Show Me a Hero (and I’ll give you a tragedy)- episodes 1 and 2

I’m enjoying the hell out of David Simon and Paul Haggis’s new miniseries, Show Me a Hero. I recapped and reviewed the first two episodes for Criminal Element. (They are showing them in pairs). This is gripping and important television, about recent and nearly forgotten history that is especially prescient right now.

It is based on a book by Lisa Belkin of the same name:


Robert Durst, triple murderer? The Jinx.

Yesterday Robert Durst was arrested in New Orleans on suspicion of murder of Susan Berman, in California in 2000. He was charged with illegal possession of a handgun, as he is a felon.

Robert DurstI began watching HBO’s documentary THE JINX (directed by Andrew Jarecki, of Capturing the Friedmans) when it aired six weeks ago. The case was new to me, but I quickly caught up on it. Robert Durst, the son of a billionaire real estate magnate, was the only suspect in the disappearance of his wife. Her body was never found, and according to police, no real investigation was made by the family, despite their copious resources. Robert was “estranged” from his family; evidence of threats against his younger brother Doug, who was given control of the business, was given. He has a restraining order against Robert, who is known to carry handguns.

In 2000 in California, Robert’s friend Susan Berman was found shot in the head, only after an anonymous letter to the police was received, saying “where to find the cadaver.” Friends of hers believe she had information on the disappearance of Durst’s wife, and that was why she was killed.

In 2001 in Galveston, where Robert was living as a woman by wearing a wig and claiming to be mute, he was put on trial for murdering and dismembering his roommate, whose torso washed up in a nearby body of water. He admitted killing him “in self defense,” and said he was drunk while he methodically dismembered the body, paid the rent up front, and disposed of the remains. Because in Texas some people need killin’, the jury believed this, and acquitted him.

A more detailed explanation of this trial, by Matt Pearce of the L.A. Times, can be read here.

Spoilers follow in the next paragraph.

The documentary depicts Durst being shown new evidence linking him to Berman’s murder, and at the end of the episode, forgetting that he still has his mike on, Durst goes to the bathroom and mutters to himself, ending with, “what did you do? killed them all, of course.”

And then it fades to black.

After the final episode aired, he was arrested. He has a habit of fleeing on bail and has nearly limitless resources; he spent $1.8 million on his Galveston defense. It will be interesting to see if the new evidence in the Berman case will get a murder conviction to stick. He all but confessed on tape, if Jarecki protrayed it truthfully. Durst was not on camera at the time. There will be plenty of reasonable doubt if this is brought as evidence. Voice analysis, and so on. The Berman evidence rests largely on handwriting analysis, and that can be countered as well. There are few smoking guns, and with the resources he has, the passage of time, and the lack of evidence at the crime scenes, his next trial may accomplish nothing except give Jarecki material for his next documentary.

True Detective, episode two: “Seeing Things.”

True Detective, episode two: “Seeing Things.”

I’m greatly enjoying the new HBO series True Detective, by Southern gothic / crime writer Nic Pizzolatto. Here’s my take on episode two, which airs tomorrow. I also picked up Nic’s short story collection Between Here and the Yellow Sea, after the opening story, “Ghost Birds,” grabbed me. His novel Galveston sounds like a winner as well.

Ninja Lee Van Cleef: The Master

For the run-up until the publication of BLADE OF DISHONOR on Sept. 10th, I’m revisiting the books and films that inspired it: ninja, samurai, MMA fighters, WW2 epics, and yakuza flicks.

No, not that movie with all the yelling! The TV series starring Lee Van Cleef as a ninja master roaming the world in a van with goofy drifter Max Keller, dodging Sho Kosugi and fighting injustice!

a-masterI loved this show as a kid, and I’m still miffed they never had a crossover with the A-Team or Knight Rider. Ninja master John Peter McAllister (Lee Van Cleef) leaves the ninja life in Japan to seek a daughter he never knew he had. His former student Okasa (played by Sho Kosugi), a ninja master in his own right, decides this is dishonorable and cannot suffer his mentor to live.

The show was rather ridiculous, playing on pop mythology of the ninja powers, but it was good fun. I recall Max and Peter hanging from their ankles as prisoners in a dojo, and Van Cleef smashes a lightbulb with his foot and cuts the ropes using the glass held between his toes. It was better than Ninja III: The Domination, where evil ninja spirits possess a woman, but The Master’s charms were the non-stop action and the simple fact of NINJAS ON TELEVISION in the early ’80s.

Do you remember THE MASTER? The episodes were repackaged as TV movies, but sadly neither these nor the shows are available on NetFlix. Youtube clips are all that remain:

so long, Rocky. so long, Bullwinkle.

Alex Anderson, creator of Rocky & Bullwinkle, passed away yesterday. Jay Ward was more influential to the show itself, but Anderson drew them up and created them, before Ward took off with them on their wacky, absurd adventures that were so ahead of their time. Cartoons got dumbed down for my generation in the ’70s, and by the ’80s they were really just toy commercials. The first cartoon I remember watching was Courageous Cat & Minute Mouse, one of many retreads of Batman done by creator Bob Kane. Memorable for its percussive theme song and the villain “The Frog,” who talked like Edward G. Robinson, it peers back at me through the misty clouds of nostalgia. Barely recognizable.

My true celluloid loves were the Looney Tunes, Popeye, Woody Woodpecker, and Tom & Jerry before Chuck Jones got a hold of them. Mr. Jones was very talented, but I found him the most milquetoast of the directors at Warner Brothers, even if he invented my favorite character: Pepe le Pew. Tex Avery and Bob Clampett were truly insane originals who used animation as their bizarre palette for satirizing the world through caricature. Jones did this in his greatest moments, but I always felt he was the Bob Hope of the bunch, while his betters were the Marx Brothers. Insane genius, versus likable wit. Bugs Bunny, the Looney Tunes most enduring character, came to life under Avery. Jones perfected him. Tex is best known these days for Red Hot Riding Hood being so risqué, but he was a true original. Take Screwy Squirrel, a character so annoying that he actually killed him off! People hated him so much that Tex finished him off by pairing him with a big oaf modeled on Lenny from Of Mice and Men, who crushes him in his pocket. This was the original “I will hug him and squeeze him and call him George,” that Jones and others used over and over, to lesser effect.

I didn’t discover Rocky & Bullwinkle until later, thanks to my friend Peter. It’s a good thing, because my sense of sarcasm developed late, and you needed it for that show. So here endeth an era. I remember some cartoons like Dexter’s Lab and Freakazoid being genuinely original and amusing, but what’s out there now, that is actually for kids?

© 2010 Tommy Salami

Star Hustler, R.I.P.

A bright star of astronomic enthusiasm has faded into the cosmos; Jack Horkheimer, best known as PBS’s “Star Gazer,” has passed away at the age of 72. I first encountered him in high school, when my buddy Christian introduced me to his zany 5 minute astronomy show that played on public television since the ’70s. It was called “Star Hustler” back then, but they changed the name in the ’90s, because searching for it on the internet brought up porn sites.

The Onion had a great spoof article about Mr. Horkheimer, who made backyard astronomy easy and approachable for generations of stargazers. He was certainly a one of a kind TV personality, a human dynamo of interest in outer space. Christian and I made a spoof show on his reel to reel tape deck, using his TV theme- Isao Tomita’s electronic version of “Arabesque No.1” where he talked deadpan about a meteor hurtling toward Earth. Instead of panicking, Christian imitated him more excited about seeing the meteor coming right at us, rather than the multitudes fleeing in terror. I wonder if he still has that someplace.

Videos of his show abound on Youtube. Here’s one he recorded ahead of time. Horkheimer was a living relic of the ’70s, before irony abounded, and it pains me that both this and Ebert’s “At the Movies” are now off the air. TV has always been a great wasteland, but it will be a little more desolate now that “Horky” has passed on.

© 2010 Tommy Salami

The Colbert Report

Stephen Colbert is one of my heroes. He was my favorite part of The Daily Show, and I was happily surprised when he got his own show. Its rampant success amazed me, for satire is not always appreciated in American culture, but he did it. His show continues to raise the bar for television comedy and news, going places that “real” news shows won’t dare. He keeps his principles and uses his character to fight for them, and after the Presidential Correspondents’ dinner with George W. Bush, you know he’s pretty much got the biggest balls of any comedian on the planet. As influential Lenny Bruce without the heroin addiction, if you ask me. I got tickets to his show by following them on Facebook and jumping when they were available. As you can see, I have ticket #57, so that’s my Wesley Snipes face:
That’s Drossarian behind me. We have a trick camera that does the reverse effect of how they made Gandalf look so much taller than the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, so we can be in the same frame. He is actually 8 feet tall. Firecracker and “Beast” Katie East filled out our group. We waited quite a while for Stephen and crew to get ready, because they had to set up a crazy harem tent that would be used for a gag later. We got to watch the warm-up comic whose name I forget, but he was very good. He’s a local NYC comedian who should say his name more often. He was very good at poking fun at audience members without being unnecessarily cruel, even when they are named “Dong.” Now that’s talent. He did call our two gals “bitchy” because they kept yelling about Steel Magnolias being a play before it was a movie. He didn’t know that movie is sacred to Louisiana ladies.
I met Stephen in the lobby. He was in character, but felt a little flat. He must have had a rough night. Before the show, he does a Q&A session out of character. He was very gracious and funny, answering questions and reciting anecdotes. I wanted to ask if he’d do voice work for the Venture Bros. show again, but I didn’t get chosen. His wife came to the show and was watching from the sidelines. What I like most about Mr. Colbert is not just that he’s funny, but that he’s genuine and has principles. I love when you can see them sneaking through his character and he has to nail someone that “Stephen” would love but that he personally disagrees with vehemently. He’s very fast on his feet and like myself, has no dignity; anything for a joke. He had 11 siblings to compete with, I was a firstborn, so what’s my excuse?
This was one of the better episodes in recent memory, with a pun so bad that he made himself fight a minotaur and conquer a harem for uttering it. He also calls Stephen Hawking an “a-hole,” goes after Fox News”s attempts to make the Goldman-Sachs CEO seem like a regular guy, and interviews author Conn Iggulden, who wrote The Dangerous Book for Boys, and his newest, The Dangerous Book of Heroes. You can see us in the audience when the mascot fires the t-shirt cannon; I’m in the red striped shirt to the right of the gal who caught the first shirt, clapping my hands off. If I’d been paying attention, I would have tackled her for it. Katie caught one of many WristStrong bracelets that Stephen shot into the audience, so we didn’t go home empty-handed. Or empty-hearted; these memories will last a lifetime, and I’ll tell my grandchildren I saw Stephen Colbert defeat a minotaur.

Here’s a screencap thanks to Julie, who is far more patient than I! The clip follows, and a link to the full episode is at the bottom of the post.]

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Stephen Hawking Is Such an A-Hole
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Fox News

Watch the Full Episode on Comedy Central.

© 2010 Thomas Pluck.