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calvinnme

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Great acting, great action, and a rather sappy ending, 1 August 2015
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

You get the feeling that what director Woodie Van Dyke REALLY wanted to do was reenact the great San Francisco earthquake scene of destruction on the 30th anniversary of its occurrence. Of course, MGM studio head Louis B. Meyer is not going to fork over money for that, so a story is constructed that merely contains the scene he really wanted to do as the climax of the film. The whole thing is a well acted but rather maudlin morality tale in the production era tradition. You've got the personification of the Barbary Coast entrepreneur in Blackie the atheist saloon owner, perfectly cast with Clark Gable in the role. You have the voice of virtue in the person of priest Father Tim Mullin, again perfect casting with Spencer Tracy in the role, and you've got your virtuous songbird of a lady in Jeanette McDonald as Mary Blake, looking for work as a singer. Did anybody on the MGM lot in 1936 have a better voice than hers? Square jawed Jack Holt comes over from Columbia to play society scion Jack Burley, who in the end is no better, maybe worse, than Blackie. He claims he is respectable but when he and Blackie are fighting over the affections of Mary, there is no blow that is too low for him to land. In the middle of all of this conflict - scion versus rascal, man of God versus atheist, a woman who is torn between the man society tells her that she is supposed to love and the man she really does love comes the great quake. When you watch it think about the work that went into this given the technology that did not exist at that time and it becomes even more wondrous.

Unfortunately, at least for me, the movie gets rather hokie at that point. I'll let you watch and get the details.

In the final analysis, Jeanette McDonald is probably given more to do in this movie than she should have because Louis B. Mayer thought she was "hawt!". Meanwhile the production code was the best thing that ever happened to Spencer Tracy. No doubt he was a great actor, even greater when you realize that off camera he was a heavy drinker and bedding every MGM (and before that Fox) starlet he could get his hands on, and yet he plays a priest quite believably!. And Blackie suddenly believes in God because the person he loved is not dead in the rubble? What about all of the other dead people? Should, by the same logic, the people who loved them have become atheists? Not as long as head censor Joe Breen was on the job, and he would be for another 16 years.

Highly recommended in spite of the hokie ending. It is just a shame that they couldn't have made it in 1933 when things were allowed to be a bit saucier and more realistic.

Helen Hayes and Brian Aherne are a delight, 1 August 2015
7/10

Maybe you have to be Scottish to completely appreciate this, but I've always loved this film. It is great to see Helen Hayes not playing the victim in a film role for once - although she played them well, and Brian Aherne, always a good actor, is a vivacious hunk at age 32, perfect for the role of a man who thinks he is more than he really is.

The story starts out with Maggie Wylie's (Helen Hayes') brothers pacing the floor worrying about what is to become of their baby sister given that she has reached the age of 27 and is unmarried with no prospects. They end up making a deal with a burglar (Aherne as John Shand) to finance his education IF at the end of five years he marries Maggie if she is still single and willing. You see, Shand was a student who ran out of money and has been breaking into the Wylie home every night to read the books they have in their extensive library - and nothing else.

Shand agrees, but manages to waste the money, never gets his education, and the five years is up. A bargain is a bargain to a Scot, and although he wants to run for a seat in Parliament he decides to go for a job in the local foundry instead so he and the still unmarried Maggie can be wed. Maggie insists he go for the Parliament seat instead. He does and wins, due a great deal to Maggie's help.

Now Maggie very much knows that John does not love her, although she seems like she has loved him since he first stood up at a town meeting - prior to the burglary discovery - and insulted the entire town, AND her brother -something the all too outwardly passive Maggie seems itching to have done, but is glad to have John do it instead.

The complication in all of this is two crises collide. John (and Maggie) believe the nation's troubles can be averted by going off the gold standard, but John would have to threaten to resign his seat to make a meaningful stand, AND a beautiful woman of poise has actually captured John's heart - and Maggie knows about it. How does this work out? Watch and find out.

The funny part about all of this is how really clueless the men are in this film which is almost feminist in nature. Maggie's brothers are so concerned about her marital status when none of them are married themselves and are well into what was then called "old bachelorhood". To top it off all three are buffoons. Maggie seems to know this and loves them anyways. The same could be said of Shand, since Maggie is his strength and he seems blind to that, not that he treats her rudely.

I recommend this one. It is very quirky and fun for an early post production code film.

