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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Saturday, December 3, 2005
The Great White Hope
Kudos to Fox for releasing the first season of THE WHITE SHADOW on DVD (and Season 2 is coming early next year). I actually remember quite clearly watching the pilot when it aired on CBS in 1978. We had some relatives over at the house for a visit, and while the adults were chatting in the kitchen over coffee, my brother, my cousins and I were in the living room watching THE WHITE SHADOW. It was a terrific show and went on to spawn what, to this day, remains probably the finest sports-related TV series.

MTM was a production company well known during the 1970's for its sitcoms, primarily THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW and WKRP IN CINCINNATI, but with LOU GRANT, it had begun to move into the arena of one-hour dramas. THE WHITE SHADOW creator and executive producer Bruce Paltrow, the husband of actress Blythe Danner and father to a little girl named Gwyneth, cast 6'6" actor Ken Howard in the title role as Ken Reeves, an NBA journeyman whose basketball career was ended by a knee injury and was invited by his old college chum Jim Willis (Ed Bernard, a veteran of POLICE WOMAN and COOL MILLION), the principal at Carver High School in inner-city Los Angeles, to coach basketball there.

For Reeves, a brash, blond, blue-eyed pro ball player, life at Carver was a revelation, as he seemed to have little in common with his players, who, with the exception of a Chicano, an Italian and a Jew, were poor black ghetto kids. They were all basically "good kids", but not the best students, and they had a penchant for getting into trouble. He soon came to care about them, however, and became the Mary Worth of the hardwood, constantly sticking his nose into his team's day-to-day problems and bailing them out of trouble.

Paltrow and producer Mark Tinker used the show's format to tackle hot-button issues of the day in a manner that threatened to turn the show into The Social Problem of the Week. In the first eight episodes, THE WHITE SHADOW looked at teenage alcoholism, teen pregnancy, gangs and homosexuality. In the latter, Peter Horton (THIRTYSOMETHING) guest-starred as a young transfer student who joins the Carver basketball team, but is soon plagued by the same rumors that drove him away from his former school, "fag rumors", according to Carver's officious vice-principal and Reeves' frequent nemesis, Sybil Buchanan (Joan Pringle).

Many early episodes were directed by Jackie Cooper, who won an Emmy for the pilot. The basketball scenes are fluidly staged and lensed with Cooper managing to acquire some interesting shots while not letting the camera interfere with the action. Whether Howard and the supporting cast knew anything about basketball, I don't know, but it sure looks like they do. THE WHITE SHADOW earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Dramatic Series during its three-season run, but Cooper's was the only trophy the series won.

Also of note are the actors who did such a good job playing the Carver basketball team. It must be a testament to Paltrow (who went on to create ST. ELSEWHERE), Tinker (a producer on NYPD BLUE) and Cooper that three of them--Thomas Carter (Hayward), Kevin Hooks (Thorpe) and Timothy Van Patten (Salami)--have gone on to very successful directing and producing careers in television and features. In a way, their decision to forgo acting careers is a shame, in that Carter and Hooks, in particular, were very good on the show (Carter has a magnetic presence that meshed well on-screen with Howard).

On a trivial, if no less memorable, note, THE WHITE SHADOW boasted a kickass sax-driven theme by Mike Post and Pete Carpenter, and replaced the usual MTM Productions "meowing cat" logo with one of a kitten dribbling an animated basketball.

Posted by Marty at 11:32 PM CST
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Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Writing That Big Check
Well, tonight is the night. I'm driving up to Rantoul after work to drop off my down payment for my new car. The insurance company still hasn't sent my settlement check yet, but my sister-in-law has graciously lent me the money. USAA General is sending the settlement check directly to her anyway, because she's still the legal owner of my trashed Altima. You see, the post office lost the title when she mailed it to me a couple of months ago, so she had to file for a replacement. By the time she received the new title and mailed it to me, I had already crashed the car, and it didn't seem prudent to transfer over to me the title to a car that basically no longer existed. The loan from my sister-in-law came in last Saturday's mail, so time to drive up tonight and write that big check. I hope I don't sweat too much.

