MediaLog Takes a Holiday: Back in Business on Sep. 11

MediaLoggers need a vacation, too! The MediaLog is taking a week-long break for Labor Day. There will be no new postings between today and Monday, September 11. On that day, regular postings will resume.

As a result, the final commentaries on Game Show Network's "50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" as well as the final tiers of the MediaLog Movies 100 will not appear until after Sept. 11. Of course, many other things will also appear after that, and here are a few previews of upcoming attractions for the autumn:

Immediately upon returning from holiday, the MediaLog will have a special feature commemorating the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on NYC and Washington entitled "The Popular Culture of 9/11: A Look Back and a Current Assessment on the Fifth Anniversary." Shortly after that, a brand new regular feature called "The MediaLog Weekend MediaScape" will debut; it will be posted on most Fridays and will consist of a round-up of information regarding the coming weekend's media highlights, including TV and new movie recommendations, new DVD and CD releases for the following Tuesday, a summary of significant media and entertainment news from the week ending, and a few other fun elements. Later in the fall, a multi-part series of posts on the early history of the comic strip "Peanuts," the MediaLog Music 25 (a countdown similar to the Movies 100, only on rock music albums), and other fascinating articles will appear.

If you are a new reader (and even if you are not), please feel free to use the Labor Day hiatus to explore the old postings in the MediaLog archive, and/or leave comments or send e-mail to me, Chris the MediaLogger. When the MediaLog resumes, you might just decide to come back and see what's new!


MediaLog MediaBrief: "USA Today" Wonders Which Media You Would Choose Now

"Not Your Father's Television" Dept.--Today the website for "USA Today" featured a tech article entitled "If you wanted to watch 'Superman,' which media would you choose now?" Written by Kevin Maney, one of the newspaper's tech writers who has a pretty good regular column, the article wonders which new forms of media are gaining favor in the hearts and minds of audiences.

"The movie industry is locked in debate about how to lure people out to theaters," starts Maney, but such debate is nothing new. The movie industry engaged in it in the early-1950s when commercial television became widespread, then again in the late-1970s and early-1980s when the same thing happened in regards to cable TV and home video. The difference now is that the choices of media that users face (as well as the variety of places they can use them) are much more diverse than just a box in one's living room. This diversity is the topic of the remainder of Maney's piece.

There is "a deeper trend at work" Maney states.
"It suggests that high-definition DVDs such as Blu-ray and HD DVD will not catch fire with consumers soon; that theatrical live concerts by bands such as U2 will only get more popular; and that live sports on cellphones could be a huge hit."
All of these suggestions sound spot on to me.

Although I have not looked into the technical details of it, I am unimpressed by the industry's entire high-def DVD initiative. This has nothing to do with whether or not the format (either of them) has great images or a quality superior to current DVDs; I have no doubt that they do. The problem is that it has only been half a decade since DVD emerged as the new mainstream home video format of choice for the mainstream audience. There's no way most people are going to (or be able to afford to) convert to another new format so soon. Nearly twenty years elapsed between the emergence of home video tapes and VCRs and the emergence of DVD, making many consumers ready to replace old equipment and worn out tapes anyways in the past several years. It's too soon for another transition in format.

The other issue--and I'm talking about mainstream audiences and consumers here, not videophiles or gadget aficionados--is that HD DVD does not represent the same radical leap in image quality and ease of use represented in the leap from analog magnetic video to digital DVD. Given the other factors I have mentioned, the improvement in image and audio quality going from VHS to DVD was significant (even to the mainstream). The ease of use with DVDs compared to VHS was also much greater, what with instant access to scenes, menu navigation, and the capability for extra features (not to mention the elimination of the pesky need to rewind tapes). What similar advances would consumers get from HD DVDs? A sharper image, probably even a dramatically sharper image. That alone is unlikely to be enough to get millions to invest millions in new machines and discs.

The other suggestions Maney makes seem about right too. Live concerts are an experience that cannot be reproduced in any form of recorded media. Ultimately, watching a movie at home--especially on the home theatre systems that are now available--is not that different from watching a movie in a movie theatre. A live concert is vastly different from either a digital recording (whether on CD or MP3 or its equivalent) or watching a concert DVD. It's not an accident that Maney includes the clause that concerts by bands "such as U2" are going to become more and more popular: just like in the movie business, its mainly the blockbuster music acts that have prospered in recent years. The other suggestion, that watching live sports on cellphones will be a future trend, seems like a shoo-in. Mobile video of all kinds is the vanguard media breakthrough, and watching live sports on a cellphone will probably be the 21st century equivalent of walking around listening to the game on a transistor radio.

All of these developments, says Maney, are related to fidelity, and the main trade-off that consumers have always weighed when it comes to media is fidelity vs. convenience.
"As fidelity gets more convenient, consumers constantly re-evaluate their choices. At certain moments, the trend crosses a threshold. Fidelity gets good enough in a package that's significantly more convenient, and consumers rush in. That often leaves older formats struggling to hold on to customers."
In other words, it is terribly inconvenient to go to the trouble and expense of going to an event like a football game or a rock concert but the level of fidelity--the quality of the experience, the presence of live performers or athletes, in addition to being part of a teeming, cheering crowd--is unmatched. On the other hand, compared to seeing a movie in a movie theatre, it is so convenient, and comparably inexpensive to boot, just to stay home and watch a movie--with not as great of a drop in fidelity. After predictions of the imminent demise of the movie theatre during the introduction of television and then cable and home video, this might finally be the era of media transformation when it actually happens.


The Lower Half of the Top Ten Greatest Game Shows of All Time

Game Show Network's "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" cracked the Top Ten last week with the #10 through #7 game shows. The remainder of the countdown, including what GSN thinks is the greatest game show of all time, can be seen tonight, tomorrow night, and Thursday night, at 10 pm EST/9 pm CST.

Number ten is the venerable and pathbreaking "The Dating Game." The granddaddy of all dating game shows and blind date shows that have come since (including its companion show "The Newlywed Game," "Blind Date," and MTV's "Singled Out"), "The Dating Game" was arguably the first game show to be directed at the young adult market that became so prominent in the 1960s. Running in its original version from 1965-73 with several revivals stretching almost right up to the present, it was, like several of the games on GSN's countdown, from the twisted mind of producer Chuck Barris.

The "Dating Game" game play, such as it was, was simple: three bachelors sat on the other side of a divider so that a "bachelorette" could not see them and be influenced by their looks. She then asked them questions (of a sometimes racy, sometimes silly nature) in order to ascertain which of the three she'd like to have a date with. She made her selection, and the two were presented with the ubiquitous "parting gifts" and told what form their date would take. Less often, the gender roles were reversed, with a bachelor quizzing and then choosing from three bachelorettes.

The episode featured in the countdown was a legendary 1978 show hosted by Jim Lange, who hosted all versions of the game through the end of the 1970s. It was legendary because one of the bachelors was comic Andy Kaufman, posing as a clueless suitor in the persona of his "foreign man," shortly before it would be mutated into the character Latka Gravas on the sitcom "Taxi" and he would become better known. As a result, the first part of the episode basically became a Kaufman comedy bit, as he spoke in his high-pitched, vaguely-Eastern European accent and pretended to be a little befuddled at the proceedings, all to the great amusement of the audience and the genuine disorientation of Lange. Supposedly Kaufman (going by a bogus name) was dragooned at the last minute as a replacement bachelor by being pulled off the street, propagating his schtick unbeknownst to the producers of the show; this seems highly unlikely, as they would be unlikely to install such an unpredictable loose cannon as a contestant. More likely is the idea that Barris, ever the prankster and eager to mess with the conventions of television and the propriety of viewers, knew of Kaufman's work ("Taxi" would premiere later that same year, and Kaufman would have been featured in "Saturday Night Live" and other TV appearances around or before this episode) and purposely put him on as a plant without anyone else connected to the "Dating Game" even knowing about it. That certainly sounds like somethng Chuck Barris would do.

Number nine is "The Dating Game"'s companion show and fellow Barris creation "The Newlywed Game." The premise to this show, which was hosted by perennial game show host Bob Eubanks and aired from 1966-74 on ABC and in the late-1970s in syndication, was that people who dated eventually (sometimes) got married and that their new status could be the source of ribald laughs. The exact nature of "Newlywed"'s game play set a template for a number of husband-and-wife-centered games that followed, including "Three's a Crowd," "He Said, She Said," and "Tattle Tales." One set of spouses remained on stage while the other was sequestered backstage; Eubanks asked the on-stage spouses questions designed in many cases to elicit sexually-construed replies, then the other set of spouses returned and had to match their mate's answers in order to score points. The episode featured in the countdown was the famous one in which Eubanks asked one wife what unusual place that she and hubby had made whoopee--her answer: "In the [bleeped] ass."

Naturally, I have a couple of grouses about GSN's selection of "Dating Game" and "Newlywed Game." First, although it is hilarious to behold, the Kaufman episode of "Dating Game" is hardly a typical episode of the show, and thus does not give a very good sense of it. GSN has done this sort of thing in a couple of other cases in the countdown, such as with "Press Your Luck" for which they aired the two-part episode in which contestant Michael Larson manipulated the game board to win over $100,000. On one hand, it's great to see these atypical episodes, but on the other hand, they are not representative of the game play and the dynamics of a show that caused it to be ranked among the 50 best of all time. My other grouse with "Dating Game" and "Newlywed Game" is simply their placement. Both are influential shows, but I don't think they deserve to be in the Top Ten. A good ten slots lower would probably be more appropriate.

Coming in at #8 in the countdown are Dick Clark's "Pyramid" shows. This series of games had different prefixes over the years, starting with "$10,000 Pyramid" in 1973, then increasing to "$20,000," "$25,000," "$50,000," and even "$100,000" (in a mid-1980s syndicated version) over the years. The newest version, a syndicated revival hosted by Donny Osmond, entitled simply "Pyramid," was on a few years ago.

