Saturday, December 31, 2005

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (Almost)...


From my crazy cannibal clan to yours, may your 2006 be wonderful, happy and safe.

-John K. Muir

SATURDAY MORNING CULT TV BLOGGING: Space Academy: "My Favorite Marcia"

This week's episode of the 1977-1978 Filmation, live-action Space Academy series is called (get ready to groan...) "My Favorite Marcia," and it guest-stars Dena Deitrich as Marcia Giddings, that favorite cliche of sci-fi TV. She's a "rogue" space trader, bound to make troubles for our regular characters.

Y'all recognize that profile, don't you? The troublesome space trader was called Harry Mudd on the original Star Trek. On Space:1999 she was known as "the Taybor." In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the rogue space trader made trouble for Captain Picard in the dreadful second-season episode called "The Outrageous Okana."

Given the overall quality of these various episodes, you might hope (as I do...) that this character-type gets retired soon. And frankly, maybe that HAS happened. After all, there's not a rogue space trader on the new Battlestar Galactica, is there? When was the last time you spied one on TV?

Anyway, "My Favorite Marcia" finds stalwart Commander Gampu leading a team to study a star going supernova, when he determines that a "galactic distress beacon" has been activated on the fourth planet in a nearby star system. He investigates and finds that his old "friend," space trader Marcia Giddings -- a woman "with the happy faculty of always being in the wrong place at the wrong time" -- is hunting diamonds on the planet surface, but that her spaceship has been neutralized by an evil robot.

And that evil robot is -- wait for it -- a re-dressed Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet (1956)! Yes, Robby has been given a new brain pan, a "dome" and glowing blue eyeball for Space Academy, and he's playing a "war machine" gone mad who Peepo says "wants to harm everybody." To prove his evil intentions, he traps Laura, Gampu, and Tee Gar in a yellow "force shield" (which is accompanied by the bionic sound effects from The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman).

Needless to say, there's a happy ending, as Peepo manages to short-circuit Robby. Oddly, the evil robot just vanishes into thin air without explanation. Don't quite understand how the little guy managed that. Anyway, I was disappointed that Gampu spends most of the episode sparring with Marcia rather than the evil robot. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to have star Jonathan Harris say something from his Lost in Space days like "You Bubble Brained Booby!" or the like.

Instead, we do find out here that Gampu's first name is Isaac. But we never find out what the robot was doing on that planet, or why he was attacking people...

Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Stupidest Movie Tag-Lines...

When I sat down to eat my lunch today, I saw that HBO was playing AVP (that's Alien vs. Predator...) on one of its multitudinous channels. Watching a bit of this underwhelming, PG-13 movie again, I was reminded of the really, really terrible ad line from the film.

Whoever wins...We lose.

That was probably unintentional truth in advertising (and it would have been a great ad-line for the 2004 Presidential Election...). In terms of AVP, the audience was certainly "the loser," wasn't it?

But anyway, I got to thinking about how our pop culture is really one dominated by "sound bytes," and how - in this age of mega-information - the simple messages tend to be the ones that get through the "noise" best.

When I think about great ad-lines or tag-lines from the past, I think of "You'll Believe a Man Can Fly," from Superman: The Movie (1978), which perfectly expressed the film's sense of wonder, the feeling of "heart." I also think about "Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid," from The Fly (1986) which still gets quoted today quite a bit.

But talking about bad tag-lines now, I keep coming back to the AVP choice, which is unintentionally funny, if you ask me. Another one I remember as being really hysterical comes from a 1989 Patrick Swayze bomb called Next of Kin. I remember the trailer ended with the tag-line: "You haven't seen bad yet, but it's coming..."

Wow! I mean, does that make you want to see the movie or what? I just remember laughing out loud at that unintentional word of warning from the Hollywood marketers.

So clock in on the comments below and tell me, what's the stupidest movie tag-line out there, and why? And if you can't think of a bad one, what's your favorite tag-line?

RETRO TOY UPDATE: Star Trek Ornaments: 2005



Two weeks ago, I blogged about my collection of sci-fi Hallmark Christmas ornaments (Star Trek and Star Wars), and this Christmas, my mother-in-law up in Richmond came through yet again.

