Blog Tools
Edit your Blog
Build a Blog
Buddy Page
View Profile
« July 2005 »
1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
You are not logged in. Log in
Entries by Topic
All topics  «
Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, July 24, 2005
Timothy, Where On Earth Did You Go?
Whew, it's been a long week. Too much social interaction is cutting into my Crappy Movie time. More apologies to those of you awaiting email messages from me, but the jagoffs at SBC Yahoo still haven't gotten their shit together and fixed their registration server. I have no idea how a multi-million dollar corporation could be dragging their heels on something that seems like it would be relatively easy and quick to repair if need be, but what do I know from computer technology?

Began the week with a trip north to New Lenox to say goodbye to an old friend who passed away unexpectedly. It was a very long, very crowded visitation; it's amazing how many people she touched in her short life. One thing that's good about death--it's a great reuniter. This visitation gave me a chance to catch up with some important people in my life, good friends I haven't spent quality time with in ages. In some cases, it had been more than a decade since I had any contact with them. Of course, while it was wonderful to see and chat with these people, it was awful to be doing it on that day for the reason we were together. The occasion certainly was another eye-opener for me, a conviction that one must live life as best one can day by day, since there's no way to tell how many days each of us has left.

It was also Cheeseburger's final week at Horizon. I still remember one of her first days when she was assigned a really crapola chair to sit in. I had a spare one in my cubicle...a pretty nice was new when I first got I offered it to her. Not long after that, we invited her for lunch at Carmon's, and soon we were friends. As chaotic as she often made my life--punching me in the back, stealing things off my desk, picking objects off my desk and throwing them at me, wedging my baseball into my coffee mug--I reckon I'll miss her anyway. Come to think of it, now that I've written that sentence, maybe I'll enjoy the peace!

I know I have just earned another punch in the arm for that.

At least I'll be able to keep up with her life via her blog...and so can you. Click the "Katie Cohen" link over on the right. And read the awful things I know she's going to write about me!

Cheeseburger and husband Shark Hunter managed to be present for one final Crappy Movie Night, a blaxploitation extravaganza of BLACK SHAMPOO and FRIDAY FOSTER. BLACK SHAMPOO is pretty ragged, but amazing in spots, beginning with the ultra-tight pants on star John Daniels, who plays a stud hairdresser who provides his foxy clients with special service, if you know what I mean and I'm sure you do. There are a lot of boobs during the first half, as Daniels sexes up several chicks, followed by some tasty violence down the backstretch, including death by front bumper, death by chainsaw, death by hatchet and death by pool cue. FRIDAY FOSTER is tamer and not terribly exciting, but it does star sexy Pam Grier at her loveliest. I don't believe she has ever been more beautiful than as photojournalist Friday investigating an assassination plot. It's R-rated and features some violence and nudity, but nothing mean-spirited, and director Arthur Marks' tone is full of mirth and good humor. Pam has nifty chemistry with Yaphet Kotto as a suave private detective, and you'll get to see sitcom mainstays Jim Backus and Ted Lange.

Yesterday was Panno's wedding, so many of us took the day off from Horizon and ventured up to St. Charles for the nuptuals. I'm still a bit jet-lagged from the drive, since the wedding was in St. Charles, the reception in Glen Ellyn, and I spent the night in nearby Downers Grove. Originally I was planning to just jet back to Champaign after the reception, but then I was inundated with invitations to bed down with folks. Unfortunately, none of them were single females, so I chose to conk out on the pull-out sofa bed in Ralph and Jenny's hotel suite. Good idea, since I was fast asleep less than an hour after leaving the reception.

It was a fun night as these things go. I got to hang out with my friends, watch Chicken drunkenly make passes at some stacked jailbait chick, mesmerize everyone on the dance floor with my totally bitchin' moves during "Love Shack", and guzzle free Cokes all night. Of course, as is the case with all the weddings I attend, there wasn't a young, attractive, single woman in the place. Where are all the dateless hotties that allegedly attend these functions?

I thought I was through with weddings for awhile, until I returned home to find another wedding invitation in my mailbox. Timing, huh? Even more surprising was the phone call I got a couple of hours later asking me to be the best man. That'll be my first time as a best there an instruction manual I can download that will guide me through the proper duties? I suppose all I have to do is find strippers and hold the ring, right? I should be able to handle that.

I don't know how interesting this post is. I wrote it in direct response to an occasional Crane Shot reader who stated that she'd like to read more personal stuff and less about ninjas, robots and karate bearfighting. I don't know why...I guarandamntee that even GEMINI MAN is more interesting than anything happening in my life. And after reading this, she may agree.

I'll close with a note about ROLLING THUNDER, a terrific little potboiler I watched tonight. Originally released by AIP in 1977, this movie that was co-written by Paul Schrader (TAXI DRIVER) influenced Quentin Tarantino to the point that he named his short-lived releasing company Rolling Thunder Films. It stars William Devane, most recently seen as the Secretary of Defense on 24, as a former 'Nam POW who returns to San Antonio after seven years in a prison camp and finds he's not easily able to readjust to life at home. Particularly since his son doesn't know him at all and his wife has fallen in love with another man. There are some nice performances and dialogue in these early scenes, and I appreciate that Schrader and co-writer Heywood Gould didn't make the wife's new lover, a local deputy, a villain. He's a decent man who honestly loves Devane's wife and has the courtesy to feel embarrassed about it.

The movie really starts to kick in about a half-hour in (Schrader and Gould use a classic three-act structure) when some mean dudes, including ol' Sheriff Rosco himself, actor James Best, bust in on Devane and torture him for the 2000 silver dollars given to him as a gift upon his return. He doesn't tell them, even after losing his hand in the garbage disposal, but they find the money anyway and then murder his wife and son.

Recovering in the hospital with a new hook for a hand, Devane hooks up with a white-trash barmaid (Linda Haynes) and a fellow POW (Tommy Lee Jones), and heads to Mexico looking for bloody revenge. I'm not sure you can accurately call ROLLING THUNDER an action picture, since there's precious little action, but the finale does have a kick to it, and the nice work turned in by Devane and director John Flynn (OUT FOR JUSTICE) really elevate this film above the B-level usually associated with AIP movies.

One more thing. I grabbed a handful of cassettes to listen to on the road trip to St. Charles, and one of them was a party tape I had compiled years ago. On it is a song I had to crank when it came on, three minutes of the juiciest black comedy pop music has to offer. "Timothy" was a 1971 hit for a Pennsylvania band called The Buoys. It was written by a young Rupert Holmes ("Escape (The Pina Colada Song)"), who intended it to be a throwaway that might garner a bit of controversy and publicity for the band. It's about three guys, one named Timothy, who become trapped in a cave-in with water but no food. When they're rescued, there are only two men left. Where on Earth did Timothy go? Can you guess? It's got a very catchy hook, and it's fun to sing. I wonder if the Buoys actually played on it.

In case the suspense is eating away at you (heh), here are the lyrics by Rupert Holmes:

Trapped in a mine that had caved in
And everyone knows the only ones left
Were Joe and me and Tim
When they broke through to pull us free
The only ones left to tell the tale
Were Joe and me

Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go?
Timothy, Timothy, God, why don't I know?

Hungry as hell, no food to eat
And Joe said that he would sell his soul
For just a piece of meat
Water enough to drink for two
And Joe said to me, "I'll have a swig
And then there's some for you."

Timothy, Timothy, Joe was looking at you
Timothy, Timothy, God, what did we do?

I must have blacked out just around then
'Cause the very next thing that I could see
Was the light of the day again
My stomach was full as it could be
And nobody ever got around
To finding Timothy

Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go?
Timothy, Timothy, God why don't I know?

Posted by Marty at 1:08 AM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (3) | Permalink
Thursday, July 21, 2005
James Doohan, R.I.P.
I plan to write the only obituary of James Doohan not to use a trite cliche about “Scotty” being “beamed up” for the last time. Ugh. I’ve read too many of them over the last couple of days, and they haven’t gotten any funnier or more poignant.

Doohan, famous around the world for playing Montgomery Scott, the ass-busting, hardware-loving Chief Engineer of the U.S.S. Enterprise on the original (and only, I maintain) STAR TREK from 1966-1969, passed away this week at age 85. Cause of death was pneumonia, but it’s no secret that Doohan, the father of nine children, including a five-year-old (!) daughter, was suffering serious health problems for a couple of years now, including Alzheimer’s.

He was a heck of a good character actor, not that you’ve probably had much of a chance to find out. He claimed to have been severely typecast as a Scotsman after TREK’s cancellation, and appeared infrequently in non-Scotty roles in television and features in the years since. In a way, it was a great compliment; his Scottish accent was impeccable, making him instantly believable as the Enterprise’s jack-of-all-trades, who could often be found in the bowels of the starship, trying to divert dilithium power to the photon torpedoes or bypass the impulse drive or some such technobabble, usually while his boss, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), was screaming at him to hurry up before they all got killed.

Doohan began acting in his native Canada after fighting in World War II as a lieutenant in the artillery; he was machine-gunned on D-Day, and lost the middle finger of his right hand. His mastery of dialects made him a very popular radio actor, since he could easily tackle a wide variety of ethnic roles. He also met a Montreal actor, eleven years his junior, named William Shatner, who would much later become an important figure in Doohan’s professional life.

After many years of stage work, supporting parts in episodic television—in Canada and in the U.S.—and a few motion pictures, Doohan landed the role of Scotty in “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, the second STAR TREK pilot commissioned by NBC after the first was deemed “too cerebral” for TV audiences. “Where No Man…” was filmed in 1965, and although Doohan’s role in it is quite small, STAR TREK was picked up for the 1966 fall season by NBC, where it played to a small but loyal (and intelligent) audience for three years. The series mainly spotlighted its three leading characters—Kirk, Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (the late DeForest Kelley)—but Doohan got a few chances to shine. In the second-season “Wolf in the Fold”, he was accused of mass-murdering women, but it turned out he was actually possessed by the spirit of Jack the Ripper (!), which was forcing Scotty to slash his victims. Scott managed to score with one of the few women that Captain Kirk didn’t in “The Lights of Zetar”, which was written by famed ventriloquist Shari Lewis (!) and guest-starred Jan Shutan as Lt. Mira Romaine, who also found herself possessed by an unearthly force.

My favorite Doohan moment is in the famous “The Trouble With Tribbles” episode, in which he, along with Ensign Chekov (Walter Koenig) and other crewmen, engage in a wild, lighthearted barroom brawl with a bunch of Klingons. Back aboard the Enterprise, the men are chewed out by a furious Captain Kirk, who keeps Scotty behind after dismissing the rest. Speaking in a friendly tone this time—Kirk and Scott were good friends, as well as colleagues—Kirk genuinely wants to know what could have made his loyal pal disobey a direct order to avoid conflict with the Klingons.

Scotty: Well, sir. They called you a tin-plated, overbearing, swaggering dictator with delusions of God-hood.

Kirk: Was that all?

Scotty: No, sir! They also compared you to a Denebian slime devil!

Kirk: I see...

Scotty: And then they said---

Kirk: I get the picture, Scotty.

Scotty: Aye...

Kirk: And that's when you hit the Klingons.

Scotty: No, sir.

Kirk: No?

Scotty: No, uh, well, you told us to stay out of trouble, and after all, we are big enough to take a few insults, aren't we?

Kirk: What was it that started the fight?

Scotty: They called the Enterprise a garbage scow!

Kirk: And that's when you hit the Klingons.

Scotty: Yes, sir!

Kirk: You hit the Klingons because they insulted the Enterprise. Not because they insulted---

Scotty: Well, sir! This was a matter of pride!

Shatner’s performance is great, registering a swell of pride when he starts to think that Scotty instigated the brawl to defend the defamation of Kirk’s character, and then deflation when he finally learns that, no, it was the Enterprise’s reputation Scotty was defending, not Kirk’s. It’s played for comedy, and Doohan is great in it, since it not only plays as a funny little scene, but also a further definition of the characters and who they are.

Doohan’s gift for voicework landed him several roles on the very good STAR TREK animated series, and he was also a regular on another of my favorite shows growing up, the live-action Saturday-morning kids show JASON OF STAR COMMAND. Whether it was typecasting or something else, Doohan’s roles were few and far between, but it was evident he still had the chops. Just check him out in 1982’s STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, when Scotty proudly introduces his nephew to James Kirk, and again later when his nephew is killed in an attack upon the Enterprise. He also managed to pull off a great performance in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, where he convinced us that he did not, in fact, despise William Shatner.

His feud with Shatner, exposed in Shatner’s autobiographical STAR TREK MEMORIES, was prime fodder for a lot of gossip in recent years. Shatner apparently never even realized Doohan had a problem with him, one that dates back to the original show’s run during the late ‘60s, when Doohan felt Shatner was a scene-stealer and an egotist. Maybe he was and maybe he wasn’t—Doohan wasn’t the only TREK cast member to feel this way—but the ill feelings certainly cast a bit of a pall over TREK fandom—after all, we like to think the Enterprise crew was one big happy family. Happily, Doohan and Shatner reportedly managed to talk things out in recent years, ending their feud and telling each other how much they loved each other.

Doohan follows the beloved DeForest Kelley, who succumbed to stomach cancer in 1999 at the age of 79, as only the second STAR TREK actor to pass away.

Posted by Marty at 4:32 PM CDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Brave And Bold

The great comic book artist Jim Aparo passed away this week at age 72. For many of us who grew up reading DC superhero comics during the 1970's, Aparo is the preeminent Batman artist. He spent most of that decade pencilling, inking and lettering THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD, which was a fun title in which Batman teamed up each issue with another DC character--sometimes a Big Gun like the Flash or Green Lantern, sometimes a more unusual or obscure character such as Richard Dragon, Kung Fu Fighter or The Demon. Aparo drew practically every character in DC's vast canon during his tenure there, beginning in the late 1960's when editor Dick Giordano brought him over from Charlton through the 1990's, when he was still drawing Batman every month. I can't say Aparo was my #1 Batman artist--Neal Adams was just too damn good--but he and Irv Novick are neck-and-neck for #2, and he's certainly ten times better than anyone else DC has hired to regularly draw the Caped Crusader over the last decade or so.

As incredible as Aparo was on Batman, I really love his tenure on THE PHANTOM STRANGER, which was a moody combination of superheroics and the horror/mystery titles like HOUSE OF MYSTERY that DC was beginning to churn out during that period. It has been said that DC's unheralded horror/mystery line edited by Joe Orlando often outsold the superhero comics. I believe it--some of the short stories in HOUSE OF SECRETS, THE WITCHING HOUR et al. are incredibly entertaining, and, as you can see from the PHANTOM STRANGER and ADVENTURE COMICS covers I've posted here, the art easily equalled--and more--the high level of the writing.

ADVENTURE was a very unusual--and even more notorious--title for DC in the mid-'70s. Orlando brought in Michael Fleisher to write stories containing the Spectre, a ghostly hero who had been bouncing around the company for almost four decades without really making much of a splash. Fleisher turned the Spectre into a vengeful wraith, an agent of God who punished criminals by causing them to die in various horrible ways. This is where Aparo's great art kicked in, picturing the Spectre slicing one baddie in two with a giant scissors or turning another into a lifelike block of wood and sending him into a lumberjack's saw. They were basic, simplistic morality tales punched up with grisly imagery and the Spectre's fascination characterization as a man-ghost on a vengeful mission.

I apologize to anyone who has been expecting email from me recently. My SBC Yahoo Internet connection is still not working the way it's supposed to be. I'm able to use the World Wide Web (and my connection is pretty fast), but I have not yet been able to officially register, which means I can't send any email. For some reason, their registration server has been down for at least six days and probably more. That seems like a long time for a server, especially one belonging to a big company with lots of customers, to be down, but there you go. I have called the toll-free number five or six times, and everyone has been very friendly and helpful; they are just not able to do anything for me at this time. I've done everything I can do. I just have to wait for them to get their shit together.

Cheeseburger made me watch HAROLD AND KUMAR GO TO WHITE CASTLE again tonight with SuperLar and Chicken. It's actually a surprisingly funny movie and a sometimes daring one, casting an Indian, a Korean and a Latina in the leads and dishing out a good deal of ethnic humor the likes of which hasn't been heard since Dean Martin stopped doing roasts. Dope humor, bare breasts, slapstick, racial and Jewish stereotypes...hey, what more could you ask for?

A recent thread on the Mobius board about the DVD release of DRAGNET 1967 spurred me to pick up the comic DRAGNET remake from Netflix. Universal's summer 1987 blockbuster stars Dan Aykroyd as an uncanny simulation of Jack Webb, right down to the corncob-up-the-ass walk and the Chesterfield wrapped in his paw. Tom Hanks, post-VOLUNTEERS and pre-TURNER & HOOCH, co-stars as Pep Streebeck, Aykroyd's free-spirited new partner, and Harry Morgan reprises his TV role as now-Captain Gannon, the irascible boss of Streebeck and Sgt. Joe Friday (the nephew of the late Webb's Friday). It's actually not a bad little picture, although it's a disposable one like so many other studio comedies of the mid-'80s (do you remember anything about ARMED AND DANGEROUS or TURNER & HOOCH?). Director Tom Mankiewicz (DELIRIOUS) made a mistake by not shooting the movie in the same simple setups and harsh lighting that were hallmarks of the TV series, even though he does keep Friday's narration, snippets of the score and the climactic lineup shot. It's instantly dated by Ira Newborn's disappointing score, which uses a proto-techno version of Walter Schumann's classic theme over the opening titles and closes with a Godawful DRAGNET rap performed by Aykroyd and Hanks. Dear Lord, make the deep hurting end.

You would think Lance Henriksen fighting Bigfoot would kick major ass, wouldn't you? Not so in 2003's SASQUATCH, a low-budget 12-day wonder with Henriksen playing Harlan Knowles, a rich bastard who organizes a search party in the Washington mountains for a crashed airplane containing his daughter. Unfortunately, director Jonas Questel is more interested in his cliched character than in the monster, and the body count is disappointingly low. He also relies on blurry cinematography, poor editing (count the number of jump cuts that were probably caused by Questel not shooting enough coverage), and a monster suit that looks different from shot to shot.

Questel probably can't be blamed for much of SASQUATCH's failure, as you'll learn from listening to the entertaining DVD commentary he carries along with his producer and two of the actors. First off, the four of them, who admit they are watching the final film for the first time, express shock and embarrassment at the title: SASQUATCH. It was shot as THE UNTOLD, and was still THE UNTOLD as far as any of them knew. Of course, the new title "tips the hat a little early" and definitely sets you up for a different kind of movie than THE UNTOLD would have. Some scenes were filmed later in Los Angeles by a different director and crew, including a ridiculously gratuitious topless scene and the climax of Henriksen hunting Sasquatch. The original makeup effects creator died after principal photography, and the new guy ended up building a different Sasquatch costume, which is why the monster looks different in some shots. There's another idiotic scene of a woman undressing and preparing for bed in which the editor has, for no reason and less sense, spun the image in a slow 360-degree turn, causing some laughter on the commentary.

I'll leave you with one more Jim Aparo cover. It's probably the only time Aparo ever appeared in person in a comic book as himself, and the story he drew illustrated an oddball script by Bob Haney that manages to be as entertaining as it is insane.

Posted by Marty at 12:26 AM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Saturday, July 16, 2005
John Carradine In Americathon
A very big "thank you" is going out tonight to Steve Johnson. Last week over at Mobius Home Video Forum, I happened to mention in a post that issue #1 of PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO was the only one I didn't have. Created by the author of the terrific THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM and THE PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO GUIDE, Michael Weldon, PSYCHOTRONIC VIDEO (or PV) has changed very little since I began buying it at a book store on the Strip in Carbondale in the late 1980's. Weldon's first book is one of the most important and influential of my life, as it opened my eyes to a brand new world of cinema, filled with biker flicks and Italian horror movies and rock 'n' roll musicals and rape/revenge potboilers and so on. It's not that I never knew these types of films existed, but I certainly didn't realize there were other people out there who watched them and loved them. And most of them were not very easily seen by a high-school kid like me, who grew up in a very small town at a time when home video was in its infancy. I started buying PV very early on, and then managed to pick up the couple of back issues I had missed later on, but #1 has always eluded me, partially because they're very expensive when one pops up at a convention or on eBay. It's now out of print; not even Weldon has one for sale.

When Steve read that I was missing that issue, he kindly fired an email my direction and offered me his copy free of charge, partially as an excuse to clear out the magazines collecting dust in his basement (I know what that's like). I've been a PV subscriber for many years now, and my collection is now complete. Thanks, Steve! I'm eternally grateful.

What have I been reading lately? I recently finished THE ERECTION SET, Mickey Spillane's 1972 novel that is apparently one of his most ambitious and atypical. This was my first Spillane novel, even though I have several others, including some Mike Hammers, stacked up around here. It has more talk than action...more talk than sex even, although the sex talk is surprisingly raunchy, including a few anal sex references that you don't see James Patterson's or Jonathan Kellerman's characters engaging in. I also understand that Spillane married the sexy blonde posing on the cover. Nice. I didn't really think much of THE ERECTION SET, but I'm willing to give Spillane more chances. I'll probably tackle a few Mike Hammer adventures one day soon.

I also read THE WOLFEN by Whitley Strieber. I picked that up at the same garage sale where I got the Spillane book. It's not a very good novel with unnatural dialogue and unbelievable characters. It was turned into a visually arresting but equally disappointing movie a few years later called WOLFEN with Albert Finney. It's been awhile since I saw WOLFEN, and even then it was a pan-and-scan version, so I plan to Netflix the DVD and see if it works better in its original aspect ratio. It was directed by Michael Wadleigh, who made the brilliant WOODSTOCK documentary, which was released in 1970, and 1981's WOLFEN. And that's it. I don't know why he didn't make more films. Even though WOLFEN isn't all that great, it still has some interesting ideas and is worth seeing at least once. In fact, I wish you would watch it, so you can explain the ending to me.

Posted by Marty at 11:09 PM CDT
Updated: Saturday, July 16, 2005 11:11 PM CDT
Post Comment | Permalink
Thursday, July 14, 2005
The Elusive Robert Denby
What an up-and-down night it's been. Started off well. My new DSL modem arrived from SBC Yahoo. Yep, after about eight years of free dial-up Internet service, I'm finally moving into the 21st century. The reason I've been so hesitant to get DSL is because I have never in my life paid a single penny for Internet service.

When I was a DJ at WKIO, a local ISP called Sol Tec bought commercial time from us and also helped design our Web site. Part of the deal was that all the station's employees got free Internet. Eventually, the station was sold and the new owners dropped Sol Tec for a different ISP for the station's new site. But Sol Tec never got around to dropping my Internet account. Until they did.

Someone from Sol Tec called me about five years ago and informed me that I was going to have to start paying for my account. I said fine and told them to bill me. I never heard from them. A few months ago, I spoke to someone else from Sol Tec who was stunned to learn that I still had an account with them. I think my records were buried in some underground vault...they didn't even know I existed. Again, she said, "We'll have to start charging you a monthly fee." I said, OK, send me a bill. Nobody ever did. To this day, I've been signing on and off using Sol Tec as my ISP and I have never given them a dime.

I can't believe SBC Yahoo charges people $150 to install a DSL modem. It takes just a few minutes, and if I can do it, then just about anyone can. I'm still having troubles with my email though. Does anyone else use Mozilla Thunderbird as their client email? I'm not able to send or receive email using my new email address, although I think the problem lies with SBC and not Thunderbird and should be cleared up by tomorrow.

After that GEMINI MAN post earlier this week, I was reminded of the RIDING WITH DEATH episode of MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. RIDING WITH DEATH was a "movie" formed by editing together two GEMINI MAN episodes that had nothing to do with each other and selling it on home video and into syndication as a two-hour feature. The episodes were bad enough originally, but Universal decided to string them together using some incomprehensible and poorly constructed wraparound material that really has to leave your head shaking. It does make for hilarious viewing, however, and the riffs during RIDING WITH DEATH were terrific, making me laugh out loud more than once. That Ben Murphy is really mellow, man.

I learned tonight that a friend passed away this morning. We don't yet know why, only that she was found at home this morning by her sister when she didn't show up at work. She was very young, in her early 40's, and was in good health as far as anyone knows. It appears to have been a sudden heart attack or an aneuryism, perhaps--something immediate. She and I have known one another since 1986, and I know from the many friends we share with whom I spoke tonight that she is already missed.

Posted by Marty at 11:39 PM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
He's A Cop, She's An Agent
Now Playing: MURDER AT 1600
Don’t ask me how I’ve managed to miss this loopy thriller up to now, but 1997’s MURDER AT 1600 is one of the most delightfully bad movies I’ve seen in awhile. It has a delicious premise—sexy young woman is found murdered in a White House restroom—and an oddball cast of supporting actors that may have been picked at random from a casting director’s “old white guys” binder. Under the direction of schlockmeister Dwight Little, the action scenes are serviceable and the pacing flows well…so well that you might occasionally forget how ludicrous the plot is.

Wesley Snipes stars as Harlan Regis (!), a Washington, D.C. homicide detective (a part reportedly earmarked for Bruce Willis) who is summoned to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to investigate a murder. A beautiful young blonde is found stabbed to death in the White House, and a janitor is quickly arrested. Of course, he couldn’t be the killer, because he isn’t played by a name actor (and the movie would be over), but Regis’ attempts to look into the victim’s personal life are stonewalled by the Secret Service. Daniel Benzali (MURDER ONE) portrays the head of the Secret Service, and Alan Alda (M*A*S*H) is the President’s National Security Advisor. We know this because there’s actually a scene where the two men say to each other, “I run the Secret Service.” “And I’m the National Security Advisor.” Obviously, the two men know this already, but, as if they realize they’re being watched by an audience, they graciously introduce themselves for us.

Also here is Diane Lane as Nina Chance, apparently the only non-sinister Secret Service agent on staff. Little establishes early on that Nina won an Olympic gold medal in sharpshooting—no prize for guessing whether that skill comes into play later on. The Presidential-looking Ronny Cox (ROBOCOX) plays the wimp Chief Executive, who refuses to send U.S. troops into North Korea to rescue American hostages, against the wishes of his entire staff and Cabinet. The strangest casting choice is Dennis Miller, who spent the mid-1990’s popping up in mainstream movies as the wisecracking best pal/sacrificial lamb that you knew was going to end up dead or maimed by the end of the movie. Here he’s Steve Stengel, Wesley’s partner who spends most of his time sleeping or watching TV while Snipes is out investigating the murder. Miller’s job is to fill in extraneous plot information and to get shot, giving the hero a personal motive to solve the case.

Perhaps the film’s wackiest scene takes place in Snipes’ apartment. It’s established that Wesley is a history buff who has built a huge scale model of 19th-century Washington, D.C. that takes up his entire living room. Again, no prize for guessing that this unusual skill will eventually come into play. He comes home one night and notices a couple of his little figures have fallen to the floor. Hmmm, how could that have happened? Then he finds a bolt on the floor. He looks up to see a heating grid in the ceiling. This ceiling is very high off the floor, and as we see in a later scene, can only be reached by ladder. Wesley figures there must be a prowler in his pad, so he pulls his piece and wanders around. In the bedroom, he sees an open window and wet footprints (it’s raining out) leading away from it. He follows the prints into the bathroom and is ambushed by the burglar, leading to a fight and a chase. The intruder was sent by the Secret Service to bug Wesley’s apartment, but the absurdity of the scene—never mind that the guy could never have reached the vent and that he sure did a terrible job of covering his tracks—lies in the footprints. So what happened? The guy heard Wesley and started to leave via the window? Stepped outside, then changed his mind, came back in, and hid in the bathroom, leaving an easy trail for Snipes to follow?

The writing gets even more howlingly funny, as we find out that the White House is accessible through secret underground passages built by Abraham Lincoln as a potential escape route from invading Confederate troops. The killer turns out to be the one character not an obvious red herring, as they always are in these films. The killer’s motive is completely ridiculous, as the murder is revealed to be just one part of an elaborate Goldbergian scenario that would require an enormous amount of planning—off the top of your head, you can probably think of a dozen easier ways the character could achieve the same ultimate goal. And the climax is revealed to be completely senseless, if you think about it. There’s no reason Snipes and Lane have to risk their lives the way they do; like the killer, there are a dozen ways they could successfully achieve their mission that are safer and easier.

It's not quite in COLOR OF NIGHT territory as far as its badness goes--what could be?--but it's still damn funny.

