Posts Tagged ‘Movie Review’

A Movie Gimmick Quiz

February 23, 2011

We went to see the movie “Unknown” last night. That’s the new thriller-mystery starring Irish actor Liam Neeson as the scientist who survives a near fatal accident and coma on a professional trip to Berlin, only to find that some other man has assumed his identity and that even his wife doesn’t seem to know him.

I wouldn’t spoil the rest of this story for anything. If you like fast-moving plots with a lot of intriguing thought planted deep inside both the major story line and the actions of the major characters, you don’t want to miss this one. “Unknown” is the best of its kind to come along in quite a while and Liam Neeson is simply perfect in this role as the beleaguered academic who suddenly finds himself as the “stranger in a strange land.”

Everything resolves in the end – and I don’t think you will figure out the whole set of answers in your own mind before the dust all clears. If that does happen, then we need to immediately  put you in charge of the search for Osama bin Laden.

The movie did not completely escape film story cliché. It inspired me to prepare the following brief quiz on what certain things mean when you see them in a movie. Not all of these are from the movie “Unknown,” but I’m betting you will not need an answer list to score a perfect 100% on this test. What follows are ten general movie facts. Read them over and then select the best one of four multiple choice answers as to what they each mean when you see them in a film:

(1) One of the characters has a cough.

(a) He needs a cough drop; (b) It will go away; (c) He needs to see a doctor; (d) He’s going to die.

(2) A woman walking home on a deserted street late at night hears the footsteps of someone following her.

(a) She is about to get the news that she is a lottery winner; (b) Her mother is checking up on her again; (c) It’s just a stranger and has nothing to do with her; (d) She is going to die.

(3) A young couple moves into an apartment building that has graffiti scribbled all over the interior hallways.

(a) The building’s interior designer is on vacation; (b) The couple’s new neighbors are preparing a “welcome wagon” greeting; (c) One of their neighbors turns out to be Andy Warhol and another is Jackson Pollack; (4) As for the young couple, he or she, or both, will be attacked and left for dead before movie’s end.

(4) A young man moves to the city and then can’t decide between marriage to his sober childhood sweetheart back home or the exciting city girl he then meets who likes to drink and party a lot.

(a) He marries the girl from back home and lives happily ever after; (b) He marries several drinking city girls in a row and lives happily ever after for a while each time; (c) He marries the sober girl from back home, stays married, and finally dies of boredom; (d) He finds happiness by staying single.

(5) Pages suddenly blow violently loose from a calendar on the wall near an open window,

(a) Time passes; (b) tornado winds have stricken the city; (c) This is an existential movie and the blowing pages have no meaning beyond this moment in time; (d) Some combination of the first three choices.

(6) An attractive woman walks into the office of a down-on-his-luck chain-smoking detective to ask for his help.

(a) She needs help locating a black bird figurine; (b) She is an e-cigarette nicotine vapor inhalation system sales person; (c) 95% of what she tells the detective will be a lie; (d) Proving why he is a down-and-outer, the detective will find and choose to believe the 5% she tells him that is true.

(7) In a classic thriller-horror movie, the heroic couple survives a night of terror by pushing the monster out a window or down the stairs to his apparent death and then prepares to walk out of the place on their own way to safety and relief.

(a) The monster lives long enough to grab somebody by the leg and fight one last time before he’s finally slain for keeps; (b) The heroic couple gets away, but, when the camera flashes back to where we last saw the monster drop, there’s no one there as “The End” line plays across the screen with a question mark;; (c) If the movie is old enough, there’s a good chance the monster was played by Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, or Vincent Price; (d) People easily rise from the dead in these kinds of movies.

(8) When Mars attacks …

(a) Remember this fact: Except for that Michael Rennie film from way back, “The Day the Earth Stood Still,”  the aliens never come in peace. They always come to kill people and plunder Planet Earth; (b) It probably will take a real invasion by Earth aliens to rally all Earthlings to the same side of their mutual cause with all others; (c) Martians are vulnerable to destruction by protracted exposure to Country & Western music; (d) Martians may be conditioned into states of greater affinity for humans through protracted exposure to the music of Lady Gaga.

(9) If you see a Roman chariot racer wearing a wrist watch in Ben Hur ….

(a) You are watching a time traveler from the 21st century NASCAR circuit; (b) The watch will have a sun dial face with no second-hand; (c) It is likely that you have converted an ancient urban legend about the watch-wearing charioteer into your personal hallucinatory delusion;  (d) the film’s continuity editor was out to lunch on the days that this scene was both shot and edited for inclusion in the go-t0-market print.

