29 May 2009

The Company of Wolves

The Company of Wolves Still Creepy and Alluring
By Kristin Battestella

I vaguely remember seeing 1984’s The Company of Wolves cut up as a kid. Deemed too sexual and kinky back in the day, this quiet little dark fantasy has survived with weird tales, slinky werewolves, and fine storytelling.

In her dreams, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) lives a harrowing story of charm and fear. Her sister (Georgia Slowe) is killed by wolves, so her parents (David Warner and Tuss Silberg) send Rosaleen to live with her Granny (Angela Lansbury). Granny tells Rosaleen tales and warns her to beware of ‘wolves on the inside’ and traveling men-especially ones with bushy, connecting eyebrows. A boy (Shane Johnstone) in the village tries to charm Rosaleen as wolf attacks on the town rise. Unfortunately, on a return visit to Granny’s house, a Huntsman (Micha Bergese) charms Rosaleen. He bets he can make it to Granny’s house before her-and if he wins, Rosaleen must ‘give him a kiss’.

Understandably, The Company of Wolves might be too confusing for some. Its dream frame and story within a story packs an awful lot and can lose the not careful viewer. In some ways, however, the multiple characters and jumping from event to event add to the dream like, bizarre feelings Oscar winning director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire) is trying to create. It’s sexy, fun, weird- symbolic in some places yet all in good fun in others. The anachronistic nature of The Company of Wolves also aides the story in blurring the lines of dreams and reality- some of the storytelling gives us a break from Red Riding Hood stylings in favor of other creepy and ironic wolf tales. A woman’s husband disappears on their wedding night, only to return years later as a wolf; a jilted pregnant woman curses a wedding party and turns them into dogs; even the devil makes an appearance in a Rolls Royce to tempt us into beastly ways.

Writer Angela Carter’s adaptation from her own short story is to say simply, a treatment on the classic Little Red Riding Hood. This film, however, is so much more. Though it looks like a Saturday Morning story time in some places, The Company of Wolves is mature and dark. The sexual and womanly innuendos suggested by the Little Red Riding Hood tale are all here; from wolves and their ‘call of nature’ to Rosaleen’s first discovery of a mirror, lipstick, and eggs that hatch into baby dolls. Is Little Red Riding Hood merely a tale warning one not to talk to strangers or stray from the trusted and safe path- or is it a darker analysis of the predatory nature of man’s carnal desires for girls as they menstruate and grow into womanhood? The Company of Wolves critiques both views and delivers a kinky, satisfying blend of alluring werewolf men along with shuddering beastly horror. The ages of the cast also lend a pedophile bend on some scenes, and though everyone mocks Granny and her ‘old wives tales’- it turns out some of her methods are the word of the wise.

Murder She Wrote queen Angela Lansbury is a delight as the loveable and not so misguided old kook Granny. She’s suspicious, yes, and her outlandish stories are meant to warn as well as frighten, but she also has Rosaleen’s best interests at heart. Her delicate, porcelain style is perfect against her strong and feisty words. Lansbury’s voice and mannerisms create the perfect and wise little old lady. Perhaps she had her choice of roles, and one might wonder why the wholesome Jessica Fletcher would choose The Company of Wolves. It may be a departure for Lansbury, and her role is a little creepy but nonetheless charming.

The Company of WolvesSarah Patterson (Snow White) is also a pleasant surprise as Rosaleen. She’s seems to have done little else, which is a bit of a shame. Her unknown status, however, helps in her portrayal of Rosaleen. She is this girl one hundred percent, but she can be any young daughter, sister, or friend. Patterson looks older than she is here, but still young enough for all this budding sexuality to be too creepy. When Rosaleen comments ‘What big teeth you have!’ it might be the best part of the film. David Warner (Titanic) and Tuss Silberg (The New Adventures of Robin Hood) combine for Rosaleen’s equally ambiguous parents. There’s something kinky about this sexually active couple, yet they are also fine, understand parents at this confusing time for Rosaleen.
Micha Bergese (Zina) doesn’t appear as the Huntsman until the final half hour, but his wolf in disguise is the nastiest, creepiest, sexiest, and most frightening werewolf since Quentin Collins. We know him when we seem him, but we can’t help but be charmed by him along with Rosaleen. He’s a little older than Sarah Patterson, adding to that statutory feeling. Likewise on the creepy are brief appearances by another Jordan favorite Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, The End of the Affair) as a jilted wolf, Terrence Stamp (Smallville, The Phantom Menace) as the Devil, and singer Danielle Dax as a naked she wolf.

Classical music, fine costumes, and scary eyes go a long way in The Company of Wolves. The toys and stage like village sets are a little weak, but also atmospheric. It looks like an old time, scary show. This is all just a dream and people at play-or is it? The Company of Wolves is dark, but you can see everything amid the moonlight effects. Though made to look scary and creepy-eyed, many of the wolves in The Company of Wolves are obviously nothing more than decked out dogs. Some of slow motion wolf odes and running pack sequences are a little hokey and humorous, too. Yes this was a low budget eighties production, but The Company of Wolves trumps any bad effects with ethereal charm and a fine story.

The DVD doesn’t appear to have subtitles or little else beyond the film itself, and The Company of Wolves will look dated and on the cheap now to some audiences. Fans looking for all cool effects ala Underworld are not going to find it here. Others may find its sympathic wolf views a bit too weird, but lycanthrope-files will enjoy this picture time and again. Though styled as a Little Red Riding Hood tale, The Company of Wolves is not for kids or prudes. There’s a touch of R sex and nudity, and the overall sensual styles and budding sexual euphemisms are a bit too much for sensitive audiences. Scary and cool, The Company of Wolves is for anyone who’s ever wanted a mature, stylized, and intelligent take on the Big Bad Wolf. Sink those teeth into The Company of Wolves tonight.

26 May 2009


Speed Still A Good Action Yarn
By Kristin Battestella

So I’m up sick at 3 a.m. and what’s on the tele but Speed. No matter how many times you’ve seen this 1994 ‘Die Hard on a bus’ vehicle; Speed is still an entertaining, fast paced ride.

After thwarting Howard Payne (Dennis Hopper)’s bombing of an elevator, Detective Jack Traven (Keanu Reeves) becomes the point of Payne’s fixation. He blows up one bus and contacts Jack with a new set of rules: there’s a bomb on Santa Monica Bus 2525. If it goes below 50 miles per hour, the bomb goes off. Jack quickly boards the bus and pulls the passengers together-among them tourist Stephens (Alan Ruck) and license revokee Annie Porter (Sandra Bullock). Meanwhile, Jack’s bomb squad partner Harry (Jeff Daniels) and boss Mac (Joe Morton) work to find Payne before his 11 a.m. 3.7 million dollar deadline.

