Saturday, December 29, 2007

The albums of 2007

Notice I didn't write the word BEST in the title. Of course, I think they're the best, but I certainly don't want to push that on you, the reader. In any case, please read on about the albums that affected me most in this past year of 2000+7. No pictures, let's not tempt copyright lawyers, but you can easily find all of these albums either on line (I recommend http://www.amazon.com/ for the domestic ones and http://www.cdjapan.com/ for the Japanese ones) or at your favorite brick-n-mortar store.


10 - Planet Earth - Prince

Prince is simply one of the greatest musical artists of all time. His music is as indelible as it is impenetrable' enigmatic and is is accessible.

A lot of critics were quick to dismiss "Planet Earth" as a dud either because he released it for FREE to purchasers of a London newspaper or because it didn't live up to their lofty standards. OK, it isn't "Sign 'O' The Times" or "Purple Rain" but I don't believe it's even striving to be. This is Prince being Prince. Take it or leave it.

If there were any doubt as to the importance of this album, I give you two names: Wendy and Lisa. On the raver, "The 1 U Want 2 C", they join Prince on the most buoyant song he's done sine the late 1980's. On other tracks, Prince shows his most unabashed romantic side he's ever recorded. Man, "Lovesexy" wasn't this romantic. He leaves himself emotionally naked and seduces the listener with some ultra smooth jams. "Planet Earth" may not be earth shaking and it won't change the world. It is well worth you time and I defy anyone to find an album released this year that matches the pure romantic intensity (No, not sexuality) that this one does. It's simply incendiary.

9 - Heavy Starry Heavenly - Tommy Heavenly6

Damn it. Every song here is great. It's got a wonderful production and everything is spot on... so why is it so damn low on my list????

Simple. Save for 4 songs, every song on this album has been previously released as a single or a B-side. It's a new album of 75% recycled material. Lucky for Tommy, it's fabulous material. It's just that Tommy's fans had all bought the singles and they simply weren't aware that they were going to buy them all over again. Even the seasonal Christmas and Halloween songs were included! To the credit of the producers, these songs appear to have been remixed for the album but there just aren't enough new songs here!

Well, as for the brand new songs, "Bloody Knee High Socks" is about as good as Tommy gets (and that's great!) as is "Stay Away From Me". "Door Mat" head bangs it's way through the brain and "Lucky Me" is a rousing album closer.

Tommy has turned back into Tomoko and The Brilliant Green has reformed, so we may never get to see February6 or Heavenly6 again. Not the best send off to one of my favorite J-rock characters, but under the circumstances, a great album nonetheless... singles be damned.

8 - Mike Viola - Lurch

This is the CD that I was waiting for before compiling my list. I certainly didn't want to risk making a best of and leave Mike off of it. Well, Mike didn't disappoint. "Lurch" is a fine album and better than most things I had heard this year.

After the introspection of "Hang On Mike" and the exorcism of his darker side with "Just Before Dark", "Lurch" is about getting on with life and happiness. Indeed, many of the songs sound as if we're eavesdropping on him talking to himself. It's such a playful and inventive album and yet it plays by all of the power pop rules. ""The Strawberry Blonde" sounds like a late 60's Beach Boys classic and "279 East 10th Street" actually sounds like something Brian Wilson would write (remember "Busy Doin' Nothing"?). "So Much Better" chimes in a way to make Matthew Sweet want to smash his guitar in jealousy. "Girly Worm" and "All Bent Out Of Shape" recall the Blue Thumb days more than anything he's released since the Blue Thumb days. "It Comes In Waves" reveals Mike's love for The Beatles' "Revolver" album. Every song here is an absolute gem and it was almost entirely done by Mike himself in his home studio.

I'm glad I waited. It more than deserves to be on this list.

7 - Icky Thump (Vinyl edition) - The White Stripes

Led Zeppelin reunited this past year for a live concert. I heard a bootleg of it. Very underwhelming. My immediate thought was they should've taken the stage and played "Icky Thump". No one would've known the difference. Can you imagine if The White Stripes had OPENED for them? The mind boggles.

Let's put it down to brass tacks, whether I like Jack White or not (I don't), he channels early 1970's Robert Plant like nobody else. The title track and the following track, "You Don't Know What Love Is (You Just Do What You're Told)" simply stink of Zeppelin; Reeks of it, even. In fact, it hurts me that I adore this album so much since I don't hold much reverence for either the White Stripes or Led Zeppelin. Strangely, if I have my MP3 player on random and a song from this album come on, I'll flip past it immediately. However, if I listen to it as a complete album, I can't get enough of it. Sure there're some duds along the way. The cute and campy cover of "Conquest" should've been nixed and the CD version of "Rag -n- Bone" is too self conscious for it's own good, but the album at large is quite good.

Which is why I chose the Vinyl edition of "Icky Thump" over the other editions (the common CD edition and the Digital Download edition). The Vinyl edition is mixed differently and each song has things going on that're unique to that particular version. "Conquest" really can't be salvaged, but the Vinyl edition of "Rag -n- Bone" is concentrated mostly on the music and guitar work and most of the cute dialogue between Jack and Meg is, thankfully, gone. The Vinyl sounds better, too, since the CD and digital versions sound a bit sterile and hollow. This edition is fuller and in-the-room more than the other versions. Get this one if you can, it cooks.

6 - Scratch - Kimura Kaela

This is Kaela's 3rd album and it's a departure from the previous two. Upon initial listen, I really didn't think much of it. I was expecting to hear some fun pop and a couple of hard driving rock songs, but that just isn't where this album's heart is. From the opening track, "L. Drunk" with it's xylophone under the hollow electric guitars, I wasn't initially prepared for what I was hearing. After a few more listens, I got it. It's always great to hear albums that defy expectations, even if it leaves me cold at the outset.

The album is quirky and non conformist. "Magic Music", written by Linus Of Hollywood is a head bobbing pop treat, while "Snowdome" (music by Beat Crusaders) is a beautiful ballad. There are some good middle of the road pop numbers next, but then the album goes through the roof beginning with "Kirin Tan" which brings to mind classic Echo and the Bunnymen. The following tracks, the instrumental title track, "Swinging London", "Never Land", the brilliant "Tree Climbers" and the synthy "Joey Boy" escalate the album higher and higher until the final track "Ground Control" hits the listener right in the face. "Ground Control" could be one of the best pop songs of the decade. It's pure pop bliss; all hook, no filler.

All in all Ms. Kimura seems to be growing with every album. "Scratch" is a keeper.

5 - Raising Sand - Robert Plant and Alison Krauss

This one knocked me for a loop. Take an aging Rock God and pair him with a silken voiced Bluegrass legend and you get something not completely expected. "Raising Sand" is a disc that I went in not knowing what to expect at all. Would Plant bring out the primal animal in the petite Krauss? Would Alison tame the savage Robert? The answer seems to fall to the latter, though, of course, Robert Plant was always more of a balladeer that the howling demon he seems to be remembered for.

When the two sing together, there is a magic intertwined in their voices. My initial thought was, they sound like The Raveonettes without the fuzz... and a helluva lot better. "Rich Woman", the opening track has a soft, bluesy strut that made me think of the Raveonettes. It was the second track that hit me over the head. "Killing The Blues" is so soft and sweet and their vocal interplay is nothing short of devastating. I could literally listen to that particular track all day without tiring.

The bulk of the album from there has the two taking turns on the lead vocals from song to song. Plant's songs are more of the romantic sort while Krauss' songs are curiously sung from a male point of view (or a lesbian point of view, I could say, but that would be reading waaaaaaaaaay too much into it) and that gives her tracks some serious edge.

It's such a curious collaboration, but such a satisfying one. I'd have never believed it were I simply told about it and yet I'm writing about it being one of the best albums I've heard all year.

...and it is just that.

4 - Golden Grapefruit - Love Psychedelico

Ah. The good 'ol 'Delico. It's been 4 years since their last studio album. That's an eternity in the Music Biz. Fans of this super-duo have been chomping at the bit since their last release "III", back in 2003. Since then, they've released a best of, a concert DVD and a handful of teaser singles that did nothing more then whet the appetite.

Well, the new disc finally came out and it was a bit of a shock. "Golden Grapefruits" (named as a tribute to Yoko Ono's "Grapefruit" book) didn't exactly sound like the 'Delico we came to expect. The first track, "Freedom" was extremely busy and electronic; a far cry from the tight guitar grooves heard previous. The album did come around, though, with tracks that sounded like the Rolling Stones ("AHA! All We Want"), REM (the Bouzouki driven "Carnation") and Led Zeppelin ("Rain"). Other tracks like "Humanimation" and "Good Day Celebration" explored the free associative experimental side of the band.

Unfortunately, they put a good but ultimately useless B-side cover of The Beatles' "Help!" and the 3 year old track "Everyone, Everyone" on there as well. They're both good songs in their own right, but really had no business on this album. Still, in spite of that, "Golden Grapefruit" is a fine album and miles ahead of albums from like minded bands across the world.

