Saturday, April 19, 2014

Musical Interlude: E-Bow the letter (1996)

From their 1996 CD, "New Adventures in Hi-Fi", R.E.M. is joined by folk-rock icon Patti Smith on "E-Bow The Letter".

In Theatres: Heaven Is For Real (2014)

Two months ago, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Rev. Todd Burpo's book, Heaven Is For Real, published in 2010, based on the story of the pastor's son, Colton, who inexplicably went to Heaven while undergoing emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix.

Four years later, the book is now a movie, a brilliant adaptation that may be a wee bit padded out for the sake of creating drama.

Burpo (Greg Kinnear, Rake) is also a volunteer fireman in his hometown of Imperial, Nebraska, and is briefly shown as a coach with the high school wrestling team. His wife is in charge of their church's music ministry. Their faith is shaken, then tested, when 4 year old Colton (Connor Corum) tells them about his trip to Heaven and meeting Jesus.

Predictably, there is also derision and ridicule. Colton's sister, Cassie, goes on the defensive during recess one day when two boys tease her about Colton. The end result? She drops them both with punches to the nose. As for the pastor, news of his son's "miraculous" recovery spreads, causing the congregation to question whether Rev. Burpo can continue. Bank president Jay Wikins (Thomas Haden Church, ex-Wings, and the only other "name" in the cast) is the pastor's best friend who tries to counsel Rev. Burpo.

Even though Rake, a Fox mid-season replacement series, appears to be headed for the gas chamber (Kinnear plays a lawyer), Kinnear is absolutely brilliant as Todd Burpo. Connor Corum, a newcomer, has a good future in front of him.

Don't believe me? Scope the trailer:


"The Giver" (August 15): Based on a children's book, and starring Jeff Bridges & Meryl Streep in a tale of a seemingly perfect world that really isn't.

"Million Dollar Arm:" (May 16): Jon Hamm (Mad Men) is a down-on-his-luck sports agent who takes a chance on signing the first major league baseball player from India. Based on a true story.

"How to Train Your Dragon 2": If you've been following the Dragons cartoons on Cartoon Network, you can figure those shows serve as a bridge between films.

"Mom's Night Out": At first glance, I thought this was the remake of "Adventures in Babysitting", but it isn't. Cast includes Sean Astin, Patricia Heaton, and country singer Trace Adkins----as a biker with a heart of gold.

"When The Game Stands Tall" (August): Equal parts "Friday Night Lights", "Facing the Giants", and maybe "Remember the Titans". A high school football team's winning streak ends, and tragedy follows, leading to a crisis of faith.

Rating: A.

Friday, April 18, 2014

What Might've Been: The Loner (1965)

Back in the 60's, Westerns were still plentiful in primetime, but not every Western that came along was a surefire hit.

Consider, for example, The Loner, or more specifically, the creative pedigree involved.

The Loner sprang from the pen of no less than Rod Serling (ex-The Twilight Zone), and told the story of William Colton (Lloyd Bridges), a Civil War veteran who went from town to town, getting involved in various disputes. In other words, this was no different than any number of half-hour Westerns of the period.

The last part of the equation was producer William Dozier. The Loner was the only series he sold to CBS, everything else went to ABC, starting with Batman just 4 months later. Dozier was relatively new at the time, trying to make his mark. Oh, and let us not forget the kickin' theme song, composed by Jerry Goldsmith.

So why did The Loner fail? Go back to what I said at the beginning. There were still a lot of Westerns out there, and Loner didn't stand out from the crowd like Serling & Dozier had hoped. Serling would try out another series outside of the sci-fi genre with The New People for ABC and the team of Aaron Spelling & Danny Thomas in 1969, an experimental 45 minute series that also failed. On the other hand, going back to the more familiar millieu of sci-fi and horror/fantasy with Night Gallery at NBC provided Serling with his last hit series. As we all know, Dozier wasn't so lucky, as after Batman was cancelled in 1968, Dozier, aside from a well known PSA in 1971, wasn't heard from again.

Gilmore Box provides the open. The narrative was deleted for some odd reason from this print.

In watching other versions of the clip, I'm unsure of who the narrator was, but he certainly sounded like NFL Films narrator John Facenda. Go figure.

No rating.

Easter Theatre: The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town (1977)

The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town is the last of Rankin-Bass' Easter themed specials, produced in 1977 for ABC. Fred Astaire reprises his role from Santa Claus is Coming to Town in 1970 as S. D. Kluger, the mailman, this time dressed as a train engineer for a Q & A about the history of the Easter Bunny.

In Rankin-Bass' world, the Easter Bunny started as a young bunny named Sunny (Skip Hinnant, The Electric Company), who, like a young Kris Kringle before him, had to deal with a mean spirited town ruler before he could really get untracked.

Treacly, of course, and while it's not a full sequel to Santa Claus is Coming to Town, it sure looks like a carbon copy of the earlier story, albeit in a different setting.

Rating: C.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

What Might've Been: The Jimmy Stewart Show (1971)

To be perfectly honest, I didn't even know this show existed.

Movie legend Jimmy Stewart headlined his own primetime sitcom in 1971 for NBC. That was the good news. The bad was that it lasted just 1 season, and this was despite the fact it aired in back of the venerable Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights.

Stewart had tried a series once before----on radio. His Western, The Six Shooter, made the transition to television under the title, The Restless Gun, which we reviewed a while ago. Here, Stewart plays a college professor who opens his doors to his son (Jonathan Daly) and daughter-in-law (Ellen Geer) and their two children. Perhaps another reason this show flopped was the presence of character actor John McGiver, who had previously flopped as a lead (Many Happy Returns) and in a supporting role (Mr. Terrific) in the 60's.

You'll notice that The Jimmy Stewart Show operated without a laugh track, one of the first of the modern era to do so. Series creator Hal Kanter had moved to WB from 20th Century Fox after Julia had ended, but his golden touch seemed to have been left behind.

While I never signed up for it, there is a blogathon devoted to Stewart, mostly his movie work, as I didn't see anyone offer to cover his TV series, much less radio. Stewart would give it another go, but not with a weekly series, two years later. However, Hawkins, a series of TV-movies that cast Stewart as a lawyer, failed to get past 1 season as well. Oddly enough, the concept was tweaked and revisited in the 80's, becoming a huge comeback hit for Andy Griffith as Matlock. Go figure.

For your perusal, we have the episode "Price Is Right", which has nothing to do with the game show, but rather special guest star Vincent Price, who gets the pop idol treatment, as you'll see.

Perhaps Stewart should take solace in the fact that after his show was cancelled, ABC and producer Don Fedderson tried out another cinema legend, Henry Fonda, in The Smith Family. And, yep, that was also a 1 year wonder.

Rating: B.

On The Air: Let's Make a Deal (1963)

Let's Make a Deal marked 50 years on the air back in December, but there wasn't much mass media to-do over the occasion, and perhaps, it's just as well. It's been like the Little Engine That Could, chugging along on and off over the course of time, and airing on 4 different networks, technically, as well as syndication.

Deal made Monty Hall a cultural icon, and today, the torch has been passed to entertainer Wayne Brady, who's currently pulling double duty with CW's revived Whose Line is it Anyway? taking to the air once more as a mid-season replacement. The show marked its 40th anniversary on its original network, NBC, with Billy Bush, currently on Access Hollywood, trying to fill Hall's shoes, but it failed to score. The charismatic, gifted Brady has had Deal rolling along for 5 seasons and counting, and it doesn't look like the fun's going to stop any time soon. Sure, there've been some tweaks over the years, but the core of the game remains the same.

Let's take a look back at a syndicated episode from the Hall era:

And from the Brady era, a guest appearance by Monty:

Good, clean fun.

Rating: A.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Celebrity Rock (?) Midnight Train to Georgia (2008)

Gladys Knight revisits one of her older hits with her backup group, the Pips, except that the Pips ain't with her this time.

Instead, actors Ben Stiller, Robert Downey, Jr., & Jack Black make up a new ensemble of Pips. Now, we know two of those guys can sing, and apparently, they can also groove. You can also figure out which one is the most challenged in this clip.

Edit: 4/17/14: Thanks to correspondent Magicdog for noting that this comes from the '08 season finale of American Idol.