In re-reading last week's Rant, I saw that I failed to comment on Michael Jackson as an entertainer. With all the news that is coming out this week, it may be best to focus this piece on the talent that existed in an obviously troubled man.
Like most of the world, I became aware of Michael and his brothers in 1969 with the release of the first album featuring the Jackson 5. Through the years the group, and I, grew up together. Michael was 2 years older then I was but when you're 9 you don't really feel the difference. He was a kid and I was a kid and he was on the radio. And, later, on television. I can remember watching the Jackson 5 cartoon program as well as their live appearances on television. As I began learning to drive, the newly christened Jacksons kept showing up on the charts, adding to the soundtrack of my high school experience. In 1978 Michael appeared in the film version of "The Wiz," the Wizard of Oz story which put Dorothy in Harlem, not Kansas. I really enjoyed the film (and still do) though I do (and did then) think Diana Ross was too old to play Dorothy. In 1979, now grown up, I joined the US Army. That same year, Jackson teamed up with producer Quincy Jones for the solo album, "Off the Wall." Then came "Thriller," one of the few albums I actually had to replace because I played it too many times. 1984 saw the brothers unite on album and for the "Victory" tour, which coincidentally started 25 years ago this coming week here in Kansas City. I caught the show on September 22 in Washington D.C. and loved it. There are many concerts that I have had the chance to see and passed on, thinking I'll catch them next time, only to have something happen that made that impossible. Queen is on top of that list. Even if they tour with Paul Rogers, it still won't be QUEEN the way I remember them. I'm so glad I can say I saw Michael Jackson live, because it truly was a performance that I will always remember. Of course, as the years went on Jackson was in the news for both musical and non-musical reasons. This week it was learned that the night before he died he had videotaped a dress rehearsal for his upcoming concert tour. A few snippets of the show have been released and what I see is a talented performer about to share his gift with the world. And, in spite of the circus his life, and death, have become, that is how I will choose to remember him.
HAVE YOU HEARD THIS ONE?
Choked on a 12-year old weiner, melted into Lego's so little boys can play with HIM and God granting Farrah's last wish to look after all the children in the world.
Just to show I haven't gone totally soft, the above are the punch lines to the three best MJ jokes I've heard this week.
AMERICA WOULDN'T KNOW TALENT IF IT BIT IT IN THE ASS
I've watched two-week's worth of "America's Got Talent" and I have to agree with my wife when she says it's probably a good think Matt didn't make the show. If you thought the train wrecks they put through on "American Idol" were bad, you should check out some of the shit the talent judges thought was "talent" on this program. In the first show, judge David Hasselhoff scolded one performer, telling him "you have to be able to perform for 90 minutes and people have to want to spend $70.00 to see you." So far, I haven't seen that many groups I'd want to watch for free. Just to update everyone, Matt is doing well in Maine. He just played at one of the major state sponsored festivals and his holiday weekend is booked with paying gigs. So while "America" may not recognize talent, the good residents of Maine do.
PLEASE HAVE KLEENEX READY
I meant to run this last week but with all the tributes and memorials I thought it would get lost. It too is a sad story, but one that should inspire.
In April, 10 year old Colby Curtin saw the first preview of the upcoming film, "UP, and remarked to her mother "I have to see it." I'm sure that scenario was played out with millions of children all over the world, but what makes Colby's case different is that the little girl was in a hard fought battle with vascular cancer. When the film opened her mother requested a wheelchair be delivered to her home so she could take Colby to the theatre. The chair never arrived. A friend of the family contacted PIXAR and the company sent a representative to Colby's home armed with stuffed animals of the film's characters and the film itself on DVD. Too tired to open her eyes, Colby lay in bed as her mother described the film. When it was over, the little girl smiled, pleased she had accomplished her wish. Colby died later that night. Her mother Lisa told a local newspaper, "When I watched it, I had really no idea about the content of the theme of the movie. I just know that word 'Up' and all of the balloons and I swear to you, for me it meant that [Colby] was going to go up. Up to heaven."
Another week of popular people passing:
Billy Mays, boisterous television pitchman for seemingly everything sold on television, died this week at his Tampa home from an enlarged heart. He was 50. The day before his death Mays had shared with a local television station that he had struck his head during an airplane landing though as of now this doesn't seem to have been a contributing cause to his death.
Gail Storm, singer and popular actress of the 40s and 50s, died this week at the age of 87. No cause of death has been given. A familiar face in musicals, Storm gained overnight fame as the star of "My Little Margie," which was supposed to be a summer replacement show for the popular "I Love Lucy." However, the audience loved it and it ran for three more seasons, ending in 1955. The next year saw the debut of a new comedy, "The Gail Storm Show," which ran through 1960. Storm obstensibly retired after the cancellation of her show, making only three more appearances; "Burke's Law" in 1965, "The Love Boat" in 1979 and "Murder She Wrote" in 1989.
Frank Sinatra once said, "if you want to see me go see Fred Travalena He does me better then I do." An accomplished singer and impressionist, Travalena passed away last week after a long battle with lymphonic cancer. He was 66. A popular television performer and frequent Las Vegas headliner, Travalena was truly a man of a thousand voices. A highlight of his act would be a conversation between all of the presidents from JFK to George W. Bush, as well as the musical number "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You," as sung by Kermit the Frog, Katherine Hepburn and Frank Sinatra.
To most people, Karl Malden was the guy in the "American Express commercials. But to the golden age of Hollywood, he was one of the most appreciated and talented actors of his generation. Born in Chicago, Malden worked his way to New York, where he earned the occaisional stage role. In 1949 director Elia Kazan cast him as Mitch, poker buddy of Stanley Kowalski, in "A Streetcar Named Desire." Malden's performance was so good that some critics found him better then Stanley himself, Marlon Brando. In 1951 he repeated the role in the film version and took home the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. He was nominated again in 1954 for his role as a priest in "On The Waterfront." Other notable film roles include "Baby Doll," "One Eyed Jacks," "Nevada Smith" and "Patton." In 1972 he began a five season run as Lt. Mike Stone opposite Michael Douglas in "The Streets of San Francisco," which may make it the only show where two of the leads won Oscars. Malden earned four Emmy nominations for his works on "Streets" and took home an Emmy in 1985 for his work in the mini-series "Fatal Vision."
Harve Presnell, stage actor and musical star, who found a new career after appearing in "Fargo," passed away at the age of 75. Cause of death was pancreatic cancer. Presnell came to fame on Broadway in the musicals "The Unsinkable Molly Brown" and "Paint Your Wagon," reprising both of his roles in the film version. Though "Wagon" took some lumps for casting such non-musical cowboys as Lee Marvin and Clint Eastwood, Presnell's rendition of "They Call the Wind Maria" is a musical theater classic. He entered semi-retirement in the early 1970s, only to be coaxed out by the Coen brothers, who cast him as William H. Macy's father in law in the Oscar-nominated "Fargo." Other roles followed, including General George Marshall in "Saving Private Ryan" and the medical school dean in "Patch Adams." He also appeared for his "Wagons" co-star Eastwood in the director's "Flags of Our Fathers." He toured for many years as Daddy Warbucks in the musical "Annie" and it was my pleasure to see him in New York City during an off-Broadway production of "Annie II," a show that never made it to the great white way. In 1965, Presnell shared the "Most Promising Newcomer - Male" Golden Globe award with George Segal and Topol.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY U.S.A.
Remember, to quote Murray Hamilton in JAWS: "Tomorrow's the 4th of July...and those beaches will be open for business!"
Have a safe and happy holiday.
MY FAVORITE FILMS, PART II. THE YEAR WAS 1992...
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Michael Madsen, Steve Buscemi and Tim Roth
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
FIRST SEEN: LAUREL 6 THEATRE, LAUREL MARYLAND
FAVORITE SCENE: THE OPENING BREAKFAST DISCUSSION
FAVORITE LINE: "Are you going to bark all day, little doggy, or are you going to bite?
1993 Independent Spirit Award for Best Supporting Male (Buscemi)
1993 Independent Spirit Award nominations for Best Director and
Best First Feature
A bunch of guys sitting around talking, throwing popular culture references around freely. A story told in flashbacks and flash forwards. Today there is a word for this kind of film: "Tarantinoesque."
I must admit that I was late to admire this film, seeing it only after Tarantino's second film, "Pulp Fiction," came out. When I was a theatre manager I would throw open to my employees the chance to pick a movie for us to watch during our annual Christmas party. They'd pick a few titles and then everyone would vote and majority would rule. In 1994, the staff, most of them film geeks like myself, asked for "Reservoir Dogs."
Originally scheduled to be shot on 16mm film stock for $30,000.00, director Tarantino was shocked when he received a call from Harvey Keitel's agent. Keitel had somehow gotten a copy of the script and not only wanted to be in the film but help produce it. Keitel's participation allowed Tarantino a budget of almost $1.5 million...quite a difference. The casting is brilliant, with each actor inhabiting their character so well that it's hard to see anyone else in the roles. Michael Madsen is brutally cold as Mr. Blonde while Steve Buscemi brings humor to the role of Mr. Pink, beginning when he first goes on a tirade about tipping at breakfast. What makes that scene funnier is the fact that Buscemi played a waiter in "Pulp Fiction. In fact, when I took a group of my employees to NYC one day we actually ran into Buscemi and his dad at the movies. While his dad marvelled that we knew who his boy was, the kids all asked him for autographs and asked him to add "Mr. Pink," which he did. I also got one but asked him to sign it "Buddy," in honor of Buddy Holly, the waiter he played at the 50's restaurant in "Pulp Fiction." I think he was glad that I knew he had done something other then "Reservoir Dogs." As Joe and Nice Guy Eddie Cabot, the father-son team that bankrolls the robbery in the film, Tarantino cast long time film veteran Lawrence Tierney and the underrated Chris Penn. Their interactions together made for a believable family. Tarantino cast himself as Mr. Brown, sparing audiences as he originally wanted one of the larger roles. Tarantino on screen is best taken in small doses. I had the opportunity to see he and Marisa Tomei on Broadway in "Wait Until Dark," and as an actor...well, to be polite, let's just say he did know all of his lines. For Mr. Blue, Tarantino brought in a little criminal realism by casting Eddie Bunker, an actor/author who, earlier in life, held the distinction of being the youngest person ever sent to San Quentin Prison, accomplishing that feat at the age of 17. Upon his release he wrote several acclaimed books about prison life, including "Straight Time" and "Runaway Train." He also helped write the screenplays for these films and acted in them as well. For the two main characters, Mr. White and Mr. Orange, Tarantino cast Keitel and Tim Roth. Both actors play off each other well, especially considering that the majority of their screen time together is alone in an abandoned warehouse. They have the responsibility of carrying the main part of the film and they do it with what seems like ease.
If there is one thing that I would change about the film it would be that the audience never gets to see the robbery gone wrong. Mr. Blonde is assumed at the end to be this crazy, out of control killer but we really never see him kill anyone on screen (Marvin the cop, whose ear he cuts off, is killed by Nice Guy Eddie). Madsen does such a great job of keeping his badness under the surface that it would have been nice to see HOW he reacted in the jewlery store. Did he snap and just fire wildly? Or was he cool and collected? There was much talk when the film's 10th Anniversary came about that the film would be re-issued with the robbery scene included. That never came about, nor is it on the DVD. To be honest, I don't even know if the robbery itself was ever filmed. Perhaps Tarantino wanted the audience to just imagine what happened from the character dialogue.
As for where everyone is now, director Tarantino went on to win an Oscar for his script for "Pulp Fiction," as well as garner a Best Director nomination. He follwed that up with "Jackie Brown" and the popular "Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2." His upcoming film, "Inglorious Basterds," is due this August and was one of the hits of the Cannes Film Festival. Sadly, Tierney, Bunker and Penn have since passed on. Tierney's last role was as Bruce Willis' father in "Armageddon." Unfortunately, his scenes were cut but if you pay attention he's at the wedding over the end credits. He also delivered the last line on "Hill Street Blues," one of my favorite televsion shows EVER. Penn's passing was tragic as he was only 40 when he died. Always destined to be Sean Penn's brother, he had carved out a fine career on his own and easisly held his own against his brother in "At Close Range." Madsen has made a career out of playing bad-asses on screen, most notably in "The Getaway" and "Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2." Roth earned an Oscar nomination for his work in "Rob Roy" and currently stars in "Lie To Me" on television. Keitel continues to be Keitel. The man can play ANYTHING convincingly, from a cop to a cowboy and everything in between. That he has only been nominated for an Oscar once (for "Bugsy") is one of those academy travesties that would take me hours to vent on. He also has no problem dropping his pants on screen, which at his age isn't necessarily a good thing!
Next week I'll take a look at an almost perfect comedy, Albert Brooks' "Defending Your Life."
Well, that's all for now. Since I started the Rant NFL Quarterback Steve McNair has died. Looks like another week at the obituary files coming up. I wish everyone a safe and happy holiday. Have a great week. See ya!
"Mike's Rant" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith. Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.