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Bible Hunters (2014)
I have watched just about every show on the history of the Bible and the Gnostic Gospels that has been on TV. There have been several good ones on the History channel and Nat Geo.
Bible Hunters is the best one I've seen.
Most of the other programs focus on the Nag Hammadi documents, commonly called the Gnostic Gospels, or the Gospel of Mary and the Gospel of Judas.
This show has all kinds of stuff in it I didn't know. It goes much farther back, beginning with the English baron Robert Curzon, who was the first to discover gospels that did not appear in the Bible in 1837, thus putting the sword to the belief common in the day in England and America that the Bible was the unchanging, revealed Word of God. The controversy this created, and its continuation due to the discoveries that it further chronicles, is the binding theme of the program.
The program then moves to Constantin von Tischendorf, who discovered the Codex Sinaiticus, the oldest version of the complete Bible, at St. Catherine's Monstery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, in 1844. This showed that the Bible as we know it had been tampered with.
We then go to an ancient midden (garbage dump) at Oxyrhynchus that yielded thousands of manuscripts, including many lost gospels.
The quirkiest characters are the Smith sisters, twin Scottish Presbyterian spinsters who made it to St. Catherine's with an entourage, silver place settings and a tea kettle. They became the first women ever to enter the monastery. There they discovered a palimpsest, a manuscript written over an older one on the same pages of parchment, that contained the four canonical Gospels.
The show finally gets to the 1945 Nag Hamadi discovery towards the end of Part 2. I would have liked there to have been a little more on this, but I'm not sure what I would have cut out to make room for it, the rest of the show is so good. My one criticism of the content is that it says the Gospel of Mary was part of the Nag Hammadi documents. While it was published in the book "The Nag Hammadi Library," it was actually discovered before 1900 as part of the Berlin Codex.
The show is in two parts, each an hour long. The host, Jeff Rose, takes us on a journey similar to the way Josh Bernstein used to do on "Digging for the Truth" (2005) on the History Channel. Jeff visits the sites where some of the oldest Bibles were found. There is wonderful footage of the monasteries of Deir el-Surian and St. Catherine's. I particularly liked the shots of the interior of the library of St. Catherine's, which I have not seen before. There is also a short interview with Father Justin of El Paso, TX, the first non-Greek to join the monastery in its 1500 year history.
The high-quality video footage of all these sites, along with the Sphinx and the pyramids, is half the fun. There is also an amusing scene where Jeff tries to rent a camel to go to St. Catherine's with the help of some native children.
I highly recommend this show for anyone interested in Bible and Gnostic Gospel history. It was first shown on BBC-2, and is now being shown on the Smithsonian Channel.
2-DVD Set -- Buyer Beware!
One would think that if you were buying a DVD of "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy," you would be interested in watching "The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy."
"Not at all" was how much the BBC cared about this evident fact. The VHS tape was recorded at EP speed, and looked terrible! Now, on the 2-DVD set, it is still over-compressed and of mediocre quality.
They could easily have done the transfer at 2-hour, hi-res format, putting the first four shows on Disk 1 and the other two plus some extras on Disk 2. This is what I was expecting when I saw it was a 2-disk set. Instead, to my horror, they crammed the entire 6 episodes onto a single DVD, at four-hour format, and the second disk consists completely of extras.
So if you're most interested in seeing the same clips and the same interviews repeated again and again with slightly different editing, and sleep-inducing out-takes of actors blowing their lines and then saying the "F" word, this set is for you.
Otherwise, I wish I could say, look elsewhere. Unfortunately, this is the only game in town.
I can't believe it's now over $40! I felt ripped off when I paid $26! They should have made a version available with a single disk, for those of us who are actually interested in the program, rather than a bunch of souvenirs from the Douglas Adams Fan Club. That way, at least you'd know how poor the quality was going to be before you shelled out the ridiculously high price.
To give the set its due, it does look better than I've ever seen it before, either on PBS or the VHS tape. I could read things in the computer graphics that I have never been able to make out before. And, with closed captioning, I was able to get a few lines that I'd never caught.
And there is at least one interesting thing in most of the extras. The "Peter Jones Introduction," buried down at the bottom of the second screen, is the best of the lot, the only one that's good all the way through.
