Friday, January 30, 2009

Artist Spotlight: 38 Special 1980 - 1989

Everybody say cheese: 38 Special served up mainstream rock Southern style in the 80's
Sometimes when you make fun of a band you end up liking them down the road, this was the case with the Southern Rock AOR band 38 Special. In High School I rode the bus with my friend and we had about a 45 minute ride going there and back so we had a lot of time to kill. My friend liked 38 and since I didn't know any of their music at that time but wanted to make fun of him I relentlessly made fun of the band's name. The only nickname I can remember now is "38 Sh*thole", what can I say I'm getting old and my memory is going. Later that year I saw the video for "Back Where You Belong" and I was hooked. I had to eat my words and go buy the tape. Which led to me eventually buying all of their 80's output.

Rockin Into The Night (1980)

One of the last records I bought of 38 Special and then it was in the cut out bin. I bought this and Special Delivery (1979) at the same time and was pretty disappointed with both of them. The music wasn't bad, it just didn't stick with me. Except for two songs, the title cut was their first hit (made doubly memorable by the fact it was written by Survivor) with a cool strutting beat and Stone Cold Believer which I knew from hearing their live concert on the radio. These records were more Southern Rock than what would follow in their career, "Rockin into the Night" started a path that the group would take to the end of the decade.

Wild Eyed Southern Boys (1981)

Every fan of 80's Rock knows what happens next, the Southern rockers recorded their piece d' resistance (I don't know French from anything so this is probably spelled wrong) Hold on Loosely. From Rock radio to Guitar Hero, no one could deny the power of 38 Special's smooth advice for wild eyed boys to stop crowding their girls. With "Loosely" shaggy haired vocalist / guitarist Don Barnes became the voice of 38's hit songs leaving band leader/ vocalist Donnie Van Zant (younger brother of Lynyrd Skynyrd's Ronnie Van Zant) with a diminshed role. I often wondered how Van Zant felt about that, but it seemed like as long as dough was rolling in he was happy to be the guy in the cool cowboy hat working the crowd while Barnes cranked out the Top 40 smashes. Before I forget, the extended guitar solo at the end of "Loosely" by Jeff Carlisi became an air guitar (and eventually Guitar Hero) classic. After "Hold on Loosely" which was track 1, I usually played the good 'ol boy title cut and the surging Fantasy Girl. More help from the Survivor gang bolstered the songwriting a touch. My tolerance for Southern Rock was a lot less in my teenage years so I didn't play the rest of the record too much. I hadn't even heard "Freebird" until the 1990's!

Special Forces (1982)

In terms of album chronology, this is the first 38 disc I remember from start to finish. And with good reason, it's a killer record. I bought it off a classmate who was selling his tapes at $5.00 a pop, Special Forces was loaded with the groups first full out melodic rock effort. The Southern Rock influence was fading away though it was still palpable. Hooky classics like the Top 10 hit Caught Up in You flooded radio waves and made good use of the band's double drum set up (until 1989 the group maintained a two drummer staff of Steve Brookins and Jack Grondin). Barnes voice continued to be more emotive and commercial than Van Zant although the latter did resemble his brother visually and sonically. Even the more Southern edged tracks like the wicked awesome Chain Lightnin and the go for broke Take 'Em Out had been streamlined with anthem rock gusto. My personal favorite, "You Keep Runnin' Away", kicked ass with its edgy verse and rushing chorus. And who could forget that awesome album cover!

Tour De Force (1983)

Encouraged by their increasing success, 38 Special kicked even more Southern influence to the curb for my fave of their albums. Tour matched up winning melodies with well practiced Arena rock moves and a hint of Country to be as cleancut as a group of hairy beer drinking guys can be. If I'd Been The One and Back Where You Belong both hit the singles chart and provided popular videos to the MTV masses ("One" became a MTV staple with its slo mo horses running from a burning barn; "Belong" was my favorite because it had humor and a slight Hill Street Blues feel). I've covered this album in detail before, so I'll just say there isn't a bum track on this joint.

Teacher's Soundtrack (1984)

To contribute to the probably forgotten Ralph Macchio / Nick Nolte vehicle Teachers, 38 loaded up (you know I was waiting to use that phrase) an unrecorded Bryan Adams song. Adams said he was interested in writing a song where the title has a word that repeats as the start of Teacher Teacher. 38 Special rocked the hell out of this song, the twin drums have power and Don Barnes unleashes a wild guitar solo. I wore out the grooves on this 45.

Strength in Numbers (1986)

With such a hot streak going the first half of the decade, it was a shock that they would jump the shark while still in their prime. Strength in Numbers saw a change in Producers (Rodney Mills produced most of the albums before this, he had the smarts to keep some Southerness in) to Keith Olsen and an increased slickness in their sound. They even traded in their Cowboy hats and Urban Cowboy garb for moussed up hair and fancy coats. That's not to say Numbers is a bad record, its actually good. They hit the Top 20 singles chart again with Like No Other Night, another smooth midtempo rocker that bore strong resemblence to "Hold On Loosely" or "Back Where You Belong". The second single, Somebody Like You (one of my personal favorites) didn't do much and record sales declined. Too bad, I liked "There's Never Been A Good Goodbye" as well. In one of those things you had to see to believe, the record had "38" cut out on the front and a multicolored inner sleeve that filled in the blanks. It was the finishing touch, the visual representation of the last bit of Southern Rock influence drowned out by gaudy 80's neon.

