22 January 2009

Quantum Leap: Season One

Groundbreaking Quantum Leap Still Potent
By Kristin Battestella

Quantum Leap - The Complete First Season I remember seeing the 1989 premiere of the neo classic science fiction series Quantum Leap. It’s the type of sf I love: mind boggling in its causes, scientifically sound, witty and humorous, yet carrying something more. This was one of the few shows that my whole family watched together, even my sister the anti sci-fi! The extra charm of Quantum Leap is still silencing time travel nay sayers and giving relevant commentary about the 20th century.

“Theorizing that one could time-travel within his own lifetime…Dr. Sam Beckett prematurely stepped into the Quantum Accelerator, and vanished. …”

The opening sequence of Quantum Leap sets up each episode and provides everything you need. The first few moments re-establish the science of Sam’s leaps through time, his desire to help others, and his wish to simply return home. Each episode then follows a similar, but forgivable, sentimental pattern. Sam leaps into his next seemingly disastrous case, then receives future advice from a hologram named Al and an advanced computer named Ziggy. The person he has switched with is held in an empty chamber in the future, and we always get a creative mirror shot or reflection of who Sam’s host is. Is the science or the science fiction that important in Quantum Leap? Actually, no. Should we accept nothing but greatness from television genius Donald P. ‘Battlestar Galactica Airwolf Magnum PI Jag NCIS’ Bellisario? Yes.

For years before his return to sf television for Star Trek: Enterprise, Scott Bakula was synonymous with Dr. Sam Beckett. While I loved Enterprise, my mom would complain that Bakula just didn’t look right as anything but Sam. Dr. Beckett is highly intelligent, but his random journey, humility, and belief that his leaps have a higher purpose carry over to the viewer. Bakula’s easy acting style and Capra everyman instantly make Sam likeable, along with the peculiar situations in each episode. Whether its an angry, serious, dramatic turn or a singing body switcheroo played for the laughs, Bakula excels at the changes needed for each episode while keeping Sam’s motivations at heart.

Likewise Golden Globe winner and television veteran Dean Stockwell is up to the task as womanizer and oft married Admiral Al Calavicci. His wise cracks and wayward analysis of the past, present, and future add a real life flair to the leap of the faith the viewer is asked to take. Despite his humor, Al is a serious soul at heart, the lone support and connection Sam has to his proper time and place. Al is the only friend, father, and support Sam has. Truly it is the pair that makes Quantum Leap. Can we pull out the buddy cop clich├ęs? Why not!

Today some may find Quantum Leap’s obvious use of science fiction as a vehicle to create social commentary a bit heavy handed or over the top. How many times will Sam leap into an African American or a woman? We get it! Particularly in later seasons, Leap stretches its premise by having Sam leap too close to or even into famous historical figures. The pilot and six episodes of Season One were, however, shocking and brand new at the time Quantum Leap premiered on NBC. It was before grunge, Nirvana, The X-Files, and conspiracies theories; we were coming off Wall Street and the first George Bush. Before the first Gulf War, people were still yuppies and had money and big hair. It was a time when things were relatively good (or at least glossy), and Back to the Future was as heavy as science fiction got. Then along comes Quantum Leap with all its reflections on race relations, homosexuality, Vietnam, abuse, mental illness, women’s rights, and faith. Topics that, believe it or not, were still relatively taboo at the time. Thankfully, audiences and critics took notice, and in 1990 Quantum Leap earned Emmy nominations for Best Drama, Lead Actor, and Supporting Actor- acknowledgements unheard of for a quote genre or science fiction series.

Although Season One is perhaps not the best the series has to offer, it is a fine and proper place to begin. The two hour pilot establishes the premise of the Quantum Leap project and the format of the show. With only eight hours here, one can easily plunge into Quantum Leap guilt free. Teri Hatcher fans will enjoy her fine guest performance in the second episode ‘Star Crossed’. They may be obvious now, but the homages and hints of history were fun touches back in the day. Season One gives us shades of Watergate and Buddy Holly, along with Driving Miss Daisy race relations in ‘The Color of Truth.’ Maybe these themes aren’t a big deal to the young folks, but boomers will appreciate the Bogart-esque finale ‘Play It Again, Seymour.’

Quantum Leap has little effects to speak of, which is probably why the masses were tricked into such acclaim. Beyond the opening and closing fancy blue leaps, the obligatory mirror shot, and Al’s holographic comings and goings, Quantum Leap looks like any other regular series. Sure one week Sam and Al were in 1930s Alabama, then maybe the 60s the following episode, but these easily recreated recent histories keep Leap looking fresh today. If youngsters think it looks dated, you can tell them its supposed to look that way! But I must say, the few and far between depictions of the future and some of Al’s funky futuristic get ups have not stood the test of time. Oh boy!

There are a few technical mishaps on the DVD release of Quantum Leap Season 1, namely the music and score. The great theme song is still there, but rights to all those great songs don’t come cheap, so some of the classic tunes from the series have been changed for video release. We are however treated to some behind the scenes goodness, subtitles, and games.

As kids, my nieces used to grumble when I switched on Quantum Leap, but after a few forced viewings, they wanted to know where Sam’s next leap would take him. When the series was in regular time and rotation on the Sci-Fi Channel, my mother would come home like clockwork and put it on. Quantum Leap is the show for science fiction lovers who don’t admit they like science fiction. It’s serious stories, honest cast, and timeless morals never get old. If you’re old enough to understand right and wrong, you’re old enough to watch Quantum Leap. With affordable DVDs; reasonable rental sources; online options; and occasional marathons on the Sci-Fi Channel; there’s no reason for you not to appreciate Quantum Leap.

21 January 2009

Sharpe's Tiger

Sharpe’s Tiger A Pleasant Return to India
By Kristin Battestella

Sharpe's Tiger [SHARPES TIGER] [Mass Market Paperback] After reading the less than stellar Sharpe’s Fury, I returned to the Sharpe novel series by Bernard Cornwell at its chronological beginning. 1997’s Sharpe’s Tiger is a pleasant return to Indian locales and colonial drama.

Long before his rise to fame against Napoleon, Sharpe was an ignorant Private serving under then Colonel Wellesley during the invasion of Mysore. It’s 1799, and Private Sharpe suffers cruelly at the hands of the wicked Sergeant Hakeswill and the corrupt Captain Morris. After being tricked and provoked by Hakeswill, Sharpe is flogged. General Harris intervenes, sending the despondent Sharpe and Lieutenant Lawford undercover in Seringapatam Sharpe must infiltrate the Tippoo’s forces, rescue lost intelligence Colonel McCandless, battle man eating tigers, and learn how to read.

A lot happens in Sharpe’s Tiger. Some of it can feel like a retread from Cornwell’s earlier novels, mostly in recreating the animosity and vile character of Obadiah Hakeswill, but the touch of India forgives any redundancy from the author. It’s been some time since I’ve read books like Kim and Gunga Din, so it’s been a pleasant change of pace to read of the red coated, lowly Sharpe getting dusty and thinking desertion in the heat of India. And fortunately, we have plenty of Sharpe, unlike some of the other recent books in the series. The beginning of the novel is almost exclusively from his perspective, so we have plenty of time to get to know and love young Sharpie. Towards the end of the book, however, we again get head hopping from Cornwell, but I can forgive the detached thoughts of the Tippoo because we’ve got our fair share of Dick Sharpe.