I discovered in my stocking Christmas morn' two more Hallmark Ornaments from Star Trek, both dated this year, 2005. The first one is now my most beloved ornament(!), because it's my favorite version of the Enterprise. It's NCC-1701-A, the "motion picture" style starship seen at the end of The Voyage Home, in The Final Frontier and The Undiscovered Country.

The other ornament is another interesting character piece, featuring Jean-Luc Picard as Locutus of Borg, standing in a Borg cubicle next to the Borg Queen. Very, very cool (And it talks!)

So these are my Christmas acquisitions. And I'm very happy about 'em.

RETRO TOY FLASHBACK 23: Sci-FI TV Guides!

In addition to all my other collecting quirks, I happen to collect issues of TV Guide featuring science fiction and horror TV shows.

Don't ask me why, I just do.

I have a drawer full of these things in my office, so I figured it might be fun this week to focus on my "collectible" genre covers, especially since the magazine recently altered its format to become more glitzy. I suppose that makes my collection even more...collectible?

When I was a teenager, I was always thrilled to come home from school every Thursday afternoon to get the TV Guide for the following week.

My favorite among all issues was the annual "FALL PREVIEW" edition, revealing which shows were returning, and which ones...weren't. It was here, in this FALL PREVIEW edition, for instance, that I first learned that Buck Rogers in the 25th Century would return for a second season...though drastically altered, and featuring a guy named "Hawk."

I also remember seeing a full-page spread in TV Guide about the return of Battlestar Galactica, only called Galactica:1980. I was thrilled, until I realized that I didn't see either Richard Hatch or Dirk Benedict in the promotional art. Hmmm...

And I'll never forget the day in 1985 when I cracked open my TV Guide to see if NBC would air a new episode of V: The Series on Friday night, and I read the foreboding words "last episode of series." Not "last episode of season." Nope, "last episode of series" simply meant that the show was axed.

And terribly, this happened that same week that the last episode of Otherworld aired. Don't remember Otherworld? Okay, well I think it only ran for six weeks, but it was a sci-fi series about a "normal" suburban family thrown into an alternate dimension after a visit to a pyramid in Egypt. I remember, Mark Lenard guest-starred in an episode as some kind of military scholar.

But I digress. TV Guides, over the years, have featured wonderful sci-fi TV oriented stories, often about Star Trek in particular. I remember one classic piece in the mag involving the perceived "duel" between Captain Kirk and Picard. Personally, I'm a Captain Kirk man. Anyway, the magazine also introduced me to DS9, Voyager and follow-up series (and I'll never forget one cover I absolutely loved...featuring Seven of Nine. YOW-ZA!)

Pretty soon though, the magazine got wise to the fact that fans were enjoying it and began issuing "collectible" alternate covers in the 1990s. Clever publishers. Very clever. Now I had to buy four versions of the same issue.

So now, like I said, I have a drawer full of TV Guides with science fiction and horror imagery emblazoned on their covers. My collection basically spans the 1990s to present, from the heyday of Star Trek: The Next Generation and SeaQuest DSV to Buffy/Angel.

Unlike Playboy, however, I really do read TV Guide for the articles...

In closing, I remember a line from the grandpa (played by Barnard Hughes - Mr. Merlin himself) in The Lost Boys (1987). His grandson, Corey Haim, looks through a TV Guide excitedly, but then realizes his Grandpa doesn't actually own a TV. "If you get TV Guide," the old curmudgeon states wisely, "you don't need a TV..."

He was probably right...

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Actress Interview: Gloria Gifford

Gloria Gifford is a highly experienced and skilled actress (and acting teacher, writer/director...) who appeared in some of the most popular cult (and blockbuster...) movies of the 1980s, one of my favorite decades in American cinema.

You may recognize Ms. Gifford as stony Mrs. Alves, the no-nonsense head nurse at Haddonfield Hospital in Halloween II (1981). Or, you may recall Gifford's classic appearance as an airport security officer confronted with a - ahem - surprise in rocker Derek Smalls' (Harry Shearer's) pants(!!!) in the seminal rockumentary, This is Spinal Tap (1984). But these brief descriptions just scratch the surface of Gloria Gifford's successful career in Hollywood. She's co-starred in films with Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Mr. T., and Eddie Murphy, as well as horror icon Michael Myers.

