Wednesday, August 31, 2011

10 FAVORITES (42) - Disney Voices

After over 80 years and over 60 animated films, the Walt Disney Company has amassed a large cast of characters.  Some are beloved, some are despised and some are just so evil that we can't help but cheer when they come on the screen.  But one of the true measures of the impact of a great Disney character is thanks in large part to the performance of the actor or actress chosen to play that role.  Which performance is the most special?  That's what this week's 10 FAVORITES is all about.  Below, is my list of 10 (actually, 12!) best Vocal Performances from Disney animated films.  Now, when I say "Vocal Performance," I am not referring to singing (though most of the characters listed below sing, with a couple exceptions!).  Also, you will notice that almost half of the characters on the list are villains.  And to put it bluntly, villains are often the most memorable thing in a Disney film.  But a hero, a heroine or even a sidekick can be just as memorable, if it is done just right!  So, without further ado, here are:

Adriana Caselotti as Snow White
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)
The original Disney heroine is an "Honorable Mention" mainly because the voice of the sweet Adriana Caselotti almost irritated me for a while.  But there is no more iconic vocal performance than Caselotti's renditions of "Whistle While You Work" or "Someday My Prince Will Come."  I felt she needed some recognition on this list.

James Woods as Hades
Hercules (1997)
While this film is not the most beloved within the Disney canon (especially within the studio itself!), the performance of James Woods as the devilish Hades is quite the scene-stealer.  Woods utilizes some of his best skills and is the perfect bad guy (in what might be called a "so-so" film!).

Donna Murphy as Mother Gothel
Tangled (2010)
The biggest highlight in last year's animated hit was the performance of two-time Tony Award-winner Donna Murphy as the deliciously wicked Mother Gothel.  The twists the writers gave to the Rapunzel story and that of the "witch" character were perfectly fitted to Murphy's theatrical bravado.  She's cruel, she's selfish and she's a total bitch, but we love her for it!

Kathryn Beaumont as Alice
Alice In Wonderland (1951)
No matter where I am or what I'm watching, when I think of the character of Alice from the Lewis Carroll classic story, I hear Beaumont's sweet and wistful voice.  She's so prim and proper and just the perfect little girl as we follow her curiosity and her adventures in Wonderland.

James Earl Jones as Mufasa
The Lion King (1994)
No one can deny the power of this man's voice!  James Earl Jones, who chilled us as the voice of Darth Vader, moved us to tears when he voiced the father of Simba.  The scene in which Mufasa's ghost comes to the disenchanted Simba is one of the most haunting and powerful scenes in the movie, certainly in thanks to James Earl Jones' voice!

Eleanor Audley as Maleficent
Sleeping Beauty (1959)
I've talked of my love for this movie and even then I talked about how much I loved this villain.  The dripping disdain in Eleanor Audley's voice when she is cursing the innocent Aurora (soon after her birth!) is so spiteful...but I can't help loving this character more!  Audley also voiced the wicked Stepmother in Disney's Cinderella, so she was no stranger to the world of the Disney villain.

Pat Carroll as Ursula
The Little Mermaid (1989)
Like many other Disney villains, Ursula practically steals the movie from the rest of the delightful cast of characters.  Character actress Pat Carroll was so amazing when she voiced the role and her performance shines through.  In fact, the song "Poor Unfortunate Souls" is one of the best songs in Disney history and certainly a showstopper sequence if there ever was one in a Disney film!

Phil Harris as Baloo the Bear
The Jungle Book (1967)
Jazz legend Phil Harris sounded so at ease with the lazy "jungle bum" character of Baloo and his performance of the Oscar-nominated song, "The Bare Necessities," is so ingrained in our collective consciousness.  Harris would go on to voice O'Malley the Alley Cat in 1970's The AristoCats and Little John in 1973's Robin Hood (Little John was quite similar to Baloo in many ways, not just Harris' voice!), but it is his performance as Baloo that is forever in our hearts.

Jonathan Freeman as Jafar
Aladdin (1992)
Jeremy Irons as Scar
The Lion King (1994)
I put these two together because they are practically equal in my mind and their performances as two of Disney's greatest villains are so wickedly great.  Character actor (of film and stage) Jonathan Freeman was so snake like and imperious as Jafar and, when you talk about imperious, you cannot forget Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons' performance as Scar.  Interesting note about Irons' performance of the song "Be Prepared" (below): Irons' voice cracked more than halfway through the song (on the line: "You won't get a sniff without me!") and master voice actor Jim Cummings (who also voiced Ed, the loony hyena) had to finish the song in his stead.  My father said if I hadn't pointed it out, he would never have noticed it.  I believe many other people don't notice either!

Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts
Beauty and the Beast (1991)
As I've stated before, this is my favorite Disney film of all-time.  There are so many things I love about this film and the cast is chief among them.  But if I had to pick a stand-out performance, I would not hesitate to recognize the charming performance of the great Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Potts.  She is so perfect and proper as the teapot that by the time the film gets to the title song (which Lansbury sings!), my heart races to hear her brilliant rendition.  And it makes it even more special when I heard (from Alan Menken in an interview) that Lansbury was able to perform the song perfectly in the recording booth in one take!

Robin Williams as The Genie
Aladdin (1992)
Of course this performance would top this list.  When Robin Williams wowed critics and audiences with this vocal performance, it changed the game.  Since then, stars line up to take a part in a Disney animated film (and now, DreamWorks animated films!).  Williams' performance was so important to the film that both the Golden Globes and the Academy thought about giving him a special award.  And the Academy still talks about creating a Vocal Performance category, and that is all thanks to Robin Williams' role as The Genie.

Some of you may be asking the above question at this moment, so to allay your worries, here are the 5 best voices in PIXAR's short history (hence the 5 and not 10!):

Jason Lee as Syndrome
The Incredibles (2004)
For anyone who remembers Jason Lee's fantastic performance in the Kevin Smith films (Mallrats & Chasing Amy, in particular), his role as the ultimate fanboy turned total villain is quite the highlight of the 2004 Oscar-winning adventure.

Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego
Ratatouille (2007)
Getting the well-respected Peter O'Toole to voice the role of the cynical food critic was quite a coup for PIXAR and his brilliant speech towards the end of the film is as much about all critics (and criticism, in general!) as it is about food.

Billy Crystal as Mike Wazowski
Monsters, Inc. (2001)
When you create a character like Mike Wazowski, you need a top-notch comedian to take it to the next level and Billy Crystal is in that category.

Ellen DeGeneres as Dory
Finding Nemo (2003)
In a cast filled with charming performances (Albert Brooks, Willem Dafoe, Geoffrey Rush, etc.), it is Ellen DeGeneres as the absent-minded Dory that almost steals the touching, funny and poignant movie.

Tom Hanks as Woody
The Toy Story movies (1995, 1999 & 2010)
In all three movies, it is the performance of Tom Hanks as Woody that is at the franchise's heart and it is a testament to the power of Hanks as an actor (whether he is seen or just heard!).

Friday, August 26, 2011

No Columns This Week!

Due to a family emergency and some other issues earlier in the week, no blog entries or columns were prepared for posting this week.  I want to apologize to my loyal readers out there who were expecting something from 10 FAVORITES or IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS.  I intend to come back next week with an all new 10 FAVORITES and my predictions for the upcoming Emmy Awards.  In the meantime, please enjoy this clip of the Australian comedy band the Axis of Awesome as they perform their phenomenal "4 Chord Song," just because it's AWESOME!

Friday, August 19, 2011

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: ABC To Erica Kane - I'm Just Not That Into You!

This week, I wish to talk about something that has been in the Entertainment news for the past few months but only recently have I noticed a slight twist.  At the end of May 2011, ABC announced their decision to not renew two of their staple Daytime dramas come 2012.  All My Children, which has been running on ABC since 1970, will end its run on September 23, 2011.  And One Life to Live, which has run since 1968, will end in January 2012.  Ironically, both shows were created by Soap-writing legend Agnes Nixon.  Stars who got their start on All My Children (like Sarah Michelle Gellar, Josh Duhamel and Melissa Claire Egan) have vowed to return to their roles in honor of the show's impending ending.

Of course, the ABC-owned SOAP Network is flooded with ads regarding the end of both of these long-running shows. But as I have watched the Alphabet Network in both Primetime and Daytime, I haven't noticed many commercials for the end of Susan Lucci's Erica Kane or Erika Slezak's Victoria Lord (or ads for ABC's high-rated and critically acclaimed General Hospital, which managed to survive the axing...for now).  Moreover, I noticed ads for All My Children's replacement (a new View-like talk show called The Chew) running rampant on ALL ABC-owned stations (except maybe ESPN!).  It's like ABC is kicking the two Soaps while they're down and mocking them on their own genre's network!  Coincidentally, I have noticed that rival networks NBC and CBS have taken this opportunity to advertise their high-rated Soap Operas (NBC's The Days of Our Lives and CBS' The Young and the Restless) in both Daytime AND Primetime.

Has ABC given up on these two Soaps' viability or any possible viewership they can get out of a star-studded finale?  Do these shows that once stood as landmarks in the network's programming deserve better than just to be tossed away (without any kind of fanfare from the network itself)?

Fans of both Soaps have been taking to Message Boards and Blogs denouncing ABC and some have even planned to boycott the network entirely.  Rumors of both shows possibly moving to other cable networks were quickly debunked.  ABC quashed the idea of their own SOAP Network taking on both shows and Oprah Winfrey, herself, sent out a viral video on her website explaining why her new OWN channel cannot possibly take on the task of producing the Soaps.

But what happened to the Soaps, which were once the crown jewels of Daytime programming?  There are five reasons/theories, I believe, have caused this shift (and slight disdain) for what the Soaps have to offer: 
1) Soaps are expensive.  And in this uncertain (and often dangerous!) economy, even TV Networks are feeling the strains of massive production costs.  The ratings that both All My Children and One Life to Live have been getting are just not enough to justify the enormous costs they take to make (despite the fact that Susan Lucci agreed to take a significant salary reduction!).
2) The audience has changed over the last 40 years.  In the "hey-day" the Soap Opera, the target audience was most definitely the at-home wife and mother (re: housewife!).  As the social priorities shifted, so did the number of women who were at home in the Daytime.  With it's target audience significantly affected, the Soaps have struggled to keep the audiences they have.
3) There are too many choices these days.  There are so many channels with many different types of programs in the Daytime.  The reason why these Soaps were such staples in the Daytime landscape when I was growing up was because there were no other channels, only broadcast networks (i.e. NBC, CBS, ABC etc.).
4) The writing in Primetime Television has changed over the last 30 years.  Ever since the popularity of Primetime Soaps from Dallas to Desperate Housewives, the writing of Primetime Dramas (and some Comedies, but that's another blogpost!) has drastically shifted.  The use of continuing plots and story arcs from episode to episode was once a trick that was unique to Daytime Soaps.  But in the last few decades, audiences have realized that their favorite Primetime shows can be just as "soapy" in their storytelling and audiences love them for it!
5) The rise of Reality TV has really put a dent in the economics of Television entirely.  Since Reality shows are cheaper and more popular, networks are going to stand behind them and will toss away the scripted shows that are damaging their finances.
These combined reasons are the factors that have contributed to the change in attitude (particularly from the networks) towards Daytime Soaps, in my opinion.

Yet, even after all of this, it seems that the two Soaps may indeed have a second life on the Internet.  But is it a worthy end to two such legendary shows?  To me, it seems like this Internet bid is just something to placate the fans who are crying foul towards ABC.  But sometimes you have to give the people what you want, in any form necessary.  It still seems such a shame that two (once) respected shows have been summarily dismissed from their earned place in history.  It makes me wonder: What will happen to other legendary shows (Primetime OR Daytime) when they no longer serve a network's purpose?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

GOLDEN PLACES: Check Out the Exhibits, Charlie Brown!

If you were ask 100 people on the street to pick their favorite Comic Strip growing up, my guess is that over half of them would say the delightful gem that was known as simply: Peanuts.  The daily humorous happenings in the world of Charlie Brown and his circle was a pleasant addition to anyone's morning cup of coffee.  And it was all thanks to one man: Charles M. Schulz (nicknamed "Sparky").  Schulz began his strip back in 1950 and continued until his retirement (and eventual passing) in 2000.  In 1958, Schulz moved his family to Sebastopol, California (which is about an hour outside of San Francisco) and built his first studio.  Almost a decade later, Schulz moved to the nearby Santa Rosa and remained there for the rest of his life.

His influence on the culture of the town of Santa Rosa became clear.  He became owner of the Redwood Empire Ice Arena (he was a huge fan of both figure skating and ice hockey) and the Warm Puppy Cafe which resided within the Arena.  Schulz would have lunch at the Cafe every day.  Both the Ice Arena and the Cafe are still active today right across the street from one of the most impressive little museums I have ever had the pleasure of seeing: The Charles M. Schulz Museum.

The Museum is one of the best tributes to one of America's greatest artists.  Among the many fascinating exhibits are at 22 foot high ceramic mural made of Peanuts comic strips (making the image of Charlie Brown trying to kick the football that is held by Lucy), Schulz' personal home studio and a Research & Educational Center featuring a short demonstration on how to draw your favorite Peanuts characters.  The latter is intended primarily for children, but we adults who grew up with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus et. al. should get a kick out of it too.  The building's entrance and it's courtyard are filled with statues of Charlie Brown and Snoopy in various instances (i.e. Charlie Brown playing baseball, Snoopy on his doghouse, Snoopy as "the Red Baron" etc.).  One of the best statues is of Charlie Brown unsuccessfully trying to fly a kite which, of course, has landed in a tree.  The Museum docent told us that when the Museum hosts evening parties that the kite (which lies in the courtyard) lights up and provides a beautiful visual for guests and the Santa Rosa neighbors.  The Museum also features exhibits that remain for a limited time.  Our visit featured an exhibit devoted to how the strip displayed the relationship between siblings (Charlie and Sally Brown plus Linus, Lucy and Rerun Van Pelt).  The Museum was working on another exhibit (of which we had a sneak peek!) that featured the early days of the Peanuts comic strip in which Charlie Brown was not the prominent character but more part of a cartoon ensemble.  Check the Museum's website to see what their current rotating exhibits are and for future exhibits.

Overall, the atmosphere of the day at the Charles M. Schulz Museum was nostalgic and fascinating.  The night before I watched video clips online from A Charlie Brown Christmas, Snoopy Come Home and Bon Voyage Charlie Brown! just to get myself in the Peanuts mood.  On the way to the Museum, we listened to the Broadway soundtrack of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (for which Kristin Chenoweth won a well-deserved Tony Award as Sally, one of my favorite characters!).  And the Museum itself gave me such delight as we combed through the exhibits that featured some of the best moments in the Charlie Brown universe.  Thank You, Sparky, for everything you gave us.  Through your beloved characters, you shall live on forever.

Friday, August 12, 2011

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Now Taking Suggestions...

In prepping for this week's column (you know, gathering research and all!), I found that the ideas I had for this week's column just were not quite ready yet to be posted.  So this week, IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS is taking a short break.  But I wanted to take this opportunity to open up the "forum" to suggestions for any ideas for future columns/features.  I am willing to take suggestions for topics for any of the three columns currently on this blog.  I am also opening up for suggestions for new columns and new features that can be added to make this a more encompassing blog about Pop Culture, the Arts and Media in general.  So readers, take to the comments and give your thoughts on what you would like to see in future columns!

Let me give you a rundown of the three columns and the criteria I use to make a topic worthy of being in that feature:

10 FAVORITES - Every other week I want to talk about some of our favorite things in Movies, Television, Theatre, Books or even anything else that is Media/Pop Culture-related.  If you have an entertaining topic that you wish to see covered with a Top Ten list, don't hesitate to suggest!

GOLDEN PLACES - This newer column is about the great places to visit in the great Golden State of California.  We all know about things like Disneyland and Yosemite (and they're both great!), but with this column I wish to focus on the lesser known places or the sites that don't get enough "foot traffic," so to speak.  (NOTE: I may be willing to expand in the future to other Western states - i.e. Nevada, Oregon, Arizona, etc. - but, as of right now, it just focuses on California! I am the Broadway Baby of California, after all!)

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS - This one is more about just what is going on in the Media (and the like!) and its primarily an editorial.  It's just my opinions and thoughts I had about a specific topic that affects the current culture.  I am willing to take ideas for topics to talk about, but the decision will come down to whether I can (or wish!) to talk about the topic (without sounding forced!).

And I believe I don't have to remind you all of the basic "Commenting rules."  Any comments featuring gratuitous language, spam or are disrespectful to myself or other readers will be deleted.  I don't mind a healthy debate, but don't go overboard.  Keep it classy, folks!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

10 FAVORITES (41) - Variety: The Spice of Life!

10 FAVORITES returns this week with one of my most anticipated topics: Variety Shows!  While I love the laughs a great sitcom gives me and I enjoy the emotional pull of fantastically written drama series, the Television genre I can truly lose myself in is that of the Variety Series.  It is the genre that most easily transitioned from radio onto to TV when the medium first became the rage.  And for a time, in the 1960s and 1970s, it seemed that Variety shows were what Reality shows are today.  It seemed everyone from Cher to Glen Campbell to Donny and Marie had a Variety show.  So, today I want to look back with great fondness on the shows that defined the Variety genre and talk about my absolute favorites.  Here are: 


The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart is one of the funniest, smartest and most honest men in Television, so there is ample reason why the Comedy Central News-parody series is always top-rated.  With his biting wit and his killer writing staff, Stewart and Company (a Company that included people like Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert and host of others that are too many to list!) make audiences feel comfortable having a laugh in times when economic uncertainty and world unrest can bring even the happiest person down.  It is no wonder the show has won the Emmy Award for Best Variety Series for the past eight years (and it is poised to win a ninth time come this September!).

The Texaco Star Theater
A list about the Best Television Variety Shows would be absolutely incomplete without acknowledging the contribution of "Uncle Miltie."  Milton Berle was one of the biggest stars of Television in its very early days.  He was such a star that he is considered the reason many people even bought Television sets.  Always funny and never willing to back down from shaking things up (see Elvis below!), Berle became known as "Mr. Television."

The Ed Sullivan Show
This show was another staple show for people's households.  Every Sunday night at 7PM, people would sit down together and watch the master showman himself, Ed Sullivan, and his "really great shoe!" (No, that's not a misprint! That is really how he pronounced the word "show.")  So many careers were started on The Ed Sullivan Show from comedians to magicians to puppeteers to dancers to Broadway stars.  And who could forget the countless Pop music acts that became known thanks to their appearances on Ed Sullivan.  From The Beatles (below) to The Supremes to The Rolling Stones to The Beach Boys to many many others, you were a nobody in showbiz unless you did the Sullivan show back then.

The Sid Caesar Shows (Your Show of Shows & Caesar's Hour)
These two shows run together in my mind because of the brilliance that was Sid Caesar.  He was a master character comedian.  He could literally play anybody.  In the hands of his crack writing team, Caesar was given free range to do all he could do.  And what a crack team!  At one point or another, his writing team included the likes of Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbart and Woody Allen.  And looking at the work each of them did since, it is clear the impact Caesar had on their lives and careers.

The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
Growing up in the 1980's, Johnny Carson was the King of Late Night.  There was no one like him in terms of delivery and in terms of personality.  His reign on The Tonight Show lasted from 1963 (taking over for Jack Paar) to 1992 (when Jay Leno assumed his throne).  And in those almost 30 years, Carson defined the Late Night Talk Show like no other.  Whether he was doing his famous "swami" bit or entertaining an animal from the San Diego Zoo or just chatting with a famous celebrity, Carson worked hard to make it look easy and we just loved him for it.

The Carol Burnett Show
If Carson was the King of Late Night, then Carol Burnett was the Queen of Sketch Comedy.  Her weekly "live" shows were some of funniest things to watch on Television in the 1960s and 1970s.  Burnett and Company (which included Vicki Lawrence, Tim Conway and the late Harvey Korman) delivered notable scenes highlighted by their genuine laughter at their own antics.  Each week, audiences would watch just to watch them crack up!  Plus, who could forget Ms. Burnett's infamous Bob Mackie gowns?!?

Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In
Out of the explosive late 1960s came one of the most enduring and influential Variety shows of all-time.  Comedians Dan Rowan and Dick Martin hosted an array of talented comic actors (which included Ruth Buzzi, Joanne Worley, Goldie Hawn, Arte Johnson and Lily Tomlin) who were just as wild as the Counterculture Movement was.  From the Party scenes to the "Quickies" to the "Sock It To Me!" to infamous wall-with-doors, Laugh-In was the powerhouse fun that the late 1960s needed.

Monty Python's Flying Circus
Britain's legendary series inspired so many on both sides of the Atlantic.  The amazing writing and performing team that consisted of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin had some of the best and most memorable comic sequences.  Who can forget the notorious "Parrot Sketch" or the hilarious "Self-Defense Class" (below) or the famed "Spam" sequence?  Plus, no one expects "the Spanish Inquisition!"

Saturday Night Live
What can I say about SNL?  It is still running after 35 years and going strong.  From it's early days with its original "Not Ready for Primetime Players" (pictured below, sorry no video!) to its days with Eddie Murphy or Mike Myers or Will Ferrell or Tina Fey or--I better stop or this post will be way too long, SNL has become the definition of Variety Series.  It is a master class for the up-and-coming Comedy star.  And you're probably saying to yourself: "If this isn't #1, then what is?!?"  Well, look below...

The Muppet Show
Those of you who read 10 FAVORITES a couple months ago are not really surprised that this series could beat SNL to #1.  My father said that at times it almost seemed like a parody of Variety shows.  But when you think about it, what other genre could The Muppets have fit into so easily.  A sitcom would have seemed forced and they don't lend themselves to drama as well (That's a Creature Shop thing!).  Variety was such a perfect fit for them.  There was no one like Jim Henson and his stellar crew (including Frank Oz!) and we will never forget Kermit the Frog or Miss Piggy or Fozzie Bear or The Great Gonzo or The Electric Mayhem.  We loved them all and would sing-a-long with the famed theme song (below) every week.

These were (and are!) best Variety shows TV ever had to offer and they truly are great representations of what the genre is all about.  In the weeks to come, more 10 FAVORITES and keep looking for our new column GOLDEN PLACES, which will rotate with 10 FAVORITES.

Friday, August 5, 2011

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Why Are the Critics So Blue?

Each week in the summertime, film critics and pundits prognosticate which movie opening that Friday will be the biggest Box Office draw over the upcoming weekend.  Well, last week, the critical blogosphere was set a-"Twitter" when the Sony Pictures kiddie flick The Smurfs eked out a slight edge over the Spielberg-produced western/sci-fi film Cowboys & Aliens.  Now, this wasn't the first weekend ever that the pundits were mistaken or misjudged the bankability of a film.  This was, however, one of the few times in recent memory when the numbers were so close and both films were not entirely beloved by the critics.  In fact, before last Friday's opening, The Smurfs had a critical rating of 0% on (since then the rating has gone up, slightly, to 21%).  Cowboys & Aliens fared little better with those same critics gaining a 44% from the site.  Which is not good compared to other recent Summer fare like the final Harry Potter (which earned a 97%), Captain America (a 79%) and Crazy, Stupid Love (which also opened last weekend with a 75%).  To some, the critics were still proving that they have lost touch with audiences (Meaning: Critics = Snobs!).  To others, it was another example that the general pop culture masses worship the lowest common denominator (in other words: People like Sh--!).  I, personally, saw it as a mix of both of those with a slight edge that we haven't quite seen before but has only popped up recently.

In these days of constant technology and everybody-and-their-brother blogging (and yes, I recognize the irony!), there are so many voices out there and each of those voices/opinions can get very critical (Believe me, I know!).  With so many opinions flying trough the web, it becomes harder to decipher which person should be listened to and which "critic" would agree with an audience member's taste most.  And since film -like most other artistic mediums (TV, Theatre, Art, Music, etc.)- is completely subjective, everybody's tastes differ and what people look for in what entertains them shifts from person to person.  With that (obvious!) fact stated, it is not a surprise that critics and audiences will differ and it's sometimes surprising that it doesn't happen more often.