As much as I like Sharpe and his issues and relationships, it is refreshing to read Sharpe as a man alone. He warms to Lieutenant Lawford eventually, but this uppity officer and ignorant Private don’t bond like Sharpe and Harper later do. I miss Harper, but I like seeing Sharpe so stripped of all that we love about him later. I dare say, he isn’t even as charming. He’s raw and talented, but Sharpe’s got a lot to learn about how to be a soldier. Although Richard is the best thing in town for the Widowed Mary Bickerstaff, I’m kind of glad we don’t have too much romance or bedroom action in Sharpe’s Tiger. We’re just getting to know young Sharpe; he’s learning about himself. For folks beginning their reading here, you’re just meeting Sharpe all together. Cornwell uses the relationship with Mary to show the budding sensitivity in Sharp, but we also get allusions to some brothels, too. We can’t have our hero completely loveless! As often as Cornwell can lay on the history a bit thick, Sharpe himself represents a good hunk of the history from the time. The Tippoo’s Tiger elite versus sepoys siding with the British, the French putting their hands in the pot-Sharpe himself is conflicted between his mission for the army that flogged him and the French Colonel Gudin who treats him with respect unaware that Sharpe is really spying on the Tippoo.

Naturally, when reading Sharpe’s Tiger you can see its influence on the 2006 telefilm Sharpe’s Challenge. The plots to blow the western wall, Sharpe’s undercover work, and his captivity all end up part and parcel in Challenge. When reading the book, I felt familiar with it already from Challenge, even though the film is supposedly a composite of the entire India trilogy: Tiger, Triumph, and Fortress. Some parts of Tiger are very different, though, with more developed secondary characters and tighter battle sequences. And of course, there’s plenty of tigers on the page. Challenge made a few iffy changes by updating the storyline to post Waterloo, but I’m curious now to see how it took from Triumph and Fortress. Of course, just my luck that I don’t currently have the middle book in the trilogy!

I broke from reading Tiger over Christmas, but was eager to return. Despite my praise, however, I must admit the novel is not as stellar as the original Sharpe books. Cornwell lapses into some lazy writing again. Instead of describing things subtly or from one point of view, we get one or two omnipresent sentences with way too many thats and prepositional phrases. This is attached to that, from which there is this, that goes to this, of which there was that man. I get it. Sometimes I think Cornwell tries too hard, or over researches and feels the need to tell every detail ever. If you set up the palace, I can imagine what Seringapatam is like. I don’t need paragraphs of characters waiting and looking around describing things. Get on with the good stuff.

Sharpe’s Tiger is by no means a perfect book, but where prequels can be hit or miss, Cornwell has succeeded here. Although he tries too hard, treads too stereotypically on the Hindu versus Muslim aspects, and historically stretches the end down to Sharpe versus the Tippoo, all in all Tiger is a pleasant read. Whether you enjoy books dealing with colonial or Imperial India, or you’re a bit tired of Sharpe’s Napoleonic antics, Sharpe’s Tiger is a fine place to join in the Sharpe series.


Historical Whiz Mesmerizes with Agincourt.

A novel guest review by Catherine B. Merryweather celebrating author Bernard Cornwell's newest release, Agincourt

Bernard Cornwell’s latest historical novel is mesmerizing. The author’s talent for including technical, historical, and military detail without weighing down the story is once more in evidence. By the time the book is finished you feel as though you could fit in to the ranks of the archers without any problems, except for the minor detail of training from childhood to develop the requisite upper body strength! The depth of research sits lightly, but is what anchors this book so securely in its background of the Hundred Years War.

Agincourt: A NovelHowever, making the period live is not what keeps you turning the pages. The story is compelling with vivid characters and a flawed, ruthless but attractive hero who triumphs over adversity - no, not the French, but enemies within his own army. The protagonist Nicholas Hook is certainly another entertaining character that Cornwell has brought to life.

Henry V’s victory over the French army is legendary, and Shakespeare’s depiction has ensured that the main characters live on nearly 600 years later. But Cornwell tells the story of the longbow men who made it possible, and gives the legend a human dimension which will stay in the mind long after the final pages are read.

19 January 2009

Planet of the Apes (1968)

Classic Planet of the Apes Still Stunning
By Kristin Battestella

I’ve been begging my husband to watch the original 1968 Planet of the Apes for weeks. It’s been on cable a lot recently, and I tune in every time. No matter how many times you see it, Planet of the Apes still offers unforgettable moments and speculative insights on the human condition.

American astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is readying his ship for its return to earth. While the crew is in suspended animation, the ship crashes on an unknown planet. Taylor, Landon (Robert Gunner) and Dodge (Jeff Burton) survive, but their female crewmate Stewart (Dianne Stanley) died when her pod was damaged. According to the ship’s clocks, several thousand years have passed. The men debate where and when they are as they travel through the rough and dangerous desert. When they finally find trees, water, and a mute tribe of humans, things seem on the up-until Taylor is captured by a group of talking and gun toting apes who refuse to believe his outlandish story.

I finally convinced my husband to watch after our holiday Twilight Zone marathon. ‘Rod Serling wrote Planet of the Apes’, I casually said. Although his script was taken part and parcel with Oscar Winner Michael Wilson’s (A Place in the Sun, Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia) rewrite, many of Serling’s touches can be found in the film and both men receive credit. From Taylor’s iconic ‘Get your stinkin’ paws off me you damn, dirty ape!’ to Apes’ still disturbing ending, the movie carries a lot of The Twilight Zone’s topsy turvy feeling. Taylor traveled to the stars in an effort to find something better than man, and instead he finds a world where man is at the bottom of the food chain. So many memorable, yet humorous and tragic observations accent Planet of the Apes with their species reversals: Taylor’s black crewmate Dodge ends up in museum; people are lobotomized and gelded at will in hopes that ‘man can be domesticated’; a gorilla’s eulogy proclaims, ‘I never met an ape I didn’t like’; and although we may laugh at ‘human see, human do’, we really can often be that basic and stupid. 

I remember seeing this original as a kid. I was surprised my parents were encouraging me to watch a film with seemingly so much nudity and skimpy clothing. That’s all harmless bits of course, but beyond the sixties styles and sets, the story and situation from director Franklin Schaffner (Patton) blew my mind. Although it advanced the science fiction genre onscreen and off, Planet of the Apes is really about the arrogance of man. I remember groaning over the opening desert segment, feeling the hopelessness and isolation of these stranded astronauts. In spite of its title, the shock of seeing a gorilla riding a horse and carrying a gun instantly tells you the kind of world in which the Planet of the Apes takes place.

We can joke that a movie with plenty of nudity and guns is right up Charlton Heston’s alley, but his performance here is just as worthy as The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur. He’s older, a bit more rough around the edges, but we believe Heston’s Taylor can be the rugged leader and cocky explorer exploring for the wrong reasons. When we meet him, Taylor is actually quite the jerk. When encountering primitive humans, he comments that if this was the cream of the crop, he could be running the planet in six months. Once he is stripped of all human dignity and helpless in this disturbing world, we are instantly on Taylor’s side. Heston gains our sympathy while keeping Taylor strong as the lone antagonist with no hope of proving himself.

Veterans Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowell are simply darling as the chimpanzee scientists Zira and Cornelius. They are a cute couple, and even though they have each other, Zira and Cornelius soon come to odds with their own society over Taylor. Maurice Evans is equally delicious as orangutan administrator Dr. Zaius. You know from the start he knows more than he’s saying. As much as we are disturbed about seeing man put in his place, these apes also don’t like an outsider telling them what’s wrong with how they do things. Taylor’s answer to Zaius that ‘some apes, it seems, are more equal than others’ sets the inevitable stand off that comes for these characters.  

Planet of the Apes [Blu-ray]Although the menus and special features are nothing special, the blu ray presentation of Planet of the Apes is a sight and a half to behold. For years I’ve seen the film cut up on television or wearing thin on grainy VHS tapes. The haunting Oscar nominated score by Jerry Goldsmith sends chills up your spine; The opening desert scenes and Lake Powell locations and excellent ape makeup not only hold up against digital technology, but look downright supreme. These visuals alone won my husband over, and he gave Planet of the Apes four stars.

In addition to the 2001 remake starring Mark Walhberg, Planet of the Apes spawned four sequels and a brief television series. While the remake is perhaps truer to Pierre Boulle’s 1963 French source novel and has better sf effects, its ape faces are sub par in comparison with John Chambers’ Oscar winning makeup. The Ape sequels bring the series full circle, but their quality diminishes as they go forth. The complete collection is however available in several DVD and blu ray sets.

Fans of science fiction and dystopian films cannot call themselves true fans unless they view the original Planet of the Apes. Apes collectors should definitely upgrade to blu ray the moment you can afford to do so. PG and tame by today’s standards, elder folks can introduce tweens to Planet of the Apes. Despite some old school looks, the story, social commentaries, and beautiful restoration to blu ray ensures Planet of the Apes will be with us for years to come.

13 January 2009

The Twilight Zone: Volumes 1 and 2

The Twilight Zone Never Goes Out of Style
By Kristin Battestella
Every once in awhile, you get that itch. That bizarre feeling that can only be quenched by Rod Serling’s classic paranormal anthology series The Twilight Zone. Growing up, I had a ten inch black and white television in my room. Late at night, when the other networks shut off (my sister called me on the phone one day to corroborate her story to my nieces-yes, television networks signed off in those days!) the only thing left on my TV was PBS and The Twilight Zone. This probably explains a lot about me, I know.
The Twilight Zone: Vol. 1Several compilation videos and DVDs of The Twilight Zone have been released in recent years, as well as individual season series and sets. Here’s an analysis of my recent marathon from Volumes 1 and 2 of The Twilight Zone.
Volume 1 begins with the classic ‘The Invaders’. I remember this one from being a kid, and thinking I was so cool and special that I found this rare and genius television. Well, obviously everyone loves Agnes Moorehead (Bewitched) and this episode about a lone old woman tormented by tiny space invaders. Today it’s a big deal if someone can pull off one person television or present a program without dialogue or sound. ‘The Invaders’, however, is typical of the Twilight Zone’s vibe. You can’t take your eyes of the screen, no matter how silly or bizarre things get, and you are always bemiffed by the episode’s end.
‘The Night of the Meek’ is a fine Christmas tale as only Rod Serling can present. Art Carney (The Honeymooners) plays a down and out store Santa who finds a very special sack of presents. This episode is a bit more bittersweet than the series’ usually twisted self, but there’s still plenty of veiled commentary on alcoholism and charity.

Robert Redford (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) fans will of course enjoy ‘Nothing in the Dark’. The very young Redford plays a wounded policeman rescued by the very old and fearful Gladys Cooper (My Fair Lady). Some of the twists in The Twilight Zone are no longer so shocking, due to constant repeats on television, remakes, and parodies. Frequent Zone writer George Clayton Johnson (Logan’s Run) keeps the material here so crisp and tight, that it isn’t even the big end that’s what special. It’s the getting there that counts. Spoiled CGI fans of today may not realize that you can put two people in a room with a camera and great things can happen. The Twilight Zone is the proof.
The Twilight Zone: Volume 2 continues the greatness with Burgess Meredith (Rocky, Grumpy Old Men) and ‘Time Enough At Last’. If our current digital society someday looses books as we know it, I imagine this tale of a man who can’t get enough to read will be even more ironic and bizarre than it already is. Serling again gives us social analysis by packing literacy, materialism, and the atomic bomb all in one episode. I know I’d be up the creek without a paddle if it were me in this episode!

‘The Monster Are Due on Maple Street’ continues the social commentary. Offbeat as it is, The Twilight Zone is just as well know for its allegory and issues. When the families of Maple Street loose power, cars, and technology, they quickly revert to angry and fearful mobs, despite level headed Claude Atkins’ (Rio Bravo) attempts to stop the finger pointing. I always think of this episode when I see the very similar episode from the Sci Fi Channel’s short lived First Wave. Often imitated, never equaled!

We make fun of William Shatner (Star Trek), his stilted delivery, and goofy facial expressions, but everyone knows ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’. Richard Matheson’s (I am Legend) story about a man who may or may be seeing gremlins out his airplane window is one of the most famous Twilight Zone episodes. So often the series blurred the line between the mind and reality, and Nightmare does a great job of giving us disbelief, confusion, and good old fashioned claustrophobia.

The Twilight Zone: Vol. 2Lastly on Volume 2 is ‘The Odyssey of Flight 33’. Perhaps not as famous as its predecessor on this disc, but John Anderson’s (Macguver) missing airplane is just as creepy. Back in the day, aviation was a relatively new thing, and this fear of technology gone awry can still give us the wiggins. Are the effects hokey? Yes, but dated graphics should be a given when watching a fifty year old show. If you are looking for state of the art visuals in The Twilight Zone, I do feel that is missing the point. Serling’s speculative stories and bizarre twists make me feel more intelligent, more cultured for having watched. When was the last time you said that about some run of the mill reality series?
Although completists would prefer the season sets in the order that the series was intended or the complete collection, these compilation volumes are a great way to introduce non fans to The Twilight Zone. When you have that hankering for classic genre food for thought television, pick and choose your favorite Twilight Zone episodes today. When in doubt, check out a rerun on TV or sample free video online.

12 January 2009

Keppel Road

La La La, I stroll on Keppel Road
by Kristin Battestella

Well I’ve somehow begun a Year of the Compilation here, so to vary that, let’s talk about Keppel Road. I was fortunate enough to get this DVD in the universal Region 0 format. My honey ordered it from somewhere in South America, Brazil I think. The cover and menus are in Spanish, but hey I can read it. Even if one couldn’t, the Gibby treats inside are worth the oddity.
I first saw Keppel Road on PBS around the time of This Is Where I Came In, even though the film dates back to 1997. The shortened version isn’t as long or in depth as the three hour Biography, but the extended DVD adds a half hour of concert footage performed by the Boys exclusively for Keppel Road.
Keppel Road wastes no time and jumps into a set rendition of Still Waters. I think the video was actually made at least year before the Still Waters release, but Keppel Road takes the boys full circle-from the sweet Still Waters sound to Barry, Robin, and Maurice singing Lollipop thru their old Manchester haunts. Barry’s impromptu reminisce of All Things Great And Small is a treat as well.

