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wow, talk about having your heart in your throat, 18 April 2015

"Kidnap and Ransom" is an exciting series out of Britain.

Trevor Eve plays Dominic King, a war hero who is now a hostage negotiator. Corporations take out insurance policies on their most important people in certain countries in case they are kidnapped.

I'll say right off, I did love these episodes but I don't understand corporations doing this -- doesn't it just invite people in countries like India to kidnap important employees? In fact, that's what it looks like on the show because it seems like these kidnappers all have big paydays.

Dominic King makes a deal with the kidnappers, sometimes for less money, as long as the victim is kept alive and returned.

These two episodes (both in three parts) are negotiations that, let's say, don't go so well. Both are bone-chilling, suspenseful, and thrilling. I wish there were more.

Trevor Eve is wonderful as a solemn, quiet man, not without his own problems in his marriage and with his daughter. When he negotiates, it's with an iron glove rather than a fist -- he remains calm and measured throughout.

All of the acting is very good, with Eve taking top honors. In the second episode, Sharon Small from Inspector Lynley has a role as the daughter of people stuck on a hijacked bus.

Highly recommended.

Mama said there'd be days like this, 17 April 2015

Michael Douglas is a disturbed man who's had it in "Falling Down" from 1993).

After being stuck in traffic, William Foster takes off on his own. Going into a store run by a Korean, he objects to the prices of items, takes the owner's baseball bat, and starts beating him and the merchandise. He's on a roll.

After he beats some gang members, he calls his ex-wife on the phone. The gang goes looking for him, sees him, and starts shooting. People fall left and right. Not Foster. The gang crashes their car. Foster walks over to them, all dead but one, and says to the one alive, "You missed." He shoots him with the guy's gun, steals the bag of guns the gang was carrying and takes off.

Complaints start coming into the police precinct, where it's Prendergast's last day, and he has his own problems. Eventually he puts two and two together and realizes this is the same guy with whom he was in the traffic jam. Over his wife's (Tuesday Weld) objections, he stays late to see if he can find Foster.

I think anyone living an urban life, especially in a big city, can sympathize with the Foster character. We've all felt like he has, life can really get to you. Foster's ex-wife (Barbara Hershey) is terrified of him and has an order of protection on him. It's his daughter's birthday and he's told he can't see her. He lost his job a month ago and his mother still thinks he's working. Life's problems pile up.

The scariest scene takes place in a surplus shop, and it goes to show that times really haven't changed. This movie could have been made yesterday. The Nazi loving redneck running it (Frederic Forrest) who is, admittedly, way out there, objects to having two gay guys in his store and drives them out. "I reserve the right," he yells at them. He hates everyone - Jews, gays, you name it.

Douglas does an excellent job as a man who has had just one too many things go wrong on a boiling hot Los Angeles day. Robert Duvall does a masterful job as Prendergast, a man who suffered a tragedy in his life and understands his aggressive wife better than anyone. Tuesday Weld is amazing in the character role of the wife, moving out of the blond beauty leading lady parts easily.

Most of us plow through to the next day. Foster falls down. Admittedly his world is sadder. "I did everything they told me," he says, speaking of his time serving his country. We all do and somehow, like Foster, it just doesn't turn out as we expected.

Trumbo (2007)
fantastic story about holding to what you believe in, despite the odds, 16 April 2015

"Trumbo" is an amazing documentary about screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a man who won an Oscar under another name in 1965 and couldn't go and pick it up.

What a story, told mostly by Trumo himself through his letters, segment of his book "Johnny Got His Gun," and interviews he gave. The letters and book portion are read by a wonderful cast: Michael Douglas, Josh Lucas, Nathan Lane, Paul Giametti, Diane Lane, David Strathairn, Brian Dennehy, Liam Neeson, and Donald Sutherland.

There are also interviews with his children, Mitzi and Christopher, Walter Bernstein, Otto Preminger, Kirk Douglas, Dustin Hoffman, Kate Lardner, and others.

We're shown a brilliant man who is an equally brilliant screenwriter. His career is stopped thanks to the blacklist, because he refused to answer "are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist party?" - not taking the fifth amendment which would protect him from self-incrimination, but, like the rest of the "Hollywood Ten," the first amendment where the government is prohibited from inhibiting free association, and their right to silence.

Trumbo liked a good fight, and he stuck to his beliefs, even though it meant going broke, having to move to Mexico, and ultimately writing 18 screenplays under other names or being uncredited.

It wasn't until the late '50s, when some producers began hiring blacklisted people and 1960, when Otto Preminger and Kirk Douglas broke the blacklist by crediting Trumbo for their films, that the blacklist began to lose its sting. It would take others much longer to regain their reputations, if they ever did. Many lives were ruined in its wake.

This is such a compelling documentary, but if you weren't around in that era, it probably won't have the impact it did on someone like me. When I was growing up, the most terrifying thing in the world was Communism.

