Monday, July 21, 2014

What Might've Been: The Baby Game (1967-8)

Children at play. Back in the day, mothers would sit on the front steps and watch over their little ones as they played with the neighbors' kids, cautioning them not to wander off onto the road. In today's era where the danger is far more magnified, you don't see this as often anymore.

In 1967, ABC decided to experiment with an afternoon game show, mixed in with the soap operas, where children would compete for a college scholarship. As you'll see in the sample episode following, it wasn't just restricted to toddlers, as older kids were shown on video.

The Baby Game, however, lasted 1 year, if that, perhaps out of place when you consider it was mixed in with the likes of Chuck Barris' Newlywed Game & Dating Game and the venerable General Hospital. Come to think of it, maybe it should've been a special weekend attraction.

Richard Hayes served as host, and would later helm the syndicated All About Faces.

Raarrow uploaded this sample in black & white:

As I wrote over on my other blog, Saturday Morning Archives, this might've been the inspiration for the 1993-4 Family Channel series, Baby Races, which had two contestants instead of four.

Rating: A.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Classic TV: The Rockford Files (1974)

James Garner returned to television in 1974 with a crime drama that seemed like a reincarnation of his Western hit, Maverick, if but because the character traits are almost exactly the same.

The Rockford Files cast Garner as ex-con-turned-private-investigator Jim Rockford, who had as many run-ins with the police, largely because of his past more than anything, as with the suspects he was pursuing. If he needed advice, he turned to his father, Rocky (Noah Beery, Jr.), but he was vulnerable to being lured into one scheme after another by fellow ex-con Angel Martin (Stuart Margolin), who just couldn't stay on the straight side. Rockford's police contact was Lt. Dennis Becker (Joe Santos), who was alternately warning Rockford away and asking for help.

While the series ended in 1980, Garner revisited the role in a series of TV-movies during the decade, after a brief return to his earlier role of Bret Maverick. Today, the series airs on Me-TV six days a week (check listings), at least through the summer. Most people might remember Garner more for Rockford than either Maverick or the Polaroid ads he did with Mariette Hartley during the 70's.

In memory of Garner, who passed away today at 86, we present a season 3 episode, "The Becker Connection", in which Becker is being set up for a fall. The episode reunites Garner with Maverick co-star Jack Kelly. Jack Carter also appears.

Rockford also birthed a spin-off in the short-lived Richie Brockelman, Private Eye, which amounted to a summer replacement series one year. Its star, Dennis Dugan, is better known now as a filmmaker, having worked with Adam Sandler on a couple of films.

Rating: B+.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

In Theatres: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

This ain't your father's Planet of the Apes, or your grandfather's, and perhaps it's better that way.

Pierre Boulle is best known for The Bridge on The River Kwai, but because 20th Century Fox has cultivated Planet of the Apes into a very successful cinematic franchise over the last 46 years, it may not be long before that becomes Boulle's seminal work instead. However, "Dawn of the Planet of the Apes", and its predecessor, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes", are loose adaptations of Boulle's opus. Instead of astronauts landing on an alternate-future Earth ruled by apes, this version is set in the not-too-distant future, where the apes have been genetically altered by modern science.

"Dawn" begins with a montage of flashbacks to key moments in "Rise", leading to the apes developing their own little colony, living in peace and harmony, while the remaining humans are trying to rebuild San Francisco, which was devastated in the last film. Hmm. If memory serves, one of the films in the first "Apes" series was set in Los Angeles. I guess it's true that it never rains in Southern California, and they wanted rain for this film. I digress.

Peace between apes & humans is uneasy at best. Dreyfus (Gary Oldman, looking like he moved off the set of "Dark Knight Rises" right into this film) doesn't trust the apes, and, at first, the feeling is mutual. However, Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his nurse-wife, Ellie (Keri Russell, ex-Felicity) believe they can work with Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe in order to gain access to a power grid in order to restore lighting to the city. It isn't easy on the apes' side, either, as Caesar has to deal with a duplicitous aide, Koba, who threatens not only war with the humans, even going so far as to capture and cage several of them, a call back to the original "Apes" movie, but with Caesar as well, even leaving him for dead after shooting him with a rifle he'd stolen. However, that leads to a climatic battle for ape supremacy, and the door is opened for the next film, due in 2016. Ironically, the last film was set in 2016, and this one starts in 2026, so maybe the next one is set in 2036?

Here's the trailer:

And a few other trailers:

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay" is teased with a pirate broadcast cutting into a transmission by President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

"Unbroken" (December) is the latest directorial effort from Angelina Jolie, about an athlete's will to survive and compete against adversity.

"The Judge" (October 10): Robert Downey, Jr. is a lawyer who has his toughest case yet---defending his father (Robert Duvall) on a murder charge. With Billy Bob Thornton.

"The Equalizer" (September): Denzel Washington in a loose adaptation of the 80's TV hit.

"A Most Wanted Man" (date TBA): Philip Seymour Hoffman, in one of his last roles, stars in an adaptation of a John LeCarre thriller.

"The Fluffy Movie" (July 25): Stand-up comic Gabriel Iglesias doesn't see himself as fat, or a Latino Louie Anderson, but, well, "fluffy". That's his gimmick. Problem is, he's up against "Hercules". Thanks for coming, Gabriel.

"Sin City: A Dame to Kill For": Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez adapt another of Miller's graphic novels, with Bruce Willis, Mickey Rourke, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and a few close friends.

"The Maze Runner" (TBA): One of these teen coming-of-age-over-adversity stories.

Rating: B+.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Musical Interlude: Tacky (2014)

You know you've made it as an artist if your hit song has been skewered by the redoubtable "Weird" Al Yankovic.

Earlier this week, Yankovic released his latest, "Mandatory Fun", issuing 8 videos all at once. It's likely all of them can be found on Nerdist's YouTube channel, which is where we found Al's send-up of Pharrell Williams' "Happy".

"Tacky" is Al at his goofiest. Aided by Aisha Tyler (The Talk, Whose Line is it Anyway?), Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family), Jack Black, Kristen Schaal, & Margaret Cho, Al rhapsodizes on loud fashions and other things that are, well, "Tacky":

Where were the Hawaiian shirts when you really needed them?

Classic TV: Get Smart (1965)

Inspector Gadget would never have sprang into being without the existence of Maxwell Smart.

Get Smart, a brilliant satire of the spy genre, lasted 5 seasons (1965-70), the first 4 on NBC, which foolishly dumped it, along with another iconic series, Star Trek, after the 1968-9 season, only for CBS to pick it up for the fifth & final season. Maxwell Smart, aka CONTROL Agent 86, was a blend of Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau ("The Pink Panther") and James Bond. Don Adams played Smart as a confident, but often oblivious, agent who seemed to be a little slow on the uptake until the clues came together, a formula he'd replicate for Inspector Gadget 13 years after Smart ended its first run.

While Bond had Miss Moneypenny pining for him, Smart had a strikingly gorgeous partner in Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon), who made sure Smart stayed on the trail of the bad guys, and ultimately captured his heart as well, as the two agents were married in season 4. The Chief (Edward Platt) could probably empathize with Clouseau's boss, since Smart could be irritating with his mental lapses. Fortunately, he didn't go insane.

On the other side was KAOS, whose leader, Mr. Big (Michael Dunn, The Wild, Wild West) was seemingly killed off early on. Once Dunn was cast as Dr. Loveless on West, he wasn't brought back to bedevil Smart a 2nd time. From that point, KAOS' point man was Conrad Siegfried (Bernie Kopell), who was about as over the top as you could get. Despite being mortal foes, Siegfried and Smart had a mutual respect, which became part of a plotline later in the series. Because Siegfried only appeared a few times a year, Kopell had time to work on other series, such as That Girl and The Doris Day Show.

NBC must've felt the well had run dry after the 4th season, since Smart & 99 had wed. However, the producers had other ideas, and the Smarts welcomed twins in season 5. In that same season came a "King Kong" parody, "The Apes of Rath", in which an ordinary CONTROL agent (Charles Bateman) inexplicably becomes an ape in human form thanks to a post-hypnotic suggestion. Keep an eye open for baseball legend Maury Wills in a quick cameo. Uploaded by GetSmartUploader:

Two years after Smart ended, Adams returned to NBC with The Partners, and brought along his cousin, Robert Karvelas (Larrabee on Smart), as a serial confessor. Unfortunately, Partners lasted 1 season. Following a 1980 feature film, "The Return of Maxwell Smart", aka "The Nude Bomb", it would be 15 years before Smart would be in another series. Fox picked up the baton and took a chance on Get Smart, Again, which saw at least one of Max & 99's kids join the family business. Ed Platt had passed on in the interim, and would be the only regular from the original series missing from the remake. We'll look at that another time.

Rating: A.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Captain America's being replaced----again----and other nonsense from Marvel

On Tuesday, I hinted there'd been something out there regarding a change in Captain America. I had based that on reading an online interview with actor Anthony Mackie, who'd played Sam "Falcon" Wilson in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" back in April that speculated that maybe, just maybe, Wilson would eventually swap out his avian costume for the red, whie, & blue of the Captain.

Well, insofar as Marvel is concerned, that was the other shoe dropping Wednesday night on Comedy Central's Colbert Report. Joe Quesada, 1/2 of the two-headed monster ruining Marvel's animated product, has been a frequent guest of admitted comics geek Colbert, and dropped by to announce that, yes, Wilson will be the new Cap come the fall.

Like Thor, Cap's been replaced before in the past, more recently when his former partner, James "Bucky" Barnes, now the Winter Soldier, donned the costume for a time. Now it's Wilson's turn, and it's long overdue.

Sam Wilson was introduced in the comics in 1969, and quickly gained co-star status in Cap's book, although that lasted just a few years before Cap went solo again under co-creator Jack Kirby's watch. While Quesada said that this was strictly in the comics for right now, an online article today in Yahoo! wonders if the fans might have something to say about that, since Chris Evans, who will play Cap for the 4th time in "Avengers: Age of Ultron" next spring, has said he'd retire from acting once his contract is up.

In sharp contrast to the decision to create a female version of Thor, the elevation of Sam Wilson into the role of Captain America feels more like a passing of the torch. As noted, he's been around for 45 years. Steve Rogers sees himself in the costume as being a symbol of freedom. While Marvel can use cultural diversity as an excuse for this latest change, which would be the 5th or 6th time someone other than Rogers has worn the costume since the 50's.

It's not the first time that this has happened to an established superhero.

In the late 80's, DC experimented with Green Lantern by spotlighting the African-American member of the Green Lantern Corps, John Stewart, after Hal Jordan had lost his ring, if memory serves. The funny part was that Stewart's adventures were being drawn by a British artist, Dave Gibbons, and while it was a fun and interesting read, it didn't last long. Stewart, of course, was chosen to represent as GL on the animated Justice League series a decade ago, a move made in the name of cultural diversity, and it made sense. Now, Marvel is rolling the dice with Sam Wilson. If it doesn't work, would he go back to being the Falcon? That remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, director Josh Trank has dug himself a deeper hole with fans of the Fantastic Four.

In an interview with Esquire Mexico, reported online by Yahoo!, actress and NY Giants heiress Kate Mara made these comments:(boldface italics mine):

“I don’t feel more responsibility with this role that I’ve felt with others. I understand that there are many fans of Fantastic Four and I guess they expect a lot from me, but I prefer not to be pressured by that. We are also trying to create a new way of seeing these superheroes, I’m focusing on making her (Susan Storm) as real as possible.”

“I’ve never been a fan of comics, I’ve never actually read one. I was going to for this movie but the director said it wasn’t necessary. Well, actually he told us that we shouldn’t do it because the plot won’t be based on any history of anything already published. So I chose to follow his instructions. The one fact is I am a fan of comic book movies, so it’s very exciting to be part of a movie like this.”

Translated, effendis, based on Ms. Mara's statements, Trank is ignoring comics history in order to enforce his vision, skewed as that is, on the fan base. There's a reason why it's been so difficult over the last 20 years to make a reasonably good FF movie, and Trank, this week's Weasel of the Week winner, isn't helping the cause. In addition to the obligatory Weasel ears, we'll send Trank a copy of the works of George Santayana, and we'll see if he even has clue one what that means.

We'll close on a positive note, with a tip of the cap to Woody Paige of ESPN's Around The Horn. In effect, Woody exposed himself as a closet fan when he used his "Face Time" after winning Wednesday' game to talk up the current issue of Life With Archie, which we had reported on back in April. You know the one, where Archie Andrews, at least in this reality, buys it, taking a bullet meant for Kevin Keller. What Paige neglected to mention was the fact that this is an alternate reality, and that the regular Archie line will continue unabated, save for Betty & Veronica leaving Riverdale next month. We didn't know you were a reader, Woody. Cheers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Celebrity Rock: Up, Up, & Away (1968?)

From Petticoat Junction comes an unlikely cover tune. Meredith McRae, Lori Saunders, & Linda Kaye Henning perform an acoustic version of "Up, Up, & Away", which Jimmy Webb wrote in 1967, and became  a hit that same year for the Fifth Dimension. Mike Minor (Steve) provides the captive audience.

I think the song was edited for time.