"Game of Thrones"
Kate Winslet HD film festivalKate Winslet in Titanic (1997) in 1080hd open matte
Kate Winslet in Holy Smoke (1999) in 720p
Well, Dicaprio made a really bad movie after Titanic, so I guess his Big Boat co-star didn't want to be outdone.
Winslet plays an intelligent Aussie from a dysfunctional and idiotic family. She goes searching for the meaning of life, and seems to have found it at an Indian Ashram. And you know they are enlightened there, because they sing along with Neil Diamond songs. Well, her Aussie family is worried about her, since they can't imagine her becoming part of any religion whose gods look like multi-headed monkeys. Instead, they want her to come back to a sensible religion whose gods look like stockbrokers. Natural enough.
Mum lures her back to Oz with a cockamamie story about her father dying, and when Winslet gets to the family homestead, they introduce her to a cult deprogrammer (Harvey Keitel) who intends to "exit" her from the clutches of the Upanishads. Keitel starts out as a thorough professional, and he knows his material. His grasp of religion and psychology, and his extensive experience with other women who have followed the same path, are capable of swamping Winslet, as she soon realizes. But she doesn't want to be swamped, so she does the only thing you can do when you can't win a game you want to win - she changes the rules.
Locked away with Keitel for three days, she changes the Jeopardy category from "knowledge of religion," which Keitel dominates, to "seduction," and this one she wins easily. She is a lush-bodied young woman, and Keitel is a geezer with dyed hair, tons of sexual insecurity and some not-so-suppressed misogyny. She seduces him, humiliates him about his age and his technique and his dick size and anything else she can dig up, and then deliberately leads him into ever more degrading activities, then finally discards him when he becomes emotionally dependent on her. He ends up broken, crawling through the outback in a dress and lipstick, begging her not to walk away.
In an epilogue, Winslet has not only returned to India, but has taken her mum with her! Keitel, on the other hand, has gone back to his girlfriend and they have had twins. But Winslet and Keitel admit to each other in postcards that there really was some special deep connection between them.
Holy smoke, was this a bad movie. Oh, bad, bad, bad. It is meant to be satire, I suppose. I guess it is supposed to be ironic that her idiotic and unhappy family would actually think happiness in an ashram could somehow be worse than what they have. It is supposed to be ironic that this woman who outsmarts the brilliant cult deprogrammer is suckered in by a moronically simplistic guru. It is supposed to be ironic that the controller loses all control and ends up whimpering in the desert. I think all of this is supposed to have some humor, or social satire, or something. Unfortunately, the Campion sisters (director/writer) have somewhat of a handicap in producing satire: they have no sense of humor. When Harvey Keitel crawls through the desert in a dress, holding on to Kate Winslet's sizeable leg, crying and begging, this is supposed to be funny, since he was supposed to have complete control in the relationship, and he was reduced to nothingness. But, of course, it isn't funny, so we are simply left with Harvey Keitel in a dress, whimpering.
Jane Campion made unsuccessful three full-length films after The Piano:
Kate Winslet in Quills (2000) in 720p
The last years of the infamous Marquis de Sade, times and a character larger than life, set as they were in a madhouse, have supplied the grist for many theatrical and cinematic mills. On stage, "Marat/Sade" explored the situation a generation ago, and Doug Wright's recent play, "Quills", reflected a bit more on the infamous aristocrat. This film is the Wright's own adaptation of his play into a screenplay.Kate Winslet in Iris (2001) in 720p
De Sade, of course, is the man for who the word "sadism" is named, and was a genuinely bad dude. Although the stage and screen bios tend to try to find some grounds for sympathy, it is not easy to justify. The man was a monster. He once wrote that a superior man like himself had the right to take the lives of peasants for his own pleasure. The man was also a genuine nutcase with no governors on his behavior. Even in his darkest hours, he turned his back on everyone who offered him kindness. I suppose one must admire his consistency and his uncompromised principles, but he probably fell over that oft-noted line between genius and insanity. Way over it.
