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The Princess Bride [VHS]
The Princess Bride [VHS]
VHS
Offered by Dream Books Company
Price: $3.89
158 used & new from $0.01

575 of 626 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I do not think it means what you think it means, April 9, 2002
I remember when I first saw this movie, around age 13, I had no idea who the Man in Black was through the entirety of the first act. Sure, it's apparent now, given the benefit of hindsight, but because of the actor's anonymity at the time I never made the obvious connection. On top of that, most of the rest of the cast was unknown to me as well (except for the one non-actor, Monsieur Roussimoff, a.k.a. Andre the Giant). The sweeping anonymity of the company allowed the film to do two things: first, the audience isn't distracted by the presence of the Big Star; and second, unknown actors allow for no preconceived notions of their characters. Which in turn allows the filmmakers to subvert character types, and insert some true surprises into the story.
Which, to make a long point even longer, is the whole ethos of the film
William Goldman's book "The Princess Bride", on which this film is based, intended to tell only the 'good parts' version of the story of Westley and Buttercup. That is, it would leave in the high drama and action and romance, while curbing the back-stories and superfluous exposition. William Goldman, in his role as adaptor of the book into a screenplay, remains fiercely loyal to this proposition. He's constructed a framing device, wherein a grandfather is reading to his sick grandson, which allows him to make meta-fictional comments on the seemingly typical fairy tale being told. In doing so, however, he subverts the fairy tale's typicalness, making it much more surprising and revelatory. At one point the grandson worriedly asks about the fate of the villain: "Who kills Humperdinck?" The grandfather calmly answers, "No one. He lives." Which is not only a true statement, for that is exactly what happens, but it doesn't even come close to ruining the end of the story. On the contrary, it increases the suspense, and makes what does happen quite astonishing.
Rob Reiner, in only his third time out in the director's chair, does a wonderful job of translating Goldman's script to the screen. He utilizes elements, whether by choice or by budgetary restraints, that would at first appear incongruous, but work as a whole to keep the audience off-balance, and thus more receptive to the surprises the movie has in store for them.
The acting is, stylistically, all over the place. It ranges from the unabashed over-the-top passion of Mandy Patinkin (Inigo Montoya), to the bumbling buffoonery of Wallace Shawn (Vizzini), to the gentle anti-acting of Andre the Giant (Fezzik), to the unsubtle Snidely Whiplash villainy of Chris Sarandon (Prince Humperdinck), to the Borscht Belt mugging of Billy Crystal (Miracle Max), to the icy malice of Christopher Guest (Count Rugen), and the stark realism of Robin Wright (Buttercup, the title character). No two actors take the same road, but they all somehow arrive at the same location. Cary Elwes, playing the hero, is the only one who falls easily into all these styles, as the situation demands it. He is menacing, suave, cool, funny, athletic, simple, sweet, fierce, etc., etc., etc. Elwes and Patinkin are the standouts for me -- their swordfight atop the Cliffs of Insanity is technically brilliant, literate, and extremely entertaining -- but the entire cast effective. Even the smaller roles (British comedians Mel Smith and Peter Cook each have brief but memorable one-joke cameos) make their mark.
The film's musical score, composed by 'Dire Straits' frontman Mark Knoplfer, swings and sways from moment to moment. In one, he uses stark, bouncy lines to underscore a simple scene of Fezzik and Inigo trading rhymes. In the next, he layers synthesized strings to call up the gravity of the Man in Black's chase. My only problem with the music is the song written for the closing credits: it's weepy and melodramatic, without the sense of subversive fun that had prevailed up until that point.
The sets and scenery switch back and forth between real and obviously fake. Filmed in and around the English countryside, most of the outdoor locations (the severe valley, the woods) breathe reality and beauty into the story. Others, such as the Fire Swamp, the Pit of Despair, and the plateau above the Cliffs of Insanity, have the phony feel of a Hollywood soundstage. Again, the film keeps the audience on their toes.
So now that I am 27 instead of 13, and know back-to-front the filmmographies of all the actors involved, and have seen the film more than a dozen times, and can quote lines from it at the drop of a hat, do I find it any less appealing than on that first viewing? Of course not. Goldman and Reiner's film rewards multiple viewings, with its wit, its playfulness, and most importantly, its subversiveness. Will there ever be a time when I tire of watching it? A time like that is right now, as Vizzini might say, "inconceivable".
Comment Comments (15) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2015 11:44 AM PST


No Title Available

16 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars E.T.: The Emotional Triumph (20th Anniversary Edition), April 3, 2002
I first saw "E.T." when I was 7 years old. My parents took me, and after enduring a hideously long line-up, the sound conked out in the theatre ten minutes into the movie. We did make another, more successful, excursion a couple of weeks later. But my memories of the film have always been wrapped up in the failure of that first time, and my desire to participate in the positive hype surrounding the film. Which, I now see, has coloured my perception.
With that in mind, herewith are some things I noticed, for better or for worse, upon seeing the new 20th anniversary edition of "E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial":
*The bad guys, whom I always thought were carrying guns, actually had walkie-talkies...
Okay, I knew about this going in. Some people here have said that the difference is barely noticeable. I suspect that's true, unless you're looking for it. I found it quite distracting: Mr. Baddie would be standing, feet apart, hands in shotgun-holding position, but his left hand would be empty and his right would be holding a fake looking walkie-talkie. I don't think the change was necessary, especially since it wasn't realized effectively.
*E.T. bathes...
There's one new scene where Elliott gives E.T. a bath. A good idea ripe for comedy, it's quite funny. But what I found distracting here, and in other scenes, is the use of a new computer generated E.T. His eyebrows are animated, his neck moves with relative ease, he appears to have actual joints in his elbows and knees, and his torso is mobile if not downright agile. E.T. has been Jar-Jar'ed, and like the CGI failure referred to by that neologism, it just doesn't work.
*The acting is hit or miss...
The three kids are solid, if not spectacular. Henry Thomas (Elliott) does little more than look wistful, while trying to rein in his pre-pubescent falsetto. In his more emotional scenes, to his credit, he never goes over the top. Although he does get pretty close sometimes. Robert MacNaughton, as Michael, does well in showing that the older brother may be someone to look up to, but he's still also just a kid. And Drew Barrymore, as Gertie, gets by on precocious charisma and wide-eyed stares. Which, frankly, is more than enough. I don't think Drew has been this believable and funny in any role since.
Dee Wallace, as the oblivious mom, has a few moments in which to show emotional pain. Her recent divorce from her husband, while allowing for some depth of character, also provides the movie's underlying theme: her kids just want their father, or barring that, a father figure. But her comic moments, like the bedroom-farcical scene around the refrigerator, just fall flat. Thankfully, she's not a terribly important character. Neither is Keys, aptly named, and played by Peter Coyote. He's a cipher, a faceless (for most of the movie) bad guy, who inexplicably turns out to be a big softie in the end. Which basically means this is an adventure movie without an antagonist. And yet it still works. Imagine that.
The best acting, shockingly enough, is done by E.T. himself. Getting a giant puppet to deliver such a range of emotions (loneliness, terror, fear, joy, love, torment, anguish, not to mention inebriation) is a remarkable feat. Add to that the fact that the little guy is so damn cute, and it's no wonder this movie was a huge hit. You just can't help but fall in love with him, and rue the moment when he has to leave.
*Elvis Costello is referenced. Twice...
Michael comes home from school one day, goes to the fridge for a snack, and heads up to his room, where Elliott is waiting to introduce him to a new friend (guess who). All the while, he is tunelessly singing Elvis Costello's "Accidents Will Happen". Later, in Elliott's room, you can't help but miss the prominent Elvis Costello poster next to the door. So, what gives? What is my most favourite new-wave punker doing in a Steven Spielberg movie? I can't explain it, though I'm glad he's there. Maybe the line, "She says she CAN'T GO HOME without a chaperon" partially explains things.
*It's kind of a flimsy little flick...
So I'm listening to the John Williams score, and I think to myself, "Would this movie have any emotional weight without the music?" I dare say not nearly as much. Many deride Williams as a purveyor of simple, shlocky, and oppressive melodies. But his music here, less memorable than his other Spielberg offerings, really carries the emotional load. Screenwriter Melissa Mathison does little to let us in on the family's background (that one snippet about the absent father just doesn't cut it), and Spielberg is a little too concerned with the here-and-now to deal with the backstory. It becomes Williams' duty to tug at the heartstrings. He's up to the task, but you can't help but feel manipulated after you've left the theatre.
*Spielberg really idolized George Lucas' success...
Countless Star Wars references abound. From Elliott's toys, to two separate Yoda moments (MacNaughton does a spot-on Yoda impression), Lucasfilm runs rampant here in Amblin country. I can't tell if these cross-promotional references are playful or competitive. Regardless, it's interesting to see a filmmaker admit to his lofty but personal place in the cinema universe.
*"E.T." is an over-powering emotional experience...
Even for the most hardened cynics like myself, a certain amount of welling-up will occur sometime before the credits roll. And I guess that's the ultimate measure of this film's success. For no matter how much tinkering Spielberg has done, or how many mistakes he made the first time around, you can surely say one thing about this movie: it aims for your gut, and hits it dead-on with full force.


Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency
by Douglas Adams
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
82 used & new from $0.01

12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interconnected to all things, April 3, 2002
A lot of the talk surrounding "Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency" centres on its utter incomprehensibility, its snail-like slow start, and the fact that it's not nearly as funny as Adams' "Hitchhiker's" books.
Regarding the first point, I'd agree, but only to a degree. It's not really as complicated as many have made it out to be. All it takes to understand the complex ending is the knowledge of one simple fact. You'll have to find out what that fact is for yourself, for I'll never tell. (Trust me... the information *is* out there if you know where to look) That being said, there are bits and pieces strewn throughout the book that still have me scratching my head (Why did the Electric Monk do what he did? What was the point of that fascinating bit about Schrodinger's Cat? Who was climbing the stairs of that ominous tower, and what the heck was that tower anyway?). All of which make me agree with the general consensus: This is a book that rewards, nay, demands a second reading. And quite possibly a third, fourth, and fifth.
Regarding the second point, it's only slow when compared to a book as deliciously frenetic as "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe". But on a grander scale, "Dirk" moves along at a perfect pace. And frankly, if the reader is to be expected to pick up on the subtle clues Adams drops, a slow pace is exactly what he needs. Just be warned: When everything starts falling into place, the pace picks up and you might be inclined to pick up your reading pace. Don't. There's still important information at the end that you might miss.
Regarding the third point, well, this one I fully agree with. Only I think it was never Adams' intention to write something as laugh out loud funny as the books that made him internationally popular. He was aiming for a think-piece. He wanted to write his own version of the hard-boiled detective novel, a la Chandler or Hammett, albeit filtered through his warped British sense of humour ("The door was the way to... to...The Door was The Way. Good. Capital Letters were always the best way of dealing with things you didn't have a good answer to."). You'll enjoy the laughs brought on by Dirk and Richard's warped conversations, but they won't be as plentiful or as boisterous as the laughs brought on by an Arthur Dent/Ford Prefect conversation. Further to that point, however, is the fact that Richard MacDuff ("Tall and absurdly thin... good-natured... a bit like a preying mantis that doesn't prey... a sort of a pleasant genial mantis that's given up preying and taken up tennis instead") is a perfect conduit through which the reader can understand the story. Whenever Dirk goes on one of his wild rants, one that will have the reader asking himself, "What is he talking about?" Richard will ask Dirk, "What are you talking about?" He's always one step ahead of the reader's questions.
More than any other book I've ever read, "Dirk Gently" is perfectly structured, while still leaving a lot of holes for the reader, through his own research and interpretation, to fill in. You may get to the end and wonder if you've missed something. Chances are you probably have. But that's by Adams' design. This is a book that lives on well past the last page has been turned. I know that I'm looking forward to my next encounter with Dirk, and saddened that Adams won't be around to create any more new universes for his faithful readership to enjoy.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Sep 1, 2010 3:12 PM PDT


Meet the Feebles [VHS]
Meet the Feebles [VHS]
VHS
10 used & new from $9.98

4.0 out of 5 stars "Feebles" is fervent, April 1, 2002
This review is from: Meet the Feebles [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Imagine a movie that quotes liberally from some of the most nefarious moments in film history: The Russian Roulette scene from "The Deer Hunter"; the toilet scene and the abundant heroin use from "Trainspotting"; the hyper-emesis from "Stand By Me" (and/or "South Park"); the carnage of "Saving Private Ryan"; the multiple male orgasms of "Happiness"; and, most disturbingly, the coprophagy of "Pink Flamingos". Imagine a movie that constantly barrages its audience with these scenes, all cranked-up and amped-up to the point of submission. Imagine that this movie is, between its more nauseous moments, terribly funny, exceedingly satirical, scabrous, morbid, dark, and witty. Now, imagine this movie as performed by the cast of the Muppet Show.
You need not go through the trouble of imagining this movie. If you have already, my apologies. But if you're still up to the challenge, all you need to do is see "Meet the Feebles".
Peter Jackson (and who else is shocked that he had "The Fellowship of the Ring" in him after seeing "The Feebles"?) directs with abandon and glee, allowing his camera to swoop and swerve through the Feebles backstage dressing areas like a demented fly (that's not just an empty metaphor; this movie actually has a demented fly as one of its secondary characters!). It travels between the legs of a giant hippo (and up her skirt, too!), around corners, up to the ceilings, and back down to the floor. Around every corner it finds something remarkable to watch. Over here they're filming a porno movie featuring a cow endowed with an enormous udder. Over there is a giant walrus copulating with a pussycat.
But Jackson is not concerned with bad taste just for bad taste's sake. He has things to say within all the inhumanity and depravity. There's a condemnation of promiscuous sex in the post-AIDS era. A scathing portrait of the public's appetite for tabloid journalism. A scene of adultery leads to one character's self-destruction. There's a near rape, a drug buy gone horribly bad, and even a paternity case served against a blue elephant by a chicken! And, most intriguing, a Vietnam flashback sequence, brought on by the heroin-induced paranoia of a wayward frog. It is more harrowing than anything you'll see in any other war movie. It's played for laughs at times, but it's also played very stark and very real.
The Feebles being the cast of a variety show, the film also has some show-stopping musical numbers. I dare you to get "Garden of Love" out of your head after the movie is over (you'll also want to get the sight of the giant Heidi the Hippo crooning it out of your head too). And then there's the song performed by stage manager Sebastian the fox. If the lyrics (from the chorus: "You must think it very odd of me / that I enjoy the act of sodomy") don't have you scurrying for cover under your seat then the production number, the sets, and the dancing (!) surely will.
It's hard to believe that a man can make a movie like "Meet the Feebles", and still have enough bad taste left in him to make a film called "Bad Taste". But Jackson has. It's a carefully crafted social satire, full of verbal (listen closely for the sublime "A Passage to India" punch line) and visual wit. I consider myself pretty tolerant of bad taste, but even I found myself watching this film through my fingers. But isn't it the role of the artist to find the line of good taste, and smash it to smithereens?


