Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, March 04, 2006
      ( 3/04/2006 08:46:00 AM ) Bill S.  

SURPRISING ROD – Primary ads are currently popping up all over the tube in Illinois, and current governor Rod Blagojevich has one running that pretty clearly delineates the problems our Dem gov is facing going for a second term. After discussing the economic problems he was handed, taking over the governorship from alleged federal racketeer George Ryan (R.), Rod states, "It might surprise you to learn the progress we made" in addressing said problems. That simple phrase, I suspect, tells us more than it's meant to . . .
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      ( 3/04/2006 06:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

PLAY SOMETHING SWEET, PLAY SOMETHING MELANCHOLY – A Quick Note Because I Seem to Be Paying A Lotta Attention to Closed Captioning Lately: Since my wife was still in bed when I watched Elektra, I played the movie low with the captioning running. As in most current closed caps, the captioneers do more than just repeat the dialog. They also tell us when plot-specific sound effects are heard and when theme-specific music is played. One of the captions written this time, for instance, simply said, "Melancholy Theme Playing," and appeared whenever our heroine thought back to her tragic character-defining past. That caption was used a lot in the picture . . .
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      ( 3/04/2006 06:42:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I DON'T HAVE A CODE, ABBY!" – Caught via Video-on-Demand the movie Elektra recently. Though advanced word had me expecting something godawful, the end results weren't that bad, I thought: certainly much less visually murky than Daredevil. Take away the fancy CGI, and you basically have a distaff Chuck Norris flick, circa 1980 (The Octagon, say). Jennifer Garner is more capable of delivering her lines than non-actor Norris, of course, but even she couldn't resurect some of the script's old groaners. ("You talk in riddles, old man!" she tells Terence Stamp's blind mentor at one point, and immediately you wished the writers could've gone all ZAZ on her ass.) At times, most specifically in the big showdown 'tween our sais-wielding good-girl assassin and her head nemesis, the CGI proved an unnecessary distraction. (Set in a mansion where all the furniture has been covered in sheets, the sheets inexplicably fly off the couches and divans and float around our dueling martial artists – yet I don't recall a single one getting torn.) The henchman whose animal tats come off of his body was decently realized, however. Watching it at home in the comfort of my living room, I didn't feel an ounce of regret over missing this 'un on the big screen, but I didn't mind killing some time with it. . .
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Friday, March 03, 2006
      ( 3/03/2006 09:54:00 AM ) Bill S.  

WEEKEND PET PIC – It's my sweetie's birthday, so don't expect to see much posting today. In the meantime, here's a shot of Kyan Puppy and Ziggy Stardust, taken just before the two began to indulge in some old-fashioned dominance-establishing rough housing . . .

Happy birthday, Becky!
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Thursday, March 02, 2006
      ( 3/02/2006 09:32:00 PM ) Bill S.  

FOR WHO'S PLEASURE? – Noted in the background music of promos for this week's ep of CBS's Close to Home: Roxy Music's sinister-sounding paean to an inflatable sex doll, "In Every Dream House A Heartache." Now that's truly creepy . . .
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      ( 3/02/2006 03:48:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"A HARD, UNFRIENDLY WORLD" – So I recently pulled out my DVD copy of the Hammer remake of One Million Years BC (1967), and the second thing I notice while scanning the packaging is the little box stating that the disc is closed captioned. "Captioning?" I think to myself. For a movie with dialog that's primarily confined to caveman grunts and gibberish? What's the point?

I'd forgotten, of course, that the film opens with two minutes of thoroughly disposable voiceover narration, which I guess gave the captioneers something to do, though I hope they weren't being paid by the word. The rest of the flick was all made-up nonsense syllables, with an occasional name inserted just so we could tell Raquel Welch from the rest of the cast. (She's Loana of the Shell People, but really all you need to know is she's the movie's Big Blond Babe – where Martine Beswick plays the Not-So-Big Brunette.) There are also lots of dinosaur yells and shrieks on the soundtrack, but that goes without saying . . .

