September 23, 2008

Warner Bros. Studio turns 85 this year, an anniversary now marked by two of the most recognizable symbols of success, High Hollywood style: a No. 1 summer blockbuster -- "The Dark Knight" -- and a long, thoughtful PBS biopic.

The three-part “You Must Remember This: The Warner Bros. Story," which premieres tonight, is written and directed by Time magazine film critic Richard Schickel, and is based on his book by the same name. It bills itself as a five-hour walk through the studio's history.

But the "this" you must remember is that the film is essentially a birthday present from Warner Bros. to itself, an endless toast rather than a purely journalistic examination. Which is perfectly fine, of course.
And Schickel has certainly constructed a rich, tasty birthday cake. There are layers of Hollywood history ordered both chronologically and by theme, filled with commentary from players, stars and critics (including our very own Kenneth Turan) and iced with a series of delicious film clips.

Certainly there are worse ways to spend a couple of hours than watching Martin Scorsese wax lyrical about "Baby Face" or "Bonnie and Clyde," or hearing an elderly James Cagney dismiss the modern methods of acting -- "we worked six, sometimes seven days a week," he says at one point. "It was factory work, but it was the job and you did it."

Just don't come looking for behind-the-scenes dirt, deal-making, career-breaking or even much in the way of historical tension. Things like Bette Davis' famous flouting of her Warner Bros. contract and Jack Warner's "friendly testimony" before the infamous House Committee on Un-American Activities are mentioned, but only in passing.

In fact, most things are mentioned only in passing. Even with five hours to play with, it's difficult to explore 85 years of any influential company too deeply, much less one that employed the likes of Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart, Davis and Joan Crawford. And that's just the early years.

Narrated by Clint Eastwood, who has worked with Warner Bros. extensively, from the "Dirty Harry" years, through his Oscar-winning "Million Dollar Baby," "You Must Remember This" opens in 1923, when Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack officially incorporate their new motion-picture company. These first two hours, which take us to 1950, are perhaps the most interesting, if only because this was when the studio was at its purest. No television to compete with, no subdivisions, no multimedia marketing -- the brothers just made movies. Lots of movies, that created many of our most beloved stars.

Warner Bros. started with Rin Tin Tin and worked its way up, through John Barrymore and Al Jolson, coping first with the advent of sound -- which the brothers initially had little regard for except as a means to convey the clash of swords in their swashbucklers -- and then with a country transitioning from post-World War I bubble to pre-World War II bust.

The films of the 1930s remain among some of the industry's strongest, particularly at Warner Bros., which unlike many other studios starkly addressed social issues. Sex, drugs, and the almost obsessive fears of a floundering working- and middle-class were all served up in films such as "Baby Face" "Heroes for Sale" and "I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang." (Note to viewers: You might want to have a pad and pen ready for your next trip to Netflix or Amazon.)

Although the studio embraced all manner of themes and genres, from swashbucklers to gangster films to Looney Tunes, the early years set a philosophical and political tone that would define Warner Bros. for the coming decades -- a willingness to explore the darkness, but buoyant in its belief in America (see "Yankee Doodle Dandy").

Using subtitles like "The Gathering Storm," "The Reluctant Romantic," "Dreaming Democracy" and "A Touch of Insolence," Schickel lays out an über-narrative extolling the studio's finest films and greatest stars. In a way this is an impossible task -- there is just too much ground to cover.

Still, some structure is required to keep the film from becoming simply "Warner Bros.' Greatest Hits," which is essentially what it becomes on the second and third nights, when we move through the low points of the '60s through the industry renaissance of the '70s and '80s.

By the time we reach present day, Schickel's thematic thread begins to fray, and in its place is a series of critical commentary about films such as "Bonnie and Clyde," "Mean Streets" and "Unforgiven." While most of us are happy to wallow in conversation about our favorite movies, the most interesting observations come from Eastwood and George Clooney, who both speak with something like longing of Warner Bros. as being the last studio that still feels like a studio.

While so much of moviemaking is outsourced and freelanced, underwritten by hedge funds and multitiered distribution deals, there is something comforting in the fact that Warner Bros. still occupies the bit of Burbank it has occupied since 1929 -- still marked by the signature water tower bearing the initials that have indeed meant so much to so many for so long.

Hugh Hefner: Relationships "In Transition"

Rumors of Hugh Hefner and his girls calling it quits have been greatly exaggerated.

The Playboy captain just told me that he is very much still dating Holly Madison, Kendra Wilkinson and Bridget Marquardt.

"The reality is the girls and I are all together," Hefner said.

He quickly shot down reports that Madison has been seeing Mindfreak illusionist Criss Angel.

"Holly shares my bed on a nightly basis," Hef said.

And Hef had a lot more to say...

Hefner does acknowledge that the relationships are "in transition."

"Are there going to be changes in the relationships, I'm sure there are going to be," Hefner said. "I think that in the future, the girls are going to, in time, be dating others and moving out of the mansion, and when that happens we will not be keeping it a secret," Hefner said.

He says he's not surprised by the constant gossip and false rumors because the girls have become celebrities in their own right because of the success of E!'s The Girls Next Door.

Season five premieres Oct. 5, and Hef and the girls have committed to a season six if there is one.

Nigeria needs $17.5bn to modernise railways –World Bank

Nigeria will require about $17.5bn to modernise its railway system, World Bank Country Director, Mr. Onno Ruhl, has said.

In a paper presented at the just concluded conference on the revitalisation of railway infrastructure in Abuja, Ruhl said studies estimated capital cost of conversion from the present narrow gauge railway to standard gauge at between $1.5m and $5.0 m per route km.

“For a railway system of about 3,500 route-km, this would translate into an investment of between $5.25 and $17.5bn,” Ruhl said in the paper which was made available to our correspondent on Monday.

In order to improve on infrastructure, Nigeria is seeking investments in the railway sector in order to match the increasing rate of freights and passengers.

Last Tuesday, the Managing Director of Nigeria Railway Corporation, Mazi J. C. Nwankwo said Nigeria would require about $15bn in the next 10 years to fix its dilapidated railway sector.

Ruhl, however, said from an economic and financial viability point of view, the modest traffic volumes of five to 10 million tonnes per year of freight and nine million passengers would not support the high level of investment on gauge conversion.

“There were also alternative recommendations that the present narrow gauge railway, after rehabilitation, could effectively meet the expected traffic volume for the foreseeable future (10-20 million gross tonnes per year) and render competitive service quality,” he said.

According to him, the narrow gauge railway was quite capable of transporting 100 million tonnes of freight per year at competitive costs as was the experience in South Africa where about 150 million tonnes of freight moves on the same type of gauge.

While citing several research studies on the prospects of the railway sector, Ruhl said it could be conservatively estimated that a rehabilitated and an efficiently operated railway system in Nigeria had the potential of growing freight traffic volume to 4.2 million tonnes over a period of four to five years (by 2010) on the narrow gauge system.

“In subsequent years, the traffic by rail would grow further in line with seven to eight per cent rate of economic growth of the country,” he said.

According to him, the traffic volume on the narrow gauge system can possibly grow to 5.6 million tonnes by 2015 and to 7.5 million tonnes by 2020 assuming an average growth in traffic volume at six per cent per year.

“At the same time, it was conservatively estimated that railways, when restored, would possibly carry about nine and 10 million passengers per year by 2010,” he added. punch online

Dancing With the Stars Returns: Lance Kills It, Brooke and Toni Strut, Jeff and Rocco Stumble

Lisa O'Connor/, Jeff Frank/, Joe Kohen/Getty Images, Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Dancing With the Stars kicked off its three-night seventh-season premiere extravaganza tonight, with all the sequins, tuxes, predance jitters, trips to the emergency room and Bruno Tonioli metaphors that such an endeavor entails.

While all 13 contestants had a go Monday, only 12 will dance Tuesday and then, on Wednesday, yet another will get the boot, leaving 11 to tango on in week two.

But in the meantime, find out who starred, who stunk, what the judges said, what we think and then—if you have any energy left—tell us what you thought...

Cody Linley: The 18-year-old Hannah Montana star and closet beat-boxer has great potential. With all that teenage energy, he matched two-time champion Julianne Hough cha-for-cha in the opening dance of the season. His footwork wasn't perfect, but he moves well and has a great attitude, not to mention a partner who, if all else fails, can keep all eyes on her with costumes such as that backless, one-sided fringed number she was sporting tonight. Well done!
Judges Said: 18; "I'm just freaking out that both of you—your combined age—is younger than my age," judge Carrie Ann Inaba fretted.

Rocco DiSpirito: We were glad to see that Karina Smirnoff was still able to wear a barely there dress despite all the pasta the celebrity chef appeared to be feeding her—mainly because this duo's going to need all the help they can get, considering DiSpirito couldn't land a toe-heel lead to save his life. All of which makes us wonder, did Smirnoff sprain her ankle on purpose?
Judges Said: 14; "A fox-trot on the brink of chaos," per Bruno.

Toni Braxton: It was a bit nerve-racking watching the 40-year-old singer after she revealed that she had recently been diagnosed with microvascular angina, which occurs when not enough oxygen is making it into the heart. But Braxton's body rivals the female pros and she cha-cha'd like a natural, curing our stage fright in one session. This could finally be Alec Mazo's chance to reclaim that season-one glory.
Judges Said: 22; "Everybody knows I like my divas—slinky, sultry, sexy—and you are all of that," Bruno growled.

