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Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
I Got A Beverage Here
According to the "Which Big Lebowski character are you?" quiz:

Why don't you check it out? Or we cut off your Johnson!

Posted by Marty at 8:40 AM CDT
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Tuesday, April 11, 2006
Star Trek 2.0
Goddamn it, can't they just leave STAR TREK alone? If G4 hates the show so much, why bother to air it?

I just caught a few minutes of STAR TREK 2.0, as the network calls it, on the G4 network. What they are doing is running STAR TREK reruns, but shrunken to postage-stamp size, and around the borders they're surrounding the image with...what exactly, I don't know. There's real time chat, which is displayed below the show, even though no one is chatting, and they just run the same comments over and over. On top is a "Pop-Up" type of caption that is frustratingly simplistic and apparently written by imbeciles. I swear to you that one read, "Sally Kellerman made her TV debut on The Outer Limits and she went on to appear in films and continues to work to this day." Also, the name "Mitchell" was misspelled "Micthell." Is that how G4 staffers write or is that how illiterate they believe their audience is?

The left border is taken up by the same dozen Trek Facts over and over that lists such witty items as the number of Torn Kirk Shirts, Spock Says "Illogical", and Uhura Touches Earpiece. On the right is the Spock Market. I have no idea what it is, but details are on G4's Web site.

Seriously, I don't know who the audience is for STAR TREK 2.0. If you're a TREK fan, you absolutely don't want to see the show surrounded with all this clutter and unnecessary sound effects. Hell, the image isn't even very good; the skin tones were purple-ish. And if you aren't inclined to watch STAR TREK, why would the chat room and Trek Facts elements entice you to try it? G4's programming decision makes no sense to me. The network clearly either doesn't like the show or has no faith in its ability to draw an audience, despite the fact that it's probably the most popular television series in the world.

The episode airing was "Where No Man Has Gone Before," which is the hour that sold the series to NBC and is so good that I was able to sit through about ten minutes of it. It holds up extremely well and Shatner is terrific in the climax, handling the action and dramatics like an expert series lead. The big fight at the end is marred by obvious stunt doubles, but that wasn't unusual for TREK, which oddly had trouble finding stuntmen that resembled its actors.

Don't watch the episode on G4 though. I'll stick to my DVDs.

Posted by Marty at 11:10 PM CDT
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We Call Him Sasquatch
Seeing this reminded me of the "dolls" that my brother and I used to have when we were kids. And, yeah, they were called dolls then; there was no such thing as an "action figure," as far as I remember.

Actually, I don't think we had the Bigfoot doll or the Oscar Goldman, but we did have the Six Million Dollar Man. You could roll up the skin on his arm and check out the bionics, and you could peer through the back of his head and through one of his bionic eyes.

THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN was one of my favorite shows beginning when I was about eight or so, but unlike other favorite shows from that period, I can still watch it without cringing. I recorded the entire run on the Sci-Fi Channel 8 or 9 years ago, and it still holds up, I think. As many adventure shows were back then, it was designed to appeal to both adults and children, at least at the beginning. Unlike today's network television, which is pretty much tailored for viewers aged 18 to 30. I can't think of anything on the air today that would have interested me at age 9, other than maybe 24, which is too complicated and violent for 9-year-olds.

One of the most important nights of my childhood was the episode in which Steve Austin (Lee Majors), the former astronaut with $6 million of taxpayer dough inside of him in the form of bionic parts that ratchet up his strength, speed and vision, threw down with none other than Bigfoot. Yep, the legendary forest-dwelling apeman was alive and well in the backwoods of California, discovered by Colonel Austin while investigating some missing scientists. You need to remember that the Bigfoot legend was very much in the public mind when this two-part episode, "The Secret of Bigfoot," was telecast in 1976. And, wow, there was nothing more thrilling than when the two powerful rivals went at it, jumping down hills, ripping trees out of the ground and using them as rams, throwing powerful punches. All, of course, in slow motion and aided by those classic "bionic" sound effects (NA-NA-NA-NA-NA) and Oliver Nelson's music.

Oh, and it gets better. Bigfoot isn't just Bigfoot. He's a robot. From outer space. How kickass is that? Yep, Bigfoot, which his alien masters call Sasquatch, was built as a servant and protector by a group of basically benevolent aliens whose experiments are endangering the lives of Earthlings. Luckily for Steve, one of them is the foxy Shalon (Stefanie Powers), and she really digs him.

I showed this two-parter to some younger friends of mine who grew up on MACGYVER and TRANSFORMERS, and it still haunts me that none of them was the least bit entertained by it. I count that night as a majestic Crappy Movie Night failure, and it still perplexes me. What is it about a bionic man and a robot alien Bigfoot fighting each other in a majestic California forest that they didn't like? I don't think I'll ever get over that. I mean, there's a lot of dumb stuff that I like that I completely understand why nobody else likes. But Steve Austin vs. Sasquatch? That's fucking cool, dude.

Why isn't THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (or its spinoff, THE BIONIC WOMAN) on DVD yet? Beats me. Universal has been very aggressive in releasing its '70s TV shows, including COLUMBO, DRAGNET, ADAM-12, THE ROCKFORD FILES, EMERGENCY, MCCLOUD and more. I believe that THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN would sell better than most of those shows, besides ROCKFORD and COLUMBO, so I can't imagine what the holdup is. I've been meaning to go through those old videotapes of mine and dub them to DVD-R, but I've only managed a couple so far. Obviously, those Sci-Fi versions are cut, time-compressed and/or feature shrunken credits, so they aren't optimal viewing. But I guess it's all I have for now.

Posted by Marty at 10:30 PM CDT
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YouTube Back In Action
So go watch that BILLY JACK clip, Tolemite!

Posted by Marty at 9:59 PM CDT
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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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