Tag Archives: Maggie Smith

California Suite (1978)

california suite

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Visitors at a hotel.

Based on the hit Neil Simon play, who also wrote the screenplay, the film follows five couples all staying at the same posh Beverly Hills hotel. Hannah and Bill (Jane Fonda, Alan Alda) are a divorced couple fighting over the custody of their teenage daughter (Dana Plato). Diana (Maggie Smith) is a famous British actress set to attend the Academy Awards ceremony and being escorted by Sidney (Michael Caine) a man she wants all for herself, but can’t because he is bisexual. Marvin (Walter Matthau) is in town to attend his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah and shocked to find that his brother (Herb Edelman) has sent a prostitute (Denise Galik) to his room to entertain him for the night only for her to promptly pass out drunk the next morning just as his wife (Elaine May) is about to arrive. The final segment deals with two bickering Dr’s (Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor) who can’t get along and seem to get themselves into one over-the-top calamity after another.

Many viewers have commented that they disliked the Fonda character as she came off as too cold and bitchy, but I’ve known many people who are like her who put up a very steely front in order to protect themselves emotionally, so for me her sarcasm worked and the way she delivered her acerbic lines is fun especially as she chews up the already transparent Alda character until it seems like he isn’t even there.

Smith and Caine’s segment seemed a bit trite and generic. The first part of it deals with her nervousness about attending the awards ceremony, which isn’t all that original. The second half examines her frustrations at the fact that Sidney can’t solely commit to her, but I couldn’t completely buy into this because she was playing a rich and famous, globe-trotting actress whom I’m sure could easily find another man if she wanted and didn’t have to cling to someone who didn’t fully want her like she were some lonely, small town housewife with no options.

The third segment dealing with Matthau and the unconscious prostitute is quite funny and had me laughing-out-loud while the scenes involving Cosby and Pryor’s constant arguing is incredibly dumb and even jarring as it features a lot of silly, slapstick humor that does not fit in with the more sophisticated tone of the rest of the film.

I was also not so crazy about the film’s pacing. The first hour deals almost exclusively with the dramatic segments while the second half focuses mainly on the comical ones, which came off as imbalanced. It would’ve worked better had the stories been evenly spread out in a rotating type fashion with a few minutes spent on each one before cutting to the next one. It would also have been cool had it taken a Slacker-like approach where the characters, who never once cross paths in this movie, would have instead passed by each other at certain points and the scene would then shift to the new characters that the other ones just passed.

I was also disappointed that we never get to see much of exterior of the hotel. We do see a bird’s eye view of it during the closing credits, but I thought shots of it should’ve been shown during the beginning. I have nothing against David Hockney’s artwork that does get used, but the hotel is a part of the film’s title and therefore should have taken precedence.

Overall though I felt it was a decent dramedy worth the price of admission. It also features a terrific and distinctive jazz score by Claude Bolling that I wish had been used even more throughout.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 15, 1978

Runtime: 1Hour 42Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Herbert Ross

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The V.I.P.s (1963)

the vips2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Drama at the airport.

Several diverse characters come together at London’s Heathrow Airport. All have urgent needs that require them to board a certain flight that they hope will take off as soon as possible. Frances (Elizabeth Taylor) is the wife of rich tycoon Paul (Richard Burton) and is secretly having an affair with gambler/playboy Marc (Louis Jourdan). She has left him a ‘dear John’ letter at home and hopes to be well on her way to New York before he reads it. Les (Rod Taylor) is a businessman who also hopes to get to the Big Apple quickly to avoid the hostile takeover of his company. Max (Orson Welles) is a famous movie director traveling with his vapid starlet Gloria (Elsa Martinelli) and hoping to leave England before he is forced to pay an enormous tax penalty. Unfortunately for them a fog rolls in, which delays the flight and sends everyone’s plans into disarray.

The drama has some potential at the beginning, but the 2-hour runtime is much too long for this type of material. Whatever compelling elements the threads may have had when it started become lodged in endless talk and boredom. The scene where Burton smashes Liz’s hand against a mirror is the only time there is any action and Terence Rattigan’s soap opera script is too clichéd. Director Anthony Asquith’s direction shows no visual flair and fails to capture the airport in any type of interesting way. The background sets look like they were built on a soundstage and the fog effects are quite tacky.

Margaret Rutherford won the supporting Oscar for her portrayal of an aging Duchess. She adds some much needed humor particularly in the segment where she has difficulty getting her hat box into the plane’s luggage compartment. However, like with the story thread concerning the Orson Welles character she is seen to briefly and their scenes are spread so far apart that you almost forget all about them.

Spoiler Warning!

There is also another segment where a complete stranger played by actress Maggie Smith approaches the Burton character and asks him for a hundred and fifty three thousand pounds and he gives it to her in the form of a blank check, which had me floored. Men like him don’t become rich by handing out a lot of money to anyone who asks especially people they don’t know. Some may argue that because the character was considering suicide that he didn’t care anymore, but it still seemed too much of a stretch and for me sent this already stale drama into the realm of the absurd and ridiculous.

End of Spoiler Warning

Every story thread gets a nice, convenient happy ending that gives the whole thing a TV-sitcom quality and barely worth the effort to sit through. The production has some glossy aspects and certainly big-name stars, but ends up being a buildup to nothing.

the vips1

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: September 19, 1963

Runtime: 1Hour 59Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Anthony Asquith

Studio: MGM

Available: DVD, Amazon Instant Video

Love and Pain and the Whole Damn Thing (1973)

love and pain and the whole damn thing

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Introverts fall in love.

Walter (Timothy Bottoms) is a shy young man in his early 20’s riding through Spain as part of a cycling tour group. Impulsively he ditches this group and joins a bus touring one of which Lila (Maggie Smith) an equally shy woman in her 30’s is a part of. At first the two hardly speak, but eventually they get past their social quirks to form a tight, romantic bond.

The awkwardness and insecurities of the two characters is wonderfully captured and it is nice to see a film examine a romance between people that are not physically beautiful or affluent. The music score is subtle and Alan J. Pakula’s direction approaches the material in a nicely sensitive fashion along with the Spanish scenery that gives the production an exotic feel.

Smith is excellent as usual. Her performance and character is different from anything else that she has done making it a real treat to watch. The scene where she calls home to her family as well as the one where she gets locked inside a remote outhouse is quite amusing.

I would have liked to have seen a little more interaction with the other people on the bus as the supporting cast is almost non-existent and focuses too much on the two main characters making it seem like there are the only ones in the entire country of Spain, which gives the viewer a very isolated type of feeling. This may have been the intention and done as a way to show what it is like being introverted, but I didn’t care for it.

Although the two characters are offbeat the film follows too much of a romantic blueprint that eventually makes it formulaic despite a good start. Its biggest transgression is having one of the characters like in Love Story get afflicted with some mysterious illness that is never explained and put in to create cheap dramatic turmoil.

Overall though the film is okay and has a few touching moments. Those that enjoy romance may like it a bit better as well as fans of Maggie Smith.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: April 19, 1973

Runtime: 1Hour 50Minutes

Rated R

Director: Alan J. Pakula

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD