Mini Movie Review: ASH WEDNESDAY (1973)

In tribute to the recently deceased Helmut Berger, I just watched him in ASH WEDNESDAY (1973), which is basically a well-done (though over-acted in places) film portraiture of the beautiful actress Elizabeth Taylor. Mr. Berger shows up as the handsome, admiring stranger.

The movie revolves around Barbara Sawyer (Taylor), who has been staying at an exclusive medical clinic in Switzerland. Aged around fifty-five years old, she consents to major plastic surgery in hopes of winning back her husband Mark Sawyer (Henry Fonda), a wealthy lawyer who has stepped out on her for a younger woman. After the successful surgery, a much younger looking Barbara remains in Switzerland, staying at a five star hotel within the Alps. There, one evening, she meets Erich (Berger). A mutual adoration and flirtation between them begins, though Barbara continues to hope for a reconciliation with Mark.

I enjoy these kind of movies where the focus is on one or two people as art, similar to a thoughtfully taken photograph or painted portrait of someone(s). After the surgery (which is somewhat graphic, incorporating footage of an actual facelift) and her visage is no longer covered in bruise makeup and bandages, Ms. Taylor is stunning throughout the rest of the production. She wears exquisite dresses, coats, jewelry, and elegant hairstyles. And Helmut Berger– twelve years Ms. Taylor’s junior– is gorgeous. The lingering looks between the two are deliciously smoldering. I drew comfort in knowing that Ms. Taylor had likely not undergone that degree of plastic surgery (if any) before this movie was made. Aged forty or forty-one at the time of filming, she was clearly as beautiful as she ever had been throughout her already long career.

This is a slow burn sizzle of on-screen pulchritude, like enjoying sensual visual art in a gallery or museum. The music enhances the movie’s atmosphere of languid, haunting, melancholy, and longing unfulfilled, but all expressed gently and sublimely.


DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS: HONOR AMONG THIEVES was fun, growing more compelling and interesting as it went along. There was nothing particularly original about it. I laughed a handful of times, especially during the scenes in the graveyard, where the group of flawed, likable heroes talked to animated corpses. On occasion, the vibe was a little reminiscent of Monty Python, which I appreciated.

The CGI quality was uneven, but much of the scenery and sets were exquisite. I did enjoy some of the fantastical creatures, while others looked quite hokey. Because I played Dungeons and Dragons a few times over the summer of 1982 when I was a teenager, I recognized a few creatures and magical beings in the movie, which evoked a mild sense of nostalgia for me.

The cast was excellent, with everyone’s acting somewhat compensating for the predictable, often seemingly hack-written script. I was especially impressed with the fairly brief screen presence of the strikingly handsome and regal Rege-Jean Page, who stars in the Netflix series BRIDGERTON. The way he walked and carried himself was both fluid and stately, an alchemy of strong, gentle, graceful, sexy. We viewers will likely see more of him in movies to come.

This production was a silly romp, pleasantly campy at times, and just what I needed for a Thursday night, now that my weekly TV shows are on hiatus for the summer and possibly beyond due to the WGA strike.

My Own Attempts at Art: Upper Section of an Elven Man’s Face (lead pencil and colored pencils on paper)

I’m not ready to show the rest of this drawing, as I have not yet drawn his mouth. I (mostly) sketched this image out sometime in 1992 or ’93 and only recently started to color him in.

Drawing ears and mouths is so damn challenging for me. Someday, I really should take a human figure drawing class, or at least watch some tutorials on YouTube, as someone suggested I do. It’s the process that counts, I tell myself. At least I’m trying.

Mini Movie Review: BEDAZZLED (from 1967)

I finally watched the original BEDAZZLED (1967). What a hilarious romp of color, camp, whimsy, and even clever moments. At the end of the day, I wanted to screen some light fun and got exactly that with this comedy. The two musical numbers especially had me laughing, hard— those and a sequence in a convent towards the end. Dudley Moore and Peter Cook were handsome young men in their day. And Raquel Welch is always lovely to watch.

Dudley Moore plays Stanley Moon, a young bachelor who works as a cook in a greasy spoon diner in London, England. A shy man with low self esteem, he is in love with his waitress coworker Margaret (Eleanor Bron). One day after Stanley attempts suicide, the Devil shows up at his apartment in the form of a young man named George Spiggott (Peter Cook). Hilarity ensues after this meeting as Mr. Spiggott grants Stanley seven wishes. Each wish results in a different life situation for Stanley where he is somehow closely involved with Margaret. However, due to Mr. Spiggott’s/Satan’s trickery, some aspect ends up not quite being right for him in each scenario. Along the way, Stanley and George engage in funny but thoughtful conversations about deep matters, such as sex and relationships.

