Sunday, April 29, 2007

George Bush Celebrates Opposite Day. Or Something.

George Bush says American soldiers are safer in Iraq than they would be if they were able to come home:

"I think it -- I'm just envisioning what it would be like to be a young soldier in the middle of Iraq and realizing that politicians have all of the sudden made military determinations. And in my judgment, that would put a kid in harm's way, more so than he or she already is."

Er. What?

By the way, is there anyone in the Bush administration who is not corrupt? I'll take anyone. A secretary even.

This Is My Happening Yada Yada Yada

A big thanks to Moto, who woke me up this morning and offered me one of his passes to see BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS today, the final feature of Roger Ebert's annual Overlooked Film Festival here in Champaign. I've seen it several times before, including on the wonderful Fox DVD (with a fantastic Ebert audio commentary) and once at the Brew & View in Urbana, where it shared a memorable double bill with CLEOPATRA JONES AND THE CASINO OF GOLD (and when is Warners getting off its ass to release that one on DVD?). But you'll never see BVD at a better venue than Champaign's historic Virginia Theater and surrounded by about 1000 eager, knowledgeable film fans.

Ebert, as you may know, has had a rough year in terms of his health. He's unable to speak, and his surgeries have left him with a (hopefully temporary) physical appearance. He and his wife Chaz took the stage at the Virginia, and used a laptop and some electronic voice software to introduce today's film, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. He walked a little slowly, but you could tell that he had energy and enthusiasm. Actress Marcia McBroom, the Chicago Sun-Times movie and rock critics, and the leader of the Strawberry Alarm Clock did a 15-minute discussion before the film ran, and made it clear to the audience (mostly older, upscale film lovers) that it was okay to laugh, that BVD is a comedy and is intentionally funny. Everyone seemed to like it and laughed at the right places. The 35mm print looked extremely nice, and carried an MPAA "X" rating card at the end, not the NC-17.

In case you aren't aware, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS was written by Ebert, when he was still early in his career as the film critic for the Sun-Times, and directed by legendary exploitation auteur Russ Meyer, his first for a Hollywood studio. Part rock musical, part action, part psychedelia, part sexploitation, part parody and part soap opera, BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is a sex- and sleaze-filled riot about a female rock-and-roll band (called The Carrie Nations) trying to make it big in Hollywood. BVD is really a bizarre mess with typically (for a Meyer movie) stunning photography and editing, as well as memorably campy performances and kickass tunes co-written by Stu Phillips (THE MONKEES). I have the soundtrack, which contains some great songs by The Strawberry Alarm Clock, Phillips' witty score and amazing grrl power blasts by The Carrie Nations, who were not the actresses in the film, but actually session musicians and singer Lynn Carey, who also co-wrote a couple of the songs.

This weekend is just about Champaign-Urbana's busiest. In addition to the annual "Ebertfest" (this year's was the ninth), the annual Artists Against AIDS show occurs just a few blocks away downtown. Oddly, this year's event was held in the Orpheum Children's Museum, which was once the Orpheum Theater, another historical-landmark movie house. Many downtown businesses stay open later this weekend, and the bars and restaurants are typically packed. This year we also had fantastic weather, which you can't always count on during April in Central Illinois.


October 29, 2003 (ABC)
Writer: Jason Smilovic
Director: Steve Miner

An old case comes back to haunt Marshall Sisco (Robert Forster) in this good KAREN SISCO episode written by executive producer Smilovic. U.S. marshal Karen Sisco (Carla Gugino), teaming up with Treasury agent Garrison Kick (Frank Grillo), busts an amiable counterfeiter, Lestor Porter (Jim True-Frost), at his hideout in the swamp. To escape a third term in the joint, he claims knowledge of underworld dealings, and makes a deal to give up a mobster named Salvatore Gigliani, but with one condition: that Karen be assigned to bodyguard him until he gets into Witness Protection. He trusts Karen, because, according to him, they were classmates in high school.

Meanwhile, bank robber Junior McLeod (John Diehl) is released after a fifteen-year stint in Lompoc. After a quick smash-and-grab armored car heist for traveling money, McLeod buys a black-market rifle and takes a rooftop shot through Lestor’s hotel room window that leaves the counterfeiter wounded. Why would McLeod, whom Marshall arrested fifteen years ago, want to kill Lestor, whom the ex-con doesn’t even know? One hint: it has nothing to do with Lestor’s mob tales.

An interesting mystery and plenty of screen time for Forster make “Nostalgia” one of KAREN SISCO’s finer shows. Appealing guest turns by True-Frost and Diehl add immeasurably to the suspense, particularly True-Frost, who makes Lestor a likable “villain.” Lestor has a seemingly photographic memory of Karen, even where she sat in 3rd period English. On the other hand, Karen has no memory of him whatsoever, a realization that bothers her, particularly when she is stung by unintentionally insulting comments that imply her classmates considered her standoffish. Gugino plays these scenes beautifully and non-verbally, providing the audience with more insight into Karen without hitting us over the head. Conversations with her father, as well as a brief glance at her high school yearbook (including Gugino’s real school photo), help fill in some blanks concerning her childhood. Also, that yearbook is the source of a hilarious gag involving a football player and a black eye.

In addition to True-Frost, who went on to a regular role as a cop on THE WIRE, and veteran character actor Diehl, perhaps best known for his regular role—as a cop—on MIAMI VICE, “Nostalgia” delivers a nice array of familiar faces, including Grillo (a regular on PRISON BREAK), Emmy-winning soap star Sarah Joy Brown (GENERAL HOSPITAL), Kurt Fuller (Werner Klemperer in AUTO FOCUS) and the ubiquitous Dick Miller (!) as shoe-selling Salvatore. Horror-movie fans will note the direction by Steve Miner, who bounces back and forth between features and episodic television, but is best known for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 and FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III, which was gruelingly lensed in audience-pleasing 3D. No shocks or scares in “Nostalgia,” however. Just good old-fashioned crime drama with a nice blend of humor and suspense.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Thing In My Pocket Is A Gun

1978's THE SILENT PARTNER is a real sleeper out of Canada. I've read positive reviews of this thriller for several years, though I haven't really had the chance to see it until Lionsgate put it out on an attractive widescreen DVD this month. Fans of cult movies consider THE SILENT PARTNER to be a cleverly played and plotted crime drama, and I'm inclined to agree.

Elliott Gould's days as a leading man were just about done when he went to Toronto to shoot THE SILENT PARTNER (which was Gould's third film of 1978, along with CAPRICORN ONE and MATILDA, the execrable boxing-kangaroo movie), but he's perfectly cast as mild bank teller Miles Cullen. Miles anticipates that a mall Santa Claus is going to rob him, and arranges it so that the crook gets only about a thousand bucks and the rest of the loot (more than $40,000) ends up in Miles' briefcase. What Miles doesn't anticipate is that the robber, Harry (THE SOUND OF MUSIC's Christopher Plummer, a native Canadian), is a psycho and threatens Miles to return the loot.

