Friday, April 22, 2016

More Prince, and Coast to Coast AM

I was numb all day yesterday. I just couldn't believe it was true. I did my duty though. I wrote about it here, and I wrote about it on Biff Bam Pop! right here, and even did a short episode of The GAR! Podcast on it found here and here. I had to leave the South Jersey Writers' Group's Open House last night early because I was just worn out, and who knows, just maybe a bit depressed as well. When I got home, MTV was playing Prince videos, and then Purple Rain, still I was devastated, but unfeeling really. But it didn't really hit me that Prince was gone, until I was in bed listening to my nighttime nemesis Coast to Coast AM.

I had tuned in to the later half of the program, which sometimes, if we're lucky, will have some content of what Coast to Coast AM used to be known for. Otherwise it's typical radio drivel, the same old same old. Coast used to be unique, now for the most part, it's boring. But every once in a while, we old fans will get a scrap of what used to be. The guest last night was rock historian R. Gary Patterson. And of course the king of no-research, host George Noory.

Now I don't blame Patterson for saying it was Vanity was in Purple Rain instead of Apollonia, that's an easy mistake, especially for someone who admittedly had only a passing knowledge of Prince. He was a bit after the man's time, and Patterson does know his stuff when it comes to older rock stars and their mysterious deaths - I bow to him in that area.

It was George that infuriated. I can understand if he didn't do any show prep. Noory never does any show prep, no matter what he says. He comes in to interviews as empty-headed as he leaves, as if his mind was a sieve. Perhaps that's why details of Prince's life, that had to have been all over the news all freaking day, somehow eluded him. Yeah, he asked all the stupid questions that that seemingly unique person who had never heard of Prince would ask.

I was embarrassed for the guest, I was angry at Noory, and that's when it hit me, that's when the tears came. We've lost Prince, as surely as we've lost Coast to Coast AM, and David Bowie… Prince is gone. And when people stop talking, and when the radio and TV stop playing, he will still be gone. And, anger at a lousy dying radio show aside, I will still be mourning.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

RIP Prince

This is devastating. Everyone has those artists who they love, that whenever they come out with an album or any project, you simply, blindly, faithfully just buy without having heard it - because you know it's going to be great. This year, barely five months in, I have lost two of them. David Bowie, and now Prince. It's no longer a joke or a meme, 2016 has truly been a soul crusher for music.

I first discovered Prince waaay back in late 1981 or early 1982, the first time I heard the song "Controversy," on WYSP in Philadelphia, a mainstream rock station. That's one of the things I loved about Prince, he crossed genres. To look at him, an African-American male with R&B airplay in his past getting time on a station that regularly pumped out AC/DC and Yes made an impression on me. Prince was something special.

I further explored his work by buying that album, loving it, and Dirty Mind, the one before it, and the two lesser liked ones that preceded them. Just because I didn't dig them as much, doesn't mean there weren't gems in there, or that I didn't respect the genius there. Anyway, by the time everyone else caught up when 1999 came out, I was already a life long fan. It may be hard for kids today to appreciate, but I played those cassettes so much, I wore them out, and had to buy new ones.

With each album, each fashion, each incarnation, and transformation (something else that Prince had in common with Bowie) I followed. I loved the man, I loved his music, his videos, his movies, his smirk, his sense of humor, his defiance. The man was fierce, and a fiery performer.

I'm still numb. I don't know what else to say. I love you, man. And I miss you already.

A slightly different version of this appears at Biff Bam Pop!. Please pop over there for more remembrances of Prince by the staff there.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Man Who Fell to Earth 1987

The Man Who Fell to Earth ~ I haven't seen the David Bowie version of this film in decades, so when I saw it on the schedule, I immediately DVRed it. At the time I didn't know there was any other version of The Man Who Fell to Earth, at least until I sat down to watch it. This is a 1987 television adaptation with Lewis Smith in the title role.

There are changes to the story, including oddly the characters' names, and of course the ugly updating that happens with any remake. Smith lacks the charisma of Bowie, yet brings it off well and is adequately believable. Look for Annie Potts and Beverly D'Angelo, as well as then-future "Star Trek" cast Wil Wheaton and Robert Picardo. I love Wheaton, but he's not good in this at all.

