To: (Multiple email addresses may be specified by separating them with a comma)
Nova: Why the Towers Fell (2002)
This PBS documentary reveals some of the other, more complicated causes of the World Trade Center's implosion with interviews with the buildings’ designer, engineer Leslie Robertson, and a careful analysis of their construction by experts like MIT's Dr. Thomas Eagar.
When Robertson conceived the 110-story skyscrapers in 1966, he developed innovative techniques that allowed for the creation of more rentable office space. At the time no one imagined the structures would ever be struck by anything like two Boeing 762 jets moving at high velocity.
Filmmakers Garfield Kennedy and Larry Klein follow investigators as they test building materials, calculate the role of jet fuel in the collapse, estimate the aircrafts’ speed and examine the effectiveness of the escape and fire protection systems. There are also moving interviews with rescue personnel and the attack's survivors.
Some movies that are box-office flops during their theatrical distribution finally connect with their target audience when they're released in video and DVD. Disney's Newsieshas developed cult status among younger viewers.
An energetic, well-choreographed musical, it is set in 1899 when the boys who sell newspapers on city street corners are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Publisher Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall) raises the papers’ wholesale cost, practically eliminating the newsies’ already small profit margin. Street-smart Jack Kelly (Christian Bale) and the more cerebral David Jacobs (David Moscow) organize a picket line of fellow orphans and runaways to resist.
There are brawls, chases, betrayals and conflicts with the police. Among the boys’ allies are reporter Brian Benton (Bill Pullman) and his singing-and-dancing friend, vaudevillian Medda Larkson (Ann-Margret). The songs are fun to listen to even though the score didn't produce any platinum-selling hits.
The Four Feathers (1939)
This 1902 A. E.W. Mason novel has been made into a movie seven times. The most recent, starring Heath Ledger and Wes Bentley, is to be released in the next few weeks. The version against which it and all others are measured is this pre-World War II English production.
A stirring saga of cowardice, courage and redemption, The Four Feathers is set during the British Imperial Wars of the 19th century. The aristocratic Harry Faversham (John Clements) resigns his army commission to marry Ethne Burroughs (Jane Duprez). His former comrades (Ralph Richardson, Donald Gray and Jack Allen), disapprove, giving him three white feathers that symbolize cowardice before they depart for Sudan. Surprisingly, his wife presents him with a fourth. Faversham decides to prove his mettle and follows his buddies on his own, disguising himself as a Muslim tribesman to save them when all looks lost. Director Zoltan Korda combines magnificent battle sequences with intense personal moments. The uprising's Muslim leader (John Laurie) may remind some viewers of Osama bin Laden.
BY JOHN PRIZER
The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg (1999)
Sports stars often do more than win games and break records. Their fame can become a symbol of an underdog ethnic group's integration into the American mainstream. Everyone remembers the importance of base-ball's Jackie Robinson to African-Americans. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg is an Oscar-nominated, feature-length documentary about Robinson's Jewish-American equivalent.
“Hammerin’ Hank” was the son of immigrant parents from Romania who became a star slugger for the Detroit Tigers in the 1930s and '40s. Greenberg endured occasional ethnic slurs on the field and, during a crucial game on Yom Kippur, he chose to attend synagogue rather than play. Director Aviva Kempner successfully combines archival sports footage with interviews with former team-mates, baseball greats, broadcasters, sportswriters and family members. The result is a nice balance between Greenberg's achievements on the diamond, his personal life and the larger sociological context. Actor Walter Matthau and superlawyer Alan Dershowitz testify as to how the home-run hitter inspired them. Even viewers who aren't baseball fans will find the movie a treat.
Fly Away Home (1996)
Young children are almost always devastated by the death of their mother. Fly Away Home, based on Bill Lishman's real-life memoir, shows us how this loss can also transform the life of the surviving parent as well. The 13-year-old Amy Alden (Anna Paquin) has never had much of a relationship with her eccentric inventor father, Thomas (Jeff Daniels). When her mother is killed in an auto accident, she feels no emotional support from him and retreats into her own solitary world.
