Thursday, August 25, 2011

26 soundtracks: Still Crazy

I like the soundtrack for Still Crazy (reviewed HERE) enough that I sill own it and several of the songs have stayed with me. I could go on and on with a breakdown of the soundtrack, I could talk about what I like and what falls flat. Instead I want to focus on two things, the stand out track The Flame Still Burns and the nature of songs written for soundtracks.

            The Flame Still Burns is thee song from the film. It’s the great song that the band wrote back in their heyday as a tribute to their fallen original member. It’s a great dramatic prop that is one of thee tensions between band members. It’s an epic song with a drama that rises above the din of 70s hard rock that the film evokes. Not only is it a song that can be read as a tribute t the fallen band mate, but also to the spirit of rock and the magic that happens when a performer really allows the music to open them up and expose the raw power of sound to scream to the heavens and to connect with the audience.

            I have to ask if anyone is playing that song and any of the others today. It’s a shame when great and even good bands have superior songs that are unheard these days for whatever reason. In the case of soundtrack songs, and epically ones that are part of a film and part of a band that is created just for the film, they are often even more forgotten than those of defunct bands. The nature of songs written for a soundtrack is that they are created for a film, and often there is very little investment in those songs by their creators. Often times a band is asked to write a song to go along with a film, they get a payday and have a short period of time to get it written and recorded.

            Sometimes those constraints can bring gems to the surface. It can allow bands to have the distance from the material to create something that is raw and not over thought. I can name a dozen great songs that were written for and only appear on soundtracks that have the magic that songs by the same artists that were created for their albums or live sets.  In the case of Still Crazy you have not only The Flame Still Burns, but also Dirty Town and All Over the World, which are little gems that are crying out to be rediscovered and played live.

Monday, August 22, 2011

26 Films: Still Crazy

     Sad but true, for every successful band soldiering on years later there is a history of groups that had their moment and then faded away. The early 70s hard rock outfits were especially hard hit as they often didn’t have the kind of sales to keep money in the bank and to keep a large group of stalwart fans coming out to the shows. Still Crazy follows the story of one such forgotten group, Strange Fruit, as they get the band back together and try for a do over for their last gig at a rock festival 20 years past.

     Plot wise this is getting to be well tread material as we enter the era of the Grunge revival, where we are starting to see the bands of the 90s reform and take to the road to play mainly their old material.  Still Crazy succeeds as a film in the way that it handles this material. While it is about the band, the film wisely focuses on the failed relationships that caused the break up… mostly focusing on the tensions between the bassist Les (Jimmy Nail) who has never forgiven their singer, Ray (Bill Nighy) for taking over when original front man Keith died of an OD. For his part Ray has been battling his own demons and his place in the band.  Add to this mix Keyboardist, Tony Costello (Stephen Rea), MIA guitarist Brian (Bruce Robinson), Keith’s brother and the band’s support crew, Roadie Hughie (Billy Connolly), along with Karen (Juliet Aubrey) who was once their laundry girl and now is their road manager and our cast is set…. Except for the need for a new guitarist. The band quickly recruits Luke Shand (Hans Matheson) to fill in for the missing Brian, before hitting the road for a round of live gigs in Europe.

     You can mostly guess where things go from there, it’s not Spinal Tap, but it’s maybe one of the more realistic depictions of a band on the road. What carries it in addition to a first rate soundtrack (which I will be reviewing this Thursday) are the performances. Mostly notably Bill Nighy, as the vulnerable Ray, who has one of those lives where he might seem assured and in command while on stage, but out in the world isn’t as comfortable as one would expect the frontman of a rock band to be.

     Tony and Karan have a nice relationship, played perfectly without a lot of shouting and drama and misunderstandings. I really liked their chemistry and am left wondering what happened to Juliet Aubrey, as I don’t think I have seen her in anything recently.. I’ll have to look her up.

    Re-watching the film I was stuck by how much I still enjoyed it and that the film still get’s me at the end. As you might expect many things are set right, but I dig the fact that it’s really the music on stage that causes old wounds to be healed and old tensions to be released. The film is on DVD (and it is available from Netflix), but is badly in need of re-mastering for sound and for picture, and a few extras would be nice as well. I don’t know that it’s a Criterion level film, but if someone would do that kind of restoration to it I would be more than happy to pick up a new copy.

Friday, August 19, 2011

FFB: Balefire by Kenneth W. Goddard

Sometime around High School I was given a copy of Balefire as a gift. It was one the few books that I had encountered at that point that dealt with the issue of terrorism which I had an interest in. Living in a very politically aware university town the threats of all out nuclear war and terrorism were often discussed, debated and lectured about. As a teen I had watched as there had been high profile hijackings and I knew about the Delta Force and the Iranian Hostage crisis. I was interested to read about terrorism, and stories that proposed to deal with terror on US soil were of interest to me.  Blaefire fit that mould perfectly.

