Saturday, 2 September 2006

Serendipity

There was a time when romantic comedies were made for the enjoyment of both sexes. Such classics as Bringing Up Baby, My Man Godfrey, and the Doris Day/Rock Hudson films could enjoyed by men and women alike. Sadly, this all changed in the past few decades. Such films as Pretty Woman, The Bachelor, and The Wedding Planner seem to have been written with the idea that romance is the sole province of women. Fortunately, there have been exceptions. When Harry Met Sally, There's Something About Mary, and Down With Love are movies that either sex can appreciate. Among those exceptions is the 2001 film Serendipity.

Serendipity centres on Jonathan Trager (John Cusack) and Sara Thomas (Kate Beckinsale, A.K.A. The Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World--I won't mention the first), two people who meet and spend an intense few hours together. They agree to leave things to destiny, Sara placing her name and number in a book and Jonathan on a dollar bill. If Jonathan finds the book or Sara finds the dollar, then they know that they were meant to be together. Years go by and both are in relationships with other people, each on the surface perfectly suited to me. And yet neither Jon nor Sara can shake the memories or the feelings they have for each other.

At the heart of Serendipity lies two interrelated qusestions. One is of whether our lives are simply a chain of random, meaningless events or whether we each have our destinies. The other is whether there is that special someone, a soulmate, waiting for each of us other there. These are sophisticated questions for any recently made comedy, particularly a recently made romantic comedy, but Serendipity handles them quite well. There are some who might find the ending of Serendipity a bit optimistic (I won't reveal it here, but I figure most people familiar with the genre can probably guess how it ends), but, as I see it, there are those of us who are desperately in need of such optimism. After all, as I see it, among the purposes of romantic comedies is that of giving people hope.

Serendipity benefits from a good cast. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale are both convincing as the starcrossed lovers. Their performances are both genuine and sincere, without being overwrought. Jeremy Piven does well as Jon's somewhat sceptical friend. And Molly Shannon is hilarous as Sara's friend who runs a New Age store, but has total disdain for New Age ideas. Even the actors in bit parts are fairly good. Eugene Levy, wasted in such drek as the American Pie and Like Mike, is put to good use as a much put upon Bloomingdale's salesman. The script is also well done, with a good deal of intelligent dialogue.

Over all I consider Serendipity to be one of the better romantic comedies to come out in the past few years. And it is one of the few which a heterosexual male can watch without feeling embarassed (of course, the fact that Kate Beckinsale is in it makes that a whole lot easier...).

Thursday, 31 August 2006

Glenn Ford R.I.P.

Hollywood leading man Glenn Ford died yesterday at the age of 90. He starred in a number of classic movies over the years, from 3:10 to Yuma to The Blackboard Jungle to The Big Heat.

Ford was born May 1, 1916 in Sainte-Christine, Portneuf, Quebec to a Candian railroad executive and his wife. The family later moved to Santa Monica, California. He started acting in high school. He later acted in a travelling theatre company on the West Coast. He made his first appearance on film in 1937 in a small part in A Night in Manhattan. His first major role was in 1939's Heaven With a Barbed Wire Fence. His first starring role was alongside William Holden in 1941's Texas. It was also the first of many Westerns Ford would make.

During World War II Ford volunteered for service in the Marine Corps, interuppting his film career. It was after World War II that Ford would appear in his breakthrough role in Gilda. Released in 1946, Ford played a small time hoodlum running a casino in Buenos Aires. Rita Hayworth was the title character. The film proved to be a hit, so that Ford and Hayworth were teamed in five more films. With Gilda Ford's career took off, with most of his biggest films being relesed in the late Forties and early Fifties. Among the films he made at the time were The Big Heat, The Blackboard Jungle, 3:10 to Yuma, and The Courtship of Eddie's Father.

It was in 1963 that Ford made his first apperance on television, as a guest host on The Dick Powell Show. In the Seventies he would appear on television more and more often. He was the lead in the TV shows Cade's County and The Family Holvak. He also appeared in several TV movies, among them The Disappearance of Flight 412 and The 3,000 Mile Chase.

While Ford did a good deal of television in the Seventies, he continued to appear on the big screen. He played the title role in Santee. In Midway he played Rear Admiral Raymond A. Spruance. He appeared as Jonathan "Pa" Kent (Clark Kent's adoptive father) in Superman.

Ford was a versatile actor, capable of playing heroes, villains, and ordinary men. In 3:10 to Yuma he played the leader of an outlaw gang, yet in The Big Heat he played an honest cop investigating his partner's death. And in The Blackboard Jungle he played a caring teacher who must face down a gang of unruly high school hoodlums. All of these parts were quite different and yet he was convincing in all of them. In fact, even though he was the leading man in many of the films he made in his career, I often find it hard to think of Ford as a leading man. He seemed to me to be more of a character actor who just happened to be in the lead role. Indeed, while he may be best known for his roles in Westerns, his filmography is filled with roles in which he played not only cowboys, sheriffs, and outlaws, but criminals, lawyers, and police officers. There aren't many actors who had as a varied a career as Glenn Ford.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Some More Thoughts on the Emmys

In many respects this year's Emmy Awards was a fairly typical one. I cannot say that there were any big surprises. For the most part the shows and performers I thought would probably win did so. That having been said, I must say that for a medium that almost never gets respect (namely, television), the Emmys have always been the awards that I respect the most. At the same time, however, I have to admit that throughout their history, the Emmy Awards have always been a bit schizophrenic.

On the one hand, the Emmy Awards have always been willing to recognise shows that are off the beaten track, shows that are innovative and original. This is the reason I respect the Emmy Awards more so than awards for other media. Far too often the Oscars simply nominate those movies that one expects it would, those movies that tend to be more conservative, those movies that tend to be more pedestrian (this year Brokeback Mountain does show that there is the occasional exception). Indeed, it is very rare that genre movies (that is, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy movies) ever get nominated for any Oscar outside of Special Effects, Art Direction, or the Sound categories. Consider this. Even though Star Wars Episode IV: a New Hope is considered by many to be the best movie of 1977, it only won the Academy Awards for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Film Editing, Best Music, Original Score, and Best Sound. Given the fact that the Oscars rarely nominate genre movies in these categories, I guess we should feel lucky that it was even nominated in the categories of Best Supporting Actor (for Sir Alec Guiness), Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen (for George Lucas), Best Director (Lucas again), and Best Picture. Most genre films don't even get that far, even when they are truly the best movie of the year. The Bride of Frankenstein is now considered a classic. Some even consider the greatest horror movie of all time. I suspect many believe it to be the best movie of 1935. When it came to the Oscars, however, all it received was a nomination for Best Sound Editing! Here I must point out that as bad as the Oscars may be about snubbing certain genres of films, the Grammys are even worse when it comes to music. It seems to me that traditionally the Grammys have always favoured pop and jazz over any other music form, even (perhaps especially) rock 'n' roll. The Beatles are widely considered the greatest rock artists of all time. There are those who would even put them on a level with such composers as Gershwin and Porter. Yet, The Beatles only received eleven Grammys in their career, and four of those were such things as Best Album Cover (Revolver and Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band) and Best Engeineered--Non-Classical (Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and Abbey Road). Quite frankly, in my humble opinion, The Beatles should have swept the Grammys every year from 1964 to 1968. The list of respected artists who have never won a Grammy is astounding: Sam Cooke, Credence Clearwater Revival, Fats Domino, Jimi Hendrix, Rod Stewart, and many others.

The Emmy Awards present a stark contrast to the Oscars and the Grammys in that often times shows that are well off the beaten track, even sci-fi and fantasy shows, can and do get nominated. A few have even won. In 1961 the classic fantasy series The Twilight Zone was actually nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Program Achievement in the Field of Drama. Over the years it won Emmys for both Cinematography and Writing. Although we take it for granted today, in 1961 The Dick Van Dyke Show was a revolutionary, almost subversive idea for a sitcom. It was a sharp break from such Fifties sitcoms as I Love Lucy, I Married Joan, and Father Knows Best. Yet it won Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, Lead Actor in a Comedy (Dick Van Dyke, naturally), Direction, and Writing. In 1966 two revolutionary comedies were nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series. Both Batman and The Monkees were far different from anything that had gone before. What is more, not only was The Monkees nominated for the award. It won. Over the years the list of decidedly different series that have either been nominated for or won Emmys is fairly impressive: The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Get Smart, Star Trek (nominated for Outstanding Dramatic Series two years in a row, nonetheless), Mission Impossible, All in the Family, The Sopranos, and Lost, among others.

On the other hand, however, despite a willingness throughout their history to recognise new and inventive shows, the Emmy Awards have often settled for the tried and true. For the 1962 Emmy Awards Shirley Booth won the Emmy for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress in a Series (Lead)for the title role in Hazel, beating out such actresses as Irene Ryan (who was nominated for Granny in The Beverly Hillbillies, one of the all time great TV characters), Mary Tyle Moore (for The Dick Van Dyke Show), and Lucille Ball (for The Lucy Show). Now anyone who has seen Hazel knows that it is simply another in a long line of "stupid dad" comedies or, in its case, stupid family comedies (Hazel the maid was smarter than the family she worked for!). In 1971 Marcus Welby M.D., a well done but fairly standard medical drama, beat out such worthier series as Ironside and The Name of the Game for the Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Series. Cagney and Lacey was a fairly standard police drama (and not even a good one at that), whose only twist on the genre was that its leads were two women, yet over the years it won six Emmy Awards, among them the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series (which it actually won twice).

While the Emmys often go for the tried and true, they also often recognise those shows that are considered hip and popular. In some cases these shows may well be inventive and original, although the overall quality may actually be very poor. There can be little argument that The Mod Squad was not a fairly original idea when it debuted in 1968. In retrospect, however, it was actually a poorly executed series, with very little in the way of good writing or performances. Despite this, it was nominated for Emmys six different times! Other "hip and popular" shows are not quite so original or inventive, and their formats as old as the dawn of time. I realise my readers could well be bored of me harping about this series, but Grey's Anatomy is the perfect example of this. It is essentially a soap opera more than it is a medical drama. In fact, the only thing that separates it from Dr. Kildare are unusual medical cases (which has been done before--on St. Elsewhere and, more recently, on House) and sex (which Dr. Kildare really couldn't show back in 1961 when it debuted).

Of course, it is hard to tell whether the Emmys will continue to recongise original and inventive series as they historically have or if they will start staying with the tried and true or the hip and popular. One thing that concerns me is the changes in the Emmy's rules. At one time nominees were decided upon by a vote of the general membership. Under the rules that the Emmy Awards just recently enacted (this year's awards were the first ones using these new rules), blue ribbon panels determine the nominees through screening episodes selected by prospective nominees. This makes it difficult for series with serialised storylines or that tell their stories in arcs (such as Lost, Deadwood, and The Wire) to get nominated, as one or two episodes does not give one an idea of the series' over all quality. This explains why Lost was snubbed this year (The Wire always has been, so I have given up on it ever even being nominated for an Emmy), yet Grey's Anatomy received many nominations. These new rules have not only angered members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, but rank and file television viewers as well. Given this, the rules could be changed back to the way they once were, but there is no certainty that they will be.

Anyhow, as I said earlier, I have always thought that the Emmys were a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand they do often recognise original and inventive, quality series. On the other hand, they can just as easily recognise the tried and true. Given that the Oscars and the Grammys simply stick by the tried and the true, rarely giving that which is inventive or original a chance, I suppose I should be thankful that series such as Get Smart and Lost were even nominated, let alone win.

Monday, 28 August 2006

58th Annual Emmy Awards

Earlier in this blog I expressed my displeasure at the nominations for this year's Emmy Awards. And while I am still unhappy that shows that deserved to be nominated in various categories were not (Lost and Entourage), I am somewhat happy with the way the 58th Emmy Awards turned out given the circumstances.

Indeed, I am still unhappy that Lost was not even nominated for the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. And given that it was not even nominated, I do think House should have won. That having been said, I cannot protest too much over 24 taking the award. Besides House, it was the series which deserved to win the award the most that was nominated. And while I am still unhappy that Entourage was not nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series, I am happy that The Office did win. Currently it is the best comedy on the networks, in my humble opinion.

Here I should correct an error that I had made in my earlier post on the Emmy nominations. I said that Jeremy Piven had not been nominated for Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series. Well, it turns out he that not only had he, but he also won! This makes me happy. Entourage is the best comedy on television right now and much of the reason the series is so good is indeed Piven's performance as slimey agent Ari. As to the other wins in the actor categories, I am very happy that Mariska Hargitay won the award for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series, for two reasons. First, Hargitay is easily one of the best actresses in televison and she does well in a difficult role. Second, I was worried that Geena Davis might win for Commander in Chief. Quite simply, I do not believe she should have even been nominated as she wasn't even suited for the role and hardly convicing in it. As to Alan Alda winning the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, I think he deserved it. The role seems so utterly unlike Alda in real life, yet he was totally convincing in it.

I am unhappy that Lost, well, lost the award for Outstanding Writing For A Drama Series, although I am happy that The Sopranos beat Grey's Anatomy (which actually had two episodes nominated in this category, even the show didn't deserve to be nominated for any Emmys). I would have also preferred that Lost took the award for Outstanding Directing For A Drama Series, although I cannot complain too loudly about 24 taking it. After all, the direction on 24 is actually one of its strongpoints.

One thing that I must say that I am very happy about. Even though it received a ton of nominations, Grey's Anatomy did not win even one. I have said it before and I will say it again. Grey's Anatomy is simply a soap opera masquerading as a medical drama. It has absolutely no originality and adds absolutely nothing to the genre of medical dramas. I am still bumfuddled as to how it has become so popular and really stupefied as to how it received as many Emmy nominations as it did.

Anyhow, given that there were shows that were not even nominated in categories that they should have been, I cannot say I am wholly unhappy with this year's Emmys. Some shows that have long deserved recogniton got it (24 and, at least with regards to Jeremy Piven, Entourage), some younger shows that deserve recognition also got it (The Office), and in most of the categories the best nominee did indeed win. It is not often that happens at the Emmys.