I've been more than a bit inactive on this blog lately, due to the usual distractions -- work, family, sickness and comic books -- but hopefully this post will make up for it. It's a video of Nick Prueher, one of the geniuses behind the hilarious (and highly recommended) Found Footage Festival, convincing a variety of morning show hosts that he is, in fact, Chef Keith Guerke. He's obviously no chef, but despite his outrageous food suggestions and reference to such unappetizing topics as G.G. Allin, the news crews were completely fooled -- including not one but two morning shows located right here in Rockford, Illinois.
As someone who used to sprinkle fake items in the pages of his hometown daily, this is the sort of activity I can't help but applaud. Please enjoy!
Wednesday, March 05, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Luthor is genuinely sad that he stopped Superboy from preventing the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
"The Impossible Mission," Superboy #85, December 1960, script by Jerry Siegel, art by George Papp.
Saturday, February 08, 2014
It's a rare month when I make it to an actual theater (!) to see actual movies aimed at actual grown-ups (!!), but in the first month of 2014, I accomplished that amazing feat not once but twice. Here's how it all went down...
Started things off with a New Year's Day viewing of Will Ferrell's latest. Not, as you've probably guessed/heard, quite as good as the original, but funny enough to pass the time. The giant battle at the end lacked the surprise of the fight in the original, but I had to admire the way the stakes kept getting raised in the most ridiculous ways, including a minotaur and the great John C. Reilly as the Ghost of Stonewall Jackson. Overall, though, I'd have to say my favorite bits involved Steve Carell's Brick Tamlyn. Hard to believe that, back in 2004, when the original "Anchorman" was released, he was just one of the guys from "The Daily Show." "The Office," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Despicable Me" were still in his future.
Though the book has been sitting on a shelf in my living room for more than a decade, I've never actually read F. Scott Fitzgerald's Jazz Age classic. My wife has, though (it's her copy), and she suggested we check out the Baz Luhrmann adaptation released to a big yawn earlier in the year. Maybe that's why I wound up liking the movie more than her. Amy said it had an annoying sentimental side that the book lacks, but I got caught up in the story and (most of all) in Luhrmann's over-the-top recreation of the 1920s. Coincidentally, it wasn't the only movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio as a rich guy that I saw last month. As a matter of fact...
... I caught Leo's latest in the theater two days later and loved it. I've heard all the arguments against it -- that it's boring (really?), that it glorifies a scumbag like Jordan Belfort (hardly) and that it ignores the victims of his financial schemes (admittedly, it doesn't include them in the story, but anyone watching knows what he's doing, and anyway, that's not the movie Scorsese was making.) I thought it was, pure and simple, a thrilling and hilarious roller coaster ride delivered by a master filmmaker I'll admit I wasn't sure still had this sort of movie in him. (I was less than enamored with "Hugo.") And, as long as I'm praising the movie, let me add how much I love this poster. It's the perfect combination of calm, cool, collected DiCaprio standing front and center in the midst of the madness he's inspired. Great stuff.
Here's an odd one that I caught (where else?) on Turner Classic Movies. Joan Crawford plays the title role (meaning Susan, in case you were confused), an image-obsessed woman married to booze-obsessed Fredric March. Joan becomes involved with a shallow, trendy religious movement (that, frankly, seems pretty light on religion) and soon ignores her family to please its leader. This is the sort of movie where Joan and Fredric's teenager daughter is made to look so deliberately unattractive that you just know when she takes off those glasses, loses that retainer and finally gets her hair done, she's gonna be the belle of the ball ... and that's exactly what happens. For a little while, I actually thought Fredric was going to give Joan the boot in favor of his much more appealing co-star, Ruth Hussey, but this being a movie with Joan Crawford's name on top, she and Fredric wind up together in the end. You do get to see some vintage footage of March's character drunk driving, which audiences must've found a lot more amusing back then. (Though I have to admit, the scene in "Wolf of Wall Street" with Leo trying to drive home with a belly full of 'luudes is pretty funny.)
Another Turner Classics offering, this one airing in the middle of the night because the plot is a shade on the sleazy side: Naive girl from the heartland travels to Hollywood to find an acting gig like her sister, only to discover her sister is really -- gasp! -- a prostitute. This being a 1956 no-budget exploitation movie better known as "The Flesh Merchant," the actual act of prostitution is never mentioned by name and is only heavily implied with a series of awkward dance scenes and closed doors. It's not a very entertaining movie, even by no-budget exploitation standards, and if you do decide to watch it (it's available on a lot of bargain-priced DVD collections, you'll be glad it's only about an hour long.
Allie's love of the brothers Marx continues, and she really got a kick out of this one. Her favorite character remains Harpo (which makes sense), and the scene where he disrupts a puppet show on a cruise ship practically caused her to pass out with laughter. My favorite joke this time around was part of a conversation between Groucho and Chico involving Groucho's mustache getting together with Chico's grandfather's beard. (Don't ask.) Groucho considers the relationship, asking if Chico's grandfather's beard has any money. Chico answers with the most perfectly innocent delivery of an awful pun in movie history. "Why he fell hair to a fortune!" Love it, love everything about it.
And then we watched this, the Marxes' second film. It's a big improvement over their first, "The Cocoanuts," which was made not only when they were new to movies, but when sound was pretty new, too. "Animal Crackers" is the first Marx Brothers movie I ever saw. It aired on TV when I was a kid, after being out of circulation for years, and my first encounter with the Marxes was one of those life-changing moments, like my viewing of "Star Wars" or my first reading of the old Mad comic books. Nowadays, with the benefit of seeing their later efforts, it's a little clunky, with WAY too much time and effort devoted to the love story subplot, but it still has some great moments: Groucho's "strange interludes" delivered to the camera, Harpo and Chico's card game with Margaret Dumont ("We just play for small stakes." "And french fried potatoes?") and Groucho's great description of his safari. ("We took some pictures of the native girls, but they weren't developed. But we're going back again in a couple of months...")
When I heard my pal Billy (whom I saw "The Wolf of Wall Street" with) had never seen this Scorsese classic in its entirety, I quickly organized a viewing. I don't think I've seen the whole movie in one sitting in years, but I'm happy to say it still holds up beautifully. It's an epic story made up of a million individual moments and shots, from the justly famous tracking shot into the Copacabana to the less renowned but still great slow tracking shot into De Niro's face as Creem's "Sunshine of Your Love" strikes the perfect ominous note. When people ask me what my all-time favorite movie is, I have a dozen different answers, but "Goodfellas" is always one of them. I saw it in the theater, and I've owned it on videotape, DVD (twice) and Blu-ray. And I could watch the whole thing again at the drop of a hat.
The great Lee Tracy stars in this pre-Code comedy that takes ambulance chasing to levels even today's sleazy shysters couldn't dream of. Tracy plays a lawyer whose speciality is rushing to the scenes of accidents (preferably those that involve a deep-pockets transit company) and, using shady doctor Frank Morgan (the Wizard of Oz himself!) to provide medical evidence, convinces the (usually unharmed) victims that they've suffered terrible injuries and that they deserve a day in court. Tracy's charisma helps get us on his side, of course, but something about living in this modern age of corporate dominance makes a viewer root for him to screw over those companies even if they are (mostly) innocent. As a bonus, Charles Butterworth is very funny as a perennial (fake) accident victim. His deader-than-deadpan delivery is the perfect counterpart to Tracy's high-energy style.
Friday, January 24, 2014
This is the sort of pop culture book I prize above all others: A beautifully designed, smartly written examination of a corner of culture so obscure I was barely aware that it existed at all. This volume, by Letterman writer Steve Young, focuses on "industrial musicals" -- elaborate live productions staged by corporations in the hopes of motivating (or at least momentarily entertaining) their employees. Sometimes, they were astonishingly elaborate affairs with music and lyrics by the same guys who brought you "Cabaret." Other times, these were done on the cheap, with small casts and songs that consisted mostly of taking a current hit tune and replacing key words with "sewing machine" or "ceiling tiles." Either way, they were tough to see then (you had to, after all, work for the company in question) and tougher to remember now, surviving only in the form of distant memories and increasingly rare soundtrack albums.
Thankfully, Young began collecting those albums to use as comic fodder for the "Dave's Record Collection" segments on Letterman's show, and as his interest grew, he became an accidental expert on this forgotten subculture. He shares his knowledge in this brand-new book, a thick-as-a-brick, strikingly designed celebration of the industrial musical. The book traces the history of the, ahem, artform musical by musical, offering photos of the albums, samples of the lyrics and other ephemera, all presented with Young's witty observations. Every so often, fellow collector Sport Murphy chimes in with a subject-specific sidebar, offering more thoughts and a few additional jokes. (Young met Murphy when they were bidding on the same LPs.) The book is very funny, but it never gets too jokey, letting the absurdity of full-blown musical numbers devoted to, say, bathroom fixtures find their own humor. As a bonus, the book looks great, using the vintage graphics and photos to create a real sense of just how damn stylish things looked back in those days. It's really a tremendous tome, one of the most interesting and pure fun volumes I've read in a long time. If I had one minor criticism it's that, this being a book, you can't actually hear any of the songs from the musicals...
... except, wait, you can. Young, Murphy and company have thoughtfully created a website devoted to the sounds of these shows. Just go to www.industrialmusicals.com, and before long, you too will have the tunes of "I've Got a Lot of Features" and "An Exxon Dealer's Wife" permanently lodged in your brain. Have fun!
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
In recent years, several websites and at least two excellent books (this one and this one) have celebrated the legend and lore of what were once called "men's sweat magazines," manly periodicals with names like Real Men, Male, Man's Magazine, True Men, Man's Look and just plain Men. These were publications that mixed slightly naughty pictures of slightly naked women with overblown prose celebrating what it meant to be a man in a much manlier world.
They were fascinating, fun magazines, offering a strangely revealing look on a culture that's all but disappeared in this modern era. But the trouble with the the books I linked to above (and don't get me wrong, they're great books) is that they mostly celebrate the lurid cover paintings that adorned the mags and almost completely ignore the contents themselves. Thankfully, "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!" (with the subtitle "Two-Fisted Stories from Men's Adventure Magazines of the 1950s, '60s and '70s") takes a peek inside those mags and shares what it sees. Within its more than 400 pages, editor Robert Deis reprints vintage stories by such well known authors as Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Mario Puzo, Robert Silverberg and Bruce Jay Friedman.
What's more, he does it with a sense of wit and style, starting each story off with a reprint of the original spread from the magazine, including the lurid lead-off art. Then, breaking up the pages of text, he includes several actual ads from those mags, sly and sleazy come-ons urging readers to "Make Money Selling Hamburgers," "Investigate Accidents" and order an LP featuring the alluring vocal recordings of someone calling herself "Pussycat." Plus, each story comes with an introduction that includes background information and interviews, and he even tosses in a special feature explaining how "Weasels Ripped My Flesh!" went from a headline on the Sept. 1956 issue of Man's Life to the title of a famous Frank Zappa record -- and he reprints the original story. If you have any interest at all in offbeat pop culture, crazy journalism, hidden history or stories like ""Beat Girls: Worshippers of Zen and Sin?," "The Stewardess Call Girl Slave Ring," "I Went Insane For Science" or "50 Days as an Amazon Love Slave" -- and really, how could you not? -- then this book deserves -- nay, demands -- a place on your shelf.
(By the way, be sure to check out Robert Deis' website, MensPulpMags.com.)
Sunday, January 19, 2014
When I page through a book about horror movies -- even obscure horror movies -- odds are, I've seen most of them. You might not be familiar with "Xtro" or "Messiah of Evil" or "Scream and Scream Again," but I am. It's just the choice I've made, to spend hundreds of otherwise worthwhile hours climbing deeper and deeper into the depths of oddball cinema. But I have to admit, I never climbed nearly as deep as Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik, the guys behind this book (and the website that spawned it). Their speciality is trash horror cinema of the 1980s -- though, because the term "cinema" implies these films played in a theater, that term is less than accurate. Most of these movies, with titles like "Rocktober Blood," "Las Vegas Bloodbath" and "Invocation Satanica" never came within spitting distance of an actual theater screen. Instead, they were released on home video -- meaning tape -- back in those glorious days of the 1980s when video stores were dying for product and dozens (hundreds?) of bargain-basement producers will willing to supply it.
Admittedly, very few of these movies were any good, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting (just the opposite, in fact). That's why Ziemba and Budnik take the successful tactic of celebrating these movies without actually praising them. The prose is snarky and smart-ass, true, but it's so enthusiastic that it just about guarantees when you're done reading a review, no matter how awful the movie sounds, you're going to want to see it.
Good luck, incidentally. A very few of these movies have managed to land on DVD, but most slid back into the obscurity they managed to emerge from a few decades ago. If you find yourself lying awake at night demanding to know what it would be like to experience, for instance, "Splatter... Architects of Fear," start surfing those dark corners of the web. Of, if you're old fashioned (like me) and would prefer and actual hard copy, you might want to start with the VHS Preservation Society. They stock a surprising number of these movies -- and the logic they use to explain why they are not bootleggers is worth the price of admission all by itself.
Friday, January 17, 2014
The Starchild -- aka Paul Stanley of Kiss -- defeats Dr. Doom.
Marvel Comics Super Special: Kiss; script by Steve Gerber, pencils by Alan Weiss, inks by Sal Buscema, colors by Al Milgrom, letters by John Costanza
Read a fascinating except of it here, including an explanation of how the issue was printed with blood drawn right from the arms of the members of Kiss. (And according to Snopes.com, that's true!)