Untimely Movie Review: Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz

One of the more interesting bits of classic film trivia is that not only did Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz reach theaters in the same year (1939), but they were actually directed by the same man: Victor Fleming.

Those two facts aside, these films have very little in common.

I watched both recently as I happily slog my way through the Warner Brothers 50 Film Collection.

GoneWithTheWindI first saw Gone with the Wind as a child.  All of my elementary school classmates and I sat on the inexplicably-carpeted gym floor and spent the better part of a day watching the film.  Just about the only thing I remembered about that experience was being amazed at how long the film is.  Indeed, even as an adult, Gone with the Wind’s 238-minute(!!!) length is astounding.

Yet, with so much time at its disposal, Gone with the Wind still manages to seem incredibly rushed at certain points.  It’s a problem that plagues many films that draw upon novels as source material.  To wit: Scarlett gets pregnant, gives birth to her daughter, and that daughter dies at age four or five, all within what seems like 20 minutes.

There are also some, uh, anachronisms.  For one thing, a drunken and fed-up Rhett basically rapes Scarlett at one point, but Scarlett seems grateful after the fact.  Then there is a bit of awkwardness when dealing with the black characters, which is understandable for a movie from the 1930s that deals with the Civil War.  One of these characters (Prissy) is referred to by Rhett as a “simple-minded darkie.”

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that such things don’t bother me, but they might be jarring to other modern viewers, especially naive or overly-sensitive viewers.  Keep in mind that the span of time between the end of the Civil War and the release of Gone with the Wind is now shorter than the time between the release of the film and today.

Two things save Gone with the Wind.  First, the sets and costumes are amazing by the standards of any era.  Secondly, the two leads’ star power and charisma are likewise transcendent.

In a time when filmmakers weren’t particularly concerned with even getting accents right, the beautiful Vivien Leigh nails Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara, a role for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress.  Clark Gable also got a well-deserved nomination for  his portrayal of Rhett Butler.  They take characters who are flawed, not-so-great people and make them effective protagonists.  Both of them are terrific, even when the script feels stilted, or like the compressed novel that it is.

On the other hand, with The Wizard of Oz, I was expecting to be disappointed in a movie that I (like most of us) had watched on a yearly basis as a child.

I was more than pleasantly surprised. Continue reading

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The Instrumentality of My Own Demise

This is it.

This is how I die.

Last night, I questioned everything I thought I believed.

I found myself face-to-face with my greatest fantasy and my greatest fear.

I stared deeply into the abyss.

This is what stared back:


PizzaCake


To be fair, this delicious disaster does not yet exist.  It is merely theoretical . . . as the hydrogen bomb once was theoretical.

Pizza chain Boston Pizza (which, despite the name, operates mostly in Canada) will begin making this “pizza cake” if the cutting-edge item gains enough support in an online poll.

So far, the pizza cake is the runaway winner.

It was nice knowing (a few of) you.

To hazard a quick guess at the caloric content by approximating some of the nutritional information on the Boston Pizza website, assume that each of the six layers is equivalent to a medium pizza.  Further assume that each medium pizza has eight slices, and that each slice has around 250 calories to account for the added caloric content of the cake(!) batter.

That means that just one of these dietary chimeras clocks in at about 12,000 calories.

Twelve thousand.

That’s equivalent to a healthy person’s total caloric intake over the course of about five or six days.

And, so, I have analyzed this grim vision of my—nay, our—future, leaving me with only one thing to say to anyone (unfortunate enough to be) reading this.

Goodbye.

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YES-lemania: The WrestleMania 30 Preview

A scant four weeks ago, I was convinced that WrestleMania XXX was in big trouble.

It looked for all the world that the WWE had an almost insurmountable task ahead of it creatively.  Specifically, it appeared as though the main event featured a match that literally almost no one wanted to see.  Heel WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, despite his customarily good work, appeared to be keeping the belts warm for someone else.

WM30LogoBatista was supposed to be that guy, returning after several years away from the ring (and coincidentally with a major role in Guardians of the Galaxy coming out this summer!!!) to win the Royal Rumble in January.