No Title Available

29 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Room" and (never) bored, March 31, 2002
Jodie Foster was set to appear in David Fincher's "The Game" instead of Michael Douglas, but was dropped by the studio. She finally returns to Fincherdom here, after Nicole Kidman dropped out due to injury (for my money, Kidman is the female Michael Douglas: all anti-charisma and wooden acting). It's a shame their first collaboration didn't work out, for I thought Douglas was the only thing wrong with "The Game". Imagine what Fincher's career would have looked like if Foster had been kept on: a fluctuation from testosterone driven Brad Pitt black comedy, to intellectually driven Jodie Foster suspense thriller, and back again. That's a career to envy, for sure. Still, as it is, at least we have been given "Panic Room"
Foster is note-perfect here. Her Meg Altman is a female action hero, only not in the Ellen Ripley sense. Meg is imperfect. She's just trying to do right by her daughter, while keeping her contempt for her failed marriage under wraps. Foster is strong, but also vulnerable. She plays fear just right, attacking it with both shock and awe ("I can't believe this is happening to *me*!" she appears to be saying, mouth agape, during some of the more tense moments). And she's funny when she needs to be. Her chemistry with Kristen Stewart is potent. The two are convincing as mother and daughter. Stewart, for her part, gets Sarah's rebelliousness just right, while also showing her understanding that she is still a little girl who needs her mother. The plot point, regarding Stewart's character, that ultimately makes it necessary for the two to get out of the panic room, is brought along subtly and assuredly. They never mention the disease she has, or the well-known medication used to keep it in check. Clues abound, but are never in your face. The audience member who is paying close attention will appreciate this; the audience member who isn't will become confused. Fincher trusts his audience.
Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam play the thieves who force Foster and Stewart into the panic room. They have a definite Keystone Cops feel about them. Which is actually a refreshing change. Most real criminals are miles away from being masterminds. Here, the titular mastermind is Leto's Junior, who sports cornrows in his hair, and has the intellect of a 6-year old. Or at least that's how it appears at first. Once Junior's reason for getting inside the room is clear, you understand the character better. Whitaker is the compassionate brains of the bunch, a security expert with his own reasons for being on the job. The motivations of these two characters are never plainly laid out, only alluded to as the film goes along. I appreciate Fincher again trusting his audience, this time relying on their patience. Yoakam, who's basically playing a quiet by severely demented psychopath with little motivation except a desire to cause havoc, is as menacing here as he was in "Sling Blade". Only a lot funnier.
The film overall is surprisingly funny. Sometimes too funny. I'm all for comic relief, and the suspense here is neatly broken up by laughs at just the right places, but the film can't decide sometimes if it is a black comedy or a suspense thriller. It teeters back and for the between the two, never able to make up its mind. Fortunately, the suspense is never ruined totally by the abundant jokes.
Fincher's special effects enhanced shots were sometimes necessary and sometimes superfluous. On the one hand, the film's first third holds several shots that allow the audience to see the size and layout of the house. It becomes necessary later on, when the machinations of the plot bring on a sense of disorientation. On the other hand, shots like a quick tour through the filament of a flashlight bulb, felt like the director had a hankering to show off.
Fincher, known for hyper-kinetic title sequences that are breathtaking to watch, pulls another rabbit out of hat here. Only this one is static and simple, but no less breathtaking. Giant white letters (I think the font is Times New Roman), three to four stories tall, appear floating in front of a series of Manhattan landmarks (Central Park, Times Square, etc.). It is a sunny day, the letters blend seamlessly into the live action, and the whole thing is poetic and gorgeous. It's the film's one concession to expanse, for the remainder is spent cooped up in the claustrophobic brownstone.
Darius Khondji, who quit/was fired midway through filming, usually gives Fincher's dark films a crisp look. You can always tell what you are looking at through his lens. Conrad Hall, whose career has been spent mostly as a camera operator (and who has worked twice -- "Se7en" & "Alien: Resurrection" -- on Khondji-lensed films), stepped up to the plate for his second turn as cinematographer. The results are hit and miss. He has trouble handling the shadows in Fincher's world; everything becomes murky and muddled. However, his work inside the panic room, especially capturing the penetrating blues of Foster and Stewart's eyes, is sublime.
Up until the end, Fincher's film is near perfect, for what it is anyway. The suspense is toned just right, the surprises jump out at you unexpectedly, and the mood is palpable. In the final ten minutes, however, one character becomes unbelievably immortal (as "Friday the 13th"s Jason or Freddy Krueger might), and another makes an out-of-character choice, to set up the deus es machina ending. Still, even with these two near-fatal flaws, "Panic Room" is a fun and frightening good time. It may not scale the dizzying heights of "Se7en" or "Fight Club", but it's not really trying to. At what it's trying to do it most definitely succeeds.


