Thursday, October 28, 2010

Vinyl Candy: The Dirty Third

Having neglected Vinyl Candy on their second release, Land, it seemed a good time to write a few words about their latest effort, the exceptional The Dirty Third. Some new bands release one great album and then never capture that magic again. Others take a little time through experimentation via several releases to find their voice, and to create that first great album, and I think that’s where Vinyl Candy’s at right now.

Now this isn’t to slag on their previous efforts. Their debut, Pacific Ocean Park, is a recording that still holds an immense amount of pleasure for me. Its aim was to capture that ‘70s So Cal sound, which it did effortlessly. There was a period of nearly five years between their freshman effort and their second release, Land. Land was an ambitious piece of work – a little bloated and very much all over the place. It took a long time and many listens to learn to truly appreciate much of it, which I do now. The thing with both of those albums, though, was that when you listened to them, it was all too easy to say, “That song sounds like [fill in the blank]!” Vinyl Candy paid homage to their heroes through the first two records and there’s nothing at all wrong with that, and it can be a hugely rewarding experience for the listener.

But what’s even more rewarding is when a band like Vinyl Candy finally, really and truly, finds the sound that defines their band. I’ve listened to The Dirty Third at least once every couple days for the past few weeks, and never once do I hear the tunes and hear anything other than Vinyl Candy themselves. They've moved past their influences, and will hopefully now start influencing others. It’s a nearly perfect blend of rock, pop & rock and pop ballads, and strong both musically and lyrically. These songs have energy and meaning and truth behind them. I’ve read a couple reviews that have said that with this album the band has moved into darker territory, which is odd, because Land, as a concept at least, was very dark. The Dirty Third doesn’t strike me as dark as much as it strikes me as real (not to mention really good).

This is a band that’s had something to say for a while now, and they’ve finally figured out exactly how to say it. The Dirty Third is absolutely deserving of being on a major label, but given the state of the music industry these days, that really isn’t something I’d wish on a group of talented men like Vinyl Candy, lest they’re forced to lose what makes them so wonderful in the first place.

Click here and here to sample The Dirty Third, as well as see video footage of the band.

Click here to download or buy The Dirty Third (or any of their albums) directly from the band’s website, or you can pick it up from Not Lame if you’re so inclined.

While you're at it, be sure to join their Facebook page!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Wallander II

The thing with Wallander is that it creates a wholly believable world which does not exist. It’s set and filmed in a very real locality – Ystad, Sweden – but the real Ystad isn’t the evil, dangerous place of these films. Oh well. Ystad may as well be another world as far as I’m concerned, and so I don’t let the facts get in the way of the fiction. When the fiction is as interesting as it is in Wallander, that isn’t a difficult task.

Many actors go about the business of acting for years and years, gaining plenty of notoriety and fame along the way, but never truly finding that one role that really fits them. Aside from being known as “that Shakespeare guy,” Branagh might be one of those actors, and although it still may be too early to make the call, Kurt Wallander could very well be that elusive role for Branagh. Over the course of six 90-minute TV movies, he’s come to own this part. Actually, he pretty much owned it after the first three, but this new trilogy further cements that truth. These films are completely dependent on his performance, which is always played inward. While the viewer is probably supposed to be concentrating on the facts of the case, it’s all too easy to instead focus on “What is he thinking?” from scene to scene. It can’t be an easy job Branagh has in bringing Wallander to life, and he makes it seem effortless and painful simultaneously.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Two and a Half Men: The Complete Seventh Season

It says quite a bit about America when Two and a Half Men is the most popular sitcom on TV. It’s a foul, misogynistic, relentlessly immoral program. It also happens to be very, very funny. For all of the many cries of longing for a different, more innocent time, the truth is this country has loved this trashy show for seven years now, and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of that love slowing down. Even its lead actor being arrested on charges of domestic violence and all the legal brouhaha that ensued doesn’t appear to have tainted America’s view of Charlie Sheen or the program itself. I’m not here to judge, but it’s impossible not to take into account some of this stuff at this stage of the game. So what’s the lesson here, kids? You can beat your wife, but as long as there’s a good fart joke after the fact, everything will be all right? Stars have fallen for far more mundane reasons, and yet we keep giving Sheen a free pass. Color me perplexed. Also color me guilty, because I, too, still think it’s a funny show, and tend to put these facts out of mind while the DVDs are spinning.

In any case, allow me to at least explain that I never bothered with this show for the first five or so years it was on. It wasn’t until I became addicted to The Big Bang Theory, which followed Two and a Half Men for a season or two, that I begrudgingly started giving it a chance. Turns out, I really liked the show, although now that Big Bang is on Thursday nights, I haven’t found myself tuning in to Men on Monday nights. So clearly I didn’t like it that much. The problem with this show isn’t that it isn’t any good, it’s just that it really only excels in two areas: Bathroom humor and sex jokes. And yet you have to give it a kind of credit for that when there’s a surplus of writers in Hollywood who can’t get either of those things right. Its plots may be wholly unmemorable, but boy is it the master of double entendre.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The Complete Seventh Season

The first season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show was released on DVD in September of 2002, and now the seventh and final season has been released in October of 2010, which means it took Fox a longer period of time to get the entire series out on DVD than it was actually on the air back in the 70s. Of course, the important thing is that it’s now all out there, thank goodness, but it goes to show how tricky a business this whole TV on DVD thing can be when it takes eight years to get seven seasons of one of the greatest sitcoms ever made onto the silver platter. For comparison purposes, it took Fox a few months shy of five years to get all 11 seasons of M*A*S*H out on DVD, while Anchor Bay released all eight seasons of Three’s Company over a mere three years.

What’s most telling about these facts, perhaps, is that many people have simply forgotten what a great series The Mary Tyler Moore Show really is, as clearly folks weren’t very motivated to go out and support it through dollars, which is something of a mild travesty for a show that took home a whopping 29 Emmys during its run. If there’d been more interest in these DVD releases, it wouldn’t have taken so long, and probably more care would’ve gone into the content of the season box sets (only the first two sets featured bonus material).

The good news is that Mary Richards and the rest of the WJM-TV gang went out on a series of major high notes. I nit-picked the previous two seasons, while still highly recommending them, but the final season of the series is practically faultless. This is the way you do it, TV people: Go out with class, while your show is still great. Don’t wait until all the life has been sucked out of it, and it’s reduced to parody – a pale shadow of the series it once was. This is something the major networks just don’t get. They flog the horse until it’s lifeless. If Steve Carell is leaving The Office, why not just end The Office while it’s still a good show? (You don’t have to answer that because we both know what the answer is…coughmoneycoughcashcowcough.)

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence)

There’s been quite a bit written about The Human Centipede in the past six or so months. If you’re not familiar with the film’s concept, congratulations! Chances are you still have a modicum of decency about you. This is becoming a rarer and rarer commodity. Or maybe you live in a Red State. Either way, before going any further, it behooves me to explain what it’s all about. A mad scientist named Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser) kidnaps three young people (two American women and one Japanese man) and sews them together, ass to mouth, in a neat little row. Only the person in front – the Japanese guy – can eat, and therefore his feces passes into the first girl’s mouth, which in turn ends up going from her ass into the second girl’s mouth, and presumably finishes up by coming out her ass in the end (so to speak). Yes, it’s clearly a revolting concept, but it’s also a brilliant one, simply because we’ve never seen anything like it before, and not too many films offer up something entirely new these days. Bear with me, and don’t click away just yet.

Understand, I would not recommend The Human Centipede to most people, especially when there are so many other great movies to sell people on. You now know what the movie’s about, and you’ve probably already made a decision as to whether or not you’re willing to see it. Since I’ve already praised the concept, before delving into what’s good about the movie, let’s talk about some of what’s not so good.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Doctor Who: Dreamland

Hang on a sec! Isn’t there a new bloke playing the Doctor? Yes, there is. Didn’t David Tennant’s era end at New Year’s? Yes, it did. Then wha--? This is old material that predates his finale. Further, it isn’t even the last David Tennant Doctor stuff that’s going to be hitting DVD. No, the final material Tennant recorded as the Doctor will hit shelves in January when the third season of The Sarah Jane Adventures is released here in the States (although chronologically that adventure takes places between “Planet of the Dead” and “The Waters of Mars”). Where does this one, “Dreamland,” take place? Beats me, and since it’s animated it may not even count as canon, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an immense amount of fun regardless.

