Monday, April 24, 2006
Question -- Do any of you loyal readers actually know someone who has purchased a Saturn?
I'm thinking in terms of a relative. Or even a neighbor, perhaps. Someone you can vouch for as being relatively normal or, at the very least, someone who is of this earth.
I'm 57 years old. I have traveled to all 50 states and 30 foreign countries -- from China to Columbia, from Iceland to Italy -- and I have never, ever personally known a Saturn owner. Let me also add that those I have witnessed in parking lots or observed on the highway have all appeared to be a bit "unusual" -- there's something about them that reminds me of the Putterman family.
I am beginning to think that all Saturn drivers may actually be aliens from another world -- maybe even from Saturn itself, or, more likely, from one of its moons like Titan or Mimas or Iapetus. At the very least I believe they belong to some obscure secret society like the Knights of Maccabees or the Ancient Order of Zuzimites.
Beware my fellow man -- something is amiss and I fear it isn't a good thing...
Sunday, April 23, 2006
GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK.
This is George Clooney's second attempt at helming a feature-length motion picture. Like his previous film, CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, when it comes to directing Clooney remains clueless. Both of these cinematic efforts tackle interesting subject matter that should have carried their audience on a wonderful, entertaining and thought-provoking journey. Unfortunately, both projects fail miserably when the underlying narrative in each gets derailed about as often as Amtrack.
David Strathairn's on-screen portrayal of Edward R. Murrow is brilliant, but his performance is ultimately wasted in a film that simply possesses more defects than a thalidomide baby. Clumsy pacing, poorly blocked scenes and some truly horrific editing are just a few of the most obvious and repetitive problems. And let's not overlook the supposedly major "surprise" that is telegraphed so blatantly Warner Brothers must surely have paid a fee to Western Union.
Overriding everything, however, is the total lack of a coherent structure. You'll know what I mean if you elect to subject yourself to watching a film that is so lame it couldn't even get into a Special Olympics.
The end resuslt is that Clooney's homage to Edward R. Murrow, clearly one of the most distinguished and renowned and pioneering figures in the history of American broadcast journalism, fails miserably. GOOD NIGHT, AND GOOD LUCK might just as well have been about Anderson Cooper -- a more damning comparison escapes me.
Friday, April 21, 2006
Step aside Nostradamus. You too, Madame Pilar. We now have a new prognosticating prophet -- a beady-eyed, balding Babbleonian named Ted Baehr. Make that "Doctor" Ted Baehr -- the degree is always emphasized -- President of the Christian Film & Television Commission.
As a public service I will give you his exact words regarding the upcoming theatical release of THE DA VINCI CODE:
"A cultural phenomenon is occurring, and on May 19, that phenomenon will thunder into movie theatres around the globe. On that day, THE DA VINCI CODE movie will open. This fictional filth is not just a lie, this is deception aimed at condemning millions of people to eternal damnation. The book is full of pagan propaganda. Many Christians are already theologically malnourished; how will they be able to withstand the assault of distortions, lies and bigotry? We must break THE DA VINCI CODE!"
We can't have millions condemed to eternal damnation now can we? How will Christians withstand the assault? Here's a thought -- maybe they can do so using the "f" word -- "FAITH".
Did you ever think about that, DOCTOR Ted?
Thursday, April 20, 2006
I recently screened Eric von Stroheim's first talking motion picture -- THE GREAT GABBO. Produced in 1929, just prior to the onset of The Great Depression, von Stroheim plays the title role -- an egotistical ventriloquist who uses his dummy, Otto, as his primary means of expression. As he relies more and more on his wooden puppet the increasingly delusional Gabbo starts exhibiting dangerous irrational behavior. I don't want to give away the entire ending; suffice it to say that something happens that causes Gabbo to go completely insane in a dramatic climax.
Yesterday I witnessed the resignation of Presidential Press Secretary Scott McClellan. This wooden dummy has yet to be replaced. Of course, it really doesn't matter who the new mouthpiece will be -- I feel a great depression on the horizon.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Loyal readers will recall my March 1st posting titled TELEVISION TORTURE. This article denounced the current state of television copywriting whereby almost half of all current commercials resort to the same terribly overused, lame, uncreative word -- "introducing." Talk about lazy -- as I said then, it doesn't matter if the ad is for a Volvo or a vulva itch suppressant the word "introducing" will be used more likely than not.
This egregious state of affairs is endemic of the incompetence found in today's hallowed halls of America's ad agencies, but just last night the "Fat Boy" of exasperating advertising exploded on my 48" Mitsubishi courtesy of some bonehead at the Leo Burnett Agency. A 30-second Allstate commercial used "introducing" not just once, not twice, but three damn times -- and get this, it wasn't enough that Dennis Haysbert said the word repeatedly, it was also written across the screen in big letters each and every time the word was spoken.
Let me uncategorically declare to the folks at Allstate that when it comes to their advertising representation they are by no means in "good hands" unless jerking off within the confines of the copywriter cubicle has appeal to their senior management.
By God, this is the agency that brought us the Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy and the Jolly Green Giant. What a decline in creativity...
It was Leapin' Leo himself who once said, "I've learned that any fool can write a bad ad..." It appears the agency bearing his name has elected to hire about every damn "fool" they can find based on their handling of the Allstate account.
"Big ideas come out of big pencils" is another Leo quote. That may be true. What is abundantly apparent is that big ideas don't come from pathetic pencilers under the supervision of Jeanie Caggiano, Leo Burnett's current Executive Creative Director. I can't help but believe that if she ever ran into the Jolly Green Giant he'd give her a jolly green finger. And deservedly so.
Monday, April 17, 2006
"I'm going to put off reading LOLITA for six years. I'm waiting until she turns 18." -- Groucho Marx
Based on Vladimir Nabokov's "famosum opus", the incomparable Stanley Kubrick was the first director to tackle this provocative, controversal and eminently entertaining best seller. This was not an easy undertaking, especially in the repressive social and sexual climate existing in 1962. As the movie's official tag line declared, "How did they ever make a film of Lolita?"
This was pretty hot stuff, indeed, especially in the early sixties. Nabokov even remarked that to bring his work to the screen it might very well require that they "make Lolita a dwarfess." Thankfully, that did not occur.
Over 800 young girls auditioned for the title role, including Tuesday Weld, but the part was ultimately handed to Sue Lyon. Her vulnerable portrayal as the yummy nymphet evokes uncontrollable stirrings in Professor Humbert Humbert, brilliantly portrayed by the often-underappreciated James Mason. Prof. Humbert is so smitten by this vixen he resorts to marrying Lolita's mother just so he can be close by and cop an occasional sniff. Alas, Humbert soon realizes that his marriage to Charlotte Haze is a stiff price to pay.
Shelley Winters plays the porkish Charlotte with typical verve. Trust me, this is one female you want to stay away from -- her insufferable smothering is Everyman's nightmare.
Charlotte: "You just touched me and I...I... I go limp as a noodle. It scares me."
Humbert: "Yes, I know the feeling."
And so Prof. Humbert finds himself in the middle of opposite ends of the spectrum in lovely, luscious Lolita and the sexually cannibalistic Charlotte whose web is being woven ever so tightly.
And things get even worse thanks to the arrival of the marvelously malevolent pervert, Clare Quilty. Peter Sellers, in one of his earliest multiple-character roles, nails the deranged humor embodied in the novel by improvising much of Quilty's dialogue (a high honor from Kubrick). It was this collaboration which later led to another pairing of Kubrick and Sellers -- DR. STRANGELOVE -- where Sellers once again mastered several diverse characters in what is arguably the best Cold War comedy of all.
LOLITA -- Forbidden fruit but Everyman's dream. A wonderful film by a master filmmaker and filled with innuendo such as this overlooked line of dialogue illustrates:
Charlotte, speaking to Clare Quilty in an early scene: "Lolita's going to have a cavity filled by your Uncle Ivar."
There was no mention of a dentist...
Monday, April 3, 2006
(Famous photograph of Jimmy Piersall running the bases backwards)
There are literally dozens of truly good baseball movies. Among the best, and far too often overlooked, is the heart-rending, intense biographical drama which chronicles the mental breakdown of Jimmy Piersall -- FEAR STRIKES OUT. Superbly directed by Robert Mulligan, who later went on to direct TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, this compelling true life father-son story is brought to the screen with Oscar-worthy performances by Anthony Perkins and Karl Malden.
What makes this exceptional movie even more special to me, personally, is my friendship with Karl Malden and his lovely wife, Mona, which dates back almost 20 years when I Co-Produced another father-son drama -- BILLY GALVIN. Shot in Boston, the same city where Jimmy Piersall goes gonzo, I can honestly say that my limited time with Karl, both on and off the set, ranks among my most cherished film experiences. Simply put, there is no finer person in the business.
Ironically enough, I have also spent several days in the company of Jimmy Piersall when, as a "rookie" at the Chicago Cubs Fantasy Camp, I had the privilege of having him serve as my outfield coach. In those friendly confines of Wrigley Field I was amused and verbally abused (what fun!) by Mr. Piersall who remains incredibly intense in everything he says and does. From first-hand experience I can truly say that Piersall's acerbic scarcasm has no peer. Even in his mid-70s or so, he was more tightly wound than a Tesla coil; I have never met anyone like him.
Do yourself a favor and tune in the next time Turner Classics screens FEAR STRIKES OUT. It is a superb film that will stay with you far longer than a couple of Dodger Dogs.