Monday, September 24, 2012

The Lightning & The Pouring Rain Can't Stop The Boss On His Birthday

Not even bad weather could stop Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band from taking the stage on the eve of his 63rd birthday. Shortly before the show began this past Saturday, the public address system at MetLife Stadium came to life, and an announcement advised everyone to move inside due to severe thunderstorms in the area. After two hours of huddling together inside ramps and concession areas, fans were allowed back into the stadium. Bruce & the band took the stage about 10:30pm, as he joked “I think I just invited 50,000 people to my birthday party,” before launching into a rousing “Out in the Streets.” The three and a half hour show that followed (his third & final concert in New Jersey on this leg of the "Wrecking Ball" tour) can only be called epic.

Springsteen’s energetic live performances are always part concert, part physical & emotional workout and part spiritual revival. The show moved from the straight ahead rock & roll power of songs like “Badlands” to the moving, elegiac “My City of Ruins,” originally penned in the aftermath of 9/11. There were a few stories & quieter moments, including some beautiful words about ghosts & departed souls, as Bruce asked the crowd to reflect not only on departed E Street Members Clarence Clemons & Danny Federici, but those we've lost in our own lives, and to remember that their spirits are still with us. Material from Bruce’s latest album, Wrecking Ball was mixed with some excellent covers, including the very appropriate  “Who’ll Stop The Rain?” and a generous selection of E Street classics: “The Ties That Bind,” “Working On The Highway,” “Glory Days” and many more. Special guest Gary US Bonds joined the band and performed “Jole Blon” and “This Little Girl,” from his 1981 album Dedication, which was produced by Springsteen & Little Steven Van Zandt.

Just before midnight, Bruce launched into “Janey, Don’t You Lose Heart” which was followed by the crowd singing “Happy Birthday,” to the delighted Springsteen, who shouted back “Let me hear you!”  The guys then tore through a soulful version of ”In The Midnight Hour,” which kicked off the show's second half, which was even more amazing than the first. As usual, the whole band sounded fantastic; Max Weinberg's drum attack & Nils Lofgren’s searing guitar work were outstanding, and a particular highlight. Jake Clemons, Clarence’s nephew, did an admirable job playing his late uncle’s memorable solos, especially on “Jungleland” and “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.” Springsteen’s high energy was contagious, charging up both the band & the fans throughout the show, as he danced, leapt & ran across the stage, braving the rain that continued to fall on & off throughout the evening.

The Wrecking Ball material sounded wonderful live (especially fantastic versions of “Rocky Ground” and “Shackled & Drawn”) and as usual, Bruce threw in a few surprises, including “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” and “Meeting Across The River.” During the encore, Bruce’s Mom and some other family members brought out a cake for the rocker. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday” again as Bruce handed out pieces of cake to some lucky fans in the front row. The Boss’s Mom even danced & sang backup on the final song “Twist & Shout.” As the show ended around 2am, a tired but very satisfied group of fans filed for the exits, having seen yet another classic Springsteen show. I've seen Bruce several times, and he never disappoints, but I have to say that this was one of his best live performances. The man & his music never fail to entertain, enthrall & inspire me. And he can still rock like nobody's business. Here's a link to the performance of "Badlands" from 9-22-12 : Here's the set list for the show:

1. Out in the Street

2. The Ties That Bind

3. Cynthia
4. Badlands

5. Who'll Stop the Rain
6. Cover Me

7. Downbound Train
8. We Take Care of Our Own

9. Wrecking Ball

10. Death to My Hometown

11. My City of Ruins

12. It's Hard To Be A Saint in the City
13. Jole Blon (With Gary US Bonds)

14. This Little Girl (With Gary US Bonds)
15. Pay Me My Money Down
16. Janey Don't You Lose Heart
17. In the Midnight Hour
18. Into The Fire
19. Because The Night

20. She's The One

21. Working on the Highway

22. Shackled and Drawn

23. Waiting on a Sunny Day
24. Meeting Across The River
25. Jungleland

26. Thunder Road

27. Rocky Ground

28. Born To Run

29. Glory Days

30. Seven Nights to Rock
31. Dancing in the Dark
32. Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out
33. Twist and Shout

Next time: We begin a month long series of Halloween recommendations as we check into Horror Hotel (1960)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Harold & Maude: An Unusual Love Story

The term “cult movie” is used to define a variety of films that have a devoted following, including the one & only The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), noir classics like Force of Evil (1948) and offbeat comedies like 1968’s The Producers. One of the most interesting films to have earned cult status (and deservedly so) is director Hal Ashby’s Harold & Maude  (1971), starring Bud Cort & Ruth Gordon as a most unlikely couple. Cort plays Harold, a young man who’s very obsessed with death. He stages fake (but realistic looking) suicides, trying to gain the attention of his socialite mother, who doesn’t understand him. She’s tried to send him to therapists, and even set him up on dates, with little or no success. But she just doesn’t get her son, or make a real effort to communicate with him.

