Saturday, December 30, 2006

New Year, New Look

Playing around with the new Blogger tonight, I decided to spice the site up a bit. Many of you are graphic designers, so I fully expect to receive feedback on how hideous the new look is. I'm definitely staying with a light-colored background; black Web site backgrounds are a pet peeve of mine, since I can't look at light text on black for more than a few seconds before my eyes begin hurting. I thought the white was a bit harsh, but this new background feels soothing.

I've also decided to keep track of the movies I watch over on the sidebar. I've been keeping a personal list in Excel form for several years now, and this year I've been tracking movies on the Classic Horror Film Board, but it got to be a bit of a chore bouncing around from site to site.

If I forgot to relist your site in my Links section, please let me know. I lost the previous data when I changed Blogger templates, so my memory may have left yours out. Or, for that matter, if you'd like to be listed, send me a note, and I'll take a look at your site.

I'll probably switch out that corner photo on occasion, but I couldn't think of a better way to ring in a new year than, "I...am...Kiirrrooooooooookkkkkkkk!"

007 Fights Ninjas

Until this year’s “reimagining” of the 007 franchise in CASINO ROYALE, LICENCE TO KILL (note the British spelling, which was not used in the initial U.S. release) was widely considered the most brutal and violent film of the series. The first PG-13 Bond movie offers a change-of-pace plot by Bond veterans Richard Maibaum and Michael G. Wilson that finds 007 (Timothy Dalton in his second and final Bond performance) resigning under protest from the British Secret Service and plotting revenge against Franz Sanchez (Robert Davi), the South American druglord who fed Bond’s CIA pal Felix Leiter (David Hedison, 16 years after first playing the part in 1973’s LIVE AND LET DIE) to the sharks. Literally.

Some have referred to LICENCE TO KILL as a "Joel Silver Bond movie," and that's a good description, right down to the trendy choice of villain (Central American drug dealer), supporting cast of familiar American character actors (Don Stroud, Anthony Zerbe, Frank McRae, Benicio Del Toro) and the late Michael Kamen as composer. It mostly eschews the elaborate gadgetry for which the Bond movies are well known, and although it’s a first-rate action movie, it doesn’t feel much like a James Bond adventure, despite Dalton’s tough, underrated performance. Director John Glen, helming his fifth and final (to date) Bond extravaganza, handles the special effects and stunts (particularly a wild semi-truck chase on a desert road) with aplomb, and the elaborate story is crisply paced. The Bond Girls are a weakness; exotic Talisa Soto (VAMPIRELLA) has never been much of an actress, and short-haired Carey Lowell (later one of Sam Waterston’s Girls on LAW & ORDER) I can take or leave, although both women are beautiful and contrast each other well.

I have to admit that I like LICENCE TO KILL better than the new CASINO ROYALE. I don’t want to dump too harshly on the new film, since I enjoyed it more than I expected to, but it feels like a James Bond movie for moviegoers who don’t like James Bond. I wrote in 1999 about THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH:

Watching a James Bond movie these days is like visiting a favorite relative at Thanksgiving. You know exactly what's on the menu, and you know you're with good company; in fact, it's that very familiarity that makes it so nice. You know going in that 007 will ask for a martini, "shaken not stirred". He will introduce himself to someone as "Bond. James Bond". He'll visit a casino. He'll make love to three different women: one bad, one good, and one completely peripheral to the main plot. The main villain will chew out one of his henchman, and then unexpectedly kill a second one as a warning to the first. The heavy will also capture Bond, but, instead of killing him immediately, will either talk long enough for him to escape or contrive an intricate deathtrap (usually with a digital number countdown) from which Bond will somehow manage to free himself. And there'll be lots of gadgets, cool cars, exotic locations, chases, fights, explosions, stunts and imaginative methods of killing. And Q, the crotchety old man who supplies 007 with his fancy equipment, will get P.O.ed at him.

While some of the above occurs in CASINO ROYALE, not quite enough does for my tastes. But maybe I’m just being a fogey. What looks to me like a ripoff of the successful Jason Bourne movies starring Matt Damon has certainly struck a chord with audiences worldwide, as CASINO ROYALE is the most financially successful 007 movie ever made.

NOTE: In a technical sense, that’s true, since CASINO ROYALE’s international box office is an all-time high. However, every Bond movie from GOLDENEYE on, even the abysmal DIE ANOTHER DAY, has broken the box-office record of the movie just before it. And, of course, if one were to judge box office on the basis of ticket sales, there’s little doubt that THUNDERBALL or perhaps GOLDFINGER would prove to be the #1 Bond.

