Saturday, March 29, 2008

Remember that episode of The Love Boat where Gopher and Hitler hatched a crazy scheme?

please dont hate people that are different
i can tell you about some black hitlers that
makes you feel like you are in hell
may god hane [sic] mercy with us all.
this song brings feelings of a love boat, lovely.

That's a comment that was posted on YouTube under a non-video of Teddy Pendergrass singing "Be Sure," from his self-titled 1977 debut solo album. I call it a non-video because, like many songs featured on YouTube that were recorded before the age of music videos, the visuals consist of nothing more than an album cover. The above comment isn't a response to any other comments under the non-video, and no one responds to the comment with "WTF?" or "Hi, this is Idi Amin and I'm getting sick and tired of being called a black Hitler, okay? Seriously, WTF!"

Today on a Soul Train rerun originally broadcast on September 10, 1977, I saw the Whispers perform a disco-fied cover of Bread's "Make It With You." (Don Cornelius introduced it as "one of my all-time favorite songs.") Isaac Hayes and David Porter covering "Baby I'm-a Want You," Telly Savalas covering "If"—bald men of all colors, including myself (I'm purple), love Bread!

And now the Whispers covering "Make It With You." Their version is uptempo but otherwise nothing special, but it would've sounded right at home in the background of an early episode of The Love Boat, which debuted as a series on September 24, 1977, the day before I turned two. You know who was a guest star on the first episode? Genocidal former Ethopian dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam! He had just started dictating the bejesus out of the heavily populated African nation in 1977 when Love Boat creator Aaron Spelling called him up, told him the Pacific Princess was right off the coast, and offered him a part.

I thought Mengistu's scenes with Bonnie Franklin were very touching: tender yet honest, romantic but real. And when he chopped off her head with a machete right after telling her "May God hane mercy with us all," well, you knew that freckled little pixie from One Day at a Time had made him feel things he'd never felt before. It turns out black Hitlers need love too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

"Rock of Pages: 45 Books for the Literate Music Fan"

You should read this. And this. And then you should read the books that are mentioned. And then you should tell me what you've read in those books since I take too long to read any book I pick up.

I'm also a bad listener, though, so if you tell me what you've read, my mind will start to drift almost immediately. Of course, if you were to actually read to me, my mind would drift immediately, not almost immediately. For some reason I have to see the words. I don't know why that is.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Lord and David Caruso

Over at Popdose I recently wrote about David Caruso and the similarity of his career and Jack Lord's, not to mention their acting styles when you compare Caruso on CSI: Miami with Lord on Hawaii Five-O. (Unfortunately for me, other people noticed before I did. How dare they.) At Popdose I failed to cover one aspect of those shows that is worth mentioning here: Caruso and Lord both play characters who are single, and if they somehow miraculously find themselves in a relationship, it's often over after a few episodes or even before the first commercial break (see: "Man in a Steel Frame," from Five-O's ninth season). But it's not enough for Horatio Caine (Caruso) or Steve McGarrett (Lord) to break up with their partners or be dumped by themno, their girlfriends or newlywed wives have to be murdered to make our favorite TV cops understand that work is their wife and solving crimes is their sexual release. If they aren't completely fulfilled when they collar bad guys, then they ain't good supercops!

But maybe the real reason why dedicated detectives like Caine and McGarrett stay single for the majority of their shows' lengthy runs is because they're not written as three-dimensional characters to begin with, and watching these half-man, half-robot creations negotiate the hazards of a long-term committed relationship would unnerve viewers much more than a simulated TV murder or autopsy. We like our emotionless, paradise-patrolling TV cops to have only one gun in their pants, thank you very much. (To be fair, McGarrett's second in command, Dan "Danno" Williams, played by James MacArthur, was more of a robot than McGarrett; if he had two facial expressions, I must've missed the second one. But according to a friend of mine, even Danno fell in love once, only to see his girlfriend be introduced and killed off all in one episode.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

Morgan Freeman has an agenda.

In December of '03 I rented Dreamcatcher, director Lawrence Kasdan's adaptation of the Stephen King novel. It got terrible reviews upon its release in March of that year, but it's worth seeing. 