One day, Harold meets Maude: a much older woman who has a free-spirited outlook on life. She is, in her own way, as obsessed with life as Harold is with death. The two form a bond and have a few whimsical adventures together. They also have some philosophical conversations about life & love, as Maude becomes Harold’s friend, mentor…and finally, something much more. He decides he’s in love with her, and despite their age difference, wants to marry her. But Maude has other plans, and she’ll teach Harold one more lesson before they part ways.

From that brief description you might be saying: Fake suicides? A 20-something young man falls in love with a 70-something woman? I’m sure most filmgoers back in 1971 felt the same way. The movie was not a success on its original release, but the film’s reputation grew through showings on college campuses, midnight movie screenings & word of mouth. As its popularity grew, there were stage versions mounted in several countries, and a French television remake was also produced. I actually saw the film for the first time on a local New York television station’s late night movie in the mid 1980s, and immediately fell in love with it.

This is a wonderful, quirky movie with a great screenplay by Colin Higgins, who went on to script Foul Play & Silver Streak and write & direct Nine to Five. The understated, solid direction by Ashby, who also helmed Shampoo, Bound For Glory and Coming Home, is perfect for the material. The performances by Cort & Gordon are revelatory; they really have a wonderful chemistry, and are amazing in their roles. Another factor in the movie’s success is its excellent song score by Cat Stevens. The music fits the mood of the story and adds background, color and atmosphere to the film. Stevens had just experienced his first taste of US success (with the album Tea for the Tillerman), as the movie was being made & released, and Ashby campaigned to use his songs in the movie.

The Criterion Collection has recently released the movie in an impressive new special edition on Blu-ray & DVD. In addition to an excellent new transfer of the film, extras include an audio commentary by Ashby’s biographer Nick Dawson and the film’s producer, Charles B. Mulvehill, as well as illustrated audio excerpts from interviews with the late Higgins and Ashby. There’s also a chat with Cat Stevens, and an informative booklet featuring several articles and essays related to the movie, including interviews with star Cort & cinematographer John Alonzo (Chinatown), who also did some fine work on the film.

The movie has some great scenes & dialogue; it’s about two people coming together as much for their differences as their similarities. Harold & Maude is a very un-Hollywood sort of love story; two people falling in love because of what’s in their heads as much as for what’s in their hearts, and ending up as soul mates. There are moments of black comedy, drama, sorrow & joy in this moving, one of a kind film. I recommend it to those seeking an out of the ordinary movie experience. You won’t soon forget Harold & Maude.

Here’s a link to The Criterion Collection’s page for their edition of the film:, which includes their “Three Reasons” trailer.

Harold: Maude?
Maude: Hmm?
Harold: Do you pray?
Maude: Pray? No. I communicate.
Harold: With God?
Maude: With Life.  
- From Harold & Maude (1971)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Anderson's "Moonrise Kingdom" is a World Worth Visiting

Writer-Director Wes Anderson is one of our most creative & dynamic filmmakers. His movies can be beautiful & offbeat, funny & heartbreaking, with idiosyncratic characters & unique settings. His latest effort, Moonrise Kingdom, is one of his best. The story is set in 1965. On a small island off the New England coast, orphan Sam Shakusy is attending “Khaki Scout” camp and Suzy Bishop lives there with her parents and her younger brothers. The two kids fall in love; they decide to run away together and find a place of their own; that decision affects everyone on the island as various characters search for the children, including Scoutmaster Ward (Ed Norton, in a fine comic performance), police Captain Sharp (Bruce Willis) and Suzy’s parents, well played by Bill Murray and Frances McDormand. Special kudos to the amazing young actors who play Sam & Suzy, Jared Gilman & Kara Hayward; they’re both wonderful, and have fantastic chemistry.