"The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" is the funniest show that's ever been on TV. It's really too bad that hoodwinking as much money as possible out of the public was the BBC's only goal, and that they have treated us and the program so shabbily.
Perfectly Prudence (2011)
Still Good, In Spite Of...
This movie is still good in spite of how hard they deliberately tried to ruin it.
"Dear Prudence" was great, a woman who gets dragged into being a detective by circumstance. She was assisted by a young lad, somewhat reminiscent of the "Hettie Wainthrop" series starring Patricia Routledge.
So how did they try to ruin it? First of all, Prudence is no longer a detective. This was the main point of the entire show, which has now been eliminated completely. Kind of like making an episode of Miss Marple where she turns out to be a knitting instructor on TV instead of a sleuth. I was at about 1:20 in to the film when I finally decided that nobody was going to get murdered.
Second, in "Dear Prudence" her assistant was young, perhaps teenage, cute, shy and geeky, with lots of personality. In "Perfectly Prudence" they have replaced him with a late-twenties, pudgy, unattractive geek with the personality of clammy dumpling dough. Removes half the reason to watch the show.
The other half of the reason, though, Jane Seymour, is quite delightful. She is still looking very good.
Unexpectedly, the movie is stolen by Valerie Azlynn, who has a real flair for comedy. Her crying scenes are particularly hilarious.
I think it's very ironic that the plot of "Perfectly Prudence" is about the network executives trying to ruin her TV show, destroying everything it stood for and totally revamping it purely for the sake of money, when that is exactly what they did to "Dear Prudence!"
There Goes My Heart (1938)
A Few Zingers Can't Save This Film
All the actors do well with what they're given. So I guess one must blame the director.
But the main fault seems to be the humdrum script. It's too bad, too, because it contains several very funny lines. I laughed out loud more than once.
However, it's at least half an hour too long, which, at 83 minutes, gives you some idea. It seems like it's full of padding. It just goes on and on, one barely animate scene after another. The ice skating rink is a good example. It would have been much funnier at about a third its length. In fact, the whole movie probably would have been a winner at about 35 minutes.
Patsy Kelly is good but doesn't have enough to do. The same goes for Alan Mowbray. It would have been nice if their romance had been an actual subplot (heaven knows there was plenty of time for it). As it is, they have no lives of their own, but are merely used to shore up and fill in chinks in the March/Bruce story. The exception is Kelly's Vibrato scene, which is probably the high point of the film.
Virginia Bruce is stock in a faceless part -- I'm not sure any actress could have brought any life to it. Not a single funny line for her, although she does have the other funniest scene in the film, where she's plugging extension cords into light bulb sockets in the sign outside the window. Frederick March handles a comedic role well. Arthur Lake is completely wasted. See the Blondie series of movies if you want to see what he can do.
The only stand-out is Eugene Palette, who has one of his best roles ever. It's just made for his hard-boiled, uneducated delivery. Unfortunately, he has almost no funny lines. Marjorie Main is a highlight of the film and doesn't even get credit!
I don't think the few genuinely funny parts are worth the hour-plus of yawning which engulfs them.
Second Sight (1989)
High Quality Comedy
Why all the low votes? This movie is hilarious!
It's sort of Ghostbusters (1984) meets Ghost (1990), although much funnier than either of those, with even a little bit of Airplane! (1980), believe it or not, thrown in at the end. In spite of all this, Second Sight manages to be wildly original.
An ex-cop, a psychic researcher from Harvard and his pet-like subject have formed a detective agency, using the psychic to help them unravel crimes. They take on a case for $300 helping a nun toward whom the ex-cop has great animosity find out who rear-ended her car.
Sound crazy? It is!
Thrown into the bargain, just about every way you can think of exploiting a clairvoyant is spoofed, from horse racing and the lottery to dating. "Tell me! Is she a Scorpio?"
John Laroquette plays the ex-cop in what is perhaps his breakthrough role. He is good here just like he is in everything I've ever seen him in. I think maybe this is where they got the idea for his McBride character.
Even though John Laroquette gets top billing, the movie really belongs to Bronson Pinchot. He manages to be completely over-the-top without being annoying in the way Jim Carey often is. In many respects he is like a two-year-old running out of control, getting into everything, innocently exploring everything he comes in contact with. Including the opposite sex.
