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0 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
A genuine delight., 1 December 2002

This is a wonderful, little movie. Without any preachiness, it gets

across one message of Christmas, which is that God is in control

and good things will happen. In this case, you will get what you

want even if all of your scheming and plans go completely wrong.

Peter Billingsly's insincere face is so dopey that you feel as if

Billingsly, even at that age, must have known it was a putup job.

Darren McGavin is compulsively watchable in anything he does.

His ability to kvetch must rank with Jimmy Stewart. As for Melinda

Dillon, she's perfect because she does everything in this movie in

deadly earnest. She knows that comedy is best when done

completely straight. But I think the greatest praise must go to Jean

Shepherd. Not only did he get most of his own material into the

screenplay, but his material is good. This is the only Christmas

movie I know of (and possibly the only movie period) where, when

TNT ran the movie all day, I left the TV on.

Angus (1995)
A real movie about high school, 24 June 2001

This movie is special, not just for its quality, but for what it is not. It is not filled with 20-something actors pretending to be teenagers. It is not filled with the latest pop culture references. It does not threaten to break out with an MTV montage designed to push music product. Instead, it is a well-crafted, gentle movie with an overweight hero, kids who look like kids, and the kind of dialogue that might have been taken from real life. The plot itself is a fantasy. Who hasn't been the high school underdog and dreamed of having your moment? Then again, it is a lovable fantasy because it contains so many of our hopes and dreams. Hollywood used to do this kind of movie regularly, before each one had to become a roller-coaster ride for the $100 million payoff. Watching Angus is like going back to a gentler time, when a finely acted moment counted as much as a special effect. Watch this movie, recommend it to your friends, and watch it again.

18 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
The Greatest Biography Ever Made, 29 May 2000

This mini-series is truly a classic, the best historical drama that I have ever seen. There are slow spots whenever the action moves away from Churchill, or else the mini-series travels over-familiar territory like German preparations for World War II, but these points are simply quibbles. You literally hear the clash of arms, the ring of combat and the roars of the crowd as Churchill battles one foe after another, often defeated but never giving up. I swear, this movie will give you chills with the sense of history being made.

PBS broadcast the mini-series in 1986. Drew Middleton, a WWII correspondent, said that it had the force of Greek tragedy, Churchill the antagonist while everyone--friends, family, political opponents--became part of the chorus. Robert Hardy performs that role magnificently. He has done good work in "Middlemarch", "Elizabeth R" and "All Creatures Great and Small", but those roles are simply dwarfed by his Churchill. Alternately raging, noble, petty-minded, sulking, humorous, sly and generous, Hardy's Churchill is a character of Shakespearean proportions. Rarely does an actor match the emotional force of an historical giant, but Hardy succeeds. Over eight hours, Hardy is never dull.

Still, a great hero is nothing without opposition. When Hardy did a one-man show of Churchill, I was terribly disappointed. Hardy was still doing what he did before but, without context and response, his performance seemed little more than a recital of greatest hits. It is really the entire cast, uniformly excellent, that lifts this mini-series above the usual attempt at history. Nigel Havers does an entertaining and ultimately tragic performance as Randolph, Churchill's beloved son, who is already being ruined by his father's indulgence and overblown expectations. Peter Barkworth as Samuel Baldwin is the ultimate politician, ever so slyly maneuvering with one honest insincerity after another so that, through a bewildering series of missteps that no one but he can understand, he gets exactly what he wants. But Churchill's greatest opponent is Neville Chamberlain. Eric Porter plays him full of arrogance and incomprehension, already marked by the flaws which Hitler will brilliantly exploit. Yet the gradual breakdown, his ultimate realization that his best efforts have led to nothing but ruin, gives Chamberlain a measure of tragic dignity that makes him sympathetic despite the historical record. Churchill is a triumphant Henry V, but Porter plays the blinded hero of his own Greek tragedy to perfection.

An aside. The opening and closing music of this mini-series matches with the greatest music ever made for the movies. Starting mysteriously dim and obscure, it swells into a mighty torrent of sound and victory, at once enthralling to the ear and a perfect encapsulation of the mini-series. If Churchill had had a taste for such music, he would have loved it. Comparable to Strauss' "Thus Spake Zarathustra" but infinitely better, the theme music really conveys the character of Churchill and of the times.

The Crossing (2000) (TV)
14 out of 17 people found the following review useful:
Simply superb, 29 May 2000

This movie was simply superb. Howard Fast consistently writes excellent fast-moving scripts that film themselves. The movies rarely do justice to history while "The Crossing" succeeded, but this movie can be enjoyed purely as entertainment, a terrific action thriller. Not only did Jeff Daniels fully live up to his role as Father of his Country, but the entire cast was uniformly excellent. Seriously, this movie truly conveyed a sense of what it means to sacrifice and to fight for freedom.

I'd also like to mention the excellent work of Sebastian Roche, who gets my award as the most versatile actor with accents since Meryl Streep. Believe it or not, Roche's biography has him born in Paris, France. Yet in "The Crossing" he plays a Maine Yankee. In Merlin, he played Sir Gawain. In "Liberty", the documentary on the Revolution, he played the Marquis de Lafayette. Although his performance was thoroughly captivating and sometimes moving, I thought his French accent for Lafayette, a genuine hero after all, was so over the top that it verged on being offensive. I couldn't help but enjoy it, but wondered if I would take so kindly to it if I was French. If Roche is French, I sincerely commend him for playing the role with a true sense of humor. His work is so good that I hope he gets his breakout role.

P.S. If you want to see another great performance, check out Philip Seymour Hoffman as Captain Joseph Plumb Martin in "Liberty." He got plenty of kudos in "Magnolia" and did a good job in "Scent of a Woman." When I saw him getting raves in "Magnolia", I was not surprised and very pleased. Let me just add that in "Liberty," there are a lot of terrific performances that may never be acknowledged, but make that documentary one of the best, most-moving in terms of emotional impact that I have ever seen.