Saturday, August 27, 2005

JOHNNY B HEART BRAINS...I MEAN NETFLIX Part...uh, I forget. Part the latest. And apologies to Tom for stealing his schtick.

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** means I saw it on cable and not via the auspices of Netflix.

Not as much a zombie film with ordinary people as its heroes as it is a film about ordinary people who happen to meet zombies, Shaun of the Dead was constantly funny and entertaining, with great dialogue and more than a few surprises mixed in with the jokes. I'm sick to death of all things zombie, but really liked this a lot. I hope they never make a sequel. A

I've wanted to see this for many, many years and just haven't had the chance till now, thanks to Sanctuary Visual's restoration and DVD release. Many of you probably recall how much of a Bolan fan I am, and this gives us Mr. Feld at his peak, in a couple of British concerts filmed separately then edited together, performed at the 1972 height of T.Rextasy by none other than Ringo Starr himself, who also appears in some random skits and jams with Bolan and Elton John in the basement of Abbey Road studios. The concert footage is great- the original T.Rex band, consisting of not only Marc Bolan but percussionist Mickey Finn, bassist Steve Currie and drummer Bill Legend, and the set list contains many of the group's best songs such as "The Slider", "Jeepster", and of course "Get it On (Bang a Gong)" which is given a frenetic, drawn-out performance. Bolan and the audience feed off each other, and the vibe is infectious. The jam session in the basement isn't bad, with Elton, Ringo and Bolan hammering out a heavily overdubbed rendition of "Children of the Revolution". The skits, interspersed throughout the concert footage, are very much a mixed bag- there are a couple of painfully weird and unfunny scenes of Bolan riding in a red Cadillac, talking on a disconnected telephone when he's not rambling poetry, with Ringo as his chauffeur in a big mouse suit and a dwarf that runs up and munches on the side view sounds wild but it's just strange. Same for a few brief scenes of Ringo and Bolan reciting song lyrics to each other, but they're unable to keep from cracking up with laughter. Funny at first but after a while you're like "Uh...let's move on, fellas...". But there is an extended garden party scene set outside and filmed at John Lennon's Tittenhurst estate that features Marc sitting crosslegged, playing acoustic guitar on the ground in front of a string quartet,performing a medley with the quartet accompanying him...and it's great- the different setting for these overly-familiar songs (well, overly familiar to me, anyway) makes them fresh again. Unfortunately, there's a lot of surreal farting around (nuns eating hamburgers, some fairly well-known English actor as the butler) in this sequence as well but that string quartet medley is golden. Lotsa bonus features with this package as well, such as a more-interesting-than-you'd-think feature on how the film was cleaned up and restored, lots of face time with Bolan's son Rolan, who was only 2 when his dad died and kinda serves as the host for most of the bonus stuff; interviews with Legend and producer Tony Visconti, the complete unedited concerts, and more. I was bugged a bit by several obvious overdubs in all the concert footage, but that's small beer- if you're a T.Rex fan, and God knows I certainly am, you absolutely must have this. And even if you're not, or haven't heard them, you should check it out. B+

Sarah Michelle Gellar stars in one of the latest adaptations of a Japanese horror film by the original director. It does have a moderately intriguing premise, some spooky effects (that girl crawling down the stairs is just weird, and her apparently disembodied head in tha crack of the door towards the end is memorable, too), and decent performances but is sunk by a needlessly convoluted story, complete with annoyingly ambiguous ending. Sometimes knowing that the situation doesn't get resolved is frustrating, not unsettling...or at least on Planet Dave it is. C+

So busy slavishly following the Modern Horror Films Template that it squanders a decent premise via a terrible script and somnambulent acting. Also features another Modern Horror Film staple, the jumbled ending that doesn't resolve anything and leaves the viewer hanging. And there are two endings, one in the bonus features...but it's no more satisfying than the other. If you have to choose between this and anything else, choose anything else. D

Despite the fact that Will Farrell has forever earned this old-school Blue Oyster Cult fan's enmity by virtue of that g-damned SNL cowbell skit, I will admit he's pretty funny sometimes. Not as funny as he thinks, and certainly not as funny as many of his fans think, but once in a while he gets me going with some of his absurd physical comedy. I liked this as much as anything he's ever done; it stays consistently funny and while it sometimes is just too obvious and hammers home a lot of the jokes, well, finesse and understatement just isn't Farrell's forte. He's got a great cast to help him, especially Christina Applegate and Steve Carrell, and I especially loved the big rival station news team brawl with cameos by Ben Stiller and Tim Robbins and got a laugh out of the cowbell-skit style scene in which Ferrell tried to seduce Applegate by playing his flute onstage a la Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. B+

Back when I was a kid, I remember seeing this animated TV special on fairly often, and it led me to check out the music of another of my all-time favorite musicians, Harry Nilsson- who came up with the concept and wrote a set of songs (later released as an album) for it. Hadn't seen it in a long, long time though, and I'm sorry to say that I didn't enjoy it as much at forty-something as I did at eleven. The premise is clever enough: in a fantasy world where everyone has pointed heads, a baby is born with a round head. Named Oblio, he's given a pointed hat to wear so he will fit in and soon acquired a loyal dog buddy named Arrow. Unfortunately, Oblio gets on the wrong side of an evil Count (who has the ear of the good-natured, ineffectual king) and soon gets banished to the Pointless Forest, where he encounters several odd characters and learns several life lessons, most notably that everyone has a reason to be, point or no point. The animation is by the Murikami/Wolf studios, and is well-done in its scrawly style but as a whole shows its age with some dated Yellow Submarine-wannabe sequences. I had also seen an extended animated sequence by this same studio during Zappa's 200 Motels but had never made the connection before. One big problem I had was the narration- in the original film, the framing sequences, with a kid and his dad who wants to read him a story, and the narration was by Dustin Hoffman and it suited him perfectly. For some reason, though, the video releases substituted Ringo Starr for Hoffmann, and while you all know I love me some Ringo his awkward inflections and honking Liverpudlian voice just sounds strange. I don't know why Hoffman's original narration had to be replaced, probably rights or money-related I suppose...but it's a shame. The story and animation is creaky and dated but mostly fun, the songs are of course excellent, and while once again the reality wasn't as good as the memory and found this tedious for long stretches, I still liked this and would love to add it to my DVD library someday. B+

Caught a screening of this on TCM a while back- it's a Red Skelton vehicle about a small-town bumpkin who is a cinema fanatic, especially the films of fictional silent movie star Lawrence Rupert- and when he foils a bank robbery using the tactics he sees in a Rupert film, the resulting publicity gets him invited out to Hollywood to meet the actor for a photo op which Merton thinks is going to get him in the movie business. Of course, it doesn't, and he scuffles around trying to get movie work with little success...but with the help of Virginia O'Brien, in the longest non-singing part I've seen her in yet, things turn out OK. If you like Skelton, or as in my case, O'Brien, you should check this out- it's a pleasant time-waster. B+

I will go out of my way, every time TCM airs one, to catch a Maisie film. They star sexy young Ann Sothern as Mary Anastasia "Maisie" O'Connor, a no-nonsense "showgirl" with a heart of gold, who bounces from gig to gig all over the country and
always seems to get mixed up with other people's problems, which of course she sets out to solve. This one finds Maisie getting involved with a rich dysfunctional family, working as a maid due to a mixup with the law, and of course by the movie's end everything works out just fine and Maisie finds love. The Maisie films were B-list all the way, with predictable scripts and low budgets, but Sothern is amazing and if someone ever releases a DVD box set of Maisie films I am SO there. B+

Essentially a compilation of clips from 70s and 80s TV appearances by the likes of Thin Lizzy, Uriah Heep (pre-and-post Ken Hensley) and Lynyrd Skynyrd, of mostly poor quality- all lipsynched and laden with terrible "psychedelic" TV-show effects. The main reason I rented this was that it featured a 1975 performance clip of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band performing "Delilah"- and I'd been jonesing to see this amazing band again for a long time. It's a decent perf, the SAHB do all the stunts they usually did when performing this song, but it's almost ruined by the aforementioned excessive camera tricks and dumbass angles- sometimes the camera is at the back of the studio, rendering the band about 1/4-inch tall! There's also a good clip of the Gillan-Glover era Deep Purple doing "Highway Star"- they flat out jam on it, like they had a tendency to do. C+

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