loved the book and I loved the movie. It’s at least one example of a great story leading to a great movie.

As Adaptations shows through short stories, it’s not really a question of one form being "better" than another. Sometimes the written story is better, sometimes the film. It’s a question of how well conceived the initial idea is and how well it’s realized in the particular form being used. And stories are stories are stories. The forms inform one another and feed off one another.

In the meantime, I’ll keep reading these stories (I’ve barely begun). It’s a subject I find absorbing. If you share this fascination, you might want to pick up Adaptations. You’ll learn some interesting things about writers and movies while also getting a great collection of stories.

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Star Trek: Insurrection – TV episode? Movie? Does it matter?

I just wrote a review of Star Trek: Insurrection, a movie I had completely forgotten about. I was quickly reminded once it was released in the current two-disc package.

And you know something? I liked it more now than when I had first seen it.

Although it still has the same problems, the biggest being it’s an episode of The Next Generation series and not really a movie. Yes, bigger budget, bigger screen, but an episode of TNG nonetheless.

But is that really such a bad thing? I’m beginning to think not. Maybe you need to be a Star Trek fan to enjoy a film like this – I don’t know. But I do know I liked it despite having serious reservations about it.

One of Insurrection's strong points? No Borg.

Here’s my review.

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June 11, 2005

The Dirty Dozen - should I like it?

There are some movies you like and feel as if you shouldn't. The Dirty Dozen is like this. I think it's a very good movie. But at the same time, I kind of wish I didn't.

It's not so much what it appeals to (the testosterone filled teenage boy who lingers within us) but the way the film finally resolves. Although, in terms of the movie, it appears to end the way it had to.

But it does come across as a giddily adolescent and mean-spirited end. At least, that’s how it strikes me now. I can’t say I felt that way when I saw it years ago at roughly age fourteen. As I age, am I becoming a revisionist?

Perhaps. Anyway, here's my review of it.

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June 9, 2005

Am I the only one who likes Gun Shy?

If you were to read the majority of the reviews of the 2000 film Gun Shy you would think it's an utterly execrable movie.

Well, maybe they're right but, apparently, I don't think so. Not given the number of times I've seen it. (I’ve lost count.) I’m not sure I can say it’s a good film (although I think it is). But I figure if I keep watching it, it must have something going for it.

First, I’d say the negative response to it is partly because of the kind of film it is and the time of it’s release. It’s got that tedious “gangster” milieu that Hollywood keeps trotting out and, at the time of its release, there were a number of movies around that were comedies set in this kind of environment. And the reviewers were right to think, “... Enough is enough!”

Still, despite that, I liked it. And I like it more the further away I get from that period of film when they were making comedic gangster movies. I can increasingly enjoy the film on its own merits, without contemporary context.

Secondly I, too, first reacted negatively to Liam Neeson in the primary role. It somehow didn’t fit. But again, I think that has more to do with context. At the time, I had an idea of what Neeson could do and that didn’t include comedy, certainly not one of this kind. He seemed too restrained for this. But, distanced from that time (circa 2000) and, to be honest, not having seen him in a film for quite a while (I haven’t seen Kinsey), it’s easier to accept him now in this role.

Thirdly, this movie has one of the funniest scenes I’ve seen in I don’t know how long and it’s one of the few scenes I laugh at no matter how many times I see it. It’s the "sleepy" scene between Neeson and Oliver Platt (who is priceless in the film!). I don’t know if others would find it funny but I sure as hell do.

I like this movie. A lot.

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June 6, 2005

Faulty Billy Wilder - Irma LaDouce

I've grown up hearing about how Billy Wilder was a great director. But for some reason, I've never been terribly overwhelmed by his films. With a couple of exceptions.

I think Sunset Boulevard is one of the best movies ever made. No taking that way from Billy Wilder. And The Apartment is pretty darned good and, while not one of his most noted movies, I've always really liked Avanti!

But the way people talk about Billy Wilder, you would think he was the greatest thing since ... well, I don't know what. And I just don't think he's that. His movies often seemed dated. Like the one I just watched, Irma LaDouce.

This one has its moments. But it's very uneven. It goes great for a while then suddenly, the engine stalls. The biggest problem is it comes across as a circa 1965 fifty-year-old man's middle-aged crisis movie. Too many jiggly girls and saucy innuendo jokes.

And the movie is horribly stagy. The film's concept is okay, as a comedy. But I believe it was taken from a stage play. It certainly has the look and feel of a play and a play is not a movie. On film, it feels too artificial.

Generally, it comes across as a movie that thinks it's clever and wants you to think so too.

And it just ain't.

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June 5, 2005

The smooth, slapstick Archie Leach (aka Cary Grant)

Not sure why, but I decided to make a list of the Cary Grant movies I had in my file of reviews. I had more than I expected. As it turns out, I had also written them over a period in which I had changed things like layout. So there was a fair amount of inconsistency between some of them.

And that’s my long-winded way of saying what is listed here is only partial. Call it My List, Part I. It consists of the earlier Grant movies I’ve rambled about – 1937 to 1944. Of course, his movies that I’ve reviewed aren’t all the Cary Grant movies I have. And those ones I have are only a small number of the movies he actually made.

Yes, I’ve always been a Cary Grant fan. (Does it show?) By the way, when I rate movies it’s based on a 5 star system. Here’s my list (part one):

- Topper (1937) 4 stars
- The Awful Truth (1937) 4½ stars
- Bringing Up Baby (1938) 5 stars
- Gunga Din (1939) 4 stars
- My Favorite Wife (1940) 4 stars
- His Girl Friday (1940) 4½ stars
- Talk of the Town (1942) 3 stars
- Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) 4½ stars

(You know, I'm not sure I agree with some of those ratings now that I see them. Though I suppose they're roughly accurate, at least from my point of view. But with the exception of Talk of the Town, I'd sort of like to give them all 5 stars because I like them so much.)

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June 4, 2005

East of Eden - some Cain and Abel histrionics

I’ve been hearing about James Dean all my life. I’ve seen the posters. I’ve seen the fashion look recur every few years. But I’ve never been too taken by it or very interested in the James Dean thing.

Well, now I’ve developed some interest thanks to the DVD issues of his three movies (available individually or in The Complete James Dean).

Last night, I watched the DVD East of Eden - Special Edition. It definitely has a histrionic quality that makes it a bit anachronistic as it tells a variation of the Cain and Abel story. But you can definitely see the James Dean quality and why he became a modern myth. But hey … you also get to see a great performance by Raymond Massey, and others.

I hope to scribble some thoughts into a review soon. Meanwhile, I think the movie is worth seeing for its cultural interest but also on its own terms as a pretty good film.

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