A tightly plotted cat-and-mouse match plays out between Miles, a schlemiel whose life barely reaches beyond the bank's walls, and Harry, a vicious man who beats and rapes a teenage girl merely to vent his frustration at being outwitted. The two men are opposite sides of the same coin, which is not an original conceit for a crime thriller, but the screenplay by Curtis Hanson (later a Hollywood superstar who directed L.A. CONFIDENTIAL) and direction by acclaimed television vet Daryl Duke (THE THORN BIRDS) nicely snap the pieces together, adding crisp characterization and moments of real suspense.

John Candy, then between seasons of the early half-hour version of SCTV (then called SECOND CITY TV), has a small supporting role, but Gould and Plummer's main backups are Susannah York in a tricky part as a coworker of Miles' who somewhat fancies him and sexy French-Canadian actress Celine Lomez as an alluring young woman who starts a romance with Miles. How she fits into the plot isn't exactly a surprise, though her fate plays an enormous role in establishing to the audience the lengths to which Harry will go to beat Miles at their "game."

Whereas THE SILENT PARTNER may have been a hit in its homeland, it didn't do much in the U.S. One can see how it may have been a difficult movie to market, and certainly the poster I've seen of Plummer, dressed as Santa and firing a gun, doesn't accurately describe the picture. It was released on VHS here and occasionally aired on television, but was never on laserdisc and is only now making its DVD debut. Unfortunately, Lionsgate provided no extras, not even a trailer. Duke died late last year, and Hanson may be inaccessible, but a Gould/Plummer commentary might have been of interest. Certainly don't judge the film based on the terrible DVD box art, which misrepresents the film all the way. It's a good thriller with two strong yet disparate leading men (mopey eccentric Jew vs. snake-charming Shakespearean) matching up together perfectly.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Lawdy, Lawdy

It's true. Happy birthday to me. I guess. It's my 40th. I can't say I'm that happy about it, but here we are, and here I am. I remember being a little kid when my dad turned 40, and thinking ahead to what year it would be when I did the same. Back then, 2007 seemed about a million miles away. Looking back, that time period seems about an hour and a half ago.

Today was pretty quiet really. Mostly the same ol' same ol' at work, although a big thanks go out to everyone who brought in cookies or peanuts or other snacks today and to the gang who took me out to lunch. I didn't have anything to do tonight. I guess I wouldn't have minded going out to dinner or something tonight, but I did enjoy being alone for the first evening in over two weeks. My dad was staying with me for awhile, and I was quite frankly getting a little stressed and claustrophobic with two adults sharing this tiny apartment. I actually feel relaxed for the first night in awhile, and I'm looking forward to sleeping with all the lights out tonight.

Also, thanks to all who attended my birthday party Saturday night. Ten RSVP'ed, we got a table for 15 at Alexander's, and about 25 showed up, which was a little stressful until we got it all taken care of. Actually, I didn't do very much about it, but Cheeseburger and Shark Hunter were on top of it. I grilled a huge Santa Maria Top Sirloin and a baked potato. I asked for no gifts, but got a neat Underdog TV shirt anyway. Oh, and I should have guessed somebody would think of this (thanks, Kristin), THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN on DVD. Clever.

Afterwards, we ended up in the beer garden outside Mike & Molly's, and a jolly time was had by all.

A friend sent me the September 26, 1974 episode of THE TONIGHT SHOW STARRING JOHNNY CARSON, which is one of the most famous. Clips appeared for years on Carson's anniversary shows. First, Dom DeLuise came out and did a trick involving eggs that broke into chaos with Dom and Johnny heaving eggs at one another and breaking them down their pants. Then, Burt Reynolds (plugging THE LONGEST YARD) came out in a leather outfit squirting whipped cream on Carson, leading to the famous clip of them spraying it down their pants.

I've seen the Reynolds bit at least a dozen times, and the DeLuise bit a couple. But what I never knew before tonight was that the next guest was Art Carney, and he fucking killed. I guess if anyone could top the madness up to that point, it would be Carney, who came out of the wings in his boxers, pretending he was drunk. That and the rest of his stint next to Johnny had everyone on stage in stitches. He then played a ditty on piano, and he and Carson teamed up for a comic duet. I don't know why the Carney stuff never (AFAIK) got repeated on the clip shows, because it's great.

Also on the show: the Ace Trucking Company, a comedy troupe that often appeared on TV talk and variety shows during the '70s. Of the four, George Memmoli (PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE), Bill Saluga (the "You can call me Ray" guy) and Fred Willard (still kicking ass in Christopher Guest movies, among others) went on to visible solo careers.

Carson was also still doing 90-minute episodes back then. While there are many commercial breaks, it's interesting to see how relaxed the show was at its slower pace.

I wish I could have seen the following night's show with Shirley Jones (THE PARTRIDGE FAMILY), ROOM 222 cutie Karen Valentine, Dick Cavett and poet Richard Armour.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Breaking News

The trucker bomb is gone.

Someone mowed that patch of grass near the highway where the trucker bomb rested. Oddly, they only mowed that small area and not any of the surrounding grass. Perhaps the trucker bomb radiated them.

King Of The Impossible

Two years too late for a 25th Anniversary edition, FLASH GORDON is finally coming to DVD in a package it deserves. The original OOP DVD was released by Image with absolutely no extras whatsoever, just chapter stops. It looks okay for a disc released in 1998, but it wasn't even anamorphic (not that I have a widescreen TV yet).

Universal's "Savior of the Universe Edition" comes out August 7 with a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. Imagine Queen's kickass soundtrack pounding through your speakers at 5.1. I don't know yet what extras this DVD will have, but it will unquestionably be a must-buy. FLASH GORDON was the first film I saw twice theatrically, and I've enjoyed revisiting it every four or five years. I'd still cut about ten minutes out of the middle, but FLASH GORDON is great, colorful fun. And you gotta love that gorgeous Alex Ross artwork on the DVD box.

Maybe Universal can include the Queen soundtrack album as a second disc a la Synapse and BLUE SUNSHINE. Has the FLASH GORDON album ever been on CD?

Monday, April 23, 2007

Ski Lift Of Blah

SKI LIFT TO DEATH is not just a silly title. It also makes a promise that the damn movie ultimately doesn't keep. For one thing, it takes almost an hour for this 1978 made-for-TV movie to show us a ski lift. And when our cast of hazily sketched characters finally climbs into it, it doesn't take us to Death or even anywhere near it. It takes us to a crummy blue screen and a suspenseless climax, but, nope, no Death. In fact, the movie's entire body count is a whopping zero. So much for ski lifting to Death, you bastard.

Now available on DVD as SNOWBLIND on a rotten print that's taken from a grimy VHS tape and missing the original opening titles, SKI LIFT TO DEATH is one of a zillion TV-movies that capitalized on the disaster-movie fad of the mid-1970s. It follows the same basic format: spend the first half or so introducing us to several disparate characters, plop them into soap-opera machinations, then bring them together in a potentially disastrous scenario where they'll have to work together to survive. It worked in THE TOWERING INFERNO and THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE. It doesn't work here.

