[Movie Review] Mr Saturday Night

Mr Saturday Night Starring: Billy Crystal, David Paymer, Helen Hunt, Mary Mara, Julie Warner, Ron Silver
Director: Billy Crystal
Genre: Drama
Cert: 15
Released: 1992

Billy Crystal might be somewhat of an acquired taste for people. While enjoying his acting is one challenge on it’s own, enjoying a movie he not only stars in but also wrote and directed, is a whole different ball game. 1992 brought us “Mr Saturday Night”, his self-penned tale of a hugely talented, fictitious comedian with a propensity to screw up every opportunity that came his way.

It charts the career of Buddy Young Jnr (Crystal – “Analyze This”, “Forget Paris”, “City Slickers”, “Deconstructing Harry”), now an ageing, washed up stand-up, and looks back at his career through a series of retrospective flashbacks. He and his brother Stan (Paymer – “The Hurricane”, “Payback”, “The American President”, “Quiz Show”), have always been entertaining people. As kids, their post-dinner comedy routine delighted the family. But when, in their teens, it came to performing at a local amateur night, their double act falls apart as Stan gets stagefright and young Buddy is left to delight the crowd alone.

Subsequently Buddy becomes the star, and Stan works tirelessly as his agent and co-writer. But the relationship is not perfect, and Buddy’s abrasive, unreasonable, cruel and arrogant manner strain not just that relationship, but also that which he has with his daughter, Susan (Mara – “K-PAX”, “A Civil Action”, “Bound”). It also becomes a major factor in his somewhat muted success as much of his potential is never realised. Now Buddy wants just one more shot at success, but it’s questionable whether or not he has learnt enough from his past to make it a reality.

Although “Mr Saturday Night” is full of laughs and one-liners, it can never be confused as a comedy. This is a pure personal drama – a study of human pursuits such as ambition and love, and traits like jealousy, bitterness and loyalty. Crystal’s character is hard to like most of the time. Now a grumpy, middle-aged man who half-lives in reality about his lack of status in the world of showbusiness, he barely hangs on to the drive that made him a star in the first place.

Instantly it becomes clear that the audience will cheer for his likeable, under-appreciated and hard-working brother, who has taken years of mental abuse from Buddy. The irony is that Buddy has always taken advice from Stan. Stan repeatedly tells him through his career that “the other jacket is funnier” and makes suggestions about which gags he should and shouldn’t do.

Buddy’s relationships are fascinating. He undoubtedly loves his wife Elaine (Warner – “The Puppet Masters”, “Doc Hollywood”, “Flatliners”) unconditionally, and it seems that he has treated her well in their time together. But for some reason his children never get the same treatment. We see him yelling at his young daughter Susan, and his relationship with her as an adult is non-existent (she’s now a “twice divorced, middle aged drug addict” according to Buddy). His son doesn’t even feature in the movie and Buddy tells us that he “lives wherever I’m not”. Meanwhile, Stan retires to Florida but Buddy continues to drag him back into his desperate battle to get back in front of an audience.

It’s not just his family though. Annie Wells (Hunt – TV’s “Mad About You”, “As Good As it Gets”, “Cast Away”), a young agent who is eager to get Buddy back on track, takes a truck load of abuse from a frustrated Buddy. For some reason though, she believes in him and comes back for more.

At times it seems like Buddy might be just unlucky. After getting his own TV show, he sees the ratings slip when the show comes up against Davy Crockett on another channel. He ignores Stan’s warnings on ridiculing Davy Crockett in a monologue and subsequently the show’s sponsors pull the plug. Back in present day, one of his biggest fans, Hollywood director Larry Meyerson, wants to cast him in his next big movie, but Buddy flips when Walter Matthau takes his part and he is offered a much smaller one. Despite it still being a great opportunity, he abuses Meyerson and walks away. “You took every bad break you ever got and made it worse”, Stan tells him.

One of the major failings of the movie is in the make-up department. Crystal was 44, Paymer 38, when this movie was made. Making them look in their early twenties is passable, but it’s their elder years where things go slightly wrong. Paymers looks decent enough I suppose but that’s only comparable to Crystal who looks like a man with make-up on. As for Julie Warner, the pretty brunette was 27 and her sixty-something look is fairly laughable.

But leaving this aside, the performances make up (excuse the pun) for all that. David Paymer was surprisingly, but deservedly, nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. As Stan, he delivers a masterful performance, a spot-on portrayal of a timid and hesitant man working hard in the shadow of a more dominant personality.

Crystal is both harsh and hilarious but sometimes you wonder if anyone could be as cold-hearted as he is. At times you feel that his wretched treatment of those who annoy him is a little too over-the-top, perhaps exploiting his character as just that, rather than a real human being.

Warner is warm and likeable, Helen Hunt plays a convincing agent with a genuine streak, and in her small role as Susan Young, Mary Mara does a decent job.

I wouldn’t say that “Mr Saturday Night” is an expert character study by any means, but if you assume its aim is to entertain and touch in just a small way, then it certainly achieves that.

3halfstar

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[Album Review] "Retroactive" – Def Leppard

Retroactive - Def LeppardAlbum Title: Retroactive
Artist: Def Leppard
Year: 1993
Running Time: 60m 35s

Track listing: 1 Desert Song; 2 Fractured Love; 3 Action; 4 Two Steps Behind (Acoustic Version); 5 She’s Too Tough; 6 Miss You in a Heartbeat; 7 Only After Dark; 8 Ride Into the Sun; 9 From the Inside; 10 Ring of Fire; 11 I Wanna Be Your Hero; 12 Miss You in a Heartbeat (Electric Version); 13 Two Steps Behind (Electric Version)

After playing the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wembley in 1992, and adding ex-Dio and Whitesnake guitarist, Vivian Campbell, into the lineup as a replacement for the Steve Clarke, the band released a stop-gap album in 1993. “Retroactive” was a collection of b-sides and rareties – a mix of ballads, raucous hard-edged rock and interesting cover-versions.

The first couple of tracks are from the “Hysteria” sessions, but were not completed until much later on. The gritty ‘Desert Song’ is a well-arranged rocker, ‘Fractured Love’ similarly is a well-produced rock-number that would have sounded at home on “Pyromania”. ‘She’s Too Tough’ was apparently written in 15 minutes but it has a curious and affable quality to it that deems those claims as doubtful, while ‘Ride Into the Sun’, the first song that Def Leppard recorded, is re-recorded for posterity and is pretty decent by all accounts.

Celtic folk-rock number ‘From the Inside’ is an interesting performance with Fiachna, Liam and Peter from the Houthouse Flowers. ‘I am bad, I am evil/I am winter, I am pain/I’ll mess up your life/I’ll beat up your life/I’ll lose all your friends/And I’ll win in the end’ laments Joe as he tells the story of addiction, bizzarely, from the drugs point of view. ‘Ring of Fire’ is another track from the “Hysteria” sessions but decent as it is, it clearly wouldn’t have had a chance of appearing on the album.

And here’s an interesting one – ‘I Wanna Be Your Hero’ was originally titled ‘Love Bites’. Of course this title was taken and used elsewhere by the band while ‘I Wanna Be Your Hero’ was left on the shelf until now. The chorus was apparently re-written for this collection – not with a huge amount of success. It’s okay, but no great shakes.

There are a few covers of course – both of tracks by glam acts. Sweet’s ‘Action’ and Mick Ronson’s terrific ‘Only After Dark’ are both very worthy – Ronson’s number having it’s wonderful groove emphasised by Phil’s impressive guitar work.

‘Miss You in a Heartbeat’ and ‘Two Steps Behind’ both appear in two versions. ‘Heartbeat’ is worked in a piano-based version as well as an electric version. The latter seems to come out the best but both versions are superb. Similarly ‘Two Steps Behind’ was originally done electrically before being recorded acoustically and put on the soundtrack for “The Last Action Hero”. Again, both versions are particularly strong and I don’t blame the band for including them.

While there’s nothing particularly outstanding on the album, there is a consistent quality to it, as well as an air of intrigue surrounding many of the tracks and the way they came about. A worthy purchse for any Def Leppard fan.

3star

[Album Review] "On Through the Night" – Def Leppard

On Through the Night - Def LeppardAlbum Title: On Through the Night
Artist: Def Leppard
Year: 1980
Running Time: 44m 8s

Track listing: 1 Rock Brigade; 2 Hello America; 3 Sorrow is a Woman; 4 It Could Be You; 5 Satellite; 6 When the Walls Came Tumbling Down; 7 Wasted; 8 Rocks Off; 9 It Don’t Matter; 10 Answer to the Master; 11 Overture

Rumour has it that Def Leppard have practically disowned their debut release, “On Through the Night”. If you heard this before you’d heard the album, you might be expecting a travesty. It’s far from it.

Riding on the wave that was “New British Metal” in the late seventies/early eighties, Joe Elliot, Rick Savage, Steve Clark, Rick Allen and Pete Willis left the working-class shadows of Sheffield, intent on being the biggest band in the world.

Such was the macho appeal of metal music, certainly relative to the glam movement that had come before it, sticking the word ‘rock’ into titles was a common tool of songwriters. For Def Leppard, it was a common strategy. Album opener ‘Rock Brigade’ rocks consistently complete with tight guitar solos and they carry on the theme in the live recorded but less impressive ‘Rocks Off’.

But there’s plenty of top notch rock fare on offer. ‘Hello America’, an anouncement of their future intentions, sounds like Queen turned up to ten and ‘It Could be You’ grooves with it’s gritty, yet catchy, chorus. The rather interesting biblical-metal of ‘When the Walls Came Tumbling Down’ preceeds classic eighties-metal in ‘Wasted’ and the extremely likable pop-metal of ‘It Don’t Matter’.

‘Answer to the Master’ is a slightly ludicrous attempt to bring satanic imagery to the table, but ‘Overture’ is more restrained but essentially bland closing tune. And boy are the lyrics ridiculous.

‘Sorrow is a Woman’ is again full of naff lyrics, but the tune is not too bad and ‘Satellite’ is bearable riff-rock folly.

Ok so the lyrics are pretty much awful throughout the record, but there is some good rock music here and a steady start for five lads who reckoned they would be the biggest in the world.

2halfstar

[Album Review] "X" – Def Leppard

X - Def LeppardAlbum Title: X
Artist: Def Leppard
Year: 2002
Running Time: 56m 54s

Track listing: 1 Now; 2 Unbelievable; 3 You’re So Beautiful; 4 Everyday; 5 Long Long Way to Go; 6 Four Letter Word; 7 Torn to Shreds; 8 Love Don’t Lie; 9 Gravity; 10 Cry; 11 Girl Like You; 12 Let Me Be the One; 13 Scar; 14 Kiss the Day

Returning after the disappointing 1999 release, “Euphoria”, Def Leppard have once again found their groove with their tenth album, “X”. Actually it’s a bit of a cheat calling this album number ten, as to do so means we have to include their greatest hits package, “Vault”. But somehow “IX” is not as catchy a title, so that’s okay.

Opening track and lead single ‘Now’ is a little more complex than we’re used to from Joe Elliot and co – in some ways a perfect showcase for the album but in other ways it’s just not Def Leppard. There’s lots of radio friendly stuff here. ‘Unbelievable is a power ballad with one of the best choruses on the record, mid-rockers ‘You’re So Beautiful’ and ‘Everyday’ cry ‘airplay’ and the quintessential Deflep ballads are present of course, the beautiful ‘Long Long Way to Go’ and ‘Let me be the One’.

But if the first half is radio-friendly, the second-half rocks out a little more. ‘Love Don’t Lie’ and ‘Torn to Shreds’ are wonderful rockers with the right balance of melody and guitars while ‘Cry’ and ‘Gravity’ are slightly harder and feature less accessible arrangments to confuse the AOR man.

Elliot’s vocals are career-best throughout the reocrd, never more so than on, ‘Scar’, a powerful re-birth of ‘Animal’ with its searing guitar track and gritty vocal performance. ‘Kiss the Day’ (a bonus track outside the US) features the impressively-held note prior to the guitar solo, and indeed it’s nice to hear Viv Campbell unleash at the end of said track. It’s no suprise that Phil Collen and Elliot co-wrote it, as they are involved with the best material on the record. Having said that, none of the first five tracks are credited to the band.

‘Girl Like You’ is a little rock-by-numbers while’Four Letter Word’ is an interesting concept but essentially a botched attempt at raunch-rock that sounds more Bryan Adams than AC/DC.

A lot has been said, both good and bad, about “X”. For me it is the not quite as strong as their ninties albums, but it has enough going for it to make it a worthy addition to any fans collection. It may not have a “Gods of War”, a “White Lightning” or a “Paper Sun”, but if you want to hear them … just go listen to them.

3halfstar

[Album Review] "High 'n' Dry" – Def Leppard

High N Dry - Def LeppardAlbum Title: High ‘n’ Dry
Artist: Def Leppard
Year: 1981
Running Time: 42m 14s

Track listing: 1 Let it Go; 2 Another Hit and Run; 3 High ‘N’ Dry (Saturday Night); 4 Bringin’ on the Heartbreak; 5 Switch 625; 6 You Got Me Runnin’; 7 Lady Strange; 8 On Through the Night; 9 Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes); 10 No No No

With a minor hit in debut record “On Through the Night”, Def Leppard took to recording their eagerly awaited follow-up, “High ‘n’ Dry”. With Rob “Mutt” Lange once again producing, the band had matured and improved their performances with more acomplished songwriting and less pretentious and outrageous lyrics.

If ‘Let it Go’ was a stomping, rhythmic opener, the tepid ‘Another Hit and Run’ was nowhere near a worthy follow up. Worse news for the track is that it was followed by the decent title track with some staple boozy, woman-and-wine lyrics. ‘Bringin’ on the Heartbreak’ (rather bizzarely due to be covered by Mariah Carey in 2003!) was the band’s first real proper slow song, and was the track that became a prototype for Def Leppard ballads for the next twenty years. But with enough heavy guitars to avoid dreaded sappiness, the Leps manage to pull it off brilliantly.

AC/DC clearly inspire the catchy ‘You Got Me Runnin” and ‘On Through the Night’ confuses everyone by appearing on this album and not their debut of the same name. It probably could have been left off either album in all honesty. ‘Mirror, Mirror (Look Into My Eyes)’ wins the “worst title for a track ever” award, but the bass-line is strong and the chorus pulls it off…just. More AC/DC influence (the band toured with them in their early years) on “No No No” but it’s very non-descript, as is ‘Lady Strange’ (showboating Joe Elliott’s consistently poor vocals as much as any song).

‘Switch 625’ is one of Steve Clark’s masterpieces, a magical, guitar-laden instrumental that shows the band capable of mapping out a tune strong enough to survive without vocals (although poor old Joe might argue now that most songs might have been better without his attempts at singing). We also get to hear an early example of the band’s harmony capabilities.

There’s some very high points on this record, but overall it is just not as consistent as the debut.

2halfstar

[Album Review] "Euphoria" – Def Leppard

Euphoria - Def LeppardAlbum Title: Euphoria
Artist: Def Leppard
Year: 1999
Running Time: 51m 2s

Track listing: 1 Demolition Man; 2 Promises; 3 Back In Your Face; 4 Goodbye; 5 All Night; 6 Paper Sun; 7 It’s Only Love; 8 21st Century Sha La La La Girl; 9 To Be Alive; 10 Disintegrate; 11 Guilty; 12 Day After Day; 13 Kings of Oblivion

After flopping with 1996’s extremely brilliant “Slang”, Def Leppard returned to their roots in 1999. The template for “Euphoria” was an attempt to re-create the glory years of “Hysteria” and “Pyromania” while still sounding as relevant as possible. Back came the layered guitars and harmonies, the catchy choruses and the ‘deep and meaningless’ lyrics. I will admit that I went into this album with a very closed mind – I frankly didn’t expect much.

When you listen to album opener, ‘Demolition Man’, you can’t help but admire the fast, electric assault, the superb bridge and catchy chorus. ‘Promises’ slows things down a little, but again it’s catchy and likable stuff (‘I won’t make promises that I can’t keep/I won’t make promises that I don’t mean’) – hang on, isn’t this ‘just Photograph (remix)’!?

‘Back In Your Face’ is plain awful, an attempt to re-create the whole ‘Slang’/’Pour Some Sugar On Me’ effect but ‘All Night’, a 70s-funkrock throwback, is sexy,sassy and surprisingly genial. This was more single material than ‘Back In Your Face’.

You want ballads? We got ballads. ‘It’s Only Love’ is damn good, an acoustic-based love song with a beautiful chorus and the usual terrific harmonies (‘It’s only love so why is falling in it/the one thing that you can’t do/it’s only love then why am I hurting from it/it’s only love if you’re hurting too’). ‘To Be Alive’ comes up trumps as well with its “Hysteria”-style sound, engaging chorus and solid instrumentation. Finally, ‘Goodbye’ is just a little bit naff in comparison. It’s big-hair balladry without the invention that we’ve come to expect from Deflep – for example, it sounds similar to ‘Breathe a Sigh’ from “Slang” but just isn’t nearly as good.

But we’ve got other stuff too. ’21st Century Sha La La La Girl” looks like it should be a typo, but apparently it is the correct title. The song itself is a reasonable electro-rocker that doesn’t really stand out and again sounds too similar to ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ (stop doing this, Leps!). ‘Guilty’ is better, with shades of the song ‘Hysteria’ itself, ‘Day After Day’ an inspired number that borrows equally from “Hysteria” and “Slang” .

‘Kings of Oblivion’ is very much pulled from the “Pyromania” era, and you can almost see the guys structuring the album so that it included this homage to the more metal-sound of the early 80s. It’s not a bad track at all and the lyrics are a little better than most of the album, in fact they are very “Pyromania” as such. ‘Disintegrate’ is a pretty cool instrumental rock track that lets the guys let loose on a fun riff for a while.

Leaving the best until last. ‘Paper Sun’ is absolutely awesome. Little do you expect the wall of sound that is on its way when you hear the lone guitar chords that begin the track. The lyrics are a fine example of lyrical-imagery. Joe plays wonderfully with the bizzare image of the song when he sings ’cause you’re living on a paper sun/blind to all the damage done/living on a paper sun/waiting for the tide to turn’. The numerous solos from Phil and Viv are superb, the arrangement swings all over the place leaving you absolutely breathless at the end. It’s amongst one of the best tracks that they’ve written and lifts “Euphoria” from ‘good’ to ‘very good’.

There’s a few throwaway tracks here, but overall this is a surprisingly accomplished record. And no, I didn’t expect it.
4star

[Album Review] "Shaving Peaches" – Terrorvision

Shaving Peaches - TerrorvisionAlbum Title: Shaving Peaches
Artist: Terrorvision
Year: 1999
Running Time: 61m 48s

Track listing: 1 III Wishes; 2 Josephine; 3 Hypnotised; 4 Can’t Get You Out of My Mind; 5 In Your Shoes; 6 Swings and Roundabouts; 7 Day After Day; 8 Left to the Right; 9 Cantankerous; 10 The Curse of Tequila; 11 Vegas; 12 Babyface; 13 Spanner in the Works; 14 When I Die; 15 On a Mission; 16 Tequila (Mint Royale Shot)

It would have been perhaps unfair to expect Terrorvision to pull off something of the quality of “Regular Urban Survivors”. The slightly self-indulgent “Shaving Peaches” comes close, even if it does weight in a few songs too heavy.

They still hadn’t lost their skill for pulling out likable and original-sounding riffs. Check out the tranny-themed ‘Josephine’ with it’s airy riff and the funky ‘Hypnotised’ – both trundle along nicely before coming alive during their respective catchy choruses. They relive the arousing foot-tapping sound of ‘Oblivion’ in ‘Left to the Right’ and ‘Babyface’ comes up trumps as a wonderful pumped-up piece of rock kitsch. Sliding nicely into familiar territory is acoustic-rock number, and album opener, ‘III Wishes’ (‘If I had three wishes/I’d wish for five/Peace on earth, ban the bomb, get along and survive’). Hard not to like, and driven by hypnotic guitar solos from Mark.

The softer, more melodic sounds are top notch as well. ‘Day After Day’ and ‘When I Die’ are pleasant sixties-inspired tunes while ‘Cantankerous’ is an infectious number, implanted with a wonderful dance-cum-folk rhythm.

The album’s most famous track is probably ‘Tequila’, with it’s prelude track, ‘The Curse of Tequila’. Based on the true story of when lead-singer Tony got hammered on tequila and broke both his ankles, the song was remixed by techno-DJ Mint Royale and was played non-stop on Radio 1 by Zoe Ball. Needless to say it became a huge hit. The song itself is contagious with it’s catchy riff and holiday-time dance-feel.

‘Can’t Get You Out of My Mind’ is a showband rock number with a likable chrous, ‘In Your Shoes’ a decent rocker that doesn’t quite have the hook of the tracks before it, and ‘Swings and Roundabouts’ completely misses the mark with it’s unsubstantial rhythm. ‘Vegas’ just isn’t happening at all and it’s inclusion is curious, but ‘Spanner in the Works’ is slightly better with a cool guitar rhythm and the in-your-face chorus.

The latter tunes I’ve mentioned are probably what make the album a little too long in the tooth to be considered the band’s best, but there is some outstanding stuff on show and this release lines up just behind “Regular Urban Survivors”. Superb stuff.

4star