Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Johnny Carson, 20 Years Later

20 years ago, people really didn't know what the internet was, facebook, blogs, and smartphones didn't exist, I was still driving my treasured red 1967 ford mustang when you could buy gas at a reasonable price, and on this very day all those years ago, Johnny Carson said "goodbye" on his very last "Tonight Show." And I got to watch it when it happened.
As I've written in the past, "Tonight" is one of those things I have close ties to. Years ago, on a summer family trip to Los Angeles, my parents and I almost got to see a Carson taping, but the line got cut off, and so did we. Comedian Robert Klein was one of the guests that night. I still have the ticket. Even though I didn't get to see the show, I did go on a tour of NBC studios and even got to stand on the star where Johnny stood for that famous opening monologue. I even took an imaginary golf swing.

"The Tonight Show" meant a lot to me when I was growing up. My parents let me stay up on school nights to watch the monologue, and I developed a Johnny Carson impression  (although I think it was based primarily on Rich Little's impression of Johnny). I even performed it at school, but I'm pretty sure my grade school counterparts had no idea what I was doing. It was still fun for me.
Johnny was a lot of things to this country, but perhaps most of all, he was a great source of comfort. No matter what, you knew that if you wanted a chuckle, Mr. Carson and his team would be there for you, night after night.
 Some years after that summer trip, I visited L.A. again, and got the rare honor of sitting down to talk with Steve Allen, the very first host of "Tonight," when it was based in New York City. Back then it was a longer show, and it was also live. Mr. Allen was a comic genius, and was very gracious when I met him at his office, and even autographed his biography for me.
After Steve Allen, Jack Paar was the next host. He took on more serious guests. I wrote to him to request an autograph, but never got a response. I later learned that he had become somewhat of a recluse. He was
followed by Johnny as host, then after Johnny, some tumultuous times as Jay Leno took over the show.

In later years, both he and David Letterman were vying for the spot. The story is told well in a book called "The Late Shift," by Bill Carter. It's an excellent read. I saw Leno's tonight show on another visit to Los Angeles, and was not impressed.
Of course, we all know about Conan O'Brien's brief stint as host. I met Conan in New York when he was hosting the show that follows the Tonight Show. Nice guy--very tall. I saw his show in NYC, then flew out to L.A. to see him host his 3rd Tonight Show. He was unfairly treated when NBC got Jay to come back and Conan eventually went to TBS. A real mess. Bill Carter wrote a book about that too. Also a good read.
I wonder what Johnny would say about our digital revolution, about the political scene, what jokes he would have in the monologue. I still miss his reassuring tone, his laughter, and Ed McMahon, Doc Severinsen and the band after all this time. But I sure am glad I got to stay up and watch the curtains part and hear the crowd cheer as Johnny took the stage, and felt the pulse of the nation. For me, and millions of others, it was magical. Thanks Johnny!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Political Picks

The 2012 Presidential campaign is well underway, and if you're looking for a companion movie to leave the pundits behind, there are plenty to choose from. I just picked 5 of my favorites.

tt0074119.jpg1. All The President's Men--Who couldn't love (or hate) this 1976 political thriller that tells the story of how two real-life news men broke the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Nixon? Well played by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford, lead an all star cast in this classic.

tt0068334.jpg2. The Candidate--Just four years before he took a much more serious role in my #1 pick, Redford played a bubble gum-chewing candidate for U.S. Senate who didn't really have a chance of winning, so he just spoke his mind. The idea backfired in his favor. The very last line of the movie is still one of my favorites. Look out for Peter Boyle in a great supporting role. Redford has stated that he thought about revisiting the character, but for now, enjoy a look at the first film.

tt0103850.jpg3. Bob Roberts--Jump ahead 20 years, and you've got the always enjoyable Tim Robbins in a documentary (sort of) about a folk-singing candidate for U.S. Senate. Robbins wrote many of the songs in the movie, but when asked about why no soundtrack was released, he said he worried it might be manipulated, and he's probably right. Many Bob Dylan references make it one of my favorites. Watch out for a young Jack Black and James Spader among many others in this one.

tt0114738.jpg4. Truman--A fine HBO film starring Gary Sinise as Harry S. Truman, a man who started from literally the bottom of the political rung who eventually climbed to the highest spot on the ladder. The makeup artists did a fantastic job of making him look like the great man, and his story is a fascinating one indeed. But the buck doesn't stop here...

tt0031679.jpg5. Mr. Smith Goes To Washington--Of course, I had to put this one in--it's too much of a gem (no pun intended). Frank Capra directs Jimmy Stewart as a junior Senator from the midwest who winds up fighting political corruption. His nemesis? None other than the magnificent Claude Rains.

Naturally, there are many other political films out there--definitely no shortage of them, and I'm sure we all have our faves.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Trust the Captain

Red, white, and blue, WWII, a cosmic cube, and Nazis. Marvel's final film leading up to "The Avengers" packs a punch in "Captain America: The First Avenger." Not only would the superhero franchise dip into our WWII past, but they would also show us a little of the future as they bring Captain into the modern world to lead the Avengers. Chris Evans plays the super soldier with a supporting cast that includes Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Stanley Tucci and Hayley Atwell. This is Marvel's strongest film since the first "Iron Man" back in 2008. From top to bottom, Joe Johnston does an excellent job of turning this eager boy into an American icon. As always, there are plenty of hidden gems in the movie (including that cube I mentioned...you will see more of that soon). "Captain America: The First Avenger" is what Marvel movie making is all about. I wore my Captain America shirt to "The Avengers" premiere for a reason the other night...when all else fails...you can trust the Captain!

TV Say What????

In a new segment called TV Say What, I go after ridiculous writing on the small screen. Before I begin my rant, I should point out that about 80% of TV show scripts are already rotten, but I'm specifically going after those that should know better.

This past week, CBS aired a special two-parter tie-in for two of their popular shows, "Hawaii Five-O," and "NCIS: Los Angeles." In a nutshell, it all had to do with a rogue scientist who wanted to stage a smallpox attack. Now, I don't normally watch "NCIS: LA," but I am a fan of "Hawaii Five-O," now in its sophomore season. It does a pretty good job, and is dependable week in and week out. But since this was a two-part ep., I set the ol' DVR to record the NCIS ep. as well.

In the first place, they easily could have made this a 5 parter, spread over different CBS shows. The reason I'm particularly interested in the subject is primarily because I just finished a book called "The Demon in the Freezer," which deals with the eradication of naturally occurring Smallpox, as well as what's been done with the remaining stock, and what nations could do with it as a bioterror weapon. It's fascinating, and incredibly scary stuff. The book goes into great detail, and that's why I was so disappointed these shows downplayed the seriousness of it all.

We start with "Hawaii Five-O." A person in Hawaii dies of what appears to be smallpox. We're basically given a one-line explanation of why it isn't "too dangerous," and how it spreads. WHAT??!? In the first place, the officers who found the body of the victim would have been put under quarantine with armed guards. None of that happened. Secondly, how they handled this threat of manufactured Smallpox was all wrong. Officers track down the lab where patients were tested, then killed. They go in without masks, or protection of any kind. That's one of the most foolish things I've ever seen. They're all searching for a killer, they find the lab, with people inside who all were exposed to Smallpox, yet they're not even wearing masks.
Eventually, the CDC arrives, and wear their protective "space suits" as they handle dangerous material. One of the regular cast members asks the coroner if he should be wearing a mask. When the coroner says something to the effect of "Definitely," the detective, Danny Williams, known for his quips, and sense of humor even in the most dangerous of situations, says, "Yeah, ok," before he and another cast mate walk away from the scene (without masks), while the CDC team works in the background dressed from head to toe in protective gear. I guess it's more important to look and sound cool than to worry about some silly bacteria spoiling the fun.
This is one of the worst examples of "dumbing down" a very real threat to this country I've ever seen. Those 2 men would have been thoroughly examined before they ever left that crime scene, and most likely taken to a remote lab for more medical tests. That doesn't happen.

There's an LA connection (where the show tie-in comes into play), and at the end of the ep., we learn that the virus is on board a plane bound for the city of angels. Detectives rush into action, and go to LA. (Here's where that NCIS ep. begins) But they fear a public panic (natch), so they don't bother contacting the CDC. Of course not, when a 5 person team can handle a potential pandemic. Preposterous.
Once again, we're given the usual one line explanation of how Smallpox spreads, and apparently why we shouldn't be afraid of something more dangerous than a nuclear bomb. 2 computer geeks do set up a "pandemic scenario," to show us how it could spread. That's about as close to science as we get here.
All the while, police joke, and detectives never fall short of witty banter as they work to track down the potential killer.

Of course, they eventually track down the villain, a woman who wanted to tip the earth's balance by getting school kids around the world to spread the disease in their respective countries. But, alas, we never learn *exactly* how that would have been done, only that she ordered "special shirts," to be put in the kids' gift bags at an LA conference. That isn't just bad writing, that's skipping a major plot point that could have gone something like this:

"So you mean these shirts were made to deliver the Smallpox? But how?"
"See this part of the shirt? She's put the virus here, and this thread will dissolve after 48 hours, leaving the virus to go airborne."
"We've got to stop her."

You get the gist. Now, even if the science is flawed in the above dialogue, at least it gives the audience something they can understand. By the way CBS, if you're reading this, I made that up in about 15 seconds.

The point I'm trying to make with all of this is that the audience deserves so much more than watered down science. I don't mean to imply they should write a show only a doctor or scientist could understand, just give us more accurate portrayals of characters in deadly situations. The TV audience will be better served (and might even learn something!) and who knows, the writers could even wind up winning an award or two.

Friday, May 4, 2012

‘Toy Story 3′ Writer Michael Arndt in Talks to Rewrite ‘Hunger Games’ Sequel ‘Catching Fire’

‘Toy Story 3′ Writer Michael Arndt in Talks to Rewrite ‘Hunger Games’ Sequel ‘Catching Fire’
Posted on Friday, May 4th, 2012 by Russ Fischer

With a change in director, it isn’t surprising to see a new writer come on to The Hunger Games sequel Catching Fire, and now Michael Arndt, who won an Oscar for scripting Little Miss Sunshine, is in talks to work on the film with director Francis Lawrence.

Last year Simon Beaufoy (Slumdog Millionaire) and early this year wrote the first draft from Suzanne Collins‘ novel, but when Gary Ross walked away from the franchise, Lionsgate likely began to cast about for new writers, too. THR says he’ll have to work fast, as the film is still set to shoot late this summer, with an eye on a November 2013 release.

Here once again is the synopsis of Catching Fire. And I suppose a spoiler warning might be in order, though since this is a synopsis of the second book in a series, it’s fair to assume it could have details those who haven’t read the first volume (or seen the film) might not want to know.

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Rolling Thunder

Step 4 in the Avengers process proved to be the toughest. How does Marvel make a movie about a god of thunder that moviegoers can understand and comic book fans can still enjoy? Last year's "Thor" was under some heavy scrutiny during the early stages of production, but it came through in a big way at the box office. Another fantastic ensemble cast for Marvel here...Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Anthony Hopkins, Tom Hiddleston and more. "Thor" was the first Marvel movie to be released in 3D. Director Kenneth Branagh brought us all into Asgard for the very first time and it was a visual treat. The movie does a great job of keeping things simple. It doesn't try to have too much going on at once or overdo any of the action sequences. Some of its best parts occur when Thor and Jane (Natalie Portman) are on their adventure. "Iron Man 2" first introduced us to Black Widow. "Thor" introduces us to Hawkeye. Jeremy Renner plays the famous bow and arrow assassin, and although he doesn't do much in the film, it's just enough to plant the seed and make you want to see more. For a nice change of pace from some of the other superheroes, pop in "Thor" and you'll see that even gods can make for good, clean, fun.

Going Green

As we continue our marathon of films leading up to "The Avengers," it's time to take a look at the big green monster with anger issues. "The Incredible Hulk" came out in 2008 just one month after the success of "Iron Man." This was the second Hulk movie in 5 years....most people disliked Ang Lee's "Hulk" when it debuted to bad ratings in 2003. I liked Lee's version, but I enjoyed this version more. It's not easy being green...and it's especially not easy making a big green movie. Marvel stepped up their game for this second installment by getting Edward Norton to play Bruce Banner/HULK. William Hurt and Liv Tyler are also nice additions, but Jennifer Connolly is still my favorite Betty Ross (She provided a big spark in the 03 version). The problem with doing a HULK movie is that you've got to find the other side of the coin...a villain with enough force to deal with the green man. Enter Tim Roth as he eventually turns into The Abomination. As always, there are plenty of Marvel "Easter eggs" throughout...including references to Stark Industries and a Super Soldier serum. "The Incredible Hulk" is the forgotten one of these Marvel 5 films, but it's very enjoyable and shouldn't be overlooked. Marvel movies are known for having scenes after the credits that tease upcoming events. This movie has the best "tease" scene of the 5 films and it takes place before the credits roll ( So if you plan on watching it, you don't have to worry about scrolling through the credits). As you know, Edward Norton broke up with the green monster for reasons that we're not certain, but he will always have his "HULK SMASH," and we will always have this movie.