Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Music Haul (2008)

Note: This collection of reviews was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Deep Purple - Burn (1974)

I picked up Machine Head years ago when I was first starting my classic rock collection, because it's one of the pinnacle albums in classic rock history (four words: smoke on the water). Since then, I've picked up Made in Japan for the live angle, and The Very Best Of for a smattering of the non-Machine Head hits. Even so, I've been wanting to dig into some more actual Purple albums for awhile - and now I have.

Burn is the debut of Mk III of the band, featuring David Coverdale on vocals in place of Ian Gillan. Ritchie Blackmore is still on guitar and Jon Lord is still on the keyboards (and Ian Paice is still on the drums). The new bassist Glenn Hughes also serves as secondary vocalist, creating a pretty cool "two singers" effect on some of the songs. The standout tracks are the title track, Burn, which is every bit as good as the straight-up rocker that opens Machine Head (Highway Star), and Mistreated, a slow (for Deep Purple) bluesy number. Also, the track "A" 200 is an interesting synth piece, with an awesome guitar solo thrown in for the hell of it, and the bonus track Coronarias Redig, is an exciting jam. Altogether, I am really enjoying this album.

Dio - Metal Hits (1983-1994)

I think I remember being rather intimidated by Ronnie James Dio at one point - him being this "heavy metal" singer with scary-looking album covers. Somewhere along the way, I learned that he started out in a less-metal-and-more-rock band called Elf - named after Dio's short stature. So much for the intimidation factor. Well, I picked up the Elf albums, which are pretty good, and over time, Dio's voice has really grown on me. And I think it's a great voice for "metal".

I'd say Dio's material is, in a sense, comparable to Ozzy's solo career. Seeing as they're both classic well-known vocalists in the metal arena, and they both started out playing in popular bands before really making a name for themselves (in addition to the little-known Elf, Dio also made a splash in the band Rainbow which Ritchie Blackmore formed after leaving Deep Purple mid-'70s, and also sang for Black Sabbath around the turn of the '80s). And while I really liked Ozzy's voice in the original Black Sabbath, I think I'd have to say that Dio has the better metal voice.

As for the Metal Hits compilation, it's great to have Rainbow in the Dark and Holy Diver on CD, and I suspect I'll get to like the other tracks as I get to know them better, over time.

Roy Buchanan - You're Not Alone (1978)

You probably know that I'm a huge Roy Buchanan fan, even though I don't yet own very much of his material. Even so, I was uncertain of how good this album would turn out to be. From what I've read, Roy played around in a lot of places with a lot of bands before ever getting "noticed" (to the extent that he actually was noticed), and so he had been around before he ever started recording early in the '70s. Additionally, Buchanan seems to me to be the type that's more concerned with playing the guitar than writing songs. Which is actually one of the reasons I like him so much. But because of this, I've read that the people in the biz who wanted to get Roy some visibility had to resort to various musical stunts in the studio, without really knowing how to tap into Roy's style - which is self-evident on the live albums on which he appears.

So anyway, I wasn't sure what kind of experiment You're Not Alone would be, or how successful it would be, and frankly, knowing Roy's unique and versatile playing style, I wasn't quite sure what kind of an album it would be. On the other hand, that also made the experience of listening to it for the first time more exciting. And it was exciting. Turns out the album is almost completely instrumental - which earns an automatic thumbs up from me. Roy's never been much of a singer (something I can sympathize with), although when he does sing, his vocal delivery, though plain by vocalist standards, in my opinion, fits the kind of songs he sings perfectly - that is, slow, depressing blues. He doesn't belt out the emotion like a lot of great blues singers have been known to do, but when he sings, you can hear the depression in his voice, and it's just as effective.

Anyway, the album is awesome. It's like an instrumental soundscape, shaped by Roy's playing, with more atmospheric pieces and also some pretty good rockin' shuffles (including an awesome take on Joe Walsh's Turn To Stone). And the cover of Down By The River, here in studio version, is very good. It's similar but not the same as the live version I have - another thing about Roy that's great, he has a tendency to play the same song very differently at different times (take Roy's Bluz, where the two live versions I have are almost completely different songs). I'm very impressed with this album and my appreciation for Roy Buchanan has just jumped up another notch.

Harvey Mandel - Baby Batter (1971)

Speaking of instrumental albums, Baby Batter is also amazing. I've heard that Harvey Mandel has done some pretty experimental things, and in the opening track on Baby Batter, where a baby speaks the titular phrase (the only vocal utterance on the entire record), I was a little scared of how weird things were gonna get. But, rest assured, this album is pure Harvey Mandel as "The Snake" we've known from his previous albums. Fluid, slithering guitar lines over a groovy, at times almost jazzy, musical background.

With Harvey Mandel's stuff, songs don't really stand out from the overall musical experience, but it's an experience I really enjoy. The guitar work is tasty, and it's the kind of music that I can put on and just absorb as I do other things, and it makes me feel better, because it's like damn, great music like this actually exists? It doesn't impose itself, but it's more than happy to show-off if you choose to give it that attention. I just have to say, Harvey Mandel is amazing, and he too has jumped up another notch on my appreciation belt.

Joe Bonamassa - Live From Nowhere In Particular (2008)

This is a different sort of live album from 2001's A New Day Yesterday Live. Joe's come a long way in these short years, and he's managed to garner a pretty solid and totally loyal fanbase. And he deserves it. While this live album might not have as much raw energy as the earlier one, it's still a great album and features its own charms.

It seems that, since ditching Joe's original backing band - of the power trio variety - he's been more focused on the songwriting aspect than the rock band aspect. Although, to say that he doesn't still rock out would be completely wrong. But the kind of soundscapes he's crafting like on India/Mountain Time show a different sort of focus than hard blues rock - though no less impressive. Even Sloe Gin, an amazing song, and likely Joe's new showcase song, to replace A New Day Yesterday, is a different kind of bluesy rocker, with a bit more introversion and crying compared to Yesterday's extroverted screaming (of sorts).

If Heartaches Were Nickels, an emotional electric blues, was another of my favorite tracks on the earlier live album, and here, it makes a surprisingly acoustic appearance. Knowing my proclivity for electric music, I don't like it as much as the earlier version, but it is still quite interesting to hear the difference. The track that opens the live album, Bridge to Better Days, works as a great opener, though I think I like Takin' The Hit better as an opener (a la the Rockpalast DVD), after all. The Django/Just Got Paid jam alternates between the soundscape and hard rock approaches, finishing with the instrumental Dazed and Confused solo jam just like I heard Joe play the last time I saw him live - great to get this on a live album to listen to for years to come!

Coming to A New Day Yesterday, the track that closes the album - it's quite a bit different from the earlier version. You almost feel like Joe's only playing it because it's one the fans like to hear. It's still a fantastic song, but it doesn't have the raw energy it used to - and the Yes jam at the end of it has been extended since the short riffs Joe played at Rockpalast. You definitely get the feeling from this album that Joe is stretching out and really expanding his playing repertoire, not content to exist within the confining walls of "the blues". Although this isn't surprising, as Joe has from the beginning had a liberal approach to what the blues is and what the blues could be, but here you can really hear him exploring some alternate realms. It's very exciting, and I look forward to hearing what Joe's got in store for us in the future. I just hope he doesn't venture so far that he forgets that hard rocking edge that made me a fan of his in the first place.

Gary Moore & The Midnight Blues Band - Live At Montreux [DVD] (1990)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Silent Hill 4: The Room (PS2)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Having just beat Silent Hill 4: The Room for the first time, here are my general impressions. It helps to realize that the game was originally intended to be a spinoff of the Silent Hill series. This goes a long way in explaining why, though it definitely feels like a Silent Hill game, it has certain elements that veer from standard expectations of a Silent Hill game.

The game centers around The Room, which you, as Henry Townshend, are stuck in, since the door is chained shut (though from the inside). You travel to various "worlds" through mysterious holes that appear in the apartment, and it isn't clear if these are just dreams or reality or what. Interestingly, there's only one save point in the entire game, and it's in The Room (which despite being the "safe haven", starts to get pretty creepy later in the game as it gets more and more haunted). Since you're frequently coming back to The Room via holes that show up all over the alternate worlds you explore, there's still plenty of chances to save your game. Although, it does get kind of tiresome after awhile to go through the hole and back into the apartment every single time you want to save your game, or shuffle your inventory.

Which brings me to another innovation this game features. You can only carry a certain number of items at one time (ten or so). Everything else has to be stored in a chest in The Room. Early in the game, you get a notice warning you to travel light in that other world, or else you may regret it. Which is true, because you never know when you're gonna pick something new up, and you especially want to have space for the important things. Which means you can only carry so much health and ammo at once. It's not so bad, since there are holes leading back to the apartment pretty much everywhere, but it's still a pain after awhile to go all the way back through the hole every time you need to grab something or put something away.

The plot of the story is totally Silent Hill worthy, about a serial killer named Walter Sullivan who seems to be continuing his killing streak from beyond the grave. One thing I noticed in the game is the lack of boss fights. From what I can recall, there were two battles that could be considered boss fights, and one of them (the one that's not the final boss) was hardly even that. On the one hand, bosses scare the crap out of me, but honestly, the experience suffers a bit from not having them.

The other major difference about this game was the inclusion of ghosts and hauntings. There were still the usual Silent Hill demons roaming around, but this time there was a large emphasis on "ghosts", which, while definitely cool in concept, are incredibly annoying, considering that they can hurt you psychically, just by being close to you, and that they are effectively IMMORTAL! I hate enemies that I can't kill. There are certain items you can use: the Saint Medallions nullify the ghosts' psychic attacks; Holy Candles can be placed to kill off the ghosts (although they sometimes have a tendency to come back); and there are a few Swords of Obedience scattered about that you can use to pin a ghost down indefinitely. And these are all really cool gameplay elements, but the fact that there are only so many of these items, and the medallions break after a certain time of use, means that a lot of the ghosts you just have to run from.

Speaking of items breaking, let's talk about the weapons. This game is shy on the guns (providing only a pistol and revolver), choosing to focus more on the melee weapons, it seems. Some of these can break if used too much. Which, again, is interesting, but makes me hesitant to ever use them. Still, I wasn't too bothered by fighting my way through Hell with a steel pipe, axe, or even the Pickaxe of Despair (very powerful, but slow to use), pulling out the pistol for those hairier situations. Of course, there were always the immortal ghosts to bug me...

Oh yes, there's also the matter of the camera. Inside The Room, the game utilizes a first-person perspective, which just takes a little getting used to. It was pretty jarring at first though. Thankfully, the majority of the game (including the sections with combat), revert to the traditional third-person perspective, although the camera angle and movement (despite the fact that you can force it to just over your shoulder, good for combat) can be frustrating at times.

There are five main worlds throughout the game - subway, forest, building, apartment, and hospital. You actually end up going through each one twice (except hospital), and unfortunately, it gets a little tiresome towards the end. As for the Silent Hill "transformations" we've all become used to, there's much less of it here. You still get the same idea, contrasting The Room with the worlds, and especially in the apartment world, but there's less of a focus on that actual transformation, and going through one place in both worlds and marking the terrifying differences. Also, I found there to be, overall, less darkness in this game. Not to say that the game wasn't terribly creepy, but I think it's a little bit less creepy than the previous SH games, environment-wise.

Final game stats seem a little lighter (meaning that there's less of 'em that seem to count) than in previous SH games. My first time through, play time clocked in at just over 11 hours, with 62 saves (I've always been a heavy saver), and 633 kills (which I have reason to believe is a high number). I got the "bad" ending out of four possible. I want to try for the others, but the experience has left me a bit drained and I'm not sure I have the energy for it. My rank was a mediocre 5.5 stars.

At any rate, it was an enjoyable game. Creepy, too - definitely. Deviations from the expected formula may water down the Silent Hill experience slightly, but it's still generally a Silent Hill experience, and the innovations, for better or worse, were certainly interesting to try out. And you can't miss the storyline if you're a Silent Hill fan.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

AMC's Fearfest (2008)

Note: This collection of mini-reviews was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

This year's Monsterfest on AMC is shorter (if memory serves), with a worse lineup (where's my Hellraiser?!), and renamed to Fearfest. What's the tradeoff? We get a celebrity host in the form of Rob Zombie. Which is kinda neat, but I'd rather have more and better movies. Still, it's a whole week of horror titles, and there's bound to be something good in there. Following are some notes about some of the movies I've watched in the past week - mostly the ones I haven't seen before (though not exclusively).

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 (1985) - The first Nightmare on Elm Street movie is undeniably one of the great classics of the horror genre. This sequel, though unsurprisingly, doesn't hold a candle to the first installment. One thing it does have going for it, though, is the kickass rock music - which sounds great despite being very 80's.

Motel Hell (1980) - This movie was so great. The perfect combination of comedy and horror. It was funny without making fun of itself, and without killing the creepiness of the plot. The innocent motorcycle accident victim girl was very alluring throughout, and Farmer Vincent was delightfully demented. The climax involving a pig's head mask and a chainsaw duel was just totally outstanding. Two thumbs up.

Constantine (2005) - This is one I saw back in college a number of years ago. Really more of an action film featuring [supernatural] horror elements rather than a horror film, but entertaining just the same. I think I understood it a bit better this time through.

Panic Room (2002) - And this one's actually a thriller, not a horror. Jodie Foster and her daughter (her movie daughter, that is) hold out against three robbers looking to steal a fortune hidden in their house. Pretty tense, and overall an entertaining movie. Forest Whitaker plays very well the part of a bad guy who has enough morals to make you feel bad for him when things don't work out in the end. I liked it.

Pet Sematary Two (1992) - For once, a sequel that's actually pretty decent. Maybe even as good as the first. The Pet Sematary movies are so sick in that they play on that fear of children losing their pets, and then pervert it by adding a creepy zombie twist. Good stuff, though. I found the fat kid to be pretty easy to sympathize with, and the bully was just a real jackass. He totally has it coming when he gets done in later in the story...