Deborah Raffin (DEATH WISH 3) leads the way as a world-champion skier who returns to her hometown lodge for a competition. She reunites with her old boyfriend, Charles Frank (YOUNG MAVERICK), a former champion skier who retired young to work the ski patrol back home. Others in the cast include Don Johnson (!) as a cowboy who shacks up with a 17-year-old hottie who wins the local "T-shirt dance" contest (network TV's tame version of a wet T-shirt contest); IRONSIDE's Don Galloway as a network sportscaster with the hots for local reporter Veronica Hamel (later on HILL STREET BLUES); the great character actor Clu Gulager (THE LAST PICTURE SHOW) as Raffin's new manager; Howard Duff as a swindler deciding whether or not to testify against the mob and Gail Strickland as his wife, who secretly works for the mob and arranges a hit against him; Pierre Jalbert (COMBAT) as the French hitman; and real-life gold medalist Suzy "Chapstick" Chaffee as a, er, champion skier.

After tons of subplotting, most of the cast finally gets on the titular ski lift, which gets blown about and stranded high above the mountain. It happens so late in the film that the denouement flies right by with barely anyone receiving so much as a scratch. It's comforting knowing that surviving a ski lift headed to Death is easier than you might expect, but it's not very good entertainment. Frankly, I expected much more from writer Laurence Heath, who served as MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE's story editor and producer for several seasons and was responsible for penning many of that series' best episodes. Director William Wiard directed tons of TV episodes, particularly for THE ROCKFORD FILES, and brings little to this table, though it undoubtedly would have helped if a better star than Charles Frank had headed the cast.

Doctor, Doctor

For you naysayers who claim a national health care system won't work in the United States, here's an interesting article telling you exactly why it can.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Tripper / Fracture / Perfect Stranger

I did three movies at Savoy 16 this afternoon. I haven't sat through three movies in a movie theater in ages...if ever...I can't recall for sure, but I must have sometime. What I saw didn't give me much reason to return anytime soon, since I certainly have a lot of better movies here at home than what is currently playing at multiplexes. Though I would have seen HOT FUZZ if I didn't live in a cultural wasteland where it isn't playing.

THE TRIPPER is one of the strangest films I've seen in awhile, and though it isn't very good, it's definitely more original and creative than the other two (mainstream Hollywood) films I saw today. It's a slasher movie that looks and acts as though it were made in 1983. Unlike horror moviemakers like George Romero (DAWN OF THE DEAD) and Wes Craven (THE HILLS HAVE EYES), who couch their social commentary in subtextural terms, TRIPPER writer/director/actor David Arquette (Deputy Dewey from the SCREAM trilogy) lays his politics right out there.

A bunch of deck-stackingly cliched hippies drive their van (of course) to a weekend musical festival taking place in a forest, where a psycho dressed in a blue suit and a Ronald Reagan mask is wandering with an axe. You probably haven't seen anything weirder recently than Ronald Reagan roaming around, saying things like "Just say no" and ranting to a female victim whom he mistakes for his daughter Patti. THE TRIPPER basically plays like a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, establishing its main teen characters as a bunch of worthless stoners who don't give a damn about anything except getting high (the amount of drugs these characters take is insane) and getting laid. It's pretty obvious Arquette doesn't think much of hippies, but he hates Republicans more. The movie is filled with allusions to Iraq, and one character has a pet pig named "George W" that feeds on human flesh. An ignorant redneck calls Dubya the "greatest President ever."

THE TRIPPER is also a throwback in the amount of gore and nudity (male and female) it showcases. Chainsaws and axes do most of the killing, and both men and women show some full frontal action. Somehow, Arquette managed to get some names to appear. I can't believe Thomas Jane (THE PUNISHER) had nothing better to do than take on the leading role of the local lawman tasked with stopping the murders; he takes an executive producer credit, so it's safe to assume Jane had some passion for the project. Paul Reubens is hilarious as the greedy festival organizer. Jaime King is a somewhat whiny Final Girl, and Lukas Haas, Marsha Thomason (LAS VEGAS) and Jason Mewes (!) play fellow stoners. Arquette has a brief role, and his wife and producer Courteney Cox has a cameo.

The hippies are too broadly drawn to take seriously, which damages THE TRIPPER, even though I'll probably always remember the wild sight of Reagan chopping away at bodies. I'm sure it's no accident, by the way, that Coquette Productions (this may be Arquette/Cox's company) opened THE TRIPPER on "4/20"/07.

The dully titled FRACTURE is director Gregory Hoblit's (PRIMAL FEAR) first film in five years, yet barely worth the effort. I've liked Hoblit's past work, which also includes FALLEN and FREQUENCY, but FRACTURE is basically a COLUMBO episode with a boring hero. Anthony Hopkins, who would have been perfect, though overqualified, as a COLUMBO villain, plays a clever rich old dude who shoots his wife (Embeth Davidtz) in the head, putting her into a coma. He's arrested and chooses to represent himself at trial, in which he is opposed by Ryan Gosling (an Oscar nominee for HALF NELSON) as a cocky young lame-duck prosecutor preparing to jump for the bucks of a wealthy law firm. Hopkins, using tricks barely sneaky enough to break a PRACTICE teleplay, manages to convince the judge to drop the attempted murder charge against him, forcing Gosling to find his conscience and risk his career to put Hopkins away.

Obviously, FRACTURE needed a heavyweight who could go toe-to-toe with Hopkins, and Gosling ain't it. His overacting demonstrates how hard he tries, gesturing like a madman and occasionally changing his voice inflection. It's impossible to believe that he could ever outsmart Hopkins, however. Writer Daniel Pyne's final clue (a COLUMBO hallmark) might have been a clever one if it had been properly set up; instead, Gosling sorta pulls it out of nowhere in a manner that doesn't play fair with its mystery-loving audience.

PERFECT STRANGER is another Hollywood thriller with a strong director, James Foley (GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS), that also misses the target. Halle Berry is an investigative newspaper reporter who looks into the murder of a childhood friend (Nicki Aycox, recently on SUPERNATURAL). Likely suspect Bruce Willis is a high-powered, womanizing advertising executive who may have killed Aycox to prevent his wife from learning about his mistress' unplanned pregnancy.

Berry is no actress, but I do love looking at her on the big screen. Very little of PERFECT STRANGER makes sense, even after the silly twist ending, which appears to invalidate much of what we've seen. Even before then, Berry's friendship with her weirdo researcher Giovanni Ribisi is an unlikely one, and several red herrings go nowhere (so whose side is Esmeralda on anyway?). Willis, whose character is basically rendered superfluous, does a nice job with an impossible role.

I can't really recommend any of these movies, though horror fans might get a kick out of THE TRIPPER. It certainly doesn't look or feel like anything else being made right now, and its gimmick of Reagan-as-Jason-Voorhees is worth a look.

