Thursday, December 16, 2010

Love Sick

Hello, movie lovers! It has been a long time between blog postings, hasn't it?Please don't think I have been ignoring you or have given up on saving Junk Cinema from extinction. No way! It's just that I have been very busy teaching Kindergarten and just haven't had the time to post the columns that have been rattling around in my brain.

Until now.

But enough about me. Let's get down to business, shall we? As you have probably guessed from the title above, today's topic is love. Or, to be more precise, love stories. But instead of "An Affair to Remember", we're going to focus on a collection of cinematic romances that--like 99% of the world's blind dates--ended up being disastrous for everyone involved. So, if you like your dialogue over the top, your plot contrivances ridiculous and your acting embarrassingly awful--and, really, who doesn't?--then pop one of these flicks into your DVD/VCR, hand out the vomit bags and watch the fun!

"Parnell"(1937)--Sporting mutton-chop sideburns and a here one minute/gone the next Irish accent, Clark Gable portrays Charles Stewart Parnell, the champion of Irish Home Rule, in what one critic proudly proclaimed was "probably the worst biopic ever made."

The fun begins when Stew falls in love with Kitty O'Shea (Myrna Loy), the abused wife of a political opponent. The couple meet at the opera and Gable is so instantly smitten with his kitten that he declares, "Have you never felt there might be someone, somewhere, who, if you could meet them, was the person that you'd been always meant to meet?"

Uh, no.

Katie, meanwhile, laps up Stew's flowery vomit and they fall in love. However, she does inject a note of levity to the proceedings after Parnell states that "ours could be a great love story" by reminding him that "great love stories are always unhappy ones."

"Then I hope ours won't be great," Stew replies.

He gets his wish.

Hovering in the background of this Gaelic Harlequin Romance is Katie's no-good-nick husband. When he gets wind of the affair, he demands Stew give him a cushy government job to keep quiet. Parnell refuses and hubby retaliates by filing for divorce--and names Stew as "the other man"! Needless to say, Parnell's humble Irish supporters react with horror to the ensuing scandal and "the uncrowned King of Ireland" is driven from office.

On the plus side, Stew and Katie do get married(off-screen, a fact the movie fails to mention). On the down side, Parnell kicks the bucket shortly thereafter. But before he goes, viewers are treated to Gable's death scene, where he tells a weepy Loy, "You'll have to teach me all the things that are expected of me. It'll be strange to say 'my wife.' I'll have to practice..." ( poor dope doesn't realize that they are already married).

To promote this slop, MGM came up with an unusual ad campaign: two boxing gloves with the tag line "Sock coming!" Sadly, the flick was a flop. Gable's fans, moreover, were deeply unimpressed with his romantic husband bit. One irate fellow even scolded MGM for letting Gable appear in such a wretched picture in the first place: "Let others play historical figures," the fan lectured, "Gable is cut out for roles where he gets tough with women."

This guy must have been thrilled, no doubt, when Gable portrayed the rascally Rhett Butler in "Gone With the Wind" and made cinematic history when he cussed out Vivien Leigh at the end of the movie.

"Bird of Paradise"(1951)--What would you do to prove your love? Scale the highest mountain? Sail across the stormy sea? Donate a kidney?

In "Bird of Paradise", Princess Kahlua (Debra Paget) walks over a bed of hot coals to prove she and Princeton student Andre (Louis Jourdan) are meant to be together.

 When she doesn't burn her tootsies ("I did not feel the fire"), the tribal elders allow the Polynesian princess and her beau (actually the college roommate of her brother Prince Tenga, played by Jeff Chandler) to get hitched. After a lavish island wedding, the honeymooners frolic for a bit and then things turn sour.

See, the tribal gods (supported by "The Big Kahuna" Maurice Schwartz) disapprove of mixed marriages and threaten to destroy Kahlua's island paradise. What's to be done? Someone has to throw themselves into the neighborhood volcano to make things right, of course.

Gosh, who will that be?

Based on a stage play from 1912, "Bird of Paradise" gave critics and audiences plenty of reasons to snicker, especially over its casting. Blue-eyed and fair skinned Debra Paget as Princess Kahlua "never resembles anything more than a cute trick at a bathing beauty contest at Hollywood High" carped one critic. Even crazier was the casting of Maurice Schwartz as the tribal witch doctor. A vet of New York's Yiddish Art Theater, Maurice gets to scowl and roll his eyes and rage at Jourdan, "Zis whit one brinks evil wit him!" Not until Laurence Olivier (!) fumed at Neil Diamond in "The Jazz Singer" remake in 1980 "I heff no zon!" had a respected professional debased himself so publicly.

On a happier note, for Junk Cinema fans at least, "Bird of Paradise" was honored by "The Son of Golden Turkey Awards" with their highly coveted "Most Awkward Marriage Proposal" award. What clinched it, of course, was Kahlua's fire walking.

"A Place for Lovers"(1969)--Faye Dunaway is an American fashion designer vacationing in Italy. Marcello Mastroianni is an Italian inventor. They meet, he pinches her fanny, they fall in love and have lots of sex. So what's the problem?

The problem is Faye is dying of an Incurable Illness and has no business cavorting in the sheets in her weakened condition. In fact, she's an escapee from a hospital! When a busybody friend informs Marcello of Dunaway's dire condition, Faye gets miffed and takes off. Faithful Marcello tracks her down, prevents Faye from committing suicide (something the movie does in a matter of seconds) and vows to stay by her side until the end.

This simple narrative, however, can't begin to describe how truly rancid "A Place for Lovers" is. In fact, the flick is best remembered today for the heaps of critical scorn it received from irate film reviewers. To wit:

"The most godawful piece of pseudo-romantic slop I've ever seen!" thundered Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times

"The five script writers who supposedly worked on this film must have spent enough time at the water cooler to flood a camel", groused Time.

"'A Place for Lovers'" involves Faye Dunaway, Marcello Mastroianni and Vittorvio DeSica in what I sincerely hope is the worst movie of their respective careers," carped Roger Greenspan of The New York Times.

"Marcello Mastroianni looks embarrassed and befuddled, also a bit puffy, as if he had his nap interrupted or had tarried too long at the pasta," snipped Charles Champlin of the Los Angeles Times.

