Thursday, June 22, 2017

Cars 3

Cars 3 ~ Once you get past the truly dark first teaser trailer that led children, and some adults, to believe Lightning McQueen was dead, this isn't a bad film, and on par with other Disney Pixar flicks, unlike the other Cars sequel and spin-offs like this and this.

Cars 3 does what all good third installments of trilogies do best, it brings the story full circle, and to a lesser extent not only closes the circle but also introduces a new beginning.  As Lightning McQueen finds himself falling behind younger and faster cars with newer and higher technology after a near crippling accident in track, he trains a new contender - just as Doc Hudson, the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, did for him in the first movie.

Speaking of Doc, there is wonderful use of Paul Newman's voice acting from the first movie used in flashback and memory.  It's almost as if Paul was here in this one.  Larry the Cable Guy is back as are all the regulars from the town Radiator Springs, but in greatly reduced roles.  Even Lightning's girlfriend is back, but not as his girlfriend so the story can concentrate on his trainer Cruz. 

This is a good movie, with all the proper Disney Pixar buttons for emotional targeting.  We get new characters aplenty including Armie Hammer's smug rival Jackson Storm, Lightning's smarmy new boss voiced by equally smarmy Nathan Fillion, and a killer school bus from the demolition derby.  Yeah, this one doesn't kill Lightning as the teaser suggested, but it does get dark in places. 

And there're none of those weird human dwellings in this film that made Cars 2 seem so creepy, and made me wonder what happened to the people.  I still maintain that Cars happens in the same universe as Stephen King's "Trucks," just after all the humans are gone

All that said, this was a good flick, and better sequel, well worth seeing. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Why Worry?

Why Worry? ~ The other Harold Lloyd film (other than The Kid Brother) I got to see while on the 2016 TCM Classic Cruise was Why Worry?, the 1923 follow-up to the classic, and perhaps his best known, Safety Last!.  For this, Lloyd wanted to do something different, so no climbing on buildings or crazy stunts. 

Still as his 'glasses character,' Harold Lloyd plays a hypochondriac who needs to get away to some peace and quiet, and visits the fictional South American country of Paradiso. He's accompanied by his nurse, played by Lloyd's third leading lady, Jobyna Ralston.  Paradiso however is on the brink of revolution and may not be very peaceful or quiet for long.

As the battle goes on around him, at first unknowingly and then as he tries to quell the revolution, we see various fun gags.  The best revolves around John Aasen (one of the tallest actors ever) and his toothache, which Lloyd cures, earning his loyalty.  Aasen, who was so much taller than Lloyd, and twice as tall as Jobyna, steals the movie. 

This is a fun silent romp, with new score by Robert Israel, which like The Kid Brother, shows a very different side of Harold Lloyd.  Recommended.

Monday, June 19, 2017

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds

The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds ~ This is one of those films I have very distinct memories of as a kid.  When I first got my own black and white TV in my bedroom I became addicted to late night television, especially older movies, and one of my regular fixes was WPVI channel 6 in Philadelphia's Friday night Million Dollar Movie.  And as this film was not available to home video for years, that was the only place to see it. 

When I saw it recently on TCM I was actually shocked that it wasn't a black and white movie.  That wouldn't have been odd as other movies of the time had tried black and white as an arty or attention getting stunt.  This film however had no need of such hype.  As an adaption of a Pulitzer Prize winning play directed and produced by Paul Newman and starring his wife Joanne Woodward, it was already high profile, and is an amazing film. 

Woodward plays a widow raising two very different daughters, and her performance is gritty and realistic, however the real stars are the actresses who play the daughters. The role of epileptic Ruth is Roberta Wallach, daughter of actor Eli, and intelligent and shy Matilda is the daughter of Woodward and Newman, Nell Potts, is simply stunning in the role. I am still amazed Potts didn't go on to a more promising film career. 

The long and awkward title comes from the experiment Matilda puts together for school that sets her apart, and might get her out of her situation.  Ruth seems to be walking in her mom's footsteps but Matilda could have a chance to elevate herself.  The experiment parallels her growth as a person. 

Highlighted by not only the performances but also by a wonderful score by Maurice Jarre, the film which might seem like a depressing study of late sixties small town white trash is compelling and addictive, with smart dialogue.  I love this movie, not just a great film, but a great memory as well.  Must see. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Suicide Squad

Now right up front I was not happy going to see this flick, the third of the DC Comics Extended Universe after Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice.  After them, I figured it could only get worse, a point that has since been reversed by the vastly superior Wonder Woman.  But Suicide Squad?  I didn't even have invested interest in the comics. 

I have read the Suicide Squad here and there.  I knew the characters and the motives but it never really rang any bells for me.  Mind you, no offense meant to the work of John Ostrander, he's a genius, and the stories were good, just not in my wheelhouse is all.  Of course it seems only a few things from the comics of the time made it to the screen. 

The concept is here.  Super-villains offered time off sentence for doing the dirty jobs the superheroes can't do, and a few of the characters are here, but others that just seem odd.  Some are originals from the comics I remember, some from the newest iteration, and some from left field.  All are still from Belle Reve prison (I have some question on the proper pronunciation of that, but I'll let it go) and all still manipulated by Amanda Waller, though much thinner. 

There's Will Smith's Deadshot, who like co-star Margot Robbie, is simply electric when onscreen. He's a family man driven to crime and put away by the Batman.  He's got a moral code, but is still a criminal, we feel for him.  He might just be the sanest of the bunch, a great counterpoint to his co-star and glory hog (not that that is a bad thing) in this flick, Harley Quinn. 

I have never been a big fan of Harley outside of her original source material in "Batman The Animated Series," so I'm not down with the New 52 slutty stripper version.  Give me the jester outfit and the Mark Hamill Joker any day of the week.  This version, while charismatic and making love to the camera like crazy town, is slavishly dedicated to her Joker, who I'll get to in a minute.  She's good, and Robbie is terrific in the role, but there's a better Harley that could've been portrayed here, ya know?  She's also stolen the movie, in that, other than the New 52, Harley is not even a character I associate with Suicide Squad.  It feels mismatched.

Waller, played with skill by The Help's Viola Davis, at a discreet government meeting introduces her idea for this team, and in simplistic flashback method to each character.  It's easy, and it works.  We see in vignettes Deadshot in action and apprehended by the Batman, the origin of Harley Quinn as well as verification she may have murdered Robin as seen in BvS, Captain Boomerang captured by the seen but unnamed Flash, and much shorter ones with El Diablo, Killer Croc, and the Enchantress.

Waller describes a nearly fully formed world of metahumans just beneath the headlines, just waiting for others like the now deceased Superman and the Bat to open the gateway to public acknowledgement.  Whereas Marvel built their movie world, DC's was already there, waiting to be revealed.  We're twenty minutes in and we know the players, the world, and getting a good vibe on the plot - ain't nothing wrong with that. 

The Harley sequence includes a chase through Gotham from Batman, once again more than ably portrayed by Ben Affleck, and far too much of the Jared Leto Joker.  This tattooed metal-grilled psychopath is very scary, but, I'll say it, he's no Joker.  And I don't think the filmmakers thought so either, because his entire subplot fizzles as if it didn't exist - it certainly doesn't matter in the course of the film - why is he here?  I would have rathered a tetherless Harley than this substandard Joker wannabe waiting in the wings for a payoff that never really comes. 

The Enchantress, an extradimensional entity that possesses June Moone is said by Waller to be the most powerful metahuman she's catalogued. She has a brother, named Incubus, trapped in a jar, and that's where it gets crazy.  Waller has her heart, and June is in love with Rick Flagg, a special operative with ARGUS and under Walker's command. 

Flagg is played by Joel Kinnaman, not the first choice for the role, but one of my favorite actors.  I loved him in "The Killing," but not here, here he is a disappointment, and apparently a one note actor.  It's a shame, along with Leto's Joker, they're among the worst things in this otherwise entertaining flick. 

When Midway City (love the shoutout to Hawkman's hometown) is under attack by the Enchantress and her brother the Incubus, the Squad is gathered, and sent onsite, with super heroine Katana added almost as an afterthought.  Again, almost casually the fact that her sword drinks souls is thrown out there as if that kind of thing happens everyday.

Once on the ground, it becomes a mission movie and we get to see the villains interact, and fight the badder guys.  Of course around now the producers seem to forget half the team is there and it becomes about Deadshot, Harley, and Flagg, and unfortunately and pointlessly, the Joker - the threat that never actually manifests.  Boomerang, who in the comics is, along with Deadshot, Enchantress, and Flagg, the only recognizable Squad members, is hardly in this, and barely acts like his source material. 

The ending however turns into another mess like Man of Steel with weird streams of blue light in the sky.  Other than that silliness this was good, it's true, Suicide Squad was good, and the battle at the end is the type we want all metahuman brawls to be like, especially on the big screen.  Victorious and tragic at once, this was a winner. 

Up until a few weeks ago, with the debut of Wonder Woman, this was the best of the DC films.  I don't know what all the haters are on about, I dug Suicide Squad

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Inside Comedy on Cable

Two new television series have popped up recently exploring the world of stand-up comedy - "Crashing" on HBO and "I'm Dying up Here" on Showtime.

"Crashing" came first focusing on the semi-fictional life of comic Pete Holmes and was developed by Judd Apatow.  This anti-sitcom is based around Holmes' actual stand up, which if I'm being honest I never found all that funny.  This show however is hilarious, tragic, but hilarious.

Propelled by recurring guest stars like Artie Lange, T.J. Miller, and Sarah Silverman, it begins when Holmes' wife cheats on him and after leaving her, he begins to take his stand up career seriously while couch surfing with friends and strangers.  The tragedy of his life is countered by how funny the situations he finds himself in.  I loved it and hope it returns for a second season. 

"I'm Dying up Here" is more of a drama set in the early 1970s about much the same inner working of the comedian's world.  It's good, real good, but solidly a drama.  It is almost "Crashing" meets HBO's "Vinyl," and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Melissa Leo, who I loved in "Treme," leads an ensemble cast, executive produced by Jim Carrey.  I'm looking forward to more of this, not so funny, but great performances. 

Both series offer intriguing insight on the industry, from two completely different eras, and both worth checking out. 

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Biff Bam Pop! Celebrates 100 Years of Jack Kirby

Legendary American comic book writer, artist and innovator Jack Kirby would have celebrated his 100th birthday on August 28th.  To celebrate the life and work of Kirby, pop culture website Biff Bam Pop! will spend the summer featuring many of Kirby’s greatest character creations, books and publications, artistry and influence. Titled #Kirby100: Biff Bam Pop! Celebrates 100 Years of Jack Kirby, readers can look forward to a summer-long celebration of one of the most innovative creators of our time.

“Without Jack Kirby, comic books and pop culture wouldn’t be what we know them to be today,” says Biff Bam Pop! Publisher/Founder Andy Burns. “This is your invitation to join the Biff Bam Pop! editorial team and site contributors for a summer-long #Kirby100 party!”

If you can scan the litany of comic book characters that Kirby created or co-created you’d be certain to find dozens of your favourites. From the globally renowned Captain America, Avengers, Fantastic Four and X-Men series of characters, to the populace’s burgeoning awareness of Darkseid and Black Panther, to the more niche creations of Kamandi, Etrigan the Demon and Destroyer Duck. With Kirby, the list of great characters is unparalleled. 

Born in New York City in 1917 to poor, working class immigrant parents, Jack Kirby liked to draw from an early age. Self-taught, his art led him to the comic book industry in his late teens from which there was no turning back. The companies that Kirby helped immortalize between the 1940s-1970s included Fox Feature Syndicate, Timely Comics (later Marvel Comics), National Comics Publications (later DC Comics), Harvey Comics, Eclipse Comics, and many others. He even worked alongside two of the other greatest creators to ever be immortalized in comic book lore: Joe Simon and Stan Lee, and it was with them that Kirby created his most recognized works of comic book pop culture.

“For the decades that encompassed the Golden Age, the Silver Age, and the Bronze Age of comic book publishing, Jack Kirby, the King, was at the heart of it all. As an artist and writer, he instructed, he nurtured, and, most importantly, he entertained,” says Biff Bam Pop! Consulting Editor, Jean-Paul Fallavollita.

 #Kirby100: Biff Bam Pop Celebrates 100 Years of Jack Kirby kicks of today right here and runs all summer long at Biff Bam Pop!

Also don't forget to check out our regular columns:

  • The Wednesday Run on comics by Jean-Paul Fallavollita
  • The Ten Percent on film by K. Dale Koontz and Ensley F. Guffey
  • Creations of Chaos on animation by Sarah Hawkins Miduski
  • Pump Up the Jam on music by Less Lee Moore
  • True Crime Corner on serial killers by Loretta Sisco
  • By the Book on adaptations by James Knipp
  • Box Office Predictions by Andy Burns
  • Heroes and Villains on comics by Glenn Walker

  • Biff Bam Pop! was established in August 2008, Biff Bam Pop! is a website devoted to the world of pop culture, from comic books and video games, to movies, books, and music. Come check it out and stay a while at Biff Bam Pop!.

    Tuesday, June 13, 2017

    Gargoyles!

    I remember very distinctly seeing this movie when it first aired on CBS in late 1972. This was at a time when my bedtime was in dispute, and by in dispute I mean I wanted to stay up late but my parents didn't.  I would slyly pull this stunt of taking too long with my homework so I would be up when whatever I wanted to see on TV would be on.  I remember purposely doing that this night so I could see Gargoyles! in its 9:30 PM time slot. 

    My big brother was doing babysitting duty that night with me and didn't seem to mind the movie so I guess it wasn't that bad.  He'd watched worse with me in those days before the VCR and only one TV in the house.  I also remember the next morning at school asking my third grade teacher if she'd seen it.  She was horrified, first saying she didn't watch such movies, and then that I shouldn't be up so late. 

    Such movies were my kind of thing though.  Raised on "Dark Shadows" and "Thriller" and Dr. Shock, this was my kind of movie even if it wasn't Mrs. Scott's.  And there were enough of my friends in class who also watched it - they were also the ones who had Aurora monster models and liked Alice Cooper, if that says anything.  Nevertheless when I saw coming attractions for Gargoyles!, I knew I'd want to see it and planned for it appropriately. 

    The movie has been out of print for years now, and is occasionally available on YouTube, but I most recently saw it on MeTV's Svengoolie.  Like the aforementioned Dr. Shock, Svengoolie, played by Rich Koz, is one of dozens of horror movie hosts across the country.  Svengoolie, the second to go under that name has been enjoying national success for some time now on the nostalgia network.  Sometimes he's annoying but usually has lots of good info on the flicks.  He's truly a movie fan, and that's really appreciated. 

    Now all that said, Gargoyles! is actually a pretty darn good horror film, both typical of its time and yet better than most.  The flick is scary as well, one wonders how I slept that night back in the day.  It also features early work by Stan Winston which won him his first Emmy.  Most frightening of all is the make-up work on Bernie Casey, former football player and character actor, who plays the lead gargoyle.  That is one scary dude.  And it was written by Stephen and Elinor Karpf who also wrote the camp horror classic Devil Dog: Hound from Hell

    The movie opens with a montage of photos of gargoyles, interspersed with the ones from the movie, and including one from the classic Swedish and Danish silent Haxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages if I'm not mistaken and the narration of Vic Perrin.  His bit is perfect as he was also the control voice at the start of each episode of "The Outer Limits," and he tells us the tale of the Devil banished from Heaven, and his minions the gargoyles who rise up every six hundred years to battle mankind. Guess what time it is? 

    The premise has Hollywood leading man Cornel Wilde in his twilight years as an anthropologist/demonology/writer Professor Boley and Jennifer Salt as his daughter Diana who stumble upon a colony of these emerging gargoyles.  This was the first place I ever saw Wilde, so even his finest roles bring the Oscar nominee back to Gargoyles! for me.  Salt mesmerized me in Brian DePalma's Sisters and has done amazing work behind the scenes on "Nip/Tuck" and "American Horror Story" so for me, she's not all just this.  And she's rocking those halter tops.  Together they are perfect 1970s protagonists for this horror film. 

    They set off into the desert, probably the same one Dennis Weaver raced through in Steven Spielberg's Duel, to visit Uncle Willie's Desert Museum.  Willie has something for the good professor, and serves a gateway to this hero's quest.  Already however the couple are being watched, lending chills before we even get started. 

    The Desert Museum is a tourist trap, full of crap, but old Uncle Willie (played by Woody Chambliss, a TV western regular who was also in another horror classic of the time, The Devil's Rain) does have something of value for the professor.  After nightfall he takes them out to his barn and shows them a gargoyle skeleton.  Boley disbelieves at first but listens to Willie's tales of demons at war with the Native Americans. 

    To the tune of crazy music by Robert Prince sounding like it was played on police sirens, something attacks them and kills Willie.  The couple escape with cassette tape recordings of Willie and the gargoyle skull in their beat up station wagon.  One of the monsters pursue and jump on, invoking Race With the Devil. As they get away we get our first eerie slow motion look at a gargoyle, scary. 

    Dad and daughter get a motel room while their car gets repaired.  The motel is run by Grayson Hall of the aforementioned "Dark Shadows."  She plays a lush who always has a drink in her hand, which is funny as she was frequently rumored to be drinking on the set of the soap and blowing her lines.  At least here it's in the script. 

    When Dad and Daughter report Willie's death to the police, leaving out all the gargoyley details, the cops immediately place the blame on local bikers, one of whom is Scott Glenn, most recently seen as Stick in "Daredevil" and soon "The Defenders."  A real young Scott Glenn.  Later on he has one of the movie best and most memorable lines, "one of them gar things is gonna get her," and he's not talking about the Podcast either. 

    Eventually the gargoyles attack and steal back the skull, moving in crazy scary slow motion, and featuring the one very frightening scene of the gargoyle looking over the end of the bed - a major reason I never watched this flick late at night in bed.  When a gargoyle is killed by a hit and run truck, Boley takes in the dead body for proof.  It's his undoing. 

    Like the skull, the gargoyles come again for their dead, and this time, they take Diana as well.  Winged head gargoyle Bernie Casey takes a shine to her and brings her home to meet his family.  The more we're exposed to the gargoyle costumes and make up the less scary they are, but by this time, we're fully invested and it doesn't matter.  We are in this world, and they're still scary. 

    Still, this is where the flick starts to fall apart a bit. Casey, with Vic Perrin's dubbed voice (!), wants Diana to teach him to read, so the gargoyles can get smarter and be on more even ground to fight man.  Eggs are hatching and the menfolk are getting a posse together, so time is dear. The movie spirals downward from there. 

    Gargoyles! is still a great horror flick, even all these years later, and even with the obviously cheap special effects.  It's a piece of my childhood, and still scares the crap outta me.  Recommended, but don't watch alone, or in the dark. 

    Monday, June 12, 2017

    Remembering Adam West

    This one hit me hard, folks, and I learned about it much the same way I had heard that John Lennon was dead. I awoke the next morning to my radio playing Beatles song after Beatles song, thinking what a great way to start the morning, with Beatles music.

    For Adam West, it was similar, happy to sad. I had just spent a terrific day with The Bride at EPCOT, we were getting on the bus, and I checked my phone, hitting Facebook. I saw a really cool picture I'd seen before - my good friend Andy Burns, our friend JP Fallavollita, and Andy's daughter (in fierce Wonder Woman cosplay) standing in front of the Batmobile (the real Batmobile) with, you guessed it, Adam West and Burt Ward. I was jealous the first time I saw the picture, and jealous this time, so I posted as much. I was in a good mood, and then I saw other Facebook posts on my feed… Adam West had passed away at the age of 88. I was crushed. It was if my childhood had dropped out from under me. I was staggered by this for a couple days. It couldn't be true.

    My earliest memory regards an incident in my family first house.  I was around two and stepped on a heating grate burning my foot.  I don't remember any of that, but what I vividly do recall is my brother giving me a toy Batmobile to get me to stop crying.  At our second house shortly after that the room I shared with my big brother had only two things on the walls: a Detroit Lions pennant and a picture of Batman.  I have talked before about the 1966-69 "Batman" TV series starring Adam West being the gateway drug to comics for not only myself, but for an entire generation.  In many ways, my childhood has taken a hell of a hit. 

    Adam West as Batman affects me to this day.  This past weekend I thought of him on three different occasions before learning of his passing.  Andy's photo on Facebook was one.  I saw Return of the Caped Crusaders on Blu-Ray in a store and I thought I needed to own it sooner or later.  And at EPCOT on the Test Track ride, I deliberately tried to design a car just like the Batmobile

    Other than his wild global success as Batman, Adam West had a pretty rough life, battling depression, alcoholism, and typecasting.  It wasn't until he came to terms with always being remembered as Batman that things turned around for him. Gone were the days of getting shot out of a cannon and doing terrible pilots like "The Precinct."  Batman could overcome anything.  His unique deadpan camp humor even found a home on "Family Guy," conquering a whole new television generation. I even met him once, great guy.

    Adam got the Batman gig after producers saw him playing a James Bond parody for Nestle Quik commercials.  Ironically he would be considered for the role of the real Bond years later.  He beat Lyle Waggoner for the title role on "Batman," who probably would not have been able to pull it off.  Batman would take over the world – Adam West himself has been quoted as saying that the sixties were all about the three Bs - Beatles, Bond, and Batman - and it's true.  And "Batman" would not have worked without West.  He was the only choice. 

    West had done other things, movies like Mara of the Wilderness, Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and Poor Devil all of which I loved, and are recommended, but he always returned to Batman, whether it was on "Superfriends," the 1970s Filmation "Batman," as the Grey Ghost, Back to the Batcave, or the aforementioned Return of the Caped Crusaders

    Adam West passed away on Saturday after a short battle with leukemia, he was 88.  In my mind and in my heart, he will live forever as the only Batman that counts.  We have lost a true legend, and the Bat-Signal burns for you, my friend. 

    Monday, June 05, 2017

    American Gods

    I read Neil Gaiman's American Gods so long ago that I barely remember it.  I know I liked it, but honestly I remember it more in concept than anything else.  Perhaps that's why I'm enjoying the hell out of Starz' television adaptation of it so much, I'm not sweating the details of the source material that much. 

    Rather than painstakingly recreating the book, as well as elements of its pseudo-sequel Ananzi Boys, showrunners Bryan Fuller ("Pushing Daisies," "Hannibal") and Michael Green (Logan, Alien: Covenant, and Green Lantern) have wisely chosen to concentrate on dazzling visuals and mining the incredible talent of their cast.  First and foremost among the latter is Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday.  He is perfect as the conman and old god Odin who plots against the new gods. He ruled every scene he appeared in on HBO's much-missed "Deadwood" so I couldn't ask for a better lead. 

    Ricky Whittle from the the UK's "Hollyoaks" is more than adequate as Shadow, who's learning of the gods just as we viewers do.  The rest of the cast so far is a wonder of stuntcasting, and that's a good thing.  One can never take one's eyes off Crispin Glover in anything he's in, and then there's Cloris Leachman, Kristen Chenoweth, and Corbin Bernsen. 

    Gillian Anderson shines as Media, a small role in the book, but here stunning as manifestations of Lucille Ball, David Bowie, and Marilyn Monroe.  Also impressive are Pablo Schreiber as the leprechaun and the usually annoying comedian Dane Cook in a surprising and serious turn.

    So far it seems more of a road trip than a war of the gods, but I'm having fun watching week after week.  Fun television is not something we get very often any more, and this is one of the bright spots.  It may inspire me to pick up the book(s) again, but I'm afraid I might be disappointed.  I think the show might be superior. 

    Wednesday, May 31, 2017

    Sneaky Pete

    This Amazon original starring Giovanni Ribisi is a prime example of how not only has the way we watch television has changed, but so has the way it's made. "Sneaky Pete" has Ribisi doing his best Aaron Paul as a con man in a small town of seeming innocents, and feels like more of a long episodic movie than a series. 

    Those who follow my reviews of "The Flash," "Arrow," "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.," and even the last few seasons of "Doctor Who" know that these days the subplot and overarching story are far more important than any individual episode's A plot. In an age when David Lynch says that "Twin Peaks: The Return" is an eighteen-hour movie and not a TV series, this is pretty much standard operation. 

    I found "Sneaky Pete" to be much the same.  The episodes, stories, and performances are compelling, but it was the subplots, the character bits, and the long game where the real meat was.  This was a single day's binge, ten roughly one hour episodes, that's how good this show was. 

    The premise revolves around con man Marius, played by Ribisi, who is getting out of prison long before his oversharing and talkative cellmate Pete.  This Pete descriptively paints a warm and receptive picture of a loving family and home he hasn't seen in decades, with a jackpot to be had as well.  So when Marius gets out, needing a place to hide, he steals Pete's identity. 

    The reason Marius is on the run? He got himself arrested to escape the wrath of gangster Vince, who wants his money back or he'll kill Marius' brother.  Vince is chillingly played by executive producer Bryan Cranston, using every bit of evil he never fully showed in "Breaking Bad."  If you ever wanted full-on hardcore Heisenberg, here he is. 

    The series has been renewed for a second season on Amazon, so catch up while you can, it's well worth it, recommended.

    Tuesday, May 30, 2017

    Vertigo

    Vertigo ~ On the last TCM Classic Cruise I saw Spellbound and didn't like it.  Yeah, I know, save it for someone who cares.  Anyway, at the start of this Cruise I saw Vertigo on the schedule and my addled mind got them confused, so I didn't go.  I regretted it after I realized that Vertigo was not Spellbound.  So when the second chance to see it popped up, I jumped on it.  No Kim Novak introduction this time, but still I got to see it on the big screen, and really, how can you beat that?  That aspect even made Spellbound better for me. 

    Vertigo is one of Alfred Hitchcock's crowning achievements, and while I had seen it decades ago, it was at a time before remastering, before the restored soundtrack, and most importantly at a time when I had little appreciation for film, and only a black and white TV.  Believe me, that makes a world of difference.  For 1958, this film is brilliant, and for 2016, it's still brilliant. 

    In this complex plot of deception and mistaken identity, Jimmy Stewart plays Scotty, an ex-detective with vertigo caused by acrophobia.  He's hired by an old friend to trail his wife, played by Kim Novak.  Things get even more complicated when Stewart falls in love with his target, and the madness spirals from there. 

    The film not only features Stewart and Novak in some of their best performances, but has a (pardon the pun) spellbinding score, and masterful special effects enhancing the fear of heights and dizziness felt by the character Scotty.  The remastered vibrant 1950s technicolor also gives the visuals that extra kick. 

    I love Vertigo, and after seeing it in this format, I love it more.  Now I'm kicking myself of course for missing it the first time with the introduction by Kim Novak.  Recommended, a must-see classic, it's not Spellbound

    Wednesday, May 24, 2017

    Bionic Nostalgia - Bigfoot

    Much like the Bionic Woman episodes of "The Six Million Dollar Man," I don't think I had seen "The Secret of Bigfoot" since it originally aired back in 1976.  This two-part episode, at the height of Steve Austin's bionic popularity, hit on so many power spikes of pop culture at the time, making it classic 1970s television. 

    For all of you fans of "Ancient Aliens" or the real Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell who don't know, that whole cycle of strange phenomena began back in the 1970s.  From Erich Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods? to the movie documentary The Mysterious Monsters, it was all hot at that time.  The commercial for the latter, which featured a Bigfoot's arm crashing through a window to grab its victim was pulled from television by parents' groups for scaring young children. 



    That one struck a chord close to home for me, living so close to the Pine Barrens.  We didn't believe in the Jersey Devil, but we also weren't stupid enough to go in the woods at night, or sit on the couch with a window behind it.  Bigfoot was hot, aliens were hot, and so were earthquakes after the big disaster film.  A pop culture fuse had been lit and the folks behind "The Six Million Dollar Man" were going to get on board. 

    "The Secret of Bigfoot" two-parter had it all - two geologists investigating the San Andreas fault, an ancient alien base, and Bigfoot, played by Andre the Giant himself.  It could only get better as Steve went to save the couple, and came face to face with Bigfoot, or as the badly stereotyped Native Americans called it, Sasquatch.  Only the stereotypes that date these episodes mar it.  Watching it again on Esquire recently, I found my childhood again. 

    We were a little under a year away from the wave of jiggle shows of which Lee Majors' wife Farrah Fawcett was a big part of, and I hadn't discovered girls yet, so watching Steve Austin trade blows with the Sasquatch was a dream come true.  There is a good and lengthy fight with voiceover narrative by the aliens watching, until Steve pulls off Bigfoot's arm. 

    The aliens have been there in the mountain for generations, guarded by the robotic Sasquatch.  Filmed in weird soft focus, they dress in leisure jumpsuits and a young Stephanie Powers is very interested in what makes Steve tick.  Bigfoot, while having some very cool facial make-up has an even worse wardrobe problem as he looks as if he's wearing pilly wool dreadlocked brown pajamas.  Sasquatch makes friends with Steve, maybe just to get fashion tips.  Throw in a massive Cailfornian earthquake and a nuclear bomb, and you've got a nail-biter.

    In the original two-parter we get a few cameos of Jaime Sommers, a reminder of how closely linked the two series were.  As with anything so popular in pop culture, the Sasquatch kept coming back, but not always played by Andre the Giant. Ted Cassidy filled in a few times, and not as satisfactorily in my expert opinion.

    The last time we see the creature, it's in the season five episode titled appropriately and simply enough, "Bigfoot V."  There's been a Bigfoot sighting and everyone is after him - anthropologists, hunters, opportunists, Rudy Wells, and Steve Austin and the OSI.  Other than some silly talk about the difference between space Bigfoots and Earth Bigfoots, this is pretty pedestrian stuff for the show, which had become mostly for the kids by this time. 

    Of course, the show had such an effect on our culture that when many people think of Bigfoot, they see in their minds Andre the Giant rather than the ape-like beast from the famous Patterson-Gimlin film, and that's saying something.

    Tuesday, May 23, 2017

    Back in a Flash

    Back in a flash, and gone in a flash as well. I haven't read a DC Comic in quite some time, maybe a year at least. There was a moment there, just a moment mind you, when there was interest, but the event fatigue that has almost killed Marvel Comics, drove me equally away from DC. Notice that the thrust of this single issue of The Flash I'm looking at today is pretty much following up storylines from my reviews a year ago, not cool. Whatever happened to one-and-done comics? Hell, one story in one issue could be the next hot gimmick - that's one gimmick I would gladly put my money down for.

    Speaking of money, and I hope the powers that be are reading this, the first comic book I had to have, and actually sought out a comic shop to go and put money on the counter for was The Flash #22, and that was for Jay Garrick, the real Jay Garrick, the original Golden Age Flash. That's $2.99 sight unseen, from the shelf to the counter and out the door. Think about that, DC Comics, you put the real Jay Garrick in a comic book, and I hand you money. Otherwise, I'm not interested in your line for a year or more. Someone says there's a traditional hero from my childhood acting like a hero, and I'm a customer again. Do the math.

    This issue is the fourth part of a storyline called "The Button," some hogwash trying to connect Watchmen to the DC Universe. I'm really not interested honestly. Watchmen's story is over. Anyone who read the acclaimed maxi-series knows this. Any further use of the characters, who are technically Charlton heroes and barely Alan Moore's creations, is just DC giving Moore the finger. So as far as any of this button nonsense goes, I really don't care. It's the Jay Garrick stuff I want to talk about.

    Jay Garrick is the first Golden Age superhero from Earth-Two I got to know. I never had a problem with the multiverse, it's only DC's writers who had trouble with that. I was fascinated by this older Flash from another world, and as I got older, I grew to love those Golden Age versions of the heroes more than the rest – Green Lantern, Hawkman, Doctor Fate, they ruled, but Jay was the first and the best.

    Jay Garrick is cover-featured on The Flash #22, shown burning through the original cover of Flash Comics #1 from 1940 to appear today. Nice effect, as if the book wasn't already sold on me. Sadly, Jay only appears on five pages of this roughly twenty-one-page comic. It was enough to make me cheer for a moment, but then again that's something Marvel hasn't been able to do for quite some time.

    Batman and the Flash, the Rebirth versions of these characters, are in pursuit of the Reverse-Flash through the time stream. The villain is apparently destroyed by a force - maybe God, maybe Doctor Manhattan – that also leaves our heroes without their Cosmic Treadmill and swept away into the winds of time. Metaphoric and cosmic, but it's that kind of comic. Then they hear a voice, telling Barry to say his name, "Jay."

    There's a weird Shazam! like vibe in that, but the name summons Jay Garrick, and he uses his speed to get Batman and Flash back to their universe, back to the Batcave, back home. He looks like our Jay Garrick, sleeker, maybe not as much of an old man, and the costume has a few tweaks, but nothing to complain about – shinier helmet, new boots, and his sleeves cover his hands more. It was still Jay, not that guy from that Earth 2, this was the old Flash I loved.

    Jay mentions being free, perhaps from the Speed Force, or some other dimension, or maybe some other Earth invisible from the 52-Earth multiverse… or maybe from Doctor Manhattan himself. Like Wally West in DC Universe Rebirth #1, he tries to get Barry to remember him, to no avail, and he vanishes into oblivion. I got my five pages and DC got my three bucks.

    The deal still stands however. Give me back my Flash, hell, I'll get greedy, give me back my Justice Society, and I'll give you my money, DC Comics, deal?

    Roger Moore 1927-2017

    Actor and humanitarian Roger Moore has died. His family announced today that he had passed from cancer after a lengthy battle with that and various ailments beginning with a diabetes diagnosis in 2013. He was most well known for his seven-film stint as James Bond 007 in the 1970s and 80s.

    Last week when I reviewed Octopussy, I was not so kind to Sir Roger Moore, and while it's true he had (literally) become a clown in the role by that point, he did star in two of my favorites from the franchise Live and Let Die and The Man with the Golden Gun. Notably he was in the role for the most films so far, and is still the best James Bond for many fans. And for prepubescent me, he was my favorite Bond as well, but perhaps that shows where the movies were aimed at the time.

    Bond wasn't all Moore should be famous for. He was incredible as "The Saint," also on TV, he was fun in "Maverick." In particular, he was a favorite of mine in the infamous but much fun Spice World, with the Spice Girls. Roger Moore was a legend and he will be missed. I'll be watching a few of his Bonds and raising a martini to his memory, shaken, not stirred.