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The Last Czars (2019– )
6/10
Bad start, better ending
16 February 2020
Like many i was put off by the obviously English accents and the totally unnecessary sex scenes in the beginning of this retelling of the "Nicholas and Alexandra" tale but it got better as it went along. There were no surprises if you've seen this dramatized before or read a couple of books on the subject, as I have. But I felt Ben Cartwright, (yes, that's his name) made an excellent Rasputin, not a drunken madman but a very careful and charming schemer. Jack Robert and Susanna Herbert did well as the Czar and Czarina and the sequences after the abdication were well done. The documentary sequences were good but I'd like to have seen more of them, perhaps as part of a full documentary on the subject.

My biggest disappointment was that it failed to live up to it's plural title. the story of the last Czars actually begins with Nicholas' grandfather, Alexander II, who has been compared to Abraham Lincoln, his exact contemporary, because he freed Russia's serfs as Lincoln freed the slaves. He made many other reforms, regarded as liberal at the time. The impact of this was to give people hope but it also gave them impatience which in turn caused some to turn on the Czar, blaming him for the slow pace of the reforms and limits put on them. The most radical elements decided to assassinate him and, after several attempts, succeeded in 1881. Seeing him on his deathbed, his legs blown apart by a bomb hardened the attitudes of his son, who became Alexander III and his grandson, who succeeded his father in 1894. Their hard-line stance, in turn, only produced more contempt as Russian society split apart along class lines. the revolution almost came in 1905 but in the wake of an unsuccessful war, it finally occurred in 1917 and doomed Nicholas and his family. That entire story should have been told and it was what I expected from "The Last Czars".
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The Crown (2016– )
9/10
My views on the cast changes
4 February 2020
I've now watched the three available seasons of The Crown and felt the need to comment on the cast changes from the first two seasons to season three with one-on-one comparisons.

Claire Foy vs. Olivia Coleman as Queen Elizabeth. This is a huge win for Foy's nervous smile over Coleman's stone face. Foy has at least some warmth and grace in her manner. Coleman is like a statue. I can read between the lines to see what Foy's Queen is actually thinking. Nothing is coming in from Coleman's cranium. The lights are out. Coleman's mouth seems to have a natural frown to it, (she has my sympathy- so does mine and people often complain that I don't smile enough). It makes her seem cold and uncomfortable. Foy has some nervousness but an inner strength that comes through.

Matt Smith vs. Tobias Menzies as Prince Phillip. I only know Prince Phillip from interviews and documentaries but he seems a strong, distinguished man of great presence. That comes though much more in Menzies' performance than in Smith's. Smith has a prominent brow and always seems to be staring at the camera from under it. It gives the impression of somebody who is always up to something. Philip in his younger days may have been a bit of a bounder. So maybe that's appropriate but Menzies is more my image of Phillip, although I'm not sure where his accent came from.

Vanessa Kirby vs. Helena Bonham-Cater as Princess Margaret. Kirby, a statuesque beauty, certainly makes an impression. If they ever do a reboot of the 60's British TV Series the Avengers, Kirby would make an excellent Mrs. Peel with her slinky sexiness. Unfortunately, Margaret was more the stature of Bonham-Carter, whose lower-key bemusement seems to hit the mark. But she would have had a hard =-time playing the young, delicate-looking beauty Margaret was in the 50's. I certainly hope to see a lot more the charismatic Kirby but HBC wins this one.

Victoria Hamilton and Marion Bailey as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Neither made much of an impression or looked much like her. The episodes didn't seem to focus on her, even though she seems to have had a hard time seeing the power behind the throne shift away from her, (she didn't even want to leave Buckingham Palace). An under-developed character played in an under-whelming manner by both.

Alex Jennings and Derek Jacobi as the Duke of Windsor. Jennings was a strange Prince Charles in Peter Morgan's "The Queen", trying to manipulate events to his advantage. He's far, far better as "David", a role he seems born to play. He looks the part and plays the man as the chess-player he clearly was, totally dedicated to his own desires. I'm sure he could have played the Duke as an old man without difficultly. Instead we get the round-faced Jacobi, unrecognizable as the same man.

Lia Williams and Geraldine Chaplin as the Duchess of Windsor. Both were good. I saw no need to re-cast the role. As with Jennings, Williams would have been fine as the older Duchess.

Greg Wise and Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten. I thought both hit the mark. Wise was smoother, Dance more imposing, which seemed a little more appropriate.

Mathew Goode and Ben Daniels as Anthony Armstrong-Jones. Goode played him as a reserved, rather arrogant cultural snob who for unknown reasons, married into the royal family and must have immediately regretted it. Daniels is a much more charming and charismatic performer who seems to dominate every scene he is in just by his presence. He seems much more like the type of person who could get people to pose for him and worm his way into the royal family. And I'd just rather see him act than the other guy.
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Gunsmoke: Coventry (1962)
Season 7, Episode 24
8/10
The Ghost of Harry Speener
30 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
Now that we can view episodes of TV series in chronological order, it's fun to see the writers develop their ideas.

When I saw 'Coventry' the image of one of Gunsmoke's best villains, Harry Speener from 'Blood Money' four years before, (9/28/57), materialized in my mind. Speener, a wonderfully sleazy weasel of a man, played by the perfectly cast Vinton Hayworth, is not much of a horseman but is on his way to Dodge because a job awaits him. He's fallen off the horse and broken his leg but a nice guy named Joe Harp comes by to rescue him, with Speener complaining about everything all the way. In Dodge, Speener finds out that harp, a man everybody likes, is a wanted man. Speener suddenly becomes Harp's best friend and convinces him to flee with him. He then shoots Harp and claims the 'dead or alive' reward. he was already as unpopular in Dodge as Harp was popular and now, after claiming his reward, is totally rejected by the populace. Speener finally decides to leave, on horseback and again falls off and injures himself. But this time there's no Joe Harp to come by to help him so he dies alone on the prairie.

in 'Coventry', Joe Maross' Dean Beard can't be bothered to help the Otts in a storm, resulting in the loss of their unborn child. Jesse Ott later confronts him and is killed. Beard has been cheating local farmers on land deals. He 'gets off' his murder charge due to a lack of witnesses but everybody knows he did it if only because they are familiar with his character. He is "Speenered" by the citizens of the town and territory and like Speener, decides to leave, on horseback. He winds up in a storm, just like the Otts. One change John Meston made is that a couple of cowboys do help Beard "because we don't want to descend to his level", but he winds up alone anyway, dying under a falling tree. Maybe Harry Speener pushed it over.
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Gunsmoke: He Learned About Women (1962)
Season 7, Episode 21
8/10
Matt Dillon didn't "have just one job"
24 December 2019
Firstly this is a very strong episode for Chester and one of several from the early 60's to develop and strengthen his character, perhaps in an effort to get Dennis Weaver, who was anxious to get away from the show and prove that he could be more than just Chester. He's more of an action here, here, even jumping form a buggy with rifle in hand to fight several comancheros in defense of Miss Kitty.

What interests me is the number of comancheros. In one scene we see 10 riders approaching the camera - and this is after they've lost a couple guys. Matt Dillon is not immediately available to help Chester because he's out looking for them - on his own. How is one man- even Matt Dillon supposed to take these guys on? (Fortunately, he never finds them).

It brings up an issue I've always had with the series. Matt has three jobs - he's the town Marshal of Dodge City, breaking up fights at the Long Branch and shooting it out with bank robbers. he also acts as the Sheriff of Ford County, dealing with crimes committed in the surrounding.ranches and farms. And he's a US Marshal, who goes after fugitives and criminal gangs. And he does this with no real deputies. The real town marshal of Dodge City, Charley Bassett, had several deputies, including Wyatt Earp. The Sheriff of Ford County was Bat Masterson, who also had deputies. Earp later became a US Marshal in tombstone where he and his brothers, including Virgil who was the town Marshal, brought the cowboy gang to justice.One guy could not do all those jobs, certainly not with no deputies, any more than one guy could take on 10 comancheros.
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Gunsmoke: All That (1961)
Season 7, Episode 5
8/10
The Eras of Gunsmoke
10 November 2019
TV's Gunsmoke, to me, has three eras: the Half Hour Era, (the first 6 seasons), the Hour Black and White ERA, (seasons 7-11) and the Color Era, (seasons 12-20). The most popular era, both in the ratings and with Gunsmoke fans, is the first era. The shows were TV versions of the best episodes from the radio series. With only a half hour to tell their story, the scripts were lean and to the point. The actors were as young as their characters. And black and white seems to fit the rather dark morality plays the series specialized in. The show reached #1 in the ratings the last four years of that era. It's "classic Gunsmoke".

When they went to an hour, in the minds of a lot of fans, the stories became bloated and were written by new writers who focused less on the main characters and the quality of the show declined. This seems to be confirmed by the ratings, which declined to 3rd, 10th, 20th and eventually to 36th when the show was canceled before William Paley, the CBS chairman, ordered it put back on the schedule and, in the color era, it had a miracle comeback all the way to #2 by 1969. That makes the Hour Black and White Era the apparent nadir of the show.

I beg to differ. Part of it is that, being born in 1953, the Hour Black and White Era is the Gunsmoke I grew up with. I prefer the black and white episodes to the color ones because the color seems to emphasize the studio-bound nature of the Dodge City set and the increasing age of the actors. Also, magazine photographers have always had a saying that you use color for excitement and black and white for drama: Gunsmoke is a drama. And I like the hour episodes more than the black and whites. I don't see the stories as bloated at all. I see them as developed to their full potential. The focus on the "guest characters" opens up all kinds of dramatic possibilities. And there are actually more episodes that focus on the regular characters in greater depth than most of the the half hour episodes were able to do, (such as the upcoming "Chesterland")

"All That" is a great example of how the series actually improved during this period. It stars John Larch, who was in several Gunsmoke episodes, including the first season "Smoking out the Nolans", in which he played a prosperous rancher who wants to evict an less fortunate family from the small ranch they were leasing from him. Here Larch plays the unfortunate farmer who loses his wife to another man, his ranch to a creditor and most of the value of his livestock to a shifty agent. In half hour episode, the story might have ended there. Instead he goes to Colorado, is again a failure at prospecting but then comes up with a scheme that combines elements of Mark Twain's "The Million Pound Bank Note" and Molière's "The Imaginary Invalid". The result is a most satisfying concoction, one that could not possibly have been done in a half hour format. There are many other such episodes in this period.

So, why did the ratings decline if the stories actually got better? One reason might be that Saturday night is a mobile time period, historically a ratings dead zone where sporting events do better than dramatic TV shows and an hour show might not fit into people's schedules as well as a half hour show with a simpler plot. or maybe it was because NBC started showing recent blockbuster films on it's "Saturday Night a the Movies" in the fall of 1961 for stay-at homes. Maybe both. But it surely wasn't the fault of what was actually the new and improved hour long "Gunsmoke".
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9/10
Battle of Geniuses
29 October 2019
I went to see "The Current War" (Director's Cut) today and thoroughly enjoyed it. I then came home and checked out the IMDB reviews and was amazed at how many people disliked the film. The major complaint seems to be the Nicola Tesla was not given proper credit for his achievements. Others said the film was dull. Neither is true of the picture I saw. It may be that some people saw an earlier version that cut out much of the material about Tesla and had other scenes that slowed the film down that have now been excised. The film I saw was fast-paced, visually striking and certainly gave Tesla his due. My only complaint was that the director sometimes threw a little too much at us all at once, a mobile camera and a rather nervous score. There were also a lot of scenes with extreme lighting effects.

But that's appropriate because this film is about bringing light to the world. We don't realize how dark a place it was at night before the geniuses of electricity changed everything. And the pace of the film and the pulsating score remind us that this was a period of rapid changes in the way people lived.

Someone said that the film should have been about Tesla. But it's really about the conflict between Edison and Westinghouse, portrayed here as decent men who bend their principles because the nature of the culture that they are in puts them in completion and thus conflict with each other. Edison's desire is fame: he wants credit for everything and will not compromise with others lest he have to share the credit, (even though he admits that much of his work was based upon the work of others). Westinghouse wants to change the world, whatever it takes. (JP Morgan also appears with his grotesque nose: he's just interested in the money.) Tesla works for both men at different times. Edison fires him because Tesla wants to use Westinghouse's alternating current together with his designs to create the miracles. Westinghouse hires him because he recognizes his genius and wants to make full use of it. All though the film I kept wondering when they people would realize how much they could accomplish if they worked together. But that isn't how we do things.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays Edison superbly. He's now played Stephen Hawking, William Pitt, Sherlock Holmes, Vincent van Gogh, Khan Noonien Singh, Alan Turing, Dr. Strange and Thomas Edison. I wonder: Who was the greatest genius?
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Joker (2019)
7/10
Not sure what to make of it
24 October 2019
I went to see "Joker" today. I'm normally not into comic book movies but the trailer intrigued me. They didn't tell you that this is about the Joker until we see the make-up and the word "Gotham" towards the end. I thought it was the story of a good hearted guy who gets treated badly and loses the battle to believe in life and the human race, (which it turns out to be), and then I realized it's a 'Joker' origin story. I decided to see it when it came out. That decision was enforced when I heard of the praise Joachim Phoenix was getting for playing the lead role.

Well now I've seen it and I fully agree that Phoenix's performance is a memorable one, fully on a par with the famed Heath Ledger portrayal in "The Dark Knight" (2008). It's a showy role but he also catches some subtleties in the twisted character's manor and thinking. He'll probably win the Oscar for best actor. (Ledger posthumously won for supporting actor). It also struck me how much Phoenix looks like Laurence Oliver who might have played this role in another generation. There are a lot of references to other films in this one and one wonders whether Phoenix and the director might have had a Richard III look in mind, (a disheveled Richard III).

I'm still trying to figure out my reaction to the movie itself. It's the story of a villain and we are obviously supposed to identify with that character and to have sympathy for him. I had to wonder how a potential real-life villain would respond to it. Would he see it as a justification for violence? The issue of the attention mass shooters get seemed relevant. Should we show any sympathy for this type of character? I was disappointed that "Arthur Fleck", (the Joker's real name), wasn't a Chaplinesque character at the beginning: a simply soul who just wanted to make people laugh. He's already pretty screwed up to begin with. (There are scenes from Chaplin's "Modern Times" in the film.) it's made clear that society's cruelty and apathy toward people is the real villain of the piece. Bruce Wayne's father seems to have a Trumpian attitude toward society and the poor. Robert De Niro plays a talk show host who seems sympathetic in a fantasy sequence that seems to be from Scorcese's "King of Comedy" but is later revealed to have a Letterman-style cruelty in mocking people, including Arthur. This brings up the issue of perspective: What's comedy and what's tragedy? What's right and what's wrong? A thought that kept recurring is that our mass shooters and serial killers, if they seem to have a political point of view at all, seem to be right wingers with a grudge against put-upon minorities. This film suggests that individual violence is a rebellion by the put-upon against the rich and powerful. Of course it's logical that violent incidents will be more common as people's needs are not met and they feel more repressed and mistreated. But our problems these days seem to be more about people responding to right wing propaganda and scapegoating.

The film is relentlessly downbeat and very far from funny. The only "action is abrupt, bloody violence and rioting. There really isn't a good guy in the film. It's not fun to watch and decidedly not appropriate for children. But it is a strong character study and great performance. What impact it will have on society, I can't say.

A few things to look for: the license plate on the police car at the end reads "Industry First". What does that mean: police are on the side of American corporations? There are several obvious references to "Taxi Driver", including the presence of De Niro in this film. (Martin Scorcese was asked to direct this but was involved in his current film "the Irishman".) In the background during the final riot we see movie marquees for "Ace in the Hole", the 1951 Kirk Douglas movies about a exploitive newspaper reporter who turns the story of a guy trapped in an old mine into a national story while preventing his rescue to keep the story going. That film was renamed "The Big Carnival" by the studio to make it seem like a more 'fun' picture. And "Carnival" is the name Arthur gives his clown character at the beginning of this film. Another marquee has two titles: "Blow-Out" and "Zorro the Gay Blade". Those titles appear to have been chosen just because they were 1981 films and that when the action of this film is supposed to be taking place.
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8/10
It's not about Turkey
2 October 2019
I found an old VHS tape of this film among my film collection: I don't think I've watched it for 30 years so I put it in the machine. I thought it was a strong movie with good performances and held up very well. I've always liked the music. I was amazed to read the reviews and find that the film was treated like a cinematic diatribe against Turkey and the Turkish people. The film is not about Turkey. That's simply the setting. it's no more about the Turkish people than "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang", "Cool Hand Luke" or "The Shawshank Redemption" is about the American people.

The film works on two levels. It's about a guy who foolishly decides to ignore the laws of a foreign country and smuggle hashish from ti to make some quick money. He gets caught and confronts a series of policemen, lawyers, judges and prison guards, none of them sympathetic characters. Those are the "Turkish people" presented to him and to us. They are little different from the sort of people who would hold those jobs in any country, including ours. A couple of prisoners make comments about disliking Turks but that's because this is their experience of them. There's no implications that all of the Turkish people are like these characters. On this level the film is just a stark reminder that if you travel to a foreign country you must be aware of and obey their laws. Just because you are an American, you have no special status.

The other level of the film and the part that makes it special is the psychological. the "Midnight Express" is not a train but it's not just an escape attempt. When Billy winds up in the asylum, he gets into a battle to hold on to his mind. He doesn't want to be a "bad machine", which is the other way to escape his dismal reality. he's losing that battle when his girlfriend show up to give him hope and reason to use it. That's what the movie is really about.
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Poirot: The Big Four (2013)
Season 13, Episode 2
7/10
The problem of timing
2 August 2019
Agatha Christie wrote her Hercule Poirot stories from 1920-1975 but the famous TV series starring David Suchet tried to film most of the episodes as if they were taking place in a specific time period in the mid 1930's. This creates a problem when they take a novel written by Christie in 1927 and transfer it to the 'eve' of World War II. The main characters look so much older than they do in the hour long episodes of the first 6 seasons not because the characters would have actually aged that much from the time period in which those episodes were set but because the actors themselves have aged a quarter of a century since they first started filming the series in 1988. The result is a ridiculous 'reunion' between characters who would have been working together just a short time before with their ages being inexplicably advanced. Why, oh why didn't they just film the stories in the sequence they were written and set then in the time in which they were written?
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Law & Order: Aria (1991)
Season 2, Episode 3
8/10
She didn't want to do it but you'll want to see it
29 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
A haunting episode that anticipates Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. In this one the regular cops and lawyers have to deal with a show-business addicted mother who pushed her favorite daughter into pornography just because it could make her a 'star'. Maura Tierney players her other, neglected daughter, who co-operates with the cops to bring justice to her sister (and herself). The mother, played by Marilyn Rockafellow is both dreamy and steely at the same time, determined to maintain her delusions as a protective shield against reality. But the star of the show is Mary B. Hall, who appears only at the beginning and at the end, in video tape viewed posthumusly, in which tearfully pleads with her mother to "stop the train" and let her off as her mother stares at the screen in admiration for the performance her beloved daughter is giving.

By the way, per "Law & Order The Unofficial Companion" by Kevin Courier and Susan Green, Tovah Feldshuh is playing "probate lawyer". She's never referred to as Danielle Melnick during the episode and seems to have a much more restrained personality and chummier relationship with Ben Stone than we see in the episodes in which she plays Melnick, (the first of which was a season later: "Helpless" 11/4/92). Jerry Orbach played a defense attorney named Frank Lehrman in the episode before this. The character Feldshuh plays in this episodes might not be Melnick, even though she's also an attorney. .
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Route 66: Child of a Night (1964)
Season 4, Episode 13
7/10
1/3/64: Child of a Night
25 March 2019
Warning: Spoilers
This one seems to be a sort of sequel to my all-time favorite episode of this or any other series, "The Mud Nest" form season 2. The boys are in Savannah, Georgia, where they witness the crash of a small plane. They pull the dying pilot, (Herschel Bernardi) out and he gives them $38,000 in cash, saying to give it to a child he fathered by a waitress in Savannah a generation before. Once again, Linc is the idealistic one that wants to go through with it. Tod is more practical, thinking they should report the money and go through the Bureau of Missing Persons, (as he and Buz did in The Mud Nest). Instead they get a local lawyer who helps them much in the way Edward Asner's BMP operative did in the prior episode.

They find a troubled youth played by Daniel J. Travanti, (two decades before "Hill Street Blues"). They also find the waitress, (Sylvia Sydney, (who had also been in the poignant first season episode "Like a Motherless Child"), which could have been the title of this one), who is in the country home. They bring them together in a scene that has some superficial resemblance to the climactic scene of "The Mud Nest". Instead of being poetic and touching, this scene is bitter and angry. He's not the child and lashes out at Sydney, expressing his hatred of his own mother who abandoned him and her because she abandoned her child. The one is over much more quickly than in "The Mud Nest". The boys eventually find their query, a young businesswoman who thinks she is the natural child of the family that raised her. That family doesn't want to hurt her by telling her what actually happened. It's a strong episode but not the equal of "The Mud Nest". Nothing is.
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Rear Window (1954)
10/10
A World of Its Own
10 February 2019
Warning: Spoilers
It was Fred Astaire who discovered that you have to photograph dancers with a static camera because dancers move and a moving camera reduces movement. Most of Alfred Hitchcock's films, (although not all: see ROPE) are like a game of billiards. The characters are like billiard balls moving all over the table and colliding with each other until they all meet at the finale. But here the camera is static and it is the world that moves. What comes out is not simply the story, but all the details- all the stories. The result is a moment in time- a few days in the courtyard of a New York City apartment building in the sweaty summer of 1954- captured forever and most vividly. How many details and how many human stories do you see in FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, SABUTEUR, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH or NORTH BY NORTHWEST? Just the one. When you watch those films you are in an audience in a theater, watching a story played out on the screen. Here you see it all. You are in the movie. Remembering REAR WINDOW is like remembering something that you witnessed yourself- something that actually happened to you, not just a movie you watched. The result is not just Hitchcock's greatest film but one of the greatest films ever made.

The marvelous detail of this film is just amazing. Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly are legends of the cinema and Thelma Ritter, Wendell Corey and Raymond Burr are actor's actors. But the real star is the set, a world unto itself. And the photography of that set, all that was needed to allow us to see into the rooms clearly- it's amazing stuff, (the lighting needed was so hot it set off the sprinkler system). But even better than that is the sound. It's not all just flat on the soundtrack, like actors in a dubbing session. Like good radio drama, it recognizes that people who are some distance away sound different. The voices coming from across the courtyard are just perfectly done and do more than even the camerawork to "put you there".

The musical score for this film is not a film score at all- it's the music of these people, also heard across the courtyard. We hear the composer composing his song. We don't hear him doing it in five minutes, as we have heard in all the musicals. Instead it evolves over time. The dramatic piano cords he plays underscore the drama to come. We also hear some opera music that does the same. Everyone seems to have their own music-everyone except Thorwald, the murderer. And what a brilliant touch it is to make the murder a pathetic man, instead of some brilliant mastermind. In the end, he is one of us, as well, in a twisted way.

I can't think of another movie that creates a world so vivid for the audience to live in. ROPE was strictly about the action in the apartment. The view out the window is just a painted backdrop. Maybe a better comparison could me made to DEAD END, but as good as that film it's not really the same. Our perspective changes too much. Perhaps my favorite scene in REAR WINDOW is the one moment, (seconds, really), the perspective does change. It's when Jeffries is struggling with Thorwald and everyone in the apartment house looks in the direction of his apartment for a change. Now there's a twist!
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7/10
Could have used a spoonful more
5 January 2019
I was 10 years old when the 1964 movie came out - the perfect age to enjoy it to its fullest. I became an instant Julie Andrews fan and have been ever since. Dick Van Dyke was wonderful and Mathew Garber and Karen Dotrice, (especially Karen) are about the two curtest kids I've ever seen. It was fun and exciting and I've owned a DVD of it for years, which I re-watched the night before seeing the new film.I went into the theater humming the songs in my mind and hoped very much to see a worthy sequel. I teared up when Mary Poppins descended from the sky. She was back and so was my childhood! (And that's the point of the whole thing.)

I would call it a worthy effort that comes up a bit short, (But how could it hope to match the original?). The casting of Marry Poppins was critical, of course. She's not supposed to age so Julie couldn't play her again. I'm not sure who is around today that could have matched her or exceeded Emily Blunt's effort. Blunt just doesn't shine through the screen as Julie did. Instead of the megawatt smile, she has a sort of sly look. She goes expressionless when she doesn't have the line whereas Julie listened to and responded what each character said. Blunt's singing is OK. I agree with most that the songs didn't measure up. they weren't bad but I was still humming the old ones as I left the theater. Lynn-Manuel Miranda is fine as Jack, a replacement for Van Dyke's Bert. The Lamplighter's dance is an homage to the chimney sweep number in the original but, like most things in this film, it's not quite as good. Ben Whishaw is OK as the worried grown-up Michael and Emily Mortimer perfect as the grown-up Jane, now a labor organizer as her mother was a suffragette. Mortimer looks almost exactly like Karen Dotrice who shows up in a brief scene playing another character. Meryl Streep shows up as a lady in an upside down house, essentially replacing Ed Wynn. Colin Firth is fine as the villainous banker. But Dick Van Dyke steals the show as the now elderly son of the old banker he played in the first film, even doing a brief but complicated dance number. At age 93, he had to put on make-up to appear old enough! They asked Julie Andrews to play the balloon lady at the end I would have loved to see her make an appearance but she felt she would have been a "distraction". I disagree. It was just what the film needed at that time. I love Angela Lansbury, who might have played Mary Poppins had Julie turned the part down, and she does very well. But I and everyone else wanted to see Julie in that role. There would have been an ovation at her appearance.

One problem is that they introduce the serious plot about losing the house early on and the silly adventures Mary takes the new Banks children on seem superficial as a result. It would have been better to leave that potential disaster until the later part of the film. The real point of Mary Poppins is that children should have fun and adults should stay in touch with their inner child and thus relate to their outer ones.
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8/10
A powerful story about powerful women
28 December 2018
I'm shocked at all the negative reviews I see here. they seem to focus on the ahistorical meeting of the two queens and the use of black and Asian actors in some of the roles. The first is about dramatic license, something frequently used in historical movies, including the 1971 version of this story. Any competent dramatist is going to want his two antagonists to confront each other and I think it's forgivable. As to the second, I recall Kenneth Branagh did the same thing when he cast Denzel Washington in "Much Ado About Nothing" a generation ago, saying that black actors should be able to play Shakespearean roles besides just Othello. Josie Rourke, the director of this film, must have had the same idea.

Like several of the reviewers here, I decided to see this and "The Favourite", a different story but also a story of women running Great Britain, abit a century and a half later. That film is highly praised and also has good performances, but i enjoyed this one better. It was more serious, less saucy and had, (easily) a better and clearer ending, (you can't top a beheading for that).

The production values, as many have mentioned are good but it's the two lead performances that count. Saoirse Ronan, when her hair is wept back, looks something like Meryl Streep and seems to be on that kind of career path. She is regal and fiery, yet fun-loving and fearful and dominates every scene she is in. The roles I've seen Margot Robbie in are either as a sex-pot or a cartoon character but she gives us a memorably neurotic but sympathetic Elizabeth. they are the reasons to see this movie and they are very good reasons, indeed.
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Magnum, P.I.: Novel Connection (1986)
Season 7, Episode 8
Cross-over Cross-up
30 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
I've just watched this episode of Magnum PI, (not a show I watched much), and it's second part, which appeared on Murder She Wrote, (one of my favorites), which was entitled "Magnum on Ice" and I was disappointed, (to put it mildly) with what Magnum PI did to the ending of their segment in the version I saw, which was altered for syndication and for the DVD I was watching, (which was from the boxed set of Murder She Wrote's third season).

A hit man is threatening one of Higgins' several female guests, which include Jessica Fletcher. Jessica and Magnum get off to a bad start with Thomas presenting himself as a professional who should handle everything. At the end of the episode, as shown in the intro to the MSW finale, Magnum shoots the hit man but the hit-man's gun somehow disappears and he's found to have been shot in the back. A police Lieutenant who doesn't like Magnum arrests him for murder. He winds up in jail. He doesn't like it but now Jessica is his best hope for getting out of jail.

MSW got the right to add the Magnum episode to their DVD as a bonus. But the Magnum people wanted the first episode to be a stand alone for syndication and later the DVD so a phony scene was shot with Magnum and Higgins talking about how Magnum has killed the bad guy and his employer has confessed and Jessica and the other ladies have returned to the mainland after realizing that Jessica was wrong in her theories of the case. Magnum is not in jail at all. This ending makes Jessica look like an idiot.

There ought to be agreement when cross-overs are done that the episode of the other series should be made available for syndication and DVDs of each show so viewers can see these episodes as they were intended to be seen, instead of creating a false ending that makes the star of the other show look bad.

Interestingly, the original Hawaii Five-0 had two episodes where McGarrett teams up with a middle-aged female mystery writer, (played by Mildred Natwick) to solve cases, (Frozen Assets 3/30/78, and The Spirit is Willie, 1/25/79). In one episode she's trying to find out how an old friend died and in another she's trying to find out what happened to her niece's husband. Either could easily be a Murder She Wrote- Hawaii Five-0 crossover if the shows had been contemporary and both were better than this mish-mosh.
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Murder, She Wrote: Menace, Anyone? (1986)
Season 2, Episode 20
Whither Betsy?
20 August 2017
Warning: Spoilers
This episode ends without a confrontation between Jessica and the murderer. Instead the confession comes from her father, played by Van Johnson, who simply says she's home and describes her mental illness that led her to commit the crime. There's even a flashback sequence depicting the crime where the murderer is shown only from the waist down, making it likely that a stand-in for Betsy Russell, who plays the character, was doing the enacting of the murder.

There's got to a be a backstory to this. Did Betsy, (an old crush of mine from her 80's films), walk off the set? Did she become ill? Her promising career took a bit of a nosedive right around this point, although her marriage two years later might have caused her to put it on the back-burner.

The final scene would have had a lot more to it if she had appeared in it. it would have been a major acting opportunity for her, playing an unbalanced murderer, forced to confess. The ending to this episode wasn't so much confusing as it was limp, because of the lack of the confrontation with the murderer.

Something happened here and I wonder what.

(I would love to have put this on a MESSAGE BOARD so there could be a discussion about it.)
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The Racket (1951)
The Racket and Horizons West
25 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
These two Robert Ryan movies form the early 50's would make a great double-feature. Both are good movies full of faces that would become familiar on television in the coming years.

A comparison of the two movies is also interesting The Racket was done for Howard Hughes' RKO studio. Horizons West was a Universal picture. Both had famous directors, John Cromwell, (supplemented by several others, including Nicholas Ray) and Bud Boetticher. The Rackett is a re-working of a successful play and movie from the 1920's with a screenplay by WR Burnett, (High Sierra among others). Horizons West is done by Louis Stevens, a veteran writer of movie westerns, (this appears to be his best work).

Ryan is the main "bad guy" in both movies but in each case, he's much more complex than that. His Nick Scanlon in The racket is violent and intimidating, almost reptilian. He's fully formed as a heavy from the moment we meet him. But we find out he either grew up with or went to school with Robert Mitchum's police Captain: in the grand tradition, they came from the same background but went in different directions. We also learn that Ryan sent his now troublesome younger brother to college to keep him out of the rackets. He clearly doesn't think much of the crooked politicians and new "corporate" crooks that are running things. And in the end, his revenge is to "tell the voters to vote for the honest politicians". Underneath the violence, he has a certain integrity. Something- we never learn what turned him against society while Mitchum remained well-adjusted and on the right side of the law.

In Horzions West, Ryan starts out being a good guy, or at least not a bad guy yet. He comes home from the Civil War with his brother, (Rock Hudson), and a loyal friend named "Tiny", (James Arness). As they arrive in Texas, they have a conversation about the future. Arness wants to raise his family. Hudson wants to work the family ranch, just like before. Ryan shows a harder edge. He wants to make it big. They arrive in town, (Austin) to see that Yankees carpetbaggers have made it big. Ryan ties to associate with them but gets on the wrong side of Burr in poker game and is on the outside looking in. He organizes a band of out-of-work soldiers and deserters into a cattle rustling operation and establishes connections with a Mexican military officer who is running a crooked operation across the border. Eventually he gets even with Burr, who is killed. And has an affair with Burr's pretty young wife, (Julie Adams). In the beginning our sympathy is with him but as he grows more and more powerful, he becomes more ambitious and ruthless, which makes him too many enemies and causes his eventual downfall.

In Horizons West, Hudson becomes the town sheriff and has to take on his brother, thus paralleling the Ryan-Mitchum relationship in The Racket. In that film, Ryan killed a policeman played by William Tallman, who became famous as Hamilton Burgers on Perry mason. In Horizons West, he kills Hudson's deputy, who is played by Jim Arness, soon to be famous as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. William Conrad, radio's Matt Dillon, appears as a corrupt policeman in The Racket. That film has two actors from Perry mason, the other being Ray Collins, who played Lt. Tragg. Horizon's West has two actors form Gunsmoke, with Dennis Weaver playing a very un-Chester-like gunman. Both films have a heavy dose of corrupt public officials. Both of them have a major movie star to face off against Ryan, although Rock Hudson was early in his career and never became the dramatic force Mitchum was. But Ryan dominates every scene he's in, no matter who is in it with him.
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Horizons West (1952)
The Racket and Horizons West
25 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Both are films made by Robert Ryan in the early 50's and they would make a terrific double feature.

A comparison of the two movies is also interesting The Racket was done for Howard Hughes' RKO studio. Horizons West was a Universal picture. Both had famous directors, John Cromwell, (supplemented by several others, including Nicholas Ray) and Bud Boetticher. The Rackett is a re-working of a successful play and movie from the 1920's with a screenplay by WR Burnett, (High Sierra among others). Horizons West is done by Louis Stevens, a veteran writer of movie westerns, (this appears to be his best work).

Ryan is the main "bad guy" in both movies but in each case, he's much more complex than that. His Nick Scanlon in The racket is violent and intimidating, almost reptilian. He's fully formed as a heavy from the moment we meet him. But we find out he either grew up with or went to school with Robert Mitchum's police Captain: in the grand tradition, they came from the same background but went in different directions. We also learn that Ryan sent his now troublesome younger brother to college to keep him out of the rackets. He clearly doesn't think much of the crooked politicians and new "corporate" crooks that are running things. And in the end, his revenge is to "tell the voters to vote for the honest politicians". Underneath the violence, he has a certain integrity. Something- we never learn what turned him against society while Mitchum remained well-adjusted and on the right side of the law.

In Horzions West, Ryan starts out being a good guy, or at least not a bad guy yet. He comes home from the Civil War with his brother, (Rock Hudson), and a loyal friend named "Tiny", (James Arness). As they arrive in Texas, they have a conversation about the future. Arness wants to raise his family. Hudson wants to work the family ranch, just like before. Ryan shows a harder edge. He wants to make it big. They arrive in town, (Austin) to see that Yankees carpetbaggers have made it big. Ryan ties to associate with them but gets on the wrong side of Burr in poker game and is on the outside looking in. He organizes a band of out-of-work soldiers and deserters into a cattle rustling operation and establishes connections with a Mexican military officer who is running a crooked operation across the border. Eventually he gets even with Burr, who is killed. And has an affair with Burr's pretty young wife, (Julie Adams). In the beginning our sympathy is with him but as he grows more and more powerful, he becomes more ambitious and ruthless, which makes him too many enemies and causes his eventual downfall.

In Horizons West, Hudson becomes the town sheriff and has to take on his brother, thus paralleling the Ryan-Mitchum relationship in The Racket. In that film, Ryan killed a policeman played by William Tallman, who became famous as Hamilton Burgers on Perry mason. In Horizons West, he kills Hudson's deputy, who is played by Jim Arness, soon to be famous as Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke. William Conrad, radio's Matt Dillon, appears as a corrupt policeman in The Racket. That film has two actors from Perry mason, the other being Ray Collins, who played Lt. Tragg. Horizon's West has two actors form Gunsmoke, with Dennis Weaver playing a very un-Chester-like gunman. Both films have a heavy dose of corrupt public officials. Both of them have a major movie star to face off against Ryan, although Rock Hudson was early in his career and never became the dramatic force Mitchum was. But Ryan dominates every scene he's in, no matter who is in it with him.
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The Defenders: The Broken Barrelhead (1962)
Season 1, Episode 32
Money can't buy everything
12 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A very young Richard Jordan is hot-rodding with a couple of friends when a group of hunters step out onto an otherwise deserted road. Three people are killed and Jordan goes on trial. His father, (Harold J. Stone), is a highly successful businessman who has always done whatever is necessary to ensure his won success. He hires the Prestons to defend his son, then offers to back the DA in a run for Congress and finally bribes a juror.

Lawrence has to figure out what to do. The first trial was a hung jury due to the bribed juror. if he reports what he knows, the second trial would be conducted in a hyper-charged atmosphere in which the jury would resent the defendant's status as a rich kid whose father tries to buy his freedom. If he doesn't report it, he could be up for discipline before the bar. Kenneth urges his father to look out for himself but Lawrence feels his ultimate responsibility is to his client.

Meanwhile Jordan is getting sick of being a rich kid and having his father pull all the strings in his life. Another good "What would you do" episode that leaves you thinking, which is what this series is famous for.
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The Defenders: Along Came a Spider (1962)
Season 1, Episode 31
A not-so-bad seed
11 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A man is killed and his 9 year old daughter shockingly accuses her grandfather of the crime, saying she saw what happened. The old guy, a former Vaudeville comic with a a joke or story for everyone, seems like the nicest guy in the world. Even his daughter, (now a widow) can't believe it. But circumstantial evidence piles up: Grampa and Daddy were arguing about his living with the family. Daddy was killed by being bludgeoned with a trophy grandpa once won. And the people Grandpa says will give him an alibi, (some other Vaudvillians at a place they hang out, can't vouch for his being there at the time of the crime.

Lawrence Preston has to try to break down the girl's story in court, which makes him seem like a cruel guy but it would be more cruel to let his client be found guilty and possibly executed if her story is wrong.

He succeeds in demonstrating the girl made her story up through a clever procedure. The judge and prosecutor let her off without prosecuting her for perjury. Grandpa forgives her and all is well. One question remains unanswered or even addressed: who did kill Daddy?

