May 29th, 2008
11:03 AM ET

Summer reading list

Though I really don’t get any more time to read in the summer as I do in, say, February, there’s something about the idea of “summer reading” that prompts me (and, judging from the countless stories out there, others) to make up foolhardy lists of all the books I plan to immerse myself in over the next three months.

The irascible Lewis Black has a new book out.

So here’s what I plan hope to get to before Labor Day appears, knowing full well that this list will last about as long as a chill in August:

- “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America,” Thurston Clarke (Henry Holt): I cried when I finished Evan Thomas’ RFK biography, and I expect to feel the same sadness when I get to the end of this new book about Kennedy’s ill-fated 1968 campaign.

- “Nixonland,” Rick Perlstein (Scribner): Perlstein’s book about the splintering of America, and its exploitation, should be a sobering bookend to “Last Campaign.”

- “The Enchantress of Florence,” Salman Rushdie (Random House): I hope to get the chance to interview Sir Salman when he comes to Atlanta in July to talk about his new novel, a romance set in the 16th century.

- “The Salterton Trilogy,” Robertson Davies (Penguin): I loved Davies’ Deptford Trilogy when I read it several years ago - particularly the amazing “Fifth Business” - but I haven’t returned to the late Canadian author. I hope to rectify that oversight.

- “Armageddon in Retrospect,” Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (Putnam): Vonnegut’s final book is a collection of unpublished stories, many set during the waning days of World War II he described in “Slaughterhouse-Five.”

- “Me of Little Faith,” Lewis Black (Riverhead): The Comedy Central curmudgeon is fiercely entertaining on the air. Will he do the job on the page? (His first book, “Nothing’s Sacred,” worked pretty well.)

- “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain (Bantam): Each summer, my book club reads a classic. I haven’t picked up either of these books in years; I hope they hold up. (Incidentally, I highly recommend Ron Powers’ brilliant 2005 Twain biography, “Mark Twain: A Life.”)

If I can maintain my usual book-a-week pace, I should have time for a few others. David Sedaris’ new collection? John Szwed’s Miles Davis biography, “So What”? To paraphrase “Jaws” Chief Martin Brody, I'm gonna need a bigger list.

What’s on your shelf for the summer?

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Books
May 26th, 2008
10:43 AM ET

Indiana Jones and the great divide

The holiday weekend is almost over and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” has earned a ton of money -– just short of a record amount, as a matter of fact.

Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull."

But has it earned goodwill? Plenty, but not an overwhelming amount.

Rottentomatoes.com’s Tomato Meter stands at 79 percent -– very good, but not the 93 percent posted by “Iron Man” a few weeks ago. “Crystal Skull” received a 67 from Metacritic.

And for every Roger Ebert, who points out that you can only compare Indiana Jones films to other Indiana Jones films (and has high praise for them all), there’s iReport contributor borisvukov, who called it “absolutely horrible.”

But what fascinates me is how many reviewers lay credit (or blame) at Steven Spielberg’s feet. Yes, the man is the director (and in an auteur universe, the director is all), and he’s as much of a draw as star Harrison Ford and producer George Lucas. (And I can remember, when “Raiders of the Lost Ark” came out in 1981, Lucas was the main draw - Harrison Ford was a “Star Wars” supporting actor, and Spielberg, though championed as the man who directed “Jaws” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” was coming off the flop “1941.”)

Anyway, I’d say Spielberg is the reason “Crystal Skull” works as well as it does. What other director could pull off the opening game of chicken with such effortless suspense - and over the credit sequence, yet? Who else could handle that nuclear ghost town sequence with such wit?

No, I’d say the movie’s problems (and a chunk of responsibility for those problems) lie with the script (by David “Mission: Impossible” Koepp) and - yes - Lucas, who wanted to do something along the lines of “Indiana Jones and the Martians from Mars.”

