19 March 2008

Sharpe's Sword

Sharpe’s Sword Familiar, but Still Good

By Kristin Battestella

You would think there’s nothing new to say about Sharpe’s Sword- the eighth film in the British television series. In some ways, actually, there isn’t. Sharpe’s Sword retreads familiar ground, but refreshes the oft-told storyline with romance, villainy, and charm.

Sword opens with French Colonel Leroux (Patrick Fierry) ambushing a religious convoy. Only young Lass (Emily Mortimer) escapes, too shocked to say anything when Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) and his men rescue her. Sharpe also captures Leroux in a skirmish, but he has switched coats with his aide and claims to be a simple soldier. Sharpe doubts Leroux’s story, but is tied by Major Munro (Hugh Ross) and Lord Jack Spears (James Purefoy) ruling against him. Sharpe and Spears, however, become friends on their mission. Munro needs them to ensure the safety of Wellington’s master spy, El Matador. Unfortunately, Sharpe’s nemesis Sir Henry Simmerson (Michael Cochrane) runs the politics impeding Sharpe’s way.

There’s a lot to cover in Sharpe’s Sword and yet it can read like the likes of fan fiction: Sharpe Beds Mute Girl. On one hand the storylines in Sword seem a bit preposterous, yet they are dang good, too. Everyone has something to do here. Sharpe and each guest star, Harper, Harris, Hagman, Ramona. Everyone has a chance to prove his or her love, loyalty, worth, honor, or villainy. Not as ridiculous as Sharpe’s Gold, but Sword even has a bit of realistic mysticism to it. The power of a love, loyalty, and religion is examined well here.

Like Sharpe’s Battle before, Sean Bean’s titular character is not necessarily the star of this episode. Sure everything that happens does so because of him, but Bean spends a large portion of the film convalescing. Sword is carried by the fine performances of Daragh O’Malley, Diana Perez as Ramona, and Emily Mortimer as Lass. It’s never easy to act without speaking, and the ambiguity of Mortimer and John Kavanagh as Father Curtis add to the story. The villains are vile as ever. It is quite bad on my part, but I couldn’t tell if Spears really didn’t have an arm or not. But of course I looked up where I had seen Purefoy before, and well, Rome, yeah, he’s got both arms! Good film trickery and acting all around.

Sharpe’s Sword fortunately utilizes new locations this time around. I don’t know how authentic the fort is, but it looks cool. The monastery and library also look lovely and peaceful-a flowery break in the midst of war. The battles are quite fine in Sword as well. The turns the action takes are unexpected, even though Sharpe really shouldn’t be charging a fort after the wounds he sustains. It’s a little unbelievable, but if you’re still watching this far in the series, you don’t mind routing for the miraculously healed Sharpe.

Of course, there are still no subtitles or digital perfection, but Sharpe’s Sword has well done action, acting, loyalty, and betrayal. Not bad for Sharpe Beds Mute Girl.

ETA: Please see the comments below for further opinion on the Sharpe's Sword novel.

Sharpe's Battle

Sharpe’s Battle Returns to Form

By Kristin Battestella

If 1995’s Sharpe’s Gold had you doubting this British Napoleonic television series, think again. The seventh episode Sharpe’s Battle returns the war series to the proper action, betrayal, and romance.

After finding a massacred village, Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) challenges the vile French General Loupe (Oliver Cotton). Lord Wellington (Hugh Fraser) sends Sharpe and the raw Irish Royal Guard to a small outpost near French lines, but Irish noble Lord Kiely (Jason Durr), his lonely wife (Allie Byrne), and Irish-English tensions make the stay tough for Sharpe and Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley). Horse Master General Runican (Ian McNiece) is of little help to Sharpe-and Partisan leader Juanita (Siri Neal) isn’t all she appears to be.

Multi-leveled storylines and ambiguous friends and foes are just a few of Sharpe’s Battle’s highlights. New writer Russell Lewis (who also wrote the newest Sharpe in 2006) remains true to Bernard Cornwell’s characters. Strangely, it’s almost as if Sharpe is not the focus of this episode. He’s the middle man between Kiely and his wife, Wellington and Loupe, the Irish and the English. I didn’t expect Battle to take some of the turns it did-although one plot twist is a bit obvious. I like Loupe. He’s creepy looking, even if a bit over the top with his wolf motifs. And of course, there’s always an uppity officer with questionable motives to dislike.

The Sharpe regulars are also back to themselves after those questionable turns in Sharpe’s Gold. O’Malley gives Harper a deeper touch when it comes to the Irish-English relations, and Sean Bean’s Sharpe is actually not the ladies man this time around. Onscreen we don’t always get to see Sharpe’s military shrewdness. Kudos also to the Chosen Men. Hangman, Harris, and Perkins receive their showcase here.

Although not nearly as hokey looking at Gold, Sharpe’s Battle does look dated and a tad obvious. Some of the deserted towns and battle sets are clearly buildings we’ve seen in prior Sharpe shows, and Loupe’s wolf getup is a bit goofy. Nevertheless, Battle looks Napoleon authentic. In this film we’re treated to more ladies than usual. Harper’s lady Ramona (Diana Perez) is involved more, giving us an intriguing picture of women during the war- English, Spanish, and French ladies of all classes. It’s a light hearted touch in a somewhat dark and personal episode.

Sharpe’s Battle has its share of war action, but there’s also politics, double-crossing, tragedy, and cheesecake to go around. A fine edition to the Sharpe series.

ETA: Please see the comments below for our analysis of the Battle novel.

11 March 2008

Sharpe's Gold

Guilty Pleasure Miss for Sharpe’s Gold Movie

(or Sharpe’s Gold Novel Modern Historical Gem)

By Kristin Battestella

Sharpe’s Gold is a fine example of how a modern historical novel should be done. I stumbled upon the 1981 book at a library sale and read it on the whim even though it is in the middle of the Sharpe novel series by Bernard Cornwell. I really liked it and definitely recommend it. I can’t say one thing bad about the Sharpe’s Gold novel. Unfortunately, the 1995 television movie adaptation of Sharpe’s Gold is nearly awful.

So, it’s taken me to episode six before I have something bad to say about the Sharpe movies. I heard ill about Sharpe’s Gold before I received the Collector’s Set as a birthday gift. Instead of regular writer Eoghan Harris, director Tom Clegg was thrust BAFTA nominee screenwriter Nigel Kneale (The Witches). Unfortunately, Kneale takes the title from Cornwell’s novel but little else.

After confronting Provost Lieutenant Ayres (Philip McGough), Sharpe (Sean Bean) is sent on a dangerous mission to exchange rifles for captured British deserters. The Spanish guerillas led by El Casco (Abel Folk) are surrounded by myths and legends-they claim to be descended of Aztecs brought back to Spain and are rumored to have New World gold in the caves where they allegedly sacrifice humans. Sharpe cares not about these ills, until he must also escort Bess (Rosaleen Linehan) and Ellie Nugent (Jayne Ashbourne). The cousins of Wellington (Hugh Fraser) have come in search of Bess’ missing cartographer husband.

Yes, I summed it up the best I could, and that odd part about human sacrifices is really in Sharpe’s Gold. Although the opening scenes are almost word for word like the early chapters of the Gold novel, things quickly go wrong. Clucking Irish women kissing Wellington and braving the Spanish countryside alone, El Casco meowing at them; Idol worship and hearts being cut out- it’s all downhill from there. Good moments like the shooting contest and sparring with Provosts aren’t enough to save Kneale’s script.

The Sharpe regulars do what they can with Sharpe’s Gold. Bean plays Sharpe the same, but there’s a few times when I found myself saying, ‘Sharpe wouldn’t do that.’ There’s too much exposition passed around between the Provosts and Major Mungo Munro (Hugh Ross). Ashbourne is actually quite likeable-a cute tomboy who knows her rifles, but Ellie’s quickly made stupid and unbelievable by the events given.

Suffice to say I would much rather have seen a proper adaptation of the Sharpe’s Gold novel. Even if Kneale hadn’t butchered the script, the series may have backed itself into a corner with the early introduction of Teresa Moreno-who actually meets Sharpe in this book while he’s on a mission to steal Spanish gold for Wellington. The attraction and romance on the page is honest, as is the action and battle strategy. Of course we get no proper battles onscreen in Sharpe’s Gold, and the romance this time around is unbelievable. Even in a series as tongue and cheek as Sharpe, the notion that Sharpe would bag a babe in a bush in front of her mother and all the riflemen is just ridiculous.

While I’m on the subject, the tiki dolls they use as the Aztec idols are very bad, and the conquistador armor worn by El Casco and his men is just dumb. Thankfully, Sharpe saves the day by looking good as always, and the Sharpe in the novel is dang good, too. Good enough in fact, to have me reading the books from the beginning.

Fans of Sean Bean and Sharpe will mst3k Sharpe’s Gold to their heart’s content, but this episode in the series is not for everyone. Never introduce someone to the series with this film-in fact, invite naysayers to take a peek at the book instead. Completists will no doubt have the DVD in one of the Sharpe movie sets, but both book and movie being named Sharpe’s Gold is an injustice. Great book, bad movie.

Sharpe's Honour

Another Good One for Sharpe’s Honour

By Kristin Battestella

Yes I’m still reviewing Sharpe. For fans of the Napoleonic-heck even Jane Austen fans-the series again serves up action, romance, and intrigue in 1994’s Sharpe’s Honour.

Sean Bean returns as Major Richard Sharpe, but he is abruptly stripped of his rank and court marshaled for allegedly murdering a noble Frenchman and assaulting his wife, the Marquesa (Alice Kringe, Star Trek: First Contact). With the help of Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and the Chosen Men of the 95th Rifles, Sharpe must rescue the Marquesa to prove his innocence while uncovering the latest plot hatched by French Master Spy Pierre Ducos (Feodor Atkine).

I don’t want to spoil anything, but I fell for the twist on my first viewing of this the fifth Sharpe movie. I kept thinking of Han Solo’s infamous words-how was Sharpe going to get out of this one? Bernard Cornwell’s source material gives writer Colin MacDonald and director Tom Clegg plenty of room for mystery and suspense. It may not seem like a lot based on my brief summary, but Sharpe’s Honour has a slightly different vibe to it. Again we’re introduced to the corrupt underside of the War-Wellington (Hugh Fraser) forced to hang folks to save face, Ducos plotting to personally destroy the English and claim victory for France by destroying Sharpe, the twisted Spanish Inquistor- the list goes on. Sharpe’s really got his back up against the wall. And all this of course, is coming off his personal tragedy in the previous film, Sharpe’s Enemy.

Alice Krige is a breath of fresh air as the conflicted Marquesa. She’s not traditionally pretty, but she’s sassy and sexy enough for Sharpe. Bean also is able to stretch his acting chops while Sharpe deals with all this mess. Daragh O’Malley and the Sharpe regulars also have their moments this episode. The Rifleman must deliver Harper’s baby! Each movie has built upon the Chosen Men, so much so that Cornwell added their characters to subsequent Sharpe novels. Hugh Fraser as Wellington is always a delight, and Michael Byrne as Major Nairn is a fine Engineer. I’m not sure why the higher ups with Wellington always change-Hogan, now Nairn. Maybe the production is trying to give justice to all the character from the novels, maybe it was actor conflicts, but everyone takes the new folks onscreen in stride. It is after all, the War with Napoleon. Soldiers must come and go every day.

Speaking of Napoleon, Sharpe’s Honour is the first episode showcasing the French point of view. We meet the man himself-even though he is speaking English-and Ducos twisted use of any and all people balances out our love for the English Army. Speaking of love, I’m sure the ladies will enjoy the undercover look of Sharpe. This long haired, shabby dressed Sharpe is unkempt and mourning, but good looking, too.

Yes, we can all chuckle at the beefcake and cheesecake in Sharpe’s Honour, but a touch more humor-or I should say humour- makes its presence known. Sharpe, tossing chickens at a bunch of nuns rather than hit them. The light heartedness is welcome in this complex political dilemma in which Sharpe and Harper find themselves. Of course there’s that romancey stuff, too. Although, sometimes I wonder how far Sharpe actually takes his liaisons. Some episodes show the bedroom before and after, leaving no doubt of what went on, but other sessions just seem like heavy make outs. You decide. Sharpe’s Honour is one of the tamer shows in that department, and as weaved as the plots are, younger folks may be intrigued by the familiar ideals of justice and vindication.

Individually available or purchased in the Sharpe set, Sharpe’s Honour is another reason to take a look at this fine series. So what if the Honor is spelled with a U?

Please see the comments below for our review of the Sharpe's Honour novel.

09 March 2008

Spirits Having Flown

Has My Spirit Flown?
by Kristin Battestella

I know I say there are some albums I don’t really like or songs I can take or leave, but honestly one album I truly split on is everyone else’s ever popular Spirits Having Flown. This 1979 follow up to Fever proved Barry, Robin, and Maurice’s “comeback” wasn’t just a flash in the “disco” pan. The Gibbs continued to make and break the charts with Spirits.

Tragedy is one of the few songs my non-Gibb honey likes. It's synthesizers, progressive sound, and basic lyrics set the song and album off and running. The Bee Gees have a knack for having heavy production and over the top music compared with simplistic lyrics. When you're alone its a tragedy, duh. A chart topper naturally. It has explosions, need I say more?

If there is such a thing as a more global monster hit then Tragedy it has to be Too Much Heaven. The Brothers got in touch with their spiritual sides lyrically and donated the proceeds from the single to UNICEF. This album is all about production production production. When you break it down, Heaven's nothing more than the Brothers sweet lyrics and harmonies. Take for example the Boys’ live renditions, just them and a guitar is equally spectacular. However, the layering and dubs and over-the-top falsetto makes Heaven so grand and universal.

Love You Inside Out was the third charter from the Spirits album and this one might be my favorite. The falsetto is a little bit softer, so you can sing along! The raunch factor of the lyrics is evident (even though the original lyrics had to be changed because the suits feared they were too nasty). >80p I especially enjoy the rhythm and beat changes in this one. You can dance, nudge, and wink, awl yeah! (Someone just remade this. Fiest, Feast. Something like that.)

Reaching Out is the second slow jam presented. The lyrics are slightly more delicate, but Barry’s high notes crescendo at the end. Although any Barry fan would naturally love this album, and all his styles are represented here, one of the things I don’t like about Spirits is the ‘Barry featuring Robin and Maurice’ feel. As usual the best parts of the album are choruses and harmony. The echoes and ad-libs here make Reaching Out.

The title track Spirits (Having Flown) (Parenthesis!) has its moments. It’s tropical feel is indicative to the rest of the tracks, and Spirits’ bongos and grass skirts style is contagious. The falsetto is much easier here, and the general listen is a pleasant departure. I love it when the boys just ‘lalala’.

Search Find, however, is loud and over the top. I usually leave rather than take this song. The music is very powerful and catchy, but the lyrics are too high and too fast for me to enjoy. When I finally read and understood the lyrics, I found I actually don’t like them. Go fig.

Another leaver is Stop (Think Again). (I never want to see another parenthesis!) Again the music is very sweet and bluesy, but Barry is too into the falsetto. The choruses where there is a touch of harmony and soul make the song tolerable. The Bee Gees falsetto harmony is impeccable, and no one else can do it. The second half of Spirits really doesn’t showcase this as well as the hits.

Having Spirits on record is a real pain. I've got to skip all over the place to hear Living Together and I'm Satisfied. Living Together is the one song that it seems Robin sings the verses. His falsetto is slightly different, and you can understand what he’s saying. When combined with the booming brass music and lower chorus lines, we get a unique delivery. It is as if the voices are competing here, the opposites that aren’t living together. Yet the high falsetto has balance now with the lower octaves. It’s so good when the arrangement parallels the story being told.

I’m Satisfied returns to the tropical feel, but it’s more over the top that Spirits. It’s lyrics are twisted and high, but you can’t help but sing along and dance. Happy go lucky is how I would describe this one. The boys appear to be just having some fun. One odd thing about Spirits. There is no ’nasty’ song. Each song has a line or two or three about some good loving. Maybe that’s why parts are so fun and addictive.

I really don’t know how Until got on this album. There is an odd demo called In The Heat of the Night that feels better suited, and Until ends this rather fun, lively, and upbeat album on a slow down note. I’m Satisfied is a much better book end to Tragedy. Nevertheless, Until is the longest two minutes I know. I absolutely adore the way Barry can manipulate words, but every other word is unnecessarily slowed on Until. I listen for about thirty seconds then I’m just bored and itching for a pick up in the song that unfortunately doesn’t come.

Spirits Having Flown’s unique blend of softness and over the top noise and production is not for everyone. However, almost by necessity, the Brothers had to jump the gun in order to top the Fever Monster. The result is The Bee Gees best selling non soundtrack album. When you think of it that way, my take it or leave it opinion doesn’t really matter, does it? ;0)


Do You Think I Have ESP?
by Kristin Battestella

In 1987 Barry, Robin, and Maurice were reunited! Or at least that’s how new distributor Warner Brothers tried to sell it. Even though the brothers never really left themselves or us, but I digress. I only have this album on cdr, since Warner’s seemed to make the release very scarce. The cover is cool, though. The boys look totally different from when audiences remembered them last. No white, no hair, well not as much anyway. Black. Dark, edgy. I’m Pip and I’ve come to play!

ESP is naturally the song to lead off the album. It is different from any other project the Brothers did at the time. Better than Walls Have Eyes, more polished than Now Voyager. However, ESP is also very stand alone on this album and nothing else here sounds like it. (Not that I mind that of course.) We heard some of Robin’s coming out voice party on Living Eyes, but in songs shared with Baz. Barry moved onto some heavy producing, but without Robin. ESP brings them together again and slams both powerhouses. There is so much going on in this song, you can imagine this is what a telepath hears. Noise, each trying to have its own say, competing with everything else that is heard, and all of it’s important. Brilliant.

Ah, You Win Again. Although not as well know in the US as the Fever Monsters, this song is indeed one of those monster songs that you just have to love. There are so many hooks, lines, and sinkers musically, lyrically, vocally. From the whole second verse’s play on ‘Nobody stops this body’ to Robin’s Oh Baby! wail to that bombing drum throughout. Hot damn. This song did actually even encroach the US charts, imagine that!

Live Or Die (Hold Me Like A Child) (What is it with them and parenthesis?) is the first slow song presented. Barry returns to his shrill notes and sometimes the versus are tough to understand. The chorus is strong and the lyrics as always are top notch. The ad-libbed over the top ending is perfect eighties power ballad fashion. The music and high voices are a little dated, but you can’t help but try and sing along when your driving home alone late at night, or is that just me?

Giving Up The Ghost sound a bit more like the tracks on Walls Have Eyes, but that’s ok. Great music rifts. Some of the refrains are a bit much, and one of the times where I might say the chorus is the weaker part of the song. Then again, the boys hold out ‘Ghooooost!’ and it sounds cool again. Robin sounds great in the verses, since you can understand him seventy percent of the time. ;0)

The Longest Night is one of the hotter Bee Gees songs in my opinion, just like Bodyguard. After their solo and side projects in the early eighties, the brothers came back for ESP stronger again. Robin with this song has somehow managed to combine the weeping Joke sound with the booming voice he developed post Fever. The vibrato was always there, but the five o’clock shadow eighties sounds fit Robin’s haunting lyrics as the sixties mellow sound did. Indeed ESP together with Walls Have Eyes is a dang good hunk of Gibb material that it seems everyone missed. Pity.

Every album has to have a fun song and This Is Your Life is ESP’s. It’s nice to see the Brothers come back and kind of laugh off and yet embrace their past music. The lyrics ‘line-drop’ titles of other Bee Gees songs during the interlude. Can I tell you this is the only time I sing to ‘JJJive Talkin’! It’s Barry rapping but with dribs and drabs from the old songs cutting in and out. Very cool. I could recommend the entire album on that interlude alone if I had to, but I don’t.

Outside of its sweet and soft lyrics and vocals, Angela is in my mind a little bit of a statement song. Sometimes it feels like you can almost exchange ‘Angela’ for ‘America’. Followed by the line ‘I’m still alive’, I wonder if the boys were making a veiled statement at us stubborn Yanks. Indeed they were still alive, and maybe this is also a pun on Stayin’ Alive. The New York times effect a man, remember. ;0) The feel of the song is so innocent and easy feeling, but I suspect more! The girl that got away? I think not.

Maurice brings this album to a standstill with Overnight. It’s the closest in vein to the song ESP. Maurice, however, adds not telepathy, but animal magnetism. It’s a different kind of psychic sense. The lyrics are so detailed and the interlude combining the echo of all three voices is exceptional. The music has, if there is such a thing, a predatory feeling that’s good. By the end of the song you are totally sold and yelling back, “All right I’ll stay!”

In the eighties and later on High Civilization, The Brothers seem to have a little Motown tribute revival thing going. Crazy For Your Love is fascinating in that it is has a Motown throwback vibe and at the same time, it’s straight eighties bubblegum pop. (Tiffany, anyone?) I would cringe if I heard some tween today singing any song about love and ice cream . However, play Crazy for a kid today, they will like it, and never know it is old men singing in 1987! How ingenious is it to find such a timeless song here?!

Backtafunk is not your traditional Gibb song. It sounds a bit...I want to say New Edition! Naturally the brothers master all the hip beats and singing, even if the lyrics are slightly bland. Again however, the breakaway interlude makes the song. The harmony and fun of the boys come in and the song kicks up to another level. Is Barry scatting? Incredible!

ESP ends with the ESP Vocal Reprise, and I don’t really know why. Its just the opening echo of the voices on the first track, but it does sound cool. Allow me to mention the oddities associated with ESP, as you knew there would be some! Young Love is an unreleased cut that didn’t make the album. I managed to download a piece that cuts short, but it’s heavy in the low key Maurice vein. Honestly I don’t know why it was cut. The 1989 compilation Tales From The Brothers Gibb contains an ESP Demo that is very similar to the final version, just missing a few production marks. Fans should also check out The One For All Tour VHS and DVD for concert footage of the boys singing Giving Up The Ghost and extras from One.

Warner Brothers does not realize The Bee Gees quality they possess, and they should re-release ESP. I wonder if this album planned to have any sort of theme to it? Each song touches a different type of emotion and vibe, and aren’t songs in a way a psychic connection from one person to another? Interesting theory, Kristin. Interesting.

Saturday Night Fever

Can You Feel The Fever?
by Kristin Battestella

Saturday Night Fever is not easy album for me to review. Although it has several of The Bee Gees most popular and successful songs, this 1977 smash is one of my least favorites. My Bee Gee buddy Clint asked me to review Fever, and honestly I've been mulling over it for months. This album both made and unmade the Brothers Gibb.

You must forgive me while I ignore all the other disco staples found on the soundtrack. I don't really like them or the film. I will say Saturday Night Fever is a quality film deserving of your time, however the suits and dancing and hairstyles are too much for me. I had a good laugh recently, when Robin confessed on the Keppel Road DVD that he's never seen Fever all the way through!

Everybody who's anybody knows Stayin Alive. (Previously reviewed Here.) The song's placement at the beginning of the film sets the symbolism about the daytime struggle and the night life release that we all strive for. For as popular as it is, no one seems to understand the songs lyrics, which are the best part. Unfortunately, the song has come to represent the strut and all things disco. For better or for worse, an important staple for The Bee Gees and the culture of the time.

How Deep It Is Your Love may very well be the penne ultimate love song. This Gibb staple launched the soundtrack and the film to the stratosphere. Robert Stigwood's decision to release the soundtrack before the film was unheard of in 1977. After How Deep's success, this has become standard industry practice. Barry’s delivery is from the soul, and again the refrains tug on your heart strings differently each time. This song is the pinnacle of emotion and lyrics and artistry.

If I Can't Have You is a great and under-appreciated song. Yvonne Elliman's version showcases the brothers ability to write for others while maintaining their songwriting. The brothers own version, released on the flip side of the Staying Alive single, shows the versatility of the song and Barry's range. Women can sing along with Yvonne's version and feel the female heartache, and yet the masculine don't quit comes through with Barry's falsetto vocals. Brilliant.

Again we come to another of my least favorite compositions. Jive Talkin (Also reviewed on Main Course) I must admit is a catchy danceable tune and thus fitting for this soundtrack. The acoustic versions of this and Staying Alive heard on Storytellers in 1993 is shocking when compared with the original releases.

The Tavares' More Than A Woman cover is used in one of the more famous scenes from the film. John Travolta and Karen Lyn Gorney practice their routine and bond to these incredible lyrics that fit their relationship in the film perfectly. The Tavares' lyrics are easier to understand that Barry, Robin, and Maurice's high singing, thus we get a feel for the relationship that's developing. Everybody related and started doing this dance. My sister used to try and lift me. It didn't work.

Personally, I don't think Night Fever has any statement in its lyrics. You got an itch? Scratch it! What’s the big deal? Vibe baby, yeah! It’s incredibly catchy to dance to and everyone can enjoy the easy rhythm and feel good tune. Remember Sprint's Nickel Nights commercials playing Night Fever? Everyone has to at least tap their foot to this one. We used to have a Philadelphia station that played ‘Gold’ music and every Saturday at 7 p.m. they played Night Fever. My dad and I would nod our heads like the guys in A Night At The Roxbury. Odd that Fever had such a backlash, yet how many times has it been spoofed or snipped or heard for another film?

Can anyone ever forget You Should Be Dancing and its place in this film? I think not. Travolta's dance and white suit launched a phenomenon that is still often emulated today. The song is genius in its simplicity. What else is there but dancing? The lyrics and vocal arrangements are fittingly over-the-top. (Please see our Children of the World review.)

The Bee Gees introduce their version of More Than A Woman for the film's big song and dance. Not only have we seen the story of the film progress and advance and come full circle, we've also seen two totally different versions of the same song, not compete but strengthen each other. Our boys' falsetto sounds raised not only the height of the song, but the climax of the film. The second verse of this song just feels like bliss.

Saturday Night Fever is not for everyone. The soundtrack is truly a companion piece to the film, and if you don't like to dance or don't like the 70s, this film is not for you. However, music and movies as popular as Fever were take on a life of their own. They transcend pop culture, and today's generation obsessed with retro is looking at The Bee Gees with an entirely different perspective, free of stigma and backlash that the excesses of the era brought about. I recommend SNF because you can't be a Bee Gees fan without having an opinion on it. Whether it may good or bad, Fever is like the Yankees. Love it or hate it, there is no in between.

03 March 2008

Sharpe's Enemy

Sharpe’s Enemy Superior Episode of Series

By Kristin Battestella

Just when you thought I was through talking about the British Napoleonic series Sharpe, I present the fourth episode for review. 1994’s Sharpe’s Enemy continues the superior levels established in the previous telefilms. Revenge, damsels in distress, war politics, and rapacious villainy- Enemy has it all.

When the beautiful young Lady Farthingdale (Elizabeth Hurley, Bedazzled) is abducted by the vile deserter Obadiah Hakeswill (Pete Postlethwaite), her crusty Colonel husband reluctantly sends Major Richard Sharpe (Sean Bean) to the rescue. Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and Sharpe’s wife, guerilla leader Teresa Moreno (Assumpta Serna) have misgivings about the rescue and the nearby French. Sharpe gains a new ally in rifleman Captain ‘Sweet William’ Frederickson (Phillip Whitchurch), but French spy Major Ducos (Feodor Atkine) makes life difficult for Sharpe.

We may think of it as stunt casting now, but I don’t think Elizabeth Hurley was as big then as she is now. Naturally, she’s only here for her buxom self, but it’s easy to jump on board with the young wife lusting after Sharpe. Pete Postlethwaite is again delightfully creepy as Hakeswill. He’s slick and twisted, and as much as the gals may think Sharpe dreamy, Hakeswill is probably a more realistic notion of how crusty soldiers really behaved. Assumpta Serna is again wonderful as Teresa Moreno-she is the most developed, confident, and likeable of all the women in the series. And of course, Daragh O’Malley is the ever faithful Harper.

Perhaps the storylines in Sharpe’s Enemy work well because they hail from Bernard Cornwell’s novel, but the plot begins after the events of Sharpe’s Company. You don’t have to watch one to understand the other, but Enemy weaves a complete tale when most sequels stretch material too thin. In the scope of the war with Napoleon, Sharpe’s Enemy is small-focusing rather on personal and private battles. Sharpe again has to sit back while foolish and rich gentleman move above him. He must indulge them while dealing with Hakeswill. Sharpe, unfortunately, pays the ultimate price. Major Ducos enters the picture as the vile ear of Napoleon-a not so subtle reminder that this is really supposed to be the English versus the French.

After the excellent action of Sharpe’s Company, there’s not a lot of big battles in Enemy. Small skirmishes with deserters make it tough to tell who’s fighting who. Sharpe’s Enemy, however, showcases another kind of action utilized in the series. He’s quite notorious in the books, but up until now, onscreen Sharpe has been a one woman man. It’s food for thought to see him with another woman at this point in the story. Infidelity is a funny thing, but it’s not meant to be taken so seriously here. Bean fans will probably find Sharpe sexy, and the guys will love Hurley and Serna. Something for everyone.

Yet again the DVD transfer seems a bit off, and as involved as the story is in Sharpe’s Enemy, the film ends a tad abruptly. Unless you read the books, you don’t find out what happens to Lady Farthingdale, and Sharpe’s daughter is never mentioned again. These quibbles aren’t rectified, per se, but at least there’s more fun to be had in Sharpe’s Honour.

Sharpe’s Enemy may be a bit too saucy for younger folks, but the depth and the questions raised may bring one to read the books. There’s enough action, beefcake, cheesecake, and vengeance for any audience to enjoy Sharpe’s Enemy.

Please see the comments below for our review of the Sharpe's Enemy novel.

02 March 2008

Sharpe's Company

Sharpe’s Company Above Average Television

By Kristin Battestella

Since I’m reading Sharpe’s Eagle, allow me to skip the novel’s film adaptation-the second in the Sharpe series-and continue with the third installment, Sharpe’s Company. Sean Bean returns in this 1994 telefilm as Richard Sharpe, a Captain raised from the ranks by Wellington during the Napoleonic Wars.

Sharpe’s Company opens with Sharpe being demoted to a menial Lieutenant after lesser men have bought commissions above him. Separated from Sergeant Harper (Daragh O’Malley) and the rest of the Chosen Men of the 95th Rifles, Sharpe faces off against an enemy from his past, Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill (Pete Postlethwaite). Hakeswill is a rapist and a thief who was hanged once before, but did not die. Sharpe was flogged because of him, and Hakeswill vows to claim Sharpe’s lover Teresa (Assumpta Serna) for his own. Sharpe can only reclaim his promotion on the battlefield, and he must claim victory to save Teresa and their daughter Antonia from the vile Hakeswill.

The regular cast in Sharpe’s Company has grown into their characters just fine. Serna is again lovely as the guerilla leader Teresa Moreno. Daragh O’Malley is perfect as the ever faithful Harper, but newcomer Pete Postlethwaite steals the show as the sleezy Sergeant Hakeswill. His look, the twitches, his dialogue sells every creepy thing about his character. As much as we love Sharpe for Sharpe, you really want him to get his vengeance on Hakeswill because you can’t stand the slime.

Kudos also to the titular Sean Bean. Sharpe’s Company isn’t meant to be too deep or serious, but Bean gives another dimension to Sharpe here. He wants to save the daughter he’s never seen, but he’s also willing to die for his King. I have to admit; sometimes I can’t keep track of who all the new boys are as they come and go. It’s like the red shirts in Star Trek. When a new Lieutenant or Captain makes his appearance-whether he hates Sharpe of befriends him-he usually ends up dead.

These passing characters coming or going from author Bernard Cornwell’s canon don’t deter from the story in Sharpe’s Company. In fact, Company is one of the better episodes in the series. Big historical battles are fully explained and in the proper context here, in the midst of Sharpe’s personal dilemmas. His family, his vengeance, his zest for promotion and the conflicts with superiors who are all show-Sharpe’s Company twists all these together in a pretty end. And just think-there’s plenty more Sharpe to be had in the next film, Sharpe’s Enemy.

Director Tom Clegg and his production team get the battle sequences down pat for Sharpe’s Company. Despite all the nighttime action, things are well lit, choreographed and edited properly- you know what the heck is going on without being a Napoleonic historian. The hit and miss electric guitar music is still there, but the rousing score during the battle of Badajoz adds to the valiance onscreen.

It’s not a big deal, but the credits and the look of the series is slightly better in Sharpe’s Company than previous episodes. It’s not explained which is understandable. The cast is another year older and all, but the little changes in titles, score, and cast continue throughout the series. This is where some behind the scenes features would be really wonderful, but alas again there are no extras or subtitles. The digital transfer is also imperfect, but should these nitpicks turn one away from Sharpe? Surely not.

Sharpe’s Company is one of the highlights on the series. Depth and villainy beyond Napoleon are introduced. The epic is there as well as the personal. You need not see Sharpe’s Eagle to enjoy Company, but after this one, how could you not want to see Sharpe’s Enemy?

Check your online retailer for Sharpe dvds-individually or as a box set. Kids might shy from the romancey aspects, but there’s enough story and action for the boys. Young and old viewers can enjoy Sharpe’s Company.

ETA: Please check the comments for further analysis on the Sharpe's Company novel.

The Nativity Story

The Nativity Story Is Nearly Perfect

By Kristin Battestella

You could consider The Nativity Story a Christmas movie, sure. But after my recent February viewing, its safe to say this 2007 independent film is perfect for any audience, year round.

Christian or not, you know the story that’s portrayed in The Nativity Story. During the reign of Kind Herod (Ciaran Hinds), young Mary (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and her older fiancĂ© Joseph (Oscar Isaac) travel to Bethlehem to be counted in the Roman census. Mary has been visited by an angel (Alexander Siddig) and is pregnant with Jesus, the Son of God. Wise Men from Persia have seen the astrological signs of this divine birth and travel to Jerusalem in search of the child. King Herod however, fears Jewish rebellion and wants the foretold Messiah found and killed.

As familiar as the storyline is, The Nativity Story strikes the perfect blend between historically accurate and traditional. The background and development of Mary’s family and the Nazareth lifestyle is completely believable, as is the astrological equipment used by the Magi. Even though the Wise Men make it to the manger-which we now know probably wasn’t how things went-The Nativity Story keeps things realistic yet religiously moving. King Herod is also more than a cardboard villain. His speeches and the actions of the Roman henchman set the danger factor just right.

The largely unknown cast also looks the part of first century Israelites. They work hard, fear the wrath of Roman tax collectors, and although they speak English, there is a touch of accent and mixed Hebrew and Aramaic words. I suspect The Nativity Story would have been too detached and not ready for mass appeal if the entire film was subtitled. The three storylines focusing on King Herod, Joseph and Mary, and the Three Wise Men weave the complete picture for the audience, and each looks the cultural part. Not a blonde haired buxom folk in sight. Bravo also to director Catherine Hardwicke (Vanilla Sky) for also casting age appropriate actors. Joseph isn’t a dirty old man, and Mary isn’t twelve. Hughes looks the conflicted teenager and Joseph is the slightly older working carpenter. Both put on a fine performance. There are difficult moments when they struggle with their situation and the rough journey to Bethlehem, but also tender and spiritual moments. We don’t know much about Jesus’ earthly parents from the New Testament, but The Nativity Story gives a perfect notion of what this couple might have been like. Also a Biblical mystery, the Wise Men are given names and personalities, and they even add a touch of humor.

Not only is The Nativity Story spot on in cast and story, but the visuals onscreen put the scope of the picture in context. The recreation of first century Israel is authentic enough, and the location scenery is lush. Some computer background shots of Jerusalem or mystic effects are a tad obvious, but no harm done. In fact, there’s a touch of 300 slow motion stylings every time the Roman horseman appear or when something divine is happening. It’s a subtle hint from Hardwicke that not all is as it seems-for good or ill. The music is also authentic yet lofty at the same time. The score is soft and appropriate, with a touch of Middle Eastern vibes and Latin chorals. I am very surprised that The Nativity Story was not nominated for any Oscars. Production wise, the film does no wrong.

But of course, The Nativity Story has one strike against it, as far as the masses are concerned. How is a film about Christ’s birth to deal with the Immaculate Conception? I’ve always suspected this is why the Christmas story has not been handled properly onscreen beyond glimpses or cartoons. Screenwriter Mike Rich (The Rookie) smartly makes it a non-issue. An angel says Mary will have a child, so be it. There’s no mystical kinky scene or awkwardness about it. The subject of sex is never mentioned, and thus The Nativity Story swiftly remains family friendly. It’s not about how she got pregnant, but about Mary and the burden that this pregnancy will be-for her people who would stone her, her family who don’t understand, and her betrothed who will protect the Son of God.

The Nativity Story is the perfect prequel to that other big Christian movie, The Passion of the Christ. Naturally Mel Gibson had no part in this production, but where The Passion was criticized for its lack of Jesus’ love and ministry, The Nativity Story keeps the spiritual balance and believability. I got teary eyed here, not as much as The Passion, but The Nativity Story is about faith, not death. To someone who does not believe, The Nativity Story presents a perfectly historical film where miraculous things happen. It could make a believer out of someone- like the reluctant Magi who presents Myrrh to the Baby Jesus. He didn’t believe, yet he is presenting the burial incense to the Christ child. Suffice to say, he comes to believe in the babe that will save him from death and damnation.

Believer or not, The Nativity Story is a nearly perfectly film for its careful blend of historical fact and Biblical interpretation. It’s intelligent for adults and kid friendly. It’s a love story, divine, cruel, and moving all at the same time. I’m amazed it took so long to make a worthy adaptation of the Christmas story. Any audience can enjoy The Nativity Story again and again. Pick up the DVD today.

Elizabeth:The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age A Fine Historical Film
By Kristin Battestella
Cate Blanchett has steadily become the new Meryl Streep-lots of nominations, but few award wins. Although nominated for Best Actress for both 98’s Elizabeth and the 2007 sequel Elizabeth: The Golden Age, Blanchett was robbed Oscar gold both times. (In 1998, Blanchett lost Best Actress to Gwyneth Paltrow for Shakespeare in Love. Strangely, Judith Dench won Supporting Actress for her portrayal of an elder Queen Elizabeth in that film.)
Now Blanchett is the older, wiser Virgin Queen at the forefront of war with King Phillip II of Spain (Jordi Molla). Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush) is still her tough love advisor, but Lady in Waiting Bess Throckmorton (Abbie Cornish) has become the Queen’s dearest friend. The return of the charming adventurer Walter Raleigh (Clive Owen) however, forces the Queen to question her circle of advisors and the personal choices she has made.
Without a doubt, this film belongs to Cate Blanchett. Of all the films that have been made about Elizabeth I, Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age are the perfect pair along with Bette Davis’ The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex and The Virgin Queen. Blanchett strikes the perfect blend of opulent, passionate regent and aging, lonely women. She looks the part of the strong chinned warrior queen, yet also appears willowy and pale. Although she has won a Supporting Oscar for playing Oscar winner Katherine Hepburn in The Aviator, Blanchett will be forever known for her role here.
Geoffrey Rush (Pirates of the Caribbean) and Australian newcomer Abbie Cornish are fine in their somewhat opposite roles. Rush’s Walsingham is tough in his old age, but is faithful to his Queen to the last. Cornish is charming as the simple lady in waiting who has nothing compared to the Queen, but everything the Queen desires. It’s fittingly eerie to see the two women live through each other. Bess for power and fame, Elizabeth for love and feeling. Clive Owen, although not a miss, is not impressive, either. I enjoyed Children of Men, but I’ve yet to see what makes Owen different from every other well trained handsome Brit. Of course he’s charming as Raleigh-he even delivers the tenderness to match Blanchett, but in a role such as this, Owen could have stolen the show. Instead he is just the new cute guy of the movie, replacing Joseph Fiennes from the original. Whatever happened to him, anyway?
With proper performances all around, I was surprised by the touch of avant garde direction from Shekhar Kapur-the spinning panoramic camera work; the filming through screens, woodwork, curtains; the fading to black and panning to and from walls. It’s a bit dizzying and overwhelming in a film that should speak for itself. Another intrusion into the fine script by Michael Hurst (The Tudors, Elizabeth) is the score by Craig Armstrong. It’s lovely and classical enough, but the music is too obvious in the wrong moments. We get the same booming tune for a panoramic of Elizabeth’s nice gown as we do Spanish Armada action. Go figure. 

The costumes and set design are immaculate and look authentic, as do the fleets and sea battle action. Some of it is no doubt computer imagery, but the blend of real ship sets and cgi scope is just right. I wish there was more on location scenery, but I’m sure things that still look like 16th Century England aren’t easy to come by. One more element I found off was the Divine styled effects. Slow motion moves and sunlight and halo types about the Queen are a bit much for us Americans. We know Elizabeth I was great, really we do. It’s nice to see a proper historical piece about her instead of our Renaissance Faire interpretations. 
Elizabeth: The Golden Age is worthy of historical drama fans or scholars. Young folks might be confused if they don’t know there history, but the sexuality is brief and mild enough for teen viewing. I haven’t seen the first Elizabeth in some time, and one not need see the first film to appreciate The Golden Age. The DVD has plenty features, and naturally anyone who is a fan of Cate Blanchett or the other stars must see this film. Shakespearean and similar period pieces are many, but Elizabeth: The Golden Age is a mature, honest look at Queen Elizabeth and Cate Blanchett. A Must see for history and performance.

Andy Gibb's Greatest Hits

Andy Was A Jolly Good Chap!
by Kristin Battestella

An Andy LP review! Although a greatest hits album after only three releases usually spells doom for any musician (and in retrospect was no different for Andy Gibb) Andy Gibb’s Greatest Hits, released in 1980, does indeed represent the best of his career. While I praise Flowing Rivers, it does have the introductory album feel, and with Shadow Dancing and After Dark, sometimes I have to ask myself, “Where’s Andy?” Andy’s Greatest Hits is indeed his one complete album.

I Just Want To Be Your Everything is such a keeper. (We reviewed this song in detail for Flowing Rivers here.) This song put Andy on the map, and Barry’s lyrics just say what needs to be said. It’s such simple genius. Andy rings so true when singing about penne ultimate love, in a word it’s everything. Love Is Thicker than Water (also on our FR review) cemented Andy’s quick rise to fame and has an easy humming guitar break at the end. Sweetness.

Recently I have discovered Shadow Dancing is a great sing along song for the car. The only recorded song written by all four brothers, sometimes I fancy you can hear all four on the song, and if this is what all the Gibb boys would have sounded like together, wow.

An Everlasting Love seals Andy’s title as the Love Prince. Another great sing a long song written by Barry that is just so happy and blissful and true. Once I get the tears out of my eyes from Our Love Don’t Throw It All Away, I’m left with one question. Why didn’t Blue Weaver write more? This song is unique in that it symbolizes Both Andy and his brothers independently of each other. Many fans adore this Andy sung tear jerker, and The Bee Gees performed the song with his recording in many live tributes. This is one of those songs that just says everything exactly how you mean to say what you mean, but can’t. Once I was having trouble reaching a kid I was teaching in church. I began saying, “Maybe I don’t want to know the reason why,” I was like, damn Gibbness is good.

Perhaps the one downfall of this album is that it showcases the commercial and popular Andy. The Andy that didn’t write his own songs and didn’t sing without his brothers or at least their input or production. I’m no psycho analyst, but many theorize this almost Norma Jean (country without his brothers) versus Marilyn (creme de la creme with his brothers) complex was what lead Andy into substance abuse. This is not the same young idealist heartfelt country songwriter that we hear on Flowing Rivers. This is a great psychological study, but for now it suffices to say I do like both Andys, for what it’s worth. :0)

Allow me if you will to also mention All I Have To Do Is Dream. This cover was released by Andy Gibb and Victoria Principal about this time. It’s alright for Ms. Bobby Ewing I suppose, but again listeners of the day felt Andy could not stand without anyone around him, especially his brothers. And just when that old argument comes up again, something amazing happens. Side Two does give us the Andy of old!

Time Is Time was written by Andy and Barry and has a renewed sound for both. It’s got a nice happy rhythm and groove to it, just the way I like it. Me Without You is the lone track here written by just Andy and does the complete opposite of Time. Me Without You is soulful and heartfelt, and even when Andy cracks a bit in the song, it just fits the mellow mood. A totally beautiful and lovely song in its own right.

Who honestly is Pat Arnold? I didn’t even know she was a she until I heard her sing Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow here with Andy. I had to read up to find out she is the same P P Arnold that worked with the brothers before, and I still don‘t know who she is. This is one of those songs that is so great and real and true, that it can’t really be done wrong. Nothing will ever, ever compare to the Shirelles version, but hey, our team here makes a sing-along-able go at it.

As per Gibb tradition, After Dark is the record’s kinky track. There’s something about the way Andy delivers the husky chorus. Although written by Barry, Andy does his own breathy twist that I often find stuck in my head. The lyrics and delivery are just that sexy! Desire is a sweet little song, but for me it ends the album on a bittersweet note. We’ve full-fledgly returned to Andy merely echoing his brothers on their own track. It makes for a dang good song, but again with Andy I wonder what could have been.

Andy Gibb’s Greatest Hits I’ve found out can be a very thought provoking album with much more depth than Andy is given credit for. Maybe that is do to the tragedy of his life, I don’t know. Still, I recommend this lp for its sing along We Are The 70s! dance ability. After all, we listen to these boys to dance our cares away, don’t we?


Well Fly Me Like A Hawk!
by Kristin Battestella

Okay my title makes no sense whatsoever, but people not in the Gibb-know have no idea what I mean anyway, so boo on them. Hawks was a Barry solo project released in 1988. There was quite a bit of hoopla around this album, but I was fortunate enough to trade Penny for it! MCA could not or would not release Barry’s first offering in The USA, (even my US version of Tales From The Brothers Gibb is not allowed to have some samplings!) but most of Barry’s work did see the light of day and ended up on the Hawks film soundtrack. I do have one question, has anyone seen this movie?

System of Love leads off the album with the eighties synthesized sound. Although dated in sound, the guitar opening is cool. The lyrics are a bit generic and tough to understand, but I liked the Hair Bands, what can I say? Childhood Days was the single released for the film. It a quiet pop staple, yet most of the songs here are not quite elevator easy listening either. The story in the song is more serious than the happy go lucky music admits, but Barry’s natural voice is the treat.

Barry is on lyrical form for My Eternal Love. Even with the falsetto singing, you hear what touches you in the words. Reading this one alone is great, and the sound has held up over the past decade or two. A solid chorus delivers again with great internal rhymes and a bit of a different turnaround each time.

Moonlight Madness returns to the Spirits Having Flown style and is the longest track here at 5:15 my count. Madness has a tropical feel to it, and you would expect to hear it playing while traveling on a cruise in the Caribbean. It gets you in a sex on the beach mood, the drink or otherwise ;0)

Who knew? Celebration de la Vie is an instrumental theme done by Barry for the film. Although it could never be a film score in this current day and age ;0) I’ve listened to far worse over end credits! Where Tomorrow Is is the best of the modern synthesized songs presented here. It succeeds where System of Love and later Cover You missed. The delivery is not competing with the music, and its lyrics present a unique dilemma of hoping for good when you are surrounded by the baddies.

Dang some of this is hot stuff! Chain Reaction is my favorite track on this album. Written by the brothers for Diana Ross, the song appears on her 1985 release Eaten Alive. How it got here is beyond me, but I’m glad it did. Ms. Ross and Barry’s harmony and lyrics is Motown truly recaptured. (Some pop twits actually remade this, and it was a hit of course.)
Cover You is a bit of a let down from Chain Reaction in that its too far at the other end of the spectrum to follow it. This sounds like the bad guy theme or the song for the big car chase onscreen. The technical synthesizers blow out Barry’s breathy and hot lyrics.

Not In Love At All returns to the sweet eighties metaphors. It may sound a little dated now in tone, but the pun and play on the words in the song is cute. Similar in style to My Eternal Love, but Love is the fight for her song. I’ll win you someday! With Not In Love At All, he’s professing he’s like, so, over you, but yeah right. Letting Go continues the somber story in Childhood Days, yet the last track makes no secret of its sad lyrics. The slow track is eerie in its foretelling of losing a loved one. Although written in 1986, Hawks was finally released the September after Andy Gibb’s death. Sniff.

Hawks, like most solo Gibb material, is not perfect. It’s a unique look at Barry’s style alone and is a must for any of his fans. Hawks however, does inadvertently again prove The Brothers Gibb are best together. Like Maurice said in the Tales booklet, “One of us is okay. Two of us is pretty good. But three of us together is magic.”