kayaker36

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Reviews

Beverly Hills Cop
(1984)

Ideal father figure for the fatherless.
Two careers were made--or re-made--by this movie: Eddie Murphy's and Ronny Cox's. By now in his mid forties but well preserved, tall, fair Ronny Cox plays the police commander Lt. Bogomil as an idealized father figure: strict but fair, a loving authority as a father is supposed to be. "In Beverly Hills we do things by the book," he tells Axel Foley, showing this refugee from the Detroit ghetto's dirt and chaos a different world, a clean, orderly world where the police are your friend and you can rely on their integrity. This is an essential element in the success of this film pitched at Blacks and the young, both groups who hunger for the father they often lack in real life.

Bound
(1996)

A few f-bombs do not a movie make.
The best way to watch this picture is with the sound OFF. And no subtitles, either.

The "steamy" lesbian sex scene (with body doubles for the closeups) is topped by hundreds of offerings available every day on the today's internet.

The script is **dumb**, cliché-ridden with not one memorable line in the whole film, and more four-letter profanity than "The Sopranos". It was clearly written not just in a rush but by Hollywood types who have little idea of what Mafia guys really are like or how they operate. The portrayals of Caesar and the rest are grotesquely unconvincing. Nor does it stop there. The butch ex-con Corky also is more caricature than character--just a collection of tattoos and piercings in men's underwear that never adds up to a believable person.

OK, the cinematography and sets are stylish. The producers got the most from a low budget with no money for outdoor scenes so it's **film noir** in color. So what? Gina Gershon never got a part again in a major movie after appearing in this **dreck**.

Even if every queer in the western world gave this picture ten stars on here, Hollywood, like the viewing public, made its own decision and this picture was gone from theaters--those few it ran in--faster than a late night movie crowd.

Killing Them Softly
(2012)

Too many cooks
Andrew Dominik demonstrates that peculiarly British ability to condemn Americans as reactionaries and as rebels both at once. Near the end of this bizarre and often stomach-turning film the central character, a coldly efficient mob hit man, launches a barroom diatribe against Thomas Jefferson--yes, our third President, author of the Declaration of Independence and founder of the University of Virginia who doubled the size of the country by the Louisiana Purchase!

Now, Jefferson's war record might have been somewhat iffy but he certainly was more than a wine snob and slave humping lecher.

It's understandable that a fifty year old novel might require a few changes to film it in this era. What we see on the screen here however is in no way the character study mob prosecutor turned novelist George Higgins made from listening to hundreds of hours of bugged and wiretapped conversations and reducing them to written transcripts with every grammatical mistake, every stammer and of course every obscenity exactly captured.

It is instead an anti-American diatribe with excerpts from the speeches of candidate Obama and President W. Bush continually playing in the background. This annoying counterpoint is meant, one supposes, to show in classic Marxist fashion that it doesn't matter who becomes President because elected government is a sham, America is heartless and corrupt offering no opportunities but crime either big-time like the bankers or small potatoes like the career creeps who feature in this picture.

Along with Brad Pitt himself, at least a dozen people are given a producing credit for this movie, counting all the associate producers and assistant producers. This may explain why this ill digested story of the robbery of a mob-protected poker game and its consequences turned out as it did.

Nor is Dominik without flaw as a screenwriter. He cannot keep Britishisms out of the speech of his Americans. Americans don't "piss themselves" and they never "have a go" at anyone or anything. The characters in the novel, several of them, are changed to where they make no sense in the story. The New England Mafia run out of Providence, RI by capo Raymond Patriarca becomes some faceless corporate entity.

There are some pluses. The cinematography captures the bleakness of certain parts of Boston. In what turned out to be his swan song James Gandolfini plays an out of town gunman pretty much as George Higgins created him. Brad Pitt is suitably cunning as the murderous Jackie Cogan whose job is to set things right when criminals get out of line and prey on each other.

AbUSed: The Postville Raid
(2011)

Total Propaganda Without Even a Pretense of Fairness
This tedious and overlong depiction of the Workplace Enforcement action by Immigration and Customs Enforcement at Agriprocessors, and its aftermath, relies on few and biased sources and shamelessly plays the race--or **raza**--card.

While there are numerous interviews, all in Spanish with English subtitles, with now deported Guatemalan and Mexican employees at the meat packing plant, ordinary citizens of Postville, Iowa are not asked how they feel about having a Hispanic colony planted in the midst of their town.

The owner of Agriprocessors Sholem Rubashkin, now serving a 27 year sentence, is depicted quite accurately as a criminal for knowingly harboring and employing illegal aliens. Yet the illegal aliens themselves are depicted as victims!

Our Man in Havana
(1959)

Comedy and Communism
This picture is based on one of Graham Greene's "entertainments" (Greene's term) but is more satire than thriller. However, things do turn dark at the end.

