Saturday, April 17, 2021

Godspeed Felix Silla

Felix Silla, who played Cousin Itt on the classic sitcom The Addams Family  and the maniacal villain in the film The Black Bird (1975), died on April 16 2021 at the age of 84. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Felix Silla was born in  Roccacasale, Italy on January 11 1937. He moved to the United States in 1955. He performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for seven years as a trapeze artist, tumbler, and bareback horseman. In 1962 he moved to Hollywood where he began his career as a stuntman and actor.

Mr. Silla made his television debut in an episode of Grindl in 1963. He made his debut as Cousin Itt on The Addams Family in the episode "Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family" and appeared several more times on the show. The voice of Cousin Itt was provided by Tony Magro. At the same time that he was appearing on The Addams Family, Felix Silla was also the stunt double for actor Butch Patrick on the other "monster" comedy of the Sixties, The Munsters. He appeared as one of the Talosians in the original Star Trek pilot "The Cage." In the Sixties he guest starred on the TV shows Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees, and Bewitched. He also played Polka Dotted Horse on the Saturday morning TV series H. R. Pufnstuf. He appeared in the movies She Freak (1967), Point Blank (1967), Planet of the Apes (1968), The April Fools (1969), Justine (1969), and Pufnstuf (1970). He performed stunts for the movies A Ticklish Affair (1963) and The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966).

In the Seventies Felix Silla played Lucifer on Battlestar Galactica (the voice was provided by Jonathan Harris) and Twiki on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (the voice was provided by Mel Blanc). He played Colonel Poom on the Saturday morning show Lidsville and had the recurring role of Chuck on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. He reprised his role as Itt on the 1977 television reunion movie Halloween with the New Addams Family. He guest starred on the shows Bewitched and Night Gallery. He appeared in the mini-series Lincoln. He appeared in the movies Little Cigars (1973), Sssssss (1973), The Black Bird (1975), Mastermind (1976), Black Samurai (1976), Demon Seed (1977), The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), The Manitou (1978), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), and The Brood (1979). He performed stunts for the movies Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Hindenburg (1975), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), and When Time Ran Out (1980).

In the Eighties Felix Silla continued to appear on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century during the first year of the decade. He guest starred on the TV shows Mork & Mindy, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Married...with Children. He appeared in the movies Under the Rainbow (1981), The Sting II (1983), Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), Meatballs Part II, Ragewar (1984), House (1985), and Spaceballs (1987). He performed stunts for E.T. the Extra-Terrestial  (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Howard the Duck (1984), Weekend Warriors (1986), The Golden Child (1986), The Monster Squad (1987), and Phantasm II (1988).

In the Nineties he appeared in the movies Batman Returns (1992) and Galgameth (1996). He performed stunts for Batman Returns (1992). In the Teens he appeared in the movies CHARACTERz (2016) and the 2018 mini-series Meet Slate.

Felix Silla also played in a band, The Harmonica Band, that even performed in Las Vegas.

Felix Silla was extremely versatile. Because of his small size (he was only 3'11"), he was often called upon to be the stunt double for children. He played a variety of roles through the years, from a "leprechaun" on Bonanza to a goblin on Bewitched to one of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. As Cousin Itt and Twiki he got to play recurring roles. And he played only the body in many of his roles, he was entirely wonderful when he actually got to speak in a part. A perfect example of this is his role as Litvak in The Black Bird. Felix Silla was perfect as the half-crazed villain. For younger Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, Felix Silla generated many fond memories.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Godspeed Helen McCrory

Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" movie series and Aunt Polly on the TV show Peaky Blinders, died today, April 16, 2021, at the age of 52. The cause was cancer.

