Friday, August 31, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
Bruce Hornsby is back and his range has expanded. He has made a fantastic career of blending musical genres, such as jazz, bluegrass, and folk, into his own distinct kind of blue-collar rock n’ roll sound. Camp Meeting is a serious jazz album with a wide variety of compositions that include jams from Monk, Miles, and Trane. Along with Christian McBride on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, two highly accomplished jazz musicians themselves, Camp Meeting proves beyond any doubt the talent of these three men.
I have to start with the first track “Questions and Answers.” Composed by Ornette Coleman but never released, the trio brings it to life as a quick and chipper tune that pounces about. Jumbling and almost unorganized, the music opens up as the piano zips amongst the scales while bass and drum push the tempo along firing away like a six-cylinder engine. This is followed by “Charles, Woody, and You,” (a Hornsby-Charles Ives composition) which has a backbeat that sounds like Miles’ Kind of Blue, yet it contains a sporadic Charles Mingus charm.
“Solar” follows, and on this track Miles would be proud. It shows how well these men have honed in their talents. Be it Hornsby’s effortless dance with the keys or McBride’s stroll along his bass chords, the solos reflect the hard work and effort these guys put into this CD. DeJohnette rips into a drum solo that finishes off with cymbal shots that boost the energy this trio puts out.
“Camp Meeting” the title track, has a rock rhythm to it. McBride’s bass seems to swing about as DeJohnette drives the beat and Hornsby’s piano tells the tale. This is an original by Hornsby and if anyone has ever had doubts about his ability to compose jazz, this track will put them to rest. But he isn’t the only master musician here and he would be the first to point that out.
Christian McBride is the son of the great jazz bassist Lee Smith and his uncle is Howard Cooper, another amazing jazz bassist. McBride has played with a wide range of people that include Chick Correa, Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, and James Brown. In 2000 he fronted his own band called the Christian McBride Band. Jack DeJohnette has a resume a mile long too, and it includes artists such as Keith Jarrett, whose composition “Death and Flowers” is the fourth track on the album. It has a delicate piano solo that captures the grace and spirit of what true artistry really is. Both DeJohnette and McBride have made their names in the world of jazz and bringing their talents together was a great idea. Hornsby knows how to surround himself with incredible musicians and Camp Meeting isn’t any different.
Whether it’s the improvised style of Monk or the genuine soul of Miles or the swinging structure of Coltrane, the trio tries to capture it all in eleven tracks, and they do a pretty damn good job. Anyone with an ear for jazz will enjoy this CD as it ranges the jazz spectrum. Camp Meeting brings all the ideas together, and what great ideas they are.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Written by Tío Esqueleto
KISSOLOGY: Vol. 2 is the latest installment of KISS's vast video history. From promo spots and newsreels, to television appearances and live shows, KISS documented nearly everything they ever did. Dedicated fans have bought, sold, and traded this material in various bootlegged formats at conventions and online for years now. Here, finally, are the official releases, straight from the vault, all cleaned up and, for the most part, exactly as you remember them.
I must say I was not prepared to enjoy this offering nearly as much as I did. I am a die-hard KISS fan. More so, I am a dedicated Ace Frehley and Peter Criss fan. Those other two guys? Yeah, I like them, but only when book-ended by Peter and Ace. It's all about the original lineup for me. If it doesn't have them, it simply does not do it for me. So, you can imagine my surprise when I found myself really digging the material at hand. More on that in a second, but first a brief history of KISS '78 - '91.
1978 was a strange year for KISS. They were at the pinnacle of their fame. They had just come off of their biggest tour to date with Love Gun and were in the midst of filming their first (and only) movie. It also marked the release of their four solo albums, in which each member assembled his own band in an effort to better demonstrate their individual tastes and talents. The idea was that each member would do his own thing, dedicating the albums to each other; all in an effort to still do everything under the KISS umbrella. This was to ultimately keep the band together, rather than taking some time off, or outright splitting them up. It worked...for about a year. Inevitably, it signaled the beginning of the end for the original four.
1979 saw the release of Dynasty and ushered in their short-lived disco era. This both gained and lost some fair-weather fans, as well as utterly confusing the die-hard fans who were now affectionately and officially known as The KISS Army. By this time Peter and Ace had fallen so far into drugs and alcoholism, that it was really taking its toll on the band. Couple that with Peter's head strong desire to make it on his own, and you've got the end of the original four. Was Peter fired? Did he quit on his own accord, citing personal and creative differences? The answer differs depending on whom you ask. Either way, now it was Gene, Paul, and Ace at the start of a new decade with one ridiculously large drum riser to fill.
The 1980s saw a new KISS emerge with drummer Eric Carr taking on his role as "The Fox". We also saw the release of The Elder, the band's overly ambitious and ill-received concept album. Just what the concept was I'm still not sure. By the end of 1982, Ace had finally had enough. Not liking where the band was headed, feeling the loss of his good friend Peter, and not without a few problems of his own, Ace finally called it quits to embark on a fairly successful solo career. With the addition of Vinnie Vincent in 1982, KISS went on tour with the fan favorite, Creatures of The Night and, unknowingly, gave it one last go around with the make-up.
In 1983, KISS ditched the make-up and costumes with Lick It Up, and instead opted for the no less garish, torn fluorescents and big hair that were synonymous with the growing glam metal movement of the time. Ace proved difficult to replace as Vincent was fired at the end of the Lick tour in March 1984 and Mark St. John, who played on Animalize, was let go at the beginning of that supporting tour due to health reasons. They would finally land on Bruce Kulick, who would continue to work with the band well into the '90s, and up to the eventual reuniting of the original four.
