Monday, February 27, 2006

2006 Oscar Picks

This week on The Ghostwood Development Project I have assembled a panel of four to discuss our picks for this years Academy Award winners. The panel includes myself, Dane Whipple (sorry Dane just guessing on your last names spelling), Jackson Irish, and Joe Luque. Ghostwood airs Sunday from 2:00-2:30 PM on AM 730 in the Boise area and online at that same time via 'the listen live link' at As often times who or what you think will win an Academy Award (or any award for that matter) is not who or what you would like to win that award, accordingly each panelist will give both their predicted winner and personal favorite/routing interest for each category covered. I will present my picks with P standing for my pick to win, and R for the film I will be routing for on Sunday evenings broadcast:

Best Actor: P- Philip Seymour Hoffman (Capote) R- David Strathairn (Good Night, And Good Luck)
Best Actress: P/R- Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line)
Best Supporting Actor: P/R- Matt Dillon (Crash) though longshot hope for Paul Giamatti in Cinderella Man
Best Supporting Actress:
P/R- Cathrine Keener (Capote)
Best Animated Feature: P/R- Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit
Art Direction: P/R- Good Night, And Good Luck
Cimematography: P- Memories of a Geisha R- Good Night And Good Luck
Costume Design: P/R- Memories of a Geisha
P- Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountian) R- Paul Haggis (Crash)
Documentary Feature:
P/R- March of the Penguins
Documentary Short:
P/R- God Sleeps in Rwanda
Film Editing: P/R- Crash
Forgeign Language Film:
P/R- Paradise Now
P/R- Cinderlla Man
Orignal Score: P- Brokeback Mountian R- Munich
Orignal Song:
P/R- "In the Deep"- Crash
Best Picture:
P- Brokeback Mountian R- Good Night, And Good Luck
Short Film-Animated:
P/R- One Man Band
Short Film-Live Action:
P/R- Cashback
Sound Editing:
P/R- King Kong
Sound Mixing:
P/R- Walk The Line
Visual Effects:
P/R- King Kong
P- Brokeback Mountian R- Munich
P/R- Crash

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Prolific Actor Darren McGavin Dead at 83

In Memory

Darren McGavin, a constant presence in American film and television for the past 60 years died Saturday of natural causes. Making his film debut in the 1945 feature A Song to Remember he eventually struck up something of a relationship with director Otto Premminger who cast him in two films in 1955, The Man with the Golden Arm and The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell. McGavin had greater success on television then in the movies for most of his career, and started in such series as Mike Hammer, The Riverboat and later in Kolchak: The Night Stalker and the mini-series The Martian Chronicles. However it was as "the old man", Peter Billingsleys father in the 1983 film A Christmas Story for which he will be most widely rememberd. Darren McGavin is survived by his four children, he was married to actress Kathine Browne from 1969 until her death in 2003.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Don Knotts: 1924-2006

In Memory

Don Knotts famed comic actor of television and movies passed away Friday night at the age of 81, in lew of offering a standard obituary (one of which you can access via this link) I would like to offer just some brief comments on the man and his life. Don Knotts is not someone you would mistake as a great actor, he really had only one characterization which was a slight variant of the Bob Hope 'over confident coward persona', but which Don enhanced through his gangly physical appearance and playing each part as something of a klutz. Though he is best known as Barney Fife from The Andy Griffith Show and stared in a half-dozen TV series, I will always remember him best from the family movies he did mostly for Disney. The Apple Dumpling Gang I saw many times as a kid, and I consider The Incredible Mr. Limpet to be Dons magnum opus. There was a time when he may have felt limited and type cast in the kinds of movies he was having such success in, he even experimented making what for him was an unusual film The Love God?, a picture that I have not seen but from its premise certainly want to. However long his period of career dissatisfaction may have been he certainly recommitted himself to doing what he did best in his 1970s and 80s output. While in his later years limited to small guest roles and toward the end voice work, his presence on screen in whatever form always brought an element of satisfaction. I will miss Don Knotts, while I was never a 'great' fan I appreciated him, and from what I know of his awkward and shy real-life persona empathize with him. A life well lived for the simple pleasure of laughter his legacy will be sustained in the childlike spaces of many a soul.

Finely Pressed

A Movie Review

Based on Sloan Wilsons semi-autobiographical novel, and with screenplay and direction by the great Nunnally Johnson (The Grapes of Wrath), The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit has been called the ultimate 50's movie. This title comes not by way of the movie being highly representative of films of the era (because its not) but rather due to the fact that the picture taps so deeply into the layer just below the surface of the notoriously banal decade. Gregory Peck plays Tom Rath a WWII veteran earning $7,000 dollars a year and living in Connecticut with his wife and three children. Tom is existing in a state of odd detachment from life, his kids hardly listen to him, he's averse to taking risks and his wife Betsy (Jennifer Jones, who also started opposite Peck in the notorious 1946 western Duel in the Sun) has grown disappointed in him and repeatedly brings up how the now decade past war has changed her husband.

Like many veterans who have been through the trauma of battle Tom finds his war-time experiences difficult to talk about, infact he's kept them so bottled up that his wife hardly knows what happened to him during the four years he was away. We however do get to see what happened to him through a series of prolonged flashbacks. In 1945 Tom was an Army captain in Italy as part of the allied occupation force, when his unit receives orders that they will be shipped to the pacific in six weeks time he becomes convinced that he will die in battle. Around this same time his army buddy Sgt. Caesar Gardella (Keenen Wynn) introduces Tom to Maria Montagne (Marisa Pavan) the cousin of his Italian girlfriend Gina. Despite his being married Tom and Maria have an affair at the end of which Maria revels to him that she is pragneit with his child. Tom has little time to react to this as he is transfered to the Pacific theater where he accidentaly kills a man under his command with a grenade, an event that severely traumatizes him. Deforest Kelly, best known as Dr. McCoy on the original Star Trek plays the army medic who informs Peck of the solders death, acutely using the line "this mans dead, captain."

Feeling that his wife's criticisms of his apparent malaise could be accurate, Tom decides to take a risk and leaves his old job at a charitable foundation for a position in the new field of public relations at the fictitious broadcast network GBC. At GBC his new coworkers come to see Tom as threat when he quickly becomes the new confidant of Network President Ralph Hopkins (Fredric March), who finds that Mr. Rath reminds him of his much beloved only son who died "in the war". Infect Mr. Hopkins has his own set of personal problems that provide counterpoint to Tom Raths story. Recently diagnosed with a weak heart Ralph Hopkins is attempting to make amends with his long estranged wife (Ann Harding), and 18 year old daughter (Gigi Perreau) who has been fooling around with unreputable older men only interested in her money. He is also trying to give something back to society by spearheading a national mental health campaign (his wife may or may not have mental problems, its seemingly implied but difficult to tell from her behavior) for which Tom is serving as his point man.

There is also a subplot involving a legal dispute between Tom and Edward Schultz (Joseph Sweeny) long time butler to his recently passed grandmother, over the rights to the deceased estate. It turns out that Mr. Schultz never liked the late Mrs. Rath and had been infact quietly padding his accounts with her money for years. It is in this story line that Lee J. Cobb gets the best part in the picture as Judge Bernstein an empathetic country magistrate constantly guzzling bi-carbonate.

The tone of the picture is that of a house of cards, everything so precariously balanced in the characters lives that you feel the whole thing could come crashing down at any moment. The world of the picture is very well developed and realized growing out in all sorts of directions, giving us a piece of period life and a combination of characters that is wonderfully varied. The multiple story elements of the film all start to coalesce together toward the end when Tom is contacted by Maria (through old Army buddy Caeser who did in fact marry her cousin) and learns for certain of the existence of his 10 year old son. The resulting message on the importance of both marital honesty and forgiveness is a lesson that should not be lost on the viewer. A very good film The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit is defiantly a man worth meeting.

Time Skew and the West Wing Presidents

A West Wing Word

The picture that leads this post is of President Josiah Bartlet and former President D. Wire Newman attending the funeral of the late President Owen Lassiter in January of 2004. As none of the presidents in this photo are rea,l and in 'The West Wing universe' 2004 was not a presidential election year, some major skewing of historical events is required to make the shows time line work. Now there are a number of theories on when and how events in The West Wings chronology deviated from those that occurred in acutely reality, but so as to simplify my task I will only present my preferred solution to the shows 'time problem'. Information presented in this article is taken from episodes of the program itself, the internet, logical extrapolation and my own imagination, this is simply my way of orienting myself temporally to The West Wings world.

Events in The West Wings timeline run mostly concurrent with ours into the beginning of Richard Nixons second term as President starting in January of 1973. In mid 1973 Vice President Sparrow Agnew resigned from office due to a scandal involving his taxes, we assume this event occurred as well in the shows timeline. In November of 1973 Nixon lawyers Fred Buzhardt and Leonard Garment attempted to schedule a meeting with the president in which they intended to render to him there legal advice that he should resign from office due to the Watergate scandal. In the real world Nixon blew-off this meeting, but in our timeline he took it and his lawyers succeeded in convincing him that his chances of completing his term given the circumstances were slim, according President Nixon resigned from office that month.

With Nixon having not yet filled Agnews vacancy in the vice-presidency by the time of his own resignation, the office of the presidency fell upon the democratic Speaker of the House Representative Carl Albert of Oklahoma. Albert, uncomfortable with reversing the republicans landslide victory in the 1972 elections schedules a special election for Tuesday November 5, 1974.

As in our world Gerald Ford was brought into the vice-presidency because of his near spotless record and ethics, he would have been a logical candadite in this world for republicans wishing to distance themselves from Nixon 1974. In terms of public policy Nixon and Ford were not that different from each other and their politics were pretty middle-of-the-road for the mid 1970's. We assume that Gerald Ford won the 1974 election (probably against the now incumbent democrat), and became the 39th president of the United States (Albert was the 38th) on an inauguration date of January 20th 1975. Fords presidency also makes sense in that several laws he enacted have been referenced on the show and Donald Rumsfeld has been refereed to as a former white house chief of staff and defense secretary, both positions he held in the real Ford white house. As the constitution prescribes that all presidents be elected to four-year terms the traditional election cycle would be altered by two years from then on.

We assume that the growing strength of the conservative movement within the Republican party that began to take shape with Barry Goldwaters 1964 presidential candidacy occurred in this world as well. Were the fictional Ford presidency to follow a parallel downward trajectory with the real administration (only with two additional years to do so) we could logically conclude that dissatisfied republican voters would deny the sitting president renomination in 1978, much as they almost did in real life in 1976. Ronald Reagan was the conservative standard barrier who attempted an insurgency within the GOP in 1976, here he succeeded in gaining the nomination and winning the presidency in 1978 (possibly against Ted Kennedy or Jimmy Carter).

To make the timeline work Ronald Reagan (here the 40th president just like in our world) would have been elected in 1978 and re-elected in 1982, the latter campaign probably ending in a similar landslide to his real one in 1984. Assuming at least one Reagan landslide would help to align events with character Bruno Gianellis comment in a 6th season episode the republicans had won 49 out of 50 states in two elections over the last 30 years, Brunos would have made this statement in the spring of 2006 according to my timeline. Ronald Regan must have been president as his name is visable on the side of the D.C. area hospital that President Bartlet was brought to after having been shot in a crowed in mid-2000.

In 1986 D. Wire Newman would become the first democrat elected president since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 (Newman may have defeated George H. W. Bush for the office assuming the Texan served as this Reagans VP). The implication is that President Newman was a liberal New England democrat (possibably from Massachusetts) though also roughly analogous to Jimmy Carter. In the episode in which Lassiters funeral was attended President Newman accompanied President Bartlet to the services on Air Force One starting in Washington D.C., so it would be logical for Newman to be from the eastern seaboard as the plane would be making its trip west from Andrews Air Force Base.

President Newman Lost re-election to Owen Lassiter in 1990. President Lassiter was depicted as Reagan/Goldwater type arch- conservative from somewhere in either California or Arizonia (their were palm trees outside of his presidential library and I believe that facility was said to be located in a San something or other). Lassiter was fairly elderly upon taking office and his mind is said to have drifted somewhat during the latter part of his presidency, he suffered from hip problems after leaving office but non-the-less would travel extensively. His cabinet and staff was loaded full of similarly aged conservatives, some of whom were evidentially involved in some major scandals, man of these (mostly) men would still be alive to attend Lassiters funeral in 2004. The Cold War ended during the Lassiter administration.

Owen Lassiter was re-elected (again presumably by a huge margin) against a liberal democratic candidate referred to only as 'Whittaker' in 1994. This paved the way for the 1998 presidential elections which are critical for the show. Coming into the democratic primaries that year the leading canddidates where Senate Minority Leader John Hoynes of Texas (a 'moderate' often referred to as "every republicans favorite democrat"), Senator William Wiley of Washington (I'm hopping he was from Walla Walla), and Josiah 'Jed' Bartlet of New Hampshire (a three-term congressman and two-term governor). Hoynes was the odds on favorite to win the democratic nomination that year despite that fact that Bartlet logically had the New Hampshire primary sowed up. Wiley was the first major democratic candidate to drop out of the race, and his exist combined with a surprise victory in the Illinois primary allowed the Bartlet campaign to upset Hoynes and get the party's nomination. John Hoynes was given the VP spot on the Bartlet ticked and the two won a strong (though not overwhelming) victory that November, their oponiate most probably was Lassiters un-named sitting vice-president.

