Saturday, December 23, 2006
Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
Karen Moncrieff (Blue Car – 2002) has given audiences her take on violence against women in her dark and compelling film The Dead Girl. Five women are deeply affected by the appearance of a young woman’s brutally beaten body in a lonely field. The story unfolds in a sequence of five complete stories revolving around the impact of the corpse on the stranger, the sister, the wife, the mother, and the dead girl.
Each of the five stories is persuasive. The ways in which the dead girl affects the women feels tragically natural. While each of the women acts in ways most of us would hope we could avoid, Moncrieff has written a script in which all the actions are believable; frightening, sure, but these women inhabit a world in which women are mutilated and dumped like so much trash. The Dead Girl does an admirable job of mixing that darkness with hope. All of the women, after all, work steadily toward finding a way to coexist in a violent world.
Movies that tell their stories in a series of what amount to independent short films need to resonate with each other if the audience is to feel connected with a single story arc. The arc in The Dead Girl is the emotional impact of a dead woman in the woods. That is a huge emotional weight, and the film does its best to keep that emotion streaming seamlessly from section to section. The problem is that when we meet new characters every twenty minutes, time is needed for the audience to connect with those people. You will find yourself longing for more in each section; more characterization, longer scenes, a bigger sense of history for each of the characters. There are certain moments and lines we might accept as not being over the top if they’d had two hours to earn them; however, ten minutes into a story arc, when a mother tells her daughter that God took the wrong child from her, it’s hard to stifle a groan.
The film is peppered with fabulous performances. Toni Collette and Giovanni Ribisi are especially compelling in their morbid, and strangely comic, roles in which they give a believable look at a burgeoning, but messed up, romance. Giovanni Ribisi has paid his dues, it is high time for audiences to see him for the stellar actor he is. Also, Brittany Murphy gives a surprisingly emotional performance that has depth and a manic charm. Murphy seems to be in every other film these days; this is the role where she deserves to be taken seriously.
The Dead Girl does need to be seen. For every moment it falls short, there is a moment made beautiful by the gorgeous cinematography, clean editing, and meticulous direction. Modern news has deflated the calamity of violence toward women into a sound bite surrounded by a rush for ratings. The Dead Girl has the necessary impact to break open this topic for serious discourse.
Friday, December 22, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
As a surfer and the son of a sailor, Mother Ocean has always called out to me, so when I got wind of this little video, I dove in headfirst. BBC Video has come up with a fantastic story about the life of a Sperm whale. Using live action footage, CGI technology, and the most recent scientific information, Ocean Odyssey takes us on adventure deep into the world of this planet’s largest living mammal, exploring the vast undersea landscape from which all life once came.
This is a great show for anyone interested in the science of the deep. The story starts with a Sperm whale that has beached himself on the shores of New Zealand. From here the narrator raises questions concerning the life of this massive creature of the abyss. We then flashback 80 years ago to 1926 where a ship is repairing telegraph lines that have been laid out across the Atlantic from Europe to America. Out in the mid-Atlantic near the Azores Island chain, a young male calf is preparing to make his first deep dive, something he will continuously to do for the rest of his life.
Whales are always on the search for food as they roam their kingdom. Along this journey our whale discovers his world through the sight of sonar. The clicking and snapping noises that whales make are not just for communication, but also act as radar giving the whale a 3-D map of the world under the water. In his travels, the whale battles Orcas, feasts on giant squid, dodges gas-filled rocks that shoot up from underwater volcanoes, and explores the ice-layered ocean of the Antarctic.
Not only do we learn about the Sperm whale, but we also encounter other strange lands and creatures. Heat vents are sediment deposits that plume like smoke stacks rising off the ocean floor. At seven-stories high, they let out the heat and pressure from deep inside the mantle of the earth; they are also breeding grounds for tiny organisms, which are the building blocks of the greater food chain.
The underwater plains and valleys that our whale roams come alive through computer generated imagery, or CGI. Lighting up the ocean where even the sun cannot penetrate is a sight to see in itself. Using satellite charting of the ocean floor, the filmmakers have blended together a grand picture of what the land looks like under all that water. They show us the tallest mountain on our planet, Mt. Kilauea, which when measured from its base on the ocean floor is one thousand meters taller than Mt. Everest. We also get a CGI look at a curtain of fire, a split in the ocean's Pacific floor. Here the planet is renewing itself as earthquakes and volcanoes force the mantle plates apart and form a new ocean floor. These are some of the aspects of the film that make it stand out among other documentaries. We even have a climax when our whale goes to chow down on the second biggest creature in the sea, the colossal squid.
I was enthralled from the opening of the movie to the very end. This is a single DVD with two episodes, each running 60 minutes. Bernard Hill is the narrator and he does a superb job. The only thing I didn't like, and it’s because I'm a lazy American and I like it that way, is that every thing was in the Metric system. I'm used to feet, miles, and tons rather than meters and kilos (at least not these kilos). Hearing Bernard say that an adult male has to eat up to one thousand kilos of food per day to stay alive made me have to think about how much a kilo is. I found myself backtracking on the disk because I missed something during my thoughts about weight. That's just me; most of you probably won't have that problem.
A great tool for learning and an amazing adventure to embark on, BBC Video makes a big splash with this whale tale. For the young budding oceanographer or anybody who loves the world around them, this movie is great and should be watched by the whole family. This one goes on Fumo's "Very Highly Recommended" list.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
Hey you, guuuuuuuuys!!! The second volume of The Electric Company has made it to DVD. For those of us born between the years of 1967 and 1972, this collection is a throwback to the days when all we had to worry about were the monsters under our beds. At that time, Children’s Television Workshop, creators of Sesame Street, were focused on making learning fun and accessible. Yet The Electric Company wasn't just for kids because the producers, cast, and crew made sure that the parents who watched were entertained as well.
It all came back as soon as the music started, and each episode I watched I remembered vividly. There were two streaks that ran through these shows; one was an emphasis on learning, the other on fun. Some of the best minds in the Education Department of America were brought in to set the curriculum and to make sure that the show stuck to it. Each actor knew what had to be taught. They understood the rules and knew where the boundaries were. They were still given the freedom to adlib, and being actors, they took advantage of this opportunity as much as they could. This is what made The Electric Company entertaining.
All the members of this all-star cast are present among the twenty episodes, which are spread over four DVDs. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader, Bill Cosby parading around like a Musketeer, and of course, Rita Moreno yelling her trademark, “Hey You Guuuuuuyyyys!!!” The show also boasted appearances by Mel Brooks, Wilt Chamberlain, Victor Borge, Gary Owens, Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton and even Spider-Man. Satirist Tom Leher wrote several songs for the show, such as “Silent E.” It was a community effort to teach the children. The early years of The Electric Company gave the cast and crew little sleep and even less money, but they loved doing it.
The producer/actors Jim Boyd, Skip Hinnant, and Judy Graubart created the show with old vaudeville routines in mind. Rather than having one storyline to follow, each episode contained a multiple sketches, both live and animated, that ran about three to five minutes. Some of the lessons were repeated throughout. This was a smart way to run things due to the fact that most kids have short attention spans. The little vignettes taught them something, made them laugh, and then moved on before the child knew it. It was a winning formula and would probably work today with all these ADD and ADHD kids.
My favorite on these discs aren't the shows, but the extras. There is a remembering of The Electric Company by Skip, Jim, Judy, and Hattie Winston. These four were the roots of the show and they were there from beginning to end, explaining how they did it and the joy they feel even today by being a part of this show. There is a short documentary made in 1975 about the show on disc two, and best of all, an interview with Bill Cosby on The Dick Cavett Show that was broadcast in 1971.
The Shout Factory has given us another great gift with The Best of The Electric Company, Vol.2. Whether you want to get back to the kid deep inside of yourself or you want to turn your kids on to what you were watching back in the day, these four DVDs are a treasure to have. This show was and is a true classic. It taught us how to read and write with smiles on our faces as well as theirs.
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
All right, katz and kittenz, it's Fumo here with a smile on his face. After having to force myself to listen to Drake Bell’s It’s Only Time, Tony Lucca’s Canyon Songs has saved the day. Lucca, who is another graduate of the star-spewing Disney Studios, but unlike any of his fellow alumni, actually has true talent. He wrote all the songs and music and proves on this CD that not only is he a finely tuned musician with a soft and powerful voice, but a genuine artist who can paint vivid pictures with his words of love, pain, sorrow, and happiness.
The title itself, Canyon Songs, brings up images of old cowboys in beat-up pick-up trucks traveling alone on long dusty roads that stretch endlessly into the setting sun. With the first track, "Death Of Me," Lucca captures the spirit of Western Blues. He plucks and strums his acoustic guitar with the occasional slide, giving the tune a Willie Nelson-twang to it and weaves a tale that most can relate to when someone you love doesn't seem to love you. "You told me you would always be there, I guess I heard you wrong./ If I held my breath, you'll be the death of me."