Good animation, but not one of Tim Burton's best, 31 July 2015
7/10

probably would have liked this movie more if I had not already seen - many times - "The Nightmare Before Christmas" which was a brilliant and original piece of work. This movie does share some of that movie's qualities - haunting soundtrack, bumbling authority figures, a tall thin protagonist who is searching for something, a heroine whose limbs easily detach, and a dear departed house pet. It also has some interesting ideas of its own - the living looking and acting as though they were already dead, versus the dead living it up, since they have no more worries and forever to look forward to with the prospect of all of their loved ones returning to them one by one. In fact, the only time the living seem happy in this film is when the dead return to the land of the living for a truly unique wedding and instead of menacing or haunting the living, there are tearful and happy reunions. However, the individual characters in this film are just not that interesting.

In short, even though all of the characters in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" are dead, they just seem more alive and motivated than the characters in this film. Also, this movie is darker than "Nightmare" and not as funny, so kids under 10 might find it too intense and probably not as interesting. Thus, although it is worthwhile viewing, I'm just afraid that Tim Burton set the bar too high with his previous animated film.

How it all started, even if it is the sixth episode aired, 31 July 2015
7/10

The series pilot, "Everybody's Favorite Bagman" was actually the sixth episode aired that year. If you wonder why this episode of Law and Order looks as though it was shot in a different decade - different film quality, George Dzundza (Max Greevey) has magically lost 20 pounds, and a completely different actor (Roy Thinnes) is playing a completely different DA (Alfred Wentworth)- it is because this episode was shot as a pilot for CBS in 1988, and rejected by that network. Thus when you hear comments made that seem to be introducing the characters after you have been watching them work together for six episodes, that is actually what is going on.

There are really nothing really remarkable about the plot, so I'll let you watch and see what happens. In this actually first show, it is the structure of the episode - all police first half, all prosecution second half, that is actually on display.

The first of many cast changes on Law and Order, 31 July 2015
8/10

Season two of Law and Order saw the first departure of one of the main characters. The series was originally set to film in Los Angeles, but when creator Dick Wolf won his fight to shoot it in New York, actor George Dzundza did not want to relocate his family there, and this led to Dzundza leaving the show. Thus Dzunda's character, Max Greevey, is murdered at the beginning of the first episode of the season, "Confession", an episode that deals much more with the main characters' personal lives than is typical. For example, this is the only episode in which we actually see Greevey's wife.

It also deals with the effect that the murder has on Greevey's partner, Mike Logan. This episode is the first appearance of Dr. Elizabeth Olivet, a clinical psychiatrist who performs consultation work for the 27th Police Precinct and District Attorney's office in Manhattan. In this case, she is working as a grief counselor and helping Logan deal with his partner's death. Her's is a recurring role that makes guest appearances until 1997. This episode is also the first appearance of Logan's new partner, Phil Cerrata, played by veteran actor Paul Sorvino.

Logan does track down the person responsible for Greevey's killing, even though he is not supposed to be on the case and the episode title has to do with the way Logan gets his "confession". Good acting by Chris Noth as Logan here, because in that alley, alone with the perp, gun drawn, you can tell he wants an excuse to extract much more than a confession.

Stephen Hill as D.A. Adam Schiff gets a rare showcase, 31 July 2015
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

The season two finale, "Working Stiff", is one of those rare episodes in which D.A. Adam Schiff gets more than a few lines, and we really get some insight into his character. A powerful businessman is found murdered, and at first it looks like the murderer is an elderly cancer-stricken union member whose pension and health insurance were gutted by the businessman's corporate dealings.

The union member, played by Eli Wallach, does not deny the allegations and wants to represent himself at trial just so he can make public all the things the victim did to the other union members. When the case against him falls apart, further investigation reveals that the businessman was about to be indicted by the Justice Department, and that this knowledge was leaked to powerful people who stood to be damaged by it, among them Dwight Corcoran, a former governor of New York. Schiff and Corcoran are old friends, but this does not stop Schiff from making the final necessary connection between his old friend and the murder.

Hill's portrayal of Schiff is subtle yet brilliant in this episode. There is also a parallel drawn between the union member and Corcoran - they are both destined to meet a slow and lonely death albeit on the opposite sides of justice. If this episode had been made in 2002 instead of 1992, you would swear that it was "ripped from the headlines" of the Enron scandal.

