3/31/2015

ROTH VAN HALEN MOVES FORWARD WITH TOKYO DOME LIVE

Release: 3/31/15 Grade: A–
Upon a progressively heated argument accidentally instigated by yours truly after comparing Sammy Hagar’s Van Halen songs to a beer commercial, the defender stated how much money those "commercials" made the band in their award winning second incarnation… while the David Lee Roth era, according to this same person, seemed written by a 6th grader…

Well anyone that age who runs with the Devil and knows all about the little kids taking care of the music biz, taking whiskey home and pushing and shoving on the mean streets while dirty movies that you hear about later light up the sky where beautiful girls have drop dead legs, well hell, that's a kid to either hang out with or put in permanent detention…

Back of First LP
But whatever you feel about the old or new Van Halen, since 2007 the old became new again when groundbreaking guitarist Edward Van Halen, his drumming brother Alex and Ed’s son Wolfgang, replacing the bearded harmonizer Michael Anthony, brought Roth back into the fray – their 2013 album A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH took bits and pieces of former riffs written either before the first 1978 self titled LP or added themes to movie soundtrack instrumentals from THE WILD LIFE… And while not original in that respect, TRUTH is mighty fine…

Second Album Cover
So now there’s the first live Van Halen with David Lee Roth on vocals, and already it’s getting bashed for his voice being not the same as before – reaching for the notes that were so easy and breezy way back when… Not like the lounge-laden Roth was ever incredibly ranged like Freddie Mercury to begin with; so there's not much to lose, really…

He always has been more of a talker with words than a singer, and his gin-soaked poetry still flows neatly as Edward Van Halen thunders through the lightning… In fact the entire album, TOKYO DOME LIVE IN CONCERT, sounds more like a perfect gritty import than a rough version of a glossy, digitalized modern effort...

Fifth Album Cover
Ironically, Van Halen didn't write the best track herein – Roy Orbison’s PRETTY WOMAN is the tightest, proving that when Roth sings a structured tune he keeps the vocals in check…

His downfall lies on the rambling stack of words he wrote in the first place; that much harder to take on now… Certain times his voice sounds like he's just beginning to lose breath before finishing a run-on sentence, and, rushing words out before doing so has become the new norm... His lyrics, though, still shine: An existential surge of party life and eccentric womanizing brings the listener straight into the mainline while Sammy’s more “deep and meaningful” insight feels more learned than actually experienced.

OVER THE EDGE Poster
Other TOKYO highlights include new tracks CHINA TOWN and TATTOO and classics like WOMEN IN LOVE, I’M THE ONE, HOT FOR TEACHER, ROMEO DELIGHT and especially the Roth acoustic guitar turned into Eddie’s electrifying electric in ICE CREAM MAN while JUMP squeaks by like the encore it was born to be; DANCE THE NIGHT AWAY lacks the glistening boogie of the original track; and on SOMEBODY GET ME A DOCTOR, Dave needs a throat lasagne more than ever. Eddie’s signature top hat ERUPTION is, alas, merely good but not great and sounds even better once his mesmerizing CATHEDRAL creeps in. And the album’s low-point is Alex’s drum solo, seeming like a Jamaican street musician who forgot to smoke a blunt... of the good stuff.

So why did they record a live album in Tokyo instead of combining various shows from all over the globe? Well how else would Diamond Dave prove he knows so much Japanese otherwise? His Master of Ceremony power is in top form speaking a foreign tongue. And if you’re wondering what a music review’s doing on a movie website, well, while the pulsating Kink’s revision of YOU REALLY GOT ME (showing Eddie's bluesy side on the live album) pumped life into the classic 1979 teen angst melodrama OVER THE EDGE... as Vincent Spano made out with the loose new girl in town with a jealous Michael Kramer looking on while Matt Dillon drank beer in the midst of the suburban bash... it can and will be noted that the classic original VH is to cinema what EDGE was (and still is) to youth – blending an eternal surge of nostalgic glory that’s as alive and kicking, and boisterous and timelessly bombastic as ever.