Yet Lucca isn't just a country blues singer; he considers himself the love child of Sade and James Taylor. His other influences, from Steve Wonder to Bruce Springsteen, can be felt throughout the album. "Darling I" has a definite Springsteen root in the beat and rhythm of the drums and guitar. The song is about an old relationship that's being held onto by someone who doesn't want it to end. "Got no story that ain't been told, just tired excuses,/ Girl, they're getting old..." Weathered words sung by a man who is writing what he feels and how it affects him. This is what the radio needs right now. "The Hustler, The Widow, and The Boy from Detroit" is another Springsteenesque song with its haunting harmonica calling out from beyond. It is a sad tale of death and loss with the chorus letting you know that "bad things happen to good people all the time."
Lucca has put his heart into this CD and it shows. He is a talented wordsmith reflecting the images his life has seen and the pains that he has experienced, making this a great album. He takes control and leads the listener down open roads, reminding them that even as the sun sets, it rises again. The best illustration of this is "Songbird," which definitely brings to mind James Taylor.
As for my favorite song, it has to be "Sara Jane" (No, it's not about the weed.). It is a song for Lucca's sister who is the only one who can cheer him up when he's down and make everything all right. Its upbeat rhythm and fun lyrics remind some of us how lucky we are to have a cool sister like that.
I have to thank Tony Lucca for all what he has done. He has brought spirit and soul back to the world of singer/songwriters and for this Canyon Songs unquestionably needs to be added to the music library. He has lived life outside of the walls of the Disney Channel and has put his blood, sweat, and tears into this disc. One only has to listen to understand and catch what Lucca is all about. He sums it up by saying, "I think that when what you aspire to do is of a timeless, classic nature, it will inevitably outlast the trends and the uncertainty of whatever business you're in." Brother, you sure did that here. And all without getting into a car wreck and having his jaw wired shut.
Monday, December 11, 2006
Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
Since audiences flipped over the documentary March of the Penguins (2005), there have been more penguins in the media than you can shake a seal club at. Because of this penguin mania, it was inevitable we would get a fully animated production in the form of Happy Feet.
Penguins have a heart song. This is their personal ad that helps them find a mate, keep warm in the scary winter, and express their individuality. Sadly, Mumble (Elijah Wood – and you will be amazed by how much that fuzzy penguin really looks and acts like Elijah Wood), is born devoid of a heart song. The kid can dance, though. Too bad dancing is completely frowned upon. Mumble journeys away from the flock and runs into a group of wild and crazy penguins who know how to have a wild and crazy time. This is exactly when the film turns dark, dark, dark.
This darkness occurs in all exceptional animated features (have we forgotten the gunshots and their targets in 1942’s Bambi?). “Happy Feet” is absolutely about finding your so-called heart song, but it is also about environmental disaster, human encroachment, border issues, homosexuality (discussed as arguments about the immorality of being different), and fighting the power. All these issues are deftly handled with humor and (usually) even-handedness. It isn’t hard, though, to see which side of the political fence the filmmakers lean on. If your six-year-old notices the political innuendoes, then, dang it, pat her on the noggin’ and be proud of your genius offspring.
What makes the movie a great work are the direction and animation. The chase scenes are so well imagined that young children are going to be scared. Those scenes are as close to being on a roller coaster as one can get. The incredible animation is revealed slowly but surely, building and building as the scenes unfold. Because of this, the initial reaction is that the animation is okay, but two-thirds of the way through the movie you will be asking yourself if the humans are animated or filmed (filmed). Finding the live-action segments to be this confusing is an amazing feeling. How do you get cartoon penguins (and I mean these are obviously cartoon penguins) seem so alive next to real humans? Answer: ridiculously well crafted animation. You may, however, tire of the if-a-blue-penguin-eye-fills-the-screen-you-should-feel-melancholy shot.
There are tons of popular songs in the movie (sitting through the music credits takes as long as sitting through Woodstock). Unfortunately, those songs are jim-jammed into any available moment without a whole lot of attention to efficacy or theme. I always prefer hearing original songs, and can only think of two examples of movies that used popular music to intelligent effect: Moulin Rouge (2001) and (yep, no joke) Muppets in Space (1999 - check it out if this bothers you).
The voice acting is mostly great. Robin Williams is excellent as two very different penguins. Hugh Jackman, on the other hand, gives the worst Elvis impersonation since my uncle’s parole hearing. The film is about penguins; penguins that sing and dance; penguins that sing and dance and are really fuzzy and adorable. It’s a no-brainer; get your children to Happy Feet.
Saturday, December 09, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
Are you ready for this? Nine Lives is a ten-disc box set that includes all nine of his solo albums, remastered and expanded with some "extras," if you know what I mean. It also includes a sixty-minute film on DVD that takes you on a tour of Robert's solo career, which began after Led Zeppelin disbanded in 1980. But that's not all on the DVD. There are interviews with Plant about each of the albums and with other musicians who know him and are still to this day inspired by his artistry, such as Roger Daltrey, Tori Amos, and Lenny Kravitz.
This would have been an awesome set to get to review, but unfortunately I could only get a sampler CD. This disc pulled together fourteen songs, including radio hits "29 Palms," of which I can never get enough, and "Ship Of Fools," which is one of the soundtracks to my life. It also has B-sides, "Far Post" and "Oompa (Watery Bint)," and previously unreleased songs. "Turnaround" is classic Plant with a rocking blues beat and his cool melodic vocals. I swear that this man sounds just as good in 2006 as he did back when Jimmy and John heard him wailing the blues in 1968. Another unreleased demo is a sweet tune called "Rollercoaster". A jazzy, retro keyboard sound provides the backdrop as Plant causally recants a tale of love in almost a whisper.
Hey, babies, if the sampler CD is this good, I can only imagine what this ten-disc pack is going to be like. The collection includes 1982’s Pictures at Eleven, 1983’s The Principle of Moments, 1985’s Shaken ‘n’ Stirred, 1988’s Now and Zen, 1990’s Manic Nirvana, 1993’s Fate of Nations, 2002’s Dreamland, 2005’s Mighty Rearranger, and even The Honeydrippers EP. Plant has had a long and incredible career spanning over thirty years, and yes, that's including the Zeppelin years. Say what you like, but he is a world-class music icon. After such a powerful rock band breaks up, the brightly lit stars usually burn out, but not Plant. His ideas and insights keep getting stronger with every new song he puts out.
The sampler's liner notes also tell me that not only do you get the DVD and nine CDs but also a sixty-page book with rare pictures and artwork are also included in this box set. As soon as this hits the stores, I am going to get myself a Christmas present. Just reading the liner notes on this sample sleeve made my mouth water. For those who are fans of Robert Plant, this is a must-have. Expanded CDs, a bonus-packed DVD and a sixty-page photo book makes Nine Lives my pick of the year for box sets.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
Yes, it was only time until Drake Bell made the jump from The Amanda Show on Nickelodeon to making music, or at least trying to. Bell, who had started his acting career at the age of five, began playing the guitar at age thirteen, and now at the ripe old age of twenty has come out with his second CD, It's Only Time. Bell has a great-looking resume that includes some made-for-TV movies and shows on Nickelodeon, but that's where he should have either stopped or got off the bus. There's no other way to put this: this album sucks. I don't know what his first one sounded like, but some record executive should have probably listened to it, so I wouldn't have had to suffer through this one.
We start out hearing sounds from the bridge of a submarine. Admiral C.J. Abraham greets our ears with his faceless voice. Abraham co-wrote all these little ditties along with Bell and Michael Cocoran. You would think that with three of them working on songwriting one would have had something to say. "Up Periscope" is the first track, and when the music started, I thought I had popped in one of my eight-year-old nephew's CDs. Not only does Bell come to us from Nickelodeon, so does his music. "Up Periscope," like all the songs, is super upbeat and "happy-happy." It's the type of music that makes me angry. Angry that anyone would spend money on making bad music like this when there are kids starving on the streets of America as we speak.
This whole CD sounds like it was made for a pre-teen, after-church TV special. "The entire world is beautiful and I love you" is the theme on It's Only Time and that course is never strayed from. If Bell is trying to break from his youthful ties, he best get off the set of Nickelodeon and go into the word on his own. The songs are contrived and the melodies bounce around like odd jams by The Beatles on bad acid. Like all sugarcoated pop artists, Bell has the illusion of being brokenhearted and blue, but there's no feeling to it. No soul or spirit and nothing that catches the listener’s attention.
Even when I read the liner notes and the song lyrics, there wasn't anything I could relate to. Some of his words were so out of whack, I had to refer to my buddy Ferg to see if he could make heads or tales of what Bell was saying. For example, in track number eight, "Fallen For You," the song opens with "The first time I saw you, I thought you were barefoot. Your hair pulled back, your jelly shoes. Should I lie about my age? Your Buddy Holly glasses on a Betty Davis negative." As these lifeless words are being spewed out, the music is moving at a Sesame Street-pace. Words like that with children’s music backing it up make my brain feel like it's going to have an aneurysm. The fourth line in the title track states "I'm more refined in my recent years." Yeah, that's a big jump from eighteen to twenty, a coming of age so to say.
The worst thing to say about this CD is that it probably won't be Bell's last. But if he does come out with another one, I hope he lives more of life than what lays within the studio compound of Nickelodeon and The Amanda Show.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
Jack Black and Kyle Gass have had a career as the world’s most awesome rock band, Tenacious D, since their pretty damn funny but short-lived series on HBO. That series, and a 2001 album, have garnered them a loyal following of fanboys and fangirls who like their twisted, sexually explicit, and wonderfully disgusting humor. Their movie, Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, attempts to introduce their comedic, but actually solid, musical talents to a broader audience.
The film is split in two halves. The first half chronicles the meeting of JB (Jack Black) and KG (Kyle Gass) and the formation of Tenacious D. Once the band is assembled and ready to rock our socks off, the second half of the movie has the pair traveling Abbott and Costello style to the Rock and Roll Museum (that’s right, Museum) in search of the single guitar pick that all the greatest rockers (Dude! Eddie Van Halen!) have used to get their careers headed directly into the pants of hot babes. The fact the pick was forged from one of Satan’s own front teeth can only lead to mayhem and hijinx.
The Pick of Destiny tries to recreate the best bits from the HBO series. Fans will be left scratching their heads wondering why a comedy team would steal from themselves. Their biggest fan ever, Lee, flits in and out of the movie with as much a sense of necessity as a pickle spear leaning against a Chevy. A song from Tenacious D’s first album, “Kyle Quit the Band,” is re-crafted and made less funny and less comically poignant in the movie as a song titled “Dude (I Totally Miss You)”. None of their old material was made better by a bigger budget or more time to flesh out their ideas. This is doubly unfortunate since the new material gets less play because the old material is taking up much needed space.
The movie does have its moments, and there are enough solid one-liners to keep you smiling from scene to scene. Pick of Destiny works best when it is a rock opera, and is punctuated by fantastic, belted out cameos by Meatloaf and Ronnie James Dio. Sadly, it is not a rock opera often enough. It is also a mystery as to why Tenacious D pulls so many punches. Instead of the outrageous ten-minute skits from the HBO series, we are left with a string of sketches that don’t add up to much, mostly because Black and Gass appear frightened to push the boundaries of their R rating. In theatres where JB and KG are fighting for screen time with the likes of Borat, you’ll be left asking for a bit more social commentary than farting and pot smoking.
There is a scene tacked on to the end of the credits (much like this sentence dangles from this review) that is an absolute must-see if you are twelve years old and mildly retarded.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Written by Tío Esqueleto
Following the success of their seminal first album, 1981’s Speak and Spell, Depeche Mode was faced with a major dilemma. How to carry on without Vince Clarke? Clarke, the band’s songwriter and all-around musical architect, abruptly left the group citing creative differences, and a general distaste for the interviews, television spots, and constant attention that comes with a band whose star is rapidly rising. With him gone, it was up to remaining members Andrew Fletcher, Dave Gahan, and Martin Gore to prove to Clarke (and themselves) that they could carry on with Gore as sole songwriter and arranger. What ensues is 1982’s A Broken Frame, their first album as a three piece, and an album that longtime producer, and Mute Records founder, Daniel Miller would call “a transitional album” and later refer to as the beginning of the so-called dark phase.
The 2nd installment of Rhino Records re-releasing, and remastering, of the Depeche Mode catalogue includes A Broken Frame, 1984’s Some Great Reward, and 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion. This follows the initial re-releases of 1981’s Speak and Spell, 1987’s Music for The Masses, and 1990’s Violator. Each two-disc set comes packaged in a slick, gatefold slipcase and includes a CD of the album, as well as a bonus DVD with the album digitally remastered in 5.0, with various extras.
The CD, minus the art on the actual disc itself, has nothing to offer that wasn’t included on its original UK release. Singles include “See You,” “The Meaning of Love,” and “Leave in Silence.” Also on this album are such fan favorites as “My Secret Garden,” “Monument,” and “The Sun and The Rainfall.” A Broken Frame most certainly is a transitional album. It is a reboot, of sorts, taking the band from Clark’s original point of view to the more complex song structures of Gore’s more brooding, melancholic point of view. It is an obvious window into the future of the Depeche Mode we are familiar with today, a landmark album in a discography spanning 25 years.
The DVD, as you can imagine, is the intended point of purchase, not just for A Broken Frame, but for all of these Rhino remasters, with a bevy of audio and video content to offer. Each track from the album is reproduced in both 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround and DTS 5.1, as well as a stereo 2.0 mix. The DTS 5.1 is sure to set any audiophile’s head spinning, fan or not, most notably with “Monument” and the sweetly haunting “Leave In Silence.”
Also included on the DVD are the three rare B-sides to each of the aforementioned singles: “Now This Is Fun” (originally b/w “See You”), “Oberkorn: It’s a Small Town” (b/w “The Meaning of Love”), and “Excerpt from: My Secret Garden” (b/w “Leave In Silence”). Until now, all three of these cuts were only available on the original vinyl releases, and through The Singles box sets.
Also in 5.1 and 2.0 stereo mix are six tracks from A Broken Frame recorded live in Hammersmith in October 1982. Included are two singles (“See You” and “The Meaning of Love”) as well as “My Secret Garden,” “Satellite,” “A Photograph of You,” and an extremely rare, and wonderful rendition of “Nothing To Fear.” Outside of the overall sound quality, this is the major perk to this purchase.
Rounding out the DVD is the video content. Depeche Mode: 1982 (The beginning of their so called dark phase) is a continuation (one would assume the second installment) of the ongoing documentary produced specifically for these special editions. Each member, past and present (if applicable), as well as producer Miller and various players in the Depeche Mode family, from public relations to tour managers, recalls the atmosphere and events surrounding this release.
This particular episode deals mainly with the loss of Vince Clarke, the appointing of Martin Gore as sole songwriter, and the direction the band took, therein. Each member gives a detailed account, and it is always nice to get anything with Clarke reminiscing about his Mode days before going on to form Yazoo and Erasure. We learn that his post break-up intention was to pursue a day job, but that he was unexpectedly tapped to do a demo for a then relatively unknown Alison Moyet. The addition of eventual fourth member Alan Wilder is also covered here, from his beginnings as a hired gun brought on to help with the live shows leading up to the album’s release to his eventual retention in the lineup that would go on to define them. All in all, a very insightful 30 minutes, on a very important album.
Very few bands are, or were, as collectible as Depeche Mode has been throughout their career. To date, six Depeche Mode albums have been given the Rhino “Special Edition” treatment, with the four remaining albums slated for an early ’07 release. All of which, have been nothing short of spectacular. These re-releases have been lovingly put together with the fans in mind. A souvenir from a particular band, for a particular album, if you will. Have a favorite Depeche Mode album or period? Perhaps, A Broken Frame? Then I highly recommend picking up that souvenir.
Friday, December 01, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
Hey, peoples. This is Fumo with my buddy Ferg. Say, “Hi,” Ferg.
Ferg and I just finished watching Accepted, which stars Justin Long (The Mac from the Mac/PC commercials) and stand-up comedian Lewis Black. This flick came out in the theaters a while ago but is now on DVD. When Ferg and I saw the trailers, we thought this would be kind of funny, but we didn't think that it would have been "ten dollars in the theater" funny, so as soon as it hit the disc, we were on it. We were right. It’s funny with lots of good laughs, but it also has an underlying statement. The whole thought that only those who go to the best colleges get the best jobs, and statistically speaking, this is true, but they don’t necessarily the best education.
It stars Justin Long as Bartelby Gains, a quick-witted youth who couldn't get accepted to any of the colleges he applied for. Nor do his friends Hands, played by Columbus Short, and Rory, played by Maria Thayer. To fool their parents, Bartelby creates a fake acceptance letter from the South Harmon Institute of Technology or S.H.I.T. He gains the help of his best friend Sherman (Jonah Hill) to help him build a website and set up a bank account because Bartelby knows his dad will check in on all this. The scam becomes even more elaborate when Bartleby and his cohorts lease a building, clean it up, and rent other students to stand around to make it look like a real college campus. Lewis Black comes in as a washed up professor and is paid to act as dean of students.
All goes well, until hundreds of kids show up at the door saying that they too were accepted to S.H.I.T. Now Bartelby and his buddies have to either tell everyone that the school is all a lie, or start up a college. The zaniness begins as Bartelby has the students choose what classes they would like to attend. There are classes like Bullshitting 232 and Rock Your Face Off 101. Shit, if I knew there were classes like that I would still be at college.
The whole thing is kind of corny with four kids cleaning up a building and getting their college-educated parents into falling for their little ruse. It's all kind of hard to believe, but it still has its moments. The acting is good and Lewis Black is fucking hilarious as the dean of students. He holds court outside of his trailer that is parked in the back of the campus, giving dissertations on life and what it means to be an American in this day and age.
Sherman Schrader (Hill) is awesome, especially when he had to dress up in a hotdog suit and would yell to students passing by "Ask me about my wiener." Here is where the subtext comes in. Even though Sherman got accepted to the college he wanted, it's not working out the way he was told it would be. He is still considered an outcast and is struggling now to get accepted by his fellow students.
Since the movie Animal House college comedies have fallen short, and although Accepted doesn’t come close, and what would with a PG-13 rating, it does have some good jokes and funny scenes. The cast is funny and they all play their parts well, especially Long, Hill, and Black.
