RIP James Garner

james garner jim rockford

I can’t imagine a worse way to wake up this morning than with the news that James Garner had died.

Sure, the actor’s death is not a shock. Although he’ll always be young and handsome and wily if a bit careworn to all of us, he was, after all, 86. He had open heart surgery years ago and suffered a stroke in 2008.

The New York Times noted that Garner was something of a paradox, and that’s true. He was as handsome as could be but his leading men were smart, funny and self-deprecating. Most fans didn’t know, I bet, that he won two Purple Hearts in the Army during the Korean War. They probably also didn’t know he was active in the civil rights movement.

So many great roles mark his long career, from big-screen parts in “The Americanization of Emily” to “Support Your Local Sheriff” to “Victor/Victoria.”

But he’s no doubt best remembered for his roles in “Maverick” and “The Rockford Files,” two TV series separated by two decades but distinguished by Garner’s charm.

I matured during “The Rockford Files” – the show ran for six years beginning in 1974, when I was in my mid-teens – and wished I could have been half as affable and charming – even when exasperated – as Garner’s Jim Rockford.

A private eye who lived in a trailer in Malibu, California, Rockford had seen some tough times, including a prison sentence for a crime he didn’t commit. His private investigations practice was far from glamorous and more often than not involved dealing with liars and cheats – even when they were his clients, and sometimes even when they were attractive women who played him until he got wise – as well as con men, hapless marks and hostile cops.

Through it all, Rockford would roll with the punches – literally – taking his lumps and coming out ahead in the end. All the while, he would grump and growl and roll his eyes and sarcastically sound off at the idiots and jerks who stood between him and closing a case. He got into more than once case reluctantly but always solved problems – even if it meant taking a few lumps.

What made Garner so good and such a great personality was that he seemed so genuine. If what we saw on the screen wasn’t the real Jim Garner … well, I would be shocked.

In an appearance on Johnny Carson’s show after an infamous incident in which Garner got into a fight in real life – and I will never forget this – Garner shrugged off the incident, saying, “The guy said shut up and I thought he said stand up.”

“The Rockford Files” had great writers but I have to believe that much of Jim Rockford’s heart and wit and tenacity and no-nonsense attitude came from Garner himself.

Maybe more than any other star of his era, Garner was the guy I wished I could meet, just once. I imagined him as cool without trying, funny without effort and a stand-up guy without question.

New Cap, new Thor and ‘Avengers: Ultron!’

avengers ultron EW cover

Again, which of us, as little geeks, thought this would happen? All this superhero movie madness?

And who could have imagined it would be so much fun?

Entertainment Weekly – which I haven’t seen yet – has a big preview of next May’s “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”

new female thor

Marvel announces that, in the comics, Thor will soon be a female who takes the Thunder God’s mighty hammer when the original Odinson is sidelined.

new captain america falcon sam wilson

Marvel announces a new Captain America – most likely Sam Wilson, Cap’s longtime partner as the Falcon – will take over for Steve Rogers, also in the comics.

You know, this isn’t entirely new. Thor has been replaced before – once, notably, by a giant frog – and so has Cap (so many times I couldn’t begin to count, but most notably by Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier).

But it’s all fun and fair and will juice up publicity leading up to the “Ultron” movie next May.

So to reiterate: Hell to the yes.

 

Batman through the years

batman poster salvador anguiano

First, sorry this is so teeny-tiny. You can blow it up a little here or maybe you’ll be inspired to go elsewhere to see a bigger version.

In celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary, Salvador Anguiano has done a poster of the many, many different looks of Batman over the years. They include comic book versions, the great animated series Batman and yes, even some of the lesser efforts.

Plus - Lego Batman!

Very cool.

Comic book TV: Waiting for fall series

arrow black canary

I couldn’t be happier with Marvel’s big-screen comic book releases so far, as dubious as I am about DC’s supposed slate of superhero movies.

But on the small screen, DC is kicking all kinds of butt.

Of course there’s “Arrow,” beginning its third season this fall. The second topped the first and introduced even more DC comics characters, like Black Canary. This fall “Arrow” will bring scientist Ray Palmer to the small screen and Brandon Routh – Superman from “Superman Returns” – will play the scientist who is secretly the Atom.

