Sunday, August 31, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows: #5!!

For this sitcom lover, the early to mid 90s was the Grand Canyon of disappointment. After "The Wonder Years" and "The Golden Girls" went off the air, there was nothing that had me in front of the screen laughing out loud. Part of the problem was that TV networks started to fall in love with stand-up comedians. Network executives ran down to their local Improv and started signing up these one-joke-wonders at breakneck speed. They all wound up in some sort of family-based sitcom. Roseanne. Brett Butler. Tim Allen.

I yawned.

So, when one more comedy club creature named Ray Romano wound up in his own show on CBS, I didn't even blink. I didn't even know who the hell he was. I kept on not watching.

Even when critics seemed to love this show which was essentially ignored by the general public, I didn't bother to check in. For the first season. For most of the second season. Then, "Entertainment Weekly" came out with an article that basically scolded its readers for not finding "Everybody Loves Raymond." How dare a common magazine tell me what to watch? The nerve.

I finally decided to tune in and show up that foul-mouthed "Entertainment Weekly." It was March 9, 1998. The episode was entitled "Good Girls." And it was all about whether the female characters had been "good girls" before they were married.

It was freakin' brilliant. I could not remember when I had laughed so hard at a TV sitcom. Out loud. Hmmmm.

I was still skeptical. They couldn't possibly do this every single week. I tuned in again two weeks later. An episode simply entitled "Traffic School." Brad Garrett as Robert practices teaching traffic school to his family by using a ventriloquist's dummy.

It was freakin' brilliant. Except for several weeks previously, I could not remember when I had laughed so hard at a TV sitcom. Out loud.

Hmmmm no more. I was a fan. And never missed an episode over the next seven seasons.

In its very simple construction as a series, "Everybody Loves Raymond" played on the one thing virtually everyone can identify with. Family dysfunction. As idyllic as we would all like to portray our relatives, there are always bad feelings, anger, quirks, and overall annoyance with each other. Creators Ray Romano and Phil Rosenthal brilliantly spotted this and ran the table for nine amazing seasons. The premises from week to week were very basic. A mispoken word. A wife showing up late. A little white lie. A misconstrued comment. Taken to explosive and comedic heights each and every time. I regret deeply that I never got to participate in any of that writing. It was 30 minutes of Shakespeare, Noel Coward, and Neil Simon all rolled up together every week.

When we once asked our friend Madelyn Davis about the secret of casting a situation comedy, she answered with one single word. Serendipity. You have no idea what and who works well together. It just happens. Not often. Mostly, not at all. But, it did on this show. Every actor involved was spot on. Take a look at this expert cast in a very simple opening to an Easter-themed episode. The Barone family is celebrating the day with Brad Garrett's in-laws, played by recurring regulars Fred Willard and Georgia Engel. Who does not remember a similar holiday gathering in their own family?

That scene starts the show and it is a runaway train from there. There is one episode that won the Emmy for writing. Ray and Debra fight over a suitcase left on the stairs. They both stubbornly refuse to move it. The B plot is all about a "big fork and spoon" hanging in their parent's kitchen. This escalates into World War III and this clip. The entire script should be taught in a master class of comedy.

When you watch this cast, two actors leap off the screen. The late Peter Boyle, as Frank Barone, is the character you wait for. He appears and you are immediately riveted as you wait for his first nasty comment. He is the only cast member not to win an Emmy for the work here and that is a crime.

Meanwhile, amidst all the comedy, it is Patricia Heaton, as Debra Barone, who glues it all together week after week. Just like Audrey Meadows did on "The Honeymooners," Heaton is the voice of reason in all this hysteria. I know some people who thought her portrayal as Ray's wife was harsh and shrill. They don't get it. This character had to endure this torture day in and day out. It is a completely motivated acting choice. Watch her here as she and Ray speak to his son's teacher after he has written a story about his "angry family."

I own all nine seasons on DVD. And still watch them because I miss the show incredibly. It taught me so much.

It's all Entertainment Weekly's fault.

Dinner last night: Grilled bratwurst on my first ever visit to Angels Stadium.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Classic Newsreel of the Month - August 2008

Marilyn Monroe died in August, 1962 and here's how movie audiences got to see the funeral. For years here, I lived right down the block from this cemetary. A great place to gawk at tombstones.

Dinner last night: Hollywood Bowl hot dog.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

My Day Off

Admittedly, that sounds like one of those books you read to first graders at storytime. Janie Gets a Puppy. Mommy Has the Sniffles. My Day Off.

Having not really taken time off this summer for a variety of reasons, Thursday just seemed to be a good day to goof off. Spontaneously. I had to go into work for a little bit today---the Friday prior to Labor Day. So, I wanted to do something fun to kick off the weekend of...even more fun.

With my fellow goof-off for the day, the erstwhile Anonymous blogger from the Barbara Judith Deluxe Furnished Apartments on Hollywood Boulevard, we decided to go where neither of us had gone before. And, in a way, it was sort of like an episode of Star Trek.

The wonderfully renovated and restored Griffith Observatory high atop Los Angeles.

If you wonder why I have been in LA for over 11 years and still not see this landmark, don't bother. For about half of that time, the place was closed to the public as they built an entire downstairs wing. The main guts of the building, including that huge telescope that attracts would-be astronomers from around the world, was literally picked up by hydraulics so a lower level could be placed inside.

You may recall that the Griffith Observatory was featured prominently in the James Dean movie "Rebel Without a Cause." They've even mounted a memorial to the guy there. The only thing missing is a bronzed bumper from the car he crashed himself to death in.

Meanwhile, the grounds are eerily the same as they were in that movie and you can almost see Sal Mineo's character getting shot on the steps all over again. Of course, I've also, in the past, seen the alleyway where Sal actually got murdered, so I'm really two-for-two in Mineo Murder locations.

Inside, there are numerous space and science equipments. Moon rocks. Fragments of meteorites. Scales which allow you to find out your weight on other planets of the solar system. Note to all: my weight is just over 100 pounds on Mercury, so that could be a potential place to move. There was even a lifesize statue of Albert Einstein. Or perhaps it was just some old guy who used a little too much of that L'Oreal Self Bronzer.

We watched a short documentary on the history of the observatory in the Leonard Nimoy Theater and it was aptly narrated by Leonard Nimoy himself. I was convinced that I was going to see him folding souvenir T-shirts in the gift shop. And the ceiling show in the planetarium itself is an eye-opener. Although given you view it in almost horizontal position, it could also be a potential eye-closer. I learned more about stars and planets and astrology than I ever knew before and I realized that I must have slept through high school science as well. By the way, the cafeteria downstairs did sell Milky Ways and I was angry that nobody else around me got that joke.

The fun, however, did not stop with the conclusion of my inter-galactic adventure. I realized that we were very close to the address where Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy filmed their Oscar-winning short "The Music Box." You might remember it. Stan and Ollie carrying a huge player piano up several flights of stairs to a house high atop a hill. One of my all-time favorite screen moments. And I have long known that the actual location was still very much intact in some rundown neighborhood off Sunset Boulevard. We were only five minutes away. More spontaneity.

It was really a short drive through the bowels of Silver Lake. And the steps at the right were amazingly easy to find. The house on the right is still there in very much the same state. There is now a building on the left which looked like a vacant lot in the film.

There's a plaque on the bottom steps commemorating the brilliant short.

And a street sign that serves as a double reminder.

And me on the first landing. Being incredibly...spontaneous.

This can only happen in Hollywood. And only on a day off.

Dinner last night: Hawaiian Burger at Islands.

The Most Exciting Movie of Summer 2008

That's right. It ain't "The Dark Knight," which so collapses under its own weight that it still mystifies me how many people actually loved it.

Nope, for my money and your money at the multiplex, "Man On Wire" offers as much action, intrigue, and excitement than any other film offered up by Hallow-wood this summer. And, except for one very small isolated segment, there is not one single special effect employed.

And people won't see it because it's a documentary and the general public will equivocate that with boredom.


Because this story is real. It happened. In modern times. Surprise, surprise. A real-time event can be interesting. When was the last time you saw somebody dressed in a black cape scooting around town on a souped-up motorcycle? Okay, the above question is not applicable if you live in or around West Hollywood. But, the point is that "Man On Wire" outshines any loud and noisy action movie that the major studios can conjure up. And it resonates even more because it really did happen.

"Man On Wire" tells the story of wirewalker/lunatic Philippe Petit who, two days before Nixon resigned the Presidency in 1974, walked on a tight rope that stretched between the roofs of the two World Trade Center buildings. Of course, as Petit had done in other spots around the world, this was not an organized event. Every time he pulls a stunt like this, he winds up spending a few nights in the local jail. But, he is in it for the exhileration. And, in the case of this movie, that passion and excitement is easily passed along to the audience.