Speed (Widescreen Edition)Though we’ve moved on with impressive action and dramatic effects, the simple mentality of the bomb on a bus action in Speed is still refreshing. Regular road high jinks are action enough: hard right turns at sixty miles per hour, pedestrians, obstacles of all shapes and sizes, and that intense jumping the gap in the freeway. Even running low on gas makes an appearance. All the clichés are here, and though they may seem a tad dated now due to imitations and repeat viewings; Speed’s crutches and challenges are still intense. Some of it is over the top yes. The final subway confrontation between Jack and Payne seems tacked on after the departure of our beloved Bus 2525, and director Jan de Bont (Twister, Lara Croft: The Cradle of Life) even uses the same speeding trick twice. Nevertheless, Speed is not the type of film we look to for storyline innovation. While watching again, I found myself smiling at some of the good old-fashioned fun and heroics. Fifteen years later and Speed is still a great ride.

Of course, Speed made box office gold on future Matrix star and Bill and Ted alum Keanu Reeves. Before this yarn, Reeves was little more than a surfer teeny bopper with ‘gems’ like Point Break and a woefully amiss performance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. And if you look critically enough at his delivery, you can see he doesn’t really stretch his roots in Speed. Reeves does, however, look buff and do some dangerous looking, dynamite action. He smiles, has some good quotes, and gets the girl. In an action picture, what else is there? Truly, its Reeves and leading lady Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality, Crash) together that keep Speed charming. It’s a little forced at times, but Bullock milked every minute of this All American cutie charm. Along with Demolition Man, Speed put Bullock on Hollywood’s front burner almost overnight. Her nineties sheek style has not stood the test of time, but in such an outlandish situation, we can’t help but root for the poor girl driving the dang bus!

I love veteran talent Dennis Hopper (Easy Rider, Hoosiers, Blue Velvet, E-Ring… shall I go on?) but his Howard Payne madman is so bad it’s good. The creepy hand, the mind games, the rules, the quips-we believe Payne has the smarts over Jack because Dennis Hopper is, well Dennis Hopper. It doesn’t matter how cute the girls find Keanu, he can’t hold a candle to Dennis Hopper. But this is an action thriller, remember, so who’s going to win? Jack, of course. In Speed’s cat and mouse games, it’s the getting there that matters. We have to see this ride to the end.

We tease the stars because we love them, but Speed also boasts a fine and diverse supporting cast. Comedy gem Jeff Daniels (Arachnophobia, The Squid and The Whale, Dumb and Dumber) is a delight as sardonic but expert bomb defuser Detective Harry Temple. Though not the ideal cop mold and certainly not meant to be a hottie ala Keanu, Daniels nevertheless looks like a cranky cop nursing a bullet wound. There should be more of him and Joe Morton (Eureka, Terminator 2: Judgment Day) as Captain McMahon. Both add realism and flair to Reeves’ pure action.

Likewise, we’ve got some colorful characters stuck on board our said bus. Some are obvious and annoying, and its fun trying to spot who is sitting where and when. Alan Ruck (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is especially funny as a yuppie tourist unaccustomed to the L.A. mood. The script from Graham Yost (Boomtown) is complex in plot, but some of the double play dialogue is cookie cutter and clunky. Some of that might be delivery as well, but some of the cheesy phrases work. For quite some time during Speed’s height, quotes like “Pop quiz” and “What do you do?” mocked in one’s best Keanu Reeves imitation were the norm.

There is some innuendo and f bomb language, but Speed is a somewhat tame R and generally safe for teens. While it’s certainly understandable if folks are sick and tired of Speed, ‘whoa’ Keanu, and cutie Sandra Bullock; this big action flick has survived the test of time. Action aficionados and fans of the cast can enjoy Speed again and again. There is an inevitable and forgettable sequel, Speed 2: Cruise Control, but viewers should stick with the original lightning. The DVD and blu ray releases are quite affordable, and on demand options are available as well. If you’re film viewing party needs a movie to cheer or lovingly jeer, consider Speed with your bag of popcorn.

24 May 2009

The Tudors Season 3

The Tudors Season 3 Perhaps It’s Finest
By Kristin Battestella

The Tudors: The Complete Third SeasonAfter two great seasons of Showtime’s revelry with Henry VIII and The Tudors, I wondered how creator Michael Hurst could keep his series fresh without such key players like Anne Boleyn, Thomas Moore, and Katherine of Aragon. Though there are a few slow spots this season, Year Three might very well be The Tudors at its finest hour.

Now that Anne Boleyn and her severed head are good and buried, King Henry VIII (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) marries the sweet and fair Jane Seymour (Annabelle Wallis). Things are good at court for the King and Queen, their friend Charles Brandon the Duke of Suffolk (Henry Cavill), and Henry’s daughters Mary (Sarah Bolger) and Elizabeth (Claire MacCauley). Unfortunately, Thomas Cromwell’s (James Frain) persecutions of the Catholic Church in England anger the Northern faithful. Robert Aske (Gerard McSorely) and his Pilgrimage of Grace do not make things easy for Henry, and the birth of his long awaited son Prince Edward is of little consolation. Likewise, alliances with Germany and ill marriages to Anne of Cleeves (Joss Stone) and Catherine Howard (Tazmin Merchant) hasten Cromwell’s downfall at Henry’s court.

Sure, I liked The Tudors before, but more and more episodes and events linger on my mind from week to week. Yes tonight I was thinking very good things about The Tudors. We've spent two seasons with Henry getting everything he wants no matter how impossible. Anyone who knows his or her history also knows Big Harry’s going to get his way with Robert Aske, too. Again, The Tudors slims on historical accuracy, and fans who love the debauchery can still find plenty of it in Season 3. We’ve got our sex and nudity, but as we’ve gone further, The Tudors has become a very serious show. Goodness these folks bumped uglies because they could, and they didn’t know about venereal diseases, and well, there was little else to do. But beyond the sex and ruthlessness, by golly Henry’s court has the same trials and tribulations as we do.

Some of the politics around the Pilgrimage opened the season on a slow note, and I really could care less about the introductions of the latest pretty mistress Lady Misseldon (Charlotte Salt) and ruthless one-eyed henchman Sir Francis Bryan (Alan Van Sprang). Are these just loose historical personas contracted to show skin, screw, and say naughty things? Fortunately, Jonathan Rhys Meyers carries The Tudors amid its coming and going cast. His soliloquies at Jane Seymour’s deathbed in an entire episode dedicate to the Queen’s deadly delivery are, I think, Meyers best yet. Despite all his wealth, power, divine influence, and penchant for giving or taking life on the chopping block, Meyers brings forth Henry’s human side. He is a monarch, but a man-and not just in the bedroom. Henry can’t have it all, and the high cost of his wife’s life for the son he’s so desperately desired is almost more than he can bear.

One or two episodes after the loss of Queen Jane also seem slow-but these are dark, psychological episodes that hot and bothered Tudors fans might be unaccustomed to. Meyers takes Henry to even more creepy and disturbing places-and this from a man who beheaded two wives. We do have a fairly attractive King in comparison with those hefty historical portraits, but Meyers’ appearance has changed dramatically since The Tudors began. The styles have changed slightly, adding more big furs and dark colors to Henry’s wardrobe, but Meyers has also carefully crafted new, decrypted facial expressions to highlight the madness that is slowly consuming the King. Now having seen Season 3, it seems as if Meyers’ Season 1 Emmy nomination was one of polite recognition. I do hope he receives due for this season. With Sam Neill, Maria Doyle Kennedy, and Jeremy Northam unrecognized previously; should someone, anyone from these series walk away with acting hardware, I’d be happy.

