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A perfect episode... SPOILERS INSIDE -- YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
I gave up on ER a few seasons ago; it had turned into too much of a soap opera for my tastes. However, when I heard that the show was down to its last few episodes, I decided to check out the last few episodes... particularly b/c I have always had a thing for Noah Wyle and I'd heard that he was going to return in some way.
I just finished watching "Old Times" and I must say, it's one of the best episodes of the show. Ever. The fact that Carter ends up receiving a kidney transplant at Northwestern was a nod to Noah Wyle's collegiate alma mater; the entire episode was full of such nods to the history of this amazing show. And the addition of Susan Sarandon in such a beautifully understated one-off supporting character... wow. Just, wow. There is a scene where one sees Juliana Margulies, George Clooney, and Susan Sarandon together on screen. Wow. It is clear that these gifted actors knew they were making "one for the ages" -- the reverence which each of them brought to their individual performance is beyond words. Again, I say, wow.
The entire episode hinges on the death of a boy in Seattle, the decision made by his grandmother (Sarandon's character) to proceed with organ donation, and the concept that you never know who will benefit... the boy's heart and kidney are couriered from Seattle to Chicago by none other than Neela and Sam. And the kidney goes to Carter. Neither Neela nor Sam know that the kidney went to Carter; the episode concludes with a footnote scene where Hathaway and Ross are asleep, the phone rings, and Hathaway's final line is "the heart went to a woman in Chicago with a daughter, and the kidney went to some doctor."
Truly a tour de force episode. Eriq LaSalle even managed to not annoy the hell out of me. The production values, the segues and editing, the understated acting, all of it, was in a word: perfect.
One final point: this episode shows why organ donation is so important, and how many lives can be saved by one person who gives the gift of life. The life you save may be a doctor who could go on to save hundreds of lives. Give it some thought. DONATE. Please.
M*A*S*H: Point of View (1978)
One of the 10 Best Episodes of M*A*S*H
SPOILER WARNING: THIS COMMENT CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR MULTIPLE EPISODES OF M*A*S*H. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. SILLY MORTAL!
This episode just reaired on Hallmark Channel. I hadn't seen it since I was a kid, and I must say, it has held up to the test of time astonishingly well.
The episode is quite simple. A soldier from San Antonio, Private Rich, gets shrapnel in his throat and goes to the 4077th for a tracheostomy -- strictly speaking the term tracheotomy is an emergency procedure to keep the airway clear whereas a tracheostomy is the creation of a breathing hole for a longer period of time, and yes the difference will become more relevant further on in this review. Rich has a bad night, whereby the crew discovers a previously undiagnosed fracture in his larynx. Private Rich has a 2nd emergency surgery, begins his recovery, and the episode ends with him going on to Kinpo for a flight stateside. While all this is happening, the staff of the 4077th simply do what they are known for doing: they bicker, they act silly, Klinger wears dresses, and Colonel Potter has a moving marriage- drama which Radar resolves.
The brilliance of this episode lies not in the story itself, but how it was told: from the POV of the soldier in question, literally. For much of the episode, the camera is at bed-level. The episode breaks the traditional "180-rule" more than once. The segues are hazy, with fadeouts that come too soon or too late. There is no exposition of what the soldier is experiencing -- we find out by being told by the hospital staff after it has happened. The center-frame of all scenes is the midpoint of the soldier's visual field. We don't know what is happening, why there is a complication, etc.
In other words, we experience what Private Rich experiences, in real-time.
I for one find this episode to be one of the singly most claustrophobic episodes of any television series I have ever seen, and I rank it up there with Father Mulchay's field tracheotomy (see, I told you that the difference between the two would be relevant!) where he uses a pen-cap to save a soldier's life. I rank it up there with the series finale which, for sheer historic importance, is in the top-10. I rank it up there with Movies Tonight, which I believe is a vastly overlooked bit of musical genius ("I don't want no more of Army life, gee ma I wanna go home."). And of course, the single most powerful bit of television ever filmed: Abyssinia, Henry.
Fraggle Rock (1983)
Why, oh why, isn't this series available on home video/DVD?
