October 31, 2015

MURDERERS! Terror In Black and White (Part Two)


Sometimes the scariest monsters aren’t invaders from another planet or creatures stitched together by a mad scientist; they’re other people. You know, seemingly ordinary folks like you and me…except for one big difference: their need to kill. This installment of TERROR IN BLACK AND WHITE brings you face to face with three suspense classics from an era long before Investigation Discovery brought murder into our homes 24/7.  You’ll meet a bedridden woman who wishes she had cut the cord, a truly twisted sister and the ultimate momma’s boy. Lock your doors…it’s going to be a bloody night.


DIRECTED BY: Anatole Litvak SCREENPLAY BY: Lucille Fletcher (based on her 1943 radio play of the same name) STARRING: Barbara Stanwyck, Burt Lancaster, Ann Richards, Wendell Corey and Ed Begley ORIGINAL US RELEASE: September 1, 1948 by Paramount Pictures.

In SORRY, WRONG NUMBER Stanwyck plays Leona Stevenson, the daughter of a wealthy drug company magnate. She’s a spoiled brat who could have been a woman of substance were it not for lifelong health issues that eventually rendered her bedridden. In reality, she’s a major hypochondriac and her illness is really psychosomatic. It’s a smart plot device that works on two levels. Leona Stevenson is the kind of flawed heroine that defines classic film noir. She might be a damsel in distress but she’s no sweet princess. Keeping her confined to the bedroom also allows the central mystery to build to an unsettling climax.

Leona relies on the telephone. It’s her connection to the world outside the four walls of her bedroom. In a cruel twist, crossed lines send Leona down a dark and dangerous rabbit hole. She inadvertently overhears part of a conversation between two men and realizes they are planning a murder.

With only a snippet of their plot revealed, Leona’s attempts to enlist the aid of the phone company and police fall flat. They need more information to go on. Her husband (Burt Lancaster) is out of town and the help is off for the night so Leona decides to go it alone and figure out who the would-be killers are targeting. Her solo sleuthing is juxtaposed with flashbacks that fill in her own life story and lead to one terrifying conclusion: Leona is the intended victim.

Barbara Stanwyck received her fourth and final Academy Award nomination as best actress for her portrayal of Leona Stevenson. It’s testimony to her considerable talent that she’s able to engender sympathy for a complex character many of us wouldn’t be pals with in real life. This taught, well-made film might not scream “scary movie” but, it is an effective suspense drama.


  • The final moments of the film explain the title and bring things to a chilling close. Without spoiling the finale for first timers, suffice it to say if you hate Hollywood endings, this nail-biter will leave you both satisfied and shattered.


  • SORRY, WRONG NUMBER was originally a popular half hour radio drama. To expand the story into a feature-length film, Lucille Fletcher added the flashbacks that flesh out Leona’s messy backstory. One thing that didn’t change in adaptation process: the wicked ending.
  • The role of Leona Stevenson was originated by Agnes Moorehead in the radio play. Television audiences everywhere know Moorhead as Endora, Samantha’s acid-tongued mother on BEWITCHED.
  • Stanwyck was a staunch Conservative and founding member of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals (also know as the MPA). The group was dedicated to sniffing out Communists who were supposedly infiltrating the entertainment business.  Her contemporaries in the organization included Ronald Reagan, Gary Cooper, Ayn Rand, Cecil B. DeMille, Clark Gable, John Wayne, Ginger Rogers, Hedda Hopper and Walt Disney. The MPA was a key player in one of the darkest chapters of film history: the 1947 House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) hearings and the resulting Hollywood blacklist.

CLICK HERE to buy SORRY, WRONG NUMBER on DVD. As of this writing, there is still no announced date for a Blu-ray release of this title.


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DIRECTED BY: Robert Aldrich SCREENPLAY BY: Lukas Heller (based on the 1960 novel of the same name by Henry Farrell) STARRING: Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, Victor Buono and Maidie Norman ORIGINAL US RELEASE: October 31, 1962 by Warner Bros. Pictures.

Ever wonder what might happen if a former child sensation like Shirley Temple went way, WAY off the deep end as an adult? Look no further than WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? for a fictional dramatization of that very scenario.

Bette Davis plays “Baby Jane” Hudson, a faded star who was once the toast of the Vaudeville stage. As she gets older, her career flounders while that of sister Blanche (Crawford) takes off. This reversal of fortune sets off a powder keg once Jane turns to alcohol to dull the pain of her jealousy and lost fame. One night, after driving home from a party together, it appears as though Jane seizes the moment and runs down an unsuspecting Blanche. Clearly, hell hath no fury like a drunken has-been scorned…or does it?

Years later, the sisters are both forgotten relics, living together in a dilapidated Hollywood mansion. The “accident” paralyzed Blanche from the waist down, confining her to a wheelchair. Even worse for wear is Jane, who has not aged gracefully (mentally or physically). Teetering on the edge of sanity, she passes the time with her favorite hobby: subjecting Blanche to an increasingly “creative” battery of physical abuse and psychological torture. By the time this bleak and twisted tale careens to it’s tragic conclusion (including the reveal of what really happened the night Blanche was injured) there’s a path of death and destruction in Jane’s wake that can only be described as operatic.

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? is no sunny walk in the park. Clocking in at 133 minutes, it’s a lengthy and relentlessly downbeat exercise in familial terror. While that combo platter might turn off some viewers, fans of macabre magnificence will have plenty of tasty tidbits to chew on. Both Joan Crawford and Bette Davis throw themselves into their respective roles, with the latter simultaneously channeling the esprit de corps of at least a dozen different nightmare drag queens. Her “last dance” on the shores of Malibu is a sight to behold.


  • Engaged in a battle of bizarre one-upmanship with herself, Jane really knows how to hit her sister where it hurts. She’s already served Blanche’s pet parakeet to her (on a bed of sliced tomato, no less) so when dinner is on at Casa Hudson, you know it’s not going to be pretty…especially after Jane lets Blanche know she found rats in the basement. Bon appétit!


