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Lark Rise to Candleford (2008)
Highly enjoyable, light-hearted series
"Lark Rise to Candleford" was an unexpected pleasure to watch for my wife and I over the past several months, and we are sad that we have no more episodes to enjoy. We came across the series after getting interested in "Downton Abbey", and I was pleased to find in "Larkrise" a period-piece show which was relatively free of intense drama (my wife likes "calm" shows).
The series chronicles life in two neighboring English towns around the late-nineteenth century: the smaller, agrarian Larkrise, and the slightly larger and more commercial town of Candleford. While the series' initial focus is on the activities of Larkriser Laura, who moves to Candleford to work at the post office, it eventually becomes an ensemble cast show which brings us a touching view of many aspects of life during this time. We watch as romantic relationships grow and falter, as happiness is gained and destroyed, and as human nature reveals its better and worse sides. Issues such as poverty, neglect of family, and temptation with money are dealt with courageously, and modernist issues - such as sexual ones - are thankfully virtually absent from this show.
In the end, the pleasure of watching this show is in seeing life in a simpler time and a simpler place. I almost hope they come out with a U.S. adaptation of this show, just so I could watch more episodes; however, this could very well be a let down since the British version is so good on its own.
I gave 9/10 stars as the show is a joy to watch in its story development, characters, and the scenery is beautiful. I do admit, though, that Season 1 is rather slow moving for the first few episodes, and it may be a struggle to stay interested early on. Yet if you stay with the show, you will be rewarded with four seasons of touching drama.
Fratello sole, sorella luna (1972)
Moving story covering the general life of St. Francis of Assisi
I first saw this movie in the mid-1990s just before a trip to Assisi and decided to watch it again recently. What I did not catch the first time around was the cultural lens through which Zafrelli must have shot the film in the early 70s. It was all too apparent to me now. The movie has a heavy dose of flower power feel to it, with the fields of flowers, halcyonic nature images, and social justice messages sprinkled throughout. At one point when Clare runs through a field I had a flashback to "Little House on the Prairie". Be aware of this, and take it with a grain of salt.
Despite the dating of the film, the message it contains is so strong that it "turns the tables" on our modern values in life and impacts us in ways that movies don't usually do. In this regard, the movie is quite remarkable. You see Francis begin with his conversion from a Crusader-of-the-world to a person wholly dissatisfied with material belongings and the ways of contemporary life. The life Francis begins to lead, and the message he then lives out, is so radical to Assisi of the 11th century (not to mention to our own times) that he is thought of as "mad". Nevertheless, to us Francis makes too much sense. Some of the most remarkable scenes in the movie when his infectious message overcomes friend after friend, all of whom decide to join him in his simple way of life in love of God. It is indeed in Francis' transformation, and the transforming effect he has on others, that makes the film so moving.
I think it has been pointed out that the movie is a somewhat fictionalized version of the life of St. Francis of Assisi, and the movie only covers the important years of interior conversion he experienced rather than his later life. I should also point out that the overly-dramatized acting (check out the overly-slow gestures the characters tend to make at times) eliminates an aspect of realism from the story. But as a movie reflecting the basic message and youthful life of St. Francis, it is quite moving. The impressive medieval filming location, the ornate costumes, and the landscape scenery add to the Middle Ages feel of the time and help bring us closer to the authentic life of the Saint.
Eve's Christmas (2004)
Enjoyable romantic Christmas movie
This is an interesting Christmas movie which combines stories of regret, second chances, and choosing love over worldly success. Not expecting much when I started watching, I was pleasantly surprised by the heart-warming story which sort of hit home for me.
Eva is a woman who had success in life except in the area of love because of a single decision she made eight years ago. Choosing a job over her fiancé, she left the warm confines of Oregon in 1996 for the fast-paced marketing world in Manhatten. On Christmas 2004, she's given a chance to change things with the help from her "Guardian Angel", who lets her go back in time and to the place where she made the decision to break off her engagement.
The most enjoyable parts of the movie involve Eva's experiences with her friends, family, and fiancé during her period of "deja vu". As nostalgic person myself, I though the story of her getting the chance to relive her younger years to be quite special and warming. Having gained eight years of knowledge and the realization of what's important in life, Eva was able to overcome her past foolishness and poor decision-making to create a new life which valued the more important things in life.
I also thought it was interesting how the storyline takes advantage of the year. Since e-commerce was just beginning in 1996, Eva has the revolutionary idea of helping her fiancé bring his family's business online. As a web designer, I wish I could go back in time and do the same thing!
That said, the storyline had areas that were a bit too incredible, thereby bringing the quality of the movie down a bit. Further, the story was not entirely original, as the same story can be seen in other Christmas movies such as "Family Man" and "It's a Wonderful Life". Nevertheless, if you want an unsurprising yet romantic and positive story to see during the holidays, this movie will fit the bill.
Solid series, now a classic
MacGyver was a series that I began watching during the mid-1980s while in grade school. Working for the enigmatic "Phoenix Foundation", MacGyver travels the globe on seemingly philanthropic missions of helping the poor or unfortunate, or perhaps working on some other charitable task. Sometimes the storyline takes place against a relevant backdrop for the time, such as Cold War politics or the Los Angeles gang scene. Like a charm, tension arises during the course of the show which requires MacGyver to rise to the challenge and finally defeat the baddies by the time the episode ends. This usually entails his escape from some sort of physical confinement and/or blowing stuff up with bombs made from pinecones, swamp gas, or household cleaning agents. In some episodes he becomes romantically involved with some temporary female character, though I believe these always stay within the bounds of general good taste. In other episodes he teams up with his circle of regular character friends, such as Bruce McGill as Jack Dalton, Dana Elcar as the Phoenix Foundation's Pete Thornton, or even Teri Hatcher of pre-Desperate Housewives fame. Whatever the episode, the show brought together enough action and adventure, science and engineering, romance, and interesting characters to make it worthy to enter the national consciousness - at least for guys who were but adolescent boys at the time.
Having watched some episodes now in my adult life, the show naturally looks a bit dated (notably with Mac's hockey player mullet common to the 80s). The acting is not all that great, particularly with the minor characters and extras. And although the episodes supposedly take place throughout the world, it's a bit unconvincing now; what is supposed to be an orphanage in North Africa looks suspiciously like something that might be found in a suburb in some California/West Coast park. But despite the deficiencies I now recognize, MacGyver is still entertaining. The battle of good against evil - where good always wins, even in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles - is the central theme of the show. The clever "MacGyverisms" - inventions Mac creates to get him out of tough situations - helped give the show a kind of originality which I don't believe has been repeated since. As such, MacGyver was a huge appeal to me as a kid, and even today it can hold my attention enough to keep me entertained for an hour.
Out of Time (2003)
Main question left unanswered (SPOILER)
The adultery aside, I thought this film moved well toward the middle and that some of the dialogue (especially when Denzel is trying to cover his tracks in the office) created a good deal of suspense. Had this suspense continued in a logical manner until the end, I would have enjoyed the movie more.
My main problem, however, is that Denzel's high school sweetheart, with whom he was having an affair, simply turns on him in a twist which was not only unforeseeable to me (the viewer), but also too far-fetched. Soon after that is revealed, ex-wife wants Denzel back, and Denzel wants her back as well. Surely, there was something between the two of them that caused the separation in the first place. How easily Denzel gets over 1) mistresses' attempt to kill him and 2) ex-wife's filing and service of process of divorce papers on him. In the world of make-believe, I suppose that this may flow; in my mind, however, it all seemed a bit too "convenient".