Monday, February 27, 2023

Happy Birthday Brittany Rose

For those who remember our companion photography blog which ended about a dozen years back--BRITTANY ROSE & ME, here's a bit of a flashback. Brittany Rose now lives in Connecticut but I spoke with her on the phone today for her birthday. 

We took probably a thousand or more photos over about a five year period and posted several hundred on the now long-defunct blog. Decided to share some of our most memorable portraits with you here today.


Friday, February 24, 2023

Booksteve Reviews: M3GAN


M3GAN is not your standard modern horror movie. In fact, in some ways it’s closer to the original Boris Karloff FRANKENSTEIN in that a scientist creates a form of life never before seen and then attempts to destroy it when it becomes uncontrollable. Dressed up in modern-day trappings, that’s exactly the plot of M3GAN. Similarly, there’s an unspoken warning about playing with forces humans perhaps shouldn’t be playing with.


Playing, in fact, is the essential concept behind M3GAN. The title character is a life-sized, lifelike little girl doll powered by artificial intelligence. She’s created by toy company scientist, Gemma. When Gemma’s niece, Cady, comes to live with her after her parents were killed in a traumatic car accident where she was the only survivor, M3GAN is used to pacify Cady. The two are bonded together by the doll’s programming, with Cady now being her “person.” With a capacity to learn and add to her own programming as she goes along, M3GAN acts as a friend, a counselor, a teacher, and a protector to Cady. At first Gemma is thrilled, and her company begins to prepare to market the $10,000 toys to an eager world. But then things start happening.


An obnoxious boy at a school camp steals M3GAN and is found killed by a car after falling down a hill. An accident, plain and simple…but when another body turns up, Gemma slowly becomes suspicious. When M3GAN begins to show more and more autonomy and Cady more and more dependence on her, Gemma slowly becomes concerned, then scared. 

  The movie works as a straight suspense narrative, with top-notch performances all around, particularly from Allison Williams (daughter of TV anchorman Brian Williams) as Gemma and young Violet McGraw as Cady. There’s a surprising emotional layer to the film, also, though, that might even bring some viewers to tears. Step back a bit further and you see it’s actually a dark comedy, both parodying the current and future state of the art as far as AIs go, and at the same time celebrating same…and warning of its possible dangers.



The real star of the picture, of course, is M3GAN “herself,” fresh from the uncanny valley. Credited on IMDB to Amie Donald in the mask and Jenna Davis’s voice, the effect is stunning and, presumably because of the leaps and bounds of progress we’ve seen in Artificial Intelligence, we not only accept her, we LIKE her. 


Unlike, say, Chucky, M3GAN is not a monster, even if she seems like one by the end of the picture. She’s a likable personality who finds herself in a situation where in order to follow her basic programming to protect Cady, she has to ignore Isaac Asimov’s famous Three Laws of Robotics:  A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.


I’ve read where there’s an unrated, gorier version, but it’s not needed. Director Gerard Johnstone paces everything perfectly in the basic version, allowing the violence when it comes to be more of a shock. In fact, M3GAN overall is a bit of a shock. Unlike movies like HELLRAISER, NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, etc, this little bit of science fiction really does seem just around the corner.


Booksteve recommends.

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Bert Freed as Lt. Columbo

Many people seem to know the possibly apocryphal story about how Bing Crosby was originally offered the role of Lt. Columbo in the TV movie PRESCRIPTION: MURDER. Some have also heard that Lee J. Cobb was offered the role as well (a role he more or less would play in his final performance, in THE EXORCIST).

True aficionados, though, know full well that Thomas Mitchell played it in the stage play version.

BUT! How many of you realize that the TV movie was, yes, based on that stage play but that the stage play itself was adapted from a 1960 teleplay that aired on THE CHEVY MYSTERY SHOW and starred character actor Bert Freed as the very FIRST actor to portray Lt. Columbo?

Long thought to be lost, someone posted the entire episode on YouTube a couple of years back but it's gone now. 


Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Announcing: Connecticut in the Movies by Illeana Douglas (assisted by yours truly!)

Seen here is my friend Illeana Douglas, the movie star. We were introduced virtually by Kliph Nesteroff in 2021 and she and I spent much of 2022 with me doing behind the scenes work on her forthcoming book, CONNECTICUT IN THE MOVIES. I lead a very surreal life.  

CONNECTICUT IN THE MOVIES is a passion project for Illeana, as she grew up in Connecticut, and also grew up around movies with her adored grandfather, actor Melvyn Douglas. She lives there again these days.

