Monday, February 28, 2011

Jane Russell Passes Away

Sex symbol, actress and bra spokesperson Jane Russell passed away today of respiratory failure at her home in California. She was 89.

Jane Russell was initially discovered by Howard Hughes, not because of her acting talent, but because of her 38" bust. Hughes financed her first film The Outlaw, made her a pin-up queen with WWII troops and the millionaire airplane designer even developed a special bra for her figure.

Russell appeared in many films over her career including Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, Gentlemen Marry Brunettes, Young Widow, The Las Vegas Story, His Kind of Woman, The Paleface and Born Losers, the biker flick that infamously introduced Tom Laughlin's Billy Jack character to audiences around the world. Later she appeared in commercials for Playtex, promoting their 'cross your heart' bra.

Her later years were filled with some Broadway and charity work. We've lost another legend, she'll be missed.

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Sunday, February 27, 2011

Catching Up with the Oscars

Due to some family troubles I have not been keeping up with my blogs as I probably should have, and neither have I gotten out to see all the films up for the Oscars tonight, but I wanted to take a few moments to breeze through the few I have seen.

The King's Speech ~ This by far is the best of the litter of the Best Picture nominees I have seen this year. That's not to say it will win, although it might. I have heard that The Fighter is better, but I really can't speak to that.

This fascinating film about the heir to the throne of England conquering his speech problem is one that many can understand, and it has the key handicap feature that wins Oscars so often. It's time for Colin Firth to win and this is the perfect role. Geoffrey Rush is also in the running, having himself won in a similar handicapped role in My Left Foot. There is also an interesting nod to Rush's character from Shakespeare in Love with his love of the Bard. Another nice smirk comes from the appearance of Derek Jacobi, whose best known role is that of the title role stutterer in PBS' "I, Claudius."

Even Helena Bonham Carter is entertaining here and got a nomination. I usually find her freakish and over the top. Here's proof that she can reel it in and give a great performance. There's really nothing not to like about this flick, and I wouldn't be surprised if it swept the Oscars. I had always thought the more compelling story of the royal family of this time was Edward and Mrs. Simpson, but here I am proven wrong. Bravo, recommended.

Animal Kingdom ~ This one is very slow but it shouldn't have been. Based on the synopsis, I expected an Australian gangster flick but got a somewhat quiet drama, with a few shocks and bumps along the way, instead. Disappointing but good. Jacki Weaver is up for Best Supporting Actress, and she's good, but I thought that James Frecheville was better, and quite possibly should have gotten a Best Actor nod. But what do I know?

The Town ~ I really kinda dug this Boston heist flick, and I think Jeremy Renner definitely deserves his nomination for Supporting Actor. This is a different character from last year's The Hurt Locker, a much more complex and darker portrayal, and it gets my vote. Jon Hamm does little more than show up and draw in the "Mad Men" fans however. The real star is Ben Affleck, who co-wrote, starred and directed this flick. I think it's a shame that he is apparently still on the Academy's hate list, because I think he deserves recognition for his triple threat performance here - he is the star of this one. Where are his nominations?

How to Train Your Dragon ~ I could bitch about where Tangled and Megamind were in the animated feature category, but I'll refrain. This one was a surprise, not the best animated feature this year by a long shot, but a lot of fun. It's predictable, but compelling and entertaining. Recommended.

My predictions for tonight are as follows. King's Speech for Best Picture, David Fincher for Best Director, Colin Firth and Geoffrey Rush for Actors, Natalie Portman and Hailee Steinfield for Actress, Toy Story 3 for Best Animated, Biutiful for Best Foreign, and Exit Through the Gift Shop for documentary.

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Friday, February 25, 2011

Winter's Bone

Winter's Bone ~ Set in the hillbilly hell that is modern Appalachia, this is a quest movie, similar to Easy Rider, The Wizard of Oz or even The Matrix, or some weird hybrid of the three. It also reminds me of The Road, only without the relationship, the narrative or the apocalypse. It is all of these films actually, minus the excitement, happiness or enthusiasm - or momentum. Winter's Bone is slow as hell.

Best Actress nominee Jennifer Lawrence tried to find her daddy who's on the run and has put the family home up for bail. If he doesn't show up, she loses everything. Most of the folks in this hillbilly hell don't want to help her. Everyone smokes pot and carries a gun, except for our protagonist so it's hard for her to make any headway finding her father.

Did I mention how slow this flick is? I wanted to scream at the screen for something to happen other than bad grammar or verbal and physical domestic abuse. Furthermore, Winter's Bone stinks of the social commentary that the bleeding hearts of the Academy love so much, but me, I kept waiting for the point, or better yet, a plot.

Now I wanted a plot, but when the flick turned into this effed up version of The Wicker Man meets Children of the Corn with a bit of, God forbid, The Village thrown in - I started wishing it didn't have a plot. Really. This got a Best Picture nomination, and Secretariat didn't? Wow. Not recommended.

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Inception ~ I had wanted to see this flick in the theatres and I wish I had because the special effects would have looked amazing on the big screen. Unfortunately in a decision I think I will regret for some time, and my friends will not let me forget - I chose Predators instead. Sorry, guys.

Yes, Inception would have looked great on the big screen, and like many of the newer animations, and the big one, Avatar, it suffers on the small screen. One hopes that the new special effects technology, and the various forms of 3-D might save the theatre industry, but only if folks get the idea of waiting for home viewing out of their head. This was one of those you should not have waited for.

Special effects aside, this wasn't really anything special. Well, it was tons better than Predators but that's not the point. Once you get the concept of dream intrusion into your head and know the rules, this is really just a big budget, world tour, old school James Bond flick. No better, no worse. Lots of action and insane chases, lots of exotic locales - it's a good popcorn flick that is seriously toned down on the big screen.

The cast is flawless, director Christopher Nolan leaning on a few of his regulars, including Cillian Murphy and Ken Watanabe. Leonardo DiCaprio is in fine form as well, except for the similarities between this character and the one he played in Shutter Island. And much like that movie, his partner, Joseph Gordon-Levitt this time, out-acts him. It's a good flick, not a great one.

It's nominated for a few Oscars this time out, some deserving, some not. I can see music and cinematography easily, but Best Picture? I think not, unless it's up against Predators...

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Monday, February 14, 2011

Kenneth Mars 1936-2011

Kenneth Mars, the film, television and animation actor passed away this past Monday. You might not know the name but you know this guy. He was in everything. You might remember him as the Nazi playwright in Mel Brooks' original The Producers film, or perhaps as Hugh in one of my favorite films, What's Up, Doc?. But that would only be the tip of the iceberg.

He was also in Young Frankenstein, "Get Smart," "Wonder Woman" and even "Misfits of Science." On television I first discovered Mars as recurring guest W.D. "Bud" Prize on the brilliant "Fernwood Tonight" and "America 2-Night." Just think of a TV series in the 1970s and he was in it. His animation career began with voice work on "The Jetsons" in 1962 and continued until just a couple years ago.

Kenneth Mars will be remembered and he will be missed.

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Friday, February 04, 2011


I absolutely love this new series from Showtime. The Bride and I are big Anglophiles and we love British television. We are frequently disappointed however when American television networks try to adapt a much loved British program for those apparently dumbed down American audiences. One prime example comes to mind - "Red Dwarf" and "Homeboys in Outer Space." It is still truly the stuff of nightmares. And let's not even mention the Fox telemovie version of Doctor Who, canon or not.

"Episodes" is a series about exactly that - Americans ruining British television. The best part is that it's actually a BBC program. Writers Bev and Sean, played expertly by Stephen Mangan and the wonderful Tamsin Grieg (from one of my fave Britcoms, "Black Books"), are the creators of a successful series purchased by a American network executive who's never seen it.

Task one, they recast it. In the title role of the elderly schoolmaster, they place Matt LeBlanc, having far too much fun playing a parody of himself, and reset him as a hockey coach. They additionally change the title of the show to "Pucks," even though it originally had nothing to do with hockey. And that's just the beginning. I'm loving this, check it out.

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Thursday, February 03, 2011

The Social Network

The Social Network ~ You know how the opening sequence to Raiders of the Lost Ark gives you everything you need to know about the protagonist Indiana Jones? This film does the same thing with Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook - he's socially inept, thoughtless, self-important, and basically an asshole. It's all you need to know about him, game over, story done. The rest of the film is about Facebook, and how it affects everyone else, and just everyone else, because after the opening sequence, I really didn't care how it affected Zuckerberg - kudos to actor Jesse Eisenberg, writer Aaron Sorkin and director David Fincher. As a matter of fact, given the Academy's penchant for the handicapped - and trust me, Zuckerberg is handicapped - Eisenberg has a good chance of taking that Best Actor Oscar.

As much as I usually dislike Aaron Sorkin's work, he was adapting from Ben Mezrich's terrific book "The Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook, A Tale of Sex, Money, Genius, and Betrayal," so that counts for something. Two other elements make this film a no-brainer for me to like - it was directed by one of my favorite directors, David Fincher, and it has a score co-composed by Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. Trent is one of my music gods. The direction, like the score, is very different and new territory for the creators, and yet, amazing work, the music being a highlight. Both are also nominated for Oscars. And Justin Timberlake is damn good too.

At this point, I have only seen half of the ten films nominated this year for Best Picture, but of those, The Social Network is the best, I think it has a very good chance of winning. I would give good odds to Fincher and Reznor as well. The Social Network might just sweep this year. Recommended.

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Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Spartacus: Gods of the Arena

I've been looking forward to this six-part prequel to "Spartacus: Blood and Sand" since I first heard of it, and that was before I had even finished watching that entire series. Yeah, that's how good it is. As with most prequels, we know the way things are going to turn out, we just don't know how they're going to turn out.

The series follows the young Batiatus (John Hannah) and his wife Lucretia (Lucy Lawless) as they rise to the top of the gladiator management game in Capua. We get to see their early doings as well as those of "Blood and Sand" favorites Crixis (Manu Bennett) and future Doctore, Oenomaus (Peter Mensah).

We're also introduced to an earlier and cockier champion of Capua, Gannicus (Dustin Clare) and the seductive Gaia (Jaime Murray). You might remember the latter as Dexter's sociopath girlfriend and as H.G. Wells on "Warehouse 13." Both characters are much fun, and a reason to watch even if you already know what happens to everyone else.

"Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" airs Friday nights on Starz. Check it out.

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Tuesday, February 01, 2011

The Zeroids

I remember Christmas of 1968. It was when I got a Zeroid, no, not a painful sitting condition, but a toy robot by the Ideal company (And no, not that Ideal). I vaguely remember it, other than my cousins both had them as well, and it was rare that my parents relented and got me something everyone else had.

The plastic robots were all the rage apparently, the Cabbage Patch Kids or Tickle Me Elmo of that Christmas, although I remember very little else about it. I know I had the Zobor model and it came with the fancy packaging that was also its 'home.'

My memory was jogged just recently by learning that Moonstone Books has a comic book series based on the Zeroids. I'll have to check it out.

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