All posts filed under: DVD Reviews

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DVD REVIEW: THE STRAY CATS, “Live At Rockpalast 1983/Loreley Open Air & 1981 Cologne”

The Stray Cats were born of the punk era, but with their obvious skills, it was evident from their love of pure rock & roll that  rockabilly would be their driving force. Guitarist/vocalist Brian Setzer, Lee “Rocker” Drucker on standup bass and Jim “Slim Jim Phanton” McDonald took their revivalist style to England from their native Long Island and slowly re-set the world on fire. Thirty-plus years after their initial launch and success, this 2-DVD set reminds you what a great combo the Cats were. Live at Rockpalast brings together footage from two German shows, the first from Cologne in 1981 and the second at the Loreley in 1983. The look and sound of both performances are terrific – it’s a great statement of a band’s beginning and then explosion on the international stage in a short, two-year span. The 1981 show is a band flushed with the drive and excitement to buck against everything happening at the time while the 1983 show shows the band during the frenzy of their now-international success. These are …

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DVD REVIEW: Warner Bros., “Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces”

In this day and age, it’s near impossible to explain the beauty, brilliance and sheer joy of having grown up watching (and subsequently never forgetting) Warner Bros. masterful “Looney Tunes”/”Merrie Melodies” cartoons.  The genius of the writers, animators and voice artists – most notably, the incredible Mel Blanc – gave us for all time the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Foghorn Leghorn and so on.  Whether it was the subversive humor, the slapstick madness or the downright bawdiness of it all, Warner Bros. cartoon characters knew how to make us all laugh – and they also taught us a lot of songs.  If you think about it, for many, these cartoons were our introduction to jazz, opera, classical music – and none of us knew why. And now the good people at Warner Bros. Home Entertainment are bringing some of Looney Tunes’ most memorable musical cartoon favorites together – for the first time in one collection, with the release of Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces. This must-have compilation has 18 classic theatrical shorts …

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DVD REVIEW: “Rye Coalition – The Story Of The Hard Luck 5”

It’s a sadly familiar story:  a hard-working band performs works their way to a major label deal only to have the rug pulled out from under them and…  nothing.  It’s been told so many time.  Rye Coalition, who hail from Jersey City, New Jersey were all friends from an early age when they decided to form a band.  These five teens starting playing anywhere and everywhere they could on the strength of a demo cassette (remember those?).  Never earning enough money to constitute a living wage, they nonetheless toured relentlessly, released several independent singles and albums (culminating with On Tap, produced by Steve Albini) and built a loyally rabid following.  At a point when spirits were starting to fray, they wind up getting an opening spot with Queens Of The Stone Age.  This leads to a contract with Dreamworks Records and Dave Grohl signs on to be their producer.  The culmination of everything this band has worked for comes to…  nothing.  In typical music business shenanigans, Dreamworks is bought out and dissolved by Universal and …

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DVD REVIEW: “Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 25 Years Of Punk Politics In Action”

VERY interesting and intriguing historic look at the Positive Force organization, which began in Nevada, but has thrived and stayed the course in Washington D.C. from 1985 onward.  Led by D.C. co-founder Mark Andersen, Positive Force ran parallel to the socially conscious punk movement (the majority of bands recorded for Dischord Records), which by 1985 had begun to widen its spectrum and become, itself, more politicized.  The rawness of the punk anger and ethos began to be pointing toward constructivity, rather than negativity and destruction, and found itself moving in a socially, morally and politically upward (and left-leaning) direction.  As seen in the documentary from director Robin Bell, Positive Force acts upon its words with deeds – from delivering groceries to those in need (especially the elderly) to holding benefit concerts to raise money for various causes, to orchestrating protests. This documentary is filled with news footage and interviews from the participants themselves – D.C. founder/director Mark Andersen, Dischord’s Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl from Scream, Jenny Toomey from Simple Machines and Positive Force and so …

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DVD Review: “Magic in the Moonlight,” Woody Allen’s Lives Up to its Name

