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October Baby (2011)
It's about forgiveness.
24 April 2012
This is a drama of life and death, as many dramas are. Behind the movie lurks the principle of such movies as "It's a Wonderful Life." If you've ever seen it, it's hard to forget the moment Clarence says to George Bailey, "You really have had a wonderful life."

The reason, of course, is the virtue that permeates George Bailey's life. He gives many a person a break, charity, if you will. He has a network of friends that are not on Facebook, that even he doesn't realize he has.

Hannah, the main character, has a dependable friend in Jason, but feels quite isolated, and there are good reasons for her feelings.

Hannah is a walking contradiction, like one who inspired her character, Gianna Jessen. To be an "abortion survivor" is to be caught up in a debate by the nature of one's very existence. She is, as it were, the opposite of George Bailey, she was supposed to not have a wonderful life, or even to be considered a human person at all, and simply vanish from the scene like a character leaving the stage (or some might say a prop).

But, George Bailey's vision of life without him is pure fantasy. Abortion survivors are a reality that makes some people uncomfortable. This movie puts that reality out to an audience in a new way--not with the story of Gianna Jessen, but with a fictional story that is designed to reframe debates about the nature of human life. A powerful moment for me was when Hannah writes in her journal, "The truth will make you free?" We've probably heard the phrase, "What is truth?" but here another famous statement is framed as a question, and the question is a big part of the movie. Inevitably, though, forgiveness is a bigger part. Although I don't think the phrase "divine mercy" occurs in the movie, it is an underlying theme. Truth and mercy meet.
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Kraft Theatre: The Big Heist (1957)
Season 11, Episode 8
A sloppy but funny program
27 February 2010
It's possible I watched a rehearsal performance that was put on kinescope, but I'm not sure. The show uses the comedic potential of Bert Lahr and Fred Gwynne fairly well, but there are some serious flubs and they are handled rather casually.

The two are small time crooks, and Bert wants to win the love of a widow who was married to a big time criminal. They plan a big heist, and in fact they get away with a million dollars, but the story takes rather comedic and ironic turns.

At one point, Fred Gwynne is stuck and Bert Lahr tells someone off camera to "throw him a line." Bert Lahr also says "shhhh" to someone off camera in a scene where the only people in the restaurant set are he and Fred Gwynne.

Patty Duke has a small role as a girl the crooks know. I would never have known it is her because she is 10 years old.

Overall, I enjoyed it, despite a number of miscues and obviously incorrect lines. It was enjoyable as a particularly honest performance. There are no retakes and no green screens. What was recorded was what happened.
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Kraft Theatre: A Night to Remember (1956)
Season 9, Episode 26
Amazing Live TV Spectacle
5 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Although it could be said that I am writing a "spoiler," I would hope that everybody reading this knows that the Titanic is a huge cruise ship that sank in the North Atlantic. This is simply recorded history.

How can the story of the sinking of the Titanic be told on live television? How can a live performance bring across such a story? How can it be told in less than 60 minutes? I was surprised that they even tried this, but they pulled it off quite well.

There are at least 9 different sets, and probably more than that, and some of them are quite large. Occasionally film is used for exterior shots and the scene of the initial breach of the iceberg in the hull of the ship, but most of the action is live. The performances are great, and the action moves from scene to scene with incredible ease, as if this were a film edited together. By 1956, it seems that live TV had been refined to quite an art.
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Bella (2006)
A Simple Yet Good Movie
19 February 2007
This movie comes across without fanfare, without glitz, and looks at everyday, ordinary life. Yet it proves you don't need a lot of sparkle to have a great movie. The acting was very good, and the story was presented in a compelling fashion.

I particularly liked the scenes involving Jose's family. They pick up the pace just when the movie is starting to drag, and prepare for the most intense part of the film. There is such a fluid motion to the movie--smooth transitions that carry one along in the story without distraction. Although the version I saw is the "rough cut" prepared for the Toronto Film Festival, the editing still seemed a cut above average.

It seems like such a simple storyline, yet it deals with very profound topics. I loved it. I would recommend it to anyone.
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A Brief and Compressed Telling of the Story of Bernadette
13 January 2007
The teleplay is called "Bernadette" in the credits, with no reference to the movie and book Song of Bernadette. There is, however, clear evidence that the teleplay borrowed visually and musically from the movie Song of Bernadette.

The teleplay is based on Mary Gray Blanton's biography of St. Bernadette called Bernadette of Lourdes (later published as The Miracle of Bernadette). It uses many techniques of compressing the story to fit in less than one hour, which greatly lessens the accuracy in the portrayal. While the story is there, the details are not all that reliable. Some scenes are combined for greater dramatic effect.

Pier Angeli was 26 when she portrayed the 14 year old St. Bernadette. This is quite obvious in the teleplay, but her portrayal is still not without merit.

It was certainly a noble venture to retell the story during the 100th anniversary of the apparitions (this was produced and shown in 1958), but you are much better off watching one of the movie versions.
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The Man Called X (1956– )
A spy show with less violence and more cunning.
15 August 2006
This program was based on the files of a real government agent. To what extent the shows are actual cases I am not sure, but they are probably closer to real cases than many other programs of this genre because they aren't always extremely exciting. Each assignment has Ken Thurston doing something rather different, not unlike "Dangerous Assignment" or other programs of the era, but the stories are more credible and less fantastic. Still, Ken's abilities seem endless. In one episode, he poses as an Air Force pilot, and is also fully capable of flying a bomber. While violence occurs on occasion, most of the story involve outwitting the Communists through careful planning and sometimes quick thinking. This is not an action-adventure packed with big crashes, but rather one that avoids the worst by finding a way out of danger. If one is looking for the more fantastic "James Bond" type of show, this is not it, but the shows are enjoyable in their own right.
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A detailed life of a recent Catholic saint
23 January 2005
With the production values of a telenovella, this 7 hour mini-series looks at the life of Juanita Fernandez Solar, who becomes Sister Teresa in a Carmelite convent in Chile in the early 20th century. Her parents are not enthused, nor her sisters and brothers. It seems the only ones who understand are some of her friends who are also considering religious life.

The mini-series goes through her life as a teenager in a well-to-do family for about the first five hours, and then the last two are spent examining her life in the convent. The portrayal shifts as she becomes more and more aware of her frustration and lack of satisfaction in the world, her joy in worshiping God and speaking of Him, and her longing to be a sister.

I heartily recommend it. It may start a bit slow, but by the end the long viewing time is well worth it. The acting is amazingly good, and the story only develops in intensity in the convent.

It was out of print in English for years, but has recently been re-released (2009) on DVD by Ignatius Press.
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The Drifter (1932)
A really neat old movie
4 October 2004
This obscure public domain film takes one back to the days of logging camps.

The Drifter is a Frenchman of limited vocabulary but a beeg heart. The plot has unusual twists with a little tragedy, a little comedy, a little romance, and some action thrown in here and there. Although it is somewhat slow moving and has practically no music, the movie kept me interested and wondering what would happen to all these emotive characters. The Drifter is known to everyone as such, but who is he really? One thing is for sure, he really holds the film together and gives it a genuine, homespun feeling. William Farnum has tremendous stage presence. When he's on screen, the shot is about him. For those who don't mind a primitive sound film, it's a gem. It's a B-movie with the heart of an A-movie.
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Simply entertaining
11 September 2004
This entry in the Ranger Busters series at least deserves credit for having a well-structured plot, despite poor acting. There seems to be a balance struck between the drama, action, comedy, and very mild romance. Ray Corrigan and John 'Dusty' King are always seen together plotting how to outwit the gold robbers while Max 'Alibi' Terhune does some of the investigative work on his own, besides some attempts at humor with his ventriloquist dummy Elmer. One scene is quite memorable in which Alibi is talking to Elmer, but no one else is in the room. Obviously the filmmakers didn't think the audience would be a worried about Alibi's sanity. Overall, a B-movie that, while not outstanding, at least left me with some sense of entertainment satisfaction from having watched it.
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Outlawed Guns (1935)
It's a B-western!
7 November 2003
The movie starts out stronger than many B-westerns I've seen. There's a real plot and some character development. It's definitely on the serious side. I really began to care about seeing Buck's younger brother stay out of trouble (unfortunately he doesn't). By the middle, though, it becomes a regular old B-western with lots of action, and it's a little tough to follow. The first half is a bit slow for kids, but I liked it. The second half was less satisfying, but overall, I would rate it slightly above the average 1 hour B-western.
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The Haunted Heart (2001 TV Short)
Working hard to make the point
13 July 2003
A movie designed for teens indeed, but perhaps a bit too sure it will appeal to teens. The acting is taken to extremes, and the forcefulness of the whole production makes me feel like the film desperately wants my attention, and I feel like, ok, you have it, but that doesn't mean it's a good movie.

This is one of three 30 minute films released together as part of Family Theater's "Manifest Mystery" series which relates a mystery of the Rosary to a story of a modern-day teen and his or her problems. In this one, the crowning of Jesus with thorns is supposed to be connected with a troubled teen with an alcoholic father and a sister that just wants everyone to be happy. The connection is tenuous at best, mostly connected to the final scene.

I applaud all involved for trying. It's a valiant effort, and hopefully will lead to improved films in the future.
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Not exactly Song of Bernadette
15 June 2003
Coming in between the classic Song of Bernadette and the later 1987 Bernadette, this movie falls somewhere in between. It more accurately portrays the life of Bernadette of Lourdes than the first, but continues to show her in a very pious light. This movie has some unique incidents, including the last apparition, but is not as entertaining as the other two. For some reason, miracles are downplayed. The movie seems most concerned with telling the story of Bernadette herself as a role model for young women. Unfortunately, not enough work is done to keep the viewer's attention. There are a few classic scenes, but overall this is the least of the three films.
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Accurate, down-to-earth, and funny
12 January 2003
Picking up where the 1987 "Bernadette" left off, the saint of Lourdes enters the convent and goes through various trials. Joys alternate with sorrows, and through it all Bernadette trusts in God and is reminded of the Virgin Mary's words to her: "I cannot promise you happiness in this life, only in the next." The movie is based on actual testimony used in her canonization process, and takes great care to stay with facts. This makes for an uneven storyline, so if you're looking for a movie to simply enjoy as an escape, this isn't it. If you want to know more about Saint Bernadette's life in the convent, this IS it. Included are some rather funny incidents. It was released in French and Italian, not English. I don't know of an English version available.