Posted by Marty at 2:55 PM CST
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Monday, November 28, 2005
A Robot For Toler

Better yet, a "Runaway Robot", as in the title of this episode of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN. A scatterbrained inventor named Horatio Hinkle (Lucien Littlefield) builds a robot that he can control using a large remote control device that contains a television screen. Why he builds it, I don't know, but he uses it to foil a jewelry store heist being carried out by a couple of mugs named Rocco and Mousie. How Hinkle knew about the heist, I don't know.

Inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne), never the sharpest mind among Metropolis' finest, jails Hinkle, even though it seems as though the jeweler who was held up would be able to vindicate him. Somehow, the real crooks, who escaped the robot's grasp, manage to steal the robot from the police garage (!) and take it to their boss, Chopper, who's played by Russell Johnson aka the Professor from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND.

Chopper decides to kidnap the Professor, now lounging on Clark Kent's couch, and force him to use the robot to break into a bank. Hinkle refuses, but that dumbass Lois Lane (Phyllis Coates) manages to get herself kidnapped as well, and Chopper threatens to go apeshit on Lois' face with a hammer unless Hinkle changes his tune.

Meanwhile, Kent (George Reeves), who appears to his friends to be sleeping during all this calamity, puts on his super-longjohns and flies to the crooks' hideout in time to beat the shit out of them and prevent the robot from smashing in the Professor's head (Professor Hinkle, not Gilligan's Professor).

This is not one of SUPERMAN's best episodes, although it provides a strong hint as to how future shows would play out. Under the supervision of producer Robert Maxwell, the black-and-white episodes of the first season were generally tougher and slightly more mature than the show would become. When Maxwell left the show, the series became more comical with Superman battling a bunch of idiot gangsters like the ones in "The Runaway Robot." It's hard to argue with the approach, as SUPERMAN stayed on the air for several more seasons, all in color, a total of 104 episodes from 1951-1957.

Posted by Marty at 7:15 PM CST
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Sunday, November 27, 2005
I had a good time on this rainy afternoon catching up with ONE CRAZY SUMMER, a barely memorable '80s movie that I saw in theaters and had a good time with. It stars John Cusack and was directed by Savage Steve Holland, who had teamed up the year before to make BETTER OFF DEAD..., which I think most people of a certain age have seen ("I want my two dollars!"). SUMMER has an oddball cast of familiar faces, including Demi Moore as the love interest, Bobcat Goldthwait (whom I hated back then), Mark Metcalf of ANIMAL HOUSE, Joe Flaherty of SCTV, Curtis Armstrong (then riding high as Booger in REVENGE OF THE NERDS and about to join the cast of MOONLIGHTING), Bill Murray's brother Joel (not to be confused with brother John Murray, who starred in MOVING VIOLATIONS about that time), impressionist Rich Little, "Sniglet" king Rich Hall from NOT NECESSARILY THE NEWS (I was a big fan of that HBO series), and Jeremy Piven, now big on ENTOURAGE.

SUMMER is marked by the same absurdist humor and colorful animation blackouts that were popular in BETTER OFF DEAD..., so it's strange that this unofficial sequel should have fallen off the map. It's nothing special, of course, but it does engender some warm memories and a bit of sympathy towards its misfit characters, and I remember the audience cheering at one shot near the end where the heavies receive their comeuppance.

I picked up the DVD awhile back in a Wal-Mart bargain bin for $5.99. It's been out for awhile, but was never anything approaching a must-buy. Now that I've seen it, I'm glad I bought it, because, in addition to the movie, the disc features a commentary track by director Holland and actors Armstrong and Goldthwait. This is a funny and entertaining commentary and a bonus I wasn't expecting. These three are obviously having a good time watching the movie together and do a lot of laughing and ribbing--of the movie and each other. They also dish a little bit of dirt; for instance, Mark Metcalf was reportedly a surly presence on set, and Murray, a novice actor, was sometimes nervous before takes.

The three seem to tread lightly on the subject of John Cusack, maybe because he still holds some power in an industry where they still work. In an online interview I once read, director Holland said he and Cusack had a falling out after the movie was completed in which the star trashed the film and its unusual comic style.

I don't know how you feel about DVD commentaries--some people never listen to them--but this one is almost like getting two movies for the price of one. It's almost as entertaining as watching the movie itself.

I hope Thanksgiving was a good time for all. I spend the afternoon in Urbana at my aunt and uncle's house with my dad, my cousins, and some of my uncle's relatives. We used to spend a lot of Thanksgivings with this part of the family when I was a kid, and it's interesting to note that some things never change. My cousin and I were, once again, relegated to the "kids' table" in the kitchen. Ah, well, at least we were closer to the food.

Posted by Marty at 10:49 PM CST
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Thursday, November 24, 2005
No More Threshold

Looks like my wife Carla Gugino is out of a job again. Just two years after the incredible KAREN SISCO was cancelled way too soon, CBS has axed her latest series, THRESHOLD, after it finished third in its first airing in its new Tuesday timeslot. Any dummy could have predicted that it wouldn't be able to compete longterm with NBC's LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT and ABC's BOSTON LEGAL (LEGAL was preempted this week), so the news doesn't surprise me. I thought THRESHOLD was a good show with an incredible cast...and it was preparing to add a new cast member: the mega-hot Catherine Bell (JAG). No word on whether THRESHOLD will be allowed to play out the rest of its filmed episodes; I believe nine have so far aired, and three or four more are ready to go.

Posted by Marty at 11:58 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 11:59 PM CST
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Too Heavy To Hang, Too Big For The Gas Chamber
Now Playing: KILLDOZER
Many of you under-30s are going to think I'm full of shit, but I swear to you this is a real movie. Oh, for the days of THE ABC MOVIE OF THE WEEK, which, back in the '70s, served up a whole mess of deliciously silly and sometimes genuinely creepy and effective horror and science fiction movies. KILLDOZER, as you can imagine from its ten-cent title, falls into the "silly" category.

KILLDOZER, which aired on ABC on February 2, 1974 in a 90-minute timeslot, has received much notoriety in recent years from viewers who remember seeing it on television back then. Helping to ground the ludicrous story in some sort of reality is its small cast, which consists of six (then-)familiar television actors who play construction workers digging up a six-square-mile island 200 miles off the coast of Africa, transforming a World War II refueling site into a base camp for an oil company.

The deadline is short and morale is low, partially due to the strict work ethic of reformed alcoholic boss Kelly (Clint Walker), whose charges resent his taciturn manner. With five days to go, the work schedule hits a major snag when young Mac (a not-yet-famous Robert Urich) is felled by a sudden and mysterious ailment that seems to have been triggered when his DC-9 bulldozer ran into a strange metallic rock. Mac dies that night, but not before muttering something about "warning" and "blue light" privately to Kelly. The rest of the men--snide Dennis (Carl Betz), mechanic Chub (Neville Brand, just off playing sicko masturbating rapist George Fromley in THE MAD BOMBER), happy-go-lucky Dutch (James Wainwright) and young Al (James A. Watson)--take Mac's death hard and are repelled at Kelly's seemingly cold orders to get back to work. What Kelly is afraid to admit and the others eventually learn is that the 'dozer has been possessed by an alien presence with a real mad-on for the crew. Impervious to fire, explosives or even an empty gas tank, "Killdozer" chases the cast around the island for the rest of the movie, leading to an electrifying finale.

Of course, the concept is as hokey as the campy title implies, but no-nonsense direction by Jerry London and the professional cast's wise insistence upon playing straight makes KILLDOZER a lot more watchable than you might think. None of the actors has much more to do than look suspicious and act frantic, but the old pros pull off the silly proceedings with admirable aplomb, particularly Betz as a snarky jackass. Gil Melle's score adds some menace, while the teleplay by noted SF author Theodore Sturgeon and Ed MacKillop, based upon Sturgeon's lauded novella (producer Herb Solow lands a confusing "adaptation" credit), conjures up some creative methods for a bulldozer to murder people. Wainwright was just coming off his shortlived JIGSAW series, whereas Walker (CHEYENNE), Betz (THE DONNA REED SHOW) and Brand (LAREDO) were already well-known television leads. Urich's first series, BOB & CAROL & TED & ALICE, had been cancelled a couple of months earlier.

Believe it or not, I own a Marvel comic book adaptation of KILLDOZER, printed in WORLDS UNKNOWN #6 and carrying a cover date of March/April 1974. Ostensibly based on Sturgeon's story, "Killdozer", as scripted by Gerry Conway (currently a writer on LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT), drawn by Dick Ayers and Ernie Chan, and edited by Roy Thomas, is a faithful adaptation given a bit more oomph by the movement in the art. "As seen on TV!" blares the cover blurb. For some reason, Thomas and cover artists Gil Kane and Ralph Reese put a talking killdozer on the front of the book! Maybe it talks shit ("You dared DEFY ME--and so you must DIE!!") in the novella, but, sadly, not in the movie.

After conquering print, film and comic books, I can only assume a KILLDOZER video game is on the horizon. Can you imagine playing something similar to Halo 2, except you and your party are fighting a killdozer? Make it happen, game designers!

Posted by Marty at 9:16 PM CST
Updated: Thursday, November 24, 2005 9:20 PM CST
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Happy Thankgiving, Gang
That goes out to all the American readers of this blog. To you Canadians, happy Thursday. Geez, just because you guys don't know when Thanksgiving is supposed to be... (although I will always, this time of year, think about that SCTV gag about Canadians inventing Thanksgiving because you celebrate it earlier)

I'm meeting my dad over at my aunt and uncle's house in Urbana. I presume my two cousins will be there too. This is the first Thanksgiving since my mom passed away that I haven't gone to my brother's mother-in-law's house. Which is a good time with nice people, but it will also be nice to be with my family for a change.

It'll also be nice to eat something that isn't wings. Had 18 mild wings at Buffalo Wild Wings last night, which I didn't think were particularly great. Monday night during football, Chicken, Grady and I plowed through 60 (!) Mo Joe's wings with ease. When they were gone, we were sitting around going, "Damn, we need some more food."

I think I could eat wings everyday. And spaghetti.

Posted by Marty at 10:07 AM CST
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Monday, November 21, 2005
Quick Notes
Well, I did it. I'm an automobile owner. Well, actually the Ford Motor Company is for the next five years. I bought a used 2005 Chevy Malibu Classic. Tan color, 4 doors, automatic, power windows, power locks, power seat, tripometer, automatic trunk opener, driver's side cupholder, CD player, plenty of storage, cruise control and more. Plenty of head and legroom for someone 6'1" tall, very important.

Go here to find out more and to see photos.

Posted by Marty at 11:35 PM CST
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Sunday, November 20, 2005
Spend That Dough
Well, I'm a step closer to buying a car. Not a Nissan, not a Ford. A 2005 Chevrolet Malibu Classic. Automatic, four doors, V4 2.2L, A/C, CD player, power everything, cup holders, tripometer, blah blah blah. 24,000 miles on it. Still covered under the factory warranty, plus the dealer offers a free 3-year, 75,000-mile warranty to go with it. They had me take it home to "test" over the weekend. It's got a few little flaws, but at $199 per month for 60 months, I have to admit it seems like a nice deal.

The rough part was withstanding the barrage of pressure from the saleswoman and the finance manager at the dealer, who use a little basic psychology to pressure you without it seeming like they're pressuring you. Basically, they act as though you're obviously buying the car and just go about setting up the paperwork and handing you things to sign without even asking if you really want to buy the thing. I was trying to convince them that I needed a day or two to think about the purchase, and they were all, "Oh, gee, I was under the impression that you were all ready to sign the papers and drive it home tonight." Were they really? I doubt it. Keep in mind that, at that point, I didn't even know for sure if my loan had been approved or even what the price and monthly payments were going to be! I sure wasn't signing anything without that information!

