Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

In London, in 1980, two friends Patty (Shaniqua Okwok) and Martha (Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn) sneak out of their home to attend a house party.  After a little dancing and singing, Martha meets Franklyn (Michael Ward) and obviously wants to get to know him better.  Patty is not as impressed by Franklyn’s friend Reggie’s (Francis Lovehall)  come on lines, and leaves the party.   Martha is briefly perturbed by Patty leaving the party, and Franklyn’s nickname for Patty, beef Patty, but her pursuit of Franklyn continues. 

Later, Martha goes outside and witnesses something truly distressing.  What happens next?  Does she take steps so stop the disturbing situation? Does she leave the party?  How does the night end for Martha? 

Lovers Rock is a form of reggae music that gained popularity beginning in the 1960’s, so this movie is essentially an homage to Lovers Rock music, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  If Steve McQueen wanted to make a lighthearted movie about music and house parties, he could have done that very easily, but the script which he co-wrote, brings up all of the smoldering tensions between the races and among the partygoers and then refuses to address them.  Why bring up these situations, only to sweep them under the rug?  It would have been a far more interesting movie if the writers had examined these tensions in detail.  Instead, the viewer is left with little character development, little plot development and little reason, besides physical attraction, for Martha and Franklyn to be interested in each other.  It was bad enough that they wrote Patty out of the script completely, to raise and then ignore serious issues is indefensible. 

The acting wasn’t bad, given the paucity of character development in the script.  Michael Ward plays Franklyn as part lover man, part protector man, if he had added a little sensitivity to the character, it would have been a well-rounded performance, but he played Franklyn as if his only goal was to get Martha in bed.  Amarah-Jae St. Aubyn plays Martha as someone who’s pretty familiar with the ways of the world, for someone who is supposed to be a teenager and religious.  The other performances are not worth mentioning, because the characters were too inconsequential to matter. 

Steve McQueen is a good director, 12 Years A Slave is a great movie, Widows not so great, but in this movie, he ignores the narrative, he ignores the character development, and concentrates on the visual and auditory aspects of Love Rock reggae.  McQueen seems to concentrate on the dancing between Martha and Franklyn, and showing repeated close-ups of them dancing becomes lascivious and voyeuristic.  Concentrating solely on the dancing becomes gratuitous and unnecessary.  Also, the repeated use of a religious symbol should be treated with more respect than as a punchline to a joke. The music is great, but it dominates the story and shouldn’t. 

Lovers Rock; McQueen should have quit the Silly Games and made a serious film. 

Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin) is raised by a black family in Mississippi, but he seems rhythmically challenged. When he hears a radio station playing music he can snap his fingers to in St Louis, that inspires him to leave his mother (Mabel King) make a name for himself. He ends up pumping gas for Harry Hartounian (Jackie Mason) and is thrilled when Harry offers him the storeroom to sleep in. Navin is happy at the gas station, fixing a pair of loose glasses for Stan Fox, (Bill Macy) and catching some credit card thieves. He is chased away from the gas station by a sniper (M. Emmet Walsh) shooting at Navin because he picked his name at random out of the phone book.

To escape the sniper, Navin joins a travelling carnival, where he is employed as a weight guesser. At the carnival, Navin discovers his “special purpose” with a stunt motorcyclist named Patty, (Catlin Adams) but their relationship is complicated when Navin meets Marie, (Bernadette Peters) a cosmetologist who immediately takes a liking to Navin. Patty wants Navin to date her exclusively, but Marie takes matters into her own hands, and Navin is suddenly free to date Marie. Things seem perfect for Navin, he’s in love with a beautiful girl, he doesn’t have a job, but that doesn’t seem like a big hurdle for Navin, he’s had two jobs already. But suddenly, Marie leaves him. Her mother wants Marie to marry a rich and successful man. Navin is despondent, he suddenly has nothing, no girlfriend, no job, no money, even his loyal dog wants to turn tail and run. What does Navin do? Can he ever win Marie’s affections back?

Even if the viewer does not enjoy the 1970’s iteration of Steve Martin’s humor, there is something here for any movie fan. At the heart of this movie is a sweet love story between Navin and Marie, they even sing a love song to each other “Tonight You Belong To Me” with Martin playing the ukulele. There is an innocence about Navin and Marie that makes it impossible not to like these people. It’s also a cautionary tale about wealth, and most of all it’s about the love of a good family. Kudos to Matin or Reiner for making the black characters loving, thoughtful people and not just a punchline. There are lots of jokes for fans of Martin’s 1970’s humor, some of the jokes don’t work, some of the characters could have been better written, but it has held up surprisingly well for a 40+ year old movie.

