Saturday, December 26, 2009

It is matter over mind in retooled ‘Sherlock Holmes’


By Steve Crum

If ever there was a case of movie making style over substance, it is Guy Ritchie’s disastrously directed Sherlock Holmes, starring Robert Downey, Jr. in the title role. The obvious millions pumped into the film’s CGI effects, set design and star salaries are smothered by its piercingly loud music and sound effects, choppy, confusing editing, and heavy handed use of both slow and fast motion. There is a plot in there somewhere, if one’s ears and eyes can survive the extremities.

Ritchie, who made his name with the stylistic Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (1998), carries on his MTV-influenced ways with Holmes. During the numerous action sequences, for example, a punch to the jaw is done in slow motion, rapid cut to regular speed, followed by slow motion close-up to contorted face being hit, and then fast cut to combo fast and slow as the targeted guy either retaliates or slams against the wall while falling. It smacks, so to speak, of past movie fight scenes from Rocky, The Matrix, and Raging Bull. Unfortunately, Ritchie tries to create a sort of ballet about each of his half dozen or so slug sequences in Sherlock Holmes. It worked with Scorsese’s Raging Bull, but seems contrived under Ritchie’s hand.

Ritchie applies the slow-mo/fast-mo gimmicks throughout the film, even in mundane walking along the street bits. Jump cuts, wherein frames seem to be missing, are normal course. Example: a guy walks across the room, but suddenly he is on the other side of the room--sort of like The Flash. Orson Welles once criticized this kind of film direction as poor, since it calls attention to itself. The audience is drawn away from the plot and characters, and hooked into gawking at the tinsel of camera movements and editing. In a well directed film, paraphrasing Welles, one does not notice the direction. In Welles’ classic Citizen Kane, the directorial style, even with a fluid camera that seems to be penetrating roofs and windows, advances its pure storytelling.

That there is sparse plot to Sherlock Holmes is accentuated by Ritchie’s tedious, lengthy fight scenes. What is there left, really, without the violence? As sad and bothersome it is that the established dignified, laid back persona of sleuth Sherlock has been made-over into an unshaven, martial arts crime solver, the very least Ritchie and screenwriters Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg could have supplied is a plausible and fascinating plot. But no. Instead the vapor thin story is sandwiched between fists, knives and chains. Even Hans Zimmer’s music score has a metallic, clang sound and beat, reflecting what dominates on screen.

At least base elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original creation exist in Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes. Accompanying Holmes, who does display great forensic skills, is his ever faithful sidekick Dr. John Watson (Jude Law). Also present are Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade (Eddie Marsan), and Lord Blackwood (Mark Strong) who is villainous in the Professor Morarity tradition. There are also scenes in Holmes’ fabled Baker Street abode. Savor these positive inclusions as well as the fine 19th Century, London set design created by Sarah Greenwood.

The plot involves Holmes solving a series of brutal, seemingly ritualistic murders around London. After the murderer is caught, tried and executed, the murders begin again. Could it be the murderer has been resurrected? Holmes and Watson are forced to carry on their brilliant deductions, even if dark forces are involved. It could be that the seemingly helpless Irene Adler (Rachel McAdams) might know more than she claims. Again, this intriguing story line is veiled by punch and kick theatrics.

The sad thing about this Holmes version is that younger audiences, who probably have never seen any of the original 1930’s-’40s Rathbone versions of Holmes (or even 1959’s Peter Cushing take), will have only this introductory Downey version as their definitive Sherlock. The odds are even against their ever catching Jeremy Brett’s superb portrayal in BBC-TV’s 1980’s series.