In truth, it was a philosophy that sounded good to people during the depression. Philosophies on paper always sound good - unfortunately they don't work when you have human beings involved. Most people became disillusioned with it and, after attending some meetings or even joining, gave it up.

Sadly, if. like Lee Grant, you even went to the funeral of someone who was suspected of being a communist, you were blacklisted.

As Trumbo put it, the Elks were probably as influential in the end. But J. Edgar, McCarthy, and others saw Communists under every chair. It was a furor that caused a lot of damage and denied us the work of some great artists.

Highly recommended for an excellent look at what was going on during that time.

The Pale Horse (1997) (TV)
some missing elements, 15 April 2015

This is a 1997 version of "The Pale Horse," based on the 1961 novel of the same name by Agatha Christie.

Ariadne Oliver is in the book, but she's not in this production.

The story concerns a sculptor, Mark Easterbrook, who finds a priest dying in an alley. The priest has a list of names. When the police arrive, they take the list away from Easterbrook and accuse him of murder.

He and an art restorer, Kate Mercer, work to prove his innocence, using whatever Mark remembers of the list. He's shocked to learn that everyone on the list is dead, save one, and all from natural causes.

Mark and Kate are led to a house called "The Pale Horse," where three women who claim to be witches live. Can their spells actually kill people? What about the booking agent Mark meets? Can he think someone dead, or does he set it up? This could have been a more interesting story, but it isn't, due to the fact that it's somewhat confusing. Also, while some of the women's clothing appears to be from the '60s, nothing else seemed very '60s to me with Easterbrook walking around wearing a leather jacket. The era is amorphous.

The acting was okay. I enjoyed seeing Hermoine Norris in a different kind of role from the one she played on MI-5 and her character on Wire in the Blood. She was very good. Also, Michael Byrne and Leslie Phillips give outstanding performances. The rest of the acting was so-so, as were the production values.

After watching the Hercule Poirot series, it's hard to go back to anything less than the characterizations, production values, and costumes found in them.

great inspirational story, 15 April 2015

Jon Hamm stars in "Million Dollar Arm" from 2014, also with Lake Bell, Alan Arkin, Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, Aasif Mandvi, Bill Paxton, and Darshan Jariwala. This is based on a true story.

A down and nearly out agent, J. B. Bernstein, comes up with the idea of having a reality-show type competition finding Indian cricket players and turning them into pro baseball players in the U.S. He convinces one of his investors to go along with it.

At first, it's hopeless, but eventually they find two young men with great arms, though they don't play cricket, Rinku Singh and Dinesh Patel. They travel to the U.S. to train and then compete.

It turns out to be more than just a competition, particularly for Bernstein, who realizes slowly that he's not doing his job right. He's treating the competition as a business and leaving the emotions of these boys dangling.

Well made if predictable film and a wonderful feel-good story of these young men, far from their country, homesick, trying to adapt to Los Angeles, baseball, American food, and big homes; and it's also the story of a smart but desperate man who loses sight of what's important.

Maybe I'm prejudiced, but I happen to think that Jon Hamm is an excellent actor. Granted, in the beginning, the character is closer to Don Draper in his shallowness; character differences are subtle. He's a little less formal and a little more energetic than Don. But like his Don Draper, his performance is multilayered. He's a very internalized actor, but when his character becomes angry, watch out.

Alan Arkin is hilarious, and Lake Bell is just right as the medical student next door.

The Indian actors do a tremendous job as young men taken out of their village and thrown into a strange world. They are totally convincing.

I actually didn't recognize Bill Pullman as the team coach working with the competitors. He is quite good.

Highly recommended.

I gave it a 4 for the nice scenery, 14 April 2015

The Gold Coast in Australia looks positively gorgeous in "Absolute Deception," a film from 2013 which stars Cuba Gooding, Jr., Emmanuelle Vaugier, Ty Hungerford, and Evert McQueen.

The plot is derivative, about a reporter, Rebecca Scott (Vaugier) who finds out that her dead husband, supposedly killed in a car accident two years earlier, has actually just died in Australia, living under the name Miles Archer, and married to someone else. He was about to be put into the Witness Protection Program. An accountant, he had his hand in the billion-dollar cookie jar of his new boss, a Bernie Madoff type named Osterberg. In order to avoid being killed, he was turning evidence over to the FBI. But Nelson doesn't get to him in time and sees him killed. So he's dead again.

Rebecca heads for Australia to find out what happened. There she runs into Nelson, Osterberg, and an obstinate Police Inspector Hendricks. Basically they would all be happy if she would just go home.

The acting is awful. Emmanuelle Vaugier is beautiful, but there is no chemistry at all between her and Gooding. Gooding does okay, but I have a feeling he just phoned it in. She definitely did. I noticed posts about her eyebrows. If you're watching a film and noticing someone's eyebrows, how into it can you be? There's a twist at the end but by then I'm afraid not many people cared. Very by the numbers, slow in spots, badly acted, and boring. But as I said, nice scenery.

