Saturday, May 30, 2009

Double Take, Double Take

Double Take, Double Take
January 29, 1980
Music: Jimmie Haskell
Writers: Paul M. Belous & Robert Wolterstorff
Director: Daniel Haller

The luscious Tara Buckman makes her MISADVENTURES OF SHERIFF LOBO debut in "Double Take, Double Take." This is notable in that, when LOBO returned for its second season on NBC, Tara became a regular, playing a policewoman named Brandy. Here, she plays another policewoman, Sgt. Cummings, who accompanies a government witness from Orly to Los Angeles. At the L.A. airport, however, the witness, Helen Brooks (Suzanne Lederer), pulls a switch with her photographer twin sister (!) and escapes from Cummings' custody.

While Cummings and her captain ("special guest star" Bernie Hamilton, basically playing his STARSKY & HUTCH character) are befuddled by the twin's lie detector results saying she didn't see the crime she's supposed to have witnessed, Perkins (Mills Watson) is on the trail of the real Helen. As are a pair of hitmen working for mobster Jenkins (Paul Lambert). Red West also guest-stars as a corrupt cop on Bernie's payroll.

Setting the show in L.A. allowed director Haller to point his camera at a different part of the Universal backlot and get mountains and palm trees in the background. Perkins is slightly less of a screwup than usual. Yeah, he fumbles and falls a lot, but he's the only character who recognizes the real Helen, and he proves he's a good shot by somehow shooting out the front tire of a getaway car driving away from him. Lobo (Claude Akins) and Birdie (Brian Kerwin) spend the show on the sidelines.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Wanna See My Trophy?

An outstanding cast and plenty of good ol' boy action propel 1977's MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS, a Southern-fried drive-in classic. Three sexy sisters--Dot (Susan Howard), the oldest; middle sis Betty (Claudia Jennings); and teenaged Sissy (Brady girl Maureen McCormick in short shorts)--plot revenge after their bootlegger father is murdered by goons employed by county boss Jack Starkey (CANNON's William Conrad).

Starkey--an obese, foulmouthed, bearded lout who can often be found playing kinky sex games with assorted teenaged tarts--killed their pap to prevent competition in the illegal liquor market, which again becomes flooded when the Hammer sisters discover a massive cache of aged whiskey hidden in a tunnel beneath their shack.

The great John Saxon (THE BEES) stars in the Burt Reynolds role as fast-talkin', gum-chewin', hard-drivin', skirt-chasin' racecar ace J.B. Johnson, who runs liquor for Starkey, but eventually changes sides after some curvy persuasion by Dot.

Exploitation vet Gus Trikonis (THE EVIL, THE SWINGING BARMAIDS) expertly keeps the action humming along, and the actors all seem to be having a nice time. Conrad in particular, who was just coming off his successful five-season run as TV's CANNON, chews scenery nicely, and holds the screen even opposite his comelier co-stars. In fact, the entire project probably felt like a class reunion--Jennings and Morgan Woodward, who plays Starkey's chief assassin Sweetwater, both guest-starred on CANNON, while Saxon appeared in an episode of PETROCELLI, the Barry Newman lawyer series that starred Howard as Newman's wife and Albert Salmi, who plays MOONSHINE COUNTY's sheriff, as his legman.

If you like swampy locations (although MOONSHINE was actually lensed in California), hot cars, hot women, good acting, and lots of stunts, you could do a lot worse than MOONSHINE COUNTY EXPRESS, which was released by Roger Corman's New World Pictures and produced by BATTLE BEYOND THE STARS's Ed Carlin. The lovely Candice Rialson is sadly underused as a teen sexpot, and SEINFELD fans will spot Len "Uncle Leo" Lesser. Fred Werner delivers the banjo-driven score.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

An Amazing Musical Journey

Maybe I'm amazed that ROCKSHOW isn't on DVD yet. Or maybe Paul has something up his sleeve, I don't know. I believe McCartney controls the rights to this 1980 concert film of Wings' 1976 Wings Over America North American tour, since footage from it showed up on the THE MCCARTNEY YEARS DVD set. And in widescreen! I've watched my VHS so many times, it was about to wear out, before I burned it to DVD-R.

If you’ve heard the wonderful triple album WINGS OVER AMERICA, you know what to expect from ROCKSHOW. Some of Wings’ fluffier recorded material, such as “Silly Love Songs,” sounds much cooler with the harder edge given them in this live chronicle. Obviously, Paul is the centerpiece of the film, and he appears to be having a great time. He loved playing live (he was the only Beatle to vote against giving up their touring career), and this lineup with former Moody Blue Laine (who does “Go Now”), young lead guitarist McCulloch (who sadly died of a drug overdose at age 26), and drummer English is Wings’ best.

ROCKSHOW carries no credits, but it’s likely McCartney directed it. It’s not a very good looking film, and all video prints I’ve seen are quite murky. I’d like to see it on a big screen. Both Paul and Linda wear unfortunate mullets. Laine was the band’s secret weapon; his “Time to Hide” is a highlight. Thelma Schoonmaker edited ROCKSHOW around the time she did RAGING BULL. Highlights include “Band on the Run,” “Hi Hi Hi,” “Venus and Mars/Rockshow/Jet” (the opener), and “Soily,” which I believe was never recorded by Wings. Surprisingly, very little Beatles material is covered, though Wings had a broad enough catalog by this time that it didn’t need to.

Here's the great bumshaker "Listen to What the Man Said," which gives you a great indication of how much fun ROCKSHOW is.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Power Play

I plowed through Don Pendleton's WASHINGTON I.O.U. in a single sitting one late night, which isn't difficult with Pendleton's easy style and rapid pacing. It isn't exactly the most unusual story you'll ever read. Fact of the matter is the Executioner novels all have basically the same plot, but Pendleton's attention to character makes them work. Unlike most other men's adventure series of the 1970s, the Executioner books manage to whip together intriguing supporting characters who may not appear on many pages, but are colorful enough to make a slight impact. They open Mack Bolan's world a bit, adding texture to the typically bombastic shootouts and explosions.

Book thirteen in the Pinnacle series, first published in 1972, brings Bolan to the nation's capital, where he sticks his nose into a blackmail plot involving many prominent politicians, at least one of whom is on the White House staff. The mysterious new boss is codenamed Lupo ("Wolf"), and nobody, not even beautiful Claudia Vitale, the Washington socialite coerced into sleeping with married VIPs in front of cameras, knows who he is. Which is where the Executioner comes in.

I really like the way WASHINGTON I.O.U. ends—a pulpy climax involving a secret tunnel, a twist involving a previously "good" character, and the unmasking of the mysterious Lupo. Obviously, the action scenes are tight, and it's interesting to note the way the Bolan character has begun affecting the underworld. Even (especially?) people who have never met Bolan are aware of his reputation as a sort of Mafia bogeyman. I'm sure his reputation, maybe even more than his actual skills as a killing machine, will continue to play a big factor in his war against the Mafia.

Fitz & Bones

Yes, I am fully aware that I am the only person who has not only heard of this series, but also watched it.

I have always suspected that FITZ & BONES was something of a reward given to the Smothers Brothers by NBC, after Tom and Dick helped the network fill airtime with original programming during the 1980 Screen Actors Guild and the 1981 Writer's Guild strikes. The Smotherses were among the very few celebrities to appear on the 1980 Emmy Awards telecast, and they came through with a pair of comedy/variety specials that year too.

Since the 1981 fall season was delayed a couple of months by the writer's strike, NBC quickly assembled a new hour-long dramatic series for the Smothers Brothers called FITZ & BONES. Although the Glen A. Larson series included the producer's trademark light touch, it was a mystery show starring Dick as San Francisco TV newsman Ryan Fitzpatrick and Tom as his somewhat bumbling photographer Bones Howard. It lasted only a handful of low-rated episodes before NBC quickly pulled the plug in favor of various specials and movies.

As a fan of the Smothers Brothers, I'd love to see these shows again, particularly because I'm certain there are several that never aired. I doubt FITZ & BONES is that great--hardly anything on NBC was during that dark period--but, hey, I've seen ROSETTI AND RYAN. I have a great tolerance.

P.S. Any ideas on who composed the catchy theme? My guess is Stu Phillips.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Small Kill

Former M*A*S*H co-star Gary Burghoff demanded that he direct his own scenes for 1992's SMALL KILL, a career-decimating cop flick shot on Long Island. As serial killer Fleck, Radar smokes, sweats, swears, leers, wears drag, deals dope, sports an (intentionally) hilarious toupee, listens to opera, sleeps with a boy prostitute and a large-breasted stripper, and kidnaps kids for ransom. I guess he didn’t trust another director to film his scenes so, uh, tastefully. Bizarrely, Burghoff does double duty as an old female fortune teller named Esmerelda—part of Fleck’s “disguise.”

Director Rob Fresco, who went on to a successful career producing prime-time TV dramas (HEROES), and co-writer Fred Carpenter are responsible for the blood squibs, Carpenter’s ridiculous Serpico-wannabe performance as a cop chasing a drug ring, and the rote police procedural plot. Burghoff doesn’t appear with any actors from the “main” story, as though he and Fresco were making their own separate films from the same screenplay. Scenes are edited to make it look as though Burghoff interacts with Carpenter and Donnie Kehr as Carpenter’s cop partner, but he’s never in the same shot with them. Second-billed Jason Miller (THE EXORCIST) hams it up in a small, superfluous role as an alcoholic informant.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Needs Of The Many

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, which roared into theaters in the summer of 1982 (perhaps the last truly great movie summer we'll ever see), remains the best STAR TREK film ever made.  This spinoff of the first-season episode "Space Seed" finds superman Khan Noonian Singh (Ricardo Montalban) escaping from a barren prison planet and seeking revenge against the man who had exiled him there fifteen years previously, Admiral James T. Kirk (William Shatner).

Set several years after the events of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE and more than a decade after the end of the TV show's original "five-year mission," STII opens with an exciting sequence on what looks like the bridge of the starship Enterprise in which young half-Vulcan cadet Saavik (Kirstie Alley in her first major film) is unable to defend herself against three Klingon vessels, resulting in the ship's destruction and the apparent deaths of her crew, including Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley).  It turns out the disaster was merely a training exercise under the tutelage of Spock and the observation of Kirk, now manning a desk at Starfleet Command in San Francisco.  It's Kirk's birthday, presumably his 50th, which prompts the gift of reading spectacles from his old friend McCoy.

The Enterprise, captained by Spock and only set for a short training cruise for the benefit of its very green rookie crew, is suddenly ordered into action when mysterious troubles occur on the Regula 1 space station, a scientific outpost run by Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch) and her son David (Merritt Butrick).  Marcus and her team have been developing the top-secret Genesis Device, amazing technology able to create life from scratch, to turn a completely dead rock of a planet into one blooming with water, plants and everything needed to sustain human existence.  In the wrong hands, Genesis could be a devastating weapon, one capable of destroying entire civilizations.  Those "wrong hands", in this case, belong to Khan, festering with obsession since his banishment to Ceti Alpha V and, later, the death of his wife (originally one of Kirk's crew, Marla McGivers, played in "Space Seed" by Madlyn Rhue).  Although Khan, who has captured a starship and imprisoned its crew, has possession of Genesis, his ultimate goal is vengeance ("He tasks me, and I shall have him.") against Kirk, leading to a cat-and-mouse "dogfight" within the Mutara nebula and the death of Kirk's closest friend.

After the lumbering STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, Paramount handed the reins of its potentially profitable franchise to a new executive producer, Harve Bennett, who had successfully run several hit TV shows, including THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN (TREK creator Gene Roddenberry was removed from day-to-day decision making and credited as "executive consultant").  Although neither Bennett, writer Jack B. Sowards, nor director Nicholas Meyer (TIME AFTER TIME) had ever been involved with STAR TREK in any of its incarnations, this turned out to be to the film's benefit, since they were able to bring fresh thinking to the projects and weren't saddled with preconceived notions of how TREK was "supposed to be".  Perhaps their best decision was upping the action content, and, indeed, STII is the fastest paced and most violent of the series.  Another smart decision came about when Nimoy was hesitant to return as Spock, perhaps the series' most popular character.  Bennett was able to coax Nimoy back into the fold by promising to kill Spock off, believing that no actor could resist performing a dramatic death scene.  When word of Spock's death leaked to the fans, it spawned a heap of publicity that, whether or not the fans approved of the idea, couldn't help but benefit the film's release.

STAR TREK's most exciting movie is also its most militaristic (despite TREK creator Roddenberry's protests), clothing its actors in thick Napoleonic uniforms, bathing the sets in red mood lighting, and even installing a manually operated photon torpedo bay.  The result is a tense action picture anchored by its two charismatic stars:  Shatner, whose middle age adds surprising depth and vulnerability to his swaggering hero, and Montalban, whose robust vitality and megalomaniacal preoccupation with Kirk's death makes Khan a worthy adversary, despite the fact the two actors never appear together on screen.  Adding piquancy to Shatner's performance is his superlative work in the film's closing sequence, in which he and Nimoy say goodbye to each other in one of science fiction's most powerful moments.  Shatner has perhaps never been better than when he delivers Spock's eulogy at the funeral.

Working with a budget less than half of ST:TMP's, Industrial Light and Magic, using both cunning and models and FX left over from that movie, demonstrate excellent visual effects, especially in the final confrontation between the two ships, which may be scientifically implausible, but is undoubtedly one hell of an action scene.  Equally as important is James Horner's majestic score.  Following Jerry Goldsmith's extraordinary music in ST:TMP, among the finest of his legendary career, must have been nerve-wracking, but Horner's confidence shows no bounds, leaping in with a rousing soundtrack that includes an instantly hummable main theme and a menacing one for Montalban's lionhearted antagonist.

STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN is a rare breed in modern moviemaking--an action movie that simultaneously thrills, enlightens, and touches the souls of its audience.  A summer blockbuster with allusions to literature and philosophy?  You don't see that often.  It's a formula that would be repeated the next time Meyer took over the helm of a STAR TREK movie, his Glasnost-influenced STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991). 

Friday, May 22, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #21

I'm liking Irv Novick's splash page for the awkwardly titled "The Case of the Book of Death" in BLACK HOOD #16, published by Archie in the fall of 1945. Throughout the years, other notable artists, such as Alex Toth and Gray Morrow, would draw the adventures of the Black Hood, who was a cool hero with a great costume that never had the staying power of DC's costumed heroes of the Golden Age.

Novick moved to DC Comics in the 1960s, working mostly on their war and superhero titles. Along with Neal Adams, his art helped revitalize the Batman titles in the late 1960s, and Novick's work on THE FLASH during the 1970s helped make it a favorite book of mine.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Catch These Men

Tom Hanks and Norm Macdonald killed on "Celebrity Jeopardy" on last week's SNL with Will Ferrell.

We do all recognize that "Celebrity Jeopardy" is a ripoff of SCTV's "High-Q," right?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Where Living Is Worse Than Dying

I've been looking for the right opportunity to run this awesome poster image I found somewhere online (and I apologize that I don't remember where). Unless you're a connoisseur of crappy movies, you've probably never heard of Dimension Pictures' 1973 potboiler TERMINAL ISLAND, which is desperately in need of a decent DVD release (one exists, but it's just a VHS transfer on one of the budget DVD labels).

The reason I'm surprised it isn't on DVD—and the best reason anyone would want to see it today—is the appearance of a pre-MAGNUM, P.I. Tom Selleck, who plays a substantial supporting role as a heroin-addicted physician convicted of a mercy killing and sentenced to life imprisonment on the titular island. You may recall Selleck discussing TERMINAL ISLAND years ago on a LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN appearance, where he laughed about the film with good humor.

The premise of TERMINAL ISLAND, which was directed by Stephanie Rothman and co-written by her and her husband Charles Swartz (both partners in Dimension), is terrific. After the death penalty is rescinded in California, convicted murderers are sent to a remote island in the Pacific to serve their sentences. There are no guards or walls—none are needed in the middle of the ocean—and the prisoners—male and female—are free to set up camp, grow their own food, even raise families if possible.

Of course, a civilization made up solely of society's worst offenders can't be very civil, and the prisoners have split into two camps. The vicious Monk (Roger E. Mosley, Selleck's MAGNUM, P.I. co-star) and Bobby (Sean Kenney) rule a sadistic camp where the women are used as sex slaves. A more peaceful one, led by A.J. (Don Marshall of LAND OF THE GIANTS), of course, butts heads with the bad guys. Other familiar cast members include VEGA$' Phyllis Davis (whose enormously popular topless scenes here and in SWEET SUGAR may have distracted male viewers from noticing her forceful screen presence), LOST IN SPACE's Marta Kristen, VAMPIRELLA cover sensation Barbara Leigh, DAN AUGUST's Ena Hartman (the island newcomer through whose eyes the story is told), and THE VIRGINIAN's Randy Boone.

Rothman, one of very few women directors then or now to work exclusively in exploitation movies, delivers a fast-paced action yarn that takes the obviously absurd premise at face value and then rolls with it. The experienced cast essay their roles with great credibility and are always careful to play it straight all down the line. I suspect a remake made today would wink at the audience to let us know how silly it is, but TERMINAL ISLAND is all the richer for taking itself seriously. The nudity and violence probably played very well with drive-in audiences in 1973, and it holds up well now.

Skin Game Makes It To DVD

Never have I been so happy to be wrong.

In this post from a year ago, fatefully titled "You Won't Be Seeing This on DVD," I wrote about the very fine 1971 comic western SKIN GAME with James Garner and Lou Gossett Jr.

Happily, Warners has sneaked it onto DVD as part of their online-store archive collection. It's pricey at $19.99 (plus tax and shipping), but a small price to pay to see this wonderful rarity restored for DVD at its original widescreen ratio.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

New York Was Doomed

KILLER WARRIOR, one of eight (!) Black Samurai novels published by Signet between May 1974 and June 1975, is another top-notch international adventure with plenty of action, sharp pacing, and a terrific villain. The Baron, the former U.S. president who bankrolls the Black Samurai's missions, sends hero Robert Sand to Paris to prevent a deadly plot from destroying New York City. Japanese gangster Gozo Saraga, seeking revenge for the deaths of his family in the Nagasaki bombing, plans to detonate a homemade atomic bomb under the Empire State Building. The main villain is Valbonne, a powerful Frenchman whom Saraga hires to oversee the building of the weapon, which Valbonne does by kidnapping a handful of German scientists and putting them to work.

The best baddie, however, is Mangas Salt, a vicious Apache with a hatred of both the white and the black man. Salt deserted the U.S. Army in Vietnam and went to work as Valbonne's chief assassin. A man who enjoys his work, Salt's trademark torture is to hang someone upside down over a fire until the heat bursts the victim's skull until his brains leak out and extinguish the fire. Huge, mean, and cunning, Salt looks forward to meeting the Black Samurai face to face, after Sand threatens to put the kibosh on Valbonne's plans.

Writer Marc Olden's only misstep is the inclusion of Saraga, who does furnish an excellent motive for revenge—one that can't help but leave the reader at least slightly sympathetic. However, Saraga is also one villain too many, and Valbonne and Salt are so vividly portrayed that Saraga comes across as something of an afterthought.

Olden describes the chopsocky action well with the highlight being Salt's torture of an informer by locking him inside a cage with a pair of nasty baboons!

I have seven of Olden's eight Black Samurai novels (missing only #8—THE KATANA), and am looking forward to the rest of the series.

Swingin' Star Trek, Baby

Did anyone actually purchase or even wear these in the '70s? That's some hardcore Trekkin' if they did.

From Atlas/Seaboard's THE DESTRUCTOR #2, cover-dated April 1975.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Final Episode of Prison Break TONIGHT

It's true--I absolutely love PRISON BREAK, which leaves the airwaves tonight after four seasons on Fox.

If you're curious to know more about the show and the truly bizarre path it took this season, in terms of completely revamping its premise, here's a month-old interview with producer Matt Olmstead (NYPD BLUE) that won't give away any spoilers.

P.S. The 23rd and 24th episodes Olmstead refers to are coming out this summer on DVD and Blu-ray as a direct-to-video "movie" awkwardly called PRISON BREAK: THE FINAL BREAK. Yes, I'll be Netflixing that ASAP.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #20

Back to Gold Key for this one-shot that was probably intended to be a series, if not for lackluster sales. Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of Superman, came up with Tiger Girl and enlisted veteran journeyman Jack Sparling to create the art for the first issue, "Tiger Girl Combats Wolf Hound." If TIGER GIRL was as tired and campy as the stories Siegel was penning for Mighty Comics during the mid-1960s, I'm not surprised it was a dud. Sparling's splash page for this 1968 story is nice, though.

Now, This Is Salesmanship

Notice the menace in announcer Ernie Anderson's voice at the end of his STRIKE FORCE promo. "Like yours." Striking fear into the viewer's heart to make watching ABC's dumb formula cop show something more personal and relevant. I love it.

Also, James Coburn hosts the horror anthology DARKROOM, which did some interesting tales.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shark Fights Octopus

Every film by The Asylum I have seen has sucked royally. I'm pretty sure every film The Asylum has ever produced has sucked royally.

Nevertheless, I will be seeing this one.

Debbie Gibson + giant shark eating the Golden Gate + huge octopus = KFA. At least I hope. I hate Lorenzo Lamas, and director Jack Perez is about as terrible as they come.

But...Debbie Gibson vs. giant shark vs. giant octopus, man!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

The new STAR TREK is STAR TREK for the Xbox Generation. Sleek, rapidly paced, and appealingly acted by a young cast of CW-friendly faces, Paramount’s attempt to revitalize its 43-year-old franchise is also as emotionally void as the black holes artificially generated by the film’s villain.

That said, STAR TREK is rousing fun, for the most part. Sets, costumes, and ship designs are spot-on. Most importantly, the filmmakers demonstrate a respect for those who came before them. Instead of taking the easy way out with better-than-thou potshots at green space babes and security guards in red shirts, STAR TREK works in these cultural quirks in a natural manner that accepts them as part of it, not below it.

What has traditionally set previous STAR TREK films and TV series apart from most other science fiction is its willingness to be about something. Even the tremendously disappointing STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER delves into mankind’s continuous search for a higher being and the way in which we are defined, not just by our good experiences, but by our traumas as well.

In contrast, TV director J.J. Abrams (FELICITY) and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman—a duo that specializes in emotionally unfulfilling multiplex fare, including two Michael Bay blockbusters about toy robots—have created a dramatically empty space opera that manages to rise above their meager ambitions, thanks to a very sharp cast, a strong Michael Giacchino score (that desperately cries out for a memorable theme), and a positive outlook on Earth’s future 300 years.

I only wish we could have seen more of that future, but Abrams is ill-suited to the material. His decision to shoot STAR TREK in an anamorphic 2.35:1 ratio makes no sense, considering half his shots are either in extreme close-up or with the camera jumping around like a Vietnam combat photographer. At one point, he tries to punctuate a key moment in young Spock’s career by moving in for a close-up, but it means nothing, since the scene is mostly comprised of close-ups. Abrams, whose TV series LOST and ALIAS have provided him with a certain hipster cachet, may have some skills as a screenwriter and/or producer (even though his thankfully aborted SUPERMAN script is notoriously awful), but he’s seriously lacking as a film director. It would be interesting to know what a master craftsman like Martin Campbell—who successfully revived the Zorro and James Bond characters—or even Nicholas Meyer—who directed the two best STAR TREK films—would have done with this cast.

For more than twenty years, Paramount has flirted with the concept of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock’s early days as cadets at Starfleet Academy. Having apparently running out of viable ideas for the future of STAR TREK, the studio looks to the past—all the way back to the very birth of James Tiberius Kirk, who pops out of his mother at the same time his father George Kirk is sacrificing his life to save the evacuating crew of his ship, the U.S.S. Kelvin.

As Jim grows into a cocky delinquent played by Chris Pine (SMOKIN’ ACES), Spock (Zachary Quinto, Sylar on NBC’s HEROES) struggles with his unique half-Vulcan/half-human heritage, which ultimately causes him to eschew his expected acceptance into the Vulcan Science Academy for a career in Starfleet. There, we ultimately meet the rest of the household names—cantankerous physician McCoy (Kiwi Karl Urban channeling the beloved DeForest Kelley), provocative communications expert Uhura (Zoe Saldana), instantly likable engineer Scott (Simon Pegg), fresh-faced Russian Chekov (Anton Yelchin), and fencing enthusiast Sulu (John Cho).

All find themselves about the U.S.S. Enterprise under calamitous circumstances. A rogue Romulan named Nero (HULK’s Eric Bana) has transported himself and his pirate crew back in time to kill the younger Spock, whom Nero blames for the destruction of his homeworld, Romulus. After Nero takes the Enterprise’s captain, Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood in the film’s strongest performance), hostage, it’s up to the inexperienced Kirk, Spock, and the rest to save the Earth from annihilation.

With ten minutes or so chopped from its 126 minutes and a steadier hand behind the camera, STAR TREK would have likely been a terrific film. As it stands, it’s still a good one, mixing rousing space adventure with smart character-based humor. Where Abrams succeeds the most is his casting. It’s difficult to imagine any contemporary performer replacing the iconic William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, et al., but without exception, the new STAR TREK cast fits in very nicely. For instance, it’s not impossible to imagine Pine growing into the swaggering Shatner, and Quinto manages to inhabit Spock’s shell quite comfortably, although Orci and Kurtzman’s script provides little of dramatic substance for the actors to sink their teeth into.

It’s quite a lazy screenplay, which is most obvious in its treatment of “old” Spock, played wonderfully, of course, by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy’s entire appearance is, simply, a transparent deux es machina built on a tremendously silly coincidence (which I won’t spoil).

However, I’d rather have Nimoy in the film this way, than to not have had him at all. Not only is it just great to see him again as Spock, but his scenes with Pine remind us what it is we love about STAR TREK in the first place. It isn’t phaser battles or world-eating villains or cool spaceships. It’s the characters, who have become as much of a family to us as they are to themselves.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Good Guys Who Finish First

Brian Keith and Daniel Hugh-Kelly in the fun Stephen J. Cannell series HARDCASTLE & MCCORMICK on ABC.

H&M had a typically ridiculous Cannellian concept--paroled ex-con moves in with a wealthy retired judge and fight crime together--but it was funny and had a lot of action. And a super-cool car.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Random Comic Book Splash Page #19

It looks as though the nondescript journeyman Sal Trapani may have been the penciller and inker on THE WILD WILD WEST #3, which was Gold Key's tie-in comic based on the wild TV western of the same name. WWW starred Robert Conrad (HAWAIIAN EYE) and Ross Martin (MR. LUCKY) as American secret agents James West and Artemus Gordon, respectively. Riding James Bond's high-concept coattails, series creator Michael Garrison took the tongue-in-cheek spy business a step further by setting the show in the American West of the late 19th century. Yep, it was a James Bond western that delighted in creating kinky megalomaniacal villains for Jim and Arte to battle. Better yet, the show was filled with anachronistic gadgetry and acrobatic action scenes that remain memorable forty years later.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

So Long, Dom

Dom DeLuise passed away at the age of 75. An incredibly funny comic best known for appearing in Burt Reynolds and Mel Brooks films, DeLuise should be remembered for much more than that. My first recommendation would be to check out his 1973 sitcom LOTSA LUCK, which cast him as a single bus driver living in a house with his sister, his mother, and his lazy brother-in-law, all of whom drove him crazy. It's a good little series that surprisingly available on DVD. Also available from Netflix is the legendary EVIL ROY SLADE, one of the all-time funniest TV-movies, casting John Astin as a wily Western outlaw and Dom in a small role as a shrink.

I'll take the opportunity to link to three old posts that mentioned Dom DeLuise:

Here is getting the shit slapped out of him by Burt Reynolds.

Scroll down a bit to read about Dom's egg fight with Johnny Carson.

And a review of the execrable LOOSE CANNONS in this post about Bob Clark's death.


Did you know that Marty is the 26,636th most popular word in the English language?

McKee: 33,162
Shatner: 66,076

The only time in my life I will ever be twice the man Shatner is.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Through The Past, Darkly

Through the Past, Darkly
January 26, 1980
Music: Stu Phillips
Teleplay: Frank Lupo & Robert L. McCullough
Story: Chris Lucky & Stephen C. Kurzfeld and Glen A. Larson & Frank Lupo
Director: Charles Rondeau

Seems like it shouldn't take five writers to construct a BJ AND THE BEAR episode, especially one as uncomplicated and clich├ęd as this one. A young woman named Pamela Gerard (Judith Chapman) escapes from a mental hospital, where she was sentenced after being accused of stabbing her husband to death in his sleep. She hitches a ride with BJ (Greg Evigan), who eventually recognizes her from a photo in the newspaper. Despite her suspicious behavior, he buys her story after a pair of thugs attempts to kidnap her. She claims Althea Reeves (Lee Menning) was her late husband's mistress and may have been the real killer, but that theory is shot to hell when Mrs. Reeves, the wife of important businessman Preston Reeves (Philip Halverson), is murdered at her home.

Evigan looks confused occasionally, and not because the plot is convoluted. BJ is always helping out pretty girls in distress, but he really has no reason Pamela isn't what she is accused of. She's twitchy and moody, and he even wakes up to find her standing over his bed with a steak knife in the middle of the night. I'd believe she was nuts. BJ gamely plays sleuth, however, to help her nail the real killer with resistance from police lieutenant Landau (Drew Snyder). Director Charles Rondeau keeps the trains running on time, but offers little style or substance.

You can see where the writers may have had construction difficulties. Bear is a lazy deux es machine to get BJ and Pamela out of a sticky situation, and some lines are looped in post-production that must have made sense to somebody at the time, but not to me today. Co-writer Stephen Kurzfeld was later nominated for two Emmys as a producer of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, but this was his only BJ script. Chris Lucky previously co-wrote with Frank Lupo the first-season episode "Shine On."

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Open Season On Rats

When Phillip Magellan was a boy, he toured with a carnival, where he learned everything he knows about firearms. How to clean and care for them, how to shoot them. As an adult, he married, had a son, and opened a gun store in New Orleans. When he refused to sell weapons to the local Mafia, they murdered his family. Now, Magellan is on the run, seeking vengeance against mobsters wherever he goes.

In DEATH HUNT (Belmont Tower, 1973), the second Marksman novel, author Peter McCurtin brings Magellan to New York, where he witnesses a mob hit on Don Vincent Paoli and reluctantly saves the old man's life. At the Paoli home, Magellan makes the acquaintance of the old Don's daughter, Antonia, and makes love to her while an assassin finishes the job on Vincent in the other room. Now emotionally involved in the dispute, Magellan reluctantly inserts himself into the war between the Paoli family and that of Vito Spazzi, who kidnaps Antonia for information.

Told in McCurtin's typically blunt style in just 146 pages, DEATH HUNT racks up a hefty body count, if not much story. The climax is kinda clever, as Magellan discovers a way of using the Coney Island attractions to plan his assault on Spazzi's estate, but wraps up the story much too quickly without a much-needed face-to-face standoff. You can read this thing in just a couple of hours, so take it to the DMV.

Teenage Girls For Sale...

"...and no one cares!" The amazing Ernie Anderson adds titillating innuendo to this 1983 promo for ABC's MATT HOUSTON. Man, they don't sell television shows like this anymore. No wonder network viewership is so low.

Also, the charming Ben Murphy (ALIAS SMITH AND JONES) stars in the shortlived LOTTERY.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Star Trek: The Conversations

The House Next Door takes a look at the first six STAR TREK films, in anticipation of J.J. Abrams' upcoming big-screen remake. I mostly disagree with both critics in their views of the films, characters, performers, etc., but I think the piece is worth reading.