Eon Productions’ 21st James Bond movie is, of course, the most radically different of the series. Constructed as a “reimagining” of the 007 legend, CASINO ROYALE, which bears no resemblance to the 1967 movie of the same name, is a reasonably faithful adaptation of Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel and plays as an “origin story” of sorts. James Bond (the craggy Daniel Craig, a rough-looking blond with ears that stick out), who has only recently received his “license to kill” from MI6, is sent to Montenegro to compete in a winner-take-all Texas Hold ‘Em tournament (another sellout to yokel U.S. audiences) being held at Le Casino Royale. His mission is to prevent Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen), an underworld accountant, from winning the $150 million grand prize, which he will use to finance terrorist organizations. Bond is teamed up with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), a more experienced agent who holds Bond’s pursestrings.

At 144 minutes, CASINO ROYALE is the longest Bond movie ever made, and it feels like it. After a fast-moving beginning featuring a pair of rousing action scenes, including an amazing parkour-flavored chase through a construction site, the movie bogs down a bit with the protracted card game and an overlong finale. Much of Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Paul Haggis’ screenplay is pulled straight from Fleming’s novel, including Bond’s shockingly brutal torture at the hands of Le Chiffre. Although CASINO ROYALE is in many ways a fine action movie, I never believed that Craig was James Bond, and the general lack of gadgetry, wry one-liners, the traditional gun-barrel logo opening and even the legendary James Bond Theme (which composer David Arnold holds until the final minute) are missed.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Don

Through mere circumstance, I happened to watch a couple of recent thrillers this week co-starring Donald Sutherland, the great Canadian actor known best, I suppose, as the original Hawkeye Pierce in Robert Altman's Oscar-winning film M*A*S*H. Of course, he may today be best known for fathering Kiefer Sutherland, TV's intrepid world-saver Jack Bauer on the Fox adventure series 24 (and for all the Canadian actors who have appeared on 24 over the years, it's curious that Donald hasn't been tapped for a guest shot or two).

HOLLOW POINT is a 1996 direct-to-video action movie that you probably ignored on video store shelves, but is worth 90 minutes of your time. It's a lighthearted action romp that teams Thomas Ian Griffith (EXCESSIVE FORCE) as a pill-popping ex-DEA agent and yummy Tia Carrere (RELIC HUNTER) as a tough FBI agent that compete with one another to capture a colorful mobster played by John Lithgow (3RD ROCK FROM THE SUN). Sutherland steals all of his scenes as a very effective mob assassin who murders Tia's friend in retaliation for her busting up a mobster's son's wedding. What's tricky about the role is that, after Griffith and Carrere capture him early in the film, instead of busting Sutherland, they cart him around to use as information. Sutherland becomes, in effect, a comic-relief sidekick who befriends his captors and even gives them his loft as a wedding present (don't ask). It's a role that necessitates a good deal of charm, because the movie demands that we like Sutherland--so much so that it's easy to forget that he's a killer. A charming and eccentric killer, to be sure, but one who's very good at his job.

Sidney J. Furie, a former Hollywood A-list director now relegated to DTV fare, does a good job keeping the action moving and the laughs coming. I can watch lovely Carrere in just about everything, and even though she's obviously miscast as an FBI agent, she fares better than Griffith, who's not my favorite leading man and certainly one who seems uncomfortable sparring romantically with his leading lady. He's fine, I suppose, and gets along okay with Carrere. At least he's not Lorenzo Lamas.

Heavier than HOLLOW POINT but no less entertaining is THE ASSIGNMENT, which came out a year later in 1997. Unlike HOLLOW POINT, THE ASSIGNMENT actually received some theatrical playdates, but very few. It probably appeared on no more than a few dozen American screens, although one was in Chicago where it was reviewed by Roger Ebert for the Sun-Times.

THE ASSIGNMENT casts Sutherland as Henry Fields, an upper-level CIA employee who becomes obsessed with capturing an international terrorist named Carlos the Jackal. Stunned to discover that an average Naval seaman named Annibal Ramirez (Aidan Quinn) bears an amazing physical resemblance to Carlos, Fields uses his political pull to "volunteer" a reluctant Ramirez for a dangerous mission: to impersonate Carlos and convince the KGB (the film takes place in the late 1980s) that the killer is in the CIA's hip pocket, forcing the Russians to assassinate him.

Fields and a Mossad agent named Amos (Ben Kingsley) spend two months at a deserted Montreal prison, training Annibal to think like, act like, react like, even make love like Carlos. His disguise must be absolutely perfect for the plan to work.

Directed by Christian Duguay, a Canadian filmmaker with some very good genre credits such as SCREAMERS (a sci-fi movie based on a Philip K. Dick story) and LIVE WIRE (which casts Pierce Brosnan as a bomb squad officer chasing a terrorist), THE ASSIGNMENT is a smartly developed and paced thriller with a couple of exciting action sequences, some wry twists, and a thoughtful, suspenseful climax. Although the very Irish-American Quinn initially seems miscast as a Cuban-American who poses as a Venezuelan (in fact, Andy Garcia turned down the role before it was offered to Quinn), he's plausible enough in a tricky performance that allows him to essay three roles: Ramirez, Carlos and Ramirez posing as Carlos. He pulls it off well, and shines in his scenes with Sutherland, whose character shows several shades of gray.

