Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Elvis Movies: The Good, The Bad, The Unwatchable

Notice I didn't use the word "Great" because there aren't any great Elvis movies, just some servicable ones and some to skip at all costs. Elvis, of course, was the quintessential entertainer on stage and set the groundwork for every rock star that followed him. He was after all the first rock star. But he also set an example for what NOT to do with your fame: pop pills, wear rhinestone jumpsuits, make thirty-one movies. Yeah, don't do that.

Anyway, Elvis wanted to be a serious actor. He wanted to be the next James Dean or Marlon Brando. But he never really would have been, nor would he get the chance. His only serious acting jobs were praised by the directors he worked for like Michael Curtiz (who directed Elvis in King Creole), but his manager Colonel Tom Parker (neither a real colonel nor a real manager) made sure Elvis got trapped in the worst contracts for the worst movies. He wanted Elvis to make music, not become the next Marlon Brando. The '68 Comeback Special was the result and it was a huge success. So Colonel Tom finally got his way. But in the meantime audiences were tortured with some pretty bad flicks, especially in the latter days of The King's film career, while the Colonel counted his greenbacks. It wasn't always that bad, however.

Even these films aren't for everybody. The dramatic roles are few and few of those are good. The rest are campy to say the least. But for me that's what gives them charm. They were very thin in plot and were just an excuse to see Elvis perform for the general public who would never get to see him.

It Happened At The World's Fair

Set in the 1962 World's Fair in Seattle this has a typical love story, a cute little girl, and Elvis as a cropduster pilot. A young Kurt Russell in his first film has a bit part.

Fun In Acapulco

Ursulla Andress and cliff diving make this one more entertaining than most.

Follow That Dream

This is probably my favorite. Elvis does a fine job of acting, the story is unique, and it is genuinely funny.

Flaming Star

Widely considered the best film Elvis ever made. This is totally a dramatic film, a harsh Western examining racial conflict. Elvis gives the performance of his career as a half-breed torn between two worlds. Only two songs were used in the movie. Of course, being a non-musical film it didn't make as much money, which led to Colonel Tom's decision to keep Elvis away from such roles.

Jailhouse Rock

This is Elvis' most famous movie and one many consider his best. It is also a dramatic film with some great songs. I am not a big fan of the additions to the title song. The choreography has become famous but they should have just left the song alone.


Most of The King's films fall into this category. Titles like Double Trouble, Spinout, G.I. Blues, Roustabout, Frankie and Johnny, and Girl Happy. Not good but not all bad. I put King Creole into this category even though it starred Walter Matthau and was directed by Michael Curtiz. Sure, it is one of Elvis' better acting performances but I find parts of it silly. I put his debut film in this category too, the western Love Me Tender in which Presley got third billing. Paradise, Hawaiian Style is also "Okay". My favorites in this category are the camp classics Viva Las Vegas

...with Ann-Margret who admittedly annoys me.

and Clambake

...with Shelly Fabares and Bill Bixby. Super corny but still entertaining with it's Prince and the Pauper storyline.


Movies like Tickle Me, Blue Hawaii (where Angela Lansbury uses a ridiculous Southern accent), Speedway, and Kid Galahad. They have few memorable moments and few memorable songs (although my favorite Elvis song, "I Can't Help Falling In Love With You" is in Blue Hawaii). Wild in the Country starts out very interesting and then goes nowhere.


These should be avoided at all costs. These are ones even die-hard Elvis fans like me cannot sit through:
Live a Little, Love a Little- Watch a little.
Easy Come, Easy Go- Just GO, please!
Kissin' Cousins- I think the title says enough. Elvis in a "stawberry blonde" wig is not good cinema.
Harum Scarum- Cambodian films have higher production value. Was this filmed in somebody's backyard sandbox?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Top Ten Bob Dylan Albums

10. Slow Train Coming

This was Dylan's first Christian album and was very influential in the CCM market. "Gotta Serve Somebody" and "Changed My Way of Thinking" were the biggest hits.

9. Another Side of Bob Dylan

"It Ain't Me Babe" became one of Bob's biggest hits and was covered many times, most notably by Johnny Cash. "My Back Pages" and "All I Really Wanna Do" are some of the other great ones from this underrated classic.

8. Nashville Skyline

Dylan goes full country! "Lay Lady Lay" might be the most played Dylan song ever besides "Like A Rolling Stone". The duet with Johnny Cash on "Girl From The North Country" is worth buying the album. This is also Dylan's shortest album.

7. Desire

Best known for the biographical hard-hitting "Hurricane" (about convicted boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter), but my favorite song is "Sara". Emmylou Harris, then unknown, was a backup vocalist.

6. Bob Dylan

It took some years for Dylan's debut album to get the appreciation it deserves. It showcases some early influences for Bob with tracks like "House of the Rising Sun", "In My Time of Dying", and "Man of Constant Sorrow". The best songs of all are "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down" and "Song For Woody" written for his biggest influence Woody Guthrie.

5. Highway 61 Revisited

Home to the most famous Dylan of all "Like A Rolling Stone".

4. Blood on the Tracks

Lyrically one of Bob's strongest records with the masterpiece "Tangled Up In Blue" and other greats "Idiot Wind" and "Shelter from the Storm". This is Dylan's best from the 70s.

3. Blonde on Blonde

Considered by many to be Dylan's greatest work this double album is full of inspiration and new sounds. Lyrically it goes from the absurd "Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat" to the deep and mysterious "Visions of Johanna". The most famous tracks are definitely "Rainy Day Women #12 & 35", "I Want You", and "Just Like a Woman" one of the prettiest songs Dylan ever wrote. One of my personal favorites is "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" which actually rang true for me for about eight years. And pre-dating The Beatles "White album" by two years this is also the first significant double album in rock 'n roll history.

2. Bringing It All Back Home

Lyrically this is probably my favorite Dylan album. "It's Alright" and "Gates of Eden" are masterworks of poetry, while "Mr. Tambourine Man", with it's vivid imagery, inspired The Byrds to take it on to further popularity. "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" is also one of my favorites. The most popular track is the first one, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" which first brought the electric Dylan to the world.

1. The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan

Dylan's follow-up to his debut finally got the attention of the critics and the masses. Unlike the first album which had only two original compositions this was loaded with Dylan's own brilliance. Kicking off the album was the song that would solidify him as the poet of the 60s "Blowin' in the Wind". Every track is memorable, some for their comedy("Talking World War III Blues" and "I Shall Be Free"), some for their beauty ("A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"), and some for their "finger-pointin'" ("Oxford Town" and "Masters of War") My favorite Dylan song of all is here- "Girl from the North Country"- so it's no wonder this is my favorite album.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The name is Bond, James Bond: The Best and Worst of 007

Here are my favorites and biggest disappointments in Ian Fleming's world of the greatest fictional spy ever created.

Who is the Best Bond?

Minus George Lazenby who played the super spy only once, these are our choices.

For me the worst Bond of all was obviously Timothy Dalton:

The best Bond is the original Bond, against whom all others are compared.

Sean Connery

I like both Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore (at least in some of his films) but the only guy close to Connery for me is current 007 Daniel Craig

Best Opening Sequence

I have always liked the jetpack at the beginning of Thunderball and Pierce Brosnan's Bond kicks butt in the Tomorrow Never Dies intro but the best opening of any Bond film has to be...
Casino Royale

The black and white, the intensity, and the shocking realness make this one stand out from all the rest.

Silliest Moment
Sure, there are plenty. Moonraker is silly almost all the way through. The Lawrence of Arabia theme playing as Bond and Anya walk across the desert in The Spy Who Loved Me is total cheese. But the most ridiculous, fall-on-the-floor moment that I guess was supposed to be shocking is Yaphet Kotto's "Kananga" blowing up in Live and Let Die

Didn't anyone realize young Mike Myers types would just spoof this later on?

Best Bond Villains

My personal favorites are:

1. Rosa Klebb in From Russia With Love

Lotte Lenya plays one creepy villain and I love the stiletto orthopedic pumps!

2. Jaws in The Spy Who Loved Me

This guy would be the life of every party. He's a walking bottle opener!

3. Le Chiffre in Casino Royale

Perfect jerk you love to hate.

4. Ernst Estavro Blofeld in many films

Played here by Donald Pleasance, this most famous Bond villain (copied by Mike Myers as Dr. Evil in the Austin Powers films) was played by a few others including Telly Savalas.

The worst villains are many, including Christopher Walken's character from A View To A Kill and the guy with the amazing face lift in Die Another Day.

Best Bond Babes

1. Vesper Lynd played by Eva Green in Casino Royale

2. Anya Amasova played by Barbara Bach in The Spy Who Loved Me

Later wife of Ringo Starr.

3. Honey Ryder played by Ursulla Andress in Dr. No

The first Bond Babe!

4. Jinx Johnson played by Halle Berry in Die Another Day

Wearing a copy of the original Bond swimsuit worn by Ursulla Andress.

5. Teresa DiVincenzo played by Diana Rigg in On Her Majesty's Secret Service

The only wife of James Bond and other than Vesper Lynd the only woman he ever really loved.

