Fish-Flavored Baseball Bat

It's a John Cleese reference.

Friday, April 24, 2009

That Which I Sangeth 4/24

Inspired by Bully's posts from Thursday, a belated birthday tribute to William Shakespeare:

"Romeo and Juliet" by Dire Straits.
"Just Like Romeo and Juliet" by The Reflections.

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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Night of the Strangler

NIGHT OF THE STRANGLER (1972). Directed by Joy N. Houck Jr. Starring Micky Dolenz, James Ralston, and James Patterson.

A combination of murder mystery and social-issue drama, Night of the Strangler opens with a tense family scene of a young Louisiana woman (Susan McCullough) informing her two brothers of her pregnancy and impending marriage, from an interracial relationship. While younger brother Vance (Micky Dolenz) is sympathetic and supportive, her bigoted older brother Dan (James Ralston) explodes in a fury, making threats against them both. Shortly afterwards, the sister and her lover are both murdered, with the sister's killing arranged to look like suicide. (And arranged very poorly at that--she's dragged to a bathtub and drowned fully clothed, then the killer undresses her and slits her wrists. Now, I know this was decades before the rise of CSI, but you'd think the cops would catch one of the many clues--the signs of struggle, the wet discarded clothes, the actual freaking cause of death--but no, everybody accepts the suicide story.)

But this is only the start of a series of murders centering around the two brothers and their loved ones. The killings continue as Vance and Dan blame each other, and the police strive to uncover the truth.

Night of the Strangler is an interesting time-capsule movie; the filmmakers make a well-intentioned attempt to expose the evils of racism by presenting Dan in such a hateful, ugly light, but he's such a two-dimensional cipher that the point is hollow and obvious. The murder-mystery aspect is somewhat more effective, though it suffers from a shallow pool of suspects.

One curious note: For all the murders in the movie, Night of the Strangler contains not a single strangulation. Oh, there's shooting, stabbing, drowning, snakebite, poison...but no strangling.

Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?

Apart from Micky Dolenz, the cast was assembled from local Southern talent, only a few of whom have any other film credits; the most recognizable player is television actor Harold Sylvester (probably most familiar as Al Bundy's co-worker in Married...with Children) making his screen debut as one of the detectives investigating the murders. The supporting cast generally does well in crafting convincing characters; James Ralston, unfortunately, is saddled with such a hollow, empty role that he's unable to bring anything to it beyond "Look at the bigot! Isn't he eeevil?" An admirable sentiment, but hardly the basis for a strong performance.

As for Micky Dolenz himself, he does a fine job in a straight dramatic's just too bad that his goofy Monkees image makes it difficult to look beyond the preconceptions and take him seriously as an actor, but that's more of an issue with the viewer (myself included) than the performer.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

What I Sang 4/18

Tried out a new venue last night, at the James Joyce Tavern:

"Ziggy Stardust" by David Bowie.
"Moonlight Shadow" by Mike Oldfield.


Thursday, April 16, 2009

I Don't Know Which Is More Absurd...

...Frank Miller's interpretation of The Spirit, or Miller's DVD audio commentary where he justifies his interpretation.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Manipulator

THE MANIPULATOR (1971). Directed by Yabo Yablonsky. Starring Mickey Rooney, Luana Anders, and Keenan Wynn.

B.J. Lang (Mickey Rooney), an aging, out-of-work Hollywood make-up artist, has lost his mind. Imagining himself at the center of a world where he had always been a peripheral figure, he now believes himself to be a great director, barking orders on an abandoned soundstage to an imaginary crew--imaginary, that is, except for his "leading lady" Carlotta (Luana Anders), whom he has tied to a wheelchair. What follows is an extended mind-game as Carlotta humors B.J.'s delusions while desperately searching for some opportunity to escape.
The Manipulator (also titled B.J. Lang Presents) is a one-of-a-kind oddity. With its confined setting and small cast (essentially a two-person show between Rooney and Anders, with third-billed Keenan Wynn making only a brief appearance as a homeless man with the misfortune to stumble into their world), it seems as if it was originally intended for the stage, but writer/director Yabo Yablonsky (in his only directorial effort) piles on outlandish visual flourishes (freeze-frames, rapid-fire cutting, sped-up scenes, solarized footage, etc.) in an apparent attempt to make the material more cinematic. The result, however, is virtually unwatchable. Perhaps it might have worked better as a stage play, where the intimate space of a small theater could heighten the tension between the protagonists. On the other hand, it's hard to imagine this material working in any medium.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
In the Golden Age of Television, few performers excelled more than Mickey Rooney in one-man performances (Alcoa Theatre's "Eddie," The Twilight Zone's "Last Night of a Jockey"). Despite the presence of Anders and Wynn (as well as numerous hallucinatory extras), The Manipulator is, for all intents and purposes, yet another solo showcase for Rooney. However, it's not one he can be proud of...while the aforementioned shows gave Rooney the opportunity to build a solid character, B.J. Lang is a jumbled mess of tics, rants, and eccentricities (from singing a screaming rendition of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo" to appearing in rouge and blue eye-shadow). The script piles on too many crazy actions for Lang to ever be convincing as a crazy person.
Anders and Wynn fare better as the "straight men" to Rooney's lunatic; even as thinly-drawn as their characters are (the damsel-in-distress and the hapless-drunk), they at least are recognizable as human beings.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Happy (and creepy) Easter Greetings from Dad's Garage Theatre Company!

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

What I Sang 4/10

After a few week's inactivity, I returned to Midtown Tavern's karaoke last night:

"House at Pooh Corner" by Loggins & Messina.
"Smooth Criminal" by Alien Ant Farm (they didn't have Michael Jackson's original listed).


