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L.A. Law (1986)
There's no better legal drama
I grew up watching L.A. Law as a teenager in the 1980s, right through to 'Finish Line' in 1994. It had so many elements that drew me to it, including the story lines that focused both in the professional & personal lives of the characters. The acting was rock-solid and most of the characters believable, and thoroughly human. In particular, these were Michael Kuzak, Grace Van Owen, Victor Sifuentes, Benny Stulwicz (the role that earned 'Darkman' Larry Drake an Emmy), Leland McKenzie, Ann Kelsey & Stuart Markowitz. Memorable episodes included the one where Benny goes before Judge Richard Lobel (Stanley Grover) to exercise his right to vote, one in which Jonathan Rollins (Blair Underwood) cross-examines an ethically bankrupt financial adviser (Richard Masur) into a fatal heart attack, one in which Grace prosecutes a gang member for a prison guard's murder then is targeted herself, one in which the despicable Rosalind Shays (Diana Muldaur) falls to her death in an open elevator shaft, and the Earl Williams trial in which Kuzak squares off against A.D.A. Margaret Flanagan (played by Veronica Cartwright of 'Alien' fame).
In later years, some of the characters came & went (as with any series); some of the new ones (such as A.D.A. Tommy Mullaney, Jane Galloway, C.J. Lamb & A.D.A. Zoey Clemmons) were quite likable, while others (Susan Bloom, Frank Kittridge) bordered on loathsome. The original characters were what really held the series together and made it so popular. Some of today's well- known actors (Larry Drake of 'Darkman' and Dann Florek of 'Law & Order' and 'Law & Order:SVU') got their big start with supporting roles in this series.
20 years after it ended its run, L.A. Law still has a popular following. It is beginning to see a DVD release now and here's hoping we see a complete series release. If any show is deserving of a widespread DVD release, this is it.
'Heartland' is trash; a smarmy soap opera with nice looking horses thrown in
My family is absolutely HOOKED on 'Heartland', as my young daughter rides horses. It seems this is the only show they watch right now, and they have seasons 1-6. Both my wife & daughter seem to be crazy about Ty, for reasons that escape me. Even my wife's mother thinks this show is heaven-sent. Despite my family's pleas, however, I absolutely refuse to watch it - it is nothing more than a lot of smarmy, sentimental rubbish with some nice animals & scenery thrown in. It is a long-running 'chick flick', in my wife's own words, which probably explains why I don't find anything positive about this series.
I don't find a single one of the human characters to be anyone I can identify with; I find them all genuinely dysfunctional. The horses are the only actors remotely decent in this series.
I'm not trying to change people's opinions with this review; those who love this show, REALLY LOVE it. At the other end of the spectrum are those who detest 'Heartland', and I'm one of them.
The Black Stallion (1979)
Absolutely stunning film, a wonderful animal story
Francis Ford Coppola was a busy man in 1979; his Vietnam War epic 'Apocalypse Now' had been released earlier that year, and he was soon at work on another project - a marvelous story about a boy and an Arabian stallion marooned on a remote island after a shipwreck. That project, of course, was 'The Black Stallion' - often considered Coppola's 'forgotten child' of 1979.
Some of Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' crew also worked on 'The Black Stallion'; namely producers Fred Roos & Tom Sternberg and Coppola's father Carmine, who wrote the beautiful, moving score that surrounds the film. For direction, Coppola handed over the director's chair to Carroll Ballard, whose very capable hand made this film absolutely stunning.
The story is well known, from Walter Farley's classic novel - a young boy, who escapes a shipwreck off North Africa with a horse he had helped rescue, bonds forever with the animal after they are washed up on an island. After being rescued the two return to the United States, where Alec keeps the beautiful horse in his backyard. When an innocent garbage man triggers a fear in the horse's mind, the animal escapes to a farm owned by a former jockey & horse trainer, Henry Dailey. When young Alec follows the horse to the barn, he asks Dailey if there's ever a way to learn to ride him. Dailey is skeptical at first; the horse is considered wild, and no papers exist. He does, however, start teaching Alec the ways of riding, and they are soon making runs with the horse - now known as 'The Black' - on a racetrack. The day comes when Dailey shows the horse to a reporter, who promotes the animal as a 'Mystery Horse' to challenge the country's fastest Thoroughbreds in a race. Alec will ride The Black in the challenge match - to a triumphant finish...