The fly in the ointment was Daniel Bryan.

Bryan’s persistent popularity, coupled with the fact that he wasn’t even entered in the Rumble, instantly turned Batista heel.  Under different circumstances, Batista would have been cheered as so many others have—as a favorite from the past returning to shake things up at the top of the card.  Instead, the backlash over Bryan transformed him into BOOTISTA.

It looked for a month as if WWE would treat us to a disastrous main event.  This particular disaster would be especially damaging, as WrestleMania XXX will be the first pay-per-view to stream live on the WWE Network.

Facing a “Great American Bash ’91” scenario, WWE did what it does best: It changed creative direction on the fly.

Now, the card looks much different.

Continue reading

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Untimely Movie Review: Mutiny on the Bounty

The true story of the Pitcairn Islands is fascinating.  The short version is that a segment of sailors (many of them conscripted) on the HMS Bounty fell in love with the island lifestyle when visiting Tahiti during a 1787–89 expedition.  Led by Fletcher Christian, 18 mutineers overtook the vessel.  They sent Lt. William Bligh, the captain of the Bounty, along with most of the rest of the crew, off to fend for themselves on a dinghy.

MutinyOnTheBountyPosterBligh and nearly everyone aboard his launch miraculously survived, leading to a subsequent trial for the few mutineers who could be found (including a couple of crewmen who likely weren’t mutineers, but served as handy scapegoats).  Most of the mutineers couldn’t be found, however.

Knowing they would never be able to return to civilization without being arrested, tried, and sentenced to death, the mutineers collected some Tahitian women and fled, eventually winding up at the uninhabited and hard-to-reach Pitcairn Island.  They lived out their remaining days there.  However, a society founded by mutineers quickly and predictably descended into alcohol-fueled, murderous near-anarchy.  The small modern-day population of Pitcairn is descended entirely or almost-entirely from the English Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian “brides.”

1935′s Mutiny on the Bounty presents a much more sympathetic view of the mutiny.

Continue reading

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Go Cancel Yourself

The “#CancelColbert” mini-movement may finally be it.

After years of steamrolling toward this apparently inevitable conclusion, we may at last have reached the point wherein the universe of the offended folds in on itself.  We’ve found our way to “snake eating its own tail” territory now.

It was just a matter of time, really.

StephenColbertControversyIn case you missed it, here are the basics.  Taking issue with Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s effort to create a foundation addressing Native American issues, Colbert (tongue-in-cheek) “praised” Snyder.  Colbert went on to say that he was setting up a foundation of his own to honor Asian-Americans after some were offended by an Asian character of his (dating to 2005).

The name of the foundation?  “The Ching-Chong Ding-Dong Foundation for Sensitivity to Orientals or Whatever.”

The idea behind the joke is obvious, spawning from the position of anti-Redskins critics that Dan Snyder has only nefarious, insensitive motives behind his latest move.  But let’s table that topic for now.

What happened in the wake of the Colbert bit (or, more properly, a tweet from the show that included the name of the “foundation”) was the rise of the #CancelColbert hashtag, which has been a top trending topic on Twitter for over 12 hours as of this writing.

The responses have fallen into a few categories, both from the Left and the Right.  Those on the Left have descended into a Twitter civil war, or at least a skirmish.  One side is quoting chapter and verse from their sociological playbook, saying that “racism” to make a point about racism is still evil, especially when it comes from someone endowed with “white privilege.”

Other liberals, themselves huge Colbert fans, take issue with the first group.  Their argument is that Colbert is “one of us,” and is actually using the joke to make a point about why something truly offensive should be eradicated from our society.  Attacking Colbert is seen as a form of friendly fire.

TwitterWhiteGuys

Via Twitter

A variation on this theme is that the Colbert Report shouldn’t go anywhere, but Fox News (obviously also super-offensive) should disappear.  This sentiment is usually phrased in the form of “What Colbert said was a joke, but Fox News is genuinely racist every day!  Why are they still around?!?,” or words to that effect.  Still another sub-group consists of those saying, “Oh, this is a big deal now because Colbert offended Asians, but, when he offends [e.g.] black people, you’re silent?,” usually accompanied by the apparent shaking of heads.

