Monday, October 7, 2013

Retro TV Today: Looking Back Through Strained Eyes

By Steve Crum

Remember the golden days of television when Lucy and Ricky, Rob and Laura, and Ozzie and Harriet slept in separate beds? When maxed out bathroom humor consisted of Jack Paar getting censored for referring to a (*shudder*) “water closet” in an on-air joke? Or just hearing Archie Bunker’s toilet flushing? Forgetaboutit! It’s 2013, when reality shows reign and sitcoms tell it like it is. 

So here’s the set-up. I have taken 10 current TV shows and morphed their actual plots into vintage TV shows...just to smother you with the realization that TV, society, values, and mores have changed in five or six decades. Like you didn’t know it already. For credibility, the 2013 TV shows are matched by number in the footnote. Set your DVR!
1. LEAVE IT TO BEAVER [1957-63]
Ward and June Cleaver (Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley) are excited about son Beaver’s interest in a photography class at school until they discover The Beav (Jerry Mathers) is taking full frontal nudes (aka “Beaver shots”) of female models in class. 

Ed Norton (Art Carney) seeks advice regarding how to gently break the news to his visiting sister about his divorce from Trixie (Joyce Randolph) and his engagement to boyfriend Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason). 

Humorist/talk show host Jack Paar gets huge studio audience laughs and applause by f-bombing his guest, Republican zealot Richard Nixon. 

4. FATHER KNOWS BEST [1954-60]
Jim Anderson’s (Robert Young) parents separate after 40 years of marriage, so his overbearing mother chooses to move in with him and his family. Problems arise, including his mom’s tendency to cut silent, smelly farts. 

5. THE DONNA REED SHOW [1958-66]
Mary Stone (Shelley Fabares) goes on her first date after getting sober, while her mother, Donna (Donna Reed), teaches son Jeff (Paul Peterson) how to gamble. 

6. THE FLINTSTONES [1960-66]
Fred Flintstone (voice of Alan Reed) decides to have the vestigial twin growing out of his neck amputated. 

Two members of the musical family find out they are pregnant. Mom (Shirley Jones) decides to include the sordid details in her upcoming autobiography. (OK, I took dramatic license with the last line.) 

8. FELIX THE CAT [cartoon series, 1954-?]
Felix decides to have one last wild night before he is neutered.

When Mary Livingstone backs out from an agreement to sleep with boyfriend Jack Benny, he decides to sue her for sexual harassment. 

10. MR. NOVAK [1963-65]
The trials and tribulations of John Novak (James Franciscus), a high school English teacher who secretly deals in manufacturing and selling methamphetamine...and spelling it correctly.

Footnote of borrowed plots from actual 2013 TV shows:

1. THE MICHAEL J. FOX SHOW...”Art” episode
2. MODERN FAMILY...”Farm Story”
3. REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER...any given program
4. THE MILLERS...”Pilot”
5. MOM...”A Small Nervous Breakdown and a Misplaced Fork”
6. FAMILY GUY...”Vestigial Peter”
7. GLEE...”Preggers”
8. NEW GIRL...”The Captain”
9. THE MINDY PROJECT...”Magic Morgan”
10. BREAKING BAD...entire series that just ended
Imagine if these old TV programs actually had plots THEN as described, and how their ilk would have become progressively more crude and rude 50 or 60 years later. It is enough to make one run to the water closet. 

Friday, October 4, 2013

Terrific Bullock, Clooney headline superb space adventure ‘Gravity’

By Steve Crum

The superbly produced Gravity begins afloat in space with astronauts chitchatting via compression helmets during a routine checkup outside their space shuttle. It is all breezy and mundane until a sudden debris shower devours their craft, leaving two of its inhabitants, played by George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, fighting for their lives. The only backstory we get about them and their mission is sparse. Increasingly, the audience learns enough about these two survivors to be hooked on their desperate journey.

Director and co-screenwriter Alfonso Cuarón (Children of Men) has created a sci-fi instant classic that achieves maximum audience involvement by intensifying sound and visuals as well as using omniscient camera shots. We see Ryan Stone’s (Bullock) point of view from within her helmet, looking out the visor. It is a technique only used a couple of times, but it effectively adds to our feeling of Stone’s terror. As well, 3D imagery has the audience literally ducking and swerving. Add directional sound and the use of dead silence, and one's sensory feelings pretty much max out. 

Within the first 15 minutes of Gravity, I was totally pulled into the plot, along side the two castaways, as they gasped for oxygen while in free float. There are so many hold-your-breath moments, at times it felt like an upscale, interactive amusement park ride. Accolades to Steven Price’s unobtrusive yet emotional score that really enhances the film’s effectiveness. 

There is, of course, much more than sound and visual superlatives to Gravity. Alfonso Cuarón and his son, Jonás, have penned a fantastic yet credible story of courage, friendship, and survival. Even the title, Gravity, is appropriate in its dual simplicity. Its physics aspect refers to an object drawn to the center of a body, while the other meaning involves plot tone, the element of grave consequence. 

Veteran astronaut Matt Kowalski (Clooney) is on his final space venture, while Bullock’s Dr. Ryan Stone, a science officer, is a rookie. After all hell breaks loose at space station central, the two slowly churn through space, tethered together. (There are even more harrowing moments before their bonding.)  Communications with Mission Control in Houston are nil, but Kowalski has a plan. Avoiding plot spoiler data, I will say their trek is fraught with tragedy as well as humor. For example, Kowalski does his best to keep Stone in good spirits through endless quips and funny stories--and all this on limited oxygen.

While Clooney is very good as the sage astronaut, Bullock is the real focus here, in an Oscar worthy turn as the novice space explorer. Of the 90 minutes running time, Bullock solidly holds solo for at least 30 minutes. It is a credit to both her and the director. There are so many memorable moments throughout, including an awesome finale. Pure genius. 

That is the gravity of the situation, dear reader, and the situation of Gravity.  

Gravity is a perfect movie. Seeing it in IMAX-3D is perfection plus.  
GRADE on a Scale of A to F: A
This trailer gives you good idea of what happens in Gravity: