Saturday, September 30, 2006

Where's The Beef?

I don't eat a lot of fast food, but when I do, more often than not, it's Wendy's. Which is why I'm distressed to learn that all three Champaign-Urbana Wendy's Restaurants are closed. One building has been demolished, the busiest on North Prospect is just sitting there empty, and I haven't been in the area of the third in Urbana. Hopefully another Wendy's will pop up in town, but if not, it will never be forgotten. The greatest Wendy's moment is the night Tolemite ate three Wendy's triple cheeseburgers in about 90 minutes. If you've ever seen or eaten a Wendy's triple, you know what an amazing accomplishment that is. Tolemite & the Triple Triple. Sounds like a Stephen J. Cannell series.

Speaking of, who remembers SONNY SPOON, a Cannell show that showcased the fasttalking charm of star Mario Van Peebles, who played a private detective who used disguises and cons to flim-flam the bad guys? It may have been too light for its Friday-night time slot, and it just eked out a pair of half-seasons. It wasn't bad though, and Mario's dad Melvin Van Peebles often guest-starred.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Edward Albert R.I.P.

Edward Albert, an extremely busy leading man in hundreds of films and TV shows, has passed away much too young at age 55. He had lung cancer. Sadly, his death occurs just one year after that of his father, the great GREEN ACRES star Eddie Albert, who lived to be a ripe old 99.

Albert was an actor who loved to work. He made his leading man debut opposite Goldie Hawn in the acclaimed BUTTERFLIES ARE FREE, and even though he earned a Golden Globe nomination for his performance, he didn't wait around for "quality" offers to come rolling in. A mere two years after the 1972 film, Albert was already starring in made-for-TV movies with titles like KILLER BEES and DEATH CRUISE. If you have seen Albert at all, it's most likely as a heavy on a TV crime drama or in a trashy exploitation movie.

I most recently saw Albert in a WALKING TALL episode playing a bank robber who kidnaps the father of sheriff Buford Pusser (Bo Svenson) to force the release of his jailed father (Chuck Connors) and in the film GETTING EVEN, an implausible thriller with great stunts about a millionaire (Albert) who teams up with a sexy government agent (Audrey Landers) to retrieve stolen nerve gas from evil industrialist Joe Don Baker.

Albert might best be known in some circles as the lead in the notorious GALAXY OF TERROR. Roger Corman produced this notorious 1981 science fiction movie, which is mostly remembered for a sleazy scene in which a female astronaut is stripped and raped by a slimy 20-foot space worm! A band of astronauts aboard the spaceship Quest are sent on a rescue mission to a fog-bound planet to investigate the disappearance of a previous expedition. The crew includes hot-headed second-in-command Baelon (Zalman King), psychic Alluma (Erin Moran, the fresh-faced HAPPY DAYS teen whose appearance here surely raised a few eyebrows), square-jawed hero Cabrin (Albert) and grizzled old cook Kore (Ray Walston). Upon landing, the crew begins exploring a spooky space pyramid where they start getting picked off one by one in variously bloody ways. Besides the afore-mentioned slime rape, one character chops off his own arm (which manages to stab him to death on its own), another immolates herself, one is strangled so tightly by grisly tentacles that her head explodes, and the beat goes on...

Edward Albert was also a staunch conservationist, though he never stopped working as an actor. He still has some films yet to be released. He even acted many times with the MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS! And the lucky fella was married to the gorgeous British actress Kate Woodville.

Take the time to read Albert's obit, and you'll discover an interesting individual who sadly was taken from us before his time.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Greatest Night Of TV Ever?

The voiceover artist is the late Danny Dark, who "played" Superman on the SUPERFRIENDS Saturday morning cartoon series of the 1970s. Growing up, Dark was "my" Superman, and whenever I read a Superman comic book, it was Dark's voice I "heard." When he wasn't voicing Superman on TV, he was NBC's #1 announcer and could be heard just about every night on show promos and reading the announcements over the closing credits. He also voiced Keebler commercials. He died about two years ago.

The preeminent TV voiceover guy had to have been Ernie Anderson. Most famous for the way he drew out the title "THE LOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVE BOAT," Anderson was identified with ABC for decades. Nobody could make a TV show sound kickass like Anderson could. Here he is selling STAR TREK III in 30 seconds and making it sound like it's the best film ever made:

We're having some very nice weather in Champaign this week. I just spent two hours sitting in Cowboy Monkey's beer garden. I took a sweatshirt just in case, but didn't need it. I wore shorts and a short-sleeved T-shirt and was just fine.

Tonight was the first time I realized that the days really are getting shorter. I've been sleeping with my windows open for about three weeks now. I love air conditioning, because I really like it to be cold when I'm sleeping, but it has felt really nice with just the cool air from outdoors coming in the windows. I live on a busy street, so I get plenty of traffic noise during the night, but it doesn't bother me at all.

I have my plane ticket for L.A. next month. I'm going out to California for about a week just before Halloween. It's just partially a pleasure trip. I'm going to spend a few days with friends in Los Angeles, and then I'm going down to La Jolla where my sister-in-law is having surgery. I expect her to pull through 100%, but she and my brother are going to be out there for awhile during recovery. He's scheduled to drive back home to St. Louis at that time, while she recuperates a few more days, so it looks like I'll be roadtripping back to Missouri with him. I've never taken a road trip of that length before--my previous record is Champaign to El Paso, Texas--so it should be exhausting and hopefully interesting. More to come.

UPDATE: Holy crap, I just found an Anderson LOVE BOAT spot:

Monday, September 25, 2006

When Python Meets Star Trek


Portions of this review have already been seen here at the Crane Shot. I wrote this full-length version for my weekly column in The Hub, and it was to appear in last Friday's issue. However, last Tuesday I received word that The Hub was going on "hiatus" and that last week's issue was to be the last, at least for awhile (possible 3-6 months). Now, I understand that last week's issue didn't come out after all, due to some issues with the printer (at least that's what the local blogs are saying). So, since my full review of THE LOSERS and its unauthorized remake, NAM ANGELS, was never printed, I produce it for you here and now at no extra charge:

THE LOSERS is a film that couldn't miss, since it boasts one of the greatest concepts in the history of exploitation filmmaking. During the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army recruits an American biker gang to break into a Red Chinese camp in Cambodia and rescue a kidnapped CIA agent. It's basically THE DIRTY DOZEN meets MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE with profanity, nudity and gore. Made in 1969 and released in 1970, THE LOSERS is just about the only (along with John Wayne’s execrable THE GREEN BERETS) film made about the Vietnam War during the Vietnam War. As a contrast to THE GREEN BERETS’ rah-rah approach, however, THE LOSERS is anti-Establishment all the way.

Drive-in movie legend William Smith (RUN, ANGEL, RUN), a veteran of Hollywood biker movies and other stick-it-to-The-Man flicks, stars as Link, a “Devil’s Advocate” looking tough in cutoff sleeves, a bare chest and a dangling earring. The Army comes to Link for help because he had served in ‘Nam a few years earlier and is familiar with the jungle region where the camp is located. Captain Jackson (Bernie Hamilton, who went on to play the harassed boss on STARSKY & HUTCH) lays out the plan for Link and his boys: Duke (Adam Roarke), Limpy (Paul Koslo), Speed (Gene Cornelius) and Dirty Denny (Houston Savage).

Screenwriter Alan Caillou (KINGDOM OF THE SPIDERS) had a long career acting and writing films and television shows, but he also made quite a living as the author of quickie paperback thrillers featuring two-fisted adventurers like Cabot Cain. Therefore, it's no surprise he was able to concoct such a squirrely concept for a film. The bikers are equipped with souped-up Yamaha dirt bikes that have been modified with armor and weaponry. Their mission—and they have no choice but to accept it—is to smash into the camp, mow down the guards, blow the place up, and abscond with CIA man Chet Davis (Jack Starrett, who also directed THE LOSERS). It’s pulp fiction at its grimiest, just as if it were pulled out of a “men’s sweat” magazine.

The story is absurd, of course, but the game cast and Starrett's solid direction makes it work. THE LOSERS has long been a favorite in cult-movie circles, and it picked up many new fans when Quentin Tarantino used a clip of it in PULP FICTION. Action fans will consider its major setpiece to be a jolly good show. Even though it doesn’t occur until about an hour and ten minutes into the picture, the climax is well worth the wait, jam-packed with dynamite explosions, crashes, motorcycle stunts and bloody squibs. Not that the first two acts skimp on the action, but with a budget of only $275,000, Starrett obviously had to save the best stuff for his climax. Gary McLarty and Paul Nuckles were the ace stuntmen responsible for the more outrageous stunts, and Roger George's explosions are some of the best I've seen in a low-budget movie.

THE LOSERS doesn’t suffer much for placing its one big setpiece at the end. Starrett's pacing is fine, and it does some good to allow the audience to get to know the characters before they go into battle. You have to care whether they live or die, and that's what the first part of the film is all about. These anti-heroes appear on the surface to care about nothing but themselves, but once we get to see them interacting with each other and the Vietnamese people, we understand that they are indeed three-dimensional humans.

As with many '70s movies, THE LOSERS ends on a cynical note, but one that the movie has earned. Its unusual premise and top drive-in cast make it must-see viewing. Roger Corman must have enjoyed it, because he produced an unauthorized remake in 1989. NAM ANGELS re-serves the primary gimmick—bikers on a rescue mission in Vietnam—but with less flair and more violence. Lieutenant Calhoun (Brad Johnson in his first movie) recruits four Hell’s Angels to accompany him into the jungle to rescue two of his men who were captured by a renegade Aussie (Vernon Wells) and his army of primitive natives. To lure the degenerate Angels’ help, Calhoun promises them a treasure of gold dust worth $10 million that’s hidden in a cave.

Director Cirio H. Santiago lacks the style and precision that Jack Starrett brought to THE LOSERS, but he attempts to make up for it in sheer volume. Hardly any running time is left for story or characterization after Santiago finishes blowing up or shooting down a virtually limitless cast of Filipino extras. Although his budget couldn’t have been much more than what Starrett had 20 years earlier, Santiago puts it all on the screen in the form of machine gun blanks and explosives. NAM ANGELS isn’t a pretty film, but it does its job as mindless late-night filler. I have fond memories of sitting up late during my college years, watching it on cable and laughing at it with my friends. Thanks to the miracle of DVD, now you can do the same.

If it can be done twice, the central plot gimmick is ripe for still another remake. Can't you see a contemporary biker gang going into Iraq or Afghanistan to raise a little hell and say "screw you" to Cheney and Rummy?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Takin' It Easy On Re-Entry

I clearly remember going to see BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY with a group of friends on or around my 12th birthday (it was on a double bill with the awful HURRICANE). You may remember BUCK ROGERS as a television show, but the pilot was given a 1979 theatrical release first. Following in the footsteps of Buster Crabbe (who played Buck in a 1940 serial) is soap actor Gil Gerard, who actually does a good job juggling wisecracks and rugged action.

Narrator William Conrad (CANNON) sets up the premise in a quick pre-credits sequence. In 1987, NASA "launches the last of America's deep space probes". Ranger 3, a one-man craft carrying Captain William "Buck" Rogers, is knocked off course, and its pilot frozen in suspended animation. Nearly 500 years later, he's discovered floating in space by a huge alien vessel from the planet Draconia. Aboard are sexy Draconian princess Ardala (played by curvy Pamela Hensley in some eye-popping costumes) and her military commander Kane (Henry Silva), who are en voyage to a "peacekeeping" mission to Earth. They revive Buck, who seems a little slow on the uptake--he thinks his rescuers are Russians! Kane believes him to be an Earth spy and wants him executed, but Ardala just wants him and demands he be returned to his ship and sent ahead to Earth. He is, but not before Kane stashes a micro gizmo aboard that will allow him to break down Earth's defense shield.

Buck's in for more trouble when he gets home. Not only has everyone he's ever known been dead for five centuries, but shapely Colonel Wilma Deering (yummy Erin Gray), who sure has a slinky way of walking in her skintight white uniform for such a hard-assed soldier type, believes him to be a space pirate and soon has him on trial for treason. In a last ditch effort to prove his innocence (although it seems like it would have made a lot more sense to do this before he was found guilty and sentenced to death), Rogers, after introducing disco dancing to the 25th century and putting some mack moves on both Wilma and Ardala, teams up with an expressionless four-foot robot, Twiki, and Dr. Theopolis, a round box wrapped around Twiki's neck, to invade the Draconian flagship and destroy their fleet before their attack on Earth begins.

Produced and co-written by TV hack Glen A. Larson, whose BATTLESTAR GALACTICA was airing on ABC at the time, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY was rushed into theaters in March 1979, just five months before it would become the two-part pilot episode for the NBC series. I'm not sure exactly why BUCK was given a wide release, but it sure was a smart move for Universal. It allegedly earned more than $20 million at the box office (a huge profit, considering its TV-level budget) and probably inspired the studio to release GALACTICA's pilot in May--after it had already aired on television!

I loved BUCK as a 12-year-old, but it gets creakier and sillier the older I get. The miniatures and matte paintings, some of which were swiped from GALACTICA, are actually pretty good (although New York Times critic Vincent Canby amusingly called Hensley the film's "most magnificent special effect"), but the screenplay by Larson and Leslie Stevens (THE OUTER LIMITS) is packed to the gills with thin characters, simple plotting and too many dialogue groaners and double entendres (as when Buck tells a hot-to-trot Wilma that, after 500 years in space, he needs a little more time for "re-entry"). Twiki's antics are too childish for my tastes (he's voiced by Mel Blanc, who says things like, "I'm freezing my ball bearings off"), and it must have really boiled the britches of actor Tim O'Connor (who, despite being the second male lead, doesn't even receive enough screen time for us to realize who his character of Dr. Huer is supposed to be) to learn his scenes were jettisoned so Gerard could chat with a couple of metal boxes.

Director Daniel Haller, a former art director who had settled into a comfortable career directing television, was actually a decent choice to helm the film (he had directed a couple of horror movies for AIP, as well as designing the sets for several Edgar Allan Poe adaptations directed by Roger Corman in the '60s), and does a steady job of keeping the actors lively, the sets bright and the pace flowing. Haller balances the humor and action well, but BUCK's main problem is the script, which screams "1970s" at every turn. It's one thing to have your actors sporting contemporary hairstyles and fashions, but throwing in a disco scene is too much. Granted, there's a lot of unintentional humor in Gerard busting a move on the dance floor, demanding that the musicians "just go with it" and inviting Hensley to "boogie" and "get down" (although the sight of the scantily clad Hensley, adorned with sequins and a ridiculous horned headdress, shimmying to the beat is not one easily forgotten by any adolescent boy who sees it).

As silly as it is, the disco scene doesn't hold a candle to BUCK's opening title sequence, one of the most ill conceived and knee-slappingly hilarious I've ever seen. To describe it is not enough--it must be seen to be believed--but it involves Gerard lying on a floor lit from below (like the dance floor in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER), while gorgeous models in silver lame jumpsuits (including Hensley and Gray, who appear over their credits) writhe seductively, lick their glossy lips, bat their hair around, and make out with Gerard. All this while a Godawful soft rock tune (written by Larson, who once had a Top 40 hit as a member for the Four Preps) is warbled by somebody named Kipp Lennon. Obviously intended as some sort of James Bond homage, I'd love to find out who directed it, because he deserves some sort of award.

As a film, BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY doesn't particularly work, but it is an effective small-screen pilot. The series that followed was troubled by backstage conflict--several writers, including story editors Anne Collins and Alan Brennert, clashed with both Larson and Gerard (Brennert soon afterward wrote an interesting article on the subject for STARLOG), guest star Ray Walston got hurt doing a stunt, and episode titles like "Space Vampire", "Vegas In Space" and "Planet of the Slave Girls" clearly showed the juvenile path Larson was taking. In all, 37 episodes were aired by NBC over two seasons, although kids who saw it then fondly remember the show today.

Stu Phillips composed the score, which, except for a menacing theme for the Draconians and the dopey disco stuff, is no more than generic TV music. Also with "guest star" Joseph Wiseman as King Draco, H.B. Haggerty and Howard Flynn as the voice of Theopolis. Felix Silla "played" Twiki. Gerard, Gray, O'Connor and Silla were regulars on the TV series, with Hensley and Wiseman making sporadic appearances. Michael Ansara (BROKEN ARROW) replaced Silva as Kane. Hensley retired a few years later after marrying her MATT HOUSTON producer, E. Duke Vincent. Gray later had a good run on SILVER SPOONS and appeared in a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie. Gerard teamed with a 10-year-old karate expert on his later series SIDEKICKS. I saw both Gerard and Gray signing autographs at the 2005 Wizard World Chicago show. Gil is thinning on top and widening in the middle, but Erin is aging wonderfully like an incredibly well-preserved soccer MILF.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Hate Story

You may not be surprised to learn that I love trailers for exploitation movies, sometimes even more than the movies themselves. I first saw the JOHNNY FIRECLOUD trailer almost a decade ago on one of Something Weird Video's many compilation tapes. It was aggressive, gory, violent, timely, and boasted a very good exploitation cast. SWV eventually released the David F. Friedman production on DVD in a good-looking widescreen print and with an audio commentary track featuring Friedman. I was happy to discover that JOHNNY FIRECLOUD, which is basically a rough hybrid of BILLY JACK and DEATH WISH, is not just a good drive-in flick, but a thoughtful, well-acted melodrama as well. Its "good" qualities are frankly hidden in this hyperbolic trailer, which is as it should be.

Note: the R-rated trailer may not be safe for work viewing.

Why Should You Drink Bourbon?

If it's good enough for Fredric March and Mike Connors, it's damn well good enough for you!

Monday, September 18, 2006

So Goes The Crimson Executioner

Actor and bodybuilder Mickey Hargitay, seen here with his wife Jayne Mansfield, has passed away at the age of 80. The beautiful couple were married for six years, during which time they had three children. One of them, daughter Mariska, grew up to become an actress who recently won an Emmy award for her role as Detective Olivia Benson on LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT.

Hargitay was a former Mr. Universe who got into show business around 1955 when he was hired as beefcake for Mae West's stage act. Several years later--and after he and Mansfield were married--Mickey returned to his native Europe to star in a series of muscleman adventure movies like HERCULES AND THE HYDRA and REVENGE OF THE GLADIATORS.

His best-known movie is probably BLOODY PIT OF HORROR, a colorful, sick and entertaining thriller in which Hargitay stars as the Crimson Executioner, a nut who believes himself to be the reincarnation of a 17th century sadist in a mask and red tights. He kidnaps models posing for sexy photos in an old castle, and tortures and kills them. The dubbing is terrible, but this weird film is never boring.

Hargitay and Mansfield divorced in 1964, and she was killed three years later in a much-publicized car accident. Mickey continued to occasionally act, but made his last feature in 1973. He wasn't hurting for dough, however. He invested his income from acting and bodybuilding wisely, and became a rich man in real estate.

He also was a great influence on Arnold Schwarzeneggar, who came to the United States in 1968 with a dream of following in his hero's footsteps as a bodybuilder and actor. I remember seeing one of Schwarzeneggar's earliest acting roles, ironically portraying Hargitay in the 1980 made-for-TV movie THE JAYNE MANSFIELD STORY opposite Loni Anderson.

The Hungarian-born Hargitay died last Thursday of multiple myeloma. His last acting performance was a small role with daughter Mariska in a L&O: SVU episode, his first performance in 30 years. I'm sure he was a proud papa that day.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Second Neatest Thing I've Seen Today

Good news for GET SMART fans...and I'm surprised no DVD company has thought of this already. Time-Life is releasing this great sitcom in November, but instead of doling it out in season sets and then later putting out the complete series, all five seasons of GET SMART will be released together in one big box set. See the details here.

What I like about this is that it eliminates two big pet peeves concerning TV releases on DVD. #1 is that studios often release the first season, and if sales aren't what they expect, we never get the rest of the series (poor BARNEY MILLER). The other is when studios release shows one season at a time, and after the fans have bought the whole run, they release the show again in one set at a lower price and with additional extras. Anchor Bay is screwing GREATEST AMERICAN HERO fans by releasing all the episodes in a single set with including collectible items like replicas of the hero's cape and instruction book (with working lights...whooo hooooo!). Those of us who bought the series one season at a time are completely hosed. Thanks, Anchor Bay, you dickheads.

Not directly related to GET SMART, but here's an Aurora toy commercial starring Don "Maxwell Smart" Adams. You SEINFELD fans may get a kick out of seeing actor Len Lesser aka "Uncle Leo."

Friday, September 15, 2006


One of the world's biggest badasses turns 78 today. When it comes to kicking ass, taking names and being charismatic, it's difficult to beat Henry Silva, who has probably killed as many actors on film as anyone. Born in Brooklyn this day in 1928, Silva is reportedly of Puerto Rican heritage, yet he has played several different ethnicities, including Italian, Native American, Mexican and even Japanese in THE RETURN OF MR. MOTO. He once appeared with the Rat Pack (OCEAN'S ELEVEN) and Jerry Lewis (CINDERFELLA) in the same year. He acted in a Roger Corman movie, THE SECRET INVASION, which THE DIRTY DOZEN ripped off three years later. He's been in a billion TV shows. In the 1970s, he spent a lot of time in Europe, where he starred in many westerns and crime dramas. He played Killer Kane to Pamela Hensley's luscious Princess Ardala in BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY. More recently, he voiced Bane in the BATMAN cartoon series and played a memorable supporting role in GHOST DOG.

