Sunday, June 25, 2017

Gee, but I'd give the world to see that old 'Gong' of Chuck's

By Steve Crum

The new and unimproved The Gong Show premiered last week, starring British comic Tommy Maitland. The joke is he is really Mike Myers in disguise. Now that's funny. He's nowhere near a Chuck Barris, but that's OK. (It has to be since Chuck is no longer with us.) The original Gong Show featured outrageous but entertaining acts like The Unknown Comic and Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine. And last week's episode had some eccentric acts of the same caliber.

HOWEVER, the winning act was a married couple who repeatedly spit bananas from mouth to mouth. Their finale was literally spitting (appearing to be puking) mushed up bananas into each other's mouths. Gross is not quite the word. Disgusting is closer. So naturally these two took First Place. 

If this is a hint of things to come, please rename this program The Gag/Vomit Show.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Name That Great Tommy Tune

By Steve Crum

It was great seeing (and hearing) Tommy Tune on stage during Sunday's Tony Awards show. I was reminded of a story a late friend, Janet Laird, told me about her experience with the tall, talented dancer years ago when he was performing in Kansas City. Janet and her family ventured backstage after Tune's show to congratulate him.

But they were stopped outside his dressing room by a security guard who went way past his duty, proceeding to berate Janet about daring to bother a star like Tommy Tune. The guard screamed loud enough that Tommy Tune himself opened his dressing room door, and ran out to confront the scene. Tommy then yelled at the security guy for being rude to his fans, and asked Janet and her family to return with him to his dressing room. They did, and stayed about 30 minutes, visiting and laughing with Mr. Tune. 

That speaks volumes for this Broadway icon.

Friday, June 2, 2017

By Zeus! ‘Wonder Woman’ succeeds as very good, but not quite super

By Steve Crum
Believe me, I really wanted Wonder Woman to be better than it is…and a great deal of it is very good. But the pluses are offset by stretches of mundane dialogue and overused slow motion effects. Overwrought is the key word. When Wonder Woman is good, it is compellingly fun. But when the Amazonian warrior is shown for the 37th time in mid-air, slo-mo battle pose, it is a yawner. 
Thank goodness most of the DC Comic-based film is laced with a savvy script full of witticisms that make light of “civilized” world mores. Gal Gadot is well cast as Diana Prince aka Wonder Woman, and Star Trek’s Chris Pine is fine as her would be sidekick and (ultimately) boyfriend, Steve Trevor. As directed by Patty Jenkins (Monster), Allan Heinberg’s screenplay encompasses a backstory set during WWI. In fact, Diana Prince opens the film narrating a flashback of her growing up on the hidden island of Themyscira. Inhabitants are female descendants of Greek gods with Diana herself the daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus, and fashioned of clay. 
Diana’s island background forms the first third of the film, and it is a first rate telling. We see her as a child yearning to be like the Amazonian warriors she admires. When Diana eventually grows to adulthood, she begs her mother, Queen Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), to train as a warrior—from sword fighting to hand to hand combat. Despite her mother’s refusal, Diana is encouraged by her aunt and mother’s sister, General Antiope (Robin Wright), to learn military techniques. 
Her training pays off when US Army Captain Steve Trevor (Pine) crash lands off shore, pursued by German troops. Then we get the Amazonian army on horseback defending their homeland against foreign invaders. In the process, Diana saves Steve’s life. He’s the first man she has ever seen, which leads to some awkward, funny moments…which leads to a friendship…which leads to boat travel to Great Britain (Steve’s a double agent) together. Wonder Woman’s incentive is to end WWI by defeating the entity she believes to be causing the war, the evil god Ares.  
After this point, the Wonder Woman saga bogs down a bit with pacing at fault. In England she experiences women’s rights as well as clothing issues. When she is in the trenches at "No Man’s Land," she disrobes to her colorful (and brief) Wonder Woman costume to heroically lead the charge versus the Huns. These are choice cinematic moments indeed. 
However, by the time Wonder Woman confronts Ares, and an epic battle ensues, the film loses its pace. Slow motion and explosions dominate. It is the same criticism I had with last year’s Superman v Batman battle finale. It is overkill, literally and figuratively. 
I do have to recognize some effective villainous work by David Thewlis as Sir Patrick Morgan. Evilness is also personified by both Danny Huston's German General Ludendorff as well as Elena Anaya’s Doctor Maru aka Doctor Poison. [Pictured here.] On the flip side, welcome comic relief is supplied by Lucy Davis as Steve Trevor's affable, loyal secretary.
With all the hype about Wonder Woman heralding the age—finally—of a female superhero headlining a major Hollywood production, expectations of A+ quality were abundant. Despite its shortcomings, Wonder Woman will undoubtedly make the box office gods ecstatic. 
Trimming 10 minutes from its 141 minutes running time might have helped. 

GRADE on an A-F Scale: B

Friday, May 5, 2017

Second ‘Guardians’ is not quite great, but very Groot

By Steve Crum
It’s James Gunn’s fault—that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is such a fun, far-out space trip. As both screenwriter and director, Gunn has fashioned a highly successful franchise from a Marvel comic book series that began in 1969.  His 2014 Guardians of the Galaxy was a mega box office hit, and Vol 2 will likely top it. (Vol. 3 is already planned.)
This second volume is pretty terrific, a must-see. It suffers a bit from being a sequel in that characters are already firmly defined. (The revelation of their personas was a plus in the previous film.) In this second movie, the surprise factor of the first is mostly missing, save for Groot’s younger incarnation. That said, there are plenty of new characters and adventures that satisfy. 
For those who might be new to this block of the Marvel universe, Guardians’ central character is Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) aka The Star-Lord, a half-human, half-Celestial. He leads a crew of mixed aliens that include a talking raccoon (Rocket, voiced by Bradley Cooper); the 20-something, human looking, green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana); Drax the Destroyer, a muscle bound brute with insulting humor (Dave Bautista); and Baby Groot (called merely Groot in the first flick), a tree-like humanoid (voiced by Vin Diesel).  Baby Groot measures about a foot high. Ah yes, the cycle of plants. 
Just accept that these five beings are on a continual, united quest to protect the universe…er,  the galaxy from harm. In the process, expect Looney Tunes zaniness. Go from there. 
The story opens in flashback to a Missouri town in 1980, and we are introduced to a young (digitalized) Kurt Russell as he courts the Star-Lord’s future mother. So Russell, called Ego, is also Peter’s dad. Flash forward to an unknown planet with an ensuing battle between the Guardians and a humongous, tentacled killer creature. From this point, the primary comedy relief is the adorable Baby Groot who, like a true toddler, tends to aimlessly wander during the mayhem. Throughout the film, Rocket tries to teach him basic survival, which leads to even more cute, funny sequences. Groot’s only comment, ever, is “I am Groot.” That phrase, having multiple interpretations, is a running gag lasting through the end credits. Speaking of such, be sure to stay until they shut off the theatre lights. Multiple scenes have been added. 
Our Guardian heroes encounter dozens of wild, colorful, wicked, and vengeful types. Expect Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker), a blue-skinned pirate featured in the first Guardians installment. He’s the one with the deadly arrow. His part has been extended and expanded. Ayesha (Elizabeth Debicki) is High Priestess of the Sovereigns, a race of gold-covered beings. Karen Gillan’s Nebula is the robotic looking, adopted sister of Gamora. 
However, most of the plot centers on Ego and Peter, a cataclysmic father and son relationship. 
Incidentally, casting Chris Pratt as the lead is genius. His brilliant, arrested development, man-child Andy Dwyer in TV’s Parks and Recreation seems to be a close cousin of the more savvy and responsible Peter Quill. Both are free spirited and unconventional. 
PS: Look for a fast cameo by David Hasselhoff, and an extended cameo by Sylvester Stallone. Leave us not forget Stan Lee. 

GRADE on an A-F Scale: B+

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Remembering HANS CONRIED...50 years ago

By Steve Crum

A belated birthday note to the late Hans Conried, who was born April 15. The great character actor, mainly comic character actor, is well known for his work on The Danny Thomas Show, Fractured Flickers, his voice work on Jay Ward's animated classics, and various movies and TV shows.

In 1967, I was fortunate to see him live on the Kansas State Teachers College stage (Albert Taylor Hall) in the light comedy, Absence of a Cello. Ruth McDevitt and Florida Friebus (the mom on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis) co-starred. He toured with Absence after its Broadway run. What a wonderful, hilarious evening at the theatre.

Conried died of a massive heart attack on Jan. 5, 1982 at the relatively young age of 64.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Long lived the king of insult laughs: DON RICKLES

By Steve Crum

Honoring the memory of 90 year-old Don Rickles, who passed away yesterday, April 6, enjoy this smattering of unique moments in his comedic (and sometimes dramatic--via Run Silent, Run Deep) showbiz career. 

Due to ever increasing "political correctness" (damn, I hate that phrase), insult comedy has died with Rickles. Mr. Warmth made funny insults an art unto himself. 
A familiar scene for Johnny Carson and The Tonight Show fans, this 1968 photo was taken the hilarious time Don Rickles interrupted a shtick featuring Carson and some Japanese young ladies massaging him. Johnny soon pushed Don into a bathtub.

Mr. Warmth interacts with The Beatles at a function in 1964. Well, TWO of The Beatles: Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

Don Rickles is probably doing his comedy insult bit with Clark Gable during a break in filming Run Silent, Run Deep (1958). Gable starred, along with Burt Lancaster, and Rickles gave a fine performance in support.

Rickles made the cover of this September 1971 Jimmy Olsen comic book, flanked by a couple of superheroes, including Superman. Rickles is featured within the book as drawn form.

Guest host Frank Sinatra does his best to control Don Rickles during a 1977 The Tonight Show.


Peacefully rest, you hockey puck of hockey pucks. #

Friday, March 31, 2017

Holocaust tale ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’ exudes hope among tears

By Steve Crum
Emotionally wrenching in many ways, The Zookeeper’s Wife succeeds as a fact-based story of love and perseverance. It echoes Schindler’s List, although not nearly so graphic, in depictions of Nazi atrocities against the Jews. The zoo setting is the difference here, so be prepared for one particular sequence involving Nazi soldiers rifling and machine gunning zoo animals. It is a stomach turning minute.
Knowing that the film involves Nazis taking over a zoo during WWII, and not having read Diane Ackerman’s non-fiction best seller of the same name, I had misguided expectations. Over 50 years ago, I had seen Hannibal Brooks, the 1969 Oliver Reed-starring movie about a Nazi-run Munich zoo. British POW “Hannibal” kidnaps an Asian elephant to protect the creature from Allied bombing of that zoo. Compelling as Hannibal Brooks might sound, rest assured that The Zookeeper’s Wife has little in common.
Directed by Niki Caro (Whale Rider; North Country) and adapted by Angela Workman, The Zookeeper’s Wife recounts the keepers of Poland’s Warsaw Zoo, which still exists, in dealing with the German invasion on Sept. 1, 1939 and its extended aftermath. The story encompasses the city of Warsaw as well, particularly the persecution and containment of Jews in the so-called Warsaw Ghetto. (By the way, most of the filming was in Prague.) 
The film opens weeks before the invasion wherein zookeeper Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh) and his wife Antonina (Jessica Chastain) are hosting a cocktail party on zoo grounds with friends and colleagues. Among the group is Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl), a German zoologist. Soon after the invasion, Heck shows up at the zoo’s gate, sporting his Nazi SS uniform. He has become an oppressive foe. (Remember how the young Rolfe turned Nazi in The Sound of Music?) To make matters worse, Heck lusts for—yep—the zookeeper’s wife. 
It is Antonina, in fact, who is the central character of the story. It is she who we first see bicycling on the zoo grounds with one of her many pets, a baby dromedary, freely galloping along in back of her. It is Antonina who we see tenderly help a frantic mother elephant care for its newborn. It is also Antonina who, along with her husband, devises a scheme to rescue hundreds of Jews from the ghetto. In the secretive process, she must also keep her ex-friend Nazi at sexual bay. It is a daunting task fraught with risk. 
Chastain’s acting is impressive, as are Heldenbergh’s, Brühl’s, and Shira Haas as the suffering Jewish teen, Urszula. 
Running six minutes over two hours, The Zookeeper’s Wife is a tearful reminder of the Holocaust and one’s will to survive. 

GRADE on an A-F Scale: B