Monday, July 31, 2006

earCandy: Prince - the Next Millenium (2006) /mixTAPE/

I've been writing a lot of eyeCandy movie reviews recently, so I thought I'd change directions and try out an idea I had for another "class" of earCandy music review - witness... mixTAPE. :-) In my opnion, there is a great art to making a good mixTAPE - a myriad of strange little rules to be followed. Nothing is ever perfect, but crafting a solid 1 hour and 20 minute CD can be a rewarding and worthwhile experience.

I think I'll spread what I consider to be the "gospel" of making great mixTAPEs over each mixTAPE posting, but let's start with a central one: you need some sort of "concept". This can be as simple as "the best of ..." or it can as complicated as my attempt to chronicle all of the music of mankind over one 90 minute tape (I think I did a decent job too - hard to smoothly transition from ancient Oriental music to Charles Mingus, but it can be done :-) ). So let's get started:

Prince is a classic figure in popular music but he's also been releasing some really interesting music over the past five or six years. I desperately wanted an updated Prince mixTAPE but I wanted to be able to present the more jazz-infused modern Prince in isolation to the rock/pop classics everyone knows. The solution: divide Prince's career in two.

Thankfully, Prince really found his way through James Brown into Miles Davis territory with 2001's Rainbow Children, his first album of the new millenium (and voila - a title seed for the collection). Discounting the 4-song, all instrumental N.E.W.S. (2003), Prince has had two other albums since then: 2004's Musicology and 2006's 3121. Some fantastic and not always what people think of as Prince tunes here. (Disc II of this collection, "the Last Millenium", will be featured in a subsequent post)

A couple of obvious rules I might as well mention now: don't put two songs from the same album back-to-back, and you're permitted to put a song of questionable "fit" as song one b/c it is easily fast-forwarded past so the rest of the CD can be played without interruption.

NOTE: Some albums, like the Rainbow Children, have great tunes buried within extended intros and/or outros. Or sometimes you just need to shave a little off to get things to fit onto one CD. Because of this I sometimes like to begin or end the song mid-stream. The notation [x/y] gives the starting (x) and ending (y) points of songs as necessary. These may not always correspond exactly with your own versions.

PS: I own all the materials I use for mixTAPES. I would also freakin' pay $50 for an exact copy of the Rainbow Children without that annoying deep bass voice preaching slow-pitched nonsense throughout what is an otherwise incredible album. :-)

Prince: the Next Millenium (2006) /mixTAPE/

  1. Family Name (the Rainbow Children) [3:00.6/7:52.1]
  2. The Word (3121)
  3. Everywhere (the Rainbow Children)
  4. Dear Mr. Man (Musicology)
  5. Get On The Boat (3121)
  6. Mellow (the Rainbow Children)
  7. Beautiful, Loved & Blessed (3121) [-/5:13.4]
  8. 1+1+1 Is 3 (the Rainbow Children) [0:16.5/-]
  9. What Do U Want Me 2 Do? (Musicology) [-/3:46]
  10. Incense And Candles (3121) [-/3:53.4]
  11. She Loves Me 4 Me (the Rainbow Children)
  12. 3121 (3121) [-/4:27.9]
  13. Muse 2 The Pharoah (the Rainbow Children) [-/4:16]
  14. Musicology (Musicology) [-/4:23]
  15. the Everlasting Now (the Rainbow Children) [-/5:48.4]
  16. Te Amo Corazon (3121)
  17. the Work Pt.1 (the Rainbow Children) [3:46]

Honorable mention:
Rainbow Children (the Rainbow Children) [3:32.75/7:04.85]
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7/31/2006 07:21:00 PM  

Friday, July 28, 2006

eyeCandy: Miami Vice (2006) 3/5

The Miami Vice movie is a lot like a really good episode of the original Miami Vice TV show. And although it's very stylish