Wednesday, April 30, 2008

80's Trash of the Week - Vision Quest

In which we wrestle and discover the clitoris, to songs by Madonna and Journey!
Vision Quest is probably better known as the first movie with Madonna, and in some countries it is known as "Crazy For You," because she sings that song in a bar during a dance scene. Everyone knows him as Private Joker, but Matthew Modine got his start in quirky coming of age movies like this one, and Birdy. He had a good little thing going there before Cutthroat Island, which is in the Guinness book of World Records as the Biggest Flop of All Time. I own that movie, and I object, because I thought The Adventures of Pluto Nash topped it. Plus hey, Geena Davis in a pirate outfit is worth ten bucks on a lonely evening.
Carla, Louden, and his Dad

In Vision Quest, Modine plays a high school wrestler named Louden Swain, who has just turned 18 and realized he hasn't done much with his life. He feels like he's been coasting. So he decides to drop 2 weight classes to 168 and take on the 3-time state champion, Brian Shute. While this makes it seem like a Rocky or Breaking Training movie, there's a lot more to it. And by a lot more, I mean a young, hot, Linda Fiorentino in her first role.
Let's take a closer look at Ms. Fiorentino.

Linda Fiorentino is one of the most underrated Hollywood actresses, and if you haven't seen The Last Seduction, you haven't seen one of the best modern film noir since Body Heat. She embodies the femme fatale, and always plays strong women. She even played the descendant of Christ in Dogma, and dispatched some demons. Here, she plays Carla, who's trying to return a lemon she bought on a car lot where Louden's father (Ronny Cox) is a mechanic. Louden's Dad takes her side and loses his job, she loses her car, and she needs a place to stay, so... why not shack up with my horny teenage son?
Louden and Kuch (Cooch) ogling Carla.

Louden is also friends with Kuch, a mohawked chopper-driving punk also on the wrestling team, who tells him that his decision to take on the big champ is a vision quest, giving us the title of the movie, and thankfully no hokey Hollywood pseudo-spiritualism. They sneak over to Shute's high school to see how he trains, and we find him walking up and down the bleachers with a huge log over his shoulders, like Arnie in Commando.
Shute, the champ. I dare you to call him poop-chute.

Shute will be a formidable opponent, and Louden is distracted by the 21-year old siren in his house. She's not only sexy but mature and unapproachable, a foul-mouthed Jersey girl who says stuff like "you'll have an asshole as wide as the Lincoln Tunnel." But that doesn't stop Louden. He's also studying biology because he wants to be some sort of doctor or astronaut or both, and his paper on the clitoris doesn't go over well with the school faculty. The nerdy high school girl who he hangs around with, Margie Epstein, says "What a blast to the First Amendment! The first thing they do is shut down the press and imprison the intellectuals. I LOVED YOUR PIECE ON THE CLITORIS! I SHOWED IT TO MY MOTHER!"
Teach, I have a swelling that won't go down.

The movie has a wry sense of humor when it's not making clit jokes, and Louden's flighty interests are reminiscent of high school musings. He's friendly with his teacher Gene Tanneran, an ex-basketball player teaching him English and poetry. He confides in him about the problem of living under the same roof as Carla while trying to cut weight, which is giving him nosebleeds while blood is rushing elsewhere.
Tanneran: I think you're dehydrated.
Louden Swain: No, I'm just the victim of a screwed-up nitrogen imbalance. Plus, I think I've contracted priapism.
Tanneran: What's priapism?
Louden: It's a disease of a constant erection. It's not funny, believe me! The girl of my dreams lives under my own roof, but she thinks I'm just a kid, a dumb jock, all of which is more or less true. I'm dying, Mr. Tanneran, just like that girl in the poem... only quicker, and with a hard-on.
I was just making sure you used fabric softener...

Carla begins to soften to Louden, also giving him some valuable lessons about what it means to be a man, like don't let a girl catch you sniffing her panties. Eventually they go out to a bar and dance to Madonna, who sings "Crazy for You" and "Gambler," back when she was a singer and not a product.

I think she was trying to out-Lauper Cyndi at this point.

Of course they get it on, but Carla knows she is interfering with Louden's goals and skips town to force him to concentrate on wrestling. This bothers him but he doesn't go into the usual funk, he hunts her down and confronts her, and makes it to the match just in time.
I envy Mr. Modine even if he only got it on in movie-land.

Based on a book by Terry Davis, the emphasis on wrestling is what makes an enduring fanbase for this movie. I can't think of another movie with high school wrestling in it except maybe The World According to Garp and it's a minor subplot there. The wrestling scenes are decent. I myself go to a mixed-martial arts class to get beaten up twice a week at AFS, and we get a lot of wrestlers in there. The matches here look good, but Modine definitely does not look like he's in the same class as Shute.

You need a montage!

Being a "Rocky" story we know how it will end, but the movie shines in how it gets us there, with its characters. Louden works in a kitchen with an old cook named Elmo, who could be played by Tony "Paulie Walnuts" Sirico in a remake. The script gives us real people and no cardboard cut-outs, except maybe for another wrestler who doesn't think Louden is a "team player," but he only shows up once or twice.

Louden is wiser than his years, without it being too obvious; he's still immature and learning who he is, and he learns not to settle for anything less than his dreams in this movie. I like the quote he leaves us with before "Only the Young" plays over the credits:

But all I ever settled for is that we're born to live and then to die, and... we got to do it alone, each in his own way. And I guess that's why we got to love those people who deserve it like there's no tomorrow. 'Cause when you get right down to it - there isn't.
Louden Swain, sweaty American hero in a leotard.

Quotability Rating: Very Low
Cheese Factor: Low
Could it be made today? That ultimate fighter movie, kind of
Gratuitous Boobs: Awesome nippleage through a white tank top.
High Points: Soundtrack, good script, good actors, early Madonna
Low Points: Ends abruptly; Madonna pre-plastic surgery/dental work
Vision Quest slams us with a lateral drop and puts us in a crucifix, giving us a noogie of 80's nostalgia and makes us tap out to its fine script and acting by two rising stars.

If you still are waffling about The Last Seduction...

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Forgotten Vinyl - KISS: Music from "The Elder"

So what's "The Elder" and why did Kiss make music from it? That's a good question, and today it will be answered in detail beyond your wildest dreams. It's a famous flop, born of hubris, hobbits and excess.

Back in 1980 I was in 4th grade, and Kiss was the greatest band in the universe. It didn't help that my older cousins liked to dress up as Ace Frehley and Paul Stanley for Halloween, and had painted the Destroyer album cover on the wall in my grandmother's spare room. I had Destroyer on cassette and played it incessantly, until it wore out and "God of Thunder" played extra-slow on the stretched tape. Me and my sister preferred it broken, because the giggling children in the song were creepier that way. I also had a single of "Detroit Rock City" that we played over and over, trying to make sense of it. We knew it had a car accident and dancing in it, but before the blessed interweb there was only the rumor that it was about a fan who died in a car accident on the way to a Kiss concert.
Unfortunately I got into Kiss right when their career took a "downturn," or nosedived into the shitter because of the flood of Kiss dolls (had 'em, lost 'em, cried when I saw them on ebay) and other merchandise. They haven't learned, either- you can be buried in a Kiss coffin, if you're a diehard fan (rimshot). In 1980 they came out with Unmasked, trying to shed their glam rock image and get a broader fan base. I had that album and remember feeling gypped that there were no photos of them without make-up in there. The cover had a cheesy comic book story on it, and in the end, they really look like that under their masks! It was the equivalent of "Remember to Drink Your Ovaltine" in A Christmas Story for me.

It was only later that I discovered Kiss's next album, quizzically titled Music from "The Elder." It was a huge flop, apparently. They didn't even tour for it. But I didn't know that then- I was a fan of the Highlander movie, and David Eddings' Belgariad Tolkien ripoff, I started playing Dungeons & Dragons, so when I found a fantasy concept album by Kiss I was totally into it. Looking back on it now, it seems like they watched the Ralph Bakshi movie of Lord of the Rings a few times, came up with some generic plotline about an ancient cabal who trains a hero every generation to fight whatever evil has risen in the world, and recorded some songs about it. Some of these songs are pretty damn good, but wow, as producer Bob Ezrin confessed, some are "the product of a serious cocaine addiction." Ace Frehley left the band over the direction the group took, and while he may have never succeeded above his great single "Back in the New York Groove," I will posit that the "Space Ace" was the one with his faculties in the finest order during this period. They wanted to make a movie using the proceeds of the album, and Christopher Makepeace (Rudy from Meatballs) was credited on the album. If this was anything like Lord of the Rings mixed with Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park, it would have been epic.
The gatefold sleeve of the album lacks any image of the band, so it's sort of like The Black Album by Spinal Tap- you can't immediately recognize it as a Kiss album. It looks more like a disc of Gregorian Chants than hard rock- it was a huge mistake to not go the Molly Hatchet route and put a Boris Vallejo cover on it. Just imagine the band done Vallejo style, swinging axes and breathing fire while riding a manticore. Now, that would have gotten your attention. Instead, you open the gatefold and see a big wooden table with a candle on it, and the inscrutable verses that read:

"When the earth was young, they were already old..."
Since the dawn of time, the Elder have watched silently
over a virgin world and all its creatures...
Now, they have assumed the form of mortals so that they
might walk amongst men and guide them.
The Elder are an ideal...They embody the wisdom of the
ages and the power of goodness and knowledge...
But the Elder were not alone in the beginning and are not
alone still...Another force has existed eternally...

In every place, in every time, an evil is loosed whose
sole purpose is to destroy all that is good. And in every
time, and every place, it is the task of the Elder to find
and train a warrior...a champion to conquer the evil.
As the looming clouds gather, the council of the Elder sits
at their ancient table under the sign of the Rose. Once again
they must combat the evil that is lurking in darkness and
spreading throughout the world.
They await the word from Morpheus, the caretaker, whether the
boy be deemed ready for the sacred rite of accession to the
Order of the Rose...and for the pronouncement of his sacred duty...

