Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Calendar Of Passings

A list of just some of the people we lost in 2005

Jan 1- Shirley Chisholm, first black congresswoman, age 80
Jan 22- Rose Mary Woods, Nixon's private secretary, age 87
Jan 23- Johnny Carson, late show host, age 79
Feb 2- Max Schmeling, boxer, age 99
Feb 4- Ossie Davis, actor and playwright, age 87
Feb 10- Arthur Miller, playwright, age 89
Feb 20- Sandra Dee, actress, age 62
Feb 20- Hunter S. Thompson, journalist, age 67
March 6- Teresa Wright, actress, age 86
March 19- John DeLorean, automaker, age 80
March 29- Johnnie Cochran, "lawyer to the stars", age 67
March 31- Frank Perdue, poultry entrepreneur, age 84
March 31- Terri Schiavo, controversial life-support recipient, age 41
April 2- John Paul II, pope, age 84
April 6- Prince Rainier, prince of Monaco, age 81
May 26- Eddie Albert, actor, age 99
June 6- Anne Bancroft, actress, age 73
July 17- Edward Heath, former Conservative British PM, age 89
July 18- William Westmorland, U.S. general once in charge of Vietnam War operations, age 91
July 20- James Doohan, "Scotty", age 85
Aug 7- Peter Jennings, news anchor, age 67
Sept 2- Bob Denver, "Gilligan", age 70
Sept 3- William H. Rehnquist, Chief Justice of U. S. Supreme Court, age 80
Sept 14- Robert Wise, director, age 91
Sept 20- Simon Wiesenthal, Nazi hunter, age 96
Oct 24- Rosa Parks, civil-rights activist, age 92
Nov 24- Pat Morita, actor, age 73
Nov 26- Stan Berenstain, childrens book author, age 82
Dec 10- Eugene McCarthy, senator and presidential candadite, age 89
Dec 10- Richard Pryor, actor/comedian, age 65
Dec 16- John Spencer, actor, age 58

Thursday, December 29, 2005

King Long: A Love Song To Kong

A Movie Review

Peter Jacksons massive three hour version of the consummate giant primate flick King Kong, is the fulfillment of a life-long dream of the directors. Producer Marion C. Coopers iconic 1933 film version of Kong was the cinematic spectacle that propelled the young New Zelander to a life in motion pictures. The Lord of the Rings director was able to make his boyhood movie-making dream come true by virtue of being the Lord of the Rings director. After the success of the recordbreaking trilogy based on the novels of J. R. R. Tolken, Jackson had enough clout in Hollywood to make any film that he wanted, so it is no surprise that he chose to make this one. The joy that Peter had in bringing Kong back to the screen is evident throughout this lavishly produced picture, however it is that same quality of exuberance about the story that makes the whole movie fee bothl over-done and over-blown.

I admit that I have never seen Coppers original Kong, or its 1976 remake (which I hear is awful), but I am perhaps more versed in the story then most of my peers, owing to my having read the tale as simplified children's book when I was in elementary school. Jackosn keeps the stories original early 1930's setting, and the opening scenes establishing depression era New York City, as well as the fabulous CG renditions of downtown Manhattan and Central Park are very well done. Jack Black is struggling film producer Carl Denham, who has just had the financing pulled from an overly ambitious film project (read: Peter Jackson worst nightmare). Needing to get away to start production before his former backers reposes his equipment, Denham succeeds in conning a number of individuals into setting sail with him to the mysterious 'Skull Island' where he intends to shoot his picture. Among his recruits is down on her luck performer Ann Darrow, played by the very pretty Naomi Watts, whom I have been impressed with sense seeing her performance in Mulholland Dr., a movie in which she also plays an aspiring actress. Also conned by Denham is distinguished playwrite Jack Driscoll (whats with these D names), played by Adrien Brody, as well as the somewhat hollow (though not altogether unredeemable) actor Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler). Denhams camera and sound men, as well as the crew of S. S. Venture are also fooled by the 'convincing' producer.

Upon arriving on the island we encounter what we would expect out of a King Kong movie, creepy ruins, angry natives, unusually large insects, dinosaurs, and of course the giant ape. The whole middle section of the movie consists of a series of chases and fight scenes, which while very well done and exciting at first, do get kind of tiresome after a while. Eventually Dirscol (who has fallen in love with Ann) and the crew manage to get Ms. Darrow back from King Kong (who has also fallen in love with Ann), who was given to the big lonely monkey by some rather nasty looking locals. Before leaving 'Skull Island' however, Denham and the crew of Venture use a luckely available and large supply of chloroform to knock-out Kong so that they can take him back to the states to show for money. Of course the logistics of the battered crew transporting Kong from 'Skull Island', which is south of Malaysia, to New York City seems at the very lest less then probable.

Kongs Broadway debut turns out rather badly when the giant best breaks through his chains and takes to the streets looking for his preferred leading lady, he didn't take well to Namoni's replacement, i.e. he killed her. After picking up and tossing away every young blond he comes across (insert all men are pigs joke here), Kong and Ann are reunited and, I kid you not, go play on the ice in Central Park. Of course the whole thing ends with the Kings fatefull fall off the Empire State Building, shot down by Peter Jackson and other members of the production team in propeller-driven airplanes. King Kong is overwrought in many ways including its repeated attempts to equate itself with Conrads Heart of Darkness, but it is still good fun for the movie loving child in all of us.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Manchurian Candidate for the 21st Century

A Movie Review

After his awful reimagining of Charade, I admit to being hesitant of director Jonathan Demme's lose re-make of John Frankenhimers classic political thriller The Manchurian Candidate. However, after having now viewed the film I am both surprised and delighted to say that it is almost as good as the original.

Based on Richard Condons novel about a solder in the Korean War brainwashed to be a communist assassin, the 1962 film version of The Manchurian Candidate was a film ahead of its time both in complexity of narrative and technique. Withheld from public view for many years on account of certain plot simularites to the 1963 Kennedy assassination, Frankenheimers Manchurian Candidate is currently a reverenced film among people in the cinematic know, making a remake a daunting task. Demme I think made the right decision in his production not only in updating the stories setting but also in changing the plotline in several major ways, making it more of an homage then a remake.

Like the original movie this one concerns a group of solders who are ambushed and kidnapped in war time (in this case the 1991 Gulf War), and brainwashed by members of a vast conspiracy. Denzel Washington takes the Frank Sinatra role (Franks daughter Tina was a producer on the film) as Major Ben Marco the company commander. Liev Schreiber does a worthy job as the melancholy loner Sgt. Raymond Shaw, the original moody characterization of which became actor Laurence Harveys signature performance. Instead of international communists being responsible for the group abduction like in the first film, this time the conspiracy is the work of an international conglomerate called Manchurian Global, a corporation that is suggestive of the former employer of our current vice-president.

Fourteen years after their mysterious three-day disappearance in the sands of Kuwait, Major Marco starts having a series of nightmares triggered by renewed contact with a fellow abducte. Marco begins to remember what really happened to him in the desert, and sets about trying to convince Raymond Shaw that they were the victim's of mind altering experiments. Shaw, although unsure at first comes to suspect that Major Marco might be on to something, however as New York Congressman and newly minted vice-presidential candidate for the Democratic Ticket (alongside that "sound-bite from Nebraska", Gov. Bob Arthur), political considerations prevent his swiftly acting on his gut. By political considerations I am of course referring to the power-hungry machinations of Raymond mother 'Hillary-esq' Virginia Senator Eleanor Prentice Shaw (Meryl Streep), who having already strong-armed liberal Connecticut Senator Thomas Jordan (Jon Voight, whose character is the father of Raymonds pined for first love) out of the V.P. slot, is not about to let anything ruin her plans for her son.

The movie tries very hard to be a relevant commentary on the current political situation, but in an attempt to amp-up the cold-war paranoia feel of the original film makes things seem perhaps more dark then they really are. The world this picture presents us with is going through a heightened version of the War on Terror, which in this case began with a presumably Sept. 11th type event refereed to as 'Bloody Friday' and culminated with U.S. military action in Indonesia and Africa. With U.S. troops positioned nearly everywhere in urban areas and cites like Chicago subject to suicide bombers, the America of Demme's Manchurian Candidate is not so much the nation we know, but the nation we feared we'd live in during the months immediately after the terrorist attacks of 2001. Also notable in this film is the performance of Kimberly Elise (who by-the-way played Denzil Washintons wife in Nick Cassavetes film John Q.) as Marco's love interest Rosie, a character more important to the plot then her Janet Leigh counter-part in the original. This Manchurian Candidate is a solid and engaging film that despite its flaws is still relevant to the current American zeitgeist

The ''Time To Make The Donuts" Man Has Passed

Michael Vale, stage and screen actor best known for his role as the "time to make the donuts" baker on a series of commercials for Dunkin donuts, has passed away at the age of 83. The donuts commercials that ran from 1982 to 1997 featured Vale as an often unenthusiastic baker whose life was dominated by his jobs incessant demand to produce the popular pastries. Ironically Michael Vale is said to have died from complications related to diabetes.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Boxer

A Movie Review

With yesterday being Boxing Day, I thought it only appropriate that I watch the gift my brother and sister-in-law gave me for Christmas, a DVD of Ron Howards film Cinderella Man. The failure of this movie at the box-office has been lamented by Critics as on of the great cinema mysteries of the year 2005, especially given its reteaming of the popular duo of director Howard and star Russell Crowe, who won Academy Awards several years ago for another bio-pic, the rather impressive A Beautiful Mind. This movie also features the unique and talented Renee Zellweger, the always great & currently in-vogue Paul Giamatti, strong character players Bruce McGill & Paddy Considine, and Ron's weird-looking little brother Clint.

The movie is the story of James J. Braddock (Russell Crowe), a once promising contender in the world of boxing, who after being severely beaten in a 1929 bout finds his career slipping quickly downhill. By 1933 Jim has become such a weak and ineffectual player (0wing largely to his dependence of his strong right hand, which is broken several times throughout the course of his career), that he has his boxing license revoked. Having lost almost all of his once sizable wealth in stock market crash of 29', the once famous boxer is forced to work as a long-shorman in his native New Jersey whenever he can get a days labor. His debts mounting beyond control eventually the power and heat is cut from the small apartment where he lives with his wife and three children. When his wife Mae (Renee Zellweger), farmers the kids off to various relatives so that they can be warm, the 'self-sufficient' minded Jim reluctently goes on government releaf, as well as begs from friends enough money to turn the gas back on so the children can come home.

In the midst of all this gloom Jims one-time agent and good friend Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) comes with the offer of one last (league approved) fight that could net them at least $250. It seems that a professional player had backed out of a Madison Square Garden match at the last minute and they needed someone they could get on short notice. Fuelled by his own desperate determination and a bowel of corned-beef hash, Jim wins the fight and begins a streak of victories that propel him to the world championships and inspires a downcast nation with hope in much the same way as a did a certain horse.

The story of Cinderella Man is a story about second chances, how a desperate man motivated by the need to provide for his own family over-comes lost confidence to become a champion. This is much more then just a boxing story because Jim Braddock was not just a hero in the ring, but a regular saint in his daily life. At one point in the movie Jims son Jay steals a salami from a local butcher to help feed his starving family, calmly and with dignity James takes his son back to the butchers to return the meat and gives him a heart-felt lecture that no matter what happens it is wrong to steal. James Braddock encapsulates in one man a now much dissipated sense of right and wrong and personal dignity, that we so warmly associate with the generations that suffered through both the great depression and the second world war.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Vincent Schiavelli:1948-2005

Droopy eyed character actor Vincent Schiavelli passed away today of lung cancer at his home in Italy. One of the most unusual and recognizable faces in modern cinema, Schiavelli was a favorite of director Milos Forman who featured him in his films One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus, and Man on the Moon. A prolific performer Schiavelli also appered in such notable films as the 80's teen comedy Better Off Dead, early 90's blockbuster Ghost, and the James Bond Film Tomorrow Never Dies. Schiavelli was also frequently seen on TV guest roles in programs as divergent as Taxi and The X-Files. Vincent Schiavelli was 57.

Loy vs. Harlow

A Movie Review

Director Clarence Browns 1936 film Wife vs. Secretary is a story that could have easily slipped into overt melodrama, but do to a combination of careful direction and surpassingly subtle characterizations by the actors, still holds up well after all these years. Based on a story by Faith Baldwin, the film is an honest if sanitized exploration on issues of expectations and jealousy, featuring an unusually well constructed love-triangle. Clark Gable is Van 'V. S.' Stanhope, who like his father before him is the head of a high-class magazine publishing syndicate. Linda, his beloved wife of just over three years is played by Myrna Loy, while Van's secretary Helen 'Whitey' Wilson is then super-star Jean Harlow.

The action begins when Vans mother Mimi (played by May Robson) advises daughter-in-law Linda to have her husband get ride of actractive secretary Helen. Linda rebuffs the suggestion stating that she implicitly trusts her husband who is very much in love with her, and that Van and 'Whitey' have an exceptionally good working relationship that she would not want to break up. He "depends on her" she says. Linda is right about her husband who, while recognizing that Helen is "quite a dish", truly has eyes for no women other then his wife. Helen on the otherhand has been nursing quite the crush on her employer for years, to the point that her devotion to her 'job' is threatening to break-up her relationship to a long time boyfriend played by Jimmy Stewart (in what was only his 4th film).

Events in the story are moved along by V. S.'s plot to purchase a magazine called the National Weekly from its retiring publisher (J.D. Underwood played by George Barber), before rival company 'Hanson House' can do so. As it is important for Van to keep his plans secrete to avoid there leaking out, our protagonist is unable to truthfully explain to his wife why he's been spending such an unusual amount of time away from home. Thoughts set in motion by her mother-in-laws earlier supposition, Linda comes to increasing suspect that Van and Helen are having an affair, this idea finds reinforcement as she continually discovers holes in her husbands explanations of what he's doing with his time. Things all come to a head when Linda calls her husband at a publishing convention in Havana at two in the morning, only to hear Helen answering the phone in his hotel room (she is their because they have just brokered a late night deal with Underwood).

This is a solid motion picture though a little uneven themeaticly, fluctuating from light comedy to at times almost heavy handed moralizing, but it does always manages to advance its story without feeling overly contrived. Gable is great in his oblivious 'happy-go-lucky' persona throughout most of the film, displaying just the right amount of melancholy towards the end. While Harlow of course is the legendary sex-symbol, Loys more well-rounded appeal is evident, if not quite at its best in this film (Jimmy Stewart once said that "there ought to be a law against men who don't want to marry Myrnia Loy"). I think the truly interesting thing about Harlow is that her growth as an actress is one of the most noticeable in the history of film. In her early performances Harlow is mostly on screen because of her body, her acting wooden and clowenish with her parts seemingly written around her limited ability. In this film however her acting is strong, she conveys much through he eyes and facial expressions, and affects a complete and sympathetic personality for her character. Wife vs. Secretary is a good film for when you are in the mood for that 30's polish but would prefer your characters more fully developed then those in the average period film.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Tribute To Some Of The Folks We Lost This Year

A Joe Smith Cartoon

Joseph Smith at 200

Well today marks the bicentennial of the birth of the Prophet Joseph Smith. I don't really have anything I want to say today, I don't have time to write an essay, but decided to provide some web links that might be of interest. Here are links to both the LDS Church and the Community of Christ. An LDS web sit devoted to Joseph Smith & one that appears to independently operated, as well as a link to Sunstone.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Rakes Progress

A Movie Review

A huge critical success upon its original release (even nominated for best picture 1975), Barry Lyndon was a box-office bomb (and a rather expensive one, judging by the apparent production values). Produced in director Stanley Kubricks slow & hypnotic post-Dr. Stranglove style, the movie is based on the same-titled novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. Starting off in 1750's Ireland, Redmmond Barry (played by Ryan O'Neal) is the nephew of a promenit landholder, who falls in love with his cousin, the fair Nora Brady (Gay Hamilton). When Nora becomes engaged to English officer Capt. John Quinn (the union to which will bring much needed money to Barry's cash-strapped uncle), the impertinent young lad challenges his rival to a duel. Upon believing he has killed the British captain Barry flee's to exile in Dublin, however he is mugged by highwaymen on the way and is forced to join the British Army to survive.

After some time in training with the army, a family friend who happens to be an officer arrives to take command of Barrys regiment. The officer Capt. Feeny (Arthur O'Sullivan) informs young Barry that his pistol was full of blanks and the whole duel had been part of an elaborate scheme to get him out of the way so that Nora could marry Capt. Quinn. Capt. Feeny takes Redmmond Barry under his wing, only to be killed in their fast battle as part of the Seven-Years War. Now fearful of his own death, Redmmond steals an officers uniform and papers in the hopes of making his way to Holland, and from there home to Ireland. On his way to the Netherlands Barry has a brief affair with farm women, is found to be an imposter by a German officer, and is mustered into forced service in the Prussian Army. All this in just the first hour of a three-hour movie.

The film for the first half is essentially a chronicle of the many adventures of a young opportunist, who in addition to the activities I have already described, gets to be a spy, a professional gambler, and even an English nobleman. Barry Redmmond gets his nobel title and the surname Lyndon, by marrying the Lady Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) after the death of her first husband the sickly Sir Charles Reginald Lyndon (played in a brief, somewhat over-the-top performance by a personal favorite of mine, British character actor Frank Middlemass).

The second half of the picture is best described as somber, while the first half was rather mischievous in tone. As with any morality tale Barry Lyndon gets his come-upence. Now rich and somewhat powerful, Barry plunges full-force into efforts to secure a Lordship for himself (so as to assure his statues, wealth, and prestige in the event of his wife's death), squandering much of the family fortune in the process and alienating his step-son in the process. Many horrible things happen to Barry as a result of his selfish and arrogant ways, (including the death of his only son) and he ends up poor, titlelless, and absent one leg (I won't tell you how, got to give you some reason to see the film).

Barry Lyndon is not for everyone, as its meager box-office gross will prove, but it is brilliant done film with fabulous visuals (Director Kubrick wanted to film this picture with natural light whenever possible, so he had a new kind of camera filter developed, that could garner sufficient illumination from candelight). However if you think that you could sit through an 18th Century epic that runs like 2001: A Space Odyssey, then Barry Lyndon might be a film for you.

"He Don't Do The Crazy Things He'd Done Before"

A Movie Review

I make it a point to try and support both documentary films and unusual Mormon films, so when I heard that Greg Whiteleys award winning New York Doll was playing at a local cheap-seat theater, I knew I had to go. The subject of this movie is Arthur "Killer" (nick-name comes from his "killer" baselines) Kane. Kane was a member of the ground breaking 70's punk/rock group 'The New York Dolls', who after the group broke-up fell into obscurity while most of his bandmates went on to success.

The motion picture documents the unusual course that Arthur Kanes life took after the break-up of the Dolls. After brief runs with several ultimately unsuccessful band in both New York and Los Angles, Kane and his wife Barbara took up extra work in films like Spaceballs and Innerspace. One day in the late 1980's after stumbling upon former bandmate David Johansen (who had now achieved success under the name of alter-ego 'Buster Poindexter') on Televsion, Arthur flew into a rage and proceeded to beat his wife, an event that lead to her leaving him. After attempting suicide the one time celebrity was reduced to dwelling in a small apartment and living off social security/disability.

Arthurs life took an additional unexpected twist when he ordered a copy of 'The Book Of Mormon' out of a magazine and took the LDS missionary discussions. After receiving a spiritual confirmation of the books truthfulness from what he described as an "acid trip from the Lord" Kane became a baptized Mormon, eventually working in a Los Angles Family History Center and serving in the L.A. Temple. The majority of the film centers on this now reborn Kane and his efforts to reunite with his surviving bandmates for a reunion concert, something that they eventually did in London in June of 2004.

This is such an interesting film because this is such an interesting man. In photos they show of a young Kane you can see a definite anger in his eyes, but that anger has vanished in the older Kane you see through most of the movie. The film is accented with some very '70's' montage sequences, repeated references to the 'genealogy of rock' and interviews with Arthurs friends from the two very different worlds of Punk Rock and the 'Mormon' Church. This wonderfully unusual and inspiring film capes with Arthurs unexpected death from leukemia just 22 days after the reunion concert, and a reflective performance of the hymn 'A Poor Wayfaring Man of Grief' by the surviving 'Dolls'.

You Can Find Anything On The Internet

As proof of the old saying that one can find "anything" on the internet, I offer this diagram of Mr. Ed's stable from the classic TV series of the same name.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

John Spencer: 1946-2005

In Memory

John Spencer was born John Speshock in New York City on December 20th 1946. The only son of a truck driver and a some-times waitress, John grew-up in a lower middle-class environment near Paterson New jersey. At age 16 John left home to attend the Professional Childrens School, where one of his class mates was Liza Minnellil. In 1963 he got his first recurring acting role as the boyfriend of Patty Dukes British cousin on The Patty Duke Show. John settled in to character roles both on stage and screen even touring with silent screen legend Gloria Swanson in a 1970 production of 'Butterflies are Free'.

John Spencers career however was handicapped by the fact that he had become an alcoholic, a trait he shared with both his father and grandfather. Eventually however John was able to kick the habit and found increasing success on film in movies like Forget Paris, The Rock, Copland, and The Negotiator. His role as recovering alcoholic Tommy Mullaney on TV's "L.A. Law", helped inspire "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin to create for him the role of White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry. John was the first actor cast on the series and won an Emmy for the role, as well as being nominated four additional times.

Never married John Spencer is survived by his long time girlfriend actress-choreographer Patricia Mariano.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Good Speech

Well the President spoke to the country about the situation in Iraq tonight, in a live address from the oval office. Now he didn't really say much new, mainly he stuck to the 'stay the course' message, however the tone was different. The president has made a point about taking responsibility for the ultimate decision to go to war in Iraq, and has been acknowledging over the past few weeks that much of the pre-war intelligence information the administration brought to the public was flawed. He brought both the importance of the 'stay the course' philosophy, as well as a sense of humility to his address tonight, in all I'd say the president came off as quite reasonable and measured. I think the nation may be on its way out of the dull-drums on this issue, the much improved Sunni turnout in last weeks elections is a very encouraging sign. Well only time will tell, but right now I feel our country's pretty well on track in regards to the situation in Iraq.

No Headline Strange Enough For My Review Of 'Man On The Moon'

A Movie Review

Eccentric director Milos Forman has made an eccentric film about an eccentric man in his 1999 Andy Kaufman bio-pic Man on the Moon. The film starts out with Jim Carry as Andy Kaufman, telling the audience that in essence he did not like the film so he edited it down to the credits, after which the end credits begin to roll. After a few minutes of this Carry's Kaufman, now sporting a different 'personality', lets us in on the joke and begins the film in ernest. I point this out because this introduction basically captures the manic genius that was Andy Kaufman, a man who was as much running experiments about reaction on his audience as he was trying to entertain them.

In fact Andy Kaufman didn't so much consider himself a comedian, as he did a self styled 'song and dance man'. Only tolerating his much loved role on the TV series Taxi so that he could persue his other intrests, Kaufman made a name for himself with eccentric (here's that word again) performance pieces, female wrestling, strange characters, and elaborate production numbers. Always one to blur the line between reality and fantasy Andy Kaufman has long been associated with the character of a mean spirited lounge singer named Tony Clifton, a character who may or may not be a real person as the film points out.

Jim Carry's performance as Andy is strong in a role that seems just perfect for him. Reports from the set at the time of production indicate that Mr. Carry really went full in to the 'method acting' technique in the film, staying in character as Andy for most of the shoot. Paul Giamatti works well as Kaufmans creative partner Bob Zmuda, Coutrny Love surprised me as Andy's sympathetic girlfriend Lynne Margulies, while Danny Devito largely anchored the film in reality as comedy agent George Shapiro. Also of note is the surprising number of folks from Andy's past who appear as themselves in the film, including Budd Friedman, Jerry Lawler, Lorin Michaels, and David Letterman. Most of the cast of Taxi appear in the film looking almost eerily like their selves of 20 years previous under excellent make-up (shout out to Judd Hirsch).

Man on the Moon is interesting for what it is, a bio-pic of a man who is more the sum of his creations then his own person. The majority of the film is Kaufman in his various characters, which gives Jim Carry ample opportunity to perform the late entertainers greatest bits (which he does very well), but little time to get a sense the guy as a person. However as Andys girlfriend Lynne points out to him in the film, "there is no real you." Like fellow eccentric Peter Sellers, Andy Kaufmans lack of a real defined sense of self outside of his work lead to great pain for those around him. Unlike Sellers however Kaufman seemed less bitter at the end, at least as judging from both characters portals in their respective bio-films. Andy Kaufman died of cancer in 1984, since it would seem within his character to try and fake a stunt like that his passing was meet with an unusual degree of suspicion. Yet despite all that he did in life the stigma of his worst stunts seems to have largely worn off, leaving us with a memory of a Andy Kaufman as a "very original" man with a truly original body of work.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist Jack Anderson Dies at 83

Jack Anderson the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist passed away this morning after a long battle with Parkinsons disease. The devote Mormon was born October 19th 1922 in southern California and began his newspaper writing carer at age 12, covering scouting and community activities for a Salt Lake area paper. After a stint as a civilian war correspondent in WWII, Anderson made his way to Washington D.C., apprenticing at, and later writing the popular 'Washington Merry-Go-Round' column, that at its height was circulated in more then 1,000 papers nation wide.

Anderson won his Pulitzer for a 1972 investigative report on the Nixon administrations involvment in the India/Pakistan War. He was also involved in the publication of transcripts of the Watergate grand jury. High on Nixons famous enemy's list, it has been reported that G. Gordon Liddy personally offered to kill him for the President. Jack Anderson also served as a political commentator in the early days of ABC's 'Good Morning America'.

Jack Anderson is survived by his wife Oliva, nine children, and many other relatives including my Maryville area ward mission leader.

Friday, December 16, 2005

John Spencer Dead At 58

Actor John Spencer who played Leo McGarry on The West Wing died this morning of a heart attack at the age of 58. Interestingly the Leo character suffered a sever heart attack at the beginning of the 6th season, which lead to his resignation from his high stress position as White House Chief of Staff. In the current storyline Leo was serving as vice-presidential runningmate to Texas Congressman Matt Santo (played by Jimmy Smitts), so obviously this will have to be dealt with on the show. Ironically in last weeks episode Leo made a crack about being worked to death by the campaign. I'm sure that a more proper obit will be coming on my blog in the near future for this award winning actor, I just wanted to post this because I was so shocked when I read the news mere minutes ago.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Stuck In The Bunker With You

A Movie Review

"Bruno Ganz is Adolph Hitler", this is the movie marketing catch-phrase that while appropriately laudatory of the Downfall stars performance, would have been to 'risky' for the markers of this 2004 German film to even consider using. Telling the story of the Nazi leaders final days in his Berlin bunker, the movie is partly based on the account of one of der Fuhrers private secretaries Ms. Traudl Jungle (played by Alexandra Maria Lara), who was herself the subject of a 2002 German documentary.

In the films brief prolog set in 1942, Traudl is shown being hired by Adolph Hitler who himself comes across as surprisingly subdued and understanding. However we witness a very different Hitler through the rest of the film, tired and at the end of his rope the man is delusional, bitter, hurt, self-pitting and prone to outburst of temper and spastic hand ticks. Throughout his last days the German leader obsesses on those he feels betrayed him and his place in history, while saying emotional goodbyes to those who have remained 'loyal'. Traudl is one of the loyal ones, having been shielded from the true effects of the war she really doesn't seem to fully grasp that it is over until she realizes the Mrs. Goebbles (the wife of Hitlers yes-man propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels) has taken her six children to the bunker so that she can poison them (a scene that is particularly difficult to watch later in the film).

To contrast with Adolph Hitlers behavior at the fall of Berlin we are treated to several other connected stories, including that of an SS doctor who refuses a new (presumably safer) assignment to stay in the city and tend to civilians, Hitlers conflicted chief architect Herr Spear, and the family of a twelve year old boy 'solder' who is decorated by der Fuhrer in his last public appearance. We also get a close look at other 'inner-circle' members including Adolphs flamboyant long-time companion Eva Braun. The movie continues on for about 40 minutes after the joint suicide of the Nazi leader and his new bride (Adolph and Eva marry in the course of the film), to show us Traudl's escape from the bunker and the ultimate fate of the others who were there at the dictators end.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing aspects of the film is the fact that (and this has been pointed out by others) in the end Hitler dies surrounded by people that really love him. The tragically misplaced convictions of so many Germans is the truly tragic aspect of both the movie and to a large extent the war itself.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"I Won't Let Them Ruin Tricia's Wedding"

Remove Formatting from selection

A West Wing Word

Like Anthony Hopkins Nixon in the movie of the same name, Jed Bartlett might well express similar sentiments in regards to the international crises that come to a boil on the day of his middle daughters (and I would say most attractive, played by Nina Siemaszko) wedding. The Russian/Chinese show down over rights to Kazakhstani oil has created the potential for a third world war. While the crises is not fully resolved in last weeks episode (entitled simply and appropriately: "The Wedding"), at least we are beginning to see some story pay off from that overly-complicated, tenuously connected to the assassination of the PLO Chairman, conspiracy plot that agent Frost first warned of four or five episodes ago. However President Bartlett does manage to persuade the convenintly sentimental President Lee of China to halt his army's advance long enough for Jed to play Spencer Tracy to daughter Ellie's Liz Taylor (note: this is my second reference to Elizabeth Taylor and weddings on this blog, the other being to Virginia Senator John Warners ultimately unsuccessful, but probably once politically advantages marriage to the oft divorced actress).

The sub-plot of this episode concerns Josh's temporary loss of confidence as manager of the Santos/McGarry campaign. It seems our Mr. Lyman neglected to spend any advertising dollars in Illinois (the home state of his own vice-presidential nominee) effectively ceding its 2o+ electoral votes to the Republican ticket of Vinick/Sullivan. An unexpected endorsement from the Chicago tribune has now placed the democrat's to within 4 points of the front runner in the polls there. Now while trying to set up a "six months job" worth of networking in the "Land of Lincoln" in only six weeks, he finds his fitness to run the campaign being questioned by a former party chair and the powerful (but never before seen or mentioned) Senator Montgomery, who by the way is played by ubiquitous television guest star Robert Foxworth. Their was even some talk in the episode of replace Josh as campaign manger with Santo's running mate Leo (who ran the first Bartlett campaign eight years before), which certainly would have been interesting.

Last however I want to comment on the guy that Ellie is marrying. This is one awkwardly nerdy guy, very much a television archtype. Though I must admit that I find the idea that a socially unskilled glasses wearing guy with bad hair could marry the beautiful biochemist daughter of a popular two-term president, to be a rather reassuring one.

Eugene McCarthy: 1916-2005

Well it seems its never good for your political party to elect a Senator named McCarthy from the upper mid-west. As Joe McCarthy's underhanded actions in the communist witch hunts of the early 1950's added decades to the sidelining of conservatives and the Republican party (Ike's years in the White House being something of a fluke as the man was viewed to be above the party system by most voters), so did Eugene McCarthy and his left-wing anti-war stance forshadow a coming decades long decline for the Democratic Party. Unlike old Joe however Eugene McCarthy was a man of integrity who may well have lived to see the opening phases of a renewed anti-war liberalism, it all depends on what happens in next years mid-terms.

Glenn Beck & Nifty New Posts

Well last night my good friend Jackson Irish of AmericanAnthropologist, showed me how to add a little pazaz to my blog through pictures and hotlinks. The occasion was my going over to his place to join a carpool to go see visiting 'Christian' radio talk show host Glenn Becks Christmas program. It was well worth the money, I seriously wouldn't have felt bad paying twice what I did to go and see it. The first half is mostly funny holiday stories about his family, while the second half contains a tribute to our troops and a telling of Mr. Becks harrowing story of personal redemption. I really can't do any justice to the program here, just wanted to put down how impressed I was by the whole thing. I highly recommend the program if you ever get a chance to see it, and would also advise you check-out more about Glenn via the hotlinks so helpfully provided.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

I Wonder If Roberts De-Tox Was Like This?

