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Harvest Moon (2015 TV Movie)
8/10
A sweet, watchable film. Some Mild Spoilers
17 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
There is a one other review to this very watchable film, thus far, and that 'review 's just absurd. The reviewer titles his critique -- "How Greed Conquers All" -- sounding like some raving Marxist crank.

He calls the protagonist ['Jenny', nicely played by Jessy Schram] "Scrooge-like".

I don't know what movie 'goddancredmond' watched-- but his characterization of 'Jenny' is just peculiar.

In fact, Jenny's Very Rich family goes bankrupt, and she comes out to sell the one remaining asset - a pumpkin farm. It is unsellable because it is mired in debt. So Jenny turns to learn the farm so its value can appreciate so that she can then sell it -- but has a contract written that guarantees all the farmworkers are guaranteed employment in perpetuity. And is even good-humored about tricks that one of the hands plays on her, to discourage her from staying.

"Scrooge?" Ridiculous.

This City Girl gets up at 5 am to learn how to farm ... takes it upon herself to fix a porch swing and a fence ... does 'makeover's for all the women on farms in the area before a big barn dance.

"Scrooge?" Ludicrous.

Then Jenny starts to become attached to the farm and its 'family', and sees ways to improve their lot, such as marketing a specially bred violet ... a pumpkin-based cream that is good for the skin ... taught a young farm boy to dance, so he could get over painful shyness about a particular pretty girl.

"Scrooge"? What in the H--l is this guy talking about?!?!

In fact the principal problem with the movie is there is too little serious conflict, because Jenny is so sweetly likable and willing to learn, and help, and innovate.

And a final major hurdle is flattened by a Deus-ex-Machina -- the last-second intervention of an old friend.

Nonetheless, it's a sweet film - warming to watch .

'goddancredmond' is simply out of whatever mind he may still possess.

And I regret my angry tone, but I like this film -- especially the character 'Jenny' -- and I am feeling somewhat as a guy who hears a girl he likes being badmouthed by a Neanderthal.

Joe McCain - January 17th, 2016
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The Walking Dead (2010– )
10/10
Improbably Brilliant (moderate spoilers}
2 January 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is simply a brilliant, improbable television production. Aired on AMC.

"Brilliant", because every aspect of filmed story making -- writing ... direction ... casting ... acting ... rhythm ... creation of a real universe ... are as branches of a large river, each tributary flowing into a larger watercourse to make it confluent and fascinating -- an absolutely absorbing tale.

"Improbable", because how could one possibly extract a massive compelling, years-long series out of persons who turn into zombies when dying or being bitten, and threatening all human life on earth itself? 75 Episodes, thus far!

But a brilliant producer/director/writer Frank Darabont -- he of 'The Green Mile' and 'Shawshank Redemption' -- has pulled together a glittering team to transform a comic book series by Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adiard -- into this face-grabbing tale of non-ending cataclysm.

Just as amazing to me is that this team -- plus agile writers and episode directors -- have produced fascinating episode after episode for six seasons. Any of these episodes stand up to the qualifiers "excellent" and "compelling".

A band of zombie-assailed persons, led by a rural Georgia Sheriff, make their way through an incredible series of perils across the South to Atlanta, then Northward toward the Salvation Land of Washington DC. They protect a supposed scientist who has a cure for the virus that causes these terrible transformations from human to the ravenous 'undead'. More this 'cure' purports to eradicate those infected -- whether by curing them, or killing them, is not clear.

Even more perilous are other uninfected human beings, turned into voracious predatory gangs, raiding other surviving human clusters -- killing them, or enslaving them, and taking all they have painfully gathered to sustain and defend themselves.

We get to know the members of Sheriff Rick Grimes' 'tribe' as they struggle to reach the distant Promised Land. Each character we meet, we bond with in some way -- admiration, affection, curiosity - or dislike and disaffection - or doubt. Many of these members we grow close to, are lost along the way, torn away by the terrible perils of such a trek through endless malevolence. Other new and interesting characters join the tribe at various points along the way, and by differing methods..

