Revisiting an old friend: “Ellery Queen” TV series

12 04 2011

At last, a show I love that came and went too quickly in the 70’s, “Ellery Queen,” is out on DVD. I had given up searching for it on Amazon, so I actually didn’t find out that it was released last year until I ran across the boxset at Sam’s Club.

the definitive onscreen portrayal of Ellery Queen

The series, which aired during the 1975-76 season, is as wonderful as I remember…terrific cast headed by Jim Hutton and David Wayne, great production values, lovely period setting, fabulous guest stars. It’s a crime (and I use that word on purpose) that the show only lasted a season, killed by stiff competition (the hit show “The Streets of San Francisco” over on ABC). But even if it had caught on with the public, it wouldn’t have lasted much longer, since Hutton died of liver cancer in 1979, at the tragically young age of 45.

David Wayne and Jim Hutton

I tuned in to “Ellery Queen” because I liked Jim Hutton, who had appeared in a couple of the movies he made with John Wayne, including one of my favorites, “Hellfighters.” He and David Wayne, as Inspector Richard Queen, had perfect chemistry; the scenes between Ellery and Richard are some of the highlights of the episodes.

Jim Hutton with artwork used in "The Adventure of the Comic Book Crusader"

The attention to period detail was rich, and the stories, done as “fair-game” mysteries in which all the clues to the murder of the week are presented for viewers paying close attention, were beautifully written. And, in a unique device for the time, Ellery broke the “fourth wall” late in the story to challenge the viewer to solve the mystery before he did onscreen– a device used in the Ellery Queen novels.

The show was created by the famed TV writing/producing team of Richard Levinson and William Link, who are also responsible for series such as “Columbo” and “Murder She Wrote” (the latter show even used a script originally penned for “Ellery” for the season 2 that never materialized). Levinson and Link were longtime devotees of Ellery Queen, and their love for the material shows.

If you haven’t had a chance to see this great show, go rent it or buy it. It’s a treasure.

Cat in a bag

30 10 2010

I saw this on “Red Eye” this week, and as Greg Gutfeld said, “That’s not a Happy Meal, that’s an adorable meal.” Enjoy.

I’m back with another music video win

27 08 2010

Lots of catching up to do…Favre is back with the Vikings, yay! And I just learned that I won in the Music Video Contest at the Las Vegas Star Trek Creation Convention a couple weeks back. I entered an ensemble video, “To Boldly Go.” Alas, I don’t know when the video was played, but I’m told the crowd enjoyed it, which is the whole idea.

For those of you who haven’t seen the video, here ye go.

As always, comments are welcome.

“Surrogates” — a thought-provoking thriller

6 06 2010

I am a fan of Bruce Willis, and I like the choices he makes regarding the projects he selects. “Surrogates” was, for me, another enjoyable ride. It’s ostensibly a murder mystery, set in a near-future world in which people can choose to live their lives vicariously by jacking into “surrogates” — humanoid robot replicas who look perfectly human (a bit too perfect, in fact) and move through society in place of their human operators. Crime rates are down, and war is fought by these robots instead of people, while the small proportion of humanity that rejects the use of surrogates has been relegated to robot-free slum zones. Society is a lot prettier — surrogates are invariably better-looking, idealized versions of their operators — while the bulk of humanity has been reduced to overweight, unkempt, bathrobe-clad couch potatoes who never venture outside, preferring virtual reality to the real deal.

Willis plays Tom Greer, an FBI agent who, in the course of investigating the deaths of several surrogate operators, is cut off from his surrogate and must navigate the real world, no longer insulated from crowds or physical pain. The film is a thoughtful study of denial and escape, and the isolation of humanity due to technology, as much as it is a thriller. Watching Tom struggle to function as a human out in the cold, cruel world, a formidable obstacle among the many that he encounters as he seeks the truth about the killings, was remarkable. The story gradually peels away the layers of his existence, revealing that he lost a son, that his scarred and depressed wife has buried her grief behind her pretty, perky surrogate’s persona and is unable to show her true self even to her husband. Tom’s quest to reconnect with her and salvage his marriage is a poignant subplot running through the story.

