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Ironside: Programmed for Panic (1972)
Hasn't aged well
As someone who remembers the Bicentennial, watching this show in the second decade of the 21st century brought back a lot of memories, not all of them pleasant.
The set-up is that Chief Ironside is using a TV talk show to trap the killer. We can all figure out early in the show who the killer is, the question becomes whether Ironside's ploy will work.
What makes this episode painful is the dialogue on the TV talk show. The host and guests speak in the pretentious, preachy, self-absorbed psycho-babble of the 70's. As someone who was there, all I can say is it seemed like a good idea at the time. But to modern ears it seems as awkward and forced as a middle school date. Nevertheless it fills the time. Without the talk show segments, the episode would be about 5 minutes long.
Avoid this episode if you can.
TV Sitcoms have come a long way from when Lucy trying to get into Ricky's new show, or June burning the roast when Ward's Boss came for dinner could pass as typical American married life.
This episode presents Leonard and Penny with the kind of ambiguous problem that every marriage faces at least once a day. Leonard wants Penny to find a job she likes, but isn't sure she should be working for her old boyfriend. Penny thinks she would be great in this new job but doesn't want Leonard to be uncomfortable with her choice.
The writers deserve credit for finding a solution that was ambiguous as the problem. They also deserve credit for keeping the whole thing light and easy. There weren't really any guffaws, but a lot of smiles and reminders of my own married life.
Gardner must be spinning in his grave.
This is what the world was like before Political Correctness. If this episode is to be believed, all - and I mean all - Sicilians carry 100 year old grudges, talk with their mouths full of oily pasta in a voice loud enough to peel the marinara off a lasagna, are misogynistic boobs, use only red and white checked napkins and tablecloths, always drink wine, and add-a an a-ah to-a the end-a of-a every-a word-a.
Stereotypes aside, the only mystery here is why the surviving actors and the Gardner estate aren't suing to keep this episode out of syndication. When it came time to reveal the killer, I was really hoping the answer would be "everybody".
Erle Stanley Gardner died five years after this episode aired. I think what the writers of this turkey did to his characters has to be in some way responsible.
Hello, My Name Is Doris (2015)
A Movie for grown-ups
I'll admit first up that the reason I went to see this movie had nothing to do with the actors or the story, but because in the trailer Sally Field is carrying a lamp just like the one I have in my living room.
But once I saw the movie I was delighted. Doris (Sally Field) is a woman at that point in her life where something has to change. I think in order to empathize with this state of mind you have to be a grown-up. Maybe an 18 year-old grown up, but you definitely have to be past the point where you think nothing is impossible.
Stephen Root does a fine, nuanced turn as the brother, and Wendi McLenden-Covey, playing the sister-in-law does a fine job of rhyming with "Witch". The movie would have been better if more of the secondary characters had been developed further. Still, it was all good enough that it was worth twice the price I paid to see it.
Since all the sexual tension between Amy and Sheldon has gone, it seems that all the creative tension that made this series so great is gone as well - or at least on hiatus.
The issue with this episode is that it relies on the bar scene way too much. It's as if the writers are trying to stretch 5 minutes of plot to fill the time. What little substance is in the conversations before that scene rings true, as any parent can attest, but it still lacks the humorous snap and crackle that we expect from this ensemble.
Maybe the writers felt they had to handle the pregnancy of Bernadette with kid gloves. That's too bad, as pregnancy can be hilarious. When Sheldon gets drunk, why isn't he saying inane or embarrassing things about the pregnancy? He doesn't have to be mean but there's got to be something inappropriate for him to say besides a lame joke about experimenting with twins.
The dialog between Penny and Leonard could have been developed further. Maybe a sub plot somewhere about Raj not discovering the possible planet, instead of just making it a throwaway line in the first act. Anything would have been better than Howard singing "You're Having My Baby"
This Time for Keeps (1947)
An aquatic historical moment
The cast list of this movie reads like a George Carlin joke, but a careful viewer will discover why actors like Jimmy Durante and Esther Williams were hired over and over again.
The movie is a musical, not because the characters sing to advance the plot, but because the music is really what this film is about. The plot, such as it is, is easily spotted five minutes into the film and serves mainly to provide a framework for Esther Williams to do what she was best at. The same is true for Lauritz Melchior and Jimmy Durante. What they were good at is seen in the 21st Century as quaint, but again a careful viewer will find rewards.
As a Michigan resident, I watched the movie for its scenes of the boats that used to ply the waters of the Straits of Makinac. It doesn't matter that when the movie shows the "Chief Wawatam" docking at Mackinac Island, it's actually docking at Mackinaw City. I like seeing the boats that are now all just memories as they once were, an essential part of Michigan life.