Lucas may know his action tropes, but Harrison Ford had him right during the production of “Star Wars” when he said, “George, you can type this [crap], but you sure as hell can’t say it.” When the pulp overwhelms the wit in “Crystal Skull,” the film feels like what Lucas probably had in mind. What Lawrence Kasdan or Philip Kaufman could have done with this material!

So, what side of the “Indiana Jones” divide do you come down on? Where does the film rank among the four? Comment below or send longer reviews to us at iReport.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: movies • Uncategorized
May 19th, 2008
09:19 AM ET

The crush to see Indiana Jones

Sunday afternoon, thousands of journalists, film critics and invited guests were anxiously awaiting the first screening of the new Indiana Jones film, "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," here at the Cannes Film Festival. It has been nearly 20 years since the last Indy movie, after all.

The first screening was at 1 p.m. at the main theater at the Palais. The civilized group of patrons patiently waiting to be allowed entrance into the theater quickly turned into a mob scene as reporters with looming deadlines worried they wouldn't be let inside before the theater reached capacity. I remember a similar situation when "The Da Vinci Code" premiered here at Cannes two years ago. It was unpleasant, but hopefully everyone who needed to see the film was able to do so.

That scene really demonstrated how this is the big movie here at the festival. Watch some of the anticipation surrounding the "Indiana Jones" premiere

The day before, over at the famed Carlton Hotel on the Croisette, I interviewed the cast and filmmakers .. .and some of them were very worried about the reception the movie would receive. Director Steven Spielberg initially declined to do any press other than international, but in the end, he agreed to talk to CNN. He told me he was extremely nervous about showing the movie, but that he feels that way about all of his films. Star Shia LaBeouf asserted he loves the film but is terrified his individual performance could be the one to "bring the house of cards down."

Now that it's been shown, "Crystal Skull" is getting mixed reviews. People magazine film critic Leah Rozen told me, "You wanted to love it and I think most of us liked it. It's fine, you feel kind towards it, but there are stretches where you're going, why isn't this more fun, why isn't this really popping."

USA Today asserted, "There is considerable fun, and it's good to see that Indy, though slightly weary, still has the goods."

Other critics weren't so kind. The Chicago Tribune called it a "cockamamie" story, and The Hollywood Reporter said Indy "gets swamped in a sea of stunts."

Star Harrison Ford told me he's unconcerned about the critics and he's "damn proud" of the movie.

"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" opens worldwide this week. Do you have a review of the film? Submit it to us at iReport.com.

– Brooke Anderson, CNN Entertainment Correspondent


Filed under: Uncategorized
May 16th, 2008
12:56 PM ET

Obscure, overlooked and terrific

There’s so much out there, it’s no wonder plenty of good stuff gets overlooked.

The Goodies: Famous to some, obscure to many, laughter-inducing regardless.

The Village Voice put together a list of unjustifiably overlooked books not long ago. A friend of mine, digging further, found this list of books from Antaeus magazine.

And that’s just books. No doubt there are remarkable albums, TV shows and movies that have also rarely - or never - gotten their due.

For some people, they’re guilty pleasures. Other people believe they’ve stumbled on something brilliant and wonder why the rest of the world hasn’t caught up. And many subjects of people’s faith -– or obsession -– likely fall somewhere in-between.

So what’s your overlooked classic? You can nominate a movie, TV show, album or book – but please, just one to a customer. And remember: One person’s fantastic obscurity is another’s “Everybody’s heard of that” mediocrity. Which is kind of what the Internet is all about.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer

(P.S. You want one from me? Well, I really miss “The Goodies,” a British comedy from the mid-‘70s that allegedly killed a viewer from laughter. It barely aired in the U.S. and the only fans I can find are native Brits. And no doubt one of them is out there is saying, “ ‘The Goodies’? Gawd, I am SO SICK of ‘The Goodies’!”)


Filed under: Uncategorized
May 13th, 2008
11:12 AM ET

A cure for idealism

Hunter S. Thompson said it best: “How low do you have to stoop in this country to be President?”

"The Candidate," starring Robert Redford, earned an Oscar for Jeremy Larner's screenplay.

See, it happens every four years: A host of presidential candidates start out with the best of intentions –- well, many of them do -– but before you know it they’re stuck coping with the media’s horse-race mentality, a focus on pointless minutiae and the sound of rough, human edges being polished to a sterile gleam by a raft of consultants.

So I try to arm myself with two works that expose the gears and sludge of our political process, a book and movie that remind me that it’s always been this way: Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ‘72” and the 1972 film “The Candidate.”

“The Candidate” gets much of its attention for its central performances: Robert Redford’s turn as Bill McKay, the idealistic lawyer and governor’s son who gets pulled into an allegedly hopeless U.S. Senate race; and Peter Boyle’s work as Marvin Lucas, the hard-charging campaign consultant who turns McKay into a winner – at the cost of McKay’s willing soul.

Both are excellent, but “The Candidate” is full of terrific elements, from the name of McKay’s Republican competitor (Crocker Jarmon, played by the great character actor Don Porter), to Michael Ritchie’s deliberately ragged, verite direction, to -– best of all -– Jeremy Larner’s Oscar-winning screenplay, which offers both brilliant set-pieces and cool detachment.

Indeed, Larner (like most screenwriters) is too often the film’s forgotten man. The former Eugene McCarthy speechwriter knew what he was writing about, and his bitter knowledge shows in every frame. (One of these days, I’ll get around to reading his 1970 political memoir, “Nobody Knows: Reflections on the McCarthy Campaign of 1968.”)

Amazingly, “The Candidate” only has one DVD edition, a bare-bones job from the late ‘90s. Talk about a movie that deserves the full-on Deluxe Special Anniversary version.

And then there’s Thompson’s “Fear and Loathing ’72,” which put the good Dr. through the election-year wringer as Rolling Stone’s National Affairs Correspondent. Thompson was the perfect man to chronicle the circus. He hadn’t spent years on the Washington cocktail-party circuit, so he could look at the campaign as a jaundiced outsider -– but he also cared, deeply, and his passion burns on every page. When McGovern loses to Nixon, nobody takes it harder.

Exchange the typewriters for computers, and all too much of what Thompson wrote 36 years ago is still true today: idealistic supporters clashing with craven deal-makers, bleary candidates watching their plans turn to ashes, and mints of money flying out the window.

Let that be a lesson to all of us.

So, as McKay asked, what do we do now?

Well, we make our way through the next six months. And me, I’m going to read two new books - Rick Perlstein’s “Nixonland” and Thurston Clarke’s “The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days That Inspired America.” Because I always need to learn the lesson over and over again.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized
May 8th, 2008
09:41 AM ET

The best TV themes say so much

The fourth season of "Mission: Impossible" hits shelves next week on DVD. Nothing against the show - it was often stoically clever, and the fourth season added Leonard Nimoy to the mix - but when I think of "Mission: Impossible," the first thing that comes to mind isn't Peter Graves or self-destructing tapes or agents in disguise.

ALT TEXT

It's the theme song.

Lalo Schifrin's tense, jazzy music - its menacing horns like little explosions - IS "Mission: Impossible." It did what the best TV themes did: established a tone and elevated what was to come.

Much has been made of the decline of the TV theme, with most of today's shows' opening credits barely lasting long enough to show a title card, much less air a 30- to 60-second piece of music. But even those discussions often focus on the themes with lyrics - "Gilligan's Island," "The Beverly Hillbillies," "Happy Days" - and neglect the great instrumental compositions.

Which gets me pondering some of the classics. Some that come to mind right away are "Hawaii Five-O," Morton Stevens' brilliant, pounding horn-and-organ concoction; Barry De Vorzon's "Theme from S.W.A.T.," a terrific instrumental that was far more exciting than the show it was written for; and Thomas Newman's theme for "Six Feet Under," a yearning, unusual melody that suggested its show's bittersweet mix of joy and pain.

What are some of your favorites? Remember, instrumentals only.

– Todd Leopold, CNN.com Entertainment Producer


Filed under: Uncategorized
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