Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “The Human Touch”

Rick Springfield predicts in 1983 what the world will be like five years from now and makes a musical case against people spending more time talking to computers than to human beings. Like that last part will ever happen.

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Monday, May 30, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “Remember My Forgotten Man”

This week I post a new version of an old song that I've posted on this site before. One of these days I'll find a movie tune more appropriate for Memorial Day but in the meantime, it can't be argued that this song is inappropriate. Besides, it's so rare to see choreographer Busby Berkeley putting political commentary into one of his musical numbers that it's kinda awe-inspiring to see how easy he makes such a number seem.

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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Trailer of the Week: Green with Envy (2011)

Amy Adams is so cute. And her co-stars aren't that bad-looking either.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Taxi

In honor of the late Jeff Conaway.

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Friday, May 27, 2011

R.I.P. Jeff Conaway

American actor Jeff Conaway, most famous for his role in the 1978 movie Grease and his role in the TV series Taxi, dropped off his last fare earlier today at age 60.

He will be missed.

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

I'd blame Detroit a lot faster than the Devil. It seems like every month there's some kind of recall.
--Murray Hamilton, The Amityville Horror (1979)

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TV Quote of the Week

Love should be the opposite of death. It should be our biggest reason for wanting to be here.
--Russell Tovey, Being Human, "Ghost Town"

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Wot”

Class conflict in a 1982 British music video: Discuss.

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Dead Pirate Joke

Director Michael Ritchie's 1980 movie version of Peter Benchley's novel The Island is based on a very simple premise: if the average person were to come across the real-life equivalent of the pirates celebrated in old Hollywood movies, the chances are that they would not care too much for the experience. Indeed, anyone who seriously disagrees with this premise need only compare the average American moviegoer's reaction to the latest news about the Somali pirates -- which is generally "keelhaul the bastards and hang the survivors from the highest masthead!" -- to the more benign reaction the same moviegoer would have to a fictional pirate like the ones in the Pirates of the Caribbean movies -- which is basically "Hey, look! It's one of our guys!"

Of course, one might argue that such a reaction is only human nature. It is always easy to glamorize the outlaws of one's own ancestors since one rarely has to pick up after any of the real-life messes said outlaws left behind. And it is not necessarily xenophobic to fear pirates in the here and now. After all, it is not like the worst deeds of the Somali pirates were made up by some bored PR agent, and it is certainly not America's fault that the British pirates of yesteryear are no longer around to compare against this new breed of maritime scoundrel.

That said, it is kinda ironic to compare Ritchie's modern-day pirate movie -- which, despite being as dark and violent as any 1980 pirate movie could be, still bombed out at the box office -- to the more recent Pirates of the Caribbean movies -- which managed to be somewhat more successful despite having a considerable amount of darkness and violence themselves. Then again, almost all the darkness and violence in those Pirates of the Caribbean movies were outsourced to supernatural villains so maybe that is where Ritchie went wrong -- he made the mistake of confining all his movie's evil deeds to mere mortals.

In any event, the pirates in The Island were presented as being just another lost tribe that just happened to make it to the twentieth century without losing too many of their bloodthirsty traditions. They had absorbed something of modern life thanks to a mysterious collaborator but basically they were still just as cruel as their ancestors had been centuries earlier. More importantly, the pirates and their women had grown so sterile due to years of inbreeding that in order to increase their numbers, they had to kidnap the children of their victims and raise them as their own.

At this point entered intrepid journalist Michael Caine and his estranged son. Caine was investigating a Caribbean mystery involving missing people and his son -- due to a complicated custody agreement -- just happened to be along for the ride. Paths crossed, the journalist met the pirates and things did not go so well for the twentieth-century guys. Some humor ensued but most of it was pitch-black and this being a summer release, no opportunity for sadistic violence was overlooked.

Anyone expecting some of the charm and wit of the old Errol Flynn movies is hereby notified to sail in a different direction. Pirate movies in the 1980s rarely did wit and it certainly did not help that this particular movie concluded with one of the most gratuitously violent movie climaxes of the 1980s.

So is the film worth seeing today? Not really though I must confess that I cannot help wondering what a more clever film maker could do with such a premise today. It certainly could not be any worse than having to listen to yet another quip about how pirates were yesteryear's rock stars though I must admit that every time I hear a line to that effect, I cannot help but wonder how long Sid Vicious would have lasted on the high seas.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “With Cat-Like Tread”

Tarantara! Tarantara! From the 1983 musical The Pirates of Penzance, it's Rex Smith, Kevin Kline and company doing their rendition of a classic Gilbert and Sullivan song.

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R.I.P. Sada Thompson

Tony- and Emmy-Award-winning American actress Sada Thompson, best known for her role as Kate Lawrence on the ABC TV series Family, said goodbye to her loved ones for the last time at age 83 on May 4.

She will be missed.

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R.I.P. Dana Wynter

German-born British actress Dana Wynter, best known for her role in the 1956 science fiction movie Invasion of the Body Snatchers, stopped running at age 79 on May 5.

She will be missed.

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R.I.P. Joanna Russ

American science fiction writer Joanna Russ, who is best known for winning a Nebula Award in 1972 for her short story "When It Changed" and a Hugo Award in 1983 for her novella "Souls," finished her final sentence at age 74 on April 27.

She will be missed.

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Sunday, May 22, 2011

Trailer of the Week: The Pirate (1948)

It would be nice to say that the weirdest part of this movie was the sight of Gene Kelly in brownface but that wouldn't do the movie justice.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: The Adventures of Gulliver

I used to be embarrassed that this classic 1968 TV cartoon series was my first introduction to the classic Jonathan Swift novel Gulliver's Travels, especially since the title character of the series was obviously way younger than the title character of the novel. Plus, I'm pretty sure that Gulliver in the novel didn't have a dog.

However, for a children's show, it's not that bad and it's kinda hard to pretend that Mr. Swift would be more upset with this version than he would be with the recent Jack Black movie.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Dark Water

The original intro for the Hanna Barbera TV mini-series Dark Water, which was released in the U.S. and France back in the early 1990s. The mini-series was eventually succeeded by the slightly more famous TV cartoon series The Pirates of Dark Water and both shows still have quite a following on the Internet. However, I suspect their popularity has been eclipsed by that of a more recent series of live-action pirate movies.

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Friday, May 20, 2011

Show Tune of the Week: “Pirate Jenny”

From the soundtrack for the 1976 production of The Threepenny Opera, it's actress/singer Ellen Greene of Pushing Daisies fame taking a song which has been long identified with the late singer Lotte Lenya and making it her own.

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Curse of the Black Spot”

At long last, an allegory about the British NHS. But seriously, folks...

For once Amy had an excuse to glare as much as she does. First she had to rescue herself from pirates and then she almost got cuckolded by an alien siren. Granted, given the way she had treated Rory in previous episodes, I found it hard not to feel a bit of schadenfreude when Rory was first seduced by the siren -- and no, it was not a self-styled siren -- but then not even Amy at her worst deserved the fate the pirates would have given her had she not been so handy with a sword.

That said, I did find it amusing when the pirate captain not only proved blase about being inside the Doctor's Tardis but proved quick to identify those parts of the Tardis that most resembled the nautical instruments with which he was most familiar. Apparently those people in the past were not always as stupid as we in the present would like to believe. Or perhaps it would be more diplomatic to note that when you've seen one type of ship, you've seen them all. And what else is the Tardis than another type of ship, eh?

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “Day of the Moon”

This episode began with not one but three chase sequences, one of which ended with the mysterious River Song jumping out a window to her seemingly apparent death. Needless to say, she didn't quite die though one can't help but wonder whether a day will soon come when Ms. Song tries that stunt again and no one comes to her rescue.

The rest of the episode, unfortunately, was a bit of a letdown. On one hand, we did find out the identity of the mysterious aliens we met in "The Impossible Astronaut." And I loved the way Ms. Song referred to the alien operation as being not so much an invasion as an occupation. In other words, Ms. Song and company were living in Occupied America -- which is an odd expression to hear from someone who did not exactly match the image of a Chicana militant.

On the other hand, we were left in mystery on almost every other point of the story and introduced to a mysterious young girl who might or might not be related to either Amy or the Doctor. And despite all the years the Doctor had made a fuss about not using a gun, he nevertheless managed to come with a surprisingly bloodthirsty solution to this week's problem.

I must confess that I am feeling a bit sorry for Rory though. Yes, I get that he will never make an adequate substitute for the Doctor in Amy's eyes but then Amy is not exactly the best of substitutes for past companions herself. And quite frankly, it is been a long while since I have been as annoyed with a companion as I have been with Amy. Perhaps I will warm up to her as the season goes on but at present I find her at best merely tolerable.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

Remember, in a pirate ship, in pirate waters, in a pirate world, ask no questions. Believe only what you see. No, believe half of what you see.
--Burt Lancaster, The Crimson Pirate (1952)

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TV Quote of the Week

I love your get-up. You should dress as a pirate more often.
--Arthur Darvill, Doctor Who (The Second Series), “Curse of the Black Spot”

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Doctor Who (The Second Series): “The Time of Angels”

Heh. At long last, a totally unnecessary sequel to the episode “Blink.” Though I will give it bonus points for bringing back eccentric love interest River Song and giving the Doctor a memorable closing line.

Plus, this episode added new meaning to the term “Church Militant.” Prior to this, I never really expected to see a religious person join forces with the Doctor -- especially in the new series -- much less be portrayed in such a sympathetic fashion. But in this episode it happened though it often did seem a bit ambiguous as to how sympathetic we should find the Doctor's new clerical allies.

I did find it sadly ironic that in an attempt to make a certain angelic foe seem even more frightful than it was in “Blink,” the episode actually made it seem less frightful. But that's the chance you take when storytellers revisit old territory. Perhaps the next episode will be an improvement.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Smuggler's Blues”

The dull life of an American drug dealer.

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “Ya Got Trouble”

When it comes to creative capitalism, Donald Trump ain't got nothing on Harold Hill.

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R.I.P. Marian Mercer

American actress Marian Mercer, best known for her Tony-winning role in the play Promises, Promises, took her last bow at age 75 on April 27. However, yours truly must confess that he remembers her best as Masha in the 1975 TV production of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull.

Regardless of all that, she will be missed.

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R.I.P. Michael Sarrazin

Canadian actor Michael Sarrazin, best known for his role as a weary marathon dancer in the 1969 movie They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and his part as the Frankenstein Monster in the 1973 made-for-TV movie Frankenstein: The True Story, finished his last dance at age 70 on April 17.

He will be missed.

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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Trailer of the Week: The Crusades (1935)

The names of the countries may change but the war goes on and on.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Family Affair

A fifth season intro for the one Brian Keith TV show everyone remembers -- a show even more popular in its day than The Brian Keith Show (the latter being a 1970s sitcom remembered only by a few oldtimers like yours truly). There is a lot of things I could say about this show but since one of the cast members died young, perhaps the most charitable thing I could say is that this show was often watched in my household as I was growing up but not always fondly remembered. Perhaps that was because it would be eventually eclipsed by yet another TV show which featured a young female character named Buffy. Or perhaps because it was eventually replaced in my siblings' affections by another family sitcom: The Brady Bunch.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Crusader

Yes, Virginia, there was a time when the word “crusader” had a far more positive meaning than it does today. And who knew that actor Brian Keith of Family Affair fame was such an action hero back in the 1950s?

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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Quote of the Week

The message is very clear: when Mexican Americans and blacks are allowed or permitted in Hollywood and other media, they are present mainly to do the bidding of the ruling whites. When Mexican and African American characters are not around, it is because the whites can do without them, which occurs during most of the movie. Some readers may take offense at my bald interpretation of Hollywood’s celluloid reality, but, unfortunately, that is the reality that every person who sees this film, young or old, is invited to absorb.
--Marco Portales, Latino Sun, Rising: Our Spanish-Speaking U.S. World, about the 1956 movie Giant

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Friday, May 13, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

My body may be a work-in-progress, but there is nothing wrong with my soul.
--Felicity Huffman, Transamerica (2005)

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TV Quote of the Week

But everybody’s got a past. It’s the future the voters care about. You show them that, all will be forgiven.
--Stacey Scowley, Dollhouse, “The Left Hand”

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I Don't Know How to Say This

I actually celebrated Mother's Day this past weekend by accompanying my mother and my youngest brother to a local fish restaurant, after which we went to a local theatre to see the new release Soul Surfer. And even though Soul Surfer was billed as a “Christian” movie made primarily for the appreciation of “Christian” movie-goers and even though I have a tendency to cringe whenever the makers of a certain form of entertainment go out of their way to emphasize that it's a “Christian” movie or a “Christian” TV show or a “Christian” record and not just a form of entertainment which has Christians in it -- I actually ended up liking the movie.

That's right. Despite all its religious messages and Biblical allusions and mentions of a certain Christian savior, I actually liked Soul Surfer. And this despite the fact that I am a mere heathen Catholic who is supposedly too hip to like “Christian” movies.

Perhaps it was because of the acting chops of Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid, who play the parents of the title character, a young girl who was maimed by a shark and then forced to learn how to relive almost half her life with only one arm. Or perhaps it was because I could not help identifying with the title character. Or perhaps I relished the irony of a movie which saw no reason why surfer culture and traditional Christian culture should not be part of the same lifestyle, which was not the type of thing one would have expected from conservative Christians four or five decades ago.

No matter. The movie was enjoyable in its own way and while I would not necessarily go out of my way to see it again, I can hardly pretend that it was one of the worst cinematic experiences I have had this year.

It would be nice to blame the success of the movie on the number of scenes involving bikini-clad teenagers but I've seen Hollywood movies that have bared far more skin and still managed to be boring. Indeed, one of the most surprising things about this movie is that it appeared to have more in common with traditional Hollywood sports movies like Ice Castles and Gracie than it did with the average religious movie. And it did not hurt that many of the values it promoted (perseverance, fair play, willingness to help others) seemed suspiciously like the ideas liberal movies used to promote.

I really do not see this movie converting many viewers who were not already Christian to begin with. But I liked it anyway.

And I like to think that the fact that I was able to walk outside afterwards and not worry about getting hit by a lightning bolt says something good. If not, I am sure I will soon find out.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Because of You”

A mother's past doesn't have to be her daughter's future.

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Monday, May 09, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “The Way We Were”

In honor of the late Arthur Laurents.

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R.I.P. Arthur Laurents

Famed American playwright, director and screenwriter Arthur Laurents, best known for his work on the plays West Side Story and Gypsy as well as his screenplay for the 1973 film The Way We Were, surrendered to the Jets at age 93 on May 5.

He will be missed.

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R.I.P. Jackie Cooper

Former child actor and “Our Gang” cast member Jackie Cooper, whose most famous adult role was that of Perry White in the 1978 movie Superman, passed away at age 88 on May 3 in what should have been the most newsworthy event since God talked to Moses.

He will be missed.

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Sunday, May 08, 2011

Trailer of the Week: Bachelor Mother (1939)

Ah, the good old days of good old-fashioned family values. I always thought Ms. Rogers' character in this movie deserved one heck of a Mother's Day present considering everything she went through.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: The Partridge Family

Remember when it was hip for even white people to have large families? Remember what most woman on TV who did not have a husband to go along with their children were either widowed or divorced? Remember when it was considered hip for even wild-eyed freaky hippie types to actually get married before they started having kids? Yeah, I know. I'm getting into Grandpa Simpson territory now...

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: How I Met Your Mother

Wait a minute. They based an entire TV show on a premise that should have lasted maybe ten to fifteen minutes, tops? Just how special was this mom?

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Thursday, May 05, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

Why would I want to be a real person when I'm already a legend?
--Danny Trejo, Machete (2010)

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TV Quote of the Week

I want to take this moment to thank our Latino audience for watching. And for those of you who can understand me but who are not Latino, I want to commend you for learning a second language.
--Nadine Velazquez, My Name Is Earl, “Barn Burner”

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Five Movies to Watch on Cinco de Mayo

1. Salt of the Earth (1954).

The one movie about Mexican-Americans that was banned by the U.S. government. In fact, the U.S. government went so far as to try and deport the movie's lead actress in an effort to prevent it from being made. Ironically, you can rent it today at Blockbuster Video -- if you can still find one open.

2. El Norte (1983).

One of the most powerful films about illegal immigration I have seen thus far. It is not necessarily about Mexican immigrants though it has more to say about the interactions between the various types of Hispanic immigrants and the native-born Mexicans than most movies of its kind.

3. My Family (1995).

One of the most ambitious films made about Mexican-American life thus far.

4. Lone Star (1996).

Director John Sayles' depiction of life in a Southwestern border town and the various relationships that exist between Anglos and Hispanics in said town, framed against the backdrop of a murder mystery involving a former sheriff. It's not always as imaginative in said depiction as I would like but it does contain one of the most interesting metaphors for the relationship between the United States and Mexico that I have yet to see on screen.

5. Machete (2010).

But, of course.

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Machete Don't Vex

Every time I've been ready to give up on filmmaker Robert Rodriguez, he managed to come up with a film that was way better than I could have hoped for and last year's Machete was no exception. It is not every one's taza of tea, of course. Indeed, Rodriguez appeared to have gone out of his way in the trailers to tick off a particular type of anti-Hispanic chauvinist who has become quite common on the Internet. Yet the film never came across as the type of boring propaganda piece that appealed only to die-hard political southpaws. Granted, it is not likely to have strong appeal to the type of people who like to congratulate themselves on their dislike of Hispanic illegal aliens but then there are already enough films out there that pander to such folks.

Anyway, Machete had enough humor in it that it could just as easily be seen as a parody of Mexican exploitation films as it could be seen as an example of such. It did not hurt that it starred Rodriguez movie veteran Danny Trejo in the title role. Though Trejo was getting a bit old to play a convincing romantic lead, he was still able to play a convincing action hero, in this case the title character Machete (so-called because his favorite weapon of choice was, of course, a machete). Along for the ride were Michelle Rodriguez as a mysterious taco truck owner, Jessica Alba as a Hispanic border patrol agent and Cheech Marin as a priest. (Yes, you read that last part right.) Opposing Machete were a host of Hispanic and Anglo villains including a Mexican druglord played by Steven Seagal and a Bush-like politico played by Robert De Niro.

Oddly enough, the queasiest part of the movie came not from the shameless ethnic jingoism about which many right-wing critics of this movie had warned. After all, Machete killed almost as many Latino villains as he did Anglo villains and much of the film's most obviously political scenes -- for example, the "big" immigration rally in which Alba's character declared her conversion to Machete's cause -- were played for laughs as often as they were played straight. No, the most worrisome part of the film was the amount of surprisingly graphic violence which bordered -- no pun intended -- on splatterpunk territory. I am not so naive as to pretend that graphic violence is unusual in a mainstream action thriller but it has been a very long time since I have seen disembowelment and finger severing treated so casually in such a movie. It was almost as if Rodriguez was not so much interested in competing with Sergio Leone as he was in competing with Clive Barker.

Quibbles about violence aside, Machete still managed to be more entertaining than I expected. And I suspect a Machete II might be lurking somewhere down the road if Rodriguez has his way. If not, it should be.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Shakin'”

Who says gentlemen prefer blondes?

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Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “You're All the World to Me”

From the 1951 musical Royal Wedding, it's Fred Astaire apparently defying the laws of gravity. And oh, yes, he sings too.

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We Got Him!

At least that's what President Obama has been saying about Osama bin Laden. That doesn't necessarily mean that our long national nightmare is over but I would like to think it means that at least one of our bad dreams of the past decade is ending.

In the meantime, I salute the brave men and women who put themselves in harm's way to bring about this event. At last we can truly say "Mission Accomplished!"

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Sunday, May 01, 2011

Trailer of the Week: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)

Who needs a royal wedding when you can go see a movie like this?

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Petticoat Junction

The original opening and closing credits from one of the most famous train-related sitcoms of all time. It says something about how young I was when I first saw this series that I never thought to ask what those three women were doing in the water tower until I was much, much older. And given that it was supposed to be a family show, it's just as well I never thought about it too much when I was younger. Though, for the record, it should be noted that the cast members in question have admitted in interviews that they were actually fully clothed during the filming of that famous intro. So shame on all of you who thought differently.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Supertrain

I remember hearing rumors of such a show back in the 1970s but I never realized they actually went ahead and made it. Then again, most of my train-related memories in the 1970s involved traveling via Amtrak to visit my Detroit kinfolk. So seeing a show like this right afterwards would have seemed just weird.

Please don't ask me how they got the late mystery novelist Donald E. Westlake to co-create this series. I'm guessing that wasn't one of his more satisfying achievements.

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