Sunday, December 23, 2012

CHRISTMAS SPECIAL! - The 12 Days of Pop Culture

For my final post of 2012, I thought I would do something special for Christmas (as it is in two days!).  I wanted to go through some of the things our wonderful Pop Culture has given us that are influences in my life.  Some of them are franchises, some of them are TV shows and some of them are just good plain fun!  So without further adieu, here is my special:


12 Star Trek Movies
There is a theory that certain Star Trek films (Wrath of Khan, Undiscovered Country, First Contact) are better than others (The Motion Picture, Generations, Insurrection).  And though I don't really disagree, overall I would say this franchise has certainly made me quite happy (flaws and all!).  And with the 12th Trek film (Star Trek Into Darkness) coming out in Summer 2013, I will certainly be one of the "Trekkies" standing in line on opening day!

11 Disney Princesses
Growing up with Disney as a major influence in my life, I certainly cannot ignore the numerous Princesses they have in their film line-up.  It was in the early 2000s though that someone in the Disney Marketing Department decided to turn these singing ladies into a diabolical money-making franchise.  They started with six initially (Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Ariel, Belle and Jasmine).  They soon added Pocahontas and Mulan to the mix (despite the former only "technically" a Princess and the latter not being one at all!!!).  With the recent releases of The Princess and the Frog and Tangled, in came Tiana and Rapunzel.  And now with the Disney/Pixar flick Brave, lead character Merida will be added to the group come the new year.  (For those who agree with me and don't like counting Mulan, you can throw Enchanted's Gisele in her place despite that being mostly a live-action Disney film!)

10 Seth MacFarlanes
It seems like Seth MacFarlane is everywhere now!  He had a hit movie over the summer (Ted) and will be hosting the 2013 Academy Awards (censors be on guard!!!).  And, of course, we cannot forget his immensely popular TV empire: his FOX Animated sitcoms Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show.  Within this empire, MacFarlane himself voices 10 regular characters on all three shows together.  On Family Guy, he voices Griffin family members Peter, Brian and Stewie along with neighbor Glenn Quagmire, Carter Pewterschmidt (Peter's father-in-law), newsman Tom Tucker and Quahog's resident physician Dr. Hartman.  On American Dad!, he voices lead characters Stan Smith and alien Roger; while over on spin-off Cleveland Show, he voices neighbor Tim the Bear (if you've never seen the show, don't ask!).  That's a lot of personalities for one man to have inside him (and yes, I know what I just said!).

9 Christmas Specials
In my childhood, Christmas was a time to watch some great Holiday TV.  And there were 9 Animated ones that were musts in my family.  There was A Garfield Christmas and A Claymation Christmas Special that were new during my childhood.  There were always the Rankin/Bass specials, of which 3 were the best: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming to Town and Frosty the Snowman.  There were two very important Animated versions of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol: Mr. Magoo's and Mickey Mouse's. But the two that were the most important were Dr. Seuss' classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas (not the Jim Carrey one!) and the beloved A Charlie Brown Christmas.

8 Harry Potters
He's protected a stone, escaped a secret chamber, hidden a prisoner, "gobletted" his way through a tournament, joined an order, studied a half-blood prince and even faced death itself.  No matter how you cut it, we're just wild about Harry Potter!  Though J.K. Rowling only wrote 7 books, the people at Warner Brothers decided to split the final book into two installments.  Therefore, they gave audiences 8 chances to put the boy wizard with the lightning scar and his friends in film franchise history as the biggest money-making movie series of all time.  However, this has now spawned a bunch of copycats in that they want to split a book (or a series' final book) into two or three films (see Twilight, The Hunger Games and The Hobbit!).

7 Star Wars Movies
Growing up, George Lucas' first three Star Wars films (Episodes IV through VI, if you're counting!) were like a religion in my household (thanks to my brother!).  And while the prequels have gone down as paling in comparison to the glory that is the original trilogy, I was still there on opening day of all three of those bastards!  And even though the Animated Clone Wars film made me want to throw an Ewok off the Endor moon, I'm still excited by the possibility of yet another Star Wars movie now that Disney has picked up the franchise and future development rights.

6 Different Bonds
I already spoke this year about my appreciation for the James Bond films.  And on that list, there was at least one film of each of the six actors who have taken on the role of the superspy (especially in George Lazenby's case!).

5 Muppet Show Seasons!
This one is fairly self-explanatory (and if it isn't, you can all brush up on your Googling!).

4 Jack Sparrows
Who knew Disney could manage to make a lot of money and some pretty exciting films (though the fourth one is kind of a tedious vehicle!) based on a singular Disney ride?  The popular attraction has now resurrected Johnny Depp as a bankable movie star and produced some very interesting characters (from Orlando Bloom's Errol Flynn-like Will Turner to Keira Knightley's lovely Elizabeth Swann or Geoffrey Rush's opportunistic Barbosa to Ian McShane's wicked Blackbeard!).

3 Frodo Films
With the first of Peter Jackson's three Hobbit prequels out this month, I was greatly reminded of Jackson's brilliant trilogy which basically began the 21st Century.  All three films got nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award in their respective years and the final installment triumphed in winning all 11 of the categories for which it was nominated (including Best Picture!).

2 Brothers Grimm
This one has a double meaning!  It is true that there were two Grimm Brothers (Jacob and Wilhelm) who helped to popularize the classic folk and fairy tales for Western Culture.  And it has been said that the two brothers were completely different in personality.  It is believed that elder brother Jacob, the philosopher, had an affinity for the darker side of the tales; while younger brother Wilhelm had a yen for the romantic side of them (as Romanticism was becoming quite popular throughout Europe at the time!).  And now it seems that things have come full circle as two extremely popular and extremely different drama series air on TV.  On NBC, Grimm modernizes the tales and fits them more into a dark and gritty crime procedural that Jacob might have enjoyed.  Meanwhile over on ABC, Once Upon a Time's modernization is mixed with the romanticism (and serial soap opera-style) of the fairy tale world that would have appealed to young Wilhelm.

