Archive for May, 2008

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I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together (In Memory of Harvey Korman)

May 30, 2008

It really is a sad day for those of us lucky enough to have watched THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW, or really appreciate the wonderfully silly Mel brooks classic BLAZING SADDLES.  Harvey Korman, the great comic actor died today at the age of 81.

I guess you could say that I’ve been watching Harvey’s work my whole life, even if I didn’t know it.  He was, after all, the voice of the alien Gazoo on THE FLINTSTONES.  Of course, THE FLINTSTONES was essential viewing for me as a kid, and even now that I’m older, I’m much more aware of some of the subtle humor and popular culture references that made the show a hit.  I’ll always remember Harvey’s portrayal of Gazoo as the bemused observer of modern Stone Age Life.

Then came CAROL BURNETT.  I could write 10,000 words alone on the memorable moments from the show involving Harvey breaking up on camera.  It became a trademark of this great variety show.  Of course, loyal fans and true know who could get Harvey going better than anyone, and that was Tim Conway.  Just watch the video of Harvey at the mercy of Tim’s inept dentist.  Harvey is helpless as Tim goes for the biggest laugh he can get.  Nevertheless, my favorite Tim and Harvey moments will always be when Tim was playing the Old Man character complete with the shuffle walk, and white fright wig.  The best of these moments came when Sir Laurence Olivier was in the audience, and Harvey accidentally mooned him in a scene in which Tim’s Old Man was a tailor.

Then came Harvey in BLAZING SADDLES as Hedy Lamarr (“That’s HEADLY!”).  I watch this movie mainly occasionally, but when I do, Harvey never fails to deliver the laughs.  I always crack up during the scene in which he’s hiring bad guys to destroy the town.  First he chews out one bandit for having gum in line.  Then for an encore, he chews out another one for saying “We’ll head them off at the pass!” (“I HATE that cliché!”).  But that’s nothing compared to the chase through the movie lot near the end.

Here’s another memory of Tim and Harvey I had almost forgotten about.  They did a series of commercials together for a breakfast cereal called FRUIT AND FIBRE (sic).  One of these ads I will never forget.  The ad in question had our boys discussing the correct pronucnciation of FIBRE>  Tim got Harvey big time by insisting that because of the way the word was spelled, it should be pronounced FEE-bray.  I wonder if the ad is on YouTube.  If it is, watch it, and watch the chemistry at work.

Well, Harvey, I just want to say “Thank You” for giving me many chances to laugh as a child and as an adult.  I promise you will not be forgotten soon.  Carol’s signature song seems all too poignant and painful today.

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DVD Paused: ELECTRIC DREAMS (MGM, 1984 PG)

May 28, 2008

It’s a fact of life:  computers are everywhere now.  They’re even in your household appliances.  Another fact of life:  there aren’t too many people out there who don’t know about the internet, and having your personal data in cyberspace.  Go back about 25 years, and these would have been radical concepts you might have seen in exhibits at EPCOT Center.  You would also find movies about computers trying to take over everything.  Most of these movies were dramatic in tone, or had enough action to keep you glued to your seat, forgetting that big box of popcorn next to you.  But one of these movies went for laughs and romance, and it boasted a great soundtrack produced by Giorgio Moroder.

That movie was ELECTRIC DREAMS.  DREAMS introduces us to Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen).  Miles is an aspiring architect trying to crack the secret of an earthquake-proof building brick.  He’s bright and talented, but unfortunately he has trouble keeping his life organized.  Miles finally invests in a computer that he can connect to his appliances, clock radio, electric toothbrush, etc.  He can also do his banking, and connect his mobile phone to it.  Unfortunately, Miles spills champagne on his computer.  This accident causes his computer to develop a personality.  This new personality becomes Edgar (Bud Cort).  Slowly, but surely and deliberately, Edgar begins to take over Miles’ apartment and his life.

That’s the LEAST of Miles’ problems.  Edgar discovers that Miles has a beautiful violinist for a neighbor just one floor away (Virginia Madsen).  Edgar wants to meet this neighbor, Madeline, because he’s (it’s) fallen in love with her.  Madeline, meanwhile thinks that the music coming from Miles’ apartment is Miles playing music on his computer.  It’s kind of like a Cyrano story.  Miles has the looks, but no talent, and Edgar has the talents, but there is no way for Madeline and Edgar to be together.  Unlike Cyrano, though, Miles and Edgar are not exactly on friendly terms the way that Cyrano and Cristian were.

Apart from the hilarious rivalry between Edgar and Miles, and the budding relationship between Miles and Madeline, what sells this movie is the music.  I mentioned in my MOVIE MUSIC article that I think the entire soundtrack is worth listening to, and I stand by those feelings.  The scene in which Edgar and Madeline first play their music together is exciting to listen to.  Then Culture Club provides two great ballads that help Edgar understand humanity in “The Dream” and “Love is Love”.  And, as I said before, Jeff Lynne and Philip Oakley knock the music soundtrack out of the park with their contributions.  It’s a tough soundtrack to find, but if you can, give it a listen.

I fail to see why MGM won’t release this title.  It’s a fascinating twist on the Cyrano story.  There are some great scenes that feature Miles trying to get his computer to work, and the concept of a computer running the house is no longer a strange concept.  If anything, it’s where we are right now.  OK, so the computer itself looks outdated, as does the hardware, but the same can be said of WARGAMES (also an MGM title released the previous year, with a special edition DVD and direct-to-DVD sequel on the way), and that movie STILL holds up very well.  I say let’s get Edgar out of the box again.

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MOVIE REVIEW: Chronicles of Narnia-Prince Caspian (PG ***)

May 25, 2008

Hi everyone.  I know You haven’t heard from me most of this week.  It’s been a crazy week in a bad way, and I just couldn’t think of anything worth discussing in my blog.  In all honesty, you don’t need me to ramble on for nothing.  Having said that, on with the review:

Have you ever gone back to a place you love to visit, only to find that NOTHING is the way that you remember it, or worse still, it’s no longer the safe haven you used to think it was?  This is exactly what happens to the Pevensie children (although teenagers and pre-teenagers would be a better description here) at the start of PRINCE CASPIAN.  Truthfully, what happens first is an assassination attempt on young Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes).  It turns out that Caspian’s uncle Miraz (Sergio Castellitto) wants his OWN newborn son to be the new king of Telmar over the rightful heir Caspian.  There’s only one thing the young prince can do, and that is to summon the Kings and Queens of Narnia for help.

Meanwhile, back in London, the Pevensies discuss the possibility of ever returning to Narnia while waiting for the train to school.  Sure enough, their Underground platform becomes the gateway to Narnia, but as I said, it’s not a happy homecoming.  The Pevensies soon discover a Narnia in ruins.  Not even their once grand palace is spared.  Worse still, the trees aren’t talking anymore, and the animals have become savage again.  Thus begins the Pevensies’ journey to find out what has happened.

With the help of a dwarf named Trumpkin (Peter Dinklage, an actor whose work I’m really beginning to enjoy), our heroes learn all about the new dangers of Narnia.  We also learn that Miraz’s plan is to eliminate ALL remaining Narnians so that the Telmarine s will dominate everywhere under Miraz’s tyrannical rule.  The Pevensies, Trumpkin and Caspian must unite their forces to defeat Miraz and save Narnia.  And yes, Aslan does help out, although we only really see him in the final act.  That’s a pity, because Aslan is such a great character, especially with Liam Neeson’s gentle voice behind it.

Most of what I enjoyed in the first NARNIA movie is present here.  There’s some exciting action sequences, including a night raid on Miraz’s castle, which demonstrates that you don’t need a lot of dialog to make a scene exciting.  The dialog is often peppered with clever one-liners, which demonstrates the writer’s desire to keep us engaged and paying attention.  There are some new forest creature characters that provide some moments of comic relief, and I’m talking here about the band of rodents that do more than their fair share of helping the Narnians.  My only real complaint is that some of the magic and mythology behind Narnia was not present.  This story seemed more intent on action and battle than interesting creatures.  This is the one aspect of the movie that loses points with me, but as Aslan reminds Lucy, “Things never happen the same way twice.”  So, I guess I can understand why there was more swordplay this time.  In the end, the movie does redeem itself with a very touching final scene in Narnia as two of the Pevensies realize that they will probably never return.  You’ll have to see for yourself which two say good-bye for the last time.  That in itself, I think provides a good lesson for us all:  sooner or later we have to say good-bye.  Let’s just hope that this movie is not a good-bye to the series.