Posted by Marty at 10:59 AM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Sunday, July 10, 2005
Talking Robots Kick Ass
Now Playing: GEMINI MAN
My GEMINI MAN reference in my previous post reminded me that I had some episodes of that 1976 TV series around someplace. GEMINI MAN aired only five times on NBC in the fall of ‘76 before it was cancelled. Eleven episodes were shot, which were later aired in syndication and on the Sci-Fi Channel. Several years ago, I taped a mini-marathon of six GEMINI MAN episodes on Sci-Fi, but never watched them. Who knows if this shortlived series will ever see a DVD release (doubtfully) or be telecast on TV again, so I transferred my (cut for more commercials) Sci-Fi episodes to DVD-R.

GEMINI MAN should have been better, considering the talented men who brought it to the screen. It was created for television by Leslie Stevens, who created the magnificent OUTER LIMITS anthology of the early 1960’s; Harve Bennett, who produced many entertaining shows, such as RICH MAN, POOR MAN and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN; and a young Steven Bochco, who had gotten his start as the story editor on COLUMBO (and contributing one of its finest episodes, “Murder By the Book”, which was directed by an even younger Steven Spielberg). Bochco had also produced THE INVISIBLE MAN, a shortlived series for NBC in 1975 that failed after just a few episodes, but was undoubtedly the inspiration for GEMINI MAN.

THE INVISIBLE MAN starred David McCallum (THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.) as Dr. Daniel Westin, a scientist who discovered an invisibility formula. He tested it on himself, but was unable to make himself visible again. So he created a remarkably lifelike mask, hands and wig that he wore to make himself appear normal, and became an agent for the KLAE Corporation, a government thinktank. At KLAE, he was assisted by a pretty doctor (Melinda Fee) and worked for gruff, middle-aged Walter Carlson (Craig Stevens of PETER GUNN).

THE INVISIBLE MAN was cancelled in January 1976 after 13 weeks, but in March of that year, NBC telecast GEMINI MAN, a 90-minute pilot that starred Ben Murphy (ALIAS SMITH AND JONES) as Sam Casey, another agent for a government thinktank, this time called Intersect. On an underwater mission, Casey was caught in an explosion and rendered invisible through mysterious radiation. Another pretty doctor (Katherine Crawford) came up with a super wristwatch that made him visible again, but only when it was attached to his wrist. By pressing a button on the watch, Sam could make himself invisible again, but only for up to 15 minutes during a 24-hour period. Under the watchful eye of gruff, middle-aged boss Leonard Driscoll (William Sylvester, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY), Sam used his invisibility powers to undertake secret missions for Intersect. As you can see, THE INVISIBLE MAN and GEMINI MAN were exactly the same show, and I wouldn’t even be surprised if unused scripts for INVISIBLE MAN turned up as GEMINI MAN episodes, especially considering both were produced by Universal Television for NBC.

I have a weird attraction for stupid-looking robots, and GEMINI MAN delivers big time in its episode, “Minotaur”, one of the few episodes that were actually seen on NBC. Ross Martin (THE WILD, WILD WEST) guest-stars as Carl Victor, a mad scientist and vengeful ex-employee of Intersect who builds a killer robot and demands $500 million from the U.S. Secretary of Defense or else he’ll use the robot, named “Minotaur”, to zap a skyscraper with its built-in laser and level it. To prove he’s not kidding, Victor lures Sam to an abandoned warehouse and uses Minotaur to blow it up. Following Victor’s daughter (Deborah Winters from BLUE SUNSHINE) to his secret laboratory, which appears to be located at the Department of Water and Power, Sam spends the episode dodging Minotaur’s laser blasts and sensor probes.

“Minotaur”’s story was co-written by Robert Bloch, a noted horror author whose book PSYCHO inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1960 motion picture. Staff producers Frank Telford (THE VIRGINIAN) and Robert F. O’Neill (QUINCY, M.E.) wrote the teleplay, and Alan J. Levi, who later replaced director Richard A. Colla during filming of the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA pilot for Universal, helmed the episode, which closely resembles a segment of THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN in terms of story, structure, look and tone. It’s not really all that great, but it does have a clunky-looking robot that talks and shoots lasers. So what’s not to love?

Posted by Marty at 4:19 PM CDT
Post Comment | Permalink
John Saxon The Pornographer
Now Playing: QUINCY, M.E.

I finished watching Universal’s QUINCY, M.E.: SEASONS 1 & 2 this afternoon, and one of the things I found so entertaining about it was its neat array of ubiquitous 1970’s guest stars. I don’t notice it so much in today’s television landscape--maybe there are more actors or maybe just more uninteresting ones--but you used to always be able to recognize several familiar faces as you spun the television dial. “Hey, look, there’s Monte Markham on GEMINI MAN, he was just on THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO three weeks ago.” I think using recognizable actors is an asset in an episodic television show. For example, with only 44 minutes to play with in today’s commercial-jammed landscape and maybe 50 minutes 30 years ago, the script has to take a few shortcuts in characterization. There’s no time to establish backstories for all the supporting players, but the moment you see Monte Markham’s face, you immediately know what his character is all about, because you’ve already seen him as similar characters in a dozen other shows. So when John Saxon pops up as a pornographer named DeCassa on a QUINCY episode--especially wearing the ghastly (but accurate to the period) wardrobe Universal dug out for him--the audience knows exactly who this DeCassa is and what he’s all about. I’m not saying that characterization, motivation and backstory are not important elements, but in a one-hour mystery series where the plot and the clues and the puzzles are the draw, shortcuts have to be taken.

This weekend, I caught the final two episodes of QUINCY’s second season: “”Valleyview” and “Let Me Light the Way”. “Valleyview” is a cornucopia of ‘70s guest stars: Robert Webber, Jason Evers, Carolyn Jones, Christopher Connelly, Anthony Eisley (and a young Ed Begley, Jr. thrown in at no extra charge). Universal must have blessed QUINCY with a decent budget for guest actors, because usually a show would get one or two of these names, but to get all five… Something else that hit me is that, with the exception of Eisley, all of those actors are deceased. “Valleyview” aired in 1977, which doesn’t seem so long ago, but I suppose it is.

“Let Me Light the Way” is interesting to watch in the light of what we now know about evidence collection and forensics in the wake of the O.J. Simpson murder trial and all the police procedurals now on TV, especially LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT. Quincy (Jack Klugman) is working with a rape counselor (Adrienne Barbeau, just coming off the MAUDE series) to capture a serial rapist (Luke Askew, another familiar face) who has killed his latest victim. Quincy breaks into a rage when he learns that the doctor and the nurse who treated the dead woman in the ER washed off her body and threw her clothing onto the floor, virtually ruining any opportunity to collect evidence. He has been trying to raise money for a seminar that would train medical and legal personnel proper procedures for collecting, bagging and tagging evidence from rape victims. This is pretty common in today’s crime dramas, and it’s fascinating to see how far law enforcement has come in 30 years. It seems hard to believe that, not so long ago, at least according to this episode, rapists were ten times more likely to get away with their crime than be convicted of it, mostly due to poor evidence gathering and courtroom procedures that allowed defense attorneys to cruelly badger the victims. Also in this episode is Kim Cattrall, long before SEX AND THE CITY. Long before PORKY’S, for that matter.

It’s a pretty quiet weekend around here. Taking some of my time is a new toy I acquired, inexpensive software called exPressit which allows me to create labels for my DVDs and their jewel cases. The instructions are pretty useless, so I doubt I’m using it to its full potential, but so far I’ve been able to download images from the Internet or scan in my own, and then use this graphic design program to slap it into a template, print them out, and stick them onto the DVD or into the case. Unfortunately, the software may have some kind of a bug, because it will occasionally freeze or slow down the computer to virtually a dead halt, closing other applications like my Thunderbird email or Firefox window and not letting me do much of anything for 8-9 minutes or so. Still, I have some pretty nice-looking DVDs on the shelf now, but it’ll be a big job doing them all.

The trailer for Michael Bay’s upcoming blockbuster, THE ISLAND, reminded me of a movie I saw ages ago on MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000. It’s a low-budget picture with an interesting premise, and now that Mondo Macabro has released it on a Special Edition DVD, I put it on my Netflix queue. PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR is about Clonus, a Utopian society populated by beautiful, bland white people and a bunch of doctors, technicians and security types who keep an eye on them. All of the young people have spent their entire lives isolated in Clonus and know of no other existence. They all have the same goal: to advance in their physical training enough to be allowed to leave the community and go to “America”. To be chosen to go to America is the ultimate reward. One of the citizens, Richard (played by Tim Donnelly, a regular on EMERGENCY! who also appeared in THE TOOLBOX MURDERS), begins to question authority, something none of them has ever done before. Using his newfound curiosity to snoop around Clonus, he discovers “America” is nothing more than a glorified meat locker where his colleagues are murdered, stripped and kept in cold storage. He escapes to the outside world and eventually discovers that Clonus is a clone farm, where human beings are bred scientifically to use as organ banks for the wealthy. Peter Graves (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE), Dick Sargent (BEWITCHED) and Keenan Wynn add name value to this independent production, which was made in 1979 in 18 days for $257,000 by a former documentary filmmaker named Robert Fiveson. The story has a few holes in it, but there’s no faulting its ambition, and it was unusual in the immediate post-STAR WARS years to see science fiction films that relied more on ideas than visual effects. It was not a hit--the clunky title and the relative lack of exploitable material in the R-rated feature probably contributed to its anemic box office--but it is an interesting little film.

I bring up PARTS because THE ISLAND, judging from the trailer, appears to be the exact same movie. Young man grows up in an isolated community, falls in love with a beautiful woman, begins to question his surroundings, learns the ugly truth about his world--that he was conceived and nurtured to be used to harvest organs from--and escapes. Knowing Bay, THE ISLAND will probably be bigger, more expensive, louder…and dumber. And it’s unlikely the makers of PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR will receive any kind of credit--not on-screen, not remunerable, and certainly not from the mainstream critics who will review it. So let me give the proper props at this time, granted that I haven’t yet seen THE ISLAND. THE ISLAND is a ripoff of PARTS: THE CLONUS HORROR.

I feel better now.

Posted by Marty at 2:35 PM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (1) | Permalink
Wednesday, July 6, 2005
Don't Muck Around With An 18-Wheel Trucker
Undefeated World Middleweight Karate champion Chuck Norris had established a franchise of karate schools and was teaching martial arts to Hollywood personalities like Steve McQueen when he got the bug to try acting. Small roles in drive-in flicks like THE STUDENT TEACHERS and RETURN OF THE DRAGON eventually led to his first project as a leading man: a shaggy AIP cheapie titled BREAKER! BREAKER! that attempted to cash in on the then-current truckin’ craze that erupted with the success of pop songs like C.W. McCall’s “Convoy” and hit films like SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT.

Chuck is appealing but very stiff as J.D. Dawes, a truck driver who enters the tiny burg of Texas City, California in search of his younger brother, who was waylaid by the town’s corrupt police force and held captive. Norris became more appealing as his screen career grew, but, of course, he never has loosened up much. In the inexperienced hands of director Hulette, who also composed the score and the country-western songs on the soundtrack, Norris kinda flounders about, following the story from A to B to C and barely registering against the eye-rolling bluster of George Murdock as Texas City’s venal boss. Not just the cops, but practically the entire town leaps when Murdock yells “Jump”, leading to some appealing scenes of Chuck running around the cheap-looking ghost-town facades masquerading as Texas City and thumping and kicking a succession of rednecks as if he were inhabiting a side-scrolling video game.

BREAKER! BREAKER! suffers from its small budget and uncertain direction, but probably still managed to make some bucks for American International on the Southern drive-in circuit. Norris learned from a steadier hand in his next production, GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK, which was directed by veteran Ted Post (MAGNUM FORCE) and co-starred name actors like James Franciscus, Dana Andrews and Anne Archer.

On the personal end, I finally got my "new" car back from the shop today, $359 better, I hope. Took the new '94 Altima in for new bearings and a new axle. It's certainly a quieter drive than it was, and I don't have to worry (as much) about the wheel falling off while driving.

I also received my very first cellular phone tonight. I believe people generally need cell phones like they need a hole in their heads, and I don't really see any reason why I needed to jump on the bandwagon. When I'm out driving around or heading to work or hanging out with my friends or going to the movies or sitting in a restaurant, the last thing I'm thinking of is talking on the phone. People will come over to my house to socialize, and then start talking on their phones right in the middle of the living room. I have had groups over to watch movies, where two (!) people were having separate cell phone conversations without even leaving the room. That's inexcusable behavior, I think, and I have no desire to become one of those people. What I find really strange is that these phones all come with voice mail, so why do people feel the need to answer when it rings?

Anyway, my phone is a hand-me-down from my dad, who received it from my brother's wife. It's a prepaid phone with so many minutes paid for in advance. It's not very attractive and doesn't come with a bunch of bells and whistles. Or instructions--I felt like Bill Katt fiddling around with the menus. It charges in the lighter of your car, which is where I plan to keep it. One very good reason to have a cell phone is in case of an auto accident or breakdown or emergency, which is why I'll keep the phone in the car and maybe take it out with me if I need to stay in touch with somebody, like in a massive, crowded convention hall (Wizard World is coming up fast!).

I don't think I've sold out yet, but I'm closer than I was.

Posted by Marty at 11:25 PM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink
Tuesday, July 5, 2005
Have You Ever Been Kissed By A Woman Like This?

It’s a good thing I wasn’t feeling under the weather when I popped this into my DVD player; otherwise, I might believe I had dreamed the whole thing up in a sweaty, delirious haze. Quite probably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen, MESA OF LOST WOMEN plays like a jittery delight, an ethereal neverland where normal laws of logic and physics don’t apply. A land of midgets and giant spiders, mad scientists and genteel psychopaths, where the women are stacked and the audience is stumped.

According to Bill Warren’s essential KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES, MESA OF LOST WOMEN was produced in 1952, but not released in Los Angeles in 1956, during the period when the infamous Edward D. Wood, Jr. was flooding theaters with his peculiar style of cinematic ineptitude. MESA even feels like something Wood might have concocted on the back of a cocktail napkin in a dive on Sunset; in fact, the maddening musical score composed for the picture by Hoyt Curtin later turned up on the soundtrack of Wood’s JAIL BAIT. Once you’ve heard Curtin’s repetitive Mexican-guitar-and-pounding-piano opus, you aren’t likely to forget, as it drowns the picture in a cacophony of noise that sounds as though it were performed by a pair of monkeys locked in a junior high school band room. An interesting footnote is that Curtin ended up at Hanna-Barbera, composing themes and scores for some of the most famous animated series in television history, including THE FLINTSTONES, THE JETSONS, JONNY QUEST and SCOOBY-DOO, WHERE ARE YOU?

MESA OF LOST WOMEN stars Jackie Coogan (that’s right--Uncle Fester!) as Dr. Aranya (“That’s Spanish for spider!”), a mad scientist living atop Mesa Zarpa, perched 600 feet above the Mexican desert. For some idiotic reason, Aranya is attempting to breed humans with spiders in order to create a master race to do his bidding. For an even more idiotic reason, the experiments transform the men into mute midgets, whereas the women become sexy Amazons with long fingernails. Aranya summons a fellow scientist, Masterson (Harmon Stevens), to his laboratory in order to share his secrets with the scientific community. The results drive Masterson mad, however, and he is sentenced to a mental hospital and lobotomized. Somehow, he escapes, and shows up at a cantina, where Tarantella (steamy Tandra Quinn) is performing a steamy spider dance. Masterson shoots her and kidnaps a millionaire, his golddigging fianc?, his Chinese servant and Masterson‘s male nurse. He takes his captives to their airplane and forces pilot Grant Phillips (Robert Knapp) to fly them to Mesa Zarpa, where, uh, where not much happens, really. The nurse and the millionaire are killed (off-screen) by a giant spider, and the rest of the party ends up in Aranya’s underground lab, where Masterson recovers his sanity long enough to send Phillips and his new squeeze on their way safely, and then blow the lab all to hell, destroying Aranya’s mad dream and himself in the process.

All of this happens in about 68 minutes and is actually more compressed than that. MESA opens with a prologue that has nothing to do with the rest of the movie, showing Tarantella planting a kiss of death on an unassuming male victim, and then a bunch of incomprehensible narration written by co-director Tevos (who doesn’t appear to have made another picture) and delivered by Lyle Talbot (JAIL BAIT), another reminder of the Wonderful World of Ed Wood. Talbot rambles deliciously about “hexapods” and the perils of Muerto Desert--”the desert of Death.”

Although a handful of minor B-movie actors signed on to Tevos and Ormond’s lunacy, including Allan Nixon (PREHISTORIC WOMAN) and Richard Travis (Lou Gehrig in THE BABE RUTH STORY), the only performer you’re likely to recognize is Coogan, who later played the eccentric Uncle Fester on THE ADDAMS FAMILY. A very famous child actor, Coogan had not yet made many waves in his adult career, starring in an obscure syndicated series with the unlikely title of COWBOY G-MEN. He doesn’t appear to be enjoying MESA very much, basically walking through the (probably) two days he spent on the set. Sporting thick eyeglasses, a goatee and a mole, he almost looks as though he’s trying to hide, thankful for the house payment he was able to make that month because of his MESA paycheck. Coogan went on to appear in a couple of Albert Zugsmith productions, including the magnificent HIGH SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL as a drug kingpin, and even produced and directed an obscure espionage B-flick under his own Coogan Films banner before hitting it big opposite John Astin and Carolyn Jones on THE ADDAMS FAMILY.

Posted by Marty at 10:40 PM CDT
Post Comment | View Comments (2) | Permalink

Newer | Latest | Older