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Facing the Giants (2006)
There are enough things wrong with this movie that I should rate it a 2 but I love this movie so much I can overlook the flaws very easily. I've seen it so many times I've now lost count. First, what's wrong with this movie.
1.) With the exception of the main character, there are very few women in the picture. Grant Taylor has a wife, there is a teacher and there also is a clinic featuring 2 women but other than that, none of the boys seem to have a mother. Matt has a father as does David but neither boy has a "mom," although David's father does wear a wedding ring. A small point but a mighty one.
2.) The African-American coach is one step above "Steppin Fetchit" or "Amos & Andy." He talks in a rather lazy fashion and seems a little bit slow although he isn't. When he gives David a "unique" way of remembering how to get the ball in between the goal posts or when he keeps up with Larry, his coaching partner, in a game of one-upsmanship of famous names, you see how intelligent he is but for much of the movie, he seems to be a bit of a doofus. In this day and age of political correctness, it's NOT a good idea to portray an African-American character as slow or dim-witted.
3.) Coach Taylor's hair. C'mon, guys, you could have done better with the front of his hair than what we see. It makes the coach look stupid, dorky - kind of like a Jim Carrey character.
Now, what's Right about this movie:
1.) God. There is lots of "God Talk" in this movie and I don't mind. This is a fundamentalist Christian view of God and may seem somewhat simplistic but it works, at least in this movie. Too bad real life isn't that easy (trust God and you'll get what you want). I'm Roman Catholic but I found the "God parts" very inspirational, although somewhat hokey at times. 2.) The acting. While it's not Laurence Olivier in "Hamlet," you really believe Alex Kendrick as Coach Taylor and Shannen Field as Brooke. Some scenes are heartbreaking and others are very funny. But all in all, it's a delightful pairing of 2 obvious believers. 3.) Let's face it, some of those young football players are CUTE, especially David and Zach. Clean-cut, with short hair and decent clothes (David even wears a tie to the final game!) without looking like nerds or geeks. That's refreshing.
All in all, I love this movie. Ii'm not a football fanatic and so I fast-forward some of those scenes. Other readers have pointed out football mistakes; I wouldn't know and I really don't care. To me, this movie isn't so much about football as it is about faith. It would be far worse if the mistakes were in faith instead of football. When I find myself feeling down and this movie is on, I watch it and I'm immediately uplifted. There aren't too many movies that can say that. And I doubt this movie will ever air on network television --- too much religion - GOD FORBID. That's a shame, though, because it's an uplifting, inspiring movie and many young people would benefit from watching it.
Sor Teresa de los Andes (1989)
A young girl in Chile at the turn of the century decides to become a Carmelite sister. Hardly scandalous but also hardly typical. Born the 4th of 6 children, Juana Fernandez, known affectionately as Juanita, realizes early that the great love of her life is Jesus Christ. However, this young woman is no plaster saint - she loves clothes, parties and sports and she realizes she has a problem with pride and vanity. Nevertheless, she is willing to give up the comfort of her home and the warmth and companionship of her family for the cold, harsh life of the Carmelite sisters in the Andes. Once there, she takes the name Teresa, after her two heroines, St. Teresa of Avila and St. Therese of Lisieux. The edition I've seen is in Spanish with English subtitles. Normally, I wouldn't be caught dead watching a so-called "foreign" film but this production is exceptional. EWTN airs it annually, marking the birth of this wonderful modern saint who was canonized by Pope John Paul II. I recommend this production most highly. True, there is no violence or sex but it is highly dramatic and it takes you to a higher plain.
84 Charing Cross Road (1987)
A Quiet Gem
The British are known for movies that can tear your heart out without excessive emoting. "84 Charing Cross Road" is one such picture. It's been on many, many times and I know my mother loved this movie but I never saw it, who knows why. But having "discovered" Dame Judi Dench, who has a somewhat minor part, I wanted to see her in this movie. Well, I was mesmerized! There was no "snap and pop" here; just the quiet story of a book lover and a bookseller who live on 2 different continents and who are total opposites (or so it seems) but who form a friendship through letters --- what today's youngsters would call snail mail. She's a dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker with a New York accent as thick as a deli sandwich. He's a dyed-in-the-wool Englishman whose accent isn't as thick but who is British through and through. Yet they both share a passion for books. This gentle true story, based on Helene Hanff's book, is told mainly through their correspondence and what a terrific correspondence it was.
