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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Friday, May 19, 2006
Burt Reynolds Fights Ninjas
I'm betting you're thinking that if you live to be 100, you'll never enjoy the amazing sight of Burt Reynolds beating the shit out of a couple of ninjas. Well, you'd actually be right, but just barely.

LD and Chicken came by this week for a showing of SHARKY'S MACHINE. The dumb bastards at Warner Brothers have only released it in the U.S. on a 1998 full-frame DVD, so I had to find a dub of the Region 4 DVD, which is close to the proper aspect ratio. Close enough anyway.

SHARKY'S MACHINE is the best film directed by Burt Reynolds, who also stars in it as Sharky, a tough narcotics cop who gets screwed by the department after a bust goes bad and he takes the blame. He's transferred to the shithole of Vice, which is headquartered in the precinct basement and plays host to the worst pimps, hookers, dopers, and lowlifes Atlanta has to offer. The cops assigned to Vice were once among the cream of the crop, but the frustration and humiliation of what they do has turned them into jelly.

So it is that they leap at the chance to do real police work. A case involving a major pimp and a politician (Earl Holliman) running for governor spurs Sharky to put an illegal 24-hour surveillance on the apartment of a gorgeous $1000-a-night call girl named Dominoe (Rachel Ward). While spying on her, Sharky falls in love with her, and he takes the case personally when a crazed, cokeheaded assassin (Henry Silva) blasts her face off with a shotgun.

Reynolds the actor certainly loved the opportunity to put together a very sharp cast for his crime drama, including Charles Durning as his Vice boss, Brian Keith, Bernie Casey and Richard Libertini as his "machine", John Fiedler, Vittorio Gassman, Hari Rhodes, Joseph "Stefano" Mascolo and Darryl Hickman as a jerk cop named Smiley. Reynolds the stuntman certainly dug the brutal action scenes, including an opening shootout on a city bus and a suspenseful climax with Sharky and Silva stalking each other on the top floors of the Peachtree Plaza Hotel. And Reynolds the director got to spot the film with a lot of cool jazz songs by artists like Julie London and Joe Williams.

SHARKY's pace flags somewhat in the middle, as Reynolds spends more time than he needed on conversations (albeit well-acted ones) between cops that don't serve the plot and on Sharky's various introspections. What we'd rather see is Reynolds fighting ninjas.

Hallelujah! Can you believe it? While poking around a friend's basement, Sharky is attacked by two Asian badasses with "numbchucks", who start whaling away at Sharky, "kicking his ass," to paraphrase Casey. The fight is well-staged by Reynolds, who has to come out second best (let's face it, not even Burt can beat up a pair of awesome ninjas), but he holds his own and has nothing to be ashamed of. And Sharky gets a second crack at them a little while later, and two guesses as to who survives.

Posted by Marty at 12:23 AM CDT
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006
Anybody Seen This Video?
Anybody recognize the hottie walking tall in this Rolling Stones video, which was directed by David Fincher?

Posted by Marty at 12:22 AM CDT
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Tuesday, May 16, 2006
Anything Else I Can Do For You...Charles?
In the annals of great Fuck Yeah moments in 24 history, near the top will be in last night's episode where stalwart Secret Service agent Aaron Pierce told the evil President to go fuck himself. Er, at least in language Fox censors would allow.

Pierce, who was a steady member of the 24 crew going all the way back to Day 1 as the right-hand agent to David Palmer (Dennis Haysbert), has slowly and steadily turned into one of the series' most beloved characters. Writer David Fury revealed recently that Pierce was scheduled to die this season, but cooler heads at Fox prevailed, and I think it's a good thing. Until this season, Pierce was mainly seen in the background or doing day-player stuff, but this year he's become a pudgy red-headed action hero, and it's been a really cool thing for 24. After five seasons, last night was the character's best showcase and it was well worth waiting for.

Pierce is played by Glenn Morshower, a character actor who's been around since the '70s, one of those guys you see and say, "Yeah, that guy, geez, he's been around," even though you can't remember right away where you saw him. Horror fans might remember a really young Morshower as a teenage zombie in 1981's DEAD & BURIED. I once saw his film debut, a drive-in flick called, er, DRIVE-IN, which was filmed in Morshower's native Texas. I remember first seeing him (even though I know I've seen other things he was in before this) in ABC's short-lived Saturday-night series C-16, which starred Eric Roberts (!) as the head of a special FBI task force. Morshower played the prick boss in the same tight-lipped, high-strung mode in which he plays everything. Morshower doesn't appear to be an actor of great range, but when it comes to playing stalwart, by-the-book authority figures, he has few equals.

Something about the PRISON BREAK finale that surprised me was the off-camera death of the U.S. President (he appears to have been murdered by corrupt Secret Service agents under orders from Vice President Patricia Wettig). The President was seen in only one episode, in one scene, and he was played by the great Daniel J. Travanti (HILL STREET BLUES). I was under the impression from a recent Travanti interview that he was going to do more episodes, and I'm surprised that the producers would go to the trouble and expense to hire a name like Travanti just to do one little scene. I'm glad they did--it shows they care--but I would think Fox probably urged them to find a local Chicago actor instead.

So is Waterston leaving LAW & ORDER?

Posted by Marty at 11:27 PM CDT
Updated: Tuesday, May 16, 2006 11:30 PM CDT
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Monday, May 15, 2006
Many TV finales happening this week. The final WEST WING was a bittersweet experience. This was a genuinely great show until NBC opted to dump its erratic (and drug-fueled) genius Aaron Sorkin in favor of a head honcho (John Wells) who kept the trains running on time. WW suffered a massive creative slump when Wells took over--a slump so steep that I had to quit watching the show. It was awful for awhile. A recent decision to take the series in a new direction with a Presidential race between Jimmy Smits and Alan Alda rejuvenated the scripts and cast, even though it took screen time away from characters we had grown to love.

As for the finale, yeah, it felt right, even though it sorely needed a scene with Richard Schiff. Allison Smith and Rob Lowe get face time, and not Schiff? Sheen's farewell to his staff was great, particularly his in-joke to his real-life daughter about saying hi to her mother (his wife) and his parting gift to Dule Hill. And what a class act the show was for keeping the late John Spencer in the opening titles all season.

LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT ended the year without any fanfare, just a typically solid show and the surprise exit (so it seems) of Jamey Sheridan. I'm not sure why he's leaving, unless it's to either do a play or he's just tired of showing up to play a role he could do in his sleep. Sheridan is a very good actor who was wonderful in a barely remembered NBC series called SHANNON'S DEAL in 1990 (although I understand he was miscast in THE STAND), and he'll be missed.

I said a year ago that this would be the last year for Vincent D'Onofrio on CI, that with his behind-the-scenes shenanigans and the return of fan favorite Chris Noth to do half the shows, the producers would be easing him out in favor of Noth in all 22 shows next year. Haven't heard any announcements yet, but I'd love to know what the ratings for the D'Onofrio episodes were compared with Noth's.

PRISON BREAK ended tonight with a typically suspenseful cliffhanger. I'm surprised that all of the escapees (at least the ones who made it over the wall) are still alive at this point, although T-Bag dashing through the woods (carrying his chopped-off hand, no less!) stretched disbelief more than a normal amount. After catching up with old WHITE SHADOW reruns recently and hearing an audio commentary on one episode that included regular Kevin Hooks, it was neat to see his directing credit on tonight's finale.

Posted by Marty at 10:24 PM CDT
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Saturday, May 13, 2006
I Cooked
Hey, don't laugh--this was quite an accomplishment for me.

For me, "cooking" generally means popping a pork chop or a couple of hamburger patties on the Foreman, shoving some tater tots into the oven, and putting a can of corn on the stove. Or maybe just boiling pasta and browning some ground beef to stir into a pot of Ragu. I generally don't do much more than that. Partially because I can't, and partially because I'm not patient when it comes to food. I want to eat supper now, not 45 minutes from now.

But tonight, for some reason, I decided to experiment and make an extra effort. What I'm about to tell you will sound incredibly basic, I know, but it was a big deal for me.

I decided I wanted chicken with angel hair pasta. I don't know why--it just sounded good to me. Usually I would either have just the chicken--put it on the Foreman--or just pasta with some sauce. Never mixed the two before. So I went online and found a recipe (actually the one on top after I Googled), printed it out, and bought ingredients. Such as olive oil, which I have never bought before in my life.