The 2002 campaign fitted Bartlet/Hoynes against the Republican ticket of Florida Gov. Robert Ritchie and Jeff Heston of Utah. A retiring 78 year old liberal senator from Minnesota named Stackhouse briefly launched his own 3rd party candidacy for the presidency that year, but withdrew before the general election and endorsed Bartlet (Stackhouse never drew more then 3-4% in the polls but in what was anticipated to be a close election this could have cost Bartlet re-election). After humiliating Ritchie in the races only presidential debate Jed Bartlet won his second term in a sweeping victory, though both houses of congress remained firmly in Republican hands.

In the late spring of 2003 Vice President John Hoynes resigned from office after word leaked that he had a mistress, and that she was writing a tell-all book that would revel that Hoynes had told national security secretes to her (mostly NASA stuff it was nothing to important though it was classified, he later said he had told the women government secrets to impress her). In late May President Bartlets youngest daughter Zoey was kidnapped by Islamic terrorists from the (fictional) nation of Qumar while celebrating her graduation from Georgetown University at a night club (at least one secret service agent was killed in the abduction). Feeling that the situation constituted a conflict of interest in his being able to discharge his duties as both the President of the United States and the father of a hostage, Josiah Bartlet in accordance to provisions within the 25th Amendment temporarily resigned from his office until the crises was over. With these events occurring less then a month after Hoynes resignation the vacant vice-presidents slot dictated that the nations highest office fall to the Speaker of the House, Republican Representative Glenn Alan Walken of Missouri. President Walken was the nations 44th chief executive and served for a total of three days until just after an 'anonymous tip' lead to Zoey Bartlets being recovered by a joint military/FBI raid on the rural trailer where she was being held (I think it was in Virginia). As Congressman Walken had to resign from the house inorder to assume the office of the Presidency he was replaced as speaker by Representative Jeff Haffley of Washington state ( he represents the Spokane area) during the formers brief administration.

In late summer or early fall of 2003 Colorado Congressman Robert 'Bingo Bob' Russell of western Colorado was confirmed unanimously as Bartlets new vice-president, a compromise pick after the Republican leadership rejected the presidents first choice, controversial Secretary of State Lewis Barryhill. That pretty much brings us up to the current 2006 election (you can read more about that by going to my December archives which contains a lengthy post on the subject). The one thing left to remember is that at some point in the 5th season a year was skipped so that by the last few episodes of that season the year was 2005 instead of 2004 as it should have been. I hope that my wordy explanation has shed some light on the temporal dimention of The West Wing.

Oh, one last thing I forgot about. Bartlet, Newman, and Walken were the only American Presidents shown to have attended President Lassiters funeral in 2004, therefore it is to be assumed that all of the real Presidents who translate over to the West Wing timeline were either dead by that time or to ill to attended. The only one of the 'real' presidents in this timeline who was dead by January of 2004 would be Carl Albert who passed away in January of 2000. President Alberts death should have thus fallen in the second season of the West Wing, but events on the show at that time would have been to crowed to assume that President Bartlet could have attended his funeral, so he must have died at some other time. Also of note it appears as though Presidents Newmans wife may have been dead at the time of the Lassiter funeral as she does not accompany her husband to the service, though it should also be noted that the living Mrs. Bartlet was not shown at the funeral either (I believe Walken is divorced).

*For a good real chronology of the presidents see the 2000 PBS documentary series 'The American President' which inspired this post.

Friday, February 24, 2006

President Ford and the Deadites

Movie Reviews

Well Tonight I watched a couple of films over at the home of my good friend Jackson Irish. It had been awhile sense we had gotten together for some movie watching and I guess we decided to start at the top of our list with a couple of A movies. The first movie we watched is one he had been building up so some time, the Bruce Campbell classic Sam Raimi's Army of Darkness. This is the third and final film in the 'Evil Dead Trilogy' which I believe started out as low budget horror and ended up as campy comedy/adventure. Clips from the first 'evil dead' film were used in one of my favorite films Donnie Darko, that combined with Campbells oddly moving embodiment of Elvis in Bubba Ho-Tep fueled my desire to see this film.

The first three minutes or so of the film recap the events of the first two films, most relevant among the occurrences in these movies being the discovery of an evil 'book of the dead', the death of main character Ash's girlfriend and the loss of his hand (which had 'gone bad' and was briefly replaced with a chainsaw). In this movie the evil unleashed by the book sucks Ash, his car and a tree back into 14th century England, were after a brief misunderstanding he is accepted as a prophesied savior figure sent to save the land from the evil Deadites, which are generally shown as walking skeletons done in Ray Haryhausen style. Most of this movie does not make a lot of sense but it is funny and entertaining and I wouldn't mind seeing more of its type.

Also seen by me for the first time this night is the 1997 film Air Force One. The movie stars aging action hero Harrison Ford as tough as nails American President James Marshall, who is returning home from Russia with his family (onboard the films name sake vessel) after giving a policy changing speech in Moscow on terrorism. The plane is taken over by a group of Kazaykstani terrorists (boy that country is a thorn in the side of fictional presidents) disguised as a Russian news crew and a treacherous Xander Berkely, all at the behest of the late 90's favorite villain Mr. Gary Oldman. The Kaziks take about fifty hostages and in intend to use them to force the US government to put pressure on a weak Russian president to release a recently apprehend Kazik general who is bent on genocide and the re-establishment of a Russian empire.

However the terrorist should have seen more Harrison Ford movies, I mean if the fake President in question was played by Michaell Douglas, John Travolta or even James Cromwell they might have succeeded, but no against Indiana Jones/Hon Solo/Jack Ryan. While he should have exited the plane via escape pod "but kicking president" Marshall stays onboard to personally execute his foreign policy, proto-24 style action and suspense follow. This film is great for what it is and I'm glade that I finally saw it. Lastley 'President Ford and the Deadites' would be a great name for a band.

Crikey! I Enjoyed It.

Movie Reviews

Well I had a reptile themed night of film on Wednesday when the netflix disc I expected in failed to arrive. I borrowed from my sister a movie that I had bought for her (at her request) for either her birthday or Christmas several years ago. The movie in question is 2002's The Crocodile Hunter: Collision Course. When the folks at MGM decided to give a feature film to the popular nature show host they were no doubt confronted with the difficult task of translating his unique persona and talents to a motion picture format. So as you might expect rather then trying to be innovative the powers that be chose to integrate star Steve Irwins educational format with an inane plot about a crashed US spy satellite.

Through out the film Irwin and his wife Terri speak directly to the camera as though they were hosting one of their nature shows. However there is no camera crew there, at least there is not suppose to be as the Irwins are portrayed as alone in the outback on one of there animal rescue/gathering runs for Austrila Zoo. They gather a wide verity of animals (which they speak to the camera and tell us about) including a very poisonous spider and snake, as well as a 'joey' kangaroo and off course a crocodile, most of these animals come in handy later on. The crocodile in question is a large and aggressive brute who has earned the wrath of a local rancher and whom the Irwins are to relocate to friendlier waters. However this crocodile has also managed to swallow the memory core of a crashed American spy satilite (the core looks like a small metal nose cone).

