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I really like Denzel, but wish I'd passed on seeing this movie
This movie has a strong cast, headed by one of my favorite actors. After some needless frontal nudity and lurid scenes from the drug underworld, the film gets to the crash sequence that put the bodies into the theater seats. But that is the high point of this story. Afterward, the plot meanders around, detailing the seamy excesses of its main character and doing little else, until it reaches its highly unrealistic, highly unsatisfying climax. I thoroughly disliked Denzel Washington's character, which shows, I guess, what a good job he did, since I like the actor himself very much. But his skill isn't enough to redeem this dud of a story. Halfway through the climactic scene, I realized what was coming, and I felt very much ripped off, as though I'd been treated to a preachy and inferior remake of "Days of Wine and Roses." Gratuitous nudity, f-words, and grungy bathroom scenes notwithstanding, it's still at bottom just a corny endorsement of Alcoholics Anonymous. I cannot recommend this movie.
Well-intentioned, but preachy, and rather clumsily done
Things were changing rapidly in the Sixties, and, as others have suggested, episodes such as this one, in which the citizens of Dodge interacted with members of the various Indian tribes, were probably stand-ins for the show's appreciation of what was happening in the real world of the 1960s in the civil-rights movement. This is not one of the show's better efforts in that area. The wooden language of the young Pawnee (reflecting the writer's effort to depict him as that proverbial Noble Savage) is rather painful. Throughout the show, Matt was always shown as going out of his way to be fair and even-handed with Indians, but in this episode he seems to bend over backwards to befriend the troublesome young man, and there's no real explanation for that. Then there's the climax of the labored episode, in which Matt promises the Pawnee not only that the white man will hang for killing the young man's father, but that the white man knows he will. Did he really have any such assurance that a white jury would vote to convict a white man for the killing of an Indian? Earlier episodes, showing the settlers' undisguised hostility toward any and all Indians (again, always opposed by the noble Matt), certainly wouldn't leave one with that impression. And despite all the patronizing going on, a man with light eyes still played the role of the Pawnee. Some things hadn't changed. Not a favorite episode of this "Gunsmoke" fan.
Gunsmoke: Pa Hack's Brood (1963)
A chance to see "Goober" in a very different role
"Pa Hack's Brood" recycles some of the favorite themes of "Gunsmoke" writers of the early 1960s that were aired in the preceding two seasons: grown men cowed into submission by their fathers ("The Boys," "Harpe's Blood," and others) and shiftless folk who think the easy path to land and riches is to kidnap the unsuspecting prospect and force the person into marriage ("Root Down," "Phoebe Strunk," "Marry Me"). This episode combines the two plots with only so-so results. The final scene of the episode rings false (I was minded of the old line that the person would be likely to last as long as a cockroach in a hen house) and a significant element of the plot is left dangling. Still, I found the episode worthwhile because I was able to see George Lindsey, familiar to most watchers of old television as Goober in the "Andy Griffith Show," in a dramatic role. He's under-appreciated in such roles. To see him in a really chilling role, about as unlike Goober as one could imagine, catch him in the "Alfred Hitchcock Hour"'s "Bed of Roses."
A treat for fans of Ken Curtis
As a fan of Ken Curtis, I liked this one (despite its largely formulaic plot) because we see him in what I think is his last appearance on the show--after his debut as Festus in "Us Haggens" the previous season--as someone other than Festus. Indeed, not only is he not the character who would become the marshal's deputy here, but he's the villain of the piece. He's a true lady's man, a suave cad, as at ease with the ladies as he is attractive to them. His Festus drawl is not heard (it was also considerably less evident in "Us Haggens" than it was to become in the established Festus character) and he even seems to stand taller and to be more good-looking. I liked the rascal so well that it was a pain to realize that he must be dealt with in the Old Testament style so favored by screenwriter John Meston (and no doubt dictated as well by the Hollywood code of the time).
Gunsmoke: Chester's Indian (1962)
One of those "hapless Chester" episodes, with something more
Chester is going to visit his cousin in a town somewhat distant from Dodge for a long-planned, two-week vacation of fishing. Meanwhile, in a town that lies between Dodge and the cousin's place, plain but friendly Callie, daughter of the general storekeeper, longs for a husband but is kept a virtual prisoner by her father. A young Indian man is brought to the store, tethered like a dog, and he and Callie lock glances. The Indian escapes and takes refuge at Callie's house, where she hides him from her father and brother. Just as Chester rides up, seeking to water his horse, the Indian runs out of hiding and tries to vault onto one of Callie's family's horses. Chester shoots him in the shoulder, to stop the theft of the horse, and Callie insists that Chester take the Indian away with him to nurse him back to health. Chester protests, but, being Chester, gives in. Is Callie's feeling for the Indian something more than Samaritanism, and, if it is, will they ride off into the sunset together? Will poor Chester ever get to his fishin' hole? I thought the episode did a fairly honest job of depicting a white woman's love for an Indian at a time (the early 1960s) when television was far more comfortable dealing with a white man's love for an Indian woman. There were some plot holes: Callie has been ordered confined to the house even before Chester shoots the Indian, and her father discovers her gone from home one day when she is out tending him, yet she is still left free to slip away to see him on the succeeding days, with no explanation as to how her absences have been dealt with at home. At the end of the episode, Chester is without a horse, a matter he dismisses as of little consequence, when of course it was a big deal to be left without transportation on the prairie, and horses were expensive, and Chester was unable to save money. Like all the hapless-Chester episodes, this one left me wondering how "Gunsmoke" was able to hold onto Dennis Weaver for nine seasons. I enjoy the show, but "Gunsmoke" left his abilities all but unused. He must have been paid well.
Nothing original here
Yet another variant on the yokel-kidnaps-himself-a-bride plot, this one is typical, trying to be funny but not succeeding; there just isn't much that's funny about being kidnapped. The little lady's oh-so-feminine shrieks of dismay, the kidnapper-swain's indulgent certainty that she's just playing hard to get--it's all standard and all unfunny. A sentimental turn at the lame climax of the story, done to soften up the viewer so that he won't want to see the kidnappers punished, seems forced and is unconvincing. A couple of errors against continuity also bothered me. Kitty is kidnapped wearing the sort of evening garb, complete with dangling earrings and pinned-up hair, that she would have worn in the saloon; after a day or two she is seen in the kidnappers' cabin wearing a pretty but modest daytime dress of the sort a prosperous settler's wife would have worn. Did the kidnappers wait while she packed? It didn't appear so at the time. Also, Doc is shown burning the personal effects of a cholera victim to thwart the spread of the disease; he takes no such precautions when someone else later succumbs to cholera in his presence. Seems like sloppy storytelling in a series I don't associate with sloppiness.
Madea Goes to Jail (2006)
How has this man found an audience for this swill? I was subjected to twotwo!--of these hideous videos as a member of a captive audience (some boor decided to foist his idea of entertainment on everyone who purchased a ticket on a long-distance bus tour). Black man in drag plays loud, intimidating, violent viragoit wasn't funny in 1906, and it isn't funny in 2006. I am baffled and angry that Tyler Perry has resurrected this ugly staple of an unmourned past. There was no plot. (All pretense of a plot simply ceases somewhere in the unending second hour, when unforgivable versions of 1970's soul classics are attempted.) The writing was worthy of a seventh-grader. The platitudes were non-stop. And the cues for the sad attempts at original "songs" were so obvious that I almost wept, because I knew that another assault on my ears was coming. Perry knows his target audience: there was whooping and cheering of violence, particularly the violent punishment of children. There was gyrating in orgiastic delirium at the mere mention of "de Lawd." And where did Perry get the idea that if you scream it loud enough, you need neither poetry, beauty, harmony, nor symmetry? We don't need violent Aunt Jemimas in 2006, and, if you value your history, your intellect, and your hearing, you don't need "Madea."
The Soloist (2009)
Strong performances, unsatisfying story line
I was expecting much from this film and was disappointed. The fault is not that of the two leads, both of whom did well; I enjoyed Robert Downey Jr.'s performance as the reporter, and as the homeless man, Foxx may have earned himself another Oscar nomination. But the plot was lacking. Yes, it's based on a true story, and a glossy traditional Hollywood ending was neither wanted nor possible. But I think the story's focus was wrong. I expected, and wanted, to see the story of a musical prodigy whose talent was lost to mental illness; but this is the reporter's story instead, of his evolution from seeing the homeless man first as a story, then as a project, then as a human being. It's a familiar plot in fiction and non-fiction, and one not particularly well done here. I didn't get enough sense of who Foxx's character was before he landed on the street, of what the decades of his illness had been like, of what he and his talent had meant to his family. And we see almost nothing of his interactions with his peers at Juilliard. Because we don't see much of what his life was like before his descent into schizophrenia, we don't have the powerful sense of loss we should have when we're brought back to the present and see the broken mumbling man guarding his cart full of trash. Instead the film gets caught up in sensationalistic (and admittedly powerful) depictions of the squalor and ruined faces of skid row. But I've seen depictions of homelessness elsewhere. I wanted to know the story of this lost prodigy, and I didn't see it. The film even wastes time on silly touches such as the Downey character's fumbles with his cellphone at the public toilet and his getting coyote urine spilled all over himself as he tries to battle raccoons. Comic relief for adolescent boys, perhaps, but I don't think many of them will be coming to see this movie.
Separate Lies (2005)
Should have stuck with one story
I was pulled into this movie early on, much to my surprise, because I hadn't intended to watch it at all. Now I wish I hadn't. The suspense starts out well, with the hit-and-run resulting in death and the question of whether the guilty character will confess, or be found out, or (doable now, though a no-no in the old days of movie-making) get away with it. The plot's been done before--what plot hasn't--but the tensions inherent in it, with the additional complications and motivations arising out of the illicit love affair, make for an absorbing first half. Then the film abandons the hit-and-run to embark upon a misty exposition of two unrequited, all-suffering loves. The two tracks of plot--hit-and-run and unreasoning love--just don't have enough to do with each other, and that they involve the same characters doesn't bind them enough to justify the departure from the original story line. The screenwriter should have chosen one plot or the other. At the end of the film, in the midst of the movie's second funeral, I found myself thinking, "Now, what does any of this have to do with that hit-and-run?" The filmmakers may think the answer obvious, but I think the movie was plotted and executed flabbily.
Miracle in the Rain (1956)
Makes me wish I believed in miracles
"Miracle in the Rain" is the sort of movie that would make a stone cry. It's also the sort of movie that's unlikely to see the light of day again: a middle-aged, virgin heroine; a squeaky-clean, hands-off hero who woos with the line, "I'll love you till the cows come home all over the world," then goes off to fight a war with just one chaste kiss; unabashed appeals to sentimentalism and invocations of the most literal, unreconstructed religion...it's a movie that sets out to bring out the handkerchiefs and makes no apologies for it. I can't decide whether it's a movie to lift the spirit (because its final message is one of hope) or whether it's so unrealistic that it's a downer, because today's equivalent of the heroine is likely to say, "Yeah, I really would need a miracle to find a man like that. I might as well pack it in!" If you're the type that can smile at corn instead of sneering at it, see this movie. It's as sweet and tender a confection as Hollywood ever produced.