It starts off strong, with a lot of male-bonding humor and some legitimately creepy scares that involve aliens and toilets, but then the movie goes haywire right around the time Morgan Freeman's character shows up. What started out as an interesting science fiction/horror film becomes a so-bad-it's-almost-good kind of film, but it doesn't work even as unintentional camp. Then again, it's been almost five years, so I'd have to see the movie a second time to give it a fair shake.

From what I remember, Dreamcatcher was the first movie I'd seen in which Freeman gave a less-than-stellar performance. He's been in bad movies just like any other actor, but he's a reliable, graceful performer. In an essay about the 1994 Oscar race in Premiere magazine's March '95 issue, Dreamcatcher cowriter William Goldman wrote, "Morgan Freeman was so moving and so real [in The Shawshank Redemption]. And so still. The hardest thing for an actor is to be still. Just stand there and let the magic happen behind your eyes. There is a belief loose in the land that what's hard is playing the lame, the halt, and the blind. Wrong. Actors kill for those parts. A reason to overact? Heaven."

Shawshank, based on a 1982 novella by Stephen King, moved the shit out of a lot of people, but I wasn't one of them. It was built up too much for me before I saw it, partly by a guy I didn't like at college that year who thought good acting could be measured by how loud an actor yells, and even Freeman has said he gets tired of being cast as the "wise old black man" over and over again. Some men in my age bracket were practically foaming at the mouth in anticipation of Shawshank writer-director Frank Darabont's next adaptation of a Stephen King jailhouse story (everything is based on something Stephen King wrote, even this post), 1999's The Green Mile, but I heard it was a letdown. I never saw it.

Freeman played "Easy Reader" on PBS's The Electric Company in the '70s, but is he also an easy writer? Let me finally get to the pointeither Freeman writes some of his own dialogue or he picks scripts with spookily similar philosophies. In Dreamcatcher, Freeman plays Army colonel Abraham Curtis, who says the following in regard to the victims of an alien invasion via the human gastrointestinal tract: "Those poor schmucks. They drive Chevrolets, shop at Wal-Mart, and never miss an episode of Friends. These are Americans."

That line could've been written by Goldman or Kasdan, Dreamcatcher's other credited screenwriter, or it could've been created on the set by Freeman, though it doesn't sound improvised to me. Here's one of his lines from 1995's
Seven, in which he played police detective William Somerset: "People don't want a hero. They want to eat cheeseburgers, play the lotto, and watch television." And what do they want to watch in particular? Friends, of course!

Less than a year after Seven came out, Chain Reaction was released. I said earlier that Dreamcatcher was the first less-than-stellar performance I'd seen from Freeman, but it is an interesting train wreck, what with the pasted-on, bushy white eyebrows he sports in the film. Chain Reaction, however, is a sleepwalk of a performancenothing challenging for Freeman, though at least he's not playing the Wise Old Black Man once again, or at least not a benign one. Here's a line from Chain Reaction, in which he plays industrialist Paul Shannon: "People want to live in their split-level homes, eat microwave dinners, and watch color TV." Because Friends isn't as peppy on a black-and-white set, I guess.

Conclusion: Morgan Freeman hates television and the people who watch it and wants every fat, complacent American to know it.

The Electric Company was a good show, Morgan. Don't be ashamed. I learned something from you when I was little, man! You sound like Sopranos creator David Chase when he talks about his career writing for TV in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. What he really wanted to do was make movies, blah blah blah. But he wrote for The Rockford Files, Northern Exposure, and the short-lived I'll Fly Away, all of which are considered superior examples of what the TV wasteland can produce when its creators are inspired.

Well, at least now I know who to pitch my next screenplay to, the title of which has been changed to Cheeseburger-Eating American Friends Trapped in a Wal-Mart While Missing the Final Episode of Their Favorite Show. Like Dreamcatcher, it's a horror film, in case the title didn't provide enough clues.

Four years later ... I just saw Nurse Betty (2000) for the first time, in which Freeman's character, Charlie, says to his fellow hit man, Wesley (Chris Rock), "There you go again. The same lousy-ass attitude that got us here in the first place. That make-a-statement, do-an-end-zone-dance, shake-your-ass-and-swear-at-everybody-in-sight attitude that's dragging this whole fucking country down the drain!" Wesley, as it turns out, watches too much TV and eats too many fatty foods, much to Charlie's dismay. Long live Morgan Freeman's agenda.