Greetins – I’m Jason Pollock, and I’m fixin’ to handle The Special Edition up in hee-ar.
Having put this together for the first time (and I’m sure, screwing it up in a way I haven’t noticed yet), I must say…I don’t know how the departing Troy Anderson pulled it off for so long. This is intricate work, sire. I hope I can keep it real.
Joining me in battle is Jeb Delia, whose insight into music embarrasses me. I’m so happy he’s on board, ‘cause my contribution to any music section would amount to me trying to convince you that a-ha is one of the most criminally underrated bands of ALL TIME, and performing complex maths in the hopes that my calculations might rip a hole in the fabric of space-time, propelling me into an alternate universe where Rihanna makes out with me nightly. Like I said – it’s good that he’s here.
So there will be a learning curve, and I’m open to suggestions for how to make things better. I’d love to bring guests in to pump up the peeps for a particular release, so if there’s something coming that you flat-out adore, drop me a line.
Additionally, I know absolute DICK about video games – so if there’s someone out there who would like to compile that nighmare list, let me know that you’re interested. I buy my games used for $8.00 two years after they come out – which is why I beat 50 CENT: BLOOD ON THE SAND last week.
So, without further delay…
WHAT’S UP WITH WHAT’S GOIN’ DOWN THIS WEEK ON BLU RAY:
BETTY BLUE aka 37°2 le matin
Jean Jacques Beineix directs Béatrice Dalle (who plays crazy here long before she put the cherry on top with Inside) and Jean Hughes Anglade (who plays “vanilla” here just like he did in Besson’s Nikita) in the movie I have a feeling every one of my exes used as their batshit blueprint. One of the quintessential MPD flicks.
BLOW OUT (Criterion Collection)
Cruising the message boards nowadays has clued me in to the fact that there are a lot of young ones visiting CHUD. As such, you might only know John Travolta from his drag queen work in Old Dogs and Wild Hogs – so this film will be a revelation to you. His character here is, to my mind, the quintessential cinematic hero – intelligent, resourceful, and woefully out of his depth – but Travolta gives his Jack a sensitivity that makes the end of the film ring so much more true. For you film school peeps – Brian DePalma’s Blow Out is one of the finest films about film ever made. I could write about the flick for ages – about Vilmos Zsigmond’s incredible cinematography…about the Pino Donnagio score…about the demon John Lithgow – but I’ve got more ground to cover. The Criterion Blu Ray will be mine. It should be yours, too.
It’s been ages since I’ve seen it last, but I recall Daylight to be a not-so-bad throwback to Irwin Allen flicks directed with a sure hand by Rob Cohen (who has always been, to my mind, a solid journeyman when paired with the right script), who puts a great cast – including the lovely Amy Brenneman (right after DeNiro left her in a parking lot), the adorable Danielle Harris, and the luminous Viggo Mortensen (right after he shit in a bag for Brian DePalma) through their disatrous paces. Worth a look.
Pointless Side Note: Years ago, I remember being at a West Coast Nerd Con and chatting with Sage Stallone about Grindhouse Releasing (the retro-explo-distro entity he runs with editor Bob Murawski), when Danielle Harris approached. The two exchanged pleasantries, and I chuckled and thought, “Wow – it’s a Daylight Reunion Special all the sudden!” Only I thought it out loud. Danni laughed. Sage looked like he wanted to fight me. And I thought we were getting along so well…
These Sciey Fiey Channel monster flicks have garnered some ironic cache lately, and they’re often helmed by guys I truly believe might make their mark someday, but they’re awful for the most part. Still, this disc features a Roger and Julie Corman Commentary, and I could listen to this man talk about film in his dulcet tones for all day.
THE ENFORCER aka My Father the Hero
This is a pretty slick Jet Li vehicle from 1995 that I’m pretty sure will look like complete and utter shit. See, it’s from The Weinstein Company’s Dragon Dynasty Buffet – and every single Blu Ray they’ve released thus far has been a fucking coaster. John Woo’s The Killer? A standard-definition master with PAL speedup. Fist of Legend? Same kinda’ deal. Hell, 36th Chamber of Shaolin was 1080 Interlaced. Interlaced scan? Who throws a shoe, man? Honestly…
My advice would be to avoid these titles until Vivendi and The Weinsteins learn how to properly master films for video. You’d think they’d have figured that part out by now…
Additionally, you might also want to run screaming from any of the Miramax catalog titles from ECHO BRIDGE, as they make upconverted DVD look like spun gold.
FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (Criterion Collection)
Depp and Del Toro hit the road in Terry Gilliam’s apocalyptic take on Hunter S. Thompson’s chronicle of the death of hope in America. You know the work. You know the film. You probably own the Criterion DVD (it was one of those few Criterion titles that found its way into WalMart – so it was available errwhere) – but here is the Blu for your perusal.
MUAY THAI GIANT
Mild-mannered man-mountain Nathan Jones discovers that a spicy vegetable dish turns him into an ass-kicker in this Baa-Ram-Ewe (Ong Bak, The Protector) production. Dan Chuporn and Kessarin Ektawatkul of Born to Fight cameo, but Sasisa Jindamanee is the star here.
THE SCENT OF GREEN PAPAYA
Papaya is a gorgeous French-Vietnamese production about a romance between a young servant and her employer. It took prizes at Cannes and the Cesars, and was an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Film in 1993.
Sir William Zane (isn’t he a bit too old for “Billy” by now?) and his impetuous facial hair take the Tom Berenger role in this DTV reboot of the franchise (?) directed by Claudio Fäh (who directed the honest-to-God wonderful Clayton “Fucking” Rohner adventure Coronado – check that out if you get the chance) from a script by ROCK ‘N ROLL NIGHTMARE‘s JOHN FASANO.
MEANWHILE, ON THE DARK SIDE…
Anchor Bay climbs THE HOLY MOUNTAIN and reaches EL TOPO – both films see Blu this week. In my experience, Alejandro Jodorowsky is a filmmaker to love and hate in equal amounts. To me, he’s an egomaniac of sorts (he puts himself in his films, and yet has no compunctions about making himself pathetic and/or vile), a provocateur (he seems to delight in fucking with his audience – and it works too well sometimes, like at the Acapulco Film Festival), and an uncompromising artist, capable of surreal imagery that is beautiful, grotesque, or some combination of the two. His films are relentlessly fucked-up, which is how he views the human condition. All these years later, and I’m still perplexed that he almost got to make Dune. I mean, I’m sure it would have been amazing/insane – but Dino De thought he had it rough with David Lynch…?
Criterion used to handle this material (as well as Jodo’s Fando and Lis – a film that started a riot at the aforementioned Acapulco Film Festival), now it belongs to the Bay. Let’s see what they do with it.
POOR PRETTY EDDIE and Francis Ford Coppola’s DEMENTIA 13 come to us from Film Chest/Virgil Films – the people who brought us CARNIVAL MAGIC on Blu Ray (“CARNIVAL MAGIC on Blu Ray” is something I never thought I’d type unless I was making a list titled “Shit That Will Never Happen” – but there you have it). Eddie is a slice of ugly, fucked-up racist redneck explo-dementia starring Leslie Uggams, Slim Pickens, and Shelly Winters, and Dementia 13 is a muddy, muddled affair – and that might be because it has always looked and sounded like awful. Film Chest looks to change all that with a master they claim has been made from restored 35mm film elements, but – since the film is in the public domain – they might just have some brutally fucked print.
That said, Carnival Magic looked pretty great – maybe we should give them the benefit of the doubt…?
BLU RAY – ALL IN:
Blood Out – Fiddy “acts”, Kilmer slums, Vinnie Jones collects a paycheck.
Blow Out (Criterion)
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back – Excellent advice.
Chawz – Korea remakes Razorback?
Eden of the East: The King of Eden – Anime from FUNimation.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Criterion)
The Holy Mountain
Muay Thai Giant
The Other Side of the Mirror – Bob Dylan Live At The Newport Folk Festival 1963-1965
Poor Pretty Eddie
Romeo and Juliet (1954)
The Scent of Green Papaya
South Park: The Complete 14th Season – Oh look, a show that kicks Family Guy in its tiny dick.
THEN THERE’S DVD:
Of note this week is the debut of the FX Original Series TESTEES.
For me, this show played welcome counterpoint to It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia‘s particularly difficult fourth season – and I don’t mean the season was terrible; there are episodes of Season Four that are among the funniest/best the series has to offer – but the show seemed to be hell-bent on crafting these utterly horrific internal lives for characters who had been not much more than cartoons for the past three seasons, and it was sometimes more painful to watch than any of the most depressing Venture Bros. episodes (I found myself on the verge of tears considering the emotional reality of Charlie Kelly’s attempt at expelling profound childhood trauma via his musical project). Testees never went that dark, instead – it played like a live action South Park set amid the lives of guys stuck donating their bodies to science to make a buck. There are things depicted during this show’s run that I never actually thought I’d see on television, and as LCD as they may have been, they were also uproarious. Testees is definitely worth watching.
DVD – ALL IN:
The Avengers: Volume 1, Heroes Assemble!
The Avengers: Volume 2, Captain America Reborn!
Growing Pains: The Complete Second Season
One Way to Valhalla
Revenge of the Bridesmaids
South Park: The Complete Fourteenth Season
Testees: The Complete Series
MUSIC – COMPILED BY JEB DELIA
STEVE EARLE – I’LL NEVER GET OUT OF THIS WORLD ALIVE
Given their prominence in the field of Americana, it’s a little surprising that Earle and T-Bone Burnett haven’t worked together before; more specifically, it’s about damn time, because it turns out to be the ideal pairing of artist and producer. Earle’s problem has always been that he pushes – in his writing, his arranging, and God knows, in his singing. Burnett’s choice to place his singer smack dab in the mix, with instruments providing as much atmosphere as accompaniment, is the ideal way to reign in Earle’s worst tendencies and play to his strengths: channeling resentment into powerful indictments of the privileged, heartless, and greedy. The album’s title links him with Hank Williams, and much of the songwriting has the feel of music handed down through generations. The opener, “Waitin’ For the Sky To Fall” is a refreshingly bright look back at the rugged life that Earle has led up to this point, and the place of satisfaction he finds himself in today, but from there, he pulls no punches: “Little Emperor” may be a day late, dollar short swipe at Bush, but “The Gulf of Mexico” is a vivid and frightening story of the BP oil spill (“Then one night I swear I saw the devil crawling from the hole/ And he spilled the guts of hell out in the Gulf of Mexico”). Religious iconography is used both metaphorically (“Heaven and Hell”) and more directly (“God is God”), and even love songs are a difficult road for the singer to travel (“It’s all I can do to mark / Where you end and where I start”). And for all his signature sound, Burnett never lets the music become dull or obvious, from the old-timey ache of “Molly-O” to the dark and lowdown “Meet Me In the Alleyway” (Tom Waits could do worse than cover this, returning Earle’s favor from “Way Down In The Hole”). He also encourages Earle to explore some subtler dynamics in his singing, and the vocal performance overall is a big step up (or maybe I mean down) from his rather hammy Townes Van Zandt tribute album. His song from Treme, “This City,” may feel a bit after-the-fact (New Orleans’ determination to survive Katrina is practically its own sub-genre these days), but its plainspoken sincerity make it the perfect coda to Earle’s most thoughtful, affecting album in quite some time.
BOOTSY COLLINS – THA FUNK CAPITOL OF THE WORLD
An interesting and somewhat depressing side effect of the rise of hip-hop has been the sight of many of funk’s pioneers standing at the side of the road, staring dumbfounded as the bus whizzes past them. Prince has notoriously struggled with finding a rapproachement with rap, finally giving up and going back to performing the old songs he once swore he was done with, just to keep an audience. It’s been nearly a decade since the last album of new material from Collins, and he seems to be taking a slightly different tack: he’s assembled a crazy-quilt of singers, musicians, and celebrities to lecture us all on the history of funk. Given that, you’d expect James Brown to figure prominently, and he does, both musically, and with spoken-word tributes from Rev. Al Sharpton and Samuel L. Jackson; and they’re not even the weirdest choices, as we also get Cornel West channeling the Staple Singers. Interesting but off the wall – and the guest bits from folks like Chuck D and Snoop Dogg are over before you’ve had time to absorb them. Fortunately, Collins puts a few of his guests to work making actual music, and that’s the album’s strength: Sheila E is, as the man says, “The Real Deal,” Bootsy’s late brother Catfish Collins and Bobby Womack evoke classic soul on “Don’t Take My Funk,” and Bela Fleck’s playing on “If Looks Could Kill” seems almost bemused at the wild proceedings. “The Jazz Greats (A Tribute To Jazz)” is an awkwardly on-the-nose music appreciation class, but “Garry Shider Tribute” transcends its uninspired title with Collins and George Clinton warmly remembering the late P-Funk All-Stars musical director.
As for Collins himself, well, nothing wrong with the bottom he lays down, but otherwise it’s more of the same old stuff with the silly cartoon voices and “naughtiness”… maybe someone should tell him that the only place people say “funk” instead of “fuck” anymore is on edited-for-TV “R”-rated movies.