The odyssey begins...

Beyond being a crime against ellipses, it sounds like something your brother makes up in between bong hits after watching The Beastmaster or Dragonslayer. I think the horrible fantasy novel I was writing in junior year of high school was something along these lines (It is long since burned, before you ask). The lyrics vary from as bad as this to actually pretty damn good- they did begrudgingly include "The Oath" and "A World Without Heroes" on a box set. The ballads sound nothing like Kiss, but the rockers are some of their best stuff in my obviously biased opinion.

The album originally began with some medieval-sounding horns called "fanfare" which now comes after "The Oath." According to wikipedia, this throws off the story of the album, but we never noticed. If it began with a processional fanfare, it would have scared off any fans that figured out it was a Kiss album, so it was the right choice.
Like a blade of a sword I am forged in flame
Fiery hot
Tempered steel fire-bright to the night I take
I fear not

The fanfare thing sounded all fantasy-ish back in the 80's of course, when if you mentioned The Lord of the Rings, you meant the Bakshi movie or the Hobbit movie with "Yo ho, my lads! Down down to Goblin towwwn!" and the Keebleresque elves of Elfquest and their ilk.

Then you cut into "Just A Boy," where Paul Stanley sounds like he lost his testicles. It's not badly written, but it was a horrible choice to have the chorus sang in a castrato. There's some nice guitar work in it, and it does draw you in to the fantasy tale quite well.

Who steers the ship through the stormy sea
If hope is lost then so are we
While some eyes search for one to guide us
Some are staring at me

They smartly stick a rocker between this and "Only You" (not the Platters song) called "A Dark Light." Despite the lyrics of this one being vague and cryptic, it's a good song and has a good guitar riff. However, you can tell that Kiss isn't cut out for prog rock. Things really don't pick up until the end of side 2. "Under the Rose" is a dark and dreary tune that sounds more like a funeral dirge than a Kiss song, and works well for the concept. If you play it alone, you'll be horrified. I always thought the lyric was "Only you... are the magi" but I've been told it is "manchild," which is even worse.

(sub rosa- get it??)

Side 2 starts off with the single "A World Without Heroes," which Lou Reed (!!!) helped pen. It's a bittersweet ballad and the best known song off the album, which would have worked as a quiet interlude as the camera panned over the landscape, or Christopher Makepeace was molested by orcs. It would be especially fitting, since he was the Dungeon Master in Mazes and Monsters.

A world without heroes
Is like a world without sun
You can't look up to anyone
Without heroes
And a world without heroes
Is like a never ending race
Is like a time without a place
A pointless thing devoid of grace

Then we're introduced to what must be the villain- Mr. Blackwell, which sounds suspiciously familiar.... was he named after the famously acerbic fashion critic? By the way, if the music links stop working, the entire album is on youtube, and accessible via this Mr. Blackwell link. With a chorus like:
You're not well, Mr. Blackwell
And we can tell
You're not well, Mr. Blackwell
Why don't you go to hell
Sung back and forth between Gene Simmons as the evil Mr. Blackwell and the scorn of the chorus, it's very silly but still a bit of fun.

Next is another instrumental called "Escape from the Island" that has sirens in it for some reason. It still sounds exciting and makes me want to escape from an island, chased by goblins in Kiss make-up, but I always wondered why a fantasy tale would have air raid klaxons.

9. Escape from the Island

Possibly then worst song on the album is "Odyssey," which has the most pretentious and nonsensical lyrics I've read in a long time. I mean, even as a teenager they sounded dumb, and I was a really dumb teenager.

Through the luminescent night
On beams of neon light
You and I in wing-ged flight
As we cross the starry sea, powered by what we see
Now and then, the victory

Once upon not yet, long ago someday
Countless times we've met, met along the way

I won't subject you to the awful verse about the stallion and the mare.

One of the best songs rounds out the album, simply titled "I," with the rocking chorus, "I believe in me." They even end the chorus with "I wanna rock 'n roll all nite!" to throw a rockin' bone to the fans.

The story ends with the boy being accepted into the fellowship (where have I heard that before) so maybe they imagined this as the first in a trilogy. That was rather ambitious of them, don't you think?

The finale, with the raspy voiced Elders and Morpheus who sounds vaguely familiar...

It's too bad it was such a failure, but you can sort of see where it overreached itself at nearly every step. I really enjoy listening to it, and not just for nostalgic reasons. As pretentious and vague as some of the songs are, you do get a hint at what the movie would be like. The back of the album says it would include Christopher Makepeace, Antony Parr and Robert Christie- all whom share being involved in a show called "The Littlest Hobo," about an intelliget German shepherd walking th' Earth and having adventures. Just imagine the fantasy epic they would have created.
The album doesn't deserve to be on a "worst of all time" list, which it is, but it was certainly a disappointment for fans, especially after Unmasked, which if I recall, had a song called "She's So (European)" on it. The band doesn't disown the album, and I like the self-effacing quotes from Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley regarding it:
  • "I go on record saying it's not a great KISS record but I think it's a really great record." – Paul Stanley, 1996
  • "As a KISS record I'd give it a zero. As a bad Genesis record, I'd give it a two." – Gene Simmons
  • "We've done a lot of fuck me suck me songs and we thought we might like to go a slightly different route." – Paul Stanley, 1982
That's right up there with "Lick My Love Pump," from Spinal Tap if you ask me. Pure classic. Whats even better, is I remember who introduced me to this album, which requires a careful dive into the shipwreck of my high school life. He was a rather insane Kiss fan, and is probably a four-star general in the Kiss Army now. He's probably better known nowadays as Maul Stanley or C.C. Banana, and while I slap my forehead at the realization that I hung out with this guy, part of me rejoices that if I ever go to a class reunion, it doesn't matter if everyone else in my class is a Captain of Industry, at least I'm not the C.C. Banana guy.

