Cue John Williams…

July 14, 2012

(upon reading of the death of movie mogul Richard Zanuck, it seems timely to dust off a three-post running diary of a viewing of Jaws – which Zanuck produced – that appeared here a couple years ago…)

Thirty-fiveThirty-seven years ago, almost to the week, Jaws was released. Had Paloma known of this milestone and, given my fascination with the film, she would have likely baked a cake for me.

I was seven when the movie became a national phenomenon and, the first time a commercial aired, my mom adamently declared that I wouldn’t be seeing it.

(my younger brother was the one that had been traumatized by some horror movie, yet I, too, was subject to this edict)

It undoubtedly would have wigged me out, but, knowing that I now can watch it any time I wish proves that living well is the best revenge.

The movie is one that I’ve often popped into the DVD player on hot, summer evenings to feel refreshed by the images of beaches and surf.

So, as my recent plea has gone unanswered and I know of no virgin to hurl into a volcano, it’s starting now…

0:39 The names Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss appear on the screen. I tell myself to savor this moment as those names will be Keanu Reaves, Will Farrell, and one of those Disney kids when the inevitable remake arrives.

(here’s hoping December 21, 2012 arrives first)

3:02 If you go for a pre-dawn swim out to a buoy in the ocean, you have now put yourself square in the path of natural selection.

7:16 Just watching Brody cruise along the ocean on his morning drive to work is refreshing. I can almost feel the cool, clean air. This is merely one reason that this movie is infinitely watchable to me.

8:32 Skinny-dipping girl’s remains are found on the beach. I finally saw Jaws a year after it was in the theaters. It aired on CBS on a Sunday night and this scene inspired the popular joke with my second-grade friends which asked, “How do you know that girl had dandruff?”

The shark left her “head and shoulders.”

10:21 There’s something about an octogenerian wielding a bicycle tire, yammering about karate that makes Amity a place that I think I’d like to live.

12:13 The mayor is wearing a sports jacket adorned with a pattern of tiny anchors and is decidely pro-business.

(probably to be expected when you elect a mayor that wears a sports jacket adorned with a pattern of tiny anchors)

17:13 The Kintner kid goes down in a gusher of gore. Paloma walked into the room, simply said, “That’s a lot of blood,” and went back to bed.

20:45 And we have Quint – who was fixed in my second-grade brain as the image that would come to mind when hearing the phrase “crusty, old salt.”

24:30 My friend Rob always worked in our record store’s video department on Sunday nights where he would play Jaws repeatedly his entire shift. The scene with the two codgers fishing for the shark using a pot roast was always a favorite…

27:43 …but not as much as The Harbormaster. The Harbormaster wanders out of his harbormaster hut, smoking a pipe and carrying breakfast, sits down, and digs into a bowl of Corn Flakes.

(all for little apparent reason)

30:52 The regatta of idiots is on as fisherman from everywhere come to hunt the shark, including one dynamite-wielding fisherman that resembles Liam Gallagher.

34:33 Richard Dreyfuss sets the villagers straight – including one who looks like ex-football coach Bill Parcells – on the shark that they’ve caught. In a span of two years, Dreyfuss would battle a great white shark and chase aliens to the hinterlands of Wyoming in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.

This cat was more badass than Shaft.

43:26 After plying Scheider with a bottle of red, Dreyfuss and the Chief perform, to quote Mayor Tiny Anchor, a “half-assed autopsy” on the shark. I held my breath as a kid, expecting, like the mayor, “that Kintner boy to spill out onto the dock.”

He doesn’t.

And so, Brody, Hooper, and I head out for a nighttime cruise to search for the shark…

Had Hooper turned on the radio for a little mood music, here are four songs that were on Billboard ‘s chart during this week in 1975

Michael Murphey – Wildfire
from Blue Sky – Night Thunder (1975)

I wasn’t listening to music in 1975 aside from what I’d hear on the radio in the car, but I do remember hearing Wildfire. How could I not?

Before the first chorus, a young girl is dead and “the pony she called Wildfire” is lost in a blizzard.

Oh, the carnage.

Between hearing this song and seeing Old Yeller, would my parents letting me see a movie about a killer great white shark really been that traumatic?

Pilot – Magic
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

I don’t remember hearing Magic back in the day, but I do recall that it seemed to pop up on every K-Tel Records compilation that I’d see advertised on television before that label went bust.

Written by one-time Bay City Roller David Paton, the perky song – which is easy to imagine blaring from transistor radios on the beaches of Amity – was produced by Alan Parsons.

(years later, Paton would provide vocals on a number of songs by the Alan Parsons Project as well as playing bass)

Ace – How Long?
from Sounds Of The Seventies: 1975 (1990)

I must have heard this song during the summer of ’75 as I hear it and immediately associate it with summer. It’s a classic pop song and its laid-back melody and Paul Carrack’s soulful vocal performance is perfectly suited for lazy summer days.

And knowing that the song is actually about a band member who was secretly performing with other groups and not about a romantic relationship gone sour makes the song a bit more lighthearted.

10cc – I’m Not In Love
from Have A Nice Decade: The ’70s Pop Culture Box (1998)

Over at Echoes In The Wind, one of our favorite reads, they’ve been compiling the selections for their Ultimate Jukebox. If I were to do the same, I suspect that I’m Not In Love would be a strong contender to make the cut.

Dreamy and lush, it’s a beautiful song that’s also borderline creepy, a vibe which The Police would successfully conjure up not quite a decade later with Every Breathe You Take.


“It’s not every day that you get to see a monster piñata killing teens on a paradise island…”*

October 19, 2011

Oh how true that statement is and, thanks to a bout of insomnia and Piñata: Survival Island, I can now rebuff anyone that uses that line as a selling point.

(the titular quote was from a long-lost review of this cinematic tour de force)

If you’re a piñata enthusiast – and, really, who isn’t? – or simply have an interest in really bad movies, Piñata: Survival Island might just be for you.

I cannot recommend it as “so bad it’s good” as I only caught the last ten minutes and that brief glimpse led me to believe that it’s so bad, it’s just bad.

(it’s the kind of movie where you mumble to yourself, “Someone actually believed this needed to be written down?”)

I was channel-surfing, minding my own business, when I was confronted with…well…it appeared to be the little tiki idol that caused so much mayhem when the Brady Bunch went to Hawaii.

This tiki idol, though, was much larger, breathing fire, and rampaging through the jungle wielding a battle axe.

Understandably, my hand froze on the remote as I watched, boggle-eyed.

Piñata: Survival Island is not without star power. There is, of course, the tiki which had burst forth from a piñata.

And, one of the survivors of the piñata creature run amok is Jaime Pressly formerly of My Name Is Earl and currently shilling for the restaurant chain Zaxby’s.

(home of the most sodium-laden chicken in the Western world)

In fact, it is Pressly who dispatches the evil spirit by quickly and deftly assembling a Molotov cocktail and handcuffing it to the creature’s ceremonial headdress.

It also stars Aeryk Egan who seemingly put more thought into making his stage name a bastardization of Eric than in choosing his roles.

(or perhaps in choosing an agent)

The fact that the film was showing on AMC, which allegedly stands for American Movie Classics, is another kettle of fish altogether.

I do feel enriched and enlightened for the experience. It’s not often that I will have the opportunity to write about piñatas and, for that, I am grateful.

And, if any of you are now filled with a sense of urgency to seek out this film and are unable to find Piñata: Survival Island, try Demon Island.

(a cinematic endeavor of such magnitude could not be constrained to merely having one title)

Sadly, my music collection is sorely lacking in piñata songs. So, here are four island songs…

Sting – Island Of Souls
from The Soul Cages (1991)

To a lot of young music fans who came of age during the mania surrounding The Police and their album Synchronicity, Sting was the paragon of cool.

(of course, there were a lot of folks who also consider(ed) him to be an insufferable, pretentious twat)

The moody Island Of Souls came from Sting’s third solo album, The Soul Cages, and, even though I own several of his albums released since, it was really the last one which I awaited eagerly and listened to devotedly.

(though our paths would kind of cross years later)

Blondie – Island Of Lost Souls
from The Hunter (1982)

Island Of Lost Souls…nothing more than a wholly transparent attempt by Blondie to duplicate the success of The Tide Is High from their previous album, Autoamerican. There are a handful of good songs on The Hunter, the trainwreck of a follow-up to Autoamerican, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of them.

However, it is always amusing to hear Debbie Harry sing the line, “Hey buccaneer, can you help me put my trunk in gear?” and, personally, even bad Blondie is something for which I have a weakness.

Japan – Taking Islands In Africa
from Gentlemen Take Polaroids (1980)

I snagged a copy of Gentlemen Take Polaroids on a whim, having read acclaim for the band from critics and praise from a couple of friends (both of whom, as I recall, actually preferred the band’s Tin Drum).

I liked the chilly, electronic music and on tracks like Taking Islands In Africa it’s not difficult to hear Duran Duran’s claim of Japan as an influence.

Megadeth – Devil’s Island
from Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986)

I’ve noted that I never truly went through a metal phase as a high school kid (though I have long dug Iron Maiden), so I vividly recall seeing Peace Sells… in the record bins and being immediately dismissive and disinterested.

Oddly, over the past twenty-five years, I’ve become a fan of Megadeth’s thrash metal and gained an appreciation for their groundbreaking sound. It’s not something I listen to often, but there are times when a track like the galloping Devil’s Island is just what’s needed.


On The Road To Somewhere

September 3, 2011

Paloma got up, less than ten minutes into The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training, to go read.

She muttered something about thinking Jackie Earle Haley was cute in the first movie and walked out before Kelly Leak arriving on his motorcycle kickstarted its sequel.

“It’s one of the greatest movies of all time,” I countered, but she was unswayed and headed off with Kindle in hand.

I don’t think I’d seen Breaking Training since 1977, but that review was the consensus of me and my friends leaving the theater.

(we were mostly nine or ten-years old, thus, our standards for such acclaim were the same as more noted critics)

We were growing up in a small town in John Mellencamp’s country and, at least at our age, playing baseball consumed much of our summer days.

We had embraced the ragtag collection of Bears with first movie. These kids looked like kids we knew and not kids in a movie.

And there was Jackie Earle Haley who, as Kelly was not only the best player on the team, but he was angry, long-haired, smoking cigarettes and hooking up with Tatum O’Neal.

He was as badass as a thirteen year-old could be in the mid-’70s.

The sequel lost the wonderful Walter Matthau and O’Neal, but gained a road trip.

Through the clever use of a dim-witted groundskeeper, the team manages to head from California to Texas in a stolen (and very ’70s-styled) van with Kelly Leak behind the wheel.

These were kids, more or less like us, unsupervised and mobile.

And Kelly Leak had the vision to make it happen.

The setting for their game against the Texas champions was the Astrodome, a stadium that was a favorite amongst us kids as the most spectacular of sporting venues on the planet.

(it was like something from some other futuristic world)

There was also a new kid playing Englebert the burly catcher. Not only was he now supersized, he was pivitol in the scene that elicited the biggest laughs from us.

During a brawl in the team’s hotel room, the bathroom door is knocked open to reveal Englebert, sitting on the can, trousers around his ankles, plowing through a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken while he answers nature’s call.

(high hilarity for nine year-olds and an act of multi-tasking that present-day corporate America would encourage)

Thirty-four years ago, it all made for a most excellent cinematic experience. Here are four songs from Billboard magazine’s Hot 100 chart for this week in 1977 that, had we been in that van, my friends and I might have heard…

Fleetwood Mac – Don’t Stop
from 25 Years: The Chain

In 1977, there was plenty Fleetwood Mac on the radio as their Rumours was in the midst of a run that would see it become one of the most commercially successful albums of all time.

The group had already had hits with Go Your Own Way and Dreams when the jaunty Don’t Stop became the third of Rumours‘ eventual four Top 40 singles.

Ram Jam – Black Betty
from Ram Jam

Paloma gets a bit giddy when she hears Black Betty and the lone hit by Ram Jam does grab one’s attention from the opening guitar riff.

I can’t hear Black Betty and not think of junior high when the song would invariably be blaring from the jukebox of the pizza place where most of our football team would gather to eat before home games.

The song made guitarist Bill Bartlett a two-time member of one-hit wonders as he had previously been lead guitarist for The Lemon Pipers who had topped the charts in the late ’60s with the bubblegum of Green Tambourine.

Paul Davis – I Go Crazy
from Sweet Life: His Greatest Hit Singles

Singer/songwriter Paul Davis’ I Go Crazy was in its second week on the charts thirty-four years ago. The song wouldn’t reach the Top Ten, though, until late February of the following year as it spent a then-record 40 weeks on the Hot 100.

Though I Go Crazy was melancholic light rock at its most mellow, I’ve often wondered if Davis was ever mistaken for a member of the Allman Brothers.

The Ramones – Sheena Is A Punk Rocker
from Hey! Ho! Let’s Go: The Anthology

Not long ago, a client was giving me his last name. “Ramone,” he said. “Like the band. Do you know who I’m talking about?”

He was surprised and duly impressed as I explained that I not only knew his reference, but that Paloma has a framed poster autographed by Joey,Johnny, Dee Dee, and Marky hanging in our treehouse.