Which brings us to KISSOLOGY: Vol. 2. I was quite upset to find that when the first KISSOLOGY came out, it only went to 1977. I thought why would you make us original four fans buy a whole other volume, just to get those last two glorious years of footage? Sounded like a very Gene & Paul thing to do, in an attempt to make themselves even richer. I'm not completely convinced that it wasn't; however, to their credit, they did the right thing. After all, those two years really weren't so glorious. You've got drugs, alcohol, and ego tearing the band apart, as well as an era that, aside from myself, nobody really seems to like. Pretty smart to leave the glory years to the first volume, and make the second volume the transition and rebirth edition. That is basically what you've got here.
Highlights include, "The Land Of Hype And Glory" (excerpt). This originally aired on NBC news on January 10th, 1978. Basically, it's a gorgeous vintage newsreel featuring the KISS phenomenon at its peak, narrated by a rather skeptical Edwin Newman. His disdain is palpable as he struggles to interview what was then America's biggest rock band. I absolutely love it! This is the stuff we've been patiently waiting for, even if we had no idea it ever existed.
Next, it's KISS In Attack of the Phantoms, from 1979. Here is, hands down, the single greatest contribution to this volume. As I mentioned earlier, in 1978 KISS was asked if they'd like to make Star Wars meets A Hard Day's Night. Being the huge Beatles fans that they were, and considering where they were headed, it seemed the logical thing to do. What resulted was KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. It was made by Hanna-Barbera for NBC television and you can tell. It is legendary to both KISS fans and lovers of all things schlocky. If you've never seen it, think an old episode of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, except that it stars KISS, with real magical powers, and uses Magic Mountain as its backdrop rather than Universal Studios. That's the best way I can think to describe the glorious cheese on display here.
Up until now, only poor quality, bootleg copies were available on DVD or your old worn-out VHS copy. If you're a KISS Army member, you have one. Now, with this box set, you get the international theatrical cut dubbed for larger distribution as KISS In Attack of the Phantoms. First and foremost it is widescreen, 2.35:1, so now, instead of looking like an episode of Battlestar Galactica, it looks more like Battlestar Galactica: The Movie. Hallelujah!! I cannot tell you what a huge difference this makes. It also contains an alternate intro (KISS still sings "Rock And Roll All Night" while towering over the rides at Magic Mountain, don't worry), as well as multiple deleted scenes, and a variety of different edits. Most noticeably, all of the music has been swapped out for the theatrical version. Gone are the funky, canned, sounds of the Hanna-Barbera band. Instead, in their place, you get various excerpts from the solo albums. I'm still not sure how I feel about this as some of it just doesn't work, so hold on to those old VHS tapes. There was a charm to the old soundtrack, and it really added to the overall vibe.
The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder from 1979. Another legendary bit of Kisstory, this is the one KISS fans know as the footage where Gene is noticeably really pissed at Ace for being completely wasted on national television. Up until now I had only seen snippets, and I just have to say...ho-lee-shit! You find that each member is pretty sick of the next. Nobody can get a straight answer out without the other one stealing his thunder. Sure Ace is rocked, really really rocked, but he is far from the most embarrassing one on screen. In the liner notes, Paul goes on to say "The truth is, we probably could have used more of Ace's personality and point of view than ours, at that point". He pretty much nailed it. It's a train wreck in the best possible way.
Next up is a rare performance on ABC televisions Fridays from 1982. First off, it is always nice to see footage from this often-forgotten sketch show. Here, we have what is pretty much the only live footage of anything having to do with The Elder. You get three actual live performances (some better than others) of "The Oath," "A World Without Heroes," and "I." Say what you will, but this is some pretty interesting stuff to say the least. I don't hate The Elder. I still just don't get it. This helps....kind of.
There is also a bevy of live performances. However, there is one glaring omission. "KISS, Live in Largo Maryland in 1979." This was always one of my favorite bootlegs if not my favorite. For a fan of the Dynasty era, this was all you had. I'm told that depending on where you purchase the set, you could get it as the bonus disc. For instance, my copy's bonus disc was "KISS Live at Budokan in 1988", part of the Crazy Nights Tour. Being the only known taping of a Dynasty-era show, I cannot fathom why it wasn't included as one of the main features on disc one.
All in all, for fans of this transitional era, this is really quite a collection of live shows. The setlists are spot-on for their respective eras, and it's kind of cool to hear the different versions of the classics as played by Carr and Vincent. Now, there's something I never would have thought would ever come out of my mouth, but it's true. Nice to have it there if you ever need it.
KISS made it a point to document nearly everything they ever did, and here is just the second installment. As a staunch advocate of the original four, I had my mind made up that I would only ever watch the first disc. I have to say, I am pleasantly surprised to find just how much I enjoyed this second installment of the KISSOLOGY series, all three discs. Here's hoping for another installment. Something tells me, with the next one, I just may get to see Peter and Ace again.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
In this latest release by Johnny Cash, he shows what a true musical treasure he is. With The Great Lost Performance, recorded in July of 1990, we have a chance to hear Johnny years before he was “rediscovered” by the world at large through his American Recordings and just before he and his kind became total outcasts of modern country music. He stands tall and strong with his unique voice and raw storytelling abilities, easily capable of transporting you into the world of his youth and the dark realms of his mind.
Johnny opens this live set from Asbury Park, New Jersey, with a burning rendition of “Ring Of Fire.” Without a horn section the guitars fill in nicely as the key sound of the chorus, and from the moment he hits the mic you know who is in charge. His voice is still solid and strong containing only a hint of his age as opposed to the end of his career. Not a bad thing at all, just the final phase of the man’s gift.
Next, Johnny eases into the gospel songs usually reserved for the later part of his shows, “Life’s Railway To Heaven” and “A Wonderful Time Up There.” The latter is an awesome gospel boogie where you can hear the influence for some of Johnny’s secular tunes, most notably “Luther Played The Boogie.” The song also has a wonderful introduction about the blessed day that his voice dropped and gave the world the gift that we know and love. The gospel set also highlights the sweet harmonies of the Carter Sisters Anita, Helen, and June.
