comedy

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”

AMERICAN DAD – “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu” (Episode 20, season 14)

Ever since the debut of Rogu earlier this season, American Dad fans have eagerly anticipated his next starring appearance.  This was saved for the season finale, “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu”.  Rogu, if you recall, is Roger’s homunculus, birthed from a tumor.  He has Roger’s ability to disguise himself as anyone he desires, but also has the temperament of a small child.  He needs to be watched and cared for like a child, despite his alien nature.

It’s Rogu’s childlike nature that makes him a perfect candidate for the schemes of Steve Smith.  Steve needs money, so he can afford the curly fries in the school cafeteria instead of the boring old straight kind.  The solution:  babysitting.  Mom doesn’t think he’s ready.  Roger, however, thinks he’s up to the task.  Roger leaves Steve to take care of Rogu, while he does one of his many jobs (a female prostitute).  If Steve does well, his mom will have to admit he’s ready to babysit.

Ominously, taking care of Rogu has three rules (shades of Gremlins):

  1. No candy.
  2. No screen time.
  3. Don’t let Rogu look at the ant farm.  (He won’t chip in for it, so he shouldn’t enjoy it.)

Predictably, within minutes, Rogu’s eaten some licorice.  When he starts barfing up little balls of Rogu that turn into fully-grown Rogus, Steve knows he’s in way over his head.  One turns into three, and three turns into dozens.  It only gets worse when Klaus the goldfish tries to contain the situation by giving the Rogus a little screen time….

Season 14 produced at least three exceptionally good American Dad episodes, and two of them centered around Rogu.  The bizarre alien offspring has quirks (a love of innocent jokes for example) and abilities far different from his father Roger.  American Dad felt rejuvenated this season and Rogu was a key part of that.

If you only watch two episodes this season, make ’em Rogus.

4.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” (featuring Snoop Dogg)

AMERICAN DAD – “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” (Episode 5, season 14)

With a title like “Jeff and the Dank Ass Weed Factory” , you should know what to expect automatically.  That’s right — this time, American Dad spoofed the Roald Dahl children’s classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and made it totally not for children!

Tommie Tokes (Snoop Dogg) has opened his weed factory to the pubic for the first time!  All you (and a guest) have to do is discover a golden blunt wrap, only four in the world!  But the C.I.A. want in as well.  Director Bullock needs to get his hands on the “Everlasting Edible” in the never-ending war on drugs. Stan Smith is dispatched, the perfect agent for the job.  Stan is notoriously anti-drug.

“Why did the pothead cross the road?  He doesn’t remember!”

Meanwhile his stoner son-in-law Jeff is down in the dumps because Stan considers him a lazy and stupid pothead.  He’d sure like to find one of the golden wraps and take a tour of the fabulous weed factory.  Stores are sold out everywhere, and one by one, the news announces the names of the winners.  First is “Pube Face”, then Larry the Steely Dan fan, and Angie who smokes before every meal.

Jeff almost lights and smokes his own golden blunt wrap before the family stops him!  He is the fourth winner!  And the perfect pawn that Stan needs to get inside the factory and steal the Everlasting Edible.

At the gates of the weed factory, Tommie Tokes suddenly appears!  It’s basically Snoop Dogg dressed as Gene Wilder, because let’s face it, if you needed someone to play a character named Tommie Tokes, Snoop is already that character in real life.  First room on the tour:  the edibles!  As in the original source material, one by one the winners are eliminated.  Pube Face thinks a normal office desk and stapler are edibles, and dies.  And like in the source material, little colourful dwarves appear to sing whenever someone dies.  It’s the Snoopa Loompas!  “Don’t be dumb, and use your eyes, you can’t make weed into office supplies.”

Into the next room, Tommie Tokes unveils a machine that can scan your mind and produce your own personal ideal strain of weed.  Angie wants to try it, but Tommie noticed that Stan didn’t eat anything in the edibles room.  He orders Stan into the scanner.  “If you don’t, I’m gonna think you a Narc.”  Not wanting to blow his cover, Stan is scanned.  His ideal strain?  “C-High-A”.  Angie, however, is not so lucky and gets zapped when she rushes in before the scanner is recharged.  Finally Larry the Steely Dan fan has his face blown off by Tokes’ insane sound system.  Larry, at least, died how he wanted.  But Jeff and Stan have wandered off on their own…one of them with ulterior motives!

“Why did I even have this dumb factory tour?” asks Tokes.  “I had very little to gain from a business perspective!”

Will Stan steal the Everlasting Edible, or will he get too stoned first?

There was no B-story this time, so not much Roger or anyone else.  The best episodes usually involve Roger and his personas.  “The Dank Ass Weed Factory” isn’t a top ten or top twenty episode, but Snoop fans or connoisseurs of weed humour need to check it out.

3.5/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Rabbit Ears”

AMERICAN DAD – “Rabbit Ears” (Episode 4, season 14)

It has been an exciting week for American Dad fans, as they devoured one of the weirdest episodes of the entire series, “Rabbit Ears”.  This is a series that did an entire episode in the form of a stage play.  Another was styled like an indi film and featured Zooey Dechanel as an overtly stated “manic pixie dream girl”.  This time, American Dad took off for The Outer Limits and ended up in the Twilight Zone.

There is no hint of the episode’s bizarre setting in the standard opening.  Stan, always up to something stupid, goes garbage picking on “big items” week, when people throw out large appliances.  He brings home a mattress infested with bed bugs and a giant, ancient television.  The Smith family are not amused, especially when Roger steals their attention as his latest persona:  a non-verbal newborn baby.  Then it gets weirder.

Sequestered in the basement with his mattress and television set, Stan sets up the antenna and gets nothing but static.  Then suddenly, Stan is woken from his slumber by the sweet sound of jazz, as a show finally comes in: “Nighthawks Hideaway”.

“Nighthawks Hideaway” intro with Alistair Covax

“Weclome Nighthawks, we’ve been expecting you.  The hour is late but the party is just getting started.  I’m Alistair Covax, your host for a sophistical little soirée with jazz, stimulating conversation, beautiful ladies…and more jazz.”

“What IS this show?” asks Stan.  It’s in black and white and clearly from the 1960s.

“Charlie, play some of those notes you know I like,” says Alistair to the jazz pianist.

Nothing on Google.  No record of the host Alistair Covax (Star Trek‘s Chris Pine) either.  Even TV Guide magazine says the show does never existed…but they know of a support group for people who claim to have seen Nighthawks Hideaway!  A show that does not exist…but multiple people have seen it.  Shades of Shazam/Kazaam!

Investigating the support group, Stan finds only one other attendee:  neighbour Al Tuttle (Richard Kind).

“There used to be more people, but one by one, they stopped coming,” explains Tuttle.

But what about the show?  “There’s only one episode!  And it re-runs over and over and over on channel 36!”

It’s even stranger than that.  “There’s only one episode…but it changes!  Little…differences in the show!  I keep track of them!”

That night, Stan notices something different on Nighthawks Hideaway.  Tuttle is in the show!  Not believeing his eyes, he knows further investigation is required.  Tuttle’s house is empty, but Stan finds his TV and notebook.  Here, Tuttle tracked differences from night to night.  The last page has the ominous note “I MUST GO IN.”

Stan studies the book and tracks the changes, night after night, in the basement on the old TV and finally discovers what happened to Al Tuttle.  And that’s when things get really Twilight Zone, and to go further would get into spoiler territory.

This episode “Rabbit Ears” was a truly fresh spin on a classic science fiction / horror theme.  Perhaps this style of storytelling is coming back into vogue.  There is a rebooted Twilight Zone now, hosted by Jordan Peele.  Regardless of trends, American Dad are still the masters of a specific type of surreal animated comedy.  The show is its own genre now, and “Rabbit Ears” is a clear indicator that its potential remains wide open.  Keep ’em coming.

5/5 stars

 

 

DVD REVIEW: Grandma’s Boy (Unrated 2006)

GRANDMA’S BOY (2006 20th Century Fox Unrated Edition DVD)

Allen Covert finally got to step out from Adam Sandler’s sizable shadow in Grandma’s Boy, one of the best, most re-watchable weed comedies this side of Half Baked. Covert can’t really do an entire comedy on his own so expect to see Sandler’s other reliable sidemen:  Peter Dante, David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Rob Schneider.  Joel Moore (Avatar) and Linda Cardelini (Freaks & Geeks, Captain America: Civil War) are on hand, but check out a super young Jonah Hill!

The setup is pretty simple. Allen Covert has been evicted from his apartment (not his fault!) and decides to go live with some new “roomates” — his grandma and her two friends. But he can’t let his co-workers at a video game company know that he’s not throwing it down with hotties every night, so he keeps it on the downlow. Covert has the best job for his lifestyle — he tests video games all day. If you like video games, this movie is for you.

Things come to a head when Linda Cardelini shows up to get the delayed game back on its release schedule, The head designer J.P. (Moore dressed up like Neo) seems a little jealous of his teammates. During the course of the movie, copious amounts of the herb are consumed before the action packed video gaming climax.  Even Grandma might partake…accidentally of course.

If you like those Happy Madison movies, but are sad they don’t make ’em like they used to anymore, give Grandma’s Boy a visit.

3/5 stars

TV REVIEW: American Dad – “Persona Assistant”

AMERICAN DAD – “Persona Assistant” (Episode 16, season 13)

For fans of Roger the alien, the13th season of American Dad really delivered this time.  It was a special episode:  #250 of the long-running animated series.  The best episodes usually focus on Roger and his many personas.  This instalment was one of them.

We get a glimpse of Roger’s daily life.  He’s busy for an alien.  He has so many personas to live, and only 24 hours in a day.  The workload must be getting to him.  He’s feeling sickly and has a strange lump growing on his ample forehead.

Roger is resistant but the Smith family take him to see Dr. Kalgary, the show’s resident master of the dark sciences.  Kalgary removes the lump, a large tumour, and Roger is sent for rest and rehabilitation.  Taking a jar with his tumour sealed inside, Roger goes on vacation.  So who will handle all his personas while he’s away?

Stan steps up for the recovering Roger, only to find that living the lives of his all personas is hard work!  Of course he mucks it all up.  To his shock, Roger’s personas were so important that their absences causes the city to descend into chaos and anarchy.  When Roger finally returns, he is not alone.  It turns out that his species have a way of handling stress.  That tumour was not a tumour at all, but a little homunculus named Rogu!  With Rogu’s help, Roger can fix the damage that Stan has done.  But not before the return of one of American Dad’s most requested personas:  Ricky Spanish!  The most hated man in town!  Only Rogu can stop him.

When I saw Rogu, I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard.  The same thing happened the next day when I watched again.  For whatever reason, Rogu has tickled my funnybone in a serious way.  Roger has, over time, become almost a normal character.  There’s little he can do that surprises you anymore.  Rogu?  That’s a whole new ballgame.  The show can get even weirder now.  (Rogu is absolutely certain to return, considering an upcoming episode is called “The Hand that Rocks the Rogu“.)

In the second storyline, Steve’s joined the jazz club at school.  Playing on the old stereotype of drugged out jazzbos, Steve takes performance enhancing drugs to take his scat singing to the next level!  The finals are coming, and Steve brings his scatting to the extreme.  Only morphine can stop him.

Fuck yeah, American Dad.  I thought maybe the best years were behind.  Apparently not.  Carry on!

5/5 Rogus

DVD REVIEW: The Orville – The Complete First Season (2018)

THE ORVILLE – The Complete First Season (2018 20th Century Fox 2 DVD set)

We like Star Trek: Discovery, we really do.  At the same time, we wonder, “Why do studios insist the only way to do Star Trek today is to modernise it into a gritty action drama?”  Does it have to be so?  Is Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future somehow outdated?

Though CBS Paramount seem terrified of anything “too Trekky”, others have not been timid.  Sensing the wide-open void for something styled in the old spirit of Trek, Seth MacFarlane (of all people) made his move with The Orville.

Before you scoff, let’s not forget that MacFarlane clearly knows his Star Trek.  1) Patrick Stewart regularly appears on his shows.  2) He reunited the entire Next Generation cast for the first time on an episode of Family Guy.  3) He cast Michael Dorn in Ted 2 and dressed him up as Worf.  It should surprise no one that The Orville is closest in spirit to Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In fact, not even Deep Space Nine or Voyager are this close.  From the gentle pastel sets including conference rooms, hallways and holodecks, to the techno-babble, to the minimal use of violence, The Orville is the NEXT Next Generation.  It is the Enterprise D, but if Captain Picard allowed the crew to crack wise when opportunity knocked.

It would take only the slightest nudge to turn The Orville into Trek canon.  Change some names and terminology, tone down the humour slightly, and you’re there.  Humour on a starship?  Yes, of course, but The Orville is not a comedy.  It is first and foremost science fiction, and indeed some of the best science fiction on television since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled.  The episodes are generally commentary on modern society, much like Star Trek has always been.  Change the setting to outer space and suddenly it’s parable.  Topics covered include the “court of public opinion” seen in social media today, gender reassignment, underachievers, religion in society, and making the most difficult decisions.  The biggest difference between the voyages of the Orville and the Enterprise isn’t even that big:  on the Orville, there are no transporter beams.

The crew of The Orville is obsessed with Earth culture circa 1980-present, but that is to be expected given Seth MacFarlane’s own interests.  References to movies and TV shows of today are rampant.  Jokes are toned down from the usual modern fare, but the pilot episode sets up a comedic premise.  Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) catches his wife, Commander Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien (Rob Lowe).  When Grayson is assigned as his first officer on the Union ship the Orville, the entire crew learns of their marriage issues.  Captain Mercer’s best friend (and best pilot in the fleet) is Lt. Gordon Malloy played by Scott Grimes of American Dad.  Seth’s buddy Norm MacDonald also shows up as Lt. Yaphit, a gelatinous yellow blob based on Odo from Deep Space Nine, but played for comedy relief.

Too much science fiction today has flimsy barely-there characters.  The Orville’s crew are more fully formed than the usual, with a few receiving interesting story arcs.  They are all new versions of classic archetypes.  The robot Isaac (Mark Jackson) is the twist on Data.  He is still immensely curious about humans, but knows he is vastly superior and considers everyone on the Orville his inferior.  Bortus (Peter Macon) is your “Worf”, a deep voiced, strong alien species with head ridges.  His unique trait is that his race is single-gendered, and much of his character development is in tandem with his partner Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).  Halston Sage plays the inexperienced security chief Alara Kitan, a young alien from a planet with such high gravity, that their species have evolved tremendous physical strength.  Though small she can easily throw a punch to send Bortus flying, or re-shape a cube of titanium with her hands!  Yet she lacks the confidence that her crewmates have in her.

More casting genius:  Penny Johnson Jerald, Deep Space Nine‘s Kassidy Yates, as ship’s doctor Claire Finn.  In cameos or recurring roles are Ron Canada (Next Generation), Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West), Victor Garber (Titanic), Mike Henry (Family Guy), Robert Picardo (Voyager‘s Doctor), and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  One has to respect both the sheer talent involved, and the willingness of Star Trek actors to participate.

As the show grows during its first season, comedy takes a back seat to science fiction.  In the bonus features, MacFarlane states that he paid attention to fan feedback, and he noted that fans were discussing the legitimate characters and science fiction tales.  Episodes feature a new twist on classic sci-fi (and even Star Trek) themes:  living in a simulation, a space zoo, Flatland, a civilisation living in a generation ship without its own knowledge, interference with space-time and developing cultures, and many planets with Earth-like societies that act as a mirror for us to view our own.  Ray guns are rarely used, and monsters are usually misunderstood.

It’s remarkable but not untrue to say that The Orville is Star Trek, but without infringing any copyrights.  Dig a little further in the credits and you’ll have a better understanding of how they managed to play The Orville so close to classic Trek.  In the director’s chair:  Jonathan Frakes, AKA Riker, and director of Trek on both TV and in cinemas.  Also directing:  Robert Duncan McNeill, AKA Tom Paris and also director of many Voyager episodes.  Behind the scenes is Brannon Braga, a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Cosmos…and The Orville.  Jon Favreau even directed the pilot episode.  With a team like this in place, MacFarlane and friends were more than capable of making a show truly within the optimistic Roddenberry philosophy.  Guys like Braga, Frakes and McNeill spent years living in that universe.

The DVD includes your traditional special features, the best of which is a Q&A session with the cast and creators of the show.  Another interesting featurette is about the physical model of the Orville spaceship, used for those slow “beauty shots”.

The Orville is the show that Trek fans have wanted for years now, at least since JJ Abrams brought it back to movie screens.  The true Trek on TV is not Discovery.  It’s not Short Treks.  It is The Orville.  If that pisses off CBS Paramount, then too bad.  If they won’t make the Trek that fans want, then someone else will — and did.

5/5 stars

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987 Paramount)

Directed by John Hughes

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of my top ten favorite films ever made. It’s in pretty good company with 12 Angry Men (the one from the ‘50s), Blue Velvet, Die Hard, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, The Unforgiven, etc. On the surface it may seem absurd to place what seems like a goofy road comedy from the ‘80s on a list containing films of that stature, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable at all. This film is the best road film ever made, and I have no reservations about calling it one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s no glowing pretension or aspirations to reach Citizen Kane levels of movie making, or bids for narrative complexity. It is a heartfelt holiday classic about a stubborn irate man just trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving. That man is ad executive Neal Page portrayed by Steve Martin, who is helped out in his travels by the loquacious shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith played by John Candy. The two men are polar opposites that learn to care for each other under the extreme circumstances that impede their journey home. By the end of the film, both men have learned to let down their emotional guards and trust each other, a necessary step for the two of them to arrive at their destination.

It’s not a complicated plot, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s something about these characters and situations that seems to demonstrate real life in such a direct way. It’s not a puzzle, everything is clear cut. Not to say that the movie is all surface level, there’s plenty of stuff to dive into here between the two men, particularly through multiple viewings after you know Del’s secret. The level of character depth in these two men is particularly compelling to watch on screen, as seeing the psyche of two opposites gravitate towards each other giving each other strength is both stimulating and moving. Part of that depth comes from the fact that this film was perfectly cast. John Candy and Steve Martin don’t even seem to be playing characters, but amplified versions of themselves. The dialogue, the movements, the actions are all totally natural, and the responses appear to have weight behind them that suggest the character’s past experiences. Guest appearances from Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, and Edie McClurg all appear in hilarious supporting roles as well, but I wouldn’t dare spoil them here. Well, maybe one.

Steve Martin plays Neal as an impatient cynical grouch who is dying to get out of the sales meeting he’s stuck in so that he can find a cab and get to the airport on time. Del plays the happy go lucky salesman that accidentally steals Neal’s cab during rush hour in New York City. Fate keeps these two characters together as they meet by chance at the airport again. Neal confronts Del about stealing the cab, and Del feels genuine remorse. He tries to be as affable as possible, offering up Neal a beer and a hot dog. Neal being a bit prudish rejects the peace offering with a snarky type of politeness. Of course, Del doesn’t immediately pick up on or at least chooses to ignore Neal’s hostility. All he wants is to get home in a timely manner to see his family for the holiday. A snowstorm prevents their plane from landing in Illinois, causing the flight to divert all the way to Kansas.

The two men book a hotel room together as the hotels fill up. It is at this point that the exposition ends and Neal lets out all the resentment he has towards Del.  The set up is complete and now the emotional core of the movie really begins to develop. Neal states in no uncertain terms every problem that he has with Del, not holding back any vitriol. Martin’s performance is so wonderful that it actually gets the audience to laugh along with all his complaints, even as John Candy’s face starts to sink. Martin plays it as a man who has seriously contemplated every perceivable flaw in Del’s character, and is eager to list out every mundane detail. When he says he could listen to the most boring insurance seminar for days on end “because I’ve been with Del Griffith!” his vocal inflections are so comically annoyed that the audience can’t help but laugh. The scene isn’t a joke, it’s clear that the man has been pushed to his limit, but the audience laughs because they understand his frustration. However, the way Neal starts and stops seems to suggest that it’s against his better judgement to be so mean. It all just seems to be slipping out, as one complaint leads into the next until he’s too far to back down. When Neal finally finishes venting, John Hughes hits us with the first emotional blast in the movie.

Del’s reply is an often quoted moment from cinema history. It’s so perfect in its raw emotional simplicity. Whereas the cynical Neal has been stewing over his anger and letting it out almost uncontrollably, Del’s reply is a brief calm statement of emotional truth. It’s a tender “take me or leave me” moment, but Del is clearly hurt deeply by Neal’s words. Del’s trying just as hard to convince himself that he’s strong enough to take it because of the love he has from his wife and customers. Candy’s performance completely sells the speech, and makes the audience feel remorse for laughing at Martin mocking him just a few seconds ago. You can see in his face that this isn’t the first time that someone has gone off on him for his sometimes overzealous extroverted personality, and the hurt in his eyes betrays years of pain in the past. Despite all this pain, he can’t help the way he his. He will never fight back. When he says that he doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, it makes the cynical viewers and Neal shameful for feeling any malice towards Del. The two men have been forced to share a bed, and they cozy up together for the night as Neal learns to be a little more accepting of other people.

This John Hughes road comedy distinguishes itself from a lot of his work in that it focuses on adult relationships instead of teenagers. The two main characters are middle aged men set in their own ways. These men learn to evolve the more that they learn about each other. This is similar to the plot of Hughes’ more popular The Breakfast Club, only in this film instead of the characters being locked together in one room, Page and Griffith can’t seem to shake each other as they both make their way from the streets of New York to Neal’s home in Illinois.

Every time that the two men try to separate they just end up in each other’s company again. Also every time that Del seems to be gaining Neal’s favor something ludicrous happens that screws it up. Del driving on the wrong side of the highway after falling asleep is one of these moments, particularly after the car is destroyed and lit on fire and it is revealed that Del used Neal’s credit card to rent it. Amazingly the machine is still able to run, and the two pull up to a motel for the night. All their money was stolen by robbers on the first night at the hotel in Kansas, and their cards were burnt up in the fire. Neal has to sell his watch to get a room, but Del cannot afford one at all. This is the climax of the film, as even after rendering Neal liable to the damage of an entire automobile, Neal finally decides to completely accept Del. He is forgiven. This acceptance materializes because Neal cannot stand the site of Del freezing outside in the burnt up car. Neal decides to throw out all his jaded cynicism and invite Del into his room. It is at this point that Neal is willing to forgive Del for anything, and accept him for who he is unconditionally. The journey the two men have been on together and the bond that has formed over just two days is so strong that Neal will never give up on Del again. The two men fall asleep drinking liquor and talking about how much they love their wives. Never again in the movie is Neal the grouch, he’s even a good sport about riding in the back of a refrigerated truck after their rental car is impounded for being too dangerous for the road.

They finally make it to LaSalle/Van Buren CTA station that will take Neal the rest of the way home. It is empty except the two of them now that it’s Thanksgiving day. This is where Del and Neal part ways for the holidays. That is until Neal begins to put the pieces together. Little scraps of what Del has said throughout the film finally begin to add up in Neal’s brain, and the ending scene that follows is one of the most heartwarming in any film ever. There’s no shame for any grown ass man to ball his eyes out watching it the first time. John Candy deserved an Oscar for the film closing smile he gives. For the sake of those that have never seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending here.

Most comedies are not good movies. They simply exist to generate a few shallow laughs and leave no long term impression. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the few comedies to transcend the limitations of its genre with genuine heart and characters that the audience can actually feel invested in. We want Neal and Del to succeed, as they seem like genuinely plausible people trapped in improbably unfortunate circumstances. They’re not one-note characters who simply exist for an endless barrage of sight gags to happen upon them, their choices are based on well established character traits, not just moving along because the plot needs them to. Anyone who has had to travel for the holidays feels the plight that these men are going through, even if they have never experienced it to the insanity that Neal and Del have. If you’ve never seen this movie because you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or some other reason, I implore you to seek it out and watch it today. This movie is a classic that stands up even if you don’t celebrate the holiday in the movie. As Neal puts it in the film, after the journey you’re, “a little wiser.”

5/5 Turkeys

 

REVIEW: Blotto – Collected Works (1994)

BLOTTO – Collected Works (1994 Blotto Records)

Blotto’s discography was dominated by singles and four track EPs.  They had one album, the supremely entertaining Combo Akimbo (1982), and that was that!  So, when the CD age rolled around, the suits over at Blottones publishing must have decided to get in on that!  Almost all Blotto’s output was reissued in a single CD collection, including the complete album Combo Akimbo.

Blotto’s Collected Works is probably the most logical pit-stop to check out the band on your musical journey.  We begun with their hit “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard”, from their debut EP Hello, My Name Is Blotto, What’s Yours?.  “Lifeguard” represents the hopes and dreams of a shoe salesman who really just wants to get paid to hang out on a beach all day.  Done in the surf-rock style of course.  Then “(We Are The) Nowtones” is a musical advertisement for the band you should hire for your next event.  “We are the Nowtones!  We do Top 40!  We wear matching outfits!  We look real sporty!  Like a living juekbox, we play the hits.  Appear in nightclubs that are the pits.”

At this point the compilation presents the Combo Akimbo album in sequence.  For my money, I prefer the vinyl.  Not only is it a self-contained work, but it’s got way more beef to it.  Comparing LP to CD, there is no question which sounds better.  Combo Akimbo is blast of an album, but we’ve already reviewed it, so check that out for more detail.  The key takeaway for most people will be the song “Metal Head” featuring Buck Dharma of Blue Oyster Cult, which received some MTV and MuchMusic play in the early 80s.  For a certain generation, this is the only Blotto song they know due to its presence on the legendary compilation LP Metal For Breakfast.

Blotto’s second EP Across and Down (1980) is also presented in sequence.  “She’s Got a Big Boyfriend” has a riff similar to the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer”, but the song goes in another direction — 80s pop rock.  Then “Gimme the Girl” is tropical reggae vibes via Albany NY.  It’s supremely fun for parties.  Run for cover if you’re overly sensitive when “My Baby’s the Star of a Driver’s Ed Movie” begins!  The classic ballad stylings contrast with the words.  The final Across and Down song is the punk rock scorcher “H.S.H.” — “High School Honey”, a clear winner in any race.