Revenge of the Nerds 2 Soundtrack (1987)

Nothing says Big 80's like performing a synth heavy title track to a PG rated teen movie and 38 Special would not be denied. "Back to Paradise" was the best thing about this dud film sequel that played as a backdrop to some of my own car trips down Highway 1. Granted I wasn't as cool as the...uh...nerds - well, I think I've made my point. Good song.

Rock and Roll Strategy (1989)

Oh no! Oh no! Don Barnes is gone. I don't like change! Well what I like don't matter, Barnes was gone as well as Steve Brookins and maybe a few other people too. Max Carl became the main vocalist in Barnes place and the band changed their name to a spelled out Thirty Eight Special. In spite of the hopelessly dorky title song that I love, Rock and Roll Strategy put forth a 38 -no strike that, Thirty Eight that was much blander. Strong mainstream rock tracks like "Never Be Lonely" and "Hot 'Lanta" were fun. And the group scored their biggest pop hit, a #1 no less, with the Adult Contemporary ballad Second Chance. For a taste of what the rest of the tape sounded like, here's Love Strikes!

After that, I lost interest in Thirty 38 although they continued to record. Years later, Barnes would rejoin but still I just couldn't work up any excitement. 38 Special was a strong AOR band with Southern Rock leanings that I really enjoyed. Plus, it was fun to see the surprise on people's faces when they found out how much I dug these guys. One more bit of trivia, in addition to the Van Zant family connection 38 Special has another long running tie to Lynyrd Skynyrd: bassist Larry Junstrom was the bassist for Skynyrd but left before they became famous. 38 Special became Junstrom's "second chance" so to speak. Remember to Hold on Loosely, just don't let go.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Get Ready To Rumble

Last Night we watched the WWE Royal Rumble and of all the Rumble's I've watched, this one was the best. After the past few years of decent yet uninspired programming with occasional flashes of brilliance, the WWE finally put on a memorable show. The storylines were kicking at full steam, betrayal, aggression and glory were on display last night.

The big story was the next phase in The Age of Orton. Randy Orton has been referenced as the future of wrestling more than once, last night was the beginning of making that future the present. Orton has been set up with a huge heel push, taking out Vince McMahon while he was in babyface mode, forming his own faction and winning the Rumble. The past few years has seasoned the grappler as he has gotten the smug ruthless bad guy act down. He has all of the tools to make it to the top and dominate the business.

And in a real shocker, Matt Hardy took a huge heel turn by betraying his brother Jeff Hardy-screwing brother Jeff out of the World Championship. In normal daredevil Hardy form, Jeff battled longtime nemesis Edge in a match that naturally worked in tables, ladders and chairs.

Meanwhile the slow brewing Shawn Michaels / John Cena / JBL combo started to pay off with a well paced match. The women's match between Melina and Beth Phoenix was surprisingly entertaining and fun. The sight of Phoenix taking Melina's foot and twist it backwards to kick Melina in the back of her own head was incredible. Great stuff.

Best of all, the Rumble itself was nonstop entertainment. Even though the outcome was a foregone conclusion (no way that Orton was going to get the push he was getting and not win) the match itself had wall to wall action. The ring was crowded with superstars as eliminations came slowly. Headliners like Triple HHH, Undertaker, Big Show, Kane, Rey Mysterio and Chris Jericho spent considerable time in the ring and got their signature moves in. All the things you watch the Rumble for, surprise returns (RVD!), cross brand fighting (Taker and Kane together again!) and a conclusion that sets up Wrestlemania.

It wasn't just the best Rumble, it was the best Wrestling program I've seen in about five years. Could this mean 2009 is the big comeback of wrestling? I doubt it will financially, but creatively there are definite signs of life. Even the audiences seem to be waking up a little bit, more signs and louder chants are popping up both during the PPV and on Raw. Tonight on Raw it appears actor Mickey Rourke may have a feud with Chris Jericho leading up to Wrestlemania. Things are looking up!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Midnight Madness - "Sully" Sullenberger Edition

Hero of the Day - Chesley Sullenberger III

It's been in the news a while now, still I thought it would be good to give a shout out to real life hero "Sully" Sullenberger for safely landing a jet in the water following engine failure. He saved a lot of lives that day by doing exactly what he was supposed to do and responding to a grave emergency with skill and dedication. It's been a long time since we've had a national hero, nice to see one with old school values that includes modesty. The rest of the crew and rescue teams also responded well to the disaster. I'll wrap up by saying thank you, Mr. Sullenberger, for a job well done.

Now, on to the Midnight Madness:

A Dark Night - For Batman fans hoping to get a little respect from the Academy. The Oscar noms limited their love for The Dark Knight to the late Heath Ledger (in the major categories at least). You would think Batman was some type of outlaw, running from the police after seeing how the Academy treats him. Bats is in good company though, Bruce Springsteen was also snubbed despite his excellent song for The Wrestler.

Hit The Lights - Meanwhile Metallica fans have reason to bang their head, the Metal band is going to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Jeff Beck and Run D.M.C. are being inducted as well (Little Anthony & the Imperials and Bobby Womack round out the induction honorees this year). I know it won't happen, but if the ending jam session with these guys includes Run D.M.C.'s It's Tricky that would make my day. Let's see James Hetfield cold bust some rhymes with some Jeff Beck soloing on top. Too cool.

Hell Yeah! - The awards season is in full swing, the first inductee to the WWE Hall of Fame is none other than the Rattlesnake! Stone Cold! Stone Cold! What? Stone Cold Steve Austin!

No Rod the Mod - Rod Stewart has put the kibosh on rumors of a Faces reunion. I guess we'll get stuck with whatever other ancient genre he decides to tackle next instead. I can see it now: Rod Stewart sings 19th Century sea shanties now on sale for $10.99. Hear Rod's new single "Blow the Man Down" available exclusively at Wal Mart. It comes with the bonus track "Row Row Your Boat".

Lemon? - The new U2 single Get On Your Boots is out and I have to admit to being a little disappointed. With Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Steve Lillywhite back in the producer's chair I was expecting something a little more classic leaning like their last album. Instead it seem's they're reviving some of that electronica Pop sound from the '90's. I'm still looking forward to the new disc and maybe this song will grow on me. Based on the few times I've heard it the song does get better on each listen. It wouldn't be the first time U2 put out music I was resistant to at first and dug later on. I did notice one of the other song titles on the new album is "Fez - Being Born". Did they write a song about that kid on That 70's Show?

Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? - Boy George has been sentenced to 15 months in jail for imprisoning and beating a male escort. Church of the Poisoned Mind indeed.

She's a little bit Charm School, He's a little bit Rock & Roll - The Osbournes are coming back to TV in a variety show planned for Fox. Sorry Ozzy, now that you're no longer a drug addled burn out you're just not as funny anymore. We all know you've cleaned up and are just fakin' it now.

Hey You Guys! - The Electric Company is returing to television. Can they get Morgan Freeman back?

Yippie Ki Yay! - While watching music videos I came across this parody of the Die Hard movies. It's pretty funny, what makes the clip really worthwhile is the amazing Bruce Willis imitation this guy does.

Die Hard Parody - I Love My Wife

Saturday, January 24, 2009

In The Zone

Imagine if you will...two posts- a Flashback and a Song of the Moment, having nothing to do with each other except the fact that they were thought of at the same time. One is sad, the other gross. Both will find a home the Twilight Zone.

There once was a band, one of the first to be signed to Geffen records. We'll call this band Quarterflash. Supposedly named after a Shakespeare quote that says man is one quarter flash and three quarters fool (so speaketh the soothsayer Casey Kasem). Before that title the Portand, Oregon band went by Seafood Mama (which probably went over well at seafood restaurants. Have the Silver Platter special for $5.00 along with some Seafood Mama!). Led by the husband and wife team of Marv and Rindy Ross, Quarterflash were able to play mainstream soft rock as well as any Firefall or Ambrosia. They hit it big right out of the gate on their debut single, the Pat Benatarish "Harden My Heart". Quarterflash got decent album sales out of their smash and gained a reputation for playing their big hit early in their live sets to separate the pop fans from their true followers. Unfortunately, Quarterflash couldn't come up with another "Harden My Heart" despite their best efforts and by 1986 they were playing the County Fair circuit.

That's when I saw them perform live at the local County Fair. It was the Summer after High School Graduation and with my city not being a big Rock town, I was able to stand in the front row. In the front row I ran into a classmate who I knew casually but had never hung out with. We hadn't talked to each other much in High School but weren't on bad terms (it was that sort of we're-just-out-of-high-school-and-you're-someone-I-recognize-so-we're-cool-now kind of thing) and he left right after "Harden My Heart" played about the fourth song into the set. Before he left I remember shaking hands with him as we probably wouldn't see each other around much afterwards.

A few months later I read in the paper this guy had died in an accident returning from a camping trip. He was the first person I knew of from my class to pass away. Since then, when I hear Quarterflash's "Harden My Heart" I think of the last time I saw this guy, full of life, standing in the front row before Rindy Ross yelling "You can swallow my tear baby!" as she warbled her ticket to one hit wonderdom. If you told me that guy would no longer be alive a few months later I would not have believed it. Quarterflash seemed to end shortly after that, leaving their music tied to that moment of this guy's youthful exuberance as a permanent record in my memory.

Quarterflash "Harden My Heart"

The Song of the Moment is inspired by tonight. Warning - this one is a little gross. My wife cooked up some delicious chili with cornbread for dinner. I ate it along with two glasses of milk, a dangerous thing for a lactose intolerant person like me to do. The hours that followed were tough for my wife as she sat through...we'll say a carpet bomb attack of chili powered explosives. As the night wore on, a song that fit the occasion for me popped into my head (obviously something that happens to me often...songs in my head, that is). So I'll say sorry Bunny, here's a song so we'll always remember tonight.
John Parr was a British rocker in love with American AOR. He even played with a guitar painted as the American flag and had a minor hit in 1984 with the excellent Naughty Naughty. He then teamed up with Producer David Foster for the title track to the film St. Elmo's Fire which became a #1 hit. How does this relate to tonight? Because I can feel St. Elmo's Fire burnin', burnin inside of me (big rock howl while the music plays on at this point). Take me to where the future's lying - St Elmo's Fire! Oogada Boogada Ah Ha Ha.

John Parr "St. Elmo's Fire"

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Sweet Soul Sister

No mercy, she knows she is good...Adele is the latest gal from the U.K. to apply 60's R&B to a modern setting.

Last Christmas I bought my wife the CD by Adele, the latest in the recent line of British retro R&B acts. Her album is named 19, which I think was her age at the time of recording and belies the older, wiser tone of her voice. Of the new wave of R&B divas, Adele has the best natural sound with a strong, smooth tone that has warmth and a touch of roughness that conveys heartfelt feeling. In this world of British Soul sirens Amy Winehouse is the "saucy crack whore" and Duffy is "sexpot heartbreak" by way of Dusty Springfield leaving Adele as the "nice girl next door". She doesn't go out of her way to impress, she just lets the music speak for itself.

Her hit Chasing Pavements takes a sweeping melody to a yearning ballad that allows Adele to stretch her vocals out nicely. She has a touch of jazziness in the slow numbers that distinguishes her from the pack. Even the well worn Make You Feel My Love gets new life under Adele's supple approach. But hey, everyone in this genre does ballads and midtempo foot tappers. What Adele's strength lies in is performing up tempo dance tracks. Right as Rain and Tired are standout cuts that get my head bobbing whenever I hear them.

Adele's music doesn't knock me out or amaze me, I just enjoy the high level of consistency she maintains throughout her disc. Her music is pleasant, fun and relaxing - which explains why I hear her songs in shopping malls. That's not a knock in this case, it's nice to hear music of this type done with sincerity. And who knows, if she takes home some Grammy awards she could even be the next big thing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

You've Got Chops

Back for another round of endless auditions, so far Simon Cowell's best zingers have been in his battles with new girl Kara Dioguardini.

We're into the second week of the eighth season of American Idol, one of my favorite past times. Like every year, the show kicks off with auditions where a mix of delusional insane asylum screechers mix with Hollywood kids in training. After being a cultural juggernaut for most of it's existence, Idol stumbled a bit in season seven as ratings sagged a bit and participants failed to reach beyond the Idol faithful. Longtime producer Nigel Lythgoe left and a new judge, Kara DioGuardini, was brought in. This left the question: what's the status of the Star Search of the new millennium now?

The answer so far seems to be going Back to Basics. Unlike previous seasons, Idol has become more unassuming - not taking viewership for granted and constantly ramming it's greatness down our throats. It still plugs itself of course, just not every three minutes as in prior shows or extended documentaries on the making of the show. There's a genuine focus on the contestants this time out, much more than last year. An even mix of funny oddballs, showstoppers and sob stories goes a long way. The presence of the judges and Ryan Seacrest have been more subdued, less indulgent so far. They still bicker and needle possible Idol's and each other but are edited into shorter bursts.

Which leads to the new kid on the block, Kara DioGuardini. Being the new person, DioGuardini is getting a sizeable push in camera time equalling Cowell himself. Fortunately, DioGuardini seems to be what the show needs. Her presence gives a slightly bored Cowell a new person to badger, stabilizes Paula and takes over on the musicianly critiques that Jackson used to do before he became content to clown people. She hasn't shied away from saying her opinion and fueled the most noteworthy contestant interaction so far this season. DioGuardini's catch phrase seems to be "You've got chops" as she used that relentlessly during the first week's episodes. By mid-season, "Chops" could be the new "Pitchy" in overuse.

American Idol is settling in for the long haul, it's stopped tripping over itself to wow us and is serving up plenty to talk about. There's already been Bikini Girl and the guy who is like a human Gollum from Lord of the Rings to cause some minor sensations. This is shaping up to be a season of modest yet still watchable fun, assuming they don't find a breakout superstar. Idol may not have the fantastic runs and high notes it once had, so they are showing what they do have: chops.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A Historic Day

Wow, time files. I meant to post on MLK Day but did something else and now I've almost missed Inauguration Day. As everyone on the planet knows, today was Barack Obama's first day as our new Commander in Chief. I watched the CNN coverage until a little bit after his official inauguration and his excellent speech. It's great to have a President who is up front about the challenges facing us and inspires hope with intelligence and leadership. But enough politics, I was going to use Aretha Franklin's song from today to end this post but I thought that was a little lazy, so I racked my brain to see what other song I could come up with to fit this moment. Journey's "Don't Stop Believin"? Great song, though I still think of the White Sox and The Sopranos. A Bruce Springsteen song? That's as predictable as using an Aretha Franklin song. Stevie Wonder, U2? Both are great inspirational artists that often get used for these purposes. Van Halen's "Dreams"? It fits, I just usually think of military action from that song. Must have been that Blue Angels video. Nope, I wanted to dig a little deeper. Oddly, the song that eventually sprang to mind is one of the lesser known songs from one of my favorite bands . Yes' "Open Your Eyes" was a pretty good fit for me, it espouses optimism and breaking free from old established ways. So on this great day can I post some Yes? Yes I ...well, you know the rest.

Yes "Open Your Eyes"

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Jackson Browne - Lives in the Balance (1986)

What a weird photo, it's like saying "I'm sensitive because I glare while turning the other cheek."

I'm a fan of Jackson Browne, I just like how the guy writes songs. His lyrics are usually thoughtful and he can turn a phrase pretty well. Musically some of his stuff can suffer from sounding the same album to album (he recycles songs sometimes in my opinion). Just not to the point I discard him. When Browne is on target, I relate to his songs more than most other songwriters. So it's a bit ironic that the first tape of music an apolitical guy like me was Browne's most political effort, Lives in the Balance.

This is the song that got me hooked, it was straight up AOR. Big beat, steely synths, strident melody - you know, the stuff dreams are made of. I also liked the lyrics about a redemptive type of patriotism versus blind faith, not realizing before buying the tape that it was a set up for a whole agenda. Cap it all off with a Clarence Clemons sax and you've got mid 80's magic.

I never knew what this song was specifically about other than abuse of power until I saw this You Tube clip, where he says it's about the person who commands the soldiers (I took it to mean the President). It has that world beat mixed with rock sound that kinda works, kinda doesn't for me. Was never my favorite from this album. Usually hit the fast forward button on this one.

Probably the best known song on the album, it tells the story of love going down the tubes with a touch of quiet resignation and pain. The only part that sort of stuck out wrong is a section that alludes to domestic violence, just because six years after the release of this album actress Daryl Hannah claimed Browne was abusive to her (Browne has denied this vehemently). Hannah and Browne were a high profile couple at the time. In happier times, they appeared together in Browne's team up with the Big Man on their hit You're a Friend of Mine a year earlier. Though watching this video, you might think Browne and Clemons were the couple.

Another straight up AOR gem about a girl named Candy. Sort of Cars sounding to me, I liked this song a lot because it fit what I listened to perfectly. Other than the compassionate take on a young girl's dreams, this could have easily been done by John Waite or a multitude of other 80's rock bands. I actually mean that in a good way.

As gang violence was escalating in the streets, Browne decided to write about people looking for hope in the "Lawless Avenues" of Hispanic neighborhoods. The section in sung in Spanish was fun because High School Spanish was still fresh in my head. Couldn't tell you much of what he's singing now. Anyway, at the time I bought the tape I was visiting L.A. and though I didn't see any gangs there this song made me feel like I knew what was going on in the "streets". Of course I really didn't, but that's part of being a teenager.

Browne aimed his cynicism at foreign affairs and came up with this gem, one of the few political songs I really really like. He uses strong lyrical imagery on how War can be used to further power and money at the cost of human life in the name of freedom. The acoustic version on Solo Acoustic Vol. 1 is downright moving.

7. Till I Go Down

When I think Jackson Browne, I think...reggae? Browne gets his groove on with a bit of defiance. And no, it's not pretty.

This was one of two that fit in the "Jackson Browne classic sound" territory ("In the Shape of a Heart" is the other) where the lyrics are introspective. With "time running out" he decides to make a difference. A few years back I was surprised to hear this in a supermarket. Amazing how I can hear better music buying groceries than on the radio.

This album was the beginning of Browne's commercial slide, people coming here to find another Late For The Sky were disappointed it seemed. That and laying out extensively liberal politics, particularly in the Reagan era, was like painting a bulls eye for people to slag him. His follow up, the weak World in Motion, ended his relevance but that just makes this album stand out more. A strong AOR album with some Springsteen elements and a well rounded theme.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Tribute to an "Old Friend"

Of course, I never knew Ricardo Montalban. It seemed fitting to name this post that title because after seeing Star Trek II my best friend at the time and I used to refer to each other in the same way Kirk and Khan did. That sort of spiteful tone on a seemingly cheerful title, "Old Friend", was fun to mimic. Such was the impact the actor Ricardo Montalban had on my life, a suave commanding presence capable of portraying villains and heroes alike. A great actor who passed away today at age 88.

Montalban first became known to me through Fantasy Island, his Mr Rourke was a sort of benign omniscient character of relaxed elegance. His performance made the character interesting as I can't recall much background or personality traits about Rourke, just that he was a well heeled man of mystery. Although I hadn't realized it, I had seen Montalban before as Khan in the original Star Trek. I just didn't know it was him. But by the time his Wrath had been put out, I knew full well what he meant to Star Trek.

Montalban became William Shatner's best foil, a cool smooth intellect bent on vengeance versus an emotional firehouse. Their battle formed the core of one of my favorite movies of all time. Montalban took the Moby Dick heavy monologues he was given and infused them with the obsessive bitterness needed to make it truly memorable. That whole "I'll chase him round the outer nebula and round the Antares maelstrom and round perdition's flames before I give him up!" part is still fresh in my memory 27 years later.

Even after Khan, Montalban proved he could do comedy as well. His appearance in The Naked Gun was fantastic. His career continued and was consistently good when I would see him appear in movies or tv here or there. He even made a voice appearance on Family Guy last year. While he has had a long and esteemed career, there's no doubt that his performances in the late 70's and 80's had the most impact on me-even if it was just entertainment. So with sadness I say thank you for years of great entertainment Ricardo Montalban.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Quantum Mechanics

Getting cover from enemy fire is easy in Quantum of Solace, it's getting out of cover that's hard.

Like movies, there are certain games that define a franchise. For James Bond that game was Goldeneye, the classic first person shooter that combined stealth and button mashing frenzy into a Walther PPK of fun. Except for the excellent Everything or Nothing at All or From Russia With Love games, the James Bonds that followed were copies or updates of Goldeneye. And in the first video game of the Daniel Craig era, the Bond formula stays intact. Goldeneye it is then.

The heart of the game is still sound, you try to sneak around buildings and bases disabling security equipment until you're spotted. Then, you pull out a personal armory and unload all kinds of weaponry on the bad guys who saw you. As an update of Goldeneye, the surroundings have gotten more detailed and the artificial intelligence of the opponents are much smarter than in the past. No more camping in a safe spot and picking off eight people in a row as they run through the same doorway, oblivious to the stack of dead bodies in front of them. No, this AI dodges your aim and thinks pretty reasonably. The environments come with exploding and breaking parts which add to the fun. A lot of natural gas canisters litter the playing field, shoot one of those and watch three or four enemies go up in smoke. Story wise, they manage to combine Casino Royale and Q of S together albeit clumsily. Sounds like Quantum of Solace is off to a good start.

My only real issue with the game is the controls. The Wii's controls for movement are extreme, even with sensitivity settings I find the foot movement and buttons sluggish. You try to run away from a timed bomb but Bond moves slow, so you push the button to sprint and suddenly you're stopping to hide behind a box instead. At the same time, the shooting and turning movement is hypersensitive and has a tendency to get stuck. Though to be fair, when it is working properly, the targeting is fairly accurate. And once I learned to minimize use of cover, jumping or running my game play improved.

There are some graphical glitches too but those are forgivable. Even with the game play issues I find I'm pretty addicted to Quantum of Solace, shoot 'em up games are a favorite of mine and the stealth system is pretty good here. Once I accepted the control issues, Quantum of Solace became a solid sequel to Goldeneye. I'm already going through the game a second time at a higher difficulty setting and enjoying my temporary licence to kill. It's fun to be a blunt instrument.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Midnight Madness - Space: 1999 Edition

I sooo wanted to fly a Space: 1999 spaceship and wear kick ass polyester zipper suits with colored sleeves and a big plastic belt. I would have been the man!

Not a lot of entertainment news out there this week, so I'm gonna discuss an adventure as lame, er, big as space! I''m talking one of my favorite TV shows of childhood that I just got on DVD, Space: 1999.

I came across the full series on DVD shortly after Christmas and could not resist picking it up. I used to spend Sundays mid afternoon happily catching the exploits of Commander Koenig and crew of Moonbase Alpha. I had toys (including a giant Eagle spaceship with dolls and a flying Eagle that could pick up nuclear cannisters), models and a treasured Comlink replica my late Grandpa made out of a block of wood.

Watching the TV show now, it's amazing how much of the cheese factor I missed seeing it through the eyes of a kid. The stories defy logic or common sense, the aliens are usually incorporeal spirits who speak in stuck up British echo chambers and as my wife has noted, Commander Koenig makes the worst command decisions possible. Despite this, I'm having a blast revisiting this classic show and enjoy the campiness (my poor parents, they probably watched me devote hours of time to this program and thought it sucked). Because let's face it, the future is meant to be experienced backed by a Eurodisco soundtrack.

For the millions who missed this show when it was on, Space: 1999 is set in the future where a manned base on the Moon has a nuclear accident resulting in the Moon being ripped out of orbit. It then hurtles through space on its momentum encountering a plethora of hostile alien life. It's antiquated vision of the future is fascinating and while I can't recommend this for everyone, if you love 70's Sci Fi chesse this show is a must.

Are the Terrible Towels still there? - Styx will be performing at a NFL Championship game soon, it seems the Pittsburgh Steelers have taken to "Renegade". The last time I followed football Terry Bradshaw was QB, still it's great to see them get more exposure with a great jam.

Whoa Ooh Whoa Oh - American Idol starts up on January 13th, let the mediocre talent search begin! I love me some American Idol.

Kelly Clarkson! - Cover art for her new disc is all over the web, can she dominate again?

When The Levee Breaks - Sounds like the Led Zep minus Robert Plant reunion has been called off. I'm pretty tolerant of lead singer switcheroos, though in this case I'm glad to see it fail without Plant. At this point in their career, it's not worth doing without him.

Ron Asheton - Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton passed away at age 60. I liked the Stooges, a sad passing.

If You're Into It - Flight of the Conchords returns on January 18th! Yes!

More Space: 1999 - To close here's two clips from You Tube that summarize the series while playing that wicked awesome Eurodisco.

Space: 1999

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Ice Ice Baby

About a month ago I picked up the new AC/DC album Black Ice from Wal Mart and have spent some time listening to it. There has been a lot of hype leading up to Ice, there's been rumors for a few years that a new album was coming. Then there was a lot of talk about this being their swan song, one last blast with an album and tour followed by retirement. Of course, the exclusive distribution courtesy of Wal Mart was the next subject. Meanwhile, band's came out of the woodwork to emulate the Aussie rocker's trademark sound-particularly Airbourne. Sometimes I hear Airbourne and I think it's AC/DC until the chorus hits and I realize I don't remember the tune that well. That's not necessarily a knock on Airbourne, they do the AC/DC well and acted as a herald for hard rocker's true comeback.

I debated on covering this disc just because I wasn't sure if there was a point. Every AC/DC album sounds the same as the last, more or less. At this point in their career, you either like what they do or you don't. It's not about originality here, it's about execution. Do the songs fire you up and stick in your head like dark beer or leave you flat? Well, I'll get to that in a moment.

Most of my life I was a casual fan of AC/DC. The first time I saw their emblem was when the loser across the street graffitied the water meter on my house with their logo, Van Halen's logo and the phrase "I'm a rootin tootin cowboy". The next exposure was when the Emilio Estevez movie Maximum Overdrive came out and had a soundtrack by AC/DC. I copied that tape off a friend and played it every once in a while, diggin' on jams like Who Made Who and Shake Your Foundations. Fast forward to 2000, my wife came home with the CD Stiff Upper Lip. We went to see them in concert and it was the best show I've ever seen from any band ever. I've seen a lot of bands, but I've never seen anyone rock that hard. After that, I was a fan.

That was nine years ago, almost a decade ago. After my birthday, I went out and picked up Black Ice for a long awaited listen. My impressions? It's still AC/DC. Screechy raspy vocals, throbbing bass, rock steady snare drum and vicious guitar assault. The execution of their classic formula is fairly strong, the performance doesn't lag or show any age. About half of the songs are memorable, particularly the thunderous Big Jack, the slick Wheels or the WWE hyped Spoilin' For A Fight. There's more variety in the grooves than the prior disc Stiff Upper Lip, songs move at different speeds and are aided by focusing on stronger choruses. My only criticism is that to me AC/DC is at their best with just the ten best songs on each album, the quality of their songwriting seems to suffer past that point.

Black Ice is a good dose of brutal, sleazy Hard Rock served up as only AC/DC truly can. It overstays its welcome a little, but by the end of the disc I was ready to start over at track 1 again. It's not the best AC/DC album, I'd rank it in the top half or so in their storied career. AC/DC preaches to the converted here and when they're on they make a good case for rock and roll salvation.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Midnight Madness - Electra Woman and Dyna Girl Edition

Saturday mornings used to be filled with fun live action nonsense like this, Isis and Shazam! Ah, the good 'ol days.

The inspiration for this week's subject was not a good one. My wife received an electric shock from a light switch after washing dishes at my parent's house on New Years Day :( She is doing better now, but I was worried for a while. Hopefully there will be no more electric shocks in the future for little Bunny.

So with electricity on my mind, the third thing to come to mind was this classic kids tv show I used to watch. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl, a sort of a female Batman and Robin on the cheap. The theme song has always stuck in my head. And yes Soap fans, that is Diedre Hall of Days of Our Lives fame in spandex and a cape. Electra-fantastic!

I Will Possess Your Heart - Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard (master of the sad sack unrequited love song) and indie singer/actress du jour Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy) are engaged. If these two have a child, it will probably be financed by an independent studio who really believe in the story.

Sign O' The Times - Prince is planning to release three, count 'em, three albums in 2009 without a label. By the time he's done, he may go down as the most prolific artist in the modern era by my count. This guy could is so talented, he could probably find musical inspiration in a fart.

The Dead Will Rise Again - The remaining members of the Grateful Dead are reforming for a tour.

Dropping the Ball - Owners of a certain model of Zune music players got a surprise when their machines shut down with the beginning of the New Year. I don't own a Zune, but I shake my fist at the sky in sympathy anger.

You Killed Kenny... - Quintan Tarantino's long gestating project Inglorious Basterds will finally be made and released this year. I think Tarantino's been working on this since before Kill Bill.

Employee of the Month - Not a good week for people who have starred in movies with this title. Actor Matt Dillon was caught speeding in Vermont. Meanwhile, actor/comedian Dane Cook's brother has been accused of embezzlement from Cook.

A Second Look - Speaking of Death Cab for Cutie, their recent album Narrow Stairs didn't impress me much on the first few listens when I got it in the Summer. I've had it in my car for the last two weeks and have found it a mildly addictive listen. The Mitchell Froom like murky sonics give a deshelved manner to a pack of songs about crushed romantic hopes and resignation (ironic this guy just got engaged). Songs like the loping "Your New Twin Sized Bed", the mid 90's alt sounding "Cath" and the fast moving "Long Division" sound great. And while "I Will Possess Your Heart" is Ok, I sing along doing a bad Patrick Stewart imitation which always makes it sound better to me. So my consideration of this disc has moved up from Meh to Pretty Good, an enjoyable album.

What's in My Car - For a change of pace, I'm changing my section on the songs I'm listening to now to the CDs in my car.

Wii Fit Mania - I've been doing the Wii Fit with my wife which has been fun, some of the games in the system could have even worked as stand alone titles (like the Skiing ones, especially the Ski Jump).

The New Year - This is really turning into more of a Death Cab post, but with this many mentions I thought it would be fitting to end with their song "The New Year". Again, done in the band's typical downbeat yet disassociated way. With his pending marriage, Ben Gibbard may face a big artistic challenge: can he write happy songs?

Death Cab for Cutie "The New Year"

Saturday, January 03, 2009

A Cult Classic Lives Up To The Hype

Dae Su is on the Hallway To Hell in Old Boy

A few years back, there was a big buzz about a violent Korean revenge thriller called Old Boy (2003). It tells the story of a man who has been imprisoned in a room for 15 years without being told why it is being done to him. While imprisoned, his wife is murdered and he is framed for it. He has no idea what becomes of his daughter and uses TV as a link to the outside world. After 15 years, he is suddenly released and given a mission: He has five days to find his captor and figure out why he was imprisoned. With the help of a sympathetic female sushi chef, he takes his shot.

It's a good set up and the story goes through a variety of twists and turns to keep the viewer engaged. The lead actor, Choi Min Sik, is dynamite as the put upon Dae Su. He makes the character's journey believable, starting as a drunken lout and then changing to a man determined for revenge while still retaining his original personality. Min Sik's performance is boundless, running the gambit from fierce fighter to grovelling vulnerability sometimes in the same scene.

Directed by Park Chan-Wook, the film is well told using that over saturated color style that was popular in the mid-90's to dramatic effect. Chan-Wook tells the story cleanly and in a slightly comic book style (particularly a part where he fights a gang of thugs in a hallway using a hammer, it is a wide out side scrolling shot very remiscent of comics). Not only does Chan-Wook get good performances out of his actors, he keeps the emotion flowing through every scene.

That's the ultimate pull of Old Boy for me. It's like a litmus test because it thoroughly involves the viewer in its story. What if you were trapped in a room and not given a reason? How would you react when freed and teased with the possibility for knowledge and revenge? And what price would you pay for that vengeance, is the secret something you really want to know? When confronted with the truth, would you still be able to take your revenge?

Although I saw the main plot twist coming a mile away, the emotional impact is still powerful when the last pieces of this puzzle are put together. Old Boy lives up to its hype, a trip through the darkness of vengeance, forbidden love and focused hatred with uncompromising emotional brutality. And not since Memento (2001) has a plot twist driven film been this fun. Early on, the film dares you to take this trip by making you watch the recently released Dae Su demand a live octopus to eat at a sushi restaurant. It literally asks if you have the stomach for this. If you get past that scene, this movie is for you.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year!

T'Pow! Will 2009 be the year things start to get better? I hope so! Live Long and Prosper.

Ding, Dong, 2008 is dead! A great year for entertainment but pretty miserable on just about every other scale. 2009 is going to be all about hope. Hope for the future both personally and in terms of America and the world. After spending New Years Eve with my wife watching Star Trek it's easy to be in a positive frame of mind.

I also spent a little bit of time scouring the New Years shows for fun. My impressions? Kellie Pickler is still entertaining to listen to, Carson Daly complains too much about the cold, Lionel Ritchie and Elton John still have "it" while newbies Taylor Swift and the Jonas Bros can't cut it live. Did like seeing high profile exes Taylor Swift and one of those Jonas kids spend a long time together on tv standing on some platform. Awkward! For me, the musical highlight was watching The Ting Ting's live. Which my wife accurately pegged as being very Blondie-ish.

And what do we have to look forward to in 2009? So far, there's a new Star Trek movie and Bruce Springsteen album lined up. Sounds like 1984 all over again. S-S-S-Sex Crimes! (robot voice) Nineteen Eighty Four. Sorry, went off on a Eurythmics tangent for a second.

Anyway, I woke up wanting to find the perfect song to start 2009. My IPOD randomly selected the right artist, Bob Marley! Let's get the party started with 'ol Bob, "Three Little Birds".

Bob Marley "Three Little Birds"