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10/10
Practically Perfect!
6 January 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I saw this at the drive-in in 1978, and loved it. It's one of the best rock and roll movies ever. Another reviewer mentions that this film makes you feel what that era was like, and it's the truth. All the period details are correct, and you can feel the energy of the live performances. It's a wonderful, evocative experience of a film and was criminally neglected when it was released.

Tim McIntire, while not looking much like Freed, inhabited the character so completely he made you believe he was Alan Freed. McIntire never got the respect he deserved in his acting career, and his loss in 1986 was a tremendous blow to the acting profession. I still miss him.

Some of the baddies are broadly caricatured, with no purpose other than to be ridiculous. However, they are completely obliterated by all the real performers, and the actors portraying versions of musical groups from the 1950s/1960s. This is where "American Hot Wax" shines. Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and others perform their own hits, and it's paradise to watch and listen to their performances.

This film needs to be on Bluray/DVD. Whatever musical rights that are stopping it from getting to the fans need to be ironed out. It's been forty years...the film is waiting to be discovered by new fans, and rediscovered by current fans. I'd pay a lot of money for a deluxe Bluray edition; with commentary, extras, the works. Please, get this film out today.
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Hereditary (2018)
1/10
Don't waste your time or money
14 June 2018
Warning: Spoilers
I'm upset I spent money to see this repugnant, repellent junk. If this had been just a drama, it would have been great; a family seemingly under a curse, careening out of control like a family in an ancient Greek play, such as "Orestia". In that, Clytemnestra kills her returning husband, Agamemnon, in revenge for his ritual killing of their daughter, Iphigenia, which kicked off the voyage of the Greeks to rescue Helen, at the start of Trojan War.

The addition of the witchcraft angle was unnecessary. It ruined the bones of a good movie, and it was telegraphed far too early and they filmmakers showed far too much. A mother, rotten to the core, who ruined her daughter's life and that of her kids, doesn't need the witchcraft to be scary.

Toni Collette was wonderful, as was Alex Wolff, but their performances were stuck in a noisome film. There were no scares, there was no nuance, in this film; the theatre I saw it in was silent through the entire running time, and no one was scared. They had Gabriel Byrne, an actor that can rip apart the mesh of a movie at the drop of a hat and make it better, and had him play a man who had no emotions. Horrible film, and horrible use of the actors.
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10/10
Quietly mesmerizing
13 May 2018
Warning: Spoilers
"Personal Shopper" is a miraculous film that in its quiet way wreaks havoc with the viewer's perception. You can never be too sure of what exactly is going on, and more than one viewing is mandatory. If you look away you miss important plot points. A reflective mood is essential for taking in what the movie shows us.

Kristen Stewart is a surviving twin in this story; at the beginning of the film we hear that her brother has died from the congenital heart ailment they both suffer from. In her upper-20's, she's now alone and grieving in Paris; her boyfriend works in IT and is off in Dubai setting up a mega-company's security protocols for an unspecified timeframe. She works as a personal assistant/shopper for a celebrity of some kind; we hear her say she's not happy with the job or her employer, but it's apparently all she could find. Even then, she has to hound her employer to get the money owed to her, and the employer treats her like she's barely visible.

With her entire life on such queasy ground, Stewart is also trying to contact her late brother's spirit. It seems they both had psychic powers and functioned as mediums. They had a pact to try and contact each other, if one of them were to die. She's staying overnight at her brother's house in a rural area outside of Paris, attempting to communicate with him. She comes into contact with an entity in the house, which attacks her with malevolent fury. It is not her brother, though, and she's too scared to go back.

It's at this point that the story seems to veer in another direction, but does it? That is the heart of the movie. As viewers, we are never sure exactly what we are seeing. Events begin to happen quickly, and as I said if you miss a scene it may alter your view of the film. Stewart's character misses many important points in her own story; her inattention to the happenings in her own life affect events in the movie. She may be psychic but she also seems to have a wicked short attention span. Spirits may show themselves, but she's either misinterpreting the signals or missing them alltogether.

I loved this movie; I purchased the Criterion release but didn't see it in the theatre, and I wish I had. As I said it's slow moving and quiet, but momentous things happen. Stewart is absolutely right for the part. She has a knack for looking like she's caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, forever uncertain of what's going on and surprised by it; she's never ahead of the script but always catching up, belatedly reactive. Always running away from her job, Paris, London, and the events that happen to her, she's constantly either arriving or departing. It's the kind of film you have to watch, to know if you like it or not.
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Lou Grant: Ghosts (1982)
Season 5, Episode 10
10/10
Eerie, spooky episode that is one of the best of the series!
12 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Lou Grant" was one of the best series ever made. Most of the episodes are a wonderful example of just how good television can be. "Ghosts" is not the best episode of the series, but it's close.

Billie is investigating the death of a woman, supposedly murdered by her estranged husband by being pushed over an upstairs balcony. The death occurred in their now empty house, which they were trying to sell. The husband is jailed for the murder, but he says he's innocent. Billie then hears that the house is possibly haunted, and the husband says it was an entity in the house that killed his wife.

