Archive for the 'Television' Category

Cultural MVPs

Given that I picked up this review opportunity in a rather eleventh-hour fashion, I did not know was that Thurgood is essentially a filmed take on a tour-de-force one-man stage show written by George Stevens Jr. Rather than a standard biopic, we are here presented with the faux reminiscences of an aged Marshall as he “returns” to alma mater Howard University for a lecture to a “friendly audience.” As Marshall warms up to his topic—his personal involvement in turning the tide against American apartheid—he casts off his cracking voice, shuffling gait, and cane, rejuvenated by Fishburne’s energetic portrayal of a modern man of justifiably mythic proportions.

The Heart of Christmas
Never Mind the Title

Apparently, it’s been hard getting the word out about this film, which is, as near as I can tell, a marginally fictionalized account of young Dax Locke’s ill-fated battle with Leukemia. By the time Dax is two years old, x-rays show he’s got a tumor in his brain. Tests quickly diagnose Leukemia, and his parents’ lives are naturally derailed. The made-for-TV movie doesn’t follow Dax, though—it follows Dax’s mom and dad, who must come to grips with the “ultimate bad news” that Matthew West sings about in the title song. Cameron and Neilson are very appealing as the female leads here, and Dax’s story is certainly worth hearing about. But really… this has precious little to do with Christmas. The connection is incidental at best.

Two Brothers
A Slice of Two Lives

The notion is that a life examined has far more potential than the usual quiet desperation, and for the last ten years Stevenson has followed a fairly large cadre of kids who are now young adults. Two Brothers is the first feature-length documentary fashioned from the footage gathered over that period. Ten years ago, Sam and Luke Nelson were pretty typical gradeschoolers. Luke was the scrappy little brother, Sam the older—who tended to bully his siblings. Then Stevenson stepped in and started his standard interviewing, plus probing inquiries regarding the relationship between the brothers. And a funny thing started to happen. As Sam and Luke both started seeing the contrast between the way things were and the way they wished things could be, their reality started changing.

The Shunning
Don't Miss It

The beauty with which Landon’s camera captures Hickory Hollow and its people is so loving as to be a very, very weak indictment of Amish faith and values. Sure, Katie may look hip tripping down a city street in designer-store clothes to a pop-rock soundtrack—but does anyone actually think that the city is a more attractive place to live? Landon’s film, at the very least, doesn’t seem to find much beauty there. I’ll go out on a limb here and postulate that the team assembled by the film’s producers yielded a unique chemistry—which in turn sparked a compelling and remarkable film. I wouldn’t say it moved me—but it held me. And you know I’m not exactly the film’s target demographic.

Prime Suspect
Good Show

Prime Suspect, which debuted in 1991 starring Helen Mirren as Scotland Yard’s first female Detective Chief Inspector, was groundbreaking in myriad ways. First and foremost, it was a frank and frankly ugly look at the ways that entrenched sexism hindered not only the advancement of women within the ranks of the Yard but how it also hindered the investigations themselves. Suffice to say that there’s a decent mystery here that I won’t say much about, as the rather languid intensity of the program would be spoilt by overanalysis. But there are enough seeming red herrings that, even after the mystery is “solved,” you’ll be wondering if Tennison actually “got her man” when the final credits roll.

Shaun the Sheep: Animal Antics
Just Fun

In my favorite of this seven-episode bunch, “Whistleblower,” the farmer charges watchdog Bitzer with cleanup of the farm in a form of frustrated (and naturally misguided) delegation. With Bizter cracking the whip (and ditching his whistle in favor of a trumpet), the herd’s usual beach-loungey afternoon turns to mayhem as Shaun and company repair stone fences, paint the house, mow the lawn, and mend the gate. That’s about it. And it’s enough. There’s no deep meaning here, no Aesopian moral, no symbolism rife with import. No, this is just good-naturedness in small doses. Who could ask for more?

Field of Vision
Worth Spending Time On

Star Faith Ford, who plays Tyler and Lucy’s mother in NBC’s Field of Vision June 11, said during a screening/chat-session earlier this week that she was drawn to the project because “it had a lot of heart with a message, without being preachy.” That’s true. The story is personal for Ford, too. “I had personal experiences with bulling in elementary school,” she told one chat participant, “because I was a shy, skinny child. … Different children are targets. ‘Small, heavy, skinny, etc.’ all are prime targets for bullying.”

Looking for Fidel
Finding Very Little New

Castro is not exactly a mystery to Americans. Even before the Bay of Pigs incident, or the Cuban Missile Crisis, Castro was already a figure of mythic proportions well-bolstered by all manner of eccentric newsreel footage. So when Stone’s cameramen focus on Castro’s claw-like fingernails, the oddly intermittent soundtrack intrudes with some circus-sideshow riffs, or Castro launches into one of his trademark mild tirades, all Stone manages is to reinforce old clichés. I’d hardly call that a discovery.

Truth Be Told
Nicely Updated Screwball Romance

Because this is a formula film, there’s no question at all about whether Mark and Annie will get together—so there’s absolutely no spoiler on that front. In films like this, the fun comes from seeing how they get there—and Candace Cameron Bure and David James Elliot make getting there with Annie and Mark awfully appealing. Under the steady and even inspired direction of TV veteran actor Jonathan Frakes, Cameron Bure and Elliot generate the best chemistry of this sort that I’ve seen in a long time. The movie’s tag line is, “A lie brought them together. Will the truth pull them apart?” In true screwball fashion, a simple moral lesson is here delivered with a couple spoonfuls of very tasty sugar.

Eyewitness to Jesus
Can’t Be Pinned Down

The last hundred years or so of biblical manuscript scholarship has generally eroded confidence in the historicity of New Testament accounts of Jesus’ life and words, so the makers of Eyewitness to Jesus can legitimately look on the work of the late German national archaeologist Carsten Thiede as iconoclastic. A great deal is at stake in quarrels over manuscript analysis. So that’s kind of the interesting part of this documentary, originally produced in episodes for The Travel Channel. As long as the narrator keeps us focused on the papyri themselves and the work of scribes and analysts, we’re on compelling ground. Where we get off in the weeds is the travelogue nature of the story.

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