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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Sunday, April 9, 2006
Temporarily Out Of Order
YouTube is down temporarily, so if you want to see any of the videos imbedded on my site (and who wouldn't?), just hold tight.

Posted by Marty at 3:17 PM CDT
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Saturday, April 8, 2006
Billy Jack Serves Old Racist Ranchers
Coven's "One Tin Soldier" came up on iTunes, so I thought I'd check to see whether YouTube had any sweet BILLY JACK action. It does. Check out Billy Jack "wopping" this old dude right in the face:
And the bloody morning tin soldier rides awayyyyyy!

BILLY JACK was a seminal part of my childhood, as was, to a lesser extent, its immediate sequel, THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK, which I vividly recall seeing on network television. It was years before I was able to see the first in the series, THE BORN LOSERS, which is somewhat of an anomaly. The fourth movie, BILLY JACK GOES TO WASHINGTON, was never officially completed or released, and I didn't see it until its DVD debut in the late '90s.

Even though I've seen BILLY JACK a zillion times, it's a difficult film to recommend. It's crudely filmed and often tedious, particularly the scenes involving the improv group and the kids at the Freedom School. The action scenes aren't very polished. Some of the performances, including the female lead (played by BILLY JACK star/writer/producer/director Tom Laughlin's wife Delores Taylor), are amateurish. However, there's no question that BILLY JACK was an enormous box-office success and touched a real nerve with moviegoers in the heartland. I suspect that in terms of pure profit margin, BILLY JACK is still one of the most successful movies ever made.

There's a helluva lot more to say about Tom Laughlin and the BILLY JACK movies than I have time to relate now. Maybe that's for a future post. If you've never seen BILLY JACK, you probably should, for historical purposes if not for any other reason.

Basically, it stars Laughlin as the title character, a mystical half-breed Indian and ex-Green Beret who uses karate to preach his own brand of pacifism to the ignorant bigots of a small Southwestern town. Laughlin is excellent as one of the cinema's few liberal action heroes, but BILLY JACK ultimately sinks under the weight of its own pretentiousness. The film preaches about so many subjects (gun control, education, racism, the justice system, the generation gap) that it eventually becomes tedious. The action scenes are good though, and the opening title sequence involving the roundup of wild mustangs is beautifully shot by cinematographer Fred Koenekamp, getting the movie off to a good start.

It also has one absolute classic scene, in which some young toughs harass some children in an ice cream parlor by pouring flour over the head of a cute little girl. Billy Jack waltzes in and gives a long speech about how, when he sees such beautiful young angels mistreated by insensitive bigots, he...just...goes...BERSERK and then he freaks out and kicks the shit out of the hoods.

THE TRIAL OF BILLY JACK may be the most unusual smash hit of all time, an existential, often dull three-hour epic that's hilariously awful and somehow earned a PG from the MPAA, despite its lengthy and surprisingly bloody sequence in which a bunch of children are shot and killed by National Guardsmen. Laughlin often has a dozen or more subplots running at the same time--a child-abuse victim who plays guitar with his hook hand, a snowy mountaintop rescue, run-ins with rednecks and trigger-happy cops, a greedy land magnate, a lot of folk singing and much, much more. Billy experiences hallucinations during a drug trip to explore his Native American side, is guided by a beautiful Indian girl, slaps a construction worker and a hippie protester, and eventually encounters his mystical, blue-painted double in the Cave of the Dead.

I also recall Paul Simon playing "Billy Paul" in a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch.

Posted by Marty at 1:06 AM CDT
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Wednesday, April 5, 2006
Happy Birthday, Roger Corman
A man whom I firmly believe to be one of the great American filmmakers turns 80 today. Roger Corman was born April 5, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan, and in his honor, Tim Lucas at the essential Video WatchBlog site (Tim edits VIDEO WATCHDOG, the preeminent publication dedicated to fantastic and cult cinema) has proclaimed a Roger Corman Blog-A-Thon, meaning several Corman fans will be posting tributes to the legendary director/producer/studio executive today.

Coming up with something to write about Corman that has neither been written about 100 times before nor will be tackled again by other bloggers is a tough chore. However, I'll tackle one of Corman's most important pictures, a film that he claims is the only one he ever directed that lost money.

Corman has said publicly on several occasions that THE INTRUDER is his favorite of the 51 films he directed between 1955 and 1971 (his last was FRANKENSTEIN UNBOUND in 1990--nearly 20 years after his previous movie). It's also a unique entry in the Corman oeuvre, a searing, powerful drama that tackles the serious issue of race relations in the Deep South at the peak of the civil rights movement. Up to that point, Corman's films were strictly for exploitation, genre pics with titles like TEENAGE CAVEMAN, ATTACK OF THE CRAB MONSTERS and SHE GODS OF SHARK REEF. He was about the last guy one would expect to make a movie like THE INTRUDER.

Corman directed and produced the film, and his brother Gene Corman was the executive producer. He filmed it in several small towns in Missouri, where the story goes that the script that was shown to the local citizens was changed somewhat to make the movie's racist villain look like the hero, so the filmmakers wouldn't be lynched while scouting locations. It has also been said that the reason THE INTRUDER was filmed in so many locations, including Sikeston, Charleston and East Prairie, Missouri, is because once the locals discovered the movie was anti-prejudice, they really did chase Corman and his company out of town. Some shots were made on the fly by leaping out of a car, setting up a camera, grabbing a few frames, and splitting before anybody saw them.

The result was a box-office flop when Pathe-America released the independent feature in 1962. Years later, Corman re-released it under the alternate titles SHAME and I HATE YOUR GUTS in an attempt to fool people into thinking it was a cheap exploitation movie, but his ruse was unsuccessful. It was clear once audiences saw the film that it was more than just cheap entertainment.

THE INTRUDER stars William Shatner as a racist rabblerouser named Adam Cramer. Those who accuse Shatner of being a "bad actor" should have their mouths washed out with soap and see THE INTRUDER. Shatner had done few features up to that point, but was a very popular guest star on episodic and anthology TV series and was also an acclaimed stage actor. I would imagine it was considered something of a coup for Corman to have landed such a star.

Shatner is riveting in the film, and you can't take your eyes off of him, as his sly bigot visits a small Missouri town at the time of desegregation, and convinces the bigoted white townspeople to harass the black high school students. When the brave teenagers break the school district's color barrier anyway--as the new federal laws mandated they do--Cramer forces the daughter of a prominent white citizen to falsely accuse a black student of rape.

What few critics screened it at the time had praise for THE INTRUDER. Even the notoriously grouchy Bosley Crowther of the New York Times blessed it as a raggedy, raw film of unflinching power. Very few audiences saw it, though, and it appears to have done little (good or bad) for the careers of Corman and Shatner. It clearly was an important experience for the men, who reunited in 2000 to film a joint on-camera interview for a Special Edition DVD release of THE INTRUDER, which Corman put out through his Concorde/New Horizons label.

THE INTRUDER is a fascinating anomaly in Roger Corman's career. It stands alone among the hundreds of films in which he has participated as a director, producer, executive producer and studio exec (Corman owned New World Pictures from approximately 1970 to 1985 and then started Concorde/New Horizons shortly after that). Corman has made films in nearly every genre you can imagine--science fiction, horror, sword-and-sorcery, childrens, women-in-prison, car chase, comedy, erotic thrillers, martial arts, slasher flicks, gangster, killer robots, you name it. Yet only THE INTRUDER completely eschews exploitation elements to tell a real, adult story that pushes buttons in its pursuit of hard-hitting social commentary. It isn't a perfect film by any means. Since Corman used local non-actors in supporting roles, some of the performances are very stiff. The ending is an unsatisfactory deus ex machina. Corman's guerrilla filmmaking style (necessary, considering the personal danger he and his crew were in) results in somewhat craggy production values. I don't think any of that matters. THE INTRUDER is a good story--and a socially important one--well told, and a story that remains as relevant today (as the Katrina tragedy demonstrates) as it was in 1962.

Happy birthday, Roger. Thank you for giving us DEATHSPORT and NIGHT CALL NURSES and BEAST OF THE YELLOW NIGHT and THE PREMATURE BURIAL and ROCK ALL NIGHT and SORORITY GIRL and DEATH RACE 2000 and not one, not two, not three, but four movies featuring hot women who fight karate with no top on. But especially thank you for THE INTRUDER.