Time to grab that Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes DVD set off the shelf and enjoy substance over style in crime solving. Even in black and white, the tried and true intellectual Holmes is more colorful than Downey’s. The stories are richer and more involving--with no kick boxing included.
--------------------
On an A to F Grade Scale: D


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: KEN MAYNARD & TARZAN


IN 1934, WHEN THIS ORIGINAL STILL was displayed in movie theaters around the world, KEN MAYNARD (July 21, 1895-March 23, 1973) was nearing the twilight of his cowboy movie star years. In fact, IN OLD SANTA FE was the end of the trail for his career at Mascot Pictures. Future cowboy star GENE AUTRY (Sept. 29, 1907-Oct. 2, 1998) appears in his film debut as Gene, a singer. A year later, in 1935, producer Nat Levine replaced recently fired Maynard in the sci-fi western The Phantom Empire with Autry. It was Autry's first starring role.
--------------------
That is KEN MAYNARD leaning on a trusty ol' convertible as his trusty ol' steed, TARZAN, looks on amongst the cacti and clouds. A barely visible Evalyn Knapp sits inside the car, cooing at Ken. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
Some cowpoke trivia: Cowboy hero sidekicks George "Gabby" Hayes and Smiley Burnette also appear in In Old Santa Fe.
Also, Maynard is only lip synching the singing to Bob Nolan of The Sons of the Pioneers.
--------------------

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: JIMMY DURANTE & PETER LAWFORD


A ONE-OF-A-KIND, SHOW BIZ GEM is this autographed photo pasted on a tattered and weathered album page. The legendary entertainer JIMMY DURANTE (Feb. 10, 1893-Jan. 29, 1980) inscribed his “well-dressed man” pic: To Peter-A fine Boy-Your Pal Jimmy Durante. “Peter” is actually actor PETER LAWFORD (Sept. 7, 1923-Dec. 24, 1984), who was 15 in 1938 at the time this photo was given to him when he and Durante were under contract at MGM. 

The page is from Peter Lawford's autograph book. Lawford had not yet reached stardom, but had appeared in a small role in the Freddie Bartholemew vehicle, Lord Jeff. The “Great Schnozzola” Durante, however, was already established there, having co-starred in a series of comedies with Buster Keaton, and 1934’s Hollywood Party. Lawford’s breakthrough role was in A Yank at Eaton (1942). Both actors would be MGM mainstays throughout the 1940’s-early ‘50s. Lawford often performed with Durante, in singing, dancing and comedy, on stage and TV. 

Their friendship would endure.
--------------------
After PETER LAWFORD’S 1984 death, I purchased this unique item via auction as part of Lawford’s estate sale. It is priceless to me. [from Steve Crum’s showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
Ladies and gentlemen, here are Jimmy Durante and Peter Lawford together again...on The Hollywood Palace: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1gUbYhG9X_Y

Friday, November 27, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: MARILYN MONROE, JACK BENNY & 'ROCHESTER'


OPENING THE 1953-54 TV SEASON, The Jack Benny Show's special guest was rising star MARILYN MONROE (June 1, 1926-Aug. 5, 1962). In this unpublished color photo (Jack's show was in black and white), EDDIE ROCHESTER ANDERSON (Sept. 18, 1905-Feb. 28, 1977) and JACK BENNY (Feb. 14, 1894-Dec. 26, 1974) flank MONROE during rehearsal. [from Steve Crum's show biz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
MILT JOSEFSBERG, one of Benny's top writers on both radio and TV, talks about Monroe's appearance in his book, The Jack Benny Show: ...Regardless of the stories about her laxness and lateness later in her career, she was punctual and a pleasure to work with in those days. One of the great pleasures that all men on the set enjoyed was watching Miss Monroe walk, either toward them or away from them. She was rehearsing a scene where she was on the stage solo and had to walk away from the camera. All of us, including Jack, sat in the front seats of the studio watching her. Our director, one of TV's best, a young man named Ralph Levy, made her repeat the walk several times. Each time she did so, there would be some whispered, off-color comments by those of us seated in the studio. Finally Jack, in an attempt at humor, whispered, 'I don't know why everyone raves about Marilyn. I've got a pretty attractive ass myself.' This caused a light giggle, which erupted into a volcanic laugh....
--------------------
Why not check out Marilyn Monroe yourself on The Jack Benny Show?: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UcaKf9pJrQ

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: ROY ROGERS & TRIGGER at the ALAMO


DURING A WORLD WAR II TEXAS TOUR, The King of the Cowboys ROY ROGERS and TRIGGER strike the cowboy pose in this unpublished photo taken in front of the ALAMO as their fans happily observe. Rogers, Trigger, and The Sons of the Pioneers stopped by the famous landmark between entertaining at military bases and selling war bonds. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Emotionally wrenching ‘Precious’ features standout Mo’Nique, Sidibe performances

By Steve Crum

Viewing Precious is a classic example of either seeing a movie to be solely entertained, or seeing a movie because it truly means something. Precious is truly meaningful.

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire (actual title) is a wrenching, emotional ride into living hell that features extreme family violence, incest, AIDS, and baby rape amidst poverty and its hopelessness. Sapphire’s best seller has been adapted by screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher with Lee Daniels (Shadowboxer) at the directorial helm. While events spiral down into grimness, morality ultimately prevails.

Central character Claireece Precious Jones, an overweight 16-year old convincingly portrayed by first time actress Gabourey Sidibe (who is actually 26), is an illiterate, junior high student and single mother living in Harlem with her controlling mother, Mary. Mary is played by stand-up comedienne Mo’Nique, who will surely be Oscar nominated for her standout dramatic acting as the most abusive, profane mama of all time.

As the film opens in 1987 Harlem, Precious struggles both at home in her dreary apartment and at public school. Her mother, who sits in her easy chair, incessantly smokes cigarettes as she watches TV, and insults her daughter by telling her she will never succeed at anything because she is too stupid and ugly. It is not unusual for mother Mary to bounce an ash tray or plate off her daughter’s head as Precious has her back turned while preparing dinner or washing dishes. Mom hates Precious, but Precious perseveres.

Note Daniels’ cleverly inserted dream sequences that illustrate Precious’ self esteem fantasies. For example, she looks in a mirror and imagines she is in a beautiful gown at a film premiere, surrounded by adoring fans. It is an escape valve from her depressing existence, which is a welcome break for the audience too.

Meanwhile, Precious’ school life suffers. She is a loner, friendless, and barely speaks to anyone. When teachers try to help her, Precious’ mother threatens and curses them. Precious discovers she is again pregnant, so she agrees to attend an alternative school. Her class is taught by Ms. Rain (Paula Patton), who becomes a positive force in Precious’ life. There are sequences at the welfare agency, featuring a surprisingly good turn by singer Mariah Carey as the sympathetic counselor, Mrs. Weiss.

Without revealing too much, be aware of a major plot turn which involves possibly the most disturbing and graphic fight scene (between mother and daughter) ever filmed. Realize that with conflict, even this extreme, a good story like this must proceed to resolution. Stay with Precious, although by the conclusion you will have been emotionally yanked multiple ways.

Sure, Precious showcases the stereotypical welfare recipients who are resentful, immoral money grubs purposely cheating the government by dodging work in favor of living off taxpayer money. Conversely, the film makes its case for needy innocents such as infant dependents and underage mothers. Precious is an important film, a social document, driven by its gritty style.
--------------------
On an A to F Grade Scale: A-

Friday, November 20, 2009

Neither the sun nor many positives shine on dark love story 'New Moon’


By Steve Crum

You can’t trust vampires, believe me,” warns central vampire Edward Cullen in The Twilight Saga: New Moon. He is so right. But you can trust New Moon to deliver teen angst by the bloody bucketful. Nifty werewolf and vampire special effects barely mask New Moon’s soap opera bathos and melodramatics. Those who can’t get enough of either Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight novels or the first movie will no doubt be in hormone heaven over New Moon. For the rest of us, New Moon is 2+ hours of cheesy, adolescent lust wrapped in werewolves’ clothing.

Homage to Shakespeare peppers Melissa Rosenberg’s screenplay. As the central teen characters study and recite Romeo and Juliet in English class, the tale of true love among feuding families plays out in real life. Instead of Capulets versus Montagues, however, we get the Cullen vampire family versus the Quileute wolf pack.

As this part two of the Twilight Saga begins, 18 year-old Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) still pines for Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson). He and his family have left rustic Forks, Washington, endeavoring to keep Bella safe and humanly alive. That is opposed to being vampire-alive, which is what Bella really desires so she can forever be with neck-biter Edward. Throughout New Moon, Bella waxes suicidal via drowning, driving, and putting herself in harm’s way with a bad vampire. (Twilight is populated with both good and bad blood guzzlers. Edward is one of the good ones.)

As if Stewart’s Bella is not already the most emotionless soul on the planet, with the sullen Edward both out of town and touch, she becomes even more zombie-like. During lunch at school, she sits alone at Edward’s old table, staring into space. Constantly reminding her of Edward is the fact his image and voice pop up whenever she has any quandary.

Enter a major conflict in her life, long time pal Jacob Black (Taylor Lautner). Now that Edward is away, Jacob makes the play. Surely it is not a spoiler to remind (rather than reveal) all that Black is a closet werewolf. In fact, he is part of a werewolf pack who also live alternate human lives. As Bella and Jacob become closer, Edward reappears in the flesh (cold as it is), out of jealousy as well as fear for Bella’s well being. There is a funny scene of the three at a movie theater with Bella sitting between them. Both Edward and Jacob anticipate her holding their hand, to no avail. It is a cleverly subtle moment.

It is unfortunate that most of New Moon lacks such clever bits, since all its psuedo-Shakespearean love dialogue and pre-kiss panting wear thin early on. With too few action pieces like fights (between vampires, between werewolf and vampire, and between werewolves) occur, New Moon stretches longer than it is. We are given an iceberg tip sort of preview of what will happen in next year’s Eclipse installment of the series when Bella, Edward, and his family encounter the head council of vampires in Italy for some life (and death) threatening challenges. Watch for a too brief introduction of Dakota Fanning’s hurtful, red eye piercing vampire, Jane. Reportedly, Jane will reappear big time in Eclipse.

New Moon, under the mediocre direction of Chris Weitz, is more of an event than a satisfying film unto itself. Fans will love the bare chested Jacob and Edward, and Bella’s sleep deprived tossing and turning. One fan defended Jacob’s constant chest baring when she told me it was a necessity since he could turn into a werewolf at any time. If that is true, why is he wearing pants? In fact, his pants disappear and reappear in his back and forth transformations. Must be special wolf weave. Of course, it would change the film’s rating if it were otherwise.

If you are not a Twilight fan, just savor moments like Bella accidentally pricking a finger or a hand or an arm (all occur), as a nearby vampire licks his chops watching the blood drips in slow motion. Try counting the number of times Bella is in either Edward’s or Jacob’s close proximity, as she speaks to their respective CHINS.

Bella is an eye contact avoider of the first order.
-----------------
On an A to F Grade Scale: C-
--------------------
Sink a tooth into this New Moon trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYBF3HKzrmE

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: DAKOTA FANNING & fan


THIS WEEK, 15 YEAR-OLD DAKOTA FANNING joins the vampires and werewolves populating the Twilight franchise. THE TWILIGHT SAGA: NEW MOON opens this Friday, Nov. 20. (She is already working on another installment which opens next year, THE TWILIGHT SAGA: ECLIPSE.) 

Four years ago, on Oct. 12, 2005, it was 11 year-old Dakota who was in Kansas City as part of a cross country trek promoting her newest movie, Dreamer. During the hour-long interview, she told me (and a handful of other film critics) about working with Kurt Russell on Dreamer, as well as her just completed film, The War of the Worlds. And did she talk--and gush--about acting with Tom Cruise!
--------------------
Pictured is yours truly with Dakota, following the interview, in a photo taken by Dakota's mother. After the other critics had left the suite and headed home, I was still with Dakota (and her mom), since she was signing autographs for me. She then walked over to a nearby piano, and played a tune, expertly so. Later I bragged to the other critics that had they stayed around, they would have been treated to a private piano concert by Dakota Fanning. As it turned out, I was the only one so honored. She was--and probably still is--a very sweet, well spoken (great diction), and intelligent young lady. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
Experience The Twilight Saga: New Moon via its trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KYBF3HKzrmE

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: FRANK SINATRA at the SANDS


A FEW MONTHS BEFORE THIS UNIQUE PRESS PHOTO was taken, FRANK SINATRA [Dec. 12, 1915-May 14, 1998] had received a career boost when he won the Oscar for From Here to Eternity. Sinatra holds the hands of two show girls.
--------------------
Dated June 10, 1954, the caption reads: Wynn Terry (seated, left) and Gladys Gardner (in front of her), Ziegfeld Girls prior to 1930, watch Frank Sinatra dance with their 1954 counterparts in a revival of the Ziegfeld Follies at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, Nev. Miss Gardner starred from 1913 to 1919, and is "Dean" of the Ziegfeld Girls. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
To see and hear Frank Sinatra winning his Oscar, proceed here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ubcVEuA55jc

Friday, November 13, 2009

For spectacular, end-of-the-world effects, plus trite script, ‘2012’ delivers


By Steve Crum

Flashing back to the 1970’s recalls that era’s long string of disaster movies, many by Irwin Allen. Titles like The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure forever reside in my cinema cells. There were so many to endure. Flash to present, and 2012 is the latest in director Roland Emmerich’s disaster movie string that includes Godzilla, The Day After Tomorrow, and Independence Day. Endure is the word now too. Despite gasp worthy special effects, 2012 clunks along with yakety, cliched speeches and a familiar aka cliched plot that tap into virtually every disaster flick ever produced.

Even 2012’s fantastic CGI effects become tiresome half-way into the 158 minutes long, and that means long, movie. How many cities do we have to see split apart, crushed, exploded, and tsunamied (yes, I’ve created an action verb) to overflow our Big Wow cup? Extreme Disaster, the series, time.

Emmerich channels his own doomsday library as well. In Independence Day, a scientist convinces the President of the United States that an alien invasion is imminent. 2012’s scientist, Adrian Hemsley (Chitwetel Ejiofor) eventually hooks U.S. President Wilson (Danny Glover) into believing the Mayan calendar’s sage prophecy is correct, resulting in the world essentially turning itself inside out on 12-21-12. Such tragedy occurs, so they say, once every 640 thousand years. What bum luck. Like Independence Day, there is a countdown to disaster inscribed on screen: 2010...2011...2012.

The story, co-written by Emmerich and Harald Klaser, is in traditional three acts: (1) the build-up, anticipating the disaster to come; (2) preparing for the inevitable catastrophe (making travel plans, gathering families together); and (3) trying to escape/survive the event.

That said, follow this fast summary of 2012. Act 1: The worst solar flares ever are observed by U.S. Government scientists. “For the first time the flares are causing a neutronic physical reaction (on earth),” warns one expert. “The earth’s core is overheating like a microwave.” Flooding occurs in India. Minor quakes are shaking California. (There is a funny sequence of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as portrayed by an Arnold impersonator.) Key characters, including the Curtis Family, are introduced. Dad Jack (John Cusack) and Mom Kate (Amanda Peet) are divorced with two kids (Liam James and Morgan Lily). There is Kate’s boyfriend Gordon (Thomas McCarthy).

Let me add now that the actors do credible jobs, considering the wild plot, but no one should expect Oscar nods. (Flipping positive, the special effects will undoubtedly be nominated for an Oscar, and win.) Other characters include Pres. Wilson’s daughter Laura (Thandie Newton), the power hungry presidential aide Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt), and Woody Harrelson’s conspiracy theory soothsayer, Charlie Frost. The Frost persona is common to disaster movies, since he represents the extremist, proactive element in society. In Independence Day, it was the scruffy eccentric played by Randy Quaid. In 2012, Frost hides out in Yellowstone National Park, and runs a maverick radio station from his trailer, spewing daily doomsday broadcasts. There is also a belligerent, wealthy Russian, Yuri Karpov (Zlatko Buric), with his mistress and obnoxious twin sons.

Act 2 revolves around relatives desperately trying to phone each other to reunite and make travel plans to somewhere safe. Look for George Segal in a small role as cruise ship entertainer Tony Delgatto.

Act 3 really dominates the film with seemingly endless but spectacular effects. Principal characters run, dodge and jump via car, plane and ship as they trek to China for safety. (I will not spoil the surprise element awaiting them, but it reeks of government conspiracy.)

In the old movie days of Cecil B. DeMille, spectacle was often hyped as: “SEE! THE PARTING OF THE RED SEA!” and “MARVEL: A CAST OF THOUSANDS!” 2012 could boast a cast of millions (CGI enhanced, of course), and more: “SEE! HAWAII UNDER MOLTEN LAVA!...D.C. UNDER GRAY ASH!...YELLOWSTONE EXPLODE LIKE AN H-BOMB!”

Has anything really changed from DeMille to Allen to Emmerich?
--------------------
On an A to F Grade Scale: C
--------------------

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words: GENE AUTRY, JOAN CAULFIELD & CHAMPION


BACK IN THE MAKE-UP CHAIR AGAIN is cowboy great GENE AUTRY [Sept. 29, 1907-Oct. 2, 1998], as “The Smartest Horse in the Movies,” CHAMPION, waits his turn. “The Singing Cowboy” Gene, whose real first name was Orvon (Gene was his middle name), sang, acted, and rode the range in 100 movies from 1934-55. His distinct cowboy-country voice was featured in 600 songs that sold in the millions. His best sellers, the biggest being Christmas tunes, include: Back in the Saddle Again (his theme song), That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine (which he wrote), Here Comes Santa Claus (which he also wrote), Frosty the Snowman, and Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer (his biggest hit, still heard every December). Gene Autry is represented by five stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. At the time of his death in 1998, Autry was still eagerly waiting for the baseball team he owned, the Los Angeles Angels, to win a World Series pennant.
--------------------
A Trivia Note: The early years of TV’s Gunsmoke were filmed at Gene Autry’s movie ranch, named after one of his films as well as a song: Melody Ranch.
--------------------
THIS CBS PUBLICITY STILL is a curio. Dated May 5, 1953 (on back), its headline is: TOUCH-UP. The suggested text to be run in newspapers and magazines nationwide: CBS-TV star Gene Autry and his horse, Champion, receive a final touch-up from Joan Caulfield and make-up artist Joe Schenck, in busy CBS Television City, Hollywood. The world’s largest plant built exclusively for television broadcasting will be the origination point for Miss Caulfield’s starring vehicle, “My Favorite Husband,” when it has its CBS-TV premiere in the fall. [from Steve Crum’s showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
More Trivia: Previous to its television run, Joan Caulfield’s sitcom, My Favorite Husband, had a healthy run on radio in the late 1940’s with Lucille Ball as its star. Lucy’s CBS-TV show, I Love Lucy, was #1 in viewer ratings in 1953.
--------------------
Gene Autry is back in the saddle again: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KLEGcD0FCNk&feature=related

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words for VETERANS DAY: KATE SMITH


KATE SMITH [May 1, 1907-June 17, 1986] will be forever remembered for singing one song, a super patriotic one, Irving Berlin’s God Bless America. Not that she never sang any other song, not by a long shot. But of the 600+ songs she introduced on stage, radio, records and television, it is God Bless America that endures. Twenty of her records sold over a million, including GBA, There Goes That Song Again, The White Cliffs of Dover, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree, and When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain (her theme song). Her popular radio program, The Kate Smith Hour, launched the career of Abbott & Costello. In 1982, The First Lady of Popular Song received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Ronald Reagan. It was for a lifetime of service to the United States of America, particularly during World War II, when the great Kate used her singing, talking and spirit to sell $600 million in Defense Bonds. That is a huge amount now, but thinking of it in 1940's reference is overwhelmingly awesome. Thanks to the impact of Kate Smith, there have been serious proposals to replace The Star Spangled Banner with God Bless America as our National Anthem.
--------------------
IN THIS RARELY SEEN press photo, Kate signs autographs for admiring soldiers on leave during WWII. No doubt each of them knew the lyrics to God Bless America by heart. [from Steve Crum’s showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------
Ladies and gentlemen, Kate Smith sings a medley of her hits, including God Bless America: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kurx80wSgo0&feature=related

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Worth 1,000 Words for VETERANS DAY: DANNY KAYE


WHEN UP IN ARMS was released in 1944, WWII was still a grim reality. UP IN ARMS provided musical-comedy entertainment laced with wartime patriotism, and featured Danny Kaye in his first starring role as a hypochondriac drafted into the Army. He sang (or is the better word performed?) The Lobby Number and Melody in 4F. This vintage still features most of the film's stars: (From left) CONSTANCE DOWLING, DINAH SHORE, DANA ANDREWS, DANNY KAYE, and LYLE TALBOT. [from Steve Crum's showbiz memorabilia collection]
--------------------

Monday, November 9, 2009

In Honor of VETERANS DAY 2009...


PLEASE LET WWII & KOREAN WAR VETERANS KNOW ABOUT THIS WORTHY PROJECT.
--------------------
Just weeks before he died, Al Jolson gave his all for our Korean War servicemen and women: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALt3eijUSv4&feature=related
Here's Jolson entertaining our troops during WWII: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z4WIxDf3KY

Sunday, November 8, 2009

STARSTRUCK/Duke Ellington plays Ft. Polk


By Steve Crum

In the early summer of 1970, my decision was immediate. No deciding, really, it was a given. Duke Ellington and his orchestra were presenting a free concert at our Fort Polk (as in Louisiana) post theater, and I was going. No way would I miss this opportunity to see a music legend. At that point in my two-year military stint, I was PFC Crum, having been drafted into the U.S. Army six months earlier.

I went to the theater alone, since no one I knew in the barracks was into Ellington, big band, or any kind of music outside The Beatles and Woodstock. Evidently a majority of the entire base had a disinterest in or total lack of knowledge about Duke Ellington, since there were few in the audience--embarrassingly few. Out of the approx. 500 seats, maybe 50 were occupied. I squirmed out of uneasiness. When the curtains parted, and the band began playing, I sank in my seat. Maybe late comers by the hundred would finally arrive and fill the emptiness. But it never happened. On stage, Duke Ellington seemed to care less. He and his band played a 90-minute concert like it was to a standing room only audience.

There were his solid hits Take the “A” Train, Mood Indigo, Sophisticated Lady, Caravan, and It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got the Swing). His recently published New Orleans Suite was included. Maybe he considered this Ft. Polk gig a rehearsal or warm-up to his European tour, which would begin a couple of weeks later. No doubt The Duke felt a patriotic affinity to entertain us troops, many of whom had returned from or were heading out to Vietnam. The year before, in 1969, he had received The Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Nixon.

DUKE ELLINGTON, born Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington [April 29, 1899-May 24, 1974] was a composer, pianist, and big band leader whose influential “American music” (the reference to his music he preferred over “jazz”), continues to be loved and performed throughout the world today. He was accompanied at the Ft. Polk concert by his son, Mercer. Mercer also fronted the band during most of the numbers as his father played piano. Mercer would take over full conducting duties after his father’s death four years later, which he continued doing until his own passing in 1996.

Duke performed in every medium of his day, including radio, records, TV, stage and motion pictures, sometimes solo at the piano, but usually with his orchestra. He composed two great film scores, Anatomy of a Murder (1959) and Paris Blues (1961). Toward the end of his life, he wrote and conducted his somewhat controversial Sacred Concerts. As the title implies, they were religiously themed, and not widely heard--even to this day.

I recall Duke Ellington’s polite voice welcoming us as audience members from that Polk stage, his wide and warm smile, and the wonderful, genius-driven, Ellington music he and his orchestra played for us. What those hundreds of absent soldiers missed!

On his deathbed, it is reported that Duke Ellington’s last words were: “Music is how I live, why I live and how I will be remembered.”

How I remember you and your sounds, Duke.
--------------------

Friday, November 6, 2009

No humbug about it, ‘Disney’s A Christmas Carol’ is fun Carrey-fest


By Steve Crum

How can you appreciate it when an entire movie is a spoiler unto itself? That is the dilemma of Disney’s A Christmas Carol, based on Charles Dickens’ holiday chestnut. Tis a chestnut that’s been roasted on the 17 versions I’ve seen via film, TV and stage. Spoilers? Nope, the whole movie is deja vu. Most of us know the beginning, middle, and uplifting end. However, the hook this time is a trifecta: 3-D, digital imagery, and Jim Carrey. That hook makes this Christmas Carol worth seeing.

If possible, see it in either IMAX 3-D or conventional 3-D. However, you won’t miss the movie’s charm and cleverness just seeing it in flat 2-D. Carol is at various theaters in all three formats. If you do not catch a 3-D version, you will miss the repeated effect of snowflakes falling over the audience. Another in-your-face 3-D’er is the ghost of Jacob Marley’s spittle. Try not reaching for a tissue to wipe your face as he spews. Also, there is a great tracking shot, opening sequence over the rooftops of old London which is enhanced by 3-D.

Soon we are introduced to the story’s central character, Ebeneezer Scrooge, perfectly realized by Jim Carrey. Director-Writer Robert Zemeckis again morphs his actors via “motion capture,” a process he successfully used in The Polar Express (2004). Actors are first filmed performing their lines, and then “skinned” as their bodies are digitally transformed into cartoon-like visuals. Skeptics of The Polar Express criticized its characters’ lifeless eyes; they appear more lifelike in A Christmas Carol.

Zemeckis reportedly looked forward to making Carol, essentially a time-travel movie, having scored big time with his time trilogy, Back to the Future.

Casting Carrey as Scrooge is anything but a humbug. Rather, Carrey brilliantly handles skinflint Scrooge (at five ages, no less) plus the three Christmas ghosts: Past, Present, and Yet-to-Come. That means Carrey literally dominates key scenes that involve Scrooge being visited by each ghost. He uses his body language and voice tricks to play off of himself to credible effect. Four separate actors could not have done better. It is a testament to Carrey’s talent as well as Zemeckis’ vision.

Before this review is whisked away by the movie history ghost, here is the plot synopsis for the three out of 50 million who have neither seen any stage, TV or film version nor read Dickens’ story: In 19th Century London, old Ebeneezer Scrooge is visited by the specter of his late partner, Jacob Marley (Gary Oldman), who warns Scrooge that due to his miserly ways and bad temperament, he will be visited by three ghosts on Christmas Eve. Earlier that day, Scrooge had again shown his hateful attitude toward his employee, Bob Cratchit (Oldman, in another role), his nephew Fred (Colin Firth), and two charity collectors. As Scrooge is physically taken to his past, present and dim future by each spirit, he secretly observes the Cratchit Family’s poverty along with the extreme needs of the young, crippled Tiny Tim (Oldman, voicing even again), and the disdain others have for him due to his heartlessness. This includes his one love, Belle (Robin Wright Penn). In the end, Scrooge is transformed, and at last shows--and feels--good tidings for his fellow man.

A Disney touch is to make the Ghost of Christmas Past as a lit candle, coincidentally (?) resembling the Lumiere candle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. The ghost candle’s dunce-like cap is what Scrooge is riding on in the movie poster ads. To keep Disney’s A Christmas Carol looking Disneyish, there is also a horse from hell featured during the Christmas Yet-to-Come portion that resembles the nag from the key scene in Disney’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

Thankfully, Mickey and Goofy are absent in A Christmas Carol, even though Jim Carrey could easily have channeled them.
--------------------
On an A to F Grade Scale: A-
--------------------
Don’t be a humbug! Enjoy this Disney’s A Christmas Carol trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C50d-2p6ftE