Johnny then slides smoothly into two of his classics, “Folsom Prison Blues” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Both are tales of a darker side brought to life and made believable by Johnny’s own experiences. When he sings of beer for breakfast on a Sunday morning, you know he’s done it and you know at one point in his darkest days he could have come close to killing a man.
Two new songs, the Psalm-inspired “What Is Man” and the road tune “Forty Shades of Green,” find their way into this recording. The former is a duet with the sweet-voiced Lucy Clark, who sounds somewhat like June Carter Cash, and reflects upon man’s existence and role on Earth. The latter was written in Ireland with map in hand as Johnny picked out rhyming town names, strung them together, and a song was born about an Irish lad that misses a certain lass.
The next five tracks compose “Come Along And Ride This Train,” a set that springs from the days of the Johnny Cash television show and basically tells stories from his life. From tales of his youth (“Five Feet High And Rising,” “Pickin’ Time,” and “A Beautiful Life.”) to the day he walked into Sun Studios to record his first single. (“Hey Porter.”) All the while the signature Cash train rhythm rumbles steadily on behind him.
More interesting tales follow and are masterfully told by the hero of the common man and outlaw. “Ragged Old Flag” is about an old gentleman reflecting on the days of glory that the town flag has seen. “Tennessee Flat Top Box.” is a little ditty about a dark-haired boy who picks his guitar and hypnotizes all the women “from nine to ninety.” Two more folk tales of old are the western classic “Ghost Riders In The Sky” and the train anthem “The Wreck Of Old ’97.”
Joining Johnny on “Jackson” and “Old ‘97” is the love of his life, June, who tells the audience about her husband’s recent dental woes. She has an honesty and sincerity in her speaking voice that makes you listen, believe, and understand. Even telling a simple story of every day life she has the crowd in the palm of her hand. After he introduces the band, Johnny closes the show with his classic love song and one of his biggest hits “I Walk The Line.” At this time he had no idea how that song along “Folsom Prison Blues” would affect the world in about ten years time.
Throughout this CD we get a chance to hear Johnny Cash on stage at his best, telling stories of his song’s origins and joking with the crowd just as he had done back in ’68 at Folsom Prison. The classic attitude of “I’ll say what I want to and do as I like okay” is always a pleasure to hear. It reassures us that he is still the Cash of old, a simple man speaking his mind and singing with his heart while delivering a knockout performance. Listen to the intro to “Ragged Old Flag” to hear Johnny in top form talking about the freedom and rights of Americans.
Today the man’s music and name can still be seen and heard everywhere. I’m glad that this American original can be celebrated all over the world on t-shirts, posters, stickers, hell even in song titles. My God somewhere I’m sure he’s on a velvet portrait, too, just like Elvis.
Monday, August 27, 2007
Written by Tio Esquelto
Let me start by stating that I absolutely love Wrong Turn. I just love it! It was this little movie that nobody went to, by a no-name director, that unknowingly ushered in this new era of R-rated horror and over-the-top gore that have become the industry standard over the last few years. It predated the Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake (often thought of as the start of the new wave), The Hills Have Eyes remake, as well as the more torture-driven Saw and Hostel films. Up to this point it had been PG-13, WB-casted tripe, still riding the Scream wave. That, or another American remake of an Asian horror film that wasn’t that great to begin with.
Wrong Turn recalled a simpler time in the horror genre. A time when kids would end up in the woods, a monster/killers (or in this case one in the same) was in the woods, and the kids are done in one by one, each assigned a more gruesome and interesting death than the last. A tried-and-true method, with somebody bound to survive, just who would it be?
To better stack the deck in their favor, they enlisted creature-effects artist extraordinaire, Stan Winston, to helm the special effects. Winston’s team delivered brilliant creature effects with their three, comic-bookesque, inbred psycho mountain men. Most importantly, they went no-holds barred with good old-fashioned splatter-effects-laden kills. Human-on-human gore, not excluding decapitation, cannibalism, severed limbs, torn flesh, and guts-guts-guts! All of which had all but dried up by the start of the 1990s.
Throw in a couple of extremely likable protagonists, a simple-but-relentless script with the necessary clichés firmly in place, and an unknown director who has a knowledge of and seems to genuinely care about those that came before him, and you’ve got a damn fine little horror film in Wrong Turn.
Then, there is Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, which with nearly all of the above went straight out the window, down the crapper, or whatever cliché you prefer. Instead, you get seven unlikable, unbearable nitwits, and Henry Rollins, who is no less unbearable. Why Henry? Why? You also get a ridiculous reality TV show premise, misplaced and unnecessary over-the-top camera work, and some piss-poor creature effects. The one thing that remains is the hard ‘R’ gore. The kills are single-handedly the one thing Wrong Turn 2 has going for it although even that runs its course prematurely.
The film starts out with real-life American Idol reject, Kimberly Caldwell, driving through the West Virginia backwoods on her way to a yet undisclosed reality show taping. She’s lost and late, and calls her agent (played over the phone by comedian Patton Oswalt – Why Patton? Why?) for a little direction. While on the phone, she turns off the beaten path and loses cell phone signal. It’s pretty much a carbon copy of the opening to Wrong Turn but reference can be a good thing when done right, especially when setting up a sequel. Throw in a Patton Oswalt cameo, and we’re off to a pretty good start. She glances down to fidget with her phone and when we pan back up – SMASH! She hits something, or somebody, scurrying across the road. Let the “horror” begin!
Upon closer inspection we find that the victim is more than a little disfigured, and it has nothing to do with the accident at hand. Here, we get our first taste of hillbilly horror and gore. It is one of the better splatter effects I’ve seen in quite some time. Hell, it’s one of the best splatter effects that I’ve ever seen. Period. It involves cleaving a woman in two, long ways, with an axe and it is both stylish, and flawless in its execution. The killers then drag her remains, one half at a time, across the old road (again flawlessly), and we get our “directed by” credit, signifying the official start of the madness. I was floored, and here we are only five minutes in. Wow! What was I in store for? Turns out that was as good as it was going to get. It’s like eating your desert before you’ve even ordered dinner.
