Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Elvis Presley - From Elvis in Memphis: Legacy Edition CD Review

Written by General Jabbo

While it may be difficult to believe now, Elvis Presley’s career in the late 1960s prior to his triumphant ’68 Comeback Special was on the skids. Presley had been starring in increasingly bland “Elvis Movies” with increasingly bland soundtrack albums. The hits were drying up and the music world was passing him by. Even the Comeback Special wasn’t a sure thing at first — the Colonel originally wanted it to be a Christmas special, which the show’s producers Bones Howe and Steve Binder fought against and won. They saw the show as an opportunity for Presley to regain his throne as King and he agreed. The rest, as they say, is history as Presley electrified the world as he had done in the 1950s.

The next step was to cash in on this momentum. With Presley’s renewed interest in his recording career, he decided to return to Memphis to record for the first time since he had left Sun Records. He chose Chips Moman’s American Studios and from January to February 1969 recorded some of the most vital music of his career. These sessions are collected on the two-disc From Elvis in Memphis: Legacy Edition.

Like he had done so often in the early days, Presley blended rock, rhythm and blues, and country into a mix uniquely his. Gone were songs such as “Do the Clam,” replaced instead by ace singles including “Suspicious Minds” (Presley’s last U.S. number-one single), “Kentucky Rain,” and “In the Ghetto.” He was relevant and vital again.

Album cuts such as “Any Day Now” and “Long Black Limousine” showed an urgency missing from so much of Presley’s mid-1960s work while “Only the Strong Survive” and “I’m Movin’ On” sounded of the times. One wonders how many more albums like this he could have released had he decided to retake his career sooner.

The sessions were so productive, they yielded material for two complete albums (plus some songs that made it onto future releases). After a successful return to live performances in Las Vegas, Presley released From Memphis to Vegas/From Vegas to Memphis, a two-record set that was half live, half studio. The studio cuts are collected here and the material is arguably as strong as From Elvis in Memphis, with standout cuts including the bluesy “Stranger in My Hometown,” “You’ll Think of Me” and the yearning “Without Love (There is Nothing).

As good as this material is, it has never received the proper treatment on CD. That is all changed on this Legacy Edition. In addition, ten mono singles are included as bonus tracks. While there was room on the discs for the stereo versions of some of these singles, they have been released numerous times on other CDs and the mono tracks are something of a rarity in this digital age. With great packaging, great sound and great songs, From Elvis in Memphis: Legacy Edition is a powerful reminder of why Elvis Presley was the King.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Watchmen (Director's Cut) DVD review

Written by General Jabbo

When Watchmen was first conceived, it was designed to be something unfilmable — or certainly not something that could be contained in a standard two-hour movie. Writer Alan Moore has a general disdain for Hollywood adaptations of comic books (his name is omitted from the DVD credits) and he, along with artist Dave Gibbons created a story that was dense and involved both visually and textually — in other words unfilmable. Rumors persisted on how or if the film would be made and what format it would take (full-length movie, TV miniseries, etc.) and numerous names were attached to the film including Terry Gilliam until finally Zack Snyder (300) got the gig.

The story takes place in 1985 in a very different America. Term limits have been repealed and Nixon is still president after America was victorious in Vietnam thanks to the godlike Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup). Manhattan is one of only three active “super heroes” left in the country along with Edward Blake, aka the Comedian (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley) after costumed heroes were outlawed in 1977. While Manhattan and the Comedian work for the government though, Rorschach refuses to and as such is considered a fugitive.

When Blake is murdered, Rorschach investigates and discovers Blake was the Comedian, causing Rorschach to fear someone is after the costumed heroes. Rorschach warns his former teammates, including Manhattan; Laurie Jupiter, aka Silk Spectre II (Malin Akerman); Dan Dreiberg, aka Night Owl II (Patrick Wilson) and Adrian Veidt, aka Ozymandias (Matthew Goode) to no avail. Laurie’s character is the daughter of the original Silk Spectre while Dan has taken up the Night Owl moniker after the original Night Owl, Hollis Mason (Stephen McHattie), has retired. Meanwhile, Manhattan is accused of causing those close to him to all get cancer. Unable, or unwilling to dispel the rumors, Manhattan exiles himself on Mars during which Russia, sensing a weakened United States, moves in to attack Afghanistan, moving the Doomsday Clock ever closer to midnight

Rorschach later gets framed for murder, and Laurie and Dan break him out of prison, after which Laurie is confronted by Manhattan who takes her to Mars with him. While there, Laurie convinces Manhattan to believe in humanity again and to return to Earth to try to save it from certain doom.

In spite of the excellent title sequence, which shows a series of flashbacks taking the viewer to the present, Watchmen takes a certain understanding of the source material to fully understand what is going on. This is one of the film's flaws. It is too close to the graphic novel for non-fans to fully understand, but too much of the film has been changed from the graphic novel to keep the comic geeks happy (the ending is different, there’s no Tales of the Black Freighter, and the team is called the Watchmen instead of the Minutemen for instance). In addition, a lot of the story gets condensed. While the first hour of Watchmen is essentially the first issue of the comic, the next two hours cover the remaining 11 issues. That’s a lot of material to squeeze into two hours and while Snyder does an admirable job of trying, he still doesn’t get it all in. Still, there is a lot to like about the film, from the casting (the characters all look and act like their comic counterparts) to the costumes to the special effects. While Watchmen is not perfect, it does its best to capture the spirit of the graphic novel.

The DVD includes a number of extras, including 24 additional minutes in the actual movie, 11 Watchmen video journals, a documentary about the original comic, and a music video from My Chemical Romance.

Monday, July 20, 2009

American Gladiators (The Original Series) - The Battle Begins DVD Review

Written by General Jabbo

When American Gladiators debuted in 1989, it took advantage of the popularity of professional wrestling sweeping America at the time. Little did anyone know that American Gladiators would spark a phenomenon of its own, going on for seven seasons and spawning a spin-off in 2008. Every episode of season one is collected in the new DVD, American Gladiators (The Original Series) — The Battle Begins.

The premise of Gladiators was simple: each week, two teams — one male and one female — competed in a series of athletic competitions not unlike those seen more recently on Most Extreme Elimination Challenge against a group of Gladiators, with the winners in the final round taking home a $35,000 prize. The muscular, athletic Gladiators were the real stars of the show, however. With their flamboyant costumes and colorful names such as Blaze, Lace, Laser and Zap, the American Gladiators created an illusion of super athletes — people to root against as average Joes tried to compete against them.

The DVD includes a recap episode with hosts Mike Adamle and football great Joe Theismann, as well as all of the actual episodes. The second half of season one featured only Adamle as host and also introduced an event called The Wall, where contestants had to scale a rock climber’s wall while a Gladiator chased after him or her. The enclosed booklet features biographies of all of the Gladiators, as well as an interview with alumni champion Cheryl Ann Silich. Also included are DVD commentaries from Gladiators Dan “Nitro” Clark, Raye “Zap” Hollitt, and Jim “Laser” Starr as well as an interview with contestant and The Lost Boys actor Billy Wirth.

American Gladiators (The Original Series) — The Battle Begins is a fine collection, allowing fans of the show the opportunity to relive the excitement of season one. The bonus features, while not in abundance, offer some insight to the popularity of the show.