Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mother Truckers

Somehow, Filmsack convinced me I wanted to watch Convoy. On paper, it's got a lot going for it:
  • Classic "cops v. road people" theme (Filmsack's terminology)
  • Based on the C.W. McCall country novelty song, and the campy CB lingo that inspired it
  • Director: Sam Peckinpah. DP: James Coburn
  • Starring Kris Kristofferson as Rubber Duck the trucker, Ernest Borgnine as the dirty sheriff who is after him, and Ali MacGraw as the love interest
The plot is pretty simple yet elegant: Trucker Kristofferson and some of his buddies get on the wrong side of a sheriff, who shakes them down for cash in exchange for not impounding their trucks. A fight in a truckstop leads to them fleeing in a convoy with the police close behind. More trucks join the convoy, and soon people are cheering the outlaw truckers on. The government wants to co-opt their "protest", but Borgnine is out for blood.

There are a lot of good scenes, like a chase over backroads through the dusty desert. Kristofferson is good if you like the ripped, rugged shirtless zen type hero. He consistently refused to make a statement about the convoy: "They're not following me. I'm just in front." "The purpose of the convoy is to keep moving." When the governor's spokesman tells him the governor supports many of their proposals, Kris answers, "Which ones are those?"

On the other hand, there's a serious problem with the tone - the movie can't decide whether it's Smokey and the Bandit or Vanishing Point. I guess you can't expect a lot of laughs in a Peckinpah comedy.

Another problem was Ali McGraw. Man, can she ever not act. I think she looks pretty good, with a short haircut and dark tan - kind of like Shari Belafonte-Harper. But her delivery went beyond wooden. It sounded like she was being dubbed by someone who didn't speak English.

Not a bad movie, as cops v. road people movies go, but not a great one.

Cracking Up

I don't want to keep complaining every time I get a bad disk from Netflix, but here I go: This weekend, out of 3 disks, 2 were cracked. Not a little scratched, but inch-long cracks. So - a 3-day weekend, no plans but to watch movies, and only one will play. Coincidentally (?) all 3 disks were blu-ray.

Oh sure, they will replace them immediately. So we'll get the replacements Tues, after the long weekend. We'll watch them next weekend, just like we would if we had returned normal, playable disks. In other words, Netflix's prompt replacement policy means nothing to us.

I'm an ordinary working stiff. I don't go out much and I like to watch movies on weekends: one on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Netflix works perfectly for me - when it works.

OK, at least there's streaming, so we can watch something. But the quality is way below blu-ray, and the selection is not all it could be. (For example, we watched Convoy when we discovered the first problem. Review is coming, but -SPOILER- it was pretty bad.)

There, I've vented. The moral is to check your disks immediately on arrival. You may be able to get a replacement before the weekend. I'd complain to Netflix, but they have a policy if you get too many unplayable disks: They blame it on you and suspend your account.

Update: I got a comment from Mythical Monkey, who says that he had the same problem. Sounds like a trend - off to the Google! Indeed, several people have seen a high percentage of damaged blu-ray disks. See for ex this article on Engadget. We might just want to drop the blu-ray account, save the $4.00/mo and let them get this straightened out.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Yuki's Midnight Garden

Our friend Yuki lives by herself in a small house with a big garden. In the summer, she spends a lot of time there, tending her flowers, herbs and vegetables. Because we love mojitos, she once gave us a huge bunch of mint. No matter how fast we drank, we still couldn't use it all, so I dried the rest.

Now I don't have a lot of uses for dried mint, so I soaked a handful in some Whaler's Dark Rum (which, by the way, is not a good drinking rum in general. Just saying). I strained the result for a black minty concoction, with green grassy herbal overtones.

My cocktail in her honor: Yuki's Midnight Garden

1 shot of mint-infused very dark rum (see above)
1 oz. dark creme de cacao

Shake with ice and serve up or over crushed ice.

A variation is Yuki's Moonlit Garden

1 shot of mint-infused light rum
1 oz white creme de cacao
1 oz cream

Shake with ice and serve over crushed ice or up.

Silent Circus

Chaplin's The Circus is one of those films that just bubbled up on the queue. It features the Tramp stumbling into a failing circus, and being mistaken for a clown - the only funny thing in the show. The evil ringmaster hires him as a custodian, and lets the audience laugh at him. The gag here is that Chaplin can't be funny when he tries - only when he thinks he's a janitor.

Meanwhile, he is falling in love with the ringmaster's daughter. But she loves the new tightrope walker.

There are some good gags in this, especially a hilarious and technically challenging Mirror Maze routine. But it is certainly less than a laugh a minute. It also has some sweet romance and pathos. All in all, I'm afraid I have to rate this as lesser Chaplin. Of course, considering that Chaplin went through a bad divorce, IRS troubles, a nervous breakdown, and had his studio burn down while making it, allowances can be made. Still, not his best work.

The DVD release does feature Chaplin from 1970 singing the theme song.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Silver Medal

Silver Hawk is a very stylish 2004 Michelle Yeoh martial arts flick. That may tell you everything you need to know to decide if you want to watch it.

Michelle Yeoh plays LuLu, a fashion model with society connections in modern day Polaris City (Shanghai, maybe). But in her secret identity, she is Silver Hawk, a masked crime fighter with a silver costume and a remote controlled motorbike. She runs into an old friend, "Rich" Man (Richie Ren), who she trained with as a child in a kung fu orphanage. He is now a policeman in Polaris, with a squad of cute policewomen. He is on the make for LuLu, but he wants to arrest the vigilante Silver Hawk. Meanwhile, there is a plot to take over the world, blah, blah, blah.

Aside from the fighting, this movie has a great look. It is set amongst gorgeous modern architecture, and everyone is wearing cool fashions - the look is kind of 1980's retro:
  • Rei Kawakubo slashed and asymmetrical for the women
  • Baggy nylon windbreakers with puffy collars for the men
  • Faux hawks for the sidekicks
  • Leather and spikes or motocross armor for the thugs
  • Mandarin collared long leather duster for the mad scientist
As for the fighting, it's very good. Yeoh just keeps getting better, and Michael Jai White (Black Dynamite) is one of her main opponents. He has a cute side kick (Bingbing Li), who he would swing around like an animated weapon. Some fun but silly fights included bungee ballet (a technique we first saw in Cirque du Soleil) and baddies on inline skates with metal hockeysticks.

The tone is light an humorous, with Yeoh continually deflating Ren's high opinion of himself and his fighting style. The fight scenes keep coming. The plot makes no sense, taking the action to "Zenda" (= Tokyo) for some reason. Funny how you can tell the difference between a Shanghai highway overpass and the Tokyo version of same.

My one complaint would be casting Michelle Yeoh as a model. She's more of a natural beauty than a fashion plate. But I have no complaints about her scene in the hotsprings. Wow!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Low Ball

Look, we're big fans of Mel Brooks, but Spaceballs stinks on ice. It's a dimwitted Star Wars parody that makes Episodes 1-3 look like The Godfather.

Rick Moranis does a nice job as Dark Helmet (the Vader character), and Brooks is all right as the evil president. Daphne Zuniga has the Princess Leia look down, but that's about all she brings to the role. The Han Solo and Chewbacca roles are played by Bill Pullman (in a big step down from Zero Effect) and John Candy as a man-dog named Barf. When Candy can't get any laughs wearing a dog costume, you know you've got problems.

The jokes are not funny. The delivery is labored, stilted in a way that wouldn't have gone over in vaudeville. The visual gags rarely deliver - except maybe the Princess's braid bun headphones.

"Best" of all was the Ghostbusters-style funky theme song, sung by the Spinners (!) and produced by Jellybean (!!!). I know that all movies in the 80s had theme songs like this, but why!?!

In conclusion: this is the first movie we watched in Blu-ray.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Last Vacation

Jadin Wong died recently, March 30, 2010 at age 96. In the 30s and 40s, she was famous as a dancer in the Forbidden City, a nightclub in San Francisco's Chinatown. She was a beautiful woman and a fine dancer, and she appears in Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation.

If you aren't familiar with Mr. Moto, this series is something of a Charlie Chan rip off, with Peter Lorre playing the Japanese detective Mr. Moto. The character comes from a series of novels by John Marquand, known for the more serious work The Late George Appley. The movie series is more light-hearted and adventurous than Charlie Chan. Action and intrigue is more important than detection, and comic relief is always close at hand. Lorre's Moto is oh-so polite, suave and a master of jiu-jitsu and disguise. Of course, the Austro-Hungarian Lorre isn't very Japanese, but he's more Japanese than Warner Oland/Sidney Toler were Chinese.

When asked how he got through the Mr. Moto series, Lorre reportedly answered "Morphine." Sorry, Peter, we like them. Mr. Moto Takes a Vacation was the last of the series (of 7), so he could relax a little.

This one involves some nonsense with the Queen of Sheba's jewels in a San Francisco museum. We get no detectable SF locations, some silly backlot Chinatown, archeologists and curators, socialites, a comic relief Englishman, and Willie Best, in a Stepin-Fetchit-type cameo. Yes, there's a touch of racism, including blackface on top of Lorre's yellowface. One must make allowances.

We also get to see Jadin Wong dancing in a Chinese restaurant. She appears in about 3 shots in one scene, mostly obscured behind a waiter. So watching Vacation to see her is a waste of time. But not if you like Mr. Moto.

More than Zero

Back to the theme of movies I saw on a plane that I wanted to re-watch with my wife: Seeing Sherlock Holmes put me in the mood to show Zero Effect to Mrs. Spenser.

This little-known 1998 film stars Ben Stiller as a kind of anti-Watson to detective Daryl Zero, played by Bill Pullman. Like Holmes, Zero is brilliant, all-knowing, all-deducing. He is also a master of disguise, and, when not on a case, indulges in narcotic stimulants and bad music. Unlike Holmes, however, he never allows his clients to meet him or talk to him. His only communication is through Stiller.

Stiller meets with a wealthy client in Portland, played with great sketchiness by Ryan O'Neal, who has lost his keys. Of course, it goes on from there. Soon Zero has come in disguise to scope out the scene, meets this cute girl, and I've said too much already (Irene Adler!).

This movie was produced/directed by the Jake Kasdan, son of Lawrence Kasdan, and you can kind of tell that it was made by the offspring of someone rich, famous or powerful. It seems exactly like the film that someone wanted to make, without the compromises you get in a committee-made film. It reminds me a lot of Love at Large:
  • It's a mystery, but mostly a romantic comedy
  • It's set in Portland (and doesn't pretend to be Boston or some other city)
  • One has a Leonard Cohen song, the other Nick Cave
Anyway, they are both "small" films - not blockbusters, but not straight to video crap. Stories someone wanted to tell, told well. I found it fun and moving, then moved on. In the studio days, there were hundreds of movies like this made every year. Now, not so much.

In conclusion, note that I referred to Zero by his character name. Mostly, in this blog, I use the actor's name, partly because I can't be bothered to remember the character's, partly so you don't have to match up character and actor. But here, I felt that Pullman submerged himself in the role, really became Daryl Zero, man of many faces. Well done.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Poke of Zorro

Another candidate for Not as Bad as You Might Expect Theatre: The Legend of Zorro? I'm not sure, how bad were you expecting?

Legend is the 2005 sequel to the 1998 Mask of Zorro. I found Mask a fun adventure romp, with a likable hero (Antonio Banderas), his wise old mentor (Anthony Hopkins) and delicious love interest (Catherine Zeta-Jones). It was filled with derring-do involving swords horses, swinging from things, and often, scaffolding.

