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as an American spy, Jason Jones wants to know why Maziar Bahari's country is so scary, 7 December 2016

I've never read any of the Eloise books. I can only say that "Eloise at the Plaza" is unlikely to appeal to anyone over the age of thirteen. What caught my attention was the brief appearance of Jason Jones, best known as a correspondent on "The Daily Show".* His wife Samantha Bee now hosts "Full Frontal" on TBS.

What I concluded from this movie is that there's no way to stop spoiled rich kids from doing out-of-control things. This is known as affluenza: someone with an overly coddled upbringing develops no sense of responsibility. A teenager in Texas was drinking and driving and killed some people in the process, but got a light sentence on an affluenza defense.

So, if you're interesting in seeing some of the cast members, you might be impressed. The cast includes Julie Andrews, Jeffrey Tambor and Christine Baranski (Leonard's mom on "The Big Bang Theory"). Otherwise only the tykes will enjoy it.

*Jason Jones was the one who interviewed Iranian journalist Maziar Bahari. As a joke, he called himself an American spy who wanted to know why Iran was so scary, and Bahari noted that Iran and the US had a lot in common, namely an enemy in al-Qaeda. Iran's government mistakenly thought that Jones was an actual spy and imprisoned Bahari. Jon Stewart's movie "Rosewater" was about this.

the U-2 incident was one of the sketchiest ever, 7 December 2016

People in the 21st century might not be that familiar with the U-2 incident (a US spy plane got shot down over the Soviet Union and the pilot got arrested). If Steven Spielberg's "Bridge of Spies" is a good introduction. Indeed, one of the most important scenes is when Jim Donovan (Tom Hanks) explains that he is defending Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance) because the Constitution says that even the people charged with the most heinous crimes deserve equal protection under the law; this scene is just as relevant during the so called War on Terrorism, which is now likely to go supernova under a Trump presidency.

But there was another side to the U-2 incident. Eisenhower was planning a summit with the leaders of the UK, France and the USSR, in the hope of easing Cold War tensions. The U-2 spy plane got shot down right before the summit was to take place, and the summit got canceled. It looks as though the plane got sent over the USSR to deliberately sabotage the summit, as the US hardliners didn't want an easing of Cold War tensions. This makes clear why Ike warned about the military industrial complex.

A previous reviewer complained that the movie didn't emphasize things that were representative of the era, like cars or music. I interpreted the absence of these things to mean that this story is a timeless one, especially the matter of civil liberties in wartime.

I'd say that Rylance deserved his Oscar win.

Burlesque (2010/I)
it's a lonely stretch to stardom, 6 December 2016

Steven Antin's "Burlesque" has a routine plot - small town girl moves to Hollywood, hoping to make it big - and some interesting musical numbers, but overall the movie is hard to recommend. Probably because it makes everything look too easy. I personally thought that Stanley Tucci's character was the most interesting one in the movie, and I also liked Alan Cumming's character. I found the rest of the characters clichéd, and the movie generally seemed like something that I've seen many times on the screen. Your time would be better spent watching something else. Hell, if you're looking for a Cher movie, there's always "Silkwood", "The Witches of Eastwick" and "Tea with Mussolini".

PS: Steven Antin played the jock in "The Goonies"

concept of the past, music of the present, genre of the future, 6 December 2016

The first talkie to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards has an oft-used plot - people try to become famous amid complications - but it's not a bad movie. I'm not a fan of musicals, and many things about "The Broadway Melody" come across as dated. I guess that one has to try and imagine watching the movie when it first got released. It got released before the Hays Code got established, so some of the scenes look a bit risqué for the era (it even feels silly to write that sentence in an era when one can simply look for porn on the internet). The movie's a mildly fun look at 1920s music.* Most notably, the movie ushered in decades of musicals. Some of the musicals are among the most irritating movies.

Anyway, this movie's okay just as long as you don't interpret it as the most serious type of movie. Accept it as plain old entertainment and you'll probably like it. As for me, my favorite movies from old Hollywood are gangster movies, horror movies, and slapstick comedies (especially the Looney Tunes cartoons).

*Nowadays, probably the most famous 1920s song is "Midnight, the Stars and You", which featured prominently in "The Shining".

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
chemistry in a cynical world, 5 December 2016

Some years after writing for "The X Files", Vince Gilligan created a show. I only saw scattered episodes of "Breaking Bad" during its run, but I finally got around to binge-watching the first season. Bryan Cranston puts on one of the most chilling performances in TV history as a terminally ill teacher who turns to manufacturing crystallized methamphetamine to support his family. Basically, the show is about moral ambiguity and how actions have consequences. Indeed, each episode adds a new complication.

When I first read about the show during its run, I saw a picture of Bryan Cranston with a beard, glasses, and a shaved head. Having known him as the dad on "Malcolm in the Middle", he looked unrecognizable in that photo. But he's proved himself to be a truly versatile actor in the past few years, with roles in "Contagion", "Argo", "Godzilla", and "All the Way" (as Lyndon Johnson).

