Reflections on Adam West

Last night, I heard the awful news that actor Adam West passed away at the age of 88.  He led a fll and long life, and whether he was typecast in one specific role or not, and although he eventually grew to appreciate and embrace that one role – he will always be, to a generation of television viewers, the legendary Caped Crusader, Batman himself.

He was my first true television superhero – every afternoon at 4pm on WRGB would be a brand new (to me) Batman episode.  Maybe I didn’t understand the camp value of the series – how most of the actors were playing their roles over-the-top and tongue-planted-directly-in-cheek – but for a six-year-old who had enough drama in his home life, Batman was an escape for me.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: Better than expected!

https://i2.wp.com/img.lum.dolimg.com/v1/images/rogueone_onesheeta_1000_309ed8f6.jpegThere was so much to expect from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as the Star Wars movie universe added its first true standalone fixture in the series.  It’s almost as if the storytellers decided to rebuild the old “Star Wars Expanded Universe” that once populated the series’ books and videogames and TV specials, and placed it directly into the movie canon.

And that’s what happened with Rogue One, as we get the story of how a band of freedom fighters acquired the data tapes that exploit a weakness in the planet-killing Death Star – the same data tapes that Princes Leia smuggles into R2-D2 in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

And here I was last night, buying my ticket to the early evening 3-D showing at the Regal Cinema in Colonie Center.  Yep, it’s just like that magical day in 1977 when I stood in line across the street at the old Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 in Northway Mall for the first Star Wars film … except it wasn’t in the middle of winter and the ticket price wasn’t $17 to see the film.

Be that as it may, I found a good seat in the theater and waited through the 20 minutes of pre-movie advertisements and 20 minutes of movie trailers (so there are at least three Marvel movies debuting in 2017, okey dokey).  One Star Wars fan in front of me stood up, turned around, and shouted half-jokingly in the theater, “Is there anybody in here that isn’t wearing a Star Wars shirt?”

“Yeah, me!” I shouted back.

“Get out of the theater, you’re not welcome here,” he called.

Okay, I can play along.  I slowly waved my hand in front of him, and used my best Alec Guinness intonation.  “You don’t need to have me leave the theater.”

“That Jedi mind trick won’t work on me,” he shouted back.  Dude must have been a prequel fan.  Probably still has a Jar Jar Binks inflatable doll in his bedroom.  But we both had a good laugh over the moment.

As for the film itself – it was way better than I expected.  While it did follow the usual beats of a Star Wars film – group of mismatched, diverse fighters band together, some comic relief from a droid that joins the team (K-2SO), and plenty of menacing, threatening Stormtrooper action (I think their aim has improved in this film, if that’s saying anything).

And there were several shout-outs to various Star Wars moments – yes, at least one character says “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” and yes there were various Stormtrooper armored war vehicles that we remember from Return of the Jedi and The Empire Strikes Back.

The best praise I can bestow upon this film is that it finds a way to truly integrate itself into the Star Wars movie universe more tightly and fluidly than any of the prequels.  And without spoiling anything, we even get a return visit from Grand Moff Tarkin, the despot governor from Star Wars: Episode IV as played by Peter Cushing.  Well, as recreated from the estate of Peter Cushing, since Peter Cushing is quite dead now, but thanks to CGI technology he looks as alive and as menacing as he did in 1977.

The other thing about this film is that it really amps up the danger and drama for the freedom fighters Jyn, Cassian, Chirrut, K-2S0 and the rest.  This isn’t like the prequels, where you know that Obi-Wan Kenobi and Annikin Skywalker were going to survive their battles.  In this instance, you’re not sure who will prevail in the rebels’ fight against the Empire.  There’s no sure answer, because we don’t see these rebels in any other film, nor do we hear their names mentioned.  Was their mission a success, or did it become a noble failure, a footnote to the resistance against the Galactic Empire?

Oh, and one more thing.  Stay till the end of the film.  You will not be disappointed.  Trust me on this.

So what are you waiting for?  You know you want to see this film.  And you’d better see it before Star Wars: Episode VIII debuts next Christmas.

