Saturday, March 31, 2012

Season of the One Season Wonder...

Success is great and all, it has its lessons to impart, but failure is no slouch in the race to be "educator of the year".

I make no secret that failed television series utterly fascinate me, "one season wonders" I calls em', back in Channel Zero's Outlaw Days we used to screen them with perverse impunity.
That was back in olden analog times, these days all sorts of obscure televisual catastrophes get tossed out onto DVD, in many cases it's a last attempt to cash in on a series that lacks a sufficient episode count to be profitable in syndication.

Two upcoming titles of note:

The Invisible Man (1975) This was a hugely hyped NBC series circa 1975 starring David McCallum as an invisible scientist who undertook secret agent stuff for the government. As I recall this was NBC's response to the whole "Six Million Dollar Man" phenom. To be honest, David McCallum with his huge blonde cranium, is nigh perfect at this sort of role he has a certain sly wit and never takes the outlandish set up too seriously.
Too bad the scripts were all mid seventies spy stuff, mediocre and uninspired. The Show went for the terminal dirt nap after seventeen weeks, as I recall NBC execs blamed the failure on the fact that McCallum's character was happily married and thus limiting plot possibilities!

So of course, Harv Bennett (showrunner on "The Six Million Dollar Man) was hired to create a sort of successor series called "The Gemini Man" which was an unmarried rakehell invisible secret agent played by the weirdly uncharismatic Ben Murphy. Damn thing went off a cliff in seventeen week, David McCallum no doubt laughed. If the Gemini Man ever turns up on DVD I'll discuss it in more detail to be sure.`

Logan's Run (1977) Ahhhhh 1977, a storied year when Science Fiction went from a nerdy cult to An Industry, overnight thanks to Star Wars/Close Encounters.
All the TV networks wanted in, unfortunately, CBS got the bright notion that the cheap and witless film version of "Logan's Run" was a good bet for an ongoing television series. In the patois of the time it was "a natural" with it's simpleminded futuristic hash of "The Fugitive" the sort of set up readily understandable to television executives.
The show had problems, chiefly it's lead, Gregory Harrison a preposterously handsome actor who could underplay a test pattern, he was duly buttressed by actor-writer Donald Moffat as Rem the Android a sort of acerbic Mister Spock knock off and Heather Menzies a decorous actress whose character thought a minidress and ballet slippers acceptable post apocalyptic attire.
For all that, the show had some serious science fiction chops behind the cameras, Star Trek alum DC Fontana was the story editor and she was able to hook in no less than Harlan Ellison and David Gerrold to contribute scripts before the ax fell.
Maybe it was the concept, these Fugitive knock offs fall into crippling formula pretty quickly if you don't watch out, or maybe it was the cheap cardboard sets...still Heather Menzies was easy on the eye and Donald Moffat was pretty funny all told...As for Gregory Harrison, I hear he was always good to his mother.

BTW The Four "Man from Atlantis" TV movies have been released on DVD, regardless of Patrick Duffy's lingering appeal, the main reason to pick up something like this is to see the Late Victor Buono as the evil "MIster Shubert".
MyGhod but that man was born to play villains, from his days on "Batman" and "The Wild Wild West" Buono stole every single scene he was ever in with aplomb! If you want to watch a classically trained Shakespearean effortlessly redeem mediocre material then by all means track these sonsabitches down.

Well there you have it, ghod almighty we really LIVED in the mid 1970's....

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Red Line...

Is "One Hundred Years Young" as of today.

The rat infested sumbitch makes me late for dinner on a regular basis.

It is filthy...

The PA systems literally vary in functionality from car to car.

You get me home in about the same amount of time it took my father to commute from Government Center in 1966, this you regard as a sort of triumph over adversity.

The damn thing desperately needs a maintenance upgrade, both the rolling stock and the tunnels themselves as well as the switching system.

One does not exit the parking garage at Alewife Station, one competes one's sentence and is tardily sent out into the world.

It has compelled me to walk from South Station to Central Square on one memorable occasion and lesser strolls at various times.

It keeps the cab companies very much in the black.

Ghod help the Red Line commuter on the day after a blizzard, a medieval oxcart would be a surer mode of transport.

But what the hell, without it, I'd be digging ditches on Mount Gilboa in Arlington, and all those delays have proved a heaven sent change to get caught up on my reading.

So Happy Birthday Red Line...yer a dirty swine but you are all I have to get to and fro my phony baloney job.
I may not love you, but I'll still be there for you long after everyone else has taken to hang-gliding to work or flipped over to some sort of sail powered skatboard hybrid.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

From left to right...

there seems to be a nigh universal skittishness among The Parents of America about letting their elementary school offspring see "The Hunger Games" (Which opens Friday I guess).
These are the "Wife Swap" type parents, overbearing Xians, Alternastyle Hippies, Helicopter parents off all stripes...concerned that upsetting images will take root in their issue's soft little noggins.
Yet these are the same people that would be rotten glad if their kids read and appreciated the carnage and bloodshed in The Book of Judges...or Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus (highest bodycount of all Shakespeare's works BTW).
Ah, but that is the point, different emotions and parts of the brain are activated by reading as opposed to viewing.
Put it another way, no kid is ever wracked with nightmare from merely reading about the feeding habits of H.G. Welles' martians from the War of the Worlds.
But just see that sh*t on the big screen and it's Katey-Bar-The-Door.
Well I can afford to be specious, I have no children no hostages to horrific fortune so to speak.
I saw plenty of horror films whence but a youth, a few of them very scary indeed, but nothing of that pursued me to adulthood.
But lets face it, reality is plenty scary for grown ups, that is what keeps me up at night.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Pick of the Week!

"My Living Doll" infamous one-season wonder from 1964 is at last available on DVD.
Julie Newmar stars as "Rhoda the Robot", an Air Force AI project seconded to a psychiatrist played by the insufferablly smarmy Bob Cummings who is tasked to turn the shapely automaton into the "the perfect woman".
Supposedly Cummings walked off the show after twenty one episodes due to conflicts with the methody Julie Newmar, that and the fact that he wanted to ditch the blame for the inevitable cancellation...vaguely rodentish Jack Mullaney filled in until the show went for the terminal dirt nap in whatever cemetery is reserved for patriarchy driven comedy.

This is a sitcom concept designed to give even Marabel Morgan the screaming of course I have to have it.
For historic purposes of course!
Years ago Channel Zero once had a scheme to screen some old female driven mind sixties teevee shows, appalling obscurities like "Occasional Wife","The Governor and J.J." and the lead off was most definitely gonna be "My Living Doll".
We were gonna call "Riot Grrls of the Great Society"...

"Regrets, I've had a few..."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

I just watch "The Celebrity Apprentice" for the movie trailers...

And this week they were pimping out hard for the Farrelly Brothers' "Three Stooges" revival.
To be blunt it looks awful in extremis.
You can't impersonate what was "Lightning in a Bottle" by way of post war TV re-runs you just can't.
Mind you, "Animal Crackers" the play gets revived now and again with Marx Brothers Impersonators, but that was a work specifically written for the brothers as characters.
To revive it, you have to impersonate Groucho, Chico, Harpo & Zeppo....The Farrellys are creating a ersatz original work featuring Moe Larry & Curly's likenesses. There is an important distinction between revival and joyless simulacrum.
Why not wait on the technology to digitally recreate The Stooges...Hire Andy Serkis to mime Moe Howard?
Me I'm waiting for a lavish Shemp Howard biopic starring Sean Penn as the embattled Horowitz Brother.
Hell what I really want is Shemp Howard's old solo Columbia Two Reelers to get released on DVD, it is my firm conviction that Shemp did his best work alone.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

John Carter (Of Mars) (2012)

Before I swing into my usual palaver, I want to say firmly and unequivocally that I liked this film, it has perhaps the best man versus four-armed albino ape fight ever committed to whatever the hell has finally replaced celluloid.
Oh they made changes to be sure, the villainous straw that stirs the drink has been beefed up from Book to Movie, "The Holy Therns" once a decadent theocracy have now become parasitic immortal shapeshifting super villains but do not worry, much of Burroughs theme and intent seems intact.
And Taylor Kitsch (Our Leading Man) is a man to watch, if in nothing more than Steve Reeves was once a man to watch when the curtain rose on his hour in the spotlight.
For that fact, Lynn Collins is most definitely a woman to watch in the best Frank Frazetta Cover sense of the term.

True though, my expectations were controlled and low as I eased into my seat at the Reading Imax Theater, I recalled sitting thru "The Land That Time Forgot" in 1974 in Fresh Pond with expectations as high as Hindenburg.
As I've said before, we are in a third age of peplum movies, buff supernormal actors cavorting semi naked thru some mythological realm tarted up with as much CGI as common decency allows.
In that respect, Director Andrew Stanton succeeded, he spent an amount of money comparable to Mitt Romney's entire fortune and every damn penny is up there on the screen for all to see.
Alas it may well be a case of "Too Much Too Late".
Just for a moment though, I'd like to digress, as co-curator of the Channel Zero Film & Video Series (now in our sixteenth year of genteel obscurity) I can speak as an expert in the attempted revival of departed genres. From Peplum Movies (Hercules Unchained and Hercules in the Haunted World) to the Ritz Brothers ("The Gorilla"), Channel Zero has manfully attempted to spark new audiences to forgotten artists and their films.
And if it is one thing we've learned down through the years, there are some dead horses that are strangely resistant even a thorough beating.
It doesn't stop us from trying (Jungle Girl pictures anyone? Believe me we are working on it!), and Ghod Bless Andrew Stanton he was certainly in there pitching, but I fear it was all for naught.
What is Old is Not Always New, sometimes it can be The Original and yet still Derivative.
In the case of Edgar Rice Burroughs' sumptuous Mars Series, the man literally invented the entire genre of extraterrestrial geo-politics, braced it with a heavy load of exo-zoology and armored it with the Modern Myth of the Messiah From Another Planet.
And that is just the first book, written in 1912, in an eleven book series!
Tevis' The Man Who Fell to Earth, Siegel & Shuster's Kal El, Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land, Cameron's Avatar and dozens of others all shamelessly derive from Burroughs' protean imagination.
But because Edgar Rice Burrough's epic science fiction has been largely off market in terms of film or television adaptations nigh these one hundred years the general audience has no idea that ERB's "Barsoom" is the robust original and not some preposterous "Dune" knock off.
And that is the shoal on which the film founders, it comes to market fifty years too late. If for example a string of low budget "John Carter Warlord of Mars" peplum movies got churned out in the 1960's, shot in Spain and starring Gordon Scott and Maria Canale (directed by Mario Bava natch) there might have been enough of cultural hook on which to hang the current incarnation.
But there isn't ERB's science fiction has languished so long it has become too strong a purely literary cult with no links out to the mass audience.
Tarzan, John Carter's almighty cousin in African has no such problem, he has never vanished off the cultural radar screen since he slaughtered his first lion and proposed to howl about it.
But still, it was a well attended show last night, in front of me sat a little blonde nine year old girl, who watched with Saucer Eyes the whole myth unfold.
She was peppering her poor befuddled father after the show with questions about "The Other Mars Books" as they departed, I am sure Wikipedia got consulted via Iphone in the car on the way home.
I suspect this film won't make enough money to warrant a sequel, but maybe just maybe it'll plant a seed for the next generation.
Meanwhile, I do love it when my favorite books become good movies or even passable ones, but there is something to treasure about Edgar Rice Burroughs and his science fiction that is so very impregnable to successful film adaptation.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Trout Fishing on Barsoom or E.R.B. Appreciated...

Over and above the "assigned classics" (Twain, Dickens or Poe), a few select authors will follow one's boyhood to an adult's estate.
For me, one of that elite few, is Edgar Rice Burroughs, Creator of Tarzan, Discoverer of Barsoom, Amtor, Pellucidar plus a host of other places and just possibily the real father of Modern Science Fiction.
I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs about 1974, a most auspicious year at the tender age of twelve my mind was at last opening up to all the possibilities fantasy literature had to offer.
Dyslexia was behind me, Mars, Venus, Captain Kirk and the Galaxy beckoned.
That and those god-damned Frank Frazetta covers to Edgar Rice Burrough's then omnipresent reprints, a boy of twelve will never ever forget the like.
As a writer, Burroughs knew what his audience liked, two fisted gentleman heroes, adventurers who must first survive some bizarre undiscovered location, second they must scoop up a veritable dream princess for a mate and thirdly they must conquer and rule justly.
This was John Carter Warlord of Mars, Carson Napier of Venus, Tarzan of the Apes, David Innes in Pellucidar and on and on and on.
Burroughs made that formula sing arias in over eighty novels.
Gore Vidal once wrote a cheeky ode to Tarzan and Edgar Rice Burroughs back at the dawn of the Age of Camp in the 1960's. He noted Burrough's misspellings, his spotty sense of African zoology and then swung into a long praiseful discourse on the superiority of Burroughs' "fight scenes".
According to Vidal, no one wrote better fistfights which was no small achievement, apparently writing brawls is a hard business, too often they are written as boring or laughable affairs.
And in truth, Burroughs' fight scene do pop off the page pretty consistently, be it Tarzan tackling a gorilla or John Carter skewering an assassin.
Burroughs heroes are expert & upright users of violence.
If Burroughs had a flaw as a fantasy writer, it is that his heroes inevitable comquered all and ran up into a meta contextual wall, they've won, now what?
After all who wants to read about the adventures of a beloved all powerful Emperor?
Burroughs got around this by wrapping series up and moving on to other planets and realm or else putting heretofore lower ranking members of the supporting cast in the spotlight.
If need be he'd restart the whole mishaugas by throwing the original hero's Son into the mix.
With Tarzan Burroughs' staved off boredom by deploying a vast array of Lost Civilizations, almost a dozen of them in over twenty books. At one point, the need for a challenge to Lord Greystoke sent the Ape Man to the Center of the Earth and a few rounds with the dinosaurs of Pellucidar.
And that is another thing, Burroughs' invented the "continuity crossover", without it the comic book industry would languish today.
For what it is worth, irregardless of his nonsensical science, Burroughs may be the real founder of Modern Science Fiction, simply because he looked out into the universe and assumed Anything Could Happen and that made for sterling adventure.
Stuff like "Avatar" and a lot of the modern canonical SF owes so much to Burroughs it isn't funny.
The Superman? Check, John Carter was leaping the Minarets of Mars in a single bound long before Clark Kent hitch hiked to Metropolis.
The Stranger in a Strange Land? Check, David Innes of Pellucidar is Valentine Michael Smith's messianic Daddy.
The Man of two species? Check Tarzan, Both Ape and Man, in both worlds and of neither att he same time.
Hell "Tarzan and the Lion Man" features talking super intelligent apes a good twenty years before Pierre Boulle's "Planet of the Apes".
And Burroughs was an early exponent of the sturdy notion that the inclusion of dinosaurs improve all drama by an order of magnitude.
Alas, For all his props, other than Tarzan, Burroughs has never cast a giant shadow in the movies, (I mean have you seen "At the Earth's Core"??), his fantasies are almost too robust even for today's Hollywood.
As I write this, the word on the street is the latest attempt Disney's "John Carter" laid an egg at the Box Office.
That should upset me, it does not. It does however reinforces the sheer scope and power of ERB's imagination.
Godspeed Mister Burroughs 2012 marks the onset of your second century as American Fantasist of the First Rank....

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Pick of the Week!

The Lady from Shanghai (1947), running Sunday and Monday at the Brattle Theatre on a double bill with "The Postman only Rings Twice".

Who else but Orson Welles could sell Harry Cohn at Columbia on adapting an obscure potboiler as a film starring his ex wive Rita Hayworth and still somehow churning out a Noir Masterpiece?

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Third Age of Peplum is upon Us...

thanks to Friday's premiere of "John Carter" (Warlord of Mars) starring the appropriately named Taylor Kitsch as Edgar Rice Burrough's mesomorphic interplanetary swashbuckler.
But of course, this has all happened before, and it will happen again, especially in Hollywood.
The first age of Peplum started in Italy in 1957, it was built around Steve Reeves, Champion American Bodybuilder who starred in the hugely profitable "Hercules".
Well, the movies abhor a vacuum and soon almost any US Bodybuilder with any sort of title to his name was jetting off to Rome to star as Maciste, Ursus, Goliath or Samson as well as dozens of variants on Hercules. At it's height, obscurities like Ed Fury (chiefly known for being a sort of musclebound chorus boy in Mae West's Las Vegas revue) was starring in motion pictures up and down the Mediterranean Littoral.
All these movies made money, do not forget this, muscles = money.
The whole thing lasted almost eight years before the creative winds deserted peplum's sails and everyone moved on to Spaghetti Westerns, Horror Flicks or in the case of Steve Reeves a comfortable retirement breeding horses in California.

Then in the 1980's the whole damn thing flared up again, thanks to Arnold Schwarzenegger;s short lived "Conan the Barbarian Franchise. This time in Hollywood and driven by Arnold and by "Rocky" star Sylvester Stallone whose physique became increasing cartoonish in the Jack Kirby sense of the term. Other than the two "Conan" movies, the second peplum wave eschewed the purely mythological type of script. This time around it was less Hercules and more soldiers of fortune, androids, crusading cops and the like...But believe me this was peplum sans the dubbing and the classical setting.
However, at the height of this second wave, TV's Incredible Hulk, Lou Ferrigno made a counterintuitive return to Italy where he discovered that the whole Hercules filmography was short by at least two films starring himself as the Lovechild of Zeus.
Eventually that wave receded, leaving in the tidal pools everyone from Dolph Lundgren to Mister T. (both of whom got their starts jobbing to Sylvester Stallone in the "Rocky" franchise).

I think Billy Crystal did the second wave in...that is just a theory though.

Now a third Peplum Wave is upon us, and it is driven much like the first by fantasy and or mythological narratives, commencing with "300" starring Gerard Butler and running straight thru Brad Pitt's turn as Achilles in "Troy".
Now it is the turn of "John Carter, Warlord of Mars", Edgar Rice Burrough's first action hero (circa 1912).
I dunno if this film is gonna be a hit, the blunt truth is, Edgar Rice Burrough's non-Tarzan film adaptations have run the gamut from mediocre ("At The Earth's Core" starring Doug McClure) to...mediocre ("The People that Time Forgot" starring someone). I'm giving this film despite it's Mitt Romney-esque price tag, long odds.
I'd like it to be a success, some the finest reading pleasure I had a as a boy was spent reading Edgar Rice Burrough's science fiction.
But I am not hopeful.
Remember I saw "The Land that Time Forget" in Fresh Pond back in 1974...I got time invested in this mishaugas.

Well if it doesn't work, Taylor Kitsch and his pecs can probably revitalize the Tarzan Franchise, I hear Disney still owns that option.

"Act of Valor" (2012)

I wanted to like this movie, I really did. Any film that cites all the Navy SEALS who died on active duty since 9/11/2001, can't go entirely wrong.
But the storyline is pretty under-dramatized, Navy SEALS in hot pursuit of a Russian Smuggler and his Jihadist buddy who are armed with scary detection proof suicide bomber vests...the acting is underwhelming.
And besides, at one point Our Heroes penetrate a Mexican shantytown harboring terrorists and never once is a civilian ever accidentally shot...I mean Welcome to Hollywood guys.

In short script wise, it was pure Stallone sans the glitzy pyrotechnics.
On the other hand, I liked the naturalistic settings, the judicious use of real SEAL veterans, the authentic hardware (anything the Pentagon clears for use in a movie has to be obsolete compared to what is used on deployment right now)and the relative realism of the climax.
I think though, that maybe they might have done better with a sort of neorealism experiment like the Italians tried during WWII (See "Men Under the Sea" (1940) currently out on DVD under the title "SOS Submarine" for proof. The film has NO professional actors in it!) or else some sort of "Mondo Special Forces" exploitation flick.
Hell imagine what Orson Welles in full "F For Fake" mode could have done with some serious Navy SEALs found footage?
Now some might dismiss "Act of Valor" as a naval recruitment film. That is pretty much what it is, but then again, these are all volunteer forces we have and no one compels anyone to Join the SEALs.
Now if we could only "force" someone to make a new and different movie about Navy SEALs....