Every one of Graham Greene's novels contains a moral dilemma which the protagonist must face. Most also have a fair amount of his (decidedly leftist) political views, for Greene was both a Communist and an Anglo-Catholic.

In a few off moments in this film, some these views are expressed but by secondary characters, not by Jim Wermold the protagonist himself. Captain Segura the police chief, played to chilling perfection by Ernie Kovacs, expounds on the "torturable classes" in society, ending with the pronouncement that torture is always "by mutual agreement". {Tell that to the American pilots tortured by the North Vietnamese!] True or not, this is a restatement of Marxist dogma: history as class struggle.

Later, Maureen O'Hara as the secretary sent out by Intelligence headquarters in London, on learning that all of Wermold's reports to Home Office were fabrications and that he has taken their money on false pretenses, asks why people must be loyal to countries, anyway and isn't it better just to be loyal to people. This is also is a restatement, this time of a famous quote from E.M. Forster, that if he had to choose between betraying his country and betraying a friend, he hoped he would have to courage to betray his country.

While these seemed to be mere philosophical musings in 1958, we know looking back that there was a great deal of active betrayal of Britain and its intelligence services right up to that time by former members of a student group at Cambridge University which did include E.M. Forster--though not Graham Greene, an Oxonian.

Perhaps Graham Greene had mixed feelings about Americans but his detestation of the United States was undisguised. He saw America as run by an exploiting Big Business class with the government in Washington a sham, exercising no real power. Any cruelties or injustices practiced in Latin America were naturally attributable to this country and the rapacious businessmen who ran it, in his view.

Celebrated for his inventive comedy, Ernie Kovacs played such a convincing Latin that his work here might have led to a second career as a dramatic actor had he not had that fatal traffic accident a few years later.

2 Broke Girls
(2011)

This is the REAL 70's show
This show is a throwback to those radio-shows-with-pictures popular in the seventies: "All in the Family" and its several spin-offs, "Sanford and Son" and especially "Welcome Back, Kotter".

The target demographic for "2 Broke Girls" are too young to remember any of that old stuff, of course, so no harm done.

Like "Welcome Back, Kotter", everyone here is a "character", full of eccentricities. The normal-acting, normal-looking guest actors really stand out. There are just a few, simple sets and outdoor shots are unknown, which keeps production costs way down but certainly doesn't make use of the potentialities of television. I'd lay odds some of the actors aren't even on set when the camera cuts to them and they deliver their few lines--like the tired looking Garret Morris.

The two stars are Abbot & Costello in brassieres: the comic and the straight man, the dumb one and the smart one. The repartee between them is hit and miss, sometimes outrageously funny, other times falling flat, still others plain gross.

There are of course some differences. Unlike Carroll O'Connor or Redd Foxx, these girls are nice to look at, blonde Beth Behr, especially. She's got a great pair of legs and at least once in every episode they are shown to the limit of decency.

The material has certainly been updated to the 2010's with plenty of double entendres and references to body parts, masturbation both male and female and feminine hygiene. With off color material predominating and drab sets, this show would retain much of its character if there were only the audio portion being broadcast.

One last note: the treatment of racial minorities on "2 Broke Girls" is surprisingly, offensively stereotypical, even worse than in the 1970's. There is one regular black character, the aforementioned Garret Morris who is never seen standing up and one Asian, four feet tall with an accent not heard since the Borscht Belt comic Buddy Hackett last performed his Chinese Waiter routine, a rubber band across his eyelids.

Vera
(2011)

Britain's Answer to "The Closer"?
A one-woman show featuring a sixty-something lead, forty pounds overweight with an apparent cardiac condition. This may be the first series in which the title character drops dead from natural causes in the middle of the episode. No one's done that since Moliere!

DCI Vera Stanhope dominates her staff on the Yorkshire police even more completely than Brenda Leigh Johnson did on "The Closer". Except for one handsome young Detective Sergeant and one bright, African-descended female Detective Constable, the rest are actually nobodies. Their names aren't used and they have little identity.

And Vera gets emotional--oh, yes. Shouting at her staff, banging the table while interrogating suspects, gasping for air. But unlike Brenda Leigh, of the LAPD, DCI Vera has no fortyish Fritz, handsome if slightly flawed FBI Agent, to come home to. In truth Vera seems to have no private life, at least in the episodes that have aired in the States on PBS.

The stories are dreary, dreary as the English Midlands with their vanished industries and bleak moorlands. Women are principally the victims, of course, and immigrants. When the men aren't knocking the tar out of helpless orphan girls, they're backshooting kindly Sikh taxi drivers.

Endeavour: Pilot
(2012)
Episode 0, Season 1

Bent...in several ways
The biggest mystery is how this scrawny, sensitive,"musical" type ever became the world-weary but unflappable Inspector Morse.

There is interesting character development in the early part of the episode with the usual office politics and pecking order as Endeavor Morse seeks to establish his place in the Oxford Police to which he has been reassigned. It is a sort of homecoming as he had been a student at the famous Oxford University.

It is once the story gets going that things become incredible and abnormal. A cruel joke involving a Pygmalion-like attempt to pass off a well developed local fifteen year old as a university student turns into an affair between that girl and a forty-ish Oxford tutor. The man's wife, an elegant former opera singer, gets wind of the affair and rather than risk "losing him forever" (a small loss, it seems to me), she embarks on a plot of unbelievable complexity involving crossword clues, a murder, impersonation, **another** murder (to cover the first one) made to look like suicide, all of which have the local police thoroughly baffled until young DC Morse shows up.

But our Endeavor nearly flubs it, too because, musical guy that he is, he has become infatuated with the murderess cum **diva**, a woman easily fifteen years his senior. This puppyish attraction is undiminished even when DC Morse is fully aware that the woman has coldly killed two innocent young people who never did anything to her.

Suddenly the director runs out of time The coda is a series of rushed, soundless scenes, all with the Puccini aria **Un bel die** playing shrilly over all. We're meant to find it all so tragic but the effect is mawkish, nearly comical.

If this is to be a series, the writers will have to come up with plots that the viewer can swallow, and perhaps a few girls his own age for the hero.

Coriolanus
(2011)

Superb in Every Way
When bringing before the public a play that is exactly 400 years old, originality is an important aspect to success. Moving the setting from the Roman Republic of 500 B.C. to present-day England-- though it still is called "Rome"--and depicting infantry combat in a built-up area using contemporary weapons and battle dress with frightening realism, this picture presents a little-known Shakespeare play in a novel way.

The producers had the good sense not to alter the language. Though drastically pared down--a twelve line speech often reduced to one--it is Shakespeare as the Bard wrote it.

The themes of the play are universal, transcending time: the fickleness of the mob, the jealousy and treachery of politicians, the mutual respect of men in the profession of arms even when they are adversaries, the conflicting pull of family loyalty.

There isn't a bad performance anywhere. Vanessa Redgrave in a series of masculine outfits has aged superbly and gives a bravura performance as the protagonist's mother. Ralph Fiennes, head shaved and scars on his face, makes a convincingly patrician Caius Martius, brave in war but unable to navigate the tricky currents of politics or win the love of the common people. He's also got that Shakespearian essential: a great voice.

Tall, rugged Scotsman Gerard Butler is completely convincing as his formidable enemy-- and some time comrade--the ruthless Aufidius. The supporting roles are also very competently acted with some unusual casting of a black South African as Martius' military superior and a woman as First Citizen, the voice of the plebeian class in the early Roman Republic.

But the highest tribute must go to Fiennes' astonishing competence as director. Battle scenes, interior scenes, crowd scenes, all are handled with the skill of a veteran cineaste such that the movie never drags, never slackens in pace from the opening food riot by the plebs which seems ripped from the headlines to the tragic and inevitable end.

The Closer
(2005)

HOW does she do it?
At just about 45 minutes into each episode, Brenda Leigh suddenly and brilliantly solves the case, the murderer being always the least likely suspect. The culprit is soon blurting out his, or rarely her confession, by then either stammering some pathetic self-justification to the Dep. Chief's stern and unforgiving gaze or simply reduced to tears.

Deputy Chief Johnson leads a team of hand-picked detectives at the Priority Homicide Squad yet not one of them is capable of solving a homicide. Brenda Lee does the detecting -- all of it. After all, she's the boss lady and on this show all men are doofuses -- the white ones, at least--capable at best of following her precise orders, at worst of charging out and arresting the obvious suspect (invariably innocent) or of making hormone-driven jackasses of themselves in predictable ways.

No surprise that often the biggest jerk of all is her middle-aged, bald headed boss. For some strange reason the creator of the show inserted a back story in which these two had a romantic relationship before Brenda came to the L.A.P.D. Perhaps this is to explain the odd reversal of roles. It is generally she who orders him around.

Nor are the criminals on this show very bright. Unlike real life, few ever exercise their right to remain silent. Fewer yet ask to speak to a lawyer, or if they have one they ignore his advise and talk themselves into a jail cell, which is the better part of the Dep. Chief's "genius" interrogation technique. Often, the suspect will ask **her** if he needs an attorney!

Different from light-hearted crime shows like "The Mentalist" on CBS or the cable-produced "Monk", "The Closer" often explicitly depicts violence and murder, or at least its aftermath. There is little humor here. Add to this the jerky hand-held camera that is often used (to lower production costs), and you get the entirely false impression that this is how real police operate.

