Walter Mirisch to be featured on TCM Private Screenings

This Monday, September 29th, Robert Osborne will host an evening with the prolific and overwhelmingly successful produce Walter Mirisch, as the multiple Academy Award winner talks about his fascinating life and awe inspiring career in the movie business, followed by a 4-movie salute of some of the craft man’s best.

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Rating: A

TCM’s series ELVIS MITCHELL: UNDER THE INFLUENCE has one fault – It’s Too Short!

Celebrities reveal their influences in this original series hosted by film critic Elvis Mitchell. The premiere episode aired July 7 and featured the late Sydney Pollack in his last in-depth interview. However, it seemed abrupt and truncated. When you’re talking about the influences that have shaped an artist’s life, a half hour is too short to cover the subject sufficiently. It definitely left me wanting more.

Continue reading “TCM’s series ELVIS MITCHELL: UNDER THE INFLUENCE has one fault – It’s Too Short!”

Rating: A-

Private Screenings: Norman Jewison

Turner Classic Movies is well known to be ‘the’ premiere movie channel for anyone who loves classic cinema. Robert Osborne’s knowledge of the facts and history of film classics makes his hosting of TCM’s series “Private Screenings” a delightful addition to its regular programming. In the past, “Private Screenings” has had such luminous guests as Angela Landsbury, Robert Mitchum, and on one occasion Walter Mattthau & Jack Lemmon together.

With this in mind, I sat down with great anticipation to watch a preview of TCM’s latest installment. On September 13th, TCM will air Robert Osborne’s one on one conversation with Norman Jewison. Unfortunately, as promising as that seemed it was a disappointment. It’s not that Jewison’s career has not been a strong and varied one. He has created such remarkable films as In The Heat of The Night, The Russians Are Coming – The Russians Are Coming, Fiddler On The Roof, A Soldier’s Story, The Hurricane, and Moonstruck among others. It is just that this episode of “Private Screenings” lacks the usual insights and revelations that Mr. Osborne traditionally has drawn out of his guests. Nothing is surprising or particularly revealing. The show boils down to two men going over territory most classic film devotees have heard before.

You would think a man who’s career spans fifty years, beginning in television directing the likes of Judy Garland in her now famous TV special, and has been responsible for some of the most socially conscious films would have some pretty profound and intriguing accounts to share. No such luck here. Perhaps editing and the show’s one-hour time constraint prevented Jewison’s stories from playing out. Whatever the reason, what remains is a recounting of situations that have been told again and again. The effect is little more than an elongated version of one of Osborne’s informative mini-lectures presented before and after the films on TCM. It should be noted that almost fifteen years ago “Inside The Actors Studio” also had Jewison as a guest and it was a much more satisfactory experience.

No doubt Norman Jewison himself is a very nice man. He is all smiles during the interview and seems to really love the life he has had the pleasure to lead in the film industry. By all accounts there’s not a person in the industry who has a bad thing to say against him, and he has lived a steady and quiet life in Toronto for many years where in 1992 his native country of Canada awarded him their highest civilian honor; the Companion to the Order of Canada.

If you don’t know much about Norman Jewison’s body of work, his record is one to be envied. He has garnered four Oscar nominations for himself as well as 46 nominations and 12 awards for his films. An entertaining raconteur on this occasion he is not.

If you have nothing to do on the evening of Thursday September the 13th and know nothing of this impressive filmmaker, watch “Private Screenings: Norman Jewison” at 8pm, followed by “Moonstruck” at 9pm. The rest of us might be better off renting one of Jewison’s films and tuning into TCM another night. Norman Jewison’s work speaks for itself.

Rating: D+

Spielberg on Spielberg

Maybe it’s because Schickel only focuses on Speilberg as director, and then only on some of the projects he actually made. Maybe it’s because what Schickel gleans from Speilberg has been so oft-told, by Spielberg and others, very little new or revelatory comes to light. And at a scant eighty-six minutes, one must wonder what was left of the proverbial cutting room floor. Did Spielberg spend any time talking about the projects he once planned to make, such as “Big” and “Memoirs of a Geisha,” but ended up letting go of for various reasonsr Did he talk about his mentoring the likes of Robert Zemeckis, or the dozens of projects like “Goonies” and “Gremlins” and “Back to the Future” and “American Tailr” Did he talk about the projects that he supervised but ended up taking his name off of, like “Fandango” and “Three O’Clock High,” for various reasonsr Did he talk about what really happened with “Poltergeistr” Did he talk about his TV projects, from “Amazing Stories” and “Animaniacs” to “Band of Brothers” and “Takenr” Did he talk about working with other iconoclastic filmmakers, like Eastwood and Scorsese, or what went into the creation of DreamWorksr Did he talk about his plans for the futurer

What we do get is mostly the type of five-cent sound byte perfected over thirty years of the kind of junketeer queries that sadly passes for modern journalism. We may not, and should not, expect an inquisition, but when you have someone like Richard Schickel creating the retrospect, we can expect a better insight into the man and his work than we would get from the local morning news. When Spielberg does open up about his non-filmmaking life, it is only on the most basic terms. Much has been written about how seemingly drastic his parent’s divorce has permeated his work, yet Spielberg makes no mention of how this event informed his storytelling. When he talks about his children, it is only how the ending of “Close Encounters” would have been different if he had made it today, being a father with a lifetime of experience versus a younger single man with little responsibilities.

The first third of the show features a rote timeline of his early days, starting with the mythical stories of his days as a teenager wandering the Universal Studios lot, trying to look like he belonged, through his early career directing television episodes and the occasional made for TV movie. We are treated to some professionally-drawn storyboards to accentuate his stories of how he only had a few days to shoot the seventy-something page script for “Duel,” and how he was able to shave days of his shooting schedule by having five camera crews rolling during many of the truck chase sequences. If only there were more nuggets of unlearned information like this. We zip through “Jaws” and “Close Encounters” in quick succession, learn his humility from the “1941” debacle and how his friendship with George Lucas, who quickly put him on “Raiders of the Lost Ark” after his first professional misstep, saved his from despair. After some backstory into “E.T.,” the narration strangely jumps a decade to “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List,” and then spends the remaining time bouncing from project to project, with little rhyme or reason or timeframe reference, until we end with his most project “Munich.” Even more strangely, Schickel omits any reference to the “Indiana Jones” or “Jurassic Park” sequels, his part of “The Twilight Zone” movie, “Always,” “Hook” and the more recent “Catch Me If You Can,” which garned some of the best reviews of his career.

Considering the golden opportunity Schickel had to get him to really get in depth about his projects, and the brevity of this one, “Spielberg on Spielberg” can only be seen as a colossal let-down.

Rating: C-

Oi with the Poodles Already: The End of "Gilmore Girls"

Unlike other TV programs that I’ve followed from the start, I didn’t get in on the ground floor of “Gilmore.” After spying a commercial promoting an appearance by The Bangles midway through the first season, I tuned in to spy on my number one rock crush, Susanna Hoffs. What I ended up with was a severe curiosity about this strange show where characters vomited brainy dialogue in atypical Gatling-gun fashion, located in an anti-Mayberry small town populated with the most itchy and socially constipated neighborhood characters I had ever seen. I was hopelessly hooked from the cold opening.

The continuing adventures of Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and Rory (Alexis Bledel) Gilmore was defined in the first six seasons by the lightening-fast wry wit of creator Amy Sherman-Palladino (along with husband Daniel). Her crystalline vision for Stars Hollow was staggering, constructing prime time dramedy that wasn’t afraid to drop obscure literary and pop culture references, put alt-rock hipsters to work, and fall hard for the actors, fighting furiously to hand the cast plenty to work with in nearly every episode. In a landscape of procedural dramas, hospital-show cringing, and shameless reality muck, Sherman-Palladino desired her show to feel like home. For nine months out of the year, she achieved exactly that.

Like any television series, “Gilmore” set sail with humble beginnings. Funded in part by the Family Friendly Television Forum, the show was promoted as a softer alternative to the harder-edged programming that clings to the boob tube like a virus. Watching “Gilmore” evolve over the years, the program grew a startling personality, leaping between the fantasyland of comedy and the universal heartbreak of parenthood, shedding any sort of mild foundation to blend in staggering emotional verisimilitude – occasionally piercing right through the heart. Even awful detours in scripting and tone (every show has them) never asphyxiated the serene, cordial intent of the show.

No matter how verbose, romantically tangled, or slapsticky the program became, a critical dramatic magnetism was always maintained by Graham and Bledel. Two actresses pitch-perfect in their river deep, mountain high roles, the girls of Gilmore always grounded their show in intelligence and open-hearted humor. Over the run, Bledel grew slowly into Rory’s skin, cautiously feeling around the gracelessness of teendom (privileged teendom no less), blossoming into a young woman of anxiety but unswerving in her intellect and curiosity.

How Lauren Graham was routinely ignored by the Emmy Awards is one of Tinseltown’s biggest mysteries (next to the Black Dahlia murder and Joss Whedon’s popularity). The bottomlessly talented actress delivered every week as the flawlessly dressed, rarely inhaling, unlucky in love single mom. Lorelai’s character arc was a knotted, often uproarious journey, with Graham acing every one-liner, unspoken desire, and hairpin scripted turn with a heavenly poise you rarely find on television anymore. It was just this level of monumentally funny, touching acting that elevated “Gilmore” every chance it could find.

For the record, my gushing, indefatigable crush on Graham only informed 10% of the preceding paragraph.

I know for some fans, saying adios to “Gilmore” isn’t such a difficult task. After leaving the series last season due to a contract dispute, Palladino was replaced by semi-quack David Rosenthal (do yourself a favor and Google his backstory), who had the grueling task of making the show hum just as efficiently while also dealing with the demands of his newly empowered cast. The seventh season certainly hasn’t been as thoughtful, passionate, or sharply blueprinted as previous years, but, at the end of the day, it’s still “Gilmore.” Like pizza, sex, and the Nintendo Wii, when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.

Tuesday nights just won’t be the same without Luke’s wet blanket charm, Kirk’s buffet of impulse, Sookie’s irresistible spunk, Lane’s ubercool way of the drummer, Taylor’s megalomania, Paris’s destructive social skills, Richard and Emily’s unrelenting WASPness, Rory’s plucky educational spirit, and Lorelai’s coffee-stained oneness with the sprawling and tranquil Stars Hollow universe. “Gilmore Girls” was classic comfort food television that, if there’s any justice in this world, will be cherished for years to come.

Rating: A