The photography is absolutely spectacular; most of the island shots (done in Sardinia) are made with no dialogue, which some have called 'meaningful silence', with only Carmine Coppola's soundtrack in the background - piano chords as the horse kills the cobra and a spectacular trumpet fanfare as Alec looks up at The Black standing on a cliff. Great care was taken to make the city shots (done in Toronto) realistic; the racetrack shots especially reflect this. The costumes and vehicles are authentic for the period - this was especially true on race day when The Black goes up against the 2 thoroughbreds.
Unfortunately, this great work was largely ignored by AMPAS at that year's Academy Awards; this is absolutely shameful as this photography rivals that of Coppola's 'Apocalypse Now' from the same year.
All around, this is one of the finest family movies ever made. I saw it when I was around 8 in the theater and did not see it again until I was about 39, when I showed it to my little girl (who loves horses). I give it an 8/10.
Equal Justice (1990)
Another series cancelled too soon - deserves a DVD release
'Equal Justice' was a great series that focused on the professional & personal lives of a group of attorneys in the Pittsburgh D.A.'s office. It included George DiCenzo (who is well suited to playing lawyers) as D.A. Arnold Bach, Cotter Smith as A.D.A. Gene Rogan (who ran against him), Kathleen Lloyd (Magnum, P.I.) as Rogan's wife Jessie, Jane Kazcmarek (Malcolm in the Middle) as Linda Bauer (chief of the sex crimes unit), Debrah Farentino as Julie Janovich, Joe Morton (Terminator 2, Speed) as Mike James, and a young Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) as Jo Ann Harris. It also starred Jon Tenney as a defence lawyer, James Wilder, and Barry Miller as an obnoxious A.D.A.
The show focused on themes prevalent in real life today; gang violence, drug-dealing, racism & sexism. It also showed them in a way that made them tangible & realistic to the audience. In addition to the courtroom & legal offices, it also depicted the personal lives of most of the characters, especially Chris (James Wilder) and his romance with a female police officer, Gene & Jessie Rogan's marriage, and Linda's & Jo Ann's home lives. Barry Miller plays an obnoxious attorney whose antics towards Julie (Farentino) could be considered sexual harassment today; they even could have been then.
Sadly, this great series was cancelled after only 2 seasons despite a fine cast and great stories in the episodes. Part of the problem likely was that the show was competing with 'L.A. Law', the relatively new 'Law & Order', and 'Matlock', the latter of which was far inferior to Equal Justice.
While there are video streaming sites carrying it, these are not available to anyone outside the United States. This series deserves a DVD release. It only lasted 2 seasons so it should be possible to release the complete series on DVD.
underrated thriller about a terrorist hitting places you don't expect!
I remember seeing part of this little gem when it came out on TV around 1985. Unfortunately, I didn't see it again until about 1997 when I found a copy on VHS. This one isn't a true disaster film; it's more of a suspense/thriller/mystery. I was actually quite impressed with this flick about a terrorist/extortionist targeting rollercoasters and the innocent people on them.
The film opens on a pier, with a young 20-something man (the villain) watching a maintenance man walk up a roller-coaster called 'The Rocket' in Virginia. He then disguises himself as a maintenance man, and plants a bomb for remote-detonation on the tracks. Later that night, when the park opens, he re-visits the park, watching as the roller-coaster loads up. We see him stealthily take a remote detonator from his coat, then detonate the small explosive. The track is damaged on a turn, and when the roller-coaster hits the spot, horror ensues. Cars crash through the rails; bodies are thrown from the cars; and one car falls off a roof & lands upside-down on top of its passengers.
An amusement park inspector named Harry Calder, who had inspected that coaster only 2 months before, is called in to investigate. He soon discovers it was the work of a terrorist, and rules out structural failure. It isn't long before the bomber strikes again, this time in Pittsburgh, causing a fire that destroys a ride but everyone escapes safely. When the bomber threatens the owners of 5 different parks with a simultaneous attack against their rollercoasters unless his $1-million ransom is met, Harry suggests calling in the FBI, which his bosses do. Harry is also tasked by the terrorist to deliver the ransom, to be dropped at an amusement park. Led all over the park by the bomber, Harry makes the drop, but the money has been marked in defiance of the bomber's orders, and the fiend vows revenge - this time at a major park in California! Harry suspects that his target will be the Revolution roller-coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain, and his bosses reluctantly allow him to go to the park & try to stop the bomber. The fiend places another bomb on the tracks, but the FBI discovers it & disarms the bomb. Enraged, the fiend buys a ticket for the Revolution's inaugural ride, and plants a second bomb in the last car of the train.
