Thursday, March 29, 2007

Out To Lunch

I'm stepping away from the blog for a few days. Nothing serious; I'm just going to be busy, plus I'll be out of town over the weekend. When I come back, however, I may be able to tell you about my new major purchase: a Panasonic DMR-EH75VS VHS/DVD recorder with a 60GB hard drive.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Now You Know Where They Stole V.I.P. From

I was originally going to say, "They don't make 'em like this anymore," but if you've seen SHE SPIES or V.I.P., you know they do. I suspect this show was better than those though.You have to admit, as a writer, you've got to be more creative to put stewardesses into dramatic situations every week than you do spies or detectives.

FLYING HIGH lasted 13 weeks on CBS at the end of 1978, but the actresses continued their TV stardom awhile longer. Connie Sellecca, of course, after a quick stop on BEYOND WESTWORLD (which was on the air even shorter than FLYING HIGH), landed the female lead opposite William Katt and Robert Culp on the fan favorite THE GREATEST AMERICAN HERO, and when that was cancelled, jumped to the even more successful HOTEL. Pat Klous went on to the shortlived ALOHA PARADISE (a LOVE BOAT ripoff, right down to the soundalike theme performed by Steve Lawrence) and then to...THE LOVE BOAT as Lauren Tewes' replacement. Kathryn Witt was never again a series regular, but she appeared on television and in movies regularly throughout the 1980s.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Justice


04 JUSTICE
October 22, 2003 (ABC)
Teleplay: Robert Palm
Story: Charles H. Eglee
Director: John David Coles

Popular guest star Gary Cole, who popped up in an enigmatic cameo in KAREN SISCO’s pilot, “Blown Away,” is back, and he’s bad news. KAREN SISCO was cancelled after only eight episodes were telecast, so we may never know for sure, but one has to wonder whether Cole was intended to become a recurring foe for U.S. marshal Karen (Carla Gugino). His appearance here seems rushed and unfinished, and it’s still a mystery why he had such a minor part in the pilot. I suspect his scenes may have been filmed during the production of “Justice” and cut into “Blown Away” before it was telecast. Cole is, of course, an excellent actor, and I wish he had gotten the opportunity to flesh out this part a little better.

Three fugitives bust out of a prison in Biloxi, Mississippi and head to Miami, where they plan to charter a boat to Costa Rica and open a restaurant. But, first, they stop off to see Naomi (Juliette Jetters), the sister of Jamal (Antonio David Lyons), one of the escapees. The others are Sixpack (Fredro Starr), Naomi’s baby’s bad-news daddy, and the child-like Fuzz (Omar Benson Miller). Marshal Konner (Cole) is assigned to capture them and return them to prison, and he selects Karen as his partner. She doesn’t like him much—he’s arrogant and rude—but she begrudgingly admits he’s a good officer and attempts to get along with him. However, she soon comes to regret her original opinion of Konner’s abilities as a law enforcement officer, when she discovers that he blames the three cons for the death of his former partner, and he may be looking to settle the score.

Despite Cole’s best efforts, “Justice” is not one of SISCO’s finest hours. We’ve seen the good-guy-goes-bad scenario in dozens of cop shows, and this one doesn’t bring anything new to the table. The actors playing the fugitives help the episode by making their characters somewhat sympathetic, so that when Konner finally draws down on them, you’re definitely not on the side of the man with the badge. Director Coles (not to be confused with actor Gary Cole) does a nice job keeping the show moving and the (presumably) California locations looking like the Sunshine State. This was Coles’ only KAREN SISCO; he moved on to direct and produce the shortlived THIEF and 3 LBS. Writer Palm, a veteran of Dick Wolf shows like DEADLINE and LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT, went on to become executive producer of WANTED, a series that starred Gary Cole as…a federal law enforcement agent. Eglee, who provided “Justice”’s story, co-created another phenomenal crime drama mercilessly treated by ABC, MURDER ONE.

After taking last week off, KAREN SISCO’s nifty opening titles return.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Urine Trouble. Heh.

Every morning on my drive to work and every evening on my drive home--and often during the day when I go to and return from lunch--I see a jug of urine on the side of the road. It's called a "trucker bomb." It's a plastic gallon jug of pee that some asshole tossed to the side of the road. It has been there for at least six months. Think about how many times I've had to look at that pee jug. And, once you've seen it, there's no not looking at it. It's a well-traveled road, and surely by now a policeman or a sanitation worker or a state highway worker (it's Illinois Route 10) has seen it. They know it's there. Why don't they pick it up? It was odd when there was snow on the ground. You would see just the top of the jug and a small yellow sliver peeking through the snow. It's next to a billboard, and recently when we went to lunch, we noticed a guy in a truck who was changing the billboard. When we came back to work, the guy and his truck were gone, but the jug had moved. It was now tipped over on its side, rather than standing up. Did the guy investigate? Did he pick it up? Kick it over? Bump it with his truck? I guess we'll never know.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Late Night Laughs

I spent much of my high school and college years amazed by the way that LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN was revolutionizing television. Those of you only familiar with the CBS-ized Letterman of the LATE SHOW reign have only seen a watered-down version of the man, not the guy who challenged his viewers and changed the rules of TV talk shows. Not that Letterman isn't still a marvelous broadcaster on occasion--he certainly is when he's in the mood--but during the 1980's, a time in which NBC's prime-time lineup had to struggle just to stay a respectable third place, he and Johnny Carson were responsible for the most entertaining late-night lineup in television history.

Calvert DeForest passed away this week at the age of 85. As "Larry 'Bud' Melman," DeForest was part of LATE NIGHT's coterie of supporting players and the most unusual, mainly because you could never be quite sure how much of Melman was schtick and how much was DeForest's own personality. I'm not sure we'll ever know. What we do know is that, intentionally or not, he was funny.

There's nothing I could write that would improve upon Ken Cancelosi's piece, "The Last Amateur," over at Matt Zoller Seitz's blog, The House Next Door. Not only will you read a nice tribute to DeForest, but you can also click links to some of his best bits, including the night he had Dave practically crying from laughter. Enjoy.

Happy Birthday To A Legend

76 years old today.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Professor Irwin Corey's Foremostly Authoritative Spring Break Movie Quiz

Remember Professor Dave Jennings’ Milton-Free, Universe-Expanding Holiday Midterm? Here's Dennis Cozzalio's latest meme from over at his Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule blog. As before, feel free to take the test yourself and post your answers in my Comment section, or take a look at Dennis' site to see how other test-takers reacted.

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1) What movie did you have to see multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it?
BLADE RUNNER. I’m still surprised at how popular it has become, particularly considering it was neither a box-office hit nor a critical success upon its original 1982 theatrical release. I didn’t like it when I originally saw it, not in a theater, but on VHS around 1983 or 1984. Yes, it’s a visually stunning piece, but the acting is flat and the story barely extant. Still, the building critical raves over the decades had me believing that maybe I (and nearly everyone else who saw it then) was wrong, that BLADE RUNNER was a masterpiece. It was unquestionably an influential movie as far as its production design was concerned. A friend and co-worker who is a huge BLADE RUNNER fan convinced me to watch it again last year on DVD, the first time I had seen it in its original aspect ratio and without Harrison Ford’s notorious narration. I still don’t think it’s a good film. Sean Young’s robotic performance doesn’t convince me that Ford would fall for her (of course, he despised her in real life) and the turgid pacing feels deathly. BLADE RUNNER is not very much fun, outside of Rutger Hauer’s scenery-chewing, which led to a short career as a leading man in genre films worse (SPLIT SECOND) or not much better (WANTED DEAD OR ALIVE) than this one.