A Road Made of Yellow Brick!
And what Holiday season would be complete without a trip over the rainbow?  During my childhood, L. Frank Baum's glorious and magical land of Oz was quite a favorite of mine.  It was brilliantly showcased on the big screen in 1939's classic movie musical (a gem for all to see!) and has been adapted in several ways from books (novels and comic books!) to the stage (see Wicked!).  Sometimes I feel all I need is a walk down a Yellow Brick Road to make me feel in good spirits.  Perfect for any season (Holiday or no Holiday!).


Monday, December 17, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Finding Our Humanity

Sometimes things happen for which there are really no words.  And when such things occur, that's when everybody (and their brother!) has something to say.

Usually it is always some form of blame.  Over this weekend, I have watched and read and heard (as has most of all of you!) as TV pundits, newspapers, my friends, my family and (of course) the Internet have theorized, accused, opined and grieved over the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT that killed 26 people (including 20 children) on Friday, December 14, 2012.  Amid the cacophony were people looking for a solution to such tragedies.  But the ultimate answer to that is that there is none.  And I don't mean we should let things like this happen, because they shouldn't and we shouldn't.  But what I mean is that there isn't just one solution to the multiple problems that led to a horrible crime against nature like the one on Friday.

Of course there are the legal and medical questions.  How did such a young man obtain so many assault rifles?  Why was this young man, who was said by those who knew him to have a "severe personality disorder," not under a physician or therapist's care?  Several articles have been written about renewing the Gun Control argument and several politicians have spoken about the issue.  Blog posts have been dedicated to chiding the mental health community and health care in general.  There even has been the point made (and it is not the first time!) that the Media is in part to blame for such an event.  And while I don't agree that Media is entirely responsible, I will say our 24/7 "need-to-get-the-story-out-first" Media outlets (run by the "dreaded" Corporations!) do not help in such matters and oftentimes make certain things worse.

Ah, the Corporations!  They run our insurance companies.  They control our TV Networks, Hollywood Studios and Publishing Houses.  And they even lobby our government to let them have such monopolies (no offense to Parker Brothers!).  And I would even agree (to an extent!) that the overall Corporation-ing of our culture has made us lose a bit of ourselves.  I mean, when I think of how much certain companies own in this society, I am reminded of the great Benjamin Franklin quote:

  • They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
We have given a lot of things up in the name of safety, convenience and even (ironically!) communication.  But, with all respects to Dr. Franklin, I don't think it is just liberty or freedom we have "given up."  I think we have, in several ways, sacrificed our humanity.

And yes, I know I am not the first person to say such a thing, but I feel at this time (more than ever) it is important for people to remember.  We need to take back our humanity.  And it begins with us...on the individual level.  We need to check-in with each other, talk to each other and be there for each other.  We have all these things at our disposal - Social Media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), E-Mail and all kinds of cell phones! - and we are not using them to communicate.

So I charge you, my readers, to go out and actually communicate with the people in your lives.  Find out about them.  See how they are.  If they have a problem, listen to them or help them if you're able.  Use the mediums at your disposal if you need.  And don't just do it over the Holiday season.  Do it all year round.  We cannot let people slip through the cracks in our society.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Oscar Season Begins!

Clockwise: Sally Field and Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln; Alan Arkin and Ben Affleck in Argo; Stephen Dillane and Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty; Anne Hathaway in Les Misérables
Well readers, it's been a month since my last post and it was a very well-deserved vacation!  And now that we are heading into Winter, there is one thing that is on everyone's mind in Hollywood: The Oscars and who will be nominated this time around.  The nominations will not be announced until the morning of January 13th and it is during the month of December that those ballots will be filled out by Academy voters as to which of this year's films deserve the top prize.  Because the Oscars have moved their schedule up an entire month, all the other awards on the circuit have tried to accommodate that with the Golden Globes (the most high-profile Oscar precursor) announcing their nominees next Thursday.  So which films are the front-runners in the race to be nominated for the biggest award?  Well there are certainly a few.  And with the Academy's new rule that allows for anywhere from 5 to 10 films to be nominated for Best Picture, the race has become that much harder to predict.

However, amid all the predictions are 3 films that are definitely going to be in prominent contention come Oscar night.  When Argo was released in September, Ben Affleck received the best reviews of his career (as a director, actor and co-screenwriter).  His thrilling and suspenseful adaptation about a secret CIA mission to retrieve American Embassy workers during the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis was far and wide considered a surefire bet for Best Picture.  In addition to Argo, critics then lauded the most recent Steven Spielberg film, Lincoln.  In this stunning political biopic, two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis has received raves for his role as the 16th President of the United States and is in definite contention for a third Best Actor statue.   But the buzziest film of 2012's Oscar season has yet to be released for audiences.  Academy Award winner Tom Hooper's adaptation of the iconic stage musical Les Misérables has been receiving Oscar buzz ever since the first trailer appeared in theaters over the summer (especially for Best Supporting Actress contender Anne Hathaway) and will not be released until Christmas Day.  So at this time, I have seen both Argo and Lincoln and can assure you that both deserve the attention they are getting.  I will soon be seeing Les Misérables (thanks to a perk, I'll get to see it a week before Christmas Day!), so I will be able to let you know if the buzz is correct in placing it alongside the other two.

But in the last few days, another film has been getting attention that most likely would have belonged to the three films mentioned above.  Kathryn Bigelow, who two years ago made history when she became the first woman to win the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker, has made yet another topical film that has captured awards attention.  And that film is Zero Dark Thirty, Bigelow's adaptation of the operation that took down Osama Bin Laden.  Over the weekend, the New York Film Critics named Bigelow's movie the Best Picture of the year with the National Board of Review following suit just a few days later.  The National Board of Review also named Bigelow Best Director and star Jessica Chastain as the year's Best Actress.  However, my father pointed out that these wins may have more to do with the movie's subject matter than with the merits of the movie itself (even if it is a great film!).  But with these new developments, I would not be surprised to see Zero Dark Thirty (a film I have yet to see and now have more interest in seeing!) among the top contenders come Oscar time.

There are two other films that are getting mentioned (at least by the critics) when it comes to the contenders for Best Picture.  One is David O. Russell's dark relationship comedy Silver Linings Playbook which stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as two people with deep personal problems who connect with each other despite several differences.  The film is being hailed across the board and Lawrence is considered the top front-runner for Best Actress.  And Bradley Cooper shouldn't be out of the mix either having won the National Board of Review's Best Actor award (over Daniel Day-Lewis!).  The other film being mentioned is Ang Lee's sweeping Life of Pi, which garnered much praise after being viewed at the New York Film Festival.  Several critics pegged it as a surefire Best Picture contender.  And with Ang Lee's previous Oscar pedigree (winning Best Director in 2006 for Brokeback Mountain and Best Foreign Language Film in 2001 for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), it has a pretty good shot with the critics behind it.

Now I could leave these predictions at six films, but what kind of Oscar predictor would that make me?  There are several other films that are being mentioned on message boards (and by a few critics).  There's Paul Thomas Anderson's faux-Scientology drama The Master (which won at the Cannes Film Festival) and Benh Zeitlin's critically-lauded Beasts of the Southern Wild (which won at Sundance).  The Denzel Washington-led Flight and Quentin Tarantino's new film Django Unchained (which is an homage to "Spaghetti Westerns") are also audience faves (even though Django Unchained is yet-to-be-released!) Let's not forget the Foreign Film Amour, which won Europe's top Film prize and is on several critics' top 10 lists.  And among all these typical awards-fare, three franchise films (or genre pics!) are being thrown into the conversation.  Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and Sam Mendes' Bond film Skyfall are all on some lists when talking about Best Picture.  All this said, it shall be a very interesting mix of movies being lauded at the Academy Awards this time around.

Friday, November 2, 2012

10 FAVORITES (66): Bond James Bond

In one week, the 23rd film in the James Bond movie franchise will be released.  Directed by Academy Award-winning director Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig (in his third outing as 007!), Skyfall has been long-awaited after financial difficulties with MGM Studios and script concerns (with Peter Morgan leaving to be replaced by John Logan).  The anticipation for this film has been stirring for a while (especially since Craig's appearance alongside Queen Elizabeth II in the 2012 London Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies!), it now seems that everyone has Bond-fever.  Both Craig and Logan have already signed on for two more Bond movies following Skyfall and most box-office prognosticators predict that the film shall be one of the biggest openings of November (second probably to the final installment of The Twilight Saga).  But being as this is the 23rd cinematic Bond outing, I thought that maybe this week I would discuss some of the superspy's previous adventures and which ones were his absolute best.  So this week's 10 FAVORITES is dedicated to:


On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
James Bond played by: George Lazenby
Theme Song sung by: Louis Armstrong
I know you might want to laugh at this moment and you may even want to click to another site, but hear me out first!  George Lazenby had a very tough act to follow when Sean Connery decided to forgo playing 007 in the sixth Bond film.  Is Lazenby great? No, but he's not horrible and who could compare to Connery at that point? No one else had played the role (in any serious way).  Lazenby is helped by a very good supporting cast (which includes Diana Rigg and Telly Savallas) and a well fleshed out script (from one of Ian Fleming's short stories about Bond!).  Lazenby ends up getting a bad rap mainly because of the shoes he had to fill that he just (as simply a former model and not a seasoned actor) could not fill.

Thunderball (1965)
James Bond played by: Sean Connery
Theme Song sung by: Tom Jones
This was Connery's fourth film as 007 and after the first three (which we'll get to!), you could see the strains of the franchise beginning.  But this slightly convoluted spy film (I mean what spy film isn't convoluted?!?) is still entirely enjoyable.  Plus the Tom Jones theme song sets you up for adventure...of the underwater kind!

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
James Bond played by: Roger Moore
Theme Song sung by: Carly Simon
This was Roger Moore's third time in Bond's shoes and I almost added The Man With the Golden Gun (Moore's second Bond film) to this list.  But its this film's story that I have always found fascinating.  Even though there was an actual Ian Fleming novel with this title, the story of the film is in no way related to the narrative of that book.  Here, they have an evil recluse (played brilliantly by Curt Jurgens) trying to destroy the world and create a new one underwater (called Atlantis!) that revolves all around him.  It features another great Bond girl (Barbara Bach as the Russian Anya Amasova who allies with Bond) and an infamous villain sidekick (who can forget Richard Kiel's metal-mouthed Jaws?!?).

Dr. No (1962)
James Bond played by: Sean Connery
Theme Song played by: The John Barry Orchestra
This was the first, the original, the "shot heard round the world" (so to speak!).  It perfectly set up the character as we know him (who doesn't remember the first time Sean Connery spoke the name "Bond James Bond?") and it has one of the most famous Bond girls of all-time (Ursula Andress grrr!!!).  This one's placement on this list is a no-brainer.

Licence to Kill (1989)
James Bond played by: Timothy Dalton
Theme Song sung by: Gladys Knight
I may take a lot of flack for this one, but I really enjoyed this film (a lot more than Timothy Dalton's earlier Bond film The Living Daylights, yuck!).  And I think what I liked about it was the pacing and the mood.  It felt like a series finale.  And for a few years after this film came out, it felt like they were never going to do another Bond film again.  That might have to do with the fact that the year this film came out, it was up against other franchise fair like Back to the Future II, Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman and The Little Mermaid.  With those films making most of the box office money in 1989, its no wonder MGM considered this to be the last Bond film...for the time being (but we'll get to that in a bit!).

Live and Let Die (1973)
James Bond played by: Roger Moore
Theme Song sung by: Paul McCartney
This was the first time Roger Moore stepped into the Bond role and it was very different from previous ones.  Here Agent 007 was up against the trappings of Caribbean voodoo and the mystery found in those American islands.  Moore proved himself quite up to the task of taking over for Connery and he had some great support.  Yaphet Kotto was well cast as the imposing villain Dr. Kananga and Jane Seymour (in her first major film role) is both sensual and mysterious as the psychic Solitaire.  And the thrilling theme song by Paul McCartney just empowers you!

