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. “PasiĆ³n” 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.