The acting is peerless -- 'Sheriff Rick Grimes' is played by a profoundly gifted British actor Andrew Lincoln -- who sounds as American as the proverbial pie - and is of great character, and determination - and is human - he makes mistakes ... 'Daryl Dixon' - a motorcycle loner, largely antisocial, whose courage and earthy skills become crucial to the tribe's survival - played wonderfully by L.A.-raised Norman Reed ... 'Carol Peletier' - a subservient husband-abused wife, become tough and resourceful -- and like the others, an accomplished killer, as needs be -- otherwise she bakes or gardens in the few and rare respites from constant battle - played with great range by Melissa McBride ... 'Glenn Rhee' - a quiet, dense fighter, who asserts himself at critical times - splendidly portrayed by Korean-American Steven Yeun ... his partner, 'Maggie Greene' - smart, wise, resilient, but sometimes emotional member -- lovely performances by American-born British actress Lauren Cohan ... 'Carl Grimes', Rick's kid - whom we have seen expand from a boy to a teenager of great and cool courage - for we first saw him at age 10 - he is now 16 - acted coolly by young Chandler Riggs. 'Michonne' - who walks out of the woods one day with a Samurai sword, with which she is expertly lethal - a woman who speaks sparingly - then only to bring the tribe - especially Rick - back 'on mission' -- played perfectly by Iowa-born Danai Gurira, whose parents emigrated from Zimbabwe...

There are many, many more skilled actors who bring complex 'tool kits' to their parts.

One can not understate the pure éclat of the technical geniuses -- the Prop crews ... the Make-up artists ... the Costumers ... and the rest who create this torn-up world -- and especially, these horrifically detailed 'walking dead', that come at the tribe -- and us -- by the thousands. Literally.

The salient crucible of all these writers, directors, producers, actors, techs -- is as compelling a series as I have ever seen. Each episode has tension, blown apart by surprises - all of which follow logically. No Deus ex Machina, here.

In truth, I have never watched any of the flurry of zombie and vampire films that have proliferated in the last few years. They just didn't interest me. I've seen only the original 'Frankenstein', 'Dracula', and 1999's 'The Mummy' -- which I found to be mostly fun, and not particularly scary.

The Walking Dead, however, is usually terrifying, at every turn. And the loss of each Member of the Tribe is viscerally painful.

I cannot wait until the second half of Season Six, which leaps out at us February 14th.

Joe McCain - Jan 2nd, 2015
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The Pacific (2010)
3/10
Poor Cousin to 'Band of Brothers'
24 March 2010
As a devoted fan of HBO's 'Band of Brothers', I greatly anticipated this apparent companion in the Pacific. Sadly, It turns out to be a very poor relative of the 'Band....'.

As I watched Part I, I was immediately put off as the creators of this production used an old, trite cliché to tell this colossal story. One of the Marines is a writer -- another kind of Narrator.

More, he turns out to be Moralist with a 'long view'.

It is simply impossible to accept a Marine, who has watched two fellows capture a wounded 'Jap' -- sorry, a contemporary World War II term -- who then kills his buddies with a suicide hand grenade, then gets philosophical about the enemy. Which he does when he later searches the pack of another Jap killed in a mad charge and ponders a photo of the soldier's wife and daughter, and a cute little toy doll -- one supposes for the daughter.

Marines on Guadalcanal were scared and angry and trained to fight an enemy that bombed Pearl Harbor and invaded Wake Island and Guam. And who were known to be brutal occupiers throughout the Far East. These Marines wanted to kill Japs and avenge, not muse upon this crazed foe who considered it honorable to commit suicide against American weapons.

And the typical Hollywood irony is that one of the diarists they choose is Richard Leckie -- AND THEY REWRITE HIM! For instance, he mentions in his book NOTHING about an affair with a Greek-Australian girl. It's all so silly....

You have to accept 'The World of a Movie' -- it's laws of physics, its sociology. This world is not real, its science is inconsistent. This is not the great ocean over whose huge span was fought a terrible, tough, torturous war -- ' The Pacific' is mostly a shallow pond with toy soldiers.

(ADD to previous review)]

I tried to give 'The Pacific' a bit more room to turn into something compelling. But Part III, the Greek-Australian girl and break-up didn't quite have 'real' in it -- but a Marine shooting dairy cows from a train? In an Allied country? And his fellows cheering him on? When even the United States is more then 75 per cent agricultural in 1940? Absurd. That Marine would have been court-martialed and imprisoned.

Bye, you poor excuse for a war series ... no more mental ammunition wasted on -- not The Pacific, but a poor Hollywood puddle.....
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Man on Fire (2004)
10/10
A special, intriguing, discomfiting near-master work
1 September 2005
'Man on Fire' is a film in two parts. . . .no, that is wrong, it is a film in two halves – one as bright as a little girl named 'Pita' and the pleasure she gives us -- the other as dark as the terrible density of a Black Hole that crushes even light itself.