2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated
Wes Anderson. Ouch. I’ve tried, I really have, but RUSHMORE, BOTTLE ROCKET and especially THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS failed to move me, even though I really wanted to like them and many people I respect are fans of them. I had a reasonably good time with THE LIFE AQUATIC WITH STEVE ZISSOU though. I loved the performances by Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and especially Willem Dafoe.

3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another film or bit of pop culture within another film.
Since I’m on the subject, THE LIFE AQUATIC’s closing crawl takeoff on the end of THE ADVENTURES OF BUCKAROO BANZAI is cheeky fun.

4) Favorite Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger movie
Never seen one. Do I belong in Movie Jail?

5) Your favorite Oscar moment
A tie between the streaker that crashed David Niven and Clint Eastwood substituting for a delayed-in-traffic Charlton Heston and stumbling through cue cards prepared for Heston, BEN-HUR gags and all. “Flip the card, man, this ain’t my bag.” Isaac Hayes performing “Theme from SHAFT” while dressed in chains is pretty badass too.

6) Hugo Weaving or Guy Pearce?
Pearce, because he was in L.A. CONFIDENTIAL, one of Hollywood’s all-time best crime dramas.

7) Movie that you feel gave you the greatest insight into a world/culture/person/place/event that you had no understanding of before seeing it
I never realized that bar bouncers were such legendary heroes—almost like modern-day cowboys—until I immersed myself into the romantic world of ROAD HOUSE. How could I have known that the best bouncers are known by name and legend in sleazy, dirty taverns all across the country? That, just like the Amish, whenever a bouncer runs into trouble that he can’t handle alone, he just has to put out a call, and his fellow bouncers will drop what they’re doing and travel cross-country to help out, even if it means side-stepping local law enforcement to stop the local rich guy from smashing car dealerships with his monster truck.

8) Favorite Samuel Fuller movie
I’ll go with PICKUP ON SOUTH STREET with its great, weasly leading performance by Richard Widmark. Put down HOUSE OF BAMBOO for 2nd place.

9) Monica Bellucci or Maria Grazia Cucinotta?
Oh, Lord, Monica would likely win, no matter whose name came after the “or.” Jesus Palomino!

10) What movie can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile?
Either ORDINARY PEOPLE or CHANGE OF HABIT.

11) Conversely, what movie can destroy a day’s worth of good humor just by catching a glimpse of it while channel surfing?
I don’t think I’ve ever been pissed off by a movie so badly that it ruined my day. I’ve seen some real stinkers, movies that were not just terrible, but also cynical and lazy, such as BAD COMPANY and SWORDFISH. But I can turn them off easily enough if I pass their channel.

12) Favorite John Boorman movie
I know I’m expected to say EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC here, but I’m going with DELIVERANCE.

13) Warren Oates or Bruce Dern?
Toughest call I’ll make all year, you bastards, but…I’ll say…Dern, who starred in DRIVE, HE SAID and THE INCREDIBLE 2-HEADED TRANSPLANT in the same year.

14) Your favorite aspect ratio
2.35:1. And I don’t even have a widescreen television.

15) Before he died in 1984, Francois Truffaut once said: “The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it.” Is there any evidence that Truffaut was right? Is it Truffaut’s tomorrow yet?
I don’t know what he’s talking about, and I’m not certain he knew. It seems to me that most films in some way resemble their directors. For instance, just like BAD BOYS and ARMAGEDDON, Michael Bay is an obnoxious, overbearing, arrogant loudmouth with more money than couth.

16) Favorite Werner Herzog movie
AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD

17) Favorite movie featuring a rampaging, oversized or otherwise mutated beast, or beasts
Does a bloody, 400-year-old midget Indian spawned from a womb attached to Susan Strasberg’s back count? In that case, I’ll go with THE MANITOU, though, really, how can you pick one William Girdler movie over others like GRIZZLY and DAY OF THE ANIMALS? How about if I go with BEGINNING OF THE END, if only because it’s set in and around my hometown of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois?

18) Sandra Bernhard or Sarah Silverman?
Sarah Silverman: hot and funny. More hot than funny, actually.

19) Your favorite, or most despised, movie cliché
I hate when the audience hears only one side of a telephone conversation, so the caller has to repeat everything the person on the other end of the line says for our benefit. I also hate when two people are having a conversation, and the film cuts to a different place at a different time, yet the people are still having the same conversation, like they actually traveled through time.

20) Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom-- yes or no?
Plenty of time for love, Dr. Jones.

21) Favorite Nicholas Ray movie
REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE

22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated
My most recent entry would be EUROTRIP, which is a hilariously witty and sometimes crude teen comedy whose box-office success was killed by its trailer, which made it look like just another brain-dead comedy. Every time I urge someone to watch it, they end up loving it and wondering, “What took me so long to see this?” However, USED CARS may well be the funniest film ever made (as well as the most quotable), though I rarely see it pop up in any list of top film comedies. “Fifty bucks never killed anybody.”

23) Your favorite movie dealing with the subject of television
Tie between MY FAVORITE YEAR and QUIZ SHOW. Just recently, I saw AUTO FOCUS, which I liked, even though it ruined HOGAN’S HEROES reruns for me forever.

24) Bruno Ganz or Patrick Bauchau?
Eh. I’ll go with Bauchau, if only because he was on 24.

25) Your favorite documentary, or non-fiction, film
As a teenager, I must have watched Paul McCartney & Wings’ ROCKSHOW and Hal Ashby’s Rolling Stones concert film LET’S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER a zillion times. For documentary, it’s hard to beat HOOP DREAMS.

26) According to Orson Welles, the director’s job is to “preside over accidents.” Name a favorite moment from a movie that seems like an accident, or a unintended, privileged moment. How did it enhance or distract from the total experience of the movie?
In GONE WITH 60 SECONDS, during the incredible 40-minute car chase that closes the movie, there’s a stunt-gone-wrong where the Mustang driven by star/stuntman/writer/director H.B. Halicki actually spins out of control and smacks into a telephone pole. It actually enhances the film, considering that the entire exercise exists only so Halicki can play make-believe and crash some cars. It was clearly a dangerous production with the likelihood that not a lot of care went into making sure the stuntmen didn’t get hurt, and the botched stunt is a painful reminder of GONE IN 60 SECONDS’ maverick production. Adding to the moment is the knowledge that Halicki would die a few years later during an awry car stunt while making GONE IN 60 SECONDS 2.

27) Favorite Wim Wenders movie
PARIS, TEXAS

28) Elizabeth Pena or Penelope Cruz?
Pena, who was so great in the underrated TV series SHANNON’S DEAL and especially in John Sayles’ wonderful LONE STAR.

29) Your favorite movie tagline
I don’t remember if it was used on the poster, but I love this narration from DIE HARD’s trailer: “John McClane…he’s an easy man to like…and a hard man…to kill.” Actual tagline: how can you beat MANIAC COP’s “You have the right to remain silent…forever”?

30) As a reader, filmgoer, or film critic, what do you want from a film critic, or from film criticism? And where do you see film criticism in general headed?
I suspect film critics will continue to become less relevant as Hollywood—and its audiences—slide closer to the culture prominently displayed in IDIOCRACY, which will look more like a documentary as the years roll on. One flaw in film criticism is that only current films in wide theatrical release receive the lion’s share of print and TV space. Even if a smaller film or documentary receives raves, it may take months for it to arrive in my local theater (if at all) and more months for it to arrive on DVD, by which time I have forgotten about it. My major pet peeve with critics is that direct-to-video films are almost completely ignored. Just because it didn’t play in a theater doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of note, but when’s the last time you saw Roger Ebert or the New York Times cover a DTV release (to be fair, Entertainment Weekly occasionally does)? Multiplexes are overrun by crummy low-budget horror movies, all of which are written about in major newspapers and magazines, but did any of them review DEVIL’S DEN, a competent and funny vampire/zombie flick that horror fans would probably enjoy—much more so than ALIENS VS. PREDATOR 2.

