Friday, January 29, 2010

You Taught Me To Sit Down When I Stand Up

Jumping 90 pound girl vs man with shovel, guess who's gonna win in Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li.

There are movies that are bad. Then there are movies that are so epic in its awfulness that it actually is good. The latter is where Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li falls, maybe the most expensive direct to video flick ever. At least it looks expensive, a cast of a thousand extras, multiple exotic locations and recently popular has beens kung fu, wire work flip and shoot guns while running in between ridiculous story line moments.

What's really weird about Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chunky isn't that it's based on a video game that was popular in 1993 but that it has very little to do with the actual game (other than character names). The silly Jean Claude Van Dammaged version (Street Fighter in 1994) is god awful too but at least it was faithful to the source material (and sadly contains one of the last performances of Raul Julia). No, what we have here is a slick, stylish martial arts revenge film that actually had a shot at B movie mediocrity if it wasn't for the hokey Street Fighter elements.

Street Sweeper: The Legend Of Bruce Li's Sister stars that girl from the makeup advertisements and Tv's Smallville Lana Lang as ass kickin' Chun Li (for those who played the video game, she was the girl in a blue dress and hair braids whose special move was an upside down helicopter spin kick). Lana Lang is sad and determined because her father was kidnapped in front of her face as a child and now her mother is dying of I think cancer. Oh yeah, she's a world class pianist too. So she walks with bug eyed determination everywhere she goes because she's sad and mad.

You see, her dad was kidnapped by Lt. Hawk from Star Trek: First Contact for his business contacts that was somehow maintained during the dad's decade plus captivity. Lt. Hawk is Bison, no longer a flying red jacketed muscleman but instead a business man who is pure evil because he killed his wife to put his good side into his newborn daughter (I totally don't remember any of this from the video game). He's assisted by the Kingpin from Daredevil and one of the Black Eyed Peas to carry out his dirty deeds done dirt cheap. Lana wants to rescue her daddy and gets told to find Liu Kang of Mortal Kombat for help. So she leaves her house in the rain wearing shorts to catch a plane. Why? Didn't she have any umbrellas in her house?

So yeah, there's no fight tournament, no Ken, Ryu, Guile or Honda, no "Chi Ru Chen!", just not a hell of a lot to make this Street Fighter except numerous street battles. There she Neutrogena's her enemies into submission including the Black Eyed Pea guy playing clawed adversary Vega. Who she ties up and hangs upside down but leaves his claw hand free. Why the guy didn't cut himself loose I have no idea. Meanwhile, the jock guy from American Pie and a detective girl in every wet tank top imaginable follow the action like they're gonna do something. Ooh, subplot!

It's all a build up to the usual wire work and stunt work fu leading to the showdown between Chun Lana and Lt Hawk. You've seen it all a thousand times and nothing new under the sun here.

To sum up, what we have here is a failure to communicate. A Street Fighter movie that has almost nothing to do with Street Fighter. We got a 90 pound girl thrashing 200+ pound men all day long, we got wire work fu, lesbian bathroom fu, fireball fu, bare hand C section fu, cleavage girl detective fu, Black Eyed Pea fu, upside down spinning handstand splits fu, steam pipe fu, best actor award for Chris Klein for trying to look grizzled but instead looking confused particularly when delivering lines like "I've been chasing this guy across four continents. He walks between rain drops". Bonus award for always having people sit down when they say "You taught me to stand up when it's not easy to." If you like bad movies, you'll love Street Fighter: The Legend Of Chun Li!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Mr Mike's High School Record Collection: Dokken - Back For The Attack (1987)

One, Two Dokken's after you...Three, Four better rock some more. In what had to be the best heavy metal / movie tie in since Maximum Overdrive, Dokken shreds and wails for the one clawed wonder.

"You need love so now I'm back!!!"

So begins awesome intro to the song "Back For The Attack", a killer rocker that inexplicably does not appear on Dokken's 1987 album Back For The Attack. Instead it was relegated to a B Side on the cassingle to their soundtrack song "Dream Warriors". I know this because I owned that cassingle, that's how big a Dokken fan I was in the hair spray raising 80's. George Lynch was the shit on the guitar and Don Dokken had one of those "ultimate" metal voices. Dokken (the band and the man) was coming off the Under Lock And Key album, one of my favorite discs of all time. They were favorites of mine throughout high school and now that I was in college they were poised to do something even bigger. Unfortunately, despite the disc selling well it didn't do what they were poised to do so Back For The Attack ended up being the closing chapter to the peak period of their career.

Back For The Attack was released just as the CD format started to take off and so the sticker made a big deal out of there being 62 minutes on this album. Oh wow really, 62 minutes? Remember when they used to make albums 46 or 62 minutes long to keep you from recording the full album on a tape? That's all that was. Still, at an hour plus change Back For The Attack was the longest set the band had recorded up to that point (I stopped after the live album Beast From The East so I have no idea how long the albums that came after were). Here we go, Dokken's magnum opus, Back For The Attack!!

