Friday, March 12, 2010

Actor Merlin Olsen R.I.P.

Actor and former National Football League player Merlin Olsen passed yesterday at the age of 69. The cause was mesothelioma.

Merlin Olsen was born in Logan, Utah on September 15, 1940. He attended Utah State University, where he  played American football as a defensive tackle. Once he left college, Olsen has offers from the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League and the Denver Broncos of the American Football League. He signed with the Rams, for whom he played from 1962-1976. Following his NFL career, Olsen became an American football analyst for NBC. His contract with NBC stipulated that he have the opportunity to act.

Olsen's acting career began before his NFL career had even ended. He appeared in a small part in the 1969 feature film The Undefeated. Afterwards he guest starred on such shows as Petticoat Junction, The Brian Keith Show, and Kung Fu. He appeared in the films One More Train to Rob, Something Big, and Mitchell. In 1977 he was cast as Jonathan Garvey, Pa Wilder's sidekick on Little House on the Prairie. He left that series to star in his own show, Father Murphy, which ran from 1981 to 1983. In 1986 he starred in the short lived series Fathers and Sons. In 1988 he starred in the series Aaron's Way, his last work as an actor.

For the most part Merlin Olsen starred in the sort of shows I do not generally watch, but he always seemed to be an appealing and likeable fellow. He was certainly well suited to the role of the gentle giant. He also made the sort of shows of which too little is seen on television now--family oriented programmes. While I cannot say that I am necessarily a fan of his oeuvre, I must say I was saddened to hear of his passing.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Corey Haim R.I.P.

Eighties star Corey Haim passed yesterday at the age of 38. The cause was apparently a drug overdose.

Corey Haim was born on December 23, 1971 in Toronto, Ontario. He was still a young child when his mother enrolled him in acting lessons in an effort to overcome his shyness. He appeared in his first commercial when he was ten years old. He was thirteen when he made his film debut in First Born. The same year he was a regular in the Canadian series The Edison Twins. In 1985 he appeared the films Secret Admirer, Silver Bullet, and Murphy's Romance. In 1986 he starred in Lucas, a film for which he received very good notices for his performance. In 1987 he starred in the short lived series Roomies.

In 1987 Haim appeared in the film that would turn him into a teen idol, Lost Boys. The following years he appeared in the films Licence to Drive, Watchers, and Dream a Little Dream. Unfortunately for Haim, he soon found himself appear in films made for the direct to video market for most of the Nineties, including The Double O Kid, Double Switch, and Last Resort. During the Nineties he only appeared in a few films released to theatres, including Dream Machine, Blown Away, Shooter on the Side, Snowboard Academy, and Never Too Late. On television he guest starred on PSI Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal and appeared in the television movies Merlin and Without Malice. The Naughts saw Haim appear in the films Universal Groove, Crank: High Voltage, and Shark City. He appeared in the straight to video sequel to The Lost Boys, The Lost Boys: The Tribe. He was also star of the reality show The Two Coreys, which also starred Corey Feldman.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The 82nd Annual Academy Awards

The 82nd Academy Awards ceremony, held last night, received higher ratings than it had in several years. Unfortunately, this year's Oscars held few surprises. Here I do have to point while the awards held no surprises, they were historic. Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win the Best Director award. On a more dubious note, Sandra Bullock became the first actor to win both an Oscar and a Razzie in the same year.

I must confess I do not have very much of an opinion on the awards themselves, not having seen most of the films nominated this year. I have to say that it seems to me that they were predictable for the most part, with most of the front runners winning in their given categories. Mo'Nique took Best Supporting Actress. Christoph Waltz took Best Supporting Actor. Sandra Bullock took Best Actress. Jeff Bridges took Best Actor. The Hurt Locker took both Best Picture and Best Director. There only three categories in which I believe there was a bit of an upset. The Hurt Locker took both Best Sound Editing and Best Sound Mixing, technical categories in which I think most expected Avatar to win. Another possible upset may have been in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. I think many thought it would be the only Oscar that Up in the Air would take. Instead it went to Precious. While it may not be particularly objective and while it may be a bit petty, I must say I am glad Avatar lost Best Picture and James Cameron lost Best Director. While I have not seen either The Hurt Locker or Avatar, I have to say to this day I hold a grudge against Cameron for ever making Titanic...