To produce this amazing video, somebody has edited clips and samples from various Silva movies and scored them with a Motorhead song. It's NSFW, but, what the hell, it's the weekend anyway. Crank those speakers and let the awesomeness of Henry Silva wash over you, motherfucker.

Jump The Shark

If you have ever wondered where the term "jump the shark" originated, no kidding, this is it:

This episode is considered the exact point in HAPPY DAYS' run when the series became too ridiculous and began its downward slide. For me, it was the amazing Malachi Crunch 3-part episode where Pinky Tuscadero was seriously injured in a demolition derby when those fucking bastards the Malachi brothers smashed into her car while she was on top of it attempting to fix her stalled engine.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Original Charles In Charge

Give Chicken some credit for sitting through a less-than-exciting double feature tonight. I decided to pull a couple of VHS tapes out of the pile that I had never watched before. Sometimes you gotta experience some stinkers in order to find that SAMURAI COP or STABILIZER or U.S. SEALS II.

ZAPPED! is sort of a Disney movie with boob inserts. Before they became an electrifying comedy team on CHARLES IN CHARGE (sheeeeyaaaaaaahhh), Scott Baio (HAPPY DAYS) and Willie Aames (EIGHT IS ENOUGH) starred in this tame high-school comic fantasy that would have been more interesting if it had the edge that its 1-sheet promises. Baio is a science nerd with big glasses who, just like The Flash, has an accident in the school lab and wakes up to discover he can move things with his mind. His best pal Peyton (Aames), who is inexplicably the coolest stud on campus (I mean, shit, he's Willie Aames, not Teen Wolf), wants to use Baio's new powers to get rich cheating in Vegas. Scott does ensure that his baseball team wins its last game of the season (their only win), but otherwise wants to stay straight and narrow. He finds this is a better way to attract cute school journalist Felice Schacter (THE FACTS OF LIFE), while the sleazy Aames hooks up with hottie Heather Thomas (THE FALL GUY) and takes photos of them having sex.

All you would have to do is remove the insert shots of a few topless women, and ZAPPED! could easily be a PG. Strangely, the closing crawl carries a disclaimer stating that Heather Thomas used a body double for her character's nude scenes. On a list of Super '80s TV Hotties, Heather would be near the top, and it's a great disappointment that she doesn't pop her top in this movie. I'm not sure I'll ever recover from it.

ZAPPED! is not terribly funny or original. It cribs its climax from CARRIE, and doesn't go far enough on the raunch scale. It does contain a pair of very strange scenes--one where Baio imagines a bunch of tiny STAR TREK characters inhabiting his toy spaceship and another where Scatman Crothers gets high and hallucinates that he and Albert Einstein are on horseback being chased by Redd Foxx's batty Aunt Esther, who shoots salami at him with a bazooka.

Still, ZAPPED! looks pretty damn good next to BLOODMATCH, whose box promises a tale of a kickboxer fighting four other kickboxers to the death in a search to find his brother's killer. What we get instead is a very dull, talky and visually staid picture which could well have been shot in a week on one L.A. block. Every performance is terrible, and the fight scenes, when they come, are limp and suspenseless, even though they were choreographed by Benny "The Jet" Urquidez (who provides one of those terrible acting jobs). Thom Mathews from FRIDAY THE 13TH PART VI and hot Hope Marie Carlton from Andy Sidaris' HARD TICKET TO HAWAII are the prime offenders.

BLOODMATCH is so bad that, 15 minutes after it was over, I took the tape outside and dropped it in the garbage can.

'Cause They're Comin' To Your Town

Last week, I mentioned the 40th anniversary of STAR TREK's television debut (September 8, 1966). Well, 40 years ago today, NBC premiered another groundbreaking (and shortlived) series: THE MONKEES.

THE MONKEES is often remembered as a kiddie show, perhaps because reruns aired for many years on Saturday mornings (which is where I remember first seeing it). But it's important to note that its first season was the recipient of two Emmy awards, including one for Outstanding Comedy Series. The other shows in that category were THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, BEWITCHED, GET SMART and HOGAN'S HEROES. All four have been in perpetual reruns ever since, and it was considered something of a coup for those veterans to have been upset by an upstart youth-slanted series that broke the rules of television situation comedy.

It was the first TV sitcom to present teenagers as they actually were. So did THE MANY LOVES OF DOBIE GILLIS to some extent, particularly the beatnik Maynard G. Krebs played by Bob Denver, but The Monkees were the first TV teens to wear their hair long and live on their own without a parental authority figure to chaperone them. Their exact ages were never mentioned, but most adult characters called them "kids" (or "longhaired weirdos"), and they were professionals who apparently felt little need for a college education.

The story of THE MONKEES' origin is quite famous, and I won't go into it here. The stars were four extremely talented comic actors with varied amounts of experience as both actors and musicians. They were, of course, originally hired to portray a rock band in a sitcom, and eventually became a professional band of some talent. Micky Dolenz had been a child actor, Davy Jones had much stage experience, but little on film, Mike Nesmith was a budding folk singer out of Texas, and Peter Tork came to L.A. from the Greenwich Village hippie scene. Considering the actors' various personalities and ages, it's amazing they had as much on-screen chemistry as they did.

