Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Gone Girl: Love, Marriage & Murder

As director David Fincher’s Gone Girl opens, Nick Dunne returns home one morning to find his wife Amy missing. There are signs of a struggle in their home, and he reports her disappearance to the police. As the search for Amy goes on, what is initially thought to be a kidnapping becomes a possible murder investigation. The case garners a huge amount of media coverage because Amy’s childhood was the inspiration for a popular series of children’s books authored by her parents, the Amazing Amy series. Much of the attention focuses on Nick, whose odd behavior during the investigation suggests he may be a sociopath and quite possibly, a murderer. Only Nick’s sister Margo stands by him as the threads of his story, and his claims of innocence, start to unravel.

Detective Rhonda Boney (played by Kim Dickens of Sons of Anarchy) digs deeper into the case. She finds evidence that the Dunnes’ marriage may not have been as happy as it seemed on the surface. Flashbacks (and narration by Nick & Amy) detail the problems that the couple was dealing with, including financial troubles, infidelity and domestic disputes. A diary discovered by the police indicates Amy was afraid her husband was going to do her harm. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg in a story with more layers than a basket of onions, and more twists than a box of Twizzlers. The film will keep you guessing, and even when you figure out some of the plot, there’s still a surprise or two ahead.

Fincher’s adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s bestselling novel (scripted by the author) is a sharp thriller, with a great cast, led by Ben Affleck’s solid work as Nick and Rosamund Pike, who’s brilliant as Amy. There’s also a sterling supporting cast including Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, David Clennon and Carrie Coon as Margo. Fincher & his crew give the film a cold, noirish look that matches the story’s dark tones. The movie offers a somewhat cynical view of marriage & relationships; this is not a story of a good marriage, or a positive relationship. This is a tale with a somewhat cold & icy center. In the end, neither Nick nor Amy is a person we particularly like or root for, and we feel the most sympathy for Margo, and admire the savvy of Detective Boney, who knows there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

Some critics have described Gone Girl as an “anti-date” movie, and it certainly isn’t a romantic comedy, or life-affirming drama. But if you’re looking for an absorbing thriller with a good story & some memorable performances, the film is worth checking out. Fincher, who’s directed films as diverse as Seven, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and The Social Network, does another fine job here. Gone Girl is finishing up its run in theaters, but a home video release should be announced soon. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Covers Gallery, Volume IX: From The Partridge Family to Nick Lowe

It’s been a while since I’ve featured a playlist with some fun, offbeat & notable covers, so here’s volume IX of Covers Gallery:

1. I Woke Up in Love This Morning by Doug Powell – A Partridge Family tune re-done as a guitar oriented rocker? You bet, and it works very nicely. From the (sadly) out of print Not Lame Records compilation entitled Right To Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited.

2. Why Can’t This Be Love? by Gigolo Aunts - Speaking of re-imaginings, here’s a Van Halen tune done as a British Invasion style rocker, by New York’s own Gigolo Aunts. It’s from a 1997 tribute album called Everybody Wants Some (of Van Halen).

3. Freedom by The Davenports - The WHAM! hit becomes a power pop tune, courtesy of The Davenports. From this year’s excellent release, Here Comes The Reign Again: The Second British Invasion, a collection of 80s British pop hits from the MTV era, covered by some of today’s best indie artists. The 2 disc set has a lot of great tracks, and is worth seeking out.

4. Love Is All Around - R.E.M. tackles The Troggs hit, with lead vocals by Mike Mills, on this live cover, from Unplugged 1991/2001 – The Complete Sessions.

5. It Never Rains In Southern California by Pete Yorn - Rocker Yorn covers Albert Hammond’s 70s AM radio staple, from the soundtrack to the 2003 film Stuck on You.

6. The Mighty Quinn by Merry Clayton - Well known backup singer Clayton, whose story was featured in the 2013 film, 20 Feet From Stardom, takes Bob Dylan’s song to church in this gospel-ized version. It’s from The Very Best of Merry Clayton.

7. Better Things by Fountains of Wayne. A Kinks cover from the guys who brought you “Stacy’s Mom” and a host of other clever power pop tunes. This track is from the 2002 disc This Is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies & The Kinks.

8. The Boy From Ipanema by Diana Krall - Jazz icon Krall takes the Astrud Gilberto classic, gender switches it and makes it her own in this version from the 2009 album Quiet Nights.