HOLLOW POINT and THE ASSIGNMENT are different types of films, but both are worth watching, and both feature chewy supporting roles for Donald Sutherland.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

A Day Late, But Who Cares

I hope to get back on a regular blogging schedule this week, now that most of the holiday bustle is out of the way. I don't really follow any holiday traditions, but one of my favorites is Darlene Love's annual performance of "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" on THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN.

Love was one of many great musical talents discovered and/or nurtured by the legendary (now notorious) Phil Spector, who co-wrote "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)" with Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich for the great A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR YOU FROM PHIL SPECTOR album released in 1963. Love, who sang on some wonderful girl-group records with The Blossoms, The Crystals ("He's A Rebel," for instance, which was penned by Gene Pitney), and solo, performed the Spector/Barry/Greenwich composition on the album, and began making annual appearances with Letterman in 1994 with full orchestral arrangements by Paul Shaffer.

You may also recognize Love for her recurring acting role as Danny Glover's wife in the LETHAL WEAPON movies. I missed this year's Letterman appearance, but here's the 2005 telecast. Darlene Love and "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)":

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Have A Happy Rat Pack Christmas

Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra perform "Marshmallow World" on a 1967 episode of THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW.



See ya after the holidays!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

There's No Place Like It

For a healthy dose of holiday cheer and goodwill, watch something else this Christmas. 1972's HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS, a Christmas-set made-for-TV horror movie, is as downbeat as they come, but is definitely worth watching for its Gothic flavor and for its outstanding cast. You'd be hard-pressed to find more acclaimed actors; HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS' cast notched up 22 Emmy nominations during their careers (and six Emmy wins), as well as ten Academy Award nominations (and five Oscars). Needless to say, screenwriter Joseph Stefano (who adapted Robert Bloch's PSYCHO to the big screen for Alfred Hitchcock) provides the predominantly female cast plenty of opportunities to stretch.

Aged patriarch Benjamin Morgan (Walter Brennan) summons his four estranged daughters to his dying bedside on Christmas Eve: grad student Christine (Sally Field, still best known as THE FLYING NUN at this point), neurotic Frederica (Jessica Walter, just off PLAY MISTY FOR ME), party girl Joanna (Jill Haworth) and Alex (Eleanor Parker, 24 years older than Field), the oldest. None has set foot in the Morgan house since their mother's suicide nine years earlier, a death the daughters blamed on Morgan's affair with the woman he's now married to, Elizabeth (Julie Harris), who was accused of murdering her first husband. Now Morgan believes his wife is trying to poison him to death and wants his daughters' help. As the torrential rain falls, the phones go out, the roads wash over and the electricity flutters, the bodies start to tumble... Who is killing the Morgan clan and why?

At a mere 72 minutes, HOME manages to work up quite a bit of bitterness and terror, thanks to a cast of veteran scenery-chewers and Field, who hadn't quite outgrown GIDGET, but proves herself a game screamer and a cutie of a heroine. None of the actors are exactly cast against type, but the tight direction by John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER) provides enough room for them to bite down on, making this a decent enough chiller, if not among the finest on 1970's TV.

It's surprising and more than a little disappointing to note how much tamer television has become over the last thirty years. Sure, networks can say dirtier words and show the side of a breast now and again, but terror like this is a thing of the past.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Joseph Barbera, R.I.P.



Joseph Barbera, one-half of the legendary Hanna-Barbera team that created all of the beloved cartoon characters seen above, has died at the age of 95. If you think your life wasn't touched in a major way by Mr. Barbera, ask yourself how many of those characters you recognize. The answer will be: "a lot."

Sunday, December 17, 2006

I Humbly Accept The Honor

Congratulate me on being named TIME's Person of the Year.

Even though, according to George Will, I'm a narcissist.

Writing about your opinions online = narcissist. Unless, I guess, you're George Will, who writes about his opinions online every week.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

It Ain't Fucking Frosty


Looking for something new to perk up your holiday viewing? Tired of umpteen reruns of A CHRISTMAS STORY and IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE? Anxious to add something, er, abominable to the season?

Look no further than JACK FROST, the best killer-snowman movie ever made. Yep, it's true. This 1996 black comic horror movie is about a condemned serial killer named Jack Frost (what an amazing coincidence) who's on his way to the death house Richard Kimble-style when the van in which he's riding smashes into a truck carrying an experimental chemical. Kinda like Ray Wise's death in ROBOCOP, Frost is drenched with the chemical, and, as a result, is transformed into a walking, talking snowman, complete with coal eyes, a carrot nose and a demented grin.

Stalking the snowy community of Snowmonton (the snowman capital of the world--what an amazing coincidence), Snowman-Frost seeks revenge against small-town sheriff Sam (busy TV guest star Christopher Allport) and his family. Locked doors are no hindrance, because he can melt himself down to water and then pass through keyholes or under loose jambs. He shoots icicles from his hands like bullets, all the while mocking his victims with Freddy Krueger-like quips like, "I'm the world's most pissed-off snowcone," and, after jamming an axe handle down a guy's throat, "I only axed you for a smoke."

I don't know what writer/director Michael Cooney's budget was, but he could have used another million bucks. Big setpieces like a car crash and an exploding police station are staged completely off-camera, and the big finale involves little more than a pane of candy glass and a pickup truck. You'll also be treated to 23-year-old Shannon Elizabeth's first film appearance. She takes a bath, but doesn't provide any glimpses of the pert (fake) breasts that would vault her to fame in AMERICAN PIE.

OK, so it's a very silly movie, but also a fun (and funny) one. Occasionally mean-spirited, Cooney keeps it relatively gore-free, and all the horror is played for laughs (although a snowman rape scene might test your taste threshold). Allport strikes the right note as a hero with a sense of humor. It's really just the production values that provide the biggest letdown. Cooney obviously filmed someplace without snow, so the streets are clear, and shaving cream drips from the roofs and walls of buildings. Jack Frost is clearly made from foam balls, and you never do get a good look at the entire creature moving around. I'm surprised it wasn't completely rendered using CGI, but I think it wouldn't have looked any better if it had.

Believe it or not, Cooney and Allport returned for a JACK FROST 2.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Die Hard 4 Trailer

I always thought DIE HARD would have been a better movie if Bruce Willis had had a geeky comic-relief sidekick and the action scenes contained more cheap-looking CGI.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Professor Dave Jennings’ Milton-Free, Universe-Expanding Holiday Midterm

If you're looking for a fun way to kill a few minutes, head on over to Dennis Cozzalio's Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog and read the various answers posters have given to his latest meme, which is titled "PROFESSOR DAVE JENNINGS' MILTON-FREE, UNIVERSE-EXPANDING HOLIDAY MIDTERM." It took me a couple of hours over two nights to "take the test," but it was a lot of fun, and I hope someone enjoys reading it as much as I enjoyed reading everyone else's. My answers follow below. If you're interesting in tackling Dennis' meme, feel free to post it in my Comments section. I've found an older one on Dennis' site that maybe I'll tangle with later. Thanks to Chris Stangl for pointing the meme out to me in his blog, The Exploding Kinetoscope.


1) What was the last movie you saw, either in a theater or on DVD, and why?
Boy, did you catch me at a weird time. Sunday afternoon, Chicken, Grady and Michael came over, ostensibly to watch NFL Football, but they decided they wanted to watch “crappy movies” instead. We watched two of them as the sun set on Sunday. The second one—and the most recent film I’ve seen—was THE STABILIZER, which I have viewed close to ten times and have yet to tire of it. THE STABILIZER is quite likely the strangest and the craziest film I’ve ever seen. It’s an Indonesian action movie shot in Jakarta during the early 1980’s, and stars somebody named “Peter O’Brien” as Peter Goldson, an “American cop” nicknamed “The Stabilizer.” Uh, that’s because he “stabilizes” the balance between good and evil in the world. And why did I watch it? Because that’s what they asked for, and Michael had never seen it. And now he’s glad he did.

P.S. Since answering this question, I've watched Code Red's DVD of the boring slasher movie THE FOREST, but I'm sticking with THE STABILIZER anyway.

2) Name the cinematographer whose work you most look forward to seeing, and an example of one of his/her finest achievements.
I can’t really say that I have a “favorite” cinematographer, but I usually think it’s neat when I see Dean Cundey’s name in the credits, or, in fact, anyone who managed to start out in low-budget exploitation movies and break into the big time. Cundey’s early credits include the trashy killer-‘Nam-vet obscurity THE NO MERCY MAN, the blaxploitation hairdresser sleazefest BLACK SHAMPOO and the great BARE KNUCKLES. He hooked up with John Carpenter to do fabulous work on HALLOWEEN and THE FOG, whose look lends the ghost story a spectacularly spooky vibe. A few more Carpenter pics later, Cundey joined Steven Spielberg’s repertory company of sorts, shooting Amblin’ productions like JURASSIC PARK, HOOK and the BACK TO THE FUTURE trilogy directed by Robert Zemeckis. It’s really not all that common for a below-the-line talent to rise from the bottom of the industry to the cream of the crop, but Cundey did.

3) Joe Don Baker or Bo Svenson?
Whew, that’s a tough call. A couple of years ago, I would have said Joe Don, no question. But after watching more Svenson than Baker movies recently, I’ve got to make the call for Bo. He, quite frankly, can do more on-screen than can Baker. While he seamlessly stepped into Baker’s shoes for the two sequels to WALKING TALL (and the television series) as tough guy sheriff Buford Pusser, Svenson is also pretty good in the domestic drama scenes and in moments of humor. Consider, for instance, his romantic chemistry with Cybill Shepherd in the light action/comedy SPECIAL DELIVERY or his insouciant, throwaway manner (although this may have been a performance enhanced with libation) in the silly GOLD OF THE AMAZON WOMEN. It’s difficult to imagine Baker in either film, whereas I think Svenson could have acquitted himself quite well in Baker vehicles like MITCHELL or even JUNIOR BONNER.

