Monday, July 31, 2006


Written by Hombre Divertido

Lady in the Water has tremendous depth.

So M. Night Shyamalan attends a MENSA meeting, where he requests their assistance in remaking the 1987 film Batteries Not Included. A brainstorming session ensues where members in attendance suggest that rather than small spaceships; they use The Little Mermaid. “Oh!” one member screams, “M (Because that is of course what they would call him) lets include peoples search for their purpose, because that book, The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren, is so popular right now.” The result is Lady in the Water, a film so deep, that it requires multiple viewings.

According to reports, that is not the way this story came about, but one cannot help but feel that way, as they are trying to scramble to find paper and pen to take notes during this 110-minute cavalcade of twists and turns. Actually stemming from a bedtime story Shyamalan concocted for his daughters, Lady in the Water is a brilliant piece of storytelling by a master at his craft.

Shyamalan is smart enough to know that the story is secondary to the characters, and if he is able to get the audience to care about the characters, they will invest the brainpower to follow this labyrinth of a tale.

Care about the characters the audience does, as they are introduced to all the inhabitants of the apartment complex which is watched over by our hero; Caretaker Cleveland Heep played excellently by Paul Giamatti. It is Heep who first discovers the Lady in the Water, who goes by the name of Story and is played with subtle intensity by Bryce Dallas Howard, and interestingly enough lives beneath the apartment pool.

Story leaves the pool on a mission, and finds the assistance of not only Heep, but eventually the majority of the tenants of the apartment.

Shyamalan, not only pulls us in with the vivid characters, but with film work, angles, and lighting, that allows us to experience not only the life of Caretaker Heep, but what it’s like to live in this apartment complex as well.

Oh yes, on some levels, this story may just be too much of a good thing. There are creatures and characters in Story’s world whose motivation is difficult to follow. Some may feel a bit set up as we are introduced to the interesting characteristics of our tenants. Mr. Heep seems to posses amazing diving techniques as he investigates Story’s home beneath the pool. On many levels, some people may decide it is just too much to invest their time in. Most will want to see it again, so as to figure out what they missed.

One might wonder what the film might have been like had Shyamalan simplified the story and made it easier to follow. As George Costanza said in a classic episode of Seinfeld: “I’m not dumbing it down for any mass audience!”

Recommendation: It would be quite easy to drown in the complex story that is Lady in The Water. Make sure you don’t see the late show, so that you can sit through it a second time and take it all in. Then go purchase The Purpose-Driven Life.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Written by Hombre Divertido

Well worth the ninety-one minute stay.

Robert Zemeckis and Steven Speilberg (co-producers with Jason Clark, Jack Rapke, and Steve Starkey) have brought us a fun summer movie for the whole family. Well, maybe not the whole family, as the imagery may be a bit much for children under seven or eight, but great fun for the rest of us.

In this story, no adults believe three youths' assertion that a neighboring residence is a living creature that means them harm. With Halloween approaching, the trio must find a way to destroy the structure before innocent trick-or-treaters meet ghastly ends.

This film takes risks, and though they don’t always pay off, the audience can’t help but appreciate the effort.

Potential Spoiler Warning: The following paragraphs may contain plot points.

The story is risky as it avoids the typical rational explanation ending, and instead explains that the house is actually haunted. This works as the details are provided in a manner that even the youngest viewer can understand and enjoy.

Where the risks did not completely pay off were in the animation where processes continue to evolve. This film (viewed in 3D) was visually exciting, but makes a drastic transition midway through the film. During the first half of the film, you can’t help but feel like this could have easily been a live action film, as it certainly feels like it. Once our Monster House comes to life, you appreciate that it is indeed animated, to a point. The more alive our house becomes, the busier the film gets. As we reach the climax of the film, the house becomes mobile, and the story becomes secondary to the effects, which is too bad.

The three-dimensional aspects added to the visual appeal of the film, though it lacked the usual effect of things coming out at the audience.

The vocal performances in this film are spot on. Mitchel Musso (DJ), Sam Lerner (Chowder), Spencer Locke (Jenny) play the children to perfection, but it is Steve Buscemi as the crotchety neighbor Mr. Nebbercracker who steals this film. The supporting cast is outstanding as well with Jason Lee as the babysitter’s (Maggie Gyllenhaal) boyfriend Bones (he’s in a band), and an all-too-brief vocal appearance by Jon Heder (Napoleon Dynamite) that left us wanting more.

Judging from the numerous previews prior to the showing of Monster House, there are numerous 3-D animated films headed our way in coming months. Hopefully, producers will remember that the story is as important as the animation. Successful ventures of the past have included both great animation, and storylines that contain plots that kids can follow and humor that adults can appreciate.

Recommendation: From the basement to the attic, Monster House works on many levels. Catch it in 3-D if you can, but catch it either way.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Billy Joel: 12 Gardens Live

Written by Hombre Divertido

One always takes a risk when purchasing a CD of a live performance. You can’t be sure of the quality of the recording or the performance. The artist may be a superior studio performer but may not translate well to a live setting. The artist may have been playing the same songs for years, and has now decided to tweak them, which often disappoints the audience. Luckily, Billy Joel’s new effort suffers very little from any of these potential sales killers.

Recorded live at Madison Square Garden this new two-disc set delivers over and over again. With a total of 30 songs, there is something in this set for everyone, as Mr. Joel still manages to exude the energy of an angry young man, belting out hit after hit.

When one listens to these classics, you can’t help but be impressed by the career longevity of Joel, who wrote all of the songs. Another challenge of a live recording can be the audience, but the sound mix is excellent here as we are treated to the energy of the crowd without detracting from the quality of the performance.

Joel is backed up quite capably by a talented group of performers who make a strong effort to allow him to be the focus. They are Crystal Tallefero (vocals, guitar); Andy Cicon (vocals, bass guitar); Tommy Byrnes (guitar); Mark Rivera (saxophone, keyboards); Richie Cannata (saxophone); Carl Fischer (trumpet, trombone); David Rosenthal (piano, organ, keyboards).

There are a few bumps in the road, as in “The Night is Still Young” where Joel’s vocals are combined in a duet with Taleifero that does not quite work, and the second disc ends with an unlisted 31st song which is a weak, or maybe just a tired, Joel closing out with “It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me.” That ending might leave some disappointed, but there is too much quality here in both musical genius and memories to allow anything to distract from the overall performance.

Recommendation: Make sure you see Billy Joel's next concert, and get a hold of this effort until you do.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Pilgrim: A Celebration Of Kris Kristofferson

Written by Fantasma el Rey

When you think of Kris Kristofferson, many things come to mind: rebel, songwriter, actor, activist, outlaw. As all these titles do apply, Kris himself will be the first to tell you that the line between man and myth can become very blurred. Yet, there is still more solid truth behind the man, a truth that comes through in the songs he writes and sometimes sings. His life is a fascinating one, filled with willingly taken wrong directions. Although, if he hadn’t taken these paths, we wouldn’t have his music to listen to or a chance to hear from some of the people he has inspired on this well done tribute album.

Kristofferson was born into a well-to-do military family, complete with a Major General for a father. Kris himself would eventually sign up for military service, but not until after receiving the Rhodes scholarship and his Master’s degree from Oxford University. While attending college, he was always writing, working on a novel or songs for his recording session as “Kris Carson”. As a helicopter pilot in the military, he would make up songs to entertain his fellow soldiers, but his love and study of literary writers made him want more from his songs. Kris was turned down for voluntary duty in Vietnam because he was to be assigned to teach literature at West Point academy.

After ditching his military assignment, he headed to Nashville where he scored a job as janitor for the Columbia studios where he met many artists who would record his songs in the near future. He made a slight impression on Johnny Cash, but Cash still would not record any of his material. It wasn’t until Kris landed a helicopter in John’s backyard that he took any real notice. After that, others started to take notice as well and the rest is history, which includes becoming a terrific actor in major motion pictures and being an activist on the world scene. You can get a more detailed run down on Kris’ life in the liner notes to this CD where you’ll read about his time as a fireman in Alaska, a railroad men, a construction worker, and eventually a Nashville beer hall regular. The thick booklet is very informative in its telling of the story of how and why Kris came to be an outlaw of country music. This CD is a good example of how he changed the way a country song could be written.

This killer tribute album opens with an intro by Kris to “The Pilgrim: Chapter 33” performed by Emmylou Harris. Her connection with Gram Parsons makes her the perfect choice for this powerful song, and is a great way to begin this disk because the song itself is somewhat autobiographical and contains wonderful lines about being a “problem when he’s stoned/ he’s a walking contradiction/ partly truth and partly fiction”.

“Maybe You Heard” by Todd Snider and “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” by Gretchen Wilson are two more powerful and reflective tunes composed with feeling and passion. Kris has lived these songs and it comes across in these lyrics. “Maybe You Heard” deals with understanding and sticking by the people you love and say you care about, while others look down upon them or turn their backs on them. “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” is my favorite tune by Kris and is done well here. He captures that lonely Sunday morning perfectly with an honesty and truth that anyone who was spent said dark morn’ alone coming down can definitely relate to and understand.

Kris’ songs are also represented well by others from the outlaw clan, such as longtime friend Willie Nelson and the family of Waylon Jennings, son Shooter and wife Jessi Colter. Shooter keeps the flame alive by delivering “The Silver Tongued Devil & I” in such a way that would definitely make his daddy proud, a voice sadly missing from us all now. Shooter’s young whiskey-soaked baritone does a fine job here, in this number about drinking, thinking and opportunities missed. Jessi’s working of “The Captive” is heartfelt and moving. She is a fine choice and excellent interpreter of Kristofferson’s ability and skill. Willie’s vocals can be heard on the last tribute track “The Legend” and his voice shines here as his delivery of the opening lyrics “was it better then/ with our backs against the wall/ were we better men/ than we’d ever been before” are a compliment to Kris’ ability to convey reflective feelings of the lives they’ve led.

Latin vocalist Marta Gomez and R&B singer Brian McKnight represent Kris’ widespread influence. Marta’s bilingual “The Circle”, is moving and her accent comes though wonderfully, making this track one of the most enjoyable. While McKnight’s version of “Me And Bobby McGee” is passionate and growing on me the more I hear it, I can’t help but be reminded of other R&B covers of country and folk songs. The slow beat, mellow guitar, shaker sound, and yes, this one is complete with handclaps. I do like his voice; I just think he could have done more with the song.

The two standout tracks for me masterfully follow one another in track order “Lovin’ Him Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again)” and “Come Sundown”, performed by wife and ex-husband, Rosanne Cash and Rodney Crowell. Her voice has knocked me out and stayed with me since I first heard her version of “Tennessee Flattop Box”. Crowell puts his signature sound and mellow vocals on “Come Sundown” to full effect; this song sounds like a tune right out of his own songbook. Hearing these numbers back-to-back sends me back to my youth, listening to these artists, as my Ma would show us how to dance a Texas two-step that still impresses the ladies. Thanks again, Ma.

Many others who have been inspired by our hero Kris round out the disk. People you might not really think of, such as actor Russell Crowe doing a fine version of “Darby’s Castle” or Marshall Chapman and the rocking “Jesus Was A Capricorn”. This tribute disk ends fittingly with a demo by Kris circa 1970 on “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends”, a perfect song because who knows where Kris’ long and accomplished career will head from here now that he’s 70 and lost none of his fight or passion.

The Pilgrim is a true celebration of the music and songwriting skills of an American original that has endured throughout years of criticism and self-abuse. He’s a true storyteller of everyday life and love, of the lost and found. A poet documenting those who are given another chance to rise again and redeem themselves. Kris is an inspiration to us all if we know it or not, and we’ve all heard his voice in a song we sing.

Kris Kristofferson, passionate songwriter, rebel and outlaw, we all owe you.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Written by Hombre Divertido

In the new DVD release from Warner Brothers, Superman: Brainiac Attacks, embittered by Superman’s heroic successes and soaring popularity, Lex Luthor forms a dangerous alliance with the powerful computer/villain Brainiac. Using advanced weaponry and a special strain of kryptonite harvested from the far reaches of outer space, Luthor specifically redesigns Brainiac to defeat the man of steel. When Brainiac betrays Luthor and reveals its sinister plans for world domination, Superman must brave the mysterious Phantom Zone to find the strength to survive this deadly showdown.

Is it too late to send this to Bryan Singer?

It can be difficult to get excited about watching a straight-to-video cartoon, but Superman: Brainiac Attacks is a pleasant surprise. Pleasant in that the movie is done well, and not overly directed towards children. The story is well crafted, and the soundtrack is motion picture quality.

Tim Daly's performance as Superman and Clark Kent would make Bud Collyer proud, though it could be distracting to Wings fans. The rest of the cast is stellar as it is stacked with star power including Dana Delany as Lois Lane, Powers Booth as Lex Luthor, and Lance Henriksen as Brainiac.

