Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What I Liked in 2014

There was a lot to like this year and a lot to dislike, but I'll try to keep this positive.

In television this year we probably witnessed some of the best TV ever made in HBO's "True Detective," a show that also did the impossible, and made me like Woody Harrelson. Probably the best take on a comic book superhero happened late in the year in "The Flash," which in turn spun out of "Arrow." Also in the comics realm and improving with every episode is "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." Please click on the links for my regular reviews of those shows.

This year I also dug "The Affair, " "Black Sails," "Power," "Penny Dreadful," "The Newsroom," "The Comeback," and the sadly canceled and much-maligned "Selfie"

As far as movies go, I loved Guardians of the Galaxy and Captain America: The Winter Soldier, proof positive that the superhero genre in film has grown up and proved it can be more than it's been in the past. A close tie with those films would be the small and powerful horror flick The Babadook that I really loved. Also on my good list this year would be The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, Jodorowsky's Dune, and Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel. On the bad side would be This Is the End, which of course would be my main reason for not wanting to see The Interview.

I haven't read all that many comics this year, but I would have to give serious props to Grant Morrison's Multiversity comics, which I not only read, but also enjoyed immensely. As far as real books, I would be remiss if I didn't mention Marie Gilbert's Roof Oasis and the newest South Jersey Writers' Group anthology Reading Glasses, and the two best books I've read this year are Wrapped in Plastic: Twin Peaks by Andy Burns and Murder on Edisto by C. Hope Clark.

For more of my views and those of the staff of Biff Bam Pop!, check out the newest Biff Bam Popcast on the best and worst of 2014 right here.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014


Snowpiercer ~ As far as word of mouth, and 2014's must see film, this was it. Everyone was talking about Snowpiercer. A future dystopic tale, where the world has been frozen over by an attempt to halt global warming and what's left of Earth's population has been loaded onto a constantly globe circling train divided by class into cars, just sounds insane, or at the least, very Terry Gilliam. In fact, and homage, John Hurt's character is even named Gilliam. Yes, it's a mental idea, but once you wrap your mind around it, it gets rather predictable, sadly.

Director Bong Joon-ho, probably best known for the wonderful new age kaiju eiga The Host, really wants to be Terry Gilliam here, and for the most part he succeeds. The amazing cast is caked in Gilliam grime, except for those who are clean and just plain odd. Captain America Chris Evans, The Help's Octavia Spencer, Alison Pill from "The Newsroom," Jamie Bell, Song Kang-ho, Ed Harris, and supremely odd Tilda Swinton are among the all star cast that make this flick.

The film is based on a French graphic novel called Le Transperceneige, and was Bong Joon-ho's first English language work. The class struggle turned into a rolling revolution is peppered with enough bizarro futurism and dystopian madness to keep things interesting. It's a science fiction ride that crosses The Poseidon Adventure with Les Miserables that has to be seen to be believed, and well worth watching.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Lady in a Cage

Lady in a Cage ~ There was a time in the sixties when some of the queens of old Hollywood tried to make minor comebacks by appearing in low budget Hitchcock wannabe thrillers. There was Hush... Hush, Sweet Charlotte, Trog, and the classic What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?. One might even throw Jane Russell in Born Losers into the mix as well. 1964's Lady in a Cage was Olivia de Havilland's turn.

The premise is simple. De Havilland is a rich white lady recovering from a broken hip. In the days before motorized stair climbers, she has a cage elevator installed. When a power failure stops her midway between floors, she is terrorized by young punks in her own home. She is the Lady in a Cage.

The leader of the tough juvenile delinquents is a very young James Caan, and his savagery is terrifying, reminding me of the similar performances by Martin Sheen and Tony Musante in one of my favorite films, The Incident. Caan is cool cruelty in this role. Also in the cast are Ann Southern, Jeff Corey, Scatman Crothers, and the recently deceased Richard Kiel.

Olivia de Havilland both gives a great performance alone and equally frustrates viewers who might put themselves in the same situation. As mad as one might get at her for not just jumping from the elevator, the rest of the characters are much more hate-able. The film quickly turns to a parable about what monsters people are, and then quickly into a generation gap horror story. There's more here than meets the eye.

What might at first seem silly and dated, is at times a true terror. Not great, but if you're into camp horror in the William Castle vein, you might just dig it.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lost Hits of the New Wave #36

"Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid

The original "Do They Know It's Christmas?" was written by Bob Geldolf of the Boomtown Rats and the criminally underacknowledged Midge Ure of Ultravox in 1984 to bring awareness to the famine in Ethiopia. Later overshadowed by that summer's American "We Are the World," I still think the original is the better song, and with the better stars.

Geldolf brought together a supergroup he called Band Aid to sing the song, which included Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, The Boomtown Rats, Sting, U2, Bananarama, Kool and the Gang (a seeming oddity, there only because they shared a record label with the Rats), Ultravox, Status
Quo, Marilyn, Heaven 17, Paul Young, George Michael, Paul Weller, Jody Watley, and Phil Collins. Artists who could not be a part of the recording like Paul McCartney, Holly Johnson, Big Country, and David Bowie were included giving holiday messages on the B-side of the single, called "Feed the World," a cool groove all by itself.

I worked in a record store at the time of the release, and its re-release in 1985 and remember the flurry to get a copy. This was huge. I also remember the crowds at the mall's Heroes World that Christmas, because they had a poster of Band Aid out front with a number chart to show who was who - and everyone wanted to know who was who.

The song was re-recorded in 1989, 2004, and this year as well. Here's the new version for 2014 by Band Aid 30:

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

On The Interview

I wasn't going to pipe in on this one. I figured it was old news by the time I had the time to get to my blog, and no one would care any more, but this story has seemed to linger. That, and many friends, both online and in real life, have wanted me to say something, so here you go. Yeah, I'm talking about The Interview.

The Interview is not a film I would have paid to see. I might have caught it when it got to my pay cable channels, but not otherwise. As I've said here before, I'm not a big fan of stoner movies, and James Franco and Seth Rogan, the stars of the film, left a really bad taste in my mouth the last time they got together - so this one was definitely not on my watch list.

What bothers me the most about the situation is that now everyone wants to see this movie, and not for the right reasons. If it ever gets released, it will make a mint. The other major thing that gets in my crawl is that Sony backed down, they pulled the film, and in short - the terrorists won. I hate that.

What if this was an important film (yes, there are important films) rather than some silly stoner comedy, would Sony have knuckled under as well? Is our entertainment now at the mercy of foreign powers or terror groups? Rant over. It's Christmas, I'm going to try to be happy now.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Joe Cocker Dead at 70

Singer/songwriter Joe Cocker has passed away after a prolonged battle with lung cancer. He was 70.

This is embarrassing but I knew of the man for a long time before I ever saw or heard him. In the comics of my youth there were those Columbia Record Club ads which always included Mad Dogs and Englishmen, and I experienced John Belushi doing Joe on "Saturday Night Live" long before I ever saw the real thing. And the real thing was unique, powerful, and wonderful.

Joe Cocker had his own style, was his own man, and although he only had a handful of hits, they were amazing epic musical triumphs. His cover of the Beatles' "With a Little Help from my Friends" may well be one of those rare covers better than the original. He's worked with some of the best in the business over his forty-plus year career and will be missed. We've lost one of the legends.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Walt Disney's Robin Hood

Robin Hood ~ Although it's from the watered down Don Bluth years, the post-Walt Disney era in the 1970s when the studio really didn't know what to do with itself, this 1973 animated version of the Robin Hood legend still holds good memories for me.

My big brother took me to see this flick at the old Atco Drive-In, where it was on a triple bill, followed by the original 1965 That Darn Cat with Disney mainstays Dean Jones and Hayley Mills. The last feature, which we only stayed through the opening credits for, was the gentle Sam Peckinpah classic Junior Bonner with Steve McQueen and Joe Don Baker. It was only rated PG but I guess my brother didn't want to take any chances in case there was anything iffy for eight-year old me in it. I remember sharing a box of Junior Mints with my brother, laughing at That Darn Cat, wondering what Junior Bonner was about, and in general being unimpressed with Robin Hood, which was essentially why we were at the drive-in to begin with - to see the Disney flick. Other than good times with the bro, the movie has never been a favorite. I'll take Errol Flynn over this any day.

Even as a kid, this toned down, sickly sweet, kinda boring version of Robin Hood just didn't do it for me, and having characters so similar to those in The Jungle Book and even Bedknobs and Broomsticks didn't help either. It was upsetting to find that some of the film was reused and traced footage from previous Disney movies. The Jungle Book frustration was heightened by not just it being one of the movies, but also by the inclusion of a snake character (Sir Hiss = Kaa) and a bear character (Baloo = Little John, the latter both voiced by Phil Harris), and even a couple vultures. Even at eight, I could feel the constraints of the budget.

Having been raised on the wonderful 1938 The Adventures of Robin Hood, most other versions of the character pale in comparison, this Disney one much more so, as it's not even a very exciting adventure. There was a lot of care put into the idea of watering stuff down for the children, and the tirade against violence on television and film was just beginning at this time so there's not much really one could do with Robin Hood in this atmosphere. There's even an alternate ending to this flick that was scrapped to make it palatable for the kiddies - or should I say, palatable for the overprotective parents?

Imagine my surprise when I found out that this particular story wasn't even really Robin Hood to begin with, but another character of Eurpoean folklore called Reynard the Fox. Disney had been trying to find a way to bring this story, as well as that of Robin Hood to the screen for quite some time. Animator Ken Anderson found a way to kill two birds with one stone, and combined them. That's why Robin and Marion are foxes. The lion and the rooster also correspond to animal characters in Reynard's tale as well.

Perhaps the powers that be should have just made a Reynard the Fox animated feature and left Robin Hood for future filmmakers to do better, as was done with both Sherlock Holmes and Tarzan many years later at the studio. Recommended only as a curiosity, or for Disney completists.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Poor Devil

Poor Devil ~ This failed TV pilot/made for TV movie is one I have been trying to locate for a while. I saw it a couple times as a kid and then never again, until recently I discovered it on YouTube. From 1973, Poor Devil stars Sammy Davis Jr. as a devil named Sammy. Sentenced to the furnace room of Hell, he's just trying to catch a break and get promoted, you know, up to a good devil position like buying souls.

In this case, the client is Jack Klugman, in his "Odd Couple" prime, trying to get revenge on his boss. He plays a similarly never promoted junior accountant who's just been overlooked after spending twenty-five years working at a department store in San Francisco. Frustrated, he finally says he'd sell his soul to get even with his superior. Along comes Sammy.

Klugman is always good, even as the nebbishy wimp he plays here. Sammy fills his scenes with class and enthusiasm, and sharp duds. This is the early seventies after all and everyone is dressed to the nines, especially in Hell, which is run like a corporate office (all in Satanic reds) that would make Don Draper proud. Christopher Lee rounds out the cast as the mod young Lucifer. The real standout of this flick however is Adam West as Klugman's slimy boss. This anti-Batman role was probably the template for Gary Cole's Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. Yeah, he's that big of a jerk.

Klugman's plan for revenge is to empty the department store the night before the biggest shopping day of the year - December 23rd. Yeah, this is also one of those Christmas movies that happens at Christmas but it's not really a Christmas movie. Yeah, I know, a Christmas movie with devils. I can definitely understand why NBC didn't pick it up as a series.

While it's hopelessly dated, but in a good way, and unfortunately slow in some places... I found that it still holds up. It was simple, but I enjoyed the flick. Catch it on YouTube if you get a chance.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Arrow S03 E09: "The Climb"

Finally after seasons of teasing us with the League of Assassins, we get to see The Demon himself, R'as Al Ghul. I love that the previews are visually recalling that first duel between Batman and R'as from the classic 1972 Batman #244. I remember the issue fondly as it was my introduction to R'as, Talia, and the League of Assassins. And of course, the creators of that comic, Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams, rebuilt Green Arrow from the ground up around that time as well.

As this is the mid-season finale, and made by the same folks as "The Flash," we should see some resolution and ongoing subplots end or collide. That's how it's been the last two years on "Arrow" and how it was earlier this week on "The Flash." After all, this isn't "Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." "Arrow" delivers.

After delivering a 'package' to police headquarters, Arrow is captured by Nyssa and the League of Assassins and given an ultimatum. If you recall, Nyssa and the League had decided it was Malcolm Merlyn who killed Sara, and wanted to take him out. Arrow knew it wasn't him and defended him - to old R'as, this was an act of war, but Nyssa allowed him time to find the real killer. Unfortunately with a week off and a crossover with the Flash, Arrow hasn't had the time.

Nyssa says dad has a new deal. Find the killer in forty-eight hours or the League will start killing citizens of Starling City. This 'cleansing' of the city will be supervised by the assassin called Sarab, who Oliver knows better as Maseo, Katana's husband from Flashback Hong Kong. See what I mean about moving forward? Pay attention, Agents. And speaking of Flashback Hong, we get a bit more on Oliver's first clash with China White and her use of a super virus.

With only so much time, the search for Sara's killer is kicked into overdrive. So much progress is made with a clock ticking, I really can't help but think maybe Team Arrow wasn't really trying all that hard to find her killer before. I know that sounds harsh, but hey, look at the results here. It's more than a little embarrassing when you think about it like that.

Secrets that viewers have known for a while are out in the open to the characters involved. I told you things are moving forward. As it turns out, Sara might have been killed by... da da dum... Thea. Used by Merlyn, she, under his drug induced influence, killed Sara. It's his convoluted (even for a show based on a comic book) plan to get Oliver to fight and kill R'as Al Ghul, thus erasing any debts or bounties - like the one on Merlyn's.

As expected, to protect his sister from R'as, Oliver takes the blame, and challenges The Demon to a duel, a trial by combat - according to R'as, his first in sixty-seven years. At least here, as opposed to the Dark Knight film trilogy, they are acknowledging his immortality. And we also know that R'as will be back. The title of the episode comes from the climb Oliver takes up the mountain to the consecrated area of combat. It's a metaphorical climb similar to the one Bruce Wayne made in The Dark Knight Rises.

And wait, what, did Oliver just tell Felicity he loved her??? But that trick never works…

Just in time for Christmas, the soap opera aspect of the show is back in full force. Ray Palmer is feeling guilty about kissing Felicity because he lost his true love when Deathstroke took over the city last year. Laurel blabs to Thea that Sara is dead. And Mom is back, River Song herself, and she knows something wrong, so Laurel blabs to her too. How the heck is she going to keep her identity a secret when she becomes Black Canary? Loose lips, Laurel, loose lips.

We get other Christmas presents as well. We get to see Katana and China White go at it with swords, and Ray reveals his A.T.O.M. exosuit to Felicity. At first he calls it O.M.A.C., the designation Queen Consolidated gave it, but says he prefers Advanced Technology Operating Mechanism. Bleah. How about atom because he'll be able to get small like an atom? I love how Felicity keeps getting saddled with superhero secrets just like Alfred in the 1966 "Batman" TV series.

The duel ends exactly as one would expect a duel between Green Arrow and R'as Al Ghul to end, with our hero's death. Don't worry, it's not the first time Green Arrow has been dead, nor is it the last. See you in January.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Mr. Holland's Opus

Mr. Holland's Opus ~ One of the treats on board the Disney Magic on the TCM Classic Cruise was seeing films on the big screen, and having it introduced and discussed by its star. Such was the case one early morning after breakfast with Richard Dreyfuss and Mr. Holland's Opus.

It's amazing to me, while waiting in a huge line forty-five minutes early, how many people are similarly amazed, but for a completely different reason. Everyone says this is their favorite film, yet they can't believe anyone else is here. What? It can't be someone else's favorite film? That's how most folks were waiting for Mr. Holland's Opus. It was their favorite film, but were stunned that anyone else felt the same way. I guess everyone thinks it's a secret.

Speaking of favorite films, this is one of The Bride's favorites, right up there with The Princess Bride and Frozen. And as I mentioned, well over a couple hundred folks agreed. So a chance to see Mr. Holland's Opus on the big screen (again) and especially introduced by the star of the film himself could not be missed.

Richard Dreyfuss loved this film and reflected on its origins, as he was interviewed by actress/director/film historian Ileana Douglas. Written in just two weeks after the screenwriter was confronted by a teachers strike and deciding that teachers are real heroes - Mr. Holland's Opus is a tribute to teachers who make a difference. In that case I'd want to thank Mrs. Pfleger, Mr. Stewart, and Mr. Lee who, much like Mr. Holland, made a difference in my life at what passed for a high school back in the day.

We watch in loose episodic vignettes as Holland, a frustrated musician and composer takes a teaching job as a last resort, a temporary measure, and stays for several decades as he raises a deaf son, and changes the lives of many students along the way, to the music of the times. It's an uplifting teacher story in a decade where uplifting teacher stories were in vogue, but it's special, it has heart, it has realism, as opposed to being overly sentimental or emotionally manipulative like lesser, but still amazing, films like Stand and Deliver or Lean on Me. This one feels real, and if you're not in tears at the end, you're heartless.

Dreyfuss in various and subtle stages of age and make-up gives the performance of his life, and co-stars Glenne Headley, Olympia Dukakis, William H. Macy, Terrence Howard, and even Jay Thomas follow suit. It's powerful, emotional, educational, and even funny. It affects me the same way every time I see it, and I have to watch it every time I see it's on. This is a must see film.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Flash Vs. Arrow - Part Two

For the second part of the CW's big Flash Vs. Arrow crossover television event, you can read my review of the Arrow half here at Biff Bam Pop!. You can read part one here, and over at Biff Bam Pop!, yesterday.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Flash Vs. Arrow - Part One

For the first part of the CW's big Flash Vs. Arrow crossover television event, you can read my review of the Flash half here at Biff Bam Pop!. Check back here, and at Biff Bam Pop!, tomorrow for part two.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie!

I was never a big fan of the Cheech & Chong movies (or stoner movies in general, not being a stoner I guess), but by the time I was old enough to get most of the jokes, I was already well versed in their comedy routines. In the Philadelphia area, Cheech & Chong were staples of Sunday nights on Dr. Demento and WYSP's Comedy Hour.

One of my favorites was "Earache My Eye," a skit that included a song by 'Alice Bowie' that I always wished was longer. Much like the Richard Pryor "Wanted" album, the first three Steve Martin albums, and all the words to Monty Python and the Holy Grail - these routines were committed to memory by myself and my friends, and composed probably forty percent of our total junior high school conversations.

Such is the legacy of Cheech & Chong. These days Cheech Marin is more known for his acting, especially his tour de force in From Dusk Till Dawn, and Chong is probably known better as poor Tommy Chong, because of his run-ins with the US legal system, as opposed to his recent fame on "Dancing with the Stars." This feature, Cheech & Chong's Animated Movie!, is a throwback to those simpler, funnier times back in junior high.

This feature is a pretty simple concept, old Cheech & Chong comedy routines animated. At first it reminds me of the Cokelogic animations of Opie & Anthony radio bits, but these are better and much funnier. All the classics are here like "Let's Make a Dope Deal," "Ralph and Herbie," "Dave's Not Here," "Sister Mary Elephant," and even Alice Bowie. Fun and nostalgic, bring your own munchies.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Lost Hits of the New Wave #35

"Twilight Zone" by Golden Earring

One of the reasons I started this Lost Hits of the New Wave series on my blog was to rail against the concept of the one-hit wonder, because they rarely are. For instance, neither "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats nor "Take on Me" by a-ha are one-hit wonders, much to the horror of many a VH-1 special. But Golden Earring is that rare but elusive true two-hit wonder.

Golden Earring's first hit, an FM radio staple in the 1970s, "Radar Love," in the days before the internet, was also the subject of many misheard lyrics discussions. How can it be 'radar love'? What the hell does that mean? Surely they must mean 'red hot love,' at least that makes sense. The haunting song, as much about driving as about telepathy, with the mysterious lyrics was released in 1973.

The Dutch band had been around since 1961, first known as the Golden Earrings, and are still active today, having scored dozens of hits in their homeland of The Netherlands in their long and distinguished career. They had to wait more than a decade for their second international hit however after "Radar Love."

From the 1982 album Cut featuring the iconic image of a playing card being shredded by a bullet, Golden Earring released the single "Twilight Zone." Fledgling music video network MTV picked it up almost immediately, although showing an edited version of the video, sans nudity.

While the obvious assumption is that the song is about the Rod Serling 1960s TV series of the same name, it's not. Sure, the pop culture reference is there, but listen to the lyrics, it's about something else. The song is about Robert Ludlum's novel "The Bourne Identity" that decades later became a successful movie franchise.

Rated R version

In their day Golden Earring toured the States often, notorious for their sometimes half-hour jam cover of "Eight Miles High" and the drummer catapulting into the audience at the climax of solos. Notably they were so big at one time that both KISS and Aerosmith opened for them during tours. After a Great Adventure concert ended in a fire tragedy in 1984 however, the band tended to stay away from the States and stick to smaller venues.