Don’t take any of this as a rip of Joe Don Baker, who has become a welcome supporting face in major films, unlike Svenson, who has remained strictly in exploitation circles.

4) Name a moment from a movie that made you gasp (in horror, surprise, revelation…)
I don’t want to spoil anything, but I first saw WAIT UNTIL DARK during a high-school assembly (don’t ask me why…I think it may have been leading into Christmas vacation). It isn’t a horror movie—not really—but director Terence Young engineers a “bus” near the end that is as startling and suspenseful as any other I’ve ever seen.

I didn’t literally gasp, but the powerful non-sex sex scene in WITNESS, where Harrison Ford catches a topless Kelly McGillis washing herself, is remarkably erotic cinema.

5) Your favorite movie about the movies.
What else? HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD, the best picture in which the lovely B-starlet Candice Rialson ever starred. It was co-directed by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante, editors of New World trailers who convinced boss Roger Corman they could direct a feature in ten days for $50,000. It’s a very funny and fast-paced comedy that uses stock footage from Corman pictures like DEATH RACE 2000 and THE BIG DOLL HOUSE while simultaneously spoofing them. Rialson stars as Candy Hope, a beautiful wannabe actress just in from Indiana trying to make it big in Hollywood by appearing in low-budget features for Miracle Pictures ("If it's a good movie, it's a Miracle."). A psycho who's systematically killing off Miracle's stars makes her task even more difficult. The plot is less important than the agreeable performances and the anarchic style of the film. Rialson is funny, sweet and sexy, although some scenes appear to hit a little too close to home. Her best moment is probably the scene in which she attends the premiere of her first movie at a sleazy drive-in and gets drunk while bemoaning her fate to appear in such crappy pictures. No doubt Candice drew from her own personal experience for that scene. If you’ve never seen Candice Rialson perform, HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD is the one movie to watch. Plus, it’s a terrific showcase for resident Corman players such as Paul Bartel, Mary Woronov, Tara Strohmeier and Dick Miller.

6) Your Favorite Fritz Lang movie.
There’s a lot of Lang I need to see, but I do like 1956’s WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS, which stars Dana Andrews, George Sanders, Rhonda Fleming, Vincent Price and Thomas Mitchell. More melodrama than thrills in this newspaper story about a TV commentator (Andrews), a newswire editor (Sanders) and a city editor of a daily paper (Mitchell) competing against each other to discover the identity of a serial killer stalking New York City. They believe that whomever comes up with the scoop will receive a promotion from their foppish new boss (Price). Some pretty good acting by a great cast makes this drama worth seeing if you keep in mind it's not really a thriller. Ida Lupino, Howard Duff, John Drew Barrymore and James Craig are also in this RKO release.

7) Describe the first time you ever recognized yourself in a movie.
While I’m not thrilled to admit it, seeing Albert Brooks in BROADCAST NEWS was, in so many ways, like looking into the mirror. Although I never quite broke down on a radio broadcast the way Brooks does when he gets his one big chance to anchor the news, so much about his personality, his attitude, his frustrations and his relationship with the woman he secretly loves sadly felt very much like my life at that time.

On a literal level, my ass should have received separate billing in LOTTO, a short film made by my friend Chris here in Champaign about ten years ago. I have one scene, standing on the sidewalk with my rear to the camera, looking into a closed appliance store. I got to see LOTTO on a big theater screen once, and it surely was odd seeing my ass four feet high.

8) Carole Bouquet or Angela Molina?
I must admit, I don’t know who Angela Molina is, and searching IMDb, I don’t think I’ve seen any of her movies. By default, I go with Bouquet, whom I only know from FOR YOUR EYES ONLY, where she was quite beautiful if slightly blank as a vengeful young woman seeking violent retribution for the death of her parents.

9) Name a movie that redeems the notion of nostalgia as something more than a bankable commodity.
I’m with Chris Stangl on this one. I don’t know what this means.

10) Favorite appearance by an athlete in an acting role.
I probably have to go with Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, the former Kansas City Chief who became one of the most prolific black filmmakers in history. Fred pretty much always played the exact same character in every movie he was in, but always backed up his strategy by claiming “The Hammer” is who his fans pay to see. And he may be right. His best performance is quite likely that of gangster Tommy Gibbs in BLACK CAESAR, a crude but crackling action yarn written and directed by Larry Cohen. It’s one of the few films in which Williamson’s character dies…even though he somehow managed a resurrection for the sequel (also by Cohen), HELL UP IN HARLEM.

11) Favorite Hal Ashby movie.
Unlike Fritz Lang, I have seen quite a few Ashby movies. He was still an active (if slumping) director when he died of cancer in 1988, and is one of the best Hollywood directors that few people aside from rabid film fans have heard of. I’m a big fan of THE LAST DETAIL, which is a raw, rough and amazingly profane comedy with an Oscar-nominated script by Robert Towne. It’s also one of the most quotable films I’ve ever seen with Jack Nicholson’s tirade about calling “the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker” an even better bit than his more famous FIVE EASY PIECES diner rant.