As the kids go off on their adventure, we get to visit with the usual (or is that unusual?) gallery of Anderson characters; Norton’s by the book Scoutmaster, Willis’s low key cop; Murray & McDormand, who are both attorneys, and define everything in legal terms, and even a narrator, played by Bob Balaban, who interacts with the characters in the story. There are some wonderful moments (Sam first falls for Suzy when she’s playing an animal in a performance of Noye’s Fludde by Benjamin Britten) and the kids bring along books & a portable record player on their journey; Suzy reads aloud for the pair, and they listen to music & dance on the beach. Like Martin Scorsese, Anderson (along with music supervisor Randall Poster) is a master at selecting music that perfectly fits the mood of a scene. The well-written, original screenplay is by Anderson & Roman Coppola (Francis Ford’s son), who also collaborated on The Darjeeling Limited (2007). The marvelous production design is by Adam Stockhuasen, and the excellent cinematography is by Robert D. Yeoman.

Brief descriptions like that can’t really give you an idea of the wonderful characters, quirky situations & amazing look of this wonderful film. Any commonplace synopsis would ruin the fun, and the enjoyment of discovering this excellent story for yourself.  Like all of Anderson's movies, the visual style draws you in; it's as if the setting is another character in the story. Anderson’s movies tend to take place in a universe of their own, from the school in Rushmore (1998) and the family home in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) to the underwater world of The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and even the outdoor home of Fantastic Mr. Fox in the 2009 animated tale. This film may be Anderson’s most fully realized world to date, with beautiful production design, and a great visual look for the characters (including fabulous costume design by Kasia Walicka-Maimone) & locations, right down to the covers of the (fictional) books Suzy brings with her, and the drawings that Sam does of his true love.

I admit that Anderson’s stories can be an acquired taste; in fact, it took me until The Royal Tenenbaums (his third film), to fully embrace his style. Tenenbaums has become a personal favorite of mine, and I highly recommend that film as a starting point for getting into & appreciating Anderson’s world. In a way, I'd compare his films to the fiction of John Irving, author of The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire. Both artists have their own storytelling style, and introduce us to characters & stories that are unusual, and yet have a lot of feelings & emotions in common with our own. Sam & Suzy (like many of Anderson's other characters in this film, and his others) are fully realized people, who aren't different or quirky just for the story's sake; this is just how they are, and Anderson celebrates that fact, along with their atypical worldview. Moonrise Kingdom is unlike any other movie you’ll see this year. Highly recommended if you’re looking for something different, or are already an Anderson fan. The film is currently finishing it’s run in theaters, and will be released on video on October 16.

Here's a link to the trailer for the film:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

An End of Summer Playlist

Here's a little playlist for the "unofficial" end of summer...Happy Labor Day Weekend!

1. The Summer Place by Fountains of Wayne from Sky Full of Holes
2. A Summer Song by Chad & Jeremy from The Very Best of Chad & Jeremy
3. The Boys of Summer by Don Henley from Building The Perfect Beast
4. Let Him Run Wild by The Beach Boys from Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!)
5. Soundtrack of My Summer by Mike Viola from Electro de Perfecto
6. Summer in the City by The Lovin' Spoonful from Hums of The Lovin' Spoonful
7. Summer by War from Grooves & Messages: The Greatest Hits of War
8. Beach Baby by First Class from The First Class
9. All Summer Long by Kid Rock from Rock N' Roll Jesus
10. Summer's Gone by The Kinks from Word of Mouth
11. Come Monday by Jimmy Buffett from Songs You Know By Heart: Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hits
12. 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy) by The Hollies from Cover Me: The Songs of Bruce Springsteen
13. Summertime by Billy Stewart from One More Time: The Chess Years
14. Summertime Blues by Eddie Cochran from Greatest Hits
15. Night Moves by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band from Night Moves
16. Summer Nights by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John from Grease
17. Hot Fun In The Summertime by Sly & The Family Stone from The Essential Sly & The Family Stone
18. Summer of '69 by Bryan Adams from Reckless
19. The End of The Summer by Dar Williams from End of The Summer
20. Summer is Over by Dusty Springfield from A Girl Called Dusty

Bonus Track: The Other Side of Summer by Elvis Costello from Mighty Like a Rose