Two TV Shows & A Movie: Reviews

It’s been a while since I felt like there was anything worth writing about to put on here, but here I am again with some recommendations of stuff to watch.

Been spending a lot of time on domestic issues – home improvement, and acclimating my new cat (yay! kitty!) to his new surroundings, although the little bastard has pretty much acted like he owns this place since he arrived. He personifies (or cat-ifies?) the eternal riddle of cat brain: smart enough to figure out how to open every closet door in the house by jumping up and pulling the door handles, but not smart enough to figure out what glass is and how it keeps him from eating the lizards outside. When he wakes me out of bed in the wee hours with his paw banging on the windows, I’ve tried calling him a shit for brains dumbass to shame him into learning, but it’s not working. Wondering if he’s thinking I’m the shit for brains dumbass for getting out of bed whenever he does this, but I guess I’m too big a shit for brains dumbass to figure that out. If he figures out how to reprogram the autofeeder and spells out “Fuck the system” with his dry food along the floor, I’m calling the exorcist.

Ah, but your lovable king of leisure time has some streaming recommenations for ya.

First up is a spankin’ new documentary that came out a couple of weeks ago but somehow is already available free via Hoopla, The Mojo Manifesto (2023), a very entertaining straightforward documentary on the career of Mojo Nixon. I’m sure y’all remember Mojo’s biggest radio hit “Elvis Is Everywhere,” and this doc covers his entire career interspliced with clips from a present day interview showing that the older, grayer and heavier Mojo is still exactly the same loud mouth obscene hilarious guy he’s always been. The film begins in the middle of the story – after Mojo split from his longtime music partner Skid Roper. Their falling out must still sting since Skid refused to take part in this documentary, but it seems like everyone else Mojo has ever worked with eagerly takes part & still works with the guy. He’s had the same manager forever & has been married for over thirty years – and maybe it’s my own prejudice but whenever a music/movie celeb has a track record like that and is as brutally honest-not-give-a-shit the way Mojo is, I gotta think the problem here is with Skid. Anyway – lots of fun clips here and snippets of Mojo’s music – my only beef with this film was that no complete song is ever featured or spotlit, but I guess that’s what digging out the old record collection or youtube is for. Watching this brought back some nice memories of seeing Mojo & Skid live back in the late ’80s, a very funny show and also a revelation that those guys are actually pretty adept musicians. One of my favorite Mojo stories is included only over the end credits, however: after putting out the song “Don Henley Must Die,” Henley turned up at one of Mojo’s concerts. And to his everlasting credit, Henley got up on stage surprising Mojo and singing the song with him. Only Morrissey doing that to Mojo’s rockabilly cover of “Girlfriend in a Coma” might top that, I guess.

Currently running on AMC is Lucky Hank, an 8 episode adaptation of the novel “Straight Man” by Richard Russo staring Bob Oedenkirk as English prof Hank Devereaux Jr, an academic shlub at a small mediocrity (his own words) of a college, dealing with the various struggles in his life – mostly in his long-absent father retiring from the fame and success of Columbia and NYC to move to the same small town. This plays out a lot like Alexander Payne Lite, in that it focuses mostly on people who are mired in failure, but once I got past the first episode, which I thought magnified the cringe factor a bit too much, the show has gotten better. The supporting characters of other professors and students and family members have been developed more, and while the tone has been maintained, a major difference between this show and the kind of material Payne lives in (Election, About Schmidt, Sideways, etc.) is that the show likes the characters and adds a humane touch. In episode 1 I thought this show would go in the Payne-like direction of making the entire show about the moral failing & weakness of the characters, which is always the prevailing theme in his films. He’s one of the only directors who hates people who makes movies I like, by the way. Oedenkirk is good here, especially in his darkly sarcastic one-liner replies to the characters around him when he’s the only one in the room acknowledging reality. The storyline, true to the novel, unfolds slowly – the pressures of both Hank’s job and his wife’s assistant principal job are handled adeptly, and the open and honest nature of their marital discussions is very refreshing TV. Hank’s family story with his parents lies at the center, so no spoilers here. Different academic “types” are satirized a lot, as well as the sorts of petty faculty rivalries and fights over nothing that I know about all too well after my decades in that venue. Maybe that’s why I like this show. Making fun of academia in the small-failure setting is a genre that turns up a lot in novels since they’re all written by English profs who take the teaching jobs since their novels might get critical wows or log rolling but don’t make a lot of money (ahem. Go up to “Buy My Books” and hit those amazon links, ya plebes). Russo has had commercial success with a lot of his work however, but clearly understands the world he’s writing about. While the novel came out in the 1990s and the campus has changed a lot (and for the worse) since, not a whole lot needed to be updated here.

