Monday, June 04, 2018

The American Dream

I suppose it is a big part of the American dream to build one's dream house, and Cary Grant was no exception in "Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House," which premiered on this day in 1948.

But the American dream can come at a pretty steep price, even in 1948.

Which raises an important point. It is critical to keep in mind the difference between financial amounts in 1948 and comparable amounts seven decades later. Those amounts in 1948 were roughly one–tenth what they are today. For example, in the movie Grant's job paid him $15,000 a year, which sounds like poverty wages, but it was enough to support a family of four. In 2018, the same job probably would pay $150,000.

But be it 1948 or 2018, it is easy to become overwhelmed by that money thing, and Mr. Blandings soon learned how expensive renovating a home can be. To renovate the home he and his wife (Myrna Loy) had chosen easily exceeded a year's income when all the family's needs were addressed.

And that didn't include issues with his best friend, played by Melvyn Douglas.

In all, it was an entertaining movie in that "Holiday Inn" mold.

Friday, June 01, 2018

One Man's Life

"We've become bored with watching actors give us phony emotions. We are tired of pyrotechnics and special effects. While the world he inhabits is, in some respects, counterfeit, there's nothing fake about Truman himself. No scripts, no cue cards. It isn't always Shakespeare, but it's genuine. It's a life."

Christof (Ed Harris)

Imagine, if you will, that your life is actually a television show — a hit show, at that — and everyone knows it except you.

At least at first.

But slowly it dawned on Truman (Jim Carrey) that he was denied the free will that others enjoyed, that everything about his life was being manipulated beyond his control. He couldn't marry the girl he wanted to marry (Natascha McElhone). Instead he was paired with Laura Linney, a cast member on the show who, like everyone but Truman, was in on the story.

The show was created by a fellow named Christof (Ed Harris), who also had to create the circumstances that inevitably kept Truman, an insurance sales executive, in a place called Seaside. It had millions of viewers, some of whom kept their televisions on all night to watch Truman as he slept.

"It's clever the way he's kept on his island by implanted traumas about travel and water," film critic Roger Ebert observed. That is certainly true, especially in the fact that Truman's true love was spirited away to Fiji — and he had been conditioned to fear water because Christof had manipulated the early scripts so Truman's father would drown in a storm.

In many ways, I believe no one but Carrey could plausibly portray Truman, especially since so many of us have become voyeurs in our viewing habits.

But the more one watches "The Truman Show," which premiered 20 years ago today, the less one can avoid the obvious question — how much of it is real?

The answer, I think, is all of it — but not in a way that viewers expect.

"The Truman Show" was an unassuming flick, thought provoking on many levels, well done and creative. Two decades later it is still worth seeing.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Coming Home After WWII

A dear friend of mine (now deceased) was a big fan of Clark Gable, and I am sure she saw most of the movies he made — especially "Gone With the Wind," which was one of her favorite books as well. In fact, she spoke so highly of it that I purchased a paperback copy of the book when we were in high school. That book still has a spot on my bookshelf. I expect it to still be in my possession when I die.

I have no idea, though, whether my friend ever saw Mervyn LeRoy's "Homecoming," which premiered in May 1948.

If she didn't, she probably saw movies that were similar. There has never been a shortage of soap operaesque movies coming from Hollywood, and "Homecoming" really went the extra mile in that regard. Seldom did "Homecoming" fail to apply a cliché to its storyline.

The acting was good in spite of the material.

Gable played a surgeon returning to America from World War II. Ordinarily, he was a tough guy in his movies, but he was unusually sensitive in this one. Perhaps that was a result of Gable losing his own wife, Carole Lombard, in a plane crash six years earlier. Maybe that sensitized his performances in the years after Lombard's death, especially his performance in "Homecoming."

In "Homecoming," he played a surgeon who went to war not so much out of a sense of patriotism but a sense of duty. His real loyalty was to his wife (Anne Baxter) at home, but that loyalty was severely tested when he experienced a growing passion for his nurse (Lana Turner).

It was long rumored that Gable had been having an affair with Turner at the time of Lombard's death. I don't know if there was any truth to that rumor. I do know that, while Turner was regarded as a great beauty, she played a decidedly unglamorous role in "Homecoming."

Of course, that may just be my personal opinion in the context of the film. Turner was always beautiful, but she seemed ignorant of that fact in "Homecoming."

Turner's character was the tough one, the one who knew what was best for all concerned. Gable was obsessed with himself.

"Homecoming" was worth seeing because of Turner's performance. She didn't always play the tough one, but in this movie she did, and it benefited from that performance.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Turning to the Bard

I like comedy.

Given a choice, I would prefer to watch a sitcom on TV than any other kind of show. Being a writer myself, I appreciate the well–crafted dialogue that is the hallmark of truly great comedy. But if the show is not a sitcom and it tries to do a crossover, it usually falls flat.

That was the problem for Twilight Zone on a few occasions. It was designed to be a dramatic program, and its comedy episodes generally did not work. A case in point is "The Bard," which first aired 55 years ago tomorrow night.

It was written by series creator Rod Serling and served as the finale for the fourth season. It was also Twilight Zone's final one–hour episode; the fifth season marked a return to the half–hour format. As I have mentioned on this blog, there were some excellent episodes in the one–hour format. "The Bard" was not one of them.

Jack Weston, whose work I usually enjoy, was a streetcar conductor–turned–aspiring TV screenwriter whose efforts kept getting rejected by TV executives. He was a shameless — and talentless — self–promoter who jumped at a chance to write a screenplay about black magic — even though he had no knowledge of black magic.

To make up for this deficiency he went to a bookstore in search of a book about black magic — and one literally flew off the shelves. It was loaded with spells, and Weston took it home with him. With the help of the book, Weston conjured up William Shakespeare (John Williams), who offered his services, and Weston took him up on it, intending to pass off Shakespeare's work as his own.

Well, that was the plot in a nutshell.

Weston's play was accepted for production on a weekly TV playhouse program, and he was invited to appear on a program that featured all the hottest names in the industry.

But there were problems afoot, chiefly with Shakespeare, who resented not receiving credit for his considerable contributions. He agreed to stay until he had had a chance to assess the performances of the cast in a rehearsal the next day.

One of those cast members was Burt Reynolds.

Reynolds is known today as a movie actor, but in 1963 his experience was exclusively in television. His was not a new face — but it was a somewhat familiar face, having appeared in nearly two dozen TV series, almost always as a guest star.

He was a guest star in "The Bard," playing — fittingly — an actor named Rocky Rhodes, and he kept making noises about his "motivation."

It was all too much for Shakespeare, who decked Rhodes with a right cross and walked out on the rehearsal.

That was a bit awkward for Weston, who had already been given his next assignment — an extensive program on American history. To meet it he conjured up several figures from American history — folks like Robert E. Lee, Ulysses S. Grant, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin, Pocahontas and others.

Revelations of a First Love

"First loves are always the same and always different," Roger Ebert wrote after French film "Blue Is the Warmest Color" premiered at the Cannes Film Festival five years ago on May 23. That may be the most truthful statement Ebert ever wrote.

I experienced my first real love when I was 17, which is roughly the age of Adèle (Adèle Exarchopoulos), but it was not as confusing as Adèle's experience. I knew I was attracted to the opposite sex. Adèle did not, and she experimented with a young man from her school but found that unsatisfying.

Then, after sharing a kiss with a female student and fantasizing about an older girl with blue hair whose name, the audience would learn, was Emma (Léa Seydoux), she began to question her sexuality. The movie was about the relationship between Adèle and Emma — told, as Ebert wrote, in "epic detail."

It had to be told that way, I suppose, because, by their very nature, same–sex relationships are learn–as–you–go types of things. There is no shortage of advice books about heterosexual relationships because the vast majority of relationships are heterosexual. When I was a teenager — and I presume it is still that way — there were few if any books on same–sex relationships that could answer the myriad of questions that accompany them.

Emma was more experienced than Adèle and had already found answers to her questions. In fact, when Adèle first encountered Emma, Emma was with another female and, the audience would learn, had had previous same–sex relationships.

As Ebert said, first loves are always the same and always different. In the unlikely event that the viewer had not experienced a first love, there is much truth in that. To tell the story of a first love, it is necessary, as Ebert observed, to do so in "epic detail."

That includes all the awkward moments and the sexual exploration, which are the same for all and yet different. Awkward moments will always be awkward, and — considering how much of the population is estimated to be heterosexual — it must be a real challenge for homosexuals when it comes to those initial sexual experiences.

I remember when I was a teenager, and all the males in my junior high were herded into the auditorium for a lecture on sex. The emphasis was entirely on heterosexual sex. I presume it was the same for the girls. Those students who were homosexuals — or, at least, had concluded that they had homosexual tendencies — probably found those assemblies boring — as, I am sure, any heterosexually active students, did.

The assemblies really only addressed the physical aspects of sexual relationships, not the emotional ones.

I was one of the rare ones, I guess. When I was in junior high, my sexual activity was, at best, flirtation with girls I found attractive. Even through my high school years, it never went any further than that.

Which proves Ebert's point. Many of my classmates — I didn't know which ones then, and I don't know today, either — had already engaged in some sexual experimentation, even if they hadn't yet experienced their first loves.

I was very naive as a boy. I tended to believe just about anything my classmates told me, assuming they had more experience than I did, and teenage boys are always eager to take credit for sexual exploits whether they happened or not. Looking back, I would have to say that my faith was misplaced. Most probably had the same experience level I did — although everyone's experiences are different.

Anyway, to a certain extent, I suppose some critics' complaints that "Blue Is the Warmest Color" was a pornographic film were justified. There was considerable nudity in the movie. And some critics complained that it was pedophilic, given the fact that Adèle was under 18.

But it had to be that way because most people, it seems to me, have their first sexual experiences in their teen years. Sometimes they are 18 or older, but often they are not. I wasn't.

I knew a girl in college who suspected, back in high school, that she was homosexual, but she didn't have her first physical homosexual experience until she was over 18.

Like Ebert said: "First loves are always the same and always different."

Monday, May 21, 2018

Positive Propaganda

"Let me tell you something about my iron nerve, son. It's made of rubber, just like everybody else's, so it'll stretch when you need it. You know, people got a funny idea that being brave is not being scared. But I don't know. I always figured that if you weren't scared, there was nothing to be brave about. The trick is how much scaring you can take."

Humphrey Bogart

When one hears the word propaganda, the initial response tends to be negative, I suppose. But that really depends on which side of the fence you occupy.

In the case of "Action in the North Atlantic," which premiered on this day in 1943, it is a positive thing, telling the story of the Merchant Marines and their contribution to the Allied war effort during World War II.

In 1943, of course, the war was raging, and the outcome was far from inevitable.

First–time viewers may be startled by the realism of the movie, given the fact that it was made long before computer–generated graphics came along. The black–and–white photography is a giveaway, though.

The title was certainly no exaggeration with Humphrey Bogart's tanker being hit by a torpedo from an enemy sub in the first 15 minutes — and the action kept on coming.

Well, actually, it wasn't just Bogart's tanker. Bogie was the ship's first mate. Raymond Massey played its captain. Bogart, Massey and the other survivors bobbed around in the sea for 11 days before being rescued.

But the lure of the sea was too strong. The only home the seamen knew was their ship; when their ship was sunk, they felt compelled to find a new one, and before long they were on their way back to the North Atlantic.

Their ship was part of a convoy taking supplies to Russian allies. After it was attacked and essentially crushed by German submarines, Bogart played an important leadership role.

There were many movies made about World War II — and many were made while the war was still being fought.

As far as I am concerned, the best part of "Action in the North Atlantic" was that it premiered less than 1½ years after the U.S. entered the war — so its makers felt obliged to remind viewers why America was involved. It's a good history lesson — and a reminder of what America has fought for over the years.

At the Academy Awards, Guy Gilpatric, on whose novel the movie was based, was nominated for Best Original Motion Picture Story — but William Saroyan won the Oscar for "The Human Comedy."

Sunday, May 20, 2018

The Final Episode of Cheers!

Twenty–five years ago tonight, Cheers! concluded its lengthy run on TV with "One For the Road."

The episode managed to tie up some loose ends rather nicely — and earned a viewership for a series finale that is still second only to the legendary final episode of MASH.

Even Diane (Shelley Long) came back — and it was truly clever the way the show's writers achieved it. Diane, a longtime barmaid and long–winded intellectual, was being honored for her writing by the Cable Ace Awards, and the males at Cheers were tuned in to watch for glimpses of the cleavage of attractive presenters. They were all stunned to see Diane win — especially her on–again off–again beau Sam Malone (Ted Danson) and Carla (Rhea Perlman), her nemesis at Cheers who could only live with what she was seeing by persuading herself that she must be hallucinating.

Subplots included the installation of Woody (Woody Harrelson) as a Boston councilman and Cliff's (John Ratzenberger) desire for a promotion.

Sam decided it would be a civilized gesture to send Diane a telegram congratulating her on her triumph, never dreaming that she would call to thank him for it. In the course of their conversation, Diane revealed that she was married with three children. Sam tried to top her by inventing a wife and four children.

Then he made his mistake. When Diane told him that he would like her husband, Sam told her to bring him by the bar if she was ever in Boston. He didn't think she would ever show up in Boston, but she did, and Sam had to persuade Diane's replacement, Rebecca (Kirstie Alley), to pose as his wife. It was the only time that Diane and Rebecca appeared together in a Cheers! episode.

It also turned out that Sam and Diane had been lying. Rebecca's former lover interrupted their lunch with a proposal, which she accepted; then they left the restaurant. Not long after that the lunch was interrupted again by the male lover of Diane's husband, who confronted him in the dining room and then stormed out. Diane's husband followed. After the alleged spouses had left the restaurant, Sam and Diane were free to explore the truth with each other — and they decided to get back together.

Their announcement of their reunion was not greeted with enthusiasm by the Cheers regulars, who remembered all too well how things had been when Sam and Diane were together before.

Sam and Diane had second thoughts aboard the plane when Sam thought the pilot was speaking directly to him over the P.A. system, and Diane likewise thought a stewardess was speaking to her. They had a change of heart as the plane returned to the terminal.

So Sam returned to the bar, and Diane returned to Los Angeles — alone.

At the bar, Sam had a memorable conversation with the Cheers gang about love and the meaning of life over some Cuban cigars. When I think of that conversation, even now, I remember Cliff and his assessment of what is really important in life — comfortable shoes.

But I also think of Norm (George Wendt), who told Sam after all the others had left that it didn't what or who one loved as long as it was an unconditional love.

That's an important point — that one must love whatever is most important unconditionally — that was made so effortlessly it took one's breath away.

Or maybe that was the result of uncontrollable laughter.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A 50-Foot Woman Scorned

Around the time of the Three–Mile Island nuclear accident, Saturday Night Live did a skit called "The Pepsi Syndrome."

It was a takeoff on the movie "The China Syndrome," which had been in theaters for about two weeks when the accident occurred and was said to have foretold the events at Three–Mile Island, but when I saw the original "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman," which debuted on this day in 1958, I concluded that the skit must have been partially inspired by that movie.

(I suppose you could also make a case for "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" as an inspiration for the skit — except it wouldn't be in theaters for nearly 10 years. A remake of "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman," starring Daryl Hannah, arrived in theaters in December 1993.)

Anyway, in the skit, Dan Aykroyd played President Carter, who was visiting the site, and Garrett Morris played a female maintenance worker at the facility. Both were exposed to radioactivity and grew to about 100 feet tall.

The independently made "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman" was similar in the sense that it was about a normal–sized woman who grew to 50 feet — after an encounter with an alien, not a nuclear accident. That wasn't an entirely new concept — except that all the previous films about gargantuan people that I can recall starred men. As far as I know, this was the first time a woman starred in such a story.

Nuclear power was still rather new in 1958, and it was probably still considered too futuristic to plausibly use even as the cause of such a bizarre growth spurt. Nevertheless radiation was introduced as a possible culprit in the story.

Alien encounters were pretty futuristic in those days, too, I suppose, but they were probably easier for audiences to understand.

Anyway, Allison Hayes played the title role in the 1958 version, but she didn't begin the movie as a 50–foot woman. She was an affluent alcoholic trapped in a bad marriage with a philandering husband who was only with her for her money. Nothing new about that plot angle.

She was out driving in the desert one night — which would also be implausible if the story were not set in the California desert (presumably not far from the infamous Area 51, which has figured prominently for years in tales of UFO activity) — when she encountered a glowing sphere and drove her car off the road.

Well, thanks to her alien encounter, Hayes' character grew to an enormous height, and she set out on a mission to avenge herself.

Ed Wood had a well–deserved reputation for making bad sci–fi movies, but "Attack of the 50–Foot Woman" may have been the worst of the non–Ed Wood projects. The title was cheesy enough to be from Wood's portfolio, and the special effects weren't even up to his standards.

But it was one of those movies that was so bad it was good, you know? Sometimes kitschy is all right.

Nevertheless, I preferred the remake — which is something I almost never say. The '93 version had a script that had more of a feminist slant (I suppose feminism wasn't a factor in the '50s), and it was more clever besides.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

An Unexpected Party Guest

Frasier (Kelsey Grammer): Murderers on death row can find women to marry them! I can't find one to sit through coffee with me!

Niles (David Hyde Pierce): It's easy for those men to attract women. They have all that time to work out in the yard.

Perhaps the worst–kept secret on the Frasier show was the fact that the Crane brothers, Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Niles (David Hyde Pierce), led star–crossed love lives — except that, unlike Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, it didn't apply merely to one lover but to all.

Not so with Roz (Peri Gilpin). She had a very active love life — and, in the episode that first aired on this night in 1998, "Life of the Party," Roz's sex life had caught up to her.

It had been established earlier in the Frasier timeline that Roz was pregnant. It was on this night 20 years ago that Roz's baby made her first appearance.

The occasion was a singles–only party that Niles and Frasier were throwing at Niles' place. It had been suggested by their father Martin (John Mahoney). When he was young, he told his sons, he and his buddies threw such parties — frequently — when they were hard up for dates.

At first Niles and Frasier weren't too keen on the idea — but then Martin announced that he had a new 10,000–piece jigsaw puzzle called "The Wheatfield." The brothers suddenly became more open to the idea.

Martin was one of the attendees, but, acting on Daphne's advice (Jane Leeves), he had dyed his hair to appear younger — and was under the impression that his efforts were succeeding.

But then at the party, the dye job began to drip, and Martin left a large stain on one of Niles' chairs.

Turned out Martin had used shoe polish instead of hair dye.

As far as Niles and Frasier were concerned, the party had had its desired effect, and both had met someone they wanted to date. Trouble was that it was the same person.

So they spent much of the episode vying for this woman's attention.

But then things were interrupted because Roz went into labor — right there in the middle of the party — and the Cranes took her to the hospital. As they sat in the waiting room, they bickered — stopping only to wish Roz the best as the hospital staff wheeled her to the delivery room. As soon as she disappeared, the bickering resumed.

Then when the delivery was over, they went into Roz's room to see the baby.

The baby, Roz told them, would be named Alice — and Alice would be a fixture on Frasier in the years to come.

Monday, May 07, 2018

When the President's Daughter Went Missing

President Bartlet (Martin Sheen): Would you consider, instead of living in France with your boyfriend for three months, staying here, living in your room and being a candy striper or surfing?

Zoey (Elisabeth Moss): A candy striper?

President Bartlet: Or surfing. You could spend the summer working in a pet shop. We could play Yahtzee and watch movies at night.

Zoey: Dad, what fantasy is it that's going through your head right now?

President Bartlet: What daughters would do their whole lives if I had my way.

For most families, college commencement is a great occasion — a time of pride in the accomplishment of one of their own.

It is sure to be the same for a president's family — but with the added anxiety that comes whenever someone from the first family is involved. There is always a chance, however slim it may be, that something will happen to the graduate.

I don't know how many children of sitting presidents have graduated from college in our history, but I do know that nothing has happened to mar those occasions. They have all gone off as smooth as clockwork.

Such was not the case in the episode of West Wing that first aired on this night in 2003, "Commencement." The president's youngest daughter, Zoey (Elisabeth Moss), was graduating from Georgetown University, and her father (Martin Sheen) was to deliver an address at commencement. He was still wrestling with what to say when the big day arrived.

And there were a lot of other things going on. Toby (Richard Schiff) and his ex–wife were expecting a baby at any time, and Toby wanted them to remarry. He wanted it so much he had taken the step of investing in a house that his ex had told him was her dream home.

Primarily, though, Washington Post reporter Danny Concannon (Timothy Busfield) had gotten wind of something the president really wanted to keep under wraps — the fact that, one year prior, he had ordered the assassination of the defense minister of a fictional Middle Eastern country who had been planning terrorist acts against the United States — among them destroying the Golden Gate Bridge.

At the time, the White House had manipulated news flow to bolster the impression that the United States had not been involved. That had eroded considerably, though.

Of course, there was also the matter of finding a replacement for the vice president, who had just resigned.

If that seems implausible, remember that within a decade of the passage of the 25th Amendment, which provided a procedure for filling a vacancy in the vice presidency, that procedure would be used not once but twice. It hasn't been used since, but odds are that it will one day. Nevertheless, no one thought back in 1967 that it would be used in 1973, when Gerald Ford was selected to replace Spiro Agnew, and 1974, when Nelson Rockefeller was chosen to replace Ford after Ford became president.

History is like that. When one event occurs, people know it probably will play a role in another event, but they never know how soon that will be. The Kennedy assassination in 1963 was the catalyst for the 25th Amendment. Kennedy's successor, Lyndon Johnson, served with no vice president for more than a year — until he had won the 1964 election with Hubert Humphrey as his running mate.

Humphrey, therefore, was the occupant of the vice presidency when the 25th Amendment was approved, and few people probably thought there was a need for it. After all, the nation had been through such periods before, but the 25th Amendment spelled out that procedure — along with providing a line of succession.

Back to the West Wing timeline, which dealt with the 25th Amendment in the last episode of the 2002–2003 season.

Fast forward a year. Five suspected terrorists who had been under surveillance had disappeared, and the feds were under heightened alert.

Thrown into the mix was the fact that Zoey was planning to leave for France after commencement to spend three months in the French countryside.

But she never got there. At a party on graduation night, she was abducted and one of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect her was shot and killed.

West Wing had a reputation for being "The Left Wing" for its political slant, but the truth was that it was extraordinarily realistic. Even conservatives had to concede that.

And while it may seem unlikely that a president's child could become ensnared in a global political situation such as the one depicted 15 years ago tonight, it is really no less likely than many of the things we have witnessed in our nation's history.

Thursday, May 03, 2018

Bruce Hornsby's Encore

An old friend gave me a cassette tape of the first CD from Bruce Hornsby and the Range, and I thoroughly enjoyed it — so much that, in fact, after "Scenes From the Southside" hit the music stores on this day in 1988, I bought it without hearing a single track from it.

I was rewarded handsomely. I believed then — and I still believe — that it was better than that first album.

Actually, I guess that is a little misleading. I didn't purchase the album the day it came out. That came a couple of months later.

But it is true that I hadn't heard any tracks from the album before I bought it, not even on the radio. I saw it on display racks whenever I went to stores where records were sold — and the desire for it grew.

If I had to pick a favorite, it would probably be "Look Out Any Window," but that was probably more because of the circumstances.

As I have written here before, "Scenes From the Southside" was the album I listened to the most after I moved from Arkansas, where I had spent most of my life, to Texas, where I enrolled in graduate school. I was eagerly anticipating that experience, but my thoughts were preoccupied with the friends I had left behind.

I was also preoccupied with thoughts of a girl with whom I was infatuated. She was a waitress in a Little Rock restaurant, and "Till the Dreaming's Done" always made me think of her.

I saw relevance in each song to my life in those days. I had many dreams, and there were many lessons to be learned, both in and out of the classroom. I believed my future held great things for me.

I'm still waiting for the great things I thought would come — and may never come — but, in the words of another song from "Scenes From the Southside," the show goes on.

There may yet be great things in store for me.

But as I look back, I know that there have already been some great things in my life. They may not have been what I expected or hoped for, but hasn't it been your experience that they seldom are?

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

The Story of The Iceman

"I don't kill women and children."

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon)

Based on what I knew about hitman Richard Kuklinski before I saw the movie based on his life story, "The Iceman," which premiered in Lebanon on this day in 2013, I assumed his nickname was due to his demeanor.

That was a reasonable assumption, given that Kuklinski seemed to have ice water running through his veins. He was said to have killed more than 100 people — and showed no emotion when doing so — before he was taken into custody.

In truth, though, Kuklinski earned that nickname because of his proclivity for freezing victims to obscure the times of their deaths. But he did have his standards. He wouldn't kill women and children.

Michael Shannon, who played Kuklinski, is a large man, but he isn't as imposing as the character he portrayed. Kuklinski stood 6'5" and weighed in at 270 pounds — and, while technically regarded as a contract killer, he was also considered a serial killer because many of his murders were carried out on his own initiative with little or no input from anyone else.

Kuklinski was also a secretive sort whose double life was never suspected by his family. His wife (Winona Ryder) never seemed to suspect a thing, even when his behavior at home became erratic. In fact, his job was dubbing movies, and his wife and family believed he dubbed Disney movies when, in fact, he dubbed porn movies.

He claimed that his first murder occurred when he was little more than a boy himself, about 12 or 13. His first victim was alleged to have been a neighborhood boy who had taunted him.

The movie never mentioned that — or any of the killings Kuklinski was said to have carried out on his own. It suggested that his first murder was of a random homeless man at the insistence of a crime boss played by Ray Liotta.

Whether that was true or not, I don't know.

There were certainly times when the violence in "The Iceman" seemed gratuitous, over the top. But that was how he lived his life, how he conducted his business.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Was There Life on Mars?

Matthew Perry only made three appearances on West Wing as Joe Quincy, the new deputy counsel. His second appearance was on this night in 2003 — ostensibly his first day on the job. He interviewed for the job in the previous week's episode; while he wasn't actually hired in that episode, it was strongly implied that he would be. In November 2003 he made his final appearance on the show, approaching the chief justice, who was in poor health, about stepping down.

On this night in 2003, Perry's character did a little detective work that ended up bringing down the vice president (Tim Matheson). The whole thing got started because the veep had been having an affair with a prominent reporter who had been an anonymous source for the Washington Post's science editor that the White House was concealing a report that supposedly indicated that there may have been, at some time, life on Mars.

This report would have been under the supervision of the vice president, but classifying the report would have been the responsibility of the Department of Defense.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Well, that was C.J.'s (Allison Janney) initial response, too.

But, as the audience learned later in the episode, the vice president was one of those guys who like to brag to come across as more important. Seems sort of unnecessary for a man who has risen to the position of vice president. It's also a bit naive for a man who participated in two national political campaigns as well as however many races for office in his home state to be telling something like that to a reporter, even — or perhaps especially — one with whom he was intimate.

This reporter, by the way, had just been the recipient of a seven–figure book deal.

Perry started putting tidbits of information together, then discovered in the White House telephone logs records of numerous conversations between the vice president and this reporter. He brought this to C.J.'s attention, and she recognized the severity of the situation.

That led to a visit to the vice president's office from C.J., Joe Quincy, Josh (Bradley Whitford) and Toby (Richard Schiff). In this meeting, the vice president learned what those four already knew and was advised to talk things over with his family.

Whether he actually did meet with his family was only implied in his answer to a question from the president, who asked if he had spoken with his wife. He did, however, meet with the president (Martin Sheen) and the chief of staff (John Spencer), both of whom urged him to weather the storm.

But he would have none of it. He had decided to resign because he didn't want his family to be exposed to the mudfight that would follow.

West Wing fans may have thought they had heard the last from the vice president. Not so. He would return as a candidate for the presidential nomination in a few years.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Niles and Daphne's First Date

Everyone knew that Niles (David Hyde Pierce) was infatuated with Daphne (Jane Leeves).

Well, everyone, that is, except Daphne.

In the early seasons of Frasier, Niles' efforts to be close to Daphne were largely treated as unfulfilled fantasies since he was married to the never–seen Maris. But by this point in the series, his marriage was effectively (but not legally) over.

And in the episode that first aired on this night in 1998 — "First Date" — Niles had decided to ask Daphne out for the first time. They had already had some dates, you might say, but they weren't treated as such — just as occasions when they found themselves alone together.

In this episode, though, Niles was determined to ask Daphne on a formal date — but when the moment of truth arrived, he simply couldn't do it.

But he spoke about it endlessly with Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), and Daphne walked in on them a few times, which made Niles antsy about what she had heard and hadn't heard. Turned out that she had heard that Niles wanted to ask someone out, but she didn't hear who.

Whether he was bashful or simply conditioned by years of unrequited love, Niles probably would have been happy to let the matter slide — but Daphne kept pressing him to confide his secret crush — and he seemed about to oblige on several occasions.

That was something he could not bring himself to do, though, no matter how much he wanted to date Daphne.

In the end, though, he pretended to be attracted to a woman in his building, and Daphne urged him to ask her for a date. When she wouldn't give up, Niles decided to fake it to satisfy her. He told Daphne he knew this woman's work number and pretended to call her — but he really called his home number and spoke into the answering machine.

The dinner date he made was for that evening — but, of course, there was no dinner date, and the next thing the audience saw was Niles lounging in his home wearing his bathrobe. Daphne came by, explaining that she had been running some errands and picked up something for dessert. She took it to the kitchen, intending to put it in the refrigerator, but she was stopped in her tracks when she saw that no dinner preparations were underway.

So she took charge, fashioning a dinner from items she found in Niles' refrigerator, believing that he was going to be hosting an evening meal for a woman with whom he was in love — when, in fact, Daphne was the woman of Niles' dreams.

One of the best scenes in this — or any — Frasier episode came when Niles and Daphne were chopping vegetables for the salad. After observing that they were chopping in rhythm, Niles began singing "Heart and Soul" in time with their chopping.

That, of course, had multiple meanings. For Niles, it was a description of his reality. For Daphne, it was a pleasant song — but probably nothing more.

In the end, Niles invited Daphne to stay and have dinner with him — and their first date really was a date after all.

Monday, April 23, 2018

A Not-So-Quiet Evening at the White House

"There may not be anything anymore that outpaces the hatred the right feels for the left or the tonnage of disrespect the left feels for the right."

Josh (Bradley Whitford)

I've only been to the White House once in my whole life. I was a child, and my family took a tour of the White House.

Consequently, I can't vouch personally for the accuracy of the following statement, but I presume, at least from having watched TV's West Wing, that there is really no such thing as a quiet evening at the White House. Something is always happening, whether it makes the newscasts or not.

Nevertheless, in the episode of the series that first aired on this night in 2003, "Evidence of Things Not Seen," an uneventful evening is precisely what the staffers were trying to have. They had organized a game of poker, during which C.J. (Allison Janney) kept trying to convince her colleagues that it was possible to stand an egg vertically at the exact moment of the vernal equinox.

That assertion was repeatedly met with scorn. It was disputed by everyone (and every internet site that could be found) and was prompted by the fact that the story was taking place on the vernal equinox.

(Now, I realize that many people do not know what the vernal equinox is, but I will not devote any more space to it because that would prevent those of you who really want to know from looking it up yourselves — and it would likely bore the rest.)

The primary events in the episode were (1) a shooting incident in which a gunman opened fire on the White House, apparently hoping to be killed by responding officers (in what is known as "suicide by cop"), and (2) Josh's (Bradley Whitford) interview with a candidate for a position in the counsel's office (Matthew Perry).

Oh, and there was also the matter of an unmanned spy plane that had crashed in a remote part of Russia. The president (Martin Sheen) tried to convince the Russians that they had not been spying on Russia but had been spying for them.

Sounds complicated, doesn't it? Well, international matters frequently are. And the Russians didn't buy it.

The shooting occurred when some staffers were in the press room trying to hit a specific row of seats with playing cards. It wasn't clear if the gunman knew where he was shooting, but it turned out that the gun was aimed at the windows of the press room. One struck a window very close to where C.J. was standing.

The president was in the Oval Office at the time, where the windows are equipped with bulletproof glass. Anyone who wants to attack the president when he is in the Oval Office, as the president observed, will have to do so from within, not from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Evidently, the windows in the press room were not bulletproof.

That put the West Wing in lockdown — which prolonged both the poker game and the job interview.

Josh decided to recommend Perry for the job, even though he admitted to being a registered Republican who had lied on a questionnaire he had been given and consequently couldn't sign it. What was the lie? Well, the question was, "Have you ever done anything that would reflect poorly on the president?"

What had he done? He hadn't voted for the president.

Just your typical — or should that be atypical? — evening at the White House.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

An Electoral Experiment

A city councilman seeking a fourth term in office paid a visit to Cheers on this night in 1993 in an attempt to win some votes. It infuriated Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) because, where the other patrons heard inspiring statements, Frasier heard meaningless politician's rhetoric.

And an idea was born in this episode of Cheers!"Woody Gets an Election." "We could put a chimpanzee on the ballot and garner 10% of the vote," Frasier insisted.

Apparently, no chimpanzee was available so Frasier did the next best thing. He recruited Woody (Woody Harrelson) to run for city council and made a bet with Sam (Ted Danson) that all he had to do was put Woody's face on a poster above a phrase that sounded good (the phrase that appeared on the posters was "He's one of us") but essentially meant nothing and, by Election Day, he would get 10% of the vote.

Frasier also decided to use the campaign as a case study for a paper.

Part of the experiment, of course, involved interviews with the local media. Only a few months before she became a regular on the Frasier spinoff, Peri Gilpin made a guest appearance as a political reporter who came by the bar to interview Woody.

The interview was like something out of "Being There." Farm boy Woody kept answering the questions from a farmer's perspective, and the reporter put her own preconceived interpretations on his answers.

It didn't take long for Frasier to win the bet. Polls showed Woody receiving 8% in advance of the election, and Sam conceded. Frasier figured he could take down the posters and end the charade.

But then the news broke that Woody's opponent, the incumbent who was seeking a fourth term, had been charged with public drunkenness. Suddenly, the folks at Cheers believed Woody could win.

In fact, Frasier believed it so deeply that he was plagued by nightmares in which Woody had a meteoric political career that landed him in the White House, where he fired nuclear bombs.

And he implored Woody to drop out of the race before he made a mockery of the democratic process. Woody pledged to do so at the Election Eve debate — but his intentions were sidetracked when his wife Kelly (Jackie Swanson) informed him on camera that he was going to be a father.

And the victory was sealed.

On election night, Woody kept thanking Frasier for getting him started, but Frasier, still thinking of his harrowing mushroom cloud dreams, insisted that "no one can prove that."

The opening segment of the episode featured a guest — Spanky McFarland of "Our Gang" fame. Know–it–all Cliff (John Ratzenberger) spotted him sitting at the far end of the bar and told Norm (George Wendt) that he believed the man was Spanky. Cliff sauntered over to him and began talking, in his blowhard fashion, about his love for "Our Gang."

Apparently, that was all Spanky needed. When Cliff asked him if he was Spanky, he denied it, and Cliff left the bar.

"You are Spanky, aren't you?" Norm asked him.

"Oh, yeah," Spanky replied.

That was Spanky's final public appearance. He died a couple of months later.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

That Uncontrollable Urge

"I'm not condemning you for your little 'fling,' but don't try to pass it off as something deeper than it is; the only thing you two have in common is the faint impression of the word Sealy on your backsides."

Niles (David Hyde Pierce)

In the episode of Frasier that first aired on this night in 1998, "Frasier Gotta Have It," Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) was excited about a new relationship he had with Caitlin (Lisa Edelstein), a young artist.

They didn't seem to have much in common beyond the physical, and Niles (David Hyde Pierce) enjoyed teasing his brother about that.

Frasier, however, did not like being teased, and he kept insisting there was much more to it than the physical — even though he confessed that, when they met, he and Caitlin had not discussed whether she was a native of Seattle, the school she had attended or her preferences in the arts.

In an attempt to learn more about her, Frasier invited her to dinner. When she arrived, there still was no indication that the relationship was anything more than physical as the two fell into each other's arms and shared a long, passionate kiss.

Did they share more than that? Well, Niles speculated that, at that moment, they were sharing a Tic Tac.

Frasier did learn a few things about Caitlin that evening that he hadn't known.

For example, he learned that Caitlin's father owned a vineyard when she was growing up so she had more than a casual knowledge of wine.

She wasn't a wine drinker, though. She told Frasier and Niles that she had always hated the taste of wine. In fact, she said, she had cut alcohol out of her life altogether — along with sugar, dairy products and meat.

That put a considerable dent in Frasier's planned menu for the evening.

Frasier also learned — to his chagrin — that Caitlin thought Martin's chair was cool. Frasier, of course, thought it was hideous.

But he didn't let that get in the way. If anything, the physical relationship grew hotter. When Frasier went over to Caitlin's place to break things off, he got swept away with lust, and the two fell into bed with each other.

In fact, the finicky, fastidious Frasier overlooked many things in Caitlin that would have been (and often were) dealbreakers in his other relationships. Why? Because, in his own words, he was a sexaholic.

And strictly physical infatuations blind people to things that normally would matter to them.

Frasier certainly wasn't immune to that.

One of the things that I thought made the episode intriguing was the fact that Dan Butler, who ordinarily played Bulldog Briscoe, a notorious womanizer from KACL, directed it. It wasn't unusual for cast members, particularly Grammer, to direct episodes, and I don't know if this was Butler's only directorial effort on Frasier — but considering the character he usually played, it was an interesting topic.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

How to Get Over Heartbreak

Most of us have had the painful experience being dumped, and that is what "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," which premiered on this day in 2008, was about.

Jason Segel, who will probably always be remembered for the role he played in How I Met Your Mother, played a composer who worked on the same TV detective show in which Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell) was a co–star. They had been lovers for quite some time, too — until Sarah rather unceremoniously dumped him early in the movie for a British rock star (Russell Brand).

Granted, that's a higher altitude than most of us reach in our relationships, but it is still possible to empathize with Segel's devastation — especially considering that he was naked when she told him it was over. Film critic Roger Ebert referred to it as "a humiliating, emotionally naked break–up and breakdown."

And it was. I felt it was one of those movie moments that you only want to see once — if at all. It almost felt like intruding on what was a very personal and very private experience.

Segel did everything he could to get over Sarah, but nothing worked. So he decided a change of scenery might help, and he went to Hawaii. Turned out Sarah and her rock star boyfriend were staying at the same resort.

It was at that resort that Segel's character encountered a hospitality clerk (Mila Kunis), and she became his new love interest. In the process, he learned more than he probably wanted to know about Sarah Marshall — like the fact that Sarah and the rock star boyfriend had been having sex for a year before she dropped Segel.

Eventually, Sarah came to realize she had made a mistake, but it was too late.

Ebert thought the story was told well, but I disagreed. Far too many of the lines were about sex, either directly or indirectly. And while that is an important element of relationships, it is hardly the only one. Trust plays a big role, too, and the messages about trust were mostly implied — whereas the jokes about sex were, if anything, a bit too much in your face.

"We all do stupid, destructive and self–destructive things for which we're probably not going to forgive ourselves," Ebert wrote, "so the best thing in the world is when somebody else forgives us. In the movie's moral universe, there are no irredeemably bad people — just those afflicted to various degrees with shallowness, immaturity, selfishness, obliviousness, ambition."

I can't argue with that — but I also can't deny that the humor was often sophomorish. I didn't agree with Ebert's glowing assessment of it.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Story of Shattering Baseball's Color Barrier

"I don't think it matters what I believe, only what I do."

Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman)

This Sunday will be the 71st anniversary of Jackie Robinson's historic major–league debut.

Three days before the 66th anniversary, on this day in 2013, the movie "42" premiered in American theaters. It told the story of that event with Chadwick Boseman starring as Robinson and Andre Holland playing black sportswriter Wendell Smith, who played a significant role in encouraging Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to choose Robinson to be the first black ballplayer in the majors.

Blacks had already served with distinction in World War II yet the armed forces were still segregated. Robinson broke baseball's color barrier more than a year before Harry Truman desegregated the troops.

Last week, we marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who is widely regarded as the father of the civil rights movement. But King was a teenager when Jackie Robinson first played in the major leagues.

When Rickey presented the idea to Robinson, the future barrier buster asked if Rickey wanted someone who didn't have the guts to fight back.

Rickey replied that he wanted someone who had the guts not to fight back.

It was a different country in the 1940s, and Rickey knew that there would be obstacles every day in every city. He knew that whoever that first black ballplayer in the majors turned out to be, he would be subjected to all kinds of abuse — almost all of it sanctioned by the laws and attitudes of the time.

That is probably difficult for many people to comprehend in the 21st century.

But, as I say, it was a different country. And Jackie Robinson was one of those who helped change it.

The movie repeatedly made that point — as it should. To the black community, Robinson was a hero. It is fair to say he was considerably less than that in the eyes of the white community.

But he persevered.

And he inspired the many black ballplayers who followed — one of whom, Ed Charles, was depicted as a child in the movie. Charles, who died last month at the age of 84, was a member of the 1969 Amazin' New York Mets.

As miraculous as the Mets were, they weren't as miraculous as Jackie Robinson's barrier–breaking season.

While Charles was presented as a child of perhaps 9 or 10 in the movie, he was actually a teenager in 1947.

One more thing. Ford, who was 70 when "42" premiered, was better suited for the role of Branch Rickey than he was to play Indiana Jones again (as he had five years earlier) or Han Solo again (as he did two years later). In fact, Ford was five years older than Rickey was in Robinson's historic season.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Adding to Merle's Hot Streak

Arthur Penn's movie about Bonnie and Clyde had been showing on America's movie screens since August of the previous year when Merle Haggard's album "The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde" arrived in music stores 50 years ago today.

Haggard was on a real hot streak in the 1960s, and "The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde" just added to it.

Other than being inspired by the movie, though, there was no real link between the two. Haggard collaborated with Bonnie Owens on the title track, but they are better known for another composition of theirs from the same album — "I Started Loving You Again."

The title track went on to become a No. 1 hit, but the flip side, "I Started Loving You Again" (with "Today" added to the title later) went on to become a standard — and may well be Haggard's most covered song.

Reportedly, the song's title originated at a time when Haggard, who had married Owens a few years earlier, believed he had fallen out of love with her. Then, when they were walking through an airport, Haggard looked at Owens and told her, "You know what? I think I started lovin' you again today."

At Owens' suggestion, today was moved from the end of the original sentence to the beginning of the song title.

The A side of the single, as I mentioned, was the LP's title track. Ironically, while "I Started Loving You Again" never charted as a single ("The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde" was Haggard's fourth No. 1 single), it was one of Haggard's most popular songs.

The album was not, as Stephen Thomas Erlewine of observed, a concept album, no matter what its title might imply. It was mostly an album in which Haggard covered songs written by others. In addition to the two compositions he penned with Owens, Haggard was credited with writing two other songs on the album, leaving seven that were written by other songwriters.

It was noteworthy that Glen Campbell, who had already enjoyed chart–topping success with "Gentle on My Mind" and was about to do so again with "By the Time I Get to Phoenix," played guitar and banjo on the album.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

When King Kong Ran Wild

Horror/monster movies have certainly changed since this day in 1933 when the original "King Kong" made its U.S. debut.

If 21st–century moviegoers could be magically transported back to that time, they would probably find the horror/monster movies of that time to be laughable.

But I suppose things haven't changed that much. I mean, the concept of a large beast on the loose in a populated area still sends chills down spines — witness "Jurassic Park," which continues to spawn sequels a quarter of a century after its release. Of course, it helps to have splashy special effects, but "King Kong" didn't need them. That man–vs.–nature theme is pretty effective by itself.

By comparison, it took more than 40 years for Hollywood to get around to remaking "King Kong."

That was partially due, I suppose, to the fact that moviemaking technology needed to advance beyond the rather primitive state that existed in 1933.

There were sequels to the original. Even in 1933, Hollywood knew a good thing when it saw one, and "King Kong" was a good thing, making nearly $3 million (more than four times its production budget) in Depression–era America.

Big uncontrolled beasts on the loose is always a scary concept, I guess — and audiences in 1933 apparently relished the chill that "King Kong" produced.

But I wouldn't underestimate the influence of the 1933 version of "King Kong." It broke the ground for its genre, established the rules by which such monster movies were made for decades to come.

Consequently, "King Kong" belongs to that rare class of film — a movie that defined its genre. There had already been horror movies, of course — most notably "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" — but "King Kong" provided a first–of–its–kind plot.

To make it work, of course, a vulnerable victim was necessary, someone with whom audiences could identify. The choice was Fay Wray, a heroine of silent westerns who made the transition to talkies, one of 13 starlets promoted in 1926 by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers as the most likely to be a success in movies (along with the likes of Mary Astor and Janet Gaynor).

Wray appeared in more than 100 big–screen and TV productions in her career — but she will always be remembered for "King Kong."

