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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, July 9, 2006
Get A Good Look At Costanza
Now Playing: THE BURNING
1981's THE BURNING is one of the more interesting FRIDAY THE 13TH ripoffs. It went into production while FRIDAY was still in theaters, and was released in May '81. Set at an upstate New York summer camp, the story is nearly identical to FRIDAY: caretaker Cropsy is hideously burned during a prank pulled by some boys at summer camp, and returns five years later to slaughter the new crop of teens with a pair of mega-sharp garden shears. After a good opening scene (featuring a marvelous full body burn in which the flaming stuntman rolls down a hill into a lake), THE BURNING lies low while it introduces us to its typically fun-loving cast of horny teenage pranksters, who spend all of their time playing gags on each other and trying to get into the opposite sex's pants. It isn't until the halfway mark that the carnage really begins. And, oh what carnage it is.

Tom Savini, the goremeister who created the startlingly realistic makeup effects for FRIDAY THE 13TH, performed the same chores here, and they are astonishing, at least in the uncut version. The theatrical release and early home video versions were missing 45 seconds of gore that had to be trimmed to get an R rating from the MPAA. A few years ago, MGM accidentally put out the original X-rated version on videocassette, and that's the print I was able to watch tonight. It's hard to imagine watching THE BURNING without those seconds, as Savini's handiwork is about the only reason to watch what is basically just another teen slasher flick.

There is another reason to watch, and that is THE BURNING's cast of soon-to-be-famous actors. I can't think of any other horror movie of the era where so many actors went on to have solid careers. First and foremost is Jason Alexander, seen here as fast-talking Dave (with hair), who went on to become a very rich man as George Costanza on SEINFELD. Alexander has one of the bigger roles in THE well as an ass shot! This was his first motion picture.

* Holly Hunter, whose role is much smaller than Alexander's. She's harder to find--I don't think she even has a closeup--but her Georgia drawl stands out.
* Brian Backer, who played Rat in FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH
* Leah Ayres, a pretty woman who went on to lots of TV and movie work, including BLOODSPORT and Marcia Brady in the 1990 TV series THE BRADYS
* Ned Eisenberg, one of those That Guys who seems to play a lawyer in every other episode of the LAW & ORDER franchise. You've seen him a million times
* Larry Joshua, who has guest-starred in tons of shows, including a semi-regular gig on NYPD BLUE. You'll likely recognize his raspy voice too.
* Fisher Stevens, just before SHORT CIRCUIT and one of the few BURNING cast members who actually was a teenager

Just as surprising are the film's producer and its co-writer: Harvey and Bob Weinstein. THE BURNING was their very first film. Brad Grey, who is now the president of Paramount Pictures, was a co-writer and "production consultant." Rick Wakeman of Yes (!) composed the score. The editor was Jack Sholder, who made his directing debut a year later with a good horror film, ALONE IN THE DARK.

Although the quality of THE BURNING doesn't set the film apart from most other slasher flicks that appeared in FRIDAY THE 13TH enormous wake, its cast and crew certainly does.

Posted by Marty at 11:04 PM CDT
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El Enmascarado de Plata
I've also been watching a lot of Mexican wrestling superhero movies lately, one of the strangest Crappy Movie genres. And there can be no discussing Mexican wrestling movies without El Santo, the most famous luchador of them all and one of the biggest movie stars in the country’s history.

Known as “the man in the silver mask,” Santo--who, like The Lone Ranger, was never seen in public without his face covered--graduated from the wrestling arena to the silver screen in the late 1950’s, when he played a supporting role in a pair of superhero adventures. It wasn’t until 1961 and the release of INVASION OF THE ZOMBIES (which Tolemite and I saw last weekend) that Santo became a leading man, kicking off a string of more than fifty wild-and-wooly motion pictures that sicced “El Enmascarado de Plata” against witches, Martians, stranglers, she-wolves, mad scientists and other colorful villains. Only a few of them played in the United States, dubbed into English with the hero’s name changed to Samson, as in SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962). However, many of them are available now on DVD, usually in Spanish with English subtitles.

