Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book review: Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin

Who better to write a biography of Johnny Carson than Carson's own fixer. For nearly 20 years Bushkin was the guy Johnny called in the middle of the night to help him hide the bodies. Not literally, but when he was in a jam … bad contract, bad marriage, bad obligation (professional or personal) Bushkin was the guy who did the dirty work.

We get some glimpse of one of the most private men of the 20th century; he was a mean drunk, a serial womanizer, and had so much animosity to his own mom that he skipped her funeral; but little else really. There's little about the day-to-day business of the Tonight Show (Bushkin prided him self on keeping his mouth shut when at tapings), and more on the contract negotiations, playing chicken with NBC, and trips to Europe, which he enjoyed because he could walk down the street and be unbothered by fans.

If you ever envied the job of being Johnny Carson, this book might set you straight. He had millions of dollars but an equal number of people in his strata with their hand out. He had wives and mistresses, but in the end, he died alone. He ultimately cut off all real and for-pay friends.

There's a funny passage about how he had no respect at all for Fred Silverman and his programming skills (fair enough, though he made genius decisions at CBS and ABC, his programs at  NBC were at best head-scratching ("Pink Lady & Jeff"). Then when Carson got a big contract to produce shows for NBC, he could do no better.

In the end, Bushkin describes their professional and personal break-up in the sketchiest of terms. One leaves with the feeling there was something much bigger going on than the explanation he gave.

Despite the gaps, it's still a must-read for fans.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Film review: Mr. Peabody & Sherman

What a fun time at the movies. It starts out strong and loses a little momentum once it hits Florence, but there's enough going on to keep grown-ups, their children, and fans of the original TV show happy. No fidgeting from my 6 year old.

And the best part is: No princesses!

The standout: Patrick Warburton as Agememnon; he gives a little two-minute rant which will keep you laughing the whole time.

The stumble: Their solution to the character-showing-up-twice-in-same-time conundrum disturbed my son. This has been a problem since "Back to the Future." DC Comics in the '60s had the right idea. It cannot be done!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

The difference between American, British tragedies

In American films, it's the athlete who gets the incurable disease:

In British movies it's always a musician, poet, or painter

Monday, March 10, 2014

Mirror Images

All of these antenna-TV stations have me glued to watching too much '70s TV. Or in this case, revisiting childhood faves. I just caught the "Seven Million Dollar Man" episode of "The Six Million Dollar Man." I loved that episode as a kid, and I was surprised how well it holds up. Monte Markham plays a man even more bionic than Lee Majors. When the power goes to his head, Steve Austin must bring in someone who's a virtual twin, but even moreso.

This is a great concept in science and fantasy fiction. The hero must defeat someone with all the special abilities he has. In many ways it's more difficult than battling giant robots or evil scientists. How do you beat someone who has everything you have?

You could easily dismiss it as cheesy 70s stuff, but this is not a new concept. It probably goes back to Greek mythology, but if you want to look a little closer, look at General Zod from Superman comics and two of his films. Zod is a Kryptonian survivor, just as powerful as Superman in every way, but evil!

More recently, look at the "Faith" story arc from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." Another slayer who is Buffy's match. How do you  take her down?

Does this only apply to the fantasy genre?

No. Watch "Magnum Force." Dirty Harry must battle a squad of renegade cops all ideologically the same as Harry. See, story wise, nothing's really new and it can be applied to every genre.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

a sad website

Over at the MGM site, they're marking the company's 90th anniversary. It amazes me that for nearly a century people have been going to the movies, seeing the MGM lion,  and getting the pavlovian expectation that the next two hours would be amazing. (It still gives me chills).

But… after some hard times, crazy debt, mismanagement, and many corporate takeovers, MGM no longer owns its own classics. Nor its famed studios. It's just an office now, really. 

After Turner bought it, stripped it of its films and spit out the bones, MGM went on its own buying spree. It bought the libraries of the then-recently defunct United Artists, Orion Pictures and some lesser lights (I'm looking at you American International).

So, its website congratulating itself for its vast history features the James Bond, Pink Panther and Rocky franchises … all United Artists creations.

So sad, the company that gave us "The Wizard of Oz," "Gone with the Wind," and "The Thin Man" series, no longer has bragging rights to these classics.

Back in 1990 when Apple unwisely gave the boot to genius founder Steve Jobs, he created the NeXT computer company, and after reading about it, I really really wanted a NeXT computer. This would be an impossibility at the time because they were going for $10,000! Ultimately NeXT went under, Apple bought its OS, and brought back its founder, and years later, I bought a NeXT on eBay at the discount price of $250.

I hope to one day purchase MGM the same way.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Film Review: American Hustle

The actors read the script and started salivating: Oscar Bait! It's a sting movie, but the sting is secondary to the characters and the actors. Wigs, accents, playing way against type, all the actors are in it 110%.

Christian Bale and Amy Adams play desperate low-class grifters who get sucked in by FBI agent  Bradley Cooper to pull off an Abscam-like con on politicians and other bigger fish. As the marks get bigger, and personal relationships intensify, everyone is soon in over their heads.

The story takes a while to unfold, but once things get rolling, they get funnier, and there's a great surprise cameo in which the perfect actor gets the perfect part.

And Jennifer Lawrence will get an Oscar.

Its only faults are it might run 10 minutes too long, and an over-reliance on 70s hair sight gags.

Speaking of cameos, keep an eye open for Anthony Zerbe and Colleen Camp.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Film Review: Frozen

A big problem Disney has always had was luring little boys to movies about princesses. In this film, I think they quit trying. Two princesses! Each one fiercely independent in the post-Beauty and the Beast mold. And they sing Broadway-calibre songs about self-determination.

The heinie of my 6-year-old boy was squirming for sure. It wasn't until a giant fierce snow monster showed up later in the film did things get interesting for him.

That being said, things start getting really good with a third act twist, and after that the climax kept him glued to his seat.

The characters speak in modern vernacular, but the humor isn't simply making modern-day references. And thank god Olaf, the comic relief snowman doesn't speak in jive.

The animation is astonishing, the CGI just gets better and better.

By all means take a date, take your daughter, but ask yourself how patient your son is with musicals featuring princesses before taking him.

Actually, go see it if only to see the short it opens with, "Get a Horse." It blends 1929 animation with CGI and "The Purple Rose of Cairo." And you get to hear Walt Disney do the voice of Mickey Mouse. I'm telling you this guy has a future as a cartoon voice artist.


The movie's apparently the biggest hit Disney Animation has had in years, and it's still running, so I don't feel bad about adding to my review.

I was surprised by the lack of peril, or urgency in the story. The key plot line in the movie is: "I have to get my sister."

And I'm thinking, "Why?"

I'm not giving any spoilers but, the sister has the powers of Frozone from the Incredibles, or if you want to get real nerdy, Polar Boy from the Legion of Substitute Heroes. She inadvertently freezes over her kingdom, then runs away to live in an ice castle of her own making.

And the protagonist says, "I have to get my sister."

Why? It has not been established the sister can melt the kingdom. Once she finds her sister the movie has no direction to take. If the sister says "yes, I'll come back," nothing will change. If the sister says, "No, I won't go back," nothing will change. The kingdom will still be frozen over, which seems like a major inconvenience, but not fatal.

I'm standing by my original review, by all means, see it, but take your little girls, not necessarily little boys, but from a story construction point of view, the heroine's quest doesn't really seem necessary.