To folks at companies like [Lucasfilm and] Henson Productions: WE WANT THE LEGACY OF JIM HENSON on CD and DVD in our home stereos! Think of the money that Henson Productions is not making, by not releasing all of their back catalog on DVD and the soundtracks on CD! Oh but right, I'm supposed to be reviewing the product, not slamming the marketing idiocy of the company that owns it. What to say about Fraggle Rock... It's a good show, and it's the type of material that I would want my children to watch -- when I have kids, that is. Power Rangers just doesn't cut it. Fraggles are COOL. Period. And Doozers too! And we all know that Gorgs wouldn't *really* kill a Fraggle. Many muppet fans lambast this show because "it's just not as good as the Muppet Show or Sesame Street." Ok, fine. But it's a totally different show and is worthy of note. It was fun, and it featured a theme song that still pops into my head 18 years later. The show could have some educational value; of course, everything Jim Henson ever did could have educational value if parents would sit together with their kids and talk about what they're seeing when they watch TV. I guess the best way to summarize how I feel about this show is to state that I was 12 years old when it came out, and it provided a beautiful safe "kiddie" retreat from an otherwise bleak time in my life. There was always something about this show... the idea that just beneath your feet there might be a beautiful world with amazing creatures in it, who all learned somehow magically to JUST BE NICE TO EACH OTHER -- and who also learned some wisdom from listening to a heap of trash. "Metaphysics 101 For Kids"? If only the real world were as safe as Jim Henson's visions... but then again, that always *was* his magic -- expanding your mind, letting you have fun, but keeping you basically safe. We should all be so lucky. It's one of my greatest regrets that according to Henson Productions statements, my children will probably never have the joy of watching this show. If the misguided marketers at Henson Productions ever read any reviews such as this one, then know this: you have let your fans down, and tainted the memory of Jim Henson. Your marketing decisions have denied Mr Henson's legacy from an entire generation of fans -- and their children. All that money, which we will spend on other companies, whose products are undoubtedly inferior... such a shame. RELEASE THE BACK CATALOG ON DVD.
What music video SHOULD strive to be!
Yes, we've all heard about Fantasia... "The Concert Film" was almost its title, certain historians who were children in 1940 claim that it was somehow Mr Disney's statement against the brewing 2nd explosion of Europe due to German nationalism, etc. etc. blah blah blah ad nauseum. But let's stop a minute to think about when this film came out: it was 1940. Fast food didn't exist, color movies were not universal, and toy marketing tie-ins weren't necessary to support crappy movie plots. Walt Disney, God rest his soul, went and made his 2nd feature film... a long-form full-length music video! 41 years before MTV began broadcasting!
But enough with contextual social history. The animation in Fantasia is now 60 years old. It's not perfect; frankly it looks grainy and old compared to Fantasia 2000. However, the imperfections in the film's animation give evidence to its artistry: the animators of this film were human beings not Macs or Sparcstations. Now, I'm a big Lucas fan and I'm all for CGI work and digitally inserted characters... but my heart bows in awe to the color texturing and attention to detail that jumps off the screen at you when you see this film!
And now, for the other star of Fantasia after its animation staff: its MUSIC. Whoever chose the music, chose very very very well.
I was never a big fan of Tchaikovsky... but the Arabian Dance sequence alone, converted me to liking his music. The sequencing of Mussorgsky and Schubert is truly a yin-yang tour de force of musical history and more than makes up for the singular disappointment I have with almost all things Stravinsky [see my review of Fantasia 2000 for the exception!]. Beethoven, Dukas, Ponchielli... all masters. And then there was one, the master of masters [I freely admit to my bias here]: good ol' JS Bach himself. All united under the banner of mouse-ears. Hats off to Disney!
To sum up: the animation is old, but give it a break, it's a classic! The music is without parallel. It's a damn-near-perfect film.
Final thought -- a respectful suggestion to Disney Corp: EMBRACE THE DIGITAL AGE. RELEASE FANTASIA ON DVD! HIRE I.L.M AND SKYWALKER SOUND TO CLEAN IT UP FOR DIGITAL TRANSFER, THEN RELEASE IT A.S.A.P.!
Not for the faint of heart
This is a very difficult film to review.
First of all, if you are not a gay man then you might as well not bother with this film. Even if you are a gay man, it is still important to note that it is *supposed* to be a revolting and disgusting film. I read the book first, and let me tell you -- it messes with your mind.
What disturbs the s**t out of you when seeing the movie is also what is so "awful" about the book: if you stop to think about what the central character's thought process is, then you see certain basic pieces of it that actually make some sense. THAT is what stayed with me and actually gave me a nightmare.
Unfortunately, this is where the film is lacking. In the book, we get into the head of the central character, and we hear his thoughts. In the film, Dennis's thought process is implied but not stated sufficiently. The result is a muddled film that just gets more and more violent as it goes on.
The men in this film are VERY attractive, and this of course makes it all the more disturbing -- everyone wants to see killers be like Charles Manson -- it's scarier when they look like the boy next door, and they get off on disemboweling other boys next door.
I would say that the high point of the film is probably Parker Posey. Lordy lordy, that woman... Tales of the City to Scream 3, with a stop in the middle in Frisk. She brought her usual perkiness to a role that is, well, murderous.
To sum up: definitely made for a queer male audience. Far too disturbing for the average sensitive gayboy. Hard to follow if you haven't read the book. A few moments of brilliance, but overall it's muddled. Worth seeing if you have nothing else to do and have a strong constitution and a sick mind. Otherwise, don't bother.
Could've been better... could've been a lot worse
Ok, my bias: I am a *huge* Arthur C Clarke fan... and being a Clarke fan causes some difficulty in reviewing this film, actually.
