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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Wednesday, August 10, 2005
Wizard Of Speed And Time

Well, I think I may be sufficiently rested enough from Wizard World Weekend that I can write semi-coherently about it. Wandering around looking at comics for three days is more wearying than you might think.

Wizard World Chicago is the 2nd largest annual comic book convention in the United States (world?). I’ve been attending pretty regularly with my brother Bub and our childhood friend Mitch for…I don’t even remember how many years. Since the early ‘90s, I believe, when it was called the Chicago Comic Con. WIZARD magazine bought it a few years ago and renamed it Wizard World. It’s now Wizard World Chicago (WW), since WIZARD has begun sponsoring similar shows in cities like Boston. I’ve only missed two or three during that time, and it’s easily one of my favorite weekends of the year, particularly because it gives this homebody a chance to travel and get away from Champaign-Urbana, as I so rarely do.

This year, we had a fourth member, an amiable fellow known as Jimmy the Buddha. At least, that’s his Xbox live handle that he uses when he participates with Bub and Mitch in their Monday night online Halo 2 gatherings. We all booked rooms at the Hyatt, which adjoins the Stephens Center in Rosemont, Illinois that houses WW, and looked forward to three days of comics. Mmmm…comics.

I spent Thursday night with Mitch and his family in LeRoy in anticipation of Friday’s early start. Bub, who drove up from St. Louis and spent the night at our dad’s house, arrived not long after the Buddha, and after a quick Big Breakfast at the local McDonald’s, we were on the road.

The show opened at 9am, but we got there around 10:30 or so. I tried to hold off buying as long as I could in anticipation of the Sunday discounts, but not long after I began browsing, I found someone with several boxes of “12 comics for $5”. I quickly picked up 48 beat-up, unbagged but readable comics for $20. I think I’m a rarity at WW, in that I’m looking for quantity over quality. While I am attempting to collect DC’s entire run of 100-Page Super-Spectaculars of the 1970’s (I have almost all the non-romance issues), as well as their 48-page and 52-page issues, I really go there looking for as many cheap comics as I can find. I’m not interesting in mint copies or in investments. I just want to read these books and put them away. I also can’t bring myself to read most comics produced after 1984 or so. They just don’t interest me, and I’m not very familiar with today’s crop of artists and writers. Give me Denny O’Neil or Roy Thomas over Brian Michael Bendis any day. I’ll even take Gerry Conway over Bendis.

This year is the first time we all took cell phones, which made it handy whenever one of us became separated from the rest, which is easy to do in that crowd. I saw a lot of people there with babies and small children; I have no idea how they manage to hang on to them there. In general, I’m anti-cell phone, but they are certainly handy and tailor-made for something like a large convention.

WW has three sections: the promotional end, which consists of booths representing various companies, like DC Comics, Marvel, Playstation, Lions Gate, Moonstone and other companies selling comics, toys, games, movies, etc. The other end is Artists Alley, where long tables are manned by various independent artists and writers selling their own wares. Sometimes they aren’t involved in comics at all; Artists Alley is also where you’ll occasionally find models selling photos of themselves or B-movie personalities like Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD) and Tom Savini (FRIDAY THE 13TH) selling photos. Neither attended this year—in fact, I saw no movie personalities on Artists Alley this year—but there were some stars in attendance on the other side of the hall, including SUPERMAN’s Lois Lane, Margot Kidder; wrestler Mick Foley; SHAZAM star Jackson Bostwick; Mercedes McNab from BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER; and Sam Jones, who starred in 1980’s FLASH GORDON. Buddha got an autograph from and a photo with Jones, who turned out to be a boisterous but friendly chap with a hard-sell approach.

The center section is the largest—that’s where all the comics are. Comics make up at least 75% of the seller booths. The others range from movie memorabilia and bootleg DVDs to swords and toys. Comics dealers range in their product too. Some are the big-shot expensive high-grade dealers, the ones with nice copies of AMAZING FANTASY #15 or BATMAN #1 to sell for thousands of dollars. I tend to gravitate towards the dealers with Silver Age and Bronze Age books on sale for 40-60% off. Since I assume these books’ prices have been jacked up in the first place, I figure I’m getting more or less a fair deal.

Dinner was at Spaghetti Warehouse on Friday night, and then a late night of screwing around, reading comics, laughing and making fun of the idiots we grew up with in Mansfield followed.

Saturday began with the Hyatt’s breakfast buffet and two plates filled with eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, oatmeal, cereal, fruit…whatever the hell you wanted. Also on Saturday, we were joined by Kevin, another childhood friend of Bub, Mitch and me (and my annual B-Fest partner), and Tolemite, making his first WW appearance. You can read Toler's account on his blog, but suffice to say he had a great time looking at comics, scoping chicks (I was impressed with the tall, leggy, slightly bucktoothed brunette in the sexy Little Red Riding Hood costume who went ga-ga over Toler’s Clutch T-shirt) and meeting one of his idols, artist Geof Darrow, who collaborated with Frank Miller on the HARD BOILED series, among others. Toler also went out to dinner with us at Maggiano’s, where we tackled the largest helpings of spaghetti and meatballs known to man and failed to conquer them.

Sunday was more of the same—more wandering, more comic-buying, more people-watching, more girl-scoping. You may not believe it, but there are a lot of attractive women at WW. Granted, many of them are models who are paid to be there, such as the stunning Hulk girls at the Marvel booth or the petite redhead in the Red Sonya chainmail bikini. But a lot of them are just regular women looking at comics. You also find a lot of people who come dressed in costumes. My favorite was the short, fat, bald guy dressed as Robin who wore glasses, so had his mask pulled up onto his forehead. There were also a fat Darth Vader and a fat Dr. Doom. Lotta fat people at WW, including the four of us, who were stunned to learn that the free Avengers T-shirts some cute girls handed out to us were large-sized. The percentage of men at WW who can wear a Large T-shirt is pretty small and certainly doesn’t include us. We saw men and women dressed as Batman, Scarlet Witch, Supergirl, the Ghostbusters, Nightwing… What I wonder about is when I see the same people wearing the same costume all three days. Those suits have gotta be a little ripe by Sunday.

I managed to return home to Champaign about 10pm on Sunday, several hundred dollars lighter, but with a two-foot stack of comic books, several magazines, three trade paperbacks, a couple of good Italian meals, some eight-dollar cheeseburgers and a few $2.25 Pepsis to show for it. Getting out of bed for work on Monday was a major chore, and I was pretty useless all day. I could barely hold my eyes open, and I ended up taking a two-hour nap within minutes of arriving home from work that night.

I was sleepy again on Tuesday, but managed to wake up enough to entertain some impromptu guests. Chicken and I watched 1957’s ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS, a Roger Corman movie released by Allied Artists. A group of scientists, including Russell Johnson, later the Professor on GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, visits the island site of atomic bomb tests to investigate the disappearance of an earlier scientific expedition. Wouldn’t ya know—and of course you would, just read the title—they were eaten by giant crabs. Even better, they’re Highlander giant crabs that take their victims’ Quickening by absorbing the memories and personalities of the brains they eat and taunting their next victims by speaking in the voices of their friends. It was fun to see Johnson stranded on an island and struggling to fix a radio, and the dopey-looking crabs, which were built and operated by actors Beach Dickerson and Ed Nelson, are pretty fun. It’s only 62 minutes long, and uses familiar Southern California locations like Bronson Caverns and Leo Carrillo Beach. Released on a double bill with NOT OF THIS EARTH, also directed by Corman, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS made a lot of money for Allied Artists and is really an entertaining little picture with fast-paced direction and an amusing script. If you’re the kind of snob who thinks fake-looking bigass crabs are not your cup o’ tea, then pass it up, but I like it.

We followed up ATTACK with “Spock’s Brain”, an amazing episode of STAR TREK, and “The Photographer”, a second-season MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. I plan to do posts of both in the future, but I’ll say that “Spock’s Brain” manages simultaneously to be among the best and the worst TREK episodes. “The Photographer” is typical M:I, as the IMF team fools Commie spy Anthony Zerbe into believing World War III has taken place outside his bomb shelter by pelting him with fake radio broadcasts, pumping heat down his air vent, and slipping an elaborate 360-degree miniature landscape around his periscope. Hey, you either buy into the outlandish M:I stories or you don’t. It ran for seven seasons, so many of us did.

Be sure to keep scrolling to read the piece on DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY that I penned for The Hub’s current issue. I had a good time writing it, and I’m doing another for next week’s edition. Let me know what you think of it.

Posted by Marty at 3:57 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, August 10, 2005 11:11 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 9, 2005
Nothing Can Stop Us Now
Now Playing: "Spock's Brain"
As the optimism and oplulence of the flower-power Sixties crumbled seemingly overnight into the dubiosity and paranoia of the Watergate-era Seventies, Hollywood’s concept of what constituted a hero underwent enormous change. The white-hat virtuousness typified by John Wayne was out. Our new “good guys” were often barely more scrupulous as the heavies. Sure, popular fiction had always had its share of anti-heroes--Robin Hood, for instance--but the new breed didn’t necessarily care who they robbed, and they certainly didn’t give the loot away.

Heroes didn’t get much more “anti” than in DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, which overcame a meager plot and wafer-thin characters to become one of 20th Century Fox’s leading moneymakers of 1974. Compared to today’s bloated action blockbusters, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY almost seems like an anti-movie. No visual effects, no attempts to homogenize or sugarcoat its characters, not even a musical score designed to slather emotional keywords over the storyline. The only music heard are songs played over the credits and source music emanating from a car radio.

Directed by John Hough, a British TV vet (THE AVENGERS) who made a truckload of money for Fox with 1973’s efficient shocker THE LEGEND OF HELL HOUSE, DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY also has the distinction of being shot 100% “real”. Not an inch of film was shot using process photography, special effects, undercranking or any other cinematic trick to make the car chases appear faster or more exciting. The supercharged automobiles and helicopters that squeal, burn, leap and smash their way through DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY’s high-octane story traveled at speed of 100 mph or more, and were often driven by the movie’s star, Peter Fonda.

Fonda, who graduated to become one of Hollywood’s most interesting character actors in films like ULEE'S GOLD (which earned him an Academy Award nomination) and THE LIMEY, was extremely popular at the time with young audiences, many of whom sported THE WILD ANGELS and EASY RIDER posters on their wall. His gift was projecting a uniquely narcissistic type of cool, a way of telling the world--and, more apropos, The Man--to screw off, while still maintaining the audience’s trust. Even when Fonda was playing a Grade-A jackass, his fans responded in droves.

Fonda plays Larry Rayder, a disillusioned NASCAR driver who teams up with his alcoholic mechanic, Deke (Adam Roarke, another graduate from AIP biker flicks), to rob a supermarket (Roddy McDowall plays the manager, unbilled) and outrace the cops to the border. You get the sense that, for Larry, the robbery isn’t so much about the dough, but about recapturing the exhilaration and danger he used to feel on the racetrack. They pull off a perfect heist, except for one thing: unwanted tag-along Mary (Susan George), Larry’s one-nighter who forces herself along on the escape simply because she has nothing better to do.