(10) The overriding message of a film like “Avatar” is …

(a) leave simple cultures alone and their unadulterated presences in the world will make Planet earth a safer, more loving, and more civilized place;  (b) oil exploration corporations, from the Gulf of Mexico to the planet featured in “Avatar,” are the great spoilers of our interplanetary environment and the same greedy groups that produce enough salaries to make movies and their widespread attendance both popular and affordable; (c) if we all could own and operate working avatar bodies in the brick and mortar world, many of us would be in Florida or Arizona for spring training right now; (d) for as long as the subject remains open and credibly reachable at any age, keep dreaming of what you want to do when you grow up,

And while you’re at it, have a nice Wednesday.

Angels in the Outfield

February 9, 2011

The 1951 Original Happened in Pittsburgh

Guffy McGovern (Paul Douglas) was a mean, disagreeable, cantankerous, foul-mouthed, insensitive, press-baiting manager  for a mid-twentith century Pittsburgh club that languished in last place in the National League and just seemed to get worse from there. They never called them the “Pirates” in this 1951 original version of “Angels in the Outfield,” but we all knew who they were.

One day, McGovern starts hearing voices. The voices tell him that they are angels, and that they have been sent to Pittsburgh to help him turn the team around. (Wow! The plot makes you wonder how many Pittsburgh managers have lived that same wish in reality, even up to the 2011 season!)

McGovern doesn’t believe until the angels do a little “tell and show” demonstration of their powers at the ballpark (someplace they generically call “Pittsburgh Stadium’) and McGovern is forced to concede mild faith, as long as he doesn’t have to share the news with anyone else. McGovern doesn’t want anybody to think he’s nuts.

The secret loop of what’s happening doesn’t sty secret for long. As the Pirates start winning, a couple of females get into Guffy’s hair about the Pittsburgh turnaround. One is Jennifer Paige (Janet Leigh), a female reporter from back in the day this kind of work was too masculine for women. – The other is a little orphan girl named Bridgit White (Donna Corcoran), who has been coming to the games with the nuns who take care of her as a really big fan who actually prays for the team.  Bridgit claims to actually see angels in the outfield that are making plays for Pittsburgh.

That's little Bridgit, next to the nun.

If you’ve seen the movie, then, most probably,  you already have figured out that these angels in the outfield were an even greater performance enhancing agent then steroids would become just a few decades down the road. Nobody could stop Pittsburgh, not even “St. Louis” playing at home in “St. Louis Stadium.”

The plot spins around the axis of faith. Will the grumpy Guffy trust the female reporter with the truth about his own experiences? Will the little girl be able to soften the Pittsburgh manager’s heart to her own level of childlike belief in the power of miracles? Will McGovern become the kind of man who is capable of having a good relationship with a woman and even grow up enough himself to become an emotional father to a little girl in need of a daddy?

Yeah, I know. There was a lot of soap opera sewn into this old baseball movie, but it worked pretty well. One other character serves as the villain of this little morality play. Keenan Wynn plays Fred Bayles, the worst radio play-by-play man you will ever hear. Bayles is out to get McGovern fired from Day One. He spends the movie scoffing at the possibility of Angel-Help and, even though he seems to be an employee of the Pittsburgh club, he always reports their successes on the field with gloom and doom. Even when the Pirates win the pennant on the last day of the season, all broadcaster Bayles can say in flat monotone speech is: “That’s it. Final out. Pittsburgh wins. See you next year.”

At that point, we see Guffy embracing and hugging his players, Janet Leigh, and the little girl. Up in the broadcasting booth, an invisible force then pushes Keenan Wynn’s hat down over his eyes. When he raises it up again in startled amazement, it’s just in time to see angel feathers drifting down around his broadcasting mike.

The End.

And all of us kids from 1951 got to then leave the movie house and go home to our own theaters of the mind on the sandlot.

The 1994 re-make of “Angels” with Danny Glover was pretty good too, but it wasn’t around in 1951, when the real cultivation of hope was taking place for me through my life as a kid in the Houston East End. Check it out on Turner Classic Movies, if you get the chance. Among the old knee-deep-in-sentiment baseball movies, the Paul Douglas version of “Angels in the Outfield” was one of the best.

Secretariat Soars!

October 15, 2010


Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973 by taking the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths. This single photo tells the end-result story of the great horse beyond all words. If you saw it happen in person, or if you were among the millions who watched on TV, you never forgot it, but what's the larger lesson for all of us?.


A couple of nights ago, we finally got to see Secretariat, the much ballyhooed movie about the arguably greatest racehorse of all time. It did not disappoint this lifelong sucker for stories about the little guy’s triumphs over adversity, even if the great horse in this instance was no everyday Joe by bloodline. He was born of champions and he ran with a will and apparent awareness of what he was doing that made him seem almost human to those who were closest to him.

