Tuesday TV Testimonials #13…

The Cosby Show (1984 – 1992)

CS-cosby-castIt may be difficult to watch The Cosby Show these days without its family-friendly atmosphere being tainted by the recent sexual assault allegations that have been made against the head of the Huxtable household, but having said that, I’d be lying if I denied that it was one of my favourite sitcoms when I was growing up.

The Cosby Show was extremely popular. If you were my age, and you had a TV, it seems you were at least an occasional viewer. It fought against its generic title to became the most successful small screen comedy of the eighties, and the Huxtable’s – who were the first prominent sitcom family to be both black and affluent – helped to break down the colour barriers along the way. While it was never the funniest thing on the box (even at the time there were better sitcoms) it was one of the best examples of how to do clean-cut comedy well, and still appeal to the grown-ups.

For all of his alleged real life faults, Bill Cosby as Dr. Huxtable was as familiar and comfortable as the proverbial pair of slippers; always there for his wife and five children, with a story to tell or a lesson to be learned. And whatever you may think of the man or his fall from grace, you’ve gotta love those sweaters, right?

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Monday Movie Mentions #13…

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

planes-trains-automobiles-web_7101With legendary guru John Hughes in the director’s chair, and funnymen Steve Martin and John Candy in front of the cameras, Planes, Trains and Automobiles had all the potential in the world to be great… and thankfully, great is just what it is. It’s arguably the best thing that any of these guys put out in the eighties, if not their careers.

We follow laid back Del (Candy) and highly strung Neal (Martin) as they meet, maintain a love/hate relationship, and try to make their respective ways home across the United States for Thanksgiving, and it’s full of great scenes and fantastic exchanges between the two leads. It’s been several years since I’ve sat down in front of the movie, but I’ve seen it enough times that I can rattle off entire swathes of dialogue without missing a beat.

Del: You play with your balls a lot.
Neal: I do not play with my balls.
Del: Larry Bird doesn’t do as much ball-handling in one night as you do in an hour!
Neal: Are you trying to start a fight?
Del: No. I’m simply stating a fact. That’s all. You fidget with your nuts a lot.
Neal: You know what’d make me happy?
Del: Another couple of balls, and an extra set of fingers?

As great as it is – and it is one of my favourite comedy films – I’m glad it never spawned a sequel. I’m sure the temptation must have been there, because it would have been very simple to shoehorn another road trip out of these characters without making it look like a cash-in, so I applaud the restraint.

Similarly, I certainly don’t want to see it remade, as seems to be the Hollywood model in recent years. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is the perfect storm of acting talent, story, and humour, and it’s very difficult to think of a couple of actors who would even come close to matching the performances of Martin and Candy.

On a side note, I have heard rumours of a four hour director’s cut of the movie that was (obviously) too long for release… but that is something I would like to see one day.

Sunday Song Suggestions #13…

Kokomo – The Beach Boys – 1988

s-l223The infectious Kokomo was a massive hit in Australia in the summer of 1988, and it was because of this song that I bought my first piece of music at the height of its success – The Beach Boys’ compilation album, 20 Golden Greats. Yeah, that one over there, and that’s right, it was on cassette. My pocket money didn’t stretch to a CD.

The guy behind the desk who sold it to me said: you know Kokomo’s not on this tape, right? Cheeky so and so. Of course I knew: I was twelve, I wasn’t stupid. That collection was put together in 1976, and it acted as my introduction to the wider oeuvre of The Beach Boys, and perhaps oddly for a guy about to hit his teens in the late eighties, they soon became one of my favourite bands.

Kokomo was featured in the Tom Cruise movie, Cocktail and it was the perfect partnership, bringing The Beach Boys back into the spotlight for a whole new generation of listeners.

The song showcases their innate ability to write a memorable chorus and shows that although it had been over twenty years since their sixties heyday, their vocal harmonies were still up there with the best in the business. While it’s certainly not their best work, it was a good springboard for me to hunt out their earlier stuff, and to really appreciate the indelible mark The Beach Boys left on the music industry.

Friday Fiction Fixes #12…

Velocity by Dean Koontz – 2005

Koontz-Dean-Velocity-4003-pI’ve read dozens of Koontz novels over the years – from the pretty terrible to the pretty terrific – but the man has earned my respect and gets a pass for the odd misfire. He is one of those authors I will always find a way back to if I can’t think of anything else to read. I’ve always envied his style. Koontz doesn’t write long-winded paragraphs but squeezes a lot of character into so few words. It’s a lot harder than it looks. It’s definitely a skill I admire, and there are very few people who can do it better.

For the first third of Velocity, I really thought it was going to be up there with his best. The idea is great: Billy Wile, finds a hand-written note under his windshield wiper (see the set-up spoiling cover picture above) and that’s it. Then we’re off to the races. It runs at a blistering pace, with a few clever moral quandaries to mull over along the way. The first two-thirds of the novel is fantastic, but once Billy starts to gain a little perspective on the situation, the story slows down, and it really isn’t as exciting or interesting anymore. Unfortunately it pulls towards a fairly unsatisfying conclusion with a couple of plot holes that you could drive a truck through.

Koontz knows how to pace a very good chase thriller, so even if the story wanes you never feel as though you’re sinking into quicksand because you’re always out the other side before you know it. Does he sometimes phone it in? Sure, that’s a valid criticism: his work can be a little formulaic at times, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. People like what’s familiar. If you enjoy beer, you don’t stop drinking it because it tastes the same as last time, do you?

Tuesday TV Testimonials #12…

Ghostwatch (1992)

4880It may be hard to believe nowadays with how street-smart we all think we are, but back in 1992 Ghostwatch scared a lot of people. These days the internet would have burst the bubble of doubt long before the show even made it into our living rooms and the broadcast would have lost any ability it had to shock, but back then we were a little more naive and (apparently) a lot more gullible.

ghostwatch_webGhostwatch was listed as a drama and had been pre-taped, but it was presented as if it was real and live on Halloween night. I think the primary reason a lot of people fell for the ruse was that it was hosted by Michael Parkinson, Sarah Greene, and Mike Smith. We trusted those guys, and there was no expectation of them being involved with something that was… well, kind of tacky.

The ‘script’ moved between studio analysis of the eerie happenings, and what can probably be described as an early form of ‘found footage’ long before The Blair Witch Project kickstarted the cinema sub-genre, as the cameras followed a team of investigators around an English family home which was alleged to be haunted by a poltergeist. It wasn’t long before things started to go bump in the night.

I was sixteen at the time, and the day after it aired I was on my paper round. The headlines were all about how irresponsible the BBC was. Thousands of viewers had called in to voice their disgust and (in some cases) outright fear at what they had witnessed the night before. In some ways it was a modern day representation of that infamous radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds all over again. And no, I’m not overstating it.

Yeah, Ghostwatch was fake. It’s easy to see that now, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been repeated on UK television in the twenty-five years since. Trust me: watching it ‘live’ back then, it felt real.

Monday Movie Mentions #12…

Enter the Dragon (1973)

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Bruce Lee was a cinematic superhero – truly larger than life, which is ironic as he stood 5 foot 8 inches and weighed a mere 140 pounds. He only starred in four movies* before his premature death at the age of thirty-two, but he left behind a legacy that is as great today as it ever was. He is often referred to as the father of mixed martial arts, because what he was doing then – when nobody else was – is big business now.

Yeah, it’s true: I’ve got a bit of a man-crush.

My dad performed taekwondo to a very high standard for several years, and his fingerprints are all over the genesis of my enjoyment of Bruce Lee… although I never saw my dad bust out the nunchuks the way Lee does in Enter the Dragon.

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The biggest problem with this movie (in fact, all of Lee’s movies) is that he never seems in any real danger of getting his ass kicked. Even if you suspend your disbelief, it’s hard to forget that he is far and away the best fighter on screen, and you know that the bad guy is going to need more than #spoiler# a removable claw-hand to take him down.

Lee died six days before the movie was released to the world, so he never saw it become the seminal piece that it is considered today. Enter the Dragon certainly benefits from its Hollywood production, and although in many ways his earlier Hong Kong movies are more brutal and graphic, as a total package it’s hard to deny Lee’s masterwork its place in history.

*Yes, for you aficionados out there, I said four movies. The abomination that is Game of Death doesn’t count… and you guys will know why.

Sunday Song Suggestions #12…

Dazed and Confused – Led Zeppelin – 1968

The term ‘heavy metal’ didn’t really catch on until the seventies, and you can argue about when and with whom the style began, but if you said right here – when it was still called rock – I don’t think you would be too far wrong.

Led Zeppelin was certainly one of the bands that took the genre in its infancy and throttled it into life, and Dazed and Confused – from their debut album – is the best song they ever released. Yes, that’s right – contrary to popular belief, it’s not Stairway to Heaven.

Robert Plant delivers here with such passion and emotion that it’s hard to believe he was only twenty years old when this was recorded. Meanwhile Jimmy Page wails on the guitar, and John Bonham smacks the skins like they owe him money.

At a blistering six and a half minutes Dazed and Confused is quite lengthy for the time, but it’s merely a commercial break compared to the extended ad-libbed versions Led Zeppelin were known to have performed at their concerts, which sometimes went in excess of half an hour.

Yes, the fidelity of music has moved on since the late sixties, but while hard rock certainly sounds cleaner and more crisp these days, I don’t know if it has ever sounded as raw and alive as it did almost fifty years ago when these four young English guys did it.