I put some olive oil and butter in a skillet. Chopped up a couple of boneless chicken breasts...actually cut them up into small pieces. Boiled some angel hair. After I cooked the chicken, I took it out of the skillet and into a bowl. Then, into the empty skillet, I put more olive oil and butter in, mixed in some chicken broth, some parmesan cheese, a bit of garlic (I didn't smash up the cloves very well), and a can of peas. Maybe I cooked too long or didn't use enough broth (2/3 cup), but the peas/cheese/broth/etc. formed sort of a lump. Well, not really, but it was solid. I thought it might form some sort of "sauce". What it really did was give the peas a certain flavor...but a really good flavor. Maybe it works better with another vegetable (the recipe suggested carrots and broccoli, but I hate carrots and broccoli).

The result was surprisingly good, considering I made it. Some angel hair, chopped chicken on top, and some sticky peas mixed around it. I ended up making too much, although it was so good that I had to force myself to stop eating.

I hope you're done laughing now. I'm sure this is all Cooking 101. The angel hair was kinda sticky, I suppose maybe I boiled it too long. Is there a tip to avoid that? Maybe putting something in the water?

Other than the trip to the grocery store and the cooking, it's not been an eventful day. I went to the library, where I had reserved the latest Jonathan Kellerman novel, GONE. I made Cheeseburger buy it so I could eventually borrow it, 'cause I was number 74 on the list, and I figured it would be Christmas before my name came up, but maybe the library got several copies. Cheeseburger trashed the book a bit, but I've read all the Kellerman books, and he's really the only author I make a point to read when a new one comes out.

Now that Evan Hunter/Ed McBain has passed away, that is. Reading the last McBain 87TH PRECINCT novel was a sad experience for me, as I realized how much his characters meant to me and how closely I had followed the peaks and valleys and events of their lives for the past 25 years or so (McBain wrote them for 50). And it's hard knowing that my relationship with those fictional characters has come to a brick wall, that it will never advance.

After watching the extras on Fox's awesome new THE TOWERING INFERNO Special Edition DVD the other night, I searched YouTube for Steve McQueen and found this TV commercial for the Ford Puma. The makers have taken old clips from BULLITT and placed McQueen digitally into the Puma. While I have mixed feelings on the notion of digging up dead movie stars and inserting them into commercials (I highly doubt Steve McQueen would ever have shilled for the Ford Puma), the spot is a nice homage to BULLITT, even copying the opening title style and using Lalo Schifin's terrific score.

One thing that fascinates me about BULLITT is that I have seen it at least a dozen times in my life, including once at the Orpheum Theater in Champaign on a double-bill with THE GREAT ESCAPE, and I still have no idea what it's about. Has anyone ever written a detailed plot synopsis of BULLITT? Is it possible?

UPDATE: I just found a detailed synopsis on Wikipedia. Sounds plausible!

Posted by Marty at 9:29 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, May 13, 2006 9:37 PM CDT
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Thursday, May 11, 2006
Way Ahead of Sche-Dool
Wow, I got quite a bit done last night. I was able to watch two movies and write a column about them for The Hub, which means I'm now two weeks ahead of schedule. Last week's issue had my review of THE HILLS HAVE EYES (the original, of course). The new issue out today has SWAMP FIRE and CAPTIVE GIRL, the only two movies to co-star former Tarzan actors Buster Crabbe and Johnny Weissmuller. In fact, SWAMP FIRE is unique in that it's the only film in which Weissmuller ever played a character not named Tarzan or Jungle Jim. He appeared in a handful of movies playing himself, including the last three "Jungle Jim" movies, where he was really playing the same character, but the producers let the license lapse or something, and the character was renamed "Johnny Weissmuller".

The following week will be a look at two recent movies released directly to DVD (more or less). END GAME was presumably intended for theatrical release--it's a loud thriller with a good cast including Cuba Gooding, Jr., James Woods, Angie Harmon, Anne Archer, Burt Reynolds, Jack Scalia and David Selby--but Millennium/Nu Image probably lacked the funds to properly launch it, so it finally came out on DVD a couple of weeks ago.