Helen McCrory was born on August 17 1968 in Paddington, London. She studied at Queenswood School near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. She studied acting at the Drama Centre in London. She began her career in 1990, acting on stage. Miss McCrory made her television debut in 1993 in an episode of Full Stretch. She was a regular on the TV shows The Fragile Heart and North Sqaure. She played the title character in the mini-series Anna Karenina. She appeared on the TV shows Performance and Trial & Retribution, as well as several television movies. Helen McCrory film debut in Uncovered in 1994. In the Nineties she appeared in the movies Interview with the Vampire (1994), The James Gang (1997), Dad Savage (1998), and Hotel Splendide (2000).

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010). She appeared in the movies Charlotte Gray (2001), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), Enduring Love (2004), Casanova (2005), The Queen (2006), Becoming Jane (2007), Flashbacks of a Fool (2008), and 4,2,3,1 (2010). She was the voice of Mrs. Bean in The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). She had regular roles on the TV Shows The Jury, Dickens, and Life. She appeared in the mini-series In a Land of Plenty, Charles II: The Power and the Passion, and Messiah: The Harrowing. She guest starred on Doctor Who.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Part 2(2011). She appeared in the movies Hugo (2011), Flying Bind (2012), Skyfall (2012), The Last of the Haussmans (2012), Mational Theatre Live: Medea (2014), A Little Chaos (2014), The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014), Bill (2015), National Theatre Live: The Deep Blue Sea (2016), and Their Finest (2016). She provided the voice of Louise Cheavalier in Losing Vincent (2017). She played regular roles on the TV shows Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders, and His Dark Materials. She appeared in the mini-series Leaving, To Appomattax, Fearless, MotherFatherSon, Quiz, and Raodkill. She guest starred on the TV show Inside No. 9.

Hugo she played an altogether nicer character, actress Jehanne D'Alcy, the wife of film pioneer Georges Méliès. Miss McCrory was incredible as Polly Gray, the matriarch of the Shelby family and treasurer of the title gang in Peaky Blinders. Polly was exceptionally strong willed and exceptionally intelligent, not to mention extremely loyal to her family. Throughout her career she played a number of historical and literary figures, including Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland (in Charles II: The Power and the Passion); Cherie Blair (in The Queen); Anna Karenina in the mini-series of the same name, and so on. Regardless of the role, she always did them well.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

TCM Announces Its Line-Up for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2021

Today Turner Classic Movies announced the line-up for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2021. Like last year, this year's festival will be virtual. Unlike last year, it will not only unfold on Turner Classic Movies, but also on HBO Max. Club TCM will even be back this year, with events taking place on Zoom. This year's line-up for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2021 looks to be a good one.

Below are my picks for what to watch each day during this festival. All times are Central.

Opening Night, Thursday, May 6
7:00 PM West Side Story (1961), includes a reunion discussion with Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn
10:15 PM Mean Streets (1973)
12:30 AM Doctor X (1932), newly restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment.
2:00 AM Ocean's 11 (1960)
4:45 AM My Favorite Wife (1940)

Friday, May 71:00 PM Wuthering Heights (1939)
4:15 PM The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
12:15 AM The Producers (1968)

Saturday, May 8
7:00 AM Tex Avery, The King of Cartoons (1988)
9:00 AM Ride the High Country (1963)
10:45 AM Nichols and May: Take Two
4:45 PM Bullitt (1968)

Closing Night, May 9
7:15 AM Stranger on a Train (1951)
1:15 PM Places in the Heart (1984)
1:15 AM Breathless (1960)

There will also be content available on HBO Max, including tributes to Danny Glover, Ali McGraw, and Martin Short, as well as introductions by various directors of some of their most iconic films. On HBO Max will also be Essentials, each of which includes festival extras. I don't subscribe to HBO Max and have no plans to do so, but if you do, then I think you might want to check out The Thin Man (1934), Top Hat (1935), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Bullitt (1968).

As I mentioned earlier, there will also be Club TCM events on Zoom for the festival. As of yet Turner Classic Movies has not published a schedule of events.

Anyway, for a complete look at TCM's schedule for the festival, you might want to visit its website here.

Monday, April 12, 2021

How WarnerMedia Could Fix HBO Max

AT&T recently announced that they expect to reach a total number of global subscribers of 120 million to 150 million subscribers to HBO Max by the end of 2025. Personally, I think they are being far too overly optimistic. Despite the high hopes that AT&T and its subsidiary WarnerMedia Direct had for HBO Max, it really hasn't taken off the way they had hoped it would. While it has had some successes (such as The Flight Attendant), it still has a problem with attracting new subscribers.

In fact, HBO Max lags far behind many of its competitors. Streaming giant Netflix had a total of 73.4 million subscribers in the US as of the end of last year. HBO Max also lags behind Disney+, which announced in February that it had  surpassed 94.9 million subscribers in the United States. In comparison, HBO Max began 2021 with 41.5 million subscribers. That is only up 6.9 millions subscribers from the 34.5 million subscribers HBO Max had begun 2020 with. HBO Max is then lagging well behind Netflix and Disney+ in adding subscribers.

The addition of only 6.9 million subscribers seems especially significant given WarnerMedia Direct's efforts to add subscribers. Earlier this year they moved all video content from former streaming service DC Universe to HBO Max, including such popular series as Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn. Next month the Turner Classic Movies Hub of HBO Max will host exclusive content for the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival. Even Warner Bros. movies, which would usually be released to theatres first and then later to streaming services, have premiered simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max. Despite this, the streaming service still hasn't seen significant gains in subscribers the way some of its competitors have.

Of course, the question is why HBO Max is lagging behind some of its competitors in subscribers. I think the primary reason may be its price. At $14.99 a month, HBO Max costs as much as the basic prices for Netflix and Hulu combined. $14.99 is then rather costly given one would get much more content with both a basic Netflix subscription and a basic Hulu subscription for the same price. Indeed, HBO Max has only a little more content than Peacock, which has a free tier as well as a $4.99 tier and a $9/99 tier.

Now I am not sure why HBO Max costs so much. My suspicion is that it is the presence of content from HBO. I have watched streaming media for over ten years and one thing I have learned is that any content from HBO, whether it is a made-for-TV movie or an episode of one of their shows, costs much more than similar material from other outlets. I remember I considered watching Game of Thrones on Amazon Prime until I saw how much a single episode cost. While I cannot say why HBO movies and TV shows are so expensive to stream, I am guessing it may be because HBO is  a premium channel. Perhaps they are concerned that if they made their content inexpensive to stream, then people wouldn't subscribe to HBO.

If that is the case, I can see two ways that WarnerMedia can improve their chances in the streaming arena. The first is to create at least two tiers with regards to HBO Max, one less expensive than the other. On the less expensive tier one would get access to the DC Hub, the TCM Hub, the Studio Ghibli hub, the Looney Tunes hub, and so on. On the more expensive tier one would not only get access to those hubs, but the HBO Max Originals and HBO content as well. I think this would encourage more people to subscribe, even if it was only to the lower tier. I personally have no interest in HBO content and very little interest in HBO Max original shows, but I am very interested in content from DC, TCM, Warner Bros., and so on (speaking of Warner Bros., when are they going to add classic Warner Bros. shows like Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip to HBO Max?).

The second way that WarnerMedia could improve their chances in the streaming arena is to simply break HBO Max up into two different streaming services. One could simply be an online version of the Warner Archive (not unlike the Warner Archive streaming service of a few years ago), which would feature content from DC, TCM, Warner Bros., and so on. The other streaming service would feature HBO content and original content. I don't think this solution would be as good as simply introducing tiers to HBO Max, but I think it might well be more viable than HBO Max the way it is now.