The overall message of finding value in the life one already has comes through in this creative, somewhat dated, somewhat timeless production. What is particularly impressive is that Peter Cook wrote the script and Dudley Moore composed all of the music. These talented men were in their late twenties and early thirties, respectively. For those, like myself, who enjoy 1960s music and fashions and British humor thumbing its nose at uptight establishment mores and Christianity, this is a particularly delightful watch.

TV Series Review: ULTRAVIOLET (miniseries from 1998)

Every so often, I enjoy watching a movie about vampires and, even more rarely, a television series about them. The British miniseries ULTRAVIOLET (1998) was something I came across back in 2000 when I happened to turn on the TV one weekend day. The final episode was airing, which I watched most of, pleasantly fascinated. I filed it away in the back of my mind to someday watch the entire six episodes. Finally, I did just that this past week.

Set in modern day (or possibly near future) London, England, the show revolves around a handful of leading members of Section Five, a secret paramilitary task force funded by the UK government and the Vatican. This organization exists to research and eliminate vampires, a descriptor which is never uttered in the series. One character saltily refers to them as “leeches.” The formal term used is “Code Five,” derived from the Roman numeral V, which is the first letter of the word “vampire.”

The ensemble main cast and supporting players are superb, which I find to be generally the case with British movie and TV productions. The actors who I personally found the most compelling were Susannah Harker as Section Five’s lead scientist and physician, Dr. Angela Marsh, Philip Quast as Father Pearse Harman (leader of Section Five), and Idris Elba as Vaughan Rice, leader of Section Five’s security. These and a few other recurring characters have all been directly impacted by vampires/Code Fives in some way. The elegant, well-spoken Dr. Marsh is intriguing, erudite, and compassionate, yet also a gritty mix of determined and ruthless, having lost her husband and young daughter to Section Five assassins after the two had been captured and turned by vampires. Father Harman, eloquent and dark-humored, lost a son he had sired prior to becoming a priest. The killers? Why, Code Fives, of course. The handsome, battle-toughened Rice is the only survivor among a military squad turned by vampires.

The lead protagonist is Michael Colefield (a young Jack Davenport, who would go on to be in the first three PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN movies), a London police detective. He gets recruited into Section Five after Jack (a long-haired, rakishly handsome Stephen Moyer), his close friend and work partner, is turned into a vampire. Michael’s confronting of the “turned” Jack forever changes the course of his life. Colefield spends much of the series trying to navigate his new role as a top secret agent of sorts while remaining in contact with two women friends in the outside world.

Each episode revolves around Section Five investigating vampire related activity, often involving medical experimentation on innocent humans. The indoor sets of Section Five are state-of-the-art high tech, such as the room that houses the dusty remains of destroyed Code Fives, each placed in metal tubes fitted into small cryogenic freeze chambers. The Code Five interrogation room, with its two way mirrors and gas release outlets, is pretty interesting too. This is where the late Corin Redgrave’s smug and clever Code Five character goes head-to-head towards the end of the series with Father Harman. They discuss matters such as mortality and evil while Harman and Marsh try and get information out of him about the next large-scale moves by Code Fives against mortal humans.

The miniseries is a unique, fascinating mix of clinical, philosophical, supernatural, suspenseful, and action-oriented. Ethical quandaries are explored via challenges arising with Code Fives, such as how to go about helping a woman– so longing to become a mother– deceptively impregnated with vampire DNA infused sperm. The irony was not missed on me when Father Harman advises her to seek an abortion. Among Section Five members, Code Fives are viewed and discussed as the equivalent of deadly carriers of disease, as evil (namely by Harman but also, in a more crude way, by Rice), and, later in the series, as possible contributors to helpful scientific advancements for humanity. Regarding this last point and possibility, we viewers witness Dr. Marsh begin to contemplate with an open mind this ethically gray area about her sworn enemies, much to Father Harman’s dismay. We listen to a few vampires’ own personal testaments about the wonders of their strange existence, such as not seeing their own reflection anywhere, leaving only a person’s eyes before them to look into and, hence, allowing these “turned” creatures to more fully focus on the outside other. Vampires/Code Fives are humanized in a manner I have not quite seen in any other screenplays about these so frequently explored mythical beings. I’m impressed with how the creators of ULTRAVIOLET, including writer Joe Ahearne, gracefully, thoughtfully interweave science, myth, and religion into these small handfuls of screen dramas, all beautifully enlivened by excellent character development and acting. We get to know each player intimately, not so much by exposition of personal histories, but by frequent closeups of their expressive faces and emotionally layered interactions. Add to all of these elements of a well-crafted production composer Sue Hewitt’s haunting theme music and soundtrack and you get a darkly beautiful arc of aural and visual expression. Consequently, I found myself engrossed by ULTRAVIOLET, sometimes creeped out, often moved, and, surprisingly, eventually provoked to think more dynamically about the interplay of evil and good.

On Prioritizing Parenthood

Over the years, I’ve been moved by those adults who’ve chosen parenthood from out of a place of truly loving that complex life role, experiencing it as a natural number one priority for them and, hence, seeing their child/ren directly benefitting from this. I grew up witnessing this informed kind of parenting here and there but not experiencing it myself as a child. Many of us did not. Those who did are most fortunate.

I’m aware that people choose to be parents from out of a number of reasons, some often not very clear. We humans make decisions all the time, often from murky, not fully examined places. There are still societal pressures to become parents in order to be viewed as a whole, fully successful person. Some choose to be parents in response to this outside pressure. Others choose to do so to somehow complete something unfinished from their own childhoods. The reasons go on, and people often make this enormous life-impacting choice from a mix of motivations. But, when a person, or two people, choose to be a parent or parents from out of genuine love and enthusiasm to nurture and witness the growth of a unique individual and can maintain these energies far more often than not, it’s wonderful to see and gives me hope in this world.

Not everyone loves being a parent. It’s not a number one priority for many, which is fine. We each have different life priorities and they are subject to change. But, I think it’s crucial to really think and work through one’s priorities before choosing parenthood. All children need to be prioritized first in their parent’/s’ lives, at least for their first eighteen years or so. When they’re not put first, needless suffering (to varying degrees of intensity) so often results all around, not just for the children.

I will add one caveat. Forced birth for women due to lack of abortion access, which just became a bigger reality, is an exception I make here. A choice foisted onto someone is not much of a choice at all, and everyone involved suffers somehow. It is a privilege for those who have the resources to make a choice to be parents or terminate pregnancies they did not willingly decide upon or changed their minds about due to circumstances or whatever. So, yes, we need accessible birth control and abortion access, for sure.

It’s been interesting and wonderful to assist a client of mine in determining their priority around becoming a parent and how to go about it. I wish everyone would do whatever they could to fully think through, including talking with others and moving through old, intrusive psychological pain, before they make such an enormous choice in their own and others’ lives.

A Brief Reflection About Discrimination

In the fall of 1995, freshly out of grad. school, I got a case management job at an Adult Foster Care program, funded by Medicaid, within an elder services agency in the Greater Boston area. An evangelical Christian nurse coworker was allowed to not work with people we served who had HIV, almost all of them being gay men. After so many years since then, it still appalls me that administration and her immediate supervisor allowed her to be so blatantly discriminatory. I’m not at all an expert in legal matters, but I imagine both state and federal law may have been violated, since Medicaid is a federal program administered by each state. And the agency was a quasi public/state organization, under the auspices of the Department of Elder Affairs.

Upon further reflection and reading, I remembered that the Employment Nondiscrimination Act and, later, the broader Equality Act, languished in the U.S. Congress for years. I just read (which reminded me about the ruling when I’d initially heard about it) that not until 2020 did the U.S. Supreme Court rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Then, there is another major area of civil rights, which is more pertinent to this situation with my long ago coworker: the right for customers/clients of a business, or in this case, an agency, to not be denied services based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, let alone their health status. From what I can tell, there continue to be no blanket federal protections in America for these large groups. Some states provide these protections while others don’t. However, in regards to people with HIV receiving health care services, a diligent researcher I know informed me that the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) from 1990 requires any federal-based program, or one receiving federal funding, to provide treatment to people with HIV. Hence, from what I can gather, my coworker was enabled by her supervisors to skirt around this law, in order to avoid confrontation and conflict, by assigning only non-HIV cases to her. The clients with HIV didn’t know the difference, since they were always assigned the other nurse who had no issue with them. Still, what a “skirt around” nonetheless, in which a worker’s discrimination was allowed, quietly validated, wrongly and sadly.