Really Funny

Norm Macdonald playing Burt Reynolds last week on MY NAME IS EARL.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Pick A Gonzo

Is Alberto Gonzales:

A) an idiot
B) a huge liar
C) massively incompetent
D) pick any two
E) pick all three

I love that Gonzales had to prepare hours a day for weeks for his appearance before Congress Thursday. All that preparation just to look so awful. Setting aside the question of "why do you need to prepare to tell the truth," can you imagine what this guy would have looked like if he had winged it? High comedy.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Do Not Fuck With This Mexican

If you haven't seen GRINDHOUSE yet, here's a taste of the awesomeness you are missing. And if you have seen it, you're going to want to see this again.

Not exactly safe for work.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Burt Topper, R.I.P.

Topper was an independent filmmaker who wrote, produced and/or directed more than a dozen drive-in movies over a 21-year period, beginning with WAR HERO and HELL SQUAD in 1958 and culminating with the odd science-fiction robot-dog comedy C.H.O.M.P.S. (a Hanna-Barbera production!) in 1979. He worked in a variety of genres, including two hot-rod dramas for American International Pictures (THUNDER ALLEY and FIREBALL 500) that starred "Beach Party" alumni Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and Fabian; the biker flick THE HARD RIDE; the awful SF space opera SPACE PROBE TAURUS; and the entertaining show-biz exploitation drama THE DAY THE LORD GOT BUSTED (aka SOUL HUSTLER), about which I wrote in this earlier post.

Topper's most entertaining film may be THE DEVIL'S 8, an obvious ripoff of THE DIRTY DOZEN, except with AIP footing the bill, Topper could afford only eight. Macho Christopher George (THE RAT PATROL) plays Faulkner, an undercover government agent who orchestrates the breakout of seven prisoners from a Southern chain gang. Instead of dashing to freedom, however, Faulkner herds the hoods directly to a waiting helicopter, which flies them to their new camp in moonshine country. There the rugged Faulkner offers them a deal: either help the Feds bring down a murderous bootleg liquor organization run by boss Burl (Ralph Meeker) in exchange for a pardon, or return to prison to serve out their life sentences. Among Faulkner's new partners are callow drunk Sonny (Fabian), bigoted mechanic Billy Joe (Tom Nardini), black Henry (Robert DoQui) and pacifist Chandler (Larry Bishop, later in KILL BILL, VOL. 2).

As with its father, the first half of THE DEVIL'S 8 details the group's training, as Faulkner plops them behind the wheels of some monstrous '50s cars to teach them the fine art of stunt driving. Eventually they prove their readiness, and sneak into Burl's county, where they hijack the crook's shipments and force him into a reluctant partnership. Their ace in the hole is Frank Davis (Kevin Hagen), a former employee of Burl's who wants revenge for the murder of his brother, which was perpetrated by Burl, but blamed on federal agents. Since Frank knows Burl, but not the location of his still, both sides engage in an uneasy rivalry until Faulkner is able to obtain enough evidence to make an arrest.

Some good action sequences and a fine cast make this AIP action picture worthwhile. George went on to a long career as a leading man in exploitation movies, setting the standard with his gravelly presence here, chewing nails and slapping faces to keep his Unruly Eight in line. Meeker has few peers when it comes to portraying slimy egocentric heavies (he played virtually the same role in JOHNNY FIRECLOUD nearly a decade later), and it's interesting to see both stars bounce off the supporting cast of familiar faces. A lot of gunplay, several explosions, some nice car stunts choreographed by Chuck Bail (who also takes a supporting role) and a bit of nudity add to the visceral thrills. The pace slacks somewhat in the middle of the picture, as Topper concentrates on expanding the character relationships, and the rear-screen effects to simulate the actors' driving is among the worst ever. Jerry Styner and Michael Lloyd provide the repetitive rock score, but stay tuned for the hilarious closing theme, which relates the origin of The Devil's 8 and was co-written by Mike Curb.

Burt Topper died this month at the age of 78. You can read his obit and see a recent photo of this unsung exploitation filmmaker at VARIETY's Web site.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Don't Make This Connection

Last year, I wrote a post about actor Barry Newman, which you can find here. In it, I mentioned that I had not yet seen this then-promising leading man's 1972 thriller, THE SALZBURG CONNECTION. Now, I have, but it's just as well that I hadn't.

That THE SALZBURG CONNECTION is a flop is no fault of Newman’s. It’s a tedious, talky and ridiculously complicated thriller about an American lawyer (Newman) on vacation in Salzburg who is asked by his employer, a publishing company, to clear up what appears to be a clerical error concerning an Austrian photographer compiling a coffee table book of lake photos. He stumbles into a mélange of domestic drama and international intrigue when he discovers the man has been murdered and that secret agents from all over the globe are after something the victim hid before his death: a trunk containing a list of Nazi sympathizers during World War II, many of whom have put their secret lives behind them to become prominent citizens. Newman becomes involved with two beautiful women—the photographer’s widow (Anna Karina) and a gorgeous blond CIA agent (Karen Jensen)—yet director Lee H. Katzin (LE MANS) allows barely a hint of romance outside of the striking Austrian locations. Despite intriguing early acting roles by Klaus Maria Brandauer (MEPHISTO) and Udo Kier (FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN), THE SALZBURG CONNECTION is a complete dud.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Don't, Son, That Gun Is Loaded

One of the most badass action pics of the 1990s is coming to DVD...finally. I think just about every other Brian Bosworth movie is already out, except, of course, his first and best. Not that I expect it to sell many based on the box art. Seriously, is there any other way MGM could have screwed this up? It looks like MURDER AT 1600 2. Where are the Harleys, the exploding helicopter, crazy William Forsythe, hot biker chicks in Daisy Dukes and Lance Fucking Henriksen, for crying out loud?

If you've never seen STONE COLD, don't let this boring DVD package put you off. It's a very cool stuntfest, briskly directed by Craig R. Baxley (I COME IN PEACE). Look for it June 12.

Ironic And Sad

Last week, I read this article about NBC still suffering in the Nielsen ratings basement. It's called "PEACOCK'S HEADING FOR PRIMETIME TV CELLAR."

The same day, I also read this article about all the great shows NBC is bringing us this summer. They include "the return of "America's Got Talent," "Last Comic Standing" and "The Biggest Loser" -- all three with new hosts -- and "Age of Love," a new dating show hosted by Mark Consuelos." Those awesome "new hosts," by the way, are Jerry Springer, Bill Bellamy and Alison Sweeney. Yep, all recruited to help save the network.

Now, because you and I are both smarter than network executives, we know that the reason NBC is in fourth fucking place is because they air reality shows hosted by Jerry Springer and Mark Consuelos. As a writer, I appreciate the irony of these articles, but as a TV viewer, they make me wanna puke.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Another Movie Quiz

This one came from Stacie Ponder's fun Final Girl site. A gal with a great sense of humor who digs slasher movies. I wonder if she'll marry me?

1. Name a movie that you have seen more than 10 times.

Not as many as you might think. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. ROAD HOUSE. PARTNERS with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. THE SONS OF KATIE ELDER. STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN. MAGNUM FORCE. Most of these are just guesses, and there probably are a few more I’ve seen more than ten times, I just can’t recall.

2. Name a movie that you've seen multiple times in the theater.

FLASH GORDON is the first film I saw more than once theatrically. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, I’ve seen probably six or seven times on the big screen. I used to see ROCKY III a lot when it played in the ‘80s as a midnight movie. There are several others I’ve seen twice, but not very many I have seen more than that in a theater.

3. Name an actor that would make you more inclined to see a movie.

William Shatner (not that I’ve made any effort to see a MISS CONGENIALITY movie or even a single episode of BOSTON LEGAL or that game show he hosted). Lance Henriksen. Henry Silva. Jeff Fahey. Don “The Dragon” Wilson. Burt Reynolds. John Saxon. Charles Napier. Phoebe Cates. Kurt Russell. Robert Forster (I rented a MAGNUM, P.I. disc from Netflix just to see his two-parter). Mike Connors. Peter Graves. Claudia Jennings. Carla Gugino. Dick Miller. Candice Rialson. Tara Strohmeier. Robert Culp.

4. Name an actor that would make you less likely to see a movie.

Almost anybody under 30 who ever starred in a TV series on Fox or the WB. Will Smith. Keanu Reeves. Lorenzo Lamas. Gwyneth Paltrow. Jude Law.

5. Name a movie that you can and do quote from.

The three most quotable films ever made are ROAD HOUSE, USED CARS and THE BIG LEBOWSKI. I have used a…mile…of quotes from those movies.

5. Name a movie musical that you know all of the lyrics to all of the songs.


6. Name a movie that you have been known to sing along with.

Don’t think I have ever done that.

7. Name a movie that you would recommend everyone see.

This could be a very long list. Well, ROAD HOUSE, obviously. It’s the only perfect movie I’ve ever seen. As a dark horse, I’ll throw in STARCRASH.

8. Name a movie that you own.

Considering I have more than 2000, that’s an odd question. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll pull up my Excel sheet listing all of my DVD titles (not even VHS). I’ll find a random number generator online. Whatever number it comes up with, I’ll find the corresponding title on my DVD list.

#1381 = RAGE TO KILL starring Oliver Reed, Cameron Mitchell and James Ryan

9. Name an actor that launched his/her entertainment career in another medium but who has surprised you with his/her acting chops.

Dolph Lundgren. Really. He's turned into an appealing character actor, though he's still playing leads.

10. Have you ever seen a movie in a drive-in? If so, what?

I’ve seen hundreds of movies at the drive-in, mostly the Widescreen in Urbana, the Twin City in Champaign and the Egyptian in Herrin. The earliest I recall are THE STRANGER AND THE GUNFIGHTER and PAPILLON (not on the same bill). A ton of Disney films: GUS, NO DEPOSIT, NO RETURN, THE APPLE DUMPLING GANG, THE NORTH AVENUE IRREGULARS, THE JUNGLE BOOK. THE NORSEMAN, one of the worst films ever made. FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (for some reason, we didn’t stay for the nightcap, WOLFEN). K-9/RAMBO III. THE DREAM TEAM/ROAD HOUSE. AUSTIN POWERS/FATHER’S DAY. THE MASK OF ZORRO. I don’t like going these days, because you only get one movie, and it’s a fucking law that drive-ins are mandated to provide double features.

11. Name a movie that you keep meaning to see but just haven't yet gotten around to it.


12. Ever walked out of a movie?

Twice, and both times because I wasn’t feeling well. CHUNGKING EXPRESS and COPS AND ROBBERSONS, which may also be one of the worst films ever made.

13. Name a movie that made you cry in the theater.

E.T. And I was 15.

14. Popcorn?

If you’re buying.

15. How often do you go to the movies (as opposed to renting them or watching them at home)?

Hardly ever. I went only nine times last year, and twice so far in 2007 (ZODIAC and GRINDHOUSE).

16. What's the last movie you saw in the theater?

GRINDHOUSE! I loved it.

17. What's your favorite/preferred genre of movie?


18. What's the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

I can’t say for sure. Certainly something from Disney. Maybe DUMBO or BAMBI or SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS. I remember seeing them, but not sure about the order.

19. What movie do you wish you had never seen?

I can’t think of any. PINK FLAMINGOS is an awful, nauseating movie, but, hey, I’m glad I can say that I saw it, and it was time spent with good friends. I don’t think I regret seeing anything.

20. What is the weirdest movie you enjoyed?

SAMURAI COP is a pretty fucking weird movie, if by “weird,” you mean “what the fuck kind of alternate universe does this movie take place in?”

21. What is the scariest movie you've seen?


22. What is the funniest movie you've seen?


Could He Have Mastered The Triple Lindy?

The costar of BACK TO SCHOOL has passed away.

"I myself feel that our country, for whose Constitution I fought in a just war, might as well have been invaded by Martians and body snatchers. Sometimes I wish it had been. What has happened, though, is that it has been taken over by means of the sleaziest, low-comedy, Keystone Cops-style coup d’etat imaginable. And those now in charge of the federal government are upper-crust C-students who know no history or geography, plus not-so-closeted white supremacists, aka “Christians,” and plus, most frighteningly, psychopathic personalities, or “PPs.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

More Google Searches

What cracks me up is that somebody keeps Googling "elizabeth hasselbeck's hairstyles." It's one thing to Google it once, but why don't you fucking bookmark whatever site you're looking for? I get hits for "elizabeth hasselbeck's hairstyles", like, five times a week, and you know that it's the same person/stalker.

I also get a lot of searches for "mariska hagerty", and I know that guy has to be pissed that he can't find any information online about his favorite LAW & ORDER: SPECIAL VICTIMS UNIT star.

johnny firecloud clips
This movie is badass. I don't have any clips though.

john mahoney hairpiece

desert movies from the 1970's

horror movie about photographer who kidnaps models
This could be one of about a dozen movies. THE ART OF DYING? DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE (he doesn't really kidnap any though).

zombie, tv, movie lindsay wagner,-rob
I don't know who Rob is, and I don't think Lindsay ever made a zombie movie, but I'd watch it if she did.

movie reveal identity town stranger love suspicious black & white
Don't know what's going on here.

watch bye bye balloon f troop
"It is...balloooooooon!"

horror movie 1981 fuck you rated r
Right back at you, motherfucker. Actually, I think STUDENT BODIES is what he's looking for.

marty mckee
This was not my search, I swear.

horror sci fi movie blonde wig sword 3 headed monster red hair
Uhhhhhh...RED SONYA? I don't know.

lampoon pubescence
Best. Cover. Ever.

i respect mccain
I don't.

joseph cotten well hung
I'll take your word for it.

emailed the actor ed begley jr
Good for you, sir.

smaller than i expected penis
Um, I don't know this search would bring up my blog. Really.

heather thomas at the battle of the network stars
Damn, I love dunk tanks.

todd woodman
Yes! One of the world's greatest living humans.

70's tv detectives white hair
Barnaby Jones! Banacek! Griff! Jim Phelps! Where the hell is Dick Clark, I'm playing PYRAMID again.

kevin sorbo is getting too old for the leading man action star role
I wouldn't say that to Kevin's face if I were you.

raw justice (1994) trailer
I'd like to see this too.

nicolas cage mecca fu manchu

Hold Tight

If you haven't yet seen GRINDHOUSE, here's a taste of what you're missing. And if you have seen GRINDHOUSE, you might get a real kick out of this.

Quentin Tarantino dug out an oldie but goodie for his soundtrack, 1965's "Hold Tight" by a British Invasion band called Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. They never amounted to anything in the United States, but were enormously popular in Great Britain, reportedly rivaling even the Beatles in record sales. You can be forgiven for never having heard of this band, but I'm glad QT knows of them. This song is featured very prominently in GRINDHOUSE, and it sounds awesome blasting from theater speakers.

I'm not certain where the clip is from, but it's probably from TOP OF THE POPS or READY, STEADY, GO. The video is kinda silly, but the song kicks ass with a wicked guitar lick and pounding drums (Dave Clark-style).

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Steven Seagal Is 56 Today

"Anybody seen Richie?!?"

Seagal is something of a joke today, but in his moviemaking prime, he was a major badass. His first feature, ABOVE THE LAW, directed in Chicago by Andrew Davis (THE FUGITIVE), is one of modern cinema's great screen debuts, and Seagal continued to make solid action films up through at least his laughable directorial debut, ON DEADLY GROUND.

John Flynn, who passed away last week, directed one of Seagal's best movies. In OUT FOR JUSTICE, Seagal plays an Italian-American police detective from Brooklyn who chases psycho crackhead murderer William Forsythe around the city. In one of the movie's standout scenes, Seagal walks into a poolroom, talks shit to several dozen hoods, and challenges the whole damn building to a fight, offering his badge as a trophy. If you have six minutes to kill (and headphones, if you're at work), check out what he can do with some pool balls and a busted cue.

It's true that Seagal got fat and lazy and pretentious when he hit middle age, but back in the day, he was The Man.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Michael Biehn & Jeff Fahey

Here's a cool interview with Biehn and Fahey, who will hopefully get well-deserved career bumps from their excellent character work in GRINDHOUSE.

Saturday, April 07, 2007


It's ironic that the most original film experience Hollywood has presented in years is one that has roots in movies of thirty years ago. Leave it to Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, two of the most creative filmmakers working today, to make it work.

GRINDHOUSE takes its title from a particular cinematic subgenre that was extremely popular years ago. Oh, we still have exploitation movies, but now they cost $175 million and are made by major studios. But back then, most "drive-in" or "grindhouse" movies were filmed on a low budget by independent producers and released regionally in the United States by "bicycling" a dozen or so prints around the country. Some of the better exploitation movies of the era, however, were made by major studios, such as VANISHING POINT (20th Century Fox) and THE OUTFIT (Warner Brothers), but most of the time, they were products of companies long since evaporated into the ozone: American International Pictures, New World Pictures, Dimension Pictures, Hallmark Releasing, Film Ventures International, Manson International, Compass International Pictures (which released HALLOWEEN), Aquarius Releasing and so many more.

It's this type of film to which Rodriguez and Tarantino pay homage in their new film GRINDHOUSE. To duplicate the '70s experience as best they can, the two men have done something unique in Hollywood and created not just a film, but an entire nostalgic experience. GRINDHOUSE includes two full-length feature films, as well as trailers, intertitles and even an advertisement. Clocking in at just over three hours, GRINDHOUSE is a full evening's entertainment.

It opens with a trailer for a non-existent film called MACHETE, which hilariously posits the menacing character actor Danny Trejo as a badass hitman recruited to rescue a rich man's (direct-to-video leading man Jeff Fahey) kidnapped family, but who is set up by the government as a patsy. They "fucked with the wrong Mexican," as the narrator (in a deep Percy Rodrigues/Adolph Caesar style) says. Machete teams up with an equally badass priest (Cheech Marin) for revenge, which culminates in Machete jumping a machine-gun-shooting motorcycle over a giant fireball. MACHETE gets GRINDHOUSE off to a wonderful start, and it's rumored that Rodriguez (who directed it) may bring back Trejo and Fahey for an actual MACHETE movie.

Rodriguez's 85-minute feature, PLANET TERROR, is next. It's a balls-to-the-wall non-stop blood-and-gore horror flick about a Texas community infested with mad flesh-eating zombies (though the word is never used). More Umberto Lenzi than George Romero, these mutated humans are the result of the U.S. military's careless germ warfare experiments. Identifiable by the pulsating pus spots on their skin, these zombies wreck havoc on the town, leading various disparate citizens to band together for survival.

PLANET TERROR is grand, goofy fun, filled with splashy blood squibs and imaginative special effects. Rose McGowan (CHARMED) gets top billing as stripper Cherry Darling, who doesn't let an amputated leg keep her off the battlefield. Armed (legged?) with a sub-machine gun strapped to her stump, Cherry and ex-beau mechanic El Wray (Freddy Rodriguez) lead the rebel attack against an army (literally) of zombies, which include an unbilled Bruce Willis. Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton, Naveen Andrews (LOST), Nicky Katt and Tom Savini also appear, but, for me, the biggest thrill was seeing genre favorites Michael Biehn (THE TERMINATOR) and Jeff Fahey (DARKMAN III) in major, chewy supporting roles. I really, really liked Fahey in this movie. Heck, I never thought I'd see Fahey on the big screen again, and he got such short shrift in the marketing that I figured his role was small. Nope. It's a great part, and I love the concept of him and Biehn as brothers who don't get along. I enjoyed filling in their backstories.

I also appreciated Rodriguez's great lengths to make PLANET TERROR look like a junky old print, including the pops and scratches and faded color. There's a "missing reel" gag that's perfect, melting out of a sex scene and popping back into major chaos. It also leads to a bit with Biehn learning El Wray's "secret identity" (which we never really learn, 'cause it's in the "missing" footage), and background gags with extras that tag along with the main characters--extras who just appear out of nowhere, including the lady deputy whose clothes get skimpier and skimpier. Funny stuff.

PLANET TERROR leads into three more trailers, all entertaining. Rob Zombie directed WEREWOLF WOMEN OF THE SS, which recalls the bizarre "Nazisploitation" movies that came out of Europe during the '70s. One of cinema's sleaziest genres, it nonetheless looks downright tame under Zombie's direction, though he assembled a marvelous trash cast, including Udo Kier (ANDY WARHOL'S FRANKENSTEIN), Tom Towles (HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER), Bill Moseley (THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE), Sybil Danning (CHAINED HEAT) and "Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu."

Edgar Wright (SHAUN OF THE DEAD) spoofs the "Don't" horror movies of the '70s--DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT, DON'T ANSWER THE PHONE, DON'T GO NEAR THE PARK et al.--with DON'T, which is a one-note gag, but a good one. Eli Roth (HOSTEL) parodies slasher flicks with the grimy-looking THANKSGIVING, which features a naked cheerleader, many bad-taste gags, bestiality, Jordan Ladd and a hilarious cameo by Michael Biehn, whose "Son of a bitch!" earns a big laugh.

