Saturday, December 17, 2005

John Spencer R.I.P.

John Spencer, best known for playing Leo McGarry, the chief of staff on The West Wing, died suddenly from a heart attack on December 16. He was only 58. He would have turned 59 on December 20.

John Spencer was born John Speshock around Patterson, New Jersey. At age 16 he attended the Professional Children's School. By 1963 he had a recurring role on The Patty Duke Show as cousin Cathy's boyfriend Henry Anderson. He attended Fairleigh Dickenson University, then New York University. He never finished college, dropping out to return to acting.

Much of John Spencer's career was spent on the stage. Early in his career he worked in regional theatre and New York, appearing in Lakeboat and The Glass Menagerie. He appeared on Broadway in such shows as Boom Boom Room (1973), Execution of Justice (1986), and The Day Room (1988). In 1981 he won an Obie for his work in the off Broadway play Still Life.

Spencer made his film debut in the movie Echoes in 1983. He went onto play in such films as War Games, Black Rain, Presumed Innocent. But it was on television that he would have his biggest impact. In 1988 he landed a role on the soap opera Another World. In 1990 he joined the cast of L.A. Law. He would go onto appear in the short lived series Trinity before being cast as Chief of Staff McGarry on The West Wing.

I must say that I am saddened by Spencer's death. While I have not been a regular viewer of The West Wing in ages, I watched L.A. Law loyally and, of course, I remember him from The Patty Duke Show. He always impressed me as a consumate professional, an actor who did his job and did his job well. It is sad that he had to pass on at such a young age.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Son of Kong

In 1933 King Kong was the blockbuster of the year. People lined up to see it. According to IMDB, the movie grossed $1,700,000--this at a time when the average movie ticket cost about 25 cents! King Kong was pretty much the Star Wars or Titanic of its day. Such success naturally demanded a sequel. Son of Kong was rushed into production and released the same year. Sadly, it did not do as well at the box office as the original Kiong Kong.

Much of this is perhaps due to the fact that Son of Kong is simply not as good as King Kong. It does not have such iconic scenes as Kong's battle with the t rex, let alone his final moments atop the Empire State Building. And there is not nearly as much as action or excitement. That having been said, it is not a bad film. In fact, it is a rather good one that holds up well today.

Indeed, the movie is rather realistic in portraying the aftermath of Kong's romp through New York City. Filmmaker Carl Denham finds himself burdened with dozens of lawsuits and about to be indicted by a Grand Jury. Going into the shipping business in the East Indies, he eventually finds his way back to Skull Island where he encounters Kong's offspring.

If the film's reputation has suffered over the years, it is perhaps because of comparisons with the original King Kong. While King Kong moves the viewer swiftly to Skull Island, Son of Kong takes a while to get there. And while King Kong is nearly ninety minutes in length, Son of Kong is only about an hour long. Worse yet, while Kong occupies the screen for much of the first movie, his son only gets a little screen time in the second. Finally, while King Kong is definitely an action/adventure/horror movie, Son of Kong is played largely for comedy.

Here I should point out that it is unfair to compare Son of Kong to King Kong. The movie does stand up on its own. The movie moves at a fairly good pace and involves the viewer. Once the plot reaches Skull Island, there is no lack of excitement. Perhaps the movie's biggest flaw (besides the son of Kong being on so briefly) is that its ending is rather abrupt. Earthquakes and volcanic eruptions are exciting, but they bring this movie to an all too abrupt end.

Son of Kong is a must see for any fan of the original movie. It is also a good film (although I am not sure I would grant it "classic" status) that any fan of old movies should see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

In Dreams

I won't go into the reason why, but today I am not in a particuarly good mood. I find myself in the mood for Roy Orbison songs again. One of my favourite Orbison songs is "In Dreams." The song went to #7 on the Billboard charts upon its release in 1963. It was also featured prominently in the movie Blue Velvet.

The concept behind the song is fairly simple. A fellow has apparnetly lost the woman he loves; henceforth, he can only have her in his dreams. It is one of the most depressing songs I think Orbison ever recorded (which is really saying something). It is also a song with which anyone who has lost someone can identify; I know I can.

My only caveat about the song is the reference to the Sandman as a "candy coloured clown." Maybe I've read too many Neil Gaiman Sandman comic books and listened to Metallica's "Enter Sandman" one too many times, but I never have pictured the Sandman as candy coloured...

"In Dreams" by Roy Orbison