Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Young Dynamite

I watched an old B movie called Young Dynamite, about a really obnoxious teenager whose older brother becomes a state trooper. The story revolves around gold hoarding in the 1930s after the government banned private ownership. It wasn't bad. Made in the late '30s.

One odd scene. Another trooper tells the younger brother that his brother has been killed.

"I thought you said you could take it," he says.

"I can," the teenage brother says.

"Then can't you smile?"

"I can try."

 What were they thinking?

I don't know why, but there's something disturbing about adults playing teenagers. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Seth MacFarlane again

Could this be the beginning of the end for Seth MacFarlane?

For some reason, it makes me think of the members of Congress who get voted out of office after a failed run for president. Much of what members of Congress do is non-ideological, so when they run for president, it comes as a surprise to some of their constituents what these guys actually believe.

With Seth MacFarlane, it turns out that he actually IS Pete Griffin. All this time we thought we were laughing at Peter; MacFarlane intended that we laugh with him. It would be like discovering that All in the Family was produced by Archie Bunker-like conservatives, or the realization that Jerry Lewis really was Buddy Love.

And how do you develop a radio voice? I've done internet searches for it, but haven't found anything. Surely that's not natural.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane was on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. He explained that there was a certain type in New England---men who had no filter at all and would say anything that entered their minds no matter how inappropriate.

It make sense for Peter Griffin to act that way, but why was MacFarlane himself carrying on like that at the Oscars? Is that all he can do now?

Well, I won't go into it any further. I hardly watched any of it. Haven't seen any of the movies although there were some I was hoping would lose, including the one that won for Best Picture. I doubt pro-CIA, pro-torture movies would have done as well during the Bush years. Obama has made it all seem respectable.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Rifftrax, Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans

I've long been an admirer of Mystery Science Theater 3000. But I'm not sure I still want to admit that after looking at a Rifftrax message board.

It's the only thread I read on the message board. Maybe the others were all highly intellectual.

But here fans responded to a link someone posted to an interview with the late Ray Dennis Steckler who directed a number of low budget movies, mostly horror but some comedies as well. He was influenced by silent movies and he seemed to have been inspired by Soviet Experimental cinema.

From the interview:
...Speaking of cheesy science fiction shows, what do you think about your films being shown on “Mystery Science Theater 3000”?
I think it’s just disgusting. I think the people that wrote that should be ashamed of some of the things they said. If they want to poke fun at my films, that’s fine. We went out and made a movie and they have a right to say what they think about it, but some of things they said in that show were just disgusting. I don’t even like to talk about it because it upsets me so much. They never had the rights from me to show the pictures. The guys that do that show just have no respect for what a filmmaker goes through with very little money. You give up a lot to make a movie like “Strange Creatures”, time and money. I did not need the kind of racist, sexist and even anti-Semitic remarks those guys made. I just think they were wrong to do it. I hope they made a lot of money off that and then spent it unwisely. The show is off the air now so it really doesn’t matter. Let me ask you something, have you ever heard me knock anyone before?
No, I can honestly say in anything I have read or seen about you, you have never said an unkind word about anyone. I can also add that I know first hand from talking with other filmmakers that you are not alone in your sentiments towards that show.

Naturally, the MST3k fans got all worked up about it:
And pray tell what ones were those? I don't recall them every being racist, sexist, or anti-semetic [sic] . If they did they were mocking a racist character and speaking as him. But for the life of me I don't remember any of those type jokes directed at RDS or his turd of a film. I think he is another movie guy with his panties in a bunch because he thinks his work is gold and having someone ridicule it for the massive turd it is is sacrilegious.
Another responded:
Racist : "The other Gumble Brother"

Sexist: "She's the most masculine man I've ever seen."

Anti-Semitic: The "Sieg Heil"ing while the dancers were doing their routine.
I did notice on a "Film Crew" commentary that they had a tendency, when a black character appeared on screen, to basically shout out the name of another black person. When a black stripper appeared in one movie, one of them said it was Condoleezza Rice. She didn't resemble Rice in any way other than being black. The sexist comment about the actress being "masculine" referred to Steckler's then wife, and jokes about Nazis are always a bit of a problem.

But the other MST3k fan responded:
That's it? Ok saying that some guy looks like someone else's brother (who happens to be a different race) is racist? Making fun of a woman who looks manish and making a joke about it is sexist? Making a joke that the dance routine looks like the sig  hiel [sic] is anti-semetic [sic]? Not really it is making a reference to people who were, but not saying anything nasty about jews. [sic]

Now if Mike/Kev/Bill said in an interview or seriously said stuff like "Black people are lazy good for nothings." or "Women should only be in a kitchen and serve their man." or "Jews are a major cause of the world's problems." Yeah THEN I would agree that they are racist/antisemetic [sic] /sexist. But making jokes like they did are not that bad. They are mocking the individual person or a negative culture.

Another said,
Like the then head of the BBC said at the time when asked about Monty Python's Flying Circus: "There are some people who should be offended and often." or words to that effect.
I doubt he saw the irony in his being offended himself that someone criticized a TV show he watched.

"SUCK IT, STECKLER," another cleverly retorted.

Some interview I saw

Mike Nelson and one of the other guys from that show had pretty much the same attitude in an interview I saw on You Tube. They had appeared on a local talk show. They were arguing with an admirer of science fiction film who took offense at their work. Nelson and the other guy---I don't remember who it was---defense of the show boiled down to "Oh, come on!"

It's pointless to argue with comedians. If they can't make an argument, they make a joke. If there's a glaring hole in their argument, they make a joke. You make an argument, they make a joke. And they're used to being on stage so they talk loud.

I'll never be a fan of anything again.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Hallmark Hall of Fame

What's the difference between high brow and low brow cinema? And where does the middle brow come in? Doesn't the middle brow deserve more respect?

I don't know how many of these things I've actually seen, but there was the Hallmark Hall of Fame, expensive-looking, tasteful made-for-TV movies.

In the New York Times, critic Caryn James wrote about one of them: "Nothing seems real in What the Deaf Man Heard. Instead, its soothing, storybook quality has Hallmark written all over it."

That's pretty much the impression I have of this Hallmark stuff. I don't know if the impression's accurate or not. If anyone disagrees I don't know if I could argue the point. I haven't watched any in years, but I've listened to them while they were on TV in the next room. I'd sit there working at the computer, listening to the actors speak in phony Southern accents. And I kept thinking that, if you could master that, copy the form, you could get away with any content you wanted.

Which I think is what happened with the movie Hound Dog with Dakota Fanning. It was a controversial coming-of-age movie about a twelve-year-old girl who lives a rather grim life in the South and has an exaggerated admiration for Elvis Presley. The poor girl is raped by a guy who says he'll give her Elvis tickets.

It's hard for me to judge since I actually watched Hound Dog and for the most part only listened to the Hallmark Hall of Fame movies, but I thought Hound Dog had the same feel to it as the Hallmark movies.

Master the form--the look and feel of a Hallmark Hall of Fame drama--and you can do anything you want as far as the content goes. Movies about abortion providers, medical marijuana, maybe a sympathetic portrayal of drug dealers.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Marco Rubio, acting tip

Jerry Seinfeld was on David Letterman and explained a trick they used with inexperienced actors. They would put something in his hands. He showed some clips from his show where he carried on a conversation while holding a cereal bowl or something.

If only Marco Rubio had known this. In the course of his speech he could have picked up his water bottle, talked for a minute, casually taking a drink. Then talk some more. Maybe wave it around a little---gesticulate with it. It would have made him less nervous.

They should have at least left the cap on the water bottle. Let him casually unscrew it while he continued speaking. Instead of wondering what he was doing taking a drink in the middle of the speech, let the viewers wonder when he's going to take a drink out of that thing.

That water bottle should have been his salvation, not his humiliation.

Where the hell was he, anyway? Was that a real background or something they made up to make him look presidential?

He should have done the thing Nixon did in the Checkers speech----start out behind the desk, then get up and step out in front of it. Maybe sit on the edge of the desk.

Maybe start with him at the desk reading his speech, then he'd put his papers down, stand up and start reading the teleprompter. Create the harmless illusion that he was now speaking extemporaneously. 

Maybe start with him playing with a puppy. He looks up, notices he's on TV. He stands up and begins his speech while the puppy runs off camera.

How about driving? He could drive along in the car speaking to the camera pointing at him from the passenger seat.  Then, at the end of the speech, he would stop the car and say, "We're here!"

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Poor Marco Rubio

More than one person compared Rubio's response to Obama's State of the Union address to that of Albert Brooks acting as anchorman in Broadcast News. The poor devil was terribly nervous. Sweating, dry mouth. The New York Times, CNN and all the networks posted short videos on YouTube showing only the moment when Rubio awkwardly stops for a drink.

J. Elvis Weinstein (the original voice of Tom Servo on MST3k) tweeted, "For the next month, anyone who offers Marco Rubio something to drink is going to sound sarcastic to him."

But isn't that the whole point of live TV? It seems insane. Video recording is no longer a novelty. They're just reading a speech. They're not making it up as they go. Would it really hurt anything if they read their teleprompters on videotape instead of live TV? Who would know the difference? A ten second tape delay could have taken care of that drinking thing.

What was the point of Saturday Night Live being live? What was the advantage there? It was terribly stressful on the performers. I heard John Frankenheimer in an interview say that all the directors who did live TV dramas in the '50s had terribly back problems because of the stress.

Can't find a Pope-related movie in streaming video

I thought I'd watch something to commemorate the pope's resignation. Only thing I could think of was The Shoes of the Fisherman with Anthony Quinn as a persecuted Russian priest who is made Pope for some reason. He slips out of the Vatican dressed like a regular priest, helps save David Jansen's marriage and prevents a nuclear war. Described as a "Pope opera" by one critic.

Shoes of the Fisherman was unavailable for instant viewing on Netflix. So was The Cardinal and Foul Play. The Pope Must Diet wasn't there at all. Brother Sun, Sister Moon only available on DVD.

Many years ago, Foul Play starring Chevy Chase was scheduled to be shown on network TV. It had to be canceled because it was about an assassination plot against the Pope, and it was shortly after Pope John-Paul II got shot.

How do high schools cover the Clinton impeachment?

I've wondered for years how high schools were covering the impeachment of Bill Clinton. How do they avoid the question of whether oral sex is sex? It seemed like the conservatives were guaranteeing that every child in America would have at least one classroom discussion on this subject.

But there were plenty of things they skipped over in my day. It was stuff I had to learn from the movies.

I remember them telling us that a prisoner was yelling to the crowds to get them to storm the Bastille and start the French Revolution. I remember the teacher mentioning that there were only a few prisoners there and that one was a sex offender. But how could they not mention that it was The Marquis de Sade? It seems rather significant. If not significant, then interesting. There've been a couple of movies about this, one performed by puppets, if I remember it correctly. It's been a long time.

They talked about how the Tsarina's relationship with Rasputin upset the Russian public. They didn't really spell out why----that Rasputin was a swinger. Since no one knew about the tsarevich's hemophilia, there was only one reason they could think of for her hanging around with this guy. I didn't quite realize this until I saw the movie the  Rasputin and the Empress (1932)

I don't recall any mention of Roy Cohn's homosexuality in discussion of the McCarthy era, although that was central to the Army-McCarthy Hearings which put an end to McCarthy. The Army got a lawyer who was as sleazy as McCarthy and Cohn. He showed a cropped photo of Roy Cohn with a hetrosexual they were suggesting was his boyfriend. This was from a group photo that was cropped to look like it was just Cohn and this other guy.

Where did the picture come from, the lawyer asked. Did the pixies bring it?

McCarthy asked him to define "pixie"

It's closely related to a fairy, the lawyer said.