EXTRA CREDIT: Do movies still matter?
Always, man, always.

Gonna Fly Now And Forever

Almost thirty years to the day after ROCKY won three Academy Awards, including Best Picture, ROCKY BALBOA, the sixth in the series, hit DVD. You'd have to either try very hard or be a total scrooge to dislike it. Released theatrically just before Christmas last year, ROCKY BALBOA is an old-fashioned, quaintly directed and performed drama driven partially by nostalgia, but mostly by heart.

Ignoring the events of the ignominious ROCKY V (1990), ROCKY BALBOA picks up four years after the death of Adrian (played in earlier films by Talia Shire), beloved wife of former heavyweight champion Rocky (Sylvester Stallone, of course, who also directed and wrote the screenplay). Life just isn't the same for Rocky without Adrian, even though he has a grown son (Milo Ventimiglia) and a nice restaurant, where he dons a blazer and entertains the diners with old fight stories. And, of course, grumpy brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) is still around, even though he's grown weary of Rocky talking about his dead wife all the time.

Stallone the writer bites off more than his 101-minute running time can chew, as he gives Rocky something of a surrogate family. Balboa befriends a lonely barkeeper, Marie (played well by Irish actress Geraldine Hughes), who once cursed Rocky when she was a kid. Now a single mother with a half-Jamaican teenager, Steps (James Francis Kelly III), she initially is suspicious of Rocky's kindness, but comes to like the big lug.

Meanwhile, the plot kicks in, which finds Rocky agreeing to an exhibition match with Mason "The Line" Dixon (Antonio Tarver), the current heavyweight champion, after an ESPN computer simulation has the in-his-prime Balboa knocking Dixon out. Surprisingly, Rocky's friends go easy on the nay-saying, and mostly support his decision to fight a man 30 years his junior on pay-per-view television. We do too, if only because it leads to the moment we've been waiting for: the requisite training montage, complete with Rocky downing raw eggs, running up those iconic stone stairs, and working out to Bill Conti's rousing theme.

I saw Stallone bit too much off, because some of his character arcs are inadequately fleshed out. After a couple of early bonding scenes between Rocky and Steps, the young man virtually vanishes from the latter half of the film. Likewise, Balboa's relationships with Marie and with Rocky Jr. feel unfinished.

One can't fault Stallone's sincerity, however, as an actor, writer or director. Considering he hadn't directed a film since 1986's cartoonish ROCKY IV, he steps back behind the camera assuredly, and perks up the climactic bout using digital cameras to give it the look and feel of an actual TV broadcast, complete with on-screen graphics and the use of actual announcers like Jim Lampley and Larry Merchant to play themselves.

It's hard not to look at ROCKY BALBOA and recognize the real-life parallels to Stallone's career. He clearly worked very hard on this film, and it paid off, grossing $70 million at the box office (which, I guarantee you, nobody in Hollywood predicted) and surprisingly positive reviews. I say "surprisingly" only because initial news of another ROCKY sequel drew guffaws from some film fans. Now that they've seen it, the only person laughing is Stallone--all the way to the bank with financing for...wait for it...another Rambo movie.

I can't wait.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The One That Got Away


03 THE ONE THAT GOT AWAY
October 15, 2003 (ABC)
Writer: Jason Smilovic
Director: Michael Dinner

U.S. marshal Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino), already worn out from 27 consecutive hours on the job, becomes increasingly frazzled when con artist and cop killer Nicholas Pell (Thomas Kretchmann) escapes from custody, assumes the identity of a marshal, and slips right through her fingers at the airport. A smooth talker who has married four wealthy women and bilked them of their fortunes, Pell periodically phones Karen on her cell and tries to seduce her with promises of writing a song with her name in it.

Meanwhile, Alvin Simmons (Xander Berkeley), a former mob accountant who testified against Charlie Lucre (played by Danny DeVito in “Dumb Bunnies”) and was relocated to Kansas in the Witness Protection Program, shows up in Miami, where Karen finds him at one of Charlie’s strip clubs. Lonely in Wichita after his wife and son left him and tired of looking over his shoulder for one of Charlie’s hitmen, Alvin wants to die and leave his son a million-dollar insurance policy. It’s up to Karen and, unofficially, her father Marshall (Robert Forster) to keep Alvin alive until the next flight back to Wichita.

Both stories are rich enough for their own episode, and “The One That Got Away” is one plot too many. Neither is given enough screen time to flex its muscles, though Berkeley’s tender performance is strong enough to disappoint the audience whenever the other storyline is playing out. And if that isn’t enough, Karen also contemplates her own loneliness while romancing a married man named Will (Carlos Ponce). Her dad thinks Will’s a great catch, though it’s obvious that Will feels uncomfortable around a woman who carries a gun and has killed men with it.

Dinner, whose overly flashy direction is occasionally annoying (for instance, a clichéd 360-degree spin around Karen at the airport, meant to signify her confusion, yet succeeds only in giving us a headache), assembles a stellar guest cast. In addition to Kretchmann (KING KONG) and Berkeley (the ill-fated George Mason on 24), “The One That Got Away” features Martha Plimpton (RUNNING ON EMPTY) as Pell’s fourth wife, Jake Busey (acting normal for a change) as a fellow marshal, an unbilled Sarah Clarke as Alvin’s wife (she and Berkeley fell in love for real when she was playing the treasonous agent Nina Myers on 24’s first season), DeVito (his voice only) and Peter Horton as FBI agent Ray, likely Ray Nicolet, the character played by Michael Keaton in OUT OF SIGHT and JACKIE BROWN.

No opening title sequence in this episode, possibly because the dueling plots made it run long.

Even though Karen says she’s lived in her apartment for two years, it’s not the same place (though likely the same set) we see in the pilot with the cool porthole-windowed front door.

Though Marshall had mostly been seen, to this point, as an amiable guy with a sense of humor and much love for his daughter, we finally get a taste of what he was like as a lawman, when he faces down a machine-gun-wielding assassin in his back yard.

Writer Smilovic was KAREN SISCO’s co-executive producer and series developer. He went on to write the film LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN and create the shortlived NBC series KIDNAPPED, whose pilot was directed by Michael Dinner.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hard Time With Leron

You may have noticed a new series on NBC last week called ANDY BARKER, P.I., which stars Andy Richter as a doughy accountant who falls into a second career as a private investigator. The series was created by its executive producer, Conan O'Brien, Richter's former LATE NIGHT boss who also co-wrote the BARKER pilot. But it isn't the first time O'Brien has created a spoof of '70s cop shows for NBC.

LOOKWELL is one of television's all-time great busted pilots. It was created and written by O'Brien and Robert Smigel (best known today for Triumph the Insult Dog) and starred Adam West (TV's Batman!) as Ty Lookwell, the former star of a mildly successful TV cop show during the 1970's. Like Maxwell Smart, Lookwell isn't terribly bright, but is moved by his experience as a TV detective (which earned him a Lucite-encased honorary policeman's badge that he carries around inside his blazer) to "help" the authorities solve crimes. Using members of his acting school as operatives and a series of "master disguises" (his hobo cover is hilarious), Lookwell, in the pilot, attempts to smash a stolen car ring (or, as they say in law enforcement, "hot" car ring).

NBC clearly did not understand LOOKWELL. The pilot aired in the worst timeslot available: 6:30pm on a Sunday night opposite 60 MINUTES. In July. And probably after PUNKY BREWSTER, a sitcom miles below LOOKWELL in humor and sophistication. For years, I thought I was the only person who had even heard of it, much less seen it, because I managed to record its only network airing that July evening on WICD-TV in Champaign. Years later, after O'Brien (who was then a SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE writer) became the star of LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN, LOOKWELL became something of a cult hit, popping up as part of the Trio network's BRILLIANT BUT CANCELLED collection. Now, you can watch the entire 22-minute pilot on YouTube.

It's a big loss that we never got more than one LOOKWELL episode. Anyone who claims Adam West is a bad actor should think again. Not only is LOOKWELL quite likely the finest performance of his career, but I can't think of any other actor who could have played the role better. It's a hilariously deadpan portrayal of vanity, stupidity and child-like fantasy obviously reminiscent of West's Batman and Don Adams' Agent 86. But nobody gives line readings like West does, and it would have been incredible to see him play this character again.

Executive producer Lorne Michaels (O'Brien's then-boss on SNL) hired E.W. Swackhamer to direct. Not only did "Swack" have plenty of experience directing one-camera sitcoms with no laugh track (such as THE FLYING NUN), but he had also done many of the shows that LOOKWELL parodies, such as THE ROOKIES and S.W.A.T. LOOKWELL masterfully mocks the visual style of those shows, and composer Jack Elliott filled in the musical blanks.

But LOOKWELL's brilliance really comes down to Adam West and the O'Brien/Smigel script, which contains some subtle wit. For instance, Lookwell, trying to establish his undercover identity as an auto painter, explains to his boss that "my father painted cars, his father painted cars, and his father before that." The gag that automobiles surely didn't exist during Lookwell's great-grandfather's lifetime is hilarious, but takes a couple of seconds to seep in.

Don't take my word for it. Watch LOOKWELL for yourself. YouTube's print is from the Trio rerun. Oddly, my copy, which was recorded from the NBC one-time airing, has slightly different titles. Swackhamer's directing credit is shown a few seconds later, for instance, but I can't imagine why Trio would have redone the titles. My copy is actually missing the first 30 seconds or so, so the Swackhamer credit is the only one I have. And composer Elliott's name isn't listed in the end credits on my print, but he is in Trio's.

A minor point, for sure. Take 22 minutes out of your day and visit Ty Lookwell's world. And leave your favorite line in my Comments section. It'll be hard to choose just one.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Jeff Goldblum Sees Dead People

In his first television series since the great TENSPEED AND BROWN SHOE, Jeff Goldblum stars as RAINES, which premiered last week on NBC. Michael Raines is an eccentric Los Angeles detective who recently returned to the force after a shootout that left his partner (NEW YORK UNDERCOVER's Malik Yoba) dead. In his first case, Raines investigates the murder of a pretty young prostitute, played by Alexa Davalos (by the way, Alexa's grandfather is Dick Davalos from EAST OF EDEN and Jack Hill's amazing figure-8-racing drama PIT STOP). However, since he killed his partner's murderer, Raines now sees the victims in the cases he investigates. Not as ghosts (like in THE SIXTH SENSE), but inside his head, where he uses them to bounce theories off of.

Created and written by Graham Yost (BOOMTOWN) and directed by filmmaker Frank Darabont (THE GREEN MILE), RAINES' pilot episode looks good and features terrific work by Goldblum. However, the mystery wasn't exactly a brain-teaser, and, quite honestly, the show's central conceit of Goldblum chatting with imaginary people is a gimmick that the series doesn't need. Goldblum as an eccentric Goldblum-esque L.A. cop is a premise strong enough to carry a show.

Matt Craven (from BOOMTOWN), MADTV's Nicole Sullivan and STAR TREK: ENTERPRISE's Linda Park look to be regulars. Darabont lured some impressive guest stars, such as the ubiquitous Jeff Perry (most recently on PRISON BREAK), Graham Beckel. Tracey Walter and an unbilled Mykelti Williamson, who starred in Yost's BOOMTOWN. Darabont has hired Davalos for his upcoming film version of Stephen King's THE MIST.

Film fans may get a kick out of one of RAINES' locations. In a voiceover, Raines mentions that he's a fan of old detective fiction, such as Hammett and Chandler. When he visits Davalos' apartment, it's located in the unusually picturesque complex in which Elliott Gould's Philip Marlowe lived in THE LONG GOODBYE. Nice touch, Frank Darabont.

If you're curious, here's a 60-second promo for RAINES:

Gotta Travel On

Here's a clip of something you rarely see on television anymore: people enjoying themselves. It's either a pilot for a variety series or a musical special called THE JERRY REED SHOW. I'd say it was from the JERRY REED WHEN YOU'RE HOT YOU'RE HOT HOUR (a great title for a TV series), but that aired in 1972, and you can tell by the wardrobe that we're in 1975 or '76 territory. Plus, Reed and Burt Reynolds didn't act together until 1975's W.W. AND THE DIXIE DANCEKINGS (um, yeah, a great title for a movie, what of it?), and they obviously knew each other well by the time this show was taped.

The clip is of Reed, Reynolds, Tammy Wynette, Ray Stevens and Jerry's daughter performing "Gotta Travel On' on this television show. I guess it's sorta kitschy and easy to laugh at, but I think it's worth evaluating the way I alluded above. These entertainers are having a really good time. They're laughing and singing and goofing around. Maybe it's goofy, but they're obviously talented performers (even though singing wasn't Burt's strong suit), and they are having fun entertaining us. I just don't think there's very much on television these days like this. I'm not saying that TV is completely joyless, but even the comedy shows and the occasional musical shows are closely scripted and polished and edited and stripped of anything spontaneous. Some of it is quite funny and entertaining, but there's something...quaint...about the concept of a bunch of entertainers standing before a live audience, working without a script, having a good time with each other, and not worrying about looking foolish or what their publicist is going to say.

I suppose I've made way too much out of this two-minute clip, but even though there's much to admire and enjoy about the ways that popular entertainment has progressed, I think we've lost a lot too.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Yeah, Right, The Old "Straight Talk Express"

Ask "maverick" Presidential candidate John McCain a simple question, get a non-answer:

Then came a question McCain was not expecting. Would he support taxpayer funding for contraception in Africa to prevent the spread of AIDS?

Initially he said he would support a program that provided abstinence education, while providing contraception in those places where abstinence was not being followed. He said his major counselor on the subject was Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn, a conservative doctor who has taken a particular interest in sexually transmitted diseases and has frequently opposed contraception distribution.

The conversation moved on. But a couple of minutes later, McCain grew concerned. He turned to the Salon reporter who asked the question and said he may want to revise his answer. "Let me think about it a little bit. I had not ...," he trailed off. "I don't know if I would use taxpayers' money"

Suddenly the straight talk became halting and confused. "We are on the Straight Talk Express," he admitted, before equivocating. "I'm not informed enough on it. Let me find out ... I'm sure I have taken a position on it in the past ... I have to find out my position on it ... I am sure I am opposed to government funding. I am sure I support the president's policy on it."


"I have to find out my position on it." Yeah, that's some real straight talk. I used to have some respect for McCain, even though we disagree on many subjects, and I felt bad for the guy when Bush and Rove engineered that smear campaign against him during the 2000 election when they spread the rumor among conservative voters that McCain had an illegitimate African-American daughter. However, instead of telling Bush to go fuck himself, McCain, in a sad attempt at kissing up to the Republican base, has since been an avid verbal supporter of the President and his obviously incompetent administration. He also, like Newt Gingrich, voted to impeach President Clinton for lying about an extramarital affair, even though McCain himself cheated on his wife and eventually left her (after her disfiguring accident) to marry a younger woman.

To be fair, McCain's bullshit answer is no less straight than those Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama individually gave when they were asked if they agreed with General Pace's assertion that homosexuality was "immoral." Instead of firmly delivering the correct answer of "hell, no," both Democratic candidates gave weak non-answers, but later followed up with carefully crafted written statements that they did not share Pace's view.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

This Is The Zodiac Speaking

Speaking as somebody who was scared shitless by the Robert Graysmith book when it came out in the late 1980s, David Fincher's new film ZODIAC is a terrific example of a riveting story well told. Most appreciated is Fincher's directorial restraint in terms of camera gimmickry and flashy editing. Just point the camera at the actors, and let them perform the words. ZODIAC is also a perfect example of the way that CGI should be used in movies. It's there, around the edges, an excellent tool for filling in edges and completing backgrounds.

As well-acquainted with the Zodiac's history as I am, it was very strange to actually see on-screen events that I have read about and thought about many times. I believe that Graysmith's account of the attacks on Cecilia Shepard and Bryan Hartnell is one of the spookiest I've ever read, and to see it actually occurring in a dramatic fashion brought a shiver. Almost everything Fincher does in ZODIAC is precisely as I imagine it really was.

Not that he doesn't Hollywood things up a bit. Handicapped by the fact that, outside of the killings that occur in the film's first half, the Zodiac story has little action or suspense, Fincher creates at least one probably false setpiece to keep us on our toes. That's Graysmith's (Jake Gyllenhaal) visit to Bob Vaughn's house, where Fincher has Vaughn acting unnaturally creepy in order to raise some goosebumps. I don't recall if that's how Graysmith described it in his book, but even so, it all rings phony in the film.

It's been written that ZODIAC seems influenced by ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN, and I'd have to agree. Not only is much of the movie set in a 1970's newspaper office, but David Shire was hired to compose the (sparse) score. As few directors are clamoring for Shire to score their films (even though much of his '70s work is terrific), I have to believe Fincher's choice of composer is no accident.

The attention to period detail is almost perfect; the calendar at Lee Allen's hardware store reads February 1980 (it's supposed to be 1983), and I bought the same shower brush hanging in the Graysmiths' bathroom at Wal-Mart last month, but just about everything else rings true.

Did anyone else recognize Ione Skye (SAY ANYTHING) as Kathleen Johns? It took me a little while; in fact, it took me out of the movie a bit, trying to place her. She appears unbilled, and I'm curious why. The "Hurdy Gurdy Man" connection is the only reason I can think of, though it doesn't explain why she wouldn't take a credit.

What's Up With Pete Rose's Balls?

"I'm just happy having three stories of balls. That's a lot of balls," Pete Rose said yesterday.

Meanwhile, I saw a FRIDAY THE 13TH comic book today. I flipped it open to see what it was like, and was greeted by terrible drawings of a blond chick shouting, "Die, fucker!" and bashing Jason in the head with a toilet tank. Setting aside how creatively bankrupt you would have to be to use "Die, fucker" in your dialogue (because you know the writer spent weeks on just this one issue, and "Die, fucker" is the best he could come up with), I've seen all the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies, including the one where Jason was flying through outer space, and I guarantee that a toilet tank is not going to bring him down.

P.S. I just discovered that FRIDAY THE 13TH needs not one, but two writers to create awesome scenes like a girl yelling "Die, fucker" and hitting Jason with a toilet. Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, you suck, dudes.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I Hate Rock Candy

THE MARINE is a lunkheaded under-90-minutes action picture that almost could have been made in 1985. In fact, if it had been made then, it would have been a Cannon movie and starred Michael Dudikoff. It also would have been better, though, as it stands, I guess it serves just fine if you just want to see stuff blow up for awhile. It's a very safe, obviously focus-grouped movie, carefully sculpted to acquire a PG-13, even though it's obvious to the world that the target audience demands an R rating in its action fare. I watched the "unrated" cut on DVD, but I didn't see anything in it that looked R-rated to me. THE MARINE barely made back its production budget at the box office, probably because the action fans who went to see it came home and told their buddies how tame the violence is (and, sorry, guys, no boobs, though there's plenty of opportunity).

Director John Bonito, making his first film, shows signs of becoming a solid action filmmaker, but he falls back on a few distracting crutches. If THE MARINE was really made for $15 million, as the IMDb claims, I'm impressed, and all the money is up on the screen. There are some direct-to-video actioners that cost more than $15 million. However, lack of money doesn't excuse the movie's excess of closeups that often makes it look like a TV show. I also suspect that a lack of care went into choosing locations. Much of the film takes place in a swamp, yet Bonito shot in a "swamp" about as swampy as my Illinois backyard. The characters try to convey their treacherous conditions, but the landscape looks like a dead forest, and the "critters" like a snake and alligators are never seen in the same shot as the actors, kinda like a Jungle Jim programmer. The credits reveal that Australia substituted for "South Carolina," probably to save money, but the fakery doesn't work. Think back to AVENGING FORCE, a 1986 low-budget adventure very similar to THE MARINE. Remember how director Sam Firstenberg took star Michael Dudikoff and the other actors and stuntmen into the bayou, and you could taste the rain and the mud and the blood? You don't get any of that here.

THE MARINE marks the screen debut of WWE wrestler John Cena. Considering how flamboyant professional wrestling is, Cena seems like an unlikely selection for film stardom, as he comes across as dull and expressionless, no more than a slab with ridiculously huge muscles. Comparing him to fellow athletes-turned-actors like Dolph Lundgren, Brian Bosworth or even The Rock, you notice that Cena is more "rock" than "The Rock." The clumsy screenplay doesn't help much in Cena's attempt to find a character either.

Cena is John Triton, a U.S. Marine who is drummed out of the Corps for killing nine terrorists and rescuing three fellow Marines singlehandedly. Since Triton disobeyed a direct order by not sitting on his ass until backup could arrive, he accepts a premature discharge and returns home to his fake-breasted blond wife Kate (Kelly Carlson from NIP/TUCK and STARSHIP TROOPERS 2). He gets a job as a security guard, but is fired his first day when he throws an obnoxious asshole through a plate-glass window. He shares a final beer with his new work friend, who drives John home and then drives out of the movie forever. So what the hell was the point of the last 15 minutes?

John and Kate decide to take a trip, but are waylaid at the gas station by psycho diamond thief Rome (a hammy Robert Patrick, the recipient of a TERMINATOR gag) and his gang, who kill some cops, blow the place up, and jet outta there with Kate as a hostage. Triton, who takes a ridiculous amount of physical punishment in THE MARINE without showing more than slight scratches, jumps into the souped-up police cruiser, which looks like something out of BLADE RUNNER, and chases them. The laughs grow to a fever pitch when Triton loses control, flips the car into the air and upside down, and leaps out of it as it plunges over a cliff and into the water below. The punchline is that the bad guys continue shooting at the car, even though it's flying over their head, over a cliff, and on fire. How many times did they think they could kill that fucking car?

Triton, completely unscathed except for a half-inch red mark under his eye (you gotta see this crash to believe it), pursues the baddies into the "swamp." The rest of THE MARINE pretty much plays out exactly as you guess it will. The lame twist reveals that Rome's secret partner is the only other character in the film and the only person it could be. The whole story boils down to a fistfight between bodybuilder Cena and 50-year-old Patrick, so you can imagine how that plays out. And do you think there's a Villain Back From The Dead moment? Woooooo, better watch your back, John Cena!

