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American War Generals (2014)
Unique among the media, television has the ability to combine words and moving images to tell a story. This is an example of the best that television has to offer.
The generals explain, in their own words, why various presidents (and their secretaries of state) decided to take us into wars, and the difficulties they had in implementing those decisions. They reveal the frequent disconnects between the politician's points of view, and the boots-on-the-ground realities of the military commanders.
This provides background to a foreign policy that, since 1962, has left thousands of American service members killed, maimed, or psychologically broken. It leaves the viewer to decide whether the sacrifice was worthwhile.
A good introduction for the uninitiated
The fact that men photographed Shimmy, rather than women, is a shortcoming, which is quickly apparent. What would happen if women photographed American-style football running backs dashing through defensive lines? Suppose (because they thought the men were "cute") the female filmmakers only photographed the halfbacks from the waist up? We would miss all their straight-arms, hip swiveling, and fancy footwork that make such runs so thrilling.
Similarly, while watching the belly dancers on Shimmy, we very often get a close-up shot of jiggling bosom, while the narrator describes actions occurring somewhere below. As I am a male from a Western culture, I know it is difficult for many of us to understand that the focus of the Eastern art of belly dancing is (wait for it) the BELLY! Of course, the belly sits within the hipbone, the hipbone connects to the thighbone, the thighbone connects to the shinbone, and the shinbone connects to the foot bone. A belly dancer generates her lovely hypnotic motions by that linkage. It is also, where the student needs to pay attention. Predictably, the male photographers often focused their cameras on cleavage, when what we really needed was a wide shot of the hip swiveling and footwork that made their belly dance movements so mesmerizing.
Aside from the above, the sets, dance, music, and costume design are marvelous. The set designer came up with imaginative contrasting industrial sites, with depth, scale, and motion, from fire, snow, or flowing water. Then there is the choreography, which can take a novice from complete ignorance, to the point where one can at least appreciate what good belly dancing looks like, and why. Even the music is positively hypnotic.
The costume designer went through a lot of trouble to accommodate the wide range of body types, and still managed to come up with exotic and attractive, matching outfits for practice, and splendid matching outfits for performance, except for poor Gillian. The same halter bra everyone else wore would not contain her out-sized bosom, which made her the photographer's favorite subject.
Overall, it is well worth watching, except that it is also quite habit-forming.
How to Look Good Naked (2008)
I end up crying and cheering at the same time.
What I like best about this show is the gentle and artful way that Carson demonstrates to his guest how her perception of her own body has been so skewed that she has become her own worst enemy. By means of a series of "reality checks", proper foundation garments, flattering clothing choices, and a movie star hair and make-up treatment, her outer beauty is joined to her inner beauty. My favorite reality check has the guest position herself in a line-up of half a dozen other women, based on her least favorite body part. Invariably, her fun house view of herself is revealed. Of course, as on every show of this kind, as soon as a woman gets a proper brassiere fitting, it changes her life! Like Veronica Webb says on "Tim Gunn's Guide to Style", she gets that "beautiful bra face." Then, Carson gives his guest a quicker and more efficient lesson in "What Not to Wear" by showing her moving videos of two or three women with bodies like hers, but with faces masked, wearing different clothing, one wrongly emphasizing the body part the guest most dislikes, one flattering it. Then the faces are unmasked, revealing that they are the same woman wearing different clothing. The point is affirmed that there is something beautiful about every woman, both inside and out, and it is a shame to hide beauty.
Lost Behind Bars (2008)
For Paget Brewster fans only!
I have a crush on Paget Brewster. I like her face. She has gorgeous eyes and glorious lips. I like her voice. It's sonorous and sexy. She has a great figure. It is a joy just watching her tall frame perambulating across a set. Plus, she is a good actor with excellent timing. Otherwise I would not bother wasting two hours on something as silly as this.
I won't spoil it for those of you who haven't seen it yet. But be warned! You will be disappointed by the implausible plot twist at the end. I don't understand why they went so far afield when they could have given it a perfectly appropriate "B movie" ending. As it is, they stitched on something so contrived that it turned the whole effort into a wretched mess.
Good ingredients wasted.
The Seventh Stream (2001)
Echoes of "Ryan's Daughter"...
