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Pacific Overtures (1976)
Underperformed Sondheim Masterpiece
As with nearly all Sondheim shows, the critics were divided when Pacific Overtures bowed on Broadway. It also had the great misfortune to open the same season as A Chorus Line, which became one of the longest-running musicals of all time. But time and subsequent productions have shown that there is much more here than some of those reviewers realized.
The story of Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853 journey to "open" Japan to foreign trade sounds an unlikely premise for a musical. But playwright John Weidman and composer Stephen Sondheim tell the story from the Japanese point of view, using the experiences of two men, a samurai and a fisherman, to chart the cultural impact of gunboat diplomacy on Japanese society. Director Hal Prince (Evita, Phantom of the Opera) borrowed elements of traditional Japanese Noh and Kabuki theatre, including the use of an all-Asian, (nearly) all- male cast. Combined with brilliant designs and costumes, Pacific Overtures is a feast for the eyes as well as the heart and mind.
The original Broadway production was filmed on stage at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York for airing on Japanese television. Sadly, that recording has never been (legally) commercially available in the US, though gray-market copies of varying quality do circulate. The brilliant, Tony-nominated performance of Mako as the Reciter (narrator) is preserved along with outstanding work by Sab Shimono, Soon-Teck Oh, Isao Sato, Alvin Ing, Yuki Shimoda, and the rest of the cast. That these wonderfully talented performers are not more of a household name is really a crime.
Finally, a musical can only be as good as its score, and Pacific Overtures has one of the finest ever written. Aided by Jonathan Tunick's brilliant and powerful orchestrations, songs such as "Poems", "Someone In A Tree", "There Is No Other Way", "Please Hello", "Pretty Lady", and "A Bowler Hat" are as beautiful as anything Sondheim has ever written. It is no small coincidence that several selections from the score have been turned into an orchestral suite of dances that have been performed and recorded by symphonic orchestras.
Pacific Overtures is engaging, moving, thought-provoking, and often quite funny as well. Don't miss any opportunity that comes your way to see it.
First Class Ending
So often a series dies without an ending -often a season or two before it's taken off the air. Fans may argue about the last couple of seasons of Futurama, but none will complain about the wonderful final episode. The culmination of the Fry-Leela story line was handled with obvious love and respect -for the characters and for the audience. And it was cleverly done in such a way as to leave open the possibility (however slight) of yet another reprieve and another season.
Also of note in this episode are the great visuals. As part of their wanderings through frozen time, Fry and Leela come across snow, and the way the perspective shifts between the two characters' faces and a single snowflake is both beautiful and surprisingly affecting. Again, proof that the creative team gave this episode a great deal of thought and attention to detail.
Maybe more people watched the final episode of M*A*S*H, but this series finale was more reflective of the series as a whole, and much more of an artistic triumph. Kudos and thanks to everyone on the show who made this ending so memorable and so.. right.
The Best Twelfth Night On DVD
This is my favorite filmed version of Twelfth Night -On DVD at last! Branagh's production captures both the humor and the melancholy of the play, with excellent performances all around and a stand-out performance by the late, great, Richard Briers as Malvolio. Patrick Doyle (along with an assist from Paul McCartney) provides an atmospheric score to accompany the shifting moods, with several songs sung by Feste the Fool (Anton Lesser in one of his best performances). The Dickensian setting compliments the story well, while purists will rejoice that the text of the play is complete. The DVD also features an informative, behind-the-scenes interview with Kenneth Branagh talking about the stage production and the play itself. Buy a copy for yourself, and a few more as gifts for friends -This is a real treat!
The Tony Randall Show (1976)
One Of The Best Of The 70s
This series only ran for two seasons, but not because it wasn't funny. It was perhaps one of the funniest series of the 70s -Certainly it holds up better than 99% of its contemporaries. The show had good ratings, but the network and the show's star found the creative team difficult to work with, and so it wasn't renewed.
The show centered on Judge Walter Franklin (Tony Randall), his family and staff. The cast included seasoned stage performers like Allyn Ann McLerie, Barney Martin, and Rachel Roberts. The scripts were impressively well-written, eschewing topical humor and pop- culture references in favor of witty dialog and subtle digs:
(Walter is mooning over his daughter's picture -she has gone off to college) WALTER: I remember her first day of school. Went off carrying a little lunch pail with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on it. (singing) Happy trails, to you. Until we meet again... MISS REUBNER: You know they've stuffed Trigger? WALTER: Why do I try to talk sentiment and feeling to you? MISS REUBNER: Is this a riddle? WALTER: Happy trails, Miss Reubner. And when we meet again, may you have something in common with Trigger.
