Tuesday, July 31, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
It is now the summer of 2007 and by most accounts the Iraq War isn’t turning out the way the Bush administration had planned, or at least that’s what Democrats, the mainstream media, returning vets, the late great Pat Tillman and, by most polls, 68% of the U.S. public say. The few dissenting voices before the invasion stated that winning the war would be easy; it’s winning the peace that really counts. So, what was the Bush Plan? Was it like the Marshal Plan?
In No End In Sight, Charles Ferguson brings us the people who were there to start the rebuilding of that war-torn country after their government had fell. General Paul Hughes was in charge of the total reconstruction. He still can’t believe how poorly and how deliberately the Bush administration took care of its promise to bring peace and democracy. Get ready for the real shock and awe.
Ferguson opens us up with a speech by Donald Rumsfeld where he thanks Pres. Bush for understanding what most Americans didn’t about this “not well known, not well understood, and very complex war.” To think he was talking about the American public. No End In Sight will open your eyes to see how badly the administration handled post-war Iraq and how that relates to the problems we have today.
When invading another country you would like the civilian population to be on your side. To this, humanitarian relief and aid are needed, referred to as “winning the hearts and minds.” During WWII, the allies had planned for the occupation of Germany two years prior to the invasion of Europe. The Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid (ORHA) was set up by the Bush administration and were given sixty days to come up with a plan to reconstruct Iraq. Sixty days, that’s what you give your landlord when you’re going to move out of an apartment.
We hear from over a dozen people, civilians and officials, who give first-hand accounts about how they were recruited by the White House to help with the occupation but were then removed when their voices spoke out about how the situation on the ground was truly being handled. Ret. Gen. Jay Garner, who in the first Gulf War was in command of the humanitarian aide and was put in charge of ORHA this time around. He tells of the complete ineptitude the administration had towards ORHA and those who were there to help the Iraqi people. Richard Armitage, then Deputy Secretary of State tells us of the struggle he and his boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell, had with Rumsfeld and others about the troop levels needed for an occupation. Amazingly, Armitage and Powell were the only ones in the Bush administration who had ever seen combat, yet the dogs of war held those battle vets at bay.
We come to understand that the real problems started when the U.S. let the looting begin. Rumsfeld joked that the news channels were showing the same vase being stolen over and over again, and things like this happen even during riots in America. Marines and others on the ground tell a different story, one not of people stealing diapers and food or televisions and golf clubs, but of people stealing heavy machinery parts from power plants and other industrial facilities. It was said people were chipping away at concrete walls to take out the rebar. This isn’t your every day looting, and it actually showed the world this administration didn’t care about the Iraqi people. A report just this month shows that more than half of Iraqis are without clean water, food, and medical aid—all which a devastated nation needs to get back on its feet.
No End In Sight shows what those first voices of dissent were saying, which was this administration had no plan for post-war Iraq. They were called naysayers and far-left Bush haters, but as this quagmire goes on we now see through the bullshit the White House, along with its mouthpiece the Fox Opinion Channel, throws at us, and we don’t believe it anymore. This documentary connects the dots from the end of Desert Strom right up to the Surge, which we know is like a kid putting his finger in a dike as other leaks spout all around him. Those who had the gut instinct to speak out against the “plan” this administration had for Iraq will see this and say, “I knew it all along.” Those on the side of the President will push this aside as leftist propaganda, but for the ones still on the fence, the people who don’t watch the news or don’t want to get involved, this might sway your opinion.
The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina was a mirror reflection of how the Bush administration and the Republican Congress dropped the ball when it came to being the world’s leader. If we are supposed to be bringing truth and justice to people, it would be beneficial to us along with those who we are helping, to protect them from chaos and instill some type of law and order, to have a plan to stabilize the infrastructure, and aid those in need. When invading a country, this looks good on a resume, you know. If this flick had come out back in 2004 things might be different, but as it stands right now, we are stuck between a rock and a hard place and with the lack of any leadership coming from the White House.
The first war of the twenty first century today, still has no end in sight.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Have you heard the news! There’s good rockin’ tonight and it’s coming from the return of Rockabilly legends Robert Gordon and Chris Spedding. Vocalist Gordon and guitarist Spedding pay tribute to Elvis Presley with their new release, It’s Now Or Never. These gentlemen are joined by the King’s backing vocalists The Jordanaires on fifteen tracks that range from the well known to the obscure. The CD is perfectly timed to hit shelves on the thirty-year anniversary of Elvis’ passing,
These two first teamed up when Spedding became guitarist for Gordon’s backing band The WildCats by replacing guitar hero/master Link Wray. Producing some good albums and ripping live venues apart, these kats scored with a cover of the classic “Red Hot” and Bruce Springsteen’s gift to Gordon, “Fire.” After spending twenty years apart, the voice and the guitar tear it up again with this collection of tunes first made popular by “the hillbilly kat,” Mr. Elvis Presley.
From reeling and rockin’ to slow and low Gordon has chosen tracks that represent the power and emotion that Elvis could convey when he wasn’t singing about crap such as clam bakes or luaus. Gordon’s vocals are as strong as ever on ballads where he pleads “Don’t Leave Me Now,” “Love Me,” and the swinging title track “It’s Now Or Never.” On the latter Gordon shows off the power in his baritone voice as The Jordanaires recreate their smooth group harmony behind him. Gordon’s voice is reminiscent of Elvis’ but is deeper and more gruff, giving him a sound all his own.
Spedding begins to cut his way and be heard on some of the King’s bluesy sides, turning tunes like “A Mess Of Blues,” “Trying To Get to You,” and “It Feels So Right” into grittier, mean-sounding gems from an after-hour’s juke joint. The original session guitarist had the vibe but its Spedding’s talent and feelings pushing these songs further, reminding us that with the right guitar slinger these songs are street level, greasy blues tunes.
The two rockabilly titans are strongest on the up-tempo numbers. It’s here that Spedding swings his ax with a style that adds to the original arrangements while showcasing Gordon’s fierce vocals. Songs like “I’m Left, You’re Right, She’s Gone,” and “Too Much” are given new life and jump just as much as the previous versions. “My Baby Left Me” hits hard and fast, leaving you asking for more, which our heroes gladly supply by tackling one of the holiest of Elvis’ tunes, “Don’t Be Cruel.” Many consider this song untouchable and would rather it be left alone, but bravely they step and rock it almost as well as the King himself. Gordon’s mature vocals conjure up images of an older Elvis performing in his ’68 comeback prime as Spedding gives the tune more of a country slant
The track that pulls it all together is “I Beg Of You.” Gordon asserts himself as an older, wiser vocalist. Spedding’s picking and strumming jives well with The Jordanaires whose peppy backing chores shine as bright as one of the King’s pinky rings. And no true Elvis tribute can be complete with out the spiritual that the King loved so much, “Peace In The Valley;” which is given a fine treatment by this talented group of performers.
In It’s Now Or Never you’ll get a fresh take on a few Elvis tunes that jump and swing with a life of their own. The rockabilly world is thankful that Gordon ditched his punk band the Tuff Darts to pursue his love of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll. He carried the torch for music that might have died with Elvis.
There are plenty of good rockabilly bands making the scene now but Gordon hit at a time when this brand of rock was at a low point. Elvis himself shied away from it at the end of his career, focusing more on being a jumpsuit-wearing entertainer. Gordon appeared and stripped this music back to its roots and drawing from the energy of his punk rock beginnings was able to breathe fire and attitude back into the rebellious music known as Rockabilly, the punk rock of the 1950s. So it’s now or never, ghoulies. Enjoy the coming month because it’s not often that Elvis and rockabilly will be celebrated as much as it will be this August.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
Written by Hombre Divertido
Presented in its original form of three segments per episode, this classic set contains 20 episodes of which most contain two Space Ghost adventures and one installment of Dino Boy.
At first glance one can see why this series has been so popular with children for such a long time. The artwork was ahead of its time, the sound effects and music enhance each story perfectly, the vocal talents involved are nothing short of legendary, and the heroes are all one would want and expect. The characters are clearly defined, the stories easy to follow, and the good guys always win.
Just seeing the packaging and cuing up the first episode to the classic sound of Gary Owens' narration will entice the young viewer, and thrust the older viewers back to 1966 and a desire for a bowl of cereal.
At second glance after viewing one or two episodes, one can’t help but immediately notice the similarities in the stories between our heroes. Perhaps it was not as noticeable forty years ago when we would view one episode a week, but having all of them together makes it painfully obvious. There was only one basic story for all the episodes including the Dino Boy segments. That may be disappointing for some, but given the time limitations of each segment, there was little time to tell too detailed of a story. One might also notice the crossover in vocal talent, or that the music used in the epilogues of both Space Ghost and Dino Boy is the same.
So there are both pros and cons here: If you can appreciate how ahead of its time Space Ghost was from a production standpoint, you will certainly enjoy the look back. If you are looking for more than just the cartoons from the sixties, there is not much here. The packaging is colorful but a little skimpy and the two disks in the set are not even marked. As for extras: Only a lengthy, vague, and overly dramatic feature length profile of artist Alex Toth is included. Mr. Toth obviously was a talented artist who played a significant role in the development of Space Ghost, but how significant is not remotely covered in this long-winded documentary.
Noticeably missing from this set is a Space Ghost Origin segment. As in most cartoons of that era, Dino Boy episodes open with the brief explanation of how he came to be where he is. No such information is provided for Space Ghost, Jan and Jace (The Twins that don’t look alike) or Blip.
The highlight of the set has to be the six-part Space Ghost episode in which our heroes not only face the Council of Doom (An obvious inspiration for the Legion of Doom who would later battle The Super Friends) but also meet up with several other members of the Hanna Barbera stable of cartoon heroes including Mightor, The Herculoids, Moby Dick, and Shazzan. Only second to that would be the vocal talents of the legendary Gary Owens, Don Messick, Ted Cassidy, and others who are amazing to hear in these classics.
Recommendation: Young children will enjoy the quality and simplicity. Older fans looking for a trip down memory lane should watch it in doses. Looking for more than just the cartoons? Look elsewhere.
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
Hey, gang, last month Pearl Jam came out with a seven disc set that contained recordings of three separate concerts performed live at the Gorge Amphitheater in Eastern Washington. The concert dates were 9/01/05, 7/22 & 23/06, and my buddy Smitty, who follows PJ like the FBI followed Lennon, confirmed to me that these were fantastic shows. Pearl Jam has become one of the cornerstones of modern rock n’ roll and they don’t disappoint when it comes to live shows.
I was given a sample disc of twelve tracks ranging from the three concerts. It had songs like “Alone”, “Army Reserve”, and “Given to Fly” along with “World Wide Suicide”. From the flavor of this disc, I feel this set will sound just as clean. With each song you can hear the crowd in the background as they become immersed in the moment of the show. The crowd sounds do not infringe on the music at all. The complete seven-disc set also includes unreleased material, cover songs, and of course crowd favorites, of which I truly don’t know because I have yet to attend a Pearl Jam concert, though I would like to.
Everything I have seen online regarding this set and from what I’ve heard off of the sample disc lead me to believe this is a great set to have, unless you already have these shows live. This is where I have a problem with the record industry as they slowly release music with a couple of extras here and there to keep the fan buying songs they might already have. Smitty told me he would still buy the set although he already had a copy of the 7/22 show. He didn’t tell me where he got it or if that show had been released on its own earlier. True fans like Smitty will gobble this up just because it came from Pearl Jam, kind of like me when it comes to the Dead or Miles Davis.