Unlike so many films which are in two pieces -- for that is their flaw, they don't make a complete, smooth work – the two opposing halves of 'Man on Fire' fit as tightly as the Yin and the Yang, diametric opposites seamlessly welded into a whole.

We are first seduced into a rather sweet un-cloying film, as Denzel Washington's 'John Creasy', resists ... then yields to an increasingly swift glide from a shelled and cynical and absolutely alone near-alcoholic into the persistent affection of the 10-year-old Mexican-American girl he is hired to protect. Hired on the cheap, "because I drink."

'Pita', wonderfully crafted by the very young Dakota Fanning, has a wisdom and a charm that seem to sometimes arise in the only child who grows up in a difficult but not cruel situation, and has the time and space to develop a strong character, a 'center'. Pita is friendly, and so is disappointed when rebuffed by Creasy, but not hurt. After a step back for a long look at him, this musing little girl decides Creasy is worth the siege.

She draws him into a game of emotional chess, which he will not admit he is even playing until he is checkmated. In turn he helps her surmount an athletic obstacle, and the reward to him – and to us – is her elation.

Creasy and Pita have become close. 'Close' is something Creasy has not felt in a very long time. A friend says much later in the film, "She showed him it was all right to live again".

This sweetness -- not of saccharine, but of a complex natural honey -- becomes more and more disquieting. For we know he is a bodyguard hired to protect this little girl -- in a Mexico City of 24 child kidnappings in six days. So, we also know the attempt on 'Pita' will come. HAS to come. And because of the dark staccato march of the film, we know that the attempt will be very hard, probably brutal.

And after the kidnap comes – chaotic, violent, messy – a wounded Creasy mutates swiftly into an indomitable arsenal of vengeance from which even Dumas, author of 'The Count of Monte Cristo', would recoil. There are many kinds of anger – wild rage . . . molten fury . . . a cold and measured wrath. It is the last that is the most dangerous, because it is an anger that thinks and calculates and cannot be distracted. It is John Creasy's.

His friend 'Rayburn', played wonderfully by Christopher Walken, describing Creasy's anger as an art, says – "He's about to paint his masterpiece." Creasy formulates a solo raid on the complicated forces of gang greed grafted to official corruption that engineered the kidnapping, with a 'little help from his friends' – a former fellow counter-intelligence operative, a veteran Mexico City newswoman with a mission to expose rotten special police officers, and an honest police official of courage and a profile too public for the corrupt to dare touch.

There has never been a Reaper so Grim as John Creasy. His retribution is absolute, merciless, and thorough, with little 'touches' that an artist of any kind tends to apply to a 'masterpiece'.

It is often a difficult film to watch, because it is so raw, so real, so visceral and yet so intelligent. Our emotions and our intellects – that is to say, our knowing minds – are drawn toward and into its center, which swallows us like a slow, inexorable python.

It's a smart film, an intelligent film, and inside are some of the tightest turns and twists outside of the human intestine, which is where we are taken -- into the bowel of crime and corruption. There are too many surprises to follow, except by rushing to catch up, but none are gratuitous, none are forced. And all are intriguing.

Tony Scott's direction of Brian Helgeland's script increases our discomfort with a pace often pierced by rapid, unclear shards of sequence that unsettle us, and a murky frame here and there – 'What the hell was in that pool?', ''Who yelled that?', and just plain 'Hunh?' As with all good films that plot well, there are plants here and there – but some pay off, and some never reappear at all, which adds further to our dis-ease. We can never be certain of anything in this shifting five-dimensional work.

And Denzel Washington's craft and depth and range are just splendid. As is the rest of the cast, without exception, that I noted.

Though the film may stumble at moments, it dares to do so much that the missteps are forgiven, as might be the few human errors on a wondrous sculpture. The belief one is forced to suspend on occasion is surrendered gladly, for we know that neither life nor real art can be perfect. Both must just do their best.

There has never been a 'perfect' film, and never will be. So we must give the well-crafted superlative near misses the 10's. – in lieu of 9.58's and 9.79's.

'Man on Fire' is a flaring 9.65 – meaning, a '10'.
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10/10
The most stunning, mesmerizing of all war productions
6 June 2005
"Band of Brothers" is clear candidate for the most stark, stunning production on war ever made. It supplants the first third of "Saving Private Ryan" when the dropping bow ramps of the landing craft threw us into the mindless chaos of an amphibious landing against fierce, concentrated, largely unseen resistance.

