Dec 302012
 
A lot of interesting television series get cut down in infancy, usually because some network is too impatient to stick with a show through its early - and usually inevitable - growing pains and give it time to find its audience. Of course, some shows simply suck, and deserve to be strangled in the crib - to perhaps take the metaphor a bit too far....

Anyway, two cancelled-too-soon TV shows that I thought were pretty damned good right out of the gate and really wish would come out on DVD so I could at least enjoy repeatedly re-watching the few episodes that do exist are: 2003's Karen Sisco with Carla Gugino (sigh) and Robert Forster, & producer Mark Frost's Buddy Faro from '98, with Dennis Farina & Frank Whaley.



Karen Sisco was based on the character from Elmore Leonard's novel Out Of Sight with more than a little inspiration from its 1998 film version, which had starred Jennifer Lopez in the role of Miami-based Federal Marshal Karen Sisco. The short-lived (10 episodes) television series cast the always-gorgeous and intelligent Gugino in the role, and captured the breezy tone of Leonard's writing with remarkable success. Her father, a Miami P.I., was played by Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). The show looked terrific as well, with lots of sunny Florida scenery. ABC really screwed up by not scheduling  the show back-to-back with its then-hit show Alias, as the two programs were thematically similar and, as both had strong female leads, would probably have appealed to the same audience.



Buddy Faro was another breezy crime show with a fantastic, feature-film quality cast. Whaley (Swimming With Sharks) played Bob Jones, a struggling L.A. private investigator who idolizes a legendary private eye - the titular Faro (Farina) - a swingin' Rat Pack-type dick who disappeared in the late 70s on a case. Jones tracks him down in a gutter in Mexico, sobers him up, and takes him on as his partner. The stories were great fun, with Faro portrayed as a sort of fish-out-of-water, still living in the 60s, dealing with the modern world (of 1998) in his own retro-tough guy way.

Obviously, neither show managed the sort of ratings that would have kept them on the air, but man, I loved 'em both. Sadly, I don't think either show is a good candidate for DVD... but then, lots of oddball stuff has been hitting disc lately. Maybe there's still some hope.
Dec 172012
 
There are a few James Bond knock-offs that I remember watching on TV in the late 70s (& 1980) that I have never heard anyone else mention. One of these was Billion Dollar Threat, a 1979 TV movie that starred Dale Robinette as secret agent Robert Sands, who must foil the nefarious plan of mad scientist Horatio Black - played by none other than John Steed himself, Patrick Macnee - to destroy the ozone layer with a nuclear missile.

I actually taped this one off of TV, so I watched it a number of times. It was a pretty fair - if cheap - little Bondian adventure, written by Hammer Studios vet Jimmy Sangster (Deadlier Than The Male), who seemed to have a penchant for this type of stuff....

Because Sangster also wrote the 1980 ABC telefilm, Once Upon A Spy, which starred a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as a computer expert/reluctant spy who is drafted into a mission to stop another mad scientist - this time portrayed by The Man With The Golden Gun, Scaramanga, in the guise of Sir Christopher Lee - who has a laser cannon (another one?). I remember it as being a bit more deliberately campy than Billion Dollar Threat, in a Man From U.N.C.L.E. sort of way.

Sangster didn't write (I wonder how he missed out on this one), but legitimate 007 veteran Richard Maibaum (Goldfinger, Thunderball, et al) did, the same year's S*H*E - Security Hazards Expert, which starred Cornelia Sharpe as Lavinia Keane, a sort of female Bond in a globetrotting adventure that I remember watching but am unable to recall a single detail of. Omar Sharif played her adversary, an International blackmailer.

None of these are available on DVD, although S*H*E did get a VHS release.I would really like to see all of these again one day....
Apr 262012
 
A couple of days after posting my "Nine Movies I (Still) Want On DVD" article here, I decided to look around online for a cheap VHS copy of one of those titles, the 1990 sci-fi actioner, Peacemaker (not to be confused with the 1997 George Clooney flick), starring Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). Sure enough, I found one for around $5 (including shipping), so I ordered it. Well, it showed up on Monday, and Wednesday afternoon I transferred it to DVD-R. I just finished watching it.

I'm pleased to say that it lived up to my vague but positive memory of renting it back in '90. Although clearly a very low-budget film, it has a smart and genuinely witty screenplay that keeps you guessing almost until the end, strong B-movie performances from Forster, Robert Davi (Licence To Kill) and leading actress Hilary Shepard (a lovely woman who really should have had a bigger screen career), and amazing stunt work of the kind you rarely see today, even in big-budget studio flicks.

The plot borrows elements of The Terminator and The Hidden, but has a fresh twist. The story basically chronicles a running battle in 1990 Los Angeles between two humanoid extraterrestrials. One is a serial killer, the other is the Peacemaker (policeman) chasing him. A pretty young coroner, Dr. Dori Caisson (Shepard), gets caught up in their conflict, but isn't sure which one is the criminal and which one is the cop - and neither is the audience until late in the third act. In the meantime, the two aliens shoot, beat and blow each other up - but since they can regenerate their damaged bodies, none of the mayhem does much more than force brief interludes between clashes so they can heal up for the next.

Surprisingly, the movie was directed by Kevin Tenney, who is best known (by those of us who possess encyclopedic knowledge of exploitation films - not that that's a good thing, necessarily) for directing a handful of cheesy - but profitable - horror films in the late 80s-early 90s like Night Of The Demons, Witchboard and Witchtrap. I say "surprisingly" because, while those films were somewhat entertaining, nothing in his directorial resume suggested that he would prove so adept at an action flick... and it is with the action sequences that Peacemaker truly excels.

Seriously, you're lucky today if any DTV flick - even the so-called "action" films - have genuine stunts in them at all. Fight scenes are all shaky-cam and quick cuts, car chases are listless and boring, explosions and gunfire are all cheap CGI... but Peacemaker is loaded from front to back with terrific stunt work. There are tons of gunfights, fistfights, jumping through glass, car chases and crashes (and I mean like the kind you used to see on CHiPs back in the day - with cars flying through the air end-over-end), huge explosions... it really is glorious. The list of stuntpeople in the end credits is nearly twice the length of the list of speaking cast, and contains the names of a number of well known stuntmen and women.

Yes, it's a cheap, direct-to-VHS movie from 1990. The opening spaceship footage is culled from Roger Corman's Battle Beyond The Stars, and some of the acting is marginal at best. But damn, it's fun.

If you still have a working VCR and are willing to hunt around for it - or search on YouTube long enough - it's well-worth watching. Peacemaker is a genuine B-movie gem.
Apr 192012
 
Here's one of my periodic lists of B-movies and cult films that I still want on DVD (or even Manufactured-On-Demand DVD-R) for my video collection. Most of these are favorites from my days haunting mom & pop video stores in the Eighties.

As far as I know (and I hope someone will let me know if I'm mistaken), none of these titles are currently available on authorized, Region 1, DVDs or Blu-ray. (Don't talk to me about R2 or other foreign editions. I know it's difficult to believe, movie buff that I am, but I don't own a region-free player and couldn't afford import discs even if I did).

This was originally a list of ten movies, but I just found out that the 1984 Tom Selleck film Lassiter is due out on DVD later this month. 

Arena (1989)
Avenging Force (1986)
Eliminators (1986)
Force: Five (1981)
Godzilla (1985)
I, The Jury (1982)
Ninja III - The Domination (1984)
PeaceMaker (1990)
The Soldier (1982)
I have about half of these titles on VHS, but aside from the fact that they're all pan & scan versions, they're all so old that the tapes are starting to demagnetize (is that a word?) and the image quality is significantly degraded....