So what if the "nightclubs" are so large they can only be Hollywood sound stages? So what if we are essentially seeing a remake of "The Jazz Singer?. Enjoy the music, the water ballet, Jimmy Durante's jokes and Xavier Cugat's teacup chihuahua.
One of the better ones
This episode rises above the average "Big Bang Theory" fun fest not because of outstanding comedy - which it has - but because the writers take a deeper look into the inner characters of Leonard & Sheldon and Raj & Howard. The girls are not ignored and get some of the best comedy of the evening.
It was a welcome change to have Sheldon show emotion that borders on both adult and human.
The best for me was Raj explaining to Howard what religion meant in his own life. That the writers could do this in a non-sectarian and non-dogmatic way is particularly noteworthy. It was a serious effort that was extremely well-played by Kunal Nayyar. The comedy at the end of that scene was particularly well timed.
The Boys (1993)
Amazing quality for network TV
In many ways this show never got a fair chance. It aired on network TV at a time when programming executives, fearful of new viewing options stealing their viewers, felt they couldn't afford to let a series find an audience. If it wasn't a hit right out of the gate, it was canceled.
Which in this case borders on tragedy. The actors were well cast, the directing did a great job of telling the story of a newbie trying to break into an established group, but it's the writing that took this show over the top. More than one of the episodes felt like a really good one act play.
In a way I'm glad it didn't stay on the air any longer than what it did. I think the newbie would at some point have to become comfortable with the established group of old men, and they with him. When that inevitably happened the show would have changed. Better to just enjoy the episodes that were so expertly done.
What a waste of - well, everything
Unless for some reason you really, really want to see Andy Dick naked, there is no reason to watch this movie. The worst part about it is that I can't un-see it. The best part . . . well, I must have missed that.
And it comes so close. So many of the jokes are almost there, but like a pass that slips through the receiver's hands, they never connect. The jokes that do connect are at best mildly amusing with punchlines telegraphed yards before delivery.
The concept has a lot of promise. Psycho coach in a Division III football program that is on its last legs. Should have, could have worked. It's easy to understand why people signed on to do the movie. What is less clear is why they aren't suing to keep it under wraps.
Watch "Major League" instead. It's essentially the same movie but without the naked Dick.
Family Guy: Road to Germany (2008)
A surprising gem
Most of this episode is standard "Family Guy", but I can't watch the first few minutes of the Polish segment without tearing up.
In all that has been created to try and capture the horror of the Holocaust, the opening time- travel scene of the festive Polish Jewish wedding on September 1, 1939 being interrupted by arriving German Stuka bombers is the best. With a few images and a handful of words, the enormity of the crime is brought home to me.
Your mileage may vary of course, but that scene is sublime.
The rest of the episode is O.K., but not really much to write home about.
Who Do You Think You Are? (2010)
What Reality TV should be
Humans love stories, and this show does an excellent job of using television to tell the stories of real people, without being maudlin or mawkish, or throwing them into contrived situations for comic or dramatic effect.
While we are dealing with the ancestors of a very select group of people (after all, how many would watch a show about *my* family tree?), the stories they tell are the stories of all of us: the former German POW who loved his time in an Iowa POW camp so much he came back to the U.S. after WWII. The story of a family torn apart by alcoholism and abuse. The story of people fighting for justice, sometimes at the risk of their own lives.
To get stories told this well, I am willing to put up with the heavy handed references to ancestry.com, and the smiling, infallible librarians and archivists who seem to always have just the right document.
Lisa Kudrow was great in "Friends" but I think this is the show should should put at the top of her resume
R U Faster Than a Redneck? (2013)
People pitting their cars against each other to see whose is best has happened since the first time two cars met each other on the road. Automobile racing attracts more spectators than any other sport. So a show where American Muscle cars of the 1960's and 1970's are raced against all comers seems like a good idea.
There is a difference between being a redneck and being an ignorant fool. There is a difference between being proud of American made cars and being an idiot. There is a difference between trash talk and mindless drivel. John Reep and his gang of drivers remind me of the guys in High School who were always sneaking out behind the auto shop to drink and smoke a cigarette and are now holed up in a broken down trailer out in the woods somewhere.
When this show is on, find something else to do. Like tuning up that '65 Mustang sitting in your garage. Even watching Oprah would be better than this.
Rosemary & Thyme (2003)
A pleasant diversion
Rosemary Boxer and Laura Thyme live in that never-never world of TV mysteries also inhabited by Jessica Fletcher. Like that famous middle-age woman, these two women seem surrounded by friends and relatives who are bound and determined to kill each other off. Should Rosemary and Laura send you a party invitation, it might be best to decline.
There is only a passing resemblance to real murder investigations here. Instead, we are lead blithely along with the two gardeners as they try to work out the latest puzzle. So if they trample over the evidence that a real investigation would need, or if the villains from time to time say "You FOOLl!!" to their inept henchmen (two words probably never uttered by Tony Soprano) it's O.K.
To watch this show expecting a treatise on forensics is to miss the point. This is produced by Brian Eastman, not Dick Wolf
Disappointing effort that looks good
I was warned by other comments here not to expect a duplicate of other "Hitchhiker" titles. That's fine by me. Telling a story on the printed page or on the stage is not the same as telling a story in a movie. But when you shift from one medium to another, there are certain things that need to preserved.
Where this effort falls short for me is in the portrayal of the three main characters.
In the movie there is no indication in the opening sequence why Ford Prefect has chosen Arthur Dent to save, rather than one of the other 6 billion people on earth. In other "Hitchhiker" versions, Ford and Arthur are boon companions. In this one, they barely seem to notice each other's presence. Additional scenes or dialog isn't needed to get the point across, just better direction.
The other issue for me is Sam Rockwell's portrayal of Zaphod. Zaphod is annoying, but there shouldn't be cheering when he's not in the shot.
The second best thing about the movie is the Vorgons. They are puppets made by the Henson Company and show that CGI is not the answer every time.
The best part of the movie is Douglas Adam's wit and imagination, which still shines through despite the problems.
Danger Lights (1930)
King Arthur Rides the Rails!
The heart of this story is a retelling of the Arthurian love triangle. This time around the King rules a Milwaukee Road Railroad Yard with a brick-to-the-side-of-the-head management style not currently taught in the better business schools. He takes a wandering knight (in the guise of a hobo) under his wing only to have the knight and the Queen (O.K. the fiancé) fall in love.
Among the rest of the cast Hugh Herbert does a fine turn playing a Knight of the Road in almost Shakespearen comic relief. Other players do an adequate job, but the real star of the show is the period railroad equipment and operations. Towards the end of the movie we see some great shots of Chicago in the opening days of the Depression.
If you love trains this movie is a must. If you want another reason to see Jean Arthur the movie is worth a try.
Take the Lead (2006)
Dancing by the numbers
Just like martial arts films, dance movies all seem to have the same plot. In this case that's not really a bad thing, as all of the stock characters are well-written and well played. You know as you walk into the theatre this movie is going to try to make you feel good. The only unknown is how well it will do it. In this case, pretty well.
As a veteran Ballroom Dancer, I can say the contest at the end rings true until the point where a hip-hop tape hijacks the program. Then we are solidly in Rodney Dangerfield territory. But it is likely that ballroom dancers would relate to the different style. Ballroom is to dancing what Opera is to singing - it's highly stylized with a great many rules, and the trick is to bring out the passion within those limits. The dancers I know have a great respect for every style of dance, because the desire to show that passion is universal.
Also ringing true is Dulain (Banderas) instructing his pupils with the phrase "Just walk." This is heard a lot in ballroom, and was also a catch phrase of sorts in the movie "The Tango Lesson"
Interesting to me is that Pierre Dulain was given a choreography credit.
Fireball 500 (1966)
Moonshine and NASCAR!!!
This is a fairly innocuous little movie. No one rented tuxes for the 1967 Oscars for this one, but then no one is paying large sums of money to suppress it, either. It feels like a "Perry Mason" or "Route 66" TV episode.
For vintage erotica fans, there is a (mostly) accurate portrayal of the "Girlie Shows" that were once carnival staples. Fabian's character, Leander, has a group of young women following him around (Four of them period Playboy Playmates) and there is a seductive (slightly) older widow. The sex and romance is far from explicit (welcome in a movie with Chill Wills in it!) and is generally hinted at with meaningful glances.
For NASCAR fans there are some pretty good scenes of stock car racing 40 years ago, including some of the Daytona 500. Drivers that year apparently were racing for a $85,000 purse. (2006: $18 million).
It's well worth a rental. I bought mine as a two-sided DVD with "Thunder Alley" for under $15, and I feel the money was well-spent.
Down the Shore (1992)
Gone too soon
This show had two iterations under the same title, but there was only a passing relationship between them.
The first try was a delightful ensemble comedy that, in the right hands, could have made "Friends" seem like a cheap rip-off. In one episode that I remember clearly, even 12 years on, the girls in the cast are dared to go topless on the beach. It was promoted with FOX's usual nudge-nudge wink-wink subtlety, but it actually turned out to be a thoughtful essay on the value and cost of friendship.
The second time the show appeared, it had been tinkered with in the same way my 2 year old tinkered with my VCR. I can only remember watching about 5 minutes of the first episode. What had been a nice ensemble comedy had been reduced to a "let's get the fat guy laid" teen-movie.
"Down the Shore" - we hardly knew ye.
Kansas Pacific (1953)
Good Old Hollywood Western
I was going to write a scathing report of all the anachronisms in this movie, from the dynamite to the completed U.S. Capitol Dome to the knuckle couplers and air brakes on the railroad equipment (if they look familiar, it's because the engine and the baggage/coach combination were the stars of "Petticoat Junction") to Eve Miller's Capri slacks and Maidenform bra.
But if I did I'd miss the point.
This movie isn't about what happened in Kansas in the late 1850's, it's another trip into the Hollywood Old West. It's the kind of movie you'd watch on a Saturday afternoon to forget that C- Miss Kursinsky gave you in Algebra.
Don't worry about the details. Just sit and relax, grab some popcorn and Juju Fruits and enjoy the ride. Which, at the end of the day, isn't all that bad.
End of the Line (1987)
Not nearly as goofy as I thought it would be
A friend at work loaned me this movie because he knows I'm nuts about trains. The plot synopsis, of driving a locomotive from Arkansas to Chicago, seemed too silly and unrealistic, to the point where I wasn't sure I would enjoy the movie. You know, like Karen Black flying a 747.
Fortunately there was a good explanation for how they managed to get the locomotive to Chicago, so I could relax and enjoy some really nice character studies and a fairly decent yarn. The life of folks who live in double-wides was told with a great deal of sympathy and understanding, without being pandering or condescending. Wilford Brimley as the life-long railroad man was particularly well done, as were Barbara Barrie as his wife and Kevin Bacon as a guy with more testosterone than brains.
But any movie that features both Clint Howard and Rita Jenrette is probably not Oscar material, and neither is a movie with a plot hole in the third act big enough to drive a locomotive through. Still, I'm glad I saw the movie. It doesn't bother me at all that I'll never get the time back that I spent watching it.
A charming love story
One of the sweetest love stories I've seen. It's not the most profound, it's not the most deeply written, it doesn't span the ages.
It's sweet. So sweet the macho guy behind me in the theatre was - well not crying, but he had a runny nose that didn't show up until the last reel. A lot of eye-wiping as we walked out.
The best thing about the love story was that I didn't realize who the principals were until the very end.
Tea Leoni's performance may seem one sided if you've never met a person like her character. People like that ARE one sided because they're too busy clinging to what they imagine is their last thread of sanity to develop anything like a real personality.
Cloris Leachman was very good. Adam Sandler - and I thought I'd never say this - gave a measured performance as a man who never reveals his demons in public.
An interesting family
I saw this movie as part of a series of films dealing with The Family. No, it wasn't sponsored by "Focus on The Family"! In that context it was a standout. Most of the audience (including myself) were less concerned about the film's historic accuracy than its portrayal of Brecht's "hareem" and the tensions that seem to always accompany such an arrangement. Brecht's poetry plays a role, but the politics seemed to be there just to set up tension between the two male leads. I thought the periodic shots of different members of the family swimming was an interesting way of showing escape. The device of setting the movie in a single day with the chiming clock to mark time was also effective. The violent end of the story, which you are set up for in the first few minutes, was very jarring nonetheless.
Tulitikkutehtaan tyttö (1990)
Not a good ad for the Finnish tourism bureau
But a masterful minimalist portrait of a woman taking one of the few options open to her. "Iiris" is a Dickensian heroine: beset with a brute of a step father, loving a wealthy cad who turns cold when she expects warmth, and reaching out to a distant brother who loves her but cannot provide the family she seeks. Overall her world is so bleak, cold and mean that the universal comment I heard after the movie screened was "Thank God I'm not Finnish!". This is a 20th century telling of the tale of the Little Match Girl so the end fits modern sensabilities.
The humor of this comedy is easy to miss as you watch it play out, but on retrospect it comes through loud and strong.
My personal highlight of the movie was the use of song and music to propel the action. Not having a clue about Finnish pop music, I'm sure I'm missing some elements, but the subtle themes come across quite well.
The Silver Streak (1934)
Melodrama hits the rails
It's a variation on the "Get The Serum To Nome" drama, only this time it has to get . . . well, not to Nome. Good shots of the "Zephyr", now on display in Chicago and the high-speed, high-tech wonder of its day. To get the high-speed effect on film the simply halved the speed of the camera. This results in a fast train but ridiculously fast action on the part of railway workers. The acting and the script aren't bad for a thirties serial.
Not Another Teen Movie (2001)
A parody that succeeds - for the most part
A good parody needs its own interesting story line. Too many movie parodies don't. It doesn't have to be Shakespeare, but it should be good enough to make you stick around for the next gag. A random collection of gags and bits is less successful. There are plenty of movie quotes and references only the hip will get here but the story, while a quote itself, doesn't depend on it. Even better, there are a few bits that are funny in their own right. No teen movie parody can succeed without gratuitous female nudity. It's handled well here.