Understandably, there seems to be new faces in each episodes’ opening credits as enemies and wives come and go (and other actors have left over too much of an ensemble feeling), but I don’t understand why The Tudors does not include all its semi regular anchors in the intro. Sarah Bolger, Anthony Brophy as Spanish Ambassador Chapuys, Joanne King as Jane Parker, the Seymour Family, and several others could be included in a separate ‘co-starring’ motif. Not only does their screen time warrant the honor, but also it might help if there are fans who tune in or out of the series according to, well, wife. Now in its initial run on Showtime, The Tudors can have its lovely opening and seriously lengthy previouslies for each episode; but come syndication, pretty montages and sex scenes will have to go. The Tudors will be left to stand on its talent and merit. Thankfully, it can succeed on those alone.

I don't dream over Henry Cavill like some, but I'm glad his character has more to do this season. Gone is the nude playboy from the initial episodes and in his place is a devoted yet conflicted husband and father struggling to keep his home life, faith, and allegiance to Henry’s court separate. Instead of opulent jousts-which were great at the time-The Tudors displays quiet moments between Henry and Charles reflecting on their lost youth as the price of nobility. Like Cavill, we’re older, wiser, and stepping back to reflect on this turbulent dynasty. To a serious viewer, this touching familiarity does more for Charles Brandon then his early butt shots ever could. By contrast, Edward Seymour (Max Brown) and Sir Francis are too new to care about amid all their politicking and sex. In some ways, Michael Hirst has been very smart and coy about the nature of his show. The sex gets folks in the door and keeps the revolving cast going, but the three meaty players Meyers, Cavill, and James Frain are what's bringing things to the hilt now.

This season, we only briefly see Katherine Howard, as writer Michael Hirst is saving her fate and final wife Catherine Parr for next year. Singer Joss Stone, is however, a bittersweet surprise as the maligned Anne of Cleeves. Some may disagree, but her German accent sounds fine to me; and despite ill stylings akin to the ‘Flanders’ Mare’ talk, she’s certainly not ugly. Her discomfort with Henry and his anger at their lack of consummation could have been disastrous onscreen. Instead of falling prey to humor or kink, the awkward marriage plays quite sadly. We hate that Henry’s been duped by Cromwell, for how can the King ever be duped anyway? Yet we feel sad for both the man and his wife. Again, the humanity of Henry’s court wins against all the flair and naughty bits. Cromwell’s downfall is a little too quick and anticlimactic against the slow burn of Wosley’s spiral, but we also only have eight episodes this season in which to pack all this medieval debauchery.

Perhaps in 10 or 20 years when this show seems dated, The Tudors will still be considered good television. Now that we have a young Elizabeth on the show, its nice to see that one man has been able to make a complete observance of the Tudor dynasty, at least from Henry VIII’s early reign to Elizabeth: The Golden Age. When this series is over, I think its depth of character and serious religious drama and reflection will keep it fresh before the historical liberties, sex, and sweet costumes. The Tudors runs at 50 minutes plus per episode, and figuring for season four there will be less than forty episodes total. Even so, in a day when television shows are so butchered and dismissed after one or two seasons, it’s rare to get such a meaty, extensive, and proper period television program.

Currently available on the Showtime networks, websites, or on demand packages, look for The Tudors Season 3 on DVD sometime this winter-I imagine around the holidays or before the fourth and final season next Spring. At this point, I might wait for a complete series packaged set for all the features and bits, but Seasons 1 and 2 can be found affordably enough. Not for kids or prudes, of course, period aficionados and fans of the cast will always delight. Get hooked on The Tudors today for years of head rolling enjoyment.

22 May 2009

MI-5: Season 1

MI-5 Season One An Intelligent Delight
By Kristin Battestella

I don’t remember how I first heard about the British spy series MI-5. Maybe it popped up in my Netflix recommendations or was it by playing six degrees of Kevin Bacon with the cast? Regardless of how, I’m very glad I finally spent a night with MI-5 on my Instant Watch. Contemporary espionage mixed with timeless human hang-ups make this an intelligent, edge of your seat show that you can’t take your eyes off of.

MI-5 Section D chief Tom Quinn (Matthew Macfadyen, Pride and Prejudice) is as good as an intelligence operative as you can get. He and his junior operatives Zoe Reynolds (Keeley Hawes, Ashes to Ashes) and Danny Hunter (David Oyelowo, The Last King of Scotland) are on the front lines of terror in Britain on a daily basis. Unfortunately, their special status doesn’t make the men and women at Thames House immune to real world troubles.

MI-5, Volume 1Now, I have to confess, I’m not intimately familiar with law and order and secret organizations across the pond. However, that’s not going to stop me from watching MI-5, either. There are plenty of touches of CIA and MI-6, but the series keeps its focus tight on a handful of operatives. The stakes are high and head writer David Wolstencroft isn’t afraid to use, abuse, and kill our cast. Placing the lives and struggles of people above the action and hijinks is what makes MI-5 stand out against other intricate fast paces American series like Alias and 24.

Gadgets are useful, I’m sure, but I’m glad MI-5 places people first. This debut season premiered in early 2002, so terrorism plays a significant role in this organization’s lives. But then, that’s all in a day’s work, isn’t it? In only six episodes this season, MI-5 establishes the nature of a post 9/11 world while giving us healthy complex storylines and solid character interactions. Not just about the folks at home, the twisted guest stars are also written and played as charismatic, intelligent, and dangerous folks. Remember, a villain never thinks he or she is a villain. His cause is always right and worth any cost. We’d like to think the gang at MI-5 is always right, and the bad guys are all terrorists, but the multilevel characters don’t make things so cut and dry for the viewer. In addition to a lot of frank grey where there should be black and white, MI-5 doesn’t shy away from international intrigue, politics, or red tape.
I didn’t know who most of the cast was to start, and in some ways, that’s a good thing. Macfadyen’s Tom may be a section leader, but he is just an average Joe trying to keep his home life together away from work. He could be you; he could be me. Sure, we don’t have to hide our job from our families and do it all under a fake name, but we certainly understand Tom’s conundrum. Likewise, Zoe goes through the same ill balance on the job. From using womanly ways to living in a one-room apartment, we feel her difficulties. Romances come in just enough, and the men versus women dynamics at MI-5 are just right.

