With American crime TV series now an almost indistinguishable jumble of action-oriented plots featuring calendar model-type male and female leads, it's nice to revisit an era when the pace was slower, the plots were more intelligent and the stars resembled everyday people. Case in point: the old "Columbo" series starring Peter Falk, a product of the late 1960s that became so phenomenally successful that its lifespan into the early 2000's. The show would appear regularly- and later occasionally- in the format of a 90 minute TV movie when such fare was all the rage on network TV. The show premiered as a "one-shot" production titled "Prescription: Murder" in 1968 but the character of Columbo became so popular that he became a mainstay of the NBC Mystery Movie", a weekly program in the 1970s in which popular actors were seen as sleuths. The format allowed each star (Falk, Rock Hudson, Dennis Weaver and Richard Boone) to be seen on alternating weeks. "Columbo" became Falk's signature role as the frumpy, seemingly idiotic L.A. police detective who used these characteristics to intellectually disarm his adversaries. Every episode allowed the viewer to see precisely who committed a presumably perfect crime. Inevitably, the culprit would be an elitist, well-established snob- predominantly a male, but occasionally female. The principal villain was also generally played by a major star, thus allowing viewers the delight of seeing actors who generally portrayed heroic figures to engage in some mustache-twirling as bad guys. The most delightful aspect of the series, aside from the intricate plot lines, were the sequences in which Columbo slowly closes the noose around his prey. Both detective and suspect know what is going on but they engage in civility toward each other as the culprit goes through the motions of pretending he is helping Columbo solve the crime. Columbo was unlike any of the slick, sophisticated TV detectives audiences had grown accustomed to. He was generally clad in a crumpled trench coat and drove a laughably battered 1959 Peugeot 403 convertible with the only apparent accessory a working police radio. Falk's inimitable New York mannerisms and speech patterns gave him a "fish-out-of-water" quality no matter who he interacted with, including his fellow police officers. Finishing off his unsophisticated appearance was his omnipresent cheap cigar, which he would smoke everywhere, including mansion houses where he was investigating crimes. (Like Clint Eastwood's Man With No Name, we never quite see him with a fresh cigar in his mouth, only a half-stogie that appeared to be as much chewed as smoked.)
Patrick McGoohan as Col. Rumford
Netflix is now presenting the various seasons of "Columbo" that were aired on NBC. (The show's revival in the late 1980s was seen on ABC.) One standout episode in a history of standout episodes is "By Dawn's Early Light", which was originally telecast in October, 1974. (The show can be found in the Season 4 category on Netflix.) Patrick McGoohan is cast as Col. Lyle C. Rumford, a gruff, spit-and-polish career soldier who is in charge of an illustrious military school. When we first see him, he is painstakingly disassembling the shell for a ceremonial canon and modifying it so that it will be an instrument of murder. We soon meet the intended victim: William Haynes (Tom Simcox), the grandson of the school's legendary founder. Haynes has a confrontational meeting with Rumford in the colonel's office. They discuss the fact that enrollment in the school has plummeted dramatically in recent years due to the aversion of boys who want to pursue a military career. (Keep in mind the episode was shot during the period in which the United States still had a presence in Vietnam.) Haynes has developed a plan to ensure the school's economic survival by making it a coed institution. Rumford is appalled by the idea and intends to thwart its implementation by having Haynes killed when he fires the canon at the school's Founder's Day event. He will achieve this by adjusting the explosives inside the shell canister then stuffing a rag into the barrel of the weapon. The ploy works: when Haynes fires the canon, it explodes and kills him in front of hundreds of horrified on-lookers. Rumford thinks he has gotten away with murder and ensured that the school will continue as an all-male institution with him in charge. But, as they say in detective films, the plot thickens when Columbo arrives on scene. To state any more specifics would ruin the enjoyment of the episode, which is one of the best. The sheer pleasure of seeing Falk squaring off on camera with McGoohan is a true delight and the episode was so well received that McGoohan won an Emmy for his performance. Adding to the pleasures are the high production values. The episode was filmed on location at The Citadel military college in Charleston and this allowed the producers a degree of authenticity that would have been difficult to replicate on a back lot. The episode also benefited from the inspired direction of Harvey Hart, who also directed such feature films as "Bus Riley's Back in Town", "The Sweet Ride" and "Fortune and Men's Eyes." If you're going to engage in some binge-watching, you would be hard-pressed to find a better companion than Lt. Columbo.
(Trivia note: keep an eye out for young Bruno Kirby, who plays one of the cadets.)
For an essay about this episode, visit the How Sweet It Was site by clicking here.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER "COLUMBO: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON" FROM AMAZON
Well, it's that time of year again when pundits everywhere weigh in on the merits (or lack thereof) of the previous evening's Oscar telecast.
Here are my random observations:
Host Neil Patrick Harris was affable and likable and worked like hell to put on a good show. But there lies the rub. Traditionally, Oscar hosts never had to be chosen for their ability to carry Busby Berkeley-like song and dance extravaganzas. Dear old Jerry Lewis, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson were simply there to keep the traffic flowing to the podium in between rattling off some memorable one-liners. Billy Crystal quashed that tradition with his ever-outrageous opening production numbers that razzed the Academy and some of the nominees. The idea should have been retired with him when he announced he would no longer host the event. Last evening's opening act was certainly opulent and contained some funny zingers if you could discern them through the lightning-fast production. Throughout the rest of the show, Harris had some hits but plenty of misses. There were some witty lines (i.e "Tonight we honor Hollywood's best and whitest") but plenty of bizarre antics that either flopped or just went nowhere. Early on, he introduced a running gag in which he said he made predictions about the show that were kept in a locked box on the stage. No one knew the point of the joke, which he referred to numerous times. When the payoff finally came, it turns out there were printed pages that accurately predicted what certain winners and presenters would say and how they would act. It was impressive but only in the way that a guy at a cocktail party can impress others with the old "Pick a card...any card!" magic routine. It was completely pointless for an Oscar telecast that weighed in at 3 1/2 hours. Additionally, some of Harris's other jokes were so lame that, in one instance, he had to explain the meaning of a joke about Oprah Winfrey's wealth to Oprah herself. When you have to discuss why people should find a joke funny in retrospect, you're in trouble. I was reminded of a critic who once said that watching producer Samuel Bronston's "Circus World" was like sitting with an elephant on your lap. Perhaps last night's event wasn't the equivalent of an elephant but it came pretty close to holding a walrus on your lap. Harris gamely tried to keep the pace going fast but it was beyond his control. Overlong acceptance speeches are the bane of any Oscar host and they were out in full force last night. Overall, Harris tried hard and succeeded often enough not to have embarrassed himself. However, since the guy already hosts the Tony Awards, the Emmys, the TV Land Awards and probably the "Man of the Year" at your local Loyal Order of Moose Lodge, the Academy should pull out all the stops to bring back some proven hosts such as Steve Martin, Whoopi Goldberg or Ellen Degeneres, all of whom have a natural ability to improvise brilliantly.
Most of the talent on stage looked elegant. For the most part the males continued the welcome trend of shunning trendy tuxedos in favor of the standard black tie look. The ladies also avoided any over-the-top fashion disasters and most looked very stylish, with J-Lo knocking viewer's eyes out with a plunging neckline number that managed to be sexy without crossing over into tacky.
Harris's ill-constructed comedy sketch in which he strutted from backstage out to the main event clad only in white briefs was probably lost on 95% of the viewers who didn't realize that it was a spoof of a sequence in "Birdman". As such, countless millions of people around the globe were probably scratching their heads as they pondered the relevance of the largely superfluous routine. I have a sneaky feeling that the primary motive for Harris to strut out of the stage and show his fab abs. That doesn't make it appropriate for an event that once at least aspired to providing a classy atmosphere. This bit would have been better left to the Letterman show.
Harris struts his stuff in "Birdman" sketch that was more suited for "Letterman" than the Oscars.
Left-wing political speeches were back with a vengeance but they had a mixed impact. Long-time activist Patricia Arquette, a deserving Supporting Actress winner for her remarkable performance in "Boyhood", gave an impassioned speech about equal pay for women. It was somewhat appropriate, given the fact that her character in the film is a single mother who struggles her entire life with low pay in often menial jobs. However, anyone delivering a passionate speech about any topic should take note: it would have a bit more meaning and sincerity if it wasn't read word-for-word off a sheet of paper. These people are professional actors, for Pete's sake--- why can't they just speak extemporaneously about subjects that are supposed to be so important to them? The writers of the Oscar-winning song "Glory" from "Selma" were more effective, delivering a relevant criticism of exceptionally high incarceration rates for black males in America, along with successful attempts in recent years to weaken the Voting Rights Act. Alejandro G. Innaritu, the Mexican director who won the Oscar for "Birdman", worked in some respectful pleas regarding the plight of illegal immigrants when he initially won an award for co-writing the screenplay for the film. When Sean Penn strolled to the podium to announce the Best Director award for Innaritu, he pondered about "Who gave this sonofabitch a Green Card?" So Innaritu will always have that as part of his legacy. Penn may be one of our greatest actors, but the combination of his perpetual frown and his penchant for tasteless remarks should make him off-limits for future Oscar chores. The most effective "lecture" was the one delivered by Graham Moore, who won Best Adapted Screenplay for "The Imitation Game". The young, gay writer made a plea for tolerance in society and disclosed that age 16, he had tried to commit suicide. He inspired young viewers to be proud of who they are and to continue being "weird". It was a poignant and touching moment.
Least classy Oscar nominee: Michael Keaton, who chewed gum throughout the entire evening. The ghosts of Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier must have been doing cartwheels in their graves.
I was happy to see J.K. Simmons win Best Supporting Actor for his amazing - and terrifying performance- as a potentially psychotic music teacher in "Whiplash". Simmons encouraged everyone to call (not text, or E mail!) their parents, if they are fortunate enough to still have them, and express their love for them. Good advice...but it was kind of a weird Dr. Phil moment. More bizarrely, Simmons never uttered a word of thanks to his director or co-star.
I hope I never see another Oscar show in which the host enters the audience to toss jibes at attendees. Harris tried this and the results were deadly. As the clock kept ticking, he engaged in meaningless patter that he seemed to be improvising on the spot. This included humiliating various celebrities for no apparent reason and even making small talk with a "seat filler" (a person who takes a celeb's seat if they have to run to the bathroom.) It got so bad that I thought I had gone into a time warp and was watching an old episode of Monty Hall in "Let's Make a Deal".
There was so much time wasted on superfluous bits that went nowhere that I really resented the fact that honorary Oscar winners Maureen O'Hara and Harry Belafonte were relegated to a few seconds of film clips from an event held separately from the main show. Exactly how does a show that extols Hollywood tradition and glamour not find a few fleeting minutes for these legends to appear on the telecast? It was galling, especially when you saw another legend, Sidney Poitier, standing next to Belafonte. Can you imagine the emotional payoff if this had been played out on stage? But it didn't because we needed that valuable time to be used for Harris to stroll through the audience trying to find how to kill time.
One nice surprise was the tribute to the 50th anniversary of "The Sound of Music" in which a selection of classic songs from the film were performed by a surprisingly understated Lady Gaga- topped off by an on-stage appearance by the ageless Julie Andrews. With so few Hollywood legends still with us, this was especially nice to see.
The award for "Longest Winded Speech of the Night" went to Pawel Pawlikowski, the director of "Ida", the Polish movie that won for Best Foreign Film. We understand his pride in taking home his country's first Oscar but he simply wouldn't shut up-- even when the orchestra started playing over his words. It's as though he thought he was filming the pilot for the "Pawel Pawlikowski Show". Maybe next year, Oscar should consider reviving one of those big canes they used to use in Vaudeville to forcibly remove performers from the stage.
As usual, most of the nominees for Best Song were boring at best and at least one- from "The Lego Movie"- was awful. It may have been fun in the context of the film itself, but even an elaborately staged production number couldn't mask the fact that not one sane person would ever willingly play this at home or in their car. Similarly, seeing the audience explode in thunderous applause at John Legend's rendition of "Glory" from "Selma", one couldn't help but wonder just how often most of these folks ever listen to gospel music in their spare time.
There were numerous jibes about the recent controversy regarding the fact that all of the major nominees were white. This lead to conspiracy theories all around that there were devious forces afoot that belied a racist tone to the Academy. Really? For the record, after every year's nominees are announced, there is an inevitable backlash that so-and-so got cheated out of a nomination. This is nothing new. As for racism in the Academy, it's pretty fair to guess that the vast majority of the Academy members would be considered very liberal. For years, conservatives have lambasted this aspect of the awards, accusing the Academy of caving in to political correctness. Additionally, one only has to consider the fact that last year's Best Picture winner was "12 Years a Slave" and two of it's key artists- screenwriter John Ridley and actress Lupita Nyong'o, both of whom are black- received Oscars.The film was nominated for nine Oscars including a nomination for the film's director Steve McQueen, who is also black. It simply defies belief that the same members of the Academy became racist in the course of twelve months. Even if you do believe that, didn't anyone notice that a Mexican director won the top award?
Then there is the annual controversy about the memorial segment of artists who passed away in the last year. As usual, everyone can cite somebody who should have been included. Although Elaine Stritch was noted more for stage appearances and Joan Rivers was primarily a comedy star, both should have been included because they did have feature films on their resumes. (Rivers was actually one of the first female directors and she used to host the Oscar red carpet event for many years.) No mention was made of either of them, but there were plenty of people cited who worked behind the scenes as executives or agents that most people never heard of. My own personal gripe is that our old friend and Cinema Retro contributor, actor Richard Kiel, was also not commemorated despite the fact that he was a hugely popular figure in films, especially for his role as the immortal James Bond villain Jaws. Another affront we took personally was the omission of Brian G. Hutton, who directed "Where Eagles Dare", "Kelly's Heroes" and Frank Sinatra's last starring role in a feature film, "The First Deadly Sin". Apparently his contributions to the film industry were not deemed worthy of recognition. Can't they extend this sequence just another 60 seconds? Given all the padding in the show, time constraints should not be cited as a reason to diss major names such as these.
Lastly, the Academy deserves credit for nominating films that, by and large, were worthy of all the nominations they received. The year 2014 was a terrible one for Hollywood in terms of declining boxoffice. The industry depends more and more on fewer and fewer potential blockbuster movies. It's a recipe for disaster. Meanwhile, the Academy has correctly brought to the world's attention the existence of smaller, personal films that negate the common criticism that most good movies were made decades ago. In fact, some of those nominated will be regarded as classics and the attention the Oscars afford these smaller films will help them find the audiences they so richly deserve.
On January 7, HBO will begin broadcasting director Andre Singer's film "Night Will Fall". It's a documentary about a documentary- one that is as fascinating as it is relevant. The film traces the tortured history of a documentary about the liberation of concentration camps in WWII. The film was authorized by the Allies in the immediate aftermath of the war. A man named Sydney Bernstein was told to chronicle the horrors that the liberators encountered in freeing the survivors of Hitler's genocidal policies. The purpose was clearly to make a propaganda documentary that would prove that the average German citizen had been well aware of what atrocities had been carried out in their name. Bernstein and his crew dutifully carried out their orders, but they were given only a three month period to complete the film. The shocking footage had such an impact that the project went beyond what Bernstein had been ordered to do. He enlisted Alfred Hitchcock to help supervise the editing process. The footage is said to surpass anything seen to date in terms of the sheer inhumanity depicted. Bernstein and Hitchcock ran out of time before the project could be completed and Billy Wilder took over supervision of the project, delivering a shorter film that had less impact than Bernstein's. The entire bizarre affair is chronicled in "Night Will Fall", which includes never-before-seen footage from Bernstein's aborted cut of the film. For more - and to view the trailer- click here.
It only last one season, 1966-1967, but the hip TV series "T.H.E. Cat" starring Robert Loggia as a true international man of mystery really hit a nerve with fans. The show's short run hasn't diminished its legacy among fans who are demanding that the series be released on DVD and Blu-ray. Among them is Michael Shonk, who writes an appreciation of the show on the Mystery*File web site. Click here to read.
HBO will remake Michael Crichton's classic 1973 film "Westworld" as an HBO production. Anthony Hopkins and Evan Rachel Wood will star. This will be a series based on the original concept of a virtual vacation paradise where attendees can indulge in their most shameless fantasies, courtesy of interacting with robots who are indistinguishable from human beings. Richard Benjamin, James Brolin and Yul Brynner starred in the original feature film version, which was based on Crichton's best-selling novel. For more click here.
Netflix seems to be King of the Hill lately. The company has redefined how the public watches television and has pioneered the "on demand" format into an international habit. It has produced Emmy-winning hit series and has a fanatically loyal customer base. However, Netflix is also embroiled in a bitter battle with cable companies that provide the vital streaming services needed to access its programming. The cable companies are complaining that Netflix eats up so much bandwith, they should share in the cost of providing the technology. Netflix argues that it bares no such responsibility. Consequently, some cable companies have been stifling Netflix' ability to provide adequate speed for its service, leaving some customers frustrated when their favorite Netflix shows encounter slow download speeds. Netflix has responded by posting snarky comments on screens blaming the cable companies. All of this in an indication that cable companies feel threatened by the Netflix surge. They fear that cable customer's habits are radically being driven toward "on demand" entertainment and could threaten the basic cable business plan of selling programs in expensive "bundles" to customers who have to purchase many channels they don't want in order to access the few they do want. For a Washington Post story about this war of titans, click here.
Last evening I attended a rather remarkable event: the world premiere screening of the new highly-touted National Geographic Channel TV movie Killing Kennedy. (The program will be telecast on November 10.)What made the evening remarkable was the fact that, instead of premiering the film in a New York or L.A. prestigious venue, National Geographic in association with Cablevision, chose Greenbriar, a senior citizens community in the central New Jersey town of Marlboro. It seems the channel is taking a populist approach to publicizing their most prestigious productions and it was decided to premiere the Kennedy film before an audience of people who were alive during the events recounted on screen. Several politicos were on hand (there is an election in New Jersey next week, after all) including Jonathan Hornki, the mayor of Marlboro -who used some clout to get the event held at Greenbriar- and state senator Joe Kryllos (R). Also in attendance was Charlie Parsons, one of the executive producers. Discussing historical facts among senior citizens who lived through the actual events is generally a risky business. I taught classes about films pertaining to the Cold War to adult ed students at NYU and found that I learned as much from the class as they did, thanks to their personal insights. Thus, National Geographic felt very confident that they had a good product with this high budget, slickly made recreation of the events that unfolded 50 years ago on that somber day in Dallas.
