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The Hollywood Hall of Shame
The Hollywood Hall of Shame
by Harry Medved
Edition: Unbound
10 used & new from CDN$ 3.61

1.0 out of 5 stars Philistine's Delight, June 14 2004
Recent history teaches us to beware the fluff-journalist, for he is likely to re-emerge as the worst sort of faux-'conservative' blowhard; and, ghastlier still, be taken seriously. Bill O'Reilly began as a tabloid-tv host; John Podhoretz, as a tabloid-newspaper tv critic. Medved, of course, got his foothold in the cultural-commentator scam/business with his early series of bad-movie books written with brother Harry (of which this is a spinoff of sorts), in some ways blazing this disturbing trail in which schlock culture leads to the dunghill-summit of schlock patriotism. For, unlike its GOLDEN TURKEY antecedents, which were at least quasi-celebrations of the entertainingly awful, HOLLYWOOD HALL OF SHAME is distressingly, depressingly philistine. Here, the artistic worth of a film is judged by how much money it did or didn't make - and given the title and subject matter, that means you're in for damn near 300 pages of Medved crafting his sneering invective purely based on each movie's losses, in worshipfully-cited dollar amounts. This is the sort of thing we might get if every film-critic slot in America were filled by corporate hatchet-men and "efficiency experts"; alas, it's not very far from what we have right now (and aren't YOU sick of reading 'reviews' more interested in guesstimating opening-weekend grosses than in how the film might resonate with viewers years after the accountants have closed the ledger on it?)
In an eerie precursor to his later career cash-ins, the few times Medved doesn't equate artistic merit with return-on-investment, he's dismissing films for their 'anti-Americanism' (although, in almost an act of mercy, HHOS predates RAMBO and TOP GUN, sparing us his love sonnets to what he would surely consider artistic 'triumphs'; at least by this tome's units of measurement). Though he continued to milk the "Golden Turkey" prototype a while longer, it wasn't long before Medved found a far better-paying outlet for his schoolmarmish jingoism. And maybe just as maddening as this load of mammon-worship is the currently popular notion that Medved and his neocon ilk represent the inheritors of traditional American conservatism. Fans of such nationally-broadcast bottom-feeders would do well - seeing how they're on Amazon already - to seek out Russell Kirk and Albert Jay Nock....to say nothing of Pauline Kael and Andrew Sarris.

Trouble in Paradise
Trouble in Paradise
DVD ~ Miriam Hopkins
Price: CDN$ 33.40
17 used & new from CDN$ 29.88

5.0 out of 5 stars Glittering Stick Figures Shine In An Elegant Farce, Oct. 15 2003
This review is from: Trouble in Paradise (DVD)
The summit of preCode Hollywood, and Ernst Lubitsch at his zenith. First things first: thank you to Public Media for finally releasing this.
I waited 25 years to see this one again, and the wait was not in vain. Those 25 years put a bit of snow on my roof, but they also allowed me to savor the vintage ambrosia of this film with a more appreciative palate than I had at 16; and what a nose-tickling hit of the grape it is. Script, performances, directorial vision are all exquisitely crafted. The leads are inspired (Kay Francis is at her liveliest and most alluring here); the supporting players, expertly calibrated farceurs. The utilization of music as ironic counterpoint to the visuals rivals Clair without resembling him: the title song, sung over the opening credits, will make your heart race, and break, at the same time. And the look of the film (Art Deco, lovingly handrubbed to a burnished glow) lingers fondly in your memory long after viewing.
Again and again, Lubitsch pulls understated rabbits out of hats: scenes like the deepening of Herbert Marshall and Kay Francis' relationship from business to pleasure 'seen' in a clock face are emblematic of what makes this such a special film. Its story is slight, silly and stagey, but Lubitsch's knowing observation of small, telling details - and his easy, sure hand with the broader elements - makes this sparkling foam froth with real magic.
TROUBLE is not a timeless film, anchored as it is to a very specific time (Long Ago) and place (Far Away), which only deepens its charm and its seductive tugging on the audience's sleeve. I've watched it three times in a night, and three times more the following night - not behavior I usually exhibit. But the siren call of its lively, civilized wit is such that I'm hitting 'rewind' the moment it ends - I don't want to break the spell and return to reality just yet. As fertile as the preCode era was, as many underheralded gems as that period continues to yield up to seekers, TROUBLE may be the most glorious of them all.

