Saturday, 28 July 2007

Sometimes You Aren't the Hero...

Last night I hardly got any sleep because of a stye (it's surprising something so small can hurt so much), so I am really not in any shape to write a good post tonight. Instead I decide to present you with a bunch of memes or, as I call them, quiz thingies. This time the results were interesting as, for once, I only wound a hero in a few of them (of course, one quiz I couldn't possibly be the hero...) and I didn't end up the "priest" or "religious guru" in any of them.

You scored as Sirius Black, You are a gifted wizard and very loyal to your allegiance. Whilst you have a big heart and care very much about those around you, you can be a little arrogant and reckless at times.

Sirius Black

90%

Draco Malfoy

90%

Severus Snape

80%

Albus Dumbledore

75%

Harry Potter

65%

Remus Lupin

55%

Ron Weasley

50%

Ginny Weasley

45%

Hermione Granger

45%

Lord Voldemort

5%

Your Harry Potter Alter Ego Is...?
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I am fairly happy with this result. The last "Which Harry Potter Character Are You" Quiz I took ended with me being Snape. And while I do have at least one thing in common with Snape, I don't think that result is a perfect fit (I have to wonder if the quiz's author took into account the later books). On the other hand, I think I have a good deal with Sirius Black. I can be arrogant at times, although I am loyal to my family and friends to a fault. I do have to disagree with "Draco Malfoy" coming in second. About all I have in common with him is arrogance. Let's face it, even as a bad guy Draco is a dweeb. And while I like Snape as a character, it seems to me that I only have one thing in common (granted, it is probably the most important thing to Snape, but still....). Honestly, I think 2 and 3 would be Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore.


Which Batman Villain Are You?




You are: R'AS AL GHUL!
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Okay, this is the quiz on which I couldn't possibly be the hero. I have to say I like this result. I have to admit The Joker and Two Face are my favourite Batman villains, but then I can't see myself as either a homicidal maniac or a madman obsessed with duality. Indeed, I think if I were a supervillain, my goals would be the same as Ra's. Why settle for robbery or extortion when you can conquer the world?


Which Fight Club Character Are You?

You are Tyler!!
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Okay, this is another case where I am not the hero. I have to admit that I probably have more in common with Tyler Durden than the Narrator (and definitely more than Marla or Bob). Granted, I don't go around doing rude stuff in people's soup or blowing stuff up, but I have to admit to having a desire to change the world. Like both Tyler and The Narrator, I've been in my share of fights (and I've lost a few, too...). That having been said, I do work for a major corporation and I haven't really done much to change that...


Which House Character Are You?

You are Dr. Gregory House. You are the God of Snark. Life has given you lemons so you cut them in half and squeeze lemon juice in people's eyes to get your jollies. Although underneath it all you are really just a damaged person who can't deal with emotions, especially your own. The good news is you're brilliant!
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I suppose Dr. Gregory House counts as another bad guy? Or is he really a hero? An anti-hero? Whatever he is, he is my favourite character on the show. Like most people I think he is obnoxious and arrogant, so I really haven't much in common with him (although, sadly, I have more in common with him than the other characters on the series). That having been said, I still think he is carrying a torch for Cuddy, something I can understand perfectly....

Which The Office Character Are You?



Jim Halpert
You are extremely nice and everyone likes you. You are popular with the ladies. You go to parties and have a good time. You are good at your job but if you could leave you would. You have everything a guy could want.
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I must confess Jim Halpert is my favourite character on The Office. And I can think of a few things we have in common. People tell me I am nice and everyone at work likes me. And when I was Jim's age I did go to a number of parties. I must also confess that I am good at my everyday job (not writing, the other one), but I really don't like it that much. The two differences between us is that I don't really think I am popular with the ladies (not that I've noticed, anyhow), and while I am always cracking jokes at work, I am not a practical joker (although I did nail my second best friend with one of those fake lighters that delivers a slight shock--she wasn't too happy with me). Well, I guess that is one more thing I have in common with Jim, my best friend at work is a girl.

You scored as Code name V, Your Code name "V". Your vengeful and cold hearted at times. People have done horriable things to you in the past...but dont worry about them, you'll get back at them one way or another. Your a good person on the inside who believes strongly in the good of the people. You think that you could never fall in love because your heart is filled with hate...but even a heart as broken as your can love. Your strong and just and would fight for the good of your world.

Code name V

100%

Finch

33%

Creedy

33%

Evey

33%

Sutler

33%

Deitrich

0%

What V for Vendetta character are you?
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Okay, I've already posted the results of a V for Vendetta quiz here, but I decided to post another. It's always nice to know I am nothing like Sutler and Creedy. Naturally, I always do remember the fifth of November.

I don't know that any of these characters have much in common, although I suppose Sirius, Tyler, and V all have a strong desire to change the world and end what they consider injustice (I guess Ra's Al Ghul does too, although his solution isn't something many beyond himself and his minions would find desirable...). All of the characters are also intelligent, in some cases brilliant (namely Ra's, House, and V). That having been said, I think House is probably the most different from the rest. I'm not sure, but I think Ra's Al Ghul may even be less selfish than he is....

Anyhow, I promise I'll do a real post tomorrow (a spoiler free review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows)!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Whatever Happened to A&E?

At one time I watched a good deal of the A&E Network. For some time it was possibly my favourite cable channel out there. As time has gone by, however, I found myself watching it less and less. The past year I have found that I only watch it for The Sopranos, Criss Angel, or, if there is nothing else on, CSI: Miami. It seems that the A&E I watched so often is long gone and an impostor has taken its place.

Today A&E has been infected by the plague known as "reality shows," but there was a time when A&E was known for quality programming. The channel was born in 1984 when the ARTS Network (ran by Hearst and ABC) acquired the programming of the Entertainment Channel (run by NBC). The new channel was named A&E, short for Arts and Entertainment. A&E aired an inordinately large number of shows devoted to the fine arts. There was A&E Stage, which featured broadcasts of various plays. There was also Breakfast with the Arts, which included interviews and even performances from everything from the stage to ballet to rock music to film.

Of course, it is sad a fact that no cable channel in America could survive on fine arts programming alone. A&E would also air reruns of high quality, classic TV shows, among them Columbo, Crime Story, Northern Exposure, Law and Order, and NewsRadio. Before BBC America came along, it may well have aired more British programming than other American cable channel (even more than PBS). These British series included older classics such as The Avengers and The Saint, as well as newer series, such as The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Airline, Inspector Morse, and Lovejoy. A&E also showed British movie series based on popular series of books. There was Sharpe, based on the Richard Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwell, Horatio Hornblower, based on the Horatio Hornblower novels by C. S. Forester, and The Scarlet Pimpernel, based on the novels by Baroness Orczy. A&E also aired such special programming as the miniseries Napoleon and Shackleton. The original series Nero Wolfe was one of the best things on television. Its series Biography was so popular that it was spun off into its own cable channel. The programming A&E broadcast on history gave rise to The History Channel. Quite simply, A&E was one of the best networks around.

Oh, that is not to say that A&E didn't have its share of flaws. The cable channel was joking called the "Murder She Wrote Channel" for good reason (how that show ever ended up on A&E I can never figure out). And as much as I love Biography, there were times it showed it too much. Ultimately, however, A&E was the only place one could see a lot of quality series, British programming, and miniseries on subjects the broadcast networks would ignore.

Sadly, things changed not long ago. The reality show fad finally reached A&E. In April 2004 A&E debuted Growing Up Gotti, a reality show following around mobster John Gotti's daughter Victoria Gotti. In August 2004 the channel debuted Dog the Bounty Hunter, now their most popular show. In March 2005 A&E debuted Intervention, a purely exploitative series focusing on interventions with addicts of various sorts. By March 2006 A&E would ditch many of their longtime shows, including those reruns of Murder She Wrote (which really wasn't a bad idea) in hopes of attracting a younger viewership. The British spy series Spooks (aired here as MI-5), was unceremoniously dumped. It's apparently the last British show A&E has aired. Unfortunately, all of this meant that there would be even more reality shows on the cable channel. They did eventually pick up CSI: Miami and The Sopranos, but they seem to be the only dramas the channel show of an evening any more.

When A&E got the rights to The Sopranos reruns, the channel's general manager Bob DeBitetto, claimed that the show "...speaks so eloquently as to what A&E is all about." I disagree. At one time it would have. The Sopranos would have fit in so perfectly with shows such as The Avengers, Sharpe, NewsRadio, and MI-5. As A&E is now, however, it seems oddly out of place beside Dog the Bounty Hunter, Confessions of a Matchmaker, God or the Girl, and Flip This House (shouldn't that be on TLC?). As much as I once loved A&E, I keep hoping that the ratings on their various reality shows would drop so that they would stop airing them. In fact, I would be more than happy if they were forced to cancel every one of their series save Criss Angel and The Sopranos (although Gene Simmons' Family Jewels could always move to MTV). There are many of us who wish A&E would return to what it once was, a cable channel that aired quality programming. Now, like so many other cable channels, its programming consists primarily of junk.

Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The President's Analyst

If Theodore J. Flicker is known for anything, it is his work in television. After all, he was co-creator of the classic sitcom Barney Miller alongside Danny Arnold. Most of his work was in directing TV shows. Over the years Flicker directed everything from The Man From U.N.C.L.E. to I Dream of Jeannie to The Streets of San Francisco. He wrote for television as well, writing episodes of Nichols, Night Gallery, and, of course, Barney Miller.

That having been said, Flicker did some work in feature films. He co-wrote the screenplay to The Troublemaker with Buck Henry and directed the movie. He also wrote the screenplay to the Elvis Presley vehicle Spinout. He directed such films as Up in the Cellar and Soggy Bottom U.S.A.. For the most part, however, Flicker's feature films have been forgotten. Not all of them have, as The President's Analyst, directed by Flicker and released in 1967, has been remembered as both a cult film and one of the funniest films of the Sixties in the opinion of many.

The President's Analyst was produced at the the tail end of the spy fad that swept America and Europe in the mid-Sixties. The President's Analyst is largely a a parody of the myriad spy films produced from 1964 to 1967, but it is also so much more than that. Essentially, it is a political and social satire, which takes jabs at everything from the United States government to middle class suburbanites to, well, the phone company. Indeed, The President's Analyst was among the first films turned out by Paramount with Robert Evans as Head of Production. Not long after Evans agreed to go forward on The President's Analyst, Evans claimed that he was approached by two men from the FBI who let him know that J. Edgar Hoover and the Bureau felt that the picture would be detrimental. Evans told them in no uncertain terms that they were going ahead with the picture. Whether Evans went ahead with The President's Analyst due to FBI objections is something ultimately known only to Mr. Evans and the Bureau. That having been said, it is notable that through out the film FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) were replaced by FBR (Federal Bureau of Regulations) and CEA (Central Enquiries Agency) respectively.

A pet project of James Coburn, The President's Analyst was the film on which he was a producer, being made through his Panpiper Productions. Coburn's first roles which attracted attention were in the ensemble action films The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape. The two Derek Flint spy parodies, Our Man Flint and In Like Flint, arguably made him a star. It was a natural step for Coburn, then, to start producing his own films. Coburn played the lead role of Dr. Sidney Schaefer, the psychiatrist who gets the unfortunate job of analysing the President. The cast also featured comedian Godfrey Cambridge as CEA agent Don Masters, Joan Delaney as Dr. Schaefer's girlfriend Nan, singer Barry McGuire as the hippie Old Wrangler, and Pat Harrington as Arlington Hewes, President of TPC (The Phone Company).