No CD or DVD compares to being at a live show, especially a Pearl Jam show, so I’m told, but as technology improves, the sounds coming out of your entertainment center, PC, or i-Pod get better thus bringing you closer to the show while sitting in your home. This little disc packed a real punch and I would assume the seven CDs will kick your ass. Given the power of the music Pearl Jam plays, I’m impressed they captured it on only seven discs.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
Unlike other compilation discs you have heard me whine about, Choice Cuts, which covers Widespread Panic’s time on Capricorn from 1991–1999, takes a different view on what to put on such discs. Listing to the evolution of a band who has kept their dream alive by playing the way they want can have interesting twists and turns and WSP is no different. Choice Cuts chronicles the small drop of history that has helped shape a band’s ever-expanding following.
The first two tracks are from a time just before they signed on with Capricorn. “Travelin’ Light” (written by J. J. Cale) and “Chilly Water” off their debut Space Wrangler introduce you to their blend of Southern Jam Rock. Picking up where the Dead left off and adding a hard Lynyrd Skynyrd edge to the instrumental jamming is how WSP carved its niche into the music biz. Though these two tracks were recorded around the same time in 1988, they have distinctly different sounds.
Switching up the vocals between guitarist John Bell, bassist Dave Schools, and keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann, who joined the band in 1992, gives the band a different texture to each song. The Jimmy Pagesque guitar playing by Michael Houser and Bell brings a deeper and more complex musical drive. This can be heard in “Rebirtha” off of Bombs and Butterflies. It has a ragtime swing along with some powerful guitar work. This tune, which last a good seven minutes and twenty seconds, has become my favorite one so far. The instrumental section is full of passion and soul; this draws you into the lyrics that become as complex as the melodies.
Each track on Choice Cuts is like a snowflake in the sense that each song has a different vibe to it, though the root of Southern Jam holds it all together. “Blue Indian” which keeps the ragtime beat along with piano, adds the western swing sound of the slide guitar. This track is totally different than the one that follows, “Climb To Saftey”. There we feel more of the Southern Rock as the guitars scream and fly through the melody the bass and drums are pounding out. “Weight of the World” is a funky dance number driven by Memphis horns and “Papa's Home” starts as wonderful slow blues before taking off for parts unknown. The disc closes with two tracks from their first live album Light Fuse Get Away, including “Pickin' Up The Pieces” when they were joined by saxophonist Branford Marsalis.
WSP is one of the few rock bands out there that can take you on a heavy trip and still bring you back in one piece. If you are new to WSP like me, this is a great CD to have, because it gives you a window into the sound of a band and it reflects the feelings they have expressed over the past decade or so. A very enjoyable disc, one I would suggest for those who appreciate fine rock that opens itself to other attributes of different musical genres. This compilation is a must-have. This time I have to thank the record companies. Ugh, I think I just threw up in my mouth.
See you in the parking lot.
Sunday, July 15, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey & Fumo Verde
Days Of Glory adds a new chapter for many of us to the tale of World War II. It is centered on Arabs and French soldiers fighting for different reasons.
The basic plot of Days Of Glory is one we have seen before during many Sunday afternoons. Volunteers of an occupied territory (in this case North Africa) join the army to liberate their mother country (France) and fight against a greater evil (Nazi Germany). Our core group of heroes goes through the trials of being the new recruits and low men on the totem pole. They get their first taste of combat and face some sort of major battle or tragic loss (losing all but four men in a mine field) before the grand finale where they fight to the death to hold the position, down to the last man. All the while, the sergeant is a jerk who shows moments of feelings and heart for his troops.
What sets this film apart is its twist to this tale. Our heroes are Arabs, one of whom only has one hand, from Algeria and they fight with other “African Troops.” The prejudices they face are greater than merely being new recruits. They are seen as cannon fodder, for the most part, in the eyes of the regular French military leaders and soldiers. We are shown this in the first battle scene and can sense it throughout the film. The Arabs have to fight for respect and personnel liberties, proving that they can perform and lead just like anyone else. Fumo points out that its much like the American Civil War film Glory with its story of African-Americans former slaves and freemen seen as lesser soldiers because of who they are and the color of their skin.
At times the story of Days Of Glory comes across as too layered. Multiple layers are fine in most cases when there is three hours to fully explore certain elements, but here some elements are shown in a single scene and appear simply thrown in. We understand them, but agree that they add more questions. One example is a church scene with two of our main characters. Why they stumble into the church is unknown; perhaps to secure it? They resist looting the collection box while gazing at a mural of the crusades; they even make the comment of how much the Christian god has suffered. The point being that our boys have respect for other people’s myths like every other descent person of the world.
Example two: after the first battle, there is a scene where a German soldier is attaching our one-armed wonder. We see the sergeant save him but have no idea why or how he was there in the first place. The scene shows why the one-armed fellow loves the sergeant so much and becomes his lackey.
Bringing us to another question, why in the hell is a one-armed man in the army to begin with? He joined that way and it’s not like the army would overlook such a thing. He doesn’t get much crap for being a might handicapped, either. I think his fellow soldiers would have given him hell for it since it’s not like it adds to his ability as a warrior.
Then there are the unexplored origins of the sergeant. His past is reveled as his lackey finds a photo with “Mother” written on the back. Sarge’s mom is an Arab, making him a half-breed. He hides his past to gain rank in the French army, shades of Hitler himself, and when called on his past, Sarge gets violent and abusive towards his lackey.
No war film is complete without a story of lovers torn apart. One of the boys is with a French woman for one, yes one, night. They fall madly in love yet are kept apart by the war. The terrible army even goes as far as refusing to allow letters to pass between the two lamenting lovers, revealing that they are and capable of love.
Strong points of the film include the fine shots of the countryside. The director has a beautiful and creative way of opening some sequences by moving from black and white to color. As the Germans are beaten back and as the army advances the cloud of doom is being lifted from the land. The tale itself is a strong point and the acting is fine, but it’s the over all plot that could have been done better. The message is a simple one: in the end these soldiers fought and died for the greater good of mankind and wound up with nothing. The African soldiers even had their pensions stalled, and to most of the world they were forgotten as fighters in that war.
Included on the DVD is a short film titled “The Colonial Friend,” whose plot would have made a more memorable full-length film while telling the story of these unsung heroes. The way it stands now we have a good story rolled into an average WWII plot.
Tuesday, July 03, 2007
Transformers – More than meets the eye, and substantially less than meets the brain.
If you are looking for a movie that will bring the toys and cartoons to life, this is the film for you. The special effects are amazing. If you are looking for any kind of story, stick with the cartoons. This film makes no sense at all.
It is a good hour into the film before we get any kind of explanation as to what is going on, but said information becomes useless as the story…wait, that’s too generous, as the film progresses. By then we have seen our forces in the Middle East get slaughtered, which was far more disturbing than entertaining, and we are still waiting to be introduced to characters we came to see.
Though the plot is missing, the performances are not bad, the characters are likable, and the dialog actually contains some pleasant humor, but eventually you will find yourself asking questions and counting the GM logos. Questions like how are people able to run away from something that big? How are robots not seen when they appear to be in plain sight? What exactly happened at the end with that cube? In a movie called Transformers, shouldn’t we have gotten to know the robots a little more and some of the humans a little less?
It’s a little unclear as to who the target audience is here. It is far too violent for young children, older kids may not know who the Transformers are, and it makes far too little sense for adults. The ending certainly set up a sequel and certainly left the audience wanting more, which is normally good, except in this case the more is a plot. Perhaps they could include that in the next one.
For a movie over two hours, one might expect a longer review, but since a review would normally give some insight into the story, and there was none, I can’t transform this into anything bigger.
Recommendation: The special effects won’t be as good on a DVD, so if that’s what you’re looking for, go see this. For a better action movie with a hint of a story; go see Live Free or Die Hard.