Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #15


Supergirl is aging pretty well for a 50-year-old, wouldn't you say? Though I'm sure that Kryptonian metabolism of hers has more than a little to do with it.

Fifty years ago today on March 31, 1959, Supergirl appeared for the first time on both the cover and on the inside of Action Comics #252. In just eight pages, writer Otto Binder and artist Al Plastino tell the tale of Kara, Superman's first cousin, whose hometown of Argo City was tossed safely into space after Krypton exploded. In an origin eerily similar to Superman's, Kara is sent to Earth by her parents during the destruction of Argo City by meteors. On Earth, she, of course, has the same superpowers as her cousin. Taking the name Linda Lee, the teenager moves into an orphanage, where she lives when she isn't joining Supes on super-missions. One wonders why Superman didn't just let her move into Clark Kent's apartment and pose as Clark's cousin, but who am I to second-guess the great Otto Binder?

This splash page is actually taken from one of "The Supergirl of Krypton"'s many reprints: Action Comics #334 (March 1966), which was a special 80-Page Giant filled with fun Supergirl reprints.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Films Of William Shatner

Blogger Max Sparber takes a serious look at the filmography of William Shatner. Interestingly, he finds a consistent thread running through most of Shatner's TV-movies of the 1970s, in that the formerly virile man-of-action Captain Kirk played a lot of mealy-mouthed wimps. And effectively.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scent Of Blood

The Sharpshooter returns in MUZZLE BLAST (Leisure, 1974), #6 of the series and one of the sloppiest novels I've ever read. If author "Bruno Rossi" (who may have been Russell Smith in this case) spent more than a couple of days on this, I'd be surprised. It runs only 147 pages…and just fucking…stops. The plot isn't resolved, the hero's friends are missing…the book just ends in the middle of an action scene. It's like Rossi was given a 48-hour deadline, and this is as far as he got. It's bad enough that the writing is clumsy and the editing horrid (seriously, the name "Magellan" appears in place of "Rock," the Sharpshooter's name, close to a dozen times), but to leave the reader so unfulfilled at the end is unforgivable.

MUZZLE BLAST is not even as violent or sexy as its predecessors. The basic plot, which doesn't make much sense, finds Johnny Rock in Boston, where he convinces a Chinese antique dealer who traffics in drugs, Po Yi-po, that he has a shipment of heroin to sell. This story point doesn't go anywhere. Po Yi-po is being shaken down by some Boston cops who are in league with the Italian mob. This doesn't go anyplace either. Rock ends up in Provincetown with Po Yi-po's nympho business partner, Mai-Lin, and Mike Welsch, a sensitive Irish painter and old friend. Rock uses an Uzi on a crooked cop that separates his limbs and head from his body, which is the most violent thing that happens.

Really, this book is a mess, and I can't recommend it. The next book, HEADCRUSHER, is quite badass, though, so perhaps Leisure called on a different author. If nothing else, the Sharpshooter books have great titles.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Call Me Jigsaw

It’s no secret that Marvel Comics writer Gerry Conway was thinking of Pinnacle’s hugely popular paperback vigilante Mack Bolan—aka the Executioner—when he created the character of Frank Castle as a foe for Spider-Man in 1974’s THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129. Rough, taciturn, and intimidating in his all-black threads with ghostly white skull logo, the Punisher soon became one of Marvel’s most popular characters—nearly as popular as Spidey himself. He even made it to the big screen before Spider-Man in 1989’s THE PUNISHER, a reasonably entertaining Dolph Lundgren vehicle that was made with too little money and too little inspiration.

Surprisingly, Lionsgate’s first crack at the material, 2004’s THE PUNISHER, which stayed much closer to Castle’s comic-book pedigree than the New World picture, was not a major hit, despite Thomas Jane’s believable performance and Jonathan Hensleigh’s smart direction that played down CGI mayhem in favor of old-fashioned bloodshed. For the sequel, last year's PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, now out on Blu-ray and DVD, Lionsgate hedged its bets, lowering the budget to ensure some level of profit margin and capitalizing on the surprising success of its ultra-violent RAMBO sequel by ramping the mayhem to an absurd level.

Directed by German karate champion and stuntwoman Lexi Alexander, PUNISHER: WAR ZONE finds both hero and baddie out for revenge. Castle (ROME's Ray Stevenson), of course, despises the Mafia after they were responsible for the murders of his family. Handsome mobster Billy “the Beaut” Russoti (THE WIRE's Dominic West) blames the Punisher for the hideously scarred face he earned in a bloody showdown against him. Now the hideously scarred Jigsaw, Russoti busts his even crazier brother Looney Bin Jim (Doug Hutchison, previously the terrifying Tooms on THE X-FILES) out of prison and lays siege to New York City.

Among Jigsaw’s victims is Angela Donatelli (Julie Benz, also in RAMBO), the sister of an FBI agent accidentally killed by Castle during his raid on Russoti’s lair. Castle contemplates retiring because of his collateral damage, but is forced to reconsider after Jigsaw captures Angela and her daughter.

No question about it. Alexander has delivered a raucous, wild action movie with moments of wry humor reminiscent of the lean programmers Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Norris used to make in the 1980s. Tall, stoic Stevenson is completely believable as Marvel’s two-gun man of action and is a startling counterbalance to the cackling eccentrics played by West and Hutchison, who look and act like leftovers from a Dick Tracy mystery. Stunts, shootouts, and fisticuffs are first-rate. Most surprising is the film’s crisp, colorful production design that complements and doesn’t overwhelm the sharp action scenes.

The Punisher punches right through a guy’s skull, blasts a Parkour killer in mid-air with a bazooka, and shoots about ninety mobsters while twirling upside down from a chandelier. Take those Matt Damon Jason Boredom movies and ram them up your ass. PUNISHER: WAR ZONE is a balls-to-the-wall action flick that makes other comic-book movies look like kiddie matinees.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Conspiracy And Terror

I hate to say it, but I have read at least one or two Dean Koontz novels in my day, and I have no idea what the titles were or what they were about. I don't know why they didn't stick with me, but for whatever reason, the stories and characters wafted away, probably a day after I closed the covers on them. I'm sure I won't be saying the same about NIGHT CHILLS.

Published in paperback by Fawcett in 1976, NIGHT CHILLS is one of Koontz's earliest novels and perhaps one of its best. It can be somewhat difficult reading at times. The first few chapters bounce back and forth in time like a Tarantino movie, and although Koontz clearly delineates the date in which the chapter takes place, it can still be tough to keep up. Also, some of the violence is terribly shocking. A boy is brutally murdered, and a main heavy commits several rapes. I wouldn't describe the rapes as overly violent or brutal in the conventional sense of the words, but the perpetrator's motivations and method of rape give the acts an appalling sleaze factor that actually works in the story's favor. Rapists don't have to be depicted as drooling madmen, as they usually are in popular fiction. The way Koontz does it in NIGHT CHILLS is infinitely more chilling.

Wealthy Leonard Dawson, influential General Klinger, and scientist Ogden Salsbury concoct a truly sinister plot to take over the world using subliminal hypnosis. Koontz provides a lengthy reference list of technical articles and studies that supposedly back up his seemingly outrageous plot, giving it more plausibility and, hence, making it scarier. By drugging America's water supply, Salsbury believes he can turn anyone who drinks it into his puppet, who will do anything he asks them to, including murder and suicide. As the ultimate test of his experiment, he transforms a small Maine town, Black River, population 400, into his zombies.

Everyone lives their normal lives until Salsbury approaches them with the key, which is literally the phrase, "I am the key." Hearing this instantly puts whoever hears it into a trance, answering, "I am the lock." Salsbury maintains total control over his subject at this point. Only a handful of folks in Black River are immune to Salsbury's drug, including widower Paul Annendale, his daughter, and his son, as well as Sam, the friendly general store proprietor, and his daughter Jenny, whom Paul is courting. Koontz spends the first half of the book building the various relationships, giving us a bird's-eye view of the town and his residents, and explaining the complicated plot machinations that really kick in during the second half.