For Jimmy The Foodie™, I got a rec to check out The Bear, an eight episode first series of a dark dramedy due for a second season of ten episodes this coming June. Jeremy Allen White stars as Carmy, a chef from the French Laundry world of snob cuisine who returns to run his families’ old beef sammich shop in Chicago after his brother commits suicide. This was another show that took me a few episodes to get into – the opener felt like people yelling at each other in a chaotic atmosphere for a solid thirty minutes and not much else – but as later episodes go on, the supporting characters of the restaurant staff and the backstory of the family, of him, and of all sorts of stuff with the supporting characters are drawn out very well and it becomes very engrossing. I’m not sure why this show is considered a comedy by all the awards categories in Hollywood – there are funny moments and lines, but the situations themselves are very real and it feels way more like a character drama. It’s very well done – acting, directing and story structuring within episodes and with the overall season arc are solid. There’s a lot of cooking/food stuff in here as well, especially with Carmy’s new sous chef hire Sydney (Ayo Edebiri) and his ambitious baker Marcus (Lionel Boyce). Ebon Moss-Bachrach is also wonderful at making his cousin Richie character into an annoying asshole but who you feel sympathy for.

Wait, did I tell you to buy my books? I got a cat to feed, y’know.

A Big Book Roundup Part 3: Movies & Sports Edition

To continue with some quick book reviews/recs, here are a bunch related to various ends of the entertainment world:

Round Up The Usual Suspects by Aljean Harmetz – had this one sitting on my shelf for years and finally got around to reading about all the behind the scenes action in the making of Casablanca, one of the greatest American films ever made. Wonderfully researched & written, with pretty much everything you need to know. Her book on The Wizard Of Oz is next on my shelf and next on my list.

The Searchers: Making of an American Legend by Glen Frankel: A marvelous piece of scholarship not only about the making of the John Ford classic film, but also an exhaustive history of the true story it was based on, that of the Comanche abduction of Cynthia Ann Parker in 1836 Texas. Frankel does a great job with the detailed history of that event, and of her family taking her back against her will after she had married the chief & given birth to the chief who would make peace. The book goes from the history to the story written about it that led to the film, and how the film altered the actual story. This appealed to my interest in history, and also provided enough behind the scenes material about one of my favorite westerns as well.

A pair of gossipy entertainments that go together are Mr. S: My Life With Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs, and Johnny Carson by Henry Bushkin. Both books follow the same basic arc – an outsider (Jacobs was Sinatra’s valet, Bushkin was Carson’s business advisor, dubbed “Bombastic Bushkin” in monologue jokes) gets invited into the inner social circle of a huge celebrity and tags along for various adventures with other celebs, drinking, sex, affairs, you name it – often being dragged along and demanded to be part of things by either Sinatra or Carson as they struggle to have friends they can actually trust when they trust very few. And in the end, both men are frozen out for some single event that the celeb can never forgive. Both books have some interesting stories and gossip (Jacobs might win in this regard, some of the throwaway things he says about various celebs are sickly funny an eye opening if true. Who knew Yul Brynner had an affair with Sal Mineo? I’ll never watch The Ten Commandments the same way again), and both are quick reads, to be sure.

More somber and certainly more pious was The Closer by Mariano Rivera, Rivera’s autobio of his life in Panama and his journey to the Yankees, leading to his amazing career as the greatest closer relief pitcher of all time. While a lot of the book gets into the baseball details, the overriding tone is that of Rivera’s enormous religious faith (he originally intended to become a priest) and how his faith interacted with his career. Some of the stories he tells of some of the heartbreaking losses I remember from my own Yankee fandom are discussed in terms of Rivera’s views on God’s overall plans for him in ways that are, quite simply, more sincere, different and beautiful than any other baseball autobio I’ve plowed through. The storyline is very matter of fact, but the big takeaway for me was how the steadiness of the guy on the mound was very much a product of that amazingly strong faith.

No religion to be found in Betting On Myself By Steven Crist, Crist’s autobio of how he journeyed through a journalism career to buying the Daily Racing Form and transforming it into the more modern version it is today. He also discusses his own history of betting the tracks, starting out back in his Harvard Lampoon days going to the Suffolk Downs dog park with fellow Lampooner George Meyer, who’d go on to be one of the big wheels on The Simpsons and clearly the source of Santa’s Little Helper. Crist, the son of film critic Judith Crist, also wrote a book called Exotic Betting, where he delves into all of his methods of pick 6 and pick 4 combos at the track – a wonderfully helpful book to me in figuring out my own betting strategies whenever I handicap the horse races. Crist was one of the best pick 6 players out there (although I’m FAR too cheap to bet all over the board like he did). Betting On Myself focuses more on his myriad journey through the publishing business, and his ups and downs in doing so. Since his theories were so helpful to me improving my own performances at the track, I found his autobio very interesting.

Next Up: Some Art & History

My Treatment For Missing Sports 1: Monday Night Football, September 21, 1970. Jets vs. Browns

Welcome to a new feature for my fellow sports addicts going through withdrawal.

The other day, I watched MLB Network’s broadcast of the 1978 Yankee/Red Sox divisional play-off, the Bucky Dent game. They showed the entirety of the game with a few pop-up trivia overlays, but essentially just gave us the old WPIX broadcast complete with Bill White and Phil Rizzuto.

And I thought, with ALL sports gone for a while, why don’t the other sports channels run old games? They own the films of all of ’em, and could add panels with surviving players the way MLB does, or put in pop-up trivia, or what have you.

But I then I remembered how people upload their own private video stash to youtube, and sure enough, there’s GOLD like this – the complete broadcast of ABC’s Monday Night Football premiere game of 1970, with the original commercials intact.

There’s a lot to digest here – Keith Jackson’s announcing, Howard Cosell on highlights, and Don Meredith on very infrequent color commentary. The differences both in how the game is broadcast and how the game is played from now is pretty striking.

The broadcast is simple – no frills, very few replays. Limited camerawork given the technology of the day, but all the key action captured. Cosell starts the show off with a nice dig at Meredith, introducing him with a lowlight reel of his QB career, but the tradition of the insults flying in the booth wouldn’t really get going until the show aged a bit.

God… those titles and theme song. Hardly the big production and hype we get now. No yellow first down line. No scores or ticker flashing. We don’t even get to see the game clock unless they cut to a shot of the one at the stadium,

And somehow, it didn’t really matter.

The game play is something to see as well. No celebrations or showboating after mere sacks and tackles. Not even after touchdowns. The guys just play, and try to play well. It didn’t seem like there were as many penalties. The refs weren’t even mic’ed up, their calls had to be explained by Jackson unless you knew the hand signals.

And way fewer injuries, even with the defenses playing with a lot more contact, especially in the secondary.

Oh, and those ads! Never mind the Marlboro ciggie ads as a glimpse into a lost world… all the ads with athletes pitching stuff are SO much more likeable than the ENDLESS God damn insurance company drek that runs over and over and over again during today’s sportscasts. We get Len Dawson & Joe Kapp pitching Gillette before Tom Seaver does. Other ads feature Roger Maris and Bart Starr. It almost rivaled the nostalgia brought back by the players on the field… Joe Namath, Emerson Boozer & Matt Snell on the Jets, or the guy with one of the best names in sports history, Fair Hooker on the Browns.

The halftime highlights go through some of the previous weekend’s games, with Cosell selling it like it’s a huge innovation to see league films. Maybe it was back then.

Those Boston Patriots managed to beat the Miami Dolphins, though! But the seeds of the Dolphins’ future Superbowl champions were in place… some highlight plays include Griese passing to Paul Warfield, a combo I remember very well.

And there’s always Rod Serling selling Ford LTDs or Goodyear tires that’ll keep EVEN YOUR WIFE safe if she drives alone… but one of the ads that really jumped out at me was the United Airlines ad touting flying a 747. Look at the people in it – how well dressed they are, how spacious and relaxed that plane cabin looks, the people strolling around. Flying was once glamorous, luxurious… now they cram you in like sardines, nickel and dime you six different ways and take away your water.

This is a lot of fun to watch – and it’s just a regular game from another era. No playoff or memorable game where some record was broken, just a normal weekly broadcast. The Jets were a year after winning their upset Superbowl, the fans in Cleveland still had hope, and no one knew that veteran Johnny Unitas would finally win a Superbowl that season.

Well, if NFL network or ESPN won’t run stuff like this, I’ll post it to share, and invite your viewership and comments! I can’t be the only one who misses present sports and loves sports history.

So as therapy for our sports on hiatus, look for old games here – football, baseball, basketball, hockey… whatever I can find, especially if it has the original commercials and show bumpers. I want the complete experience, right down to the lame synth theme songs, hairstyles, dated celebrity references… you name it.

My Past Continues To Die

A flurry of celebrity deaths of people all connected to the entertainment of my childhood and beyond…

First, producer Gene Reynolds died at a ripe old 96. He’d produced the early seasons of M*A*S*H along with Lou Grant and Hogan’s Heroes, Room 222 and a bunch of other stuff. Especially considering that M*A*S*H’s best years were under his & Larry Gelbart’s supervision, countless hours were spent (and often still are) watching Reynolds’ shows.

Then Orson Bean got hit by two cars while walking in Venice Beach. The first knocked the 91 year old to the ground and the second ran him over. I haven’t read any more about it – I hope it wasn’t some moron on their phone. Bean was a mainstay on game shows like To Tell The Truth back in the day, and more recently was wonderful in Being John Malkovich. Long ago, a friend of mine appeared with Bean in a small theater production out here – a very odd musical about John Cleves Symmes’ attempt in the 19th century to find the hole at the north pole leading to the center of the Earth. I’ll always remember hearing how after the playwright got stone-drunk after witnessing the flop of premiere night, supposedly Bean, playing Symmes’ old professor narrating the tale, came backstage and announced something along the lines of “Looks like we got us here a real bomb, folks!” and everyone erupted in laughter.

For the record, the actors were fine, some set design items were clever… but the script? Ye Gods!

Every backstage story I heard about Bean fit his TV persona.

And then, Robert Conrad died yesterday, star of one of my favorite old shows, The Wild Wild West. Conrad was always reliable for fist fights with his stuntmen buddies in numerous scenes (usually the legendary Red West and Whitey Hughes), and for playing tough guys. He played one of the scuzzier Columbo villains as well, a fitness guru who runs a string of crooked health clubs and murders the guy who discovers the Ponzi scheme behind them. His WW2 TV show got made fun of a lot in its day, but looking back on it in reruns, it’s a decent wartime adventure show with its plots loosely based on the memoirs of Conrad’s role, “Pappy” Boyington.