Berlin, 1928. Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a renowned magician working under the guise of Wei Ling Soo. He marvels audiences by making elephants vanish on stage, cutting women in half, and performing a trick in which he enters a box, disappears, and then rematerializes in a chair ten feet away. But there’s no magic involved here; there is logic behind everything Stanley does and if pressed, he can answer how he pulls off each trick. You see, Stanley doesn’t believe in magic, or God, or even true love. Much to the chagrin of his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), Stanley is a cynic. One evening, Howard (Simon McBurney), Stanley’s oldest friend, visits the illusionist. Howard was hired by American socialites, George and Caroline (Jeremy Shamos and Erica Leerhsen), to debunk the clairvoyant powers of a woman named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has taken Caroline’s brother, Brice (Hamish Linklater) and mother (Jacki Weaver) under her spell. Brice is so smitten he wants to marry Sophie. Caroline is concerned for her brother’s well being, as …

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DVD REVIEW: R.E.M., “R.E.M. By MTV” (6 disc set)

It’s already three years since Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe officially announced the end of R.E.M. as a band (after a 30-year run as a recording unit and 14 years after drummer Bill Berry had left the group) but yet, it doesn’t feel like they’ve ceased to exist at all.  We’ve seen the 25th anniversary releases of Document and Green; Peter Buck’s two solo albums and the sanctioned issuing of the band’s performances on MTV’s “Unplugged” as a 2-disc set.  And there is still more to come. For the moment, MTV, in conjunction with Rhino, have now culled their archives to deliver R.E.M. By MTV, a six DVD collection, which includes most of R.E.M.’s appearances on MTV and MTV-aligned programs (at this point in time, shows owned by Viacom/CBS, such as the band’s appearance on “The Colbert Report” and Nickelodeon’s “Livewire”, are part of the package).  There are 6 live concerts, VMA appearances – both in the United States and Europe – and “classic” programs such as “I.R.S.’s The Cutting Edge” and the …

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DVD, LP & CD REVIEW: Big Star, “Big Star Live In Memphis”

As I did with the recent re-issues of #1 Record and Radio City, I went into listening and watching Big Star Live In Memphis with open mind and fresh ears, especially since I’ve never seen a full-length performance of the band.  The 1993 release, Columbia – Live At Missouri University 4/25/93 is almost a table setter for this, but that was their first show with the new line-up (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies – who would be with the band until Chilton’s death in 2010), so I discount it.  This show, filmed and recorded at the New Daisy Theatre in the band’s hometown of Memphis, is a different affair – over a year later; they’re much tighter, confident and conveying a power in their playing and singing, especially those glorious harmonies. Filmed by a friend of Chilton’s, Danny Graflund, the 20-song (19 songs on the DVD) set is a joy.  Even if you’re not a great fan of Big Star, you have to appreciate the guitar mastery of Chilton and the interplay …

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DVD REVIEW: “Looking For Johnny – The Legend of Johnny Thunders”

As unusual as it is to think of a hardcore heroin addict as a “legend”, that word is truly applicable to the one and only Johnny Thunders, guitarist with The New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers.  Thunders is a myth, a ghost, a story, a hero, a villain and a tragic superstar who never made it big but was and, 23 years after his death, still is larger than life.  Looking For Johnny – The Legend of Johnny Thunders helps shed a broader light on that still-beloved myth. This documentary traces Thunders’ (John Genzale) early years in Queens, New York; his pain of growing up without a father and being bitten by the rock & roll bug after being a skilled baseball player as a teen.  His joining up with the band that became the New York Dolls sealed his reputation; upon their split in 1975, his forming the Heartbreakers with ex-Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan sealed his legend.  There are many testimonials and recollections by friends such as the Dolls’ Syl Sylvain; Walter Lure of …

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DVD REVIEW: “B.B. King: The Life Of Riley”

