BAGDAD CAFE (1987) is one of those movies which begs to be called "quirky". And this it certainly is. A broken-down cafe/gas station/motel in the middle of the desert seems to collect bizarre characters like barnacles. CCH Pounder as the extremely loud owner of the cafe is wonderful and Marianne Sagebrecht as the wandering German tourist who winds up at the Bagdad Cafe is simply sublime. Jack Palance also stars as a sort-of vagabond artist. Disfunctional relationships are epidemic but the film is fascinating to watch unfold. A slightly dodgy, seemingly forced penultimate scene doesn't manage to sink an otherwise delightful film full of oddballs.
THE KING'S SPEECH (2010) predictably won the Best Picture Oscar. I haven't really seen the other nominees but this film certainly isn't "best picture" calibre. It's a nice enough movie; don't get me wrong. However it's oddly cold and uninvolving. Colin Firth's performance is fine (frankly he did more impressive acting in DORIAN GRAY) and Geoffrey Rush's performance is . . . not so hot. Helena Bonham-Carter is surprisingly fun as the Queen and Guy Pearce is woefully miscast as abdicating Eddie. The film seemed more like a TV movie and I can't think of any reason why it won best picture other than Hollywood's continuing tendency to vote for something "respectable". Perhaps another director could've brought more verve to the film or at least have conjured a little tension or suspense. Oddly many of the most historical, interesting and suspenseful events take place off screen i.e. the crisis leading up to Edward's abdication and the governmental struggles which resulted in Neville Chamberlain becoming PM and, subsequently, stepping down in favour of Winston Churchill. Granted, the film isn't specifically about these events (although they are integral to the plot) but perhaps that leads us to question whether a film should've been made about these subjects instead of the admittedly weak theatrical potential which finds the climax of a film the delivery of a radio speech.
THE LAST SUNSET (1961) is a Western directed by Robert Aldrich starring a strong cast including Kirk Douglas, Rock Hudson, Dorothy Malone, Carol Lynley and Joseph Cotten. Ah, what a mess! Kirk is an outlaw type who rides in on his old flame Dorothy Malone who is married to a drunken coward (Joseph Cotten) who is planning a cattle drive across country from Mexico to Texas. Lawman Rock Hudson is chasing Kirk with a warrant and plans to haul him in once they cross the border into his Texas jurisdiction. We are of course meant to identify with Kirk despite the fact that he is responsible for the death of Rock's brother-in-law and sister (who hanged herself in grief). Revenge-seeking Rock Hudson agrees to help Kirk on the cattle drive because . . . well, I don't really know. If all this doesn't make much sense, that's because the whole movie doesn't make much sense. Everyone's motivations seem to change from scene to scene. One minute Rock is out for Kirk's blood and the next he's grinning at some of Kirk's silly antics. Dorothy Malone clearly doesn't love her older husband and is strongly drawn to her old flame Kirk Douglas; until of course she falls in love with Rock Hudson instead in seemingly one afternoon. Kirk, who's been carrying a flame for Malone all these years, sees Hudson and Malone canoodling and, after about 5 minutes, decides to marry Malone's daughter Carol Lynley. And Joseph Cotten is removed from the film halfway through in so convenient a manner it's insulting. I guess while Kirk and Rock are tossing Dorothy back and forth there's simply no more screen time left for Cotten. Give this one a miss, folks, and watch RED RIVER instead.
SUGAR HILL (1974) is one of those AIP pictures which combines its traditional bread and butter (horror) with the new cash cow blaxploitation. This, however, is towards the end of that cycle. The film is a revenge movie featuring Marki Bey as "Sugar" Hill who seeks revenge on local crime lord Robert Quarry for the death of her sweetie. Marki heads into the bayou to plead with voodoo priestess Zara Culley (Mother Jefferson from TV's THE JEFFERSONS) for the power to seek vengeance. Sugar gives her soul to voodoo god Baron Samedi (Don Pedro Colley) in return for voodoo powers and zombie minions. Marki Bey apparently never made another movie and maybe it's easy to see why. She doesn't do so well with crying or simple emoting; however she is rather wonderful during her vengeful moments. In comparison with most of the "Twinkie starlets" cluttering up movie screens these days, Marki Bey is a regular Judi Densch! Quarry is his usual wonderful bitchy self dismissing his blonde bimbo's advances and even cuddling with a poodle! Colley seems to have wandered in from another movie; however that's not a bad thing. His Baron Samedi is over-the-top and bombastic and sometime I expected him to break out in a sales pitch for the un-cola! The zombies of SUGAR HILL are actually very effective in a stylized way; they are always covered in nice cobwebs and their large, blank eyes are much like those featured in the Doctor Who adventure THE CLAWS OF AXOS with Jon Pertwee -- that is, almost like silvery ping pong balls. While no brain-eating goes on, the zombies are suitably creepy. All in all, well worth an hour and a half of your time.
The BBC's 1983 teleproduction of MACBETH starring Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotaire is good but not great. I don't seem to be able to find a truly satisfying version of the Scottish play. The earlier BBC production of the 1970's starring a young Ian McKellan and Judi Densch is VERY unsatisfying; in other words, I didn't like that one at all! This 1983 version is quite a notch better. While I adore both Nicol Williamson and Jane Lapotaire (both extremely quirky and interesting actors) I found them both rather tame in this one and the line readings lacked a good deal of emotion and actual connection with the material. Williamson fared far better when he played HAMLET. When all is said and done, this 1983 version of MACBETH will do until a better one comes along. If it ever does.
EAT PRAY LOVE (2010) is the true story of writer Elizabeth Gilbert's crisis of self which caused her to end her marriage and take a year to travel to Italy, India and Bali. For an "Oprah book", EAT PRAY LOVE is refreshingly non-male-hating. While I have not read the book, I actually found the movie quite good. Granted, it's "Hollywooded-up" with Julia Roberts as Liz but I actually found her to be wonderful in the role; she brings a depth of emotion to her acting which this particular non-Julia fan found surprising. Javier Bardem is also very good but the standout performance is by Richard Jenkins as Richard from Texas who actually deserved an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor, I think. The film is perhaps a little reminiscent of UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (a film for which I admit to a great fondness) but it's good enough to stand on its own. And hey, the script was co-written by Eunice from SOAP so what's not to like?!?
CINEMA VERITE (2011) is the highly touted HBO movie about probably the original "reality TV" show from the early 1970s: AN AMERICAN FAMILY. Cameras followed around the "typical American family" the Louds during a time when coincidentally the family decided to self-destruct. Dad's philandering prompted Mom to kick him out of the house and file for divorce and oldest son Lance became the first openly gay man on US television. All this while the cameras were rolling. Now Tim Robbins and Diane Lane portray Mr. and Mrs. Loud in this new film version telling what happened behind as well as in front of the cameras. While watching the film I found myself wondering exactly what the point of it all was. Frankly, the HBO film seemed to be rather done by rote and didn't add anything to the story. In fact, the fact that actors are re-enacting events which we saw happen in reality on AN AMERICAN FAMILY made the whole thing seem redundant and needless. Robbins and Lane are adequate enough, I suppose, but they can't hold a candle to the real Louds. My reaction by the end of CINEMA VERITE was a sighed "so what". It seems to me all the effort went into recreating the original scenes technically than in emotionally involving the audience in the story. Oddly, the 2011 HBO movie seemed a coldly technical exercise while the original AN AMERICAN FAMILY documentary/reality series had the drama and emotion. If you wanna know the real story, go watch the original series.