I also wrote about LOST, which did get into a few theaters last summer and even played at a film festival or two as early as 2004. It recently came out on DVD, and is an interesting little thriller. Dean Cain, the former Superman who is all over the place these days, doing TV guest shots on LAS VEGAS and LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, doing supporting roles in big features like OUT OF TIME (he was good in it), starring in DTV fare like DRAGON FIGHTER (which sucks) and FIRETRAP, is the star of LOST and practically its only on-screen actor. The term "tour de force" is tailor-made for Cain's performance in LOST, in which he plays an arrogant bank executive who loses his way figuratively and literally in the Nevada desert and comes into contact with vicious bank robbers led by the great Danny Trejo. There are some interesting story twists and good pacing in this low-budget movie, which lives or dies on Cain's performance. He's virtually the only face we see for 80 minutes, and you might be surprised to learn that he's up to the task.

UPDATED: I think I'm getting my weeks mixed up and I'm further ahead than I thought. Today's issue of The Hub should have my BILLY JACK review. I was reminded of it, because I just happened to hear the theme, Coven's "One Tin Soldier," on the radio coming back to work from lunch. I think the song is actually marvelous. Its lyrics are, okay, kinda corny, but Jinx Dawson, Coven's lead singer, has a great voice and makes the downbeat story pay off. "One Tin Soldier" was originally performed by a Canadian band called The Original Caste, I think around 1969 (I have three versions on iTunes: this original, Coven's original single, and a Coven remake with a fuller arrangement--that one's my favorite). That version is good too, and you can see how it would have appealed to Tom Laughlin, BILLY JACK's writer/producer/director/star. I don't know why he wanted a cover version for BILLY JACK's lyrical title sequence, but it put Coven into the Top 40 for the first (and only) time, and BILLY JACK was a huge hit, so I guess it worked out for everybody.

Posted by Marty at 10:31 AM CDT
Updated: Thursday, May 11, 2006 1:57 PM CDT
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006
You Sounded A Little Taller On The Radio
Ladies and gentlemen...the world's all-time greatest film:

Posted by Marty at 3:28 PM CDT
Updated: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 3:30 PM CDT
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Monday, May 8, 2006
Sweet Georgia Brown
I watched an old WHITE SHADOW tonight that guest-starred the Harlem Globetrotters, and it reminded me just how famous they were during the 1970's. Not only did they have several TV series of their own, but they also performed occasionally in taped bits on ABC's WIDE WORLD OF SPORTS and CBS' SPORTS SPECTACULAR. Players like Meadowlark Lemon, Geese Ausbie, Curley Neal, Marques Haynes and Sweet Lou Dunbar were practically household names...actually Lemon was, appearing as a solo act outside of the Globetrotters (I also thought it was cool that Meadowlark and Geese have the same birthday as me).

I really remember the guys from THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS POPCORN MACHINE, which was a Saturday-morning live-action comedy/variety series with skits, blackouts and, of course, basketball. I wish I recalled it clearer, but my memories are that it was a lot of fun, and I certainly have memories of "playing" Globetrotters under the hoop. Although we weren't exactly as good at fast dribbling or passing behind the back.

The Globetrotters also "starred" in two Saturday-morning cartoons, one in which they solved mysteries Scooby Doo-style and another in which they turned into superheroes. They also played themselves in what may possibly be the worst film ever made: THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS ON GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. I wish I were kidding, but I ain't. The castaways had turned the island into a resort by this time, and megalomaniacs Martin Landau and Barbara Bain (funny how this film doesn't come up in interviews with the Oscar-winning Landau) created basketball-playing robots to help them conquer the world or something like that. I remember Gilligan and the Skipper joining the Globetrotters on the court to school the super basketball robots. I've seen a lot of bad TV, but I can't think of anything worse off the top of my head.

Here's about 3 1/2 minutes of old-school Globetrotter highlights. I just saw some of this schtick on the WHITE SHADOW episode. Pretty cool.

Posted by Marty at 10:50 PM CDT
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Sunday, May 7, 2006
More Liars And Idiots
Word is that President Bush wants to nominate General Michael Hayden to replace outgoing CIA director Porter Goss. Hayden is the guy who, earlier this year, told a press conference that the phrase "probable cause" was not in the 4th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. You know better, because A) you went to junior high school and B) you aren't always trying to circumvent the Constitution (which, I'm sure, could made you a bit forgetful about its contents), but for completist's sake, here it is:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Wouldn't you feel safer with Michael Hayden at the helm? I didn't think so.

