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Great script and acting
This episode represents to me what is special about Star Trek namely that it focuses on the people and characterizations and plot lines as opposed to massive displays of special effects. The plot here focuses on legendary star fleet captain Ben Maxwell, who can't put his war demons and personal tragedies behind him. These demons compel him to go rogue with his powerful starship against his old enemies, with whom he should now officially be at peace. Picard and the crew of the Enterprise are sent to corral Maxwell and preserve the peace. Among his crew, O'Brien struggles with his affection for Maxell, his former commander, and must also confront his own war demons.
I love confrontations between characters that showcase a strong script and strong acting. The best such confrontations not only advance the story but yield strong truths about the characters to each other and to us. The very best provide fundamental truths about human nature itself. There are several great confrontations in this episode. All of them showcase excellent understated acting: Picard and Maxwell verbally fence with each other in their first confrontation. Picard is quiet but forceful, simply questioning Maxwell into a corner. O'Brien and his former enemy sharing drinks in a bar as they unravel their own baggage. O'Brien shares an epiphany for him and us, and maybe for many a war veterans. "It's not you I hate. I hate what I became because of you." Let that sink in. Powerful. The best such exchange is in the climax when O'Brien quietly talks Maxwell back from the brink. His combination of reminiscence and the minstrel melody are perfect, leading to the saddest exchange "I'm not gonna win this one, am I Miles?" "No sir". Nothing more needs to be said. They and we are left with the realization that the collapse of a once great man was now complete. Picard's dressing down of Gul Macet at the end is a surprise plot twist as well as a way to put the entirety of events and people into the proper context.
Dialogue reigns supreme here. Bob Gunton is terrific as Maxwell and is easy to like and care about. Patrick Stewart also shines here, as he does so often. The real gem in this episode, though, is Colm Meaney as O'Brien. The episode has its flaws, the biggest of which is Picard releasing Maxwell back to his ship. Big tactical error, but then we would not have had the dénouement with O'Brien. I also can't figure out how going from a tactical officer to a transporter chief is a logical career progression for O'Brien. Still, what a treat to see such a strong script delivered so effectively.
Lars and the Real Girl (2007)
An A for Originality
Just saw this movie and want to echo what some others have said. You really cannot grasp the movie based on the plot synopsis. You have to see it. As far as casting, there is not a misfire in the bunch. Ryan Gosling is major league acting talent, no question. Emily Mortimer is particularly good, and Paul Schneider turns out to be quietly effective as well.
There are laughs, but also pain and awkwardness and bewilderment. In other words, it's life. Maybe not a realistic slice of life since I can't imagine a whole town going along with Lars' delusion, but in this cinematic town, that is exactly what happens and all are the richer for it. In return, the director and the script treat all the characters with respect and dignity. It is a rare movie lately where Christians are not made out to be hypocrites or villains in some fashion, but not here. It would have been so easy to veer in the wrong direction with them or the townsfolk in general or especially with Lars.
Frankly, I can't think of any greater testament to all involved and especially to Ryan Gosling than this: long before the end of the movie, I actually cared about Bianca. That won't make sense if you haven't seen the film, but if you have and it touched you like it did me, you will understand.
The Lost Valentine (2011)
Betty White - Amazing
Sometimes I think that Betty is risking overexposure considering all she has been in lately, but then you see something like this. Wow! Did the other actors bow down on the set in "we're not worthy" reverence? They should have. All the actors were fine in their roles - no big issues with any of them. Betty just stepped it up several notches.
You watch something like this that links to such an iconic time in history. You realize that there are fewer folks around who lived it, and maybe they know or knew something we have forgotten. Like how to love completely and forever. They are now old and generally carry their hurts with such grace and dignity that it can really pull the tears out when you get a glimpse at what their life has forced them to bear. Betty makes you believe it totally. Let's keep her around forever.
Loved the "old folks"
I really like this movie. It has so many reasons and opportunities to veer off course but Ron Howard deftly keeps it on the right track. I think he does so by focusing on the story and the main characters. While you have plot lines regarding aliens and the fountain of youth, the major focus was on the "old folks", as it should be. Howard casts veteran actors in what should have been the twilight of their careers (except for much younger Wilford Brimley, who was actually in the early stages of his career) and gives them a script that asks them to be real people. Not old codger, one dimensional caricatures, but real folks with real backgrounds and real fears and real issues in their lives.
Normally, older actors are only allowed to service plots that focus on the young. Movies are seldom about them. Too bad, because I thoroughly enjoyed seeing this group work. They take you inside their world where they have fun, fight, hurt, deal with aging bodies, ponder the life and their legacy, make mistakes, and even (shudder) enjoy a love life. Not many movies flesh out senior citizens to this extent. Don Ameche won a supporting Oscar, and I have no real qualms with that; but for my money, it should have gone to Jack Gilford. An unsympathetic character up to this point, his moment in the pool trying to bring back his beloved Rosie ranks as one of the saddest and most heartbreakingly poignant things I have ever seen in any film. There are fewer people, especially younger ones, who know what it means to love someone over a long lifetime. Gilford shows what it means in a totally convincing way. And there's that James Horner score helping to yank the tears out of you.
Other reviewers have commented on the alien plot line and it's all relevant to what happens in the lives of the main characters. With an "E.T. + Close Encounters" vibe, it could have been the downfall of the movie. Credit to Howard for finding that right balance and basically not getting in the way of what his cast was so capable of doing.
A Knight's Tale (2001)
Just Accept it and Enjoy It
There is virtually no reason this movie should work. The film's creators must have been out of their minds. Let's take a movie about medieval jousting, load it up with characters singing and dancing to modern music, throw in lots of other anachronisms, dollop on liberal amounts of humor and comic relief, give it an underlying serious story, and see if folks take it seriously. In other words, let's see if they get it. Get what, exactly? Mainly that this movie does not take itself too seriously. It's entertainment. If you want historical accuracy or grand drama, look elsewhere. Watching A Knight's Tale means suspending disbelief and just accepting it for what is. And it is entertaining, in large part because the director sets the right tone by bringing in the right actors. Heath Ledger does a good job in his role, but it is his entourage that really puts the solid foundation in there, particularly Paul Bettany's Chaucer. William's love interest did not particularly convince me (I was thinking "Dude, have you looked at her servant girl. Heck, forget them both and have at it with Kate"), but the overall story compensates for that. And the real story is William's efforts to change his stars. I liked this movie. No apologies. It is what it is, and I get that. Special note came to look at this film in response to the death of Heath Ledger. Not a big fan one way or another, but it is certainly sad for anyone to be gone at such a young age.
Everyone's favorite TNG
Ask any Star Trek TNG fan to list their five favorite episodes and The Inner Light will make almost every list. Rightfully so. This is one of the best episodes in Star Trek lore. Maybe the best and built on a good story. Other reviews have described the plot of Picard living another lifetime in 20 minutes while mentally tethered to an alien probe. It is poignant, touching, beautiful, painful. What strikes me is the unseen epilogue.
Think about it. How can a person resume one life after experiencing another? From Picard's standpoint, he lived about 30 40 real years as someone else, only to be dropped back into his Starfleet life in an instant. Can he even remember how to be Captain after that long? Can he remember procedures and technical details and even the names of people he hasn't seen in decades? How painful his grief must be to have lost his wife years before, then his children. He outlived them all, and nobody else he encounters has any memory of them. In fact, it never really happened at all. Where is a support group for this? Recovering from a Borg assimilation seems almost pedestrian by comparison. He has lost a family, a world and a life. He is further tasked with honoring the wishes of a dead civilization that longed to be remembered. One wonders how a man as private as Picard will be able to tell of these people and share his pain and deal with his grief.
In all likelihood, he would handle this mostly in private. Maybe he would pull out the old flute the only tangible reminder of his other life and play it in the quiet of his own quarters. Great idea. The simple little melody is incredibly poignant as it speaks in just a few notes of the loss he must feel. It seems most viewers feel that loss as well. This viewer certainly did the almost tangible sadness has made the tears well up some at the end. Kudos for a great episode.
The Shootist (1976)
Goodbye to a legend
Has an actor ever had a more fitting ending to his career? Can't think of one. If the movie was not constructed with that in mind, it might as well have been. It's not a perfect movie the gunfight at the end seems anticlimactic on some level and the motivations of the antagonists are not entirely clear. The music did not always make sense. I might have cast someone other the Ron Howard as well. Not fair to him, but I kept thinking "Opie" or "Richie". The passing years, however, have muted this reaction and I can better accept him in the role. Minor quibbles.
What this movie does have, however, is John Wayne. Who else could have filled to role. And yes he could act. It really seemed like what you would expect from someone who was having to reconcile the end of his era (the old West) and the end of his life. He lived his life in an unorthodox but courageous fashion - one that did not fit the sensibilities of "good folk" and he faces his death the same way. On his terms. Nuance may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of John Wayne's acting, but it's there. It's always been there. Listen to the weariness in his voice; the struggling movement as the pain takes hold. Watch the subtle expressions on his face. One of my favorite little exchanges is when Lauren Bacall tells Ron Howard to do some particular chore as she is about to take a ride with John Wayne. Howard starts with typical teenage whining, but a quick glance from Wayne gives an instant attitude adjustment. It happens so quickly, but it fits so perfectly. Yep, John Wayne could act. It is a treat to see Bacall, Stewart and some other Hollywood legends and stalwarts in the same film, and see them interact with John Wayne. But it's Wayne's film. He dominates the screen as he always did, all the more poignant because we know this is the last time we get to see him do it. As with the Shootist, he is gone, and we shall not see his like again.
Band of Brothers (2001)
Makes it real
I see them in the market or driving down the road or in nursing homes. Gray haired old men in the autumn of their years. And I wonder do they carry memories of times like those shown so compellingly in BoB? Were they there? Would they tell me what they saw? Could they? I mean, how can someone like me ever grasp these experiences? Sadly, so many are gone and soon there will be no more. We need to understand that these old men were once young men, often boys, who helped save the world. The fact that they could return from war, live their lives, raise families, and tolerate civilians and coming generations ignorant or unappreciative of their sacrifice, is in some ways as amazing as what they did in the war.
Kudos to BoB for telling the story that so many experienced. From a distance of sixty years it is hard to grasp that such a monumental event in history was real. But it happened. BoB shows that as well as anything you will ever see. Perhaps the most poignant device is the interview segment with the veterans in each episode old men now but still alive with memories of their youth and of those "brothers" who never got to be old men. We aren't told who these men are until the end, and then we have to reconcile the real man with the character we just saw. Did he really do that? Did he really see that? Did he really live that? It is great that they have been able and willing to share this most remarkable chapter in their lives in a vehicle worthy of its task. Acting, production values, effects all of it brilliantly done.
Carson the best at what he did. Enigmatic off camera, from what I understand, but absolutely brilliant on camera. His easy interview style and ability to let his guests be the focus stands in contrast to so many pretenders to his late night throne. His jokes and skits, even the ones that flopped, made you feel like you were "in" on the jokes. I don't remember all of his tenure, but I remember over half of it and can still quote from long ago evenings. Example Doc Severinson wearing a loud jacket with flowers on it. Johnny: "That's some jacket Doc. Put some fertilizer on it and it might bloom". Doc: "We could dip it in your monologue". Johnny: "I'll suggest that to the new band leader". Spontaneous? Probably not. Hilarious? Absolutely! As fun and nostalgic as it is to see current superstars early in their careers as Johnny gave them their first big break, it is even more of a treat to see so many legendary stars, many still in their heyday. Bob Hope, Lucy, Dean Martin, etc. Like Johnny, they are gone now. And like Johnny, they don't make'm that way any more. Sad, but thank God for DVD and video.
Mary Poppins (1964)
One for the ages
How good is Mary Poppins? I remember singing "Let's Go Fly a Kite" with my then four year old son when we first got it on a now-lost video. He is now a young man, and little brother is a teenager. I am going to buy the DVD for their children, who may not be born for ten more years. I'll watch it myself until then. It's that good. We all have opinions, and mine is that, in the long list of Disney classics and masterpieces, this one is at the top. It is the perfect combination of story, song, characters, actors, whimsy you name it. I believe it is one of the best movies ever made in any genre.
Need proof? How many songs can you hum in the car or sing in the shower? Chim Chim Cher-ee; Spoonful of Sugar; Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious (thank God for copy and paste); Let's Go Fly a Kite. What about songs that put a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye? Feed the Birds. Great composing, great fit to the story. And Julie Andrews is as good a singer as you will find.
More proof? What about delightful scenes? A tea party on the ceiling. The fox hunt on merry-go-round horses. Dancing on the rooftops of London.
Memorable characters? Bert, even with his horrible accent, is a blast. Old Mr. Dawes. Uncle Albert. Mrs. Banks, that independent woman (as long as it did not annoy Mr. Banks). Jane and Michael having the experience of a lifetime. And poor Mr. Banks, so concerned with being the lord of his castle but learning the important lessons in the nick of time. His illusion of control begins to unravel the moment that Poppins woman walked in the door, and he never figures out who she is and how she did it to him.
Neither do we, really. She is both the cause of much madness but the stability within it as the story moves along. It is one of Disney's greatest talents to craft movies and stories that operate on multiple levels. Children love dancing penguins and fireworks. Adults may as well but they can register the message here of what is truly important in life. Poppins has the answers. It is better we don't analyze who she is and or course she never explains anything. The Banks family is just glad she was there for a while, and we should be glad that Walt Disney left us with this masterpiece.