Billie meets the dead woman's sister at the funeral, who truly believes that there is something going on in that house. Billie goes to the house to do some investigating, and scares away a group of kids in an upstairs room using a Quija board to contact the spirit. Billie tracks them down to ask them about the night of the murder. They don't say much but tell her about one of their female companions who was hurt in almost the same way as the dead woman, in the house. Billie interviews the girl, who says she was pushed from behind while on the stairs of the empty house, which broke her leg. There was no one behind her.

A seance is planned when Billie consults with a psychotherapist who investigates hauntings, which Billie attends. The dead woman's sister attends as well. The seance breaks up when "something" happens. Billie is no longer sure that there is no such thing as a ghost.

Animal goes to the house to take some photos, and is visibly uneasy while taking the photos; he hears noises and rustlings when there is no one about.

The dead woman's sister is doing a tarot reading in the empty house, all by herself, and calls Billie to tell her she's in contact with the spirit and asks her to come to the house. I won't spoil the ending, but it's a good one, with three different reveals. The very last shot in the episode is why I love ghost stories.

This episode is a must if you're interested in ghosts and hauntings, and also "Lou Grant." It's one of the most unusual ghost stories I've seen, and holds it's own with the best of them. Don't miss it. "Lou Grant" is being released on DVD by Shout!, and I highly applaud them for it. Get all five seasons, because there is nary a bad episode in the bunch.
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Tomorrowland (2015)
3/10
Brad Bird let me down
24 May 2015
Warning: Spoilers
Here is the perfect example of a film that is gorgeous to look at but completely empty. Far less experienced filmmakers have created simple, inexpensive films that develop the characters and allow the viewers to create a bond with them, thanks to a good script which is the cornerstone of a great movie. How I wish Brad Bird had put more of the money spent on this film toward a better script to help us care about his characters and their flashy CGI surroundings.

Every bit of the budget is on the screen in this film, and it's virtually hollow emotionally. I had not one second of concern that anyone would be in any danger, and no character made me want to root for them. I can't even express how little this movie affected me. It was 130 minutes of boredom. I was yawning 20 minutes in and never really stopped, and I never fall asleep in a theatre.

The viewer never has a clear picture of what the film is trying to say, and I don't think the filmmakers did either. They must have lost control of this film early in the process or never really had a clear story plot line, unless the studio interfered post-production. The first 2/3rds of the movie all we see is the main female character running around the country until she finds George Clooney. I am a Clooney fan, and when he comes into the picture there is a little more action, but really, there is too much larking about and not enough story development. The problems are not due to the acting. That is fairly decent, but actors can't compensate for a bad script.

The Romper Room-inspired idea of sending robots out to coyly invite the "new idea" people to Tomorrowland is laughingly simplistic and done with all the solemnity of a graduation ceremony. During this scene (while I tried not to hoot in derision at the screen) I was reminded of some of the 1950s sci-fi films where the self-appointed best and brightest blasted off from a doomed planet to start life elsewhere, and leave the vulgar rabble back on Earth to die. The bone-headed writers were implying that only a select few could have an idea that might save mankind, when in reality some of the most truly innovative ideas can come from that "vulgar rabble."

Another reviewer mentions the huge wind turbines that are shown through a portal near the end; the way the film presents this suggests fans are the answer to everything. The reviewer discusses the thousands of birds that get chewed up in them each year; my thoughts exactly as I watched. It's far too trite of a scene to be in a film predicated to be futuristic and worried about life on Earth. A film about Tomorrowland should be thinking beyond wind turbines. It should be cutting edge. The film just parrots the green technology of today without coming up with any new ideas.

It's inexcusable the way the potential this film had was squandered. Thank I can't even summon up enough interest in the film to do a decent review, and it doesn't deserve it. Don't waste your money on it...I wish I could get mine back.
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9/10
A must-see documentary for everyone
26 April 2015
Warning: Spoilers
The only other review on the IMDb for "Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story", gave this documentary a bad review. That review is wrong. While this might not have been the best documentary I've ever seen it is a must-see film for its content, which is brutal and eye opening.

In 1965 Frank de Felitta, who made films for NBC, went to Greenwood, MS to see if the Civil Rights movement had had any impact on the deep South. In the original film Booker Wright is shown discussing how he makes it through his day, and how he had hope for his children but not for himself. It was broadcast once or twice in 1965, then never shown again. The granddaughter of Booker Wright, Yvette Johnson, went looking for the original film, and some answers on her grandfather and his activism. Raymond de Felitta, Frank's son, contacted her. They worked on this documentary to bring Booker's story to a wider audience.

A lot of that original film makes its way into this new documentary. The footage of KKK members talking to crowds of whites in Greenwood in the early 1960s, all about how they're being subjugated and put down by all the other races, are disgusting and disturbing. The footage of Greenwood, MS town leaders, and of course they're all white, talking about how much they love their black people and are not racist, is chilling. Every one of the guys around the table, including the mayor, look like they just came from the KKK rally, and act like it. They all have dead eyes with no feeling in them.

What this film does is show how hard it was to be a black person in Mississippi after slavery was abolished and keep your dignity and your life. It showed in a lot of ways black people were still kept in slavery. And, that while things have changed a bit, they didn't change nearly enough in the South and elsewhere. Black men here talk about their lives being of value, yet there is no evidence that the whites in the town, beyond a few, thought that. This is is still a problem 50 years later in the US.