Casino Royale (2006)
James Bond played by: Daniel Craig
Theme Song sung by: Chris Cornell
There was a lot riding on this film.  It was based on one of Fleming's most famous 007 books which had never really had a serious film adaptation (a 1954 television episode and the satirical 1967 film do not count!).  It was also introducing a new actor as Bond, an actor that many people had never really heard of before.  But in the hands of director Martin Campbell (who had directed Goldeneye) and screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (who have been with the franchise since The World Is Not Enough and have worked on the script for Skyfall alongside John Logan), this adaptation fully satisfies Bond fans who have been waiting for this title to be seriously adapted.  It was a good choice for Purvis and Wade to ally themselves on this film with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Paul Haggis (of Million Dollar Baby and Crash fame).

From Russia With Love (1963)
James Bond played by: Sean Connery
Theme Song sung by: Matt Monro
When dealing with a superspy character that was created during the Cold War, at some point the films are going to have to deal with Soviet antagonists.  So the producers ventured the subject matter in the second Bond film and did so quite brilliantly.  It is highly considered one of the best Bond films of all time and it has one of the best screenplays with really well-developed characters.  Connery was becoming more comfortable in Bond's skin and it clearly shows.  Plus the villains are so well cast.  Robert Shaw gives a breakout performance as an assassin after Bond.  And then there's Lotte Lenya, who practically steals the movie as the truly ruthless Rosa Klebb.

Goldeneye (1995)
James Bond played by: Pierce Brosnan
Theme Song sung by: Tina Turner
As I said before, in the early 1990s the studio considered not doing anymore Bond films.  But with growing interest and the casting decision of Pierce "Remington Steele" Brosnan, this became one of the most profitable and most enjoyable of 007 films.  Again, Bond is up against Soviet holdouts from the Cold War and has to stop a dangerous nuclear device from destroying the world.  But the addition of (SPOILER ALERT!) the traitorous Alec Trevelyan (known at MI-6 as 006!) played perfectly by Sean Bean was just the kick this Bond needed to make him fascinating.  It also didn't hurt that Famke Janssen played one of the more shall we say "interesting Bond girls," Xenia Onatopp (the deadliest legs in the Bond universe literally!).

Goldfinger (1964)
James Bond played by: Sean Connery
Theme Song sung by: Shirley Bassey
What can I say?  Everything about this Bond film is perfect.  It has the best Bond actor (Sean Connery IS AND ALWAYS WILL BE 007!).  It has the best Bond girl (Honor Blackman as Pussy Galore...'nuff said!).  It has the greatest Bond villain (Gert Frobe is amazing as Goldfinger despite the German actor's voice needing to be dubbed by British actor Michael Collins).  It has the best villain sidekick (Oddjob and his deadly hat!).  And it has the greatest Bond theme song (belted by the amazingly talented Shirley Bassey!).  It is a brilliant piece of Bond cinema and is extremely hard to top!

Will Skyfall join this list?  Will Adele's already amazing theme song join the annals of great Bond themes alongside the likes of Shirley Bassey, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney and Tom Jones?  We will have to wait until next week to find out.

Friday, October 26, 2012

10 FAVORITES (65): Scariest Villains

With Halloween just around the corner, I thought that my latest edition of 10 FAVORITES would be a scary one.  When one thinks of Halloween, one usually tries to think of scary things.  And then I started thinking about the things that frightened me as a kid.  Of course, the obligatory scary movies made their way into my mind and several of their iconic gory images.  Then I decided that I wanted to share with you, my readers, which Movie villains from my childhood used to scare me the most.  Now, as these villains had to be scary to me when I was a kid, there had to be a cut-off date.  The Movie and its villain had to appear in the cultural lexicon before I was at least 11 or 12 (which is when I started not being so scared by images and faces I would see on the Silver Screen!).  So the Films on this list had to be released before 1990 (Apologies to Dr. Hannibal Lecter and Lord Voldemort!).  That being said, it is good that I chose this day to share this list: Friday, October 26 (I figure if Friday the 13th is unlucky, then Friday the 26th must be doubly unlucky!).  So, without further adieu, here are:


Jack Torrance, The Shining (1980)
Annie Wilkes, Misery (1990)
These two are together mainly because they are both from two of Stephen King's most popular books.  But growing up, Jack Nicholson's face through that door at a terrified Shelley Duvall and Kathy Bates (in her Oscar-winning role) hobbling a bedridden James Caan were frighteningly crazy.

The Skeksis, The Dark Crystal (1982)
As a kid, these brilliant creations by Muppet mastermind Jim Henson did exactly what they were supposed to do: frighten the children in the audience into not liking them.  Their evil, opportunistic world was dark and scary enough for the children to be wowed by the film's ultimate conclusion.

Monstro, Pinocchio (1940)
The Great White Shark, Jaws (1975)
These two go together as they are my "Villains of the Deep" (so to speak!).  Of course I saw Pinocchio before I saw Jaws (as most kids probably did!).  Monstro was one of the most frightening of Disney's villains (at least to me!) and when I saw Steven Spielberg's blockbuster, I was reminded of the scare I had watching the Disney classic.

The Devil, The Exorcist (1973)
Who knew that sweet little Linda Blair had such a nasty mouth on her?  If you see this film as a kid (and you're raised with Catholic conceptions of Hell and damnation!), you worry that you will end up like Linda Blair and spew bile and spin your head and say horrible vile things to people.  With the latter, this film handed me a ready-made excuse!

Norman Bates, Psycho (1960)
My father always tells the story of how his uncle took him to see this film when it first came out.  My father was only 12 at the time.  Alfred Hitchcock was a master of terror and my father learned halfway through this film how good at his job he was.  So good in fact my father ran screaming out of the theater when "Norman's mother" attacked investigator Martin Balsam.