Posted by Marty at 12:04 AM CDT
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Monday, April 3, 2006
Worst Prison Break Ever
Good Christ, is PRISON BREAK hurting for ways to stretch its gimmicky premise over a full 22-episode season? So desperate that it has to rip off LOST by showing us flashbacks to the characters' lives before they went to prison? Does anybody really care about the armed robbery that sent Sucre to the joint (he was doing it to buy his fickle girlfriend an engagement ring)? Does anyone really believe that the sexy young doctor used to be a morphine addict or that the evil prison guard once hit on her at an AA meeting? More shades of LOST in the scene that had a fleeing Lincoln bump into Sucre on the street. This series is implausible enough without making my disbelief stretch that far.

Of course, 24, as always, kicked ass. I can't say that the final shot surprised me very much--the Vice President seemed too much of an obvious red herring--although Logan's actions at first glance don't appear in retrospect to jibe with his role as the terrorists' orchestrator. We'll see how the 24 writers paint themselves out of this corner.

THE WEST WING's cliffhanger packed a helluva punch, even though we all knew it was coming. It's Election Day, and as the polls start to close, the Santos campaign staff discovers (off camera) the dead body of Vice Presidential candidate Leo McGarry. We've been waiting with dread for this moment ever since the death of actor John Spencer earlier this year, and next week's episode dealing with the late McGarry/Spencer should be an extraordinarily strong one. I think the series has only four or five more episodes to go.

REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER, a consistently interesting HBO series, was stronger than usual this week, despite the presence of actor Seth Green on the panel. Green was unfunny and useless, adding nothing of substance to the discussion. The show did feature one of the series' strongest off-the-cuff moments, where Maher served California Representative Dana Rohrabacher. I was glad to see Maher press the issue with a member of Congress, since no professional journalist is doing it. You can see a bit of it here at Crooks and Liars. It runs less than a minute, but it completely demonstrates the rampant hypocrisy of so many sycophantic Washington Republicans. You know damn well that Rohrabacher doesn't believe a single word he's trying to stammer, but reciting the party line is more important to him than standing up for his true beliefs.

Oh, yeah. And fuck you, Tom DeLay.

Posted by Marty at 11:36 PM CDT
Updated: Monday, April 3, 2006 11:45 PM CDT
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Sunday, April 2, 2006
Ridin' The Storm Out
I just spent 45 minutes in my basement, hiding from tornados. Central Illinois is a hotbed of twisters in the spring, and tonight we got hit by several of them. The tornado sirens went off just after 7:00pm, so I switched the TV over to the local NBC affiliate, which had pre-empted THE WEST WING for weather coverage. A tornado had been sighted near a small town very close to here, so I thought maybe I should seek shelter in the basement of this big ol' house (also, the National Weather Service was breaking into cable programming with an announcement that literally read, "Find shelter now to save your life!"). All my neighbors had the same idea as I, so we had a little social gathering in the basement, the neighbors and the dogs and the cats and the toddlers. I even got to see a vicious dogfight--always fun, even if I didn't get a bet down in time (just kidding, ASPCA!).

Spent much of the weekend near St. Louis. Chicken and I went down Saturday morning to watch the Final Four telecasts on my brother's 52-inch widescreen projection TV. The weather was nice there on Saturday afternoon, so we were able to grill chicken and hot dogs and hamburgers and get bloated on chicken and hot dogs and hamburgers and baked beans and cake and...well, you get it. The basketball games were dogs, unfortunately, but hopefully Florida and UCLA will make tomorrow's NCAA championship game something of a battle.

I was hoping to go out for awhile after the games, but instead we stayed in and introduced Chicken to MAGNUM, P.I. I'm embarrassed for him, but it's true--Chicken had never in his life seen one episode of MAGNUM, P.I. Pitiful, I know. But after showing him the pilot this weekend, I think he's now convinced of the kickassedness of Selleck and his show.

The coolest thing that happened this weekend, however, is this:

It's a gift from my friend Chris in Los Angeles. In case you can't see it very well, it's the 2-disc Special Edition DVD of PREDATOR, but what makes it unique is this:

It's autographed by Bill Duke! KICK FUCKING ASS!

Chris is working in post-production on X-MEN 3 at Fox, and Bill Duke is acting in the movie, so when their paths crossed, quick-thinking Chris scored a major coup. Bill Duke = major badass.

Posted by Marty at 8:47 PM CST
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006
Good Company
Looks like Mark Evanier thinks along the same lines as I.

Posted by Marty at 7:39 AM CST
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Tuesday, March 28, 2006
You Think It's An Epidemic Like The Flu?
I don't watch crappy movies all the time. Occasionally I like to delve into something more, uh, conventional. Mature? Hmmmm. Well, at any rate, I caught a letterboxed print of TRUE CONFESSIONS on cable. Based on John Gregory Dunne's novel, TRUE CONFESSIONS (which is not yet on DVD) stars Robert DeNiro and Robert Duvall as estranged brothers who become involved in the horrible murder of a so-called "party girl" during the 1940s. Duvall is a slightly crooked cop who investigates the murder, in which the victim was cut in two and dumped in an L.A. vacant lot (loosely based on the notorious Black Dahlia case). DeNiro is a monsignor whose ambition to move up in the Catholic hierarchy has led him to do favors for wealthy congregation members, such as Jack Amsterdam (Charles Durning), a former hood who now runs a successful construction business...successful because of the jobs building Catholic schools that DeNiro keeps throwing his way.

Even though the story is centered around a brutal murder, the movie isn't really about it, and if you're looking for an absorbing mystery, TRUE CONFESSIONS isn't the movie. It is, however, a great showcase for two of America's finest actors, at least at that time. Both DeNiro and Duvall have a tendency to either overact or sleepwalk through projects that don't interest them, but not in this case. They are marvelous in TRUE CONFESSIONS, particularly in a poignant final scene in which the brothers finally become closer than they have ever been. In addition to Durning, Ed Flanders, Burgess Meredith and Kenneth McMillan are quite good, and an actress named Rose Gregorio, of whom I know next to nothing, is superb as a middle-aged whore with whom Duvall has a history.

TRUE CONFESSIONS isn't a forgotten classic or anything like that. It's slow-moving and nowhere near as interested in its crime plot as I think it should be, but it's of some interest, especially if you're a fan of superlative screen acting.

And then I watched an episode of F TROOP that guest-starred Don Rickles as a rampaging Indian out to scalp the Fort Courage gang and got all that "quality" out of my system.

Posted by Marty at 10:35 PM CST
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Monday, March 27, 2006
Don't Like Chicken On Sunday
I've got a lot of terrible movies in my collection, but I don't know if any of them are worse than SKIDOO, which is considered to be one of the worst films in the history of Hollywood. A notorious flop produced and directed by the great Otto Preminger, who not only made one of my favorite courtroom dramas, ANATOMY OF A MURDER, but also played Mr. Freeze on BATMAN, SKIDOO is an all-star abomination released by Paramount in 1968. Everything you've heard about it is true. I recently had a discussion with a friend who claimed that GIGLI was "not as bad as the critics made it out to be." Yes, it is, but SKIDOO is much, much worse. So if you're thinking, "Whatever, how bad can it be?", well, you've been warned.

SKIDOO was clearly intended to be a hip, "with-it" youth comedy, but it was unfortunately made by old squares who don't seem to have even met anyone under 30, much less ever been that young themselves. 52-year-old Jackie Gleason stars as Tony Banks, a former Mob assassin who retired from the organization seventeen years earlier when his daughter Darlene (Alexandra Hay) was born to his wife Flo (the forever unappealing, unattractive and untalented Carol Channing). The same evening the conservative Tony meets his daughter's new boyfriend, hippie Stash (John Philip Law), his old business acquaintance Hechy (Cesar Romero) drops by with his son Angie (Frankie Avalon) with a proposition. Gangster "Blue Chips" Packard (Mickey Rooney) plans to testify against the head of the Syndicate, the mysterious germ-hating God (Groucho Marx), who orders Tony to infiltrate the prison where Packard is incarcerated and "kiss" him. That's right--Groucho plays God.

