Saturday, October 27, 2012

Template Trouble

Hi everyone,

Well, I changed to a different blog layout template earlier in the week, and I really liked it.  It was smooth, clean and streamlined.  

But I began receiving feedback from loyal readers that they couldn't access the site; that the blogger gears just keep grinding, and the page never loads.

My most important concern is that people be able to access the site, so I've returned to a simpler blog layout for now, rather than the "dynamic view" approach I had adopted.  

I'm still not certain what the problem is. 

Unfortunately, I updated the blog template on the very week that views exceeded 10,000 a day, every week-day.  So I can't tell if the slower loading time is a result of the dynamic view template, or the fact that readership has gone through the roof of late.  

I hope you can all read this. If anyone has any thoughts about how to proceed, please share them in the comments.  I am not a tech guy, but I'm doing my best to make sure the blog is accessible.


My friend Fred in California -- who always alerts me to new and interesting home media releases -- gave me the heads-up this week that Shazam! The Complete Series (1974 - 1977) has just been released on DVD.  

For those who don't remember, this is another live-action, Saturday morning series from Filmation, along the lines of Ark II (1976) or Space Academy (1977).   I have fond memories of watching Shazam and Isis on Saturday mornings during my childhood.

To the best of my knowledge, the complete series hasn't been available on DVD before, so I'm thinking I need to pick it up, and select it as an upcoming Saturday morning blog retrospective (for when I finish Land of the Lost Season Two).  You can read some details about the release here.

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Land of the Lost: "Nice Day" (November 1, 1975)

“Nice Day” might also be titled “A Day in the Life of the Land of the Lost.”

Or perhaps, “Gone Fishin.’”

It’s an easy-going half-hour, and nothing of tremendous import happens in it.  On one hand, it’s always nice to take a break from impending disaster and destruction, but on the other hand, one might question why this Land of the Lost story, by Dick Morgan, was selected for filming.  It’s not a tale that needed to be told.

In “Nice Day,” Will (Wesley Eure) builds a fishing pole and goes fishing, while Marshall (Spencer Milligan) builds and tests a cage for catching pigs.  Meanwhile, Holly (Kathy Coleman) gathers the ingredients for her Smilax cakes, and prepares them for dinner.  At one point, Holly falls victim to the poison of a weird Venus Fly Trap-type plant, but then she recovers on her own, with no medical intervention.

Really, nothing else happens.

The episode, directed by Gordon Wiles, does feature some more ritual humiliation of Ta (Scutter McKay), an element of “The Test” and “The Pylon Express” as well, and also showcases once more, alas, the sexist side of the Land of the Lost.  In particular, Will doesn’t want Holly to accompany him fishing. 

At first, you might think he just wants to be alone.  Which is fine, of course. Bu then Will goes out of his way to invite Chaka (Philip Paley) to join him on his excursion. 

So, having a girl around is less preferable to a stinky missing-link creature?  It’s best not to consider the thinking there too closely.  Holly is further down the totem pole than a half-evolved man-beast?

A not particularly scintillating installment, “Nice Day” also features a lesson about hunting, delivered by Rick to Holly  “You should never kill more than you can eat,” he instructs.  It’s a good moral lesson, to be certain, but delivered in an episode with no driving urgency, or reason for being.  The lesson doesn’t really play into the narrative, except as a way to further humiliate Ta.

All in all, “Nice Day” may be nice, but it’s a thoroughly undistinguished entry in the Land of the Lost canon.  In short, it’s a waste of a week in a series where anything in the (pocket) universe is possible.

Next week: “Baby Sitter“

Friday, October 26, 2012

Late Night Blogging: DePatie-Freleng Enterprises

Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction in Fifteen Minutes!

Tonight's broadcast of Destinies: The Voice of Science Fiction commences in fifteen minutes on WUSB 90.1 FM.

Host Dr. Howard Margolin and I will be discussing my recent book, Horror Films of the 1990s.  This is the 30th Annual Halloween Special, so if you're up late, tune in.  Here's the live link.  

Join us!

Tonight: Destinies - The Voice of Science Fiction

Tonight at 11:30 pm, I'll be a guest on Dr. Howard Margolin's genre talk show, Destinies - The Voice of Science Fiction on WUSB, 90.1 FM to talk about my recent book, Horror Films of the 1990s (McFarland; 2011).