The other thing slowing me down is that the settlement check from the insurance company, which I'm using as my down payment, hasn't arrived yet. I told them I felt skittish buying a car and promising a down payment that wasn't yet in my hand. They were willing to let me bring it in next week, but I have this fear that the check might be lost in the mail or that maybe USAA General is still spinning its wheels, and I don't want to have a deadline to deliver a down payment if I don't know the money is going to be in my hand by that date.

I took it over to Chicken's this afternoon so he could give it a good glance. We wondered why it was smelling like burning oil--that's a bad sign--and when we opened the hood, we got our answer. Whoever the last mechanic was to look at it apparently forgot to put the cap back on the oil tank! So oil had spurt out all over the engine and under the hood. Oops. On the bright side, the oil was clean, so I guess it's been changed recently.

I've got to drop the car back off at the dealer tomorrow night after work. I'll call the insurance company tomorrow and see if they've sent that settlement check yet. But the car feels good to me, and I hope it will be mine by the end of the week.

I've been very happy with my recent cable switch from HBO to Showtime, which shows a lot of crappy movies, and often letterboxes them to boot. Today I caught ROLLING VENGEANCE, which isn't really very special, but does have a kickass monster truck.

Joey Rosso (Don Michael Paul, who wrote HARLEY DAVIDSON AND THE MARLBORO MAN!) is a young trucker who works with his dad (Lawrence Dane from RITUALS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME). Ned Beatty plays Tiny, a sleazy used car dealer and strip club owner with five drunken redneck sons. When the sons cause a car accident that kills Joey's mom, little brother, and little sister, you'd think that would be enough to quench their animalistic lust, but they later kill Dane by dropping cement blocks off an overhead onto his semi, and then they rape Joey's virginal girlfriend (Lisa Howard from BOUNTY HUNTERS). Man, is Joey pissed. He builds an enormous monster truck with fire blazing from the top and a huge corkscrew built in to the front, and drives around the "Ohio" (filmed in Ontario) countryside squashing Tiny's family and his dealership and his bar and his warehouse and anything else that needs crushing. The script and performances are paint-by-numbers, and there isn't really enough trashy stuff to warrant the R rating, but the monster truck is very cool and kicks major redneck ass.

Posted by Marty at 4:39 PM CST
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Friday, November 18, 2005
What A Week
It's been a pretty busy one, which is why I haven't posted a lot lately. It worked out well for you if you have a crush, man- or otherwise, on Chuck Norris.

I test-drove a 2001 Nissan Altima last night. On a whim, I went out to a different dealer to check out a 2002 Sentra I saw online, but when I actually sat in it, I realized that Sentras were not made for drivers 6 feet 1 inch tall. I also saw a Ford Taurus out there that might be in my price range.

The Nissan dealership is clear over on the other side of town, so I wasn't planning to go there last night. I rambled around a bit, stopped into Border's and Meijer and Wendy's for a triple. Drove through a couple of low-rent used-car lots just to see what they had. Then, even though it was after 7pm and I had not yet gone home from work, I decided to head out to the Nissan dealer. They only had a couple of cars that might fall into my price range, one being this Altima that stickers at about $12,000, which I think is more than my budget can handle, but the salesman, of course, claims that it can. If there's decent weather on Saturday, I'll hit some other places. There's a big lot up in Rantoul that has plenty in my price range.

Yeah, I also got a new couch. I found one while browsing through Homeworks downtown, which is a resale store associated with Habitats for Humanity. It cost only $75, and I gave them an extra $20 to have them deliver it and remove my old couch (it's downstairs now, and I don't know yet what to do with it). It was well worth that $20, since those two poor bastards who did the moving had a bitch of a time. I don't remember how we got my old couch in here, because it doesn't fit through the door. It's about 1/4 or 1/2 inch too wide. Those guys were sweating and panting like madmen. I still need to get used to the new one, but it is soft to lie on. I think it belonged to some smokers before, so I need to try to get that smell out.

And happy birthday to Cheeseburger, who's partying this weekend with her sister and Shark Hunter, pounding Diet Pepsis, eating Italian ice cream, and catching up on all the SUPERNATURAL episodes on her new DVR.

Posted by Marty at 8:01 AM CST
Updated: Friday, November 18, 2005 8:02 AM CST
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