(An escaped convict has threatened revenge on Walter, and the insufferable Mario Lanza is sent to protect him.) MARIO: I'm on leave from the DA's office. Assignment: protect Judge Franklin. Even if it means throwing myself on your body to shield you from an assassin's bullet. Although frankly I hope it doesn't come to that. WALTER: That's where you and I differ, Mario.
The series was never released on video in any format, which is a crime.
Another Sad Episode
Season 7 was certainly the most introspective season of this series, with several visits to the subconscious of the major characters. Dark Page explores the consequences of psychic trauma - in this case, for Lwaxana Troi. In Majel Barrett's final appearance on Next Generation, she gave what was probably the finest performance of her career. It's a shame this new depth of character never had a chance to be built on in later episodes. Lwaxana's crisis was clearly a turning point in her relationship with Deanna, and might have led to some interesting future episodes. It's interesting that I watch the episode and wonder why Majel Barrett wasn't nominated for an Emmy Award, and another review thought she was terrible. To each his own, I guess...
A Powerful and Insightful Film
After seeing the play that this is based on, I was surprised to read that it was being made into a film for television. The entire play consisted of two old women cooking dinner and talking. How could they get a movie out of that? Well, they certainly did! As powerful and moving as the play was, this film adds voices and images that bring the past to life -sometimes warmly, and sometimes in a chilling manner that shocks our modern sensibilities.
All of the performances are excellent -There's no one to single out because everyone involved did fantastic work. The real stars are the Delaney sisters themselves, and their personalities emerge with crystalline clarity in every scene. This American classic is long overdue for a deluxe DVD release with commentary and other bonus materials. Until then, it is at least available from the Having Our Say website.
Don't let the subject of this film fool you. It's not just for women and/or people of color. It's a remarkable trove of insight and wisdom from two accomplished women who lived -and thrived -through precarious times and emerged with dignity and grace. We need more people like the Delaney sisters in our world.
Lost in Space: Castles in Space (1967)
A more careful review...
The (single) alien bad guy is Chavo, not Pancho...
Those looking for logic in the plot should generally eschew Lost In Space reruns, and this episode is no exception. It hearkens back to the silliness of the second season, and might be viewed negatively by many today for its stereotypical portrayal of Chavo. Perhaps that is why it is often skipped when the series is shown in syndication.
On the plus side, the episode's musical score is quite good, apart from the trite Mexican-style riffs. Those who want to hear Bill Mumy and Marta Kristin's rendition of Sloop John B. can find it in the multi disc Fantasy Worlds of Irwin Allen set from a few years back.
This is certainly a curiosity -and a must for Munsters fans. But as a pilot it left me pretty cold. Fred Gwynne's Herman is very much in place, as is Al Lewis's Grandpa, but Joan Marshall as Herman's wife "Phoebe" was dull and nothing like the characterization that Yvonne DeCarlo brought to the part in the series. The less said about the kid playing Eddie, the better. Whoever the network executives were who insisted on recasting were totally right (for a change).
The story is incomplete, but familiar: Marilyn's date sees Herman and runs away. Marilyn's looks are blamed. Grandpa decides to cook up a love potion to snare her a husband. The pilot ends there, leaving the ensuing hilarity to our imaginations. Very wise of them, I'm sure... ; )
For now, at least, you can see it for yourself on YouTube.
Not For The Closeted
It's interesting to read the outraged "reviews" others have posted here. The title makes it clear what the author/director's point of view is Why act shocked? This documentary explores themes and images that are now archetypal, from a modern gay perspective. That it could merely be our modern eyes seeing more than the various filmmakers intended is a question that is explored, but the director provides so many examples that, in the end, you find yourself accepting his point of view.
This documentary is unabashedly gay; written and directed by, and starring gay men. It assumes that the viewer is either gay, or completely comfortable with and knowledgeable about homosexuality. This is not meant for closet cases. Those who approach it with an open mind (and a decent knowledge of old movies and character actors) will find it extremely interesting and enjoyable. Film buffs and queer historians won't find too much here that's new, but the included clips provide clear, specific examples of the topic.
Mary, Mary (1963)
Mary, Mary Not-At-All-Contrary
I hadn't seen this movie for more than thirty years -until today. Thanks to the boards here I was able to find a copy on DVD-R. The acting is excellent, the dialogue brilliant. This really should be available on commercial DVD with a commentary from the surviving cast members -before it's too late.
My only complaint is that the color palate of the film is very muted -all grey, beige, and faun. Very chic for the time, I'm sure, but a bit dull today. Of course that may be partly due to the fact that I have a DVD-R made from another source. (BTW, it's an excellent source -no commercials or cuts.)
As another user already wrote, this is a film for grown ups. The jokes are fast and furious, but they are sophisticated. Only two pratfalls in the film, and nothing sexier than a chaste kiss. It's actually refreshing!
BTW, am I the only one who can't eat dried apricots without saying (if only to myself), "I thought they were ears?"