Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Shamless Plug :: Boob Tube'n at the Morgue.

Just a friendly, shameless plug that we're wrapping up our month long Boob Tube tribute over at our sister site, Scenes from the Morgue. TV shows you remember. Shows you've forgot. Shows you've probably never even heard of are all just one click away. So click already!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Spoiler Alert! :: The Walking Dead :: Can Sophia Finally Come Out and Play?

Thinking back on it, it couldn't have been any more obvious. The obvious being the final fate of Sophia, the little girl lost, whose search served as the fulcrum and lever that plodded the plot along for the first six or so episodes of this season's The Walking Dead.

I guess the quarter to finally answer that question started spinning for me about a week ago, the day before Thanksgiving, when I met up with several friends, back in town for the holiday, at a local watering hole. At some point, after we caught up, the conversation turned toward the boob-tube, and, eventually, The Walking Dead. And while my friends and I heartily disagreed over Daryl's transformation from redneck peckerwood to redneck peckerwood with a heart of gold, we all agreed that the show needed to stop spinning its wheels and come to a much sooner than later resolution on the Sophia situation, who had been missing since fleeing into the woods and abandoned by Rick in the season's harrowing first episode.

Also, having read the comics, we pondered when the inevitable shit was gonna hit the probable fan with the recently discovered zombies locked up in Hershel's barn. In the printed pages, that ended in a massacre, and with the mid-season finale due this past week, the show was also critically overdue for some full-fledged zombie-chompin'-fu.

With family commitments wrapping things up early at the bar, it was while heading home that night that the quarter picked up some momentum when the notion first hit me as to why, despite the best of efforts, the group just couldn't find Sophia. Perhaps and maybe, just maybe, she was in the one place they hadn't looked yet -- he typed ominously ... But this notion was quickly lost in the haze of the three pints of Scottish Ale imbibed in little over an hour. Thus, the quarter fell silent and the notion flickered to barely a wisp.

But come Sunday, about halfway through the mid-season finale, the quarter cranked up again with a mighty fury, when Hershel takes Rick on a zombie round-up, with two walkers stuck thigh deep in the silt along the river. Wait, Wasn't Sophia's doll found in the same silt along the same river bank, said the quarter as it spun even faster. And maybe all those clues that led the search for Sophia further and further away from the farm were being read backwards, and instead, circled her ever closer? But then where was she? Surely she would have shown herself by now, right?

I honestly thought Dale was going to be the one to go this episode, especially when he passed his ratty hat onto Glen, a symbolic shift of the group's conscience. And while focusing on his confrontation with the rapidly disintegrating Shane, that quarter, now rocketing around furiously in its fight against momentum and gravity and its inability to hold my attention with the true answer, was ignored -- until the climax, where it could be ignored no longer.

Here, in a scene aptly described as "war atrocity footage" Shane breaks the barn door open and the massacre begins in earnest. For those unaware, the misguided owner of the barn kept the undead locked inside, hoping a cure would be found to what ails them. Inside were his wife, step-son, neighbors and friends. Each with a face. Each with a name. Each with a past. Each with no future, alive or dead, as they spill out of the barn into a hail of bullets. And once the bodies stopped falling and the guns went silent, with the soft, scrabbling sounds of something still inside about to make its way out, thoughts of it being Hershel's wife, triggering an ugly confrontation between the two factions outside, where the living ironically tear each other part, were quickly pushed aside. I knew better. And I knew what was in there, even though I didn't want to know what was in there. No. Not what. Who. Who had to be in there.

Well, shit.