EMMYLOU HARRIS – HARD BARGAIN
Tributes to the fallen – including Gram Parsons and Kate McGarrigle – lend poignancy to this latest set of Harris originals that also cover Hurricane Katrina, the death of Emmett Till, and the love of a “Big Black Dog,” among other topics. The band is comprised of Harris, keyboardist Giles Reeves, and producer Jay Joyce (who also wrote one of two non-Harris songs here: “Cross Yourself”), and even with a bit of multi-tracking, the sound is spare and intimate – but never stripped down or anemic. “Six White Cadillacs” lopes along as a pleasant reminder of Harris’ collaboration with Mark Knopfler, and she teams up with The Low Anthem for the quiet farewell of “To Ohio.” The subject matter tends to keep things on the low-key side; only the Katrina song, “Hurricane,” backs its message of defiance in the face of tragedy with some tough country rock.
Of course, Harris’ strengths have always been mostly interpretive, and even weighty topics of life and death produce lyrics that read a bit bland on paper, and melodies that feel received even when they’re not; and her telling Till’s story in the first person (“I was just a black boy / And never hurt no one”) is awkward at best. But Harris’ lifelong refusal to limit herself to a single genre means that she’s got her rock, pop, and country chops down, and her voice remains convincing proof of the existence of God.
JOSHUA REDMAN, AARON PARKS, MATT PENMAN, and ERIC HARLAND – JAMES FARM
This collaboration between Redman, Parks, Penman and Harland, longtime sidemen on each others’ albums, officially emerged as a band at the 2009 Montreal Jazz Festival, and reports from there, as well as subsequent tours of Europe and North America, suggest some powerful, daring music-making, post-bop clashing with neo-trad, with enough angles and corners to keep things fresh. Their first studio album under the James Farm banner is flush with the talent, and ideas, that earned them the accolades, though in a somewhat reduced capacity, as if the corners were sanded down, the edges polished, and things tidied up a bit more than when they play live. Part of the issue is that performance, not composition, is where these four hang their hats, and this collection of all-original material might have benefitted from hearing them take off on a standard or two to supplement. That’s not to deny the surface appeal of the impressive playing: “Coax” is a dark and driving opener, while “Polliwog” is a samba full of sly and witty sax lines. Blandness creeps in with a few showoff bits in “Bijou” and “1981,” but the album goes out on a strong mini-storyline, with “I-10” taking the listener on a nerve-rattling trip through L.A., “Unravel” a quiet drink in the airport bar, “If By Air” harking back, Sinatra-style to the early days of air travel, and the relaxed, eloquent farewell of “Low Fives.”
OTHER NOTABLE 4/26 RELEASES
Tab Benoit – Medicine
More Louisiana guitar funk, with a new band that includes Ivan Neville, ex-Steve Earle drummer Brady Blade, bassist Corey Duplechin, and guest appearances by Michael Doucet and B.B. King’s guitar Lucille (played by co-producer Anders Osborne). According to the press release, “it’s hipper and groovier than anything Benoit has ever done before.” I can’t possibly top that.
Explosions in the Sky – Take Care, Take Care, Take Care
My conviction that the term “post-rock” too often just means “background music for a movie that hasn’t been made yet” is only reinforced by this album, in which the multi-instrumental polymaths conjure up something that resembles the Crowded House of Alone Together, or a Moody Blues album without the vocals; on the other hand, the evidence suggests these guys might be even dippier than The Moodies, so maybe the instrumental approach is best for all concerned.
The Airborne Toxic Event – All At Once
The choruses are no longer just radio-ready, they’re so big that only stadiums can handle them. So, all they gotta do now is get there, right?
Karsh Kale – Cinema
From London to Carnegie Hall, but with the streets of Mumbai under his feet.
Nazareth – Big Dogz
If Love Hurts, then it’s time for some Hair of the Dog. In other words, thirty years on, these guys can still bring the heavy, and shit like “No Mean Monster” and “Watch Your Back” will do till the next AC/DC. Your mileage may vary on the acoustic-guitar plucking of “When Jesus Comes To Save The World Again,” though.
Cachao – The Last Mambo
Definitive collection from one of the giants of Cuban music.
Bill Frisell – Sign Of Life: Music For 858 Quartet
Expert playing that continues to blur the boundaries between jazz and classical music… though now and again the borders of easy-listening are given a nudge.
Yeah, this week it’ll have to do. But next time, we’ll see if we can’t line up video game info – as well as track deals at Buy More and the like. Until next time…try to enjoy the daylight (on Blu Ray).