Once the memory of Bowie, and the original movie, can be removed, this flick isn't bad. It's not good either, mind you, but it's harmless viewing, a sometimes painful, sometimes amusing 1980s time capsule. All things considered, it's probably better than it should have been.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

A Million Ways to Die in the West

A Million Ways to Die in the West ~ Steven Spielberg once predicted the death of the superhero movie, saying it would soon go the way of the Western. This comes from the man who co-created Indiana Jones, a character that is essentially a superhero, lacking only a mask. It wasn't that he said it that bothered me, it was the derision with which he said it. Bad form, Mr. Spielberg.

I think it's a matter of quality not genre. Bad superhero movies may well go the way of bad Westerns, but good movies, no matter the genre, will last. When it comes to bad movies, only the really, really bad ones are remembered. Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, anyone? And we shall not even speak of Batman v Superman

They still make good Westerns, just sometimes they're in disguise. They wear the trappings of the South like Django Unchained, Japanese theatre like Bunraku, the post-apocalypse like Mad Max, or simple covered in dirt like "Deadwood." I left the remakes of True Grit and 3:10 to Yuma out because I didn't particularly like them, no matter how critically acclaimed they were.

And sometimes a good Western, like in the case of Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West, it's shrouded in shameless inappropriate humor. I would never have thought it before seeing it, but I loved this flick. Co-written, produced, and directed by MacFarlane, this movie has that old time Western feel, but with that raunchy fall down funny vibe of Blazing Saddles, and even has the dirty authenticity of "Deadwood."

From the start with the opening credits sequence, MacFarlane sets the stage for this film as a classic Western. Old fashioned titles matched with sweeping colorful scenery of the Old West, overlaid with the beautiful score of Joel McNeely, made for an opening that could have been swiped from a sixties John Ford epic. I watched it twice. That good.

Once it's over though, the trademark MacFarlane humor kicks in almost immediately. This is no Blazing Saddles but it's real close, and if you liked Ted or "Family Guy," you will love this. This movie is a gift for Western fans, and piss-your-pants funny for comedy fans. Recommended.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The Killing of Randy Webster

The Killing of Randy Webster ~ This one is another lost telemovie that I remember from my youth that I thought I would never find again. One thing that made it stand out to me was the soundtrack by April Wine, a band that I had liked back in the day. Hardly anyone remembers them now.

Though largely forgotten on the mainstream rock scene, the Canadian band April Wine is still active, and had more than a few hits way back when. Among them were the Dungeons & Dragons flavored Lorence Hud cover "Sign of the Gypsy Queen" and the power ballad "Just Between You and Me" as well as my personal favorites "All Over Town" and the cleverly titled "If You See Kay." There were others, and for a very very short time in the early eighties, April Wine, with its great rock logo, was hot.

The soundtrack was not the only thing that makes this film stand out. It's also one of the lost few not found on video or DVD with any reliability. Luckily it does run on some of the nostalgia networks and is also on YouTube. It also stars three actors - Jennifer Jason Leigh, Sean Penn, and Anthony Edwards - who would all appear again together a year later in Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

The Killing of Randy Webster, a true story based on a 1977 Shreveport LA murder of a teenager by a police officer, is actually quite relevant in this age of Ferguson and "Making a Murderer." What are the facts, and who really did what? Hal Holbrook stars as the teenager's father trying to get to the truth, through a Rashomon-like maze of contraindications and controversy. Also look for a younger thinner Dixie Carter as the mom.

The movie is painfully both a product of television movie of the week-ness and the 1970s, but that doesn't ruin what is a powerful story once it gets going. Later in the movie it becomes more a father's quest and a legal drama, with Holbrook getting the bulk of the emotional action.

I have to confess that The Killing of Randy Webster wasn't as good as I remember, but the concept and the music still hold up in my book. Worth seeing if you can find it.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Dinosaur Project

Warning up front, this is a found footage film, as I know some folks don't like them. Unfortunately the premise of the film is kind of ruined by the framing sequence, but it does a good job of making us forget we're watching a patchwork tale of a doomed expedition... most of the time.

At least the reason we get to see all this footage, especially when things go to hell, is plausible. The one thing I hate about found footage films (Blair Witch and Cloverfield, I'm talking to you) is that there's a point when you just drop the freaking camera and run. Circumstances overwhelm the need to continue filming. Some films like Chronicle and this one offer an explanation that works.

The premise is an expedition by a cryptozoologist team into the Congo to find the legendary Mokele Mbembe, a dinosaur believed to exist in the jungles there. When terrorist fire brings down their helicopter, the team, which includes a big time explorer and his precocious and estranged teenaged son, have to contend with - you guessed it - dinosaurs.

