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The movies selected for review are the choice of the reviewer. Depending on your source for DVDs, they may or may not be available that particular week, so you may want to clip the SOFA CINEMA column for future reference. Suggestions for DVD titles are welcome. Enjoy the movies.





TELEVISION SERIES

"House M.D."

On rare occasion (twice in four years), Sofa Cinema will acknowledge a television series for viewing.

You may have missed "House M.D." since it doesn't air on one of the big three networks, but these long winter nights offer an excellent opportunity to rent DVDs and be introduced to the irascible, brilliant, irreverent, oddly endearing Dr. Gregory House.

Hugh Laurie, as House, wields a cane and a wicked wit as he leads his team of medical diagnosticians weekly through lists of bizarre symptoms in an effort to find a cure when all others have missed the boat.

House's best friend (and "balancer" to his craziness) is the ever steady oncologist Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard).

Medical shows have been a staple in television viewing almost since its invention, and there are dozens of series available to rent, including "ER," "Grey's Anatomy," "St. Elsewhere," "Nip/Tuck" and "Strong Medicine" to name a few.

All these shows offer typical television escapism, which is not always a bad thing. But as long as you're sitting in front of the tube anyway, why not spend it watching an excellent ensemble cast, superb writing and Hugh Laurie, who week after week delivers an outstanding performance?

P.S. - "House M.D." is in its fifth season, so you actually may appreciate the excuse of a miserable winter to hibernate.





DOCUMENTARY

"Man on Wire"

Unrated 1974

My, how times have changed. Today it's hard to imagine anyone trying to do what Phillippe Petit did in 1974, and that's just the "breaking and entering" part.

It is impossible to envision anyone stringing a tightrope between two buildings 1,350 feet above the ground and then spending 45 precarious minutes enjoying the view.

"Man on Wire" is a fascinating documentary. With footage illustrating Petit's athletic prowess and his passion for his art, we are treated to "how a plot thickens."

As a young man, he caught a glimpse of the World Trade Center towers in a magazine and fantasized about walking between the buildings. Over the years, his fantasy became an implausible, but possible, reality with the help of friends from France, Australia and the United States.

We've all seen the towers come down (an event not mentioned in the film), yet to witness the construction of the World Trade Center is fascinating.

To climb a mountain "because it's there" is understandable to most. To risk one's life as a "man on wire," as noted in Petit's arrest report, is not - until you hear Petit talk about the event. The joy expressed in his eyes makes his feat an adventure, not a stunt, and this documentary an education of human nature.

FIRST WORK

"Fear Strikes Back"

Unrated 1957

"Fear Strikes Back" was Robert Mulligan's first theatrical feature although he directed many live television dramas in the 1950s.

Loosely based on the book by the same name, "Fear Strikes Out" - the movie - documents the rise of Jimmy Piersall to the Boston Red Sox and his "fall," dramatized as an on-field nervous breakdown.*

Anthony Perkins stars as Piersall and Karl Malden as his domineering, determined father. The father's expectations of the son are so overbearing, he makes Mamma Rose in "Gypsy" look like June Cleaver on "Leave it to Beaver."

As the story unfolds, it's not a question of "if" the boy will crack under pressure, but "when."

Perkins' awkwardness in the role may be attributed to switching from being left- to right-handed to bat and throw, or it may come from not being a natural athlete. This feature demonstrates the expectations of today's movie audience toward realism.

One strong point is the performance of Malden. Even though his character's change of heart in the end seems implausible, he makes us want to believe he really is a good guy. Pretty good acting.

*Jimmy Piersall disowned the movie, claiming "distortion of facts."

Mulligan would go on to direct far more memorable pictures ("To Kill a Mockingbird" "Summer of '42). He died in December 2008.





Rebecca Redshaw worked in the film industry in Los Angeles for 25 years. A novelist and playwright, she has published in numerous magazines and newspapers in addition to teaching fiction. She can be reached at r2redshaw@hotmail.com.





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