Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Digital Tyranny

Is a Segment of the Population Being Forced out of Broadcast Television?

Who voted for HDTV digital broadcasting?

Oh that's right. No one did. It was an arbitrary decision, made presumably for the public good. A digital signal is clearer, brighter and sharper. You'll get no argument from me there.
But the thing is, digital is binary 1-0, yes-no technology, like a computer. There is no middle ground. Either you have a signal or you don't, not like analog television, which sometimes was snowy or visited by ghosts, but always tried to reach a signal, however faint.
I learned this arbitrary lesson over the weekend when I wrangled with installing an analog-to-digital converter box to my 1999 vintage Sony television.
I had been without TV since mid-June, when analog broadcasting was banished from USA airwaves. I can't say I missed it, but every once in a while there is something on broadcast television worthy of a watch.
I was told installing the box was quite simple. True, it wasn't so bad, but then comes the hard part: getting a signal.
I used to have a big outside antenna on the roof of our house, which is a dizzying 27-foot above sea level. I could get virtually every television in South Florida, plus even Ft. Myers on a good day.
Hurricane Wilma took out the antennae, so I bought an inside antenna, a kind of improved rabbit ears, with dial and swivels. I could still get 8-10 stations in the Miami-WPB markets.
After much finagling with said rabbit ears, I finally got a signal: WPBT, Channel 12 in West Palm Beach, the CBS affiliate.
I went to my friendly local Radio Shack and asked what I should do to get more stations.
"You need an enhanced antenna," I was told. The cheaper one was $35, the better one $50.
Hmm. One of the reasons I don't have cable or satellite TV is that I just don't think it's cost-effective. I went home and messed further with the antenna. Bingo! Up popped WPTV Channel 5, the NBC affiliate in West Palm Beach.
WPLG Channel 10, the ABC affiliate in Miami, used to be one of my best signals, but for whatever reason it eludes me: digital technology.
I still shoot photos with 35 mm film. I like the warm, forgiving flesh tones of film, but as the world goes digital, film becomes increasingly expensive, and ultimately I'll be priced out. At least for now I still have a choice (and yes, I do have a digital camera).
But think of the poor folks in East Nowhere, South Dakota or Dying Moose, Montana or
wherever else cable TV never reached.
People can spring for satellite television or pray to the computer gods somehow they can get their converter box to find a signal.
Good luck.

Friday, September 25, 2009

John Keats in Love in "Bright Star"

Keats' Poetry Comes Alive in Beautiful Story of Love and Death

John Keats has always been my favorite of the English romantic poets. Not only did his work embody the romantic ideal: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever: Its loveliness increases; It will never pass into nothingness," Keats' tragically short life underscored his passion and foreboding of death.
"Bright Star" begins in 1818, when Keats was 23.
When I was studying Keats' writing in college, I never knew of Fanny Brawne, an 18-year-old girl he fell in love with as simultaneously his creative output was reaching its peak and his health was slipping into terminal decline.
"Bright Star" is the title of a poem Keats wrote for Fanny: "Bright Star, would I were as steadfast as thou art..."
Writer-director Jane Campion has beautifully captured the bittersweet affair between Keats and Fanny, and handsome Ben Whishaw and perky Abbie Cornish embody the beauty of youth and the tragedy of economic failure, sickness and death.
Lest you think this is a downer, let me reassure you that Campion does not dwell on the indignities of Keats' tuberculosis, and she creates characters of comic relief in Fanny's younger Samuel (Thomas Sangster) and red-headed sister "Toots" (Edie Martin).
Playing both comic and villain is Keats' protective best friend Charles Armitage Brown (Paul Schneider); a misogynist brute who sees Fanny as a threat both to Keats' work and his health.
The story is told from Fanny's point of view and its is largely derived from the letters between Keats and her.
The tale begins with the foreshadowing illness and death of Keats' younger brother Tom (Olly Alexander). Fanny is a neighbor who is proud of her fashion sense and prowess, yet knows not a thing about poetry. She is also a first-class flirt who piques Keats' interest, and he in turn gently introduces her to his literary world of truth, beauty and the senses.
As their love grows and deepens, Keats' financial situation becomes more precarious. His books simply are not selling, and no one has yet discovered his true genius.
It is implied that Keats' depression over his lack of success weakens his physical will as well. Though he and Fanny become engaged, Keats feels he cannot marry until he can support her.
Yes, it is all heading for a sad, foregone end, but "Bright Star" is suffused with beauty, both visually and from Keats' beautiful poems and his equally lovely letters to Fanny.
"If I should die, said I to myself, "I have left no immortal work behind me- nothing to make my friends proud of my memory- but I have learned the principal of beauty in all things, and if I had had the time I would have made myself remembered."

