Friday, November 30, 2007

When Bad Things Happen to Good Documentaries

I love a good probing documentary film. It is terrific that this cinematic genre has taken on a life of its own over the past few years. Whatever you think of Michael Moore, he has elevated the documentary to a higher level. You can follow that up with some of the other wonderful documentaries we have seen lately. March of the Penguins. Supersize Me. Mad Hot Ballroom. The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg.

I saw two others recently and the topics intrigued me. But, unfortunately, what lingered with me longer than the subject matter was the glaring hole that both filmmakers ignored in the telling of their respective stories.

I'll focus first on "Confessions of a Superhero," which premiered at the AFI Film Festival. It focuses on those strange folks who work the streets of Hollywood Boulevard near Highland. No, they're not bums or panhandlers or prostitutes. They're actor wannabes who work the tourist crowd in their costumes. You walk past the Kodak Theater these days and you will usually see Marilyn Monroe, Laurel and Hardy, and, for some bizarre reason, four or five clowns dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow. Most of the visiting yokels, who hopefully have round trip tickets that will bring them back to their Nebraska farms, love to have their pictures taken with these characters. I always wondered about the genesis of these people. Were they hired by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce as a public service? Is this their main livelihood? And how crazy are they?

Well, the film clues you in pretty quickly. They are not there as a function of any formal organization. If you want your picture taken with, say, Batman, the Caped Crusader will dutifully pose, but always remind you that they work for tips. You want a picture? Be prepared to hand over a greenback or two. Most of these "super heroes" do this to fill in their days between auditions. And, some are very normal, straight forward actors loving for their big break.

And then there's Christopher Dennis, the appointed "Superman" of Hollywood Boulevard. He's in his 40s and, with the right amount of hair spray, can look amazingly like Christopher Reeve. Dennis is one of the four actors that the film focuses on, along with Wonder Woman, Batman, and the Incredible Hulk. He's also the main reason why this documentary rang an incredibly false note with me. Yep, Christopher Dennis is an actor, but he's also insane. A visit to his home is tantamount to an exhibit at the Smallville Museum. He lives, breathes, sleeps and probably pees Superman all the time. And he's one of those lunatics who assumes such a level of normalcy that makes him even creepier.

But, still, that's not what bothers me about him. During the film, he reminds you on a variety of occasions that his mother is the late actress Sandy Dennis. Indeed, he tells us that his persistance at an acting vocation is the direct result of a deathbed promise he made to Sandy. You meet his fiancee during the course of the movie, and you will note that this woman also has the same chipmunk-like facial features that his mother had. There's just one problem.

Sandy Dennis wasn't his mother.

The filmmaker acknowledges that this may be the case. He even goes as far as interviewing Miss Dennis' sister, who knows that Christopher has been touting this, but doesn't think that her sister ever gave birth to any child. When I got home from seeing the movie, I did a search on the internet. Indeed, Sandy Dennis, for all accounts, never married. She was involved with jazz musician Gerry Mulligan as well as actor Eric Roberts. But, there is no record of a child anywhere.

Poof. Any positive feeling the audience would have for Christopher Dennis goes up into a Kryptonite haze. The guy ceases to have any credibility with you. And the filmmaker completely drops this major curveball. I actually had some compassion for the other three "super heroes," although Batman ultimately has some anger management issues with the police. But, as for Christopher Dennis, he falls off my radar screen forever. How despicable to publicly lie about being the offspring of an actress, who has been dead for 15 years? Heck, I might as well go out there and tell everybody that my mother was Audrey Meadows. Who's going to tell me I'm wrong? Certainly not this filmmaker.

There's a more basic problem with the new documentary called "What Would Jesus Buy?" Timed perfectly to open on the first Christmas shopping weekend of the year, this movie chronicles the 2006 bus tour of one Reverend Billy and his choir. At the heart of the film, there is one terrific idea. It's the overcommercialization of the Christmas holiday. And you meet a bunch of families who have had their lives upended by overspending on past holidays. Great stuff.

And then they let you meet Reverend Billy, this wild-eyed, crazy-haired Evangelist preacher who wants to tour the country with his choir, and let us all know about the coming "shopocalypse." The man is a raving nutjob, who, while earnest about what he is touting, loves the camera more. Motoring around America on a bus, he stops at a bunch of shopping malls and stages ridiculous stunts. At one place, he conducts an "exorcism" in the shopping center parking lot. He merits no credibility whatsoever because he's so obviously clinically insane. He goes to Walmart's headquarters and drops down on his knees while touching the corporate logo. The movie has a great message, but loses it everytime the camera comes back to Reverend Billy. It's amazing to me that the filmmaker didn't see this himself. Indeed, Linus said more in two minutes on "A Charlie Brwon Christmas" than this loon does in 90 minutes of screen time.

Two movies. Two strong messages. Two significant flaws.

Too bad.

Dinner last night: Antipasto salad.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Bank On It

As on-site viewers of the great Depression, my grandparents nurtured an incredible distrust in banks. Even years later, they always seemed to be waiting for the next inevitable crash when their life savings would topple down like a Jenga game. Even though she was not making a deposit, my grandmother would go down to the County Trust branch on First Street in Mount Vernon every week and get her passbook updated with interest. If she didn't see it for herself in print, she would probably expect that week's added interest of $2.36 to disappear from the ledgers.

I've been a little luckier. I also can live quite comfortably in a world where there are no savings books. I can be quite contented working my banking accounts on-line. Of course, when I relocated to Los Angeles ten years ago, I was forced to find myself a new financial institute after a longterm marriage with Chase. The first few attempts at trying to find a new monetary dating partner were disastrous. I bounced my money around from bank to bank as if I were some prostitute looking for candy bars and nylons during World War II. Wells Fargo was the worst. They haphazardly would apply some stringent bank fee for any minor infraction. I sneezed once on a teller's line and the bank manager ran over immediately. "That will be three dollars, sir. And gesundheit." It was that bad.

When I hooked up with Washington Mutual a few years ago, they were the new kids in town. My only reason for moving to them was they had a branch downstairs from my office. From my first inklings, they seemed to be super nice. And the fact that they were also opening up branches in New York made this bi-coaster a happy camper.

But, it was when push came to shove off the bridge that I married them for life. There have been two occasions where they bailed me out of my own overflowing bucket of stupidity.

A few years ago, I enjoyed lunch at PF Changs in Sherman Oaks with a friend of mine. I picked up the tab. The following day, I hopped onto an American Airlines flight for seven days in NY. As per usual upon my arrival, I head to the supermarket for some apartment essentials. I opened my wallet to run my bank card. It was not there. It didn't take me long to figure out that I had left it the day before at PF Changs.

And the call to the restaurant confirmed it. My debit card was sitting safely in some manager's drawer, like a lost boy sucking on a lollipop at the police station. The only trouble is that they would not release it to my friend. Or mail it to me in NY. Screwed. For the next seven days.

I called Washington Mutual and they bent over backwards to get a new debit card expressed to me in two days. And they didn't blink an eye. Never once did they challenge me for my stupidity. I was doing that all by myself.

If that was my engagement with this bank, here's how the formal wedding happened. Just last week. On Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.

No, I was not at a doorbusters sale at Kohl's. I had gone to the WaMu ATM near my house to get some cash to pay my housekeeper, who has suddenly figured out she can take our checks anymore. Don't ask. Anyway, I then head to a local card store. I open my wallet to pay. The debit card is gone. Of course, I had left it in the ATM slot.

Cursing my burgeoning career as a numbskull, I raced back to the bank. The card was gone from the slot. I immediately assumed that I was the Christmas miracle for some Mexican family. But, no. My debit card was safe and sound in the ATM vault. WaMu has a safety feature. Cards not retrieved are sucked back into the machine, which is something that your favorite blogging moron never knew.

Now I'm sure other banks have similar devices in place. But they're not Washington Mutual. The girl gave me back my card with a smile.

And my account wasn't charged three dollars.

Dinner last night: Crispy Spicy Beef at the Cheesecake Factory.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dance 10, Wednesday 3

From A Chorus Line to A Picket Line, I am here for you.

---With most Broadway shows still crippled by the stagehands' walkout, those hillbillies visiting NY for Christmas now have to find some other classy venue to turn into their own personal mall food court.

---Now, you go to a Broadway show and you hear these hayseeds rustling their plastic bags as they all just came from dropping a bundle at the big M & M store.

---If you relish the quiet solitude of the Midwest, please stay there. Eventually Ruth Buzzi will show up there touring in something.

---Osama Bin Sleazeball has come out with another televised message.

---What a great gig for that production crew. They get steady work every couple of months.

---Osama has done enough of those broadcasts to go into syndication.

---I hope Bin Laden did his latest missive without a script. After all, there is still a writers strike.

---The five best words I have heard this week: Dancing With The Stars Finale.

---Except it comes right back for the second half of the season like a lingering sinus infection.

---I swear that the talent coordinators for that show hang around a car wash on Ventura to see who hasn't worked in five years.

---And Tom Bergeron has to be one of the most annoying men on television. He has all the guile of a supermarket manager cleaning up a spill on Aisle 7.

---Every time I see one of these hacks hosting a TV program, I long for the days of Johnny Carson.

---Here's a Carnac joke that might be done if the real Tonight Show was still on the air.

---Answer: The Malibu Wildfires and Angelina Jolie.

---Envelope rrrrip.

---Question: Name two things that have driven Jennifer Aniston out of her home.

---Rim shot.

---So, Al Snore went to see Bush when the latter hosted all the Nobel Prize winners.

---Fatso finally got to the Oval Office. Now, he knows where you can find the really hot air.

---I cannot start my day without going through a newspaper. Which, of course, makes me a rarity today as those daily publications are drying up like crazy.

---If you want to know why, just look at the headline on Tuesday's USA Today: Redskins Sean Taylor in Critical Condition.

---By the time I read it, he was already dead.

---Now, that newspaper was sitting in hotels all over America all day Tuesday and the news was already old.

---The local news here had two dumbass women fistfighting over a spot in line to drag their urchins up to see Santa Claus.

---Have yourself a Philistine Christmas.

Dinner last night: French Dip at Cafe 50s Diner.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A Weekend With 3, no, wait, 6 Comedy Legends

My Thanksgiving weekend tradition is a bit different from most people. In lieu of exploring shopping mall parking lots for a space, I much prefer to hunker down with a cinematic treat or two. And, while some huckleberrys were in Best Buy fighting over some new WiFi gadgetry, I was enveloped in that magic light shining from a projection booth. Or the heat from my plasma screen.

I didn't plan it this way, but, through TiVo and Netflix, I had inadvertently created for myself a mini film festival featuring a few classic screen comedy icons, two of which I had either minimal or no exposure to before. And that, in certain respects, was an eye opener of major proportions.

I had previously recorded via Turner Classic Movies some of the movie appearance of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. They were significant radio stars in the 30s and 40s and Hollywood loved to cash in on their national popularity. And the movies I sampled all featured several personalities of the radio world, giving millions of filmgoers to finally put the face with the voice.

Okay, I have always had a weakness for dummies. The ones made of plastic and wood as opposed to the ones I deal with in everyday life. Indeed, I actually have a Charlie McCarthy puppet currently guarding my linen closet, along with Howdy Doody and Willie Tyler's Lester. And I still have the head of the Jerry Mahoney dummy I got for Christmas when I was four or five. That's perched atop the microwave in my NY apartment. Despite all this, I had seen very little of the Bergen/McCarthy act until this past weekend. And I have to tell you this little guy is hilarious. The films I watched were full of belly laughs, but only when the camera was trained on the monocled star. The double entendres and insults come fast and furious, and you can clearly see why the public loved him.

And these screen appearances also brought up an interesting question for me. I mean, radio audiences, even though they couldn't see him, did know that Charlie McCarthy was a dummy...or a ventriloquine figure. Right? Well, I'm not so sure now. Because, in two of these movies, the directors went to great lengths to imply that he was real. For instance, there's one sequence where Charlie is surrounded on a night club stage by a bevy of chorus girls. Then, they cut to a long shot where a midget or child, dressed as Charlie, begins to dance. Huh? There are almost a dozen instances of the same thing. You'd see a closeup of Charlie. Then, a long shot of some midget running or falling down. Could we not accept Charlie McCarthy for what he was? It was as weird as it was entertaining. All the more reason why I believe Candice Bergen had to deal with a lot of issues as a child. I'm betting Charlie had a bigger room than she did in the Bergen's Bel Air mansion.

Netflix and TCM introduced me to somebody I had only heard about previously. The renowned French film comic and director, Jacques Tati. That country considers him on a par with Keaton. His screen persona, Monsieur Hulot, is supposedly the equal of Chaplin's character of The Tramp. Over and over and over, I have heard what a genius Tati is (actually was). So, finally, I wanted to see for myself. I watched two of his films, "Mr. Hulot's Holiday" and "The Big Day," which was Tati's first movie.

I have come to the conclusion that the French's ineptitude in resistance during WWII is on a par with their inability to understand good film comedy. I never laughed once. Now I understand why Jerry Lewis is a god in Paris. After an hour of Hulot, I was craving to switch to "The Bellboy." What did I miss? I found both films horribly unfunny. I went on-line and read several film critics gush over this twerp. I didn't see it. I didn't get it. Now, I've read that English comic Rowan Atkinson patterned his Mr. Bean character after Tati's Hulot. I can see some resemblances, but there is one basic difference. I laugh out loud at Mr. Bean. I fidgeted like a two year-old while I was watching Mr. Hulot. Jacques Tati, I am moving on.

The piece de resistance (no pun intended) for the weekend was the Alex Film Society's annual marathon devoted to the Three Stooges. It's amazing how funny a lead pipe to the head can be. Of course, I was a big fan when these shorts ran on television, because, secretly, there was always somebody whose eyes I wanted to poke out. But, when you experience this type of humor in front of a live theater audience, this is a different kind of exhileration. They ran a bunch of the Stooges' best work, including one featuring the oft-maligned Shemp, who looked a little long in the tooth. The theater was filled with old people, young people, men, and, amazingly, women. A female friend of mine refused to go, because no woman can appreciate the Three Stooges. Well, there were plenty of them there on Saturday, including comedian Paula Poundstone, who admittedly could be included in either gender. After an hour, it hurt me to laugh.

Now that's pain! If only somebody would swing a wrench at that blasted Hulot guy...

Dinner last night: Grilled bratwurst.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - November 26, 2007

BOING!!!!!!!!!!!!


Dinner last night: The BLT at Islands.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #19!!


I could put movies I watched with relatives into very distinct categories. It was my grandmother with whom I savored the cinematic delights of Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan and Warner Oland's Charlie Chan. My father wanted to educate me on World War II by exposing me to everything from "Destination:Tokyo" to "The Longest Day."

As for my mom, we shared all those wonderful Warner Brothers melodramas from the 30s and 40s, usually with some studio contracted actress in the lead. When I was a kid, Channel 5 (Metromedia in NY) bought up a lot of those movies and loved to unspool them one right after another on Sunday afternoon. If it was winter and the snow was piling up outside, you find me and my mother rooted in front of the TV, with Mom puffing away right along with Bette Davis.

That's how I came to appreciate "Mildred Pierce," which provided Joan Crawford with her only Best Actress Oscar. One could aruge that this is her greatest acting role as she is cast completely against what we later will learn was her type: a loving, doting, and selfless mother. In Mildred's world, there is no evidence of wire hangers or Babo cleanser. As a divorced mother, she is totally committed to making a better life for her ingrate of a daughter, Veda, who is the greatest bitch to be ever captured on film. Ann Blythe played that part and, around the time that I first saw this movie with my mom, the actress was the TV spokesperson for good old wholesome Wonder Bread. I would never buy a loaf of anything from this woman as a result.

Mildred Pierce, captured first on film in 1945, is indeed cinema's first feminist character. To support Veda's expansive tastes for the good life, Mildred opens a chain of successful LA restaurants, which seem to very much resemble Marie Callender's. Of course, given that this is a Warner Brothers "chick flick," you ultimately wind up with lots of tears, a murder, cheating men, and some of the best bitch slaps ever to be filmed by Hollywood. One shot to Mildred's cheek flattens her on her ass. It is all so delicious that, despite these characters' serious plights, my mother and I would be grinning from ear to ear every time we watched it.

The movie also features some terrific character actors. I don't think I ever saw Zachary Scott in another movie, but he is the epitome of sleaze in this. The type of guy who would be on a car lot trying to cut you a great deal on a Chevy Vega. And the always fabulous Eve Arden conducts a master class on how to be the wisecracking best friend of the lead character. Every time I see "Mildred Pierce," I keep hoping that, somehow, Warner Brothers has unearthed more footage featuring Eve's zingers. And, in a small role, Butterfly McQueen plays (what else?) a housekeeper. Watch the scene where she tries to figure out how to answer a telephone. It is worth the price of the ticket or the DVD. Here's the trailer.

"Mildred Pierce" is indeed a movie constructed from the same weepy cookie cutter that Warner Brothers had perfected for the female audience waiting for their men to come home from war. But, it is probably the most delectable cookie made from that kitchen. I finally got to see "Mildred Pierce" on a big screen a while back at the Alex Theater in Pasadena. It was another one of those "only in LA" evenings where 3/4 of gay West Hollywood showed up to cheer the heroine on. Several of them had even done their eyebrows just like Joan for the night.

Come to think of it, my mother probably would have done hers the same way.

Dinner last night: Assorted Chinese dishes at Panda.


Saturday, November 24, 2007

Where Are You, Joe Mannix?

Certainly on DVD anytime soon.

A LA Times article recently captivated me. It was all about the fact that this classic CBS crime drama is not slated for Box Set-dom in the foreseeable future. Given the way studios are emptying their vaults for a buck, what is the reasoning behind this? The show was a solid hit for eight full season from 1967 to 1975.

And, indeed, "Mannix" was one of two detective shows that really grabbed me as a kid, with the other being "Ironside." The show was violent as all hell. I have no clue how many non-fatal bullets Mannix took over the eight year run. One of the fan websites for the show listed him as being knocked unconscious 57 different times. That's over 7 times a season. You expect that star Mike Connors might be suffering from brain damage by now. Yet, he is comfortably sitting at home in Encino, and wondering why CBS-Paramount hasn't bothered to at least test the waters with Season 1. He's dying to do some commentary tracks, and I'm also thinking he's hoping even more for some residuals from the TV racks at Best Buy.

Above all, this was an incredibly well done crime drama. And it grabbed right from the getgo with that marvelously infectious theme song opening. This is when TV really knew how to pull you in from the opening musical note. With nary a squeezed credit to be found.



And then there was Gail Fisher, who actually won a Best Supporting Drama Actress Emmy for her role as Mannix's secretary, Peggy Fair. In most shows, she was reduced to one line of dialogue. "More coffee, Joe." But, every once in a while, they put her through the mill by tying her up and throwing her in a car trunk for the occasional kidnapping episode.

"Mannix" got run for a while on TV Land, which knows as much about classic television as I do about menstrual cramps. When it became obvious that an hour of "Mannix" stood in the way of one more rerun of that very special "Fresh Prince" episode, our favorite cup of Joe took another bullet.

I've actually seen TV shows on the DVD racks and couldn't believe that anybody was clamoring to buy Season 4 of "CHIPS." There are right now three different fan groups beating the doors down of the appropriate parties to give "Mannix" his digital due. Hell, I'd drive over and pick Mike Connors up and take him in to do his commentary.

As long as we're not being tailed by that yellow Nova.

Dinner last night: Thanksgiving leftovers.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Oprah Has Decided....


...to go on the campaign trail for that stooge Obama. Frankly, I've been hoping that this sow would hit the road a long time ago. In reality, she is as equipped to add commentary to the political landscape as I am. And I am not.

I have said it many times over in this forum and others. Oprah is the perfect microcosm of the continual dumbing down of America. She holds court for an hour a day in front of a bunch of folks who scream after every sentence that is uttered. She tells them to watch a TV show. They watch a TV show. She tells them to read a book. They run out to Borders and buy the book. The only real difference between Oprah and Adolf Hitler is bad hair and a moustache. And, on certain days, you could argue about the hairdo.

Because she is equally as insane as he was. I've heard from a friend last week who had some colleagues that recently worked on Oprah's daily gabfest. No one on her staff is allowed to look her straight in the eye when speaking to her majesty. Eye contact with Ms. Winfrey is forbidden. You are also told not to address her by name. She might acknowledge you only if she is addressed as "O." You can add to this some of the other horror stories we have all heard over time. That her bio and background prior to fame have been creatively manufactured to accentuate her status as someone who can "connect" with the everyday American woman. That, when she actually was flying commercially, she would call ahead to the airline with a lengthy list of instructions of how she is to be treated on board, including the exclusive use of an African-American flight attendant.

I have a lot of well educated female friends who think Oprah is terrific. They watch her show. They read her magazine. I shake my head in disbelief. Is this all part of her subliminal plan? If so, it is clearly working. Everytime I watch her show for a very specific reason or topic, I come away with less useful information in my head than when the hour started. But, I also don't come away with the notion that this is a woman who is clearly devoted to making anybody's life better, except her own. You'll hear back about how much money O devotes to worthy causes. I will contend that philantrophy is not her goal. It is all about herself every hour of every day.

In a country that is adding on a daily basis to its list of terrorist plots, I am continually shocked to find that Oprah is not one of them. Because, in its truest and most basic form, Oprah is one of the biggest dangers we face moving forward.

Dinner last night: the usual Thanksgiving repast at home.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey, Lurkey, Jerky


When I went down to San Diego a few weeks back, the complete CD set of Burt Bacharach provided the road accompaniment. A wonderful collection of work that has to be heard to be appreciated. Hit after hit after hit after hit.

That's not to say that there weren't some clinkers. You would be surprised to know that Burt wrote the theme song for "The Blob," which was Steve McQueen's big screen debut in 1958. And there is this song from the hit Broadway production of "Promises, Promises," which was the musical comedy version of the movie "The Apartment." Take a peek at the words to "Turkey Lurkey Time," which framed the office holiday party depicted in the show. Truly one of the most dismal moments in Burt's career.

It's turkey lurkey time.

Tom turkey ran away, but he just came home.

It's turkey lurkey time.

He's really home to stay, never one to roam.

Let's make a wish, and may all our wishes come true.......

A snowy, blowy christmas, a mistletoey christmasA turkey lurkey christmas to you...

A turkey lurkey christmas to you.

It's loosey goosey time.

She was a gadabout, but she's back again.

It's loosey goosey time.

Her time is running out, and we all know when.

Let's make a wish, and may all our wishes come true....

A snowy, blowy christmas, a mistletoey christmasA loosey goosey christmas to you...

A loosey goosey christmas to you.

Turkey lurkey, loosey goosey.

Some for Uncle Joe, some for Cousin Lucy.

Everybody gather round the table.

Dig in, dinner is being served.

Eat all the turkey you are able.

Can't you see a partridge in a pear tree?

Climb up and bring it down for me.

That's something i would like to see.

A snowy, blowy christmas, a mistletoey christmas.

A turkey lurkey christmas to you......Jingle bells, jingle bells.

Sound goofy? You bet your yams. But, now watch how these totally ridiculous words translate to a truly infectious musical comedy number.

Burt, I stand corrected. Have a drumstick on me.

Dinner last night: Teriyaki chicken from Rotisserie Works.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Not Your Ordinary Wednesday Before Thanksgiving


Here's what's cooking in my mind.

---So, just when are turkeys killed so they can be prepped for super market sale by Thanksgiving.

---I am guessing most turkeys must be sweating out October every year. And then those that get through there with necks attached must get a false sense of security becausem, just around the corner, you get Christmas.

---Which is also a bad time of year if you're a vacuum-packed ham.

---What the hell is a turnip?

---My grandmother used to love to eat the turkey's behind and innards. Sometimes called "the Pope's nose."

---And that only works if the current guy is an Italian.

---They actually are making a major marketing campaign around that string bean casserole thrown together with a can of cream of mushroom soup and some onion rings. I saw a commercial that talked lovingly about the history of this dish.

---Gee, there's a lot of love that goes into that dish. Three cans to open and you're done.

---Hope you didn't work up a sweat, Aunt Marge.

---If you go Christmas shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, you are a loser. And an idiot.

---They're already talking about people being lined up at 4AM to be the first ones into Walmart.

---It is a media-concocted event that most stupid Americans have bought into hook, line, and drumstick.

---But why is it you never see people camped outside of a Nordstrom's?

---By Friday night, we'll see virtual stampedes of people who all look like they had that extra third or fourth slice of pumpkin pie.

---We haven't see such a storm of angry elephants since "Tarzan Finds a Son."

---Wouldn't the states of Nebraska and Arkansas make great parking lots for New York and California?

---Must be fun Thanksgiving dinners when all those peckerwoods in the middle of the country get together over the paper tablecloth-covered bridge table.

---"I'd like you to meet my new wife, Cousin Shirley."

---Yes, I am an elitist. Always looking to be on the right side of the velvet rope.

---Is it me or has the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade be commercialized beyond belief? Every damn float and balloon comes attached with some corporate sponsor.

---Remember when you had Popeye and Bullwinkle? Now, you've got the freakin' Energizer bunny.

---Maybe Lamisil should sponsor a balloon. I'd love to see that disgusting toe fungus character being dragged down Broadway.

---The best part of the parade is counting the C list caliber of celebrity that shows up.

---"Oh, look, on the Pilgrim Float, why it's Elaine Joyce!!"

---I went to the parade five years in a row when we had third floor offices in New York. You get a great view of how much duct tape they need to hold together Garfield's ass.

---There's already one radio station here in Los Angeles that has flipped to all Christmas music. And I am already sick of "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." Must be a real knee slapper in Louisiana.

---Okay, I've got a beef with Burl Ives. What the hell is a "holly jolly Christmas?"

---Holly is a noun, not an adjective! I've never heard of somebody being holly.

---What can I expect from some old guy who was singing Jimmy Crackcorn?

---And I don't care!

In the true spirit of the holiday, go stuff yourselves.

Dinner last night: Eggplant Parmagiana at Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Big Getaway


Flying last Friday, I can tell you that the Thanksgiving travel rush has begun. Any business traveler worth the finest rolling luggage knows fully well to avoid being in any airport this week. This is the time where air travel is turned over to the amateurs. Everybody rushing like Hell to get home to Grandma. Okay, back in the day, I never had to do that. I simply had to navigate two flights of stairs from the second floor down to her dining room for the Thanksgiving repast. Of course, if I had lived further away, I would have been hard pressed to hop a plane for her cooking. The woman could bake up a storm. But, the main meal? She would use Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup as sauce for spaghetti. And you could spackle the basement walls with her mashed potatoes. The wonderful cooking smells associated with a family kitchen immersed in Thanksgiving preparations were usually not apparent in my house. More than like, all you would hear is the constant whirring of a can opener. I remember when, during one year, there was some sort of scare about tainted cranberries in a can. So, did we make due by actually cooking up a fresh batch. Of course not. But, I digress...

If your grandmother can indeed cook and you must indeed travel, here are some things you need to know before you venture out to LAX, JFK, ORD, or whatever three initials provide the airport in your area. I am drawing on my years of experience as an air traveler. But, know fully well that I won't be among you. I will be safely esconced on a Los Angeles couch, watching Joanne Worley ride a Macy's turkey on taped delay.

---Please be judicious on what you try to place through the security x-ray machine. If you're not quite sure, don't try to put a coffee table through.

---Homeland Security is supposed to be your friend. So, when you are searched, just relish in the fact that your significant other probably hasn't touched those areas in years.

---Duty free shops are conveniently located in most airport terminals and they sell small bottles of liquor. An ideal way of sedating your five year-old terror before boarding.

---Those traveling on American Airlines might want to bring their own in-flight entertainment. Because, from a total of over 200 Cheers episodes, AA tends to show the same three. On my last flight, four people got up to recite the dialogue themselves.

---Overheads are for one bag only. The contents of your armoire at home probably should have stayed there.

---If your flight is bumped and the airline suggests you fly stand by, go to the nearest candy stand and buy yourself a lotto ticket. You have as much chance of winning that as you do flying that day.

---If your destination at all includes the American Airlines terminal in JFK, you will need to rent a car---to get from the gate to baggage claim. Allot three days for the journey.

---Beat the airport crowds on the return trip. Once you arrive, simply stay there and enjoy the Thanksgiving special at Applebee's.

---The airplane toilet is not the place you should throw your Suduko puzzle in disgust. Always opt for the easiest puzzle. Since you're flying on the worst travel weekend of the year, you are obviously too stupid to try the intermediate or difficult levels.

---Self service check-in machines do not acknowledge membership cards to Curves.

---On second thought, if you even own a membership card to Curves, it's probably better not to make a reservation in the first place.

---Exit rows provide more leg room. But, you will be instructed to help out in the case of an emergency. Be prepared to push Granny down the slide. Indeed, you might even be tempted to do so without the requisite emergency.

Travel safe, everybody.

Dinner last night: Evelyn's (whoever the hell she is) Favorite Pasta at the Cheesecake Factory.





Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - November 19, 2007

Funny and pathetic all at the same time. But the dog does dance better than Travolta.


Dinner last night: Hawaiian Burger at Islands.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #20!!



After James Cagney made "One, Two, Three" in 1961, he didn't make another movie until he did "Ragtime" in 1981. Why? Retired? Disillusioned? Not happy with scripts he was getting?

After you see "One, Two, Three," you'll know the real reason. He was just plain tired.

Cagney has always been one of my favorite classic stars, who could play the gamut. From slaughtering people as a gangster to tapdancing down the stairs of the White House as George M. Cohan. Somewhere in the middle of all that, he's also a tremendously gifted comic actor and it's truly a shame he didn't do more of that.

In this Billy Wilder directed gem, Cagney ditches rapid fire bullets for even faster dialogue. He delivers it all like it's a Brad Penny fastball. And he literally doesn't stop for 115 minutes, and he's on camera for most of that. I can now appreciate the reasons behind his self-imposed film exile. I'm exhausted every time I watch the movie.

"One, Two, Three" doesn't get a lot of attention today, because people feel it is dated. It's set in Berlin during the height of the Cold War and right before they put up the Berlin Wall. In fact, by the time the picture was released, the barrier had already been in place for a while, which required a quick prologue that set the movie a year earlier. To do this, Wilder and his always brilliant co-writer, I.A.L. Diamond, reference Roger Maris' 1961 home run onslaught. The last time I watched the movie, I recorded the date they mention and the fact that Maris hit two homeruns that day vs. the Senators. I checked the record books. Wilder and Diamond had done their homework. But, I digress...

Instead of viewing "One, Two, Three" as a dated movie, it should be revered as a wonderful (and hilarious) history lesson of the tensions that were prominent in those days between the United States and the Communist Soviet Union. Sure, there are tons of jokes pointed at current events. Sputnik. Huntley and Brinkley. Spartacus. But, nevertheless, the script and story transcends it all. The writing is that good.

Cagney plays C.R. MacNamara, a Coca Cola bigwig assigned to West Berlin and always looking to impress the home office. His dream is to bring Coke across the border. And his upward corporate mobility can only be enhanced when his boss asks him to watch his vacationing 17 year-old hot-blooded daughter, Scarlett, deliciously played by Pamela Tiffin.

Everything is complicated when Scarlett secretly elopes (and gets pregnant) with an East German Communist (portrayed by Horst Bucholtz in what was probably his only comedy role). The second half of the movie is solely devoted to Cagney's frenzied attempts to turn Bucholtz into somebody that the boss would accept as a son-in-law. Along the way, you are joyously pelted with one gag after another. And Jimmy is not ashamed of drawing on his past. Red Buttons, in a cameo role as a cop, does his best Cagney impression. Cagney threatens somebody else with a grapefruit to the face. And, at one point, he conjures up Edward G. Robinson by using his "Mother of Mercy, is the end of Rico?" from "Little Caesar."

"One, Two, Three" also features one of the rare screen appearances by TV panelist Arlene Francis, who is fabulous as Cagney's wife, especially when she keeps referring to him as "mein fuhrer." I always wonder why she didn't get more film roles. She almost steals every scene she is in, even playing against Big Jim. Take a look at the trailer.

I have to watch "One, Two, Three" at least once a year. It reminds me why I try to be clever every day. I just wish I could be THAT clever.

This movie also contains what I consider the greatest line Wilder and Diamond ever wrote.

"I'd rather be in Hell with my back broken."

Hell indeed.

Dinner last night: chicken fingers and salad.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yonkers Central Plaza Memories, Part 3

I just can't get enough of this prattle. General Cinema used to do the coolest in-theater features and this stuff ran at the Yonkers Central Plaza theaters in the 80s. You have to love those flying Gummy Bears.



GCC General Cinema Feature Presentation Trailer (1986)
Uploaded by joecool85

Then, in the 90s, they switched to this candy band intro. I never could understand why a bag of popcorn would go out to the concession stand to buy a candy bar.



General Cinema (1997) - Feature Presentation Candy Band
Uploaded by joecool85

Dinner last night: None. Stuck up in the air on a delayed flight with nothing but a bag of potato chips.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Your Holiday Movie Guide, Part 2



Only the Snow Miser (and I) can tell you just how stingy Hollywood is going to be with their creativity this December.

Opening December 5:

Juno: A pregnant teen looks for just the right set of adoptive parents for her unborn baby. Britney Spears and Kevin Federline need not apply. Jason Bateman has a supporting role. He has made at least 50 movies in 2007. And you all thought sister Justine was going to be the big star. I think I saw her manning a checkout line at Whole Foods.

Opening December 7:

The Amateurs: Jeff Bridges stars as a man in midlife crisis who gathers his friends to make an adult movie. I need new friends.

Atonement: One of those period pieces with a trailer that made me start fluffing the back of my seat. If you go, check out a theater with extra-comfortable seats.

The Golden Compass: A young girl goes on a magical quest for a parallel universe. I thought that was MySpace.

Grace Is Gone: John Cusack has reached that point in his career where he wants some Oscar nominations. He plays a dad who struggles with telling his two young daughters that their mother has been killed in Iraq. There must be a marketing tie-in with Kleenex.

Man In The Chair: A troubled, aspiring young filmmaker finds unlikely allies in the retired residents of the motion picture home. And now I'm kicking myself before I always thought that was a good idea for a script. Apparently somebody else's script now. Robert Wagner is in this, so I guess the production won't be perfect.

Revolver: Some film noir from Guy Ritchie. Not to be confused with the Beatles' album. Or the gun in John Hinckley's hand.

Strength and Honor: Michael Madsen plays an Irish American boxer who breaks vow to never fight again in order to raise money for the surgery that might save his son's life. Is it me or does Hollywood think every boxer is Irish?? Oh, yeah, wasn't it Muhammad O'Ali?

The Walker: Woody Harrelson plays some gay guy dealing with Washington DC's high society women. American Gigolo goes to Washington. Lily Tomlin's in it, as well as Lauren Bacall. My most delicious screen memory of her was when Christopher punched her in the face on "The Sopranos." A first class bitch.

The Perfect Holiday: Love Actually Goes to Harlem. There will be lines around the block in front of every Magic Johnson theater in Inglewood.

Opening December 14:

Alvin and the Chipmunks: Me, I want a hula hoop. CGI rodents. I wonder if the premiere will be held at Angels Stadium.

I Am Legend: Will Smith in a remake of "The Omega Man." Who keeps hiring this guy??? One of today's true "mystery talents."

The Kite Runner: A best selling book comes to the screen. One more snapshot of life in the Mideast. Just as easily could have been shot in a high-rise on Wilshire, which is where most of those people have moved.

Opening December 21:

P.S. I Love You: A dead husband leaves a list of things for his wife to accomplish. Picking up the dry cleaning will, however, be pointless. Hilary Swank is trying to fill out her bookcase.

National Treasure: Book of Secrets: Nicolas Cage, who I have never ever gotten, in a sequel where he digs up a missing page from John Wilkes Booth's diary. We will now discover that there were three gunmen in Ford's Theater.

Sweeney Todd: I am hearing that this screen adaptation of the musical is Oscar worthy. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are involved, as well as the guy who played Borat. The trailer looks snazzy, but there was not one single mention of Stephen Sondheim.

Walk Hard, The Dewey Cox Story: Dewey Cox is not a real person. A fake biography of some fake rock star. It's described as a rock version of "Talladega Nights." Pass.

Opening Christmas Day:

The Bucket List: Morgan Freeman's December movie and he teams with Jack Nicholson in a buddy flick about two old guys getting ready to croak. The trailer was funny. That's always a bad sign.

The Great Debaters: Three scary words---Denzel Washington directs. A Black debating team. Probably arguing over whether or not to trade Kobe Bryant. Or which White woman in the cast will get hit on by the director.

Perseplis: A French cartoon about the Islamic revolution. What's Up, Allah?

Aliens Vs. Predator: Requiem: Remember the days when Christmas meant Frosty the Snowman and Rudolph?

Charlie Wilson's War: Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts in some true story about shenanigans in Washington, DC twenty years ago. Hanks looks like a bloated whale in the trailer. But, generally, director Mike Nichols and Julia don't do crap. It will either be the picture of the year or a rousing disappointment.

Dinner last night: Had a big lunch, so just a little ice cream.

Tomorrow, back in strike-torn Los Angeles.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Voting for Dummies


Every couple of months, Geraldine Ferraro puts down her laundry basket long enough to comment on the political landscape of this country. Frankly, I wait for these moments with great anticipation. Given the current WGA stalemate, Miss Gerry may be our only outlet for comedy moving forward.

Out she came this week, perhaps because she's currently playing dummy in her weekly bridge game. And she's chiding America for taking such a long time elect a woman as President. After all, so says this AARP version of Carmella Soprano, all the other big countries have already had a woman in power. England. Israel. Etc., etc.. Blah, blah, blah.

Ms. Ferraro, let me give you a peek into the mind of one average American voter, albeit one with a brain. Me. And I can tell you that I don't vote by gender, race, ethnicity, or religion.

When you and Fritzie Mondale ran that abortion of a campaign in 1984, my reasons for pulling the opposing lever in the voting booth had nothing to do with the fact that you were a woman who would be one breath away from the Oval Office. It had everything to do with the fact that your husband had business relationships that made Tony Soprano's operations look like the Magic Kingdom. Couple that with Mondale's lackluster record as a Senator and you wind up with a temporary Reagan fan.

And, if I opt to not vote for Hillary Clinton, it won't be because she's a woman. It will be all about her limited experience as Senator as well as the fact that she pretty much has snookered the public into believing she was the poor downtrodden wife who has made great sacrifices to forgive her philandering husband.

The reason I'm not voting for BooBoo Obama has nothing to do with the fact that he's Black, but everything to do with his past as a Harvard-educated lawyer who majored in Spin 101. He has spun a web of lies regarding his past accomplishments that would make Spiderman envious.

And the reason why I'm not looking at Mitt Romney has nothing to do with the fact that he's a Mormon, but everything to do with the fact that his presence in the Oval Office might give the right wing zealots one more chance to introduce religion into all our lives. Worship is a personal choice, not a governmental dictate.

And I'm not crazy with Rudy Guiliani not because he's divorced or Italian or Catholic or a Yankee fan or somebody who can't utter a sentence that doesn't contain a reference to 9/11. No, I'm not enamored with Rudy because I am thinking about all the intense levels of censorship that he imposed as Mayor of New York.

No, Miss Gerry, I plan to vote for the most qualified person around. If Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer suddenly mount a Presidential campaign, I will vote for a woman. If a solid and longtime African-American politician runs, I could vote for him...or her. I would vote for a Catholic or a Jew or an antheist if they were the right person for the job. If they relax the requirements, I would gladly vote for Arnold, not because it's high time we had an Austrian as President, but because he has demonstrated very daring viewpoints of moderation as Governor of California.

So, Ms. Ferraro, I would happily pull the lever for anybody who displays the right qualifications to lead this country. My only caveat is that the person not be mediocre.

So, at this very moment, I guess that means I'm not voting in 2008.

Two, no trump, pass.

Dinner last night: pasta with sausage and broccoli rabe at Basso 76 in NY.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Call Me Wednesday If This Doesn't Clear Up By Then


Here I am, fresh from another crosscountry bacterial carrier.

---The picture above is one of those germ strains sweeping the country. It's become this big deal in Los Angeles. They're calling it the "superbug," which results in some nasty skin infections.

---It's called MRSA and it stands for some long condition that nets you over 100 points in Scrabble.

---Apparently, you can get it in hospitals, which, except for the lime jello, are allegedly sterile.

---I heard about it months ago when my good friend, a hale and hearty health professional, got it. She was in the hospital for a week.

---How the hell in the year 2007 do these ultra resistant strains spread? Well, it's all embedded in the whole motto that has been our country's mantra for years.

---Give us your tired, your poor...

---...your infected.

---If Michael Moore thinks the health care is so bitchin' better in Europe, how come you never hear about any of these diseases going from the United States to there? It's always the other way around.

---They tell us one of the ways to guard against MRSA is to wash your hands.

---Wash your hands. That's apparently for those of you out there who don't.

---Only in our world today is cleanliness an added precaution to disease.

---By the way, a memo please to the guy sneezing like crazy on my flight yesterday.
---Your hand is attached to your arm and it does amazing things. For instance, you can move it toward your mouth!

---By the way, if you want to see just how stupid a country we are, hang around any airline's self service check-in and watch how totally confused people get. I saw some idiot yesterday try to retrieve her travel itinerary by using a Sears credit card.

---Coming back from San Diego last weekend, the car radio was loaded with lots of fun disco music. And I kept hearing that song "Forget Me Nots."

---"I'm sending you forget me-nots. To help you to remember."

---That's the whole song. Two lousy lines. Over and over and over.

---That has to be the laziest damn songwriter in history.

---Wouldn't it be great if the four or five teams that could actually afford Alex Rodriguez would tell him to go scratch? But they won't.

---With this guy, you can get a phenomenal ballplayer still in his prime.

---And a guy who hangs around in strip clubs. Has a slut wife who wears profane t-shirts. Slaps the ball out of opposing players' hands. And goes "ooga booga" to scare somebody trying to catch a pop up.

---It would also be dee-lish to see agent Scott Bore Ass get his as well.

---By the way, in the free agent market, there are 11 players who will be named shortly for steroids. Caveat emptor.

---One more casualty of the writer's strike: those award shows may be impacted. There's nobody to write those brilliant things that the presenters always read from the teleprompters.

---Okay, there's a vote for the producing side.

---Maybe they could hire the person who wrote...

---"I'm sending you forget me-nots. To help you to remember."

---The hot news from Disneyland. They have to shut down "It's a Small World" for 10 months, because the boats are hitting bottom in certain spots.

---Oh, Disney said all the polite things. Blaming it on physics and residue on the bottom of the canals.

---Give me a break. The reason why the boats are getting keelhauled is because all the riders, on an average, each weigh 25 pounds more than they did when the ride was built 40 years.

---It may be a small world, but it's a fat country.

---I don't know why you need that ride anymore. Just go to any shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon.

Dinner last night: Grilled chicken and vegetables with teriyaki sauce.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Good Old Days

The passage of time. When I was a kid, I loved to hear my grandparents and parents tell me stories about "the good old days." Things that used to be so much better back when. The movies that were more enjoyable. The television that was more watchable. The music that was more listenable. At the same time, while I regaled in these tales, I remember wondering just how bad were the current times that I was living in.

Gee, probably not so much. Because, indeed, those childhood days of mine are now "the good old days" of my life. I suppose we all become one more link in the eternal chain. So, when I tell the "youngsters" in my world how much better things used to be, is it appreciated and respected as much as I did with the yarns knitted by my family?

Gee, probably not so much.

I got a nostalgic blast of air over the weekend not one, not twice, but three times. From my "good old days." Which used to be the days I was told were not as good as my parents' "good old days." And on and on and on. But, after this weekend of revisiting some of the classics from my youth, I realize that I wasn't all that deprived. Because I had some good stuff to behold firsthand myself.

Take, for instance, Friday night. I went to see the very limited release of a movie called "The Life of Reilly." Never heard of it? Except in limited circles, you probably never will. But, it's a film that celebrated one of my favorite personalities of my "good old days."

Charles Nelson Reilly.

It's a shame he died last May and didn't get a chance to drive down Santa Monica Boulevard and see his name in big red letters on the marquee of the Nuart Theater. And that there was an appreciative audience of about 75 people Friday night (including his longtime companion), all gathered to see the film record of his last ever performance. Years after he participated in his last match with Gene Rayburn, Charles developed a one man show that beautifully encompassed the highs and lows of his 70 plus year life. From his original roots in the Bronx (why is it that all the truly creative people were born there?), Charles takes us on a journey of laughs and tears. From his mother who regularly yelled out the window, "Kike, dago, wop, pollock, eightball." To his father whose brilliant career as an illustrator and a potential future in Hollywood working for Walt Disney was upended by his wife's negativity. About the NBC president who, after meeting with Charles on some live drama roles in the 50s, told him, "Queers will never appear on television." Charles has the last laugh in the movie. He pulls out a TV Guide from one week in the 70s and counts his name in the listing over 50 times. Now, Charles asks, "who do I have to F&*k to get off television?"

This movie is a filming of his last stage appearance ever, from October, 2004. It is funny. It is raw. It is amazing. And a terrific reminder of what an enormous talent he was. Ironically, there is very little mention of "The Match Game" from my youth. But, indeed, still, he was a part of my "good old days."

Saturday brought me another page from my youthful scrap book of memories. For the first time, I ventured down to San Diego for an alleged reunion of the creative forces behind my favorite all-time Broadway show, "They're Playing Our Song." I had originally seen this show a few days after it opened in February of 1979. The tickets were a birthday present from a good friend of mine. I don't know why but the whole production, complete with Marvin Hamlisch score, Carole Bayer Sager lyrics, Neil Simon book, and Lucie Arnaz and Robert Klein as the stars, just clicked perfectly for me. So much so, that I wound up seeing it another five times. It was one of those shows that I simply had to share with all my other friends individually. I must have been incredibly annoying. But the time I had seen it for the final time, I think the leads were being played by Henny Youngman and Ethel Kennedy. Nevertheless...

The very same friend who took me in 1979 drove me down to San Diego for this supposed recreation of the show. With second row center seats no less. Marvin Hamlisch is one of the current conductors of the San Diego Symphony and I hope the Hollywood Bowl steals him right out from under their noses. Given that I also have seen another Hamlisch show, "A Chorus Line," five times in my life, I figure that I pretty much paid for the tuxedo he was wearing. He was a charming host for the evening, as he opened with some renditions of retro TV themes as well as some of his film scores. Then, inexplicably, out came Robert Klein to do about 30 minutes of his stand-up. I had not seen Klein in a while, but I had heard from friends that his humor had gotten mean and bitter following an apparently violent divorce. Not so Saturday night. Klein was terrific---the funniest I had seen him in years. And another one from the Bronx!

While none of this was anticipated, it was all a pleasant and somewhat nostalgic surprise. And certainly I wasn't as old as 95% of the audience, which was on line buying Metamucil at intermission. Even with my admitted age, I was a good 15 years younger than the whole row behind me.

To open up the second half of the performance, Lucie Arnaz, who has always been an amazingly ignored talent despite her lineage, slithered out and did five numbers from her cabaret. I've seen that several times over and it's always fabulous. Backed up by a symphony orchestra, Lucie was dwarfed. It was like hearing "Silent Night" played by seventy-six trombones.

Finally, they got around to doing a Cliff Notes version of "They're Playing Our Song." The lines seemed a little creakier, the voices a little older, the hairline on Mr. Klein a little deeper, and the knees on Miss Arnaz a little knobbier (we were THAT close up). But, still, as soon as the first musical strains were ushered in...

Goodbye, San Diego, 2007. Hello, Imperial Theater, 1979. It had all the aural comfort of an earmuff during a blizzard. Now, I wanted to go see this another five times.

Back in Los Angeles, Sunday found me completing the retro hat trick. The American Film Institute's annual festival was the setting for a premiere screening of John Landis' new HBO documentary entitled "Mr. Warmth: The Don Rickles Project." Another packed house with Landis in attendance, along with, for some totally bizarre reason, actress Anne Jefferies. Hair in bun with little black gloves on. Just like when she was standing in front of that fireplace with Leo G. Carroll in "Topper."

Along with Johnny Carson, Don Rickles was my favorite comedian when I was in high school. Probably because his vision of life around was so much like mine. Let's face it, to this day, we are still surrounded by dummies and hockey pucks. And Rickles, working to this very moment, still remains humor intact despite an increasingly politically correct world. One could argue that Don is probably the only one on this earth who can get away with making fun of Chinamen, colored guys, and the like. Landis follows Rickles during several of his night club appearances and, while the comedy is exactly how it was left in the 70s, it is amazingly fresh. When an audience member tells Don he is English, Rickles quickly counters, "Oh, yeah, we need you for the muffins." Only Don can do this anymore. At the age of 80, he totters all over the stage and remains as screamingly on the nose as he was 40 years ago. In several decades, will cameras be following around the likes of Dane Cook or that Mencia idiot? Doubtful.

"Mr. Warmth" is filled with delightful vintage clips from the Tonight Show as well as some sidesplitting home movies of Mr. and Mrs. Don Rickles on vacation with their good friends, the Newharts. Watch Don with the two Vietnamese street kids. He is the only one who can get away with this today. And do it so you laugh as a result. Because you know that, way deep down, he is the nicest guy alive. You go into his den and he looks at all the pictures of friends and fellow performers on the wall. "Dead, dead, dead, on the ropes, cancer, dying, dead, dead, will be dead soon." And that sparks me to want to see Rickles in person one more time before he's up on that same wall.

So that was the weekend. Charles Nelson Reilly. Marvin Hamlisch. Robert Klein. Lucie Arnaz. Don Rickles. Sounds more like the cast list for a "Love Boat" episode. But, for me, it was truly a touchstone. To my life.

Gee, everything was so much better when I was a kid.

Dinner last night: Grilled chicken salad.

Tomorrow...live from New York.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - November 12, 2007

A truly benevolent government.



Dinner last night: Fusilli and proscuitto at Fabiolus.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #21



As I look over the movies that I have begun to count down as my all-time favorites, I can see a pattern forming. There's a longing for the past. Happier times. A simpler world.

"Radio Days" is no different. Woody Allen's paean to growing up during the 1940s, juxtaposed with the golden age of radio, is probably not his most well-known film. But, for me, it is the one that I have gravitated to over and over and over. It perfectly depicts our homefront during WWII, a time when your major source of nightly entertainment was that strange mahogany box of tubes centrally placed in the middle of your living room.

The Woodman's characterizations of well-known radio personalities of the day are dead on. But, it is the family scenes that reach my heart and touch my soul. They are totally reminiscent of a time in my family, where all the relatives regularly got together every Sunday for dinner, coffee, or whatever. Long before personalities begat frictions which begat long separations. It's refreshing for me to see 10 or 12 family members gathered around a dining room table, all reaching for the same bowl of mashed potatoes. Everybody had a story. Everybody had an issue. And, when there was kidding and teasing, it was all good natured. For me, this family ambience didn't last long. But, it returns every time I watch "Radio Days."

Woody also colors a neighborhood of characters in much the same way that my grandmother did. She would sit on the front porch and watch the passing parade of neighbors, both good and bad. And she'd have a nickname for each of them. There was the one lady who used to race by two or three times a day to the grocery. Always with a cigarette in her mouth, pointed to the sky. My grandmother called her "Roosevelt." There was the man who would be teetering home from the saloon every day at four o'clock. My grandmother called him "Dean Martin." And, simply enough, there was "the old Jew lady."

Just as Woody paints the world of Brooklyn during WWII, my grandmother did the same with me on cold winter afternoons. As she sat poised in her rocking chair, I would curl up on the couch and hear about blackouts and "open air movie theaters" and her long-lost brother, who she always referred to as "the crazy Communist."

For some reason,all the actors in "Radio Days" reminded me of somebody in my family. Somewhere in my lineage, there was somebody just like Julie Kavner and Mia Farrow and Dianne Weist. When the latter takes young Woody to Radio City Music Hall for the first time, I cry all over again.

If ever there was such a thing as a cinematic family album, "Radio Days" would be it. And I never ever get tired of turning those pages one more time.

Dinner last night: flatiron steak at Visions in San Diego.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Anybody Gots 4 Cents for a Churro?



I am a writer. The profile on the right says so.

And I am a writer who was royally screwed by a producer a while back. While I currently don't have a dog in the hunt, I just as easily could tomorrow. Heck, it was only two months we pitched two projects to TBS.

These are all the reasons why I attended yesterday's big Writers Guild rally in front of Fox Headquarters. I'm not getting any dough from them at the moment, but you never know. And I was thinking about all the coins (albeit pennies) somebody else got for something my partner and I wrote. I had just as much right to be there as the unemployed writer next to me.

Besides, it was all within walking distance from my home. And I did have the requested attire: a "striking" red shirt. Indeed, as I approached the staging area, I was noticing quite a few Red Sox and Cardinals jerseys on the strikers. I guess that, if you're on the picket line every day, you can run out of red wardrobe pretty damn fast.

The WGA has about 12,000 members, and I believe only half of them actually get work. Nevertheless, I would figure that there were about 3,500 folks standing outside of Fox Plaza, which doubled as Nakatome Plaza in the first Die Hard movie. This was probably the biggest crowd there since Bruce Willis threw an office chair full of explosives down an elevator shaft. And, of course, I wondered to myself whether the writer of that movie has seen any residuals from the Special Edition DVD set. Probably not.

From what I quickly gathered, these folks are not looking for tons of jack. Essentially, they want 4 cents on every dollar the studios make from the so-called "new media." That's downloads, DVDs, Ipods, etc.. The studios contend that all those forums are unproven, so there is no real business model. But, coming from an arena where satellite radio and radio station streaming are emerging big time, I can tell you they are included in a business model. Over and over and over again. There are measurements out there designed to quantify how big an audience there is. Advertising dollars to follow. The writer, who is invariably getting screwed, can light a post-coital cigarette one more time. Just from our tenure as molested writers, my partner and I could see how those added extra dollars can make a difference. I remember when our representative was negotiating our deal with the n'eer-do-well producer we were working with. When your characters start to show up on videos and the internet and in books, the coins can pile up. Just not on your side of the desk.

With my red shirt, I instantly belong. Others would pump their fists at me. My immediate reaction was that I can once cut them off on the 101. But, no, it was solidarity indeed. When I got there, the first thing I noticed was a sidebar group of about 25 Asians. I assumed that animators were there to show their support. As was the Screen Actors Guild, evidenced by the sight of Kelsey Grammer breezing past me on his way for a complimentary muffin. The Chinese kid from Heroes was wielding his picket sign like a samurai sword. I had to duck twice.

As I waited for the speeches to begin, I noticed that the crowd was populated with some young people who were walking around with trays of churros, which are apparently the official snack food of the WGA. I later learned that this wait staff were really agents' assistants from CAA. I smell another strike coming. It's bad enough they have to retrieve coffee in the morning. Now, they are acting as a catering staff for a bunch of people who probably don't even have representation.

For a writers' strike, the picket sign slogans were lacking in creativity. "Repeats Suck." "Four Cents More." "Honk for Us, You Bitch." That last one was being held by a woman.

The first speaker was Reverend Jesse Jackson, who appears anywhere when somebody is holding a sign on a stick. I realized that his speech was really a boiler plate demonstration talk, which he has probably used over and over. He simply leaves the striking occupation blank. Transit unions, garbagemen, milk carriers, writers. To Jesse, they're all the same. His presence at a writer's strike is ironic, given that the only thing he could probably compose on a piece of paper is his name. Jesse walked past me on his way out and he, of course, was traveling with the requisite entourage---several bald and fat Black guys, each with a single diamond studded earring. If any of these writers actually wrote that description on a page, they would be instantly accused of drawing on an inaccurate stereotype.

One of the other speakers talked about the fact that several studios had earlier unceremoniously laid off support staffs. He urged those writers who could afford to do so pay their personal assistants out of their own pockets. This was the first note of discord I heard. Murmur, murmur, murmur. One guy standing next to me actually told his friend, "she gets paid well enough as it is."

As I looked around the crowd, I noticed that this rally was a bit of a family affair for some. Writers brought their kids along. Some walked around with tots in strollers. I figured this means that, along with studio support staffs, there will also be a lot of nannies, au peres, and housekeepers unemployed in the next several weeks. After all, now that the striking writers are home during the day...

It was cited that three Presidential candidates have come out in favor of the WGA. That would be Hillary, Barack, and John Edwards. Nothing yet from Rudy, as he is trying to figure how to work 9/11 into such a statement.

Along with the Screen Actors Guild, there was visible support also from teamsters. Now, while Letterman, Leno et. al. have stayed off the job, Ellen Degeneres has gone back to work. It's amazing that she can cry for several days on the air about a dog, but can't honor a union that she belongs to.

Norman Lear was propped up on the podium. He's still wearing that signature hat. He must have about two dozen of the same hat at home, all in different colors. He mentioned that he was around when the writers first conducted a strike against the Pharoah. About half of the audience didn't realize he was making a joke.

Throughout it all, the speakers referenced the previous WGA strikes which were all about getting residuals for video tapes and cables. The writers had caved then, but, this time, they won't. Now, the strike 20 years ago lasted almost three months. And they didn't even win? Obviously, in hindsight, it's being viewed now as a failure.

And I wondered about the outcome of this strike. Film studios won't suffer. They'll just keep producing scripts that have been stashed in their files for years. Only 15% of the movies released today are watchable. Nobody will notice. And, given that this TV season has been considered lackluster at best, where is the leverage? For every Desperate Housewives, there are five pieces of garbage like Cavemen. We already know that the networks have a whole passel of reality and game shows ready to roll. For Pete's sake, they are bringing back Password with Regis Philbin as a host. Will the completely dumbed down American TV audience notice? Will they care? Just how many toes can they shoot off the same foot? Would this be one more WGA walkout amounting to naught?

One of the CAA assistants walked by and I finally took a churro. I thought back to how badly I was treated with that project some years back. I suddenly felt entitled to that hunk of cinnamon coated dough. I walked away. A churro in one hand. A reality washing over my head. A hope still prevailing in my heart.

Good luck, folks.

Dinner last night: Baked ham sandwich at the Apple Pan.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Your Holiday Movie Guide, Part 1


This month's movie guide is in two parts, as I provide you with one more complimentary service. The holiday movie season is always an intense one. It is my honor to help you successfully navigate the multiplexes so you can make your filmgoing experience especially rewarding. The source for my summaries below is the Los Angeles Times as well as some trailers I may have seen. Good luck. I think we will all need it.

Opening November 9:

Choking Man: A Queens diner is the setting for an unlikely romance between an Ecuadorean dishwasher and a Chinese waitress. This features the always annoying Mandy Patinkin in a supporting role. How many strikes does the movie need before we send it back to whatever country it came from?

Fred Claus: One more Hollywood attempt to flesh out St. Nick's back story. What's next? A snapshot of Santa's cousin, a Borscht Belt comic: Shecky Claus. This is one more demonstration that the only comedy Vince Vaughn should be doing is no comedy.

Lions for Lambs: This political drama has big names attached. Director Robert Redford and he co-stars alongside Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep. The trailer looks dreadful. I would rather watch one of those late night infomercials that shows you how to super clean your colon.

P2: A woman is terrorized by a security guard in a parking garage on Christmas Eve. Hey, stupid, you should have done your shopping earlier.

Pete Seeger: Power of Song: A documentary on the singer/political activist who probably still doesn't wear clean socks.

Steal a Pencil For Me: They say it's about an accountant imprisoned in a concentration camp during WWII. From that description, I am thinking that maybe it's a comedy. Original title: The Turbo Nazis.

No Country for Old Men: Tommy Lee Jones and the Coen Brothers. Except for Blood Simple and Fargo, their stuff stinks. Tommy Lee Jones acts the same in every role he does. I just saw his first film appearance ever when I rented the DVD version of "Love Story." He had two lines and did them no differently than he does anything else.

Opening November 16:

Beowulf: It's on billboards all over LA. The monster's mother is played by Angelina Jolie. Insert your own joke here.

How To Cook Your Life: You put your head in a microwave. I saw the trailer for this one. It's about the Buddhist approach to food preparation. Well, how come it never looks peaceful and quiet in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant?

Love in the Time of Cholera: The title alone has me on another ticket buying line.

Smiley Face: Anna Faris stars as a pot-fueled actress making her way through an LA odyssey after sampling her roommate's marijuana-laced cupcakes. Original Title: The Lindsay Lohan Story.

Redacted: Brian DiPalma's take on the Iraq war. What's next? The Iraqi conflict as depicted by a Rankin-Bass cartoon. "The Jew Who Ruined Christmas."

Margot at the Wedding: Some dysfunctional family dreck with Nicole Kidman, who majored in dysfunction at college.

Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium: Thank God they don't have marquees anymore because this one maxes out the letters. Dustin Hoffman runs a toy store and he has bad hair. The latter is redundant.

Opening November 21:

August Rush: I have seen this trailer so many times that I thought the movie opened months ago. Freddie Highmore stars as a musically gifted child seeking his birth parents. Robin Williams co-stars in his annual Oscar entry.

Christmas in Wonderland: Two kids go shopping in a mall with counterfeit bills. The first holiday movie to be produced by Court TV.

Enchanted: A fairy tale princess from Disney animation winds up as a human in the middle of Times Square. As if anybody would notice. This is the Christmas movie for the El Capitan, so I'd see it regardless.

Hitman: Some super-violent video game comes to life. When is somebody going to make a live action version of Frogger?

I'm Not There: About nine different actors, both male and female, play Bob Dylan in various stages of his life. I know somebody who once shared a rancid limo ride with him. None of those life stages will apparently include bathing.

The Mist: Another Stephen King terror yarn about a bunch of people trapped in a grocery store. Original title: The Attack of the Killer Slim Jims.

Opening November 23:

Holly: Vietnamese sex slavery. I'm in.

Starting Out in the Evening: An aging novelist and an inquisitive grad student. I napped during the trailer.

What Would Jesus Buy?: A documentary about some activists fighting rampant consumerism during the holidays. So, if they're so concerned, why didn't they open this movie in March?

Opening November 28:

The Savages: I've seen the trailer and I am engaged. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney play two siblings fighting over the care of their ailing father. Given I had no sibling to fight with over the care of my ailing parents, I would like to see how it all works.

Opening November 30:

Awake: Hayden Christensen wakes up during surgery. A recurring nightmare for everybody. This will be picketed by anesthesiologists across the country.

Sex and Breakfast: A bunch of young couples experiment with group sex. Note that Macaulay Culkin is in the cast and he has finally figured out what to do when he's home alone.

Yiddish Theater: A Love Story: Because there's always one special movie released in time for Hanukah.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Takers, anybody?

Next week, I tackle December for you.

Dinner last night: Leftover sausage and red cabbage.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Hi, My Name is Larry....Er, King



What's worse than Larry King conducting an interview on his CNN show?

Larry King conducting an interview on his CNN show at the age of 74.

We've long heard the stories. He farts so much in his studio that his guests are provided complimentary cans of Glade. He's oversexed---the quintessential dirty old man. I got some first hand experience of that when I worked his overnight radio show years ago. During every commercial break, he'd call whatever woman he was married to at the time and essentially undress her on the phone.

And, of course, there are his probing interviews. The only time I ever bother to tune into Larry King is after some big celebrity dies. Because, somehow, he manages to mobilize like nobody else when the grim reaper shows up at some Bel Air mansion. You can count on Larry to react quickly by immediately booking an on-air wake that will most certainly include such professional entertainer/mourners as Connie Stevens, Phyllis Diller, and Ed McMahon. I'm already speculating who Larry will call on when one of those three finally send their bags down to the eternal lobby. But, I digress...

Larry King's talents to do anything but eat an omelette have always escaped me. But, nevertheless, he has hung around like an antibiotic-resistant eczema. He has sat across from thousands and thousands of famous people and has not bothered to prep for a single one of those interviews. Now, we have the added spectre of age. Larry, who was an old 50, is now a King Tut-like 74. He's become the equivalent of Moses on the mountain, but he'd easily forget to mention Commandments 2 through 10. I peek at his program enough to know that it's very much akin to visiting a relative in a nursing home. He always looks completely addled. He can't remember the name of the person he's on with, and I'm guessing the only thing that he's really got in his memory bank anymore is the lunch menu at Nate 'N Al's.

Take a gander at this clip from last week. Jerry Seinfeld is on promoting his Bee Movie. Jerry's gotten some flack for how he handled the situation, but he reacted very much like a comic would. With humor. Nevertheless, you can easily see how utterly lost the host is.

And they retired Phil Donahue because he was old?

It's time, Larry. There's a checkerboard and a glass of lemonade in your future. Embrace them. And leave the car keys at home.

Dinner last night: Sandwich and salad.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Hell No, Wednesday Won't Go!


They're not on the job. But, I am...

---Yesterday, I honked my support to the picketing writers as I drove past Fox on the way home.

---Funny how I will do that but I won't acknowledge the protesters who are always outside the Federal Building.

---That's because I could care less about abuses being done in countries where the flies are bigger than the food on your plate.

---Usually, when I drive past those demonstrations, I always point.

---Upward.

---If you want to make a difference in your homeland country, can I suggest you fly back there?

---With a one-way ticket.

---How long does the Writers strike have to go before they will cancel "Caveman?"

---Lots of residual effect from the strike, no pun intended.

---Does anybody realize how many 75 inch plasma TVs will go unsold this Christmas?

---Actors won't cross the picket lines. That's because the writers didn't put it in the stage directions.

---The producers are making money hand over fist with internet downloads, DVDs, etc. and won't share it.

---I'm betting Mercedes and Jaguar dealers are sweating this out.

---They're not writing, but wait till you see how many unsolicited screenplays start turning up all over town as soon as this thing is over.

---But, there is good news. SNL writers are on strike, too.

---Actually, I think that's been the case since 1988.

---I watched about five minutes of SNL last weekend. It was like receiving a cortisone needle to the brain. Brian Williams was the host and lost all journalistic credibility in my book.

---It was as if they asked Preppie Killer Robert Chambers to lecture at Sarah Lawrence.

---While the SNL writers are out on the picket line, they should watch PBS' documentary on Carol Burnett.

---Now that was how you wrote sketch comedy.

---Of course, they dragged out Barack Obama who came out wearing a Barack Obama mask. Which is fitting because nobody knows who the real Obama is.

---I am mystified how much they rely on cue cards on that show. Nobody makes eye contact. They're all looking offstage for their next line.

---It's bad enough our President does that.

---Once again, everybody needs to watch Carol Burnett.

---So now, they're coming out with more baseball names who have taken steroids. It's funny because all these knuckleheads suddenly conjure up some rare medical conditions that required them to take these drugs.

---But, how come they didn't get their prescriptions from a doctor? Everybody is seeing this Florida dentist.

---I go to the dentist three times a year and all I get is a tube of Prevident.

---Maybe that's a performance enhancer? I'll have to see if I can catch a 95 MPH fastball in my mouth.

---I know that, after I get my teeth cleaned, I don't walk out twenty pounds heavier.

---I watched the Joe Torre press conference the other day. It was pure pomp and circumstance as Joe, his wife, the McCourts, and Vin Scully marched to the centerfield podium.

---The only things missing were a casket and some bagpipes.

---Compared to the screwballs in NY, managing the LA media will be a breeze for Joe.

---Except for those two Asian broads who kept asking him what he thought about his Japanese and Chinese players.

---Airlift, please.

---In the future, Joe should ignore them unless they're there to give his wife a pedicure.

---And what was that reporter from National Public Radio doing there?

---"So, Joe, what's your opinion of socialized medicine in Bosnia?"

Dinner last night: Chicken-apple sausage with red cabbage.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Welcome to Los Angeles, Joe Torre



Dear Joe---

Just letting you know that Dodgers fans are all abuzz with anticipation about your impending arrival. As a personal service to you, let me be the first to give you and your family some very important tips for you to remember as you navigate the Southern California landscape.

---When you're looking for a new home, avoid any neighborhood that features a strip mall with a bail bonds outlet. Also, if you see more than one 99 Cent store, keep going.

---If you're bringing along any Yankee bobbleheads, keep them on a low shelf. When you suddenly see them all shaking for no reason, there really is a reason.

---When you're in the Dodger dugout and you suddenly smell sausage and peppers, be aware that Lasorda is probably sitting in the owner's box again.

---It's totally cool if you see Mexicans working in the kitchen of an Italian restaurant. Or a Chinese restaurant. Or a Persian restaurant. Or slicing up onions and mushrooms at Benihana's.

---I don't care what anybody else out here tells you. It is totally acceptable to honk your horn when stuck in traffic. Long and loud. Repeatedly. Just pretend it's the Major Deegan.

---If you want real NY style pizza, you have to try Vito's on LaCienega. He's an Italian from New Jersey and the food tastes like it. Plus there are no Mexicans working in the kitchen.

---I've seen the recent pictures of your hair. Always wear a cap out here.

---Don't drink the water straight out of the tap. Why? I have three words for you. Los Angeles River.

---All the really good urologists are in Santa Monica.

---Sinatra's not coming to the games here any more. But I would suggest you get acquainted with "Who's The Boss" reruns because Alyssa Milano will be calling you about pitching changes.

---Good news: Scott Proctor is here and awaiting your nightly call from the fifth inning on.

---Don't try to make a left turn. Ever.

---There will be nobody here on your roster who addresses you as "Mr. Torre." In fact, don't be surprised if your salutation from Jeff Kent amounts to "Hey, You!."

---You don't want to drive on the southbound side of the 405 between the 101 and Santa Monica Boulevard from 4 to 5PM. Not that it's particularly crowded, but that's the time I'm on the road and one less car in my way is always good.

---The seventh inning stretches at Dodger Stadium last no longer than two minutes tops.

---There is no mascot eagle here. The closest thing will be the crows feet around the eyes of the owner's wife.

---The home dugout is on the third base side. Make sure you're pointed in the right direction on those mound trips or else you will be removing a peanut vendor from the game.

---The only annoying insect out here is Billy Crystal.

---Don't do a double take when your owner gets up from a lunch table and he hasn't spilled a thing.

By the way, I generally go to games on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Maybe we can sync up a car pool?

Good luck. We're all counting on you.

Dinner last night: Leftover ravioli and meatballs.