Tuesday, December 31, 2019

In Search Of The Perfect Show For The Warped Mind

When I was a kid/ young man in the late 70's I was into the concepts of anything that bordered on the bizarre.  I read with avid interest anything I could get my hands on on UFOs, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Aliens Among Us etc.  (Think Weekly World News, except most of it was written in pseudo-scientific jargon and treated as if it were real.  Whether or not such things actually do or did exist notwithstanding.)

In 1977 a new TV series captured my interest.  It was hosted by Mr. Spock (really by Leonard Nimoy, the actor who played Spock on Star Trek) and delved into such subjects as UFOs, The Bermuda Triangle, The Bimini Wall, Atlantis and other such topics.  The series treated these subjects as potentially real, although, as the voice over said at the beginning of each episode:

"This series presents information based in part on theory and conjecture.  The producer's p[urpose is to suggest some possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine."

I religiously made a habit to be around a TV each week to watch the newest episode.  It ran from 1977-82, lasting 5 seasons, but it never really gained a following except among outcasts like myself and the Trekkies who never stopped believing that a Star Trek revival could be just around the next corner.  (At least that subset of the population eventually got their wish).

A month ago I happened to spot the entire original series on the shelf at the local used bookstore.  I treated myself to an early Christmas present (since I was the only one who would actually buy it for me...)  It was like nostalgia, immersing myself in a series that brought back memories of Saturday afternoon in front of the TV.  (That was when I vaguely remember watching episodes, although wikipedia gives some fairly inconsistent air dates.  It wasn't part of a weekly night time schedule, at least that I can remember.)

Some of the best episodes were the ones that dealt with real bona fide mysteries.  Such as a look at potential possibilities for the identity of Jack the Ripper.  Or mysterious disappearances such as what may have happened to Amelia Earhart. Or Glenn Miller.  Or Michael Rockefeller.   Or D. B. Cooper (and if you don't know who D. B. Cooper was, you are way too young...)

But also included, as hinted above, were investigations into sightings of various cryptids, not only Bigfoot and his brother, The Abominable Snowman, and the Loch Ness Monster, but also lesser known ones such as the Swamp Monster of rural Louisiana fame,  and the Ogopopo Monster, Canada's answer to Nessie.

Tomorrow, New Year's Day, I am planning on a marathon viewing of several episodes.  The marathon is entirely up to whim and I have no schedule as yet as to which episodes I will watch.  But I can guarantee you I won't be bored.  Maybe I'll even have time to review one or two before the weekend.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Attention Deficit Disorder on Steroids

John Landis, Joe Dante and several other directors teamed up in 1987 to deliver a paean to late night TV watching that ranks in the top 20 of my favorite comedies.  The format of the movie features a low budget sci-fi movie called "Amazon Women on the Moon" which a Tv station keeps trying unsuccessfully to broadcast "without commercial interruptions" but is consistently having to deal with the film breaking and thus having to put the viewing audience on standby.

Amazon Women on the Moon (1987):

An unseen TV watcher is thus channel surfing trying to find something to watch, occasionally going back to the station broadcasting the film.  Thus we are treated to a couple dozen vignettes that represent the programming on other TV stations.  The highlight for me is a segment in which a man and his wife (Lou Jacobi and Erica Yohn) are checking out his new TV which supposedly has excellent reception, but a glitch in the electronics zaps the guy and he wanders through some of the TV segments begging his wife to get him out of the situation.

In the meantime our unseen TV viewer who keeps changing the channels stops on several stations, and watches a few commercials and TV shows.  This is the glue, such as it is, that holds the film together.

Among the segments is a pretty cool parody of the 70's Leonard Nimoy hosted TV show "In Search Of..." and of "Ripley's Believe it or Not".  The show, hosted by Henry Silva, is titled "Bull**** or Not?" and this particular episode discusses whether Jack the Ripper may have actually been The Loch Ness Monster.

In another segment an infomercial tells how balding men can live a life of glamor with "real" hair by having segments of floor carpeting stapled to their bald pate.