And maybe this time I’ll pack a Star Wars T-shirt or something for the premiere. 😀

The Force is not strong with this one, officer…

I’ve written before about my love and appreciation for the Star Wars movie franchise.  I stood in line at Northway Mall way back in 1977 at the old Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 to see the first movie (now known as Episode IV), and last year I did the entire six-movie marathon at Regal Crossgates 18 before seeing the midnight showing of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.  So yeah, you know I’m going to see the new Star Wars: Rogue One spinoff movie (or is it Episode 3.5 in the series?  Not sure…)

That being said, I thought you might get a smile out of this little Star Wars clip, courtesy of the Fort Worth Police Department.  For the past couple of years, the Fort Worth PD has used Star Wars characters in their police recruitment videos.  That’s fine, I guess … but this one, featuring an attempt by a Star Wars stormtrooper to join the Fort Worth blue line …

And I suspect that the Fort Worth police officer in that video has had prior experience dealing with Darth Vader … as seen in this clip from 2015.

Of course, maybe it would be better if the Fort Worth Police Department recruited a different “man in black,” so to speak.

I guess … leave it to the Fort Worth Police Department to have a sense of humor.

But I digress… oh yeah, Star Wars: Rogue One opens in theaters on Friday, December 16, with special previews on Thursday night.  Check your local theater for time and availability.  And may the force be with you.

Even the police force.

The rarest Three Stooges films ever…

I grew up with the Three Stooges.  As a kid, I watched Three Stooges movies at 7:00 a.m. on WTEN as part of a “Popeye and the Three Stooges” show, which would lead into Commander Ralph Vartigian and the Good Ship News.  In later years, I would watch Three Stooges marathons on WSBK, when the Boston-based TV station was part of my cable package.

There were 190 Three Stooges 20-minute shorts, and the quality ranged from completely awesome – Disorder in the Court, Punch Drunks, You Natzy Spy – to downright painful – Half Wits’ Holiday, anything with Joe Besser in it).

Those episodes were classics.  If I was in a miserable, downtrodden mood, I could sit and watch two or three Three Stooges clips and my spirits would pick up quickly.

And for years, I thought that the 190 two-reelers the Stooges made for Columbia Pictures were the only Three Stooges films I could enjoy.

Which is why I’m sharing this batch of rare Three Stooges goodness with you now.

What I have here are either Three Stooges shorts and/or clips that were made BEFORE or AFTER (or in some cases, DURING) the classic 190 films.  And you can see the evolution of the Stooges, from their stints as sidemen for comedian Ted Healy, to their own development as slapstick knockabout comics.

NERTSERY RHYMES

Long before their three-decade stint with Columbia, the Stooges were sidemen to comedian Ted Healy, and this early MGM two-reeler is a prime example of their career at that time.  The Stooges were essentially Healy’s punchline and slap-line, and in this surreal short they play Healy’s children, who beg the tuxedoed comedian to tell them bedtime stories.  You can tell from this clip that Healy should have been working for the Stooges, not the other way around.

SOUP TO NUTS

This vaudeville scene appeared near the end of this 1930’s ensemble film, and after you suffer through Healy’s performance of “One Pair of Pants at a Time,” you get some hilarious interactions between Healy and his Stooges.  Note.  Yes, that’s Shemp Howard with Moe and Larry; Shemp was the original “Third Stooge,” but he left the group because he couldn’t work with Healy.  Shemp would only return to the Stooges two decades later to replace Curly, who had suffered a series of debilitating strokes.

JERKS OF ALL TRADES

In 1949, the Stooges actually made a television pilot.  They would take their best trope from the movies – three hapless workers who cause more trouble than they fix – and attempted to make a live TV series with it.  But what works well in the movies – pratfalls, sound effects tied to slaps, careful editing so that nobody really got hurt – didn’t work as well on live television.  Interestingly, this pilot shows Larry Fine as the more energetic and creative of the Stooges.

TIME OUT FOR RHYTHM

In this sketch from the 1941 full-length feature film Time Out For Rhythm, the Stooges perform one of their classic vaudeville routines, the “Maharajah of Vulgaria” sketch.  This sketch, which was used several years later in the Stooges short Three Little Pirates, features Moe as the translator for Curly, who plays a Middle Eastern potentate.  Funny funny stuff.

In fact, just as a comparison, here’s the “Maharajah” sketch from Three Little Pirates, and this was performed by Curly Howard AFTER he suffered a series of strokes.  That’s how good the Three Stooges truly were.

