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Patriot, Gentleman,and an American Original: Pete Seeger
16 September 2007
Since childhood, I've been a fan of folk music. Before the Beatles, I was not a rock-n-roller. I was a folkie. So the documentary, "Pete Seeger: The Power of Music," was a must-see film.

This film was every bit as good as I thought it would be. It covers both Seeger's music and the politics that both inspired and was inspired by it.

Being a lefty, I am sympathetic to Seeger's humanistic politics. But the music, oh the music, is so wonderful. The film reminds us why Pete was as important to twentieth-century music as the Tin Pan Alley composers and musicians (the Gershwins, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington, et al), the R&B/rockers (Little Richard, Elvis, Buddy Holly, The Beatles, et al), and all the folkies he inspired (Bob Dylan; Peter, Paul, and Mary; the Kingston Trio, et al).

If this film comes to your town, go and see it. Something magical is likely to happen when you do. You will suddenly hear people in the audience do something unheard of in a movie theater. You will hear them singing along. And rather than being annoying, the gentle harmonies will embrace you like your favorite warm jammies on a cold winter night.

Enjoy! (9.5 out of 10)
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The 11th Hour (I) (2007)
An extremely important, poorly delivered message
1 September 2007
What a shame. This is the most important issue of all time. It's too bad the film spoke ten miles over the heads of its audience.

I know about the environmental movement, the issues, and the players. I thought Al Gore's film and book were outstanding. But after ten minutes with this film, I was lost. I was lost because I was pelted by experts with expert-speak. This is absolutely NOT how to reach an audience if that audience is non-experts.

My college work is in political science, sociology, and technical writing and editing. If you want to make an impact on an audience, you must target the message to the audience, like Al Gore did. You cannot bludgeon a non-tech savvy audience with techno babble. Talking about the abstract concept we call "the environment" won't work. You have to tell people both how these separate facets are affecting them now, sometimes in ways they don't realize, and how they will likely affect them in five years, ten years, twenty years, etc.

The good news is, this was attempted several times in the film. When it was, it reached me. One example was when an interviewee spoke about the growth of asthma among school children. That was good. Because I am the uncle of three children under 11 years of age, that had a direct connection to my life. If the film had been at least half of this, it would be much more successful in delivering the message. Instead, the noise killed the message.

Leo, I really appreciate what you tried to do. But you lost me. May I suggest you pick up a classic book on environmental rhetoric. It is "Green Culture," by Herndl and Brown. Pay attention to the essay "Saving the Great Lakes." It will show you how to reach both your audience and the powers that be by recounting the real-life impact this environmental devastation is having on our lives.

The next thing I'd like to see is a weekly television series on Sundance Channel, or perhaps in syndication, that shows the daily impact of catastrophic climate change on the average person. It would be an environmental version of Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days" series. I believe it's impact would be profound.
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Wild at Heart (2006–2013)
Good Series. Now Duplicated in US as Life is Wild.
30 July 2007
I like this gentle show. First of all, I love animals. Second, I like fish-out-of-water stories. Third, the acting is excellent. I am a fan of Stephen Thompkinson, ever since first seeing him in Ballykissangel.

For some, the sentimental nature of the stories is worthy of a roll of the eyes or feigned disgust. Me? I love sentimental stories. They tend to get to the emotional nitty gritty that most of us do not want explored, either in others or ourselves. If we did, we would have no need of therapists, right? And so we denigrate those who explore this psychological ground, using symbols and story lines to tell us something about ourselves. That makes sentimental pieces invaluable, I think. So, I enjoy the emotional region the program explores, and especially the difficulty in having the two families assimilate into one. You see, their difficulties parallel of the overall difficulty in assimilating into the African lifestyle. That makes the story lines a touch more sophisticated than the eye rollers give it credit for.

The episode where everybody comes down with an illness (won't spoil it for you) is genuinely well done and kept me riveted.