While it is true that he was held in prison at times because his writings were politically incorrect, we're not talking about Thoreau here, a poor martyr jailed only for following his noble principles. The fact of the matter is that de Sade probably should have been jailed for his particular principles. Even the supposed injustice of Sade's imprisonments is questionable. Although he was imprisoned before the revolution for 14 years, without a trial, all at the hands of a vengeful mother-in-law, stating those facts without the nuances tends to whitewash the case. It was actually to his advantage that the trial was never held. If he had a trial he might have been executed. He kidnapped and tortured a teenaged girl for days, then showed off her scars to his friends. As I said, he wasn't Thoreau. Oh, yeah, his mother-in-law was difficult, and he had a troubled childhood, but spare me the sympathy angle. He was a loony, and a dangerous one at that
De Sade was originally freed from prison by the French revolutionaries because he had used his poison pen against the anti-revolutionaries. When he turned his sharp tongue to the revolutionaries, thence to Napoleon .... well, the question then in the hands of the state was how to keep this putatively dangerous and corrupt man from spewing more of his corruption into society. Locking him away in the nuthatch at Charenton seemed like the best way to keep him from turning his vitriol against Napoleon, and the men in power, and their wives. In addition, his works were genuinely offensive to many, including the Emperor. That was a reasonably liberal time, but there has never been a time so liberal in which the Marquis would be considered a normal guy, or in which people would like his works to fall into the hands of their children.
It turns out that, according to this movie's version of the story, the Marquis would do anything to write. First he used smuggled paper and quills, but they took away his paper. Then he wrote on his sheets, so they removed them. Then he wrote on his clothing with his own blood, so he had to sit naked. Then he set up a "pass it on" system where the prisoners would whisper to adjoining cells until somebody with a quill could hear it, so they ripped out his tongue. Then he wrote with his own shit on the cell walls. And that is the essence of the story: De Sade's attempt to publish his works, and Napoleon's attempts to suppress them. The thrust of the story is not unlike a 200 year old version of "People vs Flynt", testing our belief in free speech by seeing if it we will extend it to the least desirable speaker, and giving us no really sympathetic character to identify with.
The strongest aspects of the film are the intelligence of the script, and the completely believable portrayal of de Sade by that uncanny actor, Geoffrey Rush, who negotiates the fine line between genius and insanity as carefully as he navigates between charm and monstrosity.
The weakest aspect is the fact that it is essentially a stage play and is not especially cinematic. Director Philip Kaufman tries to compensate with some frenetic pacing and a generally artistic presentation of lighting and blocking, but let's face it, it's still just like watching a stage play.
The other main weakness is emotional identification. We can see that the Michael Caine character, de Sade's nemesis, is detestable, but are we therefore supposed to identify with the Marquis de Sade? Really? Hell, I don't know. That's a stretch for me. That's like saying I should really like Hitler because Stalin was his mortal enemy. So I really didn't care what happened to any of the characters. By the way, Kaufman said that the Michael Caine character was based on Ken Starr. Well, I have the same reaction there. If I don't like Ken Starr does that mean that everything Clinton did was OK? People always say that the ends don't justify the means, but I've never seen the sense in that adage. There are cases where extremely good ends can justify bad means, aren't there? I just couldn't work up any real contempt for Caine, or any real sympathy with Sade. It's tough going, to hang on to a movie with just your brain, when it deliberately doesn't engage your heart.
The final weakness is that it really has nothing at all to do with the real Marquis de Sade. Some of these events happened in Sade's life, but not many, and even the real events have been romanticized or distorted. Other situations are fabrications which occasionally stray to a point about as far from the truth as possible. Here is a great link. That is a review of the film written by a De Sade scholar. His home page also has an excellent DeSade biography and bibliography.
I am frankly surprised that the movie was so well received by critics. Many picked it in their top 10 lists for 2000. I am in the minority. I think it is some good moviemaking without being an especially appealing movie. I'm a great admirer of Kaufman, and many of the cast members, and there is really some great showmanship on display here, but when it was all over I felt that I had watched a tale full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It isn't really about free speech or artistic license. in the final analysis, what does it all mean? Not so very much, I think.
"Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light"
.... Dylan Thomas
"I feel as if I'm sailing into darkness."
... Iris Murdoch, on the onset of Alzheimer's
Iris is the story of the noted author and Booker Prize winner, Iris Murdoch, who died after struggling some years with Alzheimer's disease. The story is based on two books about Iris (Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire, and Elegy for Iris) by John Bayley, Murdoch's famous husband. The film was financed in part by the BBC.
The film moves between two time frames. In the earlier time, a feisty young Iris (Kate Winslet) goes through lovers of both sexes, and experiences various Bohemian adventures before settling with the conservative, stable Bayley. In the second part, Bayley helps the older Iris (Judy Dench) cope with her failing years. The two halves form a portrait of a resilient marriage between two good, strong, intelligent and devoted people.
I liked this deeply flawed movie for many reasons, not all of which are logical.
My mother, who was an accomplished woman by the standards of her time, a college graduate, a teacher, and an opera singer, was also an Alzheimer's victim. I wasn't really present to watch her descent. For the last decade of her life, my sister took care of her, and my dad did what he could, despite physical problems of his own. I lived around the world, in places like Sydney, Oslo, and Vienna, and for me she was mostly just a voice on the phone. The movie Iris let me see what I missed, and filled me with guilt and sadness, as well as admiration for my sister and father. I felt, at the same time, guilt that I had missed the closing chapter of her life, and great relief that I had not seen her like that, and then guilt again for feeling that relief.
I was lucky, you see. I am still able to remember my mom as the impressive woman she once was, without having to remember her as a burden. And I feel guilty for that luck. Guilty that I let other people face the problem without my help.
I was living in Oslo in the early 90's, and mom was still calling me once a week, and writing quite often, sending English-language puzzle books, and American snacks, and family photos. Then the letters stopped. The phone calls stopped from their direction. I called them once in a while, of course, and noticed that my mom was starting to make less sense each time. I visited home in the late 90's. My sister called my mom in from her bedroom.
sister: Mom. Greg is here.
The dying of the light.
I guess you can figure out how the visit went from there. She had been "out of it" for a few years by the time of that visit, and would die within a year, so she was then in the later stages of mental deterioration, and in a stage of physical decrepitude that I wasn't prepared for from phone conversations. Alzheimer's patients aren't very interested in dentists or hairstylists, nor are they especially welcome patients, and they normally live about a decade after the first diagnosis of their problem. I would not have recognized my own mother if I had passed her on the street.
She did figure out who I was, but then asked me the same question about 30 times in a row, had no idea how many wives or children I had had, or what I had done during my life. I don't have to spell it out. You know the drill. She only perked to life when I sang some of the solos from her career. She practiced them so many times when I was a kid that I knew them by heart. Her eyes sparkled with recognition, then she sang along softly with me, her voice still smoother than mine, her ear still more acute. For some brief moments, her great talent defeated not only her disease, but even her age.
Then she was on her ship again, sailing back into darkness.
The movie is very subtle for a dread disease film. It is honest in its portrayal of the characters and their flaws. It is never rhetorical or cloying or ingratiating. It is a simple, unembellished story told with candor. The acting is remarkable. Four actors play two parts seamlessly, down to the voices, accents, and mannerisms, so that the time shifts are managed to perfection.
I said before that the film was deeply flawed. The reason is that this movie could be about anyone. It really has nothing whatever to say about Iris Murdoch. If you do not know now why she is a great writer or thinker, you will have no idea after this film is over. The script doesn't show her being brilliant. The film does not really even give many solid examples of her brilliance. We are left to assume it. Furthermore, there is a gaping flaw in the character development. It is extremely difficult if not impossible to ascertain how Murdoch chose Bayley as her lifelong companion. Bayley's recollections formed the spring whence this story flowed, and he was guilty of excessive modesty. There are times which call for modesty and self-deprecation, but in this script those characteristics turned out to be liabilities because they created a credibility problem.
