Saturday, December 22, 2012

Indiana Jones and the Use of Supernatural Foreshadowing

An argument could be made that "Raiders of the Lost Ark" is really a perfect movie. It's exciting, it's beautiful to look at. Harrison Ford is perfectly cast, heck everyone is perfectly cast. And as the years go by, it's becoming universally recognized as a classic. No one remembers the one or two lukewarm reviews it received at the time.

And all the pieces come together at the end.

Or do they?

In all the reviews I've read, I haven't seen what I perceive to be two story holes, one minor, one gaping.

The minor: Where's Abner Ravenwood? The first third of the movie, everyone discusses Abner Ravenwood. He would be Marion's father with whom Indiana had a falling out with several years earlier. This guy has a backstory, everyone talks about him, and as a viewer, you sit there and think, "This is a lot of foreshadowing, that Ravenwood guy should be showing up any minute."

And though Marion said "Abner's dead," I was still waiting for him to show up at the end and save the day.

And he never does.

Then, in the third movie, Sean Connery shows up as Indy's dad. Indy's dad! I didn't even know he had a dad. In the two previous movies a dad is never mentioned. Wouldn't it have been better (from a continuity point of view) that Sean Connery play a character already established in the Raiders universe? Someone who it had already been established had a falling out with Indy? Like Abner Ravenwood?

(There is a similar problem in "The Crystal Skull." Ray Winstone keeps saying, "Indy, I've known you for 30 years." And the viewer keeps saying, "No, I've known Indy for 30 years and I've never met you before." Exactly who was that character written for, Sean Connery, John Rhys-Davies?)

Now, the gaping hole.

Ninety-nine percent of Raiders takes place in the real world, or as real as any early-40s Republic serial. Beating up Nazis, exploring scary caves, etc. But then, something happens at the end. Supernatural doings!

Supernatural doings? Where the hell did those homicidal phantoms come from? Picture watching Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and in the last five minutes, ghosts of dead gold prospectors come out of nowhere and kill the bad guys.

Compare this to possibly the best Raiders clone, "The Mummy." The whole movie has supernatural doings. It's established from the beginning that in this universe, the supernatural exists. It's freaky, but it's there. So when there's a supernatural climax, it's not so jarring.

Not so much for Raiders. Sure they say things like the ark is "A radio to talk to God." But even Indiana pooh-poohs this. Then there's the beginning exposition where Indy shows the feds the Bible illustrations of heathens opening the ark getting smited. I suspect at some point Spielberg thought that that wouldn't be enough foreshadowing. This would explain that one tiny scene in the middle where the ark is in a ship's cargo hold, and the mice start freaking out and the swastika stamped on the side of the crate gets scorched.

This was Spielberg's way of preparing you. He is saying, "Crap, as I'm editing this film, I'm just realizing that giving you a supernatural ending without enough foreshadowing is really unfair, but I've sent the cast home for the shoot, so in post-production I'll make a scene with the ark's crate spontaneously doing something supernatural."

The crazy thing is, all the Indiana Jones movies are guilty of this. The first hour and 55 minutes take place in a realistic world. The last five minutes: A supernatural climax! I think the "Mummy" has the better idea. If you're going to make a movie that takes place in a universe where the supernatural is real, then the whole movie should have supernatural doings.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

30 Rock: My Whole Life is Thunder

30 Rock seems to be wrapping up loose ends, and it's an opportunity for the show to get even funnier.

Florence Henderson swilling Windex, the greatest eulogy ever, Jenna responding to bad lighting like a vampire does to sunlight, a room full of women and none of them know how to use a TV remote. Just very funny stuff.

I was happy to see Andrea Martin, she always seemed to me to be a natural fit for the show. I'm surprised she wasn't on sooner.

Both Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey have development deals with NBC and I can't imagine how either of them will be in anything better. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bond Lore

In William Goldman's "Adventures in the Screen Trade" (run out, buy it), he talks about a script he wrote in the 1970s loosely based on a true story. In the 1800s in Virginia, a rich dandy fancied himself a pirate, and even had a pirate ship commissioned (the only one ever) so he could take to the seas and play pirate.

That's the true part, in the Goldman script, the dandy runs across a real pirate, a Blackbeard type, and the two come to loggerheads until (as in true buddy cop movie formula) they must overcome their differences to fight a bigger threat.

Here's the genius part: For the pirates he suggested to the studios that Roger Moore play the dandy, and Sean Connery play Blackbeard.


How come no one else thought of putting the two James Bonds in a movie? I would have paid money to see that.

The script of course never got produced due to the regular list of Hollywood reasons, but still, can you imagine how cool that film would have been?

But...what if...what if they wanted to make the film today? Quick, someone get Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig on the phone!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A pop culture thanksgiving

Here's two of the things I'm grateful for in the world of pop culture:

Jimmy Cagney coming out of retirement after 20 years to be in "Ragtime." He didn't have to do it, but he did. And as I sat in the theater, watching Jimmy Cagney for the first time on the big screen, all I could think of was, "This guy's a movie star!" Thanks Jimmy.

Can you imagine if Cary Grant did the same thing? It would have been amazing.

Also, though I watched "E/R" and enjoyed it, I wouldn't describe myself as a fan. I taped the other Thursday night NBC comedies, but only watched "E/R" when my then-girlfriend was watching it.

That being said, how cool was it that George Clooney came back for Julianna Margulies' final appearance? Think about it, at this time, his contractual obligations were up, he was/is a massive movie star. Massive movie stars simply don't return to the TV series that launched them. Just like Cagney, he didn't have to do it, I'm sure they paid him one-hundredth of what he would have gotten making a movie. The only two reasons I could think of he would do this would be a sense of loyalty to his colleagues on "E/R" and/or a sense of loyalty to his fans. Thanks George.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

More on Lucas

I can't resist adding one more Lucas post. In interviews he's saying he'll be making small personal films now that he's retired. I've been reading interviews with this guy since the '70s, and he's been talking about making small personal films for 35 years now. He's like that old high school friend who keeps telling you he'll be moving to Alaska to run a caribou farm, but everytime you see him, he's still working at the gas station down the street.

It's OK if we're talking about some shmoe in a gas station, but we're talking about the most powerful man in Hollywood. He was talking about making "Red Tails" back in the '80s. HBO beat him to it, and Lucas wound up recycling cast members from the HBO version.

George, you may be the richest, least ambitious person in the history of time.

Side note: You have to love the Mort Drucker one-sheet for "American Graffiti" above. I always thought it was funny that Drucker would later draw the Mad Magazine parody.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Film review: Wreck-it Ralph

A running gag in "Toy Story 3" has the Ken doll insisting he's not a girl's toy. This existential crisis
becomes the basis of "Wreck-it Ralph."

Ralph is a bad guy in his video game, but wants more out of his life. He goes on an adventure driven by the belief that if he earns a medal, he'll be accepted by his peers.

It borrows a lot from the "Toy Story" films (children's playthings have their own lives when the children leave the room), and everytime the characters are in their Grand Central Station, it makes you think of "Monsters Inc." Though not as good as the "Toy Story" trilogy and about as good as "Monsters Inc." if you can put the comparisons aside, it stands alone as a nifty, often clever, dazzling-to-look at film.

It's top heavy with explanation, it seems the first hour is characters explaining the internal logic of the plot, the pace picks up by the third act when we finally get some action, and interaction between Ralph and Venellope, another outcast character who seems to be dealing with her lot in life better than Ralph.

It's no "Toy Story," but a film that comes close is still worth seeing.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


In the '80s I had a temp job filling ATM machines. I drove around in the back of an armored truck driven by retired Philly cops. One of the cops, who after spending a career arresting the worst humanity had to offer, was the most bitterest, cynical, hate-filled crank ever. He was like Sgt. Snorkel, except instead of speaking in the symbols found at the top of the number keys on a typewriter, he spoke in actual curses. He hated blacks, he hated Jews, he hated women, on and on.

Anyway, one day he's complaining about Reagan of all people and I couldn't take it anymore. "Who did you vote for?" I asked. "Because I know you didn't vote for Geraldine Ferraro!"

He told me it was none of my business, but my point was, if you don't vote, you're not allowed to complain.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

It's a small empire after all

By some Internet law, all bloggers must make a comment about the Disney/Lucasfilm merger. So it's my turn.

If it were done during the Eisner era it would have been disastrous because Eisner wouldn't have spent any money on new Star Wars films. He always took the cheap way out, while turning people against each other. This is one of the reasons the Muppet merger never went through until he was gone. (Read  James Stewart's "Disney War," about the Eisner years at Disney).

Now, looking at how they've handled the Marvel properties, the Muppets and Pixar, it's obvious they're willing to spend all kinds of money to make something good. (Even "John Carter," you can call it many things, but at no point did they skimp.)

And after looking at the last three Star Wars movies it's apparent they really can't do worse than Lucas himself.

Here's an idea they will never do: Instead of proceeding with episodes VII, VIII and IX, remake I, II and III.

They were terrible! ( I know it's spitting in the wind to point out shortcomings of films that made a skillion dollars, but, see my first paragraph, it's some Internet law I must obey)

I was in the theaters for the trailers of Episode I, it ended with Darth Vader's breathing. The audience went crazy, a new Darth Vader movie, this would be amazing.

Here's what we get instead
Episode I: A cousin Oliver.
Episode II: Whiny teenager, still no Darth Vader
Episode III: Whiny teenager, Darth Vader shows up for the last 5 minutes, doesn't destroy anything, audience is horribly disappointed, except for rabid fanboys who didn't know they were cheated by subpar writing.

What they should have done was... make the last 15 minutes of Episode III the last 15 minutes of Episode II, then make Episode III two hours of Darth Vader kicking ass and taking names and blowing up planets and being the biggest badass in the galaxy.

We didn't get that. Not even close.

So it's probably a good thing.

There's an interview out there of Gary Kurtz, Lucas' producer for Star Wars and Empire. They parted ways for Return of the Jedi because Kurtz saw it for what it was, a cynical ploy to sell toys by making a best of the first two films.

Now, if Disney hired that guy to produce the sequels, we might get something good.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

When pop star interviews go horribly awry, part 2

I heard a radio interview with Peter Gabriel and he was asked about his song "Call Me," and he explained it was written for his daughter who at the time was having a bad time in her life and he was reaching out to her, letting her know that he would always be there for her. In fact, he thought it was such a personal song he didn't want to put it on an album, but his daughter assured him she wouldn't mind and told him it would be OK to release the song.

Such a sweet story.

A couple years later I hear the song on an AT&T commercial, and I'm yelling at the TV, "Peter Gabriel you big fat phoney!!"

When pop star interviews go horribly awry, part 1

When Paul McCartney was promoting "Give My Regards to Broad Street," he mentioned in an interview that he had asked "Hard Day's Night," and "Help" director Richard Lester to direct. This would have been a wonderful idea, but Lester read the script and told Paul not to do it, it wouldn't work.  Paul told the interviewer he wouldn't be deterred, and he found another director and made the film anyway.

The film became a big flop for 20th Century Fox, and several years later in another interview he was asked about the overall disappointing result of the film, and Paul took blame for its commercial failure, but then as a defense, he said, "When you're Paul McCartney, people have a hard time saying 'no' to you."

In effect he was saying he wished someone had told him it was a bad idea.

At this point I'm listening to this interview and yelling at the radio, "Richard Lester told you no and you wouldn't listen!"

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Gary Collins, RIP

Gary Collins was one of those  actors like Monty Markham and Laurence Luckinbill, who were handsome leading-men types, but despite starring in several series, never had a hit. This would doom him to guest-star parts in "The Love Boat," or "Murder She Wrote."

I remember him from "The Sixth Sense" TV series. In the early 70s a big ESP fad was sweeping the country. I can imagine an ABC executive seeing an ESP story on the cover of Time, and getting a producer on the phone, "Get me a ESP detective show!"

So Collins played a psychic university professor who used his psychic abilities to solve psychic crimes. The character is a wonderful necessity of paranormal and science fiction movies. There's always a pipe-smoking professor who has some scientific explanation for the fantastic plot, and though the explanation would never stand up to any scrutiny, it's a way of giving the viewer permission to go along for the ride.

Tokyo newspaper reporter: 

Doctor Suzuki, a 90-foot sea monster just rose from the sea.

Dr. Suzuki (stroking his beard):

 Yes, recent nuclear testing in that area could have released a 90-foot sea monster lying dormant for 65 million years.

Good enough for me! Let's see the monster stomp through Tokyo!

This time though, instead of being an extraneous character, the professor was the star.

A typical episode would be Collins being called to some Gothic mansion in a small town, where a damsel has been having horrible, violent visions. Collins would show up, and he too would suffer from these visions. And, as it turns out, the damsel is first in line for a big inheritance, and her uncle, who was next in line for the money was using his psychic powers to drive his niece mad by projecting these visions.

And by typical episode, I mean every episode.

This show was a victim of the early 70s Universal television practice of super padding. Collins and the damsel would have a psychic episode and that would include the camera zooming in on Collins' eyes, the camera zooming in on the damsel's eyes, psychedelic scenes of fire, the camera spinning round and round, negative images of everything I just said, all repeated again and again, interminably.

The series would be chopped up and repackaged into "Night Gallery" syndicated reruns. And the psychic segments were still too long.

To its credit, it was the first paranormal investigation show. "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" would come along a little later and though not a hit either, it was a much better show. It had a more interesting leading character, a different monster every week, a lot of cynicism, and...a sense of humor.

This would lead to "The X-Files," which was "Kolchak" with money and time to develop the characters and its own mythology.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Review: Hotel Transylvania

Adam Sandler spends the whole movie playing Dracula with an Eastern European accent which is unfortunate because it's this constant reminder of Steve Carell's accent in the much better, much funnier "Despicable Me."

You sit there and start analyzing. Why was "Despicable Me" so much better? Better jokes, better characters, better plot, better pacing? Pretty much all of the above. It's distracting, you stop paying attention to the film and keep recalling better-done scenes in "Despicable Me."

I saw it with my 5-year-old son and we both sat there for 90 minutes waiting for the movie to start getting funny, and with the exception of a few chortles, it never takes off. Granted it was a Wednesday night, the theater was empty. But the jokes and pacing were leaden.

The film is a mash-up of Rankin-Bass' "Mad Monster Party," and those '60s movies about uptight dads who can't stand the thought of their daughters growing up ("The Impossible Years," with David Niven, "Take Her She's Mine," with Jimmy Stewart. Also the 70s "Super Dad," with Bob Crane and Tony Danza's "She's Out of Control" from the 80s.).

(These movies are funny because the dad doesn't want his daughter dating hippies, and the guys she's hanging out with are squeaky clean Kurt Russell, Bruno Kirby types).

And I kept thinking about the monster jokes from "Mad Monster Party." They're pretty much the same jokes.

And if you can sum up all the many cliches in this movie in one line it would be: "He's in love and he must get to the airport!"

Saturday, September 29, 2012

More actresses who deserved better

In an earlier post I wrote about TV actresses who got the thankless job of being the girlfriend of Little Joe, Capt. Kirk, Dr. Richard Kimble, and after a quick courtship and sometimes marriage, get killed by rustlers/Klingons/whatever.

Here's some more, but as we moved into the 70s the actresses sometimes got better parts later on.

France Nguyen (above) was one of Capt. Kirk's girlfriends who didn't get killed, but some 20 years later played a doctor on St. Elsewhere. My point is, whereas most Capt. Kirk girlfriend types continued to play girlfriends and secretaries, a few got roles as professionals. It took 20 years, but it happened.

Bonnie Bedelia, all in one episode of Bonanza, met Little Joe, fell in love with him, married him, then was killed by rustlers (I think). She would later get the thankless roles as wife of Bruce Willis/Harrison Ford. Whereas most of Harrison Ford's movie wives were hostages, Bedelia actually had a strong role in "Presumed Innocent." She was Willis' hostage wife in Die Hard and Die Hard 2.

She got rave reviews as Shirley Muldowney in "Heart Like a Wheel," which makes the hostage wife roles more tragic. She did play a precinct commander on "The District."

Anne Archer was the thankless wife in "Fatal Attraction," and one of Harrison Ford's hostage wives in "Patriot Games."

Meg Foster was a perpetual guest star through the 70s-90s. She had a strong role in Sam Pekinpah's "The Osterman Weekend," and was half of "Cagney & Lacey" for a few episodes before getting booted from the show for whatever reason. Once again, an actress who deserved better.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bugs Bunny news

The story is Warner Bros. is going to make another Bugs Bunny live action/CGI film and Jenny Slate is going to write it.

The Jenny Slate thing doesn't bother me, afterall, she was the best thing about the last Alvin and the Chipmunks film.

The CGI thing doesn't bother me, this is the future, there's no turning back.

What bothers me is the live action part. Why why why must they do this? Why can't it be *all* cartoon? Roger Rabbit ruined full-length character-revival cartoons for everyone. Think about it, every time a classic cartoon has been revived it had to be done part live action:

Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Chipmunk films, Casper, the last two Loony Tunes films, the Smurfs! And what did they all have in common? Mostly all of them sucked! (I'm giving a pass to "Loony Tunes Back in Action," because though it did suck, Joe Dante's heart was in the right place, and there were a million funny ideas, but the whole film just didn't come together (The Louvre sequence came closest to bringing Chuck Jones back to life))

I don't see Pixar teaming the Incredibles up with Justin Beiber, nor have they teamed up Nemo with Tyler Perry. There's a reason Pixar doesn't put live-action actors in its movies: Because Pixar doesn't want to make movies that blow!

Bugs Bunny doesn't need Brendan Fraser, Bugs Bunny doesn't need Jenna Elfman, and as God as my witness, Bugs Bunny doesn't need Michael Jordan (worst idea for movie ever).

I'll tell you who else Bugs Bunny didn't need: Clark Gable. Think of those Loony Tunes when they slipped in movie stars from the 1940s. Children from all over the world watch these cartoons today and say, "I don't get it." Putting real people in these movies dates them...immediately... and you might get a chuckle the year the film comes out, but after that, you get a movie that blows.

Give me a movie with all the Loony Tunes characters on a 90-minute adventure with lots of subversive humor.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Adventure Comics 395

So back on Krypton they had these triceratop creatures who had giant flat-screen TVs on their heads that showed the viewer the animal's intentions, which for the most part were eating the viewer. In fact I think this was the only channel on triceratop TV, the triceratop eating you.

Let's look at some practical implications. If that animal is charging you, do you really need to read its mind to know what it wants to do?

Second, apparently, DC Comics invented the flat-screen TV.

Seriously though...

This was not the Kryptonian Thought Beast's first appearance in DC Comics, I know he appeared before but I couldn't tell you when or where. It might have been one of those Mort Weisinger stories of Superman going back in time to Krypton where he, Lois or Lana were always screwing around with Kryptonian history.

I read this when I was 7. I didn't buy it though, one of my brothers or sisters might have brought it in the house. Either way I remember staring at the vivid colors on the Swan-Anderson cover and falling in love with Supergirl.

The book disappeared (I suspect mom threw it out), this was before I was buying/collecting, so years later I tracked down the issue and snapped it up. (Pre-eBay, no easy feat). Upon revisiting the book I was surprised that the cover image represented the back-up story! And the art inside was by Kurt Shaffenberger, and as good as he was, he wasn't as good as Swanderson.

All in all, a lot of fun for 15 cents, and then 10 years later for $5.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Review: "How to Murder Your Wife"

I just caught this Jack Lemmon comedy on TCM (again). If I turn on the TV and it's on, I have to sit through the whole thing.

First of all, it's a relic! An anachronism! A Mad Men, first couple seasons of Bewitched look at how men regarded woman in the early 60s. Single women were for sex and ogling, and wives were smothering/mothering annoying obstacles to freedom! And, it was a man's world, what MST3K would describe as "when doughy white men walked the earth." Lots of martinis and palling with the boys, and suits and ties.

The creators had no idea they were making a timepiece

If you ignore some of the unsavory implications (at one point, Lemmon slips his wife a "goofball."), it's actually very funny. And the last scene between Lemmon and his wife (Virna Lisi, filmed to look even more beautiful than she really is) is actually very sweet.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

R.I.P. Joe Kubert

His career spanned 70 years! He was always 10 years ahead of most other artists. It's an amazing body of work.

Monday, July 30, 2012

James Bond farm teams

As a James Bond fan, I've been interested in the use of copycat casting in the films. Let's think about this for a second. As James Bond became a big phenomena, naturally, imitation being the most sincere form of television, the copycats began. In "The Avengers" we have dapper international crime fighters.
Now, when the James Bond filmmakers needed a love interest for Goldfinger, they turn to the Avengers and recruit Honor Blackman.

OK, as they say in the novel Goldfinger, once is happenstance.

Then Honor Blackman was replaced in the Avengers by Diana Rigg. And when the Bond producers needed a love interest for "On Her Majesty's Secret Service," they get...Diana Rigg.

Twice is coincidence.

When it was time to replace Sean Connery (for the second time), they turned to "The Saint," a TV show about a dapper, tuxedo-wearing globetrotting crime fighter and snagged Roger Moore.

Three times is enemy actions.

(In fairness, the literary Saint predated the literary James Bond.)

But it doesn't stop there. When it was time to replace Moore, the first choice was Pierce Brosnan, who at the time was playing a dapper, tuxedo-wearing globetrotting crime fighter in "Remington Steele." (a Bond footnote. "Remington Steele was as good as cancelled when it was announced Brosnan would be the new Bond. NBC happy with all this publicity, un-cancelled Remington Steele, forcing Brosnan to sit out the next two Bond films. (This worked out for the best I think. I think Brosnan needed time to age into the role.)

All in all, not a lot of imagination in these casting choices. This is why they should get credit for taking chances on the actors with no Bond farm team experience: George Lazenby (a model), Timothy Dalton (who had never played a contemporary role in a film before), and Daniel Craig (who had experience playing gun-toting tough guys, but not as a good guy.).

They should also get credit for casting Sean Connery after his role in "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," in a role obviously written for Cary Grant or David Niven.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The dead-wife contrivance

Another contrivance that bothers me is the dead-wife-running-sub-plot. "The Fugitive" invented this so they get a lifetime pass. The premise being, through the course of a series, there's a background mystery in which the hero must find his wife's killer. But in practice, only relatively few episodes hit on this, or they might mention it once in a while. The unspoken promise is by the last episode the mystery will be solved.

Let's look at "The Fugitive," sure he was looking for his wife's killer, but that was the string that pulled him from city to city where he'd eventually do other stuff. Protect a single mom from the town bully, stand up to union busters, whatever. All the while he's on the run from Det. Girard.

This was of course wonderful. It started turning into a cliche when others jumped on the bandwagon.

The worst offender was the '70s TV version of the Hulk. A man who occasionally turned into a big green monster wasn't enough of a plot, someone thought, so the running subplot was he was on the run because he was somehow framed for his wife's death, but in the meanwhile he's protecting single moms from town bullies and standing up to union busters. You can see the pitch meeting, "I tell ya' J.L., it writes itself. It's just like "The Fugitive," but David Janssen turns into a big green monster every week!" And, he's being pursued by a tabloid reporter instead of a dogged cop. Absolutely unnecessary. It's the Hulk for heaven's sake.

The X-Files variation was Mulder was on the trail of the aliens (or shady government arm) who kidnapped his sister. The producers seemed almost embarrassed by this, and it was only brought out once in a great while, mostly, it was hardly ever mentioned.

Then came "Monk." Once again, you can hear the pitch meeting. "He's a brilliant detective, but he has crippling, hysterical OCD. It'll be just like those NBC Mystery Movies back in the '70s, like Columbo or McCloud, the brilliant detective with a quirky personality." And then some TV executive pees on it by saying, "Yeah, sounds good, but he needs a dead wife subplot in the background." And the creators relented and said, "OK." It seemed very tacked on.

I was disappointed in the "Night Stalker" remake of a few years back. They totally disassembled it and reassembled it as "The X-Files II" (this is funny because Chris Carter listed "The Night Stalker" as one of the influences of "The X-Files.") So instead of a shlubby down-on-his luck reporter in a beat-up Mustang, the new "Night Stalker" had a handsome, well-dressed reporter who drove a new Mustang. Guys, you sucked the fun out of it! Also he was given a skeptical partner, and, finally.... a subplot dead wife mystery going on in the background. How disappointing, instead of "Night Stalker" they just should have called it "X-Files: The Next Generation."

In fairness, as a "Night Stalker" reboot it was awful, but as an X-Files copy, it was really good.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Needlessly complicated contrivances

I've sensed a whole new genre on television. I've deemed it the Needlessly Complicated Contrivance genre. This would be where the premise has a hook that at first seems intriguing, then as you watch the show you think: They don't need that hook at all. And since all these shows had really short runs, I might be on to something

Some examples:
Life on Mars. Premise: A cop from the present is transported to the 70s to be a cop with 70s cops. Why can't it just be a show called "70s Cops."? That'd be good: Cops still bitter over the Miranda ruling, some pre-Rodney King suspect abuse, pre-DNA detective work. This could be a good drama. You don't need the observer-participant from the future premise at all. It was kind of self-defeating.

My Own Worst Enemy. Premise: By day a suburban dad, by night a secret agent. The hook: But due to some computer chip in his head or something, each of his identities knows nothing of the other! Why couldn't it just be suburban dad by day, secret agent at night?

Awake. Premise Jason Isaacs is an incredibly handsome cop who's living in two realities (a la Sliding Doors), one in which his wife died in a car crash, the other in which his son died in the accident. Once again, needlessly complicated contrivance.  Can't he just be a dashingly handsome cop? Ideally producers want shows to last at least 4-5 seasons. How long could you do this? In fairness, of the shows I'm writing about I never watched this one, so maybe it was the best show on TV. But I'm thinking, like the others, it had high production values and was a pleasure to watch...but...

Doll House. Premise: Eliza Dushku is an agent of some mysterious corporation that sends out "dolls" to fulfill wishes, do secret agent work, and when she's done, her memory is erased until her next assignment where she's programmed to do what's needed. Why can't she just be an agent who does stuff? In fairness the show was cancelled pretty quickly and it was just starting to explore who the real Eliza Dushku was and what exactly was behind the mysterious corporation. But still, let's look at another Joss Whedon show for contrast: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Premise: Vampire slayer slays vampires. OK. Simple. She wasn't a vampire slayer who traveled through time, she wasn't a vampire slayer with amnesia. No!

There are several others whose runs were over so quick I can't even remember their names. One was a cop inexplicably pulled back and forth through time and in the episode I saw he functioned as a family counselor. Just stop.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cowardly lions

So we're thinking, why was it so hard for the people at Penn State to do the right thing? Then we brush the dirt off our hands and think, "Well it's over now. Let's move on."

No, it's not over yet. And we're still not doing the right thing.

Take the statue down.



And they took it down. I was afraid it would take years of hand-wringing, procrastination and emails, which is exactly how they got in trouble in the first place.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Something else my son got me hooked on

I'm watching "Gravity Falls" on the Disney Channel. And like "Phineas and Ferb" it's perfectly enjoyable for kids and their parents. It's a mixture of "Twin Peaks," "Eerie Indiana" and "X-Files." Just funnier. (in fact, the theme song has these "X-Files" touches to it.)

Kristen Schaal is somehow funnier on the cartoon than she is on "The Daily Show."

Well worth checking out.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Blondie still a hottie

I'm of the belief that once a comic strip's creator dies, the syndicate should pull the plug on the strip. The strip becomes a lifeless zombie otherwise (I'm looking at you Hagar the Horrible). The one exception I'd make though is Blondie. Though not consistently funny, every once in a while it will blindside me and make me laugh out loud.

The writer has been working at keeping up on the times, Dagwood has an iMac, his kids use cell phones. They've made Facebook jokes. Sometimes this seems forced and sometimes it works just right.

I like that Dithers hasn't changed in 80 years. Dagwood still has that universal, timeless appeal of being a slouch. And Blondie has a great rack.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No "Thin Man" remake?

It's been reported that after the disappointing returns on "Dark Shadows," Warner Bros. will not be remaking "The Thin Man" with Johnny Depp.

I'm of mixed emotions. One on hand, it's a classic! Hollywood shouldn't remake classics! On the other hand, the film is 80 years old! Perhaps the statute of limitations has run out and it's time to see what modern Hollywood can bring to the classic. (Color for starters, then Johnny Depp).

We haven't heard the end of this though. It's too good a property to leave alone, and, let's face it,   it's the only film Hollywood hasn't remade  yet.

But who....George Clooney and Rachel Weisz?

Friday, June 22, 2012

Movie review: The Avengers

Why in the world isn't DC Comics backing a truck full of money up to Joss Whedon's house to have him write/direct a Superman movie or a JLA movie? This is incomprehensible. And they didn't want him for Wonder Woman? Insane!

Great action sequences, great effects. Dialogue that made everyone distinct. And, a genuine love of comic books. This is what he would have done if each episode of Buffy had a $200 million budget.

And even with a film crowded with heroes, everyone got a chance to shine either in action or exposition sequences. The first two-thirds are the characters fighting each other, the last third they're fighting the aliens. Just like the comic books! And this is the difference between DC and Marvel. In Marvel books the characters are always at each other's throats, DC didn't start that til relatively recently.

During the climax I was thinking of the last 5 minutes of the last episode of Angel where the sky opened up and these monsters started pouring out (including a dragon). The series ended at that point, but Joss picks it up right where he left off for the last battle sequence.

Very funny, making Mark Ruffalo, the most soft-spoken actor in Hollywood play the Hulk, what a great contrast. And the Hulk looked like Ruffalo. (minor quibble, in the Hulk's first appearance he's uncontrollable, when it's time to smash the aliens, he's suddenly rational.)

I know this review is late, but if you've been on the fence, go see it in a theater while you still have the chance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Overdue, half-hearted DVD review: Bender's Big Score

I keep trying to watch this, and I keep not being able to get through it. I'm a big Futurama fan, but this DVD seemed like a half hour episode stuffed with 90 minutes of filler. It also reminded me of those 1960s Warner Bros. cartoons where the original artists had left, and nothing worked: the music, the timing, the characterizations. Nothing. I also kept thinking of those pathetic Green Acres, Beverly Hillbillies reunion movies in the 70s and 80s.

Look at the scamming aliens in this. I know they're not supposed to be pretty, but the design is just ugly. And where are the overbites? They look like they stepped out of different cartoon altogether, like a mid-70s Ralph Bakshi work. And they don't sound right either.

Once again, this is from someone who loves Futurama. I have not seen the new episodes since the return, I have to check them out. I'm thinking they just had a hard time getting back in gear. Or as the French say, "The first pancake goes to the dog."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cool new covers

My ebooks have cool new art. Clip art, it's wonderful. The trick is finding models who don't have this soulless look in their eyes.

One of the oddest pictures I saw in my search was that of a cheerleader with a big smile offering a pizza. I'm not sure who that's supposed to appeal to...except ofcourse everyone.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

CD Review: That's Why God Made the Radio

Every professional review I've read so far has started the same way: "I really didn't expect to like this album, but..."

I must admit that despite being a big Brian Wilson fan, I felt the same way. When I heard the Beach Boys play "Do It Again," recently to promote this album I thought, "We don't need another album of the Beach Boys covering the Beach Boys."

Their live performances on talk shows also scared me a bit.

But it's all new material, they sound amazing and it's possibly the best Beach Boys album since...dare I say it..."Pet Sounds?"

I'll have to listen to it a few more times, but it's all there, the '50s harmonies, the songs of surf and sand from the early albums, the introspection from the late 60s albums. And yet is all sounds new. Brian's in top form.

This is one of those albums that are best enjoyed while bicycling through the park, or turning down the lights and putting on the head phones.

Even the critics who didn't like the CD still liked the last three songs, but the standout for me is "Strange World," a hook-laden song ready for the radio. And ironically, sounds least like a Beach Boys song. It's a cross between "Life in a Northern Town," and Depeche Mode.

The Boys did something no one expected, once again provide a soundtrack for summer.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Gay Green Lantern first reaction

I haven't read the book yet so I probably shouldn't say anything...and I've been telling anyone who'd listen that the JSA has to leave the past behind in favor of a new start...but...

Making GL gay just seems like an act of trendiness rather than an act of good writing.

Think about 1986. The Crisis on Infinite Earths reboot. Dr. Light, Dr. Mid-Nite and Wildcat were each replaced with minority women (Asian, black, Hispanic respectively). Remember? Of course not. It seemed like a good idea for about an hour, then all three characters disappeared and were forgotten within months. No further thought was put into it than, "Hey, I have an idea, let's replace B-listers with minority women." Then the thinking stopped.

Hopefully I'm wrong.

It is hilarious reading comments from people who say putting a gay character in a comic book will turn children gay. I've been reading comics for 40 years and I still can't fly!

Monday, May 28, 2012

TPB Review: Supreme

I complain a lot that comic books today lack a sense of wonder, and worse, fun! Alan Moore thought the same thing when he was writing Supreme for Image. Supreme was Moore's homage to the Weisenger-era Superman. After starting the trend of gritty, realistic comics in the '80s, he was in the '90s almost apologizing. Making them fun again.

Each issue started with a modern-day story, then switched to a thematically linked flashback drawn in the style of the silver age, and for an added touch, printed on intentionally yellowed paper. How cool is that? For a half hour you were ten again reading from a big stack of silver-age comics. Then the modern story would wrap things up.

I loved they got 1960s Supergirl artist Jim Mooney to do the flashback Suprema story. I was in comic nerd heaven. If only they could have gotten Curt Swan to do an issue.

The books are available in trade paperback. Go! Pick them up!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The funniest show you're not watching

I didn't intend for this blog to review children's entertainment, but having two monkeys, that's what I see mostly.

With that in mind, if you're not DVRing Phineas and Ferb, start! It's kind of a buried treasure on the Disney Channel. Your kids already watch this, but you should give it a try.

It's like the Simpsons in that you can watch it with your kids and you'll both be entertained for different reasons. Also like the Simpsons, its long runs allow running jokes and hilarious self-referencing. The more you watch, the funnier it gets.

Phineas and Ferb are two little boys who wile away the summer days completing colossal backyard projects. Making a beach (complete with ocean and calypso band), a ski lodge with slopes (with the aid of an icee maker), water parks, time machines, etc. Everything manages to self-destruct or get disassembled before mom comes home. Building the project usually involves a musical montage. Once I saw the Bollywood musical parody I was hooked.

It's all very silly and the humor is very subtle. While riding a roller coaster climbing skyscraper heights, Phineas tells his passengers, "In the event of an emergency, your seat cushion can be used as a tombstone."

There's a tattle-tail sister, a mad scientist and a pet platypus who is secretly a spy, but I don't want to confuse you. Check it out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

When Great Directors Make Awful Movies

Here's the entirety of "Dr. T and the Women:"

Overprimped women in the waiting room of their gynecologist stomp their high-heels saying, "But I just have to see Dr. T now!"

Cut to Richard Gere in his office stressfully rubbing his temples.

That's the whole freaking movie.

Actually there is a little bit about his wife having adult onset Manic Pixie Dream Girl disease which is OK when you're 18, but tragic when you're 50.

And Helen Hunt is there. Of course she is. She spent the 1990s playing the girlfriend of men twice her age. Tom Hanks, Jack Nicholson, Woody Allen(!), Mel Gibson. If Sean Connery made one more movie, I'm certain she would have been the leading lady.

And in the end, Richard Gere's car gets sucked into a tornado and drops him off at an Indian reservation where he delivers a baby. See! He's going back to his roots! It's deep!

The Most Depressing Film of All Time

In Pennies From Heaven, Steve Martin plays a failing sheet music salesman in the Depression who squanders a loan from I think his wife's family, leaves the wife for a grade school teacher, gets the teacher pregnant and then leaves her. She gets fired and winds up being a prostitute and Martin ultimately gets hung for the murder of a blind girl he didn't commit.

Throughout this, the cast breaks out into 1930s-era gay song and dance numbers.

Get it? It's contrast! Every character is miserable, but when they fantasize, they're happy! Catnip for film critics.

Can you imagine the executive meeting for this movie? At some point, someone asked, "Sounds good, but who's going to play the heartless bastard?" And then someone else had to say, "I know, let's get the funniest man in America!"

Meanwhile the marketing executive was gaping in horror. There would be no way he could sell this film, and when it flopped, he'd get canned.

In one painful scene, Steve Martin's wife is trying to get him to stay. "I'm wearing lipstick!" she offers. Martin says "So what."

"On my nipples!" She then takes off her top, she has lipstick on her nipples and Steve Martin gets aroused...because, obviously this is his fetish, and no decent man would have this fetish...and he had obviously asked her to  do this, ..and ..and..the audience just squirms deeper into their seats.

I actually took a date to this movie. Afterward we decided it was best to break up because seeing each other again would just bring back painful memories of this film.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Actresses who deserved better

Spending my formative years watching entirely too much TV from the 1960s, I've been fascinated with that small pool of actresses who got that thankless job of being the hero's great love interest for one episode before getting killed by either rustlers, klingons, or an incurable disease...then...never being mentioned again!

Susan Oliver, Mariette Hartley, Diane Baker, France Nguyen. All beautiful, talented actresses, most with Broadway credentials, and all in this rotation to be Jim West's or Jim Kirk's or Little Joe's girlfriend. This pool of talent was so small, some of these actresses would show up two or three times in the same series playing different characters each time.

The tragedy is, they were always the girlfriend, when most could have been the lead in her own show. With the exception of Honey West, I don't think there were any shows with a female lead.  A woman as the lead doctor/lawyer/police detective/spaceship captain wouldn't happen until the 70s. (the 90s in the case of spaceship captain).

Anyway, this is a good site to go to for pictures of and comments on these actresses of the 60s and 70s. Search for "Yum"