Friday, February 29, 2008

Come See Me At DVD Panache

Big ups to Adam Ross for including me in his legendary Friday Screen Test at his DVD Panache blog. I began reading Adam's blog last year and immediately added it to my list of daily online stops, never thinking in a million years that I'd get to be a part of it. This is only the second time in my life I've ever been interviewed for anything, so it was a lot of fun. Please stop by and take a look.

Before this, the only time anyone ever interviewed me was in 1991. My friend John Riley and I had just started a late-night movie program on KBSI-TV, the Fox affiliate in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. None of the four broadcast stations in the market were on the air 24 hours, and KBSI wanted to be the first, so they asked John if he would host some crappy movies that would air from 1:30-5:00am Saturday morning. He agreed, but only if I could co-host. And since we were the only show on the air during that time, discounting cable, we called the show THE ONLY THING ON.

We did intros and outros and did segments going into commercial breaks. We gave away prizes and fooled around. We even had our own T-shirts that I think our director Kevin Huyck designed. And never once, by the way, did we do the show live; we taped on Wednesday afternoons.

After a few weeks, John got a call from Carbondale Nightlife, Carbondale, Illinois' weekly alternative newspaper, which wanted to do a piece on THE ONLY THING ON. Each of us spoke to the reporter individually, and it turned out to be a pretty good piece. I still have a couple of issues floating around here. If I think of it, I may try to track them down and maybe scan them.

THE ONLY THING ON, by the way, ran for about 14 months on KBSI, finally ending its run in September 1992. Considering our weekly budget was, literally, $0 per week, and KBSI's technical standards were not terribly high, I think we did a good job, generally. We had fun, for sure, and I know most of the prisoners at the local penitentiaries had a good time, 'cause we got letters.

Not much exists of THE ONLY THING ON, as far as I know. Someone has placed an episode on YouTube, as well as a few promos and bumpers we did. Not the best show we ever did, but not the worst either.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Closes In For The Kill

1970's BATTLE MASK takes place not long after the events of DEATH SQUAD, the second of Don Pendleton's legendary Executioner series. In that novel, all of Mack Bolan's squad was either captured or killed, and BATTLE MASK opens with the Executioner back at his Santa Monica hideout, awakening with a jolt when his alarm sounds, warning him that Julian DiGeorge's henchmen are on the attack.

Bolan manages to kill or elude "Deej"'s boys and finds himself in the small California town of Palm Village, where he looks up another old Vietnam buddy, plastic surgeon Jim Brantzen, and hits him up for a new face, which he uses to infiltrate DiGeorge's gang as "Franky Lucky," a gunsel whom the capo intends to move up through the ranks in a hurry. The action jumps back and forth between DiGeorge's estate and Palm Village, where much bloodshed occurs, including Bolan's spectacular attack on a carload of six DiGeorge goons.

Bolan, an expert marksman and combat vet who vowed vengeance upon the Mafia upon learning of his family's deaths, is unrelenting in his two-fisted fury, slicing DiGiorgio and his "family" like a fucking hammer. Pendleton really struck a lucrative chord with his readers through this character, which went on very quickly to spawn dozens of imitators. Though many of the imitators are quite entertaining in their own right, the Executioner is the real deal.

Though the surviving members of Bolan's DEATH SQUAD don't appear in BATTLE MASK, another character, police lieutenant Carl Lyons, does. Lyons is the conflicted cop who let Bolan escape arrest in DEATH SQUAD, and returns as part of a task force dedicated to capturing the Executioner, who is, after all, a mass murderer. Lyons is an interesting character and a highly moral one, though he isn't quite sure whose side to take. Ultimately, it isn't hard to guess, as Lyons because a regular in later novels as a member of Bolan's fighting force.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Have Another Slice Of Pie. And Another. And Another.

You may have thought that, after AMERICAN WEDDING married off the leading characters played by Jason Biggs and Alyson Hannigan, there was no more story left to tell in the AMERICAN PIE universe. But money talks, and Universal continued the successful AMERICAN PIE series with three (to date) loose sequels was made specifically for DVD release. While the characters (for the most part) have changed, the series' dependence on foul scatological humor and embarrassing teenage sexuality hasn't.

In 2005, Universal released AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS BAND CAMP, which introduces Matt Stifler (Tad Hilgenbrink), the obnoxious younger brother of the even more obnoxious Steve Stifler played by Seann William Scott in the theatrical films. Give director Steve Rash (THE BUDDY HOLLY STORY) and his casting department credit for finding a young actor who looks and acts exactly like Scott, though Hilgenbrink couldn't make me believe that the jackass he's playing would be his high school's chick magnet.

After his mischievous prank breaks up the school's graduation party, "The Sherminator" (Chris Owen, just about the only cast member to return for the DTV sequels), the new guidance counselor, sentences Stifler to attend band camp—an odd punishment, considering Stifler doesn't play an instrument. Repulsed at the concept of hanging out with band geeks all summer, Stifler decides to spend his spare time taping girls in the shower and teaching his nerdy roommate how to be as big a jerk as he is. Naturally, Stifler's gags tend to backfire, resulting in strange situations like being found naked with his member stuck inside an oboe. It's that kind of movie.

I actually didn't mind BAND CAMP too much, though it treads no new ground. Arielle Kebbel, as the sweet bandleader and composer who inexplicably falls for Stifler, is a charmer who resembles Mandy Moore, and Rash finds room for Eugene Levy, so funny as Jim's Dad in the earlier films, to step in as the band camp's counselor. Timothy Stack (MY NAME IS EARL) and former porn star Ginger Lynn Allen play the camp's adults in scenes that recall THE ADDAMS FAMILY. Although Rash had a small budget, Universal provided a comfortable shooting schedule and Malibu locations, unlike the later sequels, which were farmed out to Toronto. As long as you're going to watch wild comedies where girls take off their clothes, it might as well be this one.

In case you're wondering how many Stiflers are in this family anyway, 2006's AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS THE NAKED MILE introduces us to cousin Erik Stifler (John White), who, we learn, is the "black sheep" of the family, because he studies, gets decent grades, and—shockers—is still a virgin in high school. He does manage, however, to kill his grandmother when the whole family walks in on him whacking it in the living room.

After a sexual interlude with nice girlfriend Tracy (Jessy Schram) ends in Erik's humiliation (when her father walks in, Erik is forced to hide naked in the dryer, where he drops a deuce), rather than a successful climax, she agrees to help alleviate his frustration by issuing a free pass—a weekend where Erik can do anything (and anyone) he wants. Erik and his pal Cooze (Jake Siegel) go to visit another Stifler—cousin Dwight (Steve Talley)—at college, where the non-stop partying provides Erik with a sure thing, a major hottie named Brandy (Candace Kroslak). But is it possible for Erik to enjoy guilt-free sex, even with Tracy's permission? What's a nice guy to do?

One thing about NAKED MILE—it offers more nudity than I've seen on-screen in a long time. The Naked Mile, in the story, is an annual campus event in which students streak across the quad—the debaucherous attraction that lured Erik and Cooze to college in the first place. Tuition must be high, because most of the young women there have the means to purchase fake breasts. Boobs and buns fill the screen most of the time, though equal-time advocates will be happy to hear that the male stars do some flashing as well.

As sick as much of the humor is, with semen and urine splashing across the screen like Tom Sawyer's whitewash, it isn't terribly mean-spirited, and the attractive cast seem like likable dudes you wouldn't mind hanging out with—even Dwight Stifler isn't a bad guy. And while many of the gags are scatological retreads from the earlier films, a silly setpiece involving our heroes in an intramural mud football game against a team of dwarves is genuinely fresh and funny. Director Joe Nussbaum (SLEEPOVER) makes it funny by presenting the little people not as jokes or victims, but as comic villains easily the mental, physical and sexual equals of Stifler and his pals.

I know you can't believe it, but Eugene Levy is back again as Mr. Levenstein, who returns to college to emcee the Naked Mile. I'm beginning to think a detailed backstory of his character would be mighty interesting, as we discover Mr. Levenstein was quite a BMOC back in the day.

Almost exactly 12 months after the fifth AMERICAN PIE movie went directly to DVD, here comes Number 6, 2007's AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS BETA HOUSE, which is actually a true sequel to THE NAKED MILE. It also rivals NAKED MILE in the surprisingly (but delightfully) high number of bare breasts on display. Heck, director Andrew Waller even works them into the story at film's end, just to be sure he got several dozen more on the screen.

By this point, though, and I'm not saying the boobs aren't nice, but I'm just as curious to see how the story can manage to work Eugene Levy into it. Awkwardly, actually, as Waller had to clumsily shoot around Levy in at least one scene that was probably shot after the budget had already chewed up the two days for which it could afford him. It turns out that Mr. Levenstein (Levy) is the attorney on retainer for Beta House, the fraternity to which Dwight Stifler (Talley) belongs. He also ends up emceeing the Greek Games, a long-barred competition between the Beta boys and the Geek House, who plot to get the partying Betas kicked off campus. In an odd twist on REVENGE OF THE NERDS that probably says a lot (negative) about today's society, the nerdy bookworms are the villains, and the beer-chugging BMOCs are the good guys.

Erik Stifler (White) and his buddy Cooze (Siegel) are now college freshmen pledging the Betas, which allows the writer to invent a series of gross acts for the boys to perform, most of which involve them becoming naked and embarrassing themselves. As Erik is now without a girlfriend, he finds himself falling for pretty Ashley (Meghan Heffern), who's a pretty good sport, considering Erik's inept sexuality (his MATRIX-style "bullet time" premature ejaculation stains her teddy bear and her family portrait).

The game cast seems enthusiastic and unafraid to look silly, which is a good thing. Writer Erik Lindsay (who also penned THE NAKED MILE) creates an odd DEER HUNTER parody, which is mystifying considering that nobody in the target audience has any idea what THE DEER HUNTER is (though they might enjoy Dwight and his Geek enemy playing Russian roulette with a gun containing cylinders of horse semen).

