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Note: This list is far from complete and not in order of preference.
The Young Lawyers (1969)
TV movie and series showed promise, failed for numerous reasons. (2016 DVD)
In October 1969, one of the first "Movie of the Week" programs aired on ABC was "The Young Lawyers". Written by Michael Zagor, whose credits include co-writing the two-part finale of "The Fugitive" and several episodes of "Ben Casey," "I Spy," and co-creator of "The Bill Cosby Show" (1969), the movie starred Jason Evers as attorney Michael Cannon, who leaves his Boston law practice to become the director of the Neighborhood Law Office, which serves people who can't afford to hire an attorney. Three law students, Aaron Silverman (Zalman King), Ann Walters (Judy Pace) and David Harrison (Tom Holland, a.k.a. Tom Fielding), assist in helping people who need legal services. In the pilot, the group helps two musicians (Richard Pryor and Dick Bass) who are accused of robbing and beating up a cab driver (Keenan Wynn). Looking closer into the driver's background, the students found some proof suggesting a cover-up involving the driver's unstable son (Michael Parks).
The TV movie rated very well in its premiere broadcast that ABC commissioned a total of 24 episodes for the 1970-71 television season. However, the network and Paramount Television decided to recast the lead character and remove one of the three young lawyers. Jason Evers was replaced by Lee J. Cobb, who plays David Barrett on the series. King and Pace were re-hired for the series, while Tom Holland was not hired.
The series premiered the same night as the first ABC Monday Night Football game, which meant that in the fall of 1970, "The Young Lawyers" would air at 7:30 PM Eastern/6:30 PM Central but air after the football game in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. Unlike MNF, which aired on ABC for 35 seasons, not many shows in the time slot before the game lasted very long and "The Young Lawyers" was no exception. I believe "The Rookies" and the original "MacGyver" were the only shows lasting longer than 2 seasons.
It also didn't help that the show was scheduled against several highly-rated TV series. On Mondays, it aired opposite "Gunsmoke" and "Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In." When the series was moved to Wednesdays in January 1971, it aired against "Hawaii Five-O."
In addition to poor scheduling, the series struggled to find its voice. For every 3-4 good to very good episodes, there were 4-5 segments that were not well-written. There were numerous writers-for-hire for the program, which may explain why the series was extremely uneven. I also thought that it was not fair that Zalman King was given more material throughout the season and the characters played by Cobb and Pace were not properly fleshed out. In a 1970 interview with the Seattle Times promoting the series, King agreed with that assessment.
A new character played by Philip Clark appeared in mid-season suggests that the decision to remove the 3rd young lawyer character introduced in the pilot was a mistake. A few more characters may have helped to balance the story lines and not have King's character carry the brunt of the story lines.
As of this posting, I'm viewing the made-to-order DVD of the series, which includes the 1969 pilot. Although the DVD has a disclaimer indicating that some segments may have been edited from the original network version, it looks like most, if not all, of the hour-long episodes averaged a 50+ minute running time. The prints have some dust and scratches but view-able. As with many made-to-order releases, there was no closed captioning and no extras.
Because of studio interference, network tinkering and poor scheduling; "The Young Lawyers" was never given a chance to grow and creatively thrive. Although I'm not as impressed with the series now that when I watched it as an impressionable 8 year old, I would recommend watching some of the episodes including "The Glass Cage," "False Witness," "The Outspoken Silence," and "The Whimper of Whipped Dogs" to show what the series could have been if the show was given a chance.
One more thing. The theme song composed by Lalo Schifrin has been in the back of my mind any time a Volkswagen Bus drives by.
The Return of Ironside (1993)
A good final "Ironside" episode
Writing strictly as a biased fan of the original "Ironside" series, it was nice for the entire cast, including a few performers that retired for a number of years, to return for "The Return of Ironside," which was one of the last projects starring and co-produced by Raymond Burr.
This competent mystery movie involves police officer Suzanne Dwyer (Perrey Reeves), the daughter of Eve Kendall (a still radiant Barbara Anderson). Dwyer may be involved in a possible conspiracy involving the death of the Denver police chief. Ed Brown (Don Galloway) is assigned to temporarily handle the duties of the deceased chief and asks Robert T. Ironside, who just retired consulting for the San Francisco Police Department, to help with the case. The request from Brown came just as Ironside was about to settle down with his wife Katherine (Dana Wynter, in her final performance) to their Napa Valley winery. Also helping in the investigation are former Ironside assistant and now court judge Mark Sanger (Don Mitchell, which, as of 2013, was his final acting performance) and retired officer Fran Belding (Elizabeth Baur).
As with most "Ironside" episodes, even if the mystery is not a total success, the presence of Burr and company makes the ride to the conclusion rather intriguing and not too much of a waste of time. I'm no fan of reunion movies/TV shows because I'd like to remember the original series and the people involved in the production. At the same time, after re-watching the TV movie for the first time on the web in nearly 20 years, I think this was Burr's way of letting his long-time colleagues and fans of the show say goodbye to Ironside and to Burr. He would appear posthumously in two more "Perry Mason" TV movies.
The New Perry Mason (1973)
The Case of Terrible Timing
In May 1966, the original "Perry Mason" series ended on CBS after 9 successful seasons. Seven years later, an ill-advised remake was produced by some of the people associated with the original series.
Veteran TV actor Monte Markham won the role Raymond Burr made famous to the point that no one can ever associate the role of Perry Mason with anyone other than Burr. As far as I'm concerned, Markham did a credible job with the material given to him. I thought Harry Guardino as Hamilton Burger and Dane Clark as Lt. Arthur Tragg were OK in their roles as well. The less said about Sharon Acker as Della Street and Albert Stratton as Paul Drake, the better.
Brett Somers appeared in a few episodes as receptionist Gertie Lade and was a well-needed comic relief to some not-so-exciting mysteries.
This will probably be the only review which will acknowledge liking the theme music and who composed it, Earle Hagen (Andy Griffith Show, The Mod Squad, I Spy, among many others). As with Burr, Fred Steiner's Park Avenue Beat/Perry Mason theme will always be iconic. Hagen's stand-alone underscore serves its purpose and does not overwhelm the story lines.
So, why did the show flop? According to a New York Times article (September 26, 1973) no new shows appeared in the top 20 Nielsen ratings the week The New Perry Mason debuted. In addition, the original Perry Mason was in daily syndication in many television markets and Burr's other series, Ironside, was starting its 6th season. Considering that Burr would return to play Perry Mason in 1985, a decade after the failed remake, maybe the remake was just a case of terrible timing.
At least one YouTube user uploaded several episodes from the remake. Despite my agreement with many Perry Mason fans lambasting the remake, I thought it had potential but was painted in an unfortunate corner and was slated for a quick death.
Who did it? In my opinion, it was network executives who thought a remake was needed despite dedicated fans saying no.
A strong lead performance and a good supporting/guest cast made Longstreet worth watching.
From the 1960s and 70s, there were numerous detective series where the lead character had a unique characteristic: wheelchair-bound Ironside, trench coat-wearing Columbo, senior citizen Barnaby Jones, etc. In the case of the watchable series "Longstreet", James Franciscus played the New Orleans-based insurance agent whose was blinded by an explosion that killed his wife and is determined to continue investigating cases despite his affliction.
The priorities "Longstreet" developer/executive producer Stirling Silliphant had were similar to his earlier shows ("Route 66" and "Naked City", in which Franciscus appeared in the first season): character studies over plot. This is not to say that the show's plots were uninteresting. Franciscus' compelling performance kept my interest, as well as support from Marlyn Mason as assistant Nikki and Peter Mark Richman as Duke.
Most martial arts fans remember the series less for Franciscus and more for Bruce Lee, who played Li Tsung, Longstreet's Jeet Kune Do instructor for just four episodes. Lee made such a strong impression, it's a shame that the producers/writers were unable to incorporate Lee in more episodes. At the same time, if Lee were made a regular, he may have not signed on for "Enter the Dragon" in his tragically short film career.
"Longstreet" was an early success in the show's only season on ABC. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed in mid-season when NBC's "Ironside" moved into the same time slot. ABC canceled "Longstreet" at the last possible moment despite having better ratings than a number of ABC shows.
There are many short-lived series like "Longstreet" that deserve to be rediscovered. I hope CBS/Paramount will consider releasing the series from their large vaults to DVD and web streaming.
Not bad, but not good either.
My memories of the gritty but not totally successful private eye drama "P.J." are rather hazy and incomplete. As several other writers have mentioned, the movie was heavily edited for television after the movie's original release. Even as an impressionable kid, I wondered why P.J. (George Peppard) was badly beaten up without knowing who did it and what happened to the guy on the subway platform that threatened P.J.'s life? The two sequences, as well as several others edited scenes, made "P.J." on TV a rather bland and disjointed mess.
On a hunch, I was able to finally see an unedited, pan-and-scan version of "P.J." a few days ago. Regrettably, the movie was not as good as I remembered. This is despite good performances by Peppard and Raymond Burr, who probably relished the offer of playing a bad guy after many years as Perry Mason, as well as Gayle Hunnicutt as the femme fatale.
The musical score by Neil Hefti and the New York locations certainly set the mood. (Some of Hefti's interludes sounded a lot like his score from the movie "The Odd Couple". "P.J." was released a few months before "The Odd Couple".)
I don't consider "P.J." a classic because of some misguided creative decisions by the writers and director and production choices in which scenes that were obviously filmed on the Universal back lot took me out of the story on occasion.
However, I believe that movie studios are doing themselves a disservice to the public by not releasing this and other movies to the web or on DVD. There are horrible movies in the past few years that are on the web or released on DVD but a 1968 film that was not necessarily a classic and did not win any awards is shown illegally on a popular web page. To Universal, release the film on a widescreen format and let the public decide if the movie is worthy.
Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976)
Slightly better than average TV disaster flick
"Smash-Up on Interstate 5" goes the same path as any disaster flick from the 1970s. The TV movie has a large, notable cast and multiple story lines, which culminate into the title incident. In an unusual move, the filmmakers chose to open the film with the same multi-vehicle accident and flash back to the characters involved in the accident.
Because of this creative decision, I did care about some of the characters and their fates. The most heartbreaking storyline was the older couple played by Buddy Ebsen and Harriet Nelson (Hillard) in which one member of the couple is faced with a fatal medical diagnosis.
In addition, the stunt work and editing of the actual crash was very terrifying and effective.
As with many television movies, finding this item on DVD is challenging.
Spenser: For Hire (1985)
Strong casting and production values made the TV series "Spenser" worth watching
Several weeks before posting this review, I visited Boston for the first time. While riding the city's MBTA Red Line across the Longfellow Bridge, I could not help but hum variations of the theme song from "Spenser: For Hire," which aired over 25 years ago. I never read the Spenser books written by Robert B. Parker so I have no idea if the show ever captured the essence of the novels. The series never ranked in the top 20 and was switched to several time slots during the show's three seasons. The show's major strengths were Robert Urich as Spenser, Avery Brooks as Hawk and the incredibly strong on location production values that made the show better than some current and past detective shows, depending on the episode.
Some episodes, especially within season 1, had strong, intriguing plot twists that kept my interest. Three of my personal favorites were "The Choice," (which starred Patricia Clarkson and Sam Robards as thrill killers), "When Silence Speaks" (with Phyllis Frelich as a newspaper columnist who hires Spenser to locate a letter writer) and "Discord in a Minor," in which the teenage daughter of the city's symphony director tries to run away with the son of a local crime boss.
The show was far from perfect. Both of Spenser's love interests, Susan Silverman (played by Barbara Stock, seasons 1 and 3) and Rita Fiori (played by Carolyn McCormick, season 2) were generally thankless, underdeveloped roles. Arguably, both actresses tried their best with the material given but, more often than not, the dynamic between Spenser and Hawk was more interesting. In addition, several episodes depended more on chase scenes and stunts instead of correcting plot deficiencies, great stunt work notwithstanding.
I watched "Spenser: For Hire" on SlashControl.com and, as of this post, over 50 of the show's 65 episodes are available for streaming. Overall, the show was a nice diversion and a better-than-average detective series.
Update (6/14/2012): Sadly, with AOL ending SlashControl.com, Spenser: For Hire is not being streamed as of this update. I hope Warner Brothers will reconsider and stream and/or release the program on DVD in the future.
Update (2/3/2015): The WB Shop has released season 1 of "Spenser: For Hire" on a made-to-order DVD basis.
Inside 'The Swarm' (1978)
Do production crews know when a movie is a flop?
The 1978 film "The Swarm" was a major flop at the box office and was justifiably panned by many film critics. The film was such an infamous disaster, Producer/Director Irwin Allen refused to talk about the movie in later interviews.
The short "Inside 'The Swarm'" will not change my overwhelming negative feelings about the film. Nonetheless, after viewing the short film, the one constant was the professional work ethic of Allen, the stunt coordinators and the unnamed stunt people. If more money was spent on the visual effects, less money on hiring Hollywood stars to presumably hook audiences to see the movie, and more time spent fleshing out a weak script, maybe "The Swarm" might have worked.
After over 30 years, my feelings about this laughably horrible film has never changed.
Despite some creative flaws, a generally strong two-part episode
The two-part episode, "A Continual Roar of Musketry", originally aired on NBC in November 1970, six months after the Kent State shootings.
The Retro Television Network (RTV) reran the episodes May 1 and 2, 2010 in several U.S. television markets. Despite a few questionable creative choices, the episodes are still very potent.
Senator Hays Stowe (Hal Holbrook) heads a three-person committee investigating the shooting of demonstrators at a college by the state's National Guard, in which two students were killed and at least four were injured.
As with other episodes from the shamefully short-lived segment of "The Bold Ones", David W. Rintels' script still has some significant resonance even after forty years. Obviously inspired by Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", the episodes show several different viewpoints on the shootings. They include: the governor (John Randolph) who commissioned the investigation, the college chancellor (Laurence Luckinbill) who understood the protesters' concerns, the local mayor (John Marley) who wants to protect his town's reputation, the young protesters and the officer who may or may not have order the shooting.
I think the second hour was better than the first. The strong cast of familiar character actors (Edward Binns, Paul Stewart, John Marley, Noam Pitlik and the other actors mentioned previously) had the unenviable task of essentially playing two different roles. Unfortunately, I wished some of the performances, specifically in part one, took a "less is more" acting path.
In a 2006 interview, Randolph Mantooth mentioned that he got the role of paramedic John Gage in "Emergency!" from this episode. His performance as a fellow college student given the unfortunate responsibility of protecting the college from protesters, was very effective, showing that the character was not a robot who may have ordered the shooting of unnamed targets.
Also effective was Pamela McMyler as the girlfriend of the lead protester (Robert Pratt), who finds herself as the only person willing to talk to the commission about the shooting from the student protester's perspective.
Holbrook's powerful performance as the well-intentioned, idealistic senator was the strongest quality thought the entire series. As mentioned in a posting about the series, it has been nice to rediscover "The Bold Ones" and the segment "The Senator".
The Bold Ones: The Senator (1970)
A decent gem from the early 1970s
I must have been 8 or 9 years old when "The Bold Ones" first premiered. The fact that the show aired on NBC Sunday nights at 10:00 meant that I should have been asleep for school the next day. I do remember that the subject matter of all four segments ("The New Doctors", "The Lawyers", "The Protectors" and "The Senator") was definitely for mature TV audiences. Considering the era of the late 1960s-early 1970s, when several TV programs started to evolve and created entertaining stories with some social significance, I can see why "The Bold Ones" was a partial success, at least by some critics but not to the general public. The series never ranked in the top 20 and two segments, "The Protectors" and "The Senator," lasted just one season.