The film is part interview, part archival footage, and part re-enactment. But, Petit and his team of cronies (you need more than a few people to get away with a prank like this) detail how they prepped the event, got the wire strung, ducked security guards, and ultimately did the deed. It becomes the ultimate heist and caper film. And you care more for the participants than you do in any other film dumped out by Hollywood this summer. You watch through photos and footage Petit walk across that wire. He did it not once, not twice, but eight different times. At one point, he lays on his back right across the wire. It is crazy and stupid and amazing. Of course, 34 years later, the challenge to death here is made even more poignant now. With those buildings gone. And the images we all share of bodies falling from almost equal heights.

The crowd I was with applauded wildly at the end. That says to me the movie worked. Big time. If your household budget is currently allowing for just one movie for the rest of the year, make it "Man On Wire."

Take that, Caped Crusader!

Dinner last night: Chicken tenders at the Daily Grill.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Gone With The Wednesday

Frankly, I do give a damn. Maybe that's the problem.

---The Beijing Olympics ended Sunday. By Monday, everybody cleared out. By Tuesday, all the losing Chinese athletes were back in prison.

---China won a lot of gold medals, but just how much cheating went on?

---When I look at those little Chinese girl acrobats, I'm reminded of that hit song from Ringo Starr.

---"You've won gold, you're Chinese, and you're nine."

---Good riddance to that filthy part of the world. They're terrific with special effects, but how many people got shafted out of their homes as a result?

---I'm betting we will see a documentary on those little Chinese girl gymnasts. Woody Allen directing.

---Now all the ridiculousness and media overhype shifts back here. To Denver and Minneapolis for the political conventions.

---If you're part of the population (45%) that will be gnashing their teeth at every word that comes out of the Democrats this week, just know that the other 45% of the population will be doing the same thing next week.

---And 45% plus 45% equals 90%. Which means that whoever is our next President will be automatically turning off more than half the people in the country.

---VP hopeful Senator Joe Biden hails from the state of Delaware. And that means he gets about 156 votes tops.

---They dragged out that now blithering dirtbag Teddy Kennedy and he was happy to announce that all of Massachusett's delegates are going for Adlai Stevenson.

---These conventions are so staged that there is nary a moment of spontaneity. They presented the Obama family as if it was "The Cosby Show" and the Huxtables were getting ready to flush Rudy's dead goldfish down the toilet.

---And speaking of "change," can we spare some for Barack's brother, who's living in some African mudhut?

---Obama's ultra dysfunctional family has more twists and turns than the Hortons on "Days of Our Lives."

---When photographed from certain angles, Obama looks like the race he should really be running is at Santa Anita.

---These conventions are really nothing more than meetings on how to market the candidates. Nothing more than think tanks on Madison Avenue.

---This week, it's "the country is broke and we can fix it."

---Next week, it will be "the country isn't broke and we can fix it."

---I love all the pinheads who are comparing Obama to John F. Kennedy. If they bothered to read up on JFK, they would see that the two are complete opposites.

---Kennedy was a fiscal conservative who actually sat on the fence about civil rights. It was really little brother Bobby who pushed that envelope.

---I just saw a documentary on RFK and, yes, he was a great friend to the Black people in America. He loved them so that he hired them exclusively to spoon out oatmeal to that passel of kids at the breakfast table.

---Obviously with the Kennedys, civil rights and non-discrimination stopped just short of the pantry door.

---I know this for a fact. My grandmother's cousin was a housekeeper for the Kennedys during the 20s. She had a Polish last name. Everything was hunky dorey until that old bag Rose found out she wasn't Catholic.

---Fired immediately.

---What difference do it make how many houses McCann owns? It's all pointless unless they're on either Boardwalk or Park Place.

---And what's up with that new word they invented when the press was talking about Obama's VP pick?


---What the hell is vetting? Hillary wasn't vetted. Bayh was vetted. Who makes up this shit?

---Is it anything like kvetching? Because I know what that is.

---And I know Hillary probably did kvetch.

---From the Department of Bad Timing: the Dodgers sent their postseason ticket invoice on the day they started a major losing streak.

---And the only chance the Mets have of making the postseason is if they can coax former pitcher Ron Darling out of the broadcast booth.

---Or former pitcher Don Cardwell out of the grave.

---If your kid is going out to college for the first time, they won't be alone. Besides some surly roommate, they will also have plenty of bedbugs keeping them company.

---Yep, those pesky mattress creatures are now infesting college dorms. All because those ecologically minded maniacs won't let them clean the beds with chemicals anymore.

---That and all those folks coming in from other God-foresaken worlds. Give us your tired, your poor, and your eight-legged bugs.

---We need to tell all these people. Go scratch!

---The guy who co-wrote "100 Things to Do Before You Die" passed away at the age of 47.

---I wonder what number he got up to.

Dinner last night: BLT at Cafe 50s.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Cool Summer Night

Every summer here in LA, it's all about me going to the Hollywood Bowl on a Saturday night. Sometimes, the desire to simply go there supercedes whatever talent is performing.

Which is my roundabout way to explain how I wound up at a Donna Summer concert last Saturday night. Oh, don't get me wrong. I have an extremely guilty pleasure when it comes to disco music. I actually like some of the stuff and it all instantly time-transports me back to another era. Qiana shirts. Puka shells. Doubleknit slacks with a slight flair at the bottom. I bought into seeing the Queen of the Discos a lot quicker than I thought I would.

And so did almost 17,000 other frenzied people. In all my years of attending the Bowl, I have never seen as much wild mayhem as I did last weekend. The crowd eclipsed multiple age groups. But, by and large, it was mostly a throng in their 40s. All climbing on board an express to the village of Remember When. Certainly, it was the most animated bunch of concertgoers I've seen there. There wasn't a cello in the house. And nobody cared.

Beyond the music, the Bowl has always offered to me a wonderful outlet for people watching. My Saturday compatriot, the illustrious Djinn from the Bronx, commented that complete strangers always seem to be motivated to engage in conversation at the Bowl. And the Donna Summer evening was no different. Take, for instance, the Black woman behind us. She was fulfilling a dream by finally seeing Donna in concert. She also felt compelled to discuss the two times she has been ditched at the altar. And the fact that she just knows Mr. Right is still lurking around the corner. The woman sitting next to me kept offering some of her picnic food, which I kept declining. Mainly because the roasted red pepper hummus she was pushing looked like bathroom grout. The gay guy behind me kept talking to a friend about celebrity sightings. He mentioned that he used to experience a lot of them when he "was involved in a retail situation." I wanted to turn around and translate.

"You mean when you were working as a cashier at Macy's?"

Then, there were the four blonde bimbettes in the row ahead of me. It didn't take long for me to calculate that their collective IQ was pretty much less than the Dodgers' Andruw Jones' .160 batting average. Their mental incapacity was further enhanced by liters and liters of liquor. This was Sex and the City if it were set on skid row. Just as the lights dimmed for the show to begin, I felt something grabbing my foot. One of the platinum pinheads turned back to me.

"I'm shlearching for my purshe."

I yanked myself back. "That's my sneaker you've got."

"Oh, shlorry." She retreated to whatever alcohol haze was forming around her cranium.

I have been to shows or concerts where there is a predominance of gay men. This night would be the gayest of the gay. Not only would it be a good night for burglars to hit West Hollywood, thieves could have absconded with the whole city and nobody would have noticed. Or probably cared. Djinn from the Bronx lamented one more time why gay men are always so good looking. I countered that this is probably God's great practical joke on women. At the same time, given the fortyish age of all the gay guys around us, I couldn't help but think in wonderment. All these men actually lived through the 80s.

It did not take long for Donna Summer to turn the Bowl into a riot at Attica. Lights were flashing. Arms were waving. People were dancing. Drinks were spilling. Joints were lit. If somebody had told me that Jimmy Carter was back living in the White House, I would have believed them. The women with the hardware store dip got into a fight with the four drunken sluts and that had the promise to be quite an addendum to the evening. But, for the most part, Donna singing the hits turned out to be the ultimate diversion for everybody.

Miss Summer, at the age of 60, still looks like she can bring it, although, from certain angles, she resembles a drag queen doing Donna Summer. Of course, as is the norm for any concert, you do hear those four dreaded words.

"From my new album."

The automatic signal that the next fifteen minutes will be spent listening to something you haven't heard before. Or want to hear again. A great opportunity for folks to remember where they were originally seated and who they came with. But, those lapses of tedium were not long and, before long, Donna was back to the hits. People were back on their feet. Arms were waving. People were dancing. Drinks were spilling. Joints were lit.

At first, it was a little disconcerting to notice that people kept talking during Donna's songs. But, then I realized that's actually how folks used to hear her music. Played as background in some club. With a drink in your hand. And wondering just who you were going to be either on top of or under later in the night. Nothing diverted from that tired and true disco tradition at the Bowl on Saturday night.

Naturally, Donna Summer closed with "Last Dance" and the entire place rocked one more time. You can see a little snippet of the hysteria here.

With the show over, everybody staggered back to their cars and 2008. And, in most cases, somewhat reluctantly.

Most surprisingly, I was one of them.

Dinner last night: Pepperoni sandwich and salad.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday Morning Video Laugh - August 25, 2008

Boy, I just can't get enough of these. Hitler Sings Again!

Dinner last night: Sausage and olive pizza at Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows: #6!!

Caution to all readers once again: In the body of this entry, shameless name dropping will occur.

No television show has ever captured the world of a teenager better than "The Wonder Years." Actually, no television has ever captured MY world as a teenager better than "The Wonder Years." The timing, the setting, and the ambience was all spot on. It was like a camera had been focused on me and my friends all those years. In a lot of respects, I was Kevin Arnold. The same flip-flopping of hormones and emotions. I had best friends just like Paul Pfeffer. And, of course, there was a girl very much like Winnie Cooper. Didn't every guy once have a girl in school like Winnie Cooper?

"The Wonder Years" was on the air during the late 80s and early 90s just in time for my resurgence as a writer. Coupled with a new partner, this show, along with several others, once again spiked a keg in my barrel of creative juices. It was an ideal show to write some spec scripts for. We tried our hand at "The Golden Girls," "Designing Women," and "Murphy Brown." But, given the subject matter, "The Wonder Years" would allow us to get a little deeper because it was real and we could touch and feel it. As my partner and I would come to do as part of our normal writing regimen, we each wrote our own first drafts and then the other one would do the editing and polishing. My partner wrote a script about Kevin's relationship with an English teacher, and it was loosely based on an instructor in his not-so-distant past.

As for me and my first draft, I turned one more time to the influence that had connected many, many points in my life.

My grandmother.

I crafted a story that captured a dilemma that I had endured when I was a kid. At the time, the house where I lived with my parents and grandparents was next door to that quintessential neighborhood playground---a vacant lot. My friends loved to grab whatever type of ball was available and play there regularly. I wanted to join in, but my grandmother was dead set against anybody playing there. It's not like she owned the land, but she certainly was not welcoming the noise. So, stuck in the middle of this, I had to deal with my grandmother's obstinance and my friends' constant complaining about her. To complicate issues, any ball that zoomed onto our property became fair game. And my grandmother would be quick to gobble them up just like the Jets' Emerson Boozer going after a fumble.

One day, I was looking for something in her pantry. I opened a bottom drawer and found a veritable sporting goods store. Balls of all shapes and kinds. Years and years of interrupted games on the vacant lot next door. It was quite the collection.
And, several decades later, I had my "Wonder Years" script. Young Kevin lives in a neighborhood where such a "mean and nasty old lady" exists. And, via a nifty but plausible plot device, he winds up having to sit with her for an afternoon. Kevin realizes that the woman was not so mean and nasty. As I wrote about this woman who I conveniently made German in nationality, my grandmother was channeled through my mind, then my typing fingers, and onto the computer page. Here, for your reading pleasure, is one of the scenes in the second act. Kevin is spending an afternoon in the old lady's (named Kay) house:

NARRATOR: She was old, she was cranky and she had a razor sharp mind.

KAY: I've seen 'em all on Ed Sullivan. I used to like his show until he brought those crazy Beatles over here with all that hippie nonsense.

KEVIN: The Beatles are great.

KAY: They look like a bunch of Sissy Marys.

KEVIN: Their music is awesome. That has nothing to do with how they look.

NARRATOR: I was having a semi-intellectual discussion about modern music with an eighty-five-year-old woman. And enjoying it.

KEVIN: You really miss the old days, don't you?

KAY: You don't know how much.

NARRATOR: She was right. I didn't. I didn't know much about anything from the past, except what I read in history class. But no textbook would give me the education I would get in the next two hours. Kay became my nonstop chronicler of the life and times of an average American in the first seventy-two years of the 20th Century. I learned things I never knew before. About immigration.

KAY: My Augie and I came to this country from Germany. He drove a milk truck for thirty years. Never did have much of a salary. We lived in a cramped apartment and the neighborhood was full of people just like us.

NARRATOR: About world affairs.

KAY: That Roosevelt was no good. All he kept saying was again and again and again, no American boy will set foot on foreign shores. Before you knew it, they were all overseas with guns and tanks and whatnot.

NARRATOR: About personal loss.

KAY: We came over here from Germany to make a good life for ourselves. And then my youngest boy goes off to war...and gets Germany.

NARRATOR: I learned about historical events.

KAY: I remember when Little Ricky Ricardo was born. The same day Eisenhower was inaugurated. The next day, at the beauty parlor, not one person mentioned Ike. All everybody talked about was Lucy and Little Ricky.

NARRATOR: I wrestled with Kay's odd view of scientific discovery.

KAY: Remember when those crazy lunatics walked around on the moon? For almost two months after that, it rained. I mean poured. Remember? That was (POINTING UP) His way of telling us that we had no business going up there.

KEVIN: Yeah, but just because it rained here, that doesn't mean it rained all over the country.

KAY: The hell you say. It rained everywhere. They said it on the news.

KEVIN: What news?

KAY (WITH PRIDE): Walter Cronkite.

With some literary liberties, pretty much all of that dialogue came from previous conversations with my grandmother. She really did believe that the moon walk had provoked rain. Of course, to close the story, I went back to the vacant lot. And the sporting good equipment.

NARRATOR: It had been quite a day. In just under two hours, I had grown to like and respect and admire the very creature which, until a few hours ago, I was convinced had put a couple of children in her oven and eaten them for supper. But, something told me I had only scratched the surface of this woman.


NARRATOR: Yep, Kay was a strange old bird. And I couldn't help but like her.

Spec scripts are generally never bought or produced. But, our scripts for "The Wonder Years" got us into a prestigious NY writing workshop. And we were on our bumpy way.

Over the years, I misplaced the remaining copies of the "Wonder Years" scripts. But, in the year 2008, I suddenly had reason to try and dig them up.

I was going to meet Winnie Cooper.

When the show was on, I don't think there were any redblooded males who couldn't connect this character, wonderfully played by Danica McKellar, with some sweet young thing in their past. Along with Valerie Bertinelli on "One Day at a Time," these girls were my reminders of idyllic impossibilities. Because I was so fond of the Winnie Cooper character, I sort of kept track of Danica's career. She did a little more acting, but also went to UCLA and became this major math whiz. She was so adept at the numbers that she crafted a book that would help middle school girl students become not so afraid of the subject.

And then, one Sunday at church, this book comes up in conversation with a very good friend of mine, herself a quite renowned math teacher at a very well known Los Angeles private school.

"Yes, Danica was one of my students."


"Actually, I am mentioned in the book and part of it is dedicated to me."


"And she's writing another book and I am going to be helping her out with it."


Now, throughout her teaching career, my friend has had many, many contacts with the rich and famous. And, generally, I never pressed her for details.

Until now.

I transformed into an annoying pest as smoothly as a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. I was totally mystified that I didn't know this little fact of life previously. And I hinted around less than casually how I could broker a little meeting. For Pete's sake, this WAS Winnie Cooper.

This fine lady was already a friend for life, but now she is locked in way beyond that as far as I am concerned. Because she arranged a dinner for the three of us. And before I knew it, we were chomping down on Italian food in some Brentwood eatery.

Okay, I'm usually not a gawker when it comes to celebrities. In Los Angeles, they're a dime a dozen and you see them all over. In the supermarket. At Walgren's. Waiting at the car wash. And when I see them in a restaurant, I always wonder about the nobodys that the celebrity is dining across from. In this case, I noticed some of the other patrons in the restaurant eyeing our table. Danica looks very much like she did as Winnie Cooper, just a trifle older. She was adorable. And I am thinking about what all these people are thinking.

"THere's Winnie Cooper...but who's the schlub she's with?"

It was an incredibly delightful evening. I heard a lot more about math theorems than I thought I would (My friend and Danica did talk a little shop). But, I certainly got in my licks on what she was doing. And, while I thought about dumping our old script on her napkined lap, I refrained. I practice really hard to be non-annoying with actors I meet and this was my finest un-pesty moment. I did get to talk with her about the following clip, which was one of the best episodes of "The Wonder Years." Danica was concentrating on school at that time and was not seen in a number of episodes. But, the producers brought her back in a very surprising sequence. I remember seeing it the first time and my heart raced with the thought that Kevin would ultimately end up with Winnie. Because that's what we all wanted. As an audience. And as males.

Danica was a terrific dinner mate and perhaps there might be something we could work together on. Who knows? But, for the evening, it brought me all back to my youth, my writing, and my career.

But, after all, aren't these all our very own "wonder years?"

Dinner last night: Hollywood Bowl Hot Dog.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - August 2008

Nobody made better coming attractions than Alfred Hitchcock. Here's how he sold through "The Birds." It was the first so-called "grown up" movie I ever saw. Ny cousin took me and I will never forget how adult it made me feel.

Dinner last night: Chinese buffet at Panda Express.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Games Children (and I) Used to Play

On a rare recent visit to Ebay, I ran into somebody selling a toy that I distinctly remember playing with back when. One more click. Then another click. Before I knew it, I was taking a virtual tour of my toy chest. And I thought about the fact that my parents had pretty much tossed all this stuff into the garbage. I hit the age of 13, so my childhood was automatically red-tagged for the trash bin. Now, I look at all this junk and see people selling it off for a few bucks. Unfathomable.

For instance, here's one of my favorites. Mousetrap. You spun your way around the board and built this intricate mousetrap that was very much like one of those domino tricks that are so popular on Japanese television. I loved this game for about two weeks until it came to an unceremonious end. If you might remember, one of the gimmicks would be this plastic figure diving into the bathtub when the metal ball hit the diving board. I decided to ramp up the degree of difficulty by filling the tub with water. You can guess what happened. The game board never did dry completely even after I left out in the sun for a month or so.

I loved to busy myself with play sets and this Remco version of a drive-in movie theater was perfect for me. You could actually show some sort of View Master movies on the screen. The only thing missing was some plastic figurines of over-sexed teenagers. This sucker is selling for almost 200 bucks on Ebay. Thank you, Mom and Dad.

My very earliest version of a baseball strategy game. Challenge The Yankees. There were a bunch of baseball All-Stars on one team and the Yankees from the 60s. Mickey Mantle either hit a homerun or strike out. There was no other result. It really didn't take a brain surgeon to play this game. It was so easy that even Grady Little could have won a few games. I was always envious that they never did a companion version of this. Slaughter The Mets. But, I was a lot more diplomatic in those days and open to owning things that had navy blue pinstripes on them. I lost interest in the game when, during a moment of losing disgust, I ripped Mickey Mantle's card in half. Of course, in real life, Mickey would get ripped many times during his career. And snockered. And liquored up. And stinkin' drunk.

When you're an only child, you have to naturally work a little harder to keep yourself busy. And your friends motivated to spend time with you. The Kenner Give-A-Show Projector was a perfect device for me. What friend on the block could resist coming over for a free show? We used to pile into my basement and run through these slide shows of popular cartoons or TV shows. The bad news is that we often have to do this while sitting amidst my grandmother's laundry drying on the clothesline in the cellar. But, the good news is that her corset provided quite a big screen for projection.

My earliest attempts at writing plot came when I got the Flintstones Play Set for Christmas. This was a huge toy and you literally got to lay out all of Bedrock on the living room floor. I would concoct whole episodes for the Flintstones and the Rubbles to play out. Indeed, this gift was a bittersweet one which I discussed here last Christmas. Unfortunately, my mother chose to hide this present at the neighbors and my wet blanket friend named Monte blew it all and told me that my toys were there and not being brought by the non-existent Santa. In reality, I probably could have figured it out myself. On the bottom of the Flintstones box was a Macy's sticker.

Dinner last night: Leftover turkey sausage with rice and beets.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Classic TV Theme of the Month - August 2008

Here's a new monthly feature. From the days when all TV shows had opening theme songs and credits. Those infectious little ditties that lured you in week after week. Take for instance the one here for the 70s sitcom "Angie." The show was crappy, but I tuned in every week just to hear the theme song. I probably never watched a single frame beyond that.

Dinner last night: Grilled turkey sausage.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Gold Medal Wednesday

From the title, you're probably thinking today's entry is all about the Olympics. Actually, I sold sponsorship of this blog to the flour.

---China is right behind the US in medal count. Which means that most of the Chinese athletes won't be shot when the games end.

---I watch these little 10 year-old Chinese girls bouncing around on the gym mats and I wonder how many of them will have crippling arthritis by the time they're 25.

---Working, of course, under the assumption that most of them live to the age of 25.

---By the way, as NBC loves to keep reminding me, it's "Bay-zhing."

---Who the hell cares what they call it? All the action is on tape and it happened almost a day ago.

---I checked out as soon as Michael Phelps got Medal Number 8. Sorry, but I have no rooting interest when it comes to Women's Volleyball.

---They called that big stadium there "The Bird's Nest" and I wonder if that's where they make the soup.

---Ellen DeGeneres got married to longtime whatever Portia DeRossi over the weekend and I'd like to know which one of them is registered at the Home Depot.

---A work associate is getting married this weekend and he mentioned that the California marriage license now says "Applicant A" and "Applicant B."

---Now, ff there was an "Applicant C," that would be a pretty damn interesting wedding to attend.

---Somebody out here thought they spotted Bigfoot, but it was simply Dodger outfielder Andruw Jones on his way to his Las Vegas minor league rehab.

---Good news for Ed McMahon fans. Donald Trump bailed him out of his money woes.

---Now we won't have to worry about Ed skimming off the top of those 7/11 donation cans at the Jerry Lewis Telethon.

---I am accepting guesses right now. Just how many chins will Jerry have this year?

---I heard they're announcing the new Dancing with the Stars contestants next week. Which explains to me why I've seen a lot of D list celebrities scurrying around LA lately.

---Hmm, let's see. They've had somebody with one leg and somebody who was deaf. Who's next?

---Ladies and gentlemen, dancing the quick step....Mr. Stevie Wonder.

---No, no, you're a little too close to the edge, Stevie.

---Heck, I'd watch this shit every week if he was on there. Especially if they put the guide dog in one of those slinky gowns.

---Who's that tub of lard minister who was interviewing McCain and Obama last weekend?

---Religious leaders need to stay the hell out of politics. Last I heard, Jesus was registered as an Independent.

---During that forum, Obama told us all that his most trusted advisor would be his wife.

---And I heard that, with all the trouble in Georgia, she wanted to send troops to Savannah.

---Rhetorical question: will Obama pick both Oprah and Gayle King to be on his Cabinet?

---Or, as they would be more commonly known in California...."Applicant A" and "Applicant B."

---After all these years, I still think Condoleeza Rice is served as a side with chicken fajitas.

---Why is it that, whenever you see McCain out campaigning, he's sitting in some coffee shop or a diner?

---And I am guessing it's always before 4PM, so he can get the early bird special.

---Why don't we simply install both McCain and Obama as co-Presidents and then watch the fur fly? I could get into that kind of street brawl.

---With all the explosions overseas, I was convinced that the Met bullpen was on a USO tour.

---Quoting my dad: The Met bullpen is like the Mount Vernon Fire Department. "They can't put out a cigarette."

---One more hurricane beared down on Florida. I was talking to a friend there and he said people were crowding stores and hording water.

---I would think that water is the last thing they will need.

---At the same time, I can't scold people who live in Florida while I'm out in California sitting on top of a ten mile wide crevice that could give out any minute.

Actually, I'm giving out right now.

Dinner last night: Lasagna.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Dark Knight and a Painfully Long One

I waited as long as I could.

While most of America was going ga-ga over this latest new installment of Batman on the big screen, I held back to led the hordes of unmannered slobs see this first. It's the kind of water cooler movie that not only commands your attendance, but also invites all those idiots who see it several times over while texting with their friends throughout the film. "The Dark Knight" got rave reviews from critics and moviegoers alike. I have friends who chided me for not seeing it sooner. One chum never goes to the movies and he saw it two times. So, this has to be something really special, right?

Wrong. Dead, dead, dead wrong.

Last Saturday night, I walked out of the Arclight Cinemas in Hollywood and I was convinced that I had missed Thanksgiving dinner. I was dazed, confused, tired, and sorry that I had spent what seemed to be four months in the theater. I'm not quite sure what the hell everybody else is talking about. For me, "The Dark Knight" was a complete mess.

Essentially, the movie is nothing more than an almost three hour video game. Car crashes, explosions, fires, then more car crashes, more explosions, and more fires. Lots of people getting killed. Besides Warner Brothers, the only people getting really rich here are probably the Gotham City undertakers. And who knew that this was such a rotten place to live? Rampant with unchecked thugs and crime, it makes my decimated hometown of Mount Vernon, New York look like a quiet Italian villa on the Mediterranean. Maybe people are moving there for the weather. It certainly seems pretty much devoid of any culture or law enforcement.

So, a bunch of criminals are running around and Batman is being chastised for letting it go on too long. Or maybe he was on a Club Med cruise. I'm not quite sure, because the plot points are all hidden behind darkness and special effects. You can't tell where you are at any given moment and the script seems to have been written on an Etch-A-Sketch. At some point, the device gets a shake and you have to start all over again. There's a great example of super sloppy screen writing here. In any given action movie, there are maybe two or three times where certain death is to happen and suddenly, out of nowhere, the hero appears to save the day. Well, that works maybe two or three times a movie. But, "The Dark Knight" repeats this over and over and over and over and over. I actually mentioned this shoddy device to my pastor on the following Sunday morning. How the heck can Batman keep showing up like that every single time? My pastor, who has at least one screw loose on her very best days, replied, "Well, he is Batman." Thank God I have no children for her to confirm. Her reply made no sense, but, then again, nothing about "The Dark Knight" ever did.

The acting was awful as well. Christian Bale, as the Caped Crusader, channels Clint Eastwood whenever he speaks and reminded me of Dirty Harry out trick-or-treating. Aaron Eckhart, who is incredibly overrated anyway, made the most implausible choices as the DA who uses gasoline as a skin emulsifier so he can essentially play half of the movie with his face falling off and looking like Joan Van Ark after a bad chemical peel.

Of course, much has already been made of the late Heath Ledger's performance as the Joker. Yes, the film is a little bit more interesting when he is on camera. But, they're already talking about a posthumous Oscar and I wouldn't do that engraving just yet. Indeed, his role is not a stretch. Most actors will tell you that the easiest thing to play is crazy. So, Ledger really does nothing special here and all the critical kudos are not because he's good, but because he's dead.

The dark and sinister layers of this movie also trouble me. There's not a single character in the film that you can even remotely like. But, apparently, that is the trend. You can't even root for superheroes anymore. Before it started, there was a trailer for the next James Bond episode featuring Daniel Craig. Even 007 is now one of these overly shaded characters with an incredibly evil underbelly. What happened to the fun? What happened to the tongue-in-cheek humor? Where is there any enjoyment in any of this? If you spend four plus days seeing a movie, the least you can expect is the opportunity to smile once.

Trust me. Nobody enjoys a popcorn action movie more than me. And I really only have to flashback a few months to "Iron Man," which was a terrific fun flick with a great performance by Robert Downey Jr., who clearly understood that he was up on that screen to entertain the masses. It was also 100 times better than the overwrought and fatally bloated "Dark Knight."

As I crawled out of the Arclight in a stupor, I thought maybe it was me. Perhaps I have now outgrown mass entertainment. But, my compatriots felt the same way. And, on the way to the parking lot, my peripheral hearing caught similar comments from the people around me. Everybody seemed to be wondering what all the hoopla has been all about.

I guess it's all about the evolution of the world around us. For the past few years, I've come to realize that both critics and the mass audience have increasingly become unable to differentiate between champagne and beer. Now, we've moved to a different level. With "The Dark Knight," they can no longer tell the difference between Godiva chocolate and dog shit.

Dinner last night: Garden medley salad at BJs.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Morning Video Laugh - August 18, 2008

I saw this on comedy writer Ken Levine's blog and I had to steal it. Mainly because it is a variation on one of the most infectious TV themes ever. Enjoy.

Dinner last night: Tortellini with chicken in pesto sauce.

Dinner last night:

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows: #7!!

There have been a few TV shows in history that have grabbed the nation's attention and held it hostage. Truly appointment-driven television that everybody, and I mean everybody, is watching en masse. I am sure "I Love Lucy" was like that during the 50s, especially when Lucy Ricardo gave birth to Little Ricky. "Dallas" was like that in the early 80s right after J.R. Ewing took some lead to the abdomen.

For me, the very first time I participated in TV frenzy was during the early years of "All in the Family." And I can easily recall how everybody, and I mean everybody, was tuned in on a Saturday night to hear Archie Bunker's latest rantings and ravings.

Of course, when it first came on the air, the attention wasn't quite there yet. But, for some bizarre reason, the very unsuspecting duo of my grandmother and me tuned in to one very early episode to see what this new sitcom was all about. We had no clue what to expect. It was the show where the Jeffersons first moved next door to the Bunkers. And Archie let us know with this announcement to his wife:

"Edith, the coons are coming!"

Two mouths dropped to the floor in a living room on 15th Avenue in Mount Vernon. And, after about a silence of ten seconds, we laughed out loud.

A lot.

During those first few "AITF" shows, we heard a lot of words we never heard on TV before.





And the always popular Jungle Bunny.

It's not like I hadn't heard the words before. But, usually at my lily-white, European-based family dining table. Never ever on the small screen for all to hear.

And laugh at. Because that's what producer/creator Norman Lear did with "AITF." By voicing all the things usually kept inside our homes, we were all treated to realistic glimpses of our own human frailties. And he did so via the best message conveyance known to man. Humor.

It wasn't long before all of America discovered what my grandmother and I caught onto. Everybody, and I mean everybody, was tuning in to see Archie, Edith, the Meathead, and Gloria every Saturday night on CBS, which featured perhaps the best nightly schedule of programming in the history of the medium. I can remember my parents got sucked in as well and I rarely remember my mother and father being on the same page with regard to TV viewing. There was one Saturday night where they had some friends over. All conversation, smoking, and drinking stopped at 8PM. There were maybe 20 people crowded into our living room to watch the episode where Edith went through menopause. I have forever framed that moment and the laughter in my mental hard drive. That didn't happen very often in my house. It did, though, then. "All in the Family" connected us all in a way that an audience will never be connected again. Here's the last scene of this very famous episode.

For me, there's another great episode. Certainly not issue-oriented, but equally brilliant. Perhaps you remember it? The family has gone away for the weekend and Archie has gotten himself locked in the basement. He finds an old bottle of booze and has drank himself into a slow stupor. A tour de force performance by Carroll O'Connor.

The first five seasons of "AITF" are perhaps the best written TV comedy scripts ever. But, as good as the first five years are, the last five are as bad. This is a show that stayed way too long at the fair. As soon as Mike and Gloria moved out of the house, the main driving premise of the show was gone. Plotlines meandered as Archie and Edith adopted a niece, bought a local tavern, etc.. Blah, blah, blah. The fun was gone and the show essentially became nothing more than any other crappy sitcom on the air.

Equally disturbing is how much Carroll O'Connor's acting changed over the same time period. They stopped doing the show in front of the usual live studio audience and the lack of energy is really noticeable with Mr. O'Connor. He begins to mug shamelessly. He adds an annoying whine to almost every line. Over the life of a TV series, I know from directors I have spoken to that actors get bored and start phoning in their performances. Carroll O'Connor is a classic example of this. By the last year, he is almost embarrassing to watch. And, of course, he belabored it all even more by dragging Archie into that stupid spin-off where Edith is dead and he's running a bar. If there is a TV God, mercy needed to be implored here.

But, none of that should diminish at all what "All In the Family" was during its first five years on the air. And keep in mind that, in today's frantic political correctness, the show probably doesn't enjoy the life it did in the 70s. Indeed, I really wish I could see an episode today with Archie commenting on Barack Obama, Al Sharpton, and global warming. Because, in its own way, "All in the Family" did more for our social consciousness than any current leader or journalist could hope to achieve.

Dinner last night: BLT at Charcoal.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

For Bernie and Isaac

Here's where I do my part for racial unity. I dedicate today's entry to Bernie Mac and Isaac Hayes, who both got the eternal shaft last weekend. In their honor,

"Yo mama's so poor that..."

Yo mama's so poor, when I rang the doorbell she leaned out the window and said "DING!"

Yo mama's so poor, the mat on her front porch says "Wel."

Yo mama's so poor, I saw her doing headspins on a Cheerios box in front of Goodwill for a piece of Wonder bread.

Yo mama's so poor, she's got more furniture on her porch than in her house.

Yo mama's so poor, she has to wear her McDonald's uniform to church.

Yo mama's so poor, she has to do drive-by shootings on the bus.

Yo mama's so poor, I asked her what's for dinner and she pulled out a gun and said "Next one who moves!"

Yo mama's so poor, when I was taking family portraits for you and said "Cheese!" she went looking for the line.

Yo mama's so poor, when I saw her kicking a can down the street, I asked her what she was doing, she said "Ain't you ever seen a mobile home?"

Yo mama's so poor, I saw her wrestling a squirrel for a peanut.

Yo mama's so poor, the closest thing to a car she has is a low-rider shopping cart with a box on it.

Yo mama's so poor, she can't even put her two cents in this conversation.

Yo mama's so poor, when I saw her walking down the street with one shoe and said "Hey miss, lost a shoe?" she said "Nope, just found one!"

Yo mama's so poor, when I saw her kicking a can down the street, I asked her what she was doing, she said "Moving."

Yo mama's so poor, her BOSS pants are unemployed.

Yo mama's so poor, I lit a match in her house and the roaches started singing "Clap your hands, stomp your feet, praise the Lord 'cause we got heat!"

