Wednesday, May 30, 2007

TS on NBC

Networks used to air short news updates during prime time programming, usually just before the top of the hour. Of course, they don't do it anymore, because that's sixty seconds they can use to sell advertising, rather than educate and inform their viewers.

Since the anchors had less than a minute to tell their stories, they had to do it succinctly and smoothly. It wasn't an easy job. One of the best at it was Tom Snyder, who was also hosting THE TOMORROW SHOW on NBC and local newscasts on the network's NBC affiliate. He later hosted talk shows on CNBC and CBS, where David Letterman signed him to host THE LATE, LATE SHOW before Craig Kilborn took it over (and Craig Ferguson has it now).

Here's one of Snyder's NBC NEWS UPDATEs from 1976. I love the snappy delivery and particularly the sharp writing. The final story is a great kicker, a short, punchy light news bit with a terrific button.



YouTube has posted several NBC NEWS UPDATEs, and I find them fascinating to watch, if only out of curiosity to see what was happening in the world back then. NBC's approach to the news, as well, because you know that if it still did these updates, they would be laced with "news stories" about Angelina Jolie and Lindsay Lohan.

Also, speaking of Snyder, come over sometime and watch the half-hour interview Snyder did with Howard Stern when he guest-hosted LATER WITH BOB COSTAS in the late 1980s. It's one of the most amazing--and human--television interviews I've ever seen, as you watch two guys who neither understand nor like each other being completely open and honest in their hostility.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Jose Chung, R.I.P.


Actor and Hollywood personality Charles Nelson Reilly died this weekend at age 76. I suppose he's best known for his colorful gameplaying as a regular panelist on MATCH GAME, but he really was a lot more than that. He was a Tony Award winner in 1963 and was nominated for three Emmys for his work on THE GHOST AND MRS. MUIR, MILLENNIUM and THE DREW CAREY SHOW. His MILLENNIUM episode, "Jose Chung's 'Doomsday Defense'," was a sequel to an X-FILES episode titled "Jose Chung's 'From Outer Space'," which is one of the most amazing episodes of television I've ever seen, a densely witty sendup of THE X-FILES' storytelling style with a tightly structured Darin Morgan teleplay and amazing character work by Reilly (in a role written for Rip Taylor).

Aside from his fame as a performer on game shows and kiddie shows (like LIDSVILLE and the barely remembered--except by me--UNCLE CROC'S BLOCK with Jonathan Harris), Reilly made quite a living as a personality. He appeared on THE TONIGHT SHOW nearly 100 times, 12 times in 1977 alone, including as a guest host. Reilly was a dying breed, someone who was on television who was genuinely talented and entertaining. He wasn't plugging anything when he walked onto the TONIGHT SHOW stage. He was there just because he was funny and Carson liked him. When is the last time you saw any guest on a talk show who wasn't there to sell their new movie or album? The last time a talk show guest actually came on to...talk?

Something else Reilly was famous for: commercials. Here's one I remember as a kid, Reilly dressing in a banana suit to sell Bic pens.

HINT: Turn your speakers down. Whomever uploaded this commercial made the audio level way too loud.

Chopsocky Bob Chaney

THE INSTRUCTOR is one of those films that comes along so often that makes you just shake your head in wonder that it even exists. Making a good film is extremely difficult. Making a bad film is also hard, but making a film both this bad and this hilarious is almost impossible. This plotless wonder is still probably the best film ever made in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

Bob Chaney, who looks like a hairy cross between Ron Jeremy and Burt Reynolds, complete with mustache, huge eyebrows and a large helmet of black curly hair (really, he looks like Count Dante in those old comic book ads), plays The Instructor (who may be named Hunter, but I couldn’t be sure). He and his karate student, Thumper Rhodes (played by writer/producer/director Don Bendell), are jogging and chatting one morning when they run across both a mentally disturbed “Mama’s boy” dressed as a ninja (who picks his nose) and a gang of punks who pick a fight with them at the railroad yard. After Thumper is easily taken out with a single blow (making his later karate championship quite laughable), The Instructor fights the rest of the gang using moves more akin to Rudy Ray Moore than Chuck Norris. Yes, I realize Chaney really is a karate grand master, but you wouldn’t know it from this movie.

Nothing in the opening twenty minutes has a thing to do with the rest of the movie, which introduces Bud Hart (Bob Saal), a rival karate instructor who is also evil, moonlighting as an assassin for a union boss. Hart and The Instructor were childhood friends until Hart raped and murdered The Instructor’s wife. Instead of seeking vengeance, like in every other movie, The Instructor turned the other cheek. He really doesn’t seem bothered by it at all, not even when Hart beats up a street cop in front of him. And not even when Hart asks the union boss to send some goons over to The Instructor’s karate school to vandalize it (they throw some papers on the floor) and rape his new girlfriend.

More chases and fights ensue. I’m not sure why. Eventually, Thumper is beaten half to death in the shower by the fat retarded ninja, who steals his karate trophy to display in his mother’s basement. The Instructor, suspecting Bud Hart, chases his nemesis all over Cuyahoga Falls in his groovy Stingray, then on a motorcycle, and finally down a waterfall and up a mountain. It’s a long chase and fight sequence, made even more riotous because Hart didn’t do it. The movie finally ends with The Instructor in jail facing a murder charge, but quickly released with a $500 fine and a suspended sentence!

In addition to the wonky story and inept action scenes (I can’t bring myself to call them setpieces), THE INSTRUCTOR provides plenty of laughter, including co-star Bendell’s wild hair and mustache combo, The Instructor’s occasional flashbacks to better times when his wife was alive (and to Hart and him as kids playing in the woods!), Chaney’s attempt at heavy dramatic acting when he discovers his friend’s beaten body (he clutches his fists, throws his head back and screams), and the ballads that punctuate the montages. Don’t bother trying to find out who wrote and performed them; this movie has the smallest credits I’ve ever seen. Bendell, much to our loss, never made another movie, but he moved to Colorado shortly after THE INSTRUCTOR and became a popular author of science fiction, western and military action novels. Chaney also moved from Ohio to California, where he operates a martial arts academy.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

You Should Have Died When He Killed You

Baltimore filmmaker Alvin D. Ecarma’s feature debut is a dizzying parody of Hong Kong action flicks. Made with very little money, but a lot of heart and enthusiasm, LETHAL FORCE (I think a better title would help it stand out from the myriad of generic action movies with similar titles) is 70 minutes of wild and frequently funny thrills.

