Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Don't look now, but it's finally time for JOHNNY B HEART NETFLIX part who the hell knows. * signifies a movie I saw on cable.

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GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, ALICE COOPER (1974) is a film that had I yearned to see ever since 14-year-old Alice Cooper Band freak me first read about it in the long ago pages of Creem magazine. As with another film of 1974 vintage that I waited decades to see, Harry Nilsson & Ringo's Son of Dracula, I wish I could say it was worth the wait. GTSYAACis two, two, two films in one: one part excellent concert footage, from the 1973 Billion Dollar Babies tour, of the original Group in all its seedy glory: Mike Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith and Glen Buxton, along with Bob Dolin on keys and Mick Mashbir on guitar, two session guys recruited to beef up the sound (and in Mashbir's case, play what Buxton was too wasted to), and another half excruciatingly lame Monkees/Help!-style comedy interludes, most featuring one of the crew (a 2nd cameraman, to be precise) named Fred Smoot, who plays a director out to "get" the band for ruining his big musical motion picture- which is actually the only non-concert scene which really works as Cooper comes out on a big, Busby Berkeley-style set and sings "Lady is a Tramp" with a fellow in a wig playing piano and his band sitting uncomfortably in a big-band section, dressed in white tuxes. Of course, they rebel and bail after trashing the stage, and thus begins the wretchedness as Smoot, mugging incessantly and aided by a big fellow wearing a helmet give chase. Think Dom DeLuise on thorazine. I'm not exaggerating here- this stuff is really horrible and amateurish, but I watched it anyway just so I can say I did. Which is not to say that I didn't give in to the forward scan urge upon occasion. Anyway, mercifully, the DVD has a "play concert only" option, and unless you're a hardcore fan (or maybe if) that's what you'll want to do. Buxton notwithstanding, the band was in fine form, with bassist Dunaway a hoot as he stalked around in circles on the cagelike stage set in a silver suit, and they really cook on several of these 1972-1973 vintage tracks, including "Sick Things", a surprising "My Stars", one of the more obscure cuts from the School's Out album; the title cut from that one, of course; "Elected", and others. Alice fights a dancer dressed like a tooth, brandishing a toothbrush during the silly dental-nightmare song "Unfinished Sweet", presaging the cartoonishness to come and featuring the Amazing Randi of all people as the dentist, who takes a giant drill and works on his mouth. Alice gets beheaded. He spits on the top of a silver mannequin's torso, then lies below it and catches the drop of drool in his mouth as it creeps down the front of the dummy. Yuck. Anyway, there's more than this going on in that concert footage, and it was a blast to get to see it. That said, what I really want to see someday is the School's Out concert that was filmed for posterity and aired on ABC's In Concert show in 1973- that was some wild shit. So if you're keeping score, see this, but select the concert only option. You'll thank me. B+.

Will someone please, please, stop Tim Burton before he remakes another '70s film? I'll get the good stuff out of the way early: this is a great-looking movie. Burton's usual goth schtick gets blended with some Dr. Seuss influence, and mercifully it takes. There's some nice computer animation in the credits, the Oompa-Loompa songs aren't terrible (and Deep Roy, playing all of them, is pretty good), although the score, like most Danny Elfman efforts, gets real monotonous after a while. Uh...and...well, that's about it. Don't know which is the most responsible for the utter failure of this film: Johnny Depp, who is a fine actor, often brilliant, but whose decision to play Willy Wonka as some sort of Michael Jackson-like, infantile airhead was one of the biggest mistakes ever made by an actor of his caliber; Burton, who still, after all these years and all the money, fame and women he's had can't get beyond the mindset of the lonely, alienated nerdy misfit who hates all the jocks and other people that he presumably once upon a time, long ago, felt inferior to or mistreated by; or the scriptwriters, both credited and uncredited, who took everything that made the book and later film so memorable and took it upon themselves to give us flat jokes, bland dialogue, and of course, Hollywood life short, I thought this was a disaster. Makes Lemony Snicket look like a masterpiece of black comedy. And now, the inevitable comparison. One of the things that made the Gene Wilder film so memorable- Wilder's impetuous, mercurial, whimsical, but always in control and deceptively knowing portrayal of Wonka was the glue which held the 1971 version together. Depp's Wonka is none of these things. Never once do we get the notion that anything is going on in his head at all, and without the charisma that Wilder had, nothing else he tries to do works- not the catty asides to the even more hateful kids, not the idiotic flashback scenes in which we learn- and we didn't really care to know- about how he was abandoned by his father (a really stiff Christopher Lee) and forbidden to eat candy, the idea that he could be an innovator or master chocolatier, nothing. The kid actors were OK, nothing special, and it grated to see Burton take gum-chewer Violet Beauregard and make her into a overacheiving brat with a pushy Mom (just like the sorts that young Burton hated, I'm sure, easy targets). The fellow that played Charlie's Grandpa suffered in comparison with his predecessor, Jack Albertson, as well- he was just there, and barely at that. I was expecting the worst when I prepared to see this, and unfortunately I wasn't disappointed. I know this film and Burton has its/his admirers, and there are many Burton films I like a lot; Ed Wood, Beetlejuice, even Big Fish...but I just couldn't find much that worked for me in this one. Kinda like buying a million Wonka bars and not getting a golden ticket. I think Slugworth got out of the candy business and went into the motion picture racket, and financed this to get back at his rival. D+

I wasn't expecting much from this one, either- the Bat-armor just looked too much like Keaton's, and Christian Bale didn't excite me as the lead- but unlike Charlie, I was pleasantly surprised at how much actually worked. I liked the early scenes in Tibet, although anyone who knew anything at all about the comics would know who R'as Al Ghul really was- made me wish someone could make a Doc Savagefilm in this setting, played straight. Bale was really good in these early scenes; but he seems to lose interest as the picture goes on and by the end he's somnambulent. Katie Holmes was utterly miscast as the love interest; she just looked like a teenager and was impossible to take seriously. Cillian Murphy was very good as the Scarecrow- he gave a shifty, creepy performance and was very convincing. Other cast members: Michael Caine, understated as always as Alfred (but I kept hoping someone would ask him "what's it all about, Alfie?"); Morgan Freeman, playing Morgan Freeman playing Lucius Fox whose character thankfully gave us a plausible rationale for all of Batman's high-tech toys; Liam Neeson, solid as always. I was a bit disappointed in how little they gave JBS fave Gary Oldman's Commissioner Gordon to do; especially given that much of this was based on Batman: Year One. I liked the refreshing lack of oppressive gloom in Gotham City. I wish the script had been tighter; in their haste to give us the crash boom ending that all films of this stripe seem to demand, they didn't let little things like logic complicate things- how exactly did Batman manage to avoid getting splattered by the monorail cross-supports as he dangled along, attached by his cable to the runaway vehicle? Even more annoying was the increasingly common practice among Hollywood scriptwriters to overuse clumsy, obvious foreshadowing; you just know that this event or that word of wisdom will play a part in the ending, and that lazy, connect-the-dots sort of writing is aggravating. Still, I believe this one had its heart in the right place, and was overall entertaining. Not perfect by any stretch, but better than all but one of the '80s-'90s schlockfests, and I know I'm alone in my admiration for Batman Returns. Let's hope for a less lame title and a tighter script when the sequel rolls in. B+

Orlando Bloom was pretty good in the Lord of the Rings films; as Legolas, he was given a character that was interesting because he stood out in contrast from his other fellow company members, and he ran with it. Since then, they've tried and tried to make him compelling by having him play all sorts of leads and they've completely failed because even though he's a nice looking fella he has zero charisma. None. In a good company of actors, he's an asset. Expected to carry the film alone, he's a liability. In this Crusades-era Christians-vs.-Moslems saga, He tries his best, but he's about the fourth most interesting character, behind Ghassan Massoud's Saladin, Liam Neeson's Godfrey (his character's dad), Marton Csokas's villianous Guy de Lusignan, and David Thewlis' sardonic knight Hospitaler. Lots of "of courses" in this flick, too..."of course" Bloom rejects daddy's reconciliation and invitation offer, after the death of his wife, only to change his mind not long after; "of course" the only woman in the flick, who is "of course" promised to his enemy Guy, falls in love with him; "of course" the quest for self-redemption goes only as Hollywood would have it, with its quick, convenient and easy moralizing; and "of course" Bloom's character comes to understand and earn the respect of his opponents, if nothing else but because as the nominal hero of the thing, he's supposed to! What kind of entertainment product would it be if this wasn't the case and they avoided cliche? Oh well. This thing does get very interesting once the introductory folderol is done and we get to the meat of the tale: the Moslems, who lost Jerusalem centuries ago, want it back and a refreshingly nuanced Saladin has promised to get it back, and politics among the current residents has made it possible- and the siege of the city is quite a gripping spectacle. Ridley Scott, who performed a similar service on Gladiator a few years ago, makes this a convincing looking movie, with lots of authenticity. As huge spectacles set in the desert go, this is no Lawrence of Arabia, but it doesn't suck either. Too bad the scriptwriters felt the need to work in Harlequin romance schtick. B+

This one used to air all the time on the Big Show on Nashville Channel 5, weekday afternoons in the '60s and '70s at 4 PM CST; I loved it when I was a kid, and hadn't seen it in ages. So, when I first subscribed to Netflix, I thought I'd see if it was out on DVD and available...and I was disappointed to find nothing. But. Y'see, I was looking for the title I was familiar with from those halcyon days of my youth, Majin: Monster of Terror, and unbeknownst to me it had been released on disc by its original name, Daimajin! So when I searched for that, I found out that not only was the first one available, but also the two sequels, which I hadn't seen! Well, I haven't gotten to the other two yet, but I quickly added the original to the ol' queue. Kind of a weird mix of a bunch of Japanese sagas like Seven Samurai, as an evil Warlord terrorizes a small village until a young maiden brings a huge stone statue of a warrior to life with her tears, and the statue goes on a Godzilla-style rampage through the town until it deals with the evildoers. It's the statue that makes it so memorable- the image of the towering, scowling samurai warrior made of stone is one that will stick with an impressionable young kid, especially one like me who is more impressionable than most, and it was a genius move on someone's part to incorporate the folklore aspect like they did. The film is a bit dull, although it's well acted and nicely filmed (looks like they had a bit of a budget to work with), until Daimajin takes center stage in the last third or so. It was made by Toho rivals Daiei, whose main claim to fame among Japanese monster buffs is as the studio of Gamera, the giant flying turtle. Well worth a look, if you've never seen it. A-

It's getting late, and I've got at least five more films to discuss. Oh well, stay tuned for Johnny Bacardi Vs. the World Crime League, coming soon!

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