Instead of a linear story, SKIDOO consists of a series of increasingly absurd comic scenes that are unlike any other you've ever seen. Not that this makes them funny or entertaining, mind you, just jawdroppingly wild. For instance, Gleason's LSD trip, in which he lies on his prison bunk hallucinating Groucho's head rotating on a flying screw (!) and his cellmates shrunken to the size of a mouse and surrounded by a glowing pink pyramid. Or Groucho himself puffing on a joint. Or Channing's excruciatingly tasteless striptease (she was 47 at the time). Or Preminger's wildly inaccurate view of the hippie lifestyle. Handed an M rating by the MPAA, probably for its drug use and mild swearing, SKIDOO, like MYRA BRECKINRIDGE and HEAVEN'S GATE, lives up--or is that down--to its reputation by throwing so many sight gags and over-the-hill guest stars at the screen that, mathematically, some have to work. None do. Among them are the obviously British Peter Lawford as an American senator, Burgess Meredith, George Raft, Frank Gorshin, Fred Clark, Richard Kiel, Austin Pendleton, Slim Pickens, Robert Donner, Michael Constantine, Arnold Stang and L.A. Ram Roman Gabriel.

Something that is very cool about SKIDOO--and really the only good thing about it--are its credits, which are sung by composer Harry Nilsson. I'm surprised no other movie (AFAIK) has ever done this. If you're able to sit through the first 93 excruciating minutes (and you're forgiven if you can't), the last four consist of Nilsson singing the titles, including the indicia, the copyright date (in Roman numeral form), and, of course, his own composition credit.

It's actually a catchy little tune, and such a good idea that you would think someone else would think of it for their movie. I have it as an mp3, but if you watch this trailer, you'll get to hear snippets of it. The trailer, which is "hosted" by Timothy Leary, is more entertaining than the feature anyway, and features most of its stars, including Sammy Davis Jr. (who isn't even in the movie).

Posted by Marty at 11:28 PM CST
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Sunday, March 26, 2006
Nimoy Lives Long And Prospers
Happy birthday to Leonard Nimoy, who turns 75 today, meaning he's exactly four days younger than his STAR TREK co-star William Shatner. What are the odds on that?

Sure, I could write here about Nimoy's Emmy nominations or his critical accolades as a film director or his stage successes or his touching death scene in WRATH OF KHAN. But...this is funnier:

Posted by Marty at 10:21 AM CST
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Friday, March 24, 2006
Big TV
The last two days have been oddly stressful, but I think everything has been (mostly) taken care of. Props to Chicken for going for beyond the normal call to help out; I wouldn't have been able to get as much done as quickly without him.

I got a "new" larger TV Wednesday night. Some co-workers got a new plasma and asked if I wanted their old (1997) 36-incher, as opposed to the old (1997) 27-incher I have now. Holy crap, that thing is heavy, and we needed a last-minute assist from Moto to get it up my stairs.

Then, I had to get a new entertainment center, because mine would only fit a 27-incher. Here I had some luck, in that I was trying to figure out how to get rid of it. I asked the downstairs neighbors if they wanted it, and couldn't believe it when they said, "Mmmm, yeah, we do need one, we were just going to buy one." So Chicken and I moved it downstairs, which was not difficult.

The two of us then went to Meijer (after dropping off an orange at Kristin's so she could drink beer...I don't know, just go with it...) to buy my new entertainment center for the 36-incher. This is where my stupidity/bad luck jumped in, because even though I had (I thought) carefully measured all my components that would have to fit into this entertainment center--receiver, DVD recorder, cable box, DVD player, VCR--after I bought it, brought it home, and assembled it (with more much-needed Chicken help), the two larger items (cable box, DVD recorder) were too wide to fit into it. I knew it would be snug, but I could have sworn they would fit. Unless the display model is a different size? Ahhh, I don't know.

So, for the time being, I moved a table into the living room with those components resting on it, but I think that if I get a small table or maybe even a small entertainment center, I can move it next to the other one and it will look/function okay. Or even what they call a "video/audio" tower.

Bottom line: I now have a 36-inch TV (which is somewhat ridiculous in its very small room), which will come in handy watching blurry dubs of Kilink movies and old episodes of THE RAT PATROL. At least I finally got everything plugged into it, and it all seems to function. One thing I did--does anyone else do this?--is label each of the cables and wires when I unhooked them, so I would know what they plugged into when I put them into the new entertainment center. Kinda dorky perhaps, but I'm really not very good with electronics, and it sure helped me.

Posted by Marty at 8:05 AM CST
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