For those unfamiliar with the posterific BC – or the Victor Mature-starring original made in the 40's – the movie tells the easily parsed tale of two tribes of cavefolk, the Rock and Shell tribes, as they struggle to survive prehistoric times on one of the Canary Islands. The Rockers, repped by darkly bearded Tumak (John Richardson) are filthy brutish cliff dwellers who rely on hunting wild boar and body-checking each other for amusement, while the Shell-folk live by the sea and fish in between scurrying away from carnivore attacks. After Tumak is pushed off a cliff by his thuggish brother, (Percy Herbert, looking like a scruffier Bluto), he makes his way to the sea, where he meets and falls in caveman love with Raquel's Loana. His Rock-y ways don't endear him to the Shell tribers, though, and soon both he and Loana are sent packin'. Our love struck duo trudges across the barren landscape, dodging battling dinos, 'til a big volcano eruption ultimately brings everybody together.

Simple? Sure. But you don't go to a movie like this for nuanced plotting: you come for the half-clothed, improbably groomed actors and the dinosaurs. That second element, overseen by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, is plenty fun in its own right, though it should be noted that budgetary constraints forced the stop-motion master to fill in with magnified real-life creatures. Viewers coming to the flick for the first time, expecting to see some of Harryhausen's engagingly handmade animation, invariably feel a let-down since the first monster they see is a big blown-up iguana similar to the fakey beasts skittering across dozens of low-budget Lost Worlds. It isn't until later that the stop-motion goodness enters the picture, most notably with an Allosaurus threatening a little Shell girl in a tree. In those moments, One Million Years BC becomes more than an excuse for horny adolescents to ogle the future Kansas City Bomber's bod. For the record, though, I should note that I first saw BC at the drive-in when I was seventeen. While I was immediately taken with her, the role that really turned me on to Miz Welch was her turn the same year as "Lilian Lust, the Babe with the Bust" in Stanley Donen's Bedazzled. (Pause at keyboard to momentarily recall the image . . . ) Still, the sight of Loana emerging from the ocean after being dropped by a Pteranadon remains a pretty potent one.

The volcano eruption is a bit of a disappointment, though. Where the 1940 original was all rumbling quakes and great streaming rivers of lava swarming over people and lizards, the remake basically sticks to shots of cavefolk running up against shifting earth. It may be more realistic, but why bring up realism in a film that gives us cave ladies with plucked eyebrows?

Reading up on it today, I see that there's more than one DVD version of BC, of varying lengths. The American Fox Video version, which I originally found for five bucks at Wal-Mart, is apparently nine minutes shorter than the original British release; some of this missing footage is Harryhausen stop-motion creature work. Give us unnecessary captioning, but don't give us the entire movie. You know, if I'd paid more than five dollars for this baby, I'd be really pissed . . .
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Wednesday, March 01, 2006
      ( 3/01/2006 12:44:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"YOU BROUGHT ME DRAFT BEER IN A PLASTIC CUP!" – Another bloggish birthday: seems like only yesterday that we were first taking the Gadabout for a test drive – now we've been ridin' it for four years. Practically two lifetimes in Internet years, though if we were a dog, we'd be only – what? – a still-youngish twenty-eight. This past year hasn't been the sunniest in this small corner of the blogosphere: if blog years were Buffy seasons, this last would've been the one where the Buffster wound up working in a burger joint – but I have hopes that Year Five will be better. More varied comics reviews are in order: as fun as the AiT/Boom! Books have been to receive and read, I definitely feel the need to be looking a rounder selection of comics material (though I can't say I feel bad about missing out on House of M . . .) But strapped year or not, I've continued to get a kick out of writing this blog – and reading the words of my fave blogospherians, too. (Happy sixth to the redoubtable neilalien!) So I don't see myself stopping this vehicle any time soon.
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      ( 3/01/2006 12:40:00 PM ) Bill S.  

