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Ghosts of Ole Miss

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***½

That year, in spite of the school’s near self-destruction over integration, or perhaps because of it, the team managed the most remarkable season seen in Oxford, before or since.

On the campus of Ole Miss

AP Photo/University of Mississippi/Getty Images

30 for 30 celebrated the 30th anniversary of ESPN. It aimed to tell forgotten stories of the past 30 years, but this took place in 1962. I’m no calculator, but that was more than 30 years before 2010. Fortunately director Fritz Mitchell cannot count either and made this documentary version of Greg Thompson’s writings on the University of Mississippi during the 1962–63 school year. I remember learning of James Meredith’s integration, but never knew that Ole Miss had an undefeated season. The idea that they had one the very same year as their riots blew my mind.

Despite applauding this film’s creation, the documentary went astray in two ways. One, its raison d’être dragged it down once the story got going. Once we are back in 1962 and hearing about it from Dan Rather, Greg Thompson’s reactions to things people said, or whether or not he likes the song Dixie seem trivial. However, it was Thompson’s work that laid the foundation for this doc, and he provided the premise for examining this time and place. Two, the atmosphere and politics surrounding racial integration were astronomically more important and more interesting than the football team’s success that year. Since this was a 30 for 30, it had to keep returning to football, but there were fewer important moments in those segments than in the portions that focused on racial interactions.

Still, I highly recommend watching this. It is only an hour long and it will suck you in. But for my two criticisms this would have been an excellent movie, instead of a good documentary partially about an amazing subject. Also, the most surprising thing I learned from this, Ole Miss has only had one undefeated season!

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Lincoln

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****½

As the pastor said, I could write shorter sermons but when I get started I’m too lazy to stop.

David Franzoni did a wonderful job directing Amistad.* This is Amistad but directed by Steven Spielberg. At 65 Spielberg appears to have no reason to retire, since he keeps making films like this. Thanks to his name he is able to acquire wonderful casts, like he did here. Always a fan, but never a slave to history Spielberg honorably opted to stick close to facts and reasonable inference in this one. A friend linked me here for an article addressing that, but back to the cast.

He cast the crap out of this one:

