Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Monogroove's Scintillating Pop is "Here"

One of the benefits of spinning the radio dial back in the day was landing on a song you loved, or discovering one you hadn’t heard before, and digging its vibe. On There’s Something Here, the latest release from the California based band Monogroove, there’s no need to change the station to hear another great song. This talented trio treats us to a baker’s dozen of cool tracks, whose influences range from power pop to garage rock to psychedelia to punk, with a generous helping of folk mixed in for good measure. There’s Something Here is nothing less than a fantastic journey through the various rock and roll sounds of the 1960s and 1970s, imbued with a modern twist, and anchored by the band’s obvious love for the genres they’re celebrating. 

The album opens with “Back Seat,” a Big Star meets Cheap Trick by way of the Raspberries number that perfectly sets the tone for what’s to follow. The rest of the record features a terrific roster of songs, including the harmony-filled melodies of “Can I Take A Chance,” as well as the baroque pop styled “The Looking Glass” and “The Rain.” There’s also the marvelous “God Please,” an earnest plea for peace in these troubled times, and folk-infused tracks like the lovely ballads “I’ll Never Know” and the achingly beautiful, ethereal “Now and Forever.” The band also knows how to rock out when they want to, as evidenced by the electric punk energy of “Up In The Attic” and the 1960s rock meets 1990s alternative rock sound of “Little Miss Cool.

Monogroove's lineup features the multi-talented Rin Lennon on guitar and vocals, the masterful bass work of Woody Cross and the splendid drumming of Kenny Cratty, both of whom also contribute to the letter-perfect vocals. The band’s marvelous musical chemistry, tight chops and glorious harmonies create music that’s an absolute blast to listen to, and you’ll want to do just that, over and over again. Any band that can not only sound Beatlesque throughout their album, but also manages to pull off a dazzling cover of the classic “Magical Mystery Tour,” (featuring special guest star Probyn Gregory on trumpet) is well worth your time and attention.

The music on There’s Something Here has a timeless feeling, and also sounds fresh and up to date. The songs on this album are masterful compositions that will get stuck in your head, inspire you, and touch your heart. If you love the iconic sounds of the 60s, 70s and 80s, There’s Something Here is essential listening. There are tunes for power pop and rock fans of every stripe on this excellent disc, from lighter fare like the touching “There For You” to the edgy, guitar-driven selections such as “All I Want Is You." Check out the group's music and get more information about the band by following this link to the Bandcamp page for the albumhttps://monogroove.bandcamp.com/album/theres-something-here.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Marc Platt's Outstanding Array of "Colors"

Marc Platt is a first-rate singer, songwriter and producer who has been creating superb rock and roll music for a long time now. He was a founding member of the sensational power pop group The Real Impossibles, and has recently been working with The Tearaways, a remarkable Santa Barbara based band whose music echoes the British Invasion sound topped off with a touch of classic California pop. Platt is also an accomplished solo artist, and his 2020 EP, Beat on the Street, was a refreshing combination of tunes which proudly displayed their 1960s rock influences, distilled with healthy dose of power pop. His forthcoming release, Colors of the Universe, is another outstanding collection of songs. The set kicks off with the propulsive, anthemic "Looking For A Change." Aren't we all ready for a change in these difficult times? 

Next up is the power pop meets punk rock tune "Everything Dies" which despite its brief running time, grabs your attention and compels you to turn it up. That track is followed by the crunchy, hard-edged rocker "The Devil's Game," featuring some tasty guitar work. The pop-infused title track is next, and it wouldn't sound out of place on 1960s radio. It's an excellent ballad that includes a plaintive vocal turn by Platt. "Let's Go" is an energetic power pop entry which sounds like it time-warped out of the genre's peak period. "Have It Your Own Way" has a 1970s feeling to it, with a touch of the modern rock aesthetic in the background. The folk-tinged "Had To Be You" memorably closes out the disc with it's strong lyrics and singer-songwriter styled sound.

