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The Americans (2013)
Action-Packed Spy Thriller
May contain spoilers if you haven't seen some of the episodes "The Americans" premiere exploded off the screen from the opening scene to the very end. It kept me on the edge of my seat and moved so fast it was hard to believe it was two hours. This new series is definitely a "10" and I plan to tune in every week. The acting, the script, the suspense, the realism, the cinematography, the sound track, and especially the fast-paced action makes "The Americans' better and better each week.
The story was inspired by the capture of Russian spies operating in America in 2010, and this program focuses on the Soviet Union's spying operations in the United States during the cold war. The story line is built around Phillip and Elizabeth Jennings, a typical American family in Falls Church, VA running a travel agency by day, and leading a double life as spies.
The casting is perfect. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys play their parts to a "T." Refreshingly, we do not see the typical "Boris and Natasha" Russian stereotypes. They are not fanatic, irritable, heavy drinkers, heavy smokers, or highly emotional. The FBI agents are also well played. I hadn't seen Richard Thomas since the Waltons, but he makes a believable FBI manager. Keidrich Sellati and Holly Taylor excel as Henry and Paige, the Jennings children who know nothing of their parents' mission. I'm even impressed by the actors portraying the KGB Rezidentura agents in the Soviet Embassy.
I recall the true-life events of the early 1980s, which make the basis for several episode plots.
Because so many foreign armies have invaded them, Russia has long distrusted the West. One of the reasons that they spied heavily in this country is that many Russians truly believed that the United States would be the next to invade. In this series, the Soviets were terrified by Ronald Reagan's tough stance against Communism. The announcement of the Strategic Defense Initiative scared them enough to believe that their nuclear weapons would cease to deter the Americans from attacking. Several of the episodes revolve around attempts to get classified information about our "Star Wars" anti-missile technology.
My favorite episode so far depicts reactions to the attempted assignation of President Reagan. Until the FBI got the complete story about the shooter, some Americans believed that the USSR was behind the attempt. Even worse, some in the Soviet Leadership believed that Gen. Alexander Haig was leading a military coup to take over the country when he was shown on the news saying "I'm in charge here." The complexity of the characters is a fascinating part of the story. Phillip and Elizabeth balance their private lives as travel agents with their perilous duties. They both use martial arts, guns, and even sex if it's needed to get information. Elizabeth shows how much she loves her daughter by offering to pierce her ears. In the same episode, she guns down a private security officer who wants to investigate their van from which they plan to shoot the Secretary of Defense. Phillip dons a disguise to pretend to be an FBI investigator to solicit information from a lonely woman who works in FBI Counter-Intelligence. Another touch of reality comes from flashbacks to Elizabeth's younger days back in the USSR.
I remember the Cold War very well. In grade school we held air-raid rills every Monday morning where we had to "duck and cover" under our desks. I remember Khrushchev pounding his fist at the U.N. to protest the U-2, and when President Kennedy suddenly interrupted regular programming, many of us thought World War Three was at hand. Having read a lot of history, I learned about many real Soviet operations during the Cold War. If you are interested in learning more yourself, I recommend a book, KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents by John Barron.
Glee got 19 Emmy Nominations and no wonder -- Glee is by far the best series on TV right now! Definitely not another run-of-the-mill teen angst formula show.
Great cast, great singing, great dancing, great scripts, great comedy. It moves fast quick scenes and lots of contemporary songs and tunes you never thought you'd hear again.
The cast is amazing. Most face time goes to to Rachael (Lee Michelle), Will Schuster (Matthew Morrison), and Kurt (Chris Colfer) and they're all great. But even though they didn't get any Emmy nominations, Diane Agron (Quinn), Mercedes (Amber Riley), and Finn (Cory Monteith) really make the show. Artie in the wheelchair even and tough-guy Puck surprise you with some great vocals and great acting.
Sue Sylvester steals the show!!! For all her many TV and film roles, Sue will undoubtedly be Jane Lynch's signature feature just like Johnny Depp will forever be remembered as Jack Sparrow.