Really, I suppose, the plot isn't important — although it was important enough to Wray, who turned down an opportunity to make a cameo appearance in the 1976 remake because she didn't care for the script.

You know what happens, don't you? This giant ape carries Fay Wray away and is pursued through the jungle. He was captured and taken to New York, where he was to be presented to Broadway audiences as the Eighth Wonder of the World. He escaped, though, and scaled the Empire State Building with Wray in his massive hand. Kong is brought down by a fleet of World War I fighter planes.

To seal the deal with Wray, she was told she would "have the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood." Initially, she believed her leading man would be Cary Grant. Instead, it was an 18–foot ape.

In reality, Kong wasn't so tall. He was an 18–inch model (built to scale with an inch equal to a foot) that was used for filming purposes.

Oh, and who could forget that Max Steiner score? It was the composer's breakthrough and paved the way for Steiner's most memorable work, the score for "Gone With the Wind." Steiner also composed scores for "Casablanca," "Sergeant York" and "The Searchers."

Interestingly, when Wray died in August 2004, "King Kong" reportedly was playing on the TV in the emergency room.

"I have come to believe over the years," Wray once said, "that Kong is my friend."

Apparently, he was a friend to the end.

Punishing a Bad Dog

Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) was a vain, elitist, pompous snob, but he also had morals and standards, and they were on full display in the episode of Frasier that first aired on this night in 1998, "Bad Dog."

As the episode opened, Frasier and Bob "Bulldog" Briscoe (Dan Butler), the radio station's sports personality, were standing in line to get coffee at Cafe Nervosa. Roz (Peri Gilpin) came in and got in line behind them.

Shortly thereafter, a man with a gun tried to rob the cafe. Frasier saw the gun and warned the others. Bulldog saw someone reaching into his coat, assumed he was going for a gun and grabbed Roz, pulling her in front of him as a human shield. The movement knocked over Bulldog's coffee, which spilled on the real gunman's hand. He dropped the gun and ran out the door.

In the flurry of activity, nearly everyone thought Bulldog had committed an act of heroism — when, as Frasier knew, he had actually tried to use a pregnant woman as a shield. The more credit that Bulldog got for what everyone thought he had done, the more it got under Frasier's skin.

For example, the owner of the cafe promised Bulldog a lifetime supply of muffins, which got Daphne (Jane Leeves) to musing about how many muffins that might be. She said she could eat a muffin a day, even two some days, and figured that, at 10 muffins a week over 40 years, it came to about 20,000 muffins.

"My life suddenly seems long, measured in muffins," she said.

"Oh, Daphne," Frasier said. "There are a lot of things that can make life suddenly seem long."

Back to Bulldog.

Frasier confronted Bulldog at the radio station with the truth, and Bulldog asked him not to tell anyone. Frasier promised that he wouldn't because he believed that Bulldog's conscience wouldn't let him keep that secret.

The problem was that Bulldog apparently had no conscience, and that was what really bothered Frasier.

"I believe that conscience, more than customs and laws, is what prevents people from doing wrong," Frasier told his father Martin (John Mahoney) and brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce). "To contemplate the idea of an otherwise sane man with no conscience, well, it just shakes my entire world view."

Frasier's world view took quite a beating when he went to Bulldog's apartment — and was disappointed to see that Bulldog wasn't struggling with his conscience. In fact, Bulldog said he believed he had been born without a conscience.

Frasier refused to accept that — and insisted that Bulldog's conscience would not permit him to accept the Man of the Year Award that he was to be given for his heroism.

And Frasier, who was the emcee of that year's broadcasting awards, did everything he could to make it difficult for Bulldog. He arranged for several guests from Bulldog's past to be in attendance — his boyhood priest, his second–grade teacher, his peewee football coach and the young president of Bulldog's fan club. The most important guest, though, was Bulldog's mother.

Frasier had assembled them to subtly remind Bulldog that they had all encouraged him to be honest. He hoped that Bulldog would break down during his acceptance speech.

But Bulldog double–crossed him, and it looked like he would get away with it.

Well, it looked that way, and Frasier was beside himself. But as Bulldog and his mother walked across the floor to his table, Martin called out to Bulldog, "There's a guy there with a gun!"

And Bulldog grabbed his mother and used her as a shield, just as he had done with Roz at the cafe — exposing himself as a fraud.

"Thanks, Dad," Frasier said with a big smile on his face.

"Hey, I'm no hero," Martin said. "I just wanted you to shut up!"

Friday, April 06, 2018

A Supernatural Story

"Fate is not a straight road. There are many forks in it. You have the free will to choose which one you take, but sometimes it will bend around and bring you straight back to that same stubborn fate."

Odd Thomas (Anton Yelchin)

The first time I ever saw Anton Yelchin in a movie was when he appeared in "Hearts in Atlantis," which was based on a Stephen King story.

He was still rather new to the acting profession, but I was impressed with his talent. Sadly, though, I have only seen him in one other movie — "Odd Thomas," which made its debut at the River Bend Film Festival on this day in 2013 — and I will get no opportunities to see him in a new release. He died in a freak accident nearly two years ago.

"Hearts in Atlantis" was one of his first movies. He made many movies in his all–too–short career, but, considering how he died, "Odd Thomas," in which he played a clairvoyant short–order cook, would have been a good finale for his career — which, by the way, was far from what we have come to expect from child stars. Other child stars seem to hit the wall when they try to transition from children's roles to adult roles, but Yelchin was an exception to that rule.

"Odd Thomas" was based on a novel by Dean Koontz.

Like the youngster in "The Sixth Sense," Odd Thomas could see dead people, and they never spoke to him, either, but, in his own words, "I do something about it." His tipoff that something big was going to happen was when he saw the shadowy bodachs who thrived on pain and carnage — and, as the movie began, he started seeing the bodachs more and more.

They seemed drawn by a stranger in town, and Odd (that was really his given name — an explanation was given early in the movie) said there were more bodachs around him than he had ever seen before. But they seemed to lose interest, which was puzzling — until Odd Thomas did some further investigating.

Odd Thomas, I should mention, had a working relationship with the chief of police (Willem Dafoe), who knew of his talent — but Odd Thomas was at the center of things.

At this point, I ought to remind you that this is a movie about supernatural talent — and it is probably best to avoid giving away any other details.

But "Odd Thomas" had a few other things in common with "The Sixth Sense" — including an unexpected ending for which viewers should have been prepared by all that had come before.

Of course, that's the way it was in "The Sixth Sense," and the finale of "Odd Thomas" probably lost much of its impact because of its similarity to that earlier movie.

But that didn't mean "Odd Thomas" wasn't worth seeing.