And, also like a two-year-old, I don't see how anyone could not ultimately find him endearing. Even John Laroquette, who is demonstrably tortured by him all the way through, warms to him in the last few minutes.
Stuart Pankin is very strong as the second banana, the Harvard PhD that is the only one who can control Pinchot. Every moment he has on screen is superbly played, and his catch phrase of "very rare!" in describing whatever latest psi phenomenon Pinchot is manifesting is a masterpiece of comedic writing and delivery.
The movie is excellently directed by Joel Zwick, in his only venture out of the small screen before My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002). The pacing is great, never a dull moment. Not overdone, not quite madcap, yet there is something in every scene and at every turn to make you laugh. Sight gags, silly situations, some slapstick. But mostly you'll laugh from the dialog.
The best thing about the movie is the writing, which is surprisingly high quality for a movie of this sort. Only the Airplane and Naked Gun series rival it in taking stupidity to intelligent heights. The thoughtful wittiness of the dialog hits you on the funny bone again and again.
Don't get me wrong. The movie is no Wilde or Coward play, no Woody Allen movie, not even Monty Python. It's definitely stupid humor. But it's delightful, intelligent, clever and entertaining stupid humor.
The special effects are also great, better than I would have expected from a movie of this type. I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that Pinchot does a lot of levitation and zapping of one kind or another during the film.
Don't believe the low ratings on this one. If you like clever dialog along the lines of Airplane and Naked Gun, and ridiculous supernatural stuff like Ghostbusters, I guarantee you'll get a lot of laughs out of Second Sight.
La mort en ce jardin (1956)
Brutal and Unpleasant
Rarely have I been so disappointed in a film. Bunuel *and* Simon Signoret? What could be better?
I have seen many of Luis Bunuel's movies, and consider myself a fan. From his first, Un Chien Andalou (1929), to his last, That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), I have seen more than half the films he ever made.
Death in the Garden is undoubtedly the worst I have seen. There are three words for this movie:
Violent. Pointless. Boring.
There is virtually no surrealism in the film whatsoever. And absolutely none of Bunuel's unique humor. It consists mainly of two things: people getting shot, and people walking (or running) around.
The film is incredibly violent. The vast majority of the action is people being shot. It is not gory by the standards of the twenty-first century, but it sure is for the fifties, perhaps more so than any movie up to its time.
There are two good things about the film. First, and to my surprise, it is shot in absolutely gorgeous Technicolor. The scenery is breathtaking, and Edward Fitzgerald's sets are also quite eye-catching.
Second, Simone Signoret has never looked more beautiful. Nor more sexy. I found it interesting that somehow they managed to make her look vaguely South American, although I couldn't put my finger on exactly how.
Sad to say, her outer beauty is nullified by her inner personality. She is a monster. She is motivated solely by greed, completely devoid of any human qualities such as warmth or compassion. She doesn't care about anyone else, nor anything except her own advancement and security.
The only thing I really liked was the interview with Victor Fuentes on the DVD. He is extremely articulate, and his viewpoint is continually interesting. He mentioned The Wages Of Fear (1953), which I immediately thought of as soon as the movie started. However, to compare Death in the Garden with Cluzot's movie in any respect except the setting is an insult to the latter.
If it had not had Simone Signoret in it, I would have turned it off after the first ten minutes. As it was, I watched it till the end, but I am not particularly glad I did so.
Want to see a great Bunuel film from his Mexican period? Watch The Exterminating Angel (1962). Want to see a great Simone Signoret movie, where she's every bit as beautiful and almost as sexy as this one? Catch Les Diaboliques (1955). I can't think of any reason for even hard core fans of Bunuel or Signoret to watch this one.
Switzerland the Beautiful (1934)
I always get a kick out of watching these Traveltalks, both because they usually have some interesting stuff that I haven't seen before, and also because they're a fascinating cross between naiveté and propaganda.
This one amazed me, however, because of the photography.
I didn't even know they had 3-color Technicolor in 1934!
It turns out this was the first year for live (rather than animated) Techicolor. But it might have been shot in the 1970s. Or any year up to the advent of the CCD camera. I have seen many photographs in National Geographic that didn't look any better than the flower closeups in this short film. And the sky and the water are such vivid shades of blue.
Shot after shot are absolutely gorgeous!
I thought it must be the restoration, but on a closer look, I don't think it was restored, at least not digitally. There are still lots of little white flecks that pop up all through it.
This picture should have won an Academy Award for best cinematography!
Johnny Cool (1963)
Good Acting Can't Save It
This movie is just bad. Big name stars and great acting throughout from everybody can't save this tedious jumble.
Elizabeth Montgomery is the best I've ever seen her, although the character she is given to play is not all that believable -- a wealthy socialite from Westchester County who falls so ragingly in lust in a matter of hours that she's willing to throw away everything she's ever known to become a gangster moll and commit murder. The movie is almost as much about her as about Johnny. I bet she was recruited from here for Bewitched, which debuted the following year. Her first shot in the movie looks remarkably like Samantha on the first episode, except for her Angela-Lansbury-in-the-Manchurian-Candidate hairdo.
Her acting here, though, is absolutely stunning, showing a depth and power I've never seen her achieve in anything else. This is the only possible reason to watch this movie, and even it is not enough for me to recommend that you do so.
I have liked Henry Silva in most things I've seen him in on TV, so I watched this film, interested in an opportunity to see him in a leading role. The thing that impressed me most about his portrayal was that his Italian accent is appalling. Part Mexican, part Russian, mostly American. It is particularly grating because all the other Italian accents in the film are authentic.
Big names from many generations abound: Elisha Cook (Jr.), Mort Sahl, Jim Backus (doing a couple of Mr. Magoo impersonations in addition to his serious lines), Joey Bishop in a fabulous portrayal of a used car salesman, Sammy Davis Jr., Telly Savalas, Gregory Morton and a couple of TV stars, Richard Anderson and John McGiver. The acting from them as well as the other players I'm less familiar with is top notch.
So how can it be so bad? To start with, it is totally confusing. It is set in Sicily, Rome, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Newport Beach and maybe some other locations. It was impossible for me to tell where the action was taking place at any given point, except that when Miss Montgomery is on the boat, you know she's in Newport Beach.
It starts out in Sicily. If you're good at recognizing St. Peter's and the Vatican Palace from the air, you'll know that it has moved to Rome, otherwise you'll think you're still in Sicily. Then it moves to New York. After that, it's anybody's guess, moving from city to city seemingly at random, and without any explanation or even clue that the location has shifted.
I vaguely suspected we were in Las Vegas when I saw The Silver Slipper sign. But before that, there was a craps game, a very enigmatic scene starring Sammy Davis Jr. as a (maybe?) crooked gambler, where Silva holds a gun to Davis's head and makes him shoot winning rolls for some reason that was not comprehensible to me. I don't know if that was in Vegas, or in some illegal place in New York.
Suddenly Elizabeth Montgomery is in LA. Johnny calls her from Idlewilde, which I assumed meant he was in New York, but in the next scene, he is sitting next to her in a convertible, as they drive past a marquee with "PETER LAWFORD" in large letters (second-billed to Jimmy Durante at some LA hotel). Telly Savalas mentions later that he they are Las Vegas, which is the only reason I'm certain some of the movie took place there, but two scenes later, he and the same cronies are in New York. At least, I'm pretty sure they are.
Maybe if you've been to all those cities a lot, so you can recognize any anonymous back street in town, you might be able to follow it, but I sure couldn't.
How can a movie that's "action packed" and confusing be boring at the same time? I blame it mostly on the direction, which is atrocious, but the complete lack of budget and production values are also partly to blame. Lots of useless walking around. Maybe it was supposed to be suspense, which I found completely lacking in the film.
Or any other kind of excitement, for that matter.
Silva kills a lot of people, but the movie is not gory, and he does so completely without emotion, the way he is during most of this stone-faced performance. The rape occurs off-camera, and it takes some extracting to even be sure that's what happened. You see a bit of the explosion, but no aftermath. The stabbings might just as well have been a punch in the stomach. The whole thing is delivered kind of dead-pan, atypical for a gangster movie.
I found nothing about it gripping in any way, although the performances are often riveting. I don't know how many times I looked at the counter to see how many minutes remained. I don't really know why I watched it to the end, which isn't all that great anyway. Like everything else in the film, rather perfunctory, and not much to it. I'm glad Peter Lawford mostly stuck to acting. He only produced four movies, none of which I ever heard of.
Speaking of which, ever wonder why you never heard of this movie, when it has so many big name stars?
Danger Signal (1945)
Pedestrian, Predictable, Terrible Ending
I don't feel like writing a whole review on this, but I can't believe the high rating this worse-than-average movie gets here.
It just unfolds. There are no plot twists, nothing the least bit unpredictable. Until the end, that is, I guess.
Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, some guy shows up and chases the anti-hero. I had no idea who he was. I had to go back and replay the movie from the beginning and found that he last appeared 14 minutes into the film, almost 75 minutes before his sudden, unannounced, unexplained reappearance. I had completely forgotten his existence by then!
Then the guy falls a whole 10 feet to his death! And all this happens in like 2 minutes with no development whatsoever! I was going to give this a 5/10 before the ending came along.
The only thing that makes this movie worth watching is Faye Emerson. She is not bad looking, although a bit odd, and her acting is excellent!
The Bishop Misbehaves (1935)
A Mixed Bag
The Bishop Misbehaves is actually three movies with slightly overlapping casts. Although it is not as extreme a case, it is similar to The Strawberry Blonde (1941) (which I also reviewed) in that it has a first-class comedy section in the middle that is overshadowed by the other parts.
Part 1 is a dopey love story, the kind of which seemingly thousands abound in Hollywood movies of the 30s and 40s. Norman Foster falls in love with a girl solely because of her looks. He feels that the way to win her is to be as grating, obnoxious and persistent as possible, essentially stalking her. Maureen O'Sullivan is cold, put off and off-putting, not the least bit interested, as she rightfully should be. But after knowing this clod who has no redeeming features whatsoever for a few hours, she is completely and permanently in love with him! I wonder if films like this are one reason the divorce rate is so high -- people thinking they should be like that, too.
Part 1 also contains some of the set-up for the other two parts, particularly Part 3. These portions are completely non-comedic. In fact, the only "comedy" at all in Part 1 is Foster's annoying antics. Gwenn is completely absent from this part.
O'Sullivan was clearly one of the women, like Norma Shearer, who was particularly targeted by the Hayes Code, among other things for her eye-popping nude scene in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). Here she is quite the opposite, obviously on her best behavior. She wears high-necked blouses, and hardly shows even so much as a bare ankle! Much more businesslike than sexy.
Part 2 begins almost 30 minutes into the film with the entrance of Edmund Gwenn. He is good in everything I've ever seen him in (for a couple of more serious roles, I recommend Foreign Correspondent (1940) and Green Dolphin Street (1947)), but he is simply delightful here. And his sister, played by Lucile Watson, is even more so.
Part 2 is a wonderful comedy, unusual, fast-paced and full of plot twists. Gwenn is a bishop (Anglican, one supposes) who obviously spends more time reading detective novels than writing sermons. Watson is his sister, a strait-laced spinster, called in the opening credits, "fourteen times president of the Primrose League," without any further explanation of what that may mean. Contrary to what you might expect from such a woman, she is a full-bore thrill seeker, absolutely fearless, and nothing but highly entertained by all the exciting and dangerous situations that the film brings her.
Gwenn is like a kid in a candy store, tickled pink to have a chance to try out some of the tricks he has read about in the detective stories. Part 2 centers on his smooth, deft, savvy outsmarting of the criminals. It is absolutely hilarious! Foster and O'Sullivan are almost completely absent from this part, only coming in at the very end.
Part 3 ruined the movie for me. It is a straightforward rescue-the-kidnap-victims-from-the-gang-of-underworld-hoods movie. It is almost completely devoid of comedy, unless you count Gwenn's wrongfully being taken to a shelter for homeless skid row bums, which is only funny because such a thing is so absurd. There is certainly nothing comedic about the home, nor his stay there.
He does a complete volte face from his aplomb in Part 2. He screws up everything he touches. At the end, he is being severely chastised by all concerned, including himself. A downer ending to what is supposed to be a comedy!
Watson is absent from Part 3, as are Foster and O'Sullivan, largely. They spend more than half their on-screen time in this part tied up and gagged. The action centers on two rival gangs of thugs and Gwenn's involvement with them and the cops. The only stand-out in Part 3 is Lilian Bond, who appeared briefly in Part 1, a rich, snobbish moll who ends up being surprisingly respectable.
If the movie had all been like Part 2, I would have rated it a 9/10 and kept it. As it is, I taped over it.