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Friday, December 31, 2010

Friday Film Buff: Facing the Dragon

In 1981, Disney and Paramount followed up their previous teaming on Popeye (1980) with a venture into the sword-and-sorcery genre, Dragonslayer. Far more mature than anything else that had been released under the Disney name (nudity in a Disney film?!), Dragonslayer didn't quite make its money back at the box office, and is considered a commercial failure, though it did garner a cult following in subsequent years. Disney would later start Touchstone under which to release more adult fare.
I won't kid you, this is not going to end up on my list of favorite films, but there are definitely some redeeming factors here. Sword-and-sorcery films are not exactly known for their original storylines, so, in this regard, Dragonslayer can easily be forgiven for borrowing heavily from the St. George and the Dragon mythos. The story draws inspiration from "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" sequence in Fantasia, as the protagonist (Peter MacNicol) is apprenticed to a great sorcerer played by Sir Ralph Richardson. The beguiling Caitlin Clarke is not the traditional damsel-in-distress, and "knights in shining armor" make no appearance in this film, so I'll give points for not descending to every cliché in the book.
Peter MacNicol is enjoyable in this, his first film, though I'd read a rumor once that he is embarrassed by the film and does not include it on his resume. (Gee, Peter, I don't suppose Heat - the one with Burt Reynolds - is on there, is it?) 
However, let us come to the beast in question. The dragon is pretty darn good. Guillermo Del Toro lists this dragon Vermithrax as one of his two favorite movie dragons (the other being the Maleficent dragon in Sleeping Beauty.) In addition to an impressive design, the movement of the dragon was cutting edge in stop-motion animation employing the new technique of go motion, which uses a computer to mechanically move the model during photography. This creates motion-blur and makes the animation appear more realistic. This was basically the top level of live-action animation prior to CGI. 

Dragonslayer was justly nominated for a Best Visual Effects Oscar (but lost to Raiders of the Lost Ark.) Alex's North's impressive score also earned an Oscar nod, but lost to Chariots of Fire.
Filmed on location in North Wales and Scotland, this film is also quite visually stunning.
I find this film to be a real curiosity coming from Disney. In addition to the brief nudity, the action is pretty violent - even gruesome - for Disney. The theme of Christianity runs through the film, but it is not treated at all reverently - another curiosity.
Look for Ian McDiarmid (Senator/Emperor Palpatine) in a small role as a priest.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Theatre Thursday: 2010 In The Wolf's Den

2010 has been an interesting year for the One Big Bad Wolf blog. It went from being a theatre blog that was updated sporadically (and, at one point, abandoned completely) to a daily-updated blog on a variety of topics - though still predominantly focused on theatre.
Readership has increased enormously over the last year, and, while I'm never fully satisfied with any entry I've posted, I do feel like the blog is accomplishing something. What exactly that is, I couldn't say, but it is what it is.
I thought that I would take the last Theatre Thursday of the year to re-visit my some of my favorite theatre-related entries of 2010. Some of you latecomers may have missed them, and some of you long-time readers may want to refresh your memories.
Here, in no particular order, are my ten favorite entries of the last year:
Slings and Arrows, September 16: While I do enjoy writing, sometimes it's almost as much fun for me to track down interesting content on the internet and put it on this blog for you to see. In this case, I selected several video examples of actors performing Hamlet's famous "To be or not to be" speech for you to compare and contrast. I'm happy to say that most of the videos still work on this one, too. (Mel Gibson has become understandably paranoid about any recordings of himself winding up on the internet.)
Why I Hate Curtain Calls, August 12: I made some people angry with this one and found myself in the middle of some interesting e-mail debates. I have to tell you, though, my opinion hasn't changed on this one. I just don't like 'em.
Safe Palate, April 18: This one also got a few people hot under the collar at me when I compared the Denver Post's season announcements for the Denver theatre community to a bland, unoriginal menu choice from a small-town restaurant where I was raised. Well, I didn't start a blog to tell people only what they wanted to hear, and, frankly, I don't mind if people get mad at me so long as they really think about why they're mad at me. "Just because" has never been a good enough reason for me, and it shouldn't be for you, either.
Why Don't You Just Act, Dear Boy? January 30: I really enjoy stage combat, though I think sometimes it should be called "staged combat," to send a subtle message to the macho idiots who want to "keep it real" on stage and film and keep injuring themselves and others. I'm not opposed to method acting, but there needs to be a line. (Also, I plug Jenn Zukowski's very cool book.)
Finding an Audience, January 22: Basically, I share some thoughts about the challenges of creating a new audience versus the dangers of pandering only to the existing audience. One of the reasons that I started this blog was to spark discussions, and I like where this discussion started to go.
What a Bunch of Yobbos, September 25: Another reason that I started this blog was as an occasional outlet for my sometimes odd sense of humor. This is another one of my rants about cell phones in theatres, and I had a little bit of fun while I was at it.
En Français, October 21My preference for this entry is largely aesthetic. While I speculate on the next big French import to the United States, I get to share some videos of a couple of really incredible French musicals.
Yes We Ca- Oh No You Didn't, January 20: Hope, the German musical about Barack Obama. I still have nothing to say about this.
And It Moves Us All, November 4: It seems inappropriate to call this one a favorite as it surrounds the tragic passing of young Lion King performer, Shannon Tavarez, from leukemia. Shannon had been unable to find a suitable bone marrow donor. I think it's important to put a face with this disease - in Shannon's case, a very talented face - so that we can someday soon find a cure.
Images, December 16: During the controversy surrounding Alastair Macauley's review of The Nutcracker in which he took digs at a ballerina's weight, there was a lot of blame being tossed around. I felt that it was important that we take a look at our own hang-ups with body image as well. I don't think this is one of my best-written blog entries, but it was very personal, and it appears to have struck a chord. Though I wrote it less than two weeks ago, it has surpassed every other entry to become far-and-away the most-viewed entry in the history of this blog.
I hope that you have enjoyed this blog in 2010 and will stick around through 2011. I've got some new surprises in store for you.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wildlife Wednesday: Sure-Footed

When is a goat not a goat?
When it's a Mountain Goat, which, despite its name, is actually part of the antelope family.
The climbing skill of Mountain Goats is truly amazing as they scale rock faces that are almost completely vertical. This ability aids them in finding food and avoiding predators. (You'd have to be a pretty hungry Mountain Lion to chase your potential meal up the side of a cliff.) Often their greatest peril is a rock slide . . . or a misstep.
Here is some amateur video of a family of Mountain Goats (kids and all) demonstrating their famous sure-footedness . . . or sure-hoofedness.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tuesday Tunes: Birth of Cool

Fifty-six years ago today, an actor was born who would come to epitomize "cool" for American and international movie audiences. That actor is Denzel Washington, and he continues to be one of the world's biggest box-office stars with an impressive catalog of films, two Oscars, two Golden Globes, and numerous other awards and nominations.
I thought it would be fun today to remember a few of Denzel Washington's films by the songs which inspired them.
Washington came to popularity on the acclaimed TV medical drama St. Elsewhere, and shortly after that series ended, he assumed the action-hero mantle (and a Jamaican accent) as Chief of Police Xavier Quinn, in a movie that took its name from the old Bob Dylan song  "The Mighty Quinn." (aka "Quinn the Eskimo") made famous by Manfred Mann.

The song even sneaks its way into The Mighty Quinn movie in this scene when Denzel demonstrates his blues chops alongside his acting chops.

In 1995, Washington strode into the role of author Walter Mosley's hard-boiled detective Easy Rawlins in another of my favorite Denzel films, Devil In a Blue Dress, a title no doubt inspired by Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels' 1966 hit "Devil With A Blue Dress."

Finally, the movie that earned Washington his fourth Oscar nomination was the 2000 biopic of wrongly-convicted former boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, The Hurricane, named after and featuring the song (also by Bob Dylan) that contributed to Carter getting a new trial and being released. (Here covered by Ani Di Franco.)

Happy birthday, Denzel! Looking forward to many more years of great movies.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Monday Motivator: Plan It, Earth

This is the time of year when a lot of people start making their resolutions for the new year.
. . . and about a month from now is when people start kicking themselves for not keeping the resolutions they'd made. Believe me, I know. It can be frustrating. One way to avoid that frustration is to go a step beyond just making the resolution and actually come up with a plan.
Here's a great video from on ways to stick to your exercise goals.
While the video is focused on exercise, all of the principles are easily applicable to just about any resolution you could make for the new year.
Okay, but after this, we're going scuba-diving, right?
Want to quit smoking? Visualization can play a big role in making that happen. So can finding a buddy to quit smoking with you. In fact, I think the buddy system can be one of the most powerful ways to go about accomplishing your goals. Anthony Robbins talks about the importance of "getting leverage on yourself."
Speaking from experience, you are a lot more likely to get out of bed and get to the gym if you know your workout partner is going to be there waiting for you.
If you want to read more this next year, join a book club, and join with a friend - particularly one who will get on your case about finishing the book. Better yet, start a book club. It's pretty easy. It requires people, a place to meet, and a book.
The important thing is to have a plan and a really good reason to stick with it. If that reason needs to be so that your BFF won't give you a hard time for being a slacker, well then, so be it. Leverage.
Like Yogi Berra said: "If you don't know where you're going, you'll end up someplace else."
Stuck for ideas? Check out this video:

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Superhero Sunday: Is There Life On Mars?

I'll be honest with you. There is not a whole lot of planning that goes into this blog. I pretty much sit down in front of my computer and ask myself "What day is it again?"
"Thursday? Okay." And then I write something theatre-related. I generally don't have any idea who my Sunday Supehero is going to be until, well, Sunday.
This time, however, I was hanging out earlier in the week with my friend Jeff Gamet of The Mac Observer, and we were tearing through a container of Newman-Os. (They're like Oreos with a conscience.) Knowing that Jeff is as much of a comic book geek as I am, I decided to test him:
"Hey, Jeff, which DC superhero would love these cookies?"
I won't betray Jeff's geek cred by telling what his answer was or was not.
Do you know?
If you said, "The Martian Manhunter, Wolf Boy," then you are correct, and what makes you think you know me well enough to call me "Wolf Boy?"
I'm just kidding. You can totally call me "Wolf Boy."
Yes, it is the Martian Manhunter, super powerful Martian refugee and member of the Justice League who has a particular fondness for these chocolate cookies referred to as "Chocos" in the comics for trademark reasons.
Jeff suggested that I write a blog on the mysterious alien superhero for this week's superhero blog, so, for the first time in who knows how long, the One Big Bad Wolf blog starts the week with a plan. (Don't worry. I won't make it a habit.)
In the original continuity, the Martian J'onn J'onnz was accidentally transported to Earth by an experimental transportation beam. Trapped on Earth, J'onnz used his shape-shifting ability to become police detective John Jones and fight the criminal scum here on our planet. Retroactive continuity has changed J'onnz's story over the years to make him the last living Martian. His powers have changed from time to time depending upon who was writing him, but, essentially, the Martian Manhunter was created to capitalize on the popularity of Superman in much the same way that Green Arrow was basically a Batman clone. Like Green Arrow, the Martian Manhunter has gained a following on his own, though, and, over time, has become a supremely unique and powerful character in his own right.
Like Superman, the Manhunter can fly, fire powerful beams from his eyes, see through walls, and even freeze things with his breath. He is also arguably as strong as Superman. On top of Superman's abilities, J'onnz is a powerful telepath, possesses telekinetic abilities, and can make himself both invisible and intangible. Borrowing from another DC mainstay, J'onnz is also a brilliant detective just like Batman.
Basically, the Martian Manhunter is one bad mother - SHUT YOUR MOUTH!
But I'm talkin' 'bout Martian Manhunter.
Can you dig it?
The Martian Manhunter is one of the most interesting characters in the DC Universe mostly because he is full of surprises.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Save the World Saturday: Play Time

Happy Christmas, cherubs. As you and your family play today with the new gadgets and toys that Santa left in your stockings, I want you to take a moment and think about the importance of play time for children growing up in this country. Recent studies have shown a decline in play in America - specifically the physical kind. Partly this is because of an increase in couch potato kids, but a big part of the problem is a lack of good, safe playground equipment in communities across the U.S.
Enter KaBOOM!, a nonprofit dedicated to building and re-building playgrounds in American neighborhoods under the guiding vision that there should be "a great place to play within walking distance of every child in America."
Take a look at this video from earlier this summer as KaBOOM! and a community in Ohio rehabilitate a playground in a growing neighborhood.

