Sunday, September 30, 2007

Signal Strength

Lately I've gone back to the songs and sound I loved in high school because I'm at that age where you do some looking back. The classic 80's Album Oriented Rock sound hit where I lived for the whole decade. This song is the epitome Reagan era power balladry.

Led by vocalist Mark Free, it looks like the band Signal released either one or two albums. I was interested in buying one until I saw it was listed for over $100.00 used at Amazon. So, I'll skip it for now. I debated on whether to treat this as a classic or new song because it was released around1989 but I never heard it until a few days ago. I've decided to treat it as a current song. Like the saying goes, if' it's new to me it's not a rerun.

Signal - "Does It Feel Like Love"

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Number 44

Even then, this album cover sucked. It's an invisible hand touching, geez how literal. Didn't they know people wanted to see what a "Sussudio" looked like?

Another band on tour this year which I will not be seeing (only have so much money to see these bands. Nobody tours cheaply any more.) has an album at Number 44 in my favorite CD countdown.

Number 44 is... Genesis - Invisible Touch (1986)

Musically, there is a basic rule in distinguishing Phil Collins from Genesis. Phil Collins=horns, Genesis=synthesizers. Sometimes this rule is violated ("No Reply At All" is Genesis, "In The Air Tonight" is Phil Collins) but for the most part it holds true. Originally, Phil Collins was pop and Genesis was Art Rock and the idea of mixing the two was like oil and water. But, after Collins established pop chart dominance with his No Jacket Required (1984) album letting his commercial instincts run wild under the Genesis banner didn't sound so bad. So it came to be the album known as Invisible Touch and all of the old Genesis fans fretted over the jettisoning of prog rock complexity. There would be no more The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway or "Watcher of the Skies". There wouldn't be anymore "Abacab". There wouldn't even be a "Second Home By The Sea".

But what there would be was an actual legacy for the Collin's led version of Genesis. Like it or not, Invisible Touch made the trio version of the band the definitive lineup in the minds of the general public. It also created one of my favorite pieces of trivia, "What's the only band that was successful, had the lead singer and lead guitarist quit, did not replace those members and became even more successful as a result?" I can't think of any other band that became more successful because the rhythm section was left to it's own devices (I guess I could count Booker T and the MGs, but it just doesn't seem like the same situation to me).

Invisible Touch was initially a hard sell for me because I liked Abacab (1981) and Genesis (1983) for its combination of complex rhythms, art rock edginess melded with a slight pop sensibility. Based on the lead single, "Invisible Touch", I heard what was basically a solo Phil Collins song with keyboards and electronic drums. But, as that song and others became the soundtrack to my first year of college I came to like it quite a bit.

"Invisible Touch" with it's catchy, child like chorus and swirling synths became a huge hit song that would play as throughout the summer while I worked, spent time with high school friends and practiced driving. Driving in my parents car without anyone else in it, feeling a little independent, is what comes to mind when I hear that song. The second single, "Throwing It All Away" is one of my least favorite Genesis songs (it's boring) but it was one of the songs I bonded with a friend over who would become one of my best friends in college (he insisted Collins did this certain hand motion to someone who disagreed with him, I backed him up. It was true). The third single, "Land of Confusion" had the cool puppet video and reminds me of hot summer nights out with my new college friends. The pounding drums and urgent chorus made it a big hit. "Tonight Tonight Tonight" was one of the first songs to become a hit thru a beer commercial, the dark cool sense of desperation spoke to my Miami Vice influenced mind. The ballad "In Too Deep" brought reminiscence of a high school friend who loved Phil Collins and liked the line "Crying at the top of my voice" sung in a higher register from the rest of the verse. The watery texture of the keyboards was excellent

The last song to have a strong memory attached is the instrumental "The Brazilian". At a party I fell asleep in the living room and woke up to the sound of my friends getting laid in the other rooms. The next morning, one of the girls who lived there turned on the CD player and this song came on. So, "The Brazilian" is the sound of being the odd man out to me.

Invisible Touch was a huge hit album and made Genesis an arena rock attraction. It continued Collins' '80's hot streak that would not end until after the next Genesis album, We Can't Dance (1991). So many memories are attached to this album for me, I had to include it in the countdown. What it boils down to is: Cost of a Genesis tape in 1986 - $7.00. Cost of College - I don't know, I didn't pay for it. Cost of memories of being on my own for the first time - priceless.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Journey gets Mainit?

There's a big rumor going around Journeyland that they have found a new singer-Phillipine singer Arnel Pineda! The rumors range from an audition to a contract signing for the youthful looking 40 year old and there are pictures going around of him posing with the band. The reaction on the net has been mixed, ranging from positive support to slightly negative to flat out racist hatred (though the racists have downplayed it as they don't hate Asians, they just don't like when Asians sing with Journey). I guess the racism shouldn't be too surprising, some Journey fans mocked Randy Jackson when he was the bassist for the band in the mid '80's. I heard jokes and racist comments about Jackson when I attended two concerts during the Raised on Radio tour. There just wasn't an internet at the time where they could post their feelings publicly.

That's not to say all Journey fans are racist as I haven't run into any obvious trouble in the five Journey concerts that I've been to. I would like to think the majority of the fans, or the public in general, isn't racist. At least not to the point they feel they need to actively do something about it. And all of the hoopla over Pineda's nationality has detracted from what should be the main point: does he have talent?

Having never heard of him before tonight, I couldn't say offhand. So, I looked him up on You Tube. Overall, I would have to say what I saw was impressive-Pineda performed with energy and had a strong, soaring voice (sound familiar? Those were Steve Perry hallmarks). The only negatives I saw where he tended to push his voice hard to reach higher notes and he would sort of mimic the original singer of whatever song he covered. Not just copy the melody but the individual tics of the original singers. When he sang Journey he became soulful, when he sang Styx he went Broadway like Dennis DeYoung, when he sang Survivor he became heroic like both Dave Bickler and Jimi Jamison. Lack of an original approach can hurt a singer once they hit the big leagues (just ask Johnny Edwards. Who? The guy who temporarily replaced Lou Gramm in Foreigner for just one album in 1991). Then again, Journey made it clear they wanted someone who could copy Perry-um, I mean "perform their songs the way the fans remember them."

So hopefully the party's not over for Arnel Pineda and he'll be able to survive the backlash should he be selected as the new lead singer. I like what I saw of his performances on You Tube and think he can deliver what the band wants-a Steve Perry with limited say on anything other than singing. Sort of like when Van Halen chose Gary Cherone and forced him to sing like Sammy Hagar. I'm a little disappointed Kevin Chalfant wasn't selected, the guy just released a CD of Journey covers that sound great. But like the song goes, the Wheel in the Sky keeps on turnin...

Arnel Pineda (The Zoo) performing Survivor's "Ever Since The World Began"

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Spoon Me!

Spoon goes slightly mad with radio ga ga

Hey, get your mind out of the gutter and dont blame me just because I put it there. This is the last evening of my vacation so I am finishing it with a review of Spoon's recent Cd, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. I first started listening to Spoon when their song "I Turn My Camera On" stuck in my head following a Paste magazine sampler. After hearing their first single, the Billy Joelish "The Underdog", from their new disc I decided to try a whole CD.

Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is an impressive but not entirely fulfilling disc. This band has an interesting, minimalist approach to it's music. Not minimalist like Unplugged, but rather a strict usage of instruments and sound meant only to further the song. If a guitar isn't needed, it doesn't show up. Nor do any other instruments, the singer's voice is the only constant through the album. Any sound is fair game, including static and electrical short outs.

Highlights include the taut "Don't Take Me A Target" with its scampering piano and jagged beat. "Don't You Evah" is one of the more straightforward songs, a midtempo guitar driven song remiscent of the Psychedelic Furs. "My Little Japanese Cigarette Case" also is one of the more direct guitar based songs with cute Spanish and Oriental accents to the music.

Their minimalism gets pushed to the forefront on the almost solo piano on "The Ghost of You Lingers", punctuated by haunting vocals and static booms. This approach separates Spoon from the pack of alternative indie bands by adding a sense of artistry to songs that are strong but not outstanding. I kept waiting for a song to slay me and it just didn't happen.

All in all, Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga is an album that is easy to like and respect. They are just a song away from producing a masterpiece.

Spoon - "The Underdog"

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Hollywoodland solves Tinsel Town's greatest mystery and other quick hits

Mr. Mike makes a shocking discovery-a movie where Ben Affleck doesn't suck!

With a little time off from work, I had an opportunity to watch some movies. I've decided to create a new heading for movies I see on DVD instead of the movie theater, called DVD Reviews. I've seen a bunch of stuff lately and will lead off with Hollywoodland.
Hollywoodland (2006)
This movie is about the career of George (Superman) Reeves in the 1950s and his mysterious death. Reeves died at his home with a gunshot through his head. Was it suicide? Was it murder? With Rashoman style replays of the scenario, the movie doesn't give a firm answer but does solve Hollywood's greatest mystery: Does Ben Affleck have any talent at all?
After giving a strong performance as a big hearted lunkhead in Good Will Hunting, Affleck proceeded to take a series of roles ranging from character parts to leading man star turns. He was uniformly unconvincing in all of them. I never felt I was viewing a character in a movie as much as a male model who could read lines without stumbling. All of his scenes felt like someone taking a break from his real job, which would probably be getting press for his love life and partying.
Despite this nuisance, Affleck would not have made much of a difference to me except he started to take his non acting to movies I wanted to see. He starred in Daredevil, a comic I enjoyed growing up. I've only seen parts of this movie because I did not believe Affleck was: a) blind, b) a lawyer, c) an acrobatic superhero or d)any of the above. Watching his future wife Alias' Jennifer Garner school him in every scene on all levels didn't help. Then Affleck tackled the Tom Clancy franchise, taking over from the King of all Action Films, Harrison Ford. When the commercials for The Sum Of All Fears featured more James Earl Jones than Affleck, I knew it wasn't going to be pretty. I haven't seen this movie to this day and still don't plan to.
So with Hollywoodland I went in wondering what I would see. Fortunately, Affleck was not carrying the whole movie as Adrian Brody and Diane Lane had sizeable parts (and are uniformly good in this movie). Surprisingly, Affleck holds up his end of the bargin and for the very first time was believable as a character. Going Deniro with his body weight and facial makeup, Affleck delivers a touching performance as ambitous, slow witted George Reeves.

Ambivalent about his kiddie TV fame, Reeves became frustrated with his inability to get dramatic starring roles and eventually ended a long term relationship with a studio head's wife (Diane Lane). Reeves dies in his bedroom shortly after and is listed as a suicide until a private eye is hired to look into it. Adrian Brody's private eye is twitchy and cynical as he tries to get as much publicity for himself as possible. The story of Reeve's career is told in parallel to Brody's investigation, both delving into the lure of fame and the corruption of power it masks. Echoes of Chinatown and LA Confidential color Hollywoodland, but the movie has enough substance to stand on its own.

By the end of Hollywoodland, I came away with a better understanding of the George Reeves saga and a satisfied feeling of seeing a decent modern noir flick. And to my surprise, some grudging respect for Ben Affleck. From Jenny on the Block to this. Did not see it coming.

Other quick reviews:

White Light Black Rain (2007)-A moving documentary about the effects of the A Bombs dropped at the end of World War II. Both the American bombers and the Japanese victims are interviewed in a very even handed way. It shows fairly graphic pictures of the bomb victims in all states of injury and death, yet only enough to make its point. The movie ends with a No Nukes stance that feels justified and earned afterwards. Very good.

Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny (2006)-I like Jack Black and like heavy metal, so on paper this should be a great movie. Too bad it sucks ass. Black works manically to build up the funny and falls flat. A total waste of time.

The Holiday (2006) - A Jack Black doubleheader! The latest attempt by Nora Ephron to recapture that When Harry Met Sally / Sleepless in Seattle magic, two women frustrated by their love lives switch homes and continents for a vacation. Of course, they unexpectedly encounter love and all of the other standard trappings of a rom com. As far as chick flicks go, The Holiday isn't bad and gives the actors (Cameron Diaz, Jude Law, Kate Winslet and Jack Black) a chance to play something lighter than their usual fare. It's enjoyable to watch Diaz and Black reign in their hyperactive deliveries while Law and Winslet avoid the dark dramatics for which they are known. The Holiday runs a little long, if it was a half hour shorter it would have been much better.

The Keeper (2004) - Is an awful movie that I watched because I was suffering from insomnia. Dennis Hopper plays a cop who is crazy (big surprise there) and keeps a stripper locked in his basement to "train" her to be a good person. Asia Argentino plays the stripper. Hopper and Argentino do the best they can with the derivative script to build up the creeps. To bad they are sabotaged by unrealistic characters such as the ambitious television producer. Bor-ing.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004) - by animator Hiyako Miyazaki is an excellent film meant to entertain the family. A facinating fantasy, Castle tells the story of a teenage hat shop owner who is cursed by a witch to be 90 years old. The teenager becomes the cleaning lady for a wizard who's house can travel across distance and dimensions. In the meantime, the wizards and witches are being called upon to fight a war that wizard Howl wants no part of. The animation is detailed and imaginative, the story is remarkably original and comes across as a dark fairy tale. Some of the sinister moments may scare small children, but I felt it was on par with classic Disney.

Since Roger Ebert has trademarked the "Thumbs Up/Down" bit, I'll have to use the heavy metal "devil horns". I looked up on the internet how to do this.