The extras are cool, too. There's a map of S.H.I.T. to cruise the campus and check out the behind the scenes action, as well as a gag reel and interviews. This is good for one of those nights where there's nothing on TV and you don't feel like doing much. Pop this in, pack a bowl, sit back and get ready for some corny laughs that will get a tear or two to run from your eye.
This is Fumo saying, “Good night.” Oh yeah, Ferg did you want to add anything?
Ferg: I liked the fact that the school mascot was a sandwich. Get it a Shit sandwich. I like sandwiches.
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Written by Fantsama el Rey
Sounding better than ever, The Pretenders’ first album, simply titled Pretenders, has been remastered and re-released. Augmented with a second disk of B-sides, demos, and live tracks, it is still all killer, no filler. This American-fronted, British band’s first recording ranks as one of their best and puts them side by side with other classic rock debuts as The Doors and Led Zeppelin.
Everyone knows at least one Pretenders' tune; check out the singles collection to see what I mean. A few popular songs off of this album are self-penned dandies, “Kid” and “Brass In Pocket,” alongside Ray Davies’ “Stop Your Sobbing.” Then we have cult favorites that include the likes of “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys,” two in-your-face rockers with hard, raw attitude.
The album is divided into a rocking punkish part and a dreamy part, where guitar/vocalist Chrissie Hynde’s displays her softer side. The songs in this mode are the more popular or at least the more well known of the band, which is really too bad because the original line-up of Pete Farndon bass, James Honeyman-Scott guitars/keyboards, and Martin Chambers drums can rock with the best of them. Oh, don’t get me wrong; the singles do jump but the others tracks are fierce and have more drive to them. By the time of these recordings, guitarist Honeyman-Scott was heavily under the influence of rockabilly guitar hero Dave Edmunds, which adds to their sound.
Released in late 1979, Pretenders opens with “Precious,” and we hear how hard the band hits. The drums crash and the bass has a solid, driving pulse while the guitars swirl and soar around them. Hynde’s lyrics are delivered with force by her seething vocal attack, “Trapped in a world/ That they never made/ But not me baby/ I’m too precious/ I had to fuck off”. “The Phone Call” and “Tattooed Love Boys” keep the pace and the latter finds our heroine hangin’ with the shop boys and learning that when you shoot your mouth off with this crowd, they’ll show you “What that hole was for.”
“Stop Your Sobbing” begins the “dreamy side” of the album where Hynde’s vocals become smoother and more polished as she brings out her singing voice. The music still has a solid rock drive and loses none of its force just because it switches gears and downshifts a bit. The singles are pulled from this lot for obvious reasons and it does make the album as a whole more of a surprise upon first listen.
“Kid,” “Brass In Pocket,” and “Lovers” appear to be quaint tales of love. Yet these lyrics take on a new life when you take into consideration Hynde’s quote about the themes of her songs, “The usual stuff. A bit of prostitution, a little scamming, a hustle here and a hustle there…” Now, even if she is joking, you still get a different take on the songs. Armed with this new insight listen to “Brass In Pocket” again and tell me the song doesn’t change a bit. And not to be forgotten, the video game-inspired instrumental “Space Invader,” a catchy number with some nice sound effects from the time.
Disk two is all bonus materials and seems to have no specific order. According to the liner notes, there are two B-sides to “Brass In Pocket”: “Swinging London” and “Nervous But Shy”. Some B-sides are from singles that wouldn’t be released until almost two years later. “Cuban Slide” is the B-side to “Talk Of The Town,” and “Porcelain” was on the back of “Message Of Love.” These tunes wouldn’t emerge until the follow-up album, Pretenders II.
These sides show the influence that rock ‘n’ roll standards had on this band. “Cuban Slide” is dripping with the classic Bo Diddley beat with more Cuban flare. If I have to describe Diddley’s beat, then you should stop reading this and begin your Rock ‘n’ Roll 101 class… seriously. For those that know, you can hear some Arthur Lee and Love-inspired guitar work on “Porcelain;” think the epic “John Lee Hooker” also known as “Revelation.” While listening to “Nervous But Shy,” keep “Your Friend And Mine-Neal’s Song” in mind.
The demos and live tracks provide a good example of the band in their early days. The demos show that the band always had a pop sensibility to their sound. “Brass In Pocket” remains very much the same, except that in this version Hynde sings “Your special, so special” instead of the more powerful “I’m special, so special.” “Kid” rocks harder and is stil rougher around the edges, while “Stop Your Sobbing” has more of a pop/country vibe too it. Keeping the country vibe going is The Eagles-inspired “Tequila,” a slow drinking song, and with a title like that who would have figured?
The closing five tracks illustrate how The Pretenders cut loose with songs played live. They give off an easy going, R & B party atmosphere on “I Need Somebody,” while rockin’ into “Mystery Achievement;” both recorded for the BBC in ’79. On the tracks recorded in front of an audience, they kick down the doors and blow the roof off the joint. “Precious” and “Tattooed Love Boys” are punk fast and rockabilly infused. Here The Pretenders sound very much like a Los Angeles band you may have heard of, X. I find it interesting that both bands have a rockabilly-inspired guitarist, although X’s Billy Zoom is a rockabilly hero all his own now. Stomping disk two to an end is “Sabre Dance” in which we find Hynde doing her calm vocals a la “Sobbing” as Honeyman-Scott goes wild in front of her. Another fascinating live track and one hell of a way to end Pretenders disk two.
Well done and rocking from beginning to end, Pretenders is a must for any fan of the band and rock ‘n’ roll in general. It was and is a great loss that this line-up only got to do two albums before the death of guitarist James Honeyman-Scott and the departure of bass man Pete Farndon. The world is a bit emptier without solid rockers like them, but we have the music that they did record and thank the rock gods that X and Bo Diddley can still be found playing smaller venues.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
Ok, katz and kittenz, here's one of those times when looking through glazed, bloodshot eyes pays off. Coming straight out of what was once known as East Germany are three feature films about the American West. Go ahead; do your double take. Yes, East German films, made smack in the middle of the Cold War, about what life was like in America during the Westward Expansion of the 1800s. I asked to review this just to see what the Communist propaganda machine was pumping out about American history, when life was overshadowed by the fears of living under a red moon, or in this case a red, white, and blue moon.
The DEFA was the East German film industry that produced such...uh, epics as this. Known as “Red Westerns,” they spin tales of the Old West from what they considered the Indians' side of the story. All three films were shot in places like Uzbekistan and Romania and the dialogue is German. Serbian actor, stuntman, and author, Gojko Mitic stars in all three films playing the German James Bond of Native Americans as he fights the never-ending battles of what is called the "great white tide."
The first flick I picked out of the pack was the first one made, which was The Sons of Great Bear done in 1965. The story is about the white man’s lust for gold. It’s found in the Black Hills of the Dakota Territory, and slowly but surely the Natives are being pushed out. Great Bear is a chief who has hidden his tribe’s gold. How or why these Dakota Indians had gold was never told. Maybe the East Germans were prescient about Indian gaming?
One white guy named Red Fox, apparently the East Germans weren’t up on American comedians, happens to be friends with chief Great Bear, so much so that he calls him his brother. Ah, but as Cain downed Abel, Red stabs Great Bear when the Chief refuses to tell where he hid the tribe’s secret stash. The sons of Great Bear wait a few years before going on the warpath and seeking revenge. In the meantime, they suffer being moved to a barren, desolate reservation and being treated poorly by the U.S. Army and any white settler who happens to be in the camera's eye.
Like American Westerns of that same timespan, the hero never runs out of courage, compassion, guts, or ammunition. The scenery is breathtaking with its open valleys and snow-capped mountain ranges. Even the hot and dry lands of the American Southwest seem to have a counterpart in Eastern Europe. Now, I'm not talking like Red Rock or Choco Valley, more like Death Valley or that drive out east on the 10 freeway to Rubidoux.
This type of backdrop was used for Apaches, filmed in 1973, which again was completely over the top in how evil the white settlers were and how easily the Native Americans could turn back the onslaught of white oppression. In Apaches, there is a treaty signed with the Mexican Government, a copper mining company, and the Apaches. The U.S. Government sends out Johnson to exterminate the Apaches to, as Johnson sees it, secure the mine and search for more copper. On the day of celebration of the peace treaty signing, Johnson, who has been given a cannon from the U.S. Army, fires it into a crowd of Apaches receiving flour rations from the mining community. Mitic's character is one of the few survivors. He, along with his old father and a few other braves seek revenge on Johnson and his band of cutthroats.
The final film I found shaking my head to was Chingachgook: The Great Snake made in 1967. Based on a James Fenimore Cooper novel, our red brothers have just recently met with the French and English and are learning the hard way that working with the whites isn't all that they said it would be. Great Snake is a Delaware, and the Huron have swiped his wife-to-be. As always, every white man within earshot is the devil with the exception of Great Snake's only white friend named (are you ready for this?) Deerslayer. Yes, the only good white guy is named after a great symbolic animal of Native culture. Awesome.
