Saturday, March 31, 2007
Written by Jámon Y. Huevos
Textbook Chapter Also Boring on Film
Filmmaker Peter Miller has garnered his first directing credit with the documentary Sacco and Vanzetti. The film recounts the sad tale of two Italian immigrant anarchists, Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, accused of murder and executed in Boston in 1927 after a trial filled with prejudice and the loud rally cries of the working class from, literally, all over the world. The film is told through the words of relatives and those who were children during the trial and execution; also, modern historians (none of whom list credentials explaining why we should listen to them) give their take on the events, while Tony Shalhoub and John Turturro read the letters of Sacco and Vanzetti.
The story is poignant and important even though the director and editor do everything they can to keep the film from being interesting in any way. Early on, we are shown the doorway to Sacco’s childhood home. Was the door to his house in a nice neighborhood? Did rowdy kids kick the door as they passed it? Was life behind the door particularly tough or loving? We can’t know; we can only know it is a red door and then we’re moving on to the next bit of partial information. A historian says that Vanzetti got along great with the children in the neighborhood where he was a fishmonger. Wonderful, but what does it mean? Should this information lead us to believe he was a good man and therefore not capable of murder?
The best moments in the film are when Shalhoub and Turturro read the private thoughts of Sacco and Vanzetti. Unfortunately, this is rarely done. We get about five letters from each of them, and they are obviously cut for time. Because of this, we never get the nuances of who these men were. We know they were anarchists, but their motivation is never made clear. We know the trial and rulings were specious and politically motivated, but we don’t get a clue as to why people would go so far to convict the wrong men. Over and over again, we are told that Sacco and Vanzetti met their untimely end because they were Italian. That’s definitely scary, especially in the light of current U. S. politics, but Miller won’t let you come to your own conclusions about the insight Sacco and Vanzetti might give us in regard to present-day civil liberties and the rights of immigrants. Instead, from the opening crawl, we are blatantly told to keep our eyes peeled for meaning. And, just in case we miss it, Miller shows us recent pictures from Iraq and Guantanamo Bay.
Out of nowhere, in the final minutes of the film, Miller attempts to change the direction of the documentary into a treatise on how the Sacco and Vanzetti trial influenced twentieth-century artists. Too bad not all the art influenced by the Sacco and Vanzetti tragedy is worth viewing.
Thursday, March 29, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Founded in 1983 by record industry men Larry Sloven and Bruce Bromberg to put out music that they “thought was good,” HighTone Records was envisioned as a reissue label. Luckily, it has also become home to many new artists, covering all fields of American roots music, from the blues of Robert Cray to the country/folk of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Every major artist on the label is heard from once, more if they happen to appear in a duet, a former band, or side project. All 30 songs have a coinciding paragraph in the liner notes that mentions such things as how and why it came to be part of the HighTone library; however, these tracks speak for themselves.
The 15 cuts on disc one contain blues sides and rockabilly/rock ‘n’ roll tunes. Chicago blues can be heard on Otis Rush’s “Three Times A Fool” while Chris Smither represents the Mississippi delta on Can't Shake These Blues. San Francisco’s Joe Louis Walker’s “747” has a solid blues shuffle that keeps you movin’ and groovin’.
L.A.’s The Blasters keep the rockabilly fires burning with their high energy rocker “Marie, Marie” taken from their first album American Music. The Alvin Brothers, Dave (guitar) and Phil (vocals), drive this Downey-based band in a direction that keeps their sound gritty and hardcore rockabilly/blues. Dave Alvin pops up once more with the track “Abilene,” off of his solo album, Blackjack David. On his own Dave travels down a country road lined with traditional sights and frights; this tune about life’s darker moments is carried well by Dave’s calm baritone voice.
The true gem on disc one has to be Dick Dale’s lightning fast, surf-instrumental version of the cowboy spook tale “Ghostriders In The Sky.” This one opens a bit slow but quickly launches you skyward on a roller coaster ride of a remake. Another name from days past brought back into the spotlight by this label is P.F. Sloan, known in the ‘60s for the protest song “Eve Of Destruction” and the cool as ice “Secret Agent Man.” Sloan is represented here by his 2006 release “Soul Of A Women.”