I am dreading the US version, though I like the idea that Rutger Hauer will play the Afrikkaner, Du Plessis.

Go ahead and watch. It won't bite. But it will entertain.
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Extra! Extra! Johnnie Twenties is the Berries!
25 June 2007
Coming across like the big six, The Man of the Century left me grungy for a better day. The writing and direction hit on all sixes. The music was dandy. And when Johnnie and Samantha danced the Charleston beautifully, I was hooked like a mackerel on joy juice.

The smiles were strong, the music keen, and the photography in stellar black-and-white. The actors all played it straight, which made the film work perfectly.

Where did Adam Abraham, the director, go? He only made a few films, won a slew of awards for this one, and then nada!

The next time this film is on IFC, sit your keester down, give it five, and you will see what a keen flicker it really is. It simply slayed me!
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Once (I) (2007)
A Very Good Film with One HUGE Flaw
22 June 2007
This is clearly a great movie. The story and music left me in tears, and I can't remember the last time I could say that. The acting didn't look like acting. It was all quite real. The direction was sharp and tight. The cinematography was excellent. It is a great film except for one big problem… the sound mix was horrible.

For a musical, it is unconscionable to have flat, high-tone sound. Marketa Irglova, the female lead, has an extremely thick Czech accent mixed with hints of Irish brogue. This makes a clear sound mix vital to understanding her important dialog. I have top notch hearing. If you have anything less, this may make listening to the film a very real problem. You may want to wait for the TV release so you can view it with closed captioning.

The music was excellent, and Glen Hansgard sounds incredibly like Cat Stevens. Close your eyes and listen. Wow!

Other than the sound problem, this is one of those beautiful, small, independent films that will grab your heart and make you smile through your tears.
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Waking the Dead (2000–2011)
The Best Program on BBC America So Far
3 June 2007
I'd give this series a 10 minus if I could. This series is so compelling, I lack the words to express it. And that's saying something for me.

We just finished viewing season six on BBC America, and I say with greatest admiration that I hope it comes back for as many seasons as the producers, actors and writers wish. You have a willing viewer, here.

I also wish BBC America would show the whole of each episode. Some of the jump cuts between scenes create periodic non sequitors. It appears as though parts of the narrative are shaved off to make room for advertisements.

Trevor Eve may be one of the best actors I've ever seen.
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Away from Her (2006)
A Must See Film
12 May 2007
What makes us who we are? Are we not really the memories of our experiences, the memories of who we are in relation to others? And when those memories begin to vanish, one by one, and sometimes in whole volumes at once, in a very real sense don't we cease to exist? And what happens when others remember the less savory moments of our lives and we don't? What happens when the memory of an individual's personality no longer exists in its full context, of the interplay between light and dark moments? What if those are the only memories they have of us?

These are the various questions explored in the complex character study, "Away from Her."

Technically and artistically, the film is a wonder. My mother lived the last years of her life in a nursing home. She began living there too young, as does Fiona, played by Julie Christie. The feel of the home is exactly right. Administrator Madeleine, played perfectly by Wendy Crewson, is like every administrator I met over fifteen years. She is all business, and completely emotionally removed from her job-- except for one fleeting moment, when she turns tail and walks away from another's tragedy as quickly as she can. But I can forgive her. For her, this is self-preservation. And then there is the character whose life is predicated on empathy: nurse Veronica. I swear I knew her in all her many disguises while Mom lived and died in the nursing home. She was played with a genuine sense of compassion by Deanna Dezmari.

There was one weak performance, and it must be noted. I don't know what happened with her preparation for the role, but Olympia Dukakis was completely miscast. She simply didn't understand the character. The delivery of almost every line was flat and condescending to the audience, like she was reading from cue cards. Not good.