If you don't know anything about Ms. Murdoch, here is what the movie seems to be about:
A sexy much-desired woman, who is pursued by nearly everyone of both sexes, ends up marrying a complete dweeb who is obviously hygienically challenged. There is no way to understand why she chose such a complete loser, but it's a damned good thing that she did, because he tended to her faithfully decades later when Alzheimer's took away her mental and physical allure, and all of her other friends deserted her.
Can you see what is missing here?
1. There must be a damned good reason why she chose Bayley. It would have been wise to clear out Bayley's posturing narrative modesty and demonstrate it. By all accounts, Bayley was a brilliant literary critic, extraordinarily well-read on English and Russian literature, and a witty man. You would not know that after watching this film. You'd think he was a faithful lap dog who was grateful for Murdoch's table scraps.
Because of those flaws, this simple, touching movie is not great, but merely good. When I was a kid, mothers used to give their children cod liver oil. We took it, not because we wanted to, but because we were told it was good for us. Iris is the cod liver oil of movies. It is not a movie that you really want to see, but one that you should, because it's good for you. The portrayal of Murdoch's deterioration is painstakingly accurate, and the love of her husband is touching.
Kate Winslet in Little Children (2006) in 720p
After considerable critical acclaim and many post-season awards for In the Bedroom in 2001, it took five years for director Todd Fields to develop his follow-up project, and he picked a tough nut to crack. The eponymous source novel for Little Children is a complex story about suburban angst, an ambitious literary effort which walks a fine line between condescending toward its characters and compelling us to get involved with their lives. As one Amazon reviewer noted, "Most of the individuals in this novel are hypocritical, selfish, and immature. Nevertheless, Perrotta is such a gifted writer that he humanizes the characters and makes us care deeply about them. The author implies that even when we grow up and become parents ourselves, in some ways we all remain ''little children' inside." The novel is filled with intricate references and allusions to other works of literature. Sarah's book club is discussing Madame Bovary, and the parallels between Emma Bovary's life and Sarah's own are readily apparent. The work also uses some of the relationships between characters to reflect upon others. For example, the interactions of the suburban adults are pictured as grotesque mirrors of the interactions of their children.
You just know that all of that isn't going to be easy to translate to film.
Sarah (Kate Winslet) is an unfulfilled suburban housewife who is married to a dipstick of a marketing consultant and internet porn addict. She still seems to define herself in terms of her failed Ph.D. in English Literature, but is condemned to an everyday life of drudgery and motherhood to a three year old. Todd (Patrick Wilson) is an unfulfilled househusband who depends on his wife to support them because he can't seem to pass the bar exam. He still seems to define himself in terms of the star quarterback he once was, but is condemned to a life of everyday drudgery as sole caregiver to a three year old. It isn't long before Todd and Sarah realize that they are basically the same person with different genital organs, and not much longer before they start rubbing aforesaid genitals together, using their fleeting moments of passion to recapture the adolescence they miss. A major sub-plot involves their neighborhood's local child molester, who has recently been released from prison, and a disgraced former cop who harasses and bullies the pervert and his mother. The stories intersect at various times, but the moments of intersection are not outrageous stretches of credibility, and are not even particularly critical to the development of either story, so the film is basically structured as two stories which unfold in parallel in the same neighborhood.
In order to keep the story as faithful as possible to its literary roots, the film uses a PBS announcer to recite some eloquent prose from the novel. I'm sure you realize that such a device rarely works. Words which seem eloquent and stirring on paper often seem pompous, and insincerely rhetorical when spoken aloud in a conversational context. I cringed when I heard the announcer speechifying at the film's outset, and there were other moments when I thought the technique seemed artificial, but on balance I give the authors credit for keeping the narrator's presence low-key and unobtrusive enough that it accentuated the tone they were trying to maintain.
The script had to make some hard choices about how to treat the novel's tone shifts between romantic drama and black comedy. Fields and the novelist worked together to tell the stories as seriously as possible, trying to prevent the main characters from being comic devices by making them real. It would be possible to make both the child molester and the disgraced cop into cartoon characters, for example, but the film wisely avoids this.
