Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Walk Tall And Carry A Mediocre Stick

Former Hercules Kevin Sorbo is back on the big screen. Or back on the small screen, I should say, as his latest motion picture went directly to DVD. It's called WALKING TALL: THE PAYBACK. The Internet Movie Database refers to it as WALKING TALL 2, which is confusing, since there have been two movies and one television series titled WALKING TALL. The original WALKING TALL was about a badass Southern sheriff named Buford Pusser, who was played by Joe Don Baker, but by Bo Svenson in the sequel PART 2 WALKING TALL and FINAL CHAPTER--WALKING TALL.

This WALKING TALL 2 aka WALKING TALL: THE PAYBACK is supposed to be, I suppose, a sequel to another movie called WALKING TALL, which starred The Rock as a guy not named Buford Pusser. His name was Chris Somethingorother. In this movie, Kevin Sorbo plays a guy named Nick who has no connection whatsoever with anybody named Chris or Buford or Rock. I don't even know why it's a WALKING TALL movie, but I guess that's why MGM has filed for bankruptcy so many times. WALKING TALL: THE PAYBACK actually has the same plot as the 2004 movie starring The Rock, and a supporting character tells how his daddy used to tell him to “walk tall,” so I guess that’s all the justification the movie needs.

After his sheriff father is murdered by rednecks using violence to persuade the townsfolk into selling their businesses, Nick Prescott (Sorbo) returns to his Texas hometown for revenge. Prescott, as we all know from HERCULES, is about 6’3” and muscular, while the chief heavy, a scrawny, tattooed redneck named Harvey (AJ Buckley), is at least six inches shorter, so you wouldn’t think cleaning up the town would take much of Nick’s time. Come to think of it, this movie also has the same plot as ROAD HOUSE with the town boss and his thugs wandering around, beating up citizens and blowing up their businesses, while the hero tries to convince his frightened neighbors to fight back against a situation where law enforcement is powerless. Actually, that’s also been the plot for about 200 old westerns.

Prescott only once carries a big stick, but he does walk tall—he and his pump-action shotgun. He partners up with a fetching FBI agent from Dallas (Yvette Nipar), but she contributes nothing to the film and exists only as a pretty face. The big problem is Buckley’s unconvincing performance. You never believe this guy is sophisticated or intimidating enough to run such an elaborate criminal empire, even if it is tiny Boone, Texas. To express rage, Buckley yells a lot, not realizing that a crazy guy who acts crazy is never as scary as a crazy guy who acts normal. Director Tripp Reed (!) also shot WALKING TALL 3 with Sorbo at the same time. Too bad they didn't call it FINAL CHAPTER--WALKING TALL: THE PAYBACK, but then I guess there couldn't have been a WALKING TALL 4.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

How Were Your Picks?

I predicted 16 out of 24 Academy Award winners, which is one of my best scores, I think. I can't really say there were any upsets this year, although I don't know if anybody really believes THE DEPARTED was the best film of the year. It was the toughest category to predict, but I finally went with LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. It seemed to be the kind of cute little indie movie that the Academy could feel comfortable voting for. However, once THE DEPARTED won for Best Adapted Screenplay--and we already knew going in that Scorsese was a lock for Best Director--I wished I had been able to change my vote.

THE DEPARTED is not at all a bad film, and is a better movie than other recent Best Picture winners than CRASH, TITANIC and GLADIATOR. It's also not a very special movie, and may not even be one of the ten best of Scorsese's career. It's a well-crafted if overlong genre film with a ludicrous finale that looks as though Scorsese started killing off characters because the story was over, but he still had a contractual body count to hit. Mark Wahlberg's Oscar nomination is a joke. He was fine, I suppose, in a nothing role, but he's at best the fifth best performance in the movie. Alec Baldwin and Martin Sheen aren't getting much props, but they were both outstanding and probably the most credible performers in the movie. How does Wahlberg get a Supporting nod, but not Sheen or Baldwin?

I'm glad Marty won, 'cause he's earned one many times over, but it's like giving Paul Newman an Oscar for THE COLOR OF MONEY. Perhaps I'd have admired it more if I hadn't last week seen 1973's THE OUTFIT, which is a great and brutal crime picture with Robert Duvall and Joe Don Baker as bank robbers hitting back against the Mob. THE OUTFIT is just as good, and I was imagining during THE DEPARTED how much cooler it would have been if it had been made in the '70s when it could have starred actual tough guys in the Damon and DiCaprio roles. Imagine a young Robert Forster as Costigan, for instance, and maybe James Caan as Sullivan.

Other notes on this year's Oscar show:

  • I thought it was one of the worst telecasts I've seen. Deathly dull. Host Ellen Degeneres was uninteresting, and I didn't find any of the production numbers or film tributes to be worth the effort. It was great that the Academy recognized the great Ennio Morricone, but the scores used in his tribute are among his most conventional. Yes, they were Oscar-nominated and very good, but how could, for instance, ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST be overlooked?
  • Interesting to learn that Oscar-winning costumer Milena Canonero is married to character actor Marshall Bell, whom you've probably seen in movies, TV shows and commercials, including TOTAL RECALL and the cool cult series G VS. E.
  • What the hell happened to Nicole Kidman? Is she in the Witness Protection Program? She's changed her face and become British.
  • Surrrrreee, nobody knows the identities of the winners except for the accountants. That's why the Big Three of Francis Coppola, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were selected to give away Best Director, and nooooooobody had any idea Scorsese was going to win.
  • Is it time yet to dump the Best Song category? Has there been a decent Best Song nominee in the last 25 years? Besides "Blame Canada," that is.
  • Why couldn't the Academy have gotten Morricone's speech ahead of time and prepared subtitles? Obviously presenter Clint Eastwood knew the contents of the speech, unless he knows more Italian than I thought he does.
  • It was cool to see Catherine Deneuve present an award, but would it kill the Academy to bring in more Hollywood royalty? I understand the advantages of having Jessica Biel present an award, but let's have an occasional Elizabeth Taylor or Jane Fonda appearance too. Who the hell is James McEvoy?
  • Why do actors who earn their livings memorizing lines have to read their speeches? Why don't they memorize them?
  • Why is it that the orchestra always plays winners off the stage when they speak too long, but there's plenty of time for dull comedy bits like Ellen vacuuming?
  • Will Ferrell's hair rules. I assume it's for his upcoming comedy about the ABA. Is he the white Darnell Hillman?

Friday, February 23, 2007

There's Something About

Holy crap, I was just telling somebody about this old commercial last week. I'm not certain they believed it really existed, but I just happened to stumble upon it while Web-surfing this morning. If this doesn't make you feel manly, I don't know what will.

There's another Aqua Velva spot with Rose that co-starred his then-wife Karolyn in which he sings the Aqua Velva jingle. Now that's comedy.

P.S. HOLY FUCKING SHIT!

As a bonus, you may recognize character actor Vic Tayback, who played Mel of Mel's Diner on the long-running sitcom ALICE.

The spot with Pete and his wife have to be around someplace.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Love Is A Child

Yes, it's true that NBC once aired a weekly television series titled DAVID CASSIDY--MAN UNDERCOVER. Asking audiences to accept former PARTRIDGE FAMILY heartthrob Cassidy as a tough undercover police detective is difficult enough, but to then saddle the show with one of the most ludicrous titles in TV history...well, this show was doomed from the start.

Not helping matters was the opening title sequence, which couldn't possibly be duller. The theme song, performed by Cassidy and featuring laughable lyrics like "Love is a child/Warm like her smile/But you leave it behind/And in too short a time you'll find/You're undercover," was the final nail. Watch it and try not to crack up.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

She's Your Thing

I may do a KAREN SISCO episode guide, simply because, well, no one else is doing one, and the Internet could certainly use one. Only ten episodes were produced in 2003. ABC aired just seven. The rest made their broadcast premieres on the USA cable network alongside unaired episodes of the also-canceled-by-ABC L.A. DRAGNET.

Over the last couple of decades, ABC has developed a reputation as a notorious mishandler of quality one-hour dramas. The list of dramas ABC prematurely killed by canceling them too soon or sticking them in dreadful time slots or meddling with the creative team is long enough to make fans of quality television cry. Shows like MURDER ONE, CUPID, FANTASY ISLAND, C-16, NOTHING SACRED, CRACKER, HOMEFRONT, THE MARSHAL, VENGEANCE UNLIMITED, GIDEON’S CROSING…really, just about every season, you can expect ABC to develop one or two very good dramas and then find a way to destroy them.

In the fall of 2003, KAREN SISCO was ABC’s sacrificial lamb, which was evident from the moment it was scheduled on Wednesday nights opposite NBC’s powerhouse LAW & ORDER, as well as the Major League Baseball postseason. Never mind that it would have been a perfect fit behind ALIAS on Sundays, when ABC could have creatively and aggressively promoted the two female-oriented action shows. On Wednesdays, however, KAREN received a rough ride, though it quite possibly could have survived if it has gotten a chance to grow. ABC pulled the series after just seven weeks, and even though it announced that KAREN would return from “hiatus” in the spring, it never did.

Fans of light character-driven crime fare are still feeling the loss, as the cop shows that followed in KAREN SISCO’s wake are pretty much pulled from the same mold—humorless procedurals with great emphasis on gory corpses and technobabble dialogue. KAREN SISCO was based on the literary works of the great pulp novelist Elmore Leonard. She appeared in Leonard’s novel OUT OF SIGHT (Jennifer Lopez played her in the excellent 1998 film adaptation), as well as the short story “Karen Makes Out,” which became KAREN’s pilot.

Although Lopez was quite good opposite George Clooney in OUT OF SIGHT, it’s hard to imagine any actress fitting the role better than 31-year-old Carla Gugino, a talented brunette with much film experience (such as the SPY KIDS franchise and the sharp thriller JUDAS KISS) and occasional TV work, such as Michael J. Fox’s forgotten love interest during the first season of the sitcom SPIN CITY. A rare combination of mature sex appeal and brainy sophistication, Gugino is a television star waiting to happen. But not this time (nor on her next series, THRESHOLD, which CBS cancelled after nine episodes).

Karen Sisco is a United States Marshal based in Miami, where she works under the leadership and guidance of her father-figure boss Amos Andrews (Bill Duke, who signed my PREDATOR DVD). Actually, Karen is surrounded by father figures, including her actual parent, Marshall (Robert Forster in his first regular television gig since 1974’s NAKIA), and a bevy of family friends, many of whom are lovable ex-cons with a protective yen for Karen. Unusual for a television leading lady, Karen has an exceptionally close bond with her father, with whom she shares intimate details of her personal life, although most of the time it appears she’d rather be playing poker with him and his buddies than out on a date. Believably tough clad in her U.S. Marshal garb busting a perp and scrumptiously soft flirting with a guy over bourbon, Karen Sisco is a refreshingly contemporary TV heroine.

She’s also contemporary in her manner of dress, at least by TV standards. Although KAREN SISCO isn’t exactly a jiggle show, the producers jump at any chance to outfit their star in something that accentuates her curves. No typical TV waif, Gugino sometimes chases fugitives in tight tanktops and hip-hugging slacks. In the pilot, even though an ugly bruise from a gunshot marks her chest, Karen wears a loose-fitting lacy blouse on her first date with a hunky new beau.

Note should also be made of KAREN’s musical score by John Ehrlich. Standing alone alongside the various synthesizer and techno scores that mar other dramas, Ehrlich’s R&B-styled underscoring is perfectly suited to Leonard’s eccentric universe and the series’ sunny Florida environs. Accentuating the show’s light atmosphere is its opening titles, a sharply paced collection of red- and orange-tinted stills of Miami and the actors, punctuated by the Isley Brothers’ funky “It’s Your Thing.”

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Choose To Accept It


Good news--Season 2 of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is coming to DVD this summer. June 5, to be exact, so sales of Season 1 must have been acceptable to CBS/Paramount. While the chance of all seven seasons eventually getting box sets is not excellent, I must admit I was worried that Season 1, the only one without the series' most recognizable star, Peter Graves, might not fly off the shelves fast enough. Steven Hill, an extremely respected stage and film actor later to become best known as District Attorney Adam Schiff on LAW & ORDER, was the original head of the Impossible Missions Force, Dan Briggs, but left/was fired at the end of his first season. Hill was a very good actor, but not a typical television leading man. CBS never liked him to begin with, so when Hill began causing production delays and friction with other actors, not even his biggest booster, creator and executive producer Bruce Geller, could prevent his sacking.

Hill contributed to some excellent episodes, but it's doubtful MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE would have lasted seven seasons with him at the helm. Graves, who moved seamlessly into the role of Jim Phelps at the beginning of Season 2, was a familiar face who had worked in films and television for well over a decade. With his white hair and deep voice, he stood out perfectly among an ensemble.

Season 2, as a whole, is probably even better than Season 1. Among the more interesting episodes were "The Seal," in which the IMF, with the help of a trained pussy, boosts Darren McGavin's jade right from under his nose; "The Photographer," in which the IMF convinces baddie Anthony Zerbe that World War III has occurred right outside his bomb shelter; "The Town," an unusual yarn about a typical American small town populated by Communist agents; and "The Money Machine," in which the IMF produces a preposterous cash duplicator that easily fools counterfeiter Brock Peters (one of M:I's few black villains).