Letter-writing, unfortunately, is a lost art. As convenient as Email is, it's not quite the same as a good, old-fashioned letter. This movie reminded me of that and of the 17-year correspondence I shared with my best friend (he has since died). I'm told I have a talent for letter-writing and I have 2 friends with whom I share this talent. I used to think those friends should get a computer but now I see I was wrong. Email is expedient but letter-writing is so much more long-lasting.
One of the reasons I stayed with the picture was one scene: Helene goes to the movies (remember, this was 1950) and what are they playing? My all-time favorite movie, "Brief Encounter." I couldn't turn away after that and I'm glad I stayed with it. This is one movie I definitely will add to my DVD and/or VHS collection. It's a keeper for sure.
The Egyptian (1954)
Swords and Sandals Saga
I'll start off right at the beginning by saying "I like this movie." It's sweeping, it's grand, it's gripping and it's fun. Sinhue the physician,sits in front of his small stone hut writing his memoirs. And what a story it is! Taken from a river and reared by an elderly couple who doted on him, he becomes a physician to the poor. He befriends Horemheb who sees glory while Sinhue sees healing. And both run into the future pharaoh Anknaten (forgive my spellings), who endures an epileptic fit.
And this pharaoh has another "flaw": He believes in one god instead of a pantheon of gods. Back then, this was totally revolutionary. Sinhue and Horemheb grow up. One night, Sinhue sees a woman who makes him lose his senses. He gives up his practice, sells his parents' home and even their tombs just to spend a night with her. Does he? I won't tell. Meanwhile, Merit, a tavern maid played with sweet simplicity belying strength by Jean Simmons, falls in love with Sinhue. She falls under his spell and under the spell of the belief in one god.
Victor Mature overacts perfectly as Horemheb. Edmond Purdom is sincere as Sinhue the lost physician (does he find redemption? Stay tuned). Even Bela Darvi, the woman who steals Sinhue's heart isn't as bad as everyone has said. The fact that she was Daryl F. Zanuck's mistress had nothing to do with the casting - right? Yeah, right...still, she wasn't that bad _ I've seen worse. I think she did better in "The Egyptian" than many of today's young actresses have done in anything. I said it before and I'll say it again -- I like this movie. I recommend it. It makes you think despite some hammy acting. Have fun with this movie; it's worth it.
Star Trek: The Menagerie: Part I (1966)
In the old commercial for blank audio cassettes, the tag line was "is it real or is it Memorex?" The same might be said for the events in this episode - a compilation and remix of "The Cage," the first pilot of Star Trek. Mr. Spock has cleverly commandeered the ship to take it to the forbidden planet Talos IV in order to allow Capt. Christopher Pike, his first captain who has been burned and paralyzed, to return there. Why the finagling? Because to have any contact at all with Talos IV invites a death sentence. Why this is so is never explained - that bothered me tremendously - but, if nothing else, it adds to the story. After he has gotten the ship to travel to Talos IV, Mr. Spock turns himself in to Dr. McCoy (the senior-most officer present; Capt. Kirk was off the ship) for arrest and says, "The charge is mutiny, Dr.; I never received orders to take over the ship." What follows is a court martial in which - thanks to the Talosians - we learn why it was so important (besides the obvious paralysis) for Capt. Pike to get to Talos IV even at risk of Mr. Spock's death. The illusions the Talosians create, the background music and the entire storyline are fantastic. And Meg Wyllie as The Keeper (the head Talosian) is wonderful. Call me sexist but it never occurred to me to have a woman in that role but she was perfect! The Talosians, having given up almost all physical activity and becoming almost completely reliant upon the power of illusion, are also unisex; you can't really tell if they're male or female and it really doesn't matter. This episode, more than almost any other in the series, makes me hope and pray there are other worlds out there and that there are civilizations that are so far advanced! What a neat thing if this were so! This is one of my favorite episodes and, no matter how many times I've seen it (I even have it on video), it never fails to fascinate me. Meg Wyllie LOOKS like an alien and I do NOT mean that unkindly.
