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Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 02 2012 by Greg
We're watching A Christmas Story today -- one of those movies that, like It's a Wonderful Life and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has been embraced as uberclassics even though they met with lukewarm receptions during their initial release.

Like millions of folks today, we love the movie. But I always get a little distracted by the anachronistic 1980's hairstyle adorning the lovely and talented Melinda Dillon as Raphie's mom.

It's more at home for this '80s icon...

Or this '80s icon from TV's Lou Grant...

Director Bob Clark and his team clearly went out of their way to capture the 1940's American breadbasket world of essayist Jean Shepherd. My dad also loved the movie, since he was only a little older than Ralphie during this era.

But according to Clark DVD commentary (thank you), Ms. Dillon insisted on avoiding the period hairstyle more resembling that of teacher Miss Shields (luminous Canadian actress Tedde Moore, who was the best reason to watch Mistletoe Over Manhattan on the Hallmark Channel).

By the way, Ralphie's daydream about Miss Shield's delirious reception of his essay is one of my favorite Christmas Story sequences, since I sometimes have similar expectations when turning in my writing and also sometimes get the same real-life results.

Melinda Dillon turns in an superb performance, adding a quirky dimension to her very warm and loving performance. Her top billing belies her 1983, star status in such hits as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So Clark didn't insist on the hair-do. And now, A Christmas Story is probably the film Ms. Dillon is most known for, since it is run unceasingly and many have it memorized.

So maybe Ms. Dillon herself wishes in hindsight that she was more sartorially flexible. Maybe she does not. She's probably put in behind her, as I should in the coming year.

But I can't help wondering if fans still recognize her and say, "I loved you in A Christmas Story! But what was the deal with your '80s hair?"

Blog, News and Events, People
Posted on Dec 28 2011 by Greg

This week on BBC Radio, you can stream a free one-hour special honoring the legendary entertainer Tommy Steele, who among many other triumphs starred in the London, Broadway (with John Cleese) and movie versions of Half a Sixpence; Walt Disney's last film, The Happiest Millionaire, and Francis Ford Coppola's only musical, Finian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark.

You can listen to the program here for the next five days.

Tommy Steele (far right) with Gladys Cooper, Lesley Ann Warren, Fred MacMurray, Geraldine Page, John Davidson and Walt Disney on the set of The Happiest Millionaire.

Also this week on BBC Radio:

The Night the Animals Talked (2 days left to listen)

Jack and the Genetically Modified Beanstalk (2 days left to listen)

The White Christmas Story
Martin Sheen narrates a one-hour documentary about Irving Berlin's beloved song (2 days left to listen).

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (4 days left to listen)

The Beatles' Christmas (5 days left to listen)

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be: The Lionel Bart Story
Five-part bio of the composer/lyricist of "Oliver!"

Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales
Five 15-minute stories.

Aesop's Fables
Adapted from the stage production by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) (7 days left to listen).

Yeti's Finger
What does Jimmy Stewart have to do with the abominable snowman?

The Adventures of Tintin (2 episodes left)

PLEASE NOTE: Some BBC Radio programming contains material intended for mature audiences.

Blog, News and Events
Posted on Dec 23 2011 by Greg
The weekly radio show about television, past and present, TV Confidential, is devoting its second hour this week to TV specials and holiday episodes of TV shows.

I'll be on the panel with author Joanna Wilson, actors Tony Figueroa and Donna Allen Figueroa and host Ed Robertson. The show plays on various stations throughout the country this week and will land in the podcast next Wednesday.

Here is the broadcast schedule:

WROM Radio
Sunday 12/25
8pm ET, 5pm PT

Share-a-Vision Radio
Friday 12/23
7pm ET, 4pm PT
10pm ET, 7pm PT

The Coyote KWTY-FM
Ridgecrest, Calif.
Sunday 12/25
10pm PT
Monday 12/27
1am ET
Tuesday 12/27
11:05pm ET, 8:05pm PT

The podcast of this episode will appear on Wednesday 12/28 and can be subscribed to at itunes or by clicking here.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 21 2011 by Greg
There hasn't been a whole lot of fanfare, but for fans of Dave Stevens' graphic novels and Joe Johnston's 1991 Disney big-screen spectacular, the appearance of The Rocketeer on Blu-ray is somewhat of an event.

On the package is a sticker proclaiming, "From the director of Captain America." Clearly this release is piggybacking on the successful 2011 film -- and the two films seem, at least to me, inextricably linked by their setting and their director.

But why did The Rocketeer run out of propellant while Captain America blasted the box office? The most obvious reason is that the Marvel character has had more mainstream visibility, though the '60s cartoon and '70s live-action series incarnations of Captain America were not exactly stellar. It's also a tricky matter to set a film in WWII, or during the '40s and make it resound with younger audiences.

Just because The Rocketeer wasn't a smash, it isn't fair to dismiss it as some did back in the '90s. Actually, it's quite a fine film, with a likable cast led by Billy Campbell, Jennifer Connelly and Alan Arkin, as well as a scene-chewing tour-de-force performance by Timothy Dalton -- clearly having a grand old time playing a thorough rotter.

The Rocketeer has very good effects for its time, superb art direction and photography, and one of the best background scores of the last several decades. I highly recommend the soundtrack album of James Horner's sweeping score. You can also hear this music as the Epcot fountains dance regularly, as well as in countless movie trailers for other releases.

Hopes were just a little too high for The Rocketeer. Disney was looking for a huge franchise, so a well-done, nicely received film wouldn't cut it. Even though Johnston only mentions The Rocketeer once briefly in his Captain America commentary (alas, he did not do one for The Rocketeer Blu-ray -- there are no extras to speak of), clearly the director learned and developed over the years.

Perhaps the main issue between the two films is tone. The Rocketeer is highly stylized and inconsistently campy with a hero who's a little too cocky for his own good, while Captain America is a hybrid between retro, comic book and contemporary action movie style, with a much more sympathetic hero.

But if you haven't seen The Rocketeer in Blu-ray, prepare for a treat. The spot-on animated sequence, the lavish nightclub scene, and even the sarcophagus-like dwelling of the villain are as vivid as can be. You just have to approach The Rocketeer as a jaunty romp and enjoy the ride.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Dec 16 2011 by Greg
I'm sure I cannot add more to what has already been said in praise of the book and the movie versions of Kathryn Stockett's The Help, except perhaps to note that once I met a group of people in a restaurant and the film came up. They brought up Minnie's "terrible awful" incident and I asked, "Haven't you wished that just once you could do that to someone, sometime?" The reaction was unanimous amid riotous laughter.

The Help takes place in 1963 -- the same as season two of Mad Men -- but this is set in the deep south, as the civil rights movement was gaining national notice, violence was on the rise> And while some thought the injustices would never end, others were either unaware of them or looked the other way.

Emma Stone, as Skeeter, discovers far more than she really thought about. It simply wasn't discussed. When she embarks what seems to be a simple story idea, it grows to a living, breathing work that attacks the social and political abyss to a more personal, more identifiable level. Not only are the two ladies who are her narrativer touchstones (played to Oscar perfection by Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis) real "iron chefs" in courage, endurance and moral integrity, they're people with faults, wounds and talent. And a sense of humor -- perhaps the best survival tool of all.

While the institutionalization of bigotry depicted in The Help is a experience too heinous to be understood fully except by those who suffered through it, most of us at some time has been wronged by a boss, a co-worker, teacher, parent or any person who held sway over our fate (or made us feel that they held sway). You can't help root for Abileen and Minnie, as well as cheer when the most loathsome character (played to the glorious hilt by Bryce Dallas Howard) is taken down more than a few notches.

To me, The Help is also a story about the power of the written word. Yes, it's a movie, and the visuals are superb, but Skeeter's book is the catalyst that finally sets so much in motion. While we now live in an age of high tech and endless visuals, words can still change history, especially when those words bring issues to the personal attention of those who might be otherwise unaware of them.

There is no audio commentary on the discs, which is unfortunate, but the behind the scenes featurette is among the best of its kind.   The Help is the work of mutual friends who somehow were allowed to create this great work together despite the obstacles of the publishing and film businesses. I have never heard of a similar story quite like it.

The Help -- and the story behind The Help -- are never to be forgotten.

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