Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Spitting Image/Robot Chicken

I can't remember how exactly I first became aware of the eccentric British satire program Spitting Image, though I think it might have been on some fluff news piece about the show in the mid- eighty's(I've watched the nightly news since I was about 3). Then in 1991 there was a prime time Spitting Image special on American television in conjunction with the Gulf War, I begged my parents but they wouldn't let me stay up for it. My last encounter with the show until recently was in the middle 90's, when part of a program on TLC about Jonathan Swift (and by extension satire), featured a segment on how they made the unique fleshy/muppet characters featured on the program. Anyway I recently came across some segments from the show on youtube, which I thought I'd share due to their high 80's British weirdness quotient:
Images distant cousin is the current Adult Swim program Robot Chicken, which comes from the mind of Seth Green. The Chicken does a lot of satire on children's programing from my childhood, so I thought I'd share some examples, the first two being my favorites:
Super Mario Brothers- Honestly one of the funniest things I'd seen in a while.
Charlie Brown-For some reason I love Peanuts satire.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Movie Marathon

I'm going to take a slight break from the review formatting style I've been using, due to the shear amount of movies I'm likely to watch in the next week. You see my parents and my sister went out and rented a bunch of movies, and usually when they do that there's maybe one among them that I actually want to see, but this time I wouldn't mind watching all of them (including a few I've seen before). In addition I've got the netflix and saw a movie with some friends tonight, ect., so I don't really have a lot of time for lengthy reviews. So that all being the case I best get started:


World Trade Center (2006): I generally find it kind of hard to write about 9/11 movies, the story and subject matter are generally so straight forward that there's not a lot to analyze that hasn't been made clear during the films proceedings. I have the sense that there is more to Oliver Stone's take here then might appear on the surface, though I've not yet been able to sort out what that might be in detail. The movie is more cinematic then United 93 but feels less real. 24's Mike Novak (Jude Ciccolella) has a small role.


The Illusionist (2006): One does not often get to see a film set in turn of the century Vienna, so to start off with the setting's cool. But even cooler then the neat atmosphere, flash-bulb cinematography, and Philip Glass score, is the central 'illusion', one that really pulled me in and fooled me. Even the presence of Jessica Beil can not diminish this movie.


The Holiday (2006): Each December requires at least one Christmas themed romantic comedy for me to watch out of season, and The Holiday is serviceable in this role. The Kate Winslet story was likable enough, but I didn't really care about Diaz. In fact the only strong reason to watch this movie, at least for me, was the Eli Wallach subplot. I applaud the producers for taking the risk of casting the then 90 year old legend as elderly screenwriter of the 'Billy Wilder school'. Also while this movie is strictly average in most ways, it at least recognizes what good movies are, as evidenced by repeated references to various classics throughout the film, that alone bumps this up from a C to a C+.

Stranger Then Fiction (2006): I was with this movie from conception to nearly through execution. This is a spoiler but I have issues with the ending, as my first instinct would have been to kill Harold. Not killing him lessened the dramatic impact and irony of his transformation, as pointed out by the Dustin Hoffman character (in a performance I really enjoyed by the way). However when the film cheats, it at least acknowledges that its cheating, when trading in greatness for an okay but more likable alternative. This acknowledgment is what saves the film and makes it work in a perhaps less artistic but more populist form. Maggie Gyllenhaal becomes more likable with each performance.

Rocky Balboa (2006): I confess that I had only seen the first one of these films about ten years ago, but that's really all you need to have seen to enjoy this final entry. Balboa surprised me in its being so sad and sentimental, really one of the most unexpectedly moving films I'd seen in some time. Kudos for the casting of Milo Ventimigilia as Rocky's son, and some totally engaging boxing action. Totally satisfying.

"Tomorrow is the most important thing in life. Comes into us at midnight very clean. It's perfect when it arrives and it puts itself in our hands. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday." - John Wayne

"History is the best antidote to illusions of omnipotence and omniscience. It should forever remind us of the limitations of our passing perspectives. It should strengthen us to resist the pressure to convert momentary interests into moral absolutes."- Arthur Schlesinger Jr.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Do'in What Comes Naturally

Movie: Annie Get Your Gun (1950)
Setting: Ohio and locations throughout the midwest (espically Minnasota), the great cities of Europe and New York New York; the story plays it all a little lose with actual history, so it should probably be in the 1870's but sevral refrences place it in the 1880's.

