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, 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


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



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.