I watch very little television, so a program has to be really good to get me tuned in every week. I am thoroughly blown away by the music. April Rhodes enthralled me with "One less bell to answer." New Directions scared the competition with their brand new take on "Give up the Funk!" I couldn't believe Sue Sylvester singing "Vogue," and I laughed so hard when she made her video of "Let's get Physical!"
They cover some serious issues too, in stride -- teen pregnancy, acceptance of gay kids in the school, handicapped students in the mainstream, and even bullying. Well, I do admit that a few times they turned me off when they got a bit preachy, but still Glee beats the other teen dramas that I can't even watch.
I'm looking forward to the second season, and I hope they bring back the great lines, more great songs, the excellent cast, and of course great guest stars like Kristin Chenoweth, Molly Shannon, Olivia Newton-John, and Idina Menzel -- is she Lea Michelle's twin?
I'd only ask the producers to change one detail. ALL the singers are terrific, but PLEASE PLEASE feature Mercedes Jones on more solos and leads. When Amber Riley sings a song,she sings it from the bottom of her heart and makes that song her own!
The Big Bang Theory (2007)
I resemble this show!
At last! A show that really understands geeks! If the TV networks had to depend on me, they'd be as broke as General Motors and Chrysler! So when I do watch a show (other than PBS or the History Channel) it's gotta be good! I was nerd when nerd wasn't cool, working in the computer biz for, well, a few years. I really can identify with the characters in the show and I love the interaction with the gorgeous Penny, who deep down inside has a heart of gold and watches out for her four unique friends.
Here's a question. I haven't seen Stephanie Barnett in a few episodes. Are she and Leonard still an item?
After a hard day slaving over a hot computer, I really need some laughs, and they keep coming on this show. How does Sheldon manage to say all those preposterous statements with a straight face? Leonard, Sheldon, Raj, Howard -- and Penny -- all have their own little quirks, and that's the glue that keeps this show together. The banter keeps you in stitches.
I sure hope it comes back next season!!!
Alfred Hitchcock for the 21st Century
*Caution may contain mild spoilers if you haven't seen the episodes**
If Alfred Hitchcock were alive today, he'd be making films and TV programs exactly like "Dollhouse."
"Dollhouse" really is a good program. I watch very little TV but happened to see a write-up on Dollhouse. I was intrigued and I was as skeptical as anyone when I first tuned in but I'm a believer now. The plots challenge your mindset taking unexpected twists and turns all over the place. I've seen enough cute sitcoms with laugh tracks, each of which is just another takeoff on The Honeymooners or I Love Lucy. And I can't even look at the so-called "reality shows." Joss Whedon and a few others are pushing the envelope of what television can be.
The essence of the show is -- Nothing is as it appears. Isn't that exactly what Alfred Hitchcock did 50 or even 70 years ago? This is just like "North by Northwest," "Vertigo," or "The Birds." I'm surprised to see so many reviewers slam this show. My answer is just "Suspend your linear thinking for an hour and go with the flow." With each episode, you learn more and more about the Dollhouse. Maybe we'll never understand, but I like piecing together the puzzle.
As much as I enjoy the hot babes, I find the stories and the acting even more fascinating. There's plenty of action-adventure, suspense, mystery and even a bit of comic relief thrown in. I got a laugh when Topher programmed Sierra to be his geek "bro," chomping pizza, competing at his new video games and playing laser tag. In "Haunted" I loved solving the mystery of Margaret's murder. Twenty-something Eliza Dushku talked and moved exactly like the fifty-something socialite. It was like being at your own funeral and then finding out what your family really thinks of you. And in the end, Margaret/Echo set everybody and everything straight in the family.
Every character is a story. Alpha is certainly not what he seems, is he? And who is Caroline and the other Caroline?
I hope this show will return to challenge us again next season. Is Joss Whedon the new Alfred Hitchcock?
I Loved this Movie!
I don't know why the Boston Globe Critic hated it, but I loved "Elizabethtown!" My wife and I don't go to a lot of movies, so we choose very carefully when we do.
This film was anything but predictable, and it really kept moving. It tells the story of a young executive, Drew Baylor(Orlando Bloom) who has just launched a new high-tech athletic shoe at a company a lot like Nike, Reebok, and their ilk. Early on in the movie, he learns that the shoe is a billion dollar flop and leaves in disgrace. For eight years he has worked day and night for the company, "married to his career," so to speak. So when his world turns upside down, he's so lost he attempts an almost clever suicide plan. Then, things really get bad. A frantic phone call from his sister tells him that his father has died, very suddenly while visiting his family in Elizabethville, Kentucky. His sister, and especially his mother (Susan Sarandon) take it so hard and can't even go to the funeral.
On the way Dtew meets a most unusual flight attendant, Claire (Kirsten Dunst in a delightful role) who shakes up his world. Drew of course is not his usual self with two major tragedies at once, and at first has a very difficult time mixing in with his father's family. An endearing performance by Paula Deen of the Food Channel leads the unlikely collection of his Kentucky family. Claire keeps showing up and brings Drew back into the world. You can tell from the brief flashbacks and other clues that Drew's father Mitch was really a great guy, and Drew comes to regret the fact that he had not spent much time with his Dad in his eight years as a Corporate Superstar.
I won't go into the story much more than that because that would be giving too much away. I'll just say that this movie took many delightful turns with Claire, Drew, and his zany family.
I think the most important thing I took away from the movie is that no matter how bad things get in your life, you should never give up. And of course, don't we all have a family back home somewhere made up of a homespun, delightful cast of characters? I have my own dear family back in Pennsylvania and Ohio. When all else fails, your family is always there.
Crowe has stuffed a great sound track into the many scenes of the movie. The cast is delightful. There are some really entertaining moments including Drew's cousin's rock band playing "Free Bird" and Susan Sarandon tap dancing to "Moon River." There are so many great lines, you'll laugh out loud! And of course the ending -- a surprise, but a delightful one!
Don't miss "Elizabethtown!"
Hey, What'd I Say?
All I can say is "Wow!" This is one of the best films I've ever seen. It's a masterpiece, whether you've been a ray Charles fan for years or if you've never heard of him before.
The script, the acting, the cinematography, and especially THE MUSIC make this a fantastic flick. Jamie Foxx WAS Ray Charles. Not only did he look like him, but he got every little detail about Ray Charles' nailed down, even his fantastic sense of hearing. You forgot it was a movie, you thought it was the real Ray Charles. No wonder Jamie Foxx won the Academy Award.
It was very fortunate that Ray Charles himself advised the director and cast. Jamie Foxx is a tremendously talented actor and pianist in his own right, and having the opportunity to work with the great man himself made him that much more accurate. Of course, Ray Charles was a friendly outgoing man, with many friends. In this film, you always know what Ray Charles is thinking and feeling. Contrast this with the other big biopic in theaters at the same time, "The Aviator." The real Howard Highes was long dead, but even if they had made a film while Hughes was still alive, he was such a recluse that you have to wonder if anyone, even Katherine Hepburn, ever knew him.
This was not a "puff piece" - you see both the good an bad side of the great musician. Sadly, he had been a drug addict and he was a terrible philanderer, and the movie does not gloss over these faults. Of course, neither does it hide his tremendous talents.
"Ray" chronicles Ray Charles' rise to fame and fortune during the 1950s and 1960s. You are there as he creates his greatest hits. The most enjoyable scene was where he creates the big hit "What'd I say." He had ended the show about fifteen minutes short when the club owner demands Ray Charles perform the full time. So he says to the band and singers, "Here's a new song. Everybody, just follow me on this one." Another interesting aspect of his career was his tremendous business skill. He had the talent to play dumb, "country dumb," he tells his friends. When switching to a new record company, he negotiated the best deal any singer had at the time, even better than Frank Sinatra.
Then there is the music. I was just a few years too young to appreciate his music back in the day. But wow, I heard it all in the movie as if it were the first time. Ray Charles did it his way. Refusing to be pigeonholed into one genre of music, Ray Charles sang Blues, R&B, Rock, and even Country. If you have a home theater or a TV set with a really great sound system, you'll love the sound track. I actually bought the "Ray" CD, and I enjoy listening to it. If you buy it, you will really like the liner notes which talk about the making of the movie.
A "must see" movie!
Commander in Chief (2005)
Hail to the Chief
**Contains spoilers if you haven't seen the first episode yet** The series premiere of any show has to "hit a home run." It has to establish the story, the background, and the characters, and at the same time grab viewers who will watch again and tell their friends. "Commander in Chief" did all that in one short hour.
A lot like "The West Wing," this show chronicles the first Woman President of the United States, Mackenzie Allen. It starts with President Teddy Bridges on his deathbed, asking Vice President Allen to resign, much to her surprise. The scene flashes back to the day when Bridges asked his Nobel Laureate friend "Mac" to run. Was it really just a political stunt to have a woman on the ticket? Donald Sutherland as the Speaker of the House also urges Allen to resign. He doesn't even try to mask his own Presidential ambition as the next in line -- "People who don't crave power don't know what to do with it." But she perseveres. Mackenzie Allen takes the Oath of Office and quickly makes the transition to the Oval Office. Although some of the former President's staff don't want to stay on, Bridges' widow offers the new President much needed encouragement. Allen handles her first Cabinet Meeting with the required strength, and engineers the US Military on a daring international political prisoner rescue.
An interesting sub-plot is the President's husband Rod being coaxed into his role as "First Lady." His Chief of Staff explains exactly what role the First Lady plays as she shows him around the White House. She repeatedly advises him against doing things that Hillary Clinton did.
Geena Davis is perfect for this role. She's a very good actress who has not received the recognition she deserves for her many other roles. Geena Davis became Dottie in "A League of their Own," and in this program she makes Mackenzie Allen come to life.
It's amazing how often life imitates art for example, "The First Monday in October," a movie about the first woman Supreme Court Justice, no sooner premiered in 1981 than Sandra Day O'Connor was appointed to the Court. Someday there will be a woman president, just as there will be an African-American president. More than one pundit has drawn analogies to Hillary Rodham Clinton, although I see few parallels with Mackenzie Allen. I find it interesting that "Citizens for Rice" aired a commercial on the show this committee wants to draft Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for president in 2008.
This premiere succeeded. I will watch next week and tell my friends.
The McLaughlin Group (1982)
Shouting Match or Civil Discussion?
"The McLaughlin Group" was the first of the political "round table" shows. I like the fact that they address important issues of the day, and that the group members seem to be very well-informed.
However, the show quickly gets on my nerves when the panelists constantly shout and interrupt each other. It seems like none of them ever listen to the other participants. Each of the panelists, especially Mr. McLaughlin, comes across as extremely biased and unwilling to consider any other point of view. I also don't like the episodes when all the panelists hold essentially the same views and gang up on a person in the news. They also condemn individuals who disagree with them in any way. What about the issues? Aren't people entitled to hold an opinion differing from that of the panelists? Why not focus on the issues rather than personalities? Aren't there two sides to every story?
This show sets a bad example by pushing simple answers to complex problems and by drowning out any other opinion than the week's "party line."
I would find civil discussion much more challenging to the viewers. Commentators should encourage people to think for themselves.
How about polite forums on the issues, where all sides are represented and the panelists respect other peoples' right to hold differing opinions. We have freedom of speech in America. But obviously not on this show.
Blue Crush (2002)
An OK Movie -- and A Modest Proposal for the Sequel
(**Note -- contains spoilers***) `Blue Crush' was an enjoyable movie about surfing and about following your dream. It had great surfing scenes, a good cast, good photography, and a good story line.
The film follows Anne-Marie Chadwick (Kate Bosworth) on her quest to win a surfing championship in her home state of Hawaii. From the beginning you see that Anne-Marie has the right stuff to be a champion. She rises at dawn to run and practice surfing and stays focused on the contest as best as she can. Unfortunately, life has thrown some obstacles into Anne-Marie's life. Abandoned by her parents, she must work as a low-paid hotel maid in the highest cost of living state. And at the same time she is trying to raise her younger sister. The bogeyman haunting Anne-Marie is the surfing accident which nearly killed her three years earlier, of which we see several flashbacks.
Suddenly, in the last week before the competition, she meets and falls in love with Matt Tolman, the handsome, charming Detroit Lions Quarterback. Confused on the eve of her great quest, Matt, Lena, and Eden convince Anne-Marie to go for it.
I really think the cast was great, just hampered by a poor script. Kate Bosworth will go on to many more roles. I also enjoyed the performances of Sanoe Lake as Lena, Michelle Rodriguez and Eden, and Matthew Davis as Matt Tolman, and of course Faizon Love as Leslie, who zings the few comic lines in the film.
It was not a box office smash, but could `Blue Crush 2' be far behind? What could they do to improve it? Here's a modest proposal... Anne-Marie and Matt pursue their athletic careers and their romance, and decide to get married during the off-season. When Matt takes Anne-Marie back to Minnesota, she gets more than she bargained for. With only one sister, she is suddenly brought into the world of the extended Tolman family. Matt's father, Linus Tolman (played by Garrison Keillor) a successful Norwegian immigrant and president of Nordic Sports, finds a saying in Norwegian for every occasion, and dispenses Windex for any ailment. Matt's Mother, his five sisters, their husbands and children, plus 25 first cousins provide quite a culture shock Anne-Marie adopts her new family, and introduces surfing to Lake Superior. It could be called `My Big Blue Norwegian Wedding.' Hey, just a suggestion!
A Hard Day's Night (1964)
British Comedy at its Best!
"A Hard Day's Night" is one of the greatest comedies of all time. At the time of its release, the Beatles were the hottest, newest sensation in the world. Even at the tender age of 13, I thought this fad would fade... but I was wrong. They just kept on getting better and better.
I have seen this film four times... at four different times of my life, and I appreciate it more each time.
Naturally I laughed and enjoyed the music when I saw it as a young teen. Then when I was about 17 they actually had it TV and I appreciated it more, being a more seasoned Beatles fan. And as an adult, and a parent, I love this story.
You probably know the story -- a couple of days in the life of the Fab Four on tour, mobbed by fans, living in hotels, travelling on a train. The musical numbers just fit right into the story, just like a Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers classic. I think this movie is great because it was made in the finest tradition of British comedy -- namely, we can all have a laugh at ourselves. I love the scene where George is interviewed by some advertising mogul about what young people like, and gives a rather nasty opinion about a TV show that's supposed to be the hottest teen program.
Having Paul's grandfather was a stroke of genius. What a great character actor he was, always getting into trouble, and trying to get the boys in trouble too. And of course, the scene where Ringo is wandering around aimlessly, slightly hung over! Actually, I read that he says he was pretty hung over at the time.
Hard Day's Night was the best of all the Beatles films. I think "Help" is OK, but lacks the spontanaety of "Hard Day's Night." "Magical Mystery Tour" had a great premise, great music, two interesting videos, but fizzled because the Beatles tried directing it themselves, with no experience. "Let it Be" was interesting to watch, almost as a documentary, and "Yellow Submarine" was actually very good, but you had to suspend all rules of conventional thinking. Many viewers had "a little help from their friends" although I personally don't believe in that stuff.
It just shows that the Beatles really were the very best rock band in history -- there was a magic that only John, Paul, George,and Ringo together could make. Made on a low budget and tight schedule, I have to say the directing, script (ad libs?), singing, and acting were superb. Compare this to pathetic attempts by other bands -- "Spice World" -- Spare me!
"A Hard Day's Night" will still be one of the all-time classic films a century from now, like "Citizen Kane," "The Band Wagon," or "Swing Time." Definitely a TEN!!!