The game play centered on the title polyhedron. Two pairs with a celebrity and a noncelebrity each competed in a couple of initial rounds in which they chose topics where one gave a succession of clues and the other had to guess the category that those clues fit into. The winning pair from these rounds went on to a final timed round in which the celebrity gave clues for a procession of six topics arranged in a pyramid shape. Each topic was higher on the pyramid, and if the contestant finished the entire pyramid of topics they won whichever sum was in the show's title at that juncture.

Two episodes were shown in the countdown. The first was a "$20,000 Pyramid" episode with Billy Crystal that included a clip from an earlier, now-lost episode in which Crystal helped a contestant win the big money in record time. The other episode was from the "$100,000 Pyramid" era with LeVar Burton.

The final show featured in last week's portion of the "50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time," the #7 show, was "Let's Make a Deal." Monty Hall famously wheeled and dealed in this prize show in which costumed contestants either accepted a prize offered by Hall or traded it for a chance (they hoped) at winning something far greater and more expensive. The appeal of the game was in the uncertainty of whether or not the prize traded for would in fact be better (as often as not, it was not), in addition to the playful way that the entire proceedings were conducted.

"Let's Make a Deal" introduced into the popular vernacular the idea of "seeing what is behind curtain #1" (or 2 or 3), as the biggest prizes (such as cars) were concealed behind drapes on the studio stage. Smaller prizes such as grocery items or small appliances or electronics were brought on trays by announcer and Hall sidekick Jay Stewart right out into the audience, where Stewart described them and Hall appealed simultaneously to a contestant's sense of greed and sense of thrift. Sometimes what was behind those curtains was not a car or similarly large-scale prize but what in the terminology of "Deal" was referred to as a "zonk." These were worthless prizes usually dressed up with humourous props and/or Stewart in a goofy costume.

Goofy costumes were not originally part of the formula of "Let's Make a Deal" when it premiered in 1963. The game was designed to be a simple trading game along the basic parameters that it kept throughout. But about a year into the series contestants (who could be anyone in the studio audience) began to dress in outlandish get-ups (anything from Little Bo Peep costumes to wearing a box made to look like a stoplight) to get Hall's attention and hopefully get chosen to compete. From then on, the outlandish contestant costumes became as much a part of the show's appeal as the deals that were its focus.

Six game shows remain in GSN's countdown. When the ranking reached the mid-teens, I made some predictions about some of the shows that were likely to be remaining. Now that we are down to the final half-dozen, I can do so again, and I think I can identify what all of the final shows will be (if not their exact ranks). I said before and I'll say again that the top three will be "The Price is Right," "Jeopardy," and "Wheel of Fortune," although any of them could end up being the top spot. The other three, I think, will be "Match Game," "Family Feud," and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." Starting tonight, we will see whether or not I am right.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 30s

Welcome to the latest installment of "The MediaLog Movies 100," my countdown of the hundred most influential movies in my life. These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

The "Movies 100" is not a film by film ranking in precise order, but rather groupings of ten films which have no additional discrimination within each group. Today's installment is the 30s, or films #31-40. The films are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, and in the case of foreign films, the country of origin (and English translation where applicable), in parentheses after the title, with the film's director listed after that. This is followed by a brief annotation on the film.

The remainder of the "Movies 100," including the highly anticipated Top Ten, will appear soon, so stay tuned to the MediaLog, and feel free (please!) to make comments on the countdown and the films in it.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 30s

The Apartment (1960) Billy Wilder. I've only just realized that this is the fourth Wilder film in the "Movies 100" (after Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, and Some Like It Hot). Although I've always liked him, I've never considered him to be one of my very favorite directors; I guess in light of his showing in the countdown, though, I should reconsider that preference. The Apartment is a great film about the "grey flannel suit" set of the 1950s and the corporate, "organization man" culture of the post-WWII era. Jack Lemmon (a Wilder regular) stars as a mid-level paper pusher who, in an attempt to curry favor with his superiors, allows them (particularly Fred MacMurray--another Wilder regular) to use his apartment as a rendezvous point for their extramarital trysts. Lemmon becomes enamored in a strictly chaste way with one of MacMurray's girlfriends, a young kewpie-doll cute Shirley MacLaine (in a star-making portrayal), who is the elevator operator in their office buliding. Hilarity and poignancy ensue when Lemmon takes care of an accidentally overdosed MacLaine in his apartment while his bosses wish to continue using it for their assignations.

The Birds (1963) Alfred Hitchcock. I did know that several Hitchcock films were in the countdown, as this legendary director made so many truly masterful films, and I was exposed to them very early in my cinematic tutelage (many in the first film course I ever took, in fact). Although this one is often discounted in light of his other, more prominent masterpieces, I think it is underrated. Flocks of randomly attacking birds of all kinds descend on the northern California sea village of Bodega Bay, where Tippi Hedren has impulsively followed Rod Taylor after a chance flirtatious encounter in, of all places, a pet shop selling birds. Jessica Tandy plays Taylor's mother, and the three of them, along with Taylor's young sister, end up trapped in their farm home during the feathered siege. The attacks by the birds are truly frightening, as they ambush Hedren while using a telephone booth, indirectly cause spilled gas to erupt in an explosion, chase scared schoolchildren, and nearly peck through the roof and doors of Taylor and Tandy's home. The most terrifying thing about The Birds is the fact that all of the attacks are inexplicable, with no discernible reasons or motivation or impetus. The creation of this kind of cinematic terror is the mark of a great director.

Chinatown (1974) Roman Polanski. Another of Jack Nicholson's greatest roles, private detective Jake Gittes in Chinatown has become one of the legendary characters of cinema. Set in 1930s Los Angeles, Chinatown is a story of the corruption and back-channel dealing that resulted in modern-day L.A. This dealing relates to the diversion of water to the arid L.A. basin so that it would be fertile enough and have enough municipal water to prosper. It doesn't sound like a real thrilling tale, but Polanski's direction (in a latter-day film noir style), the performances (in addition to Nicholson, Faye Dunaway and John Huston in co-starring roles), and the exquisite screenplay by Robert Towne make it into an absolutely compelling film. The film has restricted narration, which means that we as viewers only know what Gittes knows, and at times, that's not a whole lot since he is, throughout most of the film, a little clueless as to the true magnitude and import of what he has gotten himself into. In true noir form, Dunaway serves as an excellent femme fatale, there are healthy doses of double-crossing all around, and the L.A. landscape provides for some really nice imagery. Added to all this, Chinatown ends with a twist impossible in the original noir era and suitable to the "New Hollywood" era of the 1970s.

City Lights (1931) Charles Chaplin. Chaplin famously disregarded the transition from silent to sound cinema and kept making films starring his mute Tramp for a decade after silent film had become obsolete. He did succumb to the nonverbal elements made possible by sync sound, though, and this film was his first utilizing recorded music and sound effects, even if it still contained no dialogue. For example, in the film's opening scene the Tramp is snoozing unsuspected under the tarp that covers a statue only to be rudely waked up (and discovered) when the statue is unveiled; the pontificating officials who are speaking are not heard uttering speech but rather a "wah-wah" kind of nonspeech sound effect not unlike that which would later be used for the voices of adults in the "Peanuts" cartoons. In addition, Chaplin, who was also a composer, created the original score for City Lights, as he did for nearly all of his subsequent films. The film is one of the most poignant of all that the Tramp appeared in. At the beginning, he is, well, a tramp, and he encounters a beautiful blind woman (Virginia Cherrill) who is selling flowers on a street corner. Since she is blind, she can't see that the Tramp is a tramp, and mistakes him for a rich man who has bought some of her flowers. The Tramp perpetuates the misidentification because he enjoys her attention, and she further responds to the kindness and compassion he shows her. They develop a kind of platonic yet, for the Tramp, courting relationship, until she has surgery to correct her eyesight. The final scene, in which she discovers the true identity of the Tramp, is one of the most touching and genuinely heartfelt of any movie I have ever seen.

Grease (1978) Randal Kleiser. This 1950s nostalgia musical is truly one of the formative movies in my life. It came out when I was in first or second grade, and I would argue that it had as much impact on me as Star Wars did on me and others of my generation. Part of the reason for this is that it was one of the few times my family ever went to see a movie in a drive-in. As the perfect viewing environment for a film about '50s teenagers (that has one key scene that takes place at a drive-in), Grease made a strong impression. Helping out was the fact that my parents bought the soundtrack album (on vinyl, natch) shortly after. The remainder of my childhood had occasions when my sister and I would put Grease on the turntable and I would replay the movie in my head as the record spun, aided by the still photos on the double gatefold record sleeve. On at least one other occasion, the neighborhood boys and I dressed up in our jeans and white t-shirts and mimiced the choreography to "Greased Lightnin." I saw the film again for the first time in years on its 20th anniversary re-release in 1998, and I was delighted at how well it held up and surprised at the sexual content that I, of course, didn't get at age eight. John Travolta is Danny Zuko and Olivia Newton-John is Sandy, a teenage couple who has had a special summer romance, but is having a hard time now that school has started again. Zuko has his gang, the Thunderbirds, Sandy falls in with a group of girls called the Pink Ladies, and the two groups of kids enjoy hi-jinks, hot rod races, homecoming, and a graduation party with a full-fledged carnival that totally ruined me for high school when I found out that most schools didn't have one just like it.

