Monday, June 19, 2017

Retro Soul is Alive & Well in New Haven

St. Paul & The Broken Bones - photo by John V
Soul music has seen something of a resurgence in recent years. Performers like Charles Bradley, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and Alabama Shakes have mined the era of Stax, Muscle Shoals and Motown to bring us essential new music that is steeped in the classic soul tradition. One of the prime examples of this modern soul renaissance is the Alabama based St. Paul & The Broken Bones, who performed at New Haven's College Street Music Hall Sunday night. The band is touring in support of its excellent 2016 release, Sea of Noise. The show was magnificent: this outstanding band offered a sensational set, featuring their powerhouse sound, which is an enthralling mix of soul and rock, touched up with more than a dash of R&B. It's a potpourri of retro soul with a modern feel.

St. Paul & The Broken Bones - photo by John V
Lead singer Paul Janeway, who’s a fiery mix of Otis Redding, Al Green, and Wilson Pickett, owned the venue as he danced, jumped and slid his way across the stage. His passionate vocals on songs like “I’ll Be Your Woman” and “Sanctify” transported the audience and lifted us to new heights with their intensity. This was a show jam packed with high points, including one of my favorites, a stellar rendition of “Broken Bones & Pocket Change” one of the band’s signature songs, from their 2014 debut, Half The City. But the night wasn’t just about touching our emotions. Janeway and the band also got our hips moving with can’t stand (or sit) still takes on “Flow With It” and “Call Me.” This extraordinary group kept us grooving as we twisted and swayed for the entire evening. This was a night for singing and dancing along.

Kudos to this remarkable cadre of musicians, who include Browan Lollar on guitar, Al Gamble on piano, Jesse Phillips on bass and Andrew Lee on drums. The three-piece horn section, featuring Allen Branstetter on trumpet, Jason Mingledorff on saxophone and flute, and Chad Fisher on trombone, provide a rich and gritty backdrop that’s essential to the group’s success. Holding it all together is Janeway, who is truly a force of nature, with limitless reserves of energy, with a voice that is simply astonishing; he testifies, soul-ifies and funk-ifies everything he touches. This is an incredibly tight unit that knows how to hit those grooves perfectly, and they match their leader every step of the way. By the time the band wrapped up the show with a four-song encore, they’d shook the foundations, raised the rafters and torn the roof off the place with their superb performance.

Shovels & Rope - photo by John V
Opening act Shovels & Rope delighted the crowd as well. Real life couple (and gifted multi-instrumentalists) Michael Trent and Carey Anne Hearst’s obvious joy at playing together was truly infectious. Their rollicking sound is an Americana-fed mix of country, folk and rock. Songs like “Birmingham” and “O Be Joyful” definitely captured the audience’s attention. Their set also included the lovely “The Last Hawk” a tribute to Garth Hudson of The Band, and “ Missionary Ridge” an evocative retelling of a Civil War battle. Thanks to amazing sets from both bands, it was an extraordinary evening. Special thanks to Paul Janeway for giving a shout out to New Haven’s signature food: pizza, during his between song comments. If you get the chance to see either Shovels & Rope or St. Paul & The Broken Bones live, run, don’t walk to your local music venue. They are absolutely worthy of your attention. Here are links to St. Paul & The Broken Bones performing "I'll Be Your Woman" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rrFmJik2cVg and Shovels & Rope taking on "Birmingham" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqFAt3FUn0k.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Early Elton Resurrects A "Madman"

Early Elton, the brilliant band who pay tribute to the music Elton John performed on tour with Nigel Olsson and Dee Murray during 1970-72, returned to the Fairfield Theatre Company’s Stage One on June 8. I’ve been attending their shows for several years now, and this group never fails to knock my socks off with their incredible live shows. The last time I wrote a review of the band, I mentioned I was running out of superlatives to describe just how good they are. Well, these guys just keep getting better every time I see them, so I’ll try to think of a few new ones. Friday night’s show was nothing short of spectacular. I'd expect nothing less from these superb musicians.

Early Elton - photo by John V
The first set featured Elton’s 1971 album Madman Across The Water in its entirety. Madman is an intricate, masterfully produced album with amazing and powerful songs, including “Levon” and the classic title track. But some of the songs on that disc have a massive sound, which includes choirs and orchestra. How do you scale that down for Early Elton’s trio setup? You do what this phenomenal band does for all of their performances: carefully research by listening to live recordings, demos and bootlegs to get a feel for how Elton, Nigel and Dee made these tunes work in a live trio setting. Allowing for some terrific solos to showcase this group’s stellar musicianship, these songs sound exactly as they would if you’d gone to see Elton during those trio shows in his early days.

The Madman Across The Water set was incredible. Of course, the band knocked it out of the park with “Tiny Dancer” and “Levon,” songs they perform regularly. But I really dug the fantastic versions of deeper cuts like “Razor Face” and “All The Nasties.” Their rendering of “Indian Sunset,” one of Elton John and Bernie Taupin’s most evocative songs, was nothing short of magnificent. The marvelous Jeff Kazee on piano and vocals, the tremendous John Conte on bass and vocals, and the awe-inspiring Rich Pagano on drums and vocals, dazzled us on every song. This was a remarkable performance of the Madman album, and if the show had ended right there, we could have all gone home happy. But there was another memorable set of music to come.

The second half of the night kicked off with a rocking “Take Me To The Pilot” and included a stunning take on “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” from Honky Chateau. The set also featured breathtaking performances of several cuts from Tumbleweed Connection, my personal favorite of Elton’s albums. These songs are always a highlight of Early Elton’s shows, and on this night, the tremendous versions of “Son Of Your Father” and “My Father’s Gun” were no exception. The evening wrapped up with an audience sing along on the classic “Your Song” and the encore: a mind-blowing, bring the house down “Burn Down The Mission.” Early Elton rocksKazee’s terrific keyboards, Pagano’s powerful drumming and Conte’s intense bass, combine with their emotional vocals for an unforgettable night of music. The band is doing more shows this summer, so get out there and catch them live! If you’re a fan of this period of Elton’s music, they are a must see. For more info, you can go to their site at http://www.earlyeltontrio.com, or visit their Facebook page.


John Conte & Rich Pagano - photo by John V
Early Elton Set List - 6/9/17
Set 1 - Madman Across The Water
Tiny Dancer
Levon
Razor Face
Madman Across The Water
Indian Sunset
Holiday Inn
Rotten Peaches
All The Nasties
Goodbye


Jeff Kazee - photo by Gilda Caserta
Set 2 - Fan Favorites
Take Me To The Pilot
Rocket Man
Country Comfort
Son of Your Father
My Father’s Gun
Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters
Border Song
Grey Seal
Your Song
Encore:
Burn Down The Mission



Sunday, June 4, 2017

Some Came Running: Dean's Finest Hour?

Dean Martin was a multi-talented performer who had great success in music, movies and television. In his film work, he often portrayed characters that aligned with his onstage persona of a charming, affable ladies man, with a self-deprecating sense of humor…and a drink in his hand. For example, you may remember the four movies where he played swinging superspy Matt Helm, which were certainly an influence on the Austin Powers series featuring Mike Meyers. Or you might recall Ocean’s 11 (1960) and Robin & The Seven Hoods (1964), light-hearted romps designed to show off the easy-going camaraderie of Dean, Frank Sinatra and their Rat Pack brethren. Maybe you love the seventeen films he did with his comedic partner Jerry Lewis. But Martin also proved his mettle in movies like The Young Lions (1958), which displayed his ability to succeed in more serious dramatic roles. Martin was one of those actors, like Robert Mitchum, who made it look easy when giving memorable performances in their films. They almost didn't seem like they were acting, but left an indelible impact in their wake.