A Movie Review

Dennis Potters 1986 BBC production The Singing Detective is arguably one of the best mini-series ever made (I myself think the best British mini-series ever made is To Serve Them All My Days, with Detective a close second), however director Keith Gordons 2003 theatrical re-mark is just plain awful. This movie is horrible, it is a travesty, it is just too much stuff crammed into an hour and forty-seven minutes! The best way I can think to describe the relationship between the two works is that they are both like Dr. Pepper. Now I like Dr. Pepper, it is good stuff, however I don't think I'd like to drink the syrup. The 2003 Singing Detective is the syrup, it is Potters classic work in concentrate form and not fit for human consumption.

This being said I did want to comment a little about the casting. When I first heard about this movie I was excited, especially after I got a look at who was in it. The strongest thing about the picture is its wonderfull ensemble cast, and it is truly unfortunate that so much talent was wasted in this dreadfully little film. Now Robert Downey Jr. was an interesting choice to fill the lead role of Dan Dark (in the original the title character was called Phillip Marlowe and played by the great Michael Gambon), because this character is hallucinating throughout the film, something Mr. Downey might know all to well about from personal experience. Mel Gibson is Dr. Gibbon, whose performance under heavy make-up is the most enjoyable characterization in the piece (the movie by the way was distributed by Gibsons Icon Films). Katie Holmes is perfectly cast, though all to briefly seen, in the role of the sympathetic nurse originated by the equally beautiful Joanne Whally (look her up). Robin Wright Penn is a no-brainier as Dan's estranged wife, while Adrien Brody and Jon Polito make a potentially entertaning pair as the hoods from Dan's book who attempt to kidnap him in their anger at being such poorly developed characters.

I suppose at this point its best that I explain something of what this story is about. The Singing Detective as originally conceived is a wonderfully complicated, multi-layer work. Though the setting has been bumped up a decade or so from the original and transferd from England to southern California, the basic plot is the same: An irritable writer of detective stories is confined to his hospital bed with a sever skin condition, in his mind he is re-writing the plot from his first novel (which we see visually), with the action in both storylines intercut with flash-backs from the authors troubled childhood. The whole audacious thing worked the first time because it was spaced out in half a dozen 1 hour episodes, trying to clock even a simplified version of things into the films running time is like making one 2 1/2 hour movie version of the whole Lord of the Rings trilogy, it will suck and tee-off fans.

The best thing I can tell you about this movie is it made me want to watch the original again, which I recommend you see if you ever dare venture into Dennis Potter territory. As a side note I'd like to mention that the late British television writer has had a history of unsatisfying film adaptations of his work. The early 80's movie of his Pennies From Heaven TV series (staring Steve Martin) was critically lambasted. Incidentally, if you want to view a truly good film satire of the detective genre see Steve Martins own 1982 gem Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which will air this Sunday on TCM (8:00 pm mountain Time). You know I'll be watching it, so don't you call me Sunday evening.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Holy Father Knows Best

A Mini-series Review

This last week I indulged in an occasional vice of mine, the television bio-pic. The directly titled Pope John Paul II aired on CBS in two parts last Sunday and Wednesday. The mini-series chronicled the life and times of the late Karol Wojtyla, 264th supreme pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church. This moderately ambitious venture was essentially divided into two films, one chroniclling Wojtyla's life in Poland and staring Cary Elwes as the future Pope, and one about John Pauls nearly 27 year pontificate in which Jon Voight plays the Holy Father. Voight is perfectly cast as John Paul, he looks incredibly like him. However TV's one time Noah is not the only big gun to appear in this network TV epic, James Cromwell and Christopher Lee are both solid and Polish Arch-bishops.

The first part of the series starts out with a young Karol who while a real nice guy, has the priesthood far from his mind. An existential crises prompted by his fathers death and the Nazi invasion of Poland, sets the aspiring actor on a course to becoming a Priest (an office which the Nazi's have forbidden any young Catholic to train for). Karol dose become involved with the underground, but as a messenger and refuses to use violence. After the Soviets drive out the Nazi's from Poland Karol Wojtyla does his best to keep off their radar, but eventually he is noticed. Ironical the communist mis-estimate him and because of his collage background and reputation as a dreamer allow Wojtyla to become Arch-bishop of Krakow after the old one (played by James Cromwell) dies. Wojtyla of course defies the communist as he did the Nazi's, but because of his popularity and non-violent ways the Russians and their Polish puppets can do very little about him.

Well that last paragraph pretty well covers part one, which is good as far as it goes but suffers from fits and starts and trying to cover 40 years in two hours time minus commercials. Also Cary Elwes excessive pleasantness evokes Tony Goldwyns performance in the PAX quality film Joshua. Elwes act grows old, and while it is not one note, it definitely is note fully realized. As a last note I must say that Cary Elwes white hair job at the end of the film was hardly convincing.

