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Free State of Jones (2016)
Lots of Talk Plus Some Gratuitous Animal Abuse
There are arguably some 80 million dog and cat owners in the United States, and probably twice as many people who consider themselves to be dog and cat lovers. So it's interesting that the main character of this movie is a man not likely to have ever won any humanitarian award for kindness toward animals. More about this later.
"Free State of Jones" purports, in its trailer, to be an inspiring story about ordinary people rising up to help defeat the forces of oppression. Something like 1989's "Glory" for example, which provided a good pace of action and drama.
Not so the case with "Jones". While it begins with a Civil War battle sequence involving Mathew McConaughey's historical character, Newton Knight, after the first half-hour it grinds down from a charge to slow march. Much of the middle third has Knight giving speeches and inspirational pep-talks to his growing band of freed slaves and poor whites, interspersed by an occasional skirmish or two and flash-forwards to a criminal trial taking place in the same county in the 1940s.
There is also gratuitous violence toward animals, particularly Man's Best Friend. One disturbing scene involves him stabbing a dog to death, albeit a tracker who was in the process of chewing his leg. Another involves him and his band of irregulars ambushing a group of slave-hunters and their bloodhounds, then grilling up the dogs for dinner.
A third scene involves the Free Staters rather graphically carving up a roasted pig that is impaled, head to butt, on a spit.
Granted, this was the Civil War and yes, the Rebs did have a fondness for sicking dogs on runaway slaves and civil rights activists, a practice that was carried on well into the 1960s. But there are certain conventions, heretofore observed in the film industry, such as not showing graphic violence being done to young children, or bringing agonizing death to dogs even if they're chewing off your leg.
The net result of McConaughey's dispatching of the attacking dog with less than surgical precision left me not so endeared towards his character for the rest of the film. It also didn't help that he uses the "n"-word rather liberally despite his character being pro-emancipation.
"Jones" meanders on for roughly 2-1/4 hours. It could have had about 25 minutes cut from it.
I don't recommend this film for anyone who gets easily impatient waiting around for something to happen, nor for anyone who is disturbed by graphic depictions of violence against animals.
Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)
Roddenberry is Spinning in His Grave
I didn't watch this movie in the theater, because having seen the trailer I sensed it would be little more than a CGI fest. I finally relented and watched it on On Demand last night, and my intuition was correct: there is hardly a scene in the entire movie that doesn't rely on some kind of spectacular special effect.
As a fan of the original TV series, the biggest problem I have with this movie is its complete departure from Roddenberry's admittedly Utopian view of a future in which the people of Earth have evolved into a much more peaceful and tolerant breed (yeah, I know this ST reboot takes place in an "alternate universe").
Once key point of this movie, amongst others, seems to be that in the 23rd Century you can't trust Starfleet any more than you can trust the U.S. Government in our time.
Steven Seagal: Lawman (2009)
Is Steven Seagal the Real Deal?
The easily overlooked disclaimer in "Steven Seagal: Lawaman," is that Mr. Seagal is not a full-time, sworn deputy sheriff, but a RESERVE deputy. Now not being from Louisiana myself but speaking as an auxiliary police officer in New Jersey, I can tell you that in my state we have full police powers ONLY when we are on duty, unlike full-time sworn officers who possess them 24 hours per day. Also, reserves and auxiliaries are typically unpaid volunteers who go through similar but often not as intense training as their paid counterparts.
I suspect that his crew in this show are also reserve deputies, because most of them are high ranking officers (one is a colonel, another one or two captains). It is unusual for sworn officers of that command rank to be out on ordinary street patrol, but quite common for ranking reserve officers. For example, in my jurisdiction our chief and deputy chief are typically on street patrol, directing traffic, etc., alongside us grunts.
It is also unusual, in my experience, to see three uniformed officers sharing a car as is seen in "Lawman". Again, this is more typical of auxiliary or reserve units, who may ride three or four persons in a car for safety reasons as well as a lack of available reserve cars.
Mr. Seagal is not the first celebrity to don a badge to help his local community. Don Galloway from the 1960's TV show Ironside became a reserve deputy sheriff in his community, as did Robert Conrad. Shakeil O'Neil is also a reserve cop.
In any case, I do find this show entertaining and am recording the series on my TiVo. It's nice to see fellow reserve/auxiliary cops in action, which you rarely if ever see on Fox TV's "Cops".
Something the Lord Made (2004)
What the Movie Left Out
Vivien Thomas co-authored an excellent book, entitled "Partners of the Heart," in which he chronicled his experiences in helping to develop the surgical treatment for "blue baby" syndrome. Toward that end, the movie accurately depicted Thomas and Blalock experimenting on dogs.
What the movie did not depict, however, but which Dr. Thomas himself movingly documents in his book, is that in his later years he went on to pioneer open heart surgery for dogs. In fact, veterinarians from around the country would retain him to perform surgery on canines with a variety of heart problems. In a sense, Dr. Thomas gave something back to the creatures that had served him so well in the laboratory.
In Treatment (2008)
Excellent Depiction, With Flaws, of a Therapy Session
As a therapist myself (not psychoanalytical), I think this series comes the closest to depicting a real therapy session that I have yet to see on television. Yet, it has its flaws. To wit: What clinician, in his right mind, would leave prescription meds in a client bathroom? Also, the characters of Paul and Gina follow the stereotypical image of the therapist as detached and soft-spoken with bland affect. I don't know of any colleague (myself included) who doesn't infuse her/his sessions with humor, emotion, and most important, empathy. These are important tools that help us connect with our clients. There may be hope for Paul, however, as in Session Four with the gymnast, he managed to show anger when she told him she'd been taken advantage of by her date.
Finally, there is the usual assumption that therapists are upscale (check out Paul's and Gina's respective digs). Psychology, Social Work, and Professional Counseling are arguably the lowest paid of all professions.
I would love to see a competing series about a therapist who works out of a cramped office in a bare-bones non-profit agency, and drives to work in a second-hand Yugo. This therapist would, of course, also share a laugh and a a tear with the clients from time to time.
Cimarron Strip (1967)
Good show. though unintentionally humorous at times
I remember Cimarron from its first run in 1967, and now I watch it when I can on EWST. The acting was at times over the top, the violence gratuitous, and Stuart Whitman's slurring of his lines always provided a chuckle ("Ged me muh gun, Dulzzz-y!").
Most humorous are the opening and closing scenes in which Whitman tries to ride a horse. As the horse goes full gallop across the plain, the actor appears to be doing all he can to stay in the saddle, body stiff, arms flailing up in the air. In one shot he even looks terrified, and in another he appears about to slide off the saddle! On the other hand, I do agree with the other commentators that the characters were relatively complex, with shades of gray rather than all good and all bad, which is how they are depicted in modern Western movies. Also notable is that it appears (at least in rerun) to have been filmed in somewhat washed-out color, thus adding to the gritty feel of the show. This is another technique that is popular in today's cinema (e.g., the remake of "3:10 to Yuma").
On the whole I rate this show a seven: for the unintentional laughs, complicated characters, and always an interesting storyline.
Beyond the Sea (2004)
Beyond the Sea is beyond credibility
I am a fan of Kevin Spacey, but this bomb proves that vanity movies can put egg on the face of even the most accomplished performer.
Spacey (who also produced, directed, and had a hand in writing the screenplay) neither looked, behaved, or sang much like the real Bobby Darin. Spacey possesses a certain kind of quirky charm, but it is nothing like the cool swagger that was Darin's trademark.
Add to this farce the fact that Spacey--who is in his early 50s and looks it--is supposed to be believable as a twenty-something teen idol, romancing the Sandra Dee character who is literally young enough to be his daughter.
Perhaps my mistake was that I watched this on cable right after viewing the superb biopic Walk the Line, in which Joaquin Phoenix gave an outstanding performance as Johnny Cash. Whatever. Spacey should do what he does best, portraying quirky but lovable figures. He would have been wise to stay behind the camera on this film and hire a younger actor more suited to the task.
Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959)
You Can't Knock a Good (unintentional) Comedy
The reputation of "Plan Nine From Outer Space" as the worst movie in history is the result of its being mis-classified under the Science Fiction and Horror genres. I say, had it been classified where it really belonged, under Comedy, it would no doubt have a more respectable ranking.
After all, if looks like a comedy, sounds like a comedy, and gets laughs like a comedy, then it must be...a comedy! So does it really matter if this wasn't Ed Wood's genre of choice, so long as his picture gives folks 90 or so minutes of guffaws? I say, no.
And I would, add, by the way, that after screening the (brilliant) movie "Ed Wood", and knowing some of what went on behind the scenes, I watched "Plan Nine" with a whole new sense of fascination. After several viewings I still find it hilarious, but it's probably me: I also howl at Jimmy Cagney's overdone performance in "White Heat". Go figure.
Where the Star Trek Franchise Should Boldly Go From Here
I have never been a pure science fiction fan, and I think this explains why I so love the original Star Trek series (which I grew up watching) and don't much care for what has followed. Unlike its progeny, Classic Trek didn't emphasize the science nor spin complex yarns about cosmo-political intrigue. It instead focused on the characters--primarily Kirk, Spock, and McCoy--and their interplay with one another and with the various guest characters and conflicts they encountered each week.
But that's not the only difference. Classic Star Trek existed in an era when acting--at least on television--was more theatrical, perhaps even overdone by today's standards. Yet this added to the campiness, the swashbuckle feel of the original. Sure, I still sometimes chuckle watching William Shatner overact his character. But Shatner's hamminess made James T. Kirk a much more colorful figure than you'd ever find in Captains Picard, Janeway and Archer.
His shipmates were equally colorful. Spock was considered an unlikely sex symbol in 1960s, but he was also something of a nerd, making naive and often humorous observations about the humans with which he served. You got the feeling that had his uniform featured pockets, he would have carried a pocket protector in one of them. And Dr. McCoy, besides being an "old country doctor" at heart, was also the show's most politically incorrect character, hurling half-breed barbs at Spock with every opportunity. The supporting characters--Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Checkov, and others--had their own unique traits as well.
As colorful and eccentric as they were, the deep bond between Kirk, Spock and McCoy and their love of the Enterprise and her crew were unmistakable. This was usually played out each week in a cliffhanger ending, with one of them heroically rescuing the others (and sometimes the Universe in the bargain).
Now fast forward forty years and compare this dynamic with that of Enterprise, whose main cast consists primarily of actors who look like they fell off a modeling runway and who spew technobabble in muted deadpan, as per the current acting philosophy that "less is more." Give me Jim Kirk proclaiming, with gusto, "I'll...KILLLL...you!", or Leonard McCoy asserting that "I'm a DOCTOR...Not a (whatever)!" any day.
I am curious to see how the April 22 and 29 episodes of "Enterprise" did in the ratings. This two-parter features the crew's parallel universe alter-egos stumbling upon a Classic Trek starship. I normally don't watch Enterprise, but when I happened to catch the trailers featuring Archer and company transported onto the Kirk-era vessel and donning their classic counterparts' uniforms, you bet I tuned in to those episodes (which beyond their novelty left me flat). If I am any indicator (and I think I am) of Babyboomers' viewing habits, then I suspect a lot of us tuned in out of curiosity.
Some correspondents on this board have suggested that the Star Trek TV franchise take a bit of a breather and regroup, and I wholeheartedly agree. But when it's time again to boldly go onto the nation's TV screens, may I suggest the following series concept, tailored for classic Trekkies such as myself. Its title: "Star Trek: The Pike Adventures." As its name implies, this prequel would depict the adventures of the USS Enterprise under the command of Kirk's predecessor, Captain Christopher Pike. It would be just as campy and swashbuckling as the original. The sets, uniforms and equipment would be the same as those in the pilot (and as any die-hard Trekkie knows, these were different from those used in the Shatner episodes). And true to the original, the crew would include a female first officer affectionately called "Number One," and a young but ever-conflicted Mr. Spock who gets to show his human side every so often.
Star Trek's next mission is to get back to the basics.