Tag Archives: Ellen Burstyn

My 12 Favorite Horror Movies

Halloween is coming, and the dead shall rise from their graves. At least on a TV screen near you. We are awash in lists of the greatest horror movies ever made, and everybody’s trying to come up with a twist of their own. Well, I decided to just list my 12 favorites, a bunch of movies that are scary but also all-around superior entertainment.

1 The Shining

1980-U.S. Directed by Stanley Kubrick. Cast: Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd.

What I wrote: “Ten years ago, a friend of mine and I had a nerdy contest where we decided to crown the greatest horror movie ever made. After plenty of heartbreaking comparisons and heated discussions, we agreed on one candidate that we both could accept as the scariest film ever made.”

2 Alien

1979-Britain-U.S. Directed by Ridley Scott. Cast: Tom Skerritt, Sigourney Weaver, John Hurt.

What I wrote: “What should we primarily remember from this film? Perhaps just the intense feeling of terror. There’s a monster that we don’t quite know how to explain, there’s a lot of running away from it in dark corridors. Nightmares are fascinating and Alien is just as absurd, scary and repetitious as anything invented by a sleeping mind.”

3 The Exorcist

1973-U.S. Directed by William Friedkin. Cast: Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Linda Blair.

What I wrote: “It was so convincing to many in the audience that even the famous evangelist Billy Graham believed that Satan was responsible for its success. William Friedkin’s work remains potent, not least because of the raw, cold atmosphere that cinematographer Owen Roizman has created.”

4 The Omen

1976-U.S. Directed by Richard Donner. Cast: Gregory Peck, Lee Remick, Harvey Stephens.

What I wrote: The Omen does owe a lot to its famous predecessor, but thanks to the talent involved it manages to stand on its own and has in turn spawned many other more or less worthless imitations. There’s a lot to be said for a film so perversely clever it makes its audience root for a father who tries to kill his son.”

5 Halloween

1978-U.S. Directed by John Carpenter. Cast: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis.

What I wrote: “Simple – but never cheap. When the filmmakers found a Star Trek mask of Captain Kirk in a store, they realized that all they had to do to make it horrifying was change its hair, eyes and spray-paint the face white. Ingenious. It’s the small things that count.”

6 The Sixth Sense

1999-U.S. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan. Cast: Bruce Willis, Toni Collette, Haley Joel Osment.

What I wrote: “The film begins with a woman fetching a bottle of wine from a dark cellar and suddenly shuddering as if a cold wind hits her. We have all experienced it, as well as the sense of fear that accompanies it. With this film, writer-director M. Night Shyamalan shows us that there is every reason to be afraid in those moments.”

7 Poltergeist

1982-U.S. Directed by Tobe Hooper. Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Beatrice Straight.

What I wrote: “This movie frightened me as a kid. Its effect may have diminished over the years, due among other things to aging special effects, but it was a pretty spectacular thrill-ride in its day. Most previous ghost movies had been more discreet in their use of effects, but this one went all in with help from Hollywood’s very best, including the masterful Richard Edlund.”

8 Psycho

1960-U.S. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Cast: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles.

What I wrote: “The shower sequence is one of the most famous scenes in cinema history; meticulously designed, shot and edited, it features a quick series of cuts, nudity, brute force, the horrifying illusion of someone being attacked with a knife, and Bernard Herrmann’s ingenious, screeching score accompanying it.”

9 Aliens

1986-U.S. Directed by James Cameron. Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Carrie Henn, Michael Biehn.

What I wrote: “When I first heard about this film, I was 11 or 12 years old and pretty much a novice when it came to movies. Judging from what some of my classmates were talking about, I understood that Aliens was a dark, scary and very exciting film, a special experience indeed. When I finally got to see it a few years later, it blew my mind.”

10 Jaws

1975-U.S. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss.

What I wrote: “It takes time before the monster appears, a technique that was to be employed in many other films. It is easy to fear something we can only imagine (and we’re good at conjuring up gruesome images in our heads).”

11 Hereditary

2018-U.S. Directed by Ari Aster. Cast: Toni Collette, Gabriel Byrne, Alex Wolff.

What I wrote: “Isn’t it wonderful to see a director make his first feature film and just hit the ball out of the park? In Ari Aster’s case, he had several shorts behind him when he got the opportunity to make this film, the greatest horror movie we’ve seen in many years.”

12 The Conjuring

2013-U.S. Directed by James Wan. Cast: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor.

What I wrote: “James Wan is so good at building tension and delivers shocks in such a skillful way that it’s hard to resist.”

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Last Picture Show: Small-Town Decay

ANARENE, TEXAS, 1951. NOTHING MUCH HAS CHANGED…

lastpictureshowThe most famous film Peter Bogdanovich ever made didn’t come from a complete beginner. In the 1960s, he had worked as a film programmer for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and critic for Esquire. After deciding to become a director, he went to work for Roger Corman, releasing both Targets and Voyage to the Planet of Prehistoric Women in 1968. Bogdanovich had struck up relationships with other Hollywood profiles, like Sal Mineo and Orson Welles. It was the former who gave him a copy of Larry McMurtry’s novel “The Last Picture Show”, and it was the latter who told Bogdanovich that he should do the movie in black-and-white.

With friends and a background like that, and obviously a lot of talent to boot, no wonder that the film adaptation of McMurtry’s novel was hailed as “Wellesian” in the best sense of the term.

The year is 1951 and the place a small town in Texas called Anarene. The town itself doesn’t have much going for it, but we’re introduced to what might be its future, a bunch of high-school students. Sonny Crawford and Duane Jackson (Timothy Bottoms, Jeff Bridges) are seniors playing for the unsuccessful football team. The latter is dating Jacy Farrow (Cybill Shepherd), the prettiest girl in school, who’s restless and eager to lose her virginity and be considered an adult. Meantime, circumstances throw Sonny into a unexpected affair with Ruth Popper (Cloris Leachman), the frustrated 40-year-old wife of the high-school coach…

Veterans and newcomers
The film has an unusually memorable cast of characters, played by several actors who went on to have successful careers. There were veterans as well. Ben Johnson was allegedly talked into playing Sam the Lion, the paternal owner of the local movie theater, pool hall and diner, who makes sure that the boys don’t misbehave too much. Bottoms’s younger brother Sam ended up playing Billy, the intellectually handicapped boy whom the other kids humiliate and ultimately becomes a symbolic victim of the town’s narrow-minded culture.

Shepherd and Leachman are excellent in their roles, and so is Ellen Burstyn as Jacy’s bitter, hard-drinking mother. The characters move us and we’re quickly drawn into their lives and challenges, recognizing teenage angst and small-town regrets. Rich 1950s nostalgia is on display, accompanied by Hank Williams songs on the radio (there’s no other music score) and a portrait of sexually curious kids at a time when teenagers started influencing cultural trends. But this isn’t a pretty fantasy about white picket-fence neighbors, but rather a sad film about the decline of a way of life. The mood is set already in the first shot, as Robert Surtees’s camera slowly pans over the desolate town and a wind stirs up dust.

Everything that happens in the town, such as the screening of movies at Sam’s theater, depends on the energy of few individuals; if they lose interest or disappear for some other reason, there’s no one to replace them. This feeling of decay seeps into everything, including the people who live in Anarene, and it is especially toxic for younger generations who grow up with a burning desire to get the hell out of there and start their lives.

Still, Bogdanovich and McMurtry follow their characters with a lot of love, compassion and a sense of humor; it feels real, never boring. Surtees’s lovely cinematography goes hand in hand with that vision of a past about to fall victim to a more modern way of life. The search for something better, a longing for freedom, as it is shown here goes straight into one’s heart.

The Last Picture Show 1971-U.S. 118 min. B/W. Produced by Stephen J. Friedman. Directed by Peter Bogdanovich. Screenplay: Larry McMurtry, Peter Bogdanovich. Novel: Larry McMurtry. Cinematography: Robert Surtees. Cast: Timothy Bottoms (Sonny Crawford), Jeff Bridges (Duane Jackson), Ben Johnson (Sam the Lion), Cloris Leachman (Ruth Popper), Ellen Burstyn, Cybill Shepherd… Eileen Brennan, Randy Quaid.

Trivia: Shepherd’s first film. Followed by Texasville (1990); the same year Bogdanovich also released a seven-minute longer version of this film.

Oscars: Best Supporting Actor (Johnson), Supporting Actress (Leachman). Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actor (Johnson). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actor (Johnson), Supporting Actress (Leachman), Screenplay.

Last word: “We had to use black and white. Color made the town look too… pretty, I guess. And one of the things in the back of my mind was the hope that maybe we could help break that silly taboo against black and white. A lot of pictures shouldn’t be shot in color. John Schlesinger wanted to shoot ‘Sunday, Bloody Sunday’ in black and white, but they wouldn’t let him. Orson Welles told me once that all the great performances have been in black and white. That is almost literally the truth. There’s something mysterious and enriching about black and white. Color is too realistic.” (Bogdanovich, interview with Roger Ebert)

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Interstellar: Escape From Earth

MANKIND WAS BORN ON EARTH. IT WAS NEVER MEANT TO DIE HERE. 

interstellarThe day I saw this movie, I woke up feeling sad over what is a very common dream for me. It had taken me back to my teenage years, or childhood (time is not all that important in these dreams) and I was with my parents, brother and sister, all living together. I’m not sure why these dreams put me in a melancholy mood; my family is alive and our bonds are strong. But my parents and siblings have put an indelible mark on me, even though it may not have been as clear in, say, 1990.

One of the early reviews of Interstellar called it “Christopher Nolan’s most personal yet”. His family issues just happen to be here in the shape of a space epic.

Sometime in the future, Earth has become a difficult place to live. Most of its surviving inhabitants have become farmers, desperately trying to find ways to survive, constantly plagued by violent dust storms. Former astronaut Joseph Cooper (Matthew McConaughey) is approached by Dr. John Brand (Michael Caine) and his team who tell him that there is a wormhole in space near Saturn, put there by extra-terrestrials, that can take an expedition into other dimensions. Since Earth is more or less doomed, Brand hopes to assemble a crew that could find other inhabitable planets where mankind has a chance to settle. Cooper agrees to do it, along with three other astronauts, including Brand’s daughter Amelia (Anne Hathaway). After a very painful goodbye to his children, the journey begins…

Challenging the imagination of traditional Nolan fans
After a brilliant Batman trilogy and Inception (2010), there is no doubt that Nolan is in a very creative and successful mode and this is his most ambitious project yet. Those who know 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) will recognize themes and visual details from that masterpiece, but Nolan was also inspired by complex films like Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975) and more down-to-earth NASA chronicles like The Right Stuff (1983). Nolan’s ambition is clearly to challenge the imagination of his traditional fans, fusing action and tension (especially in two thrilling set-pieces, one on the watery surface of a planet where our heroes face gigantic tsunamis, and one on another planet where they fight a very unexpected enemy) with “trippy” visuals near a black hole and intelligent musings on climate change and how our mind and human bonds work.

It’s a lot to chew on, and there are moments during the film’s near-three hour running time that Nolan is close to losing us. Some of the characters are underdeveloped, the pacing is uneven, and Hans Zimmer’s music score runs the whole gamut, from genuinely touching to overly hysterical infatuation with organs. However, there is so much here to cherish. This is perhaps the only film I’ve seen that clearly explains and illustrates why we’re not doing enough to combat climate change. It’s simply not in us because all human beings care about is ourselves and possibly our children; our thinking in general doesn’t stretch farther than that. The filmmakers’ attitude to what is happening to Earth in the future is depressing but realistic, without preaching.

McConaughey, Hathaway and Jessica Chastain are perfectly relatable in their parts, even as the film plays around with time and space. The visual effects and production design are based on cutting-edge technology and science that bring us one step closer from the unfathomable to something tangible.

In the end, it is also a simple story about the bond between a father and a daughter. That’s where the heart of the movie lies, an emotional, touching connection that transcends the cold science. 

Interstellar 2014-U.S.-Britain. 169 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Christopher Nolan, Lynda Obst, Emma Thomas. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Screenplay: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan. Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema. Music: Hans Zimmer. Production Design: Nathan Crowley. Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Joseph Cooper), Anne Hathaway (Amelia Brand), Jessica Chastain (Murphy Cooper), Wes Bentley, David Gyasi, Michael Caine… John Lithgow, Casey Affleck, Ellen Burstyn, Topher Grace, David Oyelowo, Timothée Chalamet. Cameo: Matt Damon.

Trivia: Steven Spielberg was allegedly considered as director at one point; Irrfan Khan for a role.

Oscar: Best Visual Effects. BAFTA: Best Special Visual Effects.

Last word: “The emotion of ‘Interstellar’ was really important to me but also very frightening. I wrote a speech for Anne Hathaway about the nature of love and I looked at it and thought: I should cut that out, I’m terrified of it and I don’t know how to pull it off. But she did it and it’s very important in the film. That’s what great actors can do for you. The movie wears its emotions on its sleeve, and when you’ve worked in the genres I have in the past, you have ways of sidestepping genuine emotion if it makes you uncomfortable. There’s a scene with Matthew McConaughey I find completely heartbreaking and he performed that with a rawness on the first take. It’s not something I’ve ever put into any of my films. There’s a little more theatrical distance to most things I’ve done.” (Nolan, Time Out)

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Coma

DON’T LET THEM PUT YOU UNDER.

Medical student Susan Wheeler (Lauren Ambrose) learns that an unusually high number of patients have fallen into comas in the operating room; she’s on the verge of exposing a huge conspiracy. A star-studded, expanded version of Robin Cook’s novel that was previously adapted as a feature film in 1978. That movie successfully condensed the story into an exciting thriller, but this miniseries feels awfully padded. The filmmakers try to give the impression that they’re on to something hot, but the intense score and fast editing won’t fool anyone. Still, the cast makes sure it is entertaining enough.

2012-U.S. Made for TV. 160 min. Color. Directed by Mikael Salomon. Novel: Robin Cook. Cast: Lauren Ambrose (Susan Wheeler), Steven Pasquale (Mark Bellows), Geena Davis (Agnetta Lindquist), Ellen Burstyn, James Woods, Richard Dreyfuss.

Trivia: Originally shown in two episodes. Co-executive produced by Ridley and Tony Scott.

AVERAGE

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W.

A LIFE MISUNDERESTIMATED.

There are moments here where George W. Bush comes across as a bumbling fool… but this is also in many ways a gentle portrait of a simple man who unbelievably became leader of the free world. The movie jumps back and forth between the President’s preparations for going to war with Iraq and those times in the ’70s and ’80s when he partied too much, fought with his dad and eventually found Jesus. Josh Brolin is excellent, but Richard Dreyfuss so cold and evil as Cheney that he is hard to believe in and we never learn how the younger, liberal Laura could tolerate what her husband’s administration turned into.

2008-U.S. 131 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay: Stanley Weiser. Cast: Josh Brolin (George W. Bush), James Cromwell (George H.W. Bush), Elizabeth Banks (Laura Bush), Richard Dreyfuss, Jeffrey Wright, Thandie Newton… Toby Jones, Ellen Burstyn, Scott Glenn, Stacy Keach, Ioan Gruffudd, Noah Wyle, Colin Hanks.

Trivia: Christian Bale was allegedly considered for the part of Bush; Harrison Ford and Warren Beatty for his father; and Robert Duvall for Cheney.

Quote: “Who do you think you are… a Kennedy? You’re a Bush. Act like one.” (Cromwell to Brolin)

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Alex in Wonderland

alexinwonderlandDirector Alex Morrison (Donald Sutherland) has made his first movie and stands on the verge of stardom… but has no idea what to do next. The Paul Mazursky-Larry Tucker duo followed up on their hit Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) with a film that possibly reflected their own doubts regarding the future of their careers. The tone is quite Fellini-esque in the style of  (1963), with a similar lead character who sees his world with great imagination. A pretty dull film of its time whose connection to its classic predecessor is too obsessive.

1970-U.S. 109 min. Color. Directed by Paul Mazursky. Screenplay: Paul Mazursky, Larry Tucker. Cast: Donald Sutherland (Alex Morrison), Ellen Burstyn (Beth Morrison), Viola Spolin (Mrs. Morrison), Federico Fellini, Jeanne Moreau, Paul Mazursky.

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The Exorcist: Touched By a Demon

SOMETHING BEYOND COMPREHENSION IS HAPPENING TO A LITTLE GIRL, ON THIS STREET, IN THIS HOUSE. A MAN HAS BEEN CALLED FOR AS A LAST RESORT TO TRY AND SAVE HER. THAT MAN IS THE EXORCIST.

Today it’s difficult to understand the impact The Exorcist had on people upon its release in 1973. The film followed in the footsteps of Rosemary’s Baby (1968), but its depiction of the Devil’s wicked ways was much more terrifying. In fact, it was so convincing to many in the audience that even the famous evangelist Billy Graham believed that Satan was responsible for its success.

William Friedkin’s work remains potent, not least because of the raw, cold atmosphere that cinematographer Owen Roizman has created, which is similar to what he did for Friedkin’s The French Connection (1971).

The film builds slowly but effectively, starting in northern Iraq where Father Lankester Merrin (Max von Sydow) witnesses several events that make him feel uneasy; a small stone head portraying Pazuzu, a demon god, is also found. In Georgetown we’re introduced to Father Damian Karras (Jason Miller) who’s caring for his terminally sick mother; lately he’s begun to question whether God exists at all. His great challenge comes when he’s contacted by Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn), a famous actress. Her twelve-year-old daughter Regan (Linda Blair) has been going through disturbing changes that can hardly be described as typical for puberty; she’s unusually strong, speaks in a strange voice and has been seen levitating. Perhaps Father Damian, who is also a psychiatrist, can find an explanation and treatment that all the previous doctors are too narrow-minded to see?

After meeting Regan, the priest is unable to come up with any other option but to try an exorcism; either she’s demonically possessed, or she thinks she is, and an exorcism might help in any case. He enlists the help of Father Merrin, a veteran of previous exorcisms; together they prepare to face the demon that seems to hold Regan in a firm grip.

Split-second images give way to full-throated horror
In the beginning, Friedkin uses small means to make us feel uncomfortable. Clocks stop, two dogs are fighting, Merrin’s knowing look in his face… Split-second images of white-painted horror figures here and there… All eerie incidents that eventually give way to full-throated horror as Regan’s face turns decidedly demonic, she finds the ability to turn her head 180 degrees and starts using projectile vomit as a way of attacking the priests. Very powerful stuff, but it’s not all about the special effects and Dick Smith’s brilliant makeup (he also made von Sydow look 30 years older) – there is something utterly shocking about watching a child stab her genitals with a crucifix while saying “let Jesus fuck you” and it invades your mind just as forcibly as the mask on Blair’s face.

There isn’t much music, a fact that only reinforces the sense of realism; the first tune of Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells” is used occasionally, a now-classic ingredient. Von Sydow delivers his most famous performance as the decrepit exorcist, Burstyn is incredibly intense as the suffering mother, Miller touching as the priest who becomes the ultimate weapon against Satan, and Lee J. Cobb (in his last performance) amusing as the movie-crazy cop.

In 2000 a new version of this film was released and it reinstated a talked-about but ultimately rejected sequence where Regan walks down the stairs like a spider, upside-down. That’s a great scene, but few of the other additions are necessary. The original version was perfectly paced; padding only risks making it a less frightening experience.

The Exorcist 1973-U.S. 121 min. Color. Produced by William Peter Blatty. Directed by William Friedkin. Screenplay, Novel: William Peter Blatty. Cinematography: Owen Roizman. Makeup: Dick Smith. Cast: Ellen Burstyn (Chris MacNeil), Max von Sydow (Lankester Merrin), Linda Blair (Regan McNeil), Jason Miller, Lee J. Cobb, Kitty Winn. Voice of Mercedes McCambridge.

Trivia: Jane Fonda, Shirley MacLaine and Audrey Hepburn were allegedly considered for the part of Chris; Stanley Kubrick considered directing the film. John Boorman was allegedly offered to direct the film, but refused because he thought it was “cruel towards children” – he then went on to direct the sequel. Followed by two sequels (starting with Exorcist II: The Heretic (1975)), two prequels (Exorcist: The Beginning (2004) and Dominion: Prequel to The Exorcist (2005)), and a TV series, The Exorcist (2016-2018). Later a stage play.

Oscars: Best Adapted Screenplay, Sound. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture (Drama), Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actress (Blair).

Quote: “The demon is a liar. He will lie to confuse us. But he will also mix lies with the truth to attack us. The attack is psychological, but powerful. So don’t listen, remember that, do not listen.” (Von Sydow instructing Miller)

Last word: “To me, ‘The Exorcist’ was a story about the mystery of faith, and I tried to depict that as realistically as possible. I had read the files in the Jesuit archives in Washington DC of the 1949 exorcism case that prompted Bill to write his novel. You can Google it, it was on the front page of The Washington Post. Then I spoke to the president of Georgetown, which is a Jesuit university, about that case and what he knew about it, and I was convinced that what had happened was something that was beyond our general understanding of illness and how to cure it. This was not simply a scary story, this was something of the supernatural in the natural world. And that’s how I approached the film.” (Friedkin, Time Out)

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The Wicker Man

SOME SACRIFICES MUST BE MADE.

wickerman06Cop Edward Malus (Nicolas Cage) goes to a small Washington island to look for a missing girl; what he finds is an isolated, mysterious community ruled by women. Director Neil LaBute’s new take on the 1973 classic may have an interesting twist as far as the matriarchy goes, but there isn’t a woman on the island who is even remotely likable. Everything that was quaint and special about the original is absent here; the filmmakers rather choose to emphasize what was always silly about the story.

2006-U.S. 102 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Neil LaBute. Cast: Nicolas Cage (Edward Malus), Ellen Burstyn (Sister Summersisle), Kate Beahan (Willow Woodward), Frances Conroy, Molly Parker, Leelee Sobieski. Cameos: James Franco, Aaron Eckhart.

Trivia: Also available in a five min. longer version with a slightly different ending.

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The Fountain

DEATH FREES EVERY SOUL. 

Director Darren Aronofsky’s movie is set in three different centuries and jumps back and forth between them, with Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz as incarnations of two basic characters, Tomas and Isabel. The myth of the tree of life is what holds them together; in the 16th century a conquistador is looking for it, in modern time a researcher finds its powers and some time in the future an astronaut is taking the tree far into space. Ambitious and spectacular at times, but a little out there and not as moving as it should be.

2006-U.S. 95 min. Color. Written and directed by Darren Aronofsky. Music: Clint Mansell. Cast: Hugh Jackman (Tomas/Tommy/Tom Creo), Rachel Weisz (Isabel/Izzi Creo), Ellen Burstyn (Lillian Guzetti), Cliff Curtis, Mark Margolis, Sean Patrick Thomas.

Trivia: In the early stages of this project, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett were hired for the leads.

 

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Playing by Heart

IF ROMANCE IS A MYSTERY, THERE’S ONLY ONE WAY TO FIGURE IT OUT.

playingbyheartIntroducing a reasonably impressive and large cast in a story about six individuals in Los Angeles, you kind of get the feeling that director Willard Carroll has a thing for Robert Altman. A lot of talking is required. But that doesn’t automatically make it an experience on Altman’s level; the script simply isn’t remarkable enough and the lack of passion is bothersome in a film that explores love from every angle. The cast is more fun to watch, as big stars like Sean Connery mingle with TV actors like Anthony Edwards.

1998-U.S. 120 min. Color. Widescreen. Written and directed by Willard Carroll. Cast: Sean Connery (Paul), Gena Rowlands (Hannah), Gillian Anderson (Meredith), Angelina Jolie, Madeleine Stowe, Anthony Edwards… Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Ellen Burstyn, Patricia Clarkson, Jon Stewart, Nastassja Kinski, Amanda Peet.

Quote: “Talking about love is like dancing about architecture.” (Jolie)

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Mrs. Harris

SHE LOVED HIM, SO SHE SHOT HIM.

A slightly bizarre TV version of the famous case where a teacher with kids married an affluent doctor and subsequently shot him to death when their marriage soured. A previous TV movie, The People vs. Jean Harris from 1981 (that starred Ellen Burstyn), focused a lot on the trial, but this film wants to show more of the Tarnower-Harris relationship; how they met, what made them tick. The two stars play their characters fairly broadly and director Phyllis Nagy brings a lot of color and humor to the narrative. It doesn’t quite work, but Annette Bening is outstanding.  

2005-U.S. Made for TV. 95 min. Color. Written and directed by Phyllis Nagy. Cast: Annette Bening (Jean Harris), Ben Kingsley (Herman Tarnower), Ellen Burstyn (Ex-Lover #3), Frances Fisher, Philip Baker Hall, Cloris Leachman… Mary McDonnell, Chloë Sevigny.

Trivia: Burstyn was nominated for an Emmy, which was controversial because she only appears for eleven seconds and has two lines.

AVERAGE

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Red Dragon

BEFORE THE SILENCE, THERE WAS THE DRAGON.

reddragonShortly after exposing psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) as a serial killer, FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) must confront him again in order to catch another horrible murderer. You may ask yourself what point there is in remaking Manhunter (1986), but this well-told, exciting prequel to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) takes advantage of our ambivalent feelings for Lecter and therefore involves the viewer in a different way than Manhunter did. Hopkins makes his suave cannibal more interesting here than in Hannibal (2001). The opening scenes keep one on the edge of one’s seat, as Hannibal finds a better purpose for a bad musician…

2002-U.S. 124 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Brett Ratner. Screenplay: Ted Tally. Novel: Thomas Harris. Cast: Anthony Hopkins (Hannibal Lecter), Edward Norton (Will Graham), Ralph Fiennes (Francis Dolarhyde), Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson, Mary-Louise Parker… Philip Seymour Hoffman, Lalo Schifrin. Voice of Ellen Burstyn.

Trivia: Anthony Heald and Frankie Faison appear in the original parts they had in Silence of the Lambs. Followed by Hannibal Rising (2007).

Quote: “Tell me, Will. Did you enjoy it? Your first murder? Of course you did. And why shouldn’t it feel good? It does to God. Why only last week in Texas, he dropped a church roof on the heads of 34 of his worshippers, just as they were groveling for him.” (Hopkins to Norton)

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