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The 41st Day

An authentic journey of faith
It's easy to label this film something that it's not, so I want to be careful not to do just that. This is not a film for someone that's looking for validation that God always gives 'us' what we want, as so many faith-based fictional movies do. No, this is the true story of someone that's given his life to God, lives out his faith in very public ways, and openly shares his heart, beliefs, and life, which includes 20+ years of distance running.

Ryan Hall's story has both highs and lows, and the latter part of his too-short career as a marathoner was wrought with physical challenges that ultimately forced his retirement. One of his critics says that his choice to let God be his coach was fatal to his success, but another (a self admitted atheist) admits to admiring the courage of Ryan's commitment to follow his divine convictions.

Christ followers know that the path is not easy, that Jesus promises "In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." He also says "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

In the end, we can see the life that God (in His grace) was preparing Ryan for, serving his wife and family which includes 4 adopted daughters. "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ-to the glory and praise of God."

Beautiful Boy

Overlong, manipulative, style over substance
While the acting is fine, and one can't fault the story (based on the books "Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction" and his son's "Tweak") nor its limitations, the director's (and his editor's) choices make this a muddled mess to watch.

More interested in showing us 'beautiful' scenery with an interminable soundtrack, director Felix van Groeningen and editor Nico Leunen have delivered a sometimes confusing, flashback-laden storyline while continuously attempting to 'tweak' their audience's emotions. Hence the result and title of this review.

The Creepy Line

A must-see film ... may it lead to a call to action
I am stunned that I'm the first to review this title. It popped up as a choice on Netflix and has the same title as an article I'd read (sometime this fall). In any case, the topic is too important not to address, even if you think the filmmakers have an "axe to grind", which they (rightfully?) do.

Every segment has eye-opening information for the uninformed, those who blissfully ask Google (in particular) for answers without considering the possibility that they're being manipulated by the company's human biases, but it's the last few segments which show how easily Google can (and does!) manipulate election choices of the "dumb masses" that is really scary.

One can easily choose not to have a Facebook account. However, it's hard to avoid Google and its apps (even if you have an iPhone) and their 'deal' with Congress to operate as a public utility is a sham. They've been collecting data on each and every one of us since Day 1 of our Internet experience and it seems impossible to now opt out. We are the product!

I only wish the filmmakers had provided meaningful alternatives and/or solutions.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang

Our fine four fendered friend
If a movie could be comfort food, this is it. It's delightful and beautiful to look at, it's funny, it has Dick Van Dyke, laughs, lots of eccentric characters, and a Sherman brothers (aka Walt Disney) soundtrack. They don't make 'em like this anymore, but they certainly made of lot of these in the 1960's.

From an Ian Fleming (James Bond) novel with a screenplay treatment from Roald Dahl (Willy Wonka) and director Ken Hughes, it's a marvelous musical adventure, kids movie, 'love' story with "good guys" and comical "bad guys" (including Goldfinger Gert Fröbe) that runs a tad long with its 15+ songs, several of which are reprised including the Academy Award nominated title song.

Besides the indomitable Van Dyke as a "Rube Goldberg" inventor Caractacus Potts, there are so many enduring characters including Sally Ann Howes as Truly Scrumptious, Lionel Jeffries as the elder Potts, Anna Quayle as Baron Fröbe's Baroness, Benny Hill as the Toymaker, James Robertson Justice as Truly's wealthy industrialist father, Robert Helpmann as the scary villain Child Catcher, and Heather Ripley and Adrian Hall as Caractacus's adorable children Jemima and Jeremy. respectively.

Van Dyke plays one of the big screen's most endearing single fathers, which draws Truly to him as much as his children do. They have imaginations cultivated by their father who, although he may spoil them a bit, is very emotionally "connected" to them, putting them to bed with songs and regales them with stories he seemingly makes up spontaneously.

La notte

In desperate need of editing
... as it beats you over the head with its premise that marriage (life?) is boring. While many reviewers here have used words like masterpiece to describe it, La Notte is a one-note song played over and over again for more than 2 hours by director Michelangelo Antonioni. The film could easily run 90 minutes (or less) and still make its point.

The first half features several long, largely dialogue-less scenes of the married couple (Marcello Mastroianni and Jeanne Moreau) meandering, separately or together, to show that they're obviously bored with each other and probably life in general. This transitions into "the night" which starts at a nightclub featuring an unusual 'acrobatic' performer, whose 'feats' with a wine glass are seemingly endless.

The rest takes place during a socialite party at the expansive estate of a wealthy capitalist. As a successful writer, Mastroianni's character is deemed an intellectual among the businessmen in attendance, and a catch among the women. Moreau is less social, more of a loner really, who resists the temptations of dalliances, unlike her husband.

Love on the Slopes

Pleasant self discovery adventure
Alex is a New York copywriter that wants to become a feature writer. Her boss has just introduced a cover story contest that might help her to fulfill that dream, but tells Alex that she'll likely have to step outside of her comfort zone to succeed.

So the city girl heads west to a ski resort where Cole, a reclusive extreme sports photographer she admires, is said to live. She hopes to get an interview, or at least experience the sports which inspire his work.

Of course they meet, she's a fish out of water klutz, but he's a social misfit that wants his foundation (which helps young kids experience the outdoors) to succeed. So they strike a bargain - Cole will help Alex try different outdoor activities on the slopes for her article, and she'll help him with his presence at his gallery.

One things leads to another with both gaining confidence, overcoming their weaknesses while growing personally - especially Alex - until her boyfriend arrives. However, if you know the formula, you can figure out how it will end.

Like most Hallmark romances, the scenery is postcard beautiful, and all the actors are attractive, so it's a carefree couple of hours of harmless fun.

