Just back from the movies. Opening night for "Gods and Generals" at the Ritz Theatre in Spring. If you own AOL stock, I hope this wasn't representative of the turnout across the land--there couldn't have been more than 50 people in the house when the lights went down. But it is a chilly, rainy night out there.As for the much-heralded movie, I do give it high marks. I would like to hear from others who have or will see it--Ralph, especially you. The one obvious problem is the name of the movie. We've had great biographical movies about military men in the past--"Patton" and "MacArthur"--and we've had "The Glenn Miller Story" and "The Benny Goodman Story" and "The Eddie Duchin Story"--well, this should've been called just "Jackson" or "The Stonewall Jackson Story". I guess they were afraid to do that for fear of riots from those who would come expecting to see a movie about one rock 'n roll singer or another. But that was what this one was all about.Stephan Lang--who played General Pickett in "Gettysburg"--plays Jackson in this movie. And I think he did quite well indeed. If there are Oscar nominations for actors here, it is only Stephen Lang who should be considered, imo. For those familiar with "Gettysburg"--shot what--10 years ago?--there are several actors who carry their roles forward (backward, actually--this movie is set in the two years preceding the Battle of Gettysburg) into this movie. There may have been more, but I identified the same actors playing General John Bell Hood of Texas, General Barksdale of Mississippi, Union General Winfield Scott Hancock, and all three heroes from the 20th Maine Regiment, Col. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, his brother Tom, and that Irish First Sargeant of theirs. Also, there was a guy who played a bit part in "Gettysburg" as a captured Confederate infantryman from Tennessee, and Tom Chamberlain talked to him and asked what he was fighting for and he said "For my rats"--that guy had a bigger role here as a Virginia infantryman with a bad case of fatalism.Ralph, you'll be glad to know that somebody else played Armistead, and he only appeared briefly. There were few of the kind of saccharine scenes Armistead put on in "Gettysburg" longing to see his ol' buddy Hancock one more time. What sentimentality there was pretty much surrounded Jackson, and it all fit in with his character quite well, I thought.Oh, and lest I forget--Robert Duvall as General Robert E. Lee--well, Lee was not a very big role in this movie all about Jackson. Duvall didn't get much chance to shine. About the best I can say for Duvall as Lee was that there was only a moment or two where it made me think about Duvall as Tom Hagen in "The Godfather". I was thankful for that. He certainly did not overplay the Virginia accent of Lee as Martin Sheen did in "Gettysburg"--but then, again, he just didn't have much to work with here. And I thought Sheen turned in a credible performance in "Gettysburg"--if you could just ignore that it was Sheen. Since there is supposed to be a third movie coming in this trilogy after "Gettysburg" and "Gods and Generals" called "Last Full Measure"--if Duvall gets Lee's role there perhaps he will have his day.Another interesting comparison to "Gettysburg" is in Jeff Daniels, who played Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in both. In this pictue,Daniels looked like he had gained at least 50 pounds from the prior one, and he had clearly worked some--but not enough--on a credble Maine accent. Daniels does get a nice scene as Chamberlain with his wife back in Maine before leaving for the war. And then they have him quoting Roman history about Caesar charging into Rome leading a revolt or something. I guess it was to underscore that Chamberlain was a scholar and rhetoric professor, not a soldier. But I thought that would have been a nice part to have given to Senator Byrd, since he likes to quite Roman history frequently on the floor of the U.S. Senate. I won't ruin the story by telling too much of it. I did spot Ted Turner in his cameo role--he's telling a funny story to General Hood at some gathering of the Virginia brass. And he actually got a two or three sentence speaking part in without pausing to say "Aaah". I wonder how many takes that took. But I didn't spot Senator Byrd. If he was in there I missed it. I don't think he was supposed to speak though. And if there were others like that--didn't I hear that Trent Lott and Newt and Denny Hastert were all in it?--I missed them, too.On balance, I do recommend the movie. I like the great movies, but I don't often go, preferring to wait for the DVD. I think the last time I actually bought a movie ticket was for "Schindler's List". I wouldn't say this movie is any "better" than "Gettysburg" really--though it may have some bigger, more powerful battle scenes. In this movie, Hancock makes virtually the same soliloquy as Sam Elliot did as Gen. Jno. Buford in "Gettysburg" about the consequences of slow decision-making by the Yankee top brass. And--yes--this movie suffers from the absence of Sam Elliot, by comparison to "Gettysburg". But "Gettysburg" did have the overpowering scenes in which General Buford determines to defend the high ground despite not having orders yet from Meade, the scene in which General Trimble reports to Lee about Gen. Ewell not letting him assault that high ground on the first day, the scene in which Lee dresses down J.E.B. Stewart for his unaccounted for delay in returning his cavalry from a scouting mission--plus the whole matter of Chamberlain, the 20th Maine, and the Battle of Little Roundtop. There are memorable scenes here, too, but maybe none quite as powerful as any of those. Of course, these things grow on you. I may have a different view if I see "Jackson" again.Looking forward to other reports./s/ S.T. [substituting for Jedi as "critic-at-large"]
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