In an interesting side note, Dunaway and Mastroianni had a off screen affair while making this picture. Just like their movie, it was a dud.

In an even more interesting side note, "Bucket of Bloods" Herschel Gordan Lewis is credited as one of the film's producers!

"Love Story"(1970)--Love means never having to say you're sorry?

Wanna bet?

In this turgid tear jerker, Ali McGraw is a poor smart ass and Ryan O'Neal is a rich preppy jerk. Of course, they are perfect for each other. His WASP parents hit the roof when they announce plans to marry and cut Ryan off without a red cent. Not to fear, the plucky couple work odd jobs, graduate on time and then Ryan is eventually hired at a fancy pants law firm.

Happily ever after? Not on your tin type. Suddenly Ali contracts, well, uh, geez, the movie never tells us. Cancer? Ebola? The Plague? Your guess is as good as mine. Whatever she has, though, McGraw looks great with her hair spread out decoratively on her pillow like Ophelia floating downstream in "Hamlet". O'Neal, on the other hand, sniffles and sweats bullets over his dear one's predicament while changing into to nifty ensemble after the next. They must not have had the same stylist.

"Love Story" was a mega-hit and the leads actually earned Oscar nominations(!) for their junior high school play acting. However, the whole thing is so phony and manipulative you can't wait for Ali to croak just so she'll shut up.

Believe it or not, "Love Story" was the highlight of Ali's acting career, a sorry exercise that includes such bombs as "Players", "Convoy" and the TV mini-series "The Winds of War, Part One" (she was replaced in "Part Two" by Jane Seymour).

"Hurricane"(1979)--It is a proven fact of movie life that remakes of classic, hit and/or foreign films are universally bad. If a film has been done the right way to the satisfaction of all involved, why remake it? Why not do something new and original? But noooo...

Thus Hollywood has tortured ticket buyers with "A Star is Born" starring Babs Streisand, "Breathless" with Richard Gere, "Where the Boys Are" with Lisa Hartman(before she was Mrs. Clint) Black, "Psycho" with Vince Vaughn and this water logged remake of the 1930's Dorothy LaMour classic.

This version posits Mia Farrow as the governor's daughter of some South Seas island paradise and Dayton Ka'ne as the local homeboy hunk. Of course these two fall in FORBIDDEN LOVE complicated by the fact that Ka'ne is pledged to another (but I bet you already knew that). Deeply troubled by his cross cultural feelings, Dayton pants at Farrow, "If the gods had meant me for another, then why, why did they send you?!"

Before Farrow can answer, a big hurricane comes along and washes everything out to sea, especially Mr. Ka'ne, who was never seen on the silver screen again.

Farrow made "Hurricane" during her Down Years, when she popped up in some truly odd movies. Of course, by 1979 making movies was the least of Farrow's concerns. After all, this was a gal who had already married and divorced Frank Sinatra and Andre Previn, had been kicked off TV's "Peyton Place", made "Rosemary's Baby" and was aggressively adopting kids. Unlike her co-star, Farrow's career was eventually resurrected by Woody Allen, but it proved a hollow victory: Allen would eventually dump Mia to marry her daughter becoming, in effect, her ex-boyfriend turned son-in-law.


"Dying Young"(1991)--Julia Roberts is packin' 'em in at the theaters with "Eat Pray Love", so it's just as good a time as any to remind folks that, along with her hits, Roberts has had her misses--like this cutesy, goofy tear jerker produced by her "Steele Magnolias" co-star Sally Field.

Rich, handsome, educated Campbell Scott (son of George C) is battling cancer. Thus, he needs a care taker to help with his daily needs--an attractive care taker, mind you. In saunters blue collar Julia, freshly dumped by her no-good-nick boyfriend and endlessly nagged by her Home Shopping Club addicted ma. Although Roberts has zero nursing skills (though she was a hospital volunteer), she gets the job anyway. Remember, Scott wanted somebody cute to look at during his illness, not Florence Nightingale (who was an excellent nurse, but no looker in real life).

Before this mis-matched couple can fall in love, they have to partake in some contrived scenes and trade cutie-pie dialogue, which guarantees that Scott won't be the only one throwing up.

Don't believe me?

Scott, an art history expert, can name the styles and builders around various LA landmarks. Not to be out done, Julia recognizes an important landmark herself: "Ronald McDonald, 1986!" she chirps. Later, the duo eat out at a snooty restaurant and Julia turns up her nose at the fancy food. "My mother always said,'You don't have to like everything, but you do have to try everything,'" Scott counsels her. Quips Julia, "My mother always said, 'Pass the Velveeta!'"

Finally, the couple GIVE INTO THEIR FEELINGS and FALL IN LOVE. Because Julia is on Campbell's payroll, this makes her uncomfortable. So what does Scott tell Julia to calm her fears? "I have only one thing to give you: my heart."


Campbell is delighted one day to announce his cancer is in remission. Now he and Julia can frolic like puppies for a while. The only problem is that, well, Scott doesn't seem to be cured. And he's not. In fact, he stopped doing chemo wasn't attacking the cancer? His insurance refused to pay for his treatment? He had grown allergic to the medicine? He could no longer handle the side-effects? No. Nope. None of the above. Instead, he stopped the chemo because he... wanted Julia to see him with hair. Yes, this dope jeopardized his very life so his gal pal wouldn't be embarrassed by the sight of his cue ball noggin. Never mind that Scott looks better bald than some men do with a full head of hair, so his ROMANTIC SACRIFICE is worthless--and just plain dumb, too.

Look, people in movies do lots of stupid things for love, but this takes the cake. Scott's motives had movie critics crying foul and audiences avoiding the movie in droves--except, of course, for Junk Cinema fans, who delight in this kind of insulting silliness.

So what do all these love sick movies say about the world around us? Plenty!

A)The best love stories always end with someone dying--so much for happily ever after.

B)Opposites may attract, but they repel everyone else.

C)Natural disasters can spoil a perfectly good make-out session.


D)Love does mean having to say you're sorry--very, very sorry--over and over again!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Message from the Emergency Broadcast System

We interrupt your regularly scheduled reading of rotten flick history to bring you the following announcement:

Now is the time for all good film fanatics to come to the aid of their movies! A small but vital segment of Junk Cinema is disappearing faster than the Spotted Owl, the Rain Forest, the Florida Everglades and the White Siberian Tiger all rolled into one: the made-for-tv-movie.