Meanwhile, hypocrites (or disingenuous opportunists) on the Right have seen an opening to bash their longtime tormentor Colbert.  Forming an unwitting alliance with one camp on the Left, these folks have made the argument that Colbert should be condemned and possibly be fired because he was so offensive.  This is “another example” of how the Left are the “real racists.”  And so on.  See also: Pouncing on Alec Baldwin.

As a general rule, don’t believe these people, especially if they’re months removed from writing columns defending Phil Robertson.

The specific pickle in which we find ourselves is that many people at either end of the political spectrum have now broadly accepted the premise that offensiveness alone is grounds for firing someone.  This is true even if the person is an entertainer, and, over and above that, even if the person is specifically using offensive speech to make a point.

This is a premise born of narcissism.

Continue reading

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The Most Impressive Feat in Game Show History

We’ve seen some astounding—perhaps even viral—feats in the world of game shows over the last few years.

The two that immediately come to mind are an amazing solve on Wheel of Fortune and an exact showcase bid on The Price is Right.

25kPyramidYet, while both of these certainly involved a measure of skill, they were also very lucky.  So much so, in fact, that Drew Carey’s, uh, muted response to the latter was due to his believing that the segment would never even air because the contestant had somehow rigged the Showcase Showdown (which wasn’t the case).

Educated guesses, yes.  But also lucky ones.

This, by contrast, is all skill:

Go back and watch that again to appreciate fully just how incredible that run was.

Billy Crystal’s work on Pyramid is well-known among game show aficionados.  He wasn’t limited to this one, record-setting feat (see below), but this was a match of two exceptionally talented players, rather than Crystal using his superior skill to elevate a decent partner.  To wit: He says “monkeys,” and she replies “things in a barrel.”

Ok, maybe that was a little lucky, too.

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Untimely Movie Review: Grand Hotel

The first of the films in the Warner Bros 50 Film Collection is Grand Hotel.  Grand Hotel won the Academy Award for Best Picture for 1932.  As a quirky bit of trivia, this is the one and only film in movie history that won Best Picture but received no other nominations for itself or its cast and crew.

GrandHotelPosterThe premise of the movie is simple and clean: The plot revolves around the activity inside an expensive hotel in Berlin, following the lives of the various guests who happen to be staying at the Grand Hotel at the time.

Firing up a blu-ray of a movie from 1932 is a dicey proposition.  A lot has changed culturally.  A lot has changed technologically.  A lot has changed in terms of film-making techniques and theory.  Will the movie even be watchable, much less enjoyable?

Grand Hotel largely is both.  It’s easy to see the contemporary quality of Grand Hotel, and some of the sets are impressive even today, particularly the lobby scenes.

Overall, though, the movie still hasn’t aged well.  The acting is incredibly melodramatic by 21st-century (or even post-1970s) standards.  Most of the performances lack any semblance of the authenticity that the performances in a movie produced in the last 50 years would have.

Continue reading

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Coming Soon to a Blog Near You

I try to check Amazon’s “Gold Box” deal of the day as often as possible, which usually amounts to the one day per week when I actually remember to do so.

I luckily happened upon a particularly attractive deal recently.  The phenomenal Warner Brothers 90th Anniversary blu-ray Collection was on sale for a whopping 70% off.  This set includes 50 movies plus a DVD documentary about the history of the studio.

WB50

That this is only #13,209 in the limited-edition run of 50,000 suggests the price will continue to drop.

Streaming media options and other market factors have driven down the price of blu-ray and DVD fairly dramatically over the past three years or so.  This set is no exception.  Originally retailing for $600.00, you can pick one up for about $250.00–$270.00 at this point.  The Gold Box Deal in question had it going for about $100 below that.  Even though that was still a luxury, I was too excited by the title list not to pull the trigger.

