Detective Story (1951) starring Kirk Douglas & Eleanor Parker

[1] The writing is a bit too well-structured, almost like clockwork, the characters are a bit too symbolic and easy to categorise. The comic relief kicks in just on schedule. The psychological diagnosis is too precise. And yet, this is one of the greatest films ever made. It has a sense of respect for the totality of life, and makes tragedy almost poetic. 

[2] Kirk Douglas carries the burden of McLeod and makes the tormented policeman painfully believable–it is almost a nonstop, swirling performance… 

[3] The abortion angle of the original play was taken to the screen, partly because of censorship, and partly because the close-up, immediacy of the camera requires rage to be clearly more explained than on the stage…

-Excerpts from various reviews (Amazon & IMDB)

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A poster for the film

Evil’s got a smell of its own. A child could spot it. -McCloud says, before giving some info re: his father/parents’ relationship

In this film, abortion is sinful, criminal, horrifying (personally and socially)- a tragedy. It appears from different angles: the Dutch abortion doctor (w/ his clever lawyer), the detective’s wife, her ex-boyfriend (who got her pregnant), and eventually, the detective. When Mary (Eleanor Parker) finally tells her husband (Kirk Douglas) about it, his worldview is too black and white to handle it. He calls her a “tramp”- she’s wasn’t expecting that reaction. All that matters is that she was intimate with someone before being married to him. She says she’s leaving him forever. He doesn’t go after her, as his fellow detectives urge. Mary gets her freedom.

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Mary (Eleanor Parker) begs and cries, but McCloud (Kirk Douglas) doesn’t see her virtues.

This may be one of the early “typical day” genre- several different stories occurring over one day in the same location, but melded into a whole (as on the TV shows, Hill Street Blues and Barney Miller). A key ongoing side plot involves an unlikely/lovelorn first offender and the younger sister of his former girlfriend. He stole from his employer to win back his (model) girlfriend who has moved on to a different circle. McCleod’s partner, Det. Brody (William Bendix) is more gentle/understanding; this man reminds him of his dead (WWII hero) son.

Oscar nominations were given out for William Wyler’s direction, the screenplay, and for Parker and Lee Grant, lead and supporting actresses respectively. At a little over 20 minutes, Parker’s performance in this movie is the shortest to ever be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar.

I built my whole life on hating my father. All the time he was inside me, laughing. -McCloud finally realizes the truth about his personality 

Since it was impossible to film the movie without portraying the killing of Detective McLeod, so this movie resulted in another amendment to the Production Code. From December 20, 1938 to March 27, 1951, there was a rule forbidding the display of law enforcement officers (EX: detectives, security guards, etc.) dying at the hands of criminals. From March 27, 1951 onward, the Production Code allowed such portrayals, if they were “absolutely necessary to the development of the plot” (as noted in the book The Dame in the Kimono by Leonard Jeff and Jerold Simmons).

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Shots Fired (Fox): First Impressions

DOJ prosecutor Preston Terry (Stephan James) and investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan)

NOTE: This review contains MILD SPOILERS for the first three hours of the series.

[1] Shots Fired is at its best when raising legitimate questions about the criminal justice system and attempting to answer them. But I don’t know if there is an answer. The dark overtones that envelope the show at times feel real and appropriate. For a topic this serious, darkness may be the only way to truly shed light on the gravity of the situation.

[2] …I am not surprised by the haters in the reviews here. To me, these are people that are stuck in their ways and are not trying to see the world through different sets of eyes. Blacks and others have had to watch MOST TV through white people’s eyes and they expect us to be happy for it. Now you have a show like this that is finally putting Black people in a humane and more realistic light and they can’t handle it.

[3] I’m Asian male [Vietnamese] that grew up in a working class neighborhood and episode 1 gave me goosebumps because it aligns so much with our reality. You probably thinking how can I say that when I’m an Asian male. Truth is, many of our struggles are similar to blacks in America. You may not know, but there is an Asian gang culture in every major cities in America due to the same reasons that make it hard for blacks to succeed in America. Any law enforcement officers in major cities can confirm this.

-Excerpts from various IMDB reviews

Deputy Joshua Beck (Mack Wilds) is the young cop and family man who becomes an outcast on the police force.

Unnecessary police violence, particularly white cops against black offenders, is a topic that has everyone on edge. But, what happens when it’s a black cop that shoots an unarmed white kid based on racial profiling? 

The show centers on junior DOJ prosecutor, Preston Terry (Stephan James- who is Canadian and just 25 y.o.), and investigator, Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan- daughter of a prolific Hollywood producer), who are sent to a small North Carolina town to investigate a police shooting. It’s much better, if a black officer (Deputy Joshua Beck- played by 28 y.o. Mack Wilds)  is investigated and convicted by a black prosecutor, as one of Preston’s superiors in DC says in the first scene. Ashe and Terry dig deeper and find that an unarmed black kid was shot by a white officer not too long ago in the “houses”(projects) of this same town. 

Critics (and viewers) see a lot of potential in James; he definitely has that “It” factor (which an actor needs to get to leading man status). Don’t forget that a very young Blair Underwood played an attorney on L.A. Law in the ’80s. Wilds is doing pretty well in this role (never seen him before); the actor admitted that he never imagined himself in the shoes of a police officer before. He’s got an innocence and freshness about him- key for his role. What to say re: Sanaa Lathan?  Hmm… well, she’s got youthful looks (even at age 45); her acting is not terrible, but pretty one-note.

Governor Eamons (Helen Hunt) talks to press while her aide Sarah (Conor Leslie) and Preston (James) look on.

Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt) is the first female governor of the state; she was the one who decided to bring in the DOJ.  Local pastor Janae James (Aisha Hinds) points out, after all the shootings of unarmed black men, why is this the case where the feds decide to get involved? Hinds’ outspoken activist, yet also spiritual, character is unlike most preachers we’ve seen on TV- female, youthful, and putting faith into action. 

Richard Dreyfus is introduced (near the end of the second hour); he is a 1st gen American businessman looking to advance a new prison/educational complex. I’ve seen three hours so far, but  may keep w/ it (if the writing gets stronger and the veteran actors get more to do). So far, British actor Stephen Moyer (who plays Lt. Breeland) has just been a jerk. He may have brought some fans along w/ him from True Blood (never seen that show, so can’t judge).  I’m waiting to see more of Will Patton (who plays the sheriff); he has a way w/ ambiguous characters.  

Jill Hennessy at the Sundance premiere of “Shots Fired.” I was very happy to see her back on network TV!

We get to see Ashe and Preston in their private lives, unlike what you’ve seen in most Law and Order-type series. Speaking of that iconic TV show, the still stunning Jill Hennessy plays Alicia Carr, the heartbroken mother of the white college student. She gets a chance to shine in the third hour. Preston, who could’ve been a professional baseball player, is trying to earn the respect of his father (Dennis Haysbert) and older brother, (a pro football player). Ashe is a woman with serious anger issues, trying to keep primary custody of her daughter. Her Latino ex-boyfriend is planning to marry (a younger Latina woman) and raise their daughter full-time. 

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017) starring Jessica Chastain & Daniel Bruhl

NOTE: This review contains SPOILERS for the film (now playing widely in U.S. theaters).

Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction book was greatly inspired by the unpublished diary of Antonina Zabinska and Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. The book was published in 2007. While the real life events occurred in Warsaw, the movie was filmed entirely in Prague (w/ real baby lion cubs). This film also has a woman director (Niki Caro) and woman adapter (Angela Workman). 

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[1] It is still possible to find love and comfort in the darkest of times. Love is all around us. We must be the vessel through which hope and love spreads. Antonina believed this with her whole heart which is why she and Jan did what they did. There are brave people all around us: fighting for our rights, fighting for theirs, their family, their country – bravery comes in so many forms. This film reflects this: there is bravery in combat and ‘silent’ bravery. One is not greater than the other.

[2] One of the key messages seems to come from an early monologue delivered by Antonina where she compares the purity of animals (their eyes tell you everything) with the propensity to deceive and commonplace of ulterior motives in humans.

[3] Caro is able to reflect humanity, sincerity and earnestness in her films, which captivates and entangles the viewer. Caro’s directing prowess brings to mind the ideology of the male gaze vs. the female gaze in films… I feel as though I’m witnessing a life lived, purely, rather than someone’s perspective of that life. 

-Excerpts from IMDB reviews

We first see Antonina (Jessica Chastain) as a happy figure riding her bike through a zoo with a young camel trotting beside her. She helps rescue a newborn elephant, interrupting  a dinner party. But soon German bombs begin dropping on her city (Warsaw) and this zoo she runs w/ her zoologist husband, Jan (Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh). 

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…she is undeniably captivating as the eponymous lead, channeling grit and vulnerability in equal measure as she fleshes out her character’s fears, anxieties and convictions. Among the supporting actors, Bruhl and Haas [the teenaged Israeli actress who plays a pivotal role] are the standouts, the former exercising admirable restraint in what could have been a traditionally villainous act, while the latter surprisingly nuanced in her portrayal…

-Excerpt from IMDB review

The scenes between Lutz Heck (Daniel Bruhl) and Antonina are tense; as he disarms her with his affinity/experience w/ of animals, BUT later scares her (and us) with his unwanted advances and desire to cross-breed animals in hopes of creating a new type of bison/bull (superior beast).