Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

It doesn’t feel completely accurate to say that my wife and I like Christmas music. We freaking love it. We both come from homes that celebrated old school classics as well as newer material. As a result we have a pretty solid and impressive collection of Christmas music. In fact, we actually have an iPod dedicated specifically to Christmas music. When my wife got a new iPod, we took her old mini (which very appropriately is green), cleared out all the old stuff and loaded it up with holiday tunes. As soon as Thanksgiving’s over, we pop that bad boy on and dig those tunes until Christmas. I figured it would be a good time to lay down a list of some of my favorite records to listen to around this time. Hit the jump to dig these crazy tunes. Continue reading Christmas Stories: 12 Of My Favorite Christmas Records Of All Time

Rat Pack Theatre: The Ambushers (1967)

I love the unbridled goofiness that is Dean Martin as superspy Matt Helm. These movies don’t take themselves seriously when it comes to anything except having fun and showing off some ridiculously pretty 60s chicks and that’s exactly how it should be. So far, I’ve seen The Silencers, Murderer’s Row and now The Ambushers. For whatever reason, the fourth and final flick The Wrecking Crew is the only one not available on Netflix Instant. If you’re even remotely interested in these flicks, check them out soon because they’ll be gone on January 1st.

As usual, Martin swaggers through the film with his cool composure constantly throwing out one-lines, some of which are pretty funny and many of which fall flat. This flick teams Helm up with a lady pilot who flew an experimental aircraft that looks like a UFO and runs on electromagnetism that’s been stolen from the US government. The man who orchestrated the theft let her go into the woods and she was eventually recovered, but she was much worse for wear. Thinking she was actually married to Helm (because of a previous mission the two worked together) they’re assigned to find out who took the aircraft and get it back. From there you get a fair amount of gadgets, girls and guns, pretty much everything you’d expect from a 60s spy spoof.

There were a few things that surprised me about the flick, though. See, Helm’s cover is that he’s a big-deal photographer. At one point he takes a picture of the bad guy and one of the guards confiscates his film. But that’s not a problem because he’s able to transmit the photo back to his bosses who receive the image one line at a time, 90s printer/bulletin board style. There’s also these exoskeleton suit things that the brewers use that look like earlier models of what Ripley uses in Aliens. I’m sure that tech seemed completely ridiculous to late 60s audiences. There’s also a scene where Helm blows “funny smoke” at a firing squad to get out of being shot to death, which seemed a lot like fast-acting weed. I’m kind of surprised that got through the censors.

Anyway, that’s pretty much that. I think Deano is my favorite Rat Packer to watch on screen because he’s the most fun. Sammy and Frank have their own unique appeals, but I could watch a hundred of these Matt Helm flicks, alas there’s only four. There was a funny bit at the very end of the movie where Helm is asked to talk to a new recruit which just so happens to be a ludicrously hot blonde woman. He tries playing a Dean Martin record for her, but that’s not doing it for her, so he switches to Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers In The Night” and she’s all over it. The last quip of the movie is him saying “You really like Perry Cuomo that much?” Zing!

Rat Pack Theater: Sergeants 3 (1962)

Unlike say, Salt & Pepper or Murderer’s Row, Sergeants 3 is a full-on Rat Pack movie because all five remembers actually appear in it. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford make up the main leads, but Joey Bishop’s also there too. I think Ocean’s 11 is the only other movie that boasts the full roster. Anyway, this one’s apparently a remake of Gunga Din, though it might not have been intended as such. Hollywood legend (and the IMDb Trivia Page for the flick) says that the filmmakers had to pay out a bunch of money towards the makers of GD in order to get S3 released. Whether it was an out-ripe rip-off or a series of honest mistakes I have no idea because 1. I wasn’t there and 2. I haven’t seen GD yet (it’s sitting in my to watch pile from Netflix).

So, here’s the basic plot as far as I could follow: Sinatra, Martin, Lawford and Bishop are all in the Cavalry out west. They’re a rambunctious group who loves carousing, drinking and fighting, but they’re also apparently pretty damn good at their jobs which include trying to find a bunch of murderous Indians called Ghost Dancers. Meanwhile, Lawford wants to get out of the service so he can get married and Davis–a freed slave–wants to join up and kind of tags along, helping where he can here and there.

I’ll be honest, the plot seems a little overcomplicated and I didn’t quite catch everything. The Sergeants 3 spend so much time not chasing down the Ghost Dancers, that you almost forget that’s the point of the movie. I’ll also say, some of the editing is crap, but I think that comes from the well known fact that Sinatra would only ever do one take of anything, which results in some off-looking fight scenes.

However, as a Rat Pack fan, this film is fantastic. Dean plays the charming drunk as a cowboy really well and does one of my favorite gags in the movie involving shooting Roman candles at the invaders which Lawford accidentally replaces with dynamite. Frank is basically Frank, being the tough guy leader, Lawford brings some legitimacy to the proceedings with his acting skills and Bishop (who I’m not sure if I could pick out of a line-up) does well as the straight man but Davis really shines in this flick. This guy was SO talented. The movie might feel a little uneven with its mix of seriousness and cartoony action (the aforementioned dynamite scene), but Davis always feels genuine and real. I even got a little choked up when he got what he wanted throughout the whole movie at the end.

So, in the end Sergeants 3 isn’t the greatest movie ever made. It’s got crazy mood swings and feels like what it is: a movie made by a bunch of friends so they could make a movie and hang out, but even with all that, I love seeing these guys on screen together. And, for what it’s worth, the movie looks amazing. They shot out in Utah and man, that desert and mountains look amazing on film even all these years later. I bet this thing would benefit from a Blu-ray transfer.

Rat Pack Theater: Salt & Pepper (1968)

Welcome to a new semi-recurring feature on the blog: Rat Pack Theater. I am a big fan of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop and pretty much everything they did. Well, everything I’ve seen, which I’ll admit hasn’t been too too much. I dig their music and their movies are a lot of fun. I’ve retroactively dubbed a few other reviews as RPT (Sinatra’s Suddenly and Martin’s Murderers’ Row). These will be a showcase of any movie starring any combination of these guys or just them on their own. I stumbled upon Salt & Pepper which I actually thought starred Davis and Martin because I was just looking at the little icon on Netflix and didn’t do any actual reading (apparently I’m lazy even when I don’t mean to be). As you can see from the above poster (I love lost wider posters) it actually stars Lawford who I think I’ve only ever seen in the original Ocean’s 11.

The film’s about buddies and London club owners Salt and Pepper (Sammy’s Salt, Peter’s Pepper) who find themselves embroiled in some international espionage when a Chinese call girl turns up dead in one of their rooms. But, as you might expect, this isn’t a serious thriller, but more of a madcap, super-fun action comedy that features the less-than-muscle bound Lawford and Davis transforming from regular guy club owners into a pair of ass-kickers who took on a whole army of bumbling bad guys. The plot itself gets pretty complicated, but it’s not super important as the whole endeavor seems invented for Davis and Lawford to look awesome (and hey, missions accomplished!).

For you music fans, Davis does a really fun musical number called “I Like The Way You Dance” where he fake plays the guitar (he strums it on the bass parts and holds it awkwardly because there’s no strap) and does some slick moves seemingly inspired by Chuck Berry. Luckily someone put this bad boy on YouTube so you can enjoy it here.

The movie seems to have been one of Richard Donner’s first big directing gigs, which is cool. If you’re looking for a wacky, very 60s movie on Netflix Instant, this is a perfect choice!

Rat Pack Theater: Murderers’ Row (1966)

I’ll be honest, I don’t remember many of the plot points from Murderers’ Row, but I still had a great time watching the flick. See, back in the mid 60s the James Bond movies were pretty darn popular and also getting a little silly with all the girls and gadgets. Well, someone had the great idea to take hard core spy of the book world Matt Helm and hand him over to Dean Martin to make some of the swingenest spy flicks of all time. Basically spoofs, these spy movies took Dean Martin’s wildly popular lovable drunk image and transplanted it into the world of spy organizations and hoverboat races. The Austin Powers concept seems to have borrowed heavily from these movies, including Powers’ occupation as a photographer which he shares with Helm.

Anyway, watching Martin is always a pleasure (I love him by himself and with the rest of the Rat Pack), but when you throw in the tropes of spy movies (which I also love) with the aforementioned girls and gadgets how can you go wrong? You can’t, especially if you throw in the lovely Ann-Margret and Karl Malden.

See, I know Malden from a live action Disney movies called Pollyanna that my mom loves. I’ve probably seen the movie as many times as I’ve watched Mallrats (probably one of my most viewed movies) and embarrassingly far more times than I’ve seen any single Star Wars movie. I’ve got the thing memorized and could probably write a fairly accurate screenplay from memory. Anyway, in that movie, Malden plays a real fire and brimstone priest and in this he plays the bad guy. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what made him bad, but at the end of the movie he takes off in a giant hovecraft and Helm gives chase on a smaller one. What a great chase scene! I’ve wanted a hovercraft ever since I was a kid and saw commercials for a remote control one (does anyone remember the name of that toy?) For whatever it’s worth I think he came off scarier in Pollyanna.

There’s two more Helm movies I haven’t seen (I watched the first one but didn’t blog about it and don’t remember much) and plan on watching the other two assuming their both on Netflix Instant. Damn, I love this service!

CANNONBALL! 2

2008-06-06
2:41:05 am

Cannonball Run II (1984)

Starring Burt Reynolds, Dom DeLuise, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Jamie Farr, Marilu Henner, Telly Savalas, Shirley MacLaine, Jackie Chan, Tim Conway, Sid Caesar, Tony Danza, Richard Kiel, Don Knotts, Ricardo Montalban, Jim Nabors, Charles Nelson Reilly, Frank Sinatra, Joe Theismann and even Cheech Marin

Directed by Hal Needham

Written by Hal Needham, Albert S. Ruddy & Harvey Miller

Hey, remember how much I like Cannonball Run? Welllll, I can’t necessarily throw my hat in the ring completely for its sequel. First of all, everyone feels a lot older, even though this movie was only shot 3 years after the original. The element of fun and wackiness is still there, but it definitely seems watered down. But there are still great moments like the interactions between Jackie Chand and Richard Kiel (Jaws, to most folks). Also, you get to see Jaws fight Sid Caesar and Kojak’s Telly Savalas.

The basic plot is that Jaime Farr, who plays a shiek, has a dad (Roberto Mantalban) who’s disapointed that he lost the race from the first movie, so he encourages his son to hold a new race this year that he can win. All the usual faces show up to win the million bucks that’s up for grabs, but at some point Jaime Farr gets captured by some gangsters and the Cannonballers have to roll in and save the day, which brings about another great fight scene between a bunch of great actors and some stunt men. I think I could watch a 90 year old Dean Martin punch a dude and I wouldn’t get sick of it. That guy’s awesome.

Did I mention that Frank Sinatra’s in this bad boy? I read that he filmed all his scenes by himself and they used stand ins for some of the shots, but I like seeing him around too. Have you ever seen the original Ocean’s 11? You really should, those Rat Pack fellas sure knew how to have a good time. I also highly recommend listening to the Rat Pack Live at the Sands CD. You get a great idea of how well these guys really got along. But more on the Rat Pack at another date and time.

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this flick. It’s definitely not as good as the original, but it does still have a lot of fun elements that make it worth tossing up on your queue or renting sometime. Oh yeah, one more thing. I did a little math (which I hate doing) and came up with something a little weird. In the movie, the two main love interests for Burt and Dom and Merilu Henner and Shirley MacLaine who play dancers dressed as nuns. Well, like I said I did some math and Merilu would have been around 32 when she shot this movie, which isn’t a big deal, but Shirley was 50. And you know what? She didn’t look half bad. Just something to think about. Or not, whatever.

CANNONBALL!

2008-05-25
5:54:00 pm

Seriously, if you’ve never seen Cannonball Run, you should.

Burt Reynolds, Jackie Chan, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Terry Bradshaw, Dom DeLuise, Farrah Fawcett, Roger Moore, Adrienne Barbeau and JAMIE FARR (a fellow Toledoian) each get a laugh and also kick some ass in a fight with a biker gang lead by none other than Peter Fonda (yeah, Easy Rider himself). Oh yeah, there’s also an illegal cross-country car race that the above contestants participate in.

Look, if you trust me for any reason (whether you actually know me or have come to enjoy my goofy reviews on here), then just go rent this movie. You won’t regret it. And if you do? Well, I have nothing to say to you (unless you’re Em and I made you watch it in college and you hated it, we’re even for you making me watch Moulin Rouge).