It would be an understatement to say that this group of 50 films alone would instantly give you a great movie collection.  Here’s the complete list of titles, in chronological order.  Movies in bold won Best Picture: Continue reading

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Five Tips for Paying Off Your Student Loans

All of my student loans are paid in full as of this month.  Therefore, as a newly minted AMERICAN HERO, I thought I would share my wisdom with folks who haven’t yet crossed that sacred threshold.  I thought these pointers would be particularly helpful to people under 40 (like me) who are facing, or are projected to face, major financial hurdles as a result of their crippling debt.

Here are some tips, courtesy of a Real American:

1. Study HardDo well at your current level of schooling, and the next level will be cheaper.  There is a lot of scholarship money out there.  People will trip over themselves to give it to you.  Filling out paperwork is a pain in the ass, especially when you’re 17 (or even 21 or 35), but the fact that you’re simply willing to fill it out puts you ahead of most of the other lazy people who populate your generation.  There’s no excuse for not getting at least a little scholarship money if you’re even a mediocre student.

2. Be Good at Standardized Tests:  Especially when you’re moving on to grad school, nailing a standardized test can count just as much, if not more, than your undergrad GPA (except for medical school applicants).  Get a high score now, pay less later.  When in doubt, pick “C.”

3. Don’t Get Married:  Courtship costs money.  Weddings cost money.  As Haddaway asked lo those many years ago—what is love (when compared to the sweet satisfaction of knowing Sallie Mae or MOHELA no longer has its hooks in you)?  I’m paraphrasing the lyrics, but we all know that that was the obvious subtext.  Love won’t keep your electricity on.  Love won’t put a roof over your head.  You certainly can’t eat love.  But that extra few hundred bucks a month can do all of that—and more!   IMPORTANT PROVISO: If your potential spouse is an earner, or is, like, super-rich or something, marriage and paying off loans may not be at cross-purposes.  Choose wisely.

4. Don’t Have Children:  Marriage costs money, but kids cost a lot of money.  And, unless you hit the jackpot in an “Olsen Twins”-type scenario, there’s not even a potential for a ROI like there is with #3 above.  Avoid.  Again, what is the joy of bringing another life into this world, one to whom you can impart your values, when measured against the pleasure of knowing you can quietly mutter “There, but for the grace of God, go I” whenever one of your classmates talks about having to sell his car to get creditors off his back?  Easy call.

Don't be like this loser!

Don’t be like this loser!

5. Go to College in the 1990s:  Everyone knows that tuition costs have skyrocketed in recent years.  I graduated from college in 2000, so most of my undergrad career occurred in the 90s.  So, despite going to an excellent, fairly expensive school for that era, my bills were still moderately lower than what someone attending a middle-of-the-road university could expect to pay today.  The solution: Go to college in the 90s.  You’ll save a bundle.  IMPORTANT PROVISO: Going to college in the 80s is probably an even better idea, but I can’t speak to that from personal experience.

Following these five simple tips will help you to pay off all of your student debt in a decade (or less!), freeing up the remainder of your 30s to rationalize your poor life choices and to mock losers who complain that they can’t get a high-paying job with their laughable philosophy, sociology, or art history degrees.

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Domino’s Odd Way of Selling Pizza

DominosLogoHere’s a random observation accumulated by watching far too many hours of sporting (and sports-entertainment!) events over the past couple of years: Domino’s has a strange theory on what kind of advertising will make people want to buy their pizza products (or, if you prefer, “pizza-like” products).

Here are some of the puzzling strategies:

1. We are really bad at making pizza:  The first step down this bizarre path was an advertising campaign featuring Domino’s CEO Patrick Doyle in which he admitted that Domino’s had (has?) terrible pizza, but that the company vowed to do better.  The ads included some comments from Domino’s head chef (I know, I was just as surprised as you were), who felt a little insulted by the whole thing, but nonetheless promised to improve.  Here’s a mini-documentary that includes a lot of the footage used in these ads.

There were also versions that addressed poor service and delivery.

That was a fairly bold move, and certainly a memorable one.  But Domino’s didn’t stop there.

Continue reading

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