1. Kiss Of Death

The album gets off to a strong start with this fast paced rocker anchored by a racing George Lynch guitar riff. Backed by the steady beat of drummer Mick Brown and bassist Jeff Pilson, vocalist Don Dokken wails like a banshee about that "Kiss Of Death". In interviews, Dokken alluded to the song being about AIDS as the epidemic of that deadly disease was getting national attention by '86-'87. More specifically, the song is about fear of getting AIDS from a groupie. Making this one of the most magnificently shallow songs in mainstream metal history.

2. Prisoner

I won't go so far to say they followed a formula, but there were certain grooves Dokken liked. This is the "Just Got Lucky" / "It's Not Love" groove. A midtempo beat, gang shouted chorus and dramatic "tortured soul" vocals (a Don Dokken specialty!) leading up to a spine tingling guitar solo from Lynch. Killer stuff.

3. Night By Night

A decent filler track, I tended to block this song out back in the day. Very repetitive song but of course the performance of the band itself is a cut above.

4. Standing In The Shadows

When walking on campus between classes listening to this on a walkman (for you young folks, a walkman is like an Ipod but bigger and required what we used to call a cassette tape to play music. I've included a picture in case this ancient technology is too confusing) the sketchy guitar part stood out. Very cool song to listen to while watching people move all around you between classes, like we're all...standing in the shadows!

5. Heaven Sent

Track five, it's power ballad time! Despite their best efforts, Dokken was never able to cross over to a pop audience while scores of arguably lesser talented pop metal bands did so with ease. A big factor in this in my opinion (or in internet speak IMHO aka I'm a, In My Honest Opinion) was that Dokken was too dark sounding to appeal to pop fans. Dokken is very metal in that sense, singing weighty songs in a dark tone with guitars firing all around. So "Heaven Sent" and it's predecessors like "Jaded Heart" and "Alone Again" made for killer ballads that only Rock fans knew about. Too bad, with some pop success maybe they would have kept going.

6. Mr Scary

George Lynch is a freakin artist with his six string sting, here he gets a full instrumental to showcase his stuff. An award winning guitarist (at least I seem to remember him winning Guitar Player awards in magazines and what not), "Mr Scary" is indeed frightening with its burgeoning riff and screaming guitar soloing. That steady rhythm section gets more room to move particularly Mick Brown's percussion. A sort of precursor of things to come, shredmeister guitar player Lynch would form his own band Lynch Mob a few years later.

7. So Many Tears

After all that thunderous metal, the band shows its more melodic side on "So Many Tears". Not quite as strong as the two songs that precede it yet still satisfying. Sort of like "In My Dreams" with the emphasis on the ghostly group chorus vocals. To underscore the band's invisibility to the pop audience, years ago at work the video for "In My Dreams" came on which I watched closely until my co-worker insisted on knowing what I was watching. This person knew pop music pretty well, when I said "It's Dokken" she said "Who the hell is that?" For an interesting twist, while looking for song links a cover from some band in Japan popped up performed in what looks like a backyard. Metal lives! In Japan! With heavily accented English!

8. Burning Like A Flame

Like I said, Dokken tried every trick in the book to cross over. The power ballad, the movie soundtrack tie-in, even this: the happy rock song. Maybe the only happy sounding Dokken tune in their canon. And like a man that never smiles, "Burning Like A Flame" is a little awkward sounding. Never been my favorite track because of that, it's all well played but feels odd. And it was all for naught, "Burning Like A Flame" was the lead single and failed to dent the pop charts.

9. Lost Behind The Wall

Taking off with the sound of a jet leading into a heavy bass line from Pilson, this is classic 80s metal. Just like Accept's "Balls To The Wall" this is about struttin down the street ready to take on THE MAN. Even though the lyrics are about being trapped behind THE WALL, the spirit of the track is YOU'RE NOT GONNA TAKE IT!!!

10. Stop Fighting Love

As much as I love 80s Dokken, at this point in the album I usually got a little tired. 62 minutes of Dokken I guess is just too much for me. Back in the day I often fast forwarded to the last song after "Lost Behind The Wall". Not much to say on this song so I'll take this space to mention how interesting it is that Don Dokken and George Lynch often sound tight on recordings but in real life have a reputation for carrying a blood feud that rivals the Hatfields and McCoys. In rock mags of the time, Dokken was better known for their infighting than actual music.

11. Cry Of The Gypsy

Between bonus tracks if you bought the CD or cassette over the record and the expansion of album run times with the new technology, the art of quality control went out the window. If Back For The Attack didn't have tracks 10 thru 12 on it the album would be stronger as a whole. Then again, if it wasn't on the album I'd probably have to track these songs down as B sides or something because I love me some 80s Dokken. As it is, we have a mediocre cut highlighted with Lynch's flashy guitar fills.

12. Sleepless Nights

Ooh yeah! Well, that's what Don Dokken shouts at the start of this track. "Sleepless Nights" is the classic hair band album track move aka the blues strutter. The groove is a little more bluesy on the gui-tar as it struts behind the "I'm a party God" vocals. Not bad, a bit more memorable than the songs preceding it.

13. Dream Warriors

The fact that this song is as good as it is is a testiment to Dokken's talent. I mean think about it, if you were commissioned to write a song for a Freddy Kruger movie titled A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors what would you do? Most people would come up with a big hanging piece of crap, like when J. Geils Band came up with a theme song for Fright Night that had a campy ghost sound at the end of the chorus ("Fright Night / Ooh"). Dokken's song has more drama and power than the movie it's from, enough to make me buy the hokey lyrics tied to the flick ("We're the Dream Warriors / Don't Wanna Dream No More / 'Cause Maybe Tonight You'll Be Gone!"). That reminds me, whatever happened to that girl Heather Lagenkamp (probably mangled her name there)? Lost track of her after the sitcom Just The Ten Of Us (and I'm doin' it the best I can / Doin' it for nobody but meeee...) And are they still going to remake A Nightmare On Elm Street with new actors? Wasn't the ten or twelve original ones they made enough already? Watching this video, I totally forgot Patricia Arquette was in the movie. Medium alert!

After Back For The Attack the group wouldn't release a new studio disc until the mid 90s. From what I've read online, they never recaptured their magic although reviewers have said their most recent effort Lightning Strikes Again gets close. For me, Dokken ended with the 80s so I haven't checked on them since. But in the context of 80s rock, they were totally rad. Keep on rockin' Dokken!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Midnight Madness - Little Rascals Edition

While listening to REO Speedwagon I was reminded of the He Man Woman Haters Club and the Little Rascals (thanks to the song "Tough Guys" from Hi Infidelity, also the first song I owned that had a swear word. The danger!). I grew up watching Little Rascals reruns which I don't see on tv anymore as I guess because its old as hell. Even though I was insultingly nicknamed "Alfalfa" in grade school because my hair was uncontrollable, he was my favorite character. I even imitated his "Oh my darling Clementine" song. In life, I guess Alfalfa had a reputation for not being the nicest person sorta like the Dustin Diamond of his day. But whatchagonnado? On with the madness!

Wind Of Change - long time German metalheads The Scorpions are calling it quits after a farewell album and tour. Gotta give it up to the Scorps, they were old even before hitting it big in the 80s. It's a well deserved retirement for Klaus Meine and gang. My favorite Scorpions memory? I had a friend in college who would replace the word "City" with "Titty" when singing "Big City Nights". Ah the memories...

Conan The Destroyer - So Conan O'Brien got booted off the Tonight Show to the tune of a $44 million severance package. The real prize in entertainment terms was with nothing to lose, Conan was sharper and funnier. That bit with Steve Carell and the exit interview was classic. Watching Conan thumb his nose at NBC was great fun.

Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere - The Who are prepping a greatest hits set for their Super Bowl performance. To make up some drama, will Daltry nail the screaming in "Won't Get Fooled Again"? Big game pressure on that one.

Helping Haiti - A telethon, Radiohead concert and a charity CD have been put together to help the extremely poor country with their recent disaster. Very sad to see the large scale tragedy in Haiti.

I Know What I Like - And it's not a Genesis reunion. Peter Gabriel nixed that despite their induction in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. With Phil Collins on the disabled list, Genesis may need to have their music performed by someone else come ceremony. Mike and the Mechanics?

Clap For The Wolfman - The overexposed movie commercial this week is The Wolfman. I can't bring myself to totally trash this since they got Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins slumming at the same time. Looks like Twilight is going to spark a reboot of all the classic monsters. However, I can rip on From Paris With Love for running a close second. First, stealing a James Bond title is not cool (I know Bond is From Russia With Love, but same diff). And while I sympathize with John Travolta's personal misfortune, didn't he already make this movie? Wasn't it called Swordfish? Oh well, up your nose with a rubber hose.

Last Off The Ponderosa - Pernell Roberts of Bonanza and Trapper John MD fame passed away from cancer. Roberts was the last of the Cartwright clan and beloved for his performance as brainy Adam. I knew him more from Trapper John M.D., a show I watched because I thought it was cool to live in a trailer just outside of your work and the blonde beauty with a boys name (Christopher Norris).

It Takes Diff'rent Strokes - Gary Coleman in trouble again.

Avatar! - Avatar, Avatar, Avatar, Avatar, Avatar. Avatar.

Extreme Measures - Whenever the advertisement for this movie comes on and Brendan Fraser asks if Harrison Ford can save his children, I shout "Of course he can! He's Harrison Fucking Ford!!".

Straight Up- A series of female guest judges have been brought in to fill the spot Paula Abdul had on the American Idol audition trail. Of them, the one I like the most so far is Katy Perry for her willingness to stick it to everyone, particularly fellow judge Kara Dioguardi. Their bickering was almost as entertaining as the bad singing. When Kara mocked Perry's hit by singing "I Kissed A Dolphin And I Liked It..." Perry's reaction was priceless.

Mini DVD Reviews:

  • Man On Wire (2008) - Fascinating documentary of a French wire walker who with a team of people infiltrated the Twin Towers to wire walk between them in 1974. An interesting tale of obsession and innocence not just for the wire walker, but for recalling a time when the Twin Towers stood and building security didn't have to be invasive.

  • Sunshine Cleaning (2009) - It's indie film paint by numbers with a story about a dysfunctional family which includes a downtroden lead, a burn out, a flim flam daddy and an eccentric precocious little kid. Despite these faults, the actors kick ass (Amy Adams and Emily Blunt are believeable in their characters and draw you into their pathos) and the modest production quality work in their favor. A cut above Lifetime movie of the week thanks to these traits.

I Have Dreams - Brandi Carlisle's single "Dreams" has been popping up in tv commercials and shopping intercoms lately and has become a flavor of the month for me. So here's Carlisle with "Dreams"!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Say You, Say Me, Say It Together Naturally

Creed loses cred on their new disc. Loses additional points for trying to look like Vampires too.

Foreigner - Can't Slow Down

Creed - Full Circle

Been away longer than I thought, I have some stuff to blog about so lets get to it!

The essence of hard rock is about being a Viking, puffing out your chest and letting the world know a simple basic sentiment with resounding force. Two hard rock bands from different eras released new material in 2009 which I was given as gifts for the Holidays. One is a hard rock band from the 70s that mellowed in the 80s, the other is a post grunge group looking for a comeback after flaming out a few years back. Both bands have multiplatinum albums in their catalog. Both bands haven't released a new album in a long time. Both bands have been accused and belittled for formulaic songwriting and trite lyrics. Both are bands that I am longtime fans of.

The first is one of my favorite bands of all time, Foreigner. After witnessing Journey's come back in '08, Mick Jones took note and signed a deal with Wal Mart himself. Like their arena rock peers, Foreigner's Wal Mart exclusive is a 3 CD set with one disc new songs, a second disc of greatest hits and a live performance DVD. The set is called Can't Slow Down which is a bad title as it will always make me think of Lionel Richie sitting on a chair in a comfy room. Why name an album Can't Slow Down and have an album cover of Richie sitting in a chair I wondered? He's running with the night and dancing all night long but sitting on his ass on the record cover?? Well, now I'm off track and need to get back.

Can't Slow Down, the first full album of new Foreigner material since 1994's Mr Moonlight, is a surprisingly good if slightly generic affair. New lead singer Kelly Hansen does an admirable job of covering the gravelly clenched teeth grit that original vocalist Lou Gramm brought to the party. Hansen is a less distinct singer than Gramm, but like Journey's Arnel Pineda part of the gig is to sound like the original vocalist anyway y'know? The classic Foreigner sound is largely absent from Can't Slow Down except for on the arch rocker "Too Late" (originally released as part of their recent greatest hits album) and on the ballad "When It Comes To Love". But Mick Jones is too good a craftsman to let the rest of the album suck. Whether its the sturdy AOR of "Ready", surging Coldplay rock of "Living In A Dream" or the racing title track Foreigner delivers the goods. And unexpectedly they remake an album cut from the first Foreigner album, "Fool For You Anyway".

The second disc is a remix of the bands greatest hits, the mixes emphasize more of the groups rhythm section from their hit making era. Other than giving a greater appreciation of Dennis Elliott's solid drum work and the supple bass lines of Ed Gagliardi / Rick Willis, the mixes don't do a whole lot. And it gets downright annoying on "I Want To Know What Love Is" where the beat now overtakes the synths.

It's on the DVD where Foreigner falters a bit, not in performance (Jones has an ear for selecting backing talent) but in style. Where the new album is effective at putting a modern sheen on the band, the DVD highlights how old these vets are. Or at least how old Mick Jones is, his crown of pointy white hair and sparkly glasses are flashier than anything he wore in Foreigner's hey day making his age that much more apparent. Much of the DVD is cut together like one of those old school VHS tapes you used to see late 80's metal bands make. You know the type, with the mugging, "unexpected" practical jokes and scenes of empty stages mixed with various location shots. Every cliche in the book is used to scream "WE ROCK!" right down to the "fancy" visual effects like blurring hands during a guitar solo. It's a bit of an embarrassment really, though the group's sound (which seemed cleaned up in post production) was tight and punchy. Mick Jones may look like your Grandpa on ecstasy, but he can still rip on guitar. One last point of distraction, singer Kelly Hansen may sound like Lou Gramm but he looks and moves like Steven Tyler. It's weird, like two things that should not be together but are. Walk this way but talk that way.

If I remember right, Foreigner was rewarded with their best chart showing in a long time and I say good for them. I like the new album, which is more than I can say for the second band in this post: Creed.

Creed. The band name that strikes fear in the hearts of tastemakers and music critics. Lost amid a cloud of controversy (which included a law suit for a bad can sue for these things?), Creed split into two factions a few years back - those that were Scott Stapp and those who were not. Those who were not formed Alter Bridge while Stapp found his way into a sex tape (to which I ask, who would want to see that?). Following Alter Bridge's lead singer briefly being touted as Robert Plant's replacement in Led Zeppelin, those who were not Scott Stapp buried the hatchet with he who is Scott Stapp to put a full on reunion.

Which brings us, ahem, Full Circle. Creed sounds fired up on the new disc, much more lively than the dour Weathered. Despite this newfound energy, the songs on Full Circle are sub par. The riffs and drive are there and Stapp can still howl like a man trapped in a bear claw, but the hooks that mark their best work is largely absent. By the fourth track with yet another itchy guitar and strident chorus it all starts to sound the same. It's too bad because they come across as truly inspired. Just to show Creed hasn't totally lost it,on the one song where the power of the tune matches their moxie, "Overcome", they hit like a battering ram.

Which is too bad because I like "Overcome" so much I spend the rest of the album waiting for something just as good to show up. And it never does :(

So its a split decision for these members of the Viking rock club. Foreigner gets a pass while Creed is left at the train station as I search for more half baked mixed metaphors. Oh what a feeling when you're dancing on the ceiling.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Today is a day to pay respect to the man who has come to symbolize racial equality, Martin Luther King Jr. So the song for the day? Red Hot Chili Pepper's "The Power Of Equality".

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Close The Door

R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass passed away from cancer. I can't claim to be a huge fan of Pendergrass and know a lot about him as much as I'm a fan of one song, "Love T.K.O." But I love that song and his performance in it. In reading of his passing I found out he sang the original "If You Don't Know Me By Now" as well, all I can say is wow. And turns out "Close the Door" is one of those songs I heard a lot and didn't know who the performer was until now. Maybe I should check out more of his music. He had an awesome voice and his passing is another great loss to music.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Midnight Madness - Chuck Edition

Chuck has made his return to NBC with new episodes, three eps in two days, and brought the magic back. Go Chuck!

And Away We Go - art house director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road To Perdition) is in talks to direct the next 007 outing. This sounds really promising, Road To Perdition had a great mix of interesting characters, dark drama and shoot out action. I hope he gets the job and sounds like a great pick.

American Oh No - More British news, Simon Cowell has made this upcoming season the last he will be on American Idol. Enjoy the scathing sarcasm directed towards young adults while it lasts folks. Who else has a knack for crushing young people's hopes as good as Cowell? My wife and I discussed it, our best bets are David Lee Roth or Howard Stern. I think Stern would be awesome, he'd bring a rude crassness that could up the ante from Cowell's harshness. Though Roth would definitely be flashy and fun.

What's The Key? - No one will mistake me for a hip hop kinda guy, but I do like the R&B ways of Alicia Keys. The first two singles from her recent album have come and gone with little notice, though her album is selling well. But why the lack of hit songs (not including her #1 hit team up with Jay Z)? Particularly since the recent "Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart" was good? At least she can always fall back on her booty call.

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams - Green Day's stage adaptation of American Idiot is going to Broadway. If it becomes the new Mamma Mia, that will be scary. Grandfolks all over New York singing Green Day...or should it be Greed Day.

I'm Gonna Break My Rusty Cage And Run - Chris Cornell announced the long awaited reunion of grunge masters Soundgarden. Sludgy guitar riffs and soul shredding screaming will rule again!

Overexposed Movie Advertisement Of The Week - I think they'll finally stop now that the movie has opened, but I say enough of the adverts for Daybreakers. Vampires that rule the world and are running out of humans to suck on. A "where are they now" cast of Ethan Hawke and Sam Neill. Can you say overblown high concept hooey filmed through an annoying green tint? Can you say bad cash in on left over ideas from this Vampire thing that has been beaten to death? I predict the next Vampire movie will have something to do with space, it makes no sense, but I just think it will. And monkeys. Blood sucking space monkeys from outer space starring Mark Wahlberg. You heard it here first!

Nothin' Matters And What If It Did - No reason to type this other than I always wanted to lead off a post with this John Cougar album title.

What's a Nine? - Seriously, I haven't bothered to look this up but see this CD everywhere I go. What is it?

Big Poppa Pump - Psyche! Thought I was going to say something about Scott Steiner (and all the non wrestling fans say "Who's that?")? Mark McGwire finally finally finally admits to using steroids in his baseball career. In the early 90s when I worked in a theme park, McGwire once walked past me. The man's bicep was literally as big as my head. His admission explains a lot.

Mini DVD Reviews:

  • Slumdog Millionaire (2008) - The Academy Award winning movie for Best Picture actually lived up to it's hype. The gimmick of revealing a character's life through flashbacks of a game show is ingenious. Director Danny Boyle gets the right balance of humanizing characters and telling a moving story of an earnest underdog. Good flick.

  • The Hangover (2009) - I got this movie as a Christmas gift and had read a lot about how this was supposed to be funny. Good comedy is one of the toughest types of movies to make, surprisingly The Hangover actually is funny. Breakout comedy performances, mainly by Zach Galifianakis as the slightly off odd ball, power a strong ensemble of no name actors. Todd Phillips gives fine direction capturing the boys club atmosphere ably as he has in the past (Old School). Funny and well executed

  • Race To Witch Mountain (2009) - The Rock says this: I want you to take that space ship, shine it up real nice, and shove it straight up your candy ass!!! A remake of a beloved 70's Disney favorite (well, beloved by me I worshiped Escape To Witch Mountain as a kid) is simplistic to a fault but I was real tired and wanted a no brainer movie to watch. This fit the bill nicely. It's disposable film making on a big budget (the special effects were decent).

Friday, January 08, 2010

The Year That Was 2009 pt. 2

...And now, the best of the rest. It looks like 2010 is shaping up to be the year of Avatar, last year it was all about blood sucking vampires pouting 90210 style. They are the latest fad and I've got to say one of the most bizarre ones I've seen, and I've lived through Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles twice. Either old age is setting in or mainstream filmmaking is becoming increasingly empty - with a few exceptions of course. Those exceptions are my Top 5 movies of 2009 (not including The Hangover because I have the DVD but haven't watched it yet).

5. The Watchmen

It looked like this film wouldn't see the light of day for the longest time. Now it has, in a new version every four months. There's the original cut, the directors cut, the ultimate cut and who knows what else and the movie has only been out for a year. Naturally The Watchmen couldn't live up to its hype or the graphic novel that spawned it, taken on it's own terms though it's good. Well cast, ably directed with a sleek appearance and effective in evoking the basic themes of the comic made The Watchmen watchable. Nicely done pulp fiction.

4. Taken

Liam Neeson dramatically threatens a kidnapper a continent away and then proceeds to kick more ass than he did in Star Wars, Darkman and Rob Roy combined. Carrying on like a post retirement Jason Bourne, Neeson outwits and outguns the trash who took his daughter with cruel efficiency. Even when the film completely goes off the rails in the last half hour, I was rooting for Neeson to win. Bonus for the down and dirty approach the director took to give Taken a more realistic feel. And also an extra award for having the best movie advertisements of the year. Those images of the daughter witnessing the kidnapping of her friend and awaiting her own while Neeson is on the phone with her is pulse pounding stuff. An extended commercial was used on tv that was so long you thought you accidentally changed the channel to a different show that you didn't want to change off of. Best marketing of the year!

3. Food Inc.

A disturbing documentary about the near omnipotence of the food industry over its own production, distribution and even media coverage. Food Inc reveals a world where the standards and operating conditions of the industry has sunk to Upton Sinclair The Jungle levels while we eat a billion variations of corn and beef from shit covered cows. The film offers no easy answers, just presents the dire situation. Tough stuff to watch but important viewing nonetheless.

2. Star Trek

So I'm Star Trek Voyager movie? Just kidding, JJ Abrams effectively reboots the classic Star Trek crew with gusto in an update that jettisons everything high brow about it. Exploration? Looking for the common ground to communicate with others? Not here, what we do have is the Star Trek that Paramount execs have dreamed about for decades: lasers, explosions, gun fights, fist fights and a lot of running. That's not necessarily a bad thing though, the original Star Trek and its multiple variations had run its course. Star Trek was THE popcorn movie of the year and a ton of fun. More like a sequel to Starship Troopers than Star Trek.

1. Up

This was one of the hardest movies to grasp based on the advertisements, once I saw the film I could tell why. Developing the motifs hinted at in Wall-E, Up takes CGI animation to a new emotional level. The opening minutes featuring a dialogueless montage of a couples' life from childhood meeting to the death of a spouse was one of the great moments not just of 2009 but all of cinema. Not a dry eye in the place after that, except for the kids that were too young to understand what was going on. After that opening, likable characters help carry an adventure filled with playfulness and touched by sadness. Awesome movie.

Now that I've gone over the movies, my favorites of tv in '09 were:

5. Star Wars: The Clone Wars

Into its second season, the animated series has improved by varying its plot lines more while developing its characters (the Anakin Skywalker from this series would have been much more believable in turning to the dark side if he was shown as the win at all costs shortsighted slasher he is here instead of the whiny crybaby in the actual films. Wah, I miss my Mommy let me take over the galaxy instead.). The action has zip that occasionally reaches the crescendo heights of the original Star Wars.

4. Flight Of The Conchords

The New Zealand duo stumbled a little in the second season, the songs weren't quite as consistently sharp as the first season. Then they go and pull out an incredible episode where Jermaine and Bret fight over a girl who has lost her epileptic dog culminating in a charity concert for epileptic dogs where the duo unleash a light show that seizures all the dogs in the house. Overall the Conchords retained their sense of naive fun and were able to serve up plenty of memorable moments (like the Art Garfunkel fetish, the coffee cup that leads to prostitution, etc) to make it a fun season.

3. Family Guy

Even stretched as thin as he is, Seth MacFarlane has been able to keep Fam Guy going. It's not quite as funny as it had been in the past but there is still good stuff to be found. Long John Peter was classic ("A-Ha!") as was the Patrick Swayze tribute ("Roadhouse!"). And the first episode of 2010 where Peter loses his memory and Meg tells a doozy of a joke was the best episode in a while. Still my favorite animated series on tv, though American Dad and The Cleveland Show are time passers at best.

2. The Big Bang Theory

Knock knock knock...Penny? Knock knock knock...Penny? The second best geek show on tv (or if you go by ratings, the best), Big Bang Theory was consistently funny every week as super nerd anal retentive Sheldon found new ways to misconstrue his surroundings. Having watched seasons 1 & 2 on DVD after Christmas, I'm eager for a new season of geeky fun.

1. Chuck

Speaking of geeky fun, the second season of Chuck showed signs of slowing down until it hit a story arc about finding Chuck's dad and the mystery programmer Orion (both played by the always likable Scott Bakula). Like the fine souffle', Chuck mixed James Bond, workplace comedy and geek attitude to a frothy mix (and obviously I know nothing of souffle's). A great ensemble screw ball comedy with a veneer of spy stuff, Chuck is a great show that can't seem to find an audience. And it returns this Sunday in a two hour special!

And that was that in 2009. In tv the show Community came in at a very close 6th place, almost a tie except I abused the"tie" thing in the previous post. I've gotten some Christmas gifts worth reviewing, so reviews and more things to come. And below is the behind the scenes preview of Chuck. Looks awesome as ever.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

The Year That Was 2009 pt 1

I've been neglecting the blog lately and want to get back into posting so to start up again I'm going to subscribe to the "Out with the old and in with the new" routine. My first two posts of 2010 will be to review the year that was 2009. The first post is music and the second is everything else.

2009 was a year of big hype and modest pay offs in music. It was the year the King of Pop died, ironically sparking a career re-evaluation as audiences were able to separate the music from the person. It was the year of Glambert and Susan Boyle keeping reality tv's foot in the door of pop music. It was the year of free live concerts streaming on the internet. It was the year people went gaga for Gaga and told Kanye he's heartless. Maybe he was upset that it was the year of Taylor Swift, the lanky Country teen dominated everyone and everything else in her path.

For me personally it was the year I completed my Top 100 Favorite albums posts. It only took what, two years? I'm big on lists though, as my wife says I have lists of my lists. And true to my self, here's more lists-

To start things off, here's my Top 5 favorite albums of 2009:

5. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs - Under The Covers Vol. 2 / Chickenfoot - Chickenfoot (tie)

When old timers pool their talents, sometimes they can come up with something a little fresher than if they worked on their own. Fan that I am of Matthew Sweet and of his first pairing with the lead Bangle (2006's Vol 1.) I anxiously looked forward to this set of 70's covers. And fan that I am of Saint Sammy, how could I resist a combo with guitar god Joe Satriani, ex VH Mike Anthony and funky drummer Chad Smith? In both cases, the teams came up with solid discs touched with earnest excitement and heavenly bright spots. Sweet and Hoffs were a little more mechanical this time out than on their first combo yet still found magic in well worn power pop(Raspberries, Todd Rundgren) and classic rock (Rod Stewart, Yes) scripture. Meanwhile AOR geeks rejoiced, basking in the glory of hard hitting guitar driven grooves ("Soap On A Rope"), high flying rockers ("My Kinda Girl") and power balladry ("Learning To Fall") that's Hagar's stock in trade.

4. U2 - No Line On The Horizon

The Irish quartet returned to save the world again with their most subdued effort since...The Unforgettable Fire (1984)? I was turned off by the weak techno pop lead single "Get On Your Boots" which turned out to be the hardest rocking thing on the album. That's not to say No Line is a bad album, it's actually pretty good. The dream reteaming of producers Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois ensures the dreamy atmospherics envelope everything in its path, creating a disc that is as grey and cloudy as its album cover. Though "Moment Of Surrender" is a nice ballad, I found myself really digging the clunky rocker "Stand Up Comedy" in addition to the classic U2 flag waver "Magnificent" and the catchy "I'll Go Crazy If I Don't Go Crazy Tonight". But U2's quiet ways were too mysterious with their mass audience leading to weak sales. Wonder if they'll bring back the thunder next time out?

3. Pearl Jam - Backspacer

When I first picked up this disc I was somewhat disappointed that it seemed a little weak lyrically and that they had removed the anthem rock element they just reclaimed on '06's self titled album. A little after that I was notified I would be losing my job and this album took on special meaning to me. The enervated vibe, open ended lyrics and classic Vedder clenched teeth me-against-the-world delivery provided the motivating soundtrack to a month of hell. I've already gone on about this album in other posts so I'll end it by saying my feelings about this disc has increased greatly since my initial review of it.

2. Dave Matthews Band - Big Whiskey and the Groo Grux King

For most of the past decade, Matthews seemed to be on the run from his own band - creatively that is. DMB brought in producers to try to swerve the sound away from the intricate jam band tendencies they built their name on. But the passing of saxophonist Leroi Moore seemed to change all that and as a result we got the loosest, grooviest DMB disc in ages. The slam bang breezy rock of "Why I Am" was a highlight on an album packed with the natural, tight and instrumentally impressive music that made DMB famous. Other highlights included the gently loping "You and Me", the Cameo "Word Up" send up "Shake Me Like A Monkey" and the Lillywhite Sessions reminiscent "Lying In The Hands Of God". Of studio albums, this was the best of the year. But I'm not done yet...

1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Live Anthology

I debated over whether or not to include this, seeing how its an anthology of performances spanning back to the 70's and not a disc of new material. It's just I'm so blown away by this set (if I had done a separate post to review it Dixie would have given ten barks) that I feel compelled to include it. This is an outstanding set, five discs in all, of live performances taken from all phases of Petty's career with the Heartbreakers. Big hits, deep cuts, covers and what not are sewn together to form the facsimile of a live concert. Each song features a strong emotional performance and stack together to form something greater than the sum of its parts. This is one of the best box sets I've heard, it captures a spirit of the different facets of a brilliant artist better than most other box sets and does it with live cuts. I was lucky to get this set as a gift and even though I haven't watched the DVDs that came with it yet I will say that if you have the money to spend on this, it's well worth the price.

And now, my Top 10 songs of 2009:

10. The Lonely Island "I'm On A Boat" and Bruce Springsteen "The Wrestler" (tie)

Is having a tie a way of cheating so I can include an extra song or album in a countdown? Yup, and that won't stop me either. Comedy rappers The Lonely Island floated in "I'm On A Boat" early in the year and I turned a deaf ear to it until it was featured on a mash up with the movie Ponyo. I haven't gotten the song out of my head since then, with my flippy floppys while you're at Kinkos straight makin' copies! On the other end, The Boss provided a song for a movie soundtrack finding him in grumbly acoustic serious guy mode. He captures the soul of a beautiful loser perfectly. Technically this song is from 2008 but since I didn't listen to it until I bought this years Working On A Dream album I'm including it here.

9. Green Day "21 Guns"

All in all, I found Green Day's heavily hyped follow up to their modern classic American Idiot to be a fair but bloated affair. Except for a handful of cuts, one of them being "21 Guns" with its steady march beat and defiant chorus. Never did figure out what the song is actually about, after watching the overblown video for it I went off the song for a little while. I went back to it later, when you get to brass taxes I just like the beat and melody here.

8. Foreigner "Can't Slow Down"

A full review is to follow of the new Foreigner disc I got for Christmas. There's a lot of slow numbers on the new one, but the opening cut is a hard charging rocker that shares its title with the album. The current lead singer gets his Lou Gramm on (Grammophone?) to great affect as the guitars hammer onward to a charged anthemic chorus. A slice of AOR awesomeness on a stick.

Easily the catchiest tune on the recent U2 effort, you know a song is listener friendly when you hear it playing over the sound system of Home Depot while you shop for bricks. In one of those lazy susan musical influence deals, "Crazy" bears some resemblance to the sound Coldplay has employed to amazing success, the sound that borrows a lot from Radiohead and U2. What came first, the chicken or the egg? Either way, this is a pleasant pop rock feel good song.

6. Franz Ferdinand "No You Girls"

New new wavers Franz Ferdinand went from future stars to yesterdays news in a heartbeat between their first and second albums. On their third disc a desperate move (infusing their angular guitars with techno dance sound effects / beats) paid off with strong results peaking with "No You Girls". Balanced on a groove that is almost disco, the Scottish quartet bring the alternative rock cool on and back it up with a killer hook. The chorus has me flashing back to Greg Kihn's "Jeopardy". Normally I hate when a song is referred to as "hip". Franz Ferdinand justifies use of that word.

5. Dream Theater "The Best Of Times" (pts 1 and 2)

My favorite song off the musically spectacular but lyrically insipid DT disc Black Clouds and Silver Linings. The heartfelt intent of the words to "The Best Of Times" (not to be confused with the Styx song) about a man thanking his dying Dad is enough to overcome the maudlin sentimentality of the piece. Best of all, the proggy metalheads weave a tight fabric of instrumental virtuosity that pays off with a stunning John Petrucci guitar solo at the end. It's epic in all the right ways that make Dream Theater great.

Unlikely 70's inflected pop from a former teen queen Britney Spears type singer, Mandy Moore hauled in a hand clap beat and cheap keyboards to finesse a tune that would have sounded right on an AM radio channel in 1973. And I'm a sucker for songs that use the days of the week in the chorus (see "Seven Days" under Sting for details). Amid the heavy clutter of machines and calculated marketing moves that make up modern pop music, Mandy Moore sounded like a breath of fresh air in '09. And yes, this is the same girl who once sang "Candy" and starred in those teen romance movies.

OK, you're Jon Bon Jovi and you think: you know what a new Bon Jovi album needs? "Born To Be My Baby" with different lyrics! Yes, that's precisely what was needed Jon Bon Jovi. That sir, is why you earn the big bucks. Musical cop out that it is, I freakin love this song. Maybe it was the timing, I certainly could use encouraging music from a familiar artist. "We Weren't Born To Follow" (just noticed this title even has "Born" in it!) hit home and meant a lot to me. And thank you Richie Sambora for redoing that guitar solo.

2. Lady Antebellum "Need You Now"

Well look at that, I picked a Country song for number two. My cousin gave me the debut album which I thought was decent pop rock done Country style so when their new song for their second album popped up I gave it a shot. Well, I was floored by how good the new song is. A straightforward pop rock duet rendered nicely with able vocalists. Sure, this is about as Country as say Restless Hearts "When She Cries" (meaning its not) but that's fine with me, I don't listen to hardcore Country. This is like Starship's "Nothings Gonna Stop Us Now" for the new millennium. Which I guess isn't that new anymore since we're up to 2010.

1. Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs "Go All The Way"

Duets are us it seems, Sweet and Hoffs Marvel Team Up hit a home run with their cover of The Raspberries / Eric Carmen classic "Go All The Way". The revved up guitar riff and intertwining voices make for audio ecstasy thanks to an inspired performance by the dynamic duo. It may also help that my copy of the original song sounds like crap even though it's from a Time Life collection. Anyway, this cover encapsulated everything that makes the pairing of these two great. (The only place I could find the song online is their myspace page, you have to click on the song to play)

2009, so glad its gone. Next is the year in movies, tv and whatever else I can think of media related. Vampires you say? That is so last year and I hear they suck.