Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Immortality through Christmas Specials

While watching some classic Christmas specials last night I was struck by how they have altered our perception of several actors. Take Darren McGavin. IMDB has 180 entries for his work. This includes a couple of TV series that he starred in and at least two cult movies from the 1970s (Tribes about a hippy drafted into the Marines and Night Stalker about a vampire in Las Vegas). However, to most people he was the unnamed "old man" in Christmas Story.

Jimmy Stewart was one of the most celebrated actors of his generation with one Oscar and four other nominations (plus one for lifetime achievment) but It's A Wonderful Life is the only movie he made that is regularly played.

For several generations, Boris Karloff was the most famous horror movie actor ever. A victim of type casting, he seldom played anything but a villain and usually was cast as a mad scientist. However, the last few generations mainly know him as the voice of the Grinch. He also won a Grammy for narrating this story.

There are worse ways to be remembered. These are classics for a reason and it is likely that these would not have reached classic status without these actors.

I suspect that Jimmy Stewart would prefer to be remembered for some of his meatier roles. McGavin spent most of his career playing an "everyman" so he would probably be ok with being remembered for Christmas Story. Karloff would probably be gratified to be remembered for doing a children's story. He was a gentle, cultured man, very unlike the characters he usually played.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Heroes Book 3

Looking back on Book 3 of Heroes, I'm not impressed. The season started out with an interesting premise - exploring the dividing line between heroes and villains. Unfortunately, the execution was lacking. Most of the characters crossed the dividing line multiple times - so often that I became numb to it.

A major subplot was Sylar's attempt to reform. While this had its moments, it conflicted with earlier depictions of Sylar. He is at his best when he accepts what he is. He finally got back to this in the last couple of episodes.

I think that the point of the season was to save the world. An image of the Earth splitting apart was constantly shown. The trouble is that this happened in the future but we have seen so many alternate futures that it is hard to take one seriously. They need to drop this quest to stop a future menace. It was good in the first season and tiresome in the second and third seasons.

Too many elements were retreads from the first season. Hiro lost most of his memory and recreated his character development from the first few weeks of the first season. They even brought back the comic book and Hiro's cheer, "I did it!".

The eclipse was a stunt that added little or nothing. It was also the longest and widest total eclipse in history.

Aurthur didn't add much. He spent most of the season lurking instead of actually doing something. When you are that powerful you should take a more active hand.

They wrapped things up too quickly. Doesn't anyone on the show understand pacing? Last sason I could understand the rush to wrap up a slow season in a couple of episodes but there is no writers strike going on now. Why limp along and then cram too much in at the end.

That's the second time they had a character killed when a fiery bulding collapses.

Book 4 looks promising. They at least have the heroes in a different situation. It looks like they come out of the shadows.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What happened to the holiday movies?

This is something like the fourth weekend of the holiday movie season and I'm still waiting for something I want to see to come out. Past years have brought such releases as the three Lord of the Rings, the first Harry Potter movies, Titanic, and several Trek movies. We were supposed to get both Harry Potter and Trek but they were moved to the summer in the hope of making more money.

In the meantime we have things that I just don't want to see. I burned out on James Bond after the first Roger Moore release. I am not in the target audience for Twilight. Most of the other releases are Oscar-bait - critically acclaimed but not of interest to the average audience-member.

This week we get a remake of The Day the earth Stood Still. The ads make it look like a boring message movie. The reviews confirm this.

What happened to Hollywood?

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Boston Legal

Boston Legal is about to end. Unlike most cancellations, this one is voluntary.

The show has had a strange run. Most of the cast is recycled from other shows. At one point two cast members were from different incarnations of Star Trek with a third (Candice Bergen) having been in a different Gene Roddenberry show. Younger cast members came and went without a ripple, replaced by more colorful actors.

Originally the premise of the show was that nothing is illegal. Whatever you did or wanted, they would plead it in court, with passion. James Spader's character was an example of the world's shadiest lawyer. He didn't win cases. He intimidated people. In one case he hired someone to break into a plaintiff's house and tie him up. Spader then informed that person that this would happen weekly.

A few years ago things changed. Spades's character started pleading cases. He also started pontificating. The show started including a weekly anti-Bush rant. It was also horribly unbalanced. Characters who were supposed to disagree usually said something like, "Yes, everything you say is true but..."

Spader's character also engaged in enough hijinks to get an entire law firm disbarred. He had affairs with the presiding judge. He bet on his own cases.

The real fun in the show was watching Shatner's character, Denny Crane. He shot people. In one episode he was on trial for shooting his doctor. The doctor pulled out his own gun and threatened the court whereupon Crane shot him again. It seems that they both knew how to bypass the metal detector.

The show took a different turn this season. In one case a teenager wanted to have an abortion. Candice Bergen's character was all for this until she realized that it was for the wrong reason. The girl who was of Chinese ancestry, wanted an abortion because the child was a girl. Bergen's character objected to the procedure, earning a lecture from the judge. In a surprising bit of nuance, Spader's character admitted that he was in favor of abortion because he was looking for justification for his own actions. He had impregnated two women and paid for their abortions and he worried about the morality of it.

The show wraps up next week with a two-hour finale. They will plead before the Supreme Court that someone who might benefit from a drug should be allowed to bypass FDA approval. This is surprising from them since this has been a conservative/libertarian position for years.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Unintentional Irony

New this year - a plastic reproduction of the Christmas tree from A Charlie Brown Christmas. You can also get an entire kit with both book and tree. The tree with the kit is much smaller.

There is a cruel irony about this. The Peanuts special was all about the over-commercialization of Christmas. In an effort to get the Christmas spirit, Charlie Brown goes to buy a Christmas tree to go with a play about the nativity. He and Linus find a lot full of search lights and artificial trees. Charlie Brown finds the last natural tree - a spindly branch nailed to crossed boards that sheds needles when touched. The other kids are outraged that he didn't get a proper plastic tree but, after a Bible quote from Linus, they relent, decorate the tree, and wish Charlie Brown a Merry Christmas. The special is a gentle rebuke to the commercialization of Christmas already underway in the 1960s.

Over the years there has been a lot of Peanuts merchandise. Charles Shultz, the creator of Peanuts, became quite wealthy from this and used some of his money for public works. Given this, I normally don't have any problems with Peanuts merchandise.

This one is a bit different since it is exactly what the special was complaining about - plastic trees and over commercialization.