The funny thing about these movies and what they had to say is that they do have a point. The Europeans at the time believed themselves better than the native peoples in whatever land they had just "discovered." A good example came in Chingachgook where an older English officer was expressing to one of his junior officers that "...we are here to exploit these natives and make sure that they war with themselves so we may take the land and all that we can profit from." Now, true that's what happened, but I don't think people went around telling it like that. Not every settler wanted to keep an Indian scalp as badge of honor. The bigger picture here is that not every capitalist will kill you for the sake of the bottom line, although a few will.
These movies shouldn't be taken seriously when it comes to historical fact, although one can get the gist of what the East Germans were saying. They exploited the exploits of the early European settlers of this nation, and used that to confirm the so-called glory of Communism. Capitalism expanded this country, but it alone didn’t kill off the Native American Indian. Fear, bigotry, and a non-yielding view that the savages’ beliefs were an act of devil worshipall contributed in the destruction of the native peoples, yet the East Germans didn't seem to catch that. Their whole target was the capitalist pig, and it shows.
As for the acting, it was all right, about as good as the American Westerns of the same era. The music was as expansive as the land the Indians covered. It went from orchestrated symphonies to guitar and harmonica duos, and one time I swear I thought I heard a Beach Blanket Bingo type of rock music, but that could have been the super haze that was dropped into my bowl.
These movies are out there, but they do give some insight to what the people behind the Iron Curtain were viewing. The Red Westerns were the mirror opposite of the American Westerns: the good guy always won in the end, yet when he road off into the sunset, instead of waving his hat, he held up a tomahawk that he waved above his feathered headdress. I suggest that if one were to watch these Westerns, one needs to get twisted.
This is Fumo.... pack one for me.
Saturday, November 25, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
The Black Panther Party was considered one of the most dangerous militant groups in America back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, and I never really understood why. To be honest, I haven't come across much information regarding the BPP, with the exception of a few documentaries about those times where for brief moments the Panthers were mentioned.
Here on a four-DVD set, Roz Payne has graciously given us a chance to look closer into this movement with footage from Newsreel Films, the unofficial documenters of not only the Black Panther Party, but the whole leftist revolution that was breaking through during some of the most violent times in this county's history. What We Want, What We Believe isn't a documentary, but a living history preserved on film to show future generations how citizens united in a common cause can get the attention of the U.S. government.
The first disc contains footage from Newsreel Films, who became the default documenters for the BPP, and has interviews with founding members such as Stokely Carmichael, Bobby Seale, and Huey P. Newton. The first segment is called "Off the Pigs," a rally chant used at BPP demonstrations; it, along with the next two segments, "Mayday" and "Repression," deals with the filmed events that the Panthers put together: demonstrations, speaking appearances, and the Breakfast Program, which gained mainstream media recognition as being one of the improvements that the Panthers had brought about to their communities. Feeding the poor always runs well with the press, as long as they make their money on it. The Panthers did it for the kids, and not for the praise.
The second segment has a great interview with party member, Field Marshall Donald Cox. Payne gives the retired general almost two hours of airtime here, and it is well worth it. He gives a great view from the inside of the party, and runs down certain reasons why the BPP came about. One of my favorite parts happens as Cox is explaining why the Panthers carried guns. He explains that, not only did they have the right as American citizens, but that the cops at that time we targeting black males and that if the cops had gun "...we have guns too, and if you're gonna shoot at us, we gonna shoot back motherfuckers." As the statement finishes, Cox brings a joint to his lips and takes a big drag. This Kat has got my vote...for anything. The final segment of disc one ends with the 35th Reunion of the BPP, which shows interviews with members past and present.
The highlight of disc two is the interview with FBI agent William A Cohendet, known as WAC due to his initials on the reports that were filled and processed by him to send back to Hoover, who was anxiously waiting in back in D.C. WAC's reports became famous not because of the great intelligence that the FBI was gathering on the BPP, but because the way WAC had written them. He created some of the most humorous federal reports ever because he and his team had come to realize that the Panthers were not so dangerous, and like every revolutionist party, the infighting and paranoid attacks on each other would be the un-doing of the Panthers.
Payne brings up the Counter Intelligence Program, or COINTELPRO, which the FBI used to deal with the Panthers. Seizing on the paranoia, the Federal Bureau of Intimidation added fuel to the fire by sending letters to party members that reinforced the paranoia that each member was out to get the other. The rest of disc two along with three and four contains more interviews with other FBI agents and with the filmmakers at Newsreel. Their stories lend truth to the so-called paranoia.
Additional material, like press releases and photos are included, along with a 12-page liner note pamphlet in which Payne explains her own involvement and what this DVD library is about. She also gives credit to those who helped the Panthers, folks such as the Falk family and Gail Dolgin.
For any of us who love history, this is an archive that should be added to the collection. Payne has given us one of the most in-depth looks at an organization whose ideals still can be felt. To be a black American back in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement was to be a target for any reason. The Panthers stood up for themselves as best as they could and they laid out some pretty radical plans for that time period, but what they really did is give empowerment to the black community and to show them they could stand up for themselves if they united together.
The Panthers legacy, as reported by the mainstream, and I hate saying mainstream, because other than murdering everything is mainstream, was one of imploding zealots who were mysteriously taken out of the picture for reasons still fuzzy in my mind. What We Want, What We Believe is a fantastic journey back to a time when equal rights were the name of the game, and the price to pay for them was very high. And if it were not for the efforts of Roz Payne and the brave folks at Newsreel, the true legacy of the Panthers would have probably faded away. If you really want to know what the movement was about, check out this pack and your instruction will begin.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
I have always been a fan of the BBC, and here is another reason why: BBC Atlas of the Natural World: Western Hemisphere and Antarctica, a six-disc set that relates the stories of the continents, how they formed, who were the first inhabitants, and how the evolution of creatures and peoples adapted and lived within their environment.
Under the banner are four series, which were created in the previous decade: Land of the Eagle (1990), Spirits of the Jaguar (1996), Wild South America (2000), and Life in the Freezer (1993). The first three series are comprised of four one-hour episodes while the last one is made up of six. With all the history and information contained in this package, trying to view it all at once might make your head explode.
The topic of Land of the Eagle is North America. The episode "Great Encounter" gives a brief history of the native peoples of North America and what it was like before the Europeans landed. It goes on to explain what the new settlers from across the great lake had to face in this new world, such as the weather, the land around them, and all the beasts of the forests that now surrounded them. It goes into the history of the land, how the mountains were formed, and what flora and fauna had evolved.
The series heads south to Central America for Spirits of the Jaguar, which brings the viewer into the realm of the Mayans while Wild South America, whose title needs no explanation, moves on down to the land of the mighty Amazon and the towering Andes. It was the last series to be shot and, thankfully, did so in 1.78 wide screen. Life in the Freezer explores the frozen tundra Antarctica with its penguins, whales, and David Attenborough, the series only host.
If you view the series in Enhanced Content Mode, pop-up windows will periodically appear during the program with added factual content. I know this, not because I know how to view the series in Enhanced Content Mode, but because it says this on the inside cover of the cool box that the set comes in.
With awe-inspiring pictures of the landscape and the animals, bugs, and birds that inhabit these great continents, BBC Video has really out done itself here, almost packing in too much beauty. I think it's their ploy to get us to watch it twice, because that's what I plan on doing tonight. I wonder if a series on Africa and the Eastern Hemisphere will soon end up on DVD. I hope so because this is a fantastic look at our world and its natural beauty.
If I were a seventh- or eighth-grade science teacher, this would be in the lesson plan. The content goes deep enough to give the viewer the facts without getting too technical to cloud the mind. All the images are magnificent, and it is real piece of work from start to finish. For those of us who love natural history, this is one that should be picked up; it is well worth because it is not only interesting and true, but also entertaining and beautiful.
Audio tracks are available in English and Spanish.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Written by Carlito de Corea
In his new film, Lights in the Dusk, Aki Kaurismaki strikes our sense of irony and compassion from the beginning as we follow the hero of his story, Koistinen, through a series of misadventures. It is the third film in a trilogy, following Drifting Clouds and The Man Without a Past.
Koistinen is apparently subject to unexplained scorn from everyone he encounters, and as there seems to be no reason for the treatment he receives, we are both compelled to laugh and feel sympathy for him. For a while his luck appears to take a turn for the better when the seductive blonde, Mirja, takes an interest in him, but we soon realize that this too will prove to be a problem. His failure is both funny and moving, as even his attempts to reach out to a neglected dog, whom we sense somehow he identifies with, seem to go wrong.
At times I was reminded of Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool, as Koistinen, dressed in his security guard uniform, wanders from one caustic encounter to another. And as with Hartley’s work, while there is a sardonic demonstration of the cynical world surrounding his characters, there is at the heart of it an underlying lack of cynicism, a compassion for the outsider.
At the same time, I was strangely reminded of Ingmar Bergman, as the camera would suddenly focus on some scene in nature, a growth of wild flowers in the woods, for example. The cinematography, the European feel of Kaurismaki’s work, gives it a different feeling, a muted quality that seems to offset the irony, or absurdism, somewhat. But these elements in his film are somehow complimentary, rather than contradictory.
Lights in the Dusk is a poetic, ironic look at the hard edges of life, which Kaurismaki softens with his particular sensibilities and makes enjoyable to watch. The film is understated, and while perhaps at times slow, I found its blend of pathos and deadpan humor effective and entertaining. Kaurismaki juxtaposes the aspirations of his hero with the indifference, and even maliciousness, of a glib, calloused world in a way that is both touching and funny. I also felt that at the heart of it, along with its sense of beauty, was an underlying hopefulness, an affirmation that things can work out, even for the loneliest people.
These qualities, for me, made Lights in the Dusk a film worth watching. I recommend seeing it.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Dwight Yaokam’s first album, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., is back and better than ever. With this two-disk set the original offering is given the deluxe treatment, complete with remastered sound, demos from 1981 and a live performance from 1986. One of my favorite albums ever since I first heard my mother play it, I energetically jumped at the chance to give this new edition a spin and see how it sounds.
Dwight Yoakam has a sound that can best be described as revved-up hillbilly music, a paraphrase from one of my favorite bands, The Chop Tops, who described their music as revved up rockabilly. Like The Chop Tops’ rockabilly, Dwight’s hillbilly country is traditional but kicked up to maximum velocity, presented and mixed with his own personal touch and influences. Much the same way as other youths of the past have done in country music, Elvis, Gram Parsons, all three Hanks, etc., etc., Dwight’s sound first made its way to our ears with Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. It is now remastered and expanded into two CDs that are presented in chronological order. This works because it gives the sense of something new instead of a simple rehashing.
Dwight’s demos from 1981 open disk one and we get to hear version of songs that would eventually find their way on to Guitars, Cadillacs as well as on his future albums. In comparison to the final versions, you can hear how some of the demos are missing a bit of the magic that is Dwight’s signature sound. Although to start disk one, “This Drinkin’ Will Kill Me” is a perfect example of his revved-up sound, a self-penned tune styled after the “drinking your sorrows away” classics of days past. Fiddles jump, the pedal steel wails, and the electric guitar cooks while a steady driving rhythm section that takes a page from Johnny Cash backs Dwight’s plaintive vocals and acoustic guitar. Mix in lyrics such as “Death can come from this broken heart/ Or it can come from this bottle/ So why prolong the agony/ Hey bartender/ I think I’ll hit the throttle.” This one, along with “I’ll Be Gone,” sum up Dwight’s jump sound pretty well.
Not only can Dwight get a hillbilly tune to hop but he shows how even at this early stage in his career he’s mastered the slow drinkin’ song. “It Won’t Hurt” is a tune that prepared ol’ Fantasma for life’s heartaches, “It won’t hurt/ When I fall down from this barstool,” “It wont hurt ‘cause this whisky eases misery/ But even whisky/ Cannot ease your hurting me.” I think most of us have lived that line at one time or another. The demo for “You’re The One,” which wouldn’t turn up until the early ‘90s is also here, foretelling how Dwight wouldn’t lose sight of his original style. Dwight’s arrangements are pulled tight and drawn in close for these slow slices of pain.
The next ten tracks have us leaping forward five years and into the released version of Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., which are the songs that set the country world on fire and made Dwight a true country icon. Dwight went back to his demos for half the album, added two more original tunes and threw in three old favorites. The album is set ablaze quickly by a stomping reworking of Johnny Horton’s classic “Honky Tonk Man;” the song fits the album perfectly, matching the title track punch for punch. The two remaining cover tunes are June Carter’s “Ring Of Fire” and Harland Howard’s “Heartaches By The Number,” both bare Dwight’s revved-up approach.
The two new songs include the title track and the heartbreaking “South Of Cincinnati,” which finds a women writing to a man everyday after he left her fourteen years earlier. She tells that drunken fool that if he ever makes it back to the South, back where Dixieland begins, then she’ll be his again. However, out of her pride, she never sends the letters. The fiddles are slow and weep alongside the pedal steel guitar while Dwight delivers his lyrics through vocals that’ll brings a tear to your eye.
“Guitars, Cadillacs” proves that Dwight is a poet of the common man and anyone who’s been heartbroken, really. “But thank you girl/ For teaching me/ Brand new ways to be cruel.” Lord knows I’ve learned a thing or two from a kitten that had me fooled. Rounding out the album are five of the demos slightly reworked and modified in final versions, “It Won’t Hurt,” “I’ll Be Gone,” “Twenty Years,” “Miner’s Prayer,” and the most notable change being “Bury Me,” now a duet with Maria McKee.
Disk two is where it’s at, a live performance from The Roxy in Hollywood. Recorded in 1986 as the album was starting to heat up, we get a portrait of Dwight and his band in full effect. By this time the band had been together for over two years and the music captured that night was flowing fast, furious, and nearly flawless. They kick start the show with a jumping version of Bill Monroe’s “Can’t You Hear Me Calling,” moving smoothly right into their then-current radio hit “Honky Tonk Man.” The mood is kept alive when Dwight introduces his tribute to the Bakersfield sound of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, the now-classic “Guitars, Cadillacs.” From there, he goes right back to Monroe for “Rocky Road Blues,” which was actually suggested by Monroe himself. Of the twelve songs played that night seven were off of the Guitars, Cadillacs album and have that sped-up, live spin to them, making disk two the real jewel of this set.
Two live gems are the revamped covers of Hank Williams Sr.’s “My Buckets Got A Hole In It” and a blues song, turned rockabilly staple by a young Elvis Presley, Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” I find it interesting that the songs Dwight covers are considered to be rockabilly standards and historically speaking, rockabilly is hepped-up country to begin with. So with that said, it’s no surprise that in his early paying gigs, Dwight was support for roots rock legends such as The Blasters and Los Lobos. Both bands are known for taking their musical heritage and turning it into something fresh and new, while keeping it oddly traditional.
Dwight’s playful banter with the crowd is further proof that he is connected to the people he performs and writes for, adding to the wonder that is Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc. Dwight put it best when in response to the crowd’s roar he confesses, “It’s just old hillbilly stuff.” I only disagree because I do believe that he makes it fresh and keeps the flame alive with each album he puts out and in every show that he does.
Thursday, November 09, 2006
Written by Hombre Divertido
Though a bit heavy handed and reminiscent of a ‘70s made-for-television movie in performance, storytelling, and music, Conversations with God, which was adapted from the books by Neale Donald Walsch, does an effective job of telling the tale of a man’s journey not only from homelessness to affluence, but from being alone to having a relationship and conversations with God.
As is the case in many films, the flashback method of storytelling can often get in the way of effectively getting the message across, and does so to some extent here, but once we get past the clutter and are able to connect with Neale (Slightly overacted by Henry Czerny), this film does create moments that do pull us in.
If you can get past where the story is lacking, it is the immense vulnerability of Neale as he grasps on to any rung of his previous level of existence while slowly slipping further and further down society’s ladder that allows us to relate to his circumstances.
In one of the most poignant scenes in the film, we see Neale searching through a dumpster for cans to recycle into cash. Eyeing a half-eaten sandwich, Neale struggles with the decision to cross a line that he has set as the difference between himself and those in his new surroundings.
Neale Donald Walsch obviously went on a rollercoaster ride that is a fear for many of us, and though we may not all agree on where he found his salvation, and to whom he attributes his rebirth and level of success, watching how he deals with the situations that we all fear is a solid base on which to build a story for all to see.
There are moments in this movie that indicate God’s clear intervention, which may cause the secular world to dismiss this film as nothing more than preaching, but those willing to look beyond their own views, or those of the storyteller’s, will find an intriguing tale here.
A bigger budget might have allowed for the elimination of certain distractions such as make-up (Neal’s hair and beard never quite look right), and more elaboration relating to certain aspect of the story, such as the accident and subsequent legal matters that began Neale on his journey would have allowed the audience to relate and understand more at the start of the film.
It is certainly good to leave the audience wanting more, but that is different than leaving the audience wondering: “Why didn’t you show us that?” For example, one might wonder why, after becoming an on-air personality at a radio station, we never see or hear Neale doing the job. Actually, more than one might wonder that.
Recommendation: As with most films dealing with the topic of finding God, they tend to appeal more to the choir, as they are not edgy enough for those who most need to hear the song.
Out in very limited release; this may be a tough film to find until it comes out on DVD. Worth seeing in any format when you find it.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
The Black Crowes hit as hard as ever here on their first music movie, now finally making its appearance on DVD. Who Killed That Bird Out On Your Window Sill was filmed way back in 1992, as a young Fantasma was entering high school and being turned on to these Kats via my brother in-law Rob. Released sometime after their second album, The Southern Harmony And Musical Companion, the movie lets us into the world of the wild young Crowes, as they do some touring and radio interviews.
The title for the movie is lifted out of the lyrics of the hit song “Remedy”, found on Southern Harmony. The sound for the music tracks is outstanding even at a low volume this thing screams, which is perfectly all right, the louder the better when it comes to The Black Crowes. The DVD consists of videos the band made for their first two albums, live performances from concerts and in the studio. Laced throughout the film are montages and excerpts from radio interviews, most of which are very humorous.
The core of The Black Crowes and focal point of the film are the Robinson brothers, Chris, vocals, and Rich, guitar. The interviews seem to be, for the most part, all Chris; his answers contain a hint of truth but are mostly made up tales that provide laughs and keep the mood light while preserving the mystery of who the Crowes really are. Some of the questions that are repeatedly asked, such as “Why do brothers in music fight so much?”, “Do you guys fight?”, and “How did the band start?” are shown together and we are given a few of Chris’ best responses. As to how the band started, according to Chris, his parents kept a chart and as they grew they were allowed to consume more alcohol and handed instruments to play. The best snippet is from a Japanese show, where Chris, Rich, and guitarist Mark Ford look so lost and confused its hilarious. They do their best to stay with it, giving shy little smiles and trying to keep focused. You can pick out key words, such as the title of the new album, number one and big success.
The meat and potatoes of this disk are the videos and live footage, captured at various spots, the farthest off being Moscow. There are seven videos here, including “Jealous Again,” the jumping “Hard To Handle,” “She Talks To Angels,” and “Remedy”. Most of these are taken from concerts or are really no more than the band wandering around and playing on a sound stage while Chris dances. “She Talks To Angels” is the one that stands apart; filmed in sepia tone and set in such a way that shadows abound and light seems to shine on the band up-ward from the floor. A great way to express one of the bands more serious songs in film form.
The live portions are highlighted by the footage taken from The Crowes European tour; of particular interest is the concert in Moscow. For reasons unknown, some of the Russian police as well as fans are bloodied. There was a clash between the two, no doubt. “Why?” is the question that goes unanswered. Yet as the scene rolls on we find people walking though and around the police line, so alls well that begins bloody, I guess? All this as the boys belt out the rollicking, guitar-driven “Stare It Cold” as Chris sings “we just want you to have a good time”. As they continue we get more average outdoor concert shots of the crowd and everyone having a blast as The Crowes perform; you can even see that some of the younger police officers are enjoying themselves. The montages are mostly more footage from the radio shows or films of the photo sessions that were done for publicity stills and or The Southern Harmony cover.
The movie provides a great opportunity to see The Black Crowes at their young, wild best and at what is the beginning of the fame that would take them to smoke-filled, hazy heights. A very entertaining 83 minutes of them having fun and doing things the way that they see fit. Watching Chris spin his “Fumo Verde” inspired tales to the questions that he has heard way too many times, is a hoot and will make you laugh. Note the closing scene and how a very tired and high Chris mixes up his words and slowly catches himself with the help of his brother Rich and bass player Johnny Colt. It is very interesting to see him now that he has mellowed nearly fifteen years later. Seeing the band jive together and play around is a fun trip as well.
To view The Black Crowes in a full live, rip-roarin’ performance, check out Freak ‘N’ Roll Into The Fog, the DVD taped live in 2005 at the legendary Fillmore auditorium in San Francisco. It captures the sound and feel of the band perfectly. To paraphrase Chris “the music knows…when theatrics become more important” and so do The Black Crowes. That is what they’ve managed to avoid all these years and why they still rock hard live.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
Written by Hombre Divertido
Destined to be a college campus classic, Borat takes the standard fish-out-of-water concept and brings the comedic vehicle to some of the rankest levels seen in years.
Borat, 20th Century Fox's big-screen incarnation of Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh journalist from Da Ali G Show, travels to America to learn of our country. A premise ripe with comedic opportunities that stirred the emotions of the actual citizens of Kazakhstan, as reported in the news weeks before the release of the film, and rightfully so as this story depicts them as being far more backwards than anything we’ve encountered cinematically since Deliverance.
After briefly introducing us to Borat’s home and family, our story really begins in New York, as the actual trip to America is skipped all together which was an interesting directorial choice as it would have seemed to have been fraught with comedic opportunities. Nonetheless, we pick up our hero in the big city, as the camera follows him through many adventures, interviews, etc. Though most of the jokes we hear while meeting Borat’s family have been heard before, there are some gems delivered in the introduction of other town folk, and the interviews and footage of his experiences in the first few days in the big city are quite humorous. Unfortunately, the story then breaks down as does the film itself.
It is disappointing that the writer and director could not have stuck to their proverbial instinctive guns and delivered a mockumentary revolving around a foreign reporter traveling to our country full of subtle humor equal to the bear head in the refrigerator, rather than have so much potential get lost on a weak story filled with cheap jokes as Borat becomes obsessed with getting to California to find Pamela Anderson.
The final cut of this film plays like a cross between a mockumentary and a situation comedy, with the situation comedy scenes looking staged and sorely out of place. The cast takes tremendous risks in some of the improvised scenes and many of them pay off. Unfortunately some of the staged material comes off as simply offensive, though loved by many.
Recommendation: This film has some classic comedic moments in it as well as some that are classically offensive and absurd. It is sure to be a box-office bonanza, but cannot compete with classic mockumentaries of the past such as This is Spinal Tap where subtle humor reigned.
For better constructed fish-out-of-water tales regarding foreigners coming to the United States you might want to check out Moscow on the Hudson or even Crocodile Dundee, though it is apparent that today’s movie going audience prefers Borat bringing his fecal matter to the dinner table in a bag rather than Crocodile Dundee attempting to understand the purpose of a bidet.
Monday, November 06, 2006
FROM THE PUSAN FILM FESTIVAL
A report from Carlito de Corea
In his latest film, Lars von Trier uses a metafictional approach to deliver a satirical narrative. That is to say, he tells us that he’s telling us a story, and how. Sort of. The Boss of it All begins with the narrator, perhaps von Trier himself, letting us in on the joke, as he tells us his film is not to be taken seriously, nor is any serious meaning to be taken from it. Just another typical story with the usual parts and players, he continues, having fun as he once again blows apart the apparatus of conventional storytelling.
The boss of an IT corporation hires an actor to pretend that he is the boss of the company during an important negotiation to sell the company off. Circumstances become complicated as the real “boss of it all” and the actor pretending to be “the boss of it all” begin to butt heads about how things should be handled. Romance and sexual exploits also crop up as office workers in the company mistake the actor for someone else, and tensions between the owner of the Icelandic corporation intending to buy the IT corp. and “the boss of it all” escalate.
Von Trier lets us in on the game in this film as it periodically describes its own constructs. But this apparent self-consciousness is misleading. While the film gives the impression of letting the cat out of the bag, so to speak, the comedic tension is never lost and the narrative continues to move forward. The simultaneous accomplishment of poking fun at the process of drawing in an audience with all the typical and corny constructs of storytelling and then drawing the audience into a corny, constructed story, is quite a statement.
Another interesting effect in this film is the fine line between what the actors are going through and what the characters are going through. It is almost as if the actors are waiting for the director to fill them in on what the story is or where it is heading next, rather than the employees at the company being confused about who their boss is. This is a wonderful illusion, or perhaps not, that helps to create the feeling that no one knows what is going to happen next, neither the audience nor the actors, as the story whimsically and absurdly changes direction at various moments.
I thought the film was successful in managing these different elements, blending a seemingly loose and spontaneous style with a deceptively well-controlled narrative, and tight, well-acted scenes, all of which climax in a humorous and touching ending, albeit a self-conscious one. Well written and directed, this movie is just fun to watch, and at times laugh out loud funny. It was a big hit at the Pusan Film Festival this year and I recommend seeing it.
Sunday, November 05, 2006
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Robert Plant and his backing band The Strange Sensation reel, rock and sway their way through this Sound Stage performance, covering some of his solo tunes as well as reworked Led Zeppelin classics, on this first ever music DVD from Robert Plant. The Strange Sensation was handpicked from some of the best and most varied musicians that England had to offer, from electronica to brit pop and all held together by Plant’s passionate vocal wail. These classics are approached with a world music vibe that shines and carries the day, expanding the groove where the Plant and Page project left off.
The Strange Sensation has a wonderful world music sound, percussion heavy and rhythmically funky, spitting out all kinds of keyboard tricks while holding fast to a solid rock drive. The expanded-upon Zeppelin songs include “No Quarter,” “Black Dog,” “Four Sticks,” “Gallows Pole,” and a jamming version of “Whole Lotta Love.” Sticking with the blues/rock base and expanding them by the addition of keyboards and more percussion/hand drums than you can shake four sticks at.
The music becomes funkier and a bit spacey at times, but that’s alright because it’s a new take on old favorites and Plant’s vocals remain the same. The drums are jazzier too yet still thunder when they should. The guitar drives are hard and heavy, while new instruments like the gimbri and darbouka only add to the rockin’ cocktail that is The Strange Sensation. “Whole Lotta Love,” done as it should be, a long jam, is the perfect example of this band at its creative best. The entire band comes together very well here and the tune is the perfect closer for the original broadcast performance.
“Tin Pan Valley” and “The Enchanter” are the two songs where drummer Clive Deamer and keyboardist John Baggott, both from the electronica/trip-hop unit Portishead get a chance to shine and bring forth their style and brand of pop/rock. “Tin Pan Valley” opens with Baggott’s keyboard mastery, and Deamer’s steady drumming put the band in a trip-hop mood, while the guitar soars around them. The song s structure allows the band to break this vibe by kicking everything up and then bringing you back down to mellow out and chill. The drum machine soaked beat on “The Enchanter” takes a page right out of the Portishead book, while the sitar-esque guitar, darbouka rhythms (a Turkish conga/bongo type of drum) and Plant’s echo-laden moans send this one spinning into orbit.
The bonus tracks are two old favorites made popular by Plant contemporaries Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan. “Hey Joe” is a tune best associated with Hendrix, although not one of his originals, while “Girl From The North Country” was written and recorded by Dylan. Both are essentially folk tunes, one rocked up a bit more than the other. The Strange Sensation rework them yet maintain the true feel of the songs. Guitarist Skin retains the driving force on “Hey Joe,” meanwhile second guitarist Justin Adams picks up the gimbri (a North African lute-like string instrument) and the infused keyboard samples take the song someplace it’s never been before. For “Girl From The North Country” bassist Billy Fuller switches to the upright bass, Adams rocks the mandolin and Baggott shows us how well he can tickle the ivories. Which all make for a wonderfully mellow closer to the show and DVD.
Robert Plant shows that he can still rock at close to sixty years of age and that his musical vision is still fresh. Plant’s energy is perfectly matched by his band, who help bring his vision to life while leaving their own fingerprints on the overall sound. The sound stage audio is awesome and the camera angles give you the feeling of being right there in the mix, on stage next to the band, a wonderful place to record Robert Plant’s first music DVD.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
Written by Fumo Verde
I meet this CD with mixed emotions. First, I love Jerry: the way he plays, his voice, the lyrics written by him and Robert Hunter over the years, the entire Jerry Garcia experience. There was no doubt that when I received this two-disk set that I would totally dig on what was waiting for me inside.
Yet, I had to wonder why music companies keep pumping out music by dead artists. I know that Jerry made a lot of music in his time, and I am grateful that it keeps coming to light, but Jerry needs to take a break. Shit, man, the poor Kat has been working harder now than he did when he was a live, or so it seems.
On a more professional note, this is a two-disk set with twenty-six tracks that catch Jerry at peak moments. Now don't start complaining to me out about what is better and what is best and all that; I didn't name this set. Do I think it’s the very best? Like I said above, Jerry made so much music with so many people aside from his work with The Grateful Dead. What might be one of his best performances to one might seem "phoned in" by someone else.
The way I take this as being the "very best" is like this: here on these CDs, Jerry is at one of his peak moments. He's in the zone and to catch any musician in one of those moments is like watching a shooting star from beginning to end. These tracks here do that. Jerry is right in the pocket and you can hear it and sense it.
CD number one has sixteen tracks, all recorded in studios over various times in various places. This is what the Garcia sound is like in a studio: crisp, clear, and all the notes are played well. One can perceive the true sound of Garcia. His professionalism shines through and can stand up to any soundboard mixer around.
Let me also be clear that none of the songs on either of these CDs are played with the Dead. This is all the Jerry Garcia Band and the JGAB (Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band), with two exceptions. On disc two, track 1 is played by Old & In The Way, a collective with Vassar Clements, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, John Kahn, and, of course, Garcia. The other is track number seven, "Dear Prudence" played by Reconstruction, a John Kahn jazz band.
As disc one was the studio Jerry, disc two, with its ten tracks, is the concert Jerry. Here's were the real magic happens. Once again, different venues at different times, but each song has the same flair. I enjoy live recordings because the energy from the audience can sometimes creep through the speakers and electrify you, give you the chills, and bring back good memories.
The downside to live tracks happens when the singer sings away from the microphone. You miss some of the lyrics, which is one of the main reasons you are listening. This happens on track number three, "Ripple," but for the most part, these songs have been around and most of us Deadheads, Jerry freaks, or whatever already know what's about to be sung, so in truth, I'm just being a whiner.
The Very Best of Jerry Garcia is great for a collector or a fan of Garcia. It is also a great mix of bluegrass and blues and with songs like "Run For the Roses," "Cats Under the Stars," and "Sugaree" you can't go wrong. I'm not going to say that this is Garcia's "very best", but it comes pretty damn close.
Friday, November 03, 2006
Written by Hombre Divertido
I don’t remember the last time I Saw a movie where the audience clapped at the beginning, but not at the end. Such is the case with Saw III. Unfortunately, the audience was not happy with what they Saw.
In this installment, Jigsaw (Played with great restraint, and relying totally on his ability to speak in a frightening tone, by Tobin Bell) is close to death. In order to see what might be his last “test” (Worry not; Saw IV should be on its way) play out; he has his protégé (Shawnee Smith; Who is more psycho than diabolically evil) kidnap a doctor (Bahar Soomekh). Dr. Lynn Denlon is then fitted with a collar set to explode should Jigsaw's heart stop beating, or if she gets too far from his life-support equipment.
As Dr. Denlon goes about trying to keep Jigsaw alive, which includes graphic brain surgery, we are witnesses to the previously mentioned “test”. In said test, we are introduced to Jeff (Angus Macfadyen) who is depressed and considering suicide due to the death of his daughter and the light sentence given to the man deemed responsible for her death. Jeff is put into situations where he must decide if he wants to risk his own well being to save the lives of people involved in either the death of his daughter or the subsequent legal proceedings.
In the case of Jeff, this is the weakest attempt at manipulating an audience to care about someone in a motion picture since we were introduced to Kurt Russell’s’ character in Stargate.
Though some of the situations we see Jeff deal with are certainly as gratifying as previous Saw endeavors, as a whole this film does not work. The failure is primarily due to the fact that the writers forgot from whence they came. Saw III simply fails to build on the success of its predecessors.
Saw III spends far too much time dealing with Jigsaw and too little time dealing with the predicaments of his captives. The success of the previous films was far more enthralling because we could understand the fear of the victims, the intensity of the situations they found themselves in, and the mystery of not knowing who put them there or why. This time out, not enough time is dedicated to allowing us to appreciate all the above mentioned elements. Jigsaw was more frightening when we knew less about him. Now he just seems like the guy who worked at the record store in an episode of Seinfeld.
It may appear inconsistent to say this about a film from the Saw series, but the violence this time was too gratuitous. We see people die early in the film that we are barely even introduced to, so it comes off as the writer saying: “I’ve got a creative way to kill someone, but I can’t work it into the story, so I’ll just show it to you at the beginning to get you warmed up.”
We are left with a clear setup for Saw IV, and can only hope that the writers will return to their roots now that Jigsaw has failed his last test.
Recommendation: You would better off watching Saw three times than watching Saw III.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
FROM THE PUSAN FILM FESTIVAL
A report from Carlito de Corea
Director Ray Lawrence takes a longer look at some of the questions raised by Raymond Carver’s short story, “So Much Water So Close to Home.” The same story was covered, but in less detail, by Robert Altman’s 1993 film, Short Cuts.
The film revolves around the racist killing of an Aboriginal woman, and the subsequent mistakes made by a local group of fishing buddies, led by Gabriel Byrne, who find her body. You may remember the part in Short Cuts where Fred Ward is on a fishing trip and finds a dead girl, and the troubles he faces with his wife when he gets home.
Lawrence does a great job of showing how something innocuous can become a serious indictment in the blink of an eye. What seems a harmless decision by the four friends about what to do with the dead girl’s body, later takes on enormous implications where much more is read into their actions by the media, the Aboriginal community, and even the people closest to them.
Back in civilization proper, the men begin to realize the seriousness of what they’ve done, emerging from the spell of their trip. As their deeds come to light, and they are assailed by their community, we realize that we too have been seduced into forgetting for a moment what the right and proper thing would have been to do. We are almost complicit in their actions.
As with all great stories, Jindabyne makes us understand both sides of the dilemma. There are no villains, only real people, with the exception of the killer who remains unrecognized in their midst, and whose presence we feel implicitly throughout the film.
Interestingly, I found the tone of this film reminiscent in some ways of Short Cuts, the stark natural sound at times underscored with an ambient, and alternately menacing, soundtrack. But for me there was something in Jindabyne, in tone and feel, beyond the dry quirky feel of Short Cuts, something richer, even reverent. With Lawrence there is a heavy reliance or trust in the environment, a willingness to foreground the natural elements to create a deeper experience, utilizing nature as a character in itself.
And in Jindabyne I wondered if Lawrence wasn’t suggesting that we are missing something that perhaps native peoples are in touch with—the animate, or animus, in what we often do not think of as alive, such as the often-shot wind in the trees, or the thrum of the power lines over the heads of the men as they descend into the gorge toward the river to begin their fishing expedition. We don’t just watch Jindabyne, we feel it.
Like his previous film, Lantana, Jindabyne is slow but steady. The plot is not as intricate, but is equally suspenseful. Even when nothing is happening, you find yourself engrossed in his images somehow. Lawrence has the patience to study a scene, a character, for longer than the average director, and yet without leaving the viewer with the impression that it is mere indulgence. There is always something behind what we are seeing, an underlying tension that Lawrence is so good at sustaining, both through the creation of characters we feel and care about and well-layered storytelling.
The Australian cast lends a lot to the authentic, small town feel of Jindabyne, and the Irish auto mechanic, played by Gabriel Byrne, is especially interesting to watch in this film. Jindabyne held my interest from its violent start to its emotional finish. I recommend it.