Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “James Bond Theme”

Hey, this sounds familiar. Almost as if I had heard it in a movie or something. And how about those drum machines?

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Icon of the Week

Jorge Negrete was born on this day back in 1911. He was one of my late father's favorite singers so naturally he is long overdue for a mention on this site.

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That's Funny. She Doesn't Look Latina: Parte XVI

Daphne Eurydice Zuniga (1962 - ). The daughter of a Guatemalan father and a mother of Polish and Finnish descent. She is most famous for her roles on the TV shows Melrose Place and One Tree Hill.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “Diamonds Are Forever”

Shirley Bassey sounds so sad and worldweary in this clip from the 1971 Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever you just want to move heaven and earth just to cheer her up. I suppose I could have picked a happier number to post but for some reason, this seemed more appropriate.

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R.I.P. Irvin Kershner

American director Irvin Kershner, most famous for directing the 1980 sci-fi flick The Empire Strikes Back and the 1983 Bond film Never Say Never Again, put down his megaphone for the last time this past Saturday at age 87.

He will be missed.

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R.I.P. Leslie Nielsen

Canadian-born actor Leslie Nielsen, best known for his roles in the 1956 sci-fi flick Forbidden Planet, the 1980 comedy Airplane! and The Naked Gun movie series, cracked his last joke Sunday at age 84.

He will be missed.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trailer of the Week: Howard the Duck (1986)

Alas, poor Howard, I knew him well. But I liked him much better as a comic book character than as a movie star.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Super Chicken

Apparently the TV show creators of the 1960s had a thing for feathered superheroes.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Birdman

From 1967, it's the intro to the ideal superhero show for Thanksgiving weekend.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

I’d like to thank our fellow Native Americans who gave us this land in exchange for measles, reservations and casinos so we can have all this food to celebrate it with. It’s more like Thanks-taking, don’t you think?
--Mariam Parris, What’s Cooking? (2000)

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TV Quote of the Week

Anyway, why should I give thanks on Thanksgiving? What have I got to be thankful for? All it does is make more work for us at school.
--Hilary Momberger, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving

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Icon of the Week

Yesterday marked the birthdate of one of Spain's most prolific playwrights, Lope de Vega, so it only seems right to elect him this week's icon. He was one of the most famous playwrights of Spain's Golden Age and among other things, he managed to write more plays than Shakespeare. So next time I'm tempted to slack off on my blogging, I'll have his example to consider.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

Ms. Goddard and Mr. Chaplin want me to remind all my regular readers to have a happy Thanksgiving Day and a pleasant holiday weekend. Regular Thursday posts will be posted tomorrow. I hope you all have much to be thankful for.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Black Friday”

If only someone had listened to Steely Dan while there was still time.

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R.I.P. Ingrid Pitt

Former Hammer Films star Ingrid Pitt, best known for such films as 1970's The Vampire Lovers and 1971's Countess Dracula, bared her last set of fangs yesterday at age 73. She will be missed.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “Pick Yourself Up”

I often wish I had had a dance instructor like Ginger Rogers.

For that matter, I often wish I could dance like this, but then who doesn't?

From the 1936 musical Swing Time, it's one of the more famous Astaire / Rogers numbers in its most memorable version.

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That's Funny. She Doesn't Look Latina: Parte XV

Lucie Arnaz (1951 - ). Perhaps the most famous Latina half and half ever. Daughter of a Cuban-born actor and an American actress. She is most famous for starring as Neil Diamond's love interest in the 1980 movie The Jazz Singer as well as for occasionally appearing on her famous mother's last TV series.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Hungry Man”

In a special Thanksgiving special, Dexter Morgan gets together with his would-be mentor for Thanksgiving dinner and discovers said mentor’s family life is not quite as blissful on the inside as it seems from the outside. Indeed, it’s almost impossible to imagine anyone having a more dysfunctional Thanksgiving than the one Dexter has in this episode.

Perhaps they should have just called this episode, “So You Thought Your Thanksgiving was Bad.”

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Monday, November 22, 2010

R.I.P. John Fitzgerald Kennedy

I generally try not to post anything on November 22 because I feel strange trying to find something to say about the late President Kennedy that hasn't already been said. Both my parents were Kennedy Democrats and I must confess that, despite an occasional bout of conservative backsliding here and there, I tend to take after them.

Of course, my mother is now a Republican and my father managed to find good things to say about both Bill Clinton and G.W. Bush. Then again he did die in 2003 and he usually disliked most Republican presidential candidates so I doubt he'd be particularly pro-GWB if he were alive today.

As for me, I tend to lean Democratic more often than not. Sometimes I wonder why I do so but then the Republicans go and do something stupid and I remember why again.

