Tuesday, September 1, 2015

BREAKING AWAY (1979), THE JERK (1979)

1979

I admit to being a bit biased here, but I've always thought of 1979 as the best movie year ever. My bias may be partly because of the fact that this was the year I started my senior year of high school and maybe I saw it as the end of an era...Maybe. But hey...that year gave us Apocalypse, Now, All That Jazz, Alien....and that's just movies that begin with A! Anyway, the first movie I re-watched for this year is definitely a good one to come out your senior year...

Dennis Christopher in
Breaking Away
Breaking Away- This story about a small town underdog bicycle team received good reviews when it came out and I remember it fondly, though I'm not sure it would be on my all-time list or anything.

So I was curious what my reaction would be after watching it again... And after viewing, I think the film has aged very well. It's still has the kind of underdog Rocky vibe to it, but I honestly think I like it more than Rocky at this point. A well-written and performed story with a lot of charm and humor.

Do I want to go to college? Do I want to speak Italian? Do I want to race bicycles? Well, life is full of questions when you're seventeen, isn't it? Anyway, Breaking Away is definitely on my on my 1001 list.

Steve Martin is The Jerk
The Jerk-The late 70's was the era of Steve Martin. He seemingly burst onto the scene out of nowhere to be just about everywhere all the time! Keep in mind, this was a time that was dominated by the three networks. Martin was always on The Tonight Show, often as guest host. He hosted the new Saturday Night Live show so often, that he was as close as anyone to being a regular as anyone who wasn't actually called a regular. And there was also his prime time specials. And then there was the record albums, of which I had every one, including: Let's Get Small and A Wild and Crazy Guy. Steve was always and I mean always in character as the goofball, dense but fun-loving guy named...well...it was Steve Martin. He didn't break character...and that I loved!  But then I watched him on a Barbara Walters interview as...himself? Not the wild and crazy guy! I remember being so let down seeing that he was more of a regular guy than his goofball alter-ego persona. But, it was better for him and his fans in the long run.

Then the movies-where he did maintain the Martin character persona (At least until Pennies from Heaven). First, there was the funny short film The Absent-Minded Waiter as well a cameo in The Muppet Movie. Steve's version of Maxwell's Silver Hammer in Robert Stigwood's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is probably the highlight of that largely dismal film.

But Martin's decade ended with his magnum opus, The Jerk. It's still funny, if not admittedly silly. The plot has Steve as Navin Johnson as a white guy who was born a poor-black child (according to the narrator) and leaves home to obtain (and eventually lose) a fortune. But the plot is just an excuse for gags and funny lines from Navin, who seems to misinterpret everything: Calling his dog Shit-Head when told that's what he should name him, thinking a blow job was a type of employment opportunity, thinking someone who is trying to shoot him is trying to shoot the cans of motor oil next to him, complaining to a waiter about snails in his dates food after he orders escargot-are just a few examples. Navin is so good-natured and innocent about it all, you just have to laugh. At least I still do.

Martin made many fine comedies in the years that followed, but The Jerk will probably always represent the peak of Martinmania.
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Breaking Away and The Jerk both made the 1001 list, but here are a few more films that I've seen that didn't quite make the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die cut.

1. 10
I remember the part of this movie when Bo Derek is running down the beach in slow motion and...that's really all I can remember about 10.

10

2. Americathon
I remember going to see this off-beat comedy about a a telethon to save America from corporate interests? or was it Native Americans? I don't remember. Apparently, neither does anyone else. Maybe it's time for an Americathon revival? It did have an interesting cast list that included: John Ritter, Fred Willard, Elvis Costello, Meatloaf, Peter Marshall, Chief Dan George and Tommy Lasorda!

3. Hair
The hippie musical re-imagined by Milos Forman has always been a favorite of mine. I'll take it over Grease anyday.

4. The China Syndrome
A tense drama (from what I remember) about a leak at a nuclear power plant. I'm a little surprised this isn't in the 1001 book.

5. The Concord Airport ’79, Beyond the Poseidon Adventure
The disaster movie craze of the 70's had really petered out by the time these sequels came out. If these movies didn't completely kill off the disaster genre, then Irwin Allen's When Time Ran Out put the final nail in the coffin next year.

6. California Dreamin'
I like the movie Califonia Dreamin'. And I know the main reason I like it is because I saw it while I was a senior in high school and it was a nice and pleasant diversion about guys and gals on the beach. If it had come out a couple of years later, I'd probably have no use for it. That being said, I haven't seen it since 1979 and probably hold it in higher regard than it deserves.


California Dreamin'

7. The In-Laws
Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in one of the all-time great movie teamings.

8. Fast Break
After John Travolta hit it big in movies, I guess it was time to make fellow Welcome Back, Kotter alum Gabe Kaplan a movie star! Didn't work out quite as well. Aside form that, Fast Break is a nice little film with Gabe as a basketball coach to a bunch of misfits. (That's how I remember it, anyway)

9. Going in Style
Touching comedy about three outcast elderly gents (George Burns, Art  Carney, Lee Strasberg) who plan a bank robbery just to feel alive again.

10. Boardwalk
1979 was a good movie year for Lee Strasberg. And he gets to kick some young punk's ass in this movie!

11. Caligula
Actually filmed a few years earlier, but how can I leave Caligula off a list of 1979 movies since that was the year it came out? I remember going to the midnight movie to see this one. I guess I was just really interested in Roman history. Yeah, that must have been the reason.
Malcolm McDowell as Caligula

12. The Kids are Alright
I was a Who fan. Still am. Went to see Tommy in 1975. Went to see this in 1979. What? Who? What was I saying?

13. Norma Rae, The Rose
Oscar worthy performances by Sally Field and Bette Midler in these two films. But the Academy could only give it to one. Sorry, Bette.

14. North Dallas Forty
One of the best movies ever made about American football. Actually, I can't think of a better one.

15. Meatballs
Yes, the silly summer camp movie doesn't really date that well. But I had to go see it at the time just to see Saturday Night Live's Bill Murray in his first starring vehicle. And that would still be the main reason to see it if I ever choose to sit through it again.

16. Phantasm
Bizarre, creepy, macabre horror movie that I actually didn't see until I went off to college the next year. Obviously a favorite of a bunch of drunk, loud college students. And who can forget the Tall Man?

Phantasm
17. Wise Blood

Putting a rather film unfriendly Flannery O'Connor story on film is a tricky task, but I admit John Huston does a nice job with this one.

18. Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Don't try to be 2001: A Space Odyssey! Don't try to be Star Wars! Be Star Trek! But we had to wait until Wrath of Khan for that to happen.

19. Time After Time
Exciting thriller with H. G. Wells chasing Jack the Ripper through a time machine into modern San Francisco. Sorry that I missed the stars Malcolm McDowell and Jack Warner when they re-united at Dragon Con last year.

20. The Wanderers/The Warriors
Two gang movies from this year. The Warriors is the cult film that more people seem to remember (Warriors! Come out to plaaaayyy!) but The Wanderers, which is set in the early 60's is worth remembering too.

21. Rock N Roll High School
The true high school musical from the time I went to high school (And not Grease). And just for the presence of The Ramones and my former girlfriend P. J. Soles...What more do you need?
P. J. Soles and The Ramones
What else do you need?

Friday, August 28, 2015

FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS (2006), LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA (2006),

ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II MONTH
(Post 10 of 10)


If Clint Eastwood just made one of these two films about the United States invasion of Iwo Jima, it would have been a nice achievement. But the fact that he made both back to back is most impressive indeed. Flags of Our Fathers is from the American perspective, but it is far from jingoistic. It goes into how the selling of the war was so as important in keeping the war effort going.
And from the American perspective-War is Hell.

Letters from Iwo Jima twists the perspective to the Japanese soldiers, most of whom know they will not be coming back. Iwo Jima may even be better than Flags of Our Fathers, as it neatly incorporates aspects of the other film in subtle ways, such as showing us the Japanese solider suicides in the cave in which the bodies were found by the American soldiers in the other film.
And from the Japanese perspective-War is Hell.



From the Soundtrack of All This and World War II

Perennially sultry song stylist Tina Turner is one performer who can really make just about any song her own. Her version of Come Together may be may favorite song on the soundtrack. She fared less well a couple of years later when she joined the chorus for the finale of Robert Stigwood's Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Tina performs with Sir Paul in 1986.
Come Together

Lou Reizner and Will Malone are primarily know as producers, but they have a chance to show off their vocal talents (with the aid of a lot of synthesizers) on You Never Give Me Your Money.


Will Malone did the soundtrack to the
British horror film Raw Meat.
Note to self: Watch a movie called
Raw Meat ASAP!

Lou Reizner was one of the producers
of Rick Wakeman's 70's magnum opus
Journey to the Centre of the Earth.
You Never Give Me Your Money


The London Symphony Orchestra concludes the soundtrack with a version (appropriately enough) of The End.

The All That and World War II soundtrack is a mixed bag for sure, but I'm still glad I went through it.


The End
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL7YNM_VOGM&index=25&list=PLopo84-Y-n5mDT4CQvm5Lz6P2nhOWsNAO

Might be time to listen to some of the originals now.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

LIFE IS BEAUTIFUL (1996, ITALY)

ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II MONTH
(Post 9 of 10)


When you look at the plot of  Life is Beautiful, it seems like it could have been a disaster along the lines of Jerry Lewis's infamous The Day the Clown Cried. Robert Benigni plays a Jew living in Germany with his family shortly after the Nazis take power. He goes through a lot of escapades, romance and Buster Keatonesque shtick in the first half of the movie. Then Benigni and his son are taken away to a concentration camp where he spends most of the time trying to convince his son it's all a game. The mixing of the the slapstick and tragedy (Frankly, more successful than the mixing of unrelated themes in All This and World War II) actually works. It's sad, tragic, but inspirational at the same time. And Benigni ended up as one of the few acting Oscar winners ever to win that honor in a non-English language movie.

From the Soundtrack of All This and World War II

I guess it's okay to call Henry Gross a one-hit wonder since he proudly alludes to that title in the picture below. That hit of course was Shannon from 1976. That song is memorable partly for Henry's falsetto, which he also uses in the soundtrack's version of Help!



Help!
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJUimA2hrIQ


Legendary musician Peter Gabriel, with Genesis and with those crazy 80's videos, lends a distinctive version of Strawberry Fields Forever to the soundtrack. Now if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go listen to Shock the Monkey or watch the Sledgehammer video for old times sake.


Strawberry Fields Forever
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBXXqpOq9po

Saturday, August 22, 2015

THE SORROW AND THE PITY (1972)

ALL THIS AND WORLD WAR II MONTH
(Post 8 of 10)


The Sorrow and the Pity is a documentary about the French occupation by Germany during the war. It was filmed in 1969, which made it close enough to the events where you can still get some first person testimony from those who lived through it. It is often illuminating and has a most interesting cast of real life characters, including resistance fighters, regular French citizens who had to live under the Nazis and even some insights from some former Nazis!

This has been one that I've always thought I needed to see but never got around to until now. It is also the film within a film that Woody Allen sees multiple times throughout Annie Hall.


From the Soundtrack of All This and World War II


Status Quo had only one hit on the American charts, which was Pictures of Matchstick Men in 1967. A one-hit wonder, right? Wrong! They had over 60 charted hits in the UK, more than any other rock group.
Why didn't they make it bigger in the U. S.? What I've listened to them, I've liked. Go figure.


Staus Quo's rather groovy 1974 album cover
Getting Better

According to the album below, Frankie Laine was America's No. 1 song stylist at the point this album came out in the 50's. He may be best known for his recording of Rawhide, played every week on the long running show and in reruns ever after. He also showed his cheeky side by his spirited performance of the opening song to Mel Brooks' Blazing Saddles. He brings this same humorous bravado to Maxwell's Silver Hammer on the All This and World War II soundtrack.



Maxwell's Silver Hammer
The Brothers Johnson brought their soulful stylings to a handful of hits in the 70's and 80's, the most well known to me is probably Stomp! from 1980. The Brothers bring their funk to Hey Jude on the soundtrack and later did their own version of The Beatles Come Together. And honestly, pictures don't get much funkier than the brother's picture sleeve below.


Hey Jude