OUT OF THE PENTHOUSE

      In yet another another chapter of the saga of once profound magazines that had abandon the print world only to switch to a virtual one, FriendFinder Network, the company that obtained Penthouse International, recently announced that their flagship magazine title, Penthouse, will no longer exist as a print magazine and will only be available as a digital online source.
     According to a statement issued by Jonathan Buckhelt, the active CEO of FriendFinder, he was quoted by stating, “This move will keep Penthouse competitive in the future and will seamlessly combine our unmatched pictorial features and editorial content with our video and broadcast offerings,”
     For those that are not necessarily in the know, Penthouse, founded by Bob Guccione and first published in 1965, was an exclusive men’s magazine that featured articles dealing for the young and professional urban man offering notes and features on lifestyle accessories (clothing, electronics, autos), commentary of current events and social issues, and its highlight, printing pictorials of young attractive women sans clothing. Generally speaking, it was another skin mag! It was also at one time Playboy magazine’s biggest competitor.
     The so-called “Men’s Magazines” has been around for generations. Aside to the fashion tips, reviews on wine and related sprits, as well as their take on social commentary and contemporary issues, one elements many of these titles had was sex. Esquire magazine were famous for their “pin up” pictures that graced the pages from the 1930’s well into the 1950’s. When Playboy came around in the early 50’s, its hallmark were the photos of young women appearing topless and bottomless. That is what made the magazine sell and become what it was; a nitch of a domestic lifestyle that it created, still continuing to the present time but not necessarily in the same method. However, the sprit remains.
     It took a while for Penthouse to catch up with the biggest title of its genre on the newsstands, but it did make head in the early 1970’s when such magazine titles were at their peak. At one time, Penthouse’s circulation was around five million copies–far short from Playboy’s circulation, but enough to become a player (so to speak) in the “nudie” magazine trade.
     At time progressed, circulation began to fall in the 1990’s thanks to that pesky thing called “the internet” where one of the first web sites ever created dealt in porn. One can see the same kind of pictures that were once found in the mag. However, unlike getting a physical issue from a news dealer or via subscription (mailed in a plain brown envelope no doubt), one can view these kind of images in the private confines of one’s home or office space. (Just keep your eyes out for the boss!)
     Penthouse did its best to keep its title alive. In the late 1990’s, the pictures featuring the gals in question changed from nude poses to outright porn. Many of it’s other text pieces were still there, but were never a match of what Playboy did in those categories. Playboy still offered short story fiction, interesting and fitting nonfiction articles, reviews on gadgets deemed ideal for the so-called “good life”, as well as the pix in question. Penthouse did the same thing, but not done as well. In fact, those articles took a backseat on what the magazine was attempting to push: Sex!
     in 2004, Bob Guccione filed for bankruptcy and lost control over the company. He died shortly after he had to server ties with the magazine he founded. Currently Penthouse’s circulation falls around 800,000 issues, and no longer publicly audited.
     This announcement comes around the time when Playboy, the magazine Penthouse tried to dethrone, will continue its issue sans nude photographs. (Penthouse left out the nude pictorials years ago, emphasizing on other male based good-life aspects.) The final issue Playboy will feature such imagery will be the January/February, 2016 edition with a twelve page spread of former Baywatch star Pamela Anderson-her 14th appearance in the magazine within a twenty-six year time period.
     As to this writer’s opinion to this all? Granted, yours truly did his share going through a selection of back issues of both Playboy and Penthouse, not only looking at the pictures, but actually reading the articles! (Really!)  If Playboy was deemed as the gold standard to the men’s lifestyle category, Penthouse was the silver or copper variety. Its articles were mildly amusing, its reviews of gadgets, fashion and movies were only “OK”, and its sex advice column, supposedly written and edited by “Happy Hooker” Xaviera Hollander was mildly amusing at best, and boring at worst! (Many of the letters written by readers asking her questions and/or making commentary about their sexual antics seemed to be composed by a writing staff, each one written by “Name Withheld”!) The pictures themselves were created in some kind of arty manor photographed in a soft focus method, giving this writer’s illusion that either they were shot out of focus, or nobody wiped the fog off the camera’s lenses! This method may be ideal if one wanted to present great looking pictures as a portfolio, but in reality, the readers wanted to see a lot of “T&A” and not much more!
     As time progresses when other once respected newspaper and/or magazines titles wind up as former print and now all digital, we will report the details within these pagers. Until then, stay tuned!
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                                          NEWS AND REVIEWS
     Theatre 40 presents Roy Battocchio’s THICKER THAN WATER, a comedy that speaks for a family, pasta, and a murder plot–not necessarily in that order!
     The Correlli family clan is a typical multigenerational group with a strong Italian heritage who dwell not overly far from New York’s Little Italy, although living mostly in the outskirts of the city. Tommy Correlli (Joseph Bongiovanni) is a hot shot TV writer based in Hollywood. He make a trip to his home (and its roots) with the illusion that something was the matter with his dad, possibly taken ill. However, It’s not the dad that’s the situation. It seems that the family construction business is being threatened to be taken over by the aggressive yet annoying Aunt Gertrude (Constance Mellors). The family has a secret plan to stop Auntie to take over the business and eventually shut it down while starting a competitive establishment of her own. That plan? To rub her out for good with a gun!
     This play was first presented at Theatre West at the turn of the millennium, and makes its reappearance with mostly a new cast along along with a new fresh stance. There are a load of rather amusing characters seen in this piece that holds a rather stereotypical look at a tight nit Italian family usually reserved for TV sitcoms and other sources that call for a comical group of folks related by blood, marriage, or just being together for so long, they might as well be family! The cast of players in this stage work consists of Mary Garripoli as Mama Rose Correlli, Heather Alyse Becker as Marie Correlli, Johnny Ferretti as Carmine Corelli, Vincent Palmiere as Dominick Correlli, David Mingrino as Albert Correlli, Maria Kress as Meredith Angst, Jack Kutcher as Dr. Franken, along with the voice talents of Jim Beaver, Stu Berg, Lee Merriwerher, Connie Sawyer and Seemach Wilder performing at Grandma Corelli who lives in the basement (and is unseen on stage) adding to the humor factor this play presents. Granted, it’s not the wild farce it could present itself to be i.e. folks running to and fro within the family kitchen–where all of the action take place, but its comical dialogue makes up for all of the limited humoresque scrimmages. Stu Berg directs the robust cast into a piece that holds up with as much flavor and sprit as a heaping serving of spicy meatballs with plenty of garlic! (Minus the odor of course!)
      As with the cast and performance, there are the stage sets to discuss. Jeff Rack creates a setting consisting of a rather large kitchen area that gives the impression that the home hasn’t been remodeled in some time. (The 1970’s perhaps!) Then again, if the home functions to everyone’s liking, why bother to fix it?
     THICKER THAN WATER strongly expresses how a family and live and almost die with one another, in spite of the conflicts that take place. Then again, at least one can say nobody’s not going to be fed! Just pass the ravioli, and have a good laugh!

     THICKER THAN WATER, presented by and performs at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. Los Angeles, (Universal City adjacent) until March 13th. Showtimes are Friday and Saturday nights at 8:00 PM, and Sunday matinees at 2:00 PM. Special talk back session with the cast and crew follows the Sunday afternoon performance on February 21st. For tickets and for more information, call (323) 851-7977, or via online at http://www.TheatreWest.org
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     The 43rd annual ANNIE AWARDS, addressing honors for the best in animation programming appearing on television, feature films, and for video games, took place on February 6th at Royce Hall located on the campus of UCLA.
     As to the many awards extended for such categories as best student film, best story boards, and best video game animation (among many other citations), special presentations were also bestowed. A team of rotating hosts were on hand to present the selection of awards for the Annie, deemed as the Animation industry’s highest honor.
     The Winsor McCay Award, named after the cartoonist active in the early years of the 20th century and addressed to an individual in the animation industry in recognition of career contribution to the art of animation, was presented by Edward James Olmos and received by Joe Renft of Pixar Animation Studios (posthumously), Phil Roman, founder of Film Roman animation, and pioneer Japanese animation Isao Takahata. The June Foray Award, named after the legionary cartoon voice artist and founder of the Annie Awards, recognizing an individual who has given significant and benevolent contributions to the art and industry of animation, was presented to animation author and Disney Studios veteran Don Hahn.
     The award for best animated television series for general audiences was Fox Television’s The Simpsons, and best feature film was presented to Pixar Animation Studios for Inside Out.
     For a complete list of all nominees and winners in each category presented, visit the official ANNIE AWARDS website at http://www.AnnieAwards.org
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     HAIL, CAESAR (Universal) is another tale spun from the Brothers Coen that takes place during the latter days of what’s been known as “The Golden Age of Hollywood”.
     The year is 1951. The movie industry is booming with its churn of dramas, comedies, and epics–the kind of motion pictures one can’t really experience on that new fanged medium called “television”. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannox. His job at Capital Pictures is a “fixer”. He’s the one that protects its many properties, including the actors it has under contract, from every aspect ranging from proper star placement to keeping away any questionable behavior. Some of the tasks he undertakes is making sure that its young star of swimsuit water musicals DeeAnna Moran (Scarlett Johansson) isn’t booked on a morals charge, making sure that the studio’s big budged epic entitled Hail Caesar starring Baird Whitlock (George Clooney) is suitable for all faiths down to consulting with a Catholic priest, a Protestant minister, an Eastern Orthodox clergyman, and a Jewish Rabbi (Hail takes place during the crucifixion), to convince film director Laurence Laurentz (Ralph Fiennes) to have quirky cowboy star Hobie Doyle (Alden Ehrenreich) appear in his sophisticated drama in spite of the director’s wishes, and to deal with the suspicious behavior of song-and-dance man Burt Gurney (Channing Tatum). Twin sisters Thora and Thessaly Thacker (Tilda Swinton) who both write newspapers columns reporting on the latest in Hollywood gossip, are always on their guard to report upon any skullduggery that may go on. While Eddie wrangles all of these antics, something else happens! While on the set for Hail Caesar, Baird Whitlock is kidnapped by a mysterious supposedly “red” group calling itself “The Future”. Its demand? Capital Pictures must pay the group $100,000 to get their star back, or they can say good by to this leading man and the feature he’s appearing in!
     This flick, written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, is a satire of Hollywood in the postwar years, when movies became to get bigger in size and stature as well as churning out the stuff that people desired to see, from eye popping musicals, stirring drams that had flair, as well as the epics that usually took place in a historical period that were for the most part, costume parades! The comedy portrayed in this movie is the standard Cohn Brothers kind of humor. It’s either very comical in an offbeat method, or its something one has to think about before finding it funny! The cast that appear does such as an ensemble, meaning there are lead players but nobody really leads per se. Clooney, known for upstaging every other cast member in his previous pictures, plays a major-minor role. Throughout this film, he is always donning his roman solider costume since he was nabbed on the set of “HC” and never had an opportunity to change into street clothing! That’s OK for what that is, since he has plenty of opportunity to show off his bare legs–something for the ladies (and perhaps gentlemen) to truly gawk at!
     This movie also takes a very comical stab of the film industry of the time. Much of what was going on in motion pictures at the start of the 1950’s would be gone by the time the 1960’s would kick in. This was usually due to public taste as well as the heavy influence of TV. However, this movie isn’t about the history of movies, but anyone who takes a gander of this latest entry from the Cohn siblings already assumed this idea.
     As to its look, the set decoration by Nancy Haigh dresses this feature in the spirit of the period, complete with the simple dressings to the lavish details that made Hollywood what it was suppose to be. Sure, much of it was indeed make believe, but that didn’t seem to matter for those living in and with movies. After all, movies were part of the visual escapism process for the public. Television really didn’t do that task yet since it was small in screen size and in black & white!
     And among the many other roles found in this title, Cohn Brothers rep player Frances McDormand plays C.C. Calhoun, a film editor who demands that she cuts her films on her prized Movieola in private, away from those that may influence her in how to cut her movies!
     HAIL, CAESAR is a movie for fans of old Hollywood that embrace that time thanks to such places as Turner Classic Movies to keep then in circulation, or for those that actually remember when those movies were indeed movies! The latter group may appreciate the humor ejected within this title assuming that they “get it”, while the former clan will lavish the comic relief in spades! The gags may not be of the slapdash or edgy variety, but then again, much of the comedy of movies from that period consisted of dumb blonds and dumber movies! (See: Any post-1950 Abbot & Costello title, any Three Stooges short featuring Shemp, any Bowery Boys selection, any Martin & Lewis picture, etc.)
     This film is rated “PG-13” for suggestive content and depiction of smoking(!) Now playing in multiplexes nationwide.
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