Sunday, November 30, 2008
For many Americans, the Christmas Season doesn't actually get underway until the Noreclo Santa comes sliding down a snowy slope gleefully aboard his famous triple-headed toboggan. For the past few decades this endearing commercial has helped signal the official start of the Holiday Season; who would have ever thought such a festive sight contained a truly dark, terrible, insidious secret?
IMPORTANT HEALTH WARNING! * IMPORTANT HEALTH WARNING!
IMPORTANT HEALTH WARNING! * IMPORTANT HEALTH WARNING!
The famous Needtovent Research Lab, secretly ensconced somewhere among the towering peaks and verdant valleys of the Texas Hill Country (the local Chamber of Commerce's words, not ours) has just announced a horrific medical finding that may forever alter the morning ritual of men worldwide. All adult men should take heed...
No, this discovery has nothing to do with the morning constitutional -- a time-honored, albeit somewhat nasty tradition so embraced by the male population, especially the Alabama Redneck and the Oaxacan Wetback who have both elevated the sounds and quantities associated with the daily dump to incomparable heights.
Rather, this important health warning is issued to those who shave with electric razors -- Norelco, Braun, Remington, Panasonic -- the brand doesn't seem to make a difference. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Needtovent's chief laboratory researcher, Dr. Frederick Currey IV, MD, PhD, BPOE, it has now been proven without a (five o'clock) shadow of a doubt that microscopic hair particles resulting from the savage multi-blade cutting action found in virtually all electric shavers currently on the market are breathed in during the course of shaving, where they eventually find themseleves attached to the inner walls of the lungs. According to Dr. Curry, this invasive action of non-biodegradable hair balls (for lack of a better description) eventually causes such irritation and interference with the otherwise healthy lung tissue that cancer will likely result. This danger is so pervasive that Dr. Curry estimates that the death rate due to lung cancer among adult males caused by the inhalation of these tiny hair particles equals that of those who smoke three packs of Camels a day and, possibly, may even exceed those employed in Wiccan alchemy experiments.
The esteemed Dr. Curry's finding are now being sent to the American Medical Association and a phalanx of scientists at NASA, that quasi-governmental organization responsible for giving us Velcro, Tang and, allegedly, a couple of moon rocks. A separate file is being delivered via bonded courier to Mr. Oliver Biggers, the self-proclaimed arbiter of all human knowledge, known and imagined.
There will be more to come regarding this important medical health finding in the months ahead. In the meantime, consider yourself warned...
Thursday, November 27, 2008
No, the Macy being referred to isn't William H., whose real-life wife has become my favorite "Desperate Housewife" now that Gaby has become frumpy. (Felicity's slightly deviated septum is a real turn-on for, well, let's just say for obvious reasons as most red-blooded men will agree). But, as Warden Jerry L. Nelson would say, I digress...
With the drowsy effects of tryptophan beginning to wear off, Needtovent will now post the Top Three Highlights of this year's Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. In no particular order:
1. The Special Needs Color Guard of America. Unlike what you see in the photograph above, this developmentally disabled color guard from the Sunshine State was sporting new free-fitting blue marching outfits making them look like KABLUEY casting rejects, but we salute them for their courage and dedication. And we especially salute Macy's for inviting this inspirational and worthy group to participate.
2. On the other end of the spectrum, the virtually endless parade of pretty, perky, peewee-sized preadolescent music and dance performers was surely a wet dream for the pedophiles among the 50 million television viewers watching (and leering) worldwide. Hey, in true Holiday Spirit, I guess Macy's felt that even perverts deserve a little love on special occasions. (No photo for this one, sorry).
3. Andy Williams. He's still alive -- and lookin' pretty good, too! It was a nice surprise to see him crooning once again. (And they say only the good die young...)
Postscript: What was with NBC's production team? There were so many technical flaws that it made the average public access broadcast look as polished as -- you guessed it -- Barbie Benton's bannister.
(Needtovent believes in recycling...)
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Thanksgiving is a very special day, indeed. Most of us don't have to go to the office. There's usually a pretty good football game or two on the tube. There's plenty of turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce and, of course, gravy. One can never, ever have too much gravy.
And often there's family. Every holiday has it's downside—the Norman Rockwell insanity of it all. That's why I'm extremely happy to be spending the day quietly, at home, with just Lynda and a bottle of wine or two and my trusty remote for the boob tube. Ozzie and Harriet we are not.
We are, however, card-carrying members of that flourishing American subculture known as Bad Film Fanatics. Bad films made by bad filmmakers. But for Thanksgiving I declare bad is good, or at the very least bad is zany or outrageous or astonishing or hilarious, and so on this special day I would like to personally give thanks to my Top Three Turkey Producers from Hollywood. A trio of motion picture personalities deserving of some holiday punch and all the trimmings.
William Castle -- Ever since the beginning of the film industry movie moguls have searched for dramatic technical innovations that would increase the audience appeal of their productions. Some of these advances—such as sound in 1927 and Technicolor in 1935—permanently enriched the potential of the medium. Castle, bless his heart, was a low-budget producer/director whose “Percepto” process was but one of several cinematic contrivances he is credited with inventing. Ah yes, “Percepto”—this daring (or should I say derriere-ing?) gimmick is something I personally will never forget.
The year is 1959, and the Saturday afternoon matinee is Castle's “The Tingler”. “Brought to you in Percepto!” the ads declared. In fact, this movie was so scary that part of the price of admission went to a life insurance policy (a copy of which was given to you along with your ticket). At eleven years of age I'm already a little apprehensive, but armed with a giant tub of popcorn and a large Dr. Pepper to keep me company, I take a seat and learn that “The Tingler” is a creature created by Vincent Price that “breeds a living organism in the victim's spine, which, if not nullified, will shatter the vertebrae” and thus cause a horribly painful death. The only way to “nullify” the thing is to scream at the top of your lungs.
Big deal. But then I see this monster enter a neighborhood theatre (not unlike the one I'm sitting in), it passes through the lobby (presumably without buying a ticket) and then the screen in MY theatre goes completely dark! Vincent Price's voice booms over the speakers: “Ladies and gentlemen, please do not panic but scream… scream for your lives! The Tingler is loose in this theatre and if you don't scream you may die!” Behind me a girl screams at a hundred decibels (she's actually the candy counter clerk hired by the distributors to do this at each screening) and she then faints, falling to the sticky theater floor. All the while the soundtrack booms at full volume “Help!” “It's on me!” and “Look out, it's under your seat!”
That's when “Percepto” kicks in, and the popcorn and the Dr. Pepper are history. You see, my seat was one of several dozen that had a low-voltage motor hooked up underneath that was triggered by the projectionist just as the movie reached its climax. Very much like the toy hand buzzer giving the false feeling of an electric shock, “Percepto” proved effective despite its low-tech origins. Yes, this was the shock of an eleven-year-old-lifetime, and my first and only Dr. Pepper shower to boot. Thanks for the memory, Mr. Castle.
Irwin Allen -- This “Master of Disaster” gave us such big box-office flicks as “The Towering Inferno” and “The Poseidon Adventure” (featuring Ms. Shelley Winters in a performance that still gives me the willies), but Mr. Allen's appearance here is for his $12-million 'B-movie'—“The Swarm”. One can't help but wonder where the money went. Was it for the laughable killer bees themselves, which resemble colored Styrofoam pellets being tossed casually at the supposed victims? Was it spent on the cinematography, where the bees flying in formation look more like a pinch of nutmeg sprinkled over the lens? Perhaps it went to the zombie-like extras running wildly in slow motion, flapping their arms like penguins trying to fly and, in one case, even bumping into a telephone pole? Or did it go into the screenplay, possessing such lame dialogue as an air force pilot declaring: “Oh my gosh! Bees! Bees! Millions of bees! They're all around me! Bees! Bees!”
The killer bees attack picknickers and steal peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, derail a train, down a helicopter, overrun a missile silo and almost destroy the city of Houston (can't have everything I guess), but eventually all is saved and the end credits assure us: “The African killer bee should not be confused with the hard-working, industrious American honey bee, which provides us with honey and pollinates our flowers.” Boy, let's hope they don't get outsourced. A salute, then, to Mr. Irwin Allen and the American honey bee.
Jed Buell -- By far the least known of the three, Jed Buell produced two of the most exasperating movies of all time. In 1938, motion picture history was made by “The Terror Of Tiny Town”, billed as the only film in Hollywood history with “an all-midget cast”. While not precisely accurate (there is a full-sized announcer at the very beginning of the film just for the sake of comparison), this musical Western features diminutive Billy Curtis galloping around the countryside on his Shetland Pony in search of the bite-sized baddy (played by an actor appropriately named Little Billy). In the end good triumphs over evil when the good Billy blows up the bad Billy with a stick of dynamite.
Prior to this inspired denouement we are treated to innumerable midgets walking under saloon doors, drinking from beer steins bigger than their heads, and chasing one another under—rather than around—the furniture. For good measure, a penguin wanders onto the set and waddles inexplicably through one scene. (Inspiration, perhaps, for Fellini's peacock in “Amarcord”? After all, Ecclesiastes dictated long ago that “there is nothing new under the sun.”)
Anyway, the idea for this American classic (just my personal opinion, of course) came to Mr. Buell one day when a subordinate of his declared, “If this studio economy drive keeps on, we'll be using midgets for actors.” The visionary producer jumped at the suggestion, and to realize his dream he ran advertisements in newspapers proclaiming, “Big Salaries For Little People.” His midgets came from every corner of the United States (fourteen even came over from Hawaii), and he eventually signed some sixty averaging 3'8" in height.
Although only a modest financial success at the time, the irrepresible Buell announced a sequel based on a full-grown bruiser playing the mythical Paul Bunyan surrounded by his Tiny Town cast. Alas, this film was never made, and so we are left only with “Harlem On The Prairie”—“the World's First Outdoor Action Adventure With An All-Negro Cast”. Surprisingly, this very early 'blaxploitation' feature was wildly popular in the more than 800 theatres across the nation that catered especially to Black audiences. In its own way “Harlem On The Prairie” helped highlight the commercial viability of quality black cinema, an unexpected by-product of Jed Buell's somewhat perverse sense of casting.
Here's hoping everyone has a wonderful Turkey Day. Go Texas -- beat the Aggies!
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Somehow The Weather Channel failed to mention the biggest hurricane to hit Texas since Ike. Maybe it is because this super powerful force of nature blew in from Allentown, Pennsylvania and not from the Gulf Coast. Yes, I said Allentown, PA -- the home of one Alex Meixner, arguably the most dynamic, electrifying musical performer working today. If Alex's energy could be harnessed to an electrical grid, he could power all of Central Texas for a year.
And speaking of Central Texas, that's just where we most recently saw the Alex Meixner Band perform -- at the venerable New Bruanfels Wurstfest, a ten-day celebration consisting of beer and sausage and beer and potato pancakes and beer and kartoffel and, well, you get the idea. Oh yes, and music, too, where every evening as many as three bands play simultaneously in separate musical venues situated within the Wurstfest grounds. That's a lot of music, but, for ten consecutive years, the one band that packs them in to capacity, performance after performance, has been headlined by Alex Meixner.
Step aside Whitesnake, Metalica and Twisted Sister -- Alex possesses a stage presence and exuberance and kinetic energy that makes you guys look lame and tame in comparison. Lederhosen never looked so hip.
Backed this year by three highly talented accomplices, the Alex Meixner Band set a new standard for fun, zaniness, musicality and perspiration. Phalanges flew faster than a hummingbird's wings when Alex literally attacked his button box while belting out a truly eclectic array of unexpected tunes, all with a "Meixnerian" slant that had everyone, including the usually sedate fans of Lawrence Welk Champagne-style Music, cheering wildly and forming Conga lines as long and spirited as any during Carnival in Rio.
Examples of Meixnerian "Loony Tunes" include "The Devil Goes To Munich," an exhilarating adaptation that Charlie Daniels must surely salute along with that other Daniels fellow, Jack. Or how about Sachmo's "When The Saints Come Marching In," featuring Alex's amazing vocals successfully emulating America's beloved Ambassador of Good Will. Or Iron Butterfly's "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida," where Alex is accompanied by one of the band members playing a Ukulele -- a dad gum Ukulele! Want another example? How about Wild Cherry's "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," a groovy, irrepressible rendition performed on a Siwa & Figli accordion.
Bet you never thought you'd see that...
(More information on the Alex Meixner Band, including a schedule of their upcoming appearances, can be found at www.alexmeixner.com)
Tuesday, November 4, 2008
"The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry."
These famous words provide a more than apt description of Writer/Director/Actor Scott Prendergast's low-budget, independent feature -- KABLUEY. As frequent readers of this website know, Needtovent loves to champion independent cinema and has accorded some of our highest praise to such worthy projects as THE GUATEMALAN HANDSHAKE, BUBBA HO-TEP, LARS AND THE REAL GIRL, and, most recently, LA TRAGEDIA DE MACARIO. And so with great anticipation we recently screened KABLUEY. For one thing, the artwork on the DVD cover was extremely intriguing; how in the world could this not be a FUN movie? And the endorsement from Stephen Farber of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, "This CHARMING, POINTED COMEDY is A GENUINE DISCOVERY," provided further assurance that we were in for a treat.
Alas, the viewing experience was as disappointing as the Texas Longhorns' last-second loss to the Red Raiders in Lubbock this past weekend. And as for Mr. Farber's quote, KABLUEY turns out to be pointless -- don't take our word for it, even Little Oblio agrees.
Lisa Kudrow (in a surprisingly down-beat role) plays Leslie, the mother of two overly obstreperous young boys left to fend for herself while her husband serves an extended tour in Iraq as a National Guardsman. He's actually the lucky one; Al Qaeda posses less of a constant threat than these Hellish little fellows. Desperate to make ends meet, Leslie reluctantly turns to Salman (Scott Prendergast) her ne're-do-well brother-in-law for help.
Things do not get better when Salman arrives. In fact, the oldest nephew openly declares, "I'm going to kill you." And, with the aid of his younger brother, he tries. Unfortunately, for movie audiences everywhere, the little bugger did not succeed. Like a Croatian peasant's nose hair, KABLUEY could use some judicious trimming.
Ultimately Salman gets a job dressing up in a big blue costume as the mascot for a failing dot.com company. Prendergast's screenplay wants to have us believe that underneath this ridiculous outfit he is able to connect with Leslie and her kids, but Prendergast is a poor actor at best and the attempted heartwarming conclusion fails to deliver for a wide variety of reasons. There's even an attempt at some pithy commentary on the domestic repercussions of the Iraq War as well as the current state of the American economy. Yes, the aim was high, but the shots taken were so ill-conceived and off target they reminded me of those fired against the Branch Davidians by the ATF SWAT team in Waco.
There's plenty of blame to go around. Director Prendergast exhibits as much competence as Donald Rumsfeld or Michael D. Brown, Lawrence Maddox's editing, like a Republican's lovemaking, is perfunctory at best, Production Designer Walter Barnett's sense of style makes a Century 21 Real Estate Agent look haute couture, and the original music by Reddy Bottum scrapes the barrel to be sure.
Bottom Line: Phooey on KABLUEY.