Fish-Flavored Baseball Bat

It's a John Cleese reference.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

VHS Vednesday: I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now

I WONDER WHO'S KILLING HER NOW? (1975). Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern. Starring Bob Dishy, Joanna Barnes, and Bill Dana.

Just a quickie review this week: I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now?, an odd little comic misfire from 1975. Character actor Bob Dishy, in a rare leading role, plays a shallow, self-absorbed man married to his wealthy employer's daughter (Joanna Barnes) and living the high life off of her family money (both by sponging off of her and by embezzling from the company). His life of luxury threatens to come to an end when his crimes are found out and his wife demands a divorce. Given a chance to avoid prosecution by repaying the debt, he decides to get the money by taking out a large insurance policy on his wife and hiring a desperate amateur hitman (Bill Dana) to dispose of her before the divorce is finalized. Unfortunately, when he changes his mind, he discovers that the assassin has sub-contracted, hiring another killer to do the job...and when they track down that hitman, they learn he's done the same, and so on and so forth.
While the premise may have had some comedic potential (not a great deal, but some), the filmmakers sabotage it with sledgehammer-like broadness. And they're not content to simply tell a joke and move on to the next one...they tell a joke, nudge us in the ribs, repeat it, and ask "Wasn't that a hoot?" Take the opening scene, for example: We see Dishy seated at a piano, as a beautiful concerto plays--until he reaches up and stretches his arms, and the music continues. The camera reveals the true source of the music--the 2'11" character actor Angelo Rossitto, playing on a toy piano. (You can just hear them saying "Get it? It's a toy piano! 'Cause he's so little!") The pianist then requests his payment "in small bills." ("Get it? Small bills!") To make sure we get the point, Dishy repeats "Yes, small bills. I'll pay you in teeny-tiny bills." ("Get it? Get it?") The scene doesn't end there, but I can't go on with it.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
The cast is a veritable Who's Who of usually-brilliant comedians and character actors, all of whom appear very embarrassed to be playing such over-the-top antics. In addition to Dishy, Barnes, Dana, and Rossitto, the other performers wasting their talents include Severn Darden, Harvey Jason, Richard Libertini, and Jay Robinson. However, I imagine the one who would have most wanted this forgotten would be Pat Morita, stuck in a demeaning ethnic stereotype as a quack doctor carrying out the insurance physical exam on Barnes (without her knowledge), justifying all of his intrusive actions as "Japanese customs." Even by 1970s pre-politically-correct standards, this scene is truly cringe-inducing.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Alchemist

THE ALCHEMIST (1984). Directed by Charles Band. Starring Robert Ginty, Lucinda Dooling, and Robert Glaudini.

An early effort from legendary B-movie auteur Charles Band (of Full Moon Entertainment fame), The Alchemist begins with a prologue set in 1871, presenting us with a simple farmer named Aaron McCallum (Robert Ginty) as he sets out to rescue his wife (Lucinda Dooling) from the clutches of an evil sorcerer (Robert Glaudini). Unfortunately, the attempt goes horribly wrong, and Aaron winds up accidentally stabbing his wife instead of the magician. In return for this killing, the sorcerer curses him with immortality so that he'll live with the guilt forever...not to mention periodically reverting to a beastlike state, embodying his rage and jealousy.
Cut to 1955: Young waitress Leonora Sinclair (Lucinda Dooling again) is driving across the country, picking up hitchhiker Cameron (John Sanderford) along the way, when she suddenly starts experiencing bizarre visions of another life. She finds herself compelled to make her way to the isolated cabin where Aaron has been spending his existence, his suffering eased only by the ministrations of his now-elderly daughter Esther (Viola Kates Stimpson). In her efforts to help her father, Esther has learned the ways of alchemy herself, and has used her powers to reunite Aaron with his reincarnated wife. Of course, the reunion does not go smoothly, particularly after the villainous sorcerer returns.
Working under a typically low budget, director Band manages to craft a suitably eerie atmosphere, though it's frequently stretched thin over the slow-moving plot. Mostly holding the special effects back until the climax, Band presents us with a few effective visual flourishes...obviously cheap, but inexplicably appealing in that New Moon way.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Robert Ginty, a capable actor with several noteworthy performances under his belt (most notably his supporting role in Hal Ashby's Coming Home and his star-making turn as the title character in the brutally violent Exterminator movies), has had the misfortune of having his worst role immortalized on MST3K (Warrior of the Lost World). As a result, he's been unfairly branded as a joke--his IMDB profile even incorporates the MST3K gag of nicknaming him "The Paper Chase Guy." While The Alchemist is nowhere near in the league of Coming Home, it still allows Ginty an opportunity to display some strong emotional moments as the tortured immortal.
The other cast members fare rather poorly--Dooling and Sanderford make for a rather bland, unengaging pair of heroes. Glaudini, while he projects menace very well, brings little else to his two-dimensional villain. Only Stimpson manages to lend a little depth to her role, conveying the weariness of a woman who has spent her entire long life tending to a family member.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

I know I've posted this before, but I have to do it's my St. Patrick's Day tradition!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What I Sang 3-13

It was a slow night last night, so I got in more songs than usual:

"Hot Child in the City" by Nick Gilder.
"Who Put the Bomp" by Barry Mann.
"Pop Muzik" by M.
"Five O'Clock World" by The Vogues.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Dark

THE DARK (1979). Directed by John 'Bud' Cardos. Starring William Devane, Cathy Lee Crosby, and Richard Jaeckel.

A muddled horror/science-fiction movie more interesting for the behind-the-scenes story than for anything on the screen, The Dark presents us with a Los Angeles living in fear of a mysterious, unstoppable killer striking at random victims from all walks of life. Despite the efforts of the police (represented by Richard Jaeckel), an ambitious reporter (Cathy Lee Crosby), a victim's ex-cop father (William Devane), and a psychic (Jaqueline Hyde), the rampage continues unabated. It soon becomes clear that the killer is not human.
The Dark plays like an extended episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker...and indeed, it started out as a supernatural-themed urban horror tale, with a zombie running amok in the big city. However, partway through the filming, the producers decided that the supernatural element either wasn't working or wouldn't bring in the box-office, so the storyline was retooled to change the creature from an undead human to an alien life-form. Its preferred method of dispatching its victims went from straightforward mauling to firing laser beams from its eyes (cheesily added in post-production); however, all the dialogue concerning the victims still describes them as being mutilated and/or decapitated, with no reference to the more unusual laser-blast injuries. To justify his powers, a prologue was inserted, with a voice-over expounding on the various biological defenses and weapons possessed by Earth's own predators, and wondering about the possible abilities nature has granted on other worlds.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
The Dark presents us with a cornucopia of '70s B-list stars (Devane, Crosby, Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, Casey Kasem), all of them bringing their best game to try to salvage the patchwork storyline. However, it's more interesting to note a couple of future well-known names at the humble beginnings of their careers. Miami Vice's Philip Michael Thomas puts in a brief appearance as a bystander at one of the crime scenes, angrily complaining about the police's ineffectual efforts. (His character isn't given a name, but is identified in the credits by his hairstyle: "Corn Rows.") And then there's the movie's first victim, played by a young actress named Kathy Richards. This was her first and only film acting role (after some television credits), but she later went on to achieve fame (or perhaps notoriety) through her family connections...she's now known by her married name, Kathy Hilton. That's right, Paris' mom. The mind boggles.


Friday, March 06, 2009

How Out of It Am I?

Sometimes, it really hits me just how far out of the loop I am...I haven't had a chance to stop by the comics store in a few weeks, so I'm behind there. I probably won't have the time to go out to the movies for a while, so I can't comment on Watchmen. I wasn't a regular visitor to Scans_Daily, so I was unaware of the whole mess until reading about it in Kalinara's and Sally's blogs.

So, I'm unaware of a lot that's going on...but at least I'm aware that I'm unaware.


Thursday, March 05, 2009

What I Sang 3/04

From last night at Midtown Tavern:

"Don't Panic" by Coldplay.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go

THE YIN AND THE YANG OF MR. GO (1970). Directed by Burgess Meredith. Starring James Mason, Jeff Bridges, and Burgess Meredith.

A bizarre spy-movie spoof noteworthy primarily for its impressive cast and for being the second (and final) feature film directed by the brilliant character actor Burgess Meredith (21 years after his first directorial effort, The Man on the Eiffel Tower), The Yin and the Yang of Mr. Go is truly a unique viewing experience. James Mason stars as Yin Yang Go, a stereotypical Asian diabolical mastermind in the Fu Manchu tradition--however, no attempt is made to disguise his distinctive British accent, nor is make-up used to give his eyes the cliche appearance. I initially thought it would be explained that the character was, in fact, an Englishman who had immersed himself in the trappings of Chinese culture, but when he does discuss his origins, the revelation is even more laughable--he reminisces about his youth as "a half-Mexican, half-Chinese boy." That's right, it's two unconvincing ethnic impersonations in one.
Young Jeff Bridges (credited as "Jeffrey Bridges" in one of his earliest roles) co-stars as a struggling young author and James Joyce devotee, fortuitously named Nero Finnegan. The impoverished writer is not above a bit of hustling to supplement his income, and becomes enmeshed in Go's schemes when a homosexual encounter is used to blackmail a British scientist (Peter Lind Hayes) who has developed a top-secret missile defense system (predating Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" project). Even after paying off Finnegan for his part in the blackmail, Go ensures his continued cooperation by having his henchwoman (Clarissa Kaye, who would go on to marry James Mason the year after this picture was made) kidnap Finnegan's girlfriend Tah-Ling (Irene Tsu). Meanwhile, the CIA has assigned one of their top agents (Jack MacGowran) to get close to Finnegan by posing as a publisher interested in the young author's work. It all gets even more muddled from there, even before we get to the plot device of the spirit of Buddha instigating a massive personality shift in one of the main characters.
The movie is an embarrassing yet fascinating time-capsule of cringe-worthy stereotypes--cliche Asians (aside from James Mason, director Burgess Meredith appears in a supporting part as a wise old herbalist/acupuncturist), cliche homosexuals (Hays), cliche lesbians (Kaye), cliche Irishmen (MacGowran), and so on and so forth. One hopes that Meredith intended it as a satire of such typecasting. One hopes.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
While Bridges, MacGowran, and most of the rest of the cast play their parts with tongues planted firmly in cheeks, James Mason appears determined to bring his traditional dignity and gravitas to the role of Mr. Go--a decision that emphasizes the absurdity of the character. Is it a deadpan comedic performance, or a laughable dramatic one? See it for yourself (if you can find it), and you make the call.
Another performance I feel I should point out: Broderick Crawford makes a cameo as the CIA chief, angrily barking orders and delivering exposition in tacked-on scenes added after the initial shooting was complete. Having nothing to do with the rest of the movie yet saddled with the task of tying it together, Broderick tries gamely but is utterly lost.
I also want to mention the silly but catchy soundtrack, especially the opening-credits track which strings together one Zen cliche after another ("When your meditation is interrupted by one clapping hand")...well, see and hear for yourself.