Willis is marvelous, playing two roles in the film — Tom’s surrogate, whose pleasantly blank countenance and incongrous blond hair is eerie, even creepy — and Tom himself, a haunted and vulnerable man who never loses his determination to find justice, and never gives up on his wife.

I like “falling in love” love stories, but I’m always up for a good “keep the love alive” story or subplot, because maintaining a love relationship is often more of a challenge than finding love in the first place. The love-story subplot of “Surrogates” was an effective and affecting way to explore the film’s themes of isolation and escape, and added an emotional resonance to an already entertaining film. Thumbs up from me.

Viral Videos: friends furr-ever

30 05 2010

The Daily Beast has a feature called “The Week in Viral Videos.” I skipped past the Fergie bucks-for-access-to-Andrew (yawn) and the smoking baby (bleah), but this one is priceless.

Back with something funny

19 04 2010

Yow, lookit all the cobwebs on this blog! My bad. The bedroom flooded in the Mother Of All Rainstorms during the winter, and it’s taken months to repair the damage — including moving the soggy furniture and several crowded bookcases into the living room and hallways and every other bit of spare space for forever. It was like camping out, except indoors, with workmen tromping through every day, busting holes in the wall, measuring for mold, hammering, painting, etc. We had an air purifying fan (loud) going 24/7 for several weeks, that was fun. No wonder I never liked camping.

So! Here’s something that tickled me this morning. It’s 4 months old, and no doubt everyone’s seen it but me — I don’t have time to go to YouTube and check out the cool vids du jour. But luckily my husband does, and he told me about it. It’s long, but well worth your time if you’ve ever suffered through a movie that cost enough to feed a small country, and should have been great, but was a resounding turkey.

Star Wars: The Phantom Menace Review

I’m one of those people who watched that trainwreck known as “The Phantom Menace” with a WTF?! look on my face throughout. I was ticked off by it long before the hype died down and hating the Star Wars prequels became fashionable. For those of you too young to have experienced the thrill and wonder of the real Star Wars trilogy when it originally hit theaters, my sympathies. Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas made good Star Wars movies. As Lord Acton wisely said, “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

In my work as a writer, effective story structure is the sun around which my universe revolves. Rarely have I seen such a hilarious primer on story structure as this. I went to Mike’s website, and lo! he has reviewed a bunch of Star Trek movies too. As well as the even worse SW prequel, “Attack of the Clones.” I can’t wait.

Avatar = Pocahontas

3 02 2010

As I mourn for the Vikings’ horrific overtime loss in the NFC Championship (just how many times can zillion-dollar-paycheck, award-winning running backs fumble away the football?), I have been watching movies. “Troy” is fantastic (see the extended Director’s Cut), “Taken” is a great little cathartic action flick with a wonderful turn by Liam Neeson, “Forbidden Kingdom” is a lush fantasy with two of my favorite action stars, Jackie Chan and Jet Li, “Valkyrie” is a beautifully made homage to a small group of German soldiers and politicians who tried to assassinate Hitler during WWII, and “Sherlock Holmes” is an absolute delight, with Robert Downey Jr. just marvelous in the title role. Last night was “Vantage Point,” a tense and intricate story about a terrorist attack, viewed through the perspectives of many different players.

I haven’t gone out of my way to see “Avatar,” though it has already been recommended to me by a film-buff buddy. When I saw the initial previews, I was all, “Eh. I already saw ‘Ferngully: The Last Rainforest.’ And knowing that James Cameron wrote the thing automatically gave me pause. His better films, such as “Aliens” and “The Terminator,” were written or co-written by other people. I enjoyed “Titanic” as a meticulous gazillion-dollar documentary about the doomed ship, and didn’t pay the soap-opera storyline much mind. “Avatar”‘s $2 billion return and now #1 Moneymaker status is just making me resist all the more; I don’t want to squirm through another “I’m king of the world!” Oscar acceptance speech. And I have never forgiven Cameron for two-timing Linda Hamilton. But I digress.

Yesterday my husband showed me this: James Cameron’s Avatar = Disney’s Pocahontas. Priceless! We still aren’t rushing out to climb on the Cameron bandwagon, but I’ve already gotten my money’s worth.

2010 Star Trek calendars

8 01 2010

A few days ago I set out to make a Star Trek: Enterprise calendar for my computer desktop, using some of the lovely high-quality production stills I have collected over the years, and maybe a few screencaps of my own. I figured I’d be able to throw the calendar together in a day or two. Ha! Took me a lot longer — largely because there were just too many pretty pictures to choose from. I ended up making four calendars, each with a different focus: the ensemble cast, T’Pol, Trip Tucker, and Trip & T’Pol.

If you’re in the market for a calendar, I hope you take a look.

Vikings vs Bears: it was the best of times, it was the worst of times

29 12 2009

Wow. This game is a tough, tough loss for Minnesota and Favre.

Despite the slow start, despite Cutler’s uncharacteristically fabulous game, despite the Vikings defense going on vacation and allowing the Bears to score and score and score again, despite several butterfingered Vikings receivers, Brett proved that he could indeed do the job in the December cold. He was classic Favre in the second half, engineering 17 unanswered points to tie the game at 23 with five minutes to go. Then, after the defense laid down and let the Bears score again, Brett pulled off another breathtaking game-saver with 22 seconds to go, on 4th and goal, with a terrific TD pass that tied the game at 30. Oh, if only Longwell’s extra point had not been blocked earlier in the game. 😦

Favre said in the post-game press conference that he figured a Vikings win was “meant to be” when they survived for OT. When the Bears won the toss and were lined up for a game-winning field goal barely three minutes into overtime — and the kick went wide right — destiny seemed squarely on the side of Minnesota. But then Peterson fumbled the ball. AGAIN. The Bears recovered, and at that point the game was lost — it was just a matter of when. Chicago only needed two plays to score again.

I’m glad the Vikings are already in the playoffs, because those last couple of minutes were awful to watch. Rooting for the Cubs awful. Brett and the Jets in December awful.

Did the Vikings peak too soon? Did they get complacent? Just a few weeks ago, they looked unstoppable, charmed, destined. Brett was playing as well as he ever had. Winfield is back, and Percy Harvin is able to contribute again…not enough, not enough. The only silver lining I can see is that, if they don’t pull off a first-round bye, they won’t get rusty like they did during their bye week earlier in the season. But…damn. Home field advantage would have been pretty cool.

Somebody had better teach Mr. Peterson a few things about holding onto the ball, ASAP.


“The Blind Side” gets a thumbs-up from me.

22 12 2009

I’m a sucker for feel-good sports dramas. I enjoyed “Miracle” and “The Rookie,” partly because they were emotionally satisfying for me, and partly because I knew the real stories behind the screen dramatizations. I’m adding “The Blind Side” to the list. I remember being very touched when I first heard about Michael Oher’s journey to success with the Baltimore Ravens, and I was looking forward to seeing how the movie version handled the story.

I was not disappointed. This story is about compassion and love, determination and persistence, and faith. It’s about the rewards that can come when you do the right thing, stand up for what you believe in, and follow your heart. Knowing that Oher is making a difference with the Ravens in his rookie season makes the story all the more heartwarming.

I’ve followed Sandra Bullock’s career for a while (Remember “The Bionic Showdown”? Anybody?), and it’s wonderful to see her in a great role. She tackled the character of Leigh Anne Tuohy with gusto, and she is a huge part of the effectiveness of this movie for me. John Lee Hancock (no surprise that he did “The Rookie”) has another winner.

I saw a TV interview with the Tuohy family over the weekend, and they were warm, funny, well-spoken and humble. I got the impression that the real-life Tuohy-Oher story went so smoothly that the filmmakers felt the need to inject some conflict into the tale (such as daughter Collins’ friends questioning the family’s motivations in taking in Michael) to give it more drama. The most touching moment of the interview for me was when Collins recounted how she unexpectedly broke down during a morning-show interview a couple of days earlier, after being asked what life would be like without Michael in the family. She said that he is so much a part of the Tuohys that imagining a Michael-less life is simply unthinkable to her.

Go see “The Blind Side,” if you haven’t already.