As it is, right now I worry that WarnerMedia may be putting their eggs all in one basket with regards to HBO Max. While it certainly has content that would draw in subscribers, its cost per month probably keeps many of them away. I already subscribe to a few streaming services, and I am unwilling to give up any of them to subscribe to HBO Max, particularly as I would probably have to give up more than one of them. If WarnerMedia introduced tiers to HBO Max or if they simply broke it ups into two different streaming services, they would be much more likely to get my money. I think that might be true of a lot of potential subscribers.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Godspeed Anne Beatts

Anne Beatts, who was a writer on Saturday Night Live in its earliest years and created the classic sitcom Square Pegs, died on April 7 2021 at age 74.

Anne Beatts was born on February 25 1947 in Buffalo, New York. She grew up in Somers, New York. She attended McGill University in Montreal. While there she worked on the campus newspaper, The McGill Daily. It was following her graduation from McGill University that she moved to New York City. She became the first woman to write for National Lampoon. While with National Lampoon she worked on the magazine's stage show National Lampoon Lemmings. She also co-wrote the American version of the French/Belgian adult animated film Tarzoon: Shame of the Jungle with Michael O'Donoghue.

It was in 1975 that Anne Beatts signed with NBC's new series Saturday Night Live, making her among the earliest writers on the show. Ms. Beatts wrote many of the television commercial parodies for the shows and created the recurring "Nerds" sketches.  It was not unusual for Anne Beatts to appear in front of the camera as well on Saturday Night Live, often in small, uncredited parts in sketches. She remained with Saturday Night Live from 1975 to 1980. She also wrote material for the comedy documentary Gilda Live (1980).

Following Saturday Night Live, Anne Beatts created the classic sitcom, Square Pegs, which ran on CBS from 1982 to 1983. The series proved to be a hit with critics and, while it was routinely bested in the ratings by That's Incredible on ABC, proved popular with the key demographic (18 to 54 year olds). CBS only cancelled the series because of rampant drug use on the set. In addition to serving as the show's executive producer and a writer, Anne Beatts appeared in two episodes of the show as Miss Rezucha. Following Square Pegs, in the Eighties Anne Beatts wrote an episode of Faerie Tale Theatre. She served as a producer on the sitcom A Different World. She wrote the book for the jukebox musical Leader of the Pack.

In the Nineties Anne Beatts served as a writer and executive producer on The Stephanie Miller Show. She served as a writer and an executive producer on the show The Belles of Bleaker Street. She wrote episodes of Murphy Brown, Happily Ever After: Fairy Tales for Every Child, and Hollywood Off-Ramp. In the Naughts she wrote episodes of Committed. She served an executive producer on Dr. Lupe's Love Picante. Most recently she was working with Judy Belushi-Pisano and Dan Aykroyd on an animated Blues Brothers series.

Anne Beatts also co-wrote the book Titters: The First Collection of Humor by Women with  Deanne Stillman and the books Titters 101 and The Mom Book with Deanne Stillman and Judith Jacklin Belushi.

Anne Beatts was a brilliant writer. Her commercial parodies on Saturday Night Live were often the funniest parts of the show. Square Pegs remains one of the best, most realistic sitcoms about high school life to ever air. She was gifted with a dark sense of humour, characterized by a sharp wit and and a talent for satire. Her comedy was often characterized by small details that might be overlooked by other writers. If Square Pegs remains better known than many high school sitcoms that lasted longer, if it perhaps because Anne Beatts included various details that other shows have missed. As part of both National Lampoon and SNL when it was at its best, as well as the creator of Square Pegs, Anne Beatts was one of the best comedic writers of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Godspeed James Hampton

James Hampton, who played Trooper Hannibal Dobbs on the classic sitcom F Troop and appeared in the movie The Longest Yard (1974), died on April 7 2021 at the age of 84. The cause was complications from Parkinson's disease.

James Hampton was born on July 9 1936 in Oklahoma City. He grew up in Dallas, Texas. He attended North Texas State College in Denton, Texas. He held such jobs as bodyguard, bartender, and photojournalist before he was drafted into the United States Army. Interestingly enough given his role on F Troop, he served in the cavalry at Fort Knox before being stationed in Germany. Following his stint in the Army, James Hampton studied acting under Baruch Lumet at the Knox Street Theatre in Dallas. He acted at the Casa Mañana Theatre in Fort Worth and also performed summer stock in Texas. He moved to New York to pursue his career in acting. He appeared in the short "The Cliff Dwellers" (1962), which was nominated for the Oscar for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects. This led to Mr. Hampton's first trip to Los Angeles, where he was signed by agent Walter Kohner.

James Hampton made his television debut in an episode of Gunsmoke in 1963. He guest starred on such shows as Death Valley Days, Gomer Pyle: USMC, Gunsmoke, and Rawhide before being cast as Trooper Hannibal Dobbs on F Troop. Trooper Dobbs was the troop's bumbling bugler, who could play both "Dixie" and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," but could manage such bugle calls as "Reveille" or "Charge." F Troop only lasted two seasons, but proved to be a success in syndication. Afterwards James Hampton played the regular role of ranch hand Leroy B. Simpson on the three seasons of The Doris Day Show. In the Sixties he also guest starred on Bracken's World. He made his film debut in Soldier Blue in 1970.

In the Seventies James Hampton had a recurring role on the Saturday morning, live action show The Red Hand Gang. He guest starred on The Wonderful World of Disney; The F.B.I.; Hawkins; Love, American Style; Run, Buddy, Run; The Manhunter; Mannix; The Rockford Files; Mary; Kaz, B.A.D.Cats; The Dukes of Hazzard, and Insight. He appeared in the mini-series Centennial. He appeared in the movies Justin Morgan Had a Horse (1972), The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing (1973), The Longest Yard (1974), W. W. and the Dixie Dance Kings (1975), Mackintosh and T.J. (1975), Hustle (1975), Hawmps! (1975), The Cat from Outer Space (1978), The China Syndrome (1979), and Hangar 18 (1980).

In the Eighties James Hampton was a lead on the short--lived sitcom Maggie and a regular voice on the animated series Teen Wolf. He had a recurring role on the soap opera Days of Our Lives in 1989. He guest starred on the shows Insight; Tales of the Gold Monkey; Boone; Goodnight, Beantown; The Greatest American Hero; Matt Houston; Otherworld; Who's the Boss?; Simon & Simon; Murder, She Wrote; Crazy Like a Fox; Punky Brewster; She's the Sheriff; Superboy; Mama's Family; 1st & Ten; Perfect Strangers; Newhart; Full House; and Get a Life. He appeared in the movies Condorman (1981), Teen Wolf (1985), Teen Wolf Too (1987), Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach (1988), Pump Up the Volume (1990), and The Giant of Thunder Mountain (1990).

In the Nineties Mr. Hampton guest starred on Evening Shade, Valerie, Hearts Afire, Melrose Place, Hope & Gloria, and Fired Up. He broke into television directing with Evening Shade. He directed several episodes of the show, as well as several episodes of the shows Hearts Afire; Boston Commons; Grace Under Fire; Sister, Sister; and Smart Guy. He also directed episodes of Kirk; Hudson Street; American Pie; The Tony Danza Show; Rude Awakening; Katie Joplin; Linc's; and Zoe, Duncan, Jack & Jane. He appeared in the movies Sling Blade (1996), Lost in the Pershing Point Hotel (2000), and Danny and Max (2009).

In the Naughts James Hampton appeared in the movie Fire from Below (2009). In the Teens he appeared in the movies The Last Ride (2011), Jacob (2011), Flutter (2014), Big Stone Gap (2014), and Divine Access (2015).

James Hampton excelled in playing comedic bumblers like Trooper Dobbs on F Troop and Leroy on The Doris Day Show, but he was capable of other roles. In the final episode of Mannix, "Hardball," he played a villain as far removed from Trooper Dobbs as one could get. In The China Syndrome he played Bill Gibson, the public relations man who keeps his calm during an accident at his company's nuclear power plant. In Sling Blade he played psychiatrist Jerry Woolridge. While there is no doubt that James Hampton will always be known as Trooper Hobbs, he performed a wide variety of other roles as well.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The 20th Anniversary of the BET Television Movie Fire & Ice (2001)

Vanessa Marquez &
Lark Voorhies
Last night marked twenty years since the TV movie Fire & Ice (2001) made its television debut. on BET (Black Entertainment Television). The made-for-TV movie centred on senator's daughter and co-owner of a high-tech home security firm (Lark Voorhies). Following a scandal involving her ex-boyfriend, she falls in love with a late night television show host (Kadeem Hardison). If you are wondering why I am writing about a made-for-TV romance movie, it's because Fire and Ice marked the last appearance on screen of my dearest Vanessa Marquez save for an exploitative reality show (which I won't name here) and a cameo in the Star Wars fan film Return of Pink Five (2007).

Fire & Ice was based on the romance novel Fire and Ice by Carla Fredd. The novel was published in 1995 by Arabesque, an imprint of BET Books dedicated to romance novels. Arabesque was launched by BET Books (the publishing arm of cable channel BET) in July 1994 and was dedicated to publishing African American-themed novels. It was in 1999 that BET began adapting Arabesque romance novels as television movies, making ten of them in 1999 alone. After airing on BET, these made-for-TV movies would be released on VHS and DVD.

Here it should be pointed out that while Fire & Ice (2001) made its television debut on BET on April 6 2001, its premiere occurred a little over a week earlier. On March 27 2001 a private screening was held at the club Brave New World in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After its television debut on BET, Fire & Ice had encore showings on BET on April 14 2001 and June 25 2001.

Going by online reviews of Fire & Ice (2001), fans of romance movies appear to have positive opiniond of the film. As someone who does not count made-for-TV romance movies among his favourites, I find Fire & Ice largely conforms to the formulae of the genre: woman meets man, woman and man don't get along, woman and man go on a date, woman and man fall in love, and so on. That having been said, Lark Voorhies (best known for Saved by the Bell) and Kadeem Hardison (who may be best known from the sitcom A Different World) give sincere performances that make Fire & Ice enjoyable. Fire & Ice also benefits from good performances from its other performers. Tempest Bledsoe (best known for The Cosby Show) does well as Lark Voorhies' partner at the security firm, even lending some humour to the proceedings. Here I have to point out that Fire & Ice was rare for the early Naughts in portraying African Americans in important positions. Lark Voorhies and Tempest Bledsoe's characters Holly Aimes and Pam Moore head a home security firm. Kaddem Hardison's character Michael Williams is a late night TV show host.  

As to Vanessa Marquez, she plays one of the security firm's technicians, Wanda Hernandez. As Wanda, Vanessa acts as comedy relief, adding a bit of humour to Fire & Ice. While the role isn't too different from Wendy Goldman on ER or Janice Ramos on Malcolm & Eddie, she still gives one of the movie's best performances in the film, if not the best. And while I realize I am probably biased on this point, I think Vanessa looks her loveliest on screen in Fire & Ice. While Vanessa Marquez is not listed very high on the credits of Fire  & Ice, she actually appears more in the film than some of the actors listed higher in the credits than her. Here I have to point out that the character of  Wanda was changed from the novel. In the novel the character of head technician is named "Wanda Johnson" and we really don't know her ethnicity. In the made-for-TV movie she is named "Wanda Hernandez" and she is clearly a Latina.

Over all Fire & Ice (2001) is a well done, made-for-TV movie. Even people who are not fans of the romance genre might find the movie enjoyable. Certainly, after twenty years Fire & Ice remains popular and still appears on various streaming services and cable channels from time to time. It also remains available on DVD. Of course, for me the movie occupies a special place as the last made-for-TV movie in which my dearest Vanessa Marquez appeared.