Thursday, October 28, 2010
I came for Johnny Legend and stayed just to see how crazy Randy Quaid could really get....and that's just in this movie, we won't even talk about how crazy he can get in real life. Bug Buster is a throwback to those old 60s B horror movie plots about man creating something which causes a mutation in nature. In Bug Buster, it's pesticides that cause bugs to mutate and become dangerous. I really wasn't expecting much from the movie, but due to a great cast, which included two Star Trek members, James Doohan as the small town sheriff and George Takei as the crazed scientist who tries to warn about the dangers of the pesticides, and a sharply written and directed movie, Bug Buster turned out to be an enjoyable hour and a half.
Which was a good thing, considering I rented Bug Buster to see Johnny Legend and he gets killed sometime before the thirty minute mark in the movie. Johnny Legend has one small walk-through scene and then we don't see him again until he is on stage as part of the duo Trailer Park Trash, along with Melba Toast. Johnny sings the lead on his self-penned tune "I Itch (Like a Son of A Bitch) " and Melba sings the lead on the country weeper, "Love Me Wrong". Unfortunately, Johnny dies before the second song is finished.
I' m going to pass Bug Buster on to T.L. Bugg, The Master when it comes to discussing cult, horror and exploitation movies, for a more in-depth review in the future, so keep a watch on his site. In case you're wondering how crazy I thought Randy Quaid got in Bug Buster, just imagine it in your mind, then turn the dial to 11!
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Hold That Ghost was Abbott and Costello's third movie in which they were the actual stars of the movie. It would have been their second, but Universal, hoping to piggyback on the success of Buck Privates, shelved Hold That Ghost and released In The Navy as their next A&C feature. Hold That Ghost was directed by Arthur Lubin who trained an extra camera exclusively on Lou Costello, since Costello was prone to a lot of improvisation. This allowed Lubin to get some great shots that otherwise would have been missed by other directors. It's rumored that without the success of Lubin's Abbott and Costello movies Universal might have gone bankrupt.
Hold That Ghost stars A&C as a couple of gas station attendants, who due to a couple of misadventures wind up inheriting a dead gangster's old country inn. Along with some other passengers on a small bus, they all get stranded at the inn and must spend the night in the spooky old house. The inn appears to be haunted, but it's actually just everyone trying to find the money the dead gangster supposedly stashed there. All of this, of course, sets up for lots of comic moments from A&C with the added pleasure of actress Joan Davis, playing off Costello as if they had been working together for years.
Although I was watching Hold That Ghost because the title lent itself to be included in my Halloween movies, I was pleasantly surprised to find some great musical numbers included in the production. The movie is book-ended with music, beginning with Ted (Is Everybody Happy?) Lewis singing "When My Baby Smiles At Me" and "Me and My Shadow". Ted then introduces The Andrew Sisters who sing "Sleepy Serenade". At the end of Hold That Ghost, when A&C own their own nightclub, The Andrew Sisters, in a big production number, sing "Aurora". I always enjoy hearing The Andrew Sisters and Ted Lewis had an infectious manner which I found appealing.
Although my favorite A&C Halloween movie is and always will be Bud Abbott and Lou Costello Meet Frankenstein, Hold That Ghost was definitely good enough that I will be watching it again next year when I drag out my favorite Halloween films.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Even after mulling it over a couple of days, I can't decide if Motorama has some deep meaning OR if it's just weird for the sake of being weird...."not that there's anything wrong with that" (last quote was for all of you Seinfeld junkies). I do know that it was beautifully shot and the direction was spot on and surprisingly, especially since the star is a 10 year old boy (in real life, I think he was 12), the acting was top notch.
Motorama begins with Gus working in his basement while his parents argue upstairs. We find he's working on a set of leg extensions, which will enable him to drive the cherry red Mustang he has stolen. Gus leaves on a cross country trip through what can only be described as The United States in an alternate reality. Along the way, he becomes obsessed with collecting contest cards from Chimera Gas Stations. Collecting all of the letters M-O-T-O-R-A-M-A will make Gus eligible for the $500 million cash prize.
For most of the movie, Motorama is pure road movie, as Gus travels from gas station to gas station collecting Motorama Cards and meeting different characters along his journey. A few of these meetings are where this blog and Motorama cross paths. The first is when Gus cashes in his piggy bank change at the bank, the teller is Martha Quinn of MTV fame. Later in the movie, Gus crosses paths with two actual musicians: When Gus is eating at a restaurant he meets a dimwitted bus boy played by Flea from The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Later in the movie, Gus goes into a biker bar where he is forced into an arm wrestling contest with one of the guys hanging out there, Vern, who is played by Meat Loaf. Although he isn't in the movie, Andy Summers of The Police composed the soundtrack for Motorama.
I'm not going to delve very much into the plot, since I think Motorama is best watched without the viewer having a lot of prior knowledge of what is going to happen. I will tell you that the last 15 minutes might throw you for a loop and cause you to say WTF. Speaking of a WTF moment there is a "bonus trailer" on the DVD, which turns out to be for Joe Dirt starring David Spade. Much like myself, this may cause you once again to say WTF, but then again, maybe it's just the perfect mindbender ending for the DVD.
I couldn't find a trailer on youtube for Motorama, however, you can watch the whole movie in parts there. Instead I'm including a video of Meat Loaf doing a great version of Ram Jam's "Black Betty", a song that will always make you drive your car just a little faster.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I've only seen a couple of biopics in which the lead actor was so able to meld their own personality with the subject they were portraying, they made it hard for me to see where one person ended and the other began. This was the case with Sissy Spacek in Coal Miner's Daughter, Gary Busey in The Buddy Holly Story, and adding to the list is Joaquin Phoenix in Walk The Line.
Walk The Line starts with Johnny Cash (Joaquin Phoenix) preparing to go on stage at Folsom Prison. When Johnny sees a table saw, it reminds him of the death of his older brother Jack and the movie flashes back to that traumatic event in 1944. The film then moves Johnny into adulthood with his service in the Air Force, where at an on-base showing of a documentary about Folsom Prison, Johnny gets the idea for one of his most famous songs, "Folsom Prison Blues".
Johnny returns to the United States, gets married, and has a very unsuccessful career as a door to door salesman. He forms a gospel band on the side, and when they finally get a chance to record at Sun Studios, things are a bust when they sing Sam Phillips a gospel song. Johnny mentions that he has a song he wrote and when he plays it for Phillips....as the old saying goes "it's history in the making".
During his early years we see Johnny on tour with Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, and even the king himself, Elvis Presley. [A side note: Waylon Payne plays Jerry Lee in this film, the last time I saw Waylon Payne he was playing Hank Garland in Crazy....I kept thinking I was watching Waylon Payne playing Hank Garland playing Jerry Lee Lewis]. On one of these tours, Johnny's path crosses with June Carter's (Reese Witherspoon) and he is smitten from the start. Too bad for Johnny, because June won't have anything to do with a married man. Also, on these tours we see Johnny getting hooked on pills, explaining why he always wears black (Johnny: "Couldn't Find Anything Else") and where he came up with his sound (Johnny: "We'd play faster if we could"). Walk The Line continues showing us parts of Johnny Cash's life back up to his performance at Folsom Prison.
Other musicians of note in Walk The Line: Shooter Jennings has a couple of brief appearances playing his own dad, Waylon Jennings. Sandra Ellis Lafferty, as Mother Maybelle Carter, has a great scene when the family is trying to get Johnny off drugs and she chases a drug dealer away with a shotgun. Shelby Lynne plays a very convincing role as Johnny's mother in the early part of the movie.
One final small thing to look for in Walk the Line, right before Johnny decides to play Folsom and record a live album there (even though the record company didn't think it was a good idea) he's looking through a box of prisoners' letters. If you look closely, one of them is from Folsom prisoner Glen Sherley. This is the man who wrote Johnny's song "Greystone Chapel" about the chapel at Folsom Prison.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
If you're wondering why you've never seen The Ghost Goes Gear, it's probably because the movie was never released in the United States (it is now available on DVD). Even though the movie is terrible, I'm still at a loss trying to understand why it was never shown here. My only guess is by the time the movie would have reached our shores, The Summer of Love had arrived and the market for a light-hearted comedy romp starring an English music group had passed.
The Ghost Goes Gear only has a plot for the first half of the movie and it's not much of a plot to begin with. It seems The Spencer Davis Group's manager is actually from a very rich family, whose haunted estate is going broke. A plan is conceived to raise money for the estate by throwing a benefit concert party. This part of the film is filled with bad jokes and a film desperately trying to copy the success of The Beatles movies (band traipsing around goofily, a madcap drummer, and even their own "old man"). At least during this part of the movie we get some good performances from The Spencer Davis Group as they sing "When I Come Home", "Midnight Special", "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out" (with Stevie Winwood doing a great "Ray Charles" type performance), and one instrumental "On The Green Light". Sheila White playing the role of "the cute bird", Polly, sings a perky "I'm A Miss Fit" and we are also treated to an insipid song by "the ghost" Lorne Gibson singing "Like Free".
The second half of The Ghost Goes Gear has only a very small amount of plot and is mostly performances at the benefit concert. There are a few excellent songs during this part with the standout act being St. Louis Union who have two great rave-ups with "I Got My Pride" and "Show Me Your English Teeth". The M6, with dual lead singers have one really good song, "Seven Deadly Sins", but their second number, "The Place" was hard to sit through. Acker Bilk and His Paramount Jazz Band bring a little Dixieland to the movie when they perform "Henry The 9th". The other performances during this part were all shot like music videos and my understanding is these were inserted into the movie after the initial shooting was over. Sheila White as Polly wanders around a field singing "Switch Off The Night". David Berry performs two very odd numbers where it seems his main interest is in hiding his face, "Mama", while sitting in a tree, and "Now", while walking in a field of flowers. We are also treated to two more boring songs from The Lorne Gibson Trio, "Listen To My Jingle Jangle" and "Meddlesome Matty". I've been saving the best/worst for last, The Three Bells, comprised of a set of twins and their sister, do two songs, "No One Home" and "The Original Lemon Tree". There was just something so charmingly goofy about this mildly talented trio that I couldn't help but smile while watching them. I'm including a video at the end of this post, which includes both of their performances.
While The Ghost Goes Gear is worth watching for the performances by The Spencer Davis Group, St. Louis Union, plus one of M6's songs and, in my opinion, The Three Bells, the real treat is the commentary track. I normally hate and usually refuse to listen to commentaries; however, this one is done by Spencer Davis himself and British comedian Martin Davis. The commentary really gives you a lot of details into the British music scene of the time period, similar to the commentaries on Live It Up/Be My Guest. After you watch The Ghost Goes Gear, I would highly recommend giving it another go with the commentary track turned on.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
I've had this DVD for quite some time, but put off watching it, since I really wasn't expecting it to be very good. While it's not the greatest biopic I've ever seen, Hendrix is far from the worse. Wood Harris plays Jimi Hendrix and does a competent acting job, although I never believed I was watching anything more than an actor pretending to be someone else.
The plot of Hendrix is built around an interview he is supposed to be doing on the last day of his life. This allows exposition from Jimi to move the movie through the various years of his life. We first see Jimi as a young boy living with his single father and a brief glimpse of his mother and her problems. The film then skips to Jimi getting out of the Army after breaking his ankle. Hendrix then follows Jimi through his early years of performing in different bands. One specific instance shows us Jimi being fired from Little Richard's band, because he felt Jimi was getting too much attention with his guitar playing and theatrics. Little Richard also claimed Jimi copied his pencil thin mustache. All of this moves pretty fast, since they're trying to fit Hendrix's lifetime into 100 minutes.
Jimi gets his big break when Chas Chandler (formerly the bass player for The Animals) sees him performing in a club and convinces Jimi to come to England, where he will manage him. In England, the one thing Jimi really wants to do is jam with Eric Clapton. After some persuasion from Chas, Clapton agrees to let Jimi jam with Cream (Clapton, Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce) on stage. This goes so well, Chas tells Jimi that he should form his own power trio and they recruit Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell and The Jimi Hendrix Experience is born.
The rest of Hendrix takes us through the ups and downs of his wildly successful career: We get a look at Jimi playing The Monterey Pop Festival. A short snippet with Jimi as the opening act for The Monkees. A look at the dissolution of The Experience. A quick stop at Woodstock with Jimi performing "The Star Spangled Banner". A very short looks at his free form jazz group, Sky Church, and the formation of Band of Gypsies featuring Buddy Miles on drums and Billy Cox on Bass. During all these phases in Jimi's career we get an inside look at his excessive drug taking and womanizing, his struggle to control and expand his own music, and the toll the road took on him.
There were two parts of Hendrix that I thought could have been done a little better. First, between a lot of scenes, we get shown "real life" clips (Beatles, Monkees, Woodstock, Kent State, Martin Luther King assassination, etc) to establish time and place. Unfortunately, a few of these scenes included people/events in the wrong time line. The other thing that jarred me out of the movie was Wood Harris' guitar playing. The movie, with some careful camera work, manages most of the time to hide the fact that Harris wasn't really playing the guitar and they used someone else's hands in any close-up shots. The trouble came when, in some wide shots, you could definitely see Harris' hands and the actual music being played didn't match.
Hendrix was denied the use of any original material that Jimi had recorded, so the movie is filled with covers of Jimi's covers - "All Along The Watchtower", "Hey Joe", "Wild Thing", etc. This worked out pretty good for the most part, but it did leave me wanting to hear "Are You Experienced", "Purple Haze", etc. I will say that Harris did a really good job of lip synching....whether he was lip synching his voice or someone else's I haven't been able to determine. IF you're a diehard fanboy of Jimi Hendrix, then you probably won't like this movie. IF you want a pretty decent overview of Jimi Hendrix's life, then I would definitely recommend Hendrix.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Your enjoyment of Pure Country will probably depend on how big a George Strait fan you are. IF you're crazy about Strait, you'll love this movie. IF you can't stand him or Country Music, then you'll hate this movie. IF, like myself, you don't have any strong feelings about Strait one way or the other, you will probably find Pure Country just okay.
George Strait plays Dusty Wyatt Chandler who goes by the singular stage name Dusty. His concert show is a big extravaganza with lots of lights and explosions (think Garth Brooks) with the music secondary. Dusty tires of all of this and one night he literally walks away from it all. He walks and hitchhikes, stopping once at a small town barber shop to get a clean shave and his ponytail cut off. Dusty eventually winds up back home at his Grandma's and later at his old honky-tonk. At the honky-tonk he gets drunk and after getting his ass whipped in a fight, he's taken home by the young lady he was trying to protect. Needless to say there's a love connection between Harley (Isabel Glasser) and Dusty and he stays on at her struggling ranch, which is helmed by Rory Calhoun in his last movie appearance.
Once his old manager, Lesley Ann Warren (who rocks the leather outfits she wears in the movie, but needs to stay out of "mom" bluejeans), hunts him down and convinces Harley that she is Dusty's wife, Harley becomes heartbroken and shuns Dusty. This results in Dusty going back on the road with his band, but now toning his show down to a more basic performance. Dusty and Harley's paths cross again in Las Vegas, where Dusty is doing a show and as a hackneyed plot device would have it, Harley is competing at a rodeo in Vegas at the same time.
In another hackneyed plot device, Harley's whole family, who go honky-tonking on a regular basis at Dusty's old honky-tonk, never figured out Dusty's real identity. Even though at one point in the movie, after his old friend Earl Blackstock (John Doe, who must have decided IF George Strait doesn't have to attempt any acting, neither will he) tracks Dusty down, the two do an impromptu performance on the back porch of the ranch. If you couldn't guess by now, the movie ends on a happy note with lots of crying from Harley (who for most of her scenes in Pure Country either acted mad, cried, or grinned like someone without good sense....none of this I blame on her, since I assume it was the directions she was given)
Pure Country had all the earmarks of a made for TV movie that would play fine on CMT or even on Lifetime. I was surprised to find that it had a theatrical release (although not a very successful one). There were so many song performances in Pure Country, they made the movie drag on a little too long (112 minutes) for me. On the other hand, most people who watch Pure Country are going to be there for George Strait in the first place and may even wish the movie was longer. As for myself, I find George Strait a likable person and a really good neo-traditionalist country singer, but as far as movie making goes, he's a much better singer than an actor. I imagine George thought the same thing, since in the follow-up (not really a sequel) to this movie, Pure Country 2: The Gift, which is supposed to be released this year, it doesn't appear George is going to be doing any acting, since the cast lists him only as "Country Music Star".
Sunday, October 3, 2010
While Aidan Quinn was no where near pretty enough to portray Paul McCartney and Jared Harris' red tinged beard was disconcerting at times, they both did a great job of portraying their respective subjects in Two Of Us. This disclaimer is placed at the start of the movie: "This fictional film is not endorsed by any person depicted herein and neither such persons nor their families, heirs or related parties have participated in the making of this film. Legend has it that in 1976 - six years after the bitter breakup of The Beatles - Paul McCartney paid a surprise visit to John Lennon at his apartment in New York City. This film makes no attempt to document what may have occurred at such a meeting. Rather, it is a work of fiction in appreciation of two blokes from Liverpool, and the gifts they gave us." If this disclaimer had been placed at the end of the movie, it would have allowed the viewer to fantasize what was being shown was the truth, instead of immediately letting you know what you were about to see had very little basis in fact.
As soon as I read the disclaimer, I thought this just sounds like a piece of fan fiction and upon further investigation I found the following notation "the screenplay was written by longtime Beatles fan and Beatlefest attendee, Mark Stanfield." I give props to the writer, the director, and the actors, because what is basically two guys talking at each other for ninety minutes with fabricated dialogue was still able to hold my attention. This is due to the facts that both the characterizations and dialogue rang true. The only minus point to Two Of Us is that it doesn't contain any Beatles songs since the producers couldn't get clearance rights. Instead we hear Peter Frampton on the radio, John and Paul singing Tumbling Tumbleweeds together at a piano, Blue Suede Shoes playing in the background in one scene, and a reggae band in Central Park doing a version of Sh-Boom.
There are a couple of clips from the movie on youtube, but I couldn't find a trailer. Instead I'm including The Beatles song that is the namesake of Two Of Us.