From the authors website…

When a real, honest-to-god professional terrorist named Thanatos shows up along the shoreline of Huntington Beach, California, intent on destroying the scenic beach city as a demonstration against the 1984 Olympic games, the local cops have no idea what's happening, and therefore don't stand much of a chance. Which puts them in a terrible situation when they're forced to chose between defending their city, their families ... and themselves.

I honestly don’t recall much about the book besides having enjoyed it’s mix of police and action enough to seek out more books by Goddard. While the ’84 games area going on 40 years past the threat of domestic terror and the response of Federal, State and Local Law Enforcement to such events have changed greatly in the last decade. We now have a department of Homeland Security (which I am sorry with all due respect is an awful name for the agency) who are tasked with responding to terror around the country.

As I noted I did seek out and read ore of the books by Goddard, who moved on to a pair of books, The Alchemist that dealt with designer drugs and Digger which I recall as a serial killer novel. I stopped picking up his books at some point, most likely because I stopped seeing them around. Looking at his website I see that he moved on to writing about Wild Life Law Enforcement.  In thinking back I think that I would like to revisit Balefire, just to see how the world of Law Enforcement and terror mix circa 1984, and I might even check out one of the Wildlife Law Enforcement themed books…

Goddard can be found on line HERE

Thursday, August 11, 2011

26 soundtracks: Ed's Next Move

 I am not going to even argue that the 90s were the only time that quirky was embraced in music, but I feel like the early and mid 90s were a time where quirky worked much more than in the 20 or so years preceding the time.  I say this because Ed’s Next Move is filled with two types of music, Jazzy score and quirky pop songs.

            I honestly don’t have a lot to say about the score cues and music other than they work well in the film and work well on their own. Too many times with out the  visuals that score music is written to and for it falls flat and fails to connect. The score music for Ed’s Next Move is one of those cases where the score music can stand on it’s own and I can see that it might be ideal for around the house, playing in the car or the backyard cookout.

            The real reason that I own the soundtrack is the songs that are mostly part of the film. I noted in my review of the film that Callie Thorne plays a musician and there are a couple of scenes of her with the band, Ed’s Redeeming Qualities. ERQ had been around since the late 80s and built a small following and were covered by The Breeders on their big hit album Last Splash.  The film and the soundtrack make use of a couple of their strange off kilter story songs and includes the additional vocals of Callie Throne on the song More Bad Things… it’s fun music and while too many of those 90s quirky bands (King Missile anyone?) seem to have lost any kind of luster, the ERQ tunes still find their way onto my iPod regularly.

            The last tune of note for me on the album is the Comedians hyper literate history nerd pop opus, Tea & Sympathy. Charting the last great era of the British Empire the song is a world history lesson in 4 minutes. It’s impressive in that not only is the narrative kept, but also the pop structure of the song remains intact and never takes a backseat to the lyrics. It’s driven in a mode that never get’s too cutesy or preachy.  I haven’t looked to see if there is anything by The Comedians, but now I am curious and will have to take a look.

            Obviously this is one of my personal favorite soundtracks and I wish that like the film it had gotten more attention. It’s worth checking out for Tea & Sympathy and the ERQ tracks…. And I like the think it’s the kind of album that some outsider teen might trip over in a discount bin somewhere take it home and love it.

Film Review HERE

Monday, August 8, 2011

26 films: Ed's Next Move

        Ed’s Next Move is one those rare rom-coms where the man in the couple is not a complete moron. In fact Ed is a scientist who after getting dumped by his girlfriend back in Wisconsin, moves to New York to take a new job. As with Love and Other Catastrophes Ed’s Next Move the story of a Gen X guy who is looking for a new life in the city, a place to live and of course a woman. All this is pretty standard territory so it’s how it’s played that matters, and Ed’s Next Move plays it better than most.

            The film not only get’s the Com side of things right with several laughs, mostly of the situational variety, but it get’s the Rom side of the form right with a light touch. The film presents us with two people who are genuine and real, who stumble though their first couple of meetings and when Ed asks her out she doesn’t say no exactly, just indicates that she thought he was nice, and he back pedals and shuts down his request and hangs up… only she keeps popping up, and finally Ed stumbles onto her band, a quirky indie group called Ed’s Redeeming Qualities (who I am thinking came before the film), they are one of those bands who could only exists in the 90s (ok maybe in the 60s also, but mostly the 90s).

            I need to pause here and talk about the music in the film. The films score is mostly a fun up beat jazz, and are a nice change from the more common string arraignments. The real story here is the songs, which we will get to later this week as I am covering the soundtrack for the Thursday post (there are a couple of film/soundtrack parings that I am going to be covering in the near future)… but sufficient to say that I liked the soundtrack enough that I own it. Callie Thorne, who plays the female half of the duo, acquits herself well as Lee, a musician even taking lead on a song or two.

            I should also add that, the VHS tape starts off very wisely with a ad for the soundtrack --- more videos/DVDs should take the time to advertise the soundtrack, or the books the film is based on or what ever that is tied to the film and not just the other flicks that the company is currently releasing.

            Which leads me to talk about Callie Throne who was the reason that I saw this film in the first place. I have to admit that I was smitten when she arrived on the series Homicide: Life on the Street as former Seattle Detective Ballard. She’s likely best known these days for her roles on The Wire and Rescue Me where she plays an middle age woman who’s life is in flux. Here she is younger, more naive, un jaded, fresh and adorable beyond belief. She’s a charming presence and her performance here is enough to make me wish that she had gotten more opportunities to play these kinds of roles. I also like that just as Ed is socially awkward, she has her moments of less than complete composure.

            Speaking of Ed, he’s played affably by Matt Ross (best known for Big Love), and he also has a presence that makes me wish that he’d been able to play more leading men in light comedies.  I wonder what the entertainment world would be like if he had become the kind of leading man that Matt Damon or Brad Pitt have?  He carries the mid-west kid in the city with just the right touch.  He’s not a complete rube, but has several moments where he’s obviously a stranger in his new world.

            There is a lot of things I could write about the film, but I would just like to point out the comedy bits about relationships that Woody Allen might have included in his early funny roles. There are couple of little asides which are fun in a first season of Six Feet Under way. The film also contains the realist date from hell I have ever seen. It’s not that it is a complete failure because of contrivances, but due to a few little, and very funny moments. I am sure that someone somewhere had once of the reasons happen to them.

             It had not dawned on me that there are a couple elements the film shares with Love and Other Catastrophes. The montage of roommate hunting and the overly verbal women who spend their time at parties going on about some out there theory appear in both films.  There is also a spirit and sense of youthful energy and creativity that carries the few thiner points in the film.

     As with so many of the films from the 90s that I have covered this is very much a time capsule of at time and a place and a way a generation lived and loved…. but really I just want to encourage people to take the time and seek this great flick out, only it’s not on DVD.

Check back Thur for a full review of the soundtrack

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Friday Forgotten Book: Such Men are Dangerous by Lawrence Block

Such Men are Dangerous is either a heist novel that takes half it’s page count to get to the heist, or it’s a study in what individuals who have been cut off from society and culture. The book starts off with Paul Kavanagh, who has spent the last decade fighting in south East Asia, discovering that the Agency has determined that he is not the type they can trust to work for them. Dejected he heads south and ends up living in alone and cut off on an island he has developed a list of rules to live by and seems to be settling into his new life…. …. Only someone shows up on his island and manages to recruit him to help steal a load of weapons from the US Government.

     Using a tone and a style that shows the journey of Paul Kavanagh though the book Block explores the crime as the choice of a man who has none of the typical reasons for committing his crime. There is no need for money, for vengeance, he’s not angry; he’s not looking for more…. In fact the only thing he really wants is to be left alone. There is an Existential element of the book, like the Hitman series (of which I have only read the first), that really in many ways is a deconstruction of the crime genre, getting to the core of what drives the professional heister.

Such Men Are Dangerous is the 7th Lawrence Block book that I have read this year as part of my one Block Book a month for 2011. This one was a very solid entry into his backlist and is worth checking out.

More FFB's can be found here

Monday, August 1, 2011

Books July 2011

13 French Street by Gil Brewer.
Alex surprise visits his old army buddy Vern and wife Petra and things go bad, bad, bad.  Really this book is riff on the old The Postman Always Rings Twice plot, and while I did finish it…. I struggled with it. It was ok, just ok, I didn’t find any of the zing and prose that other Brewer books (The Vengeful Virgin comes to mind) that I have read.

What of Terry Conniston? by Brian Garfield
 Full review can be found here 
… and kudos to Cullen Gallagher for bringing Garfield to my attention.

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
Fast paced, fun, Action Film romp of a book… the first in a trilogy and I am looking forward to the next two. In this first installment Charlie Hardie, an ex-cop is house-sitting for a living when things go very very wrong.

Stark House Press novel of the Month:  Iron Man W.R. Burnett
Following the rise and fall of Coke Mason a middle weight boxer on the rise. This was the second reprint in this collection, and while I enjoyed it I liked the other book better. There are a lot of great boxing scenes, and some excellent character drama moments, but over all it was just ok, and the prose while straight forward and tough didn’t really zing.

Lawrence Block book of the Month: Such Men are Dangerous
I really liked this tale of a former GI and Merc who finds himself figuring out what he’s going to do next with his life. At first he seems to be headed for the life of a hermit, until he’s approached to help hijack a load of military weapons.  Part introspective and existential, part heist novel ala the Parker novels, it’s a fast read that is both entertaining and thought provoking…. Good stuff.