Ahead of its time
Joan Crawford, Van Heflin, Raymond Massey and Geraldine Brooks give outstanding performances in a movie that is well ahead of its time. It's the story of what happens after a woman suffers from psychosis. However, it's not the portrayal of a yowling inmate but a normal-appearing woman whose insanity comes upon her slowly but inevitably.
Miss Crawford portrays Louise Howell, nurse to the neurotic wife of oil tycoon (BEFORE we became dependent on Middle Eastern oil) Dean Graham. We never see Mrs. Graham but we hear her, constantly accusing her husband(played by Mr. Massey) of having an affair with Louise.
Louise is having an affair alright but it's not with Mr. Graham. Instead, it's with architect David Sutton, played so well by Van Heflin. For David, his relationship with Louise is little more than a lark - a good time was had by all - but he isn't ready to settle down. He tries to explain that to Louise but she gets bent out of shape and becomes possessive about and obsessed with him. Finally, however, David accepts a job FAR AWAY,with Mr. Graham's oil firm. After David leaves and Mrs. Graham dies (is it murder or suicide? Louise, in the beginnings of her confusion, isn't sure which), Louise decides to marry the lonely widower even though she tells him she's not in love with him and even though his daughter Carol (played so well by Gerladine Brooks) dislikes her intensely.
Later, in a cruel bit of irony, David comes home, meets Carol and the two fall in love. This time, David wants to get married but to Carol and not to Louise. Louise tries to talk her out of it but Carol becomes more determined than ever to marry the older, oafish architect. Things get pretty dicey after that and this is when Miss Crawford's performance goes from good to brilliant. If she wasn't nominated for an Academy Award, she should have been; in fact, she should have gotten it for her role in this movie. It's not easy playing a woman going slowly insane because it's not the obvious signs of insanity she has to convey; it's the slow insanity that results from years of inevitable tortures she must express. That's not easy but an actress of Miss Crawford's obvious brilliance was able to pull it off beautifully. This is a marvelous "woman's picture" and I highly recommend it. It's one of my all-time favorites and one of Miss Crawford's best pictures.
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
The best by far
Of all the movies about Jesus Christ ever made, this one is the best by far. Perhaps the main reason is its lead, an unknown British actor named Robert Powell, who was 34 years old when this movie was made (there is a myth saying he was only 23 but that's not right; he was born in 1944 and the movie was made in 1978). His Jesus is ordinary - he is the typical, average Jewish male of ancient Israel - and yet he possesses a mysticism about him that ordinary folk cannot figure out (in the movie, that mysticism is accentuated by the fact that Mr. Powell rarely blinks!). Mr. Powell's portrayal of the man many consider the Messiah is nothing short of brilliant in its understated authenticity. I wasn't watching an actor portraying Jesus; at times, I felt like I was watching Jesus Himself.
Another favorite portrayal of mine is that of James Farentino as Simon Peter, who later would become the first pope, the holder of the Keys of the Kingdom. Mr. Farentino's Peter is no plaster-cast saint; instead, he is an ordinary fisherman, angry at the Roman taxes that grind him and his neighbors into deplorable poverty. And when his brother Andrew introduces Simon Peter to Jesus, his reaction is so perfect: "What, another Holy Man?" And he spits in anger when, upon returning from a long and useless day, this "holy man" tells him to go out again. Peter replies "Come - you can preach to the fish." Mr. Farentino perfectly captures the essence of Peter and it is a joy to watch.
Much of the supporting cast reads like a veritable "Who's Who" in Hollywood and England. Sir Laurence Olivier as Nicodemus; James Mason as Joseph of Arimathea; Cyril Cusak as Yehuda the Rabbi; Ralph Richardson as Simeon the Prophet; Anthony Quinn as Caiphus and Ian Holm as Zera add life and sparkle to the cast. Even the music, the authenticity of the costumes and the way the people live gives believability, a "you-are-there" feeling to this wonderful production. And when Mr. Powell speaks in Aramaic, the language of Jesus, in a few occasions, then it's an absolute revelation.
This is, as I said, the best portrayal of Jesus Christ that has ever been made. It's long and the 2nd segment tends to drag a bit but the final 2 hours make any lapses more than worth it. I'm sure anyone who knows the story of Christ knows what happens but I won't spoil it if you don't know. Suffice it to say Mr. Powell's performance alone in the last segment make his a magnificent performance. Please - run, don't walk, to the nearest video store to buy the DVD or VHS set.
Song of Sadness and Hope
A middle-age composer is struck down by paralysis and blindness brought on by syphilis. All the music still living inside him must remain there forever, or so it seems, until a young man volunteers his time to bring that music to life. Such is the remarkable but true story of Frederic Delius and his amanuenses, Eric Fenby.
In 1929, Eric Fenby was a young man living in England, a frustrated musician earning money by playing background music for Laurel & Hardy films. One night, he reads in the paper of Frederic Delius' tragic plight and, possessing a young man's impulsiveness, decides to go to Grez-sur-Loing, where Delius lives with his wife, Jelka, and offer his assistance.
When they first meet, it is NOT a meeting of the minds. Delius (played so wickedly wonderfully well by Max Adrian) says he wants to compose and he starts humming. Fenby, in frustration, realizing the uphill battle he has taken on, asks, "What key is it in, Sir" and Delius loses patience with the well-meaning young man. An uneasy start, to be sure, but by the end, previously unheard music finds its way onto paper and into concert halls.
This is a wonderful little film, part of a PBS series titled "Biography." The series had been narrated by Lady Antonia Fraser and she did a wonderful job introducing the film and understanding just what a miracle had occurred in 1929 when Fenby decided to help Delius.
But this movie is far from being maudlin and you do NOT end up feeling sorry for Delius. Despite being blind and paralyzed, he is not without talent and he certainly isn't without wit.
When Fenby asks him what he thinks of certain composers, he says of one, "He would have set the entire Bible to music if he'd lived long enough." He also decides to act as a father to Fenby - not having children of his own and being so much older than Fenby, it probably was natural in the course of their relationship. Being an atheist, he suggests Fenby get rid of his "great Christian blinders" but Fenby, being a devout Roman Catholic, ignores this suggestion.
But, later in the film, Fenby ends up being the "parent" as Delius becomes sicker and Jelka develops stomach cancer and requires surgery. He had served as a confidant to Jelka and it is from her that he (and we) learns what Delius was like as a young man - his incredible womanizing, the brutal way he treated Jelka and finally, his contracting syphilis from the women with whom he had slept.
And in the end, no matter how tragic their plight, Delius and Fenby together brought to light some incredibly beautiful music - the music that inspired the title and the picture. It runs like a thread throughout the film and gives it a joy and a hope you would not expect considering the subject.
This wonderful movie is well worth a look if it ever appears on TV again. It's available on British DVD but not on American DVD or VHS. That's a shame. However, the music that inspired it is available on CD and is also well worth listening to. And viewers will be amazed at what Fenby gave up - and what we all got - as a result of his service - which lasted for 5 years until Delius died - to a great composer. We are all blessed by the sacrifice.
