REVIEW: THIS IS SPINAL TAP

CAST

Michael McKean (1941)
Christopher Guest (Little Shop of Horrors)
Harry Shearer (The Simpsons)
Rob Reiner (EdTV)
June Chadwick (V: The Series)
Ed Begley Jr (Veronica Mars)
Fran Drescher (Picking Up The Pieces)
Patrick Macnee (The Avengers)
Dana Carvey (Waynes World)
Julie Payne (Wizards and Warriors)
Billy Crystal (City Slickers)
Paul Benedict (The Goodbye Girl)
Howard Hesseman (Halloween II)
Joyce Hyser (The Flash 90s)
Anjelica Huston (The Addams Family)
Fred Willard (Anchorman)

This is Spinal Tap is presented as a serious rock documentary, purportedly filmed and directed by the fictional Marty Di Bergi (Rob Reiner, who was also the actual director of the movie). The faux documentary covers a 1982 United States concert tour by the fictional British rock group “Spinal Tap” to promote their new album Smell the Glove, interspersed with Di Bergi’s one-on-one interviews with the members of the group and footage of the group from previous periods in their career.

The band was started by childhood friends, David St. Hubbins (Michael McKean) and Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest), during the 1960s. Originally named “The Originals”, then “The New Originals” to distinguish themselves from an existing group of the same name,[5] they settled on the name “The Thamesmen”, finding success with their skiffle/rhythm and blues single “Gimme Some Money”. They changed their name again to “Spinal Tap” and enjoyed limited success with the flower power anthem “Listen to the Flower People”. Ultimately, the band became successful with heavy metal and produced several albums. The group was joined eventually by bassist Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer), keyboardist Viv Savage (David Kaff), and a series of drummers, each of whom mysteriously died in odd circumstances, including spontaneous human combustion, a “bizarre gardening accident” and choking to death on the vomit of unknown person(s); their current drummer is Mick Shrimpton (R. J. Parnell). 

Di Bergi’s interviews with St. Hubbins and Tufnel reveal that they are competent composers and musicians, but are dimwitted and immature. Tufnel, in showing his guitar collection to Di Bergi, reveals an amplifier that has volume knobs that go to eleven; when Di Bergi asks, “Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?” Tufnel can only reply, “These go to eleven.” Tufnel later plays a somber quasi-classical music composition on piano for Di Bergi, claiming it to be a “Mach piece” (a hybrid between Mozart and Bach), before revealing the composition to be entitled “Lick My Love Pump”.

As the tour starts, concert appearances are repeatedly canceled because of low ticket sales. Tensions continue to increase when several major retailers refuse to sell Smell the Glove because of its sexist cover art and there is growing resentment shown towards the group’s manager Ian Faith (Tony Hendra). Tufnel becomes even more perturbed when St. Hubbins’ girlfriend Jeanine (June Chadwick)—a manipulative yoga and astrology devotee—joins the group on tour, begins to participate in band meetings, and attempts to influence their costumes and stage presentation. The band’s distributor, Polymer Records, opts to release Smell the Glove with an entirely black cover without consulting the band. The album fails to draw crowds to autograph sessions with the band.

To revive interest, Tufnel suggests staging a performance of “Stonehenge”, an epic song that is to be accompanied in concert by a lavish stage show, and asks Ian to order a giant Stonehenge megalith for the show. However, Tufnel, rushing a sketch on a napkin, mislabels its dimensions, using a double prime symbol instead of single prime. The resulting prop, seen for the first time by the group during a show, is only 18 inches high (instead of the intended 18 feet), making the group a laughingstock on stage. The group accuses Faith of mismanagement, and when St. Hubbins suggests Jeanine should co-manage the group, Faith quits in disgust.

The tour continues, rescheduled into smaller and smaller venues. Tufnel becomes marginalized by Jeanine and St. Hubbins. At their next gig (at a United States Air Force base near Tacoma, Washington) Tufnel is upset by an equipment malfunction and leaves the group in the middle of a show. In their next gig, in an amphitheater at an amusement park in Stockton, California, they find that Nigel’s absence severely limits their repertoire. They are forced to improvise a fusion-esque, experimental song entitled “Jazz Odyssey”, which is poorly received. At the last show of the tour, the remaining group considers retirement and venturing into forgotten side projects such as a musical theatre production on the theme of Jack the Ripper entitled Saucy Jack, and acoustic pieces with the London Philharmonic. Just before they go on stage, Tufnel reappears and informs them that he is “a messenger” from Ian Faith and the Spinal Tap song “Sex Farm” is wildly popular in Japan; in fact it has reached number 5 in the charts there. He then tells St. Hubbins that Faith would like to arrange a new tour in that country. St. Hubbins is initially cool to the idea, but later on during their show, St. Hubbins convinces Tufnel to join them on stage, reuniting the band. With Faith as manager once again, and despite losing their drummer Mick as he inexplicably explodes onstage, the film ends with Spinal Tap playing a series of sold-out arena shows for enthusiastic fans on their Japanese tour.

Spinal Tap gives you the absurdity of the rock and roll world, yet still respects the music. Overall this is a great film

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REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACITCA (1978)

MAIN CAST

Richard Hatch (All My Children)
Dirk Benedict (The A-Team)
Lorne Greene (Bonanza)
John Colicos (Star Trek)
Maren Jensen (Beyond The Reef)
Noah Hathaway (The Neverending Story)
Herb Jefferson Jr. (Apollo 13)
Tony Swartz (Kojak)
Laurette Spang-McCook (Dark Shadows)
Terry Carter (McCloud)
Anne Lockhart (Young Warriors)
Jonathan Harris (Lost In Space)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Lew Ayres (Johnny Belinda)
John Fink (The Number 23)
Jane Seymour (Wedding Crashers)
Ed Begley Jr. (Veronica Mars)
Sarah Rush (Catch Me If You Can)
Carol Baxter (The Curse of Dracula)
Patrick Macnee (The Avengers)
Felix Silla (Spaceballs)
George Murdock (Star Trek V)
Lance LeGault (Coma)
Ian Abercrombie (Birds of Prey)
Christine Belford (The Incredible Hulk)
Richard Lynch (Puppet Master 3)
Britt Ekland (The Wicker Man)
Olan Soule (Super Friends)
Lloyd Bridges (Airplane)
Anthony De Longis (masters of The Universe)
Brock Peters (Star Trek IV)
Frank Ashmore (V)
Melody Anderson (Flash Gordon)
John de Lancie (Star Trek: TNG)
Ana Alicia (Halloween II)

Since the the modern remake of this series rapidly become the next big thing in TV Sci-Fi, many people are going to be tempted to pick up this boxed set to find out how it all began. You can’t go wrong here – this represents astounding value for money, and a great opportunity to discover or rediscover a series that really does deserve its classic status. It even has some decent extras.

Battlestar Galactica was created in 1978 a year after the Star Wars, and was essentially a brazen attempt by ABC television to cash in on the mammoth unexpected success of that film. Under conditions that may never be repeated, it was suddenly considered viable to create a full-blown big-budget epic primetime family-oriented science fiction extravaganza with a budget of $1m per episode (big money in those days). The series ran for a total of 24 episodes before being canned due to its expense and sliding ratings, but it had a huge impact and is remembered with great fondness even by those who aren’t rabid fans.


The story draws inspiration from diverse mythical and religious sources, including Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology, the book of Exodus, and the Mormon upbringing of its creator Glen A. Larson. When the 12 colonies of man are annihilated by the robotic Cylons, the only surviving Battlestar, Galactica, assembles a small fleet of dilapidated civilian ships and makes a run for it with the survivors, hoping to find the legendary 13th tribe who may have settled on a distant, mythical planet called Earth.


The series is often criticised for endlessly recycling stock footage, especially during the space battles where this reaches almost unreasonable levels, and for its cheesiness (plenty of cute kids and robots in this one), but on the whole it’s much easier to forgive such faults in retrospect. It also benefits enormously from its arresting premise, strong plotting, and above all its nigh-on perfect casting. It’s worth watching the 24 episodes through as well, because it does improve as it goes along, and is serialised to a degree. Considering it ran for such a short time, it does a surprisingly thorough job of exploring its themes, so it’s debatable what its natural life would have been had it been allowed to continue. Towards the end it becomes more cerebral and interesting, as eventually Galactica moves beyond its own space and begins to encounter worlds and cultures that bear an eerie resemblance to modern Earth.

There are several documentaries on the seventh disc featuring interviews with almost all of the surviving cast and crew. These are fairly entertaining and informative, especially the production footage which reveals how hard the back-projection was to pull off (it’s a shame there isn’t more on the effects). It’s clear that Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict are still bitter that the plug was pulled so early, and they express this with some eloquence. Both campaigned vigorously, independently, to bring it back.

REVIEW: THE AVENGERS (1998)

CAST

Ralph Fiennes (Harry Potter)
Uma Thurman (Kill Bill)
Sean Connery (Highlander)
Jim Broadbent (The Legend of Tarzan)
Fiona Shaw (Gormenghast)
Eddie Izzard (Powers)
Eileen Atkins Gosford Park)
Patrick Macnee (The Howling)

The film opens with John Steed (Ralph Fiennes), agent of The Ministry, in a training course which he finishes successfully. Next, we see Dr. Emma Peel (Uma Thurman) at home where she receives a phone call telling her to go to a gentlemen’s club – no women allowed – where she meets Steed for the first time. The two head off to the Ministry to meet Mother (Jim Broadbent), who informs them the Prospero project – an attempt to influence the weather – was sabotaged apparently by Emma Peel. Dr. Peel claims she is innocent, but she is sent to work alongside Steed to find the real culprit. Mother’s off-sider, Father (Fiona Shaw), claims Peel suffers from a mental disease. They go off to visit Sir August De Wynter (Sean Connery), an old ally of The Ministry. He takes an instant liking to Peel, as they both share a love of weather.Steed and Emma follow a lead to Wonderland Weather – a business that artificially creates heat or rain with a special machine – where they discover two dead men in teddy bear suits. The members of a secret organisation — led by De Wynter — all wear teddy bear suits to disguise their identities. One of them, however, is a clone of Emma Peel. Steed arrives in time to save Peel, as the double jumps off a roof and disappears. Steed and Emma go off to visit De Wynter at his mansion but are attacked by mechanical bees. Alice (Eileen Atkins), a Ministry agent, helps them to flee; nevertheless, De Wynter captures Emma who then tries to escape but finds herself trapped due to the mansion’s ever-changing floor plan. She smashes her way through a window, and Steed rescues her. Back at Steed’s apartment, however, Peel is arrested by Father, as Steed visits Invisible Jones (Patrick MacNee), a man inside The Ministry, to investigate the meaning of a map Steed found at Wonderland Weather. After viewing some photos of failed genetic experiments, Steed determines Father is working with De Wynter. Father and Peel’s clone capture Peel but are confronted by Mother, who is then incapacitated. De Wynter, controlling Prospero and the weather, confronts the world’s leaders. He boasts that he controls the weather, and they will buy the weather from him, will pay a lot for it, and will have until midnight to pay.Father and Peel’s clone take Emma to a hot air balloon, where Emma escapes during a snowstorm. Father and the clone perish when the balloon crashes and explodes. Invisible Jones determines De Wynter is using the Prospero instruments on a secret island, and Peel and Steed arrive at the island to stop him. Emma defuses the Prospero device just as a hurricane forms over London. Steed duels De Wynter and eventually gains the upper hand by impaling him with his own cane, causing De Wynter to be struck by a bolt of lightning. Emma and Steed escape just as the base self-destructs, and share champagne on the roof of a building with Mother.

On reflection there’s a lot to like in The Avengers: Uma Thurman in leather: always a plus, Sean Connery hamming it up more than Porky Pig at a bacon factory, and henchmen dressed as multi-coloured teddy bears. Bonkers. Utter bonkers. It has to be seen to be believed.