Sunday, July 30, 2006

Short Takes


Fri 7/28

The Family Stone is one of those "meet-the-in-laws", holiday-type comedy's. When Everett Stone (Dermot Mulrony) brings his uptight New York girlfriend Meredith Morton (played by Sarah Jessica Parker, whose supposed attractiveness I've never really understood) to meet his liberal family mis-adventures ensue. The film starts out a little cold and awkward but gradually warms to likeablity, though never transcends the conventional.

Robert De Niro won an Oscar for his portrayal of middle-weight champion Jake La Motta in Martin Scorsese's violent black & white art film about boxing, Raging Bull. Probably less impressive watching it in 2006 then in 1980 when it was released (largely because we now take De Niro's acting abilities for granted), Raging Bull really dose showcase one of the legendary performances in cinema history and is a film more about internal flaws then outward ability.

Sat 7/29

The Pacifier isn't so much unbearable as it is just completely derivative and unfunny. Sort of a poor man's Kindergarten Cop, it features Vin Diesal as a Navy Seal asigned to protect the family of a recently murdered Defense Department analyst. Watching the film you will feel anything from disgust, to a numb neutrality, to a light warmth depending on you susceptibility to Disney sentimentality.

Sun 7/30

Bob Roberts is a great satire, presented in documentary format it follows the 1990 Senate campaign of businessman/folk singer Robert Roberts. Director/star Tim Robbins does a fantastic job of capturing right-wing demigogery and the disheartening media situation, something that has only gotten more pronounced since the film was made. Alternately funny and disturbing, the movie also boasts a long list of celebrity cameos, mostly playing members of the press. The esteemed liberal author and commentator Gore Vidal plays Roberts Democratic rival, the wise Senator Brickley Paiste of Pennsylvania. Look for a young Jack Black as a Roberts groupie.

The New World is the latest in director Terrence Malick's infrequent contributions to cinema. I must say that the story of the forbidden love between Pocahontas (Q'Orianka Kilcher) and John Smith (Colin Farrell) was not one which I was overly excited to see on screen, but two glowing recommendations from two very different sources (a guy in my ward and a pagan priestess, I kid you not) prompted me to see the film, and I must say I was impressed. This is a simply beautiful movie in every way, the story, the performances, the music, and the cinematography, the last of which was so gorgeous that I instantly regretted not seeing it on the big screen. The New World breaths new life into its tired old story and offers a vivid depiction of a period of time not often presented on film.

Mon 7/31

2005's Fun With Dick & Jane is a remake of the 1977 feature staring George Segal and Jane Fonda. The updated version is set in the year 2000 to take advantage of the corporate scandals which provide background and premise for the film. Working couple Dick & Jane Harper, Jim Carry and Tea Leoni, both lose there jobs as a result of false promises and corrupt mismanagement at a major corporation headed by Alec Baldwin. This moderately amusing film chronicles the desperation of the couple as they try to stay afloat economically, eventually resorting to crime. The karma of the film is a little mixed as neither the Harper's or Baldwins character ultimately suffer any long-term consequences for there actions.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

"The Cancer of Virtuous Decay"

A Movie Review

Rod Lurie's 2000 film The Contender served as The American President to the writer/directors own short lived, West Wing style drama Commander & Chief. Chief however was one of those ill-fated television programs whose back story and behind the scenes goings-on where more interesting then the actual show. The Contender has more of a plot then The American President but is a less likeable movie. Perhaps more realistic then Sorkins Capra-like Romance, The Contender offers a hard-edged political procedural in the tradition of Premingers Advise and Consent 40 years earlier, only here I found no characters that I really liked.

The plot of the film concerns two-term Democratic President Jackson Evans (Jeff Bridges) who must fill the vacancy left by the death of the Vice-President (whose name, as a bit of trivia was Troy Ellert), said to have occurred three-weeks prior to the start of events on screen. While the popular sentiment is to appoint the politically well situated but ultimately substancless Governor of Virginia Jack Hathaway (William L. Peterson), the President chooses instead to nominate Senator Laine Hanson (Joan Allen) of Ohio, a far leftist who strangely enough is said to have once been a Republican. Illinois Congressman Sheldon Runyan (Gary Oldman) however wants to use his chairmanship of a committee set to review the nominee, to get payback at the sitting president for some political slight, vaguely refereed to as having occurred in Hartford, that is said to have cost him the presidency. Sam Elliott plays the Presidents chief-of-staff Kermit Newman, and Christian Slater is a promising young Democratic Congressman from Delaware. This is largely a good movie but full of a liberal posturing more arrogant then typically found on The West Wing, and an awkward sort of PC moralism with which I was not ultimately comfortable. I would have had a hard voting for Laine Hanson, but think I would ultimately have to confirm her.

The Cancer Man Can Cause He Mixes It With Love, Or: Loving The Spin I'm In

A Movie Review

Young director Jason Reitman, who got is start in bit child parts in movies such as Kindergarten Cop and Dave, brings to the screen his first mass marketed film, Thank You For Smoking, with a certain juvenile glee. Based on the satiric novel by Christopher Buckley (son of conservative oracle William F. Jr.), Thank You felt too obvious to be truly biting. In actuality this film should have been made 10 years ago when the smoking related issues it addresses were still relevant, the moral story it attempts to communicate is now to generally accepted and obvious to warrant a cinematic treatment.

It is fortunate then that this movie doesn't only focuses its satiric energies on the Tobacco industry, other obvious targets such as the gun and alcoholic beverage lobbies are also lampooned in the form of David Koechner and Maria Bello respectively. Perhaps the films funniest character was Hollywood super-agent Jeff Megall, (played in one of the movies many instances of obvious casting by Rob Lowe), a charming work-aholic and collector of all things Asian, who is perhaps even more "morally flexible" then lead character Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart).

Naylor is a much hated lobbyist for a Tobacco industry front group, who is brilliantly performed by Eckhart in a rare staring role. Naylor insures that the films proceedings remain entertaining despite no strong plot. An ill-advised romantic relationship with Kate Holmes reporter Heather Holloway, and a death threat from an anti-tobacco group help provide some narrative thrust, but basically the movie is just Naylor going around doing his job and attempting to maintain a relationship with his 12 year old son (Cameron Bright). William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons, and Robert Duvall all have mostly cartoonish feeling parts in the film, though Sam Elliotts former Marlboro Man character Lorne Lutch has a little more depth then the others.

Thank You For Smoking will entertain you throughout, but I can't really call it a good movie. All flesh and no bones it try's to deliver the sour-milk of satire in a conventional comedy format with a faux-moralistic ending that doesn't really work. You could probably get more out of the material by simply reading Buckley's book.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Fiendish Plots of Habib Marwan

A Boxed Set Review

I believe that season 4 of 24 is still held as the programs strongest in terms of ratings. It certainly is engaging and different from its predecessors in several ways. First off the season begins with an almost entirely new cast, though many previously established charters do return to the program by its finall, Kim however (much to the joy of many fans who find her annoying) does not. The season also differs in that there is only one primary villain, Habib Marwan (Arnold Vosloo) a Turkish born terrorist leader who heads a surprisingly secular seeming group of Islamic radicals. The Muslim extremist from season 2 seemed pretty true to our expectations of those groups, whereas season 4's badies have no problems working with non-Muslim mercenaries, having very western relationships with women, and hardly mention their religion. Mostly they just want Americans to butt-out of the affairs of other nations, much like the disillusioned former British intelligence officer who was Season 3's final villain.

Of course being open to other allies was probably essential to this group of terrorists, )and keeping the season intersting) as they had a pretty ambitious agenda for day 4: derail a passenger train, kidnap the Secretary of Defense, meltdown a nuclear powerplant, steal a stealth bomber and use it to shoot down Air Force One (leaving the President in a comma), and steal and launch a nuclear missile from Iowa towards a major American city (and who was surprised it turned out to be Los Angeles).

In terms of new characters I liked the Hellers (William Devine and Kim Raver as his daughter), as well a Paul Rains (James Frain) and Edger (Louis Lombardi). Curtis (Roger Cross) was cool, Erin Driscoll (Alberta Wastson) grew on me, and Gregory Itzins vice-president, and later president Charles Logan was great as one of those characters you almost enjoy being annoyed by. Shohreh Aghdashloo of House of Sand and Fog fame made her terrorist mother character something far above any stereo-type. Also the lovely Mia Kirshner's Mandy (though not really a 'new' character, but developed more here then ever before) has the same voice inflection and dark looks of a young Mary-Louise Parker.

Anyways Season 4 was great, though my heart belongs to the dramatic symmetry of Season 2 (and by extension Sarah Winter). Now I am stuck in that wasteland waiting for the Season 5 DVD release.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Warmest Wishes on your Wedding Day Most Great Leader

Doesn't do much for my self esteem knowing that crazy dictator Kim Jong Il has an easier time finding a wife then I've been having. I mean come on, not only do I have better hair them him, I am significantly less likely to nuke Seoul.

Mako Dies

In Memory

Mako, pioneering Asian-American actor who was Academy Award nominated for his role in The Sand Pebbles and played Admiral Yamamoto in 2001's Pearl Harbor, has died after a long fight with cancer. I saw Mako at the celebrity show I went to last year in L. A. , and remember hearing him laugh when a roughly 10 year old boy (who had accompanied his father to the event) essentially told the actor the he enjoyed seeing him look beaten in Pearl Harbor. Mako also appeared in an episode of The West Wing as a Nobel prize winning Japanese economist and one time academic rival of president Bartlets. Makoto Iwamatsh was 72.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Jack Warden: 1920-2006

In Memory

Jack Warden prolific character actor who played the ineffectual president in Being There and 'Big Ben' in the Problem Child films has passed away in a New York hospital at the age of 85. Known for his role in Sydney Luments 12 Angry Men and academy award nominated for Shampoo & Heaven Can Wait, Warden could be both lovable and cantankerous with equal conviction. He also played David in the much beloved by me tele-film Three Kings.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On Death and Dying

Series in Review

My subjects for review today both examine themes that were very dear to the heart of the late doctor Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, namely dying and getting ready to die. We'll start with the dying first and my review of the 3rd season of Six Feet Under.

Season three for Six Feet was a very transitional year for the series, as reinforced by the season promo which features the shows lead characters cavorting about a stylized cliff. While many of the tonal qualities of the series remanded the same the show did go in a different direction in regards to a maturing of the characters both in personal growth and a slight decrease in recklessness, or maybe narrowing of recklessness would be a more accurate phrase. Both stylistic and content wise the show was strong, starting with Nates journey into 'parallel' universes in episode one, the strangely joyous episode four, and the long dark journey of despair Nate takes in the final four episodes.

Claire (Lauren Ambrose) has two romantic relationships this season, one with a non-committal crematory worker and amateur musician, and one with a sexually confused artist. David (Michael C. Hall) and Keith's (Mathew St. Patrick) paring has its ups and downs, complet with visits to a therapist. Ruth befriends Bettina (Kathy Bates), helps her sister (Patrica Clarkson) get off some hard drugs, becomes briefly obsessed with the homes new intern (the brilliantly nerdy Rainn Wilson), and ends up as wife number 7 for geology professorGeorge Sibley (James Cromwell). Brenda(Rachel Griffiths) losses her father to cancer, wisely limits contact with the rest of her family, and makes real progress in overcoming her self-destructive streak. Rico (Freddy Rodriguez) deals with his wifes depression and nagging sister in-law quite well for some time, but in the final episode of the season makes an unwise choice that will doubtless have major consequences.

It's Nate's arc this season however that is most central and interesting. After surviving his brain operation that was season 2's cliff hanger, he decides to marry the mother of his child Lisa Kimmel (Lili Taylor). At first Nate subsumes himself trying to act out the part of the husband Lisa wants him to be. A dream conversation with his late father (Richard Jenkins) forces Nate to confront the fact that he may have married Lisa for the wrong reasons, and this health obsessed character turns to smoking after he and his wife and daughter move into the apartment over the funeral homes garage, when Lisa quiets her job as vegan cook to eccentric producer Carol Ward (Catherine O'Hara). Eventually Nate can no longer subsume himself to Lisa's demanding expectations and the two start thinking about a separation, but this is put on hold when while inside a Pyramid at Claire art show, they decide to start anew as who they really are rather then who the other expects them to be, which leads to some real progress and what appears to be Nate genuinely falling in love with Lisa. As things finally start to right themselves Lisa goes missing while on a trip to visit her sister, with all these events leading to the seasons tragic ending and Nates spiraling personal decline.

Again as stated in my review for season 2 of Six Feet Under this is an intense, dark and adult show, however also very powerful and rewarding viewing if your primed for it. Now more then half way to the series end its still hard to know what dark yet true things creator Alan Ball and his writing staff are prepared to throw at the viewer.


My first britcom and still my favorite Waiting for God, which once ran ubiquitously on our local PBS affiliate in the mid-to-late 90's, has finally had its complete first season released on one DVD. Created by Michael Aitkens (who was only in his forties at the time), the show is set at the Bayside Retirement Village whose inmates, I mean residents spend their golden years waiting to meet their maker. Tom Ballard (Graham Crowden) is a retired accountant whose boring life has left him prone to flights of fantasy. When Tom's notoriously dull son Geoffrey (Andrew Tourell) at the bidding of his shrewish wife Marion (Sandra Payne), decides to check his father into the retirement community into which they have invested, the 'old man' is unhappily resigned to his fate. That is until he meets Diana Trent (Stephanie Cole), a former photo-journalist and his neighbor at Bayview who is a decided cynic and just lives to torment the community's cheap-skate administrator Harvey Baines (Daniel Hill) and his sweet natured, plan faced assistant Jane Edwards (Janine Duvitski). Full of reflections on death, God, and what it means to be old, Waiting for God is a rather philosophical sitcom that treats 'the aged' with both humor and dignity.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Adams Ribs

A Movie Review

Mona Lisa Smile
is one of those inspiring teacher movies whose most distinguishing surface feature is that it is set at an all-girls university (as opposed to the all boys prep schools generally favored by this genre). While most easily though of as a Julie Roberts vehicle, it is in fact the cast of young Hollywood starlets (including Kirsten Dunst, Julia Stiles, Maggie Gyllenhall, and Ginnifer Goodwin) who actually make the picture work.

Set during the 1953-1954 academic year at Boston areas Wellesley College, the story concerns Katherine Ann Watson (Julia Roberts), a California 'bohemian' sort who has come to the conservative school to teach an art history course. Though greeted at first with disdain to indifference by all but a few of her students and co-workers, you know that by the end of the year she as won over, or at the very lest impressed, the whole campus.

Though my description my sound a little trite this is acutely an enjoyable movie, that fights the cultural battles of the 1950's with healthy ambiguity. The four primary young women characters are treated with some complexity, and issues of expectation and individualism are fairly addressed, with no pat answer provided other then that one must ultimately chose ones own path, what ever that may be. Though the social order of the time must play as nostalgia for most modern American audiences, Mormons viewers may find the cultural dynamic in the film to be more relevant to there experiences and thusly hit closer to home. The whole thing could easily be remade and set at present day BYU-Idaho. The film also features Topher Grace, John Slattery, Marcia Gay Harden, and Dominic West as Ms. Roberts love interest.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Minor Leagues

A Movie Review

For my birthday my brother and sister-in-law got me a DVD of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a movie which a number of people (perhaps surprisingly) have been telling me to see for years. I however remember the bad reviews the movie got and wasn't expecting much going in, which is probably why I found the film mildly entertaining, a popcorn movie in the old B-picture tradition.

Basically this is a kind of late Victorian X-men. Sean Connery is legendary game hunter/adventurer Allan Quartermain, who is brought out of 'retirement' in Africa to head up a group of 'extraordinary individuals' known as 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen'. Basically 'the League' is composed of comic book versions of famous literary characters such as Dorian Gray, Tom Sawyer, The Invisible Man, Captain Nemo, and Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde. They are tasked with preventing a mysterious figure known as 'The Phantom' from starting a world war so that he can profit on the sale of advanced weaponry. The film is sort of rambling and often feels directionless, it takes about half an hour to assemble the team, and then they all spend a strangely long period of time on board 'The Nautilus' reflecting on their pasts and their personal faults. By the time we get to their destination of Venice about fifty minutes have passed, and for what turns out to be something of a red hearing, we do however get to see half of the city sink into the ocean though.

If you treat it as the bit of lite adventure it is you can enjoy movie, though strangely I think that its some what broding first half was its strongest. League is an odd cinematic swan-song for Sean Connery, who recently announced his retirement from film.

'The Best of Baretta 'DVD by way of Netflix allowed me a non-committal way to view Robert Blake's signature on screen role. A morbid curiosity drew me to the program, but its signature Stephen J. Cannell stylings made me stay for the warm hearted lite campyness of it all. I must confess I liked this show, and Blake was genuinely charismatic as Italian-American detective (and master of disguise) Tony Baretta, who with the moral support of pet cockatoo 'Fred' helped keep the streets of unspecified-presumably-Californian-city relatively safe from crime. Also stared McGyver boss and a fat and aged Tom Ewell.

Director Michael Anderson Dead at 86

In Memory

Academy Award nominated director Michael Anderson, noted for work on science fiction and fantasy films such as Around the World in Eighty Days, Logans Run, Millennium, and the TV mini-series The Martian Chronicles, has passed away at the age of 86. Click here for his complete filmography.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Mickey Spillane Dies

In Memory

Mickey Spillane, the pulp novelist whose violent and racey crime stories flourished in the 1940's and 50's and made him one of the best selling writers of the 20th century, has passed away at the age of 88. Spillanes most well known creation is the detective Mike Hammer, a hard edged gumshoe for the post WWII era, who has been portrayed in TV and movies a number of times over the years. Spillanes work was as ubiquitous fifty years ago as Clancy, Crichton, and Grisham's are today, and while his novels may never be considered great literature, they made a lasting impression on their audiences and on the American Psyche.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Some Pretty Ladies

Barbara Stanwyck

Karen Morley

Zooey Deschanel

Emily Procter

Natalie Wood

Myrna Loy

Phoebe Cates

Veronica Lake

Katie Holmes

Judy Greer

Martine McCutcheon

Alexis Bledel

Selma Blair

Ann Sheridan

Linda Darnell

Elisha Cuthbert

Gene Tierney

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Terrorism News

Found this blog, can't really take a position on its content or politices, only briefly skimmed it, but it seemed pretty thorough so I thought I'd post a link.

Oh, The Mormanity!

Click here.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Happy Birthday!

A happy 93rd to former president Gerald Ford, and 26th to myself.

Also comic actor and academy award winner Red Buttons has died. I'm not very familiar with Buttons work so here's a link to learn more about him.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Zionism: The Movie, Staring Paul Newman

The Otto Preminger Centennial

Exodus, based on the best selling book by Leon Uris, is Otto Premingers epic spectical on the establishment of the state of Israel. Intermixing real with fictitious characters the movie is probably not the best history lesson you could have the subject, and its portrayal of events has been harshly critiqued over the years. With a running time of approximately 3 1/2 hours, and a pacing that isn't in a hurry to get any where, sitting through this feature might feel as though it takes longer then some Israeli wars.

The plot concerns Kitty Fremont (Eva Marie Saint) the widow of photo-journalist who died covering Jewish uprisings in Palestine in the immediate post World War II years. Kitty has traveled to Cyprus to visit General Sutherland (Ralph Richardson) a British army officer who had been a friend of her late husbands. While there the General asks Mrs. Freemont (who happens to be a trained nurse) if she wouldn't mind spending a few days helping out at a refugee camp for Jews. The British Navy had been intercepting ships attempting to carry European Jews to Palestine, the reasoning being that the surge in Jewish population in the area was making it difficult for the imperial forces there to keep the peace with the Arabs. While volunteering at the camp Kitty befriends a teenage girl named Karen (Jill Haworth) whose mother and siblings died in the holocaust and whose father has been missing for years. Kitty eventually decides to (with the Generals permission) take Karen to America with her in the hopes of adopting the girl.

Kittys happy plans are disrupted however when Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) arrives on the island to help implement a secret plan to transport the refuges who had been intercepted aboard a ship called 'The Star of David' (of which Karen is of course one) get to Palestine. Dressed as a military officer and carrying forged orders Ben Canaan manages to get the 'Star of David' passengers onto a new boat, which he calls 'Exodus'. The British figure out what he is up to before the boat can leave harbor and blockade the ship. In response the folks aboard 'Exodus' go on a hunger strike until they are permitted to leave for Palestine, promising to blow up the boat if the British try to board it. Eventually the U.K. decides to cave in to their demands and the ship sets out on its journey, with Kitty Fremont permitted to stay on board as ships nurse after their doctor dies of a heart attack.

Once they all make it to the holy land the plot shifts to the search for Karens father, who she believes might have made it to Palestine in the after-math of the war. Eventually Karens father is found alive in a hospital, but so mentally and physically ravaged by his experiences that he can not even talk, let alone respond to his daughters presence. Karens story is not however the central focus of the movie, rather star Paul Newmans Ben Cannan character is. We see Ari struggle to reconcile the militant and non-violent camps of Zionism, help orchestrate an elaborate Great Escape style prison break, and defend the residents of the small Jewish settlement he calls home from Arabs in the wake of the U.N. granting of Israeli partition.

As I said before this movie is pretty long, it could be several movies, and while well executed I'd have to rank it in the bottom half (favorites wise) of the Preminger films I've seen. Ernest Golds score for the movie constituted the films only Academy Award win.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Barnard Hughes Dies 5 Days Shy of his 91st Birthday

In Memory

Hughs is best known to me as the Catholic Priest on All in the Family though had a very diverse and long lasting career. Click here to read about his death, and click here to read more about his life.

Al Gore's Cosmos

A Movie Review

A number of years ago I read a biography of Al Gore that stated the then Senator had hopes of turning his book Earth in the Balance into a documentary mini-series along the lines of Carl Sagan's Cosmos. Since Gore ended up running for, and of course winning election to the office of vice-president in 1992, his documentary plans were not realized, that is until recently. According to The Nation the film An Inconvenient Truth, which is based on Gore's oft presented global warming slide show, was not initiated by him. No it was the film makers, including director Davis Guggenheim (a vetrine of several episodes of the Fox show 24), that came to Gore.

An Inconvenient Truth is an engaging documentary that revels Gore to be both an excellent teacher, and not the wooden cartoon he is often viewed as. The film does delve into elements of Gore's personal and professional life including, his childhood, the near death of his six year old son in 1989, the death of his older sister from lung cancer, and his defeat in the famously disputed presidential election of 2000. The focus of the movie however is on global warming, and Mr. Gore's case is overwhelming, this is no 'Manbearpig' phenomena. Through a glossy multi-media presentation (including a Futurerama clip), the former vice-president brings the satistical and photo-graphic evidence for our planets increased warming scarily to life, calling for a re-birth of 'political will' to address this issue while its effects are still relatively manageable.

Many have commented that this film appears to be part of an attempt by Gore to 'test the waters' for a possible presidential run in 2008. While the films start will dispute this, the more I think about it the better the prospect of another Gore campaign, and indeed a Gore presidency seems. Al Gore is, in my opinion, probably the best option for the country two years from now. This movie is only part of my gradual conversion to Gore fandom, something I'd like to see spread among others. If honestly addressed the issue of global warming could be faced, and even largely resolved by our generation, and possibly even serve a step towards a greater sense of unity of purpose in our land. So see An Inconvenient Truth and start thinking of a running-mate, I'm cerial.

"Truth is on the March"

A Movie Review

The best picture Oscar winner for 1937, The Life of Emile Zola is the movie that inspired the Laurie Holden character in Frank Darabont's The Majestic to become a lawyer. While Zola himself was never a lawyer he was a crusader for justice, a muckraking author in 19th century France he was one of the best loved and most hated men of his time. Played in the film by Paul Muni, who won an oscar for his performance, Zola is the type of dedicated eccentric who makes for great entertainment (and could easily serve as the basis for a TV detective).

The first half hour of the film contains a severely abridged biography of Zola over about a 30 year period, the rest of the film (which runs just under two hours), is dedicated to the famous Dreyfus affiar. The Dreyfus affair is an incident in which honest and hardworking Capt. Alfred Dreyfus (Joseph Schildkraut) was used as a scapegoat for a massive intelligence leak in the French armys general staff, presumably just because he was Jewish. A few years after Dreyfus had been sent to languish on 'Devils Island' the Army chief of intelligence came upon new evidence that cleared the captain and identified the real culprit. However fearing the damage this revelation might inflict upon the reputation of the general staff, and the glory of the army, the officer to uncover this information ( I think he was played by Henry O'Neil) was silenced and the real offender cleared.

Zola who by the time of these events was an old man, was at first reluctantly drug into Dreyfus defense by the convicts wife (Gale Sondergaard). Emile however would eventually became such a champion of the wrongly accused officer that he would allow himself to go on trail for 'publicly liabling' the general staff, in order to clear his name. Zola would eventually face prison time for his actions, but fled into exile in England (despite a strong distaste for any cold climate) where he continued to lobby for Dreyfus through his writings, something which ultamilty proved successful. The court room scenes in this drama are stirring and Muni expertly delivers a couple great Zola monologues. A largely forgotten (for a best picture winner) classic film about a largely forgotten great man, this movie is certenly worth seeing. The films message about the dangers of overly secretive military justice, and the damages that can be done when any organization thinks it can do no wrong, couldn't be more timely. Zola's wife is played here by Gloria Holden, an actress best known for playing Draculas daughter in the movie of the same name.