Me? I started out as a proofreader but ultimately did research and copy-editing for the book. We had do much fun working together that we're looking at other book projects now.

It's a great book! Makes no difference whether you've ever even been to Connecticut, either, as the book is  about more than 80 movies set in Connecticut, and some of the most famous of those were never actually in the state, either.  

CONNECTICUT IN THE MOVIES talks about both--movies set in Connecticut but filmed in Hollywood, and movies actually filmed in Connecticut (although sometimes set elsewhere!).

The book is scheduled to be published in October of 2023 by Lyons Press, a Connecticut-based imprint of Globe-Pequot, a major publisher for many years. Online sources are offering it for pre-order but they're also saying it'll be 320 pages and our assembled ARC comes in at 700 so don't be surprised if the announced $32.00 price goes up as publication gets closer. 

So I'm asking you all to consider pre-ordering it now. If you order from Amazon, no money will be deducted until the book ships in nine months but you're guaranteed to get it at the current price.

CONNECTICUT IN THE MOVIES is the book on which I have had the most fun, and I've never been to Connecticut once! Illeana's light and lively explorations discover a whole new sub-genre of film--The Connecticut Movie: Dark Suburbia. She's also an excellent photographer and the book will be filled with color photos shot exclusively for this book. 

Here's the order page:

And here's the book's dedicated Facebook page, where I've been posting all sorts of extras and trivia regarding Connecticut films. I'd appreciate it if you'd "LIKE" the page, even if you don't plan on buying the book.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

R.I.P. Raquel Welch


Raquel Welch, the number one sex symbol of the 1960s, has died. As a kid, my friend Terry and I both had crushes on Raquel Welch and Stefanie Powers. He preferred "Rocky" as we called her and I preferred "Steffie." 

I probably first saw her as the Billboard girl on THE HOLLYWOOD PALACE but never paid much attention to her. I know the first movie I saw her in was FATHOM, on TV a few years after it had come out.

Terry and I saw KANSAS CITY BOMBER twice at the theater, even though neither of us liked roller derby. We both loved her weirdo TV special, which made the cover of TV GUIDE, and we talked my dad into taking us to see HANNIE CAULDER when we were still underage for R-rated movies.

No such luck with the MPAA X-rated MYRA BRECKINRIDGE, which was supposed to be her big breakout film, although I did read the book and I had the cool film poster on my wall for years. 

Later, in the 1970s, when Raquel began touring with a singing act, we were still too young to see her at the legendary Beverly Hills Supper Club here in Kentucky before it burned down, although Terry in recent years insists that we did go to see her together then.

In time, she got to be a better actress, and she wasn't a terrible singer, either. Perhaps surorisingly, she never appeared nude, wither in films or in magazines. A belated PLAYBOY spread has her topless but completely covered up in every photo. 

My wife's comic book character Ms. Molecule is based in part visually on Raquel in FANTASTIC VOYAGE.

Raquel Welch has been a part of my pop culture life for more than half a century. I'm sorry to see her go. R.I.P. 


Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Clueless Review of Blazing Saddles--1974

This reminds me of those critics who consistently attacked the Beatles as just a wig-wearing gimmick, with no talent whatsoever as singers, musicians, or songwriters. John Crittenden was, of course, entitled to his opinion, but he states it here as if it were fact, and history has proven BLAZING SADDLES to be one of the funniest and most important comedy movies of all time. 


Monday, February 06, 2023

Button Buster Keaton


I've read a dozen books on the great Buster Keaton and seen at least as many documentaries and if I ever heard or saw him listed as "Button Buster," it never made an impression. Looking at publicity for Keaton in 1922-23, though, there seems to have been a concerted effort to bill him thusly. Looks like it never caught on.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

Beatles Satire from 1966

In 1966, John Lennon made a remark to an old friend in an English interview that, while ostensibly true, got him in a heap of trouble in the Bible Belt of the USA when it was later reprinted in the US and excerpted out of context. 
Some newspapers were quick to join the attacks on the Fab 4 in general and John in particular. Across the country, rallies were formed to burn Beatle records and many teenagers and disc jockeys who were major fans just months earlier were now ready to gleefully destroy them. 

The great humorist Art Buchwald, however, saw this trend for how bizarre and manipulative it actually was and wrote and published this satire in his column. It likely went over the heads of those most concerned about it, but when this was published, REVOLVER had just come out and SGT. PEPPER'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND was less than a year away.

By that point, even those who wanted to burn the LPs were likely buying them again!


Friday, February 03, 2023

Booksteve Reviews: The Annotated Abbott and Costello

Just a reminder that I review pop culture books, graphic novels, comic books, and occasionally movies for the FORCES OF GEEK site numerous times in any given month. Here's my latest, which just went up today. The site already has a handful of others ready to post soon and I have a half-dozen more items to review here on hand. Please check out my reviews there when you can. In the meantime, try this one:

Written by Matthew Coniam and Nick Santa Maria
Foreword by John Landis
Published by McFarland Publishing

Long before I ever actually saw even a photo of Abbott and Costello, my dad introduced me to them by teaching me the parts he could remember of “Who’s on First?” He’d do both roles and have my mother and I cracking up. He told me he’d seen them perform in Burlesque back in the day and that they had made a lot of movies, but I was glued to the television much of the time and I never saw any movies they were in.

When I was nine-years-old, though, we got a new UHF channel in our area that specialized in reruns of old TV series I had grown up with like Batman and My Favorite Martian, cartoons I had never heard of like Prince Planet and Captain Fathom, and old movie series like Charlie Chan, The Bowery Boys, and, eventually, Abbott and Costello.

Actually, the first A&C I got to watch, with my dad, was Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, which ran during the channel’s Saturday night horror show hosted by the Cool Ghoul. It was not only my introduction to Bud and Lou but also my introduction to Bela Lugosi! Needless to say, I loved it.

Not so much my second exposure to the fellas—Abbott and Costello in the Foreign Legion. Thus did I learn that all they touched was not gold, a point made well enough in the new, long-overdue book, The Annotated Abbott and Costelloby Matthew Coniam and my Facebook pal, Nick Santa Maria. Both of these men are well-known as classic comedy experts in multiple venues as well as Abbott and Costello fans of the first order, which makes them eminently qualified for a book of this type.

It’s long been said, of course, that if you have to explain a joke, it isn’t funny. Luckily, the book at hand doesn’t really explain any of the jokes or routines per se, but rather gives them context and background—where did they originate, how often were they recycled, etc.

Not being an actual biography of the two men, what we have is more a career overview, although with enough of their histories to give us the parallel stories of the triumphs and tragedies happening in their personal lives at the same time their careers were soaring. And as with every success story, there actually is plenty of backstage angst.

Egos and angst aside, however, the authors do an excellent balancing act which allows them to continually concentrate on their films, emphasizing where each occurs in the bigger picture of their whole rise and fall.

Unlike a lot of collaborations, the line of “who wrote what?” is clearly delineated here, with each co-author trading off solo bylines on individual chapters or post-chapter comments. Each man offers a well-thought out and often amusing in its own right appraisal of the team and each film. Neither are any of their reviews sugarcoated. When it’s bad, they call it as such—although the other man might beg to differ in comments at the end.

Although equally prolific on radio throughout the 1940s and television throughout the 1950s, the authors, already pushing 500 pages, have chosen to center on just the film career, covering all of the duo’s screen appearances as well as Lou’s one solo film and even the 1960s compilation clipfest.

Toward the end of the book, there are some fun sections, including a number of well-known fans, film historians, authors, bloggers, etc. offering their own personal takes on favorite A&C comedies. (Nick, you had my contact info. I feel left out!).

Also among these learned personages is Chris Costello, Lou’s daughter. When my own son, David, was five years old, he could already read. I adapted a pre-school version of “Who’s on First?” that the two of us would perform at the Cincinnati Old-Time Radio Convention one year. While there is no recording of that, a few years ago I did find a cassette I had made of our rehearsals the night before. I sent it to Chris Costello who wrote back saying how much her dad loved kids and how much he would have loved hearing that recording. Remembering how much my dad had loved Abbott and Costello, as I read The Annotated Abbott and Costello, I just kept thinking how much MY dad would have absolutely loved this book. I sure did!

Booksteve recommends.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Comics: A Vanishing Art Form-1963

Here's an interesting article about comic books about 9 years after the Code and the end of the big boom in comics, but also 3 years before Superman hit Broadway and Batmania hit the nation. Interesting how the columnist's memory aaaalmost gets things right. "Red Lantern?" Mixing up Billy and Freddy? Green Arrow in his own title? 

The improbably named Wells A. Twombly was only 27 or 28 when he wrote this. A sports journalist of some renown, he died in 1977 at the age of only 41. 


Batman '66

And just like that, we're back with some random 1966 Bat-newspaper clippings.

Wait, what!!??