I enjoyed seeing Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) again as Section K master Tessa Phillips. She and boss Harry Pearce (Peter Firth, That’s Life, Equus) add veteran acting and maturity to MI-5. They know what has to be done for the team, their country, the world, themselves; but that doesn’t make those decisions any easier. The personal prices they’ve paid are high as well. Only David Oyelowo as Danny seems a little unrealistic. Why is the new take on the ‘token black guy’ to make him the ‘technological expert token black guy’? Are all British Black Guys tech wizzes? I have to say, it is strange to me to hear black men with British accents as it is, and naturally, MI-5 isn’t called Spooks in the US for the term’s ill racial use. Thankfully, House star Hugh Laurie makes the most of a two-episode stint as the slick head of MI-6.
Now, before anyone panics at all this British talk, I must say, the accents and wording on MI-5 aren’t that bad. Usually I like to have subtitles just in case, but the voices are pretty easy on the American ear, and there isn’t even a lot of British slang for us to translate, either. Even though it’s a British show and as such says and shows more than US audiences are used to, MI-5 is fairly tame against big action yarns. There are frank deaths onscreen and a few curse words, however, so maybe tweens and younger should wait until they are old enough to appreciate MI-5 and all its complexities. The emotional toll for watching is heavy, but worth every minute.

The series’ seasons are short and the DVDs are affordable enough for quick viewing. Blessedly, online options and rentals are available as well. The rest of MI-5 is hogging my Instant Watch, and I’m looking forward to converting my Husband. There’s just something special about a television program that makes you think about where you are in the big picture. TV that makes you smarter is rare indeed, and I think I’m addicted to MI-5. Regardless of what you call it, intelligent audiences on both sides of the Atlantic can and should enjoy MI-5.

20 May 2009


Stacked Actually A Cute Little Sitcom
By Kristin Battestella

I only caught a few episodes of the Pamela Anderson comedy Stacked when it aired briefly a few years ago on Fox. In my recent marathon of the nineteen-episode comedy, I discovered this brief series about a bookstore and its crazy cliental isn’t half-bad.

Skyler Dayton (Pamela Anderson) stumbles into a bookstore after a bitter breakup with her rocker boyfriend. Stacked owner Stuart Miller (Brian Scolaro) is instantly smitten with the buxom blonde and offers her a job. Stuart’s brother and partner at the bookstore Gavin (Elon Gold) is reluctant to hire Skylar, for he is too busy reflecting on his failed book and nasty ex wife. Sassy café clerk Katrina (Marissa Jaret Winokur) resents the free spirited Skyler at first, but she quickly warms to her-as does quirky regular customer and ex-professor Harold March (Christopher Lloyd).

Stacked - The Complete SeriesYes, we know her busty persona onscreen and off, but Pamela Anderson (Baywatch, VIP) is surprisingly comedic as Skyler. Unfortunately, I could live without some of her cloths. Sure, we’ve got the hottie get ups, but other ensembles are just incredibly ill fitting and out of style only four years removed. Despite her lack of fashion or dramatic skills, Anderson has presence, intelligence delivery, and comedic timing. Maybe she’s not the best, but it’s a pleasant surprise from the dumb blonde send-ups we’ve come to expect from Anderson. She does some pretty funny impersonations for Stacked, and the series need not rely on her loosely fiction accounts of rock stars or famous friends Steven Tyler, Kid Rock, Carmen Electra, and Jenny McCarthy. Towards the final episodes, Anderson does fall back on her sex appeal, but Stacked is a fine example of her skills beyond beauty.

You must like Pam Anderson to enjoy Stacked, of course, but Marissa Jaret Winokur (Fever Pitch, Dancing with the Stars) is a toe towards annoying. While it’s nice to see a big and sassy chica dishing it out and getting some lovin’, Winokur is sometimes too bitchy. Some of Kat’s mannerisms and hijinks also make her a bit unlikable, and her costumes are a miss as well. You can’t dress someone like Winokur in the same style as your would Pamela Anderson, and Stacked never decides on the two ladies’ relationship. Thankfully, Elon Gold (The Dana Carvey Show) and stand up comedian Brian Scolaro (Three Sisters) are kind of cool. They have great chemistry as brothers, and both can be the funny or the straight man according to the story’s needs. Though Stuart has the built in storyline of chasing Skyler, Gold and Anderson make a far better humorous odd couple. Had Stacked continued, it would have been quite fun to see this relationship develop.

Billed last, Christopher Lloyd (Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Back to the Future) steals his share of time on Stacked. He’s the master over the little things like his chair and the quip, and his veteran status adds experience and authenticity to the bookstore. Harold’s shout outs, obsessive-compulsive behavior, and fatherly nature are like Taxi all over again. Instead of cashing in on all Big Pam’s Hollywood connections, Stacked might have lasted longer had it showcased some of Lloyd’s pals. Can you imagine Danny Devito as an angry customer demanding satisfaction for not liking a book he bought?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of inconsistencies in Stacked, and they are only made more obvious by its brief episodes. You can’t exactly forget that much of what went on before in only nineteen episodes. Two episodes in a row use Pamela Anderson as a dating ploy-nearer the end of the series’ run, all the sex and stunt casting attempts are used, too. Gavin looks too young to have 10-year-old kids and be divorced as well. And if his family is so important to him, why aren’t they always there? It seems as if creator and writer Steve Levitan (Just Shoot Me, Wings) forgot about them for half the show. There are other inconsistencies as well, including double ploys with gull stones and kidney stones four episodes apart. The irony is that Stacked also has several storylines running throughout its episodes that are never forgotten. Go figure. Naturally, it must be tough to establish much of anything with a five episode first season followed by fourteen episodes in season two. How did that happen?

Maybe consistency does waver, but at least the dialogue is witty. Stacked doesn’t need some of the bland plots and stunt casting employed to save it. The talent and comedic timing is there all around. I laughed quite a bit during my marathon, and I can still picture some of the slapstick. I would have liked more talk and storylines that actually dealt with books and the nature of the book business, but I guess Pamela Anderson as a fish out of water will always trump humorous book chitchat or misunderstandings. The layout of the Stacked Bookstore is also kind of strange. The coffee shop seems bigger than the space for books; and sometimes all four employees as well as Harold are in the side office. With no employees and so little books to sell, Stacked must not do much business.

I like the theme and the opening credits are kind of cute, but of course, Slow Motion Pam is the only one there. And at only 22 minutes, the book page drawings in between scenes are a waste of time. Instead of allusions to turning the next page in your life, Stacked should have made better use of its quirky bookstore persona. Naturally, the series doesn’t really have an ending, and audiences are left wondering the fate of these newfound friends. Stacked is short enough to watch quickly, but its quite fun to return to as well.

Stacked is by no means perfect, but it was never fully developed, either. Some may find that disappointing and not bother, but there’s plenty of fun along the ride. Anderson fans will like all her bits, of course, but intelligent comedy fans can also enjoy Stacked. In such a small space, it’s kind of fun to notice imperfections, wonder where the stairs in the store go to, or try and spot the books in the background. The DVD set can be found affordably enough, and there are several free online viewing options as well. Stacked is a quick and fun series that deserves a second chance.

18 May 2009

The Twilight Zone: More Treasures and Volume 7

More Goodness from The Twilight Zone
By Kristin Battestella

Sometimes you just need a Twilight Zone fix. Any fan of classic science fiction, fantasy, or the unusual and bizarre knows what I mean. The entire series is available in a variety of DVD sets, collections, and compilations; so here’s some help on two discs containing some of the 1959-64 series’ gems. The Twilight Zone: Volume 7 and More Treasures of The Twilight Zone are a fine chances to introduce young fans to Rod Serling’s iconic series or to wax nostalgic on black and white, thinking man’s television.

The Twilight Zone: Vol. 7The Twilight Zone: Volume 7 contains four classics, two from the first season and two more from season two. ‘Perchance to Dream’ introduces us to Richard Conte (The Godfather) and his difficulty to separate his heart condition from his daily life and his dreams. We all know the tales about dying in our dreams and how the night visions can trick the brain into thinking we are dead. Charles Beaumont’s examination of the heart, mind, and body still captivates us because we understand the fear of falling asleep and the harbinger of death it can bring.

Captain Embry (Robert Cummings, Dial M for Murder) finds his plane in the desert and his crew missing next in ‘King Nine Will Not Return’. Though it harkens to World War II, Serling again makes veiled social commentaries through fanciful fiction. Lost planes and soldiers reliving former war losses and glories for real or in the mind’s eye is certainly a story that can carry on the a Vietnam veteran or a Gulf War hero.

Likewise, Charles Beaumont and guest player Dennis Weaver (Duel) blur the lines of understandable dreams and realities in ‘Shadow Play’. A man on death row tries to convince the inmates and authorities around him that this is all merely a recurring nightmare from which his waking is worse then execution. Is a good night’s sleep really more important than our most terrifying dreams? What if our waking life and the dream world were in fact, reversed? Although the sixties styles onscreen and the filmmaking technology behind the scenes may seem dated to some, the intrigue of watching an intelligent half hour of television wins out again and again for The Twilight Zone.

Lastly on The Twilight Zone: Volume 7, ‘The Hitch Hiker’ serves up Inger Stevens (The Farmer’s Daughter) as Nan Adams, a young woman driving cross-country under the threat of a mysterious, reappearing hitchhiker. Maybe Serling’s story has become obvious by now. However, in addition to great twist endings, it’s The Twilight’s Zone’s unique ability to suspend our belief in getting there that lasts. Again an all too realistic fear keeps us entertained whilst in the Zone.

Instead of weeding through volumes and volumes of expensive DVDs, More Treasures of the Twilight Zone puts some of the most famous episodes of the serious all in one place for fans to enjoy. ‘The Masks’ starts things off here with the dying Robert Keith (Guys and Dolls) and his greedy family during Mardi Gras. This memorable season five episode from Rod Serling again quietly boasts real life statements veiled as the horrific. Keith asks each member of his family to wear a mask for Mardi Gras, a mask that shows more about who these people really are then their own faces. Again, probably not so hard hitting today because its so famous and oft imitated, ‘The Masks’ still makes us uncomfortable because it touches too close to the things we’d rather not face in ourselves.

The relevant social commentary continues with two back-to-back episodes from season two. ‘The Howling Man’, stars John Carradine (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance) as a religious zealot who’s warnings about his howling prisoner go unheeded by a misguided guest. The acting here is a little over the top as a lot of older pictures are, but the double creepy ending warning us of the devil’s tricks and man’s weakness. The old school horror elements and the off the cuff handling of the serious subject matter keeps us thinking about the error of man’s ways fifty years on.

And of course, More Treasures of the Twilight Zone concludes with perhaps the series’ most famous tale, ‘Eye of The Beholder’. Where some folks may simple say, ‘You know that Twilight Zone episode where this happens or that person this…’, that does not happen with ‘Eye of the Beholder’. The title alone brings back all the beauty versus ugly, totalitarian commentary that The Twilight Zone is about; and of course, it’s masterfully captured in the likes of futuristic plastic surgery as only Rod Serling can write it. There really isn’t a famous star this episode, which is fitting, since the tale is about a woman waiting for the bandages to come off her new surgery-a surgery which will hopefully make her look like everyone else. Sure we know the outcome inside and out, but rewatching ‘Eye of the Beholder’ never gets old. There’s always something new here to notice and reflect upon. For most of the episode, we see no human faces-all covered up, hidden, and shadowed. How fascinating that in a visual medium, we are enthralled by a story about beauty, in which we almost see no faces! That, my friends, is the power of The Twilight Zone.

More Treasures of the Twilight ZoneThese and other Twilight Zone DVDs are available at most video retailers, online shops, or for rental. ‘Shadow Play’, ‘The Howling Man’, ‘The Hitch Hiker’, and ‘Perchance to Dream’ are also available to view free at IMdB and fancast. The Twilight Zone can also be found at Amazon on demand for a fee. The Twilight Zone: Volume 7 and More Treasures of The Twilight Zone help this timeless series keep its hold on us well into the 21st century. Relive the primitive science fiction, bizarre fantasy, and thought provoking horror again or introduce the next generation today.

Count Yorga, Vampire!

Count Yorga, Vampire! Still Pretty Darn Good
By Kristin Battestella

I consider myself something of a vampire film aficionado. When I settled in for a late night viewing of Count Yorga, Vampire!, however, I was surprised to find it wasn’t the film I thought. In fact, I had never seen it before, and was pleasantly surprised with all the 1970 spooks and zings.

After her mother’s death, Donna (Donna Anders) and her boyfriend Michael (Michael Macready) hold a séance, conducted by the new local medium Count Yorga (Robert Quarry). At the end of the evening, friends Erica (Judy Lang) and Paul (Michael Murphy) offer Yorga a ride home. Soon after, Erica begins to act strangely, and Doctor Jim Hayes (Roger Perry) investigates her bizarre loss of and need for blood (!). His suspicions of vampirism lead to a cunning cat and mouse game with Yorga, his deformed servant Bruda (Edward Walsh), and a host of vampire brides.

Though Judy Lang as Erica and Donna Anders as Donna are a dime a dozen like their counterparts Paul and Mike, Count Yorga, Vampire! is a devilishly delicious vehicle for Robert Quarry. Back in the day, the eponymous Count was probably sexy and handsome, but today his stereotypical redlined cape, medallion, and white makeup work the creepy factor. I guess the late Quarry (Dr. Phibes Rides Again) still looks handsome in his 1970s glory, but it’s that older, nasty uncle vibe that makes Yorga deceptive and scary. The though that he’s watching our naughty couple shack up in a van goes beyond supernatural creepies to realistic disturbs.

Roger Perry’s (Falcon Crest) Doctor Hayes is the perfect modern Van Helsing to Quarry’s updated, swinging Count. Hayes knows his scientific stuff, but his fear while on Yorga’s nighttime turf is honest and natural. The intelligence and the strange mutual fear and respect from these leads keeps Count Yorga, Vampire! as intriguing as the vampire kink. Sure, the evening battle of wits with a sunrise deadline is nothing new from writer and director Bob Kelljan (Scream Blacula Scream!), but the desperation of the characters and a hint of fun from the actors keeps this film watchable when other low budget forty year old films have become unbearable.