There are the three beautiful performances in the film. They are by Michael Murphy, Gordon Pinset (Grant, who is Fiona's husband), and Julie Christie. Pinset's voice rumbles like that of a purring cat. He and Christie played their parts with such incredible attention to detail that I knew I had seen these people in my mother's nursing home. My heart was lost to their characters as each struggled with memories-- he to have his wife remember, and she, perhaps, to forget him altogether. Michael Murphy plays Aubrey, a former executive who is left profoundly brain damaged by a viral infection. Murphy forced me to deal with his character's full range of emotions, from frustration, to love, to empathy, all with his eyes, all with his facial expressions, all without ever saying a word! What an amazing pantomime!

The film's ability to affect the viewer, to create so deep a level of pathos, is a testament to writer/director Sarah Polley's skill as an artist and love for her characters.

It is Mother's Day weekend in the U.S., and I had just taken flowers to Mom's grave before seeing the film. Needless to say, writer/director Polley almost had me in deep emotional distress several times. I am almost there, now, as I write this. And I've already told my father NOT to see this film because it will hit him too closely.

If you don't mind shedding a tear or two, or contemplating your own future in a world determined to forget who you are, this film is a MUST!
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Black Book (2006)
Whom to Trust?
21 April 2007
Whom to trust? That seems to be director Paul Verhoven's question throughout this film. The answer is one you learned back in grade school, but I won't elaborate here so as not to spoil the film for you.

The film clocks in at almost 2 1/2 hours, but is hardly noticeable as it proceeds at breakneck speed. The story is fascinating, intricate, and the characters realistic and well played. The only significant flaw is the score, which sounds like something Bernard Hermann would have written for Alfred Hitchcock or Brian DePalma ("Obsession" comes to mind). Perhaps that was the intention, as the film does bear some resemblance to Hitchcock's "The Thirty-nine Steps." If so, it just did not work for me because the pace of the images on the screen did not match the pace of the music, the former being clipped and the latter meandering.

The acting was simply excellent. I couldn't get over Carice van Houten's resemblance to Debbie Reynolds. At times she would turn her head a certain way and, wow! Astonishing! Good work by hair and makeup!

It was also kind of fun (sounds odd, I know) to watch a new World War II spy film. I think it would have worked as a film during the 40s, too, removing the "R" scenes and shooting it in black-and-white.

Anyway, I give the film a 7.75 rating. It makes for a nice afternoon at the movies. Enjoy!
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Dogville (2003)
One Word: Brilliant
29 March 2007
Perhaps you're old enough to remember when NBC aired Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" as a teleplay back in the late 70s, featuring Robbie Benson and Glynnis O'Connor as George and Emily, and Hal Holbrook as the stage manager. It was an excellent production that featured minimalist sets which helped focus attention on the story and its message.

Think of "Dogville" is "Our Town's" dark, brooding, tragic twin, with elements of a very dark Walton's episode thrown in for good measure. The same use of stark set decoration proves absolutely riveting.

This film is an intense experience from beginning to end, even though we all know what happens to us mortals when we refuse a visit from Grace, ala the Biblical story of Sodom.

The acting is a thing of wonder. It turns out Nicole Kidman isn't really a movie star. She's an independent film siren, and this is not her only indie.

I dare go no further for fear of spoiling the film.

It usually runs in America on cable/satellite on IFC: Independent Film Channel, and is well worth seeing.
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Babel (I) (2006)
We Are All Connected
13 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
You may remember the story of the Tower of Babel. All the people of the earth spoke one language, and decided to build a tower that would reach into Heaven itself. And God, ever frightened that man should become like God, went down and "confounded" man's speech and scattered mankind across the face of the earth. So, they stopped building the tower, a symbol of man's unity. They got the message.

Babel is a story about the boundaries that confound mankind's ability to live in peace and the underlying connectedness that binds all mankind, that voids all boundaries.

The story, however, shows just how connected we are, and how, despite our different ways of speaking, how we look, and how different our cultures operate and see the world, we are all connected by our common humanity to this planet, and that the innocent act of one person can set off a chain of events that affects the whole world.