Platt's knack for crafting exceptional songs is on full display on Colors of the Universe. If you dig pop, rock, folk, power pop and even yearn for some punk flavor in your musical diet, you'll find that these remarkable tunes are a refreshing combination of multiple genres. His marvelous musical talents are a force to be reckoned with, from the emotionally resonant lyrics to the fantastic instrumental work, and the meticulous production on this sterling collection of music. These songs simply demands multiple spins, and Colors of the Universe is a must-have release.

Colors of the Universe comes out January 18th on Rum Bar Records. When you order the disc, you'll receive the tracks from the Beat on the Street EP as a free bonus. Here's a link to the album: https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/colors-of-the-universe-the-nice-price, and also links to the videos for the songs "Everything Dies," https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xyb7L8wL33Y, and the title track: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TuUe1KMy1jo. Head over to Rum Bar Records now and check out his superlative work. If you dig artists like The Kinks, The Mamas and the Papas, The Ramones, Elvis Costello and Peter Case, Marc Platt will quickly become one of your new favorites.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

The Rebirth of Coppola's "Godfather III"

The Godfather and The Godfather, Part II are rightfully celebrated as two of the greatest films of all time by both critics and cinema fans. Director Francis Ford Coppola and writer Mario Puzo's epic story of the Corleone family is masterful movie-making, brought to life by a superb cast including Marlon Brando, James Caan, Talia Shire, Robert DeNiro and Al Pacino as Michael Corleone, whose rise to power as the head of the family, and eventual fall from grace, is charted across both films. For a long time, it seemed like that was the end of the Godfather saga. Despite Coppola's reluctance to do another sequel, rumors had circulated for years that there might be a third chapter in the series. Then in 1990, Coppola and Puzo returned to the story with The Godfather, Part III. Reportedly, Coppola decided to move forward with the film due to financial troubles with his Zoetrope Studios, and the failure of a few high-profile projects like One From The Heart.

Coppola was able to sign Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, and several other members of the original cast to reprise their roles, but Robert Duvall declined to return when he and Paramount couldn't come to an agreement over his salary for the film. Duvall felt he should be paid something closer to what Pacino was receiving to return to his role, as he was an integral part of the cast. Winona Ryder was set to play Mary Corleone, but she dropped out prior to the start of filming due to illness, and was replaced by Coppola's daughter Sofia. Andy Garcia was cast as Vincent Mancini, the illegitimate son of Michael's brother Sonny, played by James Caan in the original film. When the film was released in 1990, it was successful at the box office, but critical reaction was mixed, and many reviews slammed the performance of Sofia Coppola, the film's serpentine plot, and the addition of actors such as George Hamilton, who played the family's new lawyer, replacing Duvall.

Coppola recently released a new edit of the film, now titled The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. He has cut a few scenes from the movie, shifted some around, and trimmed a few others. The running time of the film is now about five minutes shorter. The restructuring by Coppola allows the story to flow a bit more smoothly. The plot line regarding Michael's quest for redemption, and the resulting fallout to his family due to his sins of the past, takes center stage. There's also a smoother resolution to the story arc for Vincent, Andy Garcia's character. Of course, there are some issues with the labyrinthine plot that can't be fixed even with a re-cut of the movie. As for the casting, George Hamilton certainly can't hold a candle to Robert Duvall, who's definitely missed in the role of Tom Hagen. I was never as bothered by Sofia Coppola's acting as some critics and fans were when the film was originally released. It's an unpolished and inexperienced performance, to be sure, but it's hard for her to compete with the likes of Pacino and Garcia. She's okay in the part, and has gone on to become a talented director in her own right.

Pacino and Keaton are terrific in their roles, and their scenes together are some of the best in the film. Garcia shows flashes of James Caan's manic energy as Vincent, and Talia Shire ups the ante in her role as Michael's sister Connie, who clearly has no problems taking action against the family's enemies when necessary. Eli Wallach and Joe Mantegna are effective in minor roles, and it's nice to see supporting players such as Richard Bright, who returns as Michael's bodyguard Al Neri. Ace cinematographer Gordon Willis shot the first two films, and he does another wonderful job here, adding to the movie's melancholy tone with his beautiful imagery. Coppola's direction is solid, and the film is undeniably well-made, but it never quite hits the heights of the first two movies in the series. The character arcs seen here were already explored to some degree in Parts I and II, so in some ways the story covers familiar ground.

The Godfather III: The Death of Michael Corleone may not be quite as good as it's predecessors in the series, but it's still an involving, emotional and often powerful film. Coppola has said in interviews he considers the film a coda or epilogue to the story of the Corleones. That's an apt description, as the movie is one of the last entries in an old-style, romanticized view of the gangster as an anti-hero and tragic figure. The year that Godfather III was originally released was also the time that Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas hit cinemas, and that film helped re-define the style, pace and look of gangster movies for a new generation of filmmakers. If you're a fan of the Corleone saga, this new cut of the third film in the series is worth a look. The Godfather III: The Death of Michael Corleone is now available on Blu-ray and for digital download. Here's a link to the trailer for the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=relO5a2wzsI.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

CineSavant & Trailers From Hell: Comfort and Joy For Film Fans and Movie Buffs

If you’re a passionate film fan like me, you probably don’t just watch movies, you very likely purchase your favorite films on physical media. These days multiple versions of new and classic movies are regularly being issued and re-issued, often as special editions, imports and in limited runs by “boutique” labels such as Arrow Video and Powerhouse Indicator. It’s hard to keep them all straight, much less make an informed choice about which version you should add to your library. One of the best places to get in-depth information about films and their disc releases is the ongoing column by the one and only CineSavant, aka DVD Savant. That’s the non de plume of Glenn Erickson, a film industry veteran who’s been writing about movies for many years now. His current home is that essential website for discerning cinephiles, Trailers From Hell.

Glenn always provides absorbing and entertaining analyses of the films he reviews in his twice-weekly column, which runs on Tuesdays and Saturdays.  He supplies comprehensive coverage of the latest and greatest Blu-ray and DVD releases. It’s always a pleasure to read his illuminating, fascinating and informative work. He writes about movies in a variety of genres, and often includes a fact or detail that even die hard film fans like myself may not have known. From the James Bond movies to 1950s science-fiction flicks, to foreign films, little known independent features, film noir, and back through to Hammer horror and Toho’s Godzilla series, CineSavant provides thoughtful and accurate reviews. If there have been multiple disc releases of a film, Glenn will let you know the pluses (and occasional minuses) of each version, and how they differ, from picture quality to special features. The CineSavant page also features excellent guest writers like Charlie Largent, who maintain the site's high quality when writing about their genre of specialty.

In a field where many writers and bloggers claim to be experts, CineSavant is the real deal. Glenn has also released two excellent books compiling his work, DVD Savant and Sci-Fi Savant. Both are worth seeking out. I’m happy to say that I own a copy of Sci-Fi Savant, and this spectacular collection of science-fiction film reviews spanning the cinematic decades of the genre is one of my go to references on the subject. Sitting down to read Glenn’s indispensible writing is always one of the highlights of my week, and I’m very glad that he has found a home at Trailers From Hell, the website of choice for cool and in the know film buffs. Not only is Glenn’s work hosted at the site, you can check out other talented writers like Dennis Cozzalio and Randy Fuller. 

At Trailers From Hell, you can view trailers for a wide variety of films featuring commentaries by filmmakers like Allan Arkush, Mick Garris and John Landis. While you're there, you also can find links to episodes of the fantastic (and absolutely addictive) podcast The Movies That Made Me, hosted by screenwriter Josh Olson and director Joe Dante. In each episode, the dynamic cinematic duo talk with a variety of actors, directors and writers about the moves that inspired them. I’ve written about both Trailers From Hell and Cinesavant in the past, but in these unprecedented times we live in, it’s nice to celebrate positive things that bring you joy, and Cinesavant and Trailers From Hell never fail to brighten my day, week, month or year.  I strongly encourage you head on over to https://cinesavant.com and https://trailersfromhell.com, and dive into a world of cinematic wonders that will delight and enthrall you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