From its ridiculous reality show premise (because we have to make it relevant to the times, right?), to its hatable cast and characters, likened more to its burnable script and direction, Wrong Turn 2 has very little going for it. What it does have are its kills and its overall nastiness therein. They are ultra-violent, mean-spirited, nauseating, and for the most part are executed quite well. There is another memorable effects scene with a hatchet to the head that is very unexpected, and totally original.
Normally, if someone were to say to me, “It’s a piece of shit, but the body count and the gore are great. Oh, and there’s tits and a simulated blowjob”, that would be all I needed to hear. Sign me up! Throw in the raunch (I’m serious, here. There is a fantastic topless scene and a good and, down right, gratuitous BJ), and the splatter, and you’ve totally got the makings for a great slasher horror movie. I’m sure the filmmakers were thinking the same thing. They just should have left out all the other crap that I’m assuming they thought gave the film depth. Guess what? Depth? Not necessary. The groundwork was already laid - Inbred monster hillbillies picking people off who shouldn’t have gone into the woods. What more do you need? What’s not to love? We didn’t need to know where they come from. We certainly didn’t need to know how they got that way…they are inbred!! The inbred teenagers actually having sex with each other I also did not need to see. Toxic waste backstory? Again, totally unnecessary, and it takes away from the fun and quasi-realism of the original, which kind of had you thinking twice, and wondering “Those monster hillbillies could exist, I guess…right?” It’s Deliverance turned up to 11, and I loved it! Some things are best left unsaid.
Lose the Reality TV plot. Lose the Henry Rollins 1980s action hero character, complete with one-liners. Lose the gratuitous inbred sex and unwanted backstory (it was as if they consciously lifted the two worst aspects of the Hills Have Eyes 2). Lose all these things, just stick with the basics, and you’d have had a pretty good little horror movie on your hands, but then again, then you’d just have the first Wrong Turn.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
Written by Hombre Divertido
Superbad is two movies for the price of one! One is Super and the other is Bad.
In a concoction that combines the best of American Graffiti and Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the worst of Police Academy, the audience is treated to solid performances by Jonah Hill, Michael Cera, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse, as three high school boys out to score some liquor, hit the in-crowd party, and lose their virginity, all on one fateful night. Unfortunately the audience is also subjected to the totally ridiculous escapades of Seth Rogen and Bill Hader as two inept policemen caught up in the antics of the evening.
If you can focus on the well-established and thus enjoyable relationship between Seth (Hill), Evan (Cera), and Fogell (Mintz-Plasse), you will enjoy dialog worthy of Tarantino, relatable situations, and escapades that are sure to take you back to that period in your life. Mintz-Plase alone manages to create one of the most memorable characters since Napoleon Dynamite and just getting to experience all that is Fogell is worth the price of admission. The three characters grow throughout the film and a well-crafted message is delivered without getting sappy.
Writers Rogen and Evan Goldberg are obviously capable of creating quality material. The plot is simple, but highlighted with spot-on dialog that we can easily imagine all high school kids uttering, and not unlike films of the eighties such as The Breakfast Club or The Big Chill, this film is about relationships and how they grow.
Had Rogen and Goldberg been willing to trust in the quality of the story of our trio, and not felt the need to introduce the two bumbling police officers who take up far too much screen time and literally bring nothing to the party, a classic film would have been created. Instead we have some classic characters in a convoluted story within a mediocre film.
Recommendation: The scenes in which our heroes come close to having sex have the female leads delivering lines that are too graphic and thus seem a bit out of character. This seemed to make the audience uncomfortable. As previously stated: Getting to experience Fogel is worth the price of admission, though experiencing him on DVD when you can fast forward through the scenes with the police may increase the value.
Fogell Goes to College would make a great sequel, just don’t call the cops.
Friday, August 17, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
Blue Note wowed me again with another previously unreleased recording of the Charles Mingus Sextet. This two CD-set contains material that, before this recording was discovered, the good folks at Blue Note thought came about a little later than it actually did. This album predates by three weeks, the Sextet’s adventure from a Town Hall Concert on April 4th through a European Tour and ending at the Monterey Jazz Festival. It also includes Eric Dolphy, who besides being a revolutionary alto sax player was the first important bass clarinet players in jazz, along with being one the first significant flute soloists. There are jazz players, there are jazz artists, and then there’s Charles Mingus. This live show at Cornell makes clear why.
The opening is the applause from the students as the band takes the stage. Jaki Byard is on the piano and he immediately charges into “ATFW You,” a tribute to Art Tatum and Fats Weller. This solo is a melody of all the old piano riffs and hooks you’ve heard in many a ragtime gangster movie. It is followed by Mingus himself in a solo of Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady.”
From there, we take the ride with the “Fables of Faubus.” This thirty-minute tune drives us on a journey as the band explodes with fury and fire, then cools down for a night on the town. Johnny Coles on trumpet and Clifford Jordan on tenor sax fly about the scales like birds of prey fighting for a meal, while all along singing in harmony. Dannie Richmond pounds out the drums to the point of exhaustion, only to have Byard save him by playing “Yankee Doodle” on the ivories. After the good old American battle theme and with a few magic strokes of the keys and some plucks of the bass, the jam starts up again. The horns come alive along with Dolphy on the bass clarinet, adding a spicy flavor to the melody. A duel comprised of tenor sax, the drums, and deep in the background, the bass clarinet rages like a squall, then disappears. We haven’t even come close to the middle of this jam and the surprises down the line are well worth waiting for.