Hollywoodland \m/
White Light Black Rain \m/
Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny /w\
The Holiday \m/
The Keeper /w\
Howl's Moving Castle \m/

And I'll see the balcony. Wait, that's probably trademarked too. Take two. And I'll see you...standing in a slow line at Blockbuster Video! Why does it take 10 minutes to rent a video anyway?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Classic Toy Commercials

Admittedly, this game was less challenging when played alone

While searching for classic rock music on You Tube, I stumbled across this montage of old commercials from the early 70's. The montage included some of my favorite toys such as SST Racers, Slip N Slide and Smash Up Derby. Both SST and Smash Up Derby had cars that you ran a "T" stick through a big wheel and pull. They would make a whining sound before you put them on the ground to roll. I really liked the Smash Up Derby except I kept losing the little choke able parts after they crashed. It's not included here, but Rock 'em Sock'em robots with the plastic boxers whose glass jaw would cause their heads to pop up was awesome too. There was another clip of an Action Jackson doll with the working parachute, I used to throw that thing in the air all day long. All of these commercials brought back memories of children's games designed for people to interact with each other directly. I know people playing videogames now have interlinked headsets to speak to each other but it's not the same. It's the great irony of communications technology, the more it advances the more isolated people are from each other. That's not an original sentiment, but it's still true.

Seeing these commercials bring back memories of youth, watching tv at home, watching tv at relatives houses, watching tv while sitting on orange shag carpeting...a lot of tv watching. It's amazing how suggestive tv commercials can be to a young child, 'cause after viewing these commercials I found part of me still wants a Water Wiggle. Yes, the adult me realizes it's a plastic cup with a smiley face attached to a garden hose that's wasting a lot of water. But Mommy, I still want it. Pleaasseee. I'll be goOoOod :) I-want-a-Wa-ter-Wi-ggle! Now! :(

One of my first jobs was working in a toy store. If you ever want to reminisce about how bratty you may have been as a child, just go to a store for a while and watch kids throw tantrums and literally get dragged out. It's a lot of fun to see (provided it's not your kid being dragged out) and you can ponder your animal instinct to gather useless crap. Water Wiggle, you enlighten me! And that makes you the latest Flashback!

Toy Commercials from the '70's

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Number 45

Everyone thought the smoking angel baby was the coolest thing they had ever seen

I wrote my favorite 100 cd list some time ago, but Number 45 seems real timely. So, at Number 45 is...

Van Halen - 1984 (1983)

After years of being the coolest heavy metal band (they were considered metal back then) in the land, the So Cal rockers figured out how to operate a synthesizer and hit the mainstream. With "Jump", the top party band hit #1 on the singles chart thanks to Eddie Van Halen's upbeat keyboard runs, David Lee Roth's rambling lyrics and a killer video that highlighted their high flying performance style.

1984 is often considered the album where Van Halen went pop and it is true that they seemed to figure out a few song hooks they didn't have before. But really what it came down to was the group finding focus in their songwriting. After Van Halen II (1979), the band seemed to shift back and forth between Eddie Van Halen's ambitions and David Lee Roth's whims. On 1984, the band members found a balance with each other where they could play to support the song, as opposed to endless guitar experiments (Fair Warning ) or jokes with monologues (Women and Children First).

In addition to the classic pop hit "Jump", the band registered three more hits off 1984. The classic rock smash "Panama" with it's pounding guitar riffs and party anthem chorus is the epitome of the Van Halen sound. Recent exposure in the movie ads for the film Superbad reflect it's endurance. The double bass drumwork, freewheeling guitar solo and spoken word verses to "Hot For Teacher" made it a must hear for all rock fans. Ominous, cold synths mark "I'll Wait" while Roth delivers one of his most memorable melodies in his career.

Even past the hits, the quality of the songwriting does not falter. "Drop Dead Legs" struts and swaggers to one of my favorite Van Halen riffs. "Girl Gone Bad" harks back to the classic Van Halen sound of the first album. "House of Pain" was in the bands songbook as far back as their earliest demos. And "Top Jimmy" has a loose groove and jokey manner to add to it's appeal.

To finish it off, the group is in top form on all fronts with Eddie Van Halen's flamethrower guitars and David Lee Roth's life-of-the-party attitude. 1984 placed the band on the top of the heavy metal kingdom with a big giant smirk on their face. At the time, no one would have guessed they would have to wait 23 years to see them play live again. But they are finally back, as demonstrated in the clip below. I hope they can keep it together long enough for me to see them!

Van Halen - 2007 rehearsal excerpts

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Geek Love

Something funny on network tv...who knew?
I was watching the pilot episode of a very entertaining new series called Chuck about a computer tech nerd who has the combined knowledge of the NSA and CIA downloaded into his brain when a theme came to mind. There are always fads running through popular culture, whether it be boy bands, dinosaurs, penguins, etc. While watching Chuck, the latest fad sunk in: Geeks.

Geeks, nerds, whatever anyone would want to call them, are the new "in" thing. Being a geek or nerd, seeing this trend doesn't trouble me at all but I do find it surprising. Media usually sells the image of "cool", an affectless state of culturally established beauty or demeanor. "Cool" doesn't analyze or shows any effort of trying to exist on the exterior, it just is. A geek/nerd is the opposite, it's writing sentences like the ones that preceeded this-analysis and speculation on intellectual minutae for the sake of doing it.

Media for the nerdy is popping up all over the place, presumably an attempt to grab some sweaty dollars from the hands of techies wetting themselves over the pending release of Halo 3. Video games is the media genre showing the most expansion -i.e., money. This latest shift in media is moving from showing what they think nerds want to see (The Matrix) to showing what they may want to be.
The current Holy Grail of geekdom, isn't that right Sarge?
On TV, you have the aforementioned Chuck which had a terrific pilot episode that managed to cram computer viruses, pop culture asides, shots at homogenous corporate structure and spy action into 45 minutes. Other than one actor doing the most practiced Seth Green imitation I've ever seen, it was a lot of fun. Also on TV is the Big Bang Theory about a group of scientists trying to score points with the babe next door.

The gang bang theory - hey, isn't that the kid from Roseanne?

In movies, you have Judd Apatow churning out geek themed product all over the place. He started in TV with Freaks and Geeks and Undeclared. Since then, he has gone to movies with The 40-Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up. All of these have tackled geeky themes like action figure collecting, internet porn and Rush. Top this off with the flood of comic book adaptations over the past decade that has no signs of stopping (I never thought I'd see an X-Men movie, let alone three of them).

Proof there's big money in representin' for us nerds

In music, indie bands have gained commercial traction and even rap is showing signs of life in this area. The current top rapper, Kanye West, probably can't be described as geeky but has shown to have more on his mind than the usual guns, money and girls approach (though he has covered those topics as well, except maybe guns). West has proven to be politically and socially outspoken about actual topics that go beyond pot smoking. I can't say I necessarily agree with him on his point of view but it is refreshing to see a popular artist have one.