Conrad had a sense of humor about his image, doing those silly battery ads or losing foot races to Gabe Kaplan on Battle of the Network Stars. Many years ago when Howard Stern’s fans made it their business to phone into the Larry King Live show on CNN and annoy King with endless Stern promotion after King and Stern had some feud, Conrad was on King’s show being interviewed about some project he had coming up, and the Stern-themed calls started rolling in. King kept getting angrier and angrier, but Conrad couldn’t stop laughing and playing along with them.

It’s what Jim West woulda done, with Artie Gordon calling in.

Want more treasured elements of the past to blow up before your eyes? Well, why not start with tonight’s Oscar Awards.

I won’t make any Oscar predictions this year. I just don’t care anymore. I haven’t watched the broadcast in the last couple of years, and I’m not missing anything. I still love movies, but this event no longer has any sort of luster or importance to me at all.

And the WORST of all?

Well, I just got back from running some errands which included a stop at the 99 Cents Only store. And as I browsed the aisles, I noticed more and more items that are NOT 99 cents, but are labeled as supposed “bargains” at 2.99, 3.99, 9.99 and so forth.

They ought to change the name of the store to 99 Cents On Some Stuff, Anyway instead of 99 Cents Only. Amirite?

AND they didn’t have a big plastic pasta strainer to replace the one I have that developed a few cracks. NOR did they have the brand of deodorant I like. THOSE BASTARDS.

But karma – the shopping Gods smiled upon me, and I found a very nice wool winter jacket up the street at Goodwill for only twenty bucks. SO SUCK IT, 99 CENTS FOR WHAT WE BAIT AND SWITCH YOU WITH STORE.

Now I’m home, about to check the math on my friggin taxes. Bah.

Larry Storch Tested For James Bond

Little known outside of Hollywood lore, when Sean Connery quit playing Bond the first time after You Only Live Twice, numerous actors were tested to replace him before they settled on unknown Australian model George Lazenby.

Adam West was one. And while they were bringing in television actors whose series were over with, they brought in Larry Storch, who assumed somewhat of a make-over for publicity shots like the one above.

Continue reading “Larry Storch Tested For James Bond”

A Meandering Sunday Post

Enjoying a Jack Daniels & water on this lazy Sunday before my classes begin.

I’m watching a Monkees episode with Rip Taylor as a guest star, so all is well.

It’s got what had to be Jeffrey Epstein’s favorite Monkees song “Cuddly Toy” featured, as well as “The Door Into Summer,” a tune co-penned by Nesmith’s bud Bill Martin. I was apartment neighbors with Martin for a while some years back. Nice guy.

And for MORE small world coincidence, I was also neighbors with Martin’s screenwriting partner for a few years before that. Another nice guy.

But not Rip Taylor. I never got to be his neighbor. I wonder if he’d throw his toupeé over my fence.

Now they’ve switched over to the Fairy Tale episode, one of the weirder and more clever ones, actually. Complete with “Daily Nightly” just to run the table on making it a 1967 time capsule.

I’ll savor my drink, do the crossword, and make dinner. Back to work tomorrow. Oy.

New Baseball Cards For My Collection

Let’s have some fun with Topps’ Customized Baseball cards, shall we?

That’s right, you can upload any photo, set it within a few choices of Topps classic baseball card designs, and have them custom printed.

OR, if you’re a troll moron like me, you can have fun just taking some screenshots of imagined cards for FREE! So I think I’d like a 1986 Ro-Man. I think he’ll make all the difference for the Dodgers this year when he cranks up that bubble machine and kills everyone on Earth except for a small group of morons near Bronson Canyon in Los Angeles.

Unless, of course, he’s stopped by my 1973 Big Jim Slade

Yeah, yeah, I know… Big Jim really played for the Kansas City Chiefs (and the capital of Nebraska is LINCOLN!), but only baseball card designs were available.

Continue reading “New Baseball Cards For My Collection”

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