A Movie A Day #173: Great Balls of Fire! (1989, directed by Jim McBride)


In the 1950s, Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis Quaid) plays what his cousin, Jimmy Swaggart (Alec Baldwin), calls the devil’s music.  After signing a contract with Sam Phillips (Trey Wilson), Jerry becomes a star with his wild man persona and crazed piano playing.  When Elvis is drafted, it appears that Jerry is destined to take over as the new King of Rock and Roll.  But, then, while touring England, the press discovers that Jerry is married to his 13 year-old cousin, Myra (Winona Ryder).  When Jerry refuses to apologize for his private life, his career falls apart.

The real Jerry Lew Lewis has stated many times that he hates this musical biopic and that it has very little in common with his actual life.  Jerry has a point.  Great Balls of Fire is a highly stylized film, one that greatly sanitizes both the life of Jerry Lee Lewis and the early days of rock and roll.  In the film, there’s no struggle or even hard work on the road to becoming a star.  Jerry just drops off a recording of himself playing piano and viola! He’s a star!  Soon, teenagers are dancing around his convertible, both civil rights protestors and white Southern cops start dancing whenever they see him driving down the street, the local radio DJ waves whenever he sees them, and Jerry’s sneaking into Mississippi so that he can marry his thirteen year-old cousin.

Great Balls of Fire! takes a superficially mater of fact approach to Jerry’s marriage to Myra, neither condemning nor excusing, though it does cheat by casting the 18 year-old Winona Ryder as the 13 year-old Myra.  (If the film had cast an actress who was closer to Myra’s actual age, Great Balls of Fire! would never have been released.)  Fortunately, history helped the movie out by making Jimmy Swaggart into Jerry’s main critic.  Alec Baldwin’s performance as Jimmy Swaggart makes his interpretation of Donald Trump look subtle, nuanced, and award-worthy.

Dennis Quaid, at the height of his 80s stardom, is ideally cast as Jerry Lee Lewis, giving a good if broad performance and doing a convincing job lip-syncing to the music.  Quaid has said that he was struggling with an addiction to cocaine while filming Great Balls of Fire! and that might have made him the perfect actor to play the always conflicted and always wild Jerry Lee Lewis.  The best thing about the film is that Jerry Lee Lewis provided the music, re-recording his best known songs.  While the movie may not tell the true story of Jerry Lee Lewis, it does feature enough of his music that it is obvious why Jerry Lee Lewis nearly became the king of rock and roll.

 

One Hit Wonders #4: NA NA HEY HEY KISS HIM GOODBYE by Steam (Fontana Records 1969)


cracked rear viewer

Singer Gary DeCarlo died this past week at age 75. Who the heck is Gary DeCarlo, you may well ask? The name may not be familiar, but the song he sang that had a two-week run at #1 in 1969 sure is:

The song was written by DeCarlo and his friends Paul Leka and Dale Frasheur in the early 60’s when they were in a Bridgeport, CT doo-wop group. Later that decade, when DeCarlo was looking for a B-side for a single he recorded, he dug up this old tune and it was put together in the studio. The band Steam in that video wasn’t really a band at all, just some dudes lip-synching DeCarlo’s hit!

“Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” was resurrected in 1977 when the Chicago White Sox organist at Comiskey Park began playing it whenever the Sox’s opposing pitcher got knocked out of the ballgame. Soon other sports…

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Music Video of the Day: So Excellent by Kylie Mole (1988, dir. ???)


I’m not sure how I ended up on the Australasian side of YouTube music videos. But I’m glad I did. I’m hooked on listening to Big On Love by Models.

Kylie Mole is a character created by comedian Mary-Anne Fahey. The character was so successful that she not only did a couple songs, but even wrote a book called My Diary By Kylie Mole. She is credited with popularizing the term “bogan.” According to Wikipedia, the character of Captain Boomerang “has been reinvented as a bogan instead of his typical garish personality.”

I guess that explains the AC/DC song when they introduce him in Suicide Squad and the poster in this video.

Suicide Squad (2016, dir. David Ayer)

Suicide Squad (2016, dir. David Ayer)

You can also see the gun-toting panda in the background.

Suicide Squad (2016, dir. David Ayer)

Suicide Squad (2016, dir. David Ayer)

What exactly is a bogan? I’m not going to try and classify it. There are sites that do it. There also appears to be a movement to reclaim the term. You can get an idea of what she is making fun of just by watching the video.

Yes, she did do some things with Kylie Minogue, such as the compilation below:

Enjoy!

Film Review: Baby Driver (dir by Edgar Wright)


Baby Driver, the new film from director Edgar Wright, is awesome!

That’s the succinct way of putting it and, if you really want to fully enjoy this film, I suggest that you stop reading this review now. There’s no way that a review cannot, to a certain extent, spoil a movie.  Baby Driver is a kinetic blend of action, comedy, romance, and music and it is a movie that you should see without any preconceived notions and expectations.  It’s a movie that earns the right to surprise you with just how good and entertaining it is.  It’s a movie that you should experience fresh.

So, go see the movie.  Seriously, go right now.  GET OUT OF HERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!  This review will still be waiting for you when you get back.  Who knows?  Maybe, while you’re watching the movie, I’ll actually correct some of the typos.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, go away.  I’ll wait for you to return.

la dee da la dee da…

Okay, did you see the movie?  It’s really great, isn’t it?

As a result of the childhood car accident that killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been left with a permanent case of tinnitus.  He uses music to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.  There’s almost never a time that Baby isn’t listening to his ipod.  When we first see Baby, he’s sitting behind the wheel of a car, singing along with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion.  The second time that we see him, he’s getting coffee while listening to Harlem Shuffle.  In a delirious homage to Singin’ In The Rain (and in a scene that puts the opening traffic jam of La La Land to shame), Baby literally dances across the streets of Los Angeles.  For Baby, every day is a musical.

Of course, Baby doesn’t just use music to block out the ringing.  He also uses the music (and an ever-present pair of sunglasses) to keep the world out.  He rarely speaks or even makes eye contact and, as long as he’s listening to his ipod, he has an excuse not to interact.  He doesn’t have to explain the small scars around his eyes or how he makes his money.  The few times that he does speak to people, it’s to record their voices, which he then turns into music.  Music and the driving are the only two ways this orphan can express his feelings.

When the movie begins, Baby appears to be close to only two men.  One is his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).  Baby lives with Joseph, in an apartment where Baby regularly stashes thousands of dollars.  Joseph always watches in disapproval as Baby hides the money under the floorboards.  Joseph signs at Baby that he deserves better than the life he’s leading.  Baby always signs back that he’s only a few jobs away from being done.

Baby’s other father figure is Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Doc is a rich and connected man.  At times, he seems to sincerely care about Baby but there are other times when Doc is just as quick to threaten to kill him and everyone that he loves.  Doc plans bank robberies for a living.  Doc may change associates from robbery to robbery but one thing always remains consistent.  Baby is always his driver because Baby is the best.  As Doc explains it, the first time he saw Baby, he was stealing Doc’s Mercedes.  Baby drives for Doc as a way of paying off his debt to the older man but you still believe Baby’s sincerity when he tells Doc, “We’re a team.”  (One the film’s best throw-away jokes is the line where Doc reveals that he knows where Baby got the idea to say that.)

Things start to change for Baby when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress who appears to love music just as much he does.  For Baby and Debora, it’s love at first sight but Doc has one more job that he needs Baby for.  It’s their most dangerous job yet and, making thing even more complicated, are the three people who Doc has recruited to work with Baby.  Buddy (Jon Hamm) is a former wall street banker who is eager to prove what a badass he is.  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is his wife, who enjoys talking about how many of their former partners have died.  And finally, there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a complete and total psycho who brags about never telling a single story that doesn’t end with someone getting killed.

Baby Driver is a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline, perhaps the closest that we will ever get to a genuine pulp musical.  The action scenes left me literally breathless.  I saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and, before the film started, there was a clip of Edgar Wright listing his favorite car chases.  He listed all of the usual suspects, Bullitt, The French Connection, Mad Max: Thunder Road.  The chases scenes in Baby Driver can proudly be listed next to all of those scenes.  This is genuinely exciting crime film, featuring wonderfully over-the-top turns from Foxx, Hamm, and especially Spacey.

But you know what?  Baby Driver may be a great action film but what makes it special is that it’s also a film with a heart.  Rather bravely, Edgar Wright has not only made an action musical but he’s also mixed in a very sincere and unabashedly sentimental love story.  You never doubt for a second that Baby would give up everything — music, driving, even his life — for Debora.  The scenes between Baby and Debora are almost deliriously romantic.  Ansel Elgort and Lily James both share a very likable and very real chemistry.  You want things to work out for Debora and Baby.  You feel like they belong together and, when it looks like either Baby or Debora might be in danger, you worry for both of them.  As exciting as the film’s action sequences were, it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes and that was almost totally due to the performances of Elgort and James.

Baby Driver is one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year.  See it this weekend!  If you’ve already seen it, see it again!  This film deserves to be rewarded.

 

 

A Movie A Day #172: Sensation (1994, directed by Brian Grant)


Doctor Ian Burton (Eric Roberts) is a college professor who believes that objects retain impressions of the past.  To prove his theory (and hopefully, not lose tenure), Burton recruits one of his students, Lila Reed (Kari Wuhrer), who has shown that she may have psychic abilities.  Lila holds objects and she sees the past.  At first, she is intrigued but then she realizes that she keeps seeing the same woman in her visions.  The woman was a former student of Burton’s.  She was murdered and the good Doctor Burton is the number one suspect.  Can Lila use her power to solve the crime and clear Burton’s name?  Or is Burton guilty and using her for something more sinister than just testing a thesis?

Sensation is one of the many softcore neo-noirs that used to regularly appear, “after hours,” on HBO and Cinemax in the 1990s.  Sensation has a tagline (“An experience in terror”) that it never lives up to but it is still watchable because of the combination of the sexiness of Kari Wuhrer and the strangeness of Eric Roberts.  The tawdry mystery will not fool anyone and Wuhrer’s visions were all done better in The Dead Zone but Sensation deserves some credit for at least trying to be a little more creative than the average 1990s straight-to-video release.

Keep an eye out for Ron Pearlman, as the lead detective on the case.  He does not get to do much but he’s still Ron Pearlman!

 

4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday Ray Harryhausen


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking. Special Effects wizard Ray Harryhausen was born on this date in 1920. A protogee of Willis O’Brien, Harryhausen created some of the most iconic monsters in fantasy film history. Here are 4 shots celebrating the genius of Ray Harryhausen!

It Came From Beneath The Sea (Columbia 1955)

20 Million Miles to Earth (Columbia 1957)

The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (Columbia 1958)

One Million Years BC (Warner Bros-Hammer 1966)