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A loving, moving look at a giant in American History
I know this came out for Black History month in the U.S., and it's right on target: illuminate a pivotal figure from our national past who was an African American. Show both the obstacles overcome and the world-changing effect achieved. That's a fine formula, and it works.
But George Stevens has gone beyond the formula, and this monologue, by the amazing Laurence Fishburne as Thurgood Marshall, with slide-show and lighting effects, is surprisingly powerful. They shine their light into some of America's darkest places, yet retain humor and hope. Fishburne uses all his registers, and is a delight to watch, as he persuades you that you are in the presence of the man who, with his argument in Brown v. Board of Education, triggered the end of legal segregation in the U.S, who became the Supreme Court's first African-American member. And who gives you all the context of that life.
If you let yourself, through a spell woven by the spoken word and evocative images on the wall behind the sparsely furnished set, you'll be transported into the life and world of Thurgood Marshall. It's entertaining, enlightening and ... over too soon.
Preachy but entertaining PSA, top quality production
Clearly a message piece, in the vein of the After-School Specials, this is still worth a watch.
A very good line-up of voice talents, some excellent stop-motion animation, effective music and some over-the-top melodrama liven up the production and make it entertaining for the full half hour.
Interviews with actual teen smokers and a mouth-cancer survivor humanize the statistics, which are clearly presented and scattered throughout the film, some presented in a game show format. I'd say the folks who made this had as a goal making it unlikely that anyone watching would tune out. The variety is impressive and mostly fun, in spite of the subject.
As an example of their attention to every detail, I noticed, in the newsstand sequence near the end, the issue of Cigar Aficionado with Arnold Schwarzenegger on the cover passes by .
A wonderful time machine for Cohen's fans
Basically footage from a 1970 concert, bookended and interleaved with some context and, thankfully, presented without much evident editing. Some audience scenes are inserted, and some modern interviews, to help set the context. The quality is surprisingly excellent, with very few artifacts of age; the picture and the sound are very clear.
Leonard Cohen has been an important force in music since the 1960s. For those of us who admire him and his work, this is a terrific look at a seemingly fearless performer as he was 40 years ago. His performance is perhaps less polished than now, but the powerful intimacy and kaleidoscopic imagery of his poetry are as affecting as ever. I'm grateful to the makers of this film for bringing this to us.
Jive Junction (1943)
Forgettable but fun feel-good teen fare from the forties
This Dickie Moore musical strikes all the appropriate notes for its mid-war audience, competently but without any real flair. The biggest potential for interest in the story, the introduction of the classically-trained star to hep jive popular music, is side-stepped at the beginning: he's picked it up on the side already. That pretty well establishes the tone: this is a simple story, without serious conflicts, passions or surprises.
The musical numbers are mostly adequate; they're passable but bland, with the notable exception of one pleasant vocal duet. The numbers were written for the movie, and appear to have been designed not to offend anyone. If you're a real fan of swing from the forties, you may be disappointed.
The dialogue is similar; while there are moments that sparkle, much is generic and predictable. The unquestioning sexism in the story is typical of the period, and is here mostly humorous now. Fortunately, it's a story made to play well to youth yet not anger the establishment. It works if used as such: enjoy it and move on.
The Last Sin Eater (2007)
Flawed but deeply felt
This is a film that requires some willing suspension of disbelief, since its makers seem possibly to be prey to the fallacy that it enough that Christian art be Christian. Which is not to say that they didn't get most of it right, just that their missteps are so avoidable. Fortunately, most (like the young star's unbelievably sumptuous wardrobe) weren't major distractions for me. But the crudeness of the special effects scenes (which, thankfully, are brief) did disrupt my experience, as I wondered, "What were they thinking that this looked right to them?"
Most of the cast does a truly fine job, with all the central characters (the Forbes family and Fagan Kai) getting moving, heartfelt and convincing performances from their players. There's a relationship here between quantity of screen time and quality, so the minor characters remain pretty two-dimensional, though not distractingly so.
The cinematography (except for special effects, as noted) is beautiful and effective, and successfully evokes the feeling of confining, dense Appalachian woods and isolation.
Bottom line: despite its minor shortcomings, this is an effective, affecting, non-preachy and original retelling of one of the central concepts of Christianity.
Jivin' in Be-Bop (1946)
The Dizzy Gillespie Variety Hour? How cool is that?
This was recently shown on the Black Family Channel, and (as a Jazz musician myself) I had to check it out. I mean, 1946 footage of Dizzy Gillespie? Not something you see that often. My expectations were moderate, though, having seen some of the strange vehicles musicians have been roped into, attempting to blend some kind (any kind) of plot with their music.
