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Posts tagged ‘television’

Blessed Insurance- book review of Norma Zimmer’s unlucky autobiography

Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though some strange thing happened to you. – 1 Peter 4:12

Norma Zimmer was a gifted soprano who performed for decades on television’s ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW.’ Welk even gave Zimmer the title of Champagne Lady, the highest honor among other fine women vocalists on the show. Zimmer accepted that appellation graciously in her autobiography,norma although with reservations about sounding like she would be promoting liquor.

She was raised by alcoholic parents in poverty in the Pacific Northwest. Her parents were emotionally abusive, they smoked cigarettes, and they did not yet know God. But Norma grew up to confess Christ on her own. Throughout her story she draws Christian lessons from a life of “tests” and “fiery ordeals.” Her gifted singing, confident will, and the generosity of early supporters enabled Norma to make a great career of radio/recordings, television, and Christian revival concerts. She describes her adult life with financial comforts, devoted family, and spiritual bliss. Yet through bad luck (or influence of her book editor), tests of her and family’s allegiance to God never abate: toxemic pregnancy, auto accident, crooked car salesman, crooked agent, twisted intestines, psoriasis, debilitating arthritis, broken back, brain shunt, family strokes, sister dies of liver disease, father dead in a car two days, family dog burns the house down, near death penicillin reaction, near death choking on beef Stroganoff, stranded on treacherous river rapids, water skiing accident, downhill skiing accident:

“…’one of the [ski-lift] workers climbed up on the tower to repair it and he called for a peen hammer. They threw one up to him but he missed it and it fell and hit your husband.’ I was crying, and praying, O God, help us! Please protect him, Lord!”

A prayer too late, if you ask me. I imagine if Job read Norma’s autobiography he would say, “Wow, this dame can’t catch a break.”

Still, what also never abates is Norma’s optimism about life, people’s good nature, and her faith in God’s long game. Some readers may discover her buoyant attitude and ornamented writing style ironic, others inspirational. If you are a fan of the ‘LAWRENCE WELK SHOW’, like I am, you already have a sensibility for what is over-decorated but enjoyable. If you take your Lawrence Welk more serious, you might also find Zimmer’s book metaphysically uplifting.

Lawrence Welk

Lawrence Welk

However, if you pray to read more detail about what it was really like working under Welk’s baton for twenty years, God’s answer will be No. There is not much behind the scenes here, except some descriptions of how busy Norma was on days driving between the studio and hospitals, and lists acknowledging all the backstage angels who kept Norma looking grand. I hoped for behind the curtain conflict among the performers, rather than hearing more about Norma’s redoubtable faith in Jesus, no matter what terrible shit life threw at her. I wanted to read more shit about Lawrence the hot-headed puritan, or the over-the-hill band member schtuping a teenage Lennon sister, or the on-camera star who had an off-screen champagne problem.

I admit that despite my being atheist, I did find Norma’s take on life encouraging. She was a person who absolutely believed that smiling into the video camera communicated a hopeful message to viewers. At another scene in the book she describes laying awake with her her croup-afflicted toddler Ronnie, worrying if she should take him to the hospital for a tracheotomy:

“He was barely able to breathe… I lay beside Ronnie, watching and praying. ‘God,’ I prayed over and over, ‘please heal our little son.’ Suddenly I noticed a brightness behind me… Standing near the bed was a lovely blonde woman with a white blouse and dark skirt… She just stood there with a radiant smile on her face, looking down at Ron. Then she just faded away. It was a glorious experience. I felt no fear – just awe. I have always believed that I was permitted to see Ron’s guardian angel.”

A blonde in a blouse and skirt? Who was her son’s guardian angel, Donna Reed?

Off screen Norma Zimmer sounds like she was a bit of a kook, but I’m also convinced, beyond a doubt, that she was a wunnerful, wunnerful lady.

5 Ways Novelists Can Benefit from Watching Movies and TV Shows | The Passive Voice

Sometimes writers have snobbish attitude toward the writing we witness in movies and television shows. Snobby to the point of not watching. I think if we plan our television or movie time well and think of it as research, there’s a lot to learned from other kinds of media. What’s surprised me most as I’ve become an editor of writing, is how much editing of tv shows I do in my head as I’m watching.

5 Ways Novelists Can Benefit from Watching Movies and TV Shows | The Passive Voice.

Aside from the immediate benefit of getting yourself away from the computer screen and the blackhole of the Internet, studying movies and TV shows is a great way to enhance your storytelling skills. No, writing a script is not the same as writing a novel. But if you look beyond the differences in written format you’ll find some amazing similarities.

. . . .

We all have film characters we love, hate, or even love to hate. Have you ever stopped to think of why? Is it their viewpoint? Dialogue? Mannerisms? Something you never really noticed until asked this question? The most accurate answer is “all of the above.” Character = the sum of its traits.

If you’re having trouble making your characters individually unique, or the main players don’t seem to have that It Factor, select one of your favorite film characters and study everything he does in the story. What makes him stand out? How does he react and interact with the other characters? What does he do when faced with a tough decision? How do you know what that character is feeling without being “inside his head”?

To sharpen your character viewpoint skills, try this exercise:

Watch one scene of a movie (that you’re familiar with) that involves two or more characters. Now write that scene from each of the different characters’ eyes, as you would in a novel–include setting description, thoughts, sensory details, emotion, whatever is relevant. Different characters have different views of the same situation. This should show in your writing.

. . . .

Select five movies you’ve never seen before. Watch each movie and note whether you were engaged from beginning to end. If you weren’t, note what point you lost interest. If a movie isn’t doing it for me, that point is often within the first 20 minutes. Then ask yourself, Did I lose interest because my expectation for that movie wasn’t met? Or, Did I lose interest because, no matter what my expectation, the movie was just plain boring?

Bad pacing bores the audience. But a good pace doesn’t necessarily mean fast and action-packed. Good pacing means constant forward momentum of the story. This is why good literary fiction can be thrilling, and bad science fiction can put you to sleep.

Anything that doesn’t move the story forward must be cut. Analyze individual scenes in movies. They begin in media res, and end as soon as the point of the scene has been made. The same should be said of your novels. No room for boring fluff, no matter how beautiful the prose. We live in a busy world. Even prolific readers don’t have time to read everything. More often than not, they will choose the book that feels like it’s moving toward something over one that feels like it’s going nowhere.

Media Log: 01.08.2012, incl CHRONICLE and SMASH

CHRONICLE: CAN ANDREW CRUSH HIS PROBLEMS?

(cinema) Chronicle, d. Josh Trank, 2012. There’s a quote attributed to Will Rogers, a very practical guy: When you find yourself stuck in a hole, stop digging. I offer this aphorism for consideration to the lead character Andrew in Chronicle and to the filmmakers behind Chronicle as well. Andrew, a shy teenager, finds himself part of a trio of boys who discover a strange crystal artifact in an underground cavern. The crystal, for some reason, gives the boys telekinetic powers. They can move objects with their minds and even figure out how to fly above the clouds. The external benefits of Andrew’s new physical power include making new friends, becoming popular at school and even attracting the interest of girls. But ultimately Andrew’s damaged ego and personal problems at home are more powerful than his abilities his father is an abusive drunk and his mother has a terminal illness. As Andrew’s telekinetic powers strengthen, his emotional self-control weakens. Instead of being a hero, he becomes a menace of violence and destruction. The “chronicle” part of this is that the whole movie is shot in so called “found footage” style. I call it faux-verite. Andrew carries a video camera and his recording of everything that happens is our viewpoint into his rise and fall. There are a lot of movies using faux-verite but experimenting with the form, Chronicle ventures into original territory. I like the special effects work of the suspended objects and flying teenagers. I also like the story in the first two thirds a lot. Is all this really happening to Andrew or are we a voyeur into his fantasy life? Is this an origin story of Andrew as a comic book style hero, or super villain?  There are probably a hundred interesting places Chronicle could have taken us but it doesn’t go to any of them. Instead the story runs out of gas creatively and begins to get boring, even at under 85 minutes. In the desperate feeling last act, Andrew goes on an I-can-destroy-you-all-if-I-chose power binge. The filmmakers have no idea what to do with their own character. So they drag Andrew into a hole of explosions, nihilism, and waste. Unfortunately, Andrew lacks the ability to think of any better solution than to just keep making things worse. In the same manner Chronicle goes from good, to boring, to bad, to worse. I should mention that I saw a strong homoerotic subtext here as Andrew’s fantasy-come-to life seems to be finding a phallic object in a cave and using its secret power to convince attractive, popular boys to runaway with him- just something I was thinking about as I watched this movie go to pieces.  ๏ ๏ outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏… The Harvey Girls, d. George Sidney, 1946. Not everybody knows who Johnny Mercer was but everybody knows a Johnny Mercer song: “MOON RIVER”, “JEEPERS CREEPERS”, or “YOU MUST HAVE BEEN A BEAUTIFUL BABY.” Mercer wrote lyrics for and recorded hundreds of songs in the Great American Songbook including “ON THE ATCHISON, TOPEKA AND THE SANTA FE”  for the movie musical The Harvey Girls (music: Harry Warren). That song is used in a grand Hollywood production number at the beginning. What happens after that are some less fantastic numbers and a thin story. Judy Garland plays a 19th Century mail order bride from Ohio whose train stops in an old Western American town. Garland takes a job as a Harvey Girl. That’s an ebullient, hard working server in a friendly whistle stop restaurant called Harvey’s. It’s a respectable opportunity for a young, unmarried woman, especially compared to the girls who “entertain” men more provocatively across the street at the local casino and dance hall. A cultural conflict is set up here between the two kinds of girls in town, a conflict repeated in the battle of affections over the same man by both Garland and the leader of the showgirls. There is a longer discussion to be had about how these microcosmic conflicts attempt to play out familiar value themes in musicals: work versus leisure and chastity versus sexual promiscuity. But the case is well summarized at the end when all of the town drunks and gamblers come over to Harvey’s to learn how to waltz. As the town parson says, “For the first time the men in this town chose having a good time over having a wild time.” This movie is a good but not wild time and there are some great, less recognizable Mercer/Warren tunes as well as an amazing tap dance specialty number by Ray Bolger.๏ ๏ ๏outof ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ ๏ … (television) Smash. This show premiered on television after a great deal of marketing and other ballyhoo. It’s premise is to follow the evolution of a fictional Broadway musical and the lives of its creators and performers. So far I don’t quite give it a “smash.” The pilot was more of a “ring” or a “bang” to me. The characters started out kind of flat but they promise to be much more interesting than the nitwit cartoon characters on Glee (Hate it!). I’m impressed with the quality of Smash’s original music by Marc Shaiman, composer/lyricist for musicals like Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can. I wonder if they’re going to be able to maintain the quality of that music over the course of a television series. One of the principle character conflicts is going to be the two young singers fighting for the lead role. I thought Megan Hilti, the blonde, was amazing and that Katherine McPhee, the brunette, was just really good. However my unbinding straw poll revealed that there are people who feel completely opposite, that McPhee clobbered Hilti. What did you think? I think Smash could turn out to be a lot of fun to watch. WATCH IT… In my continuing power screening of old Golden Girls episodes I just finished the 3rd season. LARCENY AND OLD LACE (S3, Ep.21) Sophia is dating a retired gangster and finds a wad of money she thinks he robbed from a bank just to impress her. One of the big problems I have with GG is that they enlist a lot of great Hollywood and Broadway actors as guest stars and then never give them anything funny to do, perhaps to contain them in upstaging the regulars. However, this episode features Mickey Rooney as the old crook and he’s in great form. WATCH IT. BTW, Mickey Rooney was older than any of the GG actresses. They’re all dead except for Betty White and Rooney’s still alive. ROSE’S BIG ADVENTURE (S3, Ep.22) Rose has to convince her newly retired boyfriend to do something with his life. Also, the girls hire an old Sicilian architect to remodel their garage. This isn’t a bad episode but neither story line is particularly believable or funny. SKIP IT. MIXED BLESSINGS (S3, Ep. 23) Dorothy forbids her son to marry a woman twice his age. Meanwhile the bride’s family is forbidding the marriage because they are black. It’s a weird pattern to me that the adult children are always flying into Miami to spring shocking news to their Golden Girl mother at the front door. Ever hear of a telephone? And what’s with all the parental forbidding? It’s okay though, the white people come out looking really tolerant in this one. SKIP IT.  MR. TERRIFIC (S3, Ep. 24) Now Rose is dating a television kiddie show super hero named Mr. Terrific. What happened to the good for nothing she was seeing two episodes ago? Through sitcomy circumstance Dorothy gets Mr. Terrific fired from his gig and has to fill in for him on the air. I wanted that situation of comedy to be funnier. Also, I’ve always disliked the character actor Bob Dishy who plays Mr. Terrific. He never fails to irritate. SKIP IT.  MOTHER’S DAY (S3, EP.25) Each GG recalls a memorable Mother’s Day story. Again, the show goes to the lengths of getting the great comedian Alice Ghostley as a guest star and she’s barely in it. But the writing in this episode is pretty touching. WATCH IT.

Media Log: 01.25.2012

Owen "Woody" Wilson with Marion Cotillard

(cinema) Midnight in Paris, d. Woody Allen, 2011. A few years Woody Allen got to old to play himself. Being a septuagenarian and casting himself as the male romantic lead against the likes of Marion Cotillard would seem as unseemly as, well, as Woody Allen’s real life romantic life perhaps. Anyway, the guy playing the Woody Allen character in Midnight in Paris is Owen Wilson and his Allen-esque comic delivery is an adequate replacement. Although, I prefer my neurotic nebbishes a bit more Jewy. With all the attention drawn to this movie, including Academy Award nominations for best picture, director and screenplay, one might draw the conclusion that Woody Allen has returned to making great films. I don’t know about that. The character in the movie is a writer who travels back in time to Paris in the 1920s, meets F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and other artistic heroes of the era. What he learns is that everybody thinks the era before their’s was better. I didn’t find this revelation all that profound. Nor did I think the comedy was consistently side-splitting. There are many intended to be funny scenes that come off completely flat. Midnight in Paris, like Woody Allen himself is likeable but too awkward to love. ๏ ๏ …(television) Alcatraz. Last week I reviewed the new J.J. Abrams vehicle and determined that I would watch one more episode to see if it was going to go with its mysterious premise or go with its boring cop-show gimmick. This week’s episode got no closer to investigating where all these prisoners went for 50 years and I got bored. Alcatraz is closed for me. Skip it…. Golden Girls, AND MAMA MAKES THREE, S3-Ep.20. Sofia is lonely and Dorothy is sorry when her mother starts attending all of Dorothy’s dates with a new beau. Sofia’s obliviousness to the imposition she becomes is inconsistent with her character as is Dorothy’s inability to tell her mother to get lost. But the episode is, overall, really funny. Watch it.

Media Log 01.22.12

Michael Costello's design for a puppet on PR All Stars

(television) Project Runway All Stars, MISS PIGGY. The competition in this special run of Runway has been great despite the producer’s seeming attempt to infuse it with the most stupid, embarrassing themes like dress-up Miss Piggy. But all star designers continue to bring it. I don’t know if people are watching this version of the series. If you prefer the smash up derby aesthetic of the regular show you might find All Stars a little dull. I continue to be impressed by the resurrection of Michael Costello. He was made out to be persona non-grata of Season 8, everybody hated the bitch because she kept winning despite being a compulsive complainer who couldn’t sew (if you go back and find the episode where Costello hysterically imitates Michael Kors wearing a burka you’ll see he was always a likeable guy). Finding the only one winner in on All Stars has been difficult, but so far Michael Costello has been the most consistently good to great… The Golden Girls, GRAB THAT DOUGH (S3, Ep.16) The girls are jazzed up for their chance to win hundreds of dollars on a game show, Grab That Dough, but the trip out to Hollywood turns out to be nothing but a series of comical disasters. This in another one of those girls-go-on-a-trip episodes where the characters we used to know all act they’re possessed by the ghosts of Lucy and Ethel. Writing terrible, comedy lame. Skip it. MY BROTHER, MY FATHER (S3, Ep17) In order to impress an uncle who she hasn’t been seen in forty years Dorothy has to pretend to still be married to her ex Stan. Does that sound like a contrived, sitcomy premise? Your right. I hate Stan episodes. Skip it.

