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Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 26 2012 by Greg
It has been some time since I watched 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam, so while a lot of it was so memorable I recognized it immediately, some things were a bit of a revelation, especially as a metaphor for today's American military presence in the Middle East.

Sure, you can make the obvious case for this to be a Hollywood anti-war movie, pure and simple, and it is at first glance. Surely making its points with individuals rather than troops is a powerful way to illustrate the effect of war on people rather than faceless masses. But Good Morning Vietnam is also a story about a relentless clash between front line creative powderkegs and front office administrators. It's also about how creative work reaches out to a lot of people that you may never meet, but to whom your work makes a difference, however big or small.

More than anything, the movie is a perfect vehicle for Robin Williams, whose now-iconic stream-of-consciousness comedy is given full throttle as he goes on the air in a highly fictionalized portrayal of radio personality Adrian Cronauer. Taken out of the context of the late 20th century, when Williams was still breaking into movies and out of his "Mork" image, this performance takes on a greater depth than ever. He may appear to basically be playing himself, or at least his persona, but there's a whole lot more to it than just riffing when the cameras roll. As a matter of fact, if you watch the "monologues" presented in the bonus features (which are the same on this new Blu-ray as they were on the 2006 DVD edition, alas, with no commentary), you can see that he honed those routines over and over until they were as perfect as possible.

It's no secret that this film does not tell the true story of Cronauer beyond his position of disc jockey in Vietnam and part time English teacher. What's also clear, especially watching it today, is that it also presents a view of 1965 through the prism of 1987 tastes and sensabilities.

When William's character and an audience of Vitemanese viilagers sits in a dumpy, fan-cooled movie theater to watch Beach Blanket Bingo, the complete irony is crystal clear as Frankie and Annette cavort in what is perhaps the penultimate beach movie. The movie seems out of place in that theater, but also in the pop culture context of 1987 and today. Actually, Beach Blanket Bingo was a new movie in 1965 and such goofy but popular films were huge hits, not the anamoly that it seems as presented in this context.

Musically, it's the same way. The Beatles were a sensation, but they had only just become such over one year. Mainstream popular radio was playing Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin as well as The Supremes and the Beach Boys. In the accompanying documentary featurette, it is pointed out the Louis Armstrong's classic, "Wonderful World" (which became even more of a legendary song since the film's debut) was released after Good Morning Vietnam took place, but of course it served the story so well, it doesn't matter.

And I'm not nit-picking for anachronisms. My point is that, in 1987 as in today, some are not aware that AM radio was so diverse. The film is peppered with putdowns of Percy Faith and Mantovani, but I'll bet the real Cronauer played Faith's "Theme from A Summer Place." The sensabilities and realities of what made popular music of the mid-sixties was filtered through what became "classic rock" programming by the late eighties -- and what would sell on a soundtrack album.

Robin Williams is superb and is given fantastic support by a truly great team of actors, particularly Forrest Whitaker, Bruno Kirby and Robert Wuhl. Even the small roles are memorable -- and the faces of the local people and the soldiers are especially indelible.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 13 2012 by Greg
There sure has been a lot written about motion capture, or as many actors prefer to call it, "performance capture." Much of the discussion and debate centers around whether it is true animation or not. Clearly animators are key to the process, but the films such as The Polar Express, A Christmas Carol and, most recently and most pointedly, The Adventures of Tintin really beg the question, "Why aren't they simply live action films with augmented CG animated effects?"

Some felt The Polar Express was a little creepy, particularly because the eyes didn't seem human. This is a challenge in much CG human animation, but it didn't bother me in Polar Express because the entire movie had a dreamlike, eerie quality that fit the process. With Christmas Carol, however, the actors were obscured by their no-cap faces, almost like excessive latex makeup. I would have preferred to see the excellent actors instead of having them hidden under a second skin.

But having seen The Adventures of Tintin, the mo-cap process has certainly come a great deal farther -- to the point where the viewer can forget it's not live action at all. Which brings me back to the question again -- why isn't it just live action?

Is the ability to stylize a reason? Certainly. Some characters have exaggerated features and physical countenances that would be tricky -- but not impossible -- in live action (as so much was contorted in Burton's Alice in Wonderland, which combined both techniques). But maybe the goal on the horizon is bigger than the realization of a filmmaker's vision -- maybe it's economics, politics and practicality.

Tintin, for all intents and purposes, took the viewer to exotic locations, through spectacular sets, over the ocean and among a cast of thousands. All pretty much by using actors with dots on their faces on green screens and environments created within sophisticated machinery.

Other than the mo-cap facilities, there was no need to rent soundstages, camera equipment, Chapman cranes, helicopters, cars, boats, planes, or anything you see on screen. It also means there was no need for a camera crew, lighting equipment, lighting technicians, craft services, transportation, hotel accommodations, dinners at restaurants, wardrobe people, makeup artists, permits from cities and countries for filming, police and security, stunt people, extras -- and all the insurance, unions and other ancillary issues that are part of making even the simplest Hollywood movie, much less a superspectacular, globetrotting adventure.

Remember when Fred Astaire was electronically added to a vacuum cleaner commercial? Some folks were worried that this could mean the misuse of classic actors in roles they never agreed to. It didn't become as much of a problem as predicted. But what happens if, as so much digital technology does, motion capture becomes easier and cheaper? People can create a lot of animation on their home computers that was unthinkable not long ago.

What if mo-cap is used as a replacement for a live action movie -- say a Pirates of the Caribbean sequel? Johnny Depp can play Jack Sparrow for the rest of is life and never age on screen. That does not seem much of a stretch. But how about a movie that isn't a stylized costume romp -- a comedy like Bridesmaids or a drama like The Descendants? Sure, mo-cap can't substitute for George

I'm not doomsaying here. It's not some Orwellian plot. It's just business. Making movies without locations, sets, costumes -- and actors. After all, once a CG character's performance is saved from one film, it can be used in another. So why not do the same with episodic TV and movies?

Just wondering.

Blog, Movies
Posted on Jan 02 2012 by Greg
We're watching A Christmas Story today -- one of those movies that, like It's a Wonderful Life and Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, has been embraced as uberclassics even though they met with lukewarm receptions during their initial release.

Like millions of folks today, we love the movie. But I always get a little distracted by the anachronistic 1980's hairstyle adorning the lovely and talented Melinda Dillon as Raphie's mom.

It's more at home for this '80s icon...

Or this '80s icon from TV's Lou Grant...

Director Bob Clark and his team clearly went out of their way to capture the 1940's American breadbasket world of essayist Jean Shepherd. My dad also loved the movie, since he was only a little older than Ralphie during this era.

But according to Clark DVD commentary (thank you), Ms. Dillon insisted on avoiding the period hairstyle more resembling that of teacher Miss Shields (luminous Canadian actress Tedde Moore, who was the best reason to watch Mistletoe Over Manhattan on the Hallmark Channel).

By the way, Ralphie's daydream about Miss Shield's delirious reception of his essay is one of my favorite Christmas Story sequences, since I sometimes have similar expectations when turning in my writing and also sometimes get the same real-life results.

Melinda Dillon turns in an superb performance, adding a quirky dimension to her very warm and loving performance. Her top billing belies her 1983, star status in such hits as Close Encounters of the Third Kind. So Clark didn't insist on the hair-do. And now, A Christmas Story is probably the film Ms. Dillon is most known for, since it is run unceasingly and many have it memorized.

So maybe Ms. Dillon herself wishes in hindsight that she was more sartorially flexible. Maybe she does not. She's probably put in behind her, as I should in the coming year.

But I can't help wondering if fans still recognize her and say, "I loved you in A Christmas Story! But what was the deal with your '80s hair?"

Blog, News and Events, People
Posted on Dec 28 2011 by Greg

This week on BBC Radio, you can stream a free one-hour special honoring the legendary entertainer Tommy Steele, who among many other triumphs starred in the London, Broadway (with John Cleese) and movie versions of Half a Sixpence; Walt Disney's last film, The Happiest Millionaire, and Francis Ford Coppola's only musical, Finian's Rainbow with Fred Astaire and Petula Clark.

You can listen to the program here for the next five days.

Tommy Steele (far right) with Gladys Cooper, Lesley Ann Warren, Fred MacMurray, Geraldine Page, John Davidson and Walt Disney on the set of The Happiest Millionaire.

Also this week on BBC Radio:

The Night the Animals Talked (2 days left to listen)

Jack and the Genetically Modified Beanstalk (2 days left to listen)

The White Christmas Story
Martin Sheen narrates a one-hour documentary about Irving Berlin's beloved song (2 days left to listen).

The Pied Piper of Hamelin (4 days left to listen)

The Beatles' Christmas (5 days left to listen)

Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be: The Lionel Bart Story
Five-part bio of the composer/lyricist of "Oliver!"

Christopher Lee's Fireside Tales
Five 15-minute stories.

Aesop's Fables
Adapted from the stage production by Michael Morpurgo (War Horse) (7 days left to listen).

Yeti's Finger
What does Jimmy Stewart have to do with the abominable snowman?

The Adventures of Tintin (2 episodes left)

PLEASE NOTE: Some BBC Radio programming contains material intended for mature audiences.

Blog, News and Events
Posted on Dec 23 2011 by Greg
The weekly radio show about television, past and present, TV Confidential, is devoting its second hour this week to TV specials and holiday episodes of TV shows.

I'll be on the panel with author Joanna Wilson, actors Tony Figueroa and Donna Allen Figueroa and host Ed Robertson. The show plays on various stations throughout the country this week and will land in the podcast next Wednesday.

Here is the broadcast schedule:

WROM Radio
Sunday 12/25
8pm ET, 5pm PT

Share-a-Vision Radio
Friday 12/23
7pm ET, 4pm PT
10pm ET, 7pm PT

The Coyote KWTY-FM
Ridgecrest, Calif.
Sunday 12/25
10pm PT
Monday 12/27
1am ET
Tuesday 12/27
11:05pm ET, 8:05pm PT

The podcast of this episode will appear on Wednesday 12/28 and can be subscribed to at itunes or by clicking here.

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