Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, July 07, 2006
      ( 7/07/2006 05:25:00 AM ) Bill S.  

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Thursday, July 06, 2006
      ( 7/06/2006 02:32:00 PM ) Bill S.  

TAKING ORDERS FROM THE SMOKE DETECTOR – Over a week late, and I finally caught the moderately satisfying season/series finale of Showtime's Huff. Though obviously written to lead into a third season, there was enough a sense of character progression to make for a decent conclusion. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question is the final fate of Teddy Huffstodt's unfortunate girlfriend: hard to tell if guest shrink Angelica Huston's vagueness on the subject was deliberate withholding of information (not wanting to ruin a moment 'tween Izzy & Teddy) or not.

In any case, Andy Comeau's performance as the schizophrenic brother Teddy remained a high point in the series' wobbly second season. (Naturally, Emmy overlooked him in favor of Oliver Platt's already familiar sybaritic Russell.) The actor blended both nervous tentativeness and aggressive mood swings so convincingly that I can only hope his next project is something far away from Huff (a pure sitcom, maybe) to keep him from being typecast as the guy who does Real Good Crazy . . .
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Tuesday, July 04, 2006
      ( 7/04/2006 11:19:00 AM ) Bill S.  

FIBBERS – Watching this week's offering of Deadwood, I realized that each season has provided us with one great Al Swearengen blow job soliloquy (fellatioloquy?) right in the center of the action. This year's was no exception.

NOTE: Yes, I know Al's monologues aren't technically soliloquies since there is someone else in the room. But aside from the comically touching final interaction in this week's episode, does anyone believe that Al is really talking to the girl who's servicing him?

UPDATE: Curse me for a slow-witted cocksucker: I just realized that's Carnivále's Rita Sue (a.k.a. Cynthia Ettinger) we see leading Deadwood's Con Stapleton into dirty dirty ways . . .
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      ( 7/04/2006 07:20:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"NOW, LIKE YOUR FATHER, YOU'RE THE HERO OF THE BOWERY!" – Thanx to a heads up from Mark Evanier, I was able to record and view the early Ed Wynn comedy The Chief (1933) this week. The first film to follow his 1930 talkie debut, Follow the Leader, Chief was a notorious box office dud that helped keep the popular radio comedian out of the movies for years. Written by Arthur Caesar & Robert E. Hopkins, the flick was an attempt at bringing Wynn's then-popular radio show character, the Fire Chief, to the big screen. Per "Third Banana" connoisseur Aaron Neathery, it's "one of MGM's all-time worst comedies (and that's saying something)." While I wouldn't go so far as to slap that title on the flick, there is something especially disheartening about watching someone you know can be funny belaboring in the pursuit of forced chuckles at best.

The story, purportedly set in the Bowery during the Gay 90's (though the sets largely look like your typical MGM small-town), centers around Henry Summers (Wynn), the son of a hero fireman who gave his life in a hotel conflagration. The movie opens on a ceremony devoted to dedicating Dad Summers' statue/fountain (with a brief appearance by a young Mickey Rooney as a firecracker tossing moppet), which goes awry when Henry accidentally breaks off the handle turning on the fountain, sending a fire hose stream of water into the crowd: the flick's big slapstick moment. Wynn's Henry is his usual fluttery self, not much different from the character he played in Follow the Leader: a good-natured boob prone to fits of giggling and stumbling. The only time he redeems himself is when he has a surprise fit of short-lived assertiveness. ("Every once in a while, my father's blood comes out in me.") An inept clerk in a Bowery department store, Henry's stock rises when he becomes a hero through an improbable (and unconvincingly established) set of circumstances.

Our hero soon finds himself in the middle of a neighborhood political race, egged on by shady lady Dixie Dean (Dorothy Mackaill, dressed like Mae West but without the physique to fully pull it off) and a comic immigrant clothier (George Givot, really laying on the impenetrable accent). When the borough's corrupt alderman has Henry's mom (Effie Elser) kidnapped to force our man to drop out of the race, the befuddled candidate runs out into the streets and starts acting like a lunatic so people won't vote for him. Unbeknownst to Henry, though, Ma Summers has managed to so charm her kidnappers (including reliable big guy Nat Pendleton, perhaps best known as the ambulance driver in MGM's "Dr. Kildaire" movies) that she's set free before the election. His opponent arrested, Henry is now presumably free to run as city alderman for the Bowery.

