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Best in Show

Posted : 3 weeks, 1 day ago on 29 January 2018 05:12 (A review of Best in Show)

Out of all of Christopher Guest’s mockmentary comedies, freewheeling exercises of improvised comedy with some of the best in the business, Best in Show clearly lives up to its title. This particular style of comedy is the one with the greatest degree of difficulty to execute. If you give too much rope to the performers, you can end up with self-indulgent exercises that isolate the audience by virtue of being performed to an audience of one. Or a desperation for every idea, no matter how good or bad, to get its due. But if you can get the formula right, then it’s a rich and rewarding experience. Best in Show gets it right.

 

What can make or break these things is a solid enough structure to keep everyone operating along a workable track, but also provide a structure that’s bendable enough to go where the laughs are. By introducing us to each of the pet owners individually and reminding us that they’ll all eventually meet-up at a dog competition, Best in Show’s structure of a perfect example of this phenomenon. We get to indulge the weirdest and kookiest of ideas that the actors have in the earliest scenes, and then we watch how those character quirks play out under a pressure cooker situation.

 

Granted, the hit/miss ratio is clearly stacked in favor of hit rather than miss, but there is a certain amount of fatigue and exhaustion that creeps in as it slides towards finish. It’s a forgivable sin, even the best scripted comedies have a hard time keeping up the laughs and pace, but it does become noticeable that the whiffs at bat are more prominent at the end than they are anywhere else. Still, by this point Best in Show has already given you the sight of Eugene Levy with (literally) two left feet, Catherine O’Hara walking with a rubbery knee, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock using their dog to passive-aggressively battle each other in therapy sessions, and Guest sitting in a car rattling off every type of nut he can think of. That’s a bounty of laughs that any other film would be envious towards.

 

For all of its rapid-fire and cruel jokes, Best in Show still bows down to the triumph of the underdog sports film clichés. Based on the vanity and monstrous nature of so many characters, or their complete obliviousness as in Jennifer Coolidge’s trophy wife, just spot the characters with the biggest rooting interest and you’ll guess how it all ends. Thankfully, this is where Fred Willard’s completely crazed performance pops-up to not just liven things up, but provide a type of colorful commentary that scans as the active ramblings of someone incapable of escaping their own mind. When the plot gets a little routine, leave it to Guest to unleash a secret weapon to not only keep the breakneck pace of laughs going, but to elevate some of the material to kind of surreal genius.

 

It seems almost cruel to even say anything critical about Best in Show when it’s just so goddamn funny, and consistently so. Sure it’s got some structural problems, but the strengths swallow them up. And there’s litany of verbal fireworks, throwaway asides, visual gags, and physical comedy that just makes me tear-up from laughter no matter how many times I watch it. Really, that’s the best the blue ribbon for any comedy.



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The Iron Giant

Posted : 3 weeks, 1 day ago on 29 January 2018 04:11 (A review of The Iron Giant)

A variation of the “boy and his dog” genre, but also something much deeper and more mature than that synopsis would suggest, The Iron Giant is a little movie with a powerful punch. Released in the summer of 1999, The Iron Giant was buried beneath an avalanche of Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me blockbusters and sleeper hits like American Pie and The Blair Witch Project. Damn shame in retrospect, but quality will last and a cult quickly developed around the film.

 

I’m embarrassed it took me until thirty to finally watch this from beginning to end, but it holds up incredibly well and perhaps hit me in a deeper way than it would at twelve. Looking back, I don’t remember much of a marketing campaign for this, and maybe a rival studio was still afraid of even trying to compete with Disney’s gargantuan machinery as Tarzan was bound to steamroll anything in its path anyway. Yet, The Iron Giant is something that felt so profoundly engaging and like a direct connection to parts of my obsessions and visual aesthetics that bring me joy that I do miss not growing up with this.

 

No matter, I finally found it.

 

What immediately stood out to me was the delicate balance Brad Bird struck on his debut feature. He manages to tell a story with sincerity and sentimentality, but also to provide equal weight and validity to dangerous, scary moments and a sophisticated tone that never condescends to its family audience. Mercifully free from post-modern snark that was beginning to strangle the life out of these films, The Iron Giant is a smart, mature throwback in numerous ways.

 

Obviously, there’s the setting and all of the complicated emotional baggage it brings with it. 1950s America presented itself in its biggest films as a pastoral of impeccable grooming and booming economies, but a closer inspection reveals that the Norman Rockwell exterior was wrapped around post-war malaise and atomic age anxieties about potential nuclear destruction. The Iron Giant taps into these conflicting emotional states by placing the film in a small-town in Maine. This also provides an excuse for the various artist involved to fill the screen with as many autumnal colors as they can think of, and the entire film glows with the twinge of nostalgia.

 

Then there’s the ways it combines its two most obvious influences, Steven Spielberg and Hayao Miyazaki, in ways that find the commonalities between the two creative titans. The clear artistic progeny of E.T., The Iron Giant continues to explore the sentimentality and hardships of growing up, of making the big decisions in life when you’re possibly ill-equipped to fully understand their ramifications, and the story beat of people encountering the extraordinary and deciding to do something proactive about it. Yet it’s where and how Brad Bird takes these beats that make The Iron Giant so distinct.

 

Other films would lean into the Giant’s existence as a gigantic war machine and liter the film with explosions upon explosions, afraid that scenes of characters talking wouldn’t engage the little ones. Well, they can if they’re well done, and The Iron Giant has several action sequences dolled in sparse incriments that only add to the strength of the narrative or the dramatic tension, whichever is necessary at the time.

 

This is where Miyazaki’s influence is clearest: in the way that this film follows a different pace than most American animated films. It’s slower, it doesn’t beat the themes and messages over your head, nor does it make any single character completely virtuous or villainous. The world of the film resides in a grey zone that pushes back against the “beauty will best evil” reductive nature of so many of these things. I mean, the main bad guy is a Cold War agent who believes the huge metal war machine is a potential act of aggression and needs to be taken out, and you understand exactly where he gets that impression and why. You understand his actions and motivations, even if you don’t find yourself in agreement.

 

Yet The Iron Giant continually argues that we are who we chose to be, and never is that more effectively demonstrated than in the titular creation. His defiant proclamation that he is “not a gun” is a rousing moment of the ghost in the machine taking hold and claiming its own agency. His eventual sacrifice in the face of nuclear holocaust got me as we witnessed this rudimentary lunk of Fleischer-styled metal man grow a personality and perhaps a soul. We are who we chose to be, we can rage against our worst programming, we can grow and change. That’s some powerful stuff to dispel.      



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Queen of Earth

Posted : 3 weeks, 1 day ago on 28 January 2018 11:40 (A review of Queen of Earth)

Two privileged women (Elisabeth Moss, Katherine Waterston) retreat up to a remote cabin every summer, but something’s very different about this year’s trip. Not only do the women learn just how far they’ve drifted from each other, but one of them seems on the precipice of a complete emotional collapse. Through flashbacks, we see that these fissures may have started from last year’s summer trip to the cabin, but there’s something far deeper at play here. It’s as if these two women have been long engaged in a game of emotional friction that they’ve both forgotten how to play, or even what the rulebook or point of it all was.

 

The past and present aren’t merely in communion with each other, but violently and abruptly bashing into each other throughout. The past isn’t a mere prologue here, but vitally alive, vengeful, and frequently rhyming with the present in ways that play out like an occasionally sick joke. Last year, Waterston was the one in an emotionally delicate situation while Moss was occasionally callous towards her, and situations repeat with the roles reversed and Moss’ stability increasingly called into question.

 

Queen of Earth also calls into question the concept of the reliability of its narrative as Moss’ fevered imaginings and hallucinated phone conversations pile-up. Are these slights real things, or is Moss’ character completely losing her ability in remembering what happened when or what is and isn’t happening outside of her overactive imagination? It’s here that Queen of Earth threatens to deflate under its own ambitions, but it keeps things powering through with its beautiful images, chilly but absorbing tone, and the strengths of the two lead performances.

 

Much of Queen of Earth is about how Elisabeth Moss’ character is feeling isolated from everything, including herself, and how severe depression can completely disrupt your life and health. Writer/director Alex Ross Perry and Moss work in tandem to not explain away these concepts or feelings, but to contextualize them. Moss’ character is in such a delicate and neurotic state that she can’t even accept the polite offering of a lunch without feeling like there’s some deeper, sinister portent lurking beneath it.

 

For her part, Katherine Waterston gets the more grounded role, but she has a tricky tightrope to walk herself. We’re never asked to truly feel sorry for these self-absorbed or clueless progeny of wealth and means, and the film often highlights the blinders they wear to go about their lives, but Waterston has to make her role somewhat understandable and her growing concern for Moss feel like it comes from somewhere deep and true. To watch them both work is to be reminded of how they’re two of our greatest working actresses. They make us understand the claustrophobia and despair of depression, and how those who never experience it will never be ever to fully understand or engage with those that do. You may as well be an island in the middle of the lake.



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Looney Tunes: Back in Action

Posted : 3 weeks, 2 days ago on 27 January 2018 09:35 (A review of Looney Tunes: Back in Action)

The general sense I get from this is that Joe Dante wanted to make one film, and the studio just kept muzzling him for whatever reason. Who knows why, but maybe it was a fear that the denizens of Termite Terrace needed to be softer to be more palatable to modern audiences. I don’t know, it’s just a shot in the dark. For every anarchic, free-for-all sequence, I’m thinking of Joan Cusack’s Mother and Area 52 falling into chaos with monster movie cameos galore, there’s another like the Dusty Trails musical interlude, wherein we watch Heather Locklear change skimpy outfits then promptly vanish, that simply feel like half-formed jokes with no payoff or reason for inclusion. Looney Tunes: Back in Action didn’t exactly live up to its promise, but it’s silly, it’s goofy, and it is clearly trying to reclaim the cinematic chaos so built into the brand. It gets points for trying even if the much buzzed return to greatness was more marketing razzle-dazzle than deliverable goods.



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The Last Unicorn

Posted : 3 weeks, 2 days ago on 27 January 2018 09:22 (A review of The Last Unicorn)

I didn’t grow up with The Last Unicorn, so this was actually an entirely fresh viewing experience for me. I knew nothing about it going in, and I was pleasantly surprised by it all. Not everything works, and some of it hampers or outright harms the overall vibrancy and coherence of the tone, but there’s enough good stuff here for me to understand the devotees of this cult classic.

 

It contains the classical structure of a “questing narrative” so baked into fantasy literature and fairy tales that it’s nearly impossible to think of a major property that doesn’t include some form of this. In fact, The Last Unicorn is best when it merely observes this quest in a quiet pace and we linger on the images and absorb the elegiac emotionality radiating from its main character.

 

Even better is the animation style that borrows from medieval tapestries, think Disney’s Sleeping Beauty but without the infinite resources of that studio. Parts of the final animation style are choppy or lacking, battles for instances, but there’s a twinkling, mellowing atmosphere throughout that is quite engaging. Simply watching the unicorn walk through this vibrant forest is enthralling for the pull it provides such angular beauty.

 

There’s also the case of the strong vocal cast, with Mia Farrow, Angela Lansbury, Keenan Wynn, and Christopher Lee getting highest marks. Far from the motherly Mrs. Potts, Lansbury gives her witch a vaguely Scottish tone and a sharp, terse pronunciation style that’s quite aurally pleasing. While Wynn gets a pair of roles, both the rotund Captain Cully and the imprisoned harpy, and he manages to make both of them distinct and unique. While Lee brings his typical professionalism and wonderful elocution to King Haggard, and manages to make us both fear and pity this broken, unhappy man in a scene where he both threatens the unicorn and explains why he stole them all.

 

I haven’t forgotten about Mia Farrow, as she is indelible to making this film work in the central role of the unicorn. The Last Unicorn contains a melancholic core, and a general sense of plaintive longing and belonging throughout. Farrow’s voice doesn’t just blend into these aspects, but enriches them and makes them stronger. It’s impossible to imagine anyone else in the central role once you hear Farrow, and the ending is only stronger for the emotional reading she gives her final lines. Despite not being able to see her graceful, waif-like visage, you can feel it throughout and it’s a perfect merging of actor and material.

 

Yet for all of these strengths, The Last Unicorn has several things that kneecap it from being an underrated masterpiece. Chief among them is the god-awful songs by Jimmy Webb and America. The theme song is fine, and it works as it plays over the opening credits, but making the cast sing completely unmemorable songs bogs things down unnecessarily. The worst offender is a love song between Farrow and Jeff Bridges. Not every single animated film needed to be a musical, especially if strong or memorable material just wasn’t there to justify its inclusion.

 

There are also several brief moments of juvenile humor that standout from the more mature and rich tone of the rest of the film. I’m thinking of a butterfly singing anachronistic songs and making a series of rapid-fire jokes that recalls Robin Williams and Eddie Murphy blitzing through several animated films with the same shtick at various levels of success. The Last Unicorn is too mature for moments like this, and they made me roll my eyes and sigh in frustration when they would pop-up.

 

Still, I understand where the ardent defenders are coming from, and I won’t judge them for loving this. It is charming in many ways, and I admired how it placed a forlorn, poetic beauty and heavy dramatics over empty spectacle routinely. While The Last Unicorn is imperfect it is still a damn-fine way to spend rough 90 minutes.



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Spawn

Posted : 3 weeks, 2 days ago on 27 January 2018 08:05 (A review of Spawn)

Hey, remember when this was roughly as good as we could hope to get with comic book movies? I do, and thank god the days of Spawn and its far too numerous ilk are long behind us. If anything, Spawn should remain in the 90s when its hardcore, edgy aesthetic was the norm in the medium, and has simply aged poorly.

 

It comes roaring out the gate with a poorly rendered CG introduction that provides an exposition dump before we’re launched into the present day. Pay attention to all of the mythology that’s being dumped into your lap in those opening moments because it will be elliptically referred to throughout, and those visuals will be recycled several times over. It looks and plays like the introduction to a syndicated series, think Hercules: The Legendary Journeys but with more Edge™.

 

The entire thing has an overbearing quality to it that makes it play out as camp or, and for far too often, as the brain-dead juvenilia scribbling of a particularly violent and horny teenage boy. Look at the film’s lone original character, Melinda Clarke’s Jessica Priest, who exists not only as cannon fodder but to linger on the edges of the frame in skintight leather with peek-a-boo lingerie. Or the unnecessary presence of Miko Hughes’ Zack, a homeless child that’s supposed to…I don’t know, remind Spawn of his humanity? Much of his material is poorly conceived and played, and Hughes was no slouch as a child actor if you watch Pet Sematary. The less said about the one-dimensionality and gross sexualization of Theresa Randle’s Wanda, the better.

 

But none of these poor points can quite prepare you for John Leguizamo’s scene-chewing bluster as Clown/the Violator. When left to his worst impulses, Leguizamo can be a manic and maddening screen presence, and no one bothered to tether him to reality here. Not even a fat suit and layers of makeup can slow down this motor mouth, and you welcome the moments when the Violator rips through his corpulent flesh. The puppetry to bring that monstrosity to life has aged nicely while the CGI has not. Guess which one Spawn decides to favor with its money shots and long-lasting glimpses.

 

Maybe if all of this violence and noise was in service of a story that was coherent and contained enough on its own to warrant a sequel, one could be more forgiving. But Spawn clearly thinks and operates like the opening salvo in a noisy, bloody franchise that never materialized. Maybe it’s for the better since the sight of actors like Michael Jai White, Martin Sheen, and Nicol Williamson trying not to embarrass their careers here is the major highlight of the film. Although, there is something to be said for a typically nuanced and fine actor like Sheen going for broke and chewing ALL of the scenery. I’m not entirely sure what it is, but it’s something.



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The Parent Trap

Posted : 3 weeks, 2 days ago on 27 January 2018 06:04 (A review of The Parent Trap)

Personally, my favorite thing about The Parent Trap is how the all-American twins played by Hayley Mills manage to speak in her posh, rounded British tones throughout. Not a dig against Mills’ acting or the strength of her dual performance in making a patently absurd premise work, more of a mere observation of an interesting directorial choice. I’m not sure if The Parent Trap really deserves to remain as beloved a property as it has remained since 1961, either through the original or the Lindsay Lohan remake, but it’s certainly an enjoyable bit of fluff.

 

If you can vibe with the toxic and strange premise, divorced parents hated each other so much that they separated their twins and moved to opposite coasts only for the twins to meet-up at summer camp and switch places to reunite their family, then you’ll be in for a pleasant viewing. It helps that Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith generate an intense sexual chemistry here that threatens to blow apart at any moment. You can easily believe that they would grow to hate each other enough to move as far away from each other as possible when the relationship crumbled. If half of the joy of watching this is in Mills’ dual role, then the other half is watching O’Hara and Keith verbally spare and rekindle their romance.

 

We never get an answer as to why the parents decided to split up the children and never mention the long-lost one ever again, and the film, perhaps wisely, just simply ignores this story beat. We don’t get an answer for what went wrong in the relationship itself, but watching them press each other’s trigger points gives subtle enough clues about it. It becomes glaringly obvious that the parents still love each other once their reunited, and the complication in the way of the happy reunion, a deliciously bitchy Joanna Barnes as dad’s new gold-digging girlfriend, must be swiftly dealt with. It’s a priest played by Leo G. Carroll that lands a stinger when he tells Barnes regarding O’Hara: “Delightful, charming woman…it’s amazing how he let her slip away from him.” Well, we all mistakes, and the mischievous pixies encompassed by Mills are here to restore familial order through trickery and cunning. The Parent Trap is both a description of the plot and a mission statement for the characters.



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Three Coins in the Fountain

Posted : 3 weeks, 2 days ago on 27 January 2018 05:25 (A review of Three Coins in the Fountain)

A stunning bit of picturesque travelogue and anodyne emotionally, Three Coins in the Fountain is a rusty bit of classic film-making and nothing more. You know the general plot, American girl meets handsome foreign boy, complications, then happily ever after. Just times that basic plot premise times three, and know that Three Coins provides ample opportunity to throw every single clichéd story idea you can think of into this pretty but shallow melodrama.

 

Certain stories work better than others, particularly Dorothy McGuire and Clifton Webb as a pair of older lovers with time not on their side, than others, Maggie McNamara is stiff but gorgeous and nothing more. It’s a shame that McNamara is so routinely locked in place, her acting style is 100% 1950s melodrama and its aged like milk, since her main screen partner is the charming Louis Jourdan, impossibly gorgeous and suave here. Jourdan knows to liven up this simplistic material with some spark of life, but McNamara just plays like a Xerox of Audrey Hepburn that’s several generations old.

 

Inexplicably, this was nominated for Best Picture over stellar work like Sabrina and Johnny Guitar. Even stranger, it won Oscars for Best Song and Best Color Cinematography over competition that included “The Man That Got Away” from A Star is Born and in the former and Rear Window in the latter. It’s one of those head-scratching pieces of trivia that makes you stare at the entire awards giving concept with a confused tilt and side-eye.

 

It’s a vapid viewing experience to be sure, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without enjoyment. Three Coins is a trifle, but it never pretends to be otherwise throughout its two hour stretch. After all, this is a film about Rome that positions the city less as an actual place than as the magical idea of one. And it is completely without real tension, dramatic or emotional, throughout so much of the running time that we coast along vistas, clothes, and all the accoutrements of the European glitterati that it almost begins to feel like substance.    



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She Talks to Rainbows

Posted : 4 weeks, 1 day ago on 22 January 2018 12:51 (A review of She Talks to Rainbows)

The Ronettes were a girl group that always flirted with being too much, and their sound was frequently more aggressive and dangerous than many of their counterparts and contemporaries. It was all in the way that Ronnie Spector sang. Her voice was filled with carnal knowledge, a playful adolescence, and an exquisite tension between being tough and tender. Flash forward from 1964 to 1999, she’s lost the backup singers, the Wall of Sound, but she’s picked up punk cred, rock iconography, and sounds right at home with an alternative rock edge to the pop sound.

 

Her voice always had a switchblade edge, and co-producers Joey Ramone (a long-time devote to the Ronettes) and Daniel Rey give her plenty of noise to surround that iconic vibrato of hers. It comes out swinging strong with the title track, a cover of a Ramones song off ¡Adios Amigos! Ronnie Spector’s voice emerges through a dream-like haze of sonic noise and gives us that “oh-oh-oh” that will always sounds like what it feels like to fall in love to me. It’s a stellar opening to her strongest set of solo material.

 

There’s another Ramones cover later, “Bye Bye Baby.” “Bye Bye Baby” is a duet with Joey, and it feels like a sequel to “Be My Baby” in which the hitherto unheard object of Ronnie’s desire has a back-and-forth with her about the fate of that promised relationship. And for good measure, a live version of one of the final Ronettes recordings, “I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine.” She belts and reveals the soft side of the original bad girl of rock in this recording, and it’s just as good as the original.

 

Things get better when we finally hear what “Don’t Worry Baby” sounds like under her guiding hand, and it’s pop music nirvana. She Talks to Rainbows will never rival what might have been if Phil Spector got to produce it in the same illustrious manner as “Baby, I Love You” or “I Can Hear Music,” but goddamn does it still reach stratospheric heights here. Chalk that up not only to power of Brian Wilson’s own musical genius, but Ronnie’s way with a lyric that is both innocently romantic but bubbling under with erotic promise and potential waiting to get out.

 

Yet it’s the most somber moment of the EP that comes out the best. For all of her incredible vocal work in rave-ups (“Do I Love You?”) and flirtations (“(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up”), Ronnie Spector knows how to sell you on a heartbreaking ballad. Think of how wistful and downright pleading she sounds on “Walking in the Rain.” Now listen to her version of “You Can’t Put Yours Arms Around a Memory.” She approaches that song with the knowledge of someone who has been knocked down, battle scarred, and still somehow managed to claw their way back up. In a career filled with undeniably great and iconic vocal performances, “You Can’t Put Yours Arms Around a Memory” belongs in the conversation for one of her greatest achievements.

 

She Talks to Rainbows is the finest hour (actually, about twenty minutes but you know what I mean) of Ronnie Spector’s solo career. Her voice still retains its allure and punch, and Joey Ramone was right when he said she sounds “now.” Her voice is singular and unique, and this EP highlights why she’s one of our living legends.  

 

DOWNLOAD: “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory”   



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A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector

Posted : 1 month, 3 weeks ago on 26 December 2017 06:29 (A review of A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector)

A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector is the sound of the super-producer taking his trademark “Wall of Sound” style and smashing beloved Christmas carols into it. “Winter Wonderland” and “White Christmas” now have more in common with “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “He’s a Rebel” than they do the traditional yuletide aesthetic. Spector brings his best talent to provide the center for all of this ornamentation (ha!), and what emerges is not only the greatest holiday album ever recorded, but also one of the all-time greatest pop albums.

 

Nostalgia permeates the songs here, and Spector’s trademark operatic tendencies and grandeur only underscore these traits. Whether it is LaLa Brooks’ teenaged vocals adding a childlike glee to “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or Bob B. Soxx’s impassioned statements on “The Bells of St. Mary’s,” Spector gets some of the best emotional readings any of these songs have ever received. Ronnie Spector’s innately sensual voice zaps the innocence out of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus,” but her carnality adds a knowing wink to the construct of the song that makes it sound and feel fresh.

 

His maximalist tendencies also make these songs play like rock and roll riots throughout. “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is a rave-up that would sound right at home sandwiched in-between “Then He Kissed Me” and “I Wonder” on a Crystals album. It’s the sound of a group of young girls turning a fairy tale promise into a barn burner and an excuse to dance in the snow. Same goes for “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” where their breathlessly girlish voices cascade over a beat made of pounding drums, horns, and clanking percussion.  

 

While Ronnie Spector does melt “Frosty the Snowman” through the sheer force of her sexuality, it’s “Sleigh Ride” that’s the biggest rocker on the album. Between the sound effects, the background chants of  “ring-a-ling-a-ling ding-dong-ding,” Ronnie’s sex kitten invitation, and a swirling production that threatens to spiral off into chaos before eventually succumbing at the very end, “Sleigh Ride” would be the highlight of just about any other album. Yet it has to settle for merely being second best here.

 

Darlene Love is the true MVP of this album, given her four solo appearances and background vocal work with Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, and there’s no stopping her. She’s playful on the surreal “Marshmallow World,” dreamy on “White Christmas,” and a one-woman choir on “Winter Wonderland” as Spector layers her vocals on top of each other. Nothing beats “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home),” the lone original song on this album and an emotional tour de force. In what is quite possibly the strongest vocal performance of her esteemed career, Love belts, yearns, and pours her heart and soul out all across “Christmas.” Her passion is enough to cause a blizzard during a Texas summer.

 

If there is one misstep on the album, it’s quite possibly the ending coda. Phil Spector speaks a few words of thanks before the entire recording artists harmonize a few lines of “Silent Night.” It’s over just as quickly as it starts and the harmonized vocals are heavenly, but Spector’s spoken word segment is a bit distracting. It doesn’t affect the enjoyment of the album in any major way.

 

It isn’t the season until I listen to A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector at least once, typically more than that. More so than just about any individual album, A Christmas Gift for You is the purest distillation of Spector’s genius. Although Presenting the Fabulous Ronettes Featuring Veronica comes closest to not only rivaling it in sheer pop spectacle and power, but in toppling it for supremacy. (The box set Back to Mono (1958 – 1969) is an entirely separate story as that’s three discs of his best and brightest singles all in one collection, and this is included in that set anyway.) It’s just one hell of a delightful piece of pop music at its greatest, and an absolutely essential and vital must-own album.

 

DOWNLOAD: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”



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