Review: Billy Connolly’s Route 66

Billy Connolly's Route 66
Billy Connolly’s Route 66 by Billy Connolly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Billy Connelly is a Scottish musician, comic and actor who, in 2011, rode a three-wheeled motorcycle from Chicago to Los Angeles, following the fragmented remains of the legendary Route 66. Naturally, the whole adventure was filmed for a British television series, and this book reads like what it basically is, i.e., a transcription of that series, complete with lengthy dialog between Connolly and the more interesting people he encounters.

As someone who has long dreamed of making a similar journey, this book was a bit sobering. Connolly makes it sound as if there are more ghost towns along the Mother Road than thriving tourist traps, a stark contrast to most of the literature on the subject. He’s also pretty harsh in his opinions of the greasy-spoon-style “road food” that I tend to enjoy. And yet the things he does enjoy along the way are enticing, from his encounter with an Amish furniture maker to his wonder at the Grand Canyon, and these make the moodier passages worth enduring.

One thing to note: Connolly has lived in America for many years and loves this country, but he is not American. Nor is he Christian. But he is opinionated, and he’s not the sort of person to soft-pedal his opinions, which some readers may find a bit off-putting. Personally I found his outsider’s perspective and blunt revulsion at some of the more excessive, fanatical, or just plain weird aspects of American culture rather refreshing. His writing style — assisted by cowriter Robert Uhlig — is more serviceable than poetic, but he can get philosophical from time to time. The overall impression is something akin to spending a couple hours hearing your colorful uncle tell you all about his vacation over a pint.

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Gracefully or Begrudgingly

“You can either grow old gracefully or begrudgingly. I chose both.”

— Sir Roger Moore, 1927-2017

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Movie Meme 2.0

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I’ve discovered that that meme I did earlier was actually truncated from a longer one, so I’m… doing it again. Because I’m like that. Oh, and I’m also changing a few of my answers. Because I’m also like that.

  • Most Hated Movie: Star Trek (2009)
  • Movie I Think Is Overrated: Interstellar
  • Movie I Think Is Underrated: Star Trek: The Motion Picture
  • Movie I Love: American Graffiti
  • Movie I Secretly Love: Young Guns 2
  • Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard
  • Favorite Drama Movie: Casablanca
  • Favorite Western Movie: Dances with Wolves
  • Favorite Horror Movie: The Fog (1980 version)
  • Favorite Comedy Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  • Favorite Romance: Pretty Woman
  • Favorite Fantasy: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (Yes, I am fussy enough to differentiate between the LOTR films! For me, the first is the most, well, magical… )
  • Favorite Disney Movie: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  • Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Blade Runner
  • Favorite Book-to-Movie Adaptation: The Shawshank Redemption
  • Favorite Animated Movie: The Incredibles
  • Favorite Superhero Movie: Superman: The Movie
  • Favorite War Movie: The Guns of Navarone
  • Favorite Thriller: Rear Window
  • Favorite Cop Movie: Dirty Harry
  • Favorite Musical: Rock of Ages
  • Favorite Chop-Socky: Rumble in the Bronx
  • Favorite Documentary: Man on Wire
  • Favorite Bad Movie: Flash Gordon (1980 version)
  • Childhood Favorite: Jason and the Argonauts (1963 version)
  • Favorite Franchise: Star Wars
  • Best Trilogy: Back to the Future
  • Guilty Pleasure: Bring It On
  • Favorite Director: Steven Spielberg (although he’s been pretty hit-and-miss ever since Schindler’s List)
  • Favorite Actor: Patrick Stewart
  • Favorite Actress: (tie): Scarlet Johansson / Dame Judi Dench
  • Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Logan
  • Movie I Have Recently Seen: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
  • What I Thought of It: Enjoyable, but it doesn’t develop Cedric Diggory enough to care when he dies.
  • Favorite Movie of All Time: Star Wars (a.k.a., “Episode IV: A New Hope,” pre-Special Edition version)

 

For the record, this is harder than you might think. I had the devil’s own time with the romance category, for instance, because it’s not a genre that usually appeals to me, and movies I find very romantic — Blaze, for example — usually don’t fit other people’s definitions of romance. And honestly, I don’t really have a favorite director, actor, or actress; the ones I listed are just the ones I thought of whose work I generally (but not always) enjoy. Truth is, there are many directors, actors, and actresses I like.

