In Tune with June April: Kristie Alley brings back memories

Watching actress Kirstie Alley in her sassy new sitcom brought back memories to me. When I was in grade school I happened to spot my name on the school nurse’s health report and I saw one word, “robust.” I went home and asked my mom what that meant. She told me it meant “healthy” but I thought it meant “fat” since I was a plump little girl. Those youthful feelings surfaced as I watched Kirstie Alley’s “Fat Actress” – and I couldn’t fully enjoy her program. Our country is obsessed with body weight and replete with obesity. I couldn’t see anything humorous in watching an extraverted, engaging and talented actress destroy herself. I don’t enjoy reality shows that try to make comedic hay out of being fat. I view it as televised self-abasement.

In the opening episode of “Fat Actress,” titled “Big Butts” (ouch!) Ms. Alley’s eponymous character spews bits of a cheeseburger from her mouth. Repulsive! In an interview she said, “There must be something good about being funny and fat.” Thus was born her comic take on her travails with fatdom. For women in show business, corpulence is an undisguisable and career-killing disgrace. Yet Ms. Alley has finessed her humiliation. She is now a spokeswomen for the Jenny Craig diet.

Shortly after I wrote the above I came across an old movie, perhaps made over 20 years ago – starring the then simply gorgeous actress. It was about the Playboy Club and its title was “A Bunny’s Tale.” Ms. Alley looked stunning squeezed into the form-fitting costume. Unbelievable! It made me feel sad. On the other hand, if “Fat Actress” is a success, Kirstie Alley will be worth her weight in gold – pun intended!

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When the opening scene in a movie is a funeral you don’t expect a mix of romance, farce and tragedy. But “The Upside of Anger” has all that and it’s a pleasure. The main reason is that the two stars, Joan Allen and Kevin Costner, dance beautifully around each other. Allen plays the recently abandoned mother to four daughters (and they are lovely but she upstages them). Kevin Costner with a two-day beard, question-mark posture and a visible potbelly (all that drinking!) delivers a fine performance. He is a washed-up ballplayer and he plays the role with an easy, laid-back charm.

The script of “The Upside of Anger” is not great. Its premise is shakey, but Allen and Costner make it work. They both are completely likeable. I can’t tell you the twist ending except to say that it is a letdown. On the plus side, “The Upside” (ha!) is enjoyable because Costner’s chemistry with Allen feels real and rings true. It’s delightful to see a couple of sexy, but weathered, over-40 actors flirting, fighting and (excuse me!) screwing.

By the way, I suggest that you eat before seeing this film. Much of the action takes place at the dining table. Also the stars almost always have a drink in their hands, so if you have an alcohol problem “The Upside of Anger” might drive you to drink.

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Have you noticed how advertisements have invaded our space? Frequently I find them an intrusion and at times even disorienting. Recently while riding a subway train in Manhattan, I walked into a car where the interior had ads for HBO’s “Deadwood.” The ads covered the walls, the ceiling, the doors and, get this, even the seats. I sat on “Deadwood,” the savage, melancholy television series. Perhaps there’s a need for a debate over the degree to which public space should be used for commercials.

On the other hand, I must admit that all those ads do work. I tuned in to “Deadwood.” Perhaps sitting on its ad encouraged the process of osmosis.

Well, “Deadwood” is a western and I don’t like westerns. But it is a different kind of western – no open spaces, no lone cowboy, no John Wayne. The world of “Deadwood” seems to be a world where the sun never shines. It made me feel desolate just looking at it. The story is well written and appropriate for a gold rush mining camp in the late 1870s. Its community revolves around misfits, ruffians and whores. It’s a brutal, carnal story – dark, violent and morally confused. And the language – the old Hays office that used to censor the movies would have deleted most of the conversations. I suppose that all the stark obscenities woven into almost every phrase was truly part of the gold rush frontier chapter in American history. Understandably, I brought too much of myself to “Deadwood.” I’m not a particular enthusiast for dirty jokes, and four-letter words are not in my vocabulary. When moved to curse, I go so far as to use the past tense – “shat”! But that’s my personal preference. I don’t cotton to suppressing the freedom of expression to anyone else. So, if you have HBO, watch “Deadwood” if you have a strong stomach. It is an interesting and unusual series.

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