The sequel has much of the same - Banderas, CZ-J, swashbuckling, even the scaffolding fetish (I guess stunts on scaffolding just work). It's missing Hopkins, since his character died in Mask. In his place is a little boy, Zorro and wife's child - young Adrian Alonso, quite an actor. The plot this time around deals with friction between Zorro's life fighting oppression and his life as a husband and father.

And there's the rub. This "conflict" is profoundly boring - I suppose it is "relevant", especially to scriptwriters who had distant fathers and now have wives asking them to come home on a weekend now and then. But I can't say it makes a great framework for an action comedy. Or scaffolding.

Oh well, the movie's at least 2 hours long. That leaves plenty of time for derring-do, swashbuckling, trick riding, foul plots, California statehood, Spanish-speaking American nationalism, and I'm sure I'm leaving something out. This movie annoyed and entertained me. I think entertainment won out. You mileage may vary.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

There's Always Tomorrow

Welcome to another episode of Not as Bad as You Might Expect Theatre: Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Sherlock Holmes put us in the mood for some Jude Law, so I immediately thought of Sky Captain. I'd seen it before, and was pretty unimpressed, but I thought I'd give it another chance.

Law is Sky Captain, leader of a mercenary army of Curtiss P-40s and zeppelins in a sci-fi world of the future version of the 1940s. When New York is threatened by giant flying robots, girl reporter Polly Perkins (Gweneth Paltrow) enlists him to same the world (of tomorrow).

This movie was famous (in 2004) for being totally computer generated, except for the actors. It was also famously a flop, but that's a little harsh. I thought the art direction was wonderful - a beautiful art-deco retro future, full of skyscrapers, airships, robots and rayguns, all decorated with streamlined allegorical statues of nude winged women. The plot is full of holes, of course, but also full of daring adventures and hairs-breadth escapes.

Nor is the cast negligible. Law is dashing and handsome, Paltrow winsome yet plucky. Sky Captain's chief mechanic and inventor sidekick, played by Giovanni Ribisi, is right out of the serials. Best of all, but tragically underused, is Angelina Jolie as Frankie, commander of a flying airfield. Dressed in sharp flying togs, with an eyepatch, she cuts quite a figure.

So, great movie, right? Not really. First, the actors all too frequently failed to mesh fully with the CGI scenery. We streamed this on Watch Instantly, so maybe it would have been better at higher rez. I doubt it, though. Second, the plot has a lot of annoying parts - mainly the romance between Law and Paltrow - possibly because Paltrow overplays in parts, and imitates a plank in others. These create a distancing effect to take you right out of the story, even during action scenes.

Still, it looks great and it's a fun story, in the new Boy's Adventure style of, say, Indiana Jones. Look at it this way: It's not as good as Temple of Doom, but better than Crystal Skull.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

This Pick is a Dilly

OK, I apologize for the title of the post - Piccadilly (1929) does not deserve a cheap gag like that. It's a great silent musical (!) melodrama and vehicle for the enchanting Anna May Wong.

The dancing team of Gilda Grey and Cyril Ritchard (Capt. Hook/Mr. Darling in Disney's Peter Pan) is the big draw at Jameson Thomas' Piccadilly Club in London. Actually, Ritchard is the star, Grey is owner Thomas' girlfriend. When Ritchard quits Thomas needs to find a new star. He also needs to find out why customers (like Charles Laughton in a sweet little cameo) keep complaining about dirty dishes.

The answers are one in the same. He finds Anna May Wong dancing in the scullery, distracting the workers. He fires her, of course, then offers her a job dancing.

Wong's scullery dance is wonderful, a swirling hoochie-coochie. Her dress is cheap and tawdry, her stockings have more runs than material, her dance sketchy and unaccomplished. But her eyes...

When we first see Glinda Grey dancing with Ritchard, I was not impressed by her dancing. It appears that Grey actually invented popularized the Shimmy. She plays the great diva (actually literally swooning more than once), but without the talent to back it up

Wong's character, on the other hand, is played very down to earth. She has a regular life, with a punk boyfriend, the scowling runt type you still see in Chinese films, usually trying to bully Jet Li and getting whomped. She upgrades her living quarters and wardrobe when she becomes a sensation, but somehow, to me, she stays real.

Of course, things don't work out well for Wong - I won't give away the twist endings. But this is definitely her story.

Two other things:

* Nice directing by German Ewald Andre Dupont. Some almost documentary shots of London, a fluid camera in the club, some long takes through the kitchen, etc.
* The score on the disc I got from Netflix was pretty good except when the band is playing during the dance numbers. Than it just doesn't match up.

In conclusion: A solid silent with a magnetic star. Doesn't deserve lousy pun in title.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Movies from Long Ago

My Netflix queue is a rich and strange thing (although it doesn't seem to contain Hitchcock's early Rich and Strange). I have ruthlessly pruned it down below 300 films, with about 50 saved and 125 in the Watch Instantly queue. I add a few every week, some recent hits, some from Netflix recommendations, some from the blogs my Inspirations and Obsessions blogroll.

I do not just watch whatever is on the top of my queue. In fact, I'm more likely to watch from the bottom of the queue - last in, first out - since it is on my mind. If none of my recent adds appeals, I flip through the queue, often looking for something to balance my other selections - a crime story if I have too many comedies, a classic black and white if I'm watching a lot of modern movies. As a result, the top of the queue tends to be mostly movies that I've passed by.

So, what's the oldest movie in my queue, the movie that's been there the longest without getting watched? Until recently, I think it was Malcolm X. It might have been the first movie I queued up when I joined Netflix. Somehow I was never in the mood for a long emotional uplifting downer type movie. I cleared it out of my queue last year. I'll queue it up again when I'm ready to watch it.

I think the oldest movie is now The Horsemen, a costumer by John Frankenhiemer starring Omar Sharif and Jack Palance as Afghans. Tell you what. I'll either watch it within this month, or strike it from the queue. Consider it spring cleaning.

Next year, I can delete another movie that I'm never going to watch.

Update: Monday is the end of the month. It is Saturday and I do not have this movie at home. I am not going to watch it. It is off the queue.

Monday, May 10, 2010


Sherlock Holmes one of those movies we were really psyched for. Guy Ritchie's 2009 version stars Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes and Jude Law as Watson. Ritchie re-invents the franchise by taking away the deerstalker cap and Ulster overcoat and adding a lot of fisticuffs. I think it works.

The plot features Lord Blackwood, an aristocratic black magic type. Holmes prevents him from sacrificing a young woman, and sends him to the gallows. He promises revenge from beyond the grave, but Watson pronounces him dead. I'll save the spoiler for the end.

I can see how they got the idea for Downey as Holmes. He's a lovable bad boy like Tony Stark, with the disguise skills of Kirk Lazarus from Tropic Thunder. I generally liked his Holmes, but I have a few reservations:
  • This Holmes was a bit of a Bohemian dandy, wearing colorful ascots and artistic collars when he wasn't wearing linens and braces. I know Holmes was a sharp and eccentric dresser, but I don't see him as Oscar Wilde
  • I couldn't shake the impression that it was Hugh Laurie playing Holmes. Since I don't watch House, I didn't get the connection. But I guess Laurie's House is a Holmes tribute, so that makes sense
  • The greatest Holmes ever casts a shadow over every other performance: Jeremy Brett
Jude Law, on the other hand, made a great Watson. He is exasperated by Holmes' eccentricities, but ever loyal. He is a bit obtuse, but not a bumbler like Nigel Bruce. He also knows when to use the revolver.

I like the younger, more vigorous, more brutal Holmes and Watson. It's similar to the James Bond re-boot. Holmes is still as intellectual as ever, but is not purely a thinker. The Canon clearly shows that he is also a brawler, a master of disguise and a dabbler in narcotics. (They tone down the drug use in this movie, but cocaine is implied.)

Irene Adler, played by Rachel McAdams, is also in the Canon, although she is more popular with the post-Conan Doyle writers. She gets a good role here, but the real romance is between Holmes and Watson. Holmes' continual attempts to sabotage Watson's marriage is a running gag throughout the movie. I hate to call this a "bro-mance", but...

So, --SPOILER-- All the mystical black magic stuff is a hoax, just trickery. I liked that - you get the creepy atmosphere, but reason triumphs.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hurray for Hollywood

I was inspired to watch Hollywood Hotel after seeing The Benny Goodman Story - it includes actual Benny Goodman footage, not just a Steve Allen imitation. It turned out to be a great choice, but a little strange.

It stars Dick Powell, a St. Louis sax player who gets a Hollywood movie contract by winning a contest. One of his first gigs is to escort diva-esque movie star Lola Lane to the opening of her latest picture. But he doesn't know that she has taken off in a huff, and is being doubled by a down-to-earth look-alike. Two interesting points:
  • The old doppelganger plot, and not the last one
  • The look-alikes are not played by the same actress, but her sister, Lola and Rosemary Lane
The rest of the story is full of mixed up identities, star-crossed lovers, Hollywood cynicism (so young, so cynical) and music.

I guess I should mention the music. There are two types:
  • Benny Goodman's Orchestra and Quartet - mainly 2 songs, including a short "Sing, Sing, Sing" at the end, which are great
  • Pretty much every other number, which are all pretty weak. Even the iconic "Hurray for Hollywood", introduced in this movie, doesn't really make it
Fortunately, the first half of the movie is blessedly light on songs - just 3 or 4. Instead, we get a ton of character actors in classic roles:
  • Alan Mowbray as a ham actor - Dick Powell dubs his voice in the second doppelganger plot
  • Ted Healy as Powell's manager - most famous for giving the Three Stooges their first gig
  • Hugh Herbert, the Woo-Woo guy, as Lane's dad. His act is pretty broad - forgetting his name, failing to recognize his own daughter, and ending every sentence with "Woo woo." I think it's a riot
  • Edgar Kennedy, the slow burn artist, plays the manager of a drive-in burger joint
  • Louella Parsons plays herself, mostly as a sweetheart, but with a few sharp comments
We also get insanely hammy actors and actresses, a gay dress designer, multiple flacks and sharpies, several black maids and a couple of porters, radio announcers and musicians playing themselves, and just about everything you'd want out of a movie about movies from the 1930s.

Busby Berkley directs, without his strange dance numbers. But he keeps the camera dancing, with long takes and sweeping crane shots. It looks great, while not coming across as a "prestige" picture.

So, great old movie, some Benny Goodman, mostly lousy songs. One other issue I have to mention, though. When you watch old movies, you have to get used to a certain amount of casual racism. I don't think this movie is worse than most. There's a blackface gag, the above mentioned maids and porters, that's about it. And Goodman does play with his integrated quartet, including Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. But somehow, that makes it worse - I expected more from a movie with Goodman in it.

It didn't spoil the movie for me. It was a "teachable moment".

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Back to B13

David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli are back again as Tomasso and Leito in District 13: Ultimatum. We thought the original District B13 (or Banlieue 13 en francais) was one of the best action movies ever, and the sequel didn't disappoint.

It's 3 years after the last movie. All the hooey about the walls around Banlieue 13 turns out to have been politics as usual. David Belle goes around blowing up pieces of the wall, but the crimelords who run B13 want him to stop - they think the wall is to keep cops out. Top cop Cyril Raffaelli is undercover, busting drug dealers in drag. Meanwhile, some bad guys are stirring up trouble in the banlieue and some kids have filmed it on their phones. It's the future, remember?

So Raffaelli gets framed and put in prison, and Belle has to bust him out, and, really, I've said too much about the plot anyway. That part of the movie is fine, for filler. The real meat is the action, chases and stunts. As expected from Belle and Raffaelli, these are amazing.

As a bonus, Belle and Raffaelli are buff, good looking and fine actors. I can see either of them in straight roles with no running and jumping. They have gotten better since the last one. However, I can't say this movie beats the original, for action, plot or camerawork. But it's not far behind.

In conclusion, evacuate Banlieue 13!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Spaghetti Again

Was the sequel to My Name Is Trinity as good as the original? If you liked the original at all, check out Trinity Is Still My Name. You won't be disappointed.

In this movie, blond lanky Trinity (Terence Hill) and his gargantuan brother Bambino try to become successful outlaws. But they keep running across farmers with daughters, and instead of robbing them, they lend them a hand and some cash. But mostly, they bum around, get in fights, visit Ma (hooker) and Pa (dying outlaw) and so on.

When it's over you might not remember even as much as I do. I do recall Trinity's trick when face to face with a gunslinger: He slaps the man's face, then draws and sticks his pistol in his face before he can reach for his gun. Other than that, all I remember was having a good time.

Monday, May 3, 2010

All That Jazz

I'm not a big swing fan (more of a hard bop head), but The Benny Goodman Story is amazing. There are two reasons that I am going to recommend it.

First, the story. It tells of Goodman's journey the Chicago ghetto to Carnegie Hall. Steve Allen plays the adult Goodman, who is written as a kind of musical nerd. He barely notices his future wife (a stylish Donna Reed), even after having two identical conversations with her. He doesn't care if his bandmates are black or white, all he cares about is the music.

It isn't made that explicit, but the movie also shows the rise of Swing. Goodman played a style of music he called "hot", which wasn't too popular (for most of the movie). His audiences preferred most sedate dance music ("the standard arrangements"). But when Benny finally found his audience (west coast kids who heard is late night radio show in an earlier time zone), they started jitterbugging.

Which brings us around to the other cool thing about this movie: The music and the musicians. The clarinet parts are all really Goodman, with Steve Allen accurately miming. And many of his band members are played by themselves. We get to see and hear Kid Ory, Lionel Hampton, Gene Krupa, Harry James, Ziggy Elman (demonstrating his famous klezmer solo in Carnegie Hall) and even Dave Brubeck. The movie is filled with music played by the founding musicians.

In conclusion, John Hammond, whose sister Alice (played by Donna Reed) married Goodman, is the rich kid who discovers and promotes Goodman. I knew him as the man who discovered and promoted Bob Dylan. Turns out he made lots of people famous, from Billy Holiday and Count Basie to Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughn. He might be my new hero.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


Our love of Black Dynamite inspired us to go back to the roots. Our chosen primordial blaxploitation: Dolemite.

It stars proto-rapper and comic Rudy Ray Moore, as kung fu pimp Dolemite. His main lady Queen Bee has convinced the warden to let him out of prison to clear his name and get the corrupt cops who have been protecting the local heroin ring. Or something. The bad news: Queen Bee lost the club to bad guy Willy Green. Good news, Dolemite's girls have been studying karate while he was in prison.

I wish I could say there's a ton of ass-kicking action scenes. There are some, but pretty weak. Dolemite is no Michale Jae White. In fact, he looks pretty over the hill. On the other hand, he's a beefy guy with a beat up face. You could imagine him doing some fighting. I kind of like the way most of the guys in this movie are beat-up beefy guys, and the girls are too, except the skinny ones with big teeth.

Along with comically bad fight scenes, you get some of Rudy Ray Moore's Signifyin' Monkey stories. These are sort of Uncle Remus stories, told in loose verse, with a lot of bad words. They have a kind of folkloric appeal, but if they are truly the roots of rap, this white boy can't hear it.

OK, so now I've seen a movie by the legendary Rudy Ray Moore. I probably don't need to see another. But I suspect I'll wind up watching at least Disco Godfather and Petey Wheatstraw - the Devil's Son-in-Law.