Friday, February 28, 2014

T.A.M.I. in Love

Where has The T.A.M.I. Show (1964) been my whole life? I had heard of this, but didn't expect too much. I watched Wattstax (1973) some years ago, and was very disappointed - too much talking, not enough music. Not a problem with T.A.M.I.

In 1964, at the start of the British Invasion and Beatlemania, a concert was held in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It was recorded in "Electronovision", a kind of primitive high-def TV. The audience (which included John Landis and David Cassidy) was mostly local high-school kids. It was hosted by Jan & Dean. The result is this movie.

It starts, like Rock 'n' Roll, with Chuck Berry, performing Johnny B. Goode and Maybelline. Then Gerry and the Pacemakers jump in with their version of Maybelline, followed by Don't Let the Sun Catch You Crying. Berry is just electric, duck-walking all over the place, rolling his eyes and mugging for the camera. The Pacemakers, on the other hand - Look, I love Ferry Cross the Mersey as much as anyone, but they could not sound whiter if they were singing I've Got a Loverly Buncha Coconuts. They make it look like Merseybeat is about British music hall, not rock and rhythm and blues.

But that's all right - after the original rocker and the presumptive future have traded a few songs, we get The Miracles, then Marvin Gaye, and later on, the Supremes. These classic Motown acts are amazing, with great leads, harmony and dancing. And Diana Ross' Egyptian eyes in close-ups were mezmerizing.

We also get The Beach Boys and a couple of Jan and Dean songs. It really made me remember why The Beach Boys were so great, with the many-part harmonies, Dennis going crazy on drums, Al Jardine looking like a fierce little bantam punk, Brian leading it all. Jan and Dean did some rudimentary skateboarding, and sang Sidewalk Surfing - whatever happened to that skateboard fad?

Even Leslie Gore, Miss Bubblegum 1964, does a ferocious You Don't Own Me, with an ecstatic gleam in her eyes when she sings "I'm free and I love being free!"

We can skip over another Merseybeat band, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas, and the proto-garage Barbarians - they don't even do their one hit Are You a Girl or Are You a Boy? But the last two acts...

James Brown! The hardest working man in show business! With the Famous Flames! Dancing like he had hover-heels. Collapsing during Please Please Please, then coming back, again and again, and ending with the fastest Night Train I've ever heard. Who could follow this act?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones. I've read that they were very upset about having to follow James Brown, but they pulled it off. They kicked off with Round and Round, bringing it back to Chuck Berry. In fact, Jagger was dancing like Chuck Berry throughout. It was kind of neat to see how much of a rhythm and blues band they were, like James Brown, just letting the band lay down a groove while Jagger just kicks up his heels and sings "Alright, alright".

Although the film quality isn't so good, the cinematography is pretty good, with some nice close-ups and two shots - even a rack focus or two. The backup musicians are great, including many of Phil Spector's Wrecking Crew, with Jack Nitzsche producing. Nitzsche even shows up on camera, all nose and Beatle haircut, with the classic producer mike-and-headset.

I could go on about the go-go dancers (can you spot Terri Garr and Toni Basil?), or the fact that the audience and even some couples dancing were racially integrated, so cool for 1964. But I've got to stop sometime.

So in conclusion, very cool movie. If you like good music, check it out.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Another Jackson

Why are we watching Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013), exactly? The first Percy Jackson movie wasn't that great - did we think this would be better? No, we thought it would be good enough.

The story in this one: The children of the Greek gods have a sanctuary in an Adirondack summer camp, protected by tree-nymph-generated force field. When the nymph is wounded, the only solution is to go on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece from the Sea of Monsters (what we mortals call the Bermuda Triangle). Meanwhile, Percy's (Logan Lerman) half-brother has appeared - Douglas Smith, whose father was Perseus, but his mother was a cyclops.

So we have Percy dealing with a goofy, long-haired, one-eyed half-brother, a quest with (or against) hyper-competitive Paloma Kwiatkowski, and a Sea of Monsters. Well, a couple of monsters, anyway - a few cyclopses, Charybdis (no Scylla), that's about it.

I can't say there was a lot of great stuff going on here - OK, Stanley Tucci as Dionysus was pretty great. But somehow, we were pleasantly entertained. I guess it's just the way these movies pander to every nerdy kid's love of Greek mythology. I can't say why, but I just felt that they got that. Also, Douglas Smith as a cyclops was a lot of fun - that goofy sibling or pal that always embarrasses you, but you love anyway.

Or maybe we were just in the right mood - I can't say this is a good movie, or even as good as Lightning Thief. We liked it, though.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Danny Ocean Refuses No River

I watched Ocean's Twelve (2004) for the obvious reasons - I liked Eleven and Thirteen, and I wanted to watch a known-quantity. I'm afraid it barely reached the level of mediocre.

So, the gang has retired after the last job, but the guy they ripped off has come back at them. He threatens them if they don't get all the money back with interest. So they get together and plan a series of European heists to pay off their debt.

Now, hold on a sec. They are going to give it all back? Just because some vic complains? If they are scared of him, why did they steal from him in the first place? OK, never mind, just get on with the capers.

They go to Europe - that's fun. Brad Pitt's ex-girlfriend from Interpol shows up, and she's Catherine Zeta-Jones. That's fun. Then they run into a problem and have to call on Danny Ocean's honey, played by Julia Roberts, to help out. She has to, get this, imitate Julia Roberts! Oh, sorry, SPOILER.

I actually liked that, although it was kind of lame. I also liked the improvised-sounding patter amongst the gang members. I really liked Carl Reiner's dignified old crook, and Elliot Gould's Jerry Lewis-inspired alter kocker.

But all in all, not very good. I am reminded of The Tourist, another caper-in-Europe film that had a lot going for it, but just wasn't good. Also, I sometimes get Johnny Depp and Brad Pitt mixed up (also Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie). Better you should enjoy The Italian Job (2003), which I only mention because Mark Wahlberg reminds me of Mat Damon, and Donald Sutherland of Elliot Gould... Uh, where was I?

Never mind. If a breezy caper movie with pretty people and locations is what you are in the mood for, and your standards aren't high, and you liked Ocean's Eleven, go ahead. It's not that bad.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Last Word on the Subject

The Last Word is a cocktail - from the Prohibition era, it seems. It combines oddball, rare ingredients in simple 1:1:1:1 proportions:

The Last Word
3/4 oz. Gin
3/4 oz. Maraschino
3/4 oz. Green Chartreuse
3/4 oz. fresh lime juice

Shake over ice and strain into cocktail (martini) glass.

It just happens that I have all of these ingredients handy, so I mixed one up. Here is my report: It tastes like Chartreuse. Not quite straight Chartreuse, but pretty close.

I would reduce the Chartreuse to about 1/4 oz.; maybe reduce the Maraschino the same way or keep it at 3/4 oz., since it is fairly subtle. I'd bump the gin up to a full shot, because why not. I also thought it would taste good with an egg white for the fizz and mouthfeel.

Then I realized that I was recreating the 'Treuse or Dare from One Flew South in Atlanta, with a little Maraschino. So I basically gave up on this cocktail. If you want to drink Green Chartreuse on the rocks, go ahead. If you want a great gin-and-Chartreuse cocktail, try the 'Treuse or Dare.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Born to Run

We watched Run (2013) on a whim - a straight-to-video free-running/parkour action movie, why not? It worked out pretty well.

William Moseley (from the Narnia films) is a teenaged cat burglar. He lives on the run with his father, moving from town to town, never making friends, always ready to drop everything. They wind up in Brooklyn, where dad decides to confront the bad guys in his past. Meanwhile, Moseley is trying to keep his head down in a new school, but finds himself making friends with the freerunning crowd.

This is where the movie reveals itself - this isn't an action/crime movie. It is a Beat Street/Breakin' high-school dance craze movie. I think one of the buildings was actually in Wild Style. There's the community center that keeps the kids out of trouble, the cute girl for the troubled hero to fall for, etc.

