How can anyone with a taste for swingin’ 60s residue resist the first U.S. made film by French kitsch-meister Roger Vadim (“Barbarella,” “And God Created Woman”), written by “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry, and starring Rock Hudson as a self-styled high school guidance counselor who seduces his most beautiful female students and deflowers a priapic male protegee (Jon David Carson) via English teacher Angie Dickinson? What if I throw in a murder mystery plot and supporting performances by Telly Savalas as a pre-“Kojak” homicide cop, Keenan Wynn, Roddy McDowell, James “Scotty” Doohan, and several under-clothed starlets as the misnamed maidens? Try seeing it.
For the first 15 minutes, 1970’s “Pretty Maids All in Row” is almost as interesting as it sounds. Hudson is actually giving one of his better performances and Vadim did have a Playboy photographer’s gift for presenting beautiful women. That, however, leaves another 75 minutes that is about as sloppy and offensive as a mainstream black comedy can be. Even making some allowances for the time, and the fact that Hudson’s character, “Tiger” McDrew, seems to limit his advances to seniors, there is a serious ethical problem here. Based on a novel by Frances Pollini, the film takes a step beyond unfunny 60s sexism into misogyny and, eventually, into seeming to excuse murder or just about anything else. If Roman Polanski had made this movie instead of Vadim, it would have been Exhibit A — it would also have been a lot funnier and more coherent. This one earned its obscurity.
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Everything pretty much is working out at this weekend’s box office as was predicted Thursday night. The exception being that, as a whole, the post-Thanksgiving Day letdown may be slightly bigger than expected. To be specific, as prognosticators prognosticated, Disney’s “Tangled” led the box office derby.
Showing the usual strength of well-received family-animated comedies, the film formerly known as “Rapunzel” earned an estimated $21.5 million over the weekend. The less than thrilling news here is that, as calculated by Box Office Mojo‘s indispensable weekend chart, it suffered a rather larger than usual second weekend drop for its genre of 55.9%. Still, I’m guessing we can attribute some of that to the post-holiday doldrums.
On the sunny side of the equation, the musical action comedy is already very close to the $100 million in its second weekend, and that’s never bad. On the other hand, the typically enormous CGI animation budget of $260 million makes that kind of number seem a hair less impressive. On the other other hand, when you consider not only the the worldwide box office, but the licensing, I think it’s fair to say that “Tangled” will be another profitable feather in the ever-more-humongous Disney cap.
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Another link to cinema’s past has left us with the passing of the legendary Italian and eventually American producer at age 91. A truly old school style movie mogul with all the good and bad that went with that, creatively speaking, Dino De Laurentiis was instrumental in launching the worldwide vogue for European cinema, particularly in his partnership with fellow powerhouse producer Carlo Ponti and ultimate Italian auteur Federico Fellini.
During a period I personally consider Fellini’s creative prime, De Laurentiis co-produced two of the director’s most powerful films, the classic tearjerker “La Strada” with Anthony Quinn and the great Giulietta Masina, and “Nights of Cabiria” also with Masina, a great tragicomedy and a huge personal favorite of mine. He also produced two now somewhat obscure adaptations, a version of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” with Audrey Hepburn and “Ulysses.” Fortunately, the latter was not an adaptation of the James Joyce stream-of-consciousness meganovel, but Homer’s “The Odyssey,” and starred Kirk Douglas in the heroic title role.
No snob, De Laurentiis had a gift for commingling arthouse fare, quality middlebrow entertainment, and complete schlock — some of it fun, some it merely schlocky. Geeks cried foul when he eschewed stop-motion for an unworkable animatronic monstrosity and, mostly, Rick Baker in a monkey suit for his silly mega-blockbuster remake attempt, “King Kong,” but that movie was a classic when compared to something like the hugely regrettable killer-whale flick “Orca.”
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Tonight’s box office preview has been moved to tomorrow because of a couple of a films news items that just can’t quite wait. The first can be dispensed with in a second. Casting has been announced on “The Hobbit,” short, snub-nosed and talented Martin Freeman will face his inevitable hobbity destiny as Bilbo Baggins, as Peter Jackson again casts a bunch of people I’ve mostly never heard of in smaller roles who’ll probably all be great.
And then there’s this news of Mel Gibson being let go from “The Hangover 2 just a day after it was announced he’d been hired to play a supporting role. Oy.
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