Saturday, December 24, 2005

Entirely too much thought devoted to 'Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band' (the movie)

I was watching "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" the other day (an early Christmas gift), and I was struck by a few things. I always notice something new with each viewing.

1. One of the background dancers in the "Maxwell's Silver Hammer" number featuring Steve Martin is the tough guy from the Scorpions who Danny Zuko outdrove at the end of Grease.

2. The guy who plays Billy Shears' dad was also Sam's Grandpa Fred ("Helen, we've got an owl out here in the hall!") from Sixteen Candles.

3. Now this puzzled me. The movie begins with a flashback to World War I, where the first Sgt. Pepper and his Lonely Hearts Club Band managed to stop the fighting by playing music.

No, that's really how it starts.

Shortly after, there's a montage narrated by George Burns (Mr. Kite, the mayor of Heartland) that shows the band over the course of the years. The Roaring Twenties, The depression, economic recovery and "yet another great war."

Admittedly, I'm a poor student of history, but I guess I missed the economic recovery between the Great Depression and World War II. I could probably ask my brother or my dad about this (they're big history buffs), but I'm too lazy, and I don't want to have to explain why I want to know this.

After the movie, I got to thinking. They've made plenty of bad video games based on good movies (and lots of bad movies based on good video games). Why don't they make more good video games based on bad ones?

It's been done before (MegaForce, anyone?), but it might be cool to deliberately use bad movies as a video game source. Here are some ideas that I pulled out of my thought of.

Blood Freak

You are Herschell, a normal guy who is just looking for happiness. Alas, your neighborhood has been overrun by assorted riff-raff (druggies, prostitutes, politicians). You have a choice of teammate, which changes the path of the game. You can side with Angel and fight the riff-raff with healthy living, positive thinking and spiritual guidance, or you can team up with Ann, who has a more, uh, direct approach. When faced by large pockets of riff-raff, you can procure a "power pill" from Ann, which changes you into giant, hulking turkey monster that dispatches its foes by drinking their blood. The downside is that you're stuck in that form until the pill wears off. Then your choice is whether to keep up the onslaught and feeding on the blood (which replenishes your hit points) or risk dying and let the effects of the pill go away. Whether you turn to the dark side or go (wait for it...) cold turkey affects gameplay.

Batman and Robin

Uh, never mind.

Plan 9 From Outer Space

This, much to my surprise and joy, actually has been made into a video game. But instead of being set in the realm of the movie, it deals more with recovery of the film itself. I've never played it, but hey, bonus points for those cats just for doing it.

The Plan 9 game I had in mind casts the player as brave pilot Jeff Trent, who discovers that grave robbers from outer space are trying to take over Earth with newly reanimated dead people -- both zombies and vampires. Your job, of course, is to stop them from conquering the capitals of the world. You go from major city to major city avoiding or destroying the undead. Among all the carnage, you're also looking for pieces to the one contraption that could destroy the spaceborne menace once and for all: the Solaranite Bomb! But as you discover, the Solaranite Bomb is untested. It may work, or it may ignite all the solar particles in existence, thus creating a chain reaction that could destroy the universe. The choice is yours.

and of course...

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band: The Movie: The Game

In this quest-style adventure, you can play as one of the four members of the band. Your goal is to recover all of the magical musical instruments and return them (as well as happiness) to Heartland, but you also have to keep Strawberry Fields, our damsel in distress, out of the hands of Mean Mr. Mustard and the Future Villain Band. On top of all that, you also have to avoid the Roving Vortex of Suck, which can appear at random through the game and suck away hit points.

A splendid time is guaranteed for all.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The wind is in the buffalo...

Another day, another movie for Bad Movies A to Z. Today's film is not bad at all in my estimation. In fact, it's one of my favorites. But I also put orange Tang on my vanilla ice cream, which I've been told, is super-mega-gross, so what do I know?

A little bit of background: I loved watching "The Monkees" when I was a kid and was aggravated that kindergarten kept me at school until the show was over.

I imagine my parents picked this up at our local video store, Asparagus Video (I think I still have the shirt somewhere), probably because they knew I loved The Monkees. Its star: Michael Nesmith (who wisely avoided being dubbed "Wool Hat" on the show). Its name: Elephant Parts.

Today's movie in a nutshell: It's billed as a video record. It's a collection of comedy skits wrapped around a handful of videos for Nesmith's songs.

The story: Like I said, it doesn't really have a story. I hesitate to say that it's like an episode of Saturday Night Live, but I guess that's the best comparison.

It begins with what looks like a straight performance of "Joanne" from Nez, until you hear that "her name was Rodan, and she lived beneath the oceans of Japan." Then he stomps over a cityscape a la Godzilla.

After this brief gag, Nez explains the premise of "Elephant Parts" before jumping into another skit, this one a pre-"Don't Ask, Don't Tell" audition for a Marines recruiting commercial.

For the most part, if you don't like a skit, just wait a few seconds, because another one is coming up.

Among my favorites: Neighborhood Nuclear Superiority ("This tactical nuclear warhead just attached to my garden hose with ordinary hand tools..."), Clandestine Typing Service (from whence came the title for this entry) and the trailer for the slasher flick "Have a Nice Day."

Interspersed among the skits are five videos: "Magic," "Cruisin'" (better known as "Lucy and Ramona and Sunset Sam"), "Light," "Rio" and "Tonite."

"Cruisin'" and "Rio" are probably the best known, with the latter getting a lot of airplay back in the day.

It looks dated, but it is almost 25 years old. I like to think of it as MTV's older brother, and not in a VH-1 kind of way. If I recall correctly, "Rio" was part of the "Popclips" show Nesmith created for Nickelodeon in the channel's earliest days. That idea was sold and eventually became MTV.

Afterthoughts: This is a bit shorter than the previous entries in Bad Movies A to Z because if I explain the skits, I'll ruin the jokes.

My brother and I grew up watching this, and we could probably perform the entire thing from memory. And considering that I rented this roughly a bajillion times before procuring a tape of my own, the extra stuff on the DVD was a welcome treat.

What was particularly interesting for me is that there are a few scenes that I hadn't seen before, including a clip about the perils of the "tragically hip," which, according to Nez's commentary, is where the band got its name.

It's also fun to discover things about something you're so familiar with. For example, this was co-written by Bill Martin, who also appears in many of the skits. What I didn't know until a few years ago was that he'd written a couple of my favorite Monkees songs ("All of Your Toys" and "The Door Into Summer") as well as a few for Harry Nilsson.

And, according to the IMDB, his voice acting credits include numerous voices for video games and cartoons, including, apparently, "The Monchichis."


One of my favorite things here is the commentary track that Nesmith provides. He explains that the project was made on a shoestring budget, and helpfully points out how certain effects were achieved.

It's a pretty laid-back commentary and is easy to listen to. It also helps that I'm a fan of Nesmith's work, so this is a fun way to kill an hour.

There was also a TV show spin-off of sorts in the mid-80s called "Television Parts," which I barely remember. As I recall, it got shifted around the schedule, so I think I ended up missing it more than I saw it. But I remember a sketch that was called something like "Five-Second Theater," featuring a presentation of "Old Yeller."

We see an old guy.


The End.

You gotta love that.

You can get both "Elephant Parts" and "Television Parts Home Companion" online from Michael Nesmith's Videoranch.

I've also seen "Doctor Duck's Super Secret All-Purpose Sauce," but I'm not sure if that's another Television Parts compilation or what. I actually checked it out of the library a few years back.

So far -- and we're only up to E -- this is my favorite movie on my alphabetical list. I've got a tentative list already drawn up, but if you've got some ideas for the rest of the alphabet, let me know. Who knows -- I may use your suggestion instead of what I've got. How's that for interactive?

But be warned -- if you have a movie that starts with M, it had better be pretty good/bad to change my mind.