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Attorney (since 1972), playwright, critic.
Ocassionally elected liberal Republican.
Lecturer on cultural history and theatre at New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, NJ (2000 to present)
Decent Readers' Digest Version (but Bring Back Columbus and Continuity Checkers!)
Potter fans rejoice (if only moderately): the latest installment in the film saga comes closer to the high standard of film adaptation set by the *first* two films than the last two over praised "mooovie-movies," even if in the slapdash "best of the highlights" approach the latest director takes (despite attention lavished on the big fight scenes near the end), we only have a decent Readers' Digest Potter with the bones of the plot and little if any of the motivations or substance - or even locations we have come to know and love.
The ubiquitous argument about how "radical editing" was unavoidable given the 875 page original book is essentially a nonsense. The problem is not that so many plot lines were shorn (they were, but by in large that's OK and not the reason the film doesn't totally satisfy), but that the core story is so sloppily told with so little care to motivations.
The movie assumes that most of the audience knows the story and will forgive story changes which will allow the director to delete characters (Dobby for instance) yet stick some characters (Kreacher) in for a scene or two but omit the only REASONS they were in the BOOK in the first place.
Not to give away plot revisions, which are in fact relatively minor - ranging from who proposed the use of "The Room of Requirement" to who exposes its use (a particularly nasty change), to how the supply of "Veritas Serum" is supposedly used (or the missing explanation necessary as a result of the change as to why it didn't work) - but a simple list of what is left OUT of the movie from the book (details which need NOT have taken significant screen time if any additional at all - NOT major sub-plots) may serve as warning against disappointment:
*The coaches which the Thestrals pull (they're mere dogcarts now). *Quiddich (playing or bans even referred to). *Confiscation of brooms (requiring alternate transportation to distant points). *Lessons (of any kind except in the D.A.!). *House Elves (except for two brief, non-plot appearances from "Kreacher"). *The Invisibility Cloak. *The Marauders' Map. *Pensives. *St. Mungo's. *Ghosts AND poltergeists. *Cleaning of the Headquarters of the Order. *The *concept* of "Secret Keeper". *The Hour Glasses and the House Point system (why not, since they omitted the scoring from the contests in ...Goblet of Fire!?) *Dumbledore's Office (and access to it or lack thereof). *How the D.A. was named (or how Umbridge heard about it). *The enchanted Galleons communication system (or any substitute). *Any explicit blockage/monitoring of student communication including the Flue Network and Owls! *The Quibbler *Any censorship of outside publications. *Umbridge's racism (or WHY her actions against the centaurs are so provocative). *Attacks on Hagrid AND/OR McGonagall *Outside O.W.L. examiners. *Why Filch likes Umbridge so much. *Any hint as to why Neville may be such an important character - or might have been even MORE important. *Magical swamps. *ANY attacks on Umbridge at all or student resistance to her regime (except at the *one* time Rowling specifically made it clear the Weasley's at least would NOT - when it would interrupt important student activities - specifically when they are sitting for O.W.L. exams!) *The elimination of *any* member of the Order of the Phoenix from Hogwart's grounds *except* Dumbledore so there was a REASON Harry couldn't call on them for assistance in a crisis. *Who MADE "the prophesy," why it is important & why it is a secret. *How the Dementors came to BE in Little Wingins. *Any celebration of Umbridge's departure (her *rescue* is not even mentioned) and most stunning of all, *HARRY'S SCAR* (it literally isn't ON his forehead until it makes one brief, suddenly darkly drawn in appearance late in the movie)!
OK, readers may well wonder how they COULD tell the story without these things (except for the final fight scene, this film eliminates more actual MAGIC from Hogwarts than Umbridge does!), but still, over all the film works. Rowlings provided a rattling good allegory of right wing governmental repression.
Imelda Staunton's Umbridge is an evil joy to behold (even if her best scenes were eliminated), and Evanna Lynch's sublime Luna Lovegood is a true find (even if the REASON for her character to be IN the book - her publisher father - has also been eliminated). Most of the student cast is growing wonderfully into their roles - from the three leads to (especially) Neville Longbottom.
The utterly silly (frequently noisy!) plot changes surrounding The Room of Requirement or even the astoundingly stupid and time wasting taking down of all the portraits on the Hogwart's walls can't undercut what remains a fast moving fun story for reader and non-reader alike. Those who know the book will be aware how much better this movie could have been. Those who don't won't have to worry too much about it - despite the odd plot line left hanging and action curiously unmotivated - director Yates keeps things spinning along so swiftly, most won't notice 'till long after the interminable crawl at the end is a distant memory.
Jam & Jerusalem (2006)
For fans of countryside ennui only
OK, forewarned that the first episode was exceedingly slow, but promised that later episodes grew in depth and gentle village humor, I slogged through for the first five (a fan friend shared the first seven episodes with me in the usually strong theory that immersing oneself in characters one can lose yourself in their world) and skipped to the finale which involved amateur theatricals and somehow seemed emblematic of the whole enterprise. If there was something magnificent in six, I may never know.
The portrait of British countryside life is doubtless strong and faithful, but I guess I'm too much of a city boy. Fans of "Last of the Summer Wine" (though it had stronger character development) or "The Vicar of Dibley" (if you thought the humor in the latter is too intrusive) will doubtless take to this series like ducks to water, but others be warned: this has nothing of the warm character development of "All Creatures Great and Small" or the sophisticated humor of "Yes Minister" or "Hot Lead" (but also blessedly none of the camp of "Are You Being Served").
It is what it is, but I enjoyed my actual time in the British countryside with real people more than my few hours with this strangely insulting show.
Wonderful mindless fun - awfully good mindFUL fun
RATATOUILLE, the latest deservedly successful Pixar entry in the animation sweepstakes is effortlessly the best summer movie for families who want an outing that won't insult the kids and won't go over the heads of the adults. It really does have all the elements for cross-over cartoon success: cute fuzzy characters, front loaded (but "comic" - no gore and no one dies despite many shotgun blasts and talk of poison) violence, physical discomfort (as the "little chef" and his human counterpart work out their communication system), sexless romance (the human and the girlfriend he's desperate to impress) and a comic villain who the fuzzy character can defeat repeatedly in beautifully plotted farce choreography.
The capper, of course, is that the film also wants to be an allegory on people being judged on their ABILITIES rather than their appearances, being *honest* about those abilities (the fuzzy little guy is a great natural and self-trained cook, the human is neither) and the importance of TEAMWORK (the real trouble comes when egos get in the way). So far so good.
Unfortunately, it also has a massive caveat to the allegory and the enjoyment (knocking two points off the rating for me): rats in the kitchen. Well, um, yes, that will give some people pause if they actually think about what they are seeing (adults are inclined to do that). Rats are legally verboten in most places of food preparation - and it has nothing to do with anything that is their fault. They ARE cute and fuzzy, but they also may carry ticks and fleas which frequently carry disease. Living in less than cleanly places, they walk through places and things with high bacterial counts. Unhealthy.
The film is brave enough to realize they have to address this little problem - the baggage more sophisticated viewers who are flocking to Pixar's best work WILL being in with them - and so the film backs their comic villain (his initial defeat over "the will" is far to quick and "tossed off" to be as satisfying as it should be) with a restaurant health inspector who is comically dealt with temporarily, but since the authors couldn't actually kill him off or believably convert him, they were stuck for a predictably happy ending.
In a plot twist which young audiences will have to really scramble to follow (actually they may not care, but their parents who will have to explain it to them if they do will need to pay attention) they settle for a wise, if slightly melancholy one.
Does it matter? Not as much as you might think, but it does keep what comes very close to being a classic from true greatness and leaves the rightly enthusiastic audiences with just a very, very good film. Don't miss it - there is so much clever execution to revel in - but be prepared NOT to check your mind at the door. This is a film which might be more fun if you could, but will leave you with much more to think about when you don't, even if it undercuts the allegory and some of the fun. That in itself can be very satisfying.
El diputado (1978)
Important heir to THE VICTIM, well directed and played
Released a decade after Stonewall, the same year as the more broadly successful farce LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, and almost a decade before Almodovar's break-through to the U.S. market, LAW OF DESIRE, EL DIPUTADO was a terribly important film for a generation of young gay men hungry to see their problems treated with respect and intelligence. Without even intending to, it reopened the doors to appreciating subtitled "foreign" films for many of them.
One wishes EL DIPUTADO seemed more dated today as it looks at a well meaning bisexual socialist candidate for office (and his attractive, understanding wife) in a Spain still dominated by Franco fascists using every dirty trick to hold onto power after Franco's death as the country struggled to re-establish a real democracy under King Juan-Carlos, but in vividly recalling the British landmark film, THE VICTIM, which focused on the statutes repressing gays (once rightly called "The Blackmailer's Bill of Rights"), instead it rings painfully true and even relevant.
José Sacristán as the troubled socialist Deputy, Roberto Orbea is utterly charming and holds his own in part thanks to the appropriate political charisma of María Luisa San José as his wife Carmen. One might expect the charismatic Ángel Pardo as the dangerous hustler, Nes, to be the third driving force in the film (and his scenes do sizzle), but it is the layered lost innocence of José Luis Alonso's Juanito (the street kid Orbea becomes obsessed with) on which the film and Orbea's fate turn.
In 1978, EL DIPUTADO was marketed as a "gay film," and that was probably the only way it could have been accepted then, but in more enlightened times, it stands out for any audience as an excellent examination of the hypocrisy of right wing politics, and the problems we create for good men AND women when we force them into false roles by denying them the solace and support of marriage because they love the wrong people.
Terms of Endearment (1983)
A "Chick Flick" to give a bad name to the Genre
Yes, Debra Winger is wonderful. Yes, the almost always underrated (and then recent recruit from the New York stage) Jeff Daniels gives a heartfelt real performance as the unfairly disparaged husband. Yes, perennial film favorite Shirley MacLaine chews scenery in every way imaginable and is matched every step of the way by Jack Nicholson in the first of his "how far over the top will the director let me go?" performances . . . but the bottom line is how much tolerance do you have for a film mother-in-law who tells her daughter (Winger) that any husband (Daniels) who becomes the HEAD of the English Department at a major university (or ANY similar job at the top of his profession) is a "loser" because the job requires that the couple live in a city other than where the mother is living (and "catting around" with Nicholson).
Do you believe *anything* that woman is going to say in the rest of the film?
A generation or two of husbands and boyfriends have sidled up to their wives and girlfriends (in tears after the manipulative final hospital scene) and said how wonderful the mother-daughter love bond was. But it doesn't take a major cynic to wonder if it wasn't more in the hope of "getting lucky" than genuine enjoyment of the film.
There's nothing *wrong* with honest manipulation of emotions with idealized mother/daughter ties (OR father/son or even buddy/buddy - I've seen more grown men dissolved in tears after FIELD OF DREAMS or that straight teenage boy "stroke film" TOP GUN than I have women after TERMS OF ENDEARMENT), but the underlying relationship really OUGHT to be an admirable, healthy one. Many may feel that's what TERMS OF ENDEARMENT offers, but a healthy minority of us will beg to differ.
The Deer Hunter (1978)
Brilliant cast and director; overpraised twisted propaganda
Coming soon after the United States had suffered a humiliating defeat trying to prop up a corrupt minority government in Vietnam and the unemployment rate in the "rust belt" was making national news, rising but fiscally uncontrolled director Michael Cimino assembled some of the greatest of the new generation of university trained actors for what amounts to a phony artistic commercial pandering to the great middle American "silent majority" who didn't know (and didn't care) how the world could have turned against them.
Because the story seemed "edgy" with extreme, seemingly unmotivated violence (the Vietnam torture and "Russian Roulette" scenes are all many of its fans remember from the film) and justly flaunted the layered performances which Cimino drew from his superb cast and cinematographer, many if not most critics (and the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences) hailed it as a major work of art. It holds its reputation today because the world (for many of the same reasons - not to mention the self centered world view of a couple "cowboy" presidents) has remained a violent place and frequently unfriendly to well meaning Americans. What THE DEER HUNTER actually is is a piece of S&M pornography stroking "Middle America" with the illusion that nothing is their fault and the rest of the world is even more mindlessly violent than the unemployed steelworker who defines his existence by how freely he can kill animals with his (unregulated) gun. That they can identify with; it takes no deep thought or understanding.
The tragedy (and irony) in the over-praise heaped on the excessively unpleasant (but well made) DEER HUNTER is that some years later, when Cimino directed an actual masterpiece tying together the mythology and history of the American East and West - with an only slightly less accomplished cast - HEAVEN'S GATE was eviscerated for all the same excesses the director produced to far less effect in THE DEER HUNTER, the film proved a financial disaster and destroyed the producing studio.
While the later film was epic in proportion and had sex and violence aplenty, IT lacked the S&M, torture and kinky sexual overtones - and sadly, the audience that flocked to THE DEER HUNTER. One must suspect the two were not unrelated, and THAT'S a real shame.