Sharing Christmas

With a beautiful New York City backdrop, an atypical Hallmark Christmas movie
'tis the season for Hallmark Christmas movies, which provide an enjoyable respite from the current climate of unpredictability in the real world and its current 'love' stories. At this time of year in the cable channel's world, you can depend on seeing a beautiful setting for a light chaste romance between a male character and a female character, both of whom are introduced early so there is little doubt they will end up together. It's the specific situation and its 'tension' to be resolved that make each movie different. The couple's relationship - and the story - will be consummated with a (many times first) kiss and their happily ever after is presumed.

Sharing Christmas (2017) is not as formulaic as most I've seen of this 'genre': the relational tension between Stephanie and Michael is minimal from the start - there are no ex- or current boyfriends or girlfriends dispose of before they can be together. Their tension has to do with Michael's boss Helen, whose investors have purchased the building where Stephanie's Christmas Shop is a tenant; Helen plans to tear down the existing 'mall' to build a new mixed-use complex. While Michael is assigned to prepare and ultimately evict the tenants - including Stephanie, who's just assumed ownership of the business her parents established over 40 years - he actually becomes a quasi-employee of the shop while 'courting' Stephanie and trying to help her relocate or otherwise save the store.

As their relationship develops, each has a confidant to discuss its progress, but a solution to Stephanie's business problem doesn't appear possible. While many of these Hallmark films telegraph how the 'tension' will be resolved, this one was a total surprise "out of nowhere" to the viewer: it introduces a new character at the last minute to save the day.

The Christmas Cottage

About what you'd expect, another enjoyable Hallmark Christmas movie
The Christmas Cottage is a story about coming home, nostalgia, and a love rekindled through the magic of a family cottage, where any couple that spends a night there together will find an everlasting love.

The story begins in San Francisco, where Lacey is a hardworking home designer striving with Roger - also her boyfriend - to land their first big project, a huge multi-million dollar opportunity that will set their firm up for years to come. They've designed a model "living space" that accommodates work and fitness under one roof, a functional home with wall panels that are projected with whatever season or scene the homeowner desires, even adapting the scenery's lighting automatically to owner's sleep patterns.

However, before the deal is closed, Lacey insists to Roger that she must return home to fulfill her maid-of-honor duties for her best friend Ava's wedding, promising him that she'll finish the designs for their proposal to the client while she's away. While that was clearly Lacey's intent, Ava won't have any of it, insisting that her maid-of-honor participate in the activities and tasks over the time leading up to the wedding. This includes decorating the cottage, which has been in Ava's family forever, was a big part of their growing up together, and has the aforementioned legend attached to it.

Enter Ean, Ava's brother, who used to date Lacey before their different worldviews caused their split. While Lacey believed in a life ordered around work, Ean believed relationships - and experiences - were more important. Lacey and Ean grew up together with many shared experiences, with Ava and in the family cottage. Both are creative: Lacey channeled hers through drawings and sketches that were business related, while Ean became a world traveling chef. His running off precipitated the split, and cemented Lacey's belief that he could never "put down roots".

The next day when Lacey goes to decorate the cottage, Ean arrives to help. Whereas she has designated 2 hours to the task, he is in no hurry. Not only does Ean suggest that Lacey "warm" her efficient design idea with more color, he reminds her that there's more to do than she'd planned, like purchase food etc. As evening draws near, it begins to snow such that the two must spend the night in the cabin together, on separate couches near the fireplace when the power goes out. Hence, the cabin's legend is engaged.

Most of the rest of the narrative involves Lacey and Ean reconnecting while reminiscing on what worked in their previous relationship. Of course, the Christmastime atmosphere and some prodding by Ava, who wholeheartedly believes the legend because of its impact on her family since her great grandparents, doesn't hurt. Inevitably, Roger arrives on the scene and the rekindled romance between Ean and Lacey is delayed, but not for long as the story proceeds as expected. The highlights are the wedding toasts, first from Ean and then by Lacey, which are really given about and to each other more than they are for Ava and her now husband Mason.

The Good Doctor

It's gotten better ... glad I didn't give up on it
I'd heard a lot about this show before it first aired, so I was anticipating a good new series. But then it opened with a needless implied 'sex' scene between two of the interns (a story-line that has thankfully been dropped) and, unfortunately, the first episodes got so repetitive that I almost stopped watching. There were long delayed flashbacks for Shaun every time there was "a situation" (usually the featured scene was from the past, and it included his now-dead younger brother). Plus, all those "MacGyver"-like solutions, ugh!

In fact, I let a couple of episodes pile up on my DVR and only because I had nothing else to do with an hour to kill one night did I decide to watch another episode. It was either the one where a patient came in that was a dead ringer for his deceased brother, or the one in which a patient needed to have a new femur, and they 3D-printed it! Either way, it was great (and I don't usually like scenes with so much operating room gore).

Ever since, including last week's episode - the best yet with Shaun involved in a robbery at a convenience store - the show and its characters have started to grow on me. I especially like Dr. Melendez's growing trust, acceptance and defense of Sean and his unique abilities. I also like Claire and Jared - great with Paul Dooley - and of course Dr. Glassman. I'm not real interested in any of the other characters at this point, but who knows.


One of the best family movies you've likely never heard of
I'm not even sure how I heard about this one; it seems to have suffered from a lack of advertising. Not only was I unaware of the movie, I didn't know the story of Brandon Burlsworth, arguably the greatest walk-on in the history of college football.

Boy am I glad I do now and, if you too have seen, I think we owe it to the filmmakers to make sure that it becomes widely known. It's a terrific family movie, and a great story about perseverance, character, and doing the right thing whether anyone is watching or not (because someone always is).

Burlsworth was a football player from humble beginnings without the natural size or giftedness that so many athletes are born with, so he had to work hard to become an All American offensive lineman at the University of Arkansas (aka the Razorbacks), and was eventually drafted in the third round by the NFL's Indianapolis Colts, in the late 1990's. Unfortunately he was killed in an automobile accident before he was to play at the professional level.