This is no laughing matter--although, if you just sat through the tv movie "Devil's Pond"(where a newlywed psycho-hubby chains his bride to a tree so she won't leave him) you probably won't agree with me.

Yes, tv movies are the red headed step-children of the entertainment industry. They long to be taken seriously, but with their minuscule budgets and tight shooting schedules they can't compete with feature films. Nor do they have the historic pedigree of the theater, opera or ballet.

And, yes, over the decades there have been a handful of tv movies that have managed to break through the pack and stand out as excellent dramas-- but Junk Cinema isn't interested in any of those exceptions to the rules. Instead, it is the over heated, badly acted, hypnotically nutty made-for-tv-movie that Junk Cinema and bad film fans take to their collective hearts. And it is these very flicks that are endangered.

What's behind the crisis? Changing times and tastes play a role, as does the growth of cable, DVDs and VCRs. However, the main culprit in the decline and fall of tv movies is that evil succubus known as "Reality TV".

Like a biblical plague of locusts, reality tv has swooped down from on high, devouring big chunks of the broadcast schedule and leaving nothing but death and destruction in its wake.

Made for a pittance, reality tv shows have no writers, no actors and no shame. Reality tv can be conceived and cancelled at little or no cost to the networks. Unlike sitcoms, dramas, mini-series and, yes, tv movies, reality tv requires virtually no creative thought at all. Want to watch a bunch of over weight people go on a hike? I give you "Fat Walk". Want to watch a bunch of twenty-something lay-abouts act like rejects from a hormone experiment? I give you "Big Brother". Want to watch a group of pre-teens try to cut it without adult supervision? I give you "Kid Nation". Want to see a bunch of big-haired Mafia brides act like Screaming Mimi's? Watch "The Real Housewives of New Jersey".

On the other hand, tv movies require a tremendous amount of brain power to dream up and pitch to the networks. Just imagine what guts you would need to sketch out and then propose a tv movie be made about a rock group that foils a madman's evil designs on humanity. But because a brave soul did just that, we have "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park" (1978), where the make-up kings of '70's rock defeat a mad scientist who wanted to turn people into amusement park robots. The same goes for the geniuses behind "It Happened at Lakewood Manner" (1977), where guests at a exclusive resort are attacked by.... killer ants! And you would have to be really believe in a project like "Bad Ronald" (1976), where a nut job murders his mom and then sheet rocks himself into his house to avoid capture. I bet the pitch behind this tv-er probably went something like this:

PRODUCER:"He sheet rocks himself into the house, get it? Sure, he has no food, water or toilet facilities, but, hey, he sheet rocks himself into the house! The viewers at home will eat it up!"


Alas, reality tv has so altered the television landscape that this kind of inspired insanity is no longer welcomed or appreciated. When "Bad Ronald" and KISS have to step aside for those troglodytes on "The Jersey Shore" we all suffer.

As Junk Cinema fans know, tv movies played a key role in the development of our bad movie heritage. With the phasing out of drive-ins in the 1970's, tv movies became a valuable Junk Cinema pipeline, bringing horrible acting, big hair and cheesy special effects into the homes of millions. Like Ed Wood or Coleman Francis, tv movies regularly explored the cut-rate world of demonic possession ("Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell", 1978), mother nature gone crazy ("Killer Bees", 1974), out of control teenagers ("Diary of a Teenage Hitchhiker", 1979) women in prison ("Nightmare in Badham County", 1976) and the evils of Hollywood ("Katie: Portrait of a Centerfold" starring future Oscar winner Kim Basinger in the title role) with the same earnest ineptness as any Poverty Row studio. Among some of the best examples of made-for-tv-madness are:

"Killdozer"(1974) An evil entity from outer space (where else?) possesses the soul of a bulldozer and turns it into, well, a KILLDOZER!

"Forbidden Love"(1982) Elizabeth Barret and Robert Browning be damned! Yvette Mimieux (she's older) and Andrew Stevens (he's younger) flaunt their unnatural love before the horrified world. Have they no shame?

The Amy Fisher Saga. Amy Fisher was just another gum-cracking teenager until she fell madly in love with studly car repairman Joey Buttafuco and shot his wife in the head. This sordid tale inspired not one, not two, but THREE tv movies (two of which aired on the same night!) and helped revive the career of Drew Barrymore.

"Mother, May I Sleep With Danger ?" Horse-faced Tori Spelling falls under the spell of a controlling psycho who, among other horrors, urges her to cut her hair and go blond. The highlight of this baby is watching the nut job boyfriend racing after Tori (while swinging an ax) as she furiously paddles to safety in a discarded rowboat.

Alas, this embarrassment of riches is quickly dying out. The only place on television where tv movies still have a home is the Lifetime Channel, but not even the "television for women" people can hold out forever. So what are Junk Cinema fans to do?

Sadly, our options are few, but here are some suggestions:

First, stop watching reality tv. Television is all about ratings and advertising dollars. If people stopped watching reality tv shows , their ratings will tank and their sponsors will pull out. Instead of watching this depressing slop, read a book, go for a walk or, even better, watch an Ed Wood movie instead.

Second, watch those tv movies that are being broadcast. I just caught "The Client List", where Jennifer Love Hewitt played a down on her luck wife and mom who got a job at a "spa" that turned out to be a house of ill repute. Not as funny as her "Ghost Whisperer" tv series, but entertaining none the less. And her "Texas accent" was a riot.

Third, support scrappy little shows like cable channel 29's "Saturday Night Fright Special" which show old horror movies, goofy commercials, silly PSAs and hard to find cartoons. When I last tuned in, I saw the original Vincent Price version of "The Last Man on Earth" (based on the short story "I am Legend") which was double-billed with "The Terror of Tiny Town". Pure genius!

Fourth, don't watch reality tv. Period. If you want to see unvarnished reality, go over to your local WalMart and watch a bunch of hicks standing around arguing about paint chips.

So, Junk Cinema fans, it's up to us. Do we sit idly by while Snooki and endless "Survivor" cast-offs destroy the industry that once gave us "The Dick Van Dyke Show", "Laugh-In" and "60 Minutes" or do we rise up and say, "Enough is enough! All you pan-fried, big-haired, morally-bankrupt fame whores go back to your underground caves! We want The ABC Mystery Movie back, and we want it back now! And while we're at it, we want to see Jane Seymour, Patty Duke, Tori Spelling, Jack Scalia, Meredith Baxter and Marjoe Gortner emoting up a storm! And when do we want it? We want it now!"

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Say "Cheese!": Junk Cinema and the History of Sex Tapes

Hey, kids! Want to know what the latest craze sweeping the nation is? Hula Hoops? Skateboarding? IPods?

Nope. It's sex tapes!

Yes, you're nobody till somebody has taped you doing the nasty.

And it's not just low life denizens with an acute shortage of morals or "reality TV stars" who are making these tapes (although they do appear in quite a few of them). No sir! It's politicians, artists, sports heroes and representatives of our wealthiest families who are churning them out at an astonishing rate.

Now, at this point in this missive, you are probably saying to yourself, "Ms. Arnold, I read the newspapers. I keep up with current events. I know this type of thing is happening, thank you very much. If I want the lowdown on the latest sex tape doings, I can buy "US" magazine. However, when I read your blog it is for the specific purpose of educating myself on the joys of Junk Cinema. What do the taped cavortings of a bunch of half-wits have to do with the celebration and elevation of bad movies?"

I am so glad you asked.

Because, believe it or not, Junk Cinema was the first place to acknowledge that sex tapes even existed.

It all started in 1964, when many of today's sex tape superstars were just freckles on the nose of The Giant Pixie. The movie was the landmark Junk classic "The Carpetbaggers". This overheated (and badly acted) tale of Hollywood go-getters featured George Peppard as a megalomaniac business tycoon/movie producer who likes his sex rough, his women slutty and booze by the quart. After his tom catting drives his first wife away and his studio's top female star (who was once both his fiance AND his step-mother!) dies in a car crash, George goes looking for his next discovery. He finds her in hooker Martha Hyer. George not only turns Martha into a movie star, he also decides to marry her. The problem is Hyer is being blackmailed by scummy agent Robert Cummings, who has a "stag reel" (AKA a sex tape) that Martha made back when she did most of her acting flat on her back.

With her career and marriage hanging in the balance, Martha tearfully 'fesses up about her shameful past. And how does George react to this bombshell? He causally informs Hyer that not only did he know about her sex tape all along, but that he had seen it--twice, mind you. "That's why I wanted you!" Peppard sputters."You were beautiful and no good and that made it better!"

Flash forward to 1978. Poor Joan Collins is having a rough go of it, career-wise. How bad are things for Joanie? She's reduced to starring in a trashy movie called "The Stud" that is based not only on the same titled novel written by her kid sis Jackie, but kid sis Jackie also wrote the screenplay.

In this picture, Joan plays a sinister jet setter who insists that boy-for-hire Oliver Tobias (ever heard of him? Me neither.) service her night and day. This puts a real strain on Tobias' already over crowded schedule, but Collins isn't exactly the sort of gal who takes "no" for an answer. In fact, she's so thrilled with Tobias', er, "abilities" that she commits their cavorting to tape. How naughty!

"The Stud" (and its companion piece "The Bitch") signified that Joanie, who had briefly studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and once dated Warren Beatty, had officially entered her Down Years. A Hollywood contract starlet since the mid-1950's, Collins regularly appeared in tripe like "Land of the Pharaohs", "The Opposite Sex" and "The Sea Wife" (as a nun!). By the 1970's, however, she was forced to make do with roles in such flicks as "I Don't Want to be Born" (where Joan's unborn baby is cursed by an evil midget after she refuses his sexual advances) and "Empire of the Ants" (which cast Joan as a mean real estate boss lady who must do battle with a bunch of fiberglass ants that grow to gigantic proportions after they swallow some radioactive goop).

Then she made "The Stud". Poor dear.

Of course, as history shows, Joan survived these and other cinematic indignities (like the Farrah Fawcet movie "Sunburn") and went on to score her greatest artistic triumpth by starring in the nighttime soap opera "Dynasty". She would also create a signature perfume, marry her fifth husband and write several romance novels. What a trouper that Collins gal is!

Of course, as tacky and junky and shoddy a piece of work as "The Carpetbaggers" and "The Stud" are, they can't hold a candle to the greatest sex tape epic ever made: "Full Exposure: The Sex Tape Scandal".

Made in 1989 for network television, "Full Exposure" starred Lisa Hartman (the future Mrs. Clint Black) as a DA with big hair, an acute addiction to shoulder pads and about one facial expression. She's investigating a murder linked to an exclusive call girl ring run by de-throned Miss America Vanessa Williams. It appears that Ms. Williams (who also sports big hair) caters to some pretty sick tickets and secretly tapes their "sessions"--all the better to blackmail them with later. Hilarious complications ensue when Hartman learns that her white haired father is (gasp!) a regular client of Vanessa's and is being blackmailed with his own (gasp!) sex tape.

But we're not done yet. One year later "Brat Pack"er Rob Lowe would grace a flick called "Bad Influence" where he would lead yuppie James Spader to rack and ruin--and, yes, secretly tapes him having sex and then (gasp!) releasing it publicly.

Now, it needs to be pointed out that none of the folks in these flicks are happy about their sex tape pasts. Sobbed Martha Hyer, "I'm only good for one thing!" Moans Oliver Tobias, "I'm tired of sticking it in everything that winks at me." And it's a sure bet that Father's Day will be real tense at Lisa Hartman's house now that she knows her widowed father has been patronizing hookers.

So what is the message to be gleaned from all this?

Message Number One: If you have sex with someone, for business or pleasure, don't tape it.

Message Number Two: If you decide to ignore this advice, there is a 99% chance that the tape of your cavorting will be made public.

Message Number Three: When the sex tape is released, you will be very, very embarrassed. Not only will people be shocked at your appalling stupidity and lack of judgement, they will probably being having a good laugh at your chubby thighs.

Message Number Four: Only people in low rent Junk movies can survive being in a sex tape.

