Fish-Flavored Baseball Bat

It's a John Cleese reference.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

What I Sang 1-30

Last night's offering:

"Mr. Blue Sky" by Electric Light Orchestra.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

VHS Vednesday: What Comes Around

WHAT COMES AROUND (1986). Directed by Jerry Reed. Starring Jerry Reed, Bo Hopkins, and Barry Corbin.

The late, great country singer Jerry Reed made one effort in the director's chair, and the result was What Comes Around. Reed stars as Joe Hawkins, a hard-working country singer kept under the thumb of his controlling manager Leon (Barry Corbin), who maintains Joe's hectic schedule by keeping the star hopped up on pills. Joe's younger brother Tom (Bo Hopkins), realizing the self-destructive path Joe is on, decides to take drastic action. Long before "intervention" and "detox" were common phrases, Tom abducts Joe and sequesters him in a mountain cabin to get him clean. Meanwhile, Leon engages the services of a money-grubbing private investigator (Arte Johnson) to recover his cash cow.

Some parts of What Comes Around are very effective...Reed's experience in the music field lends an air of realism to the behind-the-scenes glimpses of the recording sessions, and the tension between the two brothers during the impromptu-rehab sessions is convincing. Unfortunately, as a director, Reed seems unable to decide on a consistent tone. Taken by themselves, the dramatic scenes of Joe's addiction and recovery are pretty well done (if occasionally over-melodramatic), but Reed surrounds them with action/comedy set pieces in the style of Hal Needham (whom Reed had worked with in the Smokey and the Bandit films). When the message is "Alcoholism and drug addiction are terrible things," it doesn't help to include a lengthy "Ain't drunk driving a hoot?" car crash scene in which nobody is hurt and the property damage is laughed off.

The highlight of the movie is Jerry Reed's singing, showcased in several musical numbers throughout the movie. It's clear that the music was where Reed's heart truly was.

Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?

Jerry Reed himself admitted that he was not primarily an actor. ("When people ask me what my movitation is, I have a simple answer: money.") However, he rises to the challenge of a role that lets him stretch his dramatic muscles more than most of his previous films. Although he sometimes lapses into over-emoting shoutiness during his confrontations with his brother, he fares better during their more quiet scenes together. Unfortunately, outside of these dramatic scenes, he simply coasts by on charisma for the lighter portion of the movie.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Way to Go, Melissa!

My hopes from yesterday's post have been realized. Congratulations, Melissa Leo!


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Deadtime Stories

DEADTIME STORIES (1986). Directed by Jeffrey Delman. Starring Scott Valentine, Melissa Leo, and Cathryn DePrume.

The horror-anthology format is, almost by definition, a mixed bag in terms of quality. Even when the stories are consistently well-done, the tone can vary widely from story to story...even the all-time classic of the genre, Dead of Night, offers a light comic-relief story to contrast with the more chilling tales. The 1986 B-chiller Deadtime Stories is one of the most inconsistent of the type, veering wildly from one style to another.
The framing sequence sets up the premise, as a young boy (Brian DePersia) begs his Uncle Mike (Michael Mesmer) to tell him a bedtime story. The irresponsible, slacker uncle (one of the worst babysitters imaginable) regales the lad with a series of three inappropriate tales.
The first story is the most gruesome, as a young man (Scott Valentine of Family Ties fame), raised from childhood as a slave to two witches (Phyllis Craig and Anne Redfern), reluctantly assists them in their rituals to resurrect their long-dead sister. This sequence exists primarily as a showcase for the admittedly-impressive special effects, culminating in the stomach-turning spectacle of the skeletal sister's step-by-step regeneration of sinew and tissue. Apart from the visuals, there's little of interest to this one--although there is a nice gag in the framing sequence, when Uncle Mike offers an alternate ending after Little Brian complains about the "mushy" conclusion. It's sort of like the Fred Savage/Peter Falk scenes in The Princess Bride gone really, really wrong...
The second story is a modern-day update on "Little Red Riding Hood," reimagined as a teen in a red jogging outfit. Instead of a basket of goodies, "Red Running Hood" Rachel (Nicole Picard) is sent to the pharmacy to fetch her grandmother's medicine. Unfortunately, her prescription gets mixed up with that of another customer (Matt Mitler), who desperately needs his sedatives to knock him out--before the full moon rises. (I think you can figure out the reason why.) The wolfy guy waits outside Grandma's house (after an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the old lady to let him in), but unfortunately, Rachel is dallying with her boyfriend, a country-club athletic pro (not exactly a "woodsman," but close enough for this story...), and so doesn't arrive until after moonrise. The punchline, though predictable, is satisfying in that "Well, how else would you end the story?" way. All in all, it's a reasonably clever interpretation of the legend, though it's definitely no Freeway.
The final story is also the silliest: A psychotic teen with Carrie-like telekinetic powers (Cathryn DePrume) crosses paths with a notorious outlaw family (Melissa Leo, Kevin Hannon, and Timothy Rule) when they find her squatting in their hideout. The teen's name is Goldi (actually "Golda") Lox, and the outlaws are the Baer family. Okay, groan now and get it over with. Thwarting our expectations, Goldi and the three Baers decide to join forces in a crime spree, pursued by lawmen Jack B. Nimble and Jack B. Quick. Okay, you can groan again.
The arrangement of the three stories seems almost backwards, beginning with the darkest and ending with the lightest. Apart from its effect on the movie's pacing, it also seems inconsistent with the framing-sequence premise; if Little Brian's supposed to be getting more freaked out by each story, shouldn't they be told to him in order of freakiness?
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Oh, Melissa Leo. I really hope you get an Oscar nomination for Frozen River when they announce the nominees tomorrow. Not only because it would be well-deserved, but because it would show just how far someone can come from such humble beginnings.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Of Unknown Origin

OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (1983). Directed by George Pan Cosmatos. Starring Peter Weller, Jennifer Dale, and Shannon Tweed.

The classic categories of conflict in fiction, as I learned them: Man vs. nature; man vs. man; man vs. himself. (Although Wikipedia expands the list with additional divisions, let's just leave it at that.) Of Unknown Origin takes the first category and runs with it until it reaches the limit.
The title is something of a misnomer, as the subject of our protagonist's struggle is not an unearthly or supernatural being, but a commonplace foe of mundane origins--an ordinary, everyday rat. Peter Weller stars as Bart Hughes, a successful businessman who has just purchased a huge brownstone for his family. His pride in home ownership is quickly undermined when he discovers evidence of a rat infestation. While his wife (Shannon Tweed) and son (Leif Anderson) are away visiting her parents, Bart tries to eliminate the pest. While he succeeds in destroying the nest of the rat's young, the mother rat proves more resilient. Soon, a seemingly simple task turns into an all-out war between man and rodent, as Bart degenerates into an Ahab-like obsession with destroying the rat.
Director George Pan Cosmatos (of Rambo and Tombstone fame) has crafted an effectively suspenseful thriller, quietly escalating the tension scene by scene. However, it's Peter Weller's performance that truly makes the movie. He remains totally convincing throughout the character's descent into mania, letting his work and social skills suffer as the obsession consumes him (which is where the "man vs. himself" conflict comes into the story as well).
The interesting thing is that the movie does not posit Bart's opponent as a super-rat--although it is large and resourceful, the script makes the point that there's nothing unusual about this specimen. ANY rat could be this big a threat, the movie tells us--and the filmmakers keep the animal's survival skills and intelligence just this side of implausibility. Screenwriter Brian Taggert (working from a novel by Chauncey B. Parker III) knows just how far to go without crossing the line between "unlikely" and "unbelievable."
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
Of Unknown Origin is practically a one-man show for Peter Weller, and as I indicated earlier, he carries it off with great skill. The supporting cast (including such familiar Canadian performers as Jennifer Dale, Maury Chaykin, and Kenneth Welsh) generally manage to make the most of their brief screen time. The most obvious exception is Shannon Tweed (making her screen debut after first attaining fame as a Playboy Playmate); she is literally given almost nothing to do except stand there and look pretty, so it's impossible to judge her acting skills at this point.


Thursday, January 08, 2009

What I Sang 1-7

After a couple of weeks off for the holidays, I'm back in the karaoke habit, and started out the new year this way:

"Clocks" by Coldplay.


Wednesday, January 07, 2009

VHS Vednesday: Remote Control

REMOTE CONTROL (1988). Directed by Jeff Lieberman. Starring Kevin Dillon, Deborah Goodrich, and Christopher Wynne.

A bit of sad news: Versatile Video, the (literal) mom-and-pop video store that has provided so much material for my reviews, is closing its doors this month. I'll really miss that place...but it's not the end of VHS Vednesday. I managed to pick up quite a few of the tapes they were selling off, so I've got enough material to keep me going for a while. Of course, I'll always regret "the ones that got away," the tapes that were bought by somebody else before I could watch them--ranging from vintage classics (Anthony Adverse) to the cheesiest exploitation flicks (Hellhole, Mongrel, Pepper, etc.). But at least I got what I could, while I could.
To commemorate the end of this era, I'll take a look at a movie that rejoiced in the heyday of VHS rentals. The 1988 tongue-in-cheek science-fiction flick Remote Control is a now-poignant reminder of the days when video stores flourished across the nation, and viewers, thrilled by the novelty of viewing movies at home at their own convenience, would snatch up just about any picture they could find on the shelves.
The movie begins with a young couple (Jerold Pearson and Jennifer Buchanan) preparing for an evening's entertainment. Their selection: An obscure 1957 sci-fi picture titled Remote Control--which takes place in the far-flung future of the 1980s, and imagines an advanced technology which enables people to watch movies in their own homes. The recursiveness continues when the woman within the film falls under some kind of hypnotic spell, compelling her to kill her husband--an act which is then carried out by the woman watching the movie in the real world.
After this introductory scene setting up the premise, we meet our hero, a teenage video store clerk named Cosmo (Kevin Dillon). Cosmo notices the strange spike in demand for the little-known movie Remote Control, but chalks it up to the eye-catching display that the video distributor's representative had set up in his store. Little does he realize just how hypnotic that display is, until a dispute arises between two customers vying for the last rental copy--a dispute that culminates with the "lucky" customer who did get the last copy (Jennifer Tilly) being followed home and murdered by the disgruntled would-be renter (Frank Beddor).
Now suspected of the murder himself, Cosmo sets out to prove his innocence, and in the process discovers the secret of Remote Control. Accompanied by his friend and co-worker Georgie (Christopher Wynne) and his newfound romantic interest Belinda (Deborah Goodrich), Cosmo infiltrates the video company before they expand their influence from a "test market" to worldwide distribution.
Written and directed by Jeff Lieberman, known for his uniquely bizarre horror movies (Squirm, Blue Sunshine, Just Before Dawn), Remote Control is perhaps his most "mainstream" effort (though it still demonstrates a fair amound of off-kilter quirkiness). It's slight and inconsequential, but in the end, it's an enjoyable souvenir of a bygone medium...and that's good enough for me. And it name-drops Francois Truffaut, which is always a plus.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
In one of his earliest leading roles, Kevin Dillon proves to be an appealing, likeable performer--still rough around the edges, but showing the promise of better work to come (i.e., Entourage). The performer most likely to be embarrassed by this, though, is Jennifer Tilly. Not because of her performance (it's pretty much the same squeaky-voiced flirt that she's played in so many movies), but because of her hairstyle. Really. Words can't do it justice.


Friday, January 02, 2009

30 Second Recap: Death of the New Gods

It's a new year, and it's time once again for Chris Sims' 30-Second Recap Contest! For my part, I've boiled down Death of the New Gods to its essentials...

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