1. Daniel Day-Lewis as President Abraham Lincoln. He has Lincoln’s face, so the makeup department deserves a ton of credit. He towered over people and walked like a lanky man, for this both Day-Lewis and Spielberg will get the credit they deserve. Day-Lewis’s voice was perfect. The way he told stories and anecdotes makes me long for an audiobook of him saying clever things in Lincoln’s voice.
2. Sally Field as the first lady, Mary Todd Lincoln. She brought an intelligence and strength to her bitchy, selfish character. History has found it easier to dismiss her than to try to understand her. I did not like the first lady, but Sally Field lost herself in this role and deserves credit for portraying such a complex character so consistently.
3. David Straitharn is always great, and is great here as the Secretary of State. His interactions with Lincoln are great, as are his political machinations. The only time he ever got the spotlight was in Good Night, and Good Luck, but he is always a memorable supporting actor.
4. Lincoln’s two living sons are Robert and Tad. Above is Joseph Gordon-Levitt—Looper—as Robert. Not pictured is Gulliver McGrath, who played Tad. Neither is particularly memorable, but I did not see any flaws either. Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets a great speech with his father where he talks about how men would be judged based on whether they served during the Civil War, or if they did not, which he killed.
5. James Spader–W.N. Bilbo–leads two political lobbyists, John Hawkes, who is expected to receive some nominations for best actor in The Sessions and Tim Blake Nelson, I think. The line in the film about recruiting lobbyists made fun of Albany as a corrupt city, which got big laughs at The Spectrum Theater here in Albany.
6. Hal Holbrook plays a moderate Republican power broker named Preston Blair, who very reasonably wants peace with the Confederacy. He makes arguments I could not have refuted, but Lincoln did.
7. Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens worked spectacularly. Tommy Lee Jones has a reputation for only giving one or two takes, but this performance must have taken more than that. He was just so good. I doubt that he has changed, so it must be that he was working for someone whom he had to respect, Steven Spielberg.
8. Jackie Earle Haley—better known to most for his Oscar nominated work, but a favorite of mine from Watchmen and Dark Shadows—lead the Confederate peace delegation as the CSA’s Vice President Alexander Stevens. Haley was great. He played his role with practical deference, but with a fire inside of him. The other two delegates aboard the River Queen were Senator Robert M. T. Hunter and Assistant Secretary of War Judge John A. Campbell. Played by Michael Shiflett and Gregory Itzin respectively.
9. Joseph Cross as John Hay was nice. Particularly for his earnestness.
10. Bruce McGill’s Secretary of War Edwin Stanton is in the upper left corner with the long goatee. My favorite Stanton moment was when Lincoln appears out of nowhere on him and begins to tell one of his stories, to which Stanton storms off as quickly as he can, saying “Oh no, I know what you’re doing, you’re going to tell one of your stories. No sir, absolutely not!” At least that’s how I remember it.
11. Jared Harris made a better Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant than he did Prof. Moriarty.
12. Peter McRobbie—the renowned Judge Walter Bradley on “Law & Order”—and, in a breakout role, Lee Pace as the anti-abolitionist Democrats George Pendleton and Fernando Wood. They provided compelling arguments against passing the 13th Amendment. I mean, compelling for 1865. I’m not a racist, I swear!
13. Elizabeth Keckley was portrayed well by Gloria Reuben. She played a crucial role in the film because you root for Thaddeus Stevens and his fellow liberal Republicans to not say that Blacks are equal to Whites. Because if they say that, the amendment will not pass. Without Ms. Keckley’s reactions to these hurtful words, it would not have occurred to me so pointedly how painful that must have been for Blacks.
14. Michael Stuhlbarg as Rep. George Yeaman provided good comedic relief. By that I mean his beard was phenomenal. More than that though, he provides an important emotional note.
15. And Alexander McGiver was great as the doormat representative from Pennsylvania Alexander Coffroth.
And on and on… This great film had a great cast. Period. Stop reading my damn review and go watch it.

*Oops, I misread imdb and thought that Franzoni not only wrote, but directed Amistad with Spielberg producing. Too much turkey and stuffing must have clouded my brain.

The Muppets Take Manhattan

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***½

How about this? Ocean Breeze Soap: It’s just like taking an ocean cruise, only there’s no boat and you don’t actually go anywhere.

I watched this with my cousin since she enjoyed The Muppets. I had low expectations since I liked this as a kid, but assumed that it would neither hold up, nor contain the cleverness of 2011’s The Muppets. I set my expectations low and this exceeded them and then some.

The story focuses on what the Muppets do upon graduating college. This caught me off guard, since I did not know that the Muppets had even attended high school, much less each acquired enough credits to graduate either high school or college. All of them did. ALL of them. That means that even Animal graduated. He cannot even speak English properly.

Animal attacks Dabney ColemanWhat clown college did these Muppets attend? Danhurst College! After some investigation it turns out that “Danhurst” is actually Vassar.

In 1969 Vassar opened its doors to men. Apparently, in a much less publicized move, Vassar decided to admit Muppets by 1980. Why they changed the name to Danhurst is anyone’s guess. Mine is that they had much lower admission standards for Muppets and did not want to tarnish Vassar’s reputation. For shame, Vassar, stop treating Muppets like felt puppets operated by people and voiced by others.

The Muppets

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****½

Are we working for the bad guy?

This movie is a little bit overrated. Chris Cooper’s rap is awful, just awful. But besides that scene, the cleverness in the script is off the charts. There are so many cute moments, so many laughs, and so many nice songs. It also addresses some basic human needs and puts lipstick on the pig of characters who have difficulty picking up on social cues. This took nostalgia and turned it into a smart movie. By my estimation this has to be one of the best films of 2011.