The acting is wonderful, and there are some big stars in small roles. Steve Martin plays Navin with a trusting innocence that endears him to the audience. Bernadette Peters imbues Marie with the same innocence in Marie, and the chemistry between the two is undeniable, and makes the movie worth watching. Mabel King plays Navin’s mother with genuine love for him, and the viewer can sense it, she may not be in a lot of scenes but she makes an impression. Another tv veteran, Bill Macy plays a pivotal role as Stan Fox, M. Emmet Walsh plays the Sniper before he got famous for serious roles in Blood Simple and Blade Runner, and unfortunately Jackie Mason plays Jackie Mason.

There is little noteworthy about Carl Reiner’s directing, other than the fact that he filled the script with jokes, kept the pacing and the story going at a pretty quick pace, and made an appearance in the film, along with his son Rob. Kudos to the casting directors Penny Perry and Gino Havens for putting together a stellar cast.

The Jerk: Navin and his Johnson shares his special purpose with those he loves.

Ruben Stone (Riz Ahmed) is in a death metal band, called Blackgammon, he plays the drums, his girlfriend Lou (Olivia Cooke) plays the guitar and sings. They live in an RV, and play at small clubs around the country. Ruben realizes he’s losing his hearing, and a doctor Paysinger (Tom Kemp) confirms that Ruben has lost 80% of his hearing. There is a chance that Ruben could get a cochlear implant, but the cost is prohibitively expensive. Ruben plays one more show, and then informs Lou that he is losing his hearing.

Lou convinces him to go to a program created for deaf people. In addition to Ruben losing his hearing, he’s also an addict. Ruben meets Joe, the creator of the program, a former Vietnam vet, and former alcoholic. Joe immediately lays down the rules of the rehab program, no outside contact, including with Lou, no phones, no internet, and an immersive experience to learn sign language. After initially rejecting the proposal, Ruben agrees, He gradually learns sign language and helps the kids in the adjoining school to live with their hearing loss. Joe wants Ruben to stay with the program permanently, but Ruben can’t rid himself of the feeling that he can recapture his old life if only he could regain his hearing. Does he stay with the rehabilitation program, or does he roll the dice and get the implant operation? Where would he get the money for cochlear implant?

Sound of Metal is a good movie that could have been a great movie, if the writing was a little tighter. Despite that criticism, the writing is for the most part excellent, and mostly grounded in a gritty reality that movies don’t offer. There are many instances where the movie could’ve chosen a hokey feel-good alternative to a scene, but it stays true to the vision that it sets out. Central to that vision is the fact that Ruben is an addict, and he acts like an addict does, rashly, impulsively. And the film also correctly points out that Ruben uses Lou as a crutch to keep him from using again. Where the writing slips a little is the re-introduction of the Lou character and the introduction of her father into the narrative. This is meant to provide exposition for Lou’s character, but it backfires, undercutting Lou’s motivations to be part of a rock band. The use of product placement especially by cigarette companies is also bothersome. Apparently, Ruben’s nicotine addiction is treated as fine, but it’s not fine, and should not be presented as such.

Riz Ahmed’s performance seems like it’s badly in need of a dose of Ritalin. It’s too hyperactive, too many random thoughts, spoken too quickly, that was the intention, but it seems artificial, other than one speech, which rang very true, the acting seemed like a performance. The person who holds this movie together is Paul Raci, as the deaf alcoholic Vietnam vet, who runs the rehab program. Raci was a Vietnam vet in real life, and he has deaf parents, so he does know sign language, the performance is so earnest, so heartfelt that it seems this role was written for him. Olivia Cook is also very good in this film, as Ruben’s initial support system, she gives an emotional, but understated performance. Bad writing wrecks her character, but she does her best with what she’s given. She’s already given a superior performance as Rachel, in Me, Earl and the Dying Girl, a must-watch film from 2015.

The direction is really well-done. The director wants to imbue the film with a documentary feel, it even seems like some pf the dialogue in the recreational vehicle is improvised. The music is clever, in that when the band is not playing metal, they listen to oter music. Among the songs used are “Careless Love” by Bessie Smith, and “One Love” by the Commodores. This music helps lighten the tone a bit, but doesn’t detract too much from the serious undertaking the movie is trying to carve out. The pacing lags a bit at times, but is pretty steady throughout. There are very good performances here and director Darius Marder spotlights all of them. The best thing about the ending of this movie is inferred, Marder resists the temptation to spell out the ending. Marder also makes a point of illustrating what hearing loss feels like, suffice to say, it’s a harrowing experience, and must be heard to be believed.
Sound of Metal. Shows a lot of Mettle.

Arash (Arash Mirandi) lives in Bad City with his father, Hossain (Marshall Manesh) who’s an addict. Saeed, (Dominic Rains) Hossain’s supplier and also a pimp want payment for his heroin and takes Arash’s car instead of money. For good measure, Saeed beats up on one of his prostitutes, Atti (Mozhan Marno) and calls her an old hag because he’s such a nice guy. Then Saeed meets the Girl (Sheila Vand) and takes her to his apartment, after snorting some cocaine, and lifting some weights, Saeed thinks The Girl is ready for sex. But The Girl has a surprise in store for him.

Later, when Arash goes to Saeed’s apartment, and Saeed is gone, he takes his car back, and Saeed’s money and drugs for himself, and sees The Girl leaving Saeed’s house, and thinks nothing of it. Arash meets The Girl again, after getting high on Ecstasy, and she takes him to her house, they listen to music and fall in love. Hossain’s drug habit gets worse, but not to worry, The Girl has a solution for Hossain. Arash’s romance gets more intense, until Arash finds Hossain dead on a Bad City street corner. What happened to Hossain? What about Arash’s burgeoning romance with The Girl?

This movie is disappointing on many levels. The writer/director was born in the U.K. of Iranian ethnicity, but lives in America. The film is all in Farsi, so this movie could have used the sci-fi horror backdrop as a palette to comment on many social or moral or economic issues, of the country of her choice, but when The Girl is asked who she is and why she’s in Bad City, she demurs. So, what is the film about? Not a heck of a lot. It’s not even much of a horror film. The Girl could have been a kind of avenging angel, but the plot is not even that engaging. Arash could have been a flawed anti-hero, but there is no final confrontation between Arash and the Girl, or the Girl and anyone else. Naming the character The Girl is evidence of how little writer director Ana Lilly Amirpour thought about plot or character development. This movie whimpers to a weak finish. There is a conflict in the story, but for some reason, Amirpour avoids it, and just ends the film.

The acting is much better than the writing. Arash Mirandi plays a disengaged rebel, a James Dean type character, and does it well. He’s probably one of the more sympathetic of all the characters. Sheila Vand is mesmerizing as The Girl, when the camera does a closeup of her eyes, the viewer can get lost in them. She’s also quite menacing when she wants to be, but then at other times looks quite innocent. Credit to Dominic Rains for playing a drug dealer and a pimp so convincingly, he’s a rotten human being and he revels in it. The viewer wants something bad to happen to him. Kudos also to Marshall Manesh for playing a difficult role, and making his character sympathetic.

The one aspect of this film that is worthy of praise is directors Amirpour’s use of black and white to film this movie. Black and white film is evocative of horror, with its use of light and shadow, and Amirpour uses these techniques with great expertise, but the rest of the movie is what gives art-house films a bad name, aimless, pointless plot, featureless characters, and meaningless repetitious symbolism. Somewhere Fellini is rolling over in his grave. The music is ok, a mix between Madonna and European house music. Amirpour uses the music well.

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night: All bark no bite.

Grace Davis (Tracee Ellis Ross) is a legendary singer who is faced with two choices a live album and a 10-year residency in Las Vegas, or a new album. Her assistant, Maggie Sherwoode (Dakata Johnson) wants Grace to write a new album, and Maggie wants to produce it. Grace’s manager, Jack Robertson (Ice Cube) wants her to choose the Las Vegas option, which would mean a lot more money for him, with a lot less work. Jack brings in hip, new producer, Richie Williams, (Diplo) who does a fancy remix of one of Grace’s classic songs. But neither Grace or Jack are thrilled with the way Maggie talked to Richie. Jack tells Magge to get her own client, and stop hoping to produce Grace.