The Blue Gardenia (1953)
Blue Gardenia, the flower of murder
A date with a ne'er do well named Harry Prebble (Raymond Burr of "Perry Mason" and "Ironsides" fame) leads a telephone operator into a web of deceit and murder in this 1940s-style (actually made in 1953) film-noir classic, "Blue Gardenia." Nora Larkin (Anne Baxter) gets a cruel birthday present in the form of a "Dear Jane" letter from her soldier boyfriend serving in Korea. Prebble, who draws for a living, "hits" on the telephone operators of a local company. He calls the apt. of 3 of the operators who live together in a flat. Nora Larkin answers and impulsively decides to accept Prebble's invitation to drinks and dinner at a Chinese restaurant nearby. The next thing Nora knows, she has a colossal hangover from too many "Polynesian Pearldiver" drinks and she learns her date was murdered. She doesn't remember killing him but she does recall trying to repel his sexual advances, grabbing a fireplace poker and shattering a mirror.
Assuming she did it, she because extremely testy and high strung; her 2 roommates - Crystal Carpenter (played so well by Ann Sothern) and Sally Ellis (Jeff Donnell) - try to figure out what's wrong. Finally, Crystal, a "party girl" figures it out.
An interesting plot twist is the addition of Casey Mayo (Richard Conte, who later went on to play Barzini in "The Godfather"), a hardboiled reporter for the Los Angeles Chronicle. He writes an open letter in the newspaper to the girl dubbed the "Blue Gardenia Killer" and Nora meets him at a local watering hole. She tells him it's a friend who committed the murder but Casey finds out later she is the one. But in the meantime, he has fallen in love with her and he and her roommates work to find the real killer which (unlike the OJ Simpson case) they do.
The real killer turns out to be a minor character and that was a disappointment. But Anne Baxter's portrayal as Nora, a complex character, and Ann Sothern's portrayal as the floozy with a heart of gold, make this a nice, decent little movie. I don't think I'd want to own a copy of this film but I'll watch it whenever it comes on because of the aforementioned performances and because I've always loved Raymond Burr, Nat "King" Cole and the song "Blue Gardenia."
Beauty and the Beast (1987)
Perhaps the Best Television Show ever
I found this show by accident one Friday night and became hooked immediately. Here was an intelligent, well-acted program for adults. It was not sexually explicit, nor gratuitously violent. It had something most TV shows do not have: Romance.
Linda Hamilton and Ron Perlman were absolutely perfect together as the beautiful lawyer who lives above and Ron Perlman as the "hideous" beast whose curse is that he is ugly on the outside and who never gets a chance to reveal his inner beauty until he saves Catherine. Knowing how tormented he was because of his deformities was heart-breaking and yet he blossomed as he and Catherine found real love.
Normally, I would be pleased when an actress leaves a show to spend time with her son, as Miss Hamilton did. I'm all for women staying home to be with their children over spending time at a carer; at risk of being hopelessly old-fashioned, I believe women with children should stay home to care for them. However, in this case, it was one of her worst decisions because her marriage to the father of this child fizzled. She later had a child and then married James Cameron of "Titanic" fame, only to lose him to a star of that overblown ocean-going vehicle. She did have success with the Terminator movies but those were nothing but Schwarzenegger fests. Meanwhile B&B also suffered because they just couldn't find a woman to replace Catherine. Diana just didn't have it.
The fact that the show lasted 3 seasons (2 with Miss Hamilton) is a testament to its quality. Of course, we can't have quality on TV - there's not enough T&A, violence, or out and out stupidity (think Jessica Simpson here). But for the 3 years this show was on, it was a real Friday night Feast. And I do thank Mr. Perlman and Miss Hamilton for the years they gave us and I thank Mr. Perlman for the CD of music and poetry from the show. It's still heart-wrenchingly beautiful to listen to Vincent as he narrates works by Matthew Arnold, e.e. cummings and, of course, the King of all poetry, plays and prose, Mr. William Shakespeare.
It would be a miracle if CBS were to air a "reunion" movie but I think there will be a tropical heat wave in the South Pole before that happens. Too bad - it sure beats the stupidity of such shows as The Newlyweds, starring the aforementioned Jessica Simpson, or Reality TV, American Idol and the other slime that passes for decent television. Meanwhile, I'll be content with VHS copies of B&B or I'll wait patiently until the DVDs come out.