Lives up to the name ‘essential’

Saturday night, at 8 p.m. Eastern / 7 p.m. Central, TCM will air “Metropolis” as this week’s episode of “The Essentials,” hosted by Robert Osborne and Drew Barrymore. TCM shows the latest restoration of the movie, released in 2010, and made possible by footage found in 2008 in Argentina. My brother and sister-in-law gave me this as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and it’s one of the best gifts I’ve ever received.

If you have never seen “Metropolis,” or if you’ve only seen the butchered print that existed before 2010, you really need to watch this, or set your VCR.

Even if you don’t like silent movies – and I have to admit, I rarely have the attention span to sit and watch a silent feature film here at home – this is the one to see. It laid the groundwork for so many other things, from “Star Trek” to “Blade Runner.”

The German expressionist classic, released in 1927, just a year or two before talkies became the norm, tells the story of a future civilization deeply divided between the haves and the have-nots. The ruling class lives in a beautiful city of art-deco skyscrapers and flying cars. (Many, many movie and TV art directors, for things like the Tim Burton-era “Batman” movies, have cited “Metropolis” as an influence on their futuristic urban landscapes.) The working class works underground.

Freder Fredersen is the privileged son of Joh Fredersen, the mayor of this futuristic city. Maria is one of the workers, and has become the leader of a non-violent resistance movement, hoping for a “mediator” who can bring together the city’s two classes. When she breaks into the city’s pleasure gardens, Freder sees her and is smitten. He ventures into the city’s subterranean world looking for her and is shocked at what  he finds there.

Joh Fredersen, disturbed by his son’s newfound interest in the workers and worried because some workers have been found in possession of suspicious maps, turns to his old friend and bitter enemy, a mad scientist named Rotwang, who has invented a lifelike android that can be used to disrupt the workers’ resistance movement. But Rotwang has his own priorities ….

Seriously, if you’ve enjoyed any modern science fiction movies or TV shows, you need to see this movie, which laid the groundwork for so many of them. These weren’t cliches in 1927 ….

for those of you with kids

I was neglectful, earlier in the summer, in giving my usual shout-out to “Essentials Jr.,” Turner Classic Movies’ wonderful – but horribly-named – summer showcase of family-friendly films, hosted again this year by Bill Hader, formerly of SNL.

Anyway, tonight, instead of showing one movie, they’re going to show short subjects from the legends of silent comedy – Chaplin, Keaton, Roscoe Arbuckle, and so on. Depending on your kids’ ages and how open they are to new things, this might be a fun evening ….

daddy’s dyin’ … orville’s rehearsin’

The last play I was in was “It’s A Wonderful Life: The Radio Show” over the holidays. But when I first saw a notice for auditions for “Daddy’s Dyin’ … Who’s Got The Will?” at the Fly Arts Center, I didn’t even think about auditioning.

You see, production dates were in late September – and I was planning on taking a mission trip in early September, right when some of the most intense rehearsals would no doubt be taking place. It would simply not be possible to prepare for, and do justice to, a play and a mission trip in the same short period.

Then, last Tuesday, the mission trip got put off until some undetermined time in 2015, due to the current Ebola outbreak in Liberia. Please continue to keep the people of West Africa in your prayers.

Then, I saw a notice for one last audition for the play, this past Sunday. It was already a busy weekend for me, what with judging two chili cookoffs and attending a church ice cream social. But I figured I might at least go and try auditioning for the play.

I have gotten the part of Orville.

The play, by Del Shores, is a family comedy set in Texas. Buford Turnover (who will be played by my Times-Gazette co-worker Martin Jones, with whom I’ve worked several times before) has suffered a stroke, and isn’t expected to live long. The various family members come together, and immediately start getting on each other’s nerves and (as the play’s title indicates) looking at the impending death through the lenses of self-interest. The humor is a little like the “Mama’s Family” segments on “The Carol Burnett Show” – back-and-forth insults and over-the-top portrayals.

The play was made into a 1990 movie featuring Beau Bridges as Orville. I have not seen this, and I do not want to see it until after our production.

This will be a new experience for me. Although I haven’t read the full play, and won’t get my book until some time tomorrow, the description of Orville at the publisher’s web site, and the scenes I read during the audition, make it clear that Orville is the least-likable character I’ve ever played. He’s a redneck garbage collector, kind of mean, mean to his wife and to the other family members gathered together at their father’s bedside. Now, I believe that all of the characters get at least a little redemption as they come together at the end of the play, but this will still be quite a different experience from any role I’ve played before. It’s a good challenge for an actor.

I have to find the humanity in Orville, and the playwright is clear about the fact that he considers these to be rounded characters, not stereotypes, so hopefully he’ll give me something to work with in that regard.

There is a little language in the play – the worst thing I heard in Sunday’s excerpts was a four-letter term for excrement.

As I said, T-G printing press operator Martin Jones plays the family patriarch, Buford. Since I had only Sunday’s auditions to go by, I thought I was competing with Martin for the part of Orville. But Martin wanted the part of Buford and had already read for it extensively at the earlier auditions. I told Martin today that since I played his father in “Come Blow Your Horn,” it’s only fair that he should now take a turn playing my father.

Retired T-G editor Kay Rose is also in the play, in the part of feisty Mama Wheelis. Kay has been in a number of local theater productions but I’ve never been in a play with her before, so this will be fun as well.

Production dates are: September 19, 20, 26 & 27 at 7 p.m. and September 28 at 2 p.m. All performances will be at the Fly Arts Center, just off the square in Shelbyville. You can call 931-684-8359 or visit The Fly Arts Center Monday, Tuesday or Thursday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. for tickets.

 

Analog

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of science fiction, went to a couple of conventions, and so on. I got away from the written science fiction at one point while I was in college, and I don’t really know why. I’ve certainly enjoyed various science fiction movies and tv shows since that time.

Anyway, I was a subscriber during that time to Analog, the granddaddy of all science fiction magazines. Analog goes all the way back to 1930, under the original title of Astounding Science Fiction, and many of the genre’s leading names were first published in its pages. Each issue included an article on some cutting-edge or speculative scientific topic (hence the subtitle “Science Fiction & Science Fact”).

I even tried sending them a story when I was a teenager, my first attempt at serious fiction. (It never went anywhere.) I was also a subscriber to another, similar magazine, Isaac Asimov’s – in fact, it was during the period when I was subscribing to both of them that the company which already owned Isaac Asimov’s bought Analog as well.

I happened to think about Analog a couple months back. I went online found that it’s still being published, as is Isaac Asimov’s. You can get them in print, or you can get them on your favorite e-reader, either in subscription or single-copy form. I decided I was going to buy a single copy of Analog at some point, on Kindle, just to see what it was like, but I never followed up.

My brother Michael was in from North Carolina over the weekend to pick up my nephew from Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala. (He went to a robotics-themed camp and had a fantastic time.) When I talked to Mike on the phone Thursday night, he said he had something to give me. When I got to Dad’s house after work on Friday, I found out what it was. Mike and Kelly had been in a used bookstore in North Carolina and had found a treasure trove of back issues of Analog for just pennies an issue. Mike bought a huge box, kept some for himself, and gave several dozen to me. They range from the late 1960s up to about 1990. (Mike was under the impression the magazine had gone out of business.) Here are just a few of them:

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Some were even from the period during which I was a subscriber – in fact, one of them includes part of Spider and Jeanne Robinson’s “Stardance.” The original short story “Stardance” ran in Analog just before I started reading it, but it was followed a year or so later by a sequel, “Stardance II,” a novella which was serialized over several issues. Then, the short story and the novella were combined and published as a book. My first copy of that book got thrown out at some point, but I went back and re-purchased it later, and it’s still one of my favorites. One of the magazines in the assortment Mike gave me contains the first installment of the novella, and even though I have it in its final book form it’s still a neat souvenir for sentimental reasons.

I just got through reading “The Hornless Ones,” by Paul Ash, a short story from the August 1990 issue you can see at far left in the photo. It made me feel like I was 16 again, looking for the latest issue to show up in my mailbox.

hop to it

I admit it – I was the token heterosexual viewer of the Tony Awards on Sunday night, although I was busy with other things and wasn’t watching most of it all that closely. I did like the bit with Carole King and the woman who’s currently playing her on Broadway. But I was about five minutes late switching over to the show – which killed me, because I wanted to see how this “Duck Dynasty” cast member Hugh Jackman responded to Neil Patrick Harris’ hoop-jumping, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink opening number last year.

I went back and caught the opening later, online. Here it is.

This performance was a tribute to something. I knew what it was, even before Hugh hopped past that video screen on which it was playing. There was a scene from a classic MGM musical in which Bobby Van did a similar hopping number:

In this case, I had never seen the actual movie and could not have told you the name: “Small Town Girl.” I had seen this number as part of “That’s Entertainment,” a feature-length compilation and tribute to MGM’s Freed Unit musicals that ran in theaters, and then on TV, in the 1970s. (The YouTube clip above is taken from “That’s Entertainment,” which is why you hear a second or two of Gene Kelly’s voice introducing the routine.)

I remember Bobby Van and his wife, Elaine Joyce, mostly from game shows. (I was obsessed with game shows as a child, growing up as I did in the heyday of the daytime network game show.) They were each panelists on “Match Game” at one point or another, and they appeared as a couple on “Tattletales,” which was Goodson-Todman’s celebrity version of “The Newlywed Game.” Bobby Van even hosted a few short-lived game shows himself. It wasn’t until I saw “That’s Entertainment” that I realized his celebrity came from any place other than game shows.

Right about the time I tuned over last night, before I had seen the actual number, I laughed out loud at Tori Taff’s response to it on Facebook:

  • You know you’re of a certain age when u watch Hugh Jackman BOUNCE into#Tonys2014 & all u can think is “Yeah, knee replacements for sure.”

It seems like a strange choice to have the opening number of the Tonys be a tribute to a scene from a movie, but the song to which Bobby Van was hopping was called “Take Me To Broadway,” so maybe it wasn’t such a strange choice after all.

crossbones

It’s a bad sign that I hadn’t even heard of “Crossbones” until after the first episode had aired, and that NBC is showing it on Friday nights during the summer.

But I have to say, I am thoroughly enjoying it. Maybe since I know going in that it’s not long for this world, I won’t be too disappointed when the inevitable happens.

“Crossbones” is a pirate drama with John Malkovich as Edward “Blackbeard” Teatch. Malkovich is the star, but Richard Coyle as resourceful, well-educated British agent Tom Lowe is the central character. Lowe has orders to kill Blackbeard, but finds himself Blackbeard’s prisoner, in effect, on a secret Caribbean island.

The show is more entertainment than history – an anachronistic steampunk submarine has been hinted at – but there is one interesting historical connection. Earlier today, before watching the first episode, I noticed that the Amazon Kindle deal of the day was “Longitude” by Dava Sobel. This is a non-fiction book about the creation of the first accurate clock that could be taken to sea, enabling mariners for the first time to be able to calculate their longitude, and thus their exact position. The book sounded interesting.

Then, when I watched the first episode, that very clock turned out to be a critical plot point on the show – Blackbeard wants it, and Lowe must try to keep it out of his hands. (I ended up going back and buying the Kindle book out of curiosity, while it was still on sale for $1.99.0)

Malkovich and Coyle are both fantastic, as are several of the other players. (I’m sometimes annoyed by the Coyle character’s dim-bulb Jimmy Olsen sidekick, but that’s a quibble.)

I can’t understand why NBC isn’t giving this more of a chance; I think it’s wonderful escapist entertainment.

Here, if you’re interested, are the first two episodes:

lisa

I just watched a sensational movie I’d never seen or even heard of before: “Lisa,” with Dolores Hart and Stephen Boyd. Dolores Hart – who is now a Benedictine nun – is co-hosting an evening of movies on Turner Classic Movies, and this apparently seldom-seen gem was one she requested they show.

Dolores Hart, before entering the convent, was best known for appearing in a couple of movies with Elvis (“Loving You” and “King Creole”) as well as “Where The Boys Are.” While they aren’t showing either of the Elvis movies tonight, Robert Osborne had to ask her about Elvis, and she remarked on what a gentleman he was to her, calling her “Miss Dolores” – the same thing she would later be called as a postulant!

Stephen Boyd is best known, to me, anyhow, as the bad guy in “Ben-Hur,” but he’s the good guy in “Lisa.”  He plays a Dutch policeman in 1946, guilt-ridden because he could not save his wife from the Nazis, who encounters an emotionally-scarred survivor of the concentration camps and Nazi expermentation. Lisa (Hart) wants to travel to Palestine (the movie is set two years before the state of Israel was created) and become a nurse. Seeking redemption, Boyd vows that he will help her get there. Her experiences have left her with trust issues, and she’s not sure how to take his offer.

A highlight of the film early on is an appearance by one of my favorites, Leo McKern (of “Rumpole of the Bailey” and “The Prisoner”) as a curmudgeonly barge captain who helps the pair get out of Amsterdam.

A terrific movie, with great performances by both of the stars.

those frenchies seek him everywhere

I came home for lunch just now and noticed that “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (1934), with Leslie Howard, was just about to come on TCM. I can’t sit here and watch it, of course, but I started the DVR right away.

A little history: Baroness Orczy’s novel “The Scarlet Pimpernel,” about a heroic freedom fighter masquerading as an ineffectual fop, was one of the inspirations for Johnston McCulley to create Zorro – and cartoonist Bob Kane had both the Pimpernel and Zorro in mind when he created the mysterious caped crimefighter who hides behind the public face of wealthy playboy Bruce Wayne.

And, of course, you can’t mention the Pimpernel without quoting the poem – the silly, sing-song poem spouted frequently by the Pimpernel’s swishy alter-ego Sir Percy Blakeney:

We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel!

If you mainly know Leslie Howard as wishy-washy Ashley Wilkes from “Gone With The Wind,” you need to see him in this, where he’s equally adept as both the hero and the buffoon.

critical shaving update

mens-shave-creamI know that all of you in the reading public have been breathlessly awaiting the latest chapter in my shaving odyssey. First, though, a recap:

I had been using an electric razor for a number of years, but late last summer I decided that a) I missed blade shaving, but b) I did not miss the price of store-bought razor cartridges. After looking at several online options, I went for Harry’s, an online startup founded by some of the same people responsible for the eyeglass company Warby Parker.

Harry’s makes a really nice razor – it feels like a quality product, yet the cartridge refills are much cheaper than the major brand sold in stores. Harry’s appears to be doing well – just since last summer, they’ve bought out the German factory that had been supplying their blades. They recently were a sponsor on Leo Laporte’s “This Week In Tech” podcast.

I’ve been very pleased with Harry’s, and I gave a starter kit to a family member whose name I drew for Christmas. For a while, I would post links to their site through their referral program, and as a result I earned four free cartridges a few months back when a friend of mine ordered something using the link. Now, though, they seem to have removed any mention of the referral program from their web site. So I don’t benefit in any way from telling you about them; I just honestly like the product.

The Harry’s starter kit includes not only the razor and cartridges but also a tube of their shaving cream. I liked the shaving cream in a tube, much better than the canned shaving cream or gel I used to use. Instead of a big fluffy layer of foam, you get a very thin, but slick, layer, which I think does a better job.

However, unlike their cartridges, Harry’s shaving cream is not any cheaper than what’s in the stores. In fact, I soon found that Neutrogena made a shaving cream in a tube that was cheaper than Harry’s. Then, I found Every Man Jack, which was even cheaper than Neutrogena.

The trouble with Every Man Jack is that the only place I could find it locally was Walmart – and then Walmart suddenly stopped carrying it. So I went back to Neutrogena, which seems to be in all of the supermarkets and drug stores.

That brings us to this week.

Monday, on a whim, I ended up buying a different brand – one which, like Harry’s, was a startup, although in this case it’s now being sold through regular retail channels. Cremo is a shaving cream in a tube which boasts of being “astonishingly superior” and “impossibly slick.” You only need an almond-sized amount to cover your face. The tube came with a little neck-hanger in which one of the co-founders, whose face and signature are prominently featured, offers a full rebate of the purchase price as an incentive for trying out the product. (“I’ll give you this tube FREE!”) So I bought the tube and sent in my receipt for the rebate.

I tried it this morning and … it’s pretty good. It’s got a citrusy smell, it lubricates well, and I got a nice close shave with it. I’d give it a good review, even compared to Harry’s, Neutrogena or Every Man Jack.

So that’s my latest review.

meeting of minds

I don’t know what made me think of “Meeting of Minds” the other day. I went looking online tonight and found just two short clips on YouTube. The show doesn’t seem to be available on DVD, nor do I believe it’s been rebroadcast since its original run, which is a shame.

“Meeting of Minds,” which ran on PBS in the late 1970s, was the brainchild of Steve Allen. Allen first had the idea in the 50s, and wanted to include it as a segment on a weekly prime time show he was doing at the time. But the sponsor wouldn’t approve. Later, a Canadian show with a similar premise appeared, and Allen even appeared on that show as George Gershwin, a year or two before his own version premiered on PBS. But although the Canadian version predated Allen’s, Allen actually had the idea first.

The premise was a historical talk show, with Allen as host and the guests being actors in character as historical figures from various eras in time. (Allen’s wife Jayne Meadows was a frequent guest, playing a number of different historical figures on different episodes.) I especially remember one episode with Voltaire and Martin Luther as two of the guests. Allen would bring out the first guest, interview them a little while, and then that guest would stay on stage as the next guest came out. There were usually four guests, and so once you had all four of them on stage they’d start to interact with each other. As you can imagine, Voltaire and Martin Luther were not quite in agreement.

The dialogue was based on the actual writings or reported comments of each real person, but they were artfully edited and woven together by Allen (who wrote every episode) into what sounded like natural conversation.

I see on Wikipedia that there was one episode which made a minor deviation from the format. William Shakespeare was paired, not with other historical figures, but with characters from his works. (Jayne Meadows played the “dark lady” from his sonnets.)

I don’t think I saw anywhere near all of the episodes, but I still remember the series vividly, all these years later. I really wish someone would make it available. Wikipedia says that the scripts are available for educational performance or study, and Allen waived any rights to performance royalties because of their educational nature.

Here’s one of the YouTube clips I found: