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Brush with greatness: Pat Carroll
Blog, TV, People
Posted on Apr 07 2013 by Greg

I met the great Pat Carroll at an event that celebrated Disney animation and she was there because she was (and still is in recent projects) the voice of Ursula in Little Mermaid. What a joy she is, not only the talent, the timing, but so lovely to meet.

She signed my Rodgers and Hammerstein Cinderella album. She was the stepsister whose knee creaked. So she signed the album cover, "My knee doesn't creak anymore -- I had it replaced." I'm sure she's signed it that way before, but I treasure it.

"Lincoln" isn't really about Lincoln
Blog, Movies
Posted on Apr 05 2013 by Greg

Steven Spielberg's superspectacular Lincoln looks great on Blu-ray, and actually works well within the intimacy of the home screen. With all its battle scenes and meticulous costuming and art direction, ultimately it's a people story brimming with characters and human conflicts. The trademark Spielberg back-lighting and other touches are very much in evidence, but the director does not take center stage and allows his cast to shine.

And shine they do. I can't add anything to the praise earned by Daniel Day-Lewis, who redefined Lincoln to millions who either remember early depictions by Henry Fonda or Raymond Massey, TV miniseries with actors like Hal Holbrook (who appears in this film as well) and perhaps most significantly, Royal Dano's voice and the Audio-Animatronics version at Disney Parks on both coasts -- a characterization that has been in the mass mindset since the 1964 New York World's Fair.

Lots has been said about Lincoln's voice, but I had no problem with that. He also comes off as a little bit of an eccentric, whose numerous stories and long jokes cause sighs and eye rolls among his staff and associates. In Literature 101 terms, he would be called the "Christ-like figure," speaking in parables to make his points and even dying at the end (hope that's not a spoiler!)

Sally Field, because she simply cannot be unlikable, brings that quality to Mary Todd Lincoln. She's never a villain or a harpy. She doesn't quite disappear into her role as Day-Lewis does -- for Pete's sake, it's Sally Field, whom we've loved for over four decades! Perhaps for that reason, and some powerful acting, few could create the Mary that she does. The argument scene between husband and wife is electrifying.

Why did I say this movie isn't about Lincoln? Because I believe it's more about the people few of us know about. From the African-American soldiers to those three frazzled men who risk wrath and even shooting to get support for the Amendment. Tommy Lee Jones' character isn't legendary, yet he spent his life trying to abolish slavery. And the remarkable David Strathairn -- perhaps Hollywood's most underrated actor -- is a standout as Secretary of State Seward. Everyone, regardless of their walk of life, can share the accomplishment. Lincoln of course, is the ultimate in leadership, but it's nice to see the little guys and ladies get their spotlight, too.

There is no commentary. Like War Horse, Spielberg offers his comments in bonus documentaries. Unlike the War Horse home release, the docs are shorter, but certainly fascinating and worth watching. The DVD only contains one short bonus feature; the two-disc Blu-ray contains more material.

And here's to you, Jackie Robinson
Blog, Movies, People
Posted on Apr 03 2013 by Greg
Before you go see the upcoming big screen "42," starring Harrison Ford, Christopher Meloni and Chadwick Boseman as Jackie Robinson, you may want to see this award-winning documentary about the real Robinson. "Jackie Robinson: My Story" tells his life story ithrough rare footage and photographs from real life.

And it gives you an intense performance of Stephen Hill (Dead Man Down). "My Story" is just that. In a locker room setting, Hill as Robinson materializes to discuss his life and times directly to the camera -- to you, to young people.

This is a remarkable story about a towering American icon, not only of baseball, but of political activism, civil rights, the media and the changing times. The account is direct and honest, not only about Robinson's struggle to equality that seemed impossible at the time, but also of his issues with his people, his family and his son.

Hill's performance is understated, straightforward and matter-of-fact, which makes the moment he reflects on the loss of his son all the more effective. It should be noted that some language, particular racial slurs, are heard in this film, vicious things that were said in a less enlightened time.

As a production of limited budget but a lot of heart, "My Story" makes fine use of its source material. Even the music seems to fit the sequences.

The bonus feature, "Jackie Robinson: An American Hero" is a shorter version of the feature, using much of the same sources and a condensed edition of the same script. Perhaps this was created for groups and schools. It contains none of the offensive phrases heard in the other film.

Warren Schaeffer, who was also Director of Photography of "My Story," narrates offscreen. This distances the viewer from the impact of the dramatic story when compared to Hill speaking right to us in "My Story." Schaeffer does an earnest job, but it cannot compare to the effect carried off in the longer film. One wonders why they simply didn't edit "My Story" down, but perhaps the short film was made first.

It's worth mentioning the there was also a 1950 movie called The Jackie Robinson Story with the real Robinson playing himself. Considering his influence on history, it's about time a new movie is being released to theaters. This video makes a nice companion. Either way, this is a story worth telling and remembering.

Is Jon Stewart JUST directing a movie -- or negotiating?
Blog, TV
Posted on Mar 30 2013 by Greg

In general, many of TV's pillars are showing signs of cracks. It was news when Katie Couric anchored the CBS News, the results were mixed, now no one really talks much about the new guy.

Today is getting attention for backstage drama but not for the show, which is sagging.

As for late night, here's my view for all it's worth:

Jay is a poor little rich man. He's never really been accepted as the new Johnny, his early Tonight Show history was marred by Kushnik Kapers and no matter how he delivers and tries to be a company man, they don't seem to care.

I don't think he's terrible at interviews, depending on the guest. I skip over Jaywalking because too many of the people seem to be acting hopefuls who say dumb things to get on camera and be discovered.

My question for NBC is: what ever happened to the grand celebrationary sendoff? Johnny had a week of clips and tributes, Jay's going out angry.

Surely his departure this could have been managed in a more dignified, positive and ratings-getting way than Jay being treated like any old cog in a corporate wheel that's downsizing.

Fallon has a lot going for him -- impish nonthreatening looks, not-too-edgy, not-too-snarky humor, contemporary pop and rap and an easy, reassuring manner. I only wish he'd been given just a little more time to mature into the role. He tends to loooooove everyone and seems sincere about it, but sometimes the guest just isn't worthy.

The key thing that NBC is counting on with Fallon, beside ratings, is social networking. He has tweeted to fans from day one. The networks aren't sure where the new media is going but they want to be as ready as they can be. That's as big, or bigger, then demographics.

Conan can chug along as long as he wants in his little pond as the biggest fish. When he has a good guest, he does fine, but he's best in some sort of fringe, whether at 12:30 or on cable. He has a great band, though I miss Max.

Letterman still is a master of the craft, but he's not as passionate about pushing the envelope as he used to be. I respect the fact that he doesn't seem to be hiding his opinion about his guests.

His is the only show upon which I would watch an interview with Paris Hilton or a Kardashian because only Letterman can interview on two levels, seemingly deferential, yet letting his audience know just what he and they really think.

Ferguson is the most brilliant of all of them, an incredible mind so dynamic he can hardly get the words out fast enough. He is a curious blend of "vulgar lounge comic" as he puts it, sophisticated and intellectual ("Oh sure, another late night comic talking about Proust and existentialism!")

On the other hand, I love Secretariat and the vocal talents of the robot, but Ferguson sometimes falls into the repetition that affects Letterman. I miss "Murder She Wrote."

Not sure if Ferguson can -- or even wants -- Letterman's spot. He seems destined for other avenues for his talents. And he'd have to tone down the naughtiness.

That leaves the mystery of Jon Stewart. "The Daily Show" lacks some of its punch when there isn't an election, just like Saturday Night Live, but it still scores often. But is Jon Stewart REALLY leaving JUST to direct a film, or also to make some career negotiations?

Gotta wonder. His current show gives him a Peabody winning platform, but a bigger show and bigger audience (perhaps retaining some Daily Show elements) has got to be tempting.

My two cents.

A page turning "holiday" mystery thriller from a "Dark Shadows" icon
Blog, TV, Books
Posted on Mar 28 2013 by Greg
Kathryn Leigh Scott continues to amaze with Down and Out in Beverly Heels, the latest example of her many creative talents. In addition to being a pop culture icon ("Dark Shadows," "Police Squad"), publisher of a vast array of nonfiction/showbiz books and author of several books on the DS phenomenon, Scott has created her second novel -- this one a crisp, page turning mystery thriller in the grand tradition of TV series like "Columbo" and movies like "The Net."

Told in first person (which creates an uneasy feeling, at least to me, that the character may not survive the story), the lead character is Meg, the star of a classic TV light mystery show called "Holiday." The glamorous dream life she has lead, from the series and her marriage to Mr. Perfect to her beautiful home and seeming financial security, it all comes crashing down all over her. In a short time, she's alone, broke and a suspect of a costly fraud scheme.

As Scott unfolds the story and Meg searches for the truth, we get a glimpse of Hollywood through a prism of location filmings, lavish parties and nostalgia shows, every setting described in meticulous but never oppressive detail. She uses the traditional mystery simile, but with a nod and a smile. As a character, Meg is never at a loss for humor and irony.

Perhaps the most affecting world we explore is that of the downtrodden former Hollywood individual: a former director, a stuntman and sex symbol, to name a few. Each of these folks has carved out a life after the cameras stopped rolling for them, some very comfortable, some not so much.

I was touched when reading about the "street stars," a community who cling to former glory while living through soup kitchens, park benches and public restrooms. Meg is particularly close to one lady whose makeup and clothes are deteriorating as much as she and her mind are -- and of course, Meg is a breath or two away from becoming like her, as we all might be should we hit similar circumstances.

Surely this underground of Hollywood life is sadly a reality. And what an amazing nonfiction book or documentary it would make -- or maybe it has and I am not aware of it.

This is just the sort of book to relax with, to take on a trip, to read by the pool. This is page turning romp, filled with fiction fun, humor and heart.

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