Magnolia (Widescreen)
Magnolia (Widescreen)
DVD ~ Tom Cruise
Price: CDN$ 9.99
37 used & new from CDN$ 4.33

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unfolding Petals, Oct. 15 2003
This review is from: Magnolia (Widescreen) (DVD)
This is unlike any other Anderson movie; really, it's unlike any other other kinda movie either, and a possibly-necessary antidote for those of us who feel more and more alienated by modern life & culture. Since there are already a kazillion reviews of this I won't rehash the plot except to say that it's about one "ordinary" day when all the buried/masked/diverted/denied pain of the world comes welling up, like a dam bursting, refusing to remain unacknowledged any longer. The apocalyptic finale may not make a lick of "sense", but it feels inevitable and right and it plays perfectly. The ensemble cast is uniformly inspired, and savagely underscores the stupidity of Oscars and Golden Globes....singling out an outstanding performance here is akin to taking apart a perfectly-calibrated Swiss watch in order to praise one particular gear.
One further point: you hear a lot about Anderson's "audacity" and "ambition" in discussions of MAGNOLIA. It's true but that ambition has less to do with juggling interlocking subplots, and more to do with the moral caution this movie offers the viewer: that forgiveness is hard but living without it is impossible, and that even pain has beauty in it because it is authentically FELT. The final image - Claudia's uncertain, frazzled, vulnerable but hopeful smile - is one of the most haunting in movie history, one I hope to carry with me forever. God willing.

Decade Under the Influence
Decade Under the Influence
DVD ~ Francis Ford Coppola
Price: CDN$ 23.65
22 used & new from CDN$ 4.22

2.0 out of 5 stars Too-Vague Take On A Too-Big Topic, Sept. 23 2003
This review is from: Decade Under the Influence (DVD)
The problems with both ADUTI and the similar doc EASY RIDERS, RAGING BULLS are: they are generally fawning in tone; they play fast-and-loose with the truth by presenting only selected bits of film history; and - most importantly - they attempt to explain the zeitgeist of the 70s by restricting their view only to movies, when movies are (and have always been) a milk container in the cultural icebox...taking the flavor of whatever's sitting next to it. The 'counterculture', or 'new aesthetic' (or however you want to phrase it) lasted longer and more meaningfully in other media (music, art, fiction) where there was substantially less money being invested. I love many late 60s/70s films...in fact, that whole era is genuinely fascinating...but 'explaining', or just examining in depth, that window in time is more properly the domain of a Ken Burns-length documentary series. (You'd need 10-15 hours just to take in the full view.) And blaming everything that didn't work or fell apart on either drugs, JAWS, STAR WARS, or all three, is as pat and false as showing a married couple sleeping in twin beds during the heyday of the Production Code.
For instance, Bogdanovich is trotted out like a High Lama of Personal Cinema but the audience never gets the sense of how his lousy old-Hollywood imitations like AT LONG LAST LOVE and NICKELODEON catastrophically imploded his career, right in the middle of that halcyon decade (and STAR WARS didn't have a blessed thing to do with it). We get clips from DIRTY HARRY and MAGNUM FORCE, as if Eastwood's proto-fascist genuflections before Ruthless Authority were somehow considered hip and edgy by the intelligentsia of the decade, when they were uniformly bemoaned and despised. We get many cloud-cuckooland memories intimating that 70s cinema reflected the audience's desire for meatier, more challenging fare, when nothing could have been further from the truth (the top box-office stars for much of the decade were not Dustin Hoffman or Robert DeNiro but Eastwood, Burt Reynolds and Charles Bronson). The biggest hits of the 70s were all spun off the AIP model, not the Truffaut/Godard model: sensation ruled the day, then as now. People stood on long lines stretching several times around city blocks to see THE GODFATHER or SERPICO because - as a Roger Corman ad campaign might have phrased it - they "rip the lid off today's shocking headlines!!"
It's one thing to say that Hal Ashby and Francis Coppola made terrific films (they did indeed); it's another to claim that they made films during a golden time when the audience was, for once, on the side of the Artists. That time has never existed. Before JAWS, before STAR WARS, folks were packing theaters for DEATH WISH, BILLY JACK and THE EXORCIST - and not because they were diehard Cahiers du Cinema subscribers.
And what is not even touched upon is the long-term effect of the heightened gory violence of 70s films. We hear auteur after auteur hiding behind that sad old trope of "in order to show people the HORROR of violence, we had to truly show the EFFECTS of violence". Gee, thanks, Teacher....I'd've never dreamed that getting shot in the head might actually hurt, otherwise. Too bad the nonstop,desensitizing, rolling-snowball-momentum of all those squibs and open wounds is with us still, and it is almost 100% due to the movies of the 1970s. Coppola's triumphs may be a thing of the past - but Moe Green getting shot point-blank in the eye is forever. Scorsese has run out of heartfelt Little Italy stories to tell us, but he's still 'teaching' us how it might feel to have your eye forced out of its socket by having your head squeezed in a vise, or simply how liberating & invigorating it is to be turning that vise on behalf of the Mafia. I recall a 70s-era Pauline Kael column called "Fear of Movies" where she chided the audience for being prim, prudish wussies afraid to viscerally experience the primal excitement of violent films; a year or two later, she was fretting over the increasing 'brutality' of mass-entertainment. Way to chart cause and effect, Pauline!
Sorry. But if you're going to celebrate the films of the 1970s, you have to shine a little light on the warts and moles under the makeup too...or you end up with a puff-piece. Which is the case here, good intentions notwithstanding.

Straight Faced Fighters
Straight Faced Fighters
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 112.95
4 used & new from CDN$ 87.48

4.0 out of 5 stars A Classic 70s Debut Album, Sept. 19 2003
This review is from: Straight Faced Fighters (Audio CD)
When the prevailing winds of critical favor shifted from rock to punk in the latter 70s, you saw a number of outstanding debut albums appear almost in a void - utterly ignored, when they weren't curtly dismissed - in the first manifestation of that curious zeitgeist that held that anything well-crafted, musically accomplished and/or melodic was actually 'bad', while atonal, sloppy, two-chord rock sung atrociously by tone-deaf heroin addicts was 'good'. I'm not saying this record should've toppped the charts, mind you, but they surely deserved better than they got.
Widowmaker's first lp , accomplished blues-rock by any measure, achieves a certain something extra due to the contributions, and chemistry, of Ariel Bender and Steve Ellis (Bob Daisley makes his presence felt, too). Bender's treated/distorted guitar sound gave these tunes a retro sheen, even then, and make the perfect accompaniment to Ellis' wailing and shouting. Ellis is as good as any singer of the era - his hybridization of Steve Marriott and Roger Daltrey sounds about as great as you'd think a cross like that would, and he can rave-up ("When I Met You") as easily as soulfully slow it down ("Straight Faced Fighter")....what makes most of WIDOWMAKER memorable is that he usually does both in every song. Ellis' great vox, Bender's stun-guitar assault and the stark, cavernous production all lend WIDOWMAKER a classic simplicity - a timeless quality.
The second cd is fine, but - like many fine bands of that time who died of total media neglect - Widowmaker's followup cd, TOO LATE TO CRY, was small beer, a shadow of the debut's sinewy power. (Besides, y'don't even get the full album! Some genius at Castle decided to leave out the two best tracks, "What a Way to Fall" & "Sky Blues".)

