Saturday, November 23, 2013

What Lurks Inside Room 237?

Have you ever been deeply enthusiastic about a movie, album or book? Maybe you’ve talked about it over & over with fellow fans? Or perhaps kept looking for the true meanings of the images, words or music over & over in your mind? Well, you’ve got nothing on the people featured in the film Room 237 (2012). This documentary features a group of Über-fans discussing their theories on the subtext of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 version of Stephen King’s novel The Shining. While the film wasn’t a huge success on its original release, and King wasn’t pleased with the final result, it has since gained a reputation as one of the better horror films of the period. It's now considered a classic of the genre. The Kubrick devotees featured in Room 237 think there’s a lot more lurking behind the doors of The Overlook Hotel than ghosts, corridors of blood & creepy twin girls.

The movie features clips from The Shining & other Kubrick films, and is narrated by these admirers of the director, who remain off camera. They discuss their views & opinions on the true themes of the movie. The Kubrick aficionados include Bill Blakemore, Juli Kearns & John Fell Ryan, among others. The theories they put forth about what Kubrick is really discussing beneath the surface of the film include the massacre of Native Americans by the white man, the Holocaust and the possible faking of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Few filmmakers inspire as much intense debate & offbeat interpretation among their fans as Kubrick does, and this group is no exception. It’s fascinating to see what some viewers feel is the true message of this unsettling horror tale. 

To paraphrase one of the Kubrick admirers featured, “Even if my view isn’t what he intended to say with the film, does that make it any less valid?” And that’s a good point. We all bring our own histories, interests & feelings with us when we watch a movie, see a play, read a book, or listen to a new album. My take on a piece of art may be very different from yours, but that doesn’t make it invalid. While some of these ideas regarding the subtext of The Shining are pretty far out, there’s no doubt that these people are passionate about this movie, and Kubrick’s work as a whole. The film’s one drawback is that the same clips are used multiple times to illustrate the theories being discussed.

We’re all fans of something, be it the work of a director, the performances of a certain actor, the work of an author, a type of TV show or film genre, or the music of a band we love. While most people don’t espouse their theories as publicly as the people featured in Room 237, on some level, we’ve all been deeply affected by a piece of entertainment. This film celebrates movie fans, movie analysis & movie love, and that’s a good thing. Room 237 was produced by Tim Kirk and directed by Rodney Ascher. It’s currently available on Blu-ray, DVD and for digital download & viewing. One final note that may be of interest to fans: In the original novel, the room number used by King was 217; Kubrick changed it to 237 for the film version. Here are links to the film’s trailers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOxukprEwjg & https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rHE5YUNkssQ.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

John Fogerty Takes the Oakdale Theatre on a Trip to "Bayou Country" & Beyond

John Fogerty’s songs (both with Creedence Clearwater Revival & solo) have become part of the American lexicon, so it’s no surprise that he played to a packed house at the Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, CT on Saturday, November 9. He’s touring in support of his new album, Wrote A Song For Everyone, on which he re-recorded some of his classic tunes with artists like Miranda Lambert, Keith Urban, Bob Seger, Dawes and Kid Rock. On this tour, he’s performing a CCR album in its entirety each night, followed by some additional songs. Before the concert started, a slide show related some information on John’s life & music. Then a brief series of video clips & photos from throughout his career continued as the lights came down. It was a nice way to start the show, and a further reminder of his standing as a rock icon, and of the many memorable songs he's written and recorded.

 Fogerty took the stage, launched into the CCR hit “Hey Tonight” and followed it up with a fantastic, swamp-infused version of "Born On The Bayou." This kicked off almost two and a half hours of classic rock & roll. At this show, he played 1969’s Bayou Country, (though he saved one song from the album for the encore) and a host of other CCR and solo classics. It’s amazing to think there was a long period in the 1980s where he didn’t play any CCR material live at all, due to long standing legal battles with his record company regarding ownership of his music. But those issues are long past; John was shredding the guitar, jamming with his band and running back & forth across the stage, looking like he was about half his 68 years. His voice sounded great as well. He was having a ball, and seemed to have an endless supply of energy throughout the night.

 Song after song had the crowd singing along, cheering and dancing; How can you stay seated when you hear “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” or “Up Around The Bend?” There were also a few stories, including a funny one about CCR following The Grateful Dead at Woodstock, and playing to a sleepy (or was that stoned?) audience at 2:30 in the morning, which was followed by a phenomenal version of "Who''ll Stop The Rain?" The band was nothing short of amazing, offering stellar support; the group included veteran rocker Kenny Aronoff on drums, Bob Malone on keyboards, James Lomanzo on bass and Devon Pangle & John's son Shane, both on guitar. This was truly a talented group of musicians, and John clearly enjoyed playing with them, as well as hanging back on occasion and giving them each a chance to take the spotlight. His sheer joy & enthusiasm was contagious, and the audience loved every minute of this epic show.

Other highlights included an audience participation version of “The Midnight Special” and a lengthy, super-charged take on “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” after which John called Aronoff “the greatest rock & roll drummer in the world.” The last portion of the show was a non-stop parade of electric, full tilt rock & roll, ranging from a cover of Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman" to the CCR staple “Down on the Corner” as well as the 1985 comeback hits “Centerfield” and “The Old Man Down The Road.” The show reached a climax with a blistering version of the classic “Fortunate Son." When John & the band returned for the double-barreled encore of “Bad Moon Rising” & “Proud Mary” the crowd roared its approval. This was a wonderful night of music, celebrating not only John’s musical legacy, but also the enduring power of rock & roll.

Set List:
Hey Tonight
Born On The Bayou
Bootleg
Good Golly Miss Molly
Penthouse Pauper
Graveyard Train
Keep On Chooglin'
Joy Of My Life
Green River
Porterville
Who’ll Stop The Rain?
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Lookin’ Out My Back Door
Mystic Highway
Ramble Tamble
Hot Road Heart
Commotion
Long As I Can See The Light
The Midnight Special
Have You Ever Seen The Rain?
Oh, Pretty Woman
Down On The Corner
Centerfield
Up Around The Bend
The Old Man Down The Road
Fortunate Son
Encore:
Bad Moon Rising
Proud Mary

Here are links to John performing "Fortunate Son" with Foo Fighters: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWOWGZ_xX0U, "Looking Out My Back Door" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tRZG5qRDaw and "Wrote A Song For Everyone," with Miranda Lambert, from the album of the same name, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DgkBJJOPl-Y. And here's a link to a previous post containing a review of Wrote A Song For Everyone: http://jveclectic.blogspot.com/2013/06/new-releases-from-john-fogerty-natalie.html.

Next time: A visit to Room 237

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The "Rocket Man" Flies High at Bridgeport's Harbor Yard Arena

We knew it going to be a special evening at Bridgeport’s Harbor Yard Arena (aka Webster Bank Arena) last night when Elton John’s cello players (who tour & record on their own as 2Cellos) started the show by powering through covers of “Smooth Criminal” & “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” That got the crowd warmed up for what turned out to be an incredible show. It was the opening night on Elton’s tour to support his current release, The Diving Board. But this wasn’t just about selling copies of the new album, or a perfunctory run through of “greatest hits.” Elton and his band roared through an energetic, passionate two & a half hour set that touched on music from throughout his long career, hitting several emotional touchstones for his fans throughout the night.

Opening with a powerful version of the classic “Funeral for a Friend\Love Lies Bleeding,” we were treated to a set packed with classics, which included such iconic songs as “Levon, Philadelphia Freedom, Tiny Dancer and Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me.” But there were also a few album cuts and surprises, such as: "Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll)” and “All The Young Girls Love Alice” from 1973’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, an album which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. And how about a performance of a deep cut like "Holiday Inn" from Madman Across The Water (1971)? Elton also performed several songs from The Diving Board, including “Home Again” and  “Oceans Away.” This was a show filled with musical high points, but for this fan, two of the best numbers were “Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters,” from 1972’s Honky Chateau, and “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” from 1975’s autobiographical Captain Fantastic & The Brown Dirt Cowboy. Elton also did a solo turn at the piano, performing the title cut of his 1992 album, The One.

