22 June 2015

A Jackie Gleason Trio!

A Jackie Gleason Trio
by Kristin Battestella

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


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

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

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

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


20 June 2015

I Think, Therefore I Review Visits the RadioVision Network!

Greetings Fellow Film Enthusiasts!

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

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

Watch live streaming video from morning_coffee at livestream.com

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

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

11 June 2015

Revisiting with Sir Christopher

A Vampire Revisit with Christopher Lee
by Kristin Battestella

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


05 June 2015

The Man from Snowy River

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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