Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Bond Identity

You're all talk: The new 007 adventure focuses on characters and feelings more than gadgets and explosions.

Today my wife and I went to the movies to check out the latest 007 adventure, Quantum of Solace. The second film to feature Daniel Craig as James Bond. This time out, Bond somberly pursues revenge on the mystery men who killed his girl Vesper Lynd in the prior film. The trail leads Bond to a shadow company of intelligence operatives and big money buisness people that none of the official intelligence community has a clue about. Tracking down these people is Bond's professional assignment as he knows its all tied together with whoever is responsible for Vesper's death.

Revenge has been done before with Bond in the equally somber Licence To Kill (1989) but the results are far more satisfying here. Real effort is made to deepen the character of James Bond in ways that hit closer to the Ian Fleming origins. In Q of S, Bond is a hard drinking insomniac haunted by the death of both Vesper and the people he's killed. Craig owns his performance, commiting fully to making his Bond the most lethally cunning of them all. Also developed in this movie is a better relationship with his boss M. While Dench's M remains a maternal scolder, her role is similar to Richard Crenna's Colonel Troutman in Rambo. Her exasperated responses to Bond's latest killing spree hypes his character to new levels.

Quantum of Solace also gets a little deconstructionist of the Bond legacy by bringing in a real artsy director, Marc Forster. Forster plays against the traditional 007 structure by playing up his surroundings. In most Bond films, 007 is the center of attention everywhere he goes. Forster shows Bonds locations in detail through scenery and overlapping dialogue with extras, whether its in dilapilated cities, shiny buildings or the desert-Bond is a moving piece in a puzzle and not the final solution. Quantum of Solace, more than any James Bond film that has ever preceded it, is set in a current political climate of Foreign Wars, Oil shortages, the interlocking of international events and a wave of resource hording set in motion by the U.S. A fairly stinging indictment coming from the best known fictional Western spy in history.

The direction leans heavily on mood and characters, delving into the emotions of people more than blowing things up. In the film's best sequence, Bond crashes a secretive meeting of bad guys during a play. The movie toys with sound, sometimes even no sound and juxtaposition of the events in the play versus the action to strong effect. This new approach effectively shakes things up and makes you see 007 in a new way even as certain imagery (such as a blatant nod to Goldfinger mid film and the return of the Walther PPK as a weapon of choice) reminds you this is a Bond film. The villian, played by Mathieu Americ, continues Casino Royale's penchant for middle men bad guys. This time the baddie is the head of a conservationist company that comes off more like a ruthless buisnessman than a mastermind.

There are weak points to the movie though. Forster (Monsters Ball, Finding Neverland, Stranger Than Fiction, The Kite Runner) directs the action sequences in a way that is exciting but confusing. The shaky closeups create a splashy style that makes it easy to lose your bearings in. The Bond girl, Olga Kurylenko, is given a superfluous role that the movie would have actually benefited without. And while I was digging the focus on characters and spy agency vs spy agency interplay, there are some long gaps between action sequences that left some of the audience yawning.

But the real weakness in Quantum of Solace is how much it borrows from The Bourne Supremacy, the best of the Jason Bourne films. In Bourne Supremacy, Jason Bourne is out for revenge of his murdered lover to a certain degree, the early hand to hand combat scenes and high tech spy agency quarterbacking also echo in Q of S. Even the muted coda at the end has shades of Bourne Supremacy to it.

With these critcisms you might think I didn't enjoy Quantum of Solace, but I actually liked it a lot. The Bond film makers are trying to give Craig his own style and succeed in giving James Bond some emotional weight. It was fun to see how 007's actions reverberate across the spy and governmental community. Also, I think James Bond hasn't done this much intelligence gathering since From Russia With Love (1963). Quantum of Solace is likely going to go down as a "stand alone" venture like On Her Majesty's Secret Service because of its art house leanings making it hard to categorize. For my money, I consider Quantum of Solace to be one of the better Bond films even though it falls short of the great ones.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Turkey Shoot - The Top 10 Most Disappointing Songs

I missed posting on Thanksgiving, had a delicious dinner at my parents place. So my Thanksgiving post is a day late, with Turkey's being the key symbol of this Holiday I thought it would be a good time to do a Top 10 Turkey Songs. These aren't songs about...haven't you heard? I said HAVEN'T YOU HEARD? About the Bird? Bird Bird Bird, Bird is a Word...

Anyway, these are the 10 most disappointingly bad songs I've heard. They feature a lot of my favorite artists because it's harder to be disappointed in a musical act you don't have much of an interest in anyway. So here it is, the Ten most disappointing songs I've heard...Ten Turkeys- songs that should have been left overs. Pulled from the refrigerator, unwrapped from its protective foil and thrown out in the street. Somebody get the gravy!

10. Night Ranger - The Secret of My Success (1987)

The Bay Area rockers were on a roll with Top 10 hits and Platinum albums by the mid 80's. What could be better? How about a movie soundtrack theme for the latest Michael J Fox movie, co written and Produced by the inimitable David Foster? This is a plan that can't go wrong. The power of Night Ranger, the super slick sonics of David Foster and the likability of Michael J Fox all rolled into one. A Perfect Storm of marketing synergy. Depressingly, that's exactly what it sounds like- a marketing plan brought to life. Foster's Chicagoisms of synth horns, mannered guitar work and busy instrumentation didn't mesh well with Night Ranger's free wheeling high speed rawk. Unsurprisingly, Night Ranger saw their commercial fortunes slide after this song.

9. Cheap Trick - Woke Up With A Monster (1993)

By the late 80's / early 90's the Tricksters had been all over the map stylistically. When they got to "Woke Up With A Monster", the group seemed tired. It was like they were trying to work up some whimsy but only had enough juice to sound mean. Thankfully, shortly after Alternative Rock bands began citing Cheap Trick as an influence-buying them some much needed credibility.

8. Styx - Music Time (1984)

Styx was near the end of their initial run and to cap it they released a double live album, Caught in the Act. The record came with one new studio track, "Music Time". I was so excited, I was getting a live record by one of my favorite groups plus a new song. Then I actually heard the record. "Music Time" took all of the annoying excesses that ringleader Dennis DeYoung could muster and slammed it into a four minute tune. All the dorky Broadway jazz hands crap that DeYoung had in him to a cheap synth riff unchecked by anything. Seee it. Liiikke it. Loooovve it. DoitDoitDoitDoit. Waannt it. Neeedd it. Can't get enough of it! All the wayyyy!

7. Steve Perry - I Am (1994)

Can "The Voice" really do wrong? After hearing this track, the answer is Yes. The song is supposed to convey a sense of hard won maturity but instead it comes off as turgid and self indulgent. A torpid pace sinks any chance "I Am" has of winning me over, one of the few songs to be graced by Perry's voice that I just can't stand. It's like watching a bad episode of Dr Phil where a guy can't stop bleeding his heart out.

6. Boston - Corporate America (2004)

I like everything Boston, even this song I like in a so-bad-it-becomes-kinda-good way. Many an Arena Rock band has made the mistake of thinking a cheap, anxious synth line sounds good. Although this was recorded in the 21st Century, the overworked keyboards immediately dates the track as early 80's to the point that the rampaging guitars in the chorus isn't enough to ramp up interest. To top it off, Boston leader Tom Scholz stacks the deck with awful lyrics decrying the evils of large corporations. Look Out! Look Out!

