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The Leftovers (2014)
Total waste of time
Three episodes are my limit for a series as bad and as pointless as this is. Tom Perrotta is generally a really good author, but perhaps something went amiss from page to screen (I began reading the book, found if of little interest and put it down).
First episode was confusing but I believed the story would begin to unfold (sorry, I know nothing of The Rapture, so references to that are lost on me). The second episode, where the town minister attempted to save his church, was unbelievably boring, and it made you wonder whether the show runners were aware that audiences would not stand for this kind of witless drivel week after week.
Writing, acting, tiresome direction and photography make for a very dull show.
These are three hours I will never get back.
Be Kind Help the Blind (2013)
Charming short film, worth your time
Making a short film is hard work; getting it shown and marketed is even harder! This little film, about a group of Indian kids who set out to raise money for the blind, is charming, and director Aditya Uproor keeps the film humming along and keeps the kids, clearly a group of enthusiastic non-actors, sweet and engaging.
As you watch their earnest escapades, you may well, as I did, remember another group of kids, in Woody Allen's sweetly brilliant RADIO DAYS, as they ostensibly collect funds for the state of Israel from innocent passersby, but with less-than-selfless purpose. Not quite on the level of Woody, but charming nonetheless, and makes us hope for more product from Uproor and co- writer Kripa Kotak. This little film is worth seeking out.
This is what the weekly variety show of 1959 was like
Dinah Shore was a mainstay of Sunday night in the late 1950s, and this example (now being shown on the Jewish Life Network, who knew Dinah was Jewish?) of her hourly show is a fascinating time capsule of its day. The highlight is the harmonic singing of Dinah, who really was a top vocal artist of the 40s and 50s, with her guest, the peerless Ella Fitzgerald, musical heaven. Also kind of cool to see comic actor Tony Randall dancing with one of the greatest ballerinas of the 20th century, Alexandra Danilova (they had appeared the year before in the Broadway musical "Oh, Captain!).
Somehow a whole bunch of the Dinah Shore Chevy Show kinescopes have now landed on the Jewish Life Network, and you would be amazed at some of the guest stars from the past (all gone now, but remember these shows are more than 50 years old). These shows were hour-long variety shows, not unlike Ed Sullivan, but with the singing (and sometimes dancing and skit-playing comic) Dinah very firmly as the genial center. Vera-Ellen, Peggy Lee, Van Johnson, Betty Grable, Louis Jourdan (still alive at 93), Craig Stevens, you name it, if you were a 50s film or TV performer, you made it onto Dinah's roster. And not to forget the granddaddy of all TV choreographers, Tony Charmoli and his smiling, full-out dancers, doing their thing week after week.
One of the most interesting episodes was a summer replacement for Dinah (yes, shows used to run as new episodes for 39, count em, 39 weeks, and then either be replaced for the summer, or ultimately rerun, as they are now for 30 weeks)) which starred the singing trio of Janet Blair, Edie Adams and John Raitt, a first-rate group of performers.
All in all, prehistoric TV, and a blast from the past!
Let's Be Happy (1957)
Any film starring Vera-Ellen and the Edinburgh festival is worth a look!
I saw this film in glorious Cinemascope and color at the Palace Theatre when it first opened in 1957, and was already enchanted with the dancing charms of Vera-Ellen, certainly one of, if not the best dancers in Hollywood history. No, she didn't sing (always dubbed, although early stage recordings display a fun dancer's voice), and her acting relied heavily on her charm and good looks, but when she danced, watch out!
The film is a slight vehicle for the charms of Vera-Ellen and Tony Martin, star baritone of various MGM films of the 40s and 50s (and as Robert Osborne points out on TCM, you expect this to be an MGM film, but it's one of the few Allied Artists musicals of the period), complete with songs written by composer Nicholas Brodszky (Love Me Or Leave Me). At least it's not studio-bound; it was filmed in 1956 at the dazzling Edinburgh Festival, as well as other beautiful Scotland locales.
You will long to see the original Cinemascope print, but all that seems to exist is a pan and scan version. Better than nothing, and it is the only chance to see the film, which TCM just began showing in the past year, after it had been seemingly lost for the past 20-odd years. But now we need a proper print in the original Scope on DVD. Come on, Warner Archives, you've released every grade B and C film known and unknown, give a little TLC to LET'S BE HAPPY.
The Descendants (2011)
A major disappointment from a great director and a great actor
The buzz about this film has been Oscar-worthy, but the actual film is a major disappointment, particularly because it was co-written and directed by Alexander Payne, whose earlier films include the brilliant SIDEWAYS and ELECTION, and whose 7-year absence from film has been deeply felt.
THE DESCENDANTS feels more like Payne's ABOUT SCHMIDT, which gave Jack Nicholson a good late-career role but was still just another road movie. This film feels underwritten and too often predictable. There is little doubt where we are going, but Payne's journey to get us there is too often uncertain in tone. Scenes and incidents, some funny, others sad, are set up, and then don't pay off.
Clooney gives a good, understated performance, but his character's changes, from selfish, stingy, uncaring father and husband, to loving, concerned dad and human being, are never dramatized; we're just supposed to accept it. The whole cast is good, even Nick Krause in the Keanu Reeves role from "Parenthood" (the scene where the dopey teen gives advice to Clooney about his daughter is the same as Reeves giving advice to Dianne Wiest in the earlier film).
Some times it feels as though the film were too heavily edited, and the missing scenes would have answered all our questions and satisfied our emotional needs. Perhaps reality TV has inured us to "real" drama, and Payne is simply reflecting an audience's inability to respond to a non-reality dramedy. Just hypothetical, but how else to explain the ultimate emptiness of an "important" film that just doesn't deliver?
Once Upon a Time (2011)
well, it was different
Admittedly, it is an unusual high-concept attempt to introduce familiar "fairy tale" characters into a modern story about an unhappy young woman who is given another chance to right an old wrong and rewrite history and her own personal story. But neither the writing nor the acting (nor the usual CGI visuals) are particularly inspired, and the parallel universes of today and "once upon a time" is unconvincing. Are we going to get each and every famous fairy tale, with our heroine the problem solver? Or will we follow the "daughter of Snow White" story for the whole season? In either case, not very interesting. It remains to be seen how this fable plays out. At least it's not another procedural or medical show, and it isn't about a group of 20- somethings having sex (or talking about) sex with each other...
Slap Shot (1977)
Wild, woolly, insanely homophobic but lots of fun
Yet another film directed by George Roy Hill, one of the best Oscar-winning directors (THE STING) who is barely (and unfairly) forgotten, a man of great style and humor who deserves far more credit than many of his flashier contemporaries (check out his credits on IMDb). Paul Newman gives one of his wildest, most delightful performances as the crafty, foul-mouthed, aging player/coach of the Charlestown Chiefs, a failing ice hockey team that is energized when it starts playing fast, loose and dirty. Hard to forgive the homophobic, guys-will-be-guys language, but but it's still pretty funny, and Newman gives it his all. And what ever happened to sensitive, hunky Michael Ontkean, a Canadian actor who showed amazing promise, but whose subsequent film choices (VOICES, WILLIE AND PHIL) pretty much killed his future starring career. Strother Martin, one of Hollywood's most popular character actors, was always fun to watch, and the on-ice pummeling keeps the action moving. And three cheers for the Hansen brothers!
One Touch of Venus (1955)
Janet Blair amazing as Venus
Janet Blair was a Hollywood semi-star in 1940s musicals and comedies (her most famous role was as Eileen opposite Rosalind Russell in "My Sister Eileen" before it was musicalized), but somehow never made it to the top, and went into TV in its early days, becoming far better known in the 1950s as a variety show regular and as Sid Caesar's wife (after Nanette Fabray).
Blair had a wonderful contralto voice and a great way with a song, either uptempo or slow and sultry. In "One Touch of Venus," she gets to show off all her gifts and we see what Hollywood somehow failed to use. Yes, the plot is creaky, the 1955 TV telecast practically prehistoric, and Russell Nype (the nerdy lead) and George Gaynes (the suave villain) are not special. But most of the original score by Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash has been retained (unlike the film version, with the stunning Ava Gardner, which cuts much of the score and rewrites the Ogden Nash lyrics, and not for the better), and even the ballets (Venus in Ozone Heights) are included. You get to hear not only "Speak Low" and "That's Him," but also the gorgeous "I'm a Stranger Here Myself" and others.
Above all, though, is a chance to see Janet Blair singing, dancing and using all her charming talents as Venus. You'll have to search around for this title, but it's a very cool oddity.
God bless Youtube, but you'd better hurry
Got quite a surprise last night when I was surfing through Youtube and found excerpts from this program, which I didn't know existed. Reading the comments from the writer from North Wales, I rushed to find this on IMDb. There was Julie strutting her stuff with Goulet, Burton, Chevalier and Stanley Holloway (didn't expect to see the irascible Rex Harrison, and wasn't disappointed). The first clip I found had all the principals joining Julie for a jubilant version of "I Could Have Danced All Night." Julie sang "With a Little Bit of Luck" with a gaggle of chorus boys in a jazzed-up version. I believe there is also a clip from the opening scene and song from "Camelot," which is arguably the best part of the show, but I didn't see it. Quality was variable, but it was in color, and quite watchable. Items come and go on Youtube, and there's no way to download them, so I suggest you find it quickly and enjoy it fleetingly. When oh when will we be able to download these amazing moments from Youtube? Yes, I am grateful that they even exist, but copyrights or whatever stop them from appearing for any length of time, and each one is a thrilling time capsule. More, please, more!
A time capsule for Doris Day fans, and what a great raconteur she was!
I recalled seeing Doris' first special back in 1971, and really enjoying it, but I was totally amazed to see it again now on a beautifully produced DVD (great sound, great early 70s visuals faithfully reproduced).
The ever-relaxed Perry Como was an appropriate guest star, and Rock Hudson provides a very funny cameo. But it is Doris's show, and this program uses all her talents brilliantly. Most people don't remember that she was not only the biggest female star in Hollywood throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, but one of the most popular recording stars of her generation.
We get to hear many of her signature tunes ("It's Magic," "Sentimental Journey," "Everybody Loves a Lover" et al) sung as only Doris could (and her voice was still in its prime), share in her incredible love for animals (a great sequence with her many beloved dogs), see her dance and prance and model the many mod fashions of the day, and watch a number of her many crying scenes from the movies.
The outtakes are terrific too; a major highlight is a lovely waltz by Doris and the male dancers (if you know her history, you know she was a professional dancer who was in a terrible car accident as a teenager, when the car was hit by a train, which ended her dance career, and she became a singer, and here she is still dancing gracefully at 47!)But what is most surprising is her storytelling capabilities; her sense of humor is natural and engaging, and her patter (the outtake about how she got to Hollywood is hysterical) is terrific.
Do I love Doris? You bet, and so will you, whether it's for the first time or as an amazing rediscovery.