THE MARINE is simple and fast-paced. One benefit to filming in Australia was that Bonito got David Eggby, MAD MAX's cinematographer, to shoot it, so it doesn't look too bad. Making Cena seem more human would have been an enormous improvement. He takes the brunt of several massive explosions, blows to the head, crashes...he even hangs onto the side of a semi-truck as it smashes through buildings. We're used to superheroics in our action movies, but even Indiana Jones felt pain. John Triton really is, as one character says, The Terminator.

For my tastes, there's too much CGI substituting for real stunts and special effects. Filming actors in front of a green screen and putting CGI explosions behind them just doesn't work. The trickery is so obvious that it takes me out of the movie. With practical effects, one can oooh and aaah at the artistry and danger involved. Blowing up houses with CGI requires no pain, no gain and no thrills.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Dumb Bunnies


02 DUMB BUNNIES
October 8, 2003 (ABC)
Writer: John Mankiewicz
Director: Jeremy Paul Kagan

The Salchek brothers are on the run, and U.S. marshal Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino) is on their case. Even though they had just six months left to serve on their five-year sentences, dumb clucks Merle (Billy Burke) and Bob Salchek (a pre-Johnny Drama Kevin Dillon) bust out of prison on advice from wizened old blind inmate Homer (Scott Wilson of IN COLD BLOOD). Their mission is to burglarize the estate of reputed gangster Charlie Lucre (Danny DeVito) and swipe his prized Babe Ruth autographed baseball, so they can sell it and use the cash to buy their beleaguered ma (Rhea Perlman) a double-wide trailer.

If it seems as though it was awful nice of movie star/director DeVito (HOFFA) to help out, it wasn’t such a big deal really. His Jersey Films was KAREN SISCO’s production company, and DeVito is credited as an executive producer. Mankiewicz’s teleplay aims for laughs more than crime drama, and the lunkheaded Salcheks (“plateheads,” Karen’s father Marshall [Robert Forster] calls them) are perfect foils for DeVito’s patented slow burns. Lucre may be the nicest gangster you’ve ever seen; even after he summons hitmen from Detroit to whack the brothers, he tries to call them off after Karen sweetly asks him to (that the assassins keep getting accidentally killed by the Salcheks isn’t his fault).

And why does Homer convince the Salcheks to bust out with so little time left on their sentences? Ah, you’ll have to wait for the episode’s final shot for the punchline to that gag.

“Dumb Bunnies” is a fun episode blessed with nimble comic performances, an appropriately jaunty score by Danny Lux and Carla Gugino’s appreciated choice of tight tank tops as proper work attire. Surprisingly, considering “Dumb Bunnies” was only the second SISCO episode to air, Gugino has little to do except play straight man to the large supporting cast, which also includes Obba Babatunde as an unethical FBI agent, Mike Starr (ED WOOD) as DeVito’s henchman and series regular Bill Duke (PREDATOR) as Sisco’s boss.

TV veteran Mankiewicz moved on to produce and write scripts for HOUSE, M.D. and SAVED. Director Kagan began his television career in the 1970s, but was promoted to features, where he compiled studio credits such as THE STING II, THE JOURNEY OF NATTY GANN and HEROES with Harrison Ford. Not long afterwards, Kagan returned to the small screen, first helming numerous made-for-TV movies and then returning to his roots doing episodes of THE WEST WING and BOOMTOWN. “Dumb Bunnies” was the only KAREN SISCO for both Kagan and Mankiewicz.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Captain America! Fuck Yeah!

You may have heard that Captain America, the Marvel Comics superhero created by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in 1941, was killed off this week in the latest issue of his eponymous book. I can't imagine a better tribute than this short video.

What Are You Looking For?

Judging from the keyword searches that lead people to this blog, I'd say mainly nude pictures of Candice Rialson and the short film WHAT IS COMMUNISM? It's probably a good thing Candy never starred in a movie with Herb Philbrick, or else the entire Internet would have exploded by now.

I don't actually have any nude women on this blog, but that don't stop guys from looking:
sexy photos pamela Hensley
Jeana Tomasino nude
elizabeth hasselbeck's hairstyles
Carla gugino
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humanoids from the deep, bikini top topless clip
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PICTURES OF CANDICE RIALSON
bobbie jo and the outlaw free video clips
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candice rialson pictures
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Some other good ones:
is gene barry planning to be in any tv show or movies in 2007
Beats the hell out of me, but let's hope!

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He went to MIT, ya know.

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?

demolition derby pictures malachi
A HAPPY DAYS fan, I presume?

historical inaccuracies in bad day at black rock
Geez, picky, picky...

happened doug barr the fall guy
It's true. He happened.

does clint eastwood speak Italian
I reckon so.

how old is actor robert pernell
Beats me. How old is Pernell Roberts?

what happened to clint eastwood's speech
The dog ate it.

helen hunt will gurad like a warhorse
I understand she is a gurading madwoman.

movies you can burn with don the dragon wilson
Don does seem like the kind of guy you could sit around and burn movies with.

chuck norris vs godzilla video
This I have to see.

And my favorite keyword search of all time...
bud selig is an asshole

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Watch Out For Leopards


If more people knew about it, I'm convinced that 1968's TERROR IN THE JUNGLE would be renowned as one of the worst movies ever made. The filmmakers went all the way to Peru to shoot this Crown International potboiler, but it hardly seems worth the effort. The jungle footage is barely more authentic-looking than a Bomba movie, and it may just as well have been filmed in Florida.

TERROR is the work of three (!) credited directors: Tom DeSimone (credited with Plane Sequence), Alexander Grattan (Temple Sequence) and Andy Janczak (Jungle Sequence). Any scene set elsewhere, who knows who directed it? Each director looks as though he had his own cinematographer (and perhaps film stock), and I highly doubt DeSimone ever left California. His footage is the funniest, as the movie sets up an array of stock characters Irwin Allen-style, including some nuns, a struggling starlet, a rock band (with awful wigs) and a 5-year-old boy traveling alone to meet his mother in Rio de Janeiro. All the character development is wasted after the plane crashes 25 minutes into the movie, and almost everyone is killed, either by the crash or by hungry crocodiles. It's difficult to say which element of this part of the film is funniest: the incredibly poor acting, the cheap sets, the laughable special effects, the ridiculous song ("Sweet Lips"?) performed by the band, the dead nun that pitches forward out of her coffin (which is stored standing up in the baggage area!) or the stupid plot. Bravo, Tom DeSimone, who went on to a career making gay porn and Hollywood trash (like CHATTERBOX and ANGEL III: THE FINAL CHAPTER).

The lone survivor of the plane crash is the little boy, Henry, who is portrayed by one of cinema's shittiest child actors. All he pretty much does is cry his wimpy ass off, and I can only imagine the ways in which the directors terrorized him, because all his crying jags have to be real. In no way is this kid a good enough actor to fake it. Henry is captured by a tribe of Jivaro natives, who are convinced he is the son of their god after the chief sees a terrible special effect/blinking yellow glow emanating from the kid's blond hair. Only one native disbelieves, and keeps trying to convince the chief to kill the brat.

Meanwhile, the boy's father, Henry Sr., learns about the plane crash and travels to South America to find his son. He hooks up with a priest, who takes Henry to see another priest deep in the jungle. Priest #2 says he can get some natives to guide them to the Jivaros' village if Priest #1 will give up his robe and his rosary to one of them. Priest #1 is surprisingly reluctant, considering a little kid's life is at risk, but I can understand why he wouldn't want to traipse through the jungle in his undershirt.