Backed by Lalo Schifrin's innovative scores (even the music composed by others is closely based on Schifrin's themes) and '60s TV's highest production values (thanks to Geller's penchant for going over schedule and over budget), Season 2 of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE is remarkably entertaining television and will likely look and sound as sharp as CBS/Paramount's Season 1 box. Although none are yet announced, let's hope the studio puts some care into creating supplemental features for the set, as all of M:I's regular cast (besides Greg Morris, who died of brain cancer in 1996) are still alive and very likely, from what I understand, willing to participate.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Make Damn Sure

West Virginia-born Tony Anthony was a struggling actor in bit parts before he moved to Europe and found great success as the star of several so-called “spaghetti westerns”—Italian productions usually filmed on Roman soundstages and in the Spanish desert. A STRANGER IN TOWN received a major theatrical release in the U.S. in 1968 by MGM and made enough money worldwide to bring Anthony back for three sequels.

The plot is simple and a bit reminiscent of Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, which was made in 1964. A Bounty Hunter With No Name (aka The Stranger) rides into the tiny Mexican village of Cerro Gordo, where he witnesses bandits led by Aguila (Frank Wolff) slaughter a platoon of Mexican soldiers and steal their uniforms. Aguila’s men plan to impersonate the soldiers and meet up with the U.S. Army, who is transporting two sacks of gold meant to be a loan to the Mexican government. The Stranger muscles in on Aguila’s plan by claiming that he’s the Army’s advance man and, with his assistance, he can vouch for Aguila’s authenticity and get the gold with no bloodshed. Aguila, not surprisingly, welches on the deal and beats The Stranger up. Unfazed, the American manages to swipe the gold from Aguila’s hideout and stash it back in Cerro Gordo, where Aguila arrives for the blood-soaked finale.

From looking at him, Anthony seems an odd choice for a western hero. He’s not particularly charismatic, and he’s short to boot. He struck some sort of chord with audiences, however, or perhaps people just liked to pay to see Anthony shoot people. American Allen Klein, the Beatles’ manager during the breakup, produced the film, though it lacks any kind of Hollywood gloss. Leone’s influence on director Vanzi is evident in the occasionally slow pacing, as Anthony wanders slowly around town, giving half the rooms in Cerro Gordo a once-over. When the action comes, however, it’s relatively exciting and well-staged. Benedetto Ghiglia’s oddball score isn’t exactly what you would call melodic, but it does fit Vanzi’s weird vibe, and you’ll be humming the theme out of repetition if not affection.

Anthony had a strong hand in his acting career, contributing the story for his next movie, THE STRANGER RETURNS, and producer and screenwriter of THE SILENT STRANGER, an unusual western set in Japan that didn’t see release in the United States until 1975. Anthony also served as producer and star of BLINDMAN (a spaghetti western riff on Japan’s popular Zatoichi character) and COMIN’ AT YA!, a 3D western that was a surprise hit and kicked off a mini-resurgence of 3D cheapies (such as FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 and JAWS 3-D). Also in there was GET MEAN, the fourth and final Stranger story.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Action...Violence...AND...Mayhem

Who could resist? This triple-bill played at a theater in Buffalo, New York in the late 1970's. I'd go to the movies a lot more often if I could see stuff like this.

Thanks to Chris Poggiali for passing this along.

Friday, February 16, 2007

No, Seriously, You Like Zombies?

Wowweewow! Check out this official widescreen trailer for GRINDHOUSE, this spring's ode to Crappy Movies of the '70s. On one bill, you get Robert Rodriguez's PLANET TERROR (about a zombie invasion) and Quentin Tarantino's DEATH PROOF (about a madman who kills women with his badass car). Although I wish the directors had eschewed CGI altogether, it's hard to imagine a more satisfying experience at the multiplex this year.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Who Likes Zombies?

Although I'm a DC Comics fanboy at heart, comics have never been more batshit crazy than the stuff Marvel was putting out during the early-to-mid-1970s. It was a time of virtually unimpeded freedom, as Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas (followed in quick succession by Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway and Len Wein) stood aside and let his roster of wildly creative writers and artists do basically anything they wanted, as long as they hit their monthly deadlines (they didn't always, but much more often than comics creators do today).

