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Takashi Miike's Dead or Alive Trilogy, Cinema Paradiso and Psychomania

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

DUCK DYNASTY LAST CALL - THE FINAL SEASON: THE END OF A DYNASTY



It’s amazing how popular “reality” TV has become. Networks discovered after their initial successes that they could produce these show for far less than the scripted series they’d been creating for years. As each new show became a hit more and more appeared. The sad thing is that many became tedious to watch but held on trying to stay on the air. What’s nice is when one decided the time is right to leave before they hit that point. DUCK DYNASTY is one of the few that has chosen to do so.

The series was about the Robertson family, a group that was in the business of making duck calls and founded by patriarch Phil Robertson. Sons Willie, Jase and Jep all worked in the business with Willie taking it to a whole new level. Their first foray into TV was with a small program about hunting and fishing that included small moments with their family. From that rose what we now know as DUCK DYNASTY.

Each week we got to see what went on behind the scenes of this Louisiana business. At least that was a part of each episode. The majority of each focused on the family lives of each of the brothers and their father. Everything from their children to their mother’s cooking to building duck blinds became fodder for the show. The best part was that there was humor in every corner of the program, not so much forced as created by the predicaments that they were in. Was it scripted? I have little doubt that much of it was, but not all. As we got to know the family it was easy to believe much of this really happened.

All of this began just five years ago. It’s become so ingrained in today’s pop culture world you would think it had been on the air longer than that. We’ve watched kids grow up and get married, enter dance competitions, have surgeries, and more. The family members became celebrities that attended social functions and their political beliefs became common knowledge. Their focus on faith, perhaps one of the biggest positive and popular items in the show, was criticized and attacked by the press. But they held true to their beliefs and their popularity remained.

Each episode began with an issue and ended with the family gathered around to eat a meal and offer a prayer. In the politically correct times we live in this was cause for consternation with many critics of the show. Their voices didn’t matter in the end and the faith on display here stayed with the show until the end. And that end is now.

Just released is DUCK DYNASTY: LAST CALL, THE FINAL SEASON. The series lasted 11 seasons (keep in mind a season and a year are two different items) and its popularity was beginning to wane just a tad.  At one time the most watched cable series the numbers had begun to drop. And after filling the market with everything from books to bobble heads, the family decided to call it quits.

Fear not though, that last season was filled with the same fun filled moments that the previous ones had offered. Jase and Willie campaigned against one another to be president of their neighborhood home owners association only to discover the amount of work that went into it. The employees get overly excited about a 3D printer. Willie and Jep must handle a teenage girl’s sleepover when their wives are away on a mission in Africa. ZZ Top appeared in the final episode, appropriate since their song “Sharp Dressed Man” opened the series when it began. And my favorite episode involved Korie challenging Willie to come up with an inexpensive romantic evening that resulted in a homemade drive-in.

All of these episodes and more are available on this DVD collection. The entertainment value is high as well as family friendly, something rarely found in a world of trying to be the next cool kid on the block known as series television. This group is not the local yokels that many would like to consider them. They are not the backwoods hillbillies many suggest they were. They were shrewd businessmen who say an opportunity and took it. They took a simple idea, one based in hard work and faith, and created a juggernaut that found many watching, buying marketed items and picking up each season of the series. If you are one of those people then you’ll want to make sure to add this one to your collection as well.

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MANNIX THE COMPLETE SERIES: HARD BOILED ICON



Once again the best bet this week is the release of a complete series on disc for a reasonable price and size that won’t fill your shelf. This time around we return to the sixties and seventies with a private eye that took the country by storm, breaking down at least one barrier of the time and lasting 8 seasons, all collected here. The show and the main character was named MANNIX.

Starring Mike Connors (who just passed away this last year) as Joe Mannix, the show focused on a detective in the old school tradition. The first season had Mannix working for a high tech computerized private detective agency called Intertech. Run by Lew Wickersham (Joseph Campanella), the agency used computers to siphon through data to find their man. Mannix instead chose to follow his gut instinct, walk the streets and often take a beating in pursuit of the truth. The only reason Wickersham keeps him on is that he gets results, sometimes even when the computers think otherwise.

Viewers weren’t as keen on this format as was thought and with the second season Mannix went into business for himself. One of the first changes was to hire a girl Friday, someone to take calls and run the office. This part was filled by Gail Fisher as Peggy Fair and a more loyal employee would be hard to find. Most notable about this role was that Fisher was one of the first black actresses to star in a major role in regular television at the time. Several other recurring characters were added to assist Mannix, most working for the police force.

The format of the show was usually the same, a situation which required Mannix to mount his white steed and go forward into the fray to save whoever was in need. He was not just a detective but a hero as well, following his own personal strict code of honor in an attempt to discover the truth. This also made the show different from most at the time. Rather than a series that revolved around the story being told it was character driven, as much about Mannix and those who hired him as it was the situation he was handling.

Another thing that made the show different was that Mannix wasn’t infallible. He often found himself on the wrong end of a physical confrontation being beaten by the bad guys as often as he dished it out. During the time the series was on the air Mannix was knocked unconscious dozens of times and shot and wounded at least 10 times. He was cool, he was intelligent and even though he could handle himself in a fight those fights were more realistic than most on TV since he didn’t always win.

Running from 1967 through 1975 the series was not known for being topical and yet it did touch on subjects in the news. A Korean War veteran, Mannix dealt with repercussions from his time in the service. Topics like handicapped characters who helped in spite of their disabilities, racism and the effects of PTSD on returning Vietnam vets were included in various episodes.

So now you know what the series was about if you weren’t beforehand. Also note that it featured one of the best TV series theme songs composed by the great Lalo Schifrin. But what’s in this box set? And why this rather than the separate seasons already released?

To answer that last question the size. This box set will take up far less room on the shelf. The price when compared to buying each season separately is a savings worth taking advantage of. And the extras are nice worth taking the time to enjoy. They include: Interviews with Mike Connors and Joseph Campanella, Mike Connors on THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, TV Land promos, a DIAGNOSIS MURDER clip (his character returned for a part in an episode of that series), audio commentary on the pilot by co-creator William Link, audio commentary on “Another Final Exit” by Connors and Campanella, Mike Connors audio introductions on the episodes and a photo gallery. If the name William Link sounds familiar it should. In addition to creating this series with co-creator Richard Levinson the duo created COLUMBO.

So here you have it, all 194 episodes contained on 48 discs, 163 hours and 44 minutes of pure Mannix. Fans of sixties TV will find this a must have for their collection. If you don’t add it to yours hopefully you’ll find someone who did to borrow it from. In going back and revisiting the series I found that they were as enjoyable today as when first viewed long ago. Take a trip back in time with MANNIX.

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VEGA$ THE COMPLETE SERIES: GLITZ AND GLAMOUR



You may be wondering why I’ve been highlighting TV series being released on disc lately. The fact is that CBS has been releasing a large number of complete series at affordable prices, even though that $100 or more price tag seems high. When purchased as individual seasons most series can get pretty expensive and take up a lot of room on your shelf. So these new editions are a welcome treat for collectors and fans of those series. This week…VEGA$.

VEGA$ was on TV fewer years than I remembered. In fact it only lasted three seasons. It was one of the many Aaron Spelling productions filled with great looking people, more often than not women, snazzy locations and filled with wealthy people. The situations found in this series didn’t revolve around the mom and pops on vacation in Las Vegas but around the high rollers and celebrities there.

Robert Urich starred as the good looking private detective Dan Tanna. Employed by hotel magnate Phillip Roth (Tony Curtis) his job was to do anything Roth required of him. In return he was allowed to remodel a warehouse owned by Roth’s Desert Inn Hotel to use as his apartment, complete with a garage that was in his living room. Driving a red ’57 convertible Ford Thunderbird, Tanna looked cool, acted cool and took on any and all bad guys. And when there wasn’t a job for Roth to be done, he took on other clients as well.

While Curtis only appeared in a few episodes at first and fewer later, there were plenty of guest stars on hand in this series. Each week another one had some problem for Tanna to take care of as well as several other guest stars either playing side characters or themselves as performers in town. The series also featured regulars in supporting roles including Phyllis Davis as an ex-showgirl and Tanna’s right hand woman Beatrice, Judy Landers as a bubblehead second assistant and Bart Braverman as Binzer, a protégé of sorts for Tanna. On the police force Tanna counted on Bella Archer (Naomi Stevens) when he needed information and Lt. David Nelson (Greg Morris) when he needed bigger help.

So what made the show special? Mostly the locations and the gorgeous people on display here. Urich was a handsome man and destined for leading man status. Davis and Landers were easy on the eyes. The scantily clad showgirls were on display long before the movie SHOWGIRL and with more on than that movie offered.

The neon signs and flickering lights of Vegas began each episode. This was the sin city every mother warned her son about and every son flocked to. We never saw the underside of the town or where the normal folks like blackjack dealers or waitresses lived, those would be on display in episodes of COPS years later. No here we got to see the good looking side of Vegas where the high rollers swept in to be courted and played losing money in the process.

Looking back what is truly interesting is the fact that the series captured Vegas as it was at the time. Having been there a few year after the show had been canceled it had changed in only a short period of time. And if you were to go there today it would look nothing like it did at either of those times. Vegas is a non-stop changing town.

There was never anything too serious about the series, no life shattering world in danger type story. These were stories we’d grown used to and found comfort in when it came to mysteries and crime stories. They were stories that could be handled by a private eye and a few friends instead of the entire police force or military. Better than anything else is they were entertaining. It was the right combination of action, adventure, mystery and humor and it kept us coming back week after week but only for those three short years.

If you were a fan of the show you’ll be glad to find this box set available. The entire series, including the pilot which I was told was not available in the separate first season box, is on hand and for less than $50. So if this was one you loved then make sure you pick up this set, you’ll be happy to find it fits easily on your shelf.

Click here to order.