Category Archives: pbs

RIP Roger Ebert

After announcing a leave from work yesterday, today, Roger Ebert passed away after a long battle with cancer. He was 70.

The multiple award winning Roger Ebert has been a big part of my life for at least thirty years, maybe longer. He has been an influence, an inspiration, and even yes, an advisor as to what movie I should see and not see. I loved watching “Sneak Previews” with him and Gene Siskel when it first aired in the 1980s, and immediately gravitated to Ebert as a guy who liked the kind of films I did.

Regarding the original “Sneak Previews,” in college, a friend pointed out that the ‘bald guy’ knew film, but the ‘fat guy’ knew about films we wanted to see. My friend, fellow writer, and fellow movie reviewer, Derrick Ferguson said today on Facebook, “He understood that genre movies had to be compared to other genre movies and based on the standards of that genre… you don’t compare “A Nightmare On Elm Street” to “Gone With The Wind” You compare it to “Friday the 13th” or “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”” Well said, my friend.

We didn’t always agree, but such is the way of critics of any media, but I knew he was one of us. He understood genre, he understood movies so bad they were good, and he understood what really made for a good film. I loved his books on film, and even his outlandish Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. Ebert was an extraordinary writer, reviewer, and entertainer, and he will be missed.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution ~ Combining two themes I’ve been writing about here and elsewhere this year, I look at a Sherlock Holmes movie from the 1970s. Having never seen this one before, all I remember of hearing about it was the much ado about Holmes’ drug use. That’s not that big a deal however as it’s from the books, and therefore canon.

The film sets its tone immediately with the opening credits, which reminded me unfortunately of those of Monty Python and the Holy Grail from the year before. This was to be a comedy then. The story purports that Moriarty’s evil was a drug induced paranoid delusion of the detective’s, and that he needed the help of Sigmund Freud to get well. In hypnosis sessions, the ‘true’ origins of Sherlock Holmes are revealed.

The cast is filled with major star power including Robert Duvall as Watson with an impossible English accent. Alan Arkin as Freud, the underrated Charles Gray as Mycroft (a role he would play again in the PBS Jeremy Brett Holmes series), and Nicol Williamson as the simpering, almost imbecilic Holmes are all brilliant, and that’s not even mentioning Sir Lawrence Olivier as the maligned Prof. Moriarty. It’s not the way I want to see my Holmes, but there’s no denying the great performance.

The film is based on the first of three Sherlock Holmes books by author and director Nicholas Meyer, who also received an Oscar nom for the screenplay. He is obviously a huge Holmes fan, and all three of the books were designed to fill in the blanks of the detective’s life, as well as dismiss some of the canon he felt didn’t quite fit. Sadly, the later included Moriarty.

The Seven-Per-Cent Solution is a beautifully shot, wickedly performed, and well designed mystery adventure, well worth watching, but it’s not the kind of Sherlock Holmes story I want to see. I guess, in the end, I’m a traditionalist.

The Funhouse

The Funhouse ~ Okay, confession time. You might not believe me, but I never really got to go to the movie theater all that much until maybe the senior year of high school. There was none of that stuff or hanging out at the mall until I had friends old enough to drive. Oh, sure, I’d been to the drive-in once or twice to see kids movies, and my cool big sister and her husband took me to see Star Wars when it was out, but no real movies until 1980. That’s when my friend Bobby started driving. And the first movie I got to see was The Funhouse.

I know, fifteen years old and I started big, trying to catch up for lost time. Not only a Tobe Hooper horror film, but R rated with nudity in the first few minutes. I remember my father was angry when he found out, but it was worth it. It was the beginning of a love affair with going to the movies that still enthralls me.

I recently had a chance to see The Funhouse again on HBO. It’s not a great movie but it is a good horror flick that still holds up well after three decades. There is a charm about it missing from horror movies now, an innocence, a naïveté. Today we live in the Scream era where everything is referential and meta. I think it was better back then. That said the film begins with a sly homage to both Halloween and Psycho. I still like it.

The story has two couples on a double date to the carnival. They decide to hide out in the funhouse to stay overnight for a romantic interlude. While there, they witness a murder and more, and end up hunted by the carnival barker’s deformed and monstrous son. Hilarity ensues. There are some genuine scares and the drooling monster is scary and disgusting.

The only real standout from the cast is the carnival barker, played by Kevin Conway, who was Dr. Haber in one of my favorite PBS productions, “The Lathe of Heaven.” Here, he is a more obvious and grounded kind of sinister, but still a terrific actor. And of course, no matter how you cut it, this is still a Tobe Hooper film.

A slice of the good old days of slasher flicks, still worth seeing after thirty years or so. The one that started it all (for me at least), The Funhouse, check it out.

That’s Really Trippin’, Man

Thinking outside the box. That’s where some of the cooler videogames of our age are coming from I think. Not so much fighting or blowing stuff up, or even trying to do puzzles, but more like dig the visuals, man. Much like coming down off a alcohol or drug-induced party high and watching “Teletubbies” on PBS at four in the morning, that’s what some of these games are like.

One such game is called Flower, created by Thatgamecompany, not as a game per se, but more as a work of art. It shows. You are a flower petal floating in the wind, controlled by the movement of the game controller. Set to beautiful calming music, the petal floats across gorgeous landscapes through your direction. This is a fantastically visual game, what little game there is to it. I could watch for hours, as it is relaxing.

And then there’s Eufloria from Valve Corporation, also known as Steam, the folks that brought you Portal. They call it a ‘real-time strategy videogame,’ whatever that means. With backing music that sounds like it was lifted from WXPN’s “Star’s End,” you are a space seed in the future, and you have to make your way to another asteroid to grow into a tree, from which more seeds will come, just like nature, ya know? It’s even more frustrating than Flower.

My days of post-party diversion are long over, so I guess these are not the games for me. But they sure are pretty, or at least Flower is, but I’m sure will put most folks to sleep…

Attack the Block

Attack the Block ~ Every once in a while a movie comes in under the radar and by pure word of mouth everyone is like, “You have to see this.” Attack the Block is one of those films. Not in theaters, couldn’t find it bootleg, and it took forever to get through Netflix, but I finally got a chance to see it.

Attack the Block has been billed as an alien invasion movie in the style of Shaun of the Dead, and it does in fact have Nick Frost in it and was written and directed by Frost/Simon Peggy/Edgar Wright collaborator Joe Cornish. The premise has aliens attacking South London and a teenage street gang defending their turf. In reality, it’s a theme that dates back to the American 1950s, but Cornish delivers it with flava. The flick begins when the boys kill an alien and descend into the teenage underworld looking for bragging rights and cash.

Once I got my head back in “Eastenders” mode (I’m out of practice, PBS stopped showing it in this area several years ago, and I’m never going to forgive you, channel 12) and was able to understand the thick accents that pass for English, I was all good with these kids, but it did take a while, some concentration, and subtitles. When it turns out it ain’t just one alien out there, the real fun begins. It’s really Shaun of the Dead meets The Warriors meets Red Dawn set in Walford Square under alien siege. Yeah, it’s that much fun.

I really kinda dug the almost Akira-like moped chases, and the aliens are truly frightening – big black furry masses with neon blue jaws of teeth. The colors of this flick are amazing. Intense, scary, brutal, and visually stunning, Attack the Block lives up to the hype, and is a must-see.

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 ~ One of the things I like most about this movie is that it gets right down to it. There is no wasting time with introductions and what-has-gone-befores, it just jumps right in where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 left off, and let’s get real – isn’t that what any movie with the words ‘part 2’ in its title should do?

This flick has already, before the weekend is over, broken box office records, so I think it’s safe to say most of the viewing public knows the score and is there to see how it all ends up. It’s a pet peeve of mine. All that’s needed is a good story, we don’t need every character’s entire background. And don’t even get me started on superhero origin stories. We don’t need to know it every time.

Our hero and his two sidekicks, looking every bit of late late teens and eight movies, move the search for horcruxes and the battle with Voldemort to Hogwarts. There’s a lot of bloodshed and lost friends but we knew that, at least those of us who read the book. And that’s another thing, not that I mind it – there’s not a lot here I remember from the book. It could be my age, and my memory, but then again, for me, when the movies have gone into non-book territory it has always worked well.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the way white afterlife scenes. They kinda reminded me of The Matrix and PBS’ The Lathe of Heaven, and not in a good way. The Harry Potter-is-dead scenes went on a bit too long for my tastes, and while subtle in the books, I thought the Harry-as-Christ analogy was hammered a bit too hard here.

All that said, I liked the movie a lot. It was everything it should have been and more. I loved Neville Longbottom in every scene he appeared in, and wished he and Luna had been in the epilogue. It’s a shame it’s over, for now. Highly recommended.

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Wendy Richard Passes

While most American audiences will recognize her much younger in her role as Miss Brahms in the popular PBS Brit-com “Are You Being Served?” she will always be Pauline Fowler to me. Wendy Richard passed away this morning after a long battle with bone cancer.

The “EastEnders” matriarch ruled on the soap for over twenty-one years, and was also featured in a few of the “Carry On” films. She won an MBE for television in 2000 and will be sorely missed by many all over the world. Albert Square is just a bit more sad and empty tonight.

Here she is in all her glory, fighting the good fight with Peggy Mitchell, as played by Barbara Windsor, also a “Carry On” veteran. Go get ‘er, Pauline!