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interesting historical drama and a great performance, 13 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Bridge of Spies" from 2015 is about the Francis Gary Powers incident in the 1960s. As usual, with the exception of the Lincoln assassination, I remember it. This time, though, only vaguely.

The U.S. arrested a Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) and chose James Donovan (Tom Hanks) who had some experience in military cases, to defend him. Abel is found guilty but Donovan is able to convince the Judge to commute his sentence to life in case the U.S. needs him later - for instance, if we should want to exchange him for one of our own.

That situation happens when Francis Gary Powers, taking aerial photographs for the CIA, is shot down and taken prisoner. Donovan is then sent to negotiate the exchange.

For many people, this will be a slow, talky drama, with one big action scene, Powers being shot down, and one scene of tension (if you don't know the outcome).

It is, however, a very good drama with Hanks giving a strong and sometimes humorous performance as Donovan, thrust into the world of international spies and negotiations. He takes it upon himself to also work for the freedom of an American student, Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) who was arrested for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

That student is the only person involved in the case who is alive today, at 83, and praised the film but thought they "took a lot of liberties with it." Well, that's Hollywood.

The main reason, other than historical interest, to watch this film is the performance of Mark Rylance as Rudolf Abel. A three-time Tony award, two Olivier awards, and a BAFTA, Rylance is a highly regarded stage actor, known as the best of his generation. He's made very few films but he's about to make more and take the film industry by storm.

As Abel, Rylance creates a human being, portraying him as a quiet, unassuming older man sent to do a job. He bonds with Donovan, but he tells him that he's not afraid to die. He spends his time in prison drawing. It is a remarkable performance which has earned him an Oscar nomination.

Strangely, many people involved in this incident didn't live too long after -- Abel, who returned to the Soviet Union and to his family, lectured for 10 years and died in 1971; Donovan died in 1970; and Powers died in a helicopter crash while working for a TV station in 1977.

I hope the film will encourage some people to read up on this case - of course, I always hope that. Maybe some time somebody will do it rather than posting the question about Gandhi -- was this a fictional character.

Early Almodovar - off the wallpapered wall, 12 February 2016

I love Pedro Almodovar. He is a marvelous, fun, uninhibited filmmaker who has made so many great films, including "Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown," "Volver," "All About My Mother," "Broken Embraces," and others.

This is an offbeat film about dysfunction like you've never seen it. OMG. Carmen Maura plays Gloria, who is addicted to No-Doz and works as a maid in Madrid. She's married to a jerk who drives a taxi and is a forger. He's crazy over a German singer, his former employer.

The couple has two sons. One is a gay hustler, and the other sells drugs.

Her mother-in-law lives with them, a woman who is constantly trying to obtain food as if it's gold and then sells it to the family.

Now they have a good chance at some big money, when Gloria's husband has a chance to forge Hitler's memoirs and have his old employer pretend to be the owner. Gloria also gives her hustler son to her dentist. You read that right.

Gloria's best friend is her neighbor, the hilarious Cristal, a call girl who wants to go to Vegas. Her other neighbor has a young child that she's awful to, at least verbally, but the child has magic powers.

I did say it was off the wall.

In the midst of all this, there is drama and poignancy of a woman doing anything she can to survive in the city during Franco's regime.

Someone said that the way Almodovar sets things up, you don't know whether to laugh or cry. But if you do both, there may just be a solution.

You have to take Almodovar as he is - wild, funny, with a message about humanity there. This film is outrageous. I loved it.

Truth (2015)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Excellent film, 12 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid, and Bruce Greenwood star in "Truth" from 2015.

This is a film you can't win writing about. Just take a look at the message board.

The story concerns documents that were given to "60 Minutes" stating that Bush used family connections to get out of going to Vietnam, and that he was a national guard pilot who was rarely around and, as such, could not be evaluated.

Mary Mapes (Blanchett) attempts to verify the documents, finally getting verbal confirmation and people to talk on camera. Dan Rather reported on it.

Then information began to surface on the Internet that the documents were fakes, written, in fact, on a computer in Microsoft Word. A big thing was the appearance of a superscript. However, this was explained as well, though there were no originals.

Then people who had spoken to 60 Minutes started waffling. The powers- that-be began to get nervous. Before you know it, the careers of Dan Rather and Mary Mapes were over.

The acting by Blanchett and Redford was absolutely wonderful, both being two of my favorites. Topher Grace, Bruce Greenwood, and Elizabeth Moss also gave strong performances.

The presence of Robert Redford in a film usually signals a liberal agenda. So I'm surprised people with another point of view even watched this.

The film, to me anyway, comes down on the side of 60 Minutes, giving the impression that Mapes did all she could to verify the documents, and that ultimately she was let down because of political pressure to state the memos were untrue.

A few things, since I was alive back in the '70s: Like it or don't like it, people, not just Bush (if he did), used family connections to stay out of Vietnam. The fact that there were so many children from well-known families in this one unit was suspicious.

This seemed to me another example like the Challenger - people knew it was going to blow up but sent it up on schedule anyway. 60 Minutes had verified these documents up to a point, but given the date they wanted to broadcast, they didn't have enough time to investigate further.

Explosive information like this, I would think, has to be run down to the ground. They didn't want to wait until after the election, but the schedule was full except for a date coming up in five days.

Mapes made an excellent point when she appeared before the antagonistic investigative committee, that it would be next to impossible for someone to know the right people, have inside information, and do the research involved in creating the memos - and then, ruin it all by sitting down and typing the memos up in Microsoft Word.

Rather left the show feeling that journalism had lost its integrity, that it succumbed to pressure to kill a story.

One has to make one's own decision about all this. My own opinion is that 60 Minutes did believe these memos, they did not present them knowing they were false, but they probably needed to spend more time on them.

One of the most striking scenes occurs while Mapes is before the board and is asked: Don't you believe that some of these men from prominent families actually wanted to serve? Long silence. Mapes: No. I do not.

A tense, absorbing film. The only thing is, to see Robert Redford, Bruce Greenwood, and Dennis Quaid looking so old depressed me more than I can say. Robert Redford looked embalmed. Forty years ago...well, I can't go back, any more than 60 Minutes, Rather, and Mapes can.

is that all there is?, 10 February 2016

I can't believe it - there were five Snoop Sisters including the pilot? Gee, they could have given it more of a chance. That NBC Mystery show was like a graveyard of lost shows. If you read a history of it, NBC seems to have put every show in this anthology.

I know Snoop Sisters was about ten years too early but I can't believe it didn't have an audience. It should have been on Sunday night, which it may have been, briefly, but I understand this anthology series kept moving around.

This is the last episode, and it stars Vincent Price, Tammy Grimes, and Roddy McDowell. Price is a has-been horror star who is suspected murdering his wife (Grimes) for her money. He insists that he wasn't in the will, but the only will that turns up shows that he was. Of course this was a major faux pas in the series as whether or not a husband is in a will (or wife) they automatically receive 1/3. So with or without a will, he still had a motive.

Anyway, the Snoop Sisters set out to prove him not guilty, and the result is a wonderful episode.

Vincent Price is so far over the top he's practically on the other side of the mountain, and it's delicious. The directors of these series encouraged that, as most guest stars did the same kind of acting - Cyril Ritchard, Joan Blondell, etc.

I love the energetic performances of Helen Hayes and Mildred Natwick, and Lou Antonio as their driver/major domo. Bert Convy is their nephew and he's very good.

Since Hayes retired in 1985 and Natwick in 1988, I suppose if they had revived the Snoop Sisters, both ladies could have played them. If not, it still would have been a nice addition to the "older people" TV shows around in the '80s. Funny how things go in and out of fashion - the '80s was the last bastion of TV for anyone over 40. Then they aged out of the important 18-49 demographic. Once the '90s came, it was all about the kids.

The Judge (2014)
an attorney comes home to defend his father, 9 February 2016

A successful attorney for the guilty, Hank Palmer, now living in Chicago, returns to his hometown in "The Judge," from 2014. The film stars Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vincent D'Onofrio, Vera Farmiga, and Billy Bob Thornton.

Hank (Downey) comes home to Carlinville, Indiana, for his mother's funeral. He has two brothers: Glen (D'Onofrio) whose hand was hurt in an accident, ruining a promising sports career, his slow brother Dale, and his father, Judge Joseph Palmer (Duvall), from whom he is estranged. He also see his old girlfriend, Samantha Powell (Farmiga).

He can barely be in a room with his father, so the next day, he boards a flight back to Chicago when Glen calls to tell him that their father has been accused of a hit and run. The victim is a murderer, Mark Blackwell, who received a surprisingly light sentence from the Judge. Hank leaves the plane and returns home.

His father doesn't remember the accident, explaining that he "lost time," which in a fragile mental state, he sometimes does.

Hank plans on defending his father, but the situation between them becomes worse and worse. And the prosecutor, Dwight Dickham (Thornton) wants to make sure the Judge goes to prison.

This is a story of a dysfunctional family, as if you couldn't guess. It's a story of suppressed rage, blame, feelings of abandonment, and guilt, and some secrets. The scenes between Duvall and Downey are as heartbreaking as they are powerful. Good thing I had a box of tissues handy.

The acting is superb. Everyone is a multilayered character - Samantha, who flirts with her ex boyfriend Hank, but never got over the fact that he left for a concert and never returned; the Judge, a once strong man facing the loss of his wife, mind, and bodily functions; Glen, who is stuck in town dealing with his younger brother.

