“Jesus Don’t Want Me For a Sunbeam” – The Vaselines / Nirvana

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The Vaselines’ most famous song, mainly thanks to Nirvana’s memorable cover on their MTV Uplugged Live performance in 1993. Released in 1988 on the EP “Dying for It,” the song is a bitter answer to the traditional children’s hymn “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam,” on par with XTC’s “Dear God” and Patti Smith’s psycho-sexual “Gloria” in terms of its anti-religious sentiment. However, “Sunbeam” may be more powerful because the music is so deceptively mellow, the lyrics hit like a fist. You can now find it on the excellent Sup Pop released compilation “The Way of the Vaselines.”

Oddly, the song is called “Jesus Wants Me for a Sunbeam” on all the Vaselines’ recordings even though the lyrics say “Jesus Don’t Want Me for a Sunbeam.” Nirvana’s cover is titled the same way as the lyrics.

I’ve included Nirvana’s version below:

Trivia note: Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love named their daughter Frances after the Vaselines’ Frances McKee.

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“Manhunter” (1986) dir. Michael Mann

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This was the first film featuring Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter character, approximately five years before Jonathan Demme’s adaptation of “Silence of the Lambs” in 1991. Based on Harris’s novel “Red Dragon”, director Michael Mann directed this extremely suspenseful, intense, and atmospheric tale of a troubled FBI agent called back into duty to find a serial killer the top FBI officials can not find. William Peterson does a masterful job playing the troubled FBI agent, Will Graham, a man physically and mentally scarred from an earlier assignment where he captured the infamous Lecter. It was a job where he had to think like Lecter in order to capture him … and this process landed him in a mental hospital.

While there was a decent, but ultimately unnecessary big-budget remake of “Red Dragon” in remake made in 2002 with Ed Norton as Graham and … that’s right … Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter … Michael Mann’s 1986 version is so much better. As iconic as Hopkins’ characterization is, Brian Cox may actually be a scarier Lecter, based on how low-key he plays the infamous mad man. Watch this incredibly intense scene where Lecter meets with Graham where Lecter tries to dominate Graham and oh-so-casually asks Graham for his home phone number.

The attached scene is the climax of the film with major spoilers, but it has one of the best uses of rock music and film ever committed to celluloid … Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” used to absolute sinister perfection.

“Manhunter” … along with David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” … were the jewels in the ill-fated DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group studio’s late 1980s forays into filmmaking. An ironic jewel, because “Manhunter” was not successful … but Hannibal Lecter was a movie star in the making … and Dino DeLaurentiis got his money back in spades with the 2001 film “Hannibal” as well as the 2002 remake “Red Dragon.”

If you have any love for this film at all … or are just fans of the Hannibal Lecter films … please check out the Projection Booth’s recent podcast on this film:

http://projection-booth.blogspot.com/2014/06/episode-170-manhunter.html

Trivia note: David Lynch was the original director attached to this film. As much as I love what Michael Mann did here, my mind is blown over the prospect over what Lynch would have done with this material.

“Tessie” – Dropkick Murphys

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Disclosure: I’m only moderately interested in baseball. As far as the Boston Red Sox are concerned, I have no opinion about them, positive or negative. But “Tessie” by the Dropkick Murphys is, hands down, my favorite sports anthem of all-time. It sounds like a drunken collision between the Pogues, Mott the Hoople, and Social Distortion … a collision that also describes what the Dropkick Murphys sound like. That’s a huge compliment, by the way.

In any case, this song has a wonderful history. “Tessie” was originally written for a turn of the 20th century Broadway musical called “The Silver Slipper,” where it was called “Tessie (You are the Only, Only, Only).” The song was adopted by a fervent group of Red Sox fans called the Royal Rooters and sung at Red Sox games until around 1918, when the Rooters stopped singing it. Coincidentally, 1918 was the last year the Red Sox won the World Series for several years.

Cut to 2004 … Boston punk legends the Dropkick Murphys recorded a cover of “Tessie,” explaining that they recorded it to “bring back the spirit of the Rooters and to put the Red Sox back on top.” I’m not saying that the Murphys were responsible for helping the Red Sox break the “curse of the Bambino,” but that year, the Red Sox finally did win the World Series for the first time since 1918. Now the Murphys’ “Tessie” is second only to the Standells’ “Dirty Water” as the song played after every Red Sox victory. (I’d rather not mention the third song).

If you’re a Red Sox hater, there is probably nothing I can do to convince you this is a great song. But I love it and “Tessie” is justifiably a classic.

