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William Sommerwerck "grizzled geezer" RSS Feed (Renton, WA USA)

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Straw Dogs (Unrated Version) [Blu-ray]
Straw Dogs (Unrated Version) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Dustin Hoffman
Offered by Boothill Sales
Price: $16.69
42 used & new from $6.50

4.0 out of 5 stars "When man traps are illegal, only criminals will have man traps.", August 20, 2014
It's easy to interpret this film as a "shabby little shocker" that appeals to the audience's most-depraved feelings. The audience anxiously awaits the final showdown with The Bad Guys, hoping they'll expire in brutally unpleasant ways -- and it's not disappointed. But -- dangerous though it is to try to read the mind of a deceased director -- I think Peckinpah's intentions were more than a simple gorefest.

Let's start with the casting. To view David Sumner as a coward is a mistake. Dustin Hoffman is a small, slender man. So we can't accuse him cowardice for feeling fearful when around large, nasty people.

Then there's his occupation, changed from English professor in the novel, to mathematician (specifically, one studying the structure of stars). Physics is largely a mathematical study, so David is a man involved with the most-fundamental principles of the universe. That's his job -- discovering principles.

His failing (if he has one), is the belief that human beings are sufficiently rational to respect the law. He respects it, in protecting a likely murderer from the people who want to kill him: "This is my home. You have no right to do him harm." There is no surprise /whatever/ when he moves to protect himself. He isn't a wussy intellectual finally discovering his manhood, but a principled human being standing up for what he's always believed in.

The villain of the piece is his wife. She's a tease, a slut, and a sniveling coward. Though the friction between David and the town would have existed anyhow, it is she who makes everything worse, indirectly provoking the final confrontation.

This is a film worth seeing and discussing -- assuming you have friends who actually discuss movies.

A Streetcar Named Desire (The Original Restored Version) [Blu-ray Book]
A Streetcar Named Desire (The Original Restored Version) [Blu-ray Book]
DVD ~ Marlon Brando
Price: $19.99
44 used & new from $16.76

5.0 out of 5 stars classic film, beautiful transfer, August 18, 2014
This is a review of the Blu-ray edition. It restores the material censored by the Breen Office and the Legion of Decency. The PG rating is absurd; the material justifies a PG-13.

The story has a dark humor I hadn't caught before. Stanley's passion for food is as strong as his lust for women. When he eats, he stuffs his face. Kazan (who also directed the play) properly keeps the focus on Blanche, without letting Stanley's presence overwhelm her.

It's hard not to feel sympathy for Stanley. He's oversexed, rude, and brutish -- but not stupid. If it's true that rape is an act of violence, not sex, that is what Stanley commits on Blanche. He knows from the start that she's not the delicate, "virginal" creature she pretends to be, and resents a slut calling him a greasy Pollock. His attack seems to be revenge for a phony "high-toned" woman belittling him -- especially one who's trying to seduce him. (The film alters the play by having Stella leave Stanley as "punishment" for what he did to Blanche.)

The transfer is magnificent (apparently from the negative), with deep, almost perfect blacks, and retains the photography's air of decay and desperation. The supplemental material (//in addition to// the commentaries) comprises several hours on Kazan's career, the making of the film, the play's production, etc. I also appreciated Alex North's score more than I had previously. It might not impress on the first hearing, because his "sleazy" music has become of a cliché -- but he was apparently the first major film composer to write such a score.

A terrific movie with classic performances, especially Malden's.

The Piano [Blu-ray]
The Piano [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Hunter
Price: $7.53
34 used & new from $4.76

3.0 out of 5 stars ultimately pointless, August 1, 2014
This review is from: The Piano [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Peeping Tom" is one of the worst films I've ever seen. The title character is a psychotic photographer who impales his models with the spiked leg of his tripod. For some reason, the writer (Leo Marks) decided to give the character a complex backstory, showing how his father's experiments on the child drove him to psychosis.

The backstory is so heavily contrived and implausibly convoluted that it makes little sense. And it wasn't necessary. As we have examples of insane people all around us (eg, Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Bachmann), there's little need to explain why any particular person is crazy. Even "Psycho" (an infinitely superior film) doesn't absolutely need the psychiatrist's explanation of Norman's obsessive attachment to his mother. Most people would still "get it".

Unfortunately, examples of women who stop talking at the age of six and communicate through their piano playing are rare. So rare that it's difficult to grasp what's going on. Ada even admits that she doesn't know why. The result is that we don't really understand why she does what she does. This is fatal to good drama.

In short... Ms Campion has things happening because she //wants// them to happen -- not because they grow in a comprehensible way out of Ada's character and personality. If we don't understand a character's motivations -- good or bad -- why should we be interested in the character?