Best of all, there is just a lot of freerunning - kids running, jumping, rolling, climbing, etc - Just paste a silly plot onto a bunch of Youtube sensation stunts. In fact, the closing credits clearly used audition footage from people who aren't even in the movie. And that's a good thing! It isn't even the top of the line stuff you see from Daniel Bell and crew - just joyful funs.

Requires some suspension of the cheesy plot rejection reflex. But I liked it.

In conclusion, Eric Roberts is the Big Bad. Whether that is a good thing is up to you.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Kemosabe, It Turns Out, DOES Mean "Honky"

Yes, we saw The Lone Ranger (2013) with Armie Hammer as John Ried and Johnny Depp as Tonto. Yes, it was odd. But we kind of liked it in the end.

It has an interesting frame - a kid at a fair goes to a Wild West tent show and stops at the Indian diorama. The ancient Indian is no dummy, it is old man Tonto, who tells the kid the legend and how it came to be. In short, Depp and Hammer are both chasing Big Bad William Fichtner. When he ambushes and kills all the Texas Rangers following him, Tonto witnesses a white spirit horse revive Reid - although Tonto would have chosen someone smarter.

So now Reid is officially dead, and the Lone Ranger comes to life - the movie takes a while to get here, but it isn't really that slow. Throughout, we get two things:
  • Cool action sequences - fights on train top, fights on horseback on train top, gunfights, chain fights, etc. Since action scenes is a known science for director Gore Verbinsky and crew, these are a blast.
  • Tonto acting mysterious, Native-y and/or crazy, making trades with the dead and feeding the dead crow in his head-dress. This is handled surprisingly well, in my opinion. His spirituality is both deep, real, fake and crazy. - SPOILER - His tribe considers him to be insane. 
This movie was not the embarrassment that it was branded, but I can't say it was a masterpiece. There were some truly interesting things going on, about legends, story-telling, revenge and spirituality, and there was some fun action, but they didn't really come together. I think their worst problem was trying to do too much. Now John Carter was trashed in a similar way - cost too much, nobody will be interested in that old story, etc. But JC stuck to a more-or-less simple adventure story, without too many themes and flourishes.

Somehow, I wonder if this movie isn't what Verbinsky and Depp wanted Rango to be. It had the same love for and subversion of the Western myth. But in Lone Ranger, they got to film in the real Monument Valley.

In conclusion, no one asks who that masked man is.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Turning Japanese

The Wolverine is one of my favorite movie superheroes, mainly due to the magnificent Hugh Jackman. But he was only part of the ensemble in the X-Men movies, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine was a mess. The Wolverine (2103) might be the Wolverine movie we were looking for.

It seems that Mr. Wolverine was in Hiroshima when the bomb was dropped, in a Japanese POW camp, at the bottom of a deep well. He protected a Japanese soldier down there, and now, in the present day, that soldier is a dying rich industrialist. He has sent cute punky Rila Fukushima to bring Logan to Japan to pay off that debt. There he gets involved in Intrigues and Machinations. He also has bad dreams and gets the chance to lose his immortal powers, find someone to love and die with her.

Three things:
  1. I don't really get the whole superpowers-are-a-burden thing. Iron Man does it too. 
  2. The Japan setting is nicely done, especially the little idyll in a seaside village. It has an almost Studio Ghibli feel to the sweet nostalgia.
  3. But the best part, for me, was the Jean Grey flashbacks. She is sweet and accepting, and yet she represents the temptation of death and oblivion. But mostly, Famke Janssen makes her really mythic. I want to watch X-Men 3 again now.
To prep for this movie, we watched Van Helsing again, with Jackman in the title role (yes, we own it, in a small collection of somehow steam-punkish fantasies including League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Brothers Grimm). Our conclusion: A fun movie, with great art direction and a middle section that's a little slow. Also, Jackman looks great in an overcoat and slouch hat.