Tarantino anchors GRINDPROOF with his own full-length feature. DEATH PROOF was touted as a slasher movie/car-chase flick, but it's really neither, despite elements of both. Too talky to be an authentic drive-in movie (hey, it was written by Quentin Tarantino), DEATH PROOF opens with three young women (Sydney Poitier, Vanessa Ferlito, Jordan Ladd) acting like they're in SWINGERS, talking a lot of shit, smoking pot, drinking beer, and considering what guys they'll go home with that night. At the bar, they engage in conversation with Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell), an older man with a '71 Chevy Nova. As psychotic as he is charming, Stuntman Mike eventually engages in a game of late-night chicken with the trio. Later, he tries the same dangerous road games with another trio of hot babes (Rosario Dawson, Zoe Bell, Tracie Thoms), but bites off more than he can handle, not realizing Thoms and Bell are professional Hollywood stuntwomen.

Kurt Russell is so freaking charismatic, it's scary. First off, he's still rocking that mullet, and he's the only guy in the history of the world who has ever looked cool in one. Ever. He really owns the first half of DEATH PROOF, and everything he says and does is three times as interesting as the women are. The movie's biggest flaw is that Russell vanishes for about a half-hour in the middle, and he is sorely missed. On the plus side are the car chases, which are the best Hollywood has seen in at least a decade and feature 100% stuntwork--no fucking CGI (fuck off, THE MATRIX RELOADED and 2 FAST 2 FURIOUS with your weightless computer cars). It helps when you cast a real stuntperson--Zoe Bell--as your leading lady, meaning you can get up close and personal with the camera as the cars are tearing along at high speeds.

Both DEATH PROOF and PLANET TERROR have neat little stylistic touches I got a kick out of. In lieu of the regular Dimension Films logo (Disney's production arm dedicated to genre fare), Tarantino opened DEATH PROOF with the logo of the old Dimension Pictures (no relation), a shortlived '70s company that made drive-in classics like SWEET SUGAR and TERMINAL ISLAND. It's too bad company president Charles Swartz died recently before he could see his proud company immortalized in a QT joint.

I also liked the opening title sequences, right down to the copyright notices, the huge fonts (I miss those), the DeLuxe credit and the MPAA certification, and the separate DEATH PROOF title card, which "replaced" the original title. Whereas Rodriguez scored PLANET TERROR with an authentic-sounding John Carpenter-ish synth score, Tarantino dug into his record collection to pull out badass rock cuts like Jack Nitzsche's "The Last Ride" (from VILLAGE OF THE GIANTS!) and soundtrack clips from super-cool Italian crime dramas.

As flat-out entertainment goes, you'll be hard-pressed to find more fun at the movies this year than GRINDHOUSE. As a concept, it's prime material for unlimited sequels. Maybe a blaxploitation movie backed with a moonshinin' movie or a space opera on a bill with a spaghetti western?

John Flynn, R.I.P.

I'll try to post a review of GRINDHOUSE this weekend (short version: I loved it), but I learned on MySpace this morning that director John Flynn had passed away. Both halves of that sentence are related, in that Flynn's fantastic film ROLLING THUNDER is one of Quentin Tarantino's biggest influences, so much so that he named his shortlived theatrical distribution company Rolling Thunder Films.

Flynn is an important figure in '70s cinema because of two films. In addition to ROLLING THUNDER, he also made THE OUTFIT, a tough crime drama based on a Donald E. Westlake novel. It’s a lean, gritty action thriller jammed with punchy dialogue, quick violence and a smart sense of humor. Robert Duvall (coming off THE GODFATHER) and Joe Don Baker (who made WALKING TALL the same year) are a well-honed team that reminds you of a time when tough guys could make a stronger statement with a .38 than today’s wannabes can with an army of Glock automatics.

Duvall is Earl Macklin, a bank robber just released from prison, who discovers that his brother—and partner in the robbery—has been murdered by gunsels working for mobster Mailer (the great film star Robert Ryan). The Macklins didn’t realize that the bank was full of Syndicate money. When Mailer’s subsequent hit on Earl fails, the robber picks up Cody (Baker), the third partner in the heist, and decides to go on offense, knocking off a series of Mob money drops until Mailer pays a hefty ransom. From there, THE OUTFIT is a series of ass-kickings and terse dialogue, and you can see a lot of Flynn's style in PULP FICTION, for instance.

For some reason I can't figure, THE OUTFIT is not available on DVD. I've seen it only on Turner Classic Movies, and even there, it's one of the few films TCM runs from that era that isn't letterboxed. Talk about getting no respect. But THE OUTFIT earns it, no question.

Even better than THE OUTFIT is Flynn's masterpiece, ROLLING THUNDER. It was originally scripted by TAXI DRIVER's Paul Schrader, as is obvious, particularly the ending, which is a ripoff of the Scorsese film. It doesn't matter--by that point, you're so caught up in the character's emotional drive and in Flynn's tight shooting style that the climactic bloodbath feels justified and real.

It stars William Devane (later a TV star on KNOTS LANDING) as a former 'Nam POW who returns to San Antonio after seven years in a prison camp and finds he's not easily able to readjust to life at home, particularly because his son doesn't know him at all, and his wife has fallen in love with another man. Some mean dudes, including James Best (THE DUKES OF HAZZARD's Sheriff Rosco) and Luke Askew, bust in on Devane and torture him for the 2000 silver dollars given to him as a gift upon his return. He doesn't tell them, even after losing his hand in the garbage disposal, but they find the money anyway and then murder his wife and son. Recovering in the hospital with a new hook for a hand, Devane hooks up with a white-trash barmaid (Linda Haynes) and a fellow POW (Tommy Lee Jones) and heads to Mexico looking for bloody revenge.

I can't believe I have to say this, but...even though it's a brilliant film with great performances and action sequences, and even though Tarantino would publicize the release like a madman, ROLLING THUNDER is...yep...not on DVD. I have seen a crisp widescreen print airing on the Showtime networks, so MGM has the elements for a nice-looking DVD. If they would just get off their asses.

ROLLING THUNDER and THE OUTFIT aren't Flynn's only good action movies, but they are his best. Another recommendation is OUT FOR JUSTICE, a wildly violent B-picture starring Steven Seagal back when he was still quite relevant. He's an Italian cop chasing psycho crackhead William Forsythe all over Brooklyn. Flynn stages some fast, bloody action scenes, and Seagal is good. Like Flynn's '70s movies, he arranges a wonderful supporting cast for this one, including Jerry Orbach (pre-LAW & ORDER), Gina Gershon, John Leguizamo and Julianna Margulies (ER).

I haven't seen them recently, but my memories are that LOCKUP (inmate Sylvester Stallone goes up against evil warden Donald Sutherland), DEFIANCE (Jan-Michael Vincent fights a street gang) and BEST SELLER (with James Woods and Brian Dennehy) are also capable, well-paced action movies.

There are few, if any, filmmakers like John Flynn left in Hollywood, but we desperately need more of them.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Four Reasons Grindhouse Will Be Awesome

Okay, eight...

For the Three People Who Might Get It

"No, Dave, you don't understand. I'm at Hood and Ravenswood!"


Special thanks to Cheeseburger for the birthday gift I received last week (even though my birthday is still three weeks away). Oddly, I had just ordered several books from and asked for them to be shipped to my work address. So when Chicken told me a package from Amazon was waiting for me on my front porch, I was all, "WTF, Amazon?" Turns out it wasn't one of the books I ordered after all.

OBSESSION is the latest Alex Delaware thriller from author Jonathan Kellerman. Delaware is a crime-fighting, ass-kicking child psychologist (!) who has starred in at least a dozen whodunits, usually slightly kinky, but rarely more outrageous than your standard made-for-TV movie. This time, Delaware is approached by a teenage woman whom he treated briefly when she was a child. Her mother, a registered nurse who was something of a saint to those around her, has died of a terminal illness, and made a vague deathbed confession to her daughter that she may have murdered someone. So she asks Dr. Delaware, who has become somewhat famous in the Los Angeles area for solving murders, to look into it, which he does, along with his best pal, the gruff but gay homicide detective Milo Sturgis.

I blazed through OBSESSION in less than three days (yes, I see the irony), which is not as difficult as it sounds. Kellerman's novels read like screenplays, heavy on dialogue and plot twists, light on overly florid descriptions, with lots of one- or two-sentence paragraphs. I'm actually surprised no film producer has ever attempted a series of Delaware movies. I read several years ago that some company had purchased the rights to do some mysteries for television, but that never panned out. I usually picture Alec Baldwin as Delaware; he would have been perfect as a big-screen Delaware. Maybe John Larroquette for TV. Back then, that is; I don't know who I would cast now.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Bob Clark, R.I.P.

Filmmaker Bob Clark was killed early this morning in a tragic auto accident that also claimed the life of his 22-year-old son.

Clark boasted one of the strangest filmographies of which I'm aware. From looking at the list of movies he directed, you couldn't be blamed for assuming he was one of the worst filmmakers ever: RHINESTONE, LOOSE CANNONS, BABY GENIUSES, SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES 2, KARATE DOG, TURK 182. Know this: these movies aren't just bad. They're downright putrid.

However, Clark couldn't possibly have been that rotten a director, at least not always. Because he also has to his credit several absolutely wonderful films, the best known of which is A CHRISTMAS STORY, which has the rare honor of joining classics like MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE and HOLIDAY INN as perennials that are repeated constantly at Christmas time. It has touched millions of people, and the man who wrote and directed that film can and should in no way be merely dismissed as the guy who made RHINESTONE.

Other Clark movies include two genuine horror classics--the Vietnam War allegory/zombie flick DEATHDREAM and the suspenseful shocker BLACK CHRISTMAS (which was remade to little acceptance last year)--MURDER BY DECREE, a marvelous Victorian mystery that pits Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson against Jack the Ripper, and PORKY'S, which is not only one of the most influential films ever made, but was also, until last year, the most financially successful Canadian production (in Canada) ever made.

So clearly Bob Clark was someone who, at least at one time, was an important filmmaker to watch for. It's one of cinema's great mysteries how a guy who could make films as brilliant as A CHRISTMAS STORY and BLACK CHRISTMAS could also make films that make Al Adamson look like a visionary. Perhaps that split personality is what made him special. One thing is for certain: no matter his filmmaking skills, he (and his son) were taken from the world far, far too early. And that's a damn shame.

As a sort of tribute, I revisited LOOSE CANNONS tonight, which I actually saw theatrically in Carbondale, Illinois in early 1990, and have watched a couple of times since. Whenever I see it again, I wonder whether it'll be better this time around. But it never is.

To be fair, I don't know how any film with this premise could ever have been good, no matter who was directing it. It's certainly the worst film with a screenplay credit for the legendary science fiction author Richard Matheson, who shares the card with his son, TV writer Richard Christian Matheson, and Clark himself, who obviously "polished" the script. I'd be curious to see an earlier draft, because I'd be surprised if the Mathesons came up with all this nonsense themselves.

The ridiculously labyrinthine plot concerns the effort of neo-Nazis to retrieve a 45-year-old porno movie that shows Adolf Hitler having gay sex and then committing suicide. Von Metz (Robert Prosky), soon to be named chancellor of West Germany, needs to prevent anyone from seeing the film, as it proves the Jewish community's accusations that he was a Hitler ally. The reel lands in the porky hands of sex-club owner Gutterman (played with a cane and earring by Dom DeLuise), who finds himself the target of assassins led by the psycho Grimmer (Paul Koslo).

If that isn't stupid enough, wisecracking Vice detective Mac Stern (Gene Hackman!) is assigned to the case and given a new partner: a former mental patient named Ellis Fielding (Dan Aykroyd) who, whenever faced with violence or stress, takes on a seemingly infinite number of new personalities, including Butch Cassidy, Snagglepuss (!), the Roadrunner, Broderick Crawford, the Church Lady, Peewee Herman and half the cast of STAR TREK. So whenever Ellis and Mac stumble into a gunfight or a car chase, Aykroyd breaks out his C-list of impressions and shamelessly mugs while Hackman looks on with a pained look.

It's one of the most schizophrenic (pardon the pun) action comedies I've ever seen, and I don't know how it got past the pitch stage, except that it was produced by Tri-Star, which made more shitty films than just about any other major Hollywood studio. To be fair to Aykroyd, he's playing an absurd character, and I can't think of any other movie star working in 1989 who could have pulled it off any better, except maybe Robin Williams or John Candy. Hackman, being a pro, tries, but I can't imagine what he thought he could bring to this movie. At least LOOSE CANNONS is fun to spot character actors in, including Ronny Cox, David Alan Grier, S. Epatha Merkerson (LAW & ORDER), Tobin Bell (SAW), Dick O'Neill and a scrumptious Nancy Travis (THREE MEN AND A BABY).

Pitifully enough, LOOSE CANNONS is not the worst film Bob Clark ever directed, but we'll leave SUPERBABIES: BABY GENIUSES for another time.

Monday, April 02, 2007

McCain Has Officially Jumped The Shark

Sen. John McCain strolled briefly through an open-air market in Baghdad today in an effort to prove that Americans are “not getting the full picture” of what’s going on in Iraq.

NBC’s Nightly News provided further details about McCain’s one-hour guided tour. He was accompanied by “100 American soldiers, with three Blackhawk helicopters, and two Apache gunships overhead.” Still photographs provided by the military to NBC News seemed to show McCain wearing a bulletproof vest during his visit.

Read more here. It's the follow-up to this amazing story and this one, in which McCain proves, beyond a doubt, that he's totally clueless and out of touch with reality.