Friday, September 09, 2011

Current TV Counts Down the 50 Best Documentaries

The cable channel Current TV recently had a countdown hosted by documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock. He did a countdown of the 50 best documentaries of all time. Spurlock's film Super Size Me was #5 on the list. I have written about that film here before, and mentioned how it is a cautionary tale of the health risks associated with eating fast food. I have stayed away from McDonald's ever since seeing that film back in 2004. I think that documentary films address some important issues, but seldom are they viewed by large audiences. Overall the countdown show was good, but I think that some outstanding films were omitted such as; No End in Sight, King Corn, Pressure Cooker, Waiting for Superman and Wild Man Blues. Flint native Michael Moore had three films on the countdown, including Fahrenheit 9-11, Bowling for Columbine and Roger and Me.

Here is the top 10;

10. Grizzly Man---This is about a man who lives with Grizzly Bears and documents all of their behavior.
9. Trouble the Water---This shows the effect of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans.
8. An Inconvenient Truth---Starring Al Gore, this looked at global warming.
7. The Celluloid Closet---This showed hows gays have been portrayed in Hollywood films.
6. The War Room---This showed behind-the-scenes activities during Bill Clinton's run for the White House.
5. Supersize Me---I loved this since it showed how harmful McDonald's food can be to the body. You get what you pay for, cheap food with almost zero nutritional value. Yet everyday millions of people eat their disgusting food.
4. Waltz with Bashir---Animated film about war.
3. Roger and Me---This started it all for filmmaker Michael Moore. This movie showed how the city of Flint, Michigan has been devastated by the loss of General Motors jobs.
2. The Thin Blue Line---This was a true crime movie, that led to a conviction.
1. Hoop Dreams---This was about young boys in the inner city who have dreams of playing in the NBA.

Many documentaries take a very left wing approach to politics. I am republican on some issues and democrat on others. I do not always agree with the political viewpoint of the filmmakers but I can look past that to see the art of the film. Some of the best documentaries have nothing to do with politics, such as The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, which is about the battle to be the best Donkey Kong player in the world.

* Countdown information from Current TV network.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Film Analysis: Martin Scorsese's 1982 Film, The King of Comedy

This film was not a success financially for Scorsese, who has had groundbreaking success with films such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Good Fellas and many others. The budget was $20 million and the United States gross box office receipts equaled only $2.5 million. Nevertheless, this is a film I enjoyed greatly due to its spot on depiction of the pitfalls of celebrity and its themes of isolation and loneliness. Making the film was emotionally grueling for director Scorsese, and he an DeNiro would not work together again for seven years. For more information on the amazing career of Martin Scorsese, see my blog post from February, 2010 titled The Artistic Vision of Martin Scorsese. The top photo above shows Jerry Lewis with director Martin Scorsese. The second picture shows Robert DeNiro (Rupert Pupkin) on the left and Jerry Lewis (Jerry Langford) on the right.

Robert DeNiro----- Rupert Pupkin
Jerry Lewis----- Jerry Langford
Sandra Bernhard----- Masha
Fred DeCordova----- Bert Thomas
Diahnne Abbott----- Rita
Shelley Hack----- Cathy
Victor Borge----- Himself
Tony Randall----- Himself
Ed Herlihy----- Himself
Lou Brown----- Himself

The music production was by Robbie Robertson, from The Band. Scorsese did a documentary about that group called The Last Waltz.

The King of Comedy is about Rupert Pupkin, a man who is delusional when it comes to his goals of fame and his relationship with talk show host Jerry Langford. Langford is a Johnny Carson-like late night talk show host. He even has a sidekick/announcer named Ed. The producer of Jerry Langford's show is played by Fred DeCordova, who was Carson's producer for many years. Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin were considered for the role before Jerry Lewis was chosen. Rupert is a stalker, obsessed with Langford, and he will stop at nothing to get his shot as a stand up comedian. Rupert is not unlike Travis Bickle, the protagonist of Scorsese's brilliant drama, Taxi Driver. Both men are obsessive loners who struggle with an inner turmoil of hostility and frustration. Travis Bickle said "Loneliness has followed me my whole life. I'm God's lonely man." Rupert Pupkin could have spoken those words. He is 34 years old, living with his mother, and he talks to cardboard cutouts of celebrities, fantasizing that he is a talk show host.

Rupert and Masha (Bernhard), both are crazed stalkers, obsessed with Jerry and seeking his approval. Rupert confronts Jerry in the back of his limo and Jerry says to contact his office. Rupert does, and is told to submit a tape of his performance. Jerry's people listen to the tape and tell Rupert he is not ready to be on the show. Rupert and Masha turn to kidnapping Jerry and say that Rupert must be able to perform on the show before they will let him go. There is an especially uncomfortable scene where Rupert shows up unannounced, and uninvited at Jerry's residence. Rupert shows up with a woman from high school. He had a crush on her many years ago, and now is desperate to show her he has become friends with Jerry.

The movie ends with Rupert doing his standup act which ends with the line "Better to be king for a night than schmuck for a lifetime." He gets his picture on the cover of all of the top magazines including Time, Life, Newsweek, People and Rolling Stone. He gets one million dollars to write his autobiography. Just like in Taxi Driver, the primary character ends up an unlikely hero.

In the bonus footage Scorsese mentioned how the film has an underlying hostility throughout. Some scenes were improvised, especially the scene where Rupert shows up at Jerry's home. Scorsese's mother played the voice of Rupert's mother, who would yell down to the basement, telling Rupert to keep down the noise level as he practiced his monologues. As usual, Scorsese himself had a cameo role in the film, playing the director of the Jerry Langford show. Like Alfred Hitchcock, he would often do that. Entertainment Tonight called the film "the flop of the year". In his monologue on the Jerry Langford show, De Niro's character Rupert Pupkin says that he is from Clifton, New Jersey. This is possibly an allusion to Andy Kaufman's abusive comedian persona, Tony Clifton, whom Pupkin resembles with similar hair, moustache and cheap blue suits. When Jerry Langford is walking down the street, he is stopped by a woman talking on the telephone. When Jerry refuses to talk to someone on the phone, the lady says I hope you get cancer. This incident actually happened to Jerry Lewis. According to Scorsese, Lewis directed this segment himself. Martin Scorsese has stated that he "probably should not have made" the film.

* Some material from

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Film Analysis: New York Stories

This is an anthology film, broken into 3 segments. I recall liking it in college so I wanted to revisit the movie and write about it here. It was released in 1989 by Touchstone Pictures, and each segment was directed by an iconic filmmaker. It offers 3 unrelated tales with only one thing in common: the setting is The Big Apple. I have always had an obsession with New York, probably since it is the headquarters of so much that is iconic in the world of entertainment. It is the home base for Broadway, several TV networks and so many legendary films were shot in New York. Being a Woody Allen fan has made me a fan of New York also, since it is the setting for many of his films.

The first story is directed by Martin Scorsese, the genius behind Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Casino, GoodFellas, and many more. His part of this anthology is called Life Lessons. Nick Nolte is a gruff New York City artist living in a loft apartment where he spends his days painting and listening to music. The soundtrack includes music such as "Whiter Shade of Pale" by Procol Harum and "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. Scorsese has used classic rock music skillfully in this film, just as he has done in many others. Nolte goes to the airport to pick up his assistant/on-and-off girlfriend played by Rosanna Arquette. Scorsese uses a slow motion technique with Nolte looking at Arquette that is reminiscent of the same shot from Taxi Driver when Robert DeNiro spots Cybill Shepherd. Nolte is obsessed with her. The alcohol, art and music are his only reliable companions. He leads a solitary life, much like the life of Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver. Nolte's character, Lionel Dobie is preparing for an art show where his work will be featured. He tells Paulette (Arquette) that he gives life lessons that are priceless to his assistants. She wants to move out but he pleads with her not to go. She wants to be an artist and asks Lionel if she is wasting her time. Scorsese takes us into the world of a painter with his close ups of the textured paint on the canvas, a paint-splattered cassette player and tight shots of the brushes. Scorsese's longtime film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker is pivotal to the visual elements of the film. A key visual scene is one where Lionel is painting frenetically, obsessed in his work, and the Bob Dylan song has the line "When you ain't got nothin', you got nothin' to lose". The shot is looking down at him, making him seem small, like he is battling against a mighty foe. Paulette's room is above the main level of the loft and there is a hole in the wall which overlooks the area where Lionel paints. She is up high, he is down low. He gazes up at her room longingly as she is up there, symbolizing that she is above him, in more ways than one. Lionel attacks Paulette's boyfriend (Steve Buscemi) in a bar. Arquette has had it and says she is moving out. She says she feels like a "human sacrifice". Dobie tells her he had been married 4 times before she was born. She has no idea how down he gets. The closing scene has Lionel at his art show where he meets another young woman who he recruits to be his assistant, just like Arquette. The cycle begins again.

The second story is the weakest by far. It's called Life without Zoe and it was directed by Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather films, Apocalypse Now). It is about Zoe, a 12 year old rich girl who lives in the Sherry Netherland Hotel in New York. Her father is a professional flute player who performs around the world. She is cared for by the family butler Hector (Don Novello, best known for his character Father Guido Sarducci). Zoe and friends interview Abu, the new boy at school. He says he has no friends. The hotel is robbed and luckily a precious diamond earring is not stolen from Zoe's father. The earring turns out to belong to a princess who is the aunt of Abu. There is a lavish costume party for the kids and Zoe returns the earring to the princess. The story ends with Zoe and her mother watching the father perform his flute in Greece. The story and acting were poor in this portion of the film. I imagine that Coppola has regrets about releasing it. The first and third stories are so much stronger.

The third story is directed by Woody Allen (Annie Hall, Manhattan, Hannah and Her Sisters, Vicky Christina Barcelona and many more). It is called Oedipus Wrecks since it involves a son's relationship with his mother. Woody plays a 50 year old lawyer at a Manhattan firm. He is often criticized and embarrassed by his demanding mother. He tells a therapist about a dream. His mother is in a coffin and Woody is driving the hearse. Still, she is telling him how to drive. He wishes she would disappear and quit bothering him. In the film, Woody is dating Mia Farrow. They take his mother to a magic show. The magician takes her on stage for a trick. He puts her in a box and puts swords through the box. Woody watches from the audience with a sense of glee. The magician then opens the box and she is gone. He does not know where she went. Her disappearing permanently is not part of the trick. Larry David has a small role backstage as the theatre manager. Woody's mother is missing for a week and he tells his therapist he feels great. One day, Sheldon's (Allen's) mother appears in the sky over Manhattan as an apparition. Everyone can see her and she tells Sheldon what to do, embarrassing him as always. She even takes out baby pictures of him to show everyone. The mother, Sadie, tells Sheldon to not get married. She is even interviewed on the news and the press also hounds Sheldon. He wants to kill himself he is so tormented. The therapist recommends a psychic, Treva, played by Julie Kavner (voice of Marge Simpson). Woody gets discouraged with the psychic's antics. He thinks she is a fraud. She makes him dinner and he finds that he likes her. Lisa (Mia Farrow) leaves a note for Sheldon, saying she is leaving him. Sheldon goes back to Treva, gets engaged and introduces her to his mother. She likes her, and says she will come down. The motherly apparition disappears from the sky and she sits on Sheldon's couch. The story ends with the mother showing Sheldon's baby pictures to Treva.

This was a good showcase for 3 legendary directors to strut their stuff. 2 out of 3 of them were successful.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Music: The Soundtrack of our Lives

Some people limit themselves to only one type of music. I have never understood this. Some only like heavy metal, some only like country or blues. I think that there are outstanding musicians in every genre, so no way would I want to limit myself to just one type of music. Often times one can learn about one type of music by listening to another type that is related. Country fans may get introduced to bluegrass or Southern Rock by way of country artists that may discuss their influences.

Listening to just one kind of music for one's life would be like only eating Italian food, never to taste a burrito or a serving of sweet and sour shrimp. Some are passionate about food, or playing sports, or fishing. For me, music has always been my passion. The only thing that comes close is my interest in film.

In the 1970s, I was introduced to much of my favorite music by way of my 4 older brothers. I looked up to all of them in many ways. I recall some of their 45 rpm records included some by Michael Jackson ("Rockin' Robin"), The Beatles ("Day Tripper"), and Chicago ("Saturday in the Park"). I recall listening to those as well as finding some musicians I liked such as ELO, Barry Manilow (my brothers teased me endlessly about listening to his music), and The Bee Gees. It was the 1970s after all. I recall that one of my first vinyl albums was "Out of the Blue" by Electric Light Orchestra. I was transfixed by the cover art of a spaceship. I think back to the carefree days of listening to "Disco Inferno" by The Tramps while sitting on my bunk bed reading magazines.

The music of the 1980s will always be sentimental to me since those were the years I was in junior high, high school, and most of college. Most people look back on music from those formative years as the best music they have heard since those songs provided the soundtrack for many of the most important happenings in our lives. I will always like Van Halen, Rush, Beastie Boys, Duran Duran and so much of the music from that period. Some of my classmates in high school liked Rush very much so I got into their music as well. I was envious of the kids who witnessed a live concert by Beastie Boys and had the t-shirts to prove it. Back then we had more time to pay attention to music. We did not have the worries that grown ups do such as concerns about our job, finances, or marriage/kids. Music, movies and TV shows of the 1980s will always be important to me. I cannot hear Chicago's "You're the Inspiration" without taking me back to the days of listening to that song over and over on my Sony Walkman cassette player. I would listen to it and think of the girl I had a crush on. "Purple Rain" by Prince and Foreigner's "I Wanna Know What Love Is" will always be bittersweet to me. Those songs were the ones I recall playing at the high school dances after the football and basketball games. In the small town high school cafeteria, those songs would blast through the speakers, and as an adolescent boy there were so many girls I wanted to ask to dance, but seldom had the guts to do so. Nevertheless, those songs make me think of missed opportunities fueled by my feelings of self doubt. One of the best fast songs that was played at the dance was Morris Day and The Time's "The Bird". Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me with Science" takes me back to high school the minute I hear it as well as The Bangles' "Walk Like an Egyptian". Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was such a phenomenon during the 1980s. I don't know if I will ever experience another musical artist who possessed his raw talent. In 1988, I was a counselor at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp and some of my campers were hardcore Led Zeppelin fans, and I became one as well. I can't hear Van Halen's OU812 album without thinking of that fantastic summer.

The music of Beastie Boys led me to appreciate music by Run-DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, The Fat Boys, Kid and Play, Young MC, Tone Loc, and so many more. I recall in 1990-91, that was the time of MC Hammer, Vanilla Ice and 3rd Bass. I still listen to 3rd Bass ("The Gas Face", "Pop Goes the Weasel") a lot, as well as the solo projects put out by members MC Serch and Prime Minister Pete Nice. Around 1992 I began to lose interest in rap since it became all about glamorizing crime, and degrading women. Other than Beastie Boys, I do not follow the rap that is currently being released. Rap in the 1980s was simply about having fun.

The early 1990s saw the rise of hard rock groups like Dangerous Toys, Slaughter and many others I still enjoy. This was a period of decline for the "Hair bands" like Motley Crue, Poison and Cinderella. The grunge period happened and with it we learned about Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains and others. I like all of these groups, and the movie Singles, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, was all about this period. Some members of the grunge groups had small parts in that film.

In the mid-1990s I discovered country music when I heard "Chattahoochie" by Alan Jackson. I became a fan of his as well as Travis Tritt, Garth Brooks, Sammy Kershaw, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and so many more. Travis Tritt became my favorite country artist who I have seen perform 5 times, and through him I learned of his love for Southern Rock such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Allman Brothers, Charlie Daniels and the like. Travis also greatly was influenced by the country outlaws like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Hank Williams Jr. My love of country music led me to not only discover Southern Rock, but bluegrass as well.

I think it was 1997 where the world embraced ska music by artists like Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Reel Big Fish, and No Doubt. I had enjoyed the ska of the group Madness in the 1980s but never explored the genre much until the late 1990s. I came to really enjoy the fun, upbeat music that has horns and often a tongue-in-cheek attitude. 1998 saw the rise of big band music like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Brian Setzer Orchestra, and Squirrel Nut Zippers. Big band music was nothing new, but these groups brought back the sound that was popular when my parents were growing up in the 1930s and 1940s. Being a "band geek" and a fan of horns, I enjoyed it. I also have always had great admiration for the group Chicago and their amazing horn section.

The 1990s and into the 2000s saw the rise of alternative rock like Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, System of a Down, Disturbed, and others. Depending on my mood sometimes I like the aggression and intensity of this music, also some heavy metal bands like Pantera, Megadeth, Metallica, and Stuck Mojo. Music like that can provide great motivation if one is exercising. This period of the 1990s and into the 2000s also saw the rise of punk bands like Blink 182, Green Day and Good Charlotte and I like their music a lot.

At around age 35, in 2005, I started to lose interest in much of the music that was being played on the radio. I delved deeper into classic rock of the 1970s and 1980s. I think that most people eventually lose interest in current music.

One day I might feel like listening to lots of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Allman Brothers. The next day it may be lots of ska like Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Reel Big Fish. Some days it's all country like Travis Tritt and Sammy Kershaw. Maybe I feel like lots of Buddy Rich or Harry Connick Jr. Anyway, there are many "flavors" of music out there. Don't limit yourself to just one, try them all. There's only 2 types of music, good and bad.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Film Analysis: Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous

Now and then I like to take one of my favorite films and write an extensive blog entry where I dissect the movie. One of my favorite writer/director filmmakers has to be Cameron Crowe. His works include Say Anything, Singles, Jerry Maguire, Elizabethtown and Vanilla Sky. Also, he wrote the book that became the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High. His films are not blockbusters that make hundreds of millions of dollars. They are not filled with explosions or special effects. They are works of art which have the story as the focus of the film. Crowe is a music lover, and rock music often plays a significant role in his films. Almost Famous and Singles are the two of his films which have music featured prominently. The top photo above shows writer/director Cameron Crowe with his Academy Award. Picture #2 shows Philip Seymour Hoffman as the Creem magazine writer Lester Bangs. Picture #3 shows rock journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) and "band aid" Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) backstage watching the band Stillwater perform. Picture #4 has the band Stillwater and various cast members in front of the tour bus. The bottom picture is the official poster for Almost Famous.

Almost Famous was released in 2000, and was hailed by critics as outstanding. Roger Ebert called it the best film of the year. 88% of the critics liked it according to Entertainment Weekly magazine gave it a grade of A+. The film won two Golden Globe awards, one for best picture and one for best supporting actress, Kate Hudson. It received four Oscar nominations and Cameron Crowe won for best screenplay. In 2001, the Almost Famous soundtrack won a Grammy. The movie was filled with outstanding music, mostly from the 1970s. The soundtrack had songs by Simon and Garfunkel, The Who, Black Sabbath, The Allman Brothers, Elton John and many more. The average music budget for a film is $1.5 million. The music budget for Almost Famous was $3.5 million.

Key characters in Almost Famous;

Patrick Fugit--- William Miller (main character, rock journalist)
Frances McDormand--- Elaine (William's mom)
Zooey Deschanel--- Anita (William's sister)
Philip Seymour Hoffman--- Lester Bangs (writer for Creem magazine)
Kate Hudson--- Penny Lane (one of the "band aids")
Billy Crudup--- Russell Hammond (guitarist for Stillwater)
Jason Lee--- Jeff Bebe (lead singer for Stillwater)

Budget: $60 million
Box office gross: $47.3 million

This film is semi-autobiographical since the lead character tours with rock bands in the 1970s, and Cameron Crowe did the same thing. Crowe was a writer for Rolling Stone as a teenager and he wrote articles about bands with which he toured such as Led Zeppelin and Allman Brothers. The best critic's quote I have read regarding Crowe's films was from Entertainment Weekly magazine; "Every Cameron Crowe film is in one way or another, about romance, rock and roll, and his romance with rock and roll." On the bonus footage of the DVD, Crowe said "The goal was to write a love letter back to music." He also said "Music is usually more profound than anything the actors will say." Crowe felt that Almost Famous was a work that was important to him and he said "I'm getting stuff said on film that matters to me." The movie had been brewing in Crowe's mind for many years before it got made. He wrote the songs performed by the band Stillwater with his wife Nancy Wilson of the group Heart.

Almost Famous starts with shots of San Diego at Christmas time, 1969, after the hand written credits. William Miller's mom is overprotective of her son and daughter. She tells her son to stay away from rock and roll since she thinks that many rock and roll performers are "on pot." William's sister leaves home to start a new life as a stewardess. She tells her little brother "Look under your bed--it'll set you free." She had left vinyl albums by performers such as The Beach Boys, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, and more. There is a note with the albums that says "Listen to Tommy with a candle burning and you will see your entire future."

Skip to 1973, and William reads the rock and roll magazine Creem. He idolizes the rock writer, Lester Bangs. He meets Bangs outside a radio station and gets the advice to not make friends with the rock stars. Rock writers hang out with rock stars to make them feel cool. Miller gets hired to cover Black Sabbath at a San Diego concert. He cannot get in to interview them, but he meets Penny Lane, who is a groupie, or as she calls it, a "band aid". William gets a chance to interview the opening band Stillwater and he watches them perform from backstage. Penny tells William "If you ever get lonely, go to the record store and visit all your friends."

William and Penny go to Los Angeles to meet up with Stillwater at the Hyatt House hotel, called the Riot House. Rolling Stone calls William and they want him to tour with Stilwater and write about them. They do not realize how young he is, he is only 15. The Stillwater tour bus says "Almost Famous Tour '73."

Next stop on the tour is Tempe Arizona. Stillwater says to William "Just make us look cool." Russell gets electrocuted when he grabs a mic on stage and the band flees the venue, not finishing the show and angering the manager of the facility.

In Topeka Kansas, Stillwater gets their band t-shirts and a fight ensues when the shirts feature Russell the guitar player not the lead singer. Russell and William go to a party and Russell gets high on acid and jumps off a roof into a pool. He screams "I am a golden god" which was supposedly said by Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. As the leave Topeka they sing Elton John's Tiny Dancer. When I see this scene I get chills down my spine. William says "I need to go home." Penny says "You are home." The band and their followers have a sense of camaraderie. Penny struggles with real life and sees the life on the road as a way to escape from her issues.

In Cleveland, the band meets a new manager played by Jimmy Fallon. He will have them tour by plane, not bus.

In Boston, the band loses the right to have the "band aids" travel with them in a card game. The girls will be given to the band Humble Pie for $50 and a case of beer.

In New York, William finds out he has the cover story. Penny Lane is in New York and she is sad since she loves Russell but he does not love her back. She overdoses on Quaaludes and almost dies. The band has a rough plane ride on the way to Tupelo, Mississippi, perhaps an homage to the Lynyrd Skynyrd plane crash? When the band thinks the plane will crash, they confess their secrets.

Back in San Francisco at the Rolling Stone headquarters, the magazine wonders how they can put together a story from Williams' notes. They find out how young he is. Rolling Stone loves the article but Stillwater says the facts are fabricated. Later they say to go ahead and publish it. Stillwater embarks on the "No more airplanes tour '74." Rolling Stone prints the cover story and Penny follows her dream of going to Morocco.

I love the movie since music and movies are the two things in my life that have brought me the most enjoyment. Cameron Crowe's films speak to me on a personal level. I thought the key people in the movie that were outstanding included Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson (her best film in my opinion, it all went downhill for her after this), and Billy Crudup. The fictional band was great, thanks to Peter Frampton, who was a technical advisor who helped the actors to look authentic on stage.

*Some material for this article from,, and the Almost Famous DVD bonus footage.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

VH1 Classic's That Metal Show

This show is a must see for all fans of hard rock and heavy metal. It has been on VH1 Classic on Saturday nights for seven seasons. TV seasons on cable are short, only 8-10 episodes per season with 2 seasons per year. That Metal Show first aired in November of 2008 and started as a 30 minute show. In season six, it expanded to an hour. The first four seasons were shot in New York, then starting with season five, they switched to Los Angeles for the tapings. Guests on the show have included many of the greats from the world of popular music such as Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, Ace Frehley, Duff McKagan, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, and many more.

That Metal Show's main host is Eddie Trunk, who is a veteran of the music industry, and New York radio and TV. Trunk was born in New Jersey in 1964 and he once was vice president of Megaforce Records, the label that signed bands like Metallica and Anthrax. He also worked as an executive producer for various hard rock and metal bands. Currently he hosts a radio show for Q104.3 in New York and he has a show on XM radio's Boneyard channel. Also, he is the music host and interviewer for MSG TV network in New York. He is an unabashed fan of Kiss and Bon Jovi, often ranting about how it is a crime that Kiss is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He recently wrote a book called "Eddie Trunk's Essential Hard Rock and Heavy Metal".

The show is co-hosted by two stand up comedians who are also metal mavens like Trunk. Jim Florentine (from Comedy Central's Crank Yankers) and Don Jamieson inject some humor into the show.

That Metal Show has some staples of the show that are included in the program each week. Stump the Trunk is a segment where Eddie Trunk shows off his knowledge of music trivia. Audience members ask him questions and if he cannot answer the question, then the audience member gets a prize. Each week they do a top 5 list where each of the 3 hosts put in their 2 cents on a certain topic and they come up with the quintessential list. For instance a topic might be top 5 drummers in the world of heavy metal/hard rock. The Throwdown is a segment where each week they take 2 minutes to discuss a certain topic. It might be something like-who is the best grunge era band, Nirvana, Alice in Chains or Soundgarden? The show has a guitar player who will play a few licks as they go to commercial, so that is cool to see who they will get to do the show.

I like this show a lot since there is nothing on TV like it. I am a fan of many of the bands they discuss such as Megadeth, Van Halen, Rush, Metallica, Motley Crue, Ratt, and more. Eddie Trunk is so passionate about music, and it is interesting to hear the guests talk about behind the scenes aspects of the music industry.

*Some material from

Monday, March 07, 2011

2011 Oscar Recap

Hosts: James Franco and Anne Hathaway

Best picture: The King's Speech

Best actor: Colin Firth (The King's Speech)

Best actress: Natalie Portman (Black Swan)

Best supporting actor: Christian Bale (The Fighter)

Best supporting actress: Melissa Leo (The Fighter)

Best director: Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)

Animated feature: Toy Story 3

Documentary feature: Inside Job

Original screenplay: The King's Speech

* Source: Entertainment Weekly magazine

Oscar Winner Christian Bale's Career

Christian Bale has just been awarded the Oscar for best supporting actor for his role in The Fighter. He is known as someone who immerses himself in a role 100%. He has not been an overnight success, starting out as a child actor in the 1980s. He came from a showbiz family, with a grandfather who was an actor, and his mother worked for the circus, and the family traveled extensively.

He was born in Wales in 1974 and earned a role in Anastasia, a made for TV movie in 1986. The film co-starred Amy Irving, then the wife of director Steven Spielberg. She recommended Bale for the role in Spielberg's next film, Empire of the Sun. That film was released in 1987 and Bale received critical acclaim. The National Board of Review voted him the best juvenile performance for the film. He enjoyed the acting but found the press junkets to be repetitive and grueling. He wanted to be a kid, and was disillusioned by the loss of his privacy. He vowed to never act again.

The acting hiatus only lasted a year and Bale filmed Henry the Fifth with Kenneth Branagh and Judi Dench. Around this time he also did a TV movie with Charlton Heston. In 1992 Bale did the film Newsies which was a musical. He endured a grueling schedule of singing and dancing lessons before filming the project. The movie was a flop, and so was his next work, Swing Kids (1993). But, even if the films were not seen by a wide audience, Bale received critical acclaim for his acting skills. In 1994 he did the film Little Women, where he developed a friendship with co-star Winona Ryder. She ended up introducing him to his wife.

Bale continued working in films through the 1990s, but his breakthrough role came in 2000 with American Psycho. This film was first put together in 1997 but went through changes in script, cast and crew. This was based on a novel by Bret Easton Ellis who wrote the book Less than Zero, which was a 1980s film with Robert Downey, Jr. American Psycho was a profile of Patrick Bateman, a deranged materialistic Wall Street yuppie from the 1980s obsessed with sex and violence. The film had a budget of $6 million. Lion's Gate Pictures did not know if Bale was right for the role. For a period of time, it looked like Leonardo DiCaprio would star and Oliver Stone would direct, but those plans fell through. Mary Harmon ended up as the director, and she was impressed with Bale's intensity and dedication to his craft. The film was not a hit at the box office and had mixed reviews from the critics. But, once it was released on DVD it caught on as a cult classic. It had a mixed reception at Sundance and the MPAA wanted to give it an NC-17 rating. Edits were made to make it an R rated film. I think it is a fantastic script and the performance by Bale is mesmerizing.

After American Psycho, the next film that caught the attention of critics and audiences was The Machinist in 2004. This was about an emaciated man who was a tortured soul who had insomnia and guilt over committing a crime. He lost 60 pounds to do this film, going from 180 pounds to 120 pounds. He ate less than 500 calories per day and was physically exhausted on the set. This is an example of how he committed to the role completely. It made me think of Robert DeNiro's transformation from muscular to fat in Raging Bull.

In 2005, Batman Begins was released and Bale had pressure on him to succeed with this franchise, which had been damaged by the George Clooney vehicle, Batman and Robin. It was well received, as well as 2007's The Dark Knight. Bale's next Batman work will be released in 2012 and will be called The Dark Knight Rises. He stays in character the whole time when doing these films, even wanting the name Bruce Wayne on his door of his dressing room.

2008 had Bale starring in Terminator Salvation, where he had an on-set tirade, yelling at the director of photography when he was trying to film a scene. He was mad since the camera operator was walking around while Bale was trying to concentrate on his scene. He was screaming "Are you professional?" Bale gave a public apology on a radio show in 2009 and said his actions were "inexcusable".

The 2010 film The Fighter has Bale co-starring with Mark Wahlberg and Amy Adams. He plays a crack addicted boxing coach and former boxer Dicky Eklund, who works with his half brother to make him a champion. Like with his other roles, that part showed how Bale can transform himself like a chameleon in terms of his physical appearance and his mannerisms and way of speaking. I think he is one of the best actors working today. The role earned Bale a Golden Globe, an Oscar, a Screen Actor's Guild award and many other accolades from film critics.

* Some information from Biography channel program about Christian Bale, and

Monday, February 14, 2011

Scarface Remains one of Pacino's Best Films

One of my favorite actors is Al Pacino, known for films such as Dog Day Afternoon, Serpico, The Godfather trilogy, Heat, The Devil's Advocate, Donnie Brasco, and Scent of a Woman. I think that one of his best roles has to be Cuban drug lord Tony Montana in Scarface (1983). It is a re-make of the 1932 film which was directed by Howard Hawks and written by Ben Hecht. The 1983 version was dedicated to Hawks and Hecht. The 1932 film was based on the life of mobster Al Capone, in the days of prohibition.The 1983 film dealt not with the illegal sale of alcohol, but cocaine. The Pacino film was directed by Brian DePalma, who also directed The Untouchables, Carrie and Carlito's Way. It was produced by Martin Bregman who also worked with Pacino on Serpico, Dog Day Afternoon and Carlito's Way. The screenplay was written by Oliver Stone, who also wrote films such as Wall Street, Midnight Express and Born on the Fourth of July. Ironically, Stone fought cocaine addiction himself while writing the screenplay. In addition to Pacino, the film co-stars Steven Bauer as Manny Ribera, Tony's right hand man. Michelle Pfeiffer plays Elvira Hancock, the cold, distant girlfriend of Tony's mentor, Frank Lopez, played by Robert Loggia. Tony's sister Gina is played by Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio.

The film was not loved by everyone. Roger Ebert gave it 4 stars (his highest rating), but film critic Leonard Maltin gave it a poor review. Despite being nominated for 3 Golden Globes, it was also nominated for a Razzie award for worst director, Brian DePalma. Some saw the film as being too violent, with too much profanity. There are 42 people killed in the film. It originally recieved an X rating by the MPAA. The filmmakers knew they could not release an X rated film and have a wide audience. They edited the film, cutting out a lot of the violence. The rating was revised to an R. But, before its release, DePalma actually submitted the original X rated version to theaters. Yes, the film is violent, but so is the world of cocaine trafficking. I see it as being an accurate depiction of that lifestyle.

Scarface is about Tony Montana, who was able to leave Cuba in 1980 when Castro released thousands of refugees to go to Miami. It turned out that many who were coming to America had criminal records. Tony and his friend Manny work in a restaurant briefly washing dishes but decide that they need to sell drugs in order to make some real money. Tony learns about the business from Frank Lopez and eventually surpasses him and takes his girlfriend as well. Scarface is about Tony climbing to the highest level of being a drug lord, but through that process he loses his friends, his family, and himself. It is a portrait of a man who seeks power but only finds weakness and paranoia. He turns to drugs in order to escape from himself. His descent into cocaine addiction is swift, disturbing, and it has a violent ending.

This could have been a very different film. John Travolta was considered for the role of Manny. Robert DeNiro was considered for the role of Tony, but he turned it down. Sidney Lumet was the first choice for director but he did not take the job. The following actresses turned down the role of Elvira: Rosanna Arquette, Melanie Griffith, Kim Basinger, Jodie Foster, Brooke Shields. Two others who auditioned were Geena Davis and Sharon Stone.

A scene in the movie has Tony looking up at a blimp with the message "The World is Yours". He has a statue in his house with a globe above with those words on it. The 1932 film had this phrase on a billboard when Tony Camonte died (Paul Muni).

Scarface has become a bit of a cult classic. It is popular with many in the hip hop community and in 2006 a Scarface video game was released. Its budget was $25 million and it has made $45 million in the US and $65 million worldwide at the box office. It is not a short film, with a length of 170 minutes. But, I put it up there with 2 other favorites, Casino and The Godfather, both which are also about 3 hours. It is long, but it takes time to tell the story, and I think it is a well crafted screenplay. Tony Montana is a hero in the same way as characters from films such as Good Fellas, The Godfather, Casino, Donnie Brasco, Carlito's Way and even Tony Soprano from the HBO show The Sopranos. People see the organized crime lifestyle as glamorous and powerful, with fancy cars, houses and everything a person could want. Those things are part of the lifestyle, but people in that life also sell their souls.

*Some material from