Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A farewell to Jim Perry

Jim Perry was one of my favorite people from the 1980s. Born in 1933, he'd probably find that amusing. Humor and kindness were the hallmarks of his hosting turns in two of NBC's classic game shows, Card Sharks (1978-1981) and $ale of the Century (NBC 1983-1989; concurrently in syndication 1985-1986). $ale is an underappreciated format that had countless incarnations around the world (sometimes known as Temptation), most notably in Australia, where it became the kind of game show juggernaut that Wheel of Fortune is in the U.S. GSN recently ran $ale for a couple of years — something of a surprise treat as the cable net sadly continues to move away from the golden age of the genre. Although his resume is much shorter, Perry, who died Nov. 20 after a long battle with cancer, deserves recognition alongside game show greats like Bill Cullen. R.I.P. Jim … and I'll buy any instant bargains you have to offer.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Chiller's Psycho marathon

As a cable network, Chiller deserves credit for being one of the few that has stayed true to its theme, even if its steady menu of direct-to-DVD caliber movies grows tiresome. The channel is getting well outside that box on Thursday, however, with a lovely Psycho marathon that will include not only the original Hitchcock masterpiece but also Gus Van Sant's 1998 scene-for-scene remake (with the addition of bizarre flashes of cows) and the sequels — Psycho II, Psycho III and Psycho IV: The Beginning.

Even though the sequels are not particularly well-regarded films, it surprises me how rarely (pretty much never that I can recall) they show up on TV, given the endless hours of airtime filled by C-level movies. These nuggets should be of at least passing interest to fans of horror and Hitchcock. Psycho II (1983), a moderate success, offers Vera Miles and Meg Tilly in the cast; Psycho III (1986) is directed by Anthony Perkins; and the made-for-cable prequel Psycho IV (1990, Showtime) could be considered an extra rare treat: It wasn't even available from Netflix on disc when I still subscribed a couple years ago.

Each year, I anticipate the arrival of October and what few surprises the cable channels might have in store for us in terms of fun old (and by "old" I mostly mean 1980s) horror movies. And, each year, I'm disappointed when AMC's Fearfest trots out the same dozen movies it has shown for the last 10 years. Take note, AMC — Chiller is schooling you with this marathon.

(The Psycho-fest begins at 11:30 a.m. central. Bonus: If you really want to make a day of it, David Fincher's The Game and Hitch's The Birds precede the marathon. Go, Chiller!)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A farewell to David Letterman in late night TV

I was nine years old when David Letterman's Late Night premiered on NBC, and I think he was really hitting his stride around the same time I was becoming aware of the world and getting interested in television.

I fondly remember staying up late on summer nights when school was out after my parents went to bed around 1985 to watch television, perching myself right in front of the living room's wood-cabinet 25-inch Zenith in the dark with the volume turned up just loud enough so as not to awake the parents but also to be audible above the steady hum of the wall-unit air conditioner. Carson was fun, but Letterman was something else entirely; I immediately felt a connection to his sardonic and self-deprecating style. And who wouldn't love watching people throw watermelons and televisions off the roof of a steep New York building?

In later years, we also have Letterman to thank for fine Late Late Shows with Tom Snyder, Craig Kilborn and Craig Ferguson (Ferguson had the best late night show of the last 10 years, hands down). It's hard to believe there won't be any Dave in late night after tonight, and it feels like a piece of my life is going away.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Is it too late to tell you my favorite album of 2014?

I shouldn't let another month slip by without some mention of my favorite music from last year — something I've done here more often than not for the last decade. Pulling a bit of an upset over La Roux's sophomore effort, Information Society's _hello world emerged as my favorite of 2014. 

The '80s survivors' self-titled 1988 major-label debut is one of the best synthpop albums ever released. Much of it is melancholy sentiment mixed with contemporary dance grooves, which is the recipe for many of my favorite songs. A handful of other albums followed over the years, but there were no more big hits like "What's on Your Mind (Pure Energy)" and "Walking Away." _hello world is the first album in many years with the full involvement of all three key players — Paul Robb, Kurt Larson and James Cassidy — and the result is their best album since the debut. Except for the Star Trek samples, all of the familiar elements are in place, not least of which is their ability to craft sweeping pop hooks, although fans of '90s album Don't Be Afraid may find some nods to its darker sound here (the aggressive and irresistible stomper "Where Were You?" being a prime example). Other highlights include first single "Land of the Blind," which gleefully references "What's on Your Mind;" second single "Get Back," a steamroller somewhat of a piece with "Where Were You?" that is even better in the form of the DeathProof Remix; and an excellent cover of Devo's wry "Beautiful World" with Devo's Gerald Casale contributing vocals.

While InfoSoc's songwriting has particularly shone in past synth ballads like "Repetition" and "Fire Tonight," this album's closing ballad, "Tommorow the World," doesn't quite equal those peaks. But, most of the way, there's an energy in these songs that is perhaps unexpected at this late date and simply … pure.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A farewell to the great Ruth Rendell

Certain people, it sometimes seems, will always be there. Never in your life will there be a time when they do not live, do not exist. They will just always be. For me, Ruth Rendell, a brilliant British mystery writer, was one of those people. So, I was devastated to learn she died May 2 at age 85 after suffering a stroke in January.

Circa 1994, maybe 1993, an acquaintance, apropos of nothing, gave me a paperback copy of her ’93 novel The Crocodile Bird. I’d never heard of her, but it looked interesting, and I gave it a read. It was amazing … amazing in that special kind of way that really gets inside your head and plants the seed of obsession with its creator. I began to gobble them up and was dazzled by her ability to get inside the heads of messed up people. As many have said before, a Rendell novel isn’t simply a whodunit, it’s a whydunit — an examination of how a particular person became sufficiently unhinged to kill. And she had a way of making us see a hint of ourselves in those damaged individuals. This, combined with her deadpan wit and laser-sharp literary (but not stuffy) prose, gradually made her my favorite fiction writer, and it gave her the reputation of elevating the mystery genre.


Rendell, as devotees know, came in three flavors — the Inspector Wexford mysteries (in the U.K., these were the subject of a popular and long-running TV series), the standalone novels of psychological suspense, and the pseudonymous Barbara Vine novels. My favorites were the standalone novels of psychological suspense, with A Sight for Sore Eyes, 13 Steps Down and Adam and Eve and Pinch Me being outstanding examples from the later years. With a few, like 13 Steps Down, she even slipped in an effectively chilly hint of horror. When it comes to the Vines, my favorites — No Night Is too Long and The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy — are not the ones usually named.

Among my treasured possessions are a first-edition copy of her first novel, From Doon with Death (1964, The Crime Club), snagged from the local library discards (a bonus of getting to know some of the staff), and a couple of signed copies of other novels. 

If I could have three wishes, one of them would be tea with Baroness Rendell of Babergh. We share things in common, such as working as journalists and a certain world view. I would give anything to hear her war stories.

I can take some solace in knowing that I haven’t yet read at least half of her stunning output of more than 70 books, if you count the Vines and the short story collections, but there is no real comfort to be found in losing an idol.

Related posts //

13 Steps Down
The Water's Lovely
Make Death Love Me
The Minotaur