"The Turning": In Search of an Ending

Henry James' classic novella The Turn of the Screw has been adapted for both the big and small screen multiple times. The most famous cinematic version of the story is probably The Innocents, the chilling 1961 film starring Deborah Kerr. This year, two adaptations of the story were released. One was the Netflix series The Haunting of Bly Manor, from writer-director Mike Flanagan, which was very well received by critics and viewers. The second version of the story that came out in 2020 was The Turning, a big-screen adaptation of the story starring Mackenzie Davis. The project was originally conceived in 2016 as a horror film based on The Turn of the Screw entitled Haunted, to be produced by Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment. The script was by Chad Hayes and Gary W. Hayes, and Alfre Woodard was set to star in the film.

Shortly before filming was set to begin, the project was cancelled. Spielberg was reportedly unhappy with a rewrite that had been done by Scott Z. Burns, which significantly changed the original concept. Director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo and Burns were let go, and the film was restarted with Floria Sigismondi behind the camera, and a new script by Jade Bartlett, based on the the original draft by the Hayes brothers. Mackenzie Davis of Halt & Catch Fire, Finn Wolfhard of Stranger Things, Brooklynn Prince and Joely Richardson were cast in the movie, now entitled The Turning. The film was released to theaters in January of this year. The movie was not a success at the box office, and got terrible reviews, many of them pointing out the film's confusing ending.

The Turning is set in 1994, and tells the story of Kate Mandell, a young woman who becomes the governess to Flora and Miles Fairchild, a pair of orphaned children living at a large estate with the house's caretaker, Mrs. Grose. The previous governess, Miss Jessel, left suddenly, and Flora is worried that Kate will leave her as well. Kate assures her that she won't do that. Right from the start, odd things are happening, and both children act strangely. Miles continually challenges Kate's authority, and Mrs. Grose tells her he had been under the negative influence of Quint, the estate's riding instructor, who recently died. Kate begins to see strange apparitions, and experiences nightmarish moments. Are the ghosts real, or is it all in her mind? Kate's mother is in an asylum, and the prickly Mrs. Grose suggests that maybe Kate is going mad as well. When she learns the truth about what happened to Quint and Ms. Jessel, Kate has to decide if she can save both the children and herself from the house's evil influence.

The movie is stylishly filmed and features some fine cinematography by David Ungaro, who shot the film on location in Ireland. The choice of songs used on the soundtrack is excellent, and the score by Nathan Barr is appropriately eerie. The cast is strong, with Brooklyn Prince and Finn Wolfhard giving standout performances as Flora and Miles, and Mackenzie Davis doing an effective job portraying Kate's downward spiral. The problem with The Turning is that the script feels muddled, and the direction and characterizations are inconsistent, throwing off the tone of the film, despite the fine work of the cast.

Where the movie really falls apart is the ending. In order to avoid spoilers, I'll just say that we're given one climax to the story, and then there's a sudden reversal which turns that ending on it's head, and goes in a direction that makes the story feel incomplete. I'm all for endings that defy audience expectations and provide a cool twist. But even an ambiguous ending has to make some sense, and the one we're provided with in The Turning isn't really a conclusion at all. The odd end credits sequence doesn't offer us any help, either. It's a shame, because the film had potential, and could have been a cool modern version of a classic story. If you're looking for a really good adaptation of The Turn of the Screw, I'd stick with The Innocents, or take a deep dive into Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Bly Manor on Netflix. For more on that series, you can check out my review of that excellent show here: http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2020/10/bly-manor-ghost-story-love-story.htmlHere's a link to the trailer for The Turninghttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fw2h8P8MGg

Monday, December 7, 2020

Celebrate the Holidays with New Music from Nick Piunti and Grey DeLisle

As we wind our way through another holiday season, it's nice to have some new music to help us celebrate. JEM Records recently released "Christmas Morning," a fantastic new single by Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men. This past May, the group released their album, Downtime, a terrific collection of power pop infused rock and roll, featuring such excellent songs as "Upper Hand" and "Bright Light." Piunti is a long-time staple of the Detroit music scene, and the hook-filled tunes and the band's outstanding musicianship combined to make Downtime one of the best power pop releases of the past year. 