Though I've found out where the church they used for the album cover is on Park Avenue, and I might have to go take a photo of it. Just not in a banana costume.
If you want to experience this album at its fullest, find the vinyl on ebay like I did (yeah I sold my original ages ago) or get the CD off amazon:

Monday, April 28, 2008

I hope Indy shoots Shia LeDouche in the scrotal berries

I just saw the TV teaser trailer for the new Indiana Jones movie, the clumsily titled Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Despite being a big fan of all 3 movies, even the sorely mistreated Temple of Doom, I really wasn't that excited by it. Now, I know Harrison Ford is 60-something now and I accept that Lucas, Spielberg and Ford couldn't agree to make another one sooner than 19 years after Last Crusade.

Because they had to make him older, they had to give up the standby of Nazi villains for Soviets. That's fine actually, they were always awesome villains in the Bond movies and even better foils as fanatics to the state.

However, watching it again online gives me hope. Sadly Sean Connery won't be returning as "Dad," his funniest role and the best sidekick since Sallah, and we seem to be saddled with Most Annoying Young Actor in the Universe Shitty LeDouche, I mean Shia LeBeef, in the Short Round role. Except he's sort of a greaser. This movie may redeem him, after Transformers and Constantine, where I wanted to shove Raisinets up my nose until I choked to death rather than hear his non-stop Vince Vaughn meets Woody Allen patter. If they ever make that live-action remake of The Last Unicorn, Shia LeBoueuef can play Schmendrick, if someone feeds him a constant supply of Xanax to shut him the fuck up for five minutes.

The villain's a broad in this one, and she looks good- rather like Greta Garbo as Ninotchka in leather pants good. Ol' Indy looks to be picking up some of the comic relief slack himself here, which is what he did in Raiders- the best of the series as of now- so it should work out fine. The TV teaser is cut short than this one, and you don't see the most reassuring prop ever, Indy's .45 Webley top-break revolver. After Spielberg toyed with the idea of tinkering with Raiders, and turned guns into walkie talkies in E.T., it's been a niggling fear that the pulp hero would be emasculated in this entry. Thankfully you can see him packing heat in the last bit here, so we won't have to endure him killing nameless thugs via convoluted whip and "oops you fell into an exploding barrel" maneuvers.

After seeing Apocalypto, the scenes in Mexico looked a little familiar, and I hope they manage to make them impressive. Apocalypto may be one long chase scene, but it's fucking gorgeous to watch. Watch the trailer and tell me what you think. Mr. Ford definitely shows his years, but he also looks up to the task. Those familiar crates should have instant appeal to fans of the first movie and its iconic ending.

It's just a teaser, but if Lucas didn't meddle too much and Spielberg hasn't gone too soft, this should be one hell of a summer. Iron Man opens this weekend, and we have The Dark Knight, Hellboy 2, The Fall, Get Smart, The Incredible Hulk, Pineapple Express, Speed Racer, and Wall-E (the latest Pixar, which looks like Brazil meets Short Circuit). And that's just big studio offerings. Errol Morris, Guy Madden, Darren Aronofsky, and many others have stuff coming out this year too.

Ralph Bakshi's Coonskin

Like Bob Clampett's masterpiece "Coal Black and de Sebben Dwarfs," and Disney's sadly buried Song of the South, Coonskin is one of the more infamous animated films. Like those films, it is sort of unofficially "banned;" it's not available on an official DVD, but you can get a VHS copy burned to DVD if you look around. It's also on Google video and youtube in its entirety.

Scatman sings over the main titles

Ralph Bakshi has always been controversial, most famous for Fritz the Cat, and most infamous for the godawful Cool World. I feel bad for Ralph because you can see what he's trying to do sometimes, but he doesn't always have the talent and/or money to achieve it. There's a saying that art fails when concept outstrips performance, and his career is unfortunately living proof. Some of his projects, like Heavy Traffic or Wizards, work pretty well on their own. Coonskin has a lot of weak spots, but it's pretty unique in its daring, at least until Spike Lee made Bamboozled. It also has a pretty solid cast and some great social commentary, and some of Bakshi's better animation work.
Even the prison walls be white!

