Thursday, July 01, 2010

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Shutter Island --- B+

I started a new job and haven't had a lot of time to post stuff that I have wanted to talk about. So I begin my first post of 2010 with a review of Martin Scorcese's latest.

First, Scorcese is a master of angles, perspective, lighting, mood, and music. That said this film does not come close to a classic like Taxi Driver. Does that mean it's not an enjoyable movie? Not at all. In fact, I have the notion that this film will be better with a repeated viewing or two.

Shutter Island starts out with Leonardo DiCaprio telling himself "to get himself together". He is seasick from a ferry ride leaving Boston for a sanitarium off the coast; hence, the title.

DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo play U.S. federal marshals investigating a missing person's case on the island. The tension starts immediately when the marshals arrive. The sanitarium guards are armed and look very menacing. The two Marshals are told that they must surrender their firearms before they can proceed inside with their investigation.

From there on the game begins with secrets behind every corner and everyone on the island acting suspiciously. As I said Scorcese does a fabulous job setting things up; but, he can't overcome the script which has an overly familiar theme of late. That is about all I can say without giving away some plot details which are more fun to watch if you don't know anything.

The cast is stellar and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised with DiCaprio's performance. I did not think he could pull this role off and make it believable but I never felt like he was out of place.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The best Christmas Cartoon...

...Is none other than Mister Magoo's Christmas Carol. The first big animated Christmas TV special, Magoo's Christmas Carol debuted in December 1962 and is special to me for several reasons. Mr Magoo introduced the Charles Dickens classic to me. The ghosts appear out of order from the book, but it always seemed to me that the ghosts of Christmas Present, Past, and Future was the logical order. Second; the music of Jule Styne and lyrics of Mike Merrill was top notch and unforgettable. This tandem went on to write the music for the play "Funny Girl" which made Barbra Streisand a star. In fact, the Streisand smash hit "People" which was written for Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol did not make it into the final production and then was used in "Funny Girl". Lastly, the show featured actual prominent stage actors such as Jack Cassidy (the father of Sean Cassidy of The Partridge Family), Royal Dano, and Les Tremayne. Let it not go unsaid that Jim Backus's Magoo as Scrooge was a part the near sighted old codger was born to play.

The animated Dicken's classic is framed by Magoo playing a star actor in a stage production. There is even a curtain call at the end of the 60 minute cartoon.

It's a shame that this yuletide gem has fallen by the wayside and has been overshadowed by Charlie Brown, Rudolph, and Frosty. Magoo's Christmas Carol has not been show an annual Christmas viewing since the 60's. If you haven't seen it, do yourself and your young ones a favor and buy the DVD.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Beatles Mono or Stereo Set?

I recently received an email from Amazon informing me that the Beatles Mono Box set I ordered back in the middle of September has finally been shipped. I must admit to being slightly irritated by Apple creating this artificial demand for the mono box set by only pressing and shipping 10,000 copies in their initial release, but in any event it is on it's way.

Now I am excited to receive the mono set because there are some differences in some of the mixes that will be interesting to hear. However, for most listeners the first two Beatles albums; "Please Please Me", and "With The Beatles", are really the only reason for most people to buy the mono over stereo as they were recorded on primitive two track tape machines. The stereo separation is generally more annoying than enhancing the listening experience.

So, the mono set is primarily for collectors and Beatles completists who must have everything, which is pretty much where I fall in. Music snobs will point out that Beatles historians, George Martin, and The Beatles put the most care into the mono mixes, and that is what the Beatles intended for their fans to have. Well, that would be true forty years ago, but how many people today have a hi-fi system with only one speaker? You have two ears and at least two speakers to listen to your music today. Therefore, if you just want to own this great music for the first time, or don't want to spend a whole lot of money; definitely, buy the stereo CD's and enjoy.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Beatles Remasters and other bits you need to know.

Well, today is the day I have been longing for and talking about for quite a while. The whole Beatles catalog was cleaned up and re-released today--FINALLY! I caved and ordered the Mono set online and bought five Stereo CD's: Revolver, Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, White Album, Abbey Road, and Past Masters. I have only listened to the stereo Revolver CD so far. It's definitely better than the 1987 CD, but I wasn't blown away by it. It's a cleaner, more vibrant sound than before, but I still miss the way my old vinyl albums used to sound. There are some things I was used to hearing all while growing up that just hasn't transferred to digital. Even with the high price tag of $229 on the Mono set I am really looking forward to hearing those CD's as the Beatles preferred those mixes over stereo in the sixties.

In other pop culture news of interest Pat over at Silver Age Comics has a cool post about a Superman Imaginary story. DC's imaginary stories used to catch a lot of ridicule from Marvel and Marvel fans back in the 60's. Later Marvel would come up with their own version of Imaginary stories called "What If" so go figure. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

I just finished reading The Marvel Masterworks Silver Surfer Vol 1. First: these hard bound bookshelf collections of Masterworks and the DC Archives are outstanding compilations when reading comics from forty years ago. Vibrant colors and quality printing make them hard to put down. I am constantly searching discount web sites or comic shops for used copies. Secondly: about the Silver Surfer stories in this compilation; it collects the first 6 issues of Silver Surfer. The Silver Surfer was the mouthpiece for Stan Lee and this character gave voice to Lee's feelings and thoughts on racism, ignorance, violence, war, politics, and just about all the hot button issues of the late 60's. I have to tell you that Lee's overly preachy soliloquies get old real fast. After Silver Surfer #1 we pretty much get where Stan is coming from and the proselytizing every issue wears on my last nerve.

Even with that criticism it still has some of Lee's finest writing and plotting along with John Buscema. A word about Buscema's art: Awesome! Totally awesome. Issues 1-3 are good but pretty standard Marvel plotting then it takes off...issues 4-6 are as good as any comic I have ever read. However, the more adult themes and higher price of 25 cents failed to reach enough of the older readers it was aiming for and SS only lasted for 18 issues. I also suspect that not including to the humor of Marvel's most successful comics; i.e., Fantastic Four and Spider-man didn't help. But the Silver Surfer making wisecracks certainly would not have worked. It would have been a good idea to give the Surfer a complimentary character, a la; Rick Jones to lighten things up a bit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Baddest of them all....

Who is the greatest super-villain of all time? Luthor? Doctor Doom? Darkseid? Despicably evil as they are they have all been defeated. Ladies and gentlemen I give you a villain who retired undefeated with no ties: THE COMPOSITE SUPERMAN.

I am only talking about the Joe Meach Silver Age version who kicked Superman's and Batman's ass both times he faced them in World's Finest 142 & 168. Supes and Bats only survived because of Compy losing his powers just before he turned out the lights on them for good. Meach died in a heroic act of self sacrifice so he was never to return to take them on again. I am not interested in the reworkings of the character after World's Finest 142 and WF 168.

Now this story absolutely thrilled me as a child. Compy's appearance was both very cool and macabre at the same time. My favorite artist Curt Swan was fantastic at making super villains look frighteningly realistic. An ordinary janitor named Joe Meach not only acquires Superman's powers but all the powers of the Legion of Super-Heroes. He uses Chameleon Boy's power into changing himself to look like a half Superman half Batman demon with a green face.

Meach is a janitor in the Superman museum where life like Legionnaire statuettes are displayed. Very life like because each statuette was created by making an exact duplicate of each legionnaire that included his/her own individual powers. A lightning bolt strikes the statuettes and also the nearby Joe Meach who is sweeping up. A curious thing about the Silver Age is that people never close their windows during a lightning storm. Meach is then imbued with powers and an evil personality.

Like all good super-villains Compy has to toy with Batman and Superman before he destroys them just long enough until it's too late. Of course if he knocks them off in the first couple of pages there's about 14 empty pages of story, right?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hollywood bits and bytes

In recent weeks I have seen a few movies; one of which is the newest release of a blockbuster series, and two others that are in the "B" movie category.

"Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince" is the blockbuster of course and I would have to say that I enjoyed this chapter the least of all the six Harry Potter movies. I have not read any of the books. I have only seen the movies and this is the first time I felt like I really wasn't following what was going on. I also have enjoyed each movie less as the principal characters have grown from children into older teens and young adults.

The two "B" movies I enjoyed quite a bit and are great summer fun flicks. "The Orphan" is about a married couple whose third child is stillborn. To get over the loss they decide to adopt a nine year old russian orphan named Esther. We kind of get a bad feeling about Esther right away when she manipulates the couple into adopting her. "The Orphan" has an innovative twist on what would be just another child from hell film and twelve year old Isabelle Furhman is brilliant. She is American but does a fantastic job with the russian accent and is completely creepy. Isabelle is also a Beatles fan.

"Perfect Getaway" opens with showing us videos of a recent wedding and then takes us to the honeymoon in Hawaii. The news headlines in Hawaii are of two brutal serial killers who are still on the loose. Steve Zahn and Milla Jovovich play the newlyweds Cliff and Cydney who meet ex military special ops Nick (Timothy Olyphant)and his girlfriend Gina (Kiele Sanchez). Nick who is guiding Cliff and Cydney through the jungle terrain of Kauai has a nasty looking knife and acts a little wild and crazy. Things really get tense when a suspicious acting and looking hitch hiking couple make the scene. So the guessing game and red herrings begin of figuring out who the killers are.

While the twist about who the serial killers are may be obvious to some, I didn't figure it out until it was revealed. I also didn't sit there watching trying to spot every little flaw and plot hole. I have enjoyed Steve Zahn in just about everything I have seen him in and he does a great job playing cliff. Olyphant and Sanchez were very likable and quite good in their roles. The one I thought was a little miscast was Jovovich as the prim and innocent Cydney.

If you go see "The Orphan" and "A Perfect Getaway" without a lot of pretentious expectations and accept them as just a nice hot summer diversion, I think you will have a good time.