Voodoo Caravan
Voodoo Caravan
Offered by M plus L
Price: CDN$ 11.19
14 used & new from CDN$ 5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Ray Gillen Reincarnated, Sept. 18 2003
This review is from: Voodoo Caravan (Audio CD)
Forget all the 70s bands cited as influences on The Quill. If you remember Ray Gillen's late-80s bloozmetal band, Badlands, you've got all the reference points you need. (Badlands' second album was called VOODOO HIGHWAY, just to re-emphasize the comparison.) Singer Magnus Ekvall is an uncanny vocal-double for the late Gillen, and while there's no Jake E Lee-alike on board here, the band behind Ekvall cooks up plenty of fiery heavy blues, albeit slowed down a notch to meet rigid stoner-rock specifications. Shame of it's that The Quill's preceding two cds were much stronger affairs...still, VOODOO CARAVAN's okay, and it grows on you over time. Especially when you're in the mood to hear a Badlands record.

The Deep End Volume 2
The Deep End Volume 2
Price: CDN$ 17.74
19 used & new from CDN$ 9.17

5.0 out of 5 stars Much More Than A Gimmick Record, Feb. 2 2003
This review is from: The Deep End Volume 2 (Audio CD)
For the last 100 years - well, it seems like 100 years - I've watched America salivate like Pavlov's brood over guys like Bruce Springsteen because rock journalists, in tandem with TIME magazine, trumpeted him as America's one authentic rock'n'roll working class hero. Well, here's a working class hero so authentic TIME magazine doesn't know he exists, only this one has the chops and soulfulness to match his vision, his heart and his seemingly-effortless songwriting. Are you still listening, America?
As the above might indicate, Gov't Mule is pretty much The Warren Haynes Band now. And that's a very good thing, because right now the man is at the peak of his powers. He's getting closer and closer to a place he's been heading towards his entire career: becoming this generation's somewhat-unwilling, definitely-uncomfortable (those publicity photos!), yet unquestionably-bonafide incarnation of Johnny Cash in HIS peak period. And while these two DEEP END albums are ostensibly tributes to the late Allen Woody and feature a rotating who's who of bassplayers, they are first and foremost a step up to a new, higher level for Haynes' songwriting. The originals are snapshots of America between the coasts; the covers, like yellowing photographs passed down as heirlooms from generations past. In either case, the performances of the songs put real faces you can't forget on the sorts of everyday people and experiences MTV and the culture-at-large prefer to leave faceless, and ignore. There is a richness of feeling - a bittersweet wistfulness and a barely-checked rage, and sometimes both at once - inside these deceptively simple & straightforward songs that you shouldn't cheat yourself of experiencing. The Mule's diehard fan base may or may not be comfortable with the portents of the DEEP END albums - hell, I love the debut album to death myself - but I hope they're embracing this growth & maturity, because records this good are all too rarely released in any era, and especially now. Allen Woody would be very proud of these two cds, I think.

Stacked Up
Stacked Up
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 32.41
10 used & new from CDN$ 0.51

5.0 out of 5 stars Good Grief - You Don't Own This?, Jan. 28 2003
This review is from: Stacked Up (Audio CD)
Boy is THIS gonna be an easy review to write!
How many rap/metal bands are out there? Correct answer: too many.
Of all of them, only one has ever flirted with greatness on their own terms, and that's Senser. First, the band cooks: riffs that kill and kill again & a rhythm section that never takes their collective foot off the pedal. Secondly, the rapping here is a lot more than percussive grunting; it's uniformly intelligent and energetic and delivered with the staccato elegance of a submachine gun. Thirdly, all the detail work -the chanting vocals, the eclectic well of influences (from Krautrock to triphop to prog), the Eastern vibe that glides under and over and through the tracks, the painstaking craftsmanship evident in each song - is just brilliant. There's a reason the Ozric Tentacles get namechecked here, folks: this is not a Limp Bizkit record we're talking about.
Hey, I cringe at rap-metal as much or more than the next jamoke, but this Senser cd is utterly and completely sui generis, its own category. Wonderful record. If you don't own this, you're missing out on something special.