Mola Ram, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984)
I was very young when I saw this movie and well the video below should be explanation enough.  (I mean, I still can't watch this scene all the way through!)

The Wicked Witch of the West, The Wizard of Oz (1939)
These days (thanks in part to a certain musical!) the lady with the green skin is not as frightening.  But when you're a little kid seeing this cackling flying woman threatening sweet Judy Garland (and her little dog too!), you can't help but be terrified.

Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine, The Star Wars Trilogy (1977-1983)
Darth Vader was an imposing figure enough in the first film (with that booming intimidating voice of James Earl Jones!).  By the third film, we learned he was Luke's father and was turned by an evil Dark lord.  And then we meet this Dark lord, the Emperor himself.  And boy is he a piece of work!  I mean, if it takes Vader to kill him, then you know he has to be bad!

The Alien Queen, Aliens (1986)
In James Cameron's really well-done sequel to Ridley Scott's brilliantly terrifying 1979 sci-fi classic, we learn that the Alien from that first film was one of many.  A colony of Aliens run by a predatory and vicious Queen. The terrifying actions of this monstrous "bitch" (as Sigourney Weaver's Ripley succinctly puts it!) were so frightening to me as a kid.  To me, the Alien Queen is the scariest female villain (or "villainess") of all-time.  As for the men, see below.

Freddy Kreuger, Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
More than Jason or Michael Myers or Leatherface or any of the other villains listed above, Freddy was truly the stuff of Nightmares.  Wes Craven cemented his master of horror/slasher film status with Robert Englund's terrifying interpretation of a deformed man who kills teens in their dreams.  He was menacing, gory and all kinds of scary.  I mean he even killed a young Johnny Depp!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: Of Baseballs and Candidates...

This is an interesting screenshot from ESPN's Monday Night Football coverage last night that I feel is pertinent to this article.
Well everyone, it has been an interesting 3 weeks since my last post.  However, not interesting enough to warrant me posting over that time.  You see, unless you've been living on the moon, there are two things that have been dominating our culture's collective conversation over the last month: Baseball and the Election.  With Major League Baseball making their way to the World Series (which begins tomorrow!) and the 2012 Presidential Election coming down to the wire with the debates of the major candidates, the first half of this month has certainly had the media in a frenzy trying to cover what happened.  And they didn't seem to cover much else (at least in any great detail!).  I have never really cared for sports and so it really makes no difference to me which teams will be playing in the World Series.  That being said (and the fact that I call the San Francisco Bay Area home), congratulations must be given to the San Francisco Giants.  And it probably would be nice to see them win it all again.  But as I said, I don't really care.  That was the first reason for my silence these last few weeks.  The other was the Election.

Now a major Presidential Election is important and I would it expect it to be a dominant story no matter what else is going on in the world (except maybe a World War or perhaps a severe geological disaster!).  I try not to discuss politics on this blog, mainly because that is not the purpose of a blog that focuses on Arts and Entertainment.  However, I cannot ignore something that has been an integral part of the culture.  And so I have to speak.  There was once a time in our country when the Presidential debates mattered.  Television was a fairly new thing when most people felt that the televised Presidential debate of 1960 between then-Senator John F. Kennedy and then-Vice President Richard M. Nixon basically swung voters from one side to the other (and we know how close that Election was!).  And we all learned in our Elementary School history classes about the legend that was the Lincoln-Douglas debates.  But over these weeks, I've discovered something.  I believe our current climate and 24/7 media has rendered a Presidential (or even Vice Presidential debate) useless.  You see, after talking to some people and reading the numerous tweets and status updates following each debate (and there were A LOT!), I realized that nothing said in the debates changed anyone's mind.  I mean, the ones who were extremely liberal were still going to vote to give President Barack Obama a second term.  And the ones who were not as pleased with the last four years, were still going to vote for former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.  Most of my "undecided" friends and acquaintances still consider themselves in that category and some are even going as far as to write-in other candidates (because they are disillusioned by the entire 2-party system, which is a discussion for another time!).  With two weeks left until Election Day, both candidates seem to be in a sort of "Dead Heat" with no signs of it going one way or the other at this moment (which is certainly frustrating to all the news outlets out there from FOX News to MSNBC!).  It seems that both sides (Democrats or Republicans, Liberals or Conservatives, etc.) dug their heels in even more and just slung a little more mud (calling each other "liars" or "ineffectual").

So I have to ask: what good did the debates do if most of the voters (who already knew most of their preferred candidate's proposed policies well before October) didn't really open themselves up to the other side's point of view? Or even more constructively, open up to a possible compromise?  My aunt went as far as to compare the vitriol out there to the rabidness sports fans have when supporting their favorite team.  And I couldn't help but laugh at the irony that (through the wonder that is the scheduling of October 2012!) the MLB Playoffs were occurring at the same time as both political parties were spewing their venom as the candidates made their respective cases.  As I said, I don't really like to get political and it was one of the major reasons I did not post these last few weeks.  But I could not ignore such an important moment in the culture without stating something I feel we all need to think about.  Are we in a cultural vacuum when it comes to politics?  Has the competitiveness we often see in Sports (and sometimes Oscar season!) made its way into how we choose our Government?  Or are we in such a hole (economically, militarily, environmentally, etc.) that the patience we so desperately need is not enough to subside the anger that is out there (on both sides of the aisle!)?  These are just questions to think about, I am not advocating one over the other.  Just bear these in mind when you fill out your ballot on Election Day.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

10 FAVORITES (64): Divas and Divos!

Last week for my birthday, I got to do something I've always wanted to but never got the chance (be it for whatever reason: finances, time, interest, etc.!).  I got to attend my first live Opera.  Yes, I have seen Opera on Television or heard great Opera recordings. And I even have seen some Opera singers sing live at events or concerts.  But this was my first Opera live and in person.  And what a way to do it with the perfection of the San Francisco Opera at the gorgeous War Memorial Opera House (where I also saw my first ballet many a year ago!).  The production was of Giuseppe Verdi's classic Rigoletto and it was truly amazing.  No, I did not see any Opera "stars" like Bryn Terfel or Anna Netrebko.  The people in this production were Opera singers from other parts of the world (our title character was an Italian baritone and our leading female was a Russian coloratura, just to give you an idea!) and they were just as brilliant as those who have made names for themselves performing at the Metropolitan in New York or Covent Garden in London or the all-too-famous La Scala Opera House in Milan.  But now I've begun to think of the famed Opera singers of the past and how they inspired me to dream of one day seeing a live Opera.  There have been so many names that have over the hundreds of years Opera has existed that have become synonymous with the Art.  So, that is why I am devoting this week's 10 FAVORITES to:

Miss Piggy and Link Hogthrob on The Muppet Show "honoring" Opera

Dame Joan Sutherland
This Australian soprano was noted for her soaring high notes.  Nicknamed "La Stupenda," she became noted for her phenomenal breakthrough in Franco Zeffirelli's 1959 Covent Garden production of Gaetano Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor (recreated below for TV's Bell Television Hour).

Jose Carerras
The third of "The Three Tenors" was considered one of the most desirable males in Opera.  The Portuguese singer was a popular ticket especially when he played the swooning romantic leads like Alfredo in Verdi's La Traviata or Puccini's Rudolfo in La Boheme (below).

Marilyn Horne
One of the most amazing mezzo-sopranos of the 20th Century, Marilyn Horne did it all and did it all quite well.  She did great Operas (she performed Bellini's Norma with the likes of Joan Sutherland or Monterrat Caballe), she worked in Film (most notably as the singing voice for Dorothy Dandridge in Otto Preminger's Carmen Jones) and even Television (she did multiple PBS specials and appeared several times on Sesame Street!).

Enrico Caruso
Before WWII, this Italian tenor was the very definition of Opera.  His recordings were always big sellers making Opera popular with the masses.  It became "chic" to love Caruso.

Andrea Bocelli
Though he doesn't perform in Operas, this amazingly-voiced blind tenor has recorded some of the most famous Operas and those record sales have added to his classical pop recordings.  He mixes his lush Operatic sounds with a popular sound that makes audiences swoon and soar.

Leontyne Price
This groundbreaking soprano has more Grammy Awards than any other Opera star.  With her gorgeous voice, she made people look beyond the color of her skin and defy some of the prejudices people have when it comes to Opera (bringing a whole new audience to the art!).

Beverly Sills
Known in many circles as "Bubbles," this cherub-faced soprano showed the world you didn't have to be a temperamental diva to be a great Opera star.  Her personable style and fantastic sense of humor made her a pleasure on many talk and variety shows throughout her career, most notably on The Muppet Show!

Placido Domingo
This brilliant Spanish tenor is still active today (and is also the Creative Director of the Los Angeles Opera Company!).  With his full voice, he has performed some of the most famous roles all over the world.  To date, he has sung 140 different roles and intends to perform two more new ones come next year!  With his voice, every day is a "pleasant Sunday."

Maria Callas
She was known as "La Divina" and (too many of her critics) as "The Tigress."  For many, she was more famous for her social interactions (multiple marriages, a long-standing affair with Aristotle Onassis, etc.).  But it was her voice that I first heard (before I knew anything about her personal life!) and absolutely adored.  I felt it was one of the most beautiful sounds I ever heard.  Just listen to her perform the "Habanera" from Bizet's Carmen (below).

Luciano Pavarotti
But more than Callas, this is the voice that brings me to tears (especially when he sings the "Nessun Dorma" from Verdi's Turandot!).  Out of the Three Tenors, Luciano was by far my favorite (though it was amazing to watch those three perform on the same stage!).  For me, Pavarotti is and always will be Opera.

Monday, September 24, 2012


Today is quite a special day.  32 years ago, a young man was born and is now embarking on a writing career.  As with most artistic careers, it has been a bumpy road but still creatively satisfying.  For today, I want to share with you, my readers, a very special Birthday blogpost.  I want to dedicate this post to all the special people who were born on this day.  Below, I have listed 25 amazing, important, influential and dynamic people who each contributed something to the world in their own way (be it through the arts, entertainment, sports, politics or anything else!).  So let us see which people (besides yours truly!) have helped make September 24 a very special day.


John Marshall (1755-1835): The longest serving Chief Justice in U.S. Supreme Court history was one of the leading Federalists in the early 19th Century.

Franklin Clarence Mars (1883-1934): Founder of the prominent candy company Mars Inc., along with his son created the timeless candy classic M&M's.

Blind Lemon Jefferson (1893-1929): The "Father of the Texas Blues" influenced blues legends from Robert Johnson to B. B. King.

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940): One of America's most celebrated writers lives on through his works, especially his most enduring: The Great Gatsby.

Audra Lindley (1918-1997): Best known as Mrs. Roper from Three's Company, one of the most popular sitcoms of the 1970s.

Jim McKay (1921-2008): For over 30 years, he hosted ABC's Wide World of Sports as well as hosted 12 Olympic Games and many other sports (ranging from the Kentucky Derby to the Indy 500!).

Theresa Merritt (1924-1998): This lovable character actress of Stage, TV and Film is perhaps best known for her title role on the 1970s cult series That's My Mama!

Sheila MacRae (1924): Actress and singer who was married to the late Gordon MacRae and (most famously) played the role of Honeymooners' Alice Kramden on Jackie Gleason's late '60s variety show.

Anthony Newley (1931-1999): British actor, singer-songwriter and all-around performer is best known for is work in films like David Lean's Oliver Twist and the 1967 Doctor Dolittle as well as his songs for Goldfinger, Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory and the Broadway hit Stop the World-I Want to Get Off!

Chick Willis (1934): A controversial jazz & blues singer who started by working for his famous singer-cousin Chuck Willis.

Jim Henson (1936-1990): One of the most influential creative minds of all-time (jn my humble opinion!) made millions of people happy with his Muppet creations especially the lovable Kermit the Frog.

