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Into the Storm (2009) (TV)
Good but not great, 29 November 2015

Though "Into the Storm" is possibly a sequel to "The Gathering Storm," it can't hold a candle to it. Nor can the performance of Brendan Gleeson, as good as it was, approach Albert Finney's performance in The Gathering Storm.

This movie deals with Churchill being named Prime Minister and his concern for the British force which is now trapped, his destruction of the French fleet, his forming of a unified government, meeting with Stalin and Roosevelt, and his final ousting from office in 1945.

Naturally, as some of the reviews here point out, there was a great deal left out. One of the reviewers states that Roosevelt and Churchill are responsible for World War II by cutting off access to trade, and that Hitler was faced with starving his people.

I suppose that's one way to look at it, and one can spin events any way one wants. The fact is, Hitler couldn't have cared less about the German people and he starved them anyway. He took their pots and pans and anything else they had, including teenage boys when they were needed to fight. And in the end, when it was obvious Germany was losing, he blamed the Germans. To present him as a concerned dictator who cared about his people - I'm sorry, it's ludicrous.

The author Marcia Davenport (The Valley of Decision), who was in love with Czech freedom fighter Jan Maserek, said that Roosevelt and Churchill sold Eastern Europe down the river. The reference to Poland toward the end of the movie hints at letting Stalin have Eastern Europe rather than go to war again.

Getting back to this film - yes, a great deal was left out by necessity and yes, I suppose to some it seems too simplistic. I, too, felt it was on the sketchy side.

But what bothered me were all these famous phrases of Churchill's just tossed off in normal conversation, so that when he talked, he always sounded like he was making a speech. For me it gave the production a very stagy feel. Then, when it came for him to actually make a speech, they left out his biggest one.

The acting was good, as the cast was top drawer, with Janet McTeer as Clementine Churchill, Iain Glen as King George, Len Cariou as FDR, and Aleksey Petrenko as Josef Stalin.

For some reason, as I read through the reviews, some people expected these actors to do Rich Little impressions of these people and were complimentary of Petrenko because he looked like Stalin. I don't think lookalikes and vocal impressions were the point of the film.

If you're a novice and intend to read up on some of the other aspects of World War II, this is a good starting point. It's by no means definitive.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
well, what do you expect - it's Hallmark!, 28 November 2015

We've all seen this film a million times, most notably, "The Sound of Music." But this is the Hallmark Channel, a network to see clean films featuring actors from soap operas, 90210, Dancing with the Stars, and that ilk. It's the kind of thing you'd watch if your parents were in the room rather than, say, Boardwalk Empire.

Allie (Danica McKellar) is fired from her job as a maid in a fancy hotel in New York. She takes a job in Europe as a governess to a king's daughter and moves into the castle.

The king is played by MI-5's Rupert Penry-Jones, actually kind of a big actor to be in a film like this. Nevertheless, as soon as we see his handsome face and hear that accent, we know what's going to happen.

Of course, there's the fiancée (Alexandra Evans) that he doesn't love but must marry for dynastic reasons and some good character actors.

Danica McKellar is well known from "The Wonder Years." She's very pretty and I was shocked to find out she that she's forty! She easily can pass for someone in her twenties. She gives a lovely performance. Penry-Jones is always good and does the dignified, formal kingly bit very well.

This is an enjoyable movie to be taken just as it is, sweet and romantic.

It gave me a headache, but I really liked it, 28 November 2015

I'm not going to say much about this film, "Predestination," except to say that if you're interested in time travel films, this is a must- see.

Ethan Hawke gives a terrific performance, as does Sarah Snook.

The film deals with time travel, looping, time dimensions, and much more as an agent is charged with stopping a bomber in the past who is going to bomb 11 blocks of New York City and kill 11,000 people.

I consider myself fairly intelligent, and I like time travel movies, but they have to be a lot simpler than this one in order for me to follow it. My idea of time travel is "Back to the Future" or "The Time Machine."

I only had a partial idea of what this one was about. The very experienced viewers on Predestination's message board cleared up a few things.

This film demands a second viewing. Intriguing and fascinating.

Foxcatcher (2014)
unbelievably awful, 27 November 2015

I have a book called "Flesh and Fantasy" which explains how to win or be nominated for an Oscar. One way is a false nose.

Steve Carrell (with a false nose) stars as John Dupont in "Foxcatcher" from 2014, also starring Channing Tatum and Mark Ruffalo.

"Foxcatcher" is the story of two brothers, 1984 Olympic Gold medalist in Wrestling, Mark Schultz (Tatum) and his brother Dave. Mark is invited by the fabulously wealthy John Dupont to train at Foxcatcher Farms and form a team, with the goal of winning the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Schultz agrees and is excited for a chance to do something on his own, away from his well-known brother Dave (Ruffalo).

Dupont feels that he does not have the respect of his mother (Vanessa Redgrave) and wants the wrestling team to help him gain not only her respect but to boost his ego. Mark becomes increasingly more dependent on his approval.

However, all that glitters -- Mark finds himself involved in things that could wreck his training, both physical and psychological. Dupont then has Dave come in as a trainer. The end of the story is tragedy.

Well, the whole thing was a tragedy. It was so dull, it was practically done as a documentary - and not a particularly interesting one, I might add. The pacing was sleep-inducing.

I blame the director for absolutely everything that went wrong. Steve Carrell probably studied DuPont and gave an accurate portrayal. Given Dupont's psychological problems and lack of self-esteem, Carrell's flat affect, both in his lack of expression and flatlined voice, were correct.

The only problem with that is, it's hard to recognize how deeply disturbed he was when everyone around him is acting the same way. Channing Tatum spent the whole film looking like a dumb jock and muttering. The homoerotic part of their relationship is shown, but since Tatum acted no differently than he did in the beginning, it's hard to say if it bothered him or not. He does, however, frost his hair.

Mark Ruffalo does the best he can.

Obviously from the reviews, people read into it a lot more than was there, and that's good. If everyone had the same opinion, it would be a pretty dull world - almost as dull as this movie.

a real tear-jerker, 26 November 2015

Norma Shearer, Leslie Howard, and Frederic March all shine in "Smilin' Through," from 1932 MGM.

The story takes place during the latter part of the 19th Century. It concerns an old man, John (Howard) who has been alone since the death of his fiancé, Moonyen Clare. He sits near her grave often, imagining at times that he can hear her. When a close friend prevails upon him to take in Moonyeen's niece, at first he refuses, and then relents after he meets the child, Kathleen.

Kathleen grows into Norma Shearer and remains close to her uncle. Everyone expects her to marry a young man, Willy. One night, she and Willy are caught in a rainstorm and find shelter in an old house. A man, John (March) enters; it was his father's house. He and Kathleen are instantly attracted to one another.

When John finds out about the romance, he has a violent reaction and insists that Kathleen never see John again. She says yes, but she can't stay away from him. When John is about to go into the service during World War I, she decides to tell John the truth and marry Robert.

What a beautiful, well-acted film. Some of it may seem overly dramatic, but it's a touching story about eternal love, and how those we love are always with us somehow.

Really needed a box of tissues for this one. Highly recommended.

doesn't make it, 25 November 2015

And a big yawn goes to "The Venetian Affair" from 1966.

Based on a Helen McInnes novel, none of which made successful films, it sports an interesting, if not great cast: Robert Vaughn, Ed Asner, Boris Karloff, Elke Sommer, and Karl Boehm. The most interesting things about it are Karloff and the shots of Venice, my favorite city. I wish it had been in color.

The beginning makes one think you're really going to see something. An American diplomat detonates a bomb during a conference on disarmament in Vienna. There doesn't seem to be any reason for him doing so, and the USA doesn't want to be blamed. They start looking for reasons.

Vaughn, playing a drunk named Bill Fenner, who is ex-CIA, is sent back into action by the CIA. He has an ex-wife who is a turncoat, and the CIA is sure he can locate her. They think she might have been involved or at least know something. Fenner never got over her, though you wouldn't know it since he propositions every woman he meets.

It becomes confusing from there -- and boring. Slow pace, and Vaughn was not the stuff movie stars are made of. It's normal when you have a big success like Man from U.N.C.L.E. to try your luck at films, but not everyone succeeds.

Despite what some people state on this board, that people who don't like this movie were expecting explosions and all sorts of car chases and CGI, etc, I didn't care about any of that and never have. It's just not a very intriguing film. All I ask from a spy film is some suspense and a really good story, along with the acting.

During this time, we had the James Bond films with all their gadgets, and U.N.C.L.E., and the producers tried to attract both audiences. A very routine film.

Taken 3 (2014)
you know after Taken 2 we were in trouble, 23 November 2015

I didn't see this movie in the theater, I saw it on Netflix. So that is why I am perhaps a little more forgiving than most of the other reviewers.

In Taken 3, Bryan Mills, an ex-government operative, is the prime suspect in the murder of his ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) after receiving a text from her asking to meet. As he's trying to revive her, the police enter.

The rest of the film is occupied with car chases, explosions, and fights. It moves quickly, and all has to do with a Russian bad man attempting to recover some money. That's a real Macguffin, because it really just had to do with watching Mills escape Forest Whittaker, the cop after him, and others. Its purpose is also to bring this series of films to a merciful end.

When I watch an action movie I suspend all sense of reality and just go with it, otherwise, like others here, I would drive myself nuts. I couldn't believe some of the things Liam Neeson survived. He was Superman, Aquaman, and some other man all at once. Huge explosions, buildings blown up, cars on fire, and out he walks. A miracle.

I just read "Murder on the Orient Express" is being done again. This film is a good example as to why. No one, it seems, can come up with a decent idea.

LOVED the music and the back story, 22 November 2015

"Jersey Boys," from 2014, is based on the smash hit Broadway show and directed by Clint Eastwood. He might seem an odd choice, but he's a man who loves music and is an excellent director. The only time I haven't liked one of his films was "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" - pretty awful.

"Jersey Boys" tells the story of the Four Seasons, from their felonious beginnings to their attempts to break through into the music scene, their name changes, the success, and the burdens that came with it.

