Welcome to your Special Ed. I suppose I should start by letting you know that that Blu Ray of Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man that drops this week is an Echo Bridge abortion. Same goes for the excellent Joseph Gordon Levitt starrer The Lookout. This means that they’re probably improperly cropped, and mastered from weather-beaten prints – Echo Bridge, please melt and die.

THE BATTLE OF ALGIERS (CRITERION)

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Criterion Blu release of the rough-hewn 1965 horrors-of-war film from Gillo Potecorvo documenting the atrocities committed by both sides of the Algerian fight for freedom from the French. Highly influential docu-style intensity.

CAMERAMAN: THE LIFE AND WORK OF JACK CARDIFF

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What in the flaming blue hell could Powell & Pressburger and George Pan Cosmatos have in common?

What is the cinematic link between The African Queen and Conan the Destroyer?

The answer is legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Cameraman is the story of Cardiff’s life and times – the document of the career of a man who was crafting film grammar…pioneering techniques, and filling his frames with the stuff of legend – be it Audrey Hepburn, David Niven, or Eddie Deezen. I can’t wait to see this.

FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH

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Now you can finally see moistened Phoebe Cates in high definition. Me – I’m holding out for the Drop Dead Fred Blu.

PAUL

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Pegg and Frost wear rough crepe hair for a film that screamed mediocrity. Maybe I’m wrong…but it just didn’t seem like anything special. Maybe you guys liked it? Is it worth checking out?

IT MEANS EVERYTHING – THE BLU RAY OF THE WEEK:

YOUR HIGHNESS

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Not much more than The Foot Fist Way transplanted to the Days of Yore (not Yor). Highness was hated by many, but it just hits my sweet spot. To listen to director David Gordon Green and star Danny McBride tell it, the film is inspired by the magic of being eleven years old and sneakily staying up late to watch Albert Pyun’s The Sword and the Sorcerer or Deathstalker - movies covered in blood, breasts, and beasts. I feel you, Brothers of Metal.

One of the true joys of the film is how gorgeous it looks. Green and his crew managed to craft some epic fantasy visuals on a fairly low budget, and DP Tim Orr steps outside what might be seen as his comfort zone to deliver stellar work (there is a carriage chase setpiece that’s shot with real muscle, and a fireside chat wherein Natalie Portman has never looked more impossibly beautiful). The Blu Ray’s unrated cut amounts to three additional minutes of ribald dialogue, and a one-shot gag I was suprised wasn’t paid off theatrically.

Special Features, while not quite as robust as usual, are structured much like the materials on other productions from the Apatow/Green/Best/Hill/McBride machine – with a couple of alternate scenes, a few deleted and extended sequences, and the Line-O-Rama feature – which is an always entertaining look at how the film is shaped by improvisation and editing. There are a couple of Blu exclusives – including more overtly perverse material cut from the disturbo “Wise Wizard” scene. I already own this disc. Love it.

ALL IN – THIS WEEK’S BLU:

The Battle of Algiers
Border Warz
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff
Dazed and Confused
Dead Man
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
The Fox and the Hound/The Fox and the Hound II
Hellbreeder
Jumping the Broom
Latin Kingz
The Lookout
Mars Needs Moms
Mobile Suit Gundam OO: Wakening of the Trailblazer
Near Death
Nightstalker
Paul
The Prophecy 3: The Ascent
Super
Tactical Force
The Tenant
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16
Twin Dragons
Venom
Your Highness

AND NOW THE DVD STARTS:

Algeria: Final Showdown 1960-1962
Algeria: Roots of War 1830-1955
Anatomy of Love
Anni’s Force Fitness: Cardio Force
Anni’s Force Fitness: Core Force
Anni’s Force Fitness: Jump Force
Anni’s Force Fitness: Life Force
Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff
Camp Hell
Challenge of Gobots
Cheyenne: The Complete Second Season
Choose
Clash
The Clinic
Crisis in France: Return of De Gaulle 1956-1960
Dov Davidoff: Filthy Operation
Dr. Who: The Sun Makers
Dream Home
Easy Pilates Exercises + Pilates Band
Easy Sitting Pilates + Pilates Band
Evil Things
Executioners from Shaolin
Five Shaolin Masters
The Four Daughters Collection
The Fox and the Hound/The Fox and the Hound II
Franklin: Best of Franklin
Frat House Massacre
George Sanders Saint Collection
Guerra Callejera Collection
Gunless
Head Rush
Hey Arnold: Season 1
Jack Hunter: Quest for Akhenaten’s Tomb
James Elroy’s LA: City of Demons
Jumping the Broom
Kabato Collection 1
The Last Godfather
Lifted
Llena De Amor
Mars Needs Moms
M.A.S.K.: The Complete Series
Mission Demolition
Nexus: The Drug Conspiracy
Otoboku Complete Collection
Pardoner’s Tale
Pasion Morena
Paul
Polo Polo VIP II
Raging Boll
Saving Grace
Scooter & Me Yoga Exercise: Fun Fitness & Self-Regulation
Secret Diary of a Call Girl: The Final Season
Shake
Soul Eater: Parts 3 & 4
Super
Tactical Force
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam
The Tenant
Top Gear: The Complete Season 16
TV Cops & Private Eyes
Ultimate Wildlife: Animal Diversity
Ultimate Wildlife: Carnivores
Ultimate Wildlife: Nature’s Rhythms
Ultimate Wildlife: Wildlife Planet
Unanswered Prayers
Violencia En La Frontera
Warriors of the Apocalypse
Webster: Season 3
What on Earth? Inside The Crop Circle Mystery
Wide Open
The Wiggles: Ukelele Baby!
Yo Gabba Gabba: Music Makes Me Move!
Your Highness

