Category Archives: Television

Movie night with a dictator.

Our group used to meet regularly at members’ homes to view Classic Movies and then discuss them at the coffee klatch that followed; this was part of our on-going adult education and a great way to see some amazing films.  We used to call it “Classic Movie Night at X’s”  or CMNAX  for short.   Over the years, we met at CMNAL, CMNAP, CMNAMOC (Orange County edition) and now I’d like to talk about CMNAHAS.   Classic Movie Night at Hitler and Stalin’s.
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Let me recommend this wonderful Hitler article at the Roger Ebert website,  which started me thinking about how all the world’s dictators are such great film buffs.   I already knew about Stalin’s Movie Night  but here was another story that suggested a pattern to my mind.   Wasn’t Kim Jong Il a big Hollywood fan?  I believe he was.  Before his demise (he definitely left us too early I fear) he courted Hollywood producers and directors to come visit him in that wonderful showcase for film, North Korea.
Are there others in this list?  We never got to see what videocassettes Bin Laden was watching in his compound, but he was a mere terrorist.  We need to focus on heads of state.  Saddam Hussein did not have much room in his spider hole to fit a portable DVD player, so that legacy is also lost.  And there’s been nothing on Kaddafi; he may have been a TV series fan.
We’ll have to wait to see what streaming video does to the tastes of the next Evil Head of State1
  1. On the other side of the scale, we have the Good Guy Festival: G.W. Bush was fond of Armageddon  –yuk– and Bill Clinton was a big fan of High Noon —thanks to Gene Siskel’s interview with Clinton, we know all about these White House preferences.  []
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In Memoriam….. A Race to Final Place

rogerebert Seymour_hoffman

I’ve been meaning to write this small article as a way to encourage the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) to include Roger Ebert in their Oscar telecast. But now, with the death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman it seems  fitting to broach this subject.

AMPAS puts together a memorial section during the Oscars, to commemorate and celebrate the lives of those that have  passed the previous year. We would normally see a montage of movie stars and famous directors accompanied by stirring music. Once in a while you’d see a famous producer, and that was OK also. This year I expect to see the big names such as Peter O’Toole and Paul Walker.

But recently this memorial presentation has been getting strange. We’ve been getting listings for publicists, agents, technical tradesmen and even some writers (gasp!). I understand losing someone like Jerry Goldsmith (for music)  or someone like Edith Head (for wardrobe) and including them in the montage makes sense. But a publicist? What’s next, casting directors?1 And stop putting in people that made 1 film but were famous in some other field (Michael Jackson comes to mind).

Movies are a visual medium. Unless the person is in front of the camera, or controlling that camera, or making news outside of the movie industry (say, TV or music) so that they are familiar to us, don’t include them. Wardrobe and art direction are something we can see on the screen; include those folks.

Having said that, now I have to make a case to include Roger Ebert2.  He was an amazing writer and he wrote about movies. Even in his non-movie essays, he’d find a way to reference movies, to show how movies changed his life. He championed good movies and good movie-viewing technology. He fought  against the evils of colorization and Bowdlerization and was a promoter of film to the very end. He should be included.

And what the heck, put Phillip Seymour Hoffman in also, event though his passing was in 2014 and outside of the scope of the memorial.

  1. Jiminy, they put in a casting director and omit some of the stars from Star Trek? Heresy !! []
  2. His website RogerEbert.com is still one of the best places to read about film (both new and old) and essays about  diverse interesting subjects. If you miss his writing, like I do, go over there and feast on decades of his brilliant  essays and reviews. []

Yes, It’s Canceled (2011-2012)

Maybe it’s me, maybe I’m watching too much TV, but it seems like there have been a ton of canceled showed this past year. Here’s what we’ve lost:

  • House: Ongoing, but final season. Getting too expensive to produce, mainly from actors’ salaries.
  • Chuck: Painfully overt Subway promotions couldn’t make up for low ratings. At least they had lots of time to lead to a real series finale.
  • Terra Nova: I really enjoyed this one, but the ratings didn’t support the high filming costs. Netflix was in talks to save it, but bowed out. Another reason to not go back to them.
  • Alcatraz: Yet another one season wonder, ending on a cliffhanger to boot.
  • Pan Am: spies and stewardesses in the swinging sixties. How did this not catch on? I’m a Christina Ricci fan, but Margot Robbie was just stunning in this show. Prettiest face on TV. Expect we’ll see more from her.
  • Bored to Death: Read it was canceled to help pay for Luck.
  • How to Make it in America: Again, was unLucky, even with lots of nudity added in the second season. At least we got to see Lake Bell topless.
  • Luck: Ha! Two shows killed for this and they cancel it because show also killed horses. Actually, the last horse died walking back to the barn and wasn’t at all related to filming, but there is such a thing as bad publicity.

Honorable mention to:

  • Hung: Honestly, I didn’t make it past the second season. The show didn’t make it past a third.
  • Men of a Certain Age: I liked the first season, but never made it to the second, so I’m in part to blame.

Here’s what a lot of producers don’t get: if you acknowledge the bad ratings and tie up the loose ends at the end of the (probable) final season, you can actually get some DVD sales, which might justify a return season (see Family Guy, Arrested Development). I know it interferes with your perfect 5 year story arc, but you can always come up with a good plot excuse for keeping it going. The alternative, putting your head in the sand or being overly optimistic, leads to cliffhangers that just piss off your core audience. Alcatraz followed in the steps of Flash Forward, which was the worst series finale in history.1 If your fans yell, “ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME?” at the screen when your series ends, you have not done a good job. I will give exceptions to shows like Luck, which filmed all its episodes before the first aired, not to mention it was actually renewed before the sudden cancellation.

At this point, I just hope the following actors get jobs on something I want to watch:

 

Yvonne Strahovski
Margot Robbie
Christina Ricci
Allison Miller
Lake Bell

 

  1. Best series finale goes to Good Times where, for once, good things happened to everyone in the show. []

Outsourced, The Event Canceled; Chuck Renewed

According to Variety, NBC has canceled Outsourced and The Event, but Chuck will be back for at least 13 more episodes. I never watched The Event, but I did like Outsourced. Diedrich Bader was pretty funny there, and I dig cute Indian (and Aussie) girls, but I admit it wasn’t quite the laugh riot it could have been. Glad to see Chuck return; even if the ratings aren’t great, they must be making money from those embedded Subway commercials.

UPDATE: Bad news, NBC announced that this will be the final season of Chuck. I imagine the ratings will have to be phenomenal to reverse that.

UPDATE 2: They’ve now announced that Chuck will air in the Friday 8-9PM slot, the death knell for all sci fi/fantasy shows (BSG, Smallville, etc.). Enjoy it while it lasts!

Party Down

Party Down is yet another brilliant comedy series you’ve never heard of. It has excellent writing and acting that feels improvisational, like a Christopher Guest film or Curb Your Enthusiasm, even though it’s 90% scripted.1 The comedic setup and payoff is intricate ala Arrested Development. And it has the realistic bittersweetness (more bitter than sweet) of the original (British) The Office.

The cast comes from other cult hits, mostly Veronica Mars and The State, plus a few Judd Apatow and Christopher Guest veterans. Standouts include Jane Lynch (40 Year Old Virgin, Role Models, Best in Show), Ken Marino (The State, Reaper, Veronica Mars), Martin Starr (Freaks and Geeks, Knocked Up, Adventureland), Lizzy Caplan (Mean Girls, True Blood) and a slew of guest stars.

It had critical acclaim and a cult following – a cult which I have just joined – and like clockwork it was canceled after just two 10-episode seasons. I guess that’s what happens when you air at 10PM on a Friday night on Starz, when Starz wasn’t known for any original programming.2 As a consolation, you can watch the entire series on Netflix streaming, and I highly recommend you do so. If you’re as excited about the series as I am, when you’re finished watching it you’ll enjoy reading The Complete Oral History of Party Down.

Here’s a trailer to whet your appetite, although it doesn’t quite do the show justice.

  1. They didn’t have the budget to make it improv. []
  2. Fred Savage, one of the regular directors, said they came up with the slogan “Starz. You must might have it.” during filming. And yes, it’s that Fred Savage. Apparently he also directs a number of Sunny episodes. []

Asians? Not attractive.