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house, two roaches tripped me and a rat stole my wallet.

Yo mama's so poor, I went to her house and tore down some cob webs, and she said "Who's tearing down the drapes?"

Yo mama's so poor, the bank repossesed her cardboard box.

Yo mama's so poor, she had to get a second mortgage on her cardboard box.

Yo mama's so poor, she sits on the corner with a bunch of roaches singin' "We are family!"

Yo mama's so poor, when I saw her rolling some trash cans around in an alley, I asked her what she was doing, she said "Remodeling."

Yo mama's so poor, I threw a rock at a trash can and she popped out and said "Who knocked?"

Yo mama's so poor, I saw her shaking a can around and asked her what she was doing and she said "Redecorating."

Yo mama's so poor, I came over for dinner and saw 3 beans on the table, I took one and she said "Don't be greedy."

Yo mama's so poor, I came over for dinner and she read me recipes.

Yo mama's so poor, she went to McDonald's and put a milkshake on layaway.

Yo mama's so poor, she has to take the trash IN.

Yo mama's so poor, I went through her front door and ended up in the back yard.

Yo mama's so poor, her front and back doors are on the same hinge.

Yo mama's so poor, I went through her front door and tripped over the back fence.

Yo mama's so poor, her doormat doesn't say "Welcome," it says "Welfare."

Yo mama's so poor, when I stepped on her doormat she said "Hey, you can't go upstairs."

Yo mama's so poor, I stepped on her skateboard and she said "Hey, get off the car!"

Yo mama's so poor, I went into her house and saw a bunch of cockroaches sittin' around the toilet singin' "We are family!"

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house and stepped on a cigarette butt and she said, "Hey, who turned off the heater?"

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house and swatted a firefly and Yo Mama said, "Who turned off the lights?"

Yo mama's so poor, I went into her house and flushed a cockroach down the toilet and she said, "Hey, where'd Grandma go?"

Yo mama's so poor, when I went to use her bathroom, I saw a roach sitting on a Pepsi can talkin' `bout "Wait your turn!"

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house, asked to use the bathroom, and she gave me two sticks. I asked her what the sticks were for and she said "One's to hold up the ceiling, the other is to fight off the roaches."

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house, asked to use the bathroom, and she said "3rd tree to your right."

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house, asked to use the bathroom, and she handed me a shovel and said "May the force be with you."

Yo mama's so poor, I walked into her house, asked to use the bathroom, and she said "Two buckets to your left."

Yo mama's so poor, she watches TV on an Etch-A-Sketch.

Yo mama's so poor, your TV got 2 channels: ON and OFF.

Yo mama's so poor, they put her picture on food stamps.

Yo mama's so poor, she waves around a popsicle stick and calls it air conditioning.

Yo mama's so poor, she can't even afford to pay attention.

Yo mama's so poor, she can't even afford to go to the free clinic.

Yo mama's so poor, when she heard about the last supper, she thought she ran out of food stamps.

Yo mama's so poor, she goes to Kentucky Fried Chicken to lick other people's fingers.

Yo mama's so poor, TV dinner trays are her good china.

Yo mama's so poor, when I went over to her house for dinner and grabbed a paper plate, she said "Don't use the good china!"

Yo mama's so poor, she married young just to get the rice!

Yo mama's so poor, burglars break in and leave money.

Yo mama's so poor, people rob her house for practice.

Yo mama's so poor, she eats cereal with a fork to save milk.

Yo mama's so poor, she got arrested for breaking the gum-ball machine because it didn't take food stamps.

Yo mama’s so poor, I walked into her house, asked what was for dinner, so she lit my pockets on fire and said "Hot Pockets."

Yo mama's so poor, when I sat on the couch a roach said "Get the hell off! I pay rent."

Yo mama's so poor, when I asked what was for dinner, she pulled her shoelaces off and said "Spaghetti."

Yo mama's so poor, after I pissed in your yard, she thanked me for watering the lawn.

Yo mama's so poor, even the Republicans were willing to give her welfare.

Yo mama's so po, she can't even afford the last two letters.

Dinner last night: The Friday pre-game French Dip at Philippe's.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Your August 2008 Weekend Movie Guide

Let's hop into the Buick, pull the speaker off the pole, and have ourselves a time.

If you're picking a movie for your Saturday night viewing pleasure, let me help to sort out the dirty details. Using the LA Times movie listings, let's see what's out there. My knee-jerk reactions are on the way.

Wall-E: I saw it and was strangely underwhelmed. The first half-hour where he is trapped on Earth is incredibly charming. Once they move to the space station, it becomes an episode of Star Trek using a fat farm as the cast. Way too much plot. Pixar movies should not be this complicated.

Mamma Mia!: I've already documented how bad this movie is. You're better off dusting off that Abba Greatest Hits CD, stripping down to your underwear, and singing along in your bedroom.

Pineapple Express: More toilet humor and vile language from Seth Rogan, who is perhaps one of the biggest mystery talents that Hollywood has ever given us. Years from now, are we going to hear that France considers him a genius? Send him to Iraq and then blow him up please.

Step Brothers: Speaking of shit, here's one more piece of it from Will Ferrell, also one of the biggest mystery talents that Hollywood has ever given us. I actually heard him, co-star John C. Reilly and the writer-director Adam McKay promoting this on NPR. They were actually touting their movie and belittling our troops in Iraq at the same time. McKay used to work on SNL and that hasn't had a clever moment since Phil Hartman's wife shot him. Send them all to Iraq and then blow them up please.

Brideshead Revisited: Hasn't this been around before? Shouldn't it be Brideshead Revisited Revisited?

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2: I will sadly admit to Netflixing the first one and it was entertaining. I probably would Netflix the second one. But, I would never ever see it in a theater. I don't think think you're admitted to the movie unless you go through an estrogen meter.

Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D: Still lingering like a bad cold. This was either filmed for those stupid glasses that you can't keep on your nose. Or maybe it was filmed in somebody's apartment.

Bottle Shock: A comedy about wine making. Who knew Ernest and Julio were such cut-ups?

Tropic Thunder: Normally I would sneer with disdain at a Ben Stiller/Jack Black comedy. But, the trailer (about actors making a movie in Vietnam) was hilarious. And Robert Downey Jr. playing a Black man has to be a stitch. On my list!

The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor: What have there been? Eleven or twelve Mummy sequels? Brendan Fraser probably can't even take pictures in his own living room without standing in front of a green screen.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: Woody Allen, apparently tired of America, makes yet another foreign movie, this time in Spain. When does he do one in China so his wife/daughter can meet the relatives?

Swing Vote: Kevin Costner and that means my ballot says no.

Man On Wire: A documentary on that knucklehead who walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center building back in the 70s. I'd see it, but, frankly, the thought of falling from that height now takes on a whole new meaning.

American Teen: A documentary that follows five teenagers through their senior year someplace in Indiana. I hear that it is incredibly staged and phony. Which probably means the teenagers actually come off as likeable.

The Dark Knight: I still have not gotten there. I will, I will. I promise. I feel like I'm the only one still wearing white tube socks.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: Now they are continuing the saga in cartoons. This saves on the hair dye they would need for Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford.

Elegy: Something with Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsley. The words "carnal desire" are used in one of the ads. That, at least, raises my chin off my chest. A friend of mine used to have the apartment next to Ben in West Hollywood and used to hear him all the time through the walls. Carnal desire, indeed.

Fly Me to the Moon: A 3-D cartoon about bugs flying to the moon. Listed among the voices are Buzz Aldrin and Kelly Ripa. Two names I would never ever expect to see in the same sentence.

Henry Poole is Here: I will not be there.

Hell Ride: Could be a documentary filmed in the back of a NYC cab.

Dinner last night: Salami sandwich.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Even I Can Be Sold on Something...

In over one year plus of blog posts here on this site, I guess you can say there are two themes that pretty much resound on a daily basis.


And, since I probably need to select a minor as well...


Yep, as far as I am concerned, nothing works. Nothing is what it is said to be. Everything is doomed to break down at some point. Everyone has an agenda. Nobody tells the truth. People are stupid. Folks are rude. And most Americans are such pinheads that they will buy into just anything they hear.

So, imagine my horror when I briefly joined the official roster of the Lemmings. And tried one of those miracle products you see on late night television. Up to now, as a regular watcher of the American Life network where TV spots generally sell for about 6 dollars a pop, I have been able to resist the urge to purchase a gas-powered wheelchair. Or one of those straps that would allow me and a friend to go around Los Angeles picking up pianos at will. And, since I don't have a dog, there is no need for me to hook myself up with some of that canine arthritis medicine that will very quickly enable my pooch to hop back on the couch and pee on one of the cushions.

But, then, I saw the ads for Kinoki Foot Pads.

Okay, these are some Japanese herbal pouches that you tape to the bottom of your feet overnight and they supposedly help you to detoxify your body while you sleep. Yeah, right. And, in the process, you have fewer headaches, less pain in your joints, and more of a spring in your step.

Hmmm. I doubt it.

But, then, I'm talking to a friend at work who tried the damn things. And she wound up with a lot less sinus headaches in the morning.

Hmmm. Okay, maybe.

And another friend also mentions some knee pain subsiding as a result.

I wind up on the Kinoki website and order a starter kit for about 15 bucks.

Okay, so the whole thing is tied to reflexology and the notion that most of your body channels into the bottom of you feet. I know there is some validity in this from a former neighbor of my mother who got into this in a big way and ended up with a side career as a foot massager. And these detox foot pads are supposed to work the same way. Positive ions go in. Negative ions go out. And all the metal waste inside of you is allegedly extracted. Just when did I eat that aluminum soda can?

You take this little packets and tape them to the bottom of your feet before you go to bed. They actually are very comfortable to walk on and I am wondering if Dr. Scholl's has taken note. Overnight, the white color of the pads next to your skin are supposed to turn a brown or gray shade as the "poisons" ooze out of your body.

Of course, after the first night, I was dying to look. And, sure enough, the official color of my body's toxins is a dark brown. But, I'm still a little jaded. I figure the sweat of your feet effects the color change.

Except, on subsequent mornings, the color fades more and more. I guess all that nasty copper I've ingested over time has started to decrease. And I also notice something else. After about a week with this Mr. Wizard science project wrapped to my feet, I realize that I have not awakened with a sinus headache for the entire seven days. Usually, I am good for at least two a week. And what about the arthritic toe that usually bothers me a couple of times a day? Pain free. Knee mobility? Greatly improved.


I'd be the last person to think this shit actually worked. And I have no clue why I'm having the results I am. But, at the same time...

I just re-ordered.

Dinner last night: Mesquite Chicken Salad at Chili's.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

C'est Mercredi!

On parle commedie ici, s'il-vous-plait.

---Except for Michael Phelps and swimming, I could give a Chinaman's ass about the Olympics. It was particularly de-lish that America won that swimming relay against the scummy French.

---The Parisians came in a close second and since when do they put up a good fight?

---Great idea for an Olympic scavenger hunt: Looking for a can of Right Guard in the French locker room.

---What the hell do we need the French for? Oh, yeah, pastries.

---I will never ever see Paris and I'm good to go with that.

---I watched the Opening Ceremony last Friday and it was a terrific way to get to sleep early. The whole thing looked like "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - The Musical."

---I saw lots of little Chinese girls dancing with scarves and I wondered how they got past the chopping block.

---After all, doesn't China have a history of taking their girl babies and....oh, never mind.

---I was a little confused watching George Bush at the opening. Isn't Obama already the President overseas?

---And I'm still catching up on the news. What's this about Russia invading Georgia? How the heck did they get past Tennessee??

---Talk about Russian invasions. They took over the Fairfax district in Los Angeles years ago.

---You walk around that neighborhood and you literally will see 80 year-old women pulling wagons into Whole Foods.

---Where they will proceed to tie up all the checkout lines by trying to pay for their yogurt with rubles.

---Mister Gorbachev, put that damn wall back up!

---John Edwards, we have the final tally on your political career. Congratulations, it's over!

---Years from now, we'll know that's really his kid when the boy grows up and starts to obsess over hair products.

---Just how sick does a wife have to be for John Edwards to support her?

---No one should be surprised about what a scumbag this guy is. After all, he spent years as an ambulance-chasing attorney and would sue hospitals on the premise that cerebral palsy is caused by inexperienced nurses.

---If the press had reported this a year ago like they should have, just how behind would Hillary be? My guess is that she wins the nomination with little Johnny's votes.

---And then the only way Obama goes on a European tour is via his own travel agent.

---By the way, if we can't say the word anymore, how come I saw a TV ad last night for the United Negro College Fund?

---Barack Obama once called him the most promising young politician in the country.

---He was talking about Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.

---Now in jail on a myriad of charges.

---Any comparisons between the two are purely coincidental.


---My writing partner brought up this random thought: Cy Young never got to win the Cy Young Award.

---Which reminds me of the other nagging question: If Tommy John has to have arm surgery again, just what do they call it now?

---Speaking of arm surgery, when do the Mets get to have their bullpen removed?

---When those guys come into a game, it's like the Tet Offensive all over again.

---If you are down four or more runs to the Mets in the seventh inning, hang in there. You probably win the game.

---Will Mr. and Mrs. Heilman please come and pick up your son Aaron? He's incredibly lost.

---I understand that the Dodgers' Andruw Jones is working the night shift down at Pink's on La Brea. Which will explain why most of the hot dogs are not landing in the buns.

---Manny Mania continues in LA as the Dodgers are now selling bandanas with fake dreadlocks attached. So, I guess that means they figured out what to do with all those used floor mops.

Au revoir. A bientot.

Dinner last night: The wonderful dinner buffet table at the Dodger Stadium Club.

Breach of Security

I'd like to blame it all on Matthew Broderick, but I don't think I can. There was no disembodied computer voice that came to me and asked, "Shall we play a game?"

Indeed, it was no game. And, over the past few days, I realized just how vulnerable all of us in this super digital---and nasty world.

It started innocently on Thursday when I returned from two days of clothes-drenching Chicago humidity. I got home and turned on my computer, idle since early Tuesday morning, to check e-mail and write a blog entry on my Midwestern adventures. For some reason, I could not access the Internet. Our high speed connection is via Broadband and Time Warner Cable. It has been pretty reliable. But, I immediately blamed it all on a bad signal and beckoned Time Warner to come and correct the situation.

The requisite "cable guy" showed up on Saturday and, after two plus hours, he determined the signal coming into the apartment was certainly strong. He had plugged in his own laptop and was immediately able to get into eBay to show me some new Hot Wheels collectibles that he had just purchased. After all, by the end of two hours, we had hit on a variety of small talky topics. But, the determination for me was that my computer, which also routes an internet signal to my roommate, was preventing it all from happening.

I enlisted the aid of a good friend, who also makes her living now as a professional computer repair specialist. After three hours plus on Sunday, she confirmed that something in my hardware or software, perhaps one firewall conflicting with another, was now not recognizing the Broadband signal. My heart bled as my computer left the building in pieces. It is in her home now undergoing one of those "Six Feet Under" autopsies. The mechanism will be fixed and ultimately good as new. I will learn that I need to do more regular updates and backups. My hand is officially slapped with the nun's ruler. But, I consider just why I am in such a position. Always convinced that there is hacking a-plenty in the big, bad virtual world, I have over-protected myself with more secure boundaries than Switzerland. And even that renders me useless.

But, at the same time, I didn't realize that those same villains without faces were working their evil on another part of my life. Specifically my bank account.

Saturday morning, I got a voicemail from Washington Mutual's fraud department, which had spotted some "suspicious" activity on my debit checking card. After waiting 35 minutes for the "next available agent," I could confirm that, yes, some scumbag was playing fast and loose with my card and pin number making over two thousand dollars of purchases in Macy's located in City of Industry and Downey. I could attest that I had never been in City of Industry and Downey, because they are two places I wouldn't be caught dead in since, if I were, I would be caught dead in them. Given the locales, I can pretty much be 99.9% percent sure that the culprit is either Black or Mexican and quite possibly illegal. Of course, I killed my card and thanked the bank for their due diligence. I will be living on credit cards and cash the next week. And without computer access at home to boot. The invasion to my world is despicable, annoying, inexcusable, and ultimately manageable.

But I thought about this for more than a moment. I thought about Macy's. Because they probably didn't check for photo identification to accompany whatever this common piece of trash had printed up on the Acme ATM Card maker in his basement, they will be out over 2000 dollars in merchandise. I'm inconvenienced for a while, the store suffers a financial loss, and some pile of shit with either a faux African first name and perhaps a "Z" in his last name is wearing some smart Calvin Klein shirt. I consider the wild-ass notions of a super-liberal friend of mine, who has always connoted the spectre of crime to a poor economic environment. Oh, puh-leze. The rat bastard using my debit card number was probably buying big ticket items, not Fruit Loops for the breakfast table.

I know now, one more time, that average American citizens are not safe. We have no recourse and little help from anyone. And we have political leaders and would-be leaders who don't give a rat's ass about any of us. Let's face it. Barack Obama and John McCain have not uttered a sincere word to any of us since their campaigns began. Who else can we believe or trust? Senor Sleazebag, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, just passed a city ordinance banning plastic bags, while ignoring the death of several innocent people at the hands of illegal alien gang bangers. One-time Presidential hopeful John Edwards told lies for over a year and his Pinocchio-like nose grew almost as long as the other body part that he can't keep in his pants. How about Detroit Kwame Kilpatrick, the dude with the pretentious African name, who was elected on the promise of bringing "change" to the political scene in Detroit? Nope. He's in jail now and used that "change" to call his lawyer.

Yep, our leaders don't care. We are all alone. So, in lieu of being out and about, we need to hunker down some more. And hide in closets and underneath beds.

As for me, I'm signing onto Lifelock. As soon as Washington Mutual sends me my new debit card.

Dinner last night: Toucan sandwich at Islands.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Monday Morning Video Laugh - August 11, 2008

Bloopers from "The Price Is Right."

Dinner last night: Dried cappacollo and roasted peppers on sourdough.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite TV Shows: #8!!

You're probably thinking right now. Hmmmm....

"An odd choice for such a high rank?"

"I hadn't thought of that show for years."

"When the hell was that on???"

Well, maybe it is an weird choice for such a high rank on my list. And, even I hadn't thought of the show for years. And, it was on NBC for only two seasons from 1967 through 1969.

"The Mothers-In-Law" was a hallmark show of my youth. And later became a very interesting part of my life some thirty years after its premiere. I will elaborate and caution you at the same time. In the body of this post, shameless namedropping will occur.

Once again, during its original primetime run, I was led to this Sunday night show by my grandmother. Back then, Sunday nights were meant for America to connect with Ed Sullivan, who had his finger on the pulse of the nation's entertainment scene. But, as he gravitated towards nothing but Motown groups and endless chats with Topo Gigio, my grandmother was ready to disconnect.

"Ed Sullivan? He's got too many n%g*ers and puppets!"

Indeed, she had never really forgiven him for bringing over the Beatles and "all that hippie style."

Her TV dial drifted over to "The Mothers-In-Law." And, as usual, I followed.

"The Mothers-In-Law" was safe and fun. As developed by "I Love Lucy" creators, the late Bob Carroll Jr. & Madelyn Pugh Davis, and executive produced by none other than Desi Arnaz, the show was essentially a throwback to the 1950s. In reality, "The Mothers-in-Law" was nothing more than an extension of what might have happened if the Ricardos and the Mertzes had children and then they married. Reviewers called it "old hat."

In the living room on 15th Avenue in Mount Vernon, we loved it. The cast, as led by Eve Arden and Kaye Ballard, was marvelous and I remembered us laughing a lot. For budgetary reasons, "The Mothers-in-Law" didn't make it past its second season. We noticed its cancellation. Not many others did. And, except for maybe a few years being rerun on WNEW Channel 5 in NY, "The Mothers-in-Law" drifted away to whatever oblivion marginally successful TV shows enter. Sadly, I never really gave it a second thought.

Until three decades later.

My writing partner and I have moved to LA. And we have become friends with Bob and Madelyn. We have even become business partners with Madelyn's stepson. And, one day, we are having lunch with these two legendary TV writers. As Bob ate French Fries off my partner's plate, the conversation surprisingly meandered off "I Love Lucy." Both Carroll and Davis started talking affectionately about Desi Arnaz. And doing "The Mothers-in-Law." I mentioned how I used to love watching it with my grandmother, although I did not share that it was due to her disdain for specific races and/or Italian puppets. We all lamented that the show was not available for viewing anymore.

And then my partner and I got to thinking. There was, at the time, a magazine devoted to articles on retro TV shows. I queried the publisher if there would be any interest in running a story on "The Mothers-In-Law." She bought in big time.

"People have been dying to see it again."

So, two would-be TV writers suddenly became magazine writers. And set about researching anything and everything about "The Mothers-in-Law."

Spending time on this with Bob and Madelyn was a slam dunk. We formally taped an interview with them in Madelyn's home office, while I salivated over a huge framed and autographed wall poster of Lucy and Ethel on the candy factory assembly line. But, it was also key for us to hook up with the surviving cast as well. Madelyn very matter-of-factly offered up what she knew.

"Well, Eve's dead."

But she also knew that Kaye Ballard had bought Desi's Palm Springs house. And she thought that veteran actor Herbert Rudley, who played Eve's husband, was living someplace in Marina del Rey.

Eleven years ago, there was the Internet, but IMDB was less reliable. We proceeded to do searches on Kaye, Herb, and the two actors who played the young married couple, Jerry Fogel and Deborah Walley.

When our investigative work on Rudley revealed that he had retired from acting in 1984, we went to a very obvious last resort. The Marina del Rey telephone book. Sure enough, there was a Herbert Rudley listed. After many coin flips and several days of procrastination, I picked up the phone and dialed the number.

"May I speak to Herbert Rudley, please."

"This is he."

I gulped again.

"Is this the actor Herbert Rudley?"

"Yes, it is."


And, amazingly, after only five minutes on the phone, he invited us down to spend an afternoon at his condo. He was close to 90, but amazingly compliant with memories. Not only about "The Mothers-in-Law," but also about his film career in the 40s and 50s. He also regaled us with the tale of how he and Ingrid Bergman made out in the back of a sedan. We were astonished at how welcome he made us feel, given we were complete strangers who had essentially "cold-called" him out of the clear blue sky. And he shared with us for copying his complete collection of "Mothers-In-Law" episodes, which were recorded on that old trusty VCR.

We found Kaye Ballard through her agent, but she was equally accommodating and invited us down to her (Desi's) house in Palm Springs for lunch. Not only was she a fabulous host, but her assistant concocted some dynamite garlic toast. I remember using her bathroom and, as I peed, found myself staring at a painting done by Red Skelton. The only thing I ever saw while I was peeing back in Mount Vernon was my mother's can of Caryl Richards Just Wonderful Hard to Hold hair spray.

We moved on to tracking down the actors who played the newlyweds. To be efficient, we divided them up between us. I did my detective work on Jerry Fogel, who played Jerry Buell. He had given up acting and Hollywood. I traced him to some real estate/financial investment company in Kansas City. As I was not budgeted or really interested for a trip to the Midwest, Jerry and I spent 90 minutes on the phone and he waxed fondly about all his acting memories.

My partner had it a bit harder to track down former "Gidget" Deborah Walley, who had apparently did some hard living in the wild and wooly Hollywood of the 60s and perhaps evaporated into a narcotic haze. Somehow and someway, he talked to somebody who knew somebody else who knew where she was living in Sedona, Arizona. When he finally got her on the phone, the Deborah Walley who was some goofy teen starlet/air head/pot head of previous decades had morphed into a crafty businesswoman and proud mother. More importantly, she was very candid about her past and was even more interested in our future. Several months later, she moved back to Los Angeles to try and start up her acting career one more time. We got together from time to time. And, for some reason, my partner and Deborah developed a unique on-line relationship of trading jokes, stories, etc.. Indeed, he was on the short list of her friends who received the news a few years later that she had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer of the esophagus. He was on the e-mail cc: list when she sent out a note to close associates that talked about she wanted to aggressively beat the dreaded disease. And he got the e-mail news from her assistant when she finally succumbed to her illness in 2001.

All of the research and interviews lended to a terrific story when it finally appeared in the magazine. Moreover, thanks to Herb's tapes, I got to revisit a show that I had not seen in over 30 years. A bit "old hat?" Perhaps. But, the writing and acting was spot on. Crisp, clean, and professional. And there were certain episodes that I would put alongside other sitcom classics. One show featured the in-laws and the newlyweds participating in a group therapy session. The final scene of that script featured some of the best writing that I have ever heard in any comedy show ever.

Another episode was super-clever, because it employed the no-longer-used-by-Hollywood theater of the mind. Harkening back to the days of radio when you didn't have to visually absorb something in order to get to the comedy. The kids have moved and the two in-law couples sneak into their new digs one at a time to inspect. Each of them winds up piling into an old armoire when they are caught. Of course, at the end of the scene, the kids have sold the armoire and the delivery guys show up to take it. The armoire is tipped on its side, rolled onto a dolly, and dragged out of the room. Of course, you know the actors aren't really inside. But, for the moments you are suspending reality, there are waves of laughter that I have never heard before from the legendary "live studio audience." Brilliant comedy. And it's even more amazing since Madelyn told us that particular script had been concocted quickly over a single weekend.

Here's an equally funny segment. Eve and Kaye are locked in a department store and, well, you probably can imagine the rest. Enjoy.

After the article, we tried to pitch a reunion of the surviving cast and writers to the Museum of TV and Radio. They didn't bite. Now, sadly, that is impossible. Bob Carroll Jr. has passed on. So have Herb and Deborah. But we still send Madelyn a floral arrangement every Christmas, and, of course, still work with her stepson. Kaye was in touch for a while via holiday cards and keeps talking about getting the show out on DVD.

I concur. And we are available to do the accompanying commentary track. Heck, who better to do it than us?

Well, maybe my grandmother.

Dinner last night: Hollywood Bowl Hot Dog.