Beatty Hutton was actully substituing for Judy Garland in a role that now seems taylor made for the recently departed actress ("Were always looking for a good Betty Hutton"-Sheldrake). Based on the popular musical by Irving Berlin, this film is esstenally a rather unconvinicng love story between dandy sharp shooter Frank Butler (Howard Keel) and the rough necked shooting prodgany Annie Oakley (Hutton). With some good songs, enjoyable character actors and a fun visual style, this film mostly makes up for what it lacks in real plot. You could probably get young children to watch this its so colorfull.

Note: The story of actor Brad Marrow, who played little Jake Oakley in the film is kind of sad.

Factoid: There are many plot and tonal simularites between this film and a movie Ms. Hutton did two years later called The Greatest Show on Earth.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Vasquez Speaks at BSU

Well just got back from hearing Robert Vasquez a former Canyon County commissioner and candidate for 2008 Republican Senate nomination speak about the issue of illegal immigration at Boise State University (not at Boise State University but 'at' Boise State University). Vasquez is well known for his strong opposition to illegal immigration, and once while serving as Canyon County commissioner billed the nation of Mexico 2 million dollars for the local health services care of unlicensed aliens. A flier for the event, sponsored by the college Republicans, was viewed by some including University President Bob Kustra as ethnically disrespectful. This controversy heightened the protest regarding the event, and a mostly silent vigil was kept outside around the student union building where Mr. Vasquez was to speak.

Robert Vasquez is not a great speaker, but demonstrated tonight a strong ability to stoke the fires on both sides, though the anti-Vasquez faction was by far the more vocal during the evenings events. I ended up sitting among a contingent fairly angry young Hispanic students, the young women next to me was visibly shaking early on, and dismissively laughed off some of the candidates more inflammatory or poorly worded remarks throughout the speech. On the whole the evening was a demonstration of our collective inability to hold a real discussion on this issue. Most of the questions asked during the Q & A that closed out the event where loaded, many only barely qualifying as questions, being in intent attacks upon Vasquez's views, not open inquires. Of course Vasquez himself came off as rather self involved individual nay perhaps even a jerk, but he did have some good points, and even he commented that if you don't agree with him your likely not going to really hear anything he has to say. The perception held by many that being anti-illegal immigration is some how equivalent to being anti-immigrant of any sort, and anti-Latin culture, is obviously a wrong one. There are cases where these things go together, perhaps to many, and perhaps those who hold these views are to predominate in the larger immigration control movement, but we've got to look beyond the provocateurs on both sides of this thing, and actually work towards a just solution.

Deep Blue Something

Movie: Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
Setting: New York City; contemporary

I have recently been reminded just how many people I know (especially women) really love this movie. I however was disappointed in the picture, perhaps this is a case of impossible expectations. I understand how the romantic aspects of the film can be attractive, heck I'd love to spend a day doing stuff I've never done before with a lovely young women. The thing is this picture is much more melancholy then romantic, leaving me a little perplexed as to its near universally beloved statues. It does have John McGiver in it though, and John McGiver was awesomely ubiquitous in the 60's and 70's. Suffice it to say I still prefer to get my Audrey Hepburn fix by way of Sabrina or Charade.

P.S. Name the cat already!

Factoid: Paramount exec's originally wanted to cut the Mancini/Mercer song "Moon River", feeling it too hokey. Ironically "Moon River" is now considered one of the all time great songs from a motion picture.

Happy 95th Karl Malden

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Amnesic Psychiatrist

Movie: Crime Doctor (1943)
Setting: 'Kings County' unidentified state; 1932-1942

First in a series of films taken from the radio. Warner Baxter is an amnesia victim, who unable to remember his past, becomes a psychiatrist. Ten years after losing his memory Dr. Robert Ordway is appointed head of the state parole board, around this time some men show up claiming he is really 'Phil Morgan' a man who helped organize a hist of $200,000 dollars. This money was hidden by Morgan in an attempt to cheat his associates, it was in their attempt to beat the information out of him that Phillip lost his memory. Of course Dr. Ordway is able to recover his memory, apprehend the criminals and return the stolen money, only to be granted a retroactive ten year sentence for his crimes, thus enabling him to remain a free man and have further adventures. Enjoyable and relatively short, I wouldn't mind seeing other entry's in this series. Crime Doctor also features a never fully developed sub-plot about the rehabilitation of a decorated World War One vet who committed manslaughter.

