Saturday, November 30, 2013

sleep disorders


Friday, November 29, 2013

favorite song friday: fun boy three

It's hard for me to pick just one song to like from this band, which was part of the evolution of musician Terry Hall, from his original band The Specials, to Fun Boy Three, The Colourfield, and beyond.

Fun Boy Three, L-R: (Neville Staple, Terry Hall, and Lynval Golding)

I had both of the band's albums, Fun Boy Three and Waiting, on cassette tapes, and played them until they wore out. I also bought (and loved) The Colourfield's Virgins and Philistines, which included a glorious cover of The Roche's "Hammond Song." I have a few FB3 songs on my iPod today, and am happy to say that the kid seems to like them too. Her favorite is "It Ain't What You Do," which they did with Bananarama. Ahhh, the '80s ...

I always loved this song, too, the topical "The More I See (The Less I Believe)." It includes a brief cameo by The Talking Heads' David Byrne, who produced their second album Waiting:

"Hammond Song," from Virgins and Philistines:

Thursday, November 28, 2013

happy thanksgiving

I'm thankful for my family and friends. I wish I got to see them all more often.

I'm hopeful for the future. I know there are rough seas ahead, but I hope to weather them as well as can be expected.

I'm most thankful for my beautiful little girl. She makes every day better.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

the secret world of santa claus

Just in time for the Christmas season, Cinedigm is releasing two DVD sets of the international animated television series, The Secret World of Santa ClausThe Secret World of Santa Claus: Elves in Toyland and The Secret World of Santa Claus: A Present for Santa. Each two-disc set features Santa Claus and his helpful elves as they prepare for their annual marathon toy delivery and sleigh ride. The DVDs are designed as a countdown to Christmas, with the first set covering December 1-13 and the second set December 14-25.

Santa, the elves and the reindeer

The Secret World of Santa Claus, originally broadcast in 1997, is French in origin. It continues to be aired in France and Canada each holiday season, and now American children and their families can join in the fun. Most of the episodes are centered around Santa's North Pole workshop, where he and his trusty elves make and prepare the toys for all of the children of the world. The elves and other North Pole residents are:

Jordi - He is the inventor and scientist of the three elves. He can also turn into any animal, and the group's many adventures present this opportunity quite often.

Thoren - She can fly and even become invisible. She can also speak any language, which frequently comes in handy.

Guilfi - He is an apprentice elf and is not sure of his magical power yet, but he is very mechanically-minded.

Balbo - He is a polar bear who guards Santa's workshop.

Gruzzlebeard - A troll, he is Santa's neighbor and the bad guy of the series. When he isn't playing his electric guitar (badly), he is trying to mess with Santa and prevent Christmas from coming.

Dudley - Also a troll, he is Gruzzlebeard's lackey, but he sometimes switches sides to help Santa.

Rudolph, Donner, and Blitzen - Santa's reindeer who can talk and fly.

Jordi, Thoren, and Guilfi

In The Secret World of Santa Claus: Elves in Toyland, besides having to deal with Gruzzlebeard's frequent wacky schemes, Santa and his elves frequently visit young children around the world to help them if they are in trouble, or to determine what gift they should receive for Christmas. Some of the places Santa and the elves travel to deliver gifts that will make children happy include an archaeological site, and even outer space - Santa's sleigh can really go anywhere. Santa even tells a story of a Christmas from long ago with some characters that will be familiar to viewers - Arthur, the Lady of the Lake, and Merlin!

Disc 1 (episodes 1-7): "The Magic Pearl," "The 12 Labours Of Santa Claus," "Little Geniuses," "Rudolph Is Missing," "The Star Child," "Leon’s Christmas," "A Present For Two"

Disc 2 (episodes 8-13): "Super Rabbit," "Lucky Charm," "The Flying Carpet," "Santa Claus’ Memoirs," "Magic Wand," "The Boy Who Wished To Be Little Again"


In The Secret World of Santa Claus: A Present for Santa, we get a little more background information about Santa's world, including some troll history, Santa's friends, and how Santa manages to deliver all of those presents in one night - with a little bit of magic and quite a bit of time travel. But Jordi's latest invention may change Christmas forever when he inadvertently sends Santa and the gang into the future ... But no worries, Santa manages to make it back to the North Pole to contend once again with Gruzzlebeard, who has found a way to make toys come to life - including dinosaurs.

Disc 1 (episodes 1-7): "A Present For Santa," "The Christmas Conference," "The Story Of Trolls," "Christmas For Dudley," "The Return Of Santa Claus," "The Tall Little Girl," "The Teddy Bear"

Disc 2 (episodes 8-14): "Stolen Christmas," "Havoc In Toyland," "Message In A Bottle," "Balthazar Can’t Make Up His Mind," "The Longest Night," "Santa Claus’ Secrets"

Both disc sets have an approximate total running time of 321 minutes. The characters and animation are bright and colorful and the episodes are designed to be enjoyed again and again during the Christmas season. The Secret World of Santa Claus is a nice addition to animated holiday fare.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

the girl

Samantha Geimer, who in 1977 was the 13 year-old who was "the girl" in the infamous Roman Polanski sexual abuse case, has finally chosen to tell the whole, sordid story in her own words in The Girl: A Life in the Shadow of Roman Polanski. The book's title is more apt than might first be suspected. Geimer not only endured the events of that evening so many years ago, but has had her life inextricably, unfavorably linked with the famous director ever since.

In The Girl Geimer takes a mostly unblinking look at her life and Polanski's, and details, step-by-step, the events that led up to her being plied with champagne and part of a Quaalude, and eventually subject to multiple sex acts with Polanski against her will.

Samantha Geimer, at 13, photographed by Roman Polanski

Geimer's mom, an aspiring actress, moved her two young daughters to Los Angeles with her latest boyfriend, who got a job selling advertising for Marijuana Monthly magazine. Welcome to 1970s L.A. Mom didn't just want to secure acting jobs for herself, but encouraged both of her daughters to try out for parts too. One evening she met the director Roman Polanski at a party. He told her he was interested in photographing American girls for a Paris Vogue magazine spread. Excited, she invited him to meet Samantha. He came to their house and then took her on a drive to a nearby park, where they "rehearsed": he photographed her, first clothed, and then, with a little encouragement, topless.

Geimer is able to channel her teenage self, in all its insecurities, as well as attitude. She articulates very well her resistance and fear mixed with the ambition and misplaced starstruck hopes that this "little thing" of taking her top off might lead to a big career. She of course didn't tell her mother the little detail about taking off her shirt when she got back home. Geimer wants the reader to understand that at no time did she think there was anything sexual or untoward about the shoot with Polanski. And most importantly, that her mother had no idea, and would never have "pimped out" her daughter, an accusation that was hurled many times after the rape.
"You know, there's something about fame. There just is. I mean, think about the kids who had sleepovers at Michael Jackson's house and all the accusations that followed. Think about their parents. Were they bad or stupid people? No. They just wanted to believe that being famous made you good."
Polanski came back a second time, a few weeks later, and suggested that he was ready now to do the shoot for real. Again her mother didn't accompany them, as Polanski told her that it might make her daughter nervous, less natural. He took Geimer first to the home of actress Jacqueline Bisset, where she was offered some wine (she declined). They took a few photos and then he took her to another friend's house – the actor Jack Nicholson, who was away from home at the time. Polanski started plying her with champagne, which now she didn't refuse. He also gave her part of a Quaalude and photographed her in the kitchen.
"He asked me if I knew what it [the Quaalude] was. I didn't want to seem like a stupid kid, so I said, 'Sure.'"
Polanski then suggested she take off her clothes and get in the jacuzzi for more photographs, where he joined her. He soon moved her to the bedroom, where he proceeded to have sex with her. Geimer transmits her failing resistance as the drugs and alcohol and general atmosphere took effect. She details the sex acts, and later, the pounding on the bedroom door which helped end things – Nicholson's girlfriend, Angelica Huston, came home early. It's a sordid, upsetting read.

At Jack Nicolson's house
And then things really got ugly. That same evening, after he took her home, Polanski showed her mother photos from the first shoot, which included some of the topless photos. Shocked, she asked him to leave. Geimer's sister quickly discovered the truth and helped her mother put two and two together. The police were called and the nightmare really began. Geimer's life became a cycle of making depositions and trying to stay out of the picture as Polanski was arrested and Hollywood and the public began to take sides. Her family and lawyer tried to keep her identity secret for as long as they could. But as the story was reported (and reported and reported ad nauseum) it seemed that as many thought "the girl" was a slut or an opportunist as an innocent child. Geimer knew she had been used and abused by Polanski, but she was also angry at her mother for bringing the whole embarrassing episode into the public eye.