BETTER CALL SAUL SCRAWL: EPISODE 109 PIMENTO

E9 Grade: C+
Michael McKean is sort of a Working Icon. He never fell off the map, and always continued to find jobs after his airhead Lenny from LAVERNE AND SHIRLEY made him a star. And the moody rhythm guitarist David St. Hubbins from SPINAL TAP killed the stereotype of merely being Squiggy’s tall friend. But in BETTER CALL SAUL, his character… Jimmy McGill’s older, more responsible and legitimate lawyer brother Chuck… is a little too unique for his own good. Suffering a self-imposed allergy to electricity is downright vapid. He should have shaken that by now because it’s getting just too distracting to make him a worthy character...

MM's 2nd icon
Not that it hinders Mike and his… let’s call it a skit as most of the show's scenarios play out with a beginning, middle and end. Herein Mike and two other hired bodyguards display their individual worth, and it’s obvious to any BREAKING BAD fan who will come out on top. Leading to the birth of the unbreakable Mike we all know, love and equally fear – and thus bringing Michael Mando's drug cartel thug back into the mix, fulfilling his opening credit status he’s been mostly absent from throughout the first season, which is nearly at an end.

Overall, PIMENTO, describing a particular cheese Mike has in his lunch bag, is neither a bridge episode, leading to next week’s finale, or anything standing on its own merit as particularly breathtaking or memorable… The sole purpose, during the pivotal “Et Tu Brute” moment between Jimmy and Chuck, is to establish our hero's existence mirroring his brother’s embroidered logo on a jacket decades earlier… LONE WOLF.

3/29/2015

WALKING DEAD DIARIES: SEASON 5 FINALE CONQUER

Title: Conquer
“We need this place,” Michonne tells a recovering Rick. “We had to stop being out there.”

Truer words have never been spoken. The show was hitting a wall when the gang didn’t have any to protect them. Wandering around in a zombie apocalypse is a good thing, usually, in other projects, but THE WALKING DEAD had proven that trend wrong. Redundant plots and corny dialogue was making Jack a very dull boy.

Grade: D
Thank God for the suburban town of Alexandria, but last week Rick not only spoke too soon, he spoke way too much. And speaking of speaking… In the beginning of the series, Rick found out everything from a guy named Morgan Jones, who also shared to the audience that the world had gone to pot… And in the prologue, Mr. Exposition is back, unveiling the reason behind the forehead-W, and heading closer to the prime destination… Kind of like Bob Dylan catching up to the Beatles.

As for the fear of someone important or beloved dying… nothing to worry about, folks. Only two extremely lame ducks buy the farm (a poor man's Hershel and Governor moment). And the turnout of CONQUER is anything but. Most of the episode cuts back and forth from a bland meeting, where an absent Rick might be banished from the town, to a few things: Daryl and Aaron holed up inside a car with a hundred surrounding walkers (think Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro in CUJO); Father Gabriel having a hard time with the concept of self defense; a Glenn vs Nicolas QUIET MAN style fight in the great outdoors; and we're introduced to future villains, seeming like the bogus Hatfields to Daryl Dixon’s real McCoy.  

Not that this finale lacked action, but it felt like 30-minutes stretched into 90. A Super Bowl game with two touchdowns – by the same team. 

3/28/2015

SHOW GLOAT 3/15: SUPERMAN TO TERMINATOR CIRCA MONSTERPOLOOZA

Signed by all living cast except Gene Hackman, Terrence Stamp & Ned Beatty
DEAD KIDS aka STRANGE BEHAVIOR signed by Marc McClure... Severen Blu Ray Combo
Now out of print DVD of THE FAN signed by title character Michael Biehn
"On your feet, soldier!" TERMINATOR Blu Ray signed by Michael Biehn
God Bless Yaphet Kotto... Signed by The Man, who remembered our Interview years ago
92 IN THE SHADE obscure neo-noir lobby card signed by Margot Kidder
The first Criterion purchased by yours truly... SISTERS signed by Margot Kidder
Master of Zombies, George A. Romero signed in gold

3/26/2015

WILL FERRELL & KEVIN HART IN GET HARD

2015 rating: *1/2
The second pseudo remake for Kevin Hart this year. THE WEDDING RINGER has an extremely similar plot to I LOVE YOU MAN and 2007’s BIG STAN had Rob Schneider hiring David Carradine to teach him to fight before being sent to prison. Also, it’s the second time Hart provides a nerdy white dude his personal service: in this case it’s Will Ferrell’s millionaire James King, who needs to GET HARD for an upcoming stint behind bars. 

