Monday, June 27, 2011

James, Alex and Max

I saw three movies over the weekend that couldn't be more different from each other.  To wit...


A long time ago I saw a movie compiled from footage of both the 1964 concert film classic, The T.A.M.I. Show and its sequel, the 1966 concert film,  The Big T.N.T Show, and I was completely blown away by all the vintage rock and soul acts.  Saturday I looked at the fully restored T.A.M.I. Show and was able to watch the movie through more mature eyes.  This time around I noticed that all of the acts actually sang live letting you appreciate the fact that Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Leslie Gore could really sing although poor Smokey Robinson sounded really hoarse.  Also the two lesser Merseybeat bands on the show, Gerry and the Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, came off embarrassingly nerdy. The Pacemakers were lively but had the misfortune to be trading songs with the supercool Chuck Berry, a battle they'd still lose if playing with Chuck today.  Kramer came off like an out of place crooner and prevented the Beach Boys' Mike Love from being the single dorkiest performer in the show.   Speaking of the Beach Boys, their segment had been cut out of previous video releases of this movie but this time they were there present and correct including Brian Wilson playing rhythm guitar and singing high harmonies, taking over the lead vocal for "Little Surfer Girl".

    Everything else was pretty much as I remembered it.  All the Motown acts, Gaye, Smokey and the Supremes were slick and polished, go-go dancers were everywhere, and Jan And Dean were annoying MC's but sang a couple of their hits well.  The show-stopping peak of the show, though, was the same segment that killed me on my first viewing and the segment that has made this film legendary, the performance of James Brown at his jaw-dropping finest, earning the titles Mr. Dynamite, The Godfather Of Soul, The Minister of New New Super Heavy Funk, The Hardest Working Man In Show Business, and every other nickname he ever had with his screaming, knee drops, capes, splits and wobbly legged, impossible dance moves.  The first time I saw this movie I was so amazed by all this I could have cared less about the act that followed him, a little band called The Rolling Stones.  This time around I had to give Mick and the boys their propers,  they were damned tight. Keith Richards chugged out the riffs, Charlie Watts was ferocious on the drums and an incredibly young Mick Jagger prowled around the stage like he was having the time of his life. Even Brian Jones was smiling.  All in all, this was a very cool time capsule of 1964 rock and roll. Now hopefully Shout Factory, the folks that put this DVD out, will do the same for The Big T.N.T. Show.


This 2003 Australian film is a sample of what can pop up in the Free Movies part of the On Demand cable channels.  The set up is that it's the birthday of Steve, an average suburban husband and father.  He gets presents from his kids upon waking up, gets a cake and a promotion at work and hurries home at the end of the day to further celebrate with his family. When he gets home, though, the house is deserted, all the light bulbs have been taken out of their sockets and the only sign of humanity is a chair and TV set up in the living room and a videotape marked "play me".  Steve pops the tape in and is treated to the sight of his wife, Alexandra, doing a striptease.  She stops when she gets down to her underwear and starts complaining about all the problems in their marriage.  Steve snorts at this and fast forwards through the tape but stops abruptly when he sees Alexandra pointing a gun at him...

This is an involving and well-constructed study of a marriage broken  beyond repair done as mainly a two person show with one watching the other on TV.  Alexandra leads Steve down a twisty path of deception and misdirection ending with brutal and humiliating truth in a calculated study of cold-blooded revenge. Gary Sweet is excellent as Steve going thourhg a gamut of emotions, joy, lust, fear, sorrow, rage and exhausted numbness, most of which he does without another living actor to react to. Helen Buday is also great as Alexandra. As she tells her story, she talks with a calm conviction that really conveys the anguishes that drove her to this point.  This isn't a movie I think a lot of guys would care for but it's very strong and engrossing work.


This is another film about a marriage with problems, but of a very different sort. The wife has taken a chimpanzee for a lover.  Yep, that's a problem all right.

The couple is a British diplomat stationed in Paris, played by Anthony Higgins, and his wife, played by Charlotte Rampling.  The diplomat starts getting suspicious that his wife is seeing someone on the side. He finds out about an apartment she goes to every day, follows her there and finds her in bed with a chimp named Max. After the expected shock and recrimination the diplomat does the only thing a sophisticated man of the world would, he lets Max move into their home. Complications inevitably ensue.

This movie, contrasting civilized behavior with the most absurd situation imaginable, would have been right up Luis Bunuel's alley and several of his collaborators were involved in it. Unfortunately the old master was dead by the time this was made.  Instead the film was directed by Nagisa Oshima, a Japanese director known for his own shocking and provocative works like In The Realm Of The Senses.  He doesn't mesh with this material though. The movie rarely feels as sharp or attacking as it should. Drawing room comedy, even when it involved bestiality, was obovulidly not Oshima's thing.

It's not a total loss though. Higgins and Rampling are very good in the leads. Rampling, who's done more than her share of sexually provocative roles, really convinces you that she is in love with a chimp (actually a man in a realistic chimp suit, if that's more presentable).  The movie comes off then as a failed but watchable experiment.

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