Geimer never apologizes for Polanski, but over the years she has had a lot of time to consider his behavior. She proclaims she is no fan of his films – Chinatown bored her – but she writes feelingly about his youth, and persecution as a Polish Jew during WWII, and his escape from the Kraków Ghetto. How he watched his parents being taken away to concentration camps. His mother was killed in Auschwitz. His father survived Mauthausen, but they were never as close after he finally came home. He attended film school and eventually began to have success as a director. He life seemed to have finally come together when he met and married the actress Sharon Tate, who he met on the set of his film The Fearless Vampire Killers. But a year after they were married, she was brutally murdered by The Manson Family. She was eight months pregnant at the time.

Throughout the book she tries to frame the events of her life, and especially that evening, in the context of the times. She is very aware that Hollywood, especially in those days, had a taste for nymphets – with Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby (1978), Jodie Foster in Taxi Driver (1976) and Foxes (1980), and Tatum O'Neal in Little Darlings (1980).
"In the 1970s ... There was something considered generally positive about erotic experience then, even in the absence of anything beyond the sex itself. The idea was that emotional growth came about through an expanded sexuality – for both the person in power and the relatively powerless. This is important to consider, because this is the cultural paradigm Roman Polanski was sopping up in 1977. As wrong as he was to do what he did, I know beyond a doubt that he didn't look at me as one of his victims. Not everyone will understand this, but I never thought he wanted to hurt me; he wanted me to enjoy it. He was arrogant and horny. But I feel certain he was not looking to take pleasure in my pain."
Geimer and her family accepted a plea bargain from Polanski's lawyers to keep her name out of the public record, and most importantly, the papers. But the judge on the case, Judge Laurence J. Rittenband, seemed more interested in the reflected limelight than justice for either party, and he reneged on his original decision of probation for Polanski (after he had already served 42 days in jail) to additional potential incarceration, of up to 50 years. Not surprisingly, Polanski booked the first flight out, and sought refuge in Europe, staying in countries like France, where he could not be extradited to the U.S. And he has been exiled ever since.

But Geimer's life didn't settle down once Polanski was out of the picture. Every time his name might come up in the news – whether for a new film being released, or an attempt to reopen the case, she and her family would be hounded by the press. She writes unflinchingly of her teen pregnancy, drug use, and drifting aimlessly for a number of years through life, from one crisis to the next. She is not one for regrets, but admits that undeniably her life would have been different if she hadn't taken that ride in the car with Polanski to Nicholson's house.

The Girl is a fast and compelling read, but it doesn't provide any easy answers. The case, even after all these years, is far from closed. Geimer points out that Polanski the artist, the director of such classic films as Rosemary's Baby, Chinatown, and The Pianist, should be viewed separately from the horny man with a taste for young girls. Many people are able and willing to do that, but there are just as many who aren't. Geimer, who was the victim of a rape, of sex against her will, would also hope that she would not be viewed forever as a victim. She doesn't consider herself one. She comes across beleaguered at times, but always strong.

Samantha Geimer is married, with three sons, and splits her life between Hawaii and Nevada. For better or worse, Geimer's and Polanski's lives, from that evening in March 1977 forward, were forever linked. She acknowledges that Polanski has been just as much a prisoner, as pursued relentlessly by the media and misused by the U.S. criminal justice system, as she has. Strangers but not strangers, they seem to have settled their differences and found some sort of peace with one another. She may not ever be able to completely leave that night with Polanski behind her, but she has finally had the chance to tell her story, unfiltered.

Monday, November 25, 2013

award shows ... a new era

I watched The American Music Awards with the kid last night. It was interesting. This is far from the first awards show she has watched with me, but I have to say, that the culture balance seems to have shifted when I wasn't looking. I seemed to be watching the show with her. Just a subtle difference, yes, but the kid is so savvy about current music she puts her pop culture maven momma to shame.

One Direction: These guys are the a nine year old's dream

Katy Perry: Who thought this was a good idea?

To start, she was excited that the host was Pitbull. And of course thrilled to bits that her fave band One Direction were on hand and performed (and won best Pop/Rock album & Pop/Rock Band/Duo/Group). The show cleverly scheduled One Direction's and bubble-gum princess Katy Perry's performances early — maybe then the kids could go to bed? Not in this house. The kid was on hand for Pitbull and Ke$ha performing "Timber" and one of mommy's current faves, Justin Timberlake, performing the bluesy "Drink You Away".

The show had a weird opening number by Katy Perry, dressed up in geisha garb. Sure to be excoriated on the internet tomorrow as yet another inappropriate and thoughtless cultural appropriation, but honestly it was just ... stupid. Should people feel insulted? Is it worth it to give it that much attention? The song, "Unconditionally," is truly unlistenable. I mean, cringe-worthy, whether performed live or on the radio. I continue to be baffled by Perry, her yodeling vocals which pass for singing, but most especially her appeal to my kid's demographic.

So O.K., this is my kid's show, not mine. I surrender. It's now up to me to keep up, I guess. The AMAs are at least not as stodgy as the Grammys. And the kid drifted off somewhere after JLo and before Lady gaga, leaving me to decide if I'd watch the rest, and see if Miley tried to shock/schlock. She performed a pretty straight version of "Cannonball." With a cute giant singing kitty projected behind her. And that's all, folks.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

it's a matter of taste

People Magazine has once again released its "Sexiest Man Alive" issue, and the internets have been up in arms about its latest choice, singer Adam Levine from Maroon 5. The title itself is pretty ridiculous, but also designed for such debates. No matter what your opinion of the overexposed-in-the-media Levine, who seems to guest sing on almost everyone else's record when he isn't working on his own songs or is appearing as a judge on the uber-successful singing contest show The Voice, you undoubtedly should have your own candidates that you feel are more worthy. As do I. Some of my current favorite fellas include:

Benedict Cumberbatch

Bruno Mars

Tom Hiddleston

Steve Buscemi

The guys from Grimm

Jonathan Rhys Meyers

Lenny Kravitz

Peter Dinklage

Tom Mison

Saturday, November 23, 2013

saving santa

Just in time for the holidays, Anchor Bay Entertainment has released the Blu-ray + DVD combo pack of Saving Santa, a fun British-made animated tale featuring Martin Freeman (The Hobbit, Sherlock) as a little elf with a big dream — he'd like to work for the big man himself, Santa Claus (Tim Conway), as one of his inventors. But as is typical for the elf, one of Bernard's slightly eccentric inventions goes very, very wrong, and he is suddenly put in the position of having to rescue Santa, and Christmas, too. Time travel and an evil villain named Neville Baddington (voiced by the always wonderful Tim Curry), pose constant challenges for the determined elf to set things right.

Bernard has a great friend in Blitzen

Some well-known actors round out the voice cast: Joan Collins (Dynasty) plays Neville's even more evil momma, Vera Baddington. Pam Ferris (Call the Midwife, Luther) plays Mrs. Claus, Ashley Tisdale (High School Musical, The Suite Life of Zack and Cody) plays Shiny, and Noel Clarke (Doctor Who, Star Trek Into Darkness) plays Snowy.

Saving Santa is directed by Leon Joosen, who was one of the animators on The Little Mermaid and The Swan Princess and Aaron Seelman, who worked as an editor on Barbie: A Perfect Christmas. The Blu-ray also features some extras the whole family will enjoy, including a featurette entitled “Why Saving Santa?”, a music video, “Some Kind of Miracle,” sung by Ashley Tisdale, and some “behind-the scenes” content featuring the actors during voice recording sessions. The film has a running time of 84 minutes, with captions and subtitles available.

Neville Baddington plots and schemes to please his momma

Saving Santa looks great, especially on a widescreen, high-definition television. The CGI animation by Prana Studios (Hoodwinked!, Tinker Bell, Planes) is colorful and sharp. While the film has a Groundhog Day approach to time travel, young children should find the déjà vu-ing more amusing than confusing. Some musical numbers (Bilbo sings!) peppered throughout keep things moving along nicely. While the film's holiday message is predictable, the engaging cast, especially Freeman, make this quirky tale a fun, if slight addition to this year's crop of holiday-themed films.

Originally published on Blogcritics as Blu-ray Review: ‘Saving Santa’

Friday, November 22, 2013

favorite song friday: counting stars

Take that money
Watch it burn
Sink in the river
The lessons are learnt

This song has been out for a while, but every time I hear it I can't help but get caught up in some of the lyrics' poetry and how the song isn't afraid to shift tone a few times. It's got a lot of forward momentum. Watching the video is a hoot, too. It's a little on the slow-tech side, which I like. Enigmatic, but the band just doing their thing. "Counting Stars" is just a good song.