We start out with a revivalist preacher giving a sermon, which goes on for way too long and makes little sense, then we cut to a scene outside a prison wall where Old Man Bone (Scatman Crothers, the best part of the movie) and Randy (holy shit, it's Philip Michael Thomas!) are waiting for the getaway car, driven by Preacherman and Sampson (a perfectly cast Barry White). To pass the time, Bone tells him the story of Brother Rabbit, Brother Bear and Brother Fox as they carve out a criminal empire in Harlem.
Rabbit, Fox and Bear.

That's where we switch to animation, often on top of real backgrounds. Barry White then voices Brother Bear, Randy becomes Br'er Rabbit, and Scatman plays Pappa, a street guy who narrates and raps at the audience during the many interludes. Roger Ebert didn't think it was exploitation, but I'm not sure. It's arty for sure, but Bakshi always knows how to use sex and violence to make the medicine go down.
Oh yeah, I did shoot the deputy. My bad.

The story doesn't resemble the Uncle Remus tales much, since they're all partners here. Later on it the story, Rabbit does use the "don't throw me in the briar patch" trick to escape once. The fellas are running a cathouse in the South when the sheriff comes to take his cut. They give him a freebie with one of the girls, but it turns out to be his own daughter! So they have to shoot him and go on the lam, heading up to Harlem.
The Sopranos season 12

Up there things are run by the Mafia, run by the Godfather of course, who looks like a wrinkled fat vampire covered with moles. They also have to deal with Simple Savior, a fat black preacher who's running his own scam on the neighborhood. There's not much of a plot really, and the movie is boring when it tries to adhere to the flimsy one it has. The best parts are the biting satire and comedy on race relations, from a nasty cop who gets dumped in blackface in Harlem and shot by other cops, or black caricatures trying to get it on with Miss America, or a Jemima-like Mammy chasing a pancake and shooting it.
Mammy Two Shoes is done takin' shit.

There's a bit of crossover with Bakshi's earlier film Heavy Traffic, about a young animator living at home with his small-time mobster father and Jewish mother, escaping with his black girlfriend Carole. (His drawing a cartoon set to Chuck Berry's "Maybelline" was the movie's high point for me). The mafia spoof is similar here, but more vicious, with the Godfather's gay son trying to prove himself being a running joke. The best parts resemble Melvin Van Peebles's Sweet Sweetback's Badasssss Song.
No, you don't get a piece of this pie, either.

My favorite parts are with Scatman Crothers; he gets some of the better social commentary and has the benefit of being a decent actor. He also sings scat and for a few sequences, including one in the next clip that was used in Ice-T's

Scatman Crothers gives a little rap.

On the other hand, there's a lot of tedious, dated stuff that was meant to make white audiences uncomfortable, like the sequence where a white couple tries to explain how they "understand" the plight of the ghetto and so on, in a Phil Ochs "Love Me I'm a Liberal" sort of way.
We understand your plight, we watch Fresh Prince!

So while some scenes make it feel like a relic, for its time it was shocking and poignant. I give Ralph Bakshi a lot of crap, but he reaches for the stars, so I shouldn't be so hard on him when he falls extremely short sometimes. The independent animator is at the whim of the producer, and we all know what horrible taste the money men have a lot of the time. Coonskin can be tedious at times, but it's one of the most biting racial satires put to film, along with Bamboozled, Blazing Saddles, and Watermelon Man. It's worth hunting down if you like strange films, blaxploitation, or animation beyond the Disney variety.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bacon Dogs Declared Illegal! Los Angeles, sort of.

They have strict rules about the public sale of bacon out there. They declare bacon a potentially harmful food, despite not having any numbers on how many people have gotten sick from bacon dogs, or street food in general. They're demanding that bacon dog vendors buy a $26,000 cart that has 3 sinks so you can wash, rinse and sterilize the utensils separately. If you've ever gone over the list of possible violations in the health code, or viewed the website that lets you view NYC restaurant violations, you know that even the most pristine kitchens have violations and some of them make little sense.

Drew Carey does a quick investigative report on the bacon dog situation in Los Angeles, and how the small unlicensed cart vendors who work out of shopping carts are ignored by the inspectors, who go after the licensed trucks who try to compete with them. It's a damn shame and the bacon dog should be a universal right, even for those unfortunate enough to live in Los Angeles.

Thankfully they are still plentiful and legal at Crif Dogs (reviewed here), and hopefully they are sold at the Red Hook soccer fields alongside huaraches. This blogger will definitely be visiting there this summer to find out.

If Drew Carey is too fat to fit on your screen, click here.

The Proclaimers are still walking those 500 miles

And walking them hard. They still rock out the foot-stomping crowd-pleasing chants, and there's a lot more to them than "I'm Gonna Be," the real title of the 500 miles song. Saw them at B.B. King's in NYC the other night, probably the most expensive venue drink-wise, $21 for a beer and a vodka cocktail. No wonder the tickets are generally inexpensive there. It's not my favorite venue but you take what you can get. Definitely get some pre-game on when you see a band there.

Jeremy Fisher singing Solsbury Hill.

Jeremy Fisher opened for them- a solid folky alt rock singer. He sang "The Scar That Never Heals," "Lay Down" and a good cover of "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel. That's my favorite song of Gabriel's, so it was amusing when he messed up the verse When illusion spin her net/ I'm never where I wanna be/ and liberty she piroutte/ when I think that I am free. He played through it well, recovering with a self-effacing laugh. His single "Cigarette" is probably his most famous song, and it's pretty damn good. He definitely has a Dylan feel without being obnoxious, and Firecracker thought he sounded like Paul Simon on a few tracks. He has his own sound but I'm sure you can count them as influences. His new album Goodbye Blue Monday has most of the songs mentioned here, and I'll be picking it up.
One half of the trademark glasses

The Proclaimers played a great set to an older and definitively Scottish crowd. It sounded like Billy Connolly and Craig Ferguson were in the audience shouting requests. And one was taller than the other, making it difficult for short little Italian guys to see the show. I felt like a midget extra in Highlander. But the music was great. They played songs new and old, with standards like "On my Way" and "Sunshine on Leith" giving a good balance between their familiar chanting crowd-pleasers and their sadder ballads, such as "I Hate My Love."
and the other half

I didn't know they sang "The Whole Wide World," which was featured in Stranger Than Fiction, but sung by Wreckless Eric. They also played "Sean," dedicated to one of their sons, and some songs off their new album Life With You, like the great title track. Overall they put on a fine show and a good 1+ hour set of crowd-pleasing music. Their most famous stuff is easy to sing along to, and their lesser-known ballads are bittersweet and enjoyable even if you don't know the tune. They saved their best known song for last but didn't make us endure an encore to hear it. That's good manners. Too bad B.B. Kings doesn't have any good scotch ales on tap, and I sure wasn't going to get a single malt there, I'd probably need a cosigner to get it at their prices.

A clip of the finale, "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)"

Friday, April 25, 2008

80's Trash of the Week: Some Kind of Wonderful

I know, I know. John Hughes two weeks in a row. This one was described to me by my coworkers and was on cable, so I had it on the DVR. Unfortunately the DVR ate Smithereens, which I was much more interested in seeing. I just bumped it to the top of the queue, so it'll show up here sometime. Some Kind of Wonderful is one of those 80's rom-coms named after a famous song, so we can be subjected to a bad cover of it. One of the more infuriating things about the 80's were the mediocre covers that kept popping up once a one-hit wonder was expected to make a follow-up album.

Thankfully the song this movie is named after doesn't appear in it at all. That's one hint that you have something good here. We begin with Eric Stoltz as Keith, one of the high school outsiders who works at a gas station when he's not painting and hanging around with his tomboy mechanic pal, Watts (played by Mary Stuart Masterson). Keith is, like many of us in the 80's were, infatuated with Lea Thompson, who plays the high school hottie, Amanda Jones. Yes, she's named after the Rolling Stones song. At least Watts isn't named Jagger! (though she's named after Charlie Watts, the Stones' drummer).

I totally want to perv on your boobs.

Amanda already has a rich boyfriend of course, a douche named Hardy. Should have been named Stiffy, since he's a total dick and gets his comeuppance. He notices Keith being all moon-eyed after his girl, and humiliates him at the gas station, but resourceful Keith steals his dipstick in a fitting scene of deep Freudian implications. The film bounces between scenes of school and Keith at home with his little twat of a teen sister, his oblivious mom, his weird little sister, and his blue-collar Dad who hounds him to get into college. While paper-thin, they're decent characters and don't bog the movie down. It helps that Dad is John Ashton, aka Marvin Dorfler from Midnight Run.
Elias Koteas gnawing on a desk.

There's also a subplot with Duncan (Elias Koteas) the skinhead who Watts & Keith meet in detention. He's menacing at first, but they bond over their blue collar backgrounds somehow. He's one of the more entertaining parts of the movie, because he gets introduced as a possible bully, but then he ends up being the comic relief. The brunt of the movie is Keith drooling after Amanda, who uses him as an excuse to drop her douchebag boyfriend. The movie makes it painfully obvious that Watts has a serious crush on her friend Keith, to the point that she shows him how to kiss for his first big date with Amanda.
Yes, boys are just plain dumb. Hit that, Stoltz!

The big payoff is that Hard-on is throwing a big party, and he invites Amanda and Keith, as a gesture of good faith. It's pretty obvious that he's setting Keith up to get his ass kicked by his rich jock douchebag posse, and even Keith knows it. His infatuation blinds him. The movie plays her up to be a muse, but she's actually as shallow as Watts tells him she is. She may not be a bad person in the end, but we're not given much to like her for except her knockout looks.
Creepy stalker painting #17

Keith has a master plan that makes little sense. For the big party, he spends all his college savings on a suit, and diamond earrings for Amanda, since she threw the pair Hardy gave her back at him. First he takes her to the art museum, which Duncan's Dad is the security guard for. He's hung up some creepy paintings he's done of her. He makes Watts chauffeur them around in an Rolls they fix up, to humiliate her apparently. And he gives her the earrings in a beautiful moonlit amphitheater, telling her that she owes him nothing for them. That he's giving her his future so she won't have to date guys like Hardy to get earrings, or some other crap. This is really where the movie falls apart, as there's no real payoff about whether you're supposed to stick with your own kind, or if you shouldn't idolize the beautiful people, or if you shouldn't judge a book by its cover. Maybe Watts was right when she said that maybe you can't judge a book by its cover, but you can tell what it's going to cost you.
Golden Globe for Best Douchebag in a Teen Movie, 1986.

The finale is at Hard-on's party, where he humiliates Amanda by calling her used goods, and provokes Keith into a fight. Of course he won't fight him himself, he tells his nameless douche pals to drag him outside and beat him up. That's when Duncan & the burnout crew show up as expected. They don't wreck the house, but they make it clear that if anyone's going to get their scrote stomped, Hardy goes first. Keith and Amanda leave peacefully, and she gives him the earrings back, because she knows he should be giving them to Watts.
Two-tone hair, wearing boxers, she was ahead of her time.

Watts is already walking down the street crying, looking like the Legend of Billie Jean in her cute tomboy haircut. Though she never seemed the type for jewelry, she happily puts them on and all is forgiven, teaching us that De Beers must have paid John Hughes to write this ending. Even a quirky tomboy's heart is melted by a diamond! He's so sorry he treated you like shit and made you drive him and his crush around like a servant! Lesson noted.
"These earrings should make up for how I pooped on your dignity back there."

The movie is decent fun and has a good soundtrack, wisely using the Rolling Stones original version of "Amanda Jones" before using a cover of it. It also ends with the excellent cover of "Can't Help Falling in Love with You" by Lick the Tins, a band that never made it big over here. Before you track down their CD, the version on the soundtrack was re-mixed for the film.
I'd lick her tins.

I enjoyed the movie overall, but it definitely lacked something. Maybe because it wasn't directed by John Hughes, just written. Also, it was pumped out after the studio made him change the ending of Pretty in Pink. Originally, Molly Ringwald ended up with her friend, instead of the rich boy. That must have pissed off Hughes a lot, because he wanted to make this one with Molly Ringwald as well. She refused, and there went her career. Even after baring her breasts in Malicious, she was relegated to the B's. And yes, if you click that link, you will be fired.

I think part of the problem is that it never really figures out what its about; it's kind of a rom-com, but it wants to comment on class relations, parental authority, and high school cliques but it never really focuses on anything for too long. There are some scenes where Lea Thompson's character gets out of detention by vamping the teacher, and later a female teacher essentially calls her a whore; Keith buys a pair of earrings with his college money and asks his father when his life will be his own, but maybe he's too dumb to run it. Tomboy M-S-M gets called a lesbian and hassled a lot, and she ends up with the other outsider. But it's not as powerful as let's say, The Breakfast Club, where the stereotypes all connect for a moment before slipping back to their cliques.

So, that makes it a lesser 80's film with some memorable moments, saved by the eye candy of the female leads and the funny performance of Elias Koteas.

Quotability Rating: Very Low
Cheese Factor: Medium
Could it be made today? Probably has been
Gratuitous Boobs: Zero
High Points: Soundtrack, Elias Koteas, 2 hot lead gals
Low Points: Confused plot, Eric Stoltz forced to play a dumb-ass

Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Winter of Frankie Machine

I recently finished this short novel by Don Winslow and I was duly impressed. Take the humor of the Sopranos, the gritty crime drama of Thief, and move it all to the fresh landscape of San Diego, which hasn't been played out as a mob city. Frankie Machianno is an old surfer dude who runs the pier's bait shop, and has a seafood business among the local restaurants. While not exactly a pillar of the community, he's a well-liked member of it.

But in another life, he was Frankie Machine, a sniper in Vietnam and a legendary hitter for the mob. And as these stories go, someone now wants him dead. But they should have let sleeping dogs lie...

It was a great quick read, a cut above most thrillers and quite funny at times. Winslow has the Italian-American life and lingo down pat, from agita to the obsession over sauce and other little touches of authenticity. It reminded me a bit of older Elmore Leonard, because Frankie Machine is one resourceful old sonofabitch; but he's no Johnny Sixpack up against the mob, he's one of their own, and one of the best. A clever hit gets put out on him, and he has to delve into his past to find out why. I don't want to give away the twists and turns, which are surprises without being too outlandish.

Overall, it's a gripping thriller with enough character and background to keep it from being one of those "airport paperbacks" that you buzz through and forget about the next day. In fact, it's being made into a movie next year by Michael Mann, with Bobby DeNiro playing the lead. When I read it, I thought of Ed Harris as the lead, but soon the late Roy Scheider seemed perfect for it. Resurrection being beyond the skills of modern science, Bobby D will do a decent job. Mike Pella, Frankie's buddy from the old days, is so easily imagined as Joe Pesci that I hope the two get together again, though it's probably not the best idea.

Originally Marty Scorsese was attached to direct.

I imagine the surfing will be cut out of the movie, unless DeNiro goes back to his old ways of getting into character and learns how to surf a longboard. It's not an integral part of the tale, but it is part of what makes Frankie Machine a fresh and interesting character. We all know East Coast mob guys with a big tripe and Cadillac. Let's have an old surfer dude this time. We can forgive Bobby his accent, but I hope he drops it for a California one. He did it for Cape Fear, though I'm afraid that was a long time ago. If Michael Mann can whip a fine performance out of him again, we'll have a great crime movie to watch next year. In fact, if he looks like he did in that picture, it would be perfect.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Weird Japan - Cat Soup

Made you look! no, they don't eat cat soup. Cat Soup is a short animated film of that name, about a kitten who drowns in the bathtub, and her adventure to get her soul back from Death. It's cute and bizarre, like many Japanese cultural emissions. At only 33 minutes, it's a quick little journey into mindfuckland for you chemically enhanced individuals to especially enjoy. It's based on a manga called Nekojiru-so, a black comedy that's been called "Hello Kitty on acid" and since there's no dialogue, only a few word balloons here and there, most of the interpretation is left up to the viewer.

It begins when little white kitten Nyaako drowns trying to get her toy out of the bathtub.
Her drunken father finds her and calls the doctor, but it's too late:
That night, her little brother Nyatta sees her being led away by Death, who tries to take her soul. He fights for it, and manages to get half of it. It goes back in her nose, but she's not herself, really. Death leaves them with an image of a flower, which apparently will restore Nyaako's soul, at least that's what wikipedia says.
That's where their strange, dreamlike journey begins, as they head to a Circus. There we encounter our first act of dismemberment, when a showgirl is turning to quivering cubes of bloody sushi (line stolen directly from The Running Man).

Then a robed man appears; is he God? He's definitely a magician. He creates whatever the audience asks, such as:

Note Nyaako's messed up eyes, she definitely looks like someone with half a soul. The man dutifully creates a golden elephant out of the ether.
The animation is quite beautiful, despite the kittens being drawn rather simply. It gets more and more detailed throughout the film. The next "act" at the circus is a water monster that the handlers seem to torture for their enjoyment. Eventually they pull the rope on its leg too tight, and it bursts, flooding the world and killing everyone.
The kittens end up on a boat with a friendly pig. There's nothing to eat, but Nyaako takes a dump over the side, which attracts a school of fish.

If you ever had a pet goldfish that liked to eat its own poo, you probably wondered how long a fish could survive on another fish's poo. At least I did. Luckily, the experiment was too complicated for me to set up. I wasn't going to put a fish in a bowl and then try to grab another fish's poo with an eyedropper. But that would be a pretty cool school science experiment. These days you'd probably be reported for feeding the fish poo, even though they seem to relish it. Damn poo-relishers.
Piggy catches some of the poo-fish and wants to eat them, but the kitties have other ideas.
I like this little throwback to the Warner Brothers cartoons, where after 5 minutes on a deserted island, your buddy starts looking like a walking pork chop. Do you know the word some cannibals have for human flesh is long pig? That would also make an awesome porn name for a meaty Samoan guy. "Long Pig Waukeloa stars in "Luau in Your Mouth."
There's a little sushi dance with samurai chasing the fish around and slicing them apart, then the dying fish jumps into the ocean, where it dreams of poo.
You can see its skeleton swimming around in the sunlit sea. And the poo ball above. It's probably not really poo, but earth or primordial matter, but they already established that fish eat poo, so I think it's primordial poo.
I think this poopolith helps the fish ascend to heaven. Shortly thereafter, God drains the Earth of water and the kittens find themselves in the desert with little piggy. They beat him to death for no good reason, and he bites the arm off of Nyatta. He finds a dollmaker to mend him, though. They follow the smell of food to a lone house run by of course, a strange man. He tries to cook them in a big cauldron, and he looks like Mickey Mouse in Gimp gear. They trick him into falling in, and escape back to the desert.
As they wander the sands in search of water, Nyatta digs and finds a Water Elephant they can drink and ride. It evaporates as they travel. Here's where things get sketchy, as God stops the flow of time, in that frivolous way the gods have. He's got a big honking great clock that runs the celestial spheres, and the kittens frolic in the frozen universe for a while.
They find the ocean again, and climb upon a whale frozen in the middle of a wave, one of the more beautiful scenes.
God's clock runs backwards for a time and this settles them back on their boat, but in marshland this time. The clockwork is covered with graven images, as if it is run by souls.
They see the aurora borealis and dream of the clockwork of the world as the end of their journey nears. In the swampland Nyatta finds the flower that will restore his sister's soul, and the clockwork continues to dial them back to where they began. Was it all a childhood dream of a young boy worried about his sick sister? Did she really die? Should we even wonder at all?
As the family sits around the TV for dinner, they each blink out like an old television screen, so maybe they're all just characters who disappear when we stop watching. It's certainly interesting enough to watch, trippy as it is. If you want a quick, trippy diversion it's a lot of fun, rather like a bizarre Japanese Yellow Submarine, or The Point!, just not for kids.

The original title, according to my friend Peter who lives in Japan, means something like "you can't eat hot food because you have a tongue like a cat" which I guess is right because while my cat once ate a rack of ribs down to the bone, cartilage and all, I never saw him eat hot soup.

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