The most memorable thing is a splendid performance by young Leslye Hunter as the girl. it's so good she's kind of creepy like the child in "The Bad Seed". Maybe she did it? But we never find out, due to the 'happy' ending.
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The Defenders: The Benefactor (1962)
Season 1, Episode 30
Oh pardon me thou bleeding piece of earth
10 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of those episodes that made this show famous. They take on abortion, which was illegal at the time except where the mother's life was in danger. It's surprisingly sympathetic for the time toward the abortionist and his 'victims'. (Compare this episode to Detective Story 1951). Robert F. Simon, who normally plays garrulous types, is a gentle, idealistic surgeon motivated by the death of his own daughter, whose epitaph is in my title. We are also provided with some amazing statistics: in 1962, (when this was shown), per a witness, 1 in 10 unmarried women were becoming pregnant. There were 6000,000 unmarried pregnant women each year and 9 of 10 got illegal abortions! 175,000 such abortions were done on teenagers.The show makes a strong case that these women would be better off having legal abortions with good doctors in the best of circumstances.

Simon's character makes two claims I disagreed with, one of which I had never heard before. he alleges that the life of an aborted child would be inevitably so unpleasant that it would not be worth living, (so it's OK- even good- that they aren't born), and that it's crueler to have women give birth and then give their babies up for adoption than it to abort them so that they never see the baby to begin with. Maybe it is but there's a lot of assumptions there.
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The Defenders: Reunion with Death (1962)
Season 1, Episode 29
"The Rack" revisited
10 October 2016
Paul Newman first became a star when he played Rockey Graziano in Somebody Up there Likes Me in 1956 but he solidified his status with his next film that year, The Rack, playing a Korean War veteran who cracked under psychological torture by the Communists. This episode of the Defenders may have been partially inspired by that.

It's another Kangaroo Court story as Lawrence Preston is called to a hotel room by a group of veterans to offer legal advice on creating a veteran's organization. Their real purpose is to assist them in putting one of their members on trial to see who cracked and told the Commies where the partisan group they were delivering supplies to would meet them. Preston reluctantly agrees to help when the accused says he wants to go through with it to clear himself. This produces a strange scene where the man at first tries to escape and then announces his desire to be tried in the next breath. It's not a very convincing set up but the resulting drama is very good, with a couple of good twists at the end.

The underlying theme is that all men have their limits and how can we judge them when we don't know our own? As usual, there's a cast full of familiar faces, with Lee Philips, (the movie version of Peyton Place), Robert Weber, (another alumni of the movie version of Twelve Angry Men), H. M. Wynant, Woodrow Parfey, Michael Conrad, (much later of "Hill Street Blues"), and, in a brief turn as a waiter, a very young Gene Wilder, RIP.
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The Defenders: The Naked Heiress (1962)
Season 1, Episode 28
The not so blue angel
7 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
A college professor has become infatuated with an ecdayist and, in a drunken stupor has signed a paper prepared by her manipulative mother leaving her his estate, which had been promised for a scholarship fund for his university. the man tries to stagger home but fell in front of a subway train and the young stripper is suddenly worth $185,000. The school hires the Prestons to make a case against the new will.

Both Prestons are initially in contempt of the stripper and her mother, viewing them as gold-diggers. They are right about the mother but not about the daughter, a sensitive, intellectually curious young woman who was forced into her sleazy profession by her avaricious mother and who was legitimately in like with the professor and perhaps more than that because he introduced her to a new world and other possibilities.

Ken falls for the young woman while his father remains contemptuous- until the climatic hearing when she rebels against her mother.
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The Defenders: The Tarnished Cross (1962)
Season 1, Episode 26
Star chamber
6 October 2016
Warning: Spoilers
The Prestons are visiting a school to give the head of it an award for his creation of a student government that has given local youths a greater sense of responsibility. it's worked to the extent that they blunder into a court hearing set up in the gym to try one of their members for murder.A well-liked janitor was murdered a couple of nights before and the student was seen sneaking into the guys' apartment and later found in possession of a "zip" gun and a cross the old man had insisted was worth $500 because it was covered in gold.

the accused is played by a young Martin Sheen, making his second appearance on the show. the prosecutor is an equally young Ken Kershival of "Dallas. The judge is a young Barry Primus, who has been seen in many shows. A witness is played by an even younger Luke Halpin, later the older boy on Flipper. That, of course, is one the joys of the series- seeing actors who later became famous in their earliest roles. it's also a strong drama, with Lawrence and Kenneth Preston eventually taking over and showing the boys that, while their intentions are good, they are not yet ready to make such judgments.

Particularly effective is the opening sequence, which shows the students silently taking over the gym and setting things up for something but we don't know what - until Sheen realizes that these people intend to kill him.
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The Defenders: The Last Six Months (1962)
Season 1, Episode 27
Don't let the door hit you on the way out
6 October 2016
In an effective opening, Arthur Hill, (we only hear his voice in this scene: it's subjective camera), is told my his doctor that he's got 6 months to live. He marches out of the doctor's office, into the street. he contemplates suicide by stepping in front of a car but thinks better of it. Instead he goes to the office of his business, a partnership. he tells his partner what his prognosis is and asks him to agree to pay his family $500/mth after he dies. the partner refuses and Hill strangles him in a cold rage. it was Hill who created and built up the business and then brought this man on as a partner, who will now own the whole thing. His fortunate partner won't even lift a finger to help the founder's family and now he can't lift a finger to do anything.

the prosecutor, (J. D. Cannon) wants to skip the trial and just let the guy die in jail without putting him through it. What Hill doesn't know is that there's a law that he can't profit from committing a crime: his family can't inherit the business, (the partner had no family). Ken Preston takes up his case and tries to prove him innocent, claiming he didn't know what he was doing and is not responsible for his own actions.

A decade alter, Arthur Hill was playing a lawyer himself on Owen Marshall. In October, 1962, Arthur Hill really made his name when he created the role of George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" on Broadway.
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