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All reviews - Movies (900) - TV Shows (89) - Books (2) - Music (120)

Dreamgirls

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 15 March 2009 07:03 (A review of Dreamgirls)

Perfunctory. There's something I thought I'd never type about a musical. But, chances are, if Beyonce is your lead actress, you should know that you're in trouble. On a technical level, everything is top notch. The director is fine, the musical numbers are appealing, the score is decent (only one truly memorable song, but decent none-the-less), costumes are flashy, production design looks accurate enough. Perhaps it is the uneven nature of the film that keeps it from being greatness. Jamie Foxx looks like he's sleepwalking throughout, Beyonce is wooden and has no ability to emote when not singing, Anika Noni Rose and Sharon Leal are both good but underused, and Eddie Murphy is overrated as he recycles his James Brown impression from his days on SNL. Yes, it truly is Jennifer Hudson's show, and, yes, she deserved every accolade and piece of hype she got. When she is on-screen, there is a fire, pep and energy that is sorely lacking from the rest of the film. However, her placement as a supporting character is an obvious result of studio politics. Her role is more of a lead. Which leads me back to Beyonce (and her inability to form a facial expression) in the musical sequences. When she has to sing, she soars. The back-and-forth with Hudson, when sung, is wonderful. When they have to go back-and-forth doing just dialogue, Hudson chews her up, spits her out, and walks away with all of the praise that Beyonce was obviously aiming for. Face it, it's Hudson's show, and when she's not around, it sinks. Which is a little like the musical numbers -- either set them in real life (like most musicals), or set them in the recording studios/stages (like Cabaret or A Star Is Born!), but don't do both. You can't have it both ways. Never before has a movie seemed so eager to please yet failed. Perfunctory.


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Paris When It Sizzles

Posted : 8 years, 6 months ago on 15 March 2009 06:34 (A review of Paris When It Sizzles)

The problem with a title like Paris When It Sizzles is that the movie has to sizzle. Sadly, this one doesn't. Fluffy, watchable and inconsequential in equal doses, it never takes full use of the immense talents from both of the leads. Hepburn is positively lovely -- she never could be anything less, even if she tried to be (it's still not one of her great performances). Holden, in contrast, was never meant to do the "screwball comedy" or "zany leading man" types. He was always better in darker, more psychological roles. Here he looks like he's sleepwalking throughout much of the film, too busy boozing it up and leering at Hepburn. The premise is interesting, and, at times, the setups are very amusing, but they never properly come together to make a coherent film. Amusing, but confused. Skip this and go for greater films and performances from both performers. Roman Holiday would do nicely if you're looking for another romantic comedy from Hepburn (less zany, more elegant romance and travelogue), or Sabrina for a mature romantic comedy starring Hepburn and Holden, or Born Yesterday for another romantic comedy from Holden (this one with a political context).


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Jagged Little Pill Acoustic

Posted : 8 years, 7 months ago on 14 February 2009 08:20 (A review of Jagged Little Pill Acoustic)

Jagged Little Pill Acoustic might not reveal anything new about the songs, but it does showcase that these were songs of tremendous pain, sorrow, regret, remorse and unanswered questions. They are much more complicated than the “angry woman” label that was placed onto them. That was always there to begin with, and, as such, this won't reveal that. But maybe a few of the non-die-hards will hear it and understand that finally. “You Oughta Know” has always been a song more of hurt, pain and betrayal then complete and utter aggression and rage. In a stripped down arrangement, that can finally be understood by the masses. “Hand In My Pocket” might actually be an improvement upon the original. The song always seemed to belong in a coffee house setting being performed by some earnest folk-pop ingénue. And Alanis isn’t above performing a little retroactive rewriting; “Ironic” now has her dream-loving introducing her to his beautiful husband. This is why we gays love her, always out there supporting the cause. There are lots of Eastern-influenced strings, shocking, I know! And it is really just the original album in a mellower, more Eastern-influence folk-pop arrangement (a modern day Joni Mitchell record?). It won’t have much to offer the general public, but die-hards will now have the option of playing Jagged Little Pill in the original more aggressive version, or the more mellow and contemplative remake. Both have something unique to offer, and they work as nice complements to each other. Odd final note, “Your House” is entirely a cappella on the original, and now it has an acoustic arrangement. Weird. DOWNLOAD: “Hand in My Pocket”


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Congo

Posted : 8 years, 7 months ago on 4 February 2009 10:23 (A review of Congo)

Normally, pulp fiction, no matter how trashy or classy, entertains me. However, as with anything in life, there are numerous exceptions. Congo is one. Crichton, the populist pseudo-realistic science-fiction writer, can normally weave an entertaining storyline throughout his junk-food yearns. Something has gone amiss with this book though. I remember reading it, so I know that I did read it, but, for the life of me, I can’t remember a damn thing about numerous aspects of it. Besides it being terrible, that is. Pulp fiction, no matter how dressed-up and well-polished, should never be boring or forgettable. I remember that there was a signing chimp who spoke with a computer gizmo that acted like a high-tech speak-and-spell, something or other about blood diamonds, and mutant gorillas who got really pissy if anyone went near their diamonds. It all sounds well and good, but in putting the parts together Crichton never made it congeal. Crichton’s everything-and-the-kitchen-sink traps for our intrepid heroes don’t disguise his inability to create plausible, interesting, or believable characters(perils which Amazon.com told me included the following: cannibals, angry hippos, guided missles, and a rival German-Japanese team. Nice to see the WWII propaganda still going strong). And I remember there being unique and provocative questions at the beginning of the book that got jettisoned halfway through and never brought back. For shame Michael, for shame. By this time you should have known better, and you have committed one of the greater literary sins: failure to develop genuine storytelling. Set pieces do not a novel make. Especially if the set pieces aren't particularly interesting.


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The B-52's

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 29 January 2009 06:09 (A review of The B-52's)

The B-52’s self-titled debut is one strange and colorful record, which should be fairly obvious by the Warhol-ish early-60s cover design and color palette. I imagine at the time songs about made-up dances and boogie dancing undersea life were very confusing, especially since exceedingly long, extremely pretentious rockers were hogging all of the airwaves. In fact, even given a New Wave context…these songs are still weird. Yes, the New Wave was all about merging dance, punk, and making a fashionable statement all at the same time, but none of them came out swinging with 50s sci-fi obsessions, b-movie story lines, and kewpie doll vocals. And a lot of the New Wavers were ironists. Blondie, ever the ironists, wanted to combine a punk aesthetic with 60s pop. But they could also perform a straight-up rocker when they wanted to. The B-52’s, closely related to Blondie but still vastly different, couldn’t keep their tongues out of their cheeks if their lives depended on it. But, let’s be honest, these songs are just fun. There isn’t a dull one in the bunch, and while, yes, they are exceedingly strange, it’s kitsch. Don’t over think it. Just play it loud and dance around. Even if it premiered in today’s context, of which we are ironic kitsch lovers, The B-52’s would still be one weird little dance album. And isn’t that why we love them? DOWNLOAD: “Dance This Mess Around”


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In the Studio

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 29 January 2009 05:30 (A review of In the Studio)

The Specials were always a band that was deeply laced in political issues, and In the Studio is no different. At least on the lyrical scope it’s not different. With Terry Hall and Neville Staples having left the band to form Fun Boy Three, the last of the Specials albums (pre-reunion) is missing a lot of the spark, energy, sarcasm and fun of the first two discs. Also continuing on from the previous albums is the integration of new musical styles into their ska/punk world. However, the more into new wave territory that The Specials get on this disc, the less they sound like themselves. Jerry Dammers, the main lyrical force behind the band, used to incorporate a more complicated, inclusive theory of racial themes and issues. Not here. The more creative freedom he was given, the starker and angrier his lyrics got. As much as I love the Specials, this album gets the least amount of replays from me. Hearing the lead singer from Bodysnatchers singing over Specials songs just feels and sounds wrong. While the Specials always might have looked like a gang, they at least acted like a rowdy bunch of good-time-seeking-party-boys, while delivering political messages and talking about social issues. Funny how it all got so strangely, painfully serious after a while. If you don't stop being a racist, they'll beat you up. DOWNLOAD: “Girlfriend”


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Never Say Never

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 27 January 2009 07:57 (A review of Never Say Never)

A four song EP that was mostly made to showcase the title song, but you couldn’t blame them. “Never Say Never” is a dance-punk-jazz song from the underrated San Francisco group, and, deservedly, became a New Wave classic. Debora Iyall was a poet and performance artist before becoming a musician, and her lyrics reflect that.