UPDATE: March, 2007. I saw the recently released version with English subtitles. I have a higher opinion of the movie because I can completely understand the dialog now. The country wit of St. Bernadette comes through and makes for a number of funny scenes. One of my favorite lines occurs when St. Bernadette is asked if she has any prophecies about the Franco-Prussian War. She says that she does not. A man asks her, "Don't you fear the Prussians?"

She replies, "I only fear bad Catholics."
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Vibio saves the day but ruins the movie
12 January 2003
Revolt of the Slaves is loosely based on a famous novel called Fabiola written by Cardinal Wiseman in the 1850s. It strays drastically from the original story, keeping some of the same characters (in particular the martyrs Sebastian and Agnes), and some of the same scenes, but downplaying martyrdom as a whole, and trying to make a movie that could be called "Vibio saves the Christians." The "Vibio" character is not part of the Fabiola story. He is introduced as a slave who is also a Christian, but he isn't about to be a martyr. He rescues Christians a number of times throughout the movie. Action scenes are everywhere in this movie, and every one of them is added--none are from the book.

I loved the book Fabiola, and I found this to be a deconstruction of it, not only in story but in philosophy. The screenwriters had some sympathy for the Christians, and portrayed them somewhat positively, but wanted to make them safe and happy in this world. If you know anything about the Diocletian persecution, Christians were anything but safe in those days. Faith is present in some of the characters, and it comes in handy, but physical combat seems to be the preferred mode of doing business. This movie had potential, but it was just Hercules vs. the pagan Romans.
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Quo Vadis? (1913)
Amazing for its day
28 September 2002
Probably the first feature film (over 60 min.) ever, this movie has gigantic sets that rival those of movies made years later. All camera shots are stationary, but this doesn't seem to take away from the story much. The story is fairly close to the book with a few liberties--definitely closer than the 1951 version. Obviously the idea of writing a full-length feature film still needed some work. Characters are simply introduced doing things as though the viewer already knows them. St. Peter steals the show in the last half. He's got some great scenes. An important film to watch for anyone who wants to see early breakthroughs in cinema. It's also a good study of early Christianity in cinema.
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Secret of the Horse (2001 TV Short)
A well-acted and well-edited little piece
18 June 2002
Considering the difficulty of getting a teen audience, keeping it, and having a moral and religious message, The Secret of the Horse manages quite well in the midst of a dizzying fray of movies seeking the attention of teens.

It's designed more to be shown by adults to teens, which makes the possibility of entertaining a teen audience even harder--a film that might be rejected by WHO is showing it because it does not directly enter into the teen scene, attempting to lure them to see it on its own terms.

The story of a Vietnamese teenage boy who goes to a new high school and experiences some fairly realistic taunting, but has the ability to lay low those who taunt him, but must not do this because it would affect his sister's future studies as a violinist, gives some food for thought, and although the script doesn't quite make sense (why should the father lose his job if his son gets in trouble?), the fast-action probably keeps most teens from thinking the scenario through, and allows the main-points to still stand. The moral decisions do, in fact, stand alone, and the build to climax is quite well done.

Overall, very good considering the difficulties in getting and maintaining the audience it is designed for.
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Hell's Hinges (1916)
Different in a number of ways
24 November 2001
There is a strong Christian content to the movie that most future westerns would not bring up (at least not like this). The main character, Blaze Tracy, goes from being the toughest, meanest guy in town to a defender of the Christian faith, although in a very individual way, i.e. no church affiliation. The plot centers greatly around faith and lack of faith. The events can be spiritually interpreted in a number of cases. This movie is no simple western.
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The usual b-western
20 October 2001
This movie follows the b-movie western tradition. Red Ryder's sidekick, played by Robert Blake, appears little and has few lines, so if you want to find out about his acting as a child, this isn't the place. The story doesn't particularly stand out to me, but it's entertaining enough for the 10-year-olds it was produced for (although I'm not sure it would work with today's 10-year-olds). Peggy Stewart's character is the most interesting. She is a bad girl who spends the duration of the film turning good.
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Bernadette (1988)
Accurate, funny, but not a masterpiece
24 March 2001
This movie gets a lot of details right (or almost right) concerning the life of St. Bernadette. Song of Bernadette was beautifully written, but there wasn't as much effort to be accurate. Hence, this movie is great if you want a clearer idea of the life of this saint, and the circumstances she experienced. She is interpreted quite a bit differently from Song of Bernadette: with an emphasis on her human weaknesses to the point of melodrama. The movie received a PG rating because of some strong derogatory language that is aimed at Bernadette by some who were against her. The movie ends with her entrance into the convent, and the story is picked up in a sequel: The Passion of Bernadette, which I consider to be a better, more focused movie than this one.
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