Monthly Archives: February 2009

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Pop Cultures

Mental Floss magazine explores the origins of our favorite Muppets (via Pop Culture Junk Mail). Lots of interesting tidbits that I never knew there.

Also, how happy am I that Pepsi is planning “throwback” versions of Pepsi and Mountain Dew containing genuine sugar sweetening (not icky high fructose corn syrup). This also comes via Pop Culture Junk Mail — Gael is on a roll! More info here; April can’t come fast enough.

Insomniac Theatre

Today’s video comes courtesy of the onetime USA Network staple Night Flight. This, children, was compulsive viewing for people who suddenly realized it’s 1:15 a.m. on a Friday night and you spent the last two hours of your pathetic existence watching Bambi vs. Godzilla and some freaky-ass French movie from the ’70s about space aliens (guilty as charged).

Oscars: 20 for 24

Every year, Christopher and I have our own little Academy Awards predictions contest. Last night’s ceremonies were my own personal best, where I successfully predicted 20 out of 24 winners. The only categories I missed were Foreign Language Film (who saw Japan coming?), Documentary Short (pretty much a crapshoot every year), Sound Mixing (thought The Dark Knight would sweep the sound categories), and Art Direction (went out on a limb and predicted The Duchess). Christopher, who usually beats me at these things, will have to eat humble pie tonight. I voted differently in Kris’ sock monkey contest, where I only got 9 of 12 right.

As for the TV broadcast of the awards: I love the acting nominations being presented by five previous winners. It’s a novel idea that could have been mawkish in execution, but they pulled it off in a heartfelt way. Hugh Jackman was a pretty good host, loved his enthusiasm. But that hyper number with overexposed Beyoncé? Ouch!

Weekly Mishmash: February 15-21

Changeling (2008). Angelina Jolie in the true story of Christine Collins, a single mother who returned from work to find her nine year-old son missing. Collins underwent more indignity when the police tried to replace the abducted boy with an impostor. This was a fascinating film that, although not breaking any new ground, told its story in an absorbing way that recalled L.A. Confidential in my eyes. Clint Eastwood’s direction is crisp and matter-of-fact, and the art direction/costuming is perfectly evocative of 1920s Los Angeles. Jolie approaches the role as a typical, somewhat meek woman thrown into extraordinary circumstances. It’s the kind of thing that Olivia De Haviland would’ve aced in the ’40s, and she’s very good (not Oscar Award-winning good, however) — as were John Malkovich and Amy Ryan in supporting roles. My only complaint is that the acting overall came across as too histrionic, needing some toning down.
The Horse’s Mouth (1958). A lightweight British comedy redeemed by Alec Guiness’ unforgettable performance an irascible, gravelly voiced artist. This is a cute, shrill film bursting with noisiness and slapstick. I enjoyed the timeless angle of the painter who has to deal with silly rich folk to survive, however. For that and Guiness, one paintbrush up.
The Independent Spirit Awards (IFC). The Oscars need to take a page from these awards, which year after year wind up being so much more casual and fun. This year’s host Steve Coogan I could honestly take or leave (I’m Alan Partridge was such a weird, unappealing show). But free-flowing alcohol, unadulterated potty mouths and goofy song parodies do it every time.
Lured Poster (1948)Lured (1948). Standard Douglas Sirk-directed melodrama is an mildly entertaining showcase for Lucille Ball, looking fabulous. An American showgirl in London, Ball goes undercover for Scotland Yard after her friend becomes the latest in a string of mysteriously killed women — lured to their deaths by newspaper personals. Could suave George Sanders be the murderer, with Ball in his sights as the next victim? Lucy proved herself quite capable here in strict leading lady mode, with a few offbeat comedic touches for good measure. The film is worth checking out for her alone, and to contemplate where her career might have gone had My Favorite Husband and I Love Lucy not happened. Except for a supremely odd turn by Boris Karloff as a demented dress designer, however, this film is too dull and predictable to completely recommend.
Oldboy (2003). I initially added this wild Korean thriller on my Netflix queue after noticing that a neighbor friend adding it to his. He later rated the film one star out of five. Another Netflix friend rated it five out of five — divisive territory here, folks. After being imprisoned in a badly wallpapered room for fifteen years, a man (excellently played by Min Sik-choi) takes on a twisted revenge scheme, falling for a mysterious girl and eating a live octopus in the process. The story is okay enough, unfolding with a barrage of intriguing twists. The real appeal here is how Chan-wook Park directs with a stunning visual audacity that recalls efforts like Fight Club, Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting. Even if it doesn’t quite hit the heights of those three films, for sheer balls I award it four stars. Special note: this review is dedicated to the poor octopus who sacrificed itself for filmic immortality. A moment of silence, please.

Pilot Error

Last weekend, I bought something called Unsold TV Pilots at a used book sale — a totally absorbing look at various shows that (as of 1991, when the book came out) were produced but never developed into full-run network series. Paging through this book is like looking into an alternate universe of what TV might have been like in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. For those unfamiliar with the concept of TV pilots, a Wikipedia quote sums it up nicely:

A television pilot is a test episode of an intended television series. It is an early step in the development of a television series, much like pilot lights or pilot studies serve as precursors to the start of larger activity, or pilot holes prepare the way for larger holes. Networks use pilots to discover whether an entertaining concept can be successfully realized. After seeing this sample of the proposed product, networks will then determine whether the expense of additional episodes is justified. They are best thought of as prototypes of the show that is to follow, because elements often change from pilot to series. Variety estimates that only a little over a quarter of all pilots made for American television succeed to the series stage, although the figure may be even lower.

In other words, what we’re dealing with here is TV Land’s sloppy seconds. While it’s no surprise why derivative things like Steel Collar Man or Ebony Ivory & Jade never flew, occasionally shows have been done that turn out too costly or conceptually strange to get fleshed out into a full series. Bette Davis’ 1965 sitcom The Decorator fits in this category. The idea of Bette diva-ing it up as an Auntie Mameish interior decorator (with Mary Wickes as her sardonic assistant) sounds too irresistible to believe, but from the clip below the execution is a bit plodding. Still, I would have loved to have seen where this character could have gone had the show been picked up. Parts two and three of the pilot are also on YouTube. Thank goodness for the internet!

Color Me Intrigued

Things I Didn’t Know Dept.: in 1967, animation legends Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera created a pilot for an anthology series called The World-Color It Happy. Check out the opening credits below, and wonder how something with Woody Allen amongst its writers and a nifty theme song written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David never caught on with TV execs. Strangely, Hanna’s autobiography doesn’t say a word about this project. Where’s the rest of it?