3 - Nicole Atkins - Neptune City

This girl. I tell ya. I only have known of her for a few months, but "Neptune City" by Nicole Atkins makes me feel like I've known her forever. This isn't just a great, mellow pop album. It's an album of marvelous pop standards. It's the type of album that, were Peggy Lee around today, she might have recorded. "Neptune City" is chock full of Pop Standards. The songs smoulder with the incredibly expressive vocals from Ms. Atkins and the production smacks of the techniques of yesteryear.

The title track croons and swoons a story about how the past never lasts. "Brooklyn's On Fire" with it's fist pumping, shout along chorus carries itself along in it's swirling circus melody. The track to play, though, is "The Way It Is". This track is so sexual and sultry, it threatens to melt the speakers. There may not be a better female vocal this year than hers on that particular song.

This album is her debut on a major label and it's an incredible start to what promises to be a great collection of albums. I would not be surprised to see her on future best lists.

2 - EPopMaking ~Close Encounters With Pop~ - Beat Crusaders

With their first major label release, "P.O.A. Pop On Arrival", the Beat Crusaders laid down the blueprint for a new type of Punk Rock. It was a Rock that echoed the old while embracing the new. While other bands were emulating The Ramones filtered through the heavy handed guitar of Billie "Green Day" Joe, BeCr was foraging new places for their guitars and keyboard to go. That album was wonderful, but it really left no one prepared for what loomed on the horizon. "EPopMaking" is one of the biggest, most pleasant surprises of the year. It takes the full on assault of "P.O.A." and expands on it magnificently.

What has been done here is an incredible travelogue of trailblazing Punk Rock for the 21st century. Encased within the 19 track CD is an array of what exactly can be done with variations on themes and how grafting different musical genres to Punk can create breathtaking music on it's own. I would not be in exaggeration were I to call "EPopMaking" the Beat Crusaders' "London Calling"... but without all that political stuff.

One thing that is remarkable and stands out above all else is the addition of collaborations with other groups. In the past couple of years, BeCr has made good on a promise to expose non-major label bands to a wider audience by releasing split albums with certain bands. "EPopMaking" features 4 tracks of these collaborations with Your Song Is Good ("Fool Groove", "~Your Melody~"), Tropical Gorilla ("Droog In A Slum")- a band featuring BeCr cult star CIM on guitar, and Asparagus ("Fairy Tale"). The album feels so vast and alive but never becomes crushed under it's own weight. It's actually BETTER than "P.O.A." and that's about the greatest compliment I can give it. A great Rock album.




...and the best album I've heard all year...




1 - Young Modern - Silverchair
It's rare that an album of completely fresh and invigorating music comes along. Most artists try it and they just can't grasp that brass ring.

When Silverchair joined forces with Van Dyke Parks for the "Diorama" album, there was a sense of promise; that, sometime in the future, something truly special was going to come from their alliance. "Young Modern" fulfills that promise tenfold.

The opening (semi) title track screeches out of the station and begins immediately breaking free of past expectations. Indeed, "Young Modern Station" sounds like a train leaving behind an ugly and stifling city while heading towards a beautiful and stately countryside. The train slows into a stride with "Straight Lines" and then the mood changes with the quirky "If You Keep Losing Sleep", a song filled with breathtaking time signature changes and insistent Military snare. The gorgeous "Reflections of a Sound" surprises once again with an irresistible sunny power pop anthem. From there, Silverchair settles in with their centerpiece for "Young Modern", the sweeping epic of "Those Thieving Birds". This is their "Surf's Up". It's actually a three piece song cycle who's The first part, "Those Thieving Birds Part 1" lulls the listener into a beautiful aural slumber while the second part, "Strange Behaviour", wakes up the listener with a driving, string laced tour de force of pure pop expressionism. The final segment, "Those Thieving Birds Part 2" brings things full circle and lingers there as would a Raven lifted on the wind.

From that point on, the album switches gears and becomes a killer, straight ahead rock and roll album. There's "The Man That Knew Too Much" with it's keyboard driven melody followed by the best track on the album, "Waiting All Day". This particular is possibly the most perfect pop song of the year. It's so light and breathy that it floats on air. It's eerie and ethereal in it's pure pop majesty. The final four tracks of this album absolutely rip. "Mind Reader" growls and tears it's way through a 3 minute primal workout while the George Harrison-istic slide guitar on "Low" further surprises the listener at Silverchair's growth as a band. "Insomnia" is a synthy pleasure with a chorus designed to stick in the crinkles of the brain. The album's closer, "All Across The World" takes things down to a nice easy level with a singalong ballad. The album begins perfect, maintains it's perfection during it's running time and ends perfectly. It's perfect.

The true revelation here if you haven't been following the band since "Frogstomp" is Daniel Johns' development as a songwriter and singer. I'm not much on lyrics, but there is so much playfulness and invention on hand that it becomes absolutely giddy, and make no mistake, a lot of credit has to go to his vocal inflection. I've rarely heard a vocalist these days that can sell a song the way Johns does.

I've gone on way too long here, but it's easy to gush. Silverchair's "Young Modern" is hands down the best album to have been released in 2007. I will go on record to say it's a Pop Music Masterpiece that can and does stand strong along side works like "SMILE" and "SGT. Pepper". It's that good and you should own it. Period.


Yeah. So that's it. My picks for the most worthwhile music this past yeah. I hope you agree. I understand if you don't, but there is no excuse for not going and listening for yourself. Here's to more and even better music in 2008!!!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Argento-mas

I didn't intentionally set out to do it that way, but it just kinda happened. This holiday season, I was pretty much bombarded by Dario Argento movies.



I had heard about the new Italian PAL DVD releases of "Suspiria" and "Inferno" and how "Suspiria" was basically trounced visually by the Technicolor restoration people. I had no desire to see that edition of "Suspiria", however, I was pretty excited by the new "Inferno", which was released by Fox International and was a completely different transfer from the Anchor Bay edition a few years back. This new transfer is absolutely perfect, in my estimation. While the AB edition was a bit zoom cropped and the colors pumped up to near distortion, this transfer is more than welcome. The aspect ratio is properly matted and framed and the colors are now in line with what I saw theatrically. The reds and, especially, blues are deep and engulfing but realistic, unlike the ones in "Suspiria". The film also has an incredible three dimensional look due to the use of hard lenses during filming and this transfer does an admirable job reproducing that look. In fact, if you look at "Suspiria", "Inferno" and "Tenebrae", you can see Argento's visual style evolving. Indeed, "Inferno" looks like a bridge between the visual styles of the films that came before and after.

The sound mixes are wonderful, too, with the original English Stereo mix included on this disc (The Anchor Bay version had a 5.1 remix that, while pleasing, just didn't get the feel of the original mix). Keith Emerson's lovely piano driven score never sounded better that it does here. The Italian Mono mix is also present and serviceable. The English subs seem to be direct translations of the Italian language track, which makes the experience of watching the film in Italian a very good one.



No sooner did I track down the "Inferno" disc, when word had come down that a German company calling themselves Retrofilm had released a sort of official DVD of Argento's nearly lost "Four Flies On Grey Velvet". I had seen "Four Flies..." over the years as spotty bootleg versions that came chopped to bits or in the wrong aspect ratio... or both. This disc, while not official in the least, does a great service to Argento's fans by presenting the film in it's correct 2.35:1 AR with an English soundtrack.

This is not to say the film is perfect. The print itself is seriously worn with film scrapes and few splicy bits, but it's 99.9% intact thank to Retrofilm's use of composite to make the film complete. There are a few spots where the film turns soft and gauze-like. This is because a bootleg VHS was use to flesh out the missing parts.

New found fans of film imperfections and "The Grindhouse Look" will have a field day here, but those of us old enough to have suffered through actual films like this for years will wish for a nicer looking copy. This is not to say the transfer itself is bad. On the contrary, whomever did the film to digital transfer should be commended. The color timing and clarity of what is here is nothing short of astounding. In fact, the stretches of the film that are in the best shape look so damn good that it makes the wait for an official release all the more painful.

The Disc is rounded out with German Trailers for "Cat 'O Nine Tails" and "The Bird With The Crystal Plumage"; the other two films the the so called "Animal Trilogy".



Lastly, on Xmas Night (last night), I finally got around to watching the third film the in the Trilogy that began with "Suspiria" and continued with "Inferno". I had "The Third Mother" ("La Terza Madre") on my hard drive for a little while, but I was waiting for English Subtitles. With none apparently forthcoming, I bit the bullet and put my limited Italian to good use.

I have to say that, while it's stylistically nothing like the previous two films, I dug the living hell out of it. I admit I wasn't expecting to, the previews threw me off a bit and advance word wasn't always kind, though Argento's fans never are until a few years after one of his films have been out. The film is really unassailable, though. It's a film that Dario Argento, it seems, has made for his true fans. It contains some of his strangest plot elements, some truly disgusting murders and some of his most disturbing imagery. It only seems a bit curious that a couple of scenes reminded me of scenes found in Lucio Fulci films. You'll know them when you see them, Fulci Fans. I can only imagine the maestro was paying tribute.

The cast is first rate with Asia Argento taking the lead as Sarah Mundy, Udo Kier playing a doomed Priest and Daria Nicolodi (Asia's real life mother) playing the ghost of Sarah Mundy's mother. For those keeping score, that's two actors that showed up in two of the "Three Mothers" films. Two others I can think of are "Alida Valli" and the cab driver (who's name escapes me) that appeared in the first two films. All the actors appeared as different characters in each film.

Some people might be put off by what might be called a lack of atmosphere, but this film is of today. If Argento had attempted to emulate the style of 30 years ago it would have been disastrous. I'm also a fan of the stranger things in "The Third Mother". The Simian who acts as the witches' watchdog, the pack of punk-goth witches that walk around laughing loudly and pushing people around and even Mater Lachrymarum herself, a frequently nude and unconventional looking mother are all endearing to me and it shows that, like George A. Romero, Argento is a director that continues to confound and exceed the expectations of the people who are constantly trying to figure him out. In the eyes of someone like Dario Argento, filmmakers like Eli Roth, Rob Zombie and whoever the people who made "Saw" were are just little kids playing dressup. They may try to emulate what they have seen, but they'll never touch it. That's because they've never understood it to begin with.

So, now I'm waiting for subtitles so I work out some of those language barriers I have. That the film was shot mostly in English makes the whole thing that much more maddening. But yeah, that was my Christmas. Watching Argento movies. My 18 year old self would've been jealous as hell.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Rush Hour 3: Don't believe the anti-hype


I watched "Rush Hour 3" just a few moments ago and felt compelled to write about it.

The Biggest reason I felt like writing about it is, well, I really miss Jackie Chan. You see, my first memories of Jackie Chan was watching "The Big Brawl" on HBO in the early 1980's. I then saw "The Cannonball Run" a bit later. Although I only knew him through those two movies and "The Protector" until around 1989, I was a fan.

It was in 1990 that TDC began playing "The Incredibly Strange Film Show" and I watched it religiously. I had just begun my descent into Hong Kong Cinema and there were two shows that helped me focus on it: A half segment on Tsui Hark and a full show on Jackie Chan. I must have watched the Jackie Chan segment 30 or 40 times. The show was quite informative and, more importantly, full of clips that gave me incentive to go out and find the full movies. By 1994, I had seen around 70 of Jackie's movies. From his best ("Project A Part 2", "Armour Of God", "Police Story") to his worst ("Killer Meteors", "Fantasy Mission Force", "New Fist of Fury") and just about every one in between. I was a card carrying member of the Jackie Chan Fan Club, of which I am still a honorary member and I played one of his best movies, "Drunken Master 2" as a midnight film the same year it was released.

I was a bit horrified that New Line Cinema chose "Rumble In The Bronx" to be the film to introduce Jackie to American Audiences. I had seen the film and wasn't very happy with it. I was thrilled, however, when US audiences seemed to take to it enthusiastically.

Through the years, I have been following Jackie's post US breakthrough with it's ups and downs, but I've always longed for him to get back on track and give US true fans some more homegrown HK action. There had been some films that did try; "Who Am I?", "Thunderbolt", "Gorgeous", "Mr. Nice Guy" and "The Myth" were all HK productions, but none of them had that FEEL that the older, pre US breakthrough films had.

He did fare a bit better in some of his US endeavours with the Owen Wilson "Shanghai" films and the Chris Tucker "Rush Hour" films being definite highlights. I liked the former series better than the latter, but the "Rush Hour" films seemed to improve from the first to second film.

So, tonight, I decided to give "Rush Hour 3" a try. The verdict? I absolutely loved it. I really did. I'll be damned if it didn't feel like one of those old Jackie Chan films. The plot didn't make too much sense but the film flew by at 80 minutes (that is, minus the end credits). The humor was low but laugh out loud funny and the action sequences were top notch, although, as with a lot of post "Rumble In The Bronx" movies, some of the sequences felt like "Greatest Hits" editions of sequences from earlier, mid to late 80's Jackie Chan films. Best of all, Brett Ratner finally figured out how to make a Jackie Chan film. It took him 3 tries, but he did it. Look, I'm not saying "Rush Hour 3" is a masterpiece by any stretch, but it is a fine return to form for Jackie and a great way to kill 90 minutes (credits included).

But then.... I went and did something stupid. I went to Rotten Tomatoes and the critics on there almost made me feel bad for liking it. Most of the reviews were pans and actually pretty shitty towards the film. A lot of critics took umbrage at Max Von Sidow and Roman Polanski for showing up in it for small roles. Well, to address these complaints, consider that Max Von Sidow is a consummate actor and has appeared in many films; low budget to high / considered good to bad. He was in Dario Argento's "NonHoSonno" ("Sleepless") and saved the entire movie by his presence. I believe most critics are just bursting with sour grapes for one reason or another. It always fascinated me that a film critic would write something along the lines of "I can't believe {insert name here} would have stooped so low as to be in such a film. {person} must have needed the money."

Why anyone would write something like that is beyond me. Is any actor or actress above working? Is there an actor in the world who would say, "This project interests me, but I can't do it because the critics wouldn't like me to do something like that?" I would like to believe there aren't, but I'm sure somewhere there are. The bottom line is, Max Von Sidow was fine in "Rush Hour 3", he didn't embarrass himself, he lent a sense of class to the film and he looked like he was having a great time. What's the problem? In a world where most "actors" these days are actually celebrities, Max Von Sydow is most definitely an Actor. Shut up and let him act.

As for Roman Polanski, why shouldn't he do a small role in a comedy? He had a tiny role in "Blood For Dracula" in the early 70's, but I'm sure today's "well read" film critic wouldn't know anything about that (for you up and coming critics, that movie was AKA "Andy Warhol's Dracula", FYI). Furthermore, unless someone read the end credits or had press notes prior to viewing "Rush Hour 3", I doubt ANYONE would have recognised Polanski in the film. Really, do you think there's anyone in Western film criticism that was watching "Rush Hour 3" and thought to themselves, "Oh my God! That's Roman Polanski! What's he doing in this movie???" Yeah, me neither. It did amuse me during the end credits to see that it was him, I admit.

There were other issues the critics seemed to take the film to task for that I really can't make too much sense of. There seemed to be much hemming and hawing about Jackie Chan's age. Most critics probably can't get their 23 year old super sized asses out of a theater seat after a movie and there they are saying Jackie's showing his age. Jackie's doing fine at 53. I'd much rather watch him at his age in an action movie that watch Matt Damon (or his stunt double) in yet another ridiculous Bourne movie. There were also complaints about the movie being formulaic and preposterous. This movie isn't "Hotel Rwanda", people. It's a summer buddy cop movie. Deal.

The funniest complaint is about the rampant racism in the film. God help me. The "Rush Hour" franchise is built on racism, though some would argue it's simply culture clashes. Bull, it's racism. Chris Tucker spent the first two movies completely making light of the entire Chinese culture. This third film shows him respectful and more enlightened than ever (no more Blacenese jokes, thankfully) and suddenly NOW the film is racist. Of course, this is nothing compared to the one critic that called "Rush Hour 3" Anti-American. I wish this person could show me where the Anti-American sentiment was. Was it because a Cab Driver didn't want to give Chris Tucker's character a ride because he was American... or was it because the same Cab Driver later wanted to be an American so he could kill senselessly? Yeah. For some reason, I don't believe those comments were too far off the mark. I would imagine there is a world view of the US exactly like that a lot of people abroad would believe.

So, in short I do recommend "Rush Hour 3". You could do much worse on a cold winter's night. It should be out on DVD soon. Me, I'm gonna go watch "Project A Part 2" now. Jackie! Make more movies, please.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Walk Hard: The First Ten Minutes


So, IGN and Sony Pictures has released the first ten minutes of "WALK HARD: The Dewey Cox Story" for streaming viewing. It's streaming right now, actually, and you can see it here.

Now, I watched the first ten minutes today and it doesn't look good. It starts out, basically, as a condensed wink-wink, nudge-nudge version of the opening of "Walk The Line". There aren't really any jokes to tell here, except knowing dialogue and scenes for people who saw "Walk the Line". Now, I may be just a silly curmudgeon, but I found the opening scenes pretty tasteless, and not in a fun way. As the whole thing was unfolding, I couldn't help but to think that the filmmakers aren't parodying some overwrought, sentimental piece of Lifetime Channel movie making here. The filmmakers are making light of something that actually happened to Johnny Cash. There was no reverence. There was no good natured ribbing. There was just some sub-sub Mad Magazine parody that didn't have any respect for the material they were making fun of. Now, why should they have respect? Well, for starters, anyone going to the film is going because they undoubtedly enjoy these types of films and want to see something light done to them.