The decisions that they made worked in the sense that the film does bring the viewer into the lives of its characters, and develops all the major ones in multiple dimensions. The humor is there, but it is basically buried deep inside the absurdity of the situations, and the script concentrates the scathing condescension on a few minor characters, like Sarah's husband. Unfortunately, all the decisions which maintained the integrity of the project also made the film much too aloof and high-falutin' to have any significant box office appeal, and the film's financial path walked along the same rickety bridge as other similarly worthy literary adaptations like The Door in the Floor. The market for this type of film is not a large one. Little Children maxed out at two million dollars in 30-40 theaters. If it is any consolation to the co-authors, the general critical consensus was that the film was a significant artistic triumph.
Kate Winslet in The Reader (2008) in 1080hd
"The notion of secrecy is central to Western literature"
... so says a character in The Reader, and the author of this story must truly believe that, because the entire film, and I presume the source novel, is driven by the premise that secrecy is the key to plotting as well as characterization.
In the first portion of the story, which takes place in 1958, a 15-year-old man in Germany engages in an passionate summer romance with a woman who is some twenty years older. Their time together consists entirely of sex and his reading to her. The secrecy theme is introduced in two ways. First, most obviously, they must keep their romance a secret from the boy's family. Second, the older woman is filled with secrets of her own. After they have made love as strangers on three separate occasions, the young boy simply asks her name. She responds with fear and suspicion, as if it were still Nazi times and her last name were Cohen. She will only reveal that her first name is Hannah. We will soon learn why she wants to be as anonymous as possible.
We next see her completely abandon her life, leaving neither farewell note nor forwarding address, when offered a promotion into management from her job as a streetcar conductor. She is protecting a secret. The boy does not see her for another decade, at which time he is a graduate student in a law school, and she is on trial for war crimes.
Turns out she was a guard at Auschwitz.
And you thought YOUR first girlfriend was a bitch!
Amazingly enough, I have not really spoiled the key secret. While the woman's Nazi past is hidden from us and from her young lover during their liaison in the film's first act, that is not the big secret which drives the plot. It is something else: something which caused her to become a concentration camp guard instead of accepting a wartime promotion at Siemens; something which caused her to give up her job when the streetcar authorities wanted her in the office; something which caused her to choose the young man as her lover in 1958; something which caused her to accept far greater culpability for Auschwitz than she deserved. What is the final secret? I won't tell you, but I will say that it will be obvious if you pay attention to the movie. The answer is already buried somewhere in these paragraphs, if you care to search for it.
That is my secret.
Hannah and I are not the only one with secrets. The young man has several of his own. He knows a key fact which would have a very significant impact on her trial, providing absolute proof that she could not have done something of which she is accused. He never reveals it.
Like Hannah, he has even more secrets. Although the young man continues to maintain a certain level of contact with Hannah throughout his adult life, he never tells anyone else about their relationship until after her death. His abnormal childhood relationship with Hannah, and his failure to save her when he could have, continue to torment and haunt him through a failed marriage and any number of subsequent sexual relationships. He remains distant from genuine human contact. In a certain way, he continues his relationship with Hannah for decades, even after her imprisonment. He can't have sex with her any more, but he can still recapture their summer of love by reading to her, and so he does, by sending "books on tape" to her prison.
Kate Winslet turns in a very impressive performance in the lead. She completely abstains from the temptation any actor must feel to make his or her screen presence sympathetic. She manages to make the character complicated and credible, but never likable. She had to be physically unappealing as well. Even the character's best scenes never allow Winslet to appear as attractive as she really is, and as the character ages, Winslet turns decrepit - and quite convincingly as well, not with showy actor's tricks, but just by trying to hew to reality. I don't think Winslet has a false moment in this film.