The Original GET HARD
After a TRADING PLACES style juxtaposed opening credit sequence showing the haves and have-nots of society, we learn that King's even more exaggerated than how rich people are usually portrayed: shallow, greedy and extremely vapid. Which doesn’t mean Kevin Hart’s car-washing Darnell is a genius, or even halfway cool or streetwise. His wife can read him like a book and smack him like a bitch. So when the ruse begins, and King, after being sentenced to ten years for corporate fraud, hires Darnell to teach him the ropes of prison survival, the truly funny stuff is supposed to begin...

Yet when the training ensues, HARD has already plunged into so many ponderous clichés and flat jokes… wasting Kevin's frantic motormouth delivery and Will's staple naïveté… the hopeful arc, of King going from wimp to badass, really doesn’t matter. Especially after the plot veers into an attempt to find the real culprits: both characters trying desperately to seal an envelope that had nothing inside to begin with.

3/25/2015

CHRISTOPHER REEVES IN SUPERMAN III

Reeves Vs Reeves in SUPERMAN III
Even at the time, when Richard Pryor was at the height of his cinematic glory, it seemed strange the comedic actor – who had turned in a few good serious roles along the way – would be part of the SUPERMAN franchise...

year: 1983 rating: ***
Before “Jump the Shark” was an iconic pop culture reference describing when a thing goes downhill, it seemed the Caped Crusader franchise had surely crossed the line... The main poster, with a flying Superman holding a befuddled Pryor, as a clumsy computer programmer named Gus, looked very odd indeed...

And yet, despite a few extremely far fetched (and impossible) situations: like Gus going from jobless drifter to computer genius without any formal training… or when he falls from a skyscraper and lands on the street, more than fifty stories below, completely unharmed… SUPERMAN III is, like someone from OFFICE SPACE pointed out, quite underrated.

After a rushed and pointless cameo, Margot Kidder’s Lois Lane is sent off somewhere, probably because the troubled actress wasn’t in the right condition to play the super hero's ingénue (she did co-star with Pryor in SOME KIND OF HERO the year earlier). That doesn’t matter because Annette O'Toole’s Lana Lang, who was Clark’s crush in high school, makes for a lovely love interest. A side-plot where Clark returns to Smallville for a class reunion holds the most involving scenes, giving Christopher Reeve ample opportunities to show Kent's sweet and clumsy side.

O'Toole's Lana Lang
Popular high school jock turned afternoon boozer Brad, played by HAPPY DAYS first Chuck Cunningham, Gavan O'Herlihy, is a great addition to the cast...

He's the person responsible for allowing Gus, who, after embezzling from a giant computer corporation using a half-cent scam and then turning into a useful idiot, is sent to Smallville to literally change the weather, allowing main baddie Robert Vaughan to try… that’s right… taking over the world. But in this case the villain's more of a capitalist gentleman than maniacal lunatic: Although he and Gus aren’t the antagonists who really matter…

Alternate Artwork
The first half plays out like the kind of comedy adventure director Richard Lester, finally getting the chance to complete an entire SUPERMAN film on his own (having taking over from a fired Richard Donner in part II), is suited for: The opening hijinx involving rogue penguin toys causing havoc in a busy street is as slapstick as you get, pushing the limit even for a comic adaptation.

But the best scenes have Clark Kent, after touching a rock of partial Kryptonite, turning into a cunning, spiteful, boozing, manipulatively troublesome instigator (i.e. a human being) and eventually morphing into Superman's double.

The junkyard battle between good Clark and bad Superman is quite a spectacle, allowing Christopher Reeves a chance to show his talents in double-time (and this is the first movie he actually headlines in the opening credits). And as Pryor’s Gus seeps into the background it’s all about the Man of Steel battling his own replica/demon – an initially silly film turning downright menacing before our very eyes.
"Gimme a shot of whiskey, hold the kryptonite."

3/24/2015

A WEEK-OLD TV SERIES PILOT REVIEW OF iZOMBIE

Title: iZOMBIE
Rose McIver plays Liv Moore, with a name as ironic as ironical names get… She does Live More… After death, the ex-doctor, now a zombie, works in a morgue, feeding on brains after hours with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD playing on a loop; although WARM BODIES would really fit since the same concept of the brain giving insight into the former owner is the basis of the plotline... Only now, insights are clues and crimes are solved... Think of iZOMBIE as NIGHT OF THE WARM QUINCY.

Year: 2015 Grade: B+
So it's not such an original concept in that particular regard... The rushed fashion they skip past the how, when and why felt a bit awkward… And Liv’s workmate, who figures her secret within the first fifteen minutes, is annoying… But when unlucky vice turned homicide detective Clive Babineaux and Liv partner up – he thinks she's a psychic, not a braineater – everything clicks.

Rose McIver is extremely cute even with a powdery white face: a narcissistic Goth chick with an excuse. And in the cop role, Malcolm Goodwin is vulnerable enough to need a partner; tough enough to seem legit; and insecure enough as a cop that needs help at a job he’s mediocre at in the first place. 

Constructed by expository squares liken to a comic book, befitting the graphic novel origin, and moving in a brisk, modern pace through narration, one particular standout visual has Liv peaking into her ex fiancé's house while he plays a video game with his new girlfriend involving, of all things, killing zombies: A creatively heartbreaking moment for our revived starlet, whose death is only the beginning of her problems… Let’s just hope the show keeps as fresh as the pilot, and doesn’t start rotting from within. So far so good. And while catered to youngsters, there's a old soul lurking beneath its millennial flesh. 

BETTER CALL SAUL SCRAWL: EPISODE 108 RICO

Episode 108 RICO
Now we really get to see Jimmy McGill being a lawyer aka defender of the people, and, it seems, without any angles...

Grade C+
But an important connection occurs as his older, once successful lawyer brother Chuck, still ill but getting slightly better, teams for a case against a franchised old folks home overcharging their residents, who are Jimmy’s Elder Law clients…

Suspend disbelief as Jimmy starts piecing together piles of shredded documents… And yet it’s more realistic when Chuck actually pulls off the impossible jigsaw – being such an enigma, this extraordinary accomplishment seems more legitimate: Speaking of which, as Jimmy straightens out, Mike morphs into the crooked gun we knew in BREAKING BAD and, as a whole, like Sunday's WALKING DEAD, this BETTER CALL SAUL Episode 108: RICO is more of a bridge than a worthwhile crossing… Hinting at a possible cure for Chuck – but with such a vapid “disease” to begin with, who gives a flying...

3/23/2015

WALKING DEAD DIARIES: EPISODE TRY

TRY Grade: B–
The perfect woman’s husband Pete is a lot like Mr. Delbert Grady from THE SHINING. An extremely typical, oafish fellow until he showed his true self through piercing eyes and a demonic countenance, and he sure gave Rick one helluva fight. "I bet you thought it was gonna be easy?" 

Dull to Deadly
Kind of a disappointment, actually, this wife and child abuse storyline, taking away Rick’s moral ambiguity. Having a legit reason to kill Pete blunted a cool sinister edge Rick had going there. It was a good fight though, seemed real and intense, surpassing the mega zombie slaughter Michonne and Sasha (and the other woman who means nothing), playing out like a video game. But if TRY belonged to any one character in particular it’s Carl with his new gal. Two little love birds sitting… or rather, standing in a tree. Z-O-M-B-I-E… (This deliberately bad joke's premise was written before the TALKING DEAD host quipped it to Chandler Riggs). It’s nice the kid can finally grow up in a somewhat normal fashion with a "crush" that doesn't involve a squishy skull, and his acting has improved since the awkward stage, when he morphed from a spooked little tyke into a young Clint Eastwood; sorry but the badass dialogue just didn’t wash during that transition.

The entire episode was decent, merely existing to bridge the season finale next week where Rick, of all people, may be banished from the town of Alexandria. Well in history, they fired Winston Churchill after the immanent threat was gone... And previously on this show, Carol survived her own time-out... So, we'll see...

3/22/2015

INSURGENT: THE DIVERGENT SERIES

year: 2015 Grade: C–
Alfred Hitchcock thought up the term McGuffin to reference an important plot device that moves a story, and that the audience doesn’t care about. In suspense films it can be a microchip. The hero must either find it or hide it while the bad guys want it or have it. And in this case, the McGuffin is everything.

For those who hardly remember DIVERGENT, which came out last year but seems several years old given all the teenage Dystopic future tales including THE MAZE RUNNER and all the HUNGER GAMES, here's a quick summary: A controlled society is broken up into groups aka fractions embodying those with brains and those with muscle and wits… Meanwhile, a Divergent is an extremely rare case, tapping into all the elements… Kind of like, Jedis or something...

"The series isn't so spectacular now."
Enter Shailene Woodley’s Katniss… Or Kris, rather, who had joined the more militarized group even though she’s got more brains than brawn, making up the underdog arc of the first venture. And so, having met a band of soon-to-be revolutionaries including a chiseled, hard-nosed guy named Four, now her love interest, she’s seeking the film’s McGuffin: a magical box her parents were hiding that unlocks something very, very special indeed.

Starting out with a barrage of terrific action sequences including a fight on a fast-moving train, we’re given this storm only because of the long, tedious calm that follows: involving Kris hooked up to a dream machine called a “Sim” for Simulator that helps villainous Jeanine, played by TITANIC starlet Kate Winslet, look into her powers, or to discover if she has any powers… or something.

Alas, much of the film involves dreams or simulations from said machine, and with so much expository information benefiting readers of the books over anyone needing to be reminded of the last (first) venture, INSURGENT isn’t even entertaining enough for a cable television series, which this franchise may be more suited for. OVERALL RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith

3/20/2015

SEAN PENN STARRING IN THE GUNMAN

year: 2015 rating: **
Seems odd Sean Penn would want to go high-octane mainstream on us. Or that the TAKEN director would gamble this particularly risky leading man in a weekend action thriller. But the opening credits may shed some light on the matter since Penn co-scripted (based on a novel) and produced THE GUNMAN… Could it be that Pierre Morel was Sean's personal choice to direct a familiar story about a resilient American professional, working overseas, turned straight and (most likely) hunted by the people he worked for?

To fit within Penn’s personal niche, there’s a backdrop of politics having to do with aiding an impoverished nation; idealist by day, killing machine by night. And yet Penn’s Terrier (not his dog, that’s his name) is only half into the job. One quick scene shows the titular assassin taking out a prime figurehead in the Congo, where his otherwise vicious heart genuinely bleeds for the cause and, most important, he has a beautiful local girlfriend, which makes it harder to vanish after the job's done – leading to an attempt on his life followed by several action sequences highlighting our man’s ability to get out of any painted corner.

Steamy bedroom sequences exploit Penn’s muscular build, contrasting to a thoroughly aged, map-lined face with enough visible mileage for the gritty occupation to seem believable, and his former cohorts... lovably tough Ray Winstone aside... are so Capitalist-crooked and predictably double-crossing, it’s no wonder he wanted out in the first place. But the big problem is: we never venture far enough into that much-discussed sordid past for the desperation of the present time to mean anything. OVERALL RANK: Jedi, Rebel, Droid, Sith.

3/18/2015

DISNEY PRESENTS LILY JAMES & CATE BLANCHETT IN CINDERELLA

Year: 2015 Grade: B–
By the time one of Cinderella’s stepsisters comes up with her nickname… Ella combined with the cinder dust from the attic where she resides… our pretty little heroine hadn’t gone through the mill; she never really does. And this entire live-action adaptation of CINDERELLA plays it sweet and gentle for the famously abused title character.