NIGHT CHILLS has no ghosts or monsters or slashers, but is one fucking frightening book, mainly because of its sense that everything that occurs could possibly happen in real life. Ogden Salsbury, a pudgy middle-aged man, is a true monster, and though Koontz attempts to somewhat soften the character by giving him an abusive childhood, there's no punishment he could receive that would make you feel as though he got what he truly deserved. Same goes for Klinger and Dawson, really, but Salsbury, who created the experiment, is the biggest heavy.

I'm truly stunned that no Hollywood studio has made a movie out of NIGHT CHILLS. I know a few Koontz adaptations were getting made for awhile, probably by companies that couldn't land the rights to any Stephen King properties, but NIGHT CHILLS wasn't one of them (PHANTOMS was a major bomb made from a Koontz novel). In the hands of an accomplished thriller director like Gregory Hoblit or maybe even Chris Carter, NIGHT CHILLS could really be something special, even though it reads like a typically '70s paranoia thriller. Alan J. Pakula would have been perfect for it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Sound Of Tara

Here's a real oddity that I not only never heard of before, I couldn't even have conceived it. Imagine, if you will, a Broadway musical version of GONE WITH THE WIND. Starring Pernell Roberts as Rhett Butler.

It actually happened.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Open Channel D

I have to admit I've never been the greatest fan of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. More artificial than I SPY, sillier and campier than MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE, less relevant to Cold War politics than DANGER MAN/SECRET AGENT. However, when Amazon last week featured a one-day Gold Box sale of Time-Life's THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E.: THE COMPLETE SERIES for just $89, I had to pull the trigger. Retailing at $249.99 and usually sold for around $170, I couldn't say no.

And, just judging from the extras, I'm glad I did. Like Time-Life's exemplary GET SMART: THE COMPLETE SERIES box set, this one features terrific packaging and enough supplemental material to convince you that everything U.N.C.L.E. you ever wanted to know is right here. I watched four hours or so of bonus material last night, which has been scrupulously and lovingly assembled. Included is a 77-minute interview with stars David McCallum and Robert Vaughn together, where they talk about the show, their roles, and its influence on their lives. Other extras involve writers, directors, cinematographer Fred Koenekamp even. How many TV series box sets bother to chat with the cameramen?

Everything comes packed in a pretty sturdy briefcase with the U.N.C.L.E. logo on the lid. Looks pretty sweet in the living room. I guess eventually I'll have to watch the episodes. Of the 104 shows, I've seen probably a dozen or so. It's an okay series, but not one I ever thought I'd have to own. Until last week.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cartoon Dick Van Dyke?

I can't say that I was ever a viewer of the 1990s crime drama DIAGNOSIS: MURDER (although I did catch their MANNIX sequel), but I might have tuned in to these episodes. Executive producer William Rabkin tells the story in his blog of how he and his partner Lee Goldberg considering doing both a live episode and...an animated episode that would have teamed up star Dick Van Dyke with Scooby-Doo!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hollow Mountain Man

The Penetrator attempts Bondian heights in this adventure that's further over the top than usual. What's disappointing is that author Chet Cunningham (as "Lionel Derrick") wimps out at the climax. What should have been the big finale—with the Penetrator battling an army of jumpsuited cronies in an underground laboratory and preventing a captured Soviet satellite from destroying the world—is dispensed with fairly quickly in a puzzling anticlimax. Cunningham apparently thought we'd be more excited by a rushed helicopter chase and routine stalk-and-shoot through some Mexican woods.

THE HELLBOMB FLIGHT (Pinnacle, 1975) is a typical mad scientist plot. Dr. Orlando Fitzmueller, banished from NASA and the rest of the scientific community for his, shall we say, extreme viewpoints about achieving peace on Earth, establishes a secret base beneath the Utah mountains. From there, he plans to hijack a Soviet weapons satellite and blackmail the major powers into giving up all their atomic weapons, or else he'll unleash some powerful bad fury upon the world. With the aid of a handful of scientists and a Mafia hitman named Marshall Davis, Dr. Fitzmueller is ready to achieve his dream, and if a few folks have to die to get there, so be it.

Fitzmueller has a daughter, of course, yet the Penetrator amazingly doesn't romance her, nor does she play a major role. I like THE HELLBOMB FLIGHT as much as I do the other Penetrator novels, though its reticence to fully embrace its espionage plot is a drag. Other Penetrator novels have involved megalomaniacs and slightly futuristic technology, but the main plot point of the rampaging satellite is wrapped up in a couple of pages. Fitzmueller, who is nicely portrayed as a benevolent man with good intentions, despite his mad means of making them real, is apparently captured off-page even.

I know the cover (not one of the series' best) says Nevada, but I'm pretty sure the book takes place mostly in Utah. A nice touch is wrapping up a side plot introduced in TOKYO PURPLE, an action-packed chapter with nothing to do with the Fitzmueller storyline.

Friday, March 20, 2009

These Bleads? You're Gonna Take These Friggin' Bleads?


I'm a Burt fan, so I can watch CANNONBALL RUN no problem, but there's no doubt in my mind that those guys had a lot more fun making the movie than anyone ever has watching it.

Was SMOKEY AND THE BANDIT II the first Hollywood film to feature bloopers during the closing crawl?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Manhunt

Don "The Dragon" Wilson goes on the run in BLOODFIST VII: MANHUNT, a decent direct-to-video thriller from the writers of Wilson's previous BLOODFIST entry.  Jim Trudell (Wilson) is framed for the murder of a police officer after he picks up--and is stranded by--a mysterious woman (the dependable Jillian McWhirter) in a biker bar.  Brendan Broderick and Rob Kerchner's story doesn't advance much further than that. As the subtitle implies, BLOODFIST VII is action all the way, staging car and foot chases all over the Los Angeles area.  It's unlikely Wilson has ever done more running than he does in this picture, leading police pursuers through Hollywood, Venice Beach, and even the tried-and-true Los Angeles River basin. While running from hard-nosed LAPD captain Doyle (Steven Williams), Trudell discovers that the detectives he killed in self-defense were corrupt and providing protection for a gang of auto thieves. 

The screenplay throws a couple of okay twists into the mix, but nothing particularly groundbreaking.  Director Jonathan Winfrey (BLACK SCORPION) uses Roger Corman's low budget to his best advantage, shooting on some interesting Venice locations and keeping the pace from flagging (he also cameos as an FBI agent).  While Wilson comes across as a nice guy as usual, his fight scenes suffer from routine choreography and fail to rouse much enthusiasm. 

BLOODFIST VII is competent enough, I suppose, but when you compare it to the wild excitement of the PM Entertainment smashfests that were released at the same time (Jillian McWhirter appeared in a couple of them too), Corman's New Horizons flicks are little better than timewasters.  Jim Wynorski receives a credit for "background extras." I wonder if that means Winfrey lifted stock footage from a Wynorski movie, which is common in Corman productions.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bloody Earthquake

By book #11 of his Executioner paperbacks for Pinnacle, Don Pendleton may have been writing them too fast. In the 1972 entry, CALIFORNIA HIT, Mack Bolan is said to have seen combat in both Korea and Vietnam. He's also described by Pendleton as being 30 years old. You do the math.

Outside of the continuity mishaps, CALIFORNIA HIT is a typically solid Executioner entry, a tight mixture of hard action, mature introspection and even a tad of humor. After wiping out some Mafiosi in the Caribbean, Mack Bolan heads to San Francisco to raise some hell. While blowing apart a Mob hideout, Mack makes the acquaintance of Mary Ching, a "China Doll" in with the government, the Mob and the Chinese Communists. Working to bust the baddies from within, Mary becomes both an ally and a lover for Bolan.

Strangely, as in CARIBBEAN KILL, Bolan makes a final strike against a previously unseen Mob boss. Pendleton plays coy as to the identity of "Mr. King," as if the reader is supposed to know who he is. I have no idea.

The novel ends with Bolan receiving news that his teenage brother Johnny and Valentina, a woman who sheltered him in WAR AGAINST THE MAFIA, the first Executioner novel, are missing from their Pittsfield home. Presumably, in the next novel, Mack heads back East to investigate.