My favorite song was “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” The barbershop quartet of Beaker, Link Hogthrob, Rowlf the Dog, and Sam the Eagle did a wonderful and humorous variation on it. Jack Black plays the barbershop’s customer with this great level of fear. He was actually really, really good throughout the movie. So were Jason Segel and the Muppets. The main hits, “Life’s a Happy Song” and “Man or Muppet” are both very good songs too. I said that the upcoming Les Miserables could be the best musical in 30 years, but I did not realize that this had come out only last year. The bar just got raised, Les Mis, your move.

The Killer

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****½

I always leave one bullet, either for myself or for my enemy.

I saw this with my uncle and he thought it was overlong, cheesy, and like a Hong Kong version of Taken. I think that it must just have been the environment, or something, because I love this movie. I remember watching this with a girl and thinking she was a keeper because she cried at the end. This was like an old-fashioned crime noir, telling a tale of brotherhood between a cop and a hitman who lived by a code. I believe that this was one of Chow Yun Fat’s finest roles. He even reloaded his guns in this movie!

Chow Yun Fat and Danny Lee

I assure you that I am not crazy for loving this. It has a 7.9 average on imdb and 91% from users on Rotten Tomatoes and 100% from critics. This was not the first John Woo movie I watched, but this was probably his best. The ending was classic, the team-up was classic, and the body count seemed reasonable when compared to Hard Boiled. Hopefully I will get to rewatch that one soon too.

Legend

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**½

You think you have won! What is light without dark? What are you without me? I am a part of you all. You can never defeat me. We are brothers eternal!

Tom Cruise as Jack

That is Tom Cruise as a nature boy named Jack. Jack is the love interest of Princess Lili–Mia Sara. Princess Lili is also desired by The Lord of Darkness, who primarily desires to live in a world without sunlight, for that is his bane. In this world, as designed by Ridley Scott, unicorns are magical beings whose horns have great power. Kill one and the world turns into a frozen place; kill both and the sun will never rise again. So the plan is to kill the unicorns.

Tim Curry!?

This Lord of the Rings knockoff would have been awful, except for the quaintness of the world and Tim Curry’s humane Lord of Darkness. I could not even recognize any part of him in the role, not even his voice. When he endeavored to seduce Princess Lili, with lecherous intent, I still felt for him. The best scene came from his magic when the Princess danced with a dark version of herself. I instantly thought of Amadeus, because it was ballet in the midst of movie!

While this movie would have been wonderful when I was 10, there are some problems with it:
1. What do we ever see that shows that Princess Lili is a good person before the last act of the film? Everyone loves her and wants her, but why!?
2. How cold works in this world is illogical—e.g. when Jack is able to punch through 6 inches of ice when he gets trapped underwater.
3. That Robert Picardo’s Meg Mucklebone’s did not have more than one scene, although she was truly hideous.
4. Jack being unable to kiss Oona the fairy.
5. It’s just not that memorable.

Ghost Dad

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**

What about last Saturday night, huh? Close! “Oh, Diane, how can you screw up Spaghetti-Os?”

Bill Cosby stars in a feature length picture directed by Sidney Poitier! To quote my grandmother, “He has done better work.” That could apply to either man, but she was referring to Mr. Poitier. In fact, at the end of this picture she said, “Well, that was the worst movie I’ve ever seen.” While it certainly was no Midnight in Paris, it was also no Battlefield Earth.

One of the worst aspects of Battlefield Earth was its seemingly infinite length. The same cannot be said for Ghost Dad’s 80 minute runtime. As a teenager I came up with a phrase to evaluate movies like this, the crap barrier. The crap barrier is 90 minutes. If a feature movie is shorter than 90 minutes then it is most likely crap. While not always true, if the director or studio cannot find 90 minutes of film to put out, then what are the chances the 85~ minutes actually were much better? The movie 88 Minutes just let’s you know in the title that it is not a good movie! Maybe the same could be said for something titled Ghost Dad.

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