I wonder what else I missed all those years.

I did have a teacher who told us about a new book out which claimed that Queen Elizabeth I was a man. But part of the evidence was that she wore a wig and smoked cigars, which seemed pretty stupid.

I had a teacher in junior high school who told us that one (male) historical figure "preferred young boys". I'm not sure if he actually preferred young boys or if he was simply gay. The teacher, by the way, preferred young girls. One day, I was home, sick. There was nothing to eat in the house so I walked to the McDonald's that was a block away and there he was on a lunch date with an 8th grade girl.

A couple of years later the history teacher went into Thomas Jefferson's thing, but there was no avoiding it at that point.

But I did have a class in Greek Mythology. The textbook included the story of Ganymede without explanation. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

Edgar Ulmer's Strange Illusion, Claude Chabrol's Merci Pour Le Chocolat

So I watched a B movie, Strange Illusion, made in 1945, directed by Edgar Ulmer, a film noir based loosely on Hamlet, starring Jimmy Lydon, the kid who played Henry Aldrich in that series.

Lydon plays Paul, a teenager who for some reason is spending the night in a cabin with his psychology professor. He has a terrible dream! His mother is dating a new fellow! Nothing happens in the dream to indicate anything bad about this, although he does has a flashback to his father's death in an accident at a railroad crossing.

The movie wasn't that bad. The acting wasn't great, but the performances had their charm.

"Hey, Vixen. What's mixin'," Jimmy Lydon says when he calls his girlfriend from a sanitarium. "Are you missin' my kissin'?"

I watched it not long after seeing Claude Chabrol's Merci Pour Le Chocolat. It reminded me of that movie a little. They're about wealthy families. In each, an amateur sleuth starts collecting evidence even though they have no reason to really suspect anything, and they were both rather talkie and they were both about rich young people looking into their rich elders' marriages/marriage plans. They both had tennis and piano playing. And they both put their characters through the crucible of polite social interaction.

But Ulmer's movie, if he was to be believed, was filmed in six days on a 2:1 ratio. It was made for PRC, the most impoverished of the Poverty Row studios.

Pope quits

First the Queen of Holland abdicates, now the Pope is calling it quits.

I wish the Queen of England would give it up and let someone else have a turn. It would make things more interesting. Not only would Charles move in and take over, but it would open things up to demands that Charles abdicate and let his more popular son, William, take over.

Even if William didn't want to shove his father out of the way, it would still create a bitter rivalry between father and son, like Jack and David Cassidy. Who wouldn't want to see that?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How do I get out of buying stuff from the Boy Scouts?

I feel stupid buying Girl Scout cookies. I don't really like them and the Girl Scouts themselves don't get that big a cut of the money. I'd rather make a direct cash contribution, but when you're confronted by children selling cookies, what can you do?

Then you have the Boy Scouts. I've had them come to the door selling stuff, raising funds. How can I tell them, "No. You're anti-gay and you don't let atheists in." So I'd buy whatever they're selling, and it was usually terrible. A very bad value for the money. I paid several dollars for what turned out to be a relatively small bag of carmel corn.

When the disgusting Zionist Ed Koch was mayor of New York, a group of teenagers from the Soviet Union visited the city. They got to meet the repellent swine in his office and he spent several minutes shouting abuse at them telling them telling them how terrible the Soviet Union was. Can you imagine this happening to American teenagers in the USSR? Koch's country, which was Israel, is known mainly for stealing land and murdering children so who was he to criticize anyone?

I'm not going to act like Ed Koch by berating Boy Scouts about their lousy organization.

One time I had a perfectly nice conversation with a couple of Mormon missionaries. They were nice kids. I don't think they realized how hurtful it was that they made no attempt to convert me.

When I moved here at age 8, a hipster architect down the street led a scout troop and they asked me to join. Even back then, I didn't like the idea of wearing a uniform, but they told me his troop wore their regular clothes. I still wasn't interested.

A year or two later, I told a kid on the playground at school that I didn't approve of the American flag on his Boy Scout uniform.

Now the Boy Scouts of America has postponed its decision whether to start letting gay kids join. The Mormon Church, their biggest sponsor, praised the decision to do nothing.

I might mention that there was a teacher in my high school. I never took a class from him, but he had sort of a G. Gordon Liddy look to him with a mustache and shaved head. It was only after he died that I found out that he was the gay math teacher I heard about---I thought it was a different guy. He had had some trouble with a right wing Baptist in the math department.

And, according to his obituary, he was active in the local Boy Scouts.

I attended one Boy Scout event, a kid became an Eagle Scout. I managed to keep from laughing when they played this:

I don't really have a point here. It's not even cinema-related except for the John Wayne thing at the end.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Richard III

In honor of the discovery of Richard III's skeleton under a parking lot in England, I'm watching Laurence Olivier's Richard III, in technicolor and VistaVision.

It turns out that the guy wasn't in as bad a shape as Shakepeare thought, but I can overlook that since Laurence Olivier wasn't in as bad a shape as the character he was playing.

The studio lighting and the technicolor doesn't give it a feeling of realism. I should watch Roman Polanski's Macbeth and Orson Welles Othello again.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The People vs. George Lucas

I watched the movie The People vs. George Lucas again, about the love-hate relationship Star Wars fans have with Lucas. It was a hard to sympathize with either side in this struggle and it's hard to tell which side was the aggressor. George Lucas suffered terribly. He directed Star Wars and that was the end of his directing career. He wanted to be a filmmaker. He wanted to be an artist. But all his hopes and dreams were consumed by what he considered to be a children's movie and the aging weirdos who kept buying the merchandise.

The fans' lives were destroyed, too. One woman stood in a room with the walls covered with Star Wars toys telling the camera how she lost her husband and children to this nonsense. Another guy told about how he kept buying special edition boxed sets of the movies, paying a fortune for each one because it was slightly different from the ones he already had.

Lucas has been pretty nice about it. He lets the fans make their fan videos, he provides them with downloads they can use and he even has a contest for them. But they still hate his guts.

It was a depressing documentary. Interesting, entertaining, but depressing.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Jim Nabors, newlywed

I don't know if Jim Nabors was openly gay or if it was an open secret or if it was a not-very-well kept secret. It was something I knew but I don't know how I knew.

Nabors has just married his longtime companion. They live in Hawaii but traveled to Washington state to get married.

When Rock Hudson was revealed to be gay, there were some anti-gay pundits who pointed out the reports in the '70s that Hudson had married Jim Nabors. I don't know what their point was, but they thought this was significant.

Back then, there was a middle aged gay couple that had a big party every year. They sent out invitations and as joke said that it was a wedding between Rock Hudson and Jim Nabors. Hudson, they said, would take Gomer Pyle's last name. His married name would be Rock Pyle.

I don't know if it was coincidence that they picked two secretly gay celebrities for this gag, or if they knew. And I don't know if the gossip columnists who didn't get the joke thought it was true because they knew they were gay or if they would have fallen for anything.

But, anyway, Jim Nabors and his spouse have been together for years so they decided to make it official. And good for them.

I only know a couple of Jim Nabors anecdotes. How he was attacked by a Marine Corps sergeant who mistook him for a new recruit when they were filming the episode of Gomer Pyle, USMC where Gomer goes to basic training. Nabors went to use the restroom when he wasn't supposed to so the sergeant grabbed him and dragged him out.

And one time he was on a boat sailing off the coast of France. They saw an island they wanted to go to, but it turned out to be a nudist colony. So they went. He was walking around naked and at least one naked Frenchman recognized him as Gomer Pyle.

He had worldwide fame. But too bad he was typecast.

Look at some other American actors. Fred Gwynne was cast in some high brow European movies.  Eli Wallach became an Italian action star, Henry Fonda became an Italian movie villain, and there was an actor who played sort of a bland college student on The Paper Chase who went on to become an action and science fiction star in Europe. 

That could have been Jim Nabors over there.