Coincidentally Maggie does just that, she finds David Cliff (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) singing outside a supermarket, and is captivated by his voice and guitar playing. The two hit it off and Maggie produces some of David’s song’s while working for Grace. Grace wants an opening act for her live album tour, Maggie books Dan Deacons (Eddie Izzard) to open for Grace, but has a plan to get David into the spotlight, but she’s told no one about the plan including David. Does the plan work?

The High Note could have been a much better movie about an aging superstar songstress facing a turning point in her career, and a young wannabe producer trying to express her talents for the first time. It could have been about the difficulty of an older woman trying to stay relevant in a music industry addicted to the hot new talent. But the story gives in, takes the easy way out and settles for some manufactured conflict, a treacly romance, and an even more treacly ending, an ending that goes beyond happy to the realm of fantasy. Why does a struggling singer/songwriter live in a large house and throw huge parties with many guests? The viewer will find out in an ending that is unapologetically cringeworthy.

The acting is subpar. Tracee Ellis Ross has a nasal speaking voice that is grating. I’ve never seen Blackish or Mixed ish, but over two hours, her speaking voice was annoying. Ironically, her singing voice is quite good, not Mariah Carey good or distinctive, like Aretha, or Tina Turner or her mother, but good. Sadly, she also underplays the role to the point that she sounds bored with her own character. Every singer of Grace’s fame and status is a bit of a diva, but Ross, daughter of Diana, downplays the diva angle so much that it makes her character dull. Diana Ross was certainly a diva, so was Aretha, so is Tina Turner, for crying out loud, so was Elvis, but Tracee Ross refused to go down that road, and the movie suffered for the lack of dramatic tension. Ice cube played his trademarked Angry Black Man, and he was angry at everyone, Dakota Johnson’s character, Tracee Ellis Ross’ character, why is he so angry, because Ross’ character won’t sell out and take an easy gig in Vegas. It’s more than ironic that a guy who started out as a “gangsta rapper” has cashed in by making family friendly dreck like “Are We There Yet?” Dakota Johnson is bland as the personal assistant/prodcer wannabe/love interest, her life is controlled by men in this film and that undercuts the women’s empowerment aspect of this film completely. Kelvin Harrison Jr. has a great singing voice, and is a superior musician, but the romance is forced, and unnecessary.

The direction is uneven. The musical segments are well-staged, but there are a lot of montages, and once the action shifts from the musical sequences, the pacing slows dramatically, and the director loses the narrative, instead of focusing on Ross’ career decision, and the difficulty of an older superstar reigniting her career, the director focuses on the love story between the producer to be and the up and coming singer songwriter.

The High Note: A Supreme disappointment.

Marty McFly (Michael J. Fox) has a pretty good life. Sure, his mother Loraine (Lea Thompson) is a strait-laced alcoholic, who doesn’t care for Marty’s openly affectionate girlfriend, Jennifer (Claudia Wells) and Marty’s dad is a wimp, all too eager to please his high school nemesis, Biff. (Thomas F Wilson) Despite his less-than perfect home life, Marty has a beautiful girlfriend, plays the guitar, and a gnarly skateboard.

For fun, Marty pals around with eccentric scientist Emmitt Brown (Christopher Lloyd) Doc Brown has built a time machine out of a DeLorean, with his new invention the flux capacitor. To make the flux capacitor work, Doc needs a nuclear reaction, which needs plutonium to make it work. Doc Brown steals the plutonium from Libyan terrorists, who find out they’ve been tricked and come after Doc. In his rush to get away from the terrorists, Marty fires up the DeLorean to 88 miles per hour and goes back to November 5, 1955, the date when Doc Brown invented the flux capacitor.

In 1955, Marty meets his besieged father, George, being bullied by Biff. He follows George who is peeping at Loraine, and falls out of a tree. Marty saves George from being hit by Loraine’s father’s car, but Marty gets hit instead, and Loraine takes care of Marty, and flirts with him incessantly. Marty has to find Doc Brown, convince him that he invented the flux capacitor, and get his parents together at The Enchantment Under The Sea Dance, which is made harder by Loraine’s amorous attraction to Marty. Does Marty find Doc Brown? Does he get his parents together at the dance? Most importantly does he get back to 1985?

Back To The Future works in many ways and many genres, it works as a comedy, it works as an ironic comedy, the ending even an inadvertent critique of the “Greed is Good” 80’s, It works as a romantic comedy, the love story between George and Loraine, which is quite touching, even as Loraine’s flirtation with her son is cringe inducing, Back to the Future works best as science fiction, it makes its own ground rules, that things Marty does in the past may affect his future, and sticks to those rules. Terms like flux capacitor, and 1.21 gigawatts become common in the American lexicon.

In retrospect, Back To The Future fails in many ways as well. It continues the long-standing Hollywood stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims as terrorists, Libyans were the terrorists du jure in the 80’s, and the terrorists were not even played by Arabs. As if the stereotypes aren’t bad enough, they are compounded by whitewashing. Even more harmful than the stereotyping is the conscious attempt by the writers at revisionist history. When Marty is playing the guitar at the dance, he plays Johnny B. Goode, the Chuck Berry classic, and the movie insinuates that Chuck Berry stole the song from Marty McFly, a white guitar player. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the history of rock and roll, knows that the inventors of rock and roll were people like Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and many other black musicians. Rock and Roll was not invented by a white time-travelling teenager. Such blatant revisionism should not be ignored, especially in a movie as popular as Back to The Future. Less important, but very aggravating was the constant product placement in the movie everything from Mountain Dew to Zales, to the California raisins, and it detracts from the film

The acting is superb. Michael J. Fox, already a successful sit-com actor from Family Ties, was the perfect choice to play an all-American teen, even though he is Canadian, and 25 years old at the time. Fox had that sense of wonderment about the sci-fi, the right amount of awkwardness when his mother was flirting with him, the comedy chops to handle the comedy, and enough good looks and charm to play the hero. Crispin Glover played both the older and younger George McFly perfectly, as a victim of bullying, who never fights back, a man who keeps his desires and creativity tucked very deeply inside. Lea Thompson also gives a complex performance, as drunken, uptight older Lorraine, and fun-loving, risk-taking, flirtatious, young Loraine. She flirts in the 50’s in a shy coquettish way, which fits the character, and the era. In a way this is the most complex role in the film, she is in essence playing two different women, and plays them both very well. Christopher Lloyd is a natural as eccentric Emmitt Brown, if anyone remembers him as Jim Ignatowski knows he’s good at playing a loveable, out of the mainstream character, and so he made Doc Bown lovable in an industrious inventor way. even Thomas F. Wilson is perfectly cast as bully Biff Tannen, with lines like, “Why don’t you make like a tree, and get the hell outta here?” Perfectly timed, perfectly delivered.

The direction is good, Robert Zemeckis paces it well, moves effortlessly between eras, without many special effects to get in the way of the narrative. He made two other gimmicky movies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, where he mixed live action and animation, and Forrest Gump, where Forrest got to interact with presidents and other famous people. If he hadn’t used terrorism as a plot device, and had Marty emulate Elvis it would have been a much more enjoyable film, but as a director, he did well, getting iconic performances from the whole cast, including notoriously difficult Crispin Gover, so he deserves plaudits for his direction, moreso than his writing.

Back To The Future: Rock Around The Clock.

Legendary singer Linda Ronstadt grew up in Tuscan Arizona, her father won her mother’s heart by singing to her with his beautiful baritone voice. Linda inherited that voice, as did her brother Peter. Her first band was a family band. After her brother joined another band, and her sister got married, she decided to move from Tuscan to California and formed a band called the Stone Poneys, they had a big hit “Different Drum.” Her manager at the time, Herb Cohen, axed the men, and promoted Linda as a solo act, her first touring band included Don Henley and Glen Frey, when they moved on to form the Eagles with Linda’s encoragement, Ronstadt was worried that her success was short-lived. But she made the Eagles hit “Desperado” a classic when she covered it, many hits followed, “You’re No Good” “Blue Bayou”, “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me”, “Love Is A Rose.” At the height of her success, she tired of the rock scene and heard that the Pirates of Penzance was being turned into a Broadway play by Joseph Papp, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta was her mother’s favorite, so she did it. Would this end her rock music career?

The Sound of My Voice is a surprisingly detailed look at a pop, rock, country and folk singer. There were many interesting factoids about this incredible song stylist packed into a thrifty 95 minutes. She formed long-lasting friendships with other female singers of the day, and was very honest about these friendships. She demonstrated a practical kind of feminism with these women at a time when feminism was nascent, and in an industry where women are often objectified and not respected for their talents. Ronstadt is often lampooned for her relationship with governor Jerry Brown, but this documentary showed that she has complex political and social views and was well read. She took tremendous risks to achieve fame, and even more risks once she achieved it, always relying on that beautiful powerful voice to carry her through tough times. This documentary smartly features lots of music, and if the viewer grew up in the 70’s and 80’s the viewer will recognize all of them. The documentary also illustrates the final cruel irony of her life, which is what makes this story so poignant.

The direction is good, it has a cohesive narrative, the people who speak about her add interesting details, the pacing is good, and it packs a lot of biographical information into a short timeframe. Most importantly, it lets her music do most of the talking. This is not a breakthrough documentary in terms of technique, like Ken Burns’ documentaries are, but the Linda Ronstadt is such a compelling figure, and her story has taken such a dark turn, that this is essential watching.

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Miguel ( Anthony Gonzalez)is tired of hearing about his family’s origin story, how his great great grandfather, a musician left his great great grandmother, Imelda  (Alanna Ubach) to become a famous singer.  Everyone in the family hates music and musicians, except Miguel, who want to become a singer, and not make shoes like the rest of his family.  He also does not want to get ready for the Dia De Los Muertos celebration with his family.

Miguel becomes convinced that his great great grandfather is world famous Mexican singer Ernesto de la Cruz. (Benjamin Bratt) Miguel is so convinced, that he breaks into Ernesto’s mausoleum and borrows his guitar to compete in a local talent show, but when he strums the guitar, something strange and magical happens, Miguel is transported to the Land of the Dead, where he meets all his relatives, including great great grandmother Imelda.

Miguel needs a blessing from a family member to get back to the land of the living. Imelda  promises to provide a blessing send him back to the land of the living, provided Miguel gives up music.  Now that he’s in the Land of the Dead, Miguel only wants to meet his idol Ernesto.  While he’s trying to meet Ernesto, Miguel runs into Hector, (Gael Garcia Bernal) a lonely traveler between worlds, who is afraid that he will be forgotten, and disappear from the Land of The Dead.

Hector promises Miguel that he will take Miguel to see Ernesto, if Miguel carries Hector’s picture back with him to the land of the living.  Miguel wants Ernesto to give him a blessing, so that when he returns to the land of the living, Miguel can be a world famous singer too.  Does Hector take Miguel to meet Ernesto?  Does Ernesto pledge to send Miguel back, or does Miguel go back under Imelda’s conditions?

This is a very complex movie.  Was Pixar really showing young audiences a boy breaking into someone’s gravesite to take his guitar?  Was Pixar really suggesting that little kids rebel against their parents’ wishes to pursue their dreams at all costs?  These are some of the darker themes wrestled with in a movie with a pre-teen boy as its lead character.  Coco is a continuation of movies marketed for kids, but really made for adults.  Wall E, Up, Toy Story 3, and Inside Out all deal with serious themes on the way to resolution. The writers of Coco seemed to have boxed themselves into a corner, either choice would leave someone unhappy, but then came the reveal, and somehow that ingenious reveal was the perfect denouement to the building conflicts in the film.  The reveal is why this movie is a classic, and a tearjerker at that.

The acting is also very good.  Anthony Gonzalez conveys the joy and excitement of a young boy discovering his true talent, and learning about his family’s true history.  Gael Garcia Bernal brings a real underdog spirit to Hector, who seems like nothing more than a lovable loser, but then…  Bernal understands the complexity of the role and plays it well.  Benjamin Bratt also plays his role well, he also has duality in his role that he has to play and he really conveys that duality well.  Alanna Ubach plays perhaps the most difficult role.  Imelda must be angry and bitter toward her singer husband, but tender towards her great great grandson, and she manages that precarious balance well.  These are mostly character actors, and they interact well in an ensemble cast.  The casting is where Guillermo Del Toro’s Dia De Los Muertos film, The Book of Life missed the mark, casting Channing Tatum as a male lead in a Mexican fable is a MAJOR mistake, Tatum didn’t even try to do a Latino accent.  The cast of Coco is mostly Latino, and that makes the film feel more authentic.

The direction is also great.  The animation is colorful and vivid, the pacing is quick, the music is a constant throughout, and the songs are well-placed and impactful.  The acting is great considering only voices are used.  The pacing is good, and moves the story along well.

Coco:  A move to die for!

houses of the holy

CD 1

The Song Remains the Same: 

Gets the CD off to a rollicking start, for a guitarists known for his guitar riffs this song is impressive for its extensive guitar solo.  The song starts off fast, and then, becomes slow, and then goes back to a fast song.  What’s also impressive is how the guitar, drum, and bass work together with the guitar to make a unified song

The Rain Song: 

This might be the most beautiful Led Zeppelin song ever, the acoustic, guitar, the electric guitar, the strings, just let this song wash over every pore of your being and you will feel the beauty of life.  It’s a sad song, but there’s something glorious in the sadness. The optimism comes in the lyrics, which describe a person coming out of a long cold winter, and into the springtime of his love.  The quiet drumming by Bonham in the beginning of the song  is quite amazing and fits the song so well.  The combination of piano and Mellotron played by John Paul Jones adds to the beauty of the song.

Over The Hills and Far Away:

This song starts with a famous Jimmy Page riff, which begins on the acoustic guitar, and then a powerful electric guitar kicks in, but the acoustic remains in the background, quite an alluring combination. There are more great extended Jimmy Page solos, and the  famous Robert Plant howl, there is no better way to describe his voice.  And then there’s a hypnotic keyboard solo, combined with Page using reverb on his guitar, and the song fades.

The Crunge:

This is probably my least favorite song on this album.  It is probably meant as a tribute to James Brown, but it doesn’t work.  It’s got many of the same elements as a James Brown song, Page plays an effectless staccato guitar style that echoes the music on many Brown songs, but there’s a certain mood to a James Brown song and very few artists can replicate the mood of a James Brown song.  And James Brown has a very particular vocal style, and as good as Robert Pant is as a vocalist, he can’t emulate that James Brown growl.  The drumming by John Bonham is gives the song some interesting texture, but can’t carry the whole song.

Dancing Days:

One of the more famous Jimmy Page riffs kicks of this song it’s inspired by an Indian raga that Page heard while in Mumbai, and the riff does have a very Eastern feel to it.  The other notable musical aspects of the song are the tone Page gets on his guitar, there’s extensive slide work which adds an interesting layer of sound to the chord changes and especially the solo.  Bonham’s drum fills are notable and add another element to listen to within the musical array.

D’yer Maker:

Starts off with the thundering drums of John Bonham, and the reggae infused chords of Jimmy Page.  Plant understates his singing for the most part on this song with a lot of oh’s and ayes, but Bonham’s drums are really up front here.  John Paul Jones piano adds some more island flavor to the song. This song is another style departure for the Rock Gods, with better results than The Crunge.

No Quarter:

This is a moody song featuring some spacey keyboard from John Paul Jones, but an aggressive angry Page guitar riff cuts through the keyboard and drives the song forward.  There is an extended piano solo by Jones, but it’s really the guitar riff and a surprisingly mellow guitar solo with a couple of different tones.  Plant’s voice has some kind of an effect on it, that makes him sound like he’s underwater.  This is a song that really grew on me, the more I listened to it

The Ocean:

One of the best known Page guitar riffs, backed up by Bonham’s unique syncopation, Page’s chord structure after this devastating riff is intricate and makes the song even more fun to listen to.  Plant is in full rock star mode, screaming like a banshee, and then everything quiets down for Plant’s la la’s or is it na na’s?  And finally, with about a minute left in the songthe whole song changes, the tempo, the mood, and it all works, it’s such an upbeat way to end an album, and oh so good.

CD 2 has different mixes of these songs that don’t sound fundamentally different that the songs on disk 1 but if a listener gets any pleasure over a little guitar addition here or there, or no vocals on this song or that, disk 2 made very little difference in how I listen to these songs.  If the remixes changed your mind on any of these songs, go ahead and indulge yourself.

 

                                               My Impressions of Houses of the Holy

I’ve always had a healthy respect for Led Zeppelin, that respect only grows with the number of sound-alike bands that have come along since Led Zeppelin.  There’s Kingdom Come, Royal Blood,  Rival Sons Greta Van Fleet to name a few.  These bands may have the elemental sound of Zeppelin, but none of the bands have a drummer as legendary as Bonham, a voice that soars as effortlessly as Robert Plant, or the riff creation of Jimmy Page, or even the supporting bass and keyboard ability of John Paul Jones.  It is not only the individual abilities of  the band member, it’s how they sound as a collective unit, the drums, bass, and guitar are one tight unit, that complement each other, and Plant’s voice is the final ingredient, raising the musical composition to unimaginable heights.

What made me choose Houses of The Holy specifically to review?   It started quite arbitrarily, when I was in lockdown as many of us are, listening to random songs on youtube.  “The Rain Song” started playing, I had heard it lots of times before, but somehow it spoke to me during this Covid 19 crisis that we’re all facing.  We all faced a cold winter, and it brought us down, but the song  is optimistic, talking about “the springtime of my lovin’”.  It speaks to the power of love that makes  the “keepers of the gloom flee.”  Those are powerful lyrics and those words alone lifted me out of my Covid 19 blues.

It isn’t only the lyrics, the music is lush and beautiful, the listener can lose themselves in the beauty of this song.  The guitar sounds somewhat foreboding in sections, but the music fits the shifting moods of the lyrics, and it just works, “The Rain Song is a true ballad, all the way through, unlike “Stairway to Heaven” which has a rather loud and heavy guitar solo, that gets in the way of wat is otherwise a beautiful song.

Houses of The Holy is my favorite Led Zeppelin album.  How can I saydpmething so bold  when most fans say Physical Graffiti or Led Zep 4 are their best album?  Music is very subjective, much like movies are and I like Houses of the Holy because of the variety of music that these legends try.  Led Zeppelin 4 and Physical Graffiti are reliable blues and rock albums.  On Houses of the Holy, there’s a true ballad, “The Rain Song” the reggae sounding music in “D’yer Maker” the unmistakable Eastern tinged riff of “Dancing Days”  And even when the experimentation  falls flat, like “The Crunge” the James Brown tribute song, it’s still an ambitious effort. “No Quarter” went from a song that I had barely heard on the radio to one of my favorite songs on the album, it is a true hidden gem.

One footnote, the song “Houses of The Holy” one of my favorite Zep songs, was originally on Houses of the Holy album, but the band didn’t think the song fit the album’s mood so, they put the song on Physical Graffiti instead.  If they had left “Houses of the Holy” the song on Houses of  the Holy album, that would have made Houses of the Holy the album even stronger, but that was no my decision to make.

Houses of The Holy: Worship at the altar of Rock Gods.

grinch

The Grinch (Boris Karloff) plans to ruin Christmas for the Whos in Whoville.  He’s sick of all the food, merriment and singing, and he’s got a plan to end it.  Does it succeed?

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is a Christmas classic.  The writing by Dr. Seuss  is fantastic, poetic, and it really finds the true meaning of Christmas while using an economy of words. Boris Karloff, star of many horror flicks adds the right amount of gleeful menace to the Grinch’s voice, and the right gravity to the book’s words with his classy British accent.  Animation voice veteran June Foray, voice of Jerry Mouse, adds the necessary sweetness to Cindy Lou Who, the two year old citizen of Whoville, most looking forward to Christmas.

The direction by Chuck Jones is key to the success of this animated classic.  Chuck Jones animation focusses on the character’s faces. Anyone who’s seen Wile E. Coyote’s face while he’s chasing the Roadrunner, the combination of haughtiness, exasperation, frustration, is all conveyed without saying a word.  Jones really emphasizes the faces of the main characters.  The viewers see the Grinch contorting his face when he hatches his evil plan, the Grinch slithers around like a snake, when he puts his plan into action, and the viewer sees a change in the Grinch’s face when  it matters.  The angelic face of Cindy Lou Who personifies the spirit of Christmas.  Don’t look for elaborate hand-painted Disney-style backgrounds in a Chuck Jones cartoon, the characters matter to him.

The songs are also fantastic, especially “You’re A Mean One Mr. Grinch” sung dripping with contempt by Thurl Ravenscroft, his bass voice is perfect for this song.  This song is one of my favorite moments from this special.  Ravenscroft is best known for voicing cereal spokesman Tony the Tiger for many years.

There have been a few versions of this classic children’s book, most notably a version with Jim Carrey.  Even Carrey’s rubber face wasn’t nearly as expressive as the animated Grinch’s face, and no version carries the emotion that the 1966 version carries.  It’s simple, it’s short, and it gets the message across effectively.

The only gripe I have with this version is that NBC edits it, to cram in more useless commercials pleading with people to buy more stuff, which counters the message of Dr. Seuss’ book perfectly.  Thank you soulless corporate network, and commercials, you’ve managed to ruin the perfect Christmas special.

How The Grinch Stole Christmas:  Yule Be Glad You Saw This Christmas Special.