Two more strong voices on this disc are Texas country rocker Joe Ely and Julie Miller. Ely’s high-energy voice, driven and inspired by his love for good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll, pushes 1987’s “Settle For Love” forward. His is the voice that most of the current alt-country kiddies want to be like and fall short of. On the other hand, Julie Miller’s voice is nasally, at times a bit flat, yet sweet. I’m drawn to its honesty. Her “Out in The Rain” is a song with a solid country rhythm section and guitar picking. I do believe that her husband Buddy provides background duties.
Disc two is stacked and packed with country tunes from start to finish. As a gentleman should, I’ll start with the ladies. The Rockabilly Philly, Rosie Flores, clocks in with her jumpy, upbeat “Blue Highway,” a tune that finds her in a more contemporary mood. Guitars still fly and drums still crash around her peppy vocals but with a sound that reflects more Roseanne Cash or Lorrie Morgan. Heather Myles is another vocalist that got lost in the shuffle; her strong vocals shine as the pedal steel guitar whines behind her on the slow, cowboy lament “Rum & Rodeo.”
Keeping western swing alive is Hot Club Of Cowtown’s “You Took Advantage Of Me” featuring Elana Fremerman on lead vocals and giving their sound a ‘40s jazz appeal. Well hell, western swing is known as cowboy jazz after all, so that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. What Hot Club does do well is blend Django Reinhardt with Bob Wills to create a style all their own.
This disc also has its share of classic artists in the likes of Hank Thompson, Red Volkaert, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Thompson plays his hand on the jump country standard “In The Jail House Now” and sounds in fine shape for a gentleman of 74 years of age. Volkaert chips in with his big voice on Wynn Stewart’s “Big, Big Love.” He is one heck of guitar player and is former lead guitarist for Merle Haggard’s Strangers. His guitar work here is in the vein of Dave Dudley trucker songs. Elliot makes an appearance with his pal and fellow “Friend Of The Devil” Bob Weir, who made his name with some rock outfit that apparently did the original version. I’ll check with Fumo Verde on that rumor.
The singer-songwriter front is where we find many of HighTone’s hidden gems that deserve to be mentioned. Names such as Buddy Miller with his wonderful bluegrass vocals on “Does My Ring Burn Your Finger,” Tom Russell and his Tex-Mex romp “When Sinatra Played Juarez,” or Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s near yodel on his honky-tonk tune titled “That Hardwood Floor.”
Three of my all-time favorite vocalist and songwriters had a place on HighTone at one time in their careers as well. Two found success in the ‘70s and the other is still playing his heart out in honky-tonks and bars across the Southwest and Europe. Johnny Rodriguez was the biggest Chicano star to hit country music in the 1970s. Still not ringing a bell? No surprise, but he’s a bad ass and his cover of “Corpus Christi Bay” finds him in top form about how the bottle can drag you down.
Gary Stewart’s drinking songs have always found a place in Fantasma’s black heart. Why you ask? Because in tunes like “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” a kid with a broken heart (even black hearts aren’t made of stone) and a jug of Early Times Whiskey has one more friend and a song to sing away his hurt. So here is Stewart again with growl in tow on “Brand New Whiskey” and how it should be named after a woman.
Keeping with the honky-tonk theme lets swing over and visit my pal and all-time favorite real country musician, Alabama-born and Texas-bred Dale Watson. His larger-than-life, deep baritone vocals are the perfect vehicle to convey his songs of life, love, death, and pain. Watson is still turning out excellent music at the rate of about a CD a year. Now that’s a mind and heart with a lot of songs still left to be written.
The HighTone Records Anthology is packed with 30 of the best numbers the label has to offer. Thankfully, they fan the flames and keep the tradition of American roots music alive. Run out and grab some of their stuff, and for those that aren’t afraid to venture outside of their homes, go and support good, live music at your local Honky-Tonk beer joint. Have a good time and a beer; better still, have two beers and keep your eyes open because you never know when a snob is lurking on that hardwood floor.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Rock ‘n’ Roll, y’all! That’s what it’s all about, and in Fats & Friends we have a rocking good time with the piano masters of rock’s early years. Led by Fats Domino, this DVD also includes Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Charles sharing the same stage at New Orleans’ Storyville nightclub. The host on that legendary night in 1986 was Paul Shaffer, whose band provides back up for Lewis and Charles. Three rock icons, one stage, and a hot night blend together for one hell of a performance.
After a short interview by Shaffer at the bar, which kicks off each performance, and an intro by his bandleader/trumpeter Dave Bartholomew, the Fat Man gets things rocking with his long time band of professionals. They include two men that deserve way more attention than they get in the R’n’R world. One being Bartholomew and the other is heroic sax slinger Lee Allen, a session sax man who is featured on countless hit songs of that day and goes un-credited on many more; around the time of this show he was a member of the roots rock band The Blasters. Both scored minor hits on their own in the 1950s while playing on nearly all of Fats biggest recordings.
If you don’t recognize these men by sight, then you might not notice them on this disk because they go un-credited here as well. Allen doesn’t solo once and with the amount of tunes played it’s really no surprise but he deserves some mention. Keep your eyes open for the tall saxophone player third to the bandleader’s right. On the special features there is some extra footage of Bartholomew playing and Shaffer makes a quick mention of him there, little mention is better than none at all.
The mood for the evening is fast and furious as Fats opens with “The Fat Man” and swings flawlessly into “Walking To New Orleans,” a tune that’s a bit slower yet moves just as well. From there he lets loose on the mega hits “Blueberry Hill” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll,” the latter being a Big Joe Turner tune covered and rocked up a bit by Bill Haley. The “round mound of sound” closes his set with a medley of “So Long” and “C.C. Rider” while exiting to the instrumental “Sentimental Journey,” which he plays standing up. Fats is a solid rocker, with a voice in fine shape and skills on the ivories that stand alone and define the big beat sound of early rock’n’roll.
If Fats is the quite storm, then Jerry Lee Lewis is the full-blown tornado plowing though three of his songs at a breakneck pace. “I Am What I Am,” “Great Balls Of Fire,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On” are revved up by Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, while Lewis hits the keys with pounding strokes and lighting-fast glissandos. Lewis even stands on the piano as he sings the final chorus to that “shakin’” song and exits with a few “butt bumps” to the keys as he leaves. They don't call him “The Killer” for nothing.
Paul Shaffer and “All-Star Band” jam though Ernie K-Doe’s “A Certain Girl,” a fine little number done in the classic New Orleans party style before turning things over to the genius that is Ray Charles. Charles only does two of his own songs: the rocking “I’ve Got A Women” and the much slower “Drown In My Own Tears.” Charles then begins a New Orleans piano boogie that turns into “The Lewis Boogie,” and a true all-star jam as both Lewis and Domino join him on stage.
Lewis sings his boogie, and Fats chimes in on vocal duty for “Low Down Dog.” All three finesse the 88s and take turns on a verse to “Jambalaya (On The Bayou),” a song that all three recorded in their careers and in their own unique styles. Closing out the show, all three jam along with the All-Star Band on the rollicking “Swanee River Rock (Talkin’ Bout That River),” a fine end to an all-too-short hour of piano mastery.
The bonus features on this DVD are an interview with Paul Shaffer reminiscing about that night and the difficulties he faced in having three individual star personalities to deal with. The interview is highlighted by rehearsal footage of the big three and some of the other band members playing and warming up.
Fats & Friends is an entertaining hour of piano greats at their best; one is gone, one doesn’t come out much, and one thinks he’s the last of the best. I’ll let y’all figure that one out for yourselves. Ray Charles stands out for the fact that his music is a beautiful hybrid of gospel, country, and R&B. Jerry Lee Lewis is the wild man blessed with a strong voice, a natural talent on the piano, stage presence, and a smirk as he plays that screams, “Sit down or stand up but I will rock you.” All the while Fats Domino possesses sublime vocals, straight-ahead stomp and good-time groove that pushed his records to sell in the very high millions. No frills or flamboyant, flashy stage shenanigans just a good time.
One thing that can be said of these three men is until the very end they will, and Charles did, retain their strong vocals and piano talents. Now lets give Fats his own two-hour legends special because there isn’t much of a film to be made of this quiet man’s life.