  • If the on-screen rivalry between Bette Davis and Joan Crawford seems a little too real, it’s because the two actors despised each other off screen. Tales of the pair locking horns during the shoot are legendary.
  • The battle royale between the pair continued long after production wrapped, especially when Davis received an Academy Award nomination  for best actress and her co-star did not. Though it was Anne Bancroft who eventually won (for her portrayal of Anne Sullivan in THE MIRACLE WORKER), Crawford went the extra mile to ensure Davis would feel the sting of loss.  Bancroft was otherwise engaged and could not attend the Oscar ceremony that year. Crawford had already contacted her in advance and offered to accept the award on her behalf should she be declared the winner. The look of smug satisfaction on her face when she sashays on stage to pick up Bancroft’s trophy is priceless.
  • Both Davis and Crawford were the subjects of unflattering “tell-all” books written by their daughters.


PSYCHO (1960) 

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DIRECTED BY: Alfred Hitchcock SCREENPLAY BY: Joseph Stefano (based on the 1959 novel of the same name by Robert Bloch) STARRING: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, John Gavin and Martin Balsam ORIGINAL US RELEASE: September 8, 1960 by Paramount Pictures.

Even if you’re among the holdouts who haven’t seen PSYCHO, you probably know the basic plot of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece. In a moment of moral turpitude, Marion Crane (Leigh) steals a wad of cash from her employer and flees town. While driving on a stretch of lonely highway, a sudden downpour sends her off the wrong exit. She ends up at the Bates Motel where there are plenty of vacancies. In fact, she’s the only guest. Her host, young Norman Bates (Perkins), chats her up before Crane decides to call it a night and take what will become the single most famous shower in movie history.

PSYCHO is the rare cinematic icon that has stood the test of time while also living up to every bit of the praise heaped upon it by fans and critics alike. It’s a towering achievement made all the more impressive because, from a production standpoint at least, it’s a relatively bare bones affair. What makes the film work so well is an almost perfect storm of casting, writing and direction. Janet Leigh and Anthony Perkins are at the top of their respective games here, aided in no small part by Joseph Stefano’s top-notch screenplay. Hitchcock turns the limits of a small budget and tight production schedule into a symphony of brilliant camera angles and masterful shot sequences. The shower scene might get all the buzz, but it’s surrounded by celluloid of equally masterful design.


  • As I noted here in part one of the 2013 feature “Scariest Movie Moments,” the scene that always makes me jump isn’t Marion Crane’s untimely demise. It comes later in PSYCHO, when Milton Arbogast (Balsam), a private detective hired by Crane’s former boss, makes the mistake of venturing into the Bates mansion and comes face to face with “Mother.” The sequence is exquisitely shot and, unlike the shower scene, there’s no warning of the bloodletting to come. Before you know what’s happening, the detective is slashed across the face and “Mother” has claimed another victim.


  • The characters of Norman Bates and Leatherface from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE share a common origin. Both were both inspired, in part, by real-life murderer and grave robber Ed Gein.
  • Janet Leigh is on record admitting to a lifelong fear of showers after seeing her infamous death scene in the final cut of PSYCHO.
  • The sound of “Mother’s” blade penetrating flesh in PSYCHO comes courtesy of a Foley artist stabbing casaba melons with a knife.
  • PSYCHO was shot in 30 days for less than one million dollars using a crew consisting mostly of television professionals. To this day it remained one of the most profitable films ever made.
  • Though initial reviews were decidedly mixed (due in large part to the dark tone of the film and its unprecedented shock value), audiences couldn’t get enough. PSYCHO was a huge hit at the box-office and quickly became a global sensation.

CLICK HERE to buy PSYCHO on Blu-ray.

CLICK HERE for “Monsters! Terror In Black and White (Part One)”

October 28, 2015

MONSTERS! Terror In Black and White (Part One)


When fans of classic black and white horror films are asked what they love most about the genre, monsters are usually at the top the list. Iconic creatures like Dracula, the Mummy, Frankenstein’s monster and the Wolf Man come to mind immediately. It seems only fitting, then, that this opening installment of TERROR IN BLACK AND WHITE is dedicated to three of our favorite creepy creatures. We’re about to unleash one pissed off alien, an aquatic beastie with a thing for the ladies and the original Bridezilla. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!


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DIRECTED BY: Christian Nyby SCREENPLAY BY: Charles Lederer (based on the 1938 short story “Who Goes There?” by John W. Campbell, Jr.) STARRING: Kenneth Tobey, Margaret Sheridan, Douglas Spencer, Robert O. Cornthwaite and James Arness ORIGINAL US RELEASE: April 27, 1951 by RKO Radio Pictures.

Something has fallen from the sky and ditched in the vast, frozen wasteland at the North Pole. With the help of dashing US Air Force Captain Patrick Hendry (Tobey) and his fellow crew members, a team of scientists from a nearby research facility ventures out to investigate. At the crash site, it quickly becomes apparent that what they’ve found is not from Earth.

In addition to the wreckage, they locate a second object buried nearby. Upon closer inspection, the men realize they’ve stumbled upon the body of an alien creature thrown from the spacecraft. In the name of scientific discovery, they bring the thing back to their camp, still frozen in a block of ice. Oh yeah, he (or it) is also about eight feet tall. So, our alien “visitor” is really big, stranded on a faraway planet and probably not too happy about it. Boy, would it suck if someone accidentally thawed the ice and revived the monster. Guess what happens next?

There’s a reason THE THING endures as a sci-fi and horror classic: it’s a fantastic film. Beautifully shot and exceptionally well cast, it brought an A-list pedigree to a genre that was awash in low budget cheapies. Unlike many “creature features” of the day, THE THING was made for adults and took a more measured and intelligent approach to post-War paranoia about nuclear war and science run amok. It holds up well to this day and pairs nicely with John Carpenter’s excellent 1982 re-make. CLICK HERE to read more about that film and others in our “Scariest Movie Moments” feature from the RONTHINK archive.


