30 November 2007

Living Eyes

It’s Alive! Living Eyes is Alive!
by Kristin Battestella

To start off describing this album, can I tell you how much my heart skipped a beat when I found this record at a thrift shop? (Actually it turned out it was the empty sleeve, but anyway!) Perhaps more so the Bee Gees ‘lost album’ than their unreleased A Kick In The Head is Worth Eight In The Pants, It took me four months to download this shrouded rarity of an album. Released in 1981, Living Eyes was mostly dismissed by fans and critics. Everyone seemed tired of the Bee Gees music, and more interested their legal and personal matters. Living Eyes is a sweet poetic song, but the album’s title track barely made the charts. The release quickly faded away, and Living Eyes fell into the diamond in the rough category.

He’s A Liar is the second track on the album, but was mistakenly the first single. Perhaps the brothers went the opposite extreme in trying to change their sound. This one reminds me of the chase scene at the end of the original Terminator, and it has a big 2 in my play count column. Ahem. Moving on. Paradise should have been the single. This album is less on the Barry solo falsetto fest and more of the classic lyrics and harmonies that made the brothers. Barry and Robin sound excellent here. Again my marker, even my mom likes this one!

By golly if you don’t sing along to at least one part of Don’t Fall In Love With Me, you aren’t human. The first Robin track on the album has you hooked from its opening orchestral revving through Robin’s staple whail fest. The lyrics are excellent and Robin’s voice seems stronger than when we last heard it. This song should be called Paradox, because you can’t help falling in love with it. Soldiers is in the style of the brothers story type song, but it’s falsetto tone can seem at odds with its rough soldier lyrics. Still, it’s got a great interlude that I just love singing along to. On it’s own it’s a good song, but placing it after Don’t Fall In Love With Me, Soldiers can seem like a let down. Besides, not everybody can sing high enough to sing along to it ;0)

I Still Love You is another very strong outing by Robin. Sharing part of the lead with Maurice, some days I don’t know which hooks you more. I Still Love You or Don’t Fall In Love With Me? The lyrics and emotion this album are top notch, perhaps even higher than the latter stages of what became commercially driven ‘Fever’. Wait a minute? What is this? Is that Brother Mo I hear? It is, folks. Maurice’s Wildflower was his best song prior to Walking on Air, in my opinion. It’s easy country feel and sound are excellent. I’m running out of adjectives to describe this album!

Despite the renewed vigor of Robin and Maurice, Barry was not to be out done. Nothing Could Be Good should be right behind Guilty when people think of the Barry love song. It’s a bit of a nod to the old days, with a step up. Crying Everyday, however, is the jawdropper of the album for me. Robin turned on a dime from his Quaver self to 80s Dance King. Crying Everyday is a sign of the music that was to come, plus it has the ballad lyrics and harmonies we expect. The Bee Gees exceed one’s expectations this album.

The final song on Living Eyes is Be Who You Are. Barry delivers and orchestral and vocal and lyrical and everything masterpiece. Masterpiece may be a good word to describe this album. Living Eyes represents each brother and each Gibb style, yet it is smooth and flows perfectly. Two years after Fever, the brothers showed their musical know how, and it still works today, perhaps better than ‘Fever’. A must in your collection. Not for its rarity but because its so damn good.

Main Course

Are you ready for your Main Course?
by Kristin Battestella

The Bee Gees launched their second career with this 1975 release. The brothers had changed their sound, and did not appear on the album cover. (I had a tough time explaining to my niece why the cover picture is a naked lady in a spoon!)
Nights On Broadway was a hit, and brought about the birth of Barry’s falsetto sound. It’s excellently arranged and lyrically spectacular. Who hasn’t been inspired by those gosh darn sappy love songs and dopey romance movies?! Nights On Broadway perfectly captures that moment.
Now as much praise as I have for Broadway, Jive Talkin’ is not one of my favorite songs. In fact, it is one of three I nearly loathe. When this monster hit climbed the charts no one could believe it was the ‘Broken Hearted Bee Gees’. I was born after the Fever craze and had to almost relearn there was such a thing as the broken hearted sound. Jive is one of those songs that has probably been played to death. It’s a shame, it isn’t that bad, I suppose. To me the beat and voice arrangement seem at odds. You listen and decide ;0) (For more see our Fever review.)

Wind of Change is the first song the brothers wrote for the album, indicating they were ready for a change. Main Course varies in style, and some dismiss it as a poorly constructed,uneven album. I disagree. There is something for everyone here. As much as I loathe the disco overkill, I like Wind of Change’s heartfelt lyrics and disco sound. The brothers could have literally picked which style with which they wanted to continue.
My case in point is in the fourth track, Songbird. It’s in the singer songwriter vein, similar to Elton John. Perhaps that’s its one fault, but the verses are masterful. Each has subtle changes so it never sounds the same twice. Redundant in their lack of redundancy!
Fanny Be Tender With My Love masters this idea. Each chorus is slightly different in arrangement, and you are just completely hooked and can’t wait to hear what they do next. The one issue I have with Main Course is, like Mr. Natural before, there is no Maurice lead. That being said, this may be the definitive Maurice album. Barry and Robin masterfully do Fanny’s lead, but Mo owns the echoes and harmony this album.
All This Making Love is another style change. The brothers go back to their Beatle roots a bit. A bit of Gibby humor is evident here as well. The brothers’ country roots, however, appear on Country Lanes and the subsequent Come on Over. Both Robin leads, the country style here fits his quavering sound perfectly. Again we don’t hear him much, but Country Lanes is made by Maurice’s vocal addition. Come on Over’s is lyrically excellent and was covered by Olivia Newton-John.

Edge of The Universe I take as the ’fun’ song of the album. The brothers claim it’s just about an alien and his dog, but I suspect something more mischievous! It’s also unusual at this time to hear Robin sing a more upbeat song. The lyrics are hysterical in their wackiness, and they will get stuck in your head.
As happy as Edge is, Baby As You Turn Away is a cleverly disguised sorrowful song. Barry and Maurice lead this the final song on Main Course. The arrangement is masterful, and it’s my favorite song on the album. Not every song on Main Course is for everyone, but it is a must in the budding fan’s collection.

Children of The World

Aren’t we all just Children of The World?
by Kristin Battestella

Not that I’m one to disagree with the Brothers Gibb ;0) Children of The World is their smash 1976 release. The boys step up their success for Main Course with this album, what fans in the know consider to be their true ‘disco’ album.

Again, disco isn’t my favorite style, but sometimes you are just in the mood to dance. Naturally, COTW’s lead off track You Should Be Dancing fits the bill. Not one to listen to over and over in my opinion, but sometimes this song will come on the radio and you can almost forget that Travolta dance routine. Almost.
You Stepped Into My Life is the second track. Despite all this dance hype, Barry, Robin, and Maurice still manage to make their songs lyrically relevant. You Stepped Into My Life has some great words to it, if you can understand the falsetto! Love So Right continues this textbook Gibb ballad sound. The lyrics and arrangement are perfect. Even falsetto naysayers have to like this one. A Bee Gee staple. 

Lovers is one of the songs on COTW I can play over and over and not get tired of it. Barry and Robin combine several of their singing styles and it’s a real treat to listen to. Can’t Keep A Good Man Down is another Bee Gee song with an air of mischievousness about it. Robin sings what I swear is only his second fast lead prior to 1980. The music can annoy me sometimes, but the chorus in this song can really get you smiling and giggly. 

Boogie Child was the flip side of Lovers, but I think it could have gone either way. Again you need to listen with mood. Boogie is a tad on the raunchy side and makes me think of the Pussycat dolls! Love Me, however, is a great song to cry to. My mother hates when I’m in a rut and listen to it over and over. Children of the World seems to be well balanced between ballads and power dance tracks. Take your pick. 

Subway is similar is style to Lovers, and I don’t quite see what so special about going to the subway but hey! I always say to each his own when interpreting lyrics! The Way It Was returns to tear jerker mode, and will choke you up if your not careful. The title track Children of The World is the last on the album. Again one of the songs I could take or leave. It seems to want to combine both the ballad style and dance rhythms. Although it has some great lyrics, it’s not a daily listen for me. But one should never let the disco stigma stop you from listening. 

Children of the World is a great example of some serious and meaningful songs disguised as dance tracks. It’s very versatile. Listen alone with your headphones or play it in the background at your next party. I guarantee people will dance and ask you who it is! 80)

The Best Years of Our Lives

Best Years of Our Lives Still One of The Best
By Kristin Battestella

I consider myself a serious classic movie buff. Friends can’t understand my affinity for black and white pictures-my husband hates them! After this renown for such classics, my father was miffed that I had missed one of the greatest films of all time: The Best Years of Our Lives.

Now certainly I’d heard of William Wyler’s haunting classic about a trio of soldiers adjusting to life in post World War II America. I love Wyler’s previous works- The Big Country, The Depsperate Hours, The Heiress, and of course Ben-Hur. I’m also fan of war movies- The Longest Day, From Here To Eternity, Mr. Roberts-even Wyler’s own The Memphis Belle: A Story of a Flying Fortress. The stars, however, seemed lined against me and this film (and The Sand Pebbles for some reason. I can’t catch that one, either.) Every time The Best Years of Our Lives was slated on television I missed it. Until at last, this summer the stars realigned!

The Best Years of Our LivesPBS. No power outages, no place to be but before the tele with my dad. A blank tape was in the VCR, too. I was taking no chances for this momentous occasion. Only twice before have I taped a movie without having seen it, and both films I now absolutely adore-Laura and Rebecca.
Speaking of Laura, I was confused at first by its stars Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews-I thought Dana was Laura! No mistaking it here- Dana Andrews, Fredric March and Harold Russell are the triple focus of Best Picture winner The Best Years of Our Lives. The three neighbors meet by chance while returning home from Europe after the war. Former uppity banker Al Stephenson has to adjust to the poor life with his wife Milly (Myrna Loy) and daughter Peggy (Teresa Wright) while decorated Captain Fred Derry (Andrews) has no opportunity on the home front- he returns to his previous job as a soda jerk. His wife (Virginia Mayo) can’t get used to him out of uniform, and the quickie marriage falls apart. By contrast Homer Parrish (Russell) would seem to have it all. He returns to his family home and the perfect girl who loves him-but he wavers between happiness and despair while he and his family come to terms with the loss of not one, but both of his hands.

Unlike pro war movies made during the battles-everyone’s a hero, evil is defeated, the good guys always get the girl- The Best Years of Our Lives sheds light on the plight of the soldiers’ return. Indeed it is not all parades and parties and everything one desires on a silver platter. How can a man who’s gone for five years and taught to kill or drops bombs be expected to fit into civilian society? How does society deal with the influx of such thousands? Work, housing, money, relationships, these aspects and more all have a serious statement to make in The Best Years of Our Lives.

Strange that The Best Years of Our Lives hits the nail on the head with the post World War II troubles, but what saddens me the most is that we seemed to have learned nothing since this 1946 release. When a simple soldier comes to Al’s bank for a loan with no collateral, home, or money but a dream of a farm of his own-banking wise, he should be denied. When Al gives him the loan, I cried. I cried because we are still dealing with the mistreatment of veterans in this country.

Google it and you’ll see all the statistics about American veterans in the 21st Century. One in four veterans is homeless, and one million are uninsured and ineligible for VA assistance. If The Best Years of Our Lives were in color and the women took off their hats, it would be today. This timeless quality and truth is what kept the boomers hounding me about seeing this film. Gone With The Wind, Citizen Kane, Casablanca. You talk to a classics fan, it’s only a matter of time before you’re asked, “Have you ever seen The Best Years of Our Lives?”

The title alone is haunting and deserves analysis. This is supposed to be the best time of these people’s lives? Are you for real? It’s the worst. Why is that? It shouldn’t be.

Of course, there’d be none of this deserved hype for The Best Years of Our Lives without the spot on cast. Dana Andrews (Crash Dive, The Ox-Bow Incident) looks like a suave bombardier and no doubt he’s got the range to be suave and in love or angry as the over grown soda jerk. WWII movies today don’t have the air as the films of old, largely because modern actors don’t have the look and style of the forties. It looks like playing dress up.

Fredric March (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) plays the high scale banker to a Best Actor winning T. He can’t get used to no servants and nasty bosses, yet March sells the drunken slumbers and problem conversations with his wife, son, and daughter. The Thin Man alum Myrna Loy and Teresa Wright (The Pride of the Yankees) are also stellar as the patient ladies who’ve held things together before, during, and now after the war.

But of course, real life veteran and double amputee Harold Russell steals the show as Homer. A good chunk of time on film is spent in silence watching Homer use his hooks to do-or not do- routine tasks. The audience watches in twisted fascination at his skill to eat or light a cigarette, but Homer can’t button his shirt or close his door at night because he can’t turn the handle. Today, a film would never spend time on a real life person like this; much less let this heartbreaking situation speak for itself. Cudos to Best Supporting Actor winner Russell and Best Director Wyler for rising to the occasion. Some dialogue you can tell that this is Russell’s first film, but he holds his own against the stellar cast around him. In fact, his simplicity makes the film in many ways.

Based on a script by Robert Sherwood (who was also nominated for the adaptation of Rebecca) from the novel by MacKinlay Kantor, The Best Years of Our Lives won seven Oscars-including Adapted Screenplay. Words like this just aren’t spoken onscreen anymore. What’s said needs to be said. All the cues are made and lines delivered, but Wyler and Sherwood also know where to let the expressions, lighting, music, and action speak for itself. As heavy as The Best Years of Our Lives is, the audience is never hit over the head or underestimated.

There’s just so much to be said for a film of old, and The Best Years of Our Lives is the perfect time capsule. Not only could the style, look, and feel, of the post war era not be replicated today, but such a serious topic would not receive the direction, script, and time it deserves. Young folks today will probably find Best too slow, melodramatic, and cliché. Some might even laugh at the signs of the time captured on film. Women in hats and gloves, the slide across the front seat of a car (that’s not even possible in today’s models!), even the drinking, smoking, and eating habits portrayed have changed. We don’t even have soda jerks anymore-and Dollar Tree and Five Below have replaced five and ten cent stores.

All these changes and yet The Best Years of Our Lives captures America’s reactions and relationships to soldiers then and now. Not one minute of its near three hour run time is wasted, and once you sit down, you can’t turn away, despite how uncomfortable some scenes can make you feel. These things need to be witnessed.

The Best Years of Our Lives can’t be appreciated by cgi spoiled young folks. Although there’s no blood, little violence, and no language to speak of, the subject matter in The Best Years of Our Lives is not suitable for children or the overly sensitive. Boomers no doubt know the film by heart, and a DVD upgrade is definitely necessary for the tech savvy and collectors. If you’re interested in war films or are a budding classic enthusiast, you can’t watch The Best Years of Our Lives soon enough.

29 November 2007


Clue Safe Halloween Fun for the Whole Family

By Kristin Battestella

Alright we all know about it. The only movie based on a board game. If you haven’t seen Clue, you’ve most certainly played the Parker Brothers game. Phrases like ‘It was Colonel Mustard in the billiard room with the candlestick’ are part of our cultural lexicon, so why does the John Landis penned film get such a bad rap? Clue is a fun movie with spooks and humor for the whole family.

Tim Curry (The Rocky Horror Picture Show) leads Clue’s all-star comedy team as Wadsworth, the butler of an ominous mansion where one by one mysterious guests arrive for a good old fashioned dinner party. Unfortunately, as the night unfolds, Mrs. Peacock (Eileen Brennan), Professor Plum (Christopher Lloyd), and Miss Scarlett (Leslie Ann Warren) discover the true meaning of this party-murder, blackmail, and red herrings.

Set in the 1950s, writer John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London) and director Jonathan Lynn (My Cousin Vinny) ensure Clue mixes old school film noir styles with 1985 slapstick supreme. Today’s younger audience might not be familiar with Madeline Kahn or Martin Mull, but Mrs. White, Colonel Mustard, and Michael McKean’s Mr. Green all have their moments. Each actor knows his or her handle, and along with outrageous set ups and situations, each character has some sort of trademark or catch phrase. The resulting chemistry and deadpans highlights this ensemble. The cook, the singing telegram, the driver, etc.-are, however, stock, clichéd characters. Fortunately, they serve their purpose and don’t stick around for too long.

Horror comedy. Comedy horror. These may seem like oxymorons, but in the mid eighties, studios churned out such films for better (The ‘burbs) or worse (Once Bitten). Clue has its share of essential laugh out loud moments, as well as smart dialogue and word play, but Lynn also made way for a few genuine jump in your seat moments. Of course, you feel silly afterwards, but the old fashioned creepy atmosphere is established early and grows for an hour and a half. The Clue set goes above and beyond bringing a board game to life. The attire of each character, the over top mansion, the French maid-even Clue’s score helps the audience along. Lightning crashes mixed with eighties twangs or good old doo wop on the phonograph provide something for everyone, young or old.

Perhaps the best part of Clue’s charm is its multiple endings. In theaters, random endings were shown. Just like the game can have various outcomes, so can the movie. This format was hit and miss with audiences, and for television airings, a special multiple ending completes Clue. The standard DVD release has next to no features, but it does provide for the option of a random ending or the multiple conclusion. Unfortunately, the subtitles are the kind that don’t exactly match the dialogue word for word. This irritates me, but quoters can take those or leave them. Some of Clue’s line’s are made by their delivery, anyway. “One. Plus two. Plus one.”

Old school fans will enjoy Clue whether watching for the first time or rekindling old memories. Kids will find enough laughs and spooks even if they don’t get all the subtext and innuendo. There’s a few risqué puns and sexual references, but Clue’s PG rating makes it a great choice for a family night at Halloween or any time of the year.


Dinotopia Fun For All

By Kristin Battestella

When the four hour Dinotopia miniseries premiered on ABC over three nights in May 2002. I (like any other self-respecting adult) tuned in, but flicked. Kid stuff! Juvenile fluff, right? Based on the popular children's book series by James Gurney, Dinotopia goes beyond its initial treat of Emmy-winning dinosaurs, creature creations, and special effects.

The story begins when two brothers crash their plane on the lost island of Dinotopia, a unique place where dinosaurs and people coexist. Karl (Tyron Letso) has no interest in going to dinosaur schools and allies with Cyrus Crabb (David Thewlis). Together they plot to leave the supposedly unleavable island. Contrary to his brother, David (Wentworth Miller) excels in learning the dinosaur footprint language and wants to stay in Dinotopia, initially because of his crush on the mayor's daughter Marion (Katie Carr). When the source of Dinotopia’s power- the beautiful and mysterious sunstones-begin to fail, David and Karl must help Marion save the island.

Top billed David Thewlis is devilishly marvelous as the suspicious Cyrus, but of course, many oglers now know it boy Wentworth Miller from TV’s Prison Break. His performance here is one of the highlights. All the actors are wooden and hokey in Dinotopia ‘s opening hour, but timid David learns to face his fears by attending Skybax training. If riding on a pterodactyl doesn't fix your problems, I don't know what will! The Dinotopia books take place in the 19th century, but the modern update sticks to the serious storytelling. When David is rejected by the Skybax Core he bonds with an outcast albino pterodactyl named Freefall. Together, they helped save Dinotopia from its own destruction. This example of strength is an essential lesson for children of all ages and is one of the things that makes the series special. Although he helmed the ‘gems’ Demolition Man and Excess Baggage, Director Marco Brambilla here strikes the perfect balance between effects for the kiddies and serious emotional scenes for grown-ups.

Although I bought the DVD for purely superficial reasons-ogling Wentworth Miller-my nieces got a hold of the set and watched it continuously for two weeks. They love Zippo. The computer-generated dinosaur professor has some of the show's best lines and humorous stunts. Unlike Jar Jar Binks, he does not offend and is refreshing for kids and adults. Lee Evans is absolutely delightful in his voice performance as Zippo, and the digital team excels in the small details. Little things like hand gestures and facial expressions complete Zippo and make him a real, believable character.

On my initial viewing, I was hoping for something sinister at play in Dinotopia. The sunstones-were they really sources of scaly brainwashing as Karl thought? Alas, no, but the idea of a utopia gone bad is presented by the end of the epic. Despite it's gear towards kids, and maybe due to its sound source material, Dinotopia presents several allegorical issues that are perfect for adults forced to watch Dinotopia for hours on end. Instead of searching for new sunstones, Mayor Waldo (Jim Carter) holds fast to Dinotopia’s traditions and refuses to explore the mysterious World Beneath. When David and Karl defy the Mayor they are put on trial, despite support from the Mayor’s own wife, earthy Dinotopia Matriach Rosemary. (Alice Krige is perfect as Rosemary and has fun in every one of her scenes.) If Dinotopia -perfect island of blissful humans and intelligent dinosaurs-can’t control their resources and suffered towards their own destruction, how can imperfect little old us survive our current troubles?

Make no mistake, however. Like the mythical Dinotopia itself, the miniseries is imperfect. Since it was made for television, the DVD presentation only comes in full-screen. The behind-the-scenes features on the two disc set are fine for film making fans, and the games included are great for the youngins, but still I would have preferred to see Dinotopia in all its widescreen glory. I’m also disappointed that the feature comes sans subtitles as well. Observant fans will also find a few key mistakes, including the poor control of Marion's little sister. Dialogue and scenes refer to little Samantha, then the script contradicts itself and she disappears from the second half of the film. Nitpickers might also catch the tricks used to bring Karl's pet dinosaur 26 to life.

We can’t forget all of our dinosaur clichés, of course. T. Rex makes his obligatory appearance early on, but it works both ways. Some audiences may feel been there, done that, but young viewers will stay tuned in for more scary dinosaur battles. The killer pterodactyl battle at the end is worth the wait. I do have to wonder though, if Dinotopia rose independent of our society, how can they have the same names for their dinosaurs?

Hallmark Entertainment milked Dinotopia’s awards and rating success for all it was worth. ABC attempted a weekly Dinotopia series with an all-new cast, but the hokey scripts and strapped effects strayed too far from Gurney's vision too quickly. An animated feature, The Curse of the Ruby Sunstone fared better for the kiddies. Dinotopia is entertaining for children and adults alike. It's tough today for parents to find a film the whole family can enjoy, but Dinotopia fits the bill. Its morals and allegories aren't too preachy, and the characters are realistic and likable. They tackle extraordinary situations and overcome outlandish obstacles, but deep down kids understand these situations. Dinotopia helps children overcome their seemingly big problems and create humble solutions.

My nieces have even begun reading the Dinotopia books. If Dinotopia was made to inspire children to visit fantastical new worlds, grown in imagination, and promote self-image, then it succeeds 100%.

26 November 2007

North and South

North and South Still Essential Civil War Viewing

By Kristin Battestella

Ah, hoop skirts mixed with big eighties hair and flair, over the top Southern accents and zealous romances! These staples of television miniseries can make North and South a tough pill for new audiences, but Books 1 and 2 of this 1985-86 series are still the major staple in Civil War dramatizations.