12) Name the first double feature you’d program for opening night of your own revival theater.
I’ve actually thought about this a billion times, and have come up with a different answer almost every time. For nostalgia’s sake, I’ll say Cannon’s ENTER THE NINJA and REVENGE OF THE NINJA, because those were the titles shown at my very first Crappy Movie Night back in 2002 when only LD and Panno were present.

13) What’s the name of your revival theater?
Hmmm. Starcrash Cinema?

14) Humphrey Bogart or Elliot Gould?
Hey, I like Elliott Gould! And I like THE LONG GOODBYE, the Robert Altman film in which Gould played the most eccentric Philip Marlowe ever.

15) Favorite Robert Stevenson movie.
Does anybody have a favorite Robert Stevenson movie? THE ABSENT MINDED PROFESSOR.

16) Describe your favorite moment in a movie that is memorable because of its use of sound.
If “sound” also means “music,” I’ll go with the shot near the end of THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY where Sergio Leone whip-pans around that cemetery, following Eli Wallach (with one of cinema’s strangest looking runs) as Morricone’s awesome “The Ecstasy of Gold” wails on the soundtrack.

17) Pink Flamingos-- yes or no?
God, no. And I’ve seen it twice. A friend of mine refuses to admit that he’s actually seen it. If I were to call him and ask how he likes PINK FLAMINGOS, he will deny watching it. But he has. And so have I. But I’m still trying to forget.

“How much is that doggie in the window..?”

18) Your favorite movie soundtrack score.
Either RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (Williams), STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE (Goldsmith) or THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY (Morricone).

19) Fay Wray or Naomi Watts?
One of the few things Peter Jackson did right when he remade KING KONG was to cast Watts. I don’t believe any contemporary actress would have been more right for Ann Darrow, not just because she’s one of Hollywood’s most beautiful women. She’s also a terrific actress, better than Fay Wray, although KONG made her a cinematic icon who will most likely be remembered longer than Naomi Watts.

20) Is there a movie that would make you question the judgment and/or taste of a film critic, blogger or friend if you found out they were an advocate of it?
Not a movie, but whenever I read ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY or some other mainstream publication writing anything about the talent and/or charisma of bland pretty boys like Ashton Kutcher or Ryan Reynolds, I can’t take them seriously. Fucking Kelso.

21) Pick a new category for the Oscars and its first deserving winner.

Well, if I could hand out an Oscar to anyone, I’d give Roger Corman the same Honorary Award that Robert Altman received last year. And for the same reason.

22) Favorite Paul Verhoeven movie.
ROBOCOP. And I don’t understand people who claim SHOWGIRLS is actually a good movie or that it’s purposely camp. No, it isn’t. It’s terrible. And terribly entertaining.

23) What is it that you think movies do better than any other art form?
Blow up cars. Ever seen a painting of an exploding car? Kinda sucks.

24) Peter Ustinov or Albert Finney?
Ustinov, if only for TOPKAPI. Am I the only one who thinks Finney has aged to look like William Shatner?

25) Favorite movie studio logo, as it appears before a theatrical feature.
American International Pictures or New World Pictures, because I know I’m probably about to see something kickass. I think the James Bond series lost something when they no longer started with the old United Artists logo. I also love the old airplane-orbiting-Earth Universal logo, the radio-tower RKO logo and the Warner Brothers shield. I love the rainbow of Avco-Embassy as it spins around. And the cheese factor of the wah-wah American Cinema theme can’t be overrated.

26) Name the single most important book about the movies for you personally.
The easiest question of all. Michael Weldon’s THE PSYCHOTRONIC ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FILM, which I first read when I was in high school and have devoured cover-to-cover maybe a dozen times since. I still use it as a reference at least once a week, and I’m on my second copy, because I wore the first one out years ago.

27) Name the movie that features the best twist ending. (Please note the use of any “spoilers” in your answer.)
It happens before the end, but MALICE’s twist is very cheeky. But I’ll say SLEEPAWAY CAMP, because it’s fun to watch the audience’s faces when it happens.

28) Favorite Francois Truffaut movie.
Does CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND count? Oh, well, then. FAHRENHEIT 451.

29) Olivia Hussey or Claire Danes?
Claire Danes was never in an Australian MOST DANGEROUS GAME ripoff that was so violent, it had to be cut to get an R rating in America. So Hussey (who also was the heroine in the damn spooky BLACK CHRISTMAS).

30) Your most memorable celebrity encounter.
My first lengthy celebrity interview, actor Robert Forster, who was a very nice man and answered a lot of questions he probably thought nobody would care about (“Why is this guy asking me about BANYON, fer Christ’s sake?”). It was even better for me because I had long been a fan who admired his work and his work ethic. It’s impossible to not root for Forster to succeed.

31) When did you first realize that films were directed?
Probably almost as soon as I became aware of films. Even at a very young age, I was a credit reader and remembered the names of cast and crew members that showed up in the credits. I remember once wanting to be a TV director…not a film director…but someone who made all my favorite TV shows. I guess I figured directing BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY was the coolest job anyone could have.

Monday, December 11, 2006

240-Robert

I've been terribly busy the last few days, and haven't had much time to blog. To make it up to you, I'm working on quite an elaborate blog post that maybe I'll have finished by this time tomorrow. However, I feel I have to post something, so here's a preview of "next week's" episode of 240-ROBERT.

I was a big fan of this ABC hour series, which ran only a couple of (very short) seasons. Basically a ripoff of NBC's EMERGENCY! and CHIPS, 240-ROBERT starred a young Mark Harmon and John Bennett Perry as a search and rescue team that covered the Los Angeles area on the ground and Joanna Cassidy as their colleague in the air, a rescue chopper pilot. The CHIPS similarities should come as no surprise, considering 240-ROBERT's creator was CHIPS executive producer Rick Rosner.

Here's the preview for "Out of Sight," which aired October 15, 1979. And what an action-packed episode: a high-rise rescue, two car crashes, hysterical blindness and an exploding gas station!



Harvey Lembeck ("Why me all the time?") is the guest star in that clip. 240-ROBERT lasted only 16 episodes, but Harmon went on to television success on FLAMINGO ROAD and, especially, ST. ELSEWHERE. Perry is perhaps more interesting because of his more famous son: actor Matthew Perry of FRIENDS and STUDIO 60 ON THE SUNSET STRIP. Matthew actually appeared as a child on a 240-ROBERT episode, and later returned Dad's favor by casting John in a FRIENDS, a SCRUBS that he directed, and in his film FOOLS RUSH IN. If I remember correctly (and it's not a movie that tends to stay with you after it's over), they did play father and son in FOOLS RUSH IN.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Man From Binger


Happy birthday to my all-time favorite baseball player, who was born December 7, 1947 in Oklahoma City and was reared in the tiny town of Binger. One of the most exciting nights of my young life was attending Johnny Bench Night at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati on September 17, 1983. It was one of the last games Bench would ever play before retiring at the end of the season. Even though he had mostly been playing third base (and not all that well), due to bad knees earned by squatting behind home plate 150 games a season, he caught that night and batted cleanup. And damned if he not only belted his 389th (and last) career home run, but also legged out an infield single!

The Reds lost to Houston that night 4-3, but no one in Cincy cared. I still carry the Cincinnati Post's box score of that game in my wallet.

Truman Capotay?

If you have five minutes to kill, you could do a lot worse than to watch this classic SCTV game show parody. It was written by Catherine O'Hara, now earning rave reviews for her performance in Christopher Guest's new film FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION. She plays "Margaret Meehan" in the sketch, and says she enjoyed writing these game show sketches because it gave her the opportunity to perform with the entire cast.

Eugene Levy kicks ass here as the increasingly flustered host, and the other parts are played by SCTV regulars John Candy, Joe Flaherty, Dave Thomas and Andrea Martin. I believe the sixth panelist is played by one of the writers; Rick Moranis would fill the spot when he later became a regular.

The sketch appears to be a takeoff of the venerable weekend afternoon quiz program G.E. COLLEGE BOWL, but it's more likely based on a Canadian series called REACH FOR THE TOP.

"The Beatles?"

Here's Boomer

Why was NBC the lowest-rated TV network in 1980? Check out this 30-second promo:

HERE'S BOOMER was a ripoff of BENJI, about a little dog who roamed around getting involved with people's problems. PINK LADY AND JEFF I wrote about on my old blog, a shortlived variety series starring unfunny standup comic Jeff Altman and two cute young Japanese women who didn't speak a word of English. And I think you already know how much THE FACTS OF LIFE sucked, although you may have been surprised to see Molly Ringwald in that clip. Before becoming a member of John Hughes' repertory company, she was a regular on the first season only of THE FACTS OF LIFE.

And, yes, that's Casey Kasem performing the voiceover.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Look For Me At 7:03

My name is in the closing credits of CLERKS II. Sorta.

I had totally forgotten about that. I don't remember how I heard about this--maybe my brother told me or something. Several months ago, before Kevin Smith's sequel to CLERKS was released theatrically, Smith announced that anyone who added CLERKS II as a MySpace friend would receive the honor of having his or her MySpace moniker appear in the closing crawl as a sort of thank you. It wasn't adding Smith himself (whom I believe does have a MySpace page), but the movie, CLERKS II. So I thought, what the heck, and I did it (I have since removed it, I think).

Tonight I'm watching CLERKS II on DVD, and I let the credits roll at the end. The film ends, and then the disc jumps to a new track which is literally thousands and thousands of names scrolling at a speed so fast that you can't possibly read them without freeze-framing. Aha, this must be that MySpace scroll that I forgot about. This clip runs 12 minutes, and it's just four columns of rapidly scrolling names. Using the Pause button, I found my name, right between Marissa McKee and Max McKee.

Even though I didn't have to do a damn thing to be included, it still was neat for a second to see my name on the CLERKS II disc. I'm also on the CITY OF THE DEAD DVD, and I'm included in the Acknowledgments page of a recent biography of Paul Frees too. And I didn't do much to earn either honor.

CLERKS II, by the way, is Kevin Smith's STROKER ACE. If JAY & SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK was his CANNONBALL RUN, this is his STROKER ACE. It isn't terrible like STROKER ACE, but it's one of the most self-indulgent films I've seen recently and exists only to give Smith and his friends a good time. I don't really believe we needed to see more of Dante and Randall and Jay and Silent Bob, but here they are, in color this time.

Thirtysomething slackers Dante (Brian O'Halloran) and Randall (Jeff Anderson) now work at a fast-food joint called Mooby's, a year after their beloved Quik Stop burned to the ground as a result of Randall leaving the damn coffee pot turned on again. It's Dante's last day; he leaves the following morning with his fiance Emma (Smith's wife Jennifer Schwalbach) for Florida, where her father plans to set Dante up managing a car wash. Although Dante manages to cover up whatever anxiety he may have about starting a new life without best buddy Randall, he isn't so successful breaking away from his boss Becky (Rosario Dawson), for whom he has feelings.

If nothing else, CLERKS II brings man-on-donkey sex into the mainstream, so I guess it's good for something. O'Halloran, Anderson and Smith and Jason Mewes still aren't charismatic enough to carry a feature, but Dawson is. She's so bright and energetic and natural and beautiful that she almost makes you believe that she could fall in love with Dante. Almost.

CLERKS II is better than JERSEY GIRL, but no higher in Smith's repertoire, and it certainly isn't even as funny as the CLERKS TV series, an animated sitcom that ABC bitchslapped, mishandled and cancelled after only two telecasts. All six produced shows are on DVD and are worth owning.

For what it's worth, my Smith Scale looks like this:
  1. DOGMA
  2. CLERKS
  3. JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK
  4. MALLRATS
  5. CHASING AMY
  6. CLERKS II
  7. JERSEY GIRL

Monday, December 04, 2006

Don Dohler Is Dead

Baltimore filmmaker and sci-fi fan Don Dohler has passed away at the age of 60. He had cancer. If you aren't into low-budget horror and science fiction movies, you probably haven't heard of Dohler, nor should you have. But when he wasn't editing genre-related magazines or writing about films, he was making them in his own backyard.

His most famous/notorious feature is THE ALIEN FACTOR, which I happened to watch again earlier this year on Retromedia's Special Edition DVD. I think most SF fans of a certain age have seen this 16mm wonder. Somehow, despite its obvious amateur pedigree, it managed to sell to television stations across the United States, where it played at odd times for many years. I saw it more than once on WCIA-TV’s EARLY SHOW and LATE SHOW. I remember it because, even though I was just a kid, say 11 or 12 years old, I was intrigued that something no better than a glorified home movie could get on TV. It just looked different than everything else Channel 3 aired in the movie slot in the afternoon. Even the junky Japanese monster movies looked better than this. THE ALIEN FACTOR represents probably the first time in my life that I realized American movies were made someplace else besides Hollywood.

For some reason, writer/producer/director/actor Dohler’s debut feature clicked with some audiences. The acting, photography, sound and music are terrible, but some of the special effects and creature effects are imaginative and better than expected. A spaceship crashes near a small Maryland town. A trio of alien monsters—all of different species—rampage the area, killing many townspeople. The ineffectual sheriff battles with the greedy mayor, who doesn’t want to bring in the state police because bad publicity might scotch his deal to build an amusement park. The town is at the mercy of an obnoxious astronomer who appears to have his own mysterious monster-killing abilities. Ernest Farino did the good opening titles and the okay stop-motion battle at the climax. The most outstanding effect is probably the 7-foot fur monster suit that works even on snow and ice.

Although Dohler is primarily known for 1978's THE ALIEN FACTOR, he made many other features, including NIGHTBEAST. I have a copy of NIGHTBEAST, but have never gotten around to watching it. Maybe I should.

Meet Steve

So here's the bizarre dream I had last night. I dreamed I met old-time actor Steve Brodie, who died in 1992. I ended up having a conversation/informal interview with him, in which I asked him about starring in a '50s TV series called MEET MILLIE (in which the real Brodie never appeared) and French actor Pierre Brice, who starred in a series of German-produced Westerns based on the novels of Karl May.

I have no idea why I would dream about Steve Brodie, of all people. I haven't seen any Brodie movies in ages. Although I have the lingering feeling that I was calling him "John Brodie" in my dream, and since I watched three full NFL games yesterday...

Of course, it's just my luck that I would have dreams about Steve Brodie and not Angelina Jolie.