In pursuit of the trio is trooper Everett Franklin, an obsessive, relentless lawman portrayed by Vic Morrow, who was almost exclusively a television actor, but with the power and magnetism of a film star. His performance is DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY’s best, in that Franklin is just as anti-establishment in his manner and dress as the rebels he’s chasing. His boss calls him on the carpet for sporting long hair and sideburns and refusing to carry a gun and a badge. Franklin may be the only “redneck sheriff” of the era not to despise hippies; after all, in many ways, he’s one of them. But he does hate lawbreakers, and there seems to be very little he won’t do to capture one.

That’s all the plot Hough needs to get this movie going. More than half of the 92-minute running time is dedicated to the spectacular car chases and stunts that made DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY’s reputation as one of the all-time great drive-in flicks. The realization that the leading actors are actually driving the cars at eye-blurring speeds gives the action a level of verisimilitude lacking in today’s CGI-laden features. An unintentional side-effect results from the shots of Morrow inside a helicopter that’s chasing Larry’s cherry ’69 Dodge Charger. The chopper is flying down tree-lined roads literally inches from the roof of the Charger, and it’s impossible not to watch these scenes, as thrilling as they are, and not be reminded of the part a helicopter played in Morrow’s tragic death in 1982.

I’d be remiss in discussing DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY without mentioning the nihilistic ending, which has become one of the most famous “twists” in cult cinema history and definitely played a major role in the film’s everlasting popularity among car buffs and “heads” looking for the Next Big Thing in Existential Cinema. What is Hough trying to say? Who cares, man? The car stunts are far out.

Posted by Marty at 11:45 PM CDT
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Thursday, August 4, 2005
All-Star Break
I'll be taking a few days off from blogging to attend the annual Wizard World Chicago convention. It's something I do just about every year, along with my brother and our childhood friend, and it never fails to be a good time. Three days of comics, comics and comics, with a bit of movies, TV and even wrestling thrown in.

I've been taking it easy this vacation. I've gotten out a lot less than I had expected or hoped to, but I have been enjoying just doing nothing. The first day, I managed to do all my laundry, which is a rarity for me. I mean all of it--whites, darks, towels, sheets, everything. Not a shred of dirty laundry in the hamper or anywhere else. I've also managed to watch a few movies and discard several videotapes by dubbing their contents to DVD-R. In the process, I've managed to find a few gems I've forgotten about, like a tape filled with STAR TREK episodes from WCEE-TV in Mt. Vernon. It isn't the TREK shows that are important, but the WCEE (or C-13) broadcasts. C-13 is one of the worst TV stations I've ever seen. Their signal was murky and streaked, and their TREK and M*A*S*H reruns were terrible prints, all faded and cracked. Their locally produced promos and commercials were cheap-looking, and they broadcast the worst local newscast I can imagine. It was worse than the student newscasts I used to work on when I was in college, and we were just unpaid student staffers.

I also found a tape of THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E. reruns I recorded during Stefanie Powers' birthday on TNT. One episode, which I've never seen, guest-starred Boris Karloff--in drag!--as the villain and MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. star Robert Vaughn crossing over as Napoleon Solo. I also found the Sci-Fi Channel's original broadcast of the "Spock's Brain" episode of STAR TREK. I should do a future post about "Spock's Brain", one of the show's most notorious and most hilarious episodes. The Sci-Fi Channel made a big deal about broadcasting STAR TREK several years back, since they were airing uncut episodes, not the syndicated versions that were missing several minutes of footage to provide more time for commercials. Sci-Fi aired the episodes uncut all right, but in 90-minute time slots with an overwhelming number of commercial breaks. Whereas each episode was originally constructed with a teaser and four acts, Sci-Fi cut them up into ten different acts! So they were airing commercials about every six or seven minutes. Ridiculous.

Big John Matuszak (6’8”) was already dead from AIDS by the time his big film break, 1989's ONE MAN FORCE, was released by James Glickenhaus’ company. “Tooz”, a former Oakland Raider, had plenty of acting roles under his belt, including THE ICE PIRATES and a regular gig on 1ST AND TEN, but this was his first time as a leading man. His gonzo acting style, coupled with some wild stunts and chase scenes coordinated by Spiro Razatos, provides this minor action picture with the ingredients for a good time. Badass L.A. cop Jake Swan (Matuszak) is pretty pissed when his partner (Sam Jones of FLASH GORDON) is killed in a raid gone bad. So pissed that he--literally--tears the city apart looking for the killers, causing so much mayhem that his boss (Ronny Cox of ROBOCOP) suspends him. Jake gets his P.I. license in order to make some dough on the side, and lands a case tracking a kidnapped rock star (Stacey Q). It goes without saying in a film like this that the two cases will eventually intersect. Tooz is pretty out of control, throwing refrigerators and Pepsi machines at the bad guys, and screaming his lines whenever Jake gets mad. Intimidating? You bet. Writer/producer/director Dale Trevillion’s script is nothing special--in fact, the “twist” at the end is such a cliche that it would only have been a twist if it hadn’t occurred--but there‘s an action scene every five minutes or so to keep you amused. Cult favorites Richard Lynch, Charles Napier, Sharon Farrell, Robert Tessier and Buck Flower lend their support.

Somebody at Full Moon Entertainment really loved giant robots. Either that or ROBOT JOX and CRASH AND BURN were just really successful. David Allen and Jim Danforth provide some nifty stop-motion visual effects in 1993's ROBOT WARS, a tame PG sci-fi movie about a hotshot robot pilot (Don Michael Paul, who went on to write HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN!) who transports passengers across the desert in a giant walking robot scorpion. It’s hijacked by a Chinese general (Danny Kamekona), so Paul and his reluctant love interest (Barbara Crampton) have to explore beneath the city to find an old, abandoned giant robot that was buried there decades before. The robot fighting doesn’t occur until the final reel. Up to that time, director Albert Band provides us with some fun FX, breezy performances and a sturdy score by David Arkenstone. I would just as soon as had more robot fighting though. Lippy Lisa Rinna is also in it as Barbara's horny pal. It’s only about 72 minutes long, and the Paramount tape includes an issue of Full Moon’s video magazine, VIDEOZONE, that includes trailers, a behind-the-scenes look at ROBOT WARS and Charlie Spradling (PUPPET MASTER II) modeling a Full Moon T-shirt.

Posted by Marty at 2:53 PM CDT
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Wednesday, August 3, 2005
Hmmm, Maybe He's Right
John Charles proposes this as the greatest title card ever. I can't say that he's wrong. From FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS:

I wonder who would win a fight between Ook, the Neanderthal Man and Mac, the Security Guard.

Posted by Marty at 9:18 PM CDT
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Tuesday, August 2, 2005
Too Many Holbrooks

Greatest title card ever. Hal Holbrook may not be the least likely star to appear in a cheap slasher movie, but he’s got to be close. The reason he’s in 1983’s GIRLS NITE OUT is simple to guess, considering the name “David Holbrook” also appears in the opening titles. The old man must have been trying to do his son a solid by spending a couple of days in Jersey in front of director Robert Deubel’s camera, but David’s acting career never took off. Not surprising, considering how untalented and unattractive he is in GIRLS NITE OUT.

Which do you like better--the purple sweater or the mullet that sweeps over the ears? I can imagine the reactions of the casting directors who had to watch this on David’s demo reel.

I may have spoken too soon about Hal’s title card, as silly as it is, being the greatest ever. It’s not even the best in the movie. You have to agree that this one is:

That’s right--former Marquette basketball coach and NBC Sports loudmouth Al McGuire puts in a couple of hours work as “Coach Kimble”, a role that is so inconsequential to the film that you wonder why Deubel bothered getting Al to do it.

Besides the casting of Holbrook and McGuire, the only other noteworthy aspect of GIRLS NITE OUT is its killer: a cuddly teddy bear. More specifically, a psychopath dressed in the school’s bear mascot suit is slicing up cute coeds on the campus of Dewitt University in Westville, Ohio. Who could it be? The superstud captain of the basketball team (James Carroll) who's cheating on his cute girlfriend? "Maniac" (Mart McChesney), the superstar center who was just dumped by his girlfriend? Benson (Mathew Dunn), the putz who plays the school mascot (the Dewitt Bears)? Pryor (David Holbrook), the lumpy loser who calls his ex-girlfriend a whore, just because she dumped him to have sex with Benson, her cousin? “Mac, the Security Guard”, whose daughter was murdered in a similar manner several years earlier? Or is it the secondary, seemingly irrelevant character whose only possible reason for existing is for the "shock" ending?

The slashfest occurs during an all-night scavenger hunt organized by the campus radio station that also plays a non-stop barrage of '60s bubblegum songs. Even if you‘re a fan of Oldies radio stations, you‘ll get real sick real fast of the entire Lovin‘ Spoonful, Tommy James & the Shondells and 1910 Fruitgum Company catalogs. The entire music budget must have gone to Buddah and Roulette, because no credit is given for the underscore, which is probably library music.

The product of four writers (whose credits are buried in the closing crawl), one of whom is standup comic Joe Bolster, GIRLS NITE OUT knows all the clich?s of slasher movies, but doesn't really pay off on any of them. For instance, it seems to know that all the obnoxious people are supposed to be killed off first, but it doesn't supply any nice ones for us to follow--all the teens are unlikable. It looks as though the basketball captain is supposed to be the hero, but he's an arrogant jackass who sleeps around behind his sweet girlfriend's back. The girlfriend, Lynn (Julie Montgomery, who went topless REVENGE OF THE NERDS, but, sadly, not here), seems like she might become the Final Girl, but her screen time is limited in the second half, and she never really gets very involved in the plot. It's interesting to view how Hal Holbrook is used. It looks like he only worked one or maybe two days. Except for one bit player, he never appears in the same shot with another actor, not even his son, and he may have even filmed all of his scenes after principal photography wrapped. However, Deubel makes sure to sprinkle all of Holbrook's scenes throughout the film, including one baffling reaction early on that was probably an outtake from elsewhere in the film.

To give some credit, the goofy teddy bear suit gives the killings a shot of spice, and there also seem to be some interesting gender role reversals going on, but GIRLS NITE OUT is ultimately no more than a suspenseless, bloodless, weakly performed waste of time. But what else would you expect from a movie that misspells its title?

Posted by Marty at 12:53 AM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, August 2, 2005 12:54 AM CDT
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Sunday, July 31, 2005
Back In Print
Well, I'm officially on vacation, though I have few plans other than attending Wizard World next weekend. We celebrated Jeff's birthday last night with a trip to the Bullet. Hey, they have exotic dancing there, who knew? After spending all my money there last night, I'm off this afternoon to have a bigass steak with Chris and Sara, who are in from El Lay. They went out to the Bullet last night for a few spirits, and it'll be great to spend some quieter time with them before they return to Cali on Monday.

Keep an eye out for The Hub this week, as my byline will be within its pages. I began working as a professional film critic back in 1999 for a local alternative weekly newspaper called The Octopus. I had been writing amateur reviews just for the hell of it for several years up to that point, and I thought it might be fun to get paid for it. So I sent a letter and some writing samples to Champaign-Urbana's only two newspapers: the Octopus and the daily News-Gazette. The N-G has used the same critics for decades, and neither is really all that great (I believe one has now retired, and they pick up his slack with Ebert and Knight-Ridder reviews). I didn't expect to get on there--my tastes are distinctly different from the staunchly conservative News-Gazette (liberal media...ppppptttttttt!)--so I thought my best chance was with The Octopus, which already had two or three film writers at the time.

After a few months, I did get contacted by the Octopus' movie editor, and I began earning a (meager) weekly income by reviewing one film per week. Being a film critic definitely has its ups (free movies) and downs (free shitty movies), but I liked it more or less. The trouble was keeping the publications afloat.

The Octopus was bought by a radio conglomerate called Saga Communications, which didn't understand how the paper and its audience worked. They changed the title to the bland CU Cityview, which eventually killed the paper forever. Later, a similar publication rose from the ashes, The Paper, which was similar to The Octopus and was run and financed by former Octopus staffers. I wrote off and on for all three incarnations, but none survived. I don't think it was my fault.

C-U currently has The Hub, which is, again, quite similar to The Paper and The Octopus. I don't know much about the operation and financing of this version, but the same movie editor I worked with beginning way back in '99 is running the film section. I hadn't been in contact with him for over a year, and it was a nice surprise to get a call from him on Friday, asking if I'd be willing to write 800 words on DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY, a 1974 cult classic recently released on DVD by Anchor Bay. Of course, I already owned the disc and had recently watched it, something he was counting on.

Long story short--I said yes I would, and it should be appearing in this Friday's issue. Who knows--it could lead to more writing assignments, although I don't think I want to return to weekend reviewing. I grew restless of the routine of spending Saturday and Sunday watching something at a theater (especially since I hate theater-going these days) and then writing about it a few hours later. I much prefer staying home, watching something at my leisure, and then writing about it under a looser deadline. So if I continue with The Hub, it will likely be under those conditions, although--hey--nobody has really officially asked me yet (although the editor did tell me he'd "like to bring me on" writing this type of cult-movie review).

I'll probably post my DIRTY MARY CRAZY LARRY piece here next week, but read it in The Hub if you can.

Posted by Marty at 12:06 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 28, 2005
Not much to report tonight. I just wanted to post this awesome cover to Charlton's THE PHANTOM #33 that I came across last week after the death of acclaimed comic book artist Jim Aparo. Charlton was a small comic book company located in Derby, Connecticut and was notable for having its entire operation located within its facility. Everything from the writers and artists who created the comics to the printing presses to the trucks that drove the finished comics to the stores came right out of that Derby facility. Aparo got his start at Charlton around 1966, and really made his bones in the superhero realm with his atmospheric work on THE PHANTOM, as you can see here. His experience on THE PHANTOM served him well when he began illustrating moody stories at DC Comics in THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, ADVENTURE COMICS, AQUAMAN and THE PHANTOM STRANGER, among others. Aparo pencilled, inked and lettered the marvelous cover you see here, as well as one of the stories inside the book.

Cheeseburger and Shark Hunter officially left their Champaign digs behind tonight and hit the road for their new house in Oak Park. I managed to stop by and say goodbye--again--and then received a very short surprise from Cheeseburger tonight, just as Grady, Chicken and I were enjoying the Michelle Bauer chainsaw dance in SCREAM QUEEN HOT TUB PARTY (don't ask). It's a compliment to Cheeseburger that we were almost as excited to see her one last time than we were to see a topless Michelle Bauer slinging a chainsaw. Almost.

Before that, the three of us watched THE INVISIBLE MANIAC, one of the tapes I picked up at the That's Rentertainment sale. I would ordinarily have had little interest in watching it (in spite of Joe Bob Briggs' official count of 39 breasts, including those of well-known B-movie actress Melissa Moore, a Crappy Movie Night favorite), but Chicken has been talking about how awesome it is almost since he first began attending Crappy Movie Night. I just happened to see it on the shelf the other day and grabbed it just for him. First off, boo to the cheapskates at Republic Home Video; they recorded the feature at EP speed and the image looks like shit. The movie does indeed have a lot of nudity to go with the bad acting and limited special effects. THE INVISIBLE MANIAC isn't what anyone would defend as "good", not even fans of director Adam Rifkin/"Rif Coogan", but it's easy to see why drunken friends hanging out together on the couch would like it. It was an entertaining experience, and certainly the first time I ever saw a fight scene between two invisible people.

Tomorrow will probably be a long day at work, since it's my last before vacation. I'm taking next week off, and looking forward to it, even though I don't have much planned. Friday, Saturday and Sunday of next week, I'll be in Chicago at the annual Wizard World comic book convention. My brother, our friend Mitch and I attend just about every year; I think I have missed two or three in the last 11 or 12 years. Sometimes we go for a day, sometimes for the entire weekend. This year, we got a room at the nearby Hyatt, which attaches to the convention center, meaning an easy walk back and forth without battling traffic or the weather. It should be a terrific time. If any of you expect to be attending Wizard World this year, let me know and perhaps we can get together.

Posted by Marty at 11:34 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 27, 2005
I Want My Black Ninja, And I Want Him Now

Damn it, who doesn’t love ninja? These black-clad badasses were all the rage during much of the 1980’s, partially because of ENTER THE NINJA, a wildly silly exploitation film directed in the Philippines by Menahem Golan for Cannon Films. Led by Golan and his “Go-Go Boy” cousin Yoram Globus, Cannon managed to capitalize on nearly every fad of the decade, including breakdancing (BREAKIN’), ‘Nam MIAs (MISSING IN ACTION), the Lambada (THE FORBIDDEN DANCE) and more. Ninja were so popular that not only did Cannon and other low-budget filmmakers rip off the international success of 1981’s ENTER THE NINJA, but NBC even tried a television series starring Sho Kosugi and Lee Van Cleef titled THE MASTER (“Master Ninja Theme Song!”).

Italian film star Franco Nero (DJANGO) plays Cole, who opens the film by sneaking through the jungle in his bright white ninja suit, knocking off similarly tressed opponents (but wearing red or black). Surprise--it's just a training exercise, and Cole is now the first American to master the ancient Japanese art of ninjitsu and be officially anointed a ninja, much to the dismay of Hasegawa (Kosugi), who throws down his sake and stalks off in a pout. Cole's next stop: Manila, where he meets his old mercenary buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney, winner of the James Caan Lookalike Contest) and his sexy young wife Mary Ann (Susan George). Frank and Mary Ann own a plantation, but are having trouble finding quality farmhands, since they're being threatened and bullied by Siegfried (Zachi Noy), a slimy fat man with a hook for a hand. Siegfried works for Mr. Venarius (a hammy Christopher George), a wealthy but evil real-estate developer trying to buy the Landers' land, since he knows (but the Landers' don't) that there's "bubblin' crude" there all ready to be drilled. Since Frank won't sell and Cole's martial arts skills have decimated nearly every able-bodied thug in Manila, Venarius decides to recruit his own ninja ("I want my black ninja! And I want him now!"): none other than Cole's old foe Hasegawa.

Although the plot is as old as the hills (heck, it would be right at home in a Tom Mix western), ENTER THE NINJA really is a heck of a lot of fun. Nero, whose Italian accent has been redubbed by another actor, doesn't look like a ninjitsu expert, but he does look tough and know how to fight, and sharp editing by Mark Goldblatt (THE TERMINATOR) and Michael Duthie (3000 MILES TO GRACELAND) help make Nero a convincing ninja. There certainly is a lot of action, beginning with the opening titles, where Kosugi demonstrates a few boss ninja moves, right through the many fights all the way to the mano-y-mano climax set in an empty sports arena. Kosugi and stunt coordinator Mike Stone, a well-known Los Angeles karate instructor who starred in his own movie, TIGERSHARK, do a nice job staging the fights, which rightly rely on campy ninja tricks like smoke bombs and shirikens to amp up the excitement.

ENTER THE NINJA did so well that Cannon immediately followed it with two Kosugi-starring "sequels" that were increasingly silly if no less entertaining: REVENGE OF THE NINJA and NINJA III: THE DOMINATION in which dead ninja Kosugi possessed the shapely body of telephone linewoman Lucinda Dickey and started kicking ass with it. More on NINJA III later this week.

As for Christopher George, ENTER THE NINJA was one of his last roles before dying young at 54 of a heart attack in 1983. He was a steady action star, ruggedly handsome, authoritative and good with his mitts. His big break was as the tough-talking star of THE RAT PATROL, a bullet-filled World War II drama that aired on ABC in the late 1960’s. He was at home in westerns, appearing with John Wayne in EL DORADO and CHISUM, and headed up an all-star B-movie cast including Fabian, Adam Roarke, Ralph Meeker, Ross Hagen, ALIAS’ Ron Rifkin and Robert DoQui in AIP’s fun DIRTY DOZEN ripoff THE DEVIL’S 8. George was more at home in television, appearing in several episodic guest shots, starring in made-for-TV movies and pilots, and even headlining another series, the short-lived THE IMMORTAL, which was basically a sci-fi version of THE FUGITIVE.

As the ‘70s wore on, respectable parts for George became fewer and farther in between. I’m not sure why this was—maybe he was difficult to deal with on the set or maybe he was blessed with the mindset that actors were born to act and not wait around for the perfect part. Playing both heroes and villains, he lent credibility to a number of drive-in pictures that were probably below him, including DIXIE DYNAMITE, WHISKEY MOUNTAIN, THE EXTERMINATOR and the slasher pic GRADUATION DAY. He starred in two killer-animal flicks for director William Girdler: GRIZZLY and DAY OF THE ANIMALS. His career ebb may be the movies he made overseas, including a gory zombie movie for Italian director Lucio Fulci (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and the amazing gore flick PIECES for Spanish filmmaker Juan Piquer Simon. PIECES is a stunningly inept and unbelievably hilarious exercise in Grand Guignol storytelling, an incomprehensible storyline dotted at regular intervals by incredibly graphic murders, touches of male and female nudity, and non sequitur scenes that bear no resemblance to either our reality or the reality set up within the film’s universe.

George really hams it up in ENTER THE NINJA, playing Venarius as a whimsical, petulant fop with a large indoor swimming pool in his office, where he directs beautiful synchronized swimmers as a “living mobile”. Whether barking orders like “I want my black ninja, and I want him now!” or arrogantly demanding that his underlings not address him directly, but rather through his number-one man, Mr. Parker, George is energetic, if not just a bit embarrassing. Although he was probably so happy not to be in Italy doing Fulci zombie movies that he probably didn’t notice.

Posted by Marty at 1:33 PM CDT
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Monday, July 25, 2005
Oops, I Did It Again
Now Playing: UNSUB
I couldn't resist. I went back to Rentertainment this afternoon and bought more tapes. 40 altogether for a total of $108. Not bad, I suppose. Of course, I don't know how bad some of these movies are yet. I did watch one of yesterday's haul, THE HITMAN, tonight. It's still not very good, coming at the end of Cannon's reign as the King of Schlock Cinema (Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus were gone from Cannon by 1991, I believe). THE HITMAN is a Canadian-lensed feature starring Chuck Norris as a detective who is waylaid by his crooked partner (played by KILL BILL's Michael Parks) and left for dead. Chuck survives the attack, however, and pops up three years later in the employ of Seattle mobster Al Waxman (CAGNEY & LACEY) as an undercover operative. This means Chuck has to act all tough and surly and mean, and he doesn't pull it off very well. He's just too nice of a guy. It doesn't help that his character gets dragged into a sappy subplot involving the black latchkey kid across the hall whom he builds models with and teaches to fight the neighborhood racist. The supporting cast appears to be all Canuck actors, including Alberta Watson (24) and a bit by William B. Davis, best known as the Cigarette-Smoking Man from THE X-FILES, as a doctor.

OK, here's what I picked up from That's Rentertainment on their final sale day. As before, tell me what you think:

XTRO--This notorious shocker from Great Britain is one of the sickest, most tasteless SF films of the early '80s. XTRO isn't particularly scary, but it's awfully amazing in terms of just how far it will go to deliver something crazier than what we've already seen. It may not work as SF, but it's one heck of a geek show. Wait 'til you see the "childbirth" scene!

XTRO II: THE SECOND ENCOUNTER--I've seen the dull XTRO 3, but not this unrelated sequel. It stars Jan-Michael Vincent. I wonder how hammered he was during shooting.

THE BRAIN FROM PLANET AROUS--This is one of the most hilarious SF flicks of the '50s. John Agar is an OTT hoot as a scientist possessed by a brain from outer space that forces him to use his mental powers to crash airplanes and blow up bridges. It's all so he can rule the world. Lotta laughs.

RED SCORPION--Dolph Lundgren stars in this action movie with Tom Savini gore effects that had to be cut to avoid an X rating. I was hit-and-miss with it the first time I saw it, and I'm intrigued to watch it again.

END OF THE WORLD--Little-known '70s SF with Christopher Lee, who has reportedly trashed it (he's known for that).

DOLLMAN--Tim Thomerson is a six-inch-tall Dirty Harry in this gimmicky, R-rated Full Moon action movie with cheapo effects. Directed by Albert Pyun, so you know going in what to expect. Thomerson is basically playing a less dimensional Jack Deth.

I COME IN PEACE--Dolph again in his wild, action-packed SF/action movie with crazy stunts directed by former stuntman Craig Baxley. Lundgren and Brian Benben are the world's unlikeliest cop partners, and there's a killer CD that slashes throats. "I come in peace." "And you go in pieces, asshole."

ZONE TROOPERS--More Thomerson in this lighthearted SF movie about G.I.'s in WWII Italy who meet aliens. From the writer/producer/director team of Danny Bilson and Paul DeMeo, the creative gentlemen who created TRANCERS, THE FLASH and THE SENTINEL. Hard to believe they're stuck writing video game scenarios now. They've still got a lot of offer.

DICK TRACY VS. CRIME INC., DICK TRACY'S G-MEN and DICK TRACY RETURNS--Three Republic serials that followed DICK TRACY starring Ralph Byrd as Chester Gould's comic strip dick. I'll watch any Republic serial, and DICK TRACY was one of their better chapterplays.

SCHIZOID--Klaus Kinski is a psycho shrink in this topsy-turvy thriller with Christopher Lloyd, Craig Wasson and nude scenes by Donna Wilkes (ANGEL) and Marianna Hill. It isn't bad, although the red herrings probably won't fool you much.

NEW YEAR'S EVIL--Another Cannon slasher movie, this one stars Pinky Tuscadero herself (!)--actress Roz Kelly--as a punk singer battling a psychopath on New Year's Eve. I've seen the trailer a million times; we'll see if the feature stacks up.

WOMEN IN CELLBLOCK 7--A European women-in-prison picture directed by the mildly talented cult filmmaker Jess Franco. I don't know about this one, but who knows if this one will pop up on DVD.

THE X FROM OUTER SPACE--A Japanese monster movie about a giant chicken monster. It's a pretty goofy-looking creature, and the movie looks like fun.

NIGHT SCHOOL--A slasher movie directed by the classy Brit Kenneth Hughes and starring a young pre-THORN BIRDS Rachel Ward.

RED HEAT--Linda Blair follows up the great CHAINED HEAT with another WIP, this one made in Europe with EMMANUELLE star Sylvia Kristel. No, it can't possibly be as great as CHAINED HEAT.

ONE MAN FORCE--The late Oakland Raider John Matuszak stars in the action flick with a good cast including Ronny Cox and Charles Napier.

I also picked up six volumes of THE BEST OF MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with two hour-long episodes on each tape. This is one of TV's greatest dramatic series, and it's inconceivable that it's not out on DVD yet. I suppose they're waiting for the Tom Cruise movie to come out in the summer of 2006.

Whew! So where do I start?

Posted by Marty at 11:20 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 24, 2005
Ain't That A Beautiful Sight
Whew...we're expecting a high of 100 degrees in Champaign today. I've spent the last two hours slogging around the heat and humidity, and it's brutal. AccuWeather has it as 91 right now with a humidity of 72%! And I felt every teensy-weensy percentage point of it.

I managed to run several errands today--hit the post office, refill a prescription, pick up a book on reserve at the library--but my big chore of the day was to stop by That's Rentertainment, which is by far the finest video store I've ever set foot in. It's a sad weekend in a way--in an attempt to clear more shelf space for DVDs, the folks at Rentertainment are selling off their 16,000-piece VHS collection. Monday is the last day, but I wanted to make sure I hit the place today, in case pickings were slim. It looked like the shelves hadn't even been touched. I was surprised, but maybe everyone is waiting for the big $2.50 apiece/3 for $6 sale on Monday.