Evita Peron
(1981)

Surprising Performance by Farentino
Yes, many of the clichés about Eva Peron are presented here and certainly there are errors of historical detail.

While Faye Dunnaway overacts, there is a pleasantly restrained interpretation of the role of Juan Peron by a youngish Jim Farentino, who passed away early in 2012. He makes the Colonel seem rather likable: an easygoing, mildly dissolute, somewhat corruptible and none too ambitious army officer in whom the fiercely ambitious Evita saw possibilities.

Juan Peron completely lacked his wife's bitter vindictiveness, also.

In an iconic scene it was Evita who advised him to take off his jacket when addressing a crowd of union workers in Argentina's important meat packing industry, transforming the previously stiff and awkward Colonel to a man of the people and the people to his devoted followers.

Downton Abbey
(2010)

Technically perfect but oddly sexless
Could the society of post-Edwardian England have been so lacking in libido? Among the upper class anyway, sex was something that had to be imported from exotic foreign lands in the person of the Turkish visitor Mr. K. Pamuk.

The women always are shown buttoned to the neck, even in bed, the men so reserved, so indifferent to the allure of the opposite sex one wonders how anyone got born at all. Indeed, the only physical affection, almost, that is shown at Downton Abbey is between two men! Is author Julian Fellowes **that** ignorant of the Way of a Man with a Maid?

This is of course a character-driven series. The story is pure soap, with absurd plot contrivances one after another. Some of the titled aristocrats behave most ignobly. One or two of the servants show noble, if not saintly qualities. One jarring note is Elizabeth Montgomery. Her portrayal of the American-born Lady of the Manor is decidedly middle class, more June Cleaver (from the fifties sitcom "Leave it to Beaver") than Jenny Jerome.

Many reviewers have raved about Maggie Smith's performance but I found her one-note portrayal of the Dowager Duchess, living firmly in the past and speaking like a character out of Thackeray, caricaturish and tedious.

The Storm That Swept Mexico
(2011)

Mexico Through a Red Lens
As you might expect from a documentary of Marxist orientation, all of Mexico's manifold problems are laid at the feet of the **gringo**.

As history this film is both biased and selective. For example, for all the mention it gets in, the Christero Revolt of 1927-29 against the atheist President Plutarcho Calles might as well never have occurred. As to bias, even Francisco Madero, a man of undoubtedly good intentions and unquestioned integrity, is rated as not sufficiently radical to suit the documentarian because Madero did not want to break up the **haciendas** into tiny, uneconomical plots. Yet when Madero is overthrown and murdered by the generals, that, too is the fault of the United States, we are told.

The two most often seen talking heads are Alex Saragoza of the Ethnic Studies department at UC Berkley and the late Friedrich Katz who established and headed up the University of Chicago's department of Mexican Studies. Neither are authentically Mexican.

The Austrian-born Prof. Katz was an actual Communist Party member as an adult, his refugee family having settled in Mexico in the 1930's after having been refused entry to the USA due to his father's Communist affiliation. Prior to coming to America, Friedrich Katz held a professorship at Humboldt University in the former East Berlin, an institution so closely wedded to the Communist regime that it had to be made over after unification of the two Germanies.

The radical-Chicano-chic Prof. Alex Saragoza has shown a knack for grabbing headlines and going up against the System but his knowledge of Mexican history is weak. He never attended school in Mexico, having been born (of Mexican parents) in California's San Joaquin Valley.

There are some minor contributors of Mexican nationality, one a participant in the Communist-inspired student revolt that paralyzed Mexico City in 1968, another a professor at the mammoth, thoroughly politicized National Autonomous University. Former presidential candidate and Mayor of Mexico City Cuautemoc Cardenas, makes a brief and noncommittal appearance near the end, supplying some details about the 1934-40 presidency of his father Lazaro Cardenas who persecuted priests and nationalized the oil industry,

The documentary is strongest in its first half, covering the **Porfiriato** and early, revolutionary period, supplying some little-known details on the lives, activities and deaths of its two most colorful figures: Zapata and Villa. Gen. Francisco "Pancho" Villa, operating in the north, had a policy of allowing the wives or girlfriends of his soldiers to accompany his army on campaign. These much-photographed **Soldaderas** became famous in their own right. Emiliano Zapata with his base in the province of Morelos just south of the capital, was apparently not in favor of having a huge mass of camp followers weighing down his fast-moving troops.

Last Summer
(1969)

Political Correctness -- Where it started
The cinematography is artistic, with seascapes and vistas of the beach at Fire Island that are relaxing to the eye -- a pleasure to watch. Some of the acting is passable, overcoming the cliché-ridden, preachily didactic script.

The three protagonists are young and attractive, rich and privileged. They also are homophobic, racist, classist and "lookist", even the female member of the trio, played in space cadet style by Barbara Hershey. Their victims, a not-so-pretty teenager and a Hispanic man, are wholly innocent and impliedly entitled to special protections. The homophobic aspect is quite bizarre in that there is a definite homosexual undertone to a relationship of two young men latching on to one girl.

As the politically committed sixties gave way to the seventies "Me" generation it was inevitable that Frank and Eleanor Perry's left-wing films would go quickly and permanently out of fashion. Eleanor Perry, a former campus bolshevik some fifteen years older than her husband, later penned a bitter account of their partnership and breakup, which no one by then cared to read.

If you like propaganda, laid on with a trowel, this picture is for you.

Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer
(2010)

Flawed but worthwhile, and unabashedly sympathetic.
This two hour depiction of the rise and sudden fall of a dedicated public servant is built around two interviews: one with Eliot Spitzer himself, post-resignation, the other with a young actress playing the part of one "Angelina", a high class prostitute. Angelina claims to have had many "appointments" with Gov. Spitzer in many cities, while it was a mere one night stand with "Kristin" who got all the publicity.

Here we see the first of several, perhaps unavoidable, flaws in the documentary: reliance on weak sources whose statements cannot be independently verified. As no one is talking, not the FBI, the federal prosecutors nor Spitzer himself, you cannot know if "Angelina" is making the whole story up. However, her account does not defame the ex-Governor, paint him as sexually perverted or even ungentlemanly. She also voices harsh skepticism of "Kristin" and other girls in the life who claim victimhood currently or in the past.

The format is the standard Talking Heads with some news footage thrown in. Documentarian Gibney cannot resist resorting to lurid shots of scantily dressed women and a hip hop soundtrack when exploring the half-world of high end prostitution. Guess he felt he needed to sex it up in order to sell the film but to me this seemed cheap and frivolous.

With its evident bias in favor of its subject, the film mentions only in passing how Elliott Spitzer's own self-righteousness and abrasive behavior during his year as Governor may have left him without a friend in Albany when he badly needed friends. Admittedly, the State capital was a sinkhole of corruption and waste, but Spitzer's demeanor, like Christ come to cleanse the Temple, was probably the wrong way to go about reforming it.

There is an ample cast of villains -- though why these agreed to be interviewed for this documentary remains a mystery -- including former chairman and c.e.o. of insurance giant A.I.G., Maurice "Hank" Greenberg, Joseph Bruno, former Majority Leader of the New York State Senate (later convicted on federal corruption charges) and even a few words from Wall Street mega-millionaires Ralph Langone and Richard Grasso, bitter and powerful enemies from when Spitzer as Attorney General tried to rein in their insatiable GREED.

The film implies that the current fiscal crisis might have been averted had former Sheriff of Wall Street Spitzer remained in the Governor's mansion. This is doubtful, as doubtful as the claim by Hank Greenberg that A.I.G. would be a solvent company today instead of in federal receivership had he not been kicked out by his own board of directors following revelations by Attorney General Spitzer of accounting irregularities. The abuses Spitzer went after, such as executive compensation and price fixing, were not what caused the fiscal crisis of 2008. That was a result of risky loans and overvalued real estate which, ironically, was what the Spitzer family money was based on.

The ex-governor is shown to be repentant, chastened, fit to return to public service even if the White House now is out of reach. His vices, the documentary seems to say, are only those natural to a man. That Eliot Spitzer can be arraigned for hypocrisy, having himself prosecuted prostitution rings, gets perhaps twenty words in the whole film.

Un prophète
(2009)

Technically marvelous though story not entirely credible
It is a cliché by now that prison life is a mirror image of life on the outside. Everything is reversed. What is condemned in "normal" society--duplicity, violence, theft--is essential, even rewarded in a prison setting.

This is a sort of perverse Horatio Alger story. A boy, innocent if any crime, starts out as a nobody, a friendless target for assaults by everyone, and within a few years rises to gang boss, powerful, feared and respected within--and outside-- the walls of the prison.

Of course, several of the incidents along the way require a large suspension of disbelief. Even in France, the penal system could not be SO corrupt or indifferent that sentenced inmates could be directly involved in drug trafficking and murder while on temporary release, or that a witness in a major rackets case would spend even a few days in the general prison population.

Despite these weaknesses, the physical atmosphere of a large penal institution is recreated with often sickening realism. The constant shouting and clanging, the grime and squalor of men forced to close and unpleasant contact.

Another cliché borne out here is that it is the inmates who actually run the prison while the authorities stand back and interfere as little as possible. Though to be fair, the film does portray efforts to rehabilitate the prisoners and prepare them for life after completion of sentence. There are literacy classes and a sort of high school for those who never went--such as the protagonist.