Harry soon catches up to the bomber, who tells him that the bomb is in the last car. Unable to stop the train (it had climbed over the hill), the FBI jams the remote frequency for the detonator, foiling the bomber's plans. The fiend tries to use Harry as a human shield, but that fails when Harry shoots him in the leg. A wild chase ensues as the bomber runs through the hills around the roller-coaster, not realizing he is going in circles that lead back to one place - Harry. The fiend climbs up on the Revolution's track, spots Harry, and freezes, not seeing the roller-coaster coming from behind. The bomber is killed on impact when he is hit by the roller-coaster.
I was quite impressed with the visual effects of the original roller-coaster crash; I've read that some of the more graphic scenes were supposedly edited out, but all the same, it did convey a chilling scene when the cars go flying out of control. The sheer terror that would be felt is unimaginable: there is no way to protect yourself, no way to stop it, and no apparent help at hand.
The story is one that isn't impossible; in fact, especially today the potential for a real-life version of this exists (even remotely). The acting isn't all that bad; the bomber (Bottoms) is especially chilling for such a simple character - he just wants MONEY, $1-million of it. Henry Fonda also turns in a stellar performance as an FBI man in charge of the investigation. Harry Guardino (best known for his roles in the 'Dirty Harry' movies) has a smaller but effective role as one of Harry's bosses.
Not a bad movie, certainly worth seeing. I give this one 8/10 for a good story & exciting visual effects (by 1977 standards).
The Irish Rovers (1971)
These guys were fantastic, let's see them on DVD
I was very small when the Irish Rovers' TV show was running on the CBC, but I can still remember seeing them. Those guys knew how to put on a great show. In addition to the music, I can still remember the comedy sequences featuring Jimmy, George & Will in the guise of wily, mischievous leprechauns. Most of all I can still remember a sequence where a group of Irish dancers joined them in the studio, when Anne Murray was a guest on their show in her early days, and a show that featured them back in their home sweet home - Ireland, singing 'Lord of the Dance' in the Glendalough monastic site - a site that I visited almost 30 years later when I went to Ireland! It still looked as marvelous as it had when they filmed that episode. I also was lucky enough to see them live - at Will Millar's last appearance with them in March of 1995. Even 40 years after they started performing, I still have a special feeling for these guys & their songs. I would love to see at least 1 or 2 of the seasons released on DVD. Think about it, CBC - it might appeal to a whole new group of people!
I Can Make You Love Me (1993)
Excellent, accurate retelling of a frightening true story
I first saw this little gem in 1994 when it came out on TV. After finding it on Amazon under the title 'Stalking Laura', I read about the true story surrounding the events of this movie. Richard Thomas is brilliantly convincing as the psychopathic, unstable Richard Farley (though he looks nothing like the real Richard Farley). His performance as Farley shatters the wholesome image most people remember him for, as 'John-Boy' in 'The Waltons'. Brooke Shields is somewhat effective as his victim Laura Black; she is not a weak-kneed, helpless victim. She fights back against his harassment, first through the company, and then through the courts. For those not familiar with the story, here's a little about it.
Richard Farley is a software engineer for KEI, a Silicon Valley technical defense contractor. Laura Black is a new graduate from UC Davis who is starting work there. On her first day she meets Farley innocently while being orientated by Chris, her supervisor. Farley asks her out, and Laura turns him down. But Farley will not take NO for an answer & begins showing up everywhere - at her aerobics classes, while she is filling her car, even taunting her at company softball games. He also employs tricks to get her address, and breaks into her office to see her application for security clearance & finds out the names & locations of her family. When Laura continues to spurn him, he threatens to go after her sisters or mother. Laura goes to the company's HR division, who initially do not take her seriously until Farley threatens Laura while she is out with her girlfriends. Farley subsequently threatens the HR people & is fired. But that does not stop the harassment and Laura is forced to turn to the courts for a restraint order (as it is holding her back at work). Unfortunately, it turns out to be the trigger that sends Farley over the top. He marches into his old workplace carrying an armory of guns & ammunition, and savagely murders 7 former co-workers. Though she is wounded, Laura manages to escape, and Farley eventually surrenders after speaking to a hostage negotiator. He is now on death row in San Quentin.
This movie parallels quite closely the events of the actual case. Most of the scenes in the movie are ones that actually occurred, including Farley's threats to the HR people and the horrifying mass-murder at his old firm. Overall, a very well-made TV movie, much better than most of the TV movies popular in the 1990s.
Really its own movie more than a remake
Rob Zombie's remake of Carpenter's 1978 classic 'Halloween' has screen writing that you might expect from Rob Zombie, but the way the story of Michael Myers is told in this one is considerably different from John Carpenter's.
It begins with a 10-year-old Michael Myers, growing up in a home with a stepfather who is at best neglectful & possibly abusive, a mother who works as a stripper, and a sister who despises him. Young Michael develops psychopathic tendencies early on, torturing smaller animals & photographing them. He gets into a fight at school with 2 young toughs, and the hideous photos as well as a cat corpse are discovered in Michael's schoolbag. Dr. Samuel Loomis is called in to assess Michael, who leaves the school before he can be seen.
Here the differences in Zombie's & Carpenter's versions become clearer. Michael's first homicide is not his sister in this version but rather the lead bully, whom Michael beats to death with a tree limb. On Halloween night, it is not just Judith Myers who meets a terrible end, but also Michael's neglectful stepfather and Judith's boyfriend.
Michael is incarcerated at Smith's Grove sanitarium, and while his mother is visiting he brutally murders a nurse. Realizing her whole family is virtually gone & Michael is beyond help, his mother kills herself with a revolver, leaving her infant daughter - Laurie Strode - behind.
Fast-forward to 15 years later, when Michael savagely murders several people in his escape from Smith's Grove. The homicides are incredibly violent & brutal, more or less what you expect from Rob Zombie. Now, 3 teen aged schoolgirls - including Danielle Harris of Halloween 4 & 5 - become potential targets of Michael's homicidal rampage. Some of the scenes are almost identical to Carpenter's (Bob's impaling on a door) while others never appeared in Carpenter's version (the murders of the Strodes & Dr. Loomis).
Basically it's what one might expect from Rob Zombie although it tries to be a little more cerebral in telling the story of how Michael Myers became a walking machine of destruction & misery. Like the character of Leatherface in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre films, this one shows that you can make a child into a monster. Knowing that Halloween fans would react badly to a word-for-word-type remake of Carpenter's classic, Zombie has essentially tried to make this one its own movie, in a way comparable to Zack Snyder's 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead.
The return of 'Evil on 2 legs'.....and what a return it is
I was only vaguely familiar with the storyline of 'Halloween' as I had never seen any of them when this one came out in October 1988. At age 17 I was hugely interested in it, and went to see it one day in the middle of the week at a downtown theater.
It is October 30, 1988 - 10 years after the murder of 16 residents of Haddonfield, IL by an escaped psychopath. In the middle of the night, an ambulance makes its away along the road from Smith's Grove to the Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium where Michael Myers has been housed for the last 10 years. Soon, the monster of Halloween 1 & 2 is on his way to another institute, and comes to life inside the ambulance. He brutally murders the ambulance crew & heads towards Haddonfield - again.
Young Jamie Lloyd, Myers' niece, has been adopted by the Carruthers family. She is tormented by a nightmare involving her evil uncle, in a terrifying sequence which the audience does not know is a dream (at first). It isn't long before Dr. Loomis & Dr. Hoffman, head of Ridgemont, are alerted by the state police after the ambulance is found upside-down in a river, destroyed and bloodied by Myers' homicidal violence. Loomis immediately heads for Haddonfield, and encounters Myers at a gas station where 2 other people have been murdered. After Myers blows up Loomis' car, the doctor is forced to hitchhike to Haddonfield as Myers races towards it in a stolen tow truck.
Shortly after, Jamie & her adopted sister Rachel head for a store to buy a Halloween costume. Unknown to them, Myers is already there, and he acquires his coveralls & evil-looking knife. This is a well-filmed, frightening sequence in which Jamie holds up the costume on herself in a mirror, then the image changes to that of a 6-year-old boy who killed his sister 25 years before. Suddenly a dark figure appears behind Jamie, when she turns around she sees Myers pull the frightening pale mask down over his face. Myers moves towards her but quickly retreats from sight after Jamie screams, and he goes to stalk out Jamie's home.