Recently, as part of several simultaneous book assignments I'm working on, I had the opportunity to catch up with Ms. Gifford and ask her some questions about her career, and in particular, her 1980s efforts.

MUIR: Let's start at the beginning. How did you become an actress?

GIFFORD: I'm from New York, and after I was out of college and after I had been a case worker, and after I had been a buyer for Bloomingdales, I decided to do what I'd always wanted to do, and I took an acting class at HB Studio. That's what made me realize that I had been avoiding what I wanted to do for the rest of my life....

MUIR: And then?

GIFFORD: After about four years of working really hard at taking [acting] classes, I managed to get a Broadway play starring Zero Mostel. The first day of rehearsal, it was televised, because Zero Mostel is a huge star on the East Coast. He starred in Fiddler on the Roof and the movie The Producers, and everything. So they televised it, and Bill Cosby was watching television in his home in Connecticut or Massachusetts.


He decided to send an offer [for me] to do a pilot with him, but I didn't want to leave the Broadway show, because it was a play based on Merchant of Venice. It was classical and I had a really good part in it. It was my Broadway debut, and I didn't want to leave that, so I kept turning Bill Cosby down.

MUIR: Wow...

GIFFORD: I met with his executive producer, Sheldon Leonard, who produced I Spy and a lot of shows, and said 'No.'

Finally, the play closed and my agent said,'Whatever happened to Bill Cosby?' Because he had sent me other scripts and I kept saying 'No, no, I'm still doing this play.'

So I finally called him, and he said, 'Well I'm doing this other movie, but I can only introduce you to the director,' and that was for Neil Simon's California Suite.

So I met the director, Herbert Ross, who had directed A Turning Point and had got an Oscar for Richard Dreyfuss for The Goodbye Girl. Then the director flew me out, and I met Neil Simon, and I read for it, and I ended up being in the movie.

So my equity card I got by being in the play, The Merchant, and the SAG card I got for being in the movie California Suite. I played not Bill Cosby's wife, because I was too young, but Richard Pryor's wife. That's how I got started.

MUIR: How was it working with (the late) Richard Pryor?

GIFFORD: Well, Richard was a really terrific guy. He had some problems at the time with drugs, or whatever he was doing. That's not something I was ever involved with, but he was generous as a human being and easy for me to work with. I enjoyed him. It was - to me - a great experience, because he's a legend. As is Bill Cosby. As is Neil Simon...

MUIR: As a horror movie fanatic and author, I have to ask you about working on Halloween II as Mrs. Alves...

GIFFORD: That was an unusual thing. What happened was, we were all in an acting class at the Beverly Hills Playhouse, and the director [Rick Rosenthal] had just taken his degree at AFI. It was going to be his first movie [Halloween II], and he decided to use actors from the class. So he recommended me. The role was written in the script for a fifty-five year old caucasian woman. I was clearly not fifty-five, nor caucasion. So he suggested to Debra Hill that she read me, and they did and said 'Okay, you look so young, I don't know if you can play the head of these people, but you have the authority.' I've always been the authority figure...

When I went into make-up for the first time, they said, 'Well, what role are you playing?' And I said, 'Mrs. Alves.' And they said, 'No, no, it's a fifty-five year old white woman.' And I said, 'Not anymore, it's me.' That was a shock to them, but it never seemed to hurt the movie.

MUIR: How was it working with director Rosenthal, after being in a class as his student?

GIFFORD: It was a very lucky [thing], because we all worked fast, and he didn't feel, as a first-time director, that he was getting stopped by actors questioning him. Because we didn't question him. We were grateful.

MUIR: Any thoughts on working with Jamie Lee Curtis, the Scream Queen of that age?

GIFFORD: She was sensational. She was absolutely fabulous to work with. She was so professional, present, [and] strong. She's focused and funny and easy-going and regular. She made it just a dream, and there was no difficulty.

MUIR: Any memories from the set of Halloween II?

GIFFORD: It was a very low-budget production. It was very different from what I'd done in California Suite, which was very high budget. They spent a lot of money on California Suite. I had a driver, and life was completely different. And then I moved to California and suddenly I was doing this low-budget movie and there was nothing! Instead of a huge [meal] table, there were ice cream bars...

MUIR: Was there research involved in playing Mrs. Alves?

GIFFORD: Rick made us go to the hospitals and learn how to do medical procedures as nurses and doctors, and there was a real doctor on the set, and they had to use him when they came in for real-close-ups...

MUIR: Did you shoot in a real facility?

GIFFORD: We worked in a hospital that was closed down, somewhere in L.A. and it was kind of spooky to work there, because it was empty.

MUIR: Your (very memorable) death scene in the film doesn't make a whole lot of sense. That Michael Myers, the Shape would stop to hold your character down, attach tubes to her veins, and drain her of blood...

GIFFORD: Yeah, that's true in a way. I don't know how they came up with that. That was in John Carpenter's script...

MUIR: What are your memories of shooting that death sequence?

GIFFORD: They put all this white make-up on me, like the blood was drained out of me, and they put me on a table and filled the room with the blood, so the Lance Guest character could come in and slip and fall. And then they were like, 'Okay, Gloria,' and then they went to lunch.

And I said, 'Well, what are you doing?' and they said, 'You can't move, because you can't disturb anything.' And I said, 'Excuse me?' And they left me there, you know, because they didn't want to disturb the blood on the ground that they had put there perfectly. So I just laid there...

And then of course, we had Lance coming in and slipping, and then changing his clothes and slipping, and changing his clothes again and slipping again, while I pretended to be dead. Which is a memory for me, playing that scene. I always remember that...

MUIR: Any thoughts on your co-star, Pamela Susan Shoop?

GIFFORD: She is very nice. I saw her last year. For some bizarre reason, I finally got invited to a Halloween convention. It was the first time I ever went, and I saw Pamela there, and we had not seen each other since we made the movie. She still looked beautiful, and she does a lot of Christian things now, and she's not active in acting, I think, but she was still active in these conventions.

MUIR: Did you enjoy the con?

GIFFORD: Well, I loved being there, but I was uncomfortable with people paying me for photographs. People kept coming up and asking me how much I would charge to get a picture taken, and I couldn't conceive of it...

But I thought it was fascinating. People came from all over the country. I was shocked. And everybody remembers everything I said and did in the film...

MUIR: Tell me about 48 Hours.

GIFFORD: That was Eddie Murphy's first film. [And] that was the first time I ever played hooker. I came in to read for Joel Silver, for the part of the girlfriend at the end. I was outside with Eddie for about forty-five minutes, and one of his favorite movies was California Suite, and he knew every single line from the Richard Pryor sequences. We were out there together for so long, and he remembered my dialogue and asked me so many questions that by the time we walked inside to read together, we were like brother and sister. We didn't have that sexual chemistry. Joel said, 'I think I left you guys alone too long.'

MUIR: So you did a different part, right?

GIFFORD: They called me and asked me if I wanted to do this day of work [on the film], and I said 'No, I don't do a day in a movie'. And they said 'No, no, no, Eddie really wants you and they've written this great scene.' A producer friend talked me into it, and I did it.

MUIR: What was it like working with Murphy?

GIFFORD: When I got there, the dialogue was all written and we did the scene, and Eddie was funny, and we had a great time. In fact, I teased him, because I could tell he had a big ego. I told him, 'Hey you know, I'm going to be on the cover of TV Guide next week, and he said 'No!' and I said, 'No, I'm kidding you.' He was driven. And I don't mean ego in a negative way. It was a good ego.

MUIR: Any other memories from 48 Hours?

GIFFORD: Joel Silver he called me in for the looping, and he conducted the looping of the line, 'So where do you want to do it, honey? Wanna hop up on the counter?' He wanted a different way that I would say that line, so it would have a lot more heat and a lot more sex.

And that [line] ended up being in all the trailers, and ironically for one day [of work], I got more recognition for that movie than almost anything else I've done! That was a hit movie, and Eddie was hot, and I brought him heat, and he was lusting after me, and that was a good trailer moment. And that's how smart Joel Silver is...

MUIR: Another cult 1980s movie you appeared in was DC Cab.

GIFFORD: I was directing a play this summer, and one of the actors who's about 27 told me that when he was in college, they played it every day...

MUIR: Given the cast, it must have been an interesting movie to make...

GIFFORD: That was a completely insane movie experience. I was on it for three months, and it had stand-up comics, Gary Busey, Mr. T and two amateur body builders. It was a nightmare. A lot of guys were on drugs...not Mr. T, he was always a straight-ahead, great guy. But oh, three months together, and they were wild. They were animals. And I was playing a sexy character in it, and I was the only pretty girl with the guys, and so they were always flying across the table and trying to grab my breasts and stuff like that. Every day was like war.

MUIR: That was directed by Joel Schumacher...

GIFFORD: Joel has a very distinctive style of direction. He feels, 'Well, let's throw everybody together and let's see what happens' He did St. Elmo's Fire and Lost Boys, and he likes big casts. So everything that could possibly happen did happen. It wasn't as disciplined as the other movies I'd done. It was a very...different experience.

I saw something on I Love the 80s, and they had a piece of it [DC Cab] there. And they didn't say anything, but Bill Maher has become the most successful person out of the movie, and I don't think people remember that he was in it.

And Mr. T. And Gary Busey were the quintessential - and opposite - in 80s icons.

MUIR: I have books coming out discussing more deeply your work in Halloween II, as well as you role in Spinal Tap, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Spinal Tap here.

GIFFORD: I think it's one of the most brilliant movies I've ever seen. When I see it, I laugh at every single actor and every single situation. I don't even have a favorite one, because they're all funny to me.

MUIR: Did you have any idea it would become such a classic?

GIFFORD: Not at all. Whenever people talk about the funniest movie ever made, Spinal Tap is always in the top five.

MUIR: And your scene is one of the most famous among several famous ones..

GIFFORD: It's the most remembered scene, but so much of that movie is funny to me. I think Christopher Guest is a genius...

MUIR: Do you get recognized most for your role as the airport security guard in Tap?

GIFFORD: Over the years, people have said to me, 'That's one of my favorite movies. That's my favorite scene!' Then they say, 'That was you?'

MUIR: Any closing thoughts on any of your film work we discussed here?

GIFFORD: In Halloween II, Dana Carvey was an extra. I have a picture of him with me, and he never mentions that movie. I actually worked with Dana, because we had a scene together. He just NEVER mentions that movie, so I just laugh and think 'I have a picture of us, buddy.' He was playing some kind of reporter at the end of the movie who comes in. It was a very, very tiny role. He may have had one line..."

My deepest gratitude to Gloria Gifford for sharing her thoughts and remembrances with us here (as well as her contributions to my upcoming books...). In addition to her film work described here, Ms. Gifford also runs The Gloria Gifford Conservatory for Performing Arts: A Professional Acting, Directing, Writing Arena. You can read more about that endeavor here.

Sci-Fi Wisdom of the Week:

"We're living in deep space...there are so many things we don't understand. We don't know what the alien force was, why it came here, or why it selected Anton. But we've got to try to help each other understand..."

-Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) in Space:1999; "Force of Life" by Johnny Byrne

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

TV REVIEW: Extras

A few years back, one of my wife's friends at work let us borrow the first season DVD box set of the BBC Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant "britcom," The Office. My life hasn't been the same since. Today, I'm the proud owner of both season boxes (as well as the Christmas specials...) and I love to trot these episodes out every few weeks, truth be told, to experience it all over again. These episodes are not only funny, but there's a really touching love story in there too.

Told in the form of the mockumentary (or what Christopher Guest calls "documentary style" comedies), The Office follows the misadventures of an office manager named David Brent. A nightmare boss, he's clueless, racist, sexist, obnoxious...but ultimately kinda sweet; TV's greatest anti-hero, I'd say, since Archie Bunker...or at least George Costanza. David does despicable, horrible things from time to time (like leaving a wheelchair-bound employee on a stairwell during a fire drill...), and yet you can't help but feel empathy for the guy. He's lonely, fumbling, in search of friends, and desperate to be loved. He imagines himself a witty comedian, but of course, his humor is pitiful. It reminds me of a line from Woody Allen's Interiors (1978), in which a shallow Manhattanite comments on how she burns to express herself artistically...only she doesn't know what she has to say...

My wife can't watch The Office anymore because it makes her feel so bad. David Brent's need to please practically brings her to tears. I'm trying to help her work through it. My favorite episode of The Office (a series now remade on NBC...) is the one in which David Brent hijacks a training seminar at work to indulge his ego by playing the guitar. He sings a ridiculous composition called "Freelove freeway." As someone who spent the years 1994 - 1996 in a corporate environment, this training seminar and its bizarre "group" exercises ring all too true.

But anyway, with The Office done and finished, Merchant and Gervais have returned to television for the HBO/BBC comedy series Extras. This time around, the mockumentary format is gone (probably a good thing given its high visibility of late...) but the show's feel is still improvisational and spontaneous. Gervais plays Andy Millman, a disgruntled "background artist" (or movie extra, if you prefer...) who is desperate to get a "real" line in a movie. So far, I've seen episodes where he squabbles with director Ben Stiller, offends Samuel L. Jackson, and even causes lovely Kate Winslet a bit of humiliation. Six episodes were produced, and I've seen five.

Writing and directing partner Merchant plays Gervais's energy-drained agent on the series, in a wonderful character bit, but the greatest thing about Extras is that Gervais has been joined by a character equally offensive as his Millman. Ashley Jensen plays Maggie, a fellow extra, and one with a terrible knack for saying offensive things. In one episode, she refuses to date a fellow who has one leg longer than the other, and makes a comment about his Herman Munster-sized shoe. In the Samuel L. Jackson episode, she tries to pretend she isn't racist and tells Jackson she loved him in The Matrix. Of course, that was Larry Fishburne...

Curb Your Enthusiasm and now Extras have really perfected a brand of cringe-inducing, humiliation-style humor, wherein characters say absolutely terrible, horrid things to one another and then try to worm their way out of the conversation with skin intact. I collapsed into nervous laughter during the first episode of Extras, when Andy invented a whole Catholic upbringing so he could "shag" a Catholic extra on the set of a movie. He made up a priest named O'Flatley - and a lot more - and then was called on his lies by his intended and another priest. "Did Father Flatley exist?," asks the priest. "O Flatley," corrects Andy. "Did he ever exist?" "No...," Andy admits. Jeez! I practically crawled out of skin during that exchange.

But my favorite moment in Extras thus far also comes from the first episode. Kate Winslet is the guest star (playing a nun in a movie about the holocaust...so she can win an Oscar...) and she kindly provides Maggie some advice about how to spice up her phone sex skills. Later in the show, Maggie's boyfriend is on the set, and Kate Winslet starts making all of these obscene gestures and comments concerning phone sex behind his back, knowing that he is the fella Maggie told her about. In the middle of her outrageous and vulgar pantomime - with her tongue hanging out one side of her mouth, and one hand tweaking her bosom - Winslet gets caught by the boyfriend as he turns around. This was flat-out hilarious, and I had no idea that Winslet could be so much fun. She should do comedy more often.

I understand that the buzz on Extras is mixed. The criticism is that it's either too much like The Office or not enough like The Office. If you ask me, it's pure comic gold. The films of Christopher Guest often concern an aspirant, someone with the dream to succeed in show business, but not the talent (of self-awareness) to bring that dream to reality. David Brent was surely a variation on this character, but now we get that quality in Andy Millman, and much more. We see the entire world of "industrial" movie-making skewered week in and week out on Extras, and Gervais is the perfect man to headline the satire. I don't know if the entertainment industry has ever been so delightfully skewered before, so I'm hooked...

CATNAP TUESDAY # 24: Back Home with the Cats




Well, Christmas is over (as is the hiatus on this blog...) and it's back to work! We had a great time visiting Kathryn's family up in Richmond, and returned after four days away to find that our three cats had eaten every last scrap of food left for them during that interim. That's never happened before. I always "overfeed" in our absence in case anything happens, but apparently this time (Lily's first holiday...) they were all VERY hungry.

Also, Lily and Ezri had both managed to work themselves out of their collars during our absence. Only my sweet Lila remained collar-bound during the interval.

Anyway, the cats were glad to see our return, spent the night in bed with us, and have been close ever since. We've fed them their Christmas viddles, and played them out with their new toys. Their "grandma" (Nana) gave them a stocking full of treats and toys, and these cats are happy, full-stomached, and content...