Maurice Green: The Olympic track star started off in the middle of the pack, ably dancing a fox-trot but not necessarily to the extent that we think Cheryl Burke will be winning another disco ball any time soon. But we know that Green's feet can really fly on a good day, so if he survives to dance a mambo tomorrow, it'll give us a better sense of what he's capable of.
Judges Said: 18; "I feel like I should call you Mo James Brown," Carrie Ann offered.

Brooke Burke: The 37-year-old mother of four (including a 6-month-old) has moves to spare and a tummy to envy. Suited up in skintight pants, Burke didn't suffer from the stiffness that has afflicted DWTS' past model contestants, such as Josie Maran and Paulina Porizkova. Instead, she gave Derek Hough his first-ever week one lead by trotting out a graceful, sexy cha-cha.
Judges Said: 23; best dance of the night.

Ted McGinley: The 50-year-old Married With Children star could have been the Steve Guttenberg of the bunch, but instead the handsome actor donned a tux and proved a dashing partner for DWTS newcomer Inna Brayer. Sure, there were mistakes and there was a bit of a sitcom dream-sequence element to it. But unlike Rocco, the man knows how to lead with his toes.
Judges Said: 18; "At moments you had the elegance of Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief—and then you turned into Steve Carell in Get Smart," per Bruno.

Lance Bass: First off, there was some butt-kicking choreography from former So You Think You Can Dance finalist Lacey Schwimmer, a welcome addition to the pro fold and Hough's main rival for resident hot young thang. As for Bass…Worst dancer in 'N Sync, our foot. The 29-year-old popster fulfilled all of his boy-band potential and more, instantly becoming a front-runner by acing a technically complicated, hot 'n' sexy cha-cha right off the bat. They should have received a 24, but Len Goodman is a fuddy-duddy.
Judges Said: 22; "A cha-cha-cha for now!" Bruno declared.

Cloris Leachman: Flashing some intense cleavage in a gorgeous blue gown, the Oscar-winning 82-year-old is the oldest contestant the show has ever had. While Leachman could easily prove to be a fan favorite, especially for those who always enjoyed watching their grandparents cut a rug, there technically isn't much to watch, dancewise. But we recommend keeping her around, if for no other reason than we feel she's the contestant most likely to drop an F-bomb on live TV.
Judges Said: 16; "I've always wanted to be a [boy-toy], and this could be my chance!" said Len. And there's no need for Carrie Ann to fret—Leachman and partner Corky Ballas (Mark's dad) have a combined age of 129.

Jeffrey Ross: Edyta Sliwinska needed more than her legwarmers-and-nothing-else ensemble to salvage this cha-cha. The curse began early this year, as the stand-up comedian and Friars Club roastmaster needed a trip to the emergency room earlier Monday after getting poked in the eye during rehearsal. So, we'll just blame his scratched cornea for his lack of coordination...yup.
Judges Said: 12; Carrie Ann noted that it didn't look as if he was having much fun out there.

Kim Kardashian: The reality-TV star came down with a slight case of modelitis (symptoms: stiffness, weird look on her face, unflattering hair), but she moved well and seems really, really excited to be there. Defending champ Mark Ballas has his work cut out for him.
Judges Said: 19; a better score than most, but they said she needs to work on her approachability.

Susan Lucci: More than one Daytime Emmy isn't the only thing beyond the soap star's grasp. Freakishly toned, yes, but the 62-year-old Lucci is going to have to lose the heavy-handed (or footed, in this case) approach if she wants to make it out of week two. This lady's got a lot of fans, so we think they're going to let her slide tomorrow and Wednesday. And Tony Dovolani is going to have to come up with some innovative choreography, if he dares.
Judges Said: 15; meaning Cloris Leachman outdanced her.

Misty May-Treanor: The two-time Olympic gold medalist has the good fortune to be paired with Maksim "Look at Me" Chmerkovskiy, who has enough female fans on his own to buy his partner at least a few weeks. Not that May-Treanor's going to need his help—her body's slammin', and she didn't look all Monica Seles uncomfortable while dancing an elegant fox-trot.
Judges Said: 21; "I have never seen anyone dance a fox-trot with such intensity," Carrie Ann observed.

Warren Sapp: Just when we were thinking that the roly-poly football star did himself no favors by wearing one of Emmitt Smith's old suits, his toes started twinkling. This Super Bowl winner can move, and Kym Johnson's finally got herself a shot at the title.
Judges Said: 21; "You're a great big bundle of joy!" Len exclaimed.

So, there you have it for tonight. Who do you think has a shot, and who would you like to see hang up their dancing shoes for good?