Factoid: Female characters repeatedly comment on how 'attractive' Dr. Ordway supposedly is. This is probably due to the fact that actor Warner Baxter was in his 50's when he played this part, probably to old for the role, and the studio wanted to remind audience that the character was suppose to be viewed as dashing.

Also recommend in films about men with thin mustaches and amnesia: Random Harvest

Calvert DeForest, Letterman's "Larry 'Bud' Melman" Dead at 85

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

The New Eleven

Movie: Ocean's 12 (2004)
Setting: Rome and Lake Comeo Italy; East Haven, Connecticut; Provo, Utah; Miami, Florida; East Orange, New Jersey; London, England;Chicago; East Hampton, New York; New Orleans; Las Vegas; West Hollywood, California; Amsterdam; Paris, France; 2001 & 2004

To be honest I only watched this movie so that I can better enjoy 13 (which looks real good) when it comes out. My expectations were not high which I'm sure factored, but I enjoyed 12, it was a fun if inconsequential vanity project. Cathrine Zeta-Jones makes a fine addition to the Ocean's pantheon. I have mixed feeling about the Bruce Willis cameo.

The 25 Best Movie Posters Ever

See what Premier magazine considers the 25 best movie posters ever. I am particularly fond of this poster from the Preston Sturges comedy Sullivan's Travels, because it has next to nothing to do with the movie, its just banking on the then current popularity of leading lady Veronica Lake, and her iconic hairstyle.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Seldom Seen

Movie: An Ace in the Hole a.k.a. The Big Carnival (1951)
Setting: New Mexico; contemporary

While well received by the European intelligentsia, this Billy Wilder film was both a critical and box office flop at home, resulting in its current seldom seen statues and lack of DVD release. Having now seen the film I find it surprising that it has not had more of cinematic rehabilitation, I mean its a fine example of Wilder at the top of his game. The plot concerns a once hot shot city reporter (Kirk Douglas) reduced to working for an Albuquerque paper. In a cynical attempt to reestablish a name for himself, the reporter conspires with a corrupt sheriff (Ray Teal) to keep the victim of a cave-in at old Indian cliff dwelling (Richard Benedict) trapped underground for days so they can milk the story for publicity. The area outside the cave-in quickly becomes a media circus complete with a real carnival (hence the alternate title), which the victims loveless wife (Jan Sterling) is more then ready to cash in on. A happy song about efforts to rescue the trapped World War Two vet, "Leo, Leo, Leo", adds further surreality to the proceedings. A bleak ending to this cynical story may have further put off 50's audiences.

Factoid: Many obvious parallels to this movie exist in the 1997 feature Mad City, which I must say failed where Ace succeeded.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Airport 54'

Setting: (TWA?) flight from Honolulu to San Francisco, with a few scenes at both locations; contemporary, 1950's.

Prototypical airplane/disaster flick, featuring John Wayne as a co-pilot who doesn't lose his cool, and a bunch of lesser-known actors in subplots aplenty. Claire Trevor does her shtick, William Schallert and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez have bit parts. Enjoyable but kind of lengthy, with an exposition heavy first twenty minutes.

Factoid: Robert Stack, who players the nervous pilot, also had a part in the later genera send-up movie Airplane!

