Billy Connolly

DVD REVIEW: Billy Connolly – Live in New York (2010)

BILLY CONNOLLY – Live in New York (2010 Rykodisc DVD)

There are few funnier than singer/comedian Billy Connolly.  My theory is that it’s the Scottish accent.  Live in New York is the funniest comedy DVD that I own. I don’t buy a lot of them, because I find they have a limited lifespan before they get old. I have another Billy as well (Erect For 30 Years), which combines his old standup plus interview and documentary footage. From his Too Old to Die Young tour, Live in New York is the one to get; it’s pure gold.

There isn’t much “standing” in Billy’s stand-up.  He’s mobile, acting out his scenes, rarely stationary.  This was recorded in 2005, before Billy’s Parkinson’s disease diagnosis.  What storytelling ability!  Like a big beast, every story is recreated on stage for your entertainment.

Even though I have seen some of these bits before (Billy scaring his sister is classic), they all come across as if Billy is telling the stories for the first time. Halfway through a story, he will go off on a tangent. He’ll stop his story mid-breath, pause, and then say, “I just have to tell you about something…” Then he’ll tell another story, and come back to his original story 10 minutes later, to much laughter and applause.

Everything’s funny, but some bits here were absolutely hilarious. They include:

  • The afforementioned “sister” story which takes 10 times as much time to set up as the story itself.
  • The stories about his dad who had a stroke. If you have ever had a family member who’s had a severe stroke, then you’ll know. Billy nailed this one on the head, hilariously.
  • The “thistle” tattoo.
  • And best of…opera. You’ll know what I mean when you see it. Billy nails everything I love and hate about opera!

Audio is plain stereo, format is full screen.  No special features; just the show. Billy may be getting old, his hair may be white, but his humour has lost absolutely nothing over the years. This is, in my humble opinion, the very best DVD that Billy has to offer.

5/5 stars and 1 thistle tattoo.

REVIEW: Still Crazy – Soundtrack (1998)

Hosted by Vinyl Connection, it’s the inaugural…
LP stack white soundtracks – Version 2

November 1 – November 14

scan_20161024-4STILL CRAZY – Soundtrack (1998 Warner)

What a band Strange Fruit would be…if only they were real!

The film Still Crazy chronicled the tale of the fictional band, Strange Fruit.  The Fruit were led by brothers Brian and Keith Lovell (guitar and lead vocals respectively).  When Keith died, they carried on with new singer Ray Simms (Bill Nighy).  The inevitable internal tensions led to the band’s demise.  However in 1998 there was enough interest to get the band back together — minus Brian, who is assumed to have also died.  The surprisingly emotional film boasted fine performances from Nighy, Jimmy Nail, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall and more.  The key however to any movie about a fictional band is to come up with a soundtrack of original material that sounds like it could be classic.  Still Crazy accomplished this.  You wish for Strange Fruit to be a real band, so good are the songs.

The ballad “The Flame Still Burns”, which in the fictional movie was written by bassist Les Wickes for the fallen Keith, is sung by Jimmy Nail in real life.  (The song was written by the team of Mick Jones, Marti Frederikson, and Chris Difford.)  This fine song is a perfect example of something that sounds like it must have charted somewhere many years ago.  In the film, this song is the cause of much tension between Les and Ray, who did not want other band members to sing lead vocals.  The beautiful thing about Still Crazy is that there is a tremendous amount of history to the band, most of which is not seen on screen, only felt through the actors portraying the memories.  Jimmy Nail sings another sorrowful ballad, “What Might Have Been”, and does a fine job of it.  It’s a lovely acoustic song with a little mandolin and another standout performance by Nail.  He gets a chance to sing an upbeat number with “Bird on a Wire” (not that “Bird on a Wire”).  This is a darn fine Wilburys-like rock tune.

To be clear, Strange Fruit are not a ballad band even though “The Flame Still Burns” is clearly that.  Strange Fruit are a rock band, and “All Over the World” is a prototypical set opener.  Bill Nighy would make a damn fine rock frontman, if he wasn’t too busy being a fine film actor.  It’s not about the notes he sings but the style in which is he sings them.  Nighy sounds like a veteran rock singer (and in the film, you believe it 100%).  The track “Dirty Town” has a nifty little riff reminiscent of “Layla”, but this track sounds more like 80’s Deep Purple, right down to a blazing guitar solo.   “Black Moon” verges on heavy metal.  If you’re wondering why it rocks so hard, it probably because of Michael Lee on drums.  It’s Purple, Sabbath and Cream all in one.  Nighy gets to be a heavy metal demigod on “Scream Freedom”, which was one of the funnier scenes in the movie.  The best Fruit tune might be “Dangerous Things” which plays in the movie like it’s one of their biggest hits.  This too has Michael Lee on drums, along with bassist Guy Pratt.  That’s some heavyweight talent, folks.

A movie with Billy Connolly in it is twice as good as a movie without (studies have shown).  A movie with Connolly singing in it is four times as good.  The traditional “Stealin'” is a fine fit for the Big Yin and his banjo.  There is even a great vintage-sounding rock track by Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake) that is plenty of fun (“A Woman Like That”).   This is incidental to the main feature, which is the host of Strange Fruit tracks, but a nice inclusion.  Unfortunately the techno track “Ibiza Theme” doesn’t fit the disc at all and can be safely skipped by most listeners.

Admittedly, the Still Crazy soundtrack is more enjoyable if you have seen the film.  When I hear “Dangerous Things” I picture things that Nighy as Ray does on stage.  “The Flame Still Burns” is more powerful when you remember the friction it caused because of petty jealousies.   Regardless, these songs were all written and performed by professional musicians, and they do stand up as individual tunes.  Memorably so.

4/5 stars

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GALLERY: Canada Day Weekend NEW ARRIVALS!

Just in time for the long weekend, some new tunes!  I also ordered a book:  Sean Kelly’s Metal On Ice, as reading material for next week’s Sausagefest!  Seen below:  Original Soundtrack to the movie Still Crazy (thank you The Earl of Swirl for reminding me about this great film) and the new Helix album, Bastard of the Blues.

Blu-ray REVIEW: Billy Connolly – Journey to the Edge of the World (2009 Blu-ray)

BILLY CONNOLLY_0002BILLY CONNOLLY – Journey to the Edge of the World – A voyage through Canada’s Northwest Passage (2009 ITV Blu-ray)

I’ve always found Billy Connolly to have an incredibly warm sense of humour, and that is on full display in this wonderful TV series. Because of recent decreases in Arctic sea ice, the Northwest Passage is now clear for several weeks during the summer. One can now travel along the northern coast of Canada, from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Connolly begins his journey in Halifax and travels north, and west. Along the way he sees sights that many of us will never have the chance to experience. It is all captured here on Blu-ray, in gorgeous 1080p. Towering icebergs are crisp blue and as detailed as you can imagine.

The isolation of these places is quite breathtaking. The real selling feature of this series is the hi-def glory of Earth’s nature in full 1080p. If you’ve ever romanticized about cold seas, towering icebergs, or glaciers without another human being in sight, then this disc will put you right there. It’s just awesome to behold. However there is a dark undertone here, as global warming is always just beneath the surface of the beauty. (For example, hearing the ice cracking with sounds like cannons.) By the time Billy finishes his journey in Vancouver, powerful images will be etched into your mind. This is not a disc to watch just once.

One of the charms of this series is that Billy genuinely seems to love people. Whether it’s the humble Newfoundland fisherman, or the smiling faces of Inuit throat singers, Billy loves them all. Billy has no problem getting wet, or trying dishes that are foreign to his palette. He’ll treat you to some folk music along the way, his banjo never far from his side. It is a joy to watch this film and learn about parts of my geography and culture that many of us are ignorant. A lot of activity is crammed into each episode, meaning you’ll likely take it off the shelf for another spin periodically, whenever you get romantic for the snow and ice of the north.  With summer here, why not?

5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Fido (2006)

I hope you all enjoyed your Christmas breaks if you had one! I always like to binge on movies at this time of year. Here’s one!

FIDO 2FIDO (2006 Sony Pictures)

Directed by Andrew Currie

It is the 1950’s. Post-Zombie War America is serviced by a new megacorporation called ZomCon.  Radiation caused the dead to rise, but the Zombie Wars have been won.  Zombies are domesticated, tamed, made into servants and pets.  The do the tedious jobs, the ones that nobody wants to do.   They do it without complaint and they are part of life in the subburbs.  Children are taught from gradeschool how to kill a rogue zombie with a headshot.  ZomCon controls the zombie popular with an iron fist, and electronic collars that render them harmless.

Since winning the Zombie Wars, humans must always be on guard; after all, everyone dies eventually.  Therefore each death (natural or otherwise) keeps the world going with a steady supply of new zombies. ZomCon provides security, keeps the peace, and maintains order down to every facet of society, including education.  Cities and towns are fenced off from the wild  no-man’s land in between.

Within the town of Willard, an everyday small town in Anywhere, America, the neighborhoods are inhabited by fascinating characters, both human and zombie.  Mr. Theopolis (Tim Blake Nelson) for example is an ex-ZomCon employee who now lives with Tammy, a young blonde fresh zombie who died of a brain aneurysm.  A wealthier owner has six zombies, a symbol of decadence.

Little Timmy Robinson’s family are the only one on the street who don’t have a zombie housekeeper.  Mr. Robinson claims they just can’t afford one, but the truth is he has a deep seated fear of zombies, going back to when he had to put a bullet in the brain of his own dead father.  When the ZomCom head of security moves in across the street, Mrs. Robinson buys her own zombie (Billy Connolly) so to keep up appearances.  Timmy quickly bonds with the zombie, whom he named Fido, after Fido saves him from the school bullies.  Zombies, it seems, retain a modicum of their original personalities.

Without a control collar, a zombie will eat anybody nearby.  When Fido’s collar malfunctions, he eats mean old lady Henderson!  This sets off a cascade of events that forces Timmy to cover for his zombie friend.  As the situation worsens, the death count rises…and with it the wild zombie population!  Things get weirder when it becomes apparent that Mrs. Robinson (Carrie Ann Moss) and Fido have feelings for each other.  Mr. Robinson sure doesn’t think much of Fido, nor does Mr. Bottoms, the ZomCom veteran.  As events spiral to the blood-splattered but satisfying denouement, Fido and Timmy’s loyalty to each stands firm.

When my buddy Chris recommended Fido to me, I wasn’t all that interested.  I’m on record as a Billy Connolly fan, but isn’t half of what makes him so hilarious that accent of his?  His rich weathered voice and mannerisms are priceless.  Yet somehow, Connolly pulled off a wonderful Billy-zombie hybrid.  Connolly does some of the best grunt dialogue I’ve ever heard.  His zombie-acting is spot on.  Connolly allows Fido to emote, while remaining dead.

I really enjoyed the details of this alternate Bizarro-universe that is Fido‘s 1950’s America.  Having won a war against zombies, Life magazine is now Death magazine.  Funerals are expensive affairs to arrange, with ornate head coffins to ensure that you stay dead.  Handguns can be weilded by 12 year olds (self defense), and marksmanship is taught to ZomCon cadets in school.  The world of Fido was obviously well thought out, as it is rich and detailed.  Visual and audio clues fill in the subtleties in this world.  Best of all, the Canadian filmmakers managed to do so with a budget of $8M.  Compare that to World War Z‘s $400M cost.  

I recommend Fido to fans of clever zombie films, and to fans of Connolly who just want to see him do something completely different.

4/5 stars

120x160 Aff Fido PersosK’Sun Ray as Timmy Robinson
Billy Connolly as Fido
Carrie-Anne Moss as Helen Robinson
Tim Blake Nelson as Mr. Theopolis
Dylan Baker as Bill Robinson
Henry Czerny as Jonathan Bottoms