A Note on Spoilers

I decided it might be a good idea to make what’s known as a “sticky post” here on the front page for those coming in who might be concerned about spoilers. In these posts I’m going to be talking about varying aspects of movies that I’ve been watching, This may include writing about things that some would consider spoilers, including, at times, the endings of these movies. Those who are particularly spoiler averse may want to avoid reading these posts if they are planning to watch the movie in question. In certain circumstances where I will be discussing events towards the end of the movie, including the ending in at least a vague way, or when a movie contains a particular plot twist that might be considered major, I will try to post a more specific spoiler warning, because I do recognize that even though I may be writing about a movie that is decades old, it’s still going to be new to some people. Okay, with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, shall we?

Just Whose Story Is It? – Quickie Review: A Soldier’s Story (1984)

ss1The problem with Norman Jewison‘s 1984 film A Soldier’s Story is that while it tries very hard to be a movie with a message, and while it works for the most part on that level, it forgets one of the most basic characteristics of  film making: In order to truly succeed, a film has to be populated with people that are actually three-dimensional characters and not just two-dimensional stand-ins for various points of view.

Written by Charles Fuller who is here adapting his own Pulitzer Prize winning off-Broadway play A Soldier’s Play, A Soldier’s Story wants to not only start a discussion about racial conformity and advancement, it wants to be that entire discussion, a rather heady goal for a film that is also trying to fit a murder mystery into its perhaps too tightly packed 101 minute running time.

ss3Don’t get me wrong: A Soldier’s Story is a highly entertaining movie with some outstanding early performances by actors who would go on to have outstanding careers, and watching them in this film it’s easy to see why. Also, special recognition has to go to the late Adolph Caesar who unfortunately passed away only two years after the film’s release for his outstanding portrayal of the despised Sergeant Waters whose killing ignites the events portrayed in the film. Caesar received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for the role, and it’s easy to see why.

ss4No the problem isn’t with the acting, nor with Jewison’s directing, (the film was also nominated for Best Picture, ultimately losing to Milos Forman’s Amadeus), though there are times when the movie’s origin as a stage play does come through, but with the script itself which simply does very little to move the characters beyond their representative types in a way that fleshes them out beyond the viewpoint that they are supposed to represent. Everyone involved really does the most they can with the material they’ve been given, it just feels, in the end, like they haven’t quite been given enough.

And ultimately, that’s a shame, because in many ways the argument that lies behind A Soldier’s Story is as relevant today as it was in the time the movie is set and the time in which it was made. Unfortunately, it’s also the kind of failure that keeps the film from being a true classic.

Classic Television Thursday #031 – The Soupy Sales Show

so1Last time we looked at the classic panel game What’s My Line, and in the featured episode the “mystery guest” was Soupy Sales, so I thought this week we’d take a look at Mr. Pie-in-in-the-Face himself, Soupy Sales.

Born Milton Supman, “Soupy” is actually taken from a family nickname “Soupbone”. He had two other brothers, Leonard and Jack, who were respectively nicknamed “Hambone” and “Chicken Bone”. Yeah, I think it is pretty obvious just from that exactly where Mr. Sales might have developed his unique sense of humor.

Sales was not exactly known for his refined sense of humor. You may have noticed that I called him Mr. Pie-in-the-face earlier. That’s because taking a pie in any possible way he could became his trademark, and over his career, Soupy claimed that he ad the guests on his various shows had taken hits from somewhere around 20,000 (mostly cream) pies.

Sales had a number of different shows over the years, ranging from Lunch With Soupy which was an afternoon children’s program based in Detroit beginning in 1953, to The New Soupy Sales Show, which was broadcast out of L.A. in 1978.

Besides pies, Sales was also known for his work with puppet characters, the most famous of which was White Fang, which Wikipedia describes thusly:

“The Biggest and Meanest Dog in the USA”, who appeared only as a giant white shaggy paw with black triangular felt “claws”, jutting out from the corner of the screen. Fang spoke with unintelligible short grunts and growls, which Soupy repeated back in English, for comic effect. White Fang was often the pie thrower when Soupy’s jokes bombed.

Okay, I could go on, but really, the only way to appreciate Soupy Sales and his shows is to watch them, and today I’ve decided to give you two examples of his work over the years, one from the classic era when the show was broadcast out of New York, and the other from The New Soupy Sales Show.

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trailer Parking – Here Are The New Trailers For Fantastic Four, Jurassic World, Mr. Holmes, Batman V Superman, And The Death Of Superman Lives: What Happened?

It’s been a huge week or so for trailer leaks and releases, and I’ve already featured a couple of them here, but I thought I’d just do a quick roundup of some of the others that have come out recently with a few short comments on each, so here we go.

First up, it’s the new trailer for the latest Fantastic Four reboot:

Okay, obviously, this isn’t the Fantastic Four that I grew up with or even those who only know the characters from the previous movies.. It’s much more obviously based on the “Ultimate Universe” take that Marvel created over a decade ago in an attempt to update those characters and bring them into the new millennium. That being said, I’m in a very strong “wait and see” mode on this one. Obviously, the young cast, led by Miles Teller is appealing, and the action and effects are going to be strong, but what it’s really going to come down to is the storytelling and the chemistry that these characters show onscreen. If they just get the tone right, then this could turn out to surpass what are – fortunately for the film – going to be low expectations, and it could turn out to be pretty good.

Next, Jurassic World:

For some reason I keep forgetting that this movie is coming out this year. I suppose a big part of it is that in all of the blockbuster onslaught that is happening both this year and next, a new Jurassic Park movie, which at other times would have been The Movie Of The Year, is just another feature. Nonetheless, it looks as though Chris Pratt, fresh off the huge success of Guardians of the Galaxy is bringing the same level of charm to this, and as long as he is allowed to do that and the producers have remembered that this should just be a fun “grab some popcorn and enjoy it movie”, this might be a world well worth visiting.

Let’s go a bit smaller next, with the release of the new UK trailer for Mr. Holmes:

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Ian McKellen is an inspired choice to play an elderly Sherlock Holmes, and one has to wonder how well he might have fit into the role in his younger years. This may actually be one of the movies that I’m most anticipating getting to see this year, and the more footage we get, the more that sense of anticipation grows. My only hope is that despite it’s somewhat downer premise (Holmes losing his famed memory and how that affects his deductive skills) it doesn’t turn completely sentimental and sloppy during its final scenes. So far, however, things look really good.

Alright, let’s go ahead and do it. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Yeah, so there it is. You know, I can’t say that I’m surprised that the latest iteration of the title for this flick has Batman’s name out front, because this trailer just makes it look like we’re going to get exactly what I’ve been expecting: A superb performance by Ben Affleck as Batman in what is otherwise going to be a steaming pile of crap follow-up to Man of Steel. No. I’m not going to go into yet another rant on just how much I hated that movie and why, but it looks as though this film is going to be, tonally at least, more of the same. The thing is, this looks like it actually could be a pretty good adaptation of Frank Miller’s seminal The Dark Knight Returns, and if that’s what Warners wanted to make, and if they had made that as a standalone film, then I would probably be completely on board with this as that movie. Unfortunately, that isn’t what this is being billed as, and even worse, it seems to be the major cornerstone that all of the other DC Comics movies coming out in the next few years is going to be built upon. So instead of a fun, relatively light and creative universe where each of the characters gets to be themselves and then come together to just up the ante while still retaining a real sense of adventure and wonder like Marvel has done with their properties (and, for that matter, like DC has done with their TV properties, where both Arrow and The Flash – and even Gotham, which should have the darker tone that it’s been generating – have completely embraced where they come from and what they are and have become and which has me completely psyched for the upcoming team-up spinoff), we’re going to get “grounded” and “gritty” takes on characters like Wonder Woman and Aquaman and the other characters that are going to be spinning out of this movie.

Finally, just to not end this on a completely down note, here’s a trailer for a film that I didn’t even know as coming out until yesterday: The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened?

Superman Lives is one of those legendary comic book movie failures. Imagine 90s era Nicholas Cage starring in a Tim Burton directed, Kevin Smith written Superman movie. Yes, the fanboy head fairly ‘splodes! But for awhile, it seemed like it might actually be a Thing That Might Happen. So why didn’t it? Well, apparently that’s exactly what this documentary sets out to explore. Now obviously, this isn’t going to be the most serious or important documentary that’s going to come out this year, but nonetheless, it should be really entertaining, even for non-Superman fans, just because of the personalities involved. Like I said, I just found out about this yesterday, but it’s very quickly moved to a very high place on mt “can’t wait to see it” list.

So there you go. just a few of the latest trailers that have dropped in the past few days, and I’m sure, as we gear up towards the Summer there will be even more in the next few weeks. So what do you think about these, some of the other ones that I’ve already written about, or other movies coming that we’re still looking for more info on? Let me know!

“Chewie, We’re Home.” – Here’s The New Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Trailer

sw1I’m still in wait and see mode, and will be until the movie comes out, but damn, from the opening image to the music to Harrison Ford’s delivery of that line, this really looks like it could be classic in all the right ways. And this is coming from the old-school guy who waited in line multiple times to see the original (back before all that “A New Hope” jazz) and was at the Belle Meade Theater on opening day for The Empire Strikes Back.

Really, please… you’ve got one shot here (at least with us old fogeys) and we’re not asking much. Mostly we’re all just saying “Don’t Fk It Up.”

Co-Starring Thomas The Tank Engine? – Here’s The New Trailer For Marvel’s Ant-Man (2015)

am1Yesterday we got the trailer for the trailer, today we get the real thing.

Hopefully, despite the numerous behind the scenes ups and downs and the troubles that seem to have plagued Marvel’s upcoming Ant-Man, it’s going to retain that same sense of fun that marked Guardians of the Galaxy and gave it that sense of being a piece that could fit into the ongoing cinematic universe while at the same time not being wedged into the ongoing saga that’s building over the various Avengers movies.

Certainly, from the looks of the trailer, that’s going to be the case, but I guess we really won’t know until the actual movie hits. For now, though, I’m pretty pleased with what we’re seeing. The effects look quite credible, and it seems to be striking that just serious enough tone without forgetting to acknowledge the somewhat ridiculous nature of its entire premise.

I suppose we’ll all find out in July, won’t we?

Oh, and just for the record, yeah, I do like the look of Yellowjacket. It’s a shame that they’ve made such a mess of the entire Hank Pym storyline that he’s not going to be the character in either suit, but again, that’s just where we have to accept that this is the movie universe and not the comic book one.

Classic Television Thursday #030 – What’s My Line?

wml2I’ve always found What’s My Line? to be a slightly odd show, with it’s combination of formality and lightheartedness, always walking that fine line of being ostensibly a game show but one that was more about being entertaining rather than winning, especially for the regular panelists.

The premise was simple: four panelists – usually Arlene Francis, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Bennet Cerf along with a fourth guest panelist – would take turns asking yes-or-no questions of a guest in order to determine their occupation. Each episode would generally consist of two rounds played that way, and then a third round which would see the panelists blindfolded as they tried to identify a “mystery guest” – usually a well-known celebrity – again by asking only yes-or-no questions. The host for the show was John Daly.

wml1I don’t know exactly what it is that makes the show so appealing, but obviously I’m not the only one who finds – or at least found – it so, since during its initial run during prime-time on CBS it lasted for seventeen seasons – making it the longest-running U.S. prime time network television game-show – and after that running in daily syndication from 1968-1975. According to Wikipedia, there were 876 episodes of the prime time version produced, and 1,315 episodes of the syndicated version for a total of 2,191 episodes, and that doesn’t count later revivals or spin-offs such as I’ve Got A Secret.

The episode I’ve chosen to highlight today features comedian and children’s show host Soupy Sales as the Mystery Guest.

Take a look.

Interestingly, Mr. Sales would go on to become one of the regular panelists during the show’s syndicated run. And if you’re curious about his own show, I encourage you to check back next week, when we’ll take a look at it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday Breakfast Serial 022 – Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. (1941) Chapter 11: Seconds To Live

dt11Okay, gang, it’s Saturday again, and time for another installment of Saturday Breakfast Serial and our ongoing chapter play, Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. And, for those of you who may be just joining us, here are the previous posts for this serial: 1, 2, 3, 4 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

Last week we began looking a Columbia Pictures and their serial output which began with the 1937 Louis Weiss produced serial Jungle Menace. This week we’ll take a look at the later part of Columbia’s serial history.

One of the things Columbia was most famous for was its use of previously established heroes for its serials. Drawing from a number of sources, including comic strips and books, radio shows, pulp novels, books, and even television, Columbia produced serials with characters such as Superman, Batman, Terry and the Pirates, Hop Harrigan, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Blackhawk, and even The Shadow. Though mostly aimed at the younger set, Columbia’s serial gained high praise, especially early on, with its 1938 effort, The Spider’s Web, being named the number one serial of the year by exhibitors.

col3During its later years, when its serial budget became more restricted, the studio turned more towards westerns which were cheaper to produce since they were less special-effects driven and required less in the way of elaborate set design. Another way that Columbia cut corners on their later serials was by using animation to produce their special effects instead of on-set explosions, etc.

By the 1950s, unfortunately these budget cuts had severely affected the quality of the studio’s serial output, and like its competitors, by that point Columbia had turned to reusing a lot of footage from previous serials for it’s effect and cliffhanger sequences, even bringing cast members from those older serials back to the studio to provide at least a bit of continuity between the current effort and the previously shot footage.

Despite all of this, Columbia did manage to outlast its competitors, Republic and Universal, with its last serial being 1956’s Blazing the Overland Trail.

Ok, time to get on with this week’s chapter of  Dick Tracy vs Crime Inc. Here’s chapter 11, Seconds To Live:

Next time: Chapter 12: Trial By Fire, and we’ll shift our focus again and take a look at the serial output of Universal Pictures.