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Darwin's Dilemma (2009)
The usual Creationist tripe (***possible SPOILERS***)
There's so much deception and so many errors of omission and commission in this so-called documentary that it's a pointless waste of time to try to pick it apart. Instead I recommend that you Google the title and then read some of the detailed reviews of the video.
In general, however, there are several classes of deception contained in the film: misstating facts; using out-of-date information; avoiding discussion of well-established scientific data that contradict the film's premise; and drawing spurious conclusions from the so-called "data".
I'm concerned that if I provide links to those external reviews it might be considered a violation of the requirement that my review be my own original work. So if you want to see these links, go to the message board and see my post under the same title as the title of this review.
A Biography of America (2000)
A real gem of American history
This is an excellent historical series about America. Main host Donald L. Miller tells it in an engaging, anecdotal, conversational style, and the guests are knowledgeable and insightful. This series really connects the dots. For example (**spoiler alert**), in the episode titled "Westward Expansion: The Empire of Liberty," they explain how the Louisiana Purchase alters American history by changing the relationship between North and South. They also explain why Napoleon decided to sell all the land from Montana to Louisiana, thus doubling the size of the United States with the stroke of a pen.
They detail how the invention of the cotton gin, and England's fierce demand for cotton, entrenched the slave system in the South. And why, even after the Virginia soil had worn out, Virginia slaves were still worth so much: because they could be sold to the South, that had a serious slave shortage, for premium prices. Historian Stephen Ambrose then points out that this is where the phrase "Sold down the river" originated, because the Virginia slaves were sold and transported down the Mississippi River.
Other interesting tidbits in just this one episode include the fact that both Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis were born in Kentucky: Lincoln to a family of anti-slavery folks who migrated north to Indiana; Davis to a slave-holding family that migrated south to Mississippi. The series is loaded with interesting anecdotes and facts that give a depth to American history and really bring it alive.
The Joe Namath Show (1969)
Pretty bad, but has some interesting moments
It's not surprising that I'm the first person to review this show. Largely forgotten, and barely even noted in Joe Namath's Wikipedia entry, it ran only 13 episodes before being mercifully canceled. Although the show had some impressive guests from the world of sports and entertainment, Namath was not at all comfortable as the host. He was so insecure and visibly self-conscious that even guests like Woody Allen, Truman Capote, Muhammad Ali, Jimmy Breslin and Howard Cosell couldn't save this turkey. Some of the interviews are actually somewhat interesting and amusing, but there are far too few really good moments.
Currently being rerun on ESPN's Classic Sports Network, this cult classic is sort of like a car accident: you want to look away, but you can't keep from looking just to see how bad it really is.
One curiosity: Louisa Moritz, who played the ditsy "mail girl" in 10 of the 13 episodes, was actually a very bright, well educated woman who went on to make money in Beverly Hills real estate and is now a practicing, award-winning attorney in southern California.
Paladin uses a quotation originating with Amelia Earhart!
During this episode, Paladin quotes Amelia Earhart, which is historically impossible, since she lived from 1907 to 1937. Near the end of this episode he says, "Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things."
But the original full quote is: "Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace. The soul that knows it not, knows no release from little things; knows not the livid loneliness of fear."
I wonder why the writers did this, since they surely must have known that it would or could be checked. Kind of strange. Does anyone know whether this sort of thing occurs sometimes in other shows?
The Privileged Planet (2004)
The usual Intelligent Design drivel
*** This comment may contain spoilers ***
I won't go into all the details of why this simplistic movie is just another example of the Intelligent Design (ID) camp's attempt to mislead the relatively uneducated and those who may be desperate to believe in a personal god/creator. I'll just point readers to a couple of objective information sources and then mention only one or two general fallacies in the film that are typical of the ID movement's pseudo-scientific approach.
First, the biggest and most overarching flaw is the simplistic reliance on the anthropic principle: that there must be a purposeful reason why we are here to observe and contemplate the universe. Basically, anthropic reasoning says that we are here because we're special (in the eyes of God?). Whereas a more scientific approach would say that we're special because we're here. (A subtle but crucial distinction.) I.e., we could just as easily not have been here; in which case this would all be moot.
For more on the anthropic principle, just Google it and read a few of the more scientific descriptions. Secondly, the ID proponents take scraps of "evidence" very selectively and then just ignore the huge amount of counter evidence that goes against their view.
A couple of examples of this are their assumption that all life forms in the universe must be based on the particular combination of conditions found on earth (atmospheric composition, temperature, amount of water, carbon-based life, etc.); and the misleading commentary on how the size and distance of the moon from the earth and sun are just right to allow a total eclipse of the sun. Re: the latter point, the ID folks seem either to ignore or not even be aware of the simple fact that the moon is gradually moving away from the earth's gravitational field. It used to be much closer to earth; and it will eventually escape the earth's gravitation altogether, leaving us with no moon whatsoever. That future situation may be extremely disruptive to life on earth (no tides, on which many organisms depend, as the movie itself points out), if not totally disastrous. Ironically, survival under those future circumstances will probably depend on successful evolution of species due to natural selection pressure. So much for "intelligent" design.