While not given MALEFICENT treatment wherein the antagonist is turned sympathetic, the wicked Stepmother, played by Cate Blanchett, doesn't completely sink her venomous teeth into the matter. A negative description of an actor or actress going overboard is referred to as “chewing the scenery." But in this case, the scenery needed chewing. 

Bathed in an opulent period-piece glow with lush countrysides and dreamy visuals, director Kenneth Branagh sums up the handsome prince falling for a "commoner" within one quick scene: the opposites bonding on horseback. And while both leads, Lily James and Richard Badden, share a kindhearted chemistry, and the attraction is completely believable, there’s never very much to lose for anyone, at any time.

A last-minute political deal struck between Stepmother and a conniving (tacked-on) middleman, aimed to see the Prince marry right, is ditched before Blanchett can play her cards. Meanwhile, the stepsisters are more bratty than vicious and formidable. Yet the family's interaction, including her real mom and dad, feels very genuine. In fact, during the superior first half, director Branagh establishes such earthy realism that the fantastical elements, like mice morphing into horses and a Fairy Godmother, don't fit like they should in a CINDERELLA adaptation.  

3/17/2015

BETTER CALL SAUL SCRAWL: EPISODE 107 BINGO AKA TEAM KETTLEMAN

Episode 107: BINGO Grade: B
In Episode 107 titled BINGO, Jimmy McGill goes up against who is arguably his most complicated foe: The Kettlemans, an upper class suburban couple who provided the first ouch moment when that bigger better law firm stole 'em away…

After which Jimmy nabbed the pair with a bag of loot in the woods... A piece of which got his own business rolling. So now, Team Kettleman has their collective back against the wall, and, meeting at the same diner, they need Jimmy's services the way he once needed their business: desperately.

Julie Ann Emery as Betsy
Accused of embezzlement, the sneaky duo represent the kind of plastic phonies Jimmy can’t stand. As characters, while bordering on caucasian-cliché, even compared to as "Ned and Maude Flanders", actress Julie Ann Emery, as the steely wife, Betsy, plays the role with a cunning, shady, sophisticated reserve...

One quick glance can render the already-weak husband useless while her catty chatter gave a defensive Rhea Seehorn's Kim Wexler more purpose than she's had thus far, and provides Jimmy his biggest challenge, even more than the psychotic drug dealers that, in the first two ventures, seemed more like a contrived BREAKING BAD rehash than what holds the most potential for a sneaky lawyer's climb: the world of the rich and idyllically crooked.
Catch BETTER CALL SAUL on AMC 10pm Mondays... And Long Live The Kettlemans

3/15/2015

WALKING DEAD DIARIES: SEASON FIVE EPISODE SPEND

SPEND Grade: B
Noah’s arc, if you pardon the pun, wasn’t very involving. He helped Beth out of trouble but she bought the farm either way. After which, he didn’t have much input on THE WALKING DEAD. As happens, certain characters, especially when one or two are solely centered on, become mere wallpaper. And tonight, wallpaper got painted over… Including pretty boy PARTY OF FIVE, the gung ho son of Deanna – no loss there. 

The zombies must have had a union meeting before this show. More screen time, more importance – and most of the episode deals with The Dead inside a dark warehouse: flashlights piercing darkness in a strategic location harboring important power grid adapters (or something) for the town of Alexandria.

It felt very much like an intense mid-section of a no-holds-barred cop show, or the climax of an action movie. Not much serialized melodrama except one conversation with Rick and… the husband of that really pretty girl Rick has his eyes on… that’s for next week. Oh and Carol had another talk with Cookie Boy, her bitch. And Abraham got a promotion as head of construction. Now that shoe fits.

But tonight’s SPEND spent its time with frantic action: A gray-hued barrage of edgy pandemonium. Especially important is Eugene, the cowardly lion who once held a bogus answer to cure the “disease” in Washington D.C., where they're existing now. And did anyone ever trust Father Marvin Hagler in the first place? The whiny preacher previously holed-up in the rural church house is… well not exactly a traitor; but he doesn’t have nice things to say about our heroes... That they're basically, to quote the Bible... No, let's quote David Lee Roth... "Runnin' with the Devil." Then again, in a Zombie Apocalypse – perhaps that’s the only side left.

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