One of my favorite Dean Martin roles is his portrayal of card shark Bama Dillert in director Vincente Minnelli’s 1958 drama, Some Came Running. Based on a novel by James Jones, the film co-stars Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. Sinatra plays Dave Hirsh, a WWII veteran and failed writer, who returns to his Indiana hometown, with a kind-hearted gal named Ginny in tow. Dave is still bitter about some past conflicts with his older brother Frank, and he’s not exactly welcomed home with open arms. One person who does befriend Dave is Bama, a gambler with a “live and let live” attitude. The two men start playing in card games together, and Bama invites Dave to move in with him. Ginny, who is in love with Dave, is brushed aside when he meets Gwen French, a local woman impressed by his writing. Dave sets his sights on Gwen, much to his brother and sister-in-law's chagrin. Frank doesn't want Dave (and his bad reputation) to disrupt his social standing.

The cynical and embittered Dave tries to romance the reluctant Gwen (she inspires him to continue with his writing) and work through his personal issues. His relationship with his self-righteous brother continues to be strained. Dave does form a bond with his niece Dawn, but that situation backfires when a secret about her father is revealed. Meanwhile, Bama becomes a sort of big brother, conscience and sounding board for Dave. Both men end up having altercations: Dave with Ginny’s jealous and violent ex-boyfriend, and Bama with another gambler who accuses him of cheating. Bama is stabbed and ends up in the hospital, where he learns he has diabetes. He's advised to curb his hard-drinking lifestyle, though the news doesn't slow him down much. Ginny’s unrequited love for Dave continues to grow, and her steadfast devotion to him leads to tragic results.

The film is a fascinating portrait of the sanctimonious attitudes and prejudices that lie just beneath the surface of small town America. Dave’s brother Frank resents his return, and he looks down on his sibling's association with "losers" like Bama and Ginny. The elegant Gwen ultimately rejects Dave because he doesn’t “fit in” with her social circles. She also doesn’t care for what she perceives as his lowlife friends. In truth, Bama and Ginny are more genuine, and more loyal, to Dave than anyone else he encounters. The film's ending only accentuates this point: Dave’s friends are much better people than the supposedly upstanding citizens of Parkman, Indiana. There are parochial attitudes and a real sense of darkness (plus a host of secrets and lies) beneath the surface of this seemingly innocent town. This definitely isn't the world of Father Knows Best or Leave It To Beaver.

Frank Sinatra & Dean Martin in Some Came Running
Director Vincente Minnelli’s carefully coordinated color scheme, as well as his expansive use of the CinemaScope frame, adds immeasurably to the film’s effectiveness and visual style. Just look at the scene where Dave first encounters Bama. We see his ubiquitous hat before we actually meet the man. The hat will become a signature part of his character. He only removes it at a key point late in the film. During the filming, Sinatra reportedly clashed with Minnelli over the director's methodical planning and meticulous style, but Some Came Running is a great looking and richly detailed film. The carnival sequence at the film’s climax is simply stunning.

The acting is phenomenal, with Sinatra doing some finely nuanced work as the world-weary Dave. The excellent supporting cast includes Arthur Kennedy as Frank, and Martha Hyer as Gwen, the object of Dave’s affections. But for my money, this film belongs to Shirley MacLaine and Dean Martin. In one of her best early roles, MacLaine is simply luminous. Ginny may feel she's not good enough for Dave, but her love for him comes from an honest and pure place. While she may not be as “respectable” as the well-heeled Gwen, she’s ultimately shown to be more loving and sincere. It’s a part that garnered MacLaine her first Oscar nomination, thanks in part to a suggestion from Sinatra about changing a key scene from the novel for the film's finale. Arthur Kennedy and Martha Hyer also received well-deserved Oscar nominations for their roles. However, Dean Martin should have gotten a nomination for his fantastic work as Bama. 

Martin is terrific as the amiable gambler who is skilled at much more than playing cards. He’s also a sharp-eyed observer who sees the world for what it is. He knows Dave’s attempts to fit into so-called “polite” society are doomed to failure, and tries to warn him. Dave is angry at the world and rails at what he feels are its injustices, and unfairness to him. Bama accepts things the way they are, and tries to enjoy life. He'd rather have a good time than fight a losing battle against the posers and hypocrites of the world. Bama knows that particular deck is not stacked in his (or Dave's) favor. Working for the first time with Sinatra, Martin has a natural camaraderie with his co-star (and real life friend) which beautifully defines their characters’ onscreen relationship. Martin's effortless charisma shines through in every aspect of the character. I think it's one of his finest performances.

Following his role in Some Came Running, Martin would also do excellent work in a pair of films released in 1959: as the alcoholic deputy "Dude" in the Howard Hawks Western Rio Bravo, and portraying a blacklisted film director in Joseph Anthony’s drama Career, which once again co-starred Martin with MacLaine. Dean Martin continued to work in films, television and perform onstage until the 1980s. He passed away in 1995 at the age of 78. If you’re only familiar with Dean from his more comedic roles, you might be surprised by his solid work in Some Came Running. But whether you're new to the film or have seen it before, it’s essential viewing. Here's a look at the original trailer, which really doesn't do the movie justice, but is typical of its era: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jv362svYC2U.

This post is part of the Dean Martin Centenary Blogathon, hosted by Samantha, my fellow blogger over at Musings Of A Classic Film Addict. I'd like to thank her for including me in the Blogathon! To check out the rest of the entries, please follow this link:https://annsblyth.wordpress.com/2017/06/05/the-dean-martin-centenary-blogathon-is-here-day-one-recap/. Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Jacques Tourneur's World of Shadows

Jacques Tourneur
Director Jacques Tourneur helped define two of my favorite film genres: film noir and horror. Tourneur got his first taste of the movie business when his father, French filmmaker Maurice Tourneur, moved to the US to work in the movie industry. They later moved back to France, but Jacques returned to the US in 1934. While working on the 1935 production of A Tale of Two Cities, he met Val Lewton. It was an occasion that would change Tourneur’s life. When producer Lewton was putting together a crew to make a series of low budget thrillers for RKO, he asked Tourneur to join his team. Their collaboration resulted in Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie (both released) and 1943’s The Leopard Man, three of the best horror films of the 1940s. These movies helped re-invent the look and feel of horror films. Tourneur, Lewton and the rest of their crew used shadows, light and sound to suggest that the greatest terror of all might be lurking in the characters’ own psyches. Tourneur was instrumental in helping shape the visual language and style of these films. Their success got him promoted to helming "A" pictures for RKO, such as 1944’s Experiment Perilous, starring Hedy Lamarr, and the 1946 Western Canyon Passage.

Robert Mitchum & Jane Greer in Out of the Past
In 1947, Tourneur directed Out of the Past; perhaps the most archetypal film noir of all. The story concerns Jeff Bailey, who owns a gas station in the small town of Bridgeport, California. He’s dating a local girl named Ann, and seems content with life. But his past comes calling in the person of Joe Stefanos, who works for gangster Whit Sterling. Whit needs Jeff to do a favor for him. It’s the only way Jeff can make up for some bad choices he made on a previous assignment for Whit. It seems that Jeff, Whit and Whit’s girl, Kathie, have a very complicated history. Jeff agrees to do the job, hoping it will free him of both Whit and Kathie once and for all. But Jeff gets caught in an ever-tightening web of deceit, lies and murder. And since this is noir territory, there isn't likely to be a happy ending.

That’s a brief summary of the complex plot of this quintessential noir, which features Robert Mitchum at his cool, sardonic best as Jeff and Kirk Douglas, who’s quite effective (and icily menacing) in an early role as Whit. Then there’s Jane Greer as Kathie, one of the most beautiful, calculating, alluring and deadly femme fatales ever to grace the screen. It’s one of the most memorable triangles in the genre. This top-notch cast gets to utter some razor sharp (and quotable) dialogue, courtesy of screenwriter Daniel Mainwaring, who adapted his 1946 novel Build My Gallows High for the screen. The film’s visual palette tells the story as much as the characters and their actions. The twisty structure of the narrative includes a lengthy flashback sequence; it’s an unforgettable viewing experience. Tourneur used the techniques he honed in his work with Lewton, and brought them to brilliant new heights in the film. If you're looking to watch a movie that truly radiates the essence of film noir, look no further than Out of the Past.

In many ways, the film is a story of obsession: Kathie’s with Jeff, Whit’s with Kathie, and Jeff’s longing to have a peaceful life with Ann, the normal girl from a small town. It’s the stunning look and visual motifs of the film that helps brings this theme across, courtesy of director Tourneur and master cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who had worked with Tourneur on Cat People. The lighting of Greer’s entrance as Kathie is one of the most famous scenes in all of film noir. Several other memorable set pieces, including a fire-lit sequence in a mountain cabin, bring out the true essence of Kathie’s dark side. You can almost see (and feel) the tendrils of Jeff’s fate closing around him. After the triumph of Out of the Past, Tourneur continued to direct films in a variety of genres, including Berlin Express, The Flame and the Arrow, and Great Day in the Morning. Then, the director made another visit to the ominous world of subdued terror, and the darkness within.

Niall McGinnis & Dana Andrews in Curse of the Demon
Tourneur returned to Lewton-esque territory in 1957 with Curse of the Demon. The film stars Dana Andrews as Dr. John Holden, an American psychologist and researcher, who arrives in London for a conference. Holden becomes enmeshed in a series of deadly events after the death of a colleague, Dr. Harrington. His investigation into Harrington’s death leads him into conflict with Dr. Julian Karswell, a charming but sinister mystic. Harrington had planned to expose Karswell as a fraud. But Karswell appears to possess unearthly powers, and is the head of a strange cult. Holden’s a skeptic who doesn’t believe in the supernatural, but as he delves deeper into these mysterious occurrences, his beliefs are turned upside down. As evil forces threaten him, Holden may have to accept that the supernatural is very real.

Dana Andrews gives a good performance as Holden, who resolutely believes only in what he can see, until his eyes are opened to a shadowy new reality. Peggy Cummins (who stole the show in the well-regarded 1949 noir Gun Crazy) offers solid support as Harrington’s niece, Joanna, who aids Holden in his investigation. But it’s Niall McGinnis who steals the movie as the urbane, suavely evil Karswell. In a way, Holden and Karswell are as obsessed as the characters in Out of the Past: Holden can’t see past the rational world until it’s almost too late, and Karswell believes his faith in the dark forces he serves will sustain him, no matter what. Curse of the Demon has some atmospheric sequences and good scares that recall the best of Tourneur’s work with Lewton. The significant difference here is that we do see the demon, at the beginning and climax of the film, so there’s no doubt that the threat is real. Some film historians have suggested that producer Hal E. Chester insisted that more shots of the monster be added to the movie over Tourneur’s objections. But in the context of the story, the creature’s appearance works, and is quite well done. In fact, the use of images, shadow and sound during the demon’s manifestations is vintage Tourneur.

The UK version of the film, entitled Night of the Demon, runs slightly longer, and features some additional scenes. Some viewers prefer the longer UK cut, others prefer the US version. I think both are effective in their own way, though the UK version gives Niall McGinnis more of a chance to shine in his role as Karswell. Both versions of the film are available on a “double feature” DVD released by Columbia/Tri-Star in 2002. Whatever version you choose to watch, the film is an excellent chiller that showcases Tourneur’s unique talents. He would go on to direct several more feature films, including the enjoyable 1963 horror spoof The Comedy of Terrors, featuring Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone. Tourneur also worked behind the camera in television, directing episodes of series like The Twilight Zone and The Wild Wild West. He passed away in 1977, but left behind an impressive body of work that has influenced filmmakers as diverse as Martin Scorsese and Mario Bava. If you're new to his films, Tourneur's oeuvre is worth a look, or if you're a longtime fan like I am, his filmography is certainly worth re-visiting.

This post is part of the "Favorite Director" Blogathon, hosted by my fellow bloggers at Phyllis Loves Classic Movies and The Midnite Drive-In. I'd like to thank them for having me as part of the Blogathon. To view the other entries, and get more info, please follow this link: http://phyllislovesclassicmovies.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-favorite-director-blogathon-is-here.html. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Let's Pay a Visit to "Corman's World"

Attack of The Crab Monsters. Rock 'n' Roll High School. Piranha. If any of these titles sound familiar to you, then you know we’re talking about the work of producer-director Roger Corman, long heralded as the “King of The B’s.” In the excellent documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, we get a comprehensive look at the history of this unique filmmaker. He's the man behind the original Little Shop of Horrors, who helped launch the careers of actors like Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda, as well as directors Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich and Ron Howard. Corman elevated the B movie to a whole new level with a combination of guts, style, business savvy and an eye for recognizing real talent.
Corman is legendary for completing films in record time and under budget, and always turning a profit. The documentary sketches a brief profile of Roger’s early years, and reveals how he initially produced a couple of profitable low budget films on his own. Then he signed a deal with B movie distributors American International Pictures. While at AIP, Corman found great success with films like Not of This Earth, The Day The World Ended and Rock All Night. These movies would primarily be distributed to drive-ins, where teenage audiences loved them. Focusing on that market, Corman put out one successful film after another, in a variety of genres. He often had actors double-up in roles either in front of or behind the camera. Corman perfected what came to be known as guerrilla filmmaking, shooting quickly, on location, and often without permits. He'd even use the sets from one film to complete another before he took them down!

In the 1960s, Corman cemented his reputation by producing & directing a series of stylish Edgar Allan Poe adaptations, most of which starred Vincent Price, including House of Usher (1960) and The Pit & The Pendulum (1961). These atmospheric movies were filmed in color and had higher budgets than the normal Corman fare. They remain well regarded to this day, and helped start an entire cycle of Poe-inspired films. Corman also branched out into other genres, including the biker movie. He directed The Wild Angels (1966) starring Peter Fonda (three years before Fonda starred in Easy Rider) and Bruce Dern. Fonda was also featured in the LSD drama The Trip (1967), which was written by Jack Nicholson, who had become a member of Corman’s stock company. After a falling out with AIP, Corman decided to form his own production company, New World Pictures, through which he released his films during the 1970s and 80s. New World's output included films such as Grand Theft AutoDeath Race 2000 and Battle Beyond the Stars.

Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel (2011) features insightful interviews with many of the people who were hired and mentored by Corman, including Martin Scorsese, Ron Howard, Bruce Dern, Joe Dante, David Carradine, and Pam Grier. There are also some remarks from famous fans like Quentin Tarantino and Eli Roth. Of course, we get a few comments from Roger himself, and some clips from his films. And we learn a few other things about Corman, including how he worked to help important foreign films such as Fellini’s Amarcord and Bergman’s Cries & Whispers gain wider release in the US. This is a fun, informative, and at times touching portrait of a true outsider who succeeded in Hollywood despite the odds, and gave a lot of people their first breaks in the business. Everyone who talks about Corman in the film has fond (and often funny) memories of and stories about working with him, and it’s interesting to see Jack Nicholson get genuinely emotional during his interview. Corman received an honorary Oscar in 2009, and there is a clip from that ceremony included in the movie.

Corman’s World was written & directed by Alex Stapleton. The film is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray. Both releases of the movie include “Extended Interviews” and “Special Messages to Roger” as well as the film's theatrical trailer. The extended interviews and special messages are delightful (including some further comments from Ron Howard & Martin Scorsese) and worth watching after viewing the main feature. If you’re a fan of genre filmmaking, you’ll really enjoy this look at the man behind such movies as Frankenstein Unbound, It Conquered The WorldGalaxy of Terror and Boxcar Bertha. Just watch out for The Beast With 1,000,000 Eyes! Here's a link to the film's trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ngsD17ZAglE.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Music of James Bond.....Is Back

James Bond. The iconic character created by Ian Fleming has thrilled us with his big screen adventures since 1962’s Dr. No. But what’s the most memorable aspect of the films. The gadgets? The beautiful women? The action sequences set in exotic locales? Or is it the music, more specifically, the title songs? Andrew Curry, the mastermind behind the excellent albums Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rock (saluting the rock and pop of the 70s) and Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion (paying tribute to British bands of the MTV-era 80s), now turns his attention to Agent 007’s musical legacy. Songs. Bond Songs: The Music of 007, features a talented group of indie artists providing their versions of the theme songs to every 007 film, including the two “unofficial” Bonds: “The Look of Love” from 1967’s Casino Royale and the title track from 1983’s Never Say Never Again. This Kickstarter funded release is another fantastic "don't miss it" album from the Curry Cuts label.

The disc features some faithful covers, including Lisa Mychol’s energetic version of “The Man With The Golden Gun” and Popdudes’ appropriately rocking take on “Live & Let Die.” But there are also some stunning re-interpretations, including Freedy Johnston’s lovely acoustic rendering of “For Your Eyes Only,” Jay Gonzalez’ nifty bossa nova reading of “A View To a Kill” and Big-Box Store’s pared down version of “Die Another Day,” which I actually prefer to the original. The great thing about these songs is that while they often reflect the era in which they were first released, these well-crafted tunes definitely lend themselves to clever re-imaginings. So we get to enjoy the George Harrison-esque guitar (and Roy Orbison style vocal) on Gary Frenay’s version of “Moonraker” and dig Jaret Reddick’s pop/punk ride through “Thunderball,” which toughens up the Tom Jones original.

I have to admit I was really excited for this project, as I’m a longtime Bond fan who remembers sitting down in front of the TV and watching the movies on ABC, and as I got older, heading out to see them in theaters. One thing that surprised me about this album is that it enriched my appreciation of songs which really didn’t make that strong of an impression on me when I first heard them. For example, “All Time High” from 1983’s Octopussy, was never one of my favorites, but the excellent version by Zach Jones on this album had me re-evaluating the song. Minky Starshine's groovy remake of "Never Say Never Again" definitely surpasses the so-so Lani Hall version used for the film in which Sean Connery returned to the role of 007. Identical Suns amps up the guitars on their excellent rendition of "Goldenye," originally performed by Tina Turner. And I really enjoyed Cliff Hillis’ interpretation of “Writing’s on the Wall,” from 2015’s Spectre, originally recorded by Sam Smith. Hillis offers a compelling alternate take on that Oscar winning composition.

I haven’t even touched on the excellent contributions from Brandon Schott, Ryan Hamilton, Look Park (featuring Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne) and Lannie Flowers, who gets the honor of providing his version of the classic “James Bond Theme.” All of the performers who worked on this album are clearly passionate about the music of 007, and it shows. As with the previous releases from Curry Cuts, I think you’ll be spinning this superb collection of music over and over, and discovering new favorites each time you listen. Whether you're a dyed in the wool Bond fan or a hip indie music aficionado, you'll really enjoy this record. It's one of the best releases of the year. Kudos to Andrew Curry, his team, and the artists who once again hit it out of the park with Songs. Bond Songs: The Music of 007. Here are links to the page where you can order the album: https://currycuts.bandcamp.com/album/songs-bond-songs-the-music-of-007, the video for Lisa Mychols’ awesome version of “The Man With The Golden Gun” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8j62GPN1_M, and a very cool promotional video for the release: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xydKx6EqUsc.

Author's Note: To read my coverage of the previous releases from Curry Cuts, you can go follow these links for my thoughts on Drink A Toast To Innocence: A Tribute To Lite Rockhttp://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2013/07/all-hits-all-songs.html, and Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasionhttp://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2014/09/here-comes-reign-again-second-british.html. Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Fred Dekker's "Creeps" Thrills & Chills

What movie combines elements of the sci-fi, horror and teen romance genres, and throws in a hard-boiled cop straight out of an action movie as a bonus? That would be 1986’s Night of the Creeps. The movie opens aboard a spacecraft, where two aliens attempt to stop a third from launching something from the ship. Cut to a black & white scene on Earth in the late 1950s. A couple on a date at Lover’s Lane sees something fall from the sky, and the guy goes to investigate; he makes a discovery, but meets a strange fate. Meanwhile, an ax-wielding escaped mental patient stalks & kills the girl, despite the fact that a young cop (who has a crush on her) had earlier warned her & her date to go home. We haven't made it too far into the movie, and we're already mashing up the genres!

Fast forward to the 80s and we’re at Corman (yes, it's a shout out to B-movie king Roger) University, where good buddies Chris & C.J. are trying to pledge a fraternity so Chris can impress a pretty coed named Cynthia. While C.J. thinks it's a dumb idea, he goes along with the idea to support his friend. As part of their initiation the frat members ask them to steal a body from the university med lab and dump it on a rival house’s front steps. When our heroes break into the lab, they find a cryogenically frozen body (hey, it's the guy from the 1950s prologue!)….who apparently isn’t dead! Suddenly, dead bodies are getting up & walking around, possessed by alien parasites, and a tough cop named Cameron (who's dealing with a few demons of his own) has to help Chris, C.J. & Cynthia fight off the terror of the...Night of the Creeps! As Detective Cameron says in the film "Thrill me."

B movie veteran Tom Atkins (The FogEscape From New York) shines as Cameron, the tough as nails cop who wouldn't be out of place in a Dirty Harry movie. He gets the movies' best lines, including the classic: “I’ve got good news & bad news, girls. The good news is your dates are here.” When one girl asks “What’s the bad news?” His reply is “They’re dead.” The cast are all note perfect in their roles, including Jason Lively as Chris & Jill Whitlow as Cynthia. You'll also catch character actor David Paymer (Get ShortyThe American President, TV's The Good Wife) in a brief but noteworthy cameo. Everyone involved with the film obviously knew the tone & balance Dekker was trying to achieve. Night of the Creeps never gets too campy for its own good.

Tom Atkins takes aim in Night of the Creeps
Director-writer Fred Dekker grew up as a “Monster Kid” who clearly loved horror, sci-fi and fantasy films. He's a talented filmmaker, and the film isn't just a retread. Night of the Creeps is a well-tuned pastiche of genres, and there are many references (including character & place names) to famous writers & directors of fantastic films. If you're a fan of horror & sci-fi films from the 50s through the 70s, you'll find a lot to enjoy while watching this one. In addition to Night of the Creeps, Dekker directed & co-wrote another horror film from the 80s, The Monster Squad (1987), where a group of neighborhood kids face off against the classic Universal Monsters; it’s kind of like The Goonies meet Dracula & Frankenstein. These films are clever, affectionate homages to the fright flicks of the past. However, they're more than "B" films, though they fit squarely into that genre. These are solidly made, entertaining movies that old (and new fans) can enjoy.

There’s a lot of humor to be sure, but also good scares & a couple of darker moments as well. The movie is available on DVD & Blu-ray, and has some wonderful extras, including cast & crew commentaries and a making of documentary. The disc versions also feature the original ending, which Dekker reluctantly changed after a test screening. The theatrical ending is now included as part of the extras. As for The Monster Squad (a personal favorite of mine), the extras-laden “20th Anniversary Edition” from Lionsgate is now out of print (though used copies can be found online) but it has recently been re-released in a movie-only version by Olive Films. My review of that film can be found here: http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2016/02/retro-movie-monster-squad.html.

Dekker's films were a little under-appreciated at the time of their original release, but have gained a cult reputation; they've spawned several revival screenings & cast reunions in recent years. I recommend checking out these movies if you're a fan of these genres. I think you'll find them both entertaining, with some likable characters & neat little moments that sneak up on you. Here’s a link to the trailers for Night of the Creeps http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhLGYUYTTD0 and The Monster Squadhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBG29nM_uEg