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Da Qin Di Guo (2009)
The Birth of Imperial China
This is a Chinese made for TV historical romance plotting the career of Ying Si, Lord Huiwen of Qin (Ch'in) who with the help of Premier Khang Hi transformed Qin (Ch'in) from a marginal state on the fringe of the Chinese world into a superpower which would eventually unify China and put an end to the Era of the Warring States, a period of endless war between the Chinese states. How Premier Zhang accomplished Qin's rise to power and Lord Huiwen ascension to the title King was his advocacy of "horizontal alliances," a system of checks and balances, a structure for moderating the conflict between the contending Chinese states. Qin's rivals following unstable vertical alliance that invariably unraveled in the midst of military operations.
Perpetual war has its costs. Eventually King Huiwen loses a brother in combat and falls into a deep depression leading to his demise. The state King Huiwen forged would give China its name.
While the production is magnificent and the music is awe inspiring, it would help if there were more background notes on Chinese history for the benefit of those unfamiliar with Chinese history.
Ghosts of Mississippi (1996)
"The legal case is simple... The other issues are more complex..."
Turn the clock back to the wee hours of June 12, 1963. President Kennedy has just delivered a Civil Rights Address. Medgar Evers, a civil rights activist, was shot and killed in front of the door to his house.
Though regularly tailed by FBI and local police car, Evers arrived home ominously without the usual escort. Arrested in connection with the murder, Byron De La Beckwith faced two all - white juries which deadlocked. The case went fallow for three decades.
Flash ahead to 1994 a new prosecutor and changed social circumstances ushered in a third re - trial. The movie postulates prosecutor's Bobby De Laughter's sudden conversion to the cause. In the movie version Myrlie Evers, Medgar Evers' widow, (Whoppi Goldberg) and Martin Dees make a persuasive case for re - examining the case that impels De Laughter to conclude that justice should be done.
Whoopi Goldberg portrays Medgar's widow with a natural dignity. A touch of humor conceals any lingering sadness. "I gave up hating De La Beckwith because it made no sense. The hate would eat me out and he wouldn't care." Charged up with a quest for justice De Laughter (Alec Baldwin) sallies forth. In an alliance with Myrlie Evers, De Laughter resumes prosecution of De La Beckwith with vigor.
Alec Baldwin's performance as the prosecutor won over to the cause of righteousness captures the elegance of Bobby DeLaughter's style as a trial attorney. The grand - eloquent, magnificent closing argument in the movie catches the gist of the one delivered in the real - life case.
The closing argument De Laughter delivered is regarded as a work of art. "The legal case is simple. A man was shot in the back on his doorstep." The master of understatement, De Laughter relying heavily on evidence coming on De La Beckwith's "big mouth," argued, "The other issues are more complex..." The closing argument won a place in the text Ladies and Gentleman of the Jury: Greatest Closing Arguments in Modern Law.
In the movie version, the prosecution of De Beckwith in 1994 sends De Laughter's marriage into Mississippi's white elite into a tailspin.
The trial recounted in Ghosts is remarkable for its demonstration of the unexpected professionalism of the Jackson police in collecting and preserving forensic evidence. In spite of whispers and speculation of an official hand in the tragedy, the police did their job well in making a case against the arch - villain De La Beckwith.
The culprit De La Beckwith was played by James Woods who excels at portraying excitable individuals. Capturing the imperviousness who without remorse shot a man in the back, De La Beckwith boasted in the movie version that he would have had remorse over killing a deer.
The stage is set for the verdict which rights the wrong as far as that is possible.
Mississippi Burning (1988)
You have to pull it apart from the inside
The death of Edgar Ray Killen in prison in 2018 has renewed interest in the Mississippi Burning case.
Lets turn the clock back half a century It's 1964. Three civil rights workers, a black man James Chaney from Meridian, Mississippi, and two whites Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner said to be from New York City disappear after being briefly detained by local police in Philadelphia Mississippi. Enraged, President Johnson ordered the Navy to drain the alligator - infested swamps of Mississippi in search of the three. Freedom Riders
In Mississippi Burning (1988) the story of the investigation is brought to the silver screen. While the Navy up to its hips in sludge has been unable to locate the missing Freedom Riders, Johnson dispatches FBI agents, Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) and Rupert Anderson (Gene Hackman), a local Mississippian and former sheriff to investigate. Chafing under Ward's micromanagement in insisting upon a futile by - the - book approach, Anderson through seductive down - home charm, develops an informant in Mrs Pell (Frances McDormand), the battered wife of Deputy Sheriff Clinton Pell (Brad Dourif).
Discovery of the bodies leads to a turning point in which Ward, acknowledging that the book has no answer, accedes to Anderson's irregular tactics: kidnapping glib and unbelievably cute Mayor Tilman and forcing him to describe the killings and reveal the culprits, assaulting Deputy Pell in reprisal for beating Mrs Pell, luring the cluprits to a bogus meeting and rescuing Lester Cowen from a faked attempt by the co-conspirators to hang him. Under the erroneous belief that his fellow bad guys intend to kill him, Lester spills the beans.
Charged with civil rights violations, many conspirators including Deputy Pell are found guilty. Sheriff Stuckey is acquitted. Mayor Tilman commits suicide. Gene Hackman plays the two - fisted Rebel Sherriff Anderson turned FBI agent with great aplomb. Sweet as sugar and mean as dog dung, Anderson can molt from as gentle as a new - born calf to as aggressive as a charging bull. Hackman's Pennsylvania accent does not creep into his Southron expressions or speech as it did in his depiction of a New York City Detective in the movie version of French Connection.
William Defoe plays the stamp pressed FBI agent, with the pressed dark suit and homburg in the sweltering heat of the deep South. True to his character, he'll get nowhere in the cozy world of the deep south.
A Case of Deadly Force (1986)
The Blue Line Matters
A Case of Deadly Force is the story of a civil rights case brought by a former Boston police officer turned lawyer against his department. The movie is based upon a book by Lawrence O'Donnell, a Boston PO turned attorney, Regrettably comments on it were space.
One commentator, critical of the film, correctly observed that in a civil rights case, Attorney Lawrence O' Donnell (Richard Crenna) stood alone as a beacon of integrity in the courtroom against notorious liars and hypocrites when the former police officer daringly turned on his department in a wrongful death suit brought against former fellow officers on behalf of a bereaved black mother.
The critic is correct in saying that the Made For TV movie A Case of Deadly Force is a bit one sided in that the saintly innocence of the injured party might have been somewhat inflated. Many people involved with violent encounters with police have less than pristine backgrounds. Whether that justifies police action is another question.
My evaluation is that A Case of Deadly Force is favorable. Where the movie attains a degree of excellency, it lies in the deadly accuracy of the dilemma and heart ache faced by a lawyer in a civil suit against the police. Often advocating the rights of clients often with a checkered past, the lawyer stands alone facing a violent system with a united unprincipled opposition: The Blue Wall.
This made for TV movie vividly exemplifies the mischief a determined police department is capable of: violent beatings and arrests of members of Mr O'Donnell's family. All it takes is a wink and nod to bring the entire department down on a civil rights lawyer. And many judges go along with this.
This no feel - good Perry Mason story.
Richard Crenna delivers a bravura performance. If there is a short coming in the film, it is given Mr O'Donnell's experience as a police officer he did not anticipate the violence of the reprisal that his former friends were capable of.
20 - 20
Meet Oleg Mironov (Aleksandr Yatsenko). He's a dedicated emergency services doctor. In US we call them EMTs. He and his wife Katya. (Irina Gorbacheva) a nurse, are deeply in love, although Katya is at an end with Oleg's drinking, a professional hazard here in the US. After a drunken scene at Katya's father's birthday party, Katya wants a divorce. At home Oleg sleeps on the kitchen floor.
Oleg has problems at work too. A new boss imposes a 20 -20 - 20 rule: 20 minutes to reach a call, 20 minutes to stabilize the patient, 20 missions per shift. All the docs/EMTs protest the change which runs contrary to individualized needs in the care of the particular patient. The boss is nonplussed.
When Oleg violates the rule, he fails to respond to a heart seizure and causes a death.
Well the crew drowns their sorrows at Oleg's apartment. Though there's friction in the house, Katya joins the party singing a teenage love song about love running hot in the summer at Yalta but growing cold in the autumn.
After the party Oleg and Katya in drunken bliss get it on. Afterwards responding to Oleg's suggestion that he might have gotten Katya pregnant, Katya tells Oleg she has had an IUD installed and can't get pregnant.
A pout follows. Oleg runs off but he comes back to reconcile.
Arrhythmia (Russian letters may differ) is Russian drama at its finest . Many commentators have said that it accurately depicts daily life of nurses and doctors struggling against the bureaucrat - ism of Eastern European Socialized medicine. The conflict between one - size - fits - all of mass produced medicine and the need for individual attention even permeates free market medicine. See the film.
Within the Whirlwind (2009)
Meet Gina Ginzburg, a professor at University of Kazan. Happily married to a Red Party official, Ginzburg has it all in the Communist World: a spacious apartment, fashionable clothing, two children, a comfortable position in the Communist hierarchy. Her passion is Pushkin; She is entranced by the cadence of Pushkin's Nationalist poetry dedicated to celebrating Russia.
It's 1934; all that will change.
Kirov Red Party Boss in Leningrad (often mentioned as a potential successor to Joe Stalin) is assassinated, (likely on orders of Stalin). A purge of the party is in order to rid it of "Trotsky-ite and resurgent nationalist elements." Apparently the authors of the purge do not see the inherent contradiction between "Trotsky - ism" and "nationalism.."
Yet to deflect the purge away from themselves the party faithful, other than Ms Ginzburg, line up to confess "unsavory bourgeois tendencies." Locked up in the dragnet, Ms Ginzburg refuses to confess, even when she is harassed by Boykin, a notorious and vicious police official. Many of the people she knew and worked confessed under pressure. Their reward was the death penalty, but Ms Ginzburg who reiterates her innocence before a kangaroo court gets 10 years in Siberia.
The movie shows that some women en route in unheated cattle cars are singing songs to Stalin. Jailed with the real criminals, Ms Ginzburg wants to die and rebuffs the attention of the camp doctor until he gives her a book of Pushkin's poems.
Emily Watson renders a spectacular performance as Genia Ginzburg who is reduced from the splendor of the inner = party ranks to the squalor of the Soviet prison system.
Ms Ginzburg does get a joyous moment when her oppressor Boykin ends up in the gulag crying that he's innocent. Richard Wurmbrand and many other people imprisoned by the communists noted that often the police end up in jail with the people they've accused.
There is a Hollywood ending when Ms Ginzburg marries the camp doctor in a type of mismatched marriage that almost seems stamped made in America. Oh well as different as the US was from Russia of his time de Tocqueville saw many congruences.
Frantsuzskiy shpion (2013)
WHAT MAKES A SPY
Meet LT Andrev Kanayev (Oskar Kuchera). He's in a bind. The USSR is dissolving and with it,Russia's strangehold over Eastern Europe. Says Kanayev's superior, 25 years of work in building the Warsaw Pact went down the drain.
Kanayev's unit is being withdrawn to what's left of Mother Russia. "I have no job, no house, no car," he laments to his friend Marek over a tankard of beer. Though Marek suggests the French foreign legion, LT Kanatev does not immediately tumble to the idea. He has to be prodded by being set up in an apparent homicide.
Smuggled into France, Kanayev attemts to enlist in French Foreign Legion. After rigorous basic training, Kanayev is recruited by French intelligence. Returned to Russia as a French operative, Kanayev produces impressive results but as Russia recovers, Kanayev's former comrades are hot on his tail.
Will he get caught? What are the consequences? Will he return to France and live in a Chateau in the country like a madman living in a home created by his imagination?
Excellent film! Little the US produces can compare to its scope and insight.
Between Love and Honor (1995)
WHERE DOES THE ACT END
NYPD officer, Steven A Collura (Grant Show), is sent on a mission: infiltrate the Mob family led by Carlo Gambino (Robert Loggia). The Made-for-TV movie probes the inner workings f an undercover operation: On one hand, the operative projects a fantasy on the other hand his act creates a reality of its own.
To insert Officer Collura into the mob, he's teamed up with a former Mafia couple working off a case. Taking up residence with them as his "son", Collura lays down the rules: he's the boss he does what he wants; they're the help and that's it. The ex-Mafia couple have no choice but to grin and bear Collura's laws. As time progresses, they begin acting like a family so much so Collura's parents start berating Collura for his personal shortcomings, late hours, bad company and drinking.
Collura is so successful in inserting himself into the web of the mob that he strikes up a relationship with Carlo Gambino's beloved goddaughter Maria Caprefoli (Maria Pitillo), whom Carlo cautions Collura is a gentle but fragile flower.
Taken home to meet 'Mom' and 'Dad,' in their apartment in an old frame house on Pitkin Avenue in the mob strong hold of South Ozone Park, Maria asks the most telling question in the family oriented Italian - American world. Surprisingly, this obvious question was overlooked by all the mobsters right up to Carlo. "Oh, it's nice to meet your Mob and Dad, where does the rest of your family, your uncles and aunts and cousins live?" Mom, Dad and Junior all look at each other in fright and on a flimsy excuse leave the room.
Well an engagement is announced and Maria offers Collura a short preview of bliss, but forbids physical contact.
Meanwhile, Collura is advanced in the mob to the point he is trusted with a small role in the execution of Mob rogue and existentialist philosopher Joey Gallo. Handed a weapon, but advised that he'll only be part of the back - up, Collura panics and runs back to the police.
The story like The Impossible Spy and Scarlet Coat catch the very nature of an undercover operative. He projects a fantasy as reality. How far can the spy be drawn into the charade that he has created.
11 settembre 1683 (2012)
The Day The Poles Saved The West
Contrary to other reviewers I found The Day of The Siege to be an excellent film well grounded in history. The Mouslem Turks in 1683 advanced from Constantinople to Vienna for a second attempt at unlocking the door to Western Europe. The push on Vienna led a century earlier by the intrepid Turkish Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent had been repulsed.
The Mouslem general The Vizier Mustafa leads a mighty horde of Turks and their allies and invests the City. True to Mouslem principles, Mustafa offers the inhabitants an opportunity to surrender peacefully. Though abandoned by the Emperor, the scratch force making up the garrison agrees to fight on.
It is at this juncture that Mustafa makes the critical mistake. An ally suggests a cover force to protect the besieging forces from an attack from the North. Convinced that the terrain is too difficult, Mustafa ignores the recommendation and concentrates his forces on the siege with a great deal of initial success: The Turks break the wall. Fatefully Mustafa hesitates. Historians speculate that he wanted to swallow the city whole so that marauding Jannisaries didn't loot and destroy an important commercial center and base of operations for a further push into Germany badly divided by civil war between Christian factions.
Mustafa's delay gives the Polish King Jan III just enough time to drag his canon through hostile terrain to attack the Turks and relieve the outnumbered garrison.
I think the film was an excellent portrayal of Mustafa as an honorable warrior who made two strategic blunders, of Jan III who appreciated the first rule of strategy: attack where the enemy never expects to find you and of the Holy Roman Emperor who prefigured The Bush's flight on a different 9-11 when he abandoned his wife, his capital and his country to run away.
The Eagle (2011)
The Eagle is an impressive vista on Roman Briton. It gives fair airing to Roman and Brythonic points of view.
Like Gaul, Eagle can be neatly divided into three parts: garrison life, life in the Roman colony and adventure north of the wall.
As the curtain opens we meet Marcus Flavius Aquilla (Channing Tatum) a newly minted commander on his way to a frontier outpost where Druids are rousing the restive Celts to action against the occupying Roman Army. Seasoned veterans at the officer's mess are skeptical of the new commander. "He's probably unpacking his rule-book," quips Galba (Paul Ritter).
Marcus surprises the officers and men with detecting an attack on the fort early enough to interdict it. There is quite a long wait in the dark of damp northern England during which Galba's stare tells it all. However Lutorious (Denis O'Hare) stands by the commander seemingly with bemused detachment. To the experienced legionnaire's surprise, Marcus was right. The Keltoi attack just as Marcus appears ready to call off the alert. New to the post, he isn't used to all the nocturnal noise that conceals the approach of Celtic warriors.
Injured in combat Marcus is sent to his uncle's villa in Southern Britain where Lutorious delivers news of the battle streamer awarded the unit, Marcus' medal and an honorable discharge.
Donald Sutherland plays Uncle Aurelius to perfection. As the most experienced actor in the cast he refrains from overpowering the stars Jaime Bell and Channing Tatum. But I think that Sutherland's genius in this film was that he was playing himself: the elderly urbane white liberal, a man of bearing, sophistication, distinction, culture and refinement.
Inviting a notable to the dinner table, Uncle Aurelius chides the guests about his vegetarian fare: "fish and eggs; lets not all rush at once."
Uncle believes that slaves should serve voluntarily or be left to their own devices. Uncle buys Esca (Jaime Bell) a slave to tend to Marcus but doesn't care if the slave runs away.
This Keltoi slave had been rescued by Marcus from a blood thirsty crowd in the arena because Esca had faced death unafraid. Reduced to personal servitude, Esca tells Marcus he hates everything Roman but will serve out of personal obligation, gratitude for being spared.
When the fully recovered Marcus decides on the adventure north of the wall to recover the lost Eagle of the 9th Legion Uncle with utter hypocrisy bluntly tells Marcus that one can not trust the word of a slave. "He says what he says and does what he does because he has to."
This sets the scene for the third act, the adventure north of the wall.
North of the wall there's a roll reversal, Marcus becomes Esca's slave. Yet true to his word, Esca helps Marcus recover the Eagle and defend it from re-capture.
The film is exceptional, partially because the lines of the Keltoi are scripted in the once outlawed Gaelic language with subtitles. When the Romans speak, they speak in English.
Witness Protection (1999)
The Mobster Who Came Out of The Cold
Meet the Battons, living comfortably in an upper middle class lifestyle in suburban Boston. The truth is Bobby Batton (Tom Sizemore) is a mobster. Unbeknownst to him, Batton's boss has decided to terminate Bobby. Batton is tipped to the plot against him when he foils a kidnap attempt on Batton's daughter Suzie.
His only way out is Witness Protection and a new identity. We see the pressure cooker turned up when Bratton and his family confronts the limitations of the work-a-day world and have to learn their cover stories. Bob Batton is particularly peeved that he must get a job. He holds the working class in especial contempt.
Forest Whitaker plays Steve Beck the FBI coach with great aplumb when he must tell Batton how to get a job. Why do you care? Batton exasperated with Beck's tenacity asks . Because it's my job, comes the smug reply.
Cindy Batton is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Agent Beck tells her she's worth maybe $35 G on the labor market if she finishes her paralegal degree and returns to work in a law firm. How are we going to live on that?
I won't agree that Witness Protection really does all that this US government propaganda movie says it does to trap real criminals. I do find the concept of adjusting to a completely new life interesting.
Class of '61 (1993)
Class of 61: A Movie Glorifying The Southron Cause of Slavery
Recent history has produced several made-for-TV movies which have glorified the southron cause of slavery and secession even more than DW Griffith's film Birth of A Nation. In this film Slaves obey their masters in conformance with Holy Writ (Colossians 3:22) and regard the plantation as home.
This is a generous reading of the sands of time. Even as early as the 1950s with a real right wing star John Wayne in HORSE SOLDIERS, Hollywood showed how Black Southerners warmly greeted US Army troops. The answer to the writers of this film comes from Mr Lincoln himself: "Anyone who thinks slavery is a good idea ought to try it out." On the other hand the costuming was excellent and the scenery was well done.
The Making of a Lady (2012)
I was surprised to see the number of negative commentary on this made for TV film. Much of it I think fails to understand the limitations of the genre of the story book Victorian Romance.
A client once told me, "Middle class marriages of that era were all arranged; that is why they were more enduring!"
Of course in MAKING OF A LADY, we're dealing with the upper crust. In England, that's the landed aristocracy, enjoying its last hurrah in the time of the Queen-regnant Victoria.
In reality making of the Lady is two stories in one. The first story is how Emily is selected to become the Lady of the Manor.
Meet Emily Fox-Seton (Lydia Wilson) good-natured, tall, with a respected family name but no money. Boarding with the Cupps, mother and daughter, Emily acts as a as a secretary to Lady Maria Byrne. (Joanna Lumley). At Lady Marie's country home, Emily meets Maria's cousin Lord James Walderhurst, a retired 50 year old colonel.
Lord James is widower who needs to get marry and quickly produce an heir to his fortune. It's a set up and Emily elected. Notwithstanding a little hesitation, Emily trots off in white to wed Lord James in an impressive church service which concludes with the arch of swords.
Now, James for all his hurry proves to be a bit of a shy breeder, until he shows Emily the "priest hole," a secret passage that connects their rooms. Mission accomplished. Had the story ended there, this would be a cute Victorian Romantic comedy with the cheery assurance that life goes on.
Enter Part II: The struggle for the Family Estate. A critical facet of the Victorian Romance was the struggle for the family estate and wealth.
By the time James is recalled to service in India, Emily is pregnant. Against the advice of Jame's loyal servants who are abit frosty to Emily, Emily admits two of Jame's relatives: Captain Alec Osborn (James D'Arcy) and Alec's Anglo-Indian wife dark complexioned Hester Osborn (Hasina Haque) to the Estate. They stand to inherit the entire Estate if James and Emily are unsuccessful in producing a new generation of Walderhursts. There's an interesting play on words at work in Walder (forest) Hurst (treed hill) suggesting Emily is riding a slippery slope.
Naturally, Captain Alec, his Anglo-Indian wife and her Indian servant with the frightfully sounding name Ameerah though syrupy friendly to Emily at least initially hatch plot after plot against the pregnant Emily. James returns from India in the nick-of-time to keep Emily from being suffocated by the powerful servant Ameerah.
The art form is the Victorian romance: the conflict is preserving the family line. Told in the version adapted by MAKING OF A LADY, the forces of evil are the fallen cousin who is wasteful and profligate and has moved from the protection of the caste structure by marrying beneath his station.
There are variations on the basic structure of the Victorian Romance where the wife of the lord of the manor and a servant are plotting against order and stability of the realm. This sometimes takes the form of the Butler did it. A more modern version of this yarn might daringly make the Anglo-Indian wife of the spent-thrift poorer relative the heroine of the story.
633 Squadron (1964)
Great Score: Credible Acting
I saw the film 633 squadron when it was first released in '64. The film follows in the tradition of many great Air War Stories including DAWN PATROL. The score for the film is the finest musical adaptation or imitation of the revving aircraft engine.
Cliff Robertson who was a good American actor played a credible leading role as wing commander. We did deem it odd that the British would make an American a Major in the Royal Air Force and appoint him wing commander. That could be the work of studios trying to sell the story here in the US.
The perception of the colonial audience was that the mission portrayed was an attack on German Heavy Water experiments and that the attack took place earlier in the war.
The scene of bombing the GESTAPO HQs came right out of an earlier film, 13 Rue Madeleine (1947)starring Jimmy Carney.
Pre-Star Wars films like the live stage required a measure of "willing suspension of disbelief." I try to adjust myself to that before watching old films.
The Experiment (2010)
Doctor's mistakes are buried
This film is based loosely on (a) US sponsored psychological experiment in which a prominent psychiatrist ran amok creating a prison in the basement of a noted liberal University. It follows in the steps of a German film Das Experiment (2001), highlighting lack of originality in the US theatre.
Very different from from the real life experiment in which the participants, recruited from students between semesters received rather chincy emoluments, the movie version claims that the test subjects, were offered stupendous incentives for their collaboration.
The film correctly states that volunteers were assigned roles and that as the experiment went on the participants fell into the roles that were given them. Like the German film, the experiment devolves into ever increasing dosages of violence.
In the US version, the feel good ending is even better than the German version. Travis (Adrien Brody) one of the prisoners has such a will to resist the torture and degradation that he busts out. Everyone follows him and they all receive their handsome checks.
In real life, there was no busting out but there was some busting back in. Some who had under intimidation quit the experiment returned and applied to be re-instated. They had formed a camaraderie with the others in the project and wanted to see it through.
In the film version the consequences for the authors of this fiendish experiment was severe. In an investigation that follows, the mad scientist, a rather small and squat gnomish sort behind the experiment, is indicted.
In real life nothing of the kind occurred. Jocularly speaking of the escapade a quarter century later, the real life psychiatrist hosted a US sponsored college course on psychology.
Das Experiment (2001)
Doctor's mistakes are buried with ....
I was impressed with this German made film which I found to be superior to its American copy starring Sean Penn later produced.
This film is based loosely on a US sponsored experiment in which a prominent psychiatrist ran amok creating a prison in the basement of a noted liberal University. However differing from the real life experiment in which the participants, recruited from students between semesters received rather small emoluments, the movie version claims that the test subjects, recruited from newspaper ads were offered stupendous incentives for their collaboration.
The film correctly states that volunteers were assigned roles and that as the experiment went on the participants fell into the roles that were given them. Indeed at one point the 'guards' kidnap one of the staff and throw her behind bars.
In this version, a MI undercover agent has been inserted in the scenario in the role of a prisoner to act as a controller. He knows an escape route and can break up the experiment if he has to.
There is a feel-good ending in which the mad scientist behind the experiment comes down on charges.
In real life that never happened. Jocularly speaking of it a quarter century later, the real life psychiatrist hosted a US sponsored college course on psychology.
The Horse Soldiers (1959)
John Wayne's Finest Movie
Horse Soldiers ranks with Major Dundee and Twelve O'Clock High in its study of the personality of command. Colonel John Marlowe is the man with the mission: break rebel supply lines supporting besieged Vicksburgh. On one hand he must deal with a meddlesome Regular Army Surgeon Major Henry Kendall (William Holden) and on the other an ambitious, backbiting subordinate Colonel Phil Secord who expects the campaign to launch him into politics. Along the way, the raiding force is constrained to internee Miss Hannah Hunter, (Constance Towers) a Southern Belle laced with a poisonous, duplicit charm.
Miss Hannah Hunter: (bending over with a plate of chicken, revealing ample cleavage) Do you prefer the leg... or the breast? Col. John Marlowe: I've had quite enough of both, thank you.
The raid must proceed with stealth and speed until it reaches it's target. Any man who can't continue must be left to the clemency of the enemy. Deep in rebel held territory, quarter is not to be expected. With such parameters, there is a constant clash between Dr Kendall and Colonel Marlowe. Behind his back, Kendall calls Colonel Marlowe 'Old Iron Head.' To his face Kendall is generally glib but subtle:
Major Kendall: That's a pretty primitive outlook; medically speaking, that is. Col. John Marlowe: Well, doctor, war isn't exactly a civilized business.
Col. John Marlowe: (during firefight) I didn't want this. I tried to avoid a fight! Major Kendall: That's why I took up medicine.
The US Army takes the rebel supply depot at Newton Station and routs a rebel attempt to retake it. The grim work is about to be done:
Miss Hannah Hunter: You're not going to burn the town down Major? Maj. Richard Gray: No ma'am just war supplies; cotton, railroad equipment, contraband ma'am.
But Marlowe a Railroad Engineer in civilian life does not revel in the task as does the would-be politician Phil Secord. The plan is to skedaddle South to US held Baton Rouge. Along the way PVT Dunker develops an infection which Dr Kendall treats with tree moss. The photography of the scene is incredibly well done with John Wayne's standing in the shadows looking on in horror. "You're putting dirt on a wound?"
There's a powerful ending. A dramatic Cavalry charge breaks through rebel lines and brings the US Cavalry across a creek and back into US held territory.
The skill with which the movie was done cannot be under-stressed. The film accurately shows the terrifying impact of the war on the civilian population and the enthusiastic greeting US forces received from the Black Southerners.
Another Earth (2011)
A Crack in the Mirror
The film deserved all the commentary it received both pro and con. I was surprised and gratified that a film which deals with tragedy and the tragic attracted this much attention in a country which is dedicated to the patented formula Hollywood ending.
Meet Rhoda Williams (Brit Marling) she's got everything, pretty, a brilliant astronomy affectionado and on her way to MIT. Like most teens, she went out to celebrate and drove home drunk. On her way home, distracted by a strange phenomena in the sky, another earth which has come into view, she slams into John Burroughs' (William Mapother) car which was stopped at a light. John Burroughs' pregnant wife and son are killed in the collision. Burroughs goes into a coma.
Rhoda draws a four year stretch. Flash ahead 4 years, Rhoda is out of jail and Burroughs is out of a coma. Returning home to her room which was left as it was when she prepared to go out on the night of the collision, a sullen, morose Rhoda dismantles the room and sleeps on the floor. While her parole officer encourages her to return to school, she opts for a job cleaning the local high school so that she can avoid contact with other people. Wandering around in a fog, she gives up her flashy clothes and dresses as unattractively as possible, like a bum.
She has an important need to apologize to Burrows for his loss but ends up cleaning his house. Burrows might have remained in the alcohol numbed stupor into which he slid after recovering from the coma but Rhoda never cashed his checks. He therefore seeks her out and their relationship blossoms into a love interest. Burroughs returns to pursue the music he had laid aside, advising Rhoda that right before the tragic accident he had reached a state of contentment.
The implication is clear and Rhoda uses it to justify her actions to herself by believing she is making Mr Burrow's life a bit better every day. Even the distant, morose Rhoda seems to become more lively.
But Rhoda's past catches up with her when her essay wins a seat on the privately funded expedition to the alternate earth. Will her path cross over Mr Burroughs or will they collide once again? The photography nicely complements the script and imparts that distant or disconnected feeling to which a morose Rhoda is subject.
The ending has a powerful message on that subject, but see the film and come to your own conclusion.
Starship Troopers (1997)
Welcome to the Mobile Infantry. The Federation's strac force. Earth is united not in some pipe dream democracy but in a Spartan state where the only citizens are the warriors given preference in reproduction.
As the movie opens Johnny Rico (Casper Van Dien), Dizzy Flores (Dina Meyer), Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards)and Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) are finishing up high school. Their teacher Jean Rasczak (Michael Ironside) preaches the value of citizenship in the militarized state. Although Johnny is under Raszack's spell, his primary reason for signing up is to follow his girl friend Carmen who wants to be a pilot. Dizzy the quarterback of the High School's indoor football team signs up to follow Johnny, one of the Ends on the team.
Carl, a genius, gets sent to games and strategies. Carmen is tapped for pilot training; with low scores on aptitude tests, Johnny is sent for a rugged basic training in Mobile Infantry. After some contra-temps in training, Johnny nearly drops out but the enemy of the human race a species of bugs attacks earth and strikes Buenos Aires, Johnny's hometown. Johnny is out for revenge on the entire bug race.
There are some brutal battles on the bug's home planet and at an outpost of the federation on Planet P before the MI captures the brain bug.
The film came out in 1999 two years before the 9-11 attack on NYC. It is interesting to see where the writers correctly gauged the likely reaction and where they failed.
The acting if not stellar is extremely well done. The story line of young people fumbling around with adult responsibilities is credible. The phony newsreels that carry the script along and bring out background material might bring a smile to people old enough to remember Movietone news in the Theatres.
The film is highly recommended. The costuming is excellent with a decided tendency for a German look in the uniforms.
The Scarlet and the Black (1983)
Cat and Mouse
The Scarlet and the Black is billed as the real life story of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty, an Irish Roman-Catholic priest who rescued Allied POWs from German captors.
The year is 1943. Italy has surrendered. The Germans now occupying Rome are resisting an invasion by the US and the UK.Monsignor O'Flaherty (Gregory Peck), an Irish national runs an underground organization to provide safe haven to escaped US and British PoWs and other refugees. Father O'Flaherty is dogged by SS LTC Herbert Kappler (Christopher Plummer) who is in charge of military police operations. Anxious to prevent US and UK escapees from fleeing into the Vatican, theoretically an independent country recognized by The Reich, the Colonel has painted a white line across St. Peter's Square to mark the limits of Vatican sovereignty.
It's quite a cat and mouse game with Father O'Flaherty one step ahead of the SS both in the movement of US and UK personnel through Rome and in the war of wits. Audaciously, O'Flaherty recommends democracy to the German SS as an alternative to their brutish ways.
The made for TV movie suffers from an important historical lapse. Though Pope Pius as played by Sir John Gielgud is antagonistic to the Germans, real life Pius armed his Swiss Guard and instructed them to deny entry to the Vatican enclave to allied escapees. The role of Pius in World War II will always be a matter of controversy.
O'Flaherty and this story are supposedly based on real life events. If so, O'Flaherty was playing cat and mouse not only with the Germans but also with the Pope who at this point was unwilling to get involved. The big question I have is Why would O'Flaherty help Britons who were his country's enemy only recently expelled from his homeland or Americans who were allied with Britain? The film does not answer the question, but proceeds to show O'Flaherty help the wife and children of his nemesis escape retribution from the victors as an humanitarian gesture.
It is a good movie nonetheless and highly recommended.
The Cardinal (1963)
A rising Star in Troubled Times
I was surprised to read the many criticisms of this film as dated. In a real sense, as the film belongs to a particular historical era, it along with any film set in a particular time period would be dated. It is against that historical background, the licentiousness of the 1920s, the rise of dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in the roman church's heartland of southern Germany, Austria and Italy, and the onset of world war II that the priest, Stephen Fermoyle (Tom Tryon), always with an element of self-doubt, rises up the roman church's rigid hierarchy during those turbulent times to receive the red hat and deliver the acceptance speech at the end.
The prime motivation for rushing this film into production was the uproar over the controversial play THE DEPUTY which openly criticized the Vatican for its involvement with Germany. This film suggests that the church of Rome was more a victim of the fascists than a conspirator with them. That issue may be the subject of endless debate.
Yet, there is an important historical lapse in the film. The film correctly states that many officials of the roman church collaborated with the German New World Order, but the portrayal of the occupation of Austria as a violent act of aggression accompanied by a brutal assault on a church is not true. The Germans entered Austria with oompah bands and were enthusiastically greeted there.
The US however never treated Austria as a full-fledged opponent and thus Austria needed to be liberated rather than defeated.
Tom Tryon's performance received much criticism from others as weak. I found it worthy of a Jeffrey Hunter, a better known star of that time. Indeed Tryon's performance could stand up to Gregory Peck's portrayal of Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty in The Scarlet and the Black (1983) which dealt with similar issues.
Pawn Stars (2009)
Entertaining and Informative
Pawn Stars is one of the better reality shows. Rich Anderson the owner of the Pawn Shop gives its tag line "Everything has a story; everything has a price. I do like the guest appearances of various experts like the Clark Co historian, but I particularly enjoy Chumlee whose childish temperament is a counterpoint to his bulky and powerful appearance and provides the show with enough comic relief to carry it through each episode. The patrons of the shop are an interesting lot, some are traders who came by an artifact accidentally in thrift stores or who hunt through estate sales for treasure; some are selling family heirlooms that many would find hard to part with. It's worthwhile TV at its best.
J. Edgar (2011)
The Origins of Scientific Detection
Certain figures are larger than life. J Edgar Hoover ranks highest among them in a career that spanned 55 years from 1917 to his death in 1972 at age 77. Leonardo DiCaprio gives the performance of a lifetime as the bull dog who forged a sleepy federal agency into the premier law enforcement agency mastering the art of scientific detection. Only the great actor Jimmy Cagney who often played G-Men could have done better.
The story is told as a retrospective account Hoover toward the end of his life dictated to a newly minted agent. The story begins in the Palmer raids following the bomb radicals had planted at the home of Attorney General Mitchell Palmer (Geoff Pierson). "One more turn of the rocking chair and the AG would have been splat," Hoover recalls. Though G-Men would later assume an air of professionalism and scientific dissection of crime, Hoover arms the G-Men with hand guns and does allow the rough stuff on the radicals. The radicals Hoover complains enjoy too much rapport with the public. "What's important," Hoover tells the G-Men, "at this time is to re-clarify the difference between hero and villain."
An agent who expresses the reservation that "The crimes we are investigating aren't crimes, they are ideas," is summarily dismissed even though he is a friend of Hoover.
No real Americans were damaged by The Palmer raids. Hoover found an ally at DOL (Immigrations) to ensure that many culprits were sent back where they belonged.
Neither the Palmer raids of the 1910s nor the excesses of the Roaring Twenties cemented the FBI's position as the nation's premier law enforcement agency. It was the identification of the Lindurgh kidnapper which made the Bureau. And this was no simple task accomplished despite a botched investigation by Jersey State Police and interference from the national hero Charles Lindburgh. In the process Hoover invented scientific detection even if he had to close DOJ's smoking lounge to do so.
Dr Albert Osborne: Is that all Mr. Hoover? I have a 2:30 class to teach. J. Edgar Hoover: No, you don't. Consider your pay doubled; you now work for your country. Congratulations, Dr. Osborne.
Ever brilliant and always effective in self-promotion, Hoover despite claims to the contrary secretly funded favorable Jimmy Cagney movies about the Feds, giving rise to the Great Myth that Washington can solve all local problems. But he kept his eye on politics or more particularly politicians, to ensure he maintained his fiefdom. By the time of Nixon, Nixon did not even ask to see the confidential files.
The film is long and some say it drags. However I might have liked to see Clint Eastwood's spin on how Hoover ended the open mob warfare of the 1920s. More likely than a few apprehensions of some notorious bad guys, the FBI cut a deal with the Mafia to put a lid on the gun battles, kidnappings and bank robberies prevalent throughout the 1920s. Hoover publicly denied that the Mob existed.
I Was an American Spy (1951)
This movie deserved more reviews than it received. I recall seeing it many years ago on the BIG SHOW, the 3PM movie shown on NBC in the 1960s. Mrs. Claire 'High Pockets' Phillips (Ann Dvorak) was left stranded by the American defeat in the Philippians. The Island fell to the Japanese. American civilians are being interned.
Mrs Philippe manages to persuade Japanese authorities to leave her at liberty under flimsy Spanish identification papers. Behind their backs she is helping Filipino guerrillas and American soldiers in hiding. Can the rouse last until the Americans return? The acting by Ann Dvorak was superbly complimented by Richard Loo's performance as the enemy Colonel Masamato.
I was surprised that this film did not receive a revival when the movie THE GREAT RAID came out in 2005.
One commentator expressed doubt in Mrs Phillipe's exploits including following her husband's unit through the jungle. Americans of that generation unlike US people of later times had incalculable courage.
The US Army put Joe Bauers (Luke Wilson)its most average GI and a street prostitute Rita (Maya Rudolph) into an hibernation experiment. After a year the project was forgotten but the subjects remained in a state of animation for 500 years.
While they've been sleeping, the human race devolved. Intelligent people stopped reproducing while the unwashed masses, aided by advances in medical science, flowered out of control. The result is survival of the unfit-est.
How will decidedly average Rita and Joe survive an epoch in which they're the smartest people alive?
As depicted in this movie, the world of the future is an hilarious blend of lower caste cultures: people talk in an incomprehensible babble; the President, President Camacho, (Terry Crews) was picked because he was the Smack Down Champion; rehabilitation is running the gauntlet in Monster Truck Jam; they're watering the crops with Gatorade ... Meanwhile the infrastructure is collapsing and the crops are failing.
Can average Joe put them on the right track? It's an excellent social commentary ably made by the fine acting of Terry Crews, Luke Wilson and Maya Randolph.