Stardust Memories

Movie: 8 1/2 (1963-Italian)
Setting: An Italian spa community; early 1960's + flashbacks

I was worried that I wouldn't like this film, that it might be portentous (which of course it was) and mostly of value in terms of being able to say that one had actually seen it. I was pleasantly surprised, I really liked this movie, it grew on me quite a bit over the course of my viewing. Stylistically this film is something of a milestone, like Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin, and many famous directors have been noted to drool over this work. Beyond the stylistic inspiration provided, it is probable that many of the movies director fans, like it so much because it's about the stress of being a director, and having ones private life bleed over into the screen. A good example of this is the sequence in which director Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is casting for characters obvious based on people in his life, down to having one actress asked to put on glasses so as to more closely resemble his wife (in the movies context this scene is rather cruel). I would be remiss not to mention a fantasy sequence which starts with all of the women in Guidos life (past and present) living together with him in harmony, only to have them rise up against him in the end, this guy can't win even in his fantasy's. Finally I must recommend this film because any chance to see Claudia Cardinale on screen is simply worth it, one of the most beautiful actresses of all time.

Factoid: 8 1/2, particularly the ending sequence, is referenced in a number of films including Woody Allen's Stardust Memories and Tim Burton's Big Fish.

Nate's Favorite Italian Films (in order of theatrical release): The Bicycle Thief, The Leopard, and Life is Beautifull.

...As When You Were A Baby

Movie: States of Grace (2005)
Setting: Santa Monica California; present day

Director Richard Dutcher is considered by many to be the 'father of Mormon cinema', a statues he's not as comfortable with now as he might have been back in 2000, when his breakthrough picture God's Army first came out. Dutcher has come to reject the label of Mormon filmmaker, as his life's journey has lead him both creatively and spiritually away from such a boxed designation, and because so much of what calls itself Mormon cinema just really isn't that good. Of course even from the beginning Dutcher was a controversial figure in LDS circles, his portals of deeply flawed and spiritually hurting Latter-day Saints, including characters who where missionary's and Bishops, presented a level of ambiguity that many in audiences raised on propagandistic church produced educational films, where decidedly uncomfortable with (so they went to see Charlie and The Singles Ward instead).

In States of Grace (billed in some Mormon markets as God's Army 2, though that label can only very loosely be applied), we find what is in my opinion, the most spiritually satisfying 'Mormon' movie ever made, and Dutchers best work to date. It is a mediation on the atonement, a story of spiritual pain, growth, and lose, sin as well as forgiveness. It is a movie that demonstrates its directors frustration with Mormon dogmatism, and sense of moral superiority. While not rejecting the structures of the institutional church, in fact arguable accepting them in near completeness, the director pines for the superiority of 'spirit' not 'law' based approach to Godly living. This idea is typified in the film when the Mormon Elders Lozano (Ignacio Serricchio) and Farrell (Lucas Fleischer) take a homeless Pentecostal street preacher into their apartment, after finding him lying drunk and sick behind a dumpster. That action is against the missionary's rules, but it is what Jesus would do. While that event may prompt a low level reassessment of proper spiritual behavior on the part of some LDS viewers, Dutcher is not content to let the audience off with only a procedural sense of ambiguity. Rather later in the film Elder Farrell sneaks out of his apartment at night, to comfort Holly, the troubled young neighbour women the missionary's have befriended (Rachel Emmers, whose face and light blue eyes are a treasure to gaze upon), which before sunrise leads to sex between the two (don't worry moralists, he pays a high price).

The boundary's between grace and behavior, law and love are what Dutcher is grappling with in this film, and he wants his audience to know that there aren't always easy answers. Fornication born of compassion, of all the right desires. How is an LDS audiance to deal with that? The pain that follows may be necessary and proper, but when Elder Farrell's father won't journey to see his recently hospitalized son (he slit his wrists in shame about having to go home), holding to his early statement that he'd rather see him come home in a coffin then dishonorably, we must ask isn't this level of pain to sever to be warented. I love this film, I think it really gets it, not just about being Mormon, but being Christian, being human. Forgive this film its trespasses, its unmaskabley indie and has its contrivances, watch it, and you'll find something there about how we can all stand to be a better person.


During its original theatrical release, a California movie theater started warning potential customers that States of Grace was not a "Christian" film. It seems some Evangelical viewers felt they were mislead by the movies title and had not expected it to be a 'Mormon' film. As a result of this, a protest by some Mormons and there sympathisers was held outside of the theater, despite director Dutchers pleas to just let it be.

An Evangelical minister protested that the advertising for Dutchers 2000 film God's Army was misleadingly targeting Evangelical youth. The reason for this charge stemming from the supposed resemblance of God' Army star Matthew A. Brown to born again actor Kirk Cameron, then appearing in a series of Left Behind films.