Brandon's faith in God was a large part of his story, his influence and the positive example he was to others, and his legacy continues today through foundations, scholarships, awards and trophies that are given in his name annually to help others.

Chris Severio plays Brandon while Leslie Easterbrook is his loving and faithful mother Barbara, who raised him without his absent, alcoholic father Leo (Michael Parks). Much of the narrative is realized through the eyes of his older brother (16 years his senior) Marty, played by Neal McDonough, who struggles with his own belief through a conversation with "Old Scratch" (Nick Searcy).

The Mortal Storm

How soon will man find wisdom in his heart and build a lasting shelter against his ignorant fears?
The Mortal Storm (1940) is a powerful film that reveals the tenets of fascism, and specifically that which would overtake the Europe of its time. It opens with some narration that ends with a question (the title of this review) in "January 1933 (in) A small university town at the foot of the Alps in southern Germany".

It's a day of celebration, Professor Viktor Roth (Frank Morgan) is turning 60; he's a well respected man in his household, by his family and friends, and among his colleagues and students at the university, where he teaches science. On this special day, many show Viktor their love, including his daughter Freya (Margaret Sullavan), or speak his praises, including one of his top students Fritz Marberg (Robert Young), who does so in front of perhaps the entire university in his jam-packed classroom, and a longtime family friend Martin Breitner (James Stewart), who's a farmer.

However, that day, January 30, 1933, is also the day that Adolf Hitler was named chancellor of Germany, and the Roth's dinner celebration of Viktor's birthday turns sour: Fritz, who's just claimed Freya as his fiancée, and her stepbrothers Otto and Erich (Robert Stack and William T. Orr, respectively) receive the news of Hitler's appointment with great enthusiasm while most of the others do not. Besides Viktor, it's Martin - who'd had designs on Freya himself and was just as shocked by Fritz's claim of her as she was - that appears to be the least excited about it.

This division of family continues because Viktor is non-Aryan, so his life is soon in danger, despite the fact of his laudable reputation within the community. Flags with swastikas soon appear and Fritz, Otto and Erich are caught up in a sick kind of patriotism that finds them persecuting another non-Aryan Professor Werner (Thomas W. Ross) at the urging of the fanatical Holl (Dan Dailey in his film debut), before turning on Martin - who publicly defends Werner before helping him escape to neighboring Innsbruck - and finally Viktor, who's arrested in August. When winter comes again, Viktor dies in prison, and his wife Emilia (Irene Rich) also leaves for Austria.

Freya had long rejected Fritz and his politics, before their town had devolved into a more threatening and violent environment for anyone that resisted the Nazi party or wouldn't return in kind the "Heil Hitler" salute. That included Elsa (Bonita Granville), an hysterical teenager working on the Breitner's farm with Martin's mother Hilda (Maria Ouspenskaya); they're bullied by a thuggish partisan soldier named Franz (Ward Bond).

When Martin daringly returns, he and Freya have a brief romantic moment with Hilda, before attempting an escape on skis. Fritz's commander forces him to decide whether to show loyalty to the Fuhrer or former friends by leading his fellow soldiers to intercept them. The party wins out, and Fritz is responsible for Freya's murder. He guiltily confesses it to Otto and Erich claiming "he had no choice" while Otto laments how much their lives have changed.

Captain Phillips

Intense - features a standout performance by Tom Hanks
Tom Hanks is terrific in the title role, playing the real life captain of the Maersk Alabama, a cargo ship that was hijacked off the eastern coast of Africa by Somali pirates in April, 2009. Although the filmmakers changed some elements of the actual story to make Phillips appear more heroic - and less to blame for the incident - there is no doubt that he suffered greatly, physically and psychologically, during the ordeal. For days, Captain Phillips was the sole hostage of four volatile Somalis in an enclosed lifeboat; they hoped to receive millions of dollars in an exchange.

Director Paul Greengrass and editor Christopher Rouse (who received an Oscar nomination) did an excellent job of capturing the suffocating heat and cramped spaces of the lifeboat, while Hanks portrays a wide range of emotions, mostly without words. The actor's most powerful scene is the film's last, as Hanks perfectly affects a man in shock, mentally reliving the horror of his captivity while involuntarily sobbing in relief to be freed from it all.

Barkhad Abdi plays Muse, who dubbed Phillips "Irish", in an Academy Award nominated Best Supporting Actor performance. Muse struggled to keep his own crewmates under control while resisting the pressure exerted by the United States Navy. The situation was eventually resolved by SEAL Team 6 snipers, whose skills enabled them to simultaneously 'execute' the three remaining hijackers after Muse had been tricked into boarding the U.S.S. Bainbridge (a destroyer) for negotiations.

The movie was nominated for Best Motion Picture of the Year, as was its Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and Adapted Screenplay writer Billy Ray.

Same Kind of Different as Me

Deliberately paced, and different from the book, but still pays off in the end
Based on the true story of Deborah (Renée Zellweger) and Ron Hall (Greg Kinnear), a wealthy Texas couple who befriended a violent and intimidating homeless man dubbed Suicide but named Denver (Djimon Hounsou), this heartfelt tear-jerking retelling captures the essence if not the full depth of the relationship that transformed these three, the Hall's children and their community.

Central to the movie is Debbie's character, whose faith drives her to forgive Ron's dalliance and involve him in her outreach work at the Union Gospel Mission in Fort Worth. Through a dream, she sees a man that will change the world; that man is manifested in Suicide, a large homeless loner that swings a baseball bat at whomever he feels threatened by at the mission. Debbie pushes a reluctant Ron to reach out to Suicide; Ron learns Suicide's name is Denver, and his harrowing background. The three of them steadily form a friendship and relationship of trust that includes their children Regan (Olivia Holt) and Carson (Austin Filson).