(Oh, and nice of the lazy media to not report that the reason for Goss' abrupt resignation is likely due to his connection to the poker and prostitution scandals at the Watergate Hotel and not because he's a poor manager, as TIME claims. What? Never heard of the Watergate controversy? That's the "liberal media" for you!)

You may not have heard about Donald Rumsfeld lying his ass off last week, since it didn't get covered very well either. Ray McGovern, a man with 27 years experience in the CIA, asked Rumsfeld, "Why did you lie to get us into a war that was not necessary, that has caused these kinds of casualties?"

Rummy replied, "Well, first of all, I haven’t lied. I did not lie then. Colin Powell didn’t lie. He spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence Agency people and prepared a presentation that I know he believed was accurate, and he presented that to the United Nations. The president spent weeks and weeks with the Central Intelligence people and he went to the American people and made a presentation. I’m not in the intelligence business. They gave the world their honest opinion. It appears that there were not weapons of mass destruction there.

McGovern said, "You said you knew where they were."

Rumsfeld replied, "I did not."

This is, of course, a huge lie. Rumsfeld told ABC's THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS on March 30, 2003, "We know where (the weapons of mass destruction) are. They’re in the area around Tikrit and Baghdad and east, west, south and north somewhat."

November can't get here quickly enough.

Posted by Marty at 10:49 PM CDT
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One Car: 20 Bucks
Big day today. I sold a car, bought nearly $200 in clothes, cooked a meal, hooked up a VCR, watched four movies, and updated my blog.

Years ago, my brother handed down to me his 1992 Chevrolet Cavalier, which had a ton of miles on it, as well as a busted windshield, a faded paint job and other unsavory features. But it had an air conditioner, which my car at the time--an '84 Chevy Malibu--did not, so I took it. And drove it for a long time, even though it was hideous, uncool and not much fun.

For about a year, it's been parked in my dad's yard, looking the worse for wear. I'd been putting off getting rid of it, just because I knew it would be a major hassle. The battery is dead, it's parked 20 miles away, making it hard to show to prospective buyers. I would have paid a Junk Car Fairy to come out of the sky and put it out of my misery.

Today I'm in my dad's yard, trying to figure out if I should try to jumpstart the Cavalier, when his neighbor walks over to me.

"Are you gettin' it running?"
"Eh, I don't know. I just wanna get rid of it."
"How much you want for it?"
"PPPTTTT! I'll take 20 bucks for it, just to get it out of my sight."
"Hold on, I got 20 bucks."

The easiest--and cheapest--car sale in the history of automotives. I guess he wants to fix it up for his son when he turns 16. And here I thought I was going to have to call junkyards and probably get it towed someplace and spend a ton of dough dumping it, and I end up giving it away for $20 with no effort at all. As someone who rarely benefits from good fortune, that was a nice boost.

I needed some summer threads, so I went shopping afterward, picking up some decent casual shirts (no T-shirts this time) and two pairs of shorts. My torso is a bit, um, difficult to fit, so it was hard finding inexpensive clothing. Geez, I hope what I bought fits, come to think of it.

Today I watched SWAMP FIRE, a limp Paramount cheapie from 1946 that starred two former Tarzans, Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe, and POWERFORCE, an often hilarious Hong Kong kung fu cheapie about a crimefighting team called Dragonforce using their super-karate to fight ninjas who have stolen and brainwashed a princess.

Chicken came over tonight for goulash and to watch an interesting double feature. First was THE GUMBALL RALLY, which has the same basic plot as CANNONBALL and CANNONBALL RUN with more slapstick. Michael Sarrazin, Gary Busey, Joanne Nail (SWITCHBLADE SISTERS) and other mid-level stars run an illegal cross-country race in badass Corvettes, Rolls Royces, Cobras, Ferraris, etc. Then came HELL'S HIGHWAY, which is a documentary about the Highway Safety Foundation of Ohio, which produced dozens of gory, disturbing driver's education scare films during the '50s, '60s and '70s. Some of them are very explicit, showing actual mangled corpses at accident scenes, and it's amazing that schools would show them to teenagers. I know mine did. I bet none does today. How about yours?

Posted by Marty at 12:43 AM CDT
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