It is a very, very good film. The acting is brilliant. My only fear is, for people who are not readers, the three story lines may be hard to understand as one story with three parts. Yet, this is what makes Babel such wonderful storytelling. Well done.


The film even ends with the image of a daughter, stripped naked emotionally by grief at her mother's death, and her father consoling each other as they stand on the balcony of their condo tower. Nice touch.

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NY-LON (2004– )
What A Sweet Show
14 January 2007
We are halfway through watching this on BBC America, so we don't know how it ends.

So far all I can say is this program is a wonderful surprise.

It was scheduled for the middle of the night last week on BBC America, so TIVO did it's job and we are now going through it during a very chilly weekend. It has turned the chill into a warm glow.

The storyline is completely realistic, which is always my requirement for stories of star-crossed lovers. The characters are totally plausible. The acting is top notch.

I've been a fan of Rashida Jones since she was on Boston Public. The girl's got chops! We've also seen Stephen Moyer in other projects (Midsomer Murders, Waking the Dead) and think he is ready for the big screen. The supporting actors are all excellent, and I never cease to be amazed by how well actors from the UK do American accents. They are completely believable.

Now for the writing. Simon Burke has a real ear for both America and British idioms. As a novelist myself, I will tell you this is not easy. We use completely different expressions right down to our verb tenses, and Burke seems to have both down cold. I'm a writer myself, so I pay special attention to idioms. When they're wrong, it's like nails on a chalkboard. Well done, Simon. Edie, Christine and Luke sound like Americans.

And a note about the music in this series. The music flows throughout like a Greek chorus, embellishing the plot line beautifully. A great deal of thought must have gone into that. Real artists pay attention to those kinds of details. Well, well done!

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The Queen (2006)
1997 Redux - Sad, Brilliant, Searching
4 November 2006
Warning: Spoilers
If there are really spoilers in this review, it's hard to tell. We already know the overall storyline. Even so, I checked off the spoiler box just in case.

I met Stephen Frears, the director, last year while he was promoting "Mrs. Henderson Presents". He was filming "The Queen" at the time. I am delighted by how deftly he handled such different material.

This story is a fictional explanation of why the royals, Tony Blair's cabinet, and the press reacted as they did upon the death of Princess Diana. It is not a critical look; rather, it is a "fly on the wall" perspective and, oddly enough, is very sympathetic and forgiving to all concerned. It had me in tears several times.

If there is any argument made in the piece, it is that the royals must abandon their distance from the people if the monarchy is to remain relevant and, perhaps, continue at all. Diana, the people's princess as Blair called her, demonstrated how much the royals can positively affect people by making continual contact. Distance subjects them, instead, to misunderstandings by the public, criticism by the press and public for perfectly reasonable responses and, in this particular case, and calls by the commoners for an end to the monarchy. And yet, accessibility got one of them killed by the paparazzi. It is a paradox, and Frears is not afraid to explore it.

There are some historical twists I did not know, and I'm glad the film embellished them. It is strange to imagine that Blair's wife is so pro-Republic and anti-monarch and he was still elected Prime Minister by the Labour Party. The contrast is stark between how the Blair's and royals live. As an American, the deference shown to the Queen simply turns the stomach. It angered me that the elected Prime Minister had to receive a blessing and permission from Elizabeth to form "her" new government. It was sad how she dismissed Blair initially as one of the ten other prime ministers who "sat in that chair," opposite her, the first being Winston Churchill. And yet while she was so critical of the PMs in general, she later walks by a marble statue of Churchill in Buckingham Palace. Nice touch, Frears. Nice touch.

The acting is nothing short of brilliant. Helen Mirren wins the Academy Award and BAFTA right now, if you ask me. Oddly enough, I saw the film "Calendar Girls" this week on BBC America. To see Mirren go from that role to this doesn't just demonstrate her range and skill. It shows that she inhabits the personage of the character she conjures. The difference in how she played Elizabeth I earlier this year on HBO and Elizabeth II in this film is stark, demonstrating how deeply she plumbs for the meat of her characters.