The discovery of some goose eggs in a marsh near her home changes everything. After they hatch, she carefully nurtures the goslings' growth and recovers her love of life.
Amy's father has the scientific knowledge to help teach the geese how to migrate South for the winter, and he slowly develops a close bond with his daughter as they work together on this project.
BY John prizer
Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens (2000)
Walt Disney was not the only genius working in animated films during Hollywood's golden age. Chuck Jones: Extremes and In-Betweens, a feature-length PBS documentary, explores the career and creations of the legendary writer-director of Warner Bros.’ best cartoons. For more than 60 years, audiences have enjoyed his beloved characters — Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Road Runner, Wile E. Coyote, Pepe Le Pew and others. Filmmaker Margaret Selby mixes clips from Jones’ best work with interviews with Steven Speilberg, Robin Williams, Whoopi Goldberg, Matt Groening (The Simpsons), Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) and John Lasseter (the Toy Story series), among others.
Jones’ cartoons aren't meant exclusively for children. They were intended to play in theaters as sixminute lead-ins to feature films for grown-ups. His well-defined characters embody cleverly exaggerated human qualities that are immediately recognizable. Jones’ comic timing and narrative economy have never been matched.
The Love Bug (1969)
Most car movies celebrate speed, risk-taking and an intense competitive spirit. The Love Bug, a Walt Disney live-action classic about racing, is a sweet, slapstick comedy that emphasizes kindness and a good heart instead. Jim Douglas (Dean Jones) is an over-the-hill race driver who buys a Volkswagen Beetle nicknamed Herbie. The vehicle's previous owner, the unscrupulous race driver Thorndyke (David Tomlinson), had mistreated him, and Herbie appreciates the loving care he receives from Jim.
Jim's friend, Tennessee (Buddy Hackett), suggests he enter the Volkswagen in a dirt-track race. Much to everyone's surprise, Herbie wins it and several others. Neither Jim nor the rest of the movie's human characters realize the Volkswagen has a mind of its own. Both kids and adults will enjoy the story's winning ways.
During World War II there was a fear of sabotage on American soil that's in some ways similar to our current worries about terrorism. Director Alfred Hitchcock skillfully dramatizes these concerns in this imaginative thriller. It develops a common Hitchcock theme found also in his masterworks, The Thirty-Nine Steps and North by Northwest. An innocent man is pursued both by the authorities (who've falsely accused him of a crime) and the real villains (who want to kill him before he tells the truth to the authorities).
Most memorable are the two New York City chase scenes. The first is a gunfight in Radio City Movie Hall during a gangster film; the other is a spectacular struggle atop the Statue of Liberty.
BY John Prizer
The Counterfeit Traitor (1962)
Christian faith is often neglected as a motive in the resistance to Nazi tyranny.
The Counterfeit Traitor, based on a real-life incident, is primarily an espionage adventure about a cynical opportunist who winds up doing the right thing in spite of himself. But it also examines issues of belief. Eric Erickson (William Holden) is an American-born Swedish oilman who's trading profitably with the Germans during World War II. Blackmailed into working for Allied intelligence, he recruits sympathetic German friends and is allowed to visit all the Nazi refineries, which he scopes out as future bombing targets.
Eric falls in love with his main German contact, Marianne Mollendorf (Lili Palmer), a practicing Christian who's placed in great danger by their missions. Writer-director George Seaton (Miracle on 34th Street) subtly examines the workings of her conscience. The movie's suspense is as involving as its characters’ interior moral conflicts.
