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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Monday, December 19, 2005
Truth Is A Lot Scarier Than Fiction
Last week I started reading Fletcher Knebel's 1965 novel NIGHT OF CAMP DAVID, which I picked up months ago at a flea market for under a buck. I'm four chapters into it. It's about a junior U.S. senator from Ohio who is tapped by the President to be his Vice Presidential running mate for his second term after the current VP resigns in the wake of a scandal. The senator comes to realize, after a couple of late-night one-on-one bull sessions at Camp David, that the President is insane, partially because of the Chief Exec's mad rantings about the necessity of eavesdropping electronically on American citizens who, in his paranoid mind, may be plotting against him.

So imagine how I felt last week when the New York Times reported that President Bush has been illegally tapping the phone calls and emails of American citizens. And, like the President in Knebel's novel, doesn't find it the least bit suspect morally. Holy fucking shit, man, the goddamn plane has crashed into the fucking mountain. Does the guy know anything about American history? It's not like he wasn't alive and an adult during Nixon's term in office. He's (mis-)managing the Iraq war in the same manner in which Nixon screwed up Vietnam (to be fair, Nixon had some "help" in that regard from Johnson, McNamara et al.) and now he's bugging phone calls like Nixon did. If it means he'll be resigning soon, I guess I'm all for it. I'll even let him listen to my phone calls if it'll get him tossed out of the Oval Office.

Knebel also wrote SEVEN DAYS IN MAY, which was adapted by Rod Serling into a taut 1964 movie. Long before I started reading NIGHT OF CAMP DAVID, I imagined Dick Cheney as the Burt Lancaster character in that film, and I'll bet I'm not the only one.

Posted by Marty at 7:46 PM CST
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Sunday, December 18, 2005
A Broken Lizard Bummer
I had high hopes for THE DUKES OF HAZZARD, the big-budget remake of the rural hit TV series, considering the participation of director Jay Chandrasekhar and his Broken Lizard cohorts. I think their movie SUPER TROOPERS, which came out in early 2002, is one of the best comedies of the decade, a rollicking, goodnatured slacker comedy obviously influenced by ANIMAL HOUSE. Unfortunately, some bad casting and a reliance on JACKASS-styled slapstick really sink DUKES.

Them Duke boys, Luke (Johnny Knoxville) and Bo (Seann William Scott), run into big trouble when Hazzard County dictator Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) frames them for moonshining and steals their farmland so he can strip-mine it. The plot could have been ripped straight from the TV show--which is fine; it only needs to be strong enough to support the car chases and genial humor--but the crass, cynical humor certainly isn’t. I don’t want to overstate the quality of the ‘70s television series, but at least its lead characters were intelligent, good-hearted guys who loved their family and friends. That isn’t the case in this movie, where Cooter (David Koechner) tries to solicit a hummer from Duke cousin Daisy (Jessica Simpson, who is terrible) as payment for rebuilding their racecar, a ’69 Dodge Charger nicknamed General Lee.

Besides Kevin Heffernan, who has some fun as a redneck pal of the Dukes, the other members of Broken Lizard are relegated to barely-there cameos, including a return of two Super Troopers that is kinda fun, but has nothing to do with the story and feels more obtrusive than entertaining. Only Chandrasekhar as director appears in the movie's titles as editor, writer or producer, something in which they were involved in their previous films, although interviews indicate that they may have polished or even heavily rewritten the screenplay. They don't appear to have much fondness for the source material, turning Bo and Luke Duke into sex-crazed morons with a penchant for causing each other pain and embarassment. I watched the unrated DVD, which has way too many naked breasts, sex jokes and f-bombs for a movie about the Dukes of Hazzard County. M.C. Gainey is Sheriff Rosco, downgraded from imbecile to evil minion of Boss Hogg, and Willie Nelson is a dope-smoking, sex-minded Uncle Jesse.

Broken Lizard's first feature was shot on the campus of their alma mater, Colgate University, around 1995-96. For years only seen on campuses and at festival screenings, PUDDLE CRUISER (I don’t know what the title means) finally hit DVD recently with misleading cover art meant to resemble an idiotic T&A comedy. It isn’t, but it’s not quite as inspired as SUPER TROOPERS or as absurd as their next movie, CLUB DREAD.

PUDDLE CRUISER is a romantic comedy where the least interesting aspect is the romance. The best parts of the film occur when two or more of the Broken Lizard guys are onscreen, but unfortunately the film revolves around the efforts of one of them, Felix (Steve Lemme), to date a girl whose boyfriend plays rugby at a different university. Chandrasekhar was still polishing his directing skills, as CRUISER's pacing is too slack and the banter among the actors isn't snappy enough, but there remains enough silliness and good gags to make the movie a decent rental.

I got out more than I expected to this weekend, considering how cold it has been. It's 5 degrees as I write this, but I still went over to Chicken's to watch the Bears beat Atlanta on ESPN this evening. The Bears keep winning--gotta give 'em credit--but they sure are getting plenty of breaks. Their defense is excellent, of course, but I don't think it takes much to stop Michael Vick, who's a very overrated QB, IMO. He has a strong arm and he can scramble, but so far he hasn't shown me that he's a winner.

More importantly, my Bengals clinched the AFC North today, their first division title since 1990, which was also the last year they were in the Super Bowl. They're 0-2 in Super Bowls. Could this be their year? Well, it looks like the Colts (who took their first loss today) are the front-runners, but I can dream, eh?

Roger and Eric had a kickass party on Saturday. I got there around 4:30 and didn't expect to stay too long, but I didn't leave until around 11:00. Besides one drunken idiotic gay guy who keeps crying, falling down and sitting on my lap, there were a lot of cool people there and plenty of good food and drinks. It was quite a festive Christmas party, but I think the key was the toilet seat cover, which lights up an image of Santa and his reindeer. I can honestly say I've never seen anything like it.

Here's what has played on iTunes since I started writing:
"Dance On"--The Shadows
"Smooth Thrill"--Francisco De Masi
"The General"--Frank Skinner from GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN
"I'll Be Back Upon My Feet"--The Music Fair covering The Monkees
"No Milk Today"--Herman's Hermits
"Train on a One Track Mind"--American Breed
BLACK MAMA, WHITE MAMA radio commercial
HALLOWEEN Main Title--John Carpenter
Harry Nilsson's theme to THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE'S FATHER
"Google Eye"--The Nashville Teens
"My Mind's Eye"--The Small Faces
"My Baby Loves Lovin'"--White Plains

Hey, I'm up to 2490 songs now.

Posted by Marty at 11:31 PM CST
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Saturday, December 17, 2005
John Spencer R.I.P.
I was very sorry last night to learn of the death of THE WEST WING co-star John Spencer, who succumbed to a sudden heart attack four days before what would have been his 58th birthday.

Even though the general quality of WEST WING has been a rollercoaster ride filled with ups and downs (and so have the scripts and the performances of many of its stars), the one thing that has always remained consistent is the warmth, intelligence and strength of Spencer and his performance as Leo McGarry, former Chief of Staff to President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) and now the Vice Presidential running mate to Democratic candidate Matt Santos (Jimmy Smits).

The irony is that McGarry suffered a non-fatal heart attack last season in a harrowing scene set at Camp David (which stood out among the lame material that surrounded it in the episode) and has managed to come all the way back to run for Vice President. I really think McGarry--and Spencer--is the heart of WEST WING, which was once the most outstanding drama on TV. It will be difficult to imagine the series without him. It's likely this season will be its last anyway, as spiraling costs, lower ratings and a move to Sunday nights make it not as desirable as the former Emmy-winning Outstanding Drama Series once was.

Earlier this year, NBC had to write Jerry Orbach's character out of LAW & ORDER: TRIAL BY JURY after his death, and now presumably will do the same with Spencer. I have to believe WEST WING will have to kill off McGarry as well, considering the character's major role in the show's central storyline this season. Unlike Orbach, who was great and seemingly irreplacable--and the heart of LAW & ORDER--Spencer's death affects the show's central story arc, which is the Presidential race between Santos and the Republican nominee, Arnold Vinick (Alan Alda). I'm sure the show's staff already had the rest of the season plotted out, leading up to a Santos victory, but now there will have to be major rewriting.

After much Broadway success, Spencer turned to movies in the early 1980's. I first saw him in WARGAMES, where he and Michael Madsen (!) played officers manning a nuclear missile silo, but I never really noticed him until PRESUMED INNOCENT, a courtroom drama based on a Scott Turow novel in which Spencer literally stole his film from higher-priced stars like Harrison Ford, Brian Dennehy and Raul Julia.

That movie landed him a gig as a regular on L.A. LAW (where he first worked with Jimmy Smits), and from there, a long line of cops as supporting roles in solid Hollywood thrillers--SEA OF LOVE, BLACK RAIN, COPLAND, TWILIGHT, THE NEGOTIATOR. He was always a welcome presence. I miss him already.

Posted by Marty at 11:07 AM CST
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Wednesday, December 14, 2005
What's Playing In iTunes?
Now Playing: THE OFFICE
Between devouring all six episodes of THE OFFICE's first season (and the hour of deleted scenes) and writing next week's article on FOR YOUR HEIGHT ONLY and CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER for The Hub, I have no time for a real post, so I'll take the lazy way out and list what I have heard during the last hour with my iTunes in Shuffle mode.

"IOIO"--Bee Gees
"Indian Reservation"--Paul Revere & the Raiders (#1 hit)
"I'm Leaving It All Up to You"--Donny & Marie Osmond
Jerry Fielding's theme to THE BIONIC WOMAN
"Lt. Gerard" from THE FUGITIVE--Pete Rugolo
"Last Assault" from HALLOWEEN--John Carpenter
"The Weightless Waltz" from LOST IN SPACE--John Williams
"Good Clean Fun", a Michael Nesmith song by The Monkees
Radio commercial for THE STEPFORD WIVES (1975)
"Coffy Baby" from COFFY, sung by Denise Bridgewater
A George Duning suite from THE TIME TUNNEL
William Shatner performing "King Henry the Fifth"
The STAR TREK fight music from "Amok Time"
"Inferno No Mundo"--Bango
"Hang Out"--Kaleidoscope
Radio spot for THE MUTATIONS
Opening from THE IMMORTAL (with Paul Frees narration)
"Rock Your Baby"--George McCrae
"Angela"--Professor Morrison's Lollipop
"Time in a Bottle"--Jim Croce
Radio spot for THE MACK
"Living for the City"--Stevie Wonder
Radio spot for BOSS NIGGER
Quincy Jones' badass theme from IRONSIDE, which Quentin Tarantino swiped for KILL BILL

Hey, I only have 1322 songs in my library so far. Don't worry--I'm adding more soon.

Posted by Marty at 11:39 PM CST
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Sunday, December 11, 2005
The Wonder of Weng Weng
Thanks to Tolemite for visiting this weekend and giving us all a great time. It seems as though everyone around gets Toler Fever when we've gone too long without a visit from him. Chicken, Stiner and Grady came out for a night with Toler last night, which started later than anticipated since he didn't make it to Champaign until about 9:30pm. We had to start Crappy Movie Night without him, which had us in good humor by the time he arrived. Here's a quick rundown on what we subjected ourselves to:

* THE UNSEEN--one of the sleaziest and strangest horror films I've seen, this low-budget laugher alternates between suspense and unintentional hilarity so frequently that each rental should come with Dramamine enclosed. Beautiful Barbara Bach (THE SPY WHO LOVED ME) stars as a TV reporter who makes the acquaintance of eccentric but kindly little Sydney Lassick (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST), who invites her and her hot friends to stay with him and his wife Virginia at their huge old house in the country. Cult movie fans know better than to enter a creepy old house owned by Sydney Lassick, since I've never seen him play anybody even close to a normal human being. Not surprisingly, there's something else living in the house too: an "unseen" antagonist dwelling in the Kellers' cellar. THE UNSEEN certainly offers its share of distasteful moments and uncomfortable horror, and I think it's a pretty effective sleeper. Lassick's performance really sells the absurdity of the third act, which has some pretty crazy stuff in it, well directed by Peter Foleg and scored by Michael Lewis.

* MUTANT HUNT--Tim Kincaid (BREEDERS) directed this cheapass ripoff of BLADE RUNNER that contains the lamest fight scenes you've ever seen. Rick Gianisi (SGT. KABUKIMAN, N.Y.P.D.) plays the world’s wimpiest mercenary with a badass mercenary name, Matt Riker, who fights robots in his tighty whiteys. Three out-of-control cyborgs are on the run with a belt of an illegal sex-enhancing drug called Euphoron, which causes them to turn into mad killing machines. Sets and set dressing are terrible; Riker’s apartment consists of three partial brick walls, a bed, a table, a punching bag and a few random weapons hanging on the walls. Barely a notch above the cheap sets is the lame stuntwork and fight choreography; the fight scenes look as though they’re being performed by 11-year-olds acting out old BATMAN episodes in the backyard. Barely 75 minutes long, MUTANT HUNT is definitely worth watching if you’re in the mood to laugh at inept filmmaking.

* THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN, "Crime Wave"--With Toler getting close to Champaign, I popped this 25-minute TV episode in to keep us entertained 'til he arrived. It's probably one of the last filmed episodes of the first season, since it contains a shitload of stock footage. A lot of it is clips of Superman (George Reeves) beating the shit out of thugs in fedoras, so that's cool. Superman, with the help of the Daily Planet, police inspector Henderson (Robert Shayne), and a crusading attorney, is on a mission to capture Metropolis' ten most wanted gangsters. The mystery man at the top of the list organizes a deathtrap for Superman involving a locked room and lightning bolts that zap Supes. What's funny is how much shit Superman talks to the bad guys after he plays possum and kicks all their asses: "I can't believe you actually thought your lameass little electrical trap could stop me. I'm Superman, you assholes."

* HOLLYWOOD COP--A pseudo-sequel to SAMURAI COP, one of the most hilariously inept movies ever made, by the same director, Iranian idiot Amir Shervan. I think it was written as a direct sequel, but Shervan couldn't get the same cast back. It's not quite as crazy as SAMURAI COP and it has more dead spots, but, man, when it cooks, it really cooks. A pissed-off Cameron Mitchell, an embarrased Troy Donahue, a drunk Jim Mitchum and a confused Aldo Ray (playing a Chinese!) comprise the "name" cast. Highlights include "I know that guy fucked your wife", hot oil wrestling, blood cancer, "yeah, he's a good cop", and Mitchell's gas attacks. You gotta see it.

* SATAN'S CHILDREN--This schizophrenic regional (Florida) horror movie is one of Toler's all-time favorites, and it was fun to introduce it to the rest of the gang. It has some bad acting, pretty outrageous story twists and a slow-going second act, but, man, the opening and closing reels are really laughable stuff. Wimpy red-haired teen Bobby, sick of being mistreated by his bullying stepfather and seductive stepsister, runs away from home, only to be gang-raped by four bikers who leave him unconscious and naked near a compound for Satan worshippers. Since their leader Simon is away, second-in-command Sherry orders Bobby taken inside and cared for. She has sex with him, but is later buried in the sand, covered with honey and attacked by ants at Simon's command. Simon also tells Bobby, who whines about how much his butt hurts, that being raped means he is weak, and Satan has no room for weaklings in his flock. So he busts out of the compound, eludes his captors, grabs a shotgun, kills his mean family and his rapists, cuts off their heads, and delivers them to Simon's breakfast table. Beauty, eh.

* FOR Y'UR HEIGHT ONLY--I've seen this one three times this week, and it stands as one of the most amazing motion picture experiences I've ever had. I'll be writing a piece on this and its Mondo Macabro DVD co-feature CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER for The Hub next week, so I'll keep this short. Suffice to say that it's a Filipino spy movie about Agent 00, a 2'9" action hero portrayed by a creepy-looking dwarf with an odd hairline named Weng Weng. You really can't call yourself a well-rounded film fan until you've seen Weng Weng kicking ass and taking names, using his powerful kung fu skills to smash the testicles of his enemies. Whether he's using his mighty midget mojo to sex up the Filipino hotties or mowing down dozens of red-bereted henchmen with his deadly trick pistola, Weng Weng makes Sean Connery and Steve McQueen, in their primes, look like pantywaists. Let me put it this way--there are two kinds of people in this world: those who have experienced the awe and mystery of Weng Weng and those who have not.

* RAW FORCE--Toler and I watched this one together this morning before our trip to the flea market. RAW FORCE may be the world's first kung fu/zombie/cannibal movie. It drags somewhat during the second act too, but otherwise is a crazyass tale of Nazi white slavers, Burbank karate instructors, cannibalistic monks, naked Filipino women, and drunken partiers thrown together on Warriors Island, which contains a graveyard for kung fu criminals who escape from their graves to munch on some human sacrifices. Cameron Mitchell is in this one too. Jesus, they don't make movies like this anymore, and I sure as shit wish they did.

* THE CANDY SNATCHERS--I was excited to introduce Toler to Guerdon Trueblood's downbeat crime thriller, one of the best and most disturbing drive-in flicks of the 1970's. From its witty theme song, "Love Is The Root Of All Happiness", to its daringly pessimistic final crane shot, THE CANDY SNATCHERS is full of story twists, amoral but well-developed characters, sleaze, violence, social commentary and good acting. Again, I don't want to go it too much, because I imagine the film works best the less you know about it. It isn't a fast-moving, action-packed thriller, but if you have the patience to absorb the dialogue scenes, I think you'll take a lot away from THE CANDY SNATCHERS.

I spent only $2 at Gordyville, but it was fun to ramble around anyway. It's a lot bigger than it was the last time I was there over the summer, I think because there's less to do this time of year and more vendors are available to attend. Lots of NASCAR, Elvis, Johnny Cash and STAR WARS stuff. I picked up six old paperbacks on the 3-for-a-buck table: Alistar MacLean, Richard Prather and Brett Halliday.

I downloaded iTunes last week...accidentally really, because I updated QuickTime to 7.0, and iTunes comes with it. I have been using Windows Media Player and Winamp to play music on my computer. I'm not sure there's a big different among them, but iTunes is fine. For the heck of it, I put it on shuffle mode and started playing everything in my library, which runs the gamut from TV themes to radio spots for old Crappy Movies to '60s rock to obscurities to really terrible music. One of these days I'll listen for an hour or so and write down everything I hear. It'll make for an eclectic experience, that's for sure. I just heard "Timothy" by The Buoys, bookended by Leonard Nimoy covering "I Walk the Line" and Lalo Schifrin's MEDICAL CENTER theme.

Posted by Marty at 10:51 PM CST
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Saturday, December 10, 2005
Tolemite Is His Name
Toler is coming to town this afternoon, so expect an upcoming blog entry about the crappy movies we watched and the terrible food we bloated ourselves with. I expect many of our friends to join us tonight, and hopefully some to come along on our sojourn to the Gordyville flea market tomorrow. I need to go to Gordyville like I need a hole in my head, considering the stacks of unread paperbacks and unwatched VHS tapes from past Gordyville trips cluttering my house, but you never know what cool stuff you might find. Or what crazy person you might meet. On our last trip, Toler, LD, J Brown, Chicken and I encountered an older woman who started babbling some nonsense to us about...what was she babbling about? I don't recall all of it now, but I do remember that, after we finally escaped from her, she came up to us later while we were resting on some metal bleachers. She started talking to us about women and where our women are. LD said something like, "We get women the old-fashioned way. With alcohol." (great line) She laughed, took a playful swipe at LD's head, and said, "You fool." Finally her daughter came and dragged her away from us.

Posted by Marty at 1:17 PM CST
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Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Lots To Report
It sucks when life gets in the way of my blogging. Plenty of strange stuff has happened lately, but I haven't had the time to put it into writing. My plan is to write some of it up now and post it later at work when I have five free minutes.

I believe I may finally be free of USAA General. Well, I guess I won't really be free of their idiocy until I actually receive that settlement check, but it's allegedly in the mail.

I have been waiting for them to receive the title to my demolished car, which I mailed to them on November 10. I have called them several times, and each time they would say, "It takes 7-10 business days" or "10-14 business days." They could not release the check to me until they got that title. They would say, "Maybe it got lost in the mail" or "maybe it's down in our mailroom" or "we have 20,000 employees here, it sometimes takes awhile." I was even scolded by one woman who said it was the law that they could not write me the settlement check until they received my title. Since they are an insurance company, I don't know how much of what they ever say is true (in fact, I know they are liars, because twice they made excuses for not returning my calls by claiming they left messages on my "voice mail"; there were never any messages at home or at work).

After nearly a month of this, I talked to USAA's guy in Recovery Paperwork again yesterday. He says they still haven't received my title. I tell him I have a Xerox of it, is that good enough? He says to fax it and he will talk to his manager.

I am in the process of faxing it when my phone rings. It's him again. And I know he hasn't gotten my fax yet. "I talked to my manager and we have decided to go ahead and mail you the check." Why they can do it now and not two weeks ago, I don't know. "You should have it in 5 or 6 days." USAA had already promised me they would send the check via Overnight Delivery, and I tell him that. "Oh, I'm sorry, no one told me that. It's too late, we have already issued the check." How come five minutes earlier he was all "blah blah we still haven't received your title in the mail" and now he's, "Yeah, that check is already in progress"?

I admit that I was negligent in following up with the guy. At this point, I just want the money, and I want to no longer have a conversation with any of these people again. On one hand, I was told that it was against the law for them to demolish my car without the title. Now he's apparently telling me that he can, but "there's no way for us to make money on it, we have to foot the bill for it ourselves." I'm not terribly sympathetic--the whole deal is costing me $12,000, and it's all the fault of his customer. Boo hoo, man. Why should you make money out of all this?

Bottom line: the check should arrive next week, and that's really all that counts, I suppose. I suspect that the title got there a long time ago, and they were just sitting on it for who-knows-what reason. There's no way to figure their logic, since there's no way of knowing how much of their bullshit is factual.

As if that wasn't enough stress, it appears as though somebody has been vandalizing my mailbox and possibly stealing my mail. I first noticed the day after Thanksgiving (I have since learned that this happened at least as early as Thanksgiving Day, if not one or two days earlier), when I checked my mail, that my mailbox was open, but empty, and the card which contains my name and apartment number had been stolen. I live in a house with four apartments. There are four mailboxes--unlocked--on the front porch. Mine was the only one touched; the other three were stuffed with mail and their name cards were intact.

This was late Friday. I made a new card out of paper and used packing tape to attach it to the mailbox. The old one was a plastic sleeve glued to the box and a paper slipped inside of it that had my name on it. Saturday, the mailman brought something from my brother that was sent Delivery Confirmation, so he rang my doorbell and I went down and signed it. I asked if he delivered anything yesterday, but he didn't have my route.

Monday, no mail. Tuesday, no mail again, and my new name card is gone. Not just ripped off and left on the porch, but gone. Whoever did it took it with him. So I called the police, who said they would do nothing, called the post office, who said they could do nothing, called the landlord, who said he would get new locking mailboxes in a week or so. I don't know if these will go outside on the porch or inside the vestibule, which is locked to the outside.

I have no idea who would steal my mail or why. I'm the only one affected; none of my neighbors lost anything. The thief got nothing of any real worth. And why bother to take my name off the mailbox? There's nothing to gain by it. It's a mystery. My only theory is that it's someone who knows I'm expecting a check from the insurance company. Luckily for me, the insurance checks are going directly to my sister-in-law, whose name is still on the title for the car. The package my brother sent contained a check for the same amount from her, who lent me the money in advance so I could make the down payment on my new car. My brother was smart enough to send it Delivery Confirmation, and I was lucky enough to be home when the mailman rang my bell to have me sign for it. I'm not certain what all was taken; I bought a Harlan Ellison paperback on eBay that I never received, and even though I signed the papers for my new car two weeks ago, I haven't yet received a statement or payment book from the loan company. I don't know whether that would have arrived in the mail that soon or not, but I'll check into it.

One thing that I did (hopefully not too late) was to call TransUnion, one of the three major credit agencies, and put a fraud alert on my name. I'm always getting preapproved credit card offers in the mail. Usually I tear them up and throw them out, but it's likely one was taken from my mailbox, and the last thing I need is someone spending a $5000 credit limit in my name.

Posted by Marty at 1:42 PM CST
Updated: Wednesday, December 7, 2005 1:53 PM CST
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Saturday, December 3, 2005
The Great White Hope
Kudos to Fox for releasing the first season of THE WHITE SHADOW on DVD (and Season 2 is coming early next year). I actually remember quite clearly watching the pilot when it aired on CBS in 1978. We had some relatives over at the house for a visit, and while the adults were chatting in the kitchen over coffee, my brother, my cousins and I were in the living room watching THE WHITE SHADOW. It was a terrific show and went on to spawn what, to this day, remains probably the finest sports-related TV series.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by Marty at 7:15 PM CST
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