They’re witty, ironic, detached, cynical, and complicated. If their record label and MTV had had the balls to promote them back in the day, maybe we would be talking about Romeo Void in the same breath as Blondie, the Pretenders, and the B-52’s, the torchbearers of girl-fronted New Wave/punk groups. But, alas, Iyall was pudgy, and not “commercial” enough of a look. Sucks for them, they missed out on giving a tremendously gifted singer/songwriter a chance to shine.

Besides, I want you to name all of the Native American punk/New Wavers. That's what I thought. Introduce yourself to Romeo Void with this four song EP, and see why Iyall is one of my favorite women in music.
DOWNLOAD: “Never Say Never”


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The Confessions Tour

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 27 January 2009 07:47 (A review of The Confessions Tour - Live from London (CD+DVD))

Much like I’m Going to Tell You a Secret, the accompanying album to The Confessions Tour gives listeners selected highlights from the tour, but not the complete picture. And, inexplicably, two of the highlights are just segues between the sections of her concerts. No one pays attention to those Madge. Those are typically the “break time” for the fans. So, instead of including live highlights like “Ray of Light,” “La Isla Bonita,” or “Paradise (Not For Me)” we have “Confessions” and the remix of “Sorry.” For shame!

Luckily, the remixed old songs in the set are consistent highlights and everything from “Let It Will Be” on is just fantastic. “Lucky Star” is now a long-lost ABBA song, complete with the “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” sample at the end as it segues into “Hung Up” effortlessly. Even some of the new songs get the remix treatment as Madonna makes “Future Lovers” a medley with the glaringly obvious song it samples, “I Feel Love,” and creates a seven minute long intro to her concert that pumps and pumps and pumps until Madonna is finally ready to let her audience get off.

But while there are several highlights, the overall concert tour, and therefore this selection of songs, was plagued with a sense of cold detachment which betrayed the exuberant nature of Confessions on a Dancefloor. Ah well, Madonna came out in dominatrix gear with her backup dancers in riding gear for a reason. DOWNLOAD: “Future Lovers/I Feel Love”


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I'm Going to Tell You a Secret

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 27 January 2009 07:36 (A review of I'm Going to Tell You a Secret)

Like anything great that Madonna does, I’m Going to Tell You a Secret has a more provocative title then what is presented. That is to say, the title will make you talk and peek your interest regardless of what quality the material is. Since I can only review the album and not the documentary in this section, I stand by that opening salvo.

While the documentary might be revealing and exposing, the accompanying music is just selected highlights from the Re-Invention Tour, possibly her best-named and best–overall tour. Without the accompanying costumes, choreography, and video footage, these live versions are only half-way presented. That doesn’t stop them from being, generally, smart and interesting reinterpretations of her material.

“Holiday” is now a jungle beat that slowly builds until finally exploding in an orgy of Euro-disco, “Vogue” gets an even deeper house groove, while “Into the Groove” gets an everything and the bagpipe player treatment. Missy Elliott cameo included. The inclusion of “Imagine” into her setlist, and on this album seem slightly unnecessary. She’s been singing the same credo for the past 25 years. Only with a disco beat. Watch the doc's footage of the performances for the full story. DOWNLOAD: “Susan MacLeod/Into the Groove”


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Anthology

Posted : 8 years, 8 months ago on 26 January 2009 10:57 (A review of Anthology)

To say that Oingo Boingo is an eclectic and strange band is to say the same thing of Devo, except that Oingo Boingo might just take the weird cake and do unspeakable things to it. Anthology is two-disc’s worth of twitchy, nervy ska/New Wave music as envisioned by Danny Elfman. It is the complete picture, with every album represented, and every variation given a full display. The first disc opens with a sing-songy invitation to join them in the graveyard, if that isn’t a big enough warning of the weirdness to come, we must be very good friends. By the time we get to “Little Girls,” you realize you’re listening to a nervy danceable punk song that only Humbert Humbert could love (and understand). The second disc sags a little in the middle when Oingo Boingo decided that they wanted to be called just Boingo and went for a mid-90s alternative rock sound, dropping the amazing horn section in the process. The live cuts which round out the second disc bring back the horn section and are from one of the band’s well-known Halloween concerts, which makes perfect sense by the time you’ve gotten through both discs. Oh, and it features a live version of a song about insects infesting your head. Which is really just another day in the Oingo Boingo world. DOWNLOAD: “Little Girls,” “Only a Lad,” “Insects (live),” “Dead Man's Party”


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