I find it particularly annoying that Ada's playing tells us virtually nothing about who she is, or how she feels. She seems locked in her own little world, and if communicating, it is only with herself. What is the point of a character who communicates through a musical instrument -- and then her not saying anything musically? Michael Nyman is a serious "classical" composer, yet he can't find any way to convey Ada's feelings through her music. (To give an extreme and unsubtle counter-example, consider Herrmann's "Concerto Macabre" at the end of "Hangover Square".)

I suspect Ms Campion was worried this story could easily fall into cheap sentimentality, so she held back. But she held back too much, failing to create a comprehensible character. This is not good storytelling.

Great idea -- botched execution.
Comment Comments (5) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 10, 2014 7:33 AM PDT

The Horn Blows at Midnight
The Horn Blows at Midnight
DVD ~ Jack Benny
Price: $21.99
21 used & new from $13.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Not the disaster Benny liked to claim it was..., July 24, 2014
This review is from: The Horn Blows at Midnight (DVD)
Jack Benny made a mini-career out of poking fun at this box-office bomb. But it isn't a bad film, by any means.

Unlike Bob Hope, who had a long and generally successful screen career, Benny made few films, and not many were successful. This was probably because there was no way Benny could be construed as a romantic lead. "Horn"'s failure isn't due to an unfunny script or poor production values (some of the sets are lavish), but probably the fact that we know right from the start that Benny's character is dreaming. As the Earth /isn't/ going to be destroyed, the audience has no reason for emotional investment in the characters or their situation.

"Horn" unavoidably anticipates "Wings of Desire". There's a scene in which Benny -- who has no experience as a mortal -- enters a delicatessen and orders all sorts of food, to learn what food tastes like.

There's a scene in which an angel takes a picture of Benny with an "instant-picture" view camera -- two years /before/ Edwin Land demonstrated practical instant photography to the American Optical Society. Land showed "Horn" at Polaroid's 1945 Christmas party, and when this scene came on, told his employees "That's what we're going to do."

"Horn" originally appeared on a two-disk LaserDisc set with "George Washington Slept Here" (a better film that anticipates "Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House" and "The Money Pit"). It's unfortunate both films aren't available in a two-disk DVD set at a budget price -- they're both worth seeing once.

Wings of Desire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Wings of Desire (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Bruno Ganz
Offered by American_Standard
Price: $24.59
46 used & new from $17.90

5.0 out of 5 stars definitely a unique experience, July 24, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
I first saw this film several years ago, then decided to watch it again the other day. My initial reaction had been one of amazement. I'd never seen anything like it. I sat there mesmerized.

The second viewing was not so overwhelming. I got the feeling my first reaction was due mostly to the film's strangeness. Much of the story is told through the characters' inner thoughts, which strike me as too-often overly complex or unduly "philosophical". They might not come across that way in German, but they seem that way in English. It's only at the end when the trapeze artist and the ex-angel meet, and she says she's tired of accidents and coincidence, and wants a relationship that has innate meaning, that I felt deeply moved.

Whether this is a truly "great" film I leave up to the viewer -- but it's a film you must see.

This is a review of the MGM DVD. Visually, it does not impress. The sepia sequences have a blotchy, sometimes smeary look to them. The color sequences are okay, but don't create a strong contrast with the sepia. (This is difficult to judge, as I have no idea what Wenders had in mind.) I suspect that a proper Blu-ray transfer would more-accurately depict the film as it was intended.

The Quick and the Dead [Blu-ray]
The Quick and the Dead [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Sharon Stone
Price: $10.20
59 used & new from $3.21

4.0 out of 5 stars The reason so many people don't "get" this film is that it's actually a comedy., July 24, 2014
Many of Sam Raimi's films are comic, on some level. Though written and acted as a "serious" film, "The Quick and the Dead" is actually a send-up of Western gun-fight clichés, with the good guy who rides into town to straighten out things now a good //gal//. How else do you explain a bullet hole in someone's chest that lets a beam of light pass through?

The high points of this intentional silliness come with Russel Crowe taking out multiple bad guys by shooting with two rifles //over his shoulders//, and a series of "Vertigo" dolly zooms that run so long and cover such an extreme zoom range that you can't help laughing out loud.

All of this in an otherwise straight-faced film completely devoid of campiness or self-awareness. It's anchored by Gene Hackman's patented Lex-Luthor-psycho performance, which is wholly convincing.

The cinematography is gorgeous, and the cast surprising, with such people as Pat Hingle, Woody Strode, Lance Henriksen, and Roberts Blossom.

Though gory and just plain nasty, this is a perfect party film. And that's a compliment.