Marketing Run Amok

Sunday, March 15, 2009

So Long, CopDoc


Several years ago, some friends and I considered an idea for a television series about a hero who was a doctor that solved crimes, figuring that it would please fans of both cop shows and medical shows. We also thought Ron Silver should be the guy to star in it, because he frankly was so badass.

Silver died today of cancer. He was just 62 years old. And with him goes COPDOC, as no one else in Hollywood is badass enough for it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

My Chat With BLOODFIST Director Terence H. Winkless

Terence H. Winkless is in his third decade as a professional filmmaker. Reared on the north shores of Chicago, Winkless made student films at the University of Southern California to prepare for a career in Hollywood. While at USC, he worked on the set and behind the scenes as a musician on his friends John Carpenter and Dan O’Bannon’s legendary student film DARK STAR (with O’Bannon returning the favor as an actor in one of Winkless’ USC films). After graduation, he moved up to working on professional movies, such as H.B. Halicki’s car-crunching drive-in classic GONE IN 60 SECONDS. His first break in Hollywood came when Avco-Embassy hired him to adapt Gary Brandner’s werewolf novel THE HOWLING as a screenplay. Winkless’ script was rewritten by John Sayles, but the Joe Dante film became his first Hollywood credit.

Roger Corman, known throughout the industry for giving young directors their first break (Ron Howard, Martin Scorsese, and Peter Bogdanovich are a few of Corman’s “discoveries”), saw one of Winkless’ student films and hired him to make his directorial debut on THE NEST, a cheeky movie about murderous cockroaches that was rooted in the fun monster movies of the 1950s. Corman then asked Winkless to direct BLOODFIST, a violent martial arts picture shot in the Philippines.

Although Winkless’ distinguished career in independent features and television covers a lot of years and many genres, his first two features are the main subject of our interview. We became acquainted after he responded via blog comment to my review of BLOODFIST. We exchanged emails, and he graciously offered to be interviewed about the film. So, we chatted over Skype for about an hour one January evening. I found the man to be good-humored, blessed with a good memory, often candid, and very patient with this enthusiastic fan. I hope you enjoy reading our chat as much as I enjoyed participating in it.

Q: Before I talk about your films, I have to ask you this question. I won’t believe it unless I hear it from your mouth. Is it true you played one of the Banana Splits?

A: Yes.

Q: Now I am incredibly impressed. How did that come about?

A: (Laughing) You are at the right age to be impressed by that.

Q: Yes, I’m a child of the Seventies.

A: You’re revealing your age, and, if I answer, then I’m revealing my age. But I’ll answer anyway. I was in school in Carbondale, Illinois…

Q: Southern Illinois University? I’m a Saluki.

A: Oh, yeah? That’s great! So am I! Always will be.

Q: I didn’t realize that about you.

A: I don’t think that’s anywhere on the Internet. I’ll have to launch that someplace. I was at Carbondale, I drove home [to the north side of Chicago] from school on a Friday. My mom said—my dad, I knew he had been in commercials, but—“he’s been working with Hanna-Barbera, and he’s now an associate producer on this show they’re trying to get off the ground. You and your brothers are gonna fly out to California and try out for it.” We left on Sunday. I packed a bag for three days, and I was in California for thirty years. Because we got the show. We jumped off the airplane, went up to Hollywood, and tried on these suits. It was weird. We immediately gravitated to the suits and the characters that we wound up doing on the show.

Q: Which character were you? You were..?

A: I was the gorilla. You’ve been reading your IMDb.

Q: Well, that’s true.

A: I’ve tried to remove it from there, because that means if I did that show in 1968, I’m older than Methuselah.

Q: No, you were seven when you did that show.

A: I was seven when I did that show, yeah! That’s it.

Q: I don’t want to stay on this for too long, but did you shoot all of those wraparound segments for the entire season at the same time?

A: We shot six weeks, I think, both years. Yeah, full shows, this was show number one through 22 or whatever the hell it was. There was meant to be some continuity within the shows themselves. I don’t know if there really was. You probably saw them in reruns on TBS or something.

Q: Well, no, I’m a child of the Seventies, so I remember them a little bit when I was a kid. I was born in 1967.

A: Even then, they would have been in reruns in the Seventies, because we did it in ’68 and ’69.

Q: I guess you’re right. I think I still saw them on Saturday mornings, but you’re right.

A: (Laughing) I believe that’s possible.

Q: How did you move from there into filmmaking?

A: As it turns out, I applied to go to USC even before we got launched off into the kids show. It’s just luck. SIU had, I think, two film courses when I was there. One of them was Film and Journalism, or something like that. Make a 30-second news story was your assignment in the class. And when I got to USC, there were 150 courses. It was great. So I already knew I wanted to do that before I went to California. I went through the curriculum, which gives you the opportunity to be unemployed.

Q: (Laughing) Right.

A: Which I exploited faithfully. I worked as an assistant editor and then an editor. I would write at night. Eventually, we sold something—I always worked with a partner. I did THE HOWLING, and then a couple of years later, I did THE NEST finally as a director.

Q: I really like THE NEST. I think it’s a terrific little monster movie. Was that the first film you directed?

A: Yeah, it was. Julie Corman—Roger Corman’s wife [and THE NEST’s producer]—wanted to use a first-time director, because they were sorta famous for doing that. They got two things out of that. They got somebody cheaper, and they never knew when the next Marty Scorsese would go through the doors [one of Scorsese’s first movies as a director was 1972’s BOXCAR BERTHA, which Roger Corman produced for American International Pictures]. It turned out I wasn’t Marty Scorsese, but I’ve been able to make a living for the past twenty years.

Q: Corman did start your career, and you’re still directing today.

A: Yeah! Absolutely.

Q: How did you hook up with Corman and Concorde [the independent studio Corman started in the 1980s, after he sold his previous studio, New World Pictures]?

A: I had an agent who had a relationship with Julie. I was lucky. He just sent them my short film at the right time, and they said, “Yeah, we think this guy can do it.” It was really between me and another guy, and I showed more enthusiasm for the project than the other guy. For me, this wasn’t just a cockroach movie. This was my cockroach movie, man! I absolutely loved to do it. I didn’t care what it was about.

Q: Did they already have a script by Robert King?

A: Yep, they already had the script. I did a rewrite on it, because I wanted to add some touches. The mayor character [played by Robert Lansing] wasn’t really strong enough, stuff like that, but it was basically there. It was great fun. It was long before the concept of CGI, so trying to get enough cockroaches into the shot to be scary was the big challenge of that movie. I was always picking them up as they ran off set and throwing them back in front of the camera.

Q: How does one wrangle cockroaches?


A: The people who wrangled them had a couple of months of pre-production, maybe only six weeks, but in the world of cockroaches, that’s gotta be an eternity. I thought they were breeding them somewhere in some controlled environment. And then one day I learned—I can’t remember their names, they were a family, a dad and a mom and four or five kids—they would go collect them at night out in Van Nuys. Which explains why they always looked tired. And explained why I would say, “Listen, I need 10,000 cockroaches,” and they would look at me with these baggy eyes and go (moaning), “Uhhhh, can we live with 5,000?” “Well, no. That doesn’t look like anything. I know it’s difficult, but…” And that’s how it came up about, “How is it that you’re breeding them?” “We aren’t breedin’ ‘em, Ter, we go find ‘em!” (Laughing) “One by one out in the Valley.”

Q: So when the cockroaches were on the set, there was no getting them back.

A: That’s pretty much right. We built little walls that did nothing. They snuck around the walls, you know. Your attention is out there where it’s supposed to be with cameras looking, right? And they snuck off by the hundreds around these walls. And for a month—probably years—they had to spray down the studio trying to get rid of the damn things.

Q: I once interviewed Bert I. Gordon, who made EMPIRE OF THE ANTS, and asked him, “How do you train insects to do what you want them to do?” And he said you can’t train them, you just point the camera at them and hope they do what you want.

A: Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly right. Put some food over here and maybe they’ll sniff it out or whatever the heck they do. And off they go.

Q: Where did you shoot THE NEST? It takes place in a nice little small town. I’m not sure if it’s supposed to be New England or on the West Coast.

A: The intention was to be in New England. I’m glad that came across.