"Hidden" (2011)
Complicated and confusing, 14 April 2015

"Hidden" is a four-part British thriller starring Philip Glenister and Thekla Reuten.

The story is wild, one of those government corruption tales. Government corruption is feasible, and in real life there were riots in Britain and resignations of officials. But there were other elements of this plot that put it on the fanciful side.

Glenister is Harry Ven, a solicitor, is asked by attorney Gina Hawkes (Reuten) to find a alibi witness for her client. This witness also has information about Ven's late brother Mark 20 years earlier.

The plot takes off from there into a political conspiracy. This includes a plan to take over the government by a billionaire. He has an assassination bureau that gets rid of anyone in their way.

David Suchet plays Sir Nigel Fountain, a relative of Hawkes', and he's amazing. At first I didn't recognize him.

The end is a downer because it really doesn't end. There's ambiguous and there's nothing - this was nothing.

The acting was good, with Philip Glenister attractive in a disheveled kind of way and totally believable.


0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
precode corruption, Huston style, 14 April 2015

Made 73 years ago, "Night Court" is a very good, gritty precode about corruption in high places. In this case, it's a judge, played by Walter Huston.

When a young woman, Mary (Anita Page) finds a bankbook left behind by a neighbor, she returns it, and finds herself sentenced to the work house for six months. The money belongs to Judge Moffett (Huston), who, to keep his activities quiet, hangs out in his girlfriend's apartment. The Judge believes that Mary looked at the bankbook and knows where he keeps his money. He sets her up and has her arrested as a prostitute. Her baby is put into care, leaving her poor cab-driver husband (Phillips Holmes) with nothing, and thanks to Moffett's girlfriend, he's even doubting his wife's innocence.

However, he knows in his heart that Mary isn't capable of such a thing and sets out to clear her.

The original was written by Mark Hellinger, a reporter, and producer of "Naked City" in 1948. The story is loosely based on a real-life character.

Though some of the acting is melodramatic, as this was the style of the day, it's still compelling. Walter Huston is terrific, mean as dirt, and Holmes and Page are very sympathetic. Anita Page, about 22 here, worked until she died in 2008! Philips Holmes died in 1942 in a plane crash. For some reason, he reminds me of Tony Goldwyn.

Three other cast members of note: Mary Carlisle (who as of this writing is still alive) as an honest judge's daughter, Lewis Stone as the honest judge, and Jean Hersholt as the building janitor.

Very good and absorbing, though it's stylistically of the time.

Renoir, Gabin, Felix - how can you miss?, 14 April 2015

Jean Renoir's gorgeous film, French Cancan, is a symphony of color, dancing, singing, and humor.

It stars Jean Gabin as Henri Danglard, a club owner who is hitting the skids with his café "Le Paravent Chinois" which features his mistress, Lola, played by the legendary, mega Mexican star, "La Dona," Maria Felix.

Danglard has an idea of reviving the cancan, which he has seen on the Montmarte. In 1890, it is considered an old dance, but he renames it French cancan and decides to have it in a fabulous new club, the Moulin Rouge.

He becomes interested in a young laundress, Nini, who impresses him with her dancing one night when he dances with her. He wants to star her in his new show.

This is easier said than done. There's jealous Lola and Nini's baker boyfriend, and a prince who falls for her. While they tug at her heart, Nini has fallen for Danglard.

This is a fun movie, and a chance for me, anyway, to see Maria Felix. I had only seen her interviewed when she was quite old, and a movie in my high school Spanish class. She was statuesque with a strong face and looks quite beautiful here, displaying sophistication and toughness.

Gabin, of course, is wonderful - this is the first time I've seen him in anything but a depressing drama - he emanates charm.

Great-looking film with the Renoir touches - so many scenes look like paintings. Highly recommended.

The Guard (2011)
an unconventional team, for sure, 12 April 2015

Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle star in "The Guard," a 2011 Irish film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh.

Gleeson plays Sgt. Gerry Boyle, an Irish policeman. He's outspoken, doesn't mind stepping on toes, likes prostitutes, and has a mother who is dying.

An FBI agent (Cheadle) from Atlanta arrives to find and arrest members of a cocaine smuggling ring. He and Boyle have to work together, and it's an uneasy alliance.

This is a quirky film with both humor and drama that mix well. Underneath all the insults, the two men like and respect one another even while they're driving each other crazy.

All of the acting is excellent, with Cheadle handing in another fine performance as the strict, by the book agent. Fionnula Flanagan plays Boyle's mother, whose son keeps her laughing throughout her illness. The drug ring members are appropriately slimy -- Mark Strong reminded me of Stanley Tucci. Gleeson is perfection as an outrageous cop, raising his hand during Cheadle's speech about the case to the police and saying, "I thought only blacks were drug dealers." The ending is ambiguous, but it works, as does the whole film. I like McDonagh's approach and will be seeking out his other work. His brother Martin was responsible for the film "In Bruges," also with Brendan Gleeson.

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