Change Your Image
Upload An Image
Crop And Save
The Carol Burnett Show (1967)
Last Show of the First Generation of TV
The Carol Burnette Show was the last in a long line of variety shows that stretched back into radio and even vaudeville days. The focus was on skit comedy, but if the guest was a singer or musician, they would usually get a chance to show their chops doing what they were good at. I was 23 when Carol Burnette went off the air in 1978 and I was conscious that this was the sunset of a genre of entertainment that had been in my awareness from earliest memory. When Carol Burnette premiered in the fall of 1967, she shared the prime-time network schedule with programs such as Hollywood Palace, The Danny Thomas Hour, Red Skelton, Jerry Lewis, The Kraft Music Hall, Dean Martin, Lawrence Welk, Jackie Gleason, The Ed Sullivan Show and the Smothers Brothers. Some of these shows dated back to the earliest days of television with hosts and performers some of whom dated back to radio and even vaudeville days. When Carol Burnette ended in 1978, it was over. Prime-time entertainment was skewed to an 18-35 demographic (which was me!) and the schedule was dominated by vapid sitcoms and prime-time soaps. You can count the shows worth remembering on one hand. The thing thing about variety and skit comedy shows was that you did not need a long attention span. You could tune into the program at any point and something fresh would start within moments. NBC's Saturday Night Live is one such show that still survives, but it's on at late-night. It would be history if it were aired at any other time, and a short history at that. It's too bad, because variety TV was fun TV and everyone in the family could enjoy it.
Nobody is in Charge
I'm fascinated by this show partly because I am a big fan of post-apocalyptic fiction (Alas Babylon, The Day After, Testament, The Last Ship, Threads, On the Beach, etc). I recommend "Threads"(BBC 1984). After viewing it, you will wonder why someone hasn't done a good book or movie about Hurricane Katrina using it's premise.
But back to "Jericho." A town of five thousand in western Kansas, most of whose residents have no visible means of support. Where is the big employer, like a shoe factory or a plastic-extruding plant? You can't tell me the town is one to two thousand farmers and their families.
Farmers would be too busy and too far away to hang out in a bar all day, they'd have supplies of gasoline and food at their farms, plus old agricultural machinery and other equipment that doesn't require gasoline and there would be people who would have the knowledge to operate it.
A town of five thousand would have a courthouse, a bank, and leading citizens. There would be power dynamics and struggles that were in place before the catastrophe.
In the most recent episode we learn that the Greens have a ranch out in the countryside with a barn full of horses. A barn full of horses is a time-consuming high-maintenance endeavor, not some place you visit in the fourth episode because you need to get Jake Green worked up.
We also learn that the people of Jericho turn to the mayor and police when their utilities stop working. There does not appear to be an electric substation anywhere near the town nor anyone in the town who appears to know where the electricity came from.
It looks like the creators of this show got their concept for a small town from their experience with suburban bedroom communities. Jericho appears to work as if there were a large city no more than 20 minutes away by car, not like a town in the middle of nowhere.
If you take a look at the IMDb cast & crew page for this show, you will note there are no credited producers, directors or writers. You see executive producers, art, sound, SFX and miscellaneous crew, but just like the town of Jericho itself, there are no responsible adults to look to or blame.
This episode could have been as good as Twelve Angry Men
A group of Earth colonists, stranded on an isolated, inhospitable rock of a planet, are held together through the years by James Whitmore, as Captain Benteen.
It's not clear if this place was the original destination of the colonizing mission, or if they were cast away here by some circumstance of fate.
The setting is a cave in a desert landscape in which the voyagers are barely able to scratch out a meager living, managing to feed and clothe themselves in extreme poverty.
Captain Benteen entertains the group with stories of the old days on Earth, where it rains, and where things grow by themselves, and cars and baseball games. The children and young folks hang on his every word, and the old folks who remember Earth slide deeper into despair. Captain Benteen is clearly enjoying himself because he has absolute power over these people.
Then a rescue ship arrives.
The rescue ship has only a few days in which to leave this world, never to return because this place is far out of the way and not suitable for colonization or exploitation. The rescue crew offers a ride back to Earth for everyone who wishes to leave.
As Captain Benteen goes through the stages of acceptance, he tries to exert his authority over the rescuers, then he bargains with them, then he tries to assert himself over his colonists and finally pleads with them, until he has to come to a final realization of his position.
If not for the florid dialogue, especially Whitmore's overwrought lines, and boy can he chew up the scenery, this could have been a fantastic episode, and a real psychological study of power and group dynamics. As it was, it is still one of the best Twilight Zones, just not a classic.
Snakes on a Plane (2006)
Snakes on a Plane - what can you say?
This movie was made mostly to have 90 or 100 minutes of celluloid to put after what's arguably the best movie title ever: Snakes on a Plane. A gangster, attempting to kill a someone, manages to smuggle a collection of poisonous snakes of every imaginable species on board a 747. They pretty much took one of the Airport movies from the 1970's, then threw in a bunch of snakes to make everything happen. I jumped two times and didn't jump at least one other time. The guy a couple seats over jumped two times that I didn't jump. Samuel Jackson delivers a Samuel Jackson performance, as a Samuel Jackson good guy character. All the other actors played stock characters as well as anyone could play them. As long as you suspend your disbelief, and don't ask too many questions, it's a good way to kill time at a matinée. I'm going to check out the DVD, because I can think of a couple of good scenes that must have been cut.