InSinkErator Evolution Excel 1.0 HP Household Garbage Disposer
InSinkErator Evolution Excel 1.0 HP Household Garbage Disposer
Price: $307.99
52 used & new from $252.55

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a truly fine product, July 14, 2014
Some years back, the cheapo GE waste disposer that came with my condo "went south". It would run for ten seconds, then cut out. (I had to press its circuit breaker to get it to run again.) I put up with this for about a year, then started shopping for a replacement.

The place I worked had an InSinkErator disposer in its break room, and I noticed how quiet it was. Assuming InSinkErator's claims were valid, I bought the "Evolution" for a good price at a well-known hardware store.

Not wanting to pay a plumber, I decided to install it myself. The problem -- if you live by yourself -- is that you need at least three arms to simultaneously hold the disposer at the right height and properly center it. After some tsuris, I go it into place.

I've never regretted the purchase. It isn't /perfectly/ quiet -- how could any waste disposer be? -- but it's quiet enough that I can play chamber music in the adjacent living room without the "Evolution" drowning it out. And I can run it in the middle of the night without worrying about waking the neighbors. (The GE sounded as if it been manufactured by GE's jet-engine division.) The "Evolution" is notable for its lack of "rattling" sounds.

Two related features stand out. If the "Evolution" jams, it will stop and automatically reverse. Similarly, it reverses direction every time it starts up. I sometimes stop it, pause, then start it again to grind the waste from a different direction.

The low price suggests that InSinkErator will be discontinuing the "Evolution" (though I don't know that as a fact). It's hard to see how a replacement could be significantly better. I have absolutely no hesitation recommending it.

PS: I completely forgot. There is no industry standard for the location of a disposer's inlet and outlet. Therefore... If you are replacing an existing disposer (regardless of brand), you might need to rearrange the plumbing so the new disposer (regardless of brand) will fit. This isn't difficult. All you need is some ABS pipe and a can of cement. Note that people tend to throw the plastic plumbing pieces into the wrong bin, so the exact piece you're looking for might be hard to find.

Rustlers' Rhapsody
Rustlers' Rhapsody
DVD ~ Thomas Abbott
Offered by Help Me Ronda Things
Price: $11.95
54 used & new from $1.03

2.0 out of 5 stars This was written by Hugh Wilson?, June 30, 2014
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Rustlers' Rhapsody (DVD)
Readers should know that the version I'm reviewing runs 88 minutes, the same time given on IMDb. But it does seem to be "missing something", and I'm inclined to believe those reviewers who think scenes have been removed (for TV, perhaps?). It really doesn't matter, because "RR" quickly sinks beneath the waves five minutes after it starts.

Hugh Wilson is best known as the producer of "WKRP in Cincinnati", a classic sitcom. (When I watched re-runs a year ago, I was pleasantly surprised that it was even better than I remembered.) He's been associated with other excellent shows, and created the outstanding "Frank's Place". But his movie record is decidedly checkered. Most of his films have been critically panned comedies.

"RR" tries to spoof classic B Westerns by transplanting one of their greatest stars -- Rex O'Herlihan -- into a modern color+widescreen Western. Wilson doesn't seem to know that a good story requires some sort of conflict to drive it. In this case, the most-obvious conflict would be to treat the story as a //double// fish-out-of-water tale -- Rex doesn't understand the modern-sensibilities Western he finds himself in, while that story's characters can't comprehend a singing "good-guy" cowboy dressed in ridiculous clothing.

In the right hands, this could be very funny, with Western-movie clichés (both old and recent) naturally colliding to great comic effect. Instead, Wilson trots out each cliché, throws it in the audience's face, then //explains// it. It never works. The low point is G W Bailey (an unappealing actor taking Jack Elam's role in "Support Your Local Sheriff!") screwing up a classic gag line, then //explaining// it to the audience. You've got to be kidding, Mr Wilson. (Would that he were.)

The story builds to what is a terrific comic idea -- that to be a true "good guy", you have to be not merely a heterosexual, but a //confident// heterosexual. It never occurs to Wilson that Rex -- coming from an era of asexual cowpokes -- might not know what "heterosexual" means. (Throughout the film, he says he knows everything that's going to happen (in a general sort of way). How do you get humor out of that?) Nor do we see him finally gaining his "confidence" with the virgin hooker. (This appears to be the missing scene.)

The climax -- in which all the bad guys kill each other -- is probably intended as a spoof of "The Wild Bunch". But it fails to provoke even the faintest snicker.

Wilson's dialog is lame, labored, and logorrheic. Despite "RR"'s relatively short running time, I found myself nodding off at several points. It's not merely tedious, but actively boring.

The PG rating is absurd. The talk about sex and sexuality easily pushes "RR" into PG-13 territory.