Part of Marvel's output was a line of black-and-white magazine-sized comics, clearly based on the popular Comic Code-free magazines produced by Warren Publishing, such as EERIE, CREEPY and VAMPIRELLA. Since they were meant to appeal to a slightly older audience, these Marvel magazines mostly eschewed super-heroics in favor of pulp-style adventure and horror. One of the books was TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, which has recently been reproduced in a black-and-white trade paperback, ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, VOLUME 1.

Zombie, as he was usually billed, was Simon Garth, an asshole and coffee magnate who was kidnapped by a disgruntled ex-employee and turned over to a New Orleans voodoo cult, which used Garth as a human sacrifice. Coincidentally, Garth's secretary, Layla, was the cult's priestess and, for some reason, was also in love with him, even though he was a bastard who alienated everyone around him, including his adult daughter. Layla was forced to turn Garth into a zombie, a desiccated corpse with no thoughts, feelings or sensations, who nonetheless managed to get involved in several scrapes during the book's ten-issue run.

Although the lead character was based on a very obscure 1953 story written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett, the Simon Garth stories in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE were almost all written by Steve Gerber, one of Marvel's most creative talents who also worked on MAN-THING, THE DEFENDERS and, most famously, HOWARD THE DUCK, a brilliant book based on a character he created in an issue of GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING (don't ask). Gerber brought a wry humor and a macabre sense of humor to his Zombie stories, which were mostly drawn (extremely atmospherically) by Pablo Marcos.

Garth was killed off (again) in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE #9, but I understand he has resurfaced occasionally in Marvel books over the years, and has currently been given a (stupid) reboot in the Max series ZOMBIE.

In addition to the Simon Garth stories, ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE also offers the supporting stories in each issue, as well as various text articles, such as informative pieces on the voodoo culture and even reviews of then-current zombie movies like SUGAR HILL and LIVE AND LET DIE. Also appearing in two issues, including #10, the final issue, was Brother Voodoo, another of Marvel's long line of bizarre horror-themed characters. Brother Voodoo was not taken seriously in his initial run in STRANGE TALES, and probably not much more so in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE. A physician, Jericho Drumm sought to become a voodoo master after the death of his brother. After much training, Jericho was able to summon the spirit of his brother and join with it in order to fight evil using the power of voodoo.

Enjoy the Boris Vallejo cover to ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, and if you're curious about moody, well-written voodoo stories, you might want to try this trade paperback out for size.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Peter Graves Demands That You Fear Bigfoot

I think Tolemite would love this movie.

Snowed In

Blizzard '07--the worst snowstorm I can remember, off hand, although the ice storm that hammered East Central Illinois back in the late '70s was a real doozy.

Chicken and I made it into work yesterday morning in his Jeep, since the drift blocking my garage was already about three feet high by then. Turns out only about 25% of the company showed up, and while management sent out an email saying they would hold a meeting at noon to decide whether or not to close shop for the day, most of us said, "Uh, yeah, we're gone," and split around 10:30am...not long after we discovered a gas leak in our building (the second of the month, and I don't even know if they ever fixed the first one). Truthfully, it was stupid for any of us to have gone into work yesterday morning. The building is located on the edge of town where the 40mph winds hit hardest. The parking lot was drifted over and people were having trouble getting out of it. It was even difficult to breathe, due to the wind and the cold and the snow.

It snowed and blew constantly for close to 24 hours, not slacking off until about midnight last night. We received something like 12 inches of snow. All the schools and most businesses were closed. Roads were closed. Even the University of Illinois closed, which hasn't happened since the late '70s.

I live on one of Champaign's major streets. We sat in my apartment until about 11:30 last night, and we didn't see one snowplow. Check that--we saw a few snowplows, but always driving around with their blades up. I still haven't seen or heard any snowplows, and the side street next to my house hasn't even been touched, nor do I expect it to be plowed. Champaign must have the worst snowplow policy in the world, because if they weren't out yesterday, then when? Even when driving around a bit after work (we went to the grocery store and then back to work to help pull H out of a drift), we didn't see any snowplows. I just read a story in the News-Gazette about the poor, hardworking snowplow drivers who were on the clock for 12 hours straight yesterday. Well, I don't know where they were, unless they were napping someplace. The article claims they were on North Prospect, which makes no sense, considering everything on North Prospect was closed. They weren't anywhere near my house, that's a fact, Jack.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Bullshit Or Not

If you're a fan of PENN & TELLER'S BULLSHIT, you might be interested in seeing from where they ripped off the idea.

It's Burke's Law

Smoking rarely looks so cool.

AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT was a last-ditch effort at saving a hit TV series. It was previously called BURKE'S LAW, and had one of the great way-out TV premises. Gene Barry, who had bounced around Hollywood as a leading man for over a decade in films like WAR OF THE WORLDS and as the title role in the TV series BAT MASTERSON, starred as Amos Burke, the Los Angeles Police Department's Chief of Detectives who also happened to be a dandy millionaire. Riding in the back seat of his chauffeur-driven Rolls, Burke solved one high-society murder after another, usually after questioning a stellar line of guest stars.

After two seasons, however, producer Aaron Spelling tweaked the format somewhat. Goodbye, BURKE'S LAW. Hello, AMOS BURKE, SECRET AGENT. The even-more-ludicrous premise found Burke quitting the LAPD and becoming a U.S. agent, reporting only to The Man (Carl Benton Reid). Each episode still boasted an impressive guest cast, as in the above, "Nightmare in the Sun," which featured gorgeous Barbara Luna, Joan Staley (later in THE GHOST & MR. CHICKEN), Mari Blanchard, Elisha Cook Jr. and Ed Asner as a heavy named Pablo Vasquez. Ah, those were the days.

The new BURKE lasted just one season. Barry, still alive at age 87 (he had a cameo in the Spielberg WAR OF THE WORLDS), went on to other series work, primarily the well-remembered THE NAME OF THE GAME. Surprisingly, CBS brought back BURKE'S LAW in 1994 as a companion piece to the popular DIAGNOSIS: MURDER. 27 episodes aired, though it's unlikely any TV network will again air a one-hour drama with a lead actor in his 70s.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Bud Throws Barry Under A Bus

Bud Selig said "fuck you" to Barry Bonds yesterday.

Bonds is 22 home runs away from Hank Aaron's all-time record of 755, a record that was widely assumed would never be broken. If Bonds manages to sort out his contract troubles with the San Francisco Giants (and his legal problems), odds are quite good that he'll break Aaron's mark this season. And when/if he does, Selig, the (shitty) Commissioner of Major League Baseball, may or may not place a congratulatory telephone call to Bonds.

Selig insisted that Major League Baseball would celebrate Bonds' potential feat exactly as it does any other major milestone, such as a pitcher's 300th win. Last year, Selig telephoned San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman when he became the career saves leader.

This is a lie of major league proportions. In fact, MLB does not celebrate every "major milestone" in an identical manner. I'm sure you remember when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa passed Roger Maris' single-season mark of 61 home runs. Recall how they stopped the game and everyone ran on to the field and hugged everybody? McGwire rode around the stadium during a game in a little car so the crowd could kiss his ring.

Let's go larger. Remember the hoopla when Cal Ripken Jr. set the record for consecutive games played? That celebration was larger than the trophy ceremony following the World Series. Ripken also took a victory lap. Did he get a phone call from Bud Selig? Hell no...Selig was there.

We all know Barry Bonds is an asshole. We also know Bud Selig is an asshole. I don't have to make any cases; you know the score. Bonds cheated. Selig looked the other way, and now he's in the position of having to acknowledge that baseball's most vaunted record is being broken under shady circumstances (even worse for Selig, Aaron is his good friend). Too bad. Selig wanted to be Commissioner. He's the worst Commissioner to serve during my lifetime, which is frightening when you consider I've also been a baseball fan during the reigns of "Buffoon" Bowie Kuhn and Bart "Fuck Pete Rose Over" Giamatti (I still believe Giamatti fed Rose some bullshit about "accept this so-called lifetime suspension and, after the heat's off, we'll reinstate you in a couple of years," and then reneged on the deal).

Hey, I wouldn't want to be the guy either who has to stand on the field and say glowing things about Barry Bonds. But I would do my job, which is more than Selig has ever done.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

You Got Milk

John Woo, Dolph Lundgren and Fred "The Hammer" Williamson made a movie together? Holy shit, how can that not kick ass?

Actually, it really doesn't, and the reason is simple. BLACKJACK was made as a television pilot; therefore, it's full of stupid TV-show gimmicks and absent some serious bloodletting. It does, however, boast a few exciting action setpieces in the John Woo style and an easygoing performance by star Lundgren, who really would make for a good TV action hero.

Made in 1998, just after FACE/OFF, Woo's first American smash hit, BLACKJACK stars Dolph as Jack Devlin, a former U.S. Marshal turned private bodyguard. When his friend Tim (Williamson in a supporting role) is shot while protecting a gorgeous supermodel from a psycho stalker, Devlin comes out of retirement to take over Tim's job and hopefully notch some vigilante justice.

Good grief, could this guy have any more gimmicks? Writer Peter Lance must have been desperate to come up with all this nonsense. Any two of these would be enough for most TV shows, but for crying out loud.
  • Due to an accident in which he was attacked with a flash grenade, Dolph has developed a phobia to the color white. When he sees something white, he freaks. Amazingly, the villain figures this out.
  • Dolph uses playing cards as an edged weapon. Whether they're specially sharpened cards, we aren't told.
  • Dolph's friends are killed in an accident, and their precocious 9-year-old daughter Casey comes to live with him. She has an IQ of 165.
  • Dolph has a, er, friend or something named Thomas. He's Italian, has only one eye, cooks Dolph's meals, apparently lives in Dolph's luxury apartment, and gets very jealous when Dolph talks about women. Could Lundgren have been playing TV's first gay action hero?
  • Because of his white-o-phobia, Dolph is seeing a shrink. She's a sexy woman who smokes cigars and has an obvious attraction to him. He calls her whenever he's busy and needs someone to pick Casey up at school. And she does it.
At least the action scenes are badass. The first one finds Dolph killing about twenty dudes invading the mansion where Casey and her parents live. The highlight finds Dolph leaping off the balcony of the exploding house, landing on a trampoline, bouncing in the air, turning, shooting two pistols at a bunch of bad guys, and bouncing into the pool. Later, he has a big fight with the main heavy in a milk factory. What a coincidence, considering that whole white thing.

At a heavy 112 minutes, BLACKJACK is too long to have been a TV-movie, so much footage must have been added later. It doesn't need the padding and would play better with several scenes missing. BLACKJACK isn't a success, but the novelty of Dolph Lundgren in a John Woo movie is of some interest. It's too bad they haven't worked again since, but if Woo keeps making bombs like WINDTALKERS, he'll be swimming in the pool of direct-to-video soon, which is Dolph's stomping ground.

"Is...Balloooooooooooon!"

Neat slapstick from F TROOP's most famous episode, "Bye, Bye, Balloon." Ken Berry performs it, and Seymour Robbie (of, uh, C.C. AND COMPANY fame) directed it.

I know...it has nothing to do with the famous phrase...but it's still a good episode.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Night Flight

Those of you who grew up in the 1980s undoubtedly remember spending a few weekend late nights gazing at the USA cable network and its amazing show NIGHT FLIGHT.

NIGHT FLIGHT is difficult to explain to those who never saw it. There's certainly nothing like it on television now. It was a strange potpourri of short films, music videos, obscure movies, serials, Japanese monsters, standup comedy...and more. The closest equivalent I can think of is Comedy Central's old SHORT ATTENTION SPAN THEATER, but that ran only an hour and consisted only of comedy bits.

I first saw THE KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE (cut, of course) on NIGHT FLIGHT, as well as the Roger Corman/William Shatner drama THE INTRUDER, although it was televised under the title SHAME. You never knew exactly what you were going to see on NIGHT FLIGHT, each episode of which ran for four hours. Here's a minute and 14 seconds of one episode--a clip that's pretty typical of the weirdness NIGHT FLIGHT offered:

Where else will you find Hanna-Barbera, Pseudo Echo and SPACE MONSTER aka SPACE PROBE TAURUS teaming up? I don't know what that Claymation clip is, but if you do, please let me know.

Speaking of the old days when the USA network kicked ass and wasn't just a repository for back-to-back episodes of THE DISTRICT, LAW & ORDER: SVU and WALKER, TEXAS RANGER every damn day, here's a promo for COMMANDER USA'S GROOVY MOVIES. Remember this guy?

For those of us who lived in small television markets without a weekend horror host (like Svengoolie in Chicago, for instance), we had Commander USA, who aired crappy movies on Saturday afternoons, usually involving Chinese guys kung-fuing the hell out of each other or giant monsters from Japan beating the shit out of each other.

Monday, February 05, 2007

You're A Cop, Not A Ballet Dancer

20th Century Fox produced this idiotic 3D mystery in gorgeous Technicolor. I’m sure it looked ridiculous to 1950s audiences, but it induces howls today, thanks to its remarkable cast of soon-to-be stars. Obviously, what I'm saying is that you should make an effort to see it. Sadly, it's not yet on DVD, although with a cast (and title) like this, I would think Fox would be able to move a few units.