...On a much smaller and more manageable scale. It is so beautiful to see and hear that one can almost smell the salt air. Saffron Burrows gives a surprisingly subtle and nuanced performance, easily the equal of her more experienced cast members. The weakest offering was that on whom the entire enterprise pivots, Scott Glenn, playing Owen Quinn. Here, a range of emotion was require that he did not seem to be able to muster. But the rest of the production was so compelling as to make the whole unsinkable. As for being able to suspend disbelief well enough to entertain the essential fantasy; remember that this story takes place in the land of leprechauns before the coming of such wonders as the horseless carriage!
This production had an attractive protagonist, a cozy middle class middle American setting, a small cast of journeymen actors, and two prime time television hours (minus commercials) to work with. Yet, in the end, I felt completely let down.
First of all, a significant portion of production resources were diverted into a totally meaningless sub-plot involving Clarence Williams III and Michael Cole, who starred together in "The Mod Squad", back in 1968. I kept expecting Peggy Lipton to show up, but I gather she has been able to find work on her own.
In this episode, Samantha Kinsey ventures out to explore her own roots. Of course, the "Mystery Woman" lives up to her moniker by the end of the two-hour drama, at which point we expect her to explain it all to us. But there is no revelation of "family ties", no exploration of "family values", no knitting together of loose ends, and no answers to pertinent questions. In fact, the most obvious questions about Samantha's roots are not even asked. She simply walks away.
Even if the writers had devoted 100% of their budget to the main plot line, it is not clear that they would have known what to do with these characters. It seems they had not started out with the first requirement, a good story that would involve an audience in the lives of well-drawn characters.
I was left with the feeling that this entire production crew had frittered away a great deal of time, money, and effort, and I had just wasted two hours of a Tuesday night.
Where the Truth Lies (1999)
Ah come on! It was better than that!
I gave it an 8 because it really held my attention (against the complaints of my aging prostate), plus Marlee Matlin (as Dana Sue Lacey) and Regina King (as Ronnie Williams) were completely transparent in their roles. Really good acting is always worth the effort to experience.
Bleacher Bums (2001)
All this film has is heart!
All it needs is watching. The actors are uniformly good, and the chemistry feels genuine. The writers provide a broad sampling of the human experience in the microcosm of one small section of Wrigley Field. The die-hard fans are accustomed to having their hearts broken by the Cubs. That seems to have created some emotional calluses. This story is about how the addition of a new member shakes the group out of its doldrums. The interloper is a babe in the woods who simply loves baseball for the game itself. I know. This is shocking! It has that same effect on "the regulars". They do not know how to relate to someone who cheers for a well-turned play by the visiting team. She brings the fresh perspective of some one who remembers that it is a children's game, and that it is supposed to be fun! She is a splash of cold water that shakes them out of their entrenched cynicism, and forces them to see their game with fresh eyes. This is good stuff.
Just One Night (2000)
Adult high jinks!
This is a wry engaging caper about strangers (a bridegroom and a wife), on the cusp of middle age, who meet by chance, when he flies from JFK to SFO, for "Just One Night".
He is a professor, in town to give a speech the next morning. His plan is to fly back to New York, immediately after the speech, in time to get married. She is looking for a means of escape from her nattily attired but thuggish husband.
A lost shoe and a case of mistaken identity lead to a series of encounters with San Francisco denizens. Their very wackiness makes each short encounter all the more interesting. By the end of the story, the protagonists have rediscovered the importance of being "in the moment".
I liked this movie so much, that I actually bought the DVD, a rare occurrence. The opening sequence introduces all of the main characters in the movie. However, you will not be aware of this, until you view it a second time. This movie is so good that I get more out of it, every time I see it.
Color changes everything!
The "inside story" of this film is color. Most professional reviewers, with nation-wide media exposure, missed this underlying story element entirely, as did I, until half way through my first viewing. Once I realized the colors of the costumes changed, as the characters passed from room to room, I had to go back and see it again. That's how I got hooked.
During the next viewing, I took note of the creativity and effort that went into the design and construction of the costumes, several times, as each one had to be rendered in several colors. The next time through, I noticed how the color of each room related to the activity that normally took place there, even in the outdoor sequences. With the subsequent viewing, I concentrated on the soundtrack.
From that point on, my awareness of all these elements, served to enhance my appreciation of each character and his or her contribution to the story line. That's when the much talked about "gross-out" aspects of the film seemed to diminish in their ability to shock. In fact, by that point, they seemed to fit much more naturally, although the "NC-17" rating is absolutely appropriate.
This is a sumptuous feast for the eyes and ears of intelligent "adult" viewers. Not to be missed.