A terrible "comedy", with perhaps two (count 'em -- two) solid jokes. Not recommended -- unless you want an object lesson in how not to make a good movie.

Mrs. Doubtfire [Blu-ray]
Mrs. Doubtfire [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Robin Williams
Offered by Media Favorites
Price: $25.99
21 used & new from $8.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "Tootsie" lite, June 11, 2014
This review is from: Mrs. Doubtfire [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)
"Mrs Doubtfire" is a watered-down version of "Tootsie" -- an actor has professional problems (he's "too serious" about his work, alienating people), and disguises himself as a woman to obtain employment. In the process of pretending to be someone he isn't, the actor develops a better understanding of himself and his relationship with other people.

"Tootsie" is rightly considered a classic (it was one of the films analyzed in my screenwriting class), primarily because it's built around the millennia-old issue of how men and women relate to each other, and we accept the preposterous situation, because it is not, per se, the story's focus, "Mrs Doubtfire" is about the narrower concern of the place of the wife and husband in a marriage, and how it affects their children. The initial situation is realistic, but the events growing out of are contrived.

"Mrs Doubtfire" can't decide whether it's a drama about divorce, or a cross-dressing farce. It succeeds almost perfectly at the latter (despite too many scenes of Williams switching his costume), but largely fails at the former. Both Daniel and Miranda need to make attitude adjustments -- he recognizing that he can be an adult with his children (and they'll still love him), she acknowledging that she has largely abandoned her children for her career, and has no right to complain that he's giving the kids the attention they crave. Daniel's change is well-dramatized (eg, when Mrs D tosses the TV remote in the fishtank and insists the kids do their homework), but Miranda's is not. Sally Field's character wavers between firmness and sentimentality, without any plausible conflict. (I ascribe this to Chris Columbus's weak directing. A better director (and possibly a better script) would have found a better balance between the drama and the comedy.)

Robin Williams' makeup is nothing short of startling, rightly winning the Makeup Oscar. Nevertheless, we're expected to believe that, like Clark Kent, his disguise is invisible. Williams' voice is instantly recognizable (even when doing impressions), and Mrs Doubtfire is so obviously Williams-in-drag that one wonders how his wife and children could be fooled for more than a few seconds.

There are two major technical errors. The dialog for an animated film is recorded //before// the drawings are made. Cosmetic appliances (especially ones as complex as Daniel's) usually take hours to apply, and are normally thrown away after a single use.

The PG-13 rating is for vulgar and sexually suggestive language that's appropriate for the story. This is not really a film for pre-teens.

The Blu-ray image is grainless and creamy-smooth. If there's a loss of sharpness and detail, it isn't obvious or bothersome. There's a lot of supplemental material, including multiple takes of Williams ad-libbing.

I have no problem recommending "Mrs Doubtfire" for a single viewing. But (for me) it's not one of those "annual viewing required" films.

Four Weddings & A Funeral [Blu-ray]
Four Weddings & A Funeral [Blu-ray]
DVD ~ Grant
Price: $10.26
27 used & new from $6.17

4.0 out of 5 stars only the Gareth/Matthew relationship rings true, May 30, 2014
This film seems to have been 15 years ahead of time. Given the current belief that same-sex marriage is actually //promoting// other-sex marriage, it deserves a re-evaluation.

Love at first sight (for reasons //other// than sexual) does occur (it's happened to me), when you know in a moment //that person// is the one you've been looking for. This is virtually impossible to dramatize, because the audience needs to know //why// the attraction occurs -- and that requires understanding the people before they meet.

This is where the film falls down, particularly with regard to Charles (Hugh Grant). He's winsome/winning (in a clumsy sort of way), and it's obvious the women who like him aren't attracted //solely// for sexual reasons. But what are those reasons? Are they fond of puppies?

The attraction among the heterosexual characters seems almost taken for granted, as if "that's the way things are". They might be, but we still wonder why. It's particularly annoying that we don't really know why Carrie passed over Charles for Hamish, or why they broke up. It seems to be a convenient plot twist to throw Charles for a loop. (I often watch "Frasier". The series had 11 years to develop its characters, and by the end we have a pretty good idea who they are how they will react in a given situation. This is difficult to do in a two-hour film.)

Only Gareth and Matthew's relationship is convincing. Gareth (played by the gay-in-real-life Simon Callow) is a sweet/loud/vulgar person who could easily attract friends of either sex. We have no trouble understanding what Matthew sees in him -- in part because male/male friendships are more-comprehensible than male/female. When Matthew delivers the funeral eulogy, we are genuinely touched, in a way that doesn't occur when the hetero couples get married.

Ultimately, the film has little new to say about relationships and marriage. Perhaps it isn't supposed to, but that doesn't make it any less disappointing.

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