Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You're The Best...Arrroundduh...


The Karate Kid is one of those iconic 80's films, a flick that helped defined a decade. Sweep the leg. Make good fight Daniel-san. Mercy is for the weak. And so on. It is a movie that is so good it could be argued that it doesn't ever need to be remade. Except it was remade a lot in The Karate Kid goes to Japan, The Karate Kid gets squashed by Batman in 1989, The Next Hilary Swank and now Will Smith and Jada Pinkett buy their son a movie. The Karate Kid 2010.

One nice thing about their son Jaden Smith starring is the lead character really is a kid this time out. One not so nice thing is that there is barely any Karate seen in the film, it's 99.9999% Kung Fu. It really should be The Kung Fu Kid but then people won't get that this is a remake since there's no Ralph Macchio anywhere to be found and maybe skip it. Can't have that!

As far as remakes go, The Karate Kid is pretty savvy. It is a pretty true remake in terms of story, other than some modern touches and location (China) they hit all the same plot points in the same order. No "I must change things to stamp my vision even when it gets in the way of the movie" junk here. The filmmakers instead say "You know the story, seen it a thousand times, so let's adrenalize this thang!" And in using movie style Kung Fu the amount of leaping and jumping goes way up anyway.

So this Karate Kid whizzes by with breakneck speed, montaging and flying cameras all over the damn place. Hey, they're working out on The Great Wall with no tourists around! Now they're on a mountain! Now they're running through The Forbidden City! Although it would be fun to say this shallow approach fails, it doesn't. It succeeds in pumping new life into the tired heart of this classic "Beat the odds" yarn. Particularly at the ending tournament section, the event video screen coverage for this local martial arts tournament looks like Mortal Kombat on a WWE binge. Every take down in slo mo replays and then scowling headshots with the names next to it, I was waiting to hear "Finish Him!" Oh wait, I did hear that in the movie.

Jaden Smith as the lead kid is OK, his acting can get a bit blank but he has his Dad's cocksure goofy charisma. Jackie Chan is great as mentoring maintenance guy Mr Han, getting to unleash some of his acting chops alongside his physical ones (he cries more than the kid). Whoever the kid is that plays the chief mean guy is a real presence, I hated that bullying psycho every time he sneered his way onto the screen.

For a generation of children who can't imagine learning martial arts without a DVD, The Karate Kid has been successfully updated. And it's kinda timely with the increase in bullying children in our society. The only fault I can find is the soundtrack - no Survivor, Peter Cetera or "You're The Best" Joe Esposito here. Which reminds me, time to post one of the greatest movie montages of all time.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Makin' Time With The Ladies...


Sam, when can i jump? Is it time to leap yet?

I liked the tv show Quantum Leap. Can you think of someone who doesn't like Quantum Leap? It looks like someone liked it a lot because they made a movie out of it called The Time Traveller's Wife. It stars that guy Eric Bana who was the Hulk in that first Hulk movie, not The Incredible Hulk but the one just called Hulk. He is a guy who is born with a genetic condition that is like epilepsy except his seizures involve travelling through time (I'm not being insensitive, it's kind of explained like this). So from an early age starting shortly before the death of his opera singing mother, Henry starts leaping around his lifetime.

Despite these leaps, Henry manages to grow up and hold down a job as a research librarian (of course!). Until one day a woman comes in, clearly recognizes him though he has no clue who this girl is, and goes out on a date with her. She jumps his bones and reveals she's known the future Henry since her childhood in the past and has loved him ever since. They get married and win the lottery (because Henry picked up the Lotto numbers from the future and brought it back to the past to become wealthy in the present) and melodrama escalates from there.

OK, got it? That's the set up. You see Henry from different ages of his life (though mostly as an adult between his 20s and 40s) disappear and reappear in different parts of his own life. So you'll suddenly see like 40 year old Henry living 20 year old Henry's life and vice versa. Now, on to the criticism.

The Time Traveller's Wife is based on a book, from what the movie ads tell me a great book, that I've never read. So there is probably a whole lot of extra story and exposition to say how this story line and rules of time travel is supposed to work. But I know none of that because I didn't read the book. So I can only judge this flick based on the movie in front of me.

Let's start with the good points, Eric Bana gives an affecting performance as time trippin Henry. He's kinda a loner at the start and then you see him grow through his relationship with Rachel McAdams. McAdams does the lady in waiting thing well. And the movie is beautifully shot, there are contrasts between cold dirty city alleyways and lush grassland yet it all ties together because the story is so exaggerated to start with you figure "Why not go from one landscape to another in an instant?"

So the good stuff is out of the way. On to the bad stuff. First up: The Romance. This movie is sold as an unconventional romance, but really very little in the romance department shows up. Bana and McAdams make a pleasant couple yet don't inspire the amount of chemistry needed to make Time Traveller fly. The whole freakin movie hinges on our believing in their incredible romance! We have to want to see these two people together and happy. Try as they might, they don't inspire that level of romantic fire. And without that, the rest of the story falls like a house of cards.

Like when we first meet the wife, Claire, she's already in love with Henry based on a handful of meetings while she was growing up. Then he I guess falls in love with her in reverse since it was the future him meeting her in the past. And everything then flows from this sort of it-is-meant-to-be-so-it-is-even-if-it-hasn't-happened-yet reasoning. He says early on he can't change the significant events in time otherwise he would keep his Mom from dying in that exploding car wreck. And because the movie established his time travel is only along his life and not say world events. Henry's not Forrest Gumping his way through the time/space thing witnessing moonlandings on the moon, he just sees stuff that advances his own personal story. Oh yeah, another stipulation is that he can only time travel his body not other things like clothes so he arrives everywhere butt naked Terminator style. And after he arrives Henry must run and steal clothes. But it never really answers why he must run, some of his jumps only last a few minutes so wouldn't it make sense just to wait some time before moving in case you jump out quickly thereby lowering the risk to you of being discovered? And why is it people are automatically after him when he jumps somewhere? Why can't he ever appear on a European nudist beach?

Ultimately it's the "things are meant to be" logic of the script that kills the romance. The only reason the two people get together is because time or a God or destiny says so. The show dips its toe into the philosophical pondering of free will versus predestiny but then laughs it off. Or maybe 'ol Hank is a metaphor for an unreliable man since he disappears a lot. It's like he can literally use the excuse that he lost track of time! Or time lost track of him. Whatever, you get my point. Henry is meant to be kinda put upon and tragic but really he's living the single guy's dream: Rachel McAdams wants to make it with him all the time in the now and he doesn't even have to get to know her to do it, because that's future Henry's problem. What's her favorite color? Why does she cry at picnics? Should I ask for a second date? Who cares, that's future Henry's problem not his.

The Time Traveller's Wife is OK if you have nothing better on to watch because it looks pretty and has actors you might recognize from somewhere else. If you take away the time travel angle it's a fairly boring love story. You know what's a better time travel story? Star Trek IV. Or the last episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Picard keeps saying "It happened in the past!!!" Or Terminators 1 and 2. That first Back To The Future, look out Marty! And like I said at the start, Quantum Leap. So watch The Time Traveller's Wife cheaply if you must just remember unlike Henry you can never get those 2 hours back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

American Idol 2.0

Is it time for another Fantastic Four movie? Nope, but it is time for another round of American Idol where love don't cost a thing except for in an elevator.

Simon Cowell and his V neck framed scowl had been the trademark of American Idol, the focal point of America's attention even more than the contestants. Cowell's biting sarcasm, high standards and opinionated pontifications took America's PC glad handling "You can do anything if you dare to dream" coddling and flushed it down a toilet of off key warblers and flamboyant hot messes. He was someone who could get up in public and speak his truth with total disregard for others feelings, including teenagers. And we were Ok with it because, well, he's not American, he's British. Not from here, didn't know you can't say negative things about people even when they're making a fool of themselves. This led to a lot of work for British judges on other talent shows flooding American tv but that's another topic.

So when Cowell packed up his bags and left for the X Factor following last year's AI many predicted that was it for the ratings megagiant. American Idol would suck. And why wouldn't it, the last 3 rounds or so hadn't created as many stars as years past and the recent winners have had middling careers at best. The Ellen Degeneres experiment had failed as she seemed lost doling out empty compliments to anyone within earshot. American Idol has been on like 10 years or something, they seemed to have strip mined all the talent the U.S. had to offer.

This year when I tuned in to American Idol it was initially out of curiosity. I love music, liked the show generally and can often find at least one contestant to enjoy (last year was runner up Crystal Bowersox). Plus everyone knows the early auditions are where you find the trainwrecks! And there were crash and burn performances, but also there was a re-emphasis on people with actual singing ability and their human interest sob stories. Then the new judging panel caused a commotion by giving a Hollywood plane ticket to anyone half decent, creating a talent pool large enough to run a small city. Speaking of judges, Randy Jackson woke up from a decade long slumber to say something other than "Dawg", "It was OK for me" or "Pitchy". He still says these things, but now he says other words to which is great. Being the only original judge, Jackson actually serves a purpose now as elder statesmen guiding the new crew through the steps of the AI process.

Tonight's Motown episode was the best American Idol full ep in a really long stretch. Strong performances by more than half the contestants made for a great show. It seems the new approach is paying off. The singers are responding to the new judges kid gloves approach, even if Steven Tyler's rambling wackiness is slowly devolving to "That was beautiful and you're beautiful" comments after every performance. J.Lo is either really emotionally invested or a better actress than I thought she was and comes across well - fighting back tears as she delicately eliminates contestants while alternately doing the Paula Abdul cheerleading thing sans nuttiness. And in a crucial move they're using big name producers to help mold the singers resulting in more consistent song quality. Jimmy Iovine? Rodney Jerkins? Don Was? Damn!

Even though I'm not seeing a break out star yet that can sell millions of Cds-er, downloads, this is shaping up to be the best group since season 5. The wide ranging casting call has resulted in early favorites like the funky Casey Abrams, gospelish Jacob Lusk and the diva balladeer Pia Toscano. American Idol has temporarily succeeded in reinventing itself into a more genial yet still engaging talent show. It'll never be as great as it once was, but like a classic New York Yankees team they've bought and drafted enough people to make it to the playoffs. Congrats American Idol, you don't suck...yet.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Captain Kirk Day

Happy Birthday William Shatner!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Remember The Feeling - April 26, 1985

Chicago chill out in the early 80s

Recently I celebrated my 17th wedding anniversary with my wife so to celebrate I thought I would take a look back at one of my favorite albums - Chicago 17 (because, you know, the number 17 is involved and my wife suggested a while back I should post about past concerts). Except I've looked at Chicago 17 six ways til Sunday on this blog so instead I'm going to fondly recall the concert I saw at the Oakland Coliseum on April 26, 1985.

This was the third concert of Chicago's I'd been to and the second time I was catching them supporting 17. Chicago was the 3rd concert I'd been to (for Chicago 16) and I saw them again in 1984 at the Berkeley Greek Theatre. The Greek Theatre show was a blast, had pretty close up seats near the center aisle so we could see Peter Cetera emote with all his jut jawed expressiveness. The band played all decked out in these lily white jump suits and were riding the momentum of "Hard Habit To Break" climbing the charts.

Fast forward to April '85, both "Hard Habit To Break" and "You're The Inspiration" had hit the Top 10 and "Along Comes A Woman" was bounding it's way to the Top 40. Chicago was now one of my favorite bands thanks to the Fosters Freeze lush arrangements and hooky soft rock winsomeness they had mastered. I was so psyched I used Print Shop to make my own flyer for the upcoming concert to put in my new binder (back when the clear plastic sleeve on the front of the binder was a new thing) and advertise my dorkitude.

The Oakland Coliseum was the largest venue I would ever see Chicago in. This was before video screens were like a requirement for concerts so it was a noticeable difference between my close floor seating in Berkeley versus the distant vantage point in the larger arena. But it was a small price to pay to see Chicago back on top. Got a kick out of some guy in the concession line bemoaning to his pal that these young people didn't know the old stuff. My parents had Chicago Live At Carnegie Hall on cassette buddy! Yeah, "Fancy Colours" I know that one. Ha! 25 years later I've formulated a comeback for something that wasn't even said to me.

Anyway the set list was:

We Can Stop The Hurtin / Ballet For A Girl In Bucannon (Make Me Smile and Colour My World) / Along Comes A Woman / Saturday In The Park / Love Me Tomorrow / Please Hold On / Hard Habit To Break / Livin In The Limelight / Beginnings / Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? / You're The Inspiration / Prima Donna / Stay The Night / Hard To Say I'm Sorry - Get Away

Encore: Gimmie Some Lovin / Got To Get You Into My Life / Get Away (reprise)

(It turns out there is a bootleg of this concert which is where I got the set list from. It's funny because I can't recall going to a Chicago concert that didn't have "25 or 6 to 4" but it wasn't listed so I guess it wasn't played. Links above are to online recordings from the actual concert I was at!)

What's not listed is I wanna say I remember part of "Bad Advice" being played at the intro before starting off with the Robert Lamm led "We Can Stop The Hurtin". Thanks to the magic of You Tube there is some of this bootleg is online sounds like there's some "Only You" in the intro music too. "Hurtin" was probably as close as 80s Chicago got to 70s Chicago with Lamm decrying the plight of the homeless and some snazzy horn section action going on.

The "Make Me Smile" and "Colour My World" part was great because I'd never heard it as a single piece before (Ballet For A Girl From Buchannon) and being a prog rock fan enjoyed the extended sections. Last year I read an interview with Bill Champlin that he didn't enjoy singing "Colour My World" which was a surprise 'cause I felt he did the song justice every time I heard him sing it.

"Along Comes A Woman" allows his Ceteraness to make an early appearance and push the new single (which sounded so much better as a remixed 45 than the album original with that damn rubbery bass line). Listening to the live sound now I was inclined to slam how unharmonious the background vocals were then I remember that a lot of modern technology is used to blend voices with bands these days. That's how these bands can have two guys singing sound like six at the same time. Can't always sound like the record in real life folks.

"Saturday In The Park" or as my wife and I like to call it "Sabado en el Parque" with Lamm on lead was next. Did you know that "Saturday In The Park" comes from the record Chicago V, the band's first single disc release? Worthless trivia you say? YOU'RE WELCOME.

Cetera strikes back with his cool ballad ways on "Love Me Tomorrow" from Chicago 16. If I remember right, they had Chris Pinnick on guitar. Big burly dude that could play with a very crisp sound, probably my favorite of those who succedded the late Terry Kath (though I don't believe Pinnick was ever a full time member).

Bill Champlin got his R&B groove on next with "Please Hold On". I often wondered why Champlin's Bay Area connection (Sons Of Champlin) wasn't played up during Chicago shows over here. Don't know why.

Now for what was my favorite song of all time in back then, the super melodramatic ballad "Hard Habit To Break". Cetera. Champlin. Pure awesome.

Nothing says clout in a band like forcing your solo stuff on them and Cetera does just that with "Livin In The Limelight" from his first solo LP. I like "Livin" but face facts it wasn't that such big a hit that it needed to be included over, say, "Old Days" or "Wishin You Were Here". As soon as Cetera started talking second solo album following this tour, Chicago banished him to Solitude/Solitaire land never to return :(

Robert Lamm represents for old school Chicago with "Beginnings" and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" back to back. Looks like Lamm had a piano solo in here, it used to be pretty interesting he'd have a baby grand type piano that he would lift the lid to and climb part ways inside to pluck the strings directly. The bootleg says drum solo too which is Danny Seraphine. Not on this show, but a few years later I saw the Chicago 19 tour and thought the drum solo was slow and off in terms of time. I guess the band thought it was getting bad too because Seraphine was replaced by next album. I read somewhere that Seraphine took the firing pretty hard, eventually forming his own band called CTA. Having listened to recent clips of CTA playing classic Chicago songs where he sounds dead on and fantastic, maybe he was just having an off show when I saw him last?

From this point on it essentially becomes the Peter Cetera show. The power ballad "You're The Inspiration" was a real flick-your-bic in the air moment. The tempo races up again and surprised me with "Prima Donna" from the Two Of A Kind soundtrack. The speedy rocker blew my mind back in the day and I was pumped to hear it live.

"Stay The Night" was next, loved loved loved that car chase music video. Can't see the video live though, Cetera entertained by hopping to the beat about the stage and allowing his bro Kenny Cetera to rock the background vocal mic.

To wrap up the primary part of the set, the power ballad "Hard To Say I'm Sorry" poured out nicely before ramping up to the big finish with the hard charging "Get Away".

Following a nice break the band returned with a cover of Spencer Davis Group's "Gimmie Some Lovin". It was high NRG greatness and I remember at one point Cetera literally running around the whole stage, around the back and everything. Another cover "Got To Get You Into My Life" arrived next before closing out with another "Get Away".

As I mentioned before, after this tour Cetera was booted ending an era for the band. Cetera would have solo hits, Chicago would have other hits, but it was never ever the same. I'm lucky to have gotten to see King Pete perform with his Chicago bros one last time, because that was 25 years ago and his replacement Jason Scheff has now been in the band longer than he was meaning that bridge was really burned back then. But for one shining moment, Cetera and the guys stood as one in shiny white suits left over from Buck Rogers and wayyy too much mousse in their hair.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Wonderful Tonight


and a half.

Last Thursday I got to see the legendary Slowhand in action at the Arco - wait - Power Balance Arena in Sacto. We had floor seating (nice!) so we could have a good look at EC in action. One note about floor seating, they really need to start compensating for the obesity problem in America when doing these events. The chairs were so small I had trouble fitting on it and then I was crowded out of the left side of my chair by the larger guy next to me. He wasn't even trying to crowd me, he was actually trying to not do that throughout the show (which was very considerate of him). I was sore for days from having to sit like a contortionist for 3 or so hours.

When the show started first up was opening act Los Lobos. Los Lobos has been around for decades and is a respected act that I like yet know very little about. I have How Will The Wolf Survive and the La Bamba soundtrack and that's about the depth of my Los Knowledge. I have such limited knowledge of their music that my memory of the set list is like this:

Some song with a loping shuffling groove / Another song with a loping shuffling groove / Evangeline? That name seemed to be in the chorus/ A song in Spanish that wasn't La Bamba I think by the dude that always wears sunglasses / A song they said was their new song which was really good, one of those slow bluesy number thingys / I don't remember what happened next / I think a song in Spanish that still wasn't La Bamba / Don't Worry Baby / Another song I think it was a cover of something/ La Bamba - Good Lovin

Poor Los Lobos, I couldn't fill a thimble with what I know about them yet judging from the audience reaction I was their biggest fan there. I was impressed with their tight performance and tasteful blending of old school rock n roll with Spanish music. In particular, the big dude that sings lead most of the time and lead guitar was really good. Had no idea he could play like that, very soulful guitar from that guy. The sunglasses guy, probably as close to a visual trademark as Los Lobos has, sang lead a couple of times. Sunglasses guy tried hard to get the audience to engage and sing or clap along mostly to no avail. Probably because the crowd had no idea what they were playing, even when they covered other people's songs (like Good Lovin). So Los Lobos likely didn't make any new fans that evening judging from the smattering of applause they got as they left the stage, too bad as they came across as a very good band.

After the stage changed over the lighting changed to resemble that of a smoky bar and living legend Eric Clapton walked out. The set list ran as:

Key To The Highway / Going Down Slow / Hoochie Coochie Man / Old Love / I Shot The Sheriff / Driftin' / Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out / River Runs Deep / Same Old Blues / When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful / Layla / Badge / Wonderful Tonight / Before You Accuse Me / Little Queen Of Spades / Cocaine

Encore: I guess it was Crossroads, we were leaving to beat the traffic at that point.

Clapton opened with "Key To The Highway" and the audience got their butts off their chairs to greet the guitar God. The gently upbeat tone of the song matched that of most of his solo work - meaning it was time to get excited in a laid back sort of way with occassional fireworks. That's not a bad thing, that seems to be his demeanor and music should match the artist. Still I got a kick out of the set list going right to "Going Down Slow" as song two, all but ensuring the enthusiastic crowd would sit back in their seats.

The guitarist is known for being somewhat reticent about being a STAR which made for a refreshing approach from what is normally an ego driven format (Rock music). Clapton gave plenty of room for his accomplished sidemen to strut their stuff and noticeably did not have a key spotlight shining on him from the front. He was lit from the back like the rest of the band. The sharing of the limelight also probably allowed EC to rest up for his big moments, at his age he likely doesn't have the energy to go all Joe Satriani on us and blaze away for two hours nonstop (the exception being Mick Jagger to this statement since he works out a lot and all).

After "Hoochie Coochie Man", the show really hit it's stride with a lengthy "Old Love". Starting with just Clapton playing and then sliding into a slow building cresendo of keyboard / guitar solo magic, "Old Love" was the highlight of the evening for me. When Clapton would get psyched on his solo he'd lift his left leg up while fluidly zipping up and down his fret board. Keyboardist Tim I think he said last name Cowans matched Clap with a blazing solo on a synth with a Stevie Wonder "Superstition" sound.

Despite being crowded by the guy next to me, I have to admit I was OK with it because the dude was a true fan. He sang along with the lesser known songs like "Old Love" and knew his stuff. What I wasn't OK with was the douche sitting behind me. This guy ran his mouth throughout the whole show, his dumbass voice cutting through the concert sound system (which was mixed evenly and to perfection which is saying a lot for a Sacto show, Power Balance Arena formerly Arco Arena has long held the nickname "Echo" Arena.). The guy went on and on about how he was here for one song, "Cocaine", and talked about it through all the other songs. Even big hits like "Layla" and "Wonderful Tonight" weren't immune to his yapping. Douche.

Meanwhile, EC started what seemed like random scratching on his guitar before the band kicked in to "I Shot The Sheriff". They were on a strong roll after "Old Love" culminating in Clapton shouting an inspired "If I am guilty I will pay!!" towards the end.

Not to be ageist, it's no secret that Clapton is an old guy now. It wasn't too surprising the middle section of the concert was a lengthy sit down performance of mostly slow blues numbers ("Nobody Knows You...", "River Runs Deep", "Same Old Blues"). EC did use this time wisely to include selections from his recent self titled album and some lightness ("When Somebody Thinks You're Wonderful"). It was interesting to see the guitar ace's knee bounce all over while playing, kind of wobbling about. The sit down session culminated in the unplugged arrangement of "Layla" though Clapton was playing an electric guitar.

The rest did EC good as he stood up for a fiery "Badge". The crowd, restless from sitting through slow jams and replentished from their bathroom break, lept up to their feet. There was fist pumping, cheering and middle aged women reverting to teenage "Heeyy, that's my jaaammm" mode. For a moment it felt like how it must have been like to see Clapton 30 years ago. Standing before the audience delivering powerhouse guitar work. Again, Clapton doesn't want people to stand up for too long as he switched moods again to the prom stand by "Wonderful Tonight".

It was back to the blues with one of Clap's favorite covers the rollicking "Before You Accuse Me". And again to slo jam mode for Robert Johnson's "Little Queen Of Spades".

To close his main set, EC dished out the long awaited "Cocaine". The audience got all fired up again and rightfully so. Even the douche had to shut up for a moment.

We left at this point I've read online that the encore was "Crossroads" with a slightly mellower take, I'm sure it was great.

My only complaint about the concert itself was that it felt a bit short, then again citing Clapton's age it's probably not realistic to expect too long a show (or for him to play "Bell Bottom Blues" I guess). Eric Clapton sang and played excellently and his backing band was very good. Even after all these years, Clapton can still be considered God.