What can one say about Riley King, better known and loved by the world as B.B. King, one of the greatest blues guitarists ever, that hasn’t been said a million times before without sounding insincere or hackneyed?  Not much, frankly.  He’s a legend and an American treasure.  He’s 89 years old now and not in the best of health, but he is as beloved as ever and will always be looked upon with respect, admiration and pure love by all. This excellent documentary, filmed over a two year span by Jon Brewer, is fascinating, riveting and interesting for its detail; archival footage and stories abound.  From his youth as an orphan in the cottonfields of Mississippi to his earliest days on WDIA in Memphis (complete with a glimpse of the late Rufus Thomas doing his radio show) to the Civil Rights era to the endless guest tributes and testimonials.  Watching B.B. King doing his thing with Lucille (his trademark Gibson guitar) is, as it ever was, a joy to behold.  Seeing the footage from his …

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DVD Review: “Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson: Thick As A Brick Live In Iceland”

When it comes to the long line of albums Jethro Tull, and by parentage Ian Anderson, have released since the late 1960’s one of the thorniest had to be Thick As a Brick. Coming off the career-redefining Aqualung, TaaB (for short) was both a pat on the back and a big middle finger to the world of progressive rock. It was one single song split in two owing to the constraints of the vinyl record format. It moves, as music, in very non-traditional ways and as an “epic” it defies the common tropes of just being ten tunes smashed together. It was “written” by “Gerald Bostock,” a precocious young lad with a bit of an attitude. The character of Bostock would become the mask Anderson occasionally slipped behind to make comments on the world he felt were too blunt, but wisely, it was confined to that one album. That is until Thick As A Brick 2 appeared in 2012. Never one to be predictable, Anderson didn’t become Bostock to write in a guise. Instead, the …

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DVD Review: “Young and Beautiful” is a Star Making Performance by Marine Vacth

French filmmaker Francois Ozon’s work has included directing many of the finest actresses in Europe, including Emmanuelle Beart, Fanny Ardent, Catherine Deneuve, Kristin Scott Thomas, Isabelle Huppert and Charlote Rambling. He has guided these women to thoughtful and provocative performances in such films as 8 Women and Swimming Pool. To that list of engaging films he can add Young and Beautiful. In it, Marine Vacth delivers a masterful portrayal of a teenage girl exploring her sexuality and dealing with the consequences or her secret life. The film is available now on DVD. Broken into fours acts, the film opens in “Summer,” where we meet Isabelle (Vacth), celebrating her 17th birthday with her mother (Geraldine Pailhas), brother (Fantin Ravat) and stepfather (Frederic Pierrot) at their summer rental in the south of France. As the season winds down, Isabelle loses her virginity to a German boy and it fails to meet her expectations. Perhaps hoping for a romantic, orgasmic moment, she instead receives discomfort and pebbles on her back. The experience leaves Isabelle withdrawn and moody. As …

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DVD REVIEW: Devo, “The Men Who Make The Music”

Do I REALLY need to spell out the importance of Akron, Ohio’s finest, the one and only DEVO?  Forget it; I won’t.  You should know.  And if you don’t, there’s a lot you can learn on your own.  This band – this art collective – this group of revolutionaries – burst on to the music scene in 1978 and has never left the American consciousness (they sure haven’t left mine).  From the moment I saw them on Saturday Night Live for their now-legendary debut, I was immediately hooked.  The impression Devo left, not just musically, but visually left a mark on many, many of us.  And while, sadly, two of the original Spud Boys are now gone (drummer Alan Myers and guitarist/keyboardist Bob Casale (Bob 2)), this video compilation is a wonderful reminder of what the band created. This disc contains two items – The Men Who Make The Music, which is the classic Devo compilation, comprised of bits from “The Truth About Deevolution”, their earliest promotional clips (the pre-cursor to “videos”) and early live …

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DVD REVIEW: Suzanne Vega, “Live Solitude Standing”

Suzanne Vega has always been a delight in my musical life; I can’t pretend that I haven’t loved her from the moment I heard “Marlena On The Wall”.  She is a gifted writer, singer, musician, artist.  Her 1987 album Solitude Standing put her center stage with the monster hit, “Luka” and since then, her career has spanned different musical explorations – always interesting, albeit not always a commercial success. This DVD, shot in 2003, has Ms. Vega performing some of her best known songs in a dramatic setting – namely Rome.  Even more interesting, she has an array of her poems (if you don’t know, Ms. Vega’s always written poetry) being read and translated into Italian on stage by fellow musician Valerio Piccolo.  It should be noted that there is a conversation between the two musicians in one of the extras. Nonetheless, the performance starts in splendid fashion with the aforementioned “Marlena On The Wall”; early highlights are “Small Blue Thing”, “When Heroes Go Down” and “Left Of Center” – possibly my favorite of this …