The man of the title, Booker Wright, was a hero who lived his life under this regime. He was a successful business owner who went on- camera for the 1965 NBC film to talk about his life and how he lived it. He was targeted for that, harassed, pistol-whipped, and eventually murdered in a shady fashion by another black who might have been ordered to kill Booker by local police.

What you get at the end is that to the whites of Greenwood, MS, and probably in a lot of other towns, black life had no value to them unless they could control it. Again, a lot of things haven't changed. We must all work to get them changed. Demand transparency from your local police department; organize a peaceful protest of any act of brutality by them and keep protesting until you're successful in changing their actions. And watch this documentary.
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Under the Skin (I) (2013)
8/10
Odd, compelling and strange, but almost a masterpiece of film art
27 April 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I'd spent a few weeks reading the reviews of "Under the Skin." When it finally came to our one independent art theatre, Filmstreams, I had already decided to see it. We have far too few unique films and I have long been tired of the formulaic Hollywood films, so that was factored into my decision.

I urge everyone to see "Under the Skin," because it's definitely unique. I've not read the book, so I knew only what had been in the reviews. The viewer is constantly unsure of what is going on until the very end, where you even then can't be sure.

Scarlett Johannsen is appropriately bizarre, sweet, vulnerable, calculating, terrified, seductive, and zombie-like, depending on any given moment. She comes alive to trap the men she meets, then goes back into her trance-like state to go out and trap another one. The men she finds are all fairly awful-looking, but the inside joke of the film seems to be that they all think they have a chance with such a beautiful woman and are all lured to their doom (which shows the over-sized ego of the men), except for the one man she deliberately lets get away. He is wary of her because he's wary of everyone, after years of being taunted about his disease. She finds this interesting, you feel, and the viewer sees a flicker of humanity growing. Her scene in front of the damaged mirror is riveting. She seems to have really seen her reflection for the first time here, which haunts and amazes her.

Most of the reviews here are from men, but this film has a distinctly feminine viewpoint once the main character begins to interact with the men she comes across. The man who takes her home from the bus admirably distances himself from her in the beginning. She stands in the bedroom after he leaves, looking just like the alien she is; you have the feeling that she's never had to sleep or felt the need to, or ever really been inside a room for longer than it takes to walk through it. Her sexual awakening is confirmed with her long perusal of her naked body in the mirror.

In the first half of the film she drew men into her van playing at sexuality, with no idea of what that entailed. In the second half she seems to yearn for it, radiating this so strongly that the man is drawn to her, kissing her and then trying to go further. It is at this moment that we see the alien become aware of what sex really is. Her violent reaction is surely something felt by many women, and when she grabs the lamp to examine herself, this is also surely something done by many women. We don't know the real reason for that until the end, but it's a striking scene that says so much with so very little effort. She learns terror at that moment and the feeling never really leaves her as the movie winds to its end, and I venture to say that most women feel this way when confronted by men at many points in their lives.

This isn't a film for everyone, but for those open to a new experience it is visually and emotionally rewarding, despite the fact that in reality, it's a slow, methodical film that doesn't give any answer to the questions it raises. It's the anti-blockbuster.
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2/10
Almost the worst film I've ever seen
16 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I'd put off seeing "Against All Odds" for almost 30 years, though I'd loved Phil Collins video, and the title song, since it debuted on MTV. Turns out that the video is the better of the two and I should have just watched that. I finally rented the film, and it stinks. I can't believe Taylor Hackford made this confusing mess of a film. I also can't believe the 9-10 star reviews of the film on this site.

I adore Jeff Bridges, Rachel Ward, and most of the other actors in the film, but not one of them does a credible job, which I don't think was their fault. Emotions range from spoiled tween to dementia-riddled senior on tranquilizers. One minute Rachel is crying, the next she's stomping off in a huff, then she runs away and jumps on a plane. Bridges recites his lines as if from a teleprompter, when just two years before, in "Tron," he is delightfully droll and playful as Flynn. Same with Ward; she was amazing two years earlier as Juliette in "Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid." Alex Karras is completely wasted here. He has about three minutes tops of screen time, where he's just used as a plot point.

Another reviewer mentioned that Bridges was in the best shape of his life at this time, and it's true that both he and Ward look fantastic. That doesn't quite make up for the dearth of good acting. The viewer has 128 minutes of story to sit through and in a film of that length they need something more than beautiful people to keep their attention.

When you have the superlative Richard Widmark in your film as the main baddie and even his performance is comatose, something is dreadfully wrong. Widmark is more like an insurance agent discussing options on your policy than the crime kingpin he is supposed to be; no one can do evil expressions like Widmark, yet his face seems to have turned to stone here. James Woods, who can be counted on to go over the top if he is allowed to, remains about floor level with his emotions and his acting. When he threatens Bridges it sounds like your kid brother trying to impress you; there is no menace behind his threats. Because of all this I feel the blame for the nearly universal bad performances in this film has to fall on the director. This group of actors had given many wonderful performances before they made this film...they were capable of much more if only the director had asked it of them.

The horrendous score and incidental music also deserve to be called out. The jagged electronic score was completely wrong. Hackford should have had Phil Collins do that as well; it cried out for something more lushly melodious and symphonic. The score bears a good deal of the blame in my reasons for hating the film.

Hackford must have been distracted throughout the filming. He'd done a good job on "An Officer and a Gentleman," which had some great performances, but this film is just a complete dud. The only reason to watch it is for the beautiful scenery of coastal Mexico, and even that is muted on the DVD release. I'm upset that I can't get back the two hours I wasted on this movie.
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Nova: Ancient Computer (2013)
Season 40, Episode 9
10/10
Marvelous documentary about a mysterious geared mechanism
24 August 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Nova is an excellent series no matter what they do, but this episode deserves to be at the top of their "best" list. Discovered in the sunken hold of an ancient Roman galleon in about 1900, the Antikythera mechanism has baffled and intrigued anyone who read about it over the past century. I've been reading about it since I was small, and always wondered exactly what it was made to do, and who made it.

These are questions that you would think couldn't be answered today, but the Nova special gives us many answers about the mechanism, and it is a fascinating 60 minutes. I could say the mechanism has become an obsession of mine, and throughout this documentary we meet people who are also obsessed with it. Their observations on the mechanism are fascinating, and show why PBS and Nova are important to our lives. They bring our history and our world into sharper focus, and without public television the world would be much less than it currently is.

This is a documentary that should be seen by all. It shows just how the ancient Greeks, and in particular one ancient Greek genius, tried to make sense of the sky and earth around them. Archaeologists, astronomers, mathematicians, mechanical engineers, and historians all have a part in the story of the Antikythera device, and this Nova production brings them all together to tell us the wonderful trail of events that led up to their eventual understanding of what the mechanism was, and how it worked. Great stuff that is not to be missed.
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The Flat (2011)
10/10
Fascinating and provocative documentary
24 March 2013
Warning: Spoilers
"The Flat" is a great documentary that leaves a lot of questions unanswered, which is as it should be. There are really no good answers for what unfolds over the next 97 minutes. Through the course of the film director Arnon Goldfinger tries to find out his family's recent past, in both Germany and Palestine, something that had never been discussed until after his grandmother died. The documentary confronts the messy business of life, and how people deal with family scandal and buried secrets. A war generation, both German and Jewish, forgets their past on purpose, the next generation is not encouraged to question their elders about it, and the third generation wonders why the two that went before could so conveniently ignore their own, and their parents, history. Goldfinger does a good job of laying out how all the participants in this documentary handle, or don't handle, their part in the story. It's a quiet film that is shadowed by immense subjects. As the viewer, we are left to wonder just how much we understand of our own family and its history, and if we have denied parts of our own past just as conveniently as some of the participants in this documentary have.

It's a human story, in the end. Humans do terrible things and justify them in ways those of us who come after might find callous and chilling. Goldfinger cannot interview any of the original participants in this story, since they are all dead; some of natural causes, some in the Holocaust. The final scenes are just as void of answers as the rest of the film. Goldfinger and his mother look for her grandfather's grave in Berlin, in an old Jewish cemetery, during a driving rainstorm. They look in vain for any sign of their family member in this overgrown graveyard, but can find none. Both say they were not prepared for not finding the grave, as if it now suddenly is of the utmost importance that they find some link with their past, after so many years of silence on the subject. That's a good sign, because it might mean they will continue to confront the hard answers and keep up the search for their history, but as the viewer you weep, just the same, for all the love and knowledge that has been lost to time and death. We don't ever get that back.
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Prometheus (I) (2012)
1/10
I don't have the words for how bad this is...
21 October 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Yet I'm going to try. The script was a complete mess; I would think Ridley Scott would have been embarrassed to release a film with so many plot holes. Who writes major scripts like this and worse, who would green-light such a disjointed piece of garbage? I literally felt like every other scene had been removed or thrown out, because of the way the story jumped ahead with no coherence.

I found nothing to care about in any character in the film; they had no compelling dialog and were not presented to us as real people. They were stock characters put in place to build the story around, what there was of it. You could have gotten rid of 99% of them and still had the same film.

What the characters did do made no sense. Seasoned space travelers freak out at the site of a decapitated body, yet they wander around inside a completely unknown space for hours. They find an unknown life form and practically pick it up and cuddle it. People seem to teem in the background, yet we have no idea of their character or motivation and are given no idea of their place in the story.

Noomi Rapace has zero charisma, as did her fiancé, whomever he was. Anyone could have played Guy Pearce's role, since he wasn't allowed to act behind all that makeup. I suspect someone fell in love with the idea of a robot fascinated by Lawrence of Arabia, because there was no other reason to include it in the script; it was a completely extraneous bit of business. Michael Fassbender is a great actor but even he can't carry an entire film, though it might have been better if he had tried. Charlize Theron hardly had more than seven or eight lines.

The effects were good, but without a story to support them it was all smoke and mirrors. I was upset that I'd wasted 2+ hours that I'll never get back. I certainly didn't think that after "Alien" or "Gladiator." I think if Scott is going to make a sequel to this, he'd better focus on the script first and worry about the effects later, because I'm not wasting more money or time if this is the best he can do today. I definitely don't recommend anyone see this film.
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Lovely, Still (2008)
3/10
A cruel, unlovely film, and inadvertently creepy
25 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I have to say that I was prepared to really like this film, since it was shot in Omaha by a native Omahan, and it's true the actors were wonderful. The story, however, is more in M. Night Shyamalan's territory. Through the whole film you're watching one story, and then at the end you're switched to a completely different direction that renders what you've watched nonsense. While this type of setup was extremely effective in "The Sixth Sense," it is not meant for this kind of film. Sweet and tender it is not.

I felt disgust by what was done to Martin Landau's character, and couldn't believe a wife would perpetrate this on a husband she supposedly loves. I was fully expecting a haunting of some kind from the choppy earlier part of the film, and it had a creepy feeling through most of it, so the end came as a double shock. Definitely not for everyone.
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The Avengers: Escape in Time (1967)
Season 5, Episode 3
10/10
One of the series' best episodes
4 July 2010
I have a great fondness for "The Avengers." This episode is one of my favorites. Steed and Mrs. Peel go back in time to find notorious men who have made off with the money from their country's coffers. Ingenious casting helps this episode. The marvelous Peter Bowles plays multiple roles. There are many colorful incidental characters. The story zips along with restrained hilarity and definitely tongue-in-cheek. You can count on "The Avengers" to never get too gloomy. If you want to know the essence of the color Avengers episodes, and why they are still extremely popular today, this is the episode to watch. It's a joy from beginning to end.
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Lou Grant: Hollywood (1979)
Season 3, Episode 12
10/10
Best episode of the series
4 April 2008
Everything came together in "Hollywood," the writing, the music and the locations. Lou is intrigued by a closed restaurant down the street from his favorite diner, and sends in Rossi to investigate. Rossi just antagonizes the owner of the restaurant, who lives in an apartment above it. Animal courts the lady and eventually gets a chance to photograph the long-closed restaurant as well as an exclusive interview with her, but what he finds in his investigation will surprise everyone.

Unanimously considered the best episode of the series, "Hollywood" brings together an impressive cast of veteran celebrities from the golden age of the film industry. John Larch, Marie Windsor, Nina Foch, Howard Duff and many more great character actors give wonderful performances that enhance the ingenious script. The music has echoes of a 1940's film noir soundtrack, which give this story an incredible feel of old-time Hollywood. The use of locations is spot-on, from old buildings to film studios to historic cemeteries. If you only see one episode of "Lou Grant," make sure it's this one.
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Shades of Darkness: The Lady's Maid's Bell (1983)
Season 1, Episode 1
10/10
Atmospheric ghost story that quietly scares
6 August 2005
Based on one of Edith Wharton's best-known ghost stories, "The Lady's Maid's Bell" was shown originally on PBS' Mystery! series in 1984, under the Shades of Darkness series name (which is still owned by Granada Television), this neglected gem and the 6 other shows in the series have not been shown since, which is truly a shame. They are excellent adaptations of high quality ghost stories and deserve to be shown again. Granada finally released the series on DVD in 2010.

The year is 1902. Miss Hartley, a lady's maid recently recovered from a bout of typhoid and desperate for a job, is accepted as maid at a remote country estate. The lady of the house, Mrs. Brympton, had rheumatic fever as a child and is in delicate health. Her husband is gone during the week and only comes home on weekends. Miss Hartley begins to hear vague rumors about the prior lady's maid, who died after 20 years service, being like a sister to Mrs. Brympton, and that they were inseparable; Mrs. Brympton has sealed and locked the maid's room and no one can enter it, so Miss Hartley is given the room next to it. Miss Hartley glimpses a woman standing in front of this locked door, however, whom she thinks is the housekeeper. When she finds out there is no housekeeper, no one will answer her questions as to who this woman was. She's also told that they don't use the bell in her room; someone will come to get her if Mrs. Brympton wants her. This is perplexing, since there is a bell in her room and it still works. She begins to piece the story together, and also has to fight off the advances of Mr. Brympton, a stocky, florid man with a walrus mustache who seems to terrify his wife. By the time she thinks she knows what is going on, she's terrified of the closed room and begins to see why her mistress is growing more nervous by the day.

Edith Wharton supposedly wrote this based on a dream she had while she recovered from the typhoid, and it seems to have a fevered aura to it. Wharton could write marvelous ghost stories, and this is as good as any she did. The adaptation is a superior one that mixes in a little levity and then hits you with a scare. Joanna David is wonderful as Miss Hartley, and Ian Collier fits the slimy character of the husband perfectly. It's my personal favorite among the episodes in the Shades of Darkness series.
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Shades of Darkness: The Intercessor (1983)
Season 1, Episode 2
10/10
A superior, scary ghost story with dark undertones
6 August 2005
Based on a story by the wonderful May Sinclair, "The Intercessor" was shown originally on PBS' Mystery! series in 1984, under the Shades of Darkness series name (which is still owned by Granada Television), this neglected gem and the 6 other shows in the series have not been shown since, which is truly a shame. They are excellent adaptations of high quality ghost stories and deserve to be shown again. Contact Granada and ask them to release the series to DVD. Update: The Shades of Darkness series is on DVD as of 2010!

"The Intercessor" is the story of an author who goes to the country to get some peace and quiet, so he can do some writing. He takes a room at a local farm and soon becomes enmeshed in the dark secret the silent farmer and his bitter, much-older pregnant wife have hanging over them. He is astonished to catch site of a small child ghost, playing in the garden outside. After this, events escalate and the author begins to think he's losing his mind, as the ghost appears to be communicating with him. He goes to the local doctor for answers, who only deepens the mystery.

This is a superior ghost story that has adult overtones and is not for the faint-hearted. It is extremely scary and done so well it reminds me of "The Woman in Black," which it can match chill for chill.
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8/10
A must-see, small-budget gem
11 April 2005
In Mid-December 1944, while Hitler's army blitzkriegs through the Ardennes Forest in Belgium, American sharpshooter Corporal Nathan Greer, known as Deacon, finds himself held captive with over one hundred other soldiers in a snow covered field.

As panic and confusion ensue the German soldiers open fire on the prisoners, in the historical event now known as the "Malmedy massacre". Greer, his friend Gordon Gunderson and a handful of others escape the massacre by hiding in the nearby woods.

The small band of soldiers come across a stranded British Intelligence officer with valuable information to be delivered to Allied Forces, further upping the stakes of their already dangerous situation.

With few weapons, no food and a strained camaraderie, this tiny band must take on the unforgiving winter to fight their way back to allied occupied territory.

Once in awhile a small independent film can show us a large part of what Hollywood has forgotten about movie making. A lack of emotions can kill what should have been a great film.

I saw Saints and Soldiers last night after a year and a half wait. An old friend from the COMBAT! Yahoo group (call sign Bayonet) convinced me to see this way back when at the first chance I'd get and I'm glad she did. The theater had all of seven people in it for a 5:45 showing.

My friend Lenny and I saw the film together, and I loved this movie. Lenny's dad fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and this film brought home to him things his dad may have felt 60 years ago. Up until his parents moved into a retirement apartment, Lenny's dad had a W.W.II jeep in his garage (Perhaps he shipped home a part at a time in boxes marked kitchen utensils?) My only negative comment for "Saints and Soldiers" is a five to ten second inaccuracy about the "Malmedy Massacre" about five minutes into the film. It gives the impression that the US POWs were somewhat at fault for the mowing down of prisoners by machine guns fire. Had I not known about this in advance unlike many other war history buffs that went to see it, I might have been tempted to walk out right then, but we didn't and I'm glad we stayed.

The film does a good job of presenting fresh ideas within a W.W.II story, even if it does remind me of small parts of other war stories in places without being a bit cliché. Surprisingly, Utah as a filming location never looked so much like Belgium before, and with mostly " history re-en-actors" making up a large part of the cast, it looked really accurate. I'm waiting to hear from "Dodger" or "Web455" on how accurate the uniforms are, but I understand that collectors lent the production authentic vehicles, a very nice touch.

As mentioned before the film opens to us seeing the killing ground of the massacre three weeks after the fact. An excavation of frozen bodies from under the snow is in progress. Then we flash back to the day of the event. Had this film stayed true to the facts mentioned earlier, it would have been an improvement, and that's my only complaint in the entire film (Jr's note: Dad's got a fair beef here as it's supposed to be historically accurate, so I'd be docking it too). We follow several survivors as they escape coming together and forge a bond few will ever know in real life.

From now on the film rates top marks from me, but I don't want to get into spoilers and will say no more about it. This film is more about the people that just happen to be involved in a war together. It reminds us that good people & bad can be a part of the sum of any specific group. It also reminds us good people die for things that are worth dying for. And bad people can die for bad things too, and remind us that the innocent (sick, women, children, elderly, refugee, etc.) also die in wars. And finally, there's a lesson about prejudice to be found here as well. The center character of the story is a former missionary of the Church of Later Day Saints, hence the title, but other than knowing he has a bible (or prayer book) and was a missionary, there's no preaching, lecturing or religious intervention in the film to be found. It's not the blood bath of Saving Private Ryan either; it had tactfully handled blood on screen as well as the issue of death. The film also included a moving original score that helps with the gamut of emotions you will feel during the show.

I rate this independently made small budget gem a "MUST SEE IT" in the theater on the big screen. Judging by all the Best Picture awards it has racked up at the various film festivals, I think that's a safe statement. The film comes to DVD on May 31st, and it's on my buy list.
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Custer (1967)
Terrible mid-60's series that didn't last long
29 April 2003
"Custer" lasted 16 episodes, and that's 16 episodes too many. I can't find any reason why a network would have picked poorly-written junk like this up to broadcast. The western story lines the writers used were tired and worn in the 50's, and by the late 60's were just plain ludicrous. "Star Trek" had debuted the year before, and this left-over relic from the early days of TV had no chance. To write a series around a character that everyone in the audience knows will be massacred a year or two later is startling and morbid, to say the least. It gives the series an air of doom that I don't think the network intended.

Wayne Maunder plays the title role, and while he was good 4 years later in "The Seven Minutes," he must still have been learning his craft because he's just plain bad as Custer. He resembles a young Errol Flynn more than Custer as he minces and leaps about, and does not have the air of command necessary for someone playing Custer. Tinkerbelle maybe, but not Custer.

Slim Pickens co-stars as the requisite wild west trail boss/guide, named "California Joe" (good grief!), and was obviously cast to add verbal witticisms and old west humor to the show. It doesn't help one bit.