Unfortunately, as Denver predicts, because Debbie is making a positive impact on the world for the Lord, she attracts of the attention of His enemy, and is stricken with terminal cancer. However, she deals with her illness most gracefully and there are some sweet family moments to the end.

For fans of the book (like me), as is typically the case, there are some significant differences between the book and this movie including the focus of the title itself: the funeral speech draws a link between Denver and Debbie whereas the book's title refers to the sameness between Denver and Ron! Several important scenes have been altered (e.g. Denver praying outside Debbie's hospital has been replaced with a scene of the two of them sitting silently tearful on a bench) or cut (Denver doesn't drive Regan cross country) and Ron's entire background has been left out (though it's alluded to through the retrospective plot device of his writing the book) while an alternative storyline with his father Earl (Jon Voight) has been inserted (as a proxy for Denver's care of Mr. Ballantine?).

That being said, I'm still recommending the movie as the book's essential themes of love - and how that is manifested in outreach to the poor, forgiveness and hope are still intact.

The closing credits indicate that this was a 2016 production; the movie was originally slated for release in April, 2016, which was then pushed to February, 2017 before it was finally released on October 20, 2017. Besides the shift from Paramount Pictures to Pure Flix Entertainment for distribution, there may also have been other changes (reshoots and reediting?) that account for these delays.

A Question of Faith

What would men do without their faithful women?
This faith-based gem begins with a Bible verse from Psalm 34:17 "The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles" and also contains several other references and quotes from Holy Scripture including John 11:25-26, Proverbs 3:4-6, and Mark 11:25. However, two others that are beautifully demonstrated in the lives of its female characters are from Proverbs 31: verse 10 "A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies" and verse 26 "She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue". Without them, and the sage words of the lead character's father, there's no telling where the protagonist - Pastor David Newman, played by Richard T. Jones - would have ended up by story's end.

The narrative is a bit confusing at first - about a dozen characters are introduced in short order and it's unclear how their stories are interrelated - but stay with it. Without giving away the plot, there are many Biblical themes (perhaps too many?) included in this 104-minute film. Per its title, faith is a big one, but there's also trust, forgiveness, mercy, redemption, and what a Christian marriage should look like; each of these could warrant their own movie. While God is obviously front-and-center throughout, it's great to have Jesus included in the dialogue since many in this genre leave out the Name Above All Names.

The real strength of A Question of Faith (2017) is its lead actors and their realistic characterizations: the aforementioned Jones in the leading role Pastor Newman and Kim Fields as his loving, supportive and strong wife Theresa; C. Thomas Howell as angry contractor John Danielson and Renée O'Connor as his faithful wife Mary; the previously mentioned Gregory Alan Williams as Newman's father, who's also retiring his Senior Pastor position to make room for his son, and especially Donna Biscoe as Patricia, his equally wise wife and instructive mother. There's also Cecil King as associate pastor T.C. Stallings, Jaci Velasquez as restaurant owner Kate Hernandez, mother of teen-aged Maria (played by Karen Valero), and soprano Amber Nelon Thompson as the Danielson's daughter Michelle, whose powerful yet angelic voice just might bring a tear to your eye.

The life lessons are invaluable, including some secular ones like "don't text while driving" and "be an organ donor", and the story is good enough that its intended audience will give the filmmakers grace for the contrivances, particularly its expedient ending.

Wonder Woman

Lots of action, and some symbolism, in this entertaining superhero adventure
Gal Gadot is beautifully believable in the title role as Diana 'Prince', the brave Amazon whose mission is to defeat the evil Greek god Ares, whom she naively thinks is the source of all evil in the world when she learns it's in the throes of the "war to end all wars" (aka World War I).

The film opens briefly in modern day Paris with Gadot's character, a curator at The Louvre, receiving then opening a case containing a photographic plate depicting her in a post battle pose with a ragtag group of soldiers from that war. She reflects on her childhood growing up on Themyscira, a paradise hidden from the outside world and populated by Amazon women, all beautiful and prepared for a fight.

Initially, Diana's mother Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen) resists having her spunky 'daughter' Princess Diana - whom she'd formed from clay - train as all Amazonians under her sister Antiope (Robin Wright), who insists that not preparing Diana for "what she was made for" is dangerous. "What she was made for" is kept under wraps, even from Diana, until later though - pushed by Antiope -Diana gets a glimpse of her special gifting shortly before the world interrupts.

Suddenly the outside, foggy barrier of Themyscira is breached by a Nazi plane which we soon learn is flown by an escaping American spy named Steve Trevor; Chris Pine is perfect as the "above average" hero. Diana rescues Steve from drowning and pulls him ashore shortly before the two are shot at from some German boats that followed his plane into the idyllic setting. Soon Amazon women are swooping down from the cliffs into the battle on the beach where they're joined by Diana, Steve and Amazons on horseback. But several lose their lives before the last of the invaders do, including Antiope.

Diana's innocent upbringing shattered, and convinced that her mother's stories are true - that Ares, though wounded by Zeus thousands of years earlier, must still be alive because of the war - she is determined to leave the island to defeat Ares so it will end. Since the Queen is against this, Diana steals the sword she'd been told is the god- killer before leaving with Steve to travel to the front.

But Steve has lied to Diana, a new concept for her, and first takes her to London where he hopes a book of formulas he'd stolen earlier from Dr. 'Poison' Maru (Elena Anaya) and Nazi General Ludendorff (Danny Huston) will convince the Allied command that the Germans aren't interested in armistice but instead in using an horrific weapon at the front. In truth, it's Ludendorff, powerful thanks to a gas the doctor has given him, that plans on using the game- changing gas to kill thousands. When Steve sees that the high command is unmoved by his claims, he pretends to back down while planning to do the "right thing".

Steve assembles that ragtag group, which consists of profiteer Sameer (Saïd Taghmaoui), weary sharpshooter drunk Charlie (Ewen Bremner), and deposed American Indian tracker Chief (Eugene Brave Rock). Lucy Davis provides comic relief as Steve's helpful secretary Etta. Just as the unfunded group is about to get underway, the top British diplomat Sir Patrick (David Thewlis) provides financial assistance while arranging for Etta to be their communications center in his office.

The action begins after Steve, Diana and the others arrive at the front and enter the trenches, where progress is measured in years. When she learns from a refugee woman that there's a nearby Belgian German-occupied town where its people are starving, Diana decides to stop following Steve and his plan. She emerges from the trenches as Wonder Woman in full regalia - a stunning red-white-and-blue outfit with shield and sword - and fearlessly approaches the enemy. Deflecting single bullets with her forearm armor, she soon has to crouch down behind her shield as the German's machine guns train on her. When Steve realizes that she has the Nazis' full attention, he leads an assault on their positions and the Allies overrun their enemy. Diana, Steve and the others then continue into the Belgian village where she leads another impressive assault against the odds to defeat the German occupiers.

It is at this point that the action wanes while the drama intensifies. Diana comes to believe that Ludendorff is Ares in the flesh, but she's initially stopped from killing him by Steve. While he's been impressed with Diana's considerable talents, Steve's not sure he believes the whole Ares legend thing. Unfortunately, this gives Ludendorff the opportunity to test his weapon on the Belgian town, and all of its villagers are wiped out by the deadly gas. Losing her trust in Steve, Diana goes after Ludendorff herself but, after successfully killing him, learns that man has evil within himself, and is disillusioned. Steve leaves her to join his compatriots in an attempt to destroy the rest of the gas, which has been loaded onto a bomber (plane).

Diana is then visited by Sir Patrick, who is in fact Ares. He reveals to her that it is she - and not the sword - that was made to be the god-killer Zeus left behind. Though Diana doesn't believe him, they fight an epic battle and, while the Germans are distracted by the "fireworks", Steve and the ragtags successfully hijack the bomber. But it isn't until she is nearly down for the count, and Steve successfully detonates the gas container filled bomber safely out of killing range, that Diana realizes man also has good within himself, and comes to believe that she can defeat Ares. When she does, the next scene indicates that the war is indeed over and the narrative returns to the present day where the promise of Diana's future (cinematic) interventions into man's affairs is foreshadowed.


Colorful, vibrant, and thoroughly entertaining screen adaptation of Rafael Sabatini's novel
The story is set during the French Revolutionary period before Napoleon's rise; the monarchy still has its place, but shares some governmental powers with the peasants through an assembly. However, if a strong voice arises from among the peoples' representatives, they are quickly eliminated through a gentleman's duel, most often initiated by the superior swordsmen that support the King and Queen (Nina Foch appears briefly as Marie Antoinette): Mel Ferrer plays the Marquis de Maynes, the best swordsman in France, and Henry Wilcoxon plays his right-hand man Chevalier de Chabrillaine.

"He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad" - Stewart Granger is perfect as Andre Moreau, a quick witted ladies' man with a mysterious parentage and no interest in politics. He has an on-going 'relationship' with the beautiful traveling show actress Lenore (Eleanor Parker was never sexier than as this volatile jealous redhead), but is enchanted as never before when he first meets Aline de Gavrillac (Janet Leigh, looking her Technicolor best as well). She is the comely one that the Queen has pointed out to her cousin the Marquis; she implies he needs to marry for respectability among the noble class.

Andre was raised by Georges (Lewis Stone, who played the Marquis in the 1923 silent original) and Isabel (Elisabeth Risdon) de Valmorin with their younger son Philippe (Richard Anderson), but was financially supported by the previously unknown de Gavrillac. When Andre learns of this, his affections for Aline become more brotherly protective, much to her disappointment. When Philippe, who wrote a freedom pamphlet under the pen name Marcus Brutus, is discovered and then out-dueled by de Maynes, Andre - who witnessed the death - vows to avenge it.

Escaping from the same fate and the pursuing de Chabrillaine, Andre hides among Binet's (Robert Coote) theater troupe - which employs Lenore - as the iconic masked clown and title character Scaramouche, while secretly training under de Maynes's exclusive fencing instructor Doutreval (John Dehner), a freedom 'brother' himself. When the Marquis discovers this, he nearly kills Andre before escaping again with help from Aline. Andre learns from Doutreval that his instructor Perigore (Richard Hale) still teaches in Paris, where the troupe then travels, earning an extended engagement much to Lenore's delight.

While training under Perigore, Andre is recruited by Dr. Dubuque (John Litel) to join the peoples' assembly, where his considerable dueling skills are needed to even the odds. Andre agrees because it should give him another chance at de Maynes. But Aline and Lenore conspire to make sure the Marquis is in the company of the Queen at various other activities in lieu of being at the assembly. Meanwhile, Andre is challenged and subsequently eliminates several of de Chabrillaine's henchmen in sword duels.

The two ladies successfully keep their men apart until the night de Maynes and Aline go to see the play Scaramouche. When Andre notices the Marquis in attendance, he takes off his mask and swings up into his box to pursue him in a duel - the longest in movie history - that travels from box-to-box, down a hallway and a stairway, into the audience and across the theater, backstage and then onto the stage itself before Andre has de Maynes defeated, though he can't bring himself to finish it. Andre discards his sword and leaves. Later, he learns from de Valmorin that the Marquis is actually his brother, the reason he couldn't complete his revenge. Listening in the wings is a tearful Lenore, who reminds Andre that he's now free to wed Aline, which he does as the film ends while Lenore is seen in the company of Bonaparte.

