Wednesday, December 31, 2008


We holed up in his room, John and I, as we had the year before, with only the light from his cheesy duck lamp (named Howard, of course) and the soft glow of the cathode ray tube, into which we gazed. Dad had gone to bed, and Mom was downstairs, finishing the crossword puzzle in the paper before she joined him.

No champagne, no refreshments or snacks of any kind, just a willfully ironic celebration of the very idea of a new year having any significance. After all, what could be a bigger joke than watching New Year's Rockin' Eve? What could be a more trivial, more demeaning way of celebrating the coming of a new decade than to spend the evening with The Village People and Barry Manilow, to say nothing of our hosts, John Schneider and Erin Moran? Erin Fucking Moran--seriously?

The festivities were delayed by five minutes as Frank Reynolds hosted his nightly update on the hostage crisis in Iran, making sure to inject some veiled right-wing politics into his ostensibly objective report, and then we went right to Dick Clark standing in Times Square, the cameras prowling the grimy, beaten-down streets of Manhattan in the last moments of the seventies, and I thought, Good God, is Grease going to run forever?

Dick threw it to the pre-taped studio segments, and the performers lip-synched like good performing monkeys, and Debbie Harry's miming of Dreaming was so bad she seemed to be doing it on purpose, and Erin Fucking Moran was as vacant as expected, and John Schneider--who performed a number himself, unfortunately--seemed like a fountain of charisma by comparison.

And Dick did the countdown as the ball dropped, and every commercial David Naughton sang and danced about being a Pepper, and they cut to live feed of Manilow doing Just Another New Year's Eve, which apparently was some sort of tradition. And the performing monkeys did their thing some more, and we cut back to a now flaccid Dick in Times Square after the party had passed him by, and John Schneider and Erin Fucking Moran wished us goodnight and happy new year.

Then WOI signed off the air, the Thought For The Day followed by the usual ISU promo film followed by the National Anthem. John and I shrugged, made some final sarcastic comments and I went to bed, spending these first moments of a whole new decade listening to the wind howl through the trees, wondering what I was supposed to feel.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Computer hiccups this morning meant that I couldn't even get around to posting until much later than usual, so no time for incisive commentary. Or even long-winded, thuddingly obvious diatribes.

Instead, I'll bring you a great song from The Kinks. Honestly, in their mid- to late-sixties incarnation, these guys could nearly lay claim to topping The Beatles for sheer creative genius. (In the seventies, their sound changed, and though Ray Davies would always remain a brilliant songwriter, things would never be quite the same.) This song, Phenomenal Cat, is everything great about these guys: An instantly memorable melody is paired with an unusual, ear-catching arrangement. The lyrics are whimsical without being twee. Best of all, it's a song about a cat!

Monday, December 29, 2008


Israel's in another pissing match with Palestine, firing off U.S.-made missiles at alleged Hamas targets, but if civilians happen to get killed instead, hey, collateral damage and all that. Obama has already pledged vague fealty to Israel, setting off righteous anger in the Arab world, and...

The economic crisis is forcing local governments in all fifty states to drastically curtail spending at a time when its most needed, slashing benefits for the poor, closing group homes and juvenile detention centers, letting roads and bridges languish unrepaired. Here in the real world, things are about to get very ugly, and...

Everywhere unequaled misery, everywhere unbearable despair. Where can a person turn for some good news?

Why, to Reuters, of course, reliable purveyors of unneeded showbiz news, who breathlessly report the following:

MTV premieres "Hills" spin-off "The City," starring Whitney Port, at 10 P.M. Monday. "Bromance," a competition series starring "Hills" staple Brody Jenner, debuts an hour earlier. New episodes of "Hills" are set to air in the spring.

Whew! I don't know about you, but that news sure cheers me up. I mean, I've never heard of these Whitney and Brody people, and would avoid a show called Bromance with every fiber of my being, but thank you, Reuters. Thank you for reporting what's really important at times like this!

Friday, December 26, 2008


The great playwright Harold Pinter died Wednesday, and singer-actress-force of nature Eartha Kitt passed away on Christmas day.

And while neither death was unexpected--both had cancer, and Pinter's failing health especially had been known for some time--it is unfortunate to add their names to the list of people we now have to live without. Me, I'm still reeling from the death last week of the fine film director Robert Mulligan, who directed a couple of favorites around here, The Stalking Moon and The Other.

Pinter was 78, Kitt and Mulligan in their eighties. They'd lived good, productive lives, their whole careers behind them, and it wouldn't be so bad, except...who can replace these people? Pinter's plays (and screenplays, and if you haven't seen Accident, what the hell are you doing right now that's more important?) literally changed their art form, Kitt should have received residuals from Madonna from ripping off her persona, and Mulligan was the sort of old-school pro who could switch from a noble (but not stuffy) literary adaptation like To Kill A Mockingbird to a vivid siege thriller posing as a Western like The Stalking Moon to a tough, thoughtful gangster movie like The Nickel Ride and make it all look easy.

Yes, we have writers, performers and filmmakers today, many of them awesomely talented. But too many of them wear their influences on their sleeves, and ultimately, they just don't seem to matter as much. Pinter and Kitt were utterly original, and though no one speaks of Mulligan in the same terms as Murnau or Welles, you never watch any of his movies thinking, "Ah, there's the Godard hommage or the Hitchcock reference." They did things their own way, and they mattered, and the world is a lesser place without them.

Thursday, December 25, 2008


This is Tom Waits with Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis.

Nah, Christmas isn't that bleak this year. Sure, I'm living by myself, and another year is ending without a sense of anything being accomplished, and my family is scattered to the winds. And yeah, the economy's tanking, and the bright shiny hope of Obama's presidency is already compromised by the business-as-usual cabinet he's picked, and the world is full of hatred and despair, and every passing day is just another reminder that our time on this planet is limited.

But hey, it's alright, it's alright, at least I can still laugh and cry, and I have people I care about and a job and a place to live. And even if I'm sad, at least I can feel something.

If you're a regular at this site, you know how much I love this movie, and you knew this was coming: an unimaginably sad song for Christmas, a remembrance of happier times when the present seems uncertain.

So Merry Christmas, everyone, or whatever you celebrate.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


I'm very happy I lived far enough from a movie theater (or thee-ATE-er, as the first ad would have it) that I never got dragged off to see any of these horrors (or those incredibly creepy Swedish Pippi Longstocking epics, for that matter) when they appeared at heavily-advertised regional kiddie matinees. Just seeing these commercials when they aired during Duane & Floppy was bad enough. I still have Magic Christmas Tree-related trauma, and I've never even seen the damned thing.

Watch these and shudder, and just try to have a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Continuing my idiosyncratic approach to the holidays, here we have by far the most depressing song ever written for a Christmas special. This comes from the holiday perennial Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol, a surprisingly faithful rendition of the Dickens warhorse. Though at first glance this would seem to be a kiddie-oriented version of the tale, it is in fact one of the most grim, retaining all the darkness usually scrubbed from most adaptations.

So here's Belle's lovely song of parting to Scrooge, a heartbreaking number written by Jule Styne and Bob Merrill, Broadway veterans who weren't slumming here--the entire score for this special is first-rate. Happy bleak holidays!

Monday, December 22, 2008


In recent years, this performance has become much more familiar. Apparently, it's a big favorite of Gen Xers like myself, and has become a campy staple for younger viewers as well.

But back in '74, when The Year Without A Santa Claus first aired, I was nine, and man o Manischewitz, did I hate this thing. The Rankin-Bass holiday specials (Rudopht The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Claus Is Coming To Town) had always been favorites of mine, but this one had a convoluted, largely unpleasant storyline, and its physical production was downright ugly.

So it failed to become a seasonal favorite in my household, and apparently in others as well--unlike other Rankin-Bass favorites, it didn't air every year. It kind of faded away, mostly forgotten.

Except of course, for Snow Miser and Heat Miser. For years ever after, my brother and I remained convinced we'd hallucinated this entire thing. Nobody we knew had ever heard of these characters, or remembered this song. Then, sometime, all that changed...

These days, everybody knows the Misers. They even had their own (awful) special on cable this year. Hipster bands record covers of their signature tune. You can even buy miniature figurines of them. (Mine are on top of the fridge.) And even though I somehow never associate them with Christmas, here they are, kicking off my festival of loopy Christmas clips. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 21, 2008


True, this nation just elected its first black president. We've entered the "post-race" era, haven't we? A whole new world of tolerance and understanding. This is the twenty-first century, and this is America. We're not savages, right?


Saturday, December 20, 2008


Going out to the movies these days is a nightmare for many reasons, but one of them is this: The fear that, before the actual movie starts, following the "pre-show" antics of soda company-based quizzes and E Network-sanctioned trivia challenges, and after the five or six commercials for SUVs and electronics, the trailers will begin, and I'll have to sit through something like this:

Oh sure, the obvious response to that is the overwhelming desire to slash my wrists, just to make the pain end. But instead, I wonder how and why a movie like this gets produced. Did anyone think it was a good idea, or did somebody owe somone a favor? Is there a reason it will be playing in 2000 theaters on its opening weekend, as opposed to going straight to video? Did the people on the set every day think they were actually producing something worthwhile? Is there anybody, anywhere, who would willingly sit through this? Does the despair this produces in me portend a downward spiral in my life, or am I being overly dramatic?

And after sitting through this thing, is there any way I can enjoy the movie I paid to see, when something like this makes me feel like I never want to spend time in a theater again?

Friday, December 19, 2008


Got home late--well, late for me--and wired, laid in bed until well past midnight, listening to the ice clack clack clack against the window. Somewhere along the line, caught some sleep, maybe an hour or so. Then woke up, prattled around, unable to concentrate on anything, wondering and worrying whether I'll get to work or not.

There are more productive things I could be doing, like seeing if my car door is frozen shut, so this post is basically a placeholder, put up here because...I dunno, it seemed like a good idea. And even though I've got nothing to say, I can at least bring you some music. Here's Janis Siegel.

CRAPPY WEATHER UPDATE: Where I live, I have to park on the street, so my car was totally covered in ice. I let it warm up for twenty minutes and still couldn't get it melted off, and a car going by on the cross-street spun out as i stood there. Taking that as a sign, I called in to work. My supervisor told me to come in later if at all possible (as she put it, "I made it in"), so...we'll see.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


The sky is curdled-milk white, bright as the sun peeking through the cold, unforgiving layer of clouds will allow. It will darken soon, the forecasters say, and ice will fall, covering cars and power lines and lawns.

And streets, including the narrow, hilly streets of my neighborhood. Just as it did that day, when the three and a half-block drive to Methodist Medical Center became a slippery nightmare, but I had to drive it, I had to get there, since Mom lay dying in the hospital.

Not that I knew that, of course. I mean, I knew, but I couldn't acknowledge it. She was ill, yes, catastrophically so, and death would arrive soon enough. But not yet, not now, not on such a terrible, cold day, not on this day, oh no, that couldn't possibly happen.

Why am I thinking of this now? Why do I think of it every single time ice falls from the sky, when the streets become mirrored surfaces, like frozen tracks of tears? How does it grip me, the out-of-nowhere melancholy brought on by the occasional stray memory? Can't this weather conjure some alternative memories?

It could, but of what? Of childhood? Ah, but Mom was always there, offering me something to eat when I came in from playing in the cold, or offering soothing words when I slipped on the ice. Or other memories: I'm an adult, living far away, but Mom still faithfully calls to complain about being housebound because of an ice storm, or asks how I'm dealing with the ice she heard is falling where I am.

Try as I might, I can't banish the pain, the scorpion sting that lashes on days like this. Maybe such thoughts are inspired by the very nature of ice, shimmering on branches and rooftops, so pretty to look at but so dangerous and cruel, like a joyous memory that turns unbearably sad.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


A very sad story, if true: Peter Falk's daughter claims her dad is suffering from Alzheimer's.

There are a lot of performers I admire, but on my short list of absolute, absolute favorites, Peter Falk has a special place. Comedy, drama, whatever, Falk is the best of the best. He gave one of the greatest comic performances of all time in The In-Laws, and was absolutely heartbreaking as a good man cracking under pressure in A Woman Under The Influence. He's done great character work in films like Murder, Inc., All The Marbles, Lakeboat and Undisputed.

Then there's Lt. Columbo.

I'll accept no arguments here: Columbo is simply one of the greatest things in the world. I've been actually meaning to write about it for some time, but for now, let me just say that, of its many pleasures, the greatest by far is Falk's sterling work as the wily homicide detective. He's the main reason the show is endlessly rewatchable: No matter how many times you've seen an episode, it's always a treat to try pinpointing the exact moment Columbo knows the murderer is guilty, and when he knows he's caught him. Though the character is rather broadly conceived and written (he never changes his clothes!), Falk's performance is always sublimely subtle, always keyed to the rhythms of his co-stars. He can be angry or petulant or sympathetic. Sometimes, he's even a bit of a jerk. In every case, Falk provides a layer of humanity only hinted at by the scripts.

Within the confines of a somewhat formulaic TV series (though a brilliant, elastic formula), he created one of the finest characterizations any actor has ever done. If his current condition is such that he can never work again, he'll still be remembered for this. And that will do just fine.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008


I just deleted a post from this past weekend. I've never done that in all the time I've been writing here. You can crawl through the archives and still find me waxing rhapsodic about my deep love for a single mom and her adorable kid, or the misty water-colored memory of my ex-wife that managed to upset Tabbatha so much (and understandably so, in retrospect) it may have helped lead to our breakup, or those weird guest appearances from former girlfriend Katie, or me pitching a fit about stuff I frankly can't remember. All that is still here because...I'm not sure, really. I guess just to have some record of my life at any particular moment.

This piece, though, didn't quite say what I wanted it to say. It was abrupt and clumsy, and I couldn't fix it or make it better, so it went away, lost in the aether, never to be seen again.

Which got me to thinking about all the other things I've ever written that also went away. Reams and reams of short fiction, the victims of several moves. The published pieces that can't be accessed online, either because the publications no longer exist or have changed hands and refuse to make available any archives of their previous forms.

I could mourn their loss, but why? All things are impermanent, aren't they? We're here and we're gone, and the only real record of our existence lives in the memories of others, but soon enough, they are gone, too. Ultimately, we know our time here is finite, not just our individual lives, but the entire human race. The world will end eventually, along with the sum total of everything we've ever known or ever believed.

So why mourn? Why rejoice, or love, or cower in fear? Why do anything?

As happens so often, a fuzzy gray critter will provide the answer: Monika, perched on the chair beside my desk, front paws neatly folded under her chest, stares through me, like she knows something I don't. She's in her fifteenth year on the planet, elderly for a cat. Still, she bounces, she plays, she leaps and bounds all through the apartment, and clearly is happy with her life. She can't have more than, what? Five, six years left, tops? She has no concept of mortality, though. She lives for now.

Monday, December 15, 2008


This performance by former teen sensation Martika (Anyone else remember Toy Soldiers? Anyone?), taken from the inexplicable eighties series Kids Incorporated, raises a number of questions:

1) Thunder Road? Performed by kids? Did anyone think this through?

2) The lyrics about Mary "dancing like a vision" make sense when Springsteen sings them, but here...Look, this site is all about diversity, and we celebrate lesbianism and all that, but clearly, since the lyrics were abridged but unaltered gender-wise, then given to a young girl to sing, the song magically transformed into an ode to the joys of underage chick-on-chick lovin'. Again, though we try to be tolerant and all...Did anyone connected with this show realize what they were doing?

3) If so, did they feel at least a little bit dirty?

4) Did somebody rouse Martika from a particularly restful sleep and drag her onstage? Is there any other explanation for her unkempt hair and the fact that she seems to be wearing pajamas?

5) The purple-clad moppet joining in on the chorus grew up to be Fergie. If the brain trust behind this show hadn't encouraged a wholly misguided belief in her talent, would we have been spared the song Fergalicious?

6) This show lasted for several seasons. Could a just and fair God have allowed such a thing to happen?

7) Did the producers of Kids Incorporated intend their show to provoke theological questions?

8) Did I inexplicably see this when it originally aired, and had I successfully repressed that shameful memory until YouTube brought it all flooding back? And having seen it again, and knowing I can never unsee it, can my soul ever be cleansed? Is there any spritual Bon Ami that will scrub away the sorrow and despair?

9) Why am I watching crap like this at 4 AM?


Good news, everyone: An Australian production company has secured the rights to produce a sequel to The Phantom.

Though that news would produce mild confusion in the vast majority of people--"A sequel to what?"--to the literally dozens of people who spent good money back in 1996 to see it, the notion that someone wants to produce a follow-up to that misbegotten Billy Zane vehicle can only produce jaw-dropping, eyeball popping disbelief. "A sequel to that piece of shit?" they would cry, rending their garments and crying in despair to the indifferent heavens. "Why? For the love of God, WHYYYY?"

And while the concept of waiting for well over a decade to produce a continuation of a franchise that nobody wants to see may seem like a bad idea to civilians, to veterans of the motion picture industry, no idea is too stupid to warrant a follow-up. For instance, even though there had already been two movies produced involving B-level Marvel Comics character The Punisher, and both of those movies had flopped, earlier this month we were treated to The Punisher: War Zone, the third big screen outing for the gun-toting sociopath, and guess what? It flopped, too!

Of course it did, because nobody cares about that particular character and nobody has the money to waste on glorified B-movies. But some shadowy international consortium had the rights to the character, and a pile of money they couldn't legally spend on anything else, so...sure, why not? Another Punisher movie.

As for The Phantom, well, the AP story about it breathlessly explains that producer Bruce Sherlock "won" the rights to produce the sequel, as if filmmakers had been locked in some crazy bidding war to make another movie about a guy in purple tights and stripey underwear.

The sad thing is, they might have been.

Friday, December 12, 2008


I'll be honest: My stats are down. Way down. As in, is-anybody-even-reading-this? down.

Which would be easy to take personally. People come here, and if they don't stick around, isn't a rejection of me? I mean, this site pretty much reflects my personality, my perspectives, my obsessions...

Oh! My obsessions! Maybe that's the problem. Maybe if I wasn't so obsessed with, say, seventies variety shows. Maybe if I didn't post clips of, I dunno, Jim Nabors' exquisitely awful 1971 summer replacement show (featuring special guest Vikki Carr!)--

--because maybe that actually repels more people than it attracts. So...maybe I should stop?

Yeah, right.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


An assembly somewhere--a bowling alley, perhaps? Tables arranged lengthwise, checkered tablecloths covering them, metal folding chairs surrounding them. People gathered, a fair number but not so many that I can remain as anonymous as I might wish. After all, I barely know any of these people.

In fact, I'm only here because I'm a nodding acquaintance with a guy who knows the guy who's being honored. It's a birthday celebration, or at least, I think it is. Somebody stands and makes a speech, then throws it over to a little kid who starts telling some sort of inspirational story about...who cares, really?

This is the most boring dream imaginable and not worth my time. The people and the setting all fade to gray as I speed through several states of consciousness, waking briefly, then right back to sleep.

I can do this? I can take charge of my dreams? Good to know there's at least one aspect of my life over which I have some kind of control.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


You've always been well-liked by the general public, Ambulatory Penis. Adored by the masses and all that, even though there have always been rumors, and there was that devastating interview with Marilyn Chambers back in '76 or '77. As I recall, she claimed you were "squishy" and made no secret of her preference for the chocolaty goodness of Happy Ho-Ho. You must have been crushed--such a revelation of softness could have derailed your entire career--but did you have to respond with this?

Bad enough that you are wildly overcompensating in this spot, riding a motorcycle and swinging a lasso and saving the day while Happy Ho-Ho acts a fool, dithering in a most unseemly manner. Except, as we all know, that's not really Happy Ho-Ho, is it? You had him fired, just to make yourself look bigger. The guy playing him here isn't even really chocolate--it's your brother-in-law's cousin done up in blackface, trotting out his unloved Ed Wynn impression.

We know, too, that things turned out pretty well for Happy Ho-Ho. Sure, it was grim for awhile--after you had him bounced from the Hostess empire, he rode out his career by appearing in anonymous porno loops, while you continued to party with your friends at Studio 54, secure in the knowledge that his sell-by date was arriving soon. But Happy's rich, sonorous voice made him perfect for voice-over work, and his beloved spots for the SoulMaster 2000 have been widely sampled, making him a legend in the hip-hop world.

Whereas you, Ambulatory Penis...what have you done since your freshness seal expired? You have nothing to remember but your shame.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008


There's been quite a bit of hullaballoo in the state since The Des Moines Register axed seventy-some employees last week. That's not surprising, really. Times are tough for newspapers these days, with The Tribune Company filing for bankruptcy and The New York Times looking for a sugar daddy.

But the bloodbath at The Register stood out for its heartlessness, coming as it did smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, and base stupidity, with its high-profile firing of editorial cartoonist Brian Duffy, not a particularly shining talent but a guy who toiled at the paper for a quarter of a century, and was obviously well-known and liked by its readership. No, a staff cartoonist isn't important in the grand scheme of things, but his firing is bound to be seen as a betrayal by what's left of The Register's readership.

For me, the most poignant name among those fired was that of Juli Probasco-Sowers, listed at the time of her firing as an "outdoor writer". (She used to be a straight-up reporter, but The Register barely bothers with actual journalism anymore, so she gravitated to feature writing instead.) Before her name became hyphenated, Probasco edited The Perry Chief, and responded positively to my proposal for a regular column devoted to TV and film reviews.

So began my semi-professional writing career. True, The Chief was just a small-town weekly, but I had a regular forum to express my views, and to my considerable surprise, I acquired a (slight) following. This was in the nineties, not so long ago at all, and yet a time when people still read and cared about newspapers, and when writing for one seemed to carry a certain cachet. It meant something that my work was regularly seen in print.

Because, after all, someone had to decide your writing deserved to be read. Now, any schlub can put their work out on the interweb and have a larger potential readership than any ink-stained wretches of the past could dream of. I never made much in any of my semi-pro writing gigs, but if I worked this little enterprise hard enough, networked other bloggers and search engines in a naked bid to up my readership enough to justify selling add space or adding a tip jar, I could easily make more from this site than I ever did from my print jobs. Anybody could.

Which is great, and it democratizes the creative process and all, but...I miss the days when the craft of writing commanded a certain respect, when it was something done only by those who'd heard the calling and followed their dreams. The ongoing failure of The Register makes it clear: In only a few years, it will cease to exist in print form. Whatever new incarnation it takes on will surely rely more on graphics designers and bullet point presentations of factoids than such silly, archaic notions as coherent sentences and stylish form. Writers need not apply.

Monday, December 08, 2008


It's a Monday night, just like it was twenty-eight years ago. I watched MASH and Lou Grant, blithely unaware of what transpired at the same time in New York, not aware until the news report heard on the radio, entering into my brain just as I drifted to sleep. When I woke up, I knew the world was a very different place. All because one man had been shot to death in a city far away.

Twenty-eight years.


If you do a Google search for the phrase "Bill Macy's climbing those ivy-covered walls", you'll get pretty much nowhere.

Which makes sense, as the phrase is absolutely meaningless, unless you happen to remember how it was used to sell the Bill Macy sitcom Hanging In, which ran for all of four episodes back in 1979. My brother and I talk on the phone once a week, and in pretty much every conversation, at some point one of us will make some reference to it. Not to the show, which we only watched once, but to the ad campaign.

Let me say that again, in case you didn't fully grasp how truly pathetic that is: On a regular basis, we fondly reference the ad campaign for a completely forgotten sitcom from nearly thirty years ago.

For the love of God, why? We talked for two and a half hours last night, and yes, various real-world topics came up, but the conversation was dominated by his obsession with Yvette Mimieux, my obsessions with Stella Stevens and Lauren Graham and our mutual hatred of any and all seventies TV movies featuring Granville Van Dusen.

Granville Van Dusen! Who the hell even knows who he was, much less took the time to scan TV Guide every week, hoping for another busted pilot built around Van Dusen's anti-charisma, another chance to sit in front of the TV and stare in gape-mouthed awe at how bad something could be? Nobody! Nobody else would have done such foolishness, because most people had, you know, lives.

But sadly, the Van Deusen Experience (which I'd like to point out, in what I desperately hope will be my only reference ever to a recurring Dave Barry bit, would be a great name for a band) was a formative one for me. I absorbed it as fully as I did ad campaigns for Bill Macy sitcoms or insurance commercials (Hey, remember that Prudential spot with the guy thinking he found a Picasso in his attic, but his wife looks more closely and realizes the painting is signed by someone named Pickleman? No, of course you don't.) or any damned thing that crossed my radar when I was in junior high and high school. I should have been out getting laid or going to concerts or, I dunno, shooting heroin or something. Anything!

Instead, I sat in front of the TV. Or listened to the radio: I can still recall through gritted teeth the time a local deejay cued up Stranglehold by saying he'd "round out the hour with some Ted." Another memory I wish would go away...

Sunday, December 07, 2008


You know how it is sometimes. It's 3 AM and you're hit by an overwhelming sense of despair. Your mind tracks back to some dangerous memories. You always carry them with you, but this time you can't hide them, this time they won't leave you alone. And at a time like this, there's no one else you can turn to. Frank's seen it all. He knows.

But then--hey! Something happens. Maybe it's as simple as stumbling across a great promo film from the Bonzos, but somehow, your spirits are lifted. Suddenly, life is sunny again, or at least, temporarily less bleak.

But too much joy isn't like you. Better tamp it down. Holly Cole will take you where you need to go. Maybe she's singing this to seduce you, or maybe she's mixing cyanide in your drink. Either way, you'll trust in her, all right.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


There's absolutely nothing else worth talking about: Forry Ackerman is dead.

The bland mainstream obits for Forrest J Ackerman, who died Thursday night at the age of 92, cite his coining of the term "sci-fi" and his role as the guy who discovered Ray Bradbury as his major accomplishments. (He was also L. Ron Hubbard's literary agent!) All well and good, but that's not why he was beloved.

Ackerman founded and edited Famous Monsters Of Filmland magazine, and any current or recovering geek who spent a childhood in the sixties and seventies can tell you just what a lifeline that publication was. It reassured you that you weren't alone, there were many, many others out there who had the same obsessions as you, who didn't understand girls (or boys--FM had a surprisingly strong female readership), didn't care about sports, whose dreams all involved dark castles or towering monsters or the presences of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. (And some things never change--twice this week, I've had dreams involving Cushing and Lee!)

My first issue of FM was in '76, and its glory days were probably already behind it. Still, it featured those gorgeously-rendered Basil Gogos covers (Rob Zombie hired Gogos to paint the cover to his Hellbilly Deluxe album, a nice reminder that as many musicians as filmmakers found inspiration in Ackerman's work) and Forry's lengthy "filmbooks", detailed plot summaries of classic and obscure fright films, accompanied by a full range of tantalyzing stills.

Those stills...those portraits of Lon Chaney and Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi, but also George Zucco and J. Carroll Naish and dozens of utility players from the golden age, all beautifully shot by studio craftsmen. And the on-set photos from movies I knew I'd probably never see, not only the Universal classics and obscure Hammer epics (I remember a still from The Reptile, which made me want to see it so bad it hurt) and PCR programmers, and they all looked equally great.

And most importantly, those photos fired my imagination, made me dream of movies more wonderful than anything actually produced. Famous Monsters fed my obsessions when they most needed it, and I could never repay Ackerman all I owe him for helping me become whatever I was meant to be.

Still, as wonderful as FM was, it was essentially juvenile, and largely a vehicle for publisher James Warren to sell a lot of merchandise (including Tor Johnson masks!) in its back pages. Ackerman and Warren had a falling-out not long after I'd quit reading it, having abandoned it for more sophisticated publications like Starlog. (Yeah, I know, but seriously, Starlog in its earlier days was genuinely good, well-designed, well-written and only moderately geeky.) Ackerman found himself fired from the magazine he'd created, locked out of his own playhouse.

But he'd never be forgotten. In 1999, he made an appearance at the Coralville Barnes & Noble, and I had the chance to shake his hand, get his autograph and tell him how he made my life a little better. He just shrugged and said, "Thank you," because he'd heard the same thing thousands of times before.

And it was always true.

Friday, December 05, 2008


Here's the backstory: I found a copy of The Karate Kid for five bucks at Target. I bought it because I was pretty sure Paul would love it, and we watched it last Saturday. That would be nearly a week ago.

And that's how long Bananrama's Cruel Summer has been stuck in my head! It plays in the background as Ralph Macchio is, I dunno, riding his bicycle around or something. The point is, I didn't remember it being used in the movie, I hadn't heard it in years won't go away! I find myself singing it in the car, or as I'm typing, or whatever I'm doing. I guess by posting it here, I'm trying to pass the curse on to you.

But hey, it's a relatively benign curse. I mean, it's not an awful song. It's an agreeable bit of pop fluff, and though this video will give you scary eighties flashbacks, it's not unwatchable. But if you find this thing floating around in your brainpan for the next week or so, I'm truly sorry. And if not, how the hell are you immune?

Thursday, December 04, 2008


I know I've spent a fair amount of time complaining about Hollywood's recent tendency to remake absolutely everything, but the thing is, they won't stop. The Hollywood Reporter this week has stories of three utterly pointless redos in the works, all of them begging the question: Why?

I can almost understand the rationale for a new version of John Carpenter's They Live. Aside from the fact that every single one of Carpenter's films is apparently going to be done over (despite the fact that the new versions of Assault On Precinct 13 and The Fog were non-starters at the box-office, and the "re-imagining" of Halloween annoyed far more people than it entertained), the nifty premise of They Live--free-market aliens exploiting earth as a sort of third world colony--was a howl of protest against the failed trickle-down financial policies of the Reagan-Bush years, and God knows a story about blue-collar workers and homeless people rising up against their evil overlords would be relevant today.

Except...what's the likelihood they're going to bother including all that in the remake? Carpenter cleverly couched his political points in the context of an ass-kicking action movie, so more than likely, any remake will simply take off from there, offering only the most cursory glances at any subtext. This baby will no doubt be all about bigger guns, bigger explosions. Instead of Carpenter's precisely staged, shot and edited action sequences, we'll get shaky-cams, frantic cutting and lots of CGI. It will suck, play for maybe two weeks in theaters, and if it has any audience at all, it will be found on DVD, where we can only hope people will actually rent the original by mistake.

Still, as I said, the reasoning behind that project can almost be understood. But a remake of Arthur? Yes, you read that right: Arthur, the Dudley Moore vehicle from 1981, a big hit in its day but now almost completely forgotten, except for its supremely annoying Christopher Cross theme song and as an amusing reminder of an era in which it was possible to non-ironically cast Liza Minnelli in a lead role.

The weird thing is, Steve Gordon, who wrote and directed the original, intended it as a tribute to the classic screwball comedies of the thirties and forties, only updated with a modern (well, early eighties modern) sensibility. He took archetypes of an earlier era--the rich, drunken playboy, the snooty butler, the rough-but-good-hearted working gal--and placed them in the present, to see what would happen, how the story arcs might play out differently. Watching it may make you think of My Man Godfrey or some such, but it certainly wasn't directly based on any one model.

So why remake it? Why not do the same thing Arthur did originally? If you want to make a movie about a rich drunk, go ahead, but why do you have to use another movie for your template? It's not like the world is still gripped in Arthur-fever, imagining itself caught between the moon and New York City, realizing that the best that it can do is fall in love. (And seriously, if this new movie also includes an update of that damned song, the producers should be tried for crimes against humanity.)

Finally, plans are also afoot to rework Romancing The Stone, which...Really? The main thing the original had going for it was a surprisingly clever script, but in execution it was just another Indiana Jones ripoff, albeit one directed by an actual Spielberg protege (Robert Zemeckis, marking his transition from the guy who made good movies like I Wanna Hold Your Hand and Used Cars to the tireless hack we know today).

Well, again, what's the point here? Why not just make an all-new Indiana Jones ripoff? Why tarnish the semi-fond memories of literally dozens of hardcore fans of the original?

But really, what is the thinking behind all of these? They Live is still highly regarded by its cultists, and the other two were popular at the time, but none of them have particularly iconic titles, none are so well-known or highly regarded that anyone could imagine people lining up based on the properties alone. The instant failure of such why-bother remakes as The Amityville Horror and The Bad News Bears, along with the colossal flops on television of the pointless Bionic Woman and Knight Rider rehashes, would seem to indicate that audiences aren't particularly nostalgic for relics of the past.

Still, they'll keep coming, as good, original screenplays languish unproduced, and the local multiplex becomes even more of a thing to avoid.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


Has it seemed like I'm on autopilot here lately? Has the quality of writing in this space dipped noticeably in the last two or three weeks? Have recent posts had a bit of a tossed-off quality, half-hearted, not quite there?

Yeah, I'm aware of it, too. Can't explain, but I'm wondering how to fix it. Fewer postings? Time away from the site? A brief break from writing?

Of course, the last time I took a "brief" break from writing, it lasted most of a decade, and robbed me of what likely would have been my most productive years. So there's that to consider.

Don't know what to do in the immediate future, but hopefully, the muse, she will return. Otherwise, this site will become nothing more than a clearinghouse for clips of seventies variety shows. I have a clip from a Lindsay Wagner special ready just in case...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


1) The title of this post is a paraphrase of a spoof from an old Mad magazine. It's meant to indicate a recycling of familiar themes. Another Random Thoughts piece, in other words.

2) Hey folks, we're officially in a recession! And have been for a full year now! This according to the a consortium of eggheads and double-domes known as the National Bureau Of Economic Research, and breathlessly reported by the press.

This is the same press, mind you, that all through the election process tended to explain Obama's huge poll numbers as partly a result of "fears of a recession," as though we weren't yet in the midst of one. In other words, Big Media was afraid to state the obvious until somebody else came forward and said it for them.

Shouldn't reporters and editors have taken the lead on this one? Shouldn't they have boldly stated what politicians were afraid to admit? Shouldn't they do more than passively report what others say? Shouldn't they, in other words, tell the truth?

3) Batshit insane New York Times columnist David Brooks thinks Obama's foreign policy team needs to build on Bush's legacy. This is the same guy who, just a few months ago, said the economy was doing fine.

I'd like to point out that he gets paid outrageous sums of money for turning out such ridiculous claptrap. And people read him and take him seriously. Which, come to think of it, may explain why the ink-stained wretches of the press couldn't quite believe we were in a recession: David Brooks said we weren't!

4) I just had a dream in which Mr. T was living with me and my family on the farm (Mom, Dad, my brothers and sisters were looked they did in the late seventies, but I seemed to be my adult self), and he was mad at me for...well, I never quite understood why, but the point is, Mr. T wanted to kill me. So I holed up in my room with a couple of my cats, including little baby Monika, who clearly was the most adorable kitten in the history of adorable things.

This dream was chillingly unresolved, so for all I know, Mr. T still wants to kill me.

5) Steve Guttenberg claims he, Ted Danson and Tom Selleck are all aboard for another Three Mean And A Baby sequel. He also is shopping around the idea for a new Police Academy movie. These are both terrible ideas, sure, but at least they're reminders of an earlier, happier time, when bad movies were merely bad, not soul-drainingly, punishingly awful.

Monday, December 01, 2008


Since Paul was here Saturday night, and despite my repeated attempts to discourage it, we (he) unfortunately got started watching Joel Schumacher's unfathomably lousy Batman Forever, which didn't even start until nine o'clock and ran until well past eleven--pretty late for a nine year old to stay up, I'd think.

So after I got done grumbling about the awfulness of Jim Carrey's performance, I told him it was time to go to sleep. As always when he's here, I let him have the bed, while I just tossed some cushions and sheets down on the floor. I shut off the lights, but he still wanted to talk. "Um, I have a question," he began.


"You were married, right?"


"And you wanted to marry my mom?"


"How many other girls did you want to marry?"

Well, none, actually.

"Really? You're forty--?"


"--and never wanted to marry any other girl?"

Well, I...I never wanted to marry any other woman before I got married...

"What was her name?"


"Yeah. And you loved her, right?"

Sure. But...

"She didn't love you?"

No. It was more complicated than that. Things...didn't work out.

"But you didn't meet my mom right away after that."

No. No, I...there were other women...

"But you didn't want to marry them?"

No. I liked some of them, but not...I didn't want to marry them. In fact, I had a woman living with me for awhile...


What do you mean, where? Here.

"But this place is so small."


"And there's just the one bed."


" you liked her liked her."

But that doesn't mean I wanted to marry her. I liked her. We got along, we did things. She even went to see Revenge Of The Sith with me.

"I thought you said girls didn't like Star Wars."

Well, she did. So yeah, I liked her. But I didn't love her. Or maybe I should say, I wasn't in love with her.

"But you were in love with my mom."

Yeah, well...

"You still are, aren't you?"

Isn't it getting kind of late? Shouldn't you be sleeping?

"Last night, I stayed up until two-thirty."

All the more reason you should go to sleep earlier tonight.

"So seriously, you wanted to marry my mom, right?"

Yeah, I think we've established that.

"What does established mean?"

Don't worry about it. Go to sleep.

"I have to tell you something first. You're not going to like it."


"I actually kind of liked Batman Forever."

Sunday, November 30, 2008


I'm late getting back home, so I wouldn't be inclined to post much in this space even under the best circumstances, but add in the fact that Blogger has been acting up (at least for me) lately, and it's too much trouble to consider.

I'll just point out that I had a relatively happy weekend, much of it spent in Paul's company. I've really got to learn to work this kid better; he and I were doing our patented deadpan improv act for the checkout clerk at a book store earlier. We made her laugh (okay, mostly he made her laugh), and if I managed it with a bit more finesse than I can usually muster, I probably could have walked out of there with her phone number. (Or, again, maybe I should have Paul do the asking; what fair lass could refuse a nine-year-old?)

Anyway, between the non-sequiturs, marathon movie viewings and spontaneous outbursts of song--odes to Krispy Kreme and Paul's crush on Disney nymphette Selena Gomez (which he strenuously denied in a quasi-operatic response)--I am, if I may deploy self-consciously folksy terminology, plum tuckered out.

Hopefully, all will be back to relative normalcy this coming week. After all, I haven't even written the expected long-winded take on Quantum Of Solace yet!

Saturday, November 29, 2008


The hill is endless, no cross streets in sight, simply one constant block with lookalike bungalows on either side, some with FOR RENT signs. I want to stop and look at one of them, but I'm propelled constantly forward. I'm in a car, then, am I? Evidently, though I'm not driving, and no one else is, either. But I'm viewing through a window, and I hear a radio commercial for something called Mid-City Waterbeds, though its given address is actually somewhere in the western suburbs. I hear this and I know this, though I have no idea where I am, what city I'm in.

The window is gone, the radio is gone. I'm walking now, downhill this time, and people follow me. Not threateningly, more like I'm leading them. They catch up with me, they pass me, we move onward, then suddenly stand still. We're at some sort of crossroads, faded green hills loom up before us, dotted here and there with trees and houses. The sky is gray. There's a noise...

A train appears in the open area before us. It doesn't pull in, it simply is there where it wasn't a second ago. The train is made of some reflective material, we see ourselves in it, an ugly, unruly crowd, all pressing forward, all eager to be first on board. But why? Where are we headed?

I shove others out of the way, ascend the steps and stop...this isn't a train, it's my old schoolbus, and I'm a kid again. I make my way to the fifth row back, hoping no one notices me. More people file in and take their seats, none near me. I look out the window. Mom is out there, on the far side of a ditch overgrown with weeds, fumbling through her purse for a cigarette.

Jumping up and running out the door, I pause briefly to ask the driver to save my seat. He doesn't look at me and doesn't answer. As I approach Mom, I bend over and pick up the remnants of a long, barely-used foreign-made cigarette from off the ground. "Are you looking for this?" I ask, and Mom says, "Oh, I never smoke."

I wake up.

The cats sleep at the foot of the bed, a dog barks somewhere outside, the clock says it's 3 AM. I stumble to the bathroom, wash my face, pour a glass of milk and go back to bed.

And I'm immediately on the train again--it's definitely a train, not a bus--and it pulls forward, headed away from the faded green hills and the gray sky, to someplace blue and lively, someplace I've never been, and I feel strangely calm.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Couple days ago, the piped-in music in my neighborhood Chinese restaurant included Cyndi Lauper's hit version of the mournful Jules Shear song All Through The Night, which has bounced through my head ever since. I tried finding Shear's original (much superior) take on this song, and while I couldn't find that, I did find a clip of him doing another song that became a hit in somebody else's rendition, If She Knew What She Wants, covered (quite nicely) by The Bangles.

The most interesting thing about this clip, though, was that it came from Shear's brief period as host of the original incarnation of MTV's Unplugged, and featured him introducing Michael Penn. Shear was a former lover of Aimee Mann (he inspired her song J For Jules), and she would later marry...Michael Penn.

Okay, so here's logic gets sidetracked in my explorations on YouTube: Penn wrote the score for P.T. Anderson's Boogie Nights, one of my favorite movies, which got me on a kick trying to find some clips of John Holmes' "Johnny Wadd" pictures, so prominently referenced in that film. To my surprise, an edited version of Tell Them Johnny Wadd Is Here is posted in its entirety, and even more surprisingly, its basic set-up and even many of the shots are direct steals from Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye. How did I not know this?

Fine, but then I decided, no, I'm not going to force anyone to watch Johnny Wadd clips, and Jules Shear's singing is kind of an acquired taste, and my plan to showcase the Richard Thompson song Psycho Street (as kind of a follow-up to my previous entry, as part of what I visualized as a series of ongoing missing-the-point stories tangentially related to the events in Mumbai...and no, I'm not going to bother explaining the connection because that would make this already tortured parenthetical aside even longer than it already is) was foiled by the fact that the only version I could find was frankly substandard. Yet I'm sitting here with an itch to post something, and even though I have a couple movies I'd like to write about, my mind's a little foggy to try to offer any penetrating analysis, so...

So here's a clip of Lynda Carter rasslin' some guy in a monkey suit, is what I'm saying.


The terrorist attacks in Mumbai are still very much an ongoing thing as I write this, and admittedly this is a bit beside the point, but I'm fascinated--well, disgusted, actually--by how The New York Times is handling their coverage of the story: The front page of their website breathlessly informs us that reporter Keith Bradsher is sending regular updates via his BlackBerry.

All well and good, but why do we need to know how Bradsher is filing these stories? I realize BlackBerry is kind of line Kleenex and Xerox in the pantheon of brand names that people use to describe generic objects, but the use of the brand name seems a little questionable. If the stories had been sent by fax or teletype, would The Times be using brand names?

If not, why are they now? Isn't it enough to say he's sending updates? Do we have to turn breaking news into product placement?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008


Thanks to cable TV, Steven Seagal's shelf life has been extended a bit longer. A&E is planning on airing something called Steven Seagal: Lawman, a reality show detailing Seagal's Dwight Schrute-like efforts as a volunteer deputy for the New Orleans PD. It'll also focus on Seagal's private life, including his his second (or third, depending) career as a musician.

The news that the puffy, anti-charismatic action star is in an introspective mood follows closely upon the release of JCVD, the semi-autobiographical portrait of Belgian musclehead Jean-Claude Van Damme in the autumn of his career, a kind of Look Back In Incomprehensibly-Accented Anger for kick-boxing fans everywhere.

Well, if these two astonishingly uninteresting martial artists, with their run of semi-hits in the late eighties and early nineties which culminated in a decade and a half of straight-to-DVD filler, get to relive their constantly-playing-on-cable glory days, I say what about Jeff Speakman?

Yes, Jeff Speakman, star of The Perfect Weapon, which I actually paid money to see. I think we can all agree Speakman, whose screen presence was so overpowering I have absolutely no memory of what he even looked like, deserves a comeback. Even though I can't remember anything about The Perfect Weapon (or TPW, as fans call it, or would call it if it had any fans)--I'm reasonably sure Speakman ran a karate school, or something, and their were mobsters, possibly drugs, and somebody got killed and Our Hero swore vengeance--it certainly killed time as competently as any Seagal or Van Damme offering, and since Speakman lacked Seagal's receding hairline and tight-assed whisper as well as Van Damme's mulletted, Eurotrashy determination to show off his butt, he comes out ahead of either of them. Sure, his screen presence was instantly forgettable, but it wasn't actively annoying.

So let's give Jeff Speakman his own reality series. We can watch him kick ass and deliver clever action movie one-liners as he goes about his daily activities, whether he's delivering mail ("Postage due...permanently!"), working in customer service ("How may I help die?") or performing janitorial duties ("I'll autoscrub your hell!"). Such a show would have no entertainment value whatsoever and be watched by absolutely no one, and after its unsuccessful run on a lesser cable network, it could go straight to DVD, where nobody would buy it...just like all of Speakman's movies!

Say, come to think of it, what's Dolph Lundgren doing these days?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


It passed unmentioned here, but last week was the thirtieth anniversary of the mass suicide at Jonestown.

It passed unmentioned because, well, quite frankly, I was a little sheepish about mentioning my memories of this great tragedy. As a kid on a farm, I tended not to read newspapers, and in that pre-internet world, information was not poured into our lives constantly. So the first time I ever heard of the People's Temple compound in Guyana was on a brief news break during the local PBS affiliate's broadcast of The Maltese Falcon. This news break was simply a reporter reciting headlines, including a brief mention of the murders of Leo Ryan and several others at an airstrip in Guyana, blandly delivered over a nondescript graphic.

Would I even remember this if it weren't for the movie? I mean, The Maltese Falcon! What a great movie, and it was the first time I'd ever seen it, so the circumstances surrounding that viewing--my mom making fun of Mary Astor's hair and mannerisms, my dad repeatedly muttering "Shweetheart"--burned themselves into my brain. Possibly any newscast would have lingered as some sort of memory of that seminal film-viewing experience.

Whatever the newscasts talked about the next morning was lost on me, since the only thing mattering to my brother and me was driving to Des Moines to see the heavily-advertised Japanese Star Wars knockoff, Message From Space. The theater was packed, and we laughed uproariously as the spectacle unfolded. All the way home, we traded impressions of Vic Morrow struggling with his English-as-second-language dialogue and rehashed the highlights. ("Walnuts? They gather an army by sending out walnuts?" "Well, yeah, but they were glowing space walnuts.")

By the time we got home that Sunday night, The NBC Nightly News was already on, broadcasting the bodies on the airstrip and some of the 909 corpses resulting from Jim Jones' "revolutionary suicide." Sickening, of course, but part of me wondered why we were watching the NBC news instead of CBS. Presumably a ball game ran late on CBS, and we always ate supper to the evening news, so NBC it was.

But why do I remember that? Why do I remember the small details more than the big picture? Surely the events at Jonestown were a defining moment in American history, and I remember being shaken, sickened even, as I learned more about them, but as it all unfolded, the mundane activities of daily life seemed infinitely more important, so important I remember them to this day.

Have the circumstances surrounding that viewing of two very different movies stuck with me because they are bound inseparably to terrifying revelations of mass fanaticism? Or is it the other way around? And what does it say about me that in my mind there is no difference?

Monday, November 24, 2008


Twenty years ago today, a poverty-stricken little puppet show made its debut on a scrappy little UHF station in the Twin Cities. The premise was simple, and never changed: The show's host and his robot friends made fun of bad movies. This format would carry the show onto a fledgling cable network, into syndication, to a movie spin-off, then onto a different cable network. Eleven years after its debut, it would be canceled.

But Mystery Science Theater 3000 is never dead. Not to its fans.

I knew of the show, but since my hometown's cable system didn't carry Comedy Central, I only knew it by reputation. Finally, in the fall of 1995, a local station began carrying syndicated episodes from the second, third and fourth seasons. My first episode mocked the movie Cave Dwellers. In the first fifteen minutes alone, I had been barraged with outrageous puns, obscure literary references and gags about the NPR show Music From The Hearts Of Space. By the time they made a dumb joke about Marshall Crenshaw, I was in love.

Oh, I'd loved TV shows before. Or I thought I had. But maybe, in retrospect, they were mere dalliances, there and gone, nothing like the real thing. But with MST3K, it was a love that would last forever.

My local station aired it on Saturday nights at midnight. I'd tape it and save it for Monday evening, my reward to myself for getting through the first day of the working week. The ritual was always the same--order a pizza, bake some cookies, pour some soda and sprawl on the floor, ready to laugh myself silly. And I always laughed, actual solid belly laughs, the greatest feeling in the world.

Even when it got pulled from syndication, roughly around the same time Comedy Central dropped it, I wasn't concerned. Episodes were being issued on VHS, and I had my old tapes. The show found a new home on the Sci-Fi Channel, and I headed up to Minneapolis to attend the show's second convention.

Yes, I attended a convention celebrating a TV show. But that didn't make me a geek, I reasoned, more like an anti-geek, a parody of a geek, we were there, all of us, celebrating something that mocked such notions, we were being ironic. And yet, we all gathered in one place to celebrate our love for this cultish little cow-town puppet show, and well, maybe there was a little geekiness involved. But how can you not love a convention at which a costume ball involves three people dressed up as genial former A&E host Jack Perkins? (And yes, one of them was me.)

My life marched forward. I got married, but one night a week continued to be MST3K night, with most of the old rituals still in place, though a frozen pizza had replaced take-out due to budgetary concerns. The marriage faltered, but I could still rely on old episodes to keep me warm.

My brother died, my mom died, unbearable tragedy made a little more bearable by Joel or Mike and the bots, always ready to make me laugh, always there to remind me somebody is on my wavelength, somebody thinks the same way as me, always there to remind me--as much as a puppet show devoted to making with the wisecracks and ha-ha can--that we're all in this together, and the world's a pretty good place.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


It's the weekend, I have to work and I'm in a cranky mood. Think I'm going to bother writing anything?

Nah. Not when Tonio K can say what I'm feeling so much more eloquently than I could. (And you can dance to it!) From 1978--though the lyrics certainly haven't dated--here's The Funky Western Civilization.

Well, hey, that's pretty bitter, isn't it? We should temper it with...more bitterness, actually. But such sweetly presented bitterness! I'm not going to claim Cry Me A River is the greatest song ever written, but can we agree it's the greatest kiss-off song ever? And no disrespect to the many, many people who have recorded this over the years, but honestly, Julie London's version is the only one you'll ever need.

And might as well close out with this, because any time's a good time for some Roger Miller.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


That trailer I posted the other day for the new Stat Trek movie couldn't help but remind me of the late Gene Siskel's review of Star Trek II: The Wrath Of Khan, in which he praised the visual effects for being gratifyingly modest, saying something to the effect of how he didn't know how they were done, exactly, but he appreciated that they were only there to serve the story.

Wrath Of Khan came out in the summer of '82, the same year as another heavily-promoted science fiction epic, Tron. Much was made at the time about how Tron's computer-generated visual effects--a revelation at the time--would change the future of movies. But it was a colossal dud at the box office, and at the time it looked like this "future" would never happen.

Things change, don't they?

On its release, the failure of Tron was chalked up to the fact that it was nothing but empty sensation--the special effects didn't drive the story, they were the only reason the movie existed. Surely audiences wanted more than just a cheap thrill ride when they went to the movies! Wrath Of Khan, on the other hand, was a huge success, largely because it gave fans of the Star Trek TV show exactly what they wanted--an episode of the series, only bigger. And it had the virtues a good TV show used to have: strong characterizations, an interesting story, a strong sense of forward momentum that nonetheless allowed some breathing room, throwaway bits of humor or drama.

Those qualities are rare enough on TV these days, but they're virtually impossible to find in mainstream movies. Wrath Of Khan got good but not spectacular reviews at the time of its release, but if it came out now, it would probably seem like a revelation. Plot? Characters? In a big-budget franchise movie? Huzzah!

I guess what I'm saying is, that new Star Trek movie, with its flashy camera moves, jittery editing and overkill CGI effects, looks more like Tron than Wrath Of Khan, a flashy, ruthlessly efficient thrill ride, with not a hint of human feeling.

Friday, November 21, 2008


1) Yes, if I'm using a quote from Larry King's old USA Today column as a post title, it must be Random Thoughts time! Haven't done one of these in awhile--has anyone missed it?

2) Spent much of the day yesterday trying to figure out whether I'd be better off upgrading to a higher grade of health insurance, since mine seems to kick out when I need it most. Turns out, the higher grade--the highest offered by my employer--would do pretty much the same thing, which sent me scrambling to the local county-run hospital, to see if my paltry salary is low enough to qualify me for public assistance.

Let me make that clear: I WORK FOR A HOSPITAL, and their level of medical coverage is so pathetic that public assistance sounds like a better idea. (Talk is in the air that things are only going to get worse.) The financial adviser at the county facility told me my best bet would to put as much as I could afford into a Flexible Spending Account and hope for the best. Which means my paycheck will be less than ever, least I'm insured. Yay?

3) So with the economy tanking, how long before people start blaming Obama? Obviously, it's not his fault (well, not entirely, though it's not like he spent his time in congress shoring up the economic levees, or even issuing Cassandra-like warnings of collapse), but will that matter when people become increasingly desperate, praying for a quick fix that can't possibly arrive?

4) Seriously, if I have to see an ad for that new Adam Sandler movie one more time, I'll...I'll...well, I don't know what I'll do, but it won't be pretty.

5) I would be remiss if I didn't mention the death at the age of 94 of Irving Brecher, a prolific gagman and screenwriter. He created The Life Of Riley for radio, then oversaw its transition into one of TV's first sitcoms, plus he palled around with Groucho Marx and Jack Benny, which alone makes him unbelievably awesome in my book.

But Brecher's most lasting credit is as screenwriter for one of the greatest movies ever made, Meet Me In St. Louis. He was one of a small army to labor over this script, and by most accounts, the final draft was mostly his, and a fine piece of work it was. (Though all revisions were closely overseen by Vincente Minnelli, whose supervision I like to think consisted mostly of looking over Brecher's shoulder while muttering, "We need a sequence with an insanely complex lighting scheme in here" or "Any way we can have a scene expressing emotion through vivid use of color? Thanks!") He also scripted another picture for Minnelli, Yolanda And The Thief, though even its most hardcore partisans don't necessarily claim its script as one of its strongest aspects. (I find it greatly underrated myself, and really enjoy Harry Warren's score. Also, am I the only person on earth who thinks Lucille Bremer was insanely hot?) As if this wasn't enough, he toiled uncredited on the script for The Wizard Of Oz, contributing the vaudeville-styled dialogue for Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger and Jack Haley.

In other words, on any given day, I'm only about five minutes away from quoting from a script by Irving Brecher. He made my life a little better. I salute you, sir.

6. My spellcheck is flagging the word "yay" and the names Groucho, Brecher and Sandler (oddly, not Bremer), but more disturbingly, continues to flag Obama. Seriously, folks: Update!

7. The cats have taken turns sleeping on my lap. They never sleep on my lap. It's a sign, I tells ya, a sign...

Thursday, November 20, 2008


I've never cared much about Star Trek one way or another. I know the stuff everyone knows, but i can't cite chapter and verse of the Trek mythology. But I do know Captain Kirk was supposedly born and raised in Iowa, which means...well, take a look:

Yeah, okay, maybe this is supposed to be Iowa "of the future" or some such, but it doesn't look like a landscape that's been overdeveloped or destroyed by some calamity or other. It looks like...well, like the usual SoCal movie location characters go whenever they have to do some manly fast driving. It's all wrong, in other words.

And boy, oh boy, does everything else about this look wrong, too. Again, I could barely tell the difference between a Klingon and a Romulan, but if you're going to do Star Trek, do Star Trek. If you want to create some AVID-edited, whip-pan-crazy, video game-influenced piece of sub-adolescent tripe, fine, knock yourself out. But why drag a franchise name down with you? Older Trek fans will surely find this an abomination; younger viewers won't care about the name.

So what, exactly, is the point?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Yesterday morning I woke up feeling not quite right, and things only got worse from there. Vomiting, dizziness and unbearable aches in every joint--in other words, the flu.

I mention this partly to explain why I'm not posting much, but also to share this complaint: This year marks the third time in my life I've gotten a flu shot, and like both previous times, I shortly thereafter became violently ill. I'm not saying flu shots are a scam, but...well, maybe I am. True, I work in a hospital, a place crawling with noxious germs. But I work there all year without catching anything, then as soon as I get the shot WHAMMO, I'm down.

Anyway, hopefully I'll be writing more soon. By "soon" I mean whenever the walls stop vibrating and spinning and I can stand eating something more than graham crackers. Soon, I hope.

Monday, November 17, 2008


Thirty years ago this evening, my brother and I sat in front of the TV in his room, knowing reasonably well that what we were about to watch could not possibly be good...but how could we know how bad it would be?

This is the anniversary of the night The Star Wars Holiday Special had its one and only official airing, before vanishing into the realm of myth, a half-remembered fever dream for those unlucky enough to have witnessed it, until--glory! glory!--the miracle of anonymous Internet postings made it possible to see the damned thing in full once again.

Truly, it reveals itself to be what those miserable souls who endured it back in the day already knew: it is the unreachable summit of sucktasticness, the alpha and omega of bad ideas, all the diverse, perverse, incompatible and incomprehensible elements of seventies and early eighties variety specials rolled into one stupefying package. Nothing else could compare; your Hal Linden's Big Apple or Cheryl Ladd...Looking Back--Souvenirs or even Lynda Carter: Celebration may have displayed trace amounts of competence, fleeting moments when viewing them did not make you actively wish to point a loaded pistol to your forehead.

Still, they all paraded a certain What Were They Thinking quality, an almost endearing lack of irony, a touching refusal to admit their time had passed. It's not just that Cheryl Ladd or Lynda Carter (or Lindsay Wagner or The Captain And Tenille or, God knows, a bunch of Wookies) lacked the talent and appeal to support an hour's worth of entertainment. (Two hours, in the case of The Star Wars Holiday Special!) The bigger problem was producers who had no idea how to stage a variety show, and networks insisting on guests that they thought would draw in a wide spectrum of viewers, not realizing that, for instance, Jeff Conaway and Joyce DeWitt lacked enough of a fan base to boost ratings for a Cheryl Ladd special, or that anyone tuning into a Star Wars-based entertainment would be actively repelled by the presence of Bea Arthur.

Yet there they were anyway, shoehorned into a format that didn't suit them--didn't suit anybody, by that point--cavorting as though they desperately hoped somebody, somewhere, would be entertained. But nobody was entertained, as this type of thing had essentially peaked in the fifties, when TV was new. The format shuffled blithely on, to the horror of young Gen Xers, mute witnesses to the Brundlefly-like mutations of their parents entertainments, synthetic versions of a form they never understood in the first place. The only way to get through this sort of thing was to celebrate its very badness. Because, really, what else could you do when faced with this?


A great weekend away, spent in my old stomping grounds of Iowa City.

More to come later, I'm sure, but for now, a brief illustration which serves to explain why Iowa City initially seemed so appealing to me, and why it eventually became a stultifying trap from which I was eager to escape:

Driving down Dodge, one of the many beautiful, tree-lined streets in town, behind a car with an Obama sticker in the rear window. Beside that is another sticker, VISUALIZE PEACE. Unafraid to devolve into a parody of a typical armchair progressive, the bumper sported a I LOVE MY CO-OP sticker. The final touch? The car in question was a Prius.

I swear, I wanted to run the damned thing off the road and kick some hippie ass.

The worst thing about my time living in Iowa City was the terrifying realization that people with whom I shared so much common ground--politically, socially, artistically--were such colossal dicks. It's not just that so many of them were humorless scolds who affected a sense of superiority, it's that they were mostly awful people. As a blue collar worker in a so-called progressive town, I was routinely treated like dirt, like a lesser life form, something less than human. The only people I encountered while working who actually spoke to me, engaged me in conversation more beyond the occasional politely chilly greeting, were the few hardcore Republicans dwelling in this quintessential college town.

It was while living there that I realized actions really do speak louder than words. Not the easy actions--diligent recycling, buying organic, sending money to Amnesty International--but the one that matters every day: treating your fellow human beings with a modicum of respect.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Well, I'm going away for a hopefully fun-filled weekend, so nothing here until Monday, at least. Figured I might as well leave off with this site's theme song. Shame they used the title for that godawful musical from a year or so ago, but whatever. Let's just put that unpleasantness behind us and sing along, shall we?

Thursday, November 13, 2008


The other day I watched Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade for the first time since its theatrical run, and though I still maintain it was the weakest of the original three films, it was much better than I remembered.

The thing I liked best about it was the old-school professionalism of its physical production. Early on, there's a scene in which Indiana is hired by the film's villain (played blandly by Julian Glover) to track down the holy grail. This scene is set in Glover's elegantly-appointed penthouse, and the way the set is designed (by Elliot Scott) and shot (by Douglas Slocombe), it looks just like something out of North By Northwest. It doesn't look real, in other words--we're aware it's a set. (The twinkly lights in the painted cityscape outside the window are a particularly nice touch.) But it doesn't look embarrassingly fakey, either--it looks stylized. It creates its own reality.

The whole movie is like that: a church in Venice, a castle in Austria, an airport in Berlin--the characters move through a variety of settings that never for a minute seem to exist in reality as we know it, but fit perfectly with the movie's reality--these are larger than life characters, caught up in a cheerfully outlandish story. So that castle, for instance, isn't dreary and dank, as a real castle would be, but is lit like something out of a Hammer picture, all golden candlelight and artfully-composed pools of darkness, and the nighttime views we see through its windows are a soundstage azure, an elegant artifice.

This approach is, it seems to me, the perfect way to tell such a story. It is, essentially, the same method used by the producers of the James Bond series in the old days: a movie which creates a world of its own. Despite their globe-trotting settings, what we remember about classic-era Bond is how much fun they were, how they took themselves just seriously enough to make us believe in them for the length of their running times, but not so seriously that they forgot a sense of fun.

And fun is the thing that seems to be missing in the Bond franchise these days. Yes, I prefer the darker, more Ian Fleming-inspired films in the series--From Russia With Love, On Her Majesty's Secret Service, For Your Eyes Only, Casino Royale. But for many fans, the most beloved entries are Goldfinger or The Spy Who Loved Me--crazy, over-the-top movies, with the extravagant settings and larger-than-life villains so many expect from this series. And I love them, too. Those pictures seem effortless; like the Indiana Jones series, they give you some thrills, a few laughs, some light romance--but they do it so well, so expertly, so much better than other, similar movies.

The Pierce Brosnan Bond era never quite defined itself--though enjoyable (except for Die Another Day, of course, because that's one of the worst pieces of crap I've ever sat through), they seem consistently torn between taking themselves seriously and offering the extravagant outrageousness expected from the series. They also suffer from trying to offer some real-world significance, which is the last thing anyone wants from a Bond picture. They attempted to be From Russia With Love and Moonraker at the same time, and even the best of the bunch (The World Is Not Enough) is all over the map, tone-wise.

Casino Royale, on the other hand, was damned near perfect. Even as it thwarted or altered fan expectations, it ultimately fulfilled them. Great for one movie, but do we want this all the time? It's not just that Quantum Of Solace is a direct follow-up to Casino Royale, but the producers are now speaking of trying to link any future Bond outing with Daniel Craig into one overall arc, and that just seems...misguided. One of the pleasures of the Bond series is that you never know what to expect. But if we get an entire series of dour Bond, we'll always know what to expect.

Craig is fantastic as Bond, and I think he'd be great in a new version of an old-school Bond--the equivalent, if you will, of an Indiana Jones movie. Like Harrison Ford in those films, his very presence would lend them some credibility no matter how outrageous they got. I'm not suggesting Roger Moore-era silliness--no pigeons doing double-takes or Tarzan yells, thank you very much--but it would be a blast to see Craig's more serious character squaring off against a more nuanced version of Blofeld or Stromberg.

It would be classic Bond, maybe slightly altered and a shade deeper, but largely a return to the days when we paid money to see something we'd never seen before, when we asked the filmmakers to surprise us, and they always obliged.