Q: One of the characters [played by Lisa Langlois] has come back from Los Angeles, but I wasn’t sure if the small town was on the East Coast or the West Coast.

A: Yeah, the girl had come back to Northport from the West Coast. It was supposed to be Cape Cod or something, but, in fact, of course, it was all shot in Malibu. We did a little bit of second unit stuff up in Oregon. There’s a town on the West Coast called Astoria, Oregon. It has a great lighthouse and a great beautiful coastline. In two days of shooting, we managed to make it look like the East Coast. We went out of our way to avoid palm trees. There’s at least one scene that violates it, because it’s got a little cafĂ© that clearly has a Spanish roof, but for the most part, we avoided the palm trees and Spanish roofs.

Q: How much of the casting did you do, particularly Robert Lansing?

A: I think he was my idea, actually. He was still sort of big from THE EQUALIZER, but I’d been a fan of his since the TWELVE O’CLOCK HIGH TV series in the 1960s. I was there for all of the casting.

Q: Onscreen, Lansing always seemed kind of humorless and cold, but what was he really like?

A: He was not without humor. He wasn’t cold, but he wasn’t the life of the party. (Laughing) He was a more humanized version of the characters he usually played. He was really good to work with. He was always doing stuff, always knew what he wanted to do. He asked me to write him a speech. He noticed that each character in the film had a speech that really defined him or her, and he asked me to write one for him. He noticed the mayor was missing one, in spite of the fact that I had tried to beef up the character. And he was right, so I wrote one for him, and it worked out. Anyway, he was warmer and funnier than the characters he played. There was a moment when the leading lady, Lisa Langlois, had some kind of…she was fighting the cockroaches in some scene, and she had some kind of…wacky moment. A crazy actress moment. And she rushed off to her trailer or something. I looked at Lansing…she said something about not being able to see and her hands couldn’t touch and she lost her sense or something. (Laughing) And I looked at Lansing—it was my first film—and I asked, “Anything like this ever happen to you?” And he looked at me like I’m nuts, like, “Do you think I’ve ever behaved like that girl who just ran off the set behaved? Are you bloody outta your mind, buddy?” (Laughing) “Oh, yeah, right, okay.” But there was a little bit of joke behind his look.

Q: He was an old-school professional, I suppose.

A: Absolutely.

Q: Did he have any problems doing a monster movie?

A: Not at that stage of his career. Not at 10,000 bucks a week. Not that 10,000 bucks a week for a guy of his stature was really a lot of money, not even in 1987, but it wasn’t bad. It wasn’t like his career was really flourishing at the time.

Q: I don’t think he ever retired. He kept on acting until he died. [Lansing was still a regular on the syndicated series KUNG FU: THE LEGEND CONTINUES when he passed away from cancer in 1994 at age 66]

A: I think that’s right. I visited him in New York. He had a good life. I think his wife had some money. He was a good guy.

Q: Tell me about shooting at Bronson Caverns.

A: Oh, my God, yeah, we did a big explosion there. In the 1930s—I think it was the ‘30s—there are no caves organic to Griffith Park, which is where you shoot when you shoot a forest in L.A. You go to Griffith Park. Sometimes, you go a little farther up to Angeles Crest National Forest, but if you really wanna be in town and do the 20-minute route, you go up to Bronson Caves.

Q: I’ve probably seen it a thousand times in movies and TV shows.

A: Absolutely. You got the one entrance on one side, and it leads to three offshoots on the other side. You can make it look like anything. Every show that has a cave in it, that’s where you go. Sometimes we bring in extra pieces that are painted the same color as the walls. I used it in a kids picture I did called WHITE WOLVES II, where the girl has to go to the cave following the white wolf that’s gonna lead her to safety. For THE NEST, we built a fence that the girl [Lisa Langlois] goes through. We put something that looked like dynamite in there, and we did a huge explosion at the end. That was fun. That explosion has been recycled I don’t know how many times in other Roger Corman pictures.

Q: I noticed in THE NEST you used the stock shot that’s been in I don’t know how many other Corman pictures where the truck explodes and goes off the bridge.

A: (Laughing) They handed me several explosions and scenes like that and said, “Figure out how you can work these into the movie.” So, it makes sense to me that they’ve taken my live explosion—the one that I did—and worked it into twelve more movies. In fact, I’ve used it in another movie. (Laughing) I knew just where to get it when I set out to do the one where I purloined it. It’s extremely efficient driving only as far as Bronson Caves and shooting there. It’s very easy to get to, there’s good parking. All the things a production manager likes, they’re all available. There’s a good place to put catering that’s always out of the shot. A good place to park the trucks. It’s actually great fun to shoot there.

Q: Did you ever read the novel [by Eli Cantor] that THE NEST is based on?

A: I own the novel, but, to be honest, I’ve never read it.

Q: Did Robert King read it?

A: I think so.

Q: I was curious how close the movie is to the novel.

A: That’s a good question. I should go see if I can find the novel on the shelf in my office, and make that very late comparison. You know, I came into the project a little too late for that. There would have been no point in going back to the novel at the stage I was brought in. Though they gave me a goodly amount of time to prep, I guess because it was my first movie. A couple of months. I think I got in there for the interviewing and the auditioning in March [of 1987], and I think we went into pre-production sometime in the middle of April. We didn’t shoot until—I don’t know—June?

Q: Do you remember seeing the film theatrically in 1988?

A: At the time, Roger’s deal was with MGM, and all of his movies, by contract, had to play in theaters. It was really a video deal, but part of the deal was that they would play in theaters. So he would get…in ’87, there were still drive-ins, so I saw it play at a drive-in. (Laughing) It was great. It was fun. A drive-in movie, if ever there was one.

Q: I was living in Carbondale then, and I think I would have seen it, if it had played there, but it didn’t.

A: It was a select group of theaters that had the pleasure of running a cockroach picture. (Laughing) In February, I think it was. And it was one of those blizzard years.

Q: I think it’s the only movie—that I’ve seen anyway—that has a giant cockroach-man in it.

A: Oh, yeah, that’s probably true, yeah, yeah. (Laughing) Heavily influenced by the Jeff Goldblum movie…what am I trying to remember?

Q: THE FLY?

A: THE FLY, of course. That had just come out and was pretty influential. So we didn’t have any special CG effects, that’s for sure. I’d like to go back and remake THE NEST with CG.

Q: I think the effects—it’s mostly stop-motion, I guess—it looks fine.

A: You know, there isn’t actually any stop-motion. It’s the illusion of stop-motion. When that cat is chasing them around the bottom of the lighthouse, it’s only because we cut to it at the right time or the actors look over their shoulders and then we boom up behind the table and there’s the cat in the foreground. Your mind tells you, “Oh, the thing flew from there to there,” but in fact, it never moved at all. Well, it might have been on a string once. But it sure as hell is not stop-motion. That’s a great compliment, and I thank you for your thinking that it is stop-motion. It means we succeeded.

Q: It’s all animatronics or puppets or..?

A: I don’t think the puppet even moved. (Laughing) No, really. I think it’s just…maybe the whiskers, if you dinged them with your finger, they would bounce. But that was about it. I don’t think it had any moving parts. You might have been able to shove it ahead of the shot into a new position, but I think that was it. There was a different one, which the hair was terrible, and you couldn’t photograph it at all, except in the dark. And then there was a close-up one. I don’t remember them actually moving on their own. I could be wrong about that. It sure as hell didn’t fly across the room, I’ll tell you that. When the sheriff [played by Franc Luz] fights with it, he’s holding it to his chest and wrestling around with it.

Q: That’s kind of a tried-and-true creature-feature method. Did you have a natural affinity for horror films, or was it, “Hey, this is my first film,” so you did it?

A: It was pretty much half-and-half. The short film that I made that got their attention and got me the gig was sort of a horror film. It was the old “the girl’s in the house, and the bad guy’s in the house with her.” Which has been made several times since then. WHEN A STRANGER CALLS was the first one that everybody knows. But back in 1970, I made a version of that, a short film that I sold as a safety film. “Kids, be sure to lock the door.” (Laughter) Pyramid Films sold it for years under that premise. It was sort of a horror film. Not a monster movie, but a horror film. Dan O’Bannon was in that. You know who Dan O’Bannon is?

Q: Yeah. He wrote ALIEN and made RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, which is a terrific film.

A: When Dan learned we were doing that, and there was a nasty bad guy who jumped a girl, he insisted on playing the part. (Laughing) He was at USC when I was.

Q: What’s the name of that film?

A: FOSTER’S RELEASE.

Q: Do you know of any plans to put THE NEST on DVD?

A: You mean it’s not? I think it is.

Q: I’ve never seen it anywhere.

A: I think it is. [In fact, New Horizons released a DVD in 2001, but it’s long out of print.]

Q: Disney probably owns it now.

A: They did for awhile, but they’ve since sold the library back to Corman.

Q: Oh, is that right?

A: They bought it and looked at it. Said, “What the hell did we buy this for? There’s nothing we can use,” and sold it back.

Q: Disney did not do very much with the Corman catalog.

A: No, I don’t know what they thought was in it. Maybe they thought in 500 films, there’s got to be something decent. There’s four films they can put out with a Disney label on it, and that’s about it. (Those four) were all made by Julie, and they were kids pictures about going into the wilderness. I should know. I made one of them. (Laughing)

Q: Yeah, WHITE WOLVES II, right?

A: I’m 98% sure that THE NEST is on DVD. I think somebody gave me a copy at some point. I think it’s a “Roger Corman Classic.” With special new artwork done for it and crap like that.

Q: I’ll have to hunt around and see if I can find a used copy somewhere. It’s probably out of print. I’ve been watching the VHS tape for so long.

A: You’ll find it on the Net. Look around for that Roger Corman Classic Collection. (Laughing)

Q: I’ve got several of those. DEATH RACE 2000 and GRAND THEFT AUTO and…I’ve got a few Roger Corman films on my shelf.

A: (Laughing) You’re a true film fan.

Q: I also want to ask you about your second film, which is how we got acquainted in the first place. BLOODFIST, which was also for Roger Corman. He must have liked THE NEST, right?

A: He liked THE NEST a lot, yeah, yeah. I guess it made him some money, and he thought it worked, which is basically what it comes down to.

Q: I’ve heard that he has a tendency to leave directors alone while they’re shooting. Did you find that to be the case?


A: Absolutely. He likes to look at two or three days of dailies in the beginning, to make sure that you have a handle on what it is you’re doing. And then he really does let you alone. And the more you work for him, the more he leaves you alone. Because he trusts you. I guess I have to say the past tense, because he’s not really doing very much right now.

Q: I’ve also heard that sometimes in post-production, he will go back and reshoot things. Did you have that experience with him?


A: I never had the experience of having reshoots being done, but I did have the experience of being recut radically on two films. I turned in a 93-minute cut on something, and the next thing I knew, it was in video stores at 83 minutes. I thought, “Wait a minute, what the heck?” At least twice. It’s sort of a drag. Because you think, gee, if you wanted ten minutes cut of it, why didn’t you say so? But it’s easier for him if he just gets the director the heck out of the room and does what he wants to do.

Q: I suppose he’s been right more often than not.

A: He has been right more often than not. He did come into THE NEST’s cutting room—and also on BLOODFIST—and say, “Take three frames off of this, take three frames off of this, and so on.” Every time we did it, the film improved. Three-frame cuts. You wouldn’t think that three frames here and there would make that much difference, but it did. It really did. It was a real lesson.

Q: That’s, what, 1/8 of a second?

A: Yeah! But he was right in all cases.

Q: How did you get involved with BLOODFIST?

A: His assistant called me up and said, “Do you want to go to the Philippines and make this movie?” And I said, “When does it start?” And he said, “You leave in ten days.” (Laughing) For three months. I said, “Do I have to tell you right now?” He said, “Oh, no, no, you have time. Tell me tomorrow.” (Laughing) Of course, I took it. Go to the Philippines? Travel to an exotic place like that on somebody else’s nickel? Sure.

Q: Corman made dozens of films in the Philippines.

A: Sure.

Q: What was it like for you to shoot there?

A: It was…really difficult. Which paid off, in a way. You know, it’s supposed to be a brutal world that they’re in, right? This kickboxing world. The Philippines is a brutal place to try and survive as a human being. The poverty is unbelievable. People literally live in the junk in the junkyard. And they live…at the harbor, there’s sort of a pier area. And underneath, they found a way to build little cardboard boxes into these little covered areas underneath the pier. It’s like somebody living under Navy Pier (in Chicago). I mean, ahhhh, I don’t know how they survive. So that fact that life everywhere around you was difficult, and we were in downtown Manila, where every single traffic light is eight minutes long, and I think it’s that long so that the beggars can come out and try and sell single cigarettes at a time. And mints. They sell mints and cigarettes to people in the taxis and the driven cars. I think the lights are that long, so the business transactions can take place. For all I know, they sell all sorts of things that way. (Laughing) I would say more, but my daughter’s in the room. (Laughing) Seriously, there’s no middle class there. Every—this is a digression from the film—every second floor of every hotel is a brothel. It’s just a known thing, that’s all. You want a massage? Go to the second floor. The Intercontinental is where they put me up. It’s a world-class hotel, right? Yeah, the second floor is world-class, I’ll tell ya that. (Laughing) Actually, I don’t know. I never visited the second floor.

Q: You heard that though.

A: Yeah, I heard that though. I did. But, as I said, in a way, that led to the film. These guys are supposed to be tough. They’re supposed to be in a tough place. Well, it’s all tough to me. I’m a kid from the north shore of Chicago. So to be in Manila, where every traffic light is forever, and there’s millions—eight million, ten million people, I don’t know, it’s a huge motherfucking city—and it’s hot and it’s dangerous and you never know which government is in power. So it added to the film. (Laughing) Plus, Roger didn’t spend a lot of money. He had a partner, Cirio Santiago [the prolific Filipino filmmaker], who—rest his soul—died recently.

Q: Yeah, just last year. [September 28, 2008, to be exact] He was actually directing another film for Corman when he died.

A: Right, and Jim Wynorski had to go over there and finish it.

Q: I believe Wynorski is cutting it right now.

A: I think I’ve seen footage from it. With Michael Madsen, isn’t that the one?

Q: Yes. ROAD RAIDERS.

A: (Laughing) ROAD RAIDERS, right.

Q: It looks just like the movies Santiago was making 25 years ago.

A: Yeah, yeah. Actually, the part I saw…the stuff that Jim had done looked better than what Cirio had done. But, Cirio smoked like a chimney. I’m not surprised that it got him.

Q: When you were hired, Don “The Dragon” Wilson was probably already in place to star, is that right?

A: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. He was the franchise. Before there was a script, I think, there was Don the Dragon.

Q: Do you know how he got involved with Corman? He had done some supporting roles in films, but hadn’t starred in any before BLOODFIST.

A: I don’t know what the linkage was between Roger and Don. I don’t know who made the introduction. But obviously Roger saw the money potential, after having seen the Jean-Claude Van Damme movie [BLOODSPORT, released by Cannon in 1988], and said, “Why don’t we do one of those?” And off he went looking for the real thing. It didn’t matter to him that the guy couldn’t act. What mattered to him was that the guy could lift his foot over his head and kick people in the face with it. In fact, I had just made THE NEST, right? With moving the cat around through the illusion of the camera and all of that stuff. So when I got there and I had these guys, who I could say, “Okay, can you fight now?” And all of a sudden, these windup toys go into this stuff, and you go, “Oh, my God, I don’t have to do this all with the camera? I can just sort of photograph what they do? This is great!” And Don was great. I mean, he could hit anything. He was amazingly accurate. He had a special move where he could stand on one foot and just whack a guy’s face this side and that side like crazy. It was no wonder he was a world champion. It all shows.