Even if one understands French, much of the dialog will be utterly incomprehensible to one who has not recently lived in France--or better yet in one of the immigrant suburbs or **cites** (housing projects) which exploded in riots three years ago. Additionally, a number of the inmates lapse into **Corsu**, a sort of bastard Italian and the secret language of the Corsican mafia. There is also some North African Arabic spoken in the film.

Acting, directing and, again, the sets and photography are on a high level. The director has a taste for contemporary American music, like rap and country, which pop up in the original as a counterpoint to the action.

Welcome
(2009)

One from the Left
Virtually all the reviews here are laudatory but something odd is noticed. The countries most concerned in this lugubrious depiction of the illegal migrant experience are France and England, yet there is not an English or French voice among the lavish praise!

Yes, it is easy to say national borders should be open and unrestricted, as long as it is some other nation whose borders are to be crossed.

Bilal is a seventeen year old boy from Mosul in Iraqi Kurdistan. He wants to go to England to be with Mina. Bilal also wants to work in England to earn money to send back to his family in Iraq. This will be good for his family, good perhaps for Iraq or the autonomous Kurdistan region. Not so good for Great Britain, of course, sending its wealth abroad, but Bilal doesn't care about that. Neither does the maker of this film.

In reaching France, Bilal has violated the laws of all the countries he has passed through but he doesn't care one whit for that. Neither does the maker of this film.

A proper treatment of the complex question of migration from the Third World to the First would try to balance individual stories with mass migration's effect overall. But this film has no pretension of impartiality. In focuses on the story of one migrant, his dreams and many travails, and gives no consideration at all to whether England, France or the innocent townsfolk of Calais are required or even prepared to receive thousands of penniless migrants who have no desire to assimilate into Western societies.

Force of Evil
(1948)

Based on a Book Based on a Real Person
If Dutch Schultz was not the top Jewish racketeer of the 1930's he certainly was the most infamous. A sort of John Gotti of his day, "the Dutchman" loved the limelight and portrayed himself as a public benefactor instead of the sadistic skinflint he really was.

Yet with all his eccentricities, Schultz was the first to see that the dimes and nickels poor people bet on the Numbers could add up to millions a year if properly organized. When several of the Harlem Numbers bankers couldn't pay off the winners and turned to Schultz for a bailout, Schultz provided the financing but took over the banks, and most of the profits, wisely leaving the street-level organizations with their controllers and runners intact, just as in the movie.

And just as in the movie, Schultz employed an accountant, one Otto Berman, said to be a mathematical genius, to fix the winning Number by placing a bet at the racetrack just as betting closed so as to throw the "handle" off a heavily bet number.

In 1943, long after Schultz had been killed in a mob rubout, sports writer and war correspondent Ira Wolfert wrote a novel loosely based on the crime career of Dutch Schultz. Wolfert also collaborated on the screenplay of "Force of Evil" which was based on a part of that book. Wolfert undoubtedly is responsible for the strikingly clever tone of the narration and much of the dialog's eloquent yet realistic style.

"Are you telling me, a corporation lawyer, that you're running a legitimate business here?" demands the protagonist of his numbers banker brother, in exasperation at his stubborn refusal to accept a mob takeover.

This picture is 63 years old. An issue arises early on of remarkable relevance today: how close a mob lawyer can get to his clients before the law treats him not as legal counsel but as a participant in the criminal enterprise. "Lawyers are nor protected from the law," as one character succinctly puts it.

When attorney Bruce Cutler was disqualified from representing John Gotti on just those grounds, Gotti's lucky charm deserted him and the former "Teflon Don" died in a Federal prison.

John Garfield was a fast talker and he never lost nor tried to hide his Lower East Side accent. Yet because he had stage experience every word of every line is understood. He did not mumble or swallow his words--so different from some of the so-called movie stars of today. Accordingly the former slum kid and inmate in reform school John Garfield is believable in perhaps the only role of his short film career where he wears a finely tailored suit, compete with vest and watch chain in the style of the time.

In the Valley of Elah
(2007)

Big Disappointment. Huge
After sowing a tantalizing series of clues about how a young returnee from Iraq was murdered, and most of all WHY, the answer turns out as banal and commonplace as any homicide in an American inner city, only much less believable.

The main storyline ends in anticlimax. Various subplots simply are dead ends. Questions are raised which remain unanswered at the film's end. (If the "deadbeat ex" is not, who **is** the father of Ms.Theron's son, David?) Characters are often cliché figures-- the paunchy, middle-aged local detectives who harass the much younger, tough-yet-sensitive female cop played by Charlize Theron. She weeps uncontrollably for a murder victim but see how she can utter the phrase "blow job" just like one of the guys.

Ex college footballer Tommy Lee Jones seems to have lost a good deal of weight, most of it in the shoulders. He looks all head in some shots. Apart from that, his face is deeply lined, his skull nearly bald. The film is about his quest to learn the how and the why. He learns also that his soldier son returned from Iraq a substance abusing sadist.