The first disc finishes up with a seventeen-minute “Orange Was the Color of Her Dress,” which Mingus had recorded as a piano solo in ’63 but hadn’t fully developed it until what feels like right at that moment. The final song on disc one is a fifteen-minute “Take the ‘A’ Train” which re-ignites the abidance.
Disc two has just as much power and fun the first part of the show had. It also introduces us to Mingus’ “Meditations,” another half-hour jam that takes us on a tour inside the mind of this jazz author. Jazz musicians practice their whole life to sound sporadic and off the cuff, yet Mr. Mingus was born like this. His talent reached way beyond what jazz was thought to be. “Meditations” reaches in with its sad, off-key intro that slowly winds its way into a piano walk filled with the bird sounds of flutes, trumpets, and saxophones. Mingus appears to be playing his bass with bow, sounding more like a cello to my ears.
“So Long Eric” is actually a tribute to the presence of Dolphy that night, but it became a lament after his death in June of that same year. Interestingly enough, Mingus goes green as the band plays his idea of “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling.” The quick tempo and upbeat rhythm feel as if the audience is moving around in their seats. The show ends with a Mingus-style “Jitterbug Waltz” leaving the students energized and excited. Again the band explodes as the music goes wild.
This live recording is something new, and if it wasn’t for Sue Graham Mingus, we would not have been so lucky to hear this. For the ultimate jazz enthusiasts this double CD-set is worth the price of admission. To hear Charles Mingus along with the Eric Dolphy playing alongside can only be explained in one word, awesome. If you are looking for something less contemporary, just outside of mainstream jazz, then Charles Mingus is your man and this live show at Cornell in ’64 will open your eyes to a whole new idea of what jazz could be.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
by Fumo Verde
This is one for the history nut inside all of us, or maybe just me. King Tut was the boy king who reigned over Upper and Lower Egypt some three thousand years ago. His rule wasn’t anything special and he achieved basically nothing when it came to the political state of Egypt. One of his predecessors, Akhenaton had this crazy idea of monotheism where everybody prayed to him, because he thought he was a direct descendent of the sun god. Tut was one of the first Pharaohs to do away with this idea. The people liked the old religion and Tut was said to have started the transition back to this way of life. But what makes him so special?
The main reason was that his tomb, out of all the ones found in the Valley of the Kings, was the only one that hadn’t been robbed after it was sealed. By luck and tenacity and with time and money running out Howard Carter triangulated his findings and came across a find the world to this day still marvels at. I like many have never had the chance to see the exhibit of Tut, but this DVD not only gives you the chance it brings you close up with interesting historical commentary. If you can stay awake it is well worth watching.
Omar Sharif, who brings passion to the history of his ancestors, narrates it. Directed by Darryl Kinson, Tutankhamun gives us a direct link to the exhibition with interviews from Stanford Egyptologist Kathlyn Cooney and Dr. Zahi Hawass, who is the Secretary General of Antiquities in Cairo, Egypt, bring insight to how the tomb was found and the discoveries within. In 1976 there were about 50 or so items from the tomb were sent on tour of the U.S. Americans everywhere had Tutmania, even to the point that Steve Martin had a hit song and dance about the boy king on SNL (back in the days when it was funny.)
This time, Cairo is giving the world a bigger glimpse at the treasures found by Carter by showing 100 items, 50 from Tut’s tomb and 50 from the tombs that surround his resting place. The sculptures and statues remind us of a harder yet simpler time, making you wonder what life was like back in the day when there were no i-Pods and the word “windows” only had one meaning. To see the work that these craftsman accomplished, one must grasp the concept that these people did all this work with the most basic of tools, and there wasn’t a Home Depot around to help either.
Unfortunately, I wish the speakers had livened it up the material a bit. It took me three attempts to watch this whole thing, and not because it’s so long, but because it was so boring. Not much new information has been discovered about Tut. The guy ruled from age nine to 18. Nine years can be brutal when you have an idiot posing as an adult who thinks he’s in charge, but Tut was just a kid. If he were in charge today, his rules would be less homework, more cartoons, and chocolate cake for breakfast. Tut’s main claim to fame is the fact that his tomb was the only one intact after all was said and done in an age where tomb robbers were as fruitful then as televangelists now.
This DVD has some of the most beautiful artwork the world will ever see, that’s if the world can stay awake long enough. Thank the sun god that it’s on DVD, so you can pause it and watch it again at a later time.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is sixteen songs recorded live in Las Vegas from 1969-73 and is the soundtrack to the upcoming documentary highlighting the King’s years as the top draw in the gambling mecca of the west.
When Elvis hit the strip in the summer of ’69, he wasn’t a punk kid or paper-cutout actor. He was a reinvented powerhouse and a force to be dealt with by entertainers everywhere. With the ‘68 Comeback Special he proved that he could still rock a house to its foundation. His voice now reflected his age, bringing maturity and a renewed confidence to his live act. With a roundhouse kick of seasoned musicians led by guitarist James Burton, Elvis stormed the International Hotel with a passion and fury he hadn’t shown in ten years. Elvis carried with him an aggressive new sound fueled with strong guitars, funky bass lines, and a soaring horn section inspired by the Memphis soul stew cooked up over at Stax and Atlantic records.
Like a lion he roared at the bright neon lights to let that city know that the King was back and more than ready to erase the lukewarm reception he received back in ’56. With the nervous jitters of his first live appearance long out of the way Elvis stepped onto the stage of his new kingdom and possessed an energy that Vegas had been lacking for a while. To show his subjects that he could still stomp ass, he chose songs that were popular and had a drive that he could use to hammer his new sound home. He handpicked tunes that he admired and knew he could turn into his own.
The CD opens with the only studio recording on the disc, “Viva Las Vegas” from the 1963 movie of the same title. Other songs such as “The Wonder Of You,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Let It Be Me,” and “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” would become staples of his act for years to come. While the old blues tune “See See Rider” provided the triumphant sounding horns that would serve as the theme for the jumpsuit-clad Elvis’ choreographed Karate moves. If you listen closely to “That Loving Feeling” you can her him joke about the fit of those suits.
Elvis also chose songs that meant something to him personally and that would mirror his own life. “An American Trilogy” is about Southern life and God while “You Gave Me A Mountain” is a soulful ballad concerning a man’s wife leaving and taking their child with her. “Walk A Mile In My Shoes” is a jamming little ditty packed with sting aimed at his critics and negative press. The disc contains a number of swingin’ jams that filled his Vegas shows, including “Release Me,” “Patch It Up,” and the mean, bass-driven, horn-filled “Polk Salad Annie,” complete with big E’s fumble on the introduction. It’s always good to hear the King laugh at himself.
Elvis: Viva Las Vegas is a good sample of why at this stage in his career Elvis was truly the king of entertainers and the liner notes to the CD by the knowledgeable Colin Escott stress this as well. Sadly, it wouldn’t be long until the King was to be a bloated, pill-popping parody of his former glorious self and just a few years later his throne would be empty. Impersonators of all types from good to horrid sprung up everywhere to mock or turn the spotlight back to a time when Elvis stood tall and commanded respect as a true American icon prowling the desert nights in Sin City.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Written by Musgo Del Jefe
"RIDE HARD OR STAY HOME"
The mid-life crisis has come a long way. In 1991, Billy Crystal (43), Bruno Kirby (42) and Daniel Stern (34) set out on a cattle-driving adventure in City Slickers. In a memorable opening, we quickly set the mid-life problems and malaise of the characters before moving to the Western sets. After a few comic sets dealing with these city men out of their element, we settle in for the "lesson". Our city slickers lead the cattle back to the ranch. Through these tribulations, each character learns to find the passion for things in life that really matter and return home changed men.
In 2007, the mid-life crisis is a little older. Doug (Tim Allen - 55) is a bored dentist, Woody (John Travolta - 54) is generic formerly rich/now divorcing businessman, Bobby (Martin Lawrence - 43) is a wife-nagged, would-be writer/plumber, and Dudley (William H. Macy - 58) is generic computer guy who can't get a girlfriend. We get this all in brief intros to each character that covers the first ten minutes of the movie. No explanation of the history of their relationships or how they even know each other except that we see them riding together. They claim to be from Cincinnati, but the scenes could place this in any mid-sized city east of the Mississippi.
The first thing you notice is that Harley must have stipulated that every time the group takes off on their Hogs, a classic rock song must be playing. All the expected cuts are here - "Slow Ride", "Highway To Hell," and "Who Do Ya Love" among at least eight such scenes I counted. I will say that the film didn't turn into the 100-minute commercial for Harley that I feared I was in store for.
Twenty minutes in, we've established nothing other than the boys have decided for no real specific reason to go on their road trip to see the Pacific Ocean. Only Woody seems to have a reason to leave town (escaping his impending divorce), the others are a little more dubious including a trumped-up "stress induced panic attack" for Doug. The others seem to just be along for the ride. Speaking of being along for the ride, this seems to be a good point to mention how out of place that Martin Lawrence looks and feels in this film. He's over ten years younger than the rest of the Hogs and his humor is really nothing along the lines of what the others have done. It ends up singling him out to such an extent that he feels like "token African-American" in the script. Someone closer to their age like Denzel Washington (53) could've filled the role without calling attention to it.
For the next twenty minutes, we see where the director had a hard time finding the audience for this film. Sandwiched between broad humor scenes of bagged poop, burning tents, and awkward skinny-dipping is a completely off-color, full-of-gay-sex-innuendo scene with the brilliant John C. McGinley (here with the oddest blonde wig). The tamer scenes were just what my tweens expected when they saw that this movie had "that Disney film guy" (Allen) and "that Hairspray guy" (Travolta). Guys falling off their motorcycles, eating too hot chili and slapping a bull on the butt were the heart of this film but few and far between.
Forty minutes into the film, the Second Act started with the Hogs entering a "real" biker bar in New Mexico. As Jack, the leader of the Del Fuegos, Ray Liotta (53) plays a mere shadow of his Something Wild character. For the remaining portion of the movie, the Hogs must stand up to the Del Fuegos and protect the city of Madrid, New Mexico from their bullying. The two least-developed characters, Bobby and Dudley, overcome their "problems" without any real effort. And at seventy-five minutes, we start Act Three with the Wild Hogs deciding to finally stand up to the bullies.
And here was the chance to save this movie. The four are going to stand up to the big, bad guys to defend the town. Could each pull upon their "expertise" to defeat the enemy? Doug would use some dental knowledge, Bobby would draw upon his plumbing experience, Dudley would work with the computers, and Woody would have to come up with something because we don't know much about him. And they'd work together, reinforcing their friendship and find the passion for things in life that really matter and return home changed men?
Of course, it's a positive ending but it's out of the blue and it involves Peter Fonda showing up out of nowhere. And they do get to see the Pacific Ocean. In fact, the best laughs of the film might be the Extreme Makeover parody that rolls over the final credits. Great shots of beautiful motorcycles, scenic New Mexico vistas, and great acting jobs by Stephen Tobolowsky as the sheriff and Jason Sklar as one of his deputies couldn't save the film. Not slick enough, no real lessons learned. They should have just stayed home.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
John Woo’s Last Hurrah For Chivalry is a tour de force of kung-fu swordplay that will have you on the edge of your seat. A roller coaster ride of a masterpiece. Simply riveting.
Now that all the played-out major press descriptions are out of my system let me tell you a quick thing or two about the film. Released in 1979, it is a well-spun tale of revenge and betrayal. Unlike many of this nature that simply use the kung-fu swordplay to mask a thin plot, Woo’s film has a story that twists like a reed in a tornado.
The plot has a lot to do with friendship and betrayal. A young baron, Kao, seeks revenge against a local warlord, Pai, for the destruction of his family’s land and lives. After being informed that true masters of the sword don’t accept payment, Kao enlist his “new friend” Chang the Magic Sword, to aid in his cause. They don’t call Chang “The Magic Sword” for nothing; he’s the best swordsman around. Along the way, Chang befriends the local heavy-drinking assassin known only as Green, who is also master with the sword. Together they agree to avenge the wrong done to Kao by Pai. The viewer finds out that Kao is the mastermind who uses people to his advantage and pits friend against friend, setting up one hell of a finale. People get killed all over the place while the suspense swirls around betrayal and the bonds of friendship.
The kung-fu sword action plays out like an arcade game with its many levels of bosses that our two young heroes must face before they get to Master Pai. I’m reminded of the video games Double Dragon and Kung-Fu and the action is just as good. We get to see many different villains, including a wandering swordsman trying to make a name for himself and a narcoleptic master swordsman, know as The Sleeping Wizard.
Chang and Green face off against countless ninjas while in Pai’s stronghold. There are ninjas everywhere, in trees, popping out of coffins and even rising from the ground like the living dead. (Yes, I know ninjas are Japanese but they’re in this picture and some historians suggest ties to China. And besides how can John Woo be wrong?) The fight with The Sleeping Wizard is a good idea but is a tad drawn out even though it is the first time our guys encounter a foe that they must defeat together.
The best is the fight with Master Pai. Surrounded by candles in what appears to be a dungeon, the two youngsters must use their wits as well as their weapons to beat this Guan Dao (a large broad sword attached to a long wooden poll) wielding fiend. Woo brings the candles into play wonderfully in this scene, mixing them right into the action. Another display of Woo’s genius is the final fight scene against Kao. After a long battle with blood all over the place and including the traditional Chinese flying master, it’s the final stroke that you want to keep your eyes open for.
Last Hurrah For Chivalry is a greatly entertaining film packed with awesome fight scenes. The film moves along at a good pace even if some these fight scenes are a bit overdrawn. Woo doesn’t need to hide his plot, it holds up on its own. Then again, part of the point in making this movie was the fighting, but Woo is able to bring something all his own to the table and makes a memorable, entertaining movie. The special collector’s edition contains some good interviews and a highly informative featurette on the legendary weapons china, hosted by Hong Kong Cinema expert Bey Logan. For fans of the more recent epics of China, such as House Of Flying Daggers, do yourself a favor and turn back the hands of time to revisit the early work of an action-film master.
Monday, August 06, 2007
Written by Fantasma el Rey
Set in Nuovo Zelandia, an alternate New Zealand, Perfect Creature is a highly imaginative vampire tale with some good elements and a good concept but falls a bit short of being a truly good vampire film. Vampires and humans now live side by side in peace and understanding. The movies plot revolves around two brothers, one good (Silas) and one on the loose and gone crazy, (Edgar) preying on humans for the elixir of life. The story becomes one of good vs. evil and the search for the renegade Nosferatu. Good brother, Silas, joins forces with the local police, who think they are looking for a serial killer, to try and keep them from killing Edgar. Both brothers happen to fall for the same strong willed female detective and the film continues down the beaten path of the suspense/horror thriller.
Yet these are not your average bloodsuckers, for you see they were the by-product of a long ago alchemist’s search for eternal life. These day walkers can be best described as the keepers of science and knowledge. Not some scary monsters that creep into the bed chambers of sexy young women trying to steal their blood. No, these perfect creatures are more like angels. They protect the innocents of the weaker human race. The vampire society, which is all male and known as The Brotherhood, can be seen as the church. People adore and celebrate them by going to mass and donating their blood.
As the film progresses I couldn’t help but notice similarities to characters of The Bible. The rebellious brother gone mad makes statements that reflect the story of Lucifer’s envy at being a superior being whose purpose is to serve a weaker one. The good brother is a church all-star and is to take over as head vampire one day but he too rebels after discovering the evil truth and dirty secrets of the ‘hood. His dedication to righteousness and protecting humans is unshakable and it isn’t too much of a stretch to see Jesus here. This biblical aspect makes an interesting twist to vampire lore but the story overall is dull and could have been better and the film itself could have had more pop.
The special effects are good as far as the fictional city is concerned, which is best described as Victorian era meets post-World War II England with modern technology thrown in for kicks. As for the vampires themselves, their movements in action scenes and during fights seem Matrix-esque and somewhat cartoonish, especially as they climb walls in super-fast motion. This trick really just comes across as if the film was speed up. What is interesting though is the sound that’s made when a vampire bites his victim. It’s a sound very much the same as when the cap is twisted off the top of a refreshing carbonated beverage.
I simply felt that the film fell short of it potential. If it told more of the Brotherhood’s past and secrets or truly bordered the realm of horror and science fiction as it wanted to, it would have been worlds more exciting and enjoyable. Who knows perhaps the sequel will be better? Because oh yeah they left it wide open for more. So keep your eyes to the sky, ghoulies ‘cause some killer vampire/angel gone nuts may be buzzing around trying to get to you.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
Written by Fumo Verde
On October 6, 1976, a passenger plane with 73 people aboard crashed into the ocean just near Barbados. Two explosions brought the airliner down, four men, CIA trained, were responsible for this heinous act. Two of them sit behind bars; the other two roam free amongst us still touting the line that they will never surrender.
Terrorism Made in USA gives us a chance to hear the other side of the story about Latin America and what dealings the U.S. had going on south of the border. Posada Carriles is the man this documentary revolves around. He was trained by the CIA on taxpayer money to keep governments of Latin America in line with U. S. interests. Carriles, along with others such as Orlando Bosch, have become in the eyes of many Latin Americans terrorists equal to Bin Laden himself.