If you're curious to know more about Santo, check out this clip. It runs just under two minutes and packs a lot of Santo-kickass-goodness:

Posted by Marty at 1:03 AM CDT
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Saturday, July 8, 2006
What Have I Been Watching
I haven't written much lately about the movies I've been watching. Last weekend saw about a dozen viewings drop into my lap, which is what usually occurs when Tolemite drops into town for a visit.

Tonight I saw this year's remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES, which is a complete waste of time for anyone who has seen Wes Craven's original, which I wrote about for The Hub. I know everyone always says this about every remake, but the original really is much better. In fact, except for the opening scene, which is as blatant a case of "Hey, audience, we think you're stupid," as I've seen in a Hollywood movie recently, Alexandre Aja's new movie is virtually a scene-by-scene copy. Whenever Aja veers oh-so-slightly off Craven's path, it's always an inferior choice. Barely anything in the 2006 movie is an improvement over the 1977 film: some of the performances (Ted Levine, Kathleen Quinlan), maybe tomandandy's score (although Don Peake's was very good in the original). Whereas Craven made his villains distinctive characters with individual personalities, Aja's are merely driven by plot to show up when needed and disappear when not. None is interesting, and we aren't even told their names. I was surprised to learn that Billy Drago played Jupiter, the patriarch, as I don't think he even shows up until an hour and 35 minutes into the picture. And the deathtrap concocted by the siblings at the end is nowhere near as clever (and sick) as the one in Craven's film.

Seriously, blow this one off and check out the Wes Craven movie instead.

CYBER ZONE is a Fred Olen Ray movie starring Marc Singer (the Beastmaster!) as a "droid gunner" (aka "blade runner") that hunts androids for a living. He's hired to find four "pleasure droids" (aka hot sex robots) and is reluctantly teamed with a prim female technician with glasses (Rochelle Swanson) who--surprise, surprise--turns out to be a major hottie. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power puts in another appearance in a cheap DTV movie, as does much of Ray's repertory company, including Ross Hagen, Robert Quarry and Brinke Stevens (naked!).

STARSHIP INVASIONS is what happens when Canadians try science-fiction. Made at the peak of the 1970s' UFO craze, it stars Robert Vaughn (!) as a UFO expert who is abducted by good aliens who are trying to prevent bad aliens (led by Christopher Lee!) from conquering the earth with a suicide ray (!) that forces Earthlings to kill themselves. There's a stupid-looking robot, TV-style direction (by Ed Hunt) and scoring (by Gil Melle, usually better than this), and the aliens "speak" only in voiceover--so Hunt can shoot faster and cheaper without sync sound.

JUNGLE MAN-EATERS was Johnny Weissmuller’s last official Jungle Jim movie. I wouldn’t be surprised if 20% of this 67-minute feature is recycled from someplace else. Weissmuller fights a crocodile (again!), a lion (again!), some sailors, a bunch of natives and a Frenchman. Jim is kind of an imbecile in this movie, blundering into trouble. Chimp Tamba accidentally hits him in the head with a rock that knocks him out. Lee "Roll 'Em" Sholem directs a few serial-style fistfights that are a bit rougher than the usual Jungle Jim punchfests. There were no more Jungle Jim movies for Weissmuller, but he made three more similar features for Columbia playing a character named…Johnny Weissmuller!