I could talk about the other actors all day. Being a BBC America addict, I am convinced there is something special about England's acting programs that makes their portrayals profoundly superior.

I can't say enough good things about this film. On a final, seemingly trivial note, the art direction is among the most detailed I've seen in years. Art directors Matthew Broderick and Franck Schwarz didn't just dress the set with meaningless nicknacks. The props, especially the paintings and drawings by Blair's children, comment on the characters and events in the story, much like a silent Greek chorus. On several occasions Blair walks by a child's painting of Picachu, the Pokémon who defeats adversaries with his, shall we say, "lightening" personality. It's an interesting comment on Blair's personality. And that, friends, is a sign of great film making.

Enjoy. I did.
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Love Soup (2005– )
A Wonderful, Oddball, Fish-Out-Of-Water Comedy Series
6 October 2006
It wasn't until the second program that the oddball charm of this series finally kicked in. But once I was into it, I found myself laughing outloud throughout each episode.

The acting is tops. The stories and commentaries within the stories are priceless. And I can't wait to see what happens next to Gil and Alice. The only two not laughing at the play, I wonder will they meet at the intermission/interval? If so, will they see instantly that they were born for each other?

My only small quibble is with the some of the expressions Gil uses. Gil is an American writer working in England. Rather than using the expressions and verb tenses he has used since childhood, he uses those from England, probably because the writers are English and not aware of the vernacular differences. With respect to verb tenses, a corporation is considered a singular expression in Aerican and a plural in Britain. For example, in America the BBC "is" singular, and the verb tense would be "The BBC is a corporation"; in England the BBC "are" a plural an the verb tense is "The BBC are a corporation". As I said, it's a small quibble. I have no problem with the native characters speaking that way. But to hear an American do it is like nails on a chalkboard to American ears.

I ask the producers and BBC America to continue on with this really funny, observant, existential comedy series. It is a kind of comedy sorely absent from American TV.
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Spooks (2002–2011)
A&E, Bring Back Spooks/MI-5!
16 August 2006
Some British crime dramas are so good you forget to breathe at times. That is the case with "Spooks", or as they called it when packaged for American TV, "MI-5".

We were introduced to some fantastic actors, tense scripts, rich characters, and harrowing images. There is a perpetual ethical struggle within and amongst the characters, as they search their way through the dark of the drugs trade, terrorism, and such.

I will never forget what I felt when watching a Muslim bomber preparing to blow-up innocent children in a playground.

Probably the best thing I could say is the program proved more than realistic; it was prophetic, given the events on 7/7/05.

That just shows the excellence of the program.

Sadly, we can no longer view it here in the states as A&E has pulled it. I am hoping they recirculate it to some of their other network channels, as they've done with "Midsomer Murder"s to the Biography Channel (honestly). Perhaps to BBC America?
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Maybe Better on the Small Screen?
24 June 2006
This is a coming-of-age story with a twist. There is more than one person coming-of-age.

In a nutshell, it is the story of an angst-ridden thirteen year old boy whose troubles are doubled by his pending bar mitzvah.

His father (Jeremy Piven) is a Hollywood agent intent on turning the bar mitzvah into a recruiting event to keep and grow his client base. This is complicated when his former partner, played by Larry Miller, throws a mega bar mitzvah for his own son, with the same intention in mind.

Piven's angst at creating the perfect bar mitzvah/recruitment event is made worse by the arrival of his hippy-like father (Gary Marshall), who is attached to an early 40-something New Ager (Daryl Hannah) and teaching English to children on the Navajo reservation. I guess it's supposed to be funny, just looking at Marshall and Hannah. Marshall's and Piven's characters are estranged, the father having walked out on Piven and his mother (Doris Roberts) 26 years earlier.