NOW THAT’S WHAT CHUD CALLS MUSIC – WITH JEB DELIA!

ARMY NAVY – THE LAST PLACE

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A song cycle about a dysfunctional love affair with an eccentric, entangled actress sounds like Rufus Wainwright or Colin Meloy territory, replete with plangent piano and dissonant chordal structures. Not, certainly, what we generally expect from power pop, even when performed with the bracing punch demonstrated here. Rather like Telekinesis’ 12 Desperate Straight Lines, The Last Place is an exuberant celebration of depression.

The musical pedigree is in place: Army Navy knows their Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, and Posies, but they’re not afraid to throw in some Superchunk guitar roar on tracks like “Feathered,” while “A Circus” rocks to a pub-rock stomp, and  “I Think It’s Gonna Happen” is all punk energy and early-Kinks guitar.

Singer Justin Kennedy manages to shape even the direst lyric into ear-bending catchiness. He starts out by cautioning us that “The last place I wanna be is in my head” to a charging guitar riff. “Sorry about your lobotomy / To remove the part that held all of me” shimmers rather than sulks; “You said it was only me and you / Except for your husband that was true” sugars the spite, and “Maybe it’s your celebrity / That made you want to slum it with me” leavens the bitterness with ironic sunshine. Things turn lushly epic as the album winds down, with the swelling chorus and skewed guitar that drive “Open Your Eyes,” followed by six driving minutes of “Pastoral,” finally fading into a bittersweet whistled coda, suggesting that our narrator has sung himself into acceptance.

PEPPER RABBIT – RED VELVET SNOWBALL

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You want eclectic, these guys do eclectic. The story goes that frontman Xander Singh spent several years working in a store that sold vintage musical instruments; he would take them home in the evenings and watch instructional videos on Youtube until he’d managed to master clarinet, ukulele, sax, trumpet, and anything else he could lay his hands on… including a bank of Roland synthesizers to fill out any sound he might have overlooked. Not to go too deeply into pop psychology, but I wonder if some of that might have been to compensate for a singing voice that is… well, it’s decidedly enthusiastic and distinctive, but “musical” isn’t the first word you’d attach to it. But in conjunction with percussionist Luc Laurent (who seems to know as many different ways to produce sounds by hitting and pounding things as Singh does), Pepper Rabbit produces an intriguing sonic mix.

“Lake House” opens things with the suggestion of a John Lennon song produced by Brian Eno, followed by “Rose Mary Stretch,” probably the album’s most conventionally catchy tune… if you don’t mind singing cheerfully along to tales of financial disaster. The duo offer us slightly warped history lessons n “The Annexation of Puerto Rico” and “The Ballad of Alessandro Moreschi,” while “Murder Room” features the cheerful promise that “I’ll put your head in the window / For everybody to see.” If there’s a flaw in the album, it might just be that the emphasis on diversity brings a concomitant lack of focus, so that nothing resembling a personality really comes through anywhere. It’s an engaging assortment of tunes, whether or not it adds up as an album.

BLUE NOTE JAZZ REISSUES: AUGUST 2011 NEW RELEASES

I don’t have a Super Audio CD player, and demographics would suggest that you don’t, either, but given the backwards compatible nature of the format, this is a most welcome set of newly-minted reissues, the latest in Analouge Productions’ Blue Note series.

Pick of the litter, for me, is Jimmy Smith’s Midnight Special, drawn from sessions in the spring of 1960 that also produced the classic Back At The Chicken Shack album. The premier jazz organist is backed by a band including Stanley Turrentine on tenor sax, Kenny Burrell on guitar, and drummer Donald Bailey. The playing is muscular and swinging, with “Why was I Born” a dark, gospel-hued change of pace.

Also from 1960, we have Lou Donaldson’s Sunny Side Up, featuring trumpeter Bill Hardman, pianist Duke Pearson, and the solid rhythm section of drummer Al Harewood and bassist Sam Jones; Donaldson was known more as a composer than many of his contemporaries, and “The Truth” and “Goose Grease” are among his strongest.