You have been warned.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Love's Labors Lost: "The Bachelor"

Well, America, the wait is over. ABC's "The Bachelor" has ended its 14th(!) season Monday (3/1/10) with bachelor Jake Pavelka choosing the improbably named Vienna Girardi for his hand.

Of course, the happy couple have yet to set a wedding date. If they follow in the footsteps of previous "Bachelor" twosomes, Jake and Vienna won't even make it to the alter: only four couples brought together by this "reality show" are still together and only one has actually married.

Indeed, seconds after Jake went on bended knee to give Vienna the ring, you could almost hear the organ music swell and a pretentious voice-over boom, "Can a one-time actor turned flight instructor find true happiness with an ex-Hooters waitress accused of clearing out her first husband's bank account to finance her boob job? Tune in tomorrow..."

Although this latest offering of "The Bachelor" franchise was subtitled "On the Wings of Love", love has nothing to to do with this program, ever. Despite the glitz and the gloss, "The Bachelor" is really just a depressing mixture of porn voyeurism, game show humiliations and tacky soap opera.

Just the basic set up is cringe inducing. A reasonably attractive guy is presented with 25 pre-selected reasonably attractive single gals. While the bachelor resides in spacious digs, the females are all housed together, each hoping to become "The One" and, of course, acting as catty and bitchy as possible.

As the weeks pass, the ladies are put through their paces in a series of "getting to know you" challenges. This might involve, for instance, being forced to do stand-up comedy in a club or endure a camping "road trip". As the herd thins, the bachelor will then begin taking the gals on group (2 or more) or single "dates", presumably to get more up close and personal--while the cameras record every magic moment. Woven amidst these excursions are taped interviews with the gals, who usually swoon over the bachelor and say more nasty stuff about their competition (like "She's so phony!" and "Why can't he see through her?!").

The centerpiece of each "Bachelor" episode is "The Rose Ceremony", where the bachelor hands the ladies who passed muster during the week a flower. Naturally, as not every gal can receive a rose, at least one or two hopefuls will be sent packing.

No matter how you slice it, "The Rose Ceremony" is sadistic torture at its finest. For many viewers (present company included), it brings back painful memories of gym class, where the best athletes divvied up their peers for rival teams, the least coordinated kids dead last. "The Bachelor", however, ratchets up the humiliation factor into the stratosphere.

First, the show's smarmy host Chris Harrison reminds the bachelor that he must send one or more of the women home. Next, the bachelor is given a few moments to prepare, where he comes to terms with his anguished duty. Jake, the most recent "Bachelor", entered every Rose Ceremony looking like he had just learned his beloved grandma had been torn to pieces by a pack of rabid dogs. Then the ladies, clad in cocktail dresses and looking very nervous, line up like human bowling pins waiting to be struck down. Finally, the bachelor starts handing out the roses. To heighten the dramatic effect of these proceedings, the room is lit ominously dark and dirge-like music accompanies each name spoken. There are also plenty of excruciating pauses. Once all the roses are handed out, the losers are given a few seconds to bid tearful goodbyes before she (or they) are quickly shoved into a waiting limo (their bags are already packed, by the way) and sent off into the night.

Are we done? Not quite. As the reject is driven away, viewers are treated to her copiously weeping in the limo, wondering how things could have gone so horribly, horribly wrong. Meanwhile, back on the "Bachelor" set, the remaining hopefuls are quaffing bubbly and eagerly awaiting next week's activities. Cheers!

"The Bachelor" is just low rent junk masquerading as...what, exactly? That is the central problem with "reality shows": they claim to be showing real events in real time involving real people, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Reality shows cull their participants from casting calls. Casting agents choose among the hopefuls, looking for heroes, villains and "break out" stars, just as they would for any movie or TV show. The events depicted are not spontaneous happenings; camera crews follow these people around for hours hoping for something to happen. The footage people see at home has been shot, edited for time and content and to provide the necessary "teasers" between commercials and next week's show. Of course, in the case of "The Bachelor", there is always extra footage held back for "specials" like "The Bachelor: The Women Tell All" (where the rejects get to air their grievances) and "After the Rose" (where the new "Bachelor" couple gush about how happy they are and their plans for their future). In short, "reality TV" is just as manufactured as any soap opera or tear-jerking Lifetime movie of the week--and just as unrealistic.

Jake and Vienna, of course, insist their love is real and true. For now, anyway. As I noted earlier in this post, chances are slim to none that Jake and Vienna will make it to their golden wedding anniversary--or even to the alter. That's because true love isn't a product that can be won a game show, like a life time supply of Rice-a-Roni. True love takes time, effort, sacrifice, compromise, communication: exactly the kind of thing you won't find "The Bachelor" or any other reality show.

In short, "The Bachelor" is to love and marriage what "Keeping up with the Kardashians" is to the nuclear family: nothing.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Junk Drawer: Spotlight on "Fantasy Island"

From 1978 to 1984, at 10 pm Saturday night on ABC, viewers by the droves turned into one of the most bizarre programs ever to appear on American television: "Fantasy Island".

The brain child of "The Sultan of Schlock" Aaron Spelling, "Fantasy Island" starred the white suited and always debonair Ricardo Montalban as "Mr. Roarke", the mysterious and all-knowing proprietor of Fantasy Island. At his side was the equally white suited Herve' Villechaize as "Tattoo", Mr. R's loyal second-in-command.

Like any successful TV show, "Fantasy Island" followed a set, rigid formula. Beginning with over head shots of a lush tropical paradise, cameras then cut to Tattoo racing up the steps of a tower, energetically ringing a bell and then exclaiming in his heavy French accent, "Ze plane! Ze plane!"

As if on cue, the employees of Fantasy Island, stylishly attired in native garb, would begin playing steel drums and hula dancing. Mr. Roarke's final words to his staff were always, "Smiles, everybody! Smiles!"

Then the guests would disembark from a sea plane, receive a complimentary lei and choose from a tray of tropical drinks, the type with bendy straws and an umbrella garnish.

While the guests mingled among themselves and sampled the hooch, Tattoo would ask Mr. Roarke their names and what their fantasies were. Every week, it was something different: to be a royal, travel back to the Wild West as a sheriff, meet a historical figure, reconnect with a long-lost love or relative. One gal, dying of an incurable disease, even had as her fantasy to marry Mr. Roarke.