The only laurels earned by the film were placed on Winslet's brow, but I disagree with many of the negative assessments of the movie itself. The more I thought about this movie, the more I realized that every facet of the story line had been given a great deal of thought, and that every scene played an important role in plot and/or character development. (Although a couple of scenes really stretch viewer credulity.) Moreover, the film maintains a consistently appropriate sadness in the atmosphere, and often achieves true visual excellence. It is difficult to watch because all of the characters keep everything inside instead of sharing. If they just spoke their minds and told their secrets, the film would be over in an hour or less, but that's not the kind of people they are nor the kind of time they lived in. Moreover, those sorts of secrets would be difficult to discuss for anyone, even today's overmedicated, overtherapied oversharers. The pace of the film is chelonian and it is a somber frown-fest, to be sure, but you can read the plot summary and see that there is no real opening for chuckles or rapid-fire action. It is what it has to be, an extremely depressing movie, but one well worth a look for those who appreciate dramas which treat serious ideas.
The Reader has often been called a Holocaust movie, but it is not. It cannot avoid discussing the Holocaust because it is about a German woman born in 1922 who stands trial for her participation in the Final Solution, and it features a lot of other Germans from that same generation who are trying to expunge their collective guilt by placing Hannah and a few others on trial. The film does not shy away from Hannah's real crimes, or German society's, but neither does it picture them. No scene takes place before 1958.
The Reader has also been called a movie which fails to condemn statutory rape, and that is also incorrect. First of all, the man had reached the age of legal consent then applicable in post-war Germany, so there is no statutory rape. Neither is there sympathy for Hannah. The young man never recovers from his relationship with Hannah, and is never able to live a normal life afterwards, so there is no forgiveness or understanding of Hannah's having seduced him. In fact, a secret revealed later in the film indicates to us and to him that Hannah might have ordered him to the gas chambers if they had met under different circumstances, because that is what she did with other young people who had read to her years earlier. We can understand why she did what she did, but we never have any sympathy for those actions or for her. It is clear that she has no remorse. If she got the chance to live her life again, she wouldn't do anything different about the Auschwitz prisoners or about the seduction of the young boy. It is always clear to us that the only reason the youngster makes love to her is that he's a 15-year-old boy in love and lust for the first time, and she is a moderately attractive and sexually needy woman. That set of circumstances causes him to ignore her hard edges, her frustrating remoteness, and her ubiquitous secrecy. We are not led to desire her as our lover, and it's obvious that the boy would never have chosen her if he had been his 35-year-old self, but he is what he is, and that makes him place her on a pedestal. On the other hand, we do not have contempt for her any more than we have respect. She's not the picture of cartoon evil like a Bond villain, but simply a terrifying reminder of how any Joe Lunchpail of average or below average intelligence can easily become complicit with evil when one of those cartoon maniacs does appear, in this case Herr Hitler.
Not only are we unsympathetic to Hannah's seduction, but we can also see that the boy's age is neither gratuitous nor arbitrary. The plot and the young man's character development absolutely require that Hannah be that treasured first love so many of us have had, so that he would obsess about her for years, as so many of us obsess about our own first loves; and so that he would keep that obsession a secret from his future lovers, as we usually do with our irreplaceable memories of first love. If the lad had already had previous girlfriends, the story would not work. As I mentioned earlier, I felt that the story was constructed meticulously, and it absolutely required him to be about 15 years old.
All the talk of the Holocaust and statutory rape missed the point. In a very real sense, this film is like the second Lolita film, the serious one. Both films are about the loss of "first love" turning into a lifelong obsession in which the man tries continually to recapture what he lost when that love was shattered. Since they come from the central core of Western literature, both Lyne's Lolita and The Reader are about keeping secrets, and the impact of doing so, both on those who keep them and those from whom they are kept.
Kate Winslet in Mildred Pierce (episodes 2 and 3; 2011)
This was a rare disappointment from HBO, perhaps because it breaks one of the first commandments of remakes - don't remake something which was great and still plays well. Remaking Mildred Pierce is almost as sacrilegious as remaking Casablanca, which was directed by the same Michael Curtiz a couple of years earlier. Indeed, if you've ever seen an old black and white film and enjoyed it, it was probably directed by Michael Curtiz, because he had an excellent eye and a knack for smooth storytelling at a pace rapid enough to hold up to modern viewing. His job back then was not comparable to what directors do today. In the old studio system, directors did not create or write their own projects. They were hired hands, like the actors and the key grips. But a good one could really bring a project to life, and Curtiz was more than merely good. His filmography speaks for itself. He directed 93 films. 86 of them are rated 6.0 or higher at IMDb.
Like the best films of its era, the original Mildred Pierce is a masterpiece of economical storytelling. The script is genius. (By the way, this is one of the films which William Faulkner worked on while he was making his ill-advised career stop in Hollywood, but I'm not sure how much Faulkner actually contributed.) It takes a story which could be a long rambling melodrama and hooks the viewer into it immediately by beginning with a beautifully storyboarded murder. Elegant setting, shots ring out, footsteps are heard fleeing away as we come in for a closer look at the body, tires screech as a car pulls away ...
The narrative then follows the police investigation of the crime, thus telling the story primarily in flashbacks. The audience is left to guess the identity of the murderer, which is not revealed until the film's final moments. The novel's many characters are consolidated into a number small enough so that we can feel that we know every one of them. Welcome comic relief is provided by the wisecracking, fast-talking, cynical minor characters played by Eve Arden (Oscar nomination) and Jack Carson.
Although the murder mystery is the film's basic framing device, the film moves toward its conclusion with a concise but coherent narrative, some snappy dialogue, some great supporting characters, wit, some music, atmosphere, the director's great eye for arresting images, solid performances, and star power. It is fast-paced, but the director never allows it to move too fast to make it confusing, or to suppress the colorful supporting details.
It was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture. It's not as good a film as Casablanca, but what is, dammit? And it might be considered just as good as the Bogart masterpiece if it had something equally important to say, but Mildred Pierce has no powerful, resonant themes. It's just a glossy, star-studded, multi-faceted entertainment picture, and a terrific one at that. I'd call it the L.A. Confidential of its time.
So what's wrong with the HBO version?
Well, remember how I mentioned above that this story had the potential to be a melodramatic snoozefest. Bingo. This version does not begin with a big action scene or a mystery of any kind, let alone murder. It begins with some domestic squabbling between Mildred and her husband, followed by a long, long, long overview of Mildred's subsequent job hunt, and a long, long, long exposition of the details of the restaurant business, all of which left me struggling for wakefulness and not liking any of the characters.
What does the HBO version do better than the original?
Well, for one thing, Kate Winslet is a serious actress, not a movie star like Joan Crawford, so when she's supposed to look 40sih and frumpy, she does. Although Crawford was actually 40 when she made this film, she still looked glamorous and perfectly turned out in her pre-success scenes as an allegedly frumpy housewife from the lower middle class.
For another thing, there were parts of the story that could not be told or pictured in the 1940s. HBO is able to show us who is sleeping with whom. In detail. And in glorious color. The relationship of the seedy stepfather and his underaged stepdaughter had to be presented very cautiously in the 1940s, to say the least.
And that's about it. People have argued that this production is more faithful to the source novel by James M Cain. That may be true, but it's not a positive thing. As Variety wrote, "James M. Cain's novel of the same title might not suggest screenable material." In other words, the original film was brilliant simply because it was not faithful to that source, but used the best parts of a complex, ambitious novel based on character development to form the basis of a taut story. HBO, on the other hand, decided to screen the unscreenable. Instead of a big, juicy story framed by a murder, they created some kind of art film that would have Bergman and Tarkovsky yelling at the screen to "get on with it, already."
I don't mean to be excessively critical of HBO. Just about everything they do is great. Even their weakest productions reek of class and diligence, and this is no exception. It's filled with impressive settings, elegant costumes, and snappy roadsters. The problem is that they took a great 100-minute story with no dull minutes and turned it into a 300-minute story with, well, 200 dull minutes if my math is right.