Saturday, 30 September 2006

My Favourite Blogs

This week it seems as if my blog was nothing but obituaries. On top of that we had overtime at work and I had the misfortune of contracting both sinusitis and bronchitis at the same time. I then thought that this entry would be on one of my favourite subjects, namely the blogs I read most often and enjoy the most.Indeed, I sometimes feel guilty that I don't have links to any of them on this blog (the reason being that my sidebars are much too busy as it is). I hope that this entry will make up for this.

For the most part, the blogs I read the most fall into one of two categories: blogs devoted to movies (with the occasional departure into television) and general pop culture blogs (not unlike A Shroud of Thoughts itself). In the former categories are two blogs which I enjoy a great deal. One is Mad About Movies. Mad About Movies is essentially a blog dedicated to movie reviews. Generally the reviews are devoted to newer films, although they have also reviewed some older films as well (notably, they reviewed David Lynch's Eraserhead recently). One thing that really separates Mad About Movies from other blogs I like is that it has multiple contributors (most often Marina, who I believe founded Mad About Movies, or the Wong Blogger). The fact that more than one person contributes to Mad About Movies gives the blog more than one point of view--while one contributor might prefer genre films, another might prefer chick flicks. In any case, the reviews are always well written and well thought out. While I may not necessarily agree with any given review, I can honestly say that they always have legitimate reasons for either liking or disliking a film.

The other movie blog I enjoy is Reel Fanatic. Like Mad About Movies, Reel Fanatic also features movie reviews, with the occasional foray into television. It also features news regarding the world of cinema and television as well. Reel Fanatic writes very well, with a good sense of humour and a keen insight into film. It also helps that many of his tastes are similar mine. While I do disagree with some of his opinions on films and TV shows at times, I can say that like the contributors to Mad About Movies, he always has justifiable and legitimate reasons for anything he likes or dislikes.

As I said, the other blogs I enjoy fall more into the category of "general pop culture." Among these is Popped Culture. Popped Culture covers nearly the whole gamut of pop culture, from movies to television to music to various other pop culture tidbits. It includes reviews of movies and TV shows as well as news and even sometimes commentary on various pop culture artefacts. The blog is authored by Jeremy in Toronto, although his wife and friends (also talented writers) have done guest shots at times. I must admit that I enjoy Popped Culture a great deal because Jeremy seems to be interested in a lot of the same topics I am (Popped Culture is the only blog beyond A Shroud of Thoughts I know of which had a post on pirates not related to those of the Caribbean...).

The other "general pop culture" blog I enjoy is Strange Culture. In a way calling Strange Culture a "general pop culture blog" is a bit misleading, as it is actually a bit more than that. Its author, RC, does cover movies, TV shows, music, and so on, but he has also posted on such subjects as tech billionaire and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and TOOOL (The Open Organization of Lockpickers). I don't always agree with what RC has to say (I seem to recall I disagreed with him on Snakes on a Plane), but I can always understand where he is coming from. Like the other blogs mentioned here, his reasons for liking or disliking something are always sound and justifiable.

I have a few other blogs I read on a regular basis, but these are the ones I enjoy the most. One interesting observation I just made recently is that most of the blogs I read are written either by Southeners (Reel Fanatic is from Macon, Georgia) or Canadians (Jeremy of Popped Culture is in Toronto, while I seem to recall Marina of Mad About the Movies is from Canada as well, although I can't remember where). Why I would read blogs written by Southerners is perfectly understandable. I am from the South (a part of Missouri called "Little Dixie" to be exact), so my views, tastes, and attitudes are going to closer to those of other Southerners than, say, Yankees. As to why I enjoy blogs written by Canadians, I am at a loss to explain that. I can only surmise that perhaps Canadians have better tastes and better writing skills than most Americans....

At any rate, I encourage any of you reading this entry to pay these blogs a visit. Each of these blogs is clearly a labour of love, into which a lot of work goes. I can guarantee you won't be disappointed.

Friday, 29 September 2006

Two More Celebrity Deaths

As I said in yesterday's entry, there are times that I worry that this might become "the Death Blog." It seems as if this week several artists have died and today I am eulogising two more. The first of these is actor Robert Earl Jones. Robert Earl Jones is an actor famous for his stage roles. He is also the father of actor James Earl Jones. Jones died at September 7 at age 96.

Robert Earl Jones was born February 3, 1910 in Coldwater, Mississippi. He dropped out of grade school to work for sharecropper. He later worked for the railroad until the Depression cost him his job. Jones was also a boxer, and was even a sparring partner with the famous Joe Louis in 1937 (he would later play Louis in the movie Spirit of Youth). Jones made his debut on Broadway in the play The Hasty Heart in 1945. He would go onto appear in Set My People Free, All God's Chillun Got Wings, Of Mice and Men, a revival of Death of a Salesman, and Mule Bone. Among other things, Jones worked with Langston Hughes at the Harlem Suitcase Theatre.

Robert Earl Jones also had a career in movies, making his film debut in Lying Lips in 1939. He is perhaps most famous for his role in The Sting, as Luther Coleman, the older con man. He also appeared in such films as Trading Places, The Cotton Club, and Witness.

For at time in the Fifties Jones was blacklisted when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. During the Thirties he had been involved with what some then considered leftist causes. The National Black Theatre Festival gave him a Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.

Although most famous as the father of James Earl Jones, Robert Earl Jones was a considerable talent on his own. James Earl Jones inherited his full, deep voice from his father, and Robert Earl Jones could put his magnificent voice to great use in the roles he played. This can be seen in The Sting, where Jones plays con man Luther Coleman very convincingly. If James Earl Jones is one of the top actors of our time, much of it is due to his father.

The other famous artist to die lately was cinematographer Sven Nyqvist. He passed on at the age of 83. He had been treated for aphasia.

Nykvist was born December 3, 1922 in Moheda, Kronobegs lan, Sweden. Fascinated by the movies while still young, he bought his first eight millimeter camera at age 15. At age 19 he started in the Swedish film industry as an assistant camera man. His first cinematographer credit came on the 1952 movie Under the Southern Cross, wher he received credit as co-director and co-cinematographer.

Of course, Nykvist's greatest claim to fame is as cinematographer to legendary Ingmar Bergman. He first worked with the director on the 1952 film Gycklarnas afton (Sawdust and Tinsel in the UK, The Naked Night in the U.S.); however, he would not work with Bergman together until the two made Jungfrukallan (The Virgin Spring). From that point on Nykvist worked on most of Bergman's important films--SÃ¥som i en spegel (Through a Glass Darkly), Nattvardsgasterna (Winter Light), Scener ur ett aktenskap (Scenes From a Marriage), and Fanny and Alexander.

Nykvist would also work with other directors on such films as The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Star 80, Sleepless in Seattle, and What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Besides Bergman, his most notable work beyond that with Bergman was perhaps the films he made with Woody Allen. He photographed Allen's films Crimes and Misdemeanours, Another Woman, and Celebrity. Nykvist also directed a few films of his own, including En Och En(One and One) and Oxen (The Ox).

Kyvist won Oscar for Best Cinematography twice, once for Viskningar och rop (Cries and Whispers) and again for Fanny and Alexander. He was nominated for the same award for his work on The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Society of Cinematographers, the BAFTA award for best cinematography on Fanny and Alexander, and the British Society of Cinematography award for best cinematography for Fanny and Alexander.

Nykvist was well known for his simple, naturalistic approach to cinematography. His camera work was generally straight forward with no unusual angles or fancy shots. His approach to lighting was subtle and natural. It is for this reason that many of Bergman's classic films (and many of the films Nykvist made with other directors) tend to look more realistic, as if one is watching scenes from the real lives of characters than a movie. His simple, naturalistic cinematography was proof that the maxim "Less is more" can sometimes be true. With his approach, Nykvist could create moods through light without sacrificing a softer, more natural look. He was definitely one of the greatest directors of all time.

Thursday, 28 September 2006

Edward Albert R.I.P.

There are times that I worry that this might become "the Death Blog." This is one of those times. Composer Sir Malcolm Arnold and playwright Joseph Hayes passed on recently. And now yet more artists have died. Today I will euologise one, actor Edward Albert. I will cover two more tomorrow.

Edward Albert was the son of the late Eddie Albert, who passed on just last year at the age of 99. Edward Albert died September 22 after a battle with lung cancer.

Albert was born February 20, 1951 to actor Eddie Albert and actor/dancer Margo. His middle name "Laurence" was taken from his godfather, acting legend Sir Laurence Olivier. He made his debut on the big screen at age 13 playing a runaway in the post-Civil War era film The Fool Killer. He attended both Oxford University and UCLA. In 1972, he was cast opposite Goldie Hawn in Butterflies are Free. In that film he played a young blind man who was trying to get away from an overbearing mother.

Albert was a prolific actor, with an active career in both movies and television. He played in such films as 40 Carats, Midway, Galaxy of Terror, The Greek Tycoon, and Guarding Tess. On television he appeared on such shows as Kung Fu, Ellery Queen, Police Story, and Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. He was a regular on the soap opera Port Charles from 1997 to 1998. Albert also appeared on stage, playing in the musical Cesar and Ruben in North Hollywood in 2003.

Like his father before him, Edward Albert was an activist. He was so active in campaigning for the preservation of Escondido Canyon that the e Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy named the area the Edward Albert Escondido Trail and Waterfalls not long before his death. Albert had served on both California's Native American Heritage Commission and the California Coastal Commission. He was active in protecting the rights of the Chumash tribe, native to California. For the last ten years Edward Albert cared for his father, who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease.

If anything else can be said about Edwar Albert, it is that he was his father's son. Although his career was not nearly as successful and he did not live nearly as long, both men were talented actors who also had a social conscience. In the case of both Albert's, their legacy goes far beyond the movies and TV shows they made. Even if Edward Albert and his father had not been talented actors, their concern for the environment and for other peoples would be enough to warrant great sadness at their deaths.

Sunday, 24 September 2006

Playwright Joseph Hayes Dies

Tony winning playwright Joseph Hayes died at age 88 of complications from Alzheimer's Disease on September 11.

Hayes' first play on Broadway was Leaf and Bough, which played for one night in 1949. He would see much more success with the novel The Desperate Hours. The novel focused on a group of fugitives who invade a home and hold the family hostage. Hayes would adapt his own novel into the 1955 Broadway play, starring Karl Malden, Mary Orr, and Paul Newman. The play would win the 1955 Tony for Best Play. That same year it was adapted into the classic movie, starring Humphrey Bogart and Fredric March. It would later be remade in 1990.

Hayes would also write other Broadway plays. The Happiest Millionaire played in 1956. It would later provide the basis for the 1967 comedy film starring Fred MacMurray and Greer Garson. In 1962 Hayes' play Calculated Risk played on Broadway. Hayes also produced The Happiest Millionaire and Calculated Risk (which was in turn based on one of his novels).

Hayes wrote the screenplay for The Desperate Hours and The Young Doctors. His novels also provided the basis for the films Neunzig Minuten nach Mitternacht (based on Yours After Midnight), The Third Day, and Haute tension (based on the novel No Escape). Another novel provided the basis for the Wonderful World of Disney episode Bon Voyage. Among the novels Hayes wrote were Don't Go Away Mad, The Thompsons, and Come into My Parlour.

Hayes was a fairly prolific novelist, who also worked on stage and in film. His lasting contribution was definitely The Desperate Hours. Not only did the movie based upon the novel and play prove to be a lasting classic, but its influence continues to be felt even to this day. It has been imitated both in other films and in episodes of TV shows countless times. Indeed, it can be argued that The Desperate Hours is one of those archetypal plots on which writers and directors will always be doing variations. The fact that Hayes also wrote other novels, plays, and movies is a tribute to his considerable talent.