My mother used to tell me not to judge Kennedy too harshly because a lot of the things he said during his lifetime which are considered way too moderate today were considered dangerously controversial in his day. We tend to forget that.

I don't pretend to know how much of an improvement Kennedy would have been over Lyndon B. Johnson but I would have liked to have been able to find out. Thanks to what happened on November 22, 1963, I never will.

P.S. My regular Monday feature will post on November 23.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Trailer of the Week: Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)

Every so often I find myself missing the days when my family used to travel up north to visit relatives. Then I see movies like this and I don't miss those days so much.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Mashup of the Week: “It's a Sin”

I was tempted -- no pun intended -- to post the official version of this video next week just before Pilgrim Day but for some odd reason, I like this version better even though I doubt the Pet Shop Boys had anything to do with it.

This version is definitely not safe for work. Or school. Or church. Or even CCD. And I'm probably going to have do some heavy penance for posting it so I hope you all appreciate it.

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Quote of the Week

The United States is often called a Puritan nation. Well, here is one way in which it emphatically is not: Puritan lives were overwhelmingly, fanatically literary. Their single-minded obsession with one book, the Bible, made words the center of their lives -- not land, not money, not power, not fun. I swear on Peter Stuyvesant’s peg leg that the country that became the U.S. bears a closer family resemblance to the devil-may-care merchants of New Amsterdam than it does to Boston’s communitarian English majors.
--Sarah Vowell, The Wordy Shipmates

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Inversion of the Body Snatchers

Apparently the scariest thing Kevin Williamson ever encountered in high school was a naked teenage girl. Moreover, it was obviously a white teenage girl because apparently there was not much race-mixing at the place where Williamson went to school.

Okay, none of that is necessarily true, but if you wish to do a quick penny-ante analysis of Willamson based solely on his screenplay for the 1998 sci-fi film The Faculty, it’s tempting to come to that conclusion. Of course, it wasn’t Williamson who came up with the original story for The Faculty; that dubious credit goes to two others fellows named David Wechter and Bruce Kimmel. Williamson only wrote the screenplay.

Thus there are a lot of references to sci-fi movies and literary science fiction -- more so than I usually expect to see in a movie like this, where all too often sci-fi references seem to begin and end with the inevitable shout-outs to Star Wars, Star Trek and The Matrix. Plus there are the inevitable celebrity cameos including a quick glimpse of cybercritic Harry Knowles and a slighter longer view of my beloved Salma Hayek as the school nurse, not to mention a view of an early Jon Stewart as a science teacher in a part which must make Jon Stewart foes rub their hands with glee.

The result is not the most watchable science fiction b-film I have ever seen. In fact, I suspect this film actually played better on DVD instead of the big screen because of its slow pacing.

Nor does it help that neither director Robert Rodriguez nor Kevin Williamson seemed quite sure whether to stick with the same parody style that worked so well with Williamson’s previous effort Scream or to try something new. This last part was a shame because halfway through the movie, I got the impression that the movie had great potential to become a lot more than yet another mediocre Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody, especially when it starts subverting the usual B-movie tropes by, say, implying that alien possession might actually improve some people. For example, the football coach became less of a type-A personality and more of a “I’m o.k.-you’re o.k.” type of guy. The repressed English teacher suddenly started expressing her sexuality. The school nurse suddenly lost her cold and even the most emotional teenagers stopped acting out so much after becoming possessed.

A line in the script blamed these changes on the havoc the local climate played with alien neural systems and the way it thus made the alien-possessed humans more open to expressing their most repressed impulses. Yet I could not help but wonder what would have happened if Williamson had further explored this theme instead of sticking with more tired horror tropes like surprise murders and disappearing corpses. If only he had had the chutzpah to hint at a world in which alien possession might actually seem like a tempting alternative to the status quo rather than just another rival system of conformity to be stamped out, this might have been quite an intellectually provocative movie.

For that matter, I also couldn't help wondering why some obvious impulses -- for example, ones involving interracial romance and same-sex affection -- never seemed to get acted upon. One could argue that this movie was set at the one American high school where such impulses did not exist but that would require a greater suspension of disbelief than alien possession. Besides, it seemed strange that a movie which seemed to be about a group of outsiders proving their worth by defending the school against an alien foe seemed to approve of some real-life outsiders more than others -- and that the group of outsiders it did approve of just happened to be all white heterosexuals. (What? None of the nonwhite or gay students had enough school spirit to fight back against alien invaders?)

After seven seasons of Buffy and a single season of Freaks and Geeks, any movie kvetching about the hellishness of American high school cannot help but seem a bit obsolete. Yet I found myself liking The Faculty more than I expected. True, it is more the type of affection one feels for a runty little puppy but then not every B-movie can be the equivalent of the award-winning show dog and some of the ideas hinted at in Williamson‘s script showed great potential.

I just worry that Williamson might have learned the wrong lesson from The Faculty. That in the future, he might feel more comfortable pandering to his fans with another Scream sequel like the one he is supposedly working on now rather than taking a chance on a story which has not been done before. That would indeed be a shame if that happened. Yet, short of an alien invasion, I do not really see things turning out differently.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Hey, I Remember This Show: Medium

Speaking of dead TV shows...My heart really goes out to Patricia Arquette and the rest of the cast of Medium this week. It's not like we need more people in the unemployment line at this time of year. And anyway, the few episodes of this show which I've seen never struck me as being all that bad. Some day soon I hope to start blogging about individual episodes.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Gloria

Speak of the devil...It's Burgess Meredith. And the mysteriously named Jo deWinter, whose name makes her sound like an Alfred Hitchcock character. Then, of course, there's poor Sally Struthers, struggling to make the best of what looks to have been one of the more forgettable spinoffs from the hit CBS sitcom All in the Family. Apparently this show didn't last long because I don't even remember hearing about it, much less watching an episode.

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Merry Meredith and Goddard the Goddess

Burgess Meredith, you sly old dog. If I had been a producer in the 1940s, I probably would have done my best to arrange it so that I, too, could end up playing the spouse of a devoted Paulette Goddard -- even if I was not fortunate enough to be one of Ms. Goddard’s real-life spouses like you. After all, Ms. Goddard was quite the dish in her day -- not only managing to hold her own against her boyfriend Charlie Chaplin in the 1936 comedy Modern Times but also stealing the show away from even her most famous co-stars in the 1939 film The Women. There was just something about her personality which said, “I’m a fun girl to be with” and it was no doubt that very something which made her so watchable on the big screen even when there was little else watchable.

If nothing else, Goddard’s presence in the 1948 movie On Our Merry Way as Martha, the artistic spouse of Meredith’s character Oliver M. Pease, explains why Oliver is so devoted to pleasing his bride of seven months. Who wouldn’t want to please a woman like Ms. Goddard? And yet as the movie progresses, it becomes obvious that Oliver’s attempts to please Martha have had their dark side. Oliver has lied to her about his real job on the local newspaper, bought her furniture with borrowed money he cannot repay and lost money he could not afford to lose trying to make up for his financial shortcomings at the local track. In other words, he has lived beyond his means -- which is certainly not something anyone in the 21th Century can possibly relate to.

But seriously, folks.

On Our Merry Way is an interesting movie which is never quite as funny as the list of famous co-stars (James Stewart, Henry Fonda, Dorothy Lamour, Fred MacMurray and old Preston Sturges regular William Demarest) may indicate but it has its moments. Of course, most of these occur when Mr. Meredith or Ms. Goddard are on-screen but the others get to have good scenes too. Ms. Lamour gets a nifty song-and-dance number which gently mocks her island girl image; Mr. Stewart and Mr. Fonda get to portray two down-on-their-luck jazz musicians who end up auditioning a scantily-clad Dorothy Ford; and Mr. MacMurray and Mr. Demarest get to re-enact for the umpteenth time O. Henry’s “The Ransom of Red Chief.”

The main plot begins with Oliver attempting to please Martha by bluffing his way into the editor’s office and passing himself off as a roving reporter handpicked by a conveniently unreachable publisher to replace the current roving reporter. (Oliver had been telling Martha all along that he was the writer of the roving reporter's column but actually he just took phone calls for the want ads department.) Throughout the rest of the movie, Oliver poses as a journalist and interviews his more famous co-stars which at the same time dodging a collections representative for a local bookie. His goal is to come up with an article so good that the editor will have no choice but to promote him to the roving reporter beat for real but the odds are against him. Can he make it? And what happens if he does not and his wife finds out?

For the answer to these questions and more, you will simply have to see the movie. As long as Ms. Goddard or Mr. Meredith are on-screen, that is hardly the worst thing you could be doing. As for the rest of the movie, well, that is the chance you will have to take. Then again Meredith and Goddard never played a married couple again after this movie so perhaps it is better to describe this film as an acquired taste some of you old movie buffs may not wish to acquire. Anyway, I liked it but then I liked it best when Mr. Meredith and Ms. Goddard were in view.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

So, aliens have just been setting us up over the years creating this happy little make-believe existence with their E.T. and their Men in Black movies... just so that nobody would believe it if it really happened?
--Clea DuVall, The Faculty (1998)

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TV Quote of the Week

You took a chance, you did something great. You were wrong, but it was great. You should feel great it was great, you should feel like crap that it was wrong, but that‘s the difference between him and me. He thinks that you do your job and what will be will be. I think that what you do and I do matters. He sleeps better at night, he shouldn‘t.
--Hugh Laurie, House M.D., “DNR”

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Dex Takes a Holiday”

Wait! Dexter Morgan is going to take an entire season to catch up with the Trinity Killer but he manages to off a killer cop in one episode?

It is a pity because it seemed good to see Dexter presented with a challenge for a change. Or at least a challenge which did not involve sleep deprivation and silly new father tricks. But unfortunately, said challenge was not provided by a special guest star so it is no big surprise how this episode ends up.

Edited to add:

It should not be necessary to point out this but I will anyway: the fact that one of the characters in this episode was named Zoey Kruger had no bearing on my opinion of this episode whatsoever. I do not even know any Zoey Kruger in real life and I certainly do not have any relatives by that name that I know of. However, I will admit that it seems like an odd coincidence and I am surprised I did not pick up on it sooner.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Ball of Confusion”

And the band played on.

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That's Funny. She Doesn't Look Latina: Parte XIV

Daisy Fuentes (1966 - ). Cuban-born daughter of a Cuban father and a Spanish mother. She is best known as a model, actress and television personality but she is also famous for being MTV's first Latina VJ and Revlon's first Latina spokesperson to be signed to a worldwide contract. Normally I would have posted her photo later in the year but it's her birthday tomorrow.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “1951 / What About the Boy?”

At long last, a musical number in which Ann-Margret and the late Oliver Reed explain American political life for the last ten years.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Trailer of the Week: Ordinary People (1980)

I used to think that I would be the last guy on Earth to identify with the Timothy Hutton character in this movie. Nowadays, I realize that isn't necessarily so. And I'm not saying that because my parents were anything like the parents in this movie.

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Quote of the Week

And when I look back on those hundreds and hundreds of hours that I spent watching movies -- many of which were not that memorable, and many of which did not tell a whole lot that I didn’t know -- when I realized that they were hours that are gone now and I’m not getting them back... it makes me mad. It makes me mad, honestly, that I’m not gonna get those hours back. You know those are hours I could have been spending with my family, with my loved ones.
--Matt Zoller Seitz, The House Next Door, April 2008

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hey, I Remember This Show: The New Adventures of Superman (1966)

This is the first version of Superman I remember. I suspect it's the first version most members of my generation remember too. It's not that I have anything against the late Chris Reeve. I liked his version of Superman just fine and I don't see it being topped any time soon.

However, it was this cartoon which first introduced me to the whole Superman mythos. Of course, there was the DC comic book too but I was never a real big comic book reader when I was little except when I came across one of the comic books one of my older cousins owned. And even then most of my knowledge of the actual character initially came from the cartoon.

By the way, anyone else notice that this version never once mentions “the American way”? So all that huffing and puffing cultural conservatives made about its omission from the 2006 movie Superman Returns was about four decades too late.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: The Flash (1967)

All those years I spent watching Ted Knight on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and I never once connected him with the guy who narrated so many Saturday morning cartoons. Of course, given all the superhero cartoons I watched in my childhood, I should remember this particular one. But I don't. Perhaps I wasn't too quick on the uptake back then.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Blinded by the Light”

That’s right, Dexter. Get tough with those security lights. Show them who’s boss.

But wait! Is that Rita over there, observing him? Could she finally be getting suspicious of him after these past three seasons?

Well, they do say that marriage tends to change people.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

Their voices were heard. You might not like what they had to say or how they got their message across, but for the first time, we heard it.
--Summer Bishil, Crossing Over (2009)

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TV Quote of the Week

You mean there really are ladies who steer the punt from the Cambridge end?
--Tom Mison, Lost in Austen (2008) (TV Mini-Series)

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Remains to be Seen”

Funny Dexter. Always losing body parts. Not his own, of course, but those of his latest victim. It's a good thing he's not a mortician though I suppose losing body parts is bad form for a serial killer too.

If only his new-born infant had a regular sleeping schedule but no, he doesn’t. Thus Dexter's problems with sleep deprivation. And missing body parts.

What fun.

And now Dexter Morgan has to explain away an auto accident to his wife Rita, a woman who may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer but isn’t exactly a blunt instrument either.

Plus there’s that darn Trinity Killer played by special guest star John Lithgow. In past seasons, the guy would already be paying a visit to Dexter’s homicide table but alas, that seems unlikely to happen this time around. Plus he’s being played by a special guest star so I’m guessing he’ll be around a while.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Night Gallery: “The House”

Dreams. We all have them. And every now and then, some of us have special dreams. The dreams so real that you do not even realize that they are dreams till you wake up. Dreams in which you are basically powerless to control your actions because the minute you try to do just that, the dreams stop.

Elaine Latimer -- the character that actress Joanna Pettet plays in “The House” -- has such a dream. Over and over again, she dreams of taking a long drive in the country, only to come across a mysterious house out in the middle of nowhere. She has no idea who or what lives there yet she is always compelled by the dream to stop and knock on the door. But then she always turns and drives away before anyone answers the door, only to start the whole process all over again the next time she dreams.

Why does Ms. Latimer dream so much about a house she’s never seen before? How come she never sticks around to see who answers the door? The episode never quite answers these questions but then it isn’t quite meant to. Instead we get clues throughout the episode which may or may not be correct.

For example, we learn early on that Ms. Latimer has been seeing a psychiatrist named Dr. Mitchell. During part of the period she has been having her recurring dreams, she has been staying at a sanitarium and has been treated for depression. Although she comes across as a rather likable woman, another patient at the sanitarium describes her as being too dreamy. Almost as if Ms. Latimer was so out of touch that she even made other mental patients feel uncomfortable.

As the episode opens, Ms. Latimer is preparing to leave the sanitarium and return to the outside world. She worries that the dream may be a sign of some recurring mental condition but Dr. Mitchell does not seem too worried by it.

Then Ms. Latimer goes out driving during her first week out and comes across a house which looks just like the one in her dreams. The house is for sale because it is supposedly haunted but the really weird part about it is the way Ms. Latimer seems able to describe every detail of the interior without ever having been there before.

Is she psychic? Or just particularly lucky?

She ends up buying the house on a whim and then she moves in. Shortly afterwards, the dreams start up again. She is driving again and still stopping at the house but she still does not wait around for an answer.

One day she takes a quick catnap in an upstairs bedroom and gets awakened by what sounds like a knock on the front door. But there is no one there when she gets to the front door. The realtor who sold her the house comes by shortly afterwards but he claims to have seen no one on the road.

After the realtor leaves, Ms. Latimer calls Dr. Mitchell. But in the midst of her phone call, she hears yet another knock on the front door. She puts down the phone to go investigate and then...

What happens next?

Ah, that would be telling.

I will say this: the final emotion I saw on Ms. Latimer’s face seemed to be not so much fear or elation but rather disappointment. Why it seemed to be disappointment, I can’t really say. However, dream analysts do like to say that when you dream about a house, you’re usually dreaming about your body. So perhaps that explains Ms. Latimer’s mystery.


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Thursday, November 11, 2010

R.I.P. Dino De Laurentiis

Italian movie producer Dino De Laurentiis, who had produced films like Serpico and Dune, said ciao for the last time yesterday night at age 91. He will be missed.

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Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Amish Paradise”

No, this song was not inspired by any recent political events. And that's Florence Henderson of The Brady Bunch playing the Michelle Pfeiffer role, not Angela Kinsey from The Office.

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That's Funny. She Doesn't Look Latina: Parte XIII

Cristina Saralegui (1948 - ). Cuban-born journalist of Spanish origin who is most famous for hosting the Spanish-language talk show El Show de Cristina, a hit series on Univision since the late 1980s. She attempted to do an English-language version of that show in 1992 but it failed. She's often referred to as "the Spanish Oprah." Her show allegedly ended on Univision this year but the jury's still out as to whether Ms. Saralegui is off the air for good.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Dexter: “Living the Dream”

In the first season of this series, lead character Dexter Morgan met up with a serial killer who proved to be a kindred spirit.

Then in the second season, Dexter Morgan met up with a very eccentric British lady who also proved to be a kindred spirit.

Then in the third season, Dexter Morgan ran across a Hispanic prosecutor who, despite his obvious ties to the law enforcement community, also proved to be a kindred spirit.

So should I even try to guess what will happen in the fourth season?

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Weeds: “Go”

Theoretically this episode should have been the series finale since its last scene showed lead character Nancy Botwin fleeing for parts unknown shortly after setting fire to her family home in the Calfornia suburb of Agrestic.

However, it wasn’t. Whether or not that’s a good thing I still haven’t decided. However, I will admit that I was getting a bit tired of the Agrestic sets and that “Little Boxes” song they played during the opening credits. I wasn’t very sorry to see those two items disappear after the third season.

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Monday, November 08, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “A Secretary Is Not a Toy”

Definite proof that the past is a distant country and that they, indeed, do things differently there.

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Song Quote of the Week

Still, a man hears what he wants to hear
And disregards the rest.
--Paul Simon, “The Boxer”

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Book of the Week

Meltdown isn't the best Ben Elton novel I ever read but it is far from the worst though I will admit that once I caught on the fact that the title referred to a financial meltdown and not the ecological disasters which are usually Elton's favorite topic, I was afraid it was going to be a lot more predictable than it was. In the end, I actually found it intriguing and hard to put down. However, it does go in for a lot of restating the obvious: materialism is bad, making more money than you can adequately deal with is wrong, not saving money is bad, making a profit out of financial disaster is evil.

I must confess that I started rolling my eyes during the last few chapters when Elton stopped mocking the excesses of the very, very rich and started moralizing on the virtuousness of poor people, in effect preaching a sermon which unfortunately says more about Elton's lack of experience with real-life poor people than anything else. It is not that I do not appreciate such a sentiment but in my experience, poor people tend to be just as complicated in their morality as rich people. Not every rich person I have met was a heartless bastard -- though I have met quite a few who were hardly a credit to their class -- and not every poor person I have met qualified for a halo.

I would like to think there is as much wisdom in my late father's description of poverty as hell as there is in Elton's notion that losing one's money makes one more virtuous. Sometimes it does but not always and anyway, it is hardly a theory any decent person wants to test.

Anyway, regardless of my philosophical differences with the author, Meltdown is still a good book.

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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Trailer of the Week: An Unmarried Woman (1978)

In honor of the late Jill Clayburgh.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: The West Wing

Hey, it's Kristen Chenoweth! Cool!

And I hear the other cast members were good, too. Especially that Martin Sheen fellow. I wonder what part he plays.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Commander in Chief

Apparently, TV show intros are a lot shorter than they used to be. And given how long this series stayed on the air, the briefness of this intro seems sadly symbolic. Given my affection for actress Geena Davis, I'm surprised I never got around to watching this when it was on the air. But then I wasn't the only one who never got around to watching it.

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

R.I.P. Jill Clayburgh

Actress Jill Clayburgh, best known for her performance in the 1978 movie An Unmarried Woman, walked off-camera for the last time yesterday at age 66. She will be missed.

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Thoughts on the Tea Party Victories

Let's face it. For most people living in America right now, the status quo stinks.

Whenever you have a lot of people as dissatisfied with the status quo as the average American is today, that's usually not good news for the party in power.

We can go on and on about class privilege and white entitlement and so forth but the fact still remains is that a lot of people are hurting right now and when you're hurting, you're tempted to vote for whoever seems to have the most promising remedy for your hurt. Hell, you'd vote for a blind, lame idiot if you thought there was even the slightest chance he or she would change the status quo in your favor.

I don't particularly care for the Tea Party and I especially don't like the way the Lauren Valle incident has been dismissed by the majority of American voters as a minor issue. But I don't see the Tea Party going away unless both main political parties get their act together and start addressing their constituents' very real concerns.

I don't say this because I honestly believe the Tea Party is going to solve anything. Indeed, I would be very surprised if their actions didn't make things worse. But I also realize that you don't have to be a snobbish homophobic racist to be dissatisfied with the government right now and it's that dissatisfaction which was fueling the recent victories more than anything else.

Of course, the more attention the party gets, the more I'm reminded of that old Beverly Hillbillies episode in which a rival banker continually tries to woo the Clampett family away from Milburn Drysdale's bank by making them think that he would take care of their money much better than Milburn Drysdale. In order to prove this, he asks that the Clampetts attempt to withdraw their money in cash from Drysdale's bank, and of course when they attempt to do just that, Drysdale is forced to admit that he couldn't possibly convert all their funds to cash in just one day. Granny Clampett promptly accuses him of spending all their money and promptly persuades Jed to deposit all the family money with the rival banker. However, once they accomplish this, the first thing Granny wishes to do is to once again withdraw all the Clampett millions in cash, this time from the rival's bank. Of course, the poor man is forced to admit that such a withdrawal would be impossible, which drives Granny to the conclusion that the Clampetts might as well keep their money with Mr. Drysdale because the rival banker spent their money even faster than he did.

If you think the relevance of that episode to current events is unclear now, just wait a year or two. After all, the Tea Party candidates would not be the first politicians to gain office by promising miserly spending habits, only to turn into drunken sailors when confronted with the opportunity to control actual government funds.

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Buscando Trabajo de Nuevo: Parte XXIV

Sigh! I lost my job today, oh, boy. The English Army had just won the war...

Actually I lost my job yesterday just when I was due to pick up my first paycheck.

So it is back to square one again and praying TEC agrees to let me run out my original claim rather than make me start over with a new one while they investigate the departure from my last job with the speed of molasses.

I am getting really tired of this. I kept my last steady job prior to the three most recent for over eleven years and I stayed at my second job for over five. Now suddenly it seems like I cannot keep a single job for over a week.

