Sunday, September 27, 2020

KISS in the Dark


"Check it out, man. The question you gotta ask yourself is how badly do you wanna see the greatest f*****g rock and roll show on the f*****g Earth, right? We're talking about Gene and Paul live, dog! I'm talking about the most voluptuous women hanging out in the audience. I'm talking big breasteses, and tight vesteses, my friend! You're talking people passing around joints in the audience. You're talking about f*****g Detroit Rock City, brother.  "  -Detroit Rock City


 When I was growing up there were plenty of rockers in my school.  Although I was raised on country music and grew up listening to Willie and Waylon and the boys, I was aware of the existence of both pop and rock music.  I admit that early on I had some apprehension for some of the more hard core stuff.  You have to remember I was raised in an evangelical church which preached that most of the music of the world was the spawn of the Devil.

One of my earliest recollections of experiencing rock music was hanging out with some seniors when I was a freshman.  The guy whose car we were in had a collection of sme serious hard core tapes of bands like AC/DC, Black Sabbath and Kiss.  Much to my surprise I wasn't possessed by the Devil after hearing this stuff.  And I realized that the style and tempo of the music was to my liking.  I never became a serious headbanger like you see in some films and music videos, but I could rock out with the best of them.

As far as Kiss was concerned, I learned that glam rock was just another variation of the same type of music that some others used.  The members just used makeup as a gimmick.  It is a false rumor that the letters of KISS stand for "Knights In Satan's Service".  The name was actually just a response to a statement made by one of the band members.  Peter Criss commented that he had been in a band called "Lips" so Paul Stanley suggested they call their band "Kiss".  (BTW the band had formerly been known as "Wicked Lester" before Criss joined the band)


For a brief period, the band abandoned the makeup gimmick and just produced albums without makeup.  But their prominent years involved the personas they created   They played under their real (or in some cases, assumed) names of Paul Stanley (born Stanley Eisen), Gene Simmons (born Chaim Witz), Ace Frehley (born Paul Frehley) and Peter Criss (Peter Criscuola).  But they also had names for their personas in makeup (Stanley: "Starchild", Simmons: "The Demon", Frehley: "The Spaceman" and Criss: "Catman")















 Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park: (1978)

By 1978, Kiss had such a following that they were even granted their own TV movie special.  Airing just before Halloween in 1978 (fitting, dontcha think?) the movie was panned by critics and fans alike.  The band famously forbid anyone in their crew to even mention the movie in their presence.  And, in retrospect, it is pretty ridiculous.  The producers seemed to not know what they had.  The Kiss characters come off looking like cheap knockoffs of the3 worst comic book superheroes, and the acting is substandard even with Anthony Zerbe, who probably should have known better.


The script sounds like it was written by amateurs.   The comments from some of the members of the band are instructive.  Gene Simmons has said that it is "a classic movie... classic if you're on drugs."  I compare it to the "Star Wars Holiday Special" (which coincidentally aired just a few weeks later in 1978...), just another desperate 70's attempt to cater to the whims of the teenage viewing audience who weren't watching much TV in the first place.

None of the members of Kiss can act worth a damn (at this point, although Gene Simmons has proven himself capable in a few later endeavors.)  BTW, is it just me or does Ace Frehley sound like Curly from the Three Stooges?

So what's the plot?  (Plot?  Are you serious?)  Anthony Zerbe plays Abner Devereaux, a genius who has devised much of the animatronic attractions for a theme park.  But because the bottom line is getting the theme park to make money and much of the funds are being drawn on by Devereaux to finance his increasingly expensive new ideas, he is given the ax by the management, in particular the head of operations, Calvin Richards (Carmine Caridi).


Of course, Devereaux is put into the mold as a mad scientist whose goal is to make them all pay for his troubles.  The thing is, Devereaux has the ability to turn actual humans into robots.  As well as create his own robots.  And he plans to use them all for his nefarious purposes.


Devereaux's big complaint is the scheduled performance of the band Kiss as a major attraction to opening day.  Devereaux doesn't like rock and roll.  (I bet he is still miffed that classical music has gone out of style.)  So he plans, among other things, to create robotic versions of Kiss, kidnap the real band, and substitute the robots for them.  With the robots thus in place, he will proceed to have them trash the park and incite a riot, thus shutting down the park.


The superhero aspect comes into play when it is revealed that each of the members of the band have their super powers given to them by a set of ancient talismans.  When Devereaux has one of his human/robot henchmen steal the talismans from their dressing room, he is able to neutralize them and kidnap them.


Of course, good will always in out in the end in these kinds of movies.  The trouble is getting to that end.  Trust me when I say, if you're not laughing at the ineptness of the plot, you are probably wondering how this thing ever escaped from the drawing room in the first place.  





Detroit Rock City: (1999)


The time is 1978.  Four would be rock and rollers who have formed their own Kiss tribute band (called "Mystery") anxiously are awaiting the upcoming concert of Kiss coming to their home stadium.  They have tickets on hand.  Unfortunately, the tickets are in the possession of Jam (Sam Huntington), whose mother (Lin Shaye) is a religious zealot who subscribes to the belief that rock and roll in general is evil and that Kiss in particular is the spawn of Satan.

She finds the tickets that Jam has stashed and proceeds to burn them in front of him, to the horror of his band mates/friends; Hawk (Edward Furlong), Lex (Giuseppe Andrews) and Trip (James DeBello).  With their hopes dashed the boys are devastated.  That is until a local radio show has a call-in contest with four tickets in the offing as the prize.  Trip is the lucky guy who calls in and wins the tickets.


The four set out to travel to the concert.  In the course of the trip they have a confrontation with a group of disco fans and prove that no disco malcontents are a match for a group of hardcore rockers.  Which ends up with one of the girls accompanying them on their trip and one of the funniest scenes in the process>

"Don't pick her up!  It's a teenage girl walking along the side of a highway!  I mean, they make scary movies that start out like that!"

"Yeah, but they make porno movies that start out like that, too!"

Upon arriving in the city, the boys find out that ditzy Trip forgot to stay on the phone long enough to give his personal information to the DJ at the radio station and the tickets were given to the next caller.  Stuck in the city without their precious tickets each boy goes his own way to find a way to scavenge tickets for the precious concert.

The various ways in which each of these guys tries to get tickets is a treat in itself.  I won't give away all of them, but at least one of them will have to shed his inhibitions to get the money the needs to buy tickets from a scalper (see the quote at the beginning of this blog piece.)

The fly in the ointment is that Jam's mom is in town too, as part of a group of religious witch hunters to protest the evil presence of Satan's musicians.  And of course, you just KNOW that Jam and his mom are going to cross paths at some point.

The band members only appear at the end at the concert, so we aren't subjected to an attempt to make restitution for the 1978 debacle of a TV movie.  And this flick is by far better acted by its cast.

Well folks, time to take that ride home.  Drive safely.



Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Music Time




It has been 4 months since I was last able to see a movie in the theater.   It was during the current pandemic that I heard that the people behind the Bill and Ted franchise had finally completed the long rumored third movie in the franchise and I, within reason, anticipated that it would be one of those films that I would have to wait until its release on DVD to finally see, since the pandemic had seemingly shut down theaters as we know them.  


But as it turns out there are a few, albeit in Austin and San Antonio that are making the effort to make some movies available to us.  So I made the 20 mile trip north to Austin to catch a viewing of this movie.  It's not often that I review a film currently in the theater (only 3 times prior to this one).

As i said in my review of the first two films in the series, I was about 10-15 years older than the average person to whom the franchise was aimed, but I liked the two characters.  I think they are kind of like the 90's answer to Cheech and Chong (except neither of these guys does drugs, at least not on camera).  

First off an observation;  Keanu Reeves has gotten OLD.  He looks every bit of his 55.  By comparison, Alex Winter doesn't look much older than he did in the originals.  Maybe he really IS a vampire. (He played one in The Lost Boys, in case you were unaware.)  











Of course, I too no longer look like I did at 25.  (Somebody keeps replacing my natural dark brown hairs with grey hairs while I sleep).




Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020):

It has been 25 years since the young duo Bill S. Preston, Esq. (Alex Winter) and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) were approached by an emissary of the future, Rufus (George Carlin) and helped along in the journey to create peace and harmony in the universe with their music.  The two have still not had success and are now reduced to doing stage shows at things like birthday parties.  Their future as prophesied by Rufus has not been as bright as predicted.

In that context they are approached by Kelly (Kristen Schaal), the daughter of Rufus and taken to the future to meet the Great Leader (Holland Taylor), who just happens to be Kelly's mother.  The Great Leader informs the duo that they have to have created their song by 7:17 that night or the whole universe as we know it will collapse.

Knowing they don't as yet have the song, the two decide to use their old phone booth time machine to go into their own future and steal the song from their future selves.  But they keep running into the same problem; their future selves are still just as much losers as they are and have always been.

In the meantime, the Great Leader  decides that the future may depend on the death of Bill and Ted and sends a robot back to kill them.  In the meantime, Bill and Ted's daughters Billie Logan (Bridgette Lundy-Paine) and Thea Preston (Samara Weaving) decide that the key to helping their fathers is to accompany Kelly and kidnap some of the greatest musicians of all time (which include Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong and Mozart, among others).

The convoluted story ends up with several diverse plots coming together, including an excursion in to Hell to rescue people.  It doesn't all entirely make sense, but the myriad of plot devices were apparently needed to drive home the need for everybody to come together.  And therein is the ultimate point of this adventure (and the point of the film itself) ;  a universal plea for that age old adage of "can't we all just get along?"

In my opinion the movie is just only OK.  I could have done without the political message that was the underlying point.  After all the original two films were just about having fun and the goofiness of it's main characters and if there was a political agenda in them it sure didn't slap you in the face.

Was it worth the 4 month wait for me to withstand between my last venture into a theater?  I would say yes, at this point.   But was it worth the 25 year wait to see how the characters were getting along from the last film?  I would have to say no.  This one didn't have near as many funny moments.

Drive home safely folks.