Elton performing live on a previous tour
Elton & his band were in fine form, rocking out and encouraging the audience to have a good time. It was clear from their enthusiastic performances that they were having as much fun as we were. Though he referred a few times to almost losing his voice, Elton sounded great, and had an incredible amount of energy. It was wonderful to see longtime sidemen Davey Johnstone (guitar) & Nigel Olsson (drums) looking happy to still be jamming with him after all these years. The entire band was wonderful, including an amazing quartet of backup singers: Tata Vega, Jean Witherspoon, Lisa Stone & her mom Rose Stone, who was a founding member of Sly & The Family Stone. Also on board for the show were Matt Bissonette on bass, Kim Bullard on keyboards and John Mahon on percussion.

There’s no doubt that Elton is a master showman, and he knows how to put on a great concert; not only was the music stellar, but the lighting effects & production were fantastic during the show as well. Elton mentioned that he keeps doing what he’s doing because of his love of the music & performing, and the support of his fans. In fact, before he began the encore, he walked along the front of the stage and actually signed items for people for a few minutes. You don't see many people at Elton's level of fame doing that at a show. To say he had the audience in the palm of his hand might be understating things. As a fan from way back (yes I owned his albums on vinyl), I’m a little biased on the subject, but of the three times I’ve seen Elton, this amazing night in the Park City may have been the best yet. I was moved, I was transported (lots of memories brought back during the show), I was rocked & rolled, I was energized, and I was thoroughly entertained. Thanks for a great night, Sir Elton.

Set List:
Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding
Bennie & The Jets
Candle In The Wind
Grey Seal
Levon
Tiny Dancer
Holiday Inn
Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters
Believe
Philadelphia Freedom
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Rocket Man
Hey Ahab
I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues
The One
Oceans Away
Voyeur
Someone Saved My Life Tonight
Sad Songs Say So Much
All The Young Girls Love Alice
Home Again
Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me
I’m Still Standing
The Bitch Is Back
Your Sister Can’t Twist (But She Can Rock & Roll)
Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting
Encore: 
Your Song
Crocodile Rock

Here are links to Elton performing “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z314pQhLb2Q & "Mona Lisas & Mad Hatters," http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrOu0oc9aB4 "Someone Saved My Life Tonight" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sJSeDujoC4c and “opening act” 2Cellos covering “Smooth Criminal”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mx0xCI1jaUM&feature=share.

Next time: John Fogerty rocks The Oakdale Theatre

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Question of "Gravity"

Gravity (2013) is a fantastic film with solid work from George Clooney & Sandra Bullock. It’s essentially a two-character drama played out on the vast canvas of space. During a mission to perform service on the Hubble Space Telescope, a Russian missile strike on a defunct satellite causes a storm of debris. The space shuttle Explorer is damaged & rendered unusable by the debris, and astronaut Matt Kowalksi (Clooney) and Mission Specialist Dr. Ryan Stone must get to the International Space Station. With a dwindling air supply and not many options, our heroes have to race against time to find an alternate way home. And that’s essentially the story; it’s a simple tale that is well told & excitingly played out.

The film is equal parts character study, science-fiction adventure and a survival against the odds thriller. Clooney & Bullock prove why they’re movie stars with excellent performances that play up the personality traits we love about them, yet add some depth to what could have been stock characters in the hands of lesser actors. Bullock in particular gives a fine, emotionally layered portrayal.The film is visually dazzling, with wonderful production design, effects work & cinematography.The 3D here is effective as well; while it's not overwhelming, it adds another level of depth & reality to the story, creating an immersive experience. While many current movies don’t seem worth going out to the theater to view, this is one film that cries out to be seen on an Imax screen.

Directed, produced & co-written by Alfonso Cuaron (Children of Men, Harry Potter & The Prisoner of Azkaban), this is a meticulously designed, shot & edited film. Cuaron & his crew should be commended for producing one of the best-looking science-fiction films of recent years. There are some interesting perspective shots, camera angles & of course, those beautiful space & star field vistas you’ll view during the film. But for all its grand scale, there’s still a kind of closeness & a “you are there” feeling. You’ll sense that you’re right there with the characters as they experience every trial, tribulation & success as the story unfolds. At the time of this writing, Gravity is still in theaters; this is one of those movies that lives up to its advance hype; see it on the big screen before it finishes up its first run. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OiTiKOy59o4.