Friday, March 09, 2007
Norah Jones is back with her third CD titled Not Too Late, and it’s never too late for anything from this sexy, smooth-voiced, dark-eyed cutie. My ears first perked to this kitten via her work with The Little Willies, a swinging country band from N.Y.C. From her first vocal appearance on that album, I was gone, hooked, a fan for life. I then devoured her first two CDs and longed for this one. It’s here and packs the punch that I hoped it would.
Miss Jones delivers as much as she has in the past; her writing and skills on the 88s remain magnificent. Her band remains just as strong, filled out by the core of Lee Alexander, returning to produce and play both up-right and electric bass, Andrew Borger on drums, and the guitars of Jesse Harris, acoustic, and Adam Levy, electric. A handful of others appear on this album, including Richard Julian, who pops in to provide some vocal support. Many of these players haven’t been heard from since Norah’s first CD, Come Away With Me, while others where prominent features on her second, Feels Like Home.
Not Too Late opens with the somber “Wish I Could,” which leads off with just a guitar followed by Norah’s sublime vocals. This one is heavy for an opener, with lyrics about the unfairness of love in war. What kicks are lines like “I don’t tell her that I once loved you too” and “We met in a place I used to go/ Now I only walk by slow/ Can’t bear to go in without you, you know/ Wish I could.” Words that hit hard, as do the rest of the lyrics on this CD written by Norah or the team of Jones/Alexander.
“Sinkin’ Soon” is a more playful little ditty with a 1930s swing/jazz jump. The trombone and mandolin punctuate the track while Norah tickles the ivories and the drums roll. Borger even hits the pots and pans, lending a back porch feel to the jam. Norah shows her vocal swagger here, as she sways and rises with the flow of the band, again showing how keeping a tight group of musicians together is beneficial.
“The Sun Doesn’t Like You” and “Until The End” are a couple of mellow country numbers that highlight Levy’s picking. “The Sun” is driven by it along with Norah’s piano and Borger’s wonderful shuffling brushes. On “Until The End,” the Hammond B-3 organ quietly sighs in the background while Levy’s slow picking holds up the bridge.
“Not My Friend” has an eerie backwards electric guitar, and Norah’s tapping on the piano keys give it an oddly pretty, dripping sound, added to by the marimba doing the same. The acoustic guitar gives off a dreamlike sense of darkness that the vocals second; throughout the track, there is a tapping noise that adds to the haunting air of the entire tune. The lyrics are just as darkly dreamlike: “Your voice is ringing/ Just like the boys who laughed at me in school” and “You found a place/ No one should ever go” followed by “I’ll be o.k./ ‘Cuz when I back away/ I’m gonna keep the handle of your gun in sight.” This one has Fantasma in a spin. I can’t stop clicking on the back track button. I’m in a zombie trance over this one, I swear. Now that I’ve broken out of my trance thirty minutes later (no joke), on with the review…
Next is the single “Thinking About You,” which kicks us back up with the lively trumpet and tenor sax. The Hammond B-3 returns, a compliment to the Wurlitzer that Norah is pushing on. The solid, time-keeping drums and steady, soulful bass thump round out the rhythm, setting your head to boppin’ along. The lyrics aren’t happy pap on this either. It’s not that starry-eyed “thinking about you;” it’s more along the lines of “You hold my hand, but do you really need me/ I guess its time for me to let you go.” Shivers, daddy-o.
“Broken” finds the band as a three piece with a twist. Alexander plucks the “bowed basses,” Julia Kent gently saws at the cellos, and all the while our girl Norah strums the electric guitar. Now as far I know that’s a first right there but it gives the song a certain pop adding to the wisdom of these musicians and songwriters.
“My Dear Country” has the sting of political criticism and deals with the horrors of the day after the election. The trombone and tenor sax return, joined by the tuba for a quick romp for you see this one begins with just piano and vocals. After over two minutes, the rest of the band joins in for roughly twenty good seconds before quietly becoming the backdrop of the tune. “My Dear Country” is all Norah, taking you on a ride with her talents.
The album contains more country nods that find our kitten showing off that voice of hers on strong songs that spotlight the band as well. “Wake Me Up” has Norah on acoustic guitar this time, as well as the pump organ. Borger brings back the brushes and Alexander balances his up-right bass plucking with the lap steel that weeps softly throughout the song. “Rosie’s Lullaby” contains two electric guitars and turns the super-trooper (spotlight) on Robbie McIntosh on the solo. The twin guitars blend well and cry out gently to one another as Norah urges Rosie to close her eyes and dream.
“Little Room” and “Not Too Late” have the band broken down to three again. The first is a peppy number that has Norah in an upbeat mood while once more strumming on the acoustic guitar as Alexander gently slaps the bass and Daru Oda whistles up a storm. The title track is the closing tune, and we are left with the core three of Jones, Alexander, and Borger. A slow song about meeting with an old love, perhaps only in the mind and how we long to know what they have been up to. Oh, how much we can miss someone, knowing full well it can never be the same between us. Yet love is there but must be put aside for the simple reason that the relationship is harmful to both parties and separate paths have been chosen and must be followed. Love, as life is never easy.
This darkly poetic album has me caught in its net. From start to finish Norah Jones’ vocal prowess is outstanding and has her shining once more. Her voice and the master musicians behind her are as good as ever and again leave us longing for more. This forty-five minute CD, which I turned into three hours of listening pleasure, is well worth any wait that this dark-eyed kitten put us through. Until her next release I only hope that we can see another Little Willies platter put out, because if you can’t tell, Fantasma digs those kats the most. No matter what the future holds I’ll be spinning this one over and over again.
So that’s it and that’s all. I’m “trancing” out to track 5, ghoulies. Good night.
Saturday, March 03, 2007
Written by Tío Esqueleto
Trojan Records has been at the forefront of all things reggae since 1967. Roots, dub, dance hall, you name it, it’s all been featured, helped along, and in many cases, born under their imprint. The Trojan library ranges from mainstream crossover artists like Bob Marley and the Wailers, Inner Circle, and Toots and The Maytals, to artists such as Desmond Dekker, David “Scotty” Scott, and Horace Andy, equally valid artists you may not know about depending on your dedication to the genre. Needless to say, it is vast.
Now in their 40th year, Trojan has enlisted the help of fellow enthusiasts from all walks of the musical spectrum for its Artist’s Choice Jukebox series, a celebrity mix-tape for all things Trojan reggae. With recent releases from Don Letts and DJ Spooky already available plus future releases from Lee “Scratch” Perry and Fatboy Slim on the horizon, this latest installment finds Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood as “THE CONTROLLER.”
Greenwood’s take is an interesting one. After six months of listening to nothing but reggae, he forgoes the obvious crossover artists (no Marley, no Toots, no Circle), and instead opts for the aforementioned lesser-known superstars of the Trojan roster. This album is for the learned, which isn’t to say that one can’t, in turn, learn from it. At just under 70 minutes, his choices run the full gamut of their catalogue, each with a detailed description of both artist that penned it, as well as the song’s origin and impact. He is thorough and informative without coming off as a know it all. His passion and enthusiasm for the project are quite evident in his selections and the words that accompany them.
The opening track, “Dread Are The Controller” by Linvall Thompson, has heavyweights Sly and Robby providing the rhythm, and is the obvious inspiration for this installment’s title. Next up is Derrick Harriott’s rendition of Van McCoy’s “Let Me Down Easy.” Here we have the most accessible track on the compilation. Full of soul and oozing with crossover potential, it does a magnificent job of setting up the next two tracks in Greenwood’s wish list. Marcia Aitken’s “I’m Still In Love With You” and the legendary Gregory Isaacs’ “Never Be Ungrateful” are shining examples of the skillful songwriting and musicianship that have been displayed in their most traditional forms up to this point in the collection. It is with this next track that we venture into the other defining (and altogether Johnny Greenwood) side of reggae: its production values.
What better way to usher in the notion of the producer as reggae superstar than with Lee “Scratch” Perry, the obvious star of this compilation. In his liner notes, Greenwood compares Perry’s work to that of The Beatles during their experimental phase. Perry’s ability was to make the studio an instrument in itself. Not unlike Beatles producer George Martin, he made the traditional acoustic instruments, voices, and microphones, upon playback, sound nothing like the initial recording.
It comes as no surprise he would be so prominently featured by the man largely responsible for bringing Kid A and Amnesiac into the world. One need only listen to Greenwood’s own quirky instrumentation, laden with effects and trickery both in the studio and on stage to hear the profound effect that Lee Perry (and those that followed) has had on his work.
Perry appears three times in this collection. Track 5 is an out there, echo-heavy, solo effort entitled “Bionic Rats.” Track 8, “Black Panta,” is with his outfit The Upsetters and features a classic opening sampled prominently in fellow dub enthusiasts The Orb’s “Outlands.” The final Perry cut (track 15) is “Dreader Locks” and features Junior Byles, who shows up earlier in the compilation with a fairly straightforward, but altogether eerie, cover of “Fever,” another major highlight on the album. With similar efforts from Lloyd’s Allstars, The Heptones, and Marcia Griffiths, the album maintains this theme of traditional roots reggae interspersed with spaced-out, production-heavy dub.
Now, one might question the variety on such a compilation. The common complaint that “it all sounds alike” could be used here. To that, Greenwood simply asks that you take a listen. It’s in the little nuances throughout, subtle changes in tempo, rhythm, and overall mood. As an avid listener of all forms of minimalist techno, long form disco, and a variety of motion picture soundtracks (the closest I get to classical), I couldn’t agree more. There is far more here than what is picked up on a first listening.
Mr. Greenwood starts his liner notes by stating that he is still discovering Jamaican artists that he feels should have been included here. He wraps up by saying that this is by no means a “best of;” it is merely a starting point. If you come across something you like, be it voice, style, or tempo to simply pursue and enjoy. With that, there are two tracks in particular that I will be investigating further – Delroy Wilson’s “This Life Makes Me Wonder,” and my personal favorite, The Jahlights “Right Road To Dubland." Now, that’s what a good compilation is supposed to do.
Friday, March 02, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
High flying kicks, a stupendous explosion, and even with a mediocre plot, Jackie Chan’s Police Story 2 is a very enjoyable film. I say it’s due to the genius of Chan himself. His none-too-complicated stories provide more time for his top-of-the-line stunts and stunt team to make more of an impact and for this epic Jackie brought in U.S. pyrotechnics for his grand finale.
This follow-up to Police Story opens with a recap of the events leading to our hero, Chan, being demoted. Because of his offbeat manner of catching criminals, he’s busted down to traffic cop. The mob boss he put in prison is out on the streets again and begins to harass Chan and his longtime girlfriend. Meanwhile, a group of mad bombers are blowing things up around town. Chan quits after a few fights with mob henchmen but is promptly reinstated to help find the bombers, who find a way to kidnap said girlfriend. And it all rolls from there.
That’s about it as far as the plot goes. Our man wins, of course, recovers his girl, and all is well until Police Story 3. Yet it is Jackie Chan’s vision of what Hong Kong cinema could be that hooks you. Chan’s humor is great; a silent, surprising comic vibe fill his films. His Kung-Fu slapstick and desire for bigger and better drive the action to consistently new heights.
The three major fight scenes are awesome. Fight one in the restaurant serves as a true appetizer. The action is good and we know that Chan will do more in the next conflict. Here we notice the superhero image in the background. It’s a kick that the mob boss refers to Chan as “super-hero” or “super-cop,” depending if you’re watching the dubbed version or the original Cantonese with subtitles.
Fight two in the playground is the master fight for P.S. 2 (pardon the pun). Using his environment is a Chan trademark and here it shines like Hong Kong fireworks. Swing sets and monkey bars, it’s all part of the game for this masterful stunt crew. Falling through bars, over each other, and well, all over the damn place as our boy sends them flying in every direction, chasing their tails or fellow goons. Bravo!
Fight three is in the fireworks warehouse. It is with a guy we met a bit earlier, who works for the mad bombers. A weasely chap that looks like no problem for “super-cop,” yet little do we know that this guy kicks like an acrobatic mule. No matter because Chan can take it in stride and figure a way to beat this creep at his own game, by popping small explosives on him.
At this point everyone that’s a hassle is out of the way and Chan has his dame. But wait! During the fight some explosives were knocked over and set ablaze. Now our main man (and women) must run like they have never ran before, for you see the entire warehouse is about to blow sky high and send this one into action-movie history.
This conclusion was the biggest explosion in Hong Kong cinema up to that point. And who put it down on film? Our director Jackie Chan, that’s who. The man rented every camera in Hong Kong to make sure he caught every possible angle. That’s entertainment!
The DVD has some very informative and entertaining special features. The audio commentary by Rush Hour director Brett Ratner and Hong Kong cinema expert Bey Logan is insightful and interesting, with many facts about the filming and a creative look into Chan’s thinking. Logan leads us on an exciting location guide of P.S. 2 and we get to see how these places have changed since the original filming. “Stunts Unlimited” is a fascinating peek at the world of the Jackie Chan stunt team. A good view of how the magic is made and why we keep tuning in to Chan films.
Above all, in anything that Jackie Chan does he brings his honesty and sincerity to the project. It shows in his acting and directing, never settling for mediocrity in his action or comic antics. And that’s what makes him able to turn a simple police story into a blockbuster for the ages. Well, that and the outtakes at the end of his films, which are hilarious and bloody. You gotta love that and marvel at the fact that Chan is still alive after all those crazier than Jackass stunts and mishaps.
Thursday, March 01, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
I so wanted to see this film but never got the chance, and now that I have, I'm glad I didn't waste ten bucks on doing so. Robin Williams, Christopher Walken, Lewis Black, and Jeff Goldblum make up a cast of high-caliber talent led by director Barry Levinson. But what went wrong? Sure there was some jokes, some of which were politically funny, but what got lost here? Was the plot about a comedian becoming president via computer fraud too deep for the American public? I desperately wanted to like this movie but I kept getting let down.
Robin Williams gives a good performance along with Christopher Walken. Both men feed off of each other and their energy on the screen together is epic, along with Lewis Black cracking in. When these three men are together, there is some great laughter. This is what kept me going, though I couldn't understand why.
It hit me the second time I watched it. It had nothing to do with cast or direction or even the plot. It had to do with the way this movie was sold. We were waiting for the movie about Jon Stewart from The Daily Show becoming President with Bill Maher as his VP. What we ended up with was Man of the Year. The story falls far short from seeing Stewart rip through the political bullshiters, or Maher lambasting the talking heads of FOX News and the like. No, Man of the Year was a movie about a humorous political talk show host, Dobbs (Williams), who runs for president and leaves his smart-aleck ways back in the studio as he tries to really answer the issues.
To start off, there wasn't much build-up to why or how Dobbs became so idolized. We spend little time with him when he is on his show, and when we catch up with him on the campaign trail, he isn't making the crowds laugh. Although a third-party candidate, he amazingly had a chance to enter the debates. Right then you know this is Hollywood because the Republicans and Democrats would never let a third party in. It isn't until the debate where Dobbs gets a chance to let go and be funny, but like the engine on your old lawnmower it feels like its going to start, then nothing.
During the time we are waiting for Dobbs to go off about the stink of the political winds, we slowly learn that Delacory, the computer company who has given the country the best in electronic voting, has failed to report a glitch in the program. Eleanor Green (Laura Linney), who not only works for Delacory but also invented the system, uncovers it. When she brings it to the attention of her boss, she is dismissed. To cover their own butts in case Eleanor squeals to the press, she is labeled a drug addict and a loony. She decides to tell Dobbs as he starts to fall in love with her. As you can see we have deviated way off the path of "What if Jon Stewart became President?”
When it comes down to it, this movie didn't flop because everything sucked. Actually, nothing in the movie sucked at all. Like I said before, the cast was great, the jokes were funny, and they did get to stick it to the oil companies, kind of, but it wasn't what the audience was looking for. Kind of like the last elections, where most people voted with the thought of "let’s find a new strategy in our foreign policy" and what we ended up getting was more "stay the course."
Man of the Year is a nice movie, but the American public, and me in particular, were waiting for some hard-hitting comedy concerning the political system in this country and how the people in charge only care about the voters when it's time to vote.
Too bad the film couldn't hit its mark. Maybe if they had marketed differently, or maybe if Hollywood had any balls, they would have come out with a stronger story. Either way, they waffled, be it with comedy or with the voter fraud aspect, the story never got moving, and with a cast of jolly jokers, the studio probably should have let the comedians write the script this time.
As I put this movie on the shelf, I still have a lot of unanswered questions regarding scenes in this movie, but then, as my eye catches the digital clock on the wall, I suddenly remember.... Oh shit, it's time for The Daily Show, gotta get the bong...then later, Bill Maher.