This is going to be a touchy subject, so I’m immediately going to defend the title.  This article represents my opinion only and here are my qualifiers:  I am partly of Asian descent so I feel I can write these words without seeming prejudiced against folks from the world regions that used to be called “Oriental” (that would be the Far East; continental Asians such as Indians and people from the Middle East are not included in this discussion).

So this is only my own, twisted, outrageous viewpoint.  But please believe that I am not being sensationalistic for shock value: I really do not find Asian girls attractive.1  I think this has a lot to do with the environment I experienced as a child (heavily Jewish neighborhood, almost totally Caucasian school) and not with any learned behaviors.

 

Therefore, my view is totally unfair to the beautiful ladies gracing this page, or to the many good looking ladies married/dating many members of the CT.  This only represents my preference, and nobody should care about my preferences, really.2

I watch a lot of Chinese, Japanese TV shows and movies so I’m definitely exposed to lots of beautiful actresses.  But no matter how highly regarded they are, I am not in the slightest moved or attracted.  Is this a loss or an advantage? I’d like to think that not being attracted to these ladies gives me a bit of an advantage.  I cannot be manipulated or influenced by the beauty of a good 50% of the world’s population.  This is good.  It feels a bit like a super-power of sorts.

So the title of the article should be “Asians? Not attractive to me, and that’s great !!”

  1. or Asian guys, by strong inference !! []
  2. except for my wife, and I am definitely attracted to her.  She is not Asian. []

James Cameron, TV Guardian of the Universe

I procrastinated writing an article on using a cool little device called the  TV Guardian  which allows you to watch TV and DVD with the foul language muted.  You can read more about it here but in short:  it scans the Close-Caption (CC) signal and everytime it detects a “bad word” it mutes the sound and presents a “cleaned-up” version of the dialogue in the close captions area (eg: Let’s have sex !!  became Let’s have hugs.1)

Unfortunately, my delay has cost me dearly.  In the years since I tried out this fantastic new technology, most studios have disabled the Close-Captioning signal opting instead for built-in subtitles.  So TV Guardian has in effect stopped working for 50% of the movies on DVD and all movies on Blu-Ray, which does not carry the CC signal.

Enter James Cameron, my hero.

He is releasing a 3-disc collector’s edition of Avatar,  featuring a family-friendly language track.  In this New York Times article,  he mentions that he was motivated to do this by watching his kids picking up foul language from watching the original movie soundtrack.  He reasons that the clean language track will be made available for airline and network showing, so why not include it now in the Collector’s Edition release.

Continue reading James Cameron, TV Guardian of the Universe

  1. Exclamation points deleted, because nobody gets excited about a hug []

Flintstones Turn 50, Cough Up A Lung

The Flintstones turns 50 today and an article in the Christian Science Monitor highlights the dumb things The Flintstones producers did over the years. It makes rather humorless observations like dinosaurs didn’t exist and the Great Gazoo was jumping the shark. OK. But it also points out the smoking:

It asks how the producers could have been so dumb to include it in a cartoon, accepting the fact that smoking was prevalent in 1960. What the author doesn’t know is that The Flintstones wasn’t entirely a kid’s cartoon; it was an animated version of The Honeymooners, one of the most popular shows of the era. It’s written by adults and there’s comedy in there that would be lost on children, but appreciated by adults. And it originally ran during prime time in an 8:30PM slot.

Of course, today, a prime time cartoon wouldn’t dare show characters smoking.

OK, this was where I was going to show Patty and Selma, but apparently Simpsons videos are not on the internet. Fox even keeps the clips off. The closest I could find was this, which I find absurdly funny:

I also learned that in Russia, dubbing means “talking loudly over the original dialogue, without removing it.” Exhibit A.

The Best Celebrity Slave Leias

I’ve noted a wonderful new trend these past few years: hot celebrity babes dressing up as Princess Leia in her metal bikini slave costume. Not a ton, and maybe I’m being liberal with the word “celebrity”1, but enough to get my attention. Here are my favorites. And by favorites, I mean all I could find. If you know of more, let me know and I’ll add them.

Continue reading The Best Celebrity Slave Leias

  1. Not unlike every reality/competition show out there. []