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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, May 21, 2006
Good Stuff, Maynard
I pretty much did jackshit this weekend but sit on Chicken's porch with a cooler and watch sports on TV with Chicken and Randall. On Saturday, it was Cubs/White Sox (with a kickass fight), Cards/Royals, Fighting Illini baseball, the Preakness and some very dull NASCAR All-Star race in which a four-hour-plus telecast showed about 45 minutes of actual racing. Today, more Cubs/Sox along with some NBA.

The highlight of today, however, was the new KFC Famous Bowl. Have you seen these yet? We saw some TV spots for them, and today the urge was so strong that I ran out to KFC and brought back one for each of us. If you haven't seen it, the Famous Bowl from KFC is mashed potatoes, corn, popcorn chicken, gravy and shredded cheese all layered on top of each other. That is some tasty shit, son. I don't know if it's something KFC is just testing out or if it's a permanent spot on the menu, but I have not had my last Famous Bowl if I can help it.

Posted by Marty at 10:39 PM CDT
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Top 50
I found this old list hidden on my hard drive this morning. This was part of an old thread at Mobius Home Video Forum, where I've been a moderator for several years. The idea was to make a list of fifty of your favorite cinema moments. Not a list of titles or even necessarily scenes or performances, but just fifty things that make you light up and appreciate that cinema exists.

Making lists like these can be fun, but, in my case, they're usually amorphous, and if I made a new list today, it would be a lot different. Just looking at it, I can see one or two additions I would make to it. But here it is, as it was posted at Mobius July 4, 2004.

The no-legged Ron Slinker kung-fu-fighting in MR. NO LEGS
Jim Garrison's (Kevin Costner) "back and to the left" monologue in JFK
Caroline Munro's leather bikini in STARCRASH
Paul Newman's brilliant performance in THE VERDICT
Sonny Chiba taking a bull by the horns (literally) in CHAMPION OF DEATH
The crucified Lee Horsley pulling the spikes from his hands in THE SWORD & THE SORCERER
Steve McQueen jumping his motorcycle in THE GREAT ESCAPE
Mary Badham's performance in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD
Stuart Whitman fights three transvestites in STRANGE SHADOWS IN AN EMPTY ROOM
Kurt Russell disco-dancing in USED CARS
Anne Randall disrobing during the opening titles of STACEY!
Brando's "coulda been a contenda" speech in ON THE WATERFRONT
The last scene of PLANET OF THE APES (1968)
Gene Hackman's sacrifice in THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE
Steve McQueen's car chase in BULLITT
The "Ecstasy of Gold" scene in THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY
Shatner vs. Shatner in WHITE COMANCHE
Tara Strohmeier's scrumptious body in HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD
Don Del Oro's costume in ZORRO'S FIGHTING LEGION
C. Thomas Howell dodges cars and exploding oxygen tanks in THE SWEEPER
The boys visit a nude beach populated only by men in EUROTRIP
Chuck Norris drives out of the ground in LONE WOLF MCQUADE
007 ski-jumps off a cliff in the pre-credits sequence of THE SPY WHO LOVED ME
The walking, talking cake of soap that wears jewelry in the educational short SOAPY THE GERM FIGHTER
The death and funeral of Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
Eddie Murphy takes on a barful of rednecks in 48 HRS.
Sorority girls play strip football in H.O.T.S.
Richard Crenna saying, "You'd better remember one thing: a fresh supply of body bags!" to Brian Dennehy in FIRST BLOOD
Richard Roundtree strutting down 42nd Street like he owned it in the opening of SHAFT
The "Too Many Secrets" scene in SNEAKERS
Michael Caine convincing a little kid that the giant hallucinatory bee floating above him doesn't really exist ("There's no bee there!") in THE SWARM
"I am Spartacus!" in SPARTACUS
Lance Henriksen's demise ("Oops.") in HARD TARGET (the theatrical version)
I like the movie too, but just the title of SH! THE OCTOPUS
John Williams' theme to RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK
Robert Forster's comeback performance in JACKIE BROWN
Burt Reynolds smiling at the camera in SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT
Mark Wahlberg and Julianne Moore's erotic sex scene in BOOGIE NIGHTS
Albert Brooks' on-air meltdown in BROADCAST NEWS
"They call me MISTER Tibbs!", says Sidney Poitier in IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT
Harrison Ford spies upon a bathing Kelly McGillis in WITNESS
Dean Martin vs. Robert Mitchum at the end of FIVE CARD STUD ("If that's a bible, you read it. If not, you drop it.")
Robbie Lee in SWITCHBLADE SISTERS ("It's gonna turn out baaaaaaaad!")
The wheelchair kid tumbles off a cliff in MAC AND ME
Gene Hackman's breakdown in THE CONVERSATION
Cary Grant vs. cropduster in NORTH BY NORTHWEST
Bruce Lee trashes James Garner's office in MARLOWE
Exploding prison warden in TURKEY SHOOT

How about your own list? You don't have to do 50, but leave a comment with some of your own. It's fun!

Posted by Marty at 10:52 AM CDT
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Saturday, May 20, 2006
SHARKY follow-up
Thanks to Jim Kenney for chiming in with his views of SHARKY’S MACHINE. Jim says:

SHARKY'S MACHINE is one of my all-time faves, and I too tracked down the R4 SHARKY'S MACHINE, which looks to me to be the full-frame version slightly squished w/ black bars put around it...I don't see any additional footage in any direction when I compare, do you ? (Or did you bother? I only note because your "close enough anyway" infers you weren't fully happy with the framing).

No, I wasn’t, and I think you’re right about it being squished. I don’t have the R1 to compare it with (I’ve been waiting for a Special Edition forever), but SHARKY’s aspect ratio is supposed to be 1.85 and the DVD image was off a bit. However, there didn’t appear to be anything missing off the sides, so the DVD could have been worse.

I affectionately disagree, though, which much else you say -- it's all those "pace-flagging" well-acted cop conversations that move this movie out of simple policier-territory into something more unique and memorable.

I like this stuff better than I let on, I think. A lot of these scenes are really good: one between Burt and Casey (all one stationary shot) where Bernie explains Zen; Keith bitching to Casey that he doesn’t “like ribs, don’t like chicken, don’t like hamburgers, you don’t like anything good”; a very well directed scene at the ballpark where Reynolds gets about seven characters together in the frame and has Durning walk back and forth to add some movement (and levity--”I DON’T GIVE A FUCK!”) to the expositional dialogue. I still think the pacing flags in the middle though. One more chase or five fewer minutes of Reynolds gazing at Dominoe might have fixed that.

And the initial ninja sequence for me was the worst in the movie, although the follow-up scene with the finger-cutting is another great one, and Reynolds escape sequence good too (although the Ninja's slight nod to Burt, a la "you have earned my respect" when he dies was a bit of Burt's ego acting up again).

I think Burt fighting the ninjas is one of the movie’s better setpieces. It’s a brutal fight choreographed well, and even though the notion of Chinese kung fu masters entering a relatively straightforward urban crime drama is over the top (I don’t remember if they were in the novel), Reynolds plays it fairly realistically. Sharky isn’t a superman, and even though he gets his licks in, the fight ends as it logically should. The follow-up scene is good, even though it doesn’t make any sense to me that the “asshole” should all of a sudden be Vittorio Gassman’s right-hand man. How the hell did that happen? In fact, there’s a lot about the narrative that doesn’t make much sense.

For me, it's a masterpiece of sorts, and started Reynolds 2nd decade as a superstar off on the right note -- it's still amazing how he quickly squandered both his money-making abilities and the critical goodwill he built up with this, STARTING OVER, SEMI-TOUGH and others so quickly

Well, Burt did fire the agent who got him the BOOGIE NIGHTS gig, not realizing that he was actually in a great movie for a change. In fact, it’s one of the two or three best films Reynolds ever did (and the only one to get him nominated for an Oscar).

Posted by Marty at 12:09 AM CDT
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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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