Big Fish (2003)
There are stories and there are lies and they are different
Big Fish is about a man who tells stories. He does not utter untruths with the deliberate intent to deceive, he merely embellishes what is already there to make it more interesting. His son (and some reviewers) does not understand this. The story about Edward Bloom is told by himself, in the form of his stories rather than as a straightforward narrative of his life. There have been lots of traveling salesmen who have mad a middling success of their lives. The world is full of their grandchildren who do not even know their full names, much less anything interesting. My grandfather was on the first trip an electric car took the length of the state of Connecticut when he was 20. Not much there. My grandfather was a charter member of the American Automobile Association, known as the AAA. Back in the early days AAA members would survey routes and contribute their notes to the AAA travel books. And thus a story begins. Beats hell out of that other one-sentence narrative, and it is not a lie, it has decorative flourishes. And that's what Edward Bloom was about and that is what his son learns about his father who was loved by many more people than he suspected.
A Night to Remember (1958)
The sinking of the Titanic was the culminating event of a century of the greatest changes to ever affect the human race in history.
Alistair Cooke lived and worked to the age of 95. If there had been someone that age in 1912 who had observed the human condition with as much alacrity, that person would have been born into a world little different from that of Caesar, except perhaps a little dirtier and less luxurious. As a teenager he would have seen the advent of the railroads, the telegraph would have come along in his adulthood, the telephone and electric light in his middle age and the airplane in his old age.
No wonder then that it was said that God himself couldn't sink this ship. Lord's book is one of the finest and most riveting non-fiction works you'll ever read, and the only fault of the movie version is that it couldn't be long enough.
Five Children and It (2004)
I shouldn't have read the book
A few weeks ago I picked up a very charming children's book called 5 Children and It. Written by E. Nesbit and originally published in 1902 or thereabouts, it's a remarkably modern-sounding tale about a family, with maid and cook, who go to the country for the summer. The father has to work in the city, and the mother is called away on some business, and the children are left to their own devices under the care of the maid and cook, who are happy as long as the children stay outside all day and don't mess up the house, and show up for meals and bed on time. So far an extremely believable story that anyone who has rented a summer place can relate to. The children discover a magical creature called a psammead ("sammyadd") which grants them one wish a day. Minor misadventures ensue, with each succeeding day another chapter in the book. The children learn to be careful in their wishes and to think ahead. A good life lesson. Then they made a movie. Movies can't be about ordinary people because then we would all start thinking we're equal. This family has sent Father off to World War I as a flying ace, Mother as a dedicated volunteer nurse, and the children go to a large country home on the cliffs of Dover to stay with their batty uncle, evil cousin and a mysterious woman who is neither the uncle's wife nor just a housekeeper. It doesn't matter because she just provides plot devices necessary to carry along the movie version which is wholly different from the book except for the character's names and two of the wishes. Imagine if the movie version of Harry Potter had included Dr Xavier and the X-Men characters and been set in wartime because some pinhead producer felt that J K Rowling's story didn't have enough flash and mawkishness. If you've seen the movie, read the book. If you've read the book, skip the movie. There was a BBC version made in the early 1990s. I'm going to find a copy of that and have a look. This book was that good.
Der Untergang (2004)
WWII Movie to End All WWII Movies
I give this the highest rating, I just left the theater and it's one of the best films I have ever seen. I was almost in tears in a couple of places. I recommend reading Cornelius Ryan's "The Last Battle" before you see this movie. If you like that book you'll like the movie plus you'll be historically prepared for the events depicted in the movie. The performances are dead on, especially the minor characters of the fanatic Nazis. If you spend much time looking at blogs and message boards in today's political climate, it's easy to believe people can be this crazy. Magda Goebbels made me think of Ann Coulter. The vignettes of Nazi Germany's death throes interspersed with the battle in Berlin's ruins are one of the truest pictures of the horror (and heroism) of war since "Saving Private Ryan." Some viewers may find some scenes too horrifying, as Frau Goebbels did murder her own children, and there are numerous executions and murder-suicides shown as well. This movie is good history, centered mostly around the experience of a nice-looking, but not very sharp girl who was Hitler's secretary for the latter half of the war. She wasn't corrupted by the experience, which is one of the most interesting aspects. I wonder what the affect of a wide US release of this movie would have been last year.
Death Wish II (1982)
These Movies Warped American Politics
Mildly entertaining, the whole Death Wish series had a greater effect on it's audience than just a B-movie thrill. Your typical white suburbanite pretty much views cities the way Charles Bronson depicts them in these movies and as Clint Eastwood depicted them in his Dirty Harry series, as hellholes occupied by healthy but menacing thugs who are looking for any chance to harass law-abiding citizens, presided over by bleeding-heart liberal politicians who do not have the stomach to keep the streets safe. There's a huge number of middle-class educated people who live close to some of the most wonderful cities in America, who never go in there because they are afraid. It's not just Bronson and Eastwood, they just made the most money off it, but local TV news, the NRA and right-wing politicians love to keep that fearngoing because that's how they make a living. So go ahead and enjoy the Death Wish movies, but remember, "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is a LOT more realistic in showing what downtown is like.
The Day After (1983)
You have to pay attention
The movie is designed as a vignette, to show the effects of a 1980s nuclear war on a college town in Kansas, an area not on a primary-targets list.
Virtually all communication is cut off to the outside world, and except for a radio broadcast message from the US President, we have no idea how the rest of the world is faring, and since all relief efforts appear to be local, centered around the University of Kansas campus in Lawrence KS, we must assume the devastation is worldwide.
The timespan of the movie runs from a day or so before the disaster through several weeks in the various places where people take shelter, to a few weeks after the survivors emerge. The viewer sees things gradually getting worse.
We see humanity survive, but it doesn't look too good for humankind.
"Threads" was produced in the UK about the same time, the early 1980's being a time of high fear after Reagan's "Evil Empire" speech. The British movie was much more factual and documentary-like in it's production, and more graphic, but it ended on a more hopeful note. At the end of "Threads", some 15 years after the holocaust, there are people and a society of sorts.
"The Day After" does not end as hopefully.