Richard Dillane, who I remember from a couple episodes of "Doctor Who," plays the explorer doing his best impression of Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant from the Jurassic Park movies right down to his difficulty with kids. The rest of the cast are adequate, as are the special effects and dinosaurs when we see them.

This wasn't a great movie but it wasn't bad either. I liked it and it was a good watch. Well worth watching.

Friday, April 08, 2016

Arrow S04 E18: Eleven-Fifty-Nine

So unfortunately we find out who's in the grave this episode and it's not pretty, and it's also not anyone I guessed. However, if one watches this episode carefully, it's pretty heavily telegraphed for good or ill. I hate losing this character, especially considering how long it took for me to warm to her...

Meanwhile, I have to apologize, folks, because I've been remiss in my reviews here. Apparently we have seen the idol beneath Flashback Island before. It's the same one that Damien Darhk has been drawing power from, the Khushu idol, as identified by Vixen. I loved, when Oliver went to tell the rest of the team about it - "there's something I haven't been honest with you about" - Thea answered, "Shocker!" Will Oliver ever learn?

And then there's the Diggle brothers comedy hour. Andy blabs the whole evil plan to John. I don't know whether he's the worst double agent in the world or the best. Either way he's either leading Team Arrow into a trap or being led into one himself. He most definitely was a diversion so Merlyn could steal the idol. Anyone else notice that Laurel and Thea seem to be sharing the sarcastic lines Felicity usually says? Our favorite blond hacker is missed.

So Oliver had a serious write-in vote even though he pulled out of the race? So does this mean if Ruve Adams comes to a tragic end, Oliver might still be installed as mayor? In the meantime, the mean lady wants Laurel to be her district attorney. An interesting offer accompanied by ominous almost Prokofievian Peter and the Wolf rift. Perhaps there's a reason Laurel is getting so much screen time lately?

When Merlyn brings the idol to Darhk in Iron Heights, the villain gives a bit of background on the relic, noting it/they were forged by the Homo Magi. They are a race of hidden magic using humans from which the powers of Zatara and Zatanna come. Does this Easter egg mean we might have a possible Zatanna appearance coming? I hope so, but the problem at hand is that the idol is useless with a missing piece, a piece Team Arrow is still holding.

Speaking of the Team, while Oliver tries his best to break them up, once again over trust with Diggle, there's something else going on here. Katie Cassidy's Laurel is getting a lot of attention. She's being offered a dream job, kicking ass with Thea, having heart to hearts with her father and with Oliver. This is more screen time than she's had all year. Something must be up.

This is unusual on "Arrow." There have been entire episodes where she's done or said very little, and a few where she was missing altogether. And considering that in the comics Black Canary is the most important character in the Green Arrow mythos next to Green Arrow, this just isn't right.

Maybe the showrunners just don't know what to do with Black Canary. As we learned from DC Comics themselves in their Crisis on Infinite Earths, what do you do with characters you don't know what to do with? Simple. You kill them. Yeah, just the opposite of what I have always believed - there are no bad characters, only bad writers.

Meanwhile at Iron Heights, Darhk, with a little help from his creepy colleague Murmur, is planning a coup, an uprising, a bloodbath born of chaos to power the idol. And it's into this inferno that Team Arrow goes, including the Black Canary. After a gauntlet of Murmur, Merlyn, dozens of escaped convicts, and yes, even Andy Diggle, Team Arrow fights its way to Darhk who now has the completed Khushu idol and his full power back again.

After tossing our heroes around for a bit, Darhk focuses on the Black Canary. He monologues about how he always keeps his word, and that he swore he would do something if Quentin Lance turned on him. He keeps his promise and plunges an arrow into the heroine. At first, later at the hospital, she seems to be fine, but after a suspicious moment alone with Oliver… she seizes and passes. I wonder though… what went on between Oliver and laurel in that last moment we weren't privy to? A drug to imitate death? A dark secret? Or just a red herring? I'm sure we will find out sooner or later…

Time of death: 11:59 PM.

Of course, it has to be considered that Laurel just isn't dead, or dead for good. This is comics after all, and worse (or better?) than that, it's "Arrow," and does anyone really stay dead on this show? There's always the Lazarus Pit, or maybe Team Arrow could rescue John Constantine from 'literal' Hell, and he could help. Or perhaps that Homo Magi name drop is yet another way back from the dead.

We do know that Katie Cassidy will be appearing as the Black Siren on an upcoming episode of "The Flash." One could assume this would be the Earth-Two (or Earth-Three, if you buy into my theory) version of Black Canary. Perhaps she'll move to this Earth. It's not like she would be the first Black Canary to switch Earths, or when you get right down to it, die...

Thursday, April 07, 2016

Lost Hits of the New Wave #41

"Blue Highway" by Billy Idol

There was a time in the mid-1980s when Billy Idol, despite his look and punk origins with Generation X (yeah, remember when it was a band and not a demographic?), was considered pop music and played to death on the radio and MTV.

Yeah, I loved "Rebel Yell" the first ten times I heard it, but man, the next thousand were downright painful. This song, "Blue Highway," got some minor play on radio and in the clubs, and was a nice change of pace. It still had the strong vocals of Billy and the screeching cool guitar of Steve Stevens, the vibe of "Rebel Yell," all without the overplay souring. It's almost like a new song.

"Blue Highway" has since become, and deservedly so, a staple on 1st Wave Classic Alternative Satellite Radio. And for the record, the above is not the real video, as the song had no video. The clips are from Billy's later album, Cyberpunk, also highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Jessica Jones S01 E05: AKA The Sandwich Saved Me

There is an interesting dichotomy in the life of Jessica Jones. As we open on our girl as a cubicle slave in a dreary desk job eighteen months ago we learn what that is. There's life before Kilgrave and there's life after Kilgrave, that's it. She was still sassy and sarcastic and smart as hell back then, but she wasn't apathetic, mean, paranoid, and in pain.

This is a world of difference. Jessica figuratively and literally trashes her job to join best friend Trish for happy hour. She is actually playful and fun when she teaches the perv a lesson. Believe it or not, Jessica was happy once.

My favorite part, of course, are the thinly veiled hints to Trish's possible future. Trish wants to save the world, and when Jessica suggests she put on a cape and do it herself, she exclaims without hesitation, "You know I would if I could!" Enough foreplay, how long do we have to wait for Patsy 'Hellcat' Walker to arrive??

Back to the present day, having determined that her junkie Malcolm is the Purple Man's unwilling spy, Jessica trails him. It's even suggested Kilgrave made him an addict. A visit to the park leads her to her prey, but just a glance at Kilgrave sends her frantically into her street naming mantra to combat her post-traumatic stress disorder.

I don't know whether it's my comics knowledge that Will Simpson is Nuke, or the fact that I don't even trust the character as portrayed here, but his involvement with Trish is bothersome. He feels like a wedge between the two, and neither Trish nor Jessica seem to be thinking straight when he's around. Could he still be in the Purple Man's thrall? And if not, why doesn't he have PTSD like Jessica?

Along with Trish and Will, Jessica has a plan to capture Kilgrave, but seeing how I don't trust Will, I don't trust the plan. There are times when he talks and acts like Nuke might. More tidbits of background fall through the cracks to us viewers, things like Trish, the highest paid child star ever, took Jessica in after her parents were killed. Hope is apparently in trouble in jail and asked for money from Jessica.

But the biggest treat was in flashback. After saving a little girl while dressed as a hoagie (yeah, thus the episode's title), Trish designs a costume and name for Jessica - Jewel. Yeah, it's the pre-Alias costume, looking pretty sad in live action reality. I would still like to see her wear it at least once though, just for kicks and giggles.

Just when the plan seems to be going so right, Kilgrave drugged, out, and being taken to the safe house, it all goes horribly horribly wrong. He has a tracker on him, and a security detail. He's not as dumb as our erstwhile heroes think. They might not have underestimated his power but they definitely underestimated his brains.

When Jessica tries to get a clue from Malcolm about Kilgrave, a horrible truth presents itself. She saved him once when she was trying to do the right thing, when she was trying to be a superhero (if not dress like one), and that's the night Kilgrave discovered her, and took her away as his prize... Serious props to Eka Darville who plays Malcolm here. He's terrific in this role, and previously has been in a number of projects varying from "Power Rangers" to "Spartacus."

Jessica determines to make/help Malcolm kick in the end, but Kilgrave has a demand. She does Malcolm's job, send him a photo of herself once a day, and Kilgrave will leave the addict alone. It's heart rending, but in a way, Jessica both wins and loses this round...

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Arrow S04 E17: Beacon of Hope

The Bug-Eyed Bandit is back, and if the news of the return of a lame villain revamped and made cool for television isn't enough to get you psyched about the episode, there's also Oliver reading Harry Potter and Donna misspelling 'break-up,' and that's just for starters. Get ready for Die Hard with bees.

There are a maddening amount of quick cuts in this episode, almost as if it was a Russell Mulcahy music video from the 1980s - frenetic, chaotic, and fast. Blink and you miss it. So the episode moves quicker than others but there's still a main thrust to the story. Brie Larvan AKA the Bug-Eyed Bandit hack-checked herself out of prison and wants one of those miracle do-hickeys that cured Felicity. The problem is that the only working one is at the bottom of her spine.

So Larvan has surrounded the PalmerTech building with robotic bees and is promising to pick off board members until she gets her way. Inside with Thea and her mom, Felicity tries to find a way out or to stop Larvan. How Donna hasn't caught on to what's really going on yet is beyond me.

Meanwhile as Oliver, Laurel, and what's his name, Diggle prepare to try to get in and help their friends. That's when Curtis decided to show how 'terrific' he is, and stumbles onto the Arrowcave. After some amazement that is usually saved for folks who just figured out the TARDIS is bigger on the inside on "Doctor Who," Curtis gets giddily right to work playing Felicity and helping the team get inside the building. It's about time we had some of that Flash joy on this show.

Just when the team gets close to getting into the building, the bees go all Voltron and turn into a 'bee man' who attacks Oliver. Luckily Curtis figures a way to use the Canary Cry to destroy the bees inside our hero. Dare I say it? Curtis is better at this than Felicity. But when he had to say aloud he spouts pop culture references when he's nervous, I had to frown at the bad writing. Show, don't tell.

Two 'beacon of hope' speeches, a confession of sympathy from Larvan, and a double cross later, the team tries to get inside again. Green Arrow and the bee man have an intense fight until Felicity, yeah, Felicity takes the bee man out. Back in the Arrowcave a bee has Quentin and Curtis on the run. Man, can Curtis jump. Are we ever going to see him suited up as Mr. Terrific?

In prison Darhk is making new friends, namely Murmur. At first he's a threat then Darhk gets leverage over Murmur and he becomes an ally. Bonus points if you recognized Monument Point as the Justice Society's most recent base of operations.

Back on Flashback Island, the idol's power is revealed. The more people Reiter kills, the more powerful he gets. Bulletproof is only the tip of the iceberg. If that's not bad enough, there's a traitor in the team's midst, and we're getting closer to finding out who's in that grave...

Monday, April 04, 2016

Arrow S04 E16: Broken Hearts

This couldn't have been happened better if it had been planned. Felicity comes to her senses last episode and kicks Oliver to the curb, so who shows up? Yeah, Cupid is back. And it's not even Valentine's Day.

Six minutes in I can see where we're headed. We have a featured villain with no link to current storylines, so essentially it's the Cupid filler episode with expansion for only the ongoing subplot. Oh, don't get me wrong, we'll be entertained by the mad archer's antics, but the juice this time is in the background. The mystery is deepening on Flashback Island, Damien Darhk is dodging his conviction, and Felicity - though broken up with Oliver - still wants to be an active part of Team Arrow. Hurm, I know guys who have quit their jobs to avoid exes.

Another old chestnut that works in the comics but not in real life is also mined this episode. I'm talking about superheroes testifying in court. Can you really trust someone in a mask, especially when they won't even tell you their real name. Damien Darhk says that's not his name and that he's a national from Markovia. Unfortunately the only people who can dispute that story have lots of secrets of their own to hide.

On Flashback Island, Reiter has found an ancient idol underground. Oliver and his Russian girlfriend steal the idol, and rush deeper into the caves. Unfortunately the only way out is back the way they came, through Reiter and his armed men. Push Oliver a little and you get results. Still in the caves, but now the good guys have guns too. But what is that idol?

If you didn't see this plot complication when it became obvious that Cupid was targeting celebrity newlywed couples, I don't know what to tell you. But yeah, Oliver and Felicity are going to get married to lure Cupid out. I bet Felicity regrets wanting to be part of the team now. A faux wedding is set up, with Felicity cautious and annoyed, but when Oliver reads his real vows, her heart melts, and she also ends up almost talking Cupid to death on the positivity of love. Awww...

Unfortunately, no matter what was said, the relationship is over and Ollicity is still broken. Quentin's testimony manages to keep Darhk in prison until trial, but he loses his badge and gun. And it looks like Darhk still has some power left... not good...

Next: The Bug-Eyed Bandit returns!