After a major "athletic" competition, based on the Greek Olympiad, that culminates in a tie-breaker where the first competitor to stain his drawers during a lap dance is declared the loser, I can't imagine where AMERICAN PIE will take us next. As long as it delivers beer and boobs, I guess I'll find out.

Why Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles Sucks

Friedman wanted to bring back Kyle Reese, the time traveler who fathered John Connor and then died in the first Terminator movie. But his fellow producers convinced him this would never fly with the fans. So instead he finally agreed to introduce Reese's brother, Derek, played by 90210's Brian Austin Green.

Um, yes, because the fans would much rather see Brian Austin Green than Michael Biehn. Good call there, producers! I hope cousins Coy and Vance Reese stop by soon.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Not Too Bad...

I picked 13 of the 24 winners, which is pretty much my average. It was another very boring Oscar telecast. Did anything unusual or unexpected happen? Actually, yes, I loved when Jon Stewart brought the ONCE songwriter back out to give her speech. Bravo. You mean the telecast has room for the binoculars montage, but not for her warm, thrilling thank yous? That was a sweet moment.

Otherwise, no upsets that I can see. The Academy continues to shoot itself in the foot by trotting out presenters the audience doesn't give a damn about. Why do we have to see Jessica Alba, Miley Cyrus, Colin Farrell, Keri Russell and Jonah Hill, instead of DeNiro, Pacino, Eastwood, Redford, Newman, Borgnine, Widmark, Kennedy, Hackman, Dunaway, Beatty, Streep, Field, hell, Julie Christie was there, how about teaming her and Omar Sharif to present? What ABC and the Academy don't get is that the people who are staying up to watch the Oscars do not give a rat(atouille)'s ass about Patrick Dempsey.

My Oscar Picks

Barring any last-minute changes of mind…

Performance by an actor in a leading role
Daniel Day-Lewis in "There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax)

Performance by an actor in a supporting role
Javier Bardem in "No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage)

Performance by an actress in a leading role
Julie Christie in "Away from Her" (Lionsgate)

Performance by an actress in a supporting role
Tilda Swinton in "Michael Clayton" (Warner Bros.)

Best animated feature film of the year
"Ratatouille" (Walt Disney): Brad Bird

Achievement in art direction
"There Will Be Blood" (Paramount Vantage and Miramax): Art Direction: Jack Fisk; Set Decoration: Jim Erickson

Achievement in cinematography
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage): Roger Deakins

Achievement in costume design
"Elizabeth: The Golden Age" (Universal) Alexandra Byrne

Achievement in directing
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Best documentary feature
"No End in Sight" (Magnolia Pictures) A Representational Pictures Production: Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs

Best documentary short subject
"Freeheld" A Lieutenant Films Production: Cynthia Wade and Vanessa Roth

Achievement in film editing
"The Bourne Ultimatum" (Universal): Christopher Rouse

Best foreign language film of the year
"Katyn" Poland

Achievement in makeup
"La Vie en Rose" (Picturehouse) Didier Lavergne and Jan Archibald

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original score)
"Atonement" (Focus Features) Dario Marianelli

Achievement in music written for motion pictures (Original song)
"Falling Slowly" from "Once" (Fox Searchlight) Music and Lyric by Glen Hansard and: Marketa Irglova

Best motion picture of the year
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage) A Scott Rudin/Mike Zoss Production: Scott Rudin, Ethan Coen and Joel Coen, Producers

Best animated short film
"I Met the Walrus" A Kids & Explosions Production: Josh Raskin

Best live action short film
"At Night" A Zentropa Entertainments 10 Production: Christian E. Christiansen and Louise Vesth

Achievement in sound editing
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Ethan Van der Ryn and Mike Hopkins

Achievement in sound mixing
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Kevin O'Connell, Greg P. Russell and Peter J. Devlin

Achievement in visual effects
"Transformers" (DreamWorks and Paramount in association with Hasbro): Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Russell Earl and John Frazier

Adapted screenplay
"No Country for Old Men" (Miramax and Paramount Vantage), Written for the screen by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Original screenplay
"Juno" (A Mandate Pictures/Mr. Mudd Production), Written by Diablo Cody

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Harry Feels The Heat

THE LONG DEATH, #3 in the Dirty Harry paperback series published under Warner Books' Men of Action line, is an improvement over the second novel. That may be because this one was penned by journeyman writer Ric Meyers (all Dirty Harry novels were credited to author "Dane Hartman"), who has a better feel for the character than whoever wrote DEATH ON THE DOCKS (which wasn't Meyers).

Inspector Harry Callahan, the tough cop created in the movies by Clint Eastwood, investigates a white slavery ring led by a woman who operates out of a San Francisco disco. Her goons have quite an elaborate plan, in which they drug their lovely young prey, bind their hands, and disguise them as men, so that she can't be identified by any witnesses. To throw the cops off their trail, the scumbags frame a black militant group for the kidnappings—the same nationalists featured in the 1977 film THE ENFORCER (other events featured in the film are referenced here too).

Meyers' seedy storyline and flair for writing colorful action sequences, particularly the 34-page opening chapter that describes the white slavers' snatch of a Berkeley college student and their pursuit of the young men who attempt to rescue her, make this 1981 novel a fun read. Unlike DEATH ON THE DOCKS, which had Harry disguising himself to chase a killer to the Caribbean, Meyers stays true to the Eastwood portrayal. It's good enough that I suspect Meyers could have written a better Dirty Harry film than THE DEAD POOL.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Shoot To Kill

The first two Ryker novels I read were penned by current big-shot author Nelson DeMille, who reportedly wrote them under a pen name, though my original paperbacks bear his name. The Super Cop Joe Blaze paperback I read was probably written by DeMille as "Robert Novak." What I know for sure is that the Rykers started out as Blaze books, since the proofreaders missed a few "Blaze" references in them. Ryker #5, THE CHILD KILLER, released by Leisure in 1975, is credited to Edson T. Hamill, which almost has to be a pseudonym. Whether Hamill is DeMille or not, I'm not sure. THE CHILD KILLER has the same blunt, simplistic writing style as the other Ryker books. Its fervently conservative attitude and graphic sadism has me wondering if it was too much even for the white blue-collar males it was aimed at. Hamill's detailed description of the villain's rape and murder of a young boy pushed my limits, for sure.

Yep, "a sex pervert was killing children," and "Ryker's job was to get him any way he could." The entire plot is on the cover. There's very little mystery, as the reader discovers the killer's identity very early, and Ryker learns it not long after that. Not only is tough cop Ryker so right-wing that he makes Dirty Harry look like a Berkeley professor, but he's also quite stupid. After he arrests the murderer just over halfway through the book, he doesn't read him his rights and he beats the crap out of him in full view of witnesses. When his imbecilic actions get the killer set free, Ryker has the nerve to be outraged by a system that allegedly coddles criminals and spits on the victims.

Much of the book is two long chase sequences, which aren't particularly novel or exciting. Hamill punched this book out in a few days, for sure. Like the other Ryker books, it's lacking plot, nuance, characterization and action. THE CHILD KILLER's zealous hatred for homosexuals is shocking, even for 1975, making it a real curio.

THE CHILD KILLER is my last Ryker novel, and I don't plan on tracking any more down (though I do have another Super Cop Joe Blaze around here).

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bored She Hung Herself

"Bored She Hung Herself" (sic) is the rarest of the 284 episodes of HAWAII FIVE-0 that were produced during its 12-season run on CBS. It aired only once—January 7, 1970—and has not been broadcast since. It has never been rerun on CBS or in syndication, and CBS/Paramount, regrettably, omitted it from its recent HAWAII FIVE-0: THE SECOND SEASON DVD box set.

CBS and Paramount have never revealed exactly why they have censored this episode, although most fans believe it is because of its opening scene, in which a hippie character is seen hanging by the neck without harm for the purpose of meditation. A few minutes later, his girlfriend is discovered hanging from the ceiling in the same noose, but quite dead. Reportedly, someone really did attempt to hang themselves based on what they saw on this episode and was killed.

Only one copy of "Bored She Hung Herself" appears to exist. It looks like a 16mm print that was sent to network affiliates and contains bumpers, leader, etc. Audio and visual quality is barely watchable, as though the print were projected onto a wall and recorded by a video camera. It also seems to be considered not one of the series' highlights, although I thought it was quite interesting and stands outside the program's usual formula.

Five-0, Hawaii's special four-man police task force, headed up by Steve McGarrett (series star Jack Lord), investigates the death of Wanda Parker (Pamela Murphy), who is found hanging by the neck in the beach cottage she shares with her boyfriend Don (Don Quine). Wanda's father Warren (perennial TV guest star William Smithers) strongly believes that Don is the murderer and tape-records a conversation with him that he thinks confirms his suspicions. McGarrett, a by-the-book cop through and through, refuses to stand by the tape, claiming that it would never hold up in court. Parker, though a good friend of McGarrett's, storms out of the Five-0 office while threatening McGarrett's job.

Devoid of the gun battles and screaming car chases often connected to the show, "Bored She Hung Herself," which was written by Mel Goldberg and directed by John Newland (the former host and director of the ONE STEP BEYOND TV series), is an absorbing mystery, despite its paucity of suspects, and has at least three strong scenes dominated by their performances and direction. The teaser between Don and Wanda is surprisingly frank and violent, and very quickly sums up their relationship and hers with her father. Later, the dialogues between Warren and Don and between McGarrett and Warren, in which they debate the morality of Parker's tape recording, are crisply performed and directed by Newland, who returned for only one more of the 284 shows.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cloud Of Dust…Cry Of Death

In the wake of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone's enormous success with their trilogy of Italian westerns—A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS, FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE and THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY—actor Gianni Garko, a good-looking blond leading man with a steely resemblance to Eastwood, was hired to portray the mysterious gunfighter Sartana in 1968's IF YOU MEET SARTANA, PRAY FOR YOUR DEATH.