Freddie Hubbard’s Hub Cap shows the trumpeter during his prolific breakout period (it was one of three classic albums he released in 1961), with  Jimmy Heath, Cedar Walton and Philly Joe Jones, featuring four Hubbard originals, with a bonus alternate take of “Plexus.”

Stanley Turrentine’s Up at Mintons Vol.1 is a crystalline 1961 live set featuring the legendary saxophonist along with guitarist Grant Green and pianist Horace Parlan; the original LP was a 2-disk set, so one hopes for Volume 2 to appear soon.

OTHER NOTABLE 8/9 RELEASES:

Kanye West, Jay-Z, The Throne, Watch the Throne. Says here that “… Though shrouded in secrecy, the album has already been heralded a `masterpiece’ by those who have heard it.” But, since your humble servant is not among those, all I can tell you is that the guest lineup is a massive supergroup of both the dead (Curtis Mayfield) and the (presumed) living (Beyonce, Frank Ocean), and that EW isn’t just talking out their collective ass when they call the soul-man tribute “OTIS” “…”the most well-executed rap song of the year.”

Steve Cropper – Dedicated. The legendary Stax soul guitarist pays tribute to the 50’s R&B group The 5 Royales, with guests including Lucinda Williams, Bettye LaVette, and Sharon Jones.

Barenaked Ladies – Snacktime. In the nick of time: just as They Might Be Giants take a break from the kiddie-album market, the Canadian cutups step in to regale us with the delights of “Pollywog in a Bog,” “The Ninjas,” and “Crazy ABC’s”.

Michael Schenker – By Invitation Only. As a public service, I’ll tell you that this “new” album is a re-release of Schenker’s 2005 covers collection, Heavy Hitters, with three new tracks. And since the new tracks feature Robin McAuley and Sebastian Bach, you’ll scarcely notice the difference. But hey– “Rock You LIke a Hurricane” sounds great in the trailer for Killer Elite, dunnit?

Horrors – Skying. The experimental darkness gives way to warmer, lusher arrangements, memorable vocal hooks, and the unexpectedly summery “You Said.”

Luke Bryan – Tailgates & Tanlines. The latest CMT/GAC-certified hunk wants to throw back a few, flash his choppers and flex his pecs at the ladies, while mashing up the Grand Ole Opry with Spring Break at Daytona Beach. To be fair, it sounds better than it sounds.

Trivium – In Waves. If you can get past the typewriter drumming that opens “Capsizing the Sea,” there’s enough variety and tonal texture to match the band’s energy, though you’ll need greater tolerance for the tediously formulaic metal vocals than I have.

From Bikes to Trains to VIDEO GAMES – WITH BRIAN CONDRY!

GAME OF THE WEEK:

BOOKS (Your Hands; retail)

I’ve never read Dune – which is weird, because I like sci-fi. It’s just one of those books that passed me by. But I recently picked it up as a way to get into this chick’s pants, and I figured I’d go ahead and read it. I’ve been buying lots of books lately. Tons of stuff that libraries don’t really carry. When did libraries stop carrying weirder shit? Well, you can find Dune at a library. But I figured it would get me bonus points if I bought it.

Also, video games are not books. Or are they?! Discuss.

THE REST OF THE STORY:

FRUIT NINJA KINECT (XBLA)

This, to me, is the red-headed stepchild of the Summer of Arcade. It’s obvious that it’s just thrown in to cater to Kinect users. Now, it could be great! It could be better than Bastion…oh wait – that’s just total bullshit and you know it. It’s an iPhone game brought to an HD system. It’s probably not total garbage, but only just.

NETFLIX (PS3; Wii; 360)

Perfect summer viewing? Top Gear UK. Pretty much all the episodes, although I’d start around series 8 to get the best stuff. Also, Shark Attack 3 is available and it features the greatest movie line of all time. It’s about an hour in. You’ll know. And, as I just found out, the TV show Daybreak is up, too. Daybreak is pretty damn cool. It’s all 13 episodes of the series and it involves Taye Diggs in a Groundhog Day situation as he tries to find out who framed him for murder. I rather enjoyed it!

THE DROSS:

Pie is out there. You should go eat some pie. It is better than cake. I think pie is a good summer dessert. My favorite pie would probably be lemon meringue, with a nice apple topped with crumbly bits as a second. No cheese, though. That’s weird.

Fried pies are pretty good, too. But they need glaze, dammit. Too dry and papery without it. Cherry is the best for that – not that chocolate crap.

ROCK BAND DLC:

Def Leppard – Animal (Live)*
Def Leppard – Bringin’ on the Heartbreak*
Def Leppard – Photograph*
Def Leppard – Pour Some Sugar on Me*
Def Leppard – Rock of Ages*
Def Leppard – Undefeated*

So there you go. We outta’ here – you can’t touch this.

FIN.