STRANGE ADVENTURES IN CLOSED CAPTIONING – Watched this week's Simpsons early this a.m. A parody of My Fair lady with Groundskeeper Willie in the Liza Doolittle role, it wasn't the equal of the show's great Mary Poppins take-off, but it still had plenty of funny moments. Watching the ep with closed captioning, though, I could help wondering about the captions that accompanied each tune. Though clearly meant to recall the songs in Lerner & Loewe's well-known musical, the songs nonetheless were different enough to not be the actual tunes. Yet the captioning clearly gave the impression that Frederick Loewe's music was being used – instead of Alf Clausen's clever pastiches. Base deceptions being perpetrated on the Hearing Impaired, I calls it!
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Tuesday, February 28, 2006
      ( 2/28/2006 05:55:00 PM ) Bill S.  

WHERE HAVE THEY GONE, THESE STARS OF OUR YOUTH? – Damn, more deaths: this time of three familiar figures from my teevee-addicted childhood. Was never a big fan of Don Knotts – but I suspect this was more a matter of the material not being up to the man than of Knotts himself. (I've seen some snippets of his work on the old Steve Allen Show, and I'd love to see more of it since I suspect that's the material most worth re-watching.) Though it ran through my childhood – and has been a syndicated staple ever since – I never connected to The Andy Griffith Show, while the less said about Three's Company, the better. As for the string of low-budget family films he made over the years, I have better memories of 'em as Dell/Gold Key comics than I do as movies.

Darren McGavin is another story, though. I remember him as hard-boiled Mike Hammer on fifties series, as the much-tested uniformed mentor in Jerry Lewis' The Delicate Delinquent, as any number of hard-workin' authority figures – and, of course, as the anti-authoritarian Carl Kolchak and the Fieldsian Old Man in A Christmas Story. A reliable actor who was as skilled with a comic slow burn as he was a no-nonsense tough-guy delivery: my kind of teevee star.

And then there's Dennis Weaver, who resided somewhere in between Knotts and McGavin: as the limping deputy Chester on Gunsmoke, he was closer to Barney Fife than Andy Taylor (remember reading once that the reason his character was originally given a limp was to hide the fact that he was as tall as series star James Arness), but as the Coogan's Bluff-inspired Deputy McCloud, he came into his own as a leading man. Used to watch the show regularly when it was a part of the Sunday Night NBC Mystery Movie package, and if it wasn't the best of the bunch (that honor would have to go to the inimitable Columbo), it remained an entertaining cop show thanx in large part to Weaver's warm presence.

Reading of the death of this threesome, I find myself wondering who – if anybody – is groomed to be their replacements. As professional actors who came into television in its early years, they staked their places in the medium, arguably making their biggest impression on the small screen. So who, in the current realm of teevee regulars, is currently capable of filling Darren McGavin's well-scuffed shoes?
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Monday, February 27, 2006
      ( 2/27/2006 09:49:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"IS THERE LIFE AFTER BREAKFAST?" – Today was one of those work days for which the word "shitty" seems woefully inadequate, a day when you come home from the job muttering and repeating to yourself, "Why in God's name am I still working for these people?" To say I was driving home surly and embittered would be to put a positive reframe on my state of mind at the time. And then Carolyn, the woman with whom I regularly car pool to work, pulled out a CD-Rom that her hubby had burned with me in mind: it was a copy of Ray Davies' new solo release, his first recording of new material in years, Other People's Lives.

Just the sound of that great gawky voice comin' through on the speakers, wrapping itself around a whole new round of pop-rock compositions, was enough to pull me out of my funk. I played the disc the rest of the way home, and, to be honest, I couldn't tell you if it was any good or not, but it sure made me feel pretty damn fine. Some pop talents make you so glad to see or hear 'em again - that the first reaction they spark is plain and simple joy just coz they're still around. That's the way this long-standing Kinks fan felt today. Gimme a couple of weeks, and maybe I'll be able to review it for real, but for now I'm just grateful for the way it turned around my ultra-crappy day. That sort of experience is review-proof. . .
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Sunday, February 26, 2006
      ( 2/26/2006 10:24:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"THEY STRETCH . . .IN ALL THE RIGHT PLACES!" – Mark Evanier notes the passing of Eddie Nalbandian, one-time Southern California teevee commercial fixture whose significance to the rest of us lies in the fact that he was the inspiration for Frank Zappa's "Eddie, Are You Kidding?" A dead-on parody of those homegrown commercials native to every local teevee station, "Kidding?" is arguably the most successful sustained piece of music to be found on the spotty-but-entertaining Mothers concert album, Just Another Band from L.A.. It certainly is one of my favorite Flo & Eddie performances: "Eddie . . . what do you think of the new double-knits?"
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      ( 2/26/2006 07:34:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"SUVIVORS" – Boom! Studios publisher Ross Richie appears to be happily stepping up the production schedule for his still-new line of genre comics, with two more releases popping up in the past two weeks – and more power to him. This past week saw the concluding half of Zombie Tales: Death Valley, the grisly but lighthearted teen survival tale. All the expected notes are hit – friends and family show up as flesh-eating zombies, our hearty band of high school students is whittled down – though I didn't buy writers Cosby & Stokes' finale. If zombification is supposed the results of solar flare-ups, then why are the results only limited to the Los Angeles area? Just coz it's known as Sunny California, doesn't mean it's that much closer to the sun (93-million-miles away, he remembers from an old teevee commercial) than the rest of us.

Still, the second issue remains as fun as the first. Liked that our company, desperate to find a new place to hold up, select (instead of a mall) a version of the Playboy Mansion – if you're gonna ride out an Apocalypse, why not do it in the lap of bourgeois luxury, right?

This week gives us the debut issue of War of the Worlds: Second Wave, which, thankfully, owes little to the recent Spielberg movie or to Marvel's Killraven series (the first attempt at wringing a series out of H.G. Wells' sturdy public domain property). As crafted by writer Michael Alan Nelson and artist Chee, the tale tells the story of a suburbanite named Miles who loses his wife during the first onslaught of a Martian invasion. Unlike the over-muscled quasi-barbarians of the 70's era Marvel series – or the sturdy dock worker of the recent film – Miles is hardly your survivalist material: he doesn’t even know the name of a Phillips screwdriver. Yet he's our window into the story: guilt-ridden because he was unable to stop the unstoppable, desperate to redeem himself. You just know he's gonna do something stupid in his need to be a hero.

The first issue is primarily devoted to setting up the series' second wave of invading aliens; though the first attempt was beaten back much as it was in Wells' original novel, we can probably assume that the Martian invaders have since developed a means of immunizing themselves from the humble germs that bested 'em. The style established is considerably grimmer than Death Valley: no wisecracking or comic teen angst, must large-scale death 'n' destruction. Series artist Chee is much less cartoonly than Valley's Rhoald Marcellus, though in a couple of panels he gives his soldier figures a hint of kids playing dress-up. Guy knows his way around a rubble-strewn landscape, though.

First issue of War contains a blurb by Mark Waid comparing the series to Robert Kirkman's zombie world survival series, The Walking Dead, and I'm sure that Boom! is hoping that this series will generate the same degree of fan-positive buzz. Whether it does remains to be seen, of course, but I suspect that it'll be rough going. Where modern zombie stories possess the advantage of arising from some vague hyper-natural source, invasion tales provide a much more clear-cut antagonist that, over time, the reader expects will eventually be bested. Keep things going too long without providing a resolution, and many readers will give up on the series. Perhaps writer Nelson has a fresh batch of deadly viruses gestating in a test tube somewhere? If so, I hope he recognizes when it's time to finally pull 'em out . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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