If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
If on a Winter's Night a Traveler
by Italo Calvino
Edition: Paperback
Price: $10.47
223 used & new from $0.64

190 of 203 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A conceptual review of a conceptual book, March 29, 2002
You are getting ready to read an Amazon.com review of Italo Calvino's book "If on a winter's night a traveller". Is your mouse nearby? Are you sitting in a comfortable chair? You're not slouching over the keyboard, are you? Sit up! Now, rub your eyes, close any windows containing video games, and read on.
-----
Besides Tom Robbins' "Half Asleep in Frog's Pajamas", this is the only book you've ever read written (mostly) in second person narration. 'You' are the protagonist of the story, and are directly addressed by the author/narrator. 'You' are the Reader. This is a technique that Calvino uses very well, especially when he manages to predict (or accurately tell) the circumstances around how 'you' bought the book, how 'you're' reading it, and 'your' thoughts and feelings concerning it.
You notice that this book has no story, per se. Instead, it is about Stories. The structure of the book is more important than the narrative thrust. A Reader (you) begins reading Italo Calvino's new book, "If on a winter's night a traveller". But the book is misprinted, and ends halfway through. So you head down to the bookshop, anxious to get your money back. There you encounter The Other Reader, a young woman also foiled in her attempt to read Calvino's new book. You both buy a new copy from the shopkeeper, only when you get it home, you realize it is not Calvino's new book at all, but something called "Outside the town of Malbork". Things continue this way, back and forth from thwarted novel to encounters with The Other Reader (who, by this time, you've developed quite a crush on). Along the way, you will meet many other shady literary characters, like The Non Reader, The Writer, and the Plagiarist. Do not be afraid of these men. They are merely devices to get you thinking about the nature of reading, the nature of writing, the nature of authorship, and a number of other significant post-modern issues.
This all sounds quite fascinating to you, but you still have trepidations. You have a copy of the book with you right now. To help quench your fears you open it up, seemingly at random, to page 197, and read the following exchange:
"'On the contrary, I am forced to stop reading just when [the stories] become more gripping. I can't wait to resume, but when I think I am reopening the book I began, I find a completely different book before me...'
'Which instead is terribly boring,' I suggest.
'No, even more gripping. But I can't manage to finish this one, either. And so on.'"
You think this is pretty good so far. But wonder, is Calvino right on either count? Would such a novel be "terribly boring", or "even more gripping"? Would you get frustrated beyond repair if the story kept stopping, every time it got good? You realize that you must decide for yourself before you begin reading the book in earnest.
Continuing your perusal on the same page, you read the following passage:
"I have had the idea of writing a novel composed only of beginnings of novels. The protagonist could be a Reader who is continually interrupted. The Reader buys the new novel A by the author Z. But it is a defective copy, he can't go beyond the beginning... He returns to the bookshop to have the volume exchanged..."
You stop, because you can see where this is going. This is Calvino telling you the genesis of this book. This kind of self-reflexivity sometimes gives you a headache, for a story within a story within a story (etc.) can sometimes be very confusing. You stop reading for a while to get your bearings.
You take a break by going to the fridge for a glass of juice.
Later, you flip the book open again, this time to page 218, and you notice this:
"Then what use is your role as protagonist to you? If you continue lending yourself to this game, it means that you, too, are an accomplice of the general mystification."
"Calvino is challenging me?" you think to yourself. "He doesn't think I am capable of following him through this labyrinthine world. He doesn't think I have the brainpower. But I do!" You are getting a good head of steam now. "I can read his book, no problem! I am a Good Reader."
You turn to page one, intent on starting and then finishing this book. And when you do, you'll realize that it was a rewarding, if oftentimes difficult and confusing, experience. It will have questioned your preconceived notions of what it means to read, write, to tell stories, and to listen to them. And it will do it in a (mostly) fascinating and suspenseful way, to make the ideas go down that much easier.
Comment Comments (8) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Mar 11, 2016 6:48 AM PST


Some Like It Hot [VHS]
Some Like It Hot [VHS]
VHS
Offered by CBS BUNDLES
Price: $5.38
117 used & new from $0.44

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not as *hot* as I thought it'd be, but I still *like it*, March 22, 2002
This review is from: Some Like It Hot [VHS] (VHS Tape)
"Some Like it Hot", for one reason or another, was one of those movies about which I felt like I'd seen a million times, but never had all the way through. It would appear on TV every so often, and I would catch it at the same moment each time (I think I've seen the train sequence several dozen times), and leave well before the end. I recently saw it in a theatre, for the first time all the way through. While it justified its canonized place amongst the best comedies of all time, it wasn't perfect.
For one thing, I found the tone all wrong. It's more gruesome and sexy than I would have imagined, especially given the era it comes from. Gruesome, in that sandwiching the hijinks are two scenes of bloody tommy-gun slaughter. They are brutal, brutal scenes, which show everything except the bullets entering the bodies. The comedy had a huge pit to dig itself out of after those scenes. As for its sexiness, let's just say that Marilyn Monroe, and the rest of Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopators, revealed more with their wardrobe than I would have expected. Maybe it's my own problem, but I had a tough time focusing on the jokes whilst also focusing on the skimpy underthings.
For another thing, there are some characters here that I find terribly annoying and grating, like fake fingernails scratching tracks on an enormous blackboard. True, this is a broad (pun intended) comedy, which demands broad characters. But the nasal wheeze that escapes from Osgood Fielding's (Joe E. Brown) mouth at the end of each sentence reminded me more of a death rattle than a punch line. The mugging done by Al Breneman, as the amorous bellhop, had me trying to reach through the screen to slap him silly. And then there's one of Spats' henchmen, overplayed by Harry Wilson with all the subtlety of a tornado.
Thankfully, these horrendous characters are more than offset by the dazzling comic timing of the film's leads. Jack Lemmon, playing more a type than a character (the gullible best friend), shows how at home and comfortable he is in physical comedy. Tony Curtis, an actor who I've never had any time for, is asked to pull off three roles in one (Joe, Josephine, and the heir to the Shell Oil fortune). He does so with grace and aplomb. I couldn't help but be tickled by his intentionally hammy Cary Grant impression. Who else would you imitate while pretending to be a millionaire intent on seducing Marilyn Monroe? And speaking of Marilyn, despite the stories I've heard of her scatterbrained bumbling on-set, she is quite funny (while being super-sexy) as the group's lead singer and ukelelist, Sugar Kane (I've often wondered if she's supposed to be related to Orson Welles' most famous character).
The cross-dressing scenes, while obviously crowd-pleasing (just try not to laugh while watching Jack Lemmon negotiate his high-heels), are not as viscerally hilarious as I suspect they once were. Thankfully, I found myself laughing at the in-between moments where the witty screenplay was doing all the work. I.A.L. Diamond and writer/director Billy Wilder's script is not only full of large comedic moments, but also has a high quantity of blink-and-you'll-miss-them jokes. Witness these two exchanges between Sugar and Joe, played so straight that neither of them got a laugh from anyone in the theatre but me (I'll try not to break my arm as I pat myself on the back):
SUGAR: I come from a very musical family. My mother is a piano teacher and my father was a conductor.
JOE: Where did he conduct?
SUGAR: On the Baltimore and Ohio.
[...and later, on the boat...]
SUGAR: Look at all that silverware.
JOE: Trophies. You know - skeet-shooing, dog-breeding, water polo...
SUGAR: Water polo - isn't that terribly dangerous?
JOE: I'll say. I had two ponies drowned under me.
Top this all off with the extended (and aforementioned) train sequence, where an impromptu party breaks out in Jack Lemmon's bunk. It reminded me of a similar scene from the Marx Brothers' "A Night at the Opera" (a comparison I don't make lightly), for its emphasis not only on verbal wit, but also the overcrowded mania of the moment.
While sometimes flawed, and more often than not dated, "Some Like it Hot" is still, more than forty years after its first release, a terribly pleasurable and frothy comedy. Even if you have an aversion to the overused crutch of mining laughs from putting men in dresses, there's enough else here to make the film more than worthwhile.