Linda McCartney (1941-1998): She served as Paul McCartney's muse, especially during his Wings period, and we are all thankful that she made him "Amazed."

Lou Dobbs (1945): The former CNN anchor who now works for the FOX Business network worked as CNN's money and business reporter since its inception in 1980  but left in 2009 due to issues stemming from his conservative-leaning political beliefs.

Joe Greene (1946): Known to the world as "Mean" Joe Green, the retired Pittsburgh Steeler is now best remembered for a famed 1980 Coca-Cola commercial.

Gordon Clapp (1948): Emmy Award-winning character actor for his work on the landmark ABC series NYPD Blue also received a Tony nod for his work in the 2005 revival of David Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross.

Phil Hartman (1948-1998): The famed Saturday Night Live comic actor who also did brilliant work on shows like The Simpsons and NewsRadio was sadly murdered by his wife who then killed herself.

Kevin Sorbo (1958): He started as a model, jumped to acting in the late 1980s (auditioning for the leads on Lois & Clark and The X-Files) and got his big break as TV's Hercules on the cult favorite Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.

Steve Whitmire (1959): This protege of Jim Henson was the Henson family's choice to take over the role of Kermit the Frog upon Jim Henson's death in 1990 and he has performed him ever since.

John Logan (1961): This Tony-winning and Oscar-nominated playwright/screenwriter has worked on several critically-acclaimed films (like Gladiator, The Aviator, Sweeney Todd, Rango, Hugo and the upcoming Bond film Skyfall).

Nia Vardalos (1962): She let us into a little bit of her life and family with her hilarious one-woman show turned hit romantic comedy movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Rafael Palmeiro (1964): He was a popular left fielder for teams like the Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers and Baltimore Orioles until it was discovered in 2005 that he tested positive for steroids, pretty much ending his baseball career.

Robert Irvine (1965): The Food Network chef/host has an abrasive and honest style that serves him well when helping restaurants turn their business around on his popular shows Dinner: Impossible, Restaurant: Impossible and Worst Cooks in America.

Stephanie McMahon (1976): Daughter of the famed Vince McMahon, who owns the Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment company, has made a name for herself as a wrestler and dominant "McMahon" personality.

Morgan and Paul Hamm (1982): The twin American gymnasts who made names for themselves during the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens where they (along with the US Men's team) won a Silver medal and Paul earned the All-Around Gold medal (despite some controversy).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS: 2012 Emmy Predictions

This Sunday night, the 2012 Primetime Emmy Awards will be given out in a ceremony hosted by Jimmy Kimmel on ABC.  So with the ballots in and the nominees readying themselves for Sunday's festivities, it is time for me to give my predictions in the major categories.  This year, I'll only deal with the Drama and Comedy Series categories as I believe most of the other major categories (Variety, Reality, etc.) are just too predictable (I mean, does anyone really think The Daily Show won't win Best Variety Series for a tenth year in a row!?!?!).

Nominees: Boardwalk Empire (HBO), Breaking Bad (AMC), Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), Homeland (Showtime), Mad Men (AMC)
Will Win: Last year, cable favorite Mad Men tied a record with 3 now legendary NBC shows (Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law and The West Wing) by winning this category for a fourth time.  Most critics believe if any show can break the record, its Mad Men.  Their fifth season was one of the most anticipated shows of the Spring schedule and their season was filled with jaw-dropping moments.  And while some may say other shows are stepping up their game, those same people were singing the same tune last year and Mad Men still won.
Should Win: This is tough for me.  While I believe Mad Men will break the record, I would love to see one of two other shows claim the prize.  Showtime's Homeland is smartly written and very timely for this day and age (plus it won the Golden Globe earlier this year!); and Downton Abbey is also smartly written (though about a completely different world than Homeland's!) and brilliantly acted (6 actors are nominated this year for their work!).  Both shows are very deserving of the top prize and have the buzz to push Mad Men off the pedestal (or at least try!).
Dark Horse: But one other show has more buzz going for it than Homeland and Downton Abbey put together, and that is the critically lauded fourth season of Breaking Bad.  If Mad Men's creator Matthew Weiner has left a bad taste in Hollywood's mouth because of his negotiation antics with AMC, Emmy voters could choose to reward the other AMC show nominated and deny Weiner his record-breaking trophy.

Nominees: Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey (PBS); Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire (HBO); Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC); Michael C. Hall, Dexter (Showtime); John Hamm, Mad Men (AMC); Damian Lewis, Homeland (Showtime)
Will & Should Win: He's won the three other times he was nominated and he gave again a chilling performance in his show's fourth season.  Let's face it, this category belongs to Bryan Cranston!

Nominees: Kathy Bates, Harry's Law (NBC); Glenn Close, Damages (DirecTV); Claire Danes, Homeland (Showtime); Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey (PBS); Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (CBS); Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)
Will & Should Win: This was another tough category for me.  But Golden Globe winner Claire Danes plays one of the most intriguing characters on Dramatic TV in recent memory.  As a CIA Agent with severe bipolar disorder, Danes' Carrie Mathison does things that most people won't love her for but does them "in the service of her country."  Danes (who won an Emmy two years ago for the HBO movie Temple Grandin) acts with such nuance that you find her character more interesting rather than pathetic.
Don't Count Her Out: If there is one person who can beat Danes, its last year's champ Julianna Margulies.  In her episode submission, Margulies gives one of the best performances she has done on her series The Good Wife (which shamefully was shut out of the Best Drama Series category!).  If Emmy voters find Danes' character too unlikable, they may want to reward Margulies for the second year in a row.

Nominees: Jim Carter, Downton Abbey (PBS); Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey (PBS); Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO); Giancarlo Esposito, Breaking Bad (AMC); Jared Harris, Mad Men (AMC); Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (AMC)
Will Win: Giancarlo Esposito's work as a ruthless villain on Breaking Bad's fourth season garnered him praise from every TV critic everywhere.  He is the definite front-runner in this category.
Should Win: Last year, I said Game of Thrones' Peter Dinklage "should win" this category and he ended up taking the trophy home.  Dinklage's character is extremely popular on the fan hit (so much so, fans wanted him to submit in the Lead Actor category!).  It is possible that fan love can bring the well-liked character actor a second Emmy win.

Nominees: Christine Baranski, The Good Wife (CBS); Joanne Froggat, Downton Abbey (PBS); Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad (AMC); Christina Hendricks, Mad Men (AMC); Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife (CBS); Dame Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Will Win: No actor from Mad Men has yet to claim an acting win (isn't that shocking?!?).  But Christina Hendricks' Joan Harris did some amazing (and surprising!) things to make partner at the Sterling-Cooper Ad Agency this season and Hendricks played each moment with a much-lauded steely cool demeanor.  If one actor from Mad Men can win an Emmy this year, my money is on this beauty.
Should Win: There really is nothing like a Dame!  Maggie Smith is utterly brilliant as Downton Abbey's Dowager Countess (she won an Emmy last year!) and there is truly no one like her.
Dark Horse: Breaking Bad garnered more praise and more Emmy nominations for its fourth season and Anna Gunn was a big part of all that praise.  With Cranston and Esposito locks in their categories, Emmy voters may want to reward Gunn and let the show pull off a "threesome."

Nominees: The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO), Girls (HBO), Modern Family (ABC), 30 Rock (NBC), Veep (HBO)
Will Win: Though I am of the opinion the show has lost some of its edge (and I may be the only one!), ABC's Modern Family will pull off a third win this Sunday.
Should Win: The Sitcom I believed this season really deserved to win this category is not even nominated (NBC's Parks & Recreation). Therefore, I have to shift all my support to the other show I think has earned this award (though this last season was not its best!) and that is CBS' hilarious The Big Bang Theory.

Nominees: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (NBC); Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Showtime); Louis C. K., Louie (F/X); Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men (CBS); Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO); Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Will Win: Louis C. K. has become more popular (and more lauded) thanks to his work on his self-titled F/X series.  Even though he plays himself (or a version of himself!), his episode submission ("Duckling") is an hour-long giving voters more of him to see than his fellow nominees.  Plus he goes to the Mid-East on a USO tour in the episode, politics is in this election year!
Should Win: If any actor deserves a win for playing himself on a show, it is Larry David.  He's been nominated for Curb Your Enthusiasm several times now and still has no award to show for it.  Maybe that's why the real George Costanza is so irascible!
Don't Count Him Out: Jim Parsons is the reigning champ in this category (having won the last two years in a row!) and his episode submission is a good one.  Next to Alec Baldwin, he is the most recognizable nominee (which, for some Emmy voters, means most deserving!).

Nominees: Zooey Deschanel, New Girl (FOX); Lena Dunham, Girls (HBO); Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime); Tina Fey, 30 Rock (NBC); Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO); Melissa McCarthy, Mike & Molly (CBS); Amy Poehler, Parks & Recreation (NBC)
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is beloved by the Emmys.  She has won Supporting Actress (for Seinfeld) and Lead Actress (for The New Adventures of Old Christine).  And this nomination (her 13th!) ties her with TV Comedy legend Lucille Ball.  Plus, Veep is nominated for Best Comedy Series and that is always a plus (it worked for Edie Falco two years ago!).
Should Win: TV's new "It Girl" of last season was really the New Girl.  Zooey Deschanel brought her adorkable self into audiences hearts and helped FOX rebuild their Sitcom status (Tuesdays this Fall on FOX is centered around New Girl instead of Glee!).
Don't Count Her Out: Even though her series is shy of Best Comedy Series nod (shame on you Emmy voters!), Amy Poehler is a heavy favorite going into Sunday night.  She had a great year on her show (her character Leslie Knope ran for a higher office) and fans of her (dating back to her SNL days!) feel she is truly deserving of her first acting Emmy.

Nominees: Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC); Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family (ABC); Max Greenfield, New Girl (FOX); Bill Hader, Saturday Night Live (NBC); Ed O'Neill, Modern Family (ABC); Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family (ABC)
Will Win: Does it really matter?  It's going to be one of the guys from Modern Family!  Pick one!  If the Emmys are in a rut, they'll reward Burrell or Stonestreet for a second time.  If not, Ferguson or O'Neill could reap the benefits.  If I had to choose (which I guess I do!), Burrell's role is showier while O'Neill is the most deserving (thanks to his years in the business!).  I guess I'd give the edge to Burrell.
Should Win: Without Parks & Rec's Nick Offerman or Community's Danny Pudi or even Glee's Chris Colfer, my hopes for beating the Modern Family juggernaut lie with New Girl's Max Greenfield who has delighted many critics with his slutty-yet-nerdy-and-even-lovable Schmidt.

Nominees: Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory (CBS); Julie Bowen, Modern Family (ABC); Kathryn Joosten, Desperate Housewives (ABC); Sofia Vergara, Modern Family (ABC); Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie (Showtime); Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Will Win: With her final season on the late-night Variety series, Kristen Wiig earned her fourth (and possibly final) acting Emmy nomination.  She has been an integral part of the SNL cast over most of the last decade and now embarking on a film career (which earned her an Oscar nod for co-writing Bridesmaids earlier this year!).  An Emmy would be the cherry on the sundae, so-to-speak.
Should Win: Mayim Bialik has been a welcomed and brilliant addition to The Big Bang Theory cast.  Her Amy Farrah-Fowler is hilarious in her need for affection from Sheldon or her "slight" stalking of BFF Penny.  It would be nice to see Blossom reap an Emmy.
Dark Horse: While Wiig left SNL, Kathryn Joosten left this earth.  Joosten, who had won two Guest Actress Emmys for playing crotchety neighbor Mrs. McCluskey, submitted the Desperate Housewives finale in which her character passed away from cancer.  Less than a month after the finale aired, Joosten herself lost her battle with the disease.  Joosten was a beloved member of the Hollywood community and a posthumous Emmy could show just how much.