Friday, November 22, 2013

Guest Blog

Here's a guest entry from my friend Frank, who, for some reason, prefers to be called Tidley McCobb. Some years ago, Tidley and I were enrolled in the same veterinary classes, until he was expelled for taking "animal husbandry" a little too literally. After a long absence, Tidley resurfaced, and his doctors now assure me he's doing quite well, and I'm in no danger as long as I don't make any sudden moves. So without further ado, and with the proper spelling corrections, here is Tidley McCobb's first blog entry, a review for The Count of Monte Cristo:

 The Count of Monte Cristo  is an adaption of Alexandre Dumas' famous novel, adapted for French television in 1996. It stars the supremely gifted French actor Gerard Depardieu, and is presented in four parts.

I remember the first time I had a monte cristo sandwich. It was in a restaurant in North Olmstead, Ohio, the birthplace of comedian Martin Mull. (I mean North Olmstead is the birthplace, not the restaurant where I had the sandwich.) It was a Friday, and it was raining.

The restaurant offered an all-you-can-eat buffet, but since I arrived after ten pm, the buffet was closed. Sadly disappointed, because I always enjoy a buffet, that lovely symbol of democracy, I decided instead to order a sandwich.

Menus are such a valuable metaphor for life itself. So many choices! I finally decided on a monte cristo sandwich, with turkey, and french fries on the side.

The monte cristo sandwich, with turkey, was good. The french fries, which were crinkle cut, were good, too. I prefer crinkle cut fries to fresh cut fries. Especially when they don't peel the potatoes. All those little eyes staring at me! It was also served with several kinds of jelly on the side. I chose grape jelly instead of strawberry preserves.

Personally, I like jelly more than preserves. I don't care for preserves. I don't like eating seeds. It's like I'm consuming potential life, and that makes me sad with the knowledge of an unjust existence. And the seeds get stuck under my bridge.

It continued raining while I ate my sandwich, with turkey. ( I mean the sandwich had turkey on it, not that it was raining turkey.) Suddenly I realized I had synchronized my chewing with the rhythmic dripping of a distant gutter. How strange, and yet, how not. I thought, we are all but cogs, a conduit, an ephemeral whisper on the gossamer wings of a butterfly, and I remembered reading that monte cristos were usually made with ham instead of turkey. Just one of the impenetrable mysteries of an indefatigable cosmos.

The Count of Monte Cristo was boring. I stopped watching after ten minutes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

From Hunger

Every now and then, just to prove what a hep cat I am, and to see what passes for entertainment these days, I'll check out a fairly contemporary movie. This decade I chose The Hunger Games, thinking if there's something out there that can pierce my cultural semi-consciousness, perhaps it may be worthwhile.

First of all, and about the nicest thing I can say, it's a very shrewd property. If you target a very young audience, you can pretty much steal, I mean borrow, from anything you like. What fourteen-year old is going to know the difference? How many adolescents are going to ask the questions I asked: From which movies does it crib?  Which novels does it remind you of? Did I turn off the iron?

Everything is so familiar, and all the whiskered tropes are checked off:  Dystopian future? Yep. Oppressive Big Brother government? Natch. Technology used for evil? You bet. Enslaved but noble proletariat? Sure. A future that looks like the Industrial Revolution on a sad day? In spades. A human hunt to the death? Gotcha. Donald Sutherland? No surprise.

Not every action film has to be 85 minutes long, but it sure helps to keep my ass from getting itchy. The Hunger Games clocks in at a whopping 135 minutes. I could have watched two Bowery Boys and several Tom and Jerrys in the same amount of time. Or I could have easily chopped off thirty minutes, without harming the continuity and improved the pace. For example, do we really need a hallucinogenic flashback in the middle of an action sequence? As John Candy of SCTV once said, "John Ford would have put a bullet through their heads!"

Using so much hand-held stuff may have been clever forty years ago, but now it's just stylistically lazy, pointless, and ugly. For example, there's a static shot of a sign on a barbed-wire fence that needlessly shakes and a close combat rasslin' scene where it's impossible to tell what's happening. Fortunately, since there's never any doubt as to who's going to survive, it doesn't make much difference.

And since there's no serious political point of view, only a mess of predictable plot points cobbled together, we have no idea where it takes place. (Unless it was mentioned while I was taking a much-deserved snooze, I beg your pardon.) And it doesn't seem to matter; just The Future will do. At first I thought it may have been a future America, since every filthy prole hovel sported a big-screen TV; but then they featured a luxury high-speed railway system, so I knew it wasn't a future America.

Maybe it's Canada. After all, everyone carries a knife and eats wild game and berries to survive, and Donald Sutherland is their leader. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

What's Up? Docs.

Whenever I've had my fill of something stylistically dense or complicated, like Henry James or Jungle Jim, I like to relax, supply myself with cheese doodles and NyQuil, put my brain on cruise-control, and fire up a streaming documentary on the television machine. Here's a few random titles, some of which I've actually watched:

Salinger. Everyone's favorite overrated, reclusive, and creepy author. Have to say I've never been impressed with anything he's written. Perhaps I should re-read Catcher In the Rye, but I'm afraid it may make me want to assassinate someone. Again.

Ray Harryhausen: Special Effect Titan. Loving tribute to the master of stop-motion animation. Nothing new here, but essential viewing for anyone interested in film history.

Cool drawing by Ray Harryhausen

Kingdom of Shadows. More documented film history goodness, this one covering the beginnings of the horror movie. A must-see for Rod Steiger's jaw-droppingly wacky rendition of Bret Wood's pretentious narration.

Tar Creek. Absolutely shameful story of the human and ecological destruction caused by Oklahoma mining.                                                          

Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everyone Talkin' About Him?) Rise and fall of Harry Nillson, generally considered one of rock music's greatest voices. Granted, a very short list. Years after his death, many are still moved by their memories of Nillson: singer, songwriter, damaged child, poor husband, lousy father, and extraordinary party dude.

Not so many fond memories of Lew Wasserman in The Last Mogul: The Life and Times of Lew Wasserman. Except for Suzanne Pleshette, no one was moved to tears recalling the spectacular demise of this Hollywood powerhouse. Some may have been just a wee bit gleeful. However, since he was from Cleveland, I'm obligated to like the unrivaled ruthlessness and prickiness of the guy.

Me and my Arrow

Friday, November 15, 2013

Good Advice?

A writer friend of mine, who is working on a novel, asked if she should include dialogue in an action sequence. Of course there are many possible answers, ranging from "yes" to "no". After careful and extensive deliberation lasting nearly a minute, and unless I change my mind, I feel as if I have to respond by saying, "No." Here's why:

I don't recall any dialogue included in the action scenes of literary titans such as Melville, Hugo, or Sidney Sheldon. If you happen to find any evidence to the contrary, just keep your lip buttoned. And from my own personal writing experience, in that towering historical opus, Samovar of  Destiny, there's no dialogue in the riveting scene where Jesus and his disciple Larry are being pursued by a pack of ravenous brontosaurus. I felt that using dialogue would have strained credibility.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Return of Slapdash Reviews

More Slapdash Reviews, for those who are easily distracted by shiny things.

Svengali (1931): Fine comic performance by John Barrymore, but I think he neglected telling anyone else this was a comedy.

                                                        The evil eye of John Barrymore

Rhodes of Africa (1935): The movie that answers the question, "Mum, why is Rhodesia called Rhodesia?" Not the version of Cecil Rhodes' life I would have made, but then I'm not a warmongering, pro-colonialist, racially superior Brit.

Victory (1996): Deadly dull adaption of Joseph Conrad's masterpiece, with the delectable Irene Jacob and the not-so-delectable Willem Defoe. If anyone out there makes it to the end, please tell me how it turns out.

The Hindenburg (1975): Not even George C. Scott can elevate this essentially trashy adventure. A couple of nice set pieces, but not enough to justify the 125 minute length.

Agora (2009): Oppressive, destructive, ignorant, and murderous Christians in fourth century Alexandria set back civilization a thousand years. With Rachel Weisz as the brilliant philosopher Hypatia, who asks questions like, "Is the earth the center of the solar system?", "Why does the sun seem to change size?", and "Where is my idiot slave?" The epic scenes of destruction are very well done, the intimate scenes of celestial discovery, not so much.

4th century philosopher Hypatia, a visual approximation

For a Limited Time Only

For those of you with a spare hour and an interest in Jim Reeves, and I know there are millions of you out there, you might want to go to this tribute to Jim Reeves on BBC2 radio.