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10 reviews in total 
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5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
A modern Western about pursuing second chances, 11 June 2013

Wonderful movie. Loved the Western scenery and the story of second chances and redemption. Marvelous casting was a treat against a sound track of genuine music. We thoroughly enjoyed Soda Springs. Not a lot of movies command a second or third watching, but this one does. The modern Western still conveys the timeless virtues of hard work and personal sacrifice for others. It feels human and real. Soda Springs unwinds a story without giving it all away upfront. It's the rare movie that successfully manages that unpredictability that makes you reconsider all that went before in a new light. Soda Springs lets the story unfold so that you care about the destination.

The cinematography and directing are first rate without being self- conscious or obtrusive.

Actors are uniformly excellent and included a couple of personal favorites, Tom Skerritt and Victoria Pratt. Skerritt commands the screen with quiet dialog. Victoria is both approachable and gorgeous in her denim clad small town persona. Star and co-screenwriter Jay Pickett plays the protagonist in a quiet, determined and ultimately winning fashion. Smaller roles feature effective newcomers like Hollis Welsh and established veterans including the perfect Patty McCormack.

The Western theme carries over in a soundtrack dosed with some great, fresh Alt Country with a touch of Western Swing. I knew none of the music going in but loved the music and its compliment to the mood and high, lonesome Idaho scenery. Steve Fulton, Mickey and the Motorcars, and Travis Ward & Hillfolk Noir are among those featured.

It's easy to see why this was an award winner in film festivals like Breckenridge, Sun Valley and Louisville. Soda Springs is engaging, personal and meaningful. It stuck with me far longer than many big dollar, big star productions. Soda Springs is highly recommended.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Sweet but undemanding, 5 March 2013

I'll confess I like sweet movies. I'm not automatically alienated by predictability or lack of originality.

Elle: A Modern Cinderella Tale is not an ambitious movie. The bad guys are painted broadly as self-absorbed celebrities. The good guys are sweet and deserving. Acting is uneven but some of it is clearly intentionally bad and meant as humor or parody. I can see how it would be annoying for many. It didn't bother me. I wasn't looking for Paul Newman in The Verdict or Daniel Day Lewis as Hawkeye. This is light Disney-esq or ABC Family style fare. I've seen far worse movies.

For me, Ashley Hewitt's singing redeemed all. When Ashley's character Elle was singing she carried the story and lit up the stage or screen. The songs were both catchy and well-delivered.

I found myself rewinding to the songs and replaying them. The movie ends on a musical performance high note, emphasizing that the Cinderella plot device and character development are not the focus of the movie. The music is the raison d'etre and Ashley Hewitt's voice and pretty face are enough to frame the music. It left me feeling the beat, lyrics repeating in my head, and with a smile. Not so bad. Yes, it is not the best example of film making nor a model for method acting. The producer's ambitions were low and many elements are cartoonish, but a few catchy songs sung by a pretty girl won me over. Unlike many technically better movies I'd watch it again.

19 out of 61 people found the following review useful:
Context matters, 2 September 2012

Dinesh D'Souza, is a conservative scholar, President of King's College, New York, originally from post British Raj India. The movie starts with how much Dinesh and Barack Obama share in observing America from a world view influenced by the experience of post-colonial countries. This background tends to humanize both President Obama and D'Souza and the post colonial experiences of their families.

I'm sure that each was influenced by their history and personal experiences. Dinesh's circle of friends was distinctly American conservative. Barack's circle, by his own admission, radical and foreign. But Dinesh is in the position to recognize anti-colonialism because he's seen it in India and academia.

2016 feels serious and well-researched. But the conclusion is still controversial because it suggests that the President does not share the same view of America's benevolence and inherent goodness as much of even his own electorate.

2016 presents anti-colonialism as a hypothesis to explain Obama's actions and words. The test of a hypothesis is how well it fits the observed facts. Here it is really up to the observer to test the hypothesis. Dinesh suggests a few Obama facts that to his eyes fit the anti-colonial world view, but it is hardly an exhaustive list. The real test is for voters to ask if the long list of facts now known about President Obama fit the anti-colonialist hypothesis.