Robert Downey, Jr. is charismatic, and his emotions are perfectly on point. Duvall - someone used the word breathtaking. I will, too. This is not just a stereotyped stern father. This is a real person. The two set fire to the screen in their scenes together.

I admit I was disappointed for the first hour because I thought this was a courtroom drama, but when I realized what it was, I no longer felt that way. David Dobkin does a beautiful job of directing.

I realize there is nothing new under the sun - this is another family of Dueling Dysfunctionals with lots of issues. But it's played (for me, anyway) as if it's a brand new story, a story of the different ways love expresses itself even when there has been devastating hurt.

The Moment (2013/I)
unrealized potential, 9 February 2016

I saw Jennifer Jason Leigh on stage in Proof, and she was wonderful. She is a marvelous actress who appears in independent films of varying quality.

"The Moment" from 2013 is just such a film. It has an interesting premise and had the potential of being truly brilliant. But it's too convoluted and misses the mark.

That's just my opinion. People on the board seem to like it, though I think it only had 1-1/2 or 2 stars on Netflix, and a 5 rating here. Not sure who's voting.

The movie goes forward and back in time. Leigh plays a photographer (named Lee), and when we first see her, she goes to the home of someone named John, calls him, and says her cameras are in his home and she needs to get in. He doesn't respond.

She gets into the house and finds that he hasn't been there in quite a while. She goes to the police to report him missing.

Then the movie starts to go back in time and into the present.

Lee ends up in a psychiatric hospital and we learn about the problems she had with John. And she meets a man also in the hospital named Peter, whom she tells her therapist looks exactly like John.

Both men are played by Martin Henderson, who could not be more handsome, and to have him play both parts was a major mistake. I realize I wasn't concentrating hard enough, but I had trouble figuring out if she was talking to John or Peter - were we in the past or the present?

Anyway, Lee is afraid that she killed John. As she tries to regain some grip on reality, we learn about her problems with her daughter and what actually happened with John. realize the truth as well as the truth about her troubled relationship with her daughter.

I feel that the director, Jane Weinstock, was not experienced enough to handle this kind of film, but I give her credit for taking it on. I understand, according to one review, that the people who liked it were psychiatrists or their patients. Interesting.

Jennifer Jason Leigh was something like 51 when this was made, and she looks like a woman in her thirties, and she's not heavily made up. In Proof, she was playing someone 25 and she was 40. She does a great job of playing this confused and frightened woman.

This is a psychological drama with an unsatisfying ending. I can't say I liked it. I do think it was a mistake not to cast different actors as John and Peter. It would have helped - immensely.

Blockade (1938)
ambiguous drama and a miscast Henry Fonda, 8 February 2016

Henry Fonda was roped into this -- he had a higher box office rating than the perfect actor for it, Gilbert Roland. There aren't many roles both of these men could play, and this wasn't one of them.

The story concerns the Spanish Civil War.

The script was written by an avowed Communist, John Howard Lawson who wanted to "present the Communist position" in his scripts. He doesn't really get to do that in Blockade, since it's deliberately ambiguous as to the different factions, referred to as "they" and "us." The costuming also doesn't suggest anything as far as sides.

The story concerns a place called Castelmare, where Marco and Luis (Fonda and Leo Carrillo) help a Russian woman, Norma (Madeleine Carroll) who has had a car accident on the way to her father's. For Marco, it's love at first sight.

When war begins, Marco is the head of a group of peasant attempting to defend Castelmare. Meanwhile, Norma and her father are forced to spy for the other side. Marco winds up killing Norma's father.

Castelmare cannot get any supplies, and Norma is being blackmailed to give information about the ship so that it can be sunk.

Probably the most striking thing are the closeups of the suffering peasants.

Casablanca it isn't. Fonda and Carroll have no chemistry. The dialogue is very stilted.

Henry Fonda at the end gives an impassioned speech right into the camera. It's embarrassing.

World War II at home, 8 February 2016

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

It seems impossible that this film was made almost 32 years ago -- Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn look almost unrecognizable in "Swing Shift," from 1984, directed by Jonathan Demme and also starring Christine Lahti and Ed Harris.

Hawn plays Kay Walsh, married to Jack Walsh (Harris) in 1941. They're a happy couple. Pearl Harbor happens, and Jack enlists. Kay goes to work as a riveter in an airplane factory, working the swing shift. There she meets Mike Lockhart (Russell) who immediately pursues her -- for six months, until she finally agrees to come and hear him play the trumpet at a swing club. They begin an affair.

Meanwhile, Kay has befriended her neighbor, Hazel (Lahti), who has had her heart broken more than once by her boyfriend Biscuits (Fred Ward). and she is also working in the factory.

Kay finds a community in the factory, people she can spend time with outside of work. Then, abruptly, the war is nearly over, and Jack returns.

Nice wartime story about the women left behind, the loneliness, their new independence, and a world outside of their homes. There is the expectation that this is all temporary. When the war is over, they will be let go, the men will return to their jobs, and the women will go home where they belong. Meanwhile the women have been given a taste of a new kind of freedom.

"Swing Shift" is about the societal changes during the war for both sexes. Men saw war, with its accompanying camaraderie, death, horror, and separation from loved ones. They came home to wives who may have been earning more than they did, who could fix the toaster, and had a new set of friends. It was a time of big adjustment.

Hawn is sympathetic as Kay, a pretty woman who married very young and finds it hard to get along without her husband. As the man who doesn't care if a woman is married or not, Kurt Russell is fine -- he falls for Kay, perhaps picking up on her loneliness, and pursues her with determination.

The showy role belongs to Christine Lahti, who gives an emotional performance, hurt by the man she loves and unable to get over him. Lahti has always been a wonderful actress who has given many powerful performances -- as an ex-hippie living underground in "Running on Empty," and in many striking TV performances. She shows her stuff here.

Holly Hunter, Lisa Pelikan, and Chris Lemmon, who all went on to varying levels of success, have small parts. Good movie, and a good look at wartime at home.

5 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Excellent look at a huge murder case, 7 February 2016

The People v. O.J. Simpson is a look at the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, for which O.J. Simpson was found not guilty.

For those of us who lived through every second of it, it brings back a lot of memories -- the Bronco chase, Mark Fuhrman, the verdict, and everything else in between.

If you are too young to remember, the O.J. trial took over the airwaves for months. It also dominated news and talk shows.

This is the story of the case, but also some behind the scenes drama. I'm assuming some of that is at least partially true.

The casting is wonderful, particularly David Schwimmer as Robert Kardashian. Kardashian was on O.J.'s dream team for support -- thanks to the prominence of his family today, I imagine he'll be front and center. His ex-wife and children are, and I don't remember them being mentioned originally.

Kardashian finally decided O.J. was guilty and stopped speaking to him, even refusing to talk to O.J. when he was on his deathbed.

Courtney Vance sounds just like Johnnie Cochran, a brilliant attorney who was responsible for getting O.J. found "not guilty" by distracting the jury and changing the trial to one about racism. Of course, that opportunity was handed to him by Mark Fuhrman. Before Fuhrman testified, Cochran approached Chris Darden and said, "Chris, don't put that white boy on the stand." They did, and there went their case.

Don't ask me what John Travolta is doing. Normally he's an excellent actor. Sarah Paulson does a terrific job as Marcia Clark.

Bruce Greenwood is Gil Garcetti. When we were watching all this take place 20 years ago, this was a perfect role for Clint Eastwood.

As O.J., Cuba Gooding is very good, as is Billy Magnusson as Kato. Kato got 15 minutes of fame out of the trial and milked it.

It looks to me as if the casting people were very careful with their choices, so I expect the rest of the cast will be good as well.

Some of what takes place in the film isn't quite correct, as I recall it anyway. No one called O.J. and said, "your wife Nicole has been killed." I remember that as being a big part of my belief that he was guilty. He was called and told, "Your ex-wife has been killed." Well, he had two, but somehow, he knew it was Nicole right away. As far as him asking how she was killed, he probably didn't.

In the beginning, the prosecution seemed to have O.J. dead to rights, with his blood on the sidewalk and the gloves showing a mix of his and the victims' DNA. But they were undergunned. And frankly, the charisma of Johnnie Cochran was overpowering. I think a lot of the jury was mesmerized by him. Chris Darden, on the other side, went to his funeral. A powerful adversary you couldn't help but admire.

Barry Schenk's complete ruination of Dennis Fong is considered one of the great all-time cross-examinations - I hope they show it.This was the beginning of Schenk's Innocence Project, which has, through DNA evidence, been able to get many people released from prison. Unfortunately it couldn't get O.J. in prison. Too new back then, I guess.

I was surprised to read that some younger people had no idea O.J. played football. I don't know why I should be surprised. There are people on this site who think Gandhi was a fictional character.

Whether or not you're familiar with the case, the series will prove fascinating.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
not good, 7 February 2016

Unlike other reviewers, I haven't read any of the Inspector Gamache series. But I love Nathaniel Parker, so I watched this.

Have to say it was a big bust.

It was directed in a static fashion and moved slowly. Also, the acting was pretty bad.

Even the mystery wasn't impressive, at least the way it was set up.

An elderly woman is killed in the woods by an arrow; she was beloved in the community, so who could have killed her and why?

Inspector Gamache (Parker) investigates. Someone called this "Inspector Lynley Goes to Quebec." I didn't find Parker like Inspector Lynley, who had quite a temper and wasn't anywhere as near as quiet as Gamache.

The characters were not well fleshed out.

All in all, kind of a waste. Reminded me of the Canadian films of Mary Higgins Clark movies - not well done.

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