5. Chicago - Bigger Than Elvis (1993/2008)

When Jason Scheff replaced Peter Cetera in 1985, Scheff was recognizably different in his approach though many did not notice. Jason Scheff had a more winsome style that could get more than a little sentimental. But until the recently released Stone of Sisyphus disc I had no idea how sentimental. On "Elvis", Scheff writes a heartfelt ode to lovin' his Dad ( not that way, get your mind out of the gutter sicko). Scheff's father was the bass player for Elvis Presley, the song chronicles how Scheff loves his Pop to the point that his Father is "Bigger Than Elvis". A beautiful arrangement can't mask the saccharine, be careful when listening to this or you may go into a diabetic coma.

4. Asia - Countdown To Zero (1985)

During the Cold War, the Arms race and possibility of Nuclear War was on everyone's minds. It was on John Wetton's mind, resulting in one of the worst anti-war anthems you could imagine. "Countdown to Zero" has more corn than, well, a corn field as Wetton builds the anxiety about irreconcilable international tensions. What really caps it is the ending, where Wetton reels off a list of Countries names and then pleads for Peace. In a large, booming echoey voice, Wetton slowly intones "Don't Do It. Don't Press the Button. No. Don't Start. Don't Start the Countdown to Zero. We Want To Live. We Will Live. Don't Press the Button." and goes on like this for a while. It's hilariously bad, in College I had a running joke with a roommate who also liked Asia where we would talk just like this.

3. Van Halen - How Many Say I (1998)

With Van Halen 3, Eddie Van Halen had finally gotten rid of all the lead singers that had stood in his way of total domination of the band. And now EVH could do what he really wanted to do...sing! With a weathered voice that made Roger Waters sound like Christina Aguilera, Eddie Van Halen ended Van Halen 3 with this piano based ballad containing an almost childlike circular melody. Raw ego never sounded so wrong.

2. GTR - The Hunter (1986)

Debuting with the outstanding "When The Heart Rules the Mind", GTR hit the scene as a team up of prog guitar legends Steve Howe (Yes, Asia) and Steve Hackett (Genesis). After taking in "Mind", I anxiously waited for the follow up single. What I got was this, the ridiculous "The Hunter". Musically, it's a very nice song featuring Howe and Hackett's fine acoustic guitars. What stops the fun is a sing songy melody with lyrics like "He's a fighter, he's a swan, he's the one I'm counting on. Steal the glory, take the prize - only the Hunter, only the Hunter...Survives!" El lamo.

1. Rod Stewart - Love Touch (1985)

For two decades this song has represented to me all that can be crappy in music. Taken from the soundtrack for the Robert Redford / Debra Winger rom com Legal Eagles, Stewart doesn't just go Pop but ingests it whole like a Sarlacc pit. It should be a slight, innocuous pop piece of fluff. But something in this song offends me on a deep deep level. Nothing here works for me, its not just the sound of someone selling out that gets me. It's the sound of a talented performer phoning in a performance to a song devoid any real feeling done in a style that's supposed to seem adventurous and fun. And then I had to watch this hunk of junk become a Top 10 hit. Oh the pain, the pain. I can't even bring myself to provide a link to this.

That wraps up my Top 10 musical turkeys, as I mentioned at the start these are some of my favorite groups so why carp on just one song versus the hundreds that I enjoy from these people? Simple, because it's fun. No one can be perfect all the time and these artists are no exception. Though that doesn't mean I can't have a little fun at their expense. And it's perfectly possible that other people may love these songs. So have you heard? Have you heard about the Bird? Bird Bird Bird, Bird is a Word...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Chick Flick Fever

Looks like it's Tamilyn Tomita month at Mr. Mike's! It's The Joy Luck Club. So Sad, So Warm. Give me a hug, damn you!

With the release of Quantum of Solace I've been watching many of the old Bond movies in my spare time. In watching these films, I must have felt a need to offset all that action with something else because I watched a few "chick flicks" too. Everyone knows these types of movies, women talking about their feelings, probably some dancing while putting something together, a mildly tragic happening followed by a warm happy ending. In my attempt to experience some new things in media, I decided to take a dive into a gaggle or warm fuzzies.

Juno may be more of a teen movie than a chick flick but either way it is well written, deftly performed and directed with energy and warmth. Ellen Page excels as the know it all teen who becomes pregnant and wants to give her baby up for adoption. She brings a razor sharp intelligence and wit to her characterization of the title teenager. All of the characters come across as slightly realistic including Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman as adoptive parents and Michael Cera as the quietly stable teen that happens to be the father of the child. Mildly quirky, Juno is more an exaggerated slice of life than an after school special. Good stuff.

Enchanted stars Amy Adams as a fairy tale Princess who is sent out of a Disney cartoon into the real world by an evil Queen just minutes before her pre destined marriage to a Prince. The first 40 minutes effectively sends up Disney archetypes and Adams's zippy fish out of water keeps things moving until the film runs into its mechanical Disney cartoon plot complete with big production song and dance numbers, poison apples and magical witches. James Marsden does well as the vain, empty headed Prince. Probably great for kids and tweens, I lost interest quickly after the start.

The most stereotypical of the chick flicks I saw is The Jane Austen Bookclub. An ensemble piece with seasoned veteran actresses like Maria Bello, Amy Brenneman and Kathy Baker, the story follows a book reading group who are inspired by and live in parallel ways to Jane Austen's novels. They laugh, they love, they cry, they hug. Bookclub can't be faulted, it plays it safe and hits all of its marks. But it doesn't do much more than that either.

Thankfully that movie killed off any remaining impulse to watch these movies. I know they have their target audience and a sizable one at that. It's a good time to kick the habit, if I do too much more I'll have to watch a Jason Stratham movie marathon to get it out of my system completely. I'm starting to feel the need to watch one of those Transporter movies now.

In the end, it's just not my bag baby. Except for the Joy Luck Club, that was a good chick flick. As Peter Griffin of Family Guy says at the end of his homemade chick flick Steel Vaginas, Fin.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Midnight Madness - Saint Sammy Edition

Jimmy Buffett's biggest threat - The Cabo Wabo lovin' Red Rocker Sammy Hagar.

While I can't say I agree with everything Sammy Hagar does or believes in as a person, I am convinced that his music has important life lessons that can lead to a happy life. I covered many of them on a previous post and with a new album on the horizon Sam has yet more wisdom to impart on us. "Cosmic Universal Fashion" from the album of the same name is a sequel to the classic Van Halen video Right Now in which Hagar comments on the state of the world today. Teach us, oh great one!

The Beatles are bigger than Sammy Hagar - Two items have popped up about the Fab Four, the first being Paul McCartney talking about releasing a 14 minute lost Beatles song. The song called "Carnival of Light" sounds like it will be one of those Brian Wilson sort of sound collages. It will be interesting if it sees the light of day. In other Beatles news, the Vatican has forgiven John Lennon for his famous remark of being more popular than Jesus. The comment is now taken as a "boast".

Free Axl! - Guns N Roses' Chinese Democracy is released today. After a decade plus of recording the world will finally hear these songs. I haven't heard it yet, but I still say its an album better heard about than actually heard. No way it can live up to the weight of expectations and hype. Because to do that, it would have to be the greatest album made by anyone anytime ever.

Hella Good - No Doubt is regrouping for recording and touring, good news for fun loving ska music lovers everywhere.

It Doesn't Suck? - Twilight is the #1 movie out right now in terms of ticket sales. I still can't stand the commercial.

Pieces of Me - In other star struck irrelevant celebrity news that I read as often as possible, Ashlee Simpson and Fall Out Boy's Pete Wentz has had a baby named Bronx Mowgli. I could be wrong, isn't Mowgli the name of those creatures that turn into Gremlins?

So Predictable it's Uncanny - The X-Men franchise is going for the younger actors approach (read - cheaper) that was pointed to with the last X Men movie. They've brought in the guy who made Gossip Girl and one of my favorite shows, Chuck, to put it together. I love watching Chuck yet smell a Batman and Robin coming on here.

Working for the Boss - Bruce Springsteen announced a track listing for his upcoming January CD and his new song "Working On A Dream" is hitting radio. As is his talent, Springsteen manages to capture a moment in song. To hear it, click here.

Extreme Hoax - Tonight's WWE Survivor Series includes a story line that wrestler Jeff Hardy was found unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell in his hotel this morning. I don't know how the story was presented on WWE.Com where the story originated, but it seemed to catch on with the rest of the media as factual. While wrestling continuously blurs the line between fantasy and reality, I hope this trend doesn't continue or it might cause a "cry wolf" effect when real events happen.

WWE Survivor Series - Not just a title this year, the long running PPV has the traditional team vs team format back. Tonight's PPV was a solid effort for me, here's what I recall-

  • Team HBK (Shawn Michaels, The Great Khali, Rey Mysterio, Cryme Time) vs Team JBL (JBL, Miz and Morrison, Kane and MVP)- An effective match and decent opener to the PPV with a lot of running and jumping courtesy of Mysterio. Team HBK gets the win.
  • Smackdown Divas vs Raw Divas- I missed some of this match, it looked like fairly typical Divas stuff. The only parts that stood out to me were the pop Mickie James got on her entrance and the fun of watching Natalya apply the Sharpshooter on Candice Michelle. The Beth Phoenix team won, I don't know what team that is.
  • Undertaker vs Big Show in a Casket Match - Heavily hyped and slowly paced, this match mainly consisted of lumbering moves that seemed to take forever. A normal thing for a "Big Guy" match to go slow but this one just seemed leaden. Even the part where Taker leg drops Show through a table didn't quite have the impact it should have. What's the new catch phrase out there? Meh.
  • Team Orton (Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes, William Regal, Mark Henry and Shelton Benjamin) vs Team Batista (Batista, Matt Hardy, Kofi Kingston, CM Punk, R-Truth). The pace picks up again with another solid Survivor Series classic style match. Didn't see all of this one and didn't notice any real highlights, but nothing bad either.
  • Triple HHH vs Vladmir Koslov for the WWE Championship - A pretty good match up, the two power houses actually focused on a mat wrestling style for most of it. This seemed to draw some "boring" chants but I liked it. Edge came back and was brought out at the end courtesy of Vicki Guerrero to be the third member of the Triple Threat match. Jeff Hardy's run in inadvertently helps Edge score the championship. To my surprise, Edge looked a little pudgy. I guess whatever Hell the Undertaker banished Edge to had a McDonalds. The extra weight didn't stop Edge from laying a killer spear on The Game.
  • John Cena vs Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship - Cena's return to wrestling following major neck surgery. Like a lot of superstars returning from this type of injury, the match was the story of the neck. Jericho focused his attack on the neck, Cena sold the neck and babied it throughout the match as commentators hyped it to the point I was convinced a neck breaker might cause Cena's head to snap off the rest of his body. Cena did look rusty out there and a touch lost but one of his strengths is his ability to show emotion to the crowd. Bonus points to Jericho for sounding really concerned after kicking Cena in the head. He audibly yelled "Check him!" to the ref as Cena was left lying on the ground. It was predictable, but Cena got the win for the championship. He went into the audience to hug his family, but he looked dazed and I think he might have left a little boy hanging for a high five right in front of him. It was messy, but otherwise Cena is back on the Chaingang.
Cosmic Universal Fashion - The new vid is below. More greatness from the man Howard Stern proclaims "has the best teeth in Rock".

Sammy Hagar - Cosmic Universal Fashion

Friday, November 21, 2008

Focus On... KISS Army Time

Without the absorbing power of make up KISS unleashes buckets of sweat. "Tears Are Falling" indeed.

Sometimes a mood just strikes me to listen to a certain artist. About mid week I just felt like listening to some KISS. So I put a KISS Cd in my car and listened to their rocking jams with zeal. Though they were more famous in the '70's and I originally wanted to hear a lot of Detroit Rock City, I found I really wanted to hear the 80's stuff. I know, I know...what a surprise.

KISS was one of the most dominant bands in the '70's, they turned rock music into a theatrical carny smorgasbord. Flame throwing demons, sensitive cats, space aces and star childs gave millions a dream to aspire to. And Rock and Roll still had some rebel cred left, enough to have the mainstream culture brand them as Satanists (Knights In Satan's Service was the popular supposed acronym). While I was aware of KISS at that time, I wasn't really a fan of them or any other rock band. So other than KISS meets the Phantom (I think that's what the TV special was called) and Rock and Roll All Nite I didn't think much of them at all.

It wasn't until the make up came off in 1983 that I found KISS songs I liked whole heartedly. Removing the make up was a big deal because without the kabuki face paint and ornate costumes they seemed so ordinary. Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley's mugs definitely looked fancier with the make up and it seemed like they had made a mistake. Their long guarded mystique was gone. And yet that was when I finally heard a song by KISS that I flat out loved. Their first make up free video, "Lick It Up". The strutting energy of that tune is awesome and the song was nice and dirty even without any sexual connotation (back then I thought the song was about licking the ground). Is it me or without makeup do they look more like street walkers than the women in the clip?

With no distractions, KISS's music was pushed to the forefront and revealed what a nasty little band they were. Meanwhile, some of my friends got into KISS and reveled in the sounds of their Animalize album. Copying the tape gave me the next KISS song that kicked ass, "Heavens On Fire". I've been cranking that gem up all week long. Also I have warm memories from reminiscing about my friends being pissed that the local radio station wouldn't play "Burn B*tch Burn" at their request. They thought the radio station were wusses for not putting that song on and went on about it for weeks. You just don't live in reality if you think a radio station is going to play that one. At least back then, now it would probably be tame enough for a fast food commercial.

I lost track of KISS again after that though I recall hearing Crazy Crazy Nights a bit. The next song to catch my ear was the power ballad "Forever". A quintessential flick your bic lighter ballad, KISS got all sensitive courtesy of Michael Bolton himself. As much as I would like to bash on Bolton, I can't bash on this song. For-Ev-Ahhh!

Though I'm not religious, I thought "God Gave Rock and Roll To You Pt. II" from the Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey movie was outstanding. Epic and cheesy in all the right ways as the hair band era drew to a close. Also a little amusing when you think about how much they've been accused of devil worship that they would do a song like this. Not that it's an incredibly religious song or anything, but still its a little ironic. A few years later KISS would bring back the original members and the classic face paint resulting in a huge reunion tour that went on for...I think it kinda still goes on even though Peter Criss and Ace Frehley aren't there again.

The last jam of KISS to blow my mind was a song I hadn't heard until last year even though it was released in 1982. It was from the last record to have the make up, "I Love It Loud". A muscular rock anthem, the song emphasizes the powerful drumming of the late, great Eric Carr. Carr was a dynamic and fluid drummer who sadly passed away at just 41 years old. He died the same day Freddie Mercury of Queen passed on, November 24, 1991. In the case of both, it was a great loss to music.

Even though they have good songs from their hey day, I guess I think more of KISS' visual style and showmanship from their swingin' 70's period. Once the make up went back on in the 90's I found I felt the same way again effectively closing the door for me on the part of their career I enjoyed the most. While I was never a die hard fan (I think Animalize was the only music I had of theirs until the 90's), KISS has given me enough great hard rock moments to make me want to shout it out loud!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Bookworm Award - You Don't Know Jack

My wife tagged me with a Bookworm Award where you do the following:

Open the closest book to you, not your favorite or most intellectual book, but the book closest to you at the moment, to page 56. Write out the fifth sentence, as well as two to five sentences following there.

I'm not a big book reader, I tried to read classics for a while and made some headway but as work and life got busy I kinda dropped it. Maybe I'll take it up again. I happen to be sitting next to a bookcase so the closest book ended up being The Yukon Writings of Jack London. I like London's writing and how he would use animals as a metaphor for the human spirit. Page 56 is from the story The Call of the Wild.

"Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller's down in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the Judge's son, hunting and tramping, it had been a working partnership; with the Judge's grandsons, a sort of pompous guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified friendship."

Jack London always makes dogs and wolves sound so cool. This book also came with White Fang and a series of short stories that were very good as well. Thank you for the award Bunny!

The Corbomite Maneuver

Hoping for a City on the Edge of Forever with as little Omega Glory as possible.

And so the hype begins. The second Star Trek XI trailer is out and probably like many Trek fans I can't get enough of it. Moment to moment you see J.J. Abrams rewrite the lore of the original tv characters with a Tom Cruiseish Captain Kirk, a violent Mr Spock, phaser beams galore and monsters. Legions of articles on the internet are dissecting the trailer down to the second to figure out what it all means. It all points to a movie bent on delivering excitement on an interplanetary scale while also possibly jettisoning the sentimental Gene Roddenberryisms about the advancement of mankind. In other words, it is shaping up to be a fresh 21st Century look at the 23rd Century. No time for sentiment, just action, action, action.

Too soon to tell if Star Trek XI will turn out to be a great film. The only part of the trailer I took exception to was the very beginning of it where a kid version of James Kirk drives what looks like a Corvette off a cliff for no apparent reason. It just reeks of Phantom Menace to me. If the kid Kirk starts yelling "Now that's what I call Podracing!" or "That's Wizard!" I'm going to be one unhappy camper. Otherwise the trailer looked like fun.

Now that the hype has started we have to wait until May of '09 to see this thing. Does Abrams have the goods or is it all a bluff? As a Vulcan scientist once said, there are always...possibilities...

Star Trek XI trailer

Monday, November 17, 2008

Dancing With The Stars

I thought this album cover was a better fit for bookshelf board games or role playing games than a rock band. I'm surprised this record didn't come with a twelve sided die.

A song I got into early on when I started listening to a lot of music is "So You Ran" by Orion the Hunter. The band was sold as a continuation of Boston (which at that point I hadn't consciously heard them) and I was hooked on this jam of big harmony vocals and slick guitar playing. I ran out to the Mall and bought the record so I can enjoy 40 minutes of this stuff. It led to me eventually buying Boston tapes and becoming a huge fan.

A side note about my early fandom of Boston, before buying the record I saw one of the song titles was "Foreplay / Long Time". I was convinced that it would be a song about sex and that I would be busted by my parents for buying a tape with this song. That didn't stop me from getting the record though it was with a bit of relief and disappointment that I found out the songs had absolutely nothing to do with sex after I played it. Just seemed more Rock & Roll if it had been. At least the song "Smokin" was prominently featured in an anti drug movie I had to watch in high school. That's dangerous. Right?

Another aside, if curent statistics are to be believed the popularity of the Mall is declining. Growing up, the Mall was a central place for teenage life. The ultimate expression of consumerism and hanging out plus they usually had an arcade so it was the happening place to be. I wonder where the kids go now?

Looking back, Orion the Hunter was an interesting mix of people. Barry Goudreau was definitely the selling point as the former guitarist from Boston doing a cut rate version of Tom Scholz sound. On drums was Michael Derosier the former drummer of Heart. And on vocals was Fran Cosmo, a guy with a pimped out name and higher voice than Boston's Brad Delp. Cosmo would eventually join Boston for that band's fourth album, Walk On.

"So You Ran" was not a large hit and I couldn't explain to a lot of people who this band was back then. For my part of the world, it was a song that didn't seem to exist except for my record player. I was OK with that though, at least it meant I couldn't get sick of hearing it.

I would play the record often and think "What a great record, what a lame band name". Orion the Hunter? I'd say Goudreau couldn't come up with a lamer name, but then he named a later band RTZ (it stands for Return To Zero). Goudreau can do a lot of things, but please keep him away from naming bands in the future. Anyway, here's Goudreau and Co. performing their lone minor hit, "So You Ran".

Orion the Hunter "So You Ran"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Midnight Madness - The Karate Kid Edition

After this movie, all anyone would talk about was how this move wouldn't work in real life. I guess they thought all the other stuff in the movie was incredibly realistic.

One of the great films of the '80's, The Karate Kid (1984), has been a long time favorite flick of mine. Directed by John G Alvidsen, the movie took Rocky and put it in the teen years. When I saw this movie in the theater, the audience erupted as Ralph Macchio crane kicked William Zabka for the championship. Now a new generation is being exposed to the greatness of this classic motivational movie.

Ooh La La - Rumors are going around the media that The Faces are considering a reunion. Hopefully it will happen, my wife is a big fan.

What will happen to Bubbles? - Michael Jackson sold off his theme park home, the Neverland Ranch.

Watcher of the Skies - Genesis is still kicking around the idea of a Peter Gabriel / Steve Hackett version reunion. As impressive as it would be to have this version roll out, I wonder how big an audience is out there waiting for it to happen. There are definitely fans out there but while the Gabriel era gets more respect it was the Phil Collins era that sold records.

Glory Days - Bruce Springsteen will debut part of his new song "Working on a Dream" during a Sunday Night Football game tonight. The Boss is on a roll!

In Spite Of His Rage He Is Still Just A Rat In A Cage - the new Smashing Pumpkins tour is said to be dissolving into trash talk between Billy Corgan and the audience. Corgan is always an innovator, searching for new ways to self destruct.

Perfect Crime - The dude who illegally distributed the new Guns N Roses songs pleaded guilty in court. Another guy in court pleading no contest is ex-drummer Steven Adler for possession of heroin. The drug addled Adler hopes to reunite with Guns N Roses in the future. This poor guy gets sadder and sadder by the second.

Joey, Have You Ever Been To A Turkish Prison? - The city of Batman, Turkey is suing the makers of The Dark Knight for usage of the name Batman. Batman's Mayor charges that his city's high crime and suicide rate is caused by, well, Batman. Sooo...apparently Turkey must have just found out about Batman after what 70 years? Decades of comic books, a TV series and six movies just got by them. And they must not have seen or read Batman because otherwise they would know he does the opposite, he fights crime. If this stupid lawsuit works, I'm going to sue that Mikey kid from the Life cereal commercials. Do you know how many times I had to hear "He like's it, hey Mikey!" or "Give it to Mikey, Mikey will eat anything" growing up? Cereal eatin' jerk.

The Stroke - (s), The Strokes are planning to get back together next year. Can they get back that early magic of shambolic indie rock?

Goin' Rogue in Widescreen - What's the deal with these movie commercials being shown in letterbox with the title on the top? Commercials for a lot of movies are doing this now, it's really annoying. The latest in this trend is the commercial for the upcoming Vampire flick Twilight. With the letterboxing going on it draws extra attention to the title and date but makes me less involved with what they're showing. The movie being advertised loses credibility to me because they don't have enough faith that people will watch the commerical to the end to find out what movie it is. Because of this, everytime Twilight's ad comes on and the girl says "I know what you are" and he says "Say it" I say "Someone who needs acting lessons because this scene seems really cheesy." I saw a full screen commercial on You Tube and didn't have that reaction. Bring back the old full screen commercials!

Passings - Author Michael Crichton passed away at the age of 66 after an esteemed career writing books like The Andromeda Strain and Jurrasic Park. The last of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, drummer Mitch Mitchell, passed on as well at age 61.

Wax On, Wax Off - 80's movie classic The Karate Kid is picking up visibility again. First, WWE Wrestler Funaki has repackaged his gimmick to be Kung Fu Naki. Funaki now wears a white gi and headband reminiscent of Ralph Macchio's get up while using the famous Crane Kick for a finishing move. Then Will Smith's son Jaden is said to be lined up for a remake of the film. A missed opportunity here, I think Karate Kid 4 should have Macchio and William Zabka start fighting again as adults. Wait, that sorta happened. See the video below.

No More Kings "Sweep The Leg"

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Focus On...Urban Cowboys and Cowgirls

18 and life to go - Taylor Swift preps for even more success with the release of the second album.

During the 90's, I noticed as Country music became increasingly popular with Garth Brooks, line dancing, boot scoot boogieing and what not that the music was taking on a more mainstream pop / rock sound as well. It seemed like Country music was moving out of the, uh, country and into the suburbs. This actually made the music more listenable to me as mainstream rock all but disappeared and stayed gone until recently where's it's come back as a sort of teen pop vehicle. I've found the occasional Country song enjoyable and even found I liked bluegrass artist Alison Krauss because of that song The Lucky One. This is just my personal taste, I'm not into hardcore Country where it gets either super slow and twangy or kicks into that hyperactive two step beat. My cousin, who likes Country quite a bit, was nice enough to give me some CDs to check out in the Modern Country vein. So I'm going to write my impression of these artists, which should be fun because I don't have as much knowledge or context about these people so it's new to me.

Taylor Swift is up first. She's all over the tv and media lately, she's had some break up with one of those Jonas brothers and recently did a CMT Crossroads with Def Leppard. I watched the Crossroads episode and felt she had some star power but some of her vocals seemed flat and emotionless in spots (the segments where Lep and Swift sit and talk were funny, it had the awkwardness of a girl talking with her distant Uncles). Though I thought the version of Lep's When Love and Hate Collide with her came across well. On a CD there is such a thing as retakes so that shouldn't be a problem here.

The CD cover and booklet looks like an issue of Teen People, or what I imagine it to look like since I've only seen the front of the magazine in supermarket check out stands (honest!). She kinda looks like Faith Hill and lo and behold the first song is called Tim McGraw. Swift writes or co-writes a lot of the material and it shows as a strength on this disc. It sounds like a diary of upbeat girly angst shook loose to a fiddle and has a sincere world view. The subject matter never strays from infatuation, hooking up or getting dumped and the liner notes even has a jokey remark laughing at the guys who inspired her songs. Vocally she sounds naive, which is either refreshing or annoying depending on your taste. After all these years of slutty teen pop sensations sounding like auto tuned porn stars while rolling around in their underwear it is definitely different. Because of her songwriting skill in being able to form rambling feelings into poppy hooks I think she has potential to stick around for a while, but since I'm not a teen girl I'll have to chalk this one up to OK background music. That Teardrops on my Guitar was the best track from this CD to me, if you take the steel guitar off it could easily have fit on a Kelly Clarkson disc.

Now we're into Lady Antebellum. My first question is: what's an Antebellum? Is it against Bellum and is that a bad thing? I'm too lazy to look it up. The cover art looks like an advertisement for a CW TV series. Fresh faced youngsters, cleancut image, snazzy threads, carefully styled coifs down to the facial hair-welcome to the O.C. by way of the County fair b*tch . The guy standing on the right above sort of looks like David Cook from American Idol. Off topic, never thought I would say this, but I kinda miss that WB frog after seeing this CW thing play out. Was his name Froggy? Or was it Frogger? No, that was a video game. You know what was cool, that Frog voiced guy from the Little Rascals. That guy was funny!

Anyway, I press Play on the CD player and to use a baseball term it's a clean hit up the middle. A rough hewn male voice and smooth plaintive female voice backed by a tight beat and fairly big guitar for Country. As this disc plays on, it seems like a good fit for me-it has distinct commercial instincts, a sort of Country music for people who don't know or want to know what real Country music is. No hoedown breakdowns here or super twangy moments, just sturdy pop rock structures with harmony vocals and some fiddle. I bet this sounds good driving on two lane roads out in the middle of nowhere. The duet ballad is the most memorable thing here, All We'd Ever Need. A late inning ballad, the languid Can't Take My Eyes Off You isn't bad either.

Onward and upwards! Trace Adkins Greatest Hits Volume II American Man. Darn, I've already missed part one. How will I know how the story starts? I hope this is a continuation of hits chronologically and not the almost hits that didn't make the first disc. I recognize some songs here, Chrome and Honky Tonk Badonkadonk. Oh yeah, I remember this guy's videos. They're like rap videos with a bunch of girls dancing all over the place while he sits still and brags in clubs and parking lots. I do get a kick out of "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk", it's the "Baby Got Back" of Country music! He's got a black hat on in the CD jacket, this means he's a badass. Fancy grey suit on the back cover!

Adkins voice is pretty low and he doesn't sing as much as talk-sing so delivery is everything here. Personality counts for a lot with Adkins which seems like a strong representation of traditional Country themes. The hard working blue collar man on the prowl for a good time (Ladies Love Country Boys), red blooded objectification of women (Hot Mama), a solid dose of macho sentimentality (You're Gonna Miss This) and a patriotic fervor ("American Man"). Of the three CDs so far, this is the one I like the most. Predictable but well made. It reminds me of Sammy Hagar and I think we all know what I think of Saint Sammy.

Last one on the stack, The Wreckers. I actually had heard of this duo because of Michelle Branch's pop beginnings (like her appearance on Santana's The Game of Love). She is paired up with Jessica Harp, who I have no idea about. This is a live CD so assuming this hasn't been fixed up in post production I'll hear their unvarnished sound. The vocals are surprisingly not that strong for a duo, usually when two singers choose to work together its because of how their voices blend. I don't hear a lot of blending. The songs aren't that impressive. I'm skipping to the hit Leave the Pieces. Nope, no love there either. I'm sure they have their fans, just not feeling The Wreckers. Calling this one off early, I can't take much more of this disc.

Modern Country I think will stay a place I will visit on a case by case basis, too much of it doesn't work for me. There are songs from the genre I enjoy like Restless Heart's When She Cries or Faith Hill's Like We Never Loved At All. I'll have to thank my Cousin though, I have had fun running through these discs to see what sticks and what doesn't. I think it all comes down to Honky Tonk...Badonkadonk!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Peter Cetera - Solitude / Solitaire (1986)

He's Peter Cetera and you're not. The man was the perfect image of Baby Boomer lovelorn cool in the Reagan era.
I've been on a bit of a Chicago kick lately so it seemed like a good time to cover another mid-80's classic. Peter Cetera, king of the clenched jaw crooners, released his second solo album in the summer of 1986. After nearly two decades with the band Chicago, the group's career had evolved from a jazz rock combo to soft rock lovin' balladeers led by Cetera's romantic love songs. After the band's most successful album, Chicago 17, went Triple Platinum 'ol Pete decided he wanted to make a solo album. In one of those classic "I was fired / I quit" scenarios Cetera found himself out of the band (the most common story I heard was Cetera was told if he wanted to make a solo album, he was out). While Cetera had released a solo album before, it was when Chicago was at its nadir. Fortunes had changed by 1985 and Peter Cetera was perfect as the former rocker turned romantic that was so popular in that decade. Feathered hair and stately readings cannot be denied! Now armed with a hot streak of smash hits co-written and sung by his Ceteraness leading up to this moment, he was ready to make another run at the brass ring.

Not the most optimistic song title to lead off a solo album. Petey was starting to feel the itch to be known for more than luv. Hence this slick piece of AOR with a big hammering beat and busy keyboards courtesy of Producer Michael Omartian. The third single from the album, Cetera warns the ladies of the dangers from pretty boys because, well, he's that kind of guy. All caring and stuff. What Cetera should have warned about was the 45 picture sleeve cover, it was a scary picture of him made up like a blond Richard Simmons. Yup, definitely a big mistake. Not as big a mistake as Chicago's remake of 25 or 6 to 4 though.
2. They Don't Make 'Em Like They Used To

An upbeat track caked in Omartian's big production. When the Karate Kid part 2 Producers approached Cetera for a song, he first pitched this track. The Producers weren't biting so Cetera handed over "Glory of Love". The rest is history. "Make 'Em" simply extols the virtues of American girls and gives some needed energy to the proceedings. A glossy trifle of pop rock fun but Cetera's high voice didn't carry as much weight on fast cuts so I kind of miss the Chicago horns. Focus power Peter-san!

3. Glory of Love (Love Theme for the Karate Kid part II)

Would Ralph Macchio and Tamilyn Tomita have found love without the help of Cetera? Probably, but it sounded better when backed by one of the greatest ballads of the decade. Released ahead of the album to fit in with the timing of the Karate Kid sequel, the song continued the Cetera / David Foster awesomeness that started with Chicago 16 and 17. It so closely resembled the other love songs they had done, most people weren't aware it wasn't Chicago. The whole "I am a man who will fight for your honor" bit was incredibly memorable. The classic video mixed movie scenes, rice paper walls and super close ups of Peter Cetera's hands. While watching the video you'll see a lot more of Cetera's chin juttin' singing, the result of a beat down he received at Dodger Stadium for being a rock and roll Cubs fan. The song shot to #1 on the charts, Cetera's first solo hit.

4. Queen of the Masquerade Ball

Lots of songs about being caught in situations on this album, the ladies in "Big Mistake" don't find out the bad news until the next morning. In "Queen of the Masquerade Ball" the woman is a coffee achiever who hides her loneliness because, uh, that's just what she does. I imagine Cetera himself probably felt a bit in flux having just been booted/leaving Chicago. As they say in Star Trek V, "Everyone has a secret pain." Or maybe a public pain since this was big music news back then. When Chicago 18 and Peter Cetera went head to head, Cetera came out on top with two #1 hits and a Platinum record. What was this song about again? And I never got the lyric about "Mohair shoes". It's the 80's dude, sing about loafers or what Bo Knows or something.

5. Daddy's Girl

Oh, the magic of Three Men and a Baby. With fathers like Ted Danson, Tom Selleck and Steve Guttenberg involved how can anything go wrong? Cetera liked to write songs about his kids apparently because he did the same thing on the next album One More Story. It's one of the best songs on the album with its bubbly synths and bouyant melody. With a precious song like this, I bet he had some serious empty nest syndrome when his kid moved out which probably happened by now.

6. The Next Time I Fall

King Pete scored another #1 smash with this duet, the second single. Being out of Chicago meant he didn't have to whisper sweet nothings with another dude a 'la Hard Habit To Break and Christian pop singer Amy Grant was definitely better looking than Bill Champlin. A breakthru for Grant who was able to parlay the exposure to a successful Pop career. Cetera got into a special club having a number one single as a solo artist, with a group and now as a duet. This might be one of those duets where the two singers recorded in different studios without meeting. Grant once said when she met Cetera, she said something to the effect of thanking him for the years of hit songs which inadvertently pointed out their age difference. Careerwise, everybody's a winner here. Except those dancers in the video, what the hell is going on there?

7. Wake Up To Love

After all these sad songs there had to be another upbeat moment so this slight ditty does the trick. This jam makes me want to hit that dance floor and do the Cetera dance as seen here. (It's all about the shoulder action). I like that this is one of those type of songs you hear in a tv movie where people dance like its the best thing ever when in reality no one would think of dancin' to this bland cut.

8. Solitude / Solitaire

Finally Cetera tackles his situation directly and nothing says "on your own" like this song title. Has a real "movie soundtrack" feel to this track like the song that plays for 20 seconds in the background of a scene yet shows up as a full cut on the soundtrack release. Then you think, "I don't remember this song in the movie" and yet there it is. Like Peter Cetera's No Explanations on the Pretty Woman soundtrack. I have no idea where that song plays in the movie but there it is uncut on the soundtrack. One of the catchier songs that has stuck in my mind, I think of this one sometimes when doing something on my own. A nice feeling of independence on this track.

9. Only Love Knows Why

Another broken heart for Pete, this guy gets sad when he's in chasing love and he's sad when he gets dumped. Just no pleasing him. After 8 songs of either being infatuated or being told to hit the bricks, Cetera just throws his giant sized hands in the air and says "Only Love Knows Why". A nice ballad and the fourth single from this fine record. On ballads, Cetera's voice has a certain nobleness to it that comes off well.

Peter Cetera went on to record more solo albums, the follow up One More Story (1988) was the best of the bunch as he took on some Steve Winwoodisms to deliver snazzy adult contemporary pop. David Foster and Cetera would work on occassion together as well but would not recapture the heights of "Glory of Love". Michael Omartian's slicked out synth and electric drum heavy style proved a good fit for Cetera. For me, the partnership of David Foster and Peter Cetera were one of my favorite songwriting pairings so here's a medley of Foster and Cetera.

David Foster and Peter Cetera "Medley"

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Tesla Reverie

Tesla takes a stand for, um, Tesla. Nikola Tesla that is.
When I lived in Sacramento in the late 80's, the band Tesla were the definition of local heroes. One of the few artists to make it big from Sac Town, for about five years they were THE band as their music infiltrated every part of Sacramento life. Even in dance clubs, you could hear Little Suzi sandwiched in between Janet Jackson and MC Hammer and no one would miss a beat. It's funny, when I saw them open for Night Ranger in 1987 I had no idea they would become as popular as they did although it was a good show. Had some good times while listening to Tesla, I used to play The Great Radio Controversy tape a lot. That was the band's gimmick, they were standing up for Nikola Tesla as the true inventor of Radio over Guglielmo Marconi. Not that rock fans really cared about this, but it was cool how the group insisted on this theme like they were WWF Wrestlers. They even wrote the song Edison's Medicine about the plight of Nikola Tesla ("They'll sell you on Marconi / Familiar but a phony."). This one's for you Nik!

I've had some reason to think about Sacramento lately and just coincidentally Tesla has released a new album Forever More. Their new song "I Wanna Live" has the sound a lot of classic rock bands are undertaking, slapping a shiny strident modern pop rock chorus on top of their established style. As far as that goes, it's not a bad song and the video with its extreme sports positive messaging is Sacramento the way I remember it. Hot, dry and active. Rock on Tesla!

Tesla "I Wanna Live"

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Veterans Day Salute

Today is Veterans Day, a Holiday set to honor Veterans of our Wars following the end of World War I. Regardless of the popularity of the various wars since then, this remains a noble Holiday to salute men and women who have fought for our Country. Being a media addict, this day reminds me of one of my favorite speeches I've heard in a movie. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you...Mr. Sylvester Stallone.

Sylvester Stallone / Rambo Speech

Sunday, November 09, 2008

The World is Not Enough for James Bond

James Bond goes digging for information on Sylvia Trench in Dr. No.

"Family motto" is what James Bond says of the phrase and title of the 1999 adventure The World is Not Enough. Over the years, the world of James Bond has developed in various ways to change with the times. To wrap up my cluster of Bond posts, I'm going to run through my most and least favorite Bondian items. Just because it's fun.

Favorite Bad Guy - Good villains are hard to come by so the evil scheming Goldfinger is the best in my book. Ruthless and greedy in every way with no conscience whatsoever. He'll even try to do his own dirty work if he has to. And a fetishist to boot. Plus the originator of that famous quote, "No Mr Bond, I expect you to die!" Next Runner Up: Rosa Klebb from From Russia With Love. Stern and severe in appearance, she schemes to kill others with true conviction and a poison tipped shoe.

Least Favorite Bad Guy - General Koskov from The Living Daylights is a worthless waste of space played maybe a little too well by Jeroen Krabbe. A spineless fool that presented a greater challenge to Bond than he should have. Next Runner Up: The infamous Ernst Starvo Blofeld because in each movie he appeared in he was a different actor and character, really. Other than the grey suit and white cat, there was no consistency going from the scar faced slug Donald Pleasance to the athletic Telly Savalas to the mundane, cultured Charles Gray. Really frustrating in that during the early Bond era his character was the top dog and yet changed from one film to the next. I'll also give an honorable mention to Drax from Moonraker, he was like Orson Welles without any charisma so all you got was annoying pomposity.

Favorite Henchman - Richard Kiel's mighty metal fanged Jaws was a formidable foe. A giant of a man with nigh indestructibility, the only weak point he had was speed (or lack of it). Even though his edge was watered down considerably by the end of Moonraker, Jaws remains the most famous of the Bond thugs. Next Runner Up: Red Grant from From Russia With Love sidled up to Bond like a colleague before betraying him. He gets the upper hand on 007 and would have killed Bond if not for the old exploding brief case trick.

Least Favorite Henchman - Reynard from The World is Not Enough, obviously this film is a mixed bag to me. Because of a bullet travelling slowly through his brain he cannot feel pain. This is supposed to make him dangerous, but unless you're in a fist fight I really can't see how. And for the first half of the movie you're led to believe he's the main bad guy, but in the end he's not even that. Massively unimpressive. Next Runner Up: The dude from Thunderball who gets shot with a harpoon gun on the beach. So weak I can't remember his name. I just remember Bond harpooning him and saying "I think he got the point."

Favorite Bond Girl - My favorite of the Bond Girls (or Women, whichever your preferred term) is Diana Rigg as Teresa Di Vicenzo from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. I was a fan of Rigg anyway from her work in The Avengers where she played a superspy of her own, Emma Peel. With Rigg, Teresa had guts, razor sharp intelligence and a karate chop you could believe in. Beautiful and dangerous plus maybe a touch unbalanced, the ultimate Bond Girl (or Woman). Next Runner Up: Sophie Marceau as Elektra King from The World is Not Enough. Her character was similar to Rigg's except she was wwaayyy unbalanced and not handy in a fight at all. Sex was her weapon and she wielded it well. An honorable mention for Halle Berry as Jinx in Die Another Day. Then again, she is an Oscar winner so how could she not be great? Oh yeah, Catwoman. It is possible for her to be bad after all.

Least Favorite Bond Girl - I guess I gave it away by naming Tanya Robert's Stacy Sutton from A View to A Kill in the prior post. So I'll give a shout out to the Next Runner Up: Denise Richards as Christmas Jones in The World is Not Enough. By far the most vapid "nuclear specialist" to ever split the atom, all the eye candy on the planet couldn't keep her from dragging the movie down. She reels off her lines about nuclear power like its the first time she's ever heard the words.

Favorite Bond Girl Sexual Innuendo Name - You can't beat Pussy Galore from Goldfinger. The first time I heard that name, I laughed out loud in disbelief. Next Runner Up: A tie! It's Holly Goodhead from Moonraker. That's Dr. Goodhead to you. And Sylvia Trench from Dr. No and From Russia With Love. She's the one who says her name backwards first to serve up the opportunity for the famous 007 line "Bond...James Bond."

Least Favorite Bond Girl Sexual Innuendo Name - Plenty O' Toole from Diamonds Are Forever is a name that really overstates the case. Next Runner Up: Octopussy from the movie...well, you know what movie. The name is so funny you can't take anything seriously about it. They were being true to Ian Fleming in that it did originate with him though.

Favorite Gadget - The Sony Ericsson phone from Tomorrow Never Dies. It can break codes, scan fingerprints, fire an electric shock and remote control a gadget car. Being able to drive your car from the back seat while calling and getting your e-mail plus tazering anyone you don't like is a really good deal. Don't taze me bro! Though I have no idea about its actual phone plan, does James Bond get rollover minutes and what's his roaming charges? Next Runner Up: The jet pack from the opening moments of Thunderball. Borrowed from the military, the item actually works. People have fantasized about rocketing around the sky ever since.

Least Favorite Gadget - Little Nellie, the helicopter put together from suitcases, from You Only Live Twice. What's funny is that Little Nellie actually flies and works the way it is shown in the film minus the weaponry. You open a bunch of suitcases to take the parts and connect them together into a one man flying machine. But the way it was filmed looked so fake it may just as well been made up as far as the film goes. It should have been mindblowing because it's real, but the intercut close ups of Connery clearly on a rear projection sound stage ruins it. Next Runner Up: The mini bear claw in Bond's shoulder holster for Diamonds Are Forever. It is used when a bad guy tries to disarm Bond and ends up with a metal clamp cutting into his fingers. A gadget like that is just an accident waiting to happen.

Favorite Bond Car - It's the classic Aston Martin DB5 with the oil slick, smoke screen, front machine guns, tracking device and rear metal shield from Goldfinger. An iconic vehicle that never goes out of style. Next Runner Up: The BMW Roadster from Goldeneye. The thing didn't even have any gadgets, but did you notice how many seemed to get bought after the movie got out? It's a nice looking car.

Least Favorite Bond Car - I don't have one, they're all cool rides. Although Bond may have been driving a Ford Escort in Casino Royale.

Favorite Action Sequence - The Tim Dalton era may have been weak, but the last 30 minutes of Licence to Kill is heavy duty action. Big Rig Tanker Trucks pursue, roll around and collide into each other as Bond hunts down the drug dealing Sanchez. Yes, the truck stunts are obviously unrealistic with the driving on one side of tires or wheelies but I'm willing to buy into it for that half hour. The image of the flaming jeep flying off the road and clearing over a plane? Awesome. Next Runner Up: Speed boats go crazy in Live and Let Die as they ramble through the rivers of Louisiana including a record setting boat jump.

Least Favorite Action Sequence - The showdown between Scaramanga and James Bond at the finale of The Man With The Golden Gun. It just lacks tension and after a whole movie of hype about how bad ass this confrontation would be, the actual event dragged to a close. Next Runner Up: The fire truck chase in A View To A Kill, it goes beyond fantasy into pure stupidity. Somehow Tanya Roberts was supposed to be racing a firetruck all over the hills of San Francisco while screaming her head off and taking her hands off the wheel.

Favorite Death Trap - Sometimes the simplest is the best, in Casino Royale Bond is tied up naked to a chair with no bottom. Then he is mercilessly beat down under with some heavy object tied to a rope. Sympathy pains! Next Runner Up: The underwater dragging of Bond and his girl by a boat in For Your Eyes Only. Of the many death traps, this one seemed very plausible as something that has probably happened in life.

Least Favorite Death Trap - The laser beam machines in Die Another Day, a clear homage to Goldfinger that doesn't quite cut it. Next Runner Up: All of the trap doors in elevators, bridges, etc. How many times can you have someone fall into a water tank filled with sharks? No wonder Dr. Evil wanted laser beams on the Shark's heads, you've got to do something to up the ante.

Favorite Pre Title Sequence - The opening minutes to The Spy Who Loved Me has Bond doing some razzle dazzle on skis before going off a cliff into a deep chasm. Just when you think he's a goner, out pops a parachute with the British Flag. It's the best of the Bond in-your-face-bad-guys moments. Next Runner Up: In Goldeneye, Pierce Brosnan and his stunt double does a huge leap off the top of a dam to descend to the bad guy base at the bottom. It's a fantastic stunt and big intro for the Brosnan 007.

Least Favorite Pre Title Sequence - Licence to Kill opens with promise as bad dude Sanchez arranges for his lover's lover's heart to be cut out. Then it falls into silliness as Bond captures Sanchez by descending on a flying plane via crane hook from a helicopter. Bond and Felix Leiter parachute down to the exact church Leiter is being wed at. Even when you suspend disbelief, this is hard to swallow. Next Runner Up: Blofeld meets an inglorious end at the start of For Your Eyes Only, as helicopter mayhem and eurodisco background music lead to Blofeld being dumped in a smoke chimney.

Favorite Theme Song - The Roger Moore era got off to a good start with this dynamic dose of Paul McCartney rock and roll, Live and Let Die. It's just a great song on it's own without any movie to back it up. Next Runner Up: Carly Simon's Nobody Does it Better extols the greatness of 007 to a sweeping 70's soft rock backdrop.

Least Favorite Theme Song - Swanky 70's vibes can't save The Man With The Golden Gun by Lulu. To Sir With Love it ain't. Next Runner Up: Matt Munro's From Russia With Love is a victim of it's time, probably perfectly acceptable in the early 60's but dull dull dull now.

Favorite Title Sequence - The Spy Who Loved Me is classic Maurice Binder, slo mo nude silohuettes, guns and gymnastics. Next Runner Up: You Only Live Twice has a great mix of Asian women, Japanese fan designs and volcanos. One of Maurice Binder's most facinating sequences.

Least Favorite Title Sequence - Casino Royale had a lot of great things going for it, but the title sequence wasn't one of them. Weird computer animated cut outs break apart and form together in a playing card theme. Next Runner Up: Tomorrow Never Dies is just OK with its various computer effects. Seems there is just no replacing the original as both sequences were made after Binder's passing.

Favorite Location - The island of Crab Key in Dr. No. A tropical paradise that looks very relaxing when not getting shot at or attacked by mechanical dragons. Next Runner Up: The famed Volcano base in You Only Live Twice. The definitive bad guy lair for Bond films, metal ramps and monorails hidden inside a volcano.

Least Favorite Location - The Ice House in Die Another Day. There's extravagant and then there's dumb. A whole building interior made to look like the inside of an ice cube. Lame! Next Runner Up: Las Vegas in Diamonds Are Forever. What happened in Sin City should have stayed in Sin City, cheesy decor included.

Favorite Felix Leiter - It was unofficial Bond, but Bernie Casey was my favorite Leiter from Never Say Never Again. He was believable as a fellow secret agent that helps 007 along while poking fun at him. Next Runner Up: Jack Lord in Dr. No. Book 'em Dano.

Least Favorite Leiter - John Terry was the Leiter for The Living Daylights, Terry was bland and forgettable. To be fair though he wasn't given the chance to play the role with meatier material in Licence To Kill. He might have been able to turn it around.

Favorite Cameo - Geoffrey Palmer appears as a British Admiral in Tomorrow Never Dies and promptly gets into it with Judi Dench's M. Palmer and Dench co-starred on the British series As Time Goes By and their familiarity shows.

Least Favorite Cameo - Madonna in Die Another Day as a fencing master. It's a blatant star move that takes me right out of the movie.
This post ended up being a bit longer than I originally planned, that's all of the categories I can think of right now. Will Quantum of Solace add to the list?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

May Day!

Roger Moore and Tanya Roberts watches things go down in flames in A View to A Kill.

To continue the celebration of James Bond, I'm going to feature the absolute worst James Bond movie: 1985's A View to A Kill. Roger Moore's seventh and final adventure as 007. Of the Bond films made in that decade, A View to A Kill was by far the most entrenched in 80's-ness. Silicon Valley, cassette walkmen, Grace Jones - it's all in there. Like any 007 movie, there are redeeming features as the stunt man team get a serious work out here. Plus, Duran Duran at the height of their teeny bopper fame. And now...the moment you haven't been waiting for...a a review of that disaster that is A a Kill!

Let's start with what I liked about A View to A Kill. The theme song was nice, like most Duran Duran songs it makes no sense but sounds great. Watching Christopher Walken and Grace Jones make a great evil pair of villians with Walken's staggered cadences and Jones' maniacal laughter that makes me want to buy Honda Scooters (do they still make those?) was fun. Growing up in the Bay Area, the fact that 2/3rds of this movie takes place in the San Francisco vicinity is pretty awesome. And the stunt man team goes above and beyond, even being on the cutting edge of extreme sports. Base jumping off the Eiffel tower and snowboarding are all featured here. Plus fancy skiing, a great car chase and fighting on top of the Golden Gate Bridge up the ante. If we stopped there we would have a great movie! But there's more...much more.

We'll start at the top of the foodchain, Roger Moore was way to freakin' old to be James Bond at this point. I don't know what his literal age was, he doesn't look a day over 60, too old to be running with young girls and convincingly intercut with stuntmen for closeups. Watching Moore make out with a twenty something blonde in a hot tub is paaiinnful to see (though probably not painful for him) at this point (I could imagine Bond saying "Watch the hair plugs darling, they're property of Her Majesty's government.") And I know he's acting, but Moore wheezing his way through action sequences seemed really authentic. I guess if he had a Jack LaLane physique his age would have been less of an issue, but he didn't. James Bond looked like a man late for his own yacht party instead of a daredevil spy.

To make matters worse, he's paired up with the worst of the Bond girls - Stacy Sutton played by Tanya Roberts. Stacy Sutton is written as a supposed former Oil company boss and geologist who has a ton of intellectual knowledge and yet manages to be as dumb as a post. At one point, she literally gets kidnapped by a blimp. A flying blimp sneaks up behind her and carries her away. Even as James Bond is yelling "Look out behind you!" a good 60 seconds before she gets snagged. Though certainly beautiful, Tanya Robert's raspy voice transforms to an ear splicing shriek in every action sequence she's involved in. "JAMES!" she screams over and over like an aural equivalent to fingernails on a chalkboard. Roberts couldn't do anything about how the character was written, but that shrieking thing? She had control over that. I have to stop for a second, I just heard her scream and I think my ear is bleeding.

With the two stars failing miserably and a generic plot in play (they stole the story from Superman and plan to sink part of California under water) there isn't much else to do. San Francisco Keystone Cops, an unconvincing change of heart by Grace Jones towards the end, flat direction by the king of flat direction John Glen lead us through boredom and exasperation as the franchise goes to hell in a handbasket. If you watch the incredible locations in the background and ignore anything in the foreground it's a pretty picture, otherwise A View to A Kill almost lives up to its title. After seeing this movie, you may not want to see another James Bond movie again. It's more diabolical than a plot by SPECTRE, fortunately it failed.

A View to A Kill trailer

Friday, November 07, 2008

The Dixie Dog

My Dog isn't feeling well starting yesterday, she had to go to the vet today to get checked out. She's in a bit of pain so she spends a lot of time resting right now. Kind of a bummer. Above is a picture of happier times for her. Hope she feels better soon.