This series had a stellar guest cast in those 16 episodes: James Whitmore, Agnes Moorehead, William Windom, James Daly, Robert Loggia, Kathleen Nolan, Ray Walston, Darren McGavin, Lloyd Bochner and many more. Even great talent like that couldn't save this series, which should have been battle-axed before it ever hit the air.
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Shades of Darkness: Afterward (1983)
Season 1, Episode 4
10/10
Excellent adaptation of a Wharton ghost story
29 March 2003
A great adaptation of Edith Wharton's marvelous, much-anthologized 1910 short story of the same name. "Afterward" was shown originally on PBS' Mystery! series in 1984, under the Shades of Darkness series name (which is still owned by Granada Television), this neglected gem and the 6 other shows in the series have not been shown since, which is truly a shame. They are all excellent adaptations of high quality ghost stories and deserve to be shown again. Contact Granada and ask them to release the series to DVD. Update: The Shades of Darkness series is on DVD as of 2010!

"Afterward" stars Kate Harper and Michael J. Shannon as the quintessential late-Victorian couple, living in Wisconsin. After coming into a huge cash windfall on a stock deal, they retire early to England, buying an antiquated, unelectrified country estate (that seems to take on a life of it's own) which is supposed to harbor an odd kind of ghost; they both long to be "forgotten by the modern age." Well, things don't quite turn out that way, and after an abortive visit by a mysterious stranger that the husband seems to recognize but afterward denies it, the wife is left with a growing dread that eventually culminates in tragedy.

Shannon doesn't have much to do in this except to smile vacantly most of the time; his fond Victorian husband stance speaks volumes about what the character really thinks of women, and you can tell it's not flattering. This show belongs to Kate Harper, though. She is the center of the piece, artfully dodging the Victorian concept of a wife, and at the same time breaking out into a more modern woman who asks questions and smoke cigarettes. She obviously does not want to know the details of her husband's "business," but after the "business" intrudes on her life she begins to push for answers. She does a good job at showing how ornamental the wife was supposed to be in the Victorian age, but at the same time there is intelligence in her character that her husband cannot see, and possibly doesn't want to see.

No one could write ghost stories like Edith Wharton, and this is one of her best. An excellent ghost story as well as an excellent treatise on Victorian married life, this is a must-see show.
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Shades of Darkness: The Maze (1983)
Season 1, Episode 5
10/10
Great Adaptation
18 March 2003
A great adaptation of C. H. B. Kitchin's little-known 1953 short story of the same name. "The Maze" was shown originally on PBS' Mystery! series in 1984, under the Shades of Darkness series name (which is still owned by Granada Television), this neglected gem and the six other shows in the series have not been shown since, which is truly a shame. They are excellent adaptations of high quality ghost stories and deserve to be shown again. Update May 2007: This is now available on DVD under the Shades of Darkness title.

In "The Maze," Francesca Annis is marvelous as a slightly-repressed housewife during the post-war years in England, with a secret; a secret that has held her love for her only daughter in check. Despite many misgivings she returns to the house she grew up in, after her mother's death, with her husband and the daughter. The house, a large old Victorian place with rambling gardens, has a hedge maze on the grounds that has fallen into rather sad shape. The daughter is drawn to the maze, and we slowly see what secret the mother is hiding.

Atmospheric and genuinely touching, "The Maze" is one of those shows that you can watch again and again. While not strictly a ghost story it has a ghost in it, but not the kind you'd expect.
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Decent pilot for "77 Sunset Strip"
26 September 2002
Efrem Zimbalist Jr. stars in the pilot film for the popular TV series, "77 Sunset Strip." The story is about a lounge singer who witnesses the killing of a union boss (a ripe old plotline staple of 50's TV), and then is stalked by the killer, as he tries to get rid of the only witness to his crime. Zimbalist is hired to find her under a ruse by the murderer, and then falls in love with her and helps to bring the killer to justice. Eddy "Kookie" Byrnes plays a gunman hired to kill the singer, by the murderer, which is kind of odd since he's a good guy in the series. But, I'm guessing he is portrayed as a reformed man in the next episode. Slow moving by today's standards, it's a pleasure to be able to watch a story at a regular pace, and not have your eyes gouged out of your head by rapid, 3 second takes strung together to make a 2 hour film.

Zimbalist is good in the role of the hero PI, but for someone supposedly trained by the government during WWII to be a spy, he makes an enormous amount of mistakes. He leads the heroine around the town to at least 10 different hiding places before he gets the idea he might be followed. Shepperd Strudwick is reliably evil as the villain, and the Erin O'Brien plays her part as a 50's damsel in distress as well as anyone could.

If you can't remember the series, don't worry. Seeing this film will introduce the characters and get you ready to enjoy a true slice of classic 50's television, "77 Sunset Strip." Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb!
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The Longshot (1986)
10/10
Hilarious comedy that deserves to be appreciated more
31 August 2002
The prior comments for "The Longshot" are not true. It's not a series of skits strung together. It's a full-fledged comedy film that deserves to be appreciated more than it is. These skilled character actors and actresses bring the plot to life, and it's a plot filled with the pathetic losers who live just on the fringes of prosperity and can never seem to get ahead. To these guys, $100 is big, big money. It's a film about losers and how they never stop trying to become winners, and that's the key to it's appeal.