Saudi Time Bomb (2001)
One of the unsettling consequences of the Sept. 11 bombings is the realization that Saudi Arabia, a long-time U.S. ally, may no longer be trustworthy in the fight against fundamentalist Islamic terrorism. Writer-producers Martin Smith and Lowell Bregman examine some of the reasons why in Saudi Time Bomb, a 60-minute PBS documentary. They skillfully combine archival footage with interviews with former U.S. officials like James Baker, Brent Scowcroft and Richard Holbrooke. For balance there are also brief analyses by Middle East experts from the region.
Particularly disturbing are the connections established between the Saudi royal family and the extreme form of Islam called Wahabism. The movie traces how their “madrassas,” or religious schools, have spread their fanatic, militaristic message across the globe to places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bosnia, among others.
Beau Geste (1939)
The deserts of the Middle East were once a favorite Hollywood setting for exotic tales of mystery and adventure. Beau Geste, based on Percival Christopher Wrenn's novel, goes beyond the genre's usual conventions in also dramatizing the power of self-sacrifice. The movie begins with a tantalizing set of images: a desert fort strewn with the corpses of French Legionnaires, a note with the confession of a strange theft and a destructive fire of unknown cause.
The action flashes back to England 15 years earlier, where the three orphaned Geste brothers (Gary Cooper, Ray Milland and Robert Preston) are being raised by an impoverished aristocrat (Heather Thatcher). When the eldest, Beau (Cooper), learns that she has secretly sold the family jewels to pay for their upbringing, he claims to have stolen it himself and saves her honor. Then he and his siblings rush off to join the French Foreign Legion. Director William Wellman (Wings) captures both the harshness and the romance of Legion life and stages some harrowing battle scenes.
BY John Prizer
Calle 54 (2000)
Music-performance films are difficult to sustain beyond two or three numbers. Without a compelling personality or narrative the viewer quickly loses interest. Madrid-based filmmaker Fernando Trueba triumphantly sails over these obstacles by mixing lush production numbers with hand-held interviews with the lead musicians. His Calle 54 is a passionate feature-length documentary about Latin jazz and its most talented practitioners. Unlike the celebrated Buena Vista Social Club, it doesn't confine itself to a particular place or style.
The music, of mainly Cuban and Puerto Rican origin, is a joyous fusion of samba, flamenco and meringue rhythms with classic Dizzy Gillespie-like jazz sounds. The most touching sequence is the father-andson reunion between pianists Bebo and Chucho Valdez who were separated by Fidel Castro's revolution. They awkwardly become re-acquainted on camera and then try to top each other with virtuosi performances.
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
Golden-age Hollywood adventure yarns didn't strain for their thrills or laughs. The action and humor sprang organically from the characters and exotic locales. The Man Who Would Be King, directed by John Huston (The Maltese Falcon) from Rudyard Kipling's short story, is one of last and best of this vanished genre. Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) and Peachy Carnehan (Michael Caine) are British ex-soldiers who journey into the hills of Kafiristan (a province in Eastern Afghanistan now called Nuristan) to make their fortune in 1880.
Setting out from the office of Kipling (Christopher Plummer), who was then a journalist in India, the scheming pair plan to train a primitive tribe in modern warfare and help its king conquer its neighbors. In the process, they intend to “subvert that king and loot the kingdom four ways from Sunday.” Their success brings more problems than the many hardships they have to endure to achieve it. Huston's tongue-in-cheek attitudes about his scoundrel-heroes and British imperialism keep the story fresh for contemporary audiences.
General Della Rovere (1959)
A person's discovery of a moral code can spring from strange circumstances. General Della Rovere, based on a real-life incident, is a powerful, well-constructed drama about a criminal who finds his own morality by imitating another's.
Director Roberto Rossellini (Open City and The Flowers of St. Francis) skillfully recreates the wartime atmosphere of Genoa, Italy during the Nazi occupation of the winter of 1943–4. The Gestapo accidentally kills resistance leader, Gen. della Rovere. The local German commandant, Col. Mueller (Hannes Messemer), persuades a devious swindler, Bardone (Vittorio De Sica), to impersonate the partisan hero. With this false identity, Bardone is placed in a Milan jail, where he's ordered to find another resistance leader with whom the real della Rovere intended to meet. Bardone enjoys the respect with which he's treated as a brave partisan. When put to the test, he too becomes a hero.
BY John Prizer
Afghanistan Revealed (2001)
The Afghan countryside we encounter on TV is so alien to Western eyes, that it might as well be another planet. The punishing terrain, strange customs and shifting tribal alliances appear impossibly bewildering. Afghanistan Revealed, a 60-minute National Geographic documentary, sheds light on the people and history of this distant place. Best-selling novelist Sebastian Junger (A Perfect Storm) takes us on his personal odyssey through the part of the country that was controlled by the Northern Alliance during the year before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The movie's central figure is the charismatic Ahmad Shah Massoud, the anti-Taliban, Tajik resistance leader who was assassinated two days before the World Trade Center bombings. His warnings about the global consequences of the struggle in which he was engaged now sound prophetic. There are also interviews with Taliban soldiers who've been captured. We see firsthand the misery caused by their repressive policies and the more than 20 years of continuous warfare. Women and children seem to have suffered the most.
Osama bin Laden isn't the first Muslim fanatic to believe he was chosen by Allah to defeat the West. In 1883 the self-proclaimed Mahdi, or “chosen one,” emerged from the deserts of Sudan to wage a holy war against Christianity and the British Empire.
Eighty thousand of his warriors massacred more than 8,000 British and Egyptian troops. Khartoum, directed by Basil Dearden, is a big-budget spectacle in the style of Lawrence of Arabia that dramatizes the doomed mission of Gen. Charles Gordon (Charlton Heston) to make peace with the Mahdi (Laurence Olivier).
The British military hero is a courageous, practicing Christian who had previously ended slavery in the region.
“I don't ask you to be unafraid,” Gordon says to those besieged by the Islamic warriors, “only to act unafraid.”
He assumes his previous accomplishments will win over the local populace, but dies in a clash of civilizations that seems to be repeating itself today.
BY John Prizer
The American Revolution (1994)
The United States is almost unique among nations, in that it was founded on a set of ideas rather than an ethnic group, and, at this moment of national crisis, it's worth examining the principles for which we have always fought. The American Revolution, an A&E miniseries, chronicles the people and events that triggered the rebellion of the American colonies against England. Director Lisa Bourgoujian and writer Don Cambou combine battle re-enactments and location filming with paintings, engravings and the narratives of actual letters and documents from the 1770s.
Well-known actors playing different historical figures narrate the story. Both sides of the struggle are fairly and intelligently presented. We follow George Washington (Cliff Robertson) from the French and Indian Wars through the Revolution and the Constitutional Convention. Also singled out are Benjamin Franklin (Charles Durning), Abigail Adams (Michael Learned), King George III (David Warner), and Benedict Arnold (Kelsey Grammer). Expert commentary is provided by Bill Kurtis, Gen. John Galvin, Thomas Fleming and others.
Not Without My Daughter (1991)
Women in the Middle East are often treated differently than in the United States and Europe, and sometimes true love does not conquer all. Not Without My Daughter, based on Betty Mahmoody's real-life memoir, tells the story of an American woman (Sally Field) who marries a Muslim physician of Iranian descent named Moody (Alfred Molina). They live in Michigan and have a daughter, Mahtob (Sheila Rosenthal). Their relationship is happy until Moody takes his wife and child back to Iran for a vacation. Once there, he decides to settle permanently.
Betty discovers that women have few rights in that culture. She's forced to wear a chador in public, and her daughter must be raised Muslim. If Moody divorces her, he gets custody of Mahtob, and she will never see her again. When Moody beats Betty, she decides to escape to the West with her daughter. Although the melodrama is at times overheated, director Brian Gilbert (Tom and Viv) skillfully builds the story to a suspenseful climax.
The Agony and the Ecstasy (1965)
The Catholic Church has commissioned much of the greatest art ever created. These works represent the finest flowering of Western civilization. The Agony and the Ecstasy, based on Irving Stone's novel, dramatizes the conflicts between Michelangelo (Charlton Heston) and Pope Julius II (Rex Harrison) that produce the Sistine Chapel ceiling. The film recreates the inspiration and pain of the artistic process better than almost any other Hollywood movie.
Director Carol Reed (The Third Man) and screenwriter Philip Dunne (The Last of the Mohicans) depict Michelangelo as a perfectionist, who works on his back on a towering scaffold until he's almost blind. He defies tradition and chooses his models from thieves, drunks and lepers found at local inns. His patron, the warrior pope, is not above pulling rank and summoning troops to get his way. He is also often late in paying the painter, but shows a sensitive and intelligent appreciation of the results. “When will you be done?” the pontiff demands. “When I am finished,” the Renaissance genius replies.
BY John Prizer
Days of Wine and Roses (1962)
Alcoholism continues to plague American families. It ruins m a r r i a g e s , careers and the lives of children whose parents are addicted to drink. None of the recent films on the subject (28 Days and the overrated Leaving Las Vegas) can equal the dramatic intelligence and emotional impact of Days of Wine and Roses. Joe Clay (Jack Lemmon) is a public-relations executive who can't relax without a drink. He meets Kirsten Arneson (Lee Remick), who doesn't drink but loves chocolate, and orders her a Brandy Alexander. They fall in love and marry despite the opposition of her father (Charles Bickford).
Kirsten becomes an alcoholic like her husband. Joe loses his job and hits bottom, getting sober with the help of an Alcoholics Anonymous counselor (Jack Klugman). But Kirsten is unable to get off the sauce. Director Blake Edwards (The Pink Panther) and screenwriter J.P. Miller make us like their main characters even as they destroy everything around them.
Demetrius and the Gladiators (1954)
Sometimes sequels are better than the originals. Demetrius and the Gladiators is the highly successful follow-up to the b l o c k b u s t e r Roman epic The Robe. Both are based on novelist Lloyd Douglas's c h a r a c t e r s . Demetrius could be characterized as a Christianized version of the recent Oscar-winner Gladiator. The title character (Victor Mature) is a Greek slave freed by the Christian convert Marcellus (Richard Burton) before his death. The freedman is given the robe Our Lord wore to the cross. When he kills a Roman soldier, he's arrested and forced into the arena as a gladiator.
Demetrius renounces his faith after Lucia (Debra Paget), the woman he loves, is unfairly beaten. He becomes a champion fighter and a member of the palace guard of the anti-Christian emperor Caligula (Jay Robinson). An encounter with the apostle Peter (Michael Rennie) brings him back to Our Lord, and he must find a way to stand up to Caligula. Directed Delmer Daves (Dark Passage) and screenwriter Philip Dunne keep the action moving with a grand, over-the-top style.
BY John Prizer
Casey's Shadow (1978)
Many people dream of fame and fortune. The key questions are: How far are they willing to go to get there? And what lines are they unwilling to cross? Cajun quarter horse trainer Lloyd Bourdelle (Walter Matthau) has raised his sons in poverty since his wife left him. A colt with a championship pedigree is born on his ranch and named after his youngest (Michael Hershewe), who adores it. Convinced that the horse is his ticket to the top, Lloyd trains it for the million-dollar-purse, All American Futurity race for two-year-olds which takes place at Ruidoso, N.M., on Labor Day.
After the colt shines during try-outs, the trainer rejects a generous offer from a wealthy stable owner (Alexis Smith) to buy it. Then some scheming competitors (Murray Hamilton and Robert Webber) try to sabotage Lloyd's operation as he's put to the test. Director Martin Ritt (Hud) gives Casey's Shadow a documentary look in his depiction of small-town Southern life and the horse-racing environment.