Rob Lowe and Ginnifer Goodwin as JFK and Jackie Kennedy.
There are plenty of landmark moments in American history that have taken place over the last century, but few that can be called genuinely seminal. I would list the attack on Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the moon landing, the 9/11 terrorism acts and certainly the assassination of John F. Kennedy. With the 50th anniversary upon us, there is no shortage of beings and entities that are trying to exploit this dreadful day in U.S. history. Some are motivated purely by profit others by profit and a desire to enlighten people. The National Geographic Channel falls squarely into the latter category. Producer Parsons explained that the channel prides itself on presenting fact, not fiction or speculation. He also said the decision was made to go with the traditional theories about the assassination (i.e, Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone.) This is, in itself, refreshing. The two most prominent major feature films made about the death of Kennedy- Executive Action (1973) and Oliver Stone's JFK (1991)- both propagated conspiracy theories. Parsons didn't endorse or dismiss such theories but simply said that, had the project delved into those waters, the film would have been too large in scope to cover the key events effectively in an 88 minute time slot. There are plenty of intelligent people who believe in the conspiracies and others who are genuine nutcases...the kind of folks who believe President Bush orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center and that President Obama is a Marxist illegal alien from Kenya. The channel will take a lot of heat from this crowd for presenting a straight-forward view that Oswald alone killed Kennedy; in essence presenting the Warren Report version of events. However, it is now unusual to see this traditional interpretation of the assassination being put forward since conspiracy-oriented films and TV show have been sucking up all the oxygen on the subject for the last couple of decades.
National Geographic Channel had a major success with their February airing of Killing Lincoln, a truly outstanding production that rightly earned the highest ratings in the channel's history. That film was based on a best-selling book by Bill O'Reilly (yes, that Bill O'Reilly) and his co-author Martin Dugard. The success of the book led to the two collaborating on Killing Kennedy and-most recently- Killing Jesus. Whether you love or loathe O'Reilly for his controversial political punditry on Fox News (and there is no middle ground), you have to credit him for bringing historical events back into the public mainstream through his books. In an increasingly dumbed-down world, anyone who helps elevate interest in history is to be commended. The new Killing Kennedy production represents new ground for National Geographic: it's the channel's first scripted docudrama. (In the parlance of the 1970s, it would be called a "TV movie".) That is, is has no narration and the scripted project stars professional actors. This is a bit risky for a venture that prides itself on historical accuracy as scripted dramas always run the risk of reflecting the biases of the screenwriters. While I don't profess to be a JFK assassination scholar, it seemed to me that overall production was accurate based up on what we know, not supposition. (There is some clunky ambiguity about JFK's removal of missiles from Turkey in order to give Kruschev a fig leaf to end the Cuban Missile Crisis, but that's a minor criticism.)
Will Rothhaar as Lee Harvey Oswald
The film traces parallel story lines involving the rendezvous with destiny that both John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald were approaching from disparate paths. The movie presents interesting insights into Oswald's defection to the Soviet Union and his ultimate disappointment about living in the decrepit "Worker's Paradise". He ultimately returns to America with his Russian wife with the dream that he will somehow be the center of a major news story. When that fails to happen, his life rapidly disintegrates. His marriage begins to unwind, his wife and children move out and he is relegated to a menial job in the Dallas school book depository from which the deadly shots were fired. Meanwhile, JFK is nursing his wounds over his bungling of the Bay of Pigs invasion and trying to prevent all out nuclear war when the Soviets move missiles into Cuba. The President is very well-played by Rob Lowe, who opts to capture the essence of the character as opposed to attempting a flat-out imitation of the man. It's a wise move. Lowe conveys Kennedy's charm, intelligence and swagger but also reveals his self-centered side through his dalliances with other women (as aspect of White House life that is conveyed strongly, but briefly.) JFK becomes a more mature and thoughtful person following the tragic death of his infant son. Jackie Kennedy (played by Ginnifer Goodwin as a sympathetic and tolerant figure) finally sees her husband becoming the man she knew he could be- but, of course, tragedy will cut short this transformation. Oswald's marriage is also delved into in a detailed way with Michelle Trachtenberg outstanding as his long-suffering Russian immigrant wife. (Impressively, Trachtenberg learned how to speak Russian phonetically from her mother, who was born in the Soviet Union.) As Oswald comes to the realization that his dreams of grandeur are destined for failure, he makes a rather spontaneous decision to make history by assassinating the president. As Oswald, newcomer Will Rothhaar gives a very impressive performance, avoiding the types of pretentious quirks or overt signs of villainy that one might have anticipated. Instead, he plays Oswald as a somewhat sympathetic loser; a man who is capable of having genuine empathy for the civil rights movement, yet is equally capable of manhandling his wife in a rage. Other key historical figures such as LBJ, Jack Ruby and Bobby Kennedy remain peripheral characters out of necessity due to time constraints but every supporting performance is played to perfection. The film actually gets better as it nears its inevitable and tragic conclusion. It's hard to ring suspense out of a drama when we all know how it ends. Fred Zinnemann achieved this with his brilliant 1973 film The Day of the Jackal about a fictitious plot to assassinate Charles de Gaulle and director Nelson McCormick manages to do the same with Killing Kennedy. Production values are top-notch as is the editing and cinematography. None of this is surprising given the impressive talent behind the scenes (both Ridley Scott and David Zucker are among the executive producers.) Oliver Stone may get his knickers twisted when he sees this non-conspiratorial view of the JFK assassination but the truth is that no one can say they really know the truth. Despite compelling questions, mysteries and inconsistencies regarding key aspects of the Warren Report, no one has ever produced definitive evidence of a plot that went beyond the mad act of a desperate man who wanted to known for making some kind of mark on society, even if it were to be a tragic one.
Killing Kennedy is sure to get a huge audience when it is broadcast on November 10 (a DVD release will follow shortly thereafter). Hopefully, an enthusiastic response to a production this good will only encourage the National Geographic Channel to continue to elevate the standards of historical dramas with similarly-themed programming. Everyone involved should take a well-deserved bow.
Foyle's War: one of the most highly acclaimed British TV shows of all time.
Silver Spring, MD; August 15, 2013 – RLJ Entertainment’s (NASDAQ: RLJE) Acorn TV, the first streaming service focused on the best of British TV in North America, announces more exclusive U.S. premieres as well as tripling its available content. Available at www.Acorn.TV and via its popular Roku app, Acorn TV brings many of the best British mysteries, comedies, and dramas, as well as select Australian, U.S. and Canadian series, to the increasing number of consumers who prefer to stream content. Previously, Acorn TV streamed a full season of 18 rotating series; moving forward, Acorn TV will add at least six new and classic series each month, as well as offering a catalog of 65 series for catch-up viewing and discovery of new series, with no set end dates. Acorn TV also continues to offer a free 30-day trial.
Acorn TV is now featuring the exclusive U.S. premiere of Jack Irish, a new, ongoing detective series starring Guy Pearce (Iron Man 3, Memento).Called “the coolest show on television” (Daily Record, UK) and an “intelligent, hard-boiled thriller” (The Wall Street Journal), Jack Irish is the brooding antihero of Australian writer Peter Temple’s award-winning novels. Reeling in the wake of his wife’s murder, the former lawyer has reinvented himself as a part-time private investigator and debt collector. In two feature-length mysteries, Pearce delivers a masterful performance, imbuing Jack with world-weary gruffness and a dash of dark humor. Listen to Guy Pearce’s interview about Jack Irish on NPR Weekend Edition.
Coming this fall, Acorn TV will feature the exclusive U.S. premiere of Series 6 of Acorn’s newest best-selling series and public TV sensation Doc Martin. In the U.K., Doc Martin is ITV’shighest-rated drama series with more than 10 million viewers, while in the U.S., it’s the #1 series on many public television stations and has millions of viewers across the country. Thenew episodes will debut soon after their UK broadcast. Additionally, Acorn TV will premiere Season 6 of hit period detective series Murdoch Mysteries in September. ‘The Best British TV’ service will also stream the newest episodes of Foyle’s War, the day after they premiere on MASTERPIECE Mystery! on PBS, which begins on September 15. In early 2014, Acorn TV will feature new episodes from the final series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot starring David Suchet.
Miguel Penella, Chief Executive Officer of RLJ Entertainment, Inc., said, “Given the limited broadcast options for U.S. viewers to watch high quality programs from outside the U.S., Acorn TV offers U.S. fans the opportunity to not only stream many of their favorite series but, more importantly, discover new and classic programs previously unavailable to U.S. audiences. We’re very excited about our upcoming premieres of the hugely popular UK series Doc Martin and Agatha Christie’s Poirot,as well as offering our customers much more of the best British mysteries, comedies, and dramas.”
Acorn TV’s recent U.S. premieres included Australian 1920s “lady detective” series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries; P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings, a witty 2013 series starring Timothy Spall (The King’s Speech) and Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous); medical drama Monroe starring James Nesbitt (The Hobbit); BBC’s The Syndicate, now being remade by ABC as Lucky Seven this fall; as well as new episodes from several of its top-selling series, among many others. All of these programs are now readily available to stream.
Additionally, Acorn TV will feature all previous episodes of many popular British series, including George Gently, Midsomer Murders, The Forsyte Saga starring Damian Lewis(Homeland), iconic miniseries I, Claudius, as well as more than 50 episodes of Agatha Christie’s Poirot. In the coming months, Acorn TV will add several of the most critically-acclaimed series in British television history, including Prime Suspect starring Helen Mirren and Foyle’s War starring Michael Kitchen.
Launched in July 2011, Acorn TV is accessible on the #1 streaming player, Roku, as well as computers, and through the browsers on iPhones and iPads. It is also available on any portabledevice with a browser that has the most recent version of Flash. Besides its Roku app, Acorn TV is currently working towards apps for Apple TV, Samsung, iOS, Sony, and Android platforms.
With the increased availability of content, Acorn TV will be $4.99/month or $49.99/year, though it’s on sale at $2.99/month or $29.99/year until Sept. 2nd. Acorn TV subscribers also receive free shipping on all orders from Acorn’s distinctive merchandise catalog and website, www.AcornOnline.com.
Called the “chief curators of the best Brit TV” by TIME magazine, RLJ Entertainment’s Acorn brand holds exclusive North American distribution rights to the most critically acclaimed British programs, which are available for streaming on Acorn TV and from Acorn in lavishly packaged DVDs/Blu-rays. RLJ Entertainment also manages the literary estate of Agatha Christie, the best-selling novelist of all time, and owns the hugely popular period detective series Foyle’s War.
Undaunted by the savage reviews given to Lindsay Lohan's recent TV biopic of Elizabeth Taylor, BBC Four is bravely pushing ahead with the debut of what sounds like a far more promising look into Taylor's tumultuous relationship with Richard Burton. "Burton and Taylor" is another TV project set to debut this fall (it will also be shown on BBC America). It stars Helena Bonham Carter and Dominic West in the title roles. The film traces their experiences during their reunion for stage performances of Noel Coward's Private Lives in 1983. Click here for more and to see a preview
A prop phaser rifle designed for one of two original pilot episodes for the original 'Star Trek' TV series has been sold at auction for an astronomical $231,000. The rifle was designed by Rueben Clamer for producer Gene Roddenberry and was wielded by William Shatner in a pilot episode for NBC. A previous pilot episode had been filmed with Jeffrey Hunter in the lead role, but the episode was rejected by NBC brass. Still, the network saw promise in Gene Roddenberry's creation and authorized a second pilot episode. The rests, as they say, is history. Click here for more about the gun, as well as film clips.
Kubrick's research materials on Napoleon formed the basis of a high end coffee table book released several years ago.
Steven Spielberg has announced that he is working with the family of Stanley Kubrick to develop the late director's long-planned screen biography of Napoleon. Kubrick envisioned the project, for which he wrote a script in 1961 and devoted countless hours to researching, as a big screen epic. However, studios became wary of the production costs and the film was aborted before it went into production. Spielberg will utilize Kubrick's own research as the basis for the project, which is being developed as a major TV miniseries. For more click here
Arriving earlier this year without any fanfare on many American cable systems, Cozi TV is a new network that presents a wealth of diverse retro TV series that have not been given much exposure in recent years. These include Lassie, Marcus Welby, M.D., Magnum P.I., The Bionic Woman, The Six Million Dollar Man, The Virginian, the creaky old Sherlock Holmes series starring Ronald Howard, The Lone Ranger, Wells Fargo, McMillan and Wife, Bancek, I Spy, The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Roy Rogers Show, Alias Smith and Jones, Hopalong Cassidy and The Bold Ones. Best of all, the number of commercials are limited and the episodes we've seen appear to be presented uncut in their original running time. The network also presents a diverse range of feature films including such retro gems as the Airport movies, Arabesque, Sweet Charity, Coogan's Bluff and Two Mules for Sister Sara. Check your cable listings, as you may have the network but not even realize it. Cozi TV appears on cable systems owned by NBC. Click here for their web site, which is inadequate because the section dedicated to the series they carry lists only a fraction of them. To see a more complete list, scroll through the TV schedule bar.
President Bill Clinton's appearance provided evidence of the Golden Globes' increasing clout in the film industry.
Jodie Foster: mesmerizing but often incomprehensible.
By Lee Pfeiffer
The Golden Globe Awards are generally criticized for being incomprehensible for most viewers in that they are selected by a relatively tiny group of people known as the Hollywood Foreign Press. There have been jokes on the telecasts themselves that the awards can generally be "purchased" if a studio or nominee invites the right people to the right kind of parties. Despite the criticism, in recent years everyone agrees on this: the Golden Globes telecast is generally a lot of fun and never as dull as the Oscars often are. Unlike Oscar, the Globes cover television as well as motion pictures. Last night's award ceremony was breezy, fast-moving and actually funny, thanks to some good lines delivered by hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. There were some dud jokes, of course, and the usual presenters/winners who pretentiously drop obscenities to prove how hip they are but there was also the novelty of seeing a former President- Bill Clinton- make a surprise appearance to introduce a clip from Lincoln. The main value of the event was to prove that the Globes now serve as more than a forerunner for Oscar winners. They have their own identity, as evidenced by the fact that some of the most deserving artists were nominated for Globes but were snubbed by Oscar. Additionally, while Oscar sometimes trims their honorary awards down to ludicrously short time slots (Jerry Lewis received shabby treatment in this regard a few years ago), the Globes blissfully ignore the stop watch. This was evidenced by the lifetime achievement award given to Jodie Foster, who has spent her entire life in the film business. Looking wonderful at age 50, the accomplished actress and director gave a mesmerizing but often incomprehensible speech in which she joked about "coming out" as a lesbian (she is), explained her obsession for privacy and seemed to imply she was retiring from some aspect of show business, but no one could figure out exactly what she was referring to. Among the surprises was the fact that no one film emerged as a dominating factor, thus ensuring a good deal of suspense across all categories.
Click here for more coverage and a complete list of winners.
It seems to be open season on revered director Alfred Hitchcock. The feature film Hitchcock starring Anthony Hopkins was taken to task by some critics for artistic license in its depiction of the director's behavior during the making of Psycho, with some saying it exaggerates his eccentricities and the negative aspects of his personality. Now the BBC drama The Girl starring Toby Jones and Sienna Miller is also being criticized for presenting a one-sided depiction of the making of Hitchcock's The Birds and Marnie. The unflattering portrayal of Hitchcock as a virtual sexual predator is based solely on the accusations of both films' female lead, 'Tippi' Hedren, a Hitchcock discovery who has long maintained that her rejection of his advances led to retaliatory actions that saw her career derailed almost as soon as it began. The BBC broadcast of the movie has led to legendary leading ladies Eva Marie Saint, Doris Day and Kim Novak speaking out in defense of Hitchcock and claiming he treated them with respect. Click here for more
Despite being a hit in the ratings with a test pilot aired on Halloween, NBC has officially backed out of producing future episodes of Mockingbird Lane, the reboot of the beloved 1960s sitcom The Munsters. For more click here
When asked why most of Sid Caesar’s writers were young and Jewish,
the late’ great Larry Gelbart replied, “Because most of our parents were old
The answer to why there were so many Jews in Broadway musicals may
not be as glibly succinct, but in Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy,
which debuts on PBS on January 1 at 9:30 p.m., the answers are insightful and
Written, produced and directed by Emmy-Award Winner Michael Kantor
(Broadway- The American Musical and Make ‘Em Laugh- The Funny Business of
America), the 90 minute documentary tries to answer the question of why
the Broadway musical proven to be such fertile territory for Jewish artists of
all kind, featuring icons from Broadway’s golden age, including Irving Berlin,
Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Arthur Laurents, Jerome Robbins, Leonard Bernstein
and Stephen Sondheim to “Broadway babies” such as Stephen Schwartz, Marc
Shaiman and Andrew Lippa represent a sampling of the Jewish talents who
continue to leave their mark on musical theater.
The show begins with David Hyde Pearce in a hysterical and
joyful scene-chewing rendition of his Spamalot song, You Won’t Succeed on
Broadway: “You may have the finest sets, Fill the stage with penthouse
pets, you may have the loveliest costumes and best shoes, you may dance and you
may sing, but I'm sorry Arthur King you'll hear no cheers, just lots and lots
of boos “boo,” you may have butch men by the score, whom the audience adore…
But I tell you, you are dead if you don't have any Jews.” “It
wouldn’t be so funny if it weren’t true,” Spamalot creator, the great Eric
Kantor focuses on this central question left largely
unaddressed in his Emmy-winning Broadway: The American Musical, combining
interviews with performance footage, including many of the rousing anthems and
timeless ballads America has loved for a century.
“The primary force behind the musicals are the guys who write the
songs” Kantor said. “Broadway, The American Musical was principally a
historical and cultural treatment, dealing with The Great Depression and the
advent of Rock and Roll. The new documentary complements the earlier
one. “It’s really an American story and our narrative tells how Jewish
stories were part of an acculturation/assimilation process. My daughter was bat
mitzvahed this year and I can hear the melodies of the prayers differently.”
In the 1920s, nearly one in four New York residents was
Jewish. The film charts how Jewish immigrants and children of immigrants
in the melting pot of old New York helped shape the vision of America through
musical theater. While shows like Porgy and Bess, Show Boat and Oklahoma
are fictions, they represent the artist’s vision of how do we take what we know
from Jewish culture and tradition and make it into America?
The film succeeds in its attention to detail and how it
captures the warmth and emotion of the great artists: Leonard Bernstein
and Adolph Green met as kids at summer camp, worked together on the camp
musicals and became lifelong friends. In 1893, a five year old
Irving Berlin, arrived at Ellis Island. His earliest memory as a child
growing up in Russia was of a pogrom, a vigilante attack on his Jewish
village. And he remembers hiding in a ditch with his brothers and sisters
and parents, watching Russian Cossacks burn down their village. Then he
comes to America, gets off the boat, looks around him, sees all these Americans
and he says, we stood there in our Jew clothes. He realized how different
he was from everybody else. That feeling of being different,
combined with a deep gratitude of being an American, resulted in the
composition of classic tunes, including the definitive American Christmas song.
There was also apprehension about the appeal of Fiddler on the
Roof beyond Jewish audiences. To the producers’ surprise and
pleasure, the show was a worldwide hit that transcended culture and race.
“The opening number “Tradition” was common to every culture so the show was as
common to Japanese family life as it was to Jewish family life,” Hal Prince
recalled. “And it went all over the world and every single place it went
it became their family story despite the idiosyncrasies of what was Jewish
about it. Playwright Joseph Stein said: "There are universal themes:
It’s a story about parents and children, a story about struggling in a strange
world, conflict of cultures, immigrants."
The film also points out that the music of Porgy and Bess was
rooted in Hebrew prayers and then charts the journey of the music into the
brilliants hands of Miles Davis as he re-crafts the liturgical themes roots
into his own classic jazz riffs.
“I’ve always worshiped talent and the magic talented
people can make in people’s lives and make a difference,” said Cabaret star
Joel Grey, who narrated the documentary, and who is one of only eight actors to
have won both a Tony and an Oscar for having portrayed the same role on stage
“I remember the day I went to [composer] John Kander’s house and
he told me about the role. When I first heard the song Vilkomen, I
remember thinking to myself- “Oh my God- this is going to be my song. The
MC in Cabaret is one of the most villainous characters of all time in that he
seemed like he was going to be fun. You laughed with him and liked him
and he ended up sticking the knife in.”
“James Cagney (who spoke fluent Yiddish) was both an actor and
song and dance man,” Grey said when asked about his own favorite performers and
composers. “Marvin Hamlisch was my friend and one of the funniest human
beings in history. He was the modern day Irving Berlin, with a brilliant
sense of timing but also with a sense of the outrageous.”
Beginning his theater career at age nine, Grey is part of an
entertainment dynasty. Grey’s father was Spike Jones band member Mickey Katz, whose solo
hits included “Duvid Crockett” and “She’ll be Coming Around the Catskills,” and
is father of Dirty Dancing star Jennifer Grey.
“It’s thrilling the way we as Jews made ourselves useful and found
a place for ourselves after running for so long. Part of my Yiddishkeit
[Jewish identity] comes directly from my Dad who turned popular music into
Jewish experiences, as a way of adapting and owning the Jewish experience of
Jimmy Fallon had some high-powered assistance in his recreation of the classic Abbott and Costello comedy routine "Who's on First": Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Crystal joined in the fun. The black and white sketch pays homage to the timeless routine, but despite the talent involved, it only proves no one can do it better than A&C themselves. Click here to view
Lohan displays two good reasons for tuning into "Liz and Dick", but the prime motivation might be to hear the unintentionally funny dialogue.
The first review is in and things aren't looking good for Lindsay Lohan's "comeback" Lifetime TV movie, Liz and Dick which traces the love lives of you-know-who. In the Hollywood Reporter review, it is described as "half train wreck, half SNL skit" and one of those perfectly awful movies that merit watching because of the unintentional laughs. Hey, maybe we will watch it after all, especially since there is this immortal line of dialogue spoken by Burton to Taylor: "I will love you even if you get as fat as a hippo."
NBC will air the pilot episode of Mockingbird Lane on October 26. The show is a reboot of the 60s sitcom The Munsters. Most of these ventures are ill-advised. We'll have to reserve judgment on this one, but just take a look at the characters-- we routinely see far stranger looking people on the New York subway system every day. Herman looks like a Wall Street stock broker and the character of Grandpa, played by Eddie Izzard, resembles Truman Capote at one of his famous dinner parties. Is this really how these characters will look throughout the series? Herman Munster with no bolts from his head? For more click here
Pete Emslie is one of the best contemporary cartoonists around and his blog, The Cartoon Cave, is a must-read. Emslie has recently published what we will term "a guest editorial" because it captures many of Cinema Retro's criticisms of the current state of television. Unlike Emslie, we still find enough nuggets out there (some admittedly guilty pleasures) to justify keeping the old cable TV subscription. However, we can well understand why he just canceled his. Emslie concentrates on the sad state of the endless, indistinguishable crime shows that are on the air. The plots tend to be more and more over-the-top and the cast members are virtually cloned from the same mold. There is the token nod to someone over the age of 35 (Mark Harmon and David McCallum in NCIS, for example) but for the most part, crime shows always feature drop-dead gorgeous people holding pistols with two hands while shouting, "Freeze, you mother!" Every other situation has juvenile sexual innuendos and we rarely even get any cool theme songs because the average TV drama is a one hour block of commercials occasionally interrupted by content. Contrast this, as Emslie does, to the great old crime shows of old. Hawaii 5-0 (the real one, that is), didn't have Jack Lord and Kam Fong competing to get some comely new female detective in the sack. Instead, we got compelling characters, good acting and people looked like they really belonged in a police station. Imagine trying to launch a series with Peter Falk as Columbo today? A middle-aged, frumpy, cigar chomping man in the lead role? Fuggetaboutit! If they remake the series (and they eventually will), Columbo will be a Brad Pitt clone who eschews cigars for Twizzlers (more politically correct) and who uses his eccentricities to woo female suspects into confessing. In any event, click here to read Pete Emslie's take on all this (which includes a sly criticism of the fact that even all the cluttered, unimaginatively designed DVD boxed sets for these shows seem Xeroxed.) - Lee Pfeiffer
The A&E cable TV network has confirmed it is going into production on a prequel series based upon Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1960 thriller Psycho. Titled Bates Motel, the show will explore the creepy relationship between Norman Bates and his dominating mother. A&E issued this statement:
“We are proud to be partnering with Carlton Cuse and Kerry Ehrin on their thrilling reinvention of one of the most compelling characters in cinematic history,” A&E Network president Bob DeBitetto and EVP of programming David McKillop said in a statement announcing the news. “It’s a provocative project from two of the best storytellers in the business, and we’re looking forward to getting started.”
This is not the first time the Psycho saga has been explored in the medium of television. There have been TV movies throughout the years including one that is ironically titled Bates Motel.
For Gary Giblin's extensive tribute to the Hitchcock original and analysis of the sequels, see Cinema Retro #18 in our back issue section or click here to order direct from eBay.
Acclaimed Danish character actor Mads Mikkelsen has been signed to play the notorious cannibal Hannibal Lecter on a new NBC crime series. The character was the centerpiece of author Thomas Harris' bestseller The Silence of the Lambs, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning movie. Anthony Hopkins immortalized the character of Lecter in the original film and sequels, though Brian Cox played the part first in the 1986 film Manhunter. Curiously, the Lifetime TV network is simultaneously developing the show Clarice, based on the young female FBI agent portrayed by Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs. For more click here
Lindsay Lohan's arduous road to a comeback may hinge on her performance as Elizabeth Taylor in the forthcoming Lifetime bio pic Liz & Dick, with True Blood star Grant Bowler co-starring as Richard Burton. For more click here
He was the King of the Night. Between 1962 and 1992, Johnny Carson ruled supreme as host of The Tonight Show. His humor and appeal cut across all boundaries of age, ethnicity and politics because Carson was an equal opportunity satirist. His comedy was gentle by today's standards, but always on the mark. His unique ability to turn even a bad joke into a big laugh was inimitable. The American Masters TV series recently aired the most in-depth portrait of this man ever undertaken. He was genial on TV, but standoffish behind the scenes. Few really got to know him, including his string of wives. He was opaque and hated to discuss himself. In a rare interview from the 1980s on 60 Minutes, Carson opened up a bit, admitting he could not handle alcohol and was a bad drunk. He was a distant father to his sons and had many friendly acquaintances but few close friends. Even his legendary sidekicks Ed McMahon and Doc Severinsen couldn't get beneath his surface. Yet, Carson endured and thrived, outlasting high profile talents who had planned to make him irrelevant. He negotiated from NBC the most lucrative contracts in the history of television. When he did leave the network, it was by his own choosing and at the top of his game. The messy race to replacement permanently ruined the friendships between Jay Leno and David Letterman, and still had its tentacles into the fate of Conan O'Brien in more recent years. This much is true: I still miss Carson. There was something soothing about knowing that, no matter had bad your day was, this man was going to make you laugh. He also thrived in a time of legends, so you tuned in to see drop bys from some unexpected guests as Dean Martin, Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and John Wayne. In the early days of his reign on The Tonight Show, TV hadn't devolved into a cultural cesspool. Carson educated even as he entertained. One minute he would be matching insults with Don Rickles and the next he would be interviewing a scientist or professor. He elevated the medium at every opportunity. Click here for a tribute to the late TV icon on the 20th anniversary of his retirement, along with vintage highlights from his programs.
Cinema Retro has received the following press release:
The leading ‘Best British TV’ streaming service Acorn TVis now streaming full seasons of several popular British mystery and drama series, along with two critically acclaimed Canadian series. This week Acorn TV also has a special Memorial Day Weekend Midsomer Marathon with the first 22 episodes of its best-selling series,MIDSOMER MURDERS, and the U.S. debut of John Nettles final episodes.
Acorn TV is currently streaming a full season ofHelen Mirren in PRIME SUSPECT; the final seasons of the universally acclaimed Canadian dramedy SLINGS & ARROWSandDerek Jacobi’s mystery series CADFAEL; the U.S. debut of the newest season of MURDOCH MYSTERIES; Lynda La Plante’s TRIAL & RETRIBUTION; John Mortimer’s UNDER THE HAMMER; the final episodes of WWII drama WISH ME LUCK; Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter) in PIE IN THE SKY; and John Nettles final episodes with MIDSOMER MURDERS, SET 20.
For only $25 a year,Acorn TV streams full seasons of critically acclaimed, new and classic British series. Each of the 10 seasons stay up for five weeks, with two new series added each week and two removed. For press access to the 70+ hours of weekly programming, please email me.
Acorn TV is accessible on Roku, the top streaming player, as well as computers, iPhones, iPads, Apple TV and Google TV. Launched in July 2011, Acorn TV is the first streaming service that curates the best of British television for American audiences. Read the recent Roku press release here.
Series streaming now include:
Midsomer Murders, Set 20
The U.S. debut of fan favorite John Nettles’ final episodes in Midsomer Murders, Set 20.For more than a decade, DCI Tom Barnaby(John Nettles,Bergerac) has policed the murderous county ofMidsomer, winning legions of fans—including the queenof England herself. In these four new, contemporary stand-alone mysteries, Barnaby investigateshis final cases before leaving the denizens of Midsomer in the capable hands of his cousin, DCI John Barnaby (Neil Dudgeon, Life of Riley). New episodes ofMidsomer Murders are still in production starring Neil Dudgeon. (Set 20 on Blu-ray/DVD July 3, 2012)
Murdoch Mysteries, Season 4
The hit Canadian drama combines the period appeal of Sherlock Holmeswith the forensic fascination of CSI. Based on the characters from award-winning author Maureen Jennings’ Detective Murdoch novels, the acclaimed Canadian series has garnered 25 Gemini® nominations to its credit, including Best Writing and Best Dramatic Series. Set in Victorian-era Toronto, this smart, compelling series follows Yannick Bisson(Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye) as Detective William Murdoch as he pushes the boundaries of criminal science to solve the city’s most baffling murders.
Prime Suspect, Series 3 and 4
Oscar® winner Helen Mirren is Detective Jane Tennison, "one of the great character creations of our time" (Washington Post), in a series that won more than 20 major international awards and raised the bar for police dramas. Tenacious, driven, and deeply flawed, Tennison rises through the ranks of Britain’s Metropolitan Police, solving horrific crimes while battling office sexism and her own demons.
Slings & Arrows, Season 3
This universally acclaimed Canadian series follows the outrageous fortunes of a dysfunctional Shakespearean theatre troupe as it struggles with artistic egos and conspiratorial board members. The series stars Paul Gross, Don McKellar, Martha Burns, Sarah Polley and Mark McKinney. Struggling with the unfamiliar burdens of success, the New Burbage Theatre Festival mounts two ambitious productions: King Lear, Shakespeare’s epic tragedy, and East Hastings, a debut musical about a heroin-addicted hooker with a heart of gold. Emotionally fragile artistic director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, Due South) coaxes legendary actor Charles Kingman out of semi-retirement to play Lear. But with plenty of personal baggage, Kingman doesn’t so much play the part as live it. Meanwhile, the festival’s resident bean-counter (Mark McKinney,Saturday Night Live, Kids in the Hall) joins forces with the musical’s flamboyant director (Don McKellar) to create the unlikeliest hit in theatre history.
Pie in the Sky, Series 2
DI Henry Crabbe divides his time between catching criminals and cooking. He retired from the force to open his dream restaurant, but his boss is determined to keep him on the payroll. Richard Griffiths (Harry Potter) stars in a lighthearted British mystery series seen on public television in the 1990s.
Under the Hammer
Written by beloved author John Mortimer (Rumpole of the Bailey) and starring Richard Wilson (One Foot in the Grave), Jan Francis (Just Good Friends), andMichael Siberry (The Grand), this tightly-plotted series intrigues with secrets and seduction, seen through the lens of a London auction house. Broadcast on ITV in 1994. Top-notch guest stars include John Gielgud(Arthur), Emily Mortimer (Shutter Island, Match Point, 30 Rock), Rosemary Harris (Spider-Man), HermioneNorris (Cold Feet), and Ian Carmichael (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries).
Cadfael, Series 4
Sir Derek Jacobi is Brother Cadfael, a 12th-century Benedictine monk (and former Crusader) who uses his worldly knowledge and keen intuition to solve crimes. Based on the bestselling novels by Ellis Peters, and seen on PBS Mystery!, Acorn TV is streaming the final three episodes.
Wish Me Luck, Series 3
The final episodes of the WWII drama series featuring brave women risking their lives as secret agents in occupied France. Based on real-life stories, filmed on location, this suspenseful series features strong female characters, tension-filled plots, and historical authenticity.
Trial & Retribution, Set 2
Like Law & Order, this long-running British detective series follows cases from crime to courts. Brusque detective Michael Walker (David Hayman, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas) collars London’s killers and viewers are left to decide if justice was served. With Kate Buffery and created by Lynda La Plante (Prime Suspect).
Coming soon are seasons of Upstairs, Downstairs, Agatha Christie’s Poirot, The Forsyte Saga, and The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.
May 29:Murdoch Mysteries, Season 4 (DVD and Blu-ray) and Monroe, Series 1 starring James Nesbitt
June 5:Doc Martin, Series 5; New Tricks, Season 7; and Washington: Behind Closed Doors (Home Video Debut) starring Jason Robards
June 19: Marcus du Sautoy’s The Code, This is Civilization, andLynda La Plante’s Trial & Retribution, Set 5
June 26:Judi Dench in Love in a Cold Climate, The Best of Foyle’s War, and Agatha Christie’s Poirot, Series 5
About Acorn: Headquartered in suburban Washington, D.C., Acorn Media U.S. releases the best of British television on DVD/Blu-ray. 2011 releases featured Upstairs, Downstairs: 40th Anniversary, Case Histories, and Brideshead Revisited: 30th Anniversary. 2012 releases include a bonus packed 35th anniversary edition of I, Claudius; the Blu-ray debuts for the original Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and the first six series of Agatha Christie’s Poirot; the U.S. debuts of Lynda La Plante’s Above Suspicion and Monroe starring James Nesbitt;Judi Dench in Love in a Cold Climate; The Best of Foyle’s War; The Story of Costume Drama; Damian Lewis in The Forsyte Saga; and more episodes from Midsomer Murders, Murdoch Mysteries, Doc Martin, George Gently, Garrow’s Law, New Tricks, andNBC’s Who Do You Think You Are?. Select series are available for streaming at Acorn TV, http://acornonline.com/TV
If your mother used to chastise you for wasting your time watching Lost in Space instead of Learn to Draw with John Gnagy, you can take satisfaction in the fact that it turns out there was some educational value to the shows you were enthralled with. The web site Cable TV Providers takes a brief look at how some classic series ended up predicting real-life scientific achievements. Click here to view
The Naked Gun films were hits: the TV series they were based on, Police Squad, was a flop, lasting only six episodes.
CBS This Morning devotes a segment to analyzing beloved TV series that have been made into feature films. Among those discussed: The Three Stooges (the link acknowledges these were actually theatrical shorts but soared in popularity due to TV airings), Sex and the City, The Naked Gun and The Brady Bunch. The critics also mention Batman, thus showing their ignorance of the fact that the Batman feature films of recent years have not been based on the 1960s TV series, but on a much longer legacy that extends back to serials in the 1940s. Curiously, there isn't even a mention of the hugely successful Mission: Impossible movies. Click here to view
Would you want to wreck this man's new Mercedes???
Long time Clint Eastwood-watchers thought it was rather strange that the normally private actor and filmmaker consented to a reality TV show that will highlight his wife Dana's attempts to popularize a boy band she discovered. The intrusive look into the Eastwood's personal life has many show biz types scratching their heads about why Eastwood would agree to make some fleeting appearances on the program. The show was being filmed when Clint loaned his new Mercedes to the boy band- and they directly drove it into the front of a grocery store. Eastwood was said to be incensed, but we'll have to see how much of this makes the final cut. According to the Daily Star, Eastwood doesn't appear to be having the time of his life on the project and the crew is becoming intimidated by him. As for the band members, they should tread cautiously. Clint doesn't take kindly to messing with his vehicles, as anyone who saw Gran Torino can attest. For more click here
NBC is going back to the future and reviving The Munsters as a new TV series, though it will be titled Mockingbird Lane. We have bad vibes about this project, but at least the initial concept drawings are impressive. Click here to view
I guess when you're the King of the World, you can pretty much indulge in any past time you want. In the case of director James Cameron, he must have a thing for fighting robots because he's teaming with producer Mark Burnett to bringing a series titled Robogeddon to the Discovery Channel. Little is known about the project, which Discovery hasn't officially confirmed, but news reports say that the premise will involve robots that battle to the death. Well, I guess it beats sitting around the back yard shooting squirrels with a B-B gun. - Lee Pfeiffer
Fox's plans to adapt the late author Jacqueline Susann's blockbuster novel Valley of the Dolls into a TV series has resulted in Susann's estate suing the studio, claiming violation of copyright. Susann's expose of the sleazy side of Hollywood has sold over 30 million copies to date. It was adapted by Fox into a critically-scorned but highly successful 1967 motion picture. That film also boasted a hugely successful title song by Dionne Warwick. The Susann estate claims that Fox has no rights to pursue a TV series based on the novel and points out that the estate had already exercised those rights previously by authorizing a 65 episode syndicated TV series. For more click here
The reality show featuring Clint Eastwood and his family will be titled Mrs. Eastwood and Company. It will debut on the E! network on May 20. The show's focus will be Eastwood's wife Dina and their daughters. The program will cover Dina's career as manager of the South African vocal group Overtone. The normally publicity-shy Eastwood claims he's enthused about the program which will look at life inside his household over ten episodes. The Oscar winning director will only make occasional appearances in the program. For more click here
Glam is back: Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz looking radiant.
By Lee Pfeiffer
Some random thoughts on this evening's Academy Awards ceremony: not about the films themselves, but the ceremony.
It's good to have Billy Crystal back, even though the "work" done on his face made him a bit unrecognizable. If he wasn't quite as sharp this year, his presence was a vast improvement over most hosts in the Crystal-less era. He had the usual amusing opening sequences in which he engaged in elaborate, expensive spoofs of films and nominated actors and topped it off with another clever song that took aim at both. Crystal actually got a bit better as the evening wore on and had some very amusing barbs.
The show's pace was quite good. Things never got boring and they actually managed to end on time.
Acceptance speeches were short, gracious and classy with the exception of one moron who was part of the winning documentary team. He used his few minutes of fame to utter an obscenity that had to be bleeped out.
Glamor was back in style. For the most part, the men eschewed that fad of wearing a faux tuxedo that included a straight tie. Instead, the classic tux look was back and you can see why it remains timeless.The women seem to have, refreshingly, given up on Cher's old habit of trying to make the news by wearing an outrageous gown. More traditional styles were in vogue. Most glamorous: Jennifer Lopez in a jaw-dropping number that let it all hang out. Angelina Jolie tried to go glam, but she looked a bit too goth-- like Morticia Adams in a sexy dress.
The Cirque du Soleil extravaganza tribute to the movies was magnificent on all levels- and incorporating classic film scenes was a true inspiration.
The sad state of music in the film business was demonstrated by the fact that there were only two nominees for Best Song and neither of them were deemed worthy of being performed.
Composer Ludovic Bource showed real class on his way to the podium to collect his Oscar for The Artist: he stopped in his tracks to pay personal homage to fellow nominee John Williams.
The annual tribute to departed actors and filmmakers was extremely well done, thanks to a beautiful choir rendition of Louis Armstrong's What a Wonderful World. As usual, the sheer number of great talents who were lost in the last twelve months was truly sobering.
It was great to see the Academy finally honor Christopher Plummer with an Oscar. He's a true actor's actor and a lingering reminder of the style and grace that once represented the film industry.
Tom Cruise hasn't aged a day in twenty years.
Will Ferrel and Zach Galifianakis were funny; Robert Downey Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow weren't.
The cash-strapped Hollywood & Highland Center was a perfect venue for the ceremonies. It was magnificently decorated to represent an old time movie palace.
The idea of including funky musicians leading to the commercial breaks was an inspiration. Similarly, it was nice to have those mini-interviews with celebs recounting what movies inspired them when they were young. It was funny to hear Adam Sandler recall seeing Diamonds Are Forever at age 5 and being impressed by Sean Connery's chest hair.
It was great to see Michael Douglas looking and sounding fit after his long battle with throat cancer.
Nice to see Woody Allen still doesn't show up to accept his Oscars. He's about the only one who doesn't appear rude by not doing so because, well, he's Woody Allen.
Gerry and Sylvia Anderson's 1970 cult sci-fi series Space: 1999 will be revived and "reimagined" for television as Space: 2099. The original series starred Martin Landau and his wife Barbara Bain. For more click here
For review of the Blu-ray release of the original series click here
Does Eastwood have GOP election hopes in his sites or is the controversy much ado about nothing?
By Lee Pfeiffer
A powerful, slickly-produced Chrysler Super Bowl ad that ran during half time is stirring political controversy from unlikely sources: the Republican party, which usually embrace's the ad's star, Clint Eastwood. The two minute-spot has a gravelly voiced Eastwood walking out of the shadows to extoll the fact that the American auto industry is in the midst of making an enormously successful comeback. That might sound like something all Americans would be happy about, but in an election year, pundits on both sides see subliminal messages everywhere. GOP supporters don't deny the TV spot was highly effective, but they have a gripe with Eastwood's assurance that the auto industry's comeback was only at half-time" and the best was yet to come. Republican critics say the term half-time is a coded endorsement for a second term for President Obama. Others mock that assessment, pointing out that the "half-time" reference pertained to the fact that the spot ran during the game's half-time slot and that Eastwood has never indicated he was supporting Obama's re-election.
Republicans generally criticized President Obama's decision to make massive loans to the failing American auto industry. The presumed GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, called for the government to let the free market take its course, even if it meant the complete bankruptcy of the car industry. Romney has been modifying those remarks in the wake of the industry's success, implying that the plan proved to be successful because Obama adopted certain financial policies that Romney had long endorsed. However, GOP advisers had been concerned from the moment Romney stated his position, pointing out his words could come back to haunt him because, while Americans would detest another bailout of banks, they would probably empathize with loans to the auto industry that would save the jobs of hundreds of thousands of workers.
Some Democratic pundits are saying that the ad is completely apolitical and that GOP critics are overly-sensitive. They point out that, while Eastwood has traditionally stayed clear of commenting on national politics, the few comments he has made in the past make it clear he favored Republicans and conservatives. In fact, it was recently revealed that the first President Bush considered asking Eastwood to run with him as Vice-President in 1988. In 2008, he made a rare endorsement for a presidential candidate, backing John McCain, thus making him an unlikely supporter of Obama's campaign for re-election. That hasn't stopped high profile GOP advisers like Karl Rove from complaining that, while he is a fan of Eastwood's, the super star is willingly being used as a political tool by Democratic operatives, a notion that Eastwood dismisses. In a statement, Eastwood said he is not endorsing anyone at this time in the presidential race and that the ad was non-political. He said, "I am certainly not politically affiliated with Mr. Obama. It was meant
to be a message about, just about job growth and the spirit of America. I
think all politicians will agree with it. I thought the spirit was OK."
Is the Eastwood spot a subliminal Obama endorsement or is it truly an apolitical, patriotic statement? Click here to view and make up your own mind?
Look, I'm not one of these high-brow guys who knock all of the programming on cable TV. About the only shows I ever have time to watch are guilty pleasures like Hoarders and Storage Wars plus various National Geographic programs that center on helpless humans being devoured by wild animals. Most of the time I'm working on my computer, so the only programs that run consistently are political shows that don't require me to sit in front of a screen. In fact, with all the heated debates on these programs, they provide plenty of wild animal-like behavior in and of themselves. What I do find really offensive is when a cable network decides to use a legendary movie as the basis of a low-grade TV concept. For example, A&E has just announced that it is developing a series titled Bates Motel that will explore the early years of Psycho's legendary cinematic killer Norman Bates, as well as his Oedipus-like relationship with his mother. Is this really what classic movie lovers have been clamoring for? Obviously not. How many people even remember that there was a TV movie sequel to Psycho back in 1987? So this new project is a rip-off of a rip-off. However, A&E is gambling that there are plenty of undiscriminating viewers out there who probably never even saw the original film and will think this concept is a hoot. Murder and implied incest? Irresistable! And now Alfred Hitchcock's masterpiece can be improved upon with the inclusion of numerous dumb-ass commercials, color cinematography and answers to the mysteries surrounding Bates' background that were so annoyingly mysterious that they might have inspired you to use your own imagination. Click here for the lurid details.
(Cheap plug: For Cinema Retro's in-depth tribute to the original Psycho, see issue #18)
Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro, Paul Sorvino and Joe Pesci in Goodfellas.