This meticulous 10-part series is not crafted to send a message, but to pull us into the complete and constant violence of pitched battles in which terrified, but trained and disciplined soldiers move to an objective through the lethal clouds of metal -- bullets, shrapnel, shards, needles -- killing, maiming, wounding, altering.

"Brothers" moves us and its men through many clashes, each of a different size and shape, and shows us two fundamentals among many -- that war is generally stretches of discomfort, boredom, and fatigue punctuated by terrible violence, violence that takes every conceivable form, which usually kills and maims impersonally by cold, impassive lottery. And that through this horror, determined bands of men cling together, move together, and unite together to do their duty as best they can.

But "Brothers" takes us much further into this horrific and heroic trek than any other film has because the makers of the series have grasped that it is Everyman and Anyman that go to World Wars, and any true discernment of those men only becomes clear through the terrors of battle and sustained campaign -- if they survive long enough.

Unlike nearly all other war films, which focus on a specially gifted hero, a few 'characters', a supporting cast, and an incident or two, nearly every man in this long World War campaign is asked to rotate to stage center if we can follow him long enough. Some will die, some will live, some will be wounded, a few will be maimed. Some will take the lead, some will shrink away. Some will make decisions, others will pale at them. Most will stumble to recover and put face forward again, some will stumble and just lie down.

There are bad officers, and good officers, good soldiers and bad soldiers, and the whole mélange in between. The bad officers and men are usually discarded, their effect too harmful on The Band to be tolerated.

We follow one parachute unit -- 'Easy Company of the 506th Airborne Regiment of the storied 101st Airborne Division. We get to know many of the Band, some only transiently. Of 140 to start the D-Day drops, only 79 were still alive a month later. And more were to fall, the gashes in the company filled by a steady flow of awed replacements.

We get to know them, their training, their terrible anxieties, their personalities, in ones and twos during parts of each episode. We suffer with them, hope for them, but rarely judge them, for the task they are given is too awful and too difficult for us to adjudge them -- for they are not movie characters, they are all of us.

Sometimes we get one soldier confused for another, which is at first disconcerting in an art form very adept at, and very conscious of, keeping characters distinct for us. But it becomes 'natural' in "Brothers", because they are in green combat apparel, and are trained to become a cohesive unit. Nearly homogeneous. Soon they become distinct as they need to be.

Only one soldier gets constantly singled out, because he was such a special and selfless and steady leader. But he is that special leader, NOT -- as most films portray -- because he is quirky or colorful or rebellious or 'different', but because he is the sum of his character and his integrity, of his training, of his humanity. And of his absolute commitment to his men. He is the combat leader of REAL war, not of filmic fantasia.

This production takes us from airborne training in Georgia through Normandy and the many battles across Europe and into Germany.

We, like the soldiers in this campaign, constantly wait for the next eruption -- whether a mass attack or air raid, or a single and sudden tragedy or accident. From which we, and this Band of Brothers must rise, for there is more to come. More to be done.

The technical craft in this series is special -- sometimes shot and cut steadily ... sometimes quirky and jerkily, as violence erupts ... sometime eerily or slowly or mistily or rapidly, as we enter the mind of a single soldier. The impeccable editing draws many essences of war, but one above all others -- cacophony and arrhythmia.

In their toolbox of deafening sounds of battle is a new one. A quick, whizzing moan -- a bullet that has passed within a fraction of an inch.

There are many nice techniques that do not call attention to themselves, but add texture to this fine work, such as several deft scenes in which we learn of the aggregate losses since D-Day, one so subtle and quiet that we are not quite aware of it until drawn up into near-mystical bonds unbroken even by death.

We expect things, we anticipate things, yet we are constantly surprised as something unimagined occurs other than what we are prepared and trained for. Or nothing happens at all, which can be even more disconcerting, more unsettling -- to soldier and viewer.

It is a monument, not to war, not AGAINST war, but to the men who were caught up in the greatest of all wars, and for the most part did the very best they could. It is a campaign that cannot be defined, only absorbed. Go on this trek with Easy Company, this Band of Brothers.

For this trek was – and is – very real.

(If I may suggest, rent the tapes or DVD's. You may then stop, restart, re-view pieces that intrigue you -- there are many.)
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10/10
If you can still dream, still hope -- this Masterpiece will Live!
5 January 2005
"It's a Wonderful Life" is a Work of Art and of Great Craft that will survive the eons for its many, many qualities -- acting, script, direction, details, clear commitment by all involved....and a rather 'eccentric' structure.

It careens so closely to schmaltz -- no, to pure saccharine -- that one is surprised to not find goo on the sleeve after viewing it. But it stays just inside that sugary boundary for several reasons --

The actors are absolutely committed to the truth and motivation of their characters. They don't judge their roles, they don't act at them, they strip down, then dive completely into them and make them live and feel and suffer.

There is no more well-meaning, ethical, but often disoriented character than Jimmy Stewart's 'George Bailey'. As one watches all the shifts of emotion from self-control, to whimsy, to befuddlement, to searing anger, to sweetness, it is hard to remember that this actor is a Bomber Pilot just returned from World War II, from flying deadly B-17 missions through the terrible 'black blossoms' of flak over Nazi Germany. And more, that this is his first film since he returned!

No meaner, nastier non-caricature of a horror than Lionel Barrymore's 'Potter'. The more infamous 'Ebenezer Scrooge' is a curmudgeonly, dismissive, venal and unsympathetic man. But he wants to be left alone. Potter is pure evil, while still able to remain in a society. Unlike Scrooge he is voraciously acquisitive, constantly intrusive -- an active predator and crippler of those whose shadow even falls across his view, much less his appetite. No scruples, no ethics, no empathy for anything or anyone. And somehow Barrymore and Capra make it work.

No sweeter yet frustrating relative you have tried to rely on than George Mitchell's 'Uncle Billy'. No more uncertain but determined Angel than Henry Travers' 'Clarence'. No more interesting array of people who decorate George Bailey's life -- Donna Reed, so sweet, so pretty, yet anything but naive or simple ... Gloria Grahame, man-hungry, sensual of tastes, but whose heart and hopes just keep her from being one of 'those' girls ... Ward Bond and Frank Faylen as the Cop-and-Cab-Driver buddies, who look out for George, when they can.

And of course the Center of this Life is Frank Capra -- directing, writing, bleeding, feeling, thinking at his very, very best. Clearly written, crafted, produced, directed with every cell, both cerebral and cardiological.

A lovely film become rich in its details and contrasts.

A decent George Bailey whom we assume would gave back Mary Hatch's accidentally dropped robe -- which leaves her apparently unclad in a large hedge -- is just about to, but then stops. "You know, we have a very interesting situation, here....it's not every day a man...." And actively toys with her over her desperate pleas (remember, it is the 1930's) right up until tragedy sticks a bony hand into the scene and wrenches the moment away.

George at the kitchen table talking with his Dad (Samuel S. Hinds) and sees family housekeeper Annie (Lillian Randolph) doing a little eavesdropping through the kitchen door -- "Why don't you just pull up a chair and listen...? "....to which Annie replies -- "I would if I thought there was anything worth hearing!" A family.

The film moves into ever darker hues, step by step, until plunging suddenly downward. George is pushed beyond even his elasticity, and snaps into a sequence of sudden and exploding rages, savaging even his own bewildered family, that is stunning -- the kind in real life that make you wince in embarrassment and turn away. And because the terrible moments are so very real in this film, you wince just as uncomfortably. This from the craft and the commitment of one James Stewart, the bomber pilot. Here you see the sometimes-dismissed as the "Aw, shucks" actor at an incredible artistic complexity, with a very large actor's toolbox.

The interesting thing about the structure is this –

It's a story about George's world (yours) would be like if he had never existed.

But for 1 hour and 50 minutes, we are shown the 'before' that happens, what life was with George around. Then in the final 10 minutes we are shown that world without George Bailey, and his understanding of that consequence, and his reclamation.

Life with George was complicated, often difficult, frustrating, confusing.

Without him, it is cold, harsh, cruel and dead, except for the brassy, blaring glitter of a world gone to seed and sensuality, having lost its human way without him. And when Jimmy Stewart's face turns into stone as he first sees and tries to understand this other world he cannot possibly grasp, so do we.

This is a movie about humanity challenged, of the heart being squeezed, of dreams being shattered or stolen. And yet the good in a few people – or just one -- can keep the endangered good in others alive. Alive until it can re-ignite and re-spread its warmth and light.

Unless the shade of iron reality and cynicism has rung down around you, you can hope and dream with these citizens of Bedford Falls, because Capra and Stewart and Reed and the others hope and dream so very, very well.

Oh, and if you can EVER see this in a real theater, please do so! I just did for the first time, and the silvered emotional reality that Capra paints on that big screen is almost overwhelming, it is so large.

Capra will gently squeeze your throat and your tear ducts. He did mine and a lady friend's (though she can cry at a pantyhose commercial).
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