  • The iconic moment when the team of scientists and Air Force crew members spread out to form the shape of the crashed craft. When they end up in a perfect circle, it’s a chilling and effective visual. 


  • James Arness was still a relatively unknown bit player when he was cast as the murderous monster from outer space. Less than five years later, he would become a huge star, playing Matt Dillon on GUNSMOKE from 1955 to 1975.
  • Though Christian Nyby gets the director’s credit, rumors have swirled for years that it was really Howard Hawks calling the shots. All the classic Hawks touches are certainly there: overlapping rapid-fire dialogue, a strong sense of camaraderie among male characters and the “Hawksian woman.” Margaret Sheridan might be the only female in the cast but she’s no shrieking violet. Pay special attention to her scenes with Tobey; they crackle with a level of overt sexuality that was definitely not the norm for films of the early 1950s.

CLICK HERE to buy THE THING on DVD. As of this writing, there is still no announced date for a Blu-ray release of this title.


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DIRECTED BY: Jack Arnold SCREENPLAY BY: Harry Essex and Arthur A. Ross STARRING: Richard Carlson, Julia Adams, Richard Denning, Whit Bissell, Antonio Moreno, Nestor Paiva, Ricou Browning (uncredited) and Ben Chapman (uncredited) ORIGINAL US RELEASE: February 12, 1954 by Universal International Pictures.

Deep in the wilds of the Amazon lies the Black Lagoon, a dark and mysterious place from which no visitor has ever returned. What better setting could there be for a horror movie about an ill-fated scientific expedition and a creature that picks off cast members one by one?

In the mid-50s, most big screen beasties were marauders from outer space or the byproduct of something radioactive here on earth. Taking a dramatic detour from the pop-culture paranoia of that period, THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON turned to evolution for its title monster. Tacit endorsement of Darwinism and a focus on the science behind the scary stuff made this title a true outlier when it was released. Also unique: humans are the interlopers who draw first blood. This creature is as misunderstood as it is manic.

The Gill Man, as The Creature is more affectionately known, is one of the classic Universal Monsters. While separated by fifteen or more years from titles like DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, THE WOLF MAN and THE  MUMMY, this moody and atmospheric film is a genre favorite. CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON might not get the same respect as its creepy compadres, but it remains one of my favorite black and white fright fests.


  • When Kay (Julie Adams) goes for a dip in the Black Lagoon and is totally unaware that she’s not alone. The Creature is swimming underwater just below her and she’s almost within reach of his webbed fingers.


  • The look of the now famous Gill Man costume also marks a sad chapter in cinematic sexism. Though credited to noted make-up artist Bud Westmore (at his insistence), the bulk of the development and design of The Creature was actually the work of former Disney animator Milicent Patrick. Universal publicized Patrick as “The Beauty Who Created the Beast” and sent her on tour to promote THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. That didn’t sit well with Westmore, who went into overdrive trashing Patrick to studio execs. His hissy fit eventually worked and she was sent packing. Westmore successfully swept her contribution to the film under the rug and stole the credit for himself. CLICK HERE for an excellent article on the life and career of the mysterious Milicent Patrick.
  • The movie was originally filmed in 3-D but most audiences didn’t get a chance to see it that way. By 1954, 3-D was a fast-fading fad. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (released the same year), CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON saw its widest distribution in the traditional flat, 2-D format.
  • The Creature was actually played by two different actors. Ben Chapman wore the rubber suit on land and Ricou Browning handled things in and under the water. Both actors were not credited on screen for their work in the film.

CLICK HERE to buy CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON on Blu-ray. Both 3-D and 2-D versions of the film are included in this package.


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DIRECTED BY: James Whale SCREENPLAY BY: William Hurlbut (adapted by Hurlbut and John Balderston) STARRING: Elsa Lanchester, Boris Karloff, Colin Clive, Valerie Hobson, Ernest Thesiger, Gavin Gordon, Douglas Walton and Una O’Connor  ORIGINAL US RELEASE: April 22, 1935 by Universal Pictures.

Picture it: England…a long time ago. It’s a dark and stormy night; the perfect setting for a tale of monsters, mayhem and madness. Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) regales Lord Byron (Gavin Gordon) and Percy Shelley (Douglas Walton) with the further tales of Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and his diabolical craft projects. In this chapter: The Monster (Boris Karloff) demands a mate and Dr. Frankenstein delivers.

THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN towers above all other classic monster titles from Universal Studios. In fact, the film has transcended the horror genre entirely and is regarded as one of the finest movies of all time by many critics and historians. It is that rare sequel that surpasses the original by just about every measure.

While some ding DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN and THE MUMMY for slow pacing and dated cinematic style, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN has stood the test of time. The big, iconic set pieces still pack a punch and the campy humor that simmers just below the surface adds a welcome dash of levity to the macabre mise en scène. By any measure, it’s a gorgeous production and director James Whale’s master work.


  • The scene where The Bride (Elsa Lanchester, doing double duty) is brought to life is probably one of the best known in the entirety of the horror genre. When Henry declares his creation alive, the moment is electric (no pun intended). Alas, it is but a fleeting triumph. The Bride rejects the advances of The Monster with a scream that still stings as hard as it did in 1935.


  • Due to the whims of Hayes Code officials here at home and censors in countries around the world, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN was subjected to a host of nips and tucks prior to its release. The biggest offenses were images of overt sensuality, murders deemed too violent for the day and comparisons between the stitch wizardry of Henry Frankenstein and the creative prowess of God.
  • James Whale let his gay flag fly in THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN. From The Bride’s infamously fabulous shock-do to over-the-top performances by Una O’Connor and Ernest Thesiger, this was as out and about as a movie could get in the otherwise repressive cinematic landscape of the mid-30s. For a more intimate look at the life of James Whale, check out director Bill Condon’s excellent 1998 feature GODS AND MONSTERS starring Ian McKellen (as Whale) and Brendan Fraser.


CLICK HERE for “Murderers! Terror In Black and White (Part Two)”

October 26, 2015

SUPERGIRL: Playing It Safe Keeps Her From Soaring



The good news: SUPERGIRL doesn’t totally suck. It’s no ARROW or THE FLASH but it is more fun than that torpid Marvel clunker AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. The bad news: SUPERGIRL is on CBS. Everything has been run through their de-fanger and given a sanitizing scrub-a-dub; a process perfected by the official network of “TV That’s Never Thinky.” It’s not quite DC-CSI, but the opener plays it too safe and isn’t worthy of the overpraise being heaped upon it by some critics.

While everyone is certainly entitled to their opinion, we’re all spinning our pearls of wisdom off the same pilot. It was “leaked” online months ago and subsequent episodes have not been made available for review. So, right off the bat, let’s stop pretending SUPERGIRL is the first coming of She-Christ or a significant feminist milestone. It is neither of those things and ignoring a host of frustrating flaws does a disservice to an audience hungry for a series with a fully-realized female super hero at the helm. SUPERGIRL is the right gender for the job, but she’s trapped in a vehicle that refuses to let her soar.

As we’re reminded repeatedly in hour one, Supergirl (aka Kara Zor-El and Kara Danvers) is Superman’s cousin. Originally sent here to watch over Kal-El, she ended up getting sucked into the Phantom Zone en route and arrives years later than planned. By the time Kara does touch down on Earth, the citizens of Metropolis are already in thrall to the powers of Superman, a development that renders her original mission obsolete. She’s shipped off to be raised in safe anonymity by the Danvers family. Jump to present day. Twenty-something Kara is now living in National City where she toils away as the put-upon assistant to media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart).

If almost none of that sounds familiar to fans of the DC Comics heroine, that’s because series creators Greg Berlanti, Ali Adler and Andrew Kreisberg have jettisoned almost the entire Supergirl backstory. Absolute purists are never going to be happy with TV adaptions of their beloved favorites so trying to please them is a pointless exercise in frustration. Besides, as we’ve seen with ARROW and THE FLASH, when something is re-imagined well, it doesn’t really matter how much you tweak the source material. The problem with SUPERGIRL? For every creative master stroke there’s an even bigger misstep.

To be fair, part of the blame for what doesn’t work here has to be attributed to licensing issues. Superman is a big-screen character and it’s quite obvious CBS was not granted permission to use him for much more than cursory mentions. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like the producers got the memo about necessity being the mother of invention. The whole Superman/Supergirl thing is awkward and messy throughout the first episode. The writers end up contorting themselves so much that you can almost hear the multi-layered legal vetting process chugging along in the background.

Speaking of writers, though Berlanti, Kreisberg and Adler share credit for the pilot script, way too much of what ended up on screen sounds like the words of the latter. Ali Adler joined the writing staff on GLEE in season three. That’s about the same time things started to go downhill fast at William McKinley High School. The series went from infectious to insipid and never recovered. Adler also teamed up with her GLEE co-conspirator Ryan Murphy to create THE NEW NORMAL, one of the absolute worst television comedies of the past twenty years. She’s one of those lazy wordsmiths incapable of thickening her thin treacle with anything that might stick to your mental ribs. That could explain why big chunks of SUPERGIRL feel more akin to WONDER WOMAN circa-1975 than they do a primetime drama debuting in 2015.

What saves SUPERGIRL from its own creative Kryptonite is the one-two punch of Melissa Benoist in the title role and Mehcad Brooks as James “Jimmy” Olsen. The pair have delightful on-screen chemistry and do some pretty amazing things with what amounts to a script full of empty calories . They’re the reason you’ll come back for seconds.

Benoist oozes charm and charisma. If you’re not rooting for her, you’re a hard ass with no heart. She deserves every bit of the effusive advance buzz you’ve been hearing. There’s so much more to her exuberant performance than perkiness and pluck that it’s a real bummer every time she’s swatted down by a shaky plot thread or weak writing.

Brooks has finally been cast in a role that lets him shine. He brings a potent combination of good looks and gravitas to the proceedings. His portrayal of Olsen is modern and refreshingly mature. Both he and Benoist will be among the biggest break-out stars of the fall TV season. That says more about them as actors than it does the vehicle they’ve arrived in.

Elsewhere on the call sheet, Flockhart and Chyler Leigh (playing Kara’s adoptive sister Alex) don’t fare so well. Riffing off limited range, Leigh gives us a slightly less annoying take on her Lexie Grey. It’s an unwelcome nostalgia trip that also results in unintentional laughs. You see, Alex Danvers is a doctor and scientist who (wait for it) also works as a secret government agent. She’s on staff at the Department of Extra-Normal Operations, a group tasked with keeping tabs on interplanetary aliens living among us. FYI, none of it comes off any less asinine on screen. The reveal of Alex’s double life is handled in such an off-hand manner that I’ve chosen to take it as tacit admission by the creators of their epic casting fail re: Chyler Leigh.

Fans of bitchy dialogue and hammy acting will probably love whatever it is that Flockhart does with the role of Cat Grant. Personally, channeling Alexis Carrington seems out of sync with the sunny-bright tone of the series. The “powerful woman as uber-witch” meme is also the kind of lazy stereotyping SUPERGIRL should have avoided. Oddly, whenever a “girl-power” message does slip out, it usually comes from Grant. If I had a daughter, I’d prefer she not take life lessons from a one-note character played by someone who looks like she chews more scenery than she does food.

Action sequences are wildly uneven and run the gamut from bang-up (like a thrilling passenger plane rescue) to bust. Taken as a whole, this incarnation of SUPERGIRL plays very young and runs the risk of alienating as many genre fans as it might attract. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with appealing to teen and pre-teen girls, don’t expect the whole of the 18-49 set to stay engaged long term if fisticuffs between hero and villain continue to look like they were filmed and choreographed by alumni from the MIGHTY MORPHIN POWER RANGERS.


When something like SUPERGIRL comes along, there’s a tendency to overstate the role it’s supposed to play in the pantheon of television milestones. While it might be wrong to burden a piece of pure entertainment with the task of correcting all the wrongs and slights that came before, it is more than fair to expect a series to walk the walk of its own PR talk. CBS has not been shy about parroting the mush-gush of delusional critics (like Daniel Fienberg from The Hollywood Reporter) who have convinced themselves that what amounts to the TV equivalent of a Katy Perry song is also a significant leap forward or progress of some kind. Sorry, it isn’t. Want further proof? Check out the atrocious companion website for the series. It’s an embarrassing crap hole of cheap looking creative, shameless network synergy (“The 12 Hottest Bad Boys On CBS”) and vapid “mommy and me” content (“15 Mom Superpowers We Will Always Appreciate”). The headless close-up of Supergirl’s chest in the sidebar is especially tacky.

Just as women should receive equal pay for equal work, they should also be depicted as complex, multi-dimensional characters in popular entertainment. On that front, SUPERGIRL does a face plant. Sure, it takes more work to inject some substance into frothy style, but our mothers, sisters and daughters are more than worth the effort. They certainly deserve better than what is currently just a cutesy flight of fancy masquerading as the next big thing in superhero lore.




SHERLOCK: Watch the Trailer For “The Abominable Bride”


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When SHERLOCK executive producers Steven Moffat and Sue Vertue teased an upcoming episode set in the Victorian era, fans at San Diego ComicCon went wild. If the first full trailer for this stand-alone special is any indication, the excitement is most definitely justified. It’s packed with lush, creepy visuals and just about everything else you’d hope for in a retro outing of this modern TV classic.
In keeping with tight-lipped tradition, the BBC is holding their cards close to the vest. While short on specifics, it’s clear that  Moffatt intends to  make good on his desire to explore the more gothic and ghostly tales in the Holmes lexicon. While these stories might land with an anachronistic thud in the slick, contemporary world of SHERLOCK, putting Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the way-wayback machine is a stroke of genius.
On October 25, the BBC revealed the official title and airdate for the 90-minute special. SHERLOCK: THE ABOMINABLE BRIDE will air on January 1, 2016 in both the US and UK. The simultaneous premiere is especially welcome news to Stateside fans who are used to a delayed airing of new episodes. An updated trailer was also released. Enjoy!

SHERLOCK airs on BBC One in the UK and as part of the PBS Masterpiece franchise here in the States. Series 1-3 are available for streaming on Netflix and can be purchased from Amazon Instant Video. Amazon also offers a one hour pilot version of “A Study In Pink” (S1/E1) that was not shown on TV. Click on either icon below to catch up with or re-watch SHERLOCK.
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October 21, 2015

SCREAM QUEENS: It’s Young, Dumb and Full Of Scum



Full disclosure: I despise Ryan Murphy and pretty much anything that bears his prissy paw prints. GLEE was a one-season wonder that quickly wore out its welcome and AMERICAN HORROR STORY is currently the single most reprehensible piece of violent junk on any network, broadcast or cable. Don’t even get me started on mercifully short-lived THE NEW NORMAL. Murphy is full-tilt prickish and insanely self-impressed; a pompous gas bag enabled by PC media mavens and “if it’s queer we must like it” roboqueens who give a pass to almost anything he does simply because his pendulum swings gay. Me? Not so much.

In SCREAM QUEENS, when he’s not ripping off the vastly superior work of others, Murphy goes dumpster diving to borrow from his favorite source: Ryan Murphy. It’s a vulgar, mean-spirited mess cobbled together from the worst bits of POPULAR, GLEE, NIP/TUCK and AHS then spackled with layers  of offensive stereotypes, dated humor and stuff I’m pretty sure was stolen from the cutting room floor of PRETTY LITTLE LIARS. There’s good trash and bad trash and then there’s trash like SCREAM QUEENS: pointless drivel that exists in a depressing class all by itself.


After a brief opening set in 1995 (something about a baby born in a bathtub and a dead sorority girl), things lurch forward to present day at fictional Wallace University. In what passes for a plot, Rubber Man…I mean…the Red Devil Killer is prancing around campus offing characters who all deserve a fate worse than death. SCREAM QUEENS is so convinced of its own brilliance, the creators are completely tone deaf to long stretches that play like a high-pitched screed. You can almost hear the writers laughing at their own jokes and high-fiving themselves for being oh-so-clever. What might be a hootenanny for them is an entirely different experience if you’re on the receiving end of all that vigorous self-love. Watching SCREAM QUEENS is like getting an eyeful of jizz. To quote the immortal words of Miss Coco Peru: “It burns!”

In a direct lift from HARPERS ISLAND, at least one character dies each week. Unfortunately, as of this writing, that fate has yet to befall lead Emma Roberts. She plays sorority hag Chanel Oberlin with all the depth and skill of an ingénue from Central Casting. What she lacks in talent, Roberts more than compensates for in the volume department. Making matters worse, Chanel is obviously Murphy’s favorite character (probably because she reminds him of himself). That means she gets lots of lines, appears in just about every scene and never shuts up. Seriously, someone needs to stuff her pie hole with an apple, sock or ball gag; anything big enough to stop this harpy from talking.

The rest of the cast includes actors dropped into roles created specifically to insult and demean. Murphy continues his sad fascination with reducing black women to scripted versions of the ghetto un-fabulous ladies that populate WETV and VH1. In GLEE, we watched as Mercedes (Amber Riley) inexplicably devolved into “black bitch diva mode.” Here, we have KeKe Palmer as Zayday Williams. When a show has only one black woman featured in a main role, does she have to sound like the shuck and jive sister of Tamar Braxton? Apparently, in a Ryan Murphy production, she does. To seal the deal, Niecy Nash is trotted out to regale us with her tired routine of finger-wagging and head bobbing. Think Martin Lawrence as Shanaynay, but with less subtlety.

The stereotyping continues with just about every other female character, including particularly cruel depictions of the overweight and physically handicapped. Lea Michele plays Hester Ulrich, or “Neck Brace” as she is so lovingly referred to. Why? Because she has scoliosis and wears a very large body brace. Isn’t that pee-your-pants funny? Wait, there’s more! Whitney Meyer plays a character who doesn’t even merit a last name. She exists solely to serve as the butt of deaf jokes before the Red Devil dispatches her with a riding mower. At least her quick exit means she gets off comparatively easy. The same can’t be said for Jan Hoag as Ms. Bean, the sorority housekeeper. She’s a large woman who is verbally and physically abused by Chanel before being offed in a deep fryer. Get it? She’s fat so she has to die in a vat of hot oil. Are you slapping your knees yet? Every scene featuring Ms. Bean is painful to watch. The degradation is heaped upon her for no good reason, including some bizarre GONE WITH THE WIND references that add a dash of racist “humor” to the mix.

Oddly enough, cast members with a penis look super fine here. That’s because the male roles are filled by actors Murphy probably visualizes whenever he needs backroom jackoff fodder. The dudes in SCREAM QUEENS get full, sexy-sounding names and all are visions of physical perfection. The man candy includes: Glenn Powell, Diego Boneta, Lucien Laviscount and Nick Jonas. Truth be told, I like gratuitous male semi-nudity as much as the next gay guy, but I really don’t want to see it through the eyes of a creepy Hollywood hack’s even creepier sex fantasies. The way male characters are photographed and dispatched in SCREAM QUEENS is blatantly fetishistic. Murphy likes them young, buff and bloodied. See the repellant “four way of death” in the premier episode of AHS: HOTEL for further proof. On second thought, don’t. It makes anything in this show look like a walk in the park on a sunny day.

The big casting coup was supposed to be Jamie Lee Curtis. Instead, it’s pretty clear she’s just slumming. My affection and sympathy for her are the only reasons SCREAM QUEENS isn’t getting the “F” it so richly deserves.

Ryan Murphy is a creative charlatan in the classic sense; the favorite son of critics and viewers who flock to the excesses of a medium that celebrates “just because we can” shock and awe. He’s not a gifted director and is only capable of writing the kind of cunty dialogue you find on Tumblr blogs authored by the bitter bitches of tomorrow. SCREAM QUEENS is garbage that attracts self-appointed cool kids like flies to shit. They’ll never admit it (and Murphy is too in love with himself to care) but this is shit that definitely stinks.




October 19, 2015

STAR WARS TFA: More Han! More Chewie! More Racism!

CLICK to visit the official STAR WARS: TFA site


As it turns out, the newest trailer for STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS hews remarkably close to what appeared (and didn’t appear) in the poster art released Sunday. Indeed, it looks like the left hand knows what the right hand is doing at Disney/Lucasfilm marketing. That means shot after shot of eye-popping battle action, Stormtroopers up the ying yang, more Han, more Chewie, a “blink and you miss it” Leia reveal…and not so much as a glimpse of Luke. Let the conspiracy theories (and whining) begin!
Featured prominently throughout are Daisy Ridley (playing a scrappy scavenger named Rey) and John Boyega (as Finn, a Stormtrooper experiencing a crisis of conscience). Ridley shows she can handle a blaster with the best of them, continuing a long tradition of director JJ Abrams rightly favoring female characters who don’t need a man to complete them (or fight their battles). Rest in peace by that Lake on Naboo, Padme Amidala. We won’t miss you. For his part, Boyega is an exciting addition to the STAR WARS universe, here looking every bit the “next big thing” fans of ATTACK THE BLOCK knew he would be.
If you thought the racist bastard contingent was pissed when Boyega made a splash late last year in the first teaser, these addlebrained malcontents are positively apoplectic now. As @scottdylanworth correctly pointed out on Twitter, the haters think it’s great when a black actor plays a villain (and, as I noted, it’s even more speKKKtaKKKular when he’s off-screen, like James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader) but if they’re front-and-center in hero mode, it means the STAR WARS franchise has morphed into a stealth campaign for “white genocide.” I kid you not. Next step? A boycott, of course. It’s the latest lame social-media campaign to be conducted via hashtag. I refuse to re-print the actual #content here.
Fear not, fellow Padawans! This is our STAR WARS and we don’t take kindly to dark side dorks trying to suck the fun out of a flight on the Millennium Falcon. Despite stinking up trending topics on Twitter, the “don’t see STAR WARS because it stars a black guy” stunt is already an epic fail. Advance ticket sales launched immediately following the debut of the new trailer and created such a sensation, both MovieTickets.com and Comcast-owned Fandango crashed.
While they get their Bantha poodo together, check out the trailer. It’s pretty damn spectacular. If The Force so moves you, share your thoughts in the comments section below. Enjoy!

STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS opens December 18, 2015 in North America.

October 16, 2015

STARDUMB: Wicked Spooky Monster Politician Edition


When you stockpile Toni Home Perm solution and use it as often as meth-heads suck on a glass pipe, all those noxious fumes are bound to cloud your judgment and reasoning. In the case of DNC Chair DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ, the damage goes much deeper than a fry job on her poorly coiffed rat’s nest. Debdusa has always been viewed as an evil monster by those on the right. It’s something she’s well aware of and openly relishes. She feeds on their hate like a feral cat set loose at a buffet station of poached Evangelical canary.

Debdusa is also an equal opportunity political beastie with a reputation for going Gorgon on anyone who questions her authority. Just ask DNC Vice Chair Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), the latest Democrat to draw the ire of this power-mad harpy. Gabbard is a decorated combat veteran and rising star within the party. She’s also two things Wasserman-Schultz is not: respected and well-liked. When Gabbard dared to suggest that the DNC should sponsor more than six Presidential debates, the response from on high was Debdusa at her most petty and petulant: she disinvited the Congresswoman from attending the Las Vegas event.

Unfortunately for Her Majesty, she couldn’t turn Gabbard to stone and silence her. Once word got out, reaction was swift and vociferous: Debdusa had gone too far. Post-debate, the blowback has not died down and key party officials are calling on Wasserman-Schultz to pack up her hair snakes and crawl back to her lair. When one of your only remaining allies is Harry “The Walking Dead” Reid, you better thank your lucky stars that Perseus isn’t real.


On Tuesday night, while Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley were busy showing us what political discourse among thinking adults should look like, DONALD TRUMP was diddling with something other than his flaccid member. Trumpenstein announced he would be live-tweeting during the Democratic debate. Like cheap whores on bended knee, mainstream media dutifully swallowed the news then spit it back out. Trumpenstein promised to be a bigger draw than the Dems and was convinced he would own Castle Trendingtopicus for the night. Things didn’t go quite the way he had hoped or reporters had predicted.

During the course of the debate, Trumpenstein’s name was pretty much left for dead by the five candidates. Democrats have clearly figured out how to sap his power. You could almost hear the silly monster growling with anger: “Raaaar…Me getting weak…No one saying my name…Aaargh…Grrr.”

Post-debate, angry villagers gathered torches and pitchforks but, much to his chagrin, it wasn’t Trumpenstein who drew their ire. Thanks to a horrendously racist tweet from the warped mind of Mike Huckabee (yes, he’s still alive somewhere out there), the biggest mouth in the GOP didn’t draw the hate-buzz he was hoping for. To add insult to injury, Trumpenstein’s own prediction that no one would be interested in a debate without him on stage was…well…dead wrong: a record audience of over 15 million tuned in.


No offense to the “biggest little state in the union” but, what the hell were Rhode Islanders thinking when they cast their votes for human Laffy Taffy like LINCOLN CHAFEE? While many were wondering why he was even on the Democratic debate stage, no one could have predicted that “comic relief” and “self-immolation” would be among the reasons. He didn’t just look like Bizarro Big Bird, he acted like him too.

Going into the Vegas event, Count Chafeula already had a rep for being a political shape shifter (something CNN moderator Anderson Cooper gleefully pointed out on Tuesday night). Apparently, this batty dingbat thought a great way to counter critics of his Dem street cred would be to join one of the GOPs anti-Hillary witch hunts. He jumped on the “secret e-mail server” bandwagon and rode it all the way to Sin City. Even after Bernie Sanders’ rousing rebuke of the brouhaha, Count Chafeula wouldn’t withdraw his fangs. He doubled down on his assertion that there was still blood in them thar veins and, when Cooper threw to Hillary for comment, she whipped out a crucifix. Never has a single “NO” packed more power or punch on a debate stage. She didn’t have to drive in a stake because The Count took care of that himself.

When asked to explain his 1999 vote to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, Count Chafeula wasn’t satisfied with giving the worst possible answer, he had to make it icky too. In short, he did what he did because he had no idea what he was doing. He was new to the Senate and, well, oopsie! Oh yeah, it was also kinda his father’s fault. Why? John Chaffee died in office and his son, The Count, was appointed to serve out his term. It’s bad enough to admit you cast a vote on major legislation that you didn’t bother to read but, pulling the “dead dad” card to rationalize an already horrible rationalization…yikes! That sound you hear: the last nail being pounded into Count Chafeula’s political coffin (and he swung the hammer).


As laugh-out-loud ridiculous as Lincoln Chaffee was during Tuesday’s debate, the scary monster on stage was JIM WEBB. Looking like a peevish Mr Potato Head, Dr. Cobwebb was such a stick in the mud, he made Bernie Sanders seem like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. From the get-go, the former Virginia Senator acted like a spider had crawled up his ass and wouldn’t crawl back out.

During rambling opening remarks that concluded with a semi-lucid stumble through the LinkedIn profiles of his large brood (including an oddball shout-out to one kid who’s a massage therapist), Dr. Cobwebb made the first of many introductions to his third wife, Hong Le Webb. While she certainly seems like a lovely woman with a fascinating personal story, I’d much rather hear it from her. In Dr. Cobwebb’s clutches, she’s reduced (repeatedly) to “immigrant who fled Vietnam” complete with awkward cutaway shots to her watching from the audience. She certainly deserved better than being deployed as one of two poorly chosen political crutches used by her hubby during his hobble through the debate.

Thanks to an almost paranoid penchant for kicking off every response with a rant about how much time he wasn’t getting to respond, we ended up finding out more about Dr. Cobwebb’s family, friends and assorted loved ones than we did about his Presidential aspirations. Ordinarily, such babyish bellyaching would be more apropos in a playground sandbox. Unfortunately for Webb, his cavalcade of cranky was the only stuff that didn’t land like a crashing bore. If Frick and Frack are still around for the next debate, Debdusa could at least make herself useful by seating them at a kiddie table, separate from the adults. Clinton, Sanders, O’Malley and voters deserve the consideration.


October 6, 2015

BLINDSPOT: Terrorism and Tattoos Make Terrific TV

CLICK to visit the official BLINDSPOT website



Over the course of the past few seasons, Comcast-owned NBC has amassed a spotty track record when it comes to scripted drama. In addition to the last vestiges of the venerable LAW & ORDER franchise, there have been numerous high profile flops like SMASH, ALLEGIANCE, CONSTANTINE and THE SLAP. The network is also home to inexplicably popular junk like THE BLACKLIST and inexplicably renewed howlers like MYSTERIES OF LAURA. That’s why my expectations for BLINDSPOT were set pretty low. Boy, was I wrong. This cracker jack thriller starts out firing on all cylinders and never stops.

What makes BLINDSPOT such a pleasant surprise is how deftly each episode navigates a potential minefield of pitfalls and face plants. In less capable hands, this is one of those “high concept” hours that could have flown off the rails. Instead, creator Martin Gero has crafted a near-perfect balance of big action, great acting and eye-popping boom boom. Each episode plays out on a cinematic canvas that feels ambitious because it is. BLINDSPOT isn’t just set in New York, it works the city like no one’s business.

CLICK to buy from Amazon Instant VideoMuch has been made about the opening set-piece, a taut and terrific scene that more than lives up to the hype. A cop spots a duffel bag sitting unattended smack in the middle of Times Square. In short order, the area is evacuated and the bomb squad is on the scene. Before anyone has a chance to size up the mysterious package, a naked, tattooed woman emerges from inside. This “Jane Doe” (Jaimie Alexander) has no idea who she is or how she ended up stuffed in a gym bag. Her body art is also a mystery and one that is central to each twist and turn of the plot. On paper, it all sounds gimmicky and trite but the final product is riveting stuff. If you think this is just PRISON BREAK with a hot chick, think again.

Jane is hustled off to FBI headquarters, where she’s placed in the care of Special Agent Kurt Weller (Sullivan Stapleton). This is no random assignment; Weller’s name is front (or back, in this case) and center in the aforementioned tattoo. Much to his surprise, he is drawn to Jane almost immediately. It’s a vibe that goes much deeper than sympathy or professional curiosity. By the end of episode two, their connection comes more into focus as does the method to the madness of Jane’s elaborate ink job. Each piece of the tattoo unlocks a clue to a crime or terrorist act that has not yet been perpetrated. It’s up to Jane, Weller and his team to figure out the “whos and whens” in order to prevent death and destruction from raining down on NYC.

CLICK to buy from Amazon Instant VideoAction fans will be happy as piggies in a mud wallow with BLINDSPOT. There’s plenty of car chases, pyro and combat. In a refreshing twist, much of the really juicy mano a mano comes courtesy of Jane. It seems our mystery woman has extensive training that may (or may not) have come courtesy of a stint in Navy Seal Special Ops. Without doubt, she is not a woman to be tangled with. There’s a rollicking, balls-out beat-down in the pilot that will have you out of your seat cheering. Let’s just say, you don’t want to get caught abusing your old lady if Jane is within earshot. Other highlights in the opener include a runaway MTA subway train rigged with plastic explosives and a climatic shoot-out in the head of the Statue of Liberty. It will rock your socks.

Pulling off Jane is a difficult balancing act and Alexender is more than up to the task. She’s capable and complex, with gorgeous eyes that convey a world of hurt and desperate confusion. Still, as FBI psychologist Dr. Borden (nicely played by Ukweli Roach) reminds her, she is not helpless. We haven’t seen a female action hero this well realized on the small screen since Jennifer Garner was knocking heads as Sydney Bristow in ALIAS.

Stapleton is also strong here, with a sly, nuanced take on the stock “tough guy” character. He’s handsome and rugged, to be sure, but there’s genuine heart and soul in his portrayal of Agent Weller. It’s a nice touch that makes scenes with Jane work especially well and keeps the audience firmly in his corner. He’s got the acting chops to anchor a show this frenetic and hold his own with veteran thesp Marianne Jean-Baptiste (playing Bethany Mayfair, Assistant Director of the FBI field office in NYC). That’s no mean feat as Jean-Baptiste is a talent to be reckoned with. Like almost everything in BLINDSPOT, her character also has a dark past that is only hinted at in the first couple of episodes.

CLICK to buy from Amazon Instant Video

Rounding out a nicely gender balanced (and effortlessly diverse) cast are Audrey Esparza, Rob Brown and Ashley Johnson (yes, Chrissy Seaver from GROWING PAINS, all growed up). Each is a key player on Weller’s crack team of FBI agents. Brown and Esparza have small roles thus far but the former does manage to toss off some pointed one liners that inject a nice dose of humor into the proceedings. Esparza, however, barely registers. She looms in the background and glowers a lot but we have no idea why. Bad fish perhaps? Who knows? Maybe we’ll find out more in later episodes…unless she’s BLINDSPOT’s redshirt.

CLICK to buy from Amazon Instant VideoFaring infinitely better is Johnson, bright and engaging as Patterson, the resident forensic science expert. She nails every scene by not overplaying the part. Big props to her and the writers for creating a fully fleshed-out character; a welcome change from those asinine, loopy/quirky “tech geek” caricatures seen in CBS dreck like NCIS, CRIMINAL MINDS and SCORPION. Yeah, I know a lot of people watch those shows but that doesn’t mean they don’t suck.

BLINDSPOT is so good, it’s almost a pleasure to overlook the occasional plot holes and lapses in logic. You won’t care that sometimes the FBI is chock-full o’ agents and other times, for no good reason, it’s grossly understaffed. It won’t bug you at all when a major landmark or public transit system is targeted by a terrorist, Feds are on the scene but the NYPD is nowhere to be found. Seriously, Mayfair couldn’t dig up even one cop to back up Weller at the Statue of Liberty? Silly rabbit, these tricks aren’t for kids and asking a question like that of a show like this is a buzz kill.

If you’re looking for a series that’s not stingy with satisfying answers to intriguing questions and one that’s got plenty of meat to go with the hooks, then BLINDSPOT is definitely “must see” TV. Don’t miss it.

EDITOR’S NOTE 10/6/2015: Just finished screening episode three on Hulu and I have to say, BLINDSPOT keeps topping itself. The opening ten minutes alone is wall-to-wall action (plus one very messy head shot during a robbery gone wrong). Love this show. Big plus: the ratings continue to stay strong!

CLICK to buy from Amazon Instant VideoCLICK to watch on Hulu