Media Log: 01.20.2012

New Show on Fox: Alcatraz

(television) Alcatraz. I kind of thought I was going out to Alcatraz to find what was new from the producers of Lost. Lostwas an ensemble show about seemingly normal people crashing into an impossible situation and, by the end, confronting paranormal forces. What’s behind the disappearance of the prisoners of Alcatraz Island, and their reappearance fifty years hence, may also turn out to be paranormal. The first two episodes that premiered this week are closer in genre to tv cops shows than to Lost. Alcatraz early on seems like it’s part of a trend in cop tv cops that are built around a single story telling concept: Numb3rs – every week mathematics are used to solve a crime, Without A Trace – every week somebody goes missing, Person of Interest – the good guys try to stop a bad guy before the crime happens. My problem with this kind of show is that often the characters are slaves to the gimmick and things get worn out very quickly.  Alcatraz – the cops have to stop a new/old criminal every week. Maybe Alcatraz will reach a little higher over time but right now the gimmick is already a bore, the dramatic situation of the cast is illogical, and the crime solving has been implausible. I’m not done with Alcatraz yet but I am, so far, disappointed… Golden Girls, DOROTHY’S NEW FRIEND (S3, Ep.15) Dorothy is befriended by a local novelist and starts brushing off the other girls to rub elbows with intellectuals. She learns to value her friends when the novelist turns out to be a snob and an anti-Semite. This is a pretty funny episode as normally only simple-minded Rose goes full retard.

Media Log 01.17.2012

50/50 : Gordon-Levitt/Rogen

(cinema) 50/50, d. Jonathan Levine, 2011. Can you take a movie seriously that starts with the line, “I can’t have cancer, Doc. I recycle”, even if it’s a comedy? What if  it’s a comedy about cancer? The script for 50/50 attempts to straddle a fence between being a wise cracking comedy about a young guy facing death, and an insightful drama about a young guy facing death. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the young cancer patient adequately, he isn’t given much to do. When his mother, his best friend and his girlfriend all react in different ways badly to his condition, Cancer Boy comes off a bit blase to me. I don’t think he even looks that sick. But most of the characters in this movie aren’t very convincing. The girlfriend’s shallowness seems forced, all the doctors wouldn’t be so robotically insensitive, the perky new psychologist couldn’t possibly be so badly trained, and don’t tell me the mother would have actually said “I smothered him too much because I loved him.” The problem with 50/50 isn’t with any of the actors or even with trying to milk comedy out of a sad subject. I think Seth Rogen as the funny, knucklehead best friend who has no filter is the best character. But, on the whole, 50/50’s dialogue and characters just aren’t genuine enough for laughs or tears. When Gordon-Levitt’s character finally has an emotional catharsis near the end it’s too much too late… (television) Star Trek DS9, PROGRESS, S1-Ep.14. Major Kira, assigned to evacuate a Bajoran Moon for mining, confronts a stubborn farmer and an ethical dilemma about repeating the abuses perpetrated by the Cardasians on the Bajoran people. To this point in the show I have found Nana Visitor’s performances as Kira to be annoyingly at full volume. For once her over-excitement seems to have collided with a good script. I like Kira in this one and the turmoil she has with hating and having to do what’s right. Brian Keith as the irascible but wise old farmer is great too… The Golden Girls, BLANCHE’S LITTLE GIRL, S3-Ep.14. Blanche’s estranged daughter shows up after three years with a fiance and a lot of pounds heavier. When it turns out the fiance is a mean creep, Blanche is torn between protecting her daughter’s interest and butting into her life. This one is a better comedy episode than it is a drama, especially Sophia’s fat jokes about the daughter. It’s a little weird that the Goldies get so ticked off about the fiance making fat jokes when they were being just as mean.