I'm Not Ashamed

About the first victim of the Columbine massacre, a positive legacy worth knowing
I knew nothing of Rachel Joy Scott until I happened upon this movie, a Netflix recommendation in the Faith & Spirituality category. I have to admit that my initial impression - after watching the first 10 minutes - had nothing to do with the story; the quality of the production and acting distracted me. Not that either are bad, but neither are on par with higher budget films. However, I was soon engrossed in the narrative, which is compelling not just because it's true. If you're open to it, Rachel's story will bring tears to your eyes on more than one occasion, though perhaps not as many as it should. I finally realized that it is the direction - by cinematographer Brian Baugh, an inexperienced director - that's likely the culprit for why I'm Not Ashamed (2016) didn't have the emotional impact that it could have, at least for me.

Masey McLain plays Rachel, a young girl who struggled with her Christianity especially given that her dad (a former pastor, which the movie doesn't reveal) divorced her mother Beth (Terri Minton) when she was 7. Beth had to raise Rachel and her four siblings as a single mother for seven years. Before her mother remarried, Rachel recommitted her life to Jesus while visiting her aunt and cousin (Korie and Sadie Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame) in Louisiana.

Being more outspoken about her beliefs cost Rachel some of her closest friends, but even while knowing it was worth it, she struggled with a teenager's need to be accepted in high school. While some of the story's elements have been changed or fictionalized, the vast majority of it appears to be true according to my research. The character of Nathan 'Nate' Ballard (Ben Davies), a homeless young man that Rachel 'adopts' as her bigger brother - helping him to find Jesus, actually has a different real name.

Most of the film's run-time (just under 2 hours) focuses on Rachel's junior year at Columbine, which ended on April 20, 1999 when Eric Harris (David Errigo Jr.) and Dylan Klebold (Cory Chapman) murdered her and 12 others at the Colorado high school before both committed suicide. Rachel was involved in art and drama. Cameron McKendry plays Alex, who played opposite Rachel in a play. This led the two of them into a relationship that Rachel ended when she feared it might become physical.

Apparently Rachel positively impacted a lot of people through her Christ-following example, some that she was aware of in life and others that she likely didn't know about. While the film does depict the fact that many students decorated her abandoned red Acura with flowers and letters - making it a shrine, it doesn't show her funeral, which was attended by more than 1,000 people; its live television broadcast audience exceeded that of Princess Diana's.

The epilogue does state that Rachel's story has touched millions of lives, but doesn't mention that this is due in large part to family members that wrote books and, most importantly, started Rachel's Challenge, whose objectives are to: help schools and businesses become safer, more connected places to live and learn; stimulate real culture change by actively involving the entire community in the process; change lives by providing culturally relevant social/emotional training; and increase achievement and ensure results by engaging the participants' heart, head and hands in a continuing improvement process.

Blithe Spirit

Somehow Margaret Rutherford's hilarious performance was under-appreciated at the time
Just prior to Brief Encounter (1945), director David Lean and screenwriters Ronald Neame and Anthony Havelock-Allan adapted producer Noël Coward's droll play about a widower husband whose deceased wife 'haunts' his current marriage, taunting his current wife (also a widow) in this Technicolor comedy. Neame was also its cinematographer. Using many of the same techniques found in Topper (1937), it also earned Tom Howard the first of his two Oscars for Special Effects; the other was for Tom Thumb (1958).

It stars Rex Harrison as the widower Charles Condomine, Constance Cummings as his current wife Ruth, and Kay Hammond as his first - now deceased wife Elvira, essentially the title role. Margaret Rutherford plays a marvelously entertaining quirky character named Madame Arcati, who's a spiritualist or medium if you will, with the 'expertise' that summons the ghostly Elvira to the here-and-now, where her presence plays havoc with Charles's and Constance's relationship ... especially since no one can see or hear Elvira except Charles.

Charles has very little conversational discipline - he's unable to control his harsh repartee with Elvira - such that Constance believes he is insulting her, which causes their estrangement. After Charles convinces Elvira to make her presence known to Constance (by moving objects in the room), the situation is further exacerbated when Charles becomes all too comfortable with the arrangement: having both his wives around. But neither Constance nor Elvira like the status quo, which leads to a most unfortunate event, when one of Elvira's schemes to change the situation backfires, making it worse for her.

All Saints

A terrific movie about how God shows up in unexpected ways for His faithful
All Saints (2017) is a terrific movie about hope and faith, but it's more about how God shows up in ways we don't expect. Even when one believes that he has received a clear calling and is obedient to it, one has to leave the results to Him.

Based on a true story about a church that's about to be closed in Smyrna, Tennessee, the film begins with Michael Spurlock (John Corbett) getting sworn in and receiving his instructions from the Bishop (Gregory Alan Williams). Michael is to oversee the closing of the All Saints Church over 2 months time because its dwindling membership can't afford the mortgage payment to the diocese. Cara Buono plays Michael's wife Aimee; Myles Moore is their son Atticus.

It's a sad event for the few remaining members, especially a widower named Forrest (Barry Corbin), a retired farmer-Vietnam veteran that's a bit of a curmudgeon. He 'convicts' Michael of his duties as a pastor. So Michael posts some flyers to grow the congregation and, the following Sunday, is pleased to see a handful of Karen refugees from war torn Burma (Myanmar) attend. However, only Ye Win (Nelson Lee) speaks English, so Michael enlists Win - who has already assumed many of his fellow countrymen's responsibilities - as a translator.

The Karen - mostly farmers by trade - are poor and in need of jobs and food. Win asks if they can start a garden on church property to help feed their families. Michael pleads with local businessmen to help and finds only Boyd (David Keith), who's willing to supply some jobs at a chicken plant. When Michael is offended by the crassness of some prospective buyers of the church, he runs them off. Meanwhile, he institutes a second service for the Karen, which has become a growing population in the area.

It's at this point that Michael receives what he believes is a call from God, to turn the church's acreage into a farm, to provide food for the Karen while selling the rest to pay the mortgage. He successfully sells the idea to the Bishop - to delay the closing of the church - for a season.

While Aimee - with help from Atticus - educates and teaches the Karen children to sing English-language songs etc., Michael becomes a farm foreman. The Karen work the fields in the early morning before Win has to drive the men to the chicken plant for a 12 hour day, which causes his marriage to fall apart.

Also, there's a lack of rain which causes the fields to be watered by hand, a difficult and time consuming process for Michael. But because of Win's budding friendship with Forrest, the old farmer joins in, and proves invaluable to Michael, especially when negotiating the price for a tractor. In order to pay for the tractor, Michael has to take out a loan that would force him to leave the clergy and go back to his prior sales job if the farm fails.

Despite these difficulties, it appears that everything will work out okay until a rainstorm washes away most of the crops before they're harvested despite a tremendous effort by the entire community. Another unforeseen event destroys their only remaining hope, the sour leaf that was to be sold to Asian restaurants in nearby Nashville.

However, from Proverbs 19:21 "Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." I won't spoil what God does, but it's consistent with His character (and involves the Bishop).

The Long Night

Tepid remake of French classic - confusing due to code restrictions
Except for its ending, the story and plot elements are nearly identical to Le jour se lève (1939), which I didn't remember because I saw it in 2005. Fortunately I took good notes but, if the original was that forgettable, why remake it?

A man exits a fourth floor apartment having been shot and tumbles down the stairs where he's discovered by a blind man (Elisha Cook Jr.) that's initially implicated in the murder. The police then discover that there's a man still in the apartment when he shoots through the door, warning them to stay back and leave him alone.

We discover later that the man who was killed was a magician named Maximilian the Great, played by Vincent Price. Henry Fonda plays the man who did the shooting: Joe Adams, a former soldier that had settled down to working in a factory of a small industrial town near the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The rest of the story is told in retrospect through flashbacks while Joe is in a standoff with the police. Joe had met and fallen for Jo Ann (Barbara Bel Geddes in her film debut); they find that they were both from the Good Shepherd orphanage. His affections for her are quicker, and he wants to marry though - given their upbringing - both admit that they don't know much about love.

But after being turned down for a date one night, Joe follows Jo to find that she's infatuated - and possibly involved - with Maximilian. Ann Dvorak plays Charlene, the magician's assistant who's finally had enough of her boss and his lying ways to quit. The two men have a brief confrontation over Charlene in the bar, then later end up having a real struggle over Jo with the magician even trying to pass himself off as Jo's absent father, now concerned about her relationship to Joe.

The production code prevented producer-director Anatole Litvak (and writer John Wexley) from fleshing out that Joe ends up having a sexual relationship with Charlene, ostensibly because he has 'needs' and Jo is saving herself (for marriage?). It's when Joe finds out that Jo has been intimate with Maximilian that his fatalistic path begins, which leads to his being under siege by the police. The tacked on Hollywood ending just solidifies this one's insipidness.

Facing Darkness

Fighting Ebola - the people that faithfully served during the Liberia Outbreak
At the center of this true, real-life documentary reenactment is Dr. Kent Brantly and Nancy Writebol, who most should know survived Ebola with the help of experimental treatment from the CDC and Emory Hospital in Atlanta, and the countless others who prayed for the miracles that God delivered.

The film begins before the outbreak, introducing us to many of the key personnel that were involved from the beginning - in Liberia before the Ebola Outbreak in 2014 - through its end in 2016. Most of those included in the story work(ed) for Samaritan's Purse, a Christian faith-based International Relief organization run by Franklin Graham (Billy and Ruth Graham's eldest son) that's headquartered in Boone, NC.

One gets a chance to feel just how frightening and overwhelming the Ebola virus and its outbreak were to all those in country at the time, the struggles to get the World's attention (the lack of which caused Samaritan's Purse to stop for a reset), and the steep on-the-job training curve that all involved experienced.

Also learned is how Brantly, Writebol and others got infected, how this affected other staff members' ability to perform, about the selfless and desperate acts of service, and finally how the epidemic was quelled and its aftermath.

Bullets or Ballots

Edward G. Robinson battles Humphrey Bogart in a Warner Bros. gangster flick, what more could you want?
Throw in Joan Blondell, Barton MacLane and Frank McHugh (just for laughs), and you've got an enjoyable - if somewhat formulaic - crime drama from the 1930's. While there are some differences between it and others that feature James Cagney (many directed by Michael Curtiz), Bullets or Ballots (1936) was in the more than capable hands of genre veterans: director William Keighley and writer Seton I. Miller.

The film opens by detailing just how deeply ingrained the mob has become in this country's everyday activities, skimming pennies from virtually every financial transaction (even pinball machines in ice cream parlors) and accumulating profits that exceed the US Treasury. Johnny Blake (Robinson) is a tough guy cop in one big city whose reputation is feared among all the hoods but, because of rampant corruption at the highest levels of law enforcement, has been relegated to handling petty crimes.

While he was the scourge of mobsters, Johnny earned a reputation as a stand-up guy with integrity that even crime boss Al Kruger (MacLane) respected, the two maintaining a cordial relationship. Lee Morgan (Blondell), a nightclub owner that runs a small numbers game that her associate Nellie (Louise Beavers) 'invented', is dismayed that her friend Johnny has accepted his more humble role. McHugh provides comic relief as Lee's incompetent math-challenged assistant Herman.

When a new independent police Captain Dan McLaren (Joseph King) is appointed to finally break the mob's stranglehold on society, Johnny is among those that's let go in the house cleaning; he's deemed no longer effective. This gives Kruger an opportunity to bring in Johnny as his new second-in-charge lieutenant; he's become wary of his current too ambitious right-hand man Fenner (Bogart). Fenner and his thugs don't trust Johnny, especially given McLaren's early successes, so they tail Johnny hoping to prove he's a snitch.

If you're a fan of what was largely the Warner Brothers' bread-and- butter genre, you should enjoy this 80+ minute movie without being bothered that its title has almost nothing to do with the proceedings.

The Racket

Remake of Howard Hughes/Lewis Milestone silent with Roberts Mitchum and Ryan
I wrote a rather extensive review of the silent crime drama on which this remake is based last December. This one's plot retains most of its elements, but still differs quite a bit. Both are tight, under 90 minute features and the remake actually feels shorter because it's action packed! Catch both on TCM if you get the chance.

Robert Mitchum is the honest police Captain Thomas McQuigg that crime boss Nick Scanlon (Robert Ryan) can't seem to get rid of despite his having McQuigg transferred to different precincts whenever he wants. Scanlon "built this city" and has seemingly all the politicians - including District Attorney come Judge Welsh (Ray Collins) - in his employ.

But the world is changing, as Scanlon's thugs sheepishly try to tell their boss, and the rough tactics that worked in the past are being replaced and becoming more organized in the shadow Acme Real Estate Company, run by Nick's never seen boss "the old man", who's represented by his 'secretary' Connolly (Don Porter).

Ryan fleshes out Scanlon, giving his typical all-out performance as a streetwise violent tough guy that won't conform and can't be contained. Unfortunately Mitchum looks like he's sleepwalking by comparison.

However, there are several other energetic or key characterizations including the one by Collins, William Talman as an ambitious honest cop under McQuigg's command, and William Conrad as a crooked but pragmatic police detective.

Additionally, Lizabeth Scott (third billed!) plays a nightclub singer mixed up in the proceedings as the fiancée of Nick's clean younger brother Joe (Brett King), Robert Hutton as a cub reporter that figures in the end, Joyce Mackenzie and Virginia Huston as Mitchum's and Talman's wives, respectively.


With its misleading title, this superior remake was lost in the summer of Star Wars
After The Exorcist (1973), William Friedkin's next film was this big budget remake of the French-Italian classic thriller The Wages of Fear (1953). Unfortunately, it was released after Star Wars (1977) and Smokey and the Bandit (1977), two movies that dominated the box office and solidified "the summer blockbuster season" that Jaws (1975) had established. Ironically, this feature - like that one - also stars Roy Scheider. But surely it was the ill-chosen title - which beckons the director's last effort - that doomed this one to obscurity that year.

Fortunately upon further review, Sorcerer (1977) - which earned an Academy Award nomination for its Sound (the Oscar won by Star Wars) - has rightly received the recognition it deserves among cinephiles who, while all might not agree that it's superior to the original, mostly consider it an overlooked masterpiece.

The updated narrative spends considerably more time setting the stage for the perilous journey - four desperate men transporting nitroglycerin over 200 miles in trucks - than the original, in which Yves Montand's Mario merely describes the situation to "Mr. Jo", largely the focal point of director Henri-Georges Clouzot's film. Instead, the background, character and motivations of three of the four are shown before each arrives in the dead end South American town that's dependent on a US Oil Company. Ironically, Friedkin spends almost no time establishing Nilo, the Mr. Jo character in this one.

Given the budget, the special effects are excellent, making the difficult nature of the trip more visceral, but this is somewhat at the expense of the psychological challenges - internal to each and external between them - that are more fully probed in the original. But Friedkin was obviously a fan of The Wages of Fear (1953) because he nods to it, and ties up its loose ends, making sense of elements that were missing or left to the imagination by Clouzot.

Ordinary People

Still packs a wallop, so be prepared to feel something (tissues recommended)
I'll admit upfront that I'm predisposed to loving this film's story because I identified with Timothy Hutton's character when the movie came out - when I was approximately his character's age - and subsequently, while raising my own children through high school. But watching it again earlier today - after not seeing it for more than a decade, I realized that it's one of those few perfectly made movies.

It was director Robert Redford's debut, which shows just how much he learned while on the other side of the camera in the twenty-some movies he starred in before 1980; after all, he won the Oscar. It's also superbly edited and adeptly scored (with Pachelbel's Canon). But it's the acting that likely solidified its place as the Academy's Best Picture that year over Raging Bull (1980), a much less enduring feature. Its strength was Robert De Niro's tour-de-force, Best Actor performance. But, as a biography, it contains only one man's 'truth' whereas Ordinary People (1980) explores many of the universal truths inherent in family dysfunction, especially while trying to "keep up appearances", and parenting teenagers, among other themes.

Donald Sutherland is excellent as the sensitive father trying to hold it all together, and 5-time Emmy winner Mary Tyler Moore rightly earned her only Oscar nomination as his repressed wife. If you're wondering, Sissy Spacek won for Coal Miner's Daughter (1980). But its Hutton - who won the Best Supporting Oscar - and Judd Hirsch (who was also nominated in that category) that deliver the most (of many) heart-wrenching scene(s) in the film. Even though I knew what was coming, I couldn't help but shake while crying over several minutes. In fact, if you don't tear up at least once while viewing this movie, you're probably repressed yourself. I haven't read Judith Guest's novel, but Alvin Sargent adapted it to win the film's fourth Academy Award. There's also excellent support from M. Emmet Walsh, Elizabeth McGovern (her debut), Dinah Manoff, and James Sikking (among others).

If somehow you've yet to see it, I won't spoil it any further because the details of what happened to the family before the film's opening scene are teased out slowly, during the aftermath of the present. If you have seen it, I urge you to watch it again because it's still powerfully impactful even if you remember it as vividly as I did.

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