Fargo (1996)
Another jewel from the Coens, 31 July 2015
9/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie opens with the words "This is a true story. The events depicted in this film took place in Minnesota in 1987. At the request of the survivors, the names have been changed. Out of respect for the dead, the rest has been told exactly as it occurred." I never challenged these words, but apparently no such incidents as depicted in this film ever occurred. The movie plays out quite believably - A middle-class car salesman gets in over his head financially by embezzling from his employer, thinking that the business deals he is making with the money will allow him to replace the stolen goods before he is detected. When his schemes don't pan out he must find a way to replace the money. The salesman's father-in-law - and employer - is wealthy but distant and indifferent towards him, so he hatches a plan to fake his wife's kidnapping with the help of two felons he doesn't know at all who are "vouched for" by an ex-con mechanic that works at the same dealership he works for. He figures his father-in-law will pay the ransom, he'll split it with the felons, and his problems will be solved. This is not to be the case. It turns out that these felons are more violent and uncontrollable than the salesman counted on, and they leave quite a body count in their wake. Also, in another clever twist, what becomes of the ransom money over which so many greedy people in the film have fought and died is quite ironic to say the least. Although I wouldn't exactly say we read this story in the paper everyday, we all have read something similar - someone who has lived an ordinary life for several decades suddenly gets tempted into some criminal activity that quickly escalates out of control.

The person who unravels the mystery of the crimes is the most unstereotypical of police officers - Marge Gunderson. She is the extremely pregnant chief of police in the small town where the first murders occur, and her combination of brains and folksy charm masterfully handle witnesses and trace the crime back to the car salesman and his dealership.

I've never been to Minnesota, but if the Coens' rendition of that state and its people was as spot-on as their parody of the American southwest in "Raising Arizona", then they have really done their research. I highly recommend it.

Shows Ben Stone's propensity for making new law in his cases, 31 July 2015
8/10

In an episode that is prototypical of A.D.A. Ben Stone's desire to make new law, "Sisters of Mercy" is the case of a troubled young woman who has an affair with the director of the home for recovering addicts in which she is living because the director says that if she doesn't she will be put out on the street. Prosecutors Stone and Robinette go for first degree rape, a charge that requires them to prove a direct threat of physical violence. Stone argues that since expulsion would have forced the girl back onto the street where she probably would have been killed, the threat to expel constituted a threat of violence. Although everyone, including his boss Adam Schiff, tells Stone that the judge will set aside the verdict because he won't share Ben's enthusiasm for making new law, Stone proceeds.

Brilliant horror film mixes zombies and existentialism, 31 July 2015
8/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

What can you say about a movie that brilliantly intertwines zombies inexplicably rising from the dead in one particular cemetery, one misfit man who has the lonely mission to kill them and then goes insane doing it, and the mixture of horror and religious symbolism as only the Europeans can do it? The final scene of the movie has you questioning whether any of these people ever existed at all, even within the context of the film. In this last scene, Dellamorte (the cemetery man) decides to just drive away from the existence he has had up to now and start over somewhere else. However, when he leaves the tunnel that connects the town with the main highway he finds ... nothing. The world just ends as if you were on the set of "The Truman Show". You'll certainly never look at a snow globe the same way again.

Did Dellamorte hallucinate the whole movie? Did the audience dream the whole movie? Are we all just characters in someone else's imagination? For you Buffy fans out there, you'll love the mixture of someone on a lonely thankless path to save the world and a tragically ended romance due to the protagonist's focus on his mission.

Clever, but not necessarily saving the best for last, 31 July 2015
7/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Joss Whedon's series finale, is mediocre when compared to shows from other seasons that he has written that did not have the importance that this final episode should have had, with a couple of exceptions. I did think that Whedon found a clever way to set Buffy free to live a normal life without her having to abandon her duties. I also liked the scene the day of the final battle with Buffy, Willow, and Xander, the original scoobies, having a conversation reminiscent of the closing scene of "The Harvest", which was the second part of the two-part premiere from season one. As they carry on their superficial banter about shopping, Giles repeats the same line that he said in this same situation in "The Harvest" - "The world is doomed." This was a real treat for long-time viewers and did indeed bring us "back to the beginning" - which was the theme of season seven.

What I really REALLY did not like? The fact that Anya shows bravery she probably never even knew she had, paid the ultimate price, and Xander - who at one time only recently claimed he loved her and wanted to marry her - just seemed to shrug the whole thing off having been distracted by the idea of going to the mall. Not a nice epitaph or a very loving tribute from any of the Scoobies for the poor girl.


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