Thursday, November 17, 2016

Holidays (2016)

Good or bad, regardless of the outcome, this is a horror anthology after my own heart - like something pilfered from my metaphorical sketchpad of ideas - with each segment themed around a different holiday. Anthologies are fun; the themes give each segment a creative anchor to dance around; and together they form a set! It's too bad, then, that this anthology is so reminiscent of The ABCs of Death, with more often than not meaningless sequences with inconclusive endings that do not shy away from gore and nudity (although just as likely designed to repulse as titillate).

Valentine's Day starts off with some locker room bullying à la Carrie, the target being a high school girl with a crush on her swim coach, who is in need of a heart transplant (I think you can see where this is going). In St. Patrick's Day, a creepy grade school girl lays down some voodoo on her teacher, leading to the line, "have you ever seen the Hollywood movie Rosemary's Baby? If you replace 'baby' with a reptile...", emphasizing that these segments are not meant to be taken seriously. One of the better segments, Easter is pure nightmare fuel on steroids, featuring the most terrifying depiction of the Easter Bunny I've seen yet, and aptly demonstrating the symbolic clusterfuck that is a holiday sewed together from both its pagan (chicks and bunnies!) and Christian (a man rising from the dead!) roots.

Mother's Day centers on a woman with a condition the extreme opposite of sterility, who manages to get pregnant without fail, even while on birth control and when her partner wears three condoms. Desperate and having exhausted all conventional avenues of treatment, she heads out into the desert to play the totem in a fertility ritual that may or may not be Satanic (as the abrupt and unsatisfying ending fails to clarify). On the other hand, Father's Day is another one of the better segments (notwithstanding its obtuse ending), constructing an eerie atmosphere reminiscent of Silent Hill, when a woman receives a tape from her absentee daddy, sending her on an emotional scavenger hunt.

One couldn't be faulted for expecting more from the Halloween segment, especially considering that it was written and directed by Kevin Smith (who, at least, demonstrated a surprisingly good grasp of horror in Red State). It plays up the sexualization aspect of the holiday (and not much else), with a story about a trio of cam whores exacting brutal and humiliating revenge against their deadbeat asshole of a pimp. But all it does is make me wonder, when will the day come when people start writing stories about what a fair trade porn industry should look like, instead of fueling moral conservatives' nightmares (and feminists' wet dream revenge fantasies) of dehumanizing abuse and degradation?

Seth Green stars in the Christmas segment (what, no Thanksgiving?), which shows the horrors of allowing commercialism to trump the spirit of good will, via a VR headset that taps in to the viewer's imagination. "Ain't the holidays hell?" But Black Mirror this is not. Finally, we come to New Year's, in which two lonely singles meet for an awkward first (and last) date, with a surprising twist proving that you can never predict who you're going to meet on a dating website. Having come to the end, I can't say I would give this anthology my glowing recommendation, although it was at least as worthy a potential endeavor as the ABCs of Death was. (But we all know how that turned out). If you could watch the segments individually, though, I'd say give Easter and Father's Day a try.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Joe Bonamassa - Live From The Royal Albert Hall (2009)

1-1. Django
1-2. The Ballad Of John Henry
1-3. So, It's Like That
1-4. Last Kiss
1-5. So Many Roads
1-6. Stop!
1-7. Further On Up The Road
1-8. Woke Up Dreaming
1-9. High Water Everywhere
1-10. Sloe Gin
1-11. Lonesome Road Blues
2-1. Happier Times
2-2. Your Funeral My Trial
2-3. Blues Deluxe
2-4. Story Of A Quarryman
2-5. The Great Flood
2-6. Just Got Paid
2-7. Mountain Time
2-8. Asking Around For You

The theme of this era of Joe's career is making it as an established artist, and this concert is the crystallization of that concept - Joe's first performance at the esteemed Royal Albert Hall in London, proof positive that he had very well and truly "made it". I would actually recommend you get the DVD over the CD, because this is a concert that's more fun to watch than listen to, because the DVD really hammers home the personal significance of this show for Joe, and the road he's taken to get there. And though it may have been, as Joe says, the "greatest night of [his] life" (up to that point), I have to be completely brutal here, because sonically, it's not his best live album.