Now the information in the missing core has been deemed sensitive enough to be able to greatly alter the world geo-political balance were it to fall into the wrong hands. Consequently a CIA team is sent to recover the core under the guise of a routine NASA parts pick-up. Political divisions and rivelry within the American intelligence community results in a split as to who should be tasked with retrieving the core (haven't they learned anything from 9/11). When the head of the American agency that acutely operates the satellite is denied having one of his team come along for the recovery he dispatches a female Australian, who for some reason works for him, to pass herself off as the CIA contact in the region and work toward retrieving the core herself. The CIA and Irwin storylines proceed on almost as parallel movies throughout most the film, the two not making direct contact until about the last 30 minutes or so (its only an hour and a half long movie).

While this all sounds like a really bad movie, and in many ways it is, the whole thing is pulled off by Steve Irwins tremendous energy and enthusiasm in his role as himself. Steve sells the film for you in much the same way a Will Ferrell character makes the stupid movies he's cast in really funny and enjoyable. I doubt we will be seeing a Crocodile Hunter sequel and this isn't a film I'd want to see again anytime soon, but it does work and is not a bad way to spend 90 minutes of your time. Plus you do get to learn a little bit about wildlife.

Also seen by me that night was The Giant Gila Monster which came on a one dollar DVD I purchased from Target for the heck of it several months ago. This movie is a fairly straight forward picture concerning an intrepid teenagers efforts to ride his rural south west community of a Gila with a gland problem (the local sheriff suspects that the animal grew to be so big because of a hormone problem or change in diet). This movie quite deservedly was featured in a 4th season episode of MST3K and is a prime example of 50's sci-fly schlock, though admittedly more watchable then most films in that category that I have seen.

16th Anniversary of Laura Palmers Death

On Saturday Febuary 24th 1990 Laura Palmer (1972-1990), homecoming queen of Twin Peaks High School in Washington state, was brutally raped and murdered. Laura's death was the story triggering event for the cult television series Twin Peaks and was also featured in that series prequal movie Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. If you intend to journey into the world of Twin Peaks I highly recommend that you watch the series first as the movie will spoil your fun in figuring out who the murder was. Laura Palmer is still the best known role for actress Sheryl Lee (who is married to Neil Diamonds son Jesse), although until the Twin Peaks movie she was only seen as a corpse or in photos, such as her senior photo shown here which was used as the background still for the closing credits of most episodes of the show. Twin Peaks was the creation of film genius David Lynch who is driving me crazy with the repeated delays in the release of his next film INLAND EMPIRE.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cohen Wins Silver

Despite some difficulty at the start of her routine Sasha Cohen earned a silver medal in her figure skating event Thursday. Sasha long the secondary figure in U.S. competitive figure skating became the nations best hope for gold in that event after the much loved Michele Kwan was forced out do to injury. Though obviously this wasn't the gold she was hopping for its still a good ending for this athlete who is often typed as a chock artist. This was one of the few stories I found some what interesting this Olympics and thus earns its own post.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Movie Music Enters The Reagan Era

More film scores on The Ghostwood Development Project this week. We will now be entering the 1980's, but before we do that we will listen to two 1970's compositions by the late Jerry Goldsmith (pictured in 1983). Ghostwood aires on KBSU AM 730 in the Boise area from 2:00-2:30 PM on Sundays, it can also be heard online at

NEXT WEEK: A panel discussion on the Academy Awards featuring favorite pics and predictions.

The Families Man


I thought my readers (maybe as many as four people) might be interesting in knowing about the new HBO series premiering March 12th about polygamy. The program is titled Big Love and is produced by (among others) Tom Hanks. The series stars Bill Paxton as Bill Henrickson the owner of a chain of hardware stores in the Salt Lake area who just happens to be a fundamentalist Mormon and married to three wives (one of whom is played by Jeanne Tripplehorn, who kind of vanished after Micky Blue Eyes). Undoubtedly the show is aiming to capitalize on the success of other HBO programs that have featured unusual families such as The Sopranios and Six Feet Under. The LDS Church PR people are predictably uneasy about the program out of concern that it will work against the institutions century plus long effort to distance itself from its former polygamous practices, they have thus issued this statement to the press regarding the matter. In response it has been floated that Big Love produces will air a disclaimer before or after each episode informing viewers that the LDS Church no longer endorses polygamy and that an estimated twenty to forty thousand people mark the extent of its practice in America today.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Till Deposition We Part

The Billy Wilder Centennial

Released after Love in the Afternoon and The Spirit of St. Louis, Witness for the Prosecution would cap 1957 as Billy Wilders most productive year as an director. The film would also mark one of the last times that Mr. Wilder made a straight drama,(the last until 1978's Fedora) preferring throughout the last 25 years of his career to focus only on comedies, whereas previously he had alternating between that genre and drama and suspense films. Witness is most defiantly to be classified among the later, the only court room movie Wilder ever did, it was based on the stage play of the same name by mystery great Agatha Chrisite.

The play begins with Sir. Wilfrid Robarts (the rotund Charles Laughton) a well respecting English barrister and champion of lost causes, returning to his office for the first time sense suffering a mild heart attack. Sir Wilfrid is accompanied by his doting new nurse Miss Plimsoll (played by Laughtons real life wife Elsa Lanchester), whose primary job is to see that her charge does not over exert himself. Within minutes of getting back to his office (his living quarters are upstairs' in the same townhouse) he is visited by fellow lawyer Mr. Mayhew (Henry Daniell) who is bringing him a client involved in a sensational new case, a case that Sir Wilfrids health dictates he should turn down, but whose driven personality refuses to let him ignore.

The case involves a Mr. Leonard Stephen Vole (Tyrone Power), a man with a distinguished war record but little in the way of gainful employment who is suspected of the murder of wealthy widow Emily Jane French (Norma Varden). Mr. Vole though married had meet Mrs. French on the street several months before and the two had become close, he was also trying to interest her in financing the production of a new kind of egg-beater he had invented. When it turned out that the late widow had left Leonard #800,000 in her will, the police along with the deceased housekeeper Janet McKenzie (Una O'Connor) instantly turned there attention to Mr. Vole. The accused only alibi would need to come from his wife Christine (Marlene Dietrich) a former dance hall girl that Leonard meet and married during the allied occupation of Germany. But Mr. Vole is quickly beset by disillusionment when his supposedly loving wife decides to not to come to his defense but rather to be a ... dum, dum, dum, Witness for the Prosecution!

The rest of the film focuses on Sir Wilfrids attempts to prove his clients innocence against mountains of circumstantial evidence to the contrary, all the while attempting to sneak cigars and liquor from his overbearing nurse. Charles Laughton himself warns the audience in the films previews not to revel the ending to others, so in deference to the man I will refrain. It should be enough for me to say that this is a really good movie (#163 on the IMDB's top 250 list). The strange combination of a play by an English Anglican women and the direction of an Austrian secularist Jew actually comes off quite well, resulting in 2 hours of suspense said to come only "once in 50 years."

Note: This movie was the last film that Tyrone Power completed before his sudden death from a heart attack in 1959. At only 45 years of age his death was tragic, but perhaps even more tragic was that Witness proved he was finally learning how to act. Tyrone constant co-star throughout his leading man hayday at 20th Century Fox, actress Linda Darnell also died young, always deathly affraid of flames she died in a house fire in 1965 at the age of 41.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

The Objective Ayn Rand

A Movie Review

In my high school speech and debate program we had this kid named Mike Rolig. Mike Rolig was an Ayn Rand nut, obsessed with the lady and her work and we teased him about it endlessly. But truth be told I knew very little about Ms. Rand at the time, mostly just that she was a rabid capitalist and free thinker. In 1997 the documentary film Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life was nominated for an Academy Award and I made a mental note to myself to see it later on. In 2002 I finally saw the film and must confess that it was very well done. Ayn Rand came across as a women of great conviction and strength, what she said seemed to make sense and I remember thinking that hers was perhaps the best philosophy for a theoretical 'godless' world. I saw the film adaptation of he novel The Fountainhead around the same time.

Whereas I used to think that Rands school of thought, (known as Objectivism) was a sharp and coherent secularist philosophy, I now think it is a dangerous cult! Now as a member of a religious organization that is often denigrated with that term I do not use it lightly, but after having watched the Showtime movie The Passion of Ayn Rand (1999), (which is based on the 1986 book of the same name by former Rand disciple Barbara Branden) I no longer think that. Like many systems that look good on paper Rands ideas about how the individual pursuit of selfish desires would ultimately be the best regulator for society,( kind of like Adam Smiths invisible hand of the marketplace) actually sows more sorrow then liberation.

Passion is not the life spanning bio-pic I was hopping to see when I rented the film. Anticipating the epic story of a Russian women who immigrated to America, befriended Cecil B. DeMille, wrote a couple of really long books, and founded a conservative to libertarian leaning movement, I instead got a 'intimate' little story covering the relationship of an already established Ryn (Helen Mirren) with her one-time designated successor Nathaniel Branden (Eric Stoltz). The two conducted a prolonged affair that they forced their spouses, played by Peter Fonda and Julie Delpy, to accept. Trapped by a philosophical system of abstraction and near impossible to obtain behavioral ideals and growing more and more distant from reality all parties to this arrangement suffered greatly and unnecessarily. While I recognize the description in the previous sentence as being largley applicable to most organized religions what Objectism lacks that Christianity and other such systems have is a sense of compassion. A philosophy built on selfishness dismisses the more nobel elements of humanity and destroys the soul. Barabra was lucky to have ultimately escaped from it.

In one of the DVD's special features the films director Christopher Menaul comments that when working on and researching for this film he discovered that most of the converts to Rands philosophy were people who read her books at a young and impressionable point in their lives, say from late teens to early twenties. When I watched the Rand biography that made so much sense I was 22, I can only wonder what might have happened to me had I been truly exposed to the teachings of Objectivism at a young age and without an alternative belief system as an anchor. I don't think Ayn Rand was just trying to con people, I have no reason to doubt that she really believed what she was saying. Never-the-less what a dark life to live for conviction, she was not an evil person but I can't call her good. Its really hard for me to say what I think of this movie as a film, surfice it to say it got its point across, but it left me with one of those hole in the pit of your stomach feelings. The Passion of Ayn Rand is not the heroic story of a savior figure, but of a lost women and her followers. With all due respect to Mike Rolig (who really was no stranger then your avarge debater).

Dang Those New Figure Skating Rules!

Another Year With The Fishers

A Boxed-Set Review

Though they can often be hard to take I find that I have grown strangely attached to the dysfunctional Fisher family of HBO's Six Feet Under. I have just finished season 2 of the program and am as impressed as ever with the writing, camera work, acting, and of course those eerily convincing fake dead bodies (the Fishers run a funeral home for those few who didn't know). One of the things that I like about the show is its 'Patton like' sense of ambiguity. By 'Patton like' I am of course referring to the classic George C. Scott helmed bio-pic that portrayes its subject character in such a way that no easy interpretation is provided, a viewer can come out of that film thinking that 'old blood and guts' was anything between a madman and a genius and have plenty of 'ammunition' to support their argument. While show creator Alan Ball does have a liberal agenda as confirmed by the audio-commentaries, he does not shy away from portraying any point of view that is internally consistent. For example the same episode that champions gay parenting also does a wonderful job of portraying abortion-guilt. There are no easy answers on Six Feet Under.

Though each season of the program averages only 13 episodes (a standard compliment for a pay cable drama) there is more packed into those shows then most network dramas do in a season that is nearly twice as long. The engagement between Nate Fisher (Peter Krause) and Brenda Chenowith (Rachel Griffiths) manages to survive Nate's brain condition and having a child with another women, but not Brendas increasingly dangerous addiction to fooling around with strange men. David Fisher (Michael C. Hall) now openly gay is living in a multi-racial homosexual relationship with police officer Keith Charles (Matthew St. Patrick), and for a while the two were raising Keiths sisters young daughter (much to Keiths fathers chagrin) after her mother went to prison for vehicular manslaughter. Ruth Fisher(Frances Conroy) spent most of what was left from Nathaniel Sr.'s life insurance money to pay off her Russian boyfriend Nikolai's (Ed O'Ross) mob debts, an action that ultimately serves to drive that vastly entertaining couple apart. Claire Fisher's (Lauren Ambrose, watch her she's going to be big) drugie boyfriend disappears after he robs a convince store and later shoots a man, then the independent red-head briefly dates a far to well-adjusted 19 year old and decides to go to art school after spending time with her hippy aunt (Patricia Clarkson). Finally Federico Diaz (Freddy Rodriguez) the Fishers underapricated employee gets the seasons most moving flash back sequence, and he and his wife Vanessa come into some unexpected money after an elderly neighbor dies. Though the story lines are often outrageous the emotions and foibles of the characters are real, if often excessive in number. This program is not for the faint of heart and can be uncomfortably direct, but it is also very empathetic and honest and one of the strangest rides ever taken through television.

Best death this season: Tie-The Santa Claus in the motorcycle accident & buisnessman hit by falling lunch box from construction site.
Most moving death storyline: Tie- The middle-aged women who lived alone with no friends, and the 26 year old cancer victim.
Character I'll miss most: Tie- Claires High School guidance councilor and 'BoBo' elderly member of the independent funeral directores orginization.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Bloody Harlan

A Movie Review

My brother and I both served in the same mission (Tennessee, Knoxville) for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I spent just shy of half my field time in the mission serving in the 'Kingsport Zone', I served in every district in that zone except for one, Harlan Kentucky. Well as luck would have it my brother finished off his mission in Harlan and has fond memories of the place. But even before I heard my brothers stories I was well aware of that southern Kentucky countys long and violent (though not always successful) history of union organizing; a history that earned the community the nickname bloody Harlan. (I also served in the areas to the immediate west and east of Harlan so it was hard not to hear about it.)

One of the most interesting union related incidents in the countys history occurred in the middle 1970's, an unusual strike whose events where first widely chronicled in the 1976 documentary Harlan County, U.S.A., a work that is now forever enshrined in the National Film Registry. These events were also depicted in the 2000 Showtime movie Harlan County War, which is the film I am about to review for you now. The film centers on the Kincaid family, Silas Kincaid (Ted Levine) works in the community's barely regulated coal mine and after two young men are killed in front of him in an accident that could have easily been prevented, the hereto loyal employee starts agitating for a new union contract and better safety enforcement on the job. Silas's wife Ruby (Holly Hunter) at first opposes her husbands activity on account of the community being ripped off by some unscrupulous union reps several years earlier (it seems the workers once had a union contract but either lost it or had it gutted).

Stellan Skarsgard is Warren Jakopovich, a Polish-American union representative who manages to get the majority of the minors on board for a strike. (The UMWA by the way pays all the striking family's a $100 per month on which to live while the strike is going on.) After a few months of ineffectual picketing the mines management provoke a fight between the protesters and the local cops and 'skag' workers. Because the county Judge is also part-owner of the mine he uses the incident to limit the amount of picketers at the gate to 'no more then three men'. Now unable to mount any form of forceful resistance it seems as though the strike is doomed to fail, that is until Ruby comes to Warren with an idea. The Judge said that only three 'men' were allowed to pickett, she suggestts organizing the local women into an auxiliary to help the miners by using them to 'man' the pickett line. This proposal is implemented and gets a fair bit of publicity for a while, but as the strike continues to streach month after month many of the men folk are finding their newly assertive women even harder to deal with then the poor mine conditions.

There is little change until Ruby accompanies Warren to New York City and embarrasses company execes at a share holders meeting (Warren bought her a share so she could talk) in the hopes of depressing stock value and thus reviving negotiations. When Ruby returns to Harlan the stakes have been raised by her actions resulting in a state of war in the community, including the fire bombings of workers homes and multiple shootings. When a striking miner is shoot in front of a crowed by a skag worker tired of being harassed the breaking point is reached and the mine and union finally settle on a fair contract. Harlan County War is a good cable TV movie that makes wonderful use of actress Holly Hunters country accent, and I really enjoyed seeing some of 'bloody Harlans' history brought to life on the screen.

  • Also seen by me recently: Rooster Cogburn John Waynes second to last film follows the continuing adventures of the character he introduced in his Academy Award winning performance in the 1969 movie True Grit. At the start of the film Ruben 'Rooster' Cogburn is releved of his job as a U.S. Marshell by Judge Parker (John McIntire) for having shoot 64 suspects in his eight years working along the Arkansas/Indian Territory boarder. But no sooner does the Judge dismisses Rooster then he must again ask for his help. A notorious villain named Hawk (Richard Jordan) and his gang have stolen a wagon load of nitro from an army convoy and are planning to use it to rob a train full of gold passing through the neighboring territory. On his way to head off the outlaws Rooster stops at a small Indian mission where he meets Eula Goodnight (Katharine Hepburn) a New England missionary whose preacher father was killed by the gang for opposing their side-business of selling guns and liquor to the Indians. Despite his initial protests Marshall Cogburn is joined on his journey by Ms. Goodnight and an Indian boy (Richard Romancito) named Wolf whose parents were killed by the gang. The movies story its self is really nothing special but the verbal sparing and flirting between Hepburn and Wayne (in there only joint screen appearance) just makes this motion picture.

I Think This Cartoon Pretty Well Captures The Moment

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Andreas Katsulas: 1946-2006

In Memory

Actor Andreas Katsulas best remember for his portrayal of Narn Ambassador G'Kar on the cult science fiction series Babylon 5 died yesterday of lung cancer at the age of 59. Katsulas lung condition was pronounced inoperable some time ago so that the actor and his family have long had to live with his impending death. In fact his dying of cancer was probably inevitable for this heavy smoker, I will never forget the mental image I have in my head of Andreas, in full Narn make-up, smoking between takes on the Babylon 5 production lot. Really a talented actor he was type cast in science fiction and never got the general acclaim he might have had, his only memorable main stream role being that of 'the one armed man' in the 1993 feature The Fugitive. Andreas Katsulas is the second regular cast member of B5 to have died sense the series left the air in November of 1998, the other being actor Richard Biggs (Dr. Franklin) who died of an aortic tear in 2004.

Here's That Link

Jackson, here is that link to the blog that often contains multiple pictures per entry that I told you about. Hopefully it should prove key in our cracking the code that will enable us to do the same. The blog in question by the way is film-themed and named for a great director of spaghetti westerns and one element of proper baseball procedure.

The Beat Goes On

This Sunday Ghostwoods look at music scores reaches the 1970's, with several selections from composer Nino Rota (pictured left) and others. Ghostwood airs Sunday 2-2:30 on KBSU 730 AM Boise, or on the web at

I Can't believe the Vice-President Shoot A Man

This story is just funny, when I first heard about it I thought it would make a good 24 sub-plot. Anyway its been about 200 years sense a VP shot someone while in office so its hardly an epidemic problem, but still if this guy dies (which currently seems unlikely) Cheney will have to resign.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

The Odd Couple: Senior Citizens Edition

A Movie Review

Herbert Ross's 1975 film production of Neil Simons play The Sunshine Boys is one of the funnier movies I've seen in a while. Simons dialogue is witty as usual and all the stronger for being delivered by the expert comics who appear in the film. Willy Clark (Simon favorite Walter Matthau) and Al Lewis (George Burns) were legendary vaudeville comics who as 'the Sunshine Boys' had a 43 year career together based mostly on the success of their famed 'Doctor Sketch' (though they also did a Gypsy chiropractor sketch). Now 12 years into retirement Willys nephew/agent Ben (Richard Benjamin) has a chance to re-unite the two for an ABC Network special on the history of comedy, the only problem is that each member of the famed duo hates the other. That basic premise pretty much sets you up for the whole hour and fifty-one minute movie. The pictures is quite funny and per Simon rules has more then a little bit of heart. George Burns won the best supporting actor Oscar for his role as the teams straight man, though Matthau arguably gave a more memorable performance (he however had already won an Oscar for Billy Wilders 1966 comedy The Fortune Cookie). A young Ron Rifkin and F. Murray Abraham also have small roles in the film.

  • Also seen by me lately: From the 'why did I watch this' department comes The Little Prince. Directed by Stanley Donen (Singing In The Rain) and sporting a Lerner and Loewe score (My Fair Lady), Prince is based on the beloved French children's tale by Antonie de Saint-Exupery. In the film Richard Kiley plays a never named French test-pilot during the period 'between the wars', who after his experimental plane crashes in the Sahara comes across a strange little boy. The boy or 'Little Prince' hails from Asteroid B-612 a little planet that could just about fit in my family room. While the pilot fixs his plane the prince tells him story's about his journey from his home (where he lived with a talking rose) to a number of other small planets each ruled over by an adult arch-type, king, businessman, historian, general, and his later dealings with a snake (Bob Fosse) and a fox (Gene Wilder) here on Earth. A strange story that gets rather slow once the prince arrives on our planet, the movie at least has the virtue of strongly invoking a feeling of desire for ones own lost childhood. I vaguely remember an animated Little Prince program that aired on Nickelodean in the mid-1980's, I didn't really understand that shows logic either but there always seemed to be something going on beneath its surfice worth knowing about. The Princes creator Antonie de Saint-Exupery was a fighter pilot who was killed when his plane was shot down over the Mediterranean during World War II (the aircraft was only just discovered two-or-three years ago), and became something of a national treasure, his image even appeared on now defunct French currency.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Favorite

Hitch Part 3 0f 15

What was reportedly Hitch's favorite of his own films is also my favorite Hitchcock film, the tragically overlooked Shadow of a Doubt. While most people seem to favor Hitchs flims of the 50's and 60's (which are indisputably excellent) I've long had a soft spot for his 40's work, which was often less splashy, slower, and more subtle, Shadow of a Doubt easily meeting all of these criteria. Filmed largely on location in Santa Rosa the movies screenplay was co-authored by Our Town playwrite Thornton Wilder, a man whose small town sensibilities are evident throughout the work. Hitchcock wanted to do a story that introduced terror to a small American town and the plot that was arived at is one of the most plausible and therefore most disconcerting in the director's cannon. In addition to all of this talent behind the making of the fim the pictures pace and relatively lose demands of its plot leave plenty of screen time to soak up the local atmosphere and get to know a gallery of interesting characters. Perhaps this is one of the primary reasons I love this film so much, you feel as though you can take a leisurely stroll through through the movie as it is in no hurry to get where its going.

Teresa Wright (who died last year) was top billed in this film which was made during the middle of the actresses war-time Hollywood heyday. The smart brunette plays young Charlie Newton a roughly 19 year old girl living at home who has become board with her predictable small town life. Joseph Cotton is her Uncle Charlie (for whom she was named), her mothers charming and beloved younger brother who comes to visit the family from the east. His visit promises to bring some of the excitement young Charlie so wanted in her life and for the young women things seem to be going along wonderfully, this excitement of course proves to be not exactly what the eager young niece was expecting (the ironic twist for those of you in screenwriting class). From the moment he arrives Uncle Charlie is acting weird in a hard-to-place sort of way, and many subtle hints are dropped that things with him are not as they appear. You see Uncle Charlie was what they then used to call a 'bluebeard', a man who marries rich middle-aged widows for their money, and then in his case kills them. The cold, pragmatic form of murderous ideology this character with the pleasant demeanor displays could well have been a metaphor for the Fascist belief system America was then fighting.

The detectives who where on Charlies trail in Philadelphia manage to track him to Santa Rosa despite never getting a good look at his face and there being no existing photos of the man outside of childhood. The detectives Jack Graham (Macdonald Carey) and Fred Saunders (Wallace Ford) attempt to recruit young Charlie for their investigation when they come to believe her uncle is their murder. This Charlie will have none of it at first, but as she comes to believe the detectives are right agrees to help them. This is all complicated by the fact that another suspect for 'the black widow murders' is being tracked down in New England, and is ultimately killed in an accident involving a airplane propeller blade. With the other dead con now out of the way and most likely destined to be blamed for his crimes, Uncle Charlie feels he might now be home free. However by this point young Charlie has uncovered some damaging evidence to implicate her uncle in the murders, and with the detectives gone to San Diego for reassignment old Charlie determines he must kill his niece and make it look like an accident.

The supporting cast of this film is so excellent that they deserve a mention. Henry Travers plays a character (young Chariles father Joseph Newton)that must have been intended to be twenty years or more younger then he was, but by dying his hair he is able to make the trick almost work in black and white film. Patricia Collinge as Emma Newton is the heart of the film, young Chariles fear that reveling the truth about her uncle might kill her mothers is a primary motivating factor for her character in the latter half of the movie. Edna May Wonacott was a local girl who had never acted in a film before but is terrific as bookish younger sister Ann, who seems to be the first person to sense something is wrong with her uncle. Finally Hume Cronyn is delightful as Joseph Newtons best friend Herbie Hawkins, a man obsessed by pulp detective magazines and finding the perfect way to kill a person. A clever plot, interesting characters and loads of local atmosphere come together to make Shadow of a Doubt satisfying entertainment with the requisite Hitchcock brains.

Also recommended: The Coen Brothers The Man Who Wasn't There while presented as a kind Film Noir homage has more then just a little of Shadow of a Doubt in it, including a strange relationship between a young girl and an older man, a slow pace and quirky characters, as well as a 1940's Santa Rosa setting.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Fayard Nicholas Dead at 91

Fayard Nicholas passed away on January 24th but I only just heard about his death today. Fayard and his younger sibling Harold constituted the famed tap dancing twosome The Nicholas Brothers who segwayed from performing in Harlem to becoming two of the most recognizable black men on the movie screens of the 1940's. After Harold (who was once married to Dorothy Dandridge) passed away in 2000, Fayard continued to make public appearances until shortly before his death. I acutely got to see Fayard at a Hollywood celebrity's and memorabilia show in Burbank last summer, when I saw him he was eating one of those ice cream drumsticks. A talented trailblazing performer he will be missed.

Paramount on Parade

This week on 'The Ghostwood Development Project' we will begin a look at the evolution of film scores, using 90+ year old Paramount Studios as our point of reference. Ghostwood is broadcast from 2-2:30 pm on AM 730 in Boise, or online at


Well tonight I got to hear a lecture by 20/20 anchor and long time consumer affairs correspondent John Stossel at Boise State University. I've been a fan of Mr. Stossels for a long time, I believe I started watching his broadcasts in Middle School. I'm a big fan of his rhythmic vocal cadence and logical point-to-point delivery, I even intentionally attempted to copy his delivery style when I did competitive speech in High School. His lecture was entitled 'Freedom and its Enemies' and focused primarily on the kind of stuff he talked about in his book Give Me A Break, which I am now listing to on CD (I got him to sign my copy, and even shock his hand). Mr. Stossel himself says libertarian is probably the closest word to describing his political philosophy which embraces free markets and decries blotted government and stupid regulations. Mr. Stossel came to his current world view after spending years as a consumer affairs reporter and noticing the government often seemed to do more damage than did the problems they sought to correct. Now focusing his reporting on government waste and trial lawyers (yes John Edwards was mentioned in his speech), he has become "the scourge of the liberal media" and stopped winning Emmys. Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting hates this guy, they say he's a sell-out in the pockets of big business, now while this group claims to be objective I've honestly never heard anybody but liberals site FAIR as an authoritive source. John Stossel is not a conservative lackey (he's opinions on many social issues should make that argument a mute point), but he believes in free markets and thats why the socialistic left hates him, that and the fact that he routinely calls them out. I admit I'm not completely comfortable with everything Stossel says, but I think that might largely be because its mostly true, and the truth can be difficult. John Stossel is certainly man worth listing too.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Another Day With Jack

A Boxed-Set Review

24 season 2 is some intense viewing for a program that came out of network television. Unlike the first season of this real-time action show, season 2 was completely plotted out before it began so that it runs smoother and is more tightly pact with character and story elements. This time Jack has to come out of early retirement to help President Palmer stop a nuclear device from detonating in Los Angels. However in true 24 style what you think the show is about turns out to be only half of it. There are some very satisfying arcs here for George Mason and Mrs. Palmer though the entire regular cast gets a chance to shine. I was particularly impressed with Sara Wynter as Kate Warner, a character who was used effectively throughout the whole season though at first I thought they wouldn't be able to come up with enough story for her. Year two, I'm sorry day two, leaves you pumped for day 3 which I'm sure I'll get too once I feel fully recovered from this rather long 24 hours.

A film I've seen recently: The Lost World is a silent 1925 adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyles story of an expedition to find modern dinosaurs in the Amazon. This motion picture is notable primarily for its then cutting edge special effects, including some choppy stop-motion work, pretty good ape-man make-up, use of forced perspective, and some decent models. The acting is standard for silent cinema but the movie is short (less then an hour) so that its watchable for even those who aren't big fans of silent movies.

Mallrats And Deadheads

A Movie Review

About a month ago when I went to buy my own copy of Shaun of the Dead ("A hit romantic comedy, with zombies") I got it in two-pack with the 2004 version of Dawn of the Dead (directors cut). Now the Zombie movie is one film genre I must confess to knowing next to nothing about, I haven't even seen the preeminate zombie flick Night of the Living Dead. However since zombies have seemingly come back in vogue over the last few years, and as I did quite enjoy Shaun I decided to give the undead a try.

Newbie director Zack Snyders Dawn of the Dead is a lose remake of zombie dean George Romeros 1978 film of the same name. In this new version Sarah Polley (she's all grown up), plays Ana an overworked nurse living in a Milwaukee suburb with her nice guy husband/boyfriend. After coming off a long shift at work Ana and her husband spend some intimate time together ignoring the breaking news bulletins on television (I take it this is often a fatal thing to do in zombie movies). Within the first seven minutes of the movie a young neighbor girl comes into their house and zombiefs Ana's man by biting him. Forced to make a run from her home our heroine soon discovers that zombie induced chaos has descended upon Wisconsin, she is then forced off the road when someone (a panicked non-zombie) tries to get in her car and drives down an enbankment and crashes into a tree. Ana is knocked unconscious long enough for the cool opening title sequence with the Johnny Cash song but luckely not long enough to get got by a zombie. She is reawakened by a cope named Kenneth (Ving Rhames), and the two quickly join up with a group of three additional survivors, Andre (Mekhi Phifer of ER), his big with child Russian wife Luda (Inna Korobkina) and television salesman Michael (Jake Weber the husband on Medium).

Being five people of the modern age the group decides to go to the mall, this is acutely fairly logical as the zombie crises broke during hours when the mall was closed and the building would make a good fort. After breaking in to the mall they destroy a zombie janitor and security guard before hooking up with the at first not very likeable C.J. (Michael Kelly) and his two fellow surviving security guards. With plenty of food and supply's and the undead not smart enough to be able to break inside, this group of survivors knows they are okay for the time being, at lest until the TV goes out and more and more zombies begin to congregate around the mall.

Later our Mallrats are joined by another group of about eight survivors fleeing from an overrun 'evacuation center' at a Catholic Church. In addition to all these people the group also has contact with Andy (Bruce Bohne) the owner of a gunshop across the street from the mall who has taken up a sniper position on the roof of his store, they communicate with each other through messages written on white boards and read via binoculars. Knowing that they can't hold out forever the group eventually comes up with a plane to rescue Andy, get lots of weapons out of his store and take off in improvised armored mall parking buses for the marina. At the marina the group will escape in a boat owned by annoying yuppie Steve (Ty Burrell) and set off for some islands in the great lakes that hopefully aren't overrun by zombies. The preparation and institution of this plan lead up to the climax of the movie.

I was surprised to see how much I liked this movie, despite its much gore. Desperate people trapped in confined quarters and facing impossible odds simply makes for great drama, just ask Stephen King who routinely follows this scenario. All in All Dawn of the Dead is a great zombie movie that makes me want to explore the genre further. In closing I just want to say that the 'shoot a celebrity game' they play in this flick is sickly hilarious.

Feminist Icon Betty Friedan Dead at 85

Betty Friedan author of trailblazing 1963 best seller The Feminine Mystique and co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) died of congestive heart failure yesterday on her 85th birthday. Friedans tireless work for female equality and self-realization made her both a revered and despised figure in America. Her break out 1963 book The Feminine Mystique is widely regarded as a watershed in the women's movement, the success of which however may have contributed to the break-up of her marriage. A writer, lecture and social staple Ms. Friedan segwayed into an advocate of the rights of the elderly with he 1993 book The Fountain of Age. Betty Friedan is survived by three children, nine grandchildren, and two siblings.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

R.I.P. Grandpa Munster

An Obit

Actor Al Lewis passed away yesterday in New York after years of failing health. Best known for his seminal role as 'Grandpa' in the campy 60's sitcom The Munsters, news of Lewis death was broken this morning during the time slot of the weekly radio show he hosted for WBAI-FM in New York City. Though he had long listed his birth year as 1910 Al's son Ted today reveled this his father had added 13 years to age, presumably for publicity reasons and doubtless aided by his easy identification with the elderly. Though he had a long career as an actor Lewis felt himself typecast by his most famous role, though he learned to exploit that by opening a restaurant called Granpas in Greenwich Village. An outspoken liberal Al Lewis ran as the Green Party candidate for New York Govener (he was a life long resident of the state) several years ago against George Pataki. On a personal note the only movie I ever saw Al in was They Might Be Giants, he has a small role in this misguided Sherlock Holmes flick that is literally the best thing in the movie and denotes a comic talent that probably could have gone farther then it did.

P.S. You will note that Grandpa Munster warrants a post on my blog, but the new Republican majority leader does not. These are my priorities in a nutshell.