House on Haunted Hill (1999) - Entertaining, and actually manages to sit outside the realm of crappy "no soul" remakes. This one claims to be "faithful" to the original, and while it's totally respectful to the original, and in no way "unfaithful", I just don't know if "faithful" is a word I'd use, since it adds this whole totally supernatural element to the story. Anyway, I love that the one actor totally pulls off the "Vincent Price" persona. It gives the film a whole 'nother layer of authenticity. Anyway, it's a fun ride, and who can say no to Ali Larter? Not I.

Return to House on Haunted Hill (2007) - Crap. Pure, utter crap. I couldn't even watch it. It's just got that whole sleazy, modern direct-to-video feel, meaning a crappy plot, with really crappy actors. Don't bother. (Still better than Pinata: Survival Island, though...)

Bordello of Blood (1996) - Taken for what it is (a Tales From The Crypt movie - and thus, not to be taken seriously), this was a rather entertaining flick about a vampire whorehouse hidden in the basement of a mortuary. Dennis Miller absolutely sells this movie, in the role of a witty private investigator. His quips are without a doubt the main feature (intended or not). By the way, watching another "tale from the crypt" reminds me how much I absolutely despise The Crypt Keeper. It's not just that his puns are absolutely terrible (which, let's face it, is true of most puns), or that you can see them coming from a mile away, but the way in which he hams them up so much just completely kills whatever impact they might otherwise have had... and his laugh is just so damn obnoxious! Moving on...

Jeepers Creepers (2001) - Wow, the first act of this movie is outstanding (by the way, note to Quentin Tarantino: the beginning scene in this movie is how casual chit-chat in a horror movie should be done). If only the rest of it stood up, this would be one of my favorites, but unfortunately the movie sort of descends into mediocre supernatural horror by the 1/3 mark or so. And that's ironic, because I usually say that I prefer a good supernatural monster flick to another run of the mill serial killer story. But this movie starts out as a really good serial killer movie, then drops to the level of a run-of-the-mill devil-on-the-loose story. Still worth seeing, though.

An American Werewolf in London (1981) - A classic of the werewolf subgenre, and, from what I can tell, frequently compared to The Howling, which I saw last year. I have to say, I much prefer the werewolves in The Howling - the ones in An American Werewolf look too much like bears, actually. But, the whole part in the moors, and the Slaughtered Lamb pub, is totally atmospheric and creepy. And the rest of the movie is pretty entertaining. I think I like The Howling better overall, but they're both good lycanthrope classics.

The Dark Half (1993) - Interestingly, a Stephen King novel adapted and directed by George Romero, about a writer (whodathunkit?) whose dark and gritty alter-ego literally comes to life. It's an entertaining story very well-executed, with lots of suspense and mystery, but as far as being strictly scary, I wouldn't necessarily call it a straight horror. The flocking sparrows did seem to channel The Birds just a little bit, though.

Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) - Mediocre at best. Too much plot, and not enough horny teenagers. Jason just isn't as intimidating hopping from one body to another. It was an interesting surprise to see the mysterious informant "X" from The X-Files (Deepthroat's replacement) playing the part of a bounty hunter who inexplicably knows all the details behind Jason's secret supernatural origin. What the hell was Freddy Krueger doing at the very end there? Was that supposed to be a setup for Freddy vs. Jason? That was weird.

Willard (2003) - A captivating story about a timid man who is driven mad by his jackass of a boss, and seeks revenge after befriending a host of rats he finds in his basement. But not all of the rats are so willing to follow the man's orders. Excellent acting by Crispin Glover in the lead role. Pretty darn good for a movie about rats.

Christine (1983) - Another Stephen King story, about a geek who buys a junk car (named Christine) and then turns into a cool cat practically overnight. Trouble is, the car is possessed, and a pretty jealous lover. Yeah, it sounds kinda silly, but this was actually a very good movie. And hey, it was directed by John Carpenter. I love how Christine always plays these old 50's-style rock n roll songs (she was "born" in 1957), and then the last line in the movie, by one of the survivors, is... "god I hate rock n roll". In most situations, I'd be annoyed by a line like that. But here, it just works.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Lifeforce (1985)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I just watched a movie called Lifeforce (1985) that I ordered recently. It's an action/sci-fi/horror kind of mix that can, really, best be described as Space Vampires. It's a fantastically outrageous film. I got tuned in (turned on?) to it because I heard that the head space vampiress spends the whole film completely naked. On the one hand, I think that claim is highly exaggerated, as she doesn't spend the /whole/ film naked, and there are large sections of the film where she doesn't show up at all, BUT, it is true that she does spend a considerable amount of time naked, and there are also some nice (and tasteful) sexy scenes.

The story starts out in space, as the crew of an apparently British space shuttle approach Halley's Comet and find a really large dormant spaceship riding its tail. Investigating, they find large, decayed batlike creatures, and three capsules with perfectly preserved (and naked) human specimens - two male, and one female. Taking them aboard, disaster naturally ensues, although you don't find out just what happens until much later in the film.

In the meantime, the shuttle is guided back to Earth without communication, and the only thing surviving on the ship is the three "alien" specimens. It doesn't take them long to wake up, break out, and start wreaking havoc. Turns out they're some kind of vampire race, and they feed on the lifeforce of the people they run into. Their victims become zombie-like creatures who then must also feed on other people's lifeforces or else dry up and become dust. London is quickly turned into a pretty standard zombie apocalypse town - even down to the quarantine and the threat of nuclear "cleansing".

In the meantime, a group of characters - some scientists and military-types - are working round the clock to figure out just what's going on and how to stop it. The captain of the space shuttle that originally found the space vampires eventually turns up when the escape pod reaches Earth, and his insight goes a long way toward fighting back against the vampires and their likely attempt to drain the lifeforce of the entire planet. The space captain is played by a familiar actor who I quickly remembered as the unforgettable abductee Duane Barry in a couple early episodes of The X-Files. And while we're talking about familiar actors, the head doctor at the asylum ("Isn't that an asylum of some sort?" "Yes - for the criminally insane.") was none other than Patrick Stewart, who I guess is well known to Star Trek fans, though I remember him as Professor X.

The above-mentioned space captain has a mental link to the head vampiress, which helps him track her down, and there's a really fascinating plot point that explains the vampiress' form as having been chosen out of the subconcious mind of the captain when he first boarded the alien ship - to represent his idea of perfect beauty, and thus explaining the otherworldly desire she holds over him and the trouble he has trying to resist and fight her. What would you do if the potential destructor of the planet showed up in the form of your perfect dream mate - not just on a physical level, but also on a spiritual and deeper level? Would you be able to resist? Furthermore, the vampiress hints that the space captain may have some ancient connection to the vampire race (in his blood perhaps?), but the details are left unstated. It is suggested, however, that these space vampires had been to Earth before, and were responsible for the original legend of vampires.

There's a lot of fascinating stuff going on here, and they manage to make a crazy idea like space vampires sound almost plausible. The effects are pretty nice, some of them downright creepy. The movie itself is just so epic, ranging from sci-fi space drama to zombie survival horror to a mystery-style vampire hunt... If this film is anything, it's ambitious. But it doesn't take itself too seriously, which is why I think it works.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Dark Knight (2008)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

By popular demand, here are a few notes on the new Batman movie, which I saw over opening weekend.

Overall impression - very good movie. Not perfect, but very entertaining, and certainly above the curve compared to other action and superhero movies coming out these days. Was it better than Batman Begins? Tough question. I'm tempted to say Batman Begins was better, but this movie was also very good and it could probably use some more time to sink in.

One thing that struck me particularly in this movie is that I have a hard time seeing Christian Bale as Batman. Frankly, I think he's a lot more convincing as the floozy billionaire than the Dark Knight. Plus, his gruff "Batman voice" sounds kind of forced - I can't remember if it bothered me or not in the last Batman movie, but it was kind of distracting in this one. I might be partly biased against the characterization of Christian Bale since seeing American Psycho, which, even more so than Equilibrium, has engraved a certain personality into my head of what Christian Bale is supposed to be like. Oh well, Batman is Batman, regardless of who's behind the mask.

It's easier to air my grievances than to talk about what I liked, since the grievances stand out more against the backdrop of a good movie, I suppose. I kind of got the feeling that there was too much in the way of chase scenes - with the Batmobile or the Batcycle. But hey, it's an action movie, so what can you expect?

So let's talk about this Rachel Dawes character. I have to admit, I was entirely confused when I saw Maggie Gyllenhaal's face on the screen. I totally did not make the connection that she was supposed to be playing the same role that Katie Holmes played in Batman Begins. So I had no idea who this character was and why she seemed to have such a personal connection to Batman. In fact, I didn't figure it out until after the movie. With her going "Harvey, Harvey" all over the place, I was entirely convinced that she was going to become Joker's sidekick, Harley Quinn, which would have been freaking awesome. But since that didn't happen, I was kind of disappointed...

As for Two-Face, I was completely surprised to see him in the movie. Everybody knew The Joker would play a large role in this title, considering the way the previous movie ended, but Two-Face to me was a surprise. And a pleasant surprise - I like Two-Face, I think he's a really cool villain. However, up to about 3/4 of the way through the film, I was certain that they were setting Harvey Dent up to become the villain in the next Batman movie, so I was surprised when his role as Two-Face started playing out in complete right here in this film. On a related note, this movie was definitely very long, but my perception might have been influenced by the fact that I really had to take a piss towards the end but I couldn't justify getting up before it was over...

Shall we talk about The Joker? I have nothing but good things to say about The Joker's characterization in this film. That having been said, I don't think the success of these new Batman adaptations should necessarily render obsolete the excellent Tim Burton versions of Batman and Batman Returns. I think Jack Nicholson played a great Joker, and his role shouldn't be eclipsed by this new Joker, who is at least as good. I think they should both be considered as different interpretations that are each worth exploring. But anyway, Heath Ledger's Joker is awesome. I'm not influenced by the hype, and I have no agenda to honor the dead - but it's true that it was a good role executed well. The Joker's philosophies on chaos and disorder and everything he preached were very interesting - even convincing. And as a villain, he definitely had that cool that all the best villains have to have.

What else to say? The theme of the movie was good. I think that exploring Batman's origins in Batman Begins was slightly more interesting, but I love the ideas presented in this film, especially along the lines of Batman being "The Dark Knight", and being successful because he chooses not to be a hero, that he's the one who is capable of making the tough decisions that softer people can't handle.

Comparing the villains to the previous movie, The Joker and Two-Face is a strong pair, but I have to admit I always liked the idea of The Scarecrow - which was executed exquisitely in Batman Begins. As for Ra's Al Ghul, I had never heard of him, and yet he made an equally awesome villain in that movie. It's saying a lot that they were able to make those lesser known villains every bit as interesting as The Dark Knight's more well-known names. But now it sounds like I'm reviewing Batman Begins...

I definitely caught the reference to Catwoman in this movie, even if it was just a passing homage to please the fans. I don't know what the plans are on making any more Batman movies, or what villains will turn up, but I will always be excited to see a new take on Catwoman. Even though I have a hard time believing that anyone will be able to top Michelle Pfeiffer's performance in Batman Returns, Catwoman is just such a cool character that I would never object to seeing more of her (unless she's really really terrible - I haven't even seen Halle Berry's interpretation, but I know enough to know that it's not worth it).

Another villain I will always be excited to see is The Riddler - I've always liked The Riddler, and not just because he wears green. I think Jim Carrey's performance in Batman Forever leaves something to be desired. Too cartoony. I'd love to see a serious and pathological Riddler. And that's exactly the kind of personality you'd expect to find in these new Batman movies. But only time will tell who (if anyone) we'll get to see.

I have to admit, even though The Joker wasn't killed or anything at the end of this movie (oops, was that a spoiler?), I don't have any major expectations of seeing him turn up again, and not because the actor that played him is dead. It just feels like to me, this is the villain in this movie, and that's the villain in that movie. Although, the Scarecrow did show up in this movie, but in a pathetic practically-cameo role which didn't really make sense or add anything to the story. Unless I missed something. Sure Batman and Joker are arch-rivals and they complete each other and all that, but this isn't a TV show - this is movies, and each new movie focuses on a new villain. That's just what I'm used to though - feel free to change the formula.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

9 Songs (2004)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I like the idea of this film. It's a story about the progression of a relationship (focusing on sexual encounters) interspersed with 9 live rock(ish) performances the way they would look if you were standing in the audience with a video camera. The problem is that the music is very uninteresting to me, and the girl was kind of a bitch.

The reason people are talking about this film is because the sex is not only explicit, but unsimulated - indeed, you see enough that they couldn't possibly be faking it. Some people argue that that fact alone makes it a porno, and other people argue the film's integrity for taking such an approach while still maintaining some sense of a coherent, artistic story.

The bottom line is, I think this film has some good ideas, but it's far (far far far) from the visionary masterpiece that some people are claiming it to be. I like how real it is - not just the sex but the interactions between the two characters and the concert scenes. But it's the content that leaves something to be desired.

Plenty of nudity for those who are looking - including things you'd normally only expect to see in a porno. But then again, there's plenty of sex, and most if not all of the nudity is sex-related. The couple actually get into some kinky stuff, including a little S&M, but it's not always terribly exciting. One thing I did like is how after they had sex one of the times, the girl stayed naked and walked around a bit. It's always bugged me when after a sex scene the girl gets dressed real quick, even while holding the covers over her body... You're naked, enjoy it, stay that way for awhile! Get up, walk around, quit being such a prude! Although, in those cases, I'll bet the only reason they get dressed so fast is because it's a movie and they can't afford to push the censors by having the characters walking around naked after the sex is done...

The Dreamers (2003)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Awesome film that doesn't demean its brilliance just because of the sexual nature of its plot. This is basically a story about the 60's, except it's not California - it's Paris, France, and it occurs during the 1968 riots in Paris. You can look it up if you want more historical context, but I didn't know what the riots were about, and it didn't much matter, because the brunt of the story focuses on three characters who are pretty much oblivious to what's going on out in the streets outside their house, until the point at which they can no longer ignore it.

But the spirit of the sixties is here in full swing. Peace, protest, and free love are all in there. And the absolutely amazing soundtrack centers on some scorching sections from Jimi Hendrix and Big Brother & The Holding Company (with Janis Joplin, of course), with even a Doors tune thrown in. There's even a pivotal scene where one character sings a line from Hey Joe, as the song plays on the record player.

But what's the story about? Well, it's a personal story about three young college-age people. An American student/cinema buff meets up with a pair of French twins (brother/sister) who share a lot of the same interests. They get real close real fast, and when the parents leave on a trip, the three of them live it out in the apartment, loose and free. There's some tension, because the twins are "joined at the hip", as they say (no, not literally), and the American student understands that they need to grow up and mature and the only way to do that is to split them apart, so they can learn to have some individuality or something. It's complicated. But that's where the drama comes in.

Great movie. There's even a scene where the two guys argue about whether Clapton or Hendrix is better. There's also a lot of talk about classic cinema, as the characters are all cinema buffs, and the director himself (Bernardo Bertolucci) is a cinema buff who was there in Paris during the riots depicted in this film, and a part of the real cinema scene that the characters in the film are a part of.

I love it because this film is high quality and sexually liberated. There's a great scene where the guy and girl have sex on the kitchen floor, for the first time, and the other guy (the brother) is making eggs on the stove, casually. It's all very real. The characters spend a good amount of time all or partly naked, too, and sometimes it's sexual, and sometimes it's not - which is what real life should be like.

I recommend this movie highly, if any of what I discussed here interests you.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

The Strangers (2008)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I went to see The Strangers last night at the cinema. To put it quite simply, it's that new horror movie starring Liv Tyler. Since I'm a huge horror fan, and I kind of have a crush on Liv Tyler, I couldn't pass it up. It was opening day, but even so, I was surprised at how many people showed up for the Friday night last showing (11pm - tame). I'm used to seeing movies where not more than a handful of people show up. Then again, the second-run theatre that I liked to go to shut down, unfortunately. But at this show, shortly into the movie, there wasn't an empty seat within my view!

Lots of young types, most likely high school students, out for a weekend thrill. I was impressed to see a group of older guys among the crowd though. Older as in father types, the rebel kind you might see at a rock concert. Anyhow, it was crowded, and I prefer more room to breathe, but it wasn't too bad.

The movie itself was very good. Not one of the best horror movies I've ever seen, but in this day of dime-a-dozen scare flicks, I'd say it was among the better ones. There was a good bit of emotional tension between the two leads even before The Strangers showed up to wreak havoc. In fact, the movie dealt with a situation I haven't really seen a lot, especially not in horror films - a marriage proposal gone sour. Watching the previews, I thought the lead couple was gonna be all lovey-dovey, but there was this depressing air that hung over them instead. Kind of an appropriate lead-in to the horror that followed. Sort of like, "this is the worst night of my life" even before they discover that they're being hunted by homicidal psychopaths - like some kind of pathetic fallacy where god sends angels of death (in a purely symbolic sense) to truly make this night the absolute worst possible it could ever be. I thought it was a refreshing angle.

The movie does a really good job of slowly building up the tension, and a lot of that seems to have to do with the killers' strategy of slowly building up the tension in their victims, starting by sending a girl to knock on the door, pretending like she had the wrong house - but with the added creepiness of the porch light not working; followed by subsequent pounding on the door, and then sneaking into the house unnoticed to do small things like get rid of phones and stuff, a face in the window here or there, breaking open the front door but not coming in, just a gradual increase in intimidation to completely freak out the innocent victims. And they wait until dawn breaks to do their worst in the clear light of day.

I thought the killers were portrayed very well. They weren't really explained or over-analyzed, which is something that I think some (especially modern) horror movies make the mistake of doing (Black Christmas remake, I'm looking at you). Michael Myers (the character, not the actor) in Halloween wasn't scary because he had this abusive history or whatever, he was scary because he was the freaking bogeyman, and he killed dispassionately just for the sake of killing. Anyway, I liked how you never got to see the killers' faces. They wore masks throughout the night, but one detail that I really liked was how they took their masks off just before their final act of violence - but we still didn't get to see their faces, though it wasn't done in an overly obvious fashion. It's like, you barely get to see a face here or there, but you never got a straight look. Just something about that added an extra dimension of creepiness. The fact that they wanted to reveal their faces to their victims at the very end, but that we still end up leaving the theatre without seeing them.

And then that near-final scene, with the two bike-boys. Gives just the slightest bit of humanity to the killers, while at the same time, it sort of accentuates how brutally inhumane they are. Excellent.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Musical Discoveries

Note: This feature was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Following is a discussion of how I discovered some of my favorite musical artists.

Classic Rock (Popular)

Most of the classic rock artists I'm into I discovered from a combination of my parents' listening habits as I was being raised (more of a subconscious inspiration), and the stuff I heard on what was (alas, no longer) the classic rock station in this area when I first consciously started recognizing music and acquiring a taste for it (around the end of my high school years). But here are a few specific stories:

Led Zeppelin

Stairway To Heaven was one of the first songs that I really got into in a big way. During the first semester of my senior year in high school, I spent a lot of time at home after school sitting in the dark and listening to the radio. I was "earning my chops" as a listener, in terms of getting to know all the most popular classic rock tracks (at least on big name radio, anyway). But every time Stairway To Heaven came on - which was relatively frequently - I went into a total trance. It was practically a spiritual experience. The magic of the song, and the power and emotion of the solo. Once, a little later, after acquiring a girlfriend, I pulled the car into the driveway when Stairway came on. She was anxious to get inside, so she shut the radio off - cutting off my reverie. I was pissed. (I got over it :p).

As far as the rest of Zep's catalog, in addition to what the radio played, they did a Top 50 Albums countdown over Thanksgiving weekend that year. I got introduced to a lot of good albums on that countdown (as opposed to just songs), and I actually used it as a guide for writing up my Christmas list, since before then I didn't really know what albums were good. The albums on that countdown that made the biggest impression on me were Zep's.

Another formulating experience was the weekend with the ZoSocar. One weekend that December, my brother 'traded' cars with me for the weekend, because he wanted to take the van up to Canada. So I got to drive his white Firebird. It was a sweet ride. He left Zep's fourth album in the CD player, so naturally, driving the car meant listening to the album. It was an amazing experience, that I am sure only increased the magic of that album.

Pink Floyd

I discovered Pink Floyd pretty much the same way as Led Zeppelin, though there wasn't necessarily one song that stood out for me as much as Stairway To Heaven did. But I do remember one Floyd-related incident from my childhood. I was in some way familiar with Dark Side of the Moon, because I remember I would sometimes beg my mom to put it on so I could listen to my favorite part, which was the ambient portion at the very beginning of the song Time. Floyd was probably the band I was most consciously aware of during the early years. In the discovery period, during the end of my high school years, I attached myself to Pink Floyd because they seemed a bit more sophisticated than the average rock band, and also because their music had a certain emotion to it - something a bit more introspective and atmospheric - which attracted me. I remember driving back from the mall one day, by myself, and Hey You came on the radio, and I thought back on my experiences, since I was approaching graduation, and I just had this feeling that Pink Floyd had some underlying connection to me.

The Doors

Something about The Doors reminds me of our lakeside family vacations from my childhood. It probably has a lot to do with hearing them a lot during those vacations. But it might also have to do with a very important experience that has stuck in my memory all these years. We were just coming off the lake as a storm broke out. While our relatives were tying up the boat, my brothers and I ran ahead to the cottages for cover. The doors were locked and nobody answered. We ran along the road from our parents' cottage to our grandparents' cottage, and the van drove right up to us, coming back from shopping. They opened the door and we climbed in out of the rain, and Riders on the Storm was playing on the CD player. Perfect.

The Who

The Who was actually the first rock concert I ever went to. But it wasn't me, it was my brother, that suggested it to my dad in the first place. I wanted to get a better idea of who The Who was - in essence, which of the songs I knew from the radio was actually The Who. I heard Who Are You one day, and I remember coming to the realization that "this is The Who". So I've kind of always felt a little behind the curve in my appreciation for The Who, but there's something very unique about the band, particularly Pete Townshend's approach to playing the guitar, that I've come to appreciate more and more over the years.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones is my dad's favorite band, so my awareness of them is pretty self-explanatory. They don't really have a searing guitar god - Keith Richards has always been more of the rhythm/song-writing type - so I've always spent less attention on them than other bands. But there's no doubt that they have a solid groove, as well as being just downright cool. And listening to them a lot, and learning about them on the side, from my dad's influence, I've learned to appreciate them more and more.

Neil Young

My first encounter with Neil Young was the song Cinnamon Girl which came on every once in awhile on the radio. I remember having to separate it in my mind from Brown-Eyed Girl, since the title was similar in structure. But between the two, Cinnamon Girl was more interesting because it was electric and had a rock edge. Another time, in a rare occurrence, I heard Down By The River playing on the radio, and I was captivated by the electric jamming and groovy atmosphere. Yet another time, I heard Like A Hurricane, and I wasn't sure it was Neil Young, but I had a pretty good idea that it was, because I could hear the stylistic similarities to Down By The River. I tried to look it up, but kept getting Rock You Like A Hurricane, which obviously wasn't right.

I knew my dad had some Neil Young in his collection, so I looked through it one night, and discovered the album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, with the song Down By The River - bingo! Listening to the album, I heard Cowgirl in the Sand for the very first time, and it blew me away. I loved it, but I didn't become totally obsessed with the song until my freshman year in college, sitting in the window, watching the students pass by down below, listening to the song on repeat for hours, waiting for just a glimpse of heaven...

Other Classic Rock/Blues

Robin Trower and Ten Years After

I'm lumping these two together only because I 'discovered' them simultaneously. Ten Years After has more or less been my dad's second favorite band, and my introduction to them during the Woodstock film (Alvin Lee totally smoking on the guitar throughout I'm Going Home) whetted my appetite for more. As for Robin Trower, I heard about him from an online classic rock forum, and decided he was worth checking out. So sometime during my college days, I ordered a TYA album and a Trower album. When they arrived, I took them to the library to listen to while doing some homework (I'm thinking this must have been sophomore year). I was entranced by Trower, and TYA blew me away. One of the TYA songs, You Give Me Loving, actually sounded familiar to me. It was bizarre, because I know I hadn't consciously heard the song before, but the riff must have been burned into my brain subconsciously from listening to TYA a lot during childhood, as I'm sure I did.

Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac

My first introduction to Peter Green was waking up halfway in the middle of the night, with the radio still playing, and hearing the song Oh Well, including the full acoustic portion. It mesmerized me, and I made a point to jot down the name of the song and the band, that the DJ announced after it ended, on a strip of paper so I would remember it the next morning. I woke up and looked at the piece of paper, and told myself that there was no way that song was by Fleetwood Mac, the band that did the Rumours album. So I shrugged it off for the time being.

I don't recall how Peter Green re-entered my consciousness, but I was curious, perhaps still wondering about that Oh Well song, so I went and bought the BBC Sessions featuring not just Fleetwood Mac, but Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac. I was sold instantly, after listening to it. Peter Green, with his heart-rending soulful blues licks, and his melancholic sensibilities, immediately became one of my favorite artists of all time. He's an amazing musician, and the very personal songs he sings, I feel like it could have been me that wrote those songs. There's a deep connection there.

Michael Bloomfield

I came upon Michael Bloomfield in a roundabout way. It's pretty ironic, actually. One day, jumping into (or maybe just before getting out of) the car at Guitar Center, I heard on the radio - a rare occurrence, indeed - the version of Season of the Witch which turned out to be by Al Kooper and Stephen Stills. Not at first, but this gradually led me to the Super Session album, from which the track comes, which features some of Bloomfield's best playing. The session was conceived for just that purpose, and Stills' contribution came only after Bloomfield skipped out halfway through the proceedings. So by chance, I was drawn to Super Session by one of the non-Bloomfield tracks!

And then there was The Monterey Pop Festival DVD. Bloomfield plays on it with a band called Electric Flag. But what caught my attention even more, was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band's performance on Driftin' and Driftin'. Once again, I just barely missed Bloomfield, because shortly before Monterey, he had quit the Butterfield Blues Band to form Electric Flag! Still, I got interested in the Butterfield Blues Band, and bought the anthology, half of which features Bloomfield on guitar. So from both this and Super Session, I came to discover, in a roundabout fashion, the genius of Michael Bloomfield, forgotten blues virtuoso guitar god of the sixties (and to a decidedly lesser extent, the seventies).

Other Genres

Joe Bonamassa (Modern Blues Rock)

I don't recall exactly how I came across Grooveyard Records, but when I did, I realized that here was a potential treasure trove of modern music that could appeal to my guitar-driven blues-influenced rock sensibilities. I downloaded all of the sample tracks from the various albums they were offering, and I listened to them, paring them down to the very best four. Then, I ordered the albums those best tracks were from. This is how I discovered Lance Lopez, also. One of those first tracks was A New Day Yesterday from Joe Bonamassa's live album of that title. I got the album and I've been a dedicated fan ever since. He's my favorite modern guitarist.

Shannon Curfman (Modern Blues Rock)

One day during my senior year in college, I was sitting at my desk in my dorm room, reading from a hometown mag I had just got in the mail. I scanned through it for anything interest-catching. Well, in the live performances section of the magazine, there was an article about an upcoming performance by a young female blues rocker. My interest was piqued. When I read that she had recorded a blues album at age 15, I was fascinated. I couldn't get home to see her perform that time, but I bought her album and got a chance to see her next time 'round.

Silvertide (Modern Classic-style Rock)

When Silvertide were just getting popular over in Philly, there was a Philly-based member on an online Zeppelin forum I frequented at the time. He was advertising the band, but I pretty much ignored them at first. Finally, this member sent me an audio track or two, and I was really impressed. I also visited the band's website and heard a few more songs, and I was hooked. I got a chance to see the band live as an opening act, and I eagerly anticipated their first album release. Afterward, I even hoofed it out across the state line to see them perform for a future live DVD release, which was ultimately canned. Unfortunately, the band faded into the void behind lies of a second album. Nobody knows if they will ever resurface, but at this time, it looks highly doubtful. Ah well, they were good while they lasted.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor (Post-Rock)

My initial foray into the post-rock and, more generally, the ambient and atmospheric music genres, came out of my discovery of the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor. And that occurred while initially watching zombie horror flick 28 Days Later. Despite their anti-publicity stance, Godspeed allowed one of their songs to be used in the movie - and to breathtaking effect. It certainly made an impression on me. Not only did I fashion the main riff of the first "original" song I wrote on guitar after the riff in that song, but I tracked the song down (which doesn't appear on the film soundtrack, by the way), and I've been a fan of the band ever since. Those post-apocalyptic soundscapes that journey from very loud to very quiet sections entrance me.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Legend (1985) and the Lure of Fantasy

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I got the Ultimate Edition of Legend on DVD for Christmas, which includes the original US theatrical release version as well as a Director's Cut version with the original score. If you're unaware, there were two scores cut for this film. Originally, Jerry Goldsmith composed a classical score for the film, which, from what I've seen, is widely considered the better score (certainly the director thinks so). But director Ridley Scott, from what I can tell from the Making Of featurette, got paranoid and decided to create a more "rock", or perhaps "pop", score for the American release, because he thought it would be more accepted than the classical score. So he hired Tangerine Dream to totally re-score the American version of the film, which also featured a few cuts and other variations. So there was the American version with the Tangerine Dream score, and the UK/International version with the Jerry Goldsmith score. And now that I have the DVD, I get the chance to watch the film with the original classical score for the first time (in a Director's Cut which features even more material not originally shown in either version, I believe).

Well, here's the rub. The version with the Tangerine Dream score consistently put me in tears, while I can hardly get myself to continue watching the version with the classical score.

I was thinking to myself, watching it yesterday (with the TD score), wondering what it was about this movie that makes it so unique among other fantasy films. Something about it that makes it so much more magical and ethereal than any other fantasy film I've seen. Well, now I know what the primary factor contributing to that atmosphere is - it's the score. Tangerine Dream's score is so unlike the music you hear in most movies, particularly in fantasy movies, and it fits the theme of the movie so well. In contrast, the classical score is so dull and contrived. You can hear the different themes and the way it switches from good to evil when the screen focuses on the heroes and villains, and how it gets louder and jumps at you during action sequences and all of that. How incredibly boring. It's like every other film I've ever seen with a classical score. Classical music does not make the film more fantasy-like, by giving it some old-world atmosphere or whatever. It might seem like a contradiction, but an electronic band in the 80's has managed to create a soundtrack infinitely more magical and fantastic than any classical music that could ever be composed. Fantasy is about imagination, isn't it? I want to hear music that's different and unique, and Tangerine Dream has provided that.

The bottom line is this: with the Tangerine Dream score, Legend is one of the most imaginative and unique fantasy films ever created; with the classical score, it's just another fantasy tale in a long line of more or less interesting titles. To think, the TD score was merely an afterthought that might never have come to be...

On a related note, I came to a realization about the lure of fantasy. What I realized, was that the true magic of fantasy comes from the way that everything is so polarized - particularly between good and evil. By creating a pure good and a pure evil, and pitting them against each other, you eliminate the troubling circumstantial judgements of the real world. You can get behind one side, and not feel any guilt when the hero defeats the villain once and for all. You can also feed your desires for a world where purity exists - pure good, pure innocence, pure joy. Even though it is at the expense of conceding the existence of pure evil, that evil can always be fought off, and the pure good can be enjoyed without the taint of doubt that exists in real life.

Another thing that's so alluring about fantasy is the way that a normal person - a simple commoner - can become a hero and save the world. Sometimes the hero has a special gift, but he often becomes aware of it by surprise - fueling the notion that any normal person could suddenly discover that they have the blood of kings running through their veins, or something like that. So however lame and disappointing your real life is, for a moment, while indulging in this fantasy world, you can imagine that even you could be a hero. And not only that, but the world of fantasy is filled with a magic that makes it far more interesting, and potentially a lot more fun, than the real world.

Fantasy is the realm of dreams.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Fountain (2006)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

The Fountain was among the DVDs I got for Christmas. I remember noticing it when it originally came out. It looked interesting, but I didn't get around to seeing it. Well, now I have. I have to admit, it was a fascinating movie, although it went in a bit of a different direction than I was hoping. I guess you could say I was expecting more fantasy and less drama. But it was still a great tale. With lots to interpret.

I guess the core of the story is what takes place in present time. A doctor on the verge of discovering a medicinal elixir of life, extracted from a tree in Central America, is racing against time while the love of his life is dying of cancer. She in turn is writing a story about the Tree of Life, related to Spanish/Mayan history. Part of that mythology involves the Mayan underworld, named after a dying star observed in the heavens. A star that the main character is traveling toward, in a bubble-like spaceship with a dying tree, presumably far into the future. These three timelines tradeoff as the story unfolds, leaving you to guess just exactly how they fit together.

I guess one interpretation would be that the past scenes are merely an embodiment of the story, and the future scenes part of the doctor's madness - leaving us with just the present. But, if we want to be a little more adventurous, we could conjecture that the doctor does in reality discover the secret to immortality and that the future scenes actually happen as is. But is there an interpretation where the past scenes could be real as well? Because that's what I was hoping for - a tale about two lovers who exist through many ages, from the past through the present and on to the future. But considering what happens when the conquistador in the past finds the Tree of Life, it doesn't seem too reasonable.

Still, the beauty of the story is the sheer imagination of it and the way it was filmed, and how the different timelines interact with one another to create a rich tapestry of storytelling. That, and the question of immortality that is inevitably brought up. Is death just a disease, that needs to be cured? Or is death the road to awe? It's a tough question that's been asked as long as man has been around, I imagine. And I don't think the answer is as easy as some people pretend. Life and death both serve a purpose, and neither one is purely good, or bad. I don't think there is an ultimate answer as to whether or not death should have a place in life. But it does have that place, and there is very little we can do about it - and this fact, I believe, will continue to inspire people to fight against it. You have to be careful, though - there is a balance to be found between vying for eternal life and accepting the simple fact of death. If we get too caught up on living forever, we make death all the harder to bear. And I think that's one of the messages that The Fountain carries - the need to accept death.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

My Favorite Bands

Note: This feature was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

My brother goes through phases in terms of his music fandom. He'll be totally obsessed with something for awhile, then he'll reach some kind of breakthrough and find something new. I've known a lot of people that are like this, that seem to drift from one scene to another. In contrast, I've always had a certain respect for a person who stuck fast to the things he enjoys. My taste evolves and my moods change just like anyone else, but I like to think that I'm a little more stable than the average person.

Granted, I'm much more into blues these days than I ever have been, and I tend to focus more concentration on it than my beloved classic rock. But if you look behind the outer layer, I think you'll see that my focus really hasn't changed at all these past 6 years or so, since I've really gotten into music. My favorite band in high school was Pink Floyd, and my favorite band in college was Led Zeppelin. I don't listen to Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin as much as I used to, because frankly, I've kind of worn them out (not to say that I don't still enjoy listening to them when I get the chance, though).

But in their place, I'm listening to bands a lot like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin. It's not really new, it's kind of just more of the same. I haven't switched genres, I've just gone deeper. Instead of Pink Floyd, I listen to Tangerine Dream, post-rock bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and various ambient/atmospheric stuff. And instead of Led Zeppelin, I listen to other blues rock bands like the original Fleetwood Mac, and Robin Trower, etc. So I feel like, where other people might like to journey laterally, I like to spend my time going deeper into the environment in which I'm already ensconced.

