Saturday, November 22, 2008

Frank Sinatra - On the Radio: The Lucky Strike "Lite-Up Time" Shows 1949-1950 CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The end of the 1940s was a tumultuous time for Frank Sinatra. Waning in popularity, he worked more than ever to keep his name out there. From nightclub appearances to recording sessions to movie making (Sinatra made two films in 1949 alone) to radio shows, he was overworked to the point that by 1950, he suffered a throat hemorrhage. From September 1949 until June 1950, he was the featured performer on the Lucky Strike-sponsored Lite-Up Time, a 15-minute show that aired every evening on NBC radio. It is these shows that are featured on the new Frank Sinatra CD, On the Radio: The Lucky Strike ‘Lite-Up Time’ Shows.

The CD is among the first for U.K. reissue label Acrobat Music’s new U.S. division and is lovingly restored, with a nice slipcase and extensive liner notes detailing the history of the sessions and debunking the mystery of as many recording dates as possible. The music is the important thing though and the CD delivers. With remastered sound, the vocals are warm and the orchestra vibrant, like you were in the room with Sinatra. It’s hard to believe these recordings are over 50 years old.

And what of the music? With Jeff Alexander conducting the orchestra and chorus (time constraints made it difficult for regular Sinatra arranger Axel Stordahl to commit to the show), the band and Sinatra sound in top form, in spite of rumors at the time that his voice was losing it. The shows featured two songs from Sinatra, a solo spot for regular guest Dorothy Kirsten, and a duet between the two. Since this is a Sinatra album, none of Kirsten’s solo spots are included, however an excellent duet on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘Some Enchanted Evening” is part of the CD.

Sinatra’s smooth baritone shines on “I Only Have Eyes for You,” and “All of Me” swings as only he could. On the Gershwin classic, “I’ve Got a Crush On You,” he chuckles at the “big and brave and handsome Romeo” line, but it is a far cry from the sarcastic rendering in the 1966 Sands show in the Vegas box set. This is pre-Rat Pack, pre-Chairman of the Board period Sinatra here, and while his restraint might be due to the nature of the live radio broadcast, it also showcases this great performer at a different stage of his career.

“Body and Soul,” from one of the 1950 shows and not long before Sinatra’s throat hemorrhage, features renowned trumpet and coronet player Bobby Hackett who colors the song with some tasteful licks. Sinatra’s voice shows no signs of the strain it was under.

Completists may lament the fact that this collection is not complete, but with many songs performed more than once, On the Radio presents a nice overview of this radio show and reveals that even at a low point in his career, Frank Sinatra was the consummate professional and his voice never left him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Who - At Kilburn 1977 DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

When it comes to live performances, few rock bands match the intensity of The Who, especially in their original incarnation. That edge is in full force in the two shows contained in The Who - At Kilburn 1977 DVD.

The Who originally filmed the Kilburn show for inclusion in the documentary The Kids Are Alright, but decided the footage was too rough and instead recreated the show at Shepperton Studios in London the following year (though “My Wife” from the Kilburn show appears on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack). Looking back, it’s a shame the band felt that way, as Kilburn captures a raw, but fierce intensity. The band had not played live in over a year, and rehearsals weren’t going well with the rapidly deteriorating Keith Moon. In fact, Kilburn was the next-to-last gig Moon performed with The Who, as he died less than a year after the filming. In spite of this, Moon still plays with most of his usual abandon. Pete Townshend lets all his frustrations out in the show, looking like a crazed man with his windmills and jumping. He genuinely seems threatening up there. In the height of the punk era, this was rock at its most dangerous.

Opening with “I Can’t Explain,” the band slams through 15 songs in the hour-plus set with songs ranging from their biggest hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute” and “Pinball Wizard") to more obscure tracks such as “Dreaming from the Waist” from The Who By Numbers (not from The Who Sell Out as the enclosed booklet mistakenly says) and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp.” The show includes the famous sequence of Roger Daltrey in the laser lights during “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that was recreated in the Shepperton show, but the true highlight is the first-ever performance (and sole performance with Moon) of “Who Are You.” As the album of the same name was not yet out, this version differs from the studio release and has a looser feel to it.

Visually, the Kilburn show is stunning as it was shot on 35mm film with six cameras, giving it a quality seldom seen in concert films, especially from that era. The film is presented in Dolby Digital stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Digital Surround.

If all this wasn’t enough, At Kilburn 1977 also includes the first-ever recorded performance of Tommy from the London Coliseum in 1969. It’s only when you compare the two shows that you realize how bad of shape Moon was in. While 1977 Moon was great, the 1969 Moon was superhuman, especially on cuts such as “Young Man Blues.”

The Coliseum show was not lit to be filmed, and thus the show is dark and grainy. Some of the video has dropouts, but its historical significance can’t be underestimated. This is Live at Leeds-era Who at their finest.

The only negative of this bonus disc is that it is presented with only the best video footage in the actual show. For instance, some of the mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away” is cut from the main show, as the video footage is not that good. The same goes for some of the Tommy songs. The songs are presented in their entirety as bonus features. One would think if they were to be included that they’d just put the entire show in sequence. Also, when Moon speaks, he is often subtitled on the screen. Granted, the audio is low and his accent was thick, but you can understand him.

Still, these beefs are minor and don’t take away from the powerful music contained on these DVDs. If you are wondering why The Who are considered one of the greatest live bands of all time, At Kilburn 1977 will show you many reasons.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Tropic Thunder - Unrated Director's Cut DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

The idea of a movie about actors whose life ends up imitating their art is not new — Three Amigos comes to mind as one of the more famous ones. Tropic Thunder is the latest in such a line of films and it delivers on all levels.

The movie tells the story of a group of actors filming a Vietnam War movie based on the book Tropic Thunder, written by war hero Four Leaf Tayback (Nick Nolte). The actors include Tugg Speedman (Ben Stiller), a washed-up action-movie star; Kirk Lazarus (Robert Downey Jr.), an Oscar-winning actor whose character studies go so deep he underwent skin pigmentation to play the African-American Sgt. Osiris in the movie inside the movie; Jeff Portnoy (Jack Black), the overweight, heroin-addled star of The Fatties movie franchise where, in an obvious nod to Eddie Murphy, he plays all the characters; Alpa Chino (Brandon T. Jackson), a multimedia star of movies and music who spends much of his time promoting his Booty Sweat drink and Bust-A Nut candy bars; and Kevin Sandusky (Jay Baruchel), a young actor who idolizes the others, especially Lazarus, and is the only one of the group to have actually gone to boot camp.

Speedman’s career is in rapid decline at this point, after the giant failure of his movie, Simple Jack, in which he plays the mentally retarded title character in such an over-the-top manner that Lazarus tells him he went “full retard,” and that you should never do that as you’ll walk away empty-handed on Oscar night. Speedman’s agent, Rick Peck (Matthew McConaughey) is distraught over his client’s career and the fact that he has sunken so low he doesn’t even have TiVo on location. The TiVo reference is one of many in-jokes about product placement made in the movie that pokes fun at the entire Hollywood system.

Meanwhile, while on location, director Damien Cockburn (Steve Coogan) gets a message via satellite from studio head, Les Grossman (Tom Cruise) who is furious that the movie is a month behind schedule just five days into the shooting. When Cockburn tries to shift the blame on the prima donna actors, Grossman instructs a man in the room to punch him in the mouth. Soon after, Cockburn meets with Tayback who tells him that to get anything out of these actors, he has to drop them into a real war zone so they know real fear and film them using hidden cameras. Cockburn loves the idea and proceeds to do just that, giving the actors only a map and a scene listing to go by in the jungle. Almost immediately after dropping them off however, Cockburn steps on an old landmine and explodes. Speedman believes it to be a special-effects trick, even scooping blood out of the bottom of his severed head. Lazarus realizes they have been duped though and that they are now in the middle of a real war zone, even if Speedman doesn’t believe him.

From there, we watch as the actors try to make their way out of the jungle, running into the Flaming Dragon heroin outfit along the way. Flaming Dragon believes the actors to be DEA agents and tries to take them out. Along the way, we learn that Alpa Chino resents Lazarus staying in character the whole time, as he is not actually black. We also learn that Portnoy has been hiding heroin in candy wrappers so the other actors are not aware of his addiction.

When Flaming Dragon captures Speedman, they recognize him as the actor from Simple Jack, a movie they love, as it is the only entertainment they have there. They make Speedman perform the movie live and phone Peck with ransom demands for his release. Grossman gets on the phone, says he doesn’t negotiate with terrorists and hangs up, fully prepared to let Speedman die. He tries to convince Peck this is in his best interests too, promising him a large sum of money and a jet if he complies.

Ridiculous? Sure. But Tropic Thunder succeeds in poking fun at virtually every element of Hollywood from prima donna actors, to materialistic agents, to ruthless studio heads. The film is one giant in-joke, but if you get the joke, it’s well worth watching.

The DVD comes with a number of bonus features: filmmaker and cast commentaries (with Downey in character the entire time), deleted and extended scenes, an alternate ending, documentaries and more. The bonus features are often as entertaining as the movie and make this a must-own DVD.

Friday, October 24, 2008

AC/DC - Black Ice CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s been said that AC/DC has written the same album for over 30 years. While there is some truth to that, they still have albums that are better than others. With Black Ice, the band’s first since 2000’s Stiff Upper Lip, AC/DC has delivered their best album since, arguably, Flick of the Switch.

The long layoff did the band well, especially vocalist Brian Johnson, whose trademark gritty banshee scream is in full force here. He and the band sound energized, and while their previous two releases, the aforementioned Stiff Upper Lip and Ballbreaker focused more on their bluesier side, Black Ice is a rocker from beginning to end. This can be attributed to producer Brendan O’Brien, who wanted a return of the rock and roll AC/DC he loved.

The album opens with first single “Rock N Roll Train,” with a riff and driving drumbeat that recalls “Highway to Hell.” It is one of four songs with rock in the title, as if the band needed to remind listeners why they are here.

“Big Jack” reminds the listener of “Big Gun” or “Who Made Who” with its great riff and anthemic chorus. This is the song that should have been the first single as it is one of the strongest tracks they have done in some time.

On “Anything Goes,” the band gets as close to recording a pop song as they likely ever will. Johnson’s vocals are almost sensitive here. Still, they make it work as it still has that classic AC/DC sound to it.

The band gets down and dirty on the gritty “War Machine,” which original front man Bon Scott would have torn up vocally. It’s yet another song that had the band released this album 15 years ago would have been all over rock radio.

The heavy blues of “Stormy May Day” finds Angus Young breaking out the slide, while the riff of “Decibel” sounds suspiciously like ZZ Top’s “Waitin’ for the Bus,” but if you are going to steal, ZZ Top is as good a choice as any to take from.

If there is a negative to be found on Black Ice, it is the lack of a real barnburner such as “Landslide” or “Riff Raff.” Nevertheless, AC/DC have crafted a fine album filled with great hooks and guitar riffs, as well as the big choruses they are so famous for. The tracks should go over well live and for those wondering when the next great AC/DC album would come, it’s here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Lil' Bush: Resident of United States - Season Two DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Lil’ Bush: Resident of the United States returns for a second season, entitled “Staying the Courses,” and continues to follow the exploits of Lil’ Bush and the Lil’ Cronies (Lil’ Cheney, Lil’ Condi and Lil’ Rummy). The satire is turned way in up season 2. With the real George W. Bush being as unpopular as he is, the show pulls no punches in its attacks on the administration, going as far as comparing Lil’ Cheney to Osama bin Laden.

The Democrats get it too, and in season 2, we see more characters join the ranks of the Lil’ Dems such as Lil’ Al Gore (who is always preaching and trying to save the environment), Lil’ Dennis Kucinich (who is pint-sized, even to the other Lil’ Bush characters), and Lil’ John Kerry (who is indecisive and always flip-flopping).

While the show remained a half hour, there is only one episode per show, allowing the stories to stretch out more. Season 2 is also a lot more vulgar. While both seasons feature their fair share of profanity and are uncensored on DVD, there is a lot more cursing in season 2, as evidenced by the opening skit on the DVD where Lil’ Bush parodies the Jimmy Kimmel/Sarah Silverman “I’m F**king Ben Affleck/Matt Damon” songs with his own — “I’m F**king McCain.” While this bit is funny, the over-abundance of swearing in season 2 takes away some of the charm of the first season.

One episode has George H.W. Bush taking the Lil’ Cronies camping — in Iraq — only to spend more time with the troops than the kids. Distraught and wanting to get his father back, Lil’ Bush finds the body of Saddam Hussein and brings it to him. After Lil’ Cheney had eaten Saddam’s brain and the Lil’ Cronies hollowed-out the body, they were able to operate him as a puppet and create a “puppet dictatorship” — a direct shot at the current situation in Iraq. When this still doesn’t help the situation, Lil’ Bush gets angry and goes on TV as Saddam and insults George H.W. Bush and the Americans. George H.W Bush gets angry, saying Saddam and Lil’ Bush have gone too far and launches an air strike into Iraq. Barbara Bush tells George H.W. Bush that Lil’ Bush just needs a hug. While appalled at the idea of hugging him instead of just giving him a firm handshake, George H.W. Bush returns to Iraq where he makes up with his son. They then bring Saddam’s body back to the states where they proceed to hang him.

While this has all been happening, Lil’ Bill Clinton gets the Lil’ Dems drunk and high so he can go to spring break on South Padre Island (They had all resisted before). Their exploits are filmed by a couple of bystanders and marketed as Dems Gone Wild. When the Dems sober up and realize what has happened, they get angry with Lil’ Bill Clinton who tells them, “It doesn’t matter if you do bad things, as long as you use your charm to get away with them.” The Dems are once again charmed by Lil’ Bill Clinton and all is well in their camp.

A different episode starts at a science fair at school. Bush and the Lil’ Cronies have a project where they say volcanoes erupt because of God’s angry powder getting poured into them. They proceed to destroy Lil’ Hillary’s dinosaur project, saying it never really existed anyhow (a shot at religious groups who believe the same thing about the actual dinosaurs). The Cronies’ project is terrible, but they win the fair because of the earmarks Lil’ Bush guarantees the school.

Forced to give a speech on his own, Lil’ Bush’ s head nearly explodes and he ends up in the hospital. The Lil’ Cronies visit him and attempt to give him a nickname, “Number One,” but Lil’ Bush rejects it, due to the fact that he is the one who gives out the nicknames and that it also reminds him of pee. He blames the Cronies for the lack of a speech and never wants to see them again.

They split up and make new friends, with Lil’ Bush befriending Lil’ Fred Thompson, who attempts to get him to do a nude scene in a school play. The cast laughs at him when he takes his shirt off and he runs away. In a comical scene, the director asks him what kind of accent he has and Lil’ Bush says, “Texas.” When she still doesn’t believe him, he says, “Texas by way of Connecticut.” Lil’ Fred Thompson does a “One to Grow On” parody called “Thoughts to Grow On” where he suggests abortion isn’t cool and that if you have to have one, you should kill your unborn child the natural way by taking up smoking.

Meanwhile, Lil’ Condi has befriended Lil’ Giuliani, who keeps trying to wear her clothes; Lil’ Cheney becomes friends with Lil’ Kucinich and even sings with him until he gets annoyed and stuffs him in his lunch box with his live birds; and Lil’ Rummy and Lil’ Rommy become friends, until Lil’ Rommy’s flip-flopping gets the best of Lil’ Rummy. After a scene where the Lil’ Cronies are all seen singing songs about being alone or “alown” as Lil’ Bush’s lyrics say, they reunite.

A sub-plot of the episode finds Lil’ Jeb in the hospital after accidentally eating pudding laced with sleeping pills. A pair of doctors, thinking he is a woman about to give birth, operate on him and remove a number of objects from his body, including a He-Man figure, before they realize they have the wrong person. While he is healing up, Lil’ Jeb finds the pudding he is eating coming out of the hole in his stomach. The doctors, sensing a new diet fad for pudding holes, exploit this and Lil’ Jeb becomes famous and women, including Barbara Bush, line up to get pudding holes.

In another episode, the Lil’ Cronies get addicted to prescription pills from their lobbyists which radically changes their personalities — most notably in Lil’ Condi who becomes bossy and vulgar and Lil’ Cheney who becomes nice. His usual “rah rah rah” speech pattern is replaced by “la la la” and he turns into a hippie. When the Cronies try to clean up, Lil’ Condi resists and goes through severe withdrawal.

Lil’ Cheney gets kidnapped by terrorists who want transplant his heart into Osama bin Laden. They feel Lil’ Cheney’s heart is black enough to do it. In a shot at Homeland Security, when the terrorists bring their bags through the airport scanner, the security guards make them remove their bottle of shampoo because it is too big, and open fire on it. This in spite of the fact that Lil’ Cheney is clearly visible in the bag they have him stuffed in. On the plane, the terrorist laments the fact that he can’t have his dandruff shampoo.

While in Afghanistan, bin Laden promises Lil’ Cheney he will be a martyr for his actions and that he will be greeted by 72 virgins when he dies. Lil’ Cheney likes this idea and fantasizes about ripping their heads off and sucking out their insides the same way he feeds on the live chickens They drug him up and are about to go into surgery when he is rescued by the Lil’ Cronies. He is still groggy and when he sees Lil’ Condi, thinks she is the first virgin and attempts to tear her head off.

Season 2 takes more chances than season 1 did and that most likely is due to Bush’s approval ratings. While not quite as charming, the show remains funny and hits the mark more often than not. The DVD has a number of bonus features including audio commentary, animated shorts, and “animatics” showing original sketch art and a My Lil’ Bush music video. Liberals who are fans of the show will want to get season 2. Conservatives will also like that the Dems are repeatedly made fun of on the show, though some of them may not like that their belief system gets attacked in every episode.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Creedence Clearwater Revival - 40th Anniversary CD Reissue Reviews

Written by General Jabbo

Creedence Clearwater Revival's roots go back to 1959, when the band was known as The Blue Velvets — an instrumental group featuring John Fogerty on guitar, Stu Cook on piano, and Doug Clifford on drums. Eventually Fogerty's brother Tom joined on lead vocals and rhythm guitar and the band changed their name to The Golliwogs. After releasing a number of singles for the Fantasy label, the band was allowed to release their first album if they agreed to change their name. They did and in 1968, Creedence Clearwater Revival (or CCR) released their self-titled debut album and quickly became one of the biggest bands in the world. To celebrate the 40th anniversary of their first album, Fantasy has re-released a number of CCR albums: Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bayou Country, Green River, Willy and the Poor Boys, Cosmo's Factory and Pendulum. The band's final album, Mardi Gras, recorded as a trio without Tom Fogerty and featuring songs written and sung by all three members, was not included in these reissues.

1968's Creedence Clearwater Revival showcased the band's trademark swamp rock/blues/country with a touch of psychedelia sound on songs such as “Suzie Q” — a cover of an old Dale Hawkins song and the band's first top-40 hit — and their cover of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You." Fogerty does Wilson Pickett justice on the band's cover of "Ninety-nine and a Half" (a live version is included as a bonus track) and dives heavily into the blues on "The Working Man" and "Get Down Woman." Bonus tracks include "Call it Pretending," which was actually a Golliwogs b-side; an up-tempo version of "Before You Accuse Me" different from the version included on Cosmo's Factory; and an almost 12-minute live version of “Suzie Q” where the band really stretches out. Creedence Clearwater Revival is a fine debut, but barely scratched the surface of what was to come as John Fogerty's songwriting abilities grew.

1969's Bayou Country, the first of three albums released by the band that year, features the band's biggest and most-covered song, "Proud Mary." Fogerty returns to the swamps with "Born on the Bayou" with its gritty, almost menacing vocal, and the band rocks out with their cover of "Good Golly Miss Molly.” Songs such as "Bootleg" and "Keep on Chooglin'" have an unmistakable groove and feature CCR at their best. Bonus tracks include a version of "Bootleg" that is almost twice as long as the released version, a live, psychedelic blues jam called "Crazy Otto" from 1969 and two live cuts — "Born on the Bayou" and "Proud Mary" — from the band's European tour as a trio in 1971 after Tom Fogerty had left the group.

Green River showcases three more classics with the title track, "Bad Moon Rising" and "Lodi" — a California town John Fogerty was not fond of visiting. Also notable is CCR's cover of "The Night Time is the Right Time," the most famous version of which was by Ray Charles' in the late 1950s. Two bonus tracks from San Francisco’s Wally Heider studios are included — “Broken Spoke Shuffle” and “Glory Be.” Both are instrumental basic tracks with the former having a feel not unlike “Lodi” while the latter is more rocking with a jangly guitar riff. Also featured are a number of live tracks from 1971 from the three-piece version of CCR including "Bad Moon Rising," "Green River/Suzie Q" and "Lodi." Throughout all these CDs, the live cuts really show how good a band CCR was, pushing the tempos while remaining tight.

Next up is Willy and the Poor Boys with two more CCR staples in “Down on the Corner” and the protest song, “Fortunate Son.” Still popular today, John Fogerty played “Fortunate Son” on 2004’s Vote for Change tour backed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. Also notable is a strong cover of “The Midnight Special.” A live version of "Fortunate Son" from the three-man version of CCR is one of the bonus tracks, along with a live version of “It Came Out of the Sky.” The highlight of the bonus tracks though is a live jam of “Down on the Corner” with Booker T. and the MGs which was filmed for a TV special and features John Fogerty and Steve Cropper trading guitar licks.

CCR’s arguably biggest and most popular album was Cosmo’s Factory, and for good reason. Killer covers such as “Before You Accuse Me,” “Ooby Dooby,” “My Baby Left Me” and the 11-minute “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” mix with killer originals such as “Travelin’ Band,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” “Run Through the Jungle” (which Fantasy later sued John Fogerty over when they thought “The Old Man Down the Road” sounded a little too similar), “Up Around the Bend,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the gospel-like “Long As I Can See the Light.” Cosmo’s Factory would be a strong greatest-hits album for most bands while for CCR it was one of two albums released in 1970. Bonus tracks include a studio version of “Travelin’ Band” without the horns and live versions of “Up Around the Bend” and “Born on the Bayou,” the latter again with Booker T and the MGs.

The other album CCR released in 1970 was Pendulum, and it was the final album that featured Tom Fogerty as he quit the band shortly after its release due to inter-band tensions, especially with his brother. The album included two more hits — “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and “Hey Tonight” and is one of the band’s more diverse albums. “Pagan Baby” is borderline hard rock while “Sailor’s Lament” with its horns and keyboards is anything but. The band even goes psychedelic in the experimental “Rude Awakening #2.” The bonus tracks feature a rare promotional single entitled “45 Revolutions Per Minute.” Obviously inspired by the Beatles “Revolution 9,” the track has Bay-area disc jockey Tom Campbell interviewing the band while tape loops and guitar licks play in the background. In a further Beatles nod, the sleeve had a message saying, “A black flag flies at the Beatles’ Apple headquarters.” Also included is a live version of “Hey Tonight” from the three-man version of the band.

CCR’s carved a large niche in rock and roll with their unique sound that eventually made them first-ballot Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. Their songs are all over classic rock radio to this day and they are the favorite band of The Dude from The Big Lebowski. The new reissues sound great, have 99 percent of the hits (“Sweet Hitch-Hiker” was on 1972’s “Mardi Gras”), and interesting bonus tracks. Beyond the hits though, these are just strong albums worth owning.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Two and a Half Men - Season 4 DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Two and a Half Men tells the story of freewheeling jingle writer, Charlie Harper (Charlie Sheen), whose hard-partying lifestyle is interrupted when his brother Alan (Jon Cryer) gets divorced and kicked out of his house. With nowhere to go, Alan and his son Jake (Angus T. Jones)
move in with Charlie. While art definitely imitates life with Charlie's
character — he is rarely seen without a drink in his hand or without a beautiful woman by his side, his brother Alan is his polar opposite. Alan is a nerdy chiropractor who resents, yet envies Charlie's lifestyle.

At the beginning of the Emmy Award-winning season four, we are left with a cliffhanger from season three. Charlie met the love of his life and wanted to get married. Everything was set to go until she decided that her marrying Charlie meant his brother and nephew had to move out of the house. Not being able to commit to the relationship, Charlie tells her he can't bear to kick his family out and calls off the wedding. Meanwhile, Alan marries the pretty but dimwitted Kandi (April Bowlby) and wins $500,000 on a slot machine. They get their own place, much to Charlie's chagrin as he had called off his own wedding partially so he wouldn't have to kick out his brother, but Kandi quickly goes through Alan's money. When Alan is left with only $11, he returns to Charlie's house a defeated man about to get a divorce. Meanwhile, Alan's family, including his ex-wife Judith (Marin Hinkle) had a pool (which Judith won) to see who could guess how long Alan's marriage would last.

When one of Charlie's conquests leaves his house and Alan notices she has a gun, he is concerned for Charlie. He tries to get Charlie to give up his drinking, gambling, and one-night stands all the while sucking up to Charlie for taking him in again. At the same time, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith has rented the house next door and is doing vocal exercises and practicing his harmonica. The noise finally gets to Charlie and he goes over to pick a fight, only to get pummeled by Tyler.

Another episode finds Alan fighting Kandi in the divorce arrangements over their dog — a Great Dane named Chester. Alan goes to Judith to ask for the lawyer she used in their divorce so he can stick it to Kandi, but Judith has already recommended her lawyer to Kandi. To add insult to injury, when Alan goes to Kandi's apartment to try and get Chester, he finds she is sleeping with the lawyer. Ultimately, Alan ends up stealing the dog and goes to jail for his crime.

Charlie dates a woman who is very insulting to him and his family. She has little use for her children or anyone else for that matter and everyone but Charlie realizes she is exactly like his mother Evelyn (Holland Taylor), right down to the nearly identical pantsuits she wears to her profession (real estate). Charlie finally realizes it when he sees her and his mother go at it, trading insult after insult. Nevertheless, he still sleeps with her.

Alan gets excited when Judith announces she is engaged to Jake's pediatrician Herb (Ryan Stiles) as it means he soon will no longer have to pay her alimony. Jake doesn't like that his mom is planning on marrying him and runs away to Charlie's house. Charlie and Alan end up bribing him to like Herb. Meanwhile, Alan and Charlie get Herb drunk and film him cavorting with strippers to blackmail him, only they didn't realize it was Herb's cell phone they used to film him. Judith ends up seeing the video and is none-too-pleased with all involved.

Charlie convinces a blonde surfer girl that he is an expert surfer and nearly drowns. While he was underwater, he had a vision of his deceased father who spoke to him saying, "take care of your mother." Charlie, who has never been close with his mother, takes this as a sign that it is time for him to make things right with her. He and Alan take her to lunch and she is immediately suspicious. Alan lets her know what is going on, but Charlie still insists on being nice to her, even taking her in when she was recovering after having lip implants done. It is only when they watch a mob movie together and he hears one of the characters say, "take care of him" that he realizes he had misunderstood his father all along.

In addition to the episodes, the DVDs include commentary on one episode by series executive producers Chuck Lorre and Lee Aronsohn and commentary on another episode by Sheen, Cryer and Jones. Also included is "Two Men Talking About Two and a Half Men" with Lorre and Aronsohn sharing stories behind season four and a gag reel of bloopers.

Two and a Half Men delivered another consistent season with season four and showed why it is one of the most popular comedies on television. While the storylines are often absurd, it never tries to be anything but fun and makes for an enjoyable escape.

Monday, October 6, 2008

David Gilmour Live in Gdansk CD/DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In 2006, former Pink Floyd guitarist and singer David Gilmour was invited to play the Gdansk Shipyard in Poland to celebrate the 26th anniversary of Solidarity. That concert forms the basis of the Live in Gdansk collection. While there are a few versions of this package available including a 2-CD set, a 2-CD/1-DVD set, a 2-CD/2-DVD set and a 3-CD/2-DVD set, the one used for this review was the 2-CD/1-DVD version.

Backed by a crack band, including Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera (who co-produced the album) and former Pink Floyd bandmate, the late Richard Wright on keyboards, Live in Gdansk is the final show from Gilmour's 2006 On an Island tour and features the Baltic Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Zbigniew Preisner, who did the arrangements on Gilmour's On an Island disc.

As expected, a number of Pink Floyd classic are sprinkled throughout the set, including the opening three numbers, all from Dark Side of the Moon: Speak to Me," "Breathe," and "Time."

Disc 2 of the CD is entirely Floyd songs and includes two Syd Barrett tributes — "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" and "Wish You Were Here" — both from the Wish you Were Here CD as well as Barrett's psychedelic classic, "Astronomy Domine," from the band's debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Gilmour dusts off "Fat Old Sun" from Atom Heart Mother and plays "A Great Day for Freedom" from 1994's Division Bell for the only time on the tour. The song was particularly appropriate given the subject matter — the struggles of post-Berlin Wall Poland and Germany. The true highlight though is "Echoes," performed in its 25-minute entirety. Wright's recent passing is all the more poignant given his huge importance in the sound of these Floyd classics.

For those who think Gilmour is all about nostalgia however, he plays all ten songs from On an Island, in a row no less, though not in the same order as the album. He does not play any material from his other solo releases however. Gilmour is in fine voice throughout and showcases his musical versatility, switching from guitar to saxophone to dobro to banjo. While the album does feature the Baltic Philharmonic on a number of tracks, they are merely used to color the songs and are often hard to notice except for when they are shown on the DVD.

The DVD cuts a number of songs from the CD, but includes all of the On an Island songs, as well as "Echoes" and "Astronomy Domine." Also included on the DVD is a Gdansk Diary, a 40-minute documentary about the show featuring interviews with the band members and crew, rehearsal footage, and Gilmour's meeting with Lech Walesa, the former president of Poland and leader of the Solidarity movement.

With a setlist almost identical to 2007's Remember that Night, Live at Gdansk is more of a companion piece than a must-have, but for fans of Pink Floyd and David Gilmour, especially those who don't already own the former, it is an excellent live document of this great talent.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Godfather - The Coppola Restoration DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It’s been 36 years since the release of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic mafia film, The Godfather, and in the ensuing years, the trilogy of films have not only come to be recognized as examples of great filmmaking, but have also become ingrained in American popular culture, influencing everything from movies to television shows to music. Movies such as Goodfellas owe, at least in part, their existence to the success of the Godfather trilogy. The Simpsons parodied the Don Fanucci scene in The Godfather Part II with Don Homer accepting a gift of donuts instead of a necklace and an orange while The Sopranos regularly quoted the three films (some of these examples are shown in the 2008 bonus features on the DVD). In addition, former Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash has been known to play The Godfather theme in his live guitar solos.

With such influence, The Godfather films deserve to be seen in the best possible light, yet, as shown in the bonus features, the original film had deteriorated. Now they have been completely restored to their original glory in The Godfather – The Coppola Restoration.

The Godfather tells the story of Vito Corleone (Marlon Brando) and his struggle to stay in power as other families vie for his territory and branch out into narcotics, which he was always against. After a failed hit attempt, Vito is in poor health and hospitalized. When his youngest son Michael (Al Pacino) sees the guards have been removed from the hospital, he realizes his father is being set up to be assassinated. When the police finally arrive, Michael gets into an altercation with the corrupt Captain McCluskey, who proceeds to break Michael’s jaw when he insinuates that McCluskey has been bought off by rival Don Virgil Sollozzo. After this encounter, Sollozzo arranges a meeting with the Corleone family in which he, McCluskey, and Michael will attend. Michael convinces his family to plant a gun in the men’s room and kills both men in an Italian restaurant. Upon learning Michael was responsible for the murders, Vito is very disappointed. Michael was a war hero and he had hoped for him to be a legitimate power as perhaps a senator. Still, after an exile in Italy, Michael is given control over the family by Vito upon his return, with Vito serving as consigliere, replacing Tom Hagen (played by Robert DuVall) who would now serve as the family lawyer. The movie ends with Michael orchestrating the murders of the other five mafia families.

Michael’s rise to powerful Don is documented in the The Godfather Part II. He has relocated the family to Nevada and gotten into the casino business. Michael’s brother Fredo, bitter at the lack of respect he gets in the family and resentful that his younger brother is in charge, betrays him by making a deal with Johnny Ola (an agent of rival mobster Hyman Roth). An assassination attempt is then made on Michael’s life, which Fredo claimed no knowledge of. However, Michael disowns him when it is revealed he had been withholding information from him. After their mother’s death, Michael has Fredo murdered, a crime that would haunt him during the third film. Michael grows increasingly introverted the more powerful he gets, until he is alone by the end of the movie. At the same time, through a series of flashbacks, we learn the history of his father Vito, played by Robert De Niro, and how he came to power.

Finally, in the oft-maligned The Godfather Part III, Michael attempts to go legitimate, only to get sucked back into the mafia underworld. Michael is now consumed by regret for his past deeds and Pacino is very convincing in these scenes, even if Sofia Coppola (in a role originally intended for Wynona Ryder) as his daughter Mary is not. Michael turns control of the family over to his nephew Vincent (Andy Garcia) and, after his daughter is murdered right in front of him, ends up dying alone with only his dog by his side. It is a parallel to Vito’s death scene from the first movie and all three endings deal with themes of isolation. While Part III is the worst of the three films, the bar was set so impossibly high by the first two, there’s no way it couldn’t have been.

The first two films have been completely restored and all three films feature a new 5.1 Digital Surround Sound track as well as the original director’s commentary. Included are two discs of bonus features — the first of which was included in the 2001 Godfather box set. The second bonus disc is new for 2008 and includes featurettes about the restoration process, The Godfather’s place in pop culture, “Four Short Films on The Godfather,” and a documentary about how the original film almost never happened. The bonus discs in my package were mislabeled, with the new features on disc 4 and the old ones on disc 5. Hopefully they did not all get printed this way as that would be an embarrassing blemish on an otherwise fine collection.

As for the restoration itself, the movies look phenomenal, and that is based on the standard definition DVD used for the purposes of this review. One can imagine the Blu-ray looks even better. The bonus disc does a comparison between the new version and various releases of the films and the difference is staggering. Where the previous releases of the film often had a dark and murky picture, particularly in the Italian restaurant assassination scene, the current DVD is rich in color and detail and allows the viewer to really see Pacino’s nervous expressions before killing the two men.

If you don’t own The Godfather movies, this would be the time to get them. If you do own the movies, this is still an upgrade and the bonus features make it worth buying again. The picture and sound are now worthy of this legendary story.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

John Mellencamp - Life Death Love and Freedom CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

John Mellencamp delves into American folk, blues and country on his latest release, the moody Life Death Love and Freedom. Produced by T Bone Burnett, the album’s stark songs of life, death and hard living bare a similarity to Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand, also produced by Burnett, but while that album featured all covers (one a Page/Plant song), all 14 tracks on Life... were written by Mellencamp.

From the opening notes of “Longest Days,” you know this isn’t pop fare here. Mellencamp laments life’s struggles when he sings, “Sometimes you get sick and you don’t get better. That’s when life’s short, even in its longest days.” The sparse acoustic guitar backing puts his vocals front and center in a song far too many people can relate to.

The mood picks up on the rocker, “My Sweet Love,” an ode to romance with a ‘50s feel and driving drums. The bluesy “If I Die Sudden” finds Mellencamp wishing to be left in peace should he pass away as he sings, “there ain’t nobody needs to know, that I’m gone.” He delivers the tune with the authority of a 75-year-old bluesman.

He tackles race on “Jena,” a song about the Jena Six trial in Louisiana where six black teens were accused of attempted murder against one white teen by an all-white jury. Racial tolerance is also the subject of “Young Without Lovers,” a menacing blues cut and standout on the CD.

“Troubled Land” harkens back to “Crumblin’ Down” musically with its swampy groove and sings of bringing peace while warning of the hurricane on the horizon. On “A Ride Back Home,” he pleads with Jesus to take him home, saying that his time has come and gone. It is the song of a weary man wishing for the end.

This album is not for the casual John Mellencamp fan. These tracks won’t be burning up the chart anytime soon, but that’s not the point. His take on the old American music largely succeeds. The record is one of the most compelling of his storied career and a rewarding listen.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Sinatra - DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

It is difficult for any movie or television show to do justice to Frank Sinatra’s remarkable career, which spanned parts of seven decades, yet, the miniseries Sinatra largely succeeds at doing just that.

Sinatra stars Philip Casnoff in the title role and begins during his childhood in Hoboken, New Jersey. His parents, played by Olympia Dukakis and Joe Santos, ran a saloon during prohibition and Sinatra himself was no stranger to trouble, stealing cigarettes at an early age. He also had some sheet music with the cigarettes and while his friends kidded him about it, even at age 10 Sinatra knew he was going to be a star.

He met his first wife, Nancy Barbato (played by Gina Gershon) and went to work for her father while he pursued his singing career. He was not cut out for 9-5 work though and was shown falling asleep on the job. After he quit his job, Barbato’s father forbade Sinatra from seeing his daughter, as he’d be unable to provide for her. Still, the couple managed to sneak out to see each other and was eventually married, with Barbato bearing all three of his children — Nancy, Frank Jr., and Tina.

After quitting the Hoboken Four, Sinatra joined Harry James’ group and toured with his orchestra, his wife Nancy traveling with him on the tour. That gig was short-lived however as Tommy Dorsey’s band suddenly had an opening which Sinatra filled. James was gracious in letting Sinatra go, as he knew Dorsey was much bigger than he was. It was during his time with Dorsey’s orchestra that Sinatra began to emulate Dorsey’s trombone with his voice. Dorsey’s demands and tour schedule put a strain on Sinatra’s marriage and, in spite of Dorsey trying to get 43 percent of Sinatra’s earnings for life (which Sinatra fought against and won), Sinatra left the group to pursue a solo career.

Trends change though and Sinatra at the end of the 1940s was nowhere near as popular as he was at the beginning of the decade. His very public affair with actress Ava Gardner (played by Marcia Gay Harden) hurt not only his popularity, but also his marriage. Just days after his divorce from Nancy, Sinatra married Gardner. Their relationship was stormy at best, with her popularity on the rise while his was at an all-time low. She had to loan him money so he could fly out for a screen test. While Sinatra wanted her to settle down with him, she was focused on her career and had an abortion, much to Sinatra’s dismay. Drinking heavily at this point, at a show at the Copacabana, Sinatra lost his voice due to vocal cord hemorrhaging and wasn’t supposed to sing or even speak for several weeks.

Gardner and Sinatra split up in 1953 after two years of marriage and were divorced in 1957. It is at this point that Sinatra begins to gloss over the rest of his career. His brilliant Capitol period is represented by a short montage, which is unfortunate as many of the darker themes on those concept albums were a direct result of his relationship with Gardner. We also don’t get to see the formation of the Rat Pack aside from a brief meeting with Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jr. some years back, though we do get to see them perform.

Sinatra’s alleged mob ties are explored with Rod Steiger playing Sam Giancana, who helps Sinatra’s friend John F. Kennedy get over 100,000 votes on his way to the White House. Giancana is none-too-pleased however when Bobby Kennedy starts prosecuting mobsters and tells Sinatra to watch his back.

Sinatra’s brief marriage to Mia Farrow is briefly touched on and provides some of the miniseries’ more humorous moments as Farrow irritated Sinatra with her peace signs and loud rock and roll. The couple was to shoot a movie together, but Farrow could not get out of her schedule for Rosemary’s Baby. Sinatra, feeling a sense of déjà vu from when he didn’t have time for Nancy due to his own movie career, got a divorce.

The miniseries ends with Sinatra returning from his two-year retirement to sing “My Way” at Madison Square Garden in 1974. While Sinatra’s Rat Pack and Capitol years could have been covered in greater detail, Sinatra remains an excellent look at this legendary performer; pulling no punches and offering an excellent look at a legendary career.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Buckcherry - 15 CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Buckcherry came out of the late '90s Hollywood music scene as seemingly a breath a fresh air to those fed up with grunge and longing for the gritty rock and roll of yesteryear. Their self-titled debut didn’t disappoint. With infectious riff after riff and sing-along choruses, the band drew comparisons to Aerosmith, AC/DC, Guns ‘N Roses and The Sex Pistols. Their breakthrough single, “Lit Up,” was all over rock radio and owed a musical debt to Ace Frehley’s “Shock Me.”

The band suffered a commercial sophomore slump however with its second release, Time Bomb, and broke up in 2002. After singer Josh Todd released a solo album, he and guitarist Keith Nelson were recruited by ex-Guns ‘N Roses members Slash, Duff, and Matt Sorum for their new group – called The Project at the time. That group eventually became Velvet Revolver with Todd and Nelson being replaced by Scott Weiland and Dave Kushner.

Todd and Nelson decided to reform Buckcherry with new members and released 15 (named for the numbers of days it took to record) in Japan in November of 2005 and the U.S. in April of 2006. More than two years later, 15 still has life on the charts and rock radio. To date, it has spawned five singles, from the controversial sleaze-rock of “Crazy Bitch,” to the current hit single, “Sorry” – remarkable for a band that didn’t even have a record label in the U.S. at the time 15 was initially released.

Buckcherry have always worn their influences on their sleeves and 15 is no different. “So Far” sounds like a raunchier version of '70s Aerosmith while “Out of Line” would be at home on Highway to Hell. This isn’t a bad thing, though. The band pays tribute without totally aping the originals. Buckcherry is about as rock and roll as it gets these days.

Buckcherry have secured a slot on Motley Crue’s 2008 festival tour, Crue Fest as they continue to grow in popularity. If 15 is any indication, great things lie ahead for the band.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Sinatra at the Movies CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Throughout his remarkable singing career spanning parts of seven decades, Frank Sinatra also appeared in 58 films, winning three Academy Awards including Best Supporting Actor for From Here to Eternity, and four Golden Globes, including Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Pal Joey. Sinatra contributed some of his best-loved music to these films, with 20 of those songs collected on Sinatra at the Movies.

Covering his brilliant Capitol years only, Sinatra at the Movies includes the title themes to The Tender Trap, From Here to Eternity, Young at Heart, Three Coins in the Fountain, and Not as a Stranger. Also from Young at Heart is the classic “Just One of Those Things,” which is done with its more familiar up-tempo arrangement (In later years, Sinatra sometimes performed the song as a ballad, or "saloon song" as he called them).

Four other movies are represented by two songs each, with “I Love Paris” and “C’est Magnifique” from Can Can, “How Deep is the Ocean” and “All of Me” from Meet Danny Wilson, “I Could Write a Book” and “The Lady is a Tramp” from Pal Joey, and “All the Way” and “Chicago” from The Joker is Wild.

It should be noted that while all of these songs are from Sinatra movies, they are not the versions recorded for the movies. Rather, they are the versions from his Capitol albums (“Chicago” is the version from Come Fly With Me for instance). To get the tracks from the movies, one may consider the Sinatra in Hollywood box set.

Sinatra at the Movies is part of a larger media blitz that includes a U.S. postage stamp (entering circulation in May) and television programming spotlighting Sinatra’s movies and television specials. While many of the tracks on Sinatra at the Movies are timeless standards, the CD barely scratches the surface of Sinatra’s recorded legacy, making it a bad starting point for new fans and a must-own for completists only.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder: John, Paul, Tom & Ringo DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

In the near decade The Tomorrow Show With Tom Snyder aired on NBC, Snyder had a number of cutting-edge performers appear on the show. Not many American talk shows would have ever touched the Plasmatics or Johnny Rotten, yet there they were in interviews and performances with Snyder trying to establish a rapport with them as well as understand them (While a good interviewer, Snyder could come across as a bit square on occasion). The most famous of these musicians were arguably the three former Beatles he interviewed: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr. Those interviews make up the contents of this two-disc set.

Disc one is a tribute to John Lennon with his interview from April of 1975, which Snyder rebroadcast on December 9, 1980, one day after Lennon’s death. In it, Lennon discusses his time with the Beatles, his solo career, his life in New York with Yoko Ono, and his immigration status (His immigration lawyer, Leon Wildes, joins the interview during that segment). It was to be Lennon’s last televised interview. The rebroadcast added then-new interviews with journalist Lisa Robinson and producer Jack Douglas, who produced Double Fantasy and had done a session with Lennon the night of his murder.

Disc two begins with an interview with Paul and Linda McCartney just before one of their 1979 concert appearances in London, England. Wings were on the road for Back to the Egg (The video for “Spin it On” is included in the broadcast) and were about to play the Concert for Kampuchea. The interview was taped the day after the Who concert at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati where 11 people were trampled to death as fans rushed to their seats. McCartney said the key to better security at such shows where festival seating is used such as the Who concert, is have more entrances for fans, so everyone isn’t all going into the same doors. Paul also talked a little about his time with the Beatles and life at home with the kids and how he enjoyed having a family and being able to take his kids on the road with him. Snyder asked Linda McCartney how she met Paul and asked Wings members Laurence Juber and Denny Laine how they came to be in "the Wings organization" as Snyder called it.

The final interview on disc two is with Ringo Starr from 1981. Ringo was promoting his then-new album, Stop and Smell the Roses, which featured contributions from Paul McCartney and George Harrison (the video for Harrison’s “Wrack My Brain” is shown) and was to have also included songs written and produced by John Lennon. The two were to work together in January of 1981, but Lennon was killed the previous December. This interview was less than a year later and Starr was still very shaken up at the loss of his friend. The interview also includes Ringo’s wife Barbara Bach, who he met on the set of the film Caveman. Angie Dickinson fills up the second half of this episode where she promotes her series, Cassie and Company, and discusses why she returned to television.

For Beatles fans, John, Paul, Tom & Ringo serves as an interesting time capsule, both in terms of the various Beatles careers at that point, as well as world events of the time. It’s nice to have the interviews all in one collection and is well worth owning.

Cloverfield DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

On a recent trip to Japan, producer J.J. Abrams saw a number of Godzilla toys in a toy store and realized the impact the fictional creature has on Japanese culture to this day. He then thought, “what if America had such a creature?” It was this thought process that led to the creation of Cloverfield, an American monster movie that owes a lot to its Japanese counterparts.

Set in New York City, Cloverfield begins at a going away party for Rob Hawkins (played by Michael Stahl-David), who is leaving for a job opportunity in Japan. Among the guests present are Rob’s brother, Jason; and Jason’s girlfriend, Lily; Rob’s friend, Hud, whose home movie serves as the documentation of not only the party, but of the monster’s attack; the object of Hud’s affections, Marlena; and Beth McIntyre (played by Odette Yustman), who brings a date in spite of the fact she once had a fling with Rob. Hud films testimonials from the guests about Rob and it is here we learn from Beth’s reaction that she still has feelings for Rob. When Rob reacts angrily to the fact that Hud is inadvertently taping over video footage of him and Beth, it is revealed that Rob shares Beth’s feelings.

The party seems to be going fine when tragedy hits New York City. Buildings shake and there are explosions as the city reacts in panic, not knowing whether it was an earthquake or possibly a terrorist attack. It is here that Cloverfield does a good job of playing on post-911 fears, showing the chaos that would take place were such an event to actually occur. The monster rips the head from the Statue of Liberty, hurling it down a busy street and at this point, we first get our first glimpses of the creature as captured by Hud’s camera.

A group of New Yorkers tries to flee via the Brooklyn Bridge and Rob gets separated from Beth who is trapped in her apartment building. Desperate, Rob goes back to try and save her while the military is called in to fight the creature. In spite of being a monster movie, at its heart Cloverfield is really a love story between Rob and Beth. In a series of flashbacks (shown from Rob’s original tape, which wasn’t completely erased), we get glimpses of the playful nature of their relationship and, after the attack, see the lengths Rob will go to save her.

Cloverfield runs about 75 minutes – a short film by today’s standards – but that enables the film to keep its frantic pace throughout. With its shaky, first-person perspective (Think The Blair Witch Project), Cloverfield is not for those who get dizzy easily, yet it is this very technique that enables the viewer to see what Hud sees as he sees it and helps Cloverfield manage a fresh take on the monster-movie concept.

The DVD has a number of bonus features, including: deleted scenes, alternate endings, featurettes and commentary by director Matt Reeves. Those looking for drastic differences in the alternate endings however will be disappointed as it is merely the flashbacks that have been changed, though the commentary provided by Reeves offers interesting insight as to why they were left on the cutting-room floor.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bushwhack CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

With their self-titled debut, Connecticut-based Bushwhack delivers an atmospheric blend of experimental prog-rock that conjures up thoughts of Dream Theater and Porcupine Tree while maintaining their own original sound. The band’s members, some of whom have known each other since the first grade, are all 18- to 19-years old and the band is a four-piece instrumental outfit.

That’s right – no singer. As of last July, the band had posted on their MySpace page that they were looking for a singer, but, as in other instances, have not yet added one. Keyboardist, Frank Sacramone maintains that while he can see some songs needing vocals, the band wouldn’t want to have to “sacrifice the good instrumental parts we bring to the table.”

The CD opens with “In Solitude,” a moody piece with eerie piano right out of a horror flick and electronic programming not unlike Nine Inch Nails, before launching into “The Greatest Wall,” a Dream Theater-sounding cut with Asian overtones invoking the Great Wall of China. “Guacamole” is Primus meets Rush, with its odd time signatures and funky bass lines, yet it veers into much heavier territory than those bands typically cover.

“Sea of Tranquility” was written about its namesake on the moon and starts with a mellow mix of acoustic guitars with pianos and synths before building to its dramatic crescendo of metal guitars. “Sea” is a standout track on the CD, as is “Introspection,” a song that lives up to its name with its intricate piano parts.

The musicianship on Bushwhack is top-notch, yet the players keep it restrained for most of the CD – surprising for this type of music. While most of the tracks function just fine without vocals, some of them could use them. It makes for a CD that is best listened to in the background while you are doing something else. It’s not a knock against the songs – it’s just harder for an instrumental album to hold a listener’s interest.

The band’s talent level at such a young age is astounding (One member is attending the Berklee College of Music) and they will only get better as they grow as musicians. In an age where many guitarists struggle to play three chords, Bushwhack is a refreshing change.

The album is available for purchase online at the band's website.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Fight - War of Words: The Film with CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Rob Halford stunned the metal world in 1992 when he announced he was leaving Judas Priest, the band he had fronted for many years. While fans pondered his next move, Halford didn’t keep them waiting long by releasing “Light Comes Out Of Black” on the Buffy the Vampire Slayer soundtrack. The song featured an uncredited Pantera as his backing band and signaled the beginning of a new, heavier era for the metal god.

That same year, Halford began rehearsals in Arizona with his new band, Fight. The band combined the melodic aspects of Judas Priest with the aggression of Pantera and released two albums, the first of which, War of Words, is included in a remixed/remastered form as part of the War of Words: The Film DVD package.

The DVD includes an all-too-brief documentary about the formation of the band, including rehearsal footage as well as live clips and interviews. One would think a giant in the world of heavy metal such as Halford would merit a longer documentary about his life after Judas Priest, yet the film barely runs 20 minutes.

Part II of the DVD includes a Fight concert with footage culled from 22 different venues, all of them named onscreen during the first song. While the audio all comes from one source, having footage from that many venues – both professional and audience shot – can be a little distracting to a viewer, especially when Halford goes from no hat to hat to no hat again in the same song.

Still, the performance is intense and features every song from the band’s hard-hitting debut. Also included is bonus live footage from the Sony Music Studios from 1993, music videos for three of the band’s songs, and a trailer for the Halford Live at Rock in Rio III film.

As for the remixed/remastered War of Words CD, the difference is noticeable. The drums and Halford’s voice in particular seem more prominent in an attempt to make the record sound more current. Keen fans will notice that the bonus track from the original release is nowhere to be found on this reissue, but the overall sound quality of the CD is top notch.

Fight’s career was short-lived as Halford later formed Two, his ill-fated industrial project, and then went solo before rejoining Judas Priest. For fans of the singer who may only know him for “Living After Midnight” or “You’ve Got Another Thing Coming,” War of Words: The Film is a good place to start discovering the many sides of this metal god

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lil' Bush - Resident of the United States: Season One DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

President George W. Bush has been fodder for comedians since virtually his first day in office. It is therefore no surprise there is an animated series dedicated to him. That series is Comedy Central’s Lil’ Bush: Resident of the United States.

In the show’s first season, entitled “The Invasion Begins,” we follow the exploits of Lil’ Bush and his friends, including: Lil’ Rummy, Lil’ Condi, and Lil’ Cheney. The characters are portrayed as elementary school kids yet look like miniature versions of their adult selves.

Lil’ Bush is portrayed as brash and stupid, but charming as well. Lil’ Rummy speaks fondly of the marks on his back from the different belt buckles he has gotten his father for Father’s Day, while Lil’ Condi is a sweet, innocent girl who is pining for Lil’ Bush, though he is completely oblivious to her feelings. It’s Lil’ Cheney that gets the most distorted treatment however. He speaks only in grunts, uttering only the occasional intelligible word. When he saw Lil’ Hillary Clinton for instance, he shouted, “rah, rah rah rah, pantsuit, rah rah.” He sustains himself by biting the heads off chickens and sucking out the insides, and Darth Vader is apparently his father. Bush’s father is President and is seen as weak and feeble, yet gentle while Barbara Bush wears the pants in the family. Lil’ Bush’s brother, Lil’ Jeb is borderline brain dead, but seemingly indestructible as he falls off mountains and gets his head caught in ice machines with no harm done to him.

The group’s exploits are equally absurd. From going to Baghdad to buy George H.W. Bush a Father’s Day gift because Baghdad has dad in its name, to dressing up as women to invade an Al-Qaeda camp (including making Lil’ Condi wear a wig in spite of the fact that she is indeed a woman – a point Lil’ Bush doesn’t seem to get) to a tryst Lil’ Cheney has with Barbara Bush where he ends up inside of her, forcing George H.W. Bush to order an abortion; no subject is taboo.

The Democrats get skewered as well. Lil’ Bill Clinton is always cheating on Lil’ Hillary, while she is seen as a humorless tyrant who may in fact be a lesbian. Lil’ Barack Obama is shown building a house for the poor because he believes it is the right thing to do, yet gets laughed at by Lil’s Bush’s crew as they burn the house down to get the insurance money to buy scooters. He is portrayed in the stereotype of tree-hugging liberal.

Every episode features a song by Lil’ Bush and his band, each time with the band dressed as a famous group such as Kiss or Guns ‘N Roses (with Lil’ Condi as Slash). The songs always focus on the themes of the episode and add a fun touch to the show. Season one also featured its share of guest stars, including: Iggy Pop, Anthony Kiedis, Frank Black, and Dave Grohl.

The DVD is uncensored, and includes an unreleased episode; audio commentary by Jerry Springer, Ralph Nader and Tucker Carlson; Lil’ Bush’s White House tour; and interviews with the cast and crew.

Lil' Bush certainly is not for everyone, especially those who are easily offended or not into political satire. For thicker-skinned viewers however, Lil’ Bush offers a humorous insight into the world of American politics.

No Country For Old Men DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

What would you do if you discovered $2 million in untraceable, unmarked bills – drug money no one would miss? That’s the question pondered in No Country For Old Men, the latest film from the Coen Brothers.

The winner of four Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Javier Bardem), No Country tells the story of Llewelyn Moss (played by Josh Brolin). While out hunting, Moss discovers the dead bodies of a number of Mexican drug runners caught in the crossfire of a drug deal gone bad. There’s a pickup truck filled with heroin and a suitcase with $2 million in cash. Leaving the drugs, Moss takes the suitcase and discovers one of the drug runners is still living. Leaving him for dead, Moss returns home to his trailer with the money only to have his conscience get the best of him. He returns to the crime scene with some water to help the wounded dealer and it is then he is discovered by some of the other dealers.

At this point, the dealers hire Anton Chigurh (played by Barden), a ruthless hit man who uses a captive bolt pistol used to stun cattle before slaughter as his murder weapon of choice, to find Moss. The dealers have placed a transponder inside the suitcase and gave Chigurh a receiver to track Moss.

What follows is a nerve-wracking chase through Texas and into Mexico. Meanwhile, Moss’ wife, Carla Jean (played by Kelly Macdonald) flees to Odessa where she is to meet up with her husband after he takes care of Chigurh. Knowing Moss is in over his head against Chigurh, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell (played by Tommy Lee Jones) tracks down Carla Jean in Odessa and vows to help Moss. Bell is near retirement and represents the old man in the movie title, who can’t understand the violent turn the world around him has taken.

No Country For Old Men features breathtaking cinematography and performances worthy of all its Oscar glory. While the middle of the film drags a bit, the beginning and ending are riveting and keep the viewer’s attention. The confrontations between Moss and Chigurh as well as Bell and Chigurh are as heart-stopping as any action scenes in recent memory and the film is definitely worth a look.

The DVD includes 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround Sound and three featurettes: Working with the Coens, The Making of No Country For Old Men and Diary of a County Sheriff.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Batman & Mr. Freeze - Subzero/Batman - Mask of the Phantasm DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Double features are all the rage again with the release of two classic Batman animated features on one DVD. Batman & Mr. Freeze: Subzero (1997) and Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) give fans a double dose of the caped crusader.

Based on the excellent Batman – The Animated Series TV show, both movies feature the voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman. Phantasm ups the ante with a number of celebrity voices, including: Dana Delaney as Andrea Beaumont, Mark Hamill as The Joker, and Abe Vigoda as Salvatore “Sal the Wheezer” Valestra.

In Subzero, Mr. Freeze (played by Michael Ansara) scrambles to find a cure to save his dying wife. She needs an organ donor with the right blood type and would not survive long enough to be put on a waiting list. Desperate, Freeze enlists the help of Dr. Gregory Belson (played by George Dzundza) who, after doing a search, discovers that Barbara Gordon – Batgirl (played by Mary Kay Bergman) – is a perfect match.

Freeze kidnaps Gordon, who said she’d help if he released her. Not trusting Gordon, Freeze resists releasing her and Batman and Robin (played by Loren Lester) come to her rescue. In the ensuing battle, Freeze is presumed dead of drowning after falling off an oilrig into the water. Meanwhile, Gordon saves Freeze’s wife through an organ transplant and the world mourns the fact that while considered a villain, Freeze cared deeply for his wife and didn’t live long enough to see that his cryogenic chamber kept her alive long enough to find a cure. The movie ends with Freeze, who survived the fall, back home in the Arctic Circle watching a news report of his wife being saved. Freeze is portrayed in a sympathetic light in this excellent movie as a distraught man willing to do anything to save his spouse.

When the mysterious Phantasm – a masked villain with an appearance similar to Batman – kills a group of mobsters, our hero gets framed for murder in Mask of the Phantasm. As Batman attempts to solve these murders and clear his name, an old flame, Andrea Beaumont reappears. We learn through a series of excellent flashbacks that Bruce Wayne was once engaged to Beaumont. She had to leave Gotham City for Europe with her father to flee from the mafia, who were out to collect a debt he owed. Wayne is torn between finding happiness with Beaumont and upholding his promise to his parents to fight crime.

One of the shady characters associated with Beaumont’s father was The Joker, who, upon learning of the Phantasm’s plans, begins fearing for his own life. The Joker confronts the Phantasm and we learn the Phantasm’s identity in a surprising twist. The Joker then attempts to blow up Batman and the Phantasm in the film’s climactic final battle.

Bonus features for Subzero include “The Hunt for Mr. Freeze Game,” “Get the Picture: How to Draw Batman,” a music montage, cast and crew information, and trailers, including the theatrical version for Phantasm. Both movies adapt the comic books very well – better than some of the live-action Batman films – and this double feature is a must-own in any Batman fan’s collection.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Sarah Brightman - Symphony CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

Crossover superstar, Sarah Brightman, returns with Symphony, her first album of new material in five years. Recorded in Germany, and produced by longtime producer, Frank Peterson, Symphony is an exciting mix of classical, pop, and rock.

The album opens with the eerie “Gothica,” which serves as the perfect intro for the surprisingly hard rock “Fleurs du Mal,” inspired by French Poet Charles Baudelaire’s poems of the same name. The heavy guitars and Brightman’s breathtaking vocals are an ideal match for a song whose name translates to “flowers of evil.”

The title track is a lush power ballad with soaring vocals not unlike a Celine Dion production, but more powerful. Once again, rock guitars mix with classical instruments and a chorus of heavenly voices to create something stunning. On “Sanvean,” Brightman covers Dead Can Dance, doing justice to Lisa Gerrard’s haunting original vocal.

The album features four duets, the first of which is “Canto Della Terra,” where Brightman is reunited with Andrea Bocelli. Sung in Italian, “Canto” is a beautiful love song, with Bocelli’s powerful vocals contrasting with Brightman’s delicate verses until both cut loose at the end with a huge chorus to bring the song to its dramatic finale.

Brightman is joined by fellow Phantom of the Opera alumnus, Paul Stanley of Kiss, on “I Will Be With You (Where the Lost Ones Go).” Though not written by Stanley, “I Will Be With You” is a rock ballad that would be at home on Stanley’s underrated Live to Win CD. Brightman originally performed the song with Chris Thompson as the theme song to, oddly enough, Pokemon Movie 10: The Rise of Darkrai.

On “Sarai Qui,” Brightman is joined by Italian tenor, Alessandro Safina. “Sarai Qui” mixes classical with pop to great effect, even changing keys on the last chorus like so many great pop songs. Penned by pop songstress, Diane Warren, it is easily the best track on the disc. “Pasión” finds Brightman joined by Spanish counter tenor, Fernando Lima. Brightman and Lima’s voices blend beautifully on this tender ballad with Latin overtones and Spanish guitar.

With “Running” Brightman reminds the listener why she is the only artist to hold the No. 1 spot on Billboard’s Classical and Dance charts at the same time. The song opens with a beautiful classical vocal, before tribal drum rhythms take over midway through the song only to finish with Brightman’s soprano set against violins and classical instruments. A hidden track reprising the theme of “Fleurs du Mal” brings the album to a dramatic close.

The CD features lavish packaging worthy of such a big production. The photos have a gothic theme and feature Brightman as a blonde. On Symphony, Brightman mixes enough styles to make the listener say, “why not?” The results are incredibly powerful and worth a listen.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Honeydripper Sound track Review

Written by General Jabbo

American music was at a crossroads in 1950. The big band music of the previous generation was fading in popularity with new forms taking its place. Not quite rock and roll, blues, jazz, or swing, this music would serve as the transition between the big band era of the ‘40s and the rock and roll era of the ‘50s. This is the music prevalent in the soundtrack to John Sayles’ new film, Honeydripper.

The album opens with two instrumentals – The Aces Of Spade’s “Honeydripper Lounge,” a swinging ode to the Alabama clubs the movie is set in, and “Tall Cotton,” with its rich, harmonica blues. Legendary Stax soul singer, Dr. Mable John takes on “No Matter How She Done It” with a touch of vaudeville while the New Beginnings Ministry adds their gospel sound to “Standing by the Highway.”

The soundtrack also features original period pieces, including Hank Williams’ “Move it on Over,” Lil Green’s “Why Don’t You Do it Right,” and Memphis Slim’s “Bertha May” – a haunting song played on a celeste that inspired the funeral scene in the film.

Honeydripper’s star, Danny Glover even takes on “Goin’ Down Slow,” with Sonny Leyland on piano. It’s hard to tell from the recording whether it was made in 1950 or 2008 such is its authenticity.

The album serves as a showcase however for relatively unknown-guitarist Gary Clark, Jr., described by Texas Music Magazine as ”probably the most talented Texas guitarist since a certain SRV.” High praise indeed, but he backs it up on covers of “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” “Blue Light Boogie,” and on the rollicking original, “China Doll,” co-written by Sayles and Mason Daring.

The new and vintage recordings mix together well to provide an exciting look into a musical era gone by, resurrected to great effect by Sayles with Honeydripper.