Sunday, November 29, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 60

The Date: November 29
The Movie: Suspicion (1941)
What Is It?: Alfred Hitchcock’s kooky noir flummoxes expectations by casting Cary Grant as a potential creep who may be plotting to moider perpetually anxious Joan Fontaine. That glowing glass of milk is certainly suspicious…
Why Today?: On this day in 1986, Cary Grant dies.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 59

The Date: November 28

The Movie: The Big Heat (1953)

What Is It?: Fritz Lang takes film noir to its darkest extremes with this tale of a widowed cop who channels his grief into bringing down the crime syndicate responsible for his wife’s death. The divine cast includes Glenn Ford, Lee Marvin, Jeanette Nolan, Carolyn Jones, and serial scene-stealer Gloria Grahame.

Why Today?: On this day in 1923, Gloria Grahame is born.

Friday, November 27, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 58

The Date: November 27
The Movie: Eyes without a Face (1960)
What Is It?: Elegant yet grisly French horror in which an egomaniacal surgeon kidnaps young women so he can sew their faces onto his daughter’s faceless skull. The final shot reminds me of the cover of Procol Harum's first album.
Why Today?: On this day in 2005, Dr. Bernard Devauchelle completes France’s first successful face transplant.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 57

The Date: November 26

The Movie: King Kong (1933)

What Is It?: More ape business: a bunch of jerky explorers strut onto a secluded island, kidnap a giant gorilla, drag him to NYC, secure him with rubber bands while exploiting him in front of a bunch of slack-jawed richies, whine when he breaks free, and murder him. Willis O’Brien’s magical stop-motion effects will make you want to punch a computer in the face.

Why Today?: Because of this.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 56

The Date: November 25
The Movie: Planet of the Apes (1968)
What Is It?: Chuck Heston crashes his rocket ship on a planet populated by simian slavers, falls in love, has a few laughs, etc.
Why Today?: On this day in 3978, Chuck Heston crashes his rocket ship on a planet populated by simian slavers.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Review: 'Beach Boys’ Party!: Uncovered and Unplugged'

There was an astonishingly natural progression from Beatle album to Beatle album as Revolver built on the developments of Rubber Soul while Sgt. Pepper’s inflated the ones on Revolver and so on. The Beach Boys were another matter. This is largely because Capitol, the label that treated The Beatles’ artworks so shabbily in the U.S., placed unfair demands on its top American act. Brian Wilson most certainly is that rare example of the pop genius, but even a genius needs time to replenish the inspiration reservoir. Capitol had little respect for such matters, so Wilson and his band were forced to intersperse a relatively uninspired album like Shut Down Volume 2 or an assemblage of new and old tracks like Little Deuce Coupe among the excellent LPs like All Summer Long and Surfer Girl or jumble filler with masterpieces on Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!). This surely frustrated Brian Wilson, especially after he heard Rubber Soul, which blew him away because of its consistent quality and mood. Hearing that album in late 1965 is what drove him to create his defining work, Pet Sounds. Had that album followed Summer Days, The Beach Boys’ catalogue might have started to seem as though their work was finally progressing more naturally.

Instead, Capitol demanded more product for the coming holiday season. So The Beach Boys decided to knock out a record as hastily as possible, gathering in the studio with nothing more than a couple of acoustic guitars, bongos, their flawless harmonies, and a bunch of covers they could dump out for the Christmas shoppers. Mike Love devised the idea to dub on some chattering and beer-glass clinking to give the impression that the tracks were cut at one of the guy’s houses during a party instead of at Western Recorders Studio in Hollywood.

Beach Boys’ Party! is hardly among the band’s greatest albums, but a project that began as a sloppy stop-gap before becoming a full-fledged gimmick has had a pretty impressive life. Not only did it spawn the last of the old-style Beach Boys hits with a cover of The Regents’ “Barbara Ann”, but it was a genuine predecessor to the “unplugged” fad of the nineties. And though it was a definite backwards step after Today! and the best of Summer Days, it did contain some very good music that is easier to appreciate today than it must have been fifty years ago when albums like Rubber Soul, Highway 61 Revisited, Otis Blue, and My Generation were new releases. Today, it’s easy to enjoy the ace trilogy of Beatles covers, Al Jardine’s sincere take on “The Times They Are A-Changin’”, and Mike and Brian’s angelic harmonies on the should-be-considered-a-classic “Devoted to You” without feeling forced to compare this music to anything The Beach Boys or any other band was doing at the time.

Beach Boys’ Party!: Uncovered and Unplugged makes it even easier to appreciate this music, as Mark Linett’s new stereo mixes strip away the faux “party” chatter that was often very inappropriate on the original album, especially when the guys make a mockery of Al’s Dylan tribute. This new double-disc set also fills in the story with versions of numerous songs that didn’t end up on the original album, which really would have been better if it had lost novelties like “Alley Oop” and “Hully Gully” or piss-takes of the band’s own “I Get Around” and “Little Deuce Coupe” and used Brian’s attitudinal yet good-humored version of Dion’s “Ruby Baby” or a hootenanny-turned-funky version of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” instead. There are also some fascinating song choices that shed light on other grooves in the band’s discography. The boys try out Leiber and Stoller’s “Riot in Cell Block No. 9”, which Mike Love would later rewrite as the little-loved “Student Demonstration Time”. There’s an abortive attempt at “Ticket to Ride”, the song that inspired “Girl Don’t Tell Me”, and a fleeting tease of “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”, a song that Brian would remake years later. Uncovered and Unplugged may not be the monumental release that the Pet Sounds or SMiLE Sessions were, but then again, it is not a document of a monumental work. It is, however, a document of a very interesting and a very fun one. Uncovered and Unplugged also affords an opportunity to hear something precious you won’t hear on those Pet Sounds or SMiLE sets: The Beach Boys playing in the studio as a real band. It’s worth the price of admission for that alone.

366 Days at the Drive-In: Day 55

The Date: November 24

The Movie: Yellow Submarine (1968)

What Is It?: Cartoon Beatles traverse an acid-infused wonderland to vanquish the music-loathing Blue Meanies and sing selections from their psychedelic era. The wonderful music and eclectic pop-art animation will make you forget that John, Paul, George and Ringo aren’t supplying John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s speaking voices.

Why Today?: On this day in 1974, Donald Johnson and Tom Gray discover half a skeleton of an extinct hominid, which they nickname “Lucy” because they dig “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”.
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