Here's the opening titles of THE MONKEES, circa Season Two:

The episode that actually debuted 40 years ago today, "Royal Flush," was the first to be filmed after the pilot. It's also the episode that won THE MONKEES the Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy, as well as the Directing Emmy for James Frawley, who continues to work frequently in episodic television.

THE MONKEES lasted only two seasons on NBC, but the group continued to produce records. They starred in one film, HEAD, which was co-written by Jack Nicholson and directed by Bob Rafelson (FIVE EASY PIECES). Shortly afterward, Peter Tork left The Monkees, which continued as a threesome. Mike, Davy and Micky recorded, made commercials, performed concerts, and appeared often on TV variety shows. Here's an interesting clip from a 1969 episode of THE JOHNNY CASH SHOW. It's about seven minutes, but is pretty entertaining. They do a very good rendition of "Nine Times Blue," which is a terrific Nesmith composition that Mike re-recorded on one of his own solo albums later, and join Johnny for "Everybody Loves A Nut".

I once read that Cash got a real kick out of performing with The Monkees, that he found them funny and talented. I think he was correct.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Smile And Say Die

Michael Callan’s career as a light leading man in acclaimed fare like MYSTERIOUS ISLAND and CAT BALLOU was long gone by the time he co-produced and starred in 1982's DOUBLE EXPOSURE. It's one of those films that has fallen into obscurity after a brief theatrical run under the Crown International banner and then to videocassette, where its dusty, sundrenched box sits ignored on video store shelves. Which means I can't resist it.

It’s easy to see why Callan took the job as star; he has lots of showy acting moments, and he makes out with many naked babes, including fortysomething Joanna Pettet. His credit as post-production supervisor suggests that he and executive producer Frank Silverman (note his prominent title card) may have had more to do with DOUBLE EXPOSURE’s final cut than writer/director/co-producer William Byron Hillman. Amazingly, it appears to be a remake of an earlier Hillman/Callan film called THE PHOTOGRAPHER!

Freelance photog Adrian Wilde (Callan) is plagued by sweaty nightmares in which he slaughters various models and prostitutes with a knife or an icepick. Meanwhile, those same models and hookers are being murdered by a mysterious gloved killer who also targets an undercover policeman posing as a hooker. The morning following each dream, Wilde frantically explains it to his shrink (Seymour Cassel) and to his rascally brother B.J. (James Stacy), an ex-stunt driver with one arm, one leg, one ex-wife and a bitter attitude.

Hillman’s screenplay isn’t very good, but it contains lots of “actory” scenes that must have lured several of Callan’s friends; DOUBLE EXPOSURE’s cast is quite impressive considering the material they have to work with. Despite the perceived red herrings, the list of suspects is actually much shorter than you think, when you mull over how few people know the details of Adrian’s dreams. Vestron Video’s pan-and-scan print does the cinematography and direction no favors, not that Hillman is any rival of Dario Argento’s. The movie is paced and structured like a giallo with an occasional swipe from the slasher movies that were popular at the time.

Callan chews some major scenery as he battles mood swings and wakes up after lovemaking sessions with young women covered in sweat. He went back to TV guest shots and soap operas after this last gasp at movie-leading-manhood. As absurd as the plot is, at least Callan’s scenes with Stacy feel authentic, as though the two really were quite close. Stacy, the former star of TV’s LANCER, did lose his limbs in a 1973 motorcycle accident, and though he continued to act for several years afterward, Hollywood sadly has little use for a one-armed, one-legged actor outside of roles specifically calling for one. MATT HOUSTON’s Pamela Hensley co-stars as the detective pursing the killer’s identity, along with Robert Tessier, Misty Rowe, Cleavon Little (in a thankless role as Hensley’s orders-barking chief), Don Potter, Joey Forman, Jeana Tomasina (THE BEACH GIRLS), PLAYBOY’s Kathy Shower as a mud wrestler, SNL’s Victoria Jackson in her first film, Debbie Zipp, Sally Kirkland, Joanna Frank (THE SAVAGE SEVEN) and Terry Moore.

Friday, September 08, 2006

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

September 8, 1966. A new TV series premiered on the NBC network. It was called STAR TREK, and it was the first serious science fiction television drama with continuing characters. It's also the most important, as well as one of the most influential series in the history of television.

I wasn't around in 1966, but I became a fan in 7th grade when a new friend of mine, David Edwards, introduced me to it through his collection of books, Fotonovels, ViewMasters, etc. STAR TREK wasn't running in this TV market at the time, although I recall seeing reruns of it, as well as SPACE: 1999, on the local PBS affiliate. I wasn't able to watch STAR TREK regularly until I was around 13 or 14, when the CBS station aired in on Sunday nights after the local news. It took me approximately 79 weeks to see the entire series, but I was already hooked by then.

I won't get too serious here. I'm a fan, such a fan, in fact, that I consider there to be only one True STAR TREK. All the poseurs that followed with the words "star" and "trek" in their titles are mere imitations.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

It Ain't Over 'Til The Wolf Howls

SHADOW MAN is the third Steven Seagal film of 2006 and his 14th this decade. With the exception of a couple of brief stabs at a renewed big-screen stardom with action movies that didn't exactly light up the box office (EXIT WOUNDS, HALF PAST DEAD), Seagal has become one of the busiest direct-to-video stars in the world. Actually, "busiest" isn't quite an accurate description. "Prolific"...okay, but I don't know about "busy." You see, in most of Seagal's DTV features, his various doubles end up doing more than their fair share of his work. Watching these movies can be a surreal experience, because their lackadaisical shooting styles and haphazard editing--director's stumbling blocks mandated by Seagal's barely-there approach to his job--pull your attention away from the story.

SHADOW MAN is a good example. Pay attention to the many scenes in which Seagal's character is having a conversation with somebody, but the entire scene consists of closeups. That's because Steve only showed up long enough to film his closeups, cheating the director out of shooting much-needed coverage (two-shots, master, etc.). Plus, the lighting is often out of sync, because the cinematographer has chosen dark shadows to mask Seagal's paunchy, pasty face and obvious dark hairpiece. As well, Seagal barely participates in the many action scenes, allowing a stuntman to perform not just dangerous shots, but relatively tame fights as well, as if the star just couldn't be bothered. He doesn't use doubles just in action scenes either, but also routine shots of his character walking, driving, sitting. If you can't see the character's face, it isn't Seagal, and there is a lot of footage of the back of somebody's head in SHADOW MAN.

Another detriment plaguing Seagal's DTV movies, but not so much this one, is his laziness when it comes to ADR work. He apparently has little interest in looping his dialogue, so many Seagal features jar your ear with lines that are clearly spoken by an actor who sounds about as much like Seagal as Elmer Fudd does. In one (I think it's SUBMERGED), Seagal plays a Louisianan with a Cajun accent. Sometimes. Sometimes Seagal uses the accent, sometimes not. Sometimes the actor dubbing him uses one, sometimes not, leading to a schizophrenic listening experience.

SHADOW MAN is not a very good film and quite typical of Seagal's recent output. Once again, he's a government agent in Europe (these movies are almost always filmed in Eastern Europe, Romania in this case) who wants revenge on the bad guys who kidnapped his daughter. His father-in-law (Seagal's character, Jack Foster, is a widower) has unknowingly planted on Jack a microdot containing a nerve gas formula that he plans to sell to the highest bidder, likely one with sinister motives. Both enemy operatives and the CIA keep trying to kill Jack to retrieve the nerve gas, while all he wants to do is rescue his daughter, who was snatched from the Bucharest airport by a large-breasted cabby who can't act.

Director Michael Keusch helms with a shaky, unsure hand, and his action sequences are often confusing. Surprisingly, Seagal didn't get more involved in this one, as he also takes credits for producing and writing. Maybe he wrote his own dialogue, since it doesn't sound like anyone else's. However, he isn't trying very hard to carve out a performance, and you would think he would take some delight in reciting lines he had written himself.

Seagal reportedly has four more movies set to come out in the next 18 months. I'm mostly looking forward to THE UNTITLED ONION MOVIE, in which he portrays a character known at this juncture only as Cock Puncher.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Unknown Stuntman

What does THE FALL GUY have in common with WALKER, TEXAS RANGER? Answer in a moment, but first... Yeah, I've been slacking with this blog this week. I've been messing around with some stupid projects and installing shelves in my living room and just life stuff, ya know.

After THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN went off the air in 1978, Lee Majors tried to become a movie star. Unfortunately, he chose projects like AGENCY and STEEL and THE LAST CHASE and the horrible THE NORSEMAN, and none of them were box-office hits (STEEL is a pretty good movie though). So he came home to television in 1981 to star in another long-running ABC series. In THE FALL GUY, Majors was Colt Seavers, a movie stuntman who moonlighted as a bounty hunter. It's a brilliant idea and I'm surprised no one has tried to rip it off. By having Seavers be a stuntman, the show could showcase exciting action sequences and there didn't have to be any story reason or context. It could just be part of a show-within-the-show.

THE FALL GUY ran for four or five seasons. Doug Barr had kind of a thankless role as Colt's luggish cousin Howie, who helped catch bad guys. Most people remember Heather Thomas as Colt's assistant, and when you see the bikini she wears in the opening titles, you'll understand why.

So here's the opening credits to THE FALL GUY. Lots of stunts and action and flying pickup trucks. And Heather in that bikini. Oh, and to answer the question I posed at the top of the post: both shows featured theme songs performed by their stars. Which is not unusual, except that both Lee Majors and Chuck Norris are terrible singers.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Cast In Gold

PRIMAL FEAR is the type of slick thriller Paramount used to do very well. It's intelligently produced and directed for adult audiences, and it's cast with a handful of smart, skilled actors who are allowed to do their thing. What's interesting about PRIMAL FEAR's casting is that so many of the actors are now quite familiar, but were less so at the time. I wasn't surprised to learn that the casting directors were nominated for an award for their excellent work on this film.

PRIMAL FEAR is also Edward Norton's first movie, for which he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award. I saw it when it was released theatrically in 1996, basically because I'm a sucker for overwrought courtroom dramas. I just love the format, and this picture is based on a novel by William Diehl. I have read several Diehl novels, but I didn't read this one until after I saw the film adaptation, and I'm glad that screenwriters Steve Shagan and Ann Biderman and director Gregory Hoblit were quite faithful to Diehl's vision. This thriller tosses one implausibility after another into the mix, until you're forced to sit back in awe at the absurdity of it all.

