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Harrison Ford has his best role in years as a testy scientist who listens to classic rock as he works all night in the lab and who may just have the key to a crucial medicine for a disease that kills children. Brendan Fraser plays John Crowley, the father of two children with a rare genetic disorder called Pompe disease that weakens muscles, enlarges organs, and had a life expectancy of less than eight years. Crowley quit his job as an executive in a pharmaceutical company to start a biotechnology firm to support the most promising research into a treatment for the disease.

That research was being done by Dr. Robert Stonehill (Ford), a twice-divorced, sardonic, and very stubborn professor. Crowley offers him the chance to get the resources he needs to test his theories. He raises the money for a start-up and handles the business side while Stonehill cranks up the Grateful Dead and insults people.

Ford, who bought the rights to the story when he read about it in the newspaper, produced the film and his long-time Hollywood experience and sure sense of story-telling shows. Screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs (“Chocolat,” “The Shipping News”) gently streamlined the story to shape the narrative. The Stonehill character is based on several different scientists who worked on the research and some of the most dramatic moments are shorthand summaries of real-life developments. But all of this is in aid of a powerful story that is pro-life in the broadest and most profound sense. Crowley has to ask himself what is best for his children — to be with them as much as possible while they are alive or to leave them for 20-hour days in the hopes of finding treatment that could keep them alive longer.

Ford inhabits the role the way his character inhabits his well-worn jeans and t-shirt. He knows this guy. He has no illusions but he likes him and he makes us like him, too. Fraser, too often underrated as an actor, manages to make Crowley inspiring without making him unbelievable, especially in the scenes with the children and with Keri Russell as his wife. Jacobs’ script skirts the usual tensions. The Crowleys have some agonizing moments, but they never question their commitment to their children and each other. The children are played by Meredith Droeger, who has a nice dry humor, and Diego Velazquez, who has beautifully expressive eyes. Their healthy brother John Jr. (Sam M. Hall) has a lovely moment when he shows how devoted he is to helping his siblings. And Courtney B. Vance is as always most welcome as the father of two other children with Pompe, making a strong impression in his brief time on screen.

Because the tension is between the Crowleys and the disease and between Crowley and Stonehill and Crowley and the bureaucrats and money people, the story can present the family as functional in the face of the greatest possible tensions and terrors. In the past, we’ve seen Ford fight the Empire and the Nazis and Fraser take on mummies, but in this story they take on something even more scary and the result is touching and inspiring.

Lena Horne, who graced our planet with her exquisite beauty, smoky sensuality, and stunning musicality, died yesterday at age 92.

Ms. Horne was the first African-American to sign a major studio contract, in the 1940’s. It specifically provided that she would never have to play a maid. She started singing at the Cotton Club when she was only sixteen years old. She had major roles in the earliest studio films featuring an all-black cast, “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather,” named for her signature song. She was a star of movies, television, night clubs, theater, and recordings, and was awarded both four Grammys, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Kennedy Center Honor.

Wikipedia notes that she

was never featured in a leading role because of her race and the fact that films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theaters could not show films with black performers. As a result, most of Horne’s film appearances were stand-alone sequences that had no bearing on the rest of the film, so editing caused no disruption to the storyline; a notable exception was the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, although one number was cut because it was considered too suggestive by the censors. “Ain’t it the Truth” was the song (and scene) cut before the release of the film Cabin in the Sky. It featured Horne singing “Ain’t it the Truth”, while taking a bubble bath (considered too “risqué” by the film’s executives). This scene and song are featured in the film That’s Entertainment! III (1994) which also featured commentary from Horne on why the scene was deleted prior to the film’s release.

And during the Red Scare, she was black-listed and not allowed to appear in films. But she continued to work for civil rights, and refused to perform for segregated audiences. Her example of courage and integrity and her matchless voice will continue to inspire us.

I highly recommend “The Horse Boy,” an extraordinary documentary about a family that traveled to the other side of the world to help their autistic son and found all of their lives changed.

Rowan Isaacson was diagnosed with autism in 2004. The two-year-old his family thought they knew seemed to disappear. He lost the words he had learned.

He began to flap his arms and babble, to obsessively line up his toys, to retreat into himself for hours at a time, to avoid eye contact, to scream uncontrollably, inconsolably, as his nervous system erupted like a series of volcanoes, searing him with burning, with pain, terrifying him, traumatizing him, causing him to ‘fly away’ into an otherworld far from the reaches of his distraught, grieving parents.

But when he was put on horse, he was calm, peaceful, happy. He even started to talk. And so, in 2007, Rowan’s family took him to a place where he could be with horses and healers — Mongolia. Watch this with your families and then talk about what it tells us about love, hope, families, who we are, and what it means to be normal.

Errol Flynn is the definitive Robin Hood in this glorious Technicolor version of the classic story, one of the most thrillingly entertaining films of all time.

King Richard the Lion-Hearted, off fighting in the Crusades, has been captured and held for ransom. His unscrupulous brother John (Claude Rains) schemes to make sure Richard never returns, so he can take over as king. All of the knights offer their support but one, Sir Robin of Locksley (Flynn), who vows to raise the ransom money himself. He and his followers use Sherwood Forest as cover so they can steal from the rich and powerful to help the poor and raise the ransom money. They capture a group of travelers that includes the Sheriff of Nottingham (Melville Cooper), Sir Guy of Gisboume (Basil Rathbone), and the lovely Maid Marian (Olivia de Havilland), the King’s ward. Marian is at first scornful, but when she learns that Robin and his men are loyal to Richard, and sees how the Normans have abused the Saxons, she becomes sympathetic. In order to capture Robin, the Sheriff plans an archery contest, with the prize to be awarded by Marian. They know Robin will not be able to resist. He enters in disguise, but his superb skill reveals his identity, and he is caught and put in the dungeon. With the help of his men and Marian, however, he is rescued in time to help save Richard from John’s plot to have him assassinated.

In this story, Robin is the only one of the knights to stay loyal to Richard. Though he is a Norman, he is willing to lose everything he has to protect the poor Saxons. His loyalty is not limited to his own people; rather, he sees everyone who behaves justly as his people. “It’s injustice I hate, not the Normans,” he tells Marian.

Robin is not only the world’s greatest archer and a master swashbuckler. He has a complex and multi-layered character, revealed in his interactions with Marian and with his men. He has a strong and clear sense of fairness and honor. He is always respectful of those who deserve it, including the peasants. He is confident and direct, but also unpretentious and even irreverent. When he tells Marian that her manners are not as pretty as her looks, Prince John laughs that this is quite a contrast to Sir Guy, whose feelings for Marian leave him tongue-tied. In the scene where he meets Little John, Robin fights him for the right to cross the river first, just for the fun of it. When Little John wins, tossing him into the water, Robin is delighted. “I love a man that can best me!”

Robin is not especially concerned with goodness or piety; he even steals food from Friar Tuck. But with the poor and weak, he is gentle and considerate and he is, above all, loyal. When he finds that the people who appear to be traveling monks are loyal to Richard, he
says he will only take half of what they have. At the end, when the king asks him what he wants as a reward, all he asks for is amnesty for his men.

This is also a good movie to use for a discussion of what makes a leader. Robin’s confidence in himself inspires the confidence of others. In one of history’s finest pairings of actor and role, Errol Flynn brings his own assurance, grace, and passionate enjoyment to a part that added courage, integrity, and lively dialogue, creating one of the screen’s greatest heroes.

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