A wheelchair-bound villain named Mal Locke (Andrew Hewitt) kidnaps the wife and son of hitman Jack Carter (top-billed Frank Prather). As ransom, he demands that Carter betray his best friend, a badass kung fu assassin in a suit and a bright yellow suit named Savitch (writer/producer/director Ecarma, billed as “Cash Flagg, Jr.,” an obvious nod to Ray Dennis Steckler), and lure him to Locke’s estate. Savitch once shot Locke from a hiding place inside a mailbox (shades of GET SMART’s Agent 13!), but the hit attempt merely crippled Locke instead of killing him. Only Carter can get close enough to Savitch to lure him into Locke’s clutches.

Heavily influenced by exploitation filmmakers as disparate as Russ Meyer, John Woo and Nathan Juran (and a few comic book creators such as Garth Innis), Ecarma, like Quentin Tarantino, has a certain knack for pulling from his favorite sources to cobble together an entertaining feature (that runs 70 minutes with credits). The over-the-top violence, including swordplay that draws spurting blood (like in SHOGUN ASSASSIN), a power drill jammed into someone’s head, and a chomped-off tongue, is played for laughs and is unlikely to turn anyone off. Action director and cinematographer Eric Thornett, who also portrays an eccentric killer modeled after THE MATRIX’s Agent Smith, should share some credit for the movie’s pace and energetic fight scenes, particularly because it’s clear that most of the cast are not experienced in the martial arts. However, the fights are choreographed with such tongue-in-cheek style that the performers’ amateurism works in their favor.

Like any micro-budgeted film, LETHAL FORCE has its share of drawbacks, mainly the drab performance of star Prather and the clumsy post-synch sound. It may take a bit of patience to climb aboard Ecarma’s dream, but if you can hack it, you should be well rewarded. Unearthed Films’ DVD also includes an audio commentary by Ecarma and some crew members, as well as production artwork, trailers and three of Ecarma’s short films.

Friday, May 25, 2007

5/25/77

Thirty years ago today, 20th Century Fox released a little film called STAR WARS to theaters across the United States. I wasn't there opening night, but I did see it during its initial theatrical run, and it's impossible to describe to anyone who wasn't alive in 1977 just how popular STAR WARS was. I haven't seen anything like the STAR WARS phenomenon since, and that includes the mega-grossing sequels.

I find this original STAR WARS trailer quite fascinating. By all accounts, 20th Century Fox and its boss, Alan Ladd Jr., were very excited about STAR WARS and convinced it would be a box-office success. However, it's obvious from this trailer that the studio really didn't have any idea exactly what they had or how to sell it. John Williams' score wasn't completed when this trailer was made, which would have added some excitement, and the narration is drab. I think Fox believed kids were the only audience for STAR WARS.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Short Time

I was pleased to note this afternoon that Fox Movie Channel is, as I type this, airing a letterboxed print of the 1990 film SHORT TIME, which means I can finally throw away my VHS prerecord. Hopefully, this means that a DVD release is imminent, but if not, I will at least be able to burn a decent-looking DVD-R of the FMC version.

SHORT TIME came out during a period of time in which I went to the movies two or three times a week and saw virtually every genre picture available. Action, horror, chopsocky, thriller, sci-fi, whatever...I was probably there. You can be forgiven for not having seen it, as Fox opened it in only 550 theaters, and it never placed higher than tenth place at the box office. It premiered May 4, 1990 and was likely gone by June.

It's a terrific little comedy/action thriller, however, built around the irascible charm of star Dabney Coleman, playing a nice guy for a change. Coleman's comic timing and the frequently amazing action scenes and stuntwork supervised by first-time director Gregg Champion distract you from the fact that the film's story is more than a bit implausible.

Thanks to some mixed-up X-rays at the lab, conservative police detective Burt Simpson (Coleman) believes he has only two weeks to live. Since he's due to retire before that and his ex-wife (Teri Garr) and son can collect his life insurance only if he's killed in the line of duty, Burt turns into Dirty Harry, taking enormous chances and catching a lot of bad guys in his quest to get himself whacked, much to the bemusement of his partner Ernie (MAX HEADROOM's Matt Frewer).

Champion stages some nifty action scenes in his directorial debut, including a corker of a car chase, but it's Coleman, in a rare sympathetic role, who really makes it work by investing a strong sense of reality in writers John Blumenthal and Michael Berry's absurd premise. To learn how important good acting can be in selling the absurd, watch Coleman operate in SHORT TIME's more dramatic moments, such as when he realizes he'll never get to see his son grow up. It's a very fine performance in a role that has to balance heartbreaking drama, over-the-top comedy and action perhaps more suited to a younger man. Coleman, best known for his blistering portrayals of assholes you love to hate in TOOTSIE, 9 TO 5 and the great BUFFALO BILL sitcom, pulls off some great work in this underappreciated comedy.

And, yes, I realize the two cops are named "Ernie" and "Burt".

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Give The Boys A Great Big Hand

When writer Evan Hunter passed away from cancer in 2005, it felt in a way like losing a family member. As Ed McBain, Hunter had written dozens of mystery novels about the detectives of the 87th Precinct, who solved crimes in the borough of Isola in a never-named city (though it was clearly supposed to be New York). I began reading the 87th Precinct novels when I was in junior high school and kept reading them as long as McBain kept writing them, which was right up until his death. I know his characters so well that it was painful to realize that I would never get to spend any new time with them. Sure, I can always re-read the books--they'll probably never go out of print--but there will be no more continuing adventures of the "bulls" of the 87th Precinct.

