Category Archives: favorite

Andy Griffith 1926-2012

Andy Griffith was the multiple award-winning and nominated star of television, film, stage and song. The actor, writer, director, producer, comedian, musician and singer passed away this morning in North Carolina. He was 86.

Back in my preschool days, “The Andy Griffith Show” was my favorite show, second only to “Batman.” The opening of the program with Andy and his son Opie, played by Ronny Howard, going fishing and walking in the woods reminded me of my father and me. Especially the bit with that kid throwing rocks. I was that annoying kid throwing rocks whenever we went fishing or went for walks in the woods. My imaginary friend was even named ‘Opie.’ Hey, stop judging. I never said I was a bright kid. The point is, from an early age, “The Andy Griffith Show” and its spin-offs were a family tradition.

Just as I watched little Opie grow into Richie Cunningham and later a successful director, I also watched Andy in the largely forgotten but also fondly remembered ABC series “Salvage 1,” and later on the more palatable “Matlock.” When my brother-in-law gave me all his 45 RPM records (for the kids out there, think single MP3 iTunes purchases, only round and on vinyl), I discovered another facet of Andy Griffith with his down home comedy spoken word hit, “What It Was, Was Football.”

As an adult I discovered how his humor led to Andy’s role on the stage and then in film with No Time for Sergeants. The film not only firmly established his persona for the next few decades but also was the direct inspiration for later television spin-off “Gomer Pyle, USMC.” Andy also did a flick at this time called Onionhead, that was so bad, he stopped doing movies.

However, before that, he made the film that for me, earns Andy Griffith the most respect. 1957’s A Face in the Crowd, written by Budd Schulberg and directed by Elia Kazan, is one of my favorite films, easily in my top five, and Andy Griffith, as the charismatic but evil entertainer Lonesome Rhodes, is the star. This is an acting tour de force, and Griffith is a whirlwind. If you have not seen this phenomenal drama, I can’t recommend it enough.

We have lost not only one of our most beloved television icons, but also a visionary in the way TV is done, as well as one of America’s greatest actors and comedians. Rest in peace, Andy, we will miss you.

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Kenneth Mars 1936-2011

Kenneth Mars, the film, television and animation actor passed away this past Monday. You might not know the name but you know this guy. He was in everything. You might remember him as the Nazi playwright in Mel Brooks’ original The Producers film, or perhaps as Hugh in one of my favorite films, What’s Up, Doc?. But that would only be the tip of the iceberg.

He was also in Young Frankenstein, “Get Smart,” “Wonder Woman” and even “Misfits of Science.” On television I first discovered Mars as recurring guest W.D. “Bud” Prize on the brilliant “Fernwood Tonight” and “America 2-Night.” Just think of a TV series in the 1970s and he was in it. His animation career began with voice work on “The Jetsons” in 1962 and continued until just a couple years ago.

Kenneth Mars will be remembered and he will be missed.

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The End of the Western

When I heard that they were remaking True Grit I was very conflicted. The original True Grit – the one with John Wayne’s first Oscar, Kim Darby playing much younger than usual, and nowhere near as annoying as usual, non-actor Glen Campbell and his terrific title song, along with Robert Duvall and the late Dennis Hopper – that movie is a classic, and I love it. It’s in my top twenty movies of all-time, and my favorite western, period. There’s no way a remake could do it justice.

And then I heard who was doing it. I also love the Coen brothers. Ethan and Joel are among the best filmmakers of our time. The problem is that as absolutely brilliant as they are, the Coen brothers unfortunately can be hit or miss. For every Big Lebowski and O Brother, there’s a Ladykillers and Burn After Reading. While I can’t think of anyone better to remake it if it had to be remade… it still bugged me. Why did it need to be remade anyway? I just bet if they released the original to the theaters, it would be doing just as well as this new one.

The story, based on the novel by Charles Portis, in which the lead character was incidentally based on John Wayne, has young girl Mattie Ross seeking revenge on Tom Chaney, the man who killed her father. To this end she hires Marshall Rooster Cogburn and Texas Ranger LaBoeuf. Fourteen year-old and age-appropriate to the story, Hailee Steinfeld shines as Mattie Ross. I might even see an Oscar nod in her future she’s so good, and a far cry from Kim Darby. The problem is that’s about the only advantage this remake has over the original.

The number one problem is that the Coen brothers have clearly forgotten what makes a western a western. The western is a great American artform which has over the last three or four decades been forgotten in favor of the grim, gritty realism of what the old West may have really been. Like the concepts of cyberpunk, and rocketships and rayguns, this may have not been how it was, it is how it is done. Westerns have sweeping panoramic landscapes, big orchestral soundtracks, hokey country title songs and reasonable hygienic cowboys who are easily identifiable as the good guys and the bad guys. The new True Grit has none of these things.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not dissing realism, nor am I dissing terrific stuff like “Deadwood” or Unforgiven, it’s just that not all westerns have to be like that. One critic said of Unforgiven that it was a proper eulogy for the American western. If that’s so, then the Coen’s True Grit is the final nail in that coffin. Any of the old timey brightness mentioned above that signify the westerns of old could have saved this flick in my opinion.

The movie is also very slow, a cardinal sin when it comes to action flicks of any genre, but that’s not where the rest of the problems lie – that would be in casting. As I said, Steinfeld is fine, and may yet be headed for Oscar-land, and Josh Brolin almost makes up for Jonah Hex as Tom Chaney, but the two male leads are near disastrous.

Matt Damon’s LaBoeuf is two-dimensional and boring, and when he does break free from the cardboard, he is more than a little bit creepy, especially in his interactions with his fourteen year-old employer. It was just a touch too much “To Catch a Predator” for me. Jeff Bridges is most unsatisfying filling the Duke’s shoes as Rooster Cogburn. He is neither heroic nor charismatic, or even interesting. He also mumbles and grumbles throughout, as if he had taken Batman lessons from Christian Bale. Honestly, if he had done The Dude in this flick like he did in Tron: Legacy, it would have been more tolerable.

I am stunned that this is on several folks’ top ten lists for 2010. I can only imagine they haven’t seen the original. I can only recommend this new True Grit as a curiosity or to see Hailee Steinfeld’s performance. I did not like it. See the original version, it’s far superior.

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