Saturday, August 5, 2023

A Few Suggestions for Streaming Services

In 2006 Amazon launched Amazon Unbox, a streaming service renamed Amazon on Demand in 2008 and currently known as Prime Video. In 2007 Netflix, originally a DVD-by-mail company, launched its streaming service. It's for that reason I have been using various streaming service since around 2008. What is more, I am always subscribed to at least one streaming service, usually more. Having used streaming services for around 15 years and having used them quite a lot, I have then given thought to how they could be better. Here, then, are a few suggestions for streaming services on how they could improve things.

Allow Users: to Disable Autoplay: I am sure everyone is familiar with the concept of autoplay on streaming services, whereby the next episode of a television show begins playing as soon as the previous episode ends. While this feature may be handy for those who binge watch shows and don't want to constantly be hitting the "play" button, for those of who prefer to watch one episode at a time it is a petty annoyance. Now some streaming services do allow users to disable autoplay. Hulu, Max, and Paramount+ all have a place in their settings where users can disable it. Unfortunately, others do not. Tubi has no way to disable autoplay, so that one has to quickly hit the "back" button before it goes onto the next episode. Amazon is even worse. It will start a countdown measured in seconds in the middle of the closing credits and one has to be quick on the "back" button to stop it from going onto the next episode. As far as I am concerned, all streaming services should have a way to disable autoplay. It is the one feature I hate the most in streaming services.

Give Users a "Not Interested" Button for Recommendations: A long time ago Netflix had a "not interested" button, whereby users could simply dismiss recommendations they weren't interested in. Unfortunately, Netflix did a way with the "not interested" button years ago and, insofar as I know, have never restored it. Quite frankly, I think every streaming service should have a "not interested" button. David Zaslav will probably hate me for this, but I will never watch 90 Day Fiancé or any of TLC's other "reality" shows on Max. It would be nice to have a  "not interested" button to where I never have to see them recommended to me again.

Allow Users to Hide the "Skip Credits" Button: I am sure many of you who use streaming services have encountered this. You are watching the opening credits of a television show and a "Skip Credits" button shows up in the lower right hand corner or somewhere else on the screen. Now I love the opening credits of television shows. I will actually go on YouTube to watch some of my favourite opening credits (Batman, Mad Men, The X-Files, and so on). I never want to skip the credits, even on those rare occasions when I am watching multiple episodes of a TV show. Despite this, there is still that "Skip Credits" button in the corner of the screen, often obscuring part of the credits. Personally, I would just as soon be able to hide the button entirely.

Sections for Classic Movies and Classic Television Shows: Now many streaming services have sections for classic movies and classic TV shows. Unfortunately, many do not. As a fan of older movies and TV shows, I would appreciate a section for classic movies and a section for classic TV shows on every streaming service I use. This would make things much easier when I want to watch a classic movie or classic TV show, but I am not quite sure what I want to watch. After all, streaming services generally have sections for the various genres (Comedy, Drama, Action, et. al.).

Better Search: Now all streaming services allow one to search by title. A few even let one search by actor or director. If it were up to me, every single streaming services would allow one to search by actor or director. What is more, when searching for actors it should bring up all of their credits, even in movies where their parts are small. I remember quite a while back I searched for my dearest Vanessa Marquez on HBO Max and nothing came up, even though Stand and Devlier (1988) was on the platform. Now, given how large Vanessa's role is in Stand and Deliver, she should always come up in searches for the film.

Anyway, for the past 15 years I have enjoyed streaming services. As much as I love them though, I do wish they were a little bit better.

Friday, August 4, 2023

The Late Great Mark Margolis

Mark Margolis, who acted in such films as Scarface (1983) and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) and in such television shows as Oz and Breaking Bad, died yesterday, August 3 2023, at the age of 83.

Mark Margolis was born on November 26 1939 in Philadelphia. He became interested in acting at a young age, taking his first acting class at age 14. He attended Temple University in Philadelphia for a year before moving to New York City. There he studied acting at The Actors Studio under the legendary Stella Adler. He served as Miss Adler's personal assistant for three years. He studied acting under Stella Adler's rival, Lee Strasberg, for a year, but lost interest in acting for a time. He managed a Greenwich Village coffee house and also built theatrical artwork installations and took geodesic domes to various colleges around the United States.