This doesn't feel like a musical, which is one of the things I liked. The music was fabulous, and rather than have a character break into song, we see them performing. I love movies like this or an old- timer's concert because one forgets how many hits they had. I remember seeing Tom Jones in person and how each song was so familiar. The movie is a treasure trove of great music.

John Lloyd Young repeats his Broadway star-making role as Frankie Valli. He is the only performer in history to win every single award given in the theater: Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and Theatre World Awards.

He clearly understands Valli's talent, ambition, angst, and heartbreak. One of his scenes, over the song "My Eyes Adored You" will leave you in tears. What a talent.

But everyone here is top notch: Christopher Walken as Gyp DeCarlo is wonderful as a mobster who adores Frankie's voice; Erich Bergen as Bob Gaudio, Mike Doyle as Bob Crewe, Vincent Piazza as Tommy Devito, Michael Lomenda as Nick Massi - all fantastic.

The end is sensational. I enjoyed every minute of "Jersey Boys."

Parnell (1937)
MGM version of a controversial figure's story, 22 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Just not good.

"Parnell" from 1937 stars two of MGM's greatest, Clark Gable and Myrna Loy, in the hopes, I guess, that people would go to see it. I wasn't there so I don't know if they did but I doubt it.

As someone here said, the roles would have been better suited to Spencer Tracy and Maureen O'Sullivan.

Parnell, who died at the age of 45, was a controversial figure with a complicated political career. And the film does show some of what he went through, including false accusations that he supported the murders of two people in power, the trial, and then suit against the newspaper.

Other problems followed, but the film is most concerned with his torrid romance (well, not in this movie) between Parnell and a married woman, Katherine O'Shea.

Now, in the movie, they don't get married. In real life, they did. And as far as a torrid affair, I'll say - she had three of his children while she was married. The couple wasn't married very long -- from June of 1891 and he died in October 1891 of stomach cancer. However, he also suffered from kidney failure. He is shown, not very convincingly, as ill in the film.

The film is very melodramatic, with Loy relying on the melodrama to get her through her role. Gable could not have been more wrong - he did not have a great range as an actor, and this called for at least more than he had. He was a charismatic, rugged, gorgeous, charming man who radiated a lot of warmth, all of which made him perfect for many roles. Not this one.

I spent time during this film dwelling on why mustaches went out of style. I decided Hitler and mens hair requirements during World War II caused them to go out of style. Gable looked great with and without one, and of course, he kept his as it was one of his trademarks.

Parnell is not a good movie, and it was hard to concentrate on it.

Cagney as an idiot boxer, 22 November 2015

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

"Winner Take All" is a 1932 precode film starring James Cagney, Marion Nixon, Virginia Bruce, and Guy Kibbee.

Cagney plays Jim Kane, whose manager (Kibbee) sends him to a health farm in New Mexico to rest and recharge. There he meets Peggy, a former nightclub singer, who is there with her sick son (Dickie Moore, always pathetically sympathetic) and in need of money to prolong her stay.

Though he's not supposed to be boxing, Jim goes to Tijuana in order to fight and win her the money. $600 in those days was equivalent to $10,000. Expensive place.

When his stay is over, he leaves the health farm, but he and Peggy are in love and he'll be back. He becomes a big winner and attracts a woman who is captivated by him Joan (Virginia Bruce). Apparently she's holding out for a commitment because, despite her sexy clothes, he can't get to first base. He even has plastic surgery for her, to fix his nose and ears. He wants to marry her.

Out of guilt or a sense of responsibility, he sends Peggy postcards occasionally but she's no fool, she can tell the bloom is of the proverbial rose. So Peggy comes to New York to find out what's going on.

Jim confesses everything to her. He's given four $20 seats to Peggy, who is en route to a ship that's going to take her and her current beau on a long trip.

In the end, Jim gives Peggy the engagement ring he intended to give Joan, and all is well.

Since this was precode, you could not be sure of the ending, but it turns out to be fairly predictable.

This film is okay but not great, with Cagney playing an uneducated, dumb boxer who, for the sake of Joan, tries to get some class -- at one point he says, "I don't want any part of that Shakespeare guy. He's the one that ruined Gene Tunney."

As always, Cagney is energetic, and his character is volatile and will knock someone out at the drop of a hat.

I would not have ended the film like that. Had I been Peg and he told me he wanted to marry someone else AFTER she made the trip from New Mexico to New York, I would have accepted his ring, pawned it, and been gone on the next train. Oh well.

Two stories about him come to mind. One was told by Harold Kennedy, who had a small part in the film "Run for Cover." He was supposed to run into a room and give Cagney some news. When they rehearsed it, Cagney was lying down and mumbled his response. When they filmed it, Cagney jumped up, grabbed him and started screaming.

The second story was told on "Jeopardy" by a man who had once worked in a restaurant. A man wearing an old raincoat walked in. He looked almost homeless. "It turned out it was James Cagney," the man said, "I never spoke to a sweeter person in my whole life."

A unique star - a unique person - a great talent. Always worth seeing.

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