Black Like Me (1964)
Flawed but important book; flawed but minor movie
Obviously hampered by a small "independent" budget and the casting of James Whitmore (a fine stage actor who, unlike the original author of the book, John Howard Griffin, simply cannot believably pass for a black man) in the lead, director Carl Lerner's screenplay (co-written with Gerda Lerner and an uncredited Paul Green) shuns Griffin's chronological story telling through dated diary entries and rearranges the events Griffin told so well to surprisingly LESS dramatic effect, but it gives a movingly honest portrayal of life in the South near the start of the long over-due civil rights movement.
The year this film was released my (white) family was transferred to a suburb of Atlanta, Ga. from a Virginia suburb of Washington D.C., and enroute we were stunned to see Klansmen in full regalia out on the interstate in North Carolina inspecting cars coming down from the north. It was just one of those things one had to live with at the time - like civil rights workers being murdered and their killers, when caught, being acquitted by all white juries - but this film manages, despite honestly showing the unremitting low grade caution every black person had to live with, and the blatant racism of a few Southern whites, to also be fair to the majority which was merely oblivious to - and sometimes even quietly disapproving of the evil around them - who wouldn't intentionally hurt a black person.
This well meaning majority,unintentionally perpetuating what they saw as "something they couldn't do anything about," eventually came around - and the book helped, even if the movie went largely unseen.
One of the most effecting - but at the same time least persuasive - sections of the film comes late, when Whitmore/Griffin's character tries to justify his actions to a rising young black activist (excellently played to type by Al Freeman Jr.). As it turned out, Griffin's book actually did help in the long struggle for equality, bringing the reality of a shame to the attention of the rest of the nation which needed the reminder as it demanded and helped the South come into the 20th Century, but the film only touches on the screams of outrage from the South at the mirror being held up so honestly to something they did not wish to see.
This was only a few years after the "Stars and Bars" (the old Confederate Battle Flag alluded to so effectively in the opening credits of this film) was pointedly added to the Georgia state flag in protest to Federal Civil Rights legislation. Bigots (self identifying and otherwise) called it an emblem of "local pride and heritage" - realists saw it for what it was in the modern usage and timing: a symbol of hate, rebellion and intimidation.
Times really have changed radically in the 40+ years since this film was made, and today the movie is chiefly valuable as a document of what life was like in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Georgia during Griffin's all too brief (one month) sojourn on the other side of the color barrier. The street scenes and home details are perfectly observed. As one who lived through the period, I can testify the film is not over stated politically or socially.
The movie BLACK LIKE ME does not portray "every white person as a bigot" (though in my years growing up in the South, I never met a bigot who self-identified as one), but it does show how a rotten few can intimidate a complacent majority on any issue. As we let some politicians play "the terror card" to suspend out liberties in the 21st Century, or the pseudo-"religious" and "guilt by association cards" to deny the right to marriage to significant parts of the population at a time when stable relationships are in society's best interest, it is perhaps a lesson worth remembering. The sad thing is that for the most part, the only people who will bother to watch this flawed but decent film are for the most part the ones who already know.
Interesting ("retro" on so many levels) Indie Success
No, it isn't Disney, and it isn't even quite Shakespeare (the almost too clever but crafty subtitle "Sealed With A Kiss" tells us that), but as a throwback to one and a light introduction to the other, this very little (77 minute) film deserves to find an appreciative audience.
The one-man, single cell "flat" animation is smoothly done and handsome. While the brown and yellow Romeo and Juliet seals (to distinguish between the Montague and Capulet herds) are closer to the look of Casper the Ghost and friends than the more detailed "flat" animation from the corporate giants at Disney, Pixar or Bluth, it is several steps ahead of the still popular (among the undemanding young) work associated with Rankin-Bass. The standard Nibbelink maintains is consistent and impressive. Even the Elephant Seal "Prince" who stands in for Shakespeare's Duke who threatens any who would disturb the streets of his Venice does not recall the visual sloppiness of the broad lines Ursula, the evil witch in Disney's LITTLE MERMAID was rendered in.
The script might have tried a little harder (it omits more Shakespearian characters than it had to - where's the nurse? - and while it feels free to drop in "famous" Shakespearian quotes from other plays at any convenient turn for the amusement of the adult audience, it could have used a few more in the actual plot without turning off the younger set), but it is coherent and even in "smoothing out" the rough edges of one of Shakespeare's most famous tragedies for overly sensitive parents, it preserves the essence of most of Shakespeare's lessons (at least as interpreted these 400 years later).
Charm is the key word here - it is a charming film, and a very nicely done one, even if it were from a major studio. From a one-man operation it's close to a miracle that any student of film or animation should put on their "must-discover" list. Even before the kids are ready for MONSTERS INC. or SHREK 1, 2 or 3, this ROMEO AND JULIET, Sealed With A Kiss would be a very good choice for a wise parent.
The Honey Pot (1967)
Modern twist on Volpone glows
Coming at the end of a prosperous string of all-star mystery films, THE HONEY POT suffered more from a lame title and timing than anything on screen when first released (an even worse title, "Up Pops Murder" didn't help when the film was first released to television).
The typically superb script and direction from Joseph L. Mankiewicz, from a play by mystery writer Frederick Knott, inspired in turn by Ben Johnson's classic play, VOLPONE, THE HONEY POT could not have had a better cast with Rex Harrison (at the top of his game) as the supposedly super-wealthy Cecil Fox mentally tilting with his secretary, Cliff Robertson, and a nosy nurse/love interest for Robertson, a very young Maggie Smith (younger viewers may be interested to see this very different performance from HARRY POTTER's Professor McGonagall - as well as her amazing Desdemona opposite Olivier's OTHELLO) and a trio of ex-loves, Edie Adams, Cappucine and Susan Hayward all in Fox's beautiful Venetian palatzo (the exterior shots are as gorgeous and the interiors).
A death happens (accident? perhaps murder?) and a Venetian police inspector, Adolfo Celi, enters the picture (lovely side note as his family at home is enraptured with PERRY MASON on American TV more than his real-life work) and the film starts to leave Ben Johnson's Volpone behind and delve into more complex games.
To be frank, this film has long been among my favorites - I have been accused of teaching an entire university course on Mystery Writers just to develop an audience for it. Showing the film at the conclusion of the course, after considering the progression of great mystery writing from Poe to Conan Doyle to Christie, Hammett and beyond, this marvelous under-appreciated work from Knott & Mankiewicz never fails to grab them. It's well worth a look for anyone interested in good literate fun, great performances and writing that don't depend on splatter gore, special effects or CGI.
While the ongoing box-office clout of stars Harrison and Hayward got the film a limited VHS release, it's hard to a copy today - but well worth the search.