Actress June Allyson Dies at 88

In Memory

Coming from the Broadway stage to MGM in the 1940's June Allyson did most of her early work in the musical genre, but became best known for her regular one screen paring with James Stewart and real life marriage to Dick Powell. Though never the name or draw of her 'some what friend' Joan Crawford, Allyson worked regularly and after her 'leading lady' years came to an end in the 1960's, continued to appear on stage and in television into the 1990's.

Perhaps the best word to describe June Allyson would be to describe her as 'sweet'. Now that might seem condescending but it isn't, Allyson always invested her wife and mother roles with a dignity and attractiveness that transcended her looks and acting ability, you just sensed she was really as good a person as she seemed on screen. While I've always been most attracted to the 'strong-willed independent types' of classic cinema such as the Hepburns and the Stanwycks, Allyson always made the traditional domestic housewife concept seem appealing and new. Though she is quoted as saying that in reality she was "a poor dressmaker and a terrible cook" her image will always be associated with that of the warm and caring wife and mother, a group that could ask for no better representative.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Post on 'A Prairie Home Companion' that took it's own sweet time to Post

this is an audio post - click to play

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Ode to Joy

A Movie Review

A friend of mine once described the movie Love Actually to me as Crash if it were a romantic comedy. I'd be hard pressed to provide a better little description of the film, everything else I can think of to describe it sounds like, well, blurbs of praise you'd put on the poster or DVD box. Love Actually is quite simply a joyous film, a celebration of all things love. There are about nine major stories going on throughout and you skip back and forth between them and over time see how many of them connect. There is so much going on in the film that I'm not even going to try and cover it, instead I refer you to this wikipedia entry, that is if you don't mind spoilers. But better yet just see the film and enjoy, it is deservidly rated R so know that going in, but the emotional core of the film as reveled in a roughly 35 minute end sequence set on Christmas eve is well worth it.

The Marx Brothers - Mirror Scene from Duck Soup

Quite possibley the funniest three minutes in movie history.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Gore at Home

Kind of wish we'd seen a little more of this side of Al Gore in 2000, the more I learn about him the more I like. I have the same quark about movies as the former vice-president.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Family Gatherings

A Movie Review

The Dredge family reunion is this weekend and I will be unable to attend, however I do have Eulogy to act as my substitute. Acutely compared with the Collins clan from this 2004 film, my extended family seems relatively normal, no lesbians or drug addicts there that I know of. Eulogy concerns the gathering together of a large and disfunctional family for the funeral of there patriarch Edmund (Rip Torn, seen as a corpse, in flashbacks, and in a video will). There are other movies built around this same sort of concept, and it seems that the creative powers that be thought that if they brought enough quirky characters together the thing would write its self. It is a fair picture for the first hour and then comes together in a satisfying (and of course quirky) way at the end, when Edmund's big secret is reveled.

Eulogy does have the virtue of containing one of the greatest casts of second teer celebrities ever assembled in one film. The anchoring character is Kate Collins, played by the lovely Zooey Deschanel, she is also one of the sanest figures in the movie. Jesse Bradford (who had an enjoyable extended guest shot on the 5th season of West Wing) plays Ryan Carmichael, Kate's childhood best friend and potential love interest. Hank Azaria is Kate's father Daniel, he is perhaps the most normal of the Edmunds progeny, a one time childhood spoaksperson for a peanut butter company now reduced to playing the non-sexual roles in porn movies. The great Piper Laurie is the suicidal widow Charlotte, Debra Winger her controlling oldest daughter, and Kelly Preston her youngest. Ray Romano plays the other son, Skip who is a barely competent lawyer raising twin delinquent boys Fred and Ted (Curtis and Keith Garcia). Also featured are Glenne Headly, Famke Janssen, Rance Howard, and Rene Auberjonois as the family parson who doesn't seem to really know anything about the family. This movie rates probably about 2 1/2 stars and is one you see primarily for the cast, be warned however this family comedy is hardly appropriate family viewing.

When Radio Was

A Movie Review

Stylistically in the Altman realm while at the same time quite true to its source material, A Prairie Home Companion is doubtlessly one of the more unusual mass-market releases of 2006. A movie adaptation of something you might at first think unfilmable, Prairie brings to the screen Garrison Kellers long running public radio series within a semi-fictitious context. The premise of the movie is that the elderly couple who have long produced Prairie Home Companion are retiring and have sold out to a large Texas corporation, which is sending its representative (Tommy Lee Jones as a born-again 'Axeman') up to Minnesota to shut down the program, and turn its base of operations (the historic Fitzgerald Theater) into a parking lot.

The action of the movie takes place just before and during the broadcast of what is likely to be the final episode of APHC, alternating between what's 'on the air' and various goings on back stage, there is also a brief less then five minute long epilogue to the film that takes place several years later. Like a highly scaled back and condensed version of Altmans Nashville the film follows a group of about 10 central characters most of which are played by big-name stars. Keillor plays himself in the film and many of the radio shows regulars also appear as themselves, including Tom Keith the programs trademark sound effects guy. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep play Rhonda and Yolanda Johnson, sisters who are all thats left of a 'Carter family'-type musical group. Lindsy Lohan plays Yolanda's death-obsesed daughter Lola. John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson are Lefty and Dusty, two cowboy singers who enjoy slightly risquey lyrics. Maya Rudolph from SNL is a pregnet production assistant named Molly, and Virginia Madsen is a deceased former fan of the show who has returned as an 'angel of death' to claim the life of elderly singer Chuck Akers (L. Q. Jones). Kevin Kline plays the radio programs 'Guy Noir' character as a real person, forced to give up detecting (due to lack of clients) and serve as head of security for the program.

This movie is slow and not for everyone, if you don't like Kellers radio program then watching this movie would only put you through 105 minutes of hell. I however did like, if not love the picture, and left the theater feeling quite reflective. A Prairie Home Companion is a reflection on death, both literal and figurative, and is one of the most melancholy films made in years.


"Oy with the poodle's already", last night I finished Gilmore Girls season two. What more can I say about the program that I haven't said about the first season, its just a really enjoyable show, richly developed, witty, full of likeable characters, and totaly enveloping. The first disc or so pretty much wraps up the major lose strings from last season, most notable of which is Lorelai's (Lauren Graham) brief engagement to Rory's (Alexis Bledel) teacher Max Medina (Scott Cohen). The narrative thrust of this season is largely focused on Lukes troubled nephew Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia) and a well handled love triangle that develops between him Rory and Dean (Jared Padalecki). This is also the season of the Edward Herrmann characters brief retirement and return to the business world as an insurance consultant. Gilmore Girls season 2 builds well on the first and has me excited about the third.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

The Spinozist Mormon

Click here.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence Day: The U.S. at Two Hundred and Thirty

Monday, July 03, 2006

Robert Sterling: 1917-2006

In Memory

Actor Robert Sterling, best known for his role as the deceased George Kirby opposite his real-life wife Anne Jeffreys on the 50's comedy series Topper, has passed away at 88 (this happened back in May but I just now confirmed it). Topper was based on the film by the same title and concerned husband and wife ghosts who only their homes new, elderly tenet could see and hear. The program was a conceptual ancestor of such 60's TV offerings as Bewitched and I Dream of Jeanie, it also shared a basic structure with Tim Burtons late 80's film Beetel Juice. Mr. Sterling is survived by his wife Anne and three sons.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

I Am The Perfect Model of A Modern Major General

A Movie Review

The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
is based (apparently quite loosely) on the cartoons of David Low, and chronicles the 40+ year military career of officer Clive Candy. Roger Livesey gives a strong endearing performance as the career officer, aided by one of the most convincing make-up jobs of character aging I've ever seen in a film, from any period. Life and Death was the first Tecnicolor spectacle from the production team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (here after known as P&P), a writing and directing partnership that the New Yorker magazine has accurately described as "purveyors of high kitsch". While in form the film might seem an odd composite of the comic and mellow dramatic, it's acutely quite a moving story that explores a large tapestry of themes including aging, love, friendship, ethics & war fair, as well as the long and complicated history of German/English relations. Anton Walbrook plays Clives old friend Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff, a German character who is incredibly nuanced for one found in a World War Two era film. Deborah Kerr (a P&P favorite) plays three roles in the film, all expressions of Clives ideal female type. Presented in P&P's fanciful style Colonel Blimp is The Red Shoes for men.

West Wing Sites

Now that The West Wing has ended its series run I wanted to clean out some related sites I routinely used from my bookmarks file. However I want to make sure that I still have access to them in the future, so I'm going to post them here as links so that I can use them again if needed.

Issues in Mormon Doctrine

Here is a link to a blog I found, some interesting stuff posted there. Also check out the Hugh B. Brown quote in the masterhead, it's not the kind of comment I hear coming from church leaders now days. It would be nice to have a liberal like Brown in the 12 again, or even someone like McConkie to stir up debate, maybe Marlin K. Jensen (most well known democrat in church leadership) could some day fill that former role. (Granted James E. Faust is supposedly a democrat, but he never talks about it.)

Spike Jones - Song of the Volga Boatmen

Moore Sides

Documentary's in Review

Michael Moore is one of the most polarizing figures in America today, in fact he's right up there with the president. This weekend I took a look at Moore from two different perspectives, his own, and that of a surprisingly good tempered critic named Michael Wilson. I watched two documentaries Moores own The Big One, and Wilsons Michael Moore Hates America.

The Big One
was the last of Moores feature length documentaries that I had yet to see, it is also very representative of his work and style containing his trademark populist activism, satirical humor, and own narrative centrality to his films. The Big One chronicles Moores 1996 book tour for his New York Times best seller Down Size This, as well as the aftermath of events initated there-in. Moore hops around the country cheering a surprising number of down trodden Americans and confronting powerful figures and corporations from Leaf Candies, to Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson, to Nike chairman Phil Knight (one the few executives ever willing to face Mr. Moore on camera). He laments a corporate America that in its 90's heyday was making record profits and downsizing blue collar works across the country. Moore has always been good at projecting an empathy towards people who find themselves trapped in his version of Edwards America, and despite his often being characterized as a near monster by some I think he truly is sincere. In the mostly pro-Moore film This Divided State Michael is also seen as very loving to those with whom he shares common cause, but capable of being caustic and dismissive towards those with whom he disagrees (though I'd still rather spend time with him then Sean Hannity). This all brings me to that other side of Michael Moore and the other documentary here in review.

Michael Moore Hates America is a 2004 film by young director Michael Wilson, who like Moore hails form the American mid-west. The title is meant to be ironic, a commentary on how vitriolic the political debate has become in this country. It is doubtful that Wilson ever thought that Moore really hated America, he just has some political disagreements with him that seem to flow from a libertarian perspective. In fact Wilson honors Moore by copying his style, though he is not as confrontational as, and seemingly more laid back then, 'the man from Flint'. Speaking of Flint, in the course of his film Wilson is able to confirm that Moore in fact did not grow up in that town which was once named the worst city in America, but rather was raised and attended school in the neighboring, and more prosperous suburb of Davison Michigan. Wilson does visit Flint and finds its a town in slow recovery, with members of the community expressed a hopeful optimism and people starting to move back into town. The director/host does however go to pains to show things in an honest manner, admitting and apologizing on tape for several instances in which he was deceptive in landing interviews or gaining footage, perhaps realizing how easy it can be to become manipulative within the 'Moore' documentary format. Luckily he had Penn Jillette to keep him honest.

Michael Moore Hates America is essentially a follow up on many of the claims and persons presented in Moores documentary features, including Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911. It also contains a Roger & Me like quest, ultimately unsuccessful, to land an interview with Moore, an endeavor that casts the liberal film maker in the role of the 'detached bigwig' that he frequently derides. The film is also interspersed with interviews with various talking heads ranging from What's So Great About America author Dinesh D'Souza, to former congressman J. C. Watts of Oklahoma, to the well respected documentary film maker Albert Maysles (who utters one of the funniest lines in the film). The only major fault with the film I can think of is the long distance psycho-analysis of Mr. Moore offered by some lawyer, he may be correct but it would have sounded better coming from someone with real credentials in that field.

In terms of a summation of my thoughts about Mr. Moore, I must again re-state that I think he is a sincere and compassionate guy, but also one of those people who can easily justify being manipulative if he thinks he's right. Michael Moore Hates America does a good job of exposing several instances of Michaels selective editing, but Fahrenhype 911 provides a more complete picture of his techniques in regards to the mans most famous picture, although that film has its own quite obvious political agenda. While Wilson is of course trying to prove a point, it is Moore who is truly manipulative (though not particularly so in The Big One, as opposed to his later work), and I think it is his strong tendency towards deceptive editing that is the mans great sin.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Dead Celebrity of the Month, July 2006: Ray Walston

Ray Walstons birth on December 2nd 1914 is alternately cited to have occurred in Mississippi or New Orleans, I know that if I had that choice I'd pick 'The Big Easy' over Trent Lotts home state any day. From a young age Ray wanted to be an actor, he started out in spear carrier roles on stage, then on to stock companies and prolonged stays with civic theater groups in Houston and Cleveland, before making it to New York City in the middle 40's. By the mid-1950's Walston was landing some parts on TV anthology series, but continued to concentrate on the stage. In 1955 he won a Tony Award for playing the Devil in Dame Yankees!, after which point his television and film career started in earnest.

Appearances in the film versions of Broadway hits like South Pacific and of course Damn Yankees!, presaged his casting as the amoral insurance executive Joe Dobisch in Billy Wilders The Apartment in 1960. Four years later Wilder cast Walston in a lead role in his comedy Kiss Me Stupid. Despite appering in a few big pictures most of Ray's early 60's screen time was spent in guest roles on television. He landed his own series in 1963, playing lovable 'Uncle Martin' on the sitcom My Favorite Martian, a role he would later regret taking. After Martian left the air in 1966, Ray Walston would spend the rest of his career best known for guest spots on numerous TV shows and the occasional supporting role on film. Sci-fi nerds know him best as Boothbay a character he played on two different Star Trek series. He finally won an Emmy in his 80's for playing the character of Judge Henry Bone on over 60 episodes of the small town cop drama Picket Fences. My favorite Walston character however would have to be Glen Bateman, the retired university professor who survives a deadly plague in the 1994 Steven King mini-series The Stand.

Ray Walston passed away on January first (some sources say second) 2001 from Lupus at his home in Beverly Hills. Walston was married to his wife, the former Ruth Calvert from 1943 until his passing.

A list of just some of the TV shows Ray Walston guest started on during his lengthy career: Studio One, Playhouse 90, Shirley Temple's Storybook, Way Out, Outlaws, Ben Casey, The Wild Wild West, The Mod Squad, Ironside, Love, American Style, Mission: Impossible, The Rookies, Ellery Queen, The Six Million Dollar Man, Starsky and Hutch, The Incredible Hulk, Little House on the Prairie, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, The Smurfs (credited as 'additional voices'), Fame, Hart to Hart, Fantasy Island, Gimme a Break, Newhart, Night Court, The Love Boat, Trapper John M.D., Amazing Stories, Misfits of Science, Silver Spoons, Simon & Simon, St. Elsewhere, Sledge Hammer!, Murder She Wrote, Friday the 13th, Superboy, L.A. Law, Parker Lewis Can't Lose, Eerie Indiana, The Commish, Dave's World, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, Ally McBeal, 7th Heaven, and just a few months before his death Touched by an Angel.

Happy 90th to Olivia de Havilland