Old, but I'm not that old
Young, but I'm not that bold
I don't think the world is sold
I'm just doing what we're told
I feel something so right
Doing the wrong thing
I feel something so wrong
Doing the right thing
I could lie, could lie, could lie
Everything that kills me makes me feel alive


Lately, I've been, I've been losing sleep
Dreaming about the things that we could be
But baby, I've been, I've been praying hard,
Said no more counting dollars
We'll be counting stars

OneRepublic "Counting Stars," written by Ryan Tedder

Thursday, November 21, 2013

happy birthday, pop

My dad may have been the quiet, studious one in the family, but when it came time to take a group photo, he was usually the biggest goofball. Can you spot him?


Here he's just a baby, and in danger of sliding off the settee.
Baby Joseph & John Massimo Periale, c. 1925

Copping a studly pose on the beach.
Joseph & James at the beach, c. 1935

As he got older he was usually behind the camera, but at my uncle's house he got corralled into a group photo on the front stoop

One of my favorite photos of him, taken by my mom, while they honeymooned in Nassau.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

angelina's good works

"Above all, she was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn't live a life of use to others. And I didn't know what that meant for a long time. [...] It was only when I began to travel and look and live beyond my home that I understand my responsibility to others."
That quote is from Angelina Jolie, quoting her mother, Marcheline Bertrand, in a brief but moving speech she gave last Saturday night when she accepted the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2013 Governors Awards. Jolie was full of grace and thanks as she paid tribute to her late mother.

Jolie has been involved in many humanitarian projects for many years, but it was especially touching to see her son Maddox in the audience in a tux, able to be as proud of his mom as she knew her mom would have been of her efforts.

I'm a long time Angelina fan, but was very impressed by her comparison of her life and that of a woman capable of "making a better speech" who spends her life in a refugee camp. To get a sense of how she tries to deal with the disconnect between her privileged Hollywood lifestyle and upbringing and how she is trying hard to give back, I recommend checking out her journals, of some of her travels to refugee camps in the Sudan, Jordan, Kosovo and many other places, in her role as a Goodwill ambassador for the UN.

Keep up the good work, Angelina.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

loki steals the show — and thor's thunder

We got to see Thor: The Dark World this past weekend. I guess I've been somewhat invested in these Marvel comic book adaptation movies, as I've seen most of them — Captain America, Iron Man 3, The Avengers, the first Thor. Of all of them, I found Thor the most entertaining. Apart from the complete movie star quality of star Chris Hemsworth, the film had humor.

Director Kenneth Branagh is no stranger to going over-the-top with Shakespearean theatrics in even his non-Bard films, but he recognized that Thor was at its heart, larger-than-life and extremely theatrical. How could it not be. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is not just a super-hero, he is a Norse god, and his cohorts make up the Norse pantheon, from his father, the All-father Odin (Anthony Hopkins) and mother Frigga (Rene Russo) to his best buddy Heimdall (Idris Elba), the guardian of their home, Asgard. And then there's Loki, the trickster, Thor's bad-boy half-brother. Branagh wisely cast Royal Academy of Dramatic Art grad Tom Hiddleston in the role, and he has not only nailed Loki's mad whims, but dug into his daddy issues while bringing both a sense of menace and vulnerability to his appearances in both Thor films and The Avengers. Will someone get this actor and this character his own movie already?

Loki and Thor team up — or do they?

Star-crossed lovers? Awkward.
Thor, look around, yes, over there ...

Hiddleston/Loki is so much fun and so magnetic every moment on screen that one almost forgets about the rest of the film. Who really cares about the Big Bad, Malekith, played by the excellent Christopher Eccleston, who is hidden under some hideous make-up and inexplicably speaks in subtitled Dark Elf language for the first part of the film. Malekith learns English pretty quickly and that annoyance is then dropped and forgotten.

I can't care much about or for Natalie Portman, either, who plays Thor's love interest Jane, who is supposed to be a brilliant scientist, but spends most of the film moping over her hunky maybe-boyfriend. She shares more chemistry in two very brief scenes with potential suitor (played by the again-excellent) Chris O'Dowd. Odin and many others kept reminding Thor that a human's lifespan is just a blip compared to theirs, and I couldn't help but feel secretly happy for Thor that once his fling with Jane has run its short course he could spend more quality time with the fierce and lovely Sif (Jaime Alexander) with whom he shared tons more chemistry in just a few brief scenes.

Kat Dennings and Stellan Skarsgård manage to make the most of their goofy side-kick roles — they seem to inhabit the earth and world of Thor much more convincingly than Portman, who seems strangely out of touch and out-of-synch with everyone else. There are many other good actors in blink-or-miss roles: Zachary Levi, Ray Stevenson, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Alice Krige.