It’s not that Count Yorga, Vampire! is particularly frightening, but it’s a great example of how an eerie atmosphere goes a long way. The old film stylings, like proper zooms and extreme close ups, add spooky flare- along with a creepy house with lots of stairs and a dungeon lair. There’s a touch of cheap soft-core porn nostalgia here, but the film is actually almost gore and nudity free. Of course there are almost some nipples or see through nightgowns and one count eating a kitten-but who’s keeping track? These kinky flashes mixed with quick, dark, and bizarre camera angles make Count Yorga, Vampire! an uncomfortable viewing that you can’t take your eyes away from. Half asleep at 2 a.m. and I was sitting up wide awake, on the edge of my seat, itching to see who lives or dies next.

After repeat viewings, some of the gotchas probably don’t hold up, but at that point, the fun takes over. Who hasn’t gone as a vampire just like Count Yorga for Halloween or tricked out their house every October with dungeon stylings? I remember being about ten years old, teasing up my hair, and donning one of my mother’s sixties red dresses for Halloween. I stuck my gut with a fake knife and squirted ketchup all around me as I dropped to the floor. The dog started licking the ketchup from the dress, and my mom came in and screamed. It’s that attempt at fright that gives us such fond memories and repeat viewings of Count Yorga, Vampire!

Count Yorga, VampireIf it isn’t the visuals that get you in a Halloween mood, the creepy organ score will. The music is obvious and loud in all the right big and scary places, as over the top horror classics should be. Bill Marx (also of the sequel The Return of Count Yorga and Scream, Blacula, Scream!) gives us that clichéd ambiance of old, and like a solid theme from Dark Shadows, keeps us thinking about Count Yorga, Vampire! long after a viewing. Yes, it’s silly and relatively poor in film quality by today’s standards, but Count Yorga, Vampire! gets every vampire cliché right. Our long established vampire film formula works for a reason. In 1971, The Return Of Count Yorga inexplicably continues the tale here. Nevertheless, after all the fun from number one, both films will be on my Halloween marathon schedule this year.

Count Yorga, Vampire! is available on DVD by itself or in sets with The Return of Count Yorga at very affordable prices. Although tame compared with films today, Count Yorga, Vampire! might be too kinky for a family viewing. Nevertheless, vampire fans or old school film lovers can take in a late night viewing for a fangs fix anytime of the year.

11 May 2009

Thunderball and You Only Live Twice

Skip Thunderball, Enjoy You Only Live Twice
By Kristin Battestella

In this recent Bond escapade I’ve embarked upon, I caught the fourth and fifth installments of the series back to back. Same Bond, same SPECTRE, yet crappy Thunderball and good You Only Live Twice.

ThunderballIn Thunderball, Agent 007 James Bond (Sean Connery) is sent by M (Bernard Lee) to a health spa to recuperate after defeating SPECTRE Number 6 Jacques Bouvar. While there, Bond romances therapist Patricia Fearing (Molly Peters) and stumbles upon the henchmen of Emilio Lago (Adolfo Celi), SPECTRE’s Number 2. Lago, along with the beautiful but deadly Fiona Volpe (Luciana Paluzzi), steals atomic weapons and retreats to his cruise ship the Disco Volante. Fortunately, Bond gets under the skin of Lago’s mistress Domino (Claudine Auger) as he trails Lago from Miami to Bermuda, above the water and below.

I have to admit, I think I zoned out somewhere in the middle of Thunderball. I previously watched the 1983 unofficial remake Never Say Never Again, and in direct comparison, Thunderball looses. Connery’s short shorts may have charmed ladies in the sixties, but goodness gracious they look dumb now. And the orange itsy bitsy diving suit, oiy! As if the underwater sequences weren’t bad enough-you can’t tell who is who in the ill choreographed, dark sequences-the only thing you can see is Connery’s tight little wet orange butt. If that is the only thing I can clearly remember about Thunderball, that’s not a good sign. I can’t believe these were state of the art, award-winning effects in 1965.

Amid the weak script from count ‘em six writers, we do have a fine helping of Bond girls. From therapist Patricia Fearing to vixen Fiona Vulpe, James gets his fair share of loving. It is however bizarre to strengthen women like Vulpe and Bond’s assistant Paula Caplan (Martine Beswick), yet have misused chicks like Domino and Fearing. Even though they all look different and serve Bond at different times, sometimes I had a tough time remembering which gal was whom in Thunderball. And everybody is dang dubbed again!

In addition to confusion with the ladies, there have always been issues behind the scenes for Thunderball as well. Frankly, with such a poor showing here and a less than perfect redo twenty years later, why should I care who has the right to produce this story? I must say, I would love to see this nuclear plot updated to today with a rival Bond against current actor Daniel Craig. I can’t help myself, and the story does have an intriguing premise, an as yet not fully tapped SPECTRE villain Lago, and a chance for another hot Domino. Why not?

You Only Live TwiceFortunately, I have more love for Connery’s fifth turn as 007 in You Only Live Twice. Instead of anticlimactic water locations, Twice gives us exotic Asia locales and a touch of seriousness for good ole James. After faking his death in Hong Kong, Bond re-emerges in Tokyo to investigate mysterious spacecraft comings and goings over the Sea of Japan. With the help of Japanese Agents Tanaka (Tetsuro Tamba) and Aki (Akiko Wakabayashi), 007 uncovers the true mastermind of the space age American and Russian dissident: Ernest Stavro Blofeld (Donald Pleasence), head of SPECTRE. Bond goes undercover as a Ninja and infiltrates Blofeld’s volcano lair with his pretend Japanese wife Kissy Suzuki (Mie Hama). Will Bond stop Blofeld before American’s next space launch?

A lot of it is very cliché, and I really don’t know why these chicks are always dubbed, but the Japanese feels in You Only Live Twice make the film. Yes, we’ve had stereotypical Asian girls and villains before, but this picture Bond is in Hong Kong and Tokyo. Little of Fleming’s tale is here, but Roald Dahl’s story utilizing fake deaths and undercover ninjas tops any dated faults. I think the Little Nelly helicopter sequences are a little goofy, but unlike Thunderball, what’s dated here seems all in good fun.

After several actors and numerous cloak and dagger tactics, we finally see Blofeld and his white kitty in all their glory. Ala Dr. Evil from Austin Powers, Donald Pleasence is perhaps the best villain ever in You Only Live Twice. He knows what he’s doing and isn’t afraid to be ruthless with Bond or his SPECTRE agents. Villainous front man Mr. Osato (Teru Shimada) also gives Bond an intriguing nemesis, as does corrupt secretary Helga Brandt (Karin Dor). Even if the spaceships and volcano tricks seem silly, there is definitely a sense of peril for Bond, his allies, and the world!

