Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ghost Busters of Star Command

BCI Eclipse has sent out press releases for two more live-action Filmation Saturday morning shows coming to DVD in the near future: The Ghost Busters and Jason of Star Command.

The Ghost Busters long pre-dated the popular 80's movie of the same name, and starred F-Troop's Larry Storch and Forrest Tucker (also stalwart star of The Crawling Eye and The Abominable Snowman of the Himilayas) as a couple of paranormal investigators/exorcists who worked with a civilized gorilla named Tracy (gorilla man and monster movie fan extraordinaire, Bob Burns). I don't really remember anything about the show other than I watched it and loved Tracy. So I'm looking forward to the DVDs – especially, since in an interview with Burns that ran in Filmfax a few years ago, he stated that the videotape masters of the show had been sold off and erased, and that no copies of the episodes existed any longer. Glad he turned out to be mistaken.

Jason of Star Command, on the other hand, I remember vividly. After Space Academy was cancelled for being "too dull," the Filmation crew decided to recycle as much of that show's expensive sets, props and FX as possible, while giving the network the more Star Wars-ish show they wanted.

So, instead of earnest young cadets learning important lessons about honor, duty and life while exploring space and unravelling the mysteries of the universe, we had a trouble-shooting space hero (bland Craig Littler) in a vaguely Han Solo-ish outfit, a Darth Vader-esque villian (the GREAT Sid Haig as "Dragos!"), and a whole lot of cute robots. Unfortunately, this being 70's network kid's TV, Jason couldn't punch, trip, shoot, or even give a mean look to anybody. "Action" existed only in the form of endless running up and down corridors, swooping model spacecraft, and "drone" ships blowing up.

On the plus side, you had Jimmy Doohan (Star Trek's Scotty) as a space commander, a cute brunette cadet in a skin-tight space suit, and exotic Tamara DobsonCleopatra Jones herself! – in a recurring role as a mysterious alien babe. There were some cool stop-motion monsters on occasion, too, as I recall.

The Ghost Busters DVD set, with a bunch of extras, is expected to hit shelves on April 17th, while Jason of Star Command is scheduled for a May 8th release. If I get review copies, I'll be sure and post my observations here first.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Personal Update

For those who've been e-mailing and asking, I'm feeling much better now.

There's a bit of residual soreness, but the actual incision is nicely healed up. I may look like a rejected Frankenstein experiment, but the pain is mostly gone.

The official word from the docs is that the cancer was completely contained in the kidney. There's no indication that it has spread anywhere else, so the surgery should have taken care of everything. Now let's just keep hoping my remaining kidney continues functioning efficiently.

I'm slowly getting back to work (you'll have noticed that I'm posting stuff here fairly regularly again), and hope to start making up some time this week. I've got a lot on my plate... including my DVD Late Show column, which I'm hoping to re-launch before the end of the month.

Anyway, thanks to all for your good thoughts and well-wishes. Time to get back to work.

Bob Oksner, R.I.P.

Sadly, here's another passing I feel I should make note of.

Mark Evanier is reporting that Golden and Silver Age comic book artist Bob Oksner has passed away at age 90. I don't really know much about Oksner and his work, except that he drew damned pretty girls, from Lois Lane and Wonder Woman to Black Canary and Mary Marvel, and I always enjoyed his work.

According to the Grand Comics Database, he drew that delightfully silly (and extremely well-drafted) Supergirl cover above – and isn't it a shame they don't do comics like that anymore?

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Richard S. Prather, R.I.P.

I just read in Christa Faust's blog that Richard S. Prather, the talented author of the hugely-successful-in-their-time Shell Scott private eye novels, passed away yesterday at age 85.

There's some irony in Prather's death coming so soon after that of Mickey Spillane, for Prather was by far the most successful of those Fifties PBO authors who followed in the Mick's gigantic footsteps, angling for a slice of the rich Mike Hammer pie. In many ways, Shell Scott was a West Coast Hammer – albeit an absurdist Hammer with a ridiculously overactive libido and ribald sense of humor.

I first discovered Prather in the mid-Eighties when Tor Books attempted to launch a Shell Scott revival with a few carefully selected reprints and two, fine, new novels, The Amber Effect and Shellshock. At the time, I took my P.I. fiction pretty seriously, and I didn't quite "get" the broad humor and Prather's deft, tongue-in-cheek style, but a few years later I re-visited those books, saw the light, and soon found myself scouring used bookstores for as many Prather paperbacks as I could find. I may be slow sometimes, but I'm not stupid.

Hard Case Crime recently re-published one of Prather's non-Scott crime novels, The Peddler, and last year, Linda Pendleton (widow of The Executioner author Don Pendleton) conducted an extraordinary interview with the man – one well-worth reading – in which he revealed that there was another unpublished Shell Scott novel in his files. Maybe Hard Case can arrange to shepherd that one through to print. It would be a fitting tribute.

If you've never read one of Prather's stories, this link will take you to a Shell Scott short story that you can download. It's a good 'un.

Rest in peace, Mr. Prather... and so long, Shell.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

That Man Bolt

When I was in high school, the A-V department used to get these thick, phone book-sized catalogs for 16mm rental films. Along with the expected the "educational" variety of cinema, there were hundreds of entertainment features included, many of the listings illustrated with the original newspaper ad slicks. Since the school usually discarded these catalogs, I snagged them whenever I could. For an embryonic film buff in the pre-video era, these catalogs were far more educational and exhaustive than most available reference books, listing movies across the broad spectrum of cinema – everything from foreign art house fare to Hollywood "classics" to the most obscure drive-in programmers. It was in one of these catalogs that I first saw the listing for That Man Bolt, (along with the ad art above) and became obsessed with seeing it.

It only took close to thirty years...!

That Man Bolt (1973) begins with international freelance courier Jefferson Bolt (Fred Williamson, Hell Up In Harlem, Hammer, Bucktown, Three The Hard Way) practicing martial arts in a Macao prison cell. Soon, he's visited by a "government" operative (the nation involved is never named, but the agent certainly appears to be British), who offers him a job carrying a cool million in American currency from Hong Kong to Mexico City, via Los Angeles.

The suave, well-dressed Bolt never makes it to Mexico, though, as he's waylaid in L.A. by mobsters that seem intent on snagging his briefcase full of cash. Soon, neither Bolt nor the audience is sure whether the money is real or counterfeit (and you know, I'm still not quite sure how it turned out), people are dying left and right, and Bolt's on his way back to the orient for a kung fu confrontation in Hong Kong.

I love this movie. Can't even begin to figure out the story, but I love the movie anyway. Fred Williamson's always been my favorite Blaxploitation lead, and Jefferson Bolt is clearly his attempt at creating a more general-audience, mass market hero along the lines of James Bond. Bolt is a former captain of U.S. Special Forces, graduate of Cal Tech and M.I.T. with a master's degree in physics, and a black belt in karate. He's got nice suits, several cool apartments around the world, telescopic sunglasses, and an upscale persona right out of the Ian Fleming playbook. Even the sex scenes are handled tastefully off-screen, as in the early Bond films.

The pacing is fast, the Hong Kong photography is beautiful, the funky score is great, and the unbeatable combination of Williamson's sideburns, Alpha male machismo and cigar-chewing charisma carry the film, even as the plot continues to deteriorate with each additional minute of running time.

That Man Bolt is available on a "Soul Showcase" DVD from Universal, which presents the film in a beautiful, crisp 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer with clear, Dolby Stereo sound.
There are no extras included.

A great Saturday afternoon time-killer.

The P.I.s

Still not on my feet, really, nor at the keyboard to speak of, this missive notwithstanding. Still in some pain (although, hopefully, once the two-score metal staples in my side are removed, that will help some), which should come as no surprise, since I'm a 41 year-old, 325 lb. couch potato with a foot-long slice in me. It's amazing I can sit up or move at all. Home video, then, is – even moreso than usual – my best friend.

Fortunately, Universal came through with a box of review DVDs today, including the third season of The Rockford Files (premiere private eye show of the 70's) and the sixth season of Magnum, P.I. (ditto for the 80's), which should help the weekend fly by with the illusion of some speed.

Big fan of both shows, although I'm not deluded. Rockford is a much better program, with far better writing and smarter scripts, but sometimes, that Magnum pineapple fluff is just what one's looking for – epecially doped up on pain pills.

More later.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Good Bye To Bad Kidney!

Well, just freshened up the pain meds so that I may manage to remain sitting upright long enough to type the following brief note:

I am alive, and now short one cancer-ridden kidney.

I am home. Hospital care sucks. Home is better, even when it's not.

I am in pain. Lots of pain.

Recovery is taking longer that I was led to believe it would. Shouldn't be surprised: everybody tries to put a positive spin on things pre-surgery – and I've got (literally) a foot-long incisicion right through the major muscle group of the human body. Gee, why shouldn't I be surprised that it still hurts like hell?

I am not back to working on anything yet. Lots to do; feeling eager to get back to it. Hopefully tomorrow, I'll be able to do a little writing (more importantly, though, hopefully tomorrow, I'll be able to bathe). Still haven't even made it through my various e-mail accounts, so if you've e-mailed me, it may be a while 'till I respond.

Now it hurts, and I have lay down. Total time upright, twenty minutes. Not bad.