You Can't Go Home Again

Series: The 4400; season 2 (2005)
Setting: Mostly in and around Seattle; contemporary, 2005-2006.

Did I even mention that I'd watched season 1 of this show? It's a very interesting premise, from the middle 1940's until the early 21st century, 4400 people were abducted from all around the world, only to be returned to Earth on August 14th 2004. None of these people had aged a day, and after there return some started to develop special powers. The reason why only some developed powers, and not all, is one of several major mystery's explored in the second season. The big mystery reveled in the truncated mini-series like first season, was that the 4400 had not been abducted not by aliens, but rather by future humans who wanted to use them to stave off some kind of disaster that threatened the future of the planet. In terms of show structure this paved the way for everything, even the most minor seeming of subplots, to prove over the course of a few episodes, to be intemently connected to some vast future plan. Thus there isn't a lot of filler on The 4400.

The major characters on the show are two agents for the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, that has been tasked with monitoring the 4400, largely because they reappeared near its Seattle headquarters, and most have chosen (for an unknown reason) to remain in that general area. Tom Baldwin (Joel Gretsch, who was just excellent as a very different character in the somewhat similar Taken), is a former FBI agent now NTAC operative whose son Kyle (Chad Faust) was left in a comma for three years after witnessing the abduction of his best friend and cousin Shawn Farrell (Patrick Flueger). Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie, who is very attractive in this role), is Tom's partner and a former CDC employee (shades of X-Files). The primary 4400's that are featured in most every episode are Maia Rutledge (Conchita Campbell) a little girl abducted in 1946 who can now see the future, Richard Tyler (Mahershalalhashbaz Ali) a black fighter pilot taken from 1951 Korea, and Lily Moore Tyler (Laura Allen, who looks like a cross between Sherlyn Fenn and Kristin Bell) a 1993 abductie who returns miraculously pregnant with Richards child, who turns out to be a disturbingly powerful little lady.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the show is the way it deals with religion. Jordon Collier (Bill Campbell) a powerful young real estate tycoon abducted in 2002, starts a Scientology type group called The 4400 Center upon his return. This group believes that the 4400's powers come from the simple unlocking of parts of the brain we don't normally use, and that everyday Jane's and Joe's can be taught to develop such powers through a seven staged (or seven key'd) process they must pay to learn. While Jordan has no powers of his own, he eventually finds a powerful portage in Tom's nephew Shawn, who has the power to heal any illness. Anyway I watched this shows second season while also watching the current 6th season of 24, and well, this stuff is better.

Factoid: Actor JefLinkfery Combs, DS9's Wayone, has a recurring role as an eccentric neuro-scientist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Logans

While watching the latest episode of 24 on Monday night, which reunited season 5's first couple of Charles and Martha Logan, I was struck with just how much I enjoy watching those two together. Honestly the interplay between Gregory Itzin and Jean Smart was far more engaging then the terrorist goings on in the six o'clock hour. So it struck me, here we have the perfect candidate for 24's first spin off: The Logan's. I'm thinking it would be a lot like Dynasty, with Charles and Martha, Aaron Pierce, Mike Novak, the Suberovs, and a host of wacky relatives constantly plotting against each other and causing all sorts of trouble. Of course this can only work if the former President survives his stab wound and gets some king of pardon. But hay, if Kim can work as a computer analyst at CTU with out ever attending college, or showing any indication of skill at the job, then Surnow and his writing crew can make anything happen.

Why Spartin is a Good Team Name

Movie: 300 (2007)
Setting: Greece; in um, ancient Greek times

Normally a movie like 300 is not something I would go and see, but I wanted to see a movie and that was what Mandy was gonna go see, so I went. 2007's first blockbuster contains a bizarre mix of eroticism (homo and straight), and neo-conservative politics. It is the political twinge of the film, more even then its sex and violence, that make 300 a largely repellent film (not to mention a ridiculous one). The Spartans were Greek Texans I suppose, not to blanket all citizens of the lone star state, but most readers know what I'm talking about. Sparta was a prideful and arbitrary society, one which liked to cloak things in a rhetoric of freedom and tradition, but ultimately contained little or nothing worth saving. I must admit that the movie has some pretty cool fight scenes, and the two or three minutes of film in which Gerard Butler is totally channeling Sean Connery just made me happy, but on the whole... Here's where I run into trouble, like some Texans, the Spartans can get one excited by, or at least deadened to, mass killing. While I hated the first half hour of the film, after that point I found myself enjoying it more and more. I can appreciate the film for what is (minus the politics) as action spectacle, but I simply can not respect 300 or recommend it. Gladiator this is not. What was with the goat musician?