In the past few months, the U.S. digital channel Retro Television Network (RTN) started to air numerous TV shows from the Universal/Revue television library. I'm very glad to rediscover "The Bold Ones" and, specifically, the multiple Emmy award-winning segment "The Senator" with Hal Holbrook playing the fair-minded, idealistic junior U.S. Senator Hays Stowe from an unidentified state.
As of this posting, I had a chance to revisit two episodes after over 38 years since their last airings. In "George Washington Told a Lie", a dam project proposed by Sen. Stowe is on land that would displace a group of Native Americans. In "The Day the Lion Died", Stowe confronts a fellow senator who might be suffering from a serious mental condition. With both episodes, especially the latter, which features an award-worthy performance by Will Geer as the eccentric senate member, I got the sense that the story telling quality was raised a few notches. The pace may have been slow but, at the same time, literate, deliberate and it did not insult my intelligence.
Looking at "The Senator" in 2008, it reminds me of some of the strong qualities of the more successful "The West Wing". It does make me wonder if Sen. Hays Stowe became candidate for U.S. President, would he still have that idealism or would he be corrupted. It is interesting to note that both shows won Emmys for best drama series. Once in a while, quality does triumph over quantity.
Update (July 2, 2015): "The Bold Ones: The Senator: The Complete Series" was released on DVD by Timeless Media/Shout! Factory.
Equal Justice (1990)
Another case of "Brilliant but Cancelled" (Updated)
Thank goodness for advancing video technology. Because of numerous video streaming websites, it is possible to see almost any beloved (and not-so-beloved) television program from any era.
A previous IMDb user mentioned the critically acclaimed but shamefully short-lived legal drama "Equal Justice" (1990-91) is airing on a website called Fancast.com. I just finished watching two of the four episodes that have been posted.
As with any program airing more than a decade ago, it is interesting to see people like Jane Kaczmarek and Sarah Jessica Parker before their major long-run successes with "Malcolm in the Middle" and "Sex and the City," respectively. In addition, the show reminds me how great veteran actor Joe Morton is whenever he appears on screen.
I'm not certain if this specific achievement was unprecedented, but co-creator Thomas Carter, who acted in another "Brilliant but Cancelled" show "The White Shadow", won back-to-back Emmys for directing. It's a shame that even two straight Emmy wins in major categories could not save this show.
Again, thank goodness for video technology.
Update July 22, 2009:
On re-watching all 13 episodes from season 1, I'm sure horny, sleazy, cigar-smoking ADA Briggs (Barry Miller) would have been fired and sued by Julia Janovich (Debrah Farentino) for harassment if the scenes were set in 2009. Those scenes from 1990 don't play very well in 2009.
Despite that flaw and some weak subplots, each episode had at least 1-2 compelling story lines. And what made the stronger stories compelling are that the conclusions are not always cleanly resolved. If I were to choose one episode to watch, "Promises to Keep," which won Thomas Carter an Emmy for best direction in a drama series and gave Joe Morton, whose character is affected by a murder, an award-worthy performance, was the show's strongest episode.
Update 2/19/2014: Every episode is posted on Hulu.com via IMDb.com's video section.
Michael Clayton (2007)
Intelligent suspense drama with strong performances
Seven Oscar nominations, nearly 50 other awards and nominations from film boards and critics societies and generally positive critical acclaim. Also, the discriminating moviegoers who have spent the money and seen the movie in theaters have raved about "Michael Clayton".
I saw the film before the Oscar nominations and I found "Michael Clayton" to be a well-acted, well-written movie. I like challenging films that does not always need to explain every move through the entire movie. Don't give away the punchline so early in the movie. Trust the audience's intelligence and in the end many will appreciate the ride. If more filmmakers (and studio heads) would heed those suggestions, perhaps there might be fewer cheesy, critically drubbed blockbusters.
Why is "Michael Clayton" not a blockbuster? To some, it was paced way too slowly and many people got bored and bailed out. Other moviegoers thought it ripped-off other thrillers involving lawyers (e.g.: the numerous John Grisham adaptations. For the record, as much as I liked "The Firm", I found it, as well as "A Time to Kill" and "The Client" to be by-the-numbers and not very challenging.) Most audiences demand good to great movies but end up, by their own choice, watching expensive trash. At the risk of sounding condescending, what amazes me about "Michael Clayton" is that the movie seems too intelligent to be a Hollywood movie. It certainly doesn't hurt that award-winning filmmakers Steven Soderbergh, Anthony Minghella, lead actor George Clooney and co-star Sydney Pollack are credited as Executive Producers. I would guess that it guaranteed that veteran writer/first-time director Tony Gilroy's pitch to the studio heads at Warner Brothers was not going to compromise the film's vision with focus groups and last-minute changes to make the audiences numb.
Maybe the film's marketing campaign turned people off. Sadly, there are many good to great films that did not do well at the box office for numerous reasons. As much as I believe that awards and ceremonies are problematic, the Oscar nominations can only help to get more people to check out "Michael Clayton".
For the record, I gave "Michael Clayton" an 8 out of 10. The film did have some pacing flaws and did seem disjointed, especially the first 20 minutes. What impressed me was that the all the story resolutions made the entire film worth my time. It can be very easy to confuse people by simple time shifts but, like a completed crossword puzzle, the finished product is impressive. I think the acting nominations of Clooney, and especially Tom Wilkinson and Tilda Swinton were well-deserved.
Men in Trees (2006)
A faded photocopy of a better TV show (or two)
On one Thursday evening at 10:00pm, my local west coast ABC affiliate aired the pilot episode of "Northern Exposure". The ABC Network usually airs "Men In Trees" in that time slot but the program was preempted for a live sporting event.
Despite both shows are set in Alaska and filmed on location in the Pacific Northwest (Exposure in Washington state, Trees in Vancouver, BC), re-watching "Northern Exposure" (as well as few episodes of "Sex and the City") reminds me how disappointed I am with the poorly conceived hybrid "Men in Trees".
Anne Heche can be a good actress with the right material. Unfortunately her role as a writer who ends up in a small town in Alaska grates on my nerves. Perhaps because I feel that Heche is miscast, I am not convinced of her "fish-out-of-water" character.
I also cannot help but feel that the supporting cast fits the typical quirky stereotypes. The hot-looking local, the kindly bar owner, the bush pilot, the local police officers, the dim but well-intentioned radio DJ, etc.
The only stereotype that may have been broken was teddy bear and veteran "ER" actor Abraham Benrubi as the local bartender in love with two different women. Considering that one of the executive producers is filmmaker James Mangold, (his movies "Heavy" and "Cop Land" had lead characters who were large men) then I am not surprised why Benrubi was cast in a non-typical role.
Nonetheless, I can see why there are a lot of dedicated viewers who love "Men in Trees". It fits the quirky niche for television audiences. I wished the show could find its own voice instead of borrowing ideas from better shows.
Bridget Loves Bernie (1972)
Still slight after all these years.
As an impressionable 10 year old, I liked the "love conquers all" philosophy of the 70s sitcom "Bridget Loves Bernie." I did understand the controversy, which was about the romantic complications between a Jewish cab driver (David Birney) and an Irish Catholic school teacher (Meredith Baxter) and both sets of parents (Harold J. Stone and Bibi Osterwald as Bernie's parents; Audra Lindley and David Doyle as Bridget's parents) who have issues with the young couple's interfaith marriage.
Looking at the show now with years of personal life experiences, I am amazed that the show was even a success for one, albeit, highly-rated season. Created by veteran TV writer Bernard Slade, who a few years after the show's cancellation would write the successful play "Same Time, Next Year", "Bridget Loves Bernie" was a very light, superficial comedy that collapsed under its own airy weight.
There was no denying the real-life chemistry between Birney and Baxter. But, in later years, both actors have shown that they are better actors in other projects (Birney in his short-lived role in "St. Elsewhere" and Baxter in "Family" and "Family Ties"). Here, they were trying to breathe life in a show that needed a much gritter comic edge, which might have given the complications more depth to a very controversial subject.
The show aired Saturday nights between two CBS powerhouses: "All in the Family" and "Mary Tyler Moore". Both of those shows were smart, funny and had enough of an edge (more so on the former that the latter) that kept my interest in the situation and the characters. "Bridget Loves Bernie" was not very smart and only had some occasional chuckles.
This was another example of a show that really was not as good as I remembered.
Brothers & Sisters (2006)
Amid some very silly moments, the show breaks through with the truth about family dynamics
I've been having a little bit of fun watching the TV drama Brothers and Sisters this season. I think it is a combination of Knots Landing as if it was produced by the crew of thirtysomething.
That comparison makes sense to me considering that some of the people associated with this current show include ex-thirtysomething cast members Ken Olin (producer/director), Patricia Wetting and David Marshall Grant (story editor and script writer). Grant appeared in a controversial episode from 1989 in which he and another actor were in bed together so I find it rather interesting that almost 18 years after that particular episode aired, one of the main male characters from this current series has several on-again/off-again romantic relationships with several men throughout the first season. As far as I know, there has not been as big of a controversy as a couple of decades ago. Interestingly, I found out that the ratings for the season finale ranked number one in its time period.
Sometimes the show is too silly for its own good (I especially disliked the Games Night storyline) but once in a while (which seems to be happening more often in later episodes) are kernels of truth about the dynamics within a family. There are a lot of gray areas with most of the characters within the Walker clan. Not everyone is perfect and that is very refreshing to me. Sometimes the show is right on the verge of melodrama but thanks to a very strong ensemble, including Calista Flockhart, Rachel Griffiths, Matthew Rhys, Dave Annable, Ron Rifkin and especially Sally Field, they are able to pull back and show the numerous emotions when it comes to personal changes and how it affects themselves and the family.
One's reactions to Brothers & Sisters certainly depends on if one can relate for feel empathy for the characters and the situations that are presented. The show has quietly developed a strong following in its first full season and I am looking forward to season two.
Advise & Consent (1962)
The more things change....
It is interesting to watch the 1962 political drama "Advise & Consent" in 2007 and realize that U.S. politics and the background maneuvering that occurs when a president nominates someone for any government post has never changed. It is alternately interesting and frustrating to see what goes on in Washington behind closed doors. The great politicians know how to play the dirty game of compromise while others embarrass themselves by crossing the line.
If one looks at the last 45 years of U.S. politics after this movie was released and note the numerous real-life scandals, I can say that what is depicted in the movie is pretty close to reality, even though it's a fictional story. This entertaining film is through the observant eyes of producer/director Otto Preminger, a notable risk-taker who seem to have always made it his mission to shake up the Hays Office stranglehold on morals and what should be depicted on the big screen, and screenwriter Wendell Mayes, who adapted the original novel written by Allen Drury. I have never read the book but I understand that the movie was just an abridged version and I will have to say that Preminger and Mayes did a very good job.
From Henry Fonda as the Secretary of State nominee and Franchot Tone as the President, to Lew Ayres as the Vice President, Walter Pidgeon as the senator majority leader and, in his final role, Charles Laughton as the instigating senator from South Carolina, the strong cast, individually and collectively, gave impressive performances. Familiar character actors including Paul Ford (from The Phil Silvers Show), Edward Andrews, and Burgess Meredith were also very good. I was pleasantly surprised to see TV icon Betty White in a short but pointed performance as the only female Senate member.
One notably historic story plot line involved Don Murray as an influential senator who is simultaneously being blackmailed. I was more than a little bit surprised to see the depiction of apparently a closeted politician end up traveling outside D.C. to confront his supposed blackmailer. I found the situation rather funny and over-the-top. However, if you look at when this was made, it certainly fits the morals of that era. Arguably, what was shocking and shameful before the mid-1960s (blackmailing someone who might be gay) is not as shocking now (at least in some countries).
Overall, "Advise & Consent" is extremely entertaining. Alternately dramatic and sharply humorous, this movie kept my interest from beginning to end.
Grizzly Man (2005)
A major waste of time
When I read the great reviews by major film critics and the numerous awards this movie received, it made me want to see this documentary. I was very surprised that I was unable to watch "Grizzly Man" in its entirety. I could not get past the 30 minute mark. To be fair, I did not give this movie a vote but I suspect that I would have given this film a 1 or 2 out of 10.
I had more sympathy for the bears that for the subject of Werner Herzog's documentary, Timothy Treadwell. I am not a medical professional but it seemed obvious to me that Treadwell had some major psychological and social problems. I found Treadwell to be an annoying individual who put his own life and his girlfriend's life in danger and interfered with the bears in their natural environment.
It's very rare for me to give up on any movie. I have stuck with some very bad movies until the final credit was shown on screen. "Grizzly Man" was a major exception and I do not expect to watch this movie in its entirety in the future.
Update: I saw an unreleased short which parodied "Grizzly Man" and that short film was more entertaining than the first 10 minutes of the original. The original documentary was so serious, it is ripe for several parodies.
The F.B.I. (1965)
Not that much of a TV classic but still an interesting curio from the 60s-70s
As a young kid, I remember watching The F.B.I. on Sunday nights at 8:00pm eastern time on ABC. No matter which episode I saw, it was always clear who were the good guys and who were the bad guys.
As of this posting, I am having some fun watching various episodes of The F.B.I. on AOL's IN2TV website. Even though the show lasted for 9 seasons (1965-1974) and the actual F.B.I. did play a part in the production of the TV series, I have to admit that the show is nothing more than a typical crime drama. When it came to crimes and crime solving, there were no gray areas. The lead characters were rather robotic with no personal lives whatsoever. There was an attempt in the first season to humanize Erskine (Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) whose partner was dating his daughter but that clumsy story line was dropped very quickly.
Just like with many television shows from past decades, I am always amazed seeing actors who paid their dues acting in TV shows before becoming famous or infamous. From the shows I viewed, I noticed future Academy Award winners including Diane Keaton, Gene Hackman, Jessica Tandy, Robert Duvall, Michael Douglas and Ron Howard (as Ronny Howard).
Some actors who became famous in other TV shows including Hal Linden (Barney Miller), Nicholas Colasanto (Cheers), William Shatner (Star Trek, TJ Hooker and Boston Legal among others) and Donna Mills (Knots Landing).
In the infamous category, there are appearances by Robert Blake and Claudine Longet. Then again, the ultimate infamous person indirectly associated with the show was the late F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover. Check out their IMDb biography pages for more information.
Since the Ford Motor Company sponsored the show, all you tended to see were cars by Ford. The Ford logo was prominent during the opening credits from seasons 1-5. I still find the abrupt edit rather humorous. Is Ford unwilling to put up the cash to show off their now classic cars?
When I look at past and present crime shows like Hill Street Blues, Law and Order and CSI (all editions), it reminds me how The F.B.I. (the show) was more of a dinosaur. Despite changing cultural and creative values, the program did not change with the times. It was a rather bland and sometimes not very challenging show, despite a few episodes that did kept my interest. And although it's always nice to see future stars, overall, The F.B.I. was just a standard crime drama. Competent but not a classic.
...and justice for all. (1979)
If the climatic scenes were only as good as the rest of the movie
I really wished "...And Justice for All" was a great movie about one lawyer's conflicts within a broken justice system. I wonder if the movie might have been better if Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky collaborated on this uneven darkly comical project instead of director Norman Jewison and screenwriters Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtain.
What ruined it for me were the various subplots and supporting characters which got in the way of the main plot in which an attorney (Al Pacino) finds that was hired to defend a corrupt judge (John Forsyth) he does not respect.
Even though the final scenes were outrageously over-the-top, the final 20 minutes were the best scenes in the movie. Pacino loud, bombastic appearance fit perfectly and I only wished that the ending was as good as the rest of the movie. I think "...And Justice for All" was unable to do what "Network" did three years earlier due to some ill-advised creative choices that made the film more silly than biting.
I will always remember the ending. The rest of the movie is a bit of a blur.
The Queen (2006)
Anchored by Helen Mirren, "The Queen" is a brilliant recreation of royalty under a public microscope
I have no idea if what screenwriter Peter Morgan and director Stephen Frears presented in the fascinating, alternately dramatic and biting film "The Queen" is even close to what the Windsors are like in real life. More often than not, I view Queen Elizabeth II in press and video not knowing a thing about her. The movie could have easily been a skit making fun of the royal family, i.e.: Spitting Image, The Kids in the Hall, etc. But Morgan and Frears took the high road but not without some very darkly funny lines and observations set during the week when Princess Diana was killed in a car crash and the royal family's reaction the week after the news.
Helen Mirren's complex and believable portrayal of a Queen and a royal family in crisis was outstanding. What really impressed me is how underplayed the performance was. It certainly would have been out of character for Queen Elizabeth II to chew the scenery. Mirren's work, which justifiably received many acting awards, is a great current example of an under-the-surface performance. Just like the Queen herself, keep a stiff upper lip and don't allow your emotions to show in public. Somehow, Mirren made Queen Elizabeth II human which was not an easy task. Despite anyone's negative feelings for the film itself (excluding myself), Mirren's performance should be studied by acting fans for years.
I was also fascinated by the relationship dynamics throughout the movie. From the Queen's back-and-forth meetings with the young, new Prime Minister Tony Blair (well-played by Michael Sheen) to her husband Prince Philip (James Cromwell), her mother (Sylvia Syms) and even the relationship she has with the public.
At a running time of just under 1 hour and 40 minutes, "The Queen" ponders several questions: After the death of Diana, despite protocol issues, were the actions of the Windsors justified? Was the general public justified in criticizing the actions of the Windsors? As a world, do we expect too much from people in higher profiles? With the press and the internet, do we have the right to know the private life of a public figure? Frears, Morgan, Mirren and the rest of the production crew for "The Queen" did a masterful job of capturing one of the world's most private public figures.
Proval's performance almost saves this well-meaning "kitchen" drama.
Nunzio is a little-seen drama which tells a standard underdog story a husky, mentally-challenged deliveryman (David Proval) who dreams of being a superhero. Teased by the local hoods, his older brother Jamesie (James Andronica, who also wrote the screenplay) protects Nunzio to the point of smothering him.
Although the movie is rather sappy, Proval dose a very good job of keeping most of the ham in check (unlike co-star/screenwriter Andronica). In addition, Jazz singer/Corelone matriarch Morgana King was a welcome sight playing the mother of Nunzio and Jamesie.
Note: There was one specific scene that to this day still makes me uncomfortable even though it was important to the plot and put this movie in MPAA rating limbo. The film was originally rated R because of a sex scene between the main character and a neighborhood girl. According to the original NY Times review by Janet Maslin, that scene was edited down so the movie can get a PG rating. When the movie was shown on cable TV, the R-rated version was shown at night and the PG-rated version was shown during the day. I would have to agree with Maslin that if you took the sex scene out, the scenes after the incident made no sense at all.
Universal released Nunzio to theaters in 1978 but has never released the movie to DVD. I wonder why? Ever since his 1973 debut in Martin Scorsese's Mean Streets, Proval has been a very dependable character actor an has appeared in numerous movie and TV projects including his memorable role as Richie Aprile in The Sopranos. I would think Universal would have considered releasing Nunzio to DVD to take advantage of Proval's Soprano buzz and show how talented the actor was to people who have never seen or heard of Nunzio. Sometimes some marketing strategies makes too much sense.
The Other Side of Midnight (1977)
Trashy. Equivalent to a summer paperback read..
Producer Frank Yablans and 20th Century Fox spent some serious cash on "The Other Side of Midnight" filming scenes on location in Paris, Washington, DC and Greece. It certainly looks good on screen. The lush musical score by Michel Legrand made the movie sound more important than it really is. (When is a Legrand musical score not lush?) But the plodding epic WWII romantic story about two women who are in love with the same pilot, adapted from the best selling Sidney Sheldon novel, should not be taken too seriously. The movie is so soapy, I'm surprised Procter & Gamble did not co-produce the movie.
Marie-France Pisier tries her best to flesh out (pun intended) her character of Noelle, using her body to get to the top. But the scenes with Sorrell Booke as a businessman who bought Noelle from her father, Christian Marquand as a filmmaker and Raf Vallone as a Greek tycoon, were rather embarrassing and I did not feel any sympathy toward her character. John Beck fared even worse as a very uncharismatic, two-timing cad.
It is interesting that after "Midnight", Pisier (who I remember from a much better movie from two years earlier, Cousin, Cousine) went back to appearing in movies in her native France and Beck continued to appear in soaps, this time on television.
Somehow, I thought Susan Sarandon fared best because she was the best actor of the three leads. I felt more sympathy for her character Catherine than Noelle. And what has happened to Sarandon after this trash-fest? Can someone say a thinking man's sex symbol? (Oscar-winning performance as Sr. Helen Prejean in "Dead Man Walking" notwithstanding.)
Why a 5 out of 10 instead of a 1 or 2? I remember reading many negative reviews when it was first released in 1977. However, unlike what was reported in the IMDb Trivia section, the movie did have a long run in theaters and was a moderate success at the box office. Even though I was very leery of the film's 2 hour, 45 minute length, I caught the movie on cable TV. This movie is like a trashy summer novel, I could not put this movie down. Without giving the ending away, the plot twists almost made the film worth my time. Having seen the movie several times in the past few years, The Other Side of Midnight is a bad movie but I plead guilty to admit that it is so bad, it's good.
Update (5/10/2007): I tried to re-watch this movie and ended up fast forwarding through the boring parts. I guess my original review was rather generous.
If you cut down the "getting to know you" musical montage scenes, the transition scenes where people are walking from one beautiful scene to another and delete the gratuitous nude scenes, it might have been better. The movie is also filled with script exposition and not enough actual scenes that might have made the movie more interesting. The scenes between Pisier and Michael Lerner, who plays an investigator trailing John Beck's character, are especially deadly.
Sarandon's performance still holds up. She exudes more depth to her character than the script allows.
I sense that the movie was made by some dirty old men whose idea for a "chick flick" was to see the main female characters naked. A naked male lead? Not a chance.
Harry and Tonto (1974)
An introspective, cross-country road trip with a wonderful performance by Carney
Art Carney's Oscar-winning role as a elderly man who is forced to move out of his NYC apartment and takes a cross-country trip to California to start a new life with his elderly cat in tow, was filled with light comic touches and very moving dramatic moments. Compared to his iconic character Ed Norton, Carney's performance as Harry Coombes was relatively low-key.
Some critics played the "age", "veteran" or sympathy card when, in the spring of 1975, Carney beat out Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Al Pacino (The Godfather Part II), Dustin Hoffman (Lenny) and Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express) for Best Actor. In retrospect, I don't think that was a fair assessment to Carney. In my opinion, Carney's later performances in "The Late Show" and "Going in Style" were just as good, maybe even better than his award-winning role as Harry Coombes. Carney's win was unexpected but his performance in "Harry and Tonto" was not a fluke.
Hand in Hand (1961)
It is amazing how powerful films can be to a child. Upon reading the numerous reviews and postings of the wonderful movie "Hand in Hand", it is interesting how many of the writers who are probably in the same age bracket and, at least in the U.S., remember this movie airing on the CBS Children's Film Festival on a Saturday afternoon. I guess one can thank CBS, Kukla, Fran (Allison), Ollie and Burr Tillstrom for introducing this powerful film on religious understanding and tolerance within the friendship of two young children.
I remember Rachel and Michael (Loretta Parry and Philip Needs). Even though the film was probably 7 or 8 years old when I first saw the movie on TV, I can relate to them as a child. Perhaps because of how they were raised and the different religions they were taught, the children were a bit suspicious but after a while they got to know each other. What still gets to me after so many years is how misunderstanding and seeing people just as what their were raised can get in the way of seeing others as human beings.
There is a sense of curiosity and wonder getting to know someone who was raised from a different religion and that curiosity begets friendship and, ultimately, understanding. As directed by Philip Leacock (who would later direct numerous TV shows including Route 66, Gunsmoke and The Waltons) and written by Diana Morgan (from a story by Sidney Harmon), Hand in Hand is a sensitive and powerful film.
I am not a fan of remaking great films. But consider the state of religion in the U.S. and the world and how many conflicts occur for the sake of religion. With the right screenwriter, director and cast, I think Hand in Hand could be adapted to the current day. Until then, I concur with others on releasing this wonderful film on DVD.
The Gathering (1977)
What would it take for a critically-acclaimed, highly-rated TV movie to be released on DVD? (2011 Update)
It was interesting to read the production credits of The Gathering, an extremely well-acted drama, and see the following title - Executive Producer: Joseph Barbera. When Barbera died in 2006, it was a shame that the obits never mentioned his Emmy win for this critically acclaimed TV movie. Barbera, with business partner William Hanna, produced numerous TV cartoon shows and the Tom & Jerry shorts. The Gathering was Hanna-Barbera's few non-animated projects and this Emmy-award winning drama hit the ball right out of the park with its unsentimental view of one family celebrating Christmas for a final time with their long-lost father.
Strong performances by a great ensemble cast including Edward Asner and Maureen Stapleton as the parents, an observant script by James Poe (who co-adapted Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and won an Oscar co-adapting Around the World in Eighty Days) and well-directed by Randal Kleiser (who would direct the movie Grease a year later) made The Gathering one of the better TV-movies from the 1970s.
Update: May 13, 2011
Warner Brothers Archive Collection released The Gathering on DVD in 2009.