Only happy if you agree with him on how great he thinks he is

So what's the facination with high SAT scores and calculus equations all of the sudden? Maybe with the growing unpopularity of The Iraq and such as plus the declining approval of the current administration people are looking for something that doesn't say "might makes right". Or maybe it's just a new set of cultural touchstones that is ripe for comedic ribbing until writers run out of fresh pop culture references (Chuck had a real good one where they referenced Prince's "Batdance" with one character saying "Stop the presses, who is that?" followed by another saying "Vicki Vale-Vick-Vick-Vicki Vale"). Or maybe it's just another market to be plundered.

Like any fad, it's hard to say how long this trend will last so I intend to enjoy it while I can. And the best way I can think to close this post is to add Weird Al Yankovic's "White and Nerdy". And remember to Live long and prosper for the Fellowship before Morpheus finds the Midiclorians. For Gods sake, someone please think of the Midiclorians!

Weird Al Yankovic - "White & Nerdy"

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Schwartzenegger asks "Ahr Yu Shara Konner?" but finds Jamie Summers instead

The New Bionic Woman-Stronger...Faster...more dull...
I viewed the pilot episode of the new Bionic Woman (2007) TV series from NBC. This show was a rarity for me in that it was a new program I actually was looking forward to seeing. I grew up on the Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman in the 70's and was a big fan of both shows. Lindsey Wagner was a 70's styled natural beauty who portrayed Jamie Summers as a down to earth everywoman. Both shows were campy and a bit dopey, but to a kid watching TV they were supermodern heroes of the technology age (technology at the time consisting of those computers with the big reel to reel tapes spinning back and forth. And digital clocks too!). Plus, they made friends with Bigfoot. It just didn't get better than that.
So with this good will built up, I went out of my way to watch the new Bionic Woman. All I can say is...what the hell? While the original set of shows were driven by a certain knowing campiness that's embedded in a program about 20th century cyborgs, the new show throws all that out the window. This Bionic Woman is serious stuff, at least in the context of cheesy TV sci fi.
The Bionic Woman pulls from several different sources until it becomes a confused patchwork with no real identity. Jamie Summers is a struggling Bartender (like Cocktail) who is dating a doctor / professor marked for death by a previous cyborg (The Terminator). The doctor is relatively unhurt following an assassination attempt by the first Bionic Woman who rams a huge truck into the car (again, The Terminator). The doctor uses his position as head of the medical program in cybernetics to rebuild his dying fiancee.
Jamie Summers wakes up in a hidden government facility that tries to train and rehabilitate her. The cost of course is her freedom (La Femme Nikita, Species). Summers escapes so she can rip off more movies before her hour program is up (rip offs include Spider Man, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Alias and Lethal Weapon).
Thankfully, this program is only an hour long so they uses all sorts of time saving devices in the plot to keep things flowing. For example, these Bionics come with built in healing powers and automatic martial arts training. Newcomer Michelle Ryan does her best to create a sympathetic character in Jamie Summers and succeeds but lacks the charisma needed to completely pull off the role. The rest of the cast is unremarkable, though Jose Ferrer manages to chew up some scenery as the gravelly voiced project head.
After 60 minutes of a derivative story held together by mediocre acting I was ready to look for the Bionic Channel Changer. The new Bionic Woman only confirmed what I already knew: I miss the old Bionic Woman and her bionic dog Max. The Bionic Woman probably won't last long on TV and make a great addition to the reruns airing on the Sci Fi Channel. Until then, sha na na na (bionic lifting sound).
I get that the legs and arm is bionic, but the back was never enhanced. Should snap like a twig under weight.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Neil Young is caught in A Mighty Wind!

Everybody knows Young is leading to somewhere...

I just saw Neil Young's concert movie Heart of Gold (2005) shot in Nashville by respected director Jonathan Demme (Stop Making Sense, Silence of the Lambs). The concert was in support of his Prairie Wind CD (2005), a sort of end to a trilogy of country influenced folk albums (Harvest and Harvest Moon were the other two). Not surprisingly, the concert pulled most of its set from those three albums and Young gathered a band of musicians that could play in this style.

The movie, shot in Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, is in the format of a standard concert film but has one major exception. This is the first concert film I've seen where the audience isn't shown at all. They're heard as they clap or holler for their favorite tunes, but other than that they have no presence. Instead, the camera focuses on the performers onstage.

This shift in focus isolates the performance by adding intimacy to the film. The band interplay is captured beautifully and everyone is featured in warm lighting. It also helps to have a committed band, no studio hacks working solely for a paycheck here. Young has the most expressive background singers ever with an emotional Diana DeWitt and his wife Pegi Young. Country star Emmylou Harris contributes background and harmony vocals as well and shares a strong musical bond with Young. However, I can't say she is expressive because she has developed a way of singing where only her jaw moves while the rest of her face is still.

The band dresses in their Grand Ole Opry best with long dresses, denim and collared shirts. The backgrounds also hark back to old style staging with the words "Prarie Wind" written in rope on a desert backdrop. The exaggerated Old Tyme feel reminded me of the costumes and staging used in the film A Mighty Wind (2003). If the music wasn't so good, it would be easy to ridicule this movie.

But the music is good, really good. Mostly pulling from Prairie Wind, the show reveals some layers to the CD I didn't catch at first. Apparently, the CD and movie occurred shortly after Young had a brain aneurysm that required surgery. As a result, these documents are as Pegi Young puts it, "His life flashing before his eyes." The numerous childhood references in the song had added weight in that context.

The band delivers a great performance of these songs, whether they were reminiscences ("He Was The King" and the title cut), ruminating on the present ("The Painter", "Fell Off The Face Of The Earth") or looking with a mix of hope and cynicism at the future ("When God Made Me"). Classic hits like "Heart of Gold" and "Old Man" take on added meaning with the subtext of mortality added on.

The film serves as an excellent companion to the CD, expanding on Young's vision of self examination with warm memories and apprehension for the future of both himself and Western culture. Heart of Gold does what few concert films do, which is investigate the songs subject matter over the hype of the concert event (most concert film feature moving lights, explosions and a frenzied crowd). Heart of Gold shows a man approaching his golden years by taking stock of himself before charting a new course.

In this light Young's following album highlights his renewed sense of purpose, Living with War (2006) where Young goes back to his lefty roots with a full on protest album. The man who once said "It's better to burn out than fade away" (I bet you thought Def Leppard made that line up) refuses to do neither. Young is determined to keep on Rockin in the Free World!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Rock from the Rising Sun

It's not a Japanese festival or forbidden food additive, it's TMG!

My wife recently ordered some great Japanese rock music. Like in the movie This Is Spinal Tap (1984) the bands I grew up on are still Big In Japan twenty years later. One of the most respected rockers from the East is Tak Matsumoto,half of the duo B'z's which is extremely successful in Japan (successful like Hall & Oates at their peak but without the spastic dance moves or mustache). Matsumoto is so respected that Gibson guitars made a custom model sponsored by him (the only guitarist from the East to do so) and he was able to rope in some of AOR's top performers to form a band with him. To make the band Tak Matsumoto Group, he nabbed bassist/vocalist Jack Blades (Night Ranger, Damn Yankees) and vocalist Eric Martin (Eric Martin Band, Mr. Big).

Tak Matsumoto is an excellent guitarist, his playing has the big muscular riffs of modern rock with bluesy bursts and shimmering accents. At times, his Japanese influence shows up with almost Koto like sounds. It's all layered with the crystal clear sheen of AOR, Matsumoto plays with control and feeling. No wonder Martin and Blades were willing to work with him!

The album TMG I (2004) is one of the best latter day AOR albums to be made in this decade. There is a freshness to their performance that is lacking from many of the reunion albums that have marked the 21st century's AOR scene. Blades and Martin deliver the goods with the jaunty melodies and raspy vocals they are respectively known for.

Highlights include the anthemic "The Greatest Show On Earth" which rolls on a big beat with a fancy drum break. The near Koto guitar gives a distinct flavor to this track. "Two of a Kind" is a traditional power ballad that emotes and lifts in the chorus as effectively as any of the other tunes of this type. The single "Oh Japan" is another strong anthem with based on an almost metal style of guitarwork. My favorite track, "Everything Passes Away" has Martin and Blades trading off on lead vocals over choppy guitar riffs and intense, dramatic vocals.

TMG I retains the best feature of AOR, matching the power of heavy rock with the gracefulness of a catchy chorus. It is rooted equaly in both the present and past so fans of say Godsmack and
Skid Row could probably agree it sounds good. Below is my favorite track being played live in Japan with Spinal Tap staging. Tak Matusmoto is the best rock guitarist you've never heard of. If you don't believe me, just click below.

Tak Matsumoto Group - "Everything Passes Away"

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Hell Freezes Over...Again!

Been a long time since they rock & rolled
Two more things to add to the "I can't believe this is actually happening..." list of 2007, the return of Led Zeppelin and the Eagles. Led Zeppelin haven't played together in ages, I think the last time was the Atlantic 40th anniversary in the late '80's. I watched this performance on tv with Jason Bonham on drums and though I've read the band wasn't pleased with the show I was mesmerized by it. "Whole Lotta Love" still carried real power even at that point. Even if this is a one off show, hopefully it will be Pay Per Viewed and DVD'd to death so we can all see the Hammer of the Gods one more time!

The second item is the new Eagles album, a two CD set no less. After many aborted attempts to record a new album, the band whose last full studio album was released in 1979 returns with actual new music. And unlike that "Hole In The World" from a few years ago, the new song doesn't suck. Apparently, "How Long" was part of the Eagle's set list from the beginning of their career and it's being revived as the first single. To show they're serious, they've even filmed a video. In an unusually right wing move by Don Henley, their new disc Long Road To Eden will be available only at Wal-Mart. Sure Don, save the rainforest but the hell with third world labor earning a nickel a day. Damn, I'm getting political again.

The Eagles - "How Long"
An update on 9/19, The Sex Pistols have announced a reunion show for the 30th anniversary of their debut album! 1977 is definitely back again.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Darfur and 9/11

Lennon gets the cover treatment to stop genocide

I generally try to leave this blog politics free because I find that political discussions usually have less to do with the free exchange of ideas than endless dogmatic posturing of one side against another. Particularly on the internet, a place where most social graces don't apply. Given that the CD review on this entry relates to the Darfur and it is the day after 9/11 politics seem unavoidable. So I will keep the politics in this entry to the most agreeable level - Genocide and Terrorism is wrong.

The two CD set recently released to bring attention to the genocide /ethnic cleansing in Darfur is a set of John Lennon covers. Like most covers albums with various artists, there are great moments, mediocre moments and huh(?) moments. The songs covered are Lennon's greatest hits for the most part, at times the same song is covered twice by separate artists. Like most rock artists receiving the cover treatment, attempts to add hip hop interpretations fall flat.

The best moments on the disc are songs that have stripped down arrangements to allow the singer get to the emotional core. Corrine Bailey Rae's version of "I'm Losing You" with her singing over an electric piano is the highlight of the set. It's dripping with soul. The Flaming Lips take on "(Just Like) Starting Over" is memorable as well for it's acoustic beauty. Jackson Browne gets intimate on "Oh My Love" to good effect.

The full band songs are decent with flashes of greatness. Green Day plays "Working Class Hero" with their familiar sneering vigor. Los Lonely Boys lighten up "Whatever Gets You Through The Night" into their familiar groove. R.E.M.'s "#9 Dream" effectively recaptures their classic sound better than any recent tune they've delivered on their own. Christina Aguilera's "Mother" is predictably overwrought but her voice remains an impressive instrument.

The dance songs didn't move me, entries by Aerosmith with the Serra Leone All Stars, Black Eyed Peas and Yassou N Dour all fit this mold.

This post is going up later than planned and I had intended to have a song up as tribute to 9/11. I originally thought of Sammy Hagar's "Remember The Heroes" but the You Tube videos for the song all had an overt political bent. So I went to my second choice, Sheryl Crow's "Safe and Sound".

Sheryl Crow - "Safe and Sound"

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Britney Spears - Game Over?

Gimmie More vodka, gin & tonic, 7&7 and anything else you got

Last night, Britney Spears made her extremely hyped "comeback" at the VMAs in Las Vegas. At this point, I think anyone who has access to any entertainment news outlet knows it was a disaster. Spears seemed to sleepwalk through her performance, barely bothering to lip synch or even move around the stage. Her army of background dancers twirled their little hearts out to pick up the noticeable slack in Spear's performance. Best of all, noted music stars like Puff Daddy / Diddy / Whatever looked noticeably shocked as if they had witnessed a horrific accident. In short, it was the funniest four minutes I had seen on TV in months. Even Justin Timberlake's "D*ck in a Box" wasn't quite as funny.
In a way the Vegas setting was suitable in that Spears reminded me a lot of Elvis. The later years Elvis, the one who looked jumbled and disconnected because of drugs and rambled through performances while throwing randomly bizarre Karate moves. Spears had the same look in her eyes: numb and lost.
But, unlike some of the media I don't think Spear's career is over. At least not yet. The key will be if Spears can get into physical shape in both physique and performance. I'm not saying Spears is overweight or unattractive, it's that when you get down to it what Spear's sold was an exaggerated perception of sex. At her peak, Spears was the ultimate tease that men wanted to see and a large section of preteen girls wanted to be. It wasn't her nondescript voice, mediocre song choices, personal interpretation of music or even her personality. Britney was successful because she (or more likely her handlers) knew how to sensationalize her sexuality, whether it was being jailbait, showing skin in tight outfits or kissing Madonna. Without that perfectly toned body doing outlandishly sharp choreography, there's nothing of interest to see.
Spears can make a comeback if she leaves long enough for people to forget her and uses the time to build back what made her a star (for career strategy see Carey, Mariah). Some would say it is unfair to ask Britney Spears to meet an impossible measure of physical perfection but the problem is she built her career on it. If she wants a comeback, she'll have to do it again. Despite the epic disaster that is her life, the door is still open to her. She just has to walk through.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

The spiritual teachings of Saints Mike & Sam

Dude, I get more profound with every beer"

To begin with, I am not a religious or spiritual person. I do believe in the advancement of society and human civilization for us to progress as a race of beings, but not for any spiritual reward. For most of my life, I pretty much subscribed to the notion that everything I needed to know in life came from either Star Trek or Star Wars. "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few..." , "Anger, fear, aggression...these lead to the dark side", "Hold me like that time you did near the lake at Naboo" and so on.

Instead of following the teachings of some sci fi movies that many others follow, I think I'll start my own cult. I'm going to name it "The Other Half". Why? Because Mike Anthony and Sammy Hagar deserve to be heard as voices of wisdom. When they're sober, that is.

Michael Anthony was the bass player for Van Halen from it's inception thru, well, now. He was informed that he would not be part of the Van Halen reunion of 2007 the same way the rest of the world did-thru the internet. Anthony was replaced by Eddie Van Halen's 16 year old son, Wolfgang. When Van Halen launched a new site for their tour, they tried to take Michael Anthony's image off of the old album covers and replace him with Wolfgang. They even removed his songwriting credits from the 1984 album (granted, how much he contributed to songwriting is questionable).

Most rock stars, hell, most people, would react angrily and bitterly at such shabby treatment. He wasn't just fired, his former employers are trying to erase any sign of his past work. After all, Anthony had been a member of all editions of Van Halen up to now through the good and bad times. At least when Jimmy Page and Robert Plant decided to leave John Paul Jones out of a reunion, they called it Page & Plant instead of Led Zeppelin.

But Michael Anthony took the high road. He has not painted an ugly picture of any of the current band members. Anthony has even asked audiences to accept Wolfgang as the new bass player. Sure, he's probably not hurting for money either way but it takes class to not only accept you've been unfairly fired but replaced through nepotism. The Dude is a Saint. A Saint probably drunk on Jack Daniels half the time (there has to be a reason why he has a bass shaped like the bottle) but a Saint nonetheless.

As for Sammy Hagar, about a year ago I found out he had something to say on everything relevant in life. I trust a man who has his own bar, liquor brand and can work with every ego driven guitarist in the business. Some of the profound statements he has made in life or song has included:

  • Winner takes it all, loser takes the fall

  • You've got to give to live and live to give you' ve got to live

  • All that matters is right here, right now

  • There's only one way to rock

  • Suckers walk! Money talks! But it can't touch my three lock box (whatever a 3 lock box is, you can't touch it)

  • I want the best of both worlds because I know what it's worth

  • Stop lookin' out, start lookin' in / be your own best friend / stand up and say, hey! This is Mine!

  • Only time will tell if we stand the test of time

  • Uh! (the grunt about 30 seconds into "Summer Nights")

  • Yeah, there's still some fight in me/That's how it'll always be/Hold your head up high, look 'em in the eye/Never say die!

  • I've taken a lot of lip/just to be where I am/you think it's tough being a kid/try being a man sometime

  • Mas Tequila!

  • and of course...I can't drive 55! (actually I can, particularly when the MAN is coming down on me. I can't afford Sammy Hagar's insurance rates)
Yes, the basic statements of life made with guileless enthusiasm. That's what makes this man a Saint. And they both deserve Sainthood for their conduct during the Rock & Roll induction ceremony that the rest of Van Halen was either too drunk or egotistical to attend for their fans. Anthony and Hagar made no ill remarks and thanked the fans. Standing up for themselves while not letting others drag them down-that's a great life lesson. 'Cause the greatest love of all is learning to love yourself-that's what Whitney said. And now that she divorced Bobby Brown, that's probably happening right now.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Rilo Kiley serve up Mac & Cheese for the Masses

Rilo Kiley look for new fans Under The Blacklight

I've had multiple posts about Rilo Kiley and chose two of their recent tunes as songs I liked a lot so I guess it was inevitable I would get the CD. I like the band and on top of that, I had to hear what had so many people on the internet throwing their hands in the air and then clutching old copies of their Execution of All Things (2002) disc like gold. Maybe I'm a little more flexible because I started listening with their previous CD, More Adventerous (2004) on which I heard a pop rock band that put a slight spin on each song by adding other genres (Country, electronica, alt. rock). Their new disc, Under The Blacklight (2007) shows the indie darlings simultanously selling their souls while expanding on the course charted on More Adventerous.

As the title Under The Blacklight suggests, Rilo Kiley had something hidden up their sleeve. What no one expected was that they were hiding commercial ambition. The band, bassist/vocalist Jenny Lewis in particular, eject the earnest yearning of their prior sound in favor of a more jaded approach to the current market. In fact on one track, "Breakin' Up", plays like a rejected song from a Natasha Bedingfield album. Breathy vocals, lightly thumping back beat, vague boy/girl lyrics...I guess the rest is still Unwritten. Although the songs about wanting affection or dumping people are about romantic relationships, I felt like the real relationship that was ending was the one they had with their old fans. As their first single "The Moneymaker" indicates, they have to get money by getting out, out, out and showing what they can do.

There are winning moments on this disc, particularly on the Fleetwood Mac pastiche "Dreamworld". It's like the best Lindsey Buckingham song he never recorded, a whispery vocal backed by hushed background voices, chiming guitars and a steady beat. The second single "Silver Lining" and the closing track "Give A Little Love" feel like the type of ballads that bookend a late 80's Touchstone movie. Soulful ballads with most of the R&B grit glazed out of it, but in this case I mean in a pleasant way. I also get a kick out of the Banglesish "Smoke Detector", where Lewis tries way too hard to be sexy (she says she "smoked" a guy!).

Some of the blander tracks provide nice background music ("Close Call", "The Angels Hung Around", the title track), but there are some real duds here as well. "Dejalo" is a confusing song with some of the worst rapping since Blondie's "Rapture". "15" overplays it's "Country" styling with a dragged out chorus melody and lyrics about underage girls looking for relationships on the Web and meeting older men. Don't Rilo Kiley watch Dateline? By the end of the song, I'm waiting for Stone Phillips to appear in someone's kitchen to bust another perv. Fortunately, these tracks are so ridiculous it's possible to believe they are just kidding.

Under The Blacklight follows the course set by More Adventerous, just not in a way fans expected. Where Adventerous saw the band trying on different styles to add to their Countrified Pop Rock, Blacklight shows those styles consuming the original sound and leaving something entirely derivative in it's place. The end result is a Pop Rock album made of generic cheese instead of distinct flavor. That's not all bad, but if Rilo Kiley were trying to make a crossover hit a la Bangles Different Light (1986) then they failed. There's no "Walk Like An Egyptian" here. Still love that "Silver Lining" song though.

For an idea of the charming indie approach Rilo Kiley was once known for, here's an earlier song called "The Frug".

Rilo Kiley - "The Frug"

Thursday, September 06, 2007

The Boss drops the banjo and picks up the E Street Band

The video for Bruce Springsteen's "Radio Nowhere" has been released and shows him rocking out with the E Street Band for the first time in twenty years. It's not necessarily the most impressive song in the Springsteen canon, but after two decades of acoustic albums, non E Street Band rock discs and fiddles this track seems irresistable. Granted, their official reunion happened on 2002's The Rising but for the most part that album didn't rock. Having 9/11 (whose date is coming soon) as the theme of that album eliminated much of the rocking.

All the members get screen time and the Big Man (Clarence Clemons) gets to unleash his first memorable sax solo since..."You're A Friend Of Mine" with Jackson Browne? At any rate, "Radio Nowhere" does exactly what it's supposed to do: get me pumped up to get Magic (2007) once it hits the streets. After going all rural and losing my interest on We Shall Overcome (2006) Springsteen's return to rock is much needed and welcomed.

Bruce Springsteen - "Radio Nowhere"

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Time To Play the Game

Recent news in the world of Wrestling have all been of the negative type: Steroids, murder, falling attendance and tv ratings...the list goes on. Earlier this year, one of their best wrestlers Triple HHH was said to be retiring. To a fan that came in during the "Attitude" era, the loss of Triple HHH came as shocking news. Shortly after Wrestlemania, I stopped watching wrestling more out of boredom than anything else. Which is why what I saw last night on Raw was a surprise.

I tuned in to see Triple HHH in a handicap match against Umaga and Carlito. I could not believe what I was seeing: Triple HHH was supposed to be retired, his legs were shot and his child was recently born. His wife is Stephanie McMahon, the daughter of WWE owner Vince McMahon. But the HHH I saw wasn't ready to be put out to pasture, he performed with the same ability and intensity that he has for the past 10+ years.

Triple HHH isn't my favorite wrestler, that would be Stone Cold Steve Austin (the wrestler, not the person who is the wrestler) but Triple HHH was the one I always had the most respect for. He earned the nickname "The Game" by continuously striving to be the best. He learned so much about wrestling that people said he simply was the Game. He could be the good guy, the bad guy, the joker and anything else he needed to be. And whenever it came time to prove his commitment, such as when he blew his leg out in the middle of a match but finished it without missing any of his spots, he proved it.

Triple HHH is someone I find to be an inspiration, someone who gives 100% at all times no matter what the cost. By stepping out of retirement when the business needs him once again proves he is THAT DAMN GOOD!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Mr. Mike's highschool record collection - Eric Martin Band

Eric Martin wonders watcha gonna do with all that junk, all that junk inside your trunk?

A new feature I'm trying out is taking a look back at old records I used to have in High School. These records are usually not the most commercially successful ones and are either out of print or only available as imports. Such is the uncoolness of my musical taste! I thought I'd lead off with an oldie but a goodie (but then they all are)...Eric Martin Band - Sucker For A Pretty Face (1983)

EMB morphed from a local bay area band called 415 (a local phone area code) that was managed by Herbie Herbert (Journey). They became Eric Martin Band after signing to make their only record, Sucker For A Pretty Face, a common move when record execs think the audience needs the singer to be the focal point. EMB was a tight, strong band that played commercial AOR led by Eric Martin's raspy vocals.

I got into the band because of the video to the title track. It was a great video that intercut little vignettes of actors playing Eric Martin getting screwed over by cute girls over the course of his life. The video then goes on to show his girlfriend in the present day spending time with each of the band members all over San Francisco. I liked the use of San Fran visually (because it felt so local!) and thought the song was a great hooky rock track.

I bought the record at Rainbow Records (try finding one of those now) where the cashier gave me a hard time about the woman's figure in silhouette on the cover. I was too shy to say it then, but lady I'm buying the record and not your opinion! I took the record home and track by track, here's what I found:

1. Sucker For A Pretty Face - The hit, the song with the muscular beat, swirling synths and Eric Martin out rasping Rod Stewart. An AOR classic.

2. Don't Stop - The second single, a hard pumping ode to sex. The racy video was not seen much, probably because a lot of it took place in a stripper booth with Martin singing through the red phone to the dancing girl behind the glass. Looked like Bay Area sites were used again, it looked like the Tenderloin.

3. Private Life- Sadly, I don't remember this song.

4. Ten Feet Tall - This one I do remember, well the chorus hook anyway. It wasn't bad, but not memorable past that point other than as an 80's style motivational song. Everyone had to have the Eye of the Tiger at this point.

5. Letting It Out-There used to be this video show in the Bay Area that would specialize in local bands. EMB, Night Ranger and Journey would get a lot of play on this program. Anyway, I first heard this song from a live version taped in Hawaii while they opened for Journey from that program. It's a great ballad that uses Martin's cracking rasp for great dramatic effect. I couldn't find "Sucker" online anymore, so I'm putting up this video I found for this song instead.

6. Young at Heart - The chugging rocker that opened side 2 of the record! Good timey rock and roll about being considered too old for the girl you're dating.

7. Just Another Pretty Boy- I liked this song because it was the same guy who wrote 38 Special's "Back Where You Belong" which I loved. Not being the most handsome kid growing up, it was great to hear a dismissive song about "pretty boys". You want me, girls! The ugly kid!

8. One More Time - One of my favorite tracks on the record, Eric Martin had said this was one of the more R&B flavored songs in their repertoire. It had a big beat and some great piano playing.

9. Catch Me If You Can-We're getting near the end of the album, things got a little generic with this one. Solid but unspectacular pop rock.

10. Love Me - If I remember right, this was another ballad but less effective.

The record was produced by Rodney Mills (38 Special) and Kevin Elson (Journey) and their touch is definitely felt here. The playing is tight and smooth with whomping drums and well structured songs. I just found out the other night this record went Gold, a total surprise considering how it seemed like they were ignored at the time. Drummer Troy Lucketta was the only band member other than Eric Martin to have commercial success, he was the drummer for Tesla.

Eric Martin pursued a solo career that led to rumors of him nearly joining Toto and Journey, respectively. He eventually formed Mr. Big and finally broke through with a major hit song, "To Be With You". Martin still plays and records, he even has a blog at . I still like EMB though I don't have the record anymore, it's a good 80's rock disc with the strong feeling of a local band making good.

Eric Martin Band - "Letting It Out"

A New Look

I decided to update the look of the blog today, I got tired of looking at the same template for the past however many months it's been since the last change. I tried to make it more personable, it was worth it just to include a picture of my dog Dixie!

Along with the new look will be a renewed focus on making this blog about music. I've tried to balance my entries so it isn't always about rock, but I'm going to give up on that and just write what comes up...which is usually music. I'll be looking for new writing angles about the tunes I love to hear so there will probably be some features that come and go.

I'm listening to the Instant Karma Save Darfur disc right now and plan to cover that one soon.

Lastly, big thanks to my wife for helping put together this blog. It wouldn't look right without her help.

Sunday, September 02, 2007're gonna love me!

This morning I watched Dreamgirls (2006), the movie musical based on the long running play about the rise of Motown and the Supremes. Starring Jamie Foxx, Beyonce Knowles and Eddie Murphy, Dreamgirls puts on a solid show depicting through thinly veiled character references how Barry Gordy, songwriters, and performers came together under Gordy's vision to become a dominant force in popular culture and business during the 60's and 70's. Creative battles, underhanded business dealings and backstabbing mark the Supremes doppelanger the Dreams rise to the top. Beyonce's Diana Ross like character in particular receives focus in the second half. The movie is ably staged and directed with the appropriate amount of glitter and spark needed.

Dreamgirls benefits from a strong cast to carry the film. Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson is the highlight of the movie, her raw and honest performance steals everyone else's thunder. Her singing performances are showstopping, particularly on that "You're gonna love me" song. That plus the "One Night Only" song provide spine tingling thrills of vocal and emotional power. Eddie Murphy also gains sympathy as the Jackie Wilson / Marvin Gaye character. The rest of the cast provide solid performances, leads Jamie Foxx and Beyonce do the best they can with relatively static characters. I was a little disappointed Beyonce couldn't do a little more with her character, having lived the Dreamgirls experience (Destiny's Child was originally four childhood friends with equal parts until Knowles' father who managed them dropped two, brought in one replacement singer and pushed Beyonce to the forefront).

Dreamgirls had the makings of a great movie, but it's the trappings of the musical itself that undercuts it's power. The story covers so much ground (8-10 characters over the span of about 20 years) that none of the characters outside of Murphy and Hudson have a chance to connect with the audience. On top of that, the musical arrangements have not been changed and reek of mid 70's Broadwayized R&B. This becomes confusing, particularly in the 60's section where the song "Steppin' On The Bad Side" is supposed to be a 60's hit but has all the traits of the '70's. Even when the story hits the Me decade the arrangements date the music in a negative way. Every song sounds like it was arranged by Bill Conti for an Oscar awards ceremony.

So I came away mildly disappointed, but that was more due to my expectations than the actual film. Early on, the movie sets up like it's going to lead to something greater but it never gets there. Fortunately, Hudson is able to cut through the glitz to provide the few moments of real feeling. I hope when Hudson finally cuts her CD (if she hasn't already) she skips the current sound of electronic noise and sticks to the powerful soul she demonstrates in both American Idol and here.

Blow Up! Idiocracy! The dumb will rule the earth

Yeah Baby! I watched two movies today that were made a good 40 years apart and yet had some similar things to say about society. The first was Blow Up (1966) an English film directed by Italian filmmaker Michelangelo Antonini and the other was Idiocracy (2006) written and directed by Mike Judge (of Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill & Office Space fame). From different perspectives, both films mourn the loss of feeling and ethics in society.

Blow Up is considered a classic film about a fashion photographer in 60's swinging London. The main character, well played with total self absorbtion by David Hemmings, is a successful photographer. Both on and off the photo set, he fixes his attention on one thing at a time at the exclusion of all else. He directs others in how to sit, stand and everything else and then ignores those same people once they have passed his interest. It's obvious the Austin Power's character is partially modelled after Blow Up, particularly during the photo shoot sessions where Hemming's climbs over the model shooting pictures yelling "Yes!!! Yess!!! Move your head. Move that arm. Yess!!!" like Mike Myers at the start of The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999).

Antonini uses his familiar neo-documentary camera style to depict the coldness and detachment between the characters. But, unlike say L'Avventura there seems to be a more definite statement about the lack of empathy here. Hemming's character comes across a murder while shooting pictures, but can only think of the murder in terms of how it affects his career and artistic ambitions. Like L'Avventura, the main plot device (in L'Avventura a woman goes missing, here a man is murdered) seems to have the least camera time because it's really about how a tragedy is ignored. Blow Up is done in that slow Antonini style as well, but as always it goes to underscore the waste of time these peoples lives are.

There's one bit of real excitement, the movie features the Yardbirds performing with Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck in their youth. It's the best part of the movie by far. Blow Up is OK, having a trendy setting is bound to date it and I liked L'Avventura more. As far as a portrait of selfish 60's Londoners go, I liked Michael Caine in Alfie a bit more.

Forty years later, Mike Judge made Idiocracy (2006) about how a militairy suspended animation experiment gone wrong sends Luke Wilson and Maya Rudolph 500 years into the future. In the future, they find the world has eliminated intelligence by having smart people out bred by dumb people. The future is run on automation and corporate conglomeration run amok.

Idiocracy doesn't hesitate to point the finger at a society that values sensationalism, indiscriminate capitalism and pure hype over decency, ethical behavior and realism. It has some amusing bits, such as the thought of Carl's Jr. dispensing food through electronic kiosks that gas upset customers. But ultimately, Idiocracy spends so much time looking down on everyone that it doesn't really connect as a movie. It actually would have worked better as a cartoon, but there is already a better version available in Matt Groenig's Futurama series. The one highlight is that it shows Maya Rudolph is a comic talent waiting for the right vehicle. It seems unlikely that she will find that vehicle, but if she does it could be huge.

Put the two movies together and you end up with a theme of society becoming a selfish place where people are stupid and uncaring. It's a very cynical message and while I cannot completely refute either movie I do have more hope than these filmmakers that society can become a place for cultural and technological advancement. Now I think I'll go watch Busted on the Job 3 on the Fox Reality Channel. It's disgusting when people put boogers in your hamburger!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

My Life As A Dog - quirky and moving

Last night I had the opportunity to watch My Life As A Dog (1985), a great Swedish movie I saw way back when. I remembered it as a touching film about a young boy having to move to the country and something to do with a barn. I had a warm feeling when remembering this film so I looked forward to seeing it again.

I'm happy to say the movie is just as good as I remember it. There are a ton of themes at work in this movie, such as young adolesence, the need to belong, the kindness of people and hope in the face of death. The movie focuses on a young rambuctious boy named Ingmar who is too much for his dying mother to handle. She sends him off to her brother who lives in the country. There Ingmar meets a town of oddball characters where his youthful energy fits in.

In the late 80's, there seemed to develop this magical place in movies where eccentric but friendly people would live in a town together. They had their odd but forgiveable quirks and would bond together as a dream like town should. My Life As A Dog fits perfectly in that scene of places that would see it's height with Northern Exposure.

The warmth, humor and humanistic view brought across by director Lasse Halstrom is affecting and moving. Halstrom has made other movies with similar tone, such as What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993) or The Cider House Rules (1999). Though those movies were also well made and shared similar traits, neither are quite as good as My Life As A Dog. Arf Arf!