"Critic's Corner" involves two smarmy movie critics, kinda like Siskel & Ebert, (played by radio show team of Barkley and Lohman.  I never heard of them either, but apparently they were a huge hit on LA radio for a number of years.).  The two introduce a new segment of their show in which they critique the life of an average Joe, Harvey Pitnik (Archie Hahn), who coincidentally happens to be watching the critics on TV and is exasperated by their comments on his less than spectacular life.

David Alan Grier appears in two segments as singer Don Simmons, one of which is a segment touting his greatest hits and another in which B. B. King enlists support for a charity for "Blacks Without Soul".  (Don "No Soul" Simmons is basically an African-American version of Pat Boone...)

In one scene a young man (Matt Adler) tries to surreptitiously buy a package of condoms only to find himself as the center of attention for being the 1,000,000 customer to buy that particular brand.

Throughout the film our unseen viewer keeps going back to the station showing the classic low budget sci fi movie of the title,  which feature Steve Forrest as the commander of a spaceship trying to engage in a battle of wits with the leader (Sybil Danning) of an all-women race of inhabitants on the Moon.    If you've seen enough of these low budget types of sci-fi movies from the 50's you will appreciate the zingers the film gets off at this genre.

This is only a handful of the segments within the film.  There are a whole host of cameos in this film, some familiar and some maybe not so familiar to you.  The cast reads like a who's who of late 80's character actors, including Rosanna Arquette, Paul Bartel, Ed Begley, Jr., Ralph Bellamy, Andrew Dice Clay, Griffin Dunne, Carrie Fisher, Steve Guttenberg, Arsenio Hall, Phil Hartman, Peter Horton, Mike Mazurki, Marc McClure and Michelle Pfeiffer.  It also includes in one rather gauche but still funny segment, involving a roast at a funeral, appearances by well-known comedians Steve Allen, Charlie Callas, Rip Taylor, Slappy White and Henny Youngman.

Be warned.  There are a couple of scenes of nudity in the film.  After all, two of the cameos are by Playboy and Penthouse models.  And there is a reason that the top of the movie poster above includes the word "Shameless".   It is not a movie for the prude, in other words.

Well folks, time to fire up the retro-rockets and go back to the planet I came from (wherever that is).  Drive safely, folks.



Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Mr. Monk and the Writer: Lee Goldberg's Monk Episodes

My favorite TV series is, without a shadow of a doubt, the early 2000's TV series Monk.

If you've never seen an episode imagine Sherlock Holmes with more quirks and emotional deficiencies than you could shake a stick at.  Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) is a former police officer who has gone downhill since the murder of his wife.  He was already a little quirky even before, but after her death he became almost catatonic.

With the series premiere, Monk is gradually working his way back to some semblance of normal.  At least as normal as an OCD compulsive, phobia-laden man can be.  With the help of his personal assistant (and nurse), Sharona Fleming (Bitty Schram), Monk becomes an essential go-to guy when the San Francisco police department is stumped (which happens just about as often as it did when Sherlock Holmes was brought in as a consultant for Scotland Yard).

He also is the favorite of many bigwigs in the city and state government.  In fact, even though initially Capt. Leland Stottlemeyer (Ted Levine) and his assistant L. Randy Disher (Jason Gray-Stanford) are resentful and reluctant to allow Monk to help in cases, both gradually develop a respect for him over the span of the series.

A few years after I became a devoted fan of the series I happened across a book "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse" by Lee Goldberg.

This was the first in a series of books that Goldberg wrote with the "defective detective" as its star.   Goldberg went on to write a total of 15, both within the span of the history of the TV series and after the TV series ended.

My initial reaction when I first read "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse" was that Goldberg had just taken the script (which he was co-author of, BTW, with William Rabkin) of an episode of the TV series and just novelized it, albeit with a few changes.  When I stated as much on my (now retired) book review blog ...and then, I read... as such, however, the author himself kindly informed me that the book came first and the script for the TV show was adapted from it.  [And I really appreciated him taking the time to correct me.  Made me feel good that anyone famous would even acknowledge I existed.  :-) ]

Anyway, I read all those books, even though I never got around to reviewing all of them on that blog.  (I didn't lose interest in reading, just lost interest in keeping up with multiple blogs.  This blog, The Midnite Drive-in was the winner in the blog derby.)  Unfortunately, a few years back Goldberg stepped away from the Monk novels and the reins were taken up by another author Hy Conrad.  I understand the need to not be bogged down with a series like that, but I definitely liked Goldberg's novels better.

Anyway, aside from those novels, Goldberg also wrote three of the TV screenplays for the series, along with co-author Rabkin.    The first to be aired was "Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico", the second episode of season 2.  The second to be aired was the fifth episode of season 3, "Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather".  And the last episode that Goldberg was involved with writing was the episode which was referred to above: "Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing", airing as the 4th episode of season 5.

Mr. Monk Goes to Mexico (original air date: June 27, 2003):

 Adrian Monk absolutely hates leaving San Francisco.  This can be seen throughout the series.  Occasionally he is called on to visit locations that remove him from his staid environs, and to a number he is always so far out of his element that he can be very hard to deal with, by either Sharona, his nurse (in the first seasons), or Natalie, his assistant (in later seasons).

But at least for the most part he hasn't had to leave the state of California.  But the mysterious death of the son of a bigwig in San Francisco (and, by chance, a good friend of the mayor) draws him to Mexico.  The son died when his parachute failed to open during a parachute jump, but the doctor in the morgue, Dr. Alameda (Jorge Cervera, Jr.) who is doing the autopsy, insists that he drowned... in mid-air, no less, since he was talking with others just before he jumped.  Thus the local constabulary in Mexico, Capt. Alameda (Tony Plana) and Lt. Plato (David Norona) are confused.  Enter Monk who, although reluctant, is able to make the trip because he has 18 suitcases full of stuff that he can't live without (including three or four with just bottled water, the only brand of water he drinks.)

But someone wants him off the case.  Or rather someone wants him dead.  First his entire suitcase collection is stolen (including his cherished water).  Then on several occasions someone tries to run him down while walking on the street.  With severe dehydration setting in (since he won't drink the water, and not just the local water, but any water than is not the brand he drinks, which seems to be unavailable.)

Monk does his usual investigations including talking with an obnoxious spring breaker, T.J. (Shiloh Strong) who challenges him to a drinking contest before he will hand over any information he has.  Of course, Monk doesn't drink, but Sharona does and whips the whippersnapper up one side and down the other of the pitcher of beer.  She later suffers from a hangover and the mysterious appearance of a bunch of fiesta beads.  (Even if you've never been to a Mardi Gras celebration you probably know how she got those beads, but she doesn't initially know.)

As he tries to solve this case, despite being hampered by his aversion to drinking the local water, Monk observes several things that lead him to discover the true culprit.  Which may leave you kicking yourself when you realize how well you have been fooled by the red herrings that Goldberg throws at you.  Should have been obvious from the start, I think, but I admit I didn't see it coming.

Mr. Monk Meets the Godfather (original air date: July 23, 2004):

In a barbershop that is actually a front for a Mafia numbers gambling racket several gangsters are shot and killed.

"Fat Tony" Lucarelli (Lochlyn Munro) and his "associate" (read: bodyguard) Vince (Oleg Zatsepin) approach Monk and Sharona in an effort to get them to discuss solving who committed the crime with Tony's uncle.  Tony's uncle is Salvatore Lucarelli (Philip Baker Hall), the local "godfather" of the SF Mafia.  He suspects the culprit is one of two rival gangs and wants Monk to find out.  Seeing the potential for causing gang warfare, however, Monk refuses.

But the FBI stick their fingers in the pie in the person of Agent Colmes (Rick Hoffman) who convinces Monk that if he works on the case the FBI will help to get him reinstated as a police officer (his dream).  Despite Stottlemeyers's objections, Monk agrees, because after all, the carrot that the FBI guy waves in front of his face is just what he wants.

There was  witness of sorts to the crime.  A government mint employee across the way from the barbershop.  Supposedly he saw the guy who went into the barbershop, and the culprit was wearing a jacket worn by the local Chinese tong (the Asian Mafia).

But when Monk goes to visit the tong leader he determines that they are innocent.  When a Molotov cocktail is thrown in to the building while he is there, however, it is apparent that someone else is not so convinced.

The true culprit behind everything, in true Monk fashion, has nothing whatsoever to do with who we think is involved.  Although this episode is the least of my favorites of the three episodes Goldberg wrote I have to admit I really liked the character of Fat Tony who is admittedly (by himself, at least) to be "very persuasive".  (Or maybe it's really Vince who is the persuasive one... You only have to see Vince to know he could convince you to do whatever Fat Tony wants...)

Mr. Monk Can't See a Thing (original air date:July 28, 2006):

The third and final episode in which Goldberg was credited is the one which was based on the aforementioned novel "Mr. Monk Goes to the Firehouse".

Monk and his assistant Natalie goe to the firehouse because Monk wants to be sure that the plethora of smoke alarms he has in his house are in working order.  Unfortunately while Monk is there a fire alarm goes off and all but he elderly Rusty (Art Evans) go off on a call.

While Rusty checks out the alarms (by puffing on a cigar and exhaling on them) a guy walks in like he owns the place.  When Rusty confronts him the guy hits him with a shovel, killing him.  When Monk tries to stop him, the guy throws solvent in his face, blinding him.

Monk of course is distraught at the loss of his eyesight, and receives no encouragement from the eye doctor who says he doesn't know if Monk's eyesight will return.  In order to get Monk focused on  things other than his potential perpetual blindness, Stottlemeyer forces Monk to focus on helping solve the crime of who killed Rusty and what the culprit was after.

Monk's acute powers of observation help him when he realizes that one of the fireman's jackets and helmets that were there when he came in the first time are now missing.  But finding the jacket and helmet later are of no real help because the homeless man who has them just found them abandoned.  Which causes Monk to wonder why someone would kill a man to steal the equipment and then later abandon it.

By far the most complex and thus most entertaining of the triplet of episodes, the story has many twists and turns.  And just when you think its about time for Monk to utter his iconic phrase "Here's what happened".... Bam! Another twist.

Goldberg has written dozens of scripts and story lines for TV shows and has written probably at least 100 novels (I'm too lazy to actually count, but he has written a lot.)  Aside from the series he wrote involving Monk he also has written several involving the TV series "Diagnosis: Murder",  "The Dead Man" series written with his co-author of the Monk episodes, William Rabkin, and one that just caught my eye and I intend to seek out,  a non-fiction book titled Unsold TV Pilots.  (I'm intrigued by just what doesn't sell on TV considering what actually makes it.  I once wrote a couple of blog entries years ago that I called "Spinoff Hell" in which I discussed some of the more obscure spinoffs that successful TV shows inspired.)

Here's hoping Goldberg sticks around (which may be for some time, because although I can't actually find his birth date online, he looks to be a fairly young chap)  I really like the stuff he writes.


The Rise and Fall of a Big Man

This is my entry in the Al Pacino Blogathon hosted by Pale Writer

In the early 80's, somewhere around 1983, Showtime broadcast what was, at that time, the only two Godfather movies, edited so that it was historically in sequence.  It was my first ever experience with the Godfather saga.  For those of you who have never seen either, the first Godfather movie showed the transition of the Corleone family post WWII, as Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) arrives home from serving the country in WWII, and the family's dealings with pressure to expand it's operations from gambling and prostitution into the drug culture, among other things.  Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) is an old-fashioned guy who resists the coming change, while his eldest son, Sonny (James Caan) looks at the potential from a money point of view.

Michael himself is resistant to get involved, wanting to distance himself from the family "business".  But when Sonny is killed in a gang hit, Michael eventually transfers from being a reluctant participant to an active leader, and after the death of his father takes over the family business.

In The Godfather Part II, Michael is now the capo di tutti capi, and is trying desperately to maintain his empire.  In contrast the film also shows the immigration and maturation of the original Godfather, Vito (played by Robert DeNiro), as he learns how to survive in the Italian ghetto of New York.

When Showtime originally aired its edited version (a 4+ hour extravaganza), it transitioned the Vito/DeNiro portion to the front of the movie series, thus making it more historically in sequence.  It wasn't until a few years later that I got to see both movies in their original form.  Needless to say, the effect was eye-opening.

You get the idea that Hollywood doesn't really understand some of it's potential.  Else why would they have allowed Ted Turner to "colorize" dozens of black and white films back in the 80's, most of which were not improved by the process and many of which lost its cache by the coloring?  And why would they allow the altering of director Coppola's vision by taking the flashback sequences out of context in this film?  It's fortunate that the historical sequencing of the Godfather films did not become big, because watching The Godfather Part II in its original form has something that would be entirely missed watching it in sequence.  The whole film acts as a parallel between the rise of Vito and the gradual decline of Michael.

The film was a big hit at the Oscars.  It was nominated for 11 awards and won six of them, including Best Picture and an award to DeNiro for Best Supporting Actor  Which I think was the first time for an actor in that category, whose character spoke virtually no English in the role.  He spoke Italian with the exception of one or two phrases.   (Sophia Loren, BTW, beat him out as the first overall foreign language Oscar recipient, when she won one a few years earlier for Two Women, in which her character spoke Italian.  And if you want to get technical, Jane Wyman actually won the first Oscar by playing a character who used sign language to communicate.)

The Godfather Part II (1974):

1901:  While Michael (Al Pacino) contemplates his future...

We are first treated to a flashback to a young Vito Andolini (Oreste Baldini) as he accompanies his mother to beg the local Mafioso chieftain, Don Ciccio (Giuseppe Sillato) to spare the life of young Vito.  See, Vito's father insulted the don and the don had him killed.  It is probably already too late for Vito's older brother who has sworn vengeance for his father, but mother thinks she can convince the don that Vito is too shy and stupid to join in.  When shortly thereafter Vito's brother is indeed killed attempting to extract vengeance, mom helps Vito to escape and young Vito heads to America.

1958:  Michael is trying to gain control of several gambling casinos in Las Vegas, part of his attempt to legitimize the family business.  At his son's First Communion party, Michael meets with a corrupt senator (G. D. Spradlin) who tries to extort more money from the Corleones than is normally charged for the transfers.  Michael counters with another offer, one which the senator rejects.  (But he will live to regret it, as we shall see.  Don't **** with the family there, senator...)

Michael also meets with a mob sub-boss Frank Pentangeli (Michael V. Gazzo) who wants permission to dispense with a pair of brothers, the Rosatos, who are causing him some grief in his New York territory.

But Michael refuses to grant permission because the Rosatos are connected with Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg), a business partner in Miami.  When later that night an assassination attempt is made on Michael, he suspects his business partner.

1917:  The now grown Vito Andolini (now called Vito Corleone, due to a discrepancy  during his initial immigration) is working in a grocery store and raising a new son.  Don Fanucci (Gastone Moschin), the local Mafioso boss forces Vito's boss to hire on his nephew, thus essentially forcing the man to have to fire Vito.  Vito meets Clemenza (Bruno Kirby) for the first time and unwittingly helps him in a robbery.

1958:  Michael meets with Roth, although he does not let on his suspicions that Roth was involved in the attempted assassination,  Instead he convinces Roth he suspects someone else.  Roth and Michael travel to Havana where they have an ongoing relationship with the current leader of the country, Batista.  Several things occur to sour things, including a failed attempt by Michael to have Roth killed and the revolution that brings Fidel Castro to power coming to fruition.

1920:  The situation with Don Fanucci is getting out of hand.  The don extorts money from everyone and even tries to muscle in on Vito and his friends' occasional robberies, demanding a cut in return for the don not ratting them out to the police.  Vito arranges for the don to take an early exit from life.

1958:  Michael has to deal with the Senate Subcommittee's investigation into the activities of the secret organization known as the Mafia.

He also has to deal with his older brother Fredo (John Cazale) who may or may not be ignorant of his involvement behind the attempted assassination of Michael.  But Michael resolves not to do anything while his mother is still alive.

And what's worse is his wife, Kay (Diane Keaton) insisting that she is leaving Micheal and taking the kids with her.  Not only that, but she tells him the miscarriage he assumed she had was actually an abortion.  (And that's the straw that breaks the camel's back, so to speak...)

1923:  Vito returns to his hometown of Corleone and exacts his revenge on Don Ciccio, now an old man and no threat to anyone, but revenge is revenge, especially in the society of which Vito has been a part.

The movie comes full circle as by the end we see Michael sitting alone and contemplating his future.  His friends are gone, his enemies are gone, his family is gone and he has only what he has built for himself, a life of crime and the loneliness it produces.

Watched by itself, The Godfather Part II may not completely satisfy since you are not really given much background on why Michael is where he is today.  But then how many movies have you seen recently as stand alone movies are there in which all the characters motivations are revealed in the context of the movie?  Personally I would watch all three Godfather movies in succession (there was a third one that came out in the 1990's which takes up the Corleone saga 20 years later from the end of Part II.)

Al Pacino is in top form in this outing.  At the Oscars that year,  he competed with the likes of Jack Nicholson (Chinatown), Dustin Hoffman (Lenny) and Albert Finney (Murder on the Orient Express), any one of which COULD have won, but  all lost to Art Carney (Harry and Tonto), and the less said about that injustice the better.

Time to fire up the old Plymouth.  Drive safely folks, and watch out for big long cadillacs packed with gunmen....


Saturday, December 7, 2019

Hamlette's Merry Christmas Tag

A movie tag created by my friend Rachel (Hamlette).  I'm just doing the movie part.  I won't tag anyone, too much risk of offsetting people.  But you are welcome to follow suit if you feel inclined.  You can check out her original post here.

1.  A Partridge in a Pear Tree - movies that involve agriculture.

Field of Dreams (1989):

First off the bat (no pun intended).  Nothing in the rules said I actually have to LIKE the movie I pick (which you will see my opinion if you read the link).  Although mostly about baseball, Costner's character is a farmer.

2.  Turtledoves - movies about a long-lasting relationship:

Longtime Companion (1989):

This is a beautiful story about the long term relationship between several gay couples during the onset and aftermath of the early years of AIDS.  I chose to use it here rather than in a ater category (#5).  It has some heartfelt and tender depictions that some straights overlook when thinking about the gay community.

3.  French Hens - movies that take place in France.

The Longest Day (1962):

A movie with too many stars and cameos to mention.  OK, just one... JOHN WAYNE.

4. Calling Birds - movies where people talk on the phone.

Bill and Ted Films (1989 & 1991):

OK, I'm stetching a point here.  There are a few scenes where people talk on the phone, but I couldn't resist using these movies because the time machine is a phone booth.

5. Golden Rings:  movies with multiple romances.

The Princess Bride (1987):

You've got Westley and Buttercup.  You've got the grandfather and the grandson.  You've got Inigo and Count Rugen (didn't say they had to be "loving" romances...)  And then you got the romance of Prince Humperdinck with himself.

6. Geese a-Laying - movies with a birth or that feature babies.

Alien (1979):

That scene where the alien pops out of the guys chest is a birth if I ever saw one...

I spared you the scene of the actual birth... you can thank me later.

7.  Swans a-Swimming - movies where someone goes swimming.

Forbidden Planet (1956):

Anne Francis goes skinny-dipping.  OK, not really.  She's wearing a body suit which you can see if you go through the scene in slo-mo.  (Of course I did...)

8. Maids a-Milking - movies featuring cows.

Urban Cowboy (1980):

OK, I took some liberties here.  There are some cows in the rodeo scene, but I picked this for the fact that Debra Winger is on a mechanical bull... and she makes that bull look GOOD.

9. Ladies Dancing -movies with a dance scene.

Xanadu (1980):

No matter what you think of the movie, there are some pretty good dance scenes in it.

10. Lords a-Leaping -movies about athletes.

Eight Men Out (1988):

There was really only one choice here.  My favorite sports movie (despite the fact that the events depicted are less than inspring...)

11. Pipers Piping - movies with someone playing a musical instrument.

Howard the Duck (1986):

Howard comes to Earth and the best job he can get is playing guitar with an all-girl rock band?  But he does wail on that Stratocaster...

12. Drummers Drumming -movies with a character in the military.

Patton (1970):

I've covered so many movies about war and the military it was tough to pick just one.  But then, George C. Scott is one of my top 5 favorite actors.

So what do you think of my choices?  Feel free to dispte.