There are competing hypothesis. Some suggest he's just an extension of traditional 1960s big government American liberalism; others that he's a communist/socialist; others that he's just looking for payback for African-Americans (reparations in other forms); he's a puppet of George Soros; he's owned by Wall Street's Goldman Sachs just like every other President; and more. The fact that people are still searching for an explanatory framework highlights the lack of vetting by the media before 2008. It's an admission we don't quite understand his actions as President based upon our expectations in 2008.

In fitting the puzzle of Obama together we're hindered by not having all the pieces. Obama's history is remarkably opaque compared to other Presidents. In fact for much of Obama's personal history, all we have are the President's own version of the story, contained in autobiographies that by self-admission includes constructs and fabrications, not just "facts". The lack of examination in advance invites explanatory theories like Dinesh's in retrospect.

As someone well versed in history, economics, political science and law (my various degrees), Dinesh fairly presents the anti-colonial world view and the results produced by its advocates in the third-world. Incorporated in the anti-colonial view is anti-capitalism, a desire to punish the oppressors (balance the scale), and pro-collectivist economics (e.g., Marxism).

When I first heard about the return of the Churchill bust, I thought no surprise given Obama's background. I never thought to extend that into a larger hypothesis to explain other policy positions and actions. Dinesh had the insight, fueled partly by his own experience, to recognize the possibility of anti-colonialism as a defining philosophy and the focus to explore the facts for further confirmation.

Anti-colonialism may not fit perfectly with the observed facts (no model ever does), but it seems to fit well with a lot of the observed differences where Obama departs from long-standing, bipartisan positions by predecessors.

2016 is a valuable movie and idea even if you conclude there are other models that better explain President Obama's world view.

Regardless, 2016 highlights we still don't know the mind of our President, leaving room for speculations like the anti-colonialism hypothesis. I found Dinesh pretty convincing. I suspect that the real Obama is more complex than a single source of inspiration, but I'd be surprised if anti-colonial theory isn't part of the President's world view given his personal history and associations.

10 out of 20 people found the following review useful:
Backstory slowly revealed, 21 July 2010

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I watched first for the Bourne Trilogy connection and the action scenes generally live up to that high energy standard -- hard to do on a television show budget. I also watched for Piper Perabo (lead Annie Walker) and was pleased to discover other actors I like including Christopher Gorham as a charming, blind confidant. The music is both current and well geared to the themes. In look, sound and acting, Covert Affairs is off to a credible and engaging start. I feared a simple remake of Alias on a lower budget. Instead Covert Affairs is delivering another of its successful episodic "character" shows with self-contained stories that advance a longer story arc. Covert Affairs so far is both more grounded in the real world than Alias and offers a bit of humor or every day charm to leaven the action and inevitable dealings with bad guys.

Review contains spoilers.

I have to wonder sometimes if I watched the same show as other reviewers. The backstory of the former lover in the "game," (unbeknownst to Annie) is the real reason for putting her to work before her formal training is complete. There's more going on than just needing a Russian speaking "prostitute." The political infighting depicted within the intelligence community is almost too real. Annie's loyalties are likely to be tested in future episodes. The backstory will emerge more completely over time.

Similarly, Auggie is blind, but not incapacitated. He's got a few neat gadgets like a laser wand rather than a traditional cane. Grado has already gotten a couple of favorable mentions, so someone knows what they are doing.

There are at least four interesting pairings: Annie and Auggie (Christopher Gorham); Annie and Jai Wilcox (Sendhil Ramamurthy, late of Heros); Annie and sister Danielle (the outstanding Anne Dudek of House); and surprisingly, Arthur Campbell (Peter Gallagher, a favorite since While You Where Sleeping) and Joan Campbell (Kari Matchett, a favorite since Wonderfalls) as the CIA married couple that can't separate office politics from marriage counseling. As Auggie observed in the series pilot, the CIA encourages dating within the agency, to keep it within the circle of trust.

The interplay between these characters and the unwinding of the backstory should offer plenty of meat for a series. I like the USA Network's lineup. Covert Affairs is a good addition. It's escapist, and not as realistic or intense as say In Plain Sight, but like Royal Pains there is a certain charm to the lead characters. You want good things to happen for Piper's Annie Walker or Christopher's Auggie Anderson.

"Glee" (2009)
141 out of 241 people found the following review useful:
Infectious, 19 July 2009

Glee presents a nascent high school glee club ready to blossom with the right talent and encouragement.

The lead characters from the adviser to the historically unpopular glee club members are genuinely engaging and attractive, albeit even as occasional subjects of hyperbole.

Our family found it hard to resist the show's charm. From teenagers to parents we were hooked and are anxious for more.

It will be challenging to keep up the level of production demonstrated in the pilot episode, but if Glee manages, Fox will have a truly great hit on its hands.

Lea Michele deserves special mention for her clear, powerful voice and high energy whether moving or standing still. As a sophomore desperate for fame she's credible and her dream doesn't seem impossible when you hear her sing.

14 out of 21 people found the following review useful:
Two of my favorite comedic actresses, 18 March 2008

Judy Greer and Brooke Burns turn in great comedic performances in the new Ashton Kutcher produced comedy "Miss Guided." The return to high school theme isn't exactly new, but it is funny and well executed. This was an unexpected treat. The visuals offer the physical comedy that Judy Greer does so well. Maybe it's her dance background, but she knows how to move. The dialog is quick with both obvious puns and and sarcastic wit. "Miss Guided" just proves how much of high school stays with us. In the show the high school legacy stays with Judy Greer's character more than most. Regardless of which side of the high school divide you lived through, the show has enough reality to be funny and enough irony to appreciate the other side.

Captivating elegance and wit, 30 August 2007

Becoming Jane is a fiction. What historical drama is not? I'm always fascinated by the range of response to artistic license when exercised by others. Perhaps it helps sometimes to go in with less knowledge and fewer expectations so that the movie can be viewed on its own merits.

As a movie period piece, Becoming Jane has a lot to recommend it. The cinematography had some brilliant moments. The dialog is possessed of some truly humorous and acerbic irony. The actors work as an ensemble and individually. Anne Hathaway is unquestionably lovely and captivating. Jennifer Ehle is still my favorite from the various Austen-style movies, but Hathaway charms me consistently.

And Becoming Jane has a dark turn that presents the very irony admired by so many in Jane Austen's novels. I confess to liking sweet and romantic movies, but a bit of pathos can work wonders. Other personal favorites are An Ideal Husband, The Whole Wide World and The Last of the Mohicans. Becoming Jane is more cerebral than Michael Mann's Mohicans and less dark than Tarzan's author. The dialog is not as witty as Oscar Wilde, but Jane has its moments. Each of these offer interesting ties back to literary favorites. Jane worked on every level for me and is not a poor cousin to these fine movies.

There was even some fun or sport in translating the depicted life experience into the implied inspiration. As I know Jane Austen more from the recent movies than from the original books the game is not that different from finding an homage in other movies.

I took my wife and college-age daughter. We all gave it a 5-star (out of 5) ranking and enjoyed an evening of discussing what we liked. Bottom line we found an engaging story where we cared about the characters and could empathize with both their triumphs and tragedies. Becoming Jane is a visual treat with some depth in its own right. The immersive theater experience makes it easier for me to suspend disbelief or the inner skeptic. Perhaps this is a movie that requires that suspension of disbelief. If you know too much about Jane Austen the accumulation of fictions appears too much to bear for many, as evidenced by other reviews. If you are simply inclined to romantic dramas, you may react as I did. I fell in love and will watch this one again, probably several times.