The John Voight half was more interestingly and compelling, the guy is a good actor. The aging and gradual disintegration of the Popes body is wonderfully well done, they must have had different make-up people then part one. While John Pauls battle against the communist and support of the Polish Solidarity movement is the primary focus of Wednesdays episode, all the late pontiffs greatest hits seem to represented. In fact by the final 45 minutes the movie seems to have degraded to a series of vinyets, we see the Pope issue his 'Letter to Women', the Pope found World Youth Day, the Pope react to the September 11th attacks, and the Pope (very briefly) say some words in regards to the pedophilia scandal in America. The highlight and most moving moment of the entire work comes at the end, when in his final days the Popes last and ultimately futile attempt to communicate with the crowds of well wishers beneath his apartment, takes on a whole new context. Previously I had found this last public image of the Pope drooling and attempting to speak rather sad and pathetic (in its original sympathetic sense), but in view of the background context the film provides, this last public appearance of the late John Paul II can be seen as a humble mans last desperate effort to serve as a pastor for his people.

I'm glade that I watched Pope John Paul II to gain a deeper understanding of this truly great man. While the story suffered from the constrains of a television format and budget, it got enough of the essence of its subjects story and spirit across to be worthy TV viewing.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Santos Up, Toby Down

A West Wing Word

This is the first in a new series of columns in which I comment on recent developments on my favorite prime time network television drama The West Wing. First off I want to say how impressed I was by the live television debate a few weeks back between presidential contenders Republican Senator Arnold Vinick of California and Democratic Congressman Matt Santos of Texas. I was especially impressed by the fact that the debate focused on policy and governing philosophy, rather then on cultural issues that often distract from the substantive matters facing our nation. It is indeed strange whenl a television show deals more honestly with the issues affecting Americans then our actual leaders in Washington.

On last weeks episode 'The Undecideds' Matt Santos went up several notches in by book after a stirring speech he gave at a black church in Los Angeles. The speech came just days after the tragic shooting of a 12 year old black child by a Hispanic police officer. It was an honest and compassionate address that dealt more truthfully with issues of race in this country then anything your likely to hear from a real politician. Though I still remain strong Vinick supporter, the prospects of a Santos presidency now seems more appealing to me then it did a few short episodes ago.

Also on this last episode Toby Ziegler continues to be rude and annoying. Toby used to be my favorite character on the show, though something of a loner he had a biting wit, great intelligence and dignity (kinda like me ;)). However after creator Aaron Sorkin stopped writing for the show after the 4th season, the Toby character became increasingly moody and unpleasant. Fired from his job as White House communications director several episodes ago for leaking the existence of a secret military space shuttle to the press, Toby spent his scenes in this episode hold-up in his town house yelling at visiting former co-worker Josh Lyman. I do not like what Toby has become, or the direction most of the characters have taken since season five. It used to be that everyone got along great and the White House staff was like one great big family whose interactions were fun to watch each week. But alas, the glory days of Jed Bartletts 1st term are gone, and we are left mostly with hack writers. I admit that the quality of the show has greatly increased since the dismal 5th season, but the program is still nowhere near what it once was. Yet I still watch, because when all is said and done its still one of the best and smartest shows on network TV (well at least the best on NBC, with the Law & Orders being excepted of course).

Comming Finals = Neglected Blog

Sorry it's been awhile sense my last post but finals are comming up for me and I've been rather busy. I do hope however to greatly increase my work on this blog over the next couple weeks, and you should be able to expect almost daily postings from me once 'Winter break' begins. Anyway I just finished a rather protracted battle with my computer to get this far today, so I think I'm just going to post this now to make sure it will work.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A 2 1/4 Hour Long French Flick

A Moving Picture Review

A conspicuous absence from last years best foreign film Oscar nomination's, was French director Jean-Pierre Jeunets adaptation of Sebastien Japrisot's novel A Very Long engagement. The film re-teams actress Audrey Tautou (the most beautiful women in the world) with the director that launched her career with 2001's academy Award winning Amelie. Thought bering some stylistic similarities with the pairs previous collaboration, A Very Long engagement is a very different film in both subject matter and tone. Both movies are visual feasts, idealistic romances that maintain a degree of playfulness throughout, but Engagement is a more serious film that tackles issues of war more effectively then any motion picture of recent memory.

A Very Long Engagement is the story of Mathilde an orphaned French girl raised by a loving aunt and uncle on a country farm. About three years before the movies 1920 setting, Mathilde's childhood sweetheart and fiance Manech went missing and presumed dead in the trenches of the first World War. Never giving up hope that her true love had somehow survived, Mathilde embarks on a renewed search for him when a former solder provides evidence that he might still be living. From here on in the movie becomes a fascinating detective story as Mathilde, her family, a friend of her late parents and a privet investigator attempt to find Manech and untangel the complicated narratives regarding him and four fellow solders.

The movie is a very effective anti-war film as the vivid dramitizations of trench war-fair and the resentment and fear the solders felt toward it, shed much light on the reasoning behind the widely held French predilection toward pacifism. One of the more interesting things I learned from the film (besides the fact that the French President fell out of a train in his pajamas in 1920) was that many French solders engaged in self-mutilation in an attempt to get of the front. In fact the group that Manech disappears with were all sent into no-mans-land after having been found guilty of attempting to do just that.

While the bright and optimistic Amelie remains my favorite French film next to Renoirs Grand Illusion (also a World War I movie), A Very Long Engagement is a masterpiece with much to recommend it. A kind of in-direct companion piece to Kubrick 1957 film Paths of Glory, Engagement is a wonderful film about the aftermath of a great war and brings the domestic tragedy of military conflict closer to the viewer then any movie you've likely to have experienced before.