Monday, March 31, 2008

Everything I Consume: The X From Outer Space

Here's the description of this movie from the TCM website:

The spaceship AAB-Gamma is dispatched from FAFC headquarters in Japan to make a landing on the planet Mars and investigate reports of UFOs in the area. As they near the red planet,they encounter a mysterious UFO that coats the ship's hull with unusual spores. Taking one of the specimens back to earth, it soon develops and grows into a giant chicken-lizard-alien monster that tramples Japan.
This was a fun movie and Gwendolyn really liked it. She identified with the blond-haired blue-eyed American actress plopped down in the middle of the picture (see below). I love Japanese monster movies but mostly I love the beginnings, the madder-than-Mad Men Japan of cool science, heavy smoking and rampant misogyny. When the guy in the rubber suit shows up and starts destroying the models I'm always a little bored. My favorite scene was when the spaceship made a stop at the moon base where the two women in the movie take a shower then change into cocktail dresses for a trip to the lounge where they order cognacs and chat with the jumpsuit-clad cigarette smoking men.

The lead actress was played by a Peggy Neal whose IMDB page is three Japanese movie, this one (as Lisa), The Terroe Beneathe the Sea (as Jenny) and Las Vegas Free-for-All or Operation Crazy Gold (as Mary). Gone are the days when you could take a trip to Japan, make three movies and diappear from the face of the Earth.

This movie was released in 1967 but didn't make Pictures At a Revolution for some reason. Here's a review and plot synopsis.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Everything I Consume: Pictures At A Revolution

Lately, almost everything I consume has been Purim candy and over-the-counter allergy or cold remedies (depending on what I think is causing this endless cough and runny nose) and I've fallen way behind on my Everything I Consumes. Heck, I'm two books past this one!

Pictures at the Revolution
by Mark Harris was fantastic, I kept sneaking time in to read it and I was sorry when it was over. Starting with Robert Benton and David Newman conceiving Bonnie and Clyde in 1963 it tells the interwoven story of the five Best Picture nominees from 1967 (Dr. Doolittle, In The Heat of The Night, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? and The Graduate). The stories of how movies are made are always fascinating and this book goes from conception to creation to production to distribution to Oscar night. There's incredible detail and great interviews with Warren Beatty, Mike Nichols, Dustin Hoffman, Buck Henry and many of the people involved in the five movies. Hovering above it all is Sidney Poitier, the biggest star in the world in 1967 and about to flame out. Harris has some great observations, my favorite being that Hollywood has as much trouble dealing with unexpected successes as unexpected failures. I give it my highest possible recommendation.

When you read a book about a slice in time you can't help but think of how the characters paths diverged after the end of the book. Some on the way up (Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman) and others on the way down (Rex Harrison and Sidney Poitier).

Another reason I was interested in this book was that I was born in 1967. Incredibly, that year's Oscars were midpoint in their history. That year was the 40th Oscars and this year's was the 80th. In my mind 1967 is the edge of current history but it's really quite a while ago.

Everything I Consume: NFL Super Bowl XLII - New York Giants Championship DVD

This movie started a little slow but had a fantastic ending. I liked all the good guys like the quarterback in need of redemption, the coach who must changes his ways to succeed and the aging veteran back for one last go around. The villains were even colorful than the heroes. I loved to hate the cold, calculating Patriots coach and got a good laugh out of the hapless Dallas quarterback. I was even sort of rooting for the Green Bay Packers quarterback playing what would turn out to be his final game. Highly recommended, they don't make them like this any more.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

American Life Television: Thursday and Friday

American Life's Thursday night lineup is composed of juvenile 60s sci-fi (Land of the Giants, Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) and it would be easy to knock their predictable plots, cheap sets and poor acting but they have a nice energy and I don't think anyone's expecting too much when they put these shows on. They are what they are and it couldn't of been easy putting together 39 hour-long shows every season on a tiny budget. At the end of a long day I'd be perfectly happy to crack open a brewski and veg out in front of any of them. But why the producers of Time Tunnel thought it was a good idea to put Lee Meriweather in a lab coat and stick her behind a desk I'll never know.

Why are these shows on Thursday night? Because if you combine the creepiness of Land of the Giants, the technology of Lost In Space, the time travelling of Time Tunnel (three shows about people who can't get home) and the ocean of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea you get Lost.

Friday night is 60s Icons Night meaning Batman, The Color Honeymooners and The Green Hornet. I don't believe any of these shows are 60s icons. Let's examine these shows one by one.

Batman: An eternal classic, one of the all-time great TV shows. It was always in reruns when I was a kid and I kept falling in and out of love with it as I got older. First I liked it for itself, then I didn't like the camp, then I did like the camp, then I didn't like it and now I like the whole thing. Batman isn't a 60s icon, he's an eternal icon. Here's a story from Mark Harris' excellent book Pictures at a Revolution: "Other directors assumed [Spencer] Tracy was simply no longer functional; at the time [Stanley] Kramer approached him, the only other call he had gotten for a job was from William Dozier, the producer of ABC's campy, popular Batman series. "[He] said, 'Didn't I have a grandchild who'd get a kick out of seeing grandpa as a cameo on Batman,' " grumbled the actor. "Wasn't even one of those villain things." Spencer Tracy knew there was a Batman show and knew there were guest star villains, that's awesome.

The Color Honeymooners: I can't get past two minutes of this show without wanting to pound my head into a wall and end the pain. Take a claustrophobic show about people yelling at each other and pad it out with songs. Great. The Honeymooners are 50s icons if that.

The Green Hornet: I coudn't wait to see The Green Hornet. I'd seen the crossover episode of Batman where the Green Hornet is introduced many times but I'd never seen the show until American Life started running it. This is a terrible show. Every scene seems to take place in muddy day-for-night lighting and there are endless fights and chase scenes which are endless themselves. I think there maybe was a 10-page script for every episode. But the show's biggest crime is undoubtedly the waste of Bruce Lee's talents. Bruce Lee playing Cato is like keeping Michael Jordan on the bench or building an atomic bomb and never testing it. I still get worked up just thinking about it. Bruce Lee, people, Bruce Lee.

Anyway, Green Hornet is a 30s icon, if that.

I hope you've enjoyed my look at American Life Television, they have a bizarre and entertaining website you should check out. If you love Susan Sarandon, Bobby Nystrom and lorem ipsum it's not to be missed.

Bruce Lee, people, Bruce Lee.

"All You of Earth are Idiots!"

Check out this interesting site of mysterious images found in Google maps. The pictures are OK but the best part are the buzzkill comments:

"It's called an atoll:"
"Zoom in. You see those logs, and those rocks? It's some sand in the river. You're not very bright, are you?"
"i dont see anything"
"Good god people, have you EVER used Google before? It's called a 'reflection', it's what happens when light hits a reflective surface. Look it up some time."
"You people are idiots, this is the Azores that belong to Portugal. That is an airbase. I hate you all."

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Narrowest of Margins

I know my sports posts aren't very popular but check out the boxscore for my fantasy hockey team, the Brooklyn Motherflippers, from last week:

I won by 1/100th of a point!

Everything I Consume: Bonnie and Clyde

A few years ago I went to Film Forum with my friends Bonnie and Aaron to see a revival of On The Waterfront. It was great, you should check it out, Brando's in it. Anyway, after the movie was over we all admitted to each other that we had never seen On The Waterfront and were too embarrassed to admit it earlier. So, now that I've seen Bonnie and Clyde I can tell you I'd never seen it before, just bits and pieces. It was great, you should check it out. The Texas locations of dying small towns and bleak endless plains were unforgettable. The cast is great and the movie has an energy that just carries you along. I thought it dragged a bit at the end but that sort of worked and, to be honest, most movies drag for me at the end these days. Like a lot of imitated movies (Badlands for instance) you feel like you've seen it before, even if you haven't.

The reason I finally saw it, you may wonder, is because I am reading Mark Harris' excellent Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood, the story of the five best picture nominees from 1967. Ever since my film professor at Northwestern got on her soap box about how students shouldn't read or write about movies they haven't seen I've always tried to actually see a movie if I'm reading about it.

Even though I hadn't see the movie until Saturday I did see the Bonnie and Clyde death car at a Nevada casino several years ago. As you can see here the car has quite a history.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

American Life Television: Tuesday & Wednesday Nights

Tuesday night on American Life is "Greatest Generation" night and I've never watched and don't have much to say about any of these shows except if you didn't grow up with Rat Patrol reruns on at 4 A.M. on weeknights and 5 P.M. on Sunday afternoons you didn't grow up in America, buddy.

Wednesday night is the best night of the week because it's Spinoff Night! The spinoffs are are Lou Grant (spinoff of Mary Tyler Moore) and Trapper John, MD (spinoff of MASH). Lou Grant was on for five seasons and Trapper John for seven, numbers that shocked me when I looked it up. It seems a show would have more effect on the popular imagination if they were on for so long but I guess not. I probably never would have remembered there was ever a Trapper John, MD show if American Life hadn't of started showing these reruns. Both are pretty typical shows for the late 70s-early 80s with issue-oriented episodes, stuffy authority figures (why do they hate you, Dr. Riverside?), undeveloped, too small supporting casts and cheap sets. Both are hour-long dramas and not half-hour sitcoms like their original shows.

The Wife and I love the kitschy appeal of Trapper John, MD but most of all we love the theme song. Let 'er rip! Pretty good, no? This is the jazzed-up second-season version. It's funky, exciting and has nothing at all to do with the show. Maybe they wanted to wake up the audience of people watching TV at 10 P.M. waiting for digital cable to be invented. And to make it even better the musical cues during the show are all riffs off of the opening theme. So you get to hear sad, tense and bouncy versions of the theme during the episode.

Here's the Lou Grant opening and theme song. You get the entire history of a newspaper from tree to birdcage liner. What's the point of that? Why does the theme tell you it all means nothing? That might be appropriate on The Office but why on a show where the main characters battle a corrupt system every week.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

American Life Television: Monday Night

Monday night on American Life is their best night. It boasts "The Greatest Comedies" which are Newhart, The Bob Newhart Show, Mary Tyler Moore and WKRP in Cincinnati. This is a very impressive lineup. My only question is what is the Mary Tyler Moore show doing on American Life? It's one of the greatest television shows of all-time. Have DVD shows so saturated the appetite of America no one will pay top dollar for this show? I guess so. When I grew up The Odd Couple, the greatest show ever, was on four times a day and now it's not even on television. Sadly, my children won't know the pleasure of coming home from school, watching Mary Tyler Moore at 4:00 and The Bob Newhart Show at 4:30 (unless something good was on the 4:30 Movie). I look forward to my daughter Gwendolyn's blog in 2030 about how there aren't good infomercials or court shows on television anymore.

There's not much to be said about the Newharts and Mary Tyler Moore. I think they stand the test of time and have great casts especially the underappreciated Ted Knight and Suzanne Pleshette. But like many of my friends I have a special place in my heart for WKRP, the struggling rock station trying to make it in an uncaring, uncool world. If you are now too old for Obama and too young for Clinton or had a zine or liked that band before they hit it big this was probably the show that spoke to you. Anyway, it a great show even though much of the original music has been replaced.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How Many Ways Is This Movie Great?

I was sitting in the living room last night reading the March issue of my favorite magazine, Now Playing when I came across a blurb for this movie playing March 29th at 1:00 A.M. (it's octopus night):

Sh! The Octopus (1937) Daffy detectives fight off a giant octopus in a haunted lighthouse.
Cast: Hugh Herbert, Allen Jenkins, Marcia Ralston. Dir: William McGann. BW-54 mins, TV-G

Quick, count how many ways this movie is great.

I count six. The title, "Daffy detectives", "a giant octopus", "a haunted lighthouse", I've never heard of anyone in the cast and the movie is less than an hour.

Watch the trailer here.

American Life Television: Sunday Night

American Life Television claims to be "for baby boomers and their babies". The Wife and I are neither but we love it anyway. On Time Warner Cable it's on channel 153 and for some reason the channel guide has the NBA League Pass logo instead of the actual logo. They really should do something about that.

There's a continuing cycle in cable television. In the beginning stations start out with cheap reruns of shows and then gradually find a niche or a successful show and build from there. When I watched A&E in 1990 it showed The Second Hundred Years and other shows I'd only read about in Television encyclopedias. Then came Biography and look at it now. The same thing for the Sci-Fi Channel a few years later. They used to buy up any sci-fi show they could find, an all the better if it only lasted nine episodes. Now there is American Life Television.

Every night on American Life is theme night and Sunday night is "Greatest Dramas Night" or as I like to call it "Pretentious 80s NBC Television Night". Back before television got really good about ten years ago there were a few outposts of "culture" that critics and people who watched a lot of TV would point out as important and necessary to save every year when schedules came out. I've never liked these shows.

First off is Hill Street Blues which was a about a "typical" police precinct in a "typical" big city. There were good cops who were somber and filled with self-doubt and the bad cops who were caricatures. And remember when Daniel J. Travanti was a big star? I haven't thought of that guy in years. Go on, click on the link, I know you're dying to find out what happened to him.

Next up is L.A. Law which I watched consistently for a little while. It had a nice technique of having multiple continuing storylines at different stages so, for example, the Susan Dey story might be starting while the Corbin Bernsen and Jill Eikenberry stories were in the middle and the Blair Underwood storyline was reaching it's climax. I watched L.A. Law for a few months until I missed a few episodes and forgot about it. Still, I remember some cringe-worthy "very special episodes" about drunk driving ("I only got off because I'm a lawyer, there's something wrong with the system.") and the Rodney King beating. It might have been a great show if it hadn't of taken itself so seriously.

The final show is St. Elsewhere. I know this is a kind of sacrilege but I can't stand this show. It is that brand of realism where realism is equated with bad things happening. One of the few episodes I watched had a painful reconciliation between father and son ending in the son driving home, falling asleep at the wheel and getting in an deadly accident. I bet they were really proud of that one.

The irony of course is that these shows which were considered so advanced now seem clunky and cheap compared to the best shows of he past ten years like The Sopranos, Law & Order, Rescue Me, West Wing and Lost (and that doesn't include shows I haven't seen but people tell me are great like The Wire, Battlestar Gallactica and The Gilmore Girls) which is why they are on Channel 153 with the NBA League Pass logo.