Happily, I was finally able to experience McBain's world in a different medium. In 1961, NBC premiered 87TH PRECINCT, a weekly one-hour TV series based on McBain's characters (and some episodes were even based on his novels). I've been wanting to see this series most of my life, and happily I wasn't disappointed. Not only was the executive producer Hubbell Robinson, an important figure in the early days of television who helped develop PLAYHOUSE 90 and THRILLER, but 87TH PRECINCT's casting, on paper, seemed to be dead on. Without even seeing the show, I felt actor Robert Lansing would be perfect as leading man Detective Steve Carella, and Ron Harper (Detective Bert Kling), Norman Fell (Detective Meyer Meyer) and Gregory Walcott (Detective Roger Havilland), from a physical standpoint, seemed yanked from the pages of a McBain novel.

One way to describe 87TH PRECINCT would be "DRAGNET with humor." Like the novels, the TV series was a police procedural that made time for banter between its characters that made them human, unlike the (intentionally) two-dimensional cops of LAW & ORDER. Their city was boiling over with waste and corruption and murder and human pestilence, but that didn't mean the detectives couldn't swim above it. They were sometimes weary of their jobs and the awful people with whom they had to be in contact, but they were always professional and never lost their humanity and hope for a better tomorrow.

In Donn Mullally's original teleplay "Man in a Jam," Cleve Thomson (guest star Lin McCarthy) appears to have committed the perfect murder by confessing to the crime. By claiming he murdered his fiance during a drunken blackout, but manipulating the crime scene to make it appear as though anybody else except him could have done it, Thomson hopes for a quick trial and acquittal, so that by the time Carella discovers the truth, double jeopardy will have already attached.

McBain's novel provided the story for Shimon Wincelberg's "Give the Boys a Great Big Hand." The discovery of a man's hand in a flight bag leads Carella and Kling on a search for a missing sailor, his stripper ex-girlfriend and the drummer she may be shacking up with. The conclusion is surprisingly lurid for network television, but remains faithful to McBain's book.

The 87th Precinct novels have provided inspiration for several feature films (including Akira Kurosawa's HIGH AND LOW) and made-for-TV movies (which miscast both Randy Quaid and Dale Midkiff as Carella), but Hubbell Robinson's NBC series must rank in the upper echelon. Unfortunately, the Nielsen ratings couldn't stand up to the one-two punch of MAKE ROOM FOR DADDY and THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW over on CBS, and apparently all the mystery fans were more drawn to the froth of SURFSIDE 6 on ABC than the hardnosed flatfooting on 87TH PRECINCT. The show was cancelled in 1962 after thirty episodes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Bruno Mattei R.I.P.

Some coincidence. Just a day after watching and blogging about STRIKE COMMANDO, I learn that its director, Bruno Mattei, has died at the age of 75. Mattei was quite the stalwart in the trashy Italian cinema game, helming such films as S.S. EXTERMINATION LOVE CAMP, EMMANUELLE AND THE EROTIC NIGHTS, THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS, RATS: NIGHT OF TERROR and the amazing ROBOWAR with Reb Brown, the star of his STRIKE COMMANDO.

Unlike many of his peers, Mattei was still swinging the bat, cranking out junky flicks. His latest, ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING, is due out later this year. Here's the trailer. It's a tad gory, so you may not want to watch it at work.

Loving Bundle of Viciousness

Long before MAGNUM, P.I., Tom Selleck went to the Philippines to star in the terrible DAUGHTERS OF SATAN, a tame horror movie directed by kiddie TV vet Hollingsworth Morse (ARK II).

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Americanski!

Nobody made crappy exploitation movies like the Italians used to. For every massive box-office American blockbuster during the 1980s, you could count on the Italians to make a dozen copies of it, usually terrible and almost always wildly entertaining. ROBOCOP, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, THE ROAD WARRIOR, FIRST BLOOD, STAR WARS, oh, yeah, the Italians were all over these.

2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS is a hilarious retread of THE ROAD WARRIOR with killer Nazis and bikers stalking a sexy blond woman (Sabrina Siani) after the Apocalypse. Saddled with one of the most incomprehensible plots I've ever encountered, 2020 is extremely entertaining and never dull. It's full of violent action and laughable dialogue, as the storyline changes direction several times in its attempt to eat up 97 minutes with nudity, crazy stuntwork and over-the-top acting. It's basically about some good settlers who take over a post-nuke refinery and repair it for...something. It's not clear exactly what they're doing, except everyone is peaceful, busy and happy. That is until bald Nazi Donald O'Brien and his biker gang rolls in and either kills everyone or turns them into slaves in their salt mines.

As I said, the story is malleable, enabling director Joe D'Amato to ripoff THE DEER HUNTER's Russian Roulette scene and introduce a tribe of Native Americans (anti-Chief Illinwek activists would not enjoy the stereotyping) who help the hero (American actor Peter Hooten, who once played Dr. Strange in a TV pilot) and his sidekicks (including Siani, who has appeared nude in every crappy film I've seen her in, including CONQUEST, where the only clothing she wears is an iron helmet) conquer O'Brien's forces, who include stormtroopers with energy shields that deflect bullets but not the Indians' arrows and spears.

Also entertaining is STRIKE COMMANDO. This Italian-made action flick about the Vietnam War manages to copy RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II almost scene-for-scene, but hilariously mucking it up. Star Reb Brown's dialogue ranges from "Bwahhhhhh!" to "Auuuuuughhhh!" as "strike commando" Mike Ransom, who is left for dead on a mission by his corrupt CO, Colonel Radek (Christopher Connelly). The plot really bounces around a lot, but Ransom hooks up with Vietnamese refugees, whom he attempts to lead to safety. They don't make it, but Ransom does. Radek sends him back into the jungle to take pictures (I know...like in RAMBO), but he ends up in a POW camp (which consists of just one other prisoner) where the Cong and their Russian allies force him to broadcast anti-American propaganda by electrocuting him on metal bedsprings (er, yeah, like in RAMBO). He escapes after days of sharing his cell with a rotting corpse, engaging in a hilarious fight with a big, dumb Ivan Drago-like Russian who calls Ransom "Americanski". A lot.

Just when the movie has run out of plot, the setting fast-forwards a decade for no discernible reason, allowing Ransom and Radek, who haven't aged a day and even appear to wear the same clothing, to engage in their respective revenge. Director Bruno Mattei's many action scenes often consist of Brown shooting a huge gun--not necessarily at anyone, just shooting it--and Viet Cong falling down or miniature buildings getting blown up. STRIKE COMMANDO might be even more cartoonish than RAMBO, if that's possible; certainly Brown's one-note screaming performance adds little dimension to the bloodletting. Little dimension, but much laughter.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Rambo Returns

Here's a 3 1/2-minute look at footage from the upcoming JOHN RAMBO. Yep, Stallone is back with a bow and arrow killing more bad guys...and it's about damn time. This can't be an official trailer--it's too gory for MPAA approval--but it gives you a good look at what to expect from a fourth Rambo movie. Like you didn't know already. Co-starring are Julie Benz (BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER), Paul Schulze (asshole CTU boss Ryan Chappelle on 24) and THE WHITE SHADOW's Ken Howard (!) in what looks like a replacement character for Richard Crenna, who died in 2003.

If JOHN RAMBO is as good as ROCKY BALBOA, this will be a fun time at the movies.

Friday, May 18, 2007

I Tube To YouTube

I've spent enough time browsing YouTube for videos to watch. Yesterday, I decided to finally become a contributor. I spent most of the day figuring out how to upload video to YouTube. The actually uploading isn't difficult, but compiling the video, downloading it to my hard drive and converting it to YouTube's specifications took a little time, particularly discovering what software I should download and use.

If you'd like to subscribe to my videos, my YouTube handle is PIMannix. I have 27 videos there now, most of them are short title sequences to TV shows (I figured these brief clips would be easy with which to learn the ropes). One of them is this fight to the death between wimpy good guy Peter Graves and psycho Cajun Timothy Carey in the famous (in cult circles) '50s melodrama POOR WHITE TRASH. Enjoy.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Smoke, Don't Smoke, Smoke, Don't Smoke

Less than four months after enacting a smoking ban in restaurants and bars, the Champaign City Council has reversed it. Way to take a step backwards, lawmakers. Like that doesn't make us look like a bunch of yokels. What's really ridiculous about tonight's council vote is that, if the governor signs the bill (and he surely will), the entire state of Illinois will be smoke-free anyway beginning in January 2008. Which means this reversal will last only until the end of the year. So what's the point? Wouldn't it be better to get ahead of the curve, to prove that Champaign is a progressive community? If bar owners are really losing so much business because of the smoking ban (which is complete bullshit, because I've been in the bars, and the crowds are still there), why don't they use this time to educate their customers and staff, to attempt new marketing and promotional ideas, to use the time wisely to make their establishments place where people--smokers and non--want to be? Instead of falling back on this idiotic, kneejerk lame-duck decision.

In case you're unaware, Champaign's (chain-smoking) mayor, who has said publicly that secondhand smoke is not harmful to anyone's health, is also the liquor commissioner. Corrupt government at work.

Urbana still plans to remain smoke-free, and several Champaign bars say they will remain smoke-free, despite tonight's reversal. You'll be able to recognize them. They're the bars making all the money.

Why I Am An Idiot

So I decided, on a day off from work, to go downtown and visit some establishments I usually don't get to see because they close at 5pm. I pull into a nice parking spot. I check the meter. 42 minutes left on it, but I put in a quarter and pay for an extra hour. I roam around, visit the used bookstores, stop into some other shops, have lunch, wander around the block, finally get back to the car. I check the meter--ah, still 24 minutes on it, plenty of time. Oh oh. On my windshield is a $10 parking ticket--time expired. What th--? How can that be?

Shit. I paid the wrong meter. Don't ask me how, but the meters are staggered in such a way that the meter I paid is actually closer to my car than the meter I should have paid. So some jagoff in a minivan got some free parking, and I got a $10 ticket.

I'm an idiot.

EDIT: I paid my fine online. But I didn't like it.

This White Man Can Jump

Chicken and I were walking through our yard yesterday when my foot landed about an inch from a snake, which quickly wriggled away into some weeds. I screamed "Jeez!" and leaped into the air. I came thisclose to jumping into Chicken's arms like Scooby and Shaggy do when a ghost frightens them. It was just a little garden snake about a foot long, but I hate the little bastards.

I Wonder How Falwell Is Getting Along In Hell

When Jerry Falwell was alive, he did nothing but preach hate, bigotry and intolerance. Falwell was outspoken in his hatred for blacks, Jews, homosexuals and women. Really, he was about a half-step away from the Ku Klux Klan. So I say with great irony and great sincerity that this world will be better off without him.

Bruce Is God



A genius like this, and you're telling me the only role Sam Raimi can find for him in SPIDER-MAN 3 is a French waiter? Two sitcom second-stringers get the juicy villain roles, and Bruce gets a cameo? Fuck you, Sam Raimi.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Nobody's Perfect

07 NOBODY’S PERFECT
November 12, 2003 (ABC)
Writer: Peter Lefcourt
Director: Michael Katleman

Writer Peter Lefcourt (“Dear Derwood”) must have had a GLAAD award in mind when he penned this KAREN SISCO episode, in which nearly every significant guest character is gay. U.S. marshal Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino) pursues murder suspect Louis DiNardo (NASH BRIDGES regular Jaime Gomez) to Kalamazoo, where he cold-cocks her in a sauna and escapes. Six months later, there’s a hit on DiNardo’s credit card at a hardware store in Miami, and Karen pesters her boss Amos (Bill Duke) for the case. Amos warily agrees, under the condition that she doesn’t make the case a personal one (“Pissed off marshals don’t do good work.”) and that she bring in DiNardo in 72 hours.

The store’s surveillance cameras prove the purchaser of a hedge trimmer isn’t DiNardo, and why would a murder suspect buy one anyway? Not only is DiNardo on the run from the Feds, but also Fred (Bodhi Elfman) and Stan (Oded Gross), two eccentric gay hitmen who love listening to opera and speaking in colorful phrases like Jules and Vincent in PULP FICTION. They work for “Mr. G” (Marc Vann), an extortionist from whom DiNardo stole $300,000—money he wants back in a bad way.

While Karen shuffles around Miami, chasing one vague clue after another, interviewing DiNardo’s former associates like the wife he cheated on (Sarah Aldrich) and Cary (Jonathan Slavin from ANDY RICHTER CONQUERS THE UNIVERSE), his gay lover, her father Marshall (Robert Forster), a private eye, takes on beautiful Mrs. Mulraney (Isabella Hofmann, formerly a detective on HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET) as a client. She suspects her husband of infidelity, and agrees to pay Marshall $5000 to find out. This subplot is well-played by Forster and Hofmann, who have enough chemistry to convince the audience that their relationship may go somewhere, but it was either not thought out very well or was the victim of post-production editing, because it ends in a confusing manner.

I can’t say much more about the main plot without giving it away, but it includes the casting of transgendered actress Alexandra Billings in a key role and current GREY’S ANATOMY star Kate Walsh as a Miami-Dade homicide detective with the hots for Karen. Outside of the villain’s identity, “Nobody’s Perfect” serves up a typical television crime plot, but spices it up with colorful supporting players, a snifter of surprising violence, a bit more screen time for Forster (SISCO’s secret weapon) and Gugino in more cleavage-baring tanktops. Although she isn’t credited, I’m pretty sure MY NAME IS EARL’s Nadine Velasquez appears with Gugino in the teaser set in a health club.

Writer Lefcourt is also a novelist, and two of his books, THE DEAL and THE DREYFUS AFFAIR, have been optioned by Hollywood to be adapted into movie form. Director Michael Katleman is busy in episodic television with credits ranging from CHINA BEACH to TRU CALLING; he made his feature-film debut with 2007’s killer-croc horror movie PRIMEVAL.

“Nobody’s Perfect” was also the final KAREN SISCO episode to air on ABC. By the time the network placed SISCO on “hiatus,” ten episodes were in the can with no indication they would ever air. ABC promised it would return SISCO to its prime-time schedule, possibly in the spring of 2004 and maybe even paired with ALIAS on Sunday night, but, alas, it never happened, and KAREN was dead.

Although ABC never ran the final three episodes, they did eventually premiere on the USA cable network, beginning in March 2004. All ten KAREN SISCOs also have run on Universal’s Sleuth network, a cable channel dedicated to reruns of TV crime dramas.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Burt Reynolds IS...

...DAN AUGUST!

Burt Reynolds was a working journeyman actor for more than a decade before his co-starring performance in 1972's DELIVERANCE made him a movie star. For most of the 1970s and into the early '80s, he was the one of the most popular actors in the world with hits like THE LONGEST YARD, HOOPER, SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT, SHARKY'S MACHINE, THE CANNONBALL RUN, STARTING OVER, SEMI-TOUGH, THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS and many others.

Until DELIVERANCE "delivered" Burt's big break, he was a very busy actor, appearing with great regularity as a guest star on TV shows (he once played a bank robber who got his ass kicked by Flipper!) and a leading man in minor films like SAM WHISKEY and 100 RIFLES. He also was a regular cast member on a few television series--for instance, he was Darren McGavin's sidekick on RIVERBOAT (he reportedly despised McGavin) and played Quint the blacksmith for a few years on GUNSMOKE. 1966's HAWK was Reynolds' first starring role in a TV series, but the New York-shot cop show, in which he played a Native American police detective named John Hawk, lasted just one season.

Reynolds' second stab at being a TV leading man also lasted only one season, but it seems to be more fondly remembered than HAWK, and there's speculation that it helped him land his breakthrough part in DELIVERANCE. DAN AUGUST was a Quinn Martin production, a hard-hitting, basically humorless cop show set in fictional Santa Luisa, California. From the few episodes I've seen, it was a typically solid QM crime drama with decent writing, great guest casts and strong production values. Reynolds earned a Golden Globe nomination for playing August.

Although it appears to have been fairly well received, DAN AUGUST was cancelled in 1971 by ABC after just one season. However, the series didn't end there. To capitalize on Reynolds' stratospheric rise to superstardom, CBS bought the series and aired AUGUST reruns during the summers of 1973 and 1975. Rarely has a television network bought reruns of a rival network's shows, but presumably the '73 run was highly rated, or else CBS wouldn't have run them again in '75.

Here's a 30-second promo for DAN AUGUST that features quick action shots and a bit of Dave Grusin's theme. You'll also notice familiar faces like Richard Anderson, Norman Fell and Ned Romero, who were Reynolds' co-stars on DAN AUGUST.



I'd like to see DAN AUGUST on DVD one of these days. THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO and THE UNTOUCHABLES are the first Quinn Martin series to hit DVD (and THE FUGITIVE has been announced for a summer release). Maybe if they do well enough, other QM productions will follow--CANNON, THE FBI, BARNABY JONES. Martin produced so many hits that it may be awhile before a one-season wonder like DAN AUGUST gets the nod.

And then--dare I say it--BERT D'ANGELO/SUPERSTAR on DVD?

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Travel Tonight

ABC finally premieres its new series TRAVELER tonight at 9:00 Central. You may remember that I reviewed its pilot all the way back in August. It did not make ABC's fall schedule, but was intended as a midseason replacement. Well, it didn't replace anything, and the fact that it is premiering in May is not a very good sign of the network's confidence. I don't know how many episodes ABC has in the can, but when a show gets "burned off" during the summer months, it's never a good sign that more episodes will be forthcoming.

At any rate, I found the pilot intriguing, but David Nutter, who directed it, will probably not be sticking around to do more episodes. You can read my full review here.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Two Great Badasses



William Smith and John Saxon co-starring in the 1979 Canadian film FAST COMPANY, directed by David Cronenberg, and then the two in 2004 when they were interviewed for Blue Underground's outstanding DVD. Genre movie stars don't come much better than these two guys.

Monday, May 07, 2007

My Top Ten Spaghetti Westerns

Following in the footsteps of Cinebeats, Giallo Fever and Moon in the Gutter, I've decided to post a list of my ten favorite Italian westerns. Two things I need to make clear though. First, I still have a lot of spaghetti westerns yet to see, several of which I have here at home waiting to be watched. Second, this list, like most that I make, is extremely malleable, and if you asked me next week to make this list, it would likely be different.

That said, here's my Top Ten list:
1. THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY—The Clint Eastwood/Sergio Leone pictures are the only Italian westerns I’ve seen on the big screen, which is the best way to experience this epic set during the Civil War. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS and FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE were warm-ups for this amazing film, in which not only are the director and the star at the top of their games, but also composer Ennio Morricone, who contributed the most iconic score of his career. It’s probably my favorite western, and the final half-hour or so (everything after Eli Wallach’s “Ecstasy of Gold” rush) is nigh perfect.

2. DJANGO—Franco Nero became an international superstar as a result of this witty and very bloody spaghetti western. Banned in Britain for two decades and only shown cut in the U.S. until Anchor Bay’s first DVD release, DJANGO features quite a few exciting action sequences and shootouts, with some of the gorier moments--a man having his ear sliced off and fed to him, for example--being surprisingly graphic for the time. It's hard to judge Nero's performance, since he was dubbed by an English-speaking actor, but his steely eyes, tight lips and physical charm make him right for the part. Dressed from head to toe in black, Nero cuts an imposing figure in Corbucci's widescreen compositions. The enormous success of DJANGO led to a large number of Italian westerns featuring the word Django in the title; however, only 1987's DJANGO STRIKES AGAIN, in which Nero reprised the role, is recognized as an official sequel.

3. BLINDMAN--One of the stranger "spaghetti westerns" I've seen is a swipe of the long-running series of Japanese films about the blind swordsman Zatoichi. It’s an Italian-made, American-financed western filmed in Spain that stars U.S. actor Tony Anthony as a blind gunfighter and British rock star Ringo Starr as a Mexican bandito. As directed by Ferdinando Baldi, BLINDMAN features several doublecrosses, a ton of beatings and explosions, plenty of gunfire, and a heapin' helping of brutality and misogyny. Anthony, also a co-producer and co-writer, seems to be going for a comic vibe, but with the mass slaughter and gangraping, it's hard to see what's so funny. Even the hero gets into the act, stripping Domingo's sister naked and tying her to a stake in the desert. Most of the women appear naked, and a mass shower scene looks like something from a women-in-prison flick. That said, I liked the film. It certainly isn't dull, tackling the violence and masochism with a lot of energy.

4. ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST--One of the western genre's all-time greats is as much art film as action entertainment. Clocking in at 165 minutes (with only fifteen pages of dialogue), Sergio Leone's vision lies in his panoramic vistas (filmed in Spain and Utah's Monument Valley), Ennio Morricone's classic score (which contains themes for all four main characters) and the iconic performances by the cast, which includes Charles Bronson, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards and, most memorably, Henry Fonda as the meanest villain you can imagine. WEST definitely moves at its own pace, but nearly every shot is lit and framed like a painting, ensuring that there's always something fascinating to look at, whether it's the natural phenomena of Leone's desert (painstakingly lensed by cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli) or Bronson's craggy visage in close-up. Leone also uses sound as well as any western ever has, cutting Morricone's score, which was recorded before principal photography began, to the rhythm of each scene. Another western this good didn't come along until Eastwood's 1992 Oscar winner UNFORGIVEN, which was dedicated to Leone.

5. DEATH RIDES A HORSE--Contains just about every genre cliché you can imagine, from the young hothead (John Philip Law) teaming up with the experienced gunfighter (Lee Van Cleef)to the familiar theme of revenge to slight smattering of black humor and male camaraderie to the weird score by il maestro, Ennio Morricone. Law does most of his acting with his striking blue eyes--I don't think he even dubbed his own voice--but Van Cleef is very good indeed, stealing all of his scenes and often without much dialogue.

6. THE GRAND SILENCE—Director Sergio Corbucci's downbeat film takes place in snowy Utah for an effectively bleak atmosphere. A small town is plagued by ruthless bounty hunters, who gun down petty criminals for the cash on their heads. The deadliest is Loco (Klaus Kinski), who kills so many people that he can't carry them all back to collect his reward, so he buries them in the snow until he can come back for them. One of his victims is the husband of Pauline (Vonetta McGee), who hires a mute gunslinger named Silence (French heartthrob Jean-Louis Trintignant) to enact her revenge, not knowing that Silence has his own reasons for wanting Loco dead. Hauntingly scored by the great Morricone and effectively acted, photographed and directed, THE GRAND SILENCE is one of the genre's landmarks, offering up an unusual setting and a dramatic climax likely to leave you shaken.

7. THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER--Originally released in Europe in 1974, it's an Italian/Hong Kong co-production, a rare combination of the western and martial arts genres. Probably influenced by the David Carradine TV series KUNG FU, THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER is an entertaining kung fu western that teams Lee Van Cleef and Chinese actor Lo Lieh as partners following a treasure map tattooed on the asses of four beautiful women scattered around the West. Director Antonio Margheriti demonstrates a sense of humor that allows the normally stern Van Cleef to show off a lighter touch than usual (Lee even sings in the picture). Lo Lieh pretty much steals the film anyway with several rousing kung fu scenes underscored by Carlo Savina's rock-oriented music that differs from the standard spaghetti western soundtrack.

