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The Hunt with John Walsh (2014)
Pacing from Hell . . .
For a very good reason.
Like the previous reviewer, the pacing of The Hunt drove me nuts, initially, and then I began to get it: this show is about presenting the crimes and criminals it profiles as nightmares. The agonizing pacing is the introduction, case by case, to each hellish violation of the crime's victims.
Even so, once I understood, I still found The Hunt very hard to watch, with that pacing and the show's enormously dark patina still driving me away from the screen.
Eventually, after 6 or 7 episodes, I acclimated and now view each episode as a well-crafted essay on the depravity of person or persons deliberately doing harm to another or others.
Not an easy consumable - to get its full value you're going to have to invest the time and energy it takes to break through and appreciate the qualitative tone it intends to portray. It's worth it.
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
First of all, Pitt's accent ...
Texas? Brooklyn? Midwestern? Couldn't tell but whatever it is irritated me greatly as an affectation.
Then there's both plot and story - not so much as plot and story (fantasy is fantasy) but their presentation, which struck me as pretty much being on the same level of affectation as Pitt's accent.
Same with script, cinematography, characters, soundtrack, acting and anything else I may have left off.
Now I can see how one could see this as a ridiculously off the wall parody of a war/cum spy movie but, as such, it just irritated me - neither plot nor story made sense, none of the characters were engaging and none of the 'bits' - like the German officer trying to negotiate medals, position and pay for allowing the bomb plot to go off - worked. For me.
Given the movie's success and rave reviews, mine is obviously a minority opinion. Which is fine and congratulations to all of you who enjoyed it. Just as I found it a weird exercise in slightly ugly pointlessness, it is fitting that if it does work for others, it works. That is the nature of any work of the imagination, that both viewpoints are valid.
Better than 'Hunting Hitler' but ...
Sloppy as hell. While never claiming to have unearthed Hitler scat, or even search for same, this episode does outline the 'Hitler escaped' scenario with seeming sympathy.
For the most part, however, it does not offer any documentary evidence either way. Instead it focuses on talking heads, each of which claim their viewpoint is the only logical conclusion: like, if you were Hitler, wouldn't you have run? And had multiple plans to do so?
Not really - Hitler was a worn-out drug addict who spent his last days spewing out fantasies until reality could no longer be ignored and who simply lacked the energy to initiate any form of flight, even if it had been possible.
Martin Bormann proved this when he tried on May 1, 1945 and wound up dead.
Which is where the word sloppy really emerges to describe this episode: it never mentions Bormann's death. Instead, on several occasions, it states that Bormann and Hitler escaped together, using 'secret tunnels' accessing the Berlin underground.
In reality, Bormann tried a ground-level route that didn't work out too well.
There are other examples of whacked-out history such as the children Hitler and Eva Braun produced (Huh?).
In short, it adds nothing to either side of the argument: nothing but unexamined maybes and buts and probably nots.
Cradle of the Gods (2012)
agree with David but ...
not so severely.
Slowly, slowly anthropologists are beginning to realize that the Neolithic Revolution was no revolution at all. Just a logical extension of an already ancient life style - living in more or less permanent settlements supported by very benign environments. Plenty of wild grains and game extant locally to provide year-long plenty without the need to follow the food.
One of the things this show does well is describing some of the unintended consequences of settling into ever-growing villages and mini-cities but then begins to trip all over itself, returning to the same old and now discredited Neolithic models of social development. And it's those models that need serious realignment.
So what could have been a serious examination of what we know about about Gobekli Tepe is drowned in uneducated speculation.
And that is what bugs me about this show: instead of examining the site as a game changer it keeps slipping into Gee Wiz Mode(how could stone age people make such things without agriculture!) and then tries to bury the site with those same-old Neolithic models, claiming that once agriculture emerged, those models emerged with it. No understanding that those models need to be modified at best and dumped at worst.
So - a disappointment, with its Neolithic apologia but a good example of why the whole question of cultural development needs to go back to square one.
If you've ever tutored a prescient child, How the Universe Works is a series for you. It does so well until it starts tripping all over itself, revealing that it just doesn't get it on the the most basic of levels.
In particular, this episode, Did a Black Hole..., comes frustratingly close to how the first stars and galaxies were formed and then completely misses everything.
Way back at the beginning there was total darkness within which massive clouds of hydrogen and helium ions began to coalesce as the first star nurseries with one little quirk: within each cloud the first structure to emerge was as super-massive black hole whose creation sent shock waves reeling through the cloud, igniting the first stars which then began to organize themselves around that black hole as the earliest of spiral galaxies. This model is simplicity in itself and it takes only a little reasoning to understand that the super-massive black hole had to come first. The cloud's center, its densest area, would mature much, much faster than the smaller, isolated pockets of local densities destined to become stars.
And it is this model that this episode keeps dancing around, seeming to get it and then drawing back, getting it and then drawing back. In fact, as it progresses the closer it comes to this model without really getting there - wandering off the point, eventually babbling about colliding galaxies (us and Andromeda) and then a short coda about the End: all the stars burning out and nothing left but ashes and lonely black holes.
The Key point here is that this episode and most of the others cannot seem to stick to a single line of reasoning long enough to reach that line's logical conclusion. Instead, like the child, it toys along one line then loses interest and jumps to another with out really understanding either.
Part of the blame rests with its Talking Heads, mathematicians and even Physicists who are, frankly, totally confused to the point that they can't put two and two together. All of them seem dominated by Wow mode rather than the simplicity and beauty of how our Universe really works.
And watching it all becomes very frustrating.
Love Affair (1939)
Boyer and Dunne make a thin story extremely watchable, virtually identical to its Fifties remake and completely different.
For example, the radio commentators who open the movie are far more matter-of-fact than the remake, where TV seems to have made their 50's counterparts histrionic - bordering on hysteria, as though they're reporting the story of the Century. Boyer himself is much more convincing as a Provencal playboy than Grant and, thank god, there's no opening song screaming at you from the screen.
Likewise, all the kids are far less intrusive in this version than the the 50's and the wardrobe is very much more subdued and realistic.
As with the remake the best parts are those focusing on Boyer and Dunne. They're on-board banter and sophisticated soft-shoe almost match Grant and Kerr's.
But this is where the two versions diverge seriously.
The Boyer/Dunne dance plays like a ship board dalliance, not a sudden fall into love. Boyer, while more than willing to take advantage of an opportune coupling, never rises to the next level regardless of what the script wants. His energy level is identical in the final scene as the first, making the final scene fall somewhat flat. If this were the only version, that lack of intensity would likely have gone unnoticed.
Compared to the Grant/Kerr version, there's no contest. Grant's performance in the final scene convincingly evolves from Hurt Schoolboy through Clueless Beau to Sudden Understanding in an organic progression that elevates the scene from mundane to iconic.
This is not a criticism, simply an example of how the two versions diverge. On one hand, the Boyer/Dunne version is an eminently watchable and enjoyable film from a journeyman learning his trade.
On the other-hand, the Grant/Kerr version is slightly flawed by emphasizing certain elements of the original but raises the story to the level of a classic love story. Kerr's performance shines with Grant keeping pace until the final scene where, almost led by the nose by Kerr, he gives a bravura performance.
While the two are virtually identical they couldn't be more different.
Odd, that, but fortunate. Two movies sharing so much yet each so unique to itself that both are worth as many watchings as you can handle.
An Affair to Remember (1957)
another childhood favorite
A staple into adolescence. And then didn't see it again 'till my 40's. It hadn't aged well. Grant seemed wooden throughout the movie, it was filled with a ton of fifties conventions and the whole story dripped of sap.
The shock of watching a remembered favorite disintegrating like Dorian Gray was traumatic and, I think, blinding.
Still, when it came up again on Encore recently I recorded it for old time's sake and am delighted I did.
There is a lot wrong with it, from the awful title song, the montage of TV commentators sitting in little boxes excitedly babbling about the Bon Vivant Nickie Ferrente (Grant as an Italian playboy! Actually the name is Provencal but that's little different, Boyer was much more fitting as a swarthy cad in the 1939 version), and then there's all those cute kids that who were De Rigueur for establishing the moral character of the Heroine, who more or less had to be a teacher. Finally, Kerr's sumptuous wardrobe that would have bankrupted Onassis as well as her posh New York apartment. All on a teacher's salary.
But, on my second adult viewing, I recovered all that is right with it and there's a lot, beginning with Kerr's performance.
Both Grant's and Kerr's characters are Sophisticated Adults, both given Sophisticated Adult dialog and, when it works between them, it's magic. So much so that the it ignites their chemistry and transforms the movie into a very, very believable love story. This, by itself, overwhelms all of the negatives.
Especially all of the scenes between Grant And Kerr as the boat heads towards Villefranche-sur-Mer, with them falling in love and, returning to New York, trying to figure out what to do about it.
An Affair to Remember is very much Kerr's movie, she shines in her role and brings Grant up to her level in all of the critical scenes leading to a finale that, despite all of its schmaltz, is both touching and affirming. Grant, in this last scene is very much Kerr's equal.
That scene begins with Grant's character, disappointed and little-boy hurt, appearing at Kerr's door, using his Sophisticated Adult dialog to express his hurt with sotto voce irony. As the scene progresses, that pain slowly dissipates as he realizes how much he loves her, replaced by confusion over her failure to appear at their appointed rendezvous until he finally gets it (she was hit by a car crossing to the Empire State Building to met him).
That realization, amplified by his recognition of how much of a snooty little boy he'd been coming in, is a minor tour-de-force, understated and convincing.
Happy Ending, love wins out and so do I, an old favorite revived.
Thinking about it, I think that I originally, as a kid, either didn't notice or ignored all of the stuff I mentioned as negatives, leading to an overwhelming shock when I watched it again as an adult. Kind of like what happened to Grant's character and I'm very pleased that, like him, I was able to overcome that disappointment and recover what was lost.
Though I still think all of the negatives I mentioned are negatives, the core love story, led by Kerr and expressed in the scenes focusing on her and Grant, easily rates a ten.
Holy Grail in America (2009)
Not quite as bad
as the usual Discovery pablum and, oddly, that makes it more irritating for me.
The focus is on how the Templars managed a successful landfall around the St. Lawrence and penetrated as far as Minnesota and farther. So far plausible though highly unlikely.
Then it leaves the rails: starting with the Kensington Rune Stone. First problem, the Runic alphabets were never meant to communicate mundane matters, especially not as a code. Second problem: if the Templars did hide their treasure somewhere in North America any coded references would likelier be in Latin or Greek, not what would have been a very obscure, magic Norse script.
After messing around with the Stone for a while, the show losses any rational organization and just starts throwing various versions of the Kitchen Sink around, starting with Ancient Egyptian motifs and the poor old Sinclair family of Templar/Grail legend, bringing Henry Sinclair to North America, crediting him with really impressing some Indians and then burying treasure on Oak Island. The rest of the show pretty much congratulates itself for being so clever, while tossing in this thing and that thing that sounds vaguely logical, all the while Ashley Cowie doing his best to appear rational, balanced and thoughtful. Gobbels would have loved him for his ability to put over the scam.
To be honest, it is entertaining in a sick, oily, Mediterranean culture kind of way. Like the bit where the Templars told Columbus where to find America (Go West Bambini). Poor Columbus, he screwed up and discovered the Caribbean instead, not Minnesota. And how a tower in the Midwest points to Kensington, MI (It also points to LA, Mexico City, Paris, Moscow and Santa's Workshop and any other point on the globe you want it to point to).
All the usual Discovery Channel's tricks and misdirection but done, despite its Mediterranean sleaziness, with a drop of British-like Class.
Irritating yet a well constructing scam.
Really wish there was a yo-yo notifier, almost missed this season 'cause I kept looking for it on CBS. And the Web wasn't much help - if I just searched the title all I got was a bunch of non-specific crap. Finally tried DTV's search function (where I should have looked first) and discovered, after Thanksgiving, that Unforgettable had jumped to A&E. This series has a really confusing history: canceled, resurrected, canceled, resurrected, canceled and picked up by A&E. Thank God.
Producers of TV series really should put up independent Web pages so you can track their series. ABC, CBS and NBC's sites are little more that cyber cheerleaders. Same can be said of the Independents.
Rant aside, I loved the first and second seasons, not so much the third, and am bowled-over by all of the episodes so far in 215/6. Where the first and second seasons were moderately paced and somewhat laid-back, which I enjoyed, this season is an explosion of energy adeptly expressed through script, direction, framing and editing. I've rarely seen a show put together this well and it's a joy to watch. Elementary matches it sometimes but nowhere near Unforgettable's consistency.
Hope the show attracts a large audience so we don't have to do the Yo-yo thing again.
Legend of the Lost (1957)
Through the cracks and forgotten
Yet Wayne, Loren, Brazzi all together and at the top of their form and status as stars!
And not just Wayne, Loren and Brazzi but a script by Hecht and Presnell and cinematography by Cardiff. Should have been a blockbuster.
Instead a studio-like programmer focused on a Saharan adventure and getting everything wrong. For example, making Timbuktu a part of French Morocco, complete with belly-dancers and corrupt Prefect. And a hackneyed plot, recycled from everything from She to King Salomon's Mines.
Apart from Wayne, Loren, Hecht and Cardiff, this movie has absolutely nothing going for it.
Except for Wayne, Loren, Hecht and Cardiff.
As ridiculous as it is, Legend of the Lost is very much a vehicle highlighting all of the principles at their best. Wayne as Joe January (are you serious?) pulls off Hecht's tongue-in-check dialogue effortlessly as well as his character's jovial lechery, with Loren doing the same as a sexy-as-hell bad girl, flashing a lot of leg and coming just short of repeating her Boy on a Dolphin wardrobe malfunction. All the while projecting a serious intelligence as well as sex. Even Brazzi makes his character dramatically believable. Add to all of that the energetic extras and you've got the makings of a great Graphic Comic.
Which, I think, is the standard Legend of the Lost should be judged by. Especially when you add Cardiff's cinematography, which even many of the negative reviews praise. The visuals, editing and production values are outstanding.
Before its time or, more likely, a happy accident, Legend of the Lost seems to have suffered more from audience expectation than its success at doing exactly what it set out to do. I don't think it was ever meant to be anything except a fun romp through a territory already well trod and familiar, as such, to its audience. What we would call today a 'Little' movie.
And that's where, I believe, all of the negative reviews come from. When you've got Superstars as principles, especially in the 50's, you're going to expect The Ten Commandments or Gone with the Wind, not Harold and Maude. Reacting according.
So, in my opinion, Legend of the Lost is a small gem worthy of serious reconsideration. Suspend your disbelief, dump the Big Stars expectations and just watch the visuals (the score's pretty good too) and you might be rewarded.
A final note: the movie begins with the Prefect marching down a street followed by his entourage, each element of which is separated, given 2-3 seconds to drive home the point, as the Prefect inspects his territory (which includes its own little intriguing snippets) and finally meets up with the Important Foreigner (Brazzi). As a tone setter, I thought it was brilliant.
Correction and blame the lame Web algorithms: I tried French Timbuktu and French Mali, coming up goose eggs on both. Turns out the French mistook Mali for the Sudan (not a big surprise) soooo .... The French were in charge of Mali, Timbuktu and a lot of other West African territories in 1957. Even so, Timbuktu still never looked like Morocco, French or no French.
Hunting Hitler (2015)
I would have said obscene but I'm close to overusing that word.
There's nothing wrong with questioning history's orthodoxies and, when I was a kid, I questioned whether Hitler had died or escaped. For various reasons I decided that the prevailing story made the most sense. Won't go into all the little bits that convinced me of Hitler's suicide because all of those bits led to a personal opinion, not a definitive conclusion.
So, seeing the trailers for Hunting Hitler, I sat down to watch all four episodes before making any judgments.
Didn't take all four, just one.
Hunting Hitler is another example of Discovery's Division of Lunatic Fringe attempting to exploit its audience.
Specifically, the episode I did watch claimed that the ruins of a stone building in the Bolivian(?) jungle along with some shards of glass bottles proved that Hitler had escaped and been secreted in said location. The bottles, especially, were cited as having held the 'medicine' Hitler depended on. They never mentioned the Mermaid who would have been Hitler's lover if he could have gotten it up or the Alien space warp located in the Bermuda Triangle that transported him to South America. Maybe those were covered in the other episodes.
This is where the words disrespect and obscene come in: this mini-series does not even come close to being a serious investigation of Hitler's fate; just the usual Discovery use of extremely slim 'Evidence' to titillate those in the audience predisposed to a specific conclusion. Those audience members deserve a serious examination of both sides of the issue, not a bunch of idiots running around yelling "Look, Hitler scat!" and expecting that particular segment of the audience to clap.
What's also obscene is the complete absence of any attempt to portray a realistic sense of Berlin as the Russians closed in or the mood in the bunker. Just the usual Discovery warping of both history and evidence. Lucky for the producers that any WWII vets still alive are too old to do much harm but I would advise them to watch out for their kids and grand-kids.
As for me and my bits: two of them did it for me. First the extremely complicated logistics of any attempt to get him out of Berlin and, more importantly, the lack of will to escape. Sick, worn-out, drug addicted and witnessing his fantasies crumble with no chance of redemption, why would he want to?
Correction: It was Argentina, not Bolivia. Bolivia pops up later, when H decides to perfect the V-3. Busy man.
55 Days at Peking (1963)
As fond as I am of saying "Review the movie on the screen", 55 Days... is very much a movie where I just can't overcome my own prejudices. Specifically, a very negative attitude towards the arrogance of European Imperialism.
Don't much care for China's super beehive, patriarchal social system either so combining the two makes, for me, not just an out but banishment from the League.
This is why this review is starless. I simply can't rate the movie objectively.
That said, 55 Days... is a fine example of its genre: well produced, well acted (good performances by its bevy of stars), great production values, well paced, etc.
None of which even begins to override my distaste for its subject matter.
But there is one element that does: Heston's demonstration that he can act.
During the meaty part of the movie he plays the usual macho (American version) A-type pack leader and selfless hero that was his bread and butter in the 50s and 60s. Then there's a Change.
One of his troops had fathered a child with a Chinese working girl who is introduced (the child) early on cheering, with quiet enthusiasm, a company of American soldiers marching into the European compound. Very waif-like, her's is the strongest characterization of the movie.
Then her father is killed in a Boxer assault, leaving her orphaned. This is were Heston's proof of acting begins to emerge.
At first, like any selfless hero, he commiserates with the girl, inquires about her well-being and prospects, demonstrating his empathy and good character, etc. etc.
Then, as the theme progresses, the Change occurs as Heston's character begins to genuinely care, creating a huge problem. What can you do? A bi-racial child who will never fit-in in either culture.
What results is an increasing sense of anguish in Heston's character as he tries to come to grips with the insolvable, leading to the only honestly touching scene in the movie as that anguish reaches its climax and Heston makes you believe it. Like shadow and light playing off their surroundings, you can see the conflict at play in Heston's face, hear it in his voice and feel it in his body-language. A once-in-a-career performance.
As the two sit, as Heston tries to explain the unexplainable, the waif's all-accepting optimism is the perfect counterpoint to Heston's confused angst.
I've witnessed that performance several times over 50 years, drawn to watch the movie solely because of that endearing waif and her story. Each viewing has strengthened the emotional impact of Heston's performance.
A huge plus is that the scene ends without resolution - though you know, even if Heston's character doesn't, how it will end.
Unfortunately, when that resolution does arrive, Heston's character has returned to his Selfless Hero mode so, when he swings her up onto his saddle, its impact is somewhat muted, like a forced acceptance of fate.
Even so, the evolution of the story, and Heston's surprising ability to pull it off, is transcendent.
Had always assumed that all the characters were historical. Turns out Ava Gardner's, Baroness Natalie Ivanoff, wasn't. So she was knocked off simply for dramatic effect. Another reason for me to dislike the movie.
Sensitive and honest retelling of the story of Roseanne Quinn's murder, stressing quietly and forcefully how the attitude of the times tainted Quinn by suggesting she'd 'asked for it'.
I'd never heard of the case until 'Looking for Mr. Goodbar' hit the theaters. Made a point of seeing the movie and almost went ballistic as Diane Keaton's portrayal echoed that taint, implying that 'Teresa' was complicit in her own murder by trying to drown her insecurities with one-night stands.
Intrigued by the movie I researched the Quinn murder and discovered that the movie had actually portrayed 'Teresa' more sympathetically than the news reports at the time of Quinn's murder. Quite an obituary for the Feminist Movement.
While I'm not very sympathetic when it comes to stupid and potentially dangerous behavior, like taking strangers home for sex, I'm far more unsympathetic to the suggestion that such behavior in any way justifies any negative result, like getting murdered.
Thank God this episode of 'A Crime to Remember' has revisited Quinn's murder, stressing that Quinn's lifestyle was not, nor should be seen as, a qualitative element of the crime. As humans and especially as Americans, attitudes like 'She asked for it' and 'Boys will be boys'(a disgustingly popular excuse for rape) should inspire 'A good thrashing' followed by 'Being thrown into traffic'. All preconceptions, especially those four, should be self-annihilating.
Leslie Gore, Hurrah!
Loved it when 'You Don't Own Me' closed out the final scene of The First Wives' Club and tremendously pleased to hear it open this homage to our tentative, first, first approach to the critical mass finally, finally breaking through the barriers of sexism. My way - I'd have thousand of sound trucks blasting it through the streets of every bastion of sexism from London and Paris to Shanghai and Beijing and have every radio and TV station in America open their morning news with it, with the caption, 'This is who we are, this is America. Celebrate who you are - native born or emigrant.'
Personally, 'You Don't Own Me' came out just as I was becoming a teenager and reflected the attitudes I encountered among many of my female classmates, much to my pleasure. My interest was in girls with a strong sense of their individual identities who knew what, and whom, they liked.
All that had fizzled by 1972 when everybody ran screaming back to Fifties; I've been waiting ever since for Feminism to re-ignite. Which it has been, slowly, individual by individual, from the grass roots spreading over two generations, to that critical mass. Which is what this show documents.
The show itself is simply a number of women talking about their experiences, about helping to create that critical mass by being themselves and refusing to knuckle under, learning all the way and keeping their eyes on the prize and celebrating the icons who have preceded them. A plenitude in the West and America in particular, since well before the Revolution.
The cumulative effect of their stories makes me believe that we may finally be reaching that critical mass and I highly recommend spending an hour listening to them.
A Patch of Blue (1965)
Poitier at his best
Along with the rest of the cast. All giving Career performances.
And a huge surprise for me.
Saw it first shortly after it came out and was, frankly, unimpressed. This was the sixties and I was a teen radical and the whole movie just seemed pasty and whiny and slow and superficial and made no sense. A Fifties-ish mentality clashing wildly with our anti-racism militancy.
Well OPPS and take my own advice - see the movie on the screen, not the one colored by your expectations.
I'm delighted that, when recently broadcast on TCM, I decided to record and archive it as An Important Movie.
Turns out this time I saw a movie that is infinitely more complex than the simple story I remembered and, rather than being dated, treats its theme of racism in a style that is as fresh and intimate today as it may have been in 1965.
The key is the subtlety of of the movie's cinematography, its use of light and dark to evoke layers of the Light and Darkness of the human soul, telling a parallel, broader story in counterpoint to the simple love story portrayed by Poitier and Hartman, both stories twined as a totally engaging dance.
There are other, symbolic devices in addition to light and dark; small things that, like plays on expectations, reinforce that dance. Part of the fun is watching them play out.
And, though I remembered a negative ending, based on race, this time I recognized its much more positive ending based on a lightly expressed 'Possibility': the last step of the dance leaving room for a future.
1965 was a year of strong contenders so I was delighted that Shelly Winters received an Oscar for her performance but, based on my updated perception, wish that the Academy had granted A Patch of Blue a nomination for Best Picture and Poitier Best Actor.
A World Class Movie.
P.S. OK, one example device: the Mustang parked on the street as Poitier rushes out of his apartment house at the end. Just a dim, shadowy rear-end glimpse but still an evocation of individualism, freedom and joy that that car, specifically that car, still represents - even to those who weren't teenagers in the '60s.
Bible's Buried Secrets (2011)
Expansion, not remake, of it's Nova namesake
And, in the episode "Did God Have a Wife?", Ms. Stavrakopoulou puts together three implications from the 2008 Nova program: the link between Canaanite theology and Israelite theology, the implication that Israel was really a subset of Canaanite polity and that the Israelis re-invented themselves during the Babylonian Exile, shedding their Canaanite roots and becoming truly monotheistic only on The Return.
What the Nova program hinted at she makes explicit. Especially in terms of the mechanism that shed Canaanite polytheism's nascent gender equality in favor of Patriarchal male dominance, affecting Judaism, Christianity and Islam not for the better.