There's a lot more I could say. But maybe this is enough to get some of the more critical, objective proponents at least to view the movie again with a more skeptical eye next time. If you really want to take a cold, hard look at the ID arguments vs. real science when it comes to evolution specifically, I suggest you read the excellent, objective book "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" by Michael Shermer, who is famous for carefully and logically debunking lots of pseudo-science. Another excellent book is "Why Intelligent Design Fails" which also carefully dissects and debunks the ID arguments.
And for more discussion about the "specialness" of our universe and how the laws of physics are tuned precisely to allow us to exist and observe it, read, in addition to the anthropic principle material, a book called "Before the Beginning" by Martin Rees, which discusses the concept of the "multiverse".
Here is the key difference between the ID crowd and real science: while the latter try to remain objective and to derive and test theories based on evidence from the natural world, the former start with a religious belief about what they want to be true, and then use selective evidence and false logic to try to "prove" it. Unfortunately, those who do not have a strong education in science, logic, etc., can fall easy prey to such nonsense.
The Millionaire (1955)
Re: the comment by Manilacalling about the # of billionaires
Actually, there were about 16 billionaires in 1957, although this was only about half the number that had existed in 1925. The number has risen and fallen over the decades, depending on things like the economic climate and the advent of new, lucrative industries that certain individuals are able to capitalize on, such as railroads, oil, steel, aluminum, software, etc.
So the first billionaires appeared long before this TV show ever aired. Some of them were around in the 19th century (e.g., the robber barons). By the way, there were only about a dozen by 1968, and about twice that many by the early 1980s. As of 1996 there were approximately 130. I think there are a few more than that today, but not a lot more.
Ghost Hunters (2004)
I can't believe there are so many people still willing to buy this junk. If you're serious about investigating this nonsense, then just go here: http://www.skepticalanalysis.com/ If you just like it as entertainment, sort of like professional wrestling, that's fine, I suppose. But don't be snookered into believing anything they portray here. There's growing evidence that it is just as phony as pro wrestling, and much of it is completely staged. They just don't have the honesty to admit it, because that would ruin their ratings. And, after all, remember that it is on the SciFi Channel, not the Discovery Channel or the Science Channel.
The Visit (1956)
To other commentators: Wrong film!
FYI, to those of you who are commenting on the film version of the Durrenmatt play, this film is not it. You have it confused with another film made eight years later.
The film you should be commenting on is the 1964 title, not this one, which is a 30-minute film short made in Canada.
The 1964 film starred Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn, and is about a scorned woman who returns to her hometown to buy the execution of her former lover. (BTW, it's not really a very good movie, except for Bergman's performance.)
Others please take note.
Some commentators miss the point of the 10-minute takes, etc.
I have seen several negative comments about the eight 10-minute takes and three fade cuts that comprise this film, and many of them seem to miss the point. For example, bob the moo said, "but I don't understand why he didn't just accept that he would have to make do with 10 [actually, eight] different shots instead of trying to hide the edit. Each time he does it by zooming in on a black jacket and then pulling out again after the edit."
The whole idea was to build the suspense and make the action appear to take place in "real time" by not having the camera appear to blink. Thus the 10-minute takes (and three fade cuts at approximately 20-minute intervals); and I think it works very well. It also makes one appreciate the excellence of the acting. It is extremely difficult for actors to execute a film flawlessly in only eight 10-minute takes, and the three principal actors did a fantastic job under very stressful circumstances.
I think the reason the film was not a big box-office success is that people were expecting the usual Hitchcock action (think of earlier Hitchcock films such as Saboteur, Foreign Correspondent, The 39 Steps or The Man Who Knew Too Much). But any serious film buff should not miss this film.
Six Feet Under (2001)
This show has deteriorated after season 1
I don't bother to subscribe to HBO because it's mostly mediocre movies, and I can wait for the few original series that are good to go into syndication and/or onto DVD. I've just finished viewing the first two seasons of "Six Feet Under" on DVD in a short period of time (thank goodness for Netflix rentals!), and there is a noticeable shift from the initial quirky, fresh episodes to ones that become ponderous and overly talky. [***NOTE: POSSIBLE MILD SPOILERS AHEAD, depending on your point of view.] The more they move away from focusing on the business and move toward exploring the various interpersonal relationships, the worse it gets. David and his exploits are becoming really annoying, as are Billy and Gabe, and I find Ruth's interactions with her potential suitors to be downright boring, although Frances Conroy is arguably the best actor in this series. (What a stunningly brilliant portrayal of a repressed neurotic who is nevertheless so endearing! Hating her would be like hating the Easter Bunny.) I don't mind dysfunctional characters, but the dysfunctionality here is becoming really oppressive, and I get the feeling that the early, clever writing has nearly dried up. I find myself fast-forwarding through about 60 percent of most of the second season's episodes. I will always be about a year behind, I guess, because I have to wait for the DVDs, but I really hope the plots and the writing improve to their original level when the third season comes out on DVD.
The Avengers (1961)
Not as good the second time around
I agree with some of the other negative comments, such as those by
TC-4. I enjoyed this series in its first U.S. run in the late 1960s when I was in high school. By that time, the awful production values of the early black-and-white episodes were replaced with slicker productions. Then, too, the incomparable Emma Peel (Diana Rigg) came on board, and they eventually shifted from B&W to color. The episodes w/Emma Peel are the best; the later ones w/Tara King (Linda Thorson) aren't quite as good; and the earliest B&W episodes are really pretty bad. I think they were produced on videotape instead of film, so the lighting and sound are pretty bad. The early plots are also not very good.
What I notice now, upon seeing this series again after 35 years, is that what originally seemed quirky, eccentric and interesting has become boring and repetitive. Also, in so many of the episodes, they obviously padded things by having the same basic thing happen two or three times to two or three different characters over the course of the hour. That's really pretty cheap.
Now, although I have watched the later episodes (w/Dianna Rigg and Linda Thorson) again on the Mystery Channel, I find myself recording them on my TiVo digital video recorder and then fast-forwarding through most of the episode, slowing down only for the last 10 minutes of the show. I am still mystified that what was entertaining 35 years ago now seems so mediocre, but I guess some shows just do not hold up well over the years.
I won't give a lengthy analysis here, just a few reactions to a couple of other messages posted here, and then a brief discussion and a note about some interesting irony I noticed in this film. *** WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD ***
First, I disagree with the theories about most of the plot being a fantasy in the protagonist's mind. I think the film works very well as a straightforward thriller (in somewhat the same vein as Strangers on a Train, though not exactly). Besides, there is just too much behavioral/conversational interaction among the various characters for the events in the film to be just a fantasy. What makes more sense to me (as someone who is trained in psychology), is that Harry really is mentally disturbed, and has had a long-term infatuation with Michel and his writing. But he also harbors resentment toward Michel (for knocking out his tooth and for being favored over Harry by his former girlfriend) as well as toward Michel's dentist father (for installing a bridge that later "turned color" and had to be replaced).
The irony I noticed in this film involves the fact that Harry actually kind of turned out to be right in a weird sort of way: the deaths of Michel's parents actually did seem to free Michel ("I feel my wings spreading"). (Interestingly, their cremations also had a similar effect on his brother Eric, as Eric mentioned to Harry just before Harry murdered him in the car.) But once Michel realized that all these various deaths/disappearances were probably due to Harry, then he had to draw the line and stop Harry before Harry could kill the rest of Michel's family.
The irony continues to manifest itself as Michel begins to like the SUV that he had previously thought was monstrous. So, in a way, Harry did "free" Michel and give him new perspectives on things, and also gave him inspiration to start writing again. He even gave him the idea for his next story, "The Eggs." Truly ironic.
Poorly thought out premise
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.
I think this movie's premise was poorly thought out, and very unrealistic. To name just a few absurdities:
Any civilization advanced enough to find us and travel here wouldn't need to use crop circles as signs for communicating among themselves. And their method of communication would probably be a lot more private/secretive than that! I mean, really, give us a break!
Also, there is good theoretical evidence that water is essential for advanced life, not just here on earth, but everywhere. That's just a fact of life about chemical bonds and evolutionary forces, etc.. Those aliens must have circulatory systems, which would almost certainly be water based (some form of liquid 'blood'), as would their body cells, etc. And so, why come to a planet that is 75% covered with water, which could be detected from a great distance away, and which has an atmosphere filled with water?
Also, such an advanced race came here to harm/abduct people, but they can't fight their way out of a kitchen pantry? What, no ray guns, etc? Come on!
In short, this film was written by someone who seems never to have read any science fiction at all, or studied any science, or even given much logical thought to the premise or structure of the screenplay. What a disappointment. What a waste of two hours. Unfortunately, I saw it on Pay Per View cable TV, so I can't get my money back. But if I had seen it in a theater, I would have demanded (and probably got) my money back.
Death Valley Days (1952)
Early, black-&-white episodes are the best
In the early 50s, this show had some wonderful episodes. I believe most of the early episodes, in black & white, were based on true stories. Later, they included more 'legends' and the show eventually was produced in color. I quit watching it during its later years, when color came in, Ronald Reagan was the host, and the stories got flimsier -- although in some of these later stories you can see some young actors who later went on to become Hollywood stars. My favorite host was the original 'Old Ranger'.