And so, I finally let that damned quarter drop. And with that, we have our resolution. What once was lost, was now found. Looking back, this was bound to happen. And it couldn't have been anymore obvious. Now, you'll hafta excuse me; there's something in my eye.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Spring Break, 1960's Style :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Where the Boys Are (1960)

"Gentlemen, the city of Fort Lauderdale is once again under fire from the north. We've survived it before and I reckon we're gonna survive it again. To you newly installed officers on the force, I'd like to give you a little rundown on what to expect. Expect anything. Anything and everything 'cause that's what you're gonna get. Now, Fort Lauderdale is not the only city to be invaded at this time. In Palm Springs and in Newport, from the beaches of the Mid-Atlantic to the snows of Colorado, the students of America are gathering to celebrate the rites of spring. And, if you pardon a pun, you've got that right. They're our future voters, they're citizens of our country, and they're our responsibility. But how the hell to handle them, that's a different manner. Now these kids didn't come down here to break the law. They'll break it for sure, but that's not their main objective. And remember that they are our guests. So, I want every man on the force to try his best, his level best, to try to avoid arresting anyone. I know that this going to take great will power but try. And, above all, preserve your sense of humor. Cause you're gonna need it if you want to survive."

If someone drew a triangle using the bubble-gum pop of Gidget and the knee-deep cheese of the Frankie and Annette Beach Party movies as the base angles, and the steamy melodrama of A Summer Place as the apex angle, and then after adding a little geometry to this triangulum, I think we'd find another coming of age flick set against the backdrop of sand and surf right smack in the middle: Where the Boys Are.

Set in the spring of 1960, as 20,000 college students prepare to descend upon his town, the Ft. Lauderdale police chief (Wills) briefs his men on their upcoming war against "higher education." Meanwhile, four anxious co-eds from a winter-socked mid-western college start their own pilgrimage south, to where the boys outnumber the girls 3 to 1. Good odds for these gals, each with their own goal:

Too tall Tuggle (Prentiss) is on the hunt for a husband, preferably one she can look in the eye without bending her knees both figuratively and literally. Melanie (Mimieux) also has her sights set high, wanting to notch a couple of Ivy Leaguers on her soon to be discarded chastity belt. And while the pugnacious Angie (Francis) will settle for just about anything, Merritt (Hart) isn't really sure what she's looking for, if anything at all, really, romantically speaking.

The film then follows them through the entire week of Spring Break, as the girls go from one bizarre locale to the next, taking in the sun, the suds and the scenery. Along the way, Tuggle falls for the lanky TV Thompson (Hutton), and Angie finds romance with Basil, a myopic bass player (Gorshin), whose experimental combo-band pays the audience to listen to them, dig? The brainy Merrit also finds her match with Ryder Smith (an eerily untanned Hamilton), as they hurl intellectual barbs at one another over the "Stud / Slut Dichotomy" to keep him at arms length, allowing the reluctant Merritt to ease into the relationship.

And as TV's police-band radio constantly updates us on the collegiate shenanigans erupting around them (-- a favorite being a live shark reported in a hotel swimming pool), the couples schmooze, snog, bicker over commitments, fight, break up, make up, snog some more, culminating in climactic calamity at a fancy dinner at a fancy seafood restaurant, where the whole gang winds up in a giant aquarium with the showcase aquabat.

___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___ ___
"Why do they (college kids) come to Florida? Physically to get a tan. Also, they are pooped. Many have mono. Psychologically, to get away. And besides, what else is there to do except go home (for spring break) and further foul up the parent-child relationship? Biologically, they come to Florida to check the talent. You've seen those movie travelogues of the beaches on the Pribilof Islands where the seals tool in once a year to pair off and reproduce. The beach at Lauderdale has a similar function. Not that reproduction occurs, of course, but when you attract thousands of kids to one place there is apt to be a smattering of sexual activity."
-- Merrit Andrewsxxxxxx
Where the Boys / Glendon Swarthoutxxxxxx
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Author Glendon Swarthout had a steady career writing novels about people going on a journey. They Came to Cordura focused on Pershing's expedition into Mexico to hunt down Poncho Villa, for one example. Another, The Shootist, focused on the end of the journey for aging gunslinger, J.B. Books. But his most famous stories usually added a coming of age factor, with the likes of Bless the Beasts and the Children and his wildly popular Where the Boys Are, a "zany satire on the holiday pursuits of the American teenage girl," which provided the first ever insider look into the annual Spring Break invasion of Florida.