On the one hand, the film manages to capture the science behind Clarke's story as well as to stir the heart with moments featuring David Bowman and HAL, Chandra and HAL, the Americans and the Russians, Jupiter and moons in all their glory, and the monolith, everpresent and seemingly omniscient.
On the other hand, the film is a *pale* shadow of the 2010 novel. The novel is a grande tour de force... the movie was purposely refocused as an anti-war pro-cooperation cautionary tale for the Cold War Era. Clarke worked with Peter Hyams on the screen version, so at least it carries the approval of the original author -- and the story *does* work quite effectively, even if a bit naively when seen from 16 years later.
To the point: the film has what, for 1984, was very impressive special effects work (the pictures of Jupiter are REAL, by the way... straight from JPL in Pasadena). The acting was somewhat pallid, but within context this isn't as much a problem as you might think. The film is intelligent, heavy on plausible scientific content, and requires you to pay close attention in order to get some of its more esoteric points. A good film, worth seeing.
Finally, I must discuss the filmmaker's attention to detail -- 2010 is AMAZING on the little things:
Watch the widescreen version; you'll see a funny old guy feeding the birds while Milson and Floyd are sitting in front of the White House: the funny old guy is none other than Mr Clarke himself.
Also pay attention to a magazine cover at a nurse's station about 2/3 through the film, allegedly showing the American president and the USSR Premiere as the world slides towards war... in reality those are pictures of Mr Clarke and STANLEY KUBRICK. (If you don't understand why Kubrick is there then smack yourself; look up 2001: A Space Odyssey.)
There are also: the OMNI cover with a picture of the monolith with a huge question mark in the middle of it, the disposable Budweiser container (think Capri Sun), the electric car seen briefly going down a hill in a father-son bonding moment, the flawless Russian lettering on the [now dated-looking] Leonov's monitors and keyboards, the flawless reconstruction of the Discovery ship interior -- Kubrick destroyed all sets from 2001 so the 2010 filmmakers had to reconstruct from footage of 2001 -- etcetera etcetera.
Final word: SEE THIS FILM BEFORE YOU READ THE BOOK ON WHICH IT IS BASED. The book makes the film seem lacking and dated.
Saludos Amigos (1942)
Buy it if you're a Disney collector. Other than that...
When I first heard that Disney was going to release a number of films from the early years which had been "almost forgotten," I was very intrigued. Would there be another Sleeping Beauty or Fantasia hiding out there?
Sadly, Saludos Amigos falls very short of "Disney classic" status. It is basically forgettable.
There are a few smile-inducing moments, but overall the piece really does feel like a "keep the Sudamericanos on our side against the Nazis" period piece from the WW2 era. It's strange to watch a movie made in 1943 with live action sequences of South America looking so peaceful and unaffected by the world's events. Sure, the region was less involved in WW2 than many other regions... but, it is still strange to watch.
Anyway, I'd sum it up thusly: 1. Worth buying if you are a Disney collector and 2. Worthy of note simply to see live shots of Buenos Aires, Lago Titicaca, and Rio de Janeiro, filmed almost 60 years ago.
Other than that, you can skip this one.
The Princess Bride (1987)
Just got the new DVD version this week, and watched it... memories of college years, watching it over and over on VHS, came flooding back... What to say about this film... no, the acting isn't the best; no, the special effects aren't from George Lucas; no, it's not a perfect film... but, there is *something* about this film... it takes your run-of-the-mill archetypal fairy tale structure, turns it sideways in a really fun way, and manages to capture the heart and haunt you.
Sure, the story is simplistic, but this film truly does get more powerful with repeated viewings. Recommendation: watch it a few times, then go away from it for a while. When you come back to it, it'll get you in the heart even more strongly. Or at least, it did to me... friends of mine from college even used the closing theme, "Storybook Love", as their first dance on their wedding day.
One final word about Cary Elwes... the boy is quite the looker... And his lines are quite memorable... "Drop Your Sword" scene in particular. And, who will ever forget "As You Wish..." Shivers!
SEE THE MOVIE! SEE IT AGAIN!
The Sixth Sense (1999)
It is *not* a horror movie!
Without listing any plot spoilers, I will simply say this: The Sixth Sense is most emphatically *not* a horror movie. It is a BEAUTIFUL and PROFOUND film about more subjects than apparent on first view. And it is STUNNINGLY well-made! Overall production quality puts this film in the top 10% of films -- music, cinematography, acting, writing, etc., are all MAGICAL. Bruce Willis gave us his finest work in this film. And that boy, Haley Joel Osment -- WOW. See the film; you'll see why he got an Oscar nomination -- the kid was *10* years old when filming.
Check out the DVD to see the filmmaker talk about how he was "guided" in the making of this film, by a force beyond himself. This film *will* stay with you after you've seen it.
One last thing -- SEE IT MORE THAN ONCE: you will be amazed at the things you didn't notice the first time.