Of course, “Arrow” spin-off “Flash” will be doing its own world-building when it debuts this fall, as it introduces not only all the Scarlet Speedster’s characters but also Firestorm.

constantine helmet dr fate

Meanwhile, “Constantine,” about the supernatural adventurer from the “Hellblazer” comic, debuts this fall and the trailer for the debut included a quick look at the helmet of fellow DC hero Dr. Fate!

Not only that, but the producers of “Constantine” have indicated they will introduce other DC supernatural characters, including Jim Corrigan, the cop who becomes the Spectre.

Meanwhile, “Gotham” will be a prequel to the Batman saga and while I’m not crazy about that – “Smallville” ended up being way to timid about flying and capes for my taste – they’re introducing early versions of a lot of characters and will, each week, be teasing the character who will eventually become the Joker.

For us longtime comic book readers, it’s an exciting time.

Mädchen Amick back on ‘Longmire’

madchen amick deena longmire

She’s back!

Actress Madchen Amick, best known for her role as Shelly Johnson in the 1990 TV classic “Twin Peaks,” is something of the mascot for this blog. After her 2012 turn as one of Don Draper’s old flings in a nightmarish episode of “Mad Men,” I wrote about the return of the lovely actress who, now 43, still looks amazing.

And some of the entries I wrote about Amick are among my most popular. So here’s another!

Amick is a busy actress right now, starring in the series “Witches of East End” and on one of my favorite series, “Longmire.”

Amick plays Deena, the girlfriend of Henry Standing Bear (Lou Diamond Phillips), longtime friend of Sheriff Walt Longmire (Robert Taylor).

Earlier this season, Henry discovered that Deena had apparently stolen $40,000 from the safe at his bar, the Red Pony.

In this week’s episode, “The Reports of My Death,” Henry tracked Deena down and confronted her about the theft. The scene was a powerful one and while Amick was good, LDP was terrific in the intense and borderline-out-of-control scene.

Here’s hoping Amick’s reappearance this past week means she’ll be back on the series soon … and, with any luck, not as another murder for Longmire and Henry to investigate.

parker stevenson

By the way, “Longmire” brought back another TV favorite: Parker Stevenson, well-remembered for playing Frank Hardy on “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” 1977-79, appeared in the episode.

 

Late to the party: ‘True Detective’ an odd, teasing thriller

true-detective title tree

I don’t do a lot of binge-watching of TV anymore. A few years ago, every summer was a festival of re-watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on the VHS tapes I had made during the previous season. A few other shows were thrown in, but we watched “Buffy” religiously in those days.

In the meantime, life got busier – a child will do that, even in the summer – and binge-watching was mostly limited to trying to catch up on the three episodes of “Fargo” that we missed before the season finale.

Recently, my son has discovered the joys of “Parks and Recreation,” watching the most recent season through On Demand and then watching the first season on DVD. It gave me a whole new appreciation for the series and I might write about that sometime.

More recently, my wife and I decided to try to catch up on a couple of series that we missed. We’ve now purchased, but have not unwrapped, the first season of “Breaking Bad” on DVD. It was a show, like “The Shield,” that I just didn’t make time for as it unfolded each week but I didn’t want to jump into mid-stream. We tried that with “24″ and ended up determinedly watching live what was universally acclaimed as the worst season.

So in the past few days we’ve binge-watched “True Detective,” which is a series that we couldn’t see because we don’t have HBO and probably couldn’t have kept up with what with devoting our live-watching time last winter to “The Walking Dead,” “Justified” and a few network series.

So that’s a roundabout way of recounting how I’m just now seeing “True Detective.”

I heard so much about the series when it was airing but managed to avoid hearing how it ended, so that was a bonus for catching up later. Also it’s just eight episodes!

After having seen it, I can say I understand what all the buzz was about. In a couple of ways.

“True Detective,” while very satisfying to watch over the space of a couple of days, no doubt really lent itself to live-watching each week. In this age of Twitter, viewers could revel in each week’s twists and turns. Not to mention the HBO-standard nudity. The plot worked on an episodic basis but flowed pretty well – even with a few time shifts – one episode after another.

And the show’s teasing flirtation with the supernatural – and many references to scarred giants, monsters, demons and dark rituals – fueled speculation that what was starting out as a straight police procedural was turning into something else.

That wasn’t really the case, at least not in that sense. But “True Detective” definitely transcended the typical procedural’s limitations.

true-detective-harrelson-mcconaughey-610x348

if you don’t already know, the series switches back and forth between 2012 and 1995, as two investigators (Michael Potts and Tory Kittles) interview two former Louisiana state police detectives, Rustin Cohle (Matthew McConaughey) and Marty Hart (Woody Harrelson).

Cohle, intellectual, anti-social and prone to alienating others, and Hart, publicly amiable but a womanizer with an explosive temper, “catch” a life-changing case when they’re assigned to investigate the body of a young woman found in a remote field. The woman, with antlers attached to her head, her body twisted into a submissive, praying posture and decorated with symbols, is plainly the victim of a ritualistic killer.

As the investigation unfolds, Cohle becomes more and more convinced that the woman was the victim of a serial killer. But where are the other bodies?

As the two probe the case, they become increasingly self-destructive. Cohle deep-sixes his career with his attitude toward higher-ups, including powerful and untouchable figures he thinks might be linked to the killer, and Hart threatens to drink and screw his way out of his marriage (Michelle Monaghan in a role that has more bite and substance than some critics of the series would have us think).

The series’ eight episodes are compelling and engrossing, never more so than the climactic hour and, halfway through the show’s run, an amazing single-take tracking shot as Cohle eludes both bikers and gang members in a botched drug raid on a housing project.

Cohle and Hart are characters who at times seem irredeemable but as metaphysical-speaking Cohle notes at least keep the really bad guys from society’s door.

“True Detective” creator Nic Pizzolatto (aided by director Cary Joji Fukunaga) kept their story short and to the point and left me wanting more. A second season is planned, although Pizzolatto says ti will focus on other characters and another setting.

With any luck, I’ll catch up with it too.

Random observations:

I really thought the ending would be much more dire for our heroes, namely that one of the two would die. I didn’t expect such optimism.

The setting for the climactic encounter with the killer reminded me uncomfortably of the “Home” episode of “The X-Files.” The feeling of queasiness and dread was palpable.

The hairstyles of the leads, reflecting the passage of nearly two decades, were pretty good.

Does every HBO show have at least one nude/sex scene per episode? Somehow I don’t remember Tony Soprano getting laid as much as Woody Harrelson.

It’s starting to realize that one of Harrelson’s nubile conquests was Alexandra Daddario, the female lead from the “Percy Jackson” movies. The actress, 28, has matured. Ahem.

So was there really a point to all the references to “The Yellow King” and old pulp fiction stories?

 

Classic comic: ‘Superman: Red Son’

superman red son

It’s hard to imagine it’s been 11 years since “Superman: Red Son,” the Elseworlds comic book series-turned-graphic novel that imagined a world where baby Kal-El’s rocket from Krypton crashed in the Soviet Union, was published.

It seems more like 40. And that’s a compliment.

The comic, written by Mark Millar and drawn and inked by a creative team of artists, came out in 2003 but read like something published as a Cold War fever dream. Millar’s storyline – which recasts Superman as a symbol of – and later, leader of – the Soviet Union and all his supporting players in re-imagined roles – is so clever it feels like a product of those uneasy decades of stand-off between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Of course, the comic probably couldn’t have been produced during that time. There’s too much subversive material here for most Cold War tastes.

Beyond the premise – that rocket from doomed Krypton lands in the USSR rather than Heartland USA – young Clark’s powers quickly draw the attention of the Soviet authorities and he is adopted by Stalin himself.

Meanwhile, in America, Lex Luthor is an aloof scientific genius who works for long-tenured President Kennedy and Lois Lane is his neglected wife.

After Superman becomes a global figure – curiously, a threat to the American way of life who also swoops in to rescue people at disaster scenes around the world – Luthor ramps up his efforts to destroy him via Brainiac, Bizarro and other means.

Millar has Jimmy Olsen as a CIA agent, Pete Ross as a KGB agent and, most effecting, Diana – aka Wonder Woman – in a familiar role for her, trying to bridge the gap between worlds.

There’s even Batman as a Russian saboteur, a role that pits him against Superman, the thoughtful tool of the Soviet Union.

The art is perfect – so many deep blues and reds that it was startling to see one version of the Superman costume that looked like that in “Man of Steel” – and the story is clever not just because it holds up a mirror to the familiar Superman story but because the characters and circumstances ring as true as they seem alien to us.

 

Have a Marvel-ous Fourth of July

mighty marvel bicentennial calendar

I still remember this calendar.

(I don’t have it anymore, unfortunately.)

Happy Fourth of July!

‘Batman” 60s TV series on DVD: What we don’t know

batman_robin_batmobile

We’ve known for a while now that Warner Bros was releasing the complete 1960s “Batman” TV series, starring Adam West and Burt Ward, on DVD, Blu and digital download this year. Today word came that the 120-episode series, which featured a colorful, campy version of the crimefighters and their villains, will come out in November.

I’ve always been torn about the series. I probably liked it as a kid – I don’t really have any especially early memories of watching it – but was kind of embarrassed by it by the time it began showing up on TV to coincide with the 1989 theatrical release of Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie.

The TV series popularized the character but created an impression that took 20 years and Burton’s movie to overcome.

So while I enjoy the show today, it makes me wonder what a serious “Batman” series would have been like in the 1960s.

But I’m interested in the home video release, which has me wondering some things. These questions may be answered sooner or later, but for now, here’s what we – or at least I – don’t know:

What took so long? I’ve heard various theories that ranged from disputes betweenWarner (owner of DC Comics and new Batman material) and Fox, which released the series. I’ve also heard there were complicated permissions to be worked out involving not only the characters but the actors who played them.

Will we see scenes cut from the series for subsequent airings? I honestly don’t know how much was cut from the series for later broadcast to make room for more commercials. I’m wondering if we’ll see scenes we’ve long forgotten.

What kind of extras will be included? Interviews I would guess. Commentaries? Documentaries? Promos from back in the day? There should be a wealth of material.

Will the new release, uncut and in high-def, change our opinion of the 1960s series? Will we reappraise it as a classic, even the definitive treatment of Batman?

Probably not. But you never know.

‘Lifeforce’ an oddball futuristic throwback

lifeforce alien vampire

I still remember seeing “Lifeforce” in a theater in June 1985 and thinking, “What just happened?”

The movie – which opened the same weekend as sci-fi hit “Cocoon” and was quickly overshadowed by the triple threat of warm and fuzzy feelings, Steve Guttenberg and Wilford Brimley – was one of the most offbeat big-screen releases of the year.

As I rewatched it again 29 years later, I was struck by a number of thoughts. Chief among them was what an oddball resume director Tobe Hooper had: “Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” the Steven Spielberg-produced “Poltergeist” and this.

I was also struck by how few movies featured a character who was frequently nude throughout. Casual nudity in movies, presented like an aside in the 1970s, was already on its way out by the 1980s. These days you’re more likely to see someone cutting someone’s head off than see a naked woman.

“Lifeforce” was based on a book called “The Space Vampires” and is exactly that. The screenplay, co-written by “Alien” Dan O’Bannon, reminds me greatly of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.” A ship – in this case, a long-range space shuttle, manned by an American and British crew – returns with all on board dead. A half-crazed escapee from the shuttle (Steve Railsback, bringing some of his Charles Manson subtlety from “Helter Skelter” and “The Stunt Man”) talks about a trio of irresistible vampires the crew found in a spacecraft hidden in the tail of a comet.

lifeforce may

Meanwhile, the surviving vampire aliens – led by Mathilda May as a mostly-nude seductress – roam around London, infecting strangers and inhabiting bodies.

To continue the “Dracula” parallels, there’s even an insane asylum scene featuring Patrick Stewart, later to achieve fame as Captain Picard and Professor X.

There’s so much to love about “Lifeforce” if you enjoy the offbeat and oddly humorous:

Stewart says “naughty” as no one else possibly could.

Besides Railsback, the two male leads are right out of a “Doctor Who” adventure: Peter Firth is a no-nonsense British government agent and Frank Finlay is an eccentric, white-haired scientist.

aubrey morris lifeforce

Aubrey Morris plays the Brit home secretary. Morris, best known for “A Clockwork Orange,” cracks me up with his reaction shots, looking from one odd person or event to another and wincing a bit every time. Like in the picture above.

Henry Mancini did the score. Henry Mancini.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 153 other followers