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Archive for April, 2018

by Adam Ferenz

(Due to hilarious circumstances caused by the powers that be, a gap was left in the schedule and somebody had to fill it with something. The result is the following essay)

This classic sitcom from television’s first golden age is set at the fictional Fort Baxter, a base in fictional Roseville, Kansas and concerns the machinations of master sergeant Ernie Bilko, who lives up to his name, as he is an inveterate gambler, scoundrel and cheat. Yes, he’s a bit of a bum, but he is our bum, and as much as he loves taking his “pigeons” for all their lettuce-cash-he will be damned if anyone else takes advantage of them. At heart, he is a selfish man but not an evil one, except in terms of that banal evil that comes with his special brand of self interest. This is offset by his charm and the manic energy and immaculate timing of Phil Silvers, who along with a crackjack cast-including more women and  ethnic and minority types than television had ever seen or would see again for thirty years or more-gave life to a series of brilliant scripts headed by creator Nat Hiken, who would go on to create Car 54, Where Are You? As a bit of trivia, actor George Kennedy, who played a policeman in several episodes, served as army technical advisor for the series, which, at the insistence of its creator, was filmed in New York City, and it shows in both the casting and the energy of the series, which has a decided urban and often working class flavor to it.

The series indeed broke ground, for many reasons, but not the least of which was showing an integrated unit at a time this was ignored in films and television and when African American actors, particularly on television, were relegated to butlers, stickup men or Amos and Andy types. Elizabeth Fraser, as Joanne Hogan, was a rare recurring love interest in a story that found both Bilko and Hogan dating other people, making one another jealous, and obviously physical with one another, though given the mores of the day, and the tight reigns of censorship through Standards and Practices, directly referencing the sex these two-and others, because let us face it, this was one horny and lucky base-were having, was not going to be clearly stated. Indeed, one of the series funniest episodes is Furlough in New York, in which the two take a few days in New York City, without realizing they are so close, constantly missing one another by inches. If you have not seen it, the episode is highly recommended. (more…)

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by Adam Ferenz

Frederick Delius was an English composer who lived from 1862-1934. His final years were spent with him largely in a state of invalidity. Song of Summer is named after a tone poem for orchestra, completed in 1931, by Delius, during the final six years of his life, the period covered in the film, which focuses on the relationship between Delius and his amanuensis, Eric Fenby. At the time Fenby came to work for Delius, the great composer was living south of Paris with his wife, Jelka, and suffering the consequences of tertiary syphilis. Director Ken Russell had done several other works for the BBC series Omnibus, and would do a few more, before moving on to the big screen, but he considered this film his very best, a film he would not change a single thing about. It is hard to argue with the man.

Song of Summer is a deceptively complex film, which in its presentation becomes Delius’s poem. That this film has a phenomenal score, completely consisting of Delius and Fenby’s work, is a big plus, as is Russell’s use of black and white cinematography to mask the budget shortcomings. He can be forgiven if the trip up a mountain late in the film seems more like a trip through the hills of Scotland, but such is the case when dealing with a 60’s BBC budget. Instead, the film relies on a sharp script, inventive direction that evokes the essence of its subject’s work, and three superb performances, with Maureen Pryor as Jelka, Christopher Gable as Fenby and Max Adrian as Delius. Here, Fenby and Delius are not friends from the start but there is a trust, and yet always a tension, for Delius was a difficult man, and his condition did not lend him a quiet temper, nor did his disinclination to religion, the opposite of the devoutly catholic Fenby. Indeed, according to Music Web International, Fenby is shown having a crisis of faith after finding the parish priest making love to a girl, an episode which Fenby had told to Russell in what he believed was the strictest confidence. (more…)

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by Jared Dec and Trevor D. Nigg

Another magisterial podcast on a towering figure in world cinema by Wonders in the Dark’s Dynamic Duo.

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by Adam Ferenz

This series, which arrived on Netflix in late 2016, is a modern gem. It is not another Downton Abbey, for it is smarter and more sophisticated than that highly enjoyable soap opera. This series, from creator and writer Peter Morgan, and produced by occasional director Stephen Daldry, charts the course of The Crown-which is a metonym for both the state and the monarch-since the death of King George the VI, with a focus on the lives of Elizabeth the 2nd and her closest family. This is a spectacular achievement, one of the best and most ambitious of current series. With the cast set to change every two seasons, the likelihood of this one getting stale is low. Claire Foy and Matt Smith acquitted themselves beautifully as Elizabeth and Philip in the first two seasons. We shall see how Olivia Coleman does for seasons three and four, and how much chemistry she has with Tobias Menzies, as these are the actors tapped to play Elizabeth and Philip for the next two seasons. Oh, and as an aside, season three sees Helena Bonham Carter join the cast as Princess Margaret.

If this seems focused on casting that is because so much of this series has relied on thrilling performances and sterling writing. The first season also featured Jarred Harris, in flashbacks, as George, and John Lithgow in an Emmy winning season-long performance, as Winston Churchill. Where the first season charted Elizabeth’s early years with Churchill as prime minister, the second season focused on her relationship with Philip and how Philip always seemed to be just on the cusp of some scandal, including, by the end of the second season, the Profumo Affair. Throughout the first two seasons, however, is the backbone of Philip as a proud man who expected to have a wife first and a queen second, and to be able to have a wife before having a queen for a bit longer but, due to George’s untimely passing, did not. In a sense, this is a series about a marriage and how the duty of one affects everyone else, including siblings and spouses.

There are many loving, thrilling and beautiful shots of scenery, and historical asides, including the deadly London Smog of 1952, trips to Africa by the royal couple and Philip’s goodwill cruise around the world to begin season two, among many others. The historical details are mostly on point, and the royal family has largely refrained from comment-though season two brought some heat with its focus on the peccadilloes of Phillip-and this is because while Morgan has not been afraid of showing the truth about the Royal Family, he has been very respectful in making sure to avoid the same level of salaciousness one would typically expect in a telling of these stories. This is still a fictionalized account of real people, but it is as true as we can expect without this becoming a documentary. One example would be the secretary in season one who succumbs to the Smog, a character and therefore death, which never existed. (more…)

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Note:  The review of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea scheduled here will be posted within the week, though the stop gap space is here now to keep the countdown in the correct sequence.

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by Sam Juliano

The e mail response to the upcoming Allan Fish Online Film Festival has been most heartening so far.  John Grant, Marilyn Ferdinand, Roderick Heath, Aaron West, Anukbavkist, Sachin Gandhi, J.D. Lafrance and Jared Dec have all reserved posts in this second annual tribute to our beloved movie mentor.  Undoubtedly there will be others coming forward soon enough.  As always there isn’t any need to reveal what the post will be unless there is a desire to do so beforehand.  I will be touching bases regularly with project founder Jamie Uhler, who will launch the festival with his own essay.

The Greatest Television Series Countdown Encore is doing far better than I imagined it would.  Thank you so much to the fabulous writers who have so far done miraculous work:  Brian Wilson, Brandie Ashe, Pierre de Plume, Adam Ferenz, Dennis Polifroni, John Greco, Jon Warner and Lucille and Sammy Juliano IV.  There will be an eleven day break beginning on Thursday, April 19th for the annual Tribeca Film Festival, which Lucille and I will be attending in force once again.

Our resident film scholar Jim Clark this past week penned another magisterial essay in his Kelly Reichardt series, while the west coast wunderkinds, Jared Dec and Trevor Nigg completed another sensational podcast to rank with any done by film veterans.  Their discussions are astonishingly brilliant and have raised the bar for this kind of thing.  Our friend Aaron West is also a supreme master in this department and his own podcasts are in the same sphere!! (more…)

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Gilligans-Island-Cast

by Brian E. Wilson

Of all the shows I have written about (and will be writing about) for this epic series of TV essays, Gilligan’s Island (created by Sherwood Schwartz, who would go on to produce another re-run staple The Brady Brunch) is the most by far the one that will make some people scratch their heads and ask, “really, that show?” Although many people my age have fun, nostalgic childhood memories of watching re-runs of this goofy comedy about seven castaways struggling to get off an uncharted desert isle, many of us realized (even as kids) that the very premise of the series more than borders on the ridiculous. I mean, it has been widely noted that the lyrics in the famous opening theme song (“The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle”) reveal a major plot hole. We are told twice that the S.S. Minnow charter boat left with its two person crew (the Skipper and bumbling first mate Gilligan) and five passengers (the millionaire couple Mr. Thurston Howell the Third and his wife Lovey, the movie star Ginger Grant, the resourceful scientific genius The Professor, and the bright-eyed Mary Anne) for a three hour tour…A THREE HOUR TOUR! And yet Mr. Howell and the three women have enough clothes and luggage for a three MONTH tour (the Skipper, Gilligan, and the Professor pretty much have the same outfits for the entire run).

For 98 episodes over 3 seasons (the 1st season in black and white; the remaining two in color), these comically doomed characters tried to no avail to get off this island. And each plot was sillier and more implausible than the next. (Quick note: the show’s first season had 36 episodes! Compare that to the current comedy series showing on cable or on streaming services. For comparison, Netflix’s hilariously nonsensical The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has taken 3 seasons to air 39 episodes.)

And yet something about the show clicked. Even though it had plots like Gilligan’s mouth becoming a radio receiver after his molar gets bopped and starts rubbing up against a silver filling (yes, that old plot), or the castaways developing superhuman strength after eating radioactive vegetable seeds (don’t try this at home!). (more…)

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Jared Dec and Trevor D. Nigg have again brought film scholarship to the most engaging of terms in their latest magnificent podcast, this time on the Polish master Krzysztof Kieslowski.  truly an essential discussion by these two cinematic wunderkinds:

 

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by Lucille Juliano

Happy Days first appeared on television as part of another popular TV series in 1972 on ABC.  Originally titled “Love and the Television Set”, “Love and the Happy Days” was a vignette on Love, American Style.  The segment starred a few members of the soon to be cast of Happy Days.  Ron Howard was one of these stars.  As a result of his performance, he was chosen for a part in the movie American Graffiti and the rest is history.

The sitcom takes place in Milwaukee, WI during the late 50s and early 60s and centers around the Cunningham family and their “adopted” son, Fonzie.  The first two seasons concentrated on family situations involving Richie Cunningham (Ron Howard), his parents Howard and Marion (Tom Bosley, Marion Ross), his sister Joanie (Erin Moran), and his brother Chuck (only appeared in seasons 1 and 2).  There were also situations that centered around Richie and his two best friends, Ralph and Potsie played by Donny Most and Anson Williams.  Some of the show’s best moments happen while Richie and his friends are at Arnold’s especially when they interact with Arnold (Pat Morita) the owner.  During these early seasons, Arthur Fonzarelli (“The Fonz”) played by Henry Winkler was not a main character.  He was merely a cool biker dude, high school dropout, and a mechanic that appeared in the show here and there.  Garry Marshall, the show’s creator, decided to put Fonzie into the forefront with all his “coolness” for the third season.  This decision resulted in Happy Days becoming extremely popular and its ratings soared right to the top.  In fact, Fonzie is considered to have been one of the most marketable characters of the 1970s.  The show remained on the air for eleven seasons. (more…)

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by John Greco

I’m an only child, so sibling rivalry is not something I’ve experienced firsthand, but I have seen friends, relatives, all whom to different degrees have experienced, maybe still do, this kind of competition. In Everybody Loves Raymond, it’s up front in every episode. It obvious, Raymond is his mother’s Marie, favorite. She not shy about expressing this even when older brother Robert stands nearby looking on with his hound dog face. “It’s all about Raymond…” he says more than once over the shows nine-year run.

Speaking about Marie, there are many adult children who like to live near their parents. There are others who rather be far, far away. Some want to have it both ways, be near their parents, and yet keep them at a safe distance. I think that is where Ray Barone fits. Raymond is needy, he needs his mother’s attention, her reassurance, but he doesn’t want her bursting in the front door unannounced, along with the rest of the family. Despite Marie’s smothering and controlling nature. He, and Robert, like many kids, cannot go against Mom. When there is a conflict between Marie and Ray’s wife Debra, Ray cannot help but side with his mother though he knows he should be on Debra’s side, not only because she’s usually right, but for the sake of peace in the house. Debra’s wrath can be devastating. (more…)

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