It was a fascinating (if not always great...) decade for horror movies, and I always enjoy talking about horror movies in the age of The Blair Witch Project, Scream and Silence of the Lambs.

Howard is a great interviewer, so I'm really looking forward to the show, and hope you'll join us as we talk scary movies in the nineties.  

If you can't listen to the program live, the episode will be archived, and I'll get that information to you over the weekend.

Hope to see you tonight!

Cult Movie Review: V/H/S (2012)

The home video revolution began approximately thirty years ago.  What that home video revolution entailed (and still entails today, though with different and updated equipment…) is the capacity to transform each and every person with a video camera into a journalist, a movie-maker, or even a porn star.  

Consider for just a moment all the people in the world equipped with video cameras (or today, phone cameras…) and then imagine thirty years’ worth of home movies, sex tapes, family holidays…and other stuff, all on tape or DVD, rattling around the periphery of the pop culture.

Where do these old forgotten tapes or discs go once discarded or forgotten?  To flea markets?  To yard sales?  To traders?

Whose hands do those recordings ultimately end up in, and for what, perhaps voyeuristic purpose?  What value do these personal “productions” have in the eyes of strangers?

These are just a few of the unsettling ideas that the new found-footage horror anthology V/H/S successfully explores. The film showcases five unsettling genre stories told from a first-person perspective, and the wraparound narrative device involves a group of not terribly-bright, small-time miscreants desperately searching for one particular video tape in the house of a (presumably) dead tape collector. 

As these crooks ransack the home, they watch one tape after another, and the audience witnesses some pretty disturbing and offbeat material after the VCR first lights up with the block word “PLAY” (seen over the ubiquitous blue VCR screen).

The first found-footage horror omnibus yet produced, V/H/S is an impressive horror production not merely because of the stimulating ideas I named above about three decades worth of consumer-recorded media existing around the edges of polite society, but because the stories featured here all seem joined by a common thematic thread: man’s cruelty to his fellow man, and his manipulation of his fellow man for his own ends. 

This is not a small thing. And V/H/S ably suggests that the “cognitive surplus” (to borrow a term from Clay Shirky) that permits us the time, technology and opportunity to make personal video recordings is being spent not on crafting art or even furthering commerce, but on hurting others.  It takes a special breed to hurt another human being in the ways we witness in V/H/S, but what order of supreme narcissism is required to hurt another person, and then record that pain and torment for posterity?

What does it say about a culture, the film seems to ask, when our “precious” moments recorded on tape are all about tricking, abusing, and even murdering other human beings, even ones we ostensibly love (as is the case in at least two of the five stories)? 

In some senses, this omnibus feels like an answer to the questions first raised by Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1989) some twenty-five years ago. 

In that film, a serial killer taped his own bloody and vicious acts, so he could enjoy them (with a beer…) at his leisure.  At the time, this act was seen as an especially atrocious, but also individual one.  Henry was a sicko, but also an outlier.  He didn’t represent the norm. 

By contrast, V/H/S suggests that, perhaps the reality-TV obsessed culture of the 2010s is as much about pain as it is about fame.  You might get your fifteen minutes of celebrity, but you’re going to suffer for it.

 “A new turns of events will soon come about…”

In V/H/S a gang of dumb crooks are hired to break into the house of a tape collector and steal an important video tape.  Unfortunately, the house is veritably filled with stacks of videotapes, and finding the right one is no easy task.  The crooks thus watch five different tapes, hoping to find their quarry.

The first tape (“Amateur Night”) involves three young men who hope to bring a young woman back to their motel from a local bar for purposes of group sex.  One of the boys, Clint, has been outfitted with a camera in his glasses, so he can tape the entire transaction.  Finally, after a long night at the bar, the boys bring two girls back to their motel room.  One woman, Lisa, passes out before she can put out.  But the strange, bug-eyed Lily (Hannah Fierman) has a few surprises in store for the guys...

The second tape, “Second Honeymoon,” follows a married couple -- Sam (Joe Swanberg) and Stephanie (Sophia Takal) -- on a road trip out west.  Late one night, they are accosted by a stalker asking for a ride.  Sam refuses, but remains creeped-out by the incident.  But then, by night, the stalker breaks into the couple’s motel room and watches them sleep.  Over a few nights, the behavior escalates and becomes more and more dangerous..

In the third tape, “Tuesday the 17th,” a tortured young woman named Wendy (Norma C. Quinones) brings a group of friends back to the woods where she once faced a terrible trauma.  But this time, she’s ready to face whatever comes, even if the video camera can’t quite register the Bogeyman she fears.

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” involves a web-cam conversation between Emily (Helen Rogers) and her boyfriend as she explains a series of night terrors…and the bruises and wounds that keep appearing on her arm.

In the final, harrowing tale, “10/31/98,” a group of friends looking for a Halloween party instead find themselves in a real life house of horrors, one where some kind of occult ritual is occurring in the attic…

 “Amateur Night”

If I had to describe “Amateur Night” briefly, I would use this (admittedly trite) term: the hunters become the hunted.  

Here, three young men hope to lure a woman back to their motel room to taped sex acts. They believe that they are the predators, but in fact -- as they discover -- they are the prey.  

One extremely gory moment in the action sees the “monster” pull the penis off one of the boys, and toss it onto the motel carpet with a splat.  It’s a sight you don’t see in a horror movie every day, but the shot reflects the story’s purpose, and the idea of the (apparent) weak turning on the apparent strong.  Since sex is part of the “weaponry” used by the young men in the beginnings, it’s appropriate that sex should be part of the violence, as well.

“Amateur Night” works like gangbusters because the installment doesn’t hold back in terms of confronting the racy subject matter.  There’s not just the severed penis, for instance, but, relatively late in the game, we are treated to a moment when the (lonely?) Lily attempts to perform fellatio on one of the boys. 

But her feelings are hurt when the guy -- after witnessing the bloody demise of his friends, falling down a flight of stairs, and breaking his wrist -- can’t get it up for her ministrations. 

This valedictory moment is important because like the earlier scenes set in the motel room, the subject is sex, and how sex can be used by the strong to victimize the weak.  In this case, it turns out that the guy who wanted to have group sex so badly isn’t actually in the mood for sex when the tables are violently turned on him.  What a surprise.  Nobody likes to have control taken away, and in some sense that’s the lesson of this first tale.

Second Honeymoon”

The sophomore sortie in V/H/S comes from director Ti West.  I’m an avowed admirer of West because of his incredible films House of the Devil (2008) and The Innkeepers (2012).  His story here takes a decidedly different approach than you might expect after the “Amateur Night” gore-fest, and it concerns a young couple on a road trip.

All throughout the story, there are small signs that Sam and Stephanie aren’t really getting along, and aren’t particularly happy. But what I appreciate about this story is how little is actually revealed through dialogue or action.  Most of the frissons are unspoken, or uncommented upon. We just get little things to cue us in that things are not right, like a discussion in which Sam accuses Stephanie of stealing money from his wallet.

It’s not a portrait of marital bliss, but if you’re not paying attention, you won’t pick up the clues of discontent, either.  Like much of West’s work, there’s a high degree of nuance here.

“Second Honeymoon” is the probably the least overtly horrific of all the segments in V/H/S, but something about the human drama between Sam and Stephanie really resonates.  Like “Amateur Night,” the story involves how people set out to hurt other people, often with intricate strategies to do so.  The terror escalates from mischievous (a nasty gag involving a tooth brush) to bloody murder.

I can’t take sides in the dispute we see prosecuted in “Second Honeymoon,” but there are, of course, better ways to end a marriage.

“Tuesday the 17th

I imagine that if Cabin in the Woods (2012) hadn’t also premiered this year, many horror fans might be lauding this V/H/S segment for the way it catalogs and re-purposes horror movie clichés.  It plays roughly the same game as Whedon’s film but boasts the added benefit of actually being scary. 

In this case, a girl who was previously attacked by a Jason Voorhees-type slasher figure, returns to the woods where she was originally hunted (and escaped) and, once there, intentionally smokes weed and courts pre-marital sex to lure him out, essentially recognizing the old “vice-precedes slice-and-dice” scenario.

The only problem in her plan, of course, is that to lure the strange killer back into the open, Wendy needs human bait.  And thus she willingly offers up three friends -- or pseudo-friends, I suppose – as chum.   The story thus functions on a post-modern level, recognizing and mocking elements of the slasher movie lexicon while simultaneously offering a further variation on V/H/S’s theme about how people are cruel to one another for their own selfish purposes.

One of the elements that makes “Tuesday the 17th” an especially effective horror story is the visual presentation of the Jason-like killer.  For some reason, he never appears clearly on the video tape. 

