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I Liked This Show...
... back when it was called "Candid Camera," or "TV's Bloopers and Practical Jokes."
I suppose there's a lot of kids watching "Punk'd" who don't remember those older shows, so the whole concept is probably fresh to them. For me, though, a half-hour of Ashton Kutcher setting up people for pranks and then bragging out it gets really old. He reminds me of the kid who makes prank phone calls and brags about the next day at school. What fun.
Seriously, Kutcher -- you have a supporting role on a sitcom, made a few moderately successful films, you're dating Demi Moore... don't you think your fifteen minutes are almost up?
Two Weeks with Love (1950)
My Girlfriend's Favorite Movie
There's just something about watching an MGM musical from their golden age. Musicals from that time had a special look and feel like nothing before or since, wonderful displays of showmanship and design and talent that cast a gorgeous glow over the screen. Sure, they were corny and silly sometimes, but they entertained.
`Two Weeks With Love' is typical of this period. The story follows adolescent Patti Robinson (Jane Powell) on her family vacation to Kissimee in the Catskills, where she meets and falls in love with the dashing Demi Armendez (Ricardo Montalban). Patti pursues Demi and the hotel bellboy Billy (Carleton Carpenter) pursues Patti and Patti's sister Melba (Debbie Reynolds) pursues Billy, and Patti and Melba's Mama and Papa (Ann Harding and Louis Calhern) struggle to accept that their little girl is growing up
`Two Weeks' is one of those movies that's a pure joy to watch, just ninety minutes of lighthearted fun and sweetness. It's a time capsule from a simpler age, when problems were never really as bad as they seemed and true love could conquer all. Sigh
There's a certain mystique around the Spanish-language version of `Dracula,' filmed simultaneously with Tod Browning's English-language version. Legend has it that director George Melford would screen the English dailies and make improvements as they went along. There are those who say the Spanish version is better, more atmospheric than Browning's static, stagebound film.
Well the Spanish `Dracula' has a lot going for it. The camerawork is much more mobile and expressive: the scene where we first meet Dracula is a prime example. In the English version, we simply see Dracula walking down his castle's grand staircase to meet Renfield; in the Spanish version, the camera's point of view swoops up the stairs and frames the Count in a dramatic low-angle pose. I particularly enjoy the way the Spanish version shows Dracula emerging from his coffin: the coffin lid raises, a puff of smoke, and Dracula appears out of the gloom, much more atmospheric and innovative than the cutaways used in the English version.
The acting is a mixed bag. Carlos Villarias does his best, but his Dracula pales to Lugosi's (many have said that a `Dracula' directed by Melford and starring Lugosi would have been a wonder to behold, and they might be right). Lupita Tovar makes a sensual and appealing Eva, contrasting favorably with the bland Helen Chandler in the English version. Eduardo Arozamena does a credible Van Helsing, but his potato nose and Coke-bottle glasses makes him look like Henry Kissinger, Vampire Hunter.
From a stylistic viewpoint, the Spanish `Dracula' does a lot more than Browning's film, and it's certainly worth a viewing. However, it lacks one vital ingredient that keeps it from eclipsing the English version: Bela Lugosi as Dracula.
The Lone Ranger (1949)
The Greatest Heroes
Looking back on `The Lone Ranger' TV series as an adult is a strange experience. Watching episodes through an adult's eyes alerted me to flaws I didn't notice when I was a kid: the acting was sometimes on the B-movie level. The stories tended to be repetitive and simplistic. The Native Americans were generally played by Caucasian or Hispanic or Italian-American actors. The `outdoor' exteriors in a lot of episodes were obviously indoor sets. But there is a spirit and an energy to the show that you can't deny.
Most of the credit for the show's success goes to its leads, Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels. They became the Lone Ranger and Tonto, lived the roles as no other actors before or since. Moore, in particular, knew the Ranger was presented as a hero and an example to children, and from what I've heard, he tried his best to live up to that. He made the Ranger a fair and just man, someone who didn't judge, who gave people the benefit of the doubt, but acted correctly when the time was right. He used violence only as a last resort. He was a symbol of honor and integrity, the kind of person I wish I could be.
As for Tonto... It occurs to me nowadays how great an actor Jay Silverheels was. Critics of the show always want to use Tonto as the stereotypical ignorant savage, but you have to look at all the things Tonto does. Tonto tracks, takes care of the Ranger when he's wounded, spies out information - you can tell from the expressions on Silverheels' face that there's a lot more going on inside Tonto's head than he lets on. Don't let the broken English fool you!
The thing that really impresses me about `The Lone Ranger' now is how much of a partnership these two characters have. Tonto is not the Ranger's subordinate - they are friends, equals in their adventures. That, as much as any lesson taught in any episode, is what draws me back to the series after so many years: a tried and true friendship.
Oh, if only the Lone Ranger could ride again.
Tarzan of the TV
I have fond memories of this show, which one of our local independent stations used to air on Sunday afternoons as part of `Tarzan Theatre.' I loved the show at first simply because I was a big Tarzan fan, but I truly came to appreciate it once I started reading Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels. This is one of the few times Tarzan is portrayed as ERB envisioned him: intelligent and articulate. ERB, however, gave Tarzan a savage and violent side, something you would never see on a `family' TV series of the 1960s. Fortunately, the producers compensated by loading the show with plenty of action.
All the elements came together nicely: Ron Ely had both the physical presence and the acting skill to play a convincing ape-man. I've heard stories of the punishment he took while making the series, injuries that would make Jackie Chan wince, but he kept going. The producers were smart enough not to film in a studio jungle set, but instead take the show on location. The Mexican locations were a gorgeous stand-in for the African savanna and rain forests, and they increase the show's credibility.
There's just one thing I never liked: Jai. I realize there's probably a lot of Jai fans out there, but the kid just irritated me. His main function was both to ask simplistic questions about what was going on so Tarzan could explain for his (and the audience's) benefit, and to eat up valuable screen time that could be spent on Tarzan. It's part of the whole `juvenile sidekick' syndrome in TV, movies and comics that drives me nuts. Ugh.
In spite of that, `Tarzan' was a great series, deserving of much more attention than it currently gets. It may not be the way * you * see Tarzan, but you can't deny it was a well-crafted, exciting and eminently watchable show.
Mountains of the Moon (1990)
The Great Journey
Every time I watch "Mountains of the Moon," I grow more and more fascinated by it. An epic drama and adventure, an exploration of what makes a hero and the value of friendship... this movie is a marvel.
I barely know where to begin. The acting is exceptional, of course. Patrick Bergin really makes Captain Richard Francis Burton come alive, so much so that I started reading up on Burton on my own after seeing the movie. His Burton is a man of great courage and insatiable curiosity, but also of great pride (the film only hints at Burton's infamous sexual escapades). Iain Glen brings great depth to John Hanning Speke, a man who desires greatness but cannot escape his fundamental weakness. It would have been so easy to make these two characters into square-jawed cartoons or place them in the easy Great Hero / Cowardly Villain mold, but director Bob Rafaelson, the script, and the actors wisely give us three-dimensional real people.
While I was watching this movie, I felt like I was actually transported to Africa in the 1850s, when the first explorers ventured into what was truly the Dark Continent. You see Burton and Speke's expedition endure weather, illness, injury, and attacks by hostile tribesmen, bringing home the reality of how dangerous these expeditions really were. By the time the film ended, I felt I had been to Africa itself.
If you want to see a real epic and a fine, exciting film, this is the one to see.
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976)
My Introduction to Tarzan
This was my first exposure to Tarzan, along with the old Johnny Weismuller movies, although I remember being confused at the differences between the two versions. I preferred my Tarzan `smart,' meaning speaking perfect English, but I always wondered why the cartoon Tarzan didn't carry a knife (thanks, network censors!) But otherwise it was perfect, the kind of show that made me go out in the backyard and do Tarzan yells until I was hoarse. It also made me seek out the Tarzan novels in my school library, and made me a fan of one of fiction's great heroes.
I really wish someone would show this series again (Cartoon Network, I'm looking at you!) It had adventure, excitement, fine animation, and it made an excellent introduction to the Tarzan legend. I hope I get to see it again someday.
Not Horrible, Not Particularly Great
I remember a time in the late 1970s early 1980s when filmmakers were trying to resurrect the old movie heroes into new franchises. Tarzan, Flash Gordon, the Lone Ranger, Superman, Zorro they were all trotted out, with results varying from excellent ('Superman: The Movie') to fun ('Flash Gordon') to 'What were they thinking?' (just about everything else)
Let's be fair: John Badham's 1979 version of 'Dracula' is not nearly as bad as the Bo Derek 'Tarzan the Ape Man' or 'Legend of the Lone Ranger,' but it's still not very good. There are a few moments of inspiration, and some good work running through, but overall this is one of the lesser Dracula movies.
A few words about the cast. Frank Langella wouldn't be my first choice to play Count Dracula, but he acquits himself well. His Dracula is an elegant, arrogant creature, a being who enjoys toying with the mortals around him before he destroys them. Watching his superior attitude, I could almost believe this creature had survived centuries and destroyed whole armies of opponents. Opposite Dracula is his perennial adversary, Dr. Van Helsing, played by the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier. Olivier gives the old vampire hunter a class and humanity lacking in most portrayals, although you can see the famous Van Helsing iron will in his face-to-face confrontations with the vampire king. The rest of the cast, alas, tends to fade into the background you enjoy them while they're on screen, but the moment they leave, they evaporate from your consciousness.
One of the things I particularly enjoyed about this 'Dracula' was its music, composed by the legendary John Williams. The decade between 1975-1984 had Williams producing classics like 'Jaws,' the 'Star Wars' trilogy, 'Superman' and the first two Indiana Jones films, one after the other this score compares favorably with those works, and gives the movie a distinct orchestral voice. There are some passages, particularly at the beginning of the dinner party scenes, that remind me of passages from 'The Empire Strikes Back,' one year later.
So, there are things to like in this movie, but overwhelming flaws cripple it. The supporting cast, as I mentioned, is bland to the point of invisibility. The pace is uneven, and the dialogue is awkward. Worst of all, the filmmakers can't seem to decide if they want their movie to be a classic horror tale or a Gothic romance. There's no reason why it couldn't be both, of course, but that means there has to be elements of both styles present, and 'Dracula' is neither consistently scary or sexy. It has it's moments, but not enough to sustain the tone and save the picture. While it remains watchable, this 'Dracula' is one I just can't bring myself to truly recommend.
Not Stoker's Dracula, But Still Fun
I think the secret of this film is to not dwell on whether or not it is an accurate adaptation of Stoker's novel: it isn't. I remember a literature professor I had in college who taught `Dracula' in one of his classes; he said there was always at least one student every semester who would try to get around actually reading the novel by watching the movie instead. If they try that trick with this version of `Dracula,' they're in for a surprise. There are details here you don't see in other Dracula movies, like the blue flames on the road to Dracula's castle, or Dracula wandering the streets of London in daylight. Then there's BIG changes, like an origin for Dracula and the romance between the count and Mina. This is a shift in the fundamental character of Dracula, altering him from a dangerous predator, almost a plague unto himself, to a tragic lover, thus changing the tone of the entire story.
Okay, so `Bram Stoker's Dracula' isn't Stoker's after all. Does that make it a bad movie? Hardly. This `Dracula' is an epic, Gothic, lush thrill that builds to a near-hysterical pace. It succeeds in mimicking the novel's sense of panic and overwhelming horror, and if you can accept the film on its own outrageous terms, then you can enjoy it.
A word about the casting, which wanders from perfect to baffling. Anthony Hopkins brings his usual class and presence to Van Helsing, creating an aura of forbidden knowledge around the professor. Gary Oldman makes a fine Dracula, sometimes swathed in heavy makeup for Dracula's many changes, but always projecting an arrogance laced with tragedy. William O. Campbell, Richard E. Grant and Cary Elwes are perfect as Lucy Westenra's three suitors, just as I imagined them. Then, for some reason, the producers injected Keanu Reeves and Winona Ryder into the mix: while they are fine actors, they just don't belong here, and the movie suffers for it.
So. While it's not the definitive retelling of Stoker's novel that it claims to be, `Bram Stoker's Dracula' is still an atmospheric, grandiose movie, and well worth watching.
Back When Batman Was Fun...
My attitude towards this show has evolved over the years. I first discovered it in 5th grade, and being a big superhero fan, I fell in love with it. I loved the action, the cartoonishness, the fun of the whole thing.
Then my tastes matured. I started reading the Batman comics, became exposed to the Dark Knight instead of the Caped Crusader, and I began to regard the 1960s series with disdain. Silliness, an insult to the character, I said to himself. This was around the time of the first Batman movie in 1989, when the darkest possible knight reigned supreme.
But then... I started looking back at the show, and I started to get it. I figured out that the show was as much a comedy as anything else -- it wasn't making fun of Batman, it was making light of the entire superhero genre. It was a big, loud, garish cartoon, and when you put aside your conceptions of who Batman is, you can have yourself a great time. It makes superheroes fun again.
By the way: I hear TV Land is planning on bringing "Batman" to their schedule sometime in 2002. I can't wait!