Mark Margolis made his film debut in an uncredited part in The Opening of Misty Beethoven in 1976. He made his television debut the same year in the TV movie The Other Side of Victory. In the late Seventies appeared in the films Short Eyes (1977), Going in Style (1979), Dressed to Kill (1980), and You Better Watch Out (1980). He appeared on the television show Kojak.

In the Eighties Mark Margolis had a recurring role as a surveillance expert Jimmy who had formerly worked for The Company on the TV series The Equalizer. He guest starred on the TV shows ABC Afternoon Specials; Kay O'Brien; Crime Story; Quantum Leap; Mancuso, FBI; Star Trek: The Next Generation; and Jake and the Fatman. He appeared in the mini-series Doubletake. He appeared in such TV movies as Rage of Angels, Lady Mobster; and Columbo Cries Wolf. He appeared in the movies Arthur (1981), The Avenging (1982), Eddie Macon's Run(1983), Scarface (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), The Bedroom Window (1987), The Secret of My Succe$s (1987), The Rosary Murders (1987), White Hot (1988), Glory (1989), Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), and Delta Force 2: The Colombian Connection (1990).

In the Nineties Mark Margolis had recurring roles on the soap opera Santa Barbara and the police drama Prince Street. He guest starred on the TV shows The Antagonists, P.S.I Luv U, The Guiding Light, New York Undercover, and Now and Again. He appeared in the movies The Pit and the Pendulum (1991), 1942: Conquest of Paradise (1992), Where the Rivers Flow North (1993), Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994), Squanto: A Warrior's Tale (1994), I Shot Andy Warhol (1996), The Pallbearer (1996), Absolute Power (1997), Trouble on the Corner (1997), Pi (1998), Pants on Fire (1998), Side Streets (1998), Above Freezing (1998), The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Mickey Blue Eyes (1999), Jakob the Liar (1999), End of Days (1999), Flawless (1999), Requiem for a Dream (2000), Fast Food Fast Women (2000), and Dinner Rush (2000).

In the Naughts Mark Margolis had recurring roles on the TV shows Hack and Oz. He was a regular on the short-lived show Waterfront. He guest starred on the shows Law & Order, 100 Centre Street, The Practice, Ed, Sex and the City, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Crossing Jordan, Brotherhood, The Black Donnellys, Californication, and Kings. He appeared in the movies Hannibal (2001), The Tailor of Panama (2001), Queenie in Love (2001), Hard Ball (2001), Bridget (2002), Infested (2002), Daredevil (2003), Particles of Truth (2003), 2BPerfectlyHonest (2004), Headspace (2005), Stay (2005), The Fountain (2006), Still Life (2006), The Girl Next Door (2007), Gone Baby Gone (2007), The Wrestler (2008), Defiance (2008), Nobody (2009), The Fallen Faithful (2010), and Black Swan (2010).

From the late Naughts into the Teens, Mark Margolis had the recurring role of  Hector Salamanca, a retired member of the Juarez Cartel left unable to communicate due to a stroke, on the TV show Breaking Bad. He reprised the role Hector (before he had his stroke) on Better Call Saul. He also had recurring roles on the shows Blue Bloods, Person of Interest, American Horror Story, and The Affair. He guest starred on the shows The Good Wife, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Fairly Legal, Zero Hour, Flipsters, Taxi Brooklyn, Constantine, Elementary, 12 Monkeys, Benders, Gotham, The Blacklist, and Snowpiercer. He appeared in the mini-series Mildred Pierce. He appeared in the movies Carla (2011), Immortals (2011), The Courier (2012), Stand Up Guy (2012), Northern Borders (2013), Beneath (2013), Nasty Baby (2015), The Confines (2015), You Bury Your Own (2015), My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (2016), A Remarkable Life (2016), One Fall (2016), Valley of Bones (2017), Baja (2018), Abe (2019), and Minyan (2020). He was the voice of Magog in the movie Noah (2014).

In the 2020s he had a regular role on the TV series Your Honor. He continued to appear on Better Call Saul. He guest starred on the TV show Prodigal Son. He appeared in the movie Broken Soldier (2022).

Mark Margolis was an incredible actor. He was certainly prolific. He appeared in six of Darren Aronofsky's movies alone (in a 2012 interview he joked that he thought Mr. Aronofsky "...thinks he has an obligation!"). Not only did he play many roles, but those roles were also varied. On television he was Jimmy on The Equalizer, Hector Salamanca on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul, and Sicilian leader Antonio Nappa on Oz. His film roles were varied too. In Pi he played mathematics expert and the protagonist's mentor Sol Robeson. In another Aronofsky film he played a priest, Father Avila. He was Ace's sinister sounding landlord Mr. Shickadance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Over the years Mark Margolis played criminals, spies, police officers, and even a fallen angel (Magog in Noah). What is more, he played all of his roles well. If Mark Margolis was so prolific, it was because he was just so talented.

Thursday, August 3, 2023

Genevieve McGillicuddy Returns to TCM

It was in June of this year that Warner Bros. Discovery (WBD) laid off several individuals at Turner Classic Movies, among them Pola Changnon, general manager of TCM, Charles Tabesh, senior vice president in charge of content and programming, and Genevieve McGillicuddy, vice president of enterprises and strategic partnerships. The outrage on the part of TCM fans was swift and immediate. After all, not only did they perceive the layoffs as a threat to TCM's existence, but many fans had met Pola Changnon, Charlie Tabesh, and Genevieve McGillicuddy and think very highly of them. It was right away that the hashtag SaveTCM began appearing on multiple social media services. Directors Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and Paul Thomas Anderson, all of them ardent TCM fans, even  met with David Zaslav, CEO of Warner Discovery, to discuss the future of the cable channel. It was only about a week after the layoffs that  WBD reversed course and restored  Charlie Tabesh as Turner Classic Movies' programming chief.

It was just this Tuesday, August 1 2023, that long time TCM host Ben Mankiewicz announced on Twitter (seen above) that the return of TCM Film Festival Director Genevieve McGillicuddy was imminent and she was already at work on the 2024 TCM Film Festival. For TCM fans this is particularly good news. Genevieve McGillicuddy has organized the TCM Classic Film Festival for literally years and she is so strongly identified with the festival that many fans believe that it could not take place without her. What is more, she has always had a very close relationship with fans, to the point that she has granted several interviews to bloggers over the years. Essentially, Genevieve McGillicuddy's return would seem to be something of a guarantee of both TCM and the TCM Classic Film Festival's survival.

Of course, while I have no doubt that fans are overjoyed at the return of Genevieve McGillicuddy, I have no doubt they are still angry over the layoffs (I know I am). Indeed, to many of us the layoffs simply did not make sense. We all realize that Warner Bros. Discovery is deep in debt and CEO David Zaslav wants to make it profitable. We also realize that there have been massive layoffs across the board at WBD. That having been said, TCM costs much less to operate than many other divisions of WBD. What is more, it has always been profitable. Laying off individuals who had been with TCM for literally decades (Charlie Tabesh had been with TCM since the beginning) would seem to endanger the channel's profitability. It should be little wonder that fans were terrified that WBD was plotting to shut TCM down entirely.

Regardless, the outrage over the layoffs on the part of fans demonstrates just how valued TCM is. And there is every reason it should be. It is currently the only cable channel that shows classic movies commercial free 24 hours day. It has played an active role in both preserving classic films and in introducing new generations to classic movies. It is little wonder that Turner Classic Movies is an integral part of many of its fans' lives. It is a treasure that should and must be preserved.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Godspeed Paul Reubens, Forever Pee-Wee Herman

Paul Reubens, best known for his character Pee-Wee Herman, died on July 30 2023 at the age of 70. The cause was cancer.

Paul Reubens was born Paul Rubenfeld on August 27 1952 in  Peekskill, New York.  During his childhood his family lived in Oneonta, New York and Sarasota, Florida.  Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus's winter headquarters was located in Sarasota, and young Paul Rubenfeld spent a good deal of time there. It would have a lasting influence on him. He attended Sarasota High School, where he was president of the National Thespian Society. He attended Plymouth State University for one semester before attending Boston University. Afterwards he attended the California Institute of the Arts to study acting.

It was in the 1970s that Paul Reubens started playing in local clubs. He made 14 appearances on The Gong Show, some of them as part of The Hilarious Betty and Eddie with friend Charlotte McGinnis. It was not long after appearing on The Gong Show that he joined the comedy troupe The Groundlings. He would be a member of the troupe for seven years. The idea for his character Pee-Wee Herman came about in 1978 in an improvisation exercise with The Groundlings. In the late Seventies he also appeared in the TV movie Things We Did Last Summer and the TV show Working Stiffs. He provided voices for The Flintstone Comedy Show. He appeared in the movies Midnight Madness (1980), Pray TV (1980), The Blues Brothers (1980), and Cheech and Chong's Next Movie (1980).

