Saturday, April 17, 2021

Godspeed Felix Silla

Felix Silla, who played Cousin Itt on the classic sitcom The Addams Family  and the maniacal villain in the film The Black Bird (1975), died on April 16 2021 at the age of 84. The cause was pancreatic cancer.

Felix Silla was born in  Roccacasale, Italy on January 11 1937. He moved to the United States in 1955. He performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for seven years as a trapeze artist, tumbler, and bareback horseman. In 1962 he moved to Hollywood where he began his career as a stuntman and actor.

Mr. Silla made his television debut in an episode of Grindl in 1963. He made his debut as Cousin Itt on The Addams Family in the episode "Cousin Itt Visits the Addams Family" and appeared several more times on the show. The voice of Cousin Itt was provided by Tony Magro. At the same time that he was appearing on The Addams Family, Felix Silla was also the stunt double for actor Butch Patrick on the other "monster" comedy of the Sixties, The Munsters. He appeared as one of the Talosians in the original Star Trek pilot "The Cage." In the Sixties he guest starred on the TV shows Bonanza, Petticoat Junction, The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., The Monkees, and Bewitched. He also played Polka Dotted Horse on the Saturday morning TV series H. R. Pufnstuf. He appeared in the movies She Freak (1967), Point Blank (1967), Planet of the Apes (1968), The April Fools (1969), Justine (1969), and Pufnstuf (1970). He performed stunts for the movies A Ticklish Affair (1963) and The Russians Are Coming the Russians Are Coming (1966).

In the Seventies Felix Silla played Lucifer on Battlestar Galactica (the voice was provided by Jonathan Harris) and Twiki on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (the voice was provided by Mel Blanc). He played Colonel Poom on the Saturday morning show Lidsville and had the recurring role of Chuck on Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman. He reprised his role as Itt on the 1977 television reunion movie Halloween with the New Addams Family. He guest starred on the shows Bewitched and Night Gallery. He appeared in the mini-series Lincoln. He appeared in the movies Little Cigars (1973), Sssssss (1973), The Black Bird (1975), Mastermind (1976), Black Samurai (1976), Demon Seed (1977), The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977), The Manitou (1978), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), and The Brood (1979). He performed stunts for the movies Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973), Earthquake (1974), The Towering Inferno (1974), The Hindenburg (1975), Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979), and When Time Ran Out (1980).

In the Eighties Felix Silla continued to appear on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century during the first year of the decade. He guest starred on the TV shows Mork & Mindy, The Dukes of Hazzard, and Married...with Children. He appeared in the movies Under the Rainbow (1981), The Sting II (1983), Star Wars: Episode VI - Return of the Jedi (1983), Meatballs Part II, Ragewar (1984), House (1985), and Spaceballs (1987). He performed stunts for E.T. the Extra-Terrestial  (1982), Poltergeist (1982), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), Howard the Duck (1984), Weekend Warriors (1986), The Golden Child (1986), The Monster Squad (1987), and Phantasm II (1988).

In the Nineties he appeared in the movies Batman Returns (1992) and Galgameth (1996). He performed stunts for Batman Returns (1992). In the Teens he appeared in the movies CHARACTERz (2016) and the 2018 mini-series Meet Slate.

Felix Silla also played in a band, The Harmonica Band, that even performed in Las Vegas.

Felix Silla was extremely versatile. Because of his small size (he was only 3'11"), he was often called upon to be the stunt double for children. He played a variety of roles through the years, from a "leprechaun" on Bonanza to a goblin on Bewitched to one of the Ewoks in Return of the Jedi. As Cousin Itt and Twiki he got to play recurring roles. And he played only the body in many of his roles, he was entirely wonderful when he actually got to speak in a part. A perfect example of this is his role as Litvak in The Black Bird. Felix Silla was perfect as the half-crazed villain. For younger Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, Felix Silla generated many fond memories.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Godspeed Helen McCrory

Helen McCrory, who played Narcissa Malfoy in the "Harry Potter" movie series and Aunt Polly on the TV show Peaky Blinders, died today, April 16, 2021, at the age of 52. The cause was cancer.

Helen McCrory was born on August 17 1968 in Paddington, London. She studied at Queenswood School near Hatfield, Hertfordshire. She studied acting at the Drama Centre in London. She began her career in 1990, acting on stage. Miss McCrory made her television debut in 1993 in an episode of Full Stretch. She was a regular on the TV shows The Fragile Heart and North Sqaure. She played the title character in the mini-series Anna Karenina. She appeared on the TV shows Performance and Trial & Retribution, as well as several television movies. Helen McCrory film debut in Uncovered in 1994. In the Nineties she appeared in the movies Interview with the Vampire (1994), The James Gang (1997), Dad Savage (1998), and Hotel Splendide (2000).

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010). She appeared in the movies Charlotte Gray (2001), The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), Enduring Love (2004), Casanova (2005), The Queen (2006), Becoming Jane (2007), Flashbacks of a Fool (2008), and 4,2,3,1 (2010). She was the voice of Mrs. Bean in The Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009). She had regular roles on the TV Shows The Jury, Dickens, and Life. She appeared in the mini-series In a Land of Plenty, Charles II: The Power and the Passion, and Messiah: The Harrowing. She guest starred on Doctor Who.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Part 2(2011). She appeared in the movies Hugo (2011), Flying Bind (2012), Skyfall (2012), The Last of the Haussmans (2012), Mational Theatre Live: Medea (2014), A Little Chaos (2014), The Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death (2014), Bill (2015), National Theatre Live: The Deep Blue Sea (2016), and Their Finest (2016). She provided the voice of Louise Cheavalier in Losing Vincent (2017). She played regular roles on the TV shows Penny Dreadful, Peaky Blinders, and His Dark Materials. She appeared in the mini-series Leaving, To Appomattax, Fearless, MotherFatherSon, Quiz, and Raodkill. She guest starred on the TV show Inside No. 9.

Hugo she played an altogether nicer character, actress Jehanne D'Alcy, the wife of film pioneer Georges Méliès. Miss McCrory was incredible as Polly Gray, the matriarch of the Shelby family and treasurer of the title gang in Peaky Blinders. Polly was exceptionally strong willed and exceptionally intelligent, not to mention extremely loyal to her family. Throughout her career she played a number of historical and literary figures, including Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland (in Charles II: The Power and the Passion); Cherie Blair (in The Queen); Anna Karenina in the mini-series of the same name, and so on. Regardless of the role, she always did them well.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

TCM Announces Its Line-Up for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2021

Today Turner Classic Movies announced the line-up for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2021. Like last year, this year's festival will be virtual. Unlike last year, it will not only unfold on Turner Classic Movies, but also on HBO Max. Club TCM will even be back this year, with events taking place on Zoom. This year's line-up for the TCM Classic Film Festival 2021 looks to be a good one.

Below are my picks for what to watch each day during this festival. All times are Central.

Opening Night, Thursday, May 6
7:00 PM West Side Story (1961), includes a reunion discussion with Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, and Russ Tamblyn
10:15 PM Mean Streets (1973)
12:30 AM Doctor X (1932), newly restored by UCLA Film and Television Archive and The Film Foundation in association with Warner Bros. Entertainment.
2:00 AM Ocean's 11 (1960)
4:45 AM My Favorite Wife (1940)

Friday, May 71:00 PM Wuthering Heights (1939)
4:15 PM The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
12:15 AM The Producers (1968)

Saturday, May 8
7:00 AM Tex Avery, The King of Cartoons (1988)
9:00 AM Ride the High Country (1963)
10:45 AM Nichols and May: Take Two
4:45 PM Bullitt (1968)

Closing Night, May 9
7:15 AM Stranger on a Train (1951)
1:15 PM Places in the Heart (1984)
1:15 AM Breathless (1960)

There will also be content available on HBO Max, including tributes to Danny Glover, Ali McGraw, and Martin Short, as well as introductions by various directors of some of their most iconic films. On HBO Max will also be Essentials, each of which includes festival extras. I don't subscribe to HBO Max and have no plans to do so, but if you do, then I think you might want to check out The Thin Man (1934), Top Hat (1935), The Maltese Falcon (1941), and Bullitt (1968).

As I mentioned earlier, there will also be Club TCM events on Zoom for the festival. As of yet Turner Classic Movies has not published a schedule of events.

Anyway, for a complete look at TCM's schedule for the festival, you might want to visit its website here.

Monday, April 12, 2021

How WarnerMedia Could Fix HBO Max

AT&T recently announced that they expect to reach a total number of global subscribers of 120 million to 150 million subscribers to HBO Max by the end of 2025. Personally, I think they are being far too overly optimistic. Despite the high hopes that AT&T and its subsidiary WarnerMedia Direct had for HBO Max, it really hasn't taken off the way they had hoped it would. While it has had some successes (such as The Flight Attendant), it still has a problem with attracting new subscribers.

In fact, HBO Max lags far behind many of its competitors. Streaming giant Netflix had a total of 73.4 million subscribers in the US as of the end of last year. HBO Max also lags behind Disney+, which announced in February that it had  surpassed 94.9 million subscribers in the United States. In comparison, HBO Max began 2021 with 41.5 million subscribers. That is only up 6.9 millions subscribers from the 34.5 million subscribers HBO Max had begun 2020 with. HBO Max is then lagging well behind Netflix and Disney+ in adding subscribers.

The addition of only 6.9 million subscribers seems especially significant given WarnerMedia Direct's efforts to add subscribers. Earlier this year they moved all video content from former streaming service DC Universe to HBO Max, including such popular series as Doom Patrol and Harley Quinn. Next month the Turner Classic Movies Hub of HBO Max will host exclusive content for the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival. Even Warner Bros. movies, which would usually be released to theatres first and then later to streaming services, have premiered simultaneously in cinemas and on HBO Max. Despite this, the streaming service still hasn't seen significant gains in subscribers the way some of its competitors have.

Of course, the question is why HBO Max is lagging behind some of its competitors in subscribers. I think the primary reason may be its price. At $14.99 a month, HBO Max costs as much as the basic prices for Netflix and Hulu combined. $14.99 is then rather costly given one would get much more content with both a basic Netflix subscription and a basic Hulu subscription for the same price. Indeed, HBO Max has only a little more content than Peacock, which has a free tier as well as a $4.99 tier and a $9/99 tier.

Now I am not sure why HBO Max costs so much. My suspicion is that it is the presence of content from HBO. I have watched streaming media for over ten years and one thing I have learned is that any content from HBO, whether it is a made-for-TV movie or an episode of one of their shows, costs much more than similar material from other outlets. I remember I considered watching Game of Thrones on Amazon Prime until I saw how much a single episode cost. While I cannot say why HBO movies and TV shows are so expensive to stream, I am guessing it may be because HBO is  a premium channel. Perhaps they are concerned that if they made their content inexpensive to stream, then people wouldn't subscribe to HBO.

If that is the case, I can see two ways that WarnerMedia can improve their chances in the streaming arena. The first is to create at least two tiers with regards to HBO Max, one less expensive than the other. On the less expensive tier one would get access to the DC Hub, the TCM Hub, the Studio Ghibli hub, the Looney Tunes hub, and so on. On the more expensive tier one would not only get access to those hubs, but the HBO Max Originals and HBO content as well. I think this would encourage more people to subscribe, even if it was only to the lower tier. I personally have no interest in HBO content and very little interest in HBO Max original shows, but I am very interested in content from DC, TCM, Warner Bros., and so on (speaking of Warner Bros., when are they going to add classic Warner Bros. shows like Maverick and 77 Sunset Strip to HBO Max?).

The second way that WarnerMedia could improve their chances in the streaming arena is to simply break HBO Max up into two different streaming services. One could simply be an online version of the Warner Archive (not unlike the Warner Archive streaming service of a few years ago), which would feature content from DC, TCM, Warner Bros., and so on. The other streaming service would feature HBO content and original content. I don't think this solution would be as good as simply introducing tiers to HBO Max, but I think it might well be more viable than HBO Max the way it is now.

As it is, right now I worry that WarnerMedia may be putting their eggs all in one basket with regards to HBO Max. While it certainly has content that would draw in subscribers, its cost per month probably keeps many of them away. I already subscribe to a few streaming services, and I am unwilling to give up any of them to subscribe to HBO Max, particularly as I would probably have to give up more than one of them. If WarnerMedia introduced tiers to HBO Max or if they simply broke it ups into two different streaming services, they would be much more likely to get my money. I think that might be true of a lot of potential subscribers.