Snow
Snow
Offered by Vanderbilt CA
Price: CDN$ 34.57
8 used & new from CDN$ 11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars End Of An Era, Oct. 17 2002
This review is from: Snow (Audio CD)
Though SNOW has grown on me greatly since my first play, I can't lie and say it's my favorite Beard cd...although it might end up my favorite in another year or so. Now that Neal Morse has left music, however, a little perspective has been forced upon Beard fans (totally against our wills) and frankly, even an album like SNOW - overtly Christian, a little too reminiscent of a mediocre Disney film, and uncomfortably echoing both Genesis' LAMB and The Who's TOMMY - must now be taken in context.
Nobody else ever made music like this - grandiose yet simple, ambitious yet humble, bombastic yet spiritual - and nobody else ever will. If SNOW falls a bit short - and it does to these ears - it's only compared to the yardstick of Morse and the Beard's impossibly high standard of previous craftsmanship: compared to 99% of everything else on the shelves, it's an unqualified triumph. The very best bands are in competition only with themselves; so with Spock's Beard. If Neal Morse never returns to making music, what he's accomplished in these past seven-odd years will more than suffice as a musical legacy. To those who have snickered at the spiritual content of SNOW, what can I say? Enjoy your Cannibal Corpse cds. To those who don't automatically recoil at the idea of the immortal human soul, c'mon in: the water's fine. Thanks, Neal, and Godspeed.

Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon (Sous-titres français)
Curse of the Demon/Night of the Demon (Sous-titres français)
DVD ~ Dana Andrews
Offered by Fulfillment Express CA
Price: CDN$ 24.53
24 used & new from CDN$ 9.36

4.0 out of 5 stars Anybody Besides Me Rooting For Dana To Die?, June 25 2002
I've always had a soft spot for 50s/60s Brit shockers that didn't come from Hammer: this is among the best of 'em. As fog-haunted and spectrally lit as the bulk of DEMON is, its most unnerving scare comes in broad daylight: Karswell's garden party being interrupted by a momentary tornado. When a horror movie can rattle you in natural light, somebody's doing something right!
Another good omen is a film where the villain is hands-down the most engaging and interesting character. I don't mean to invoke creaky truisms about the Appeal Of Evil with that remark, either: Niall McGinnis hardly seems villainous at all here - he's cautious and canny, of course (as anyone who can conjure up fifty-foot demons must of necessity be) but otherwise a jovial, good-natured and charming fellow one wouldn't mind playing a game of chess with (no side-bets, though!). And compared to dour dipso Dana Andrews - the stone-faced 'hero' - he looks that much better besides. Andrews by this point was well on his way to pissing away his career via alcoholism. The sad thing is you can clearly see it in his late 50s/60s performances. (At least here, he mostly seems hung over...which works to the role's advantage. Check out WHILE THE CITY SLEEPS from 56 when he was REALLY in his cups. He damn near staggers through that entire picture!)
Given his decided lack of charm & warmth as Holden [and compounded by the character being written as a skeptic so uberskeptical he seems at first simply boorish, and by the film's climax, a complete knucklehead] I do think DEMON could have been a lot more satisfying had the Andrews character learned too late the truth of the situation by being torn limb from limb by the titular beastie. It would've added a satisfying closing-the-circle frisson to the tale while essentially sending the same message to the audience: mess with the Devil and you get the horns. The payoff Tourneur does give you is a bit of a cheat, as Karswell gets 'lawyered' into his demise, so to speak, whereas Andrews' Holden emerges from his near-fatal ordeal having learned nothing from the experience - not even the literal truth of Leo Durocer's maxim that God watches over fools, drunks and third basemen. His last line, "Maybe it's better not to know", kinda says it all.
Oh, and for the record, I'm not as aesthetically offended by the visualization of the demon as some other Amazon scribes are, having seen that spiky-headed, big-nostrilled bad boy on a FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND cover as a lad & thinking surely this was the coolest monster ever. Could've done without some of the sound effects, though - particularly the sound of wheels squeaking throughout the Demon's two scenes. Most likely these were unintentional, but I keep 'seeing' two crewmembers lugging him forward on a dolly every time I hear it.

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