Wonderful film...if only it had a better title.
Creature Comforts (2007)
The British claymation series putting "witty" conversations taped from "average" people in the mouths of "cute" fanciful creatures at least had the advantage for non-British viewers of seeming droll and the kind of rarefied cultured humor you couldn't get on U.S. television. Someone made the mistake of PUTTING it on U.S. television.
Sort of like the sadly miscast American version of the sublime Brit-com COUPLING which died in a month on NBC when the same basic scripts didn't "translate" from British English to American English, what seemed droll and cultured (and just a BIT dull) in England, comes across in CREATURE COMFORTS, the American Version, as simply boredom with puppets. There's no through plot-line, no characters and after one and a half episodes watched (of the three ultimately aired), no reason to suffer through more.
The only positive thing to be said about the new summer series and the mercifully brief run it had is that the claymation is at least professionally done and coming as a set-up for the single worst show on the CBS schedule, The New Adventures of Old Christine (or "how to be a HORRIBLE mother - or person - in one interminable, unfunny lesson"), kids who wanted to stay up past their bedtime happily ran to bed rather than sit through this show, and the adults could wait to tune in until 9pm when "Two and A Half Men" (guilty pleasure) and "How I Met Your Mother" (actual quality writing) come on.
An fun cartoon unfortunately distorts expectations of stage revivals
The original 1972 stage production of GREASE was a delightful, mildly dirty salute to rock and roll and the leather jacket and poodle skirt crowd of the late 50's and VERY early 60's. It set long run records on Broadway with its low running cost. When the powers that be got around to doing the film version they blew it up out of all recognizable proportions into a bubble gum cartoon that (to everyone's surprise) captured the essential insouciance of the original. It was buoyed by the canny casting of a number of performers (not least John Travolta's Danny Zuko) who had prepared for their roles in various stage productions.
All well and good as far as that went, and the movie with its (dishonest to the period and piece) overlay of Bee Gees music and re-orchestration of the stage score became an enormous commercial hit as well.
Viewers discovering the piece today will undoubtedly have a ball with the broad thesping of Travolta (newly shorn of the baby fat so in evidence in his early Broadway run with the Andrews Sisters in a musical called OVER HERE and subsequent TV "Sweathog" role on WELCOME BACK KOTTER), the bizarrely cast but delightful Olivia Newton John ("Sandy's" supposed to be a transfer student but from Australia!?!) and Stockard Channing's Rizzo (not yet having played her career defining roles in SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION or THE BIG BUS), but those who love the original musical will always lament a bit that the solid success of the movie bodes ill to forever distort potential audience expectations and prevent a honest revival of the superior but small original stage piece.
GREASE has been back on Broadway once already at this writing (a long run revival top billing Rosie O'Donnell and later Brooke Shields, both as "Rizzo") and at this writing is scheduled for an ill cast (by a national "reality show" elimination contest) summer revival during 2007. BOTH revivals were designed to be pointedly closer to the unsubtle aesthetic of the movie than the original Broadway staging. Productions like this have to be about making money as much as about making art, but if the movie had been a bit more about making art (as the occasional superb SUCCESSFUL movie musicals since GREASE - think CHICAGO - have been), the stage revivals would have been far better and probably more successful.
Fun film, but one can't help thinking of the old (inaccurate) joke about Chinese food - an hour later you'll be hungry for some real intellectual stimulation.
Heaven's Gate (1980)
The Biggest Flaw in this Masterpiece was in the Timing
The difficulty with properly evaluating a film like HEAVEN'S GATE is knowing which HEAVEN'S GATE to evaluate. When first released to New York in November of 1980, it was a 219 epic, notoriously over budget, from self indulgent film "autor" Michael Cimino who had previously outraged and fascinated with his bloated 183 minute Viet Nam/S&M epic, THE DEER HUNTER.
The critics - whether they had praised THE DEER HUNTER or eviscerated it - let Cimino's reputation for self indulgence on both films color their view of the new film and pretty much destroyed it and him.
Within a week of the release, it was reported that the film would be withdrawn after the following weekend for "re-editing." Dozens of film fans (myself included) rushed to the city to see the ORIGINAL, then thought likely never to be seen again, cut of the film, and were amazed to find a beautiful, even dazzling, take on the history of the American West (using a specific "range war" as the allegory for the whole) unblinkered by the stereotypes of "cowboy" films of the past.
The film on the big screen was elegant in its lyric storytelling leading to the almost balletic violence of the conclusion. It was not for the short of attention span or the unsophisticated who never outgrew their Lone Ranger or Bonanza TV shows, but it was a FILM that justified the medium. When the final credits rolled for the packed house watching this universally press panned film, it was one of the few times I've been with a movie audience moved to actually applaud the achievement on the screen.
Of course the movie WAS withdrawn and edited down to the shorter (more "exhibitor friendly") 149 minute form which ironically was everything the original critics SAID the film was. With the bulk of the stately East Coast introduction eliminated, the rationale and underpinnings of the story were severely undercut and the film became not only less coherent, it ironically FELT more interminable than the half hour longer original.
To this day I remain convinced that had HEAVEN'S GATE been released FIRST and THE DEER HUNTER second, their commercial fates would also have been reversed and today we'd view HEAVEN'S GATE as the flawed classic and THE ("Best Picture" Oscar winning) DEER HUNTER as the self indulgent disaster and a monument to a mismanaged studio spinning out of control and destroyed by funding an unstable director beyond the bounds of reason in the pursuit of his "vision." It's more than a pity; it's close to an artistic tragedy. The edited version cannot, in good conscience, be recommended despite some stunning cinematography (by Vilmos Zsigmond) and surviving performances (everyone's performances were harmed by the edit, but Kristofferson, Walken and Huppert were never better). If the original release print is offered however, it is a genuine treasure to be savored on a par with and even surpassing such landmarks as von Stroheim's GREED or Griffith's INTOLERANCE.
Dark Storm (2006)
Silly Saturday afternoon fodder
It doesn't get much sillier than this for the serious sci-fi buff, but as low-expectation, old fashioned "Saturday afternoon matinée" diversion, it's entertaining enough.
A slightly overweight Stephen Baldwin, in a follow-up to an even sillier 2006 sci-fi opus, "Earth Storm" about using bombs to put a crumbling moon back together, invents a weapon using "dark matter" (apparently a more photogenic, controllable version of anti-matter) and generatable thunderstorms. Naturally, things go awry, foolish military men make stupid, ill-considered snap judgements causing even greater problems, traitors steal the weapon and (reaching the heights of "Marvel Comic silliness") Baldwin absorbs some of the "dark matter", making himself a self-generating (but only defensive for some reason - until the villain does it) weapon! The big screen Spiderman films made as much scientific sense (why can't screenwriters give us entertainment with stories JUST as exciting that gets the science right and doesn't insult our intelligence!?) but had more consistent characters and motivations.