I'm not particularly a Richard Gere fan, but he can be quite good in the right role. Here, he's perfectly cast as Martin Vail, an arrogant, publicity-seeking Chicago defense attorney who takes a case involving Aaron Stampler (Norton), a fresh-faced 19-year-old Kentucky altar boy, accused of stabbing an archbishop 78 times. Since clergymen in movies like this are always involved in sordid affairs, it's no surprise to see the screenplay introduce elements of pornography, corruption, organized crime and multiple personality disorder, to name just a few. Hoblit isn't afraid to splash some blood during his filming of the murder, although it plays less gory than what you can see on many prime-time TV crime dramas.

In addition to Gere and Norton, who plays off the elder actor amazingly well, showing not even a hint of nervousness or hesitation in the central role in a major Hollywood movie, PRIMAL FEAR's cast includes Alfre Woodard as the judge, John Mahoney (whom you called when you needed a white-haired, middle-aged Irish authority figure and John Spencer is booked) from FRASIER as the D.A., KINSEY's Laura Linney (who had not been seen much), Maura Tierney (later on NEWSRADIO), Frances McDormand (the same year she was in LONE STAR and FARGO), Andre Braugher of HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET (which nobody was watching), Terry O'Quinn (LOST), Jon Seda (also on HOMICIDE), Joe Spano (HILL STREET BLUES) and Steven Bauer (SCARFACE). And, yes, I realize that is probably the longest sentence I have ever written. It's fun to spot these faces, and it's fun to watch them work. Hoblit effectively carries over the twist ending of Diehl's novel, and I surely didn't see it coming.

Hoblit, an Emmy-winning director with credits on groundbreaking crime series such as L.A. LAW and NYPD BLUE making his feature debut here, should know better than to let the courtroom histrionics get out of hand, but maybe that's why we like films like this. After seeing the Simpson trial tediously unfold before us on Court TV, we now know fiction is much more exciting (if not necessarily more interesting) than the real thing. Hoblit went on to make other good dramas, including FALLEN and FREQUENCY. What I would love to see is NYPD 2069, the Steven Bochco pilot he directed a few years ago about a cop who is cryogenically frozen and awakens three generations later to fight crime in the future! C'mon, YouTube, get on the ball!

Diehl wrote two sequels to PRIMAL FEAR that continued the relationship between Martin Vail and Aaron Stampler. It would be neat to see Gere and Norton back together in another movie. PRIMAL FEAR did okay at the box office, but I wouldn't expect to see a followup anytime soon.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Not-So-Fantastic Four

You may not know that the FANTASTIC FOUR film that came out in theaters two summers ago was not the first time Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's groundbreaking comic book was filmed in live action. In 1994, Roger Corman produced one in association with a German company. It was also titled THE FANTASTIC FOUR, and even though it was filmed, edited, scored and mixed, it has never been released in any form, not even on home video. It is, however, one of the most widely bootlegged films on the convention circuit, although I don't know why anyone would ever want to watch it.

A movie about the making of THE FANTASTIC FOUR would be much more entertaining than THE FF itself. The short version of the story behind it is that the German company that owned the rights to the characters, Constantin, needed to make the movie in a hurry because its option was about to expire, and it could be renewed only if the film was in production. The notion was to spend $1.5 million on a "quickie" just to keep the rights, but to never release the film. The idea was just to hold on to the rights until Constantin could raise the coin to make a "real" movie. Since Constantin had little experience in making cheapjack quickies, they contacted Hollywood's B-movie master, Roger Corman, and asked him to co-produce it.

Reportedly, the film's cast and crew were never aware that they were wasting their time on a movie that was made only to be shelved. THE FANTASTIC FOUR was directed by Oley Sassone, who had worked for Corman before on films like FINAL EMBRACE and BLOODFIST III: FORCED TO FIGHT. The main cast was composed of decent working actors, but hardly household names: Alex Hyde-White (Mr. Fantastic), Jay Underwood (Human Torch), Rebecca Staab (Invisible Woman), Michael Bailey Smith (Thing) and Joseph Culp (Dr. Doom). So THE FANTASTIC FOUR was a "real" movie in that it was written, directed and produced by professionals, but, from the beginning, it was only to be a placeholder for something bigger.

That "something bigger" never happened. Corman made this movie, then moved on to about 50 others that same year. Marvel, which was pretty sloppy in its film adaptations back then, eventually sold the Fantastic Four to Fox, which produced FANTASTIC FOUR for 2005. Whether it's really any better than Corman's film, I don't know. Don't misunderstand--the Corman production is terrible. Threadbare production values, a boring screenplay, chintzy use of the characters' powers. Mr. Fantastic stretches only about three times, but just an occasional arm or a leg (including the final shot, which is one of the most laughable special effects I've ever seen). The Torch "flames on" in crummy animation, and the Thing always looks like a stiff foam suit.

I sometimes wonder how much money Corman would have made on the film if he had just released it. Certainly it has been bought and viewed by thousands of comic book fans who have picked up an illegal videotape at a convention or traded one online. I've seen it twice. I think if Corman released it on DVD tomorrow, it would move quite a few copies, some to people who would confuse it with the Fox blockbuster, and many to comics fans who are completists and need to see/own it.

New Concorde even went so far as to produce a trailer for THE FANTASTIC FOUR, which appeared on several of the studio's direct-to-videocassette features in the early 1990s. I don't know whether it ever played in a theater, but maybe. It's interesting to me that Corman bothered to make a trailer for a film that was never going to be released. Perhaps he was judging audience anticipation for the "real" movie.

Here's the trailer, thanks to YouTube. Gasp in amazement and thank me later.