8. SABATA—Lee Van Cleef stars in a frenetic comic adventure as an expert gunfighter who nabs the thieves who pulled off a nicely choreographed gold robbery in the town of Daugherty. This draws, not praise, but barely disguised scorn from the town leaders, since they were the ones who organized the heist. Sabata learns this and blackmails them, including Stengel (Franco Ressel), a fey sadist with a penchant for gimmickry who sends a succession of assassins to (unsuccessfully) silence Sabata. It sounds like a standard western plot so far, except that the characters would seem more at home in a James Bond film than a western. The well-armed Sabata’s arsenal includes a trick pistol that shoots from the handle, and he teams up with Banjo (William Berger), a musical conman with a rifle concealed in his instrument; Carrincha (Pedro Sanchez), a fat comic-relief sidekick; and Indio (Nick Jordan), a mute Indian acrobat who bounces off trampolines seemingly concealed all over the desert. Sabata is a crack shot, of course, but also has a talent for flipping coins with deadly accuracy, which comes in handy when he’s been disarmed. SABATA is good-natured, well-photographed fun that doesn’t take itself too seriously, an attribute that also applies to Van Cleef, who looks like he’s having a ball.

9. THE FIVE MAN ARMY--If you’ve ever wondered what MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE would look like as an Italian western, here you go. Peter Graves’ casting as The Dutchman, who plans an elaborate, split-second scheme to rob a train using four specialists, couldn’t have been coincidental. During the Mexican Revolution, The Dutchman recruits explosives expert Augustus (James Daly, then starring on MEDICAL CENTER), burly Mesito (Bud Spencer), master swordsman Samurai (Tetsuro Tamba) and cocky young Luis (Nino Castelnuovo) to steal $500,000 in gold from a moving train guarded by Army soldiers and monitored at regular intervals along the track. Action fans will get their fill, and the major setpiece--the train robbery--is handled extremely well with plenty of suspense.

10. GO KILL AND COME BACK aka ANY GUN CAN PLAY--After a spoofy prologue in which obvious replicas of The Man With No Name, Angel Eyes and Django are gunned down in the street by a handsome Stranger (George Hilton), the bounty hunter sets his sights on infamous Mexican bandit Monetero (Gilbert Roland). Monetero masterminds the robbery of $300,000 in gold from a train also carrying bank manager Clayton (Edd Byrnes), who's in charge of making sure the gold reaches its destination safely. The search for the hidden stolen gold becomes a three-way one when one of Monetero's hirelings hijacks the money for himself and hides it before being killed. From there on in, the Stranger, Clayton and Monetero engage in several doublecrosses, triplecrosses, reluctant teamings and shootouts on the path to the hidden bounty. GO KILL AND COME BACK is a very entertaining western filled with good humor and director Enzo Castellari's trademark action scenes.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

A Real Beller Full

Kathleen Beller was a cute, big-eyed actress who appeared frequently in films and television during the 1970s and 1980s, specializing in playing innocents and often much younger than she actually was (she was born in 1956). Through coincidence, due to two different cable networks airing them on different days, I managed to watch two made-for-TV movies in which she starred. Even though she was in her early 20s when she made them, she portrayed a 17-year-old in one and a 20-year-old in the other. Both make good use of her gentle beauty and vulnerability.

Despite the title, 1978's ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? isn’t a horror movie. I’m not sure what it’s trying to be; it’s neither a thriller nor a procedural, and despite its subject matter, doesn’t have much to say about the subject of rape. The performances are good, but what’s the point director Walter Grauman (THE STREETS OF SAN FRANCISCO) and writer Judith Parker are trying to make? Perhaps Richard Peck’s novel, from which this CBS movie was adapted, can answer that question. High-school student Gail (Beller with hair to her waist) is raped during the opening titles. The next hour is a flashback showing Gail’s life at school and her relationships with her parents (Blythe Danner, Tony Bill) and new boyfriend Steve (Scott Colomby). It also establishes a number of red herrings. When we discover the rapist’s identity, the film shifts gears and becomes a superficial examination of Gail and her family coming to grips with her attack and the fact that her attacker is known to her. It all wraps up (too) quickly and leaves some important questions unanswered. Grauman’s nimble visual style and Beller’s porcelain performance make the movie not a total loss. Of interest is an early role for Dennis Quaid, one year before BREAKING AWAY.

Much better and quite rewarding for mystery fans is 1981's NO PLACE TO HIDE. GASLIGHT goes two ways in this twisty made-for-TV thriller. Art student Amy (Beller) is being stalked by a mysterious masked man dressed in black who tells her “soon.” Nobody believes her, including her late father’s attorney (Arlen Dean Snyder) and her stepmother (top-billed Mariette Hartley), who suggests she visit her shrink friend. Dr. Cliff Letterman (Keir Dullea) thinks it’s a good idea for Amy to spend some alone time at the lake house where her father perished a year earlier in a boating accident. Is Amy going crazy or does someone just want her to think she is? Jimmy Sangster, who penned several similar psychological thrillers for Hammer during the 1960s, keeps the curves coming, particularly during the later reels when Amy appears to turn the tables on her tormentors. Much of it is implausible, but Sangster and director John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER) are skillful enough to slide the crazier stuff right past you without you noticing. Beller is perfectly cast as a vulnerable waif, and fits perfectly into the more suspenseful scenes that Moxey shoots like a slasher movie.

Beller went on to spice up 1982's THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER with a memorably oily nude scene and then to a regular role on DYNASTY, probably the project for which she's best remembered (except by those of us who were teenage boys when THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER came out). After leaving DYNASTY, Beller worked much less often. She married musician Thomas Dolby ("She Blinded Me with Science") in 1988, making it likely that she decided to retire and raise a family, which is not an uncommon decision for Hollywood actresses.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Still Alive And Still Funny

When SCTV was cooking, no sketch comedy show was funnier. One of the show's greatest bits was this promo for PERRY COMO: STILL ALIVE, in which Eugene Levy took Como's super-relaxed persona to a new extreme.



The bit near the end where Levy taps out the rhythm with his index finger is genius.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Not Full Reviews...

...but a bit of what I've been watching lately.

Chicken came over tonight for BEYOND THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE when he learned his man-crush Mark Harmon was in it. Harmon gets some play in the trailer for this 1979 disaster (movie), but not a lot to do in the film. It takes place immediately following the events of THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE, and stars Michael Caine (just off Irwin Allen's THE SWARM) as a tugboat captain who pulls up to the capsized Poseidon and plans to salvage some gold from it. He, his first mate Karl Malden and cute/annoying sidekick Sally Field are joined by urbane Telly Savalas, a doctor who pulls up in his yacht and announces that his medical crew are going to search for survivors. Well, there are survivors still down there (including Peter Boyle, Slim Pickens, Shirley Jones, Jack Warden, Shirley Knight, Victoria Cartwright and, yeah, Harmon), but Telly actually has his own sinister agenda, which eventually involves mowing down Caine's party with machine guns. Not really a very good movie, which extends to its cheapjack visual effects and ineffective Jerry Fielding score. Nelson Giddings' dialogue is the pits, and it's mostly spoken poorly by the good actors here (Caine and Field are particularly lousy).

I previously announced the death of director John Flynn in this post. His best films were THE OUTFIT, ROLLING THUNDER and OUT FOR JUSTICE, but I also remembered liking BEST SELLER and LOCK UP. BEST SELLER was poorly marketed as a buddy movie, but it's really a thriller with a clever premise and a thin plot. Cop Brian Dennehy, who's also a best-selling author, is approached by corporate hitman James Woods to do a book about him. Woods wants to bring down the fatcats who got rich off the dead bodies they hired him to create, making both killer and cop targets for murder. Dennehy and Woods have good chemistry, but there's little to BEST SELLER beyond their performances.

Meanwhile, LOCK UP may be the least believable film of Sylvester Stallone's career, as hard as it may be to believe. He's the world's nicest criminal, a guy who was sent away for beating up the neighborhood bully. With just six months to go on his sentence, he's abducted from his country-club prison and deposited in a hellhole commanded by warden Donald Sutherland. Stallone is the only inmate to ever escape from Sutherland's prison, and Don wants revenge. LOCK UP is probably the only prison picture with a buoyant musical montage (to The Ides of March's "Vehicle"), but it's also a pretty decent picture.

BLUE MONKEY has no monkey, blue or otherwise, in it. I didn't find this comic Canadian monster movie very interesting. It's basically ALIEN: a giant insect stalks the halls of a hospital housing cop Steve Railsback, doctor Susan Anspach, administrator John Vernon (in an unusually sympathetic role), expectant parents Joe Flaherty and Robin Duke, some drunken old ladies and a bunch of obnoxious kids. William Fruet, who gave us the superior SEARCH AND DESTROY and DEATH WEEKEND, directed.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Dear Derwood



06 DEAR DERWOOD
November 5, 2003 (ABC)
Teleplay: Jason Smilovic and Peter Lefcourt
Story: Bob Brush
Director: Charles Haid

True love dodges U.S. marshal Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino), but strikes hard and heavy for the escaped con she’s pursuing in KAREN SISCO’s sixth episode to air on ABC in the fall of 2003. Derwood Edson (Tim Guinee) is a non-violent con originally sentenced to a brief one-year sentence, but is now up around twenty years, because he keeps breaking out of prisons in order to visit his One True Love.

Angie (Jennifer Aspen, later a regular on ABC’s RODNEY) is Derwood’s girl, a stripper looking to quit the flesh biz to start her own gift-basket company. She loves Derwood as much as he loves her, but she keeps breaking up with him and moving around the country away from him so he won’t bust out and follow her. Her efforts don’t prevent his latest escape, and Karen is waiting for him at Angie’s apartment complex. He doesn’t mind going to all that effort and getting arrested just to see Angie for five minutes, probably because he knows he’ll make another break before the marshals ever get him back to prison.

Meanwhile, some real crime occurs because of Dwight (Michael Stoyanov), Derwood’s best friend and Angie’s business partner, who’s secretly using Angie’s gift baskets to deliver drugs. Derwood and Angie’s romantic plans are hindered when Dwight’s dealing lands Angie in the can and the Russian mob on all their tails.

Karen finds Derwood and Angie’s romance quite touching, particularly because the torrid sexual relationship she’s having with a Florida Marlins relief pitcher (Eduardo Verastegui) is sapping his strength, causing him to serve up gopher balls and threaten his job in the major leagues.

“Dear Derwood” is a nice light-hearted crime story with a touching (and tragic) romance and good performances by its guest stars. Robert Forster as Karen’s father Marshall and Bill Duke as her boss Ambrose have little to do this time. Same goes for Gugino, really, as the guest stars do most of the heavy lifting. A brief scene showing Karen busting a perp (Jack Kehler) on the boardwalk seems out of place, as though it were added to give Gugino some extra action that week (and to put her in some skimpy clothing). Director Haid, also an actor best known for his role as cop Renko on HILL STREET BLUES, makes an unbilled cameo as a drug enforcement agent. Writers Smilovic and Brush were KAREN SISCO’s co-executive producers, and co-writer Lefcourt, credited with his first teleplay, has credits dating back to SCARECROW & MRS. KING and CAGNEY & LACEY.

The 1998 film OUT OF SIGHT, which starred Jennifer Lopez as Karen, is quickly referenced in “Dear Derwood”. Angie asks Karen if she’s ever been in love. She answers, yes, once. “What happened?” “I shot him,” which is what Karen did to Jack Foley (George Clooney) in the brilliant Stephen Soderbergh movie.

The Most Incredible Ending Of Any Motion Picture Ever


Them are bold words. Can THE DEVIL'S RAIN really back them up?

Hell, yes!



William Shatner IS Tortured Soul!