And I hate to say anything bad about a Joe Bonamassa concert (much less one as monumental as this), because he's a remarkably consistent musician, and even on his "off" days, he still delivers an incredible show, and is heads and shoulders above his competition. And I'm sure this would have been a phenomenal show to have attended (and the DVD gives you a better feel for that), but when you have many different concert recordings to choose from (including another one at the Royal Albert Hall during the fantastic Tour de Force), the merely good inevitably gets passed over for the great. That's just how it goes.

From the very first time I listened to this show, I felt that Joe seemed uncharacteristically nervous, and that it affected his playing. Now, this is completely understandable - being such a landmark show, and having the pressure of performing a song with a lifelong idol and one of his biggest inspirations. But it's like he's trying too hard to put on a good show, when most of his shows seem effortlessly flawless. A lot of the songs sound loose and untamed (but with less of a wild ferocity than an aimless wandering), he pushes his vocals a little harder than they really need to go, and some of the older songs (particularly from the power trio days) suffer from overinstrumentation.

To start with, Eric Clapton's guest spot on Further On Up The Road is a bit anticlimactic. I hate to say that, because I'm sure it meant the world to Joe, but I've always had the opinion that Eric Clapton is a little bit overrated as a guitarist, given how massively influential he was. And in the category of special guests, Paul Jones shows up to play harmonica on Your Funeral My Trial. A lot of the songs heard on Live From Nowhere In Particular are repeated here, and don't necessarily sound any better than they did before. The acoustic powerhouse Woke Up Dreaming has notably been extended a couple more minutes, with an interesting new opening section. And it's great to hear a live version of Blues Deluxe, but though the guitar part sounds fantastic, the rest of the song drowns in the brass and piano accompaniment.

The highlights of this concert, musically speaking, would have to be the new songs from The Ballad of John Henry, heard for the first time live. Among those is, of course, the title track, which is exciting to hear, but it will take some time yet for it to grow into an epic rivaling Joe's other showstoppers such as Mountain Time and Just Got Paid (here pushed back to the end of the concert), and the encore, Asking Around For You, which - itself at ten minutes - is beginning to grow a little unwieldy. The rest constitute the best tracks from the album, including Stop!, Last Kiss, Lonesome Road Blues, Happier Times, and The Great Flood, although many of these are worth waiting for their Tour de Force versions. I know it probably doesn't sound like it from my review, but this is by no means a bad album. (And I still recommend the DVD). It's just that there are better ones out there, and I don't listen to this one as frequently.

Rating: 💿💿 Occasional Spin

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Colonia (2015)

Colonia (a.k.a. The Colony) starts out like a Chilean The Dreamers - starring the ever-effervescent Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl as globetrotting political activists and young lovers named Lena and, er, Daniel - complete with a rock and roll soundtrack (making excellent use of both Janis Joplin and Santana). But when things turn bad, and the local fascists start clamping down on revolutionaries, the movie veers into Midnight Express territory, based (in this case) on the true story of Colonia Dignidad. Lena joins an ultra-conservative religious cult which harbors facilities for the torture of political criminals in the hopes of rescuing Daniel. But once you go in, it's not easy to get out. Michael Nyqvist creates a chilling portrayal of the cultleader Paul Schäfer (not to be confused with the bandleader of the CBS orchestra), a spiritual guru intoxicated by his own ego, poignantly demonstrating the irony of a "holy man" who is nevertheless a textbook demonstration of cruelty and corruption. (Begging the question - at least in my mind - of how long we have to continue pointing out the ties between misogyny and despotism before people begin to realize that fighting and shaming our basic sexual natures (but especially that of women) is not the path to divinity). Anyway, it's a tense and suspenseful movie; I recommend it - and not just because it stars Emma Watson, either. ;-p