Jane Campion illustrates just how wrong John Keats' self-assessment was.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Key Kay, Kim Cozort and Burt Reynolds

Kenneth Kay named new executive director of Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater Training

Ken Kay was still settling in one week after moving with his wife, Kim Cozort, from Blowing Rock, North Carolina, where the couple had run Blowing Rock Playhouse for the past nine years, when I dropped in for a visit.
A major achievement of Ken Kay's tenure at Blowing Rock was the conception, creation and completion of a beautiful new playhouse.
Unfortunately the community of Blowing Rock was unwilling or unable to keep up with a daunting $4.50 million mortgage. Ken Kay saw the handwriting on the wall before the bank called the note, and he cast about for other job opportunities.
When Kay learned Burt Reynolds wanted to revitalize the school he started (with Charles Nelson Reilly) in 1979, he contacted his old friend.
Although he was an adult with a master's degree from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton and a professional actor, Kay entered the apprentice program in the third class of what was then called Burt Reynolds Institute for Theatre Training.
Kay made the best of his training with master teachers Reilly and Reynolds and the host of Hollywood heavyweights Reynolds enticed to his dinner theater on Indiantown Road.
Forty years later Reynolds' theater still stands, revitalized and updated as Maltz Jupiter Theatre.
Burt Reynolds' Institute is housed temporarily in the Burt Reynolds Museum, located just north of Indiantown Road on US 1.
The crowded museum, housed in a former bank, is chock full of thousands of pieces of memorabilia, spanning 60 years from Burt's high school years to the present.
Reynolds teaches a master acting class (by appointment only) on Tuesday and Friday evenings on a small stage in the center of the museum. Four other instructors teach classes in film, editing, improvisation and so forth at other times to more than 100 students.
"I never expected to be back in Jupiter, but it feels right," said Kay recently. "I've kept in touch with Burt through the years. He is one of my best friends and most trusted mentors. He is serious about bringing the Institute up to the next level. I am honored to be part of it."
I first encountered Ken Kay in 1978, when he enrolled as a graduate student at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Kay was hard to miss: tall and bronzed, with shoulder-length blond hair, he had just come from a summer playing Jesus in the Smoky Mountain Passion Play in Townsend, Tennessee. One of his first roles was Petruccio in Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." Never has the role been so swashbuckling.
The Reynolds Institute gets a bonus: Kay's lovely and talented wife Kim Kozort, an actress and singer who has starred or co-starred in 55 of her husband's shows.
"We met in a whorehouse run by Jan McArt," joked Kay on the day of his 20th wedding anniversary to Kim Cozort. "It's been a wild, fun ride, and we are ready for the next chapter."
McArt, dubbed "South Florida's First Lady of Theatre," ran Royal Palm Dinner Theatre for 25 years and is currently director of theater arts at Lynn University in Boca Raton.
For more information about Burt Reynolds Institute for Film and Theater Training call 561-743-9955 or visit www.brift.org.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Love Happens

Stuff Happens in "Love Happens," but not Romantic Love

"Love Happens," but just not in the movie of the same name.
OK, love does happen in this rom-com by first-time writer-director Brandon Camp (with Mike Thompson), but it is not conventional romantic love.
Looking at promotional materials you might think this will be a makeout fest between Jennifer Anniston and Aaron Eckhart. You would be wrong.
The story centers more on Eckhart's character of Dr. Burke Ryan, a psychotherapist who writes a hit book about letting go of grief after the death of a loved one. Burke's tag line is "A-OK!," and he is a walking self-help industry, with the help of his pushy agent/promoter Lane (Dan Fogler).
Burke is poised to hit the next level of international fame, but there is a problem. He is not A-OK and he is deep in denial over the accidental death of his wife three years earlier.
Jennifer Anniston is Eloise Chandler, a perky, single Seattle gal who has found her fulfillment in flowers; no messy, troublesome guys in her life.
Burke can't help notice and be attracted (who wouldn't?) to the comely florist, but she resists by playing deaf.
We leve Eloise for awhile to concentrate on Burke in action: cajoling, insisting, nay demanding that people cheer up and move on with life.
Walter (John Carroll Lynch) is a guy who resists. In the most moving plot thread of the movie, Walter begins to let loose of the massive guilt and sorrow over the death of his 12-year-old son.
Meanwhile Burke and Eloise do finally hook up, but not in a hot and heavy way. Burke still has the matter of the giant 2-by-4 in his eye that prevents him from removing the speck in Eloise's.
To resolve this impasse we must turn to Martin Sheen as Eloise's gruff ex-Marine dad.
Sheen is an old pro, and a tear-jerking denouement is no problema for him.
However, it is left to our imagination to know if "Love Happens" to Burke and Eloise, and by film's end, we don't really care.

The Informant

Matt Damon Amazing

"The Informant" a Baffler

"The Informant" is one big fakeout of a movie.
Matt Damon is the title character, a geeky, seemingly bumbling biochemist named Marc Whitaker.
Damon piled on 30 pounds, donned a lousy toupee, grew a wispy moustache and put on science teacher glasses to play Marc, the youngest executive at the multi-national, Indiana-based, Archer Daniels Midland agribusiness.
It's October of 1992 and Marc is one of the biggest hotshots in Decatur, Illinois. He lives in a tidy McMansion with his loving wife Ginger (Melanie Lynsky). He drives a Porsche and has seven other cars.
Why Marc would want to put the finger on his fellow executives for fixing the price of lysine, a byproduct of corn, is a puzzle. Marc doesn't quite feel a part of the gang, and as a scientist he feels he should be morally correct.
So when FBI agent Brian Shephard is sent to tap his phone, he spills the beans and agrees to wear a wire.
Marc wears the wire for three years all over the world: Tokyo, London, Mexico, and he collects solid proof of an international conspiracy.
Job well done, Marc? Not quite. Marc, who speaks to us in a mumbling stream-of-consciousness, has not been quite straight with us, his co-workers, the FBI or even himself.
In short Marc is mentally ill- bi-polar to be more precise- and his delusions have turned him into a worse criminal than those he betrayed.
Director Steven Soderbergh has a keen sense of irony, and working from a truth-based novel by Kurt Eichenwald, Marc is nothing if not ironic. What starts out as an indictment of arrogant corporate American anti-consumerism turns into the yarn of a pathetic, self-deluded schmuck, whose downfall is played comically to a goofy musical soundtrack by Marvin Hamlisch.
"The Informant" is interesting largely because of Damon's amzing performance. You can't like Marc Whitacre, but you can admire the actor who got so deep into his body and his mind.

Friday, September 11, 2009

September Issue

Anna Wintour Unmasked

All is revealed at Vogue in "September Issue."

Vogue magazine is never a publication that has interested me, but the colorful cast of characters who make it happen certainly are entertaining.
"The September Issue" centers on the making of the largest Vogue edition in its 114 years: the whopping 646-page September, 2007 issue.
Documentary filmmaker R.J. Cutler follows the year-long journey of production, from initial planning sessions through fashion shows, photo shoots and interviews with designers, culminating with the frantic last week of editing and proof.
At the calm center of the maelstrom about her is Anna Wintour, the British-born editor of the American Vogue for more than 20 years. Wintour customarily wears large dark glasses indoors and out, but Cutler catches her in candid moments when the shades are lowered: in heated battle with fellow Brit and longtime creative director Grace Coddington and in maternal discussions with her non-fashionable daughter Bee. If there is a hero in the tale, it is the stoic, ever tolerant Coddington, like Wintour a one-time model.
Along the way we meet such flamboyant characters as fashion maven Andre Leon Talley, rising Thai designer Thakoon, various name-brand designers in France and Italy, and of course beautiful young women by the score in strange outfits and outlandish makeup.
"September Issue" does not make me want to run out and buy a copy of Vogue, but I do respect the effort it takes to create such a fleeting, illusory world.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Bobcat Goldthwaite casts Robin Williams as "World's Greatest Dad"

Trust writer-director Bobcat Goldthwait to push the edges of extreme, uncomfortable, distasteful comedy.
Robin Williams stars as "The World's Greatest Dad" in an inky black comedy about sex, suicide and hero worship.
Williams is Lance Clayton, a failed novelist, failed husband and failing dad, divorced and living with his surly, sex-obsessed 15-year-old son Kyle (Daryl Sabara).
Lance tries to teach poetry to high school students who couldn't care less.
In fact if attendence doesn't pick up, his classes will be dropped, the principal warns.
The only bright spot in Lance's life is Claire Reed (Alexie Gilmore), a sexy young teacher who has taken a shine to the older man.
But even Claire is beginning to slip away when her attentions are distracted by a young, hunky, basketball-playing fellow teacher.
Could things gets any worse for hapless Lance?
Yes they could- much worse.
His virtually friendless son has developed a morbid obsession with extreme mastrubation; the kind where you bring yourself to the brink of self-strangulation for the ultimate orgasm.
You guessed it: one of Kyle's capers goes horribly wrong and Lance is faced with the ultimate horror of the loss of a child.
None of this sounds very funny, I know, but believe it or not there are funny satirical jibes at high school life, male vanity, female fickleness and the comic pathos of outsiders.
Faced with the twin tragedy of his son's death and its unfortunate cause, Lance decides to rewrite Kyle's destiny, quite literally, with a poignant, erudite suicide note.
When the note gets posted on the Internet, Kyle morphs from loser to sensitive, tortured hero. Lance makes matters worse by fabricating a diary with more of the same astute, introspective, heartbreaking commentary on the anguish of being unloved.
Lance Clayton is the anti-John Keating, the inspirational poetry teacher in "Dead Poet's Society." Lance is selfish, cowardly, devious, obsequious and undependable. Williams goes through self-laceration in depicting the character's tortured fall and repentance.
Funny? No. Fascinating? Completely.
It comes as no surprise this film was pulled from theaters at the last minute here in South Florida. I am told it is available by Video on Demand from cable outlets. It's definitely worth a look, but not for those easily offended.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Lunch with Allan Cole

CIA, Blue Meanies, Hollywood and the Creative Life

I met writer Allan Cole probably seven years ago. He's one of those characters with whom I instantly clicked. We had a lot in common. We both traveled a lot. We both worked as newspapermen. We both had failed marriages and literary aspirations.
Allan's life story is far more interesting than mine; in fact it is off the scale of normalcy.
Allan was a "CIA Brat," and as such he traveled the world with his parents from age 7 until his junior year in high school, when the family moved to Southern California.
Allan was a chef and then a newspaper reporter and editor for 14 years. He got married and had kids, but he had a burning yearning to write more creatively.
On the side he began writing with a high school buddy named Chris Bunch. His wife did not understand his desire to be a novelist and screenwriter and it cost him his marriage, but in 1979 the gamble paid off. Cole and Bunch sold the first of what would be eight Sten science-fiction novels, and they also sold a screenplay for a new television series called "Quincy."
TV scripts were the gravy train for Cole and Bunch, but they continued to churn out novels: seven more Sten books, a Timura Trilogy, Lords of Terror and a Vietnam novel, "A Reckoning for Kings."
Allan married Bunch's sister Kathryn, but he broke off with Chis and both went solo (Bunch died two years ago).
Since he moved to Boca Raton Cole wrote a comic detective thriller "MacGregor," and more recently two semi-autobiographical books: "Tales of the Blue Meanie," set in Venice Beach California in the 1960s and "Lucky in Cyprus," set in the mid-1950s.
Allan and I enjoy Mexican lunch at the Baja Cafe several times a year, always on Allan's nickel.
"I just got some royalties," Allan usually says.
A year ago Allan collapsed in the Athens airport. It was a heart attack, open heart surgery and a wakeup call.
"I want to get as much out as I can, while I still can," he told me.
Allan is a lot more knowledgeable about the Internet and digital revolution than I, and he's full of great ideas. He's 65, and I hope he reaches his goal of writing about some of the more personal things in his incredible life, especially a violent incident in California so horrific it would strain the credibility of the wildest TV crime show.
Keep up the good work, Allan.
You can learn about him at www.acole.com.