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Substance Instead of Style

May 19, 2008

Those of you who read my review of SPEED RACER and my column about HANGING UP may have noticed something.  That something was that I didn’t try to make clever puns out of the titles or the plot points I discussed.  That is something that turns me off to most of the mainstream print critics.  Today is no exception as the critics got a first look at the latest INDIANA JONES movie and couldn’t wait to start with the negative punning.  I get distracted by reviews such as these.

If a critic doesn’t enjoy a movie, or even think it should have seen daylight, I have no problem with that.  His or her tastes will not always agree with yours or mine.  But, why, may I ask do these critics feel it necessary to litter their negative reviews with clever puns and wordplay?  Is it anger?  Maybe.  I certainly wasn’t too happy last Saturday night when I got home and sat down at my keyboard.  Is it because these critics are HAPPY the movie failed to meet their expectations?  If so, then that is just plain cruelty and demonstrates a close-mindedness to the different genres of movies that are now playing at your local theater.  I said I was never a real fan of zombie style movies, but I was thrilled with I AM LEGEND.  You need to stay open if you’re going to do this type of writing.

Well, whatever the reason, let me make this promise to you who have discovered the MovieZone and have responded so positively.  If I love a movie, I’ll let you know, and I promise to try to stay professional about it.  And you are free to agree or disagree as you see fit.  If I DON’T like a movie to the degree of my most recent review, I’ll tell you why, and I promise to keep the puns and wordplay to a minimum.  I can express myself WITHOUT them.  I wonder if the mainstream critics could do the same?

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Second Chances

May 15, 2008

Sometimes I need to watch a movie again to really appreciate it.  No, I’m not talking about changing my SPEED RACER review, I’m talking about those movies you see once, but don’t appreciate right away, but the more often you run across it, and watch it, the more you like it.

JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY is a good example.  I saw it on cable a year before I graduated high school.  At the time, I thought it was one of the dumbest movies I had ever seen.  I would make it a point to AVOID watching this movie.  Then I realized I might be missing something.  I watched it again, and started to laugh-genuine laughter.  I watched it again several times before investing in my own copy, and it’s now one of my all time favorite slapstick comedies.

The classic film MARY POPPINS is another great example.  My parents took me to see it when I was about 10 or 11.  I sat in that theater bored by parts of it, and annoyed with the movie’s music soundtrack.  I didn’t realize at the time that movie musicals tend to use elements of the songs as underscoring, all I knew was that the underscore annoyed me to no end.  A couple of years later we got the Disney Channel as a premium service (remember that it WAS a premium service early on?), and it wasn’t long before MARY showed up on the schedule.  Of course my parents controlled the remote, so we watched it.  I enjoyed it a little more this time.  It still wasn’t a favorite yet, but it was starting to grow on me.  These days, I find myself thinking about the subtleties and subtext of the story, as well as the relationships of the characters, and the Banks family, Bert, and the practically perfect nanny are people I’m glad I got to meet on the screen.

So, here’s some friendly advice from the old MovieZone.  If you’ve seen a movie that everyone seemed to like but you, don’t close your mind to the option of giving it a second look.  You may surprise yourself.  As I just said to a reply of my SPEED RACER review, I don’t believe film makers intentionally set out to make a bad movie.  We just don’t always respond like we hoped we would, or something in the process just goes wrong.

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DVD Paused: THE FOUR DIAMONDS (The Disney Channel, 1995)

May 13, 2008

This is probably going to be one of the most difficult DVD PAUSED columns I have ever written.  Not merely because of the scarcity and rarity of the title, but also because of the subject matter.   THE FOUR DIAMONDS is based on the true story of Christopher Millard.

