Saturday, January 21, 2017

Miguel Ferrer Passes On

Miguel Ferrer, who appeared in TV shows from Twin Peaks to N.C.I.S.: Los Angeles, died on January 19 2017 at the age of 61. The cause was oesophageal cancer.

Miguel Ferrer was born on February 7 1955 in Santa Monica, California. His parents were show business legends. His mother was popular singer Rosemary Clooney. His father was Academy Award winning actor José Ferrer.

Initially Miguel Ferrer was drawn to music, and he began his career as a drummer rather than an actor. As a drummer he played with both his mother and Bing Crosby. He also played drums on Keith Moon's album Two Sides Of The Moon. He later played in his friend Bill Mumy's bands Seduction of the Innocent and The Jenerators.

Mr. Ferrer made his television debut in an episode of Magnum P.I. in 1981. He made his film debut in 1982 in the movie Truckin' Buddy McCoy. His big break came with RoboCop, in which he played  corrupt, cocaine-snorting, corporate executive Bob Morton. During the Eighties he also appeared in such films as And They're Off (1982), Heartbreaker (1983), The Man Who Wasn't There (1983), Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984), Flashpoint (1984), Lovelines (1984), DeepStar Six (1989), Valentino Returns (1989), and Arduous Moon (1990). He had a regular role on the TV series Twin Peaks, playing  FBI Agent Albert Rosenfield. He also had a regular role on Shannon's Deal as district attorney Todd Spurrier and on Broken Badges as Beau Jack Bowman. He guest starred on such shows as CHiPs, Cagney & Lacey, T. J. Hooker, Trapper John M.D., Hotel, and Miami Vice.

In the Nineties Miguel Ferrer was a regular on the short lived comedies On the Air and LateLine. He appeared in the mini-series The Stand. He was a regular voice on the Saturday morning cartoon Jackie Chan Adventures and was a guest voice on Superman: The Animated Series. He guest starred on such shows as ER, Tales from the Crypt, Will & Grace, and 3rd Rock from the Sun. He appeared in such films as Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992), The Harvest (1992), Cigarettes & Coffee (1993), Point of No Return (1993), Blank Check (1994), The Night Flier (1997), Mr. Magoo (1997), and Traffic (2000). He was the voice of Shan-Yu in Mulan (1998).

In the Naughts Miguel Ferrer played the regular role of chief medical examiner Dr. Garret Macy on Crossing Jordan. He was also a regular on Bionic Woman. He guest starred on the shows Medium, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Lie to Me, and Psych. He provided voices for such animated shows as The Batman, and The Spectacular Spider-Man. He appeared in such films as Sunshine State (2002), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), The Man (2005),  and Wrong Turn at Tahoe (2009).

In the Teens Mr. Ferrer had a regular role on The Protector and a recurring role on Desperate Housewives. On NCIS: Los Angeles he played the regular role of Assistant Director Owen Granger. He reprised his role as Albert Rosenfield in the upcoming revival of Twin Peaks. He was the voice of Vandal Savage on the animated series Young Justice. He provided voices for the animated series Thundercats, and Adventure Time. He appeared in the films Noah (2012), The Courier (2012), Four Assassins (2013), and Iron Man 3 (2013).

Miguel Ferrer was an extremely talented actor who always added something extra to everything in which he appeared. He was very versatile and throughout his career he played a wide array of characters. He could be a villain, such as corrupt corporate exec Bob Morton in RoboCop. He could also play good guys, such as Dr. Marcy on Crossing Jordan. Through the years he played a wide variety of characters. He was abrasive forensic analyst  Albert Rosenfield  on Twin Peaks, Randall Flagg's second in command Lloyd Henreid on The Stand, and drug dealer  Eduardo Ruiz in Traffic. Of course, he was also a talented voice artist who voiced a number of different characters in animated TV shows and films, including Aquaman, supervillain Vandal Savage, Spider-Man opponent Silvermane, and several others. Miguel Ferrer was a remarkable talent whose life ended far too soon.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Uprising" by Muse

I don't feel up to a full fledged blog post tonight, so I will leave you with one of my favourite songs from recent years. "Uprising" was the first single from Muse's 2009 album The Resistance. The album was largely inspired by 1984 by George Orwell. In fact, the song "Resistance" from the album makes frequent references to the novel. While "Uprising" makes no direct references to 1984, its lyrics clearly owe something to the novel, as well as other dystopian works. "Uprising" proved rather successful. It went to no. 9 on the UK singles chart and no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Without further ado, here is "Uprising" by Muse

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Google+ R.I.P.

Okay, I'll admit the title is a bit melodramatic. Google+ isn't really dead. Unfortunately on January 24 2017 Google will be shutting down Classic Google+. It will be replaced by New Google+, the new iteration of the social media site, despite the fact that New G+ doesn't seem very popular with users. For many of us long time G+ users (I've been around since the beta), it certainly seems as if Google+ is over.

Google+ was launched on June 28 2011. For whatever reason the tech media would claim that Google+ was a "ghost town". This was an outright lie. As early as the beta Google+ became a very busy place with plenty of people and plenty of posts. There would be lively discussions of the sort one would not see on Facebook or Twitter. To give you an idea of how successful Google+ was, I have more followers on G+ than I do on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn combined. Indeed, I made several close friends there and they are the sort of friends I can see having for the rest of my life. Google+ was an active and vibrant place where one could easily find people with whom one had a great deal in common.

Sadly, Google+ would change over the years. Over time it would lose some very useful features. Ripples was a tool that would show how one's post had been re-shared. It was quite useful for those concerned about the reach of their posts on Google+, and fun to play with for the rest of us. Hangouts on the Air was a livestreaming service. Sadly, it was moved over to YouTube. Over time features would be introduced that were not nearly as useful. Communities (which are sort of like Facebook groups) proved very popular at first, but now it seems to me that most Communities are inactive. Collections are essentially collections of posts, not unlike Pinterest boards. A lot of users played with Collections at first, but now it seems to me that most of the people I know ignore them.

Of course, much of the reason for these changes in Google+ were changes in management.  Vic Gundotra, the executive who had been in charge of Google+ from its inception, left in 2014. Since then there have been a few more changes to management.  Sadly it seems to me that the relatively new leadership seriously misread how many people use Google+. On November 18 2015 they introduced New Google+, a radical redesign of Google+ that places more emphasis on Collections and Communities. It was not received well by many Google+ users. Fortunately, one could always remain on Classic G+.

Sadly, that will end on January 24 2017. Whether Google wants to accept it or not, many Google+ users loathe New Google+. I suspect once it becomes the only choice for G+ users, many of us will use G+ much less frequently. I suspect yet others will simply leave. The problem with New Google+ is twofold. The first is its emphasis on Collections and Communities. Quite simply, from what I have seen Collections are not that popular. I know a few people who have their own Collections, but most people I know simply ignore them. They don't create Collections, nor do they follow other people's Collections. Because of that it certainly is not something one would want to base a social media site around.  Of course, I have one major problem with Collections myself. Quite simply, someone who is not following me can follow one of my Collections. I really do not like that and it is why I don't have any Collections. I want my posts in the Collections to be public, but as far as I am concerned only those people who follow me should be able to see those Collections.

As to Communities, as I said earlier, initially they were quite popular. Unfortunately as time passed the novelty wore off and many Communities became inactive. I have three Communities and of those three only one gets posts with any kind of regularity. I think Google needs to face up to the fact they got it right the first time. Google+ isn't an interest-based social network, it is a people-based social network. People are not interested in following Collections. They are interested in following people.

The second is that with New Google+ they have deprived Google+ of much of its functionality. Chief among these is circle management. For those who have never used Google+, circles are essentially lists into which users can organise people. Each circle has its own stream, making it easy to keep track of posts. Classic Google+ had a fairly efficient tool for organising circles, complete with a "drag-and-drop" interface. Sadly that sort of circle management is missing from New Google+. That makes it very hard to manage circles on the New G+.

Another bit of functionality that was lost with New Google+ is an adequate means of curating one's photos. With Classic Google+ one could organise photos into albums and even decide which photos other users see by highlighting them. Sadly all of that is gone with New Google+. Photos are just bunched together and there is really no efficient way for the user to sort them, let alone decide which photos other users should see. I suspect depriving Google+ of any real photo management tools could be due to Google wanting users to use Google Photos. Unfortunately, some of us choose not to use Google Photos because its photo management tools are about as bad as those of New Google+. They really ought to have retained the Classic Google+'s tools for curating photos, not to mention dramatically overhaul Google Photos.

Yet another bit of functionality that was lost with New Google+ was integration with Hangouts (quite simply, chat). One of the things I have always enjoyed about Google+ is the ability to chat with my friends there. Since Hangouts are not integrated with the New Google+, I will now have to have an entirely different window open for Hangouts. That is hardly efficient and very inconvenient for many G+ users. It would be much easier to have Hangouts right there on Google+.

New Google+ has several other problems that I will not go into. Suffice it to say that it is far inferior to Classic Google+. In fact, it is so inferior to Classic Google+ that many G+ users are puzzled as to why Google would even consider replacing Classic Google+ with New Google+. As far as I can tell, people want efficient photo management tools and Hangouts; they don't want Collections and Communities. I think with New Google+ that Google has seriously misread the wants and needs of their users, and as a result they will see usage of Google+ plummet. In that case I think they will be forced to either reintroduce some of the functionality of Classic Google+ into New Google+ or discontinue it. Sadly, given Google's history (remember Google Reader?)  I suspect they will simply discontinue it. If that is the case, then it will be very sad, because Classic Google+ was the best social networking site of which I have ever been a part.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

William Peter Blatty R.I.P.

Screenwriter and novelist William Peter Blatty died on January 12 2017 at the age of 89. He worked on such screenplays as The Man from the Diners' Club (1963) and A Shot in the Dark (1964), as well as such novels as Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (1966) and The Exorcist (1971).

William Peter Blatty was born on January 7 1928 in New York City. He attended  Brooklyn Preparatory School on a scholarship. In 1950 he graduated from Georgetown University with bachelor's degree in English. Following his graduation from college, Mr. Blatty worked a variety of odd jobs, including a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman, a beer truck driver, and a United Airlines ticket agent. He served for a time in the United States Air Force.He earned a master's degree in  English literature from George Washington University in Washington D.C. He worked for the United States Information Agency as an editor based in Beirut, Lebanon.

William Peter Blatty's first novel, Which Way to Mecca, Jack?, was published in 1959. It was followed by the novel John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! in 1963. That same year saw his first credit as a screenwriter, for the movie The Man from the Diners' Club. In the Sixties he co-wrote the screenplays for A Shot in the Dark (1964), What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? (1966), Gunn (1967), The Great Bank Robbery (1969), and Darling Lili (1970). He wrote the screenplay for Promise Her Anything (1966). Mr. Blatty wrote an episode of Insight. He published the novels I, Billy Shakespeare (1965) and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane (1966).

In the Seventies he did uncredited work on the film The Omega Man. His novel The Exorcist was published in 1971 and adapted as the film The Exorcist (1973). His novel Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane was adapted as the film The Ninth Configuration (1980). He wrote another episode of Insight.

His novel Legion was published in 1983. His novel Demons Five, Exorcists Nothing: A Fable was published in 1996. In the Naughts he published the novels Elsewhere (2009), Dimiter (2010), and Crazy (2010).

While many places are remembering William Peter Blatty as the author of The Exorcist, I think his career as a screenwriter should not be forgotten. In the Sixties he collaborated with director Blake Edwards on the screenplays of several classic films, including A Shot in the Dark, What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?, and Gunn. Alone he wrote the screenplay for The Man from the Diners' Club. While Mr. Blatty saw a good deal of success with The Exorcist (in the United States alone it sold 13 million copies), he had quite a bit of success as a screenwriter as well.

Of course, he did see success as a writer. Even before The Exorcist he had seen some success with John Goldfarb, Please Come Home! and Twinkle, Twinkle, "Killer" Kane. While he will probably always be remembered as the author of The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty did much more.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941)

Alfred Hitchcock is well known as the Master of Suspense. And while he was known for injecting comedic elements into his suspense thrillers, he was not particularly well known for comedy. Those new to the oeuvre of Hitchcock are then often surprised to learn that not only did he direct several comedies in his career, but he even directed an American screwball comedy. That screwball comedy was Mr. & Mrs. Smith (1941), and it marked the only time Hitchcock worked with legendary star Carole Lombard.

With the international success of such films as The 39 Steps (1935) and The Lady Vanishes (1939), it would only be a matter of time before Hollywood would come calling on Alfred Hitchcock. It was then probably no surprise when he signed a seven year contract with Hollywood producer David O. Selznick in March 1939. Prior to leaving his native England, Alfred Hitchcock expressed the desire to direct Carole Lombard, although he wanted to cast her in a serious role. Following the director's arrival in the United States, it was Myron Selznick who introduced Hitchcock to Miss Lombard, the two of them having Mr. Selznick in common as their agent.

As to Mr. & Mrs. Smith, it originated with screenwriter Norman Krasna. Mr. Krasna came up with the idea of a married couple who learn that, because of an error, they are not legally married. He sold the original story and its screenplay to RKO in November 1939. Carole Lombard eventually became attached to the project. Both she and Hitchcock implored RKO to assign him as director on the film. While Hitchcock would later claim that he did the film as a favour to Miss Lombard, at the time he appeared to show a good deal of enthusiasm for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. During the first week of shooting, Mr. Hitchcock said, "I want to direct a typical American comedy about typical Americans."

Both Carole Lombard and Alfred Hitchcock initially wanted Cary Grant for the male lead role of David Smith. Unfortunately, Mr. Grant was much too busy at the time to take on another role. The two of them considered a number of different leading men, including Fredric March and George Brent. Eventually Robert Montgomery was signed to the role.

While Alfred Hitchcock was well known for practical jokes on his sets, on the set of Mr. & Mrs. Smith it was Carole Lombard who responsible for the best practical jokes. Nineteen forty was a Presidential election year, with Republican candidate Wendell Willkie running against incumbent Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt. While Carol Lombard was a staunch Democrat, Robert Montgomery was a staunch Republican. Every morning after Mr. Montgomery parked his car, Miss Lombard would cover it in bumper stickers for President Roosevelt. Robert Montgomery took this all in good stride, simply removing the stickers every evening. Of course, the next morning Miss Lombard would again cover his car in bumper stickers for FDR.

Alfred Hitchcock was not spared from Carole Lombard's practical jokes either. Mindful of the remark Hitchcock was alleged to have made that "actors are cattle", she set up a pen on the first day of shooting and in the pen placed three heifers with the nameplates Lombard, Montgomery, and Raymond (for Gene Raymond, the second male lead). Hitchcock allowed Carole Lombard the rare honour of directing him in his cameo for Mr. & Mrs. Smith. Miss Lombard demanded retake after retake, telling Hitchcock that he had not quite gotten it right.  Hitchcock had not intended to use Miss Lombard's take of his cameo, but it proved to be so good that it was the one that made it into the film.

Mr. & Mrs. Smith was released on January 31 1941. It received positive, if somewhat unenthusiastic reviews. The film did do somewhat well at the box office, making a profit of $750,000. Later in his life Alfred Hitchcock was somewhat dismissive of the film. Alfred Hitchcock claimed that he did the film primarily as a favour to Carole Lombard. In an interview with François Truffaut, he said,  "I more or less followed Norman Krasna's screenplay." and "Since I didn't really understand the type of people who were portrayed in the film, all I did was photograph the scenes as written."

Sadly, Mr. & Mrs. Smith would be the next to the last film Carole Lombard ever made. Afterwards she would only make To Be Or Not To Be (1942). Mr. & Mrs. Smith would also be the last of her films to be released while she was still alive (To Be Or Not To Be was released on February 19 1942, a few weeks after her untimely death in a plane crash).

While Hitchcock himself would later dismiss it, Mr. & Mrs. Smith still holds up fairly well today. Certainly its premise is a bit thin, but it is elevated by the performances of its principals, a lively script, and Hitchcock's always inventive direction. The film even shares some of the hallmarks found in Hitchcock's suspense thrillers, including a couple being stuck on a parachute ride at the New York City World's Fair (heights being a recurring theme in Hitchcock films from Saboteur to North by Northwest), mistaken identity, and even a McGuffin that drives the plot forward (the Smiths' marriage). Hitchcock may have dismissed Mr. & Mrs. Smith, but there is no reason for classic film buffs to do so. It is very much an underrated screwball comedy that is still recognisably a Hitchcock film.