It’s only slightly odd that in 30-plus years of time travel and dealing with aliens that Doctor Who has never presented its spin on Area 51, but with “Dreamland,” that oversight has been rectified. I say slightly odd because the Doctor doesn’t make it over to the States all that often, and certainly not Nevada when he does. That’s the great thing about doing Doctor Who animated – the stuff that restricts the live-action series isn’t part of the animation equation.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Caprica: Season 1.0

It’s been a while since a sci-fi series left me with as bad a taste in my mouth as Caprica has, so much so that I became pretty juvenile just a few episodes in and started referring to it as Crapica. This shockingly inept prequel to Battlestar Galactica is firing on so few cylinders it’s difficult to even know where to begin discussing it. Well, for starters, it’s worth mentioning that the 90-minute pilot, which is included here in both its rated and unrated forms, is a fairly competent and clever kick-start that promises greatness around the corner. Unfortunately, any sense the concept possessed is thrown out the window almost as soon as the series proper begins.

The place is, of course, the planet Caprica, 58 years before the events seen at the start of Galactica. Caprica is supposedly in a state of moral decay, akin to Rome before its fall. We know this because many of the adult characters smoke cigarettes(!) while the teenagers engage in sex-fueled and violence-driven virtual reality games. This is in and of itself problematic, because the world seen within the video games would be cause for alarm, but the outside real world of Caprica itself isn’t all that different from our world today, except everybody dresses like they’re from the 50s; everybody, that is, save for the Graystones, a rich family of scientists who seem to be a few steps ahead of the rest of the planet.

Read the rest of this DVD review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence

Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence is a real curiosity piece, as well as something of a minor holy grail for film buffs in the U.S. Probably the last time it was available here in the States was in the late 80s or early 90s on VHS. Thanks to the fine folks at Criterion, that’s no longer the case. Like many people, I became familiar with it due to its soundtrack, which wasn’t quite as difficult to find, at least if you knew where to look. That music was composed by one of the film’s stars, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the title track remains one of the greatest single pieces of music in film history. So transcendent is it that it’s managed to take on a life of its own, and has been remixed, rearranged and covered by at least a dozen artists, many in the past decade. Sakamoto admits that there was a lengthy period of time in which he learned to hate the tune, as it overshadowed nearly everything else he’d created in his long career. And it is probably a better piece of art than the film itself, but that’s really an apples and oranges kind of thing, so it’d be best to not go there.

The movie takes place in a Japanese POW camp during World War II and primarily concerns four very different men: two Japanese warders from the East and two British prisoners from the West. The first pair we meet are Colonel Lawrence (Tom Conti) and Sergeant Hara (Takeshi Kitano), who have an unusual kinship. They frequently sit and engage in civilized discourse, while in other moments Hara seems to take great pleasure in beating the shit out of Lawrence for insubordination. It never fazes Lawrence, and he typically picks himself up after a beating and goes on about the business of trying to explain his perception of the differences between their two cultures to Hara.

The dramatic thrust of the film, however, exists somewhere in the lack of communication between Major Jack Celliers (David Bowie) and Captain Yonoi (Sakamoto), the camp commandant. From the first moment Yonoi lays eyes on Celliers, he is transfixed, and from that moment onward he makes Celliers his pet project, but to what end is unclear. Both men suffer from serious cases of regret, and yet they’re never able to explain to one another what they have in common. Celliers quickly becomes a disruptive force, while Yonoi tries to find new methods of keeping him down, while also building him up. It’s a movie relationship that practically defies a cogent description, because it’ll mean something different to each viewer.

Read the rest of this Blu-ray review by clicking here and visiting Bullz-Eye.