You can visit the KaBOOM! website to start or join a playground project in your area, support the national campaign, or to find a playground in your neighborhood. Last one to the monkey bars is a rotten egg!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Film Buff: You've Got That Something

Before there was Bieber Fever, there was Beatlemania, and in I Wanna Hold Your Hand (the first film from director Robert Zemeckis), the insane fanfare over John, Paul, George, and Ringo is captured to great comic effect. The year is 1964, and four young lads from Liverpool are about to make their American debut on The Ed Sullivan Show. Meanwhile in New Jersey, four teen girls are on their way to New York City to meet the Fab Four in person. Rosie (Wendie Jo Sperber) wants to profess her love to her beloved Paul, aspiring journalist Grace (Theresa Saldana) wants to capture a photo to sell to Life magazine, Janis (Susan Kendall Newman) wants to confront them publicly about their lack of artistic integrity, and Pam (Nancy Allen) is just along for the ride. The four come up with an ingenious plan to pull up in front of the Beatles's hotel in a limo. Grace convinces Larry (Marc McClure) to drive them to Manhattan in one of the limousines from his father's undertaking business, and ladies' man greaser Tony (Bobby DiCicco) - with designs on Janis - tags along. When the sextet hits the Big Apple, the fun really begins.
We miss you, Wendie Jo.
This fun film is full of firsts. In addition to being Zemeckis's first film, it is also the debut of popular 80s character actors Eddie Deezen and the late Wendie Jo Sperber, and some of the best moments in the film are when these two gifted comics share the screen. From executive producer Stephen Spielberg, I Wanna Hold Your Hand is a wild remembrance of the baby boomer generation's coming-of-age.
This film has been largely (and unjustly) forgotten, so a trailer is a bit hard to come by. Instead, here's a look at what everyone was so excited about in 1964.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Theatre Thursday: They Say the Neon Lights Are Bright

Amid the latest controversy of the Spider-Man musical (another injury) and some of the exasperation among some theatre fans (myself included) with this not-necessarily-new-but-certainly-recently-prevalent trend of turning movies and rock albums into Broadway musicals ad nauseum, I have been giving some thought to what it means to be a theatre fan who lives outside of New York - way outside of New York. We get to watch the Tony Awards on television knowing that we won't likely get to see the original performers when (and if) the touring version comes to town. Some of us may make an occasional pilgrimage to the Big Apple and might be lucky enough to see the original cast of a show. In my lifetime, I've only been fortunate enough to see the original Broadway casts of Les Miserables, Starlight Express, Little Shop of Horrors, and Wicked. That's not bad, I know, but I can't really afford to make that trip as often as I'd like. So, I've seen Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, RENT, and other musicals only in the touring versions. They were good, but anyone who's seen the original cast will be quick to tell you it doesn't compare. Having seen the tour of Wicked, I'm inclined to say that it really is kind of a flimsy musical without Kristin Chenoweth, Idina Menzel, and Joel Grey to bolster it. None of the subsequent Jean Valjeans and Javerts I've seen in Les Mis tours have been able to compare to having seen Colm Wilkinson and Terrence Mann play the roles originally. So, when someone tells me a tour I'm seeing was better on Broadway, I tend to believe them.
Yes, there is a constant feeling in the theatre world that, if you aren't in New York, you're missing out.
However, something about that just doesn't ring true for me. Percentage-wise, I've seen just as many bad professional-level shows in New York City as I've seen anywhere else.
Most Broadway shows try out in other cities first because it's less expensive to mount a show outside of New York. Then the show moves to a more expensive venue on Broadway if it's determined that it can make back its investment. If Spider-Man ever opens, I've heard that it has to sell out for four years straight to make back its investment at this point. That's crazy, if you ask me.
Don't get me wrong, I like the Tonys and I love New York City, but is it possible that we're putting too much of our theatrical weight on one city? There are some really strong regional theatres in this country - Denver is one of them. However, a theatre buff in Albuquerque, New Mexico is likely to know more about a show across the country in Manhattan than a new play premiering at the Denver Center Theatre Company - just seven hours away. Is it because DCTC has a lousy website or inept marketing department? Not at all. It's simply that we've got this idea ingrained that all of the worthwhile theatre is located in about a ten-block radius on the northeast coast.
I have a prediction and a hope for the future of theatre in America, and it goes a little something like this:
Someday in the near future, a theatre producer is going to open a great musical in a city that isn't New York - maybe Chicago, maybe Los Angeles, maybe St. Louis. It's going to be written about in that city's papers and then USA Today is going to feature it in an article, and people are going to start saying, "When are you going to take it to New York?"
This producer is going to say, "What for?"
And people are going to say "So it can be seen."
The producer will say, "They can see it here. Plus, there's lots of other neat stuff to see here in Chicago/L.A./St. Louis."
Then people will say, "But you can't get a Tony unless it's on Broadway. A Tony nomination will guarantee you a long run."
The producer will say, "Tony-shmony. Our promotional YouTube video has gone viral. We're trending on Twitter. People can stay here for a whole weekend on what it will cost them for one night in New York. People know about us. They're interested. They'll come."
And they will.
Call it a pipe dream if you want, but I've never been one for believing that "because it's always been this way," is a very good reason to keep doing anything.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wildlife Wednesday: The Quick Brown Fox Jumps

The snow hasn't quite found its way to Denver yet, and it's looking like it may be something of a grey Christmas here in the Mile High City. I lived many years in the mountains, so it's a bit unusual for me not to have a blanket of white to go along with the Christmas carols playing in the stores. While I'm not a huge fan of shoveling the stuff, it sure looks pretty on a winter's morning.
One of my favorite things about snow, though, is watching how animals act in the snow. Growing up on a farm, it was always a kick to watch the horses go roll around in the fresh snow, the dogs jumping into snowdrifts, and the cows, well, okay, cows don't do much. (Calves do kick up their hooves a bit in the fresh powder, though.)
Wildlife is even more interesting in the snow, and, when I lived up in Summit County, I was lucky enough on several occasions to witness the unique hunting style of a fox in the snow.
Check out this video from BBC2:

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday Tunes: Jingle Belle

One of the most distinctive (and one of my favorite) voices in contemporary pop music has lent her Scottish pipes to some familiar and not-so-familiar Christmas tunes on a new holiday CD: A Christmas Cornucopia. If you've been hanging out in a Starbucks in the last couple of weeks, you've probably heard at least one of the tunes. Incidentally, that's also one of the places you can find it. However, the one I'm sitting in right now is sold out of it, so don't dilly-dally if you want one.
Here's a sampling of the album:

The song that jumped out at me is her version of the French Christmas Carol "Il est né le divin enfant" a song we don't hear very often in America, but I wish we did.
Here's a full version of the tune as performed by the Salt Lake Children's Choir:

Nice, huh?
Oh, and just for the record, I don't make any money off of hawking Annie Lennox's CD or any of the other music or movies I write about here. I just write about what I like and think you might like, too, and I still have to pay for my coffee no matter how many times I mention Starbucks in my blog. Which reminds me: I need a refill.
Happy Tuesday, cherubs.

Monday (Tuesday) Motivator: Programming

I know that I missed my regular Monday Motivator entry. I was having some technical issues. So, please, stop looting, put out the car fires, and, for the love of Michael Jordan, stop hoarding all of the canned goods!
Here's the entry that was supposed to be here yesterday . . . today. All is right with the world again.

Denis Waitley is a well-known motivational speaker and author who has coached and counseled top CEOs, Olympic athletes, and even the Apollo astronauts. He has some advice for you and me as well, regarding the importance of taking control of our own brains. The computer- programmer acronym GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) applies equally to binary code as it does to human grey matter. Yes, I said "binary code." If you've got a problem with that, I'll challenge you to best 2 out of 3 at Pitfall.
Honestly, I sucked at Pitfall. I suck at all video games. I'm thinking of
changing my Night Elf Mage's name to "Cadaver."
Anyway, here's Denis's advice:

Have an adventurous week, cherubs, and watch out for scorpions and crocodiles.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Superhero Sunday: Soundtrack of a Superhero

There are a lot of songs about superheroes in popular culture. I can think of three that reference Superman alone: The Kinks's "Superman"

The Spin Doctors's "Jimmy Olsen's Blues"

And Five for Fighting's hit song also called "Superman" (subtitled "It's Not Easy.")

Superman's cousin is also featured in a self-titled song by XTC: "That's Really Super, Supergirl."

Suicide's "Ghost Rider" strangely did not make its way into the big budget Nicolas Cage feature (but it probably couldn't have saved it anyway.)

And, of course, there is the Ramones's cover of the theme song from the 1960s Spiderman cartoon.

One that tends to be off the radar of a lot of comic buffs, however, is this song by Jim's Big Ego from the perspective of Barry Allen - the second man to assume the mantle of the Flash called "The Ballad of Barry Allen":

There are many more, of course, but I'll leave you with those for now. Do you have a favorite that I didn't feature here? Drop a note in the comments.Maybe I'll put it in a future entry. (This is an interactive blog.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Save the World Saturday: Alternatives

I read recently that on Black Friday in 2009, retailers took in over $10 billion dollars in sales - just on that one day. I wonder what people bought for their loved ones on that day? I know! Clean drinking water! That's a big one around the holidays. Medicines, too. Medicines are a popular gift. Also, notebook paper and pencils is always a great gift idea. Or maybe people spent that money helping sexually-exploited young women to get off the streets and learn a vocation. Or maybe they bought a goat for the impoverished family down the street so that they could have milk daily to nourish their children.
So, what cool gift did you get last year?

Oh, sorry. Well, at least it wasn't a chia pet.
Say, can I make a suggestion?

That commercial ran in the UK a few years ago, but the World Vision alternative gift catalog is available in the U.S. and online. Child sponsorship is, of course, always an option as well.

Ten billion dollars spent last year - on one day. How much of what was bought is sitting in someone's closet gathering dust right now? Why not give a gift that really means something this year?
Just a thought.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Film Buff: Into the Sunset

Blake Edwards 1922-2010
I decided to remember Blake Edwards today by sharing one of my favorite lesser-known films in the great director's career: Sunset. Based on an idea by Rod Amateau, Edwards wrote and directed this adroit murder mystery set in the days of early Hollywood. At the core of this fictional story are two true-Hollywood facts:

Fact 1: Famed Western lawman Wyatt Earp worked in early Hollywood as a technical advisor on Western films including some starring Tom Mix.
Fact 2: Mix and Earp became good friends.

The real Wyatt Earp
The real Tom Mix
Bruce Willis was riding high on his popularity from the ABC television series Moonlighting, but had not yet broken out as the mega-action star he would become. (Die Hard was released a few months after this film.) He had the perfect mix of charisma, wit, leading man good looks, and action-hero brawn to play the larger-than-life Hollywood cowboy Tom Mix in 1929. Technically, in 1929, Wyatt Earp would have been 80, but - with a bit of artistic license - Edwards cast James Garner, his leading man from Victor/Victoria (1982),  to play the aging lawman Wyatt Earp. (Garner was 60 at the time.) Throw in a sinister murder mystery, and you've got the makings of a pretty darn good buddy action film.

SUNSET: Movie Trailer. Watch more top selected videos about: Movie Trailers, James Garner

Unfortunately, the film did not do well at the box office, and it was disliked by critics. Roger Ebert said it felt like the plot was borrowed from a Raymond Chandler novel. There are elements of Farewell, My Lovely, sure, but I do think it stands on its own, and I like the seedy, hard-boiled aspect of the film. Ebert also felt that Willis should have played Mix a little less down-to-earth, but I kind of like that Mix and Earp are two men whose legends precede them a bit more than they'd like. (The catch-phrase of this film is "That's the truth - give or take a lie or two.") I really think this film's failure among critics and audiences comes down to a matter of timing - not comic timing, Garner and Willis are spot on, in my opinion.
In April of 1988, The Rockford Files was eight years off the air, and, with the exception of a couple of action films (I recommend The Glitter Dome), James Garner was known most recently to audiences for his romantic comedies (I recommend Murphy's Romance) and his witty Polaroid commercials with Mariette Hartley. Die Hard hadn't been released yet, so Bruce Willis was primarily known for playing over-the-top wise-cracking David Addison on Moonlighting. Add to that Blake Edward's renown for slapstick comedies, and you've got a whole lot of people looking for a laugh-fest. There's humor, for sure, but this is more of an action-comedy, and the bad guys (no spoilers) are very bad guys.
I think this film deserves a second chance. It's a different kind of a movie from one of the great directors of the late twentieth century.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Theatre Thursday: Images

It has been a couple of weeks since Alastair Macauley's New York Times review of The Nutcracker sparked off controversy with his assessment that ballerina Jennifer Ringer "looked as though she'd eaten one sugar plum too many." This was further exacerbated by Macauley's response to the backlash that "If you want to make your appearance irrelevant to criticism, do not choose ballet as a career," and his refusal to apologize for his words - even after being reminded that Ms. Ringer had battled eating disorders.
I think enough people have taken their shots at Alastair Macauley's behavior on this issue, so I'm just going to say that - if you've read this blog or know me at all - I think you all probably know what I think of Mr. Macauley.
I would like to add something in rebuttal to Mr. Macauley's statement about a ballerina's appearance not being irrelevant to criticism, and that is simply a photo of Jenifer Ringer, the "fat" ballerina he criticized:
Billie Piper
Really, Mr. Macauley? You don't think you were just being mean for the sake of being able to make a pun in your column? If she danced poorly, then say she danced poorly. I understand that a dancer's "line" is very important in ballet, and I suppose that a significantly overweight ballet dancer might have a very contrasting "line." (Though the comment would still have been nasty.) However, that does not appear to be the case here, and requires a level of scrutiny that - with what we now know about healthy body types - really needs to now belong to another era.
Hilary Swank
I realize that I must temper my frustration with Mr. Macauley with the realization that he, like many people, is the product of some unhealthy ideas about beauty that tend to perpetuate themselves in the media. When a Hollywood actress or pop star puts on a few pounds, she is savaged by unkind gossip columnists and even more so on internet forums. Seldom does an actress with curves play a romantic lead on television or film, and, if she does, it is hit with a spotlight for being so out of the ordinary. People use phrases like "a breath of fresh air" or "isn't that great?" as though they want credit for being enlightened enough to see beauty in a non-stereo-typical body type, and maybe they do. In many ways, this almost over-the-top attention kind of perpetuates the stereotype.
Indira Varma

Jennifer Love Hewitt
I will not claim to be particularly enlightened in this area myself. I have been subjected to the same images and stereotypes for the last 37 years that all of you have. I don't think I would have had the same assessment of Jenifer Ringer as Mr. Macauley, but it's possible that I might have been distracted if she had been significantly heavier. I wouldn't have made fun of her in publication, however. I would have, as I often find myself doing as an audience member and as a director and, frankly, as a heterosexual, red-blooded American male, asking myself, "Do I really think she is somehow less beautiful, or am I reacting to years of visual programming?" Often, the answer is the latter. Actually, the answer is almost always the latter. I love women. (I really, really love women.)
Sarah Parish
I still know, though, that I am often influenced in my choices in women by what I have been told through the media is beautiful or ideal.
I have a sister, Ashley, who is younger than me by 15 years. As I watched her grow up, I often wondered about how she  saw herself in the mirror compared to the images she saw on television and movies and in the Barbie dolls she played with - some of which I bought for her. 
Jewel Staite
When I cast one of my first shows as a director, Ashley was about four, and, after the auditions, I was going over my notes and assigning roles in the living room while Ashley played with her dolls. At some point, Ashley got up and left the room, leaving a half-dozen naked Barbies lying on the floor, and I was struck by their uniformity: all the same shape, and height, and size, and measurements - physically impossible measurements at that. My little sister was play-acting little stories with figures of women who all looked the same. I think at that point, I crumpled up the rough cast list I had made and started over. I decided in that moment that - as a storyteller - I was going to tell stories in which the beautiful princess doesn't have to be the skinny princess, where the guy falls head-over-heels in love with the girl who isn't 5'9" and built like a supermodel.
Kate Winslet
Have I always succeeded in this? No. Sometimes I succumb to pressure from producers, though a lot of times I do fight with producers who want their musical to look like the movie or Broadway version, or who have a particular actress in mind for the lead.
I have an idea for The Music Man which throws out a lot of the conventions often associated with the musical (though not inherent to the story). Some of the ideas are about the characterizations and "look" of the show, but some do have to do with stereotypical body types. I think it makes the story more rich and poignant. Will I ever get to make this musical? So far, nobody's been interested. If I do find a producer, will audiences respond to the show the way that I hope? Who knows? I'll be working against a lot of ingrained imagery.
Katy Perry
Let me leave you with a few sobering statistics that I will preface by saying that not every person who has body-image concerns has an eating disorder. I think that makes these statistics all the more sobering. 
Ten million women battle eating disorders in America, and so do one million men. Almost seventeen thousand people die every year from eating disorders. If you break it down, that's over three hundred per week and roughly two every hour. Forget swine flu or E. coli or Mad Cow disease. Eating disorders are the deadly epidemic in this country.
Kristin Chenoweth
Given the topic, I hope you will forgive the following metaphor, but I often hear about how we are "force-fed" these images by the media. I don't think that's entirely true. The media may often try to direct us toward certain things it wants to sell us, but, ultimately, they're going to spend the majority of their efforts selling us more of what we tell them we want to buy. The power - and the responsibility - of changing unhealthy ideas about body-image and beauty and what a ballet dancer should look like is in our hands.
Now, you may be wondering why I have peppered this column with images of celebrities. Do they have eating disorders? I have no idea. Do they have body-image issues? Probably. They live on this planet. They're human. But, again, I honestly don't know.
Sophia Myles
Their significance is that they are all women I find very attractive. I just sat down and wrote down the first ten names that came to mind without trying to pick a "variety" of types. (For bandwidth reasons, I limited myself to ten.) I put their pictures on this blog so that we can look at them and think about our personal ideas about beauty and body-image. What do my choices say about me in regard to a stereotype of beauty? What does your personal assessment of each woman say about yours?
This is not about throwing around judgments or trying to make you or myself feel guilty for harboring stereotypes. It's about acknowledging that they exist and thinking about what we can do to change them.
Finally, I will leave you with the story of Andrea Smeltzer:

Eating Disorders Can Be Deadly--But Healing IS possible!  Become a Friend of Andrea's Voice from Doris Smeltzer on Vimeo.

Andrea's Voice.
If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, here's a number you can call:
National Eating

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wildlife Wednesday: Big Orange

I think my first exposure to Orangutans was actually via the Clint Eastwood films Every Which Way But Loose and its sequel Any Which Way You Can. The main character Philo's companion was an Orangutan named Clyde played by a couple Orangutans named Buddha and Manis (I think.), but as a kid I had my doubts that it wasn't in fact a human in an ape suit. This is what is so remarkable about Orangutans. As you can see in this BBC video, their ability to learn, mimic human behavior, and reason further closes the link between apes and humans.

Sadly, their similarity to humans is also the cause of many of their problems with man. Mother Orangutans have been killed by poachers so that their "human-like" babies could be sold to wealthy families as pets. Orangutans are often captured to be used as performing animals, and, while the conditions for animals in American films have improved significantly over the years, it is worth mentioning that rumor has it that the Orangutan Buddha was reportedly severely beaten by his handlers for stealing donuts on the set of Any Which Way You Can and died as a result of his injuries.
Orangutan Foundation International is working to prevent tragedies like those listed above through forest preservation and animal rehabilitation at special centers where Orangutans are cared for that have been rescued from, well, people who aren't supposed to have them.  Here's a video of a baby orangutan at one of O.F.I's Centers in Borneo.
Here's a video of a baby orangutan at one of O.F.I's Centers in Borneo.

Here's a fun trivia fact for you: the name "orangutan" has nothing to do with describing the animals' reddish-orange fur. It comes from the Malay language. "Orang" means "man" and "hutan" means "forest," so, essentially, "man of the forest."
I encourage you to read more about the foundation's work (lots of cool pictures on the site, too), and be sure to check out the pics of this baby orangutan mugging for the cameras at
Remember, too, that here in Denver we have our own baby Orangutan, Hesty, who can be seen right now at the Denver Zoo.