In the meantime, this show will offer some of the most unusual chemistry lessons. Outstanding show. It deserved every award that it won.

I wonder if Vince Gilligan has ever gotten comments about "Gilligan's Island".

Listen and Yule hear a story..., 5 December 2016

I understand that "Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love" is based on something that happened early in Dolly Parton's life. It tells the story of how little Dolly and her siblings, growing up dirt-poor in rural Tennessee, made some extreme sacrifices to get their mother a gift one Christmas. Parton herself co-stars as a sort of guardian angel to the young Dolly. I was surprised to see that the director is Stephen Herek, who has directed movies as different as "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" and "Mr. Holland's Opus".

It's not any sort of masterpiece, but I liked how it affirmed that despite the numerous hardships, this was a close, loving family. Dolly Parton is one person who makes clear that not all rural people are ignorant yahoos. As she once said: "I may be a country bumpkin, but at least I'm a smart country bumpkin."

converge on tragedy, 4 December 2016

I had never heard of Tony Kushner's AIDS-themed play before Mike Nichols's TV adaptation aired. I didn't manage to see it when it aired, but I finally got around to seeing it. "Angels in America" is a masterpiece. It's basically a hyperlink story about several individuals who have connections to the spread of AIDS. I found the most fascinating part of the story to be the focus on Roy Cohn (Al Pacino). The erstwhile aide to Joe McCarthy lies dying and is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg (Meryl Streep), whom Cohn helped execute. One can see a definitive link between the reactionary views of the McCarthyites and those of the Reaganites, especially in their views of LGBT people.

This is a miniseries that everyone should see. The part about Cohn and Rosenberg, along with the relationship between a Jewish man and his AIDS-afflicted WASP partner, the angel, the closeted Mormon and his Valium-addicted wife (plus his mother), and the friend who links the different groups together amount to one of the most powerful stories ever put on stage and screen. It deserved every award that it won.

PS: As it turns out, Cohn also worked with a young Donald Trump. Trump's upcoming presidency means that we're likely to see more of the sorts of things that "Angels in America" depicts.

Terminator meets Edna Purviance meets Baby Doll, 3 December 2016

Ivan Reitman's "Kindergarten Cop" delivers what it promises. I had actually seen the end of it on TV when I was little (starting where the kids learn never to talk to strangers). Now that I've seen the whole thing, I can affirm that it's an excuse for Arnold Schwarzenegger to be a tough guy and for the kindergartners to be silly. If you don't expect anything profound then you won't be disappointed.

The reason why I watched it was because I read that Carroll Baker co-starred in it. I wanted to see what it was like for the woman known as Baby Doll (from Elia Kazan's film adaptation of Tennessee Williams's play) to co-star with the man known as the Terminator. She played the last kind of role that I would've expected someone like her to play. The other main cast member is Penelope Ann Miller, who's appeared in assorted movies over the years (Other People's Money, Chaplin, Carlito's Way, The Artist).

Basically, the movie doesn't pretend to be anything that it isn't.

Is it coming true?, 3 December 2016

Despite the obvious mistakes, "The World, the Flesh and the Devil" is still a movie that you should see. Unlike most of the post-apocalyptic movies, this one features no supernatural threats. The only threats are the three survivors. Coal mine inspector Ralph Burton (Harry Belafonte), lone woman Sarah Crandall (Inger Stevens) and sailor Ben Thacker (Mel Ferrer) converge and try to coexist, but tension is bound to arise. Not surprisingly, Burton's skin color becomes an issue.

Many movies have dealt with the potential of a nuclear holocaust. Donald Trump's ascension to power makes it even more likely. In fact, the day before the election, Harry Belafonte wrote an article in The New York Times titled "What Do We Have to Lose? Everything". Now that looks likely. It's good to know that Belafonte will be one of the people fighting for justice every step of the way.

As for the other cast members, I know that Mel Ferrer was married to Audrey Hepburn at the time. Inger Stevens was one of the numerous blonde bombshells on the screen (unfortunately, she died of a drug overdose at 35). Meanwhile, producer George Englund was married to Cloris Leachman at the time and later directed the Marlon Brando movie "The Ugly American".

Anyway, I recommend the movie.

4 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
the expanding world of Harry Potter, 2 December 2016

J. K. Rowling added a new dimension to the Harry Potter universe with a story about the author of one of Harry's textbooks. "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them" depicts eccentric wizard Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) in New York City in 1926. A mishap gives Newt a few unplanned adventures amid the supernatural occurrences plaguing the city. And there are a few references that should catch people's attention. Overall, from what I could tell, the movie makes a point about discrimination and witch-hunting (and the laws against wizards marrying non-wizards is probably an allusion to the infamous anti-miscegenation laws).

But most importantly, it's a fun movie. As in the original series, each of the characters has something to contribute. David Yates, who directed a couple of the Harry Potter movies, does a good job here.

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