If you can ignore the basically incredible weapon which is the McGuffin which gets the plot rolling, the piece is fun on its own terms - no worse than Disney's 1979 "Black Hole" (which famously made its title dark star a glowing whirlpool). The Disney had firmer scientific underpinnings but worse acting and special effects, so it's sort of a fair trade off.
The always engaging Rob LaBelle makes a fine scientific sidekick (who actually does most of the work - not to mention acting), and Gardiner Millar as the chief villain is solid - even when the special effects have him reenacting the last scenes of the first Indiana Jones film.
Undemanding fun, but keep your expectations low.
Red, Hot and Blue (1949)
She'll have you thinking of "Murder," she will
If you don't want to kill the late Betty Hutton (at her over-the-top over-energetic worst here) six minutes into the film, you'll probably have a good time with this Frank Loesser vehicle that disappointingly has no relationship at all to the better known and more tuneful Cole Porter stage show with Ethel Merman. There's nothing here to erase memories of Hutton's hit song "Murder He Says" from her best film, 1943's HAPPY GO LUCKY with Mary Martin.
GUYS AND DOLLS it isn't, but it is fun to see Loesser himself (who wrote the semi-score for Hutton to chew scenery through) turn in a credible acting job as a mobster who just might bump off the always irritating Hutton before her screen roommates quite reasonably get the idea. June Havoc (Gypsy Rose Lee's real life sister) is a bit long in the tooth but excellent as the chief imposed-upon roommate, as is an almost young William Frawley as Hutton's eager agent (years before he became "Uncle Charley" on TV's MY THREE SONS) and co-top billed Victor Mature as the director in the central backstage story who is also a rooming house neighbor and inexplicable boyfriend.
There are only so many twists on the familiar backstage film plot, and this RED, HOT AND BLUE bowwows most of the best from more famous films like 42ND STREET, but John Farrow and Charles Lederer's screenplay makes them almost feel fresh as it bounces pin-ball fashion from point to point.
Look for William Talman (later prosecutor Hamilton Burger on TV's PERRY MASON) and Broadway's Jack Kruschen in a couple of effective small roles.
For me, though, the high point of the film was when Percy Helton's stage manager (looking remarkably like the stage's Harold J. Kennedy) gives a perfect assessment of the star's talent following a number imposed upon him outside the stage door. THAT'S entertainment.
Murder in the Private Car (1934)
Delightful trifle - even while asking "what were they thinking!?"
Seldom will the words "what were they thinking?!" come to mind while enjoying a film as often as while watching this pseudo-mystery from the early days of sound at MGM - though not as early as the haphazard writing would suggest.
Enjoy it you will, however, as the odds and ends the entertainment are assembled from are largely quality remainders, borrowed from all kinds of other films than the mystery the title leads one to expect.
Who knows what the original mystery play ("The Rear Car") the film is based on was really like? It lacked sufficient merit to make it to Broadway (neither did "Everybody Comes To Rick's," but that didn't seem to hurt CASABLANCA much), but the stagy "thriller" aspects of the center part of the film suggest that the tossed in ingredients didn't hurt it any.
Chief among the "tossed in" ingredients is Charlie Ruggles' Godfrey Scott, a supposed "detective" occupied far more with the kind of bumbling burlesque comedy Ruggles had been perfecting since his movie debut back in 1914 (and would continue to mine right up until his death in 1970). By the 1930's Ruggles was a well recognized Hollywood commodity in such hits as Brandon Thomas' CHARLEY'S AUNT, THE SMILING LIEUTENANT, LOVE ME TONIGHT and ALICE IN WONDERLAND. MURDER IN THE PRIVATE CAR must have seemed a decidedly second tier assignment to the comedian, but he gave it his all . . . though the biggest laugh in the script may come in the credits - "Edgar Allan Woolf," one of the co-writers was clearly named after Edgar Allan POE, the founder of the modern mystery format with his "C. Auguste Dupin stories in the 1840's! So much for legitimate mystery credentials in this film.
The silly plot (a lost heiress found and at risk) had already been the subject of too many musicals and farces to be taken entirely seriously, and the film makers don't spend to much time seriously laying out the clues and red herrings even though the golden age of the murder mystery was near its peak. Instead, they pull out the stops with cinema-friendly special effects like runaway trains and (never explained) secret panels.
It starts and remains a supremely silly hodge podge, but fun nonetheless for all but the serious mystery fan the title seems to want to attract. Watch for Ruggles and Una Merkle, and don't worry so much about the title murder(s) and a good time is to be had.
Meet Nero Wolfe (1936)
A missed opportunity, but still great fun for what's there
In the 1930's, when the motion picture mystery was having a golden age and studios were sending the latest best sellers straight to film as fast as the top mystery writers could come up with new characters and scenarios, Columbia looked at the success of S.S. van Dine's Philo Vances (First National, Warner Brothers), Dashiel Hammett's Nick & Nora Charles (MGM), Earl Derr Biggers' Charlie Chans (20th Century Fox) and others building on the oft filmed legacy of Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and thought they had a winning entry in Rex Stout's soon to be classic detective Nero Wolfe.
A combination of the irascible brilliance of a Holmes (even author Rex Stout speculated on the intellectual debt if not direct lineage of Wolfe to Holmes' brother Mycroft) and the hard boiled practicality of a Sam Spade with the narrative charm of a Doctor Watson in Wolfe's side-kick/assistant, Archie Goodman, how could a series based on the new characters fail? It probably shouldn't have, but in producing a relatively faithful adaptation of Stout's first Nero Wolfe novel, "Fer de Lance" (the name of a poisonous snake that figures late in the plot), they just missed the challenging tone that won Wolfe fans on the page.
The casting of character actor Edward Arnold, famed for playing outrageous incarnations of the Devil and devilish industrialists was probably a master stroke, but fearing that such an acerbic character might not win viewers, they softened the character and made him too given to "fat man jollity" and too light on the irritated "phoeys." Legman (in more ways than one) Archie followed the unfortunate studio pattern of consigning "Dr. Watson" side-kick characters to comic relief with the miscasting of fine (all too soon to be blacklisted) character actor Lionel Stander. As conceived in both the Nero Wolfe films Columbia managed, Stander's "Archie" was eager but not the skilled detective Stout had created whose own capability made Wolfe all the more brilliant in comparison.
Failings in tone which ultimately doomed the series notwithstanding (along with the failure to find a definitive Nero - Walter Connolly essayed the role in the second and final Columbia film, the 1937 LEAGUE OF FREIGHTENED MEN, based on Stout's second Wolfe novel), MEET NERO WOLFE is a highly entertaining film in its own right.
The murder on the golf course is beautifully filmed with clues clearly enough laid out the sharp viewer can have the fun of guessing ahead of Archie and Nero "whodunnit" and why. Even with too many self conscious laughs from his character, it's a pleasure to see the lighter side of Edward Arnold for a change, and while wrong for a true "Archie Goodman," Lionel Stander gives one of his best performances, and isn't quite as befuddled as Nigel Bruce's classic (but decidedly non-Sherlockian) Dr. Watson.
1936's MEET NERO WOLFE isn't the great Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodman we would eventually get from Maury Chaykin and Timmothy Hutton on TV's A&E Network, but it's solid entertainment and an interesting "might-have-been" look at what should have been one of the classic 30's mystery series in the hands of a studio more sensitive to the demands of producing a classic mystery series.
The Mating Season (1951)
Wonderful cast; old story - but all's well in the end
It's impossible to say how faithful this well made if slightly maudlin slice of domestic trivia is to the play it was "suggested by" (something called "Maggie" - the name of the Gene Tierney bride character in the movie - that never played Broadway - no matter; neither did "Everybody Comes to Rick's" and that turned out all right), but the "suggested by" billing argues for "not very." Once it finally gets rolling - the first thirty minutes are given over to the maudlin old story of a genuinely nice young man, John Lund, marrying up and slightly ashamed of his past while trying not to show it - the fine cast (one of Thelma Ritter's many deserved Oscar nominations as the groom's working mother) makes the most of what becomes a charming domestic comedy of errors. "Mildred Pierce" this isn't - almost everyone in the film is "good people" and likable aside from the bride's ex-boyfriend who wants to steal the groom's business projects as well as break-up the marriage. Naturally, Ms. Ritter plants herself firmly in the way of any such schemes - much to her son's stunned consternation (having not found a way to tell his wife who the new "maid" is!).
When the bride's spoiled mother (Miriam Hopkins in one of her brightest performances) comes to stay, anything maudlin is long forgotten and high farce takes over. Slow starting the film may be, it winds up a delightful way to spend 100 minutes . . . mainly thanks to Ritter and the old studio system which provided her with a flawless supporting cast and direction.
Of side interest to anyone born after 1965, the wonderful set direction - especially of the McNulty apartment - is as perfect a recreation of a regular middle class home in the 50's from living room to bathroom and kitchen as you'll see on film. The little touches in the script (wealthy relatives tossing off references to a bright young man having signed a "loyalty oath" or their having gotten help from Mussolini before the war) are more unsettling, but just as perfectly atmospheric for nailing the place and time of the story.
One Night at McCool's (2001)
Roshomon meets American Pie...if only the writing held up to the end
Few could seriously argue that ONE NIGHT AT McCOOL'S is great film making - it doesn't even really live up to the title which is merely the opening for each of the three stories (interrelated perspectives) we follow drawn from the events which began one night at a watering hole named McCool's. Great film making or not, the film knows how to push most of the right buttons and quote the right classic models for a good "naughty" time, and most viewers will have such a good time before the story's energy runs out in the last 20 minutes, that they won't really care.
Matt Dillon turns in a fine performance (and not just his from eyebrows and abs - though they get their usual workout) as the put-upon bartender who gets drawn into the increasingly outrageous chain of events by the beauteous (and predictably amoral) Liv Tyler as bodies - dead and otherwise - start to pile up. The main story thread is told for most of the film in flashback as Dillon, at a low point in his life, recruits aid from an oddly cast Michael Douglas. Paul Reiser is his cousin, in the midst of a severe midlife crisis and explaining his story to his new therapist, Reba McEntire (turning in another delightful set of reactions) and John Goodman is the policeman - and one true innocent in the story - also drawn into the web of events by lost love and seeking council from his all too interested parish priest, Richard Jenkins.
Inocence and midlife frustration are not rewarded in a film like this (stick around for the punchline joke life plays on Reiser at the end - it's a drop-dead killer!), but for the Saturday night crowd who wants a happy ending, Dillon gets one Moliere would have been proud of, and in this case, even the modern version of a "Tartuffe" may get to ride happily off into the sunset.
A solid supporting cast TV viewers will smile at (Andrea Bendewald, a chilly blonde source of laughs in so many shows, is particularly good in the small role of Reiser's wife) keeps things rolling and occasionally adds just by the baggage they bring. Completing the mix is a surprisingly satisfying double role tossed to Andrew Dice Clay (nearly unrecognizable in each) as the "friend" who starts and finishes the whole chain of events.
The McGuffin here is "house hunger," and those who love ONE NIGHT AT McCOOL'S should seek out Harold Prince's twisted black comedy fairy tale, SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE where Michael York has the same weakness. It might make a great double feature.
Androcles and the Lion (1952)
Minor Shaw made more so by Hollywood, but charming nonetheless
G.B.S. declared in the lengthly "Preface" to this play, written years after its 1913 premiere (the "Preface is actually longer than the play itself), that he had written it in pique at the one J.M. Barry play he had ever thoroughly disliked - PETER PAN! The sentiment certainly sets a bench mark for measuring what Shaw may have accomplished in his charming, witty examination of a "Greek wizard" Christian (Androcles) who finds animals of all stripes and species more lovable and easy to get along with than his long (and vocally) suffering wife and neighbors.
It also may explain why Hollywood missed with this neatly produced filming despite a number of inspired casting choices (Maurice Evans as Caesar, Elsa Lanchaster as Androcles' wife & Robert Newton as the warrior/Christian, Ferrovius) and deft directorial touches.
In trying to focus on the "family friendly" (deadly words in the Hollywood lexicon) aspects of Shaw's charming satire, the film gives a bad case of the "cutsies" to the central role (it would have been interesting to see this Alan Young performance before he became so identified with his role, Wilbur, in TV's iconic MR. ED) and soft pedals or ignores most of the legitimately humorous byplay among his fellow Christians who wish martyrdom to wildly varying degrees and the infighting of the professional gladiators who echo (in somewhat more bloodthirsty fashion) the outrageous practicality of Captain Bluntschli in Shaw's early ARMS AND THE MAN.
Having made the decision to play the lion *as* a lion (before or after Harpo Marx departed the production?), the delicious hold on adult satire Shaw infused his play with was probably a lost cause, but what remains remains a very pleasant diversion worth a Saturday afternoon. For lovers of good Shaw however, it's more than a little watered down - perhaps most surprising of all, more watered down that the later equally enjoyable musical version Richard Rodgers and Peter Stone did for TV with Noel Coward as Caesar and Norman Wisdom as Androcles!
Saint Joan (1957)
Excellent adaptation of Shaw's last great prize winner
GBS wrote his own screen adaptation of this Nobel Prize winning play but didn't live to see it produced (he had won an Oscar in 1938 for his brilliant adaptation of his 1914 play PYGMALION). When Otto Preminger mounted (produced and directed) this production in 1957, seven years after Shaw's death, he had noted British author Graham Greene do the adaptation and it was a solid choice.
Taking a cue from Shaw's own screenplay, Greene uses material from the stage Epilogue to create a framing device to meld the two acts of the play (one early and one late in Joan's story) into a unified and most satisfying whole. Where on stage the shift in tone is buffered with an intermission, here it works just as well with a return to KING Charles Balois's bedchamber (where the man Joan put on the throne is dreaming of the events which led to his current situation), and more material from Shaw's Epilogue - the introduction of the shade of John Gielgud's Warwick (the English "king maker").
The majority of the language is solid GBS, and the performances from stalwart Shauvians (like Felix Aymler's Inquisitor or Harry Andrews' de Stogumber) to relative newcomers (the film established Jean Seberg's career) are first rate. It may jar some, only familiar with Richard Widmark's many movie villains, to see him playing a frail and somewhat silly Dauphin, but the performance - oddly top billed - is professional, even if arguably miscast.
The symbolism of the opening credits and the director's choice to use the visual vocabulary of black and white filming all serve Shaw and the story well. Go in expecting quality entertainment and you won't be disappointed.
The Rainbow Pass (1937)
Interesting if flawed support for THE GOOD EARTH
Hollywood short subjects were (and still are) all over the place in content and purpose. Some of them stylishly show off rising directors and specialty subjects, some openly give background on the making of coming major attractions, some do so more indirectly. Promos for other films that don't appear to be plugs but which stand on their own as entertainment or education on other subjects can be more effective promotions than hard sell. One hopes THE RAINBOW PASS was as effective for its real covert purpose as it is as a stylish (if sloppy) tour of Chinese "theatre culture."
THE RAINBOW PASS was fairly transparently made to promote MGM's big (ultimately Oscar winning) release of the same year, THE GOOD EARTH, from the novel by Pearl S. Buck (cited in THE RAINBOW PASS as a "major expert" on China). They scrupulously avoid mention of the bigger picture, but they freely refer to the Chinese people's gratitude to "the good earth" and the supposed annual festival honoring that gratitude by carrying a statue of the "god of the harvest" to a theatre for a performance.
The acting (all filmed on U.S. locations) is as first rate as the non-roles permit with one spectacular exception, and the atmosphere as lush as a studio system can make it. The smoke filled small town "Chinese theatre" with its stylized presentations and cabaret style food service and full family attendance is credibly presented and explained. The one offense to credibility is the distorted presentation (for supposed comic effect?) of the black clad "stagehands" who work in the open in Chinese theatre as they do in Japanese Kabuki in THE RAINBOW PASS (the Chinese "play-within-the-movie").
The stagehand in the short is NOT fully clad in black as he would be in even the *poorest* Chinese theatre - his face and pale arms are bare to emphasize for the studio underestimated, presumed biased, 1937 Western movie audience the "unusualness" of the Eastern conceit. Even worse, the supposed stagehand smokes all through the performance making it even harder to ignore his presence.
In reality, fairly presented, the Eastern conceit works beautifully (see the "Welcome To Kanagawa" number in the filmed Broadway performance of PACIFIC OVERTURES - done kabuki style and broadcast over Tokyo television in 1976), but by choosing to make fun of the conceit in this film short, they turn what was intended as an appreciation of another culture (as well as appetizer for the studio's big China based film) into something of a put-down of that culture.
It's a real loss and a pity, but what remains is still well worth a look for those who can look past a bit of studio hack-dom, going for the cheap laugh in exotic settings to the rest of the worthwhile atmosphere.
Legally Blonde (2001)
Amusing fluff for little girls who still need empowerment
Since nearly ALL movies are made to make money, there's certainly nothing wrong with the film makers here taking the single funniest scene in a successful comedy (MY COUSIN VINNY - where the oddball girlfriend knows something which the "smart" lawyer boyfriend doesn't and solves the case) and building an entire film around it. The conceit probably wasn't even original with MY COUSIN VINNY, and it certainly isn't in LEGALLY BLONDE, a sexist farce pretending to be "enlightened," but more or less saved by a passel of above average performances from a very appealing cast.
Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon in a less brilliant but just as surface starring follow-up to her break-through appearance in ELECTION) is an air-head Valley Girl waiting for the expected proposal from her preppie boyfriend (the appropriately smarmy Matthew Davis) when he announces that he's going to Harvard Law enroute to the U.S. Senate, and while she's been a great college lay - excuse me, girlfriend - she isn't good enough for a prospective senator's wife. Well, um, yeah . . . but it is sort of changing the rules Elle had been led to expect mid-game.
This sort of plot can go one of two ways - Elle can go for revenge (the funny but nasty SHE-DEVIL or DEATH BECOMES HER) or she can set out to get him back - and frequently find someone better in the effort (the vastly underrated ADDICTED TO LOVE). LEGALLY BLONDE tries to have it both ways. She'll get herself into Harvard (the best line in the film: "What? Like it's hard?") and SHOW him how "good enough" she really is.
Predictable, shallow but frequently funny complications ensue - along with some very nice performances from Luke Wilson (as a low-key associate attorney) and Holland Taylor (as a professor/mentor) and less impressive ones from Victor Garber (as a dour "powerful" attorney), Jennifer Coolidge (as a class-free beauty shop friend) and a mildly irritating chihuahua (as an irritating chihuahua). The funniest bit, exposing a lying witness (remember the bit from MY COUSIN VINNY?) also comes across unfortunately as homophobic - though it probably wasn't intended as such. The film makers simply didn't know any better than to pander to what they assumed were the continuing biases of their target teenage audience. The film would have been funnier if they had respected their audience more.
As it was, it was successful enough at the box office (very, actually) to generate a sequel (yawn) and in 2007, a Broadway musical comedy version. The script and score for the musical were sort of second rate (rather like the musical version of THE WEDDING SINGER and the silly movie which spawned it), but a first rate director/choreographer was able to work much the same alchemy on LEGALLY BLONDE The Musical that Robert Luketic was able to work on LEGALLY BLONDE The Movie and turn so-so material and an "all right" cast into something resembling gold. A good time was had by - well, if not all, enough.
