The Morning After: November 7, 2011

Welcome to The Morning After, where I share with you what I’ve seen over the past week either in film or television. On the film side, if I have written a full length review already, I will post a link to that review. Otherwise, I’ll give a brief snippet of my thoughts on the film with a full review to follow at some point later. For television shows, seasons and what not, I’ll post an individual comments here about each of them as I see fit.

So, here is what I watched this past week:

Evening Primrose

The last full Sondheim musical that I hadn’t heard was available on Netflix Instant, which allows me to catch up on this dark, short form musical production, which appeared on television in 1966. The story follows a disillusioned poet (Anthony Perkins) whose decided to give up his life and career and live full time in the dark recesses of a local department store. After he stows himself in the facility successfully, he launches into a song about his new life. However, all is not as it seems when he discovers a whole community of aging vagabonds who’ve made the store their home as well. They have timed the guard’s movements precisely and use it to ensure that their secret is never revealed.

Among the elderly denizens of the store is a young woman (Charmian Carr) who fell asleep while her mother was shopping and has been a prisoner ever since. The store people will not permit others to leave as they fear discovery and the potential destruction of their way of life. They call some mysterious individuals known only as “Dark Men” to dispose of those who might threaten their way of life.

There are only a handful of songs in this production, but Stephen Sondheim’s dark wit pulses in between each dazzlingly lyrical piece. A master of quick, complex phrases, Sondheim’s words are delivered with surprising eloquence by Anthony Perkins, most easily recognized for his creepy performance in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. His light tone and upbeat attitude add a much needed jolt to his dire surroundings. And although Carr isn’t a particularly gifted actor, her musical abilities is undeniable. Her soprano voice and strong diction help create a nice counterpoint to Perkins’ less studied delivery. Any fan of Sondheim’s vast repertoire would be remiss for not catching this wonderful production.

Red River

John Wayne and Montgomery Clift headline this traditional western recounting the legendary first passage of the Chisolm Trail, a lengthy cattle drive from Texas to Abilene, Kansas. Wayne stars as the determined and bankrupt cattle rancher whose quick pistol arm enabled him to set up a vast tract of land whereupon thousands of cows have been raised, but after fourteen years and the lengthy Civil War, Wayne’s Thomas Dunson has lost every bit of money he has and he must rely on a cattle drive to Missouri to justify and pay for his long efforts. His determination is at first admirable, but as he becomes obsessed with the destination to the exclusion of all else, including his team’s health and well being, its his adoptive son Matt Garth (Clift) who must make the tough decisions and ultimately lead them to the end.

The performances of the leads, Wayne and Clift are both fine while Walter Brennan’s grizzled cook Nadine Groot is a bit over-played. Wayne isn’t my idea of a great actor, I find his stoicism to be frustrating at times and while it works a good deal in this film, his best scenes come when his character finally goes off the deep end. It’s a rough opening, but once the film gets started, he’s worth watching. I see Clift in much the same light here. At the opening of the film, he’s a bit too mannered in his performance, but as the trailer digs into the team’s psyches, his acting unwinds and he becomes an utterly charming character. For me, Brennan elicits an opposing reaction. At the beginning when he and Wayne are having words with the wagon train leader, his performance is hearty and lived-in. However, after becoming aged and far too irascible, he becomes a caricature of every mostly-crazy trail cook I can ever remember seeing.

The story itself has a measure of originality in its slight diversion from the traditional western archetypes. There are strong story arcs that keep the action from ebbing too frequently and the cinematography is used quite effectively in a number of more dismal scenes, such as the night fog encounter between Clift and Joanne Dru, a late entry into the film as a potential romantic interest for Clift. They have chemistry together and its part of the reason that scene works, but cinematographer Russell Harlan deserves most of the credit.

Cinema Paradiso

Click here to read the review

Star Trek (The Original Series): Mirror, Mirror

What’s most interesting about this episode is how the writers envisioned the opposing natures of the crew of the enterprises. The mirror universe, an alternate timeline parallel to our own where the inverse of personality is reflected, has been a longtime fan favorite and probably a delight for the actors. The plot is quite fascinating, though the conclusion doesn’t exactly end where it should (we need resolution with what transpired planetside). In the end, if you want to see actors and writers having fun while enjoying a tightly written narrative, this is a good start.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Apple

Every series needs superfluous episodes that don’t explore any new or entertaining group and exist solely as a wait to bolster season episode numbers. “The Apple” certainly fits into this category. There isn’t a lot going on in this episode and the plot is a little thin for an otherwise more worldly series, but the concept of machines controlling the population if given too much knowledge is one echoed quite frequently in science fiction. Trying to juxtapose that with a Garden of Eden-like world where the populace doesn’t age and doesn’t get sick as long as they pay tribute to the “god” on the island, makes for an interesting, if unexceptional episode. The acting isn’t particularly memorable, some of the dialogue is downright corny and the interplay between Chekov and a female crewman is laughable. But, for what it is, it’s a nicely diverting piece.

Star Trek (The Original Series): The Doomsday Machine

Every once in awhile, the Star Trek franchise feels the need to contrast the command style of James T. Kirk and other members of Starfleet. Here, we’re given a strong performance by William Windom as Commodore Decker, one of Kirk’s many old friends, who is the lone survivor of a world destroying machine travelling through space. Beating himself up over the deaths of his entire crew, Decker takes over command of the Enterprise while Kirk is on his derelict ship trying to get it semi-operational. His plan is to face the Doomsday Machine head on in hopes of destroying it against the advice of first officer Spock. What’s most fascinating is watching Windom at work. He runs the gamut of emotions without getting excessive. He’s an admirable man whose lost his grip on reality hoping to seek revenge against the ship that destroyed his crew. The plotting and resolution are top notch Trek as well, so it’s worth watching for other elements besides just Windom’s work.

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