The Graduate [VHS]
The Graduate [VHS]
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfectly clear, March 19, 2002
This review is from: The Graduate [VHS] (VHS Tape)
Wes Anderson (director of "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums") has said that when he and Owen Wilson hit a block in one of their scripts, they (consciously or not) steal something from "The Graduate". Magically, everything gets back on track. Being a huge fan of Anderson and Wilson's work, I figured I'd give "The Graduate" another try. My first viewing left me underwhelmed. Amused, but underwhelmed. But seeing it again, with freshly graduated eyes, it's a different story. The film is damn near perfect.
The first act can be off-putting. It was to me. Less concerned with reality than with tone, it comes off as little more than self-obsessed parody, enamored with its own jokes ("Plastics!" has become stale with time) and the angst of its protagonist. And with the benefit of hindsight, Dustin Hoffman's clipped monotonic speech makes it appear like he's playing a younger version of Raymond Babbitt than the newly graduated Benjamin Braddock. Thankfully, things relax when Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft) comes on the scene, and the film can get down to brass tacks.
Benjamin and Mrs. Robinson's seduction scene is a wonder of comic awkwardness. While she's in total control and full of ennui, he's sweating and stumbling while trying to hatch an escape route. But he stays. And the next sequence, their inevitable coupling, is ludicrous on several levels. First, it revels in the cheeky double entendres paranoiacally swirling around Ben's head (Buck Henry, as a hotel desk clerk, asks innocently, "Are you here for an *affair*, sir?"; "Wood?" asks Ben of Mrs. Robinson, gauging her preference of clothes hangers, instead of making a pass, as she nearly assumes). Second, it is underscored by Simon and Garfunkel's 'Sounds of Silence'. The song choice is ludicrous because its dulcet tones would seem to have nothing to do with detached copulation. But read the lyrics. Is this not Ben's voice, trying to scream above the "ten thousand people, maybe more... talking without speaking... hearing without listening"? In his affair with Mrs. Robinson, Ben is searching for his voice (in the wrong place, as we shall soon see).
The bulk of the second act is concerned with Ben meeting and then being rejected by Elaine, Mrs. Robinson's daughter. The first hour, so nearly perfect in its satire and depiction of Californian malaise, left doubts in me that the second hour could live up to it. Thankfully, and an equal part of the credit should go to Katharine Ross as Dustin Hoffman, it does. Hoffman relaxes around Ross, putting on a cloak of easy charisma and charm, allowing the honest emotions of his love to shine through. Ross, for her part, is always open and receptive to Ben, and even gives back as much as she gets. Their knee-jerk fall into love is made sensible by the obvious chemistry between the actors. The act is scored, again paradoxically perfectly, by another S&G songs, 'Scarborough Fair'. With its constant wish of "then she'll be a true love of mine", it too captures the mood of the sequence perfectly.
In act three, Ben tries to redeem himself after all his mistakes. And thanks to the care the filmmakers took in setting him up, you can't help but feel for Ben as he runs through the streets of Santa Barbara looking for Elaine's wedding. 'Mrs. Robinson', the third major S&G song used, works here mainly for its ambiguity. Which one of Ben's women does its titular character represent? Doesn't matter, really. Just follow the bouncy beat, hum "coo coo ca-choo", and long for the innocent days when Joe DiMaggio held the gaze of a nation's lonely eyes.
Many have hypothesized that "The Graduate" is about the sixties' youth rebellion. But in the end, and in the beginning if you look close enough, it's not about rebellion, but conformity on one's own terms. Ben determines to botch the date his parents set him up on. But eventually he ends up on a bus with that very same girl, she in her wedding dress, he with a ripped jacket. He has just stolen her away from a button-down fiancee, and their future together appears to be filled with laughter. Until, and this happens in a quick moment, the laughter subsides, and they realize they barely know each other. It's not groundbreaking for me to say that this scene runs the emotional gamut from exhilaration to anxiety in just the expressions on the actors' faces. But it's worth mentioning one more time for those who've missed it.
I didn't expect it to be, but "The Graduate" is still fresh today, more than thirty years after its first release. And it's also about a lot more than adultery, post-graduate misery, and romantic love. It has much critical to say about the generation from whence it sprang. I suspect Mike Nichols, whose direction is whimsical and witty without ever being overbearing, and Buck Henry/Calder Willingham, whose screenplay abounds with sharp jokes and sharper observations about human nature, deserve a lot of the credit. Regardless, "The Graduate" is one of those rare films whose appeal and importance hasn't lessened over time; in fact, on both counts, it may have increased.


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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Channing burns, Stiles is hot; still, "Business" is lukewarm, March 18, 2002
Set in a world of emptiness and loneliness (have you ever seen an airport so barren?), "The Business of Strangers" is one of those instances where a film would probably work better as a stage play. It's small cast and finite settings would work well in a theatre, but waste the vast potential that cinema has to offer. The only stage characteristic it's lacking is depth.
That being said, it is a film. What are its merits as such?
In a story such as this, where a young free spirit encounters a middle-aged corporate lifer, the tendency is for the audience to be made to empathize with the younger character. What "The Business of Strangers" does best is to reverse this cliche. Witness an early scene in an elevator. Paula (Julia Stiles) notices the leers of the men around her, and decides to play that she and Julie (Stockard Channing) have just come from a problematic lovemaking session. Usually, under these circumstances, Julie would become flustered and later scold Paula for her embarrassment. But not here. Instead, after a moment of contemplation (you can see Channing weighing the pros and cons of jumping in), she turns on her quick wit and give as good as she gets. It's the first moment where the audience feels unbalanced, like the movie might actually have something new and provocative to say. This unbalance, which is a true joy when it comes up, only reappears in spurts; the rest of the movie is an uneven blend of the banal and the sublime.
Julia Stiles, for the most part, is good in her role as an uninhibited young writer, working in a "money job" temporarily to pay her bills. She never softens Paula; she's unwilling to give in to the temptation to make this mostly despicable character sympathetic. Kudos to Stiles for that. Unfortunately, she has momentary lapses of craft where a subtle moment is botched, played broadly and artificially. It's startling, enough to take the audience out of the voyeuristic experience of watching someone's reality, making them realize that it's only a flawed movie.
Stockard Channing, as the yin to Stiles' yang, is dead-on perfect. She's never filmed from a flattering angle and never well lit. It's certainly not a glamorous part. Julie, on the brink of the ultimate success of her career, has little or no success in her personal life. Her secretary is her best friend. Her ex-husband is 12 years gone, remarried with children. Her own maternal longing keeps rearing its ugly head. And her happiness is regulated through a Zoloft-heavy chemical regimen. Even with all that, Channing still comes across as luminous, strong, dominant, and in control. She says that repressing her happiness for the sake of her career was her choice, and she's not bitter about it. Usually, you don't believe someone when they say this. But you do here. The character is complex, and Channing is up to the challenge of making her real. Julie makes strong choices repeatedly in playing Paula's head games. And even though she is scared and nearly trumped on several occasions, she has enough resolve to save face time and time again. Channing gets full credit for making this tired little exercise nearly a pretty good movie.
Blame, I feel, goes to writer/director Patrick Stettner. His first full-length feature certainly aims for relevance, but it falls short. He tries to say something about the corporate workplace, women's place in it, relationships between men and women, sexual assault, sexual liberation, chemical dependence, rebellion, wasted youth, and repressed happiness. But he spreads himself too thin, never gathering up enough steam to make a relevant point on any of these topics. The dreamy way he plays some scenes was distracting, in that it undercut their reality. And the musical score he chooses feels like it was ripped off wholesale from "American Beauty".
Stettner's only strength is in his casting. For all her flaws, Stiles is still quite good. Channing, while being head and shoulders above everything else in this film, still manages to fit in nicely. These two women, with their fine chemistry together, make the film worthwhile.


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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Derivative, flawed... but still quite fun, March 18, 2002
Imagine if someone described the plot of a movie, newly released, like this:
"A Roman General, framed for killing the Emperor, is sentenced to death. But he manages to flee. His family is murdered as retribution, and he ends up as a slave, sold into the gladiatorial battles. There, he ends up slaughtering the man who set him up, the new Emperor. Oh, and the gladiator can see dead people. And Bruce Willis is his shrink."
What would you think about that? Pretty derivative, no? Now listen to this plot of a newly released movie:
"A burly misanthropic giant meets up with a fuzzy motormouth outsider whom he can't stand. They embark on a quest of sorts, to reunite a baby with its family. On the way, they encounter a scoundrel who wants to steal the baby away for his own purposes. In the end, the misanthrope and the motormouth become true friends, the baby is returned home, and the scoundrel is thwarted. Oh, and it's all done with sophisticated computer graphics."
It's "Shrek". And "Monsters Inc.". And (if you haven't seen this coming by now, I suspect the rest of what you're about to read will make little sense) it's also "Ice Age". Given that it takes years for a CGI film to go from story to theatre, is it fair to judge this movie based on what came before it? Of course. As the old aphorism goes, "Timing is everything".
"Ice Age" does have some wonderfully original moments. An encounter with a flock of Dodo birds is at once ridiculous for it's slapstick physical comedy, and morbid because it's made quite plain that the Dodo is not long for this Earth. There's a moment when we learn the psychological history of one of the main characters, through plainly animated cave paintings, that's informative without beating the audience over the head. And, of course, there's the buck-toothed squirrel, ineffectually trying to hide away his acorn, to varying degrees of disastrous results. This last example offers quite the paradox: it is the comic relief in a movie that purports to be a comedy.
I say this because the rest of the movie is not really that funny. It's tense at times, and often dramatic, but rarely funny. That is, unless you've never heard a joke before. Then you might chuckle and guffaw at the newness of it all. But the cliched attempts at humour usually fell flat.
Which is odd when the three lead voice actors are such fine comedians in their own right. Ray Romano is miscast as a disagreeable wooly mammoth. His naturally deadpan Kermit-the-Frog voice is no match for Manfred's sorrow. Denis Leary, an acidic and vitriolic comic, would seem a perfect choice for a hungry saber-toothed tiger. But he's reigned in way too much, and is barely able to portray menace. And John Leguizamo, who I've always found has a tendency to try to do too much, tries to do too much. Saddling his Sid the sloth with an over-the-top lispy voice doesn't make his antics any funnier. In fact, it detracts from them. If Sid had been played straight, he might have been a riotous comic creation. As it is, I found him annoying. These three fairly weak characters are thrust into a stale (see above) story, and results are uninspiring.
To be fair, even though their personalities were lacking, the three characters, and the rest of the film's menagerie, are rendered wonderfully by the computer graphics. Going for less a realistic quality than a clean cartoonish feel, the physicality of the characters is wonderful. I was tickled at the way Sid could move, his head and neck acting almost as a fifth limb. The power and grace of the tigers and the mammoth were marvelous. Not to mention the liberties taken with animals we're well acquainted with: a pair of rhinos have ludicrously complicated, but aesthetically pleasing, horns.
The film's landscape is also quite breathtaking. It could have been easy, seeing as the background is mostly snow, to make it bland. But the mountain ranges appear regal and gargantuan, and the valleys have overpowering depth. And I was truly impressed with the way snow was used. It looked and acted like real snow would, malleable and tactile with a visceral coldness to it.
So for its brief moments of hilarity, and its stunning visuals, I can recommend "Ice Age" as a film worth seeing. Just don't expect anything epochal (pun intended).


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