THE DRESSMAKER

This movie about the world of women in the Australian outback is thoroughly enjoyable. Kate Winslett is excellent as always; Judy Davis is hard to recognize but deft.

It is fun to watch a movie where the primary participants – good, bad, indifferent – are female. The story differs because there is less direct action; violence must be planned.

The movie begins with Kate arriving at a small, dried out hamlet, her hometown, where her mother, Davis, lives. Kate is a clothing designer and a seamstress; she designs, and her dresses make a difference for the women of the village.

Kate belabors under a cloud. When young, she was accused of killing the son of the village’s wealthiest man. The son had been bullying her. As plots play out, viewers learn that Kate and the son are brother and sister, and she did not kill him. However, Kate and the village believe she is cursed.

The past digressions give another designer inroads into hamlet fashion. Kate is out except for Davis and her beau, who wants to marry and take Kate and Davis away. She is unsure. Beau dives into a silo of sorghum to prove that no curse plagues her. He dies; the curse lives.

Davis plots. At a future joint entertainment in the next town the designer of the best costumes wins. Davis offers her daughter’s services to a competing hamlet, who pays. Davis dies. Kate makes the best costumes, but her personal revenge on the village and its despicable people comes last. While everyone is at the performance/contest and no one is in the hamlet, Kate sets fire to her mother’s house. It burns hot and wide – the village burns.

As residents arrive home to the burned wreckage, Kate has boarded a train and is on her way to “Paris:” If need be she will get out in Melbourne and make further travel arrangements.

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EXPOSED

recommend seeing this well-written movie with Keanu Reeves.

I was disturbed by the characters, the settings and their stories. This is a hard cord view of New York City where residents try to live on top of one another in a very nitty-gritty world.

Reeves is the partner of a cop killed while on duty; he investigates the death. If the investigation exposes all the “dirt” belonging to the dead cop, his family will not get his pension. Reeves proceeds against orders to stop. He finally interviews the final witnesses and learns how dirty his partner was – how justice was served and how keeping silent about the facts of death is the best result for everyone.

STAR WARS VII

I saw this movie on DVD. I liked Daisy Ridley, but she cannot carry this movie of 145 minutes.

Being familiar with the previous productions, I observed excessive borrowing of story from previous STAR WAR movies. I saved 25 minutes of film time by hitting the fast forward button to the recognized ending of each scene.

The relationships among the characters do not go much beyond the Soap Oper revelations in earlier movies (also found in most action movies). The viewer should not support much interaction from character development in an action movie. What is surprising is how much time the film makers devoted to character introspection.

In the end I devoted as much time to this film as it deserves.

WHITE LIGHTNING, GATOR

Movie reviews, commentary

I recommend these two movies. They are filmed in the South; nothing looks like a Hollywood set. Burt Reynolds, an ex-con, is out of prison so long as he helps Revenuers (IRS, State Taxes). Both stories involve moonshine, but Gator also includes gambling, protection, prostitution and drugs.

Each movie is a hardcore look at the facts and circumstances of happening and living in those worlds. Filming on location in the South lends a gritty authentication. Good characters die. It seems real, including car chases in White Lightning, and a spin around a lake in a boat to evade law enforcement in Gator.

At the end of Gator, Lauren Hutton, local TV news reporter, has a chance to leave and go to CBS in New York. Reynold’s character development in the film, watching women being slammed by southern culture, relents. Their newly minted relationship is at an end. He admits she would love New York work. He drives off into his world of the South.

This last point in movies today, leaving to fulfill professional aspirations is a throw-away point usually canned to become a politically correct: Go to New York. In Gator Reynolds has a nine year old daughter, who does not get much screen time. Yet at the end, the audience knows Reynolds will be sure his girl will grow into womanhood better prepared to face the world her father currently lives in.

I attribute the appearance of each movie to a low budget and to Burt Reynolds. Reynolds is a son of the South; he used the sets he had; he wasn’t making amendments to pretty things up for the camera. In the end he presented the South for what it was during the 1970s.

THE JUDGE

Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duval

Again, Robert Downey Jr. has shown that he is the premiere actor of this time and of his generation.

The movie works. Downey is a successful defense attorney whose mother dies. He has been estranged from his family and his home town since high school. His father, Robert Duval (The Judge), does not want and does not like to speak to him.

The movie is about their reconciliation. Downey learns Duval is dying, sooner than the judge admits. Downey’s presence lets Duval accept the end is near; Duval’s world is collapsing (health, death of wife, being able to take care of himself and move, and professionally). Until his son comes to town Duval has refused to submit to a reduced life.

Complicating the funeral/family situation is an accident: Duval drove his car and got into a hit- and-run accident with an enemy, without realizing it. Duval is arrested. [In California it would be a felonious hit and run which is akin to a manslaughter rap not first degree murder.] As the prosecutor Billy Bob Thornton delivers the proper doses of spite, scorn and abuse to convict Duval, as well as compassion. This movie becomes a first-rate film about the practice of law: representing family and friends, representing the elderly, trying the case and confronting and handling surprise at trial. The law and trial and Duval’s physical condition combine.

Downey’s family life in the big city is likely coming to an end. In the hometown Downey has a potential situation from his teenage years making a family life. Patricia Arquette’s scenes are brief but round out a whole family dynamic.

It is not a happy, glorious Hollywood end. Duval is convicted on a lesser included offense; he goes to prison. After a compassionate release he dies. How many actors can realize and shock of a parent’s death in his presence? Downey does by pantomime.

SUNSHINE STATE

John Sayles, Writer/Director

This movie is a lot of fun, says something about its characters and comments upon burying the past and implementing the new in the United States.

Eminent Domain in Florida plagues the lives of poor white and black residents of a neglected community, now coming into view of developers. They want to build another exclusive, beachfront, senseless community for snowbirds.

The developers are like a presidential candidate, coarse, crude, vulgar, boasting, petty, ignorant, money-driven and vile with opponents who are enemies. Political incorrectness, obnoxiousness and being rude and offensive are common. There is a full-blooded Creek Native American, who is “sh-t creek.” The developers are bought partially the City, County and regulatory bodies to get approval for all development. One means to get all the property is develop partially and drive up property taxes so the poorer residents cannot afford them.

“Bucaneer Days,” a local festival once again fails to become a community tradition to attract tourists. Angela Bassett and her husband, James McDaniel, visit her mother, Mary Alice, after decades of separation. That story plays out and dovetails into the grab for real estate riches. Edie Falco operates an older motel/restaurant and looks after her parents, Jane Alexander and Ralph Waite. They represent the change that the world is bringing to the community without the developers.

In the end development is stopped. A Native-American burial site (arrowheads) is discovered.

Portrait of a Showgirl

What might a 40 year-old Lesley Anne Warren movie happening in Vegas tell anyone about anything?

Before seeing the movie I did not know Warren trained professionally for the ballet; she’s 5’8″. She does her own stunts – she does all her own dancing well.

In the movie she’s from New York, and a bit standoffish for the Vegas crowd. Backstory: She came West to get out of a romance with a married man who has promised divorce from Wife One. He comes to Vegas and says he will get a divorce. He reappears saying divorce is filed. He wants her to sign a prenuptial agreement and marry. NO.

That backstory is she spent a lot of time on this guy, and lost everything: Time, emotions, getting on with life. She looks for anything out of the ordinary. A parking attendant went to Medical School (presumably in the Bay Area). They hook up. She urges him to finish his medical education; he agrees. She lends him her car to go to the Bay Area. (north and west of Vegas) He crashes the car in Arizona (south and east of Vegas).

In a Vegas hospital room she sees him and breaks it off with a sensible, mature view of male/female relations. He puerilely smiles seeking forgiveness.

WARREN (paraphrased): It’s over. You have to stop being a little boy, and I have to grow up and be a woman.

In other words Warren realizes more about herself than before. She can’t be this jerk’s mother; she’s not feeling sorry for his inexcusable mistakes; he has to accept responsibility and suffer the lumps for his own actions. If she’s going to get ahead in life, she has a responsibility to herself not to be swayed by a cute butt, the turn of a phrase or a big car.

DASH & LILLY

This 1999 movie (A& E, Granada) about Dashiell Hammet (Sam Shepard) and Lilly Helman(Judy Davis) starts at the beginning of the relationship. They have three activities in life – drinking, writing and love.

I have no idea why either of them loves the other especially in the early years, through 1945 after Hammet is discharged from the military. After Dash’s power to write fades, the tone of the movie changes. Lilly displays her mothering instincts. “I love him.” “Why?” The answer is in the stars, or Dash is no longer a mate; he is helpless.

The next activity is drinking, which is an everyday activity in his life; she isn’t far behind. She makes the point that drinking affects her powers to write and she is stopping. He is not interested. She returns to the bottle. There is no development on this point – how alcohol (or any other drug) might affect the relationship or writing.

Next comes writing. When he writes at the beginning, she cannot write. When she writes in the second half, he cannot. Neither of them do what writers do – read, talk about ideas, discussion words and visions. There’s very little reading of books. He spends three years in the army during World War Two and apparently doesn’t keep a diary or a notebook. The idea of writing from each of them seems, I like my ideas and writing to come spontaneously. There is no link between the decline of writing and booze.

There is a scene where he gets her into writing plays, but except for successes that process is not developed and constructed. Later when he suggests changing dialogue at the end of new play, she throws a fit. Every writer knows or should know editing, rewriting, rereading are not the same work on draft ten as on draft two. Yet, Lilly’s character reveals a complete lack of understanding of this comprehension. Indeed, one must wonder if the screenwriter knows, or the screenwriter was required to remove all the writing stuff, which makes much of the script unintelligible.

There is no love, and no understanding of writing but loads of drinking. There is a concentration on the Congressional blacklist hearings which is not a big part of the relationship. The script fairly depicts that writers in Hollywood were careless and ignorant. Hammet allowed his name to be used for an organization he had never met with. When a Writer’s Guild gathering is made during the Thirties, a clown is talking about Karl Marx. No one needs to know anything about Marx to start a union. Contract law is a much better beginning.

The sets are good, the camera work is fine, the direction is first rate. The movie might be improved if it were longer, more stuff about writing, loop those themes around to pick up the love and liquor.

SABOTAGED

Using Hitchcock’s title, Sabotage, but no hint of Hitchcock’s story, this is a usual Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. In the end he gets the bad guys.

This movie has a redeeming quality, a lot to see of Mireille Enos, part of Arnold’s law enforcement team who turns out to be a naughty, rotten woman. Near movie’s end in a car chase gun fight Arnold and Mireille exchange a few thousand shells and rounds, and miss. Finally, Arnold has to end the film. No matter what the role, it’s a living.

Beware that Joe Mangeniello is not Joe Mantegna, a mistake on my part.

STRAWMAN STUART

THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, JOHN FORD

This revered John Ford movie makes James Stuart’s character a straw man – a fake and a phony. He ventures into the frontier and believes he can use only law (and law books) to resolve disputes. Someone who is that idealistic could not live during the time the movie was set (1865 – 1875). Stuart isn’t a Quaker so he doesn’t have that religion as support. Stuart mouths off while joining the community of Shinbone. It’s no wonder people beat him up or wonder about him.

Everyone in the American west knew that law was a casual thing. Adherence to laws found in books was isolated. The late nineteenth century in America was greatly affected by the Civil War. Violence frequently proceeded or accompanied law. Frequently there was a sense of community equity. Those lessons were not forgotten by the generation which fought the War, nor subsequent generations.

But the movie only makes sense if the audience forgets history and goes along with the  thinking of James Stuart’s character. Spoiler alert! I can only say, to make it a story, thank God John Wayne shot Liberty Valance. Spoiler alert!