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima (1952)
Hollywood once tried to produce movies that addressed the spiritual interests of its audience without deconstructing Christian institutions or beliefs. Simple piety was celebrated as a prime virtue. Today some describe those films as overly melodramatic and sentimental. But others embrace them as populist expressions of faith that enriched the culture.
The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima is an old-fashioned film that dramatizes the 1917 appearances of the Virgin Mary to three Portuguese children (Susan Whitney, Sherry Jackson and Sammy Ong). The emphasis is on the response of their family and the government to the events. Director John Brahm (Hangover Square) depicts the children's courage in the face of disbelief, movingly portraying their relationship with their mother (Angela Clarke) and a sympathetic villager (Gilbert Roland).
Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936)
“Capra-corn” is the label affixed to the unique populist comedy-dramas made by director Frank Capra (It's a Wonderful Life) in the 1930s and ‘40s. The innocence and optimism of the ordinary citizen is shown to be strong enough to triumph over society's darker forces. The Oscar-winning Mr. Deeds Goes to Town is a screwball romantic comedy that pits small-town virtues against big-city corruption.
Longfellow Deeds (Gary Cooper) is a tuba-playing tallow manufacturer in Mandrake Falls, Vt., who writes greeting-card verse as a hobby. When he inherits $20 million from a distant relative, the estate's crooked lawyer (Douglass Dumbrille) persuades him to come to New York City to manage his affairs. The local tabloids dub Deeds the “Cinderella Man” and a cynical reporter, Louise “Babe” Bennett (Jean Arthur), befriends him to get the best scoop. Deeds is an honest, charitable man, and the romance that develops between them makes her question her sleazy job and his lawyer's criminal machinations.
BY John Prizer
It's A Wonderful Life (1946)
The movie begins with everyone in the small town of Bedford Falls praying for George Bailey (James Stewart). It's Christmas Eve, and the hardworking banker is thinking about killing himself.
The supplications of his family and friends are heard, and an angel is sent to rescue him.
Director Frank Capra and screenwriters Albert Hackett, Frances Goodrich, Jo Sworling, and Phillip Van Doren Stern don't pull their punches in this tale.
In order to prevent George from committing suicide, the angel gives him “a chance to see what the world would have been like” if he had never been born.
The payoff is satisfying when the angel tells George: “You see, you had a wonderful life.” “Please God, let me live again,” George tearfully asks.
It's A Wonderful Life demonstrates the power of goodness to change lives and the difference each individual can make if he tries.
Bishop's Wife (1947)
Based on Robert Nathan's novel, the film was redone as The Preacher's Wife with unsuccessful results. In the original, Episcopalian Bishop Henry Brougham (David Niven) is on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
The stress of raising money for a new cathedral has done him in, leaving his work and his relationship with his wife seemingly without meaning.
In answer to desperate prayers, a suave angel named Dudley (Cary Grant) appears, but the bishop has trouble believing he's genuine. The prelate's wife, Julia (Loretta Young), is impressed by the angel's kind way of dealing with her friends.
The prelate's personal and professional problems all come to a head on Christmas Eve, and Dudley must work hard to bail him out.
Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
Macy's department store in Manhattan hires as Santa Claus an old man from a retirement home who calls himself Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwen). When shoppers can't find what they're looking for on the premises, he recommends other establishments that might carry the merchandise. At first Macy's officials try to make him change his ways, but the old man is adamant.
Eventually Mr. Macy himself backs Kris Kringle because his open-minded generosity attracts more customers to the store. The old man isn't satisfied, though.
Director George Seaton and coscreenwriter Valentine Davies handle each twist and turn of the plot with skill and charm, and in the end you'll probably find yourself agreeing with Kris Kringle that “Christmas is a frame of mind” and “faith is believing things that common sense tells you not to.”
Miracle on 34th Street has been remade for television and as a feature, but neither has the power of the original.