Fish-Flavored Baseball Bat

It's a John Cleese reference.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I Sang 6/24

From last night at Midtown Tavern:

"Kodachrome" by Paul Simon.
"Are You Ready for the Sex Girls" by Gleaming Spires.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Watch Me When I Kill

First off, sorry I've been so slack in posting...things have been pretty hectic, and most of my writing time has gone into summarizing the improvised soap opera SCANDAL! at Dad's Garage. But now I'm back with another review.

WATCH ME WHEN I KILL (1977). Directed by Antonio Bido. Starring Paola Tedesco, Corrado Pani, and Franco Citti.

An example of the giallo subgenre of Italian thrillers, Watch Me When I Kill exemplifies many of the strengths and weaknesses of the form--stylish scenes of violence sprinkled throughout time-killing stretches of investigation, populated by an abundance of suspicious characters to throw the audience off the trail. In this particular case, the highs and lows are especially sharply defined. Some of the murders are as effectively staged as anything from Bava or Argento (one brutal scene, in which a woman is scalded to death by having her face shoved into the dinner she'd been cooking, owes an obvious debt to a similar scene in Argento's Deep Red), but most of the remainder of the film is plodding and nonsensical.

One of the best things about the picture is the title...and even that is a misnomer, as all of the murders occur in isolation with no witnesses. In other words, nobody is watching when he kills. It could be taken as a meta-commentary on the thriller genre itself, the title issuing a challenge to the viewer. But I think that's reading a bit too much into it, especially considering that the title was slapped on by the American distributor and was not chosen by director/co-writer Antonio Bido. (The original title, Il gatto dagli occhi di giada, translates as "The Cat with Jade Eyes"--which has even less to do with the story!)

What can I say, I'm a sucker for inappropriate titles (witness my previous review of the strangulation-free Night of the Strangler).

Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?

Franco Citti, in a supporting role as a charismatic ex-convict who goes from being a red herring to a key player in uncovering the killer, was a frequent collaborator with the celebrated director Pier Paolo Pasolini (from Pasolini's debut film Accatone to his next-to-last picture The Arabian Nights). Likewise, Paola Tedesco had worked with Pasolini (The Gospel According to St. Matthew) and Federico Fellini (Satyricon) before appearing as the imperiled heroine...but everybody's got to keep working.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

VHS Vednesday: The Odd Job

THE ODD JOB (1978). Directed by Peter Medak. Starring Graham Chapman, David Jason, and Diana Quick.

In his first leading role outside of Monty Python, Graham Chapman stars as Arthur Harris, a middle-aged businessman who learns on his anniversary that his wife (Diana Quick) is leaving him. After his initial fury is replaced by profound depression, he plans to commit suicide but is unable to carry it out. Just as he's about to make another (ridiculously impractical) attempt, he's interrupted by a knock on the door from an odd-job man (David Jason) looking for work. Seeing the perfect opportunity, Harris employs the visitor as a hitman. However, as Harris doesn't want to see his death coming, he instructs the amateur assassin to do the job some other time, just as long as it's sudden and unexpected.

Content with the knowledge that his misery will soon be at an end, Harris is taken by surprise when his wife returns to him. His will to live restored, he now must find some way of cancelling the contract while avoiding the odd-job man's efforts to carry out the assignment.

Don't expect Python-style wackiness here; Chapman's screenplay (co-written with Bernard McKenna), while suitably silly, is more grounded than Python's flights of's exaggerated reality, rather than surrealism. That said, several moments are reminiscent of some classic Python bits (particularly an early scene in which Arthur furiously attempts to convince Fiona that he's not arguing with her).

Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?

Occasionally, I regret choosing that little blurb: While it applies to most of the movies I review, every once in a while I pick up something that doesn't give any of the performers reason to be ashamed. Graham Chapman provides his trademark characterization of a respectable man alternating between barely-controlled calm and manic tirades. David Jason (A Touch of Frost) provides a memorable comedic presence as the bumbling but relentless killer (a part originally intended for Keith Moon). Diana Quick makes an appealing "straight-woman" foil for Chapman's lunacy, and Edward Hardwicke and Bill Paterson's cynical cops are amusingly wry. All in all, The Odd Job is a treat for fans of British comedy, just as long as you don't go in thinking of it as a Monty Python project.


Thursday, June 04, 2009

What I Sang 6/03

From last night's session at Midtown Tavern:

"The Fanatic" by Felony.
"Wake Up and Make Love" by Ian Dury.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Lethal Obsession

LETHAL OBSESSION (1987). Directed by Peter Patzak. Starring Peter Maffay, Tahnee Welch, Michael York, and Elliott Gould.

The German-filmed police thriller Lethal Obsession features the acting debut of pop star Peter Maffay (a big star in Germany, but virtually unknown in the US) as the hard-boiled police detective Jan Bogdan. While investigating a gang war, Bogdan is caught in an explosion that kills his partner and costs Bogdan the use of his legs. Bitter but undeterred, Bogdan has a custom-designed wheelchair constructed and sets out to eliminate the two major players, both of whom are known only by their nicknames: "The Ace" (Elliott Gould) and "Dr. Proper" (Michael York). At the same time, he must struggle to repair his relationship with his supportive but neglected girlfriend (Tahnee Welch).
Director Peter Patzak is a veteran of German film and television (though this appears to be his only picture to get any sort of US release). He does a fine job of creating atmosphere and crafting action scenes, though he's limited by the by-the-numbers script.
One side note: As a comics fan, it was difficult for me to watch the movie with a straight face...every time they mentioned the hero's full name "Jan Bogdan," I couldn't help but think of Jon Bogdanove. Come to think of it, even though I have no idea what he looks like, I wouldn't mind seeing Jon Bogdanove as an action hero...
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
After this debut, Peter Maffay once again concentrated on his music, making only occasional acting appearances afterwards. It's not hard to see why; although the dubbing makes it impossible to accurately judge Maffay's performance as a whole, his inexpressive face provides a reasonable explanation as to why his second career didn't take off.
As Maffay's superior officer, the brilliant Armin Mueller-Stahl is likewise hampered by the poor dubbing. The American and British stars (who do provide their own voices) fare much better, though their roles are limited in either screen time (Elliott Gould's role is essentially a cameo, while Michael York's is only slightly more substantial) or substance (Tahnee Welch does what she can with the thankless long-suffering-girlfriend role, but there's not much for her to work with).