Don't expect great art or even great comedy, but the movie's a nice diversion for a slow day or for little girls who need empowerment (the musical too).
Chop Suey (2001)
Fascinating Cultural Scrapbook of the 50's, 60's and 70's
With no thru-plot line and inconsistent cinematography, a viewer's appreciation of this unexpectedly fascinating film will in large part depend on their interest in the variety modern American culture has to offer and other people's old photo albums. I sat down to sample a copy of this unfortunately obscure film expecting to spend only a few minutes, but got wrapped up in it and could scarcely tear myself away.
What it is is nothing less than a scrapbook of three decades of American cultural life from the point of view of one of its premiere photographers. Bruce Webber, known by many for his innovative commercial ad work, and by many others for his studies of male nudes, simultaneously gives us a revelation of what it is to be an artist and loving memoirs of jazz singer Frances Faye and iconic designer/editor Diana Vreeland, all mixed with Webber's own highly personalized photos and home movies. It's a heady mix and pure art at its best. CHOP SUEY is not a "gay film" per se, but a gay sensibility is clearly present in the telling.
Many film fans have "test films" for friends and prospective lovers they are getting serious with - if they like a particular film they "get" the test giver. I'd strongly recommend this film (if one can find a copy - as of this writing, no easy feat) as a close to ideal "test" film for anyone who claims to be open to new experiences and any test giver who wants to measure the breadth of cultural exposure, true sophistication and tolerance of the person tested. I'd not be entirely comfortable with children being exposed to anyone who hated this film or, to be honest, anyone who hated this film being allowed to breed.
The "7 of 10" rating is only so low in recognition of the resistance some will have to the "stream of consciousness" organization of the piece. For anyone else, it's an enthralling experience.
Can't Stop the Music (1980)
An unfortunately untimely good time
One has to admit objectively that if you ignore the highly fictionalized plot, the script and the acting, there's a lot of fun to be had in 'CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC. The supposed story of hit disco group The Village people (blatantly, satirically "Hollywood cleaned up") was laughed off the screen when it first came out for picturing one of the most obviously successful (and successfully obvious) gay singing groups as having been brought together by their (literal) girlfriends.
...and yet, there is all that music. It's actually pretty darned good in a disco ball meets Busby Berkley fashion.
Producer Alan Carr, who effectively captured the cartoon style of the Broadway hit GREASE in a smash cartoon of a movie, gave Broadway, movie and TV comedienne Nancy Walker a chance to direct her first big budget Hollywood film in a day (not yet passed) when the number of major women directors could be counted on one hand - with several fingers left over. Sadly, the commercial fate of the film Carr wanted set the cause of women directors back another decade or two. The producer wanted a cartoon - it had worked with GREASE - and Walker gave him one - presumably trying to satirize the old movie bios (remember the factually ludicrous but musically satisfying NIGHT AND DAY or 'TILL THE CLOUDS ROLL BY?). They ignored the well known and reported facts of The Village People and expected their music to carry the film. Had they caught the peak of the group's vogue it might have worked, but the wave had already crested and the Post-Stonewall audience was ready to demand TRUTH, not obviously silly Hollywood myth.
The only real ongoing sin of CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC is the continuing involvement of its lead, the presumably straight but 8trying to be "enlightened" Steve Guttenberg, in gay associated projects which he has managed to "clean up" with an almost CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC-like, arguably homophobic, distortion. Note how when the play P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD (a flawed but enjoyable novel and play by CHORUS LINE writer James Kirkwood about a supposedly straight actor who finds a gay burglar in his apartment on New year's Eve and ultimately reaches an improbable rapprochement with him) that had a modest Broadway run and a successful life in stock was finally filmed in 2002 with Guttenberg in the lead and directing, he managed to leach almost every visage of legitimate gay "threat" or "edge" out of the actual staging! It became another dishonest cartoon and lost most of the target audience which was eagerly anticipating it.
In both CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC and P.S...., it just doesn't work when straight or closeted film makers try to play with "trendy" gay themes but can't bring themselves to do so honestly. It's also a recipe for commercial disaster on projects that could have offered so much honest entertainment for modern open audiences.
What a pity. There's still a LOT of fun to be had here, but you do have to ignore a lot to get to it.
If only Old Christine weren't in it...
I only wish someone could explain to me why anyone saw fit to build a decently written situation comedy around as loathsome (on virtually every level) a character as "Old Christine" (Julia Louis Drufus - OK, the writers - pushing her "edgily oblivious" persona from the old Seinfeld show to new levels of self centered repulsiveness).
A genuinely first rate supporting cast has been assembled around her from the always charming Clark Gregg as her long suffering ex husband, Richard Campbell, to Hamish Linklater as her refreshingly laid-back brother/nanny Matthew and even the fresh faced Trevor Gagnon as her (thus far dramatically unchallenged) son Ritchie Campbell (destined for a lifetime of therapy with this horror of a "mother"). IMDb doesn't see fit to list . . . , Christine's best friend and business partner - and the only actual life-like woman in the show - among the lead characters and more's the pity. She almost saves it from being an unalloyed half hour exercise in unfunny misogyny and the only nearly unwatchable entrant in an otherwise first rate Monday night comedy lineup on CBS.
The old Seinfeld crew slowly piled up the dysfunctional quirks for most of the run of the show so that we got to LIKE the characters before their "quirks" became psychopathic. The final episode somewhat ridiculously relegated them to a jail cell which few fans could honestly lament, but we stayed to the end because of that deep well of affection and identification we had built up before they went off the deep end (well, the *supporting* Kramer was always pretty much there, but we were only given him in relatively small doses).
"Christine" has been something like a female Kramer, embodying the worst nightmares of any acquaintance we've ever had from the very first episode. Whatever masochism allows "fans" to laugh at her in the same "at least my friends and I are not THAT bad" - or worse, though it's difficult to believe - "see, I'm *normal*" mode many looked at Archie Bunker with through the years of ALL IN THE FAMILY escapes me.
As a life long (if liberal) Republican, I suppose "red state" right wingers want to believe Christine is what moderates and liberals are *really* like (in their Rush Limbaugh/Pat Buchanan dreams). To that extent, the show isn't just unfunny, it's actively offensive - but then, no one ever said conservatives could be funny. To the extent this ...CHRISTINE remains on the CBS schedule, it may be the first commercially successful right wing attempt at "satire." More's the pity.