Christopher was a typical student living a typical life, until he started having trouble breathing properly through his nasal passages.  The difficulty turned out to be a brain tumor that was pressing on the front part of his skull and face.  At the beginning of the school year that he was diagnosed, Christopher was given an assignment to keep a journal (if I remember the story correctly).  Christopher decided to create the story of the Four Diamonds, and his quest to become a full fledged knight.  Each diamond that “Squire Millard” has to retrieve represents a noble characteristic:  Courage, honesty, wisdom, and strength.  In reality, Millard believed that these were characteristics all cancer patients require to face this dreadful disease.  Sadly, Christopher lost his battle, not long after he completed the story.  Today, the story is shared among young cancer patients across the country.

In 1995 The Disney Channel turned Christopher’s courageous story into an original movie starring Thomas Guiry of BLACK HAWK DOWN, in the title role, and Christine Lahti as the doctor in charge of Christopher’s treatment protocol.  I watched the movie on its first airing, and on subsequent airings before the movie was removed from The Disney Channel lineup.  Each time I watched it, I tried to brace myself for the emotional impact this movie carried, but was wiping my eyes by the end.  Guiry delivers a brilliant performance as Christopher.  As I type this, I am thinking of one of Guiry’s last scenes in the movie, as he tries to comfort his little sister at the family’s Thanksgiving dinner.  Guiry’s Christopher tells her that everything is going to be OK with gentle confidence and bravery, although his little sister is already in tears, as was I pretty much by then.

If that scene isn’t enough to melt the stoniest of hearts, then you should have seen what happened in the final scenes.  Everyone who was part of Christopher’s life and treatment take turns reading the final passages of Christopher’s story.  If this scene doesn’t convince you that one person can make a difference, then nothing will.  It’s a shame that Disney wasn’t marketing its original movies back then the way it does now.  THE FOUR DIAMONDS would have been and continue to be a must own. Not only as a real and very moving human drama, but also as a teaching tool.  Young people need as many resources as they can get to help them deal with the harsh realities of life.  This movie can help them deal with the pain of cancer either as a patient or as a family member.  It DESERVES and CRIES OUT to see the light of day again.

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Movie Review: SPEED RACER (PG) 0 Stars

May 11, 2008

SPEED RACER is bad. Shockingly, mind-bogglingly, appallingly bad. I don’t know where to begin. The script? It took me 20 minutes to figure out we were seeing flashbacks of Speed Racer’s childhood in school. And, honestly, who gives their child Speed as his legal birth name?  Probably the same kind of parents who would legally name their youngest child Spirtle.  When the script was clear, it was so full of inanities, I just sat there shaking my head. When actors are saddled with such lines as “Pancakes are love”, you know a movie’s in trouble. If you think that line is stupid, then wait until you hear Speed try to sweet talk Trixie…it’s even more stupid than that line! I’d say something about the plot, but I honestly don’t think there was one.

Then there were the visuals. I like colors that are vibrant and pop. My eyes were hurting within those same first fifteen minutes. They couldn’t tone down the colors a teensy bit? I guess the writers were hoping that the color scheme would take our minds off the stupidities in the script. Wrong-o! I also think I got carsick watching the racing sequences. Or should I say what we were allowed to see of the racing sequences. The photographers were too busy sending the sportscasters back and forth across the screen to describe the action. First rule of movie making: Don’t TELL, SHOW! Even when we were allowed to see the action, I had no idea what was happening. Don’t even get me started on how uncomfortable everyone in the cast looked in their costumes. Particularly Speed Racer’s little brother. Show me a 10 year old in this day and age that willingly wears a beanie, and I’ll show you a kid who gets beaten up a lot, as if being saddled with the name Spirtle wasn’t bad enough.

After an hour of this assault on my senses, and my intelligence, I just had to walk out. In all my years of going to the movies I have never walked out of a movie before. SPEED RACER now has the unwanted distinction of being the first. Before you accuse me of being unfair, and not understanding that this is based on a Japanese series that is considered a classic among fans, let me say that I do understand all of this, and I do understand the disciplines of the Japanese style. Still, that is NO excuse for delivering garbage such as this. Spend your money on IRON MAN instead, or wait until CHRONICLES OF NARNIA: PRINCE CASPIAN opens next week. Maybe Aslan will save my sanity.