The film focuses on the characters played by Tim Conway, Harvey Korman, Jack Weston and Ted Wass, and boy, are these guys ever grade A losers. They've spent their lives at the local horse track, trying to get that big win, but they never do. They decide to take the advice of a trackhand who says he can make a horse win and bet enough to make a bundle. Because none of them have a dime they try to borrow the money from the track rich lady who has a stable of winning racehorses, and they decide Conway's character should seduce the money out of her because they can tell she's hot for him. This turns out to be the disaster you'd expect, so they are reduced to going to the local syndicate boss to borrow the money. When they find out the trackhand is not on the up and up and they've already place the bet with the borrowed mob money, they panic.

All of these people are amazing; they are losers extraordinare, losers for the ages - the epitome of loserness. Ted Wass, in particular, is so good it's uncanny. He is a man who is so devoid of intellect he can't even figure out what 1/4 of $20 is, but he's such a sweet, sincere, loyal friend that he promises to stand in the way of the gangsters when they come for the rest of his friends. He lives in a 6 foot wide mini-trailer with his fish; he sets up a picture of himself by the fishbowl when he leaves, so the fish isn't lonely. Everything he owns is 11 years old, including the fish. Anne Meara is a trip as Conway's wife, who knows he can't do anything right yet sticks with him with no idea that he will ever get his or her head above water. Joseph Ruskin ably handles the mob boss role and George DiCenzo is great as the mob boss' righthand man. Conway is the shoe salesman who is the nominal leader of the group; his car is a heap, and the driver's side window is broken so he uses cardboard. He doesn't have any more brains than the rest, but he has more confidence and he never stops talking. In this group, that makes him a leader.

In short, this is a quiet comedy film that doesn't go for the belly laughs but gets them anyway. I've seen it a hundred times and it never gets old. Beware, though, of the cut cable version that has been running, and make sure you watch the version put out on VHS or DVD. These different versions may account for the bad reviews, because the version I've seen on A&E is not the theatrical release but a butchered, watered down cut that is very different.
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10/10
A wonderful, heart-warming holiday classic
22 November 2001
Those of us fortunate enough to grow up in the late 50's remember Mr. Magoo with a special warmth, and this version of "A Christmas Carol" is the main reason. This remains a superior re-telling of the story and holds it's own against the George C. Scott and Alaister Sim versions, despite being only 50 minutes long and animated. The ghost of Marley is as scary as they come, and the villains are convincingly menacing. Mr. Magoo, thanks to the avant-garde UPA animation and the unparalleled voice talents of Jim Backus, emotes as effectively as a real person. The songs could not be better; they are Broadway quality and are sung with a heart-felt enthusiasm that adds as much to the film as the actor's voices. Jack Cassidy is perfect as Bob Cratchit, and Royal Dano as Marley holds the viewer spellbound with his sepulchral intonations.

This adaptation holds a special place in my memory, thanks to the excellence of the production and the great voices. Each year my husband and I (and our grown children) watch it several times, marveling at how it can still entertain and enthrall after so many years. Do not pass this up, if you can find it; it's a truly timeless classic. The film has been released on DVD, and this offers an extremely good-looking presentation of "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol."
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10/10
Extremely funny and on-target comedy special
10 November 2001
Robert Klein has always been one of the funniest people out there in showbiz. Unlike George Carlin, who's just gotten meaner over the years and not necessarily funnier, Klein is consistently standout funny without being vindictive. He skewers getting old, President Clinton, evolution, Broadway, Shakespeare, Ringo Starr, SAG, and anything else that comes up. He even wrote all the music in the show. He occasionally seems to go off-script into improvisation, and this is when the show really soars.

I've been a fan of his for years, and wish we could get more of his comedy. He's a never-fail antidote for depression, and this show is definitely worth tracking down on HBO. Most of the comedy shows he's done over the years are not readily available now, which is a terrible shame. All of his work needs to be on video or DVD, just to counteract the desolation of our everyday lives. Five minutes of his comedy and I'm feeling good again.
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10/10
Exceptional short film about a boy and his grandfather
18 August 2001
"Grandpa Doc" is the heartfelt story of a man (Bruce Davison), his mother (Barbara Rush), and, respectively, their grandfather and father (Melvyn Douglas), a doctor who is the Grandpa Doc of the story. Davison is an artist, whose artwork is being given a gala reception in an art gallery. Rush arrives in town to attend the opening; she doesn't know the theme of his works till they arrive the night of the show, and when she sees them, the paintings bring back the memories of many summers spent in an oceanside house with Grandpa Doc and numerous other relatives. These flashbacks flesh out the story, and make the viewer think of the lost summers of their own youth. It's a very warm and human film, seldom seen these days, and I can't watch it without crying. The memories of my own summers come flooding back.

The leads in this short film are all wonderful. Davison has been overlooked for so long, and I don't know why. He's a down-to-earth actor, solid in everything I've ever seen him in. Rush is remarkably human in this short, which is a true accomplishment for her since she always seems so distant and aloof. Douglas plays Grandpa Doc with the jaunty and jovial air of a personable, caring man; someone I would have liked to have known in real life.

"Grandpa Doc" was shown on cable in it's earliest days and as far as I know has never been available for purchase. There was a companion piece by the same filmmaker, "Peege," with Jeannette Nolan as Davisons' paternal grandmother, that ran at the same time and is even harder to find. It was in the same vein, though, very tender and moving if just a bit depressing. I had the forethought to tape both of them, or they would be completely forgotten now. This is a shame, since both of these short films are a wonderful way spend 30 minutes.
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