It was a hit, thanks partially to its gimmicky approach influenced by the James Bond movies (and possibly the U.S. TV series THE WILD WILD WEST). Sartana, of whom little about his background was ever revealed, reveled in the use of wild props, such as a four-barreled derringer and a hidden compartment in his boot heel that carried emergency gadgets. By 1971, the Sartana series was at full steam when Garko returned for his fifth movie (George Hilton had temporarily played the role in SARTANA IS HERE…TRADE YOUR PISTOL FOR A COFFIN).

1971's LIGHT THE FUSE…SARTANA IS COMING is a typically complicated Sartana story with some of the craziest gadgets of the entire series, most notably a deadly pipe organ that comes through for the hero during the climax and a tiny mechanical robot named Alfie that serves as a cigarette lighter, grenade launcher and more. Every western hero should have one.

Sartana, after shooting down a trio of corrupt lawmen, turns himself in to the corrupt warden of a nearby prison, where he is beaten and dumped into "the hole." There he encounters his old pal Granville (Piero Lulli), who promises him half of a $500,000 gold fortune if he helps Granville escape. They blast their way out, and Sartana heads to the town of Mansfield, where Granville is accused of murdering his business partner and hiding not only the gold, but also $2 million in counterfeit cash.

There's no shortage of suspects in Mansfield, including the (what else?) corrupt sheriff (Massimo Serato), the vicious General Monk (Jose Jaspe), the dead man's beautiful widow (Nieves Navarro) and a one-eyed scoundrel (ubiquitous white-haired Spanish character actor Frank BraƱa). When Santana isn't guarding his back from these treacherous opponents, he's shooting down dozens of minions who work for them, racking up a solid body count in the upper double digits. Aided by Bruno Nicolai's score and some unusual settings (such as a Turkish bath in this one-horse Old West town!), LIGHT THE FUSE… is a highly entertaining spaghetti western with enough action and oddball stunts to keep you smiling. While Garko never returned to play Sartana again, he did continue to appear in several European genre pictures and even guest-starred on the British TV series SPACE: 1999.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Mafia Butcher

The Marksman is back in Frank Scarpetta's COUNTERATTACK, #11 in Belmont/Tower's series of rough paperback adventures. Although this one seems to be penned by a different author than VENDETTA (credited to Peter McCurtin), the writing style seems about the same. Blunt and barely functional, COUNTERATTACK feels as though Scarpetta were pounding the keys of his typewriter without ever looking up from the page, as if he had to get the whole damn thing done in a weekend.

Philip Magellan, aka The Marksman, enters New Orleans, where he aims to put an end to the tarpaulin of vice and corruption that covers the city, courtesy of Mafioso Benito Borghese and cop J.M. Baffrey. The Marksman draws first blood by heisting $650 million of heroin from Borghese, which he hides in a cabin in the woods.

Scarpetta's choppy plotting feels made up at the spur of the moment. Supporting characters, such as a pair of French sisters, are underdeveloped, and plot points that appear to head toward some sort of twist are forgotten as soon as they're introduced (why did one sister switch places with the other?). Borghese never meets the Marksman face-to-face, and I'm still scratching my head at Scarpetta's abrupt ending, which reads like he hit his maximum allotted word count and quit.

I enjoyed COUNTERATTACK to a certain extent, but its clumsy plotting and hamfisted style makes it second-tier paperback adventure at best.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

She’s So Young

I had never heard of The Pursuit of Happiness until recently, when their song "She's So Young" popped up on my iTunes shuffle. It's the kind of power pop that really grabs me; I'm a sucker for catchy, upbeat 3-chord rock. Turns out they were a Canadian band comprised of college students during the late 1980s. "She's So Young" appeared on their first LP, LOVE JUNK, which was produced by Todd Rundgren. The album was a major smash in Canada, but doesn't appear to have done much in the U.S.

Nothing The Pursuit of Happiness did after LOVE JUNK matched that album's success, but they still managed to keep somewhat of a star presence in their home country. According to Wikipedia, The Pursuit of Happiness were inducted into the Canadian Indies Hall of Fame two years ago.

I've listened to "She's So Young" three times while I've been writing this. Here's the video. I hope you like it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Jackie Cooper, who was nominated for an Oscar as Best Actor in 1932 and later won two Emmys for directing episodes of M*A*S*H and THE WHITE SHADOW, worked on THE ROCKFORD FILES as both a performer and a director. Oddly, this 1975 episode, "Claire," aired between "Counter Gambit" and "Say Goodbye to Jennifer," two of the three ROCKFORDs Cooper directed during the series' first season. His lively performance in "Claire" is quite entertaining as still one more angry police captain aching to toss Jim Rockford (James Garner) in the clink.

Rockford is approached by an old flame, Claire Prescott (Linda Evans), who abruptly broke off their affair with no explanation three years earlier. She asks him to find a man named Charlie Manning for her, but fails to reveal that she's being pursued by two gunmen (played by THE A-TEAM's nemesis Lance LeGault and a long-haired Lane Smith). Meanwhile, as Claire is keeping secrets for Jim, so are his police lieutenant pal Becker (Joe Santos) and his superior Captain Highland (Cooper), who also want Manning, but for a different reason.

It's likely that writer Edward J. Lakso devised the intriguing plot and handed it over to producer Stephen J. Cannell for polishing, as the dialogue contains several obvious Cannell touches. However, it's what Garner doesn't say that provides the drama in his first scene with Evans, as he remains tight-lipped, suspicious, yet politely so, as he gets across to the audience that he's still hurting a bit from their bust-up. It's a strong moment for Garner in an episode that contains several chases and punch-outs, and even places Rocky (Noah Beery Jr.), Jim's father, in danger.

Through a strange coincidence, "Claire" features guest stars Cooper and Smith, both of whom went on to play Daily Planet editor Perry White (Cooper in SUPERMAN and its three sequels, Smith in LOIS & CLARK: THE NEW ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN). Evans (THE BIG VALLEY) returns to ROCKFORD the following season as a different character in "The Farnsworth Strategem."

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gerber's Gone

As much as I hate to write about another death so soon after Roy Scheider, I can't let the passing of Steve Gerber go unmentioned. Gerber, who died at age 60 after a long bout of ill health, was one of Marvel Comics' star writers during the 1970s, when editor-in-chief Roy Thomas opened the doors wide and allowed his creators to do pretty much anything they wanted. Most of Marvel's comic books from this time period, which also includes those of Thomas' immediate successors Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway and Len Wein, are just batshit crazy, filled with wildly creative plots, innovative artwork and panel placements, snappy humor, political satire, and, of course, lots of panels of superheroes fighting each other (and an occasional villain).

At the forefront was Gerber, who was never one of Marvel's major voices, but a writer with a rabid cult following (that means his books didn't always sell so well). His greatest creation is most likely Howard the Duck, whose first solo story came in GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING #4 in a story called "Frog Death," which found the wisecracking, cigar-smoking drake on Earth in a battle against Garko the Man-Frog! Obviously, Gerber had his tongue wedged tightly in his cheek (though Frank Brunner's artwork was, as usual, beautiful), but the response to Howard was positive enough to merit the duck's own book.

Gerber did more than HOWARD THE DUCK (which was enormously popular on college campuses during the Ford/Carter years). He also created Omega the Unknown and wrote terrific issues of THE DEFENDERS, MAN-THING, DRACULA LIVES and TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, just to name a few. He later wrote for DC, Image and Malibu and penned animated television shows like THUNDARR THE BARBARIAN, one of Saturday morning's top adventure shows of the '80s.

Without a doubt, Steve Gerber was a comics visionary with a unique voice. Without looking at the credits, it usually doesn't take long to figure out you're reading a Gerber story. More than likely, it's a good one.

Monday, February 11, 2008

All Burt. All Month.

Let me draw your attention over to Welcome to L.A., where Larry Aydlette is devoting the month of February to Burt Reynolds. Yep, it's a Burt-A-Thon, which also includes Reynolds' singing career and TV work, such as the recent Man Law beer commercials. Larry changes blogs about as often as I change deodorants, and it's difficult tracking him down, but his writing is always worth the effort. You'll be surprised at what you'll learn about Burt Reynolds this month.

One other note: Drew Fitzpatrick wrote a nice piece about the late Roy Scheider on his blog today. He even met the man once, and it's a joy to learn than Roy was a good guy. Read Drew's Scheider obit here, and enjoy this poster art for THE SEVEN-UPS, which was Scheider's first feature as a leading man. Directed by the producer of THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE SEVEN-UPS includes another amazing car chase that's often forgotten when great screen chases are mentioned.

Happy Burt Day

The totally badass Burt Reynolds is 72 years old today. Bow down in the presence of the Bandit.

I scored 85% on the Burt Reynolds Quiz. Post your score in the comments below.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Roy Scheider, R.I.P.

Dammit, one of my favorite actors died today. I've seen just about every major film Roy Scheider was ever in, and he was in some of the greatest Hollywood films of the 1970s. JAWS, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, THE SEVEN-UPS, ALL THAT JAZZ, SORCERER, LAST EMBRACE, KLUTE, MARATHON MAN. THE FRENCH CONNECTION and ALL THAT JAZZ earned Scheider Academy Award nominations.

Although STILL OF THE NIGHT, BLUE THUNDER and 2010 continued Scheider's string of solid leading-man roles, he somehow fell off the tracks during the mid-1980s, and finished the decade in Cannon potboilers (the entertainingly sleazy 52 PICK-UP) and barely released thrillers (COHEN & TATE, NIGHT GAME, THE FOURTH WAR).

After his contentious two-season run as the star of NBC's SEAQUEST DSV, a series Scheider publicly derided for its poor scripting, he became busier than ever as a respectable and dignified supporting actor in major studio films (THE RAINMAKER), low-budget direct-to-video features, and television movies and series. You'd be hard-pressed to wander through a video store and not find something bearing his name on every shelf.

According to his New York Times obit, Scheider was 75 and in poor health. I saw him on a LAW & ORDER: CRIMINAL INTENT last year as a convicted serial killer, and he seemed healthy and sharp as a tack. As I mentioned above, I've seen just about every major film he ever did, except ALL THAT JAZZ oddly, but let me also recommend:

* SOMEBODY HAS TO SHOOT THE PICTURE, an HBO movie that's one of the most powerful anti-death penalty dramas I've seen (Frank Pierson directed it)

* Jonathan Demme's Hitchcockian LAST EMBRACE, which insanely isn't on DVD yet

* the obscure TV pilot ASSIGNMENT: MUNICH, in which he lost the role in the TV series to Robert Conrad

* THE FOURTH WAR, a competent reunion with director John Frankenheimer, for whom he made 52 PICK-UP

Only SOMEBODY HAS TO SHOOT THE PICTURE was ever on DVD, and it's long out of print.

Something else interesting about Scheider: I believe he may be the only actor to portray three different Presidents of the United States. He did it in EXECUTIVE TARGET, CHAIN OF COMMAND and THE PEACEKEEPER.

Click here to check out Netflix's collection of Roy Scheider movies on DVD. I guarantee you'll find one (or ten) you'll like.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Viva Chiba! Viva Chiba!

Sonny Chiba, one of cinema's greatest badasses, the star of THE STREET FIGHTER, KARATE BEAR FIGHTER, KARATE BULL FIGHTER and KILL BILL, VOLUME 1, punched some dude right in tha face.

I wonder if the dude's eyes popped out of his head like in THE STREET FIGHTER.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A Battle For Power

1974's THE CASTRO FILE is the earliest entry in the Death Merchant series I have read, and it's different from later entries. #7 in the Pinnacle series by Joseph Rosenberger runs more than 200 pages, and spends much more time on plot and characterization than later books, which sometimes riddled more than half its pages with machine gun bullets. Here, Rosenberger takes his time, fleshes out the villains, lays out a complicated espionage plot, and still leaves room for his trademark lurid shootouts.

THE CASTRO FILE's plot is a tried-and-true favorite among crime and adventure writers: assassinate a high-level government official and replace him with an exact double. This time around, it's Fidel Castro who is the target. With the Cuban dictator making peaceful overtures towards the hated United States, the Soviets plot to lure Castro onto a boat under the guise of a relaxing fishing trip, murder him, and install their own "Castro": a Kiev actor who has undergone extensive plastic surgery and two years of learning all of Fidel's habits and movements.

The Death Merchant is working for the CIA to sneak into Cuba and prevent the Soviet plot, which may be one of the few times that an action hero ever had to go to Cuba to prevent a Castro assassination. While Rosenberger introduces a handful of colorful characters in THE CASTRO FILE (the title character even plays a large part, not just relegated to a corner as many real-life figures are in novels), we don't learn a whole lot more about Richard Camellion that we did before. Except that he's really, really, really good at killing Russians. No, I think we did know that already.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Man Of Action

I didn't love The Hook's initial entry, THE GILDED CANARY, which Warner Books published in 1981 as part of its "Men of Action" paperback series. It plays like more of a mystery than a hard-boiled adventure, although it does offer a couple of good shootouts and a decent body count. However, it's more Ellery Queen than Mack Bolan, not that there's anything wrong with that, if that's what you're in the mood for.

Author Brad Latham's (or whoever at Warner Books) idea to give the Hook's stories a period flavor is a good one. Set in the 1930s, THE GILDED CANARY introduces Bill Lockwood a.k.a. The Hook, a veteran of World War I and an ex-boxer (which is where he got his nickname) who solves cases as an investigator for the Transatlantic Insurance Company. His first mystery involves stolen jewels, which were filched from wealthy debutante Muffy Dearborn while she was rehearsing for her opening night as a club singer. An expert behind the sight of his Colt .38 pistol and behind the wheel of his Cord convertible, the Hook indefatigably follows whatever clues he can scrape up, though his path never wavers far from Muffy, the men who fall in love with her, or Stephanie, her French maid who falls for Lockwood. Outside of two surprisingly graphic sex scenes, THE GILDED CANARY reads like many drawing-room mysteries, and the climax features the Hook holding suspects at gunpoint, while he wraps up all the clues for them (and the reader) in a tidy bundle.

THE GILDED CANARY is not a bad book at all. It's well written, the Hook is an appealing hero, and fans of sex and violence will find enough to groove on. Latham penned five Hook novels in 1981 and 1982. It appears as though Latham is actually David Schow, a name well known to horror and science fiction fans. Not only has Schow written many horror novels, but he has also branched out into screenwriting, penning movies like THE CROW and television series like MASTERS OF HORROR. Schow also wrote THE OUTER LIMITS COMPANION, an excellent behind-the-scenes chronicle of the making of the classic '60s TV anthology series, and has contributed articles to VIDEO WATCHDOG.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The Severed Arm

"Timothy, Timothy, where on earth did you go?
Timothy, Timothy, God, why don't I know?

—"Timothy," The Buoys, lyrics by Rupert Holmes

It's no exaggeration to say they don't make 'em like THE SEVERED ARM anymore. Unless there's a movie about cannibalism making the rounds I haven't heard about. Directed by Thomas S. Alderman, who doesn't appear to have made any films afterward, THE SEVERED ARM is a gruesome horror film that anticipates many other, more famous slasher pics, such as HALLOWEEN (with its use of killer POV shots), FRIDAY THE 13TH (individuals picked off one by one by a madman waving a sharp object) and WHEN A STRANGER CALLS ("the caller is inside the house"). I'm not saying that those films were influenced by THE SEVERED ARM or that Alderman invented these familiar aspects of the horror genre, but their presence does add interest.

Six men are trapped inside a cave. Three weeks pass without any of them eating a speck of food, and their water supply has just dried up. Jeff (David G. Cannon), a television writer, suggests they draw lots and the winners amputate and eat one of the loser's limbs to stay alive. Ted (Ray Dannis) is the unlucky loser, but seconds after his friends have sliced off his right arm, a rescue team arrives. Ted deliriously tells the doctors what occurred, but the other five men explain that his arm was crushed in the accident and had to be amputated to save his life. No one believes Ted's story, and he goes mad as a result. Five years later, Jeff receives a severed arm in the mail, and he and his accomplices, who also include detective Mark (Paul Carr), disc jockey Herman (Marvin Kaplan), contractor Bill (Vince Martorano) and doctor Ray (John Crawford), are stalked by a killer with a hatchet. Has Ted left the mental institution to gain revenge upon the men who drove him there?

Former Gidget actress Deborah Walley has top billing as Ted's daughter, who teams up with Jeff and Mark to track down Ted before he can get to them. Although Teddy (the Walley character) is initially depicted as not believing her father could be a killer, she seems unbelievably willing to help the men in their plan to capture Ted, even to the point of serving as bait. THE SEVERED ARM is successful much of the time, mostly because of Alderman's skill behind the camera, keeping it fluid and pointing at something interesting, even though he obviously wasn't able to shoot many takes. It's a low-budget movie, but not fatally so. More money would probably have let Alderman and co-screenwriter Darrel Presnell excise a couple of talky scenes and replace them with lengthier scare scenes. THE SEVERED ARM is never quite as lurid as its title indicates, but it doesn't waste time with characterization and subplots, and it builds to an effectively sick climax.

I'm pretty certain the print I saw was complete, but most DVDs on the market are reportedly cut. Despite its R rating, THE SEVERED ARM is not a graphic movie, and although the cuts would certainly harm the film, my guess is that it's still worth a viewing, so long as you aren't expecting anything like a masterpiece.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Abominable Sisterhood

John Eagle is a Caucasian who was raised by Apaches. For some reason, pulp fiction and comic books are filled with white guys who were reared by Indians. I suppose the strange reasoning is that the authors wanted to exploit various Indian folklore, but didn't want to alienate readers they believed would only identify with white men. Seems silly to me, though so does much of THE ICE GODDESS, #7 in Pyramid's adventures of "the most exciting new adventure in paperback," written by Paul Edwards.

Eagle is a member of the Expeditor Group, which is owned and operated by the mysterious Merlin, an extremely wealthy man who uses his power and money for good. Eagle functions as an agent of sorts. Merlin calls, and Eagle comes. He has never seen Merlin, who prefers to contact his operative through one-way closed circuit television.

Eagle's assignment is to investigate the polar ice caps, which appear to be melting at an exorbitant rate, almost as though they're being melted by an outside force. Cruising beneath the water in Merlin's one-man atomic sub, Eagle eventually discovers a bizarre society dominated by women in brightly colored jumpsuits.

It isn't until close to the end when THE ICE GODDESS really perks up with sleaze and scope, presenting an epic sci-fi setting of an above-ground Arctic community hidden beneath an enormous ice dome and dominated by a megalomaniacal female leader who demands the men in her employ undergo sex change operations to remove their genitalia. The last sixty pages or so is where all the action and pulpy stuff take place.

The middle is dominated by what I can only describe as padding. Eagle is stranded in the tundra, where he befriends a teenage Eskimo couple who provides him with food, shelter and sex. Eagle does fight a polar bear that he dispatches with an axe, which is cool, but outside of this, THE ICE GODDESS feels like a short story padded to feature length. It's rare, though, to find a hero who willingly sleeps with a 14-year-old girl while her husband is in the room, so that's unusual, at least.