Thursday, July 30, 2015

Ten best guest stars on ‘Fantasy Island’

Since Discovery’s Science Channel seems to have forsaken ‘How the Universe Works’ and “Through the Wormhole” marathons in favor of nonstop showings of the torturous “How It’s Made”, I have been forced to seek my nightly dose of late-night night television elsewhere. Many times of late that has been COZI, one of those nostalgia cable channels, for midnight reruns of “Fantasy Island”.

Yeah, I know, just go ahead, say it and be done with it, “Deplane, deplane!”

At any rate, seeing these episodes (for the first time since their original airings circa 1977-1984), brings to mind several things.

First, I am reminded that if I was home watching the original broadcast, it was usually not a good thing. The show aired on ABC Saturday nights at 10PM right after “The Love Boat”. You are a teenager and you don’t have anything better to do on a Saturday night? Get a life kid!

Second, that soaring, gorgeous theme music by Lawrence Rosenthal. The series often featured interesting and melodic scores by a whole host of talented composers including Ken Harrison, Elliot Kaplan, Lance Rubin, and many more. Third, the magnetic presence of Kahn himself, Ricardo Montalban. Talk about charisma! Mr. Roarke alone, despite his limited role as the “host”, made the show worth watching despite how god-awful it could be at times.

Fourth, I am reminded of when my creative writing teacher at Pitt (a Pulitzer Prize nominated short story writer!) said one of my stories read like an episode of “Fantasy Island”. He did not mean it as a compliment. In my defense I thought, “Hey, there were some good episodes. The one where Roarke fell in love and exposed his guns in a short sleeve shirt riding horseback (‘Return’), the one about bigfoot with Peter Graves and Barbara Rush (‘The Flight of the Great Yellow Bird), and ‘The Mermaid’ with the Michelle Phillips and Mary Ann Mobley and the great John Saxon, and the one about the Amazon women (‘The Island of Lost Women’)…and the one where the mermaid returns….and…”

Truth be told the show suffered from the same horrible blight of unimaginative blandness that affected almost all network television of the day, especially anything bearing the name of Aaron Spelling. Plus the suits at all three networks had a notorious and very intense hatred of all things SF/fantasy/horror related. But those crafty writers did try on occasion to push back against the anti-imaginative edicts of the suits and when the show was allowed to stray into “Twilight Zone”/Outer Limits” territory, it was actually quite good.

Fifth, and most important of all, what “Fantasy Island” brings to mind is the guest stars. This (like “The Love Boat”) was a showcase for actors with all sorts of agendas, albeit wanting to be seen by prospective producers and casting agents, or merely needing a paycheck. Whatever the motivation behind their appearance, the guest stars listed below breathe life into any episode they appear, and they also seem to choose the better scripts.

So here are my top ten “Fantasy Island” guest stars. When I see any of these names in the opening credits (always “in alphabetical order”), I toss aside the remote and commit to the whole hour.

Michelle Phillips (seven episodes including three as the mermaid character mentioned above).

The beautiful actress is best known as a member of the legendary 60s pop rock band “The Mammas and the Papas”, but her quite impressive acting resume covers over four decades and she is still active today. Perhaps my favorite television guest star of all time.

John Saxon (six episodes)

Legendary and prolific genre film and television actor was the ultimate 70s leading man. Charming, handsome, and bursting with sexual charisma, he can best be described as a William Shatner with muscles who could do his own stunts. I mean this guy trained with Bruce Lee!

Peter Graves (five episodes)

One of the best voices of all time, the charismatic actor is best known for his role in the original “Mission Impossible” series as well as the ZAZ classic parody “Airplane” (1980).

Mary Ann Mobley (a whooping eight episodes!)

The former Miss America was a regular staple of 70s television including guest roles in the cult paranormal spooky drama “The Sixth Sense”, where she worked with the show’s star and her husband Gary Collins.

Gary Collins (three episodes including the spooky “Voodoo”)

Best known to the mainstream as a talk show host in the 80s, for me Gary Collins will always be E.S.P. researcher and parapsychologist Dr. Michael Rhodes from “The Sixth Sense” (1972).

Maureen McCormick (six episodes)

Every episode with Maureen McCormick (be it “Fantasy Island” or The Love Boat”) is a great episode because I’m in love with Marsha Brady.

Judy Landers and Audrey Landers – (Judy three episodes, Audrey five)

The ultimate 70s sex symbols, both went on to long careers. If one of the Lander’s sisters is in something, you bet I’ll be watching.

Lisa Hartman – (Five Episodes)

Lisa Hartman first caught my attention when she starred in “Tabitha”, a belated spinoff from one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasures “Bewitched”.

Steve Forrest only one episode, but it’s a great one, “The Jewel Thief”.

Rugged, old school big screen movie star persona who was too often stuck on the small screen.

Robert Reed (two episodes including one of the best “Vampire”)

Best known as Marsha’s stepdad.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Insightful reader review of "Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians"

Posting a good public review is not always such an easy thing to do. I say this is a writer who has written countless mini-essays and reviews over the years. There is a sweet spot one must hit when trying to thread the needle between spoiler free but not too vague summary, and giving sufficient feedback without babbling in self-indulgent rambling.

Anyway, I think this mini-customer review posted at Goodreads really sums up why "Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians" is an exciting must read for fans of dystopian science fiction.

