Saturday, June 26, 2010

Every Road Leads Home: Toy Story 3

When I was extremely young my parents gave me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figure for my birthday. My friends and I would get together and create these fantastical situations with all of our toys and face the wrath and ridicule of our siblings in the process. My Ninja Turtle would woo the Barbies and join forces with the Ghostbusters to vanquish evildoers which existed solely in our overly imaginative minds. As time faded, Leonardo lost his plastic katanas and the paint on his body began to scuff and peel. Before long I had simply outgrown him. When the time came I tossed him away in a box with the rest of my plastic memories without remorse. His blue bandana was frayed, his legs and arms were scratched and my name written in permanent marker along his bottom foot had all but worn off.

Friday, June 25, 2010

American Conscience: John Mellencamp's On the Rural Route 7609

A colleague of mine, who didn’t know John Mellencamp, asked me what he would be remembered for in music. I said, the song “Cherry Bomb” one of Mellencamp’s biggest pop songs now part of the musical currency of formatted radio. It remains a catchy track with just enough edge to stand out on any “soft-rock” radio station. I suspect that I have better ears than most, if I may be so bold to say, because there’s something explicitly “American” about John Mellencamp. His songs have continuously featured stories of farmers, the working class, rodeos, county fairs, etc. This new 4-CD box set which looks like a relic from your grandfather’s collection of 78s, seems intended to depict Mellencamp in a particular way. Quotes from Tennessee Williams bracket the collection with an essay by Anthony DeCurtis, music critic for Rolling Stone and The New York Times. If nothing else, this set is intended to re-imagine the songwriter in a less commercial way.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Five Cancelled TV Shows You Should Watch

Gone are the days of television producers holding out for that mythical 100th episode in order to guarantee a syndicated afterlife following cancellation. With DVD rentals, Netflix and, On-demand services from your cable provider, and entire cable channels devoted to running and rerunning every old TV show ever produced, no TV show is ever truly gone.

Even so-called failed shows, shows with no ratings and a single season (or half season) run, can have real impact, 
often years after airing only a few episodes on broadcast TV. Shows like Judd Apatow’s Freaks and Geeks, Aaron Sorkin’s Sports Night, or Joss Whedon’s Firefly can meet untimely ends, but still stick around long enough to find their audiences, sometimes 10 years after their cancellation. Some of these shows were ahead of their time, some were just too idiosyncratic to find their audiences, many were ambitious and brilliant but flawed, and others just aired in the wrong timeslot or on the wrong channel.

Today I’m looking at 5 recent additions to the list of my favourite ‘failed’ shows. I’ll be sticking with shows of 1-hour length, and leave the sitcoms to a future post.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Tom Cruise’s Film Career: Nice Try But No Cigar

Knight and Day, Tom Cruise’s latest movie, which opens today, is a reminder, once again, of how he simply can’t hold up his end of the bargain when it comes to creating a charismatic, gripping character on screen. Up against a talented actress like Cameron Diaz he is particularly lost. Cruise, in fact, is the Energizer Bunny of Hollywood. You admire his efforts to act, but it becomes quickly apparent he’s really not getting anywhere acting.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Treme on Hiatus: The Devil's in the Details

The first-season finale of Treme on June 20 was titled “I’ll Fly Away,” and the 1929 gospel song about loss and redemption is performed at a funeral that ends the episode. Some of the lyrics (“Like a bird thrown/ driven by the storm...”) certainly apply to Katrina, which has taken place six months before the fictional TV saga begins. But, with oil now befouling the Gulf of Mexico, an untold number of those birds cannot fly at all. If only the HBO series -- which is scheduled to resume production this fall -- could fast-forward to 2010 and address this Louisiana double whammy

Monday, June 21, 2010

Produced and Abandoned: The Whole Wide World (1996)

The Whole Wide World, based on the 1986 memoir One Who Walked Alone by Novalyne Price Ellis, is a small gem. Set in the early ‘30s, the picture tells the story of the turbulent relationship between pulp writer Robert E. Howard (Vincent D’Onofrio), who created Conan the Barbarian, and Novalyne Price (Renee Zellweger), a young Texas schoolteacher who had aspirations to be a writer. Director Dan Ireland provides a probing and touching appraisal of the gulf between the genders and how these two innocents attempt to bridge it. Where Price craves experience and is deeply drawn to Howard’s fervid imagination; Howard, who can only live in the world of his imagination, is initially drawn to Novalyne’s passionate desire to take in the whole wide world.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Indefensible Film: From Paris with Love (2010)

Many years ago, a friend of mine had an evening of movies that he called "indefensible," basically films he liked for reasons that he could not justify. His films that night: Henry Winkler’s Memories of Me (1988 - starring Allan King and Billy Crystal) and Leni Riefenshahl's Triumph of the Will (1935 - starring Adolph Hitler). After watching both of these films, I concluded only one of them was indefensible, and it wasn't the one featuring the psychopathic Austrian (Riefenstahl's film is a divider for obvious reasons, yet the power of her images and her editing technique cannot be argued with - in fact, I submit that if anybody had really paid attention in 1935 to this awful/brilliant film, perhaps we would have refused to appease the monster and shortened the war by several years or prevented it entirely). On the other hand, Winkler's maudlin melodrama is terrible on many levels, but I guess everybody's entitled to enjoying a film that is nearly universally loathed.

I've got one of my own now that was just released on DVD: Pierre Morel's From Paris With Love (2010). The film is the latest from French filmmaker/producer Luc Besson's factory of gonzo action/adventure films. It's gloriously politically incorrect, outrageously violent, delightfully vulgar, probably sexist and utterly ridiculous on almost every level, and yet I found it refreshingly entertaining because it just doesn't bend to anybody's idea of taste. And who holds this thing all together? John Travolta. More about him in a sec, but first the plot.