We have an angst-ridden triangle between the three men: grandfather, father, and grandson. (The trinity in a Jewish story?) Indeed, the only struggles in the story are between men. The men have no plot difficulties or unresolved issues with the women, or the women with each other. Frankly, there is no way men can have unresolved issues and not emotionally involve the women in their lives. It's just not realistic, not even in a satirical sense.

I gave this film a "4" because of the story. It has a significant flaw. There is just no moment when I felt a human connection with the three men. I was shown all the events that led to the all-important climax, and then I felt nothing. It was like discovering I had swallowed a Chicklet instead of Viagra. No emotion. No "ah ha!" moment. I was more concerned that there wasn't enough butter on my popcorn. And because I felt no emotional connection with or between the three men, I did not feel their catharsis. And that's a real problem for a coming-of-age film. There were a few nice moments between the grandfather and grandson, but that was it.

Not good.

Regardless of what several "mainstream press" critics wrote and to the writer's and director's credit, I didn't see one stereotype. There were a few undeveloped characters, caricatures really, but that, too, is the fault of the storytellers— it's lazy, not malicious.

Why it happened this way, I have no idea. Maybe they were forced to cut the film strangely or leave out things they wanted put in, due to money constraints. It just doesn't work.

The acting was fine, featuring some of the best actors on television today. That made it marginally watchable. Maybe television is where this film should have been sold. I see this as a Starz film. Not quite HBO or Showtime material. IFC or Sundance will be its home in about six months.

I counsel the writer and director to learn from this experience. You have to flesh out your characters more and let us in on their inner struggles. Don't tell us. Show us. That's what makes drama and comedy work, especially on film. Make us as tense as the characters appear because of the conflicts within the situation, and then resolve the audience's and characters' tensions at the same time. To paraphrase Woody Allen, if it's a comedy, make us bend with the character; if it's a drama, make us break.

For example, don't match Richard Benjamin's Bill-O'Reilly-loving rabbi character with Marshall's tolerant grandfather, and do nothing with it. That could have been some very funny stuff as the two men synthesize their worldviews. Instead… pffft. Nothing.

And finally, have a bigger theme— something the audience can sink its teeth into. I'm still not quite sure what it is. (And I won't venture a guess, because I don't want to spoil the ending for anybody.) Go back and watch how Chaplin created and then unknotted tension in "City Lights", how Sam Woods did it in "A Night at the Opera", how Marshall did it in "The Flamingo Kid" (another coming-of-age story), or even how it's done in the simplest episode of Piven's "Entourage". Have somebody check the treatment and script thoroughly for theme, conflict and catharsis. Then try it again.

I don't want this to sound angry or mean-spirited. But the situation within the film was just lousy with potential for a better film. It was all wasted. And that's a shame.
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Well Done, Impeccable Data, Incontrovertible Conclusions
10 June 2006
First let me say there has been a wonderful rebirth of the documentary film, beginning with Michael Moore. A well made documentary is now just as likely to draw a good crowd as the latest schlock from Hollywood.

And that's good news.

This film is spot-on one of the most important films ever made. It lays out the argument, building some pretty incontrovertible, direct correlations between the man-made build-up of CO2 gasses and the rise in the earth's temperature these last 14 years.

One bit of data is already dated, though, and I wish they would have fixed it. In the film Gore discusses a core ice sample taken in Antarctica that gives a representation of atmospheric CO2 roughly half a million years ago. It showed no comparable period of CO2 buildup in all that time. And Gore says it goes back the farthest of any study. In the last several weeks, the results of an Arctic ice sample going back 50+ million years ago were published. The conclusion was that green house gases do heat up the earth, as they are doing now, causing the Arctic and Antarctic ices to melt. There can be other reasons for warm ups, but clearly green house gasses are involved and appear to be the principle cause.

As you read the reviews of the film, you will likely encounter right- and left-wing politics galore. Just a few days ago the White House decided to cut NASA's funding for global warming studies. They don't like the conclusions so, like in all totalitarian countries, they make the problem "go away" by ignoring it.

Except this is a problem that won't be politicked or ignored.

It's not something public opinion or voting can change.

Global warming either is or is not happening. Warming's root cause either is or is not being created now by human CO2 emissions from our technologies. Warming will or will not slowly cook and boil the earth, compromising the ability of the planet to sustain life.

If those who agree with data are wrong, then nothing bad will happen by cutting back on CO2 gas production. If anything, the technological revolution created to stop CO2 emissions will be great for all economies, creating new jobs.

If those who disagree, based on God knows what, that the earth is not warming due to these reasons and they are wrong, we're cooked. Literally.

For American businesses, if the rest of the world perceives, rightly or wrongly, that the American automobile is a principle cause of the warming, they will stop buying our stuff. We will have one less good to export. Our trade deficit will bleed the country dry of capital that much faster, sinking us deeper and deeper into economic ruin. As it is, Gore illustrates that we have a tough time selling into the rest of the world because its MPG standards are out of reach of American cars. This is not good for America as an economic power.

We can't afford to be wrong about this, either ecologically or economically.

And Al Gore's film explains why not.

Go see it.

Left or right, rich or poor, science-minded or religious, go see it.

And pray.
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Rocket Man (2005– )
Top Notch Storytelling, Acting, Direction
21 May 2006
First, the program is just beautiful. It makes my heart sing every week, much as Ballykissangel and Monarch of the Glen did.

In Britain, you have something we don't in American television. You have the tradition of the McGuffin-- the reason for the trip, as Alfred Hitchcock once explained it. Your television dramas and comedies are infinitely richer for it.

In Rocket Man, the McGuffin is the idea of sending Bethan Stevenson's ashes into space. It is incidental to what the story arc is really about: the relationships of all the people in this Welsh township and the resurrection of their pride in themselves and each other.

Until George began his project, the spirit of the town and its people were as dead as Barney's, well, "attempts" at getting his wife pregnant.

Each week, the personalities and hidden talents of the people and the township unfurl like a parachute falling from the sky.

It seems everybody rallies around George and his impossible dream, including the Asian owner of the candy factory at which the former employees of the local factory now work.

Just brilliant! And I LOVE the symbolism being used throughout. Bravo to Allison Hume (the writer) and David Strong (the director) for that.

This is the fourth program in which I've seen Mr. Green perform. That each one is a magnificent ensemble piece, from Touching Evil to Wire in the Blood to Christmas Lights and now Rocket Man, is a testament to Mr. Green's uncanny ability to pick quality script material. Having acted in high school and college theater myself, friends, that is no small task.

I sincerely hope BBC America telecasts Northern Lights 1 and, as I understand it, 2 when it is available. I also hope that they continue to telecast each new episode of Wire in the Blood and anything else in which Mr. Green appears.

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Cliché Love Story Left Me Bored
16 February 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Academy Award voters will likely give "Brokeback Mountain" the Oscar for Best Picture.

The decision will be political rather than artistic, because it is a story about gay lovers. And that's a pity. Film is an artistic medium, first and foremost. If a film is didactic and awards are to be given, then they should be given for how artistically well the message was delivered and not for the message itself.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a pro gay-rights liberal. I believe two people who love each other should be allowed under the law to marry, regardless of their sex. I have gay and trans-gender friends and acquaintances. If two people can love each other enough to want to make that commitment, my blessings are with them.

Perhaps because I'm not at all "shocked" by the gay relationship, I approached this film strictly as a story of star-crossed lovers. On that level it is uninspiring and pedestrian. Worse, it is cliché. And that is unforgivable given the film's intent.

When dealing with the story motif of "star-crossed lovers", there are usually two sets of conflicts: internal and external. The internal conflicts take place within and between the lovers… in their souls and within their immediate, intimate relationship. The external conflicts are between those inside the intimate relationship and those outside it who want it stopped and, sometimes even worse, want the lovers punished because of it.