But this past weekend was different.  Why?  Because I believe (In my little opinion!) that there was a little bit of a cause-and-effect happening here.  To me, it wasn't surprising that The Smurfs made money because Sony Pictures used the same marketing campaign 20th Century Fox did back in 2007 for their more-than-modest kiddie hit Alvin and the Chipmunks.  Both films obviously had "kid appeal" and those kids drooling to see the movie(s) would drag their parents to the movie theater (most likely around Opening Day!).  But I sensed there was something else going on as the pundits closely watched the numbers over this past weekend.  It also seemed that the more the critics disliked The Smurfs and the more bad reviews the film received, the more there were people going to see it.  It's like these audiences were saying to themselves: "Well, it can't be that bad!"  (NOTE: I have yet to see the movie, so I don't know exactly how bad or good it is!)

In my childhood (back when The Smurfs was just a fun Saturday morning TV cartoon!), film critics were just a bit more respected.  We didn't always agree with them, but we respected their opinions and realized that this was their job and they knew what they were talking about (most of the time!).  Now, with everyone able to be a "critic" and with this day of instant-anonymous commenting, audiences want to try and judge for themselves.  Audiences have kind of woken up and realized that they can do what the likes of Bosley Cowther, Pauline Kael and Gene Siskel did (and what the likes of Roger Ebert, Peter Travers and Leonard Maltin still do!).

A lot of this also comes on the heels of a devastating Oscar season for the film critics.  Last year, David Fincher's edgy The Social Network was winning every Critics' Prize along the pipeline (including the Golden Globe!).  But come Oscar night in February 2011, it won only 3 awards and none of them were Best Picture or Best Director.  The winner in those categories was the sentimental audience favorite The King's Speech.  A couple Oscar analysts summed it up to the fact that the critics were too soon with their praise and awards and were also to universal in their praise.  They pointed it out that it is rare that every critic likes the same film.  So, this past weekend, I feel that the audiences who went to see The Smurfs (and walked out saying that they liked it!) were responding to the rarity that every critic hates the same film.

I would like to point out one other thing before I let you all go (probably to go see The Smurfs!).  In every review I read of the kiddie flick, I noticed that the critics' distaste for the movie did not come from the film itself (although it is said to be pretty bad!).  It seemed that the critics (some of whom had general praise for star Neil Patrick Harris) were more disgusted with this specific genre.  This type of kids movie based on some nostalgic children's icon of the past that is really made by a studio for the purposes of making money.  Every single review I read (and I read practically all of them in research for this column!) bemoaned this corporate stronghold within the Hollywood community that just markets a product and not a quality film.  But this Critics vs. Corporate (re: Art vs. Commerce) debate has raged on for years and with the results from last weekend, it isn't likely to stop anytime soon!

But what do you think readers?  Have film critics completely lost touch?  Do audiences love a film more when the critics hate it?  Or do audiences truly just enjoy low quality films (or TV shows)?  And what effect will this have in the future if this is what our kids are loving when it comes to entertainment?  Or do people just not give a rat's a--? Speaking of rats, before you all want to let loose on the critics and begin "the hate," I want you to take a look at this scene from the 2007 Disney-Pixar film Ratatouille which best describes what a critic is all about.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

GOLDEN PLACES: The (Northern) California Missions

10 FAVORITES will return next week and, from then on, it will rotate each week with a new column I am introducing today called GOLDEN PLACES.  With this new column, I intend to promote some of the most amazing places that are pretty much right "in my own backyard."  For those of you who have yet to realize, I live in the great state of California.  California has a rich history and a gorgeous landscape filled with different cultures, people and lifestyles.  The Golden State is the most populated state within the U.S.A and is the third largest state in geographical area.  Among its many sights include Hollywood, the Golden Gate Bridge, Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and Disneyland.  But in this column, I want to explore some of the places that don't usually get that kind of national (or international) attention.  I wish to explore the true GOLDEN PLACES.