Human? Secretariat didn’t have to be human to be great. He was simply the greatest horse in organized racing history. Better than any horse who came before him. Better than any horse who has come after him.

Secretariat didn’t have to believe in himself to be a great horse, but he was still a horse. He needed the help of humans who believed in him – and themselves. Fortunately he found them in the form of his owner, Penny Chenery, and the others she assembled for achieving the same aim, winning the Triple Crown.

For those of you who don’t know, the Triple Crown in horse racing is the consecutive trio of races for three-year horses that run every season from May into June at the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness in Maryland, and the Belmont Stakes in New York. When Secretariat won them all in 1973, he was the first to do so in twenty-five years and the 1948 success of a previous great horse named Citation. Secretariat did it with record-breaking times in the Derby and Preakness, and with that signature 31-length victory photo in the Belmont.

All that being said, there is an even more profound underlying story here in Secretariat the Movie than that wonderful tale of a magnificent horse. It is the story that faces all of us in life, whether we ever wake up to it or not. And it most likely has nothing to do with achieving greatness in the eyes of the world.

It is simply this: Are we going to wake up to the call of living the life we were meant to live, no matter what? Or are we going to quietly bury ourselves in a life that protects us from the possible failure of our most passionate dreams?

In Secretariat, Penny Chenery is living a quiet life In Colorado as a housewife and mom when she receives the news from her childhood home in Kentucky that her mother has died. She goes home to the family horse farm to confront the reality that her mom is gone and that her dad is living fragile in the latter stages of Alzheimer’s and that he is being cheated everyday by the trainer that was hired to take care of things.

Penny makes excuses to stay awhile following the funeral of her mom. She fights off  her brother and husband from a decision to sell the farm and decides to stay and run it herself. She fires the crook who had been planning to sell off the farm’s horses for kickback money and stars thinking like the horse woman she was always groomed to be.

How Penny’s dream got buried in the lifestyle of a housewife wasn’t covered, but it isn’t hard to figure. The movie begins in 1969, the tail end of an era in which women often buried their personal careers by the act of getting married. In the movie, Penny’s husband and kids simply accept Penny’s decision to stay in Kentucky for a while as she begins to put the family horse farm back together.

In short, Penny Chenery (Diane Lane) finds the right horse, the right trainer (John Malkovich as Lucien Lauren), the right jockey (Otto Thorwarth as Ron Turcotte), and the right groomer (Nelsan Ellis as Eddie Sweat) to help her get the job done. She already as strong supportive house director (Margo Martindale as Miss Ham) to cover her back on every emotional-legal front that arises.

As the “team” grooms Secretariat for the 1973 Triple Crown on thin financial ice, Penny reaches a point where she could the guarantee saving the farm by selling the great horse for $7-8 million dollars – or else, risk it all by syndicating the future breeding rights and taking her chances that the horse is great enough to win it all. By this time, her father also has died.

Here comes the lesson.

In a dramatic scene. Chenery evokes the memory of her dad, saying something along the lines that she cannot bear the burden of living with a regret that she had not tried to do the thing she really believed in – and in this case, that meant believing in Secretariat’s ability to win it all. “Daddy always said we could make our peace with failure and poverty, but that we could never live well with the regret that we had not tried to do something we really believed in.”

When Penny makes this little speech to her entire team, they are all resolved to the same end: Believe in Secretariat and go for it! Trainer Lucien even commemorates his resolve by ceremonially burning his collection of famous races he had lost with other horses in the past.

Of course, in this famous example, Secretariat comes through in a manner that absolutely destroys all competition and vindicates the trust his human friends have placed in him, That is the celebration of that famous photo we used at the beginning of this story. Before the Belmont’s third and final jewel in the Triple Crown found its placement, many questioned Secretariat’s stamina for winning the mile and a half run that had had vanquished so many “great” horses before him.

Stamina? All Secretariat did was win the Belmont by 31 lengths over the next nearest horse. In the home stretch at Belmont, Secretariat appeared as though he were simply taking a solitary practice run around the track. His margin of victory defied all credibility.

Still, as I wrote earlier, I really think Secretariat is about something that is far more everyday and ordinary than winning the Triple Crown or World Series, but it does include these great achievements in life. It’s just that, most often, the “Penny Chenery Story” is about waking up to who we really are, being the complete persons we were always intended to be, living with the rise or fall of whatever we undertake from the heart in the name of passion and love, and not creaking into old age with the always growing regret that we never even tried to sing the song of our souls.

We can live in peace with failed effort. We can not rest well with the regret that we never even tried. We all need to find our own inner Secretariat and make our own run, no matter how quiet it may be to the rest of the world. There may not even be a finish line or scoreboard involved in that thing we do.

When we find our mission, we simply do it because we are called upon to do it in the name of love and creativity.