By Lee Pfeiffer
There was a time when AMC, originally known as American Movie Classics, lived up to its name. The network rivaled Turner Classic Movies in terms of reverent showings of great movies, all complete and uncut. Then the zombies and Wall Streeters took over management of the network and decided to trash tradition. Suddenly, lousy movies were interspersed with the classics, films were edited for content and to allow an abundance of commercials to be crammed in and the network didn't even respect the movies enough to allow for the end credits to run. Instead, they were shown in a microscopic window at warp speed while inane "coming up next" promos filled the screen. The outcry was tremendous among classic movie lovers, but there's a big brainless public in America that will watch movies under these conditions. The AMC brass knew their target audience and the station's popularity and profits soared. They did do something right, however, in terms of developing original content, which resulted in the acclaimed series Mad Men and Breaking Bad). AMC may have another promising concept: creating a series from Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction mob book Wise Guy which was the basis for Martin Scorsese's 1990 film Goodfellas, a genuine American masterpiece. Pileggi is involved with the project, as is the film's producer Irwin Winkler. They might make a great series out of this, which is ironic, because you would never be able to see Goodfellas presented respectfully on the same network. For more click here
With the smash hit British TV show Hustle ending after 8 remarkable seasons, the cast and crew take time to reflect on the experience. They all agree: veteran co-star Robert Vaughn gets more fan mail than anyone and the former Man From U.N.C.L.E. is not shy about expressing his mutual admiration for them. Click here to read
Allen in his first film as star and director, Take the Money and Run (1969)
my many favorite Woody Allen quotes, the most often quoted is:“I don’t want to achieve immortality
through my work, I want to achieve it through not dying,” Woody Allen once
said.While he may not achieve the
latter, the former is inevitable.
Masters premieres “Woody Allen: A Documentary,” Robert Weide’s masterful
documentary which spans the amazingly and innovatively creative and prolific
career of an American original.
“Not everybody has
so much to say about life as Woody Allen,” Martin Scorsese comments.Scorsese
also talks about the “two different New York’s” that come from each of their
cinematic points of view:The
former’s vision embodied in the rough and tumble “Mean Streets” with a young
Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel, versus the latters’ embodied in “Annie Hall”
and “Manhattan,” the pristinely beautiful New York City panoramic backdrops
accompanied by a precisely coordinated George Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue
is peerless,” said Chris Rock.“Maybe Babe Ruth can be compared to him. Most people last 20 years.He’s been doing this for over 40.”“He’s the best actors’ director I’ve
worked with,” said Naomi Watts.
the New York premiere at The Film Forum, whose attendees included Jerry
Seinfeld, Dick Cavett, and Tony Roberts, writer Director and Producer Weide
talked about his relentless yet genial pursuit of Allen for almost two
decades.Initially, Allen declined;
concerned about a retrospective while he was still in the middle of his
career.Three years ago, Weide
approached Allen again and said “it’s time.”This time Allen agreed.Weide, who had done documentaries about
The Marx Brothers, WC Fields, and Lenny Bruce, was particularly excited about
doing a piece about “someone I experienced in my own
two travel, both figuratively and literally, to Allen’s Brooklyn neighborhood,
where he recalls his childhood, the parks he played in and the majestic movie
theaters where he saw the films that shaped his creative life.
Allen’s and Diane Keaton’s Alvy Singer and Annie Hall’s staying up all night
talking on a bench in the shadow of the 59th Street Bridge is one of
the most famous and romantic images in film history.The documentary also solves one of
the great mysteries that have bewildered romantics worldwide since 1979- the
location of that park bench.
was a pain in the neck to film.I had to get up at three in
the morning,” Allen recalled.“We
had to bring our own bench.”
about Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz, Allen made a general statement about
acting:“If you’re an artist, you
have to say something.It
can’t just be technique.”
four hour program, which airs in two parts Sunday and Monday evening November
20st and 21nd, is the journey of a kid from Midwood who
started writing jokes for columnists, to writing and directing plays at Tamiment
in The Poconos, to writing for the legendary Sid Caesar, to doing his own
standup, to writing and directing his own films, and developing an incomparable
and unique cinematic voice.
still works at the same typewriter he bought as a teenager from a man who
promised that the writing machine would outlast its new owner.He reaches into a drawer of hand
scrawled notes.“I don’t care about
commercial success and as a result I rarely achieve it,” Allen
to his self-deprecating side which became the core of his film persona, he
said:“I’ve achieved everything
I’ve set out to do:I became a
writer, a movie actor, then a director.I wanted to play jazz and I’ve played in parades and in joints in New
Orleans.And I still feel like
somehow I got screwed.” Fortunately, his audience has not.
a fun and emotional ride.
Retro contributor Eddy Friedfeld teaches The History of American Comedy at NYU
those who missed part one last night, they can stream now on http://pbs.org/americanmasters. Part two will
stream there after tonight’s broadcast.
U.S. DVD release is via New Video & people can preorder now at Shop PBS.
Memories of legendary bombs like "Norbit" must be vague to Eddie Murphy. By backing out of hosting the Oscars, his chances of making a big comeback might be endangered.
Eddie Murphy has told A.M.P.A.S. that he is backing out of hosting next year's Oscar awards ceremony. Although he issued a graciously-worded statement, Murphy's decision was actually a response to the Academy pressuring director Brett Ratner to resign from next year's ceremonies. Ratner, who directed Murphy in the recently-released Tower Heist flick, came under fire after issuing an anti-gay slur as well as crude sexual comments regarding his love life with former flame, actress Olivia Munn. Murphy's decision is based on his support of Ratner, who he considers to be a personal friend. The Oscar gig was to be a central part of Murphy's grand plans to stage a comeback. He might regret the decision: the heavily-hyped Tower Heist opened to lightweight grosses at the boxoffice. Click here for more
At an age at which most actors are comfortably retired, former Man From U.N.C.L.E. Robert Vaughn's career is going great guns. He not only stars in the hit UK TV series Hustle (now in its eighth year), but he has just joined the cast of Britain's long-running series Coronation Street. Vaughn is particularly popular in England and the love affair is mutual, as the Emmy-winning actor told Cinema Retro recently, he finds working in the UK to be very enjoyable. In fact, Vaughn lived there for a period of years in the early 1970s. For more click here
The Guardian of London provides a subjective list of six great spy series - with some cool clips to watch. Among them: Danger Man (aka Secret Agent), The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. Click here to view
It's almost impossible to imagine 60 Minutes without the broadcast-ending segments by commentator Andy Rooney, who has been contributing to the show since 1978. The crotchety newsman's slice-of-life observations about politics and trivial aspects of daily living have been provocative and amusing and have made the 92 year-old journalist an American icon. Rooney has been with CBS for 60 consecutive years but he says this Sunday's broadcast of 60 Minutes will mark his final regular commentary segment. However, he will remain an occasional contributor and predicts only death will separate him from the network he loves so much.For more click here
Retro movie lovers may remember way back to the 70s and 80s when Gary Busey was a respected actor. He was even nominated for an Oscar for The Buddy Holly Story. Since then, he's been primarily defined by his quirky personal life. Busey was among those who protested California laws that mandate wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle. Ironically, in 1988 Busey was involved in a motorcycle accident and suffered brain injuries that might have been prevented had he been wearing a helmet. Now Busey is down to scrap heap level work: appearing on the TV program Wife Swap in which D-list "celebrities" switch households and live with each other's wife. It gets better: Busey is "swapping" with the wife of disgraced clergyman Ted Haggard. Haggard is yet another "family values" hypocritical holy man who railed against homosexuals and gay rights- until it turned out he had been seeing a male prostitute. (Admittedly these types of scandals usually involve homophobe elected officials who are secretly engaging in gay sex.) In saner times, that would have been the last we'd have heard from Haggard but in today's world bad behavior reaps big financial rewards so Haggard now has another career as a reality TV star. Maybe the wives of Busey and Haggard can find an appropriate niche for themselves on The Biggest Loser. For more click here
It was no secret that 85 year old Jerry Lewis had planned to limit his participation in the annual Muscular Dystrophy Telethon. He said as much last year, but promised to stay on as MDA chairman and also make an appearance to sing You'll Never Walk Alone on this year's show. That signature finale on every MDA telethon over the last 50 years is always a very moving moment, with Lewis often getting choked up during the song. However, last month Lewis announced he had basically severed ties with the MDA- an organization he had raised over $1 billion for. Reasons for the parting of ways are the subject of speculation. MSNBC commentator Lawrence O'Donnell, host of the political show The Last Word, had a scathing segment on his program last month in which he said that Lewis had been unceremoniously dumped by the MDA. Lewis has not issued any comment on the matter, simply saying he is "retired". However, Lewis is not retired- he's making a new movie. Thus, there appears to be hard feelings regarding his departure from MDA activities. Did he jump or was he pushed? Despite Lewis' absence, this year's Labor Day Telethon earned a record $61 million- an incredible feat during a recession -especially since the telethon was streamed to only six hours this year. Nevertheless, as O'Donnell pointed out, the shear sentiment of seeing Lewis' last telethon appearance could have made those numbers even bigger. For baby boomers, his MDA telethon remains a part of their lives. The ratings would have been sky high and his graceful departure from the show would easily have become one of the great moments in TV history. For more click here
Allen in the first film he directed, Take the Money and Run (1969)
After years of negotiating, producers of a new four-hour TV documentary about Woody Allen managed to land the shy Woodman's cooperation. The show will be the most intensive look at his life and career and will premiere in November as an American Masters presentation. Meanwhile, Allen's Midnight in Paris continues to perform well at the boxoffice and is his top-grossing film ever.
Hef managed to drag himself away from his other distractions to record narration for the premiere episode of The Playboy Club.
Hugh Hefner has agreed to provide narration for the premiere episode of NBC's forthcoming TV series The Playboy Club. The retro-based series will follow the lives of people associated with a 60s-era Playboy Club with heavy emphasis (unsurprisingly) on the character's sex lives. TV Guide reports that original concept was to have Hef provide narration for every episode, but that idea has been dropped. Hefner will be portrayed as a character on the show, though it's unclear how integral he will be to the plots. Click here for more