Yes, that's Christopher Eccleston in there somewhere as Malekith
I do love the look of Malekith's crew, The Dark Elves (costumes by Wendy Partridge)

Director Alan Taylor (Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire) utilizes all of the special effects at his disposal and occasionally some of these visuals are a hit, especially a time/space anomaly that is just X Files weird enough near the front of the film, and then gets brought back for comic effect towards the end. But the high points of Thor: The Dark World rest most definitely not with the Lord of the Rings meets Star Wars-like battle sequences, but the character interactions. Yet again, a comic book movie chooses to rest heavier in the CGI department than with its heroes. I've never been a comic book junkie, but don't folks get hooked on the stories because of the characters? Anyway, the best scenes in Thor feature the two brothers, Thor and Loki, verbally and physically sparring. Or Loki standing up to his "father" Odin, or Loki having a touching exchange with his mother Frigga. Or shape-shifting in numerous amusing ways. Basically, Loki with anyone.

Monday, November 18, 2013

one from the vaults: miss matilda averill

My mother's family goes back a really long way. There have been claims to being able to trace things as far back as William the Conqueror, but I tend to be a little skeptical about that. But what I do accept and am fascinated by, are the actual photos and other ephemera that my grandmother and her mother before her held onto and which luckily and miraculously we still possess.

One of these family history caches include some love letters, circa 1850s, between David P. Nichols and Matilda Averill, my third great grandparents. I love how the mail looks from that time — pre postage stamps, with just the price, 10 in the upper right corner. There is also no envelope. It is actually a folded letter with a wax stamp on the back to close it.

Apparently Matilda was the pack rat, or more generously, romantic — I have many letters from him to her, but not the other way around. Nichols was a widower with five (!) children. He courted Matilda through the mail and in person, and they eventually married and had one daughter, Mariette Nichols, my great great grandmother. He was a prosperous businessman in Danbury, Connecticut, and held the position of State Treasurer of Connecticut at his death in 1882.

I love these little glimpses into the past.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

tickling the ivories ... and my imagination

We went to see a friend's band perform Friday evening at an outdoor venue and they had some craftily painted upright pianos scattered around for folks to check out. The kid was really drawn to this one. Hmmm ...



Saturday, November 16, 2013

it's beginning to look a lot like ...

... well a tree is up, so like it or not, the holiday season seems to be starting here.


Even if it is 80 degrees outside.

Friday, November 15, 2013

favorite song friday: thrift shop

I don't just love the groove of this (incredibly profane yet good-natured) song, I love its sentiment:

I wear your granddad's clothes
I look incredible
I'm in this big ass coat
From that thrift shop down the road

I'm a long-time thrift-shopper myself. Hope this signals a new trend.

I'ma take your grandpa's style, I'ma take your grandpa's style,
No for real — ask your grandpa — can I have his hand-me-downs? (Thank you)
Velour jumpsuit and some house slippers
Dookie brown leather jacket that I found diggin'
They had a broken keyboard, I bought a broken keyboard

— "Thrift Shop," Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, featuring Wanz

Thursday, November 14, 2013

bedtime story vs. dirty rotten scoundrels

There aren't many actors in my mind who can compare to a young Marlon Brando. Maybe I was scarred (in a good way) by seeing him in Guys and Dolls (1955) on television when I was a kid. He was smooth, sophisticated and a bit of a bad boy. It's that Marlon Brando, the improbably singing Brando of Sky Masterson, more than his brilliant Don Corleone, who I hold in my heart.

Luck be a lady tonight: Marlon Brando as Sky Masterson
Brando is primarily responsible for an entire school of acting. So many actors since his critically acclaimed work of the 1950s — James Dean, Paul Newman, Warren Beatty, Steve McQueen, Robert DeNiro — have followed in his footsteps. And what footsteps. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951), Viva Zapata! (1952), The Wild One (1953), Julius Caesar (1953), On the Waterfront (1954), The Young Lions (1958).

His film work in the 1960s, by comparison, has been criticized as lightweight. But it is more than understandable, after such an intense run of films, that Brando might want to shake up his image and reputation — of a hyper-intense Method mumbler. Brando didn't consider himself a proponent of The Method. He was taught the Stanislavski technique by Stella Adler, which stressed naturalism above all else. He did attend classes at The Actor's Studio, but was resentful of Lee Strasberg's trying to attach himself to his acting style.
"After I had some success, Lee Strasberg tried to take credit for teaching me how to act. He never taught me anything. He would have claimed credit for the sun and the moon if he believed he could get away with it. He was an ambitious, selfish man who exploited the people who attended the Actors Studio and tried to project himself as an acting oracle and guru. Some people worshipped him, but I never knew why. I sometimes went to the Actors Studio on Saturday mornings because Elia Kazan was teaching, and there were usually a lot of good-looking girls, but Strasberg never taught me acting. Stella did – and later Kazan."
Certainly one of the best American actors of any generation, Brando must have wanted to pull back, from time to time, from the many intense stage-to-screen dramas he starred in and try something different, even funny. In 1964's Bedtime Story, in which he starred with David Niven, he is definitely having a blast.

Marlon and friend in Bedtime Story
"Working with David was the only time I ever looked forward to filming. I just couldn't wait to wake up each morning and go to work so he could make me laugh."

I have always been a big fan of Frank Oz's Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which stars Michael Caine and Steve Martin as two rival con men, one polished, one boorish, who try to fleece an American heiress, played by Glenne Headley. Filmed on the French Riviera, it is a bright, smart comedy that isn't afraid to look silly. Oz has always had a great hand with farces and comedies of manners (What About Bob? Housesitter, In & Out, Bowfinger) and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is an ever-escalating exercise in comedic one-upmanship. I was surprised to find out recently that this favorite comedy was actually a remake, of the 1964 film starring Niven and Brando. Bedtime Story was not just the basis for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but an exact blueprint. From the plot to the characters' names, to the location — the second film is almost a scene-for-scene copy.

Brando & Niven: Private Freddie Benson teaches Lawrence Jamieson about women

Martin & Caine: And again

I think of Brando's '60s work as a respite. He pulled back from Hollywood and tried to sort out how he felt about the world. He became involved politically, especially focusing on civil rights issues. By the '70s Brando was "back" in Hollywood, as the critics and public were concerned, with his amazing turns in The Godfather (1972), Last Tango in Paris (1972), and Apocalypse Now (1979).
[When asked how he spent his time away from the camera] People ask that a lot. They say, "What did you do while you took time out?", as if the rest of my life is taking time out. But the fact is, making movies is time out for me because the rest, the nearly complete whole, is what's real for me. I'm not an actor and haven't been for years. I'm a human being — hopefully a concerned and somewhat intelligent one — who occasionally acts.

Con men Freddie and Lawrence — Marlon as Ruprecht the Monkey Boy

At the casino: David Niven, Marlon Brando and Shirley Jones

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels all: Michael Caine, Glenne Headley, & Steve Martin
I still love Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, but after seeing Bedtime Story (the whole movie is available on Youtube, and I was able to mirror it full-screen to my Apple TV) I am amazed at how funny Brando and Niven were together. And even more, I was really amazed to see whole bits of business  —especially Brando's take on "Ruprecht The Monkey Boy" that Steve Martin lifted wholesale. The only bum note for me in the older film was Shirley Jones as Janet. She plays a typical bland '50s good girl, and her voice and performance are very one-note throughout. Glenne Headley, on the other hand, may start off in a similar manner, but her character takes an interesting twist. She's also frankly, a much better actress, and can hold her own with her two scheming boys.

Don't get me wrong — a dramatic Brando is also a superb Brando. His performances in all of the '50s films listed above were brilliant. He positively oozed sex appeal, not unlike his friend Marilyn Monroe. But this most naturalistic of actors also had a flair for comedy. Check out Bedtime Story and you'll see what I mean.

Brando quotes from imdb and Wikipedia

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

everybody loves ichabod

Sleepy Hollow continues to be a winner in the new television series department. The plots are loopy but fun. The two leads, Ichabod Crane (played by Tom Mison) and Abbie Mills (played by Nicole Beharie), have great chemistry, and the supporting cast gets better and better. The most recent episode, “The Sin Eater,” showcased two notable additions — James Frain (The Tudors, Grimm) as a Freemason who knows all about Ichabod (and undoubtedly will have secrets to share) and a man called the Sin Eater (played by Fringe’s John Noble) — both who will hopefully stick around for a while and join police lieutenant Abbie and her unofficial partner Ichabod in their fight against the evil Headless Horseman and his brethren (good news: yes, they will).

Sleepy Hollow loves in-jokes. In a nod towards its recent World Series-caused hiatus, Abbie takes Ichabod to a baseball game.

The episode included some cool Revolutionary-era flashbacks, featuring Ichabod and his wife Katrina's (Katia Winter) meet-cute, as well as some modern-day supernatural sleuthing by sisters Abbie and Jenny (Lyndie Greenwood), who seem to be repairing their fractured relationship through monster-hunting. Jenny was also insightful about the contradictions inherent in Ichabod's dead witch wife now choosing to come to Abbie in a vision, and her tendency to give nay the vaguest of instructions on how to help Ichabod.

Katrina, "Ichabod must be sanctified. Find the Sin Eater before sundown, before the Horseman returns, or everything will be lost."

Jenny, "The next time you see that witch in a dream, tell her to be more specific."

Jenny also seems to have noticed that Abbie and Ichabod are more than just two folks who might be chosen to save the world. They like each other. The pair do have some great banter.

Ichabod, "My ears shall remain eternally open to your admonition."
Abbie, "I don't know what the hell that means. Just say yes."

James Frain and friends interrogate Ichabod.

The Sin Eater may be able to help Ichabod and Abbie fight the Headless Horseman

Ichabod was kidnapped by the Freemasons, who might be bad, but might not — and then he was informed that he would have to sacrifice himself to save the world — that was until Abbie could convince him otherwise. It was a highly emotional scene that had echoes of the Buffy/Angel days, and it really worked.

Sleepy Hollow doesn't seem afraid to delve straight into the romantic chemistry of its stars, even if one of them has a long-deceased but still-not-out-of-the-picture powerful witch for a spouse. The character's honesty about their feelings makes Sleepy Hollow quite human, which helps a show that in so many other ways is extremely fanciful. Abbie and Ichabod, in their dealings with each other, seem more sincere than say, Scully and Mulder. Will they truly become a team, and soon, or is Katrina going to break through the dreamscape and complicate matters? The latter is probably a given.

Each new episode of Sleepy Hollow takes the duo on an ever-stranger journey. I'm happy (along with, apparently, many others) to go along for the ride (without the Horseman, of course).

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

inherit the dead

Twenty best-selling mystery authors have teamed up to write a new novel, Inherit the Dead. Similar to 2011's No Rest for the Dead, each author writes a chapter to tell a modern noir tale that centers around private investigator Pericles “Perry” Christo. Author Linda Fairstein, who contributes the afterword, approached Jonathan Santlofer to edit a novel that would bring together some of the most well-known crime authors to not just create an original mystery, but a book that would benefit the victim assistance charity Safe Horizon.

Santofler not only edited the book, but starts things off with the first chapter, which introduces former cop Christo, who has been hired by the ultra-rich Upper East Side society matron Julia Drusilla to find her estranged daughter Angel. The more Christo finds out about the enigmatic yet lovely Angel the more confused he gets. The girl is set to inherit part of a large fortune in a few days on her twenty-first birthday — if she shows up to sign some paperwork. But nothing quite adds up in the case. Her cold-as-ice mother would benefit financially if her daughter stayed gone. Her father seems distracted and unworried about her disappearance, even when her car shows up, abandoned. Her sometime boyfriend has already moved on to many other ladies. Christo finds himself bouncing back and forth between wintry New York City neighborhoods and the rich enclave of the Hamptons, as well drawing parallels to his own complicated past as he searches for the truth, and tries to find Angel — alive.

Lee Child writes the forward to the novel. The other participating authors include: Stephen L. Carter,  Marcia Clark, Heather Graham, Charlaine Harris, Sarah Weinman, Bryan Gruley, Alafair Burke, John Connolly, James Grady, Ken Bruen, Lisa Unger, S.J. Rozan, Dana Stabenow, Val McDermid, Mary Higgins Clark, C.J. Box, Max Allan Collins, Mark Billingham, and Lawrence Block, who gets to tie up all the loose ends in the final chapter.

The authors, for the most part, all manage to propel the story forward, and Inherit the Dead is a fun, fast read. There's more than a bit of repetition, as each writer seems especially attracted to Christo's habit of self-criticism, most notably in regard to the fall from grace that led to his dismissal from the force, and his regret at not getting to spend enough time with his daughter after his divorce. His domestic issues are a good parallel to the family drama he is investigating, but they are also all too familiar territory in the hardboiled detective genre. While so many different voices may not offer the reader too in-depth a take on any of the characters, they do sketch out a cohesive mystery. Seasoned mystery fans may not be quite as baffled by a last-minute vital clue that has Christo stumped, but they will likely enjoy joining him on his journey to finally figuring things out.

Originally published on Blogcritics: Book Review: ‘Inherit the Dead’ by Various Authors, Edited by Jonathan Santlofer