I say "presumably" because, sixty or so minutes into the movie, The Chief veers out of its Gay Nineties milieu and into a studio where we see Wynn's Fire Chief doing his radio routine with announcer/bandleader Graham McNamee. The whole movie, we're supposed to believe, has been a story concocted by Wynn for his Texaco-sponsored variety show – a pointlessly disruptive revelation when you consider that everything we've seen before has purportedly happened forty years earlier. Wynn dispenses with most of the movie's characters through a series of jokes that manage to defuse whatever marginal level of interest we may've had in 'em – and the movie ends.

There's more to the 65-minute flick, of course: a few comic scenes in the department store (including a nice vaudevillian scene where zaftig matron Greta Mayer brings her son into the hat department and asks, "Have you a hat that'll fit my little Heinie?"), several extended amusement-free dialect bits with Givot, a carnival sequence where our hero gets to wrestle a man in a bear suit ("This is much more intimate than boxing!" Henry groans at one point), plus the comic chorus work of two street cleaners. But, in all, the results are largely rather mild. I'm tempted to say that a little of Ed Wynn goes a long way on the big screen – his most memorable movie roles are his smaller supporting ones from the fifties and sixties, after all. But Red Skelton cribbed heavily from the Wynn playbook and parlayed it into a moderately successful movie career, so perhaps it's more a case of profound studio mishandling – and a pair of writers who can't make up their minds as to whether they're writing for the movies or radio.

Per IMDB, Wynn has one movie that predated either of his two sound vehicles, the 1927 silent comedy Rubber Heels, a film that purportedly was so bad that Wynn himself offered to buy it back before release so he could destroy it. Clearly, the man was not at his best when it came to picking movie feature vehicles . . .
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Monday, July 03, 2006
      ( 7/03/2006 01:34:00 PM ) Bill S.  

NO MORE (GUITAR) HEROES ANYMORE . . . - I dunno know if I can listen to the Stones anymore, now that Keith Richards has gotten all Christian and everything . . .
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      ( 7/03/2006 08:55:00 AM ) Bill S.  

KEEPING THE FORCES OF GODLESS HOLLYWOOD AT BAY – I'm not surprised when any movie producer for grabs the publicity spotlight any way they can, so when the producers of the upcoming evangelical flick, Facing the Giants, started playing the Christian martyr card when the MPAA slapped a PG rating on their movie, I figured it was business as usual. But once current house minority whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo) inserted his highly politicized culture war take ("This incident raises the disquieting possibility that the MPAA considers exposure to Christian themes more dangerous to children than exposure to gratuitous sex and violence."), the stakes appear to've risen. MPAA's critics are asserting that the PG rating (When did that become the Kiss of Death?) was given because the Baptist-themed flick so openly proselytizes about its religion. The ratings association states that - despite some initial miscommunication with the flick's producers - the movie's sports-related violence and discussion of teen pregnancy were what led to the PG assignment. (So how many films with "gratuitous sex and violence" have received a G rating, anyway?)

Like most movie fans, I've had my own issues with MPAA ratings in the past and having not seen the flick, I can't testify to the validity of the rating itself. It's difficult to tell which side to root for in this conflict, but looking at some of the principals involved in this new round of criticism, the civil liberties paranoid in me can't help wondering if Blunt's volley isn't part of a fresh push to get an industry-based ratings system under gummint control. Pretty sure I'm not ready to trust Roy Blunt's aesthetic judgment.
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Sunday, July 02, 2006
      ( 7/02/2006 11:05:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"SUN'S DOWN – TIME TO MAKE SOME FRIENDS!" – Wasn't expecting much from Spike TV's new Blade: The Series. When you remember that the last comics-connected series to come from the "network for men" was Stan Lee's Stripperella, minimal expectations are understandable. Still, I rather enjoyed the first two movies in the series (haven't seen the third 'un yet) and was pleased to note that original movie scripter David Goyer was involved in the show, so I was willing to give the two-hour premiere a look. Well, after viewing Spike's afternoon repeat yesterday, I will attest that the show's nowhere near as lame as Stan Lee's animated demo of the virtues of long-term retirement, but it wasn't all that thrilling either. Remember that cheesy vampire flick I reviewed several months ago? Well, Blade isn't as technically awkward as that cheapie cinematic mish-mash (at least director Peter O’Fallon knows how to shoot the show's plentiful action scenes), but it sure feels as dumb.

The plot centers around our half-breed vampire's adventures in Detroit, Michigan, where decadent millionaire blood-sucker Marcus Van Sciver (Neil Jackson, looking more than a little like the grown-up Neil Patrick Harris) is conducting experiments on hapless newly turned vampires to transform 'em into super-vamps. (Perhaps the most disturbing single image in the premiere – reminiscent of the movie Coma –is the sight of vampire lab rats hanging from the ceiling encased in plastic.) Sciver is a bigwig in the House of Chthon, which is one of those names that are way easier to read on a blog or a comic book page than to speak out loud in a convincing manner. (Just try speaking this clunker from the movie: "The House of Chthon has a lot of locked doors!") Hard not to snicker every time a character sez the word out loud – or at least wish for a Buffy type character to appear on-screen and crack, "What is it with you vampires and your unpronounceable names?" – though that's the least of the pilot's problems.

The biggest issue lies in the fact that though the series is named after Blade, the primary focus of the first two hours is on a secondary character, ex-Army soldier Krista Starr (Jill Wagner), who has come to Detroit after her brother Zach has been killed by one of Sciver's human goons (a.k.a. familiars). Krista is one of those super-women capable of chasing a possible baddie down a dark ghetto alley while wearing high-heeled boots, though, of course, she doesn't realize the full extent of the rank evilness surrounding her. Led into a warehouse ambush by some of Sciver's punk-ish soldiers (what is it about vampirism that makes so many of 'em wanna dress like they're going to a leather bar?), she's rescued by the monosyllabic Blade and ultimately convinces him to let her be a part of a reconnaissance mission that the vampire hunter has set up with his tech-geek side-kick Shen (Nelson Lee, parceled out a small handful of wisecracks by scriptwriters Goyer and Geoff Johns). It all goes bad, with Krista getting captured by Sciver and herself transformed into something-else-than-human.

If Krista were played by an actress with a trace more grit or spunk, her arc might be entertaining, but the undeniably attractive Wagner is such a wet rag, she can't even pull off the vampire-slut-in-a-clingy-dress look. As for series lead Kirk "Sticky" Jones (last seen in Over There), he's so concerned with replicating original movie lead Wesley Snipes' speaking voice that he forgets to make Blade a character. To be fair, Goyer & Johns don't give him much in the way of dialog – but TV's storytelling demands are more about character then they are in action features (even when you're doing a TV series taken from an action movie series), and in this Blade: The Series really comes up short. Granted, we're not talking about a whole lotta nuance with a figure who (as criminally uncredited creator Marv Wolfman presented him) was originally established in the comics as a compilation of blaxploitation flick tics. But, Snipes at least invested the character with enough clenched teeth pissedness to hold onto the camera. Jones mainly just grunts.

As teevee adaptations of Marvel horror comics goes, Blade comes nowhere near the wretchedness of Man-Thing, but I'll certainly be surprised to see it last beyond its current eleven-ep series run. Not when it's so much cheaper for the net to fill its hour with another C.S.I. rerun – or some dumb-ass games award show . . .

UPDATE: I see from blog@newsarama that the premiere had more-than-respectable ratings, so I'm probably fulla crap on that last comment.
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Saturday, July 01, 2006
      ( 7/01/2006 11:04:00 AM ) Bill S.  

SCIENTIFICTION – Watched a taped copy of "The Science of Superman" yesterday. One of several specials recently released to capitalize on the new Superman movie (perhaps the most prominent being A&E's "Look, Up in the Sky"), "Science" is currently being shown on The National Geographic Channel. Blending interviews with scientists and comic book folk (Denny O'Neil, Mark Waid & Elliot S. Maggin the primary voices among the latter) along with the inevitable appearance by Hal Sparks(?), the special half-seriously attempts to analyze the scientific feasibility of the Man of Steel's super powers. Some of the earlier old sci-fi explanations from comics and radio are amusingly debunked (goodbye red and yellow suns!) and I liked the sequence contrasting the way that Superman used to launch himself into flying mode in the Fleischer cartoons and teevee series – getting up a small head of steam before leaping up, up and away – with the standing-still take-offs we saw in Superman: The Movie. The running leaps look more believable and dynamic, which may be one reason why we're more willing to accept an out-of-shape George Reeves as a superhero. As for the current science, I'm not the one to assess the tongue-in-cheek theorizing put forth in this lightweight semi-doc by the likes of Mark Wolverton (author of The Science of Superman), but I have to admit to being amused by the idea that "Kryptonian hemoglobin is similar to chlorophyll." Didn't I once read something similar in an Alan Moore Swamp Thing?
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      ( 7/01/2006 06:57:00 AM ) Bill S.  

YUP – So we're catching an airing of Independence Day, which is being broadcast over the July 4th weekend on HBO, and near the end, my loving spouse turns to me and sez, "So if the aliens'd bought an updated version of McAfee, planet Earth would've been toast, right?"
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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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