After the Second World War the fear of communism spread further than the revolution itself. This fear and the ideas behind it worked its way to Central and South America, prompting the U.S. to secure its backyard anyway it could. Back in the early '50s the fear was all too real with Khrushchev pounding his fist and threatening, "We will bury you!" Bomb shelters were the latest home accessories next to televisions. There was a "Red" behind every banana leaf and they were out to invade the U.S. starting with Cuba.
This is where Mr. Posada Carriles was from. Coming from a poor upbringing, he joined Fulgencio Batista's secret police force. Batista was the de facto ruler of Cuba from the early '40s until the overthrow of his government on January 1, 1959. Fidel Castro's peasant-led revolution, "26th of July Movement," had taken over and the communist revolution sat on the back porch of the U.S. homeland. Cubans who had worked with the Batista administration and American business were terrified that they would face severe consequences for their actions as the communists took control.
Landing on American shores, they angrily gathered on the east coast of Florida, in cities such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. A melting pot of hatred towards Castro brewed in the packed Latino sections of these cities, a prime incubator for soldiers of the "cold war." Here the CIA went looking for those who wanted to fight back against Castro and his ilk. Posada Carriles was one of those men. After being trained by the CIA he was tested on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs, then he went to Venezuela where he formed that country's police force, the notorious DISIP. Murder and torture was his trademark, and he brought this wherever he went.
With interviews from eyewitnesses and survivors of the tortures and pains inflected by Carriles, director Angel Palacios explores the horrors left in the wake of men like this who proudly exclaim what they have done, reminding us that they will not stop until Castro and his commie buddies are all eliminated. Palacios doesn't have to uncover anything because these people think they are doing the right thing. Even if it means killing innocent people who truly have nothing to do with this political chess game. The viewer will see how people such as Carriles and Bosh operated and grew like a small army and extended hand of the United States and how the Department of Commerce created a division called the "Global Deceives," whose sole purpose was to find out what countries were working with Castro's Cuba financially and to undermine them.
This documentary holds nothing back, and you hear directly from the perpetrators of these crimes in their own words as they were interviewed back when they were first apprehended. This movie will get you asking questions about what our role was in the world back in the '50s and '60s and what are role is and should be today. Watching this you see how true the old saying is about one man's freedom fighter is another man's terrorist.
Posada Carriles - Terrorism Made in USA is one for any fan of history. Facts and truths are clearly given and there is no dispute about the evils these men have done. The fact that Castro is a bastard and has killed thousands shouldn't mean that we have to stoop to his level to defeat him. Hugo Chavez is now taking Castro's place on the world stage and South American countries have started going socialist on us. So, these "black ops" plans for change south of the border really haven't produced what our government actually wanted. And what happens if we start talks with Chavez and Castro, will these so called freedom fighters that we have trained and supplied turn on us? Do we have to fear another Oklahoma City bombing? Blowback is a bitch and this movie will show you where it could come from if we open up relations with Cuba again. If you are interested on how we do things in the shadow world, Terrorism Made in USA is worth watching.Side note: Guess where Orlando Bosch was on the day J.F.K was killed? Sitting on a curb in Dealey Plaza waiting for the President's car to come by, and Mr. Bosch was no fan of President Kennedy by any means. Hmmm....interesting.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Written by Hombre DivertidoBilled as Saturday morning’s first live-action super-heroine, Isis ran around stopping crimes and saving lives in a mini-skirt and go-go boots on The Secrets of Isis as part of the Shazam/Isis Hour on CBS.
As in most Saturday morning shows, the premise of the show and/or origin of the hero, or in this case heroine, was explained in the opening. Here, we are informed that science teacher Andrea Thomas (Joanna Cameron) unearthed a lost treasure on an archeological dig; she found that the mystical amulet endowed her with the powers given by the ancient Egyptian Goddess, Isis! Able to keep her secret identity hidden due to the fact that she went to the same optometrist as Clark Kent, Andrea Thomas was a hip high school teacher who just happened to be able to command the elements and posses the abilities of animals when needed. In most cases she used her powers to help the high school kids out of perilous situations while teaching them valuable lessons, occasionally with the help of her fellow hero Captain Marvel.
These twenty-two episodes will certainly thrust you back to 1975 when Isis first appeared, and make you realize that what seemed so amazing back then appears quite simple now. Though that can be disappointing, the trip down memory lane is till a pleasant one. Simple is the word here as the writing is very blunt and there is a huge formage factor and queso quotient here.
In most episodes Andrea found herself dealing with a new student who just didn’t quite fit in. From a class clown to an overly ambitious cheerleader or a kid that was too short, each would manage to get themselves into trouble often pulling Andreas friends fellow teacher Rick Mason (Brian Cutler) and students/aides (Never clearly defined) Cindy Lee (Joanna Pang-Season 1) and Rennie Carol (Ronalda Douglas-Season 2) into danger with them. Luckily, Andrea would manage to find a way to slip away so that Isis could appear and save the day.
Bill Cosby set the tone in the seventies with his cartoon show where each episode would contain an epilogue with a moral lesson for the kids. Though the Isis show originally contained similar moral epilogues, they are missing from these twenty-two episodes. Many can be found in a segment of the extras in this DVD set with a far-too-brief explanation that they were removed from the segments in the nineteen nineties. When watching them in the extras, one can’t help but wonder as to what the motivation would have been to remove such valuable content.
Those moral messages are only a section of extras that abound in this set. From a DVD-ROM containing all the scripts, to extensive photo galleries, and intensive, if not painfully long, interviews with the cast and crew, there is plenty of entertaining and informative stuff here to fill your brain with the meat you are looking for after watching the episodes. Noticeably absent is and interview with Isis herself; Joanna Cameron.
Recommendation: Children’s entertainment has come along way since Isis, and unfortunately, these shows may not be entertaining to kids now, but for the adults who grew up in that era; this set contains enough extra information to make it worth a look.