For the record.

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Movie Meme

Because I need the pointless distraction this morning:

Most Hated Movie: Star Trek (2009)
Movie I Think Is Overrated: Interstellar
Movie I Think Is Underrated: The Black Hole
Movie I Love: American Graffiti
Movie I Secretly Love: Young Guns 2
Favorite Action Movie: Die Hard
Favorite Drama Movie: The Big Chill
Favorite Western Movie: Dances with Wolves
Favorite Horror Movie: The Fog (1980 version)
Favorite Comedy Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Favorite Disney Movie: 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
Favorite Science Fiction Movie: Blade Runner
Favorite Animated Movie: The Incredibles
Favorite Superhero Movie: Superman: The Movie
Favorite Musical: Rock of Ages
Favorite Bad Movie: Darkman
Childhood Favorite: Jason and the Argonauts (1963 version)
Favorite Franchise: Star Wars
Best Trilogy: Back to the Future
Guilty Pleasure: Bring It On
Favorite Movie This Year So Far: Logan
Movie I Have Recently Seen: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
What I Thought of It: Enjoyable, but doesn’t develop Cedric Diggory enough to care when he dies.
Favorite Movie of All Time: Star Wars (pre-Special Edition)

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Contribute to a Great Cause, Get Yourself a Great Comic

My long-time Loyal Readers may remember me blogging a couple years back about the writer Bill Mantlo, who single-handedly scripted the entire run of one of my favorite childhood comics, The Micronauts, as well as creating Rocket Raccoon, the crowd-favorite character from Guardians of the Galaxy. Briefly, Mantlo was an immense talent who was struck by a hit-and-run driver in 1992 and left in a tragically sad situation that continues to this day.

Well, my pal Jaquandor remembered, and yesterday he directed me to a Kickstarter campaign he’d somehow run across. Dynamite Entertainment and Mantlo’s collaborator Butch Guice are raising funds to reprint another one of Mantlo’s projects, as well as contribute to his ongoing medical care. Here’s the promo video for it; take a look and consider giving what you can. I know I will…

 

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Carrie, Again

The official Star Wars Celebration convention is currently underway in Orlando. I’m sure there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when they played this:

Watching this, I fell in love with her all over again, from that first sweet “Hi.” Then I had my heart broken yet again with the montage of her reciting the “Help me, Obi Wan” speech through the years.

I often feel genuine sorrow when celebrities I admire or whose work is important to me pass on, but I can’t remember mourning any of them as intensely as I have mourned Carrie Fisher. Not even Leonard Nimoy, and his death hurt. But Carrie — and her alter-ego, of course — really did feel, well, real to me. As real as the girl I had a crush on in middle school, as real as that beloved aunt who had such an outsized spirit you couldn’t help but want to hang around her.

Rest in peace, my princess. I’m grateful we still have your movies, and your words.

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Friday Evening Videos: “If Anyone Falls”

The first time somebody told me that rock-n-roll goddess Stevie Nicks once lived in Salt Lake City, I didn’t believe it.

It sounded too much like the far-fetched tales my Mormon friends used to tell about all the celebrities who were secretly members of the LDS church. Now, to be fair, there are a number of famous people who also happen to be LDS — Gladys Knight comes immediately to mind — but there was a time when I heard so many variations of “Did you know that so-and-so is a member?” that if even half those stories were true, there would be more Mormons in Hollywood than plastic surgeons. (This was pre-Internet, you understand, when it was a lot more difficult to verify such things.) I’ve long wondered where those stories came from and why they were such a tenacious aspect of Utah folklore for so long. My working theory is that they probably arose from a deep cultural insecurity that manifested as two sides of the same coin: a longing for a hometown hero who catches the national spotlight, as well as an ironclad certainty that nobody cool has ever come from Utah.