Loomis has reached the sheriff's office, and alerts Sheriff Ben Meeker to Myers' return. Meeker immediately puts the town into a state of curfew so the police can hunt Myers down, and then he & Loomis start looking for Myers themselves. A power failure caused by Myers forces Meeker to call the state troopers in following the savage murders of a group of officers by Myers, and a group of shotgun-toting truckers led by a man named Earl start going after Myers themselves. When the sheriff leaves to try to stop them, Myers goes after Jamie & Rachel in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse. It will end in a nail-biting confrontation between Myers & Earl's men - and the most frightening twist ending I have ever seen in a horror movie!
The late Donald Pleasance, as usual, plays the role of Dr. Loomis brilliantly - as a man who has not only seen the evil incarnate that makes up Michael Myers but also dares to confront it. Ellie Cornell as Rachel & Danielle Harris as Jamie are also excellent as the 2 young ladies who find themselves the unwilling targets of Michael Myers' homicidal mission. George P. Wilbur is seen but not heard as the stomping, savage Michael Myers - a role he plays so well because of his slow-but-deliberate, lumbering presence.
Director Dwight H. Little wanted to make this a huge return for Michael Myers following Halloween 3 (which did not feature the characters of 1 & 2), and he has succeeded! This is one of the best in the franchise.
A masterpiece in historical accuracy as well as screen writing
When I saw James Cameron's Titanic on its opening day in 1997, I remember overhearing a woman explaining to her 2 daughters, 'The Titanic was a real ship and real people died on it', so they would not become totally caught up in the love story of Jack & Rose. I had first read about the legendary Titanic when I was about 10 years old, but I had no idea just how horrible the real disaster has been until reading Walter Lord's 'A Night to Remember' and seeing the 1959 B & W movie based on that book. When Dr. Robert Ballard found the Titanic's resting place in 1985 the world's interest was re-opened in the story, and Cameron's massive undertaking to retell the story of that fatal night in April 1912 was a success on any scale.
I was mostly interested in the historical aspects of the story, and was not disappointed. Cameron's research into the ship's design, the passenger list (especially 1st-class), the costumes, right down to the last detail on the 1st-class china, is minute. It was SO close to the historical accuracy as detailed by Walter Lord (and later by Robert Ballard) that one could have easily believed they were actually there.
Cameron's use of a love story featuring people at opposite ends of the spectrum (Rose, the dignified 1st-class girl and Jack, the impoverished steerage passenger) makes for an interesting element in the story. Though the story focused largely on their own experiences I don't think it detracted from the movie's historical accuracy. We often see Rose & Cal Hockley interacting with such real-life passengers as J.J. Astor, Ben Guggenheim, Molly Brown & the Countess of Rothes. It also focused well on Jack's experiences in steerage which were probably similar to those of many steerage-class passengers, who often found themselves trapped below decks in a ship that was rapidly filling with water.
Some of the more interesting historical elements were cut & later released on the deluxe DVD edition; one shows Capt. Smith calling for the boats to standby close to the ship and Q.M. Hitchens (in Molly Brown's boat) ignoring the order. Also missing was the well-known scene of Macy's Department Store owners Isidor & Ida Strauss, which showed Mrs. Strauss insisting on remaining with her husband right until the end. (They are seen while 'Nearer My God to Thee' is playing, in their cabin as water rushes in on the floor.) Another missing scene which was understandably cut showed little Cora Caldwell (Jack's dance partner in steerage) and her family trapped by a locked gate with water rising behind them.
Jack's ultimate fate was that of most steerage passengers; he died of hypothermia well before the arrival of the only rescue ship. Rose only survived because she managed to improvise a life raft on a floating piece of the Grand Staircase. She could have become one more of the small number of 1st-class women & children who did not survive (the only others were Mrs. Strauss, Mrs. H.J. Allison and her little daughter, Lorraine).
Depending on how one wants to see it, this movie is either a grand love story against a backdrop of imminent doom, or a historically accurate movie with a love story as the background. Either way, Jim Cameron's masterpiece will long stand as one of movie history's greatest achievements. It could have been a colossal flop, but because so much planning had gone into it to make it as historically accurate as well as creating a story people would want to follow, it has succeeded beyond even Cameron's expectations. Well done James!