The external conflicts are kept to a minimum, here, and dispatched quickly. They may account for 10 percent of the film. That being the case, this is a film that focuses on the internal conflicts. Because film is a visual medium, this can be a problem because internal conflicts of the soul are not terribly visual. They tend to work better in literature because we can read the characters' thoughts. As a result, directors tend to rely on external symbols as metaphors for the internal conflicts. That is fine with me, except this is how Ang Lee's work descends to cliché.

The various clichés include: the men as shepherds (perhaps a connection to Matthew Shepard, the poor young man killed in Wyoming for being gay); sudden changes in weather, including flash snow storms and thunder; gentle sheep contrasted with a craggy, jagged landscapes; an unsettled feeling that the tent is not set-up right; unending meals of beans (lack of variety); the threat of wolves; following the first gay sex, a sheep is killed by a wolf followed by the wolf's inferred death, his tale hanging from a pole; the shepherd man on horseback rides into a stream clearing, startling a huge bear who roars at him furiously, frightening off the shepherd and his pack mules. These are as cliché as symbols can get.

CAUTION! A SPOILER IS COMING. DON'T READ FURTHER IF YOU DON'T WANT THE PLOT LINE TO BE SPOILED! There is only one really good symbol, and it is actually for the external conflicts. One of the men dies under questionable circumstances—he was changing a tire when it blew out and the rim hit him in the forehead and killed him, though the lover suspects he was killed ala Matthew Shepard (and another Wyoming connection, BTW). Half of his cremated remains are spread in Texas and the other half is sent to his parents in Wyoming with instructions that they be spread on Brokeback Mountain. The father will not allow it. These will be interred in the family plot. The truth of the relationship will be buried within the family and schism between two worlds, Texas and Wyoming, gay and straight, will stand even in death. It's a very good bit of symbolism.

So when the visual metaphors of a story of internal conflict prove cliché and, therefore, fail to drive the emotions of the piece, we must rely on dialog to do the job.

Unfortunately, we are left to suffer Marry McMurtry's (Lonesome Dove) suffocating staccato style. One man's a talker. The other is Gary Cooper in "The Westerner". He doesn't talk much, though he does kick stuff once in a while. Yup! For me the story fails because it doesn't inspire the kind of emotional connections one should feel from a story of star-crossed lovers. The best example of this kind of film for me is Zeffirelli's "Romeo and Juliet". Obviously you can't beat Shakespeare for the dialog. But the visuals that are married to this dialog allow the film to soar, fully supporting the word paintings with images worthy of the words.

About the acting, I don't understand how come guys from Wyoming sound like they're from Oklahoma. I live in Colorado. I've been to Wyoming. People don't talk that way. In Southern and Western Wyoming, they speak with a flat, mid-western accent. In the Northeastern part of the state, they sound like they're from the Dakotas (think the movie "Fargo", but not quite as extreme). This interpretation is a real a problem because, even here, we are dealing with cliché. Why? Judging this film solely as an artistic love story, "Brokeback Mountain" failed for me. I was bored. If I was watching on HBO, I'd have been searching for the remote about halfway through. If it was not for the shock value of the gay relationship, this film would be forgotten as quickly as "The Squid and the Whale", another poorly rendered love story.

This film will win Best Picture. It shouldn't. Of the three Best Picture nominees I've seen so far, "Capote" should.
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Thoroughly Enjoyable Entertainment
30 December 2005
I had the privilege of seeing this film at a preview a few weeks ago. The real privilege was having Stephen Frears hold a Q&A session after. You don't experience that everyday.

In a very odd way, this is a 1930s film with very tastefully done nudity.

The acting is top notch through and through. The writing is funny, sharp and meaningful, mixing humor with the tragedies of wartime London. It is filmed beautifully.

If it should come to your town or if, one day, it shows up on BBA America or a cable/satellite movie channel, please be sure to see it.

Pathe and BBC do it again!
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