On a broader note: the mid-first millennium B.C. seems to be a watershed for such transitions: conservative Rome beginning to overshadow liberal Etruscan culture, the Greeks evolving into elitist patriarchies, Egypt floundering. Fertile ground for a history PhD dissertation.
A pleasant surprise
Saw the trailer on the same day Tut premiered on Spike and watched the first episode out of little more than curiosity: What in the world could they do with a character who, despite being a twentieth century celebrity, is unknown in detail?
From the first, Carter's discovery of Tut's tomb has generated an enormous body of speculation and inspired an entire sub-genre of movies: The Mummy, from Karloff to Fraser and Weisz. But, as for Tut himself, we know virtually nothing: only a few names such as Anhkesenamun, Ay and Horemheb - all verifiable historic players, but little in terms of their histories except for Horemheb. From Anhkesenamun we have a touching letter she wrote to the Hittite ruler Suppiluliuma, imploring him to send her one of his sons because, upon the death of Tut, she distrusted her suitors.
As for Ay, we know of his existence, both in Armarna and Thebes, and of his assumption of the throne following Tut but little more.
So there are a few scant bones to hang a melodrama on following Tut's death but nothing to script his life.
Which turned into a very big plus for the screenwriters, who ignored any possible history and, seemingly, updated the plot lines from The Egyptian and Land of the Pharaohs, very successfully.
The story is simple, Tut is portrayed as a strong willed young king anxious to prove himself in battle but becomes embittered, after being wound in a skirmish with the Mitanni, by his first taste of betrayal. Resulting, as he returns to Thebes during Ka's investment ceremony, his murder of Ka and re-establishment as Pharaoh. And thus begins an increasing complex struggle within Tut as he tries to reconcile his existence as an individual and his responsibilities as Pharaoh.
Anhkesenamun, meanwhile, follows a similar struggle. Enraged by Tut's murder of Ka she, too, wrestles with her feelings as an individual and responsibilities as Queen.
Those are the basics but what elevates "Tut" is the way they're handled. That being the script, which is superb. All of the characters are written as flawed human beings trapped in webs of culture, politics and their personal ambitions and the plot unfolds organically from those elements.
As for that plot - it isn't history or even close (Tut never faced Mitanni raiders or Tushratta, who was most likely dead by the time of Tut's reign). But, then, when has Hollywood cared about such things. A good story is a good story. And the writers have definitely produced a good story, focusing on the characters and using the details of the action as a motivational backdrop.
It all works and all the principles are well acted, especially Ben Kingsley who plays Ay as an ambitious enigma.
The production values are equally outstanding and,this time, true to the grandeur of Egyptian palaces and temples in the 18th Dynasty, as well all of its environments.
Final notes on the fractured history - a plague and the chaos it engendered is a significant element of the plot. No such plague occurred during Tut's reign, it belongs to the Amarna period.
The Mitanni are portrayed as, ethnically, sub-Saharan Africans - in reality their ruling class had roots as Indo-Aryans while their subjects belong to a language group known as Hurrian. Mitanni itself was primarily an Anatolian Empire. But, again, Hollywood.
In summary, the history is totally fractured but, in a very general way, appropriate to the period.
Once you've swallowed that, "Tut" is outstanding: well crafted script; engaging, complex, believable characters; and production values true to the period. A very pleasant surprise.
Just read all the reviews and, guys, get your ethnicities straight: though there was certainly interactions among trading partners with mixed offspring as a result, the Egyptians of the late Pharaonic period were not sub-Saharan, nor were any other populations of North Africa. Neither were any Semitic (Arab), except those influenced by the above caveat.
Not that that really makes any difference: for reference the Nubians produced a culture that rivaled Egypt and, during the first Millennium, as Egyptian political power waned and waxed, installed a few 'Black' Pharaohs.
Wikipedia does have a short article outlining a few instances of Egyptian/North African DNA analysis, bu it's far from definitive: showing all of the earmarks of mixed populations you would expect from thousands of years of trading: kind of like trying to establish a 'dominate' American genome.
Point being: while the further back you go the more the likelihood you'll find ethnically isolated genomes, by the New Kingdom all you're going to find is a melting pot.
Leading to another point: we all came from Sub-Saharan Africa, off-spring of many ancient migrations so if you're looking for bragging points you can always point to that fact.
What possesses ...
Producers to even contemplate making crap like this? Especially trying to pretend it's real.
I am really curious how this piece of fake nothingness came to be made: what was the point? What's everyone trying to achieve? Is there really money in this?
If these idiots really want to do the public a service while making much more money than shows like 'Graveyards' could ever manage, they should produce 'Who's the Idiot', exposing the nuts, bolts and players responsible for all of Discovery's 'let's pander to the lunatic fringe' division's offerings.
Personally, I'd love to know, in detail, who these people are and why they're doing it. I just can't see how the return could match the effort.
A League of Their Own (1992)
A league of the best
Finally, after 20+ years, I recorded and watched what I thought was going to be a middling Tom Hanks comedy. Reason for that was the trailers I'd seen hundreds of times: "Crying. There's no crying in baseball!"
What I saw was a movie that should have been allowed to give Unforgiven serious competition for Best Picture and Geena Davis an Oscar for Best Actress in a leading role. Apparently I wasn't the only one fooled by those trailers.
Penny Marshall's movie is a brilliant, beautifully crafted homage to a little remembered period when, just as Rosie became a riveter, numbers of talented women filled in for their men as ball players. Proving, like Rosie, they were every bit as capable as the absent males.
More than that, of course, is the broader theme of the individual refusing to buckle under to social conventions. A very common American theme with Marshall's contribution ranking with the best of its expositions. Pretty good as a Baseball pic, too.
It is a long movie, over 2 hours, but, despite the simplicity of the story, it doesn't play like two hours. From the first scene you (or at least I) fall in love with the screen and time becomes meaningless.
Two people, supported by a strong supporting cast, are responsible: Peggy Marshall and Geena Davis. Marshall and her editor crafted a truly remarkable piece of cinematography that may be perfect; not a clang or misstep anywhere.
Such movies need glue to make it all hang together and that's where Davis comes in: though brilliantly supported, without Davis the whole house would have failed. League is very much Geena Davis' movie, she's the one who puts flesh to the bones of Penny Marshall's vision.
As Americans we love and should love movies like this, these celebrations of the best of our values, of how hundreds of women kept a league of their own alive for ten years.
That achievement was quickly forgotten, buried in the reactionary conservatism of the '50s, which should anger us, but that anger can easily be tempered by Marshall's rediscovery and loving treatment of their story.
For all of that seriousness, League is a successful comedy and fun to watch while, also successfully, demonstrating both how far we've come and how far yet to go.
A large part of that 'yet to go' are those trailers that made me think that League was a Tom Hanks movie. It isn't; Hanks is almost a tertiary figure. Davis and the supporting cast, all women, are the Stars. Hanks character, Jimmy Dugan, is important and, especially at the last, honored but, as the movie unfolds, more comic relief than mover. Very much a second fiddle; to his credit, Hanks plays that fiddle masterfully.
However, the fact that the distributors felt the need to exaggerate his presence to the point of ridiculousness speaks volumes about how, even in 1992, we weren't ready to embrace a movie by women about women. The Oscar's Nominating Committee's failure to recognize League as the masterpiece it is stamps paid to that point.
As a movie, judged by objective cinematic standards, League should rank with the best of the best.
Ancient Aliens (2009)
Read a review that gave this series a ten not because it was being taken seriously but because it is well produced, entertaining and really good for laughs.
I agree, up to a point. But what really bothers me about shows like this and many others that belong to the 'Pandering to the Lunatic Fringe' department of Discovery is how closely they adhere to the principle of the Scam: the viewers are marks and their only reason for being is to be fleeced.
So, what's the point? As with lone wolf con-and-scam artists, why put so much energy into proving that the gullible, obsessed or just plain dumb are gullible, obsessed and just plain stupid? The economic return, the most obvious answer, doesn't cut it. The same amount of energy expended in more traditional economic, academic or curiosity based endeavors would yield a much higher return, either monetarily or in the satisfaction of a job well done.
Scam and con-artists, individually, can be explained in various psychological ways: pathologies stemming from everything from childhood trauma to the pure joy of putting something over, enriching your ego by making a fool of someone else.
The producers of shows like this, what are their motives? The same? If so, they're final reward will be ashes.
Which resumee would any normal person choose: one listing positive benefits to yourself and others or one reading "Hey, I fooled a lot of people and made them look like idiots".
As for the Ancients: they did very well on their own, from the monumental statues created by good old hunter-gathers unearthed at Tell Gobeki Tepe to the Pyramids to the Colossus of Rhodes with no need for assistance, divine or alien.
A Star Is Born (1954)
10 for the 1954 release
The "restored" 1983 version is, well, I'll leave as a question mark.
But not for myself - it doesn't work, adding little and destroying the pacing of the movie. By the time Mason headed for the Pacific I had my scissors out and did the same thing to 'Star' that Jefferson did to the Gospels. My version came in at well under two hours as I deleted all of the redundant scenes - like the three distinct reaction scenes to Mason's suicide. I cut from Mason striding into the ocean to Garland sitting, near hysterics while trying to come to terms with it.
I'd always thought that even the 154 min. version was overlong so I made one to my taste, emphasizing the Mason/Garland relationship and, especially, Garland's knock-out performance.
That's where the question mark comes in - my concept of the movie was based on many viewings of the 1954 version which I already considered over-long so, when I finally saw the 'restored' version on TCM a couple of days ago, most of the additional material seemed little more than pointless filler.
At the same time I remember being excited about that 'restoration' when I first heard about it way back when. Never expected it to take 30 years to finally see it and have no idea how I would had reacted back in 1983.
Bottom line, it's up to less prejudiced viewers to judge which, if either, is superior to the other. Or if they're co-equal.
Way out of the Box ...
Zombie/doctor/amateur detective/faux psychic (to explain her visions after eating a victims brain)? Who the hell thought this up? Hope they get an Emmy.
Before going on, I watch series like Bones, Castle et al for their rich character interactions; that's what's important to me. The puzzles are just the excuse. And iZombie, from what I seen, is going to fit in very well with that preference.
Interesting characters, intelligent scripts, good cinematics all seasoned with wry and deadpan(can't resist that)humor. I've got a new favorite.
Despite checking the spoiler box I'm not going to cite chapter and verse. Instead, watch and enjoy as each element reveals itself.
As for the negative reviews: no reason everyone has to like everything. Lots of people prefer clever puzzles over character interaction and, even myself, I do enjoy a puzzle that, on first view, is both plausible and believable, keeping its flaws from interfering with the parts I like. But, in the final analysis and whatever the series, very few puzzles stand up to scrutiny and most detective/cop show procedures just don't make sense. As for each episode of each series, bottom line is like/don't like and stick to the reasons for your preference. Broadside pans just sound like 'I want this to a different show'. Guess what, it isn't so review the show on the screen.
Captain from Castile (1947)
I usually don't review 40's and 50's Technicolor Blockbuster Star Vehicles, unless they really stand out for some reason. Captain from Castile does just that - the last scene, with Cortez assembling his forces for an assault on Tenochtitlan, begins mildly enough - a natural extension of the plot - but, as the forces begin marching and the pep talks start, the rails start shaking.
First the Spanish Priest begins extorting his small congregation with classic American values: equality, the sanctity of the individual, etc. and then Cortez, well-played by Cesar Romero, suddenly jumps character and starts sounding like Lincoln at Gettysburg, as though his goal is to empower each and every one, both native and Spaniard, with their inalienable rights as human beings.
It's been a long, long time since I first saw Captain and I certainly didn't remember this final coda or the irony of characters based on some of the most barbaric citizens of the most hypocritical, top-down and dysfunctional Monarchy in Europe laying claim to 18th Century liberal humanistic values.
I did remember it as a typically well done Technicolor extravaganza: Tyrone Power as an attractive hero navigating a culture antagonistic to his personal, innate humanistic values. Prince of Foxes and The Black Rose come to mind.
In Captain, that conflict is downplayed in favor of 'Epic Scope' and Power's character actually seems to like and approve of Cortez as an admittedly greed-driven but basically decent good-guy whose heart is in the right place, once you get past his greed, genocidal tendencies and psychopathology.
For most of the movie that actually works thanks to Romero's performance and the script's soft-soaping of Cortez's negative personality traits. But those last five minutes ...
How in God's name could you even try to elevate Spain's or Cortez's trampling of the New World as a positive expression of liberal or humanistic values? That's where the one star comes from: the offensive and virtually obscene attempt to characterize someone like Cortez as a hero rather than the pathetic psychopath he and his fellows really were.
Hollywood has always played fast and loose with (factual) history in favor of dramatic impact, The King's Speech being the latest of brilliant examples, but Captain from Castile's script is a script too far.
Been a fan, big fan, this season and looked forward to what seemed like a very pleasant cool down to the final episode.
Now those final episodes are ruined, for me, for the simple reason that the writers decided to murder a member of the team. That's it for The Mentalist and no matter how good the remaining episodes are, they've lost me.
For the record, the sole reason I give this episode one star is the murder of Agent Vega; otherwise this episode maintains the same high quality that has marked this season.
And I can only wonder, is there some kind of virus going around this year? NCIS did the same thing in an Episode called "Check", killing off Dianne Sterling, an ex of both Gibbs and Fornell, in exactly the same way as Catlin so long ago and in an episode that for some lunatic reason resurrected the story-line leading up to Jenny's death, again so many years ago.
That original story-line made sense, then. Reprising it and adding a new vengeful character, absent from the original, 7 years latter doesn't.
Likewise, killing off Agent Vega pointlessly, especially after introducing the prospect of a budding romance between Vega and Agent Wylie early in the episode, doesn't make any sense. You just don't kill off principles for no good reason.
At best, the whole scenario reeks of audience manipulation and at worst, as it is for me, is a series killer.
P.S. Just read the three other reviews and agree with all, except for one thing: TV is fantasy, not real life despite the bond we form with the characters. 'Realistic' is not a term that has any real meaning and killing off a principal, especially one as attractive as Vega, for no good reason just doesn't make sense.
The Mysteries of Laura (2014)
Been Triping over ...
Shows lately. First Ghost Whisperer and now The Mysteries of Laura.
Like GW, the title left me cold so just kept surfing past Mysteries until I decided to give it a try. And like GW, I found a show well worth watching when I did.
As many of the IMDb reviews point out, Debra Messing does a great job but she isn't carrying the show all by herself: the ensemble cast works well, with good performances from everyone. The same goes for the scripts and cinematography - intelligent and first-rate.
Basing all of this on two episodes so can't say anything about nailing the crate shut but ...
Can say, so far, very watchable with a caveat: unlike Castle or Bones or Elementary, not electric - more of a wine worth sipping than than a shot of single-malt Scotch shot back. The tone is low-key and the pace is leisurely. Giving it a ten because it does what it sets out to do without any glaring faults or flaws.