Category Archives: Movies

Review of Cranford, the TV Series

My wife and I just finished watching the miniseries Cranford on DVDIt is an excellent production.  Anyone who has watched English dramas will recognize many of the actors, who are of the highest caliber.  They include Judi Densch, Francesca Annis, Jim Carter, Imelda Staunton, and Simon Woods.

It is the story of a group of people in Victorian England who are trying to cope with modernism and progress.  There is the young doctor who is trying to utilize modern technology while the older doctor is clearly not up to date.  There are the folks who want to bring the railroad in and the folks who want to keep it out.  There is the man who wants to educate indigent boys, and the woman who wants to educate girls.  There is the pious spinster who tries to uphold traditional morals but finds that she must compromise at times.

There is a lot of death in Cranford, just as there was a lot of death in Victorian England.  However, don’t let that dissuade you from watching.  True, it tugs at your heart, but it can be good to have your heart tugged at a bit.  In addition to death there are many other disappointments in this drama.  In fact it is probably one of the saddest stories that I have ever watched over all.

However, life is not entirely depressing.  Even though Cranford is not a comedy, and there is a lot of death in it, it is also full of humor.  And it is fresh humor.  I didn’t notice one old joke or one canned bit of business.  The comedy arises from the funny foibles of the characters, who do not realize that they are funny and from the funny messes that they unwittingly create for themselves. 

One of the best aspects of Cranford is that there are so many principal characters, and their story lines are interwoven in a very complicated web.  In that way it depicts small-town life brilliantly.  It also makes the story extremely stimulating menally and emotionally, as one must stay closely attuned to follow it.  One doesn’t want to miss a single line of dialog or a single detail in the setting.

The details were very well researched.  I did not spot a single anachronistic element–in the music, the architecture, the costumes, the literary references, the scientific material, or the language.  It felt as though you really were transported to Cheshire in the 1840′s.

It’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea, but I found it well worth watching.

Movie Scores

     Great music is the key to making a movie really sizzle.  As I write this post I can think of several different musical scores that added that extra je-ne-sais-quoi to some really great movies.  Here are some that stand out to me.

1.  Giant, music by Dimitri Tiomkin

     The main title is the best cowboy theme in my opinion.  In addition, Tiomkin uses familiar tunes related to the state of Texas, namely “The Yellow Rose of Texas” and “The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You” in other parts of the movie.

2.  The Red Pony, music by Aaron Copland

     The orchestral score is absolutely beautiful like all of Copland’s music.  The circus music is whimsical and catchy.

3.  The Bridge on the River Kwai, music by Malcolm Arnold

     Full of intensity, the score brings out the power of this dramatic movie.  Everybody knows and recognizes the “Colonel Bogey March” from this one.

4.  Breakfast at Tiffany’s, music by Henry Mancini

     The song “Moon River” is one of the best movie songs of all times, alluding to Huckleberry Finn and referring to yearning and camraderie.  The rest of the score includes a lot of fun as well as pathos.

5.  The Summer of ’42, music by Michel Legrand

     The theme music has one of the most haunting melodies I have ever heard.  That alone makes this score worth listening to.   The score evokes nostalgia and wistfulness.

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What do you think?

Inspiring Movies

     What movies do you find most inspiring?

     Two recent movies that I found extremely inspiring were The Blind Side with Sandra Bullock.  Another recent one that touched me and inspired me is Invictus with Morgan Freeman and directed by Clint Eastwood.

     The past movies that have inspired me the most are. . .

  1. Chariots of Fire
  2. Gandhi
  3. The Miracle Worker
  4. Rain Man
  5. Apollo 13

     The first three are about people who stuck to their guns in the face of opposition.  In the first case, one of the characters stayed true to his faith in spite of enormous pressure to cave in.  In the second case, a man adopted a simple life and used passive resistance to free his country from oppression.  In the third case a stubborn teacher succeeded in teaching a disabled and almost equally stubborn child through persistence and loving firmness.  It shows that people with multiple sensory disabilities still have a mind that can function and reach out to other people.

     The fourth one shows that people with social and emotional disorders are still worthy of respect.  It shows that you can love somebody who seems unreachable, and that even a hardened, worldly person can be softened by compassion and his own emotional needs.

     The last one shows what ingenuity and hard work can do.  Not only can they get people to the moon, but they can rescue them when they are in severe distress and danger.  My favorite scene is when the engineers on the ground are given the seemingly impossible task of building an improvised air filter, but they manage to accomplish it anyway.

 What about you?

Movie Heroes and Villains

My Favorite Movie Heroes

  1. James Bond (Dr. No, etc.)
  2. Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark, etc.)
  3. Alvin York (Sergeant York)
  4. George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  5. Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird)

My Favorite Movie Villains

  1. Mr. Potter (It’s a Wonderful Life)
  2. The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)
  3. Darth Vader (Star Wars, etc.)
  4. Cal Hockley (Titanic)
  5. Fernand Mondego (The Count of Monte Cristo)

Agree?  Disagree?

Christmas Movies

     We have started watching our favorite Christmas movies at my house.  I tend to go for the classics.  My children, on the other hand like the newer movies.  Frankly I cannot stomach most of them.  Sure, they are glossy with great special effects and simple plots that don’t strain your brain.  But that is what I do not like about them–they are mostly fluff. 

     Here are my favorite Christmas movies, in order of preference:

#1

“It’s a Wonderful Life,” 1946, dir. by Frank Capra, starring James Stewart and Donna Reed

     Of course.  If you don’t consider it #1, then I am crossing you off my Christmas card list, and if you are not on my list, then I’m adding your name just so that I can cross it off.  It’s one of the best movies ever made.

#2

“Scrooge,” 1970, dir. by Richard Neame, starring Albert Finney

     Though not entirely faithful to the book, it is highly entertaining.  It is reminiscent of “Oliver,” both in its overall look and in the music.  It stars Albert Finney.  What else needs to be said?

#3

“A Charlie Brown Christmas,” 1965, dir. by Bill Melendez

     I have been a huge, lifelong fan of Charles Shultz’s Peanuts.  This animated film is about the best ever made, in my opinion.  Vince Guaraldi’s music would be enough to make watching it worthwhile, but the beautiful storyline and the telling of the nativity story from the Gospel of Luke make it absolutely indispensible for me.

#4

“Meet Me in St. Louis,” 1944, dir. by Vincente Minelli, starring Judy Garland

     Although it is not primarily a Christmas movie, Judy Garland’s performance of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” makes it one for me. 

#5

“Mixed Nuts,” 1994, dir. by Nora Ephron, starring Steve Martin and a host of brillian comedians

     I do not recommend this for family viewing, but it is a hilariously zany movie for adults to enjoy.  There are many stellar performances, but my favorite is Madelein Kahn’s.  The film, as the titled implies, is populated by mixed nuts–that is crazy people.  Who knows?  You might even recognize yourself in one of them.

#6

“Miracle on 34th Street,” 1947, dir. by George Seaton, starring Maureen O’Hara and a young Natalie Wood

     The fact that this movie has Maureen O’Hara in it means that I will watch it every year.  What beauty!  What talent!  I love the sloppy sentimental hogwash that the plot is built around.  It’s Christmas, for goodness’ sake.  If you can’t be sentimental at Christmas, then you’re just an old Scrooge.

#7

“The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,” 1983, dir. by George Schaefer, starring Loretta Switt

     Based on the touching children’s novel by Barbara Robinson, this film has an extremely important message to convey, primarily that nobody is beyond redemption.  It could make a grown man cry.  (Actually, it does.)

#8

“The Preacher’s Wife,”  1996, dir. by Penny Marshall, starring Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston 

     This is one of the few remakes that I like.  It is based loosely on the classic “The Bishop’s Wife.”  It showcases many great African American actors and has a heartwarming message of faith and hope.

#9

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” 1966, dir. by Chuck Jones, narr. by Boris Karloff

     Both the book and the movie had a huge impact on me as a child.  Dr. Seuss’s fantastic illustrations and kooky rhymes drive home the point that love conquers all.  My childhood was often unhappy, even dreary, but this animated movie gave me hope and a little joy.  I’m sorry if you disagrree, but the new version with Jim Carrie does not begin to hold a candle to this great film.

#10

“Little Women,” 1994, dir. by Gillian Armstrong, starring Winona Ryder, Christian Bale and Susan Sarandon

     Though not strictly a Christmas movie, the holiday figures prominently in the plot.  With stunning visuals and superb acting, this adaption of Louisa May Alcott’s novel should be seen at least once (if not once a year) by everyone.

Flawed Movies

     Do errors in movies bother you? What if the errors are scientific impossibilities?

     What I usually notice in movies is errors in human judgment. People in movies often do things that peopl in real life simply wouldn’t do. For example, if a car began to chase me, I wouldn’t continue to run ahead of it, as movie characters do. I would dive to the side and run into a building or run down a narrow alley.  Or if I had only a small knife on me, I would not walk into a camp of heavily armed guards and expect to take them all out or even to walk back out alive.  But people in movies do those things.

     Tom Chivers has listed some other movie errors that involve breaking scientific laws.  One is the sound of spaceships traveling through empty space.  Another is laser guns that have beams that travel more slowly than the speed of light.  (In case you don’t know, sound waves cannot travel through empty space, and light beams always travel at the speed of light.)

     Check out the other errors, unless you don’t want any of those fantasies tainted by reality.

Moore the Millionaire

     Michael Moore was on Sean Hannity’s program, talking mostly about his new movie.  During the conversation, Hannity tried to get Moore to admit that he is a millionaire.  All Moore would say was that he had “done well.” 

     Come on.  His movies have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars.  Even if Moore’s take was a small percentage, it would be in the millions.  If he has gotten good financial advice he should have tens of millions, I would guess.

     Why does it matter?  If you are going to make a movie that castigates wealthy people and capitalists, then you had better not be one yourself.  To do so is hypocritical.

     Besides pointing out Moore’s hypocrisy, I would like to make an even more significant point.  If Moore doesn’t believe the message that he is selling, then why should anyone else buy it?

     Why doesn’t he make and distribute his movies in Cuba, a country he seems to love so much?  Why does he depend on America’s evil capitalist movie industry?  Why does he depend on America’s movie-going public, who can only afford the expensive tickets at movie theaters thanks to capitalism?  Why not ask all those free, well-taken-care-of Cubans to fork over the price of a movie ticket?  Better yet, why not ask Fidel Castro to fork over $300 million dollars to bankroll the film and make it free to the public to view it?

     And why support capitalistic movie theaters and capitalistic movie rental companies and capitalistic food vendors and capitalistic advertisers who also get rich from the showing of the movies?

     Michael Moore should make a film about the fee clinics that he has built with his own money.  Then I would listen to him complain about rich people having no compassion and how “we” need to provide health care for needy people.  Until then he is the man behind the curtain.

Old Movie Reivew: The Bat (1959)

     While I was reading about Agnes Moorehead, an actress that I admire very much, I ran across a reference to a movie called The Bat, in which she stars as an author of mystery and suspense books.  Her character in The Bat, Cornelia van Gorder, encounters a real life mystery involving embezzled bank money, a criminal called “The Bat,” and real bats.

     The movie also stars Vincent Price, another of my favorite old-time actors.  I was surprised at the way he portrayed his character in the movie–pleasantly surprised.  I think of him as a heavy-handed actor with an eerie melifluous voice.  In this movie he spoke in a standard miwestern American dialect and was very subltle in his technique.

     An interesting fact about the cast of the movie is that Darla Hood, the Darla of the Our Gang and Little Rascals movies, plays a minor role.

     I watched The Bat last night on Google Video.  It was brilliant.  The humor was understated and brilliant.  At times the acting was overdone, as was common in that era; nevertheless it was superb acting.  The plot did not actually leave me in suspense that much, but it was captivating, and there were some wonderful twists at the end, which I shall not spoil for you.

     If you have any interest at all in good, old movies, you ought to watch this one.  As I mentioned, you can watch the entire movie on Goggle Video.  It is also available for sale on DVD.

Movie Review: Fireproof

     I watched the movie Fireproof  with some friends and colleagues.  It is one of the best movies that I have ever seen, and I’m very picky about movies.  Technically it had many flaws, but the story was completely engrossing.

     Let me get the negative comments out of the way.  Many of the actors in the movie are amateurs, so there are some less-than-perfect performances.  The movie was produced by a church, so what would one expect?  The Gospel is clearly spelled out in the movie, and that will certainly turn off some people.  It was produced by a church, so what would one expect?  There are also a few hokey things in the movie, but even some of the hokey things make it endearing.  It was very down to earth and very accessible and relevant to the average person.

     Now let’s get to the good stuff.  The movie portrays love, true love.  By true love I do not mean the Hollywood version of love, which seems to have something to do with hearing violin music when you make love with that one perfect person who will always please you and never disappoint you.   What I mean is the kind of love that is based on a choice–a choice to give sacrificially to another person no matter how imperfect he or she is and no matter how often or how much that person might disappoint you.  In other words, “for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health.”

     The movie is about a firefighter and his wife who are having serious marriage problems and who are on the brink of divorce.  The firefighter is given advice from family and friends on how to save his marriage.

     It sounds like a boring plot, but this movie is far from boring.  There are two intense rescue scenes which support the main plot and the themes of the moive.  The firefighter is willing to risk his life to save strangers, so what is he willing to do to save his marriage?  The firefighter tells a rookie that you never leave your partner during a fire, just as he learns that you should not leave your partner in life either.

     It is  a very funny movie.  There is a lot of comic relief, as the firefighters express bravado and engage in playful banter at the station.  There are some ladies who work at the same hospital as the firefighter’s wife who also provide a lot of laughs.  The people I watched it with laughed so hard at times that some of them had tears in their eyes–me included.

     We also had tears in our eyes as the story progressed.  I don’t want to give away too much, but I will say that only a very calloused person could watch this film without being deeply moved.  Unlike many Hollywood movies, this one is about real love–and real life.  It could be about your parents, your friends, or about you and your spouse.

Really Bad Movies

     I’ve written before about my favorite movies.  Now it’s time to write about some of my least favorite.  These movies might not be the five worst movies, since I try to avoid bad movies–based on reviews from friends.  I’ve avoided the Speed movies, the Rambo movies, and Howard the Duck.  However, these are movies that I somehow ended up having the displeasure of seeing.

     Do you remember the film Ishtar?  Unfortunately I do.  It is the most boring and pointless movie that I have ever sat through.  It stars Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty, but it is the worst project that either of them has ever participated in, as far as I know.  It was written and directed by Elaine May, who has been involved as a writer in some truly great movies, including Reds, Tootsie, and Primary Colors.  Apparently it lasts for only 107 minutes, but you won’t believe it if you see this dreadful film about two very bad lounge singers who try to find work in Morocco.  You’ll swear that the boredom must have gone on for three hours.  Some films are entertaining because they are bad.  This one is simply bad.

     The Scarlet Letter is almost as bad as Ishtar, and it’s 28 painful minutes longer.  At least it had some beautiful music and excellent cinematography.  If you take out all the acting, it would be a nice film to look at and listen to.  As a fan of the novel, I was excited to watch the movie.  As a fan of the novel, I was disgusted with it.  The worst thing about it was the idiotic rewrite of Hawthorne’s brilliant story.  Come on!  Douglas Day Stewart knows better than the author how the story should end?

     My brother took me to see the next film on my list.  I used to like my brother; then he took me to Three Amigos!  I’m not sure how Lorne Michaels, Steve Martin, and Randy Newman could have written such a weak script.  They are very talented comedy writers, but this film should not even be called a comedy, since it is not even funny.  My brother laughed at how bad it was, but I couldn’t even muster up a groan, let alone a laugh.  Steve Martin is one of the funniest men alive today, but he just blew it with this one–both as a writer and as an actor.  (Martin Short had some good moments in it, however.)  I wondered if the writers were trying to make a parody of themselves, but I don’t think so.  I just think that they had an off-year.  (I still like my brother, but I haven’t trusted his movie picks since then.)

     The next movie on my list is more recent, but it is almost as bad as the earlier ones.  For Love of the Game is probably the movie that had the most potential but that falls the shortest of reaching it.  The acting is superb–understated, the way I like acting.  Kelly Preston, the female lead, is truly remarkable, and Kevin Costner, the male lead, is excellent in this movie, too.  It’s the story I hate.  How in the world could anyone in 1999 make a movie about a man who uses, ignores, and takes for granted the woman who loves him, all because he is egocentrically obsessed with baseball.  Even that plotline could work, except that at the end she comes back to him.  It’s disgusting, and I say that as a man.  Any guy who is as much of a loser in life, which matters a bit more than baseball, should not get the girl in the end.  He just shouldn’t.  I wanted to punch his lights out, and I’ve never punched anyone in my life.  (Actually I vascillated between wanting to slap her for going back to him and to punch him for foisting himself on her again.)

     Another movie with a disgusting plotline is Fly Away Home.  Yes, the story of the girl saving the geese is touching, but the father’s extreme environmentalism and rebelliousness is just too much to stomach.  I admire and respect naturalists and nature lovers, but I don’t admire or respect hypocrisy.  The father in the story lives in a nice house, drives a truck, and sculpts and invents elaborate objects.  However, he goes berserk when some developers want to clear some land that they own adjacent to his property.  It’s okay for him to have a house and a vehicle and a huge barn-cum-studio, but it’s not okay for anyone else to.  The worst scene in the entire movie is when he jumps in his pickup truck to go to city hall to protest the clearing going on next door.  Yuck, yuck, yuck!  In another scene a game warden wants to clip the wings of the geese for their own protection.  Anyone who truly cared about the animals would want to make sure that they stayed safe during the winter time, which they could not do if they tried to fly south.  (The birds had not been taught the route because they were hatched in captivity.)  The father physically tosses the warden out the door and tells him something to the effect of “Stay off my property!”  Hmm. . .private ownership is good for the goose but not for the gander. (I do love the song at the end of the movie and used to play it over and over.   Now I have a digital recording of “10,000 Miles” sung by Mary Chapin Carpenter.  It’s gorgeous.)

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     What are your least favorite movies?  Do you agree or disagree with my critiques?