Long before the California Gold Rush (and the original Forty-Niners!), the area that would become the state of California served as a launchpad of some of the oldest Catholic Churches in the western United States.  Beginning back in 1769, a Spanish-born Franciscan priest named Junipero Serra founded the Mission San Diego de Alcalá in what is now the northeastern area of San Diego (For the American Football fans out there, the Mission is situated somewhere near Qualcomm Stadium where the San Diego Chargers play!).  Mission San Diego became the first of 21 Catholic Missions founded within the state of California.  Mostly situated along the state's coastline, the Missions stretched from San Diego up to San Francisco (and beyond!).  Each of the 21 Mission sites have either the original church structure or a very well-constructed (and sometimes intricate!) replica of what once stood in the area.  I was lucky enough to have visited ALL 21 Missions within my childhood.  A couple of months ago, my father and I decided that we should revisit some of the Missions that are within our general area.  It just so happens that 9 of the 21 Missions are in the part of the state that is generally considered Northern California.  So, we visited these 9 Missions and I would like to share with you what makes each of these 9 Missions special.  Here they are, from the Southernmost to the Northernmost: 

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Soledad
Soledad, CA (about 25 miles south of Salinas, CA)
Located within the agricultural lands of the Salinas Valley, the original Mission itself fell into decline when the Mexican government began secularizing the California Missions in 1835.  It wasn't until the middle of the 20th Century (1954), that a restoration and reconstruction effort began to give tourists an idea of what the Mission was like for the native residents in the 1790s and early 1800s.

Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo (pictured above)
Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA (about 5 miles south of Monterey, CA)
The second Mission founded in the chain of 21, the Carmel Mission has quite an expansive operation going on down there (much like the ones at San Diego and San Francisco!).  The Mission was Father Serra's "personal favorite" and, upon his death in 1784, he was buried on the Mission site.  The historical landmark has four surrounding museums chronicling the Mission's several restorations, the history of the influential Munras family, several art exhibits and the room that served as Father Serra's home and deathbed.

Mission San Juan Bautista
San Juan Bautista, CA (about 15 miles south of Gilroy, CA)
In the quaint little town of San Juan Bautista is their crown jewel attraction of the Mission.  With a beautiful chapel and an informative museum, the Mission is a little gem that features a beautiful Garden that displays a quick history of each of the 21 Missions.

Mission Santa Cruz
Santa Cruz, CA (located near Downtown Santa Cruz)
If you're going to Santa Cruz for it's Historic Downtown district or for its famed Beach Boardwalk, you must stop by the Mission to take a quick look at the quaint Chapel that sits across the street from the beautiful Holy Cross (Santa Cruz) parish.

Mission Santa Clara de Asís
Santa Clara, CA (located on Santa Clara University campus)
This beautiful replica Mission Chapel is situated on the Santa Clara University campus, which was one of the first colleges in California.  It also has the distinction of being the first California Mission named in honor of a woman, Saint Clare of Assisi (one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi).

Mission San José
Fremont, CA (about 15 miles north of San Jose, CA)
This one is practically down the street from where I live!  The Mission has the distinction of being the first Catholic Church within the San Francisco East Bay (the Oakland-Berkeley area) and was the primary parish for several influential families within the area (i.e. Livermore, Peralta and Vallejo).

Mission San Francisco de Asís (pictured below)
San Francisco, CA (located in San Francisco's Mission District)
Within the heart of the city's Mission District is this gorgeous Basilica (nicknamed Mission Dolores) that served as the first Mission within what is now the San Francisco Bay Area.  The Mission protected, taught and housed the native Ohlone people, whose tribes were once all over Northern California. 

Mission San Rafael Arcángel
San Rafael, CA (about 15 miles north of San Francisco, CA)
This Mission's chapel holds a special place in my heart as it was the parish that my Grandfather belonged to when he was a young boy.

Mission San Francisco de Solano
Sonoma, CA (about 40 miles north of San Francisco, CA)
The final Mission founded is one of two Missions that are owned by the CA State Parks Association.  When going to this Mission, you also get a look at one of the Army barracks and you get a tour of the house of General Mariano Vallejo.

Next week, 10 FAVORITES returns.  In two weeks, GOLDEN PLACES will explore the delightful and charming Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, CA.  Until then, take the time to explore some of the best (and sometimes unsung!) places in your state, province or country.