Thursday, March 31, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

Nearly everybody gets twitterpated in the spring time.
--Will Wright, Bambi (1942)

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TV Quote of the Week

Oh, well, we all know how reliable bloggers are.
--Thomas Dekker, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, “Earthlings Welcome Here”

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Wasn't Tomorrow Wonderful?”

Cool. It's the title cut from the Waitresses' first album. I hope you all enjoy it.

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¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Patty Donahue!

Today would have been the 55th birthday of Patty Donahue, former lead singer of the Waitresses and one of my favorite vocalists of all time. She has been missed.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “Hello, Dolly”

This week I present the title number from the 1969 musical Hello, Dolly, best known for being the one time two living legends managed to share the same screen despite being at different ends of their careers. And yes, this is also the same movie that inspired that little robot in WALL·E. I hope you all enjoy it.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Trailer of the Week: Giant (1956)

It's tempting to call this movie the Mexican-American version of Gone with the Wind but of course, it's much more than that. The more I see of it, the more I wish I could hate it, and yet the more I try to hate it, the more the writer in me sees things in it I can't help but love. Which, come to think of it, basically sums up my attitude towards Texas history.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Fantastic Voyage

Please don't ask me why I remember an animated series from 1968 a lot better than a live-action show from 1977. Personally, I suspect the long life some cartoon shows like this one enjoyed in syndication is responsible. Plus like most of my generation, I had rather odd tastes in TV shows when I was a child.

That said, it's interesting to view this show today and note how many things leap out at me that didn't occur to me as a kid, ranging from the many, many liberties the show takes with the premise of Isaac Asimov's original novel (I think it goes without saying that Asimov did not have a mystical Indian character named Guru in his version) to the almost omnipresent narration of the late Ted Knight, an actor who, like his fellow dues-payer William Conrad, is remembered nowadays for far more than his stirring narration of many Saturday morning cartoon shows. For that matter, I wonder if the odd crush I have had on many a tall blonde can be credited to childhood memories of CMDF member Erica Lane. However, that's a subject for another day.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: The Fantastic Journey

A science fiction/fantasy show from 1977 which apparently didn't last too long. Sadly, the only face in the opening credits that I recognize is the late science fiction star Roddy McDowall.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

R.I.P. Geraldine Ferraro

Former 1984 vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro died today at the age of 75.

She will be missed.

Of all the candidates for whom I never voted, she is the candidate I most regret not supporting.

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

How DARE you and the rest of your barbarians set fire to my library!? Play conqueror all you want, Mighty Caesar! Rape, murder, pillage thousands, even millions of human beings! But neither you nor any other barbarian has the right to destroy one human thought!
--Elizabeth Taylor, Cleopatra (1963)

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TV Quote of the Week

How many times must I tell you? Queens consume nectars and ambrosia, not hot dogs.
--Victor Buono, Batman, “The Curse of Tut”

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Love in the Age of the En-Lightning-Ment

When we last left Tyrone Power, he was playing a journalist named Stephen Fitzgerald who was journeying to the Emerald Isle to meet cute with his future love interest. This time out in the 1951 movie I'll Never Forget You, he is a scientist named Peter Standish who is visiting Mother England in order to participate in a very important atomic experiment, only to end up traveling back in time via lightning bolt to the Age of Enlightenment where he promptly changes places with a rich American who is preparing to wed a charming young damsel who just happens to be the beautiful daughter of a local aristocrat. Nice work if you can get it, eh?

Unfortunately, life in 1784 England does not quite suit Standish as much as he would have supposed and to make matters worse, he keeps giving away the fact that he knows so much about the locals' future. In short, he is just ignorant enough of eighteenth century ways to attract the suspicions of the locals and too knowledgeable enough about things his counterpart would not know to win their trust. As if Standish's life is not complicated enough, he finds himself falling for the sister of his counterpart's intended, a scandalous complication in any century.

Will Standish be able to win over the good people of 1784 London? Or will he end up in an insane asylum?

Since this movie is not billed as an example of alternative history, it does not take a lot of imagination to guess that the eventual ending will be a less than happy one. Indeed, this movie has one of the most depressing endings for a romantic movie that I have seen in a long while.

Yet it gives nothing away to note that it hints at an ultimately happy ending for Standish as well. Add to that the witticisms of Dennis Price as Standish's British “cousin” -- one of those black sheep relatives who is inevitably more fun to listen to than the white lamb kinfolk -- and the movie is actually quite watchable. After all, it is hard to hate a movie that has enough confidence in its audience to not only include Dr. Samuel Johnson as a character but to do so without going out of its way to explain who he was or why he was so famous. And I must confess that I find it amusing to see yet another old movie which treats marriage between cousins as no big deal while most modern Americans I know would regard the same idea with horror.

Besides, after having seen my share of “time travel for dummies” movies, I could not help finding it refreshing to finally see a movie that had a fairly realistic attitude about how a visitor from the future would be received in real life. After all, as my father used to note whenever he and I were watching old syndicated reruns of Time Tunnel, it is not like we sophisticated people in the modern era would automatically accept the word of a person who claimed to be from our future. Indeed, if such a person turned up in Washington D.C., he or she would be very lucky if he or she did not vanish into the clutches of Homeland Security. And that is just one of the more optimistic scenarios.

While I must admit that it would be fun to see a movie in which such a traveler actually did change history, I am not sure I trust modern Hollywood to bring off such a story with the same panache we see in I'll Never Forget You. Mind you, I will admit that title needs work. But apart from that, I found it quite memorable.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

R.I.P. Elizabeth Taylor

Noted English-American actress Elizabeth Taylor, best known for her title role in the 1963 epic Cleopatra, became one with the Pharaohs today at age 79.

She will be missed.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Self Control”

At long last it can be told. The late Laura Branigan was the real Black Swan -- not to mention the inspiration for May, Phantom, and Eyes Wide Shut.

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If Brevity Is the Soul of Wit...

Some short stories aren't meant to be made into full-length movies. It doesn't matter how many really serious subplots you add; they don't really work unless they're short subjects.

Richard Matheson's “Button, Button” is one of those short stories. The original short story worked best as a brief entry in the John Collier “Gotcha” School of Storytelling. The premise was simple: a stranger presented a married couple with a mysterious box one day. They were both told that they have only to push a button on the box and they would get a huge cash reward but in return, someone they didn't know would die. The couple debates the morality of this offer until one half finally gives in and pushes the button. Afterwards...

Well, actually the original short story didn't talk much about what happened afterwards. It just presented the reader with a quick “betcha didn't see that coming” ending and then faded out. And no doubt that's how it should have ended. Any longer than that and the story just gets too pretentious. Moreover, it loses any real suspense since the longer you draw out the answer to key questions, the less the average person actually cares about the resolution of said questions.

Any argument to the contrary can be disproved by the 2009 movie The Box, which is based on the same Matheson short story. On one hand, the movie deserves props for being more philosophically ambitious than what usually passes for science fiction nowadays. After all, it just doesn't want to be yet another cheap thriller about mysterious men in black who want to manipulate us into doing God knows what; it wants to be the ultimate version of such a thriller. And it doesn't hurt that the movie never really answers the obvious question concerning who created the box. Was it God? The Devil? Aliens? The movie never really says and yet it gives us a lot of evidence to support each theory.

And yet because the movie draws out its storyline so much, it ultimately seems less than satisfactory. It doesn't want to upset the women in its audience by implying that they're all sociopathic button-pushers and yet its attempt to imply a similar thing about men doesn't quite work either. Instead of coming away with some big lesson about the nature of human morality, we're instead left with a story which pretty much implies that both sexes would push the button under the right circumstances and that there's no point in expecting better of mankind because we're all a bunch of selfish losers anyway.

Granted, it's hard to watch the evening news at times and still convincingly argue against such a worldview. Then again The Box is hardly the first movie to present such a pessimistic view of mankind and it doesn't even present it in a particularly original way. Which makes me wonder if the real test lies in how we respond to this movie. Do we say, “Yeah, those mysterious box-makers got us pegged, all right. So why bother?” Or do we prove them wrong? Personally, I'm siding with the “prove them wrong” faction but then that's just me. And it's not like I have a box.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “Singing a Happy Song”

From the 1935 musical Folies Bergère de Paris, it's Maurice Chevalier doing his best Busby Berkeley imitation with a little help from Ann Sothern. I hope you all enjoy it.

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Why, Yes, I Did Have a Good Weekend

At least as far as my social life went.

I met one online friend face-to-face Friday and I met a new offline friend Sunday. Right now I wish my job hunt was as successful but I'm hoping that will change this week. If not, there's always tax season to look forward to.

Meanwhile, one of my mysterious new upstairs neighbors is actually initiating conversations with me. I dare not guess what that means since she appears to have a boyfriend but hey, it's better than her not noticing me at all.

And oh, yes, I actually did see some movies that I need to write about this week. Wish me luck.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Trailer of the Week: Teenage Cave Man (1958)

Before men knew shame, they made movies like this.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels

Him no Atomo. Him Caveman. (Or as my Spanish-speaking relatives would put it, Cavernícola.)

Seriously, this show was never much of a favorite of mine though I do recall some of my relatives watching it from time to time back in the late 1970s. According to a Time magazine interview, Fred Silverman, who was president of ABC Entertainment back then, was supposed to be a big fan of the show. But eventually the show failed and Silverman left to go to another network. I somehow doubt those two events are related, but nowadays, who knows?

As for the Teen Angels, I'm guessing they were supposed to be a homage to Josie and the Pussycats, yet another cartoon show about a group of girls who were going out and having adventures. Then again they could have been just as much a homage to Charlie's Angels, though why such a homage would end up on a Saturday morning kid's show is anyone's guess.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Moby Dick and Mighty Mightor

Wait! The title character of Herman Melville's classic novel was in a cartoon show back in the 1960s? Not quite. The show in question did feature a white whale, but unlike Melville's character, it was a friendly whale. Or at least a whale which was more friendly towards humans than his famous namesake.

As for Mighty Mightor, one would have thought the concept of a prehistoric superhero would have caught on in high-concept Hollywood. But apart from an obscure cartoon show in the 1970s called Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels, it never did.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

R.I.P. Michael Gough

Noted British actor Michael Gough, best known to American audiences for his role as Alfred Pennyworth in four Batman movies, delivered his last cup of tea yesterday at age 94.

He will be missed.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “The Unicorn”

The first song I ever heard sung by an Irish musical group. No, seriously.

Edited to add:

Actually, it turns out that the Irish Rovers are a Canadian Irish group but between their accents and the fact that their CDs are so often found in the "foreign" part of the CD store -- unlike most Canadian artists -- it would be really hard for an outsider like myself to guess that.

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Movie Quote of the Week

My nose itches for the smell of peat and my eyes water for the sight of a blackthorn in bloom.
--Cecil Kellaway, The Luck of the Irish (1948)

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TV Quote of the Week

You spend your entire career planning for just about every crisis imaginable -- up to and including alien invasion -- then this happens. So much for thinking outside the bloody box.
--Ben Miller, Primeval

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To Thine Own Celt Be True

Aye and begorrah! If it isn't everyone's favorite swashbuckler* Tyrone Power playing the part of one Stephen Fitzgerald in the 1948 film The Luck of the Irish. And is not it just great that Fitzgerald just happens to be an Irish-American freelance journalist -- not to be confused with one F. Scott Fitzgerald -- who has gone back to the old sod on his way back to New York from Europe? And who should he come across in this odd enchanted land save a not so wee member of the wee folk (played by Cecil Kellaway). A leprechaun, that is, who looks uncannily like the guy who played Veronica Lake's father in I Married a Witch.

Fortunately, Power's adventures with the supernatural prove a lot more benign in this movie than Fredric March's were in I Married a Witch. If anything, one may say they prove too benign. Fitzgerald wins over the trust and affection of a centuries-old shoemaker so quickly that one might be tempted to dismiss the whole affair as a load of cobblers.

But then Fitzgerald meets Nora (played by Anne Baxter), a local colleen whose charm is such that she may be a supernatural being as well. Unfortunately, Fitzgerald is also engaged to a rich American girl named Frances (played by Jayne Meadows) and has promised to take a job with her father David Augur (played by Lee J. Cobb), a powerful newspaperman seeking to make a run for the Senate. Fitzgerald does not agree with many of David Augur's political stands but he finds the combination of Frances' glamour and her father's money to be a powerful temptation.

Of course, one does not have to have seen many American movies to guess whom Fitzgerald will choose when he is forced to decide between the poor and humble Nora and the not-so-poor and not-so-humble Frances. But I must admit I found the way to that decision to be quite interesting. However, I did find it unusual to see a movie made in the Yankee Doodle Dandy era which actually encouraged the audience to cheer on a fellow who ultimately chose to emigrate back to his ancestral homeland rather than to stay and make a go of it in America -- moreover, one which encouraged the audience to applaud his decision to pass over a nice red-blooded American girl in favor of some foreigner.

Then again, if I had a certain bright-eyed colleen waiting for me in the Emerald Isle, I would be tempted to make the same choices Stephen Fitzgerald ultimately made -- and I would not need any supernatural intervention to help me make up my mind.

* Apart from Errol Flynn, natch.

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “Too-Ra-Loo-Ra-Loo-Ra”

In honor of Saint Patrick's Day/Week.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Trailer of the Week: Leprechaun 2 (1994)

Horror films in the 1990s were so classy before the big corporations got involved.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: Dragnet

One of the oldest and most parodied cop shows ever shown on TV and especially one of the oldest set in the Southwestern US. The original TV version ran from 1951 to 1959 but most members of my generation are more familiar with the remake that ran from 1967 to 1970.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Southland

I had forgotten all about this show until an online acquaintance recently mentioned that it was her favorite series.

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Friday, March 11, 2011

¡Feliz Cumpleaños, Mi Sobrina!

My favorite niece will be celebrating her eleventh birthday this weekend. Of course, her actual birthday took place earlier this week but unfortunately, we won't be having a celebration until this weekend.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Movie Quote of the Week

Is there no morality left in this world?
--Vincent Price, The Comedy of Terrors (1963)

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TV Quote of the Week

I am obsolete. This must be what old people feel like, and Blockbuster.
--Fran Kranz, Dollhouse, “A Love Supreme”

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Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Papa, Don't Preach”

Michael Medved, eat your heart out.

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

Aubrey Plaza (1984 - ). The daughter of a Puerto Rican father and a mother of Irish and English descent. She is best known for her role as an intern on the NBC TV series Parks and Recreation.

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Monday, March 07, 2011

Movie Song of the Week: “Ain't There Anyone Here for Love?”

Pobrecita! The late Jane Russell had an obvious thing for beefcake in this number but unfortunately, none of the beefcake appeared to have a thing for her. Perhaps if she had been more obvious...

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Pensamientos Acerca de Televisión

Back to You: “Pilot”

Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton have received a reputation during the last decade or so for being two of the most outspoken conservative celebrities in television. So naturally when the two of them got together in 2007 to star in a sitcom for which Grammer was the executive producer, they naturally chose to star in a show in which one of the major subplots involved the conception of a child outside of wedlock.

No, seriously. Almost fifteen years after the big Murphy Brown debate about the implications of an unwed mother appearing on prime-time TV, two of Hollywood's most notorious conservatives chose to star in a TV show in which one of the main characters was a woman who not only conceived a child out of wedlock, but made little effort to hide such child from any of her co-workers.

Needless to say, we've come a long way from the days when Lucille Ball had to tiptoe around network censors to find ways to refer to her own pregnancy during the filming of her show I Love Lucy even though she and her real-life husband were playing a married couple. And yet as the recent fracas over poor Natalie Portman showed, we haven't come far enough.

After all, one has to ask: if Natalie Portman's decision to attend the Oscars sans wedding ring while she was visibly pregnant was so bad, why was it okay for conservatives like Grammer and Heaton to play unwed parents in a show that essentially glamourized unwed parenthood? After all, it would have been a lot easier for Grammer to have the scripts rewritten so that he and Heaton were not playing unwed parents than it would have been for Portman to just ignore one of the biggest nights in her career because of her pregnancy. For that matter, why was it okay with so many cultural conservatives for Ms. Heaton to essentially play the same type of unwed mother role on Back to You that Candice Bergen got criticized for playing on the '90s series Murphy Brown?

For what it is worth, I am not a big fan of unwed pregnancies -- which is why I have been careful to avoid creating any -- but I am also not a big fan of the notion that they are the worst of all social evils. Nor do I see how lecturing unwed mothers on their “bad behavior” is especially useful at a time when far worse behavior goes on without remark. After all, it could be argued that the father who deliberately walks away from a pregnant woman because he does not want to face the hassle of raising a child is far worse than the mother who conceives a child out of wedlock with the wrong partner because she had mistakenly thought said person would stand by her in the event of pregnancy -- yet for some reason, you rarely hear the same anger being directed at said fathers as often as it is directed against unwed mothers.

In any event, it is not like Back to You would have been one of the better sitcoms out there had it gotten rid of the unwed parent gimmick. After all, the show lasted less than a year and all too often relied on such gimmicks as “funny” ethnic names and a Latina weathergirl who was basically your classic stereotypical dumb blonde with a bad artificial tan and a Shakira wig. The only stand-out among the cast was actor Ty Burrell who has since gone on to a funnier and more famous role in Modern Family. Meanwhile, Kelsey Grammer's TV career appears to have stalled. If it weren't for Ms. Heaton's recent success as a married mother on the TV series The Middle, one would be almost tempted to call this a case of poetic justice.

But it isn't.

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Sunday, March 06, 2011

Trailer of the Week: On the Town (1949)

In honor of the late Betty Garrett.

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Hey, I Remember This Show: The Brady Bunch

A more successful version of the blended family theme than Accidental Family. In fact, this is probably one of the most famous sitcoms -- for better or worse -- of the 1970s. It does not hurt that its blended family theme seemed to anticipate the big divorce epidemic of the mid-1970s when divorce became more and more common in American society and a lot of real-life families had to learn how to blend like the Bradys. Not that the Bradys were a product of divorce. In fact, there seemed to be times on the original show when the writers forgot that both parents had been married before and that the father was a widower and the mother a widow. But maybe that was my imagination.

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Hey, I Don't Remember This Show: Accidental Family

No, Michael Medved fans, that title doesn't mean what you think it does. The family in this show is formed when widower Jerry Van Dyke ends up sharing his farm with his son, divorced mother Lois Nettleton and Nettleton's daughter. It seems quite conservative by today's standards though judging from its quick disappearance from prime time after the 1967-1968 season, it apparently wasn't conservative enough.

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Thursday, March 03, 2011

Pop Song of the Week: “Obsession”

Rory and River make a music video.

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Movie Quote of the Week

Oh, you mustn’t feel bad, Miss Reynolds. Time for you to put on your new clothes. You don’t want to meet your fiancée dressed in nothing but a napkin, do you?
--John Hoyt, Attack of the Puppet People (1958)

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TV Quote of the Week

As for speaking, again, it's true I have an impediment. But isn't what a man says more important than how long he takes to say it?
--Derek Jacobi, I, Claudius, “Fool’s Luck”

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Babes and Bathwater

I'm usually a big sucker for movies in the “lovable loser” comedy genre but here's the thing: the losers in said movie have to be actually likable, if not lovable. They cannot be jerks, blowhards or generally unlikable people. They have to be the type of people you would root for in real life, not the type that would make you cringe if you found yourself sitting next to them at a party.

Granted, the bar for the lovable loser genre has gotten low over the last few decades and heaven knows there has been way too many movies in which the one likable thing about the comic protagonist is his affection for his grandma. But last year's Hot Tub Time Machine is so pathetic it does not even bother to include the grandma. Instead we get one suicidal loser who has done his best to alienate almost everyone in his life except two friends -- and his two friends, who are not all that much better. Along for the ride is one friend's fatherless nephew, who seems to be the one person in the group with a sense of humor and a genuinely likable personality. So naturally it is a running gag of the movie that he ends up getting dumped on through most of the movie by the suicidal loser.

Then the group gets the opportunity to go back in time to the 1980s via the time travel device mentioned in the movie title and alter history for their young selves. But unfortunately, they prove just as obnoxious in their 80s incarnations as they were in the present, and they not only almost blow their chance to change anything but prove themselves even less worthy of success than they were in the present.

It would be nice to pretend that this movie was funny despite all this but it was not. Most of the pop culture jokes concerning the 1980s were just old hippie jokes from the 1960s retooled for a different decade and to add insult to injury, almost every female character that the group encountered in the 1980s -- including a group member's sister! -- was depicted as being little more than a brainless bimbo. (Because apparently no other kind of female existed back in the 1980s as far as HTTM's writers were concerned.)

As a result, the film's happy ending made me feel as if I had just found out that the worst bully I knew from high school had won the lottery. Because, in effect, that was what happened. The most unlikable character in the movie stayed behind in the past to change things -- and ended up altering history in favor of himself and his chums. Which would not have been so bad if this was supposed to be a dark comedy, but it was not.

Oh, well. Perhaps it is just as well that the movie did not include a grandmother. After all, it is hard to imagine HTTM's writers being all that more respectful toward senior citizens.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

R.I.P. Jane Russell

Actress Jane Russell, best known for her role in the 1953 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, sang her last note yesterday at age 89.

She will be missed.

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R.I.P. Betty Garrett

Actress Betty Garrett, known for her roles in such musicals as the 1949 film On the Town and the 1955 film My Sister Eileen and best known to my generation for her role as Irene Lorenzo on the television series All in the Family, did her last high-kick on February 12 of this year at age 91.

She will be missed.

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

Alexis Bledel (1981 - ). Daughter of an Argentine father of Danish descent and a Mexican mother. Her first language is Spanish and she did not learn English until she started school. She is an actress best known for her role as Rory Gilmore in the television series The Gilmore Girls.

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