26 February 2008

The Tudors Season 1

The Tudors Wins on Flair, Not History

By Kristin Battestella

The Tudors has made quite a name for itself-from busty billboard ads to Emmy nominations. Showtime’s series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a young Henry the 8th is not meant to be a history lesson, but trumps on lavish love and locales.

Meyers leads an ensemble cast in King Henry’s court, including the wicked Cardinal Wosley (Sam Neill, Jurassic Park), Henry’s older wife Queen Catherine of Aragon (Maria Doyle Kennedy, The Commitments), and of course Natalie Dormer (Casanova) as the alluring Anne Boleyn. Political players come and go in this first ten episode season. Each episode is meant to be a year in Henry’s reign-plenty of time for mistresses and heads to roll.

Jonathan Rhys Meyers (Elvis, Match Point) received a Best Actor Emmy nomination, but Season 1 rises on Neill’s twisted Cardinal and his polar opposite Jeremy Northam (Amistad) as Thomas Moore. As dynamic as Meyers and Dormer are, it is very easy to feel for Queen Katherine’s predicament. Kennedy portrays the religious Spanish regal to perfection.

As solid as the performances are, The Tudors’ Writer and Director Michael Hirst (Elizabeth) backed himself into a corner with several built in historical discrepancies. Gabrielle Anwar (Burn Notice) guest stars as a Henry’s sister Princess Margaret, but the character is actually a composite of his two historical sisters, making some of her storylines convoluted and unbelievable.

But of course, The Tudors makes no pretense at being historically perfect. The series sells itself on the lavishes and lustful ways of the Middle Ages. There are more accurate portrayals on film. It seems strange to me that some viewers complain about the lack of authenticities in The Tudors. It is just a TV show, and hey, it is possible folks who watch the series may take an interest in the real history. The Tudors definitely appeals to the female romance soap opera demographic-as well as the renaissance fan boy. Stuffy Oxford scholars? No.

Many viewers should tune into the Irish/Canadian production for the lovely on location scenery. The costumes might not be one hundred percent authentic, but the opulent fashions and stunning Irish locales add another layer of color and eye candy. Most medieval shows seem so dark or drab, but not The Tudors. The indoor sets do seem small and leave a little to be desired, as do some of the cgi establishing shots of 16th century places or ships that don’t currently exist, but these quibbles are not jarring enough to disturb your viewing pleasure.

So alas, I must mention the sexual content-and there’s a lot of it in The Tudors. It’s Showtime, so we shouldn’t really be surprised at the nudity-male and female-nor the rough and cheeky action. Hey, it’s what they did back then, and when you are dealing with a lothario as notorious as Henry the VIII, its nothing to be a shamed of. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is wiry and sexy and impish, sure, but Hirst has struck double gold by baring all of Henry’s pal Charles Brandon. Henry Cavill (Stardust) has become a fan favorite. Sometimes there’s a point to his lover boy scenes, but most often not-that is the nature of The Tudors. It can be a straight period drama when it has to be, but it isn’t’ afraid to have a good time, either.

Definitely not for minors or prudes, The Tudors Season 1 is now available on DVD. Season 2 is forthcoming from Showtime this Spring. As long as the ratings are there, Showtime will continue to invest the bucks into this sexy period soap opera. Performances and kink in a tight, crafty balance-The Tudors needs to be seen to be believed. Check out Showtime’s website for trailers and downloads. Once you are addicted, take the DVD plunge.

17 February 2008

Sharpe's Rifles

Sharpe’s Rifles Good Introduction to Series
By Kristin Battestella

Not many Americans are as familiar with Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series as we are say Hornblower or Patrick O’Brien’s seafaring fiction. A & E’s films series of C. S. Forester’s Hornblower series and the big screen release of Master and Commander: The Far Side of The World starring Russell Crowe have helped these stories find an audience, but the British made for television Sharpe movies have yet to find mass American appeal. Honestly I don’t know why.


1993’s Sharpe’s Rifles starts the series in good fashion. Known for his mostly villainous roles in US productions, Sean Bean (Patriot Games, The Fellowship of the Ring) stars are Sergeant Richard Sharpe, a ruffian journeyman soldier in the midst of England’s war with Napoleon in Spain. After saving the life of Arthur Wellesley (David Troughton)-soon to become Lord Wellington-Sharpe is promoted to Lieutenant and placed in charge of the 95th rifles’ Chosen Men. Sharpe struggles with the gentlemen above him who have bough their commissions while earning the respect of his sharpshooters-including Irish Rifleman Patrick Harper (Daragh O’Malley). Intelligence Major Hogan (Brian Cox) sends Sharpe and his men across Spain in search of a missing banker carrying a badly needed gold draft for the English Army. Along the way, Sharpe must help Major Vivar (Simon Andreu) and Commandante Teresa Moreno (Assumpta Serna) and their Spanish guerillas inspire the oppressed Spanish people against the French.
 
It seems like a lot, yes, and considering Sharpe’s Rifles takes from several of Cornwell’s books, there’s much to set up, back story to explain, people to introduce. This first in the series sometimes falls into the pitfalls that come with introducing one to a series. Which is meant to be the story? Sharpe’s bonding with his men and Teresa or the mission? Each storyline presented is tied up all in good time. One need not continue with the series, but one need not see Rifles to appreciate the second film Sharpe’s Eagle.
 
If the story or set up seems thin, then it is the characters that will keep you watching. We may hate him in America if we know him at all (My husband calls Sean Bean a ‘glorified extra’!) but Sharpe made Bean a household name in the UK. The RADA trained actor can show Sharpe’s anger and doubt, as well as his sensitive side. Yet Bean looks the rough and tumble part. Natural to say that if you don’t like him, you won’t like Sharpe. Richard can be quite an arse from time to time, but he is a soldier of his time. Likewise we may not be used to the stereotypical Chosen Men, but all fit their parts. The educated Harris, The boy Perkins, and of course Harper-the Irish man serving in the English Army.

Not all for the boys, Assumpta Serna is perfectly cast as Teresa Moreno. The tough guerilla leader shows her soft side with Sharpe. It’s not an easy role-the ice queen type- but Serna looks the part of this intelligent noblewoman fighting with the consequences of her war torn country.
 
One miss for Sharpe’s Rifles is the score. The nineties electric guitar music is completely off for the time period onscreen, and the style has not stood the test of time. With such British-ness already about it, the ‘Over The Hills and Far Away’ song is perhaps also too English for us across the pond. A rousing classical score would have served the series better. The look of Rifle’s may also seem on the cheap now, but the uniforms, weaponry, and locales all carry the right authenticity to them. The scale for the first film here is small, dealing mostly with peripheral action during the war. Some of the fighting does, however, look ill chorographer and edited. In some sequences we see rifleman simply falling on the ground or Sharpe himself merely looking around in the smoke. There’s a lot of military violence, but little blood and gore.

Spoiled younger audiences would probably skip Sharpe’s Rifles but the solid story from Cornwell adapted by Eoghan Harris is worth a gander. Female fans of Sean Bean will no doubt enjoy, but military fans looking for rough action or Napoleonic authenticity will also get hooked on Sharpe. Kids under 10 may not understand all the military politics or shy from the kissing scenes, but it could be fun to turn tweens onto the films and perhaps the Sharpe novels.

Sharpe’s Rifles is available individually on DVD or in several Sharpe sets. Unfortunately there are no features, and the digital transfer doesn’t look the best quality. Whether the gritty look is what the production was going for or if its simply weak technology, I don’t know, but the ills don’t infringe on the viewing. In fact, the negatives are all but forgotten once you get into the twist and turns, action, intrigue, and romance that seem to follow Sharpe.
Is Sharpe’s Rifles the best film in the series? No, but as the introductory film, it doesn’t necessarily have to be. What you need to know is set for a British boys’ good time. Good enough even for us Americans to enjoy.



Normally, our book comparisons are also posted in the comments section below, but our Rifles analysis was so big, it has its own post here

16 February 2008

Gettysburg

Overlong Gettysburg Still Worthy

By Kristin Battestella


The movie is almost as famous as the epic battle it portrays. With 4 hours of full of itself Civil War glory, Turner Pictures’ 1993 Gettysburg is still essential Civil War viewing.

Tom Berenger stars are Confederate General James Longstreet, and Martin Sheen is Robert E. Lee. For the Union we follow the 20th Maine and Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels), with moments from Turner staple Sam Elliot as General Buford and C. Thomas Howell as Chamberlain’s Brother Thomas. Many knowns and unknowns come and go as the historical players of the Union and The Confederacy during the detailed portrayal of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Gettysburg begins the night before the 1863 battle, takes us through the July 1-3 fight, and concludes with the fallout on the Fourth of July. The opening credits are long, but necessary. A historical photograph of each player is presented with a still of the actor in that role. This is immensely helpful simply for the amount of men to follow on both sides of the battle. Props also to director Ronald F. Maxwell for casting talented folks who look the part. Today, it would be a stretch to find actors with the talent and look enough for such an engrossed Civil War film. The closing credits also inform the audience as to what happens to the major players after the War.

Some of the dialogue and quiet moments in Gettysburg may seem out of place, over the top, and full of themselves. However, it is important for modern folks to remember they did really talk that way back then. Much of Sheen’s preachy speeches are from the papers of Lee. That’s one of the things that makes the Civil War so fascinating. We still have a lot of the first hand materials and research from the War to consider. On the other hand, some of the dialogue is also near soliloquies and obviously prophetic because we, almost 150 years later have all memorized the Gettysburg Address.

Although beautiful and heart strings worthy, the classical score of Gettysburg is also a bit too obvious. The heroic music makes its presence known every time something big is about to happen for either side. It’s a bit redundant. The fine performances and heavy movement onscreen speak for themselves.

It’s a shame that most of the folks who would sit down to watch Gettysburg are already historically minded and naturally know the outcome of the battle. I imagine it would be really something to watch the film ignorant. Southern commanders waver between the hopelessness of the battle to the pride and hopeful gentleman of Virginia. The Union is struggling with deserters and the tiredness of a war they thought would be over in a few months. For one who is unaware of the Union victory, the stirringly accurate Picket’s Charge is enough for anyone to cheer for the South. Based upon The Killer Angels novel by Michael Shaara, Gettysburg frankly highlights a few conversations about the causes of the war. Slavery, the Preservation of the Union, Virginia love. The focus of the film however is not the issues, but rather the honor, intelligence, pride, and brotherly divides on both sides of the War. Again, you can almost believe the battle could have gone either way, had fate not had plans with the valiant men involved.

The prequel to Gettysburg, Gods and Generals is very favorable to the Confederacy. Gettysburg, however, smartly maintains a balance and gives justice to the fighting on both sides of the battle. Filmed on location in Gettysburg and the surrounding Pennsylvania countryside, Gettysburg also used Civil War re-enactors from across the nation to authentically recreate each stage of the battle. The star cast and the re-enacting extras seamlessly work together to create every detail of the three day battle. Who hasn’t watched Gettysburg as part of their high school history class? The show is rated PG-amazingly the violence of the fighting comes with little blood and gore. Despite its lengthy speeches and 261 minute length, Gettysburg shows the massive weight of the Civil War’s definitive battle like nobody’s business.

The DVD edition of Gettysburg has the standard features and comes on a two sided disc. For any fan of military history, the Civil War, or stirring film, Gettysburg is worth the four hour trade for its attention to detail and dues given to the heroes on both sides of the war. Young and Old will always take something away from Gettysburg.

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction Strange, but Good
By Kristin Battestella

As a writer, I was curious about Stranger Than Fiction the moment I first saw the previews. In this 2006 dramedy, funny man Will Ferrell (Blades of Glory) takes a serious turn as Harold Crick, a ho-hum IRS agent who begins hearing author Karen Eiffel’s (Emma Thompson, Sense and Sensibility) narration of his life. When Harold hears that his death is imminent, he vows to change his ways and find Karen.
Saturday Night Live alum Ferrell is a pleasant surprise in Stranger Than Fiction. The film is quirky and funny in parts, but Ferrell does just fine without slap stick and gross out stunts. It would seem he is the weak player here, considering the Oscar touched supporting cast of Thompson, Dustin Hoffmann (Rain Man), and Queen Latifah (a nomination for Chicago). Will Ferrell is however nearly exceptional here, a nod to the golly gee Jimmy Stewart Capra roles.
Of course, the support is exceptional as well. Dustin Hoffmann’s literature professor Jules Hilbert is intelligent and his methods believable-even though he is trying to help Harold figure out what story his narrator has him in. Emma Thompson is perfect as the neurotic British author obsessed with death, and Queen Latifah is a delight as Penny, the assistant guru sent by the publisher to cure her of her writer’s block. I wish there were more of their dry, odd couple conversations in the film. Perhaps the one miscast in Stranger Than Fiction is Maggie Gyllenhaal (World Trade Center) as Harold’s love interest/auditee Ana Pascal. She’s meant to be bohemian and fresh and quirky, but Gyllenhaal seems to have no weight, a cutout with no substance. She’s cute and talented I’m sure, but she just looks too wrong with Will Ferrell.
Stranger Than Fiction’s story and script from Zach Helm is unique there is no doubt, but towards the end, things begin to meander a little too much. The suspense of if Harold dies at the end of the book is enough. Some scenes debating this, however seem thin and dragged on. One potentially wonderful scene between Thompson and Hoffmann is wasted, but the ending is a good one. I like Emma Thompson in her period films, but I hate Jane Austen. Thompson won an Oscar for her adaptation of Sense and Sensibilty, but that’s another melodramatic, overlong movie. Odd to say I’m glad it wasn’t Thomson writing this film.
The confusing thing about Stranger Than Fiction is its genre. In the film the discussion is between comedy and tragedy, but just because this isn’t Ferrell’s standard physical comedy doesn’t mean that Stranger Than Fiction isn’t a comedy, though. It’s billed a drama but Thompson’s very British, dry death scenes are funny to me. Then again, is Stranger Than Fiction science fiction? It’s never explained how a real person came to be a character in a novel, so when the author and character meet, we must take the humorous leap of faith as is. If Stranger Than Fiction were structured differently, it could have become a lot of different things. The possibilities have you thinking about the film long after its over.
Stranger Than Fiction is the perfect movie for a family night or an intelligent critique group viewing. Youth who are wrongfully attracted to some of Ferrell’s gross out films will find this a pleasing alternative. Food for thought for any audience- now that is strange. 


13 February 2008

Eastern Promises

Eastern Promises Doesn’t Deliver

By Kristin Battestella

With all the awards hype surrounding Eastern Promises, I decided to take a ganger. The 2007 Russian mob thriller reunites Viggo Mortensen with his A History of Violence director David Cronenberg. Unfortunately once again the duo falls short of taking the drama to the next level.

Anna Ivanonva (Naomi Watts) is a midwife of Russian decent living in London. When she delivers the baby of a 14 year old Russian prostitute, Anna becomes immersed in London’s Russian mafia underground. As the diary of the dead mother is translated, Anna meets Semyon (Armin Mueller-Stahl), the Russian don, his wayward son Kirill (Vincent Cassel), and their driver Nikolai (Viggo Mortensen) –who clearly isn’t the simple driver he pretends to be.

Eastern Promises starts off promising, with questions and answers raveling and unraveling in the first hour. Early on the film is also bloody and violent; we learn who the key players are and the vices of each individual. Cronenberg, however, was smart to keep the film’s focus on the cast and not on violence or gore.

Naomi Watts (The Ring) is acceptable as Anna. She sells the cultural divides of her character well. Likewise Mueller-Stahl’s (Shine) tough love father and mob boss feeling is creepy enough to leave no doubts as to who the villain of the piece is. Vincent Cassell (The Messenger) is also fine as the conflicted Mafioso son. But of course, Eastern Promises is really The Viggo Mortensen show. His Best Actor Oscar nomination is well deserved. His look, the broken English, the suavity in which he mutilates a body before making it disappear-the character is a complex one. Every scene had me yelling at the screen as clues are revealed about this seemingly uninvolved driver.

Mortensen is perfectly Mafioso in look and feel, but the entire mood of Eastern Promises sells the Russian underground. Subtitles are a must for the mixed English and Russian speech. Some things may be a bit stereotypical-like all the drunk Russians sipping Vodka. Unfortunately, it took me a while to figure out they were in London. We spend so much time on the Russian end of things that I thought we were there.

Despite its good, another huge miss for Eastern Promises is the ending. For such heavy subject matter and complex plot the abrupt ending and under two hour length undoes all the film’s hard work. It’s as if the entire film is all setup. Screenwriter Stephen Knight seemed to have backed himself into a corner and what was supposed to be the big twist reveal was quite obvious halfway through the movie.

As strong as Viggo’s performance is-even considering the poor screenplay-I fear that this film will be known more for his nudity than the acting. A lengthy fight sequence late in the film meant to set up the big betrayal instead turns out to be a laughing moment. Who would roll around on the sauna floor completely naked with his killers, really? Blood and male body parts everywhere. I’m sure all the lady fans of Viggo will love it, but Cronenberg should have staged and edited the sequence without all the puffs and tackles.

Graphic sex, language, and more make Eastern Promises too mature for young viewers. Strangely enough, the film is actually less violent and sexual than The Sopranos. Cronenberg had free reign to take it to the next level, but Eastern Promises is light in the essentials and heavy in the wrong the places. The DVD is also light, with only the bare bones features. Viggo Mortensen may have received the Best Actor nomination, but this is not his definitive film. Unfortunately, Eastern Promises could have been.

12 February 2008

Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (the movie!)


The Monster That Is Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band!
by Kristin Battestella


Well You’ve all waited for my next review and instead you get this analysis of cheese, I know. I like Pepper for all its Gibby guffaw, but this review won’t be easy. I’ll mention what’s good and quirky first then topple on the bad and the nitpicks! Tooshay!

Well, there’s The Opening Footage. At least they tried to have a backstory, however hokey it is. Burns narration helps fill in the gaps. The varying renditions of the title song are a nice touch. Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band introduces The Hendersons, and sure I am Gibb-biased, but the Bee Gees sound like The Beatles. Maurice once again seems to get the short end of the stick, stuck in the back fiddling with the drums, but oh dear Lord get Robin away from that toy guitar!

With a Little Help from My Friends brings Peter Frampton’s introduction while wearing a pink shirt and white overalls with hearts all over them. My 6 and 7 year old nieces don’t even wear that. I don’t care for Frampton at all really, but I shall try to be nice in my review. I like how Strawberry is supposed to sing along, but she doesn’t quite know the words does she?

Fixing a Hole to me means fixing the loophole in George Burns’ contract that says he gets to sing. The only good part is...um. My nieces sing along and like the little kiddies playing about with Burnsy. Yeah, that’s it. This really is a very poor rendition of the song, and Burns isn’t Fred Astaire. Do we really need another poor imaginary sequence that does nothing to advance the story of the Band making it big? Oh let’s skip this one. Getting Better always gets stuck in my head. The BD bad music executive is introduced here with chick star Lucy. And no I’m not mentioning his name because it gets changed in the movie, twice. This is a good sequence though. The music sounds good and the quote unquote story is progressed through the scene. Wow.

Here Comes The Sun is the first song presented by Sandy Farina. It’s nice to hear a female voice every once in a great while. Farina’s rendition is okay. The hearts on Billy’s truck are a cute tie in, too. However, Heartland’s best mode of transportation is a hot air balloon? Totally implausible, but it’s all in good fun. Especially when Robin’s character Dave pukes. Frampton’s acting when he pretends to wake up is very weak. Besides, are we supposed to believe nothing happened between these two lovebirds on the eve one is going away to seek fame and fortune? It’s also a shame this is the only George Harrison ode in the film.

The She’s So Heavysequence is the most Tommy like of the entire film. The movie should have stayed in this vein. Look how scary and edgy and racy the music biz is! All the singing is well choreographed, and the limo like car is funny. When did they switch to that tiny plane? And how can Lucy be driving the car, be a mannequin, a prostitute, on a motorcycle, at the pool, and the photographer? Also, notice Maurice this sequence. He is the ‘what to do in the background when no one is supposed to be watching’ master!

While I praise this aspect, this sequence is also the one that you cringe at when the kids are watching, and you hope they don’t ask questions. The drinking and drug use is a bit much, much less the adult video place the boys drive by. Is this movie supposed to be dark and edgy like Tommy or cutesy cheese for the kiddies? The bipolar nature of the movie is where it’s trouble lies.

I love it when the trashed gang wakes up to Paul Nicholas’ Good Morning shout outs. Again a tune that is strengthened by the Brothers backing contributions. Like Getting Better, a scene that is part of the story. Do you think they had a tough time getting all those extras of screaming girls? The little “BD TV” graphic is cool, too. It leads right into Barry’s rendition of Nowhere Man. While the television special and concert sequences here help the story of the boys popularity move along, this version of Nowhere Man is unnecessarily slowed. It is kind of an odd moment, but Barry sounds pretty.

Soul Jam Barry appears in the Polythene Pam segment. Again how much did they pay the girl who got to scream and run on stage? This whole concert segment is well done. If you are telling a story about a band’s rise to fame, best show them in concert! I like She Came In Through The Bathroom Window. Frampton does his best here. It reminds me of his Comes Alive stuff that everyone thinks is so great. Maybe he is his best in concert so this scene fits him. He looks like he is having fun and I even sing along. Without dialogue, they use these newspaper like graphics during the concert to relay the story. It’s a nice detail, but it could have been done better. At one point the movie is squished into one little newspaper block, and it’s kind of annoying. And Robin still has that guitar. It’s frightening.

And I begrudgingly come to Mean Mr. Mustard. This is a totally poor rendition and I wish they had used a better song to develop the sequence. Mustard is told by the Future Villian Band to steal Sgt Pepper’s instruments from the Heartland museum. He takes over the town, turning it into some very trashy looking stuff. It says an arcade, but again there are some dicey movements in the dancing not meant for kids. Why are you putting something dicey in a kiddie storyline? Mr. Kite is tied up at one point, so the film loses narration for the next three songs.

The narration serves a purpose sometimes but it also is a bit of “How does Mr. Kite know?!” kind of thing. Like when Captain Kirk could make entries to his Captain’s Log while imprisoned back in time on an alien planet. Go fig. At least there is some story developing. The next three sequences are perhaps the best here. She’s Leaving Home presents Strawberry upset with what’s happening in Heartland so she leaves town to find the Band. The singing in this one is pretty cool, and the action on screen is exactly what’s being said in the lyrics.


Oh yes! Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds! The female rendition of this one is great, even if the premise is implausible. Strawberry gets off the bus in the big city, spots the Big D billboard and imagines the whole song. It sounds really hokey but it is also to me a very ingenious way to get the song onscreen. Besides, zooming in and watching the dirty dancing going on in this one is hysterical! Strawberry goes to the studio, where Robin is singing Oh Darling. Again he is singing, and very well, and yes this is a musical, but there is a reason and a place onscreen where the song is coming from. The subtleties in this sequence are great. From the almost shot of Lucy’s boob, to Robin getting his hair yanked when he forgets to take off his headphones.


And now the film really goes to $%^&. George Burns’ narration inexplicably returns to tell us the boys are stealing Mustard’s van and going to save Heartland by rescuing the instruments from The Future Villian Band’s vile agents! However, There is some cool interplay between Barry and Maurice and Mustard’s computerettes. You know, watching this without sound would be an interesting experiment.

Maxwell Silver Hammer is the first singing villian given to us in Steve Martin attempting to sing. The choreography is pathetic at points and the fight scenes (if you can call them that) are a joke. At least Because brings us Alice Cooper’s unique version, even if the whole FVB thing is stupid. The boys crawling into Cooper’s lair is really funny though, and again, Maurice steals the show while Billy ends up unconscious two songs in a row. The way they freeze frame the endings of these songs is really funny, too.

Strawberry Fields Forever slows things down very stupidly. Farina’s title song isn’t bad, but she’s got to sing Billy Shears back to health? Okay. It’s even more hokey fun when we see how Billy is dreaming of Strawberry in all the spots where Lucy was on his kinky ride to fame. However, Billy imagines Strawberry in the ‘Lucy in The Sky With Diamonds’ segment, even though the Lucy segment was a figment of Strawberry’s imagination!
Yes I bet you are totally confused, so am I. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite tries to get the film back on track with Paul Nicholas’ Dougie planning a benefit to save Heartland. This is an incredibly stupid looking scene, with circus people and horses on roller skates. Just close your eyes and listen to Maurice sing his one lead.

You Never Give Me Your Money is the one bright spot since the film turned into this whole Save Heartland joke. There is actually some sort of character development and sequence in the song. First they hated each other and now Lucy and Dougie have combined their love of money. This musical symbolism is very well done, almost like a real old time musical.
Not that this is really a bad bad, but did anyone else notice the raunch factor in this one? What kind of choreography is this? ’Oh let’s run around the wax statue of the dead Sgt Pepper! Yeah! And Lucy, be sure and show you’re underwear!’ The singing and the song itself are catchy, but the bumping and grinding and rolling on the money are a bit too much for the kiddies.

Earth, Wind, and Fire are billed as themselves here, performing Got To Get You Into My Life for Heartland’s Benefit. They put on an expert show, but naturally they have to cut to the boys singing and clapping in the audience. It might be the quintessential sum up of how much the brothers hated making this movie. The looks on their faces are so God We don’t want to be here!


And no wonder with such classics as When I’m 64. Mustard kidnaps Strawberry and they ruin this great song. Burns’ narration is so far gone, you want to pull the film back and rip him away from his little off camera microphone. I guess it depends on your mood, but most of the time I find the boys jumping in their Heartland Hot Air Balloon and magically changing into their aviator outfits totally stupid. I mean the way they look is just...cheese.

And alas we meet the Future Villian Band for Come Together. Aerosmith’s rendition is awesome, even if the idea of them turning Strawberry into ‘a mindless groupie’ is really dumb. Besides she already is one! Again we get another hokey fight scene, but upon my first viewing, this was the one moment in the film I held my breath over. It looks really cool when Strawberry plummets to her death!

Golden Slumbers and Carry That Wait relay the funeral scene well in theory. The songs fit, but Frampton’s honest to goodness fake tears kind of kill it. I did enjoy seeing the bads line up for the funeral. Did they even know Strawberry? Again my Gibb-biased self must give props to the brothers’ pouting close-ups. The silent interplay between them in this supposedly serious sequence is great. They pine during The Long and Winding Road while we are treated to another song lessened by Frampton. He roams Heartland reminiscing about his life with Strawberry -in flashback scenes that we didn’t see the action of in the movie prior to this moment, but hey. What really bugs me is in the flashbacks there is a dog. What happened to the dog?!

Barry gets his moment to shine with A Day in The Life. His voice here is the most Beatle-esque and only he could carry this tune the way it should be. The way he looks in the scenes and the flashbacks of when things were good with the band set the song off.

Not that a film like this could possibly have a plausible ending, but Get Back delivers on the out and out hokey of the film. The Sgt Pepper weather vane mystically turns into the soul of Sgt Pepper-Billy Preston? He stops Billy Shears from killing himself, turns all the baddies into nuns, polishes up the boys’ white suits, and brings Strawberry back to life. Yes that is what it says. I hope I didn’t spoil it too much. 80)

And thank God the Sgt Pepper Reprise signals the end of the film! Who are all those famous people appearing, anyway? I can name like ten of them on sight! That is sad on their part. Then again, the ladies will enjoy zooming in on the brothers’ white suits. Trust me.

I should also give some details about the movie itself. About how the Bee Gees didn’t want to star with Peter Frampton in this horrible musical of Beatles tunes and that the bad box office sales ruined the RSO organization. However, all of this and that can’t quite be explained until you actually see the movie. So go get the dvd! Um, I said now.


Stayin' Alive

Little Know Fact, The Bee Gees were Staying Alive in the 80s!
by Kristin Battestella


I admit I was one of those people who thought The Bee Gees came and went with disco. Naturally the brothers didn’t, and the 1983 soundtrack Staying Alive is proof they still had their touch, whether the populous was ready to admit it or not.
Only six songs from the soundtrack are penned by the boys, and you’ll have to forgive me for skipping over the other six songs by Frank Stallone, Cynthia Rhodes, and Tommy Faragher. (The last guy I don’t even know who he is!) I don’t care, I don’t think you care. The movie is guilty pleasure cheese directed by Sly Stallone. Enough on that, let’s move on.

I downloaded a few of these songs, and then I found the soundtrack on cassette. Oddly enough, the day I started this review I snagged the LP! Both formats present The Gibb tunes on Side A and the rest on Side B. The Woman In You leads off with a harsh edge to it. It’s well put together but it doesn’t sound like The Bee Gees from Living Eyes. Perhaps a tad too far in the rough and tumble direction.

I Love You Too Much, however, has that easy eighties vibe too it. It has some great lyrics and a recognizable Gibb sound. This might be the best song here. Lyrical balladry with a speedy track of music. The lyric of ‘under me is where you should be’ then turned around as ‘under you is where I should be’ symbolizes this either way style. Good stuff!
Breakout returns to this odd and rough vibe. The music overtakes Barry’s vocals, which I think are about the same old surviving the city et al, but the lyrics and lack of harmony here are a miss.

Although this soundtrack didn’t do as well as Fever for a number of reasons, one naturally being the song quality is a tad lower, but also, the movie and the music aren’t as perfectly matched. Can anyone tell me where Someone Belonging To Someone is in the film? Granted It’s been awhile, but the song is at least on par with How Deep Is Your Love, yet this ballad does not stick in my mind the way the How Deep sequence from Fever does. Someone’s got a great hook and a sweet blended vocal sound to it and is worthy of much more than its second rate obscurity.

Life Goes On makes it into the plus column, and not just to give the album a split vote either, ;0) It’s not comparable to More Than A Woman in quality, but similiar in style. The easy dance song with some good lyrics. Lyrics and Harmony that you can always hear and understand is a good thing.

And naturally we come to Staying Alive. I must admit this is a very symbolic and penne ultimate song that represents so much, that must be why it’s been played to death! This is the one memorable part of the film, at the end where Travolta says he’s feels like ’strutting’ and does so into the credits. The song definitely has its place, and has indeed immortalized The Brothers Gibb. Just over and over I can’t take all that clich├ęd Ah Ah Hah Hah Staying Alive Staying Alive. ARGH! People have come to think this is all The Bee Gees are about, and that is wrong.

Their contribution to this soundtrack may not exactly show why the Brothers are in The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but its an integral part in the transition of the boys’ move from Fever to producing for others, working solo, and progressing themselves. An easy find to complete your collection.


Guilty

I Do Have Something, I Do Have Something To Be Guilty Of!
by Kristin Battestella


Guilty was the first Gibb-related record I actually bought. My mom refused to pay $1.99 for the lp and asked, “Who is that guy on the cover with her, anyway?” I explained it was Barry Gibb producing this one for Barbra and mom answered, “Oh, now I know why you want it.” Oddly enough, I found the cassette at a thrift store, too!

Barry won all kinds of cudos and Grammys for this album, even though audiences in 1980 swore The Bee Gees were passe and disco was by gone. The lead off duet Guilty was written by Barry, Robin, and Maurice, the only track here penned by all three of the boys. Should I even try and count all the hooks, lines, and sinkers in this one? The song fits Barbra perfectly, and yet Barry is in tune also. Who hasn’t tried to sing along with this one? If it’s possible to get more excellent with this song, listen to the brothers’ live snippets of Guilty from One Night Only or Live By Request.

This album isn’t quite like anything else Barbra Streisand has done, but Woman In Love comes close to her prior work. It suits her moody dark style yet has a Gibb touch too it. I have some of the demos for this album, but I don’t listen to them often. Barry sounds just a bit too shrill on the demos. Barbra’s version of Love however has that grand epic feel to it.
Run Wild and Promises are the first two songs presented that were written by Barry and Robin. I’d like to say I can hear something different or a touch of Robin somewhere, but I honestly can’t. Run Wild does have some unique lyrics and just sounds very beautiful. Indeed the boys crafted the songs around Barbra’s voice. She really belts on this one.

Promises is to me the one noticable ‘depature’ track. Okay maybe this one does have a bit of a Robin feel. It seems off beat compared to everything else, and it almost sounds as if Barbra is in a bit of a lower voice. It works superbly when she shoots back up to herself. Just the word Promises and the way she says it will get stuck in your head.

Last on Side A is The Love Inside, which might be my favorite track. It’s the only song written by just Barry and his lyrics are on form. Barbra’s delivery, however, takes this to the next level. Sometimes this album she can be tough to understand, but on The Love Inside, what needs to be understood is so, and what you can’t quite make out, mood, music, and imagination take care off. These few minutes tell us its okay to step back from our busy lives, relax, and yes, stop and think about love! ;0)

What Kind of Fool is the second duet on the album and was penned by Barry with Albhy Galuten, as are the last two tracks. Fool is not as commercial as Guilty, and isn’t even as much of a duet. It does, however, sound the most like a Bee Gees tune. It’s very dark and balladeering. It’s unrepetitive and the interlude kicks it up a notch.

The third Barry and Robin penned tune Life Story is next. It has a lot of booming music and crescendos from Barbra and I can really picture her on a rooftop belting this one to somebody who’s done her wrong. Is that just me?
Never Give Up is what I consider the fast track on the album. Barbra almost rapping is definately what no one expected on this tune, but the chorus is very Broadway styled. Barry’s next project should be a show based on this album. Parts of this song you can’t help but sing along too.

Make It Like A Memory ends the album in big Broadway production fashion. It starts off slow, then turns it up. Although not saying the name of a song is annoying when you don’t know the title, Barbra’s delivery of the long awaited title line in this one is worth it. My one nitpick with the song is the ending. It just drags on and on and fades into the distance. Maybe there is some sort of parallel to be drawn about remembering or the memory fading, I don’t know. I would rather have the song end on some of the big booms and cymbals it’s got in there, but did I win a Grammy for this stuff? No.

Guilty is the perfect album to have in case, just maybe, you want to hear a woman’s voice and still have that awesome Gibb quality in lyrics, sound, and production. Hey, hey, I said maybe.



And A supplementary review on the 25th Anniversary of Guilty!

At the behest of new material, allow me to divulge on the new 25th Anniversary Dual Disc edition of Guilty! Actually I didn't have the original on CD, so getting digital quality plus bonus content was well a plus and a bonus! The new interview between Barry and Babs was nice. A classy sit down with the stars talking about working together then and now and the craft of music in general.

I had seen snippets of the live Barry and Barbra Guilty show, but here it is presented in its entirety. Barbra still seems a bit over the top with her shaking and shimmying, but the dialogue back and forth is a treat.

I didn't even know a live duet of What Kind of Fool existed, but the set is shown in its entirety. Barry and Barbra joke that this is the first time they have performed live before an audience, and the lack of rehearsals shows slightly. A few spots they are a bit off, but hey it still sounds dang good! I've had this stuck in my head now for a week!

The dual disc format is quite user friendly and the interactive menus leave little to be desired. When you play the song selections different pictures rotate through, and the photo gallery is much of the same from that all white, hugs and cuddles photo shoot with the exception of a few unfamiliar snapshots. The one slightly irksome trend on the disc is that all the menus and the photo gallery play Guilty. I would have liked to hear one of the other classics on the album or a snip of each, but I digress. The digital remastering is indeed superior. Who knew white would be popular again, too?