With all the various incarnations of Superman between live action and animated television, as well as motion pictures and comic books, it can be challenging to keep track of the development of the characters and stories. In this outing, Superman is still struggling with telling Lois his true identity, the Fortress of Solitude is quite different than in other stories, and Lex Luthor is portrayed quite clownish. The direction of the Luthor character does not work at all, but that is one of the few parts of this endeavor that does not work.

On the other side of the character interpretation coin is the Jimmy Olsen character voiced by David Kaufman, and that of Brainiac (Henriksen). Jimmy is enjoyably involved in the story far more than other television and motion picture efforts. Brainiac comes across as confident and intensely dangerous, and the battles between he and our hero actually leave Superman looking vulnerable.

Movie Spoiler Warning:

This is a fun film for the whole family. It was nice to once again see Superman fighting for truth, justice, and the American way, rather than having sex out of wedlock, impregnating Lois, and then abandoning his child and her mother for five years as was depicted in the recent motion picture.

Recommendation: A little history on Brainiac and some extras would have made this DVD perfect, but even lacking a little more story and the bonuses we have come to expect on a DVD, this is well worth the investment of time and money.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Johnny Cash - Man In Black: Live in Denmark 1971

Written by Fantasma el Rey

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”. His standard opening is sadly missing from this entertaining live DVD, filmed in some television studio in Denmark. Yet that takes nothing away from this solid performance by one of the greatest talents the world has known. This show in Denmark and the crowd’s reaction only prove that Johnny was loved by people all over the world; that fact is made obvious by people today, who know nothing about classic country or the other outlaws that Johnny came to run with, yet who claim Johnny as their inspiration and hero. On this disk we get a good glimpse of the Johnny Cash road show, we also get a chance to see and hear many of the regulars of his weekly television show, which include his wife June Carter, his longtime friend Carl Perkins and the Statler brothers.

The disk jumps right into “A Boy Named Sue”. No intros to Cash or the band, just Johnny jumping on stage and picking up his guitar. Johnny always puts this tune over with a smile and chuckle that makes it much more entertaining and comical. From there, Johnny moves into the solemn Kris Kristofferson-penned “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”, a look at someone reflecting on his life and feeling lost on a Sunday morning. This tune is one of my favorites. Johnny’s delivery is more believable for the life he has led, and I don’t think that any one else could have pulled this one off as well.

After a good run through my all-time favorite Cash song “I Walk The Line”, Johnny introduces, as the “originator” of Rock ’n’ Roll, Carl Perkins, who performs two of his tunes: the classic “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Matchbox”. Carl goes through his routine dancing of fancy footwork while he sings and solos. People love to see these same steps that he has been doing since the beginning of his career, playing in small honky-tonks and juke joints. As Carl sings “Matchbox”, the camera has Johnny in the shadows, getting the crowd to clap along to the song; a very interesting and cool shot.

Johnny comes back for a good version of another Kristofferson song “Me And Bobby McGee” and a short version of “Guess Things Happen That Way”, before introducing the Statler Brothers. The Statlers have two songs that showcase their four-part country harmony, which for some reason always makes me smile and think of my mother; who by the way, introduced a very young Fantasma to her wonderful world of music, which included country classics such as Mr. Cash, his family and friends and solid 1960s pop/rock as well. (Thanks, Ma.) The Statlers do sing another favorite of mine, their all-time hit “Flowers On The Wall”.

Johnny comes back once more for a rocking version of “Folsom Prison Blues”, which puts the spotlight on his longtime backing band, the legendary Tennessee Three: Marshall Grant on bass, who has been with Cash from the start, W.S. “Fluke” Holland on drums, who started his career in the Carl Perkins band and was last to join, and taking over for the beloved Luther Perkins, (no relation to Carl) Bob Wootton on guitar.

Johnny talks about his concerts at various prisons next, before introducing his wife June. As soon as she appears, you can see Johnny light up and give a truly sincere smile. One can tell that Johnny’s love for his wife is something greater than himself by his loving glances and long looks into June’s eyes as they sing together. That look is definitely more than an act. They do three numbers including the Grammy-winning “If I Were A Carpenter”, “Help Me Through The Night”, and the one that hits home for me, John Sebastian’s original “Darling Companion”.

Next, the lights go out on the band and Johnny is left in the spotlight for his then current single, and what is now his theme song, “Man In Black”, a powerful song that tells the reasons why he wears all black. This shot of Johnny and the one I mentioned early with Carl make up for the few times that the cameramen goof and we get some shots of the back of John’s head or some other off angles.

John then gives a proud introduction to Mother Maybelle and the Carter Family, then consisting of June’s mother and two sisters Anita and Helen. Their “A Song To Mama” is a moving tune about Ma Carter and the girls’ love and appreciation for her. At the point where Johnny does the spoken verse, there is an insert of Ma looking somewhat uncomfortable, yet moved to tears by the song.

After a long round of rhythmic applause from the crowd, John brings everyone back out on stage for three spiritual numbers to close the show. All three songs are entertaining and have that Johnny Cash sound to them. If I need to explain that sound here again, then you should probably stop reading and go out and get yourself an essential collection of Johnny Cash material. The song “No Need To Worry” has a chorus that says, “I found out that if you take one step/ he’ll take two” which is a Bible reference and seems to mean more knowing Johnny’s struggles throughout his life. The show ends with “Children, Go Where I Send Thee”, the song is Cash-penned and involves singing verses up to twelve, using everybody on different parts; much the way that the “Twelve Days Of Christmas” is sung.

If you recall that the opening song is “A Boy Named Sue”, then closing with a spiritual might seem a bit of an odd way to end a Johnny Cash show. Yet if one knows John’s life story, then it seems that the songs are the perfect bookends to a Cash concert. Everything that the man is and stands for is summed up in his shows, which this taping is a condensed version of. The DVD clocks in at just under an hour, but his highly entertaining and does move very well from segment to segment. All the hep kats and my “Kitten” should enjoy this one from start to finish.

Overall, this DVD is a good look at Johnny Cash just a few years before he became an outlaw to the establishment of country music, refusing to alter his sound or his vision of what they wanted his music to be. As a final note though, I do believe that the Cash well might be running a bit dry, as this DVD contains no bonus material of any kind. Besides being a solid Cash performance, it doesn’t seem to have much significance in John’s career, so it will be interesting to see what is released next. Hopefully I’m wrong, and we can keep getting quality Cash output.

So there it is and here we go… this one is for Johnny and fifty years of the best and we all know that his music will be felt for at least fifty more.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Bakithi Kumalo: Transmigration

Written by Fumo Verde

Whatever magic Bakithi Kumalo made with Paul Simon on Simon's Graceland seems lost here on Transmigration. Bakithi is a fine bass player and the musicians he has brought together are fine studio musicians too, but this CD lets one's mind wander and not along with the music. Too much like Muzak than fusion jazz, if that's what it was supposed to be.

South African born Kumalo is a fine bassist, like I said, but for a guy who played on the Zululand Tour you would think that he would try to blend the jazz coming out of South Africa with the jazz coming out of Europe, North America or South America. That doesn't happen here, and you would think with a title like Transmigration that that's what this disk was all about. Once again, I was wrong.

The first track "Twilight Fire" sounds more like that elevator song you got stuck in your head on the way to see your dentist. The bass bounces through fine as Bakithi tickles the cords and thumps around for a bit; the rest is programmed sounds that run through the piano and drum beats. At least on the second track, "Step by Step", he uses a real sax and guitar. The bass is played at some of its higher notes, making you wonder if it is being used at all. Morris Goldberg plays a mean sax, as Kumalo's bass plays opposite. After a little dueling for a few cords, the bass line drops to its normal pitch and Kumalo adds in the guitar riffs later.

The whole CD is like this with Bakithi playing most of the instruments and using programming for other parts. Chirrs Pati and Bill Smith who plays piano on “Trio”, which I liked, play certain pieces such as drums on “Seems Like Old Times” and “Make Me Smile”. Smith's piano playing comes in as the straight man at first, then playfully jumbles around with the keys for a bit before falling back into the groove. With Damon Duewhite on drums, Bakithi captures the sound of jazz from few decades ago, when Miles, the Duke, the Bird, Thelonious, and all the others were pushing the music to outer reaches.

"Your Point Being?" is the longest jam on the CD, coming in at ten minutes and thirty seconds. It’s a ripping jam that moves quickly with Pati on keyboards and percussion, Goldberg on sax, and Kumalo thumping his bass once again. Like the space shuttle revving its engines, the jam never really takes off. On "Africa", the final cut, Kumalo plays all the instruments from bass to wood flute and even the Djembe (I honestly have no idea what that is....sorry, babies, to stoned in music appreciation that day). I have to say that "Africa" is the only other track I liked on this disk and has almost nothing to do with fusion, or progressive jazz; it just has some Africa beats and instruments jamming together while Bakithi vocalizes his tribal roots.

Playing all the instruments that Kumalo plays is an accomplishment in itself, and for that he is a master musician. Transmigration has well-played music technically, but it has no soul, no spirit that keeps you listening and wanting to hear more. As background music for your lobby or reception desk area, you will get no complaints from your clients, but put it on at a party or for a drive in your car and along the way someone will fall asleep at the wheel.

this is Fumo saying, adios amigos...I’m off to Jersey to sit in humidity for the next three weeks.

Friday, July 07, 2006

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN: The Complete Third and Fourth Season

Written by Hombre Divertido

In business, presentation is very important, and in the case of this set of DVDs, the first thing you notice is the presentation. Simple, colorful, comic book themed, and exciting. Excellent presentation.

The box cover contains simple side-by-side photos of George Reeves as Clark Kent and Superman. When you open the set, the insert unfolds to an exciting display of all five disks each featuring a picture of the key characters of the series (Clark, Superman, Lois, Jimmy, and Perry White.) You can’t help but be thrust into the classic era of comic books as the disks are flanked by a comic book themed layout that includes the title of each episode, the credits, and a brief synopsis.

The presentation of the show in the third and fourth season is wonderfully ahead of its time, as the producers had the foresight to film them in color. Though broadcast in black and white at the time, they were not actually televised in color until 10 years later. The story behind this and other interesting facts are revealed in one of the three special features: “Adventures of Superman: The Color Era”. Though this and the other major extra (“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Special Effects of Adventures of Superman”) are quite brief (six minutes), they are full of interesting facts, extremely informative and entertaining, and certainly raises your anticipation of viewing the episodes. The third extra consists of excerpts from the new documentary by Bryan Singer and Kevin Burns: Look, Up in the Sky! The Amazing Story of Superman.

When viewing the episodes in the set, you will again be amazed at how simple the production is, and yet how extremely effective it is. The color is great, and the special effects work well for the most part. George Reeves does a great job as Superman, but it was his confident Clark Kent that shows the range of this talented and underappreciated thespian. Reeves, who often looks more muscular in his classic suits than in his Superman garb, plays Kent with far more confidence and humor than recent incarnations, and it works.

Jack Larson sets the bar high as Jimmy Olsen, and no actor to date has come close to it since. His child-like innocence, subtle humor, and energy are an acting lesson in each appearance. He steals scenes one after another. The rest of the cast, including Noel Neill as Lois Lane, also establish the institution that is Superman with excellent performances, which other actors have and should continue to strive towards.

If there is any weakness here, it is the stories. Even geared towards children, these stories can be considered weak. Often the plots make little sense and the guests appear to be trying to figure them out. There are a few gems in the set, but for the most parts, it is the acting of our leads and the special effects that are the highlights here.

Recommendation: This set is a novelty, and makes for some great fun. The stories will eventually wear thin, but worth the investment. Kids will love it because it compares well to more recent super efforts. A must have for the true fan. Watch the extras first.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


Written by Hombre Divertido

One might be reminded of the Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams) quote: “The one constant through all the years has been baseball.”

The new documentary on Superman by Bryan Singer and Kevin Burns tells us of the consistency of the man of steel.

This 110-minute film out on DVD follows the career, if you will, of Superman from his birth at the hands of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in the early 1930s, to his present-day incarnation in the Singer film Superman Returns, and it does it while being both educational and entertaining.

The reason this piece works so well is that it goes beyond Superman, and follows history and the culture of each time period. It expands upon the tragedies and triumphs of America and the world, and how said changes impacted Superman and he us.

We follow Superman from the scratch pads of Siegel and Shuster, to the pages of comic books. From the radio to the movie screen in the form of animated feature, serial, and live action film, to the television screen, and back again. We are led on our journey by the subtle narration of Kevin Spacey (Lex Luthor in the new film), and joined by comic book historians, writers, artists, publishers, industry insiders, actors from numerous if not all Superman endeavors, and pop culture icons ranging from Gene Simmons to Mark Hamill.

It is a wonderful trip as we get behind-the-scenes footage and insight into all the super ventures including those released to the public and those that never saw the light of day. The screen tests of Stockard Channing, Leslie Ann Warren, and others, for the part of Lois Lane in the 1978 feature film were particularly enjoyable to watch.

Of course the investment of time and money is not without its less than super aspects. The animated efforts of the 1960s and ‘70s are barely even acknowledged, and the DVD is quite sparse when it comes to extras. Nonetheless, the story is told well, and one can’t help but smile as some part of our respective memory is touched upon in this super tale.

Recommendation: A must have for the true Superman fan, and a great way to educate those who enjoy the theatrical and televised efforts of the past thirty years, but aren’t familiar with the Kryptonian roots.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Counting Crows: New Amsterdam

Written by Fumo Verde

I was wondering what happened to these guys. Apparently they have been touring Europe, and in doing so, they recorded this CD. During a three-day event at the Heineken Music Hall in Amsterdam (Feb 4th-6th, 2003), Adam Duritz and his flock laid down some tracks that have endeared them to their fans for years, but here they dig deep into their souls to re-release some inner feelings that must have been stored away for ages. This CD has a sorrowful, soulful sound that brings a new darkness to these songs. August and Everything After is the only Crows CD I own; there are some sad songs, but there are some upbeat ones too. On this tour, the band kicked it down a few notches.

"Rain King" starts it out. I always liked that tune, very upbeat. Here, Duritz turns it into a slow ballad while using his piano and the sounds of the slide guitar to give it a more blues style than it had previously. Duritz slows down the tempo by allowing his voice to swim deep into the waves of the lyrics, pulling out its energy and giving it a gentile, sweet sound. This revives the song and gives a new look at old words. This is done on the next track also, "Richard Manuel Is Dead". Here, the band brings the song on strong, but a little slower than previously done. Duritz belts out the lyrics with vigor. As the guitar solo cries outs its part, the rest of the band brings it around with an almost "Grateful Dead-ish" mix that comes from the drums, bass and Hammond B-3 Organ

"Omaha" has to be my favorite song from August... and here the tempo stays the same, with Duritz again, coming on strong. The mandolin comes into play on this track and really adds light to the darkness of this song. "Miami" follows with its with pop rhythm and heavy electric guitar riffs. It still amazes me how this band can take lyrics that make you reflect on certain aspects of relationships, and drop them into a heavily filled rock guitar anthem melody and still make you feel depressed as you find yourself head banging in front of the speakers. Energy with sorrow...its the only way I can explain it. "Hazy" follows, and here Duritz goes real deep into the depression zone, with his sorrowful voice and lone piano. This little three-minute tune will tear at your heart stings. “Good Time” then follows it, and here again, the band takes the audience and the listener on an emotional roller coaster. After going deep into the blues with "Hazy", "Good Time" starts to bring you out. Still being sung with soul, and the band exploding with Hendrixesque guitar cries, "Good Time" gives you the chance to let your tear ducts dry out...for a minute.

"St. Robinson In His Cadillac Dream" brings the crowd up on its feet. One can almost dance to the groove that the Crows are laying down. Once again, the mandolin makes an appearance and creates a bluegrass tone that helps define the song and the feelings that Duritz probably had when he wrote the lyrics. "Goodnight Elizabeth" is my favorite track on this disk. It has to do with any audience that can sing the chorus without the lead vocal person even opening their mouth. The crowd here doesn't miss a beat when "Their" part comes up. Even listening to it now gives me the goose bumps.

For any Counting Crows fan, this CD is a great blend of their music that has been playing for over a decade (I think). Along with the crowd, which you can tell is totally into the show, this recording captures Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows in their true element-- live. This is one of those CDs that Fumo here, can roll one-- puff it, sit back and close his eyes, and babies, if the volume is up enough, it feels like you are there. The Counting Crows are still touring. They are also helping out Harvest U.S.A. along with the Goo Goo Dolls. Check out their website for dates and if you get a chance, go see them. I know I will.

Sunday, July 02, 2006


Written by Hombre Divertido

Superman Returns, but fails to take off.

Bryan Singer (Director/ Producer/ Story) must not have many cell minutes left considering the amount of performances phoned in to his new film Superman Returns.

The director did a fine job of creating a visually exciting film, but the story and performances let him down.

The story, though initially intriguing, wraps far too conveniently, and the writers seem confused as to which story they are to be telling. The storyline jumps around between the current situation created by Lex Luthor, the return of Superman and the inconsistent reactions said return prompts from his friends and co-workers, Lois and her new family including the lineage of her son, and flashbacks to Superman’s past.

All roles should be open to an actor’s interpretation, but we are dealing with an institution here, and it appears that the majority of our actors did not do their homework.

Kate Bosworth looks lost in her role of Lois Lane. She appears to have acquired some of Superman’s powers, as she gets hit and knocked unconscious a few times, which is something we are not used to seeing happen to this character, and yet never shows a mark. Perhaps those blows accounted for her wondering aimlessly through this film.

Frank Langella plays Perry White with none of the energy required, to bring across the overbearing newspaper editor.

Sam Huntington is completely miscast as Jimmy Olsen. Like Bosworth, he seems confused in what to do with his role, and in many scenes actually looks older than Clark Kent.

Brandon Routh does a fine job of looking and sounding like Christopher Reeve, but looks too young in his role, delivers a one dimensional performance, and is not even consistent in his facial expressions when performing feats of strength.

Kevin Spacey is adequate as Lex Luthor, but we have seen him meaner and more maniacal in Swimming with the Sharks.

Parker Posey is a pleasant surprise playing subtle comedy perfectly as Lex Luthors cohort Kitty Kowalski.

It was also a nice touch including Jack Larson and Noel Neil in the cast.

Perhaps Singer needs to stick with Marvel Comics, as they continue to translate better to the big screen than those of DC. Perhaps Singer simply needs to remind his cast that it is indeed a comic book they are attempting to bring.

Recommendation: Rent the first Superman movie, or the DVD’s of the television series, unless you want to see what Superman can do with the most current special effects behind him, in which case, Superman Returns delivers just that, and only that.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Cure: Lost In The Labyrinth

Written by Fantasma el Rey

The title sounds as if this DVD might have some real insight to it and the description on the back makes this seem even more so. As I gave this disk a spin, I found all that to be… well, false. I was excited about this disk as any Cure fan would be and was let down to find that for just over an hour, I sat and got no real information about one of my favorite bands. On the other hand, I am glad that I have had this chance to view it before I had any interest in paying for it.

I was so excited about this disk that I invited a fellow Cure fan to watch with me as I figured it to be an interesting film to see. Right from the start though, we were concerned that this disk had a disclaimer stating that this film contained no original music and is not endorsed by the band or anybody really affiliated with them. Not a good start but many a good documentary has been made with no consent from the subject. Yet, as this one began to get going, we quickly realized that this was going to be a train wreck.

After about fifteen minutes, any real interest was gone, and there was still forty-five minutes of filler left to go. The highlight of the film by far, was the time spent on Cure founder/vocalist Robert Smith’s involvement with Siouxsie and the Banshees. Siouxsie and company were very influential in the direction that Robert and The Cure were going, from look and stage appearance to sound as well. The only interview of interest is that with Steve Severin of the banshees and The Glove, a side project of his and Robert’s; Other than that we get to hear opinions from DJs and writers, who’s involvement with the band is never specified.

There are maybe one to two minutes of crackly recordings of a Smith interview, other than that there is nothing; no footage of the band behind the scenes or in the studio. Nothing. We get close-ups of still photos and that’s it. The history of the band could have just as easily been read online, accompanied by better pictures. The last half of The Cure’s output is rushed through and my only thought at this point, was that maybe the filmmakers were getting just as bored with this thing as my friend and I were; Just a question.

The bonus features on this disk are all right, there is a trivia game which is fun to play before the film to see how much you know already, so by the end you can find out that you are a bigger fan than you thought or that you got next to nothing out of this documentary. The discography is hands-down the best part of the DVD; it contains not only standard listings of albums and singles but also an interesting and in-depth list of bootleg albums.

Lost In The Labyrinth has a great name and that’s it; the rest of the film goes nowhere fast. To be perfectly honest, I don’t know why a promotional copy would be sent out for this one, it truly seems that to make a buck a company would need to put this one out under the radar and dupe a few people into picking it up. Really, I would have had a more informative hour sitting and talking about The Cure with my buddy and some of my other friends who are Cure fans. Hell, even the ones who aren’t would have had a more interesting point of view. So to all The Cure followers, who may happen upon my work, I say avoid this one like the plague; go out and get the video collection instead. Its more informative and way more entertaining.