22 June 2015

A Jackie Gleason Trio!

A Jackie Gleason Trio
by Kristin Battestella

Yes, honeymooner Jackie Gleason made us laugh on television even as he dabbled in sophisticated instrumental melodies. Although I still love my vinyl for accenting a candlelit evening, this trio of CDs is a fine place to begin the vogue listening – whether it's the sound of a simmering night for two, subtle office tunes for everyone, or an upscale, adults only soiree. 


The Best of Jackie Gleason and His Orchestra – From “I'm in the Mood for Love,” “I'll Be Seeing You,” and “Call Me Irresponsible” to “I Can't Get Started,” “More,” and “Come Rain or Come Shine” all the swanky, mellow, sweeping brass notes of this 1993 Gleason sampler recall a pleasant humming of the lyrics or have you thinking about a waltz upon the terrace in movie musical stylings of old. Now, I know that's not just me, as this session billed as the “Original Capital Recordings” is very easy to sway along with even if some of the perennial hits herein may be new to contemporary, younger, or latecomer jazz audiences. Granted, some of these renditions are more familiar than others are, “Deep Purple” seems poorly remastered, and at times the music is all too similar and can run together. Thankfully, that relaxed, effortless, put on the record (yes, I have the vinyl, too!) and forget about it breezy fits the 32 minutes for cocktails carefree tone of this collection. Though this set does repeat four tunes from Music for Lovers Only, the track run times are slightly trimmed here. There are different, similarly named releases as well originally going back to the sixties, but fortunately, this compilation is a perfectly affordable download to start your two-stepping trip down memory lane.

Music for Lovers Only – Although there are different vinyl listings and CD reissues for this 1952 record setting Gleason debut, this complete 16 track session remains the perfect candlelight dinner accompaniment – it's the very definition of mood music. This record is one of the few staples to which my husband doesn't mind listening, and with good reason thanks to the likes of “My Funny Valentine,” “But Not for Me,” “Some Day,” “A Moonlight Saving Time,” and “Love (Your Spell is Everywhere).” “Love is Here to Stay,” “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and “Alone Together” are also on the aforementioned Best of Jackie Gleason, but this full length sit down maximizes the mellow ritzy whilst also having shorter two or three minute length tunes for a foxtrot or slow and suave tango about the room. Though I'm not really sure about the titles of “Little Girl” and “I Cover the Waterfront” the jazz is just that smooth and songs such as “Body and Soul,” “If I Had You,” “My Love for Carmen,” and “When a Man Loves a Woman” also make for some sophisticated whoopee on your mind. You can go ahead and call this elevator music, but that must be one simmering, steamy lift!

Music, Martinis, and Memories – Originally a hit album released in 1954, this 1987 16 track CD packs nearly an hour of eponymous invocations thanks to “Unforgettable,” “How High the Moon,” and “Shangri-La.” From the melodic brass notes on “Once in Awhile,” “It Could Happen to You,” and “The Nearness of You” to the sentimental strings of “I Got It Bad and It Ain't Good,” “Yesterdays,” and “My Ideal;” this session is both bittersweet in the melancholy and provocative with cheek to cheek. And that's not to mention more enchanting tunes such as the tender “I Love You,” “I Remember You,” and “I'll Be Seeing You.” Though dynamite, it's odd that only “I Can't Get Started” repeats on Best. However, with so much top of the charts material, I guess they had to draw the line somewhere. Actually, I find it somewhat depressing that such a perfectly excellent catalog seems dismissed, or worse, forgotten today. Again, if you don't recognize the melodies of these songs (where have you been?) the hour can sound like all one composition. Fortunately, that's how thematic albums are supposed to be, and whether today's listeners think the similarities were due to Gleason's lack of musical technique and know how or a deliberate orchestration, one can't deny that the formula works. If you dance to one, you'll dance to them all and come back for more.

I know, I know. It's frustrating for a die hard collector to chase different vinyl editions and keep up with not always comparable digital releases. I must say, with their quips on spending more money for discs with only one or two songs you want, the time consuming search for the individual downloads you need, and being stuck listening to the snap crackle pop record or chewed up cassette, recently, more than ever I am finding those TimeLife Music infomercials spot on, prophetic marketing! 


20 June 2015

I Think, Therefore I Review Visits the RadioVision Network!

Greetings Fellow Film Enthusiasts!

Looking to SEE Yours Truly chat about Movies and Television? Then check out my debut appearance on RadioVisionNetwork's Morning Coffee Show! 

Since Father's Day is afoot, we talked about what to watch with Dad, giftsets for Pop, and gadgets like Roku and Chromecast so the whole family can watch something different. There's a little bit of everything, from Christopher Lee and Universal Horror to James Bond and Columbo!

Watch live streaming video from morning_coffee at livestream.com

You can watch on Livestream direct here http://livestre.am/58n6f  or see more Morning Coffee segments anytime at http://www.radiovisionnetwork.com.

Look for my recurring visits to Morning Coffee 10 am Fridays to talk more Movie, Television, and Streaming; and don't forget you can hear "Kbatz" on the Horror Addicts.net podcast, too!

11 June 2015

Revisiting with Sir Christopher

A Vampire Revisit with Christopher Lee
by Kristin Battestella

Horror fans worldwide have all been touched by the passing of Sir Christopher Lee. At the expense of writing new material too close home, here is a look back at all our musings on the Hammer Dracula series – previously scattered among our spooky dissertations and now collected for a mini RIP retrospective. Sniff.

Horror of Dracula – Well, well. Director Terence Fisher is here again for the one that started it all! Even with little dialogue, Lee is tall and imposing, his stature and glare deadly and delightful. Appearing a half hour into the film, top billed Peter Cushing as Van Helsing is also simply badass. There are unique changes to the tale from Hammer writer Jimmy Sangster (Horror of Frankenstein) of course, with library scholar Harker engaged to Lucy and more character switcharoos. Dracula is also decidedly styled as an English gentleman yet the story never leaves Central Europe. This also doesn’t look 1958 as we expect from the Leave It to Beaver types. Yes, it’s bright and colorfully filmed in the style of the time, but this Dracula is dark, gothic, and feels earnest, passionate, deadly. There’s something so nasty about the way Lucy opens the door, removes her cross, lays out, and unbuttons the nightgown! All the staples- stakes, garlic, candles, coffins- are here; everything we expect a proper vampire tale to be twists together with great deception and scares. Hot damn!

The Brides of Dracula – Peter Cushing returns- without the titular Big D- for this 1960 Hammer sequel directed by Terence Fisher (also of the precursor Horror of Dracula). Here the once again young, suave, taking names and staking dames Van Helsing puts the cross to Yvonne Monlaur (Circus of Horrors), Martita Hunt (Great Expectations, Anastasia) and Andree Melly (The Belles of St. Trinian’s). Though the Hammer sets are a little familiar, naturally; the scary sound effects, Goth Victorian dressings, lots of candles, and plenty of red velvet work toward a great, old fashioned, classy atmosphere. This chick spin on Bram Stoker’s plotting is unique, juicy, and dangerous-all these sexy women with secrets, screams, and fangy hysteria! This probably wasn’t the first of the Hammer Dracula series that I saw growing up, but it’s the one that sticks in my mind best- mostly because of a sweet climatic finale. Granted the inconsistencies are iffy, but that windmill of danger, doom, and retribution is classic awesome.

Dracula: Prince of Darkness – This Terence Fisher helmed 1966 sequel opens with a revisit to his Horror of Dracula and adds fun Victorian via sixties ladies, freaky servant Philip Latham (The Pallisers), action monk Andrew Kier (Cleopatra), candlelit ambiance, and sweet velvet décor. There’s actually a touch of the novel as well, with hints of Renfield and visiting English twists- except our Carpathian guests are two couples this time around. Barbara Shelley (also of The Gorgon) makes a great scaredy cat who would be annoying except that we know somebody should take heed in a vampire picture! Besides, it’s always the good girls like Suzan Farmer (Die, Monster, Die!) who go so bad for Dracula! Even though we know a resurrection ritual is coming, it’s still bloody impressive- literally and figuratively. There’s a great sense of foreboding fear with scary music as Lee silently hypnotizes and takes the dames as he wills in what seems like less than 10 minutes! I know he did some of these films under protest and had conflicts over the dialogue, but Dracula need not speak to be badass either. OMC’s great strength, overbearing physicality, and evil red eyes more than fit the terror bill. It’s actually fitting that there are no wither tos and why fors- just a silent, powerful, unstoppable menace. We don’t have outright nudity or such for this round, but the vamp approach and violation works.

Dracula Has Risen from the Grave – A sweet, bloody, almost Bond-esque introduction and a fun opening shocker lead off the revenge plotting, suspenseful carriage chases, surprising character development, saucy bedroom scenes, religious twists, and rooftop pursuits in this 1968 sequel. Whew! It’s quite intriguing to for once see what would possibly happen after Bram, as we instead focus on Monsieur Rupert Davies (Maigret), priest Ewan Hopper (Julius Caesar), and the terrified village folk who all still live in the shadow of Big C. We actually see more of Lee as Dracula earlier on in the film, and this time he even speaks! Well, it’s only about dozen lines and we still don’t really have enough of the eponymous villain, but Sir Christopher has more to do here. Dracula is quite sensual and kinky; all these necks and bosoms just thrust right at him! Though filmed well, the production values seem a step down from the usual Hammer high style, and the women seem a little too sixties designed instead of the late Victorian onscreen. Young Barry Andrews (Blood on Satan’s Claw) is also too hepcat annoying, as is bad girl Barbara Ewing (Torture Garden) to start- but we know Dracula will educate her- a bite, a beat down, a catfight! Yes, the titular revival is a little preposterous, but its also pretty creative- even if the vampire rules, times, and places established in the first two films are fudged up. The horror sound effects are great, along with impressively eerie green glow effects and colored lens tricks. It does indeed look like death here!

Taste the Blood of Dracula (1970)– Well, in this Hammer’s fifth Dracula themed film, Big C has a sweet intro tying into his previous entry, 1968’s Dracula Has Risen from the Grave. The occult circumstances leading to Dracula’s resurrection here are also lovely horror treats- creepy organ music, lightning crackles, and bright red oh so delightfully fake blood! Even if Lee only has about a dozen mostly one-word lines, he’s still enchanting, suave, and lays on the kinky with Linda Hayden (Blood on Satan’s Claw) and Isla Blair (Battle of Britain). What can I say; he knows how to dominate a picture! While this outing suffers a little bit from lack of other stars- it’s tough to enjoy all these Brit blokes who all seem the same- the Victorian flavor, gore, and underlying cheeky are just right. So what if the cult rituals in the titular quest are over the top. You can read into all the blood, life, and naughty symbolism if you want, but Taste is also a lot of fun; everything we expect in a good old midnight movie. I do grant that the plastic gardens are hokey, but I like that something special and stage-like intimacy where nothing but a good cape, red eyes, and pimpin’ fangs are needed.

Scars of Dracula – Roy Ward Baker (The Vampire Lovers) takes the helm for this 1970 entry in the Hammer series once again starring Christopher Lee as the eponymous count. The plot kind of sort of picks up from Taste the Blood of Dracula with the pre-requisite resurrection in the first few moments and sets the mood with booming orchestration, outdoor scenery, wild carriages, and cool castle interiors accented by red décor and bloody, pecked, and stabbed victims. Yes, the period design is cheap and the plot standard – a young village girl is attacked, angry townsfolk and the clergyman head off for Dracula’s known lair, one person doesn’t heed said village’s advice, a couple pursues him to the castle… The tale starts several times and takes too long with seemingly random players before the vamp action, and most of this set up could have been abandoned for an in medias res cold open. Expected series inconsistencies and a plodding lack of panache detract from the Stoker touches, but Lee looks good, mixing both violent and torturous intensity with suave and delicate mannerisms. From casual dining and conversations to a seductive vampire bride and slightly hokey bat control, Lee has much more to do with these developments, and it’s wonderfully creepy. Likewise, Patrick Troughton (Doctor Who) is a seedy, hairy, hatchet wielding, and conflicted henchman. Though the nudity and bed hopping are a little more risqué, there could have been more and subtitles would clarify a lot! Yes, it’s somewhat typical with nothing new on the vampire theme, but Lee’s presence anchors the spooky iconography here.

Dracula A.D. 1972 – Numero 7 brings Dracula back once again-and this time, the titular year is where all the juice happens with Stephanie Beacham (The Colbys) and Caroline Munro (The Spy Who Loved Me). The swanky scoring is a lot of fun, but director Alan Gibson (also of the follow up Satanic Rites of Dracula) wastes time on dated onscreen band performances. We don’t need lengthy 1972 establishing, and the now retro styles would have look cool old school if they weren’t so dang garish. We poke fun at the psychedelic, sure, but imagine how ugly current slasher horror films brimming with kids in the latest fashions are going to look in 40 years! The annoying hepcats wannabes here make things too bad English; Scream and Scream Again does the formula just a little bit better. Thankfully, Peter Cushing’s return as Grandpa Van Helsing is classier and action pimpin’ then all of the little boys put together! Of course, things kick up when Lee is resurrected and Cushing takes up the fight, but who knew Dracula was down with the swirl? Pity he is only in a reluctant handful of scenes with another dozen obligatory lines.

The Satanic Rites of Dracula – This direct sequel and number eight in the Hammer Dracula cannon sticks to the contemporary designs from its 1972 predecessor with more faux Bondian opening titles, breasts, and bad zooms. Though the sets and scenery are a little bland, drab, and not as colorful as the previous outing, the blood, kinky vampire brides, and disturbing rituals get all the horror across just fine. It’s also neat to see tapes, slides, and old style investigations instead of high tech CSI. The modern spy angle and same old Scotland Yard inspectors are, however, a little ho-hum in overtaking the expected vampness. Van Helsing’s credentials change to fit the themes here, but PC is still sweet- slapping people around to get his answers and taking long contemplative drags on his cigarette. Big C commands a lot of attention with his strong, distinctive voice and speech, yet his silent and brutal sweeping in and conquering works in his handful of scenes here. There’s something so sensual about not always seeing the actual taking bite, just the fear before and the deadly euphoria after. Yes, perhaps the ‘spies saving England from vampires’ plot might not always work, but the latent lesbian vampire action and orgasmic stakings go a long way for old school male audiences.

The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires – Although Hammer’s Dracula series wasn’t exactly known for its consistency, this 1974 samurai meets vampires crossover muddles the timeline further, easily resurrects its angry and infamously not Christopher Lee Dracula, and unevenly mixes its two-movies-in-one inspired parts. The bad makeup, dubbing by David de Keyser (Leo the Lasyt), and almost comically green, alien lighting for John Forbes-Robertson (The Vampire Lovers) as Dracula isn’t scary and feels unnecessary – other Hammer vivid designs, period Asian style, undead rituals, and zombies rising from the grave are great but it’s tough to tell what’s happening most of the time. Fight scenes, nudity, and blood sucking are well done along with hints of Buddhist relics affecting these vamps, but Peter Cushing partly tells the titular legend in flashback instead of it being the main story. It might have been neat to see his traveling Van Helsing film series as he battles all manner of evil across the globe, but one has to wonder why Cushing took this role. Despite interesting character opportunities and uniqueness, Big Pete instead goes head to head in a reversed Magnificent Seven protect the village from the bad guys cliché. The audience never gets a satisfactory feeling from either the Fu or the Brits involved – the Chinese vampires didn’t need Dracula or Van Helsing, but Van Helsing on a vampire tour doesn’t need Kung Fu action, either. While this full length, unedited version is the one to see, unfortunate compression, film speed issues, and a fast hour and 25-minute runtime on the recent Millennium Films Hammer Horror Collection DVD set further sabotages the premise here. Today’s viewer may look at this and wonder if the speed is supposed to be part of some sort of Kung Fu lips not matching the voices comedy! I hoped this would be good – and I do believe it is possible to combine vampires, martial arts, and horror – but this should have been a straight Hammer Asian arts film. I get tingling imaging the possibilities, but viewer expectations aren’t fulfilled here.

For more Sir Christopher, please see Our Christopher Lee Reviews guide. 


05 June 2015

The Man from Snowy River

The Man from Snowy River Remains a Family Delight
by Kristin Battestella

With its chock full of awesome scenery, renegade horses, and coming of age adventure, the 1982 Australian import The Man from Snowy River continues to please viewers young and old.

After the sudden death of his father, young mountain man Jim Craig (Tom Burlinson) must find work on the low country farms in order to upkeep his inherited station and prove his rugged mettle. Unfortunately, despite his horse sense and hard work, Jim's wealthy cattle baron boss Harrison (Kirk Douglas) objects to Jim's interest in his daughter Jessica (Sigrid Thorton). Jim's friendship with Harrison's cast out, prospector brother Spur (also Douglas) adds further tension, and when Harrison's prize colt is set loose, Jim is blamed. Determined, Jim vows to prove his worth and hunt down the colt – who is now part of a dangerous and wild brumby herd.

Perhaps The Man from Snowy River starts slow with a cramped, struggling rural existence but the early tragedy, quaint mountain cabin, and family tenderness quickly anchors viewers alongside the rough and tumble bravery inspired by the famed late nineteenth century Banjo Peterson poem. Director George T. Miller (The Never Ending Story II) fleshes out the ballad with daring rescues, rugged folk clashing against polite 1888 society, beautiful but wild horses, and all the big risks in taming such feral herds. While some dialogue or slang may be unfamiliar to American audiences, the one on one conversations fit the period setting. Dialogue is allowed to play out and advance the story with personality while charming horse training montages and sunset silhouettes give viewers time to be emotionally involved in the beauty instead of numbed by action packed superficiality. That's not to say The Man from Snowy River isn't without adventure, however. Suspenseful chases, frightening cliffs, and natural spectacles are all here and then some. Today's special effects can become irrelevant fast, but The Man from Snowy River isn't dated in its straightforward portrayal thanks to sharp editing, timely zooms, and fast dollies that know when to up the intensity, fist fights, and sabotage or pull back and give the epic scope or human feeling room to play. Maybe this is a simple tale adapted from what some may consider a small source, but The Man from Snowy River does everything it sets out to do with a fresh, unapologetic Australian grit.

Newcomer Tom Burlinson (also of Phar Lap, another fine tender horse picture) may have been unfamiliar stateside in 1982, however his Jim Craig is both young enough to need some growing up and believably mature as a rugged Down Under cowboy with edge – no millennial teen hunks need apply here! Jim's mountain stock and strong morals make for plenty of titular likability, and he won't stand for pesky troublemakers or lesser bullies while he earns his keep with humble labor like mucking out stalls. He's honest about needing the work and has the skills to match but doesn't need to put up a macho facade. Jim works hard and earns respect the right way, and it's a refreshing concept to see in this contemporary era where reward is seemingly given for nothing. Of course, there is certainly some awkwardness, foolishness, and mistakes amid the adventure, too. Though often perceived as a heartwarming tale for the ladies thanks to an easy to root for hero, The Man from Snowy River has enough male appeal in its lessons on learning how to be a man through proving oneself without compromise. With Jim's merit and upstanding nature, the viewer believes that the opportunity for success, love, and heroics will present themselves if we remain true.

On the other hand, Kirk Douglas (Spartacus) mixes some wealthy nasty and lovably crusty in the dual role of brothers Harrison and Spur. The varied appearance of each is well done – severe boots, tight britches, and a riding crop for Harrison compared to bearded gold digger with a wooden leg Spur. Both men have moments of fatherly tenderness and lost love, but their sad or bitter reactions have had lifelong, torn consequences. Harrison has some wise words yet remains blinded by money and past scorn while Spur perpetually and perhaps foolishly mines his life away for a shine that may not be there. The robust country in The Man from Snowy River has hardened these brothers – made one and broke the other – but how they respond to a slight with harshness or with kindness makes the difference. Harrison treats his daughter with suspicion thanks to perceived past ills, and brief paternity questions and rumors of affairs subplots may detract from the eponymous innocence somewhat. However, this backstory and additional Peterson references add extra layers, creating truth will out revelations and well done character conflicts.

Compared to the perfect starlets of today, Sigrid Thorton (Paradise, SeaChange) may seem slightly unrefined as The Man from Snowy River's young Victorian ingenue Jessica Harrison. Fortunately, this natural, fuller, warm look fits the period and the character – and Thorton's light eyes and dark hair remain a visually striking look. Granted, Jessica's in disguise introduction is somewhat typical, but her charm, sassy, and humor make up any difference along with the well matched Jim and Jessica pairing. There are a few progressive and slightly anachronistic conversations with modern feminism wording, but understandably, Jessica doesn't want to be bred or controlled under a man's thumb like women of the era. She's likable and smart, but has some growing up to do as well. Her reckless behavior and horsemanship mistakes in rebellion against her father's intention to see her a well married lady lead to some wonderful scenes and relatable angst. Aunt Rosemary Lorraine Bayly (Carson's Law) likewise adds a firm, elder society hand for Jessica, but she also recognizing her niece is worth more than “domestic dullness” and isn't afraid to say it. Rosemary has most of the family history exposition, but Bayly keeps the recounting compelling. Naturally, Terence Donovan (Neighbors) appears briefly in The Man from Snowy River as Jim's father Henry Craig, but his raising Jim right catalyst is felt throughout the picture while Jack Thompson's (Breaker Morant) “part bloodhound” Clancy rounds out the ensemble as a sarcastic but respected mountain man whose tall tales precede him.

Early town scenery and a brief train can make The Man from Snowy River seem small scale now. Though dark at times, the oil lamps and candlelit dining are appropriately sparse with rustic necessities or tea cups and minimal china to represent the frontier civilization. The tone isn't upscale and the costumes are probably plain, but these designs are more than serviceable in evoking that western feeling. Besides, the highlight of The Man from Snowy River is not the interiors but the stunning mountains, exceptional vistas, and more outdoor photography all done without our contemporary computer generated ease. The split screen scenes are seamless, and beautiful farmlands, rocky cliffs, and snow caps need no color alteration or visual saturation. The complex horse work and riding stunts in The Man from Snowy River, however, were surely not easy to film. Props to the cavalry picture In Pursuit of Honor, but up until the Ride of the Rohirrim in Return of the King, The Man from Snowy River's lengthy horseback finale was the most impressive horse sequence I'd seen on film. It's worth seeing this movie alone just for the dangerous descents, multi action pursuits, wagons, wild herds, and perilous terrain. In fact, knowing these scenes were done without special effects or massive crowd software perhaps makes it all the more awesome. The pulsing score, whip cracks, and hoof beats know when to be parallel the heart beating action or be silent. Tender themes and epic, sweeping arrangements build characters and scope while simmering notes accent subversion or scares. Subtle onscreen fumbling over playing “Fur Elise” on the piano also creates familiarity, smiles, and charm.

Yes, I still have my VHS copy of The Man from Snowy River, and it is pretty worn out after some daily viewings when I was a kid. My favorite part was always the whimsical slow motion snowscapes with such elevations and equine majesty amid the intensity! Although the affordable DVD can be found in stores or on Amazon, Netflix waits and save onlys make the film appear somewhat elusive along with the mostly unrelated but dang near impossible to find stateside Snowy River: The McGregor Saga television series starring Guy Pearce. It's a pity also that the Region 1 blu-ray edition of The Man from Snowy River is featureless – it would be nice to hear cast retrospectives or have some crew clarifications on a few of the stunts and rumored horse injuries, which may taint a viewing for animal lovers. Otherwise, there's little to deter one from enjoying The Man from Snowy River. Onscreen deaths could be upsetting to younger audiences, but most of the PG romantic subtleties will go over children's heads. From the dashing coming of age drama to captivating regions and poetry inside and out; horse lovers, period piece fans, and western enthusiasts young and old can find everything they need in The Man from Snowy River.

27 May 2015

Classic Rock Documentaries!

Classic Rock Documentaries!
By Kristin Battestella

Are you displeased with modern tunes? Then let's relive the sounds of decades yore with these classic groups and music heavyweights! 

Classic Albums: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours – This 1997 hour from the Eagle Rock and VH1 series focuses on the behind the scenes turmoil, relationships, and technicalities invigorating Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and John and Christine McVie in making the famed 1977 Rumours album – the second from the group’s revitalized incarnation. The genesis and creation of hits such as “Go Your Own Way,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Don’t Stop,” and more are dissected from the initial writing to changes in the recording sessions and album finalization. While the before and after samplings of the tunes and the conversations on the ups and downs are interesting, the tone sometimes wavers between being overly tender or laid on heavy in some spots. Perhaps the band members aren’t exactly orators in discussing their musical thought processes either, and their accents may confuse some viewers, too. However, classic rock fans will enjoy the nostalgic behind the scenes, and music students interested in the mechanical aspects or songwriters relating to the emotional translations involved can definitely learn plenty here. This is a fun, informative, introduction to the saga that is Fleetwood Mac, and perhaps most importantly, it gives you an itch for a complete Rumours listen.

Fleetwood Mac: The Dance – After a hiatus, Christine McVie returned to the lineup for this 1997 concert video chock full with “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Gold Dust Woman,” “Gypsy,” “Rhiannon,” “Don’t Stop,” “Go Your Own Way,” and many more. It’s nice to hear lesser-performed compositions – those that depend on McVie’s appearance such as “Everywhere,” “You Make Lovin’ Fun,” and “Over My Head” as well as then-newer tunes like “Temporary One” and “Bleed to Love Her.” Stevie Nicks sounds slightly different of course, but McVie sounds the same, everyone looks good, and its great to hear the entire incarnation together with a fun moment for John McVie on “Say You Love Me.” The subtitles are also helpful with the sometimes cryptic, poet lyrics, and Nicks, McVie, and Lindsey Buckingham give some information on several songs. Though well edited, entertaining, and swiftly filmed, this concert isn’t a big spectacle production like more recent shows. Technical music audiences may even find this under produced despite the subdued nineties norm and intimate, small session feeling – which is as it should be with essentials like “Landslide” and the intense “Silver Springs.” However, Buckingham provides the rock outs and guitar genius with “I’m So Afraid,” “Big Love,” “Go Insane,” and “My Little Demon,” and Mick Fleetwood makes his usual crazy extreme drumming faces, too. Granted, this 90-minute performance has some confused vision – is this a comeback tour of past hits or a new release of special material with some classics for good measure? The companion CD has a different track listing and I could do without the USC Marching Band finale, but “Songbird” is a lovely coda for the piece. Fans of the band can certainly delight, and younger audiences newly discovering Fleetwood Mac can take the next step with this complete lineup and unique performance.

Freddie Mercury: The Great Pretender – This full-length 2012 retrospective focuses on the lead singer of Queen and his more unusual successes, missteps, and solo projects apart from rock groupdom including early ballet concerts, musical performances, and operatic tours in his final years. From the decadence of the seventies club scene, career heights, and questionable associates to frank discussion on criticism of Mercury, his generally closeted media approach, and reaction to his untimely AIDS related death; new interviews from friends, fellow musicians, and industry alums help paint an intriguing picture. Rare archive footage, music videos, and interview segments both shed light on Mercury’s shyness regarding his private life and contribute to the alluring dichotomy of his flamboyant stage persona. It’s interesting to hear his own thoughts on living it up in comparison to his admitted difficulty in trusting people or talking with others, “The more I open up, the more I get hurt.” How could Freddie Mercury think he was boring and be terrified of being alone? The accents may be tough to understand for some, but live renditions of songs such as “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Somebody to Love,” and “Barcelona” are simply delightful along with unreleased demos; home recordings; samples featuring Michael Jackson, Luciano Pavarotti, and Montserrat Caballe; and more lesser seen or heard solo compositions from Mercury’s Mr. Bad Guy album. Longtime rock fans or budding Queen enthusiasts seeking an astute peek at Mercury’s musical legacy will love this.

In Dreams: The Roy Orbison Story – Take a lesson 21st century whippersnappers! I’ve finally been able to see this complete hour and a half 1999 special focusing on the man to whom even The Bee Gees, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen bow. It’s simply glorious to see vintage footage and interviews and hear the late too soon Orbison speak of early Sun Records anecdotes, his childhood musical inspirations, devastating family tragedies, and his final resurgent success. And let’s not forget all those awesome, quintessential tunes such as “Pretty Woman,” “Only the Lonely”, “Running Scared,” my favorite “Crying,” and more concert scenery amid conversations with contemporaries like Johnny Cash, George Harrison, Chet Atkins, Tom Petty, and next generation stars like Elvis Costello and Chris Isaak. If one wants to learn how music should sound, one must digest as much Orbison as possible. It’s that simple, and this set is a great place to begin. I could go on and on and on – some of the first CDs I ever had were Orbison albums – but I’ll stop now. I mean, Barry Gibb calls Orbison “The Voice of God.” Yeah, that about says it.

24 May 2015

Mid-Century SF Adventures!

Mid-Century Science Fiction Adventures!
By Kristin Battestella

The budding sciences of the sixties and beyond may seem bemusingly simple to us in the seemingly so sophisticated twenty-first century. However, these mid-century science fiction delights remain classic adventures of space, science, and technology for the whole family.

Fantastic Voyage Stephen Boyd (Ben-Hur), Raquel Welsh (One Million B.C.), and Donald Pleasence (Halloween) take this 1966 microscopic, heart-stopping adventure full of wondrous snap, crackle, pop mid-century science – what could possibly go wrong? The technical talk, quick debriefing, dated military missions, political intrigue, and seemingly aimless golf cart tours through the clean, blue and white streamlined designs are perhaps slow to get going today. Some waxing philosophical or poetic soul and creator versus science talk amid the medical jargon feels like old hat exposition, too. The procedural scenes also seem more like an awe-inspiring museum demonstration, and a crowded inside and too many anonymous, unnecessary people outside at control creates confusion. Fortunately, all this build up smartly puts an unbelievable situation in the realm of the then possible. Although the whole mission seems totally impractical and perhaps causes more damage than the operation at hand, the wild journey along the way forgives the rushed ending or any plausibility issues. The models, miniatures, and visual effects look dandy and remain decidedly charming, and nostalgic body system graphics, paper overlays, and Morse Code add simplicity to the high tech while a real time ticking clock ups the claustrophobic tensions and medical perils. Colorful plasma, bubbles, tubes,and pink pustules bring the titular spectacles to life along with a variety of sounds, laser lights, attacking antibodies, psychedelic mosses and even gross scales. It's an interesting mix of submarine, under the sea currents and exiting outside the airlock space. So what if it's all totally unrealistic – the young at heart and science minded kids can still enjoy the wonderment here.

Marooned – Gregory Peck (To Kill a Mockingbird), David Janssen (The Fugitive), James Franciscus (Beneath The Planet of the Apes), Gene Hackman (The French Connection), Richard Crenna (The Real McCoys), and more stars anchor this 1969 NASA nail biter. Real footage from the Apollo heights and of the time mission control look great without the need for abundant CGI and special effects as we know them today. There aren't that many sets either, allowing for tense action at home and claustrophobic capsule hysteria as one thing after another spells disaster – retro rockets malfunctioning, low fuel in orbit, hurricanes over the Cape, daring rescues in experimental craft, and precious, precious oxygen running out. Though slow to start and at times tedious with minuscule, technical details and procedures; a desperate ticking clock, presidential pressure, wives on the ground, and Russian friends or foes add to the peril. Yes, there is an American mid-century gung ho, yet it's somewhat surprising that such a heavy, all things go wrong picture would be made amid all our spaceflight glory. It's also interesting to see how this film has become both inaccurate and prophetic. They were unprepared for this calamity and thought such accidents would doom the space program, but we haven't progressed much further in the decades since – let alone gotten to Mars, which they talk of as an imminent event. Though the finale feels rushed compared to the slow, by the book, space happenings shown along the way, all the intensity of a modern disaster flick is here along with a then impressive realism. No camera tricks, edgy film making, or punched up orchestration is needed to tell the viewer how desperate the situation is, and with these good looks, classy cast, and yell at the TV entertainment, this one shouldn't be as seemingly obscure as it is.

Westworld Androids run amok in this 1973 sci-fi western written and directed by Michael Jurassic Park Crichton. Granted, the slow explorations of then-futuristic empty white sets and technobabble gibberish feel like filler; once cool computer monitors and pixelated robot viewpoints need updating. The debut direction is also somewhat simplistic, with of the time slow motion violence and aimless running to and fro amid the shootouts, feasting, brothels, and bar fights. Modern viewers will expect a catastrophic resort meltdown to be, you know, catastrophic instead of a straightforward, one on one tame, and despite a great premise, it's tough to overlook the safety ignorance, preposterous logistics, and an abrupt finale. Guns, swords, mechanical malfunctions – the sex robot models are supposed to be totally detailed yet nobody can perfect the android hands? Fortunately, while there's little character development, we know enough to like cool best friend James Brolin (Hotel), fear the gloriously unyielding Terminator before Terminator was Terminator Yul Brynner (The King and I), and feel for divorced if insipid lawyer in need of a vacation Richard Benjamin (Catch-22). The social possibilities are here, too, from an ultimate vacation where man can have his decadent and violent desires to seemingly in control behind the scenes technicians who eat while they watch the depravity unfold. Suspicious nighttime activity resets the excess while guests sleep unaware, but man made machines or machines making androids in the mirror of men will surely misbehave. Sentience among the robots is also suggested – are they fed up with human seductions and taking matters into their own hands for one destructive hurrah before their batteries fail? Medieval games and Roman hedonism aren't fully shown, but for a $1 million odd budget, the colorful designs aren't bad. The Old West facades provide nostalgia to match the amusing saloon times, creating humor and comfort with over the top tropes. Although the theme is under cooked, this still fairly unique genre twister was ahead of its time and remains delightful for young and old seeking western lite or SF perils.

20 May 2015

Recent Horror Pros and Cons

Recent Horror Pros and Cons
by Kristin Battestella

Sometimes new and unique independent horror rises up and surprises you with its impressiveness, and other times the scary intrigue leaves you wondering what could have been. Here's a recent horror quartet with some varying degrees of success – from thought provoking interest and clichés made fine to rehashing redundancy and mishmashed missed opportunity. 


The Babadook – Up close screams, distorted past accidents, bad dreams, and checking under the bed make sleep uneasy for mother and child in this 2014 Australian thinking person's horror. Kid gadgets, magic tricks, a locked basement filled with memento mori, and the wonderfully freaky eponymous but anonymous book have us believing in gruesome children's stories once again as the pop up contents become a bit too interactive. Forget school and social pressure, a boy has to defend himself and his mom against those monsters! The youthful fears, wise for his age, and natural innocence are immediately endearing, as is the much lauded Essie Davis (Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries) as our kind, relatable, working widow. Her life has been difficult, lonely, and getting worse– a scared kid climbing into bed all the time ruins the 'me' time, doesn't it? Paging Doctor Freud! Close cut, intimate editing builds suspense, keeping the pent up, internal focus as the child's play turns dangerous. Instead of desensitizing thrills, we feel the real life fears as the seemingly supernatural blends with seven years of escalating grief. Family abnormalities, paranormal possibilities that psychiatry can't handle, monsters that manifest on such daily traumas – is our pair too attached to each other in this battle or fighting alone? Where is the line between evil possessions and their own warped reality? Dark corners and a depressing, monochromatic home allow for unseen horrors to brew and fester over the 94 minutes alongside a progressively unkempt style, insomnia haze, here or not there bugs, overnight gaps in time, and floating under the covers apparitions. A lack of sisterly help, snickering police, and truant officers accent the late night television parallels, further blurring the lines between monsters and actuality. In the absence of empty shock moments, immediate adrenaline, and jump scare spectacles, the scary sounds and shadows simmer. Some viewers may predict the dog worries and a bit of the tables turning, but the intense times and maternal power use horror to say what can't be said and create discussion as good scares should. Female-centric horror not done for the titillation, who knew?

Would You Rather When Jeffrey Combs (Re-Animator) says he can make your sick brother better if you win a dinner party game, run people, run! The intercut interview slash opening credits of this 2012 dare-fest inexplicably lengthen exposition that was cleverly shortened, making for a redundant, overly ominous start – we know they are in a horror movie more scary than Clue even if they don't. Unnecessary flashback snips and more jarring editing stilts a first half hour that keeps explaining the game before finally providing some electrocutions, gunplay, whips, and ice picks. Forcing a vegetarian to eat meats or a recovered alcoholic to drink scotch is only the beginning of the discomforting desperation and morals versus money at stake, and Brittany Snow (Pitch Perfect) is believably mature as a twenty something fallen onto tough family times. John Heard (Home Alone) and June Squibb (Nebraska) add fine elder pleas, and unlike other recent torture porn trends, upscale interiors and sophisticated dread accent the titular question. This isn't dumbed down to a teen party boobs and gore fest, yet cliché character expositions linger alongside some stupid actions, a few loose ends, and one trite prick. Our game players must ally and do no harm or comply and compete. None apologize for playing, however, and that depravity hampers some of the entertainment value. After all, people really get off on this kind of pain – look at that dumb and dangerous Kylie Jenner lips dare – and longtime horror viewers will find the unexplained, gruesome generosity predictable. Thankfully, the built in ticking clock and process of elimination keep the smartly congested parlor panache moving, and the crafty cynicism carries through to the end.

Polite Split Decisions

As Above So Below – The disorienting, chaotic start to this 2014 found footage tale compromises the danger of all its tunnels, statues, catacombs, and artifacts because we can't see much less appreciate them thanks to the sideways camera or off and on flashlights. Young and reckless Perdita Weeks (Lost in Austen) rattles off her credentials and always assures the documentary is paramount while risking harm to others. She heeds no warnings, argues with the more experienced, and audaciously accuses others while she destroys priceless discoveries for her own transformative gain. Instead of Dante food for thought, the wrongfully determined, spelunking hipster plot comes off ala National Treasure – complete with a first clue action start, a break in to inspect the back of a marker, begrudging allies who only want gold, going underground via a tomb, and following historical riddles through one hidden chamber after another. Our cameraman is also a wise cracking, injury prone, token black guy whom we hardly see. His future bodes so well! And hey, there's no cell phone service underground, obviously. Parisians inexplicably speaking English instead French, obligatory claustrophobia, Indiana Jones rats and knights, and random cult worshipers add to the borrowed contrivances, and it's tough to make the cliches and busy footage both work due to the increasing demands on our suspension of disbelief. The finest parts here are when the camera remains still with one person in panic. Creepy old phones and broken pianos below add to the dread and maze like inability to escape, creating enough forlorn without the gimmicks. Real cave interiors add to the Egyptian booby traps, however the jump scares, supernatural hell horrors, and a much too much rushed finale abandon the established rules. Was all the metaphysical worth it? Are we supposed to be glad that one got the rectification she desired at the expense of others? This is entertaining for viewers who fall for the frights in the Halloween fun house, but despite attempts at literary and historical allusions, longtime horror audiences and wise cinema fans will see everything coming.

Deliver Us from Evil – Hectic explosions, desert warfare, and soldiers discovering an ancient tomb get this 2014 supernatural thriller off to a rocky start before more random restarts further delay the actual horror. Important snippets given early are better reiterated later, making this opening a redundant fifteen minutes that could have been cut. A creepy nighttime power outage at the zoo and a spooky house where candles won't burn reset the chilling mood, but ridiculously weapon happy, trumped up macho, backwards hat wearing cops who look more like ball players chomping on chewing tobacco make us feel like we're in the wrong movie again. The cinematic realism is also styled like a cop show, which would be fine except the nighttime seedy and flashlight lighting is too damn dark to see anything. An annoying score also ruins the viewer immersion, as does convenient, all seeing HD surveillance footage and easy smartphone cameras with on hand evidence – not to mention there is never any back up or proper police procedure. Though not miscast per se, what kind of Australian doing Bronx Italian accent is Erica Bana (Troy) trying? Please don't. And Joel McHale? Of The Soup? As a bad ass cop in a horror movie?! Fortunately, The Doors' music signifying gateways to hell is much more fun, and Sean Harris (The Borgias) is always a delightfully gruesome creeper. Too many genres are combined and condensed here, making the balance and pacing uneven, and the potential for digging deeper motivation in the intriguing one on one dialogue and good versus evil debate remains superficial as a result. Tighter editing would have stopped the meandering, but this might have been better as a longer serial where time could be taken for the Iraq fallout, our guilt ridden ex-faithful cop with terrorized family tropes, and the buddy sergeant meets noble padre religious investigations. Is this all just too many clichés tossed at the screen? There's a great exorcism before a somewhat limp finale, but cops and a priest battling possessed veterans with devilish clues from Jim Morrison? If you don't expect much from the mixed vision, this may actually be crazy enough to see through to the end.