9. Cruel To Be Kind by Kurt Baker from Got It Covered Faithful rendering of the Nick Lowe hit from Baker, who’s one of the best rockers working in today’s power pop genre.

10. Late For The Sky by Joan Osborne - Ms. Osborne’s beautifully done reading of the Jackson Browne classic is on the 2014 tribute album Looking Into You: A Tribute To Jackson Browne.

11. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! by Yngwie Malmsteen - Pop goes heavy metal on the celebrated guitarist's awesome take on an ABBA tune. It's on his collection The Best of 90-99.

12. Sorrow - David Bowie's excellent version of a song originally recorded by The McCoys can be found on his 1973 covers album, Pin Ups.

Bonus Track - Get Down by Marykate O’Neil - As we end another Covers Gallery selection, we close with another track from the Right To Chews: Bubblegum Classics Revisited collection, as O’Neil rocks out on this version of the Gilbert O’Sullivan hit.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Fleetwood Mac Goes "On With The Show"

Photo by John V
Earlier this year, when Christine McVie announced she was coming out of retirement to rejoin Fleetwood Mac for a tour, it wasn’t just fans of the group who were ecstatic. Her band mates were thrilled as well. This was fully evident during the group’s concert at Hartford’s XL Center Saturday night. From the moment they hit the stage, the group sounded tight & focused, and their joy at playing together was evident in every song. The evening kicked off with the Rumours track, “The Chain,” and it was followed by a two & a half hour journey through classic hits & fan favorites, along with some comments & stories from the band. Songs like “Dreams” and “Rhiannon” garnered loud & enthusiastic responses from the crowd. The whole band looked energized & seemed to be having a grand time, with their classic 70s lineup back in full swing & fine form.

Fleetwood Mac has an interesting history, and the band’s internal relationships & personal struggles have always bled thru into their music.  Songs like “Dreams” & “Go Your Own Way” weren’t just huge radio hits back in the day, they were messages between the band members, in this case Buckingham & Nicks.  But none of that mattered on Saturday, as the group powered thru amazing versions of classics like “Gypsy” and “Secondhand News.” Having Christine McVie back in the mix allowed the band to expand their set list to include such well-remembered tracks as “You Make Loving Fun” and “Over My Head.” Her voice sounded wonderful, and has lost none of its beautiful lilt & pleasing tones. Stevie Nicks sounded strong as well, and was as ethereal as ever; she did a fantastic version of “Gold Dust Woman.” And there were Nicks-style twirls & spins during the show.

Photo by John V
What you tend to forget about this band, which is known for having so many hits in their repertoire, is that they are excellent musicians. Lindsey Buckingham absolutely blazed on guitar, and was the VIP of the show, in my opinion. He even got to do a brief acoustic set, performing “Big Love” solo, then accompanying Nicks on a beautiful version of “Landslide,” after which she remained on stage and helped him out with “Never Going Back Again.” John McVie’s bass playing was rock solid, and Mick Fleetwood was his typical wild-man self on drums. It was also nice that the band took time to tell a few stories between songs, and to say how thankful they were to have Christine back in the fold.

These songs have the power to bring back memories & put a smile on your face, and even the later hits like “Little Lies” and “Seven Wonders” sounded fantastic. By the time the well-paced evening ended with “Go Your Own Way,” it had already been an outstanding show. Then the band returned for not one, but two encores, the first a three song mini-set that ended with Nick’s emotional version of “Silver Springs.” And the show still wasn’t over. A piano was rolled out, and Christine McVie began a beautiful version of “Songbird” which started out as a solo tune. But as the song went on, the rest of the band joined her onstage to conclude the evening. If you get a chance to see the group, I highly recommended checking them out as the On With The Show Tour continues into 2015. It was a wonderful night, filled with music, memories and the promise that as Mick Fleetwood said, “The Mac is most definitely back!”

Set List:
The Chain
You Make Loving Fun
Secondhand News
I Know I’m Not Wrong
Sisters of the Moon
Say You Love Me
Seven Wonders
Big Love Acoustic: Lindsey
Landslide Acoustic: Stevie & Lindsey
Never Going Back Again: Acoustic: Lindsey & Stevie
Over My Head
Little Lies
Gold Dust Woman
I’m So Afraid
Go Your Own Way

Encore 1:
World Turning
Don’t Stop
Silver Springs

Encore 2: