Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Emmys – Downton Abbey vs Mad Men

I’m a fan of Mad Men and Downton Abbey. Both have been nominated for an Emmy in the Best Drama Series category. AMC’s Mad Men has won in this category for the last four years. Last year PBS’ Downton Abbey won the Emmy in the Best Mini-series category but this year it goes head to head with Mad Men. There are four other series nominated in this category, HBO’s Boardwalk Empire (I’m also a big fan) and Game of Thrones (my daughter loves it), Showtime’s Homeland, and Breaking Bad, also of AMC that will contend.

Hugh Bonneville of Abbey and Jon Hamm of Mad Men are also nominated for Lead Actor in a Drama Series category along with Steve Buscemi from Boardwalk Empire.

I saw Hugh Bonneville in London earlier this year in the play, 3 Days in May. He was wonderful as Winston Churchill. He and Buscemi are wonderful actors with range. I like Jon Hamm as Don Draper but I have not seen the kind of range in him that Buscemi and Bonneville have.

It is interesting that Downton Abbey is the only non-cable series nominated.
I have not seen Breaking Bad or Homeland (I don’t have Showtime) so it is really hard to make a comparison, nonetheless, I am picking Abbey to win.

Do you have a favorite, or a pick? We will know on Sept. 23.

P.S. In the old days, it was much easier to make comparisons – there were only three major networks and cable, much less pay-cable didn’t exist. Now, there is so much more product available that it is difficult to see everything. That is exacerbated by the fact that much of the product is on various pay-cable channels. Unless you pay for all the channels available (who can afford that?) you can’t see everything.

The good news is, there is so much choice available today – the bad news is there is so much choice available today.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dragon Boat

I attended the 12th annual Colorado Dragon Boat Festival over the weekend. This celebration of Asian Culture has grown each year both in attendance, the size of the venue and the number of vendors and exhibitors.

The Festival is held at Sloan’s Lake on Denver’s northwest side. The completion by the city of the new marina and related facilities has allowed the ‘Dragon’s footprint to extend farther east than in the past. With the increased attendance and multiple performance spaces this is helpful as it helps the volume overlap (particularly the new Band stage in the beer garden).

The new marina and dock allowed for the use of WOW balls for kids near the Dragonland children’s area. WOW (Walk on Water) balls are like giant clear plastic hamster balls. They look like fun, and I even thought that I might like to try, but then…..

There is always a risk that as an event grows that its original purpose gets lost in the growth. So far that has not happened with CDBF. Although there seems to be less attention paid to the Dragon Boat races themselves by most visitors than to the Marketplace and Asian Food Court vendors as well as the performance stages. But then, while the boat races are central to the festival, the broader mission is the celebration of the various Asian Pacific cultures and that works.

This is a fun festival, even in the heat – but then that is why there are parasols.

Friday, July 27, 2012


“Dogs like us; we ain’t such dogs as we think we are.” Marty the butcher to Clara the teacher, in the movie, Marty.

Who could write such a line? Paddy Chayefsky - One of those wonderful writers – Rod Serling was another - who came out of television in the fifties. Chayefsky wrote Marty as a teleplay for the Goodyear Playhouse. Goodyear Playhouse along with others such as Playhouse 90, were staples of early television and produced programs that later ended up as feature films, as Marty and Requiem for a Heavyweight did.

Who could deliver such a line? Ernest Borgnine.

Turner Classic Movies, yesterday, was running films featuring Borgnine in remembrance of his death earlier this month. So back to back I saw Marty and then From Here to Eternity featuring Borgnine as the sadistic stockade Seargent of the Guard who brutalizes Frank Sinatra as Maggio. Seeing Borgnine as Marty and then shortly after as Fatso in Eternity showed his range as an actor.

I have one of those 6 degrees of separation things with Borgnine. When I was still working in LA, his daughter Nancy Borgnine was my agent. I never met Ernest.

Marty is ‘slice of life’ drama and it fulfills one of the tenets of Aristotle’s Poetics. Everything occurs in a 24 hour period of time.

It is really just a sweet movie, with characters that you care about and hope will be happy and in whom you may see yourself. It is a simple story that draws you in because of the writing and the performances: both Borgnine and Betsy Blair as Clara.

It was nice to see it again, last night.

“Dogs like us; we ain’t such dogs as we think we are.” What a hopeful line and one I think may resonate (even secretly) with all of us.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Airline deregulation - really?

I remember sitting beside San Francisco Bay late one night (I was fishing for Jack Smelt) in the mid 70s. I was listening to a late-night news interview program on my portable radio. The conversation was about what a great thing deregulation of the airlines would be. The proponent was stating that competition would lower fares, service would be better, consumers would be happier and the industry would thrive. Get government out of the way and it will be heaven on earth, or at least in the sky.

I don’t remember who was touting this – greatest thing since sliced bread – but I do remember thinking this is not a great idea.

Today, I believe I was right.

Have you flown lately? How do you feel about service? How do you feel about the product being delivered?

There are those that will say that fares today are cheaper than they were in 1979. But are they really? The comparison is always to the cost of the ‘average’ round-trip fare of thirty years ago and today in today’s dollars. But I don’t think that is a realistic way to judge the success or failure of deregulation. Some routes might have a lower dollar cost for the ticket, but some routes may well be higher.

But more relevantly, what does that ticket buy you? Is it the same quality product? Experience? Service?

Do you now have to factor in the cost of buying food, checked luggage, blankets, headsets?

Is the seat as comfortable? Do you have the same amount of legroom?

What is the cost to you in productivity or actually cash in terms of interminable flight delays and cancellations?

Arguably the product has deteriorated significantly. If you could buy the same airline product and experience of thirty years ago, today, what would it cost?
What is the value you are actually getting for your airline ticket dollar compared to thirty years ago?

Additionally, the industry is worse off. Airlines are struggling. Many have gone out of business or into bankruptcy. Where are Pan Am, TWA, Eastern, Braniff, PSA?

Deregulation? You can have it.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The River








Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is it live or is it Memorex?

Car talk is going away, or is it? Tom and Ray Magliozzi - Click and Clack, The Tappet Brother - have announced that their last live broadcast will be this fall. But apparently, NPR plans to continue the Saturday radio staple by rebroadcasting shows from the past.

At first, I thought: what? You’re just going to repackage and rebroadcast old material? Is this just some way to save money while at the same time maintaining the high ratings of this show? At first I even thought it seemed almost dishonest. It was a knee-jerk reaction.

But then, I thought about it.

Terry and I are both fans of the show and its laugh out loud segments and I don’t doubt that hearing them again we will find them just as funny.

We watch reruns of Mary Tyler Moore, and Bob Newhart, etc. and we find them just as funny as when they were first broadcast.

So, while a radio call-in show is a somewhat different animal, it is still entertainment and comedy and I expect to still find it funny.

So Bob and Ray, we will miss you, but not as much as if we did not have the Memorex.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Two Passings - Kitty Wells and Pagliacci's

Word to day of two passings: Kitty Wells, the ‘Queen’ of Country music has died, and long-time North Denver Italian Restaurant, Paglicci’s will close in August. Pagliacci’s, of that wonderful sign that is visible from I-25, has been a fixture in North Denver since 1946. I love the lasagna, the atmosphere and the service. But mostly I love the Minestrone soup, which brings me to a fond memory of the restaurant. It was a cold and wintry night (I think it may actually have been Halloween) and we were coming back from some event or other and decided to eat out before heading home. We stopped at Pagliacci’s. Inside we were told that they were closed. The storm and a lack of customers were the reason. We understood, but as we turned to leave, we remarked that on such a night, we had really been looking forward to some of their great Minestrone. The manager asked us to wait a minute. He went to the kitchen and returned shortly with two quart containers of soup and handed them to us. I asked what I owed, and he said nothing - drive home safely and enjoy the soup. That was Pagliacci’s and that is North Denver. Pagliacci’s will now be gone and North Denver is changing but at least, there is still Patsy’s. I saw Kitty Wells in Scott City, Kansas in, I think, the summer of 1964. I was bowled over. I can still hear her singing the Jimmy Work song ‘Making Believe’. She is the reason I went on to learn and play that song myself. That plaintive voice was made to sing sad country songs. As has been noted in obituary pieces today, she ‘broke’ the male barrier in country music. She, like Maybelle Carter, also accompanied herself on guitar, leading the way for contemporary female country singers like Emmylou Harris. It was still unusual for female country singers in the fifties and sixties to play guitar. She is gone but we still have the music and the legacy.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The joy of discovery – new reading

There was a time when almost every book I read came from a library. I didn’t have the kind of income to afford buying every hardback book (or paperback, for that matter) that I wanted to read. The upside to that was the discovery of writers or books, I knew nothing about. My high school literature classes focused on reading the classic novels of western civilization and to a lesser degree some modern fiction. Being exposed to Moby Dick was wonderful, but what else was I missing? I was and am an avid reader, so I was always looking for new material. The Library. Instead of going to search out a specific title or author, I would browse the fiction shelves, looking for something that would grab my attention (I would do this with non-fiction as well). Something about the title or subject matter would attract me. I would check the book out and read it. As my dad used to say, sometimes it was chicken and sometimes it was feathers. Sometimes I was rewarded and sometimes disappointed. More often I was rewarded. But I was never disappointed that I had taken the chance to read a book or author of which I was unfamiliar. I still do that. I still browse library shelves (sometimes that browsing is done online) looking for something new. I have had a number of wonderful finds, recently including a detective series I was unfamiliar with. I am a sucker for detective fiction and I was happy to find this series. The detective is Inspector Ian Rutledge of Scotland Yard. The novels are set in the period just after World War One. Rutledge had served in France during the war, barely survived and returned to England after the war emotionally and mentally scarred. He also returned to his detective role at Scotland Yard with the voice in his head of one of his compatriots – a man named Hamish – who had not survived the war. Hamish’s death is a lot of what haunts Rutledge as he goes about his work. I am fascinated by the period, 1919-1920, the character is interesting and the novels very readable. Also interesting is the author – in reality two authors. It is a mother and son who write under the pen name Charles Todd (though that is also the name of the son, the mother is Caroline). They both live on the east coast but not in the same state, which must make collaboration interesting. This is not Agatha Christie style detective fiction nor is it the hard-boiled fiction of Dashiell Hammett but it is very readable.

Friday, July 13, 2012


Singin' In The Rain: on the big screen with a communal audience laughing and cheering and applauding together the musical/dance numbers and of course Cyd Charisse and those legs. It doesn't get any better than this. Previously, I had only seen it on television. On the big screen it is even more entertaining and seeing it together with a couple of hundred other people enhances the experience. I don't remember the first time I actually saw the film on television but it was probably on a 20inch (or smaller) black and white TV. As I thought about that, I thought about the 'evolution' of our viewing habits. Previous to the advent of television everyone saw movies in a theatre. Then, with television people watched them on TV (it was convenient, you could do it in your underwear, there was no admission charge, and you could go to the fridge for something to eat and/or drink) but the screen was tiny compared to the local movie theatre. Then there was the move to bigger and bigger TV screens as technology improved, to try to mimic the movie theatre experience. 40+ in flat screens 50+ inch projections televisions with elaborate home theatre sound systems. And now, the evolution seems to be reversing. While there is still a demand for larger television screens in homes, more and more people are watching films and other video products on their 3 or 4 inch smart phone screen or a tablet. Entertainment product is being created specifically for these vehicles. I am not certain what to make of this phenomenon but it is a curiosity. None the less, there is nothing like seeing a movie on a big theatre screen with a communal audience to share the experience. Singin' In The Rain was great. Sorry if you missed it. It was a one-time event presented by Turner Classic Movies in celebration of the 60th anniversary. Here's hoping they will find other classics to do this with.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Shepherd's market

Going to London for the Olympics? Visit Shepherds Market for shopping or something to eat. There are lots of restaurants with a wide-variety of food options. Most restaurants are small and the ethnic food choices are varied: French, Italian, Greek, typical British pubs with typical British pub fare, Sushi (London is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities after all) and some middle-eastern. Middle-eastern offerings are not surprising. Not only has Mayfair seen a large influx of middle-eastern residents (oil money likes the Mayfair neighborhood) but the area is the site of a number of embassies of middle-eastern countries I often stay in Mayfair when in London and always enjoy eating in Shepherd’s Market. One of my favorite restaurants is L’Autre, about which I have written in the past. The menu is Polish and Mexican but the name is French. The name means ‘uncommon’ and that it is. Even in today’s world of food fusion, that is somewhat unique
As I said most restaurants are small and some have common ownership. Three, the Old Express, The Market Brasserie and The Little Square share supplies. If one runs short of something you can see cooks or waiters running to one of the others for the item. All three are within 100ft of one another and it is not uncommon to see a waiter running for a fresh supply of Rocket or Espresso grounds. There is also some very nice shopping in the Market; small boutique style shops. There is also a terrific movie theatre, The Curzon, if you are interested. It is part of a chain that is similar to the Landmark theatres we have here. It is what we used to call an ‘art film’ house. Shepherds Market is just a few blocks from Hyde Park and is between Curzon Street and Piccadilly. The square was originally developed in 1735 by Edward Shepherd, hence the name.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Woody's European Tour

Let me start by saying that I am a Woody Allen fan. I know there are those who aren’t; who think his is an overrated filmmaker. I am not one of those. There are those who like his early work but not the later; those who like specific films but not all of them; those who like the comedies but not his ‘Bergman’ stuff. Again, I am not one of those. I like Woody Allen, the filmmaker. I don’t know him personally, so I can’t speak to that, nor do I care. It is the films that I value. I saw the latest of his ‘European Tour’ films last week: To Rome With Love. I liked it. I didn’t think it was as well done as Vicky, Christina, Barcelona, but I liked it nonetheless. I also liked Midnight in Paris. Woody continues to be a wonderful writer, with imaginative scripts. But what I like most is the performances he gets from his actors. Film after film, he is able to attract terrific actors, who work in true ensemble fashion and give wonderful performances. Say what you will about some of the films that may not work as well as others, but the performances are always good. Since I have never been on a set with him, I don’t know how he does it. But I suspect he puts good actors in an interesting setting with other good actors and creates the environment where they evoke these believable, natural performances. Woody may subscribe to the John Huston school of directing. Huston said that 90% of directing is casting. Put the right actors in the right roles in the right setting.... Everyone in ‘Rome’ is terrific, including Woody. I look forward to whatever city is next on the European Tour, although I am not certain that Pagliacci sung while showering on stage can ever be topped.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Marianne Faithful, Broken English and Stream of Conciousnes

I’m listening to music on the radio in the car and something (I can’t now remember what the song may have been as once the stream of consciousness started, I only really remember where I ended up and where that led ) made me think of Marianne Faithful. Then, as noted above, I was off and running. I started thinking about one of my favorite albums of hers: Broken English. Marianne had been a ‘folksinger’ in the sixties, with a birdlike, sweet voice. She famously became involved with both Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and spent the seventies nearly destroying her life (she attempted suicide) and ended up living with a serious heroin addiction on the streets of London. No career, no life and not much hope of having either. But then she pulled herself out of it and recorded Broken English in 1979. By then, the smoking, drugs and alcohol had turned that sweet bird-like voice into something much different: Rough, low and perfectly suited to the material on Broken English. I love the title track, but the real punch to the gut comes with Why’d Ya Do It. You just have to hear it. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mvAMEaWgTQ Also on the album is The Ballad of Lucy Jordan, written by Shel Silverstein. Thinking about that song (yes, the stream of consciousness is running) I remembered a 1981 film titled Montenegro which features the song (it was also featured in Thelma and Louise). Montenegro stars Susan Anspach as a ‘housewife’ living in Sweden with her husband and family. While outwardly ‘calm and serene’ she is actually a little crazy. Anyway, she ends up with a bunch of expatriate eastern Europeans in an enclave with a bar named the Zanzibar. I love the film; it is bizarre and very funny. One scene I particularly remember involves a fight between two of the slav brothers. One brother ends up with a an axe buried in the middle of his forehead. Not dead, Alex (the defacto leader of the expats and soon to be Anspach’s lover) takes the axe-headed brother to the hospital. The brother is in the front seat between Alex and Anspach with the axe sticking out of his forehead. Everyone is quite calm as if this happens everyday. It is that kind of picture. The stream finally led me to Irina Palm, a 2007 film starring Marianne as a fifty year old woman need to make money for her grandsons medical treatment. There is not a lot of work out there for fifty year old women, particularly those with few or no job skills or history. Marianne sees a sign advertising for a ‘hostess’. She inquires about the job but soon learns that ‘hostess’ is a euphemism for ‘sex worker’. But needing the money she takes the job and is quite successful. She takes on the name Irina Palm, which as you might guess suggests what her particular talent is.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Movies are Coming, The Movies are Coming

Friday May 18 was a landmark day for Colorado members of SAG-AFTRA and others in the film, television and media community. Governor John Hickenlooper signed House Bill 1286: production incentive legislation that had been years coming and for which many members of SAG-AFTRA in Colorado had worked diligently to bring to fruition. During his remarks before signing the bill, Governor Hickenlooper proudly noted his SAG-AFTRA membership in the Denver local. The signing ceremony was attended by hundreds of supporters including many members of the Denver local who posed for photos with Governor Hickenlooper after the bill was signed. Also speaking before the signing was Colorado Film Commissioner Donald Zuckerman. Zuckerman, a long-time motion picture producer himself, was crucial in crafting and guiding the legislation through the process. He too acknowledged the help members from SAG-AFTRA had given in getting the bill passed. Colorado has been a location for filmmakers for well over 110 years. The earliest filmmaking in Colorado dates to 1897 when the “Festival of the Mountain & Plain” was filmed. Since then, hundreds of other filmmakers have come to Colorado to shoot such films as “True Grit”, “Cat Ballou”, “How The West Was Won”, “The Searchers”, “Sleeper”, “City Slickers’ and “Thelma & Louise”. During the 1980s and early 1990s, Denver and Colorado were a hotbed of production for feature films as well as television series, mini-series and commercials. “The Sacketts”, “Centennial”, “Father Dowling”, ‘Diagnosis Murder”, and “Perry Mason” kept many of our members regularly and gainfully employed. However by the end of the decade that production had all but dried up. It was then that SAG-AFTRA members, in conjunction with other in the film community set about to create meaningful incentive package. With the legislation having officially gone into effect on July 1, 2012, the long wait and the production drought may finally be over. According to Commissioner Zuckerman, a couple of projects may already be in the works to take advantage of the incentives. The incentive package is geared for independent productions in the $5 Million to $10 Million range though the incentives can be used for lower cost productions with a $100,000 minimum and are not limited to feature films. Other types of media production, including commercials, television and video games are eligible for the incentives. While I am hopeful that we will see out-of state production finding its way (and jobs) here, I am more interested in seeing our own homegrown film makers using these incentives to establish a more viable local film industry. If you are a filmmaker or know one that might be interested, more information is here: Colorado Film Incentives COLORADO FILM INCENTIVE PROGRAM:  20% cash rebate for production costs taking place in the state. The incentive program covers feature films, television pilots, television series (broadcast and cable), television commercials, music videos, industrials, documentaries, video game design and creation, and other forms of content creation.  To be eligible a Colorado production company must have qualified local expenditures of at least $100,000. An out-of-state production company must have at least $1 million in qualified local expenditures (the exception being television commercials and video game productions, which must have qualified local expenditures of $250,000).  The program takes effect July 1, 2012.  An additional component of the new incentive is a loan guarantee program with the State guaranteeing up to 20% of a production budget. This program is only available to film productions.  Other major components of the new incentive program include: • At least 50% of the workforce must be Colorado residents. • Qualified local expenditures include above-the-line and below-the-line salaries so long as income taxes are paid in Colorado. Cap of $1 million on any one employee. • Requires a production company that has received conditional approval for an incentive to retain a certified public accountant licensed to practice in this state to conduct an audit of financial documents that detail the expenses incurred in the course of the film production activities in Colorado, and requires such certified public accountant to certify to the office that the requirements were met • Approximately $4 million available for Fiscal Year July 1, 2012-June 30, 2013 • Colorado has limited funding for this program and projects will be selected based on the merits set forth in their application and not on a “first come first served” basis. As Ron Henderson, the long-time director of the Denver Film Society and Film Festival always said at the beginning of the Film Festival: “Let the Movies begin.”