Of course, because our fantasies about a specific situation are often better than the reality, people rarely had a smooth sail on "Fantasy Island". As the various fantasies played out, guests often faced unexpected dangers and usually got what they deserved, not what they wanted. Thus, when their stay on Fantasy Island was over, Mr. Roarke's "dear guests" learned some valuable Life Lessons, which they always thanked him for.

As Montalban and Villechaize were "Fantasy Island"s only stock characters, the show relied heavily on a steady stream of B, C, D and F grade actors to play the program's guests. No doubt grateful to have a job, "Fantasy Island" played host to such acting luminaries as Toni Tenelle, Bob Denver, Loni Anderson, David Doyle, Barbi Benton, Gary Collins, Dack Rambo and Lisa Hartman (before she married Clint)Black.

Even though "Fantasy Island" was suppose to be escapist entertainment, certain episodes were so surreally nutty you couldn't help but wonder if the writers were smoking something funny in the break room.

A perfect example involved Carol Brady herself, Florence Henderson. She was cast as a TV reporter who was being hounded by a mysterious, menacing force: devil worshipping snake charmers. Despite all of Flo's attempts to out wit them, she still wound up in their clutches. The highlight of the episode was a terrified Henderson tied to a tiki, waiting to be sacrificed by the cult's high priest. Just in the nick of time, however, Mr. Roarke arrives to save her and reveal the head of the devil worshipping snake cult: her boyfriend. The snake!

Another priceless episode featured a pre-"Dynasty" Joan Collins as a Cleopatra expert who's fantasy was to travel back to ancient Egypt. This she does, only to be shanghaied into impersonating the Queen of the Nile and enduring make-out sessions with Marc Anthony (Ron Ely, best known as TV's "Tarzan"). The name of this episode was--I kid you not-"My Fair Pharaoh".

As goofy as the above premise seems, casting Collins as Cleopatra actually had cinematic precedent. Back in the 1950's when she was a contract starlet in Hollywood, Collins (who had played a Nile cobra in the hoot fest "Land of the Pharaohs" in 1956) had been cast as Cleopatra in what was to be a modestly budgeted bio of the Nile Queen. Various problems and delays plagued the production and Joan was forced to drop out. Eventually replacing Joan was Elizabeth Taylor, who made movie history for netting a million dollar fee. When "Cleopatra" finally bowed in theaters in 1963, it had become the most talked about, troublesome and expensive movie ever made. In fact, "Cleo" nearly destroyed 20th Century Fox Studios.

Joan's appearance on "Fantasy Island" coincided with a serious down phase in her career. Despite appearing in over 30 films of dubious quality (with titles like "The Sea Wife", "The Opposite Sex" and "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing"), Joan was now supporting herself and husband #3 in horror films like "I Don't Want To Be Born" and "Empire of the Ants". However, all that would end when she was cast as Alexis Carrington on "Dynasty" who's producer was, coincidentally, Aaron Spelling. Although about as realistic as "Fantasy Island", "Dynasty" did revive Joan's career (good), while at the same convincing legions of women to add shoulder pads to their wardrobes (bad).

Despite the apparent success of "Fantasy Island", the show still raised a host of ethical questions that not even the practiced smoothness of Mr. Roarke could paper over. In no particular order they are:

1)How did Mr. Roarke come up with the idea for Fantasy Island in the first place? How did he pitch his idea to investors?

2)How did fantasy Island attract guests? Did they advertise with travel agencies? Did Fantasy Island have a full color brochure?

3)How much did it cost to stay on Fantasy Island? Did it have discounts and group rates? Did a guest's fantasy also include air fare, hotel accommodations and meals?

4)Did guests have to sign a waiver on Fantasy Island so they couldn't sue if they incurred injury during their stay?

5)What kind of vetting process did Mr. Roarke and his staff follow regarding potential fantasies? Were there certain fantasies he wouldn't honor? Also, if a guest had a really bad time on Fantasy Island, could they get their money back?

6)Did guests have to have some elaborate fantasy or could their fantasy just be to spend a nice quiet weekend wind surfing?

7)Did the employees of Fantasy Island belong to a union? Did they have to sign a confidentiality agreement upon being hired? What kind of benefits package did they have?

8)Just what, exactly, was Tattoo's job? Mr. Roarke often treated him like a wayward child and he appeared to have little administrative responsibilities. Other than chasing after the hula dancers, he didn't really do much.

"Fantasy Island" was yet another jewel in the crown of Sultan of Schlock Aaron Spelling and a nail in the coffin for intelligent television. Besides "Fantasy Island", Spelling also gave us "The Mod Squad", "Charlie's Angel's", "The Love Boat", "Dynasty", "Hotel", "Beverly Hills 90210" and "Models, Inc". As bad as these show were, undoubtedly the worst productions Spelling was involved in were his children, Tori and Randy. Horse-faced and deeply untalented, these two tots regularly popped up on dad's shows, amazing viewers with their inept attempts to act. By far the worst of the two was daughter Tori, who played the dim-witted Donna on "90210" and continues to terrorize thinking people on her reality show "Dean and Tori".

As even all good things must come to an end, "Fantasy Island" shut its doors after six years. Attempts to remake the show in syndication (with "A Clockwork Orange"s Malcolm McDowell as Mr. Roarke) tanked, just as it should have. Viewers can catch the original in reruns, where they can marvel at how something so goofy and terribly acted managed to say in the Top Ten for so long.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

And the winner is...

Welcome back, movie lovers! Award season is upon us and you know what that means: an endless parade of award shows. From the Golden Globes to the People's Choice to the Screen Actor's Guild Awards to the Oscar's, we'll all soon be drowning a sea of red carpets.

However, in my humble opinion, the best acting performances of the year did not take place on the silver screen, but in real life. As talented as Streep and DeNiro are, they couldn't possibly compete with the scene stealer's who had us coughing up our pop corn with their nutty theatrics. And the nominees are...


Tiger Woods--Just like the tortured protagonist in Dr. Jeckle and Mr. Hyde, the golfing great proved he could morph into two completely different characters: the "good Tiger" a soft spoken, mild mannered duffer with a lovely wife and two cute kids and the "bad Tiger" who conveniently forgets about his lovely wife and two cute kids to indulge in an endless round of Bed The Floozy.

Because Tiger's meticulously managed public image seemed so refreshingly honorable, the public was stunned to learn Woods was capable of such heartless lechery--as were his sponsors, who either dropped him like a hot potato or were nervously waiting for the other shoe to drop.

With Tiger's mistress count now hovering steady at 14, Woods' two-faced double act (complete with naughty text messages, rumored pay-offs and an alleged sex tape floating around) falls firmly under the heading "We Never Saw That One Coming".

Glenn Beck--The Fox Channel's latest ratings grabber is a crew-cut sporter who sheds more tears than the most bedeviled soap opera heroine. On Monday through Friday, viewers can watch Glenn rant and rave about President Obama's "deep seated hatred" of white people, sputter about how health care reform is "unconstitutional" and declare that science czar John Holdren suggested forced abortions and sterilants in the drinking water would be a great way to curb population growth (I won't go into his snit fit about "fascist art").

As he's leveling his charges, Beck proceeds to whip himself into an emotional frenzy usually reserved for the diva's mad scene in countless grand operas. Then, just when you think the guy is about to pop a blood vessel or perhaps at least wet himself, Beck breaks into floods of tears, claiming he's only doing so because he loves his country "so much".

Viewed from beginning to end, Beck's performance is an awesome (and exhausting) display of half-baked accusations, paranoid conspiracy theories even the John Birch Society would snicker at and sheer hucksterism (Glenn's side gig of hawking gold to avoid the coming economic apocalypse even got him into hot water with Fox). While Beck's supporters will not doubt defend his teary theatrics as honest emotion, it's an acquired taste (like tapioca). However, it's a sure bet that if any dreaded "liberal " or "progressive" indulged in such behavior, they (and Beck) would be less forgiving.

Mark Sandford--Conservative family values South Carolina Gov. Mark Sandford
went hiking up the Appalachian Trail and somehow wound up in Argentina, the home of his "soul mate" Maria. This little detour not only left his staff in the lurch (they had no way to contact him), but it enraged his wife Jenny, who had previously ordered her spouse to end the affair.

When Sandford's behavior became public knowledge, Mark was obliged to give a press conference and in doing so cemented his Best Actor nomination. With tears in his eyes, Sandford claimed the whole business had started out "so innocently" and, after confessing his sins, he planned to rededicate himself to the cumbersome task of "falling back in love" with his wife. Throughout his ordeal, Mark, once a GOP rising star who came within a hair's breath of getting impeached, wore the pained expression of an acid reflux sufferer who couldn't figure out why people were saying such mean things about him. From beginning to end, he was utterly clueless.

That cannot be said of Mrs. Sandford, who, in short order, packed up the kids, moved out of the governor's mansion, filed for divorced, was profiled in Vogue and has an autobiography coming out. You go, girl!

Levi Johston--Once upon a time, there was a slightly thuggish high school drop-out who got his teenage girlfriend pregnant. This sad tale might have remained just another private family disappointment except for the fact that the pregnant girlfriend, Bristol, was the daughter of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin who, in turn, was plucked from obscurity to be GOP nominee John McCain's running mate.

Like Cinderella before the grand ball, Levi was spiffed up for the GOP nominating convention in an Armani suit (and ordered to chop off his mullet) so he could hold Bristol's hand for the cameras and thus appear every inch the supportive fiance.

Then daylight was let in on the magic. The McCain/Palin ticket tanked with voters, Bristol gave birth to a bouncing baby boy, the teens started fighting and the wedding was off. Rather than retire quietly to Alaska, Levi instead got himself an agent (named Tank) and decided he wanted to be an actor/model. He also began giving a series of slightly sinister interviews, accusing the Palins of keeping him from his baby son and hinting that he knew lots of nasty stuff about his would-be mother-in-law Sarah that, if it ever came out, would be really damaging to the GOP/Fox News It Girl...but Levi, a gentleman, would never go that far...

Just when it looked like the Johnston/Palin feud couldn't get any nuttier, it went nuclear. While Bristol was out stumping for abstinence as a "Teen Ambassador" for the Candies Foundation, Levi's agents proudly announced their client would be posing nude for "Playgirl" magazine, a publication supposedly aimed at sexually liberated women, but actually enjoyed quite a following with gay men. Johnston, however, seemed unconcerned with such details. With an infant son to support, a mom in jail and a nasty custody hearing in the future, a guy's gotta eat. Or as Johnston memorably told the press, "I just get nude. That's what I do."


In a tight, tight race Tiger wins the Best Actor (dis)honors because his about face from gentleman sportsman to unfaithful skirt chaser with an endless supply of mistresses was just so unexpected. This type of caddish behavior one might expect from the likes of, say, Warren Beatty or Wilt Chamberlin, but not the dedicated, disciplined Tiger. The fact that he had managed to keep a lid on his antics for so long adds another dimension to Woods' over-all performance. In the final analysis, Mark Sandford is just another philandering politician, Glenn Beck is just another right-wing wind machine and Levi Johnston is just another dumb kid out to make a quick buck. But we expected more from Tiger Woods because he always seemed to expect more from himself.

His Award: His lucky putter bent into a gigantic slip knot and engraved with the following words, "Men's evil manners live in brass; their virtues we write in water" (from "Henry VIII").


Tiger Woods' Mistresses--Not since the all-star, ill-fated remake of "The Women" have a collection of females so publicly debased themselves. Although Meg Ryan, Annette Bening et. al. had demonstrated talent and charm in previous incarnations, the gals linked to Tiger have not. In fact, this dubious assortment of cocktail waitresses, would-be actresses, "Trashy Lingerie" models and porn starlets could have come directly from B-movie central casting with their big hair, tacky clothes and cheesey rhinestones glued to their faces. To paraphrase Gillette, one of the many sponsors that have dumped Tiger since the whole sorry mess began, is this the best this man could get?

Sartorial sins, however, are not their only problems. These gals are also rock stupid. How else could they explain not knowing that Tiger was married with children? Or that they were shocked, shocked, to learn that they weren't the "only one" in the golfer's hectic life? Worse, these doxies chose a real cheapskate for their sugar daddy. Sure, he'd fly them to heck and gone for a tryst, but Tiger wouldn't pay for their liposuction. The heartless cad! As one mistress sobbed in her regulation TV interview, "All I got out of this relationship was a broken heart."

Better luck next time, sweetie.

The Kardashian Sisters--They can't sing, they can't dance, they can't act, they dress in dubious taste, they show profound decision making impairment and they may not even have opposable thumbs. But Kim, Kourney and Khole Kardashian are media darlings.


Chances are you'd be better off deciphering the mysteries of the pyramids or fomulating a coherent explination of how Humming Birds stay afloat than explaining the appeal of these less-then-likable sisters.

As the stars of two "E!" reality shows (produced by "American Idol's" Ryan Seacrest, the luckiest man in show business next to Ringo Starr), viewers can watch these "celebutaunts" attend parties, premieres, get drunk, pose in various states of undress, fight among themselves, get pregnant out of wedlock and get married. Meanwhile, their proud mother (and manager) Kris furiously spins their latest excesses to their advantage as their befuddled stepdad Bruce Jenner merely observes in passive dispair.

The fact that these gals have no problem with TV cameras recording even the most intimate of their encounters (like visits to the Ob/Gyn) shows a profoundly disturbing lack of personal boundries. Even worse, wittnessing the sister's K obvious sense of entitlement and firm belief that they deserve their dubious "fame" is to experience a collective parting from reality. This is one sister act the world could definately live without.

Nadya Suleman--If you were going to select a canadate for a round of IVF treatments, would you choose a happily married couple with a stable income or a loopy single gal living off student loans and disability payments who already had six kids shoehorned into her mom's house, which was in foreclosure?

Believe it or not, Nadya Suleman was the recipient of this medical miracle treatment and thus became one of 2009's most compelling train wrecks.

Quickly dubbed "The Octomom" because she safely delivered octuplets, Suleman brought her kid count to a whopping 14, putting other multiple moms like Kate Gosselin (8) and Queen Victoria (9) in the dust. The only gal who tops Nadya in the Battle of the Births is Queen Charlotte, consort to King George III, who squeezed out 15 rugrats of her own (two of which became king).

At first praised as "the Miracle Mom", the well wishes of the public soured when the realities of Suleman's baby obsession became public. She, in turn, stoutly defended herself claiming all she ever really wanted in life was a big family--conviently ignoring that with six kids to begin with, she already had a big family. What's more, Nadya declared that she planned to practice celibacy in future and return to college to become a counselor. Meanwhile, the doc who handled her IVF treatment is facing censure from the state's medical board.

Unfortunately, Suleman's high minded goals for herself and her kids went out the window when she began cutting deals with various tabloid outlets, thus turning her vulnerable tykes into a combination side show/cash cow. Typical of Nadya's media dealings is the recent cover of "Star" magazine, where the mother of 14 flaunted her new "bikini body" and offered readers inside tips on "How I did it!" Although Suleman is clearly prepared to do anything for a much needed infusion of tabloid cash, she did turn down a request to do a porno movie.

However, since becoming a such a willing tabloid fixture, it's worth noting that Nadya has gone through a string of publicists and even tested the patience of TV's Dr. Phil. She's also publicly fought with her weary mom, who couldn't believe her divorced, unemployed daughter would want to add eight more kids on top of the six she already had--and she's not the only one. Nadya even had the nerve to snear at Kate Gosselin and tear up her photo.

All in all, the odyssey of the octomom is a sad reminder that just because you can give birth doesn't mean you should.

Carrie Prejean--They say the definition of insanity is holding two completely opposing thought in your head at the same time.

Case in point, dethroned beauty queen turned conservative It Girl Carrie Prejean.

In Carrie's hastily written bio "Still Standing", she laments the flourishing of unrealistic, highly sexualized images of females in the media, while at the same time ignoring her career as a fashion model and beauty pagent contestant--two industries which have historically provided boat loads of those unrealistic, highly sexualized images she so laments.

Besides double talking, Carrie also had a weird habit of blaming other people for her problems. When she failed to be crowned Miss USA, for example, she blamed it on her negative stance on gay marriage. Later, when the Miss California USA pagent people demanded their crown back, Prejean insisted it was because of her religious views and filed suit. The pagent people filed a counter suit, claiming that Carrie's religious views had nothing to do with it, but her skipping offical appearances did. And, what's more, they wanted the money back from her breast implants. Not giving a inch, Carrie insisted the Miss California USA people were the ones who told her to get the implants in the first place--and besides, she added, the Bible says nothing against gals having a great rack (after all, What-Would-Jesus-Do? Wear falsies?).

However, Carrie's house of cards came tumbling down when it was disclosed that she had starred in not one, not two, but EIGHT self-made sex tapes where she,uh, "pleasures" heself on camera. Even then Prejean insisted she was the wronged party in the matter, as she had selflessly made these tapes for her then-boyfriend and was shocked, shocked, that he would callously make her gift public. In light of these developments, both Carrie and the Miss California USA pagent people ended their legal fued. But Carrie wasn't done yet. Appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" to promote her book, Prejean lectured King on how "inapprobriate" his questions were and she almost walked off the set in a huff. How rude.

Miss Prejean is clearly a gal who believes evrything she says, even though she has no idea what she's talking about. Porn is bad, but sex tapes make great gifts. Breast implants can be christian friendly. The main stream media supplies young girls with unrealistic images of female perfection, but beauty pagents don't. When waiving copies of your bio around on "Larry King Live", refuse to answer serious questions and threaten to walk off in a huff if the host persists. And when in doubt, blame a nasty "liberal media" for all your bad decisions.

Paging Dr. Phil!


Yes, in another tight, tight race, Carrie Prejean wins the coveted Best Actress honors because her performance was the nuttiest of the bunch.

Only a gal with an unchecked and untreated persecution complex could claim religious intolerence, boyfriend betryal, media bashing and Larry King's impertence were the reasons she had her Miss California USA crown taken away --it couldn't possibly be those topless photos and sex tapes. As some one who aspires to be a role model to vulnerable young girls, Miss Prejean is anything but. In fact, she just may be a living embodiment of the addage "Beauty is only skin deep".

Her Award: A cracked mirror inscribed "All that glitters is not gold" (from "The Merchant of Venice").