Anyway, after the unfunny prologue, things pick up just a lil bit. Dewey is 14 years old and is being played by John C. Reilly. That's worth a chuckle in itself. Cox (and, believe me, the Cox joke is going to get old LOOOOOONG before the credits roll) and his band is playing a talent show and causes a commotion with his new fangled Rock -n- Roll style of music. The Scene is a cross between the talent show in "That Thing You Do!" and Nick Rivers' concert in "Top Secret!". It works to a point, but, once again, the filmmakers don't seem to understand why the scene is funny. Jokes are missed out on for very obvious physical humor.

The clip ends with the town, torches and all, descending on the Cox household to get Dewey. Dewey and girlfriend (because he pointed to her onstage; she's played by Kristen Wiig.... that's another strike against the movie) leave to further musical adventures.

To be brutally honest, the ten minute clip seemed like 30 minutes. I was looking forward to this movie, but I don't have nearly the high hopes I did before watching this. Ah, well. It still has those songs....

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Another Sassy Remake Pic & other random things...

Yet another pic from the upcoming "My Sassy Girl" remake to confound and exasperate me:



OK, I mean, WTF? She's pushing him around in a shopping cart with a, what, BEAVER PELT on the front? I know, in the beloved original, Gyun-woo carries The Girl around on his back while she's passed out drunk, but I don't get this at all. Methinks this does not bode well....

UPDATE!!!! 12/08/07: I've been thinking about this photo. In the Original Korean MSG, Gyun-Woo carries The Girl around on his back. Maybe in the US version, he carries her around in a shopping cart he takes from a vagrant. If this is true, it's a sloppy update of events since Gyun-Woo's carrying of The Girl on his back takes on a major double significance. She's a burden to him, but she's using him to lean on. It's a perfect metaphor for their relationship. Shopping carts? No. Not at all.

Anyway, I'm thinking if the above is true, then this photo is from the guy's abortive attempt at revenge. In the Original MSG, Gyun-Woo attempts to make The Girl pay for the way she's treated him by getting drunk and making her carry him on her back as punishment. Of course, it doesn't work out like that at all. This photo could be illustrative of his plan. At least that's what I make of it. Or she just might like pushing her boyfriend around in a shopping cart. We'll see...




In other notes, "The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show" featuring the Spice Girls finally aired this evening on CBS. They performed "STOP" from the Spice World album. I thought this was quite a strange song to make their official comeback on US television with (ooh! A dangling preposition!). The song wasn't a hit in the US at the time of the Movie and Album's release. Still, it was an excellent performance. The girls looked lovely in their USO uniforms and sounded great. They even did their Hand Jive movements during the chorus! Made me feel good.

Well, turns out the Writer's Strike put the Kibosh on The Dewey Cox Band's performance on Jay Leno this evening. That's right. No Mike Viola on TV tonight. It's a shame. Still, go and see the movie if just for the music. If you hate anything Judd Apatow related, this one might make you queasy (as it undoubtedly will me) but I'm willing to sit through it for Mike Viola, Marshall Crenshaw and Van Dyke Parks penned goodness.

...and speaking of Judd Apatow....



I heard somewhere he was voted by Entertainment Weekly as the "Smartest Person In Hollywood". Now, because a certain lead singer of The Candy Butchers' wife is a photo editor for EW, I'll go light on them.... but not Apatow.

Just look at this Terrorist-cum-Yakov-Smirnov lookin' bastard. Seriously. "Smartest Man In Hollywood"? Maybe he is. I don't personally know the man. I can go only from his work that I've sampled. On that alone, I would say his only "Smarts" are f**king the celluloid corpses of:

a) The Porky's Movies

b) The American Pie Movies

c) the Farrelly Brothers Movies

...and making audiences think his crap movies (produced or directed, I don't care which) are light years better than they actually are.

Seriously? Making irredeemable gross out movies with limp pathos tacked onto them is criteria for being intelligent? Sure, he's obviously smarter than American audiences and critics since they seem to fall for the same damn plot device EVERY TIME (i.e. A reprehensible person is ultimately endearing if it's revealed he/she has a heart by the last reel), but come on. His films aren't even all that funny and any humor that is to be found has nothing to do with the plot. It's all incidental comedy that never comes out of the situation at hand.

Think about it. Take out the "You know how I know you're Gay" lines in "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and the "Hairy Man" cracks out of "Knocked Up" and the movies just aren't funny. Take the McLovin subplot out of "Superbad" and the movie falls flat on it's face. The subplot of the movie so completely eclipses the main plot that the ads had to completely focus on it instead of what the film was really about (which was the impending separation of two childhood friends once they go to College... and getting laid). That's how wretched "Superbad" is. Menstruation jokes? Yeah, a real knee slapper. Hear me once. "Superbad" sucks "Dazed and Confused"'s dick, "She's Having A Baby" owns "Knocked Up" and "Hardbodies" wrestles "The 40 Year Old Virgin" to the ground and farts on it's face. I have a weird feeling Apatow wants to be the current Generation's John Hughes, but it just ain't gonna happen. I don't care how much his PR machine tries to drill it into my brain.

The person with the REAL smarts in Hollywood is the one that does the promotion for his movies. THAT guy is a genius. Anyone who can convince the public at large that this unfunny hack's films are worth seeing is brilliant beyond compare.

Whew. I feel better now. Write y'all soon.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The Night Flight Time Machine!


Do you remember the television experience known as Night Flight? I say "Experience" and not "Show" because Night Flight was so, so, so much more than a show. It ran on USA network in the 1980's from 11:00pm until 7:00am on Friday and Saturday Nights (two 4 hour shows aired back to back) and experienced a very short revival in syndication in the early 1990's. It was like no other program on television and it did a lot for me, personally. The show shaped my pop consciousness and opened me up to so many, many things. In fact, Night Flight has proven to be a Fountain of Youth for the teenagers who watched it back then, if only mentally.

Well, thanks to the people on YouTube who like to upload their old videotapes, I've created a reconstruction of a Night Flight show. It's not perfect, mind you. It's not a proper full show (the segments promised in the opening aren't here) and the segments originally aired from 1981 to 1988 (instead of all in one evening), but this is basically what it was all about.


Please enjoy. Fasten your seat belts. The Night Flight has begun.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Candy Butchers' "Lurch"


These two guys in the picture above... One is Mike Viola and the other is not. Mike is the furry one. The other one is me. We're posing after a show he did in Cleveland a couple of years ago. You remember Mike. He's the Candy Butchers. I wrote about him a few months ago (all the way to the bottom; the "That Thing You Do" portion). Well, my uber-talented buddy is extremely busy these days. In addition to family/holiday obligations, he's promoting the movie "Walk Hard", which he wrote and co-wrote a few songs for, this Tuesday, the "Walk Hard" Soundtrack is being released and he'll be in the Dewey Cox band that evening on the "Tonight Show With Jay Leno". In addition to all of that, he's (well, you know, the Candy Butchers) about to drop a new album entitled, "Lurch". Why "Lurch"? I'm not too sure, but one listen to "Girly Worm" might give you a nice clue.

You can get the new album here ( that is, http://www.mikeviola.com/). It'll be out soon. 1,000 copies only! Get yours and be cool.

Please visit the above website since it contains a new, absolutely hysterical, video message from Mike.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Absurdity of Beowulf


I just got back from seeing "Beowulf" in Real 3D. First things first: The 3D was spot on and wonderful to behold. It's getting to the point that I'll have to stop commenting on the 3D at length since it seems damn near impossible to goof it up with these new systems. I will state that, if you go and see this film, see it in 3D, 'cause there won't be much else to recommend.

The biggest problem with "Beowulf" is in it's presentation. It's a film made with flesh and blood actors, but no flesh and blood actors appear on screen. Huh? Wha? That's right, kiddies. "Beowulf" features computer rendered versions of it's actors. It's not a good choice of visual style, since computer renderings of humans have never been able to get things completely right. With great, rare exception, facial expressions hardly ever come across as genuine. Facial inflections are gone and mouth movements are never convincing. What's left is sort of an enhanced version of animatronic robots from Disney Theme Park rides. The actor's voices are there, but their digitised counterparts are hollow. The overall look and feel is like one big video game cut scene. Seriously, that "Final Fantasy" CGI movie had a more convincing look.

The first half of the movie is ripe with, I believe, unintentional laughs. Beowulf disrobes down to complete nakedness in preparation to fight Grendel and what follows is a series of carefully placed camera angels and props obscuring his manhood that would've made Mike Meyers' shudder in disbelief. Beowulf disrobes later in the film, too, to scare the bejesus out of an enemy soldier. By this time in the film, I thought he was acting more like an intense Chippendale's dancer than a Mythical hero.

The Action sequences are also laughably executed. Sam Raimi should sue for plagiarism for all of the swooshing cameras and "Evil Dead" like visual touches present here. In fact, it's sub Raimi. It's more TV's Xena than anything else. Grendel also takes on a visual interpretation of one of the shriveled, Yin-deprived undead in the original "A Chinese Ghost Story". A little too much influence by writers Neil Gaimen and Roger Avary, maybe??? What I'm saying here is, though digitally clean, the effects and action are strictly 80's, folks, only Sam Raimi and Ching Siu-Tung did it better since they did it with real world, tangible effects.

Of course, the plot is standard and by the numbers (what would you expect from a Centuries old story?), though the plot angle of the old world multi deity Religions being tossed in favor of Christianity is a semi fresh touch. The film doesn't seem to be a big fan of JC, however. A cross thrust into the face of a golden hellspawn doesn't do any good at all.

Thing start to roll better in the second half, with Beowulf's shady dealing with Grendel's mother coming home to roost. A word about Angelina Jolie's character here. Her digital doppelganger is good as the Demon Mother, but really isn't given much to do except to stand alluringly naked with gold covering up her best bits. It's all rendered anyway, so any titillation that might have been had was completely erased from my psyche.

The final battle with Beowulf hanging on to his son-turned-dragon has a few good moments, but it's all struck down with some serious "Aw, come on!" moments that had me stifling hard laughter throughout the climax. My favorite LOL scene in the climax is the part where he can't reach the Dragon's heart with his sword, so he severs his left arm at the shoulder, accidentally drops his sword and succeeds in tearing the Dragon's heart out with his right hand(!). Read that one a few times before going on. I'm sorry, but... if I can't reach into a hole with my right arm and spear something with a sword, a LONG SWORD, how in the hell am I going to be able to grab it by severing my LEFT arm at the shoulder???

Movies, I guess. Only in the movies. Well, I can't be too critical of it since the 2 hour running time flew by fairly quickly, but I can't really recommend it, either. If it's not taken seriously and you get to see it in 3D, then you'll have a good time. I think there are other movies out now that deserve your attention much more, however.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Pipettes! Nicole Atkins! Monster Bobby!



...Just got back from The Pipettes show. I had a great time. We (my Compadre Ry and I) arrived about 6:45 or so and the place was just beginning to fill up. I'd never been to Diesel before, so it was a new thing for me. The venue is a smallish place, but the space available is well served. It was an all ages show, so alcohol was restricted to the upper balcony, which stretched along either side of the stage with the rear balcony reserved for the soundboards and such. We stayed on the floor. I believe you should always look up to a performer, not down on them. Symbolic, mebee so. So, I got a Sprite and Ry and I stood at the bar and watched the people file in. When we do stuff like this, I feel like I'm Tim Bisley and Ry is Daisy Stiener; the lead characters in the British TV show, "Spaced". We're both a bit older than the people who go to such concerts (and I'm a bit older than Ry), but our tastes are so very young at heart. I could conceivably see her pushing my wheelchair, and using it as a walker, to see some young upstart band in the far future. Just an observation. Back to the subject at hand.

First up was Monster Bobby. He is the Svengali of The Pipettes; the man behind the polka dots. He came out solo with a sequencer and guitar and began singing a tongue in cheek litany of songs, nearly all clocking in at about a minute long. It was the unholiest mash of folk and Kraftwerk, but I loved it. His sense of humor (humour?) was sharp and crotchety. At one point, he told the crowd, as politely as possible, to please refrain from clapping along as it throws him off. His British dry wit was welcome and set a nice tone for the evening. He even explained that his name meant "Large Member" in Scottish. I immediately thought of a Frankenstein's Monster clad in a British Police Officer's uniform.



The second act was Nicole Atkins and the Sea. She introduced herself and the band as that, but what I heard (old age creeping in, I guess) was The Kracken and the Sea. I thought maybe they liked "Clash Of The Titans" a little too much. Nicole Atkins was cute in a one piece, grey dress with a bib and skinny tie at the neck. The band looked like a jovial bunch of Rock -n- Roll miscreants.



Nicole Atkins and the Sea. She was wearing a bandoleer of bullets as a crown
but by the time I got the camera phone out, she had placed it on the mike stand.


When they started playing, though, I was speechless. It was the tightest band I'd heard in a long, long time. Then Nicole began to sing. I haven't been this impressed by someones voice since seeing LP live the first time. In fact she sounded a bit like both LP and Mazzy Star, leaning towards the former. Her songs were very pleasing to the ear, with echoes from the ghosts of pop music past popping up in each song. One song had wonderful ELO/Beatlesque minor chord counterpoint. Another song included a vocal riff from Ben E. King's"Spanish Harlem" and another song felt a Todd Rundgren vibe to it. Yet another song ended with a Sleigh Bell and Glockenspiel in a wonderful Brian Wilson inspired moment. About 4 songs into the set, I was smitten with Ms. Atkins. I found the palms of my hands were becoming sweaty. Crush time!

Towards the end of the set, members of The Pipettes' backing group, The Cassettes, descended upon the stage wearing full head masks of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Colin Powell and carrying rubber dart guns and military helmets. This was not expected, obviously, and was a wonderful unscripted moment for the evening that had everyone cracking up. Apparently, the two groups had been practical joking each other the entire run of the tour and this was the grand finale of it all, since Nicole Atkins and the Sea were playing their last tour date with The Pipettes that very evening.

The Set ended with a Patty Smith tune and I immediately made a bee line for the merchandise table to buy her CD. I wanted to beat the rush. She's amazing and I suggest you seek out her music. It's well worth it.

The Pipettes then began their set with a faux radio broadcast over the loudspeakers. They took the stage with "Dance and Boogie" a song that's on the album that I didn't remember hearing before. I told Ry that they opened with a new song! (Sorry, Ry, I just didn't recognise it at the time. Silly me.). They immediately went into "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me" with the obligatory finger wag dance.




"Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me", but even a 2MP camera phone
can't capture live images so well.


Let me pause here for a moment to say some things about The Pipettes. First of all, I retract what I wrote in the last post about these girls. That is, I said they weren't astounding. Maybe astounding is still a hefty word, but I will tell you this is the best I've ever heard them sound. This was my first time seeing them live and in person. Every other time, I'd seen them on television programs and on live boot CDs. I am pleased to say that they are meant to be seen live and they sounded brilliant. Their energy is off the chart, too. Every song, they change the line up, so everyone gets a good look at all of the girls. I also have to say something about my taste in women. It's no secret I LOOOOOOVE women. To a fault, I do. I fell for Nicole Atkins 4 songs in. Well, when I first began listening to The Pipettes, I was all about Rosay (the brunette with lips like Marianne Faithful) and then, after the "Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me" and "Pull Shapes" videos, I changed my mind and was all about Gwenno. I even pouted a bit that I was on the wrong side because Gwenno usually stood on the other side and I wanted to get a good look at her. Well, Rosay did come out on my side and I immediately became all about Rosay again (I swear she looked directly at me and gave me that crooked little sexy smile. Yeah, I know. Onstage, the audience is just a blur of colors. I've been there, I've seen it... But dammit, let me have my fantasy!). It became all about Rosay so much so, that when she did change places with Gwenno, I found myself looking to the other side of the stage for Rosay. Damn my fickleness. 'Course, when they first appeared, I exclaimed, "Aw! Gwenno dyed her hair!" as she went from a blonde to a redhead. I don't think that had anything to do with it, though.



Rosay sings "Why Did You Stay?". Yeah, blurry again. Damn cell phone.


I digress. They played their entire "We Are The Pipettes" album along with the EP only "Guess Who Ran Off With The Milkman" and "Really That Bad". They drank some complimentary Whiskey shots onstage (and complained about the quality, LOL) and even played with some audience members up front. They instructed the audience on the dance moves needed for "Pull Shapes" and encouraged us to all clap along to the music (I looked at Monster Bobby, he didn't seem fazed).

Getting back to the girls themselves, they all wore polka dot clothes, each with their own flavor (flavour?) and up close, the outfits looked like they were hand made, which was impressive. All three were in fine voice with Rosay being the greatest surprise. In most of the music videos, she looks like she's just a support voice, but in concert, she carries a lot of the lead vocals and plays keyboard on a lot of the songs, too. Far from being the Irlene Mandrell of the group, Rosay was revealed to me to be the heart, soul and backbone of the group. RiotBecky seemed to be the glue of the group, however. She ran about the stage the most of the three and I wouldn't be surprised if she wasn't the originator of the dance routines for the group. Gwenno.... well, Gwenno is the beauty of the group. She's stunningly gorgeous and has a wonderful soprano voice that tops the harmonies like a cherry on dessert. All in all, their energetic performances, infectious personalities and lovely harmonies made everyone in the audience very happy. They encored with "ABC" and "We Are The Pipettes" and then, poof, they vanished up the stairs and away.



RiotBecki takes the stage and the slow lens of the
camera phone totally "Jacob's Ladder"s her face.


What was next is kind of different for me. I usually find a way to meet the band, especially if they're from another country. Yeah, I'm a groupie, but singers and musicians fascinate me. I love hanging out and talking about music and such. It's probably because my dad was a Singer and Bass Player. I didn't do that tonight, though. Maybe I should have, but I felt like, I'll probably see them again sometime. I also a was a bit intimidated to meet three lovely British girls. I'm very shy when it comes to meeting people I admire. Strange. An autograph and a personal pic would've been nice, though. Mebee someday.

I had a most excellent time and I would see both groups again at the drop of a hat. Thanks Compadre Ry, for accompanying me. I had a gear time!


UPDATE 11/21/07!!! I've seen Nicole Atkins before and it never registered!

She was on Letterman on October 30th:




And she's on this American Express commercial:



I saw both of these and it never registered. Wow. It's cool though, 'cause now I'm fully tuned in... and so are you! Dig!

Update 11/28/07: I wasn't wrong after all about "Dance and Boogie" being a new track. The original UK pressing of "We Are The Pipettes" has 14 tracks, while the US pressing that came almost a year later has 16. The last two tracks on the US version were added especially for that release. Those songs are "Baby, Just Be Yourself" and "Dance and Boogie". While I did buy the US release just to support the lasses, I still only listen to he UK relese regularly. That's the reason I didn't recognise "Dance and Boogie" when The Pipettes opened their set with it. So, it was a new track after all... at least to old fans!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

My Sassy Sunuvabitch...



Look at that. I mean it. Just... look at that poster. Well, I guess all of my denial and fussing and pinching myself to awaken from this nightmare hasn't worked. It's actually happening. One of my all time favorite films has been remade for United States audiences. The original Korean "My Sassy Girl" is an unbelievably moving and hysterically funny film. Yeah, I know. How could a film called, "My Sassy Girl" be any good? I had my doubts, also. Thing is, I was hooked on scenes from the movie before I even knew what the film was. I saw the trailer back in 2001 (on a Korean edition of the Japanese "RING" movie) and it had no English in it. It looked so bizarre that I watched it a few times just so I could let what I was seeing sink in. A little while later, I did some research, found the english title to the film and bought the DVD as an import. I was immediately and completely captivated, completely unprepeared for the emotional roller coaster I was about to be riding on. Since that initial viewing, I've watched the film so many times that I'm able to quote it in English (the film is in Korean) and I can tell you what's happening in the film just by listening to the soundtrack. I bought the film on DVD and VCD several times over in different editions (Including one encased in a Time Capsule Egg bank! I think I have 5 or 6 unique versions of the movie.) and even fan subtitled a special copy featuring the best translations from all of the versions I own for my own use. That's usually the version I show people for thier first time viewing. It's a permanent part of my psyche and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Well, I can tell you, a remake of a film I cherish makes my feathers ruffle. "My Sassy Girl" is such a film that is so perfect, it can't be improved upon. Every scene, scripted line, spoken inflections, physical nuances and soundtrack cues are done according to the will of the Heavens. There is no way in this Universe that a remake of "My Sassy Girl" could have any useful purpose, except greed for the rights holders of the films.

What's that? It's in English with actors Americans can identify with? Screw you and anyone who needs that criteria to enjoy a movie. I'm an American of German/Irish/English heritage without a whit of Korean speaking ability and I was and am entirely enamoured with the movie. I believe anyone with a brain and a soul would be, too.

The plot, in short, is as such (and it's based on a serial blog that was put on the Internet, so it's a true story, sorta)... A young man named Gyun-Woo, fresh from military service and in college, encounters a drunk girl in the subway one evening as he's on his way to visit his aunt. The Girl (who has no name in the film) vomits all over an unsuspecting passenger and, before fainting out-cold, reaches out to Gyun-Woo and calls him "Honey". Everyone on the subway car assumes it's his girlfriend and they make him carry her off the car. He ends up carrying her on his back to a hotel, where she can sleep her drunk off. While she's passed out in the hotel room, he is mistaken as a rapist and sent to jail (how is too involved for this short synopsis... see the movie). The next day, he receives a call from The Girl to meet him and explain himself. She is revealed to be an obnoxious bully that verbally berates and physically abuses him, threatening him with outbursts of "Wanna Die?". Somehow, he reluctantly becomes her boyfriend and he puts it upon himself to find out why she acts the way she does so he can heal her emotionally. The result is a funny, shocking, at times heartbreaking, but ultimately sweet and winning romance.

It's the two leads that make it work. Cha Tae-Hyun is spot on as Gyun-Woo, the poor guy that becomes the object of The Girl's affections and rage, but it's Jun Ji-Hyun (now known as Gianna Jun) that stokes the fire in the film. Her alternately tempestuous and vulnerable performance as The Girl takes what is a good romantic comedy to begin with and turns it into a masterpiece of Romantic Cinema. People always talk about how great "The Notebook" is. "My Sassy Girl" grabs that movie, screams, "Wanna Die?" at it and throws it over a cliff.

Here are some pictures from the Original Movie:



What (not) to do when you meet a drunk girl on a train.





What was he supposed to do; Leave her in the terminal???






...And this is what being a gentleman gets you these days...


Clubbin'! High School Style!



Yeah... this is the point in the film where I start blubbering like a baby.
Seriously. I'm welling up just looking at the photo.



Here are some promo shots and the original poster for comparison with the remake poster above.





In comparison, here are some shots from the upcoming remake:





Unfortunately, that's all the production stills I have for this film right now. These stills show that the filmmakers have done their homework (I can tell you immediately what scene each photo is from), but, damn if the lead casting is completely unsatisfying. Elisha Cuthbert is a good actress and she does stand apart from other actresses in that she has more range than most, but she's going to have to be at least incredible to at least match what Jun Ji-Hyun did in the original. Jessie Bradford... well he just looks like a stoic pretty boy. I can see no character in his face. Make the comparisons between the two leads in both films. The photos from the original look alive and vibrant, the remake photos look bland and, well, typically American. Y'know. Lifetime movie stuff.

The movie was scheduled for a fall 2007 release, but now it seems like it'll be next year.

Meanwhile, Gianna Jun Ji-Hyun is going to be starring in the live action adaption of "Blood: The Last Vampire". I'm looking forward to that, if for nothing else, to see her on the big screen.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

THE PIPETTES IS COMING TO PITTSBURGH!

This Monday, the 19th, The Pipettes are coming to Club Diesel on the South Side (former Nick's Fat City,1601 E. Carson St. 15203) to perform an all ages show. They'll be taking the stage at 8:30, but opening acts Monster Bobby (who plays guitar in The Pipettes' backing band, The Cassettes) and Nicole Atkins will be taking the stage at 6:30 and 7:30, respectively. Doors open at 6:00 and tickets are $12.00 at the door / $10.00 advance.

Who are the Pipettes? They are a trio of luvvly lasses from Brighton, England that are somewhere the Shangri-las and the B-52's (without that pesky Fred Schneider). They dress alike in polka dotted outfits and sing songs that seem to come straight from 1963, but with the modern lyrical style of today. In that alone, they're both retro and current. Indeed, they're not kidding when they state their intention "To turn back the clock to a time before the Beatles ruined everything". Kinda refreshing, eh? What I take from that is to mean they're taking us back to a time when pop music was fun and didn't have to have a pertinent meaning, or make us feel any other emotion than fun and escapism. Let's face it, the Beatles (great as they were) unwittingly turned nearly everyone who bought their albums into half wit music intelligentsia. Those damned Hippies did their share to ruin things, too. The Pipettes go a long way to correct such matters.

That's not to say they're astounding. I'll admit, their live performances aren't perfect and there are some unpolished edges here and there, but, taken with the entire package (clothes, dance moves for every song, attitude, their all male backing band The Cassettes) their live show is a real kick. Those wanting aural perfection from live performances may want to stay home and just listen to the record. Everyone else looking for a great time will want to come see Gwenno, Riot Becky and Rosay. Here are some music videos to help you make up your mind:








Your Kisses Are Wasted On Me



Pull Shapes



Judy



ABC



Dirty Mind



We Are The Pipettes (Live)

I'll be there on Monday and I hope you come, too. Say "Hi!" if you do.


(P.S. Watch the videos and learn the dances. It's part of the Pipetiquette!)

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Review: "Lust Lust Lust" ...zzz... zzz... zzzzz

The new album cover by The Raveonettes is in 3D!
Right Eye Red.


Yeah. I'm listening to the new Raveonettes album, "Lust Lust Lust".

I was a fan of The Raveonettes way back when "Whip It On" was released. I saw it in a Best Buy and the damn thing tackled me and made me buy it. It took a couple of listens, but I found the fuzz distorted mess to be very exciting. I was pumped for a proper full length album release. When their second album, "Chain Gang Of Love" was released, my prayers were answered. There was a key change from the last album and a more sunny, upbeat sound. It was about as dreg rock as two people could get in a studio. I proclaimed it a brilliant album immediately and I even got my friends to agree, in a rare moment. They came to Pittsburgh multiple times and blew us all away several times. I'm happy to say that one of those times, I was turned on to their opening act, "The Rogers Sisters"; a great kick ass power trio if I ever heard one!

Things changed with the release of their 3rd album, "Pretty In Black", and not for the better. Save for "Love In A Trash Can", the whole affair was pretty uninspired and dull. The fuzz was gone and, like a fog lifted, the band was revealed to be pretty standard and ordinary, just like every other retro worship act.

Cut to the present. As I stated earlier, I got the new album, "Lust Lust Lust". It's been released in the UK and Europe (on vinyl with a 3D cover!) and it's not expected to drop here until March of 2008. That's a big, big mistake in this digital age. Everyone who's wanted to hear this album will have either downloaded it illegally or have bought it as an import by then. Anyhow, on to my impressions of the new slab. Well, first up, the fuzz is back, like a blanket of soot drenched snow all over the production. That helps immensely, but unfortunately, while it's a return to the sound of the first two offerings, it's not a complete return. The album is top heavy with the kind of stuff that plagued "Pretty In Black"; that is, slow, dreamy, weepy sounds that will surely put you to sleep. I almost nodded off by the second track. Then the reverb guitar and bass/snare combo kicks into high gear and I feel like I've walked into a Robert Rodriguez movie. I love surf sounds, but they have a way of making that sound into something of a downer. Emo surf? Not down with it (yeah, I realise that's what "Whip It On" was all about. Sue me).

By track 4, "Dead Sound", they begin to make a full return to the "Chain Gang Of Love" type sound and it's fully welcome. The bad thing is, now I have to treat them like an unfaithful girlfriend. Things seem like they're going back to normal, but under the surface, I just can't trust them for their past indiscretions against me. Still, I soldier on, y'know, for the sake of the children.

Tracks 5 through 9 are very good listening. That section includes their first single, "Blush". It's the sound that made me love them so much back then. Family reunion time. It feels good.

The album winds down then with two ballad-y type ditties. It's not the type of sound I would've concluded with, but it's okay, I guess.

I think the problem, for me, anyway, is "Pretty In Black" disappointed me so much. I mean, I spent two weeks of hard listening to force myself to like it more than I did (which was little) and I couldn't do it. It was such a let down and then it took SOOOOOOOOO long for a followup that I just wrote them off. This album does little to patch up my opinion on their music. I can't, with good conscience, recommend this album. I can recommend the middle part, but unfortunately, you can't go out and just buy the middle part. That is unless they release their stuff on iTunes. In that eventuality, I recommend you buy tracks 5 through 9.

Leave the rest for the retro clothes wearing, drug and/or alcohol imbibing, Jack-Kerouac-tattooed-on-the-forearm decorated set. They'll love that other stuff.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

HELP! The Beatles butchered again!


"HELP!' starring The Beatles is one of my Can-Watch-At-Any-Time favorite movies. If it's on television, I'll drop everything and watch. I've had various video incarnations of the film over the years and I bought them without hesitation, including the Criterion Collection Laser Disc that had the definitive presentation of the film until now.


The movie itself is just about perfect, even moreso than "A Hard Day's Night" in my book. AHDN was a bit too stuffy for me in parts, while "HELP!" is a perfect pop music movie. Today, it came out on DVD for the 2nd time in the US (the first time was via MPI's original remaster in the late 90's which was quickly withdrawn due to rights issues, f$*#'n ABKCO). I've been waiting for a proper DVD release forever, but I waited with some trepidation since the MIRAMAX DVD of AHDN was fairly horrid: Letterboxed, a 5.1 soundtrack made from the original MONO audio (!) and lamentable extras that were a chore to watch.


So, I bring home the new DVD today and find that it was released by APPLE / CAPITOL / PARLOPHONE. Somehow, that didn't impress me, since those companies didn't actually make the movie, they released the music from the movie. Mind you, I bought the 2 disc regular edition as I didn't have $130 bucks to spend on a box set. I'm extremely glad I didn't, since this movie is handled with about the same reverence as AHDN's MIRAMAX release.


First of all, it's Letterboxed 16:9. I know this is a bit of a gray area considering the age of the film, but I personally prefer the film to be presented in academy 1.33:1 ratio. The LBXing, however, doesn't detract from the images and actually hints that the movie was formatted for 1.70:1. It's not too much of a let down, but at least the visual restoration is very well done. The print is blemish free and wonderful in it's Technicolor flourishes.


The audio treatment of the film is quite the different story. I understand completely why, in 1982, the two films were released theatrically and on videotape in a new 2 channel digital stereo mix. Even in it's stereo mix, it at least approximated the sound of the original. Still, it just wasn't the same since the mono mixes of the songs in the films were, in many cases, very different from their stereo counterparts on vinyl. Here, on this DVD, we're given the choices of a PCM 2.0 Stereo track and a DTS 5.1 Surround track. There is no choice of the original MONO track and that is a grave error. One of the first big jokes in the film is that The Beatles' first appearance in their "ALL NEW! ALL COLOR!" movie has them in black and white. The new DTS soundtrack, with it's instruments coming at you discreetly from all speakers belies the effect that the film of their performance in the film is actually being watched by the villains on a 16mm projector! The 5.1 remix doesn't work during other songs, either, since nearly every song has The Beatles performing on camera. I'm watching George playing his guitar right in front of me, so why is the sound coming from the rear right speaker? The only bits that do work are the Ken Thorne orchestrated pieces that SHOULD be coming from all speakers. The 2.0 stereo mix is rather flat and kinda close to the mono mix, but not quite.


The English subtitles track is also problematic in that it's apparently for the hearing impaired with sound effects and music cues parenthetically shown along with the dialogue. It's also not a literal transcript of the screenplay, either, with simplified versions of the spoken dialogue appearing on screen. A lot of asides and, worse, inflections at the beginning and end of sentences are cut away for no apparent reason. I didn't check in on the other tracks (Portuguese and French)


Sadly, there is no commentary track to speak of. You'd think Richard Lester (who wrote a lengthy piece in the accompanying booklet) would have had a moment to step behind the microphone to share anything that came to mind during the course of the film. I suppose, since "HELP!" is sort of a bastard step cousin to AHDN (for reasons I've never truly understood), no one wanted to commit to a proper commentary track.


The second disc houses all of the special features (save for the radio spots; 4 appear on the main menu of disc one and one on the main menu of disc two... all as Easter eggs) and they're pretty standard for "special edition" DVDs.


There is a Documentary on the making of Help (2 actually, one with extra cast and crew reminiscences, and they were both Incorporated into a BBC television special on the film earlier this year) which is pretty straightforward in their mix of interviews with people who were there and behind the scene slideshows. There are 3 Theatrical trailers windowboxed in the 16:9 frame (2 from the US and one from Spain). Strangely, the trailer from the MPI releases is absent, but the trailers that are here give a nice glimpse of the mono mix of "Ticket To Ride", especially the Spanish trailer, which runs without narration. There is also a featurette on the digital restoration of the film. I found it very entertaining and informative, but the average viewer might find it too dry for their tastes. Finally, there is a "missing scene featuring Wendy Richard" which, while not false advertising, certainly isn't what one would expect. Instead of actual footage, we're treated to a series of frame stills and vocal descriptions from Richard Lester and Wendy Richard, who played in the scene with The Beatles and Frankie Howard. Slightly interesting, and I'm sure the actual scene doesn't exist any longer, but the feature could've been worded better. I was being set up for something a bit more special. None of the features from the Criterion Collection LD are present, and that's a pity.


Overall, I'm happy to have the movie in any official form and it does, admittedly, look and sound great. I guess my bone to pick is that, since the soundtrack has been remixed and the image matted off, it isn't a true restoration. It's years ahead of the AHDN DVD release, however. I recommend it completely to everyone since no one has the lofty standards and sour grapes that I do.

Monday, November 5, 2007

I believe the curse may have been broken...

Photo Courtsey of the late, lamented Bubblegum Fink - Used w/o permission.



I am a fan of Dario Argento. This is no secret, but it may be news to someone who hasn't known me very long. In years past, I flaunted it like nobody's business. It wasn't like I went out of my way to consciously tell people, but back then (15 or 20 years ago and as recently as 2001), if you knew me, you knew of my passion for his films. It was just simply something I loved. Argento's films took me to places that I loved being; Places that were wondrous and dangerous. Places where the logic of the day to day world didn't connect in quite the same way there. That world contained characters that were eccentric and obsessed. A world where mystery unravelled into deeper mysteries and the physically beautiful were often brutally, nearly misogynistically murdered, usually not because their beauty, but for the darkeness within it.

These days, it seems any discerning fright film fan (or anyone who would like to come off as discerning) will name check Dario Argento's name as a badge. For them, it's almost perfunctory to mention Dario Argento's name early in a conversation and often. It almost seems like I stopped mentioning his name a year or two before everyone else started mentioning it. I wasn't being elitist in the least, I was frightened.

I became convinced that one of Dario Argento's masterworks, "Suspiria", was a cursed film and anyone who watched it through to the Witches seance at the end would surely come to no good end. It's kind of like, if not EXACTLY like, the witches spell at the start of stage productions of "Macbeth" causing extreme harm to any production that tackled it. It wasn't arbitrarily that I came to believe this. Consider the following:



  • My fiancee' broke up with me while Suspiria was playing in the next room, all of my friends at the time watching it on my television.
  • Upon listening to the soundtrack, two friends of mine hopped a inner city bus that immediately broke down, causing them to take another bus that promptly caught on fire.

  • Another friend of mine, who officiates hockey games, was stopped by the police on an empty stretch of road while playing the soundtrack in his car. He swears that there was no place on that road where a police car could've been hiding. Later that night, he falls on the ice and a hockey player skates over his hand, causing him multiple stitches and a huge scar he has to this day.

  • The last time I watched "Suspiria" was on the night before the official release date of the Anchor Bay DVD. I received an advance copy since I worked on the DVDs special features (I remastered the Radio Spots and contributed extensively to the poster and stills gallery). The date? September 10, 2001. "Suspiria" was released on the day the World Trade Center Towers were demolished in a Terrorist attack. I promised myself, I wouldn't watch it again.

Cut to 6 years later. I've been tempted to watch "Suspiria" several times since then, but I was seriously afraid to find out what the consequences would be if I did. Seriously. Would I be bringing on the end of the world? It sounds extremely silly, but I've been soberly considering what would happen if I watched the movie, or listened to the soundtrack. You may laugh, but if you were aware of such coincidences, would you do it? It's like the notebook in the "Death Note" anime. If, every time you wrote someone's name in that notebook, that person died... would you do it anymore?


In the years since, I've listened to many people rhapsodize about Argento's work and "Suspiria" in particular and it's made me want to revisit the film. I had watched all of Argento's other films since then without much incident (I say much, but I won't go in to all of that), my favorite Argento film being, "Deep Red", of which I own a 35mm print of (yes, I'm bragging), followed by "Opera" and "Inferno" and "Tenebrae". "Suspiria", over the years, had fallen on my list to about 5th or 6th in the order of my favorite Argento films. I've been itching to find out if I really found the other films to be superior to "Suspiria", or if years of not watching it had weakened my love for it.

Last night, I broke down and watched it; a little over 6 years after my last viewing. I spent days convincing myself that nothing bad would happen. I told myself that people all over the world watch this film on a regular basis and nothing happens. I told myself that some of the most successful filmmakers of our time cite "Suspiria" as a major influence. They're successful, and haven't befallen any noteworthy tragedy. This sort of thing comes from broken minds, not broken mirrors... It'll be okay. Just watch it. Like Argento said in his cameo in "Innocent Blood":

" 'Sokay. You gonna be fine."


Watching "Suspiria" anew after the better part of a decade was a very good experience for me. I hadn't forgotten anything about the film (how could I?) and was amazed that I was telegraphing every bit of dialogue as it was being spoken. For some reason, I remembered the soundtrack being punchier than it was. Strange thing there. Still, it was loud and engulfing and the colors were just as wonderfully intense. I found a deeper appreciation than I had before for the cinematography. That is, yes, the film is visually loud and boisterous, but the fluidity of the camerawork itself is wonderful, being much more of a voyuer and accomplace to the action rather than a passive observer. Remember, this film was made with all of it's special effects done on set and/or in camera.

I surprised myself by being shocked by the brutality of the murders (save for the first one which is incapable of shocking me anymore as the scene is quite iconic), especially the killing of Daniel at the jaws of his seeing eye dog, which I remember as being way milder than it was. I actually found myself muttering, "oh, my god!" as the dog was ripping the flesh from Daniel's throat...

The other thing that sorta blindsided me was the sense of humor the film has. It always had it, but with a film like "Suspiria", that quality can be, and usually is, forgotten. Any scene with Alida Valli as Miss Tanner is absolutely golden. Her straight up, bitchy, and easily hurt countenance is a smile inducer every time she's on screen. She especially shines during the scene where she's dismissing Daniel after the little boy is attacked by the seeing eye dog. Both actors seem to be having a great time playing off of each other and his exit line is precious, "Ah! Fresh Air! Let me out of this gutter place!". The character of Pavlos is also quite funny. He's the Lurch of the school; dimwitted and sinister. The "False Teeth" scene is another great and overlooked gem in the film.

Overall, however, the film didn't grab me quite as much as it did way back when. I enjoyed watching it very much, like revisiting an old friend, but it's probably not going to be an involved reunion. It's an unparallelled classic, to be sure, but I don't find it endlessly fascinating anymore like I do with, say, "Deep Red" or "Opera". Furthermore, I do, in fact, believe "Inferno", the sequel to "Suspiria", to be the superior film of the two. Still, it is what it is, and that's a fine film from a director who has seldom faltered. I watched it, though, and made it through to the other side, much like Jessica Harper's Suzy Banyon walking from the diseased hell pit of a Ballet School at the film's finale. I did it. I did it.

And here's the best part: I woke up this morning and the world was still in one piece. Nothing bad has happened as of yet... yet. I'll keep you posted. Or not. Just watch the evening news.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

3D Hallowe'en.

As a rule, I always try to see a Hallowe'en movie on Hallowe'en Day. It's not always possible, since some years are thin for horror and Hallowe'en related films. I refused to see Saw 4, so Pickens were Slim.

So, for Hallowe'en this year, I went to see the 3D edition of "The Nightmare Before Christmas". I really was never a dyed-in-the-wool Tim Burton fan. I enjoyed 'Ed Wood" greatly (I believe it's his best film), but that was a film that didn't have the Tim Burton look. I never dug "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" or "Beetlejuice" the way most people did and I thought his "Batman" films were pretty contrived. I usually give him a chance on most of his films and I uniformly come away disappointed to some degree. I do, however, like "The Nightmare Before Christmas" very much. I think it's because, although it smacks of Burton's vision (the illusion is cinched with the Danny Elfman score and songs), it wasn't made by him. It does make all the difference for me. Yes, his name is prominent above the title, but the film doesn't feel like a Tim Burton film to me. There's more narrative control; more... depth.

The film was released in 1993, just before the hostile takeover of CGI. The replacement animation used with tangible, real world materials is what give the film an enduring quality that sets it apart from Gothic animated films that came after, most notably the lamentable "The Corpse Bride" (which was a masturbatory catalog of future Hot Topic merchandise). "The Nightmare Before Christmas" was a damn near perfect holiday fare, tailor made to become a perennial seasonal favorite. I myself have seen it a few times on the big screen and I've indulged in a screening every time it's been re-released. This time is no exception.

Now, I am an avid devotee of three dimensional methods. I own View Masters, Vintage Stereoscopes, Comic Books, 3D cameras (Still and Motion), a rig for a video camera (!) , several films the the Field Sequential format... I even have some 3D theatrical prints floating around somewhere. I go and see every theatrically exhibited 3D film I can feasibly make it to and I've seen some doozys! Last night, I finally made it to see "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in Disney Digital 3D.

I won't bore you with a overview of the plot and all. I'm sure you all have seen it by now. I'll just get straight to the point: "The Nightmare Before Christmas" is possibly the most deserving movie to be presented in 3D. For a film that was originally flat, the movie looks stunning. I don't know if the makers took the original film and made a computerized "left eye" or secondary image to make the 3D, or if they rendered each frame into the computer and made 2 completely new mapped out images, but whatever they did to it, it worked. It was like watching a pop up book come to life and, I believe, that's exactly what it should have been.

Nothing new was added to the film proper, that is, there was nothing revised for in-your-face 3D, which is a true blessing. While many people might be wholly disappointed by this matter, those people (aka: the general public, I fear) are wholly missing the point. 3D should never violate your eyes. The visual molestation that most 3D movies subject an audience to are exactly the reasons 3D has such a bad reputation. Headaches? Sure, I'd have a headache, too, if someone was constantly poking something within an inch of my face every 3 minutes!

What is done here is the happiest of Cinematic miracles. Not only is the 3D rendered well, it brings out details obscured by the original, single lens version. I noticed many background details and secondary characters that I'd missed the first, flat, time around. Complimenting the visuals, are a total spacial, discreet sound remix for the original soundtrack. It's quite directional and ambient and it serves the visuals extremely well; especially during the songs. I rarely have perfect Theatrical experiences, but this one qualifies.

Go see it. I believe there's only one more week left before it goes away, possibly forever.