Is it a gorilla or someone dressed in a gorilla suit who is murdering members of Cy Miller’s (Raymond Burr) carnival? Since the main attraction is supposed to be a real gorilla, but is played by George Barrows in a suit, how can anyone tell? Gruff detective Garrison’s (Lee J. Cobb) main suspects are blond barker Joey (top-billed Cameron Mitchell) and brutish gorilla trainer Kovacs (Peter Whitney). Disney’s MIGHTY JOE YOUNG remake ripped off the ending of this movie. Anne Bancroft is smokin’ as Burr’s acrobat wife with great legs. Lee Marvin is a dimwitted comic-relief cop. Warren Stevens and John Beradino also play cops. Sure, it’s a dumb movie by the director of the execrable DON’T WORRY, WE’LL THINK OF A TITLE, but a must-see for trash-movie fans.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

There's A Warm Wind Blowing

I admit it--I'm a sucker for a catchy hook in a pop song, no matter how silly, sappy or stupid said song is. Whether it's rock, pop, bubblegum, commercial jingle, TV theme, whatever, if it's got a bouncy hook and I can "shake me bum" to it, then I'll probably like it.

England Dan and John Ford Coley placed several hits in the Top 40 during the 1970s, but their best was undoubtedly this 1976 single. It may not seem familiar from the title, but I bet you've heard it on the radio at some point. Or on an elevator. Or your dentist's office. "I'd Really Love to See You Tonight" was the opening cut on England Dan (Seals) and John Ford Coley's fourth LP, NIGHTS ARE FOREVER, which also was released in '76. I believe the duo penned the song too.

Put on your headphones and dig the mellow sound of England Dan and John Ford Coley in a clip for the British musical variety series TOP OF THE POPS (I wish I knew who the Richard Harris-looking host was):

If Looks Could Kill

Physician/novelist Michael Crichton’s (JURASSIC PARK, THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN) fifth film as a director is a slick but empty thriller set within the world of television advertising. In its favor, it anticipates several concepts that are commonplace in today’s American culture, such as constant bombardment with advertising messages everywhere you look, Hollywood’s obsession with plastic surgery, and the use of computer generated images to replace actors on film. It’s interesting to try to watch LOOKER from a 1981 perspective, keeping in mind Crichton’s premonitions, but the director/screenwriter unfortunately fails to wrap a logical, absorbing story around them.

Albert Finney (WOLFEN), looking and acting a lot like William Shatner, is plastic surgeon Larry Roberts, who becomes curious after three out of four models upon which he performed very specific procedures die under mysterious circumstances. All three were also involved with a thinktank operated by a multimillion-dollar corporation owned by oily John Reston (James Coburn). When Roberts begins investigating the deaths, particularly after the police finger him as a murder suspect, he becomes suspicious of Reston’s company and discovers sophisticated gadgetry such as a computer that can place living actors within a filmed scene without the actors’ knowledge or consent and an elaborate light pistol that hypnotizes its victims for hours. PARTRIDGE FAMILY ingĂ©nue Susan Dey is the fourth model, whom Larry tries to protect.

An empty finale that fails to give Finney, the hero, appropriate heroics and a silly, hole-riddled script fail to capitalize on Crichton’s intriguing concepts. Both Dey and Playmate Terri Welles supply a surprising amount of nudity for a PG feature, and good supporting actors like Leigh-Taylor Young, Terry Kiser, Tim Rossovich, Dorian Harewood and Darryl Hickman appear, but without much gravity. Barry DeVorzon composed the dated score. In retrospect, LOOKER obviously anticipates Crichton’s next film, RUNAWAY, another slick but loose thriller with science fiction elements.

Solid

Actor Tige Andrews has died at the age of 86, which gives me an excuse to run this awesome clip:

I think anything would sound exciting with that Earle Hagen theme blasting behind it.

Tige Andrews was a solid character actor with tons of television experience who hit the big time at age 48 when he landed the role of Captain Adam Greer in the ABC hippie-cop series THE MOD SQUAD. In the pilot, Greer brought together a trio of juvenile delinquents (played by Michael Cole, Clarence Williams III and Peggy Lipton) and forced them to become undercover cops, since they were young enough and hip enough to infiltrate schools, clubs and other places where a typical detective like Greer would be "made" instantly.

THE MOD SQUAD last five seasons, from 1968--1973, and likely made Andrews enough money so that he could coast the rest of his life. He acted occasionally until the beginning of the 1990s, mostly in TV guest shots.

Mention must be made of Andrews' STAR TREK appearance. He played a Klingon named Kras in the 1967 episode "Friday's Child," a pretty good show shot on location at Vasquez Rocks and featuring a nice blend of action and humor.