The Muppet Movie

New review from The Movie Snob.

The Muppet Movie  (C).  I’m continuing my romp through the classics with this recent offering from fathomevents.com.  Although I enjoyed the muppets TV show in my youth, I never saw this, their first theatrical release, which came out in 1979.  Turns out I didn’t miss all that much.  It’s the story of how Kermit the Frog (voice of Jim Henson) decided to follow his dream of being an entertainer, left his swamp, and hit the road for Hollywood.  It’s a road-trip movie, with Kermit picking up a band of oddballs (Fozzie Bear (voice of Frank Oz), Miss Piggy (Oz), Gonzo (Dave Goelz), etc.) along the way while simultaneously being pursued by a fast-food-frog-legs entrepreneur (Charles Durning, O Brother, Where Art Thou?) who wants Kermit to be his front man, er, frog.  The jokes and sight gags really aren’t all that funny, but the frequent musical numbers tend to be better (especially Kermit’s wistful “The Rainbow Connection”).  There are loads of celebrity cameos, including Edgar Bergin, Bob Hope, Milton Berle, Mel Brooks, Big Bird, and even Orson Welles, but only Steve Martin’s rude waiter is very funny.  I’m glad I saw it, but I doubt I’ll ever watch it again.  (I might look for “The Rainbow Connection” on iTunes, though.)

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Alan Parsons Live Project (concert review)

From the desk of The Movie Snob.

Alan Parsons Live Project.  As I get on in years, it surprises me when I find myself going to a rock and roll music concert.  Until recently, the last concert I saw was The Zombies, which was right about three years ago.  But a couple of weeks ago I ended that drought by seeing an old favorite of mine, British rocker Alan Parsons.  If you’re not familiar with him, he started out as a technical guy on some Beatles albums and, most famously, on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album.  Then he formed his own studio band called The Alan Parsons Project, and they scored several top-forty hits back in the 1970s and early 1980s.  Their biggest hit was “Eye in the Sky,” but they had decent chart success with other songs like “Time,” “Games People Play,” and “Don’t Answer Me.”  Their instrumental “Sirius” has become famous as the music that gets played before the game at Chicago Bulls home games.  Anyway, I was a fan of the Project’s light, radio-friendly psychedelia, and I bought like ten of their albums back in the day.

Anyway, Parsons eventually decided to do some touring, and back in the 90s I actually caught his live show at Dallas’s since-demolished Bronco Bowl.  Now he’s touring again, and some buddies and I saw him at the Theatre in Grand Prairie.  Although Eric Woolfson, who sang lead vocals on songs like “Eye in the Sky,” died several years ago and had a remarkable voice that no one else can really evoke successfully, it was still quite a good show.  The band played for about an hour (including almost all their top-forty hits), took an intermission, and then played the entirety of the Project’s 1977 album I, Robot.  Unfortunately I had to leave before the encore, but the internet indicates that the band probably came back and played “Games People Play” and “(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” to wrap up the night.

In sum, it was a solid show.  Any Parsons fans out there should check out the show if it comes to a town near you.

 

Pictures from an Institution (book review)

A book review from The Movie Snob.

Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy, by Randall Jarrell (1952).  I recently bought a Barnes & Noble tablet—I think it is called a Nook HD+ or something like that.  I bought it for its wi-fi/email capability, but I thought I would also try it out as an e-reader and see how I liked it.  (I had previously tried a little old Amazon Kindle and did not care for it.)  So I read this old novel on the Nook and, although I guess it was ok as a reading experience, it’ll be a while before I’m ready to give up dead-tree books entirely.  (I do think I might be willing to try a magazine subscription or two on the Nook though.  Such subscriptions seem to be less expensive, and I tried one issue and didn’t really mind reading it on the gizmo.)  Anyway, I thought this novel was decent but not particularly great.  It’s about a small women’s liberal-arts college back in the day, and a few of the people who populate it—like the vacuous president, the gimlet-eyed guest writing instructor who’s really just collecting observations for her next novel, and the resident composer, a European exile who is one of the most humane people in the bunch.  It’s a short book, and enjoyable enough, I suppose.

Drag Me to Hell

From the desk of The Movie Snob

Drag Me to Hell (B-). I enjoyed director Sam Raimi’s movies Evil Dead and Army of Darkness (especially the latter), so I gladly paid my $1.25 to see this movie at a local cheap cinema. I guess it was about what I should have expected, although I had no idea Oscar nominee Adriana Barraza (Babel) was in it. Young, fresh-faced Alison Lohman (Big Fish) plays Christine Brown, a loan officer who’s angling for a promotion. To show her toughness, she denies an extension to a hideous old gypsy woman whose home is being foreclosed upon. This sets a dire chain of events in motion as the gypsy attacks Christine in the parking garage after work and puts a terrible curse on her. The curse manifests itself in a series of creepy and disgusting supernatural assaults on the hapless Christine. Her bland boyfriend and a friendly psychic try to help her, but will she succeed in breaking the curse before she is . . . dragged to Hell??? It’s reasonably scary and unreasonably gross, so don’t say you weren’t warned!

Ireland (country review)

Notes from Abroad: The Movie Snob Does Ireland.

I just returned from a weeklong vacation on the Emerald Isle, and I thought I would share a few comments and observations.

C.I.E. Tours. This was my first time to go on a package-vacation sort of deal, getting thrown in with a bunch of complete strangers and getting chauffeured all over the place by tour bus. I have to say that I rather liked it. The company, C.I.E. Tours, is apparently some sort of affiliate of Ireland’s national transportation agency, and the whole vacation was pretty well planned. The only exception, I would say, was the day we arrived in Ireland. Like every other time I have gone to Europe, we all arrived in Dublin early in the morning, and C.I.E. really didn’t have anything for us to do until midafternoon. We were dropped off at our hotel, but we were there way too early to get into our rooms, so we left our luggage at the front desk and basically had nothing to do except wander around for a few hours before the tour got started in earnest. But this was a small glitch, and everything else was nicely organized and well-scheduled.

I would add that our tour director and bus driver, Brendan Heneghan, was a delight. He has been with this company for about 25 years, but if he is at all tired of driving American tourists around he never showed it. His love of Ireland was self-evident. I thoroughly enjoyed his frequent commentary on the landmarks, the countryside, and the Irish history behind the sights we were seeing. He even sang a few Irish songs for us and wasn’t half bad. Plus, he was an excellent driver; how he managed to maneuver that bus through all the tights spots and narrow turns we encountered (all while driving on the wrong side of the road) is beyond me.

Ireland. Absolutely beautiful, even in mid-October with the high tourist season in the past. We were very fortunate in the weather, getting only one really rainy day in the whole week. Although it was cool or chilly every day, it never got really cold. Our itinerary included two days in Dublin, followed by a drive through southwestern Ireland and stop at famous Blarney Castle. Then we spent two nights in Killarney as a base for a daylong drive around the famous “Ring of Kerry,” which is a scenic route around a particular peninsula that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. From there we moved to the more blue-collar city of Galway as our base for other scenic drives through the rugged terrain of the Connemara region, a visit to the famous Cliffs of Moher, and a catamaran ride in Killary Harbour, billed as Ireland’s only fjord. Along the way we drove through plenty of picturesque villages and past a million rolling green hills and meadows. I could finally sort of understand why the Irish make such a big deal about their homeland. It really is a jewel. Also, the booming Irish economy was evidenced everywhere by ubiquitous commercial and residential construction. According to our tour guide, Ireland’s population has finally started to grow again after being stagnant for 100 years or more.

Entertainment. I thought the highlight of the tour was the very first night we were there, when it was arranged for us to have dinner and then see some Irish dancing and music at a place in or at least near Dublin called The Abbey Tavern. The show started with a few Irish dances by three young folks, maybe even teenagers, demonstrating the fancy footwork that became so famous with the Riverdance craze ten years ago. Then a band of five older gentlemen and one younger woman took the stage to play some Irish music for us, and they were absolutely superb. They said they perform there seven nights a week, so if you ever go to Dublin I urge you to check out their show. I was so taken with the Irish music that I kept watching for another opportunity to see some more live music, and I actually did see a band called The Irish Weavers while we were in Killarney. They were good too, but the band at The Abbey Tavern was better.

The Ugly American. Our group consisted of 33 Americans, plus one young Australian woman who joined our group as we left Dublin. I witnessed no behavior that would put the USA in a bad light until the very last day of the tour, during the rather long morning bus ride to Shannon Airport. Our bus driver Brendan was doing his usual routine, mixing bad jokes in with colorful commentary about Ireland and the things we were driving by. He may have sung us another song. And at one point, he asked if anyone had any requests for him. I was sitting about a third of the way from the front of the bus, and I was mortified to hear one of our group (a middle-aged guy who had looked surly and unpleasant all week) sitting very close to the front say, “Yeah — shut up and drive.” I could not believe my ears. It was unspeakably embarrassing.

In summary, with only a couple of minor exceptions, it was a great trip. Ireland is a beautiful country, and you should seize any opportunity to pay it a visit.