It also seems like the only people who are hiring pay beer-level salaries, expect champagne-level service and generally train one in an atmosphere that makes it almost impossbile for anyone above a certain age -- even people who want to learn -- to concentrate on their training. I do not like to gripe about my employers but I get so tired of seeing grown people treated like children just because they want a paycheck. It did not help that while my trainers seemed like decent enough people, one of the ladies I had to work right next to kept her i-pod turned up so loud I would have to have been stone deaf not to hear it and if that was not bad enough, she seemed to have an unerring instinct for choosing the loudest and trashiest music to listen to.

Oh, well. Perhaps my next job will be better. Perhaps...

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Thursday, November 04, 2010

Movie Quote of the Week

For a woman obsessed with Chinese conspiracies, you sound frighteningly similar to the government you are trying to stop.
--Marie Matiko, The Art of War (2000)

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TV Quote of the Week

Oh my God! The dead have risen and are voting Republican.
--Nancy Cartwright, The Simpsons, “Sideshow Bob Roberts”

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Lost in Austen (The Mini-Series)

Wow! Elizabeth Bennet’s parents must have certainly liked sex a lot when they were younger. Granted, they lived in a time with little -- if any -- birth control, an age in which a married woman was expected to look forward to having a large family. But I never realized until I saw the 2008 mini-series Lost in Austen what a large family they had -- and I cannot help thinking how unlikely such a family would have been if there had not been some point in the Bennets’ lives when they actually looked forward to the act of conception.

Indeed, it says something about Alex Kingston’s portrayal of the Bennet family matriarch that I found myself empathizing with a character most adaptations of Pride and Prejudice just as soon wish I not identify with. After all, even with the help of servants -- who, of course, have to be paid -- it could not have been too easy for a young housewife to meet ends meet when there was little money to go around and so many mouths to feed. Indeed, while it is easy for the average twenty-first century TV viewer to lay back and snicker at how shamelessly she promotes the marriage prospects of her daughters, I cannot help thinking how unlikely it is that she does all this because she likes playing such a scornful role.

Indeed, it could be argued that, like most women I have known in similar positions, Mrs. Bennet is a realist. She is not marrying her daughters off because she necessarily wants them to be unhappy; she is doing so because the society in which she is living does not give her much choice. The Bennet family does not have the financial resources to support such women in perpetuity and there were not a whole lot of jobs available in that time and place for a woman in their class. And those that were were not generally open to a woman of the Bennet family’s class. So it is either marriage or some nameless fate which is sure to be worse than marriage. Given such circumstances, it could be argued that Mrs. Bennet’s desire to see her daughters married well if not necessarily happily is an act of love -- or at least, it is as close to an act of love as we will ever see Mrs. Bennet display in this mini-series.

But you all are probably wondering about why I am going on and on about Mrs. Bennet when it is her daughter Liz who usually gets the lion’s share of attention in such adaptations. Well, for one thing, Liz (played by Gemma Artherton) does not spend much time on-screen in this version. Early on, she appears in the bathroom of a twenty-first century woman named Amanda Price (played by Jemima Rooper), a bibliophile with a thing for Jane Austen novels. The first time she runs into Liz, Amanda thinks she is a hallucination. She has trouble picking up on the fact that the Liz she meets is a real person and not just a fictional character -- a confusion which we TV viewers are undoubtedly supposed to find ironic given that Amanda, too, is a fictional character.

Liz appears to have wandered into Amanda Price’s apartment by means of a magic door and seems to be as fascinated by Liz‘s world as Amanda is by Liz‘s. But Amanda does not appreciate this too much and blows her off until the second time she appears at which time Amanda actually opens the magic door and finds herself entering the world of Pride and Prejudice.

Of course, the minute she steps over the threshold into this world, the door slams shut behind her and Amanda is unable to open it. Nor does Liz give her too much help, preferring to stay in Amanda’s old world rather than to go back where she came from.

Amanda soon gets involved in the world of the Bennet family and introduces herself as a friend of Liz. Liz backs her up on this by giving her a message through the magic door which introduces her to her father and explains away Liz’s absence by pretending Liz is away visiting a respectable friend in the London suburb of Hammersmith. However, that does not keep Amanda from soon making a dog’s breakfast of the original storyline for Pride and Prejudice.

One character falls in love with Amanda instead of with a Bennet daughter, another blames her for various mishaps and Mr. Darcy himself -- a character Amanda swooned over in the real world -- takes an active dislike to her.

Can Amanda smooth things over in time for a traditionally Austenian happy ending? And can she ever go back to the twenty-first century after being seduced by the various luxuries of Liz Bennet’s era? For the answer to those and other questions, you all will simply have to watch the mini-series.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pop Song of the Week: “Land of Confusion”

I bet John Nolte just loves this video and yet he would probably hate it if it was released today -- and substituted Rand Paul for Ronald Reagan.

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Fantasy Quote of the Week

Not all heroes live to have songs made for them, and those that do must sometimes hear their lives made into lies.
--Esther Friesner, Harlot’s Ruse

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Science Fiction Quote of the Week

“What‘s that again, lover?” he murmured. “Do my ears deceive me or are you sounding like one of those lousy radical politicians? Where’d you pick up that kind of talk, anyway -- you got ancestors in the GOP, maybe?”
--Robert Bloch, Sneak Preview

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That's Funny. She Doesn't Look Latina: Parte XII

Madeleine Stowe (1958 - ). An American actress who is the daughter of an American father and a Costa Rican mother. Her original name was Madeline Mora Stowe. She is best known for her roles in 1992's The Last of the Mohicans and 1995's Twelve Monkeys. Her first leading role, ironically enough, was as the half-Latina love interest of an ex-convict in 1987's Stakeout, but she isn't usually associated with Hispanic characters. Her most recent role was on the short-lived TV series Raines.

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Movie Song of the Week: “Dance a Little Sidestep”

Well, it's election season again. Why not let Charles Durning show all those wannabes out there how it's done?

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Song Quote of the Week

Ain't it funny how the night moves
When you just don't seem to have as much to lose.
Strange how the night moves
With autumn closing in.
--Bob Seger, “Night Moves”

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Room 222: “El Genio”

Whenever I am watching an old TV show from the late 1960s, I find it all too easy to focus on the easy stuff: the funny clothes, the eccentric hairstyles, the “hip” dialogue that rings so weird to the ear nowadays that the words might as well have been carved out of tin. What is not so easy is remembering that TV shows back then did not have to deal with the lenient -- almost nonexistent, it sometimes seems -- censors of today’s shows. They had to deal with a more harsher breed of censor.

Moreover, TV shows which tried to do something different back then did not always get the support you would expect. True, there was room for iconoclastic shows like Laugh-In and All in the Family -- but most of those shows were tolerated because they were hits. Even then such shows had to compete against more conventional shows like The Beverly Hillbillies and The Brady Bunch which generally avoided social commentary as much as possible.

Add to that the problem of adequately dramatizing a complicated social situation in half an hour -- minus the time needed for commercials -- and it is a wonder that the first season of Room 222 accomplished as much as it did.

That said, it was hard for me to watch the “El Genio” episode without thinking what a lost opportunity it was. “El Genio” is Spanish for “The Genius” and as you may guess, the episode with that title revolves around a young Spanish-surnamed individual named Salazar* who is a lot smarter than his grades indicated. Salazar was the first Mexican-American character I saw on Room 222 and apart from his girlfriend -- also a Mexican-American -- we don’t see any other Hispanic students on the series at all. An odd circumstance given the fact that even back in the late 1960s, Los Angeles had a substantial Mexican-American population. Even odder when you consider the fact that the Chicano movement was just getting started back then.

Of course, even the best TV show cannot cover everything and for a while, this episode -- which focused on student teacher Alice Johnson’s attempt to keep Salazar from wasting his academic potential by dropping out of high school -- seemed like it was making a valiant effort to deal with a complicated issue.

But then the episode got to the point where Salazar had the chance to get a scholarship from a white non-Hispanic who could not resist taking the time to point out the statistics concerning the large number of Mexican-Americans who drop out of high school. Instead of having Salazar argue against such statistics or point out the many social factors -- including discrimination -- which might have led Mexican-Americans back then to consider dropping out, the show's writers chose to have Salazar act as if the man was personally disrespecting him and then had him give up on the idea of an academic career altogether.

Salazar later gave in and took a college placement test in response to a dare from Ms. Johnson but once he passed the test, he went ahead with his original plan to drop out and marry his girlfriend, leading Ms. Johnson to feel like she was a failure for not being able to inspire him to do better.

Granted, it would have been unrealistic to show the teachers on Room 222 being successful with every student they tried to help but then again, it would have been nice if the first major failure of the show did not involve a Mexican-American student. It also would have been nice if the show had shown more than two Mexican-American students -- both conveniently in a relationship with each other -- if for no other reason than to show that not all such students were potential drop-outs like Salazar. For that matter, the implication that Mexican-American students like Salazar usually give up on higher education because they are too hot-headed or dysfunctional to get along that well with educated people was hardly the type of lesson I expected to see taught on a liberal TV show, even one as old as Room 222.

I would like to think things would be much different if Room 222 were to air today but who am I kidding? There seems to be even less chance of seeing a show like Room 222 on the air today than there was in 1969, much less an improved version, and I doubt that is going to change any time soon. Of course, it would be nice to be proved wrong but I am not going to hold my breath in the meantime.

* A name which was perhaps inspired by real-life Mexican-American journalist Rubén Salazar.

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