Except Stevie Nicks, apparently. That particular urban legend turns out to be 100% true, as corroborated by the lady herself just over a month ago when she brought her 24 Karat Gold tour to Salt Lake on February 25. I’d seen Stevie live a couple times before, but always as part of Fleetwood Mac, not in a show focused on her solo work, so this concert had a very different feel to it. It was more personal for her, I think, and that carried over into the audience’s emotional response; it felt personal to me as well, as if somehow a 19,000-seat arena was magically shrunk into the neighborhood club, and Stevie and her band were just playing and goofing around for a small group of friends. Stevie herself looked and sounded fantastic, far more youthful than her actual age and far healthier than the previous times I’d seen her. She was chatty and a little bit scatterbrained and very funny, like the cool aunt who’s been everywhere and met everyone and has a million stories to tell. I found her utterly charming. Yes, I’m like every other male rock-and-roll fan (and not a few female ones!) of a particular age in that I’ve had a crush on her since my early teens, but I really fell a little bit in love with her on February 25. By the time she performed her signature tune “Landslide” in the finale, the emotions were running high. I may or may not have shed a tear when my 60-something rock goddess sang the line “And I’m gettin’ older too… ”

But long before that moment, she opened the concert with one of my favorite songs of hers, “If Anyone Falls,” which was the second single released from her 1983 album The Wild Heart. “If Anyone Falls” wasn’t as big as the album’s first single, “Stand Back,” rising to only 14 on the Billboard Hot 100 — “Stand Back” hit number 5, thanks I would guess to a propulsive synthesizer track played by none other than the late, great Prince — but I always liked this one just a hair more, for reasons I can’t really articulate. The lushly romantic tone, perhaps, so nicely illustrated in the official MTV video by images of Stevie watching old movies by herself in an empty theater. I’ve done that a few times myself… usually late at night, like it is now… the time of day when I find I most enjoy listening to Stevie Nicks…

Incidentally, in case you’re still wondering about when, exactly, Stevie lived in boring old Salt Lake, it was while she was in eighth and ninth grade, which by my calculations would’ve been the mid-1960s. Her best friend from those days still lives here, and she was at the concert the other night. Stevie called out to her several times. I love the idea that a rock star of her magnitude could still be friends with someone she knew in the eighth grade, so very long ago…

 

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Mark Your Calendars and Send Me Your Address: Class of ’87 Reunion

BHS-class-of-1987

I don’t know which is more difficult to wrap my head around: the fact that this summer will mark 30 years since I graduated from high school, or the equally far-fetched notion that I — yes, I, Jason Bennion — have ended up in charge of planning my class reunion.

I mean… it’s not like I ever had a notable amount of school spirit back in the day. I was a good student, and I had friends and all, but I just wasn’t much of a joiner. I tended to think of myself as much more of an outcast… a loner, Dottie… a rebel. I went to exactly one football game the whole four years of my high school career, and my attitude about pep rallies was that The Man wasn’t going to tell me what to feel enthusiastic about. If you can find me in the class photo above, you’ll see that attitude pretty clearly on display, I believe.

And yet, as unlikely as you might think based on the wanna-be tough guy I used to be, three decades on I seem to be the one who’s kept in touch with everyone, who still lives in the old neighborhood, who gets sentimental every time one of these big round-number anniversaries rolls around. Somehow I’ve become the nexus for Bingham High’s class of 1987. And so it made sense that I’d end up spearheading this reunion thing.

If any of my old classmates are reading this — does anybody still read this blog? — and you haven’t already heard from other sources, the reunion is going to be Saturday, August 26th. We’re still in the planning stages, but it’ll be outdoors at a county park, BYOB, and strictly casual. And hopefully fun. I’ll post more details as we get things ironed out. Right now, though, I need your help… if you’re a Bingham Miner and you haven’t done it yet, do me a favor and click this link, right now, and register your address there so my fellow planners and I can track you down more easily. The site is self-explanatory, it’s quick and painless, and it’s secure (there are only two people with access to the complete list). As the immortal Arnold Schwarzenneger once said, “Come on, do it… do it now!” And after you’re done there, spread the word to anyone from our class you can think of and make sure they do the same.

Thanks, everyone… and see you in August!

 

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Happy 86th, My Captain

william-shatner_slcomiccon-collageContinuing my silly annual tradition of wishing a happy birthday to William Shatner, a Canadian actor of some note who occupies an inordinate amount of my imagination and childhood memories. He’s turning 86 years young today… and my perennial wish to buy him a drink remains in effect.

And yes, I did gank this image from Salt Lake Comic Con, which has hosted the inimitable Shat twice now. Many happy returns, Bill…

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Well, So Much for That…

She did it to me again...

The Digital Bits had an update this morning on the whole Star Wars thing:

We’ve essentially confirmed that Disney’s current 4K scan of the film is the most recent revised version (essentially the latest “special edition”), not the original theatrical edition. What’s more, Disney’s director of Library Restoration and Preservation, Theo Gluck, held a special event at Ohio State University’s Wexner Center for the Arts last night, a presentation called Animation Restoration at Walt Disney Studios. Gluck was asked there about Star Wars and reported that the original cut negative for the film currently exists in its “SE” configuration only.

 

In addition, 20th Century Fox’s Senior Vice President of Library and Technical Services, Shawn Belston, was also on hand at the Wexner event last night. He confirmed that all of the “trims” removed from the original cut negative (in the mid-1990s, to create the SEs) still exist as well. (Thanks to Bits reader Chuck P., who attended this event, for his firsthand report.) So what does all that mean to you?

 

In summary: While it is essentially technically true that the ‘77 cut negative “no longer exists” in its original state, it is also technically true that it could be re-built if so desired. All of the needed film elements still survive and have been preserved. Nevertheless, if one takes Gluck and Belston at their word (and knowing them as we do, we certainly do) this would seem to be fairly official word that no such reconstruction work has been done to date. Thus, it appears that there is little chance of the original 1977 Star Wars being released on any home video format in 2017.

 

Meanwhile, however, we also know (from checking in again with our sources yesterday) that original high-quality prints of the theatrical editions continue to exist in various film archives around the world, as well as in the hands of private collectors. So… the Saga continues.

Well, shit.

I do not understand — and I will never understand — why one of the great landmarks of cinema history continues to be neglected like this. When I consider the efforts that’ve been made over the years to find an intact print of Metropolis, a 90-year-old silent movie that’s hugely important but which few members of the general public have even heard of, and make sure even that is available for the serious film-history buffs who desire it, the Star Wars situation simply doesn’t make sense to me.

Now, I can hear some of you muttering under your breath, “Ah, Bennion, not this again. The Special Editions really aren’t all that different, and I actually think they’re better in some ways.” I totally disagree, but hey, if that’s your honest feeling, who am I to tell you you’re wrong about something you enjoy watching? It completely misses the point of my argument, though: It wasn’t the revisionist, CGI-filled SEs that had the greatest impact on our culture, or that revolutionized the American film industry. Those are the versions we ought to be celebrating, preserving… and marketing. By rights, the Special Editions ought to be viewed as a novelty, just an interesting experiment, like when Coppola cut all of his Godfather movies into chronological order back in 1992 or whenever that was. But certainly that was never intended as an outright replacement for the originals… and today it’s The Godfather Trilogy: 1901-1980 that’s hard to find, not the theatrical cuts.

Some people have told me that it’s only a small minority of older Star Wars fans who actually care about this, that it would be a niche market at best. Maybe so. But it can’t be that small of a niche, or there wouldn’t be so much interest in bootlegged “fan preservations,” and there wouldn’t have been so much excitement generated by yesterday’s rumor, however short-lived it turned out to be. There is money to be made on a home-video re-release of the pre-1997 editions, and there is artistic and cultural value in such a release, I’m convinced of it. But evidently the bean counters at Disney feel otherwise.

At least it’s been confirmed that the negative trims from the original cuts are still around. I never did believe Lucas’ claims that the original negatives no longer existed in any form. Maybe in another 50 years, when the children of the ’70s are dead and gone, our cultural priorities will have evolved enough that someone will see the value in reconstructing the historically significant editions of the trilogy. And they will wonder what in the hell was the matter with George Lucas and the Disney executives and all those casual fans who just didn’t appreciate what they had…

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