All those books I've mentioned were adapted to the big screen, too, obviously. First published in 1960, MGM quickly turned it around and made a tidy sum off their tiny budget. However, one should point out that George Wells' screenplay only covers the first half of the book, as the second gets even zanier with the radicalization of the group as they raise money to buy guns, with every intention to smuggle them into Cuba to help Uncle Fidel and the Fuller Brush Beard Brigade's revolution.

No, the film adaptation is more concerned with another revolution. And while Where the Boys Are definitely has the wholesome 1950's sheen on the surface (-- beginning with Francis' infectious theme song), down below it makes no bones about poking the taboo of premarital S-E-X right in the eye with a very sharp stick.

From the opening scene, Merritt is duking it out with her college professor over the elder's archaic views of sex and the dating habits of the young American female. But as the film plays out, Merritt has some major issues over the practice of what she's preaching. To make matters worse, the overly naive Melanie has taken her friend's Kinsey-backed advice to heart. And while the film's overall tone is comedic, it can also be downright brutal at times, with poor Melanie usually taking the brunt of it, serving as an abject lesson for the others when she's suckered to a private motel party by a couple of no-goodniks posing as Yale students. When she finally susses out the ruse and tries to leave, it's too late. What happens next is only implied, but there is no mistaking the devastating final result once the hotel door slams shut.

The other girl's relationship problems pale in comparison, but they are the bumps along the way just the same. TV wants to knock-boots with Tuggle but she's determined to wait until she's married. TV takes the hint, and the specter of a long term commitment frightens him off. And knowing that once Spring Break is over means the probable end of their relationship, a conflicted Merritt's hot and cold act is wearing awfully thin with Ryder, resulting in a similar nasty spat. And then things get really twisted when everyone's relationships are saved or cemented as a direct result of Melanie's sexual assault.

Which is why I'm just as conflicted about my feelings for Where the Boys Are. On the surface, I could almost enjoy it unconditionally -- almost. Because underneath, it's mixed message of saying sex is OK but the only one who actively engages in it winds up raped, brutalized and in the hospital is a pretty twisted way to moralize away it's all fun and games until somebody gets hurt. And, well, I kinda have a problem making all of that compute while trying to laugh at an aquarium full of goofballs.

Where the Boys Are (1960) Euterpe~MGM / P: Joe Pasternak / D: Henry Levin / W: George Wells, Glendon Swarthout (Novel) / C: Robert Bronner / E: Fredric Steinkamp / S: Dolores Hart, Paula Prentiss, Yvette Mimieux, Connie Francis, George Hamilton, Jim Hutton, Frank Gorshin, Chill Wills

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Royale Mess :: A Beer-Gut Reaction to Casino Royale (1966)

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

"It's depressing that the words 'secret agent'
have become synonymous with 'sex maniac.'"

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx-- Bond ... James Bond

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When the casual James Bond enthusiasts list their least favorite 007 films, what you usually find lurking at the bottom are the same usual suspects; but they'll range in a different pecking order depending on personal tastes and favorite Bonds. Yeah, Roger Moore probably stuck around for about two films too many. And after Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan's run quickly floundered and then foundered on its own F/X budget. Toiling at the bottom of most lists is usually poor Timothy Dalton's run, which, for the record, I don't truck; or On Her Majesty's Secret Service -- which I believe is actually one of the better films in the whole franchise; it was just saddled with that stiff, George Lazenby, thus branding it the red-headed stepchild of the bunch. And if OHMSS is the red-headed stepchild of the Bond franchise, then the original Casino Royale is the crazy drunken aunt, with the purple hair, who always wants a big, wet sloppy kiss at Christmas time. Gah! You can't avoid it, yes, but no family reunion would be complete without it.

Casino Royale was actually the first James Bond adventure published by author Ian Fleming back in 1953, and it was also the first to be adapted for the visual medium in 1954. Whoa. Wait, you ask, 1954? Yeah. See, when TV producer Gregory Ratoff bought the rights for it he decided to adapt it for the showcase anthology series Climax! Mystery Theater on CBS. E'yup. That's right: Barry Nelson and his Marine buzzcut was the first person to ever portray James "Jimmy" Bond. After that, the rights to the novel swapped hands several times over the next decade until they landed in producer Charles Feldmen's lap. And taking a cue from the immense (and repeating) box-office success of Harry Saltzman's and Albert Broccoli's adaptations of Fleming's other books for United Artists, Feldmen immediately launched plans to film Casino Royale for Columbia to cash in.

Initially wanting to co-produce a feature with Team EON, starring Connery, Feldmen was rebuffed. (Seems Saltzman and Broccoli weren't too thrilled with their previous joint production with Kevin McClory on Thunderball.) So, like what McClory did much later with Never Say Never Again, Feldmen decided to produce his own version (-- though unlike McClory, Feldmen could not coax Connery into starring in his vehicle). And deciding he probably couldn't out-Bond his competitors, the decision was made to skip the serious espionage business and instead go mod and poke his competitors in the eye with a satirical perforation of all those brand new spy conventions. The results were, well -- judge for yourself:

When the international consortium of evil known as SMERSH starts eliminating the world's top secret agents, James Bond (Niven) is called out of retirement to stem the tide. To assist him, several other fake Bonds are employed to distract and infiltrate SMERSH, including ones played by Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, and Daliah Lavi, and help restore world order by foiling the vertically challenged Dr. Noah (Allen) and his insidious scheme to reduce the height of the entire male population of the planet to under four-feet tall. And then things get a little strange. Make that spiral out of control -- and was that Frankenstein's Monster who just clomped by?

Whenever I think about this movie, I clearly recall one line from Niven when asked by an associate about their next course of action, to which he replies "Get out of the bloody place before it blows up!" As a viewer, you get the exact same impression with Casino Royale as it slowly reaches critical mass. But what else would you expect from a film that took five directors, including John Huston and (-- the uncredited clean-up specialist --) Val Guest, ten scriptwriters, and a cast that includes not only Niven, Sellers, and Allen, but Orson Welles, William Holden and, Was that Peter O'Toole? That right: you'd expect a cinematic train-wreck, and that's exactly what Casino Royale most definitely is.

But with that kind of talent involved, you'd think the end results would be a little better than they were. Alas, but it seems while the movie was in production it was marred with so many problems and a spiraling budget it was dubbed a mini-Cleopatra -- the high-water benchmark for budget boondoggles until Costner got all wet with Waterworld. Here, things began to fall apart almost immediately when Sellers, whom the film was supposed to center on, and who wasn't too thrilled with the script's direction, proved so difficult that he was fired off the picture. Things were so bad, and Sellers and Welles despised each other so much, that the actors were shot separately then edited together for their memorable game of baccarat. Add it all up and you're amazed this discombobulated mess wound up as coherent as it did!

I'm not really sure when the proceedings stopped being silly and became absurd, then ridiculous, then ludicrous, and then -- dare I say it, yes I do -- kinda stupid. It fades badly after the first half hour, and then it's just an assault of peaks and valleys, giving you a bad case of the burpy-urpies before it wildly crescendos at the end -- but you still never quite get the bang you were hoping for. Tallying it up, there's about a four-groan-to-every-laugh ratio in Casino Royale. Those aren't bad odds, making it worth a gamble if you have a high tolerance for camp gone horribly, horribly wrong. There are a few comedy nuggets to be mined, here. Burt Bacharach's hideously infectious soundtrack alone is worth digging for, just don't expect the mother lode or get suckered in by all the comedic pyrite.

Casino Royale (1967) Famous Artists Productions :: Columbia Pictures Corporation / P: Jerry Bresler, Charles K. Feldman / AP: John Dark / D: Val Guest, Ken Hughes, John Huston, Joseph McGrath, Robert Parrish, Richard Talmadge / W: Wolf Mankowitz, John Law, Michael Sayers, Woody Allen, Val Guest, Ben Hecht, oseph Heller, Terry Southern, Billy Wilder, Peter Sellers, Ian Fleming (novel) / C: Jack Hildyard / E: Bill Lenny / M: Burt Bacharach / S: David Niven, Peter Sellers, Ursula Andress, Orson Welles, Joanna Pettet, Daliah Lavi, Deborah Kerr, William Holden, Woody Allen

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wishful Thinking :: THIS is the Muppet Movie I Wanna See.

Weened on Sesame Street and nurtured by the constant laughs their weekly TV series coughed up, my genuine fondness for the Muppets, my identification with these characters, is so engrained that I always suffer a temporary freak-out whenever I see any behind the scenes photos or video, where some stranger has a hand shoved up their nethers. Not. Right. No. No. No... Weird, yes. But it's true. So, yeah, I'm pretty excited that Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie and the whole gang are making a triumphant return to the big screen next week, and I look forward to a rare excursion to the cinema to check out the movie that appears to be about (-- what else?), the triumphant return of the Muppets in The Muppets.

All well and good, sure, but you wanna know what I'd really like to see? Something that has been percolating in my head for a good long while -- long before those glorious trailers, where James Bobin spoofily plugged his cast into several different features coming down the pike. See, ever since the Muppets tackled Treasure Island, I thought, instead of interpreting th
e Classics of Literature, why not plug these collective Heads of Knuckle into a remake of a movie? And not just any movie, mind you. But this movie:

Can you see it? Yes? No? Well, if not -- maybe this casting rundown will help sell it...

Emmaline Finch, Mrs. Marcus, J. Russel Finch:
(Dorothy Provine, Ethel Merman, Milton Berle)

Annie Sue, Ms. Piggy, Kermit the Frog
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Neville and Monica Crump:
(Sid Caesar and Edie Adams)

The Great Gonzo and Camilla
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Benji Benjamin and Dingy Bell:
(Buddy Hackett and Mickey Rooney)

Fozzie Bear and Rowlf the Dog
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Lenny Pike:
(Jonathan Winters)

__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Otto Meyer:
(Phil Silvers)

Rizzo the Rat
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

J. Algernon Hawthorne:
Terry-Thomas :: The Swedish Chef
(Subtitles required, here, of course.)
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Sylvester Marcus (and friend):
(Dick Shawn and Barrie Chase)

Link Hogthrob and Janice
(Can't you just hear Link yelling, "Mama!")
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Captain Culpepper:
(Spencer Tracy)

Steve Martin
(Our Token Human.)
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Smiler Grogan:
Jimmy Durante :: Waldorf

Police Chief Aloysius:
William DeMarest :: Statler
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Ray and Irwin:
(Marvin Kaplan and Arnold Stang)

Dr. Bunson Honeydew and Beaker
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Tyler Fitzgerald:
Jim Backus :: Dr Teeth
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

The Rancho Conejo Air Traffic Controllers:
(L to R: Eddie Ryder, Jesse White and Carl Reiner)

(L to R) Beauregard, Pops and Scooter
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

Colonel Wilberforce:
Paul Ford :: Sam the Eagle
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

The Cabbies:
(Peter Falk and Eddie "Rochester" Anderson)

Floyd Pepper and the Animal
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __

The Duster Pilot:
Ben Blue :: Lew Zealand

The Miner:
Mike Mazurky :: Thog

The Miner's Son:
Bob Mazurki :: Robin

Jimmy the Crook:
Buster Keaton :: Uncle Deadly
__ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __ __


Andy Devine (and friend)...

Mr. Snuffleupogus (and friend).

Jerry Lewis :: Ernie

Don Knotts :: Bert

Jack Benny :: Oscar the Grouch

Edward Everett Horton :: Herbert Birdsfoot

Leo Gorcey :: The Count von Count

Joe E. Brown :: Harvey Kneeslapper

Sterling Holloway :: Tele Monster

And finally...

The Three Stooges:
(Curly Joe, Moe and Larry)

The Three Monsters:
(Cookie, Harry and Grover)

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I'm probably missing a few characters (-- this five-years-in-the-making post was drawn purely from memory), probably a few obvious ones, too, and a few face-palming matches that I failed to connect, but, truthfully, this thing just cast itself. Wishful thinking, I know, but this would be a whole six-pack of The Awesome.

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