L.A. Confidential (1997) Curtis Hanson. It's coincidental that this Los Angeles period piece appears in the same tier of the "Movies 100" as Chinatown, but its no coincidence that L.A. Confidential is almost as good. Set in the early-1950s instead of the 1930s, Confidential is a monument to the tabloid excesses of its late-studio, early-TV, scandal-sheet era. Guy Pearce (as Ed Exley) and Russell Crowe (as Bud White) appear in star-making turns as a pair of L.A. detectives who attempt to solve an intricate set of crimes that involve pornography, prostitution, racketeering, mob executions, police corruption, and the seemingly glamourous patina of Hollywood that envelopes all of it. The remaining cast is a sparkling ensemble: James Cromwell is their police captain, Dudley Smith; Kim Basinger (in a Best Supporting Actress Oscar-winning role) is Lynn Bracken, the Veronica Lake lookalike call girl that both Exley and White have affairs with; Kevin Spacey is fellow detective Jack Vincennes, a dapper dick who serves as "adviser" to a "Dragnet"-like TV series called "Badge of Honor"; and Danny DeVito is Sid Hudgens, the editor of a smarmy tabloid called "Hush-Hush" who puts most of the cops on the take in exchange for juicy info and photo ops. Hanson's direction of his and Brian Helgeland's script based on James Ellroy's novel provides a fascinating look into the seamy underside of the movie colony and its Southern California setting. I had the opportunity to meet Ellroy when the movie came out and he (an L.A. native, but now living in Kansas City) was a guest in a film course that I was helping to teach. His view into the world of L.A. Confidential (found also in his novel The Black Dahlia and memoir My Dark Places) is something to behold.

Psycho (1960) Alfred Hitchcock. There's no problem with this Hitchcock film being underrated; if I had to pick his best film, this might be it. Shot on the cheap with equipment and personnel from his TV series, this thriller is nonetheless one of film history's greatest, and marks a number of formal and industrial breakthroughs as well. To begin with, there is the murder of the main character about one-third into the film--something unheard of before Psycho (and not common since). It is also basically the grandfather of every slasher film that has followed. Industry-wise, it opened the door for films to be more daring in their portrayal of sex and violence, and the films and directors of the late-1960s "New Hollywood" movement would strut right through that door. Janet Leigh plays Marion Crane, a secretary who has noontime trysts with her boyfriend and goes on the lam after she pilfers a pile of money from her boss. She ends up at the secluded Bates Motel, welcomed by caretaker Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), who is awfully lonely and wants something to distract him from his overbearing live-in mother. Marion provides quite a distraction, and the ensuing legendary "shower scene" is, like the "Odessa Steps" sequence in Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin (in the 40s in the "Movies 100"), a textbook example of editing technique (not to mention the source of many an anxiety about taking showers).

The Shawshank Redemption (1994) Frank Darabont. This film started out as a low-profile character study starring Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne and Morgan Freeman as "Red" Redding and directed by the then-unknown Darabont. Once available on video, Shawshank took on a life of its own, finding a large cult audience and benefitting from the growing Internet fanbase, which currently ranks the film at #2 (behind only The Godfather) on IMDb's Top 250 films. Based on a Stephen King short story, the film is the story of the friendship that inmates Robbins and Freeman strike up while in the Shawshank prison in 1940s Maine. Robbins is a new convict in for a crime he didn't commit (the murder of his estranged wife), while Freeman is an old convict serving a decades-long sentence for a youthful robbery. Freeman, known in Shawshank as the guy who can get stuff for inmates, and Robbins, who becomes with his accounting training a wily and conniving lackey for the corrupt warden, dream about getting out and living the good life in Mexico, and eventually, years later, they realize their dream. Shawshank is a nice period piece that gives a glimpse into the mid-century prison setting, while also being a tour-de-force examination of the power of hope.

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly. This landmark musical is, besides being filled with infectiously peppy music, a great comic story about a landmark era in movie history: the transition from silent to sound cinema. Co-director Gene Kelly stars as a silent film swashbuckler in the Douglas Fairbanks mold, Donald O'Conner is his sidekick and musical guru, Jean Hagen is his silent film leading lady who isn't quite as successful in talkies, and Debbie Reynolds is the ingenue who replaces Hagen as Kelly's leading lady of preference both on and off screen. The film is filled with wonderful examples of the foibles of the new talkies (which, although made humorous, are pretty close to the actual problems encountered when sound films first emerged): the incongruity between the sound of actors' voices and their images (suffered by Hagen's character here, and stars such as John Gilbert in real life); issues related to syncing sound and image, both in production and in exhibition; the thorny logistics of microphone placement (illustrated in a hilarious scene in which Hagen has a microphone concealed in her oversize boutonniere); and the hazard of inadvertent sounds being recorded (illustrated in the same hilarious scene just mentioned). Songs like "Good Morning," "Make 'Em Laugh," "Moses," and the title song, and the remarkable dance sequence with Kelly and Cyd Charisse to the music of "Broadway Rhythm Ballet," add great enjoyment, especially the iconic "Singin' in the Rain" song and dance sequence by Kelly, performed while joyfully stomping through puddles of rainwater.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) Robert Wise. When this film came out, I only vaguely knew of Star Trek, having inadvertantly seen a handful of reruns of the original series on TV (I was eight at the time). Still, having been conditioned to enjoy sci-fi through my generation's interest in Star Wars, I begged my dad to take me to this film, which he did, I remember vividly, on New Year's Day 1980. From that day, I have been an avid Trek fan. This first ST movie has gotten a bad reputation as a plodding, boring mess, but I strongly disagree with that assessment. True, it is very slowly and deliberately paced, but that is not necessarily the sign of a bad film. I think that ST:TMP, on the contrary, is a wonderful examination of the character relationships among the three main characters, Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and McCoy (DeForest Kelley), as well as an exploration of their vessel, the Starship Enterprise, and its place in their lives. In addition, it is a philosophically intriguing story about human evolution and the implications of humanity's forays out into the universe. For those unfamiliar with the plot, the film is set several years after the time period of the original series, when Kirk has been promoted from starship captain to paper-pushing admiral, and he itches to get back to the final frontier. A major overhaul of the Enterprise is just reaching completion (in practical, moviemaking terms, to make the ship more silver screen friendly compared to its old TV counterpart), and is to be commanded by a brash young new--and inexperienced--captain, Decker (Stephen Collins). When a massive lumbering seemingly-sentient behemoth spaceship that calls itself "V'ger" is found to be on course to destroy the Earth, the Enterprise, with Kirk commandeering a ride, is sent to explore the threat. Ultimately, Kirk and crew save the world (of course), but not before Decker uses V'ger to make what could be the next leap in human evolution.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 40s

The legendary countdown known as "The MediaLog Movies 100" tiptoes through the forties in this installment. As anyone who has been following the "Movies 100" knows, it is not a film by film ranking in precise order, but a set of ten ranked film groupings which have no additional breakdown within each grouping (and if you didn't know, now you do). Films are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, country of origin (if not American), and director listed after the title. A brief annotation on the film follows.

These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

There are still forty more films to come, and I know that you won't want to miss finding out what they are (and especially my witty commentary on them). All the nations of the Earth await the secret identities of the ten films at the top of the countdown. Please, please, please, make a comment on any of my picks--even the Spielberg films.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 40s

Apocalypse Now (1979) Francis Ford Coppola. At times during this film, you wonder whether or not you really are experiencing the apocalypse. A strong cast includes Martin Sheen as the narrating Captain Willard, Robert Duvall as the near-psychotic Lt. Col. Kilgore (of "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" fame), Marlon Brando as the completely psychotic Col. Kurtz, and Dennis Hopper as a disoriented photographer under the thrall of Kurtz. Willard is given the charge by his superiors to travel through the Vietnamese jungle wilderness to "take out" the renegade Kurtz, who has established himself as something of a warlord. The journey into the "heart of darkness" (the movie is a loose adaptation of the Joseph Conrad novel of that name) taken by Willard was replicated by director Coppola, who by most reports came a little unhinged during the protracted production of Apocalypse Now. The result, though, is imagery the likes of which has never been seen before or since.

Battleship Potemkin (1925-Russian) Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein was one of the Russian Formalist filmmakers of the 1920s, and Potemkin is his masterpiece. The story of the crew of the Battleship Potemkin who mutinied in support of the oppressed citizens of Odessa in 1905, the film is a rarity in the history of cinema in that it features a group protagonist rather than a singular one. The crew of the Potemkin serves as this group protagonist, as they first perform their normal duties onboard the ship, then rebel against their leaders to help the citizens. This help comes most potently in the form of turning the Potemkin's guns on the soldiers who are engaged in a massacre against the townfolk. The sequence showing the massacre, the "Odessa steps" sequence, is one of the most well-known in all of cinema; it serves often as a textbook example of the power of editing, and especially of the intellectual montage that Eisenstein promoted. Potemkin is a potent example that the movies include much more than just the product from Hollywood.

Delicatessen (1991-French) Jean-Pierre Jeunet & Marc Caro. Another great example of non-Hollywood product, Delicatessen is a French film by the eclectic duo of Jeunet and Caro. Set in a post-apocalyptic city where meat is extremely scarce and dried beans are used as currency, the denizens of an apartment building dodge the cleaver of the butcher whose sparse delicatessen occupies the ground floor of their building and who would like to turn them into the daily special. Dominique Pinon and Marie-Laure Dougnac play a saw-playing musician and the cello-playing daughter of the butcher, respectively, who fall in love and save the day. Inventive imagery and creative sound effects (including one sequence that I like to call the "bedspring symphony") make the film a sensual delight.

Diner (1982) Barry Levinson. Like Levinson's Tin Men (in the 50s in the "Movies 100"), this is one of his "Baltimore films." Also his breakthrough as a director, it's an ensemble piece featuring a cast (many in their first movie roles) that just happened to go on to become big stars: Kevin Bacon, Paul Reiser, Mickey Rourke, Daniel Stern, Steve Guttenberg, Tim Daly, and Ellen Barkin. A group of college-age friends hangs out in the local diner, swapping stories over coffee and burgers, forestalling maturity. When Guttenberg's character gets married, their clique threatens to split up. The repartee among the characters is fast-paced, witty, and set the standard for aimless movie chatter.

E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) Steven Spielberg. Perhaps Spielberg's best film (in my opinion), E.T. is a remarkable story of an alien creature and his symbiotic bond with a small boy. From the trail of Reese's Pieces and the jerry-rigged "phone home" contraption E.T. uses to, well, phone home, to the sight of E.T.'s face hidden amongst a bevy of stuffed animals to avoid detection by the adults and the unforgettable moonlit silhouette of E.T. riding on the handlebars of a bicycle, the film offers so many memorable moments that it remains one of the most memorable films I've ever seen. It's too bad that Spielberg (along with his buddy George Lucas) became a self-revisionist and decided to make silly changes such as replacing police officer's guns with walkie-talkies in the 20th anniversary reissue of the film.

It Happened One Night (1934) Frank Capra. Any film that was directed by the great Capra, starred Clark Gable, and was one of the great screwball comedy deserves a note of distinction. Claudette Colbert co-stars as a spoiled debutante who becomes a fugitive from her overbearing father who wants her to marry a dolt. Gable is a newspaper reporter assigned to cover the story of her flight; he infiltrates her life by acting as her cross-country escort, only to fall in love with her in true screwball fashion. The two are at each other's throats throughout the film, when they are riding on the bus, when they check into a motel as a married couple to avoid suspicion, even when they finally profess their love for each other. Gable especially gives a vibrant performance, and it is his role in this film (for which he won a Best Actor Oscar) that catapulted him to superstardom.

On the Waterfront (1954) Elia Kazan. Films often reflect what is going on in the culture, and sometimes reflect real life events in the lives of their makers. Kazan was one of the filmmakers who "named names" in the blacklisting era of the late-1940s/early-1950s, and this film is a defense of, and an apology for, if you will, having done so. Marlon Brando stars as Terry Malloy, a washed-up boxer who works as muscle for the local mob down "on the waterfront." Rod Steiger is his brother, Charlie, who should have looked out for Terry, but instead looked out for himself financially. Terry rats out the mob guys after feeling responsible for the death of a friend who died at the hands of the mob. Karl Malden is the priest and Eva Marie Saint the girl who help Terry out in his quest to break the grip of the mob on the workers of the waterfront. The film is almost Neorealist in its stark imagery shot on location on the real New York waterfront, and is the source of one of the greatest movie quotes ("I coulda been a contender").

The Player (1992) Robert Altman. Considered Altman's "comeback" film (after a decade making films based on stage plays, partially in Europe), The Player is the ultimate Hollywood insider film. Famous for the dozens of cameos by actors and filmmakers playing themselves, the story of the film is about a cocky movie executive (Tim Robbins) who accidentally kills a writer and tries to cover it up. It's a great satire on the film industry of the early-1990s, especially in the opening shot which is a continuous eight-minute shot without a cut that roams around a movie studio as it comes to life one morning. Altman's career was revived after this film, and he went on to make the great Short Cuts the following year.

Return of the Jedi (1983) Richard Marquand. The third of the original Star Wars trilogy, Jedi is also the third best (which means, guess what, the other two are still to come in the countdown). Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were seminal moviegoing and cultural experiences for me and millions of boys my age, but by '83 I was growing a little long in the tooth (along with the millions of other boys) for Ewoks and X-Wings. A Star Wars film is still a Star Wars film, though, and so this movie was third only to the first two installments, and remained (for a while) still ahead of everything else. I always thought that having Leia and Luke be brother and sister was stretching credibility a little too far, but it was still fun to watch the two of them, along with Han Solo, Chewbacca, and R2-D2 and C-3PO, beat the pants off of mean ol' Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Sullivan’s Travels (1941) Preston Sturges. If It Happened One Night was the first great screwball comedy, then this might be the last. Joel McCrea stars as the title character, a movie director who has made his success with light, frothy comedies, but who aspires to be a serious filmmaker. In order to gain the life experience he thinks he needs in order to do so, he sets off penniless to find out how the "other half" lives. At first, his studio insists on trailing him with a caravan replete with publicist and staff physician, but once Sullivan ditches them, his journey becomes a little too real when he is suspected of a crime and, because he has no identification, is sentenced to a chain gang. While incarcerated, he attends a movie screening with the inmates and witnesses them howling with laughter at a Mickey Mouse cartoon, which makes him realize that it's not so bad to make people laugh after all. Veronica Lake is the damsel that he encounters during his travels who ends up as his love interest.

The MediaLog MediaFix: "What's My Line?" (1965)

Keeping with my practice throughout the Game Show Network's "50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time," here is a clip from one of the game shows featured last week. "What's My Line?" was one of the most venerable game shows in TV history, running from 1950-67 on Sunday evenings on CBS, then for eight more years in syndication. This longish segment (about nine minutes) is from 1965, towards the end of the CBS run. It is worth watching, though, as it is an ideal clip for those unfamiliar with "WML?" It includes the opening credits, the introduction of the panel and of moderator John Charles Daly, and the first guest. Skateboard demonstrator is the occupation of the guest, Pat McGee, who was also the reigning female national skateboard champion. Panelist Arlene Francis gets pretty close to it right away, and the interplay is a great example of the game play of "What's My Line?" If you're interested in seeing more of the show, it airs on GSN overnight weeknights at 3:30 am EST/2:30 am CST.

(9 mins. 1 sec.; source: YouTube)


The Number Fifteen to Number Eleven Greatest Game Shows of All Time

Game Show Network's "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time"--airing Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights at 10 pm EST/9 pm CST still this week and next week--came to the cusp of the Top Ten last week. All of the entries leading up to the Top Ten seem to be good solid picks that are placed well. "Password" is at #15, "What's My Line?" is at #14, "Press Your Luck" at #13, "The Gong Show" at #12, and "Hollywood Squares" is at #11.

"Password" is the classic game show (airing 1961-67, and again 1971-75) that featured partners one of which gave clues and the other of which had to guess what word (or "password") the clues described. Allen Ludden's entire game moderating career (more or less) consisted of hosting versions of this game. The game play is really as simple as the description I have just given. Ludden stood at a podium in the middle, with the two pairs of contestants (one in each pair a celebrity, one a noncelebrity) flanking him on either side. Ludden handed cards containing the password to the contestants giving the clues as the word was superimposed on the screen (and softly intoned by the announcer) for the benefit of the viewing audience. That's it; hardly any money, no flashing lights, no elaborate game board, no shapely models caressing wares. "Password" was a refreshingly simple game that in some form lasted until the mid-1980s, but the likes of which I doubt we'll ever see again.

"What's My Line?" is equally simple and equally (if not more so) refreshing. One of the most perennial games, it was a Sunday evening institution on CBS from 1950-67 before going on to eight more years in syndication. The network version featured John Charles Daly (initially also ABC's news anchor) as moderator and actress Arlene Francis, columnist Dorothy Kilgallen, and publisher Bennett Cerf as more or less permanent members of the panel, with a weekly guest panelist filling out the quartet. The syndicated version retained Francis while adding Soupy Sales as a permanent panelist and utilizing two guest panelists (one of which was often Cerf until his death). Wally Bruner, then Larry Blyden, hosted the syndicated "WML?"

The "What's My Line?" game play was panel-based, a common form in games originating in the pre-big money 1950s. The four panelists had to guess the occupation of contestants through "yes" or "no" questions, with the contestant winning a nominal cash amount for each "no" answer. Two variations were often used: if the name of the person would give away their occupation, then they were presented as Mr. or Mrs. X. Each episode also featured a celebrity "mystery guest." Since the panelists would know this person on sight, they had to wear blindfolds for the mystery guest while the guest disguised his or her voice, usually humorously. Otherwise, the questioning for X or mystery guests proceeded according to pretty much the same format (with obvious modifications). The 1973 episode featured in the countdown had as a "Mr. X" guest Jimmy Carter, who at that time was Governor of Georgia but unknown to national audiences just a few years before becoming president.

Producer Gil Fates, who was with "What's My Line?" from the first show in 1950 until the last syndicated episode in 1975 wrote a fascinating book (called simply "What's My Line?") in the late-1970s detailing the show's history. Although now out of print, the book is a wealth of information on the game and a must-read for any fan of "What's My Line?"

The number 13 game show, "Press Your Luck," was perhaps the antithesis of simple games like "What's My Line?" and "Password." It featured one of the ultimate fancy game boards, the quickly changing, brightly lit, pulsating ring of prize panels that a contestant stopped by pressing their plunger, and thus pressing their luck. Because, they could win a prize or they could land on a "whammy," that red Tasmanian Devil-like creature that in addition to eliminating any accumulated cash and prizes the contestant may have had, also subjected them to some kind of humiliation (e.g. something dumped on their head) and a short animation.

Host Peter Tomarken asked three contestants multiple choice questions in a first phase in which they earned spins for correct answers. Then they moved on to a round in which they used those spins, winning prizes such as jewelry or trips or cash amounts, and in some cases extra spins. They could at any time pass unused spins on to an opponent, with the hopes that he or she would land on a whammy. The episodes featured in the countdown were atypical in that contestant Michael Larson spun for something like thirty or forty consecutive spins (winning additional spins along the way) without landing on a whammy, in the process winning $110,000, the most ever on "PYL." As it turns out, he had memorized the patterns in which the prizes and whammies appeared on the game board and used that knowledge to manipulate the game. "PYL" producers changed the patterns afterwards, and had to split the game into the show's only two-part episode, both of which were shown on the GSN countdown.

Several other Chuck Barris-produced shows appeared lower on the countdown; at #12 is his best known game (which he also hosted), "The Gong Show." The game play on "The Gong Show" was simple, or, some might say, simply stupid. A panel of three celebrity judges were (as was the audience) subjected to a "talent" contest of unimaginably bad performances. Many performances never made it to their finish, as the "gong" in "The Gong Show" consisted of the possibility that one of the judges would bang a large gong which symbolized that they thought the performance was so bad that it did not deserve to be completed. A significant proportion of the contestants were subjected to the gong. The episode in the countdown featured an early-career Steve Martin as a judge and a woman in a gorilla mask who sang, a Clark Gable as Rhett Butler impersonator who sang, a surprisingly good fiddle player, and a black soul group (among others) as contestants. The soul group won.

In addition to serving as a satire on talent shows, "The Gong Show" was a self-conscious send up of game shows in general. Barris himself served as a parody (perhaps unwittingly, but likely not) of the game show host. He always wore a tux, but sometimes with tie untied and shirt open to the chest, sometimes with a top hat pulled over his eyes. He often spoke with bad diction and maintained poor eye contact with the camera. In addition, he conducted the proceedings with a distinct air of condescension and most likely laughed all the way to the bank. "The Gong Show" was not much as a game, but it was a gem for those into camp.

"Hollywood Squares" was the number eleven game show of all time. Nine celebrities--in the countdown episode Doc Sevrinson, Sandra Dee, Harvey Korman, Amanda Blake, Karen Valentine, Wally Cox, Joey Bishop, Hugh O'Brian, and, of course, Paul Lynde in the center square--sat in a huge tic-tac-toe "game board" with each representing one of the nine squares. Two noncelebrity contestants were presented by host Peter Marshall with questions to which answers, sometime bogus, sometimes genuine, were given by the celebrity whose square they had chosen. The bogus, comical answers given by the celebs were the point of the show just as much as the game play (not unlike in Groucho Marx's "You Bet Your Life"). The contestant had to decide whether or not the answer given was real or fake, and if correct their symbol (either "X" or "O") was lit up in front of that square. Three X's or three O's won the game, just as in tic-tac-doe.

The Top Ten greatest game shows of all time remain, airing this week and next. The MediaLog will return with comments on all of them, right up to the Number One Greatest Game Show.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 50s

"The MediaLog Movies 100" reaches the halfway point with this installment, featuring the #51-60 films. The "Movies 100" is not a film by film ranking in precise order, though, but a set of ten ranked film groupings which have no additional breakdown within each grouping.

Films are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, country of origin (if not American), and director listed after the title. A brief annotation on the film follows.

These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

The upper half of the countdown is still to come. America waits with eager anticipation for the remaining five tiers. Make a comment if you wish on the countdown or any of the films therein. You know you want to.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 50s

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) John Hughes. We should all every once in a while have a day off like Ferris had, if only to keep us on our toes. Matthew Broderick, in a career-making role, plays Ferris, a lovable yet impish high schooler who just doesn't feel like going to school one day. After wheedling his best friend (Alan Ruck) and girlfriend (Mia Sara) into joining him, he skips school to gallivant around his hometown of Chicago, taking in a Cubs game and the Art Institute, and performing "Twist and Shout" and "Danke Schoen" in a parade (not a good way to avoid detection for truancy). The day off is not without hazard, though, as the school principal (Jeffrey Jones) is on the hunt for habitual school-skipper Ferris, Ferris' sister (Jennifer Grey) is on to his scheme, and he makes it back to his supposed sickbed just in time for Mom and Dad to find him right where they left him that morning. Along the way the teen trio learns lessons of assertiveness and the value of taking it easy in this wholly enjoyable teen flick.

Laura (1944) Otto Preminger. Perhaps my favorite film noir, Laura is the story of two men (Dana Andrews & Clifton Webb) who each have an obsession with the title character (played by Gene Tierney). At the beginning of the film, though, Laura is presumed dead, only to show up mid-film to the great surprise of the detective Andrews, who is investigating her death and falls in love with her--or rather her image in a painted portrait that features prominently. Webb is a newspaper columnist-cum-radio commentator who maintains a platonic relationship with her while harboring romantic feelings of his own.

Metropolis (1927-German) Fritz Lang. This great silent science fiction film is a story of the class struggle, set in a futuristic society where the ruling class (the "head") subjugates, and as a result doesn't understand, the working class (the "hands"). One young man of the ruling class, the son of a factory magnate, decides to find out how the working class lives and infiltrates the workers in his father's factory. He falls in love with Maria, the leader of the workers, only to have his father replace her with a robot. A lot of mechanistic imagery of factory machinery and ranks of workers, all very futurist and modernist in nature, helps to make this pioneering sci-fi film a visual delight.

Modern Times (1936) Charles Chaplin. I did not plan it this way, but Chaplin's satire of mechanization is a great companion piece to Metropolis. The same kind of mechnistic imagery found in the former film is used by Chaplin here in a comical fashion, as The Tramp (in the iconic character's last film) runs afoul of assembly lines and gear shafts, while courting the gamin played by Paulette Goddard (one of Chaplin's real-life wives). I've always thought that it is apt that in the forlorn Tramp's last film, rather than walking alone into the distance in the middle of a film-ending iris-out, as he does in most of his other films, he walks out the same way, only accompanied by Goddard's character, as if to signify that as The Tramp disappears into the sunset for the last time he does so having finally found love.

The Navigator (1924) Buster Keaton. Another of Keaton's great silent comedy features, The Navigator has Buster at sea. He plays a rich socialite whose beloved rejects his marriage proposal. They both end up accidentally on board her father's ship, "The Navigator," not knowing that her father has been captured by spies who cut the boat loose. Hilarity ensues as Buster creates comedy out of a variety of maritime contraptions and situations, and romance results as he manages to convince his damsel of his true love. As an undergraduate film student, I took a class exclusively on Buster Keaton's films and was able to see all of his great works and develop a love for this unique filmmaker. This interest was stoked in graduate school when I was able to attend several of the annual Buster Keaton Festivals in Iola, Kansas, near his rural Kansas birthplace. Keaton's stoneface comic persona (in which he reacts to all variety of circumstances, comic and action-oriented alike, with a stoic, nonsmiling facial expression) is one of the icons of cinema.

The Pawnbroker (1965) Sidney Lumet. One of the most haunting films ever, this is the story of a concentration camp survivor who, twenty years later, is a simple pawnbroker who tries to keep to himself and resents anyone who intrudes on his attempts at seclusion. The one thing that he cannot prevent from intruding is his memories, which flare up throughout the film in nearly subliminial flashbacks, such as when he (through a turn of events) ends up in a room with a topless woman and can only think about the naked female prisoners being led to their death. The pawnbroker's surroundings in a mid-1960s ghetto neighborhood are thus juxtaposed with the circumstances of Nazi death camps in one of the films that prefigured the films of the late-1960s "New Hollywood."

Raging Bull (1980) Martin Scorsese. Widely considered to be the best film of the 1980s, this is also one of Scorsese's best. Robert De Niro portrays boxer Jake LaMotta, whose story is told in flashback from the perspective of his later, desperate career telling old stories in nightclubs to make a buck. De Niro (winner of a Best Actor Oscar for his efforts in the film) famously put on extra weight to play the latter-day LaMotta, and Cathy Moriarty plays his shrewish wife. Raging Bull is one of the great recent black and white films, as Scorsese modelled its look (especially in the boxing scenes) after the contemporary black and white tabloid photography of the 1950s. Perennial De Niro sidekick Joe Pesci co-stars as LaMotta's brother.

Se7en (1995) David Fincher. Fincher was one of the great new filmmakers of the 1990s, with films such as this one, Fight Club (in the 70s in the Movies 100), and The Game. This is probably his best thus far, and it's a horrifying story the name of which refers to the Seven Deadly Sins. Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman star as the archetypical brand new detective partnered with the grizzled veteran on the verge of retirement, only the cliché is overlaid with a strikingly original tale of twisted depravity set in an unnamed city of unsurpassed dreariness. Kevin Spacey is the righteous psychopath who commits a series of slayings the victims and methods for which match each of the deadly sins. He manages to finish the seven killings through a double murder with a stupefying and shocking twist.

Some Like It Hot (1959) Billy Wilder. This Wilder film stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as jazz musicians on the lam from the mob, and Marilyn Monroe (in her best role) as the singer of the girl band they join under assumed female identities--and in drag--in an attempt to keep a low profile. Much of the film consists of the train ride to the band's gig in Florida, with a variety of comic situations stemming from the two male stars in female garb. Once in Florida, another large segment of the film deals with Curtis' second assumed identity as a millionaire playboy that tries to seduce Monroe's character, Sugar Kane. The film ends with what is perhaps one of the greatest closing lines in film history: when the rich codger (Joe E. Brown) that has been pursuing Lemmon in his female guise finds out that he is really a man as they speed out to sea in a speed boat, Brown's reply is, "Oh, well, nobody's perfect."

Tin Men (1987) Barry Levinson. This is a lesser-known Levinson film, one of his "Baltimore trilogy" that also includes Diner and Avalon (and, made after the label was affixed, Liberty Heights). Danny De Vito and Richard Dreyfuss star as "tin men," or aluminum siding salesmen in early-1960s Baltimore. Barbara Hershey is De Vito's wife, and John Mahoney, Bruno Kirby, Michael Tucker, J.T. Walsh, and Seymour Cassel are fellow tin men. The tin men engage is questionable sales tactics, cutthroat competition with one another, and dubious ethics in a field that was still new and ungoverned at the beginning of the 1960s; the nominal plot of the film involves a government investigation into the practices of the aluminum siding industry that threatens to end the unique subculture of the tin men. The film bristles with the same kind of snappy dialogue and eclectic and eccentric characters as Levinson's breakthrough film Diner, and in the end is almost as good. Coming out in the late-1980s, Tin Men was one of the first movies my family had on videotape after getting our first VCR, so I learned it almost by heart before I ever started to study film in a serious way.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 60s

"The MediaLog Movies 100" saunters through the 60s with this installment; not the 1960s, but the films ranked #61-70. You see, the "Movies 100" is not a film by film ranking in precise order but a set of ten ranked film groupings which have no additional breakdown within each grouping.

Films are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, country of origin (if not American), and director listed after the title. A brief annotation on the film follows.

These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

We're almost halfway through the countdown, so keep coming back to see the rest, especially the highly anticipated Top Ten. Please make comments on the countdown and the films in it if you feel so inclined.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 60s

Back to the Future (1985) Robert Zemeckis. The 1950s never seemed more cool as when Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox in his first big film role) time-travelled back to them in a souped up DeLorean. Obeying the time-travelling rule of not screwing up anything in the past that will affect the present, Marty has to make sure his parents meet in high school so that he will later exist. The deft interplay of anacrhonism, comparative culture, and solid performances (including Lea Thompson and Crispin Glover as Marty's parents) makes for clever and comical situations.

Days of Heaven (1978) Terrence Malick. Few films contain images as beautiful as those in Days of Heaven. Shot mainly during the "golden hour," the brief period of time just prior to dusk when a golden glow suffuses the sky and land, Malick used this look to create a lyrical film of exquisite pictures of trains puffing away and wheat fields in various states of harvest. Richard Gere plays a fugitive who with his lover and another young girl go on the lam and join a threshing crew in early-1900s Texas. The rich farmer asks the lover to marry him, and knowing that he is terminally ill, she accepts, expecting him to die and leave her an inheritance. When the farmer stubbornly does not die, jealousy and impatience erupt into violence.

Grand Canyon (1991) Lawrence Kasdan. I saw this movie when I had just started to become interested in film in more than a casual way. Although I started out as a journalism major in college, by the fall of my sophomore year I was leaning towards film and made the plunge in that new major over the winter. I saw this film in mid-dive, and it made an impression on me, even if it may not be the greatest movie. Now, how about some comments on the actual film!: a great ensemble cast including Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Mary McDonnell, Danny Glover, Alfre Woodard, and Mary-Louise Parker, populates the Los Angeles setting and story that attempts to capture the early-1990s zeitgeist. Glover plays a hard-working black tow truck driver, Kline a hard-working white lawyer, and while the two would never normally cross each other's paths in '90s L.A., they end up doing so here to interesting effect. McDonnell is Kline's wife, Martin is his movie-producer best friend, Parker is the co-worker who falls in love with him, and Woodard the co-worker that he tries to set Glover up with.

Monsieur Verdoux (1947) Charles Chaplin. A lesser-known Chaplin film, Verdoux is one of his later stories, a black comedy about a man (the title Monsieur) who marries rich widows only to kill them off and pocket their fortunes, but doing so to provide for his sick wife. Martha Raye co-stars as one of the widows, who turns out to be more difficult to exterminate than most of his victims.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Milos Forman. One of the better filmic adaptations of novels, Cuckoo's Nest--based on the Ken Kesey book--is the story of Randle Patrick McMurphy (Jack Nicholson, in maybe the best performance of his career). Perennial jailbird McMurphy finds himself jailed again on a statutory rape charge, only he plays cuckoo so that he gets transferred to what he thinks will be the much more cushy psych ward. Despite the grief he gets from tyrannical Nurse Ratched (Louise Fletcher), Randle helps many of his fellow patients (including Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd in early roles) make therapeutic breakthroughs, although his own fate is not so positive. The film was the first in over forty years (since Capra's It Happened One Night in 1934) to win the "big five" Academy Awards: best picture, best director for Forman, best actor for Nicholson, best actress for Fletcher, and best screenplay.

Rashomon (1950-Japanese) Akira Kurosawa. This is a pioneering entry in the category of fractured narrative that I have been talking about in the countdown regarding several 1990s films. A woman is raped and her husband murdered in the countryside of 12th century Japan; the viewer does not see the act, but rather is presented four different enactments of it, as seen through the interpretations of the wife and three other witnesses. Questions of interpretation and truth are at the center of the film that first brought the great Kurosawa (as well as Japanese cinema in general) international recognition.

Rocky IV (1985) Sylvester Stallone. Here is another film that falls into the "guilty pleasure" category for me. The Christmas season when it came out (I was in 8th grade) I got as gifts the soundtrack audio cassette, the novelization, the poster book, and probably one or two other things I am forgetting. I still enjoy the soundtrack, filled with songs from '80s stalwarts like Survivor and Kenny Loggins, as well as "Living in America" by James Brown. This is a classic late-Cold War tale (like Red Dawn from the previous year, in the 80s in the Movies 100), pitting the most famous fictional boxer, Rocky Balboa, against Ivan Drago, a Soviet fighting machine. Characterizing the film is the montage sequence showing Drago training while hooked up to high-tech machines and electrodes, attended to by a cadre of doctors and scientists, while Rocky trains in the snow, chopping wood, pulling a cart like a horse, and doing pull-ups on the barn rafters, attended to only by his goofy brother-in-law Pauly.

Safety Last (1923) Harold Lloyd. This is perhaps Lloyd's best and best-known silent comedy feature. He plays a simple country boy who moves to the city and works as a department store clerk. The manager offers $1,000 to any employee who can come up with a surefire way to attract more customers; Harold offers his friend, the "Human Fly," who climbs tall buildings like said insect. Problem is, the Fly is unable to do his thing, and so Harold goes out to climb the building himself. The result is the perfect example of what has been called Lloyd's brand of "thrill comedy," as he (naturally) encounters obstacles and near-falls during his ascent. Lloyd was famous for doing all his own stunts, and although he wasn't really as high as he is made to look, he was nonetheless in real danger as he climbed the walls for the film. This sequence is the source of one of the most widely known images from all of cinema--even for people who have never heard of Harold Lloyd: him dangling over the street from the hand of an oversize clock that is mounted near the top of the skyscraper.

Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928) Buster Keaton. With this film, this tier of the MediaLog Movies 100 contains a film from each of the triumvirate of great silent film comedians: Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd. This was the last film Buster made independently before going briefly to the MGM studio to make his last silent feature, The Cameraman (in the 80s in the Movies 100). It's the story of the title character (played by Keaton), an effete city slicker who meets his long lost father (Steamboat Bill, Sr.) for the first time in his small-town home. A riverboat captain, Sr. tries to train Jr. in the ways of the steamboat, but Jr. is more interested in courting the daughter of Sr.'s riverboat rival. When Jr. saves them all from a hurricane, everyone lives happily ever after. Like Lloyd, Buster did almost all of his own stunts, and one of his most famous appears in this film: during the hurricane, the front of a building falls clean off and lands in the street, with a window opening perfectly placed so that it falls over the oblivious Buster, who avoids being crushed by the facade.

The Unknown (1927) Tod Browning. In this incredible silent film, Lon Chaney (the "Man of a Thousand Faces") portrays an armless circus performer who throws knives with his feet--except for he really does have arms, he's just pretending not to so that fellow circus performer Estrellita, who has a horrible phobia for men's arms, will love him. When she does fall in love with him, he has his arms (secretly) amputated for real, only to have another man cure her of her phobia, leaving Alonzo (Chaney) with no arms and no lover.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 70s

This installment of "The MediaLog Movies 100" takes the countdown through the 70s, that is, the films ranked #71-80. The "Movies 100" is not a film by film ranking in precise order, though, but rather groupings of ten films which have no additional breakdown within each group.

The films are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, and in the case of foreign films, the country of origin (and English translation where applicable), in parentheses after the title, with the film's director listed after that. This is followed by a brief annotation on the film.

These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

Keep checking back with the MediaLog for the remainder of the countdown, which will be forthcoming over the next couple of weeks, in additional ten film installments, right up to the Top Ten. Feel free (please!) to make comments on the countdown and the films in it.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 70s

Almost Famous (2000) Cameron Crowe. This movie is a bit of autobiographical storytelling on Crowe's part. The main character, William Miller (played by Patrick Fugit), becomes a teenage correspondent for "Rolling Stone" magazine (which is real) as he tours with the band Stillwater (which is not real) to research and write a profile piece; Crowe did the same thing when he was a teen, also for "Rolling Stone" but for actual rather than imaginary bands. A superb supporting cast populates William's rock and roll world, including Kate Hudson as the Stillwater groupie that he falls in love with, Billy Crudup and Jason Lee as members of Stillwater (who are not real), Frances McDormand as William's mother (who is not real, although Crowe's mother was), and Philip Seymour Hoffman as rock critic Lester Bangs (who was real but is dead now).

Dazed and Confused (1993) Richard Linklater. This is a fun film enjoyable in repeat viewings due to its infectious soundtrack from the mid-1970s, solid ensemble performances, and meandering narrative that portrays the day and night of the last day of school in 1976 in a Texas small-town high school. The story centers on Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins), a newly-anointed high school freshman who with his friends has to suffer the slings and arrows of initiation into adolescence at the hands of the newly-anointed seniors. The whole gang goofs off in the last hours of the school year, hangs out at the local pool hall teen hangout, and parties under the artificial illumination of the Moon Tower. Matthew McConaughey and Ben Affleck appear in early film roles as a couple of the older kids.

Fight Club (1999) David Fincher. This is another of the fractured-narrative movies with a twist that appeared in the 1990s. Nothing is as it seems as Brad Pitt and Edward Norton rebel against the materialistic mainstream culture by beating the hell out of each other and forming "fight clubs" in which otherwise respectable, also rebelling middle-class guys can do the same thing. Helena Bonham-Carter co-stars as the chain smoking moll that serves as the hypotenuse of their more-bizarre-than-you-realize love triangle. IKEA and designer soap both also take a beating in this film that messes with your mind just as much as the fight clubbers mess with each other's dental work.

The Maltese Falcon (1941) John Huston. Besides being the masterful Huston's first film as a director, this is widely considered to be the first film noir. It's also the source of the famous movie quote (describing the title bejeweled statuette) "the stuff that dreams are made of." In addition to these marks of distinction, it is the role that catapulted Humphrey Bogart to superstardom (not to mention ultimate status as a cultural icon) and remained his prototypical performance. Mary Astor, Sydney Greenstreet, and Peter Lorre fill out the double-crossing, duplicitous cast.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) Tim Burton. Burton's first film as a director was this quirky little drama/comedy about a boy and his bike. Pee-Wee Herman (a.k.a. Paul Reubens) was the man-child who later went on to TV kids' show fame (and exhibitionist humiliation), but before all that he starred in this inventive story. When I saw this film in the theatre upon release (at age 13) I almost literally rolled in the aisle with laughter at the opening sequence in which Pee-Wee wakes up, gets dressed, and eats breakfast all with the aid of a series of Rube Goldberg-ian contraptions. Although its not quite as hilarious now when I watch it, I think it's nonetheless an amusing treat. And when I visited the Alamo a couple of years after this film came out, I too was disappointed to learn that it had no basement.

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) Steven Spielberg. Raiders was a seminal moviegoing experience for me (just like it was for millions of young lads of my age). From the opening slight of hand with the gold statue and the bag of sand, through the pit of snakes and the guy who is decapitated by the airplane propeller (cool!), all the way to the climactic scene in which the Ark is opened and the Nazis' faces are melted off (way cool!), Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones makes the film not just a classic homage to the adventure films and serials of the 1930s and 1940s, but a true classic in its own right.

Lola Rennt (Run Lola Run) (1998-German) Tom Tykwer. A foreign entry in the fractured-narrative movement of the 1990s, Run Lola Run is innovative in that it is a movie inspired not by a particular video game, but by the form of a video game. Lola is a young woman (with striking candy-apple red hair) who has 20 minutes to reach her boyfriend on the other side of a large German city before he is killed by the thugs whose sack of money he has lost. The first time she tries, she arrives a moment too late and watches him die. But, as in a video game, she has three "lives" and so returns to her starting point to try again, this time a little wiser as to the route to take and the obstacles on the way. Although she fails the second time as well, by the third and final try, she has mastered the "game" well enough to dodge the obstacles at will, take the shortcuts she has discovered, and arrive in time to save her man in this inverted damsel-in-distress story.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996) Jonathan Frakes. Yup, I'm a Star Trek fan, so this is the first of a few Trek films in the MediaLog Movies 100. For Trekkers or Trekkies or whatever they want to call themselves (it's never mattered to me), First Contact is a great story that involves landmark events in the backstory of the United Federation of Planets and the Star Fleet: Earth's "first contact" with an alien species (Spock's race, the Vulcans) and the first use (by Earthlings) of warp speed by space travel pioneer Zefram Cochrane (obstinately played by James Cromwell). As a result (and maybe also because it is directed by Trek insider and actor Frakes), this is the best of the "Next Generation" Trek films.

The Truman Show (1998) Peter Weir. One man's life as a television show taking place in a contained world that he thinks is real but viewers and the special world's inhabitants (including his wife) know is contrived is the premise of this film. Prefiguring the reality TV trend by a couple of years, The Truman Show, starring Jim Carrey in his first "serious" role, plays with the conventions not only of television but also of American daily life in the 1990s.

Vertigo (1958) Alfred Hitchcock. Sort of a Pygmalion story, in this Hitchcock thriller Jimmy Stewart watches his lover (played by Kim Novak) meet her death and finds another lover who he makes over in the first lover's image (and who is also played, of course, by Kim Novak). Stewart's character suffers from vertigo, so naturally he has to climb a lot of towers and leap from rooftop to rooftop throughout the film. It's a haunting story about lost love and loss in general, and how some things in life cannot ever truly be replaced.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 80s

Welcome to the next installment of "The MediaLog Movies 100," my countdown of the hundred most influential movies in my life. These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

The "Movies 100" is not a film by film ranking in precise order, but rather groupings of ten films which have no additional discrimination within each group. Today's installment is the 80s, or films #81-90. The films are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, and in the case of foreign films, the country of origin (and English translation where applicable), in parentheses after the title, with the film's director listed after that. This is followed by a brief annotation on the film.

The remainder of the "Movies 100" will appear in the coming days, so stay tuned to the MediaLog, and feel free (please!) to make comments on the countdown and the films in it.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 80s

Beauty and the Beast (1991) Gary Trousdale & Kirk Wise. Although the Disney animation renaissance of the 1990s arguably began with The Little Mermaid (1989), I would say that it really began with this film, one with (almost) enough charm and grace to make up for all of the much worse Disney animated films that followed it. I enjoyed "Be Our Guest" many times as this film played at the art-house movie theatre I worked for at the time.

The Cameraman (1928) Buster Keaton. This is one of Buster's lesser features (which is why it ranks this low on my countdown), but it's still Buster, so it's still great. Made at the MGM studio after years of true independence as his last silent feature and the last film over which he had any creative control, it is the story of a freelance newsreel cameraman who tries to break into the bigtime.

A Clockwork Orange (1971-British) Stanley Kubrick. If you know this film, you know that you can never hear the song "Singin' in the Rain" the same way again. Based on the Anthony Burgess novel, Clockwork portrays a dystopian society where gangs of "droogs" (simple hooligans) hang out at "milk bars" and run wild while fashionably dressed in dapper white shirts, suspenders, and bowler hats. In their spare time, they invade homes and terrorize the inhabitants, which for those that haven't seen it, is where "Singin' in the Rain" fits in.

Edward Scissorhands (1990) Tim Burton. By far Burton's best film, this fantasy is the story of the title character (Johnny Depp's first great performance) who inexplicably has large shears instead of hands, which comes in handy for sculpting topiary, not so much for such things as eating or embracing Winona Ryder. The exquisite production design includes pastel suburban subdivisions and the gothic black castle (presided over by Vincent Price) that served as Edward's first home, as well as the aforementioned topiary.

Freaks (1932) Tod Browning. A film about true horror from the director of Dracula (1931), Freaks is an amazing film that could never be made today--it is populated by dozens of genuine circus freaks, creatures with pinheads, flipper limbs, and other grotesque features. A "normal" trapeze artist conspires to marry a midget for the sole reason of swindling him out of his considerable fortune, but the other "freaks" end up making her (as they say so disturbingly at the end of the film), "One of us!"

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975-British) Terry Gilliam & Terry Jones. This is one of those movies that every time I see it has me laughing at the beginning of certain scenes simply in anticipation of how funny they will end up being. I'm talking about the castle siege, the demise of the Black Knight, and Eric Idle crying out "Bring out yer dead, bring out yer dead!" "I'm not dead yet!" Thwack!

Red Dawn (1984) John Milius. This film is far from great, and far from being the best late-Cold War cautionary tale, but I saw it at an impressionable age when I didn't know any better. As a result, it has always fallen into the "guilty pleasure" category for me, although I think it's genuine fun to watch Patrick Swayze, C. Thomas Howell, Charlie Sheen, and the others traipse around the woods, drinking deer's blood and subverting the dirty Commies. When I first saw it, I also thought it would be fun to actually do these things myself, but I've gotten over that.

Taxi Driver (1976) Martin Scorsese. "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?" I guess you're talkin' to me. If you know this film, you recognize the quote; if not, why don't you know it? Scorsese's first masterpiece, Taxi Driver is an orchestration of violence with undertones of sleaze and obsession, and also one of the first great performances by Robert De Niro in the title role of Travis Bickle. A pre-adolescent Jodie Foster co-stars as a pre-adolescent hooker in the role that would-be assassin John Hinckley claimed to use as inspiration for his 1981 attempt on President Reagan.

The Usual Suspects (1995) Bryan Singer. Its hard to say much about this film without spoiling it for anyone who hasn't seen it. Suffice it to say that it is part of the fractured-narrative movement of the '90s that I've been discussing in this countdown, and that Kevin Spacey's career-making performance is at the center of that momentous fracture.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (1966) Mike Nichols. This film, besides being important as one of the films that initiated the "New Hollywood" of the late-1960s, is a delightful character romp with Richard Burton & Elizabeth Taylor and George Segal & Sandy Dennis as two academic couples whose repressed emotional issues erupt in a night of drunken confession at a dinner party. The first film directed by Mike Nichols, it's based on the Edward Albee play.


The #22-#16 Greatest Game Shows

Game Show Network's game show countdown, "The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time," broke the Top Twenty last week. Unfortunately, a few of the choices they make for games they think deserve to rank that high are complete jokes.

It begins with #22, "Weakest Link." This show was a brief fad that popped up in the wake of the huge renewed popularity of game shows created by "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in 1999. All told, the show is not bad, but it sure as hell ain't the 22nd best of all time. It might be 122nd.

For some inexplicable reason, GSN chose to show an episode of the syndicated version of "Weakest Link," hosted by George Gray, instead of the better and more popular network version hosted by the acid Anne Robinson. My guess is that they did this because the syndicated version was a half-hour instead of the hour-long Robinson edition. Robinson's tart and humiliating retorts to the contestants were perhaps the best thing about the show (Gray gives them the old college try, but it's not the same), so not showcasing them is just as asinine as having the show this high in the countdown.

The game play features six contestants, each at podiums, working as a team to answer rapid-fire questions with escalating cash value. Each contestant in turn can bank the money if they choose at the beginning of their turn, because if one answers a question incorrectly any accumulated unbanked cash is lost. At the end of the round, the players vote on who they think is the "weakest link" (i.e. the contestant who has played badly and might hurt the team in later rounds), and the "loser" is given an ingracious send-off and eliminated from the game.

Additional rounds follow until only two of the original six remain. They face off in a three-question final round, with the entire episode's bank going to the winner.

Number twenty-one was "I've Got a Secret," the classic game in which a four-person celebrity panel guesses the sometimes offbeat secrets held by contestants. For once, GSN got it right, as "Secret" truly deserves its rank (if not one a little higher). Also for once, GSN is showing some respect to the pioneering games of the 1950s; the original "Secret" started in 1952 and ran for fifteen years, moderated by 1950s/60s daytime talk-show host Garry Moore. The only problem is, GSN didn't show an episode from that incarnation, they showed one from the 1972-73 syndicated revival. It could've been worse--they might've shown one from their current original version of "Secret"!--as the early-70s version was hosted by the multitalented and always interesting Steve Allen.

The game play of "I've Got a Secret" was elegantly simple (as was the case with most of the pre-big-money 1950s games). I've basically already described it: a four-person celebrity panel (here consisting of Alan Alda, Pat Carroll, Betty White, and Richard Dawson) guesses a contestant's secret. The secrets were usually pretty odd (by design, natch)--the episode featured in the countdown had a contestant who brought along a cage full of chimps, one of which was her husband in a chimp costume, which was her secret. Celebrity contestants also appeared regularly, with Milton Berle and his secret of a trunk filled with his classic TV jokes in the episode featured.