The one enjoyable sequence--and all too brief it is--is the office scene between Charlize Theron and her boss, the youngish police chief played with sharp cynicism by JOSH BROLIN. We needed to see a lot more of him--the one local cop who knows exactly what's going on both on the street and in his own squad room--and who may well have enjoyed the favors of the winsome Ms. Theron as the other members of the detective squad charge.

Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson
(2004)

Unforgivable Bias
Those looking for a sports documentary will be keenly disappointed. By relying on a ridiculously small number of commentators and sources, Ken Burns has put together a four hour indictment of white America for its past racism and intolerance. The sources not only are limited in number but only one of them--he late Burt Sugar--could claim real familiarity with boxing. And never was there anyone so in love with sound of his own voice. The man simply cannot shut up.

The rest all are far-left hacks like Village Voice journalist Jack Newfield or like Stanley Crouch racial militants with nothing relevant to contribute but with a heavy political agenda leading to some very warped judgments about the era in which Jack Johnson lived and the man himself.

While Jack Johnson was a great heavyweight, a real genius inside the ring, outside of it he was in no way the icon of racial struggle he is portrayed as here. Any comparisons to Muhammad Ali are far off base.

Mike Tyson is the closest parallel with, below the waist, some Tiger Woods into the bargain, and while professional boxing recovered from Jack Johnson with great sportsmen like Gene Tunney and Joe Louis to later hold the title, Tyson has left such a bad smell that the prize ring probably will never recover its former luster.

Law & Order: Los Angeles
(2010)

Superb television
Skeet Ulrich and Corey Stoll, two relatively unknown actors, make an intriguingly contrasting pair--one a handsome young family man with a quick mind and a nose for the hidden truth, the other older, single (possibly gay?), completely bald and endlessly patient, and bringing a profound knowledge of human nature to crime solving.

Here is a wealth of original ideas such as subtitling each episode with an area of Greater LA, which Dick Wolf knows intimately. The whole idea is to spotlight the differences between Los Angeles, a new city shaped by and built to suit the automobile, and centuries-old New York, a product of the age of sail.

There are some lyrical camera shots, almost elegiac, of the canyons and vistas of Los Angeles, of its suburbs-in-search-of-a-city lifestyle, of its public beaches, its palatial beachfront homes and its slums. Best of all is its exploration of human types, so varied yet so...well, so LA.

Alfred Molina in a recurring role as a trial prosecutor, is part Englishman, part Spaniard, he has no non-European ancestry at all. Yet he is believable as a boy of humble Latino origins who has risen high in public service. There are exciting guest stars, original yet believable plots with the "ripped from the headlines" aspect remaining an L&O trademark.

If this show fails it will be because of its harshly realistic view of gender. The first two episodes feature women who have killed without legal justification. There are other repugnant acts committed by women. L&O - SVU, this ain't!

What it is is a crime show with scripts that other great chronicler of Los Angeles Raymond Chandler might have written.

Ridicule
(1996)

Tedious Liaisons
**Bien sur** the biggest reason to watch this movie is Paris-born blonde Judith Godreche. Not a great actress but oh, that face, and those boobs so generously displayed in period costume. She was twenty-three when the film was shot but looks younger. Mlle. Godreche was to appear opposite superstar Leonardo Di Caprio in "The Man in the Iron Mask" two years after this. Had she been easier to work with and taken a few acting lessons she might have made movies in Hollywood earning ten times what the miserly French would pay. She does not have enough scenes here--one of this ornate and overlong film's several shortcomings.

Apart from the obligatory love triangle sub-plot, the story concerns a country gentleman **cum** engineer who decides he must petition King Louis XVI, France's last absolute monarch, to obtain financial backing for his scheme to drain the swamps in his home region and so rid it of the mosquito infestation and fevers that make life there near impossible. While nearing the Royal Palace at Versailles this young man, played adequately if not electrifyingly by Charles Berling, is the victim of an eighteenth century mugging.

The hero is next seen at the house of a well-connected doctor, who later agrees to take him in and instruct him in the art of witty repartee which will be his **entree** to the royal court. Played by cinema veteran Jean Rochefort, the doctor as a physician is no better than his times and treats the young man's injuries by thoroughly, almost fatally, bleeding him. The hero, however is well ahead of his time having apparently made the connection between mosquitoes and malaria, at least fifty years before anyone else!

The doctor has a beautiful daughter (Mlle. Godreche) but she is betrothed at the film's start to a very wealthy noble not twice but three times her age. The reason why she and her father agree to this union is not credible but it does lead to a brief scene in a notary's office, authentic to the last quill pen, where the three of them hammer out what would today be called a **pre-nup**.

Essential for any period film, the **decors**, costumes, makeup all are faultless.

After an endless succession of parties, formal dinners, royal audiences and a masked ball, it all works out for the best--apparently. We know from history that the rainwater pools of the Dombe region were significantly reduced in extent and life there improved just after the Revolution.

It is worth mentioning that the third side of the triangle is a Pompadour-type character, a political mistress to the King, played well enough given the material by the tall and elegant, forty- something Fany Ardant.

David
(1997)

A few solid performances surmount low-buck production.
David has been described as "the most winsome figure in the Bible" and in the dictionary "winsome" means charming. Unfortunately there is little charm in the stiff and mannered performance by Nathaniel Parker as the adult David. Nor is the Saul of Jonathan Pryce any better. Slight and balding, Pryce lacks the physical presence to make a convincing Saul--first king of Israel and a character as tragic as David was charming.

However, among a mainly British cast there are a few standouts. Most memorable are the portrayal of Absalom the rebellious son by young Rowan, the portrayals of Abner and Joab-- generals to Kings David and Saul--and in a small role, the actor who played adviser to Absalom in the very late sequences--and took his own life knowing that when his excellent advice went unheeded, it sealed his and Absalom's doom.

As Samuel, Prophet in Israel, a bearded and heavily made-up Leonard Nimoy seemed more an East European **rebbe** of the late 19th century, folksy and unpretentious, than a character of 3,000 years ago. Yet this contrasted nicely at times with the stagey manner of the other lead players. Sheryl Lee--more dancer than actress--did her best as Bathsheba, the woman beautiful enough to make a man disobey God but her acting had little conviction nor did she look all that dazzling.

It is in the outdoor and crowd scenes that that cheap production values of this made-for- cable video become painfully evident. It was filmed in Morocco, actually a promising location for a Bible epic, but apparently rushed to production with little attention to realism or coaching of locally recruited extras.

"The Story of David" (1976) starring a young Timothy Bottoms in Part I and filmed in Israel did much more with as little or less. THAT David truly was winsome--and "ruddy" as the Book of Samuel describes the shepherd boy who became king.

Runaway Train
(1985)

Trashy, but with some redeeming features
The three "name" actors in this film clearly just were in it to pick up a paycheck, which I hope they got since Golan-Globus, the producers, had a name for not paying people, and in the USA at least the picture lost money.

With an evident eye on foreign distribution the writers devoted little attention to dialog. Half of it is completely forgettable, the other half utterly obscene. Much of it sounds improvised, especially an impassioned but bizarre speech-a rant, really--by Voight's character in which he **might** be advising his jailbreak junior partner to "go straight" while there still is time.

Except for the carefully constructed replica railroad engines, the sets are cheap, the supporting cast mostly amateur.

Eric Roberts, still boyish though now pushing thirty, reprises his "Paulie" persona from "The Pope of Greenwich Village" with a few southernisms thrown in. It's no dice. The character never assumes life from a collection of mannerisms.

However, Jon Voight is incapable of giving a bad performance. In accents plumbed from growing up Catholic in Yonkers, NY, portraying a street-wise con who could be broken neither by a harsh system nor a brutal warden, he sounds truly tough and still looks six foot three and pretty good at age 47, about when his leading man career stalled.

A best-selling book will often have as subject something people know a little about, but would like to know more. It's railroading in this case and we do learn quite a bit about it. We are taken in the control room, in the switch yard and of course on board the "Runaway Train". By keeping to unities--a single story on a single day--the picture effectively builds tension toward a climax that is inevitable yet poignant.

The cinematography might be the best thing about this picture, showing us the bleakly beautiful, seemingly endless frozen wastes of Alaska in mid-winter--before anyone knew about Global Warming.

With the release this month of a movie on a similar theme there is bound to be a renewal of interest in this now twenty-five year old motion picture with one tenth the budget.

Great Performances: Macbeth
(2010)
Episode 3, Season 39

Solid enough, originally mounted but Age Inappropriate
Macbeth is supposed to be ambitious, murderous but first of all YOUNG with a whole lifetime in front of him as the play begins. After all, he and Lady Macbeth have as yet no children as revealed in the first act when Macbeth admonishes her to have only male offspring as she lacks feminine softness.

I could not get past the incongruity of seventy year old Patrick Stewart in the part, though he is a fine actor, always physically fit and with a superb speaking voice. But that face and that bald skull...

Ms. Fleetwood his co-star is herself no débutante at 38 but her "husband" is nearly twice her age! Some of the other parts, such as the comrade betrayed Banquo, had to be aged just to maintain credibility in the casting of the central role.

This production achieves high marks for originality, with Macbeth portrayed as a Scottish Stalin, cult of personality and all, with 1930's costumes and weaponry much in evidence.

Catch the 1971 Polanski directed film version starring young, handsome Jon Finch. Authentic to the last rawhide lacing, this still is the gold standard.

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