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DVD REVIEW: “Every Everything: The Music, Life & Times of Grant Hart”

Gorman Bechard’s What Were We Thinking Films delivers one of the most riveting, interesting, informative and entertaining films I’ve seen in a while.   Every Everything:  The Music, Live & Times of Grant Hart is just that – it is the story of Grant Hart, the drummer/singer/songwriter for Husker Du; later guitarist/singer/songwriter for Nova Mob, solo recording musician and graphic artist.  What makes this movie so compelling is that it is told in Grant Hart’s words by Mr. Hart alone.  With the exception of a lone voice asking the occasional question for the sake of clarification, no one else appears in this film – it is all Grant Hart, for the entire length.  And at no time does it become tiring or dull. Mr. Hart is a fascinating subject; he is interesting, opinionated, diplomatic, engaging, charming, funny – I’m certain there are more phrases to use.  For what I consider the first time, I (and anyone who watches this) gets an insight into a man – an artist – who has never been given the proper …

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DVD REVIEW: “Punk In Africa”

Punk In Africa is a surprise to me.  First, because it is a concept I did not know existed – for someone who had lived the punk-rock life or worshiped at its altar from inception, this is unacceptable that I had no idea.  Second, because I would not have guessed that in such a racially/culturally/socially divided place such as South Africa (where the majority of this is based) that something as free-thinking, politically charged and provocative as punk could ever be allowed to seep in, let alone have bands take seed and grow.  However, filmmakers Keith Jones and Deon Maas have given me an education on the punk scene that, indeed, rose in the late ’70’s in South Africa. Bands such as Wild Youth and Power Age were amongst the first to question the long-standing Afrikaaner way or to disavow it completely; many of the songs were diatribes against the machinations of apartheid.  However, there did not seem to be a great deal of continuity in the punk scene as the movie shifts from the …

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DVD Review: “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints”

The use of “Powerhouse Cast” is generally reserved for all-star movie productions featuring Academy Award winners like Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, George Clooney and Matt Damon. I don’t think anyone tosses around that term for indie films that barely get a release outside the major markets. But I’d like to declare that Ain’t Them Bodies Saints does have a powerhouse cast, considering it features Academy Award nominees Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara, Tony nominated actor Keith Carradine, and Ben Foster, whose career has sparked award talk, especially for his performances in 3:10 to Yuma and The Messenger. This ethereal motion picture, written and directed by rising filmmaker, David Lowery, will move you to tears, as it explores love in all its conditions and introduces characters that stay with you after the movie is over. Set against the backdrop of 1970s Texas, Affleck and Mooney star as doomed lovers, Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie. Lowery does something wonderful by introducing us to the characters midway through a lovers quarrel. We meet Bob and Ruth as characters …

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DVD REVIEW: “Oil City Confidential”

FINALLY…  the story of England’s Dr. Feelgood – the seminal pub-rock band who were the crucial bridge to the beginnings of punk rock – is finally available in the United States.  The last of a trilogy from film maker Julien Temple, it is a thoughtful, detailed and highly entertaining documentary, told in the surviving members’ own words (lead singer Lee Brilleaux died back in 1994; guitarist/songwriter/driving force Wilko Johnson is terminally ill and his replacement, guitarist Gypie Mayo passed away just a few weeks ago).  The details are vivid; the laughs are many – a story that goes beyond just the formation and rise of a band, including film footage of political/social protests during Shell Oil’s move into Canvey Island in the early 1970’s and a brief speech of outrage by protester Wilko Johnson. Dr. Feelgood’s rise was slow and steady and they were, for a brief time, the #1 band in England – exemplified by their Number One 1976 album, Stupidity.  In the United States, they were little more than a cult band, having …