"Concentration," another classic 1960s show, was the #20 game show. This, too, seems like an appropriate ranking. However, "Concentration" is only given the voiceover and still photo treatment that so many other shows (both from the 1950s/60s and afterwards) have received, presumably the ones for which GSN did not have the rights to show full episodes. Running fifteen years from 1958-73, followed by a couple of revivals in the mid- to late-1970s, "Concentration" was based on childrens' rebus puzzles. A pair of contestants tried to solve a rebus (in which symbols and small pictures are combined with select letters to spell out an axiom or phrase) by selecting two squares that had the same prize on them, upon which they got the prize as well as a shot at guessing the solution to the puzzle. Hugh Downs, later of "Today" show and "20/20" fame, hosted the original incarnation.

Yet another classic game, "To Tell the Truth," entered the countdown at #19. Again, this is a pretty good ranking, although, like "I've Got a Secret," a few slots higher might have been truly appropriate. Also as with "I've Got a Secret," although the original version of "Truth" aired from 1956-68 (moderated by "Beat the Clock" host Bud Collyer), the episode aired was from the 1969-78 syndicated version. Hosted at other times during this run by Garry Moore and Bill Cullen, the episode featured was hosted by Joe Garigiola and had as a contestant the legendary con artist Frank Abagnale. Abagnale, famous now as the subject of the 2002 Steven Spielberg film "Catch Me If You Can" (and played by Leonardo DiCaprio), was an imposter who at one time or another impersonated an airline pilot, a doctor, and a lawyer, while cashing millions in bad checks around the world and serving time in three different countries (though reformed by the time of the "Truth" episode). (Incidentally, he conned the panel, too, none of whom guessed that he was the real Abagnale.)

The game play of "To Tell the Truth" is amongst the most well-known of any game. Three supposed contestants were at the beginning introduced as all being the same person, even though only one of them actually was. The job of the panel was to query each of the three in an attempt to discern which was genuine. The contestants were typically of roughly the same age and appearance (although sometimes, in an attempt to throw off the panel, they were not), and the members of the celebrity panel gauged the veracity of each of the three contestants based on how knowledgably they answered the queries. The panel voted on who they thought was the real deal. If most of the panel guessed correctly, the were the "winners," and if none of the panel members guessed correctly the actual contestant "won." You can see why Abagnale was such an ideal contestant for "To Tell the Truth."

The #18 greatest game show of all time was "Love Connection." "Love Connection"? "Love Connection"? One more time to make my incredulity clear: "Love Connection"?? If "Love Connection" is a better game show than "I've Got a Secret" and "To Tell the Truth," then...well, I don't know then what exactly, but it's not good. It's not clear that "Love Connection" even is a game show; host Chuck Woolery is reported to have said that he believes that it was not, although the show is listed in "The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows" (a great book for game show fans, by the way).

For the record, "Love Connection" (in syndication from 1983-94) was a show inspired by "The Dating Game," in which a contestant (sometimes male, sometimes female) chose a date from three potential suitors. Instead of having the suitors respond to questions posed by the contestant, "Love Connection" was more laid back, using conversation between Woolery and the contestant and each of the suitors. The audience voted on which of the suitors it thought was the best for the contestant, although this vote was not binding and the contestant was free to choose whomever he or she wished. After having gone on their date, the two returned and reported on the date's success and whether or not they planned to date again, with a successful date labelled as a "love connection." Each episode, then, had a mix of new and returning contestants.

Given only voiceover and still photo treatment, number 17 was "Name That Tune." Reasonably well-known, this game involved contestants guessing the name of a song using the fewest number of notes possible. Originally on the air in the mid-1950s, it had a couple of revivals in the 1970s and 1980s (one of which is best known today for providing one of the first TV jobs for Kathie Lee Gifford). This ranking seems a little dubious, especially given the truly great game shows that come in just below it.

If "Love Connection" at #18 wasn't enough of a travesty, "Lingo" at #16 ought to do it. If GSN thinks there are only fifteen game shows of all time better than "Lingo," I'll show you 50 more that are also better. "Lingo" is a current original GSN series (big surprise), so that's why it came in this high in the countdown. True, it is the most successful of all of GSN's original game shows, but that's not worth much (just like most of the shows). It does mean, though, that there shouldn't be any more GSN original shows polluting the remainder of the countdown.

"Lingo" is actually not a bad show. Host Chuck Woolery moderates two two-person teams, each of which makes guesses at five-letter words for which the first letter is given. Like in the board game "Master Mind," correct letters in the correct positions and letters that are correct but in the incorrect positions are marked accordingly. The team continues, using any additional correct letters to help guess the word, until they have either guessed it or made five guesses without getting it right. A correctly guessed word earns a team a chance to draw out a Bingo-like ball with a number on it, which is marked on the team's Bingo-like board. A team that fills a line Bingo-like gets bonus points. (Have you figured out that the game is a little like Bingo?)

I want to make perfectly clear that my indignation at the rankings of "Love Connection" and "Lingo" does not mean I have a vendetta against Chuck Woolery, who happens to have been the host of both. I actually really like Woolery, and I think that he is one of the better hosts that has worked in the genre. It's just that GSN decided to rank his shows much too high to make their rankings legitimate.

Now that only the top fifteen greatest game shows remain, it's apropo to make some predictions regarding what some of the remaining shows will be. Here are several that have to be in the upper reaches: "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune," "What's My Line," "Family Feud," "Match Game," "The Price is Right," "Hollywood Squares," "Password." If any of these are missing from the top fifteen, then this countdown is even more discredited than it already is (which would be an accomplishment). I predict additionally that the top three shows will be "Jeopardy," "Wheel of Fortune," and "The Price is Right," although they could fall in any order and any of the three could nab the #1 spot.

"The 50 Greatest Game Shows of All Time" continues tonight, and runs Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights, 10 pm EST/9 pm CST, through the end of the month.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 90s

This is the first installment of "The MediaLog Movies 100," my countdown of the hundred most influential movies in my life. These are not my favorite movies (necessarily) or what I think are the "greatest" movies of all time. They are movies that made an impact on me and my cinematic sensibilities, tempered by considerations of the traditional film "canon" and the conventional wisdom regarding what are the all-time "best" movies.

The "Movies 100" is not a film by film ranking in precise order, but rather groupings of ten films which have no additional discrimination within each group. This is because I do not believe in precise ranking of this kind in most cases, because who's to say whether a particular film is three slots higher than another, or another film is seven slots lower than this one, or so on? Not me. I am, however, able to roughly group these films that have been influential on me, and so that is what I have done.

A few notes about formatting: the ten films in each tier are listed in alphabetical order, with the year of release, and in the case of foreign films, the country of origin (and English translation where applicable), in parentheses after the title, with the film's director listed after that. This is followed by a brief annotation on the film, which might include capsule production or artistic details, witty asides, or a short discussion of the significance of the film to me.

The remaining tiers of the "Movies 100" countdown will appear in the coming days, so stay tuned to the MediaLog, and feel free (please!) to make comments on the countdown and the films in it.


The MediaLog Movies 100: The 90s

Double Indemnity (1944) Billy Wilder. This early film noir (and early Wilder film) helped to set the template for all the films noir that followed. A pre-"My Three Sons" and pre-Disney Fred MacMurray plays hard-boiled detective Walter Neff, Edward G. Robinson plays his boss, and Barbara Stanwyck plays the one of the original femmes fatale.

Go (1999) Doug Liman. With an ensemble cast that includes Sarah Polley, Katie Holmes, Jay Mohr, and William Fichtner, Go is a (literally) twisted tale of a drug deal gone bad that is replayed three times from the perspective of different characters. Part of the 1990s fractured-narrative movement (which also included every film Quentin Tarantino made during the decade, The Usual Suspects, and the German Run Lola Run), you should go see this movie if you haven't already (and if you have, you should go see it again).

The Kid Brother (1927) Harold Lloyd. A silent masterpiece by underrated and little-known-today (at least in the mainstream) comic genius Harold Lloyd, this is the story of a meek fellow turned hero (the character archetype most often portrayed by Lloyd) who with the help of his damsel clears the good name of his rural father who is accused of theft.

La Dolce Vita (The Sweet Life) (1960-Italian) Federico Fellini. Another ensemble piece, featuring foreign film stars Anita Ekberg, Anouk Aimee, and the incomparable Marcello Mastroianni, who plays a playboy gossip journalist who parties with the rich and famous and beds the movie star played by Ekberg and the socialite played by Aimee, all captured in Fellini's sublime imagery.

Memento (2000) Christopher Nolan. Another entry in the 1990s fractured-narrative movement, Memento is perhaps the ultimate fractured narrative: it is a story told in reverse. The conceit is intended to mimic the short-term memory disorder suffered by lead Guy Pearce's character, by forcing the viewer to know only as much as he does in each successive scene.

Rope (1948) Alfred Hitchcock. A lesser-known Hitchcock film, Rope was an experiment in style in which the entire film was one single shot, in the days when this was more of a technical feat than it is today with lengthy digital tapes. The film is a creative feat as well, as the continuous camera with no edits conveys the story of a pair of sophisticates who attempt the perfect murder only to be found out by a friend (played by Jimmy Stewart).

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) Jonathan Demme. This is a clever psychological thriller famous for Anthony Hopkins' chilling and legitimately scary portrayal of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter. Too bad that the film's success was tainted by the horrible sequel, Hannibal.

Sunset Blvd. (1950) Billy Wilder. A tale told by a dead man, a writer who stumbles upon and is courted by a washed up and pathetic silent movie actress exquisitely played by actual silent movie actress Gloria Swanson. Legendary silent movie director Erich von Stroheim plays her former director turned butler.

Umberto D. (1952-Italian) Vittorio de Sica. A landmark film from the Italian Neorealism movement of the late-1940s/early-1950s, the title character is an elderly pensioner who has difficulty living on his pension. His resources get more and more meager, as his story is portrayed with the gritty realism and authentic locales of Neorealism.

The Wizard of Oz (1939) Victor Fleming. One of most beloved and well-known films in history, the story of the Emerald City deserves its reputation and its perennial audience. It is a great example of studio-era factory filmmaking, as well as a wonderful fantasy film.