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn

GOODNIGHT, SWEET MARILYN (1989--and mostly 1976). Directed by Larry Buchanan. Starring Paula Lane, Jeremy Slate, and Misty Rowe.

I'm rushed for time this week, so what better subject for a slapdash, hastily-put-together review than a slapdash, hastily-put-together movie?
In 1976, notorious B-movie director Larry Buchanan (maker of such pictures as Mars Needs Women, Zontar: The Thing from Venus, and the MST3K favorite (Attack of the) The Eye Creatures) co-wrote and directed Goodbye, Norma Jean, a biography of Marilyn Monroe starring Hee-Haw's Misty Rowe in the title role. Casting aside factual accuracy for melodrama and sleazy exploitation, Goodbye, Norma Jean was soundly trashed by critics. (I have no idea how it fared at the box-office, though I imagine a good portion of its target audience was willing to overlook its flaws in light of the plentiful nudity on Ms. Rowe's part.)
Undaunted by the scathing reviews, Buchanan returned to the Marilyn legend in 1989 with a sequel, Goodnight, Sweet Marilyn. However, rather than make an entirely new movie, he simply cobbled together a significant portion of footage from his original film, and added a new framing sequence and additional interstitial scenes, with a new actress (Paula Lane) portraying the blonde goddess. To acknowledge the lack of resemblance between Misty Rowe and Paula Lane, the film's credits list Rowe as "Norma Jean Baker" and Lane as "Marilyn Monroe," as if it were a deliberate artistic decision to separate her two personas. (And this was years before the genuinely deliberate dual-casting of Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino in the HBO movie Norma Jean & Marilyn!) One can only assume that Buchanan hoped viewers hadn't seen (or had forgotten) Goodbye, Norma Jean before seeing this one, and I can actually understand that reasoning--viewers who hadn't seen the original wouldn't know they were being ripped off, and those who had seen it would likely want to avoid it.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
While Misty Rowe's characterization in Goodbye, Norma Jean was decent but unspectacular, she shines in comparison to Paula Lane, who does not appear to be attempting a perfromance so much as a Marilyn impression (and not a particularly good one, at that). In all fairness, I think even Marilyn Monroe herself would have trouble salvaging some of the ridiculous dialogue. (The most memorable line to me: While drunkenly frolicking in a swimming pool, she taunts one of her lovers, "Naughty Marilyn! Splashing chlorine water all over his nice suit!")
I also have to wonder how many of the original Goodbye, Norma Jean cast members are "leaving this off their resume" not out of embarrassment--but because they were completely unaware that their footage was being reused.


Wednesday, April 01, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Get Rita

GET RITA (1975). Directed by Giorgio Capitani (or Tom Rowe, according to the video box). Starring Sophia Loren, Marcello Mastroianni, and Aldo Maccione.
(I couldn't find an image of the US VHS tape cover online; this is the German cover.)

Among the all-time great screen couples, there are several that stand out. Astaire and Rogers. Tracy and Hepburn. Bogart and Bacall. And Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni.

Loren and Mastroianni collaborated on 14 movies in all, including several acclaimed classics (Marriage, Italian Style; Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow; A Special Day). Their on-screen chemistry was undeniable; unfortunately, it became so irresistible that some filmmakers thought that simply putting them together was guaranteed magic, and so they neglected other aspects of the movie, such as the script.

Get Rita (also known by such varied titles as Gun Moll, Sex Pot, and best of all, Oopsie Poopsie) is one such misfire. The plot revolves around Charlie "The Collar" Colletto (Mastroianni), a hot-tempered gangster with a Rita Hayworth fixation, and Sophia "Poopsie" Pupa (Loren), a prostitute whom Charlie grooms into his mistress and his nightclub's star attraction--until he decides to dump her for a younger Hayworth look-alike (Dalila Di Lazzaro). Things go from bad to worse after Charlie accidentally kills his replacement mistress; Poopsie overhears Charlie telling his loyal henchman Chopin (Aldo Maccione) of the crime, as well as his plan to blame a rival gangster for the killing. To protect herself, Poopsie sets out to counteract Charlie's plan by planting evidence of her own, "framing" the genuinely guilty party.

Get Rita is based on Cornell Woolrich's 1939 short story "Collared"; while I haven't read Woolrich's story, I'm certain that it treats its subject matter a great deal more seriously than the film, which turns every situation (no matter how morbid) into broad farce. As Poopsie tampers with the crime scene, she narrates her actions in a peppy, up-tempo song ("They say the dead don't talk, but this one's gonna squawk!"). Now, I'm a great admirer of dark comedy--but if you're going to turn murder into a joke, it should at least be funny. The jokes in Get Rita just fall flat, from Charlie's opening narration introducing himself ("My doctor says I have the body of a young man. I don't know how he knows; it's in the trunk of my car.") to the climactic slapstick car chase. And then there's the scene where Poopsie shows up at the nightclub with a black eye; I know it was a different time, but it's still hard for me to imagine anybody ever thinking that this was funny. Perhaps the story might have worked better as a straightforwards film noir; unfortunately, that's not the movie that was made.

Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?

Get Rita is definitely not a shining moment in the careers of either Sophia Loren or Marcello Mastroianni, and the US release makes it even more difficult to judge their performances, as their trademark chemistry is lost beneath the horrible dubbing. It's especially jarring to hear a squeaky Betty Boop voice coming out of Ms. Loren; it just doesn't suit her at all. Oh well, at least they have 13 other movies to choose from...