Gibb friend and fan David English interviews the boys and narrates The Bee Gees musical rise. The ‘triplets’ (“Something went wrong with Barry!” jokes Maurice) follow the path to where they dropped their miming records, and Barry and Robin argue if they were called The Rattlesnakes or Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats! Barry, Robin, and Maurice share their in depth feelings on the impact of The Beatles, and Sir George Martin appears several times to analyze the genius of the Gibbs at work.
The studio sessions I find particularly fascinating, namely the first full length set of New York Mining Disaster 1941. The genesis of this song a well to do Gibber has probably heard before. During the studio set, however, listen and observe carefully-only Barry and Robin are singing. Watching Keppel Road with a post Maurice view is eerie. He is constantly referred to here as The Man In The Middle, and Moby’s interviews are more about him being caught in the middle or him talking about his brothers rather than himself. If Barry and Robin ever perform Disaster live, this minus Moby version is how it might sound.
My father would be amiss if I didn’t mention the Top of the Pops footage of Massachusetts, but the next Storytellers type session hails To Love Somebody. Gibbologists will enjoy the intimate feeling, especially the snippet from Barry’s 50th birthday party. Oddly enough, Maurice talks about To Love Somebody as if he was a part of the initial writing, yet the song’s credit is only Barry and Robin. Go fig.

When confronted by English about his early melancholy songs, Robin laughs but seems to skirt the issue. I found it amusing, but alas still no answer to I Started A Joke. We do get a damn (not dang mind you-damn) spiffy rendition and music video of I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You. I love Barry’s story about the birth of this one.
The boys are quite candid about their infamous split before we get to How Can You Mend A Broken Heart. The video seamlessly shifts from the exclusive concert session to old school footage and back again. Excellent.
Do to the excellence of the Message update, I suppose I can let the live set of Jive Talkin’ pass. It’s kind of funny to see the boys rocking for themselves. There’s no audience to rev up here. It’s the most I’ve seen Robin move on stage since he tripped over the microphone during One Night Only. The best part of this one is when the boys actually mess up the stilted Somebody! and giggle.
We have the obligatory Fever footage and chat, but I do so love Robin’s confession that he’s never seen the movie all the way through. Sir George Martin gives a very extensive musical analysis of Staying Alive. I had a tough time, however, understanding his pronunciation of macho.
After about twenty minutes of dialogue, Keppel Road jumps into another exclusive performance, this time of Tragedy. Despite the paired down band and set, the feeling here is electric. Even the big bang inside works-better even than the Nueve Philharmonic Orchestra’s weak pop.

Begrudgingly Barry and Robin mention Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Barry refers to the it as, “The film that should never have been made.“ Oiy. I enjoyed the post Fever sequence more so for its insights into the Boys’ writing-for-others career. Details about the Diana Ross collaboration are few and far between, and Eaten Alive is one of the Gibb works absent from my collection. Ha! Moby doesn’t like Ernest Hemingway either!
One of the pieces unique to Keppel Road is the set in progress. Barry, Robin, and Maurice trial and error their way to the song we know as Just In Case. Some of the words are different than the This Is Where I Came In version, but Barry explains the core of the song. We even learn a smidge of Robin’s songwriting process. Fascinating, Mr. Spock.
Although High Civilization and Size Isn’t Everything aren’t even mentioned, footage of the boys Hurricane relief rendition of One made the cut. Much more time is spent on You Win Again. Now that was a video in eighties mastery. Only 7 minutes is devoted to Andy‘s death, and most of that is footage from the Spirits tour. There are telling insights, however, from Barry, Robin, and Maurice on the subject.
The one slight against Keppel Road is its rushed ending. We get brief glimpses of the Boys’ homes, and an even more brief look at Linda, Ally, and Barry’s boys. I don’t much mind, though, since the film closes with complete renditions of I Could Not Love You More and I Surrender.
I must mention a few standouts from the documentary itself. The still photographs presented are nothing new, but the archival footage is fascinating. Not just of our boys, but their idols The Mills Brothers and later Dionne Warwick and a live show of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. Footage of the Brothers singing and music video pieces are all almost full length inclusions. It’s the closest thing to having a DVD of all the Gibb music videos. (Hint hint, Barry and Robin!)

Some of the stories and tales from the Brothers are very similar to other DVDs, but there are a few curiosities here. Barry perhaps for the first and only time speaks with complete honesty about the disco albatross. He is not angry or offensive, just sincere. Robin also confesses his feelings on Andy Gibb’s death, and even chipper Maurice shares his humble existence pre Main Course-having no heat and living next to a fish and chips deli. Still, my favorite new moment
has to be Mo’s deadpan about being kicked out of the school choir, “They didn’t like us harmonizing to God Save The Queen.”

Keppel Road - The Life & Music Of The Bee Gees [Import]English brings a home movie style-Keppel Road has a thoroughly British feeling-and Barry, Robin, and Maurice are totally at ease talking about the music. Again this makes the quirks on the DVD tolerable. There are no special features but for a small photo gallery, biography, and discography. The subtitles of the song lyrics come in English, but otherwise I’m stuck with Spanish, French, and I believe Portuguese. The segments are kind of long, but where other documentaries focus on the boys problems and lives and such, Keppel Road does so in relation to the music. Isn’t that what it’s all about?
Part documentary and part music video, Keppel Road is not just for Bee Gees fans, but any budding music historian. Keppel Road is just the right length and just difficult enough to obtain to declare it a must have.

The Record

The Record is well THE Record!
by Kristin Battestella

Although it hails no major surprises in its lineup, 2001’s The Record may be the ultimate Bee Gees compilation set. I purchased the double cassette shortly after its release-I’m old fashioned and hadn’t made the jump to admitting I wanted a Bee Gees CD. My sister and I cracked it open on the way home, and The Record remained a car staple until I got my own vehicle-with a CD player.

The cover from Universal has a slightly rushed feel. No major details and a few pics of the boys through the years. I suspect not much thought went into the presentation, but I’m sure it was easy to pick a starting point. First’s New York Mining Disaster 1941 is ideal to start Barry, Robin, and Maurice’s history. This melancholy tale still rings true 40 years after it topped the British charts. 3 voices, a beat, and superb story will surpass today’s bubble gum pop any day.

Naturally, To Love Somebody should be here as another staple in the Brother‘s songwriting belt. Kid bands today are still trying to capture the magic of this song-penned by the Boys for the ill fated Otis Redding. Who knew?
Holiday is an excellent song on its own, but I always feel like it gets the shaft on compilations. Competition before and after might make this somber tale a skipper, but listen again folks. Sheer poetry.

Massachusetts is darling. You can’t help but listen more and more to the sweet melody or Robin’s easy voice. Also from Horizontal, by contrast World showcases the boys quiet psychedelic rage. Initially, I thought World was rather obscure sounding, but it has to be popular now. These sounds are back in style and World also made it to Number Ones.
Who last tried to cover Words? Barry’s sweet tune has often been attempted, but the original is tops. Even Robin took a stab at this one Live.

I don’t think I can ever say enough about I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You! My first favorite Bee Gees song. Although The Record shaves a few seconds off each tune here and there, any rendition of Message is essential for introducing the Gibber in training.
Mysterious I Started A Joke follows Message in pure melancholy Robin fashion. Do you think he will ever tell us what this song is really about? Nobody knows its meaning yet all can relate. Excellent.

Saved By The Bell and Cucumber Castle’s Don’t Forget To Remember make their obligatory appearances here representing the Brothers late sixties split. Both are slightly inferior when considered in the set and very dated compared to the timeless tunes before and after. They were however hits in their own right. Saved By The Bell and Don’t Forget To Remember mark unique individual histories for Barry, Robin, and Maurice.
Lonely Days closes Side A in perfect fashion. You start off slow, then rock at the end. It is slightly symbolic of the Gibby changes to come and still a foot tapper.

B starts us off slow with the quintessential How Can You Mend A Broken Heart from the non-quintessential Trafalgar album. Can we all just do one collective happy sigh? Run To Me completes that oh so sweet Gibby sound with its impeccable chorus. Oh yes, I said impeccable again.

My dislike of Jive Talkin is quite irksome here because ! have to judge the old fast forward button. Too far and I’m into the next song, then the rewind takes me back to the Mr. Shrill Jive. Can I think of a song of similar time and stature to replace it? No.

I much prefer Nights On Broadway when choosing a song to represent the changed Barry, Robin, and Maurice. Pouty lyrics, kick ass music, and the discovered falsetto accenting the chorus-what could be better?
Also hailing from Main Course, Fanny Be Tender With My Love showcases the Brothers’ over the top harmony in ways no other song can. It’s tight and refined tighter each turnaround, yet it’s lofty and chorale-and you can hear every brother.

Love So Right has grown on me in recent listenings. Lyrics and softness from Barry oh yes, but I never paid much attention to the music. Indeed there are many layers here to analyze and enjoy.
Made famous by the Yvonne Elliman version, Barry, Robin, and Maurice present their recording of If I Can’t Have You here. Although it was also on Greatest, this was my first introduction to the song. Sometimes it’s weird because we are so used to Yvonne, but all be dang the boys sound like women as well.

My mastery of fast forward and rewind stems from my love for Love Me. My mother loathes this Children of The World staple not just for its melancholy feel, but also from my rewind.stop.play.fast forward.stop.play.rewind. Yes I would torture my parents just to hear a Bee Gees song.
Closing the cassette is fellow World alum You Should Be Dancing. This powerhouse highlights the full throttle the boys were about it embark on. Oh baby.

Cassette Two, Side C brings us to the heyday. The night I got The Record, my sister picked this side to start with, and of course she sang Staying Alive. Her rendition does make me appreciate the original just a bit more.
Of course, I learned to time the cassette so I could turn it over and catch How Deep Is Your Love instead. Excellent. Most excellent, Ted.

At first I was a little gun shy of Night Fever. All that disco stigma you know. With my Record cassette, however, I was able to turn it up and boogie. Shh. It really isn’t disco you know. Listen again and reminisce here with one of Barry, Robin, and Maurice’s quintessential tunes.
Ignore More Than A Woman for it’s Fever aspects and place in music and film history. Just focus on the song. It really is a piece of music genius. The lyrics and harmony are timed to perfection, and the beat is still swinging today. Marvelous.

Although Emotion dates back to the heyday with the Samantha Sang hit, this recording is an update from the boys exclusively for The Record. More rerecords follow, but Emotion is perhaps the most complete tune of them. I’m sure Maurice is there, and Barry and Robin both sound solid. The transition from a female song to male voices is perfection.

Feel good stalwart Too Much Heaven starts the Spirits whirlwind. If you haven’t heard this tune yet, go back to Mars. Tragedy is also simply a must hear. Seeing Maurice talk about Tragedy on the Keppel Road video only partly explains all the treats in this song.
Even in a compilation as big as The Record, Love You Inside Out still tops the Naughty list. Inside Out expertly captures the good and bad of the swinging lifestyle in words, music, and mood.

Guilty showcases Barry’s Grammy winning work with Barbra. Although it’s not The Bee Gees, Guilty is an important staple in the songwriting catalogue of the boys. Indeed it is a must in any history of The Brothers Gibb.
For me anyway, Heartbreaker has always been slightly lesser known. Dionne’s version is just fine, but it is a treat to hear a Gibb version in its entirety. Barry’s version here is not perfect-it seems to be just him in fact-but I love the lyrics and swaying beats. I’m so glad that this version also appears on the Love Songs CD.

Side D begins the modern day period for The Brothers-as in songs released in my lifetime 80). I dare say this side is my favorite, no maybe B. Can you choose?
We have a few Barry dominated updates, so why not one for Robin? Made famous by Kenny and Dolly’s country smash, Robin returns Islands In The Stream to its origins and gives it an R and B feel. A verse from the remake Getto Superstar is also included. Sweetness- if only to hear a Middle aged British white man say Ghetto Superstar.

You Win Again returned the Boys to the music forefront and was a chart topper no less. A lot of important people cite this one as their favorite, including Robin’s wife Dwina.
Less later day hits are included on The Record, but all the biggies are here. One represents the album of the same name, and the eighties monster hasn’t dated itself yet. Barry’s easy delivery and the band’s cool rhythm still get me dancing.

Secret Love brings the foot tapping into the nineties. It take listening to like High Civilization, but indeed Secret Love is the best song from that album, and it deserves a spot on The Record.
For Whom The Bell Tolls is edited slightly, but I’m glad the Size Isn’t Everything ballad represents here. Barry and Robin continue to volley back and forth, and their vocal time on The Record almost evens out when you think about it-and I’m sure they did. Tolls fits both brothers perfectly. I think it could be released today and still be a hit.

If ever I had a song to rival I’ve Gotta Get A Message to You, it might be Alone. The Still Waters standout is one of the best later day Bee Gees songs-if not the best one of the nineties.
I like Immortality, and if you’re getting a piece of the boys ‘songwriting for others’ catalogue, then it fits right in here. Barry’s demo however, is a tad too shrill. Again the jacket is lacking lyrics, so you’ll have to look them up online, but the boy’s poetic feel on Immortality is near perfection. Of course none of us are immortal, but love and music are.

This Is Where I Came In represents the final single by all three brothers. At the time of course we had no way of knowing, but with its smooth lyrics and expert guitar rhythms from Mo, This Is Where I Came in takes on special meaning. For any old school fan, this peak from the album of the same name is a must.
The Record closes by coming full circle. Spics and Specks ends the album in perfect Australian diddy fashion. Specks is still strong today, and that one dang note hasn’t changed in forty years. I’m not sure why they chose to end with the boys first Aussie number one, but it’s a nice touch.

Although I must protest at the lack of a Maurice lead, The Record is a set of Gibb standards, not the rare or obscure. More extensive and complete than Number Ones, yet less inclusive than Tales From The Brothers Gibb, The Record is essential for any Bee Gee quick fix.

Here At Last...Bee Gees Live

Here At Last Live...Finally!
by Kristin Battestella

So after saying I’m going to do a Here At Live review this month and then that month, I’m finally doing it! Why not take a gander at the boys 1977 Live double disc? I bought a promo record set of Here At Last from my local Gibber friend Molly, but I’ve only listening to it once or twice. My mom asked if it was really worth the $20 dollars....Heck yeah! Fortunately, I found the CD set at a shop several months later, and then all was right with the world.

If I had to tell my utmost favorite Bee Gees song, this version of I’ve Gotta Get A Message To You has to be it. Is it perfect? No. There are certainly tighter tunes out there to present as finer points of Gibb songwriting. I love the original-it’s so sappy and melancholy-but the Here at Last version of Message rocks and has that somber feel. The brass puts it over the top, and Robin is still quivering his sad tune in between. Barry’s ad-libbed ending gives Message that extra pop. There’s even a “You rock, Barry!” shout at the end. Robin’s recent live version comes close-it does after all have a full orchestra-but the height of harmony here wins out. A must hear and an excellent starting point.

As a later day Gibber, I find it refreshing to hear a live set start out with something other than You Should be Dancing (I’ve see One Night Only way too many times!) Live focuses on the old school, and it so sweet to here Love So Right live. Barry’s voice is sweet as ever, and the booming chorus keeps the powerhouse feel going. Robin and Maurice echo perfectly, and it almost feels like it’s just the boys singing a sweet diddy, never mind the 20,000 listening. Well, I don’t really know how many people the old Los Angeles Forum held. (Or as Barry says Los Angelees.)

In contrast from the first two tunes, Edge of The Universe sounds almost exactly like its Main Course original. It’s louder and Robin’s delivery seems stronger, which isn’t the case on all the songs here. Sometimes he gets drowned out by the booms. Obsessive fans will note this is the only album cover capturing Robin’s briefly there beard. Of course my nieces were more concerned with why they boys were wearing pink!

Come on Over might actually be a miss here. It is an excellent country-esque love song, but tunes like that aren’t meant for the Forum. Robin’s soft delivery softens the instruments behind. Maybe this tune was intentionally placed as a breather? Still, it is beautiful and pleasing, if unexpected live.

I like Can’t Keep a Good Man Down here more than the Children of the World original. Its instrumental length here amounts to a rocking guitar duel, as opposed to a dated seventies diddy. Quite a nice tune live that I thought was obscure, but not in 1977 it seemed. With tongues firmly in cheek, the boys and the band bring the house down. Again the only miss here seems to be Robin’s interlude. He’s louder in the chorus, but flubs the lyrics in his standout moment. Hmph.

Ah the medley! Even then the Boys had to squish all their hits into a mini show. New York Mining Disaster 1941 begins the tradition of Barry, Robin, Maurice and a microphone. Despite the band waiting patiently, Disaster needs nothing but the bare minimum. Broken into parts for the CD, a combo Run to Me/World follows Disaster. The most excellent chorus of Run to Me slides perfectly into the melancholy World. Even though I’m not sure how these two got put together, since Run to Me is from 1974’s To Whom it May Concern and World is from Horizontal. Not that it matters. The boys strong and snappy ending of World gets a rise from the crowd. As if there was any doubt.

Holiday/I Can’t See Nobody/I Started a Joke/Massachusetts continues the quickly moving medley. Although we have no video of Here At Last Live, The crowd’s giggles and cheers during Holiday gives fans in the know a picture of Maurice-obviously doing something to get attention. Although it sounds nothing like the original on First, I Can’t See Nobody sounds exactly as it does on One Night Only-20 years later. It’s spine chilling.
I Started a Joke should have gotten the full fledged treatment, but most of the song is here. If Robin gave you any doubts earlier, he washes them away here with one breath. He just needed to warm up I suppose. Massachusetts completes the set on a high note, and again Robin shifts perfectly from the melancholy Joke to uplifting Massachusetts. The over the top ending is perfect harmony.

The Boys keep things eased down with the Trafalgar hit How Can You Mend a Broken Heart. Barry balances between strong soul and wispy notes, and the music follows suit. As always the chorus is solid, and the extra echoes set the tune off.

To Love Somebody closes side one on a slow jam note. From Barry’s opening word, you can tell this version has a bit more soul to it. Maybe it’s the brass in the background or Barry’s huskier delivery, but the tune is slightly slower as well. Even though the original is dated quintessential summer of 67, this update gives the tune a serious 70s feel. It takes getting used to, but once you do, it’s dang good.

Never one to be forgotten, You Should Be Dancing starts off disc 2 of Here At Last Live. Of course my feelings for the original Children of the World track are ambiguous, but you must be in a dancing mood to give this tune a go. The brass, the band, the boys-all groove it to the hilt for 9 minutes. Yes I said 9 minutes. And this before Fever was burned into our brains.

I like Boogie Child-talk about your guilty pleasures. The original is of course dated, and the chorus is also here. I do however, so love the grooving verses and kicking music. For passing fans that think Barry is mister high pitch, it is interesting to note that the shrill vocals here are Robin and Maurice against Barry’s rough and husky delivery.

Down the Road hails from the underestimated Mr. Natural album. It rocks there just fine, but here the song seems out of place. The boys egg the audience to their feet, but Road isn’t the rabble rouser they try to make it out to be. It’s tough to sing along with Barry’s sped up vocals, and I wonder what Robin and Maurice did during this concert other than echo Barry? I think Down the Road’s placement works against it as well. My touch of negativity and yet I can’t think of a better song to replace Down the Road. Wait, is Fanny doable live?

And the one time we definitely know we here Maurice is with his “Ladies and Gentlemen, Mister Barry Gibb!“ introduction to Words. Like To Love Somebody, Barry summons shades of Barry White for his popular solo number. It is of course beautiful.

Not that the Boys were that stretched material wise, but the first half of Here At Last definitely has a few more memorable tunes than side 2. Wind of Change sounds awesome here, but just five years later this tune would be out of date. Pity. The one time Robin feels in volume with the music is here.

Barry, Robin, and Maurice save their cinchers for the big finish. Nights on Broadway leads the home stretch in perfect fashion and gets a rise from the crowd. It doesn’t sound that different from the Main Course hit, but the falsetto bits that changed the boys career isn’t that noticeable here. The soft interlude, however, is perfection.
And of course, Jive Talkin makes its presence known and it just has to be one of the longer songs on Here At Last. Grr. Although it’s kind of ironic, you can’t hear all of Barry’s vocal bits, for once the brass overpowers him. The big band, however, offers no major differences for my less than favorite track.

Without their traditional How Deep is Your Love/You Should Be Dancing closer of the nineties, The Brothers chose Lonely Days as the finisher here. It rocks and cracks me up. Live’s version of Lonely Days has all the ad-libs befitting a rock out and as many musical tweaks in all the right places. In later concerts, Lonely Days is jammed in the middle. People need to get up and rock their numb butts. Here, however, this unconventional ballad brings down the house and keeps it that way. I love the ending. The boys thank the audience, and shout, “Merry Christmas!”

Here at Last Live is a fascinating look at The Bee Gees getting down immediately before the Fever juggernaught. Despite a few less than powerhouses-and without Staying Alive or Tragedy or Grease-the boys could still sell out stadiums. That’s something the next generation needs to learn and Here At Last Live is the perfect time capsule to do it. Oh, and it sounds good, too.

11 January 2009

The Ghosts of Dickens' Past

The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past A Charming, Insightful Piece
By Kristin Battestella

I wasn’t sure what to make of the 1998’s The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past when I stumbled upon the DVD on Netflix. I was looking for Christmas films as well as films about books and authors. The title fumbled around in my queue, and when it finally came to the top of my list, the disc sat for a few days before I took the time to sit down and watch this ninety minute tale dramatizing how Charles Dickens came to write his beloved A Christmas Carol. Though largely fictional, the Dickensian charm and recreation of Victorian highs and lows make The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past worthy for any fan of family friendly film.

While enjoying his literary successes at a lovely party, Charles Dickens (Christopher Heyerdahl) is approached by a young fan William ( Sean Gallagher, Leap Years). Confessing of his love for Dickens’ latest work A Christmas Carol, William inquires how the story came about. The gentlemen sit down together, and Dickens shares his most intimate writing inspirations and philosophies- from how a young girl he helps in the streets helps him to his impoverished youth and its lingering shame.

Although the narration is a bit much in some segments, the bookends of an older Dickens reflecting on his poor and shameful past fit The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past. We read about his strive for social reform and semi autobiographical tales of debtor’s prisons time and again in Dickens’ books, but tying these real life sad tales to the shaping of A Christmas Carol adds an extra sentimental touch. Director Bruce Neibaur (Beyond the Horizon) balances Victorian speeches with cruel action from the streets of London, giving adult viewers food for thought and swift, spooky action for the kids. Although folks in the know may recall Dickens’ real life muses and lady lovers probably aren’t so kid friendly, Neibaur’s fine script and accurate production values forgive any artistic license and film liberties.

Naturally, no one in the cast of The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past turned out to be famous. The supporting actors looks mostly like stock players from a poor man’s Masterpiece Theatre, but strangely, this fits and they serve their parts. Modern American actors just don’t look the period piece role. The hair on Heyerdahl (Stargate: Atlantis) is a little annoying, and the hackneyed accents one would expect from a Victorian London picture are mysteriously absent. The film rests solely on Heyerdahl, and he plays the part of the conflicted Dickens perfectly. Today, we would joke about the creepy nature of a society man snooping about kid’s poor houses, but Heyerdahl’s shame at needing money and his struggle to achieve writing inspiration trump any naysayers.

We’re treated to the high life of opulent Victorian parties, but The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past also gives us glimpses of England’s underbelly. The look and feel is perfect at both ends; Colorful and fun with lots of laughter against the dark, violent, smudged world of children’s workhouses. The soft score gives us plenty of cheer and melancholy heartstrings as well. There’s a touch of Christmas here naturally, but not enough to relegate The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past to December viewings only. There’s no subtitles or Dickensian features on the disc, but teachers might enjoy a viewing and discussion. Period piece fans will enjoy the stylings and sentiments no doubt. Though an independent feature, The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past doesn’t look on the cheap. Actually, it makes me wonder why more dramatizations are not made about Dickens and his rise to literary greatness. Please, sir, I’d like some more?

The Ghost of Dickens' PastUnfortunately, The Ghosts of Dickens’ Past appears out of print, so netflix or another loan source might be the only way to find this film- unless you are extremely lucky in your video hunt. Fans young and old can enjoy this charming tale of bookish hopes , society’s troubles, and literary dreams.

06 January 2009

Bravo Two Zero

Eerily Disturbing and Necessary Bravo Two Zero

By Kristin Battestella

Alright I confess, I was initially interested in the 1999 war drama Bravo Two Zero because of its star Sean Bean. This disturbing Gulf War film-based on the book by Andy McNab- however, transcends star power with its grit and scary realism.

SAS Sergeant Andy McNab (Bean) must take his team into Iraq to locate the crucial launchers and communication lines of Baghdad. When the mission is disastrously compromised, McNab and his men race to the Syrian border in hopes of rescue and safety. Unfortunately, McNab and two of his men are captured and sent to the bowels of an Iraqi prison.

There’s really no way around spoilers this time I suppose. Since he wrote a book based on his experiences, we know McNab survives his ordeal, and if we know he gets captured, then we also know the happy go luckily opening of the film will soon turn grim. In Bravo Two Zero, however, its not knowing what happens or why it happens, but the arduous getting there is how this film gets you. Knowing the mission will go downhill, knowing the team doesn’t make it to safety, knowing the torture McNab endures-these things are disturbing and so gut wrenching to us because these aren’t things we civilians are supposed to know. War is grand and heroic! Pretty uniforms and lots of medals, right? Bravo Two Zero begs to differ. Well known in print and on screen across the pond, I’m surprised Bravo Two Zero has received so little attention in the US.

The supporting cast is in fine fashion, even though I have no idea who most of them are. This support behind Bean looks the part of the banged up career soldier. None of them start off pretty, and they certainly don’t end up pretty. Likewise, McNab’s captors look and sound authentically Middle East, but their uniforms and dark prison tactics take on a Nazi-esque feeling. The look and feel of Bravo Two Zero looks authentic enough to me. Experienced viewers or modern veterans might be able to spot errors in tactics or technology, but the guns, desert gear, and drab locations work. Compared to big budget productions, Bravo Two Zero may seem dirty or small scale, but I imagine things aren’t prim and proper in the trenches. Some Americans might be confused by the dialogue or Bean’s narration as McNab, but the wondrous subtitles solve these quirks.

Naturally, this film is not for the faint of heart. While perhaps worthwhile in high school classrooms for viewing and discussion, Bravo Two Zero has extensive torture scenes that should not be viewed by the squeamish, children, or anyone with post traumatic stress disorder. Shedding light on the underground of war is important, yes, but no less easy to stomach.

Of course if you don’t like Sean Bean, you might not like Bravo Two Zero-although any naysayer of the oft villain from Patriot Games and Goldeneye might be pleasantly surprised at the tour de force portrayal given here. He’s popular for his rugged good looks and bad ass personas, but its very easy to root for Bean during this two hours of abuse and dirty shame endured by McNab. It’s astonishing the pain McNab endures-mentally and physically. The things done to him; the things he made to do. Bean displays the strength and courage that the real life McNab clung to in order to survive. In my viewings, there are times I’m amazed McNab survived all he did. Bean’s by no means a glamorous actor, but I can’t see Orlando Bloom being hosed down in a torture scene. There’s nudity yes and veiled sexual content, but if you’re looking for the sexy loverboy Bean, you won’t find him here. I’m surprised Bean received no accolades or awards for Bravo Two Zero. Indeed die hard fans of the Beanster may find this simulated torture too tough to watch, but his acting chops shine through.

Contrary to my husband’s beliefs, I don’t buy every Sean Bean movie. I do have to be interested in the subject matter, you know. What struck me about Bravo Two Zero was its real life story stemming from the First Gulf War. Not many Gulf War pictures seem to be made. Three Kings with George Clooney’s side war story of gold? Courage Under Fire’s brief segments of female war action? Black Hawk Down captures the military mistakes of the time with clarity not seen since Platoon, but it’s about the US’s ill fated plans in Somalia, not Iraq. Bravo Two Zero is unique in that it gives us a realistic portrayal of the first Gulf War and it gives it to us with some SAS flair. Sometimes us Americas forget that our allies don’t exactly have it easy when they join us.

Bravo Two Zero is on the one hand very nineties. The music, the style, the clothes; and very British as well, in slang and feel. Viewing director Tom Clegg’s (Sharpe) vision today is, however, eerie and all too familiar at the same time. If Saddam Hussein was not referred to in the present tense during the film’s news footage, the audience could swear this is a tale from our contemporary action in the Gulf. It’s a little frightening to realize these things happened then, they are most likely still happening now, and since these last two wars have not shown us the error of our ways, it will probably happen again.

Despite its ruthlessness, Sean Bean fans will no doubt tune in to Bravo Two Zero. Action and war movies fans should also take a gander. There’s plenty of background material and debate on McNab to follow up with as well. It certainly isn’t pretty but Bravo Two Zero tells an important tale of grit and modern warfare. Pick up this necessary and affordable DVD today.

05 January 2009

Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights

This is the Best Adaptation of Wuthering Heights. Ever.
By Kristin Battestella

Wuthering Heights (1992)I would never takeaway from Laurence Olivier and his 1939 classic Wuthering Heights, but the tweaks made for that staple adaptation distract from the original gothic novel by Emily Bronte. Fortunately, the aptly named 1992 Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights captures the depressing love and gothic spirit of the 1847 novel with haunting locales and beautiful performances.
When Mr. Earnshaw brings the lonely gypsy boy Heathcliff to his home Wuthering Heights, daughter Catherine and the boy quickly become soul mates. Cathy’s older brother Hindley, however, is jealous of Heathcliff’s favor. Once their father has died, Hindley turns Heathcliff into a servant in the house hold, although faithful maid and cook Ellen Dean remains the go between for Cathy and Heathcliff. Unfortunately, Cathy chooses the company of the wealthy Thrushcross Grange neighbor Edgar Linton, and Heathcliff runs away. Two years after Cathy marries Edgar, Heathcliff returns, himself wealthy. He buys Wuthering Heights and uses his power to ruin the Lintons and the Earnshaws, Cathy, and himself.

Although the story is well known, I don’t wish to give everything away. Even if you know nothing of the source novel, Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights is still darn good drama about love and loss and the effects of wealth, power, and social class and how these things can shape the fortune-or misfortune- of others.

But, I must admit there is a bit of a precursor to understanding director Peter Kosminsky’s (White Oleander) vision. You really ought to be familiar with the story or better still have read the book. The first time I caught Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights late one night on TNT, I hadn’t read the book. I was so confused about who was who and when all this was happening and who the heck was telling the story! And yet, I was captivated by such tortured people. I don’t like Jane Austen or any of these sappy ‘he loves me, he loves me not’ or for love or money type stories. My 21st century mind can’t figure these chicks who let social class get in the way of happiness. Wuthering Heights, however, is quite different. Catherine and Heathcliff have one of the most famous romances in literature, but it is one f*cked up relationship! Ghosts and graves, abuse and death. Jane Austen, I think, would faint.

I promptly read Emily Bronte’s novel, then re-watched the picture. Screenwriter Anne Devlin’s (The Rainbow) adaptation almost line for line recreates the book-minus time convolutions and the like. The beautiful dialogue can be tough to hear or understand, but there is such lyrical beauty to this twisted talk of love and life borne on the moor; heartbreak and forgiveness uttered on the same dying breath, then cursing each other to never rest in peace. It’s emotional and perhaps too 19th century, yes, but it’s also like the train wreck from which you can’t look away.

I didn’t know who Ralph Fiennes (Schindler’s List, Red Dragon, The Constant Gardner) was before this film, but if I never saw him in anything else, I probably still couldn’t forget his tortured and conflicted but no less villainous Heathcliff. His Oscar nominated performance in The English Patient has its steamy parts, sure, but its annoying and overlong after awhile. Fiennes here is tightly wound, saying much in his quick, veiled words. He captures Heathcliff perfectly in physique. The black clothes, unkempt greasy ponytail, angry but weepy eyes. This is a wonderful character to play, but its not an easy role to pull off. All the vile things Heathcliff does, we still love him, root for him, and think him simply lovelorn and misunderstood.

Likewise, Fiennes’ Oscar winning English Patient co star Juliette Binoche (Chocolate) shines in the duel role as Cathy and later her daughter Catherine. She may seem a tease or a snoot to start, but when Binoche shows us the real Cathy full of heartbreak and burdens and issues, you are hooked upon these characters’ cruel twist of fate. Daughter Catherine’s innocence and defiance and hope for the future are played well by Binoche, especially in contrast with all the death and bitterness of the first generation.

Beyond the unhappy couple, Janet McTeer as maid Ellen ‘Nelly’ Dean (Carrington) and Jeremy Northham as Hindley are pleasant surprises. Northham (The Tudors) doesn’t have enough to do, but he portrays the rise and fall of drunken Hindley perfectly. Nelly is a delight as the onscreen representative of right and reason in this mystical moor gone awry. Although in such wild Yorkshire moors I would have expect more pronounced accents all around, but I digress.

Its awkward to see Juliette Binoche don the blonde wig, but the costumes, sets, and locations add all the extra ambiance to Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. When its time to look poor, the Heights and its persons turn into shabby and dirty folks. The actors must have been hot in all the extra wraps and capes, but this visual element of cold and lack of warmth adds that extra touch. Likewise the glamour, lights, and satins of the Grange are all superficial and pretty. I don’t think the outdoor shots of the Moors were used enough, but the green and windswept locales we do see are perfect, as are the exterior set ups of the titular house. When the timeline moves forward, so do the costumes, dust, and decay.

I was glad to find Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights on DVD, but beyond the standard film presentation, there are no features. Thank Heaven, though, that there are subtitles! The only artistic license that the film takes are opening and closing bookends featuring Emily Bronte (an unusually cast Sinead O’Connor) herself wondering the moors and periodically explaining a few things via narration. It’s a little hokey, but very useful-if not critical- to set up the story, and this was certainly easier than jumping about with Nelly and the stranger Lockwood as the book does.
Even if you aren’t a fan of English literature, give Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights a try. Fans of the cast and period piece philes will adore this tale again and again. Action and effects lovers will dismiss of course, but there’s nothing overt enough in this PG film to deter teens or younger. Teachers or parents might enjoy trying to introduce this fine story to the next generation. I’ve actually only see this film a handful of times and read the book once or twice, but Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as a book or movie is tough to forget.