“The Godfather Part III” (1990) dir. Francis Ford Coppola

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A lot of people vehemently dislike this movie and I can’t really understand why. Is it as good as the first two “Godfathers”? Absolutely not. Is Sofia Coppola’s performance as Mary Corleone so bad that it brings down the entire picture? OK, it’s not what I’d call a good performance, but it certainly doesn’t sink the picture. I am prepared to defend this film, but please allow me a minute to put on my hardhat and my trashcan lid as a shield before I proceed …

Incidentally, there will be spoilers aplenty, so if you’ve never seen any of the “Godfather” movies, stop here, bookmark this page, watch all three, and then return to review my twelve-cents worth.

OK, first off, even under the best conditions, it would have been exceedingly difficult for Francis Ford Coppola to top, let alone match, the first two “Godfather” films. They are considered two of the best movies ever made and some would argue that there was really no need for a Part III, as Part II ends with the moral and spiritual death of Michael Corleone, a dramatically appropriate ending, considering how Michael started off idealistic and had to destroy his soul (specifically ordering the death of his brother) in order to stay in power. When you add the fact that Paramount gave Coppola an extremely short time period to get “Godfather III” made and in theaters by Christmas Day 1990, you can begin to see where some of the problems started. Adding insult to injury, the original actresses hired to play Mary Corleone, Michael’s daughter (Julia Roberts and Winona Ryder) had to back out for reasons best left to internet rumors, so Coppola had to act fast to cast the pivotal role.

Let’s get the Sofia Coppola issue out of the way first. Coppola hired his daughter to play Mary, who had little to no acting experience. The choice has been considered foolhardy by many. However, if you listen to the audio commentary on the DVD for “Godfather III,” you’ll understand why Coppola felt this story was so personal to him and that his reasons for casting his own daughter made a certain artistic sense to Coppola. Objectively, Coppola’s artistic sense has been … well … bats–t crazy from time to time … but he has pulled magic out of disaster many times in the past. It was a huge artistic gamble that many people believe didn’t pay off … including myself. But … it’s also what makes Coppola … Coppola. The man has absolute conviction in his own heart, soul, brain, and balls. He has never played it safe and that’s why he will never be dismissed as an artist, despite his missteps.

Sofia’s performance is considered one of the most legendary “bad” performances in movie history. Which I believe isn’t fair. No, it’s not a good performance, but it’s certainly far from the worst in movie history. When you consider that she’s acting against the likes of Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Talia Shire, Eli Wallach, Andy Garcia, Helmut Berger, etc., her performance can’t help but suffer in comparison. Plus, the role of Mary is an extremely difficult part and I’m not convinced Julia Roberts or Winona Ryder would have done much better at that time. Yes, they were technically better actresses than Sofia, but I can’t imagine either one of them pulling this role off at that point in their careers. People openly laugh at Sofia’s “valley girl Mafia princess,” but I also cringe at hearing Roberts’ pretentious deliberate way of speaking, in addition to Ryder’s mixture of earnestness and snarkiness that was her style at the time. Maybe someone of the caliber of Jennifer Lawrence or Emma Stone could have pulled it off, but it was not an easy role by any means. So, let’s cut Sofia some slack.

With that out of the way, many people complained about the convoluted plotting regarding the Vatican, conspiracy theories behind the death of Pope John Paul I, etc. To which I would respond, THAT folks, is my cinematic wheel house. I LOVE conspiracy movies and while “Godfather III” is not as good as Oliver Stone’s “JFK” or Costa-Gavras’s “Z,” it comes pretty damn close. This is one of the best conspiracy films ever made and I love how Coppola threw all kinds of paranoid religious, criminal, and political conspiracy theories into the hopper here.

This is a very flawed movie, but I think it’s a worthy companion film to the first two “Godfather” films. As Coppola has asserted, the main story is “the death of Michael Corleone.” It’s about a man who has made many horrible choices in his life and desperately wants to make amends as he enters the last years of his life. But despite his good intentions, the totality of his bad choices can not be overcome and it leads to more misery and despair. I also like the fact that the more he has tried to enter “respectable” society, “respectable” society is just as vicious and nasty as the one he’s trying to leave behind (i.e. the Vatican corruption angle).

This is a very good film and one that I will always enjoy watching. The scene I’ve included here is the ending, which is one of the saddest endings of a film I’ve ever seen. Pacino’s anguish in this scene breaks my heart every time I see it, especially since I’ve become a father. It’s so good in fact that I wanted to beat the crap out of some snarky idiots at a college screening back in the day who laughed their asses off because Sofia didn’t act her death scene in the same way Meryl Streep would have. Pacino’s performance is so good, so real, so f–king raw in here that if you’re going to let Sofia’s not-so-great performance ruin it, then you’re one of those unfortunate a–holes who prides themselves more on being clever and ironic than someone who appreciates something real.

“Me and Bobby McGee” (2006) by Angela Kalule from “The Last King of Scotland” soundtrack

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One of the more pleasant highlights from the excellent, but brutal and upsetting 2006 Idi Amin docudrama “The Last King of Scotland” was this unique and beautiful cover of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” sung by Ugandan singer Angela Kalule. This is tied with Janis Joplin’s famous cover in my book. Oh, and do yourself a favor and pick up the soundtrack. It’s a stellar mix of African pop and rock from the 1960s / 1970s.

“Paul Williams Still Alive” (2011) dir. Stephen Kessler

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If you’re younger than me (I’m in my mid-40s), you probably have no idea who Paul Williams is. But if you’re my age or older, you will probably remember Williams in one way or another. He was a prolific songwriter who wrote such standards as “Rainy Days and Mondays,” “We’ve Only Just Begun,” “Evergreen,” and “The Rainbow Connection.” And Williams probably appeared on every TV show in the 1970s, from “The Tonight Show” to “The Muppet Show” to “The Gong Show” … and every damn 1970s TV show in between. He was also Little Enos in the “Smokey and the Bandit” films. However, as the 1970s faded, so did Williams’ career. He became a major alcohol and drug addict but eventually got sober and became an addiction counselor.

Filmmaker Stephen Kessler, a fan of Williams and the director of “Paul Williams Still Alive,” assumed he was dead. But when he found out Williams was alive, Kessler was determined to make a documentary about him. The funny thing is that Williams … despite a seeming tendency to never say “No” to any personal appearance in the 1970s … is extremely reluctant. “Paul Williams Still Alive” shows the struggles Kessler had in gaining Williams’ trust and participation in a documentary about his life. Eventually, Williams acquiesced, but only so much. It’s clear that Williams is not proud of a lot of his behavior in the past and not just the drug abuse. Williams also seems ashamed of his incessant need to be in the spotlight during the height of his fame, hence his reluctance to participate in the documentary. But as Kessler learns, Williams is not someone who keeps looking back, he keeps looking forward. And Williams seems a lot happier living a more modest lifestyle.

Despite what you may or may not think about Williams as a musician and composer (he’s never been a critics’ favorite), the man is a legend and this movie is a fine document about his life then and now. It’s also a fascinating look at the process of documentary filmmaking and the ups and downs of befriending your idols. At times, it seems like a real-life Albert Brooks film, only much more compassionate. Very highly recommended.

“A Hard Day’s Night” – Otis Redding

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In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ classic album/film “A Hard Day’s Night,” here’s Otis Redding’s live cover of the title track. You’ve heard of garage punk? Well, on this cover, Redding invents garage soul. Hard-driving and endearingly sloppy, this is where you can imagine the Faces started taking notes. Recorded live at the Whiskey a Go Go in Los Angeles in 1966. Unfortunately, the opening of this song has been cut off, but this is the best clip I could find.

Andy Kaufman v Jerry Lawler

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A compilation of various clips and footage detailing comedian Andy Kaufman’s feud with championship wrestler Jerry Lawler from the early 1980s. If you’re a fan of the Andy Kaufman wrestling documentary “I’m From Hollywood,” this is like seeing the box set of this documentary with the complete clips present. This is not a documentary, but if you enjoy Andy Kaufman and/or professional wrestling, this is a lot of fun.

“The Dirk Diggler Story” (1988) dir. PT Anderson

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OK, you PT Anderson and “Boogie Nights” fans out there … this is where it all started. This is the 31+ minute early version of “Boogie Nights” Anderson directed in 1988 when he was 18 years old called… what else … “The Dirk Diggler Story.” Not the greatest or smoothest film you’ll ever see, but still pretty interesting as this is how the modern Stanley Kubrick started out. To paraphrase George Carlin’s character at the end of “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”: “(Anderson) does get better.” Not safe for work.

“A Huey P. Newton Story” dir. Spike Lee (2001)

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This is an amazing one-man show by Roger Guenveur Smith called “A Huey P. Newton Story.” Smith is someone you’ll probably recognize from many films over the past 25 years (especially in several Spike Lee films), but nothing will prepare you for his performance as Huey P. Newton delivering a monologue about his life. This was directed by Spike Lee for the Starz cable channel back in 2001, but has since slipped into obscurity, which is a real shame. Regardless of how you may or may not feel about Newton historically, this is one of the most ferocious and electrifying performances you’ll ever witness.