It was for the 1980-1981 season that Paul Reubens auditioned for Saturday Night Live. He was passed up for Gilbert Gottfried. It was because he was not hired for Saturday Night Live that Paul Reubens created his own live show called The Pee-Wee Herman Show. It played at the Roxy Theatre in West Hollywood for five months. In 1981 it aired on HBO on their TV series On Location. For the next many years Paul Reubens would only appear as Pee-Wee Herman and was even billed as the character. The character Pee-Wee Herman starred in two of his own movies during the Eighties, Pee-Wee's Big Adventure (1985) and Big Top Pee-Wee (1988). From 1986 to 1990 Pee-Wee Herman had his own live-action show on CBS on Saturday morning, Pee-Wee's Playhouse. He appeared in the movies Nice Dreams (1981), Pandemonium (1982), Meatballs Part II (1984), and Back to the Beach (1987). He provided voices for Flight of the Navigator (1986) and Moonwalker (1988). On television he appeared on the TV shows Mork & Mindy, Madame's Place, Faerie Tale Theatre, 227, and Sesame Street.

In the Nineties he played recurring character Andrew J. Lansing III on Murphy Brown. He guest starred on Everybody Loves Raymond. He was a guest voice on the animated series Hercules. Paul Reubens appeared in the movies Batman Returns (1992), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1992), Dunston Checks In (1996), Matilda (1996), Buddy (1997), Mystery Men (1999), and South of Heaven, West of Hell (2000). He provided voices for The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and Doctor Dolittle (1998).

In the Naughts Paul Reubens appeared on the TV shows Ally McBeal, Tripping the Rift, Campus Ladies, Reno 911!, Tom Goes to the Mayor, 30 Rock, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!, and Pushing Daisies. He was the voice of Bat-Mite on Batman: The Brave and the Bold. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Rugrats, Chowder, and Adventure Time. He appeared in the movies Blow (2001), The Tripper (2006), Reno 911!: Miami (2007), and Life During Wartime (2009).

In the Teens he provided voices on the animated series Tron: The Uprising and Voltron: Legendary Defender. He was a guest voice on the animated shows Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Turbo FAST, American Dad!, Star Wars: Rebels, Phineas and Ferb, Pickle and Peanut, and Penn Zero: Part Time Hero.   He was the guest voice of Dybbuk on the television series Legends of Tomorrow. He had a recurring roles on The Blacklist, Gotham, and Mosaic. He guest starred on the shows Comedy Bang! Bang!, Sanjay and Craig, Portlandia, Tigtone, What We Do in the Shadows, and The Connors. He was the voice of Jokey in the movie The Smurfs 2 (2013). He appeared in the movies Accidental Love (2015) and Pee-Wee's Big Holiday (2015).

In the 2020s, Paul Reubens was a guest voice on the animated shows The Tom and Jerry Show and Bob's Burgers. For much of his later career he also provided voices for several video games.

There is no doubt that Paul Reubens will forever be best remembered as Pee-Wee Herman, the exuberant man-child he played for much of his career, most notably in the films Pee-Wee's Big Adventure  and Big Top Pee-Wee, and the TV series Pee-Wee's Playhouse. But Paul Reubens was capable of playing a wide array of other characters. He played The Spleen in Mystery Men, a superhero with a most unusual superpower. In the movie Blow he actually played a drug dealer who quoted lines from show tunes. On Murphy Brown he played the nephew of network president Stan Lansing (Garry Marshall), Andrew J. Lansing III, a sociopath who is nonetheless one of Murphy's few competent secretaries. On Gotham he played the biological father of The Penguin, Elijah Van Dahl. Although Paul Reubens will always be best remembered as Pee-Wee Herman, he played  wide variety of other roles and played them well.

Monday, July 31, 2023

The 30th Anniversary of the TV Show Culture Clash

It was thirty years ago today that a historic television show debuted. Culture Clash was a sketch comedy show starring the comedy troupe of the same, consisting of Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza. What made Culture Clash historic is that it was the first Latino sketch comedy show to air on American television. For a time my dear friend Vanessa Marquez, of Stand and Deliver and ER fame, numbered among the regulars on the show.

The origins of the comedy troupe Culture Clash go back to another troupe called Comedy Fiesta founded on Cinco De Mayo, May 5, 1984 by Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, Herbert Sigüenza, and José Antonio Burciaga. Comedy Fiesta also included Marga Gómez, and Monica Palacios. The group worked with El Teatro Campesino, a Chicano theatre company founded by playwright Luis Valdez in 1965. Comedy Fiesta eventually broke up, and José Antonio Burciaga, Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza formed Culture Clash. Mr. Burciaga left Culture Clash in 1988 and died from cancer in 1996. The troupe produced their first full length play, The Mission, in 1988. In 1991 they produced their show A Bowl of Being.

It was in 1991 that Cheech Martin saw A Bowl of Being at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. He signed Culture Clash to star in their own sitcom, which would be financed by 20th Television (then the syndication and distribution unit of 20th Century Fox Television). The Fox Television Network ordered a pilot, which was based on characters Culture Clash had created on stage, but was written by other people. Fox ultimately decided against placing it on their fall schedule, but ordered six more scripts (again, written by others) that were workshopped at a local theatre. Fox eventually cancelled the project entirely, although it may have been just as well. At the time Ric Salinas said that Fox was "definitely smart to kill it." The scripts were apparently filled with banal material and Latino stereotypes.

With the sitcom project dead in the water, Culture Clash wrote a script for a sketch comedy show, but Fox turned it down. The network and the comedy troupe entered into talks about a Cinco de Mayo comedy special, but nothing ever came of it. Fortunately, executives from Fox Television Stations Productions, which produces shows for Fox owned and operated stations, saw one of Culture Clash's performances in June 1992. They then approached Culture Clash about a deal.

Fortunately, Fox Television Stations Productoins agreed to a test run of Culture Clash for six episodes on KTTV, the Fox owned and operated station in Los Angeles, which began on July 31 1993. Richard Montoya, Ric Salinas, and Herbert Sigüenza served as executive producers on the show. The show was taped in front of a live audience at the Mayan Theatre. The show's house band was led by Tito Larriva, formerly of pioneering punk band The Plugz and The Cruzados. The test run proved successful enough that Culture Clash was soon appearing on other television stations around the country. Ultimately, 30 episodes were produced.

Culture Clash featured both musical guests and guest comedians. Among the musical guests were Machete and Chicano Squad. Among the comics appearing on Culture Clash were Gilbert Esquivel, Raul Martinez, Carlos Oscar, and others. It also featured guest appearances by such notables as Maria Conchita Alonso, Rosanna DeSoto, Dolores Huerta, Edward James Olmos, and Jimmy Smits. Given the big names the show attracted and its a popularity at the time, it is surprising that the Fox television network never picked it up. They would have been wise to do so.

Vanessa Marquez circa 1993
Vanessa Marquez circa
As mentioned earlier, Vanessa Marquez was a regular on the TV show Culture Clash early in its run. Vanessa thoroughly enjoyed her work on Culture Clash. Culture Clash appreciated Vanessa in turn, and are among those who have done tributes to her since her death. The TV series Culture Clash let Vanessa play a wide variety of  roles. She played Maria in the sketch "West Side Story...35 Years Later," in which she even got to demonstrate her singing skill. She played a sexy pizza delivery lady in one of the sketches featuring the recurring characters Beto and Chon (a pair of clueless Cholos). She played an extremely intelligent game show contestant on a parody of Jeopardy. She even played one of a deceased man's many mistresses at his funeral in one sketch. Vanessa was working on Culture Clash when she received word that she had been cast in a pilot for a new show called ER. Looking back, she said she would have better off remaining on Culture Clash.

Sadly, the TV series Culture Clash has not been widely available since it went off the air in 1996. It has never been released on DVD and it is not on any streaming services. There are a few clips that have been uploaded to YouTube (some by Vanessa herself), but that has been it. That is a real shame, as Culture Clash was not only a groundbreaking show as the first Latino sketch comedy show, but it was also an extremely funny show going by the clips that are online. What is more, it displayed much of the biting satire for which Culture Clash are known. It really should be released to DVD and made available through streaming.

At the time Culture Clash debuted, there was very little in the way of Latino representation on American television. What is more, this had been the case since Chico and Man ended in its run in 1978, with the exception of a few short-lived shows like a.k.a. Pablo. And as mentioned before, it was the first Latino sketch comedy show. Even though it is not currently available, Culture Clash is still remembered for the trails it blazed.