Adapted from the John Jakes novels North and South and Love and War, ABC premiered the star studded North and South to record ratings in 1985. Audiences joined The Hazzard family from Pennsylvania and The slave owning Mains from South Carolina and stayed with them from Orry Main (Patrick Swayze) and George Hazzard’s (James Read) meeting at West Point, through The Mexican American War and up to the firing upon Fort Sumter. While Orry’s lover Madeline (Leslie Ann Down) is forced into an abusive marriage to Justin Lamonte (David Carradine), George marries Constance (Wendy Kilbourne) and continues his friendship with Orry through the grumbles of secession talk. Unfortunately George’s abolitionist sister Virgilia (Kirstie Alley) makes life difficult for the Mains.

It’s tough to pack everything about North and South’s first mini series into a few sentences. Each player has a lush storyline and there is no weak performer in the series. As much as we root for Orry and George, the devilish military man Bent (Phillip Casanoff) and Orry’s scheming sister Ashton (Teri Garber) give the series a touch of ruthlessness. It’s easy to wax nostalgia about these romantic times-incredible costumes, even good old fashioned duels-but North and South does not gloss away from slavery and other risqué issues of both the 1850s and the 1980s-including domestic violence, abortion, and interracial marriage.

In 1986 North and South Book II followed to equal ratings and continued the entwined Hazzard and Main saga into the Civil War. After Book 1 ends with the superbly done parting of George and Orry at the break of the war, this sequel series holds its own with impressive battle recreations and issues of the war from both the Union and Confederate sides. George’s sharp shooting brother Billy (Parker Stevenson) has married Orry’s youngest sister Brett (Genie Francis). The Main plantation struggles with Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, but cousin Charles Main (Lewis Smith) find its difficult to fight against best friend Billy on the battlefield.

As if the one thousand plus women’s costumes weren’t value enough, North and South used Civil War re-enactors from across the United States to accurately portray its battlefield action. Naturally, most of the action skirts the big events, but no other television or movie production has handled so much of the Civil War and done so properly. The TNT original Gettysburg is an exceptional testament to that particular battle, but North and South gives us Bull Run, snips of Gettysburg, and western theater action not normally seen. By remaining faithful to the Civil War way of life, North and South has grown beyond its eighties making. There’s a reason no one else has filmed such an ambitious Civil War production. North and South is the best Civil War dramatization. Period.

Scored with all the epic music one could ask for from television composer Bill Conti, North and South’s main cast was tough to beat in the eighties heyday of network miniseries. Only minor cast switches were made between Books 1 and 2, most notably Mary Crosby and Parker Stevenson joining the series midway through. Those who weren’t famous became so- like Jonathan Frakes, later of Star Trek The Next Generation and Oscar winner Forrest Whitaker. Couples also sprung from the series, including Genie Francis and Frakes, and James Read later married his onscreen wife Wendy Kilbourne.

It would be no understatement to claim that the supporting and guest cast of North and South is perhaps the greatest ever assembled. Only bringing back John Wayne and Vivien Leigh from the dead could have made this cast greater. Everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to James Stewart, Hal Holbrook, Robert Mitchum, Jean Simmons, Linda Evans, Lloyd Bridges, Morgan Fairchild, Johnny Cash-the list of talent past and present outdoes itself. North and South smartly weaves its fiction around and about major events and players. Part of the series’ joy is wondering how they approach a historical event and then seeing which heavy weight star comes to play. Most of the guest stars only have one or two significant scenes, but the notion that the price tag of North and South was high enough to afford these stars-or perhaps that they worked for such a discount-either way, it would be nearly impossible to assemble such a cast in today’s industry. VH1’s I Love The 80s even jokes about this stellar ‘everyone and their grandmother’ feat.

Available at most video retailers, North and South contains Book 1 on 6 double sided discs and Book 2 the same. Special features are light for the set, but its understandable that there isn’t a lot of behind the scenes material available. Only a retrospective with some of the cast provides insight on the scope of North and South and its impact on television audiences.

John Jakes fans in the know will wonder what happened to the third book of his North and South trilogy. Heaven and Hell was adapted for television in 1991 as Heaven and Hell: North and South Book III. Most of the cast and crew returned for the third installment, but the absence of Patrick Swayze and liberties taken from the first two novels hinder the presentation of Heaven and Hell. Lesley Anne Down and James Read look well, but Teri Garber and Phillip Casanoff look too old to play their parts-especially since Heaven and Hell is meant to take place several months after North and South Book II. Perhaps seeing Heaven and Hell alone in obscurity could make it tolerable, but after a lengthy marathon of the first two series in all their DVD glory, Heaven and Hell is at best embarrassing for those involved. I applaud the powers that be for including the final installment with the DVD set, but Heaven and Hell’s Galatica 1980 turnaround is best dismissed.

Take Books 1 and 2 of North and South for its story, historical touches, and family saga trials and tribulations. No doubt, older audiences and Civil War fans already own North and South. Once available for rent or purchase on VHS, collectors should upgrade today. Even if you only recall enjoying North and South on television, the DVD is affordable for any fan of quality historical film. Younger audiences may chuckle at the lingering eighties production values, but if given the chance, North and South provides the utmost in history and entertainment.


Timeline: A Guilty Pleasure Escapade
By Kristin Battestella

Alright. I’m big enough to admit it. I watched Timeline because I’m too cheap to go back to the theater and see 300. I thought I’d been there, done that with Gerard Butler’s early films Attila and Dracula 2000 but alas, no. Fortunately, we bought Timeline on the whim a few years ago in the Blockbuster bargain bin. 

Paul Walker (The Fast and The Furious) is top billed in the 2003 thriller as Chris Johnston, an archaeology professor’s son who only hangs out at the Castleguard, France dig to woo his father’s understudy, Kate (Francis O’Connor). Suspicious of the ITC company funding his dig, The Professor (Billy Connolly) sets off to Doniger’s (David Thewlis) lab in New Mexico. When Kate and fellow archaeologist Marek ( Gerard Butler) discover a 600 year old parchment with a plea for help from the Professor, they take their protests to ITC. Despite the misgivings of physicist Stern (Ethan Embry), Chris, Kate, and Marek lead a team back in time to 1357 to rescue the Professor. Of course, the Hundred Years’ War is a time of turmoil, ruthless English Lords, heroic French Knights, and beautiful French Ladies. Yeah Right.

Timeline is based on the novel of the same name from Michael Crichton, and like Congo, Timeline has a very intriguing premise that never quite delivers. The idea of a temperamental wormhole connecting contemporary New Mexico and 1357 France and the even more temperamental scientists who built the technology is only touched upon in a handful of fast paced scenes. The DVD presentation hypes up the idea of the parallel times, but the storylines are far from equal-more like seventy to thirty percent. While it may have seemed like a good idea to focus on the action packed and romancey past, my intelligent half is yearning for better science and more ethical debates on the idea of faxing people. Funny lines like “You can’t send paper through a phone line, but you can send a fax.” Don’t cut it.

Timeline came and went in theaters quickly, despite the Crichton backing and a fine under utilized ensemble cast. While Paul Walker is clearly hyped as the star, players such as Butler and Lord Oliver actor Michael Sheen have gone on to better success-Underworld did a little better than 2 Fast 2 Furious. Also, I have to say Timeline also scores low on the female front. There’s little eye candy for male viewers. I recognized Francis O’Connor from her small part in Bedazzled. She’s cute and quirky, but the Australian actress has precious little to do here but be a tomboy and yet constantly need the arm of Paul Walker. Also stereo typically played is Claire (Anna Friel, real life lady of David Thewlis.), the French lady who is smart, able to defend herself, and of course, rescued by Marek. Oddly enough, in a film lacking so much, someone was still smart enough to have Gerard Butler shirtless.

Even on my first unbiased viewing of Timeline, Gerard Butler stole the show from Paul Walker. Walker does fine, even if we’ve seen his surfer boy hottie persona before, but we see very little of him. Butler’s Marek carries more presence, better lines, and chemistry with his onscreen interest Claire. Neal McDonough (Star Trek First Contact) has a much more interesting character as Gordon, the dubious IDC military man. He and other essential supporting characters in the past and the present provide intrigue and conflict, but are never allowed the time to stretch in the under 2 hour presentation. 

Director Richard Donner has presided over fine films, including the Lethal Weapon series, Superman, and The Goonies-plus one of my fantasy favorites Ladyhawke. Here, however, his direction is mismashed at best. Whether it was the direction or the half hearted script from Jeff Maquire and George Nolfi, Timeline is uneven across the board. Characters say and do contrary things-cry over the deaths of some companions and then dismiss the deaths of others. I’m not surprised the film was ill received in preview screenings and re-edited. The more I think on it the more I’m convinced that the book by Michael Crichton is where the good stuff’s at. 

I’m sure everyone’s heart was in the production, and hey, no one truly thinks his or her film is going to be a bust, but dedicated as they were, Timeline looks like a Saturday morning kid’s jousting show. The Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire looks more authentic than the village of Castleguard. Poor French Captain Arnaut (Lambert Wilson, the only French member of the cast.) and his horrendous hair, and what is Claire wearing- long johns? The behind the scenes material goes into detail about the swords and armor and sets, but after fifteen hours of Lord of the Rings appendices, the look of Timeline is simply unspectacular.

The DVD edition of Timeline is standard enough. Three features detailing the locations, textiles, and production, plus trailers and a nifty interface that switches from medieval to high tech in one click. Unfortunately, there are no bloopers or outtakes or deleted scenes. I would like to have know how hokey the actors thought some of their lines were or if there was something more in unused film, but I digress. I normally prefer subtitles, but its quite irksome when the spoken dialogue doesn’t match the words onscreen. Whether it was a poor transcription job or if the script was altered that much during shooting I don’t know, but entire sentences are often deleted or changed. As much as I want to gloat over the good things in Timeline, those ornery little subtitles might be the writing on the wall.

If you’re seeking serious historical representation or even some medieval fantasy, try The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc or The Lord of the Rings. Instead of dwelling on what Timeline could have been, accept if for the guilty pleasure that it is. Even Bad movies have a purpose, Gather the boys and yell “Trebuchets!” or have a girls night in with Gerard Butler’s “high school French”. For smarts, read the book. For more Butler or Walker drool, shoot for Attila and Into the Blue. Timeline is affordable enough for a good MST3King. Easy on your wallet and your conscience, if not your brain. 

(This is Gerrrrrryyyyy!!!!)

The 4400 Season 1

The 4400 Coins the Term ‘Mainstream SF’

By Kristin Battestella

When USA Network’s limited series The 4400 premiered in the summer of 2004, the opening teaser said a lot. A little girl abducted; a soldier in Korea disappears; 4,400 abductees get dropped off by a comety ball of light. The Seattle branch of Homeland Security had its hands full, and over 7 million fans tuned in-setting records as the highest-rated and most-watched original cable series premiere to date.

Former Deep Space Nine writer Ira Steven Bear and creators Rene Echevarria and Scott Peters didn't stop there. Nine-year-old Maia Rutledge (Conchita Campbell) has returned with second sight, Lilly Moore (Laura Allen) has come back pregnant, and Sean Farrell (Patrick Flueger) must go back to school and control his healing powers-which can give but also take life. Taken star Joel Gretsch’s Agent Tom Baldwin leads the largely unknown but superb cast. Onscreen, however, Tom's marriage is falling apart and his son Kyle (Chad Faust) is in a coma. Tom and Home Sec partner Diana Skouris (Jacqueline McKenzie) investigate on the front line and deal with the public's 4400 backlash. Peter Coyote appears as Seattle Homeland Security Director Dennis Ryland, and Helen Shaver not only directs several episodes but also guest stars as anti-4400 reporter Barbra Yates.

So far, several key characters have come and gone on The 4400, and both the first and second
seasons haven been nominated for Emmys, including Best Writing for a miniseries, Cinematography, and Outstanding Miniseries. Despite its fantastical elements and the revelation of where the 4400 have been, the series’ core is its realistic approach to our current society's troubles. Interracial relationships, prejudiced, and reintegration into society are just a few timeless subjects on which The 4400 focuses. Recent issues such as terrorism, genetic engineering, quarantine, and government involvement are also addressed.

The 4400’s awards and ratings success show there is still a viewing need for ‘mainstream science fiction’. Sci-fi shows that don't glaze over our problems but instead hold up a real mirror to our society are becoming few and far between. Season One of The 4400 is essential for tried and true, but not hard-core SF fans. You won’t find any spaceships or little green men, and special effects on the show are limited. What makes The 4400 worth your time is its character, story and in-tune allegories.

The six episode first season is available on DVD at a very fair price-below $25 at most retailers-but the lack of extras on the first release of The 4400 is disappointing. There are none! Check your USA channel schedule for reruns, and look for the 13 episodes of Season Two on DVD, the tentative release date is May 23rd. Season Three of The 4400 will air this summer on USA. To find out more, you can visit www.the4400.com .


Let’s Get Horizontal!
by Kristin Battestella

Horizontal is the Bee Gee second English released album. It also has the coolest looking cover in my opinion. In this 1968 release the brothers are breaking away from their prior Beatle-esque sound and going for a more psychedelic British Invasion pop. The album begins strongly with World. It’s somewhat depressing lyrics are repeated and crescendo as the song closes. World is a great opener, combining the old with this new touch of psychedelic.

And The Sun Will Shine, however, is the complete opposite of World. Today, nearly 40 years after its release, this is still one of the most often quoted songs by the Robin faithful. My niece is almost seven and she loves this song! It’s ironic, since most of the lyrics make no sense, as many of the early Robin songs don’t. His quavering delivery is impeccable. The one line that makes any sense, 'Love to me is life, and I live you’, may be the definitive if one had to summarize the late sixties Robin. (Fans of this version should also hear the live rendition on One Night Only. Perhaps tops the original!)

Lemons Never Forget is the album’s first true psychedelic outing. I got into some trouble in my household for going around singing the opening lyric, ‘Incidently there should be some changes made.’ Barry is very strong here. His voice is somehow harder or more edgy then the soft Beatle-esque sound or the breathy sound that would follow. Combined with the heavy music, the style is surprising and effective.

Really and Sincerely is the second sorrowful Robin outing. Those who do not like his early sound (My mother!) may not like this album. However in my opinion, one can never get bored with this album do to the constant vocal rotation between the brothers. The placement of the track list is well done. Really and Sincerely’s one fault is that its two songs after And The Sun Will Shine. It has a very ‘old world’ and operatic feel. Very beautiful to fall asleep to!

Birdie Told Me sounds more like the songs on First. It’s got a sweet and simple sixties melody combined with a very easy listening Barry. The harmonies are also top notch. Some say its too simple, and it is a bit short, but when listening you can follow the story from the breakup to the moving on. A surprisingly happy sounding song, given its subject matter. With The Sun In My Eyes is the return to mellow. Again a very beautiful song, except we’ve already heard two similar songs. It’s almost as if Horizontal is two different albums, one mellow, one psychedelic. Some may like that, others may not. You listen and decide!

Next are the two more upbeat songs on Horizontal. Massachusetts is such a great song, The Bee Gees first Number One. It’s a great against type song, talking about staying home instead of going to San Francisco. You can’t help but get into this song. This is my father’s favorite. When my sister saw One Night Only for the first time, she was surprised at 'the other two brothers’ singing. My Dad exclaimed, 'You mean you’ve never heard Massachusetts?!’
Fast in pace is the next song, Harry Braff. This to me is the ‘fun’ song on this album. At first listen I thought they were saying ‘Chicken’ instead of ‘Checkered’. It’s up and down beat will either tap your foot or drive you insane. It almost sounds like the racing cars the song describes. Very 60s and very British.

Daytime Girl is the Maurice outing of the album. His voice is soft and has just the right amount of spacey edge for the lyrics. I’m not sure exactly what he is talking about, but this tune reminds me of Lesbian Seagull in Beavis and Butthead! Worth the listen though, if only to hear Mo. Unfortunately, Maurice’s early leads tend to show him as weak lyrically. On the next two albums, Suddenly and My Thing also don’t do Mo justice. I’m not sure any song does. Maurice is at his best harmonizing and arranging and strengthening Barry and Robin. His accent sounds cool in this one though.

Where Daytime Girl was the sort of slow psychedelic. There is no mistaking the last three tracks. The Earnest Of Being George is the tenth track, but I swear I never hear the title uttered in the song. This is another one that seems to make no sense, but its irregular stops and starts are an unexpected bonus, in addition to the uniquely placed harmonies. The Change is Made is probably the best psychadelic on the album. The lyrics are almost understandable and the sound is excellent. Barry is on form. If I had to pick one word to describe this song its 'fresh’.

The album concludes with the title song. Horizontal is both psychedelic and mellow. Again the Bee Gees start and finish strong with this song, similar to World. The odd harmonies and irregular holds on notes are almost over the top, but it works. Several B sides and singles from this album, found on The Tales From The Brothers Gibb Cd, further show the branching out The brothers were experimenting with. Sir Geoffrey Saved The World, Barker of The UFO, and Sinking Ships are quirks, but the hit Words would go on to exemplify the broken hearted sound.

The album Horizontal is a pivotal step in The Bee Gees transition from Beatle imitators to the broken hearted song maestros we know today. Each 60s album, in my opinion tops the previous album. Without Horizontal, The Bee Gees would not have had the early and subsequent success that they did. I Love My 60s Bee Gees!

Walls Have Eyes

I have the itch to review Walls Have Eyes.
by Kristin Battestella

I already did a Robin solo review, so why do another? Frankly, I think this is a very interesting album, to say the least, and one that should be heard. Walls to me is more a Bee Gees album where Robin just happens to sing all the leads then just a Robin Gibb solo album. In 1985 the brothers were on good terms and all three collaborated on this the third 80s solo work from Robin.
Someone To Believe In begins the US released version in a very different style from either Secret Agent or How Old Are You. It’s darker, edgier, none of that bubblegum early 80s falsetto. This album is very ‘five o’clock shadow’ and I think it’s no coincidence Robin has on the cover!

Like A Fool is equally brooding. These songs are slower than the rest of Robin’s solo period, but they are not slow. His voice is strong and the production is tops mid eighties form. Gone With The Wind is an incredible song that should have been a single and a major hit. Written by Robin and Maurice, the vocals, arrangements, and lyrics are all tops. Deep down I suspect this song is why I am doing this review. It needs to be heard!

Toys is a bit of a mischievous song. Eight of the 10 songs presented are written by Robin, Maurice, and Barry, including this one. Barry even shares the lead on this song. Toys and the subsequent title track, These Walls Have Eyes are actually the two songs on this album I could live without. They each have their moments, but they seem poorly arranged and out of place. That being said, I’d take these songs, the rest of the album is that strong.
Do You Love Her is another one of those songs that sounds like three different people, but its all Robin. It’s quite catchy. Possession was a B side single off the album that also could have been a hit. Robin’s voice is on form and the lyrics are somewhat unique. ‘Possessing’ someone in a relationship is usually a negative thing, but not here. Perhaps superior to Possession is Heartbeat In Exile. The arrangement of the lyrics in this song are such a hook. The phrase ’Heartbeat in Exile’ is never uttered in the song. The word heartbeat is said very far away from the word exile, it is in fact, exiled. Very effective.

You Don’t Say Us Anymore is very production heavy. When I hear this song, I think of one thing: Atari! If you can get passed the 80s twang, the chorus is Robin on form. Written by Robin and Maurice, this song is a bit more experimental and fun. It’s not trying to please anyone, a nice change since some feel Robin was perhaps trying to hard on his solo albums. Remedy concludes the album on a happy note. It’s perhaps the most upbeat song on the album. A strong finish.

Walls Have Eyes is an intriguing blend of Robin’s personal style emphasized by guitar production and textbook Gibb lyrics and arrangement. Listening to this together with The Bee Gees 1987 release ESP, I am baffled by people who think The Bee Gees were passé in the 80s. Dorks.

Size Isn't Everything

So, Size Isn’t Everything, eh?
by Kristin Battestella

Paying For The Price Of Love leads off this 1993 album and was a solid hit for The Brothers outside of America. It’s beat driven tone is akin to the previous album, High Civilization, but it doesn’t seem as dark. Paying for the Price of Love raises the bar and sets the tone for the album. It rocks and has a sense of fun about itself. Kiss of Life continues this trend. Robin leads on the somewhat perverse lyrics and Barry expertly handles the chorus. The styles of the boys singing may seem at odds at times, but there is such a vocal hook that this song will get stuck in your head.

How To Fall In Love Part One is another staple in the Barry love song category. To me this song should be the backtrack to every love scene in a movie. The song starts of slow, with almost no music but a beat, then by the end the three part harmony is bringing down the house. The six minute ballad only brings up one question. Where’s Part Two?! I want my Part Two!!

Omega Man is the first Maurice lead of the album. Mo was sober and very happy at the time, and Omega Man showcases his humor, and a bit of his nasty side. This album has an air of bravado. Just look at the title! It’s quite ambitious for these old timers to say they are going to do a pop album in the teen driven market. But they are brash enough and talented enough to do it.

After the joy of Omega Man, the very dark Haunted House will have you reeling in your seat. A great arrangement in lyrics and vocals by Barry and Robin. It is effectively creepy, but in a good way 80) Heart Like Mine has developed a strong love hate/relationship with Robinites. Some swear by its quavering and heart tugging delivery. Others find it one of the most annoying post disco songs. I think it depends on the mood your in. Along with Haunted House, Heart Like Mine almost brings you down from the high built up during the first four songs. When you want to cry, program the cd player for repeat, when you want to have fun skip it. Now that may seem harsh, but the versatility of The Bee Gees is one of my favorite things. With their impeccable catalogue, you can almost pick and choose which Bee Gees are your favorite. What other artist can you say that about?

Anything For You returns to the fun. It’s almost short on words, but the refrains are so skillfully done by the brothers you can’t help but sing along. Some dislike the modern emphasis on production, but Blue Island’s simplistic guitar arrangement is ingenious. The lyrics are impeccable, and they very much mean something. The underlying spirituality in this song is so subtle but so inspiring I redid my room in a Blue Island theme!

Above and Beyond is the second Maurice track on Size. Again a very fun piece with underlying lyrics that are so personal, yet touch everyone, and without making it obvious. Masterful. Second to last on Size is its monster hit, For Whom The Bell Tolls. Hit everywhere but the U.S. again. One of The Bee Gees power ballad staples. The arrangement of the broken hearted lyrics, combined with the modern crescendo is tops. Barry’s breathy delivery and Robin’s powerhouse chorus will knock your socks off. Tolls and the last track, Fallen Angel, are completely opposite styles with one thing in common; Robin sings them both. This alone amazed me for weeks. Angel is very fast and rocking and led very strongly by Robin, who has somehow tripled the power of the voice coming out of that little body.

Fortunately or unfortunately, Size began the modern system of putting B sides on singles but not putting them on an album. My Destiny and 855-7019 are two of this cream de la rare. Fortunately, I’ve heard and recommend My Destiny. Unfortunately I haven’t heard 855-7019. Despite this inconvience, Size Isn’t Everything is regarded by fans as one of the best Gibb albums post Fever. This album strengthens the debate that The Brothers seem to be better since the Fever craze. Size Isn’t Everything proves it is time to set aside your disco stigmas and give The Bee Gees another listen. A Must.

25 November 2007


Hey everyone!

I was trying to make a side bar of fanlisting buttons, but it seems this is the only way to get the pictures and the links! Here's a bit of fun for you! I may add more as I get obsessive. As you can see we've outgrown one posting!