Note: While filling my car up with gas after seeing this film I meet Tiffany the cologne sales lady. Best of luck getting that hotel room Tiffany.

Gold Digging 101

Movie: Baby Face (1933)
Setting: Erie Pennsylvania, New York City, Paris France; Depression era.

Barbra Stanwyck is commanding in this story of a girl with a troubled background, who literally sleeps her way to success within a major New York City based bank. This movie was made just as a moral backlash against Hollywood product was resulting in a stricter policing of film content. As a result the original version of Baby Face was cut up, and not available to the general public until fairly recently. Looking at those blatantly coded scenes of sensuality reminds the viewer of how risque early 1930's film making could get. Of course the year after this picture was made you couldn't have Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert sleep in the same room without the benefit of the 'Walls of Jericho'.

The film contains a nice Vidorian visual motif in depicting Stanwyck's Lily Powers rise to the top of Courtland Trenhoms (George Brent) banking empire. The film however sells out some of its subversiveness with the redemption ending, which I felt should have been more, for lack of a better word, mean. Kudos for having Stanwycks character inspired to her wicked ways by the philosophy of Nietzche.

Factoid: John Wayne appears in this movie for all of 20 seconds as one of Lily's suitors.


I've recently become taken by a blog known as 'The Ongoing Cinematic Education of Steven Carlson', which has inspired me to change my format for movie reviews, at lest for a trial run. So here it goes:

Movie: Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
Setting: New Orleans, Louisiana 1937

Any movie based on a play by Tennessee Williams, particularly if that play is set largely in a mental institution and the home of an eccentric widow who wears white in mourning, is not going to be full of sunshine. Suddenly, Last Summer certainly has a creepy aura to it, from the early scenes of a lobotomy preformed in a mental hospital that used to be a children's school, to the final confrontation in Sebastin's primeval garden. Sebastin himself is the source of most of this black aura, though those in his inner circle where doubtlessly a little battyl even before the tragic events of the previous summer. You see, suddenly, last summer, the aspiring poet was struck dead, of what is claimed to have been a heart attack, while vacationing with his cousin Catherine (Elizabeth Taylor) in Spain. Cathy went a little crazy after that, and her aunt (who was also the late Sebastins Oedipaly devoted mother, played by Katharine Hepburn), has had her put up in a Catholic crazy house. The Nuns however wont keep the shapely young women on account of her lustful ways, which is why its so lucky for the venerable Mrs. Venable that the Polish-American doctor Cukrowicz (Montgomery Clift) form Chicago can do a mean lobotomy.

Dr. Cukrowicz however is a good, sane, and reasonable man (unlike everybody else in this film), who won't just mesh up Liz's Brian because the town dame, and the hospitals money desperate administrator (Albert Dekker) want him too. You see Dr. Cukrowicz likes Cathy, and is sure her psychological problems steam from having witnessed something horrible, no doubt suddenly, last summer. The truth is all bound up in how Sebastin really died, and the secret that he and his mother had protected so long, a secret the audience will probably pick-up on fairly early on, however the performances that it takes for the story to get there makes the time spent well worth it. A little stagy, but that's more then made up for by the creepy atmosphere.


Katharine Hebrun reportedly didn't get along with director Mankiewicz, but loved producer Speagle.

Screenplay by Tennesse Williams and Gore Vidal.

The last name of the hospital administrator, Hockstader, is the same as the folksy former President in Vidal's The Best Man.

Finally despite what the advertising says about 'six big stars', I'll give them Dekker and McCambridge, but Gary Raymond is pushing it.