“Lightning Strikes” is a real rarity, from a 1982 indy compilation called Hudson Rock: Fifteen Bands From Albany. It’s an also-ran with nice harmonies but is otherwise largely forgettable.  A live version of “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” is better than the studio original, and it’s another rarity.  It was originally released on a low quality flexi-disc that came with a 1987 compilation LP also called I Wanna Be a Lifeguard.  Then there’s an amusing song called “The B-side”, from the single for “When the Second Feature Starts”.  “The A-side gets all the glory, the B-side, that’s another story…and you’re probably not even listening to this right now!”

The only serious skipper is the cover of “Stop! In the Name of Love” with lead vocals by former singer Blanche Blotto.  This B-side from the first EP is campy but not particularly good.  The overwrought vocals ruin what might have been a cool disco arrangement.  Another dicey inclusion is a “karaoke” mix of “Lifeguard” (eww).  A better song to include would have been “Bud…Is After Us” from the first EP which otherwise would have made the CD too long.

Yes, it’s the Collected Works, but there’s still a bit more out there to collect.  There’s even another compilation CD called Then More Than Ever from 2000, all unreleased material.  Still more to explore; but in the meantime consider Collected Works as a great way to get really, really Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

VIDEO REVIEW: Blotto – Tonight at Toad’s (1982)

BLOTTO – Tonight at Toad’s (1982 television broadcast)

Since finally “discovering” Blotto this summer, I’ve already viewed their concert Tonight at Toad’s (3/25/82) numerous times, so much that I know the whole broadcast by heart.  The comedic rock band took the stage at Toad’s Place (New Haven, CT) for a TV broadcast.  The amicable, well-rehearsed group kept things at all times entertaining.

Blotto opened with the satirical “(We Are) The Nowtones)”, an oldies-style advertisement for a band who’ll play anything you want; and they’ll say “thank you” at the end of every song!  It’s a clever little pastiche with even the stage lighting being part of the story.

The second broadcast song, “It’s Not You” was from their then-forthcoming album debut, Combo Akimbo.  Guitarist Bowtie Blotto has to tell his girl that it’s all over, but it’s not her fault.  “It’s not you, it’s your family that I can’t stand.”  With a catchy guitar lick, Bowtie tells it how it is.  As soon as Bow takes the girl home, her family goes right into him.  “I try, and I try to be cool when they start.  But girl, they’re the ones who are tearing us apart!”

Your mother wants to know if I am on drugs,
Your brother shows me his collection of bugs,
Your aunts don’t like me and your uncles are a bunch of thugs.
Your father coughs and blows smoke in my face,
He still believes in the superior race,
He says if he was president, the world would be a better place.

Dear God, that sounds like a nightmare.  But it gets worse!

Don’t take it personally,
It’s just all those little things,
Like when I come over and your father tells me, “don’t park in the driveway ’cause your car drips oil on the new white pebbles!” And then when I come inside, the cat jumps all over my lap, and gets hair all over my shirt and pants! And your grandmother sits on the newspaper and gets it all wrinkled and balled up, I can’t even read it. And your sister brings out her scrap book, she wants me to look at all of her old prom pictures. I mean, who cares! And your brother wants me to help him with his science project, dissecting frogs! Oh, what a mess! And then when I go in the bathroom, and wash my hands, and all they have is soft soap, and my hands smell like coconuts, and I can’t dry ’em on those little guest towels, so I gotta dry ’em on my shirt, which is already covered with cat hair!

What a great little pop rock tune, though.  That’s the thing about Blotto.  Even if mixing comedy and rock (a dicey proposition to be sure) isn’t your bag, there’s no denying Blotto were top-notch.  The musicianship and especially their singing was always spot-on.  They could tackle multiple styles easily, and had an arsenal of three lead singers (Bowtie, Broadway and Sergeant Blotto) to harmonize.  They also just wrote good songs.

Broadway goes next with “Occupational Hazard”, also from the forthcoming album.  Enjoy this decent rock n’ roll track about the dangers of being in a band.  Another good tune:  if the songs were not good enough, the lyrics wouldn’t carry the show alone.

Blotto’s big hit was 1979’s “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” from their debut EP.  Sergeant Blotto leads the charge to the beach in this surf-rock new-wave anthem.  Poor Sarge, stuck working in a shoe store all summer.  His dream job?  Being a lifeguard of course!  “I want an ocean, and some sunscreen lotion.  Take me to the beach with a thousand pretty girls in reach!”  Sounds awesome Sarge, sign us up.

The show takes a break for an interview with the five Blotto members, including bassist Cheese and drummer Lee Harvey.  They talk about the still-untitled album and banter about naturally.  Why were Blotto not huge?  Watching this video, it’s easy to imagine Blotto appealing to many.  The legend goes that they were once offered a major label deal but would have lost creative control.  They chose to put out their album on Blotto Records instead.  Maybe if they had signed with the label…?  Who knows.  Watch this interview yourself and see a band that coulda woulda shoulda.

 

Back to the music.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is sung by the evil villain “Dr. Bow”.  Any Bond fan will take delight in this spy adventure.  Will Bond escape this time?  “I could kill you right now, but no!  There’s a better way…”  That usually doesn’t go well for the villain, but the song goes on the verge of progressive rock during an instrumental breakdown.  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” flows seamlessly into a cover of “Secret  Agent Man” with Sarge on lead vocals.

Kids of the 80s remember Blotto for one song:  “Metal Head”.  Sergeant Blotto’s friends are gettin’ worried.  He’s turning into a heavy metal head!  It has all the necessary ingredients for a metal song:  Solid riff, howlin’ vocals, ripping guitar solos, thunderous drum fills, and screams aplenty.

This great little show is a wonderful way for you to enjoy the next 45 minutes of your life. Get Blotto.

4/5 stars

 

    1. (We Are) The Nowtones (from 1979’s EP Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    2. It’s Not You (from 1982’s Combo Akimbo)
    3. Occupational Hazard (from Combo Akimbo)
    4. I Wanna Be a Lifeguard (from Hello! My Name Is Blotto. What’s Yours?)
    5. Interview
    6. Goodbye, Mr. Bond (from Combo Akimbo)
    7. Secret Agent Man (Johnny Rivers cover)
    8. Metal Head (from Combo Akimbo)

 

 

 

REVIEW: Blotto – Combo Akimbo (1982)

BLOTTO – Combo Akimbo (1982 Blotto Records)

Blotto were just too much fun!  A variety of rocking styles and amusing lyrics makes Combo Akimbo, their only studio album, a blast to listen to front to back.

Singer Sergeant Blotto takes lead vocals on “Too Much Fun”, a punky vintage Alice Cooper rock and roll romp, powered through a particle accelerator.  For track two, guitarist Bowtie Blotto leads.  “It’s Only Money” is just pure and simple rock and roll:  Kiss with a hint of early Beatles.  Broadway Blotto (guitar) takes over lead vocals on “Scream”.  It’s a pleasantly New Wave 80s-sounding rock song with a great chorus, aided and abetted by Sarge and Bowtie.  “I Quit” (vocals by Broadway) is a perfect rock anthem for those who wanna take this job and shove it.  Sassy, fun rock and roll.

The most legendary of the songs is of course “Metal Head”, lead vocals by Sarge.  It’s a funny and uncomplicated story of what could happen if you too inadvertently become a metal head.  Done in the metal style, Sarge complains that “suddenly there’s an endless void where I used to keep my brain”.  It plays on the 80s brain-dead metalhead stereotype, but for a comedy song it works.  “Wanna customize my van, and I don’t even own one.”  That’s Buck Dharma from Blue Oyster Cult on lead guitar (and in the video).  Dig those four (count ‘em!) false endings.

Side two is just as much fun as side one.  “It’s Not You” boasts chiming, jangly guitars and catchy everything.  Bowtie proclaims that “It’s not you, it’s your family I can’t stand!”  It’s just a quick blast of gleeful complaining.  “Occupational Hazard” sounds, strangely enough, like an outtake from Peter Criss’ first solo album…if it was the best song on the album.  It has that old-timey style that Pete was so good at back then…but better.  Then the very New Wave rock-styled “When the Second Feature Starts” is a memento of the old drive-in days.  Kissing through the cartoons, fogging up the windows…remember what it was like?

Possibly the most intriguing and entertaining song on the album is closer “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.  From the perspective of the villain who has just captured 007, it’s a brilliant homage to the greatest spy of all time.  “We’ve been expecting you, monsieur Bond.”  The bad guy invites him to sit and chat before discussing how Bond should die.  “This is your last interference.  I could shoot you right now, but NO!  Hahahaha, there’s a better way!”  We all know how it goes from there!  “Goodbye, Mr. Bond” is a treat whether you like the super spy or not.  The music captures the Bond essence and the lyrics pay tribute to both the good and bad Bond clichés.

What a blast Combo Akimbo is.  It’s not an outstanding classic album by any stretch, but it’s fun, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and every song is good.  Worth tracking down if only for “Metal Head” and “Goodbye, Mr. Bond”.

4/5 stars