Jennifer Sweet

Impressive, fast-paced, visceral, contemporary post-apocalyptic science fiction action adventure with a great title character and strong visual writing.

Many things set this book (and its prequels, "Caitlin Star" and "Caitlin Star and the Guardian of Forever") apart from the monstrous avalanche of young adult/new adult dystopian fiction out there. Unlike most of the YA dystopian female leads, Caitlin is not a reluctant action hero. Protecting others, seeking justice, and taking on the villains (well-fleshed out, worthy adversaries in all three books), is something she seems born too. As a matter of fact, at times she relishes it. There is a primal, savage beauty seeing Caitlin in action. She is fearsome, a character whose charisma just oozes off the page amid the author's streaming pulpy prose.

There is also a unique multi-layered approach in the the book's thematic subtext that works on a cultural, political, sociological, and even religious level. The addition of a priest to Caitlin's supporting cast here is a stroke of genius. The non-human characters, especially Toby (a chimpanzee) and Krell (a neanderthal-like hominid) are very well developed. Returning from the previous books is Caitlin's hacker friend Lori as well as few special surprises best not spoiled here.

The science in this book is also well done, and I say this as an undergraduate student of Anthropology and Archaeology. The imagined pre-history is entirely possible. Only the time-travel device comes across as science fiction-y (for lack of a better word). But even that is within the outer realm of possible quantum mechanics. 

But make no mistake, "Caitlin Star and the Rise of the Barbarians" is not an academic study. It is an exhilarating, page-turning, ultra-intense action adventure with unforgettable scenes, magical moments, and an an iconic lead character named "Caitlin Star".

Friday, July 17, 2015

Best of the summer 2015 so far

Here are a few of my favorite things right now.

Jurassic World

I don’t care what anyone else says or thinks, I love “Jurassic World”.

I absolutely love the music by Michael Giacchino and how beautifully it merges with the classic “Jurassic Park" themes of John Williams. I love the big action set pieces and the production design of the park itself. I love the character arc of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) from a corporate shrill ice queen to an action hero that cares. I love the “Indiana Jones” styled Owen character (Chris Pratt), his second in command Barry (Omar Sy), and the relationship they have with the raptors. I love the fact that the T-rex from the first film is given finally proper respect he so desperately deserves.

But most of all I love the film’s philosophy and heart, and its thematic subtext about responsibility when it comes to the exploitation of nature and animals.

The Veronicas

I have been obsessively playing this knockout new album and watching their new serialized videos. My iPod training playlist is peppered with Veronica songs both new and old, and the new CD spins non-stop in my car. As the lyrics to one the new album’s songs says, after a way too long hiatus of five years the Veronica are “back with a vengeance”.

The self-titled new album is a glorious treasure trove of catchy pop tunes laced with a touch of the edgy rocker girl angst that dominated the identical twins’ 2007 album “Hook Me Up”.  “Teenage Millionaire” is an irresistibly dance-able piece of pop art I just cannot get enough of and “You Ruin Me” is a masterful ballad of heart-breaking proportions.

Wayward Pines

This summer has seen the improbable comebacks of two major forces in entertainment who have spent the last decade in an embarrassing tailspin. One of them is Arnold (see below). The other is M. Night Shyamalan who directed the impressive “Wayward Pines” pilot episode and is Executive Producer of this addictive new mystery/thriller/science fiction summer series.

Based on the novels by Blake Crouch, this sumptuously photographed series certainly owes a huge debt to David Lynch’s and Mark Frost’s legendary cult show “Twin Peaks”, as well as Chris Carter’s criminally underrated mid-90s horror series “Millennium”. But the spooky “Wayward Pines” boldly goes off in its own very original direction.

The studly and ageless Matt Dillon anchors a dream cast that includes Terrance Howard, Shannyn Sossamon, Toby Jones, Melissa Leo, Hope Davis, Juliet Lewis and the sexy Carla Gugino. “Wayward Pines” is event-style television drama at its best.

Terminator Genisys

Admittedly. I am a fan. Hell, even hearing that famous four note “Terminator” musical motif (Ta da, da da) gets me jacked, so I will grant you that the nostalgia effect is present in my perception (and reception) of this movie. But still, as is the cases in so many films of late, the grumpy critics are way off on this one. Similar to what happened with Robert Zemickis’s 1989 time travel masterpiece “Back to the Future II”, everyone keeps complaining it is “muddled” and “confusing” and they don’t understand it. While “Genisys is not in the same class as “Back to the Future II”, and the multiple timelines have the added challenge of having different actors in the same roles and being shot thirty years later, the timelines are still clean, logical and respectful of both the sacred texts of James Cameron and the latest theories of quantum mechanics.

But beyond all that and most important of all, Arnold is back! After a spectacular and humiliating fall from grace, the former persona non grata has worked himself back into shape (physically and acting wise) with the same trademark intense focus that once made him the biggest star in the world—an actor who along with director James Cameron literally created a new genre in 1984, the R-rated science fiction action film.

Seeing this movie was like seeing the old Arnold at the peak of his powers in 1991. His rock star charisma has returned and he has great chemistry with the fantastic Emilia Clarke. She is wonderful as Sarah Conner. What I loved most about this movie was the relationship between their two characters. And of course that four note motif.