Actress, Singer Betty Hutton Dead at 86

Betty Hutton, musical comedy star of the 40's and 50's, best known for her booming voice and talent with novelty songs, has passed away at the age of 86. Hutton is largely identified with the light comic material in which she excelled (If you see one Betty Hutton film make it The Miracle of Morgans Creek), but actually she came from a troubled family background that included suicide and bootlegging. Ms. Hutton herself was laid low by the booze, and eventually found herself doing laundry and janitorial work for some Catholic monks. However she was eventually able to overcome her addictions, and spent much of her later life lecturing on the dangers of the drink. Betty Hutton's music was the subject of an episode of my late radio show 'The Ghostwood Development Project' in August of 2005.

'Platypus Man' Richard Jeni Dies in Apperant Suicide

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Wilford Woodruff at 200

This month marks two hundred years since the birth of Wilfrod Woodruff, 4th president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. President Woodruff (effectively) served in that office from 1887 to his death in 1898 (while on a fishing trip in California). President Woodruff presided over the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple, and issued the 1890 Manifesto which publicly announced that the Church had discontinued sodomizing polygamous marriages (however that practice was not effectively stamped out among members of church leadership until well into the following decade). President Woodruff is an interesting man, one of my favorite church presidents for his farsightedness and willingness to change. Now might be a good time to learn more about him.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Camptastic Voyages

I recently completed my viewing of the DVD release of Star Trek: The Animated Series (thank you netflix), which I watched for its great camp/nostalgia value. As children my brother and I used to watch reruns of this 1973-74 program on Nick-at-Night, I think it aired on Sunday evenings right around 1989 or 90'. Anyway the both of use thought that Mr. Arex, the orange, tri-pedal bridge officer who served as Checkovs replacement was real cool. We want to know more about him, and were saddened that he was never the focus of an episode. This no doubt was do in part to the extremely thin budget the series apparently had. The programme was a production of Filmation Studios, which used a process called 'limited animation' (as well as a highly repetitive musical score) to save on costs. So alas our Mr. Arex, with one additional foot, would have been cost prohibitive to strike out on his own and have adventures. Now that we have CGI however, I'm ready to pitch my Mr. Arex television program to anyone who will listen.

We're Really Safe

Farmers Insurance names the Boise-Nampa area the safest metropolitan area in the United States. Eat that Bismark!

Captian America Killed by Sniper!

First President Palmer, and now Steve Rogers, I don' know if I can take the sniping death of another fictional character.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

One Sad and Angry Man

Twenty-five years after directing the seminal 12 Angry Men, Sidney Lument returned to the field of courtroom drama with The Verdict, a film that is even better then the aforementioned Henry Fonda classic. Paul Newman plays a once great lawyer, scapegoated more then ten years previous in a jury tampering scheme, in which he was not even involved. Now a down on his luck lawyer with a truly sad looking office, Newman's Frank Galvin has a chance to redeem himself in a malpractice suit involving a hospital owned by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. Charlotte Rampling plays a potential love interest for Newman, while the under-apricated Jack Warden is Gavens old law school instructor who helps him out on the case (shades of Walter Brennan assisting James Stewart in Anatomy of a Murder). James Mason plays the opposing lead lawyer. A powerful, excellent, surprisingly underplayed movie. Nominated for five Academy Awards.

The Humanist

I missed making an entry in the filmscreed sponsored Billy Wilder Blog-a-thon this weekend, but thought that I'd take some time now to reflect on the work of my favorite director. I'm hard pressed to say exactly why Wilder is my favorite, save to say that I've never been truly disappointed in a Billy Wilder movie. Even personal favorites of mine such as Capra and Preminger have their misfires (A Hole in the Head, and The Man with the Golden Arm, respectively), but Wilder didn't, at least not that I've seen. Granted much of his work, especially post The Apartment, might be seen as less ambitious then the work of other great directors, or even the output of Billy's golden age at Paramount. However, beyond consistently delivering entertaining and well-crafted work, Billy Wilder also prompted thought from his audience, and brought his highly developed sense of cynicism to bear, in stories that challenged their contemporary conventions. The hub-ub surrounding the now relatively inaqueus Kiss Me Stupid is a prime example of this latter phenomena. Yet Wilder still managed to make a comedy about French prostitutes the biggest money maker of his career ( Irma La Deuce), and receive great accolades from the mid-century American press for films about alcoholism (The Lost Weekend), coded homosexuality (Some Like it Hot, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes), moral corruption in the insurance industry (The Apartment), Hollywood (Sunset Blvd.), and the newspapers (An Ace in the Hole, admittedly not appreciated in its time), as well as lots and lost of work dealing with the problems (both serious and comic) of sexual infidelity (see almost any Wilder film for an example). As a contranarian though, Wilder also made some wonderfully light pictures like The Major and the Minor, Sabrina, and Love in the Afternoon, not to mention the almost Capra-esque Spirit of St. Louis.

Some found Wilder at his most extreme to be rather off-putting in his cynicism, feeling his world view to be overly dark and unforgiving. I however find Wilders work to be the opposite, it's all very human, and being human it means the characters are both greatly flawed and yet endearingly compelling. Perhaps the most consistent thread in Wilders story telling is 'the tale of the sell-out' (which is all of us to one degree or another), someone whose doing wrong, knows it, struggles with it, but do to any number of circumstances, has a difficult time working his way out of it. Sometimes the sell-out redeems himself (The Apartment), sometimes he dosen't (Double Indemnity), sometimes he must die to be redeemed (Sunset Blvd), sometimes the point is to go on living (Stalage 17). But the characters have to make choices, important choices that determine who they are. But even when they make the wrong choices, we see them as being of value, and empathise with them. What demons if any Wilder was working out in his films is hard to say, but while he effected a somewhat crusty persona, I think it's evident that he was a man who felt deeply, someone who understood intemently mankind at both our most repulsive and charming extremes. Billy Wilder was a writer, a director, and a person who lived up to and embodied his famous mantra, "Nobody's Pefect", and that's why his films nearly where.

Thomas Eagleton: 1929-2007

Sunday, March 04, 2007

More Recent Deaths

World War One veteran and Dick Cheney rhetorical aid Howard Ramsey has died at age 108.

Historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who popularize the concept of the 'imperial presidency' and presidental ranking lists, has passed on at age 89.

Hollywood actor and Olympic silver medalist (1928, short put) Bruce Bennett has been failed by a broken hip at the age of 100.

Miami Vice

Last night a friend of mine and I went out to celebrate his recent engagment. We decided to go see a stupid movie, which we found in Reno 911: Miami, a feature length version of the Comedy Central TV show. I don't normaly watch R rated comedys, and this movie will likely only enhance that genral policy. It's not that I hated the movie, in fact I kind of enjoyed it in a 'I can't belive I'm watching this' sort of way. However I'm glade I have church today, because I kind of feel I need to give back to God double time for this 90 minutes of comic vice.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Inspired by Actual Events

The international production Joyeux Noel tells the inspiring story of the famed 'Christmas Truce' of 1914. The movie uses three fictional storys to depect events from all sides, each presented in the language of the participents. In English we have the story of two Scottish brothers, and their parish priest who accompanys them to the front as a medic. The French story concerns the son of a career military officer, whose pregnant wife is traped behind enemy lines. The German storyline depicts a famous tenour, bound by a sense of deuty to serve the German people, despite the pledings of his Danish wife for them to leave the country. Kind of weak in the first half hour to fourty minutes, the film becomes truely inspirng from the moment the German tenor starts to sing along to the Scottish priests bagpipe music. Rated R for about 15 seconds of film that barley registers as nudity. Ian Richardson appears briefly in his second to last film role.

Forest Whitaker won a well deserved Oscar for playing crazed yet charismatic Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, a motion picture based on the novel of the same name by Giles Foden. The story is historical fiction inserting a young Scottish doctor 'hungry for adventure' ( James McAvoy), into the inner cirlce of Scottophile Amin. Both actors are extrodanarly good in this film, which also features a nice role for Gillan Anderson of all people. The Last King of Scotland introduced me to a horrifiying story I'd never heard before, and further cemented my desire never to go to central Africa.

Also recently finished The Presidents, an eight part History Channel documentary narrated by Edward Herrman, that gives an average of 7-9 minutes air time to each of our countrys chief executives (love that Chester A. Arthur). Also included on set is an hour and a half long doc All The Presidetns Wives.