64 out of 84 people found the following review useful:
Paul Haggis returns to the Irish Mob, 13 February 2007

The Black Donnellys is a return to form for Paul Haggis, the show's creator and executive producer. The lead characters are four Irish-American brothers in New York's Hell's Kitchen neighborhood. Police, unions, and mob families interact in complex ways that recalls Haggis' short-lived television masterpiece EZ Streets. In The Black Donnellys, Haggis creates an engaging story of family loyalty, desperation, sacrifice and redemption. The Donnellys' world is not as dark and desperate as the unnamed rust belt city of EZ Streets, but the Donnellys are nonetheless bound by history to a path filled with conflict and drama. I found the story believable and engaging. The twists of the story reinforced the character development. Few shows manage such deft intertwining of plot and character. Most must either be characterized as plot-driven or character-driven. The Black Donnellys uses both artistic barrels, with stunning accuracy.

Based on the series Pilot, The Black Donnellys is highly recommended. NBC has a full order of 13 episodes. (The pilot is available through Netflix before the television premier scheduled for March 5, 2007 @ 10:00 PM Eastern, 9:00 PM Central.)

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
My first exposure to Paul Haggis' brilliance, 1 January 2007

I fondly recall the engaging Pilot episode when it aired as a two-hour television movie, but it was only toward the end of season one that I was hooked for life, with the two-hour episode, "Victoria's Secret." Victoria's Secret is still in my experience the single best television episode of any series. It made Melina Kanakaredes (Victoria) a star. The haunting use of Sarah McLachlan's music (among others) was then a novel intertwining of musical tone and lyrics with the visual story. The technique is now common place, and it is easy to forget how compelling it was upon first exposure. Due South was that innovative show for me. Victoria's Secret was the very definition of spellbinding.

The buddy combination of Fraser and Vechio (Paul Gross and David Marciano) created characters I suddenly cared about deeply. As a series, the episodes were a bit uneven in tone, but the highs of drama and comedy were superb. The moral at the kernel of each episode tended to be both persuasive and inspired. I liked that the show had a positive moral viewpoint. Due South tended to put life into perspective. There are shows you miss when they are gone, even mourn. Due South was one of those for me.

To Paul Haggis and the rest of the Due South cast and crew, "Thank you, kindly."

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Stunningly good and complex - a singular favorite, 26 December 2006

EZ Streets foreshadowed the wave of complex dramas on HBO, TBS, Fox and others. For those who saw EZ Streets, HBO's Sopranos was derivative and less satisfying. Unfortunately, CBS didn't know what it had or how to build a show that requires rapt attention or a means to catch-up on what went before. The revenue lost by not having a complete story to sell on DVD after the example of 24 and others is staggering.

Creator Paul Haggis went on to movie acclaim (Crash), but EZ Streets was a pinnacle of imagination and execution that is still unmatched on network or cable television. From the casting and acting, to use of music, through compelling cinematography, to a dark, layered and complex storyline, EZ Streets is as good as I have ever seen. After ten years it is still fresh in my mind and the touchstone; it is my all time favorite television series. I still want to "follow the keys," the one lead left for Ken Olin's Detective Quinn to follow.

The EZ Streets ensemble members are largely dramatic leads and stars now or behind the camera applying lessons learned. It is a measure of the quality of the cast how many have thrived since EZ Streets' short life. I see John Finn on Cold Case and hear Captain Geary's standard parting, "I've got a thing." I still wonder, on which side of the law was Geary? Joe Pantoliano aka Joey Pants moved from character actor to lead as the small time hood Jimmy Murtha. Carl Lumbly was back in a similarly complex story in Alias, but he was first a beautifully corrupt and manipulated mayor in EZ Streets. Ken Olin directed almost a quarter of the Alias episodes. He learned from EZ Streets how to tell a long story arc with cliffhanger episodes (and learned the hard way the need for a weekly recap). This was one of the last roles for Rod Steiger as Quinn's disgraced and broken down father. There are more, like Debrah Farentino's sexy and smart Theresa Conners, Mike Starr's big presence, and Sarah Trigger as a fragile, breaking, drug addled and desperate mother. I regularly see actors that first caught my eye here. Mark Isham's haunting theme music must also be credited.

Quality through and through, EZ Streets is a stunning achievement. The quality made it all the more heartbreaking that the cast and crew were never allowed to finish the story.

EZ Streets became the definition of "brilliant but cancelled."