My favorite James Bond films

1. Thunderball

This is the best of the Connery films to me. Bond is BAD! He kicks butt, there is action galore, and I love the jetpack sequence!

2. From Russia With Love

Cool story and cool villains.

3. Casino Royale

The beginning of the story, the making of the legend, and the most visceral heart-pounding action of them all.

4. The Spy Who Loved Me

I hate the Carly Simon theme song but this is Roger Moore's best one to me.

5. Tomorrow Never Dies

Pierce Brosnan really comes into his own in this one. The opening sequence is one of the best.

The worst Bond film is probably Moonraker which is too silly to take seriously but there are a few bad ones like Octopussy, A View To A Kill (mostly because Roger Moore is just too old for the gig anymore), and The Living Daylights which bores me just thinking about it.
But the most overrated Bond film of all in my opinion is Goldfinger.

007 is outsmarted the entire film. Goldfinger always stays a step ahead and even in the final moment when Bond should save the day someone else diffuses the bomb while Bond stands dumbfounded. Some of the most memorable scenes come from that movie, but I like Bond as a hero not a lucky buffoon.

The most underrated Bond film is of course On Her Majesty's Secret Service

Audiences didn't like George Lazenby as Sean Connery's replacement but compared to later Bonds he seems just fine. This is also a pivotal point in Bond's legacy since it is the film when he gets married and his wife is killed. It forever shapes the character and is frequently reffered to in other films. The action is top notch and the villain Blofeld played by Telly Savalas is a central character in Bond lore. I highly recommend this one.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Hollywood's Perfect Romantic Male

Warning! This little critique contains huge, massive spoilers for movies you might not have seen. If you notice any movie titles in bold below and still want to see them, or you are a man and your wife WANTS you to see them...read at your own risk!

My theory is that Hollywood's idea of the perfect romantic man is a DEAD man! I recently sat down and watched the film Nights In Rodanthe with my wife and that's when it occurred to me. Every time a woman has a romantic fling with the "man of her dreams", except for Bridges of Madison County where they never see each other again....he DIES! Ok, not "every" time but enough for me. A few obvious examples:

Message In A Bottle- Like Sleepless In Seattle except it's in North Carolina, she falls for him over some longhand scribblins' instead of the radio, and he DIES! By the way, as much as I hate this movie it is light years better than Sleepless In Seattle. And who puts personal messages to their dead wife in bottles and throws them in the ocean where any nosy idiot can read them?

Up Close And Personal- Besides the sickening age difference between Robert Redford and Michele Pfieffer this has another predictable ending where "super-macho-romantic-man" goes off somewhere dangerous to get a story and as expected women everywhere have to grab their hankies. What a guy! You don't have to argue over unfolded laundry or how often the trash gets taken out, cuz he's a corpse!

Cold Mountain- Any guy who would go AWOL in the middle of a war, cross hundreds of miles of wilderness crawling with soldiers for either side who want to kill him, traverse freezing treacherous mountains to be with a woman he met once, give her a passionate love scene and then DIE! Hallelujah! Write songs about that fella! He doesn't even think of having a beer with the boys, playing poker, or watching football! He's a keeper...er, uh guess not.

Titanic- The biggest weepfest of all. It isn't enough to find the only guy who ever treats you like a lady, paint you in the nude, have sex with you in some stranger's car in steerage, but then he becomes a human popsicle to save you! Change your name to his (even though you weren't married to him and only knew him about 24 hours) because no man above room temperature or WAY above freezing will ever do that for you. No wonder half the women of America fell for Leo that year. He'd rather die than complain about your mother! Plus, that's the most I ever cried after a movie other than The Adventures of Pluto Nash. Just kidding, I've never seen Pluto Nash. (I just wanted to put that in bold to confuse those who heeded the warning above. Laugh with me!)

Sure, there are examples of women dying too, but usually after years of marriage and kids, like Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias and Stepmom. They never show some guy hook up with Deborah Kerr on a weekend fling on a cruise ship and then when he tries to meet up with her later a cab hits her and cripples her for life before they can meet at the Empire State Building...um, sorry that was An Affair To Remember...but still she aint' dead! Yeah, and Jane Wyman goes blind in Magnificent Obsession , but STILL not bobbing in the North Atlantic like chilled chum!

I just realized that Hollywood love stories in general are very cruel. Most times a little love is followed by Jason Voorhees with a machete! Run! Run from romance like OJ ran from the cops! Men everywhere, cherish your pint nights, poker tourneys, and fantasy sports leagues before its TOO LATE!!

I know what you're thinking, why didn't I come up with this BEFORE Valentine's Day? I wish I knew.