In honor of Jan Murray, the comedian, game show host and actor who died last week in his 80s, I watched his first film, WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR. This delightfully sick 1965 thriller casts the Borscht Belt funnyman in a dramatic role as Dave Madden, a detective who investigates when young club DJ Juliet Prowse is the recipient of obscene phone calls. Sal Mineo is top-billed as the pervert, who works as a busboy at Prowse's club, but this movie is, along with TIGHTROPE and THE MAD BOMBER, one of the few crime dramas in which the hero is creepier than the sleazebag he's pursuing. Surprisingly frank for an independent 1965 film with a name cast (Elaine Stritch, Frank Campanella, Bruce Glover and a young Daniel J. Travanti are also in it), WHO KILLED TEDDY BEAR is badly in need of a DVD release. It's a shame that Jan Murray, who told SCARLET STREET magazine how much he liked the film in a 1995 interview, is no longer around to do a commentary, but Stritch, Glover, Travanti and director Joseph Cates (father of Phoebe) are.

NIGHTHAWKS is a solid pre-FIRST BLOOD thriller for Sylvester Stallone, who was unsuccessful as a dramatic actor after ROCKY (PARADISE ALLEY and F.I.S.T. were not hits). NIGHTHAWKS is his first action-hero role. He and Billy Dee Williams are New York detectives on special assignment to track down Wulfgar (Rutger Hauer making his U.S. film debut), a ruthless European terrorist. It's nothing special, but the action scenes are suspenseful, and the performers are good. Lindsay Wagner (THE BIONIC WOMAN) is wasted in a nothing part as Sly's ex-wife. It's certainly worth viewing.

I also caught a couple of Italian westerns. I think I've already written about BLINDMAN, a strangely black-humored hit about a blind gunslinger (Tony Anthony) attempting to retrieve 50 mail-order brides from a Mexican bandit. The bandit's brother, Candy, is played by Ringo Starr, whose Mexican accent is poor, but who is okay otherwise. I don't think much of Anthony, but BLINDMAN has a strange mix of humor and sleaze, particularly the nude scenes. It's a good movie and definitely never boring.

More standard is $100,000 FOR RINGO (no relation to the Beatle drummer), in which a young Richard Harrison (um, no relation to George...) returns from the Civil War and finds himself between angry Apaches, a crazed Mexican general, and a crooked town boss. By the way, there's neither a Ringo nor $100,000 in the movie.

Posted by Marty at 10:34 PM CDT
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Thursday, July 6, 2006
A Man Barely Alive
Well, I'm hoping those Shatner-narrated clips of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN blew your mind. No question that Lee Majors as Steve Austin kicks huge amounts of ass. He even fought...

...George Foreman! Holy crap!

And below is more of the Seven Million Dollar Man, seen getting his ass smacked into a wall by Steve Austin in that video below and played by ubiquitous TV guest star Monte Markham:

I remember what a big deal it was when Steve Austin was temporarily surpassed as the #1 bionic badass when Markham (playing a character named Barney Miller, of all things) get racked up in a racecar crash and is given $7 million worth of bionic limbs. Unfortunately, Barney turns evil, and it's up to Steve to stop him. Markham came back in a later episode, but I recall that as being more of a teamup with Austin, rather than a battle.

Markham, by the way, almost took over the leading role in HAWAII FIVE-0 during the 1970's. FIVE-0 was an enormous hit, the first successful network series to lens entirely in the state of Hawaii. The star, as Five-0 leader Steve McGarrett, was Jack Lord, who appears to have been one of the TV industry's major bastards. I've been a fan of the show since I was a kid, and rarely have I heard a good word about him. Lord was apparently an ill-tempered egomaniac who barely got along with anyone besides his wife and FIVE-0 executive producer Leonard Freeman. When Freeman died, Lord became the de facto executive producer, and reportedly ran roughshod over everyone, including CBS. If you watch enough FIVE-0 episodes, you'll notice a helluva lot of different producers in the credits. That's because Lord either fired them, or they quit in frustration.

At any rate, CBS almost fired Lord during the 7th season when the actor pitched a hissy fit over a producer bringing a guest onto FIVE-0's closed set. Perhaps Lord was in the right this time, but CBS was getting tired of his bullshit, and went so far as to hire Markham to play a new character named Kincaid who would eventually take over the Five-0 unit. The situation worked itself out, and Markham never appeared as Kincaid, although he did guest-star at least once.

Apropos of nothing, "State of Shock" by Michael Jackson and Mick Jagger just popped up on iTunes. If a shittier song exists anywhere, I'm scared to hear it.

Posted by Marty at 11:39 PM CDT
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Wednesday, July 5, 2006
Fair And Balanced? Bullshit.
Check out the Fox News story about dead prick Ken Lay on its Web site:

"Vilified" former chairman. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, "vilify" means "to make vicious and defamatory statements about." Fox is implying that Lay was a victim of smear tactics and propaganda. Ken Lay was a dirty, sleazy crook who destroyed the lives of thousands of Americans, and I'm only sorry that he cheated us out of the satisfaction of knowing he was rotting in prison.

Sound callous? I don't think anyone would cry over the death of Osama bin Laden, and I wouldn't place Lay much higher on any morality scale. He and Jeff Skilling didn't blow up any buildings, but thousands of American lives were ruined by their greed.

If I ever make it to Houston, I'll make a point of dropping by the cemetary to drop a deuce on Kenny Boy's grave.

Posted by Marty at 8:41 PM CDT
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Monday, July 3, 2006
Bionics Are Cool
What's that, you say? You've never seen THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN or its spinoff, THE BIONIC WOMAN? are missing out, my friend. When is Universal getting off its ass and putting these two hugely popular adventure series on DVD?

If I have piqued your curiosity, spend 90 seconds with Bill Shatner and Robby the Robot as they give you a crash course in bionic awesomeness:

By the way, Shatner guest-starred in "Burning Bright," an amazing first-season SMDM, as an astronaut who becomes super-smart as a result of an accident in space. It's a neat sci-fi gimmick, but one with a surprisingly mature twist, as Shatner's brain becomes too primitive to handle the exponential increase in knowledge, which leads to a tragic ending on a power transformer. It's not as action-packed as a typical SMDM episode, but I like for Shatner's performance and for its adult slant.

Posted by Marty at 5:47 PM CDT
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Two More From The Rockford Files
I realize that the practice is something of a staple in private-eye fiction, but it seems like Jim Rockford (James Garner) hardly ever had clients that didn’t lie their asses off. In "In Pursuit of Carol Thorne," a nice old couple hires Rockford to find their missing son by tailing his ex-wife, Carol Thorne (Lynette Mettey), who has just that very day been paroled from prison. Posing as a well-to-do bookie, Rockford makes Carol’s acquaintance, but is confronted by a pair of cops who warn him to stay away from her.

Some of the best ROCKFORD FILES episodes involve a con game of some sort, and “In Pursuit of Carol Thorne” has a tricky one. Very few characters are whom they seem, and Rockford finds himself in the midst of a gang on the hunt for $1 million in stolen Army payroll loot stolen three years earlier. Rockford’s client, Miles (Robert Symonds), is not a worried old man, but rather an ingeniously clever crook, who was in on the original caper and now wants his cut. Thanks to Rockford’s conniving (and a witty con), the gang ends up with zip. For that matter, Rockford nearly does as well.

Lynnette Mettey was a busy TV leading lady during the ‘70s and ‘80s, guest-starring on many shows and appearing as Jack Klugman’s girlfriend in early episodes of QUINCY, M.E. (even appearing in a bikini in one shot in Mexico). THE ROCKFORD FILES played host to a lot of beautiful guest stars, the only problem being that many of them came across as too young for James Garner, who was in his mid-40s when the series began. Mettey was probably in her 20s, but at least presents a maturity that led her slide by (Klugman was older than Garner).

“The Dexter Crisis” was written by Gloryette Clark, who was THE ROCKFORD FILES’ film editor. This wasn’t her first teleplay; she had also written scripts for ALIAS SMITH AND JONES, another series she edited for Universal. Despite Clark’s sole credit, it’s likely “The Dexter Crisis” was given a good polish by producer Stephen J. Cannell and/or co-creator Roy Huggins, as the specific gambling tips on how to beat the house in roulette and some other dialogue have their touch.

Once again, Rockford (James Garner) is hired by a client who lies his ass off. Wealthy creep Charles Dexter (“special guest star” Tim O’Connor) sends Rockford to find his much younger mistress, Susan (Lee Purcell), who vanished in the middle of the night from the apartment she shared with law student Louise (Linda Kelsey). In exchange for crucial information only she has, Rockford agrees to let Louise tag along, and the clues lead them to Las Vegas, where Jim poses as a professional gambler and makes her acquaintance (much like he did in “In Pursuit of Carol Thorne”). Wouldn’t ya know that--ta da--almost everyone has a dirty little secret.

You could barely turn on a TV or go to the movies during the ‘70s without seeing red-haired Lee Purcell, who was quite beautiful, but often played criminals or “bad girls” that I don’t think she had the strength to pull off. She looked young and was memorable in a two-part CANNON where she played the girlfriend of murder suspect David Janssen. Linda Kelsey, also red-haired, was just as busy in television guest shots, but managed to land a regular gig on the acclaimed drama LOU GRANT playing a spunky newspaper reporter.

Veteran character Bing Russell plays one scene in the episode as a Reno sheriff. Russell played a ton of cowboys on TV, but made a more lasting mark on the Hollywood scene by fathering Kurt Russell. You can see the resemblance.

Posted by Marty at 5:17 PM CDT
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Sunday, July 2, 2006
It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's A...Dud
Went with Tolemite, Grizzle and Stiner yesterday afternoon to see SUPERMAN RETURNS. Spoilers for this stinker follow...

Boy, Bryan Singer sure hates Superman, doesn’t he? He makes the World’s Greatest Superhero a sniveling milquetoast who takes a beatdown from a 50-year-old baldie and his pool-hall minions and a selfish narcissist who split at a moment‘s notice to…I dunno, find himself…without even telling his widowed mom where he was going. Singer also turns Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane into an airhead who somehow won a Pulitzer, despite thinking the word “catastrophe” has an “f” in it, and a skank who had sexual relationships with two men simultaneously, became pregnant by one, and allowed the other to believe the baby was his.

I actually kinda liked SUPERMAN RETURNS for much of the first half. The opening titles are fun, and Brandon Routh’s performance, while not one iota more than an unabashed Christopher Reeve impression, is in the right spirit. I loved the airplane rescue (once I decided to ignore the idiotic science involved), and Superman’s reassurance of the passengers that air travel is still the safest way to go was pure Reeve. Frank Langella is a good Perry White, and Sam Huntington is a perfectly rendered Jimmy Olsen. I also dug the nice bit parts given to THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN TV vets Noel Neill and Jack Larson (who wears a bow tie!). Kevin Spacey did a better job as Lex Luthor than I had expected going in, although I’ll go on a limb and say that John Shea on the LOIS & CLARK series is still my all-time favorite film Luthor.

This movie is easily a half-hour too long (how many endings does it have? About five?), and the script is pure garbage. The whole story springs from the premise that Superman left Earth for five years to go visit a planet that no longer exists. For some reason, he was in such a big hurry, even though Krypton had been destroyed for 10,000 years (or whatever), that he gave no notice or reason for his exit, not even to Lois or his poor lonely mama, nor did he bother to put a lock on his Fortress of Solitude, practically daring Luthor to come steal the secrets of the universe. He apparently built a spaceship; to paraphrase Captain Kirk, what does Superman need with a spaceship? And what did he do for five years? What did he find? What did he learn? We are never really told, even though I bet there’s a great movie in it.

Presumably, Clark Kent left Metropolis unexpectedly on the same day Superman did, and we know that both returned to Metropolis on the same day. Gee, what a coincidence. I have no problem accepting the secret identity thing, which goes far beyond the use of spectacles (Clark also wears his hair differently and slouches to appear inches shorter and, of course, his “meek” personality), but, really, this point is too much to swallow.

Luthor’s plan is idiotic. He could have at least created his ugly, rocky, Kryptonite-beached new land mass near the equator where it would be warm. The plot makes no sense, and while Luthor might be a megalomaniac, he ain’t crazy and he sure ain’t dumb.

I think the movie is too violent in its beatings of Lois and Superman. I think the movie destroys the Superman character in its beating of Superman. Even without his powers, he ain’t a pushover. He’s big and strong and would at least fight back (he knows Klurkor...duh). You’re telling me Superman would lay there and take a beating--by guys who aren’t exactly ninjas--without throwing even one punch, no matter how Kryptonite-weakened he was? B.S. Superman doesn’t give up. This scene, in tandem with Langella throwing away “the American way,” shows me that Singer and his writers must loathe the Superman character, although they sure do like SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE. I’m surprised Routh didn’t wink at the camera at the end, although that’s a tuff move to pull off. The audience really has to like Superman, and I’m not sure Routh earned it the way Reeve did.

Dedicating the film to Christopher and Dana Reeve was a classy move. As was the credit to Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, which may be contractual, but Marvel films occasionally hose creators (I know X-MEN 3 didn’t acknowledge any up front).

I wish I had Kal Penn and Jimmy Karen’s agents. They contributed as much to SUPERMAN RETURNS as I did, but they got better billing. I can’t figure out why Singer left in the shot of Karen driving away from the Kent house if he was going to cut every one of his scenes. With no context, it’s extra confusion about who the character is, where he’s going, how he fits into the Kent family. It’s something else for the audience to be thinking about, and it goes nowhere. This is very sloppy filmmaking. That one shot could have been removed, and the audience would have never missed it.

All four of us were disappointed, and as we were walking up the aisle at the end, Tolemite said, “I actually wish that giant spider was in the movie.” Shit, yeah, me too.

Posted by Marty at 3:41 PM CDT
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Friday, June 30, 2006
It's A Canadian Fact
I mock my Canadian pals, but I do want to wish them a happy Canada Day, which is celebrated tomorrow, July 1. Which is a Saturday, which means they don't get a day off of work. Nice one, eh.

I was thinking of the great SCTV episode where the janitors went on strike, so station owner Guy Caballero (Joe Flaherty) simulcast Canadian Broadcasting Corporation programming to stay on the air. Even though I'm not very familiar with CBC's notoriously dull programming of the 1970's, the SCTV show parodies are dead on, including the brief IT'S A CANADIAN FACT segments, in which we learn that Canada celebrates Thanksgiving in October, so they must have invented it.

Other segments include John Candy as MAGNUM, P.E.I. (a private eye battling potato thieves on Prince Edward Island) and a mockery of the "Canadian hoser classic" (as John Charles says) GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD. I haven't yet watched the real film, but after seeing the hilarious SCTV parody, I feel as though I have.

Posted by Marty at 2:37 PM CDT
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Dang Ol' Tripod
Thanks to the whole two of you who left a comment for me in a previous post. I'm also now not receiving an email notification whenever a comment is posted, so thanks a lot for that, Tripod.

I may not do much blogging for a few days. Tolemite is coming to town this weekend. I'll be working on Monday (my company is notoriously stingy with days off) and hopefully having a good time outside on Tuesday. Hope you have a happy July 4th. For the Canadian contingent that reads this site, July 4 is the day the United States celebrates its independence from the British Empire. Next, I'll explain to you why we celebrate Thanksgiving in November...the way it's supposed to be, you hosers.

I couldn't find it, but you may remember me posting about KILLDOZER once. Yep, KILLDOZER, the movie where some macho TV leading men fought an alien-possessed bulldozer on a deserted island. Well, here's a TV GUIDE advertisement for the movie:

Oh, yeah, you know you wanna see it. Kick some 'dozer ass, Clint Walker!

Posted by Marty at 12:05 AM CDT
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