Sometimes it is tough to tell which gal is which, for they sound and look the same-and we never actually hear Kissy Suzuki’s name. Nevertheless, they are beautiful, even if they merely exist to serve Bond again. There is a fine line between being kinky and racist with these easily replaced Asian chicks that Bond beds, but You Only Live Twice embraces its Japanese lovelies and locales more than it abuses them. Karin Dor is also a delight as the ambiguous vixen Helga Brandt. Her scenes with Bond are great, and her fate at the hands of Blofeld is classic.

Though Connery seems to take too long to do everything in Thunderball, he turns serious for You Only Live Twice. There’s plenty of tongue in cheek with all the babes, but Bond really seems like a secret agent here. From the false death to his undercover absorption, Connery totally immerses himself in all of Bond’s skills. He was unhappy with the role and was coaxed back, and in a way, Connery’s displeasure and fear of typecasting helped strengthen and develop Bond into a complex agent with multiple talents to utilize.

You Only Live Twice, I have to admit, is not perfect. The spaceship footage and rocket motifs look like a bad joke today. Some of the ninja montages and volcano finale are also weak; and good Lord Bond receives ‘plastic surgery’ and is made to look Japanese with some fake skin over his eyes! Um, yeah, that would fly today. The last half hour is too long as well, but all in all, You Only Live Twice has a complete hour and a half worth of its complex story. I couldn’t wait for Thunderball to end, but I couldn’t take my eyes away from You Only Live Twice.

I’m sure there are some fans that swear by Thunderball and outlaw You Only Live Twice; it’s the nature of this franchise. The serious plots and strong characters from Twice have however outlived the outfitted Aston Martin and super jet packs from Thunderball. Hard core Connery and lovers of all Bond regardless can love both pictures, but casual viewers should leave Thunderball.

Of course, new, young viewers looking for the latest effects and action won’t find any of the modern fancies in either film. Unfortunately, Thunderball is available on bluray while You Only Live Twice is not. It figures the James Bond Bluray Volume 2 crams Thunderball with For your Eyes Only and From Russia with Love. If only there were a rhyme to these packages beyond financial reasons. For audiences like me who can leave as many Bonds films as I take, picking and choosing isn’t so bad. For collectors, unfortunately, the Bond piggy bank is bleak. All those VHS, then individual DVDs, then the ultimate DVD sets, and now individual and random bluray collections. When will the rape of the 007 consumer end? Begin saving yourself the trouble by skipping Thunderball and enjoying You Only Live Twice.

07 May 2009

Live and Let Die

Stereotypes Taint Live and Let Die
By Kristin Battestella

Generally considered at the low end of the James Bond franchise, I like Live and Let Die for its introduction of new Bond Roger Moore and slick performance by Yaphet Kotto. Unfortunately, stereotypical portrayals of Harlem and New Orleans along with a hefty dose of blaxploitation styling make some portions of Live and Let Die too dated and out of touch with the rest of the series.
MI6 Agent 007 (Moore) travels to America to investigate several murders, including the death of a fellow agent. Clues at Mr. Big’s New York Club lead Bond to New Orleans and Caribbean dictator Kanaga (Yaphett Kotto). Along with CIA agent Rosie Carver (Gloria Hendry), Bond travels to San Monique, where boatman Quarrel Jr. (Roy Stewart) helps him rescue the lovely Solitaire (Jane Seymour) from Kanaga’s voodoo practices and drug trafficking.
Some Bond pictures tend to drag or go on too long, but the short length of Live and Let Die is just right. Bond does what he has to do and that’s that. We’ve got the action and the babes, but Moore’s lighthearted tenure begins here with quick pacing and tongue in cheek scenarios. Though Live and Let Die has its faults, Roger Moore isn’t too bad here. Using a magnetic watch to unzip an Italian hottie in his opening scene puts Moore in the cool column. Some of the crocodile sequences and voodoo displays are silly, yes, but these are not his fault. Had Moore been given a tighter, darker script, maybe his sardonic portrayal and less rugged Bond might have developed differently. 
Also charming up the cast for Live and Let Die are Yaphet Kotto (Homicide: Life on the Street) and Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman). I like both, so even in the weaker parts of the film, Seymour and Kotto show their talent. Again, some scenes are very silly, from Kotto’s obvious dual role as Kanaga and Mr. Big to Solitaire’s virginal end at the hands of Bond. Solitaire is beautiful and Kanaga is slick, but their dialogue isn’t very strong. Both are merely vehicles for Bond to do his outlandish things. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz (Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun) and director Guy Hamilton (Goldfinger, Diamonds Are Forever, The Man with the Golden Gun) focus more on black stereotypes and seventies motifs of the day rather than giving what could have been an exceptional leading trio something truly meaty. Drugs and tarot cards definitely seem weak after all of SPECTRE’s world domination plans.
Now, some blaxplotation pictures are less derogatory than others and are still pretty good. Unfortunately, Live and Let Die is not one of them. Not only are all the seventies afros and dress very dated, but every black cliché has its moment. Turncoat agent Rosie Carver sports an afro wig and meets her demise after spending the night with WASP Bond. But of course, we don’t see Kanaga bagging Solitaire, do we? I don’t know how accurate the voodoo motifs are, but they don’t look authentic. In fact, all the snakes and skulls rising from the ground are laughable. Even if the opening funeral and jazzy murder are done right, the depictions of Harlem, New Orleans, and the Fillet of Soul restaurants are just too, well, racist. Bond likes some chocolate love on the side while rescuing the white virgin from the big black badass! I don’t know how this could have been acceptable in 1973, and you definitely could not get away with making so blatant a picture today. Even redneck cops make an appearance!

On a better note, who doesn’t love Paul McCartney and Wings’ thunderous Live and Let Die theme? The voodoo title sequence leaves something to be desired, but this is definitely one of the more famous Bond tunes. However, I do wish there was a little less of this gem and a little more of the traditional Bond theme spotlighting throughout the picture. In one scene, a sultry black woman sings Live and Let Die in part of a set up against Bond. It’s not bad, but again it’s a touch of stereotypical blackness that Live and Let Die doesn’t need. After such success with previous Bond vocalist Shirley Bassey, I think this little scene is a slap in the face. Black Bond girls are bad and only good for their jive turkey music for the white boy secret agent! I’m so glad that with kick ass girls like Michelle Yeoh and Halle Berry, this franchise has resolved its early Black and Asian stereotypes. Live and Let Die certainly has its faults, including a weak story and racist overtones. Thankfully, there are some fine action sequences. Even though we traded the loveable Q for bad voodoo, Bond still has great chases-including cool uses of a double decker bus and an extensive boat chase. Bond gets the babes, of course, and the bad guys get their due. In the end, there isn’t much else to ask for in a Bond picture, is there?
Dated and imperfect, Live and Let Die still has a fine cast and solid action. The stereotypical blaxplotation style is not for everyone, but I imagine die-hard Bond fans can dismiss this fault as a sign of the times. Oft aired on television and affordable as an individual DVD, Live and Let Die is available in several collections and bluray sets as well. I really wish the Bond collections were packaged by Bond. The Volume 1 Bluray set hails Dr. No, Live and Let Die, and Die Another Day. Which fans is this set for, and why do they always have a consensus clunker stuck amid the good ones? Collectors no doubt own Live and Let Die, but fans of the cast should also give this one another chance. Some of it is certainly better than the rest, but one can say that about the Bond franchise itself, can’t he?

06 May 2009

Suddenly, Last Summer

Superb Cast Owns Suddenly, Last Summer
By Kristin Battestella

Though it was a big controversial film back in 1959, folks today often overlook Suddenly, Last Summer. We know the big names here, from Katherine Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor to Tennessee Williams and Gore Vidal, so where’s the love? Perhaps dated in its science and social mores onscreen and off, Suddenly Last Summer is still an intelligent, complex character study that deserves another look.

After the death of her high living son Sebastian ‘suddenly, last summer’, Ms. Violet (Hepburn) contacts Dr. John Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) in hopes his experimental lobotomy techniques can help her disturbed niece Catherine (Taylor), a witness to Sebastian’s death. Violet promises desperately needed money for Dr. Cukrowicz’s clinic, but after delving into Catherine’s psyche, Dr. Cukrowicz is not so sure brain surgery is the right course of action. What is the true genesis of Catherine’s mental troubles, and why is her aunt Violet so eager for Catherine’s memory to disappear?

Suddenly, Last Summer is intriguing today for its casual talk of lobotomies and brain surgery as new and radical. Taking place in 1937, these technologies were dangerous and misused back in the day. Scary then, that people with enough money can still play with lives and brains as they do here. The effortless toking up and cigarette talk is also strange to see on screen again. These old-fashioned viewpoints and styles like netted hats and gloves add to the black and white noir and suspense. It’s off its time and place, yet says much about us today. We tend to think of the past as so grandiose; but no matter how high and mighty, people are still corrupted by wealth and family secrets. The styles and perceptions may change, but some people don’t.

Made to look ugly even though she clearly isn’t, Elizabeth Taylor’s (A Place In The Sun-also with Clift, Giant, Butterfield 8) Catherine doesn’t appear until over a half hour into the film. Her disturbed, conflicted girl wavers from innocent to sultry to neurotic. Where is the truth? Taylor convinces us, and then turns on the dime. Matching Taylor’s Catherine to Hepburn’s Violet is an intriguing, intelligent game for the audience, and both ladies were nominated for Best Actress here. Even though they don’t meet until the final half hour of the film, Hepburn and Taylor bring this bizarre family’s secrets to a head. What was truly going on last summer? Is Suddenly, Last Summer about Sebastian- his life or his death; or is he merely the catalyst for these women to face their own demons?

Though modern audiences may not care for the one camera, one place, two people stage style; any fan of great film cannot deny the presence of Katharine Hepburn. Her aging eccentric has slick, near sociopath soliloquies, showing she still has her stuff. Hepburn’s (The Philadelphia Story, Woman of the Year, On Golden Pond) varying voice pitch and patterns, mixed with swift statures and fidgets with her shawls and wraps give an extra edge against Montgomery Clift’s quiet demeanor. She’s the elder statesmen of the cast, but Katharine gives Taylor a run for her money. As much as you feel a passing of the torch, Hepburn is sad and likeable while being a true bitch with bite. Violet is not a role just anybody can pull off.

Yes, poor Montgomery Clift (Red River, The Heiress, From Here to Eternity) is caught between these two exceptional women. Looking stronger and healthier than his last appearance with Taylor (he was in a car accident that damaged his face during filming for Raintree Country) Clift is up to the challenge here. He’s charmed by both women, yet keeps his doctor’s wits about him. He genuinely wants to help both ladies and gain the much-needed financial support for his hospital, but ‘Dr. Sugar’ as Violet says, can’t have it all. While quite capable of delivering his own intense scenes, Clift’s dialogue here is more reflexive and responsive to the star ladies. You would think our Dr. Sugar is quietly in control, but against these women, no. Montgomery Clift is perhaps my favorite actor, top 3 most definitely. In his short, tragic career there are quite a few gems and classic essentials. We idolize James Dean and Marlon Brando today, but Clift is often overlooked. One might say he is almost overlooked in Suddenly, Last Summer, but Dr. Sugar is the critical fulcrum on which his powerful co-stars balance. Some actors would crave their fair share, but Clift gives a solid, subdued performance in a decade where everyone seemed to over act.

The supposedly grand and Oscar nominated sets, unfortunately don’t transfer well to the modern screen. Perhaps you could get away with depth tricks and cardboard layers on stage, but not in the film adaptation of Suddenly, Last Summer. The supposedly lofty New Orleans mansions and exotic gardens are too flat, especially in black and white. Thankfully, it’s not the sets one is after. Adapted from his own play, Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) and Gore Vidal (The Left Handed Gun, Caligula) bring dialogue and characters that are much more complex and layered than mere sets could be. Fine acting and simple staples work best: Hepburn always in white and the dark horse Taylor adorned in black-except for Liz’s scandalous, infamous wet and white bathing suit. Sound also plays a special part in Suddenly, Last Summer. Rising music as the women tell their tales, crazy asylum laughter, or lobotomized patients knitting in creaking rocking chairs; at the same time, effects and music know when to be silent for the critical speeches. It’s refreshing to see a film that sticks to old school techniques and lets the cast act-no desensitizing violence, sex, or CGI. Ah, they just don’t make ‘em like they used to.

I will say the end of Suddenly, Last Summer is somewhat overlong. There are too many flashbacks from Taylor, but it’s all necessary to confirm the pieces we’ve received. It’s twisted and bizarre, but worth the wait. Often I hear criticisms that older films are quieter and slow and over done, but for me that’s nicer than a top heavy modern film that ends with half its story to tell because it’s trying to be avante garde. Sure some of Suddenly, Last Summer is obvious to today’s audiences, but the fine performances and getting to the resolution trump any mishandled homosexual innuendo. If you’re a gay man, you’re automatically a pedophile soliciting boys-please! Again, it’s somewhat fascinating to look at these signs of the times. Much of what Williams and Vidal plotted was censored and forced to be redone amid a tense set due to Clift’s own gay leanings and substance abuse. In truth, Hollywood in 1959 was just as disturbed as our onscreen 1937 drama.

With a fine cast at the top of its game and intriguing perspectives on a variety of social subjects from the thirties, fifties, and today- Suddenly, Last Summer is a multi-layered mystery statement that deserves fans to study, dissect, and analyze this picture. Naturally, immature youths and prudes might be put off by the latent homosexual subject matter. Nevertheless, the gay plot elements aren’t what this film is about and one should not be deterred from watching Suddenly, Last Summer because of them. Fans of the cast will of course enjoy; and scholars in film, plays, psychology, or socially might take an educational viewing. Perhaps not easy to find in stores, the DVD is available online at very affordable prices. Take a chance on Suddenly, Last Summer. You might find an old film that makes you think.