Q: You had Don Wilson, who was a kickboxing champion. But you also had all these other guys. You had Billy Blanks, and you had Kris Aguilar. I mean, all these guys…

A: I also had Rob Kamen, who I was told, in his spare time, was a bank robber. (Laughing) But he wasn’t a kickboxer. He was a bank robber. Which, you know, looking back, it makes sense. Kickboxer/bank robber, you know. What, did he have time to go to college? Hell, no. And he was always smiling. Rob was always smiling. Very nice guy. And why not? He was making a living, you know, kicking butt. (Laughing) Billy Blanks was the luckiest casting of all time. He was over in Manila being Catherine Bach’s bodyguard [Bach played Daisy Duke on THE DUKES OF HAZZARD]. Somehow or other—Billy’s not a guy who would go to a disco—somehow or other—I guess she was there—but I happened to meet him in a disco in the hotel. “What are you doing here?” “What are you doing here?” ‘Cause it’s unusual to run into Americans there. And his eyes just lit up at the fact that one of the kickboxers hadn’t been cast yet. He just couldn’t believe it when I said—without thinking twice, you know, here’s this gigantic guy built like a brick wall. And I didn’t care if he could act or not. Clearly, the point champion of the world was gonna look great. And arms the size of—just massive arms. I just gave him the part on the spot. He didn’t believe me. It wasn’t until he was on the set actually doing it that he believed he was going to be in the movie. (Laughing) It was nice, because most people are kinda cynical about it. He wasn’t, and he was a very nice guy to work with.

Q: With all of these real-life champions on the set—and all of them have to lose at some point, except Don, of course—did these champions have trouble losing fights, even though they were make-believe fights?

A: No, not at all. Nobody gave me any attitude at all. They could tell the difference between what they did for a living and the fantasy of this, absolutely. And they were willing to pull their punches and miss, as necessary. In Rob Kamen’s case, he was supposed to be listening to music through his Walkman or something. In the story, they switch the tape on him, and he’s listening to something else. Which is pretty silly, when you get right down to it, but he played along with it. He was an actor more than he was a kickboxer during the making of that movie.

Q: I’m not surprised that Wilson has had a long career, because there’s something about him—like Chuck Norris—where he comes off the screen as a nice guy, and you want to watch his movies.

A: Yeah, yeah, yeah, he’s likable. Not a great actor, for sure, but he’s likable and watchable. He was the world’s quickest study (when it came to acting). You showed him something once, and it was there. You never needed to go there again.

Q: If you’ve seen as many movies made in the Philippines as I have, you’ve seen these two actors again and again. Both are in BLOODFIST. Vic Diaz [who plays the police chief] and Joe Mari Avellana [Wilson’s trainer].

A: When you go to the Philippines, and you need an actor who’s 45 and speaks really good English, you went with Joe Mari Avellana. Vic Diaz was one of Roger’s favorite actors. He’s completely convincing. When he turns on that cop thing, it’s right there.

Q: Did you get the impression that those two were legends in the Philippines?

A: I wasn’t really that aware of it. Joe certainly had the respect of the crew. They admired him. That was clear. He was an excellent liaison between us Americans and the Filipinos. Not that there was anything to liaise about. We never really had any problems.

Q: Around the time BLOODFIST came out (in 1989), there was the BLOODSPORT movies, the KICKBOXER movies, the BEST OF THE BEST movies…

A: Certainly, BLOODFIST was influenced by BLOODSPORT. I don’t think BLOODFIST would have existed without BLOODSPORT. The draft I first read, which never actually got changed, again by [THE NEST screenwriter] Robert King, was set in Hong Kong. Apparently, there’s a temple at the top of some hill, and a scene was written for the characters to have to run up these stairs to the top of the temple. This was in the draft that came to me. And I’ve got ten days before I go to the Philippines. So I ask, “Does this temple exist in the Philippines?” And everybody goes, “We don’t know. You’ll figure it out.” (Laughing) So I did. I got there and went, “Oh, there’s a volcano over there? We can go there? That’ll be a good replacement for this temple.” It was great to get out of Manila. There’s nothing like shooting on a volcano to get your blood goin’. Especially since it was a live volcano, and as you walked up it, you had to be careful where you stepped. Otherwise, you’d fall through the dirt and into the molten lava. Only two feet under your feet. It was really a trip.

Q: How much of directing would you say is basic problem-solving?


A: I guess, really, about half of it. Half of it is creative. You gotta have a vision of what it is you are after. When that isn’t available, you have to figure out how to get as close to it as you can. And do it in the time allotted. So, you know, yeah, sure, 50%.

Q: I guess when somebody says, “We need a temple,” and you’ve got ten days to find a temple…

A: Well, I had more than that. I knew before I got on the plane that I was gonna have to figure that out. And then when they started filling me in on what was available here and there, I was able to plug “volcano” into “temple” pretty easily.

Q: Were you asked to make BLOODFIST II?


A: No. I had moved on to the next kind of movie by then. I think I was already hard at work on a comedy I did next [CORPORATE AFFAIRS, another Corman movie with Peter Scolari and Mary Crosby]. Shooting in the Philippines…you know, you heard before you got there that APOCALYPSE NOW had been done there. A crew would be available from that film, stuff like that. So you go over there with that illusion in your head. I remember we asked for HMIs [a type of camera], which have to have the right motors that will always run at 24 frames (per second)…crystal sync motors. I remember asking on the location, “Do you have the crystal sync?” “Oh, yes, we have the crystal sync.” And then we get there on the day—and this is just the way it was all the time there—we get there on the day and we ask for the crystal sync. “We don’t have it.” “But we asked you specifically, ‘Do you have the crystal sync?” And the guy says, “Well, we have it in the Philippines.” (Laughing) “We don’t have it here.” You go, “Ohhhh, God.” The whole Chinese thing about saving face and not being embarrassed—all of that crap—that half of the culture comes out. There are things that happen I could not have foreseen, like that happening. You can’t anticipate certain things like that, right? You think you’ve asked the question, and, oh, no, no, you didn’t ask it entirely. (Laughing) “Will it be there on the day at the precise hour?”

Q: What’s your favorite film of those you’ve directed?


A: Probably a thing called…we made it under the name SCENE OF THE CRIME, but it got changed to LADYKILLER—which I think is a terrible title—with Ben Gazzara and Alex McArthur about a cop and an actor who solve a series of crimes. It’s not the best script in the world, but Ben was a trip to work with. Alex was a real treat to work with. I got to do some things creatively that I was real happy with. That was a while ago now, but, yes, that’s my answer to that question.

Q: How important is a good title to a movie? I think BLOODFIST is a terrific title.

A: That’s a distributor question, not a director question. The director doesn’t care what the heck it’s called.

Q: Really? It doesn’t matter to you what the movie is called?


A: Well, I want everybody to see it. But I presume it’s the way it’s executed and the artistic vision that’s visited upon it and all of that crap, rather than just the title. At least from a director’s point of view. From a producer’s point of view—and I’ve been a producer now—I think titles are very important. I mean, you gotta sell the damn thing. It doesn’t matter how good it is, if people don’t buy it based on, “the title sucks.” On the other hand, SCENE OF THE CRIME, I think, is a better title than LADYKILLER is. I don’t know why it changed. Roger used to—pretty unscientifically, if you ask me—his offices are in Brentwood, and not a very busy section of Brentwood. He would send a production assistant or an intern out with a clipboard and ask people, “Which of these four or five titles do you think is the best?” The only place available around there is a mall—not even a mall mall, just a little fancy L-shaped mall where rich people go—a health food store and a deli, not much. And they would base their title approach based on what people in this mall said. It used to drive me nuts. (Laughing) At least go to UCLA, which is only a mile from where they were. Of course, you’d have to pay for parking over there. (Laughing)

Q: Maybe you just figured out why it worked that way! (Laughing) You know, Corman used to put out movies with one title, and if it didn’t work, he’d pull it back in and re-release it with a new title.

A: I guess he thought titles were really important. That goes back to the Disney question. Disney thought they bought 500 movies. They really had 400. (Laughing)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Coming Soon

The interview to which I alluded here is almost here.

Castle

Make no bones about--Nathan Fillion is a television star waiting to happen. But his new ABC series, CASTLE, ain't it.

When I first began seeing the ABC promos, I jokingly called it "BONES 2." Although it is a complete ripoff of BONES, it probably wants to have more in common with MOONLIGHTING (to be fair, BONES also is highly influenced by MOONLIGHTING). And while co-star Stana Katic capably fills Cybill Shepherd's shoes as a stick-in-the-mud female always trying to ruin a guy's fun, Fillion is no Bruce Willis. That's no slam on Fillion, because nobody is as good as Willis was on MOONLIGHTING.

Looking at CASTLE on its own terms, eh, it still isn't much. Fillion is a brash best-selling author of mystery novels named Rick Castle, who lives with his overly precocious 15-year-old daughter Alexis (Molly Quinn) and his oversexed ex-actress mother Martha (Susan Sullivan). So already the cliches are mounting.

Katic is Kate Beckett, an implausibly attractive NYPD homicide detective who, in last week's pilot, is investigating the bizarre murder of a social worker found covered in rose petals. Being a Castle fan, she recognizes the tableau from one of Castle's more obscure books and seeks the author's advice. Castle, attracted to Beckett and stuck for a good story for his next book, pulls some strings with the mayor's office and gets a green light to accompany the detective as a consultant (Castle's knack for deductive reasoning and his partnership with a grouchy brunette cop also reveals the show's debt to CBS' THE MENTALIST).

Creator/writer Andrew Marlowe, whose screenplays for END OF DAYS, HOLLOW MAN, and AIR FORCE ONE aren't exactly renowned for their depth or originality, strikes out here too. CASTLE's premiere, "Flowers for Your Grave," presents a mystery that you hardly need a "master of macabre" to solve, since the killer's identity couldn't possibly be more obvious. The awkward insertion of real-life mystery writers James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell into the story as Castle's poker buddies is a decent idea badly handled. And the banter between Fillion and Katic is very forced. These two performers just don't have any chemistry together.

As bad an actress as Cybill Shepherd is, and as much as she and Willis despised one another, there's no denying they sparked on-screen. Perhaps the two CASTLE stars should throw more fits in their trailers. I'd be all for it if it helped this limp retread.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

He Shoulda Froze

Robert Carradine and Billy Dee Williams are no Gibson and Glover, that’s for sure. Cannon produced NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET, a shameless ripoff of LETHAL WEAPON with former Nerd Carradine hamming it up all psycho as an unhinged detective and suave Billy Dee as his more grounded black partner. Of course, as a Cannon feature, NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET is much cheaper and even dumber. It even goes so far as to cast Peter Graves as a carbon copy of the white-haired harried cop boss in LETHAL WEAPON. Producers Menahem Golem and Yoram Globus, in typical huckster style, managed to rush this picture into production and get it into theaters one week before LETHAL WEAPON premiered in 1987.

Reckless “Berserk” Burzak (Carradine), who is stalking ex-wife Valerie Bertinelli (ONE DAY AT A TIME), is obsessed with a wealthy man named DeCosta (Barry Sattels), whom he suspects is a druglord. When he isn’t stalking ex-wife Bertinelli or playing jokes on his partner Frank Hazeltine (Williams), Burzak is usually spying on DeCosta in search of evidence. After fouling up an assignment to bodyguard a witness, Burzak and Hazeltine are taken off the streets, which never stops maverick movie cops from getting into barroom brawls and intimidating suspects anyway.

Besides Billy Dee’s silky amiability—he’s obviously too good for this—there’s nothing at all extraordinary about NUMBER ONE WITH A BULLET. Carradine’s character is so bull-headed and unlikable that it’s difficult to root for him, and Jack Smight’s direction is perfunctory at best. The movie mixes action scenes and humor well enough (Carradine gets tossed into a ring with female mud wrestlers), but no better than dozens of TV cop shows. Also with Doris Roberts (as—duh—a mom), Ray Girardin, Bobby DiCicco, Mikelti Williamson, Jon Gries, Alex Rebar, Michael Goodwin and Larry Poindexter. Andrew Kurtzman, Rob Riley, and Jim Belushi, who all worked together on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, were brought in to punch up Gail Morgan Hickman’s story, likely adding the humor. I’m surprised Belushi isn’t in it. He must have been too busy on THE PRINCIPAL.

Here's the trailer:

Monday, March 09, 2009

Sins Of The Past

James Lee Burke’s popular Louisiana detective Dave Robicheaux comes to the big screen for the second time. Alec Baldwin played the role in 1996’s dismal HEAVEN’S PRISONERS, which at least received a theatrical release from New Line. Despite the excellent cast, headlined by Tommy Lee Jones as yet another world-weary cop on his resume, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST ended up straight to DVD in early 2009.

While actors Elrod Sykes (Peter Sarsgaard) and Kelly Drummond (Kelly Macdonald) work on a new film by director Michael Goldman (an unbilled John Sayles, wry casting) in the nearby swamp, Robicheaux investigates the murder of a teenage prostitute. FBI agent Rosie Gomez (Justina Machado) speculates the killing is the latest in a series of seventeen similar murders, which she’d like to tie to local gangster Julie “Baby Feet” Balboni (John Goodman).

Another case preying heavily on Robicheaux’s mind involves a skeleton found buried near the location where Goldman is shooting his Civil War drama. Robicheaux thinks the body belongs to a black convict who was shot during an escape forty years earlier, but the white authorities then had no interest in investigating the incident. The connection between the two cases is what drives the narrative.

Director Bertrand Tavernier’s introspective approach to the mystery, while involving, is likely what kept the movie out of theaters. No car chases or exploding buildings, though Robicheaux does bust a head or two. Jones can play this type of character in his sleep—and maybe he did—but the flowery narration, languid pacing, and veteran cast may have scared the distributor into an under-the-radar release.

None of the above observations should be regarded as faults, by the way. For the most part, IN THE ELECTRIC MIST, based by screenwriters Jerzy Kromolowski and Mary Olson-Kromolowski on a Burke novel (the Kromolowskis also penned the very good THE PLEDGE, a somewhat similar crime drama directed by Sean Penn), will keep you guessing. The second half gets a little choppy in the rush to tie all the ends together, but fans of hardboiled mysteries should find enough here to enjoy. Tavernier could have used a better technical advisor, as his vision of criminology appears to have come from ‘40s movies.

Never Send A Boy King To Do A Man’s Job

Richie Brockelman was a wonderful character that didn't get the success he deserved. As played by the very likable Dennis Dugan, who was 29 years old at the time, but looked younger, Richie made his debut in a 90-minute TV-movie written by Stephen J. Cannell and Steven Bochco called THE MISSING 24 HOURS. Sixteen months later, Cannell brought the character back for an episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES titled "The House on Willis Avenue," which served as a second pilot for a Brockelman television series. It did the trick, and three weeks later, RICHIE BROCKELMAN, PRIVATE EYE appeared in ROCKFORD's NBC timeslot on Friday night.

RICHIE, despite the participation of TV legends Cannell and Bochco (HILL STREET BLUES), lasted only five weeks, despite positive reviews. Barbara Bosson (Bochco's wife who acted in most of his series) co-starred as Brockelman's secretary Sharon, and Robert Hogan played Sgt. Coopersmith, Richie's "Sgt. Becker." But the Brockelman character, who used his boyish charm and youthful appearance to lure bad guys into a false sense of security, much the way Peter Falk's Columbo did with his sloppy nature, was too good to let die.

"Never Send a Boy King to Do a Man's Job" was a 2-hour episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES that aired almost a year after RICHIE's last episode. Written by Juanita Bartlett and directed by William Wiard, both ROCKFORD veterans, the breezy episode soars because of the amusing plot and the light interplay between Dugan and Garner, who clearly had an affection for his younger co-star. Rockford and Brockelman team up to con a wealthy sports entrepreneur named Harold Jack Coombs, played by Robert Webber in his fourth ROCKFORD appearance.

This case is a personal one for Richie. Coombs wants to build a racetrack on the property owned by Richie's father (Harold Gould, following Norman Fell and John Randolph, who previously played the role). His goon (Pepper Martin) strongarms Mr. Brockelman into selling his printing business with Coombs paying a fraction of what it's worth. To get the business back, Richie guilt-trips Jim Rockford (Garner) into helping him pull an epic con game on the millionaire—an elaborate yarn involving Egyptian antiquities and a second national King Tut tour. The details don't really matter. The joy of the show is watching Rockford, Richie, and their confederates (including Stuart Margolin's Angel) lay down the groundwork and Coombs falling for it.

Trisha Noble, later a regular on ABC's STRIKE FORCE, joins the con as the sultry Odette, an old acquaintance of Rockford. Gary Crosby (ADAM-12) is a crippled racecar mechanic with an axe to grind against Coombs who gives Rockford some hands-on training (Garner enjoyed racing cars off the screen and starred in the 1966 film GRAND PRIX). The great Kim Hunter plays Richie's mother. Mike Post occasionally weaves his BROCKELMAN theme into the score for this episode.

Sadly, this was the last time Brockelman appeared on television. Dugan continued to act in films and on television for several years, including a regular gig on the shortlived SHADOW CHASERS and a memorable recurring role on MOONLIGHTING. Today, he's one of Hollywood's biggest directors of lowbrow comedies, having helmed several Adam Sandler features, such as HAPPY GILMORE and I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Genius Is Still Named Arizal

I once proclaimed on this blog that Indonesian filmmaker Arizal was a genius. At that time, my only evidence were his films LETHAL HUNTER and THE STABILIZER. Now that I have doubled the amount of Arizal films I have seen, I believe in his genius more than ever.

Logic, continuity, characterization, depth—who gives a damn? This is Arizal we're talking about here. If no stuntman ever died making one of his movies, it wasn't for a lack of trying. Things blow up, cars smash into things, motorcycles fly through the air. Yeah, Arizal is The Man, and 1986's FINAL SCORE may be the pinnacle of his genius.
Robert Mitchum's blond actor son Chris Mitchum, who was also the LETHAL HUNTER, stars in FINAL SCORE as Vietnam vet Richard Brown (Mitchum). Boy, is he livid after he returns home to his 8-year-old son's birthday party to discover his boy and his wife have been brutally murdered. The culprit is Hawk (Mike Abbott), who has a long roster of hoods standing between Brown and his own death. After an hour of running dudes over with a car, cutting them in half with a machine gun, blasting them with grenades, snapping their necks, and just generally kicking ass, Brown finally faces his mortal enemy, who wants to "squeeze the living shit out of (Brown's) rotten life."

If that isn't enough carnage for you, while dressing for battle, Brown has flashbacks to 'Nam, where many bamboo huts explode and Brown rescues a POW from an unlocked cage. At least Brown doesn't let being grief-stricken enough to kill the people who raped and murdered his wife stop him from sexing up the hot ninja (Ida Iasha) who helps him get Hawk. Her job is primarily to get evidence against Hawk to take to the police, but after killing a hundred guys in pursuit of it, I'm not sure evidence means much.

I was not really sure why Hawk was so pissed at Brown, which is what motivated the whole story, but anyone familiar with Arizal's unique brand of insane action filmmaking will agree that FINAL SCORE hits the spot. No film this crazy could get made today in Asia or anywhere else, but I'm not certain anyone would want to.

The earliest Arizal picture I've seen is SPECIAL SILENCERS from 1979. For a guy with great power, Gundar (Dicky Zulkamaen) is surely lacking in ambition. He wants to be mayor of his little Indonesian village, so he acquires some magic red pills—called "special silencers"—by killing his monk grandfather and stealing them. When ingested, the pills cause vines and tree branches (!) to grow inside the person and burst through his or her skin, causing what I assume to be a painful death. Gundar uses the special silencers to kill the mayor and the mayor's cop brother, leaving the mayor's daughter Julia (Eva Arnaz) and a dashing young motorcyclist named Hundar (busy Indonesian leading man Barry Prima) as his main obstacles to the throne. You'd think he'd at least want to be governor.

Gundar himself is a difficult match, since meditation has given him impenetrable skin, but he luckily has a full roster of hired goons to send after Hundar, whose kung fu skills enable him to rip through them like flypaper. He tortures Julia by making her smell some stinky feet, then siccing rats, which he calls "black commandos" on her, which couldn't have been fun for the actress.

A weird combination of fantasy and kung fu, SPECIAL SILENCERS is more lucid than later Arizal actioners like THE STABILIZER and LETHAL HUNTER. It actually has a real story and an interest in its characters. Whether that makes SPECIAL SILENCERS any better than those other pictures, I don't know. Some of the humor is intentional. Screenwriter Deddy Armand also penned many other wonderful crappy Indonesian action movies, including THE STABILIZER, FINAL SCORE, and ANGEL OF FURY with Cynthia Rothrock.

Random Comic Book Splash Page #14

I think the Flag appeared in only five comic books during the Golden Age: OUR FLAG #2-5 and FOUR FAVORITES #6 (this may have been a continuation of OUR FLAG). I guess if you are born with a birthmark on your chest that resembles the American flag, there isn't much else you can do besides become a patriotic superhero known as the Flag. That's what Jim Courtney, son of a professional flagmaker, did to battle Nazis during World War II.

I don't think the "Anderson" who apparently drew this splash for OUR FLAG #4 is famed DC Comics artist Murphy Anderson. I know little else about this story from Ace Periodicals' February 1942 issue, except that the Flag is kicking ass.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

An Overdose Of Death

THE DEATH LIST OF RICO SCALISI (Curtis, 1974) doesn't read like a typical men's adventure at all, despite the provocative cover and the book's numbering. In fact, Arrow is almost a supporting character in his own book. This is really the saga of Rico Scalisi, a New York hood who waits thirty years to gain revenge on the men he blames for his long stretch in the joint.

Arrow's backstory is richly delivered by author Walter Deptula here, so I wonder how much of the character's history was revealed in past novels. Franco Arronelli grew up in an Italian neighborhood of New York City and followed his father onto the police department. He was a good cop until he decided to keep a little drug money for himself instead of turning it in as evidence. His by-the-book father Tony Arronelli not only discovered Franco's indiscretion, he also turned him in and had him bounced from the force.

Now excommunicated from his family, Franco moved to Hawaii, changed his name to Frank Arrow, and went to work as a thief of sorts, stealing from the bad to give to the good. DEATH LIST finds Arrow returning to New York for the first time since his father disowned him to track down the man who shot Tony and left him in a coma.

The shooter is Scalisi, of course, and the novel's richest passages take place thirty years in the past, when Scalisi and Tony, childhood friends, split up when one became a cop and the other a hood. Frank's mixed feelings about avenging his father stem from his childhood friendship with Scalisi, who took a liking to the lad when he watched young Franco beat up a bully. THE DEATH LIST OF RICO SCALISI is a true epic filled with rich characterizations that nicely offset the violent passages, very much like THE GODFATHER.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

First To Finish, Last To Show

First to Finish, Last to Show
January 8, 1980
Music: Jimmie Haskell
Writer: Robert Wolterstorff & Paul M. Belous
Director: Leslie H. Martinson

Crooked race horse owner Clayborn (John Anderson) and equally crooked veterinarian Peterson (Jack Ging) comes to Orly County to auction off legendary champion race horse Top Purse. After selling the horse to Big Joe Wabash (John Myhers) for $7 million, they try to burn down the barn holding Top Purse to disguise the fact that they auctioned off a fake. Deputy Perkins (Mills Watson), among his usual bumbling, including knocking down the tent holding the auction, actually does something reasonably competent in getting Top Purse to safety. I suspect Perkins must have been drawing a fan base of some sort by this time, as a lot of this episode is Mills Watson falling down, losing his drawers on a barbed wire fence, chopping a tree down on his police car, and other feats of idiocy. Sheriff Lobo (Claude Akins), always smelling a scam, keeps Top Purse's rescue a secret long enough to use it to mate with a mare he intends to buy.

The first of three MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO scripts by story editors Wolterstorff and Belous is not bad, though the bad guys are given no backstory and exist only as plot conveniences. It's possible, however, that many of their scenes were cut in the syndicated version of the episode that I watched. Someone should add up the hours of television Martinson directed—I wonder if it's close to 1000. So many that I guess he didn't realize how corny is the old gag where a drunk sees a horse walking through a hotel lobby and then shakes his head, thinking he's having an alcoholic hallucination. Though, to be fair, it's hard to argue that any joke is too corny for THE MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO.

Monday, March 02, 2009