The pity about Rentertainment selling everything off is that many of their titles aren't on DVD and maybe never will be. I asked what will happen to the tapes that don't sell by Monday, but the girl didn't know. I managed to pick up 18 tapes for $60, trying to focus on titles that weren't easily available on Region 1 DVD, although a few slipped in. Here's what I got:

DEATH WISH II (Warner Home Video)--This is out from MGM on DVD, but I saw it years ago and didn't think it was worth buying for $9.99. We'll see if it's worth $3.33.

CONVOY (Thorn EMI)--I can't believe this notorious trucker action flick directed by Sam Peckinpah isn't on DVD yet. The VHS used to go for very high prices on eBay; one just sold for $26, so the bootleggers must be clogging the market with illegal DVDs.

CHAINED HEAT (Vestron)--The greatest women-in-prison flick ever made. With a trash cast like Linda Blair, Sybil Danning, John Vernon, Henry Silva, Tamara Dobson, Stella Stevens and Monique Gabrielle, as well as multiple boom mike sightings, the exhorbitantly sleazy gimmick of warden John Vernon videotaping his wild sex sessions with big-breasted inmate Monique Gabrielle in his office hot tub, and Henry Silva's manic performance (as usual), there is a lot to love here. Not on DVD either.

SPASMS (Thorn/EMI)--I haven't seen this Canadian killer snake movie, but with Peter Fonda and Oliver Reed, it must be watchable. It's hard to believe Reed made two (!) killer snake movies in the same year (VENOM is on an excellent Blue Underground DVD).

CAPTAIN AMERICA (Columbia/Tri-Star)--This never-released-to-theaters Cannon movie sucks, but it's not likely to ever be on DVD, and I'd hate to be placed in the position where I would never be able to see it again. It might even be worse than the never-released-period FANTASTIC FOUR movie, but what else would you expect from director Albert Pyun.

CAGED HEAT (Embassy)--Another great WIP, this one by Jonathan Demme, who, as we all know, went on to bigger and sometimes better things (SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, for instance). It's probably the most unerotic womens-prison movie ever made, which was Demme's intent. The deelish Roberta Collins in it, though, and European cult star Barbara Steele in a great role written expressly for her.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME (Columbia)--My favorite slasher movie was done a major disservice by Columbia when it was released to DVD with awful, misleading cover art and an unnecessarily revamped musical score. I think this is a terrific movie, filled with fun, gimmicky murders, a slick look, solid music and good performances by LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE's Melissa Sue Anderson and the legendary Glenn Ford, who may be the biggest movie star ever to appear in a gory slasher movie.

THE INVISIBLE MANIAC (Republic)--I've never seen it or wanted to, but I picked this one up for Chicken, who's always prodding me to show it at Crappy Movie Night. Anyone think I should?

DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE (Media)--I remember liking this sick shocker. IIRC, the recent DVD is a censored TV print, but this Media prerecord should be uncut. Well, not exactly uncut, but the R-rated theatrical cut.

ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS (Allied Artists)--I believe Roger Corman's early SF movies for Allied Artists are in home video limbo someplace, and it's unlikely they'll be on DVD anytime soon.

CULT OF THE COBRA (MCA/Universal)--I haven't seen this '50s horror movie, but it's got an awesome array of Universal contract players who went on to major TV careers: Richard Long (THE BIG VALLEY), Jack Kelly (MAVERICK), David Janssen (THE FUGITIVE), Edward Platt (GET SMART). Plus Marshall Thompson, Faith Domergue, William Reynolds and Kathleen Hughes.

ROBOT WARS (Paramount)--From the people who gave you ROBOTJOX. I have the sneaking suspicion I've seen this one, but it's not a bad thing to have a movie about giant fighting robots in your collection.

GIRLS NITE OUT (Thorn/EMI)--Not a great slasher movie, but the killer wears a giant bear suit and the top-billed star is Hal Holbrook, of all people, who must be here to give a boost to his charisma-challenged son's acting career. There's a twist ending that's kinda interesting.

THE CENTERFOLD GIRLS (Troma)--Another '70s sleaze classic with an amazing cast: Andrew Prine, Aldo Ray, Tiffany Bolling, Ray Danton, Jeremy Slate, Jaime Lyn Bauer. Lots of misogyny and nudity. I remember this tape as having poor sound though.

CYBERTRACKER (Imperial)--A DTV ROBOCOP ripoff with Don "The Dragon" Wilson fighting evil Richard Norton, neither of whom portrays a robot. Lots of chases, bullets, explosions and martial arts in this PM Entertainment movie.

THE SEVEN-UPS (CBS/Fox)--You would think Roy Scheider's follow-up to THE FRENCH CONNECTION would be on DVD by now. It's a tough, gritty New York-set crime drama with the greatest car chase that nobody knows about. Director Philip D'Antoni, who produced FRENCH CONNECTION, set out to top William Friedkin's chase in that movie--and he may very well have succeeded.

THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES (Anchor Bay)--The greatest kung fu/vampire movie with copious gore and nudity ever made. This British/Hong Kong collaboration between Hammer and the Shaw Brothers stars Peter Cushing as Van Helsing, who chases Count Dracula into China. This is a wild mixture of horror and martial arts and a lot of fun.

THE HITMAN (Cannon)--I saw this at Market Place Cinemas when it was released theatrically in 1991. I didn't like it much at the time, but it's one of the few Chuck Norris movies that I don't already own, and maybe it's gotten better in the last 14 years. Certainly better than the mullet he wears in it.

Any thoughts, corrections or opinions? Please let me know!

Posted by Marty at 2:30 PM CDT
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