So my brother's favorite bands seem to change every year or two, and he comes up to me and asks me what my favorite bands are. And I sit there, and I have to think, "why are you asking me this question? You already know what my favorite bands are. I told you a year ago, and a year before that." But anyway, in case my list has changed slightly over the years, and for those who have never asked me, here are my favorite bands, and an example of an album or two from each which represents well what I like about them.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse
Studio: Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere (1969)
Live: Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

I have great respect for Neil Young as a musician, and the things he stands for, but when he combines his style with the engine of Crazy Horse, that's where it all comes together in the perfect package. People are hesitant to praise Neil Young's rough and idiosyncratic approach to lead guitar, but to me, the rawness of his licks touch the base frustration of my soul like nothing else can. The lead lines in Cowgirl in the Sand - the definitive version presented on Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, and a powerful live version on the newly released Fillmore concert - express perfectly the frustration within me at the mental struggles I endure. Wanting so badly to be more than I am, but being held back by unreasonable fears and insecurities, and the anger that stirs within me. Neil's stinging leads are the vocalization of that, in Cowgirl, as well as the other songs where he plays in that style.

Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac
Studio: Then Play On (1969)
Live: Live At The Boston Tea Party (1970)

The beauty of the original Fleetwood Mac, as I see it, is three-fold - and each fold covers the leader, Peter Green. On the one hand, you have Green's intensely personal rendition of the blues, stimulated by his tasteful and deeply emotional guitar style. Tracks like Jumping At Shadows, A Fool No More, and Love That Burns, are legitimate proof that white boys can play the blues just as sincerely as anyone. On the other hand, you have Fleetwood Mac's amazing rockers, epitomized by Rattlesnake Shake, which itself expanded into a beautifully intense exploratory musical jam inspired by bands like The Grateful Dead, but with a much harder edge. On the third hand, you have Peter Green's depressing personal songs, like Man of the World, Oh Well, Closing My Eyes, and The Green Manalishi, which convey a sense of sadness, paranoia, and even anger at the pattern of the world, as well as his confusion about the path his life was taking him in, from being nobody to a superstar, leading him to question the value and worth of it all. These feelings of being lost in a lost world I can relate to, and sympathize with, and they are a beautiful expression of the same kind of feelings I've been trying to communicate in my own music.

Led Zeppelin
Studio: Led Zeppelin (1969)
Live: The Song Remains The Same (1973)

Led Zeppelin was one of the first bands I got into. Not only do they have a certain cool factor that crosses all kinds of social and cultural barriers, but they actually have the talent and the style to back it up. Although the untitled fourth album was as influential in my development as a rock fan as any of Zep's albums were, their debut is probably their most bluesiest album, and while I'd be hard-pressed to pick one album as my definite favorite, this one would have to be considered. Among other things, the relaxed tightness of the band, their confidence in their own abilities, and the communication between Plant's voice and Page's guitar totally enthralled me. The band's live performance in The Song Remains The Same awed me to the point that I actually went out and bought a guitar, with the intent to learn to play like Jimmy. And I'm still working on that.

Pink Floyd
Studio: ?
Live: Live At Pompeii (1972)

As you can see, it's just about impossible for me to pick out one of Pink Floyd's albums as my favorite. I could easily choose Dark Side of the Moon, and it would be deserving of the position, but doing so would leave out so much other greatness the band accomplished, including the lesser known stuff that gets overlooked by pop culture - which is represented in the mind-blowing live show at Pompeii. Pompeii to me represents the height of what Pink Floyd was about, even more so than Dark Side of the Moon. Rather than a perfectly polished meditation on life's mysteries, Pink Floyd was originally about experimentation, and journeying unprepared into the unknown, which they would later spend so much time relating to the world, after they had returned from the intellectual voyage.

Robin Trower
Studio: Twice Removed From Yesterday (1973)
Live: Live (1976)

I got into Trower from a tip on a classic rock forum, but it was love at first listen. Trower's guitar style is gorgeously emotive. And his aesthetic carries a kind of spacey mystery. It's like Pink Floyd mixed with Led Zeppelin, in a way. Additionally, Dewar's vocals are the perfect match for Trower's licks, and that combination makes a powerful impression. Most people who know of Trower would cite Bridge of Sighs, but I'm more impressed by the original Robin Trower Band's debut album, Twice Removed From Yesterday. Besides featuring a lot of Trower's awesome guitar work (such as in the sublime Daydream and the torching Rock Me Baby), some of my favorite, and most heartbreaking, songs are on that album - specifically, I Can't Wait Much Longer and Hannah. For the live side of things, the Live album from 1976 is amazing in that it's not quite as self-conscious as a lot of live rock albums are. The band is truly in top form, and while the setlist regrettably does not include the hit title track from Bridge of Sighs, Trower's outstanding - and unmatched - playing on Daydream more than makes up for it. Nowhere else does that track sound quite as good.

Ten Years After
Studio: Cricklewood Green (1970) or Rock & Roll Music To The World (1972)
Live: Recorded Live (1973) or Live At The Fillmore East (1970)

Like most, my first conscious exposure to Ten Years After was the stage-stealing performance of I'm Going Home featured in the Woodstock film. However, after the Stones, my dad's favorite band is Ten Years After, so it partly runs in my blood. Alvin Lee never fails to impress with the fluidity of his lightning-fast licks. I'm the kind of guy who takes substance over speed, but Alvin Lee's got both. As if that weren't enough, his vocals, while maybe not musically on par with the legendary rock vocalists, capture his songs perfectly, and add a unique touch that really make the songs his own. The band as a whole is very tight, and has a strong foundation in the blues, which naturally appeals to me. At their heart, Ten Years After were a monster live band, and you can check out either of the live albums I've picked to witness not only their impressive improvisational expansion of the track I Can't Keep From Crying, Sometimes, but also the heavy emotional power, and the never-ending guitar drama, of the blues Help Me - my personal favorite from the band.

Derek And The Dominos
Studio: Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)

Despite only releasing one album, I still consider Derek and the Dominos to be one of my favorite bands. Part of that is because it's that good an album. And part of it is because it represents to me the pinnacle of Eric Clapton's career. Better than his solo career; even better than Cream. Part of the magic is the addition to the album of Duane Allman's prowess on the slide guitar, but the bulk of it comes from Clapton's inspiration - his unrequited love for the wife of his best friend. The result is the most beautiful, sincere, and moving collection of love songs ever recorded. My personal favorite track is the unconventional Hendrix cover of Little Wing. Clapton's version is decidedly unique, but it plods on with a power that speaks to me more than the delicate phrasing of Hendrix's original, and even Stevie Ray Vaughan's fantastic version. But to single out that track alone would be a disservice to the rest of this amazing album. Eric Clapton's never performed better.

And of course, there are other names not listed here, that I greatly respect. For example, guitarists like Michael Bloomfield and Roy Buchanan, whom I consider primarily as musicians and less as members of a great band. Then there are bands like The Doors, The Rolling Stones, The Who, and others whom I've always loved, that I would place only slightly lower on the list than the ones I've detailed above. And there are others, but these are primarily the best, in my mind.