Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Spinal Tap at The Avalon in Hollywood

Last night I saw Spinal Tap at the Avalon theater in Hollywood. They were playing a benefit show for the International Myeloma Foundation. McKean started the show with his wife, a marriage which was a big surprise to me: actress of stage and screen and co-writer of many of The Mighty Wind tunes: Annette O’Toole. McKean and O’Toole started the show with a small set from their stage act “No Standards” which was actually a trio group with O’Toole’s talented daughter Nell Geisslinger. The highlight was the hilarious celtic spoof “Killington Hill.”

Next Harry Shearer arrived to play bass for a few songs with his wife Judith Owen, a Welch singer-songwriter. Owen sang songs from her latest album “Happy This Way” including the funny take on Paris-Hilton-types in “Cool Life” and the amazing “Painting By Numbers.” Owen’s comedy schtick was laid on a little too thick. She was funny, yet annoying. But her voice was stridently soulful and her lyrics were amazing. I'll download some of her songs for sure.

McKean came back to play with Naomi Margolin who sang Lee Grayson’s signature song “Rainbow Connection.” Grayson was a mentor of McKean who died of Myeloma. McKean then enthusiastically introduced Van Dyke Parks for a short set with his band. In blue jean overalls, Parks impressed the music nerds in the audience who appreciated his legendary stauts. I was clueless about his piece of history but enjoyed the song “Orange Crate Art.”

Christopher Guest then arrived, the only Tap member of the evening sans wife (Jamie Lee Curtis). C.J. Vanston also joined on keyboards and Shearer came back for the full Tap show. It was fun. It was rockin and Guest played some mean guitar. It still doesn't go without saying: these guys can perform. They played Spinal Tap songs:

- Hellhole
Stonehenge (with Annette and daughter running about like elves)
Cups and Cakes
Gimme Some Money (which they dedicated to American Express)
Listen to the Flower People
and the first song David St. Hubbins and Nigel Tufnel ever wrote together, All the Way Home

They sang Mighty Wind songs:

- Never Did No Wanderin'
Loco Man
Corn Wine
Blood on the Coal
Start Me Up (my absolute favorite so I was a thrilled peach!)

(and even three songs from The New Main Street Singers)

- Old Joe's Place
- and
Jane Lynch joined them on The Good Book Song and
Potato's in the Paddy Wagon

Christopher Guest seemed pouty and sullen most of the evening, sitting out two or three songs, and Harry Shearer was pretty quiet overall but funny when he accidentally dropped his guitar much in the character of Derek Smalls. Michael McKean who very happily and charmingly hosted most of the night’s show seemed to have the best time being on stage with his friends and family. I only wished David Lander as Squiggy could have been up there for old times. But he was probably goodwill ambassadoring for MS.

Note: photo from recent Newport Music Festival.

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Movie Review: The King of Kong - A Fistful of Quarters

I took in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters with a capacity crowd last night at the NuArt. What a great movie! The crowd cheered for the hero and hissed at the villain to the point where it felt more like a summer blockbuster than a documentary about 80s video games.

The film chronicles an epic battle over the Donkey Kong high score. The champion, Billy Mitchell, set the record as a teen in 1982. He got his picture in Life magazine, and, with his feathered hair and premature moustache, he was definitely the hottie of the geek champs in the photo spread. 25 years later, Billy is still riding high on his video game triumphs, sporting a lush mullet and governing an empire of hot sauce in Florida. He's the unimpeachable idol of his peers, including the governing body of video game high scores, the Twin Galaxies gang.

Billy's record - and honor - is challenged by a much-lower wattage personality, Steve Wiebe. Steve's got some OCD issues, but he's basically a likable family guy from Washington with a Donkey Kong machine in his garage. There's a hilarious scene where his attempt at breaking the high score is threatened by his son screaming that he pooped his pants and needs to be wiped. Steve mounts a valiant challenge but comes up against the skepticism of Twin Galaxies, which is revealed to be quite the cabal.

The movie is a classic underdog story. It's also hilarious, without really being condescending. The filmmakers clearly have respect for the ability of the players - Donkey Kong is revered as one of the most challenging games - yet they can't help but be skeptical of the time and effort spent on earning these records (nobody expresses this better than Wiebe's daughter - watch for that moment). You just can't help but get laughs from a subculture than includes an 80-year-old gal trying to break the Q-Bert record. It definitely conjures up a lot of nostalgia for those of us thirtysomethings who spent a lot of time in the arcade, lining up our quarters on top of the Dig Dug and Paperboy machines. But with characters as compelling as Billy and Steve, and the motley crew of supporting pro gamers, you don't have to have been an Atari 2600 owner to enjoy this film.

The director, Seth Gordon, and editors were on hand for last night's screenings, along with a colorful personality known as "Mr. Awesome." The filmmakers deserve a lot of props for turning what could be deadly dull (it takes 2.5 hours to play a record-challenging game) into an entertaining, suspenseful, fast-paced documentary that's a classic good vs evil story.

Now, if only I could clear that first elevator screen...

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Movie Review: Crazy Legs Conti: Zen and the Art of Competitive Eating

A Rocky for fat kids, this documentary tells the story of Crazy Legs Conti’s transformation from Nathan's hot dog contest spectator to participant. If that’s not the American dream for 2007, I don’t know what is.

The film is entertaining mainly because Conti is likable and surprisingly normal. He works out and only weighs about half as much as the average competitive eater. The film gives us his journey from watching the annual Nathan’s contest, to impulsively winning an oyster-eating endurance test, to winning an oyster-eating speed contest and securing membership in the IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating) run by George and Richard Shea. These two are slick talent agents who represent the stars of the sport, although they calmly reassure Conti he’s not signing a Vince McMahon-esque pact where they will own his “character.”

To achieve true greatness, Conti must conquer the hot dogs. He trains hard with the goal of earning a spot in the super bowl of competitive eating – the Nathan’s 4th of July event. There’s some interesting bits on his development of a technique (he takes notes on the style of the unbeatable Kobayashi. I would have enjoyed more focus on the “zen” as the title promised, but aside from a small segment with Conti’s mom, who lives in Japan most of the year and follows the competitive eating circuit there, there’s not much insight into the spiritual side of the sport. Heck, more enlightenment on the genetics and body mechanics of the champs would have been good, too. Conti does get to have breakfast with Kobayashi, the petite hot dog champ, but that dude won't give up any of his secrets.

Don’t miss the DVD extras, which include a clip of the arrogant Ed “Cookie” Jarvis as he models his hideous 4XL denim trench coat embroidered with all of his contest victories and TV appearances, and Conti and friends engaging in a marshmallow Peep eating contest during their Easter dinner. Mangia!

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Friday, August 10, 2007

Kindred Spirit: RIP Tammy Faye

We'd been putting off watching her final TV appearance because we’d come to love her on Surreal Life and in documentaries and other Larry King Live appearances. In fact, she so impressed us by her behavior on Surreal Life that we’d come to be unlikely fans of this Christian evangelical, fans because she was so much more open hearted and true to her convictions than the false evangelicals our television is often crawling with.

So it was heartbreaking to see that the world would soon lose one of its rare Christian spirits. It seems so unfair. But she was inspiring to the end on Larry King Live calling regret a “waste of brain space.” Although her appearance initially made us gasp, Tammy Faye (Baker) Messner truly sparkled a mere 36-48 hours before her death.

I found
Deepak Chopra’s appearance on the show as commentator highly ironic. The self-help-sounding guru has become the spiritual touchstone of a self-described Christian nation. It’s incredible. Should we feel hopeful that American are finally opening up in spiritual consciousness beyond these Sideshow-Bob Christian evangelicals? Or should we be depressed that America has instead settled on Chopra’s captalistic empire of pop-meditations?

Larry King Live struck us as firmly skeptical, but he touched us when he announced that Tammy Faye had dwindled down to 65 pounds and that it must be all heart. To put her 65 pounds of heart into perspective. Our
Edgar Winter Dog weighs 35 himself. She didn’t even weigh two Edgars!

For a primer on forgiveness, I’m planning to read Tammy Faye's autobiography, “
Telling It My Way,” to learn how she overcame betrayals on multiple fronts throughout her life. Tammy Faye joked she wanted to be remembered for her eyelashes (and her walk with the Lord). But she can best be remembered for her sense of humor in the face of mortality, a gesture that shows she clearly had an authentic connection with a higher place.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Acrostic Movie Review - El Cantante

Jenny's not just a big butt and a smile.

La Lopez produced this labor
Of love with her beloved Puerto

Rican, Marc Anthony, who
Embodies of the role of Hector Lavoe
A salsa
Lopez tells the story as Puchi,
Yes, that's a real name. And yes, she's

Incredible. We
Said it. Incredible.

Found ourselves on the verge of tears. Her
Realistic Nuyorican flava,
Outstanding next to her curve hugging couture,
Metallic makeup and

Disco moves -
An audiovisual cultural fusion that

Backdrops the birth of Salsa nicely.
Leon Ichaso, who directed Pinero, works his
Own magic with Lavoe's life. See "El
Cantante" to experience and
Know the real "West Side Story".

-- By Nova and Alyssa Gutierrez

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