Back at the village, the chief is finally convinced to kill the kid, but a friendly native and his posse start a riot. Many huts are burned down, many natives are stabbed to death (the stabbings are all filmed using animation!), and little Henry escapes. Just when he's about to be grabbed and stabbed by the one evil native, his stuffed toy leopard somehow the fuck transforms into a real leopard (!) and mauls the guy to death. Goddammit, yes, I am freaking the hell out.

The whiny kid gets away (and the leopard changes back into a toy), but falls into some "quicksand" (in reality, a two-foot hole in a mud puddle). While a stock-footage python stalks him, he yells for his daddy, who manages to be within earshot and runs to rescue his son. This is done by laying on his chest in a puddle, while his companions grab his legs and pretend he's in danger of being sucked into that 1/8-inch-deep water.

Dad "pulls" his kid to safety, "The End" appears on the screen, and Crown International has successfully ripped off another audience. Amazingly, considering how obscure this movie must be (was it ever even on VHS?), the print I saw was in darned good shape. Millions of dollars are spent repairing and enhancing damaged negatives of brilliant films like VERTIGO and LAWRENCE OF ARABIA. Meanwhile, TERROR IN THE JUNGLE is available in bright color without a splice or scratch on it. That's Hollywood for you.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Men...Women...Old...Young

Whether it's hundreds at a time or only one, Bolo Yeung as CHINESE HERCULES will fuck you up.

Does anyone know the identity of the voiceover guy? He did tons of trailers for trashy movies.

Let's Boil The Wolverines

The amazing John Belushi died 25 years ago this week at the age of 33. We all know that the influence of The Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Players and the first five seasons of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE on Hollywood, even to this day, cannot be overestimated. But it is worth wondering in what direction Belushi's career would have gone if he had survived past 1982. Would he have become Bill Murray or Chevy Chase? I suspect, given his enormous talent (and he was a very good actor, in addition to his skills as a physical comedian), he would have by now become an in-demand character actor, but hopefully one with more accomplished tastes than Dan Aykroyd. Yes, I realize that Aykroyd was once nominated for an Academy Award, but I think it's safe to say that most of his post-SNL roles are pretty forgettable.

I'm sure that if you go to YouTube, you'll find plenty of Belushi videos there, including tribute clips and SNL sketches and scenes from ANIMAL HOUSE. It certainly wouldn't hurt you to check a couple out and be reminded of what an electrifying performer he could be.

What I found of interest is this, which is the obituary VARIETY wrote for Belushi on March 5, 1982.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

He Has Come...A God With A Devil On His Back...To Rip You Off

1973's SOUL HUSTLER stars the former "Hound Dog Man," Fabian Forte, the '50s teen idol, who is better than you might think as Matthew, a guitar-playing, heroin-addicted drifter who becomes a gospel-rock superstar overnight. While cruising through the desert with only his two dogs and hitchhiker Brian (Larry Bishop, later the sleazy strip club owner in KILL BILL, VOL. 2) for company, Matthew stops off at an evangelical tent show owned by the shady Reverend Evin Calder (Tony Russel, the star of Antonio Margheriti's Italian space operas), where he picks up some extra bread by fleecing the crowd. Calder realizes Matthew has something he doesn't--youth and a way with a song--and hires Matthew as a headliner. Soon, with ex-junkie Vietnam vet Brian in tow as chauffeur, roadie and hooker procurer, Matthew, the Son of Jesus, heads to the top of the charts and a sold-out gig at the Los Angeles Forum, where he receives an award from the city.

Yes, it's a pretty typical show biz rags-to-riches story, and it's obvious there's going to be no easy way out for Matthew, but the production is pretty lively, the campy dialogue is fun, and--I'm ashamed to say--my toes were frequently tapping during Fabian's bubblegummy tunes, which were mostly written by Harley Hatcher (WILD WHEELS). Topper (THE HARD RIDE), who also wrote and produced SOUL HUSTLER, was obviously working with little money, and he cuts a few corners showing the various transitions in Matthew's meteoric rise, but I liked his PG feature better than I thought I would. Casey Kasem, the legendary schlock disc jockey and voiceover artist, looks ridiculous in a curly-headed rug as Matthew's PR man.

SOUL HUSTLER originally released as THE DAY THE LORD GOT BUSTED; I have an original one-sheet in which the SOUL HUSTLER title was obviously pasted over the first. The Monterey Home Video tape is complete as far as I can tell. The picture and sound were pretty good--especially considering the tape's age--and the feature is followed by two previews for other Monterey releases: 1961's JOHNNY NOBODY with Aldo Ray and 1977's HUGHES AND HARLOW: ANGELS IN HELL, directed by Larry Buchanan!

An interesting double bill would schedule SOUL HUSTLER with 1976's NASHVILLE GIRL. I can imagine Southern drive-in audiences lapping up this New World release. Softcore actress Monica Gayle stars as jailbait Jamie, a product of a strict Baptist upbringing who runs away from her hillbilly home and hitches with a pair of truckers to Nashville to become a country-western star. The sloppy screenplay sure squeezes a lot of plot into less than 90 minutes. After her brothers beat up her rapist, 16-year-old Jamie reaches the big city, only to be pawed and groped by literally every man she meets. She meets a friend while showering at the YWCA, loses her, meets another while serving a prison sentence for prostitution, is pawed by a lesbian guard, gets paroled, bounces around from one record producer to another, loses her virginity to one sleazebag, and finally signs a personal contract with a country superstar played by Glenn Corbett (ROUTE 66) with a penchant for young girls.

Like many exploitation movies from the 1970's, rape and statutory rape are treated casually, and without the sleaze or nudity, NASHVILLE GIRL would probably fit well as a made-for-TV movie. Gayle appeared as the sinister Dagger Deb Patch in Jack Hill's SWITCHBLADE SISTERS the year before, and it's a testimony to her range as an actress that she pulls off the naïve country girl character of Jamie pretty well. Corbett, who usually played good guys on TV, probably relished the opportunity to do something edgier, and it's likely he enjoyed the close proximity to so many nude actresses. Singer Johnny Rodriguez and songwriters Rory Bourke, Gene Dobbins and John Wills give director Gus Trikonis' (THE SWINGING BARMAIDS) expose a stamp of approval, even though it's a roaring indictment of the music industry. The songs are pretty good, and I wonder if a NASHVILLE GIRL soundtrack album ever existed (MGM Records released one for THE DAY THE LORD GOT BUSTED). Drive-in fave Marcie Barkin (THE CAR) co-stars (in the nude), along with Maytag man Jesse White, ALIAS SMITH AND JONES' Roger Davis and Leo Gordon.

Marvel Comics writer Gary Friedrich penned a pornographic novelization of Peer J. Oppenheimer's script. I used to have one, but I gave it away to someone who collects books authored by comic book scribes. Trikonis, Goldie Hawn's ex-husband, did MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS next. NASHVILLE GIRL was also released as COUNTRY MUSIC DAUGHTER, probably to capitalize on the success of COAL MINER'S DAUGHTER, and NEW GIRL IN TOWN, a title used in the northern U.S. so the Yankees wouldn't know the movie was about country music.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Mission Complete

Well, it took about six months, but I've finally completed my quest of watching all 171 episodes of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE. One of the last that I saw is also one of the craziest, even by M:I standards. It's from the sixth season (I watched the show in production order, but I found a couple of unexpected holes that I had to fill later) and is called "The Visitors." For a series based on preposterous plots, this one may be stretching credulity.