This is emphatically not that. Although the print shows its age at times, and synchronization was a occasionally off ('course, maybe they weren't performing live for the film's sound track ...), this is a well-crafted hour full of solid entertainment. Singers, instrumentalists, dancers both male and female, even comedy. Add to that getting to see such performers as Milt Jackson, Ray Brown, Benny Carter and Gillespie himself, along with many more, in what amounts to a front-row seat for a very cool variety show, photographed intelligently and orchestrated to please. Includes Salt Peanuts and Night In Tunisia; many of the numbers don't show the musicians, which I was sorry for, but overall, the show is great fun.
If you're a fan of Jazz and Bebop, Dance, and/or Dizzy Gillespie, and you get a chance to watch this, prepare to be entertained.
Final Breakdown (2002)
Interesting story, decent acting, though unpolished
First, in spite of its shortcomings, it did hold my interest throughout. It wants to be compared to some of Pam Grier's films, especially the earlier ones, though it falls a bit short of that mark. Still, it's generally fun, for similar reasons. And Regina King is attractive and effective in this role.
The plot is not too original, and the direction indicates a good feel for visuals, but not much finesse. Most of the characters are obvious stereotypes, which substitutes for character development. And, often, for plot development as well, as they do what they must, regardless of reason. The musical cues are occasionally so heavy-handed I laughed out loud - not the intended effect.
On the plus side, the story is told pretty effectively, hiding, then revealing, clues, so that understanding is pleasantly delayed into an "A-ha" moment near the end. And there's some restraint on the gratuitous sex and violence, so Jeff Byrd, the director, shows discretion and promise. No need to see it twice, but you might give it a chance once.
"We go to the movies to see who we are."
Those of us who frequent IMDb probably see lots of movies. We probably saw many as children, uncritically sitting, quietly, in the dark, accepting the entertainment. The central idea here is that we accept more than entertainment. We learn what it is to be a good man, a good woman, a bad man, a bad woman; how to treat each other, to achieve success, love, and happiness. Or how to deserve failure, rejection and ridicule. All absorbed slowly, by immersion (as with C.J. Cherryh's fictional "tape", for any who've read her stories).
The 1950s were long enough ago that we can pretty clearly see the sort of values presented, and how it was a strange brew: combining WWII-era conservatism, favoring traditional sexual roles (i.e. the old double standard), traditional racial roles, capitalism, parochialism and duty, with postwar, pre-60s radicalism, favoring re-examining all the above, seeking pleasure (and yet meaning), cosmopolitanism and individuality. If you grew up during this decade and watched movies, these are the values you're likely to have, at least in part.
Through interviews and examples, this film illustrates these points with clarity, if a bit dryly, and generally maintains the viewer's interest. I'd like to see a similar documentary done for every decade, so any of us who grew up in them could be illuminated, as well.
Romance of the West (1946)
Community theater on the silver screen!
I found my jaw dropping soon after this movie started, and only finished it so I could say I'd seen the whole thing and could therefore be entitled to comment on it.
It has all the problems of a lackluster school or community production (no offense to those whose productions have luster). The plentiful dialogue is awkward, running the gamut from stilted to preposterous, generally delivered with the sort of relentless exaggeration common on the stage, but which is wearisome on screen. The characters are barely one-dimensional; it seems as if the movie were modeled on an early silent (the resemblance is very strong), by someone who said, "Give me one of each!" The grizzled, gibberish-talking alcoholic sidekick, the lovable, singing, two-gun hero and his saccharine gal, the cheerful priest, the shady politician, a number of noble Native Americans in their colorful full regalia, chafing under the oppression of the capitalists, some heartrendingly cherubic children - until the roster was full. The songs are massively produced; odd even for a singing Western. Much of the time we're on an obvious sound stage, the edits are often odd (people disappear from the screen a bit before their lines are done), and the costumes - it's all sub-par, even for 1946. On the other hand, it is in color.
Partners in Action (2002)
Decent if derivative
Not terribly original in its basic plot, this film still managed to entertain me. Armand Assante delivers a solid performance, the major supporting roles are well handled, especially Douglas Smith's. There are enough fresh details in the story to make it work, and it tries hard to remain plausible. "Scenery chewing" over-the-top acting makes an appearance from time to time, perhaps in an effort to pump up the less inspired bits, or so it seemed to me. Blessedly, these moments were brief. As were the periods of subspace turbulence ... uh .. sorry, cinema verite camera shakiness. If you enjoy the "hard-boiled ex-cop with heart of gold, in trouble" thing (and who doesn't?), this film will deliver. Not the best, but it's got the goods.