Monday, May 29, 2006

Of Mice and Squirrels

At one point in history it seemed that the mouse ruled the animated world. The king of all animated cartoon characters is, of course, Mickey Mouse. Other classic mouse characters include Jerry (of "Tom and" fame), Mighty Mouse, Speedy Gonzalez, Pikachu, Danger Mouse, Stuart Little, Pinky and the Brain, Hanna-Barbera's Mush Mouse and Motormouse, and Itchy from The Simpsons.

Mice were animated in memorable shorts such as the Warner Brothers "The Honeymousers" cartoon, and in full-length animated films like The Rescuers, An American Tale, The Great Mouse Detective and Dumbo.

But today, for my money, the best animated characters going are squirrels.

Yes, I said squirrels. Consider:

Twitchy the squirrel in Hoodwinked (my favorite animated film since The Incredibles, which had no squirrels) had the biggest laughs in that film. Same goes for the squirrel called Scrat in the recent Ice Age 2.

Did anyone bother to see The Wild? Aside from the fact that Disney managed to shamelessly rip off Dreamworks' Madagascar, the only good thing I can say about that utter waste of 90 minutes is this: the movie had a squirrel named Benny (voiced by Jim Belushi) and he was funny. I think I smiled once during that movie, and that was at something Benny said.

Steve Carell is providing the voice of Hammy the Squirrel for the newly released Dreamworks Animation feature Over the Hedge. Again, I thought the squirrel had the best moments, even though I did not like the film.

Squirrels are doing well in cartoons these days. The late Rocky (of "and Bullwinkle" fame) would be proud.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

A Prairie Film Companion

Yesterday I had planned three screenings at the Seattle Film Festival.

The first, winner of awards all over the world and well-received at Cannes (it also cleaned up every major honor at the Transylvania Film Festival), was the Romanian film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. It's a dark tale about a sick man who is unable to get the medical care he needs. What begins as a darkly comic film as Mr. Lazarescu shuffles about drinking and complaining to his neighbors about the pains in this stomach and head, plummets into a nightmarish race in an ambulance from hospital to hospital in order to get medical treatment before he dies. I liked the first half of this film, and wanted to like it all, but I found it overlong and ultimately just too bleak.

We were late to our second film of the day, the documentary The Giant Buddahs, and ended up watching X-Men 3 instead, a film I thought suffered without previous X-Men director Bryan Singer at the helm.

Since the mid-1980's, I have been fond of Garrison Keillor's public radio program "A Prairie Home Companion." Its folksy, homespun sensibility has always brought me pleasure. Blending folk and gospel music, live radio drama, and old-fashioned storytelling centered in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, Minnesota, Keillor practices an art lost to radio programming today.

My love of his radio show and books generated an interest in seeing the musical comedy A Prairie Home Companion, directed by the American auteur Robert Altman (Nashville, M*A*S*H, Gosford Park among many others). Keillor wrote the script at Altman's request about a businessman (Tommy Lee Jones) who buys Keillor's radio station with plans to turn the theater into a parking lot. The film is in real time, taking place over the course of the final performance of the "Companion" radio show, with most of the action taking place back stage as a mysterious interloper played by Virginia Madsen enters the WTL theater during the performance. Kevin Kline is at the height of his comic powers as Guy Noir, the detective and WTL security expert who is "hot" on Madsen's tail. Altman's film is intimately staged and shot, masterfully directed, genuinely moving at times and truly funny at others. The cast, which includes Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly and Lindsay Lohan, are perfect in their roles as performers on GK's radio show.

A Prairie Home Companion opens June 9.

Friday, May 26, 2006

SIFF Comes to Town

The 2006 Seattle International Film Festival kicked off yesterday and will showcase more than 270 feature films from all over the world at twelve venues in Seattle. I lament I have neither the time nor the funds to see them all, but I'll do what I can. During the next four weeks, I plan to attend many films -- a premiere or two, mainstream films, independent films, foreign films and a documentary.

Attending a film festival is an exciting and unique way of experiencing a movie. While attending a screening at a film festival one is among an audience who is there because they love movies. They appreciate the art form and the power of motion pictures to thrill us, move us, educate us, and bring us together.

It is also a thrill for the movie buff to connect with the people who make the films screened at the film festival -- the writers, directors and actors who bring stories and ideas to celluloid.

I have many fond memories of festivals past. One particularly memorable event was a forum with the late actor Richard Harris, who spoke about his craft and his career. It amused my wife and me that Harris smoked discreetly on stage whenever the lights were dimmed to show clips from his body of work. My wife's favorite movie is Camelot, and she was thrilled to meet Harris, who autographed the cover of her double-CD soundtrack of the film. It also amused us that he wore dark canvas sneakers with his tan suit.

The Tarrantino Tutorial several years ago was an interesting diversion as well. The writer/director/actor has not only a passion for but an an impressive collection of B-movie westerns and teen "juvenile deliquent" films from the 1950's, a few of which he shared with his class. The point of the tutorial was to illustrate the fact that many B-movies, which are no longer seen and are mostly forgotten, contained some superior filmmaking, and should remain an important part of American film history.

Last year I learned that Paul Reiser is shorter than he looks on TV.

Although I was in Chicago when the festival opened, I return to Seattle later today. Saturday is shaping up to be a full day of film-going.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I love Chicago - what a great town!

I am staying this week on Ontario right off Michigan Avenue, where much of the action is, and when I arrived (after a three hour flight delay) I sought out a quaint spot for a bite. Some of the best restaurants in the world are here in this town, but there are just some types of restaurants that one needs a dining companion to truly enjoy.

Instead, I found an Irish pub that looked "local" enough for my taste (I try to avoid the chains when traveling -- why not partake of local color?) and thought I would give it a whirl. There's an Irish place in Seattle's Post Alley I enjoy lunching at. I like the Irish food, and am always pleased to be greeted by a hostess with an Irish brogue.

So I settled into my table at this little Irish pub and ordered the fish and chips. And although my meal was fine, the Irish color I was looking for was lacking somewhat due to the thick Hispanic accent of my waiter.

All in all my trip this week is going well. I look forward to getting home Friday night and seeing my family.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Fire Safety

My daughter and I were speaking with one of our local firefighters recently, at a safety demonstration that was part of a Healthy Kids Day sponsored by the YMCA.

Afterward, I asked her what she can do to prevent fires in the home. She replied with three safety tips:

- Don’t light candles
- Don’t let bad guys with fire into the house
- Don’t bring bombs into the house

I cannot argue her logic.

Friday, May 19, 2006

American Idol Sits Around

American Idol is a benefit to society (humanity?) because it "encourages people to sit around and watch TV together." That's what Today Show host Katie said to Idol's Paula Abdul on Friday morning. Paula was talking about how American Idol (a show I do not watch, by the way, though I will miss Elliott the underdog despite the fact that it was his time to go -- loosen up, Elliott!) has saved marriages and kept kids out of military school.

Is this television program really the elixir to cure society's ills? Perhaps I would have reacted more positively to the idea had Katie not used the term "sit around." Perhaps if the show were to encourage people to get out and get more exercise, or to encourage people to become more involved in their communities, or to encourage people to...well, do something besides sit around and watch TV?

I don't know about you, but with Katharine and Taylor down to the final show, I am overcome with the urge to sit around and watch TV together with someone. Doggone it, Katie!

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Gathering of Friends

I had the privilege of spending the evening with some old friends last Friday night in South Carolina. We enjoyed pizza, fellowship, and some old student movies.

It had been a long time since Rickwell, Carlos, Jelly, Frog and I were all together.*

Two friends who were not in attendance (and who have been out of touch) were Critter and Homer, pictured at left in a scene from Burglar Alarm.**

To echo the sentiments of those gathered there, it's comforting to know that friendships established many years ago have weathered time and distance, and reuniting after so many years is like picking things up after only so many days.

"A friend may well be reckoned the masterpiece of Nature." - Emerson

*My personal nicknames for these fine men are Larry, Dave, Jells and Fran, though it has been many years since the nickname Larry has been used. In fact, forget I mentioned the name "Larry." I no longer go that terrible place.

** Ditto Crap-Sack and H-Boy.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Flirting with Disaster

My daughter and I returned a short while ago from a week's vacation in South Carolina.

On the flight from Dulles my daughter kept singing, "We're goin' down, down, down into a burnin' ring of fire" with a Southern twang that is not her own. I have no idea where she learned the song; we have never listened to Johnny Cash at home.

Before long, the song had turned to, "We're goin' down, down, down in a burnin' ring of airplane" and I had to ask her to put a sock in it.

My wife picked us up from the airport and as I lounged on the sofa weary with jet lag, my daughter had asked my wife to help her with her writing.

My wife chose two words for my daughter to practice her penmanship on: Happy and Love.

"What word would you like to practice writing?" asked my wife.

"Corpse," replied my daughter, matter-of-factly.

I hope she's not working on my Father's Day card already.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Burglar Alarm

Twenty years after it was completed I remastered and re-edited a student film entitled The Burglar Alarm.

It was an interesting process for me to take work completed twenty years ago in high school and approach it fresh. It is also interesting that I found enough value in it to want to return to it so many years later.

The most important element in transforming a poorly edited student movie into something of a keepsake or memento was my good fortune at having my old collaborator Alan compose new music for the movie. I have been most pleased with the results.

Those of us who worked hard on the original as a class project will soon gather together to view the results.

Above: Co-Producers George and Steve are blacking out windows for day-for-night photography on The Burglar Alarm: December 30, 1985.

Friday, May 05, 2006

More What I am Watching

I enjoy watching movies and news more than anything else on television. Now that Arrested Development has been cancelled, there is nothing currently on network TV that I care anything about. (I unequivocally do not watch American Idol, though I thought Paris should have been axed two weeks ago, she was so annoying! And does Elliott stand a chance?)

Usually, when I stretch out in front of TV I flip hopelessly through the channels so rapidly that my wife is forced to leave the room in frustration.

(The exception is Good Eats on the Food Network. I stop clicking for that one. That nutty chef is from Georgia and and has the most interesting cooking show ever produced. But that one aside, there is not much on worth stopping my flipping for.)

How I miss Seinfeld and Frasier.

What I have become, well, addicted to, are reruns of Match Game on GSN. The game show ran on CBS during the 1970's.

What is it about that show that keeps me tuning in weekdays between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. PDT whenever I am at home? (Or whenever American Idol isn't on, which I am not watching anyway.) Is it the show's wacky host, Gene Rayburn? The ever-cool, pre-Feud Richard Dawson? The flaming Charles Nelson Reilly, who is always cracking me up? And what about that nitwit Brett Somers? Who was she, anyway? I don't think I have ever seen her on anything except Match Game.

Is it because half the celebrity panel is three sheets to the wind and are often caught on camera wandering aimlessly around the set? You'd never see that on game shows today. Alex Trebec would saw their feet off.

No, I think it's the 70's hair and wardrobe that keeps me coming back to Match Game night after night after night. It just may inspire me to invest in a brown and orange plaid leisure suit.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

My Daughter the Photographer

During our recent trip to the Seattle Space Needle I allowed my daughter to take seven or eight photographs of her choosing.
Above: I posed for this photograph on the exterior deck of the Needle.

Premium Essential Dress Pant, pleated, by Dockers, $70. Men's Dress Shirt with pointed collar by Bill Blass, $42. Cotton / Polyester / Nylon blend Pryor raincoat featuring a full-button front, covered placket and point collar by Ralph Lauren, $375.