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Our Very Own (1950)
Dated postwar dating devolves into powerful family drama
12 August 2007
Behind the well-woven plot of a budding high school graduate's family problems is an earthy, though somewhat stereotypical examination of a Caucasion based, middle class existence in suburban America of 1949. Ann Blyth earnestly portrays the vicissitudinous impact of a revelation about her character's childhood. The storyline backdrop comes complete with proper but sincerely well meaning parents and a beloved, part-of-the-family, African-American housekeeper and cook (portrayed with gentility and grace by Jessica Grayson in her final film role) without whose valuable, understated contributions the family's daily routine would be reduced to chaos. Finally, of course, there's the obligatory family dog, playfully short-circuiting the household.

As depicted in this typical period film people dressed more formally, even in hot weather (for whatever reasons!), with air conditioning yet to permeate even modern, well equipped homes. As a rule, practical personal dress comfort didn't prevail over formality until the 1960's.

The prolonged initial sequence showcases a wonderful nuisance of a girl (scene-stealing Natalie Wood) "helping" with the installation of a new television, the up and coming electronic marvel of the day (whose commercial success was on the verge of becoming reality, thanks in part to some price breaking discoveries that soon rendered TV sets sufficiently affordable for the masses). Boys and girls were portraying themselves while being quietly groomed for achieving good citizenship standards as defined by the generally conservative post-war period.

In "Our Very Own" personal relationships expressed themselves in ways that depicted subtle, yet significant differences from those of years to come, revealing an overall interesting and introspective perspective of the fairly tranquil, but brief period between World War II and the Korean War. The latter event broke shortly before the public release of this film in 1950. Meanwhile, as the storyline reveals, the "cold war" had already begun and, for many people, nuclear experimentation was beginning to command a scary center stage presence. Other "hot" issues of the day include McCarthy type anti-Communism (or Anti-Americanism as it was in actuality!), racial and ethnic equality and mixed sexual attitudes; but in "Our Very Own" we are deliberately steered inward, into family and personal matters, with the broad and burgeoning concerns of the day kept at bay...almost. Issues such as those mentioned above are not directly infiltrating any aspect of daily life in the treatment offered here, except for occasional inference. The period feel is thereby enhanced.

As "Our Very Own" grapples its way toward the emerging central theme of adoption, its still subtle stigmas of the times permeate the otherwise gentile facade of the featured suburbanite family. Ann Dvorak, in character, offers a fine portrayal as a birth mother as opposed to a rearing one. Her persona is carved from the "other side of the tracks" folks, but a sensitive manner prevails. She exudes pathos, yet maintains dignity for all concerned.

Now, some sixty years hence, we are treated to a time capsule view of an earlier, mostly bygone, America complete with some focal points of its day plus those things eternal that seem to pass through generations, oblivious to time and technology. The story line may be unremarkable (although it maintains interest) but the real and stylized adaptations of Middle American life at the time are enhanced by fine performances that lend a glimpse into aspects of our culture that were probably at least partly present at mid-century past.

One acoustic footnote: "Our Very Own" also concentrates on excellent sound and sensitive background music. An Oscar nomination was achieved for Best Sound Recording.
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Survivorman (2004– )
Surviving 50+ pounds of camera gear schlepping...for starters!
12 August 2007
Les Stroud is an extraordinary man of 45 highly experienced years as of this writing. His life's journey so far has taken him deep into the world of music for which his "blues harp" talents and compositional skills have established a solid reputation in a realm that both coexists and sublimely contrasts with his unique brand of outdoor adventures which are as informative as they are uniformly grueling.

Les circumnavigates the globe at the behest of his own production team, always seeking new and disparate locations from which to both tackle and parlay his survivalist experiences to those of us willing or wanting to watch him endure his self-inflicted ordeals. It appears that as far as Les is concerned, sometimes his greatest trial is in having to be his own expert cinematographer on site...and the technical hardware doesn't always tolerate the elements as well as Survivorman.

In fact, Mr. Stroud, aside from his incredible courage and skill, is a funny and amusing teacher of how to sensibly spend a week in an unpredictable and often non-sensible (for humans) environment. The viewer is oft awarded a brief respite in the form of comic relief. To that end, and to the Survivorman's considerable credit, Les is willing to lapse into good natured self-deprecation if he becomes frustrated by having mishandled a task or judgment call. Conversely, he's not shy to cheer himself on camera for scoring small successes. The end result of his edited filming is always as full of momentary surprises as it is with the kind of awe-inspiring beauty over which nature reigns supreme, for better or for worse.

As folks from New England are prone to say, if you don't like the weather, then wait a little...and so it is with Les, who's circumstances change as quickly as Mt. Washington's (New Hampshire) atmospheric conditions. And weather can be just one of a plethora of unpleasantries to contend with. Ultimately, Les Stroud is a master of extreme teaching. He perhaps goes to conventionally unreasonable lengths to film himself in all manner of temporarily glorious moments which are usually just the other side of an impending predicament...and he's fully aware of that aspect too.

Mr. Stroud is not a daredevil, nor a thrill-seeker for its own sake, but rather a dedicated outdoors-man and supremely accomplished survivalist among his other complimentary talents. With his production crew often stationed somewhere in the general vicinity, Les does his own thing, alone, with his trusty multi-tool and harmonica for comfort wherever there might be none otherwise. As we quietly slip into his journey, Les enriches our knowledge and entertains our senses. It's a photographic treat to follow his intrepid endeavors from the safety of our personal viewing zone. In the spotty world of reality television, "Survivorman" is as flawless as it is fascinating.
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Max and Dave & co. at their finest and funniest, twisting a classic story and the voice of Mae Questel into a stunning Fleischer Style Pretzal
18 March 2007
Max & Dave Fleischer & co. were among the very best of the creators of novel and surprising applications of animation from the late teens through the entire decade of the 1930's. For "Poor Cinderella", they must have noted Disney's stunning "Flowers And Trees", produced in 1931 and released the following year. The latter is generally credited as being the first full color process American cartoon, as opposed to two strip color which emphasized either blues or greens at the expense of certain shades that were lost to the lesser and less costly techniques of the day. For budgetary reasons, the ever inventive Fleischer Bros. developed their own "Cinecolor" approach, which was a variant on the two-strip color format. Although it apparently never quite caught on, they had applied for a patent while releasing their astoundingly beautiful and hysterically surreal and laugh-laden Boop masterpiece in 1934, the only Betty Boop color cartoon.

Combining their proprietary Rotoscope technique along with other dimension enhancing toolkit tricks, few cartoon shorts have ever matched this effort for sheer entertainment value. They did try saving money on the color, as mentioned, but the whole production was obviously a very expensive endeavor, when all its components are considered in sum. The results offer a lasting tribute to the art and magic of 1930's animation.

As a Depression-era vehicle, good jobs were scarce but the Fleischer team's uproarious talent sported young and brash animators who were willing to push the envelope of sensibilities and censors alike, much to our delight. Even the closing sequence is incredibly absurd, and gems like this will forever prevail.

Betty had already helped launch the Popeye series a year earlier, so by 1934 the Fleischers had their distinctly urban stamp firmly planted under two cartoon banners aimed as much, if not more, at adults as the kids. If that weren't true, they wouldn't have always had to play "duck and cover" with the ever-present Hays commission, censor gavel at the ready. Thanks to the Fleischer folks and all involved parties, for the guts, the creative ambition, the sheer genius, and the uncompromising quality of whichever production standards were chosen to collectively coalesce into a cartoon gem for the ages. This is a must see.
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A Twilight Zone episode with its signature juxtaposition of unassuming people unwittingly caught between the past and the present
10 March 2007
This is a beautiful story, both rugged and gentle at one and the same time. Mr. Christian Horn suddenly emerges from his minimalist wagon train tended by a handful of hardy but weary and increasingly doubting companions. With women and children in tow, the troupe trudged toward the pre-Gold Rush California of 1847, en route from Ohio for the better part of a year, but still stifled by the vastness of the plains and deserts of the United States' western territories as they stood at the time. Also, burdened by hunger, his boy's critical pneumonia-like illness, and with water resources in remission, Mr. Horn, brilliantly portrayed by the highly studious Cliff Robertson who thoroughly researched his character's essence before the shoot, advises that he'll check out the sandy rim nearby for whatever glimpse of hope it may yield on the other side.

An early spot by the great John Astin (soon to become famous as Gomez Addams from "The Addams Family"), playing Charlie, one of Mr. Horn's compatriots, briefly reveals Astin's abilities as a serious character actor as he expresses reserved support for Mr. Horn's dogged persistence. As suggested by this episode's title, upon reaching the other side of the rim, Mr. Horn immediately, but unknowingly enters The Twilight Zone. With wits and courage backed by a quiet, wary intelligence, he begins to understand that which cannot often be grasped through one's ordinary perceptive mechanisms.

In another twist of characterizations, Ed Platt, best remembered for his rare (but long-running) comedic role as Maxwell Smart's (Don Adams) beleaguered, beloved Chief in "Get Smart" beginning four years later, plays his more typical character role here. He portrays the local doc who tries to assist a friendly café owner and his nurturing wife with the unexpected handful of a tattered man who arrives unceremoniously, and bewildered, on their doorstep. How that happened and what follows is unexpected, heartening, and ultimately fascinating in ways that typify "The Twilight Zone" at its best.

And it would be an error of omission not mention the power of the musical score, sometimes subtle, but pounding dramatically toward the climax, just before shifting musical gears once again, precisely on cue. The compositional phrasing provides an effective musical conduit through which the story-line best evokes its emotive content before transitioning back to a perfectly executed return to the introductory setting--except for it having now been duly altered by the Zone of zones.

This classic episode is among those that reveal Rod Serling's singular capacity to employ visionary dimension to his stories from either side of time's turbulent tunnel.
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