Edward Granger (Steve Forrest, later the star of S.W.A.T.) is a media magnate who owns several newspapers and radio and television stations. He's also in bed with the Syndicate and uses his holdings to influence the voters of his state to elect crooked officials. With just 72 hours before the next election, the Impossible Missions Force has to reveal Granger's plot to the public and ensure that the voters have the correct information before they go to the polls.

Granger is also a believer in extraterrestrial life, so what does the IMF do? Why, convince him that they're from outer space, of course. First, electronics genius Barney (Greg Morris) releases a mutated bee into Granger's house by placing a box with a bee and a fan in it over the chimney and blowing the bee out through the fireplace. It stings Granger (was it trained?) and releases an undetectable venom into him that completely paralyzes him. He can see and think, but he can't move.

His doctors can't do anything for him, but, that night, he looks out the window and sees a bright light in the sky that he thinks might be a UFO. Jim Phelps (Peter Graves) and Casey (Lynda Day George) arrive disguised as physicians and "cure" Granger using "futuristic" technology. They tell Granger that they're part of an alien race that chose Granger to join them in space 25 years earlier, but since he has become corrupt, he's no longer worthy.

Casey fakes injury in a car chase/crash, and Phelps and Granger carry her to the aliens' headquarters (which was obviously shot in the metal shop on the Paramount studio lot), where they place her inside some sort of rejuvenation device. It "returns" her to life, and Phelps tells Granger that he could have had the gift of immortality if not for his evil ways. Granger repents, and makes a statewide radio broadcast, confessing to his guilt and revealing to the entire state the names of the political candidates in the Syndicate's pocket.

Phelps, Casey and Willy (Peter Lupus) surreptitiously (as usual) slip out of the building and drive off during Granger's speech. A Syndicate gunmen, who followed the group to "headquarters," shoots Granger for his treachery, and the final shot freezes on Granger's bloody hand desperately reaching for the button that "operates" the machine.

Written by Harold Livingston, who specialized in far-out concepts (he also wrote "Encore," in which the IMF "de-aged" mobster William Shatner 30 years and convinced him the last three decades of his life never happened), and directed by Reza S. Badiyi, who specialized in arresting visuals, "The Visitors" may be the craziest MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE of all, but it's certainly entertaining.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blown Away


01 BLOWN AWAY
October 1, 2003 (ABC)
Teleplay: Bob Brush
Story: Elmore Leonard (short story: Karen Makes Out)
Director: Michael Dinner

In KAREN SISCO's pilot episode, U.S. marshal Karen (Carla Gugino) suffers from both physical and psychological bruising. Days after she was shot in the chest during a stakeout (the bulletproof vest she was wearing saved her life), Karen learns that Carl (Patrick Dempsey), the mysterious wavy-haired man she’s been dating, may be the bank robber the FBI has been looking for. Although the two have been out only a few times, her attraction to him is strong, and the fact that he doesn’t yet know what she does for a living (him trying to guess her occupation is a flirty game they play) makes her decision on whether or not to help the Feds build a case against Carl even tougher. Meanwhile, Marshall (Robert Forster), Karen's father, a retired marshal now working as a private detective, follows around a man in a wheelchair whom the insurance company believes may be faking his injury for a sizable settlement.

“Blown Away” is perhaps of more interest these days because of Dempsey’s prominent guest role. Barely a blip on the B-list following years of undistinguished feature and TV-movie credits, less than two years later Dempsey became one of television’s biggest stars as Dr. Derek Shepherd on the smash ABC drama GREY’S ANATOMY (who knows…maybe ABC is getting better about developing its hour dramas?). We know little about Carl, although it seems a foregone conclusion that he will indeed turn out to be the bad guy, but we know enough to understand the feelings he has for Karen and vice versa.

A more intriguing guest turn is that of Gary Cole, who appears in a couple of scenes as Konner, a fellow marshal working under Amos. What’s odd is that Konner, at least in the pilot, is not much of a role, and not the kind of character that you go out and hire a guy like Gary Cole to play. Are there plans to make Cole a regular or are the writers merely setting him up for a major storyline down the road?

Though set in Florida, KAREN SISCO was actually filmed in Los Angeles, though it looks like much of the pilot was made on location with a second unit filming pickups and little dialogue scenes to be edited into future episodes.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Hu Dat Monster Fighter

I'd like to talk to you about a new film called DEVIL'S DEN starring horror favorites Devon Sawa (IDLE HANDS) and Ken Foree (DAWN OF THE DEAD), as well as mega-hottie Kelly Hu (X-MEN 2). But first off, when did Sawa become 40 years old? Winner of the Chris Penn What The Fuck Happened To This Teen Star Award, Sawa was 28 when he filmed DEVIL'S DEN, but he looks almost old enough to be Wilford Brimley's son. It looks like character acting, not leading man material, is in Sawa's future. To be fair, Sawa is a pretty good actor with some flair for physical comedy. I thought he was terrific mixing slapstick and gore in the comic horror film IDLE HANDS (1999) with a performance reminiscent of Bruce Campbell in EVIL DEAD 2. DEVIL'S DEN is in the same vein.

Filmed obviously quickly and cheaply near Los Angeles, DEVIL'S DEN was written by its producer and stunt coordinator, Mitch Gould, who obviously saw FROM DUSK TILL DAWN a few times. I wonder why it took someone a decade to rip it off so blatantly. An out-of-the-way strip joint in the Mexican desert called "Devil's Den" is the setting, as an importer of Spanish fly (Sawa), a monster hunter kinda like Jimmy Woods in VAMPIRES (Foree), a leather-clad two-gun-shooting kung-fu-fighting assassin (Hu) and a ditzy waitress (Karen Maxwell) are the only survivors after the sexy strippers transform into flesh-eating "ghouls" and chow down on the other patrons in a gore-spraying attack. Nearly the entire film takes place in Devil's Den, as the four survivors fight back against the ghouls, which can only be killed by starving them to death, preferably by separating their heads from their stomachs via decapitation.

Even more so than FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, the horror is played for laughs, much of it through regular guy Sawa's wisecracking as bizarre bloodletting splashes all around him. It's very cool to see DAWN OF THE DEAD's zombie-fighting Foree playing a major role here, dressed in black and laying smack with a shotgun and a samurai sword. Equally dangerous but much more fetching is top-billed Hu, whose character is actually kinda silly. About two-thirds of the way through, we're introduced to her backstory, which is ludicrous, in a scene that does little except help stretch the film to its 84-minute running time.

More ludicrous is the revelation that Sawa is some sort of gigolo who romances married women, including a senator's wife, which gets him into trouble with the government. Looking at this guy, I'd be surprised if he could seduce a Denny's waitress, much less a wealthy older woman.

Stranger than anything else in the movie is an oddball fantasy sequence where Foree and Sawa imagine what it would look like if Zatoichi (!) fought a roomful of stripper ghouls.

Horror fans may be surprised to learn that DEVIL'S DEN was directed by Jeff Burr, who also made PUMPKINHEAD, PUPPET MASTER and TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE sequels. His LEATHERFACE: TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 3 is somewhat notorious for being eviscerated by New Line in order to head off ratings troubles with the MPAA. Burr was outspoken about his disappointment with New Line's meddling, and many fans feel his original cut would likely be an improvement over what was actually released, if New Line would ever find it in them to put it out.

The reason fans may be surprised to learn of Burr's involvement is that he isn't listed in the titles, as directing credit is given to the pseudonymous "Andrew Quint." I'm unsure why Burr took his name off the picture. It certainly isn't because DEVIL'S DEN is a bad movie, because it isn't. It lumbers in spots, but is an entertaining mixture of horror and humor with enough gore and nudity to keep fans amused.