At to the ceremony itself, it was a mix of good and bad--sadly, mostly bad. As to what was good about the ceremony, I thought the opening number with the ultracool Neil Patrick Harris was well done and entertaining. I also thought the memorial montage was well done, with James Taylor singing The Beatles' "In My Life." I also have to say I appreciated clips of the Best Song nominees being shown rather than the songs performed. To me performing the songs always dragged the ceremony out. And too often the songs that were nominated were, well, not very good (anyone remember "It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp?").

Sadly, there were only a few of the moments in the ceremony I really appreciated. Indeed, I fear Alec Baldwin and Steve Martin may go down as among the worst hosts in Oscar history. While a few of their gags were very good, there were many others that simply fell flat. To be honest, I am not sure that they can be blamed for their performances. I think the Oscar hosting duties may be something best performed by one person and one person alone. Of course, even at their worst, Baldwin and Martin were far more bearable than the interpretative dance sequence performed to the Best Original Score, which seemed dull to the extreme. I do appreciate that the Academy included a tribute montage to horror films, but I believe it was very poorly executed. First, I think they could have gotten someone better to introduce the montage. Kristen Stewart and Taylor Lautner are best known for their work in the Twilight films, which are not horror movies. Second, some of the clips shown not horror movies (New Moon, Edward Scissorhands, et. al.). Even worse, outside of Nosferatu and scenes from some of the Universal classics, the montage concentrated primarily on films made in the past thirty years. Wholly ignored were the classic Hammer horror movies, as was Val Lewton.

Another complaint I have is the way that the Best Actor and Best Actress awards were handled. Just as last year, fellow actors were brought out to pay tribute to the nominees before the award was presented. While this year this went better than last year (they at least got individuals who had worked with the nominees), to me it still drags the ceremony down. I do not want to hear what one actor has to say about another before the award is presented. I just want to see clips of the nominees' performances and then to see the award presented. That's it.

Of course, I must confess I generally do not expect much of Oscar hosts, and bad dance sequences seem de rigueur for the Academy Awards. One of the things that really displeased me about last night's ceremony was the seven minute tribute to John Hughes. I am sure that there are those who felt it was touching, but to me it was very, very objectionable. Quite simply, why should John Hughes have been singled out for a tribute apart from the memorial montage? This was not done for Alfred Hitchcock when he died in 1980. There was no individual tribute to Paul Newman last year. To me, to single out John Hughes above and over the others who died last year (who included Jennifer Jones and Karl Malden) is, quite simply, unfair.

Indeed, I am particularly irked by the John Hughes tribute  given the short shrift given to Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, and Gordon Willis, who won honorary Oscars this year. All we were given was a very short piece discussing the ceremony (held some time back), a few clips from their careers, and then an exceedingly brief shot of Miss Bacall and Mr. Corman. Not only did  they not get to say anything, but the camera did not linger long on them. Indeed, they even cut the ovation they received rather than letting it simply fade out! To me this is not the proper treatment of legends such as Lauren Bacall, Roger Corman, and Gordon Willis, who made much more significant contributions to film than John Hughes in my humble opinion.

Over all, I must say that this year's Oscars was overly dull and not particularly well executed. I do hope in future years they do away with having actors pay tribute to the Best Actor and Best Actress nominees before those awards are presented. I also hope that they have no more interpretative dance sequences. And most of all, when someone wins an honorary Oscar, give them the time they deserve and let them say something!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Bernard Kates R.I.P.

Actor Bernard Kates passed at the age of 87 on February 2.

Bernard Kates was born in Boson, Massachusetts on December 26, 1922. He studied acting in New York. His show business career began in the Thirties on radio. He served during World War II, and resumed his career following the war. In 1949 he made his debut on Broadway  in At War with the Army. He also debuted on television on The Magic Cottage and Suspense. During the Fifties he appeared in such TV shows as The Philco Television Playhouse, Captain Video and His Video Rangers, Decoy, Naked City, Mr. Lucky, Sea Hunt, Playhouse 90, and One Step Beyond On Broadway he appeared in Billy Budd and The Disenchanted. He also appeared in the film You're in the Navy Now.

In the Sixties Bernard Kates appeared in the television shows The Untouchables, The Asphalt Jungle, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Ben Casey, The Ouer Limits, Combat, The Fugitive, and Hawk. Kates was a recurring character on the series Bus Stop as the Coroner and a regular on the show Where the Heart Is. He appeared on Broadway in Have I Got a Girl Like You and The Devils. He appeared in the film Judgement at Nuremberg. Kates  later appeared on the shows Star Trek: The Next Generation, NYPD Blue, Picket Fences, and 3rd Rock From the Sun. He appeared in the films Super Cops, The Babe, and The Phantom. He also acted in a good deal of regional theatre.