FOUR FOR TEXAS

Yes, that’s the Three Stooges in a Frank Sinatra / Dean Martin big-budget feature film.  They perform their “Point to the Right” routine, and Dean even gets in a classic triple slap on the trio.

THE THREE STOOGES SCRAPBOOK

Another attempt for the Stooges to break into television, this TV pilot would have featured the Stooges (now with Larry, Moe and Curly-Joe DeRita) attempting to recreate their Columbia short subject magic, along with some Stooge-themed cartoons added for entertainment.  The pilot tested poorly and a series was never created; but footage from this pilot was later used in a 1960’s Three Stooges feature film.

THE NEW 3 STOOGES

In 1965, the Stooges filmed a series of wrap-arounds for a children’s show.  This series, The New 3 Stooges, was produced by Moe Howard’s son-in-law Norman Maurer, and featured the Stooges introducing customized cartoons of themselves.

KOOK’S TOUR

One last attempt at a TV series for the Stooges, Kook’s Tour would have featured the “retired” Stooges as they travel the country in an RV and have some comic adventures.  Unfortunately, as the pilot was being filmed, Larry Fine suffered a massive stroke and could not continue on; and this pilot was their last filmed project.

So I hope you enjoy watching these rare clips of one of the funniest comedy teams to ever appear on film.  Fun fun stuff.

Brangelina: 2004 (officially 2014)-2016

From the “well, we knew it had to happen sooner or later” department, Angelina Jolie has filed for divorce from Brad Pitt.  Marriage – two years, although the couple had been a “Brangelina” essentially since 2004.  Angie gets the kids, Brad gets visitation, Angie didn’t ask for spousal support.

E! online gives the gory details.

Yeah, I’m not sure if I really care.  I know this was a Hollywood power couple (hence the portmonteau “Brangelina”), but it really doesn’t pique my interest.  What, were we expecting a Hollywood couple to stay together forever?  Seriously?

Hollywood has relationships that are clocked in days rather than years (Kim Kardashian was married for maybe three months tops to Kris Humphries), and it’s all become a boring, jaded melange.  And every time I hear that a Hollywood power couple gets married … eventually they get divorced.  So if you had September 20, 2016 in your “End of Brangelina” betting pool, you win.  Congratulations.  Here’s a cookie.

In fact … you’re probably wondering… Chuck, why in the world are you blogging about this?  This isn’t your normal topics o’ choice.”

True.  Very true.  In fact, about the only time I even cared about Angelina Jolie was when she was filming the Salt movie in the Capital District, and my Pontiac 6000 was one of the “car extras” in the I-787 filming scene.  That’s about it.

But it’s nice to actually scoop some other Times Union staff bloggers and get to the post first.

Which is always a good thing.

Gene Wilder, Richard Pryor and Northway Mall

The passing of Gene Wilder yesterday caught us in our heart and in our soul.  One of the best actors of our generation, a man who could play comedy and tragedy and off-kilter characters, and switch from one genre to another with minimal effort, Gene Wilder was a true theater genius.

And while most of the tributes focused on his most iconic roles – the mysterious chocolatier in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the mad scientist in Young Frankenstein, his scene-stealing appearances in Blazing Saddles and The Producers and even The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes’ Smarter Brother

I remember him best for his four comedy films with Richard Pryor.  You know them – Silver Streak, See No Evil Hear No Evil, Another You, and my favorite of the four – Stir Crazy.

In fact, one of the reasons why I enjoyed playing in the World Tavern Trivia championships last May with the Stir Crazy trivia team was, in fact, the team’s name.  It reminded me of an amazing and fun moment from high school.

It’s a few weeks before graduation, and the senior class for the Street Academy of Albany – my old high school, God bless it – were going to take a Friday field trip after school.

With music teacher George Mastrangelo acting as our school field trip liaison, we packed ourselves into the school’s VW microbus, and traveled from the school campus – 165 Clinton Avenue in Albany’s Arbor Hill neighborhood – out to Northway Mall.

Now for all of you who aren’t as old as me, Northway Mall was one of the more popular malls back in the day.  You either did your shopping at Northway Mall, Colonie Center or Mohawk Mall.  Maybe you went to Latham Circle Shopping Center, but that was on you.  The microbus pulled up to Northway Mall’s movie theater – Cine 1-2-3-4-5-6 – and we all bought tickets to see Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder in Stir Crazy.

I should mention that the film was rated R, under 17 not admitted without parent.  Thankfully, either the ticket booth operator was open-minded or looked the other way, because she let a bunch of 17-year-old and 16-year-old kids buy tickets for an R-rated film.

And there we were, chomping on popcorn and soda and candy, and laughing our collective heads off for this film.  Seriously.  It was that funny.  Especially when you’re 17 years old and are hyped up on salted popcorn, sugary candy and even more sugary sodas.

And then there was that scene.  If you’ve seen this film, you know exactly what “that scene” was.

But if you haven’t, let me fill you in.  It’s a joke that’s based on a very popular documentary of the time, Scared Straight!, in which prison convicts teach high school troublemakers what life is really like when you’re behind cold steel bars and concrete, echoing jail cells.

Well, in Stir Crazy, Richard Pryor’s character starts walking down the jail corridor in an exaggerated cool-breeze strut, almost as if he channeled the spirits of John Shaft and Truck Turner.  Meanwhile, Gene Wilder tries to mimic Pryor’s bad-ass strut, almost as if he channeled the spirits of Mine Shaft and Tina Turner.  Yeah.  Dolemite and Vegemite.

And that scene resonated with us.  Heck, the next school day, almost everybody who saw the film on that field trip started strutting around the school, doing their best “We bad, that’s right, we bad, we ready to bang” impersonations.  It was funny and unifying at the same time.

And that’s my best memory of Gene Wilder.  Not to take anything away from his performances in other films, but yeah Stir Crazy was stellar.

So while many of my friends’ Facebook posts remarked about how he and wife Gilda Radner were reunited in the next world…

I hope he takes time in the next world to make a new movie with Richard Pryor.

Because, honestly, Another You just wasn’t one of their best.  They need a do-over.

That, or just two hours of Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder walking through prisons and shouting, “That’s right, we bad, we bad…”

Mad Max: Fury Road should get all the Oscars

There, I said it.  And I won’t back down from that statement.

For all the “prestige” films that have received Oscar nominations this year – that one with Leonardo DiCaprio and a bear, the one with a kidnapped Brie Larson, the one that did this, the one that did that…

My money is on a little film that went through thirty years of development hell to finally come to life.

It’s a dystopian science fiction classic.

It’s a bad-ass Western.

It’s two hours of straight action and powerful pacing.

It’s been described as director George Miller’s “Master Class” on how to create an effective action film.

And now it has ten Oscar nominations.  Ten of them.  You know the type of films that receive that many Oscar nominations?  You know, films like Ben-Hur and West Side Story and that third Lord of the Rings film.

Ten Oscar nominations.  Including a nod for Best Director for George Miller, the man who created the adventures of Mad Max Rockatansky way back in the late 1970’s.  Way back when the lead actor in the Mad Max films, Mel Gibson, was a virtual unknown.

Ten Oscar nominations, including eight in various technical categories, which the film should sweep.  Cinematography.  Editing.  Production design.  Costume design.  Makeup.  Visual effects, of which the lion’s share were done without any computer generated imagery.  Sound mixing and sound editing.  That’s eight golden statues right there.  For sure.

Heck, I could argue that the film received ELEVEN nominations, considering that Thomas Hardy, who played the titular character in the film, received a nomination for the film The Revenant.  Let’s face it, that was a typo.  He should get it for playing a character that most of the fanboys were originally vehemently opposed to being recast.  “No Mel, No Max” read most of the message boards and fansites.  Man, we were wrong.

Heck, I could argue that if write-in ballots were allowed, Charlize Theron should get an Oscar as Best Actress for her role as Imperator Furiosa, the true lead character of this film.  And while we’re at it, the Academy should just give the film an Oscar for having this little scene-stealing character in the film.

So while everybody else is gawking over who’s wearing what or who’s going to say that controversial whateveritis at the podium on Sunday…

I’ll just be counting all the little gold statuettes that Mad Max: Fury Road is going to earn…

At which point I’ll just smile and say each time, “What a lovely day! What a lovely day!!”