Featuring terrific vocals, jangling guitars, groovy bass and even a glockenspiel, "Christmas Morning" is a rocking holiday tune in the classic tradition of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and Darlene Love. Just try not to smile and sing along as Piunti and The Complicated Men celebrate the real joy, and of Christmas: spending time with the people you love. Piunti had the first verse and chorus of the song finished for some time, but recently got together with the band to finish it and record the tune, which has been issued as this year's JEM Records holiday single. It's a marvelous tune that gets better every time you hear it, and if there's any justice in the world, it'll become a Yuletide rock and roll staple with a prime spot on your holiday playlist. You can find "Christmas Morning" wherever you download or listen to digital music, including Amazon and Apple Music.

Another fine release this holiday season is Grey DeLisle's cover of the holiday classic "O Holy Night," recently issued by Regional Records. DeLisle is a Grammy winning performer who has released several acclaimed albums. She's also a veteran voice-over artist whose work has been featured in series such as The Fairly Odd Parents, and as Daphne in the Scooby Doo franchise. Regional Records will be releasing her new album in 2021.

DeLisle's stunning take on "O Holy Night" is one of the best ever versions of this timeless song celebrating the birth of Jesus, which was composed way back in 1847 by Adolphe Adam. "O Holy Night" has been recorded by artists like Mariah Carey, Josh Groban and Celine Dion, but DeLisle's low-key, heartfelt rendition, arranged by the artist and Marvin Etzoni (formerly of Lone Justice) is extraordinary. To check out the wonderful video for this unforgettable version of a holiday classic, follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmy1EU09R30&feature=emb_title.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Hunky Dory: David Bowie In Transition

David Bowie was one of the most talented and eclectic musicians ever to perform onstage stage, or grace a recording studio. His chamelionic qualities and innate gifts as a songwriter allowed him to create music in a variety of styles, and to inhabit several characters including the iconic Ziggy Stardust. Just before he introduced the world to his Ziggy persona, he recorded his fourth album, Hunky Dory, in 1971. The record includes such now-classic tracks as "Changes"and "Life On Mars?" At the time, Bowie had not yet achieved superstar status. While his previous releases had garnered some critical acclaim, the albums had not sold well, and he was essentially best known for his hit single, "Space Oddity." For the Hunky Dory sessions, Bowie gathered a stellar group of musicians,  including Mick Ronson, Woody Woodmansey and Rick Wakeman. The album would act as a transitional record and a turning point for Bowie. Hunky Dory would kick off one of the most fruitful and creative periods in Bowie's long and successful recording history, and helped cement his status as a rock and roll legend.

Ken Sharp has recently re- released his excellent book Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol: The Making of David Bowie's Hunky Dory. It's a comprehensive oral history covering the sessions for the landmark album. The book features interviews with producer Ken Scott, Mick Ronson, Rick Wakeman, Woody Woodmansey and the Thin White Duke himself. Hunky Dory is the record where you start to see the “modern” Bowie begin, leading to future classics such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups. This is the period where Bowie really began his series of personal and professional metamorphoses. Sharp's detailed coverage of the album's production gives you real insight into Bowie's creative process, and the ways in which he involved the band in the recording of the songs.

This compelling look at Hunky Dory features some marvelous and entertaining inside stories about the making of this now classic record. If you’re a Bowie fanatic, the book is a must read. Even if you're a casual fan, you’ll find this marvelous work endlessly fascinating. The in-depth portraits of the album sessions, as well as Bowie and his band members is lovingly crafted by author Sharp, whose passion for his subject matter is clearly evident in this perceptive, exhaustively researched and well-written work.

Kooks, Queen Bitches and Andy Warhol: The Making of David Bowie's Hunky Dory can be purchased wherever ebooks are sold, and you can get more information about Ken's many other fine books about artists such as Cheap Trick, Elvis Presley, KISS and The Raspberries by heading over to www.kensharp.com. While you're at it, you can also check out some of his fantastic power pop music at www.bandcamp.com as well. As both an artist and a writer, Ken's work is indispensable and highly recommended.