As I said earlier, The President's Analyst is both a spy spoof and a political and social satire. Its plot is starkly original for its time. Not long after accepting the position of analyst to the President of the United States, Dr. Sidney Schaefer soon becomes paranoid about constantly being watched and flees Washington. The only problem is that Dr. Schaefer is being watched, and soon every spy from seemingly every country in the world is out to get him.

The President Analyst is one of the funniest films I have ever seen. Indeed, I suspect the only film from the Sixties that matches it in irreverence is Dr. Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. The list of institutions The President's Analyst sends up is a long one: psychiatry, the Federal government, foreign governments, the middle class, suburbia, liberals, conservatives, and spies. In fact, the only characters presented somewhat sympathetically in the film are Dr. Schaeffer, spies, or Barry McGuire and his merry band of hippies! As a measure of just how sharp the satire in this film is, reportedly when NBC first aired the film in the early Seventies, they cut the movie's punchline!

What makes The President's Analyst so effective, however, is that it is actually a very carefully structured film. At first glance the film appears to be a set of skits loosely interconnected by Dr. Schaeffer's flight for his life, largely a product of Sixties style improvisational comedy. On closer examination, however, its plot is much more closely knitted than on the surface. It is one of those films that expects the viewer to be intelligent enough to catch the numerous bits of foreshadowing (not to mention some funny sight gags) that are peppered throughout the film. I suspect that The President's Analyst became a cult film largely because it benefits from repeated viewings.

Sadly, The President's Analyst did not fair well on its initial release. It bombed at the box office and quickly disappeared from theatres. I rather suspect that many older people saw the film as a bit too sympathetic to the counterculture of the time. At the same time, it must be remembered that the spy fad of the Sixties was coming to an end. Many seeing its trailer may have concluded that this remarkable movie was simply another spy spoof.

While The President's Analyst would be aired regularly on television (I first saw it on NBC's Saturday Night at the Movies as a very young child), it did not precisely fare well in that format. As I mentioned earlier, when it first aired on television on NBC, the network cut its punchline. Something even worse would occur later, as for a time a copyright dispute prevented Barry McGuire's originals songs from appearing in television prints of the film (fortunately, this was resolved before its DVD release). The President's Analyst was further altered from its theatrical version when a scene cut from the the original print of the film was added in television prints to pad out its air time. This scene has Dr. Schaeffer running into his girlfriend Nan by chance at a underground film of the sort so popular in the Sixties. Some fans of the movie believe the scene is important, while others simply see it as out of place.A picture from this scene can be seen at Roger Ebert's web site. Quite simply, it appears for some time that The President's Anaylst was aired on television in a different version from that of its theatrical release, without McGuire's music and with a scene between Dr. Schaeffer and Nan in an art cinema. Reportedly, there is something else that has been cut, although I have my serious doubts that it was part of the theatrical release or even television prints. There are those who claim that there was a segment during Dr. Schaeffer's collapse into paranoia involving disembodied, glowing eyes. I have not even seen clips from this segment and I have to wonder if reports of the segment aren't apocryphal. At any rate, given how the film has fared over the years, it is surprising that The President's Analyst ever achieved a cult following.

The President's Analyst was easily the funniest film of 1967 (arguably The Graduate is a better film, but does not match it for comedy). It is an equal opportunity satire which pokes fun at nearly every important part of the Establishment of the Sixties. What is more is that it holds up remarkably well. Indeed, if anything else, The President's Analyst may well be more relevant now than it was in the Sixties.

Monday, 23 July 2007

59th Annual Emmy Awards Nominations

Last week the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences the nominations for the 59th Annual Emmy Awards to be held this year. As usual, it was a mixed bag, with some series that in my opinion receiving nominations that should not have, and others that deserved to be nominated but weren't.

Indeed, perhaps the least deserving show on television received several nominations. I am talking about Grey's Anatomyh. This show is simply a standard medical drama. There is next to nothing to differentiate it from Dr. Kildare beyond unusual cases (done before on both St. Elsewhere and E.R.) and more sex. It did not deserve to be nominated in the Best Drama category by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, outside of special effects, I am not sure it should have been nominated in any category, although I will admit the cast can be forgiven if their performances aren't up to par with the rest of television. They don't have much to work with.

There are other Best Drama nominees that I am also not sure deserved to be so honoured. Boston Legal is more enjoyable than most David E. Kelley, primarily due to a good cast (it's hard to beat William Shatner and Candice Bergen), but I am not sure it is entertaining enough for Best Drama. And while Heroes has its enjoyable moments, I am also sure it deserves a Best Drama nomination.

While Grey's Anatomy was nominated for Best Drama, Lost was once again snubbed. While this season of Lost started poorly, in the end it turned out to be the best season so far. Indeed, the best single episode of the show aired this season ("Flashes Before Your Eyes"). At least Lost has picked up several other nominations, including direction (for the episode "Through the Looking Glass"), Editing (for the same episode), Sound Editing, Best Supporting Actor (Terry O'Quinn as Locke and Michael Emerson as Ben), and Writing (although it was for "Through the Looking Glass" instead of "Flashes Before Your Eyes..."). I am disappointed that Evangeline Lily did not receive an Outstanding Actress nod. In fact, none of the actresses from the show were nominated, even though Grey's Anatomy received three.

At least Lost received some nominations. HBO's The Wire is easily the best show on television, yet it was entirely shut out. It did not receive any nominations at all.

That having been said, I can say both The Sopranos and House deserved to be nominated for Best Drama. House also received a nomination for Lead Actor, and I can honestly say that I believe Huge Laurie (who lays Gregory House M. D.) deserves to win. The Sopranos also picked up several other nominations, which it definitely deserved to.

As to the Comedy Series category, I was glad to see Entourage, The Office, and 30 Rock were all nominated. That having been said, I am puzzled why My Name is Earl wasn't. Did they think they had too many NBC sitcoms nominated? Quite frankly, My Name is Earl is funnier than the pedestrian Two and Half Men and The New Adventures of Old Christine. Indeed, if I had to nominated a CBS sitcom, How I Met Your Mother would have beaten both of those! It also pleases me that Entourage picked up several nominations, including a Guest Actor nod for Martin Landau and Supporting Actor nods for Jeremy Piven as Ari and Kevin Dillon as Drama (who's easily the funniest character on the show). I'm also happy to see that Alec Baldwin was nominated for Lead Actor for 30 Rock. That having been said, I was disappointed to see that Tracy Morgan wasn't nominated in the Supporting Actor category for the same show. I am glad to see that both Jamie Pressly (Earl's evil ex-wife on My Name is Earl and Jenna Fischer (Pam on The Office received Outstanding Supporting Actress nominations. I was also happy to see Tina Fey receive an Outstanding Lead Actress nod.

As to other categories, I have to say I was a bit disappointed with the Outstanding Animated Progrramme (for less than one hour). While The Simpsons and South Park were nominated as usual, another old timer was missing--King of the Hill. This is a series that has been consistently good over its long run, which is more than can be said for The Simpsons of late (as much as I love the show, I can't help but wonder that it hasn't overstayed its welcome). I was also happy to see the excellent Broken Trail nominated in the Outstanding Miniseries category.

Over all I suppose the 59th Annual Emmy Award nominations could have been worse. Lost was at least nominated in several categories, even if it was snubbed when it came to Outstanding Drama. And many of my favourite actors did receive nods. I only wish the Academy would get over their infatuation with Grey's Anatomy. I rather suspect years from now they will look back at having nominated that show with the thought, "What was I thinking?!"