Instead, he’s a creeping, darting, sometimes-invisible visual “distortion,” and this unusual appearance is genuinely fear-provoking.  This character might be worthy of a horror franchise all on his own…

“The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger”

Punctuated by a number of jump scares, the fourth tale in V/H/S really seems to be a comment on domestic abuse and spousal exploitation.  

A kind, sweet girl named Emily faces night after night of confrontations with the ghost-like figures of malevolent children.  Her boyfriend thinks she is crazy, even when he sees evidence of the ghouls, and doesn’t come to her aid.

I don’t want to reveal the punch-line or surprise ending, but you may have guessed that all is not as it seems, and that there is a conspiracy (a la Rosemary’s Baby [1968]) to keep Emily firmly trapped in this cycle of nightly abuse.

Again, I don’t want to belabor the people-hurting-people-and-then-recording it aspect of these stories, but suffice it to say that “The Sick Thing that Happened to Emily When She Was Younger” fits in with the film’s leitmotif.  Visually, the story plays like a combination of the Paranormal Activity series and the Japanese water girl horror movement.

I should also add, perhaps, that my wife found this segment the most disturbing and frightening of the five stories. 

As for me, that honor goes to…


I can see why the filmmakers left this story for last.  It’s a harrowing, effects-heavy tale about lost trick-or-treaters who end up in a House of the Devil-type scenario, almost literally trying to outrun the Devil. 

I found this story absolutely spell-binding, in part because the protagonists violate the movie’s established character “type” up to that point.  They are not miscreants, exploiters or manipulators.  They are not murderers, either.  Instead, they are just average Joes who end up in the wrong house on the wrong night and are faced with a moral crisis. 

Should they rescue the girl they find in the attic, or just get the hell out?

What I enjoyed so much about this story is that it best gets at the idea of life unfolding around you spontaneously, and in front of the camera.  In other words, our characters walk headlong into situations they don’t understand, and have no frame of reference for any understanding.  Are the men torturing the girl upstairs actually devil worshippers? Or are they performing an exorcism?  Is the girl an innocent child being exploited (thus keeping with the people-hurting-people leitmotif) or possessed by a horrible demon?

The guys who blunder into this situation have no time to determine the truth.  But -- heroically -- they act on gut instincts and attempt to rescue the girl before getting the hell out of that damned house.

And damned house is an apt description. 

As the visitors attempt to flee, monstrous arms lunge out of walls, doorways reshape into solid walls, and other surreal terrors ensue.  In all my years reviewing horror movies, I’ve never seen a story more viscerally present a human vs. the Devil clash, with the Devil holding all the cards.  This story is, genuinely terrifying, a cinema-verite-styled nightmare.  Accordingly, “10/31/98” ends V/H/S on an adrenaline rush of anxiety, giggles, and outright terror.

As you probably remember, I’m a long-time admirer of the found footage approach to horror films, and here that approach does the seemingly impossible: it raises the moribund genre form of the anthology from the grave

Together, the stories all carry an umbrella of unity thanks to the theme I’ve mentioned, but also in terms of consistent visual approach.  This is quite an accomplishment, considering the diversity of the tales, from supernatural horror (“Amateur Night”), to psychological thriller and intrigue (“Second Honeymoon”) to post-modern meta-horror (“Tuesday the 17th.”)  A lot of ground gets covered in terms of the genre, and none of it feels like a stretch, or out of place.

In most anthologies there’s also stinker story or two weighting down the whole, but V/H/S is rock solid in that regard, and best of all ends on a high note of horror.

If you’re seeking a good, scary Halloween movie this year, look no further. V/H/S is America’s Scariest Home Videos.

Movie Trailer: V/H/S (2012)

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Ask JKM #45: TV Show Remakes...

A reader named Christopher writes:

“I have a question concerning the Blue Thunder TV series. Something that just came to mind after I read your article on the 1983 film.

Over the years, various films have spawned TV series adaptations of said films. For example: Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, M*A*S*H, Logan's Run, Blue Thunder, and (to the best of knowledge - twice in the history of movies and television) Parenthood. Some of these programs have met with huge success, while others have not.

It wasn't until the remake express had gone full steam that a thought occurred to me. It may sound far-fetched, but after a careful analysis of the information, I've been wondering if television series in general, based on successful films, are technically remakes of said films.
Do you think that the series that I have mentioned are remakes of those successful films?

Speaking of Blue Thunder, another question I had concerns its 'rival', Airwolf. Like the 2001 and Space:1999 controversy, as well as the Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica controversy, do you think that the controversy between Blue Thunder and Airwolf is along those same lines, or somewhat different?”

Christopher, I love this question, and I think it brings us to a very interesting discussion.

First, the TV series you mention – namely Logan’s Run, Blue Thunder, M*A*S*H and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea -- are indeed remakes of the movies that carried those names. 

They are so because, in large part, they take the same characters and situations to begin with, but then spin-them-out in a new way.  Logan’s Run begins again with Jessica and Logan’s escape from the City of Domes, for instance, but then goes off in new TV territory, a week-by-week search for Sanctuary. 

I suppose we could call these TV remakes “television adaptations” but that euphemism doesn’t make the point as directly does it? 

The second part of your question involves series that simply capitalize on the success of popular films, but aren’t strict adaptations or remakes.  They are, as you said, “rivals.”

This is something we have seen again and again in TV history.   

The success of Star Wars (1977) permitted Battlestar Galactica (1978) to get made. 

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) made the market ripe for Bring ‘Em Back Alive (1982) and Tales of the Gold Monkey (1982). 

Blue Thunder’s (1983) success gave us Airwolf (1984). 

And much more recently, Twilight’s success assured that The Vampire Diaries and True Blood would come to television.

What we can understand from this equation is that because television programming is expensive, networks generally seek not new efforts that are “original” or totally different from popular movies, but rather programs that carry similarities to properties that have already proven themselves in the marketplace.

In this case, however, an interesting dynamic complicates the matter.  By their very nature, films can’t tell an on-going story or delve deeply into characters over a long span of time.  But TV series can indeed accomplish those things. 

So in many cases -- from Battlestar Galactica to Airwolf to The Vampire Diaries -- the so-called “imitator” actually improves on the original template in some powerful way.  After watching twenty hours, for instance, it’s undeniable that we know more about Captain Apollo than we do about Luke Skywalker…merely because we have spent more time with him. 

That’s why I always say that Star Wars opened the door for Battlestar Galactica, but that Battlestar Galactica walked through that door on its own two feet. 

The same is true, I think, for Airwolf, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries.   

They all may have been green-lit initially as knock-offs of popular movies, but they eventually became independent of that origin and featured original and innovative creative material.   All these programs developed in new and unforeseen ways, and thus established a new, “original” identity, as it were.

Airwolf is a strange example.  It is undeniably superior to the Blue Thunder TV series, and audiences agreed. Airwolf lasted for four years, and Blue Thunder tanked after half-a-season.  I’m not sure there’s ever been another example of a “knock-off” running circles around the original property, and so thoroughly vanquishing it, head-to-head. 

But again, it proves that audiences are driven (in terms of TV watching) to well-developed characters over merely a familiar concept.  What Airwolf had was the intriguing Stringfellow Hawke (Jan Michael-Vincent) back-story.  Blue Thunder (on TV) had nothing comparable.

Great question!

Don’t forget to ask me your questions at

The Top Five: James Bond Cars

In only a few short weeks, the newest James Bond movie, Skyfall (2012) will premiere in theaters nationwide.  I’ll be reviewing this brand new Daniel Craig, 007 film here on the blog on Tuesday, November 12th

But in the meantime, I’ve been celebrating the James Bond franchise’s 50th anniversary with several “Top Five” entries that survey various facets of the films, from villains to “Bond Girls,” to favorite title songs.

Today, I’m offering up selections for my personal “Top Five” Bond cars. 

Now normally I’m not exactly a big “car” guy.  That might change, however, if cars on the market today were to come equipped with ejector seats, lasers, tire spikes, and the like.

Also, my definition of a “Top Five” Bond car may differ radically from the norm.  For me, it’s not so much how hot the car looks that matters.  We expect a Bond car to boast nice lines, after all. 

Rather, my top five cars have been chosen because of how they are utilized in a particular film’s narrative. 

In other words, I’m looking at how the cars fit in, overall, with story, theme, and action. 

After all, doesn’t it get boring and highly selective to choose between an Audi 200 Avant and an Audi 200 Quattro, for example?

All that established, let’s get started.

5. AMC Hornet. The Man with The Golden Gun

Okay, I’m biased about this selection.  Myfirst car in high school was a used AMC 1973 Hornet.  So on a purely personal level I have tremendous affection for this less-than-stylish Bond car. 

Plus, in real life, the AMC Hornet was the only vehicle in the world that could make the film’s bridge jump successfully.  It wasn’t a Porsche.  It wasn’t a Lotus.  It wasn’t an Audi or an Aston Martin. 

Nope, it was a Hornet!  The car deserves some credit for performing an otherwise impossible stunt, which is why it makes the list.

4. Citroen 2CV. For Your Eyes Only (1981).

Another non-traditional choice, I readily admit, and it comes from my absolute favorite Roger Moore era Bond film.  This movie followed Moonraker in series continuity, and to one extent or another, For Your Eyes Only was all about “re-grounding” the 007 mythos after the space adventuring of the previous film (not to mention the slapstick shtick of Jaws…).   

Early in the film, Bond is on the run with lovely Melina Havelock (Carole Bouquet) when a bunch of goons bash the window on his expensive, tech-heavy Lotus Esprit.  The car’s self-destruct mechanism promptly activates, leaving Bond and Melina to a little yellow Citroen.  What follows is one of the best and most inventive car chases in the 007 mythos as Bond uses the Citroen’s unexpected advantages -- a small size, extreme maneuverability and even durability -- against his numerous opponents.

3 Bentley 4.5 Litre. Never Say Never Again (1983). 

Again, I must assume this is an unlikely choice for many Bond fans.  The Bentley in Never Say Never Again isn’t utilized in a car chase, and it features no gadgets whatsoever.  In fact, we see it only briefly as Bond drives to a health clinic.   

But this 1930s-era car still looks great and that’s the point.  Age doesn’t matter.  This was a metaphor, of course, for the return of Sean Connery in the role of a lifetime after a departure of more than a decade.  Connery was older, yes, and his hair was thinning.  But as Bond, he could still get the job done with panache.   “They don’t make them like they used to,” says a valet as Bond drives up in his Bentley.  “She’s still in pretty good shape,” Bond replies.  

And the same thing goes for Mr. Connery.

2. Lotus Esprit S1. The Spy Who Loved Me (1977). 

This car was to kids of the Moore Era of the 1970s what the Aston Martin DB5 was to kids in the 1960s Connery Era.  It was a fabulously “cool” car in appearance, but also one given a fantasy sheen in terms of its unusual capabilities. 

In this case, of course, the Lotus Esprit could double as a compact submarine, and was literally a transforming car.   Heavily- armed, and deadly on land or at sea, the Lotus Esprit is one of Bond’s all-time best cars.  The only point against the Lotus is that it is responsible for the death of Caroline Munro’s character, Naomi.

1. Aston Martin DB5. Goldfinger (1964) and Thunderball (1965).

This is likely the one car on the list that isn’t a surprise, I assume, since it has been termed “The most famous car in the world.” 

Today, we all recognize the silver Aston Martin DB5 is crucial part of the Goldfinger -- and Bond -- mystique.  That third 007 film is nearly perfect in so many regards, and introduced so many of the “core” elements of the series, from the slightly cheeky (but spectacular…) pre-title sequence to the soldier villain with the weird personal characteristics (Odd Job).   The Aston Martin is part of that equation.  It’s every kid’s dream car: stylish, fast and kitted-up with ejector seat, rear water tanks, rotating license plate, tire spikes, bullet-proof shield and more. 

In one way or another, this Bond car inspired every one that came after it.  If we dream about owning a Bond car, I readily admit a Citroen or a Hornet doesn’t cut the mustard.  But the Aston Martin DB5 likely tops every fan’s dream list.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Late Night Blogging: Major Matt Mason Toy Commercials

Pop Art: Ben Cooper Edition

Collectible of the week: Major Matt Mason Satellite Locker (Mattel; 1968)

Of all the great “space” toy lines out there, the one I wish I owned more collectibles from is Major Matt Mason, Mattel’s “Man in Space.” 

I have a real obsession with mid-to-late 1960s futurism (or what I now call 1960s “retro-futurism”).  This was the age of the Apollo missions and everyone just knew that we were going to have bases on the moon, Mars, and so forth, in the near future.  We had not yet experienced our revolution in miniaturization, so all the tech of this age was bulky, over-sized stuff: wall-sized computers with reel-to-reel tapes, and so on. 

And even today, I love that look.  This is one reason I enjoy returning to the black-and-white first year of Lost in Space (1965) from time-to-time.  I love the look of the Chariot, the computers, and the Jupiter 2.

Anyway, I missed the Matt Mason toy craze by a few years, but came across it -- unknowingly at the time -- in kindergarten in 1975.  

That was also the year Space: 1999 first aired, and I was thrilled to discover several Matt Mason toys (including a moon sled and astronaut) in a toy bin in my classroom.  They certainly looked like toys from Space: 1999, but were actually from Matt Mason’s toy line.

A vast and incredibly impressive and diverse line of Matt Mason toys were released in the late sixties, including a multi-level space station, rocket packs, and much more.  The only toy I still have in my collection at this juncture is the Major Matt Mason “Satellite Locker,” a kind of glorified accessory case. 

It’s a cool if utilitarian toy, with a flip-open top, and a clear vinyl window so you can see what you’re storing in one compartment.  You may notice in my photographs that I have my Matt Mason (complete with space helmet) stored behind the vinyl.

Now, if I only had a few hundred dollars to spend beefing up my Matt Mason collection.  I read the other day that Tom Hanks has been planning a Major Matt Mason movie for some time, and this indeed gives me hope that a new line of “retro” toys might come out at affordable prices.  We’ll see...

Model Kit of the Week #2

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Late Night Blogging: A Survey of Haunted House Movies Part II (1980s - Present)

Cult-TV Blogging: Brimstone: "Repentance" (November 13, 1998)

This week’s episode of Brimstone is titled “Repentance,” and appropriately so. 

The story involves Detective Stone’s (Peter Horton) investigation of a gruesome murder.  Specifically, a homeless man, Harry (David Proval) witnesses a man cutting out the eyes of another man.  

Stone looks into the horrific act, and finds a clue -- a brass pin -- tying the crime to a Dutch S.S. Nazi uniform, and a Hell escapee known in life as “the Angel of Mercy.”

However, Stone soon learns that this Angel of Mercy (Norbert Weisser) has returned from Hell to make restitution for his crimes, and that the real culprit here is another man, an addict who was once also homeless…

For Brimstone to succeed as a believable work of fantastic art, an episode like “Repentance” had to exist, and I’m glad it does.  

The story finds Stone tracking a Hell escapee who isn’t actually the perpetrator or criminal of the week.  That wrinkle is a welcome one, and reminds us that all evil in the world does not originate from the realm below.  

By contrast, I was deeply disappointed by the first season of Grimm (2011 - ) because week-in and week-out, every single crime investigated by the lead character was caused by a fairy tale creature.  This fact did two (bad) things simultaneously.  First, it painted the fairy tale creatures as lawbreakers and violent offenders, all.  Secondly, it suggested that man was not culpable for any criminal activity in this world. Rather, he was just victimized by monsters that happened to be disguised as men.  It’s a terrible dynamic, and feels very two-dimensional.

Brimstone seems to have thought this problem through with “Repentance,” and figured it all out.  We can’t expect that every criminal act in the world is caused by one of the 113 Hell creatures, and that adds an element of verisimilitude to the storytelling.  Sometimes, in his travels, Stone will run up against human evil rather than supernatural evil.  This fact reminds us that man is fallible.

On a thematic level, “Repentance” lives up to its title.  It concerns a man who wants nothing more in life than to make-up, in some way, for the crimes he committed.  He is out to redeem himself, but as the episode points out, he must also be forgiven in the eyes of others. 

To his credit, Stone makes that leap in this episode.  Our culture claims to be a forgiving one, yet on a daily basis we see how this isn’t always so. 

 Once more, I enjoy how Brimstone threads this particular needle.  The show clearly exists in a universe of blacks and whites, and of good and evil, but Stone is constantly asked to make decisions that require him to think in shades of gray, and nuance.  

He determines that the Angel of Mercy is innocent -- that he has paid for his crimes -- but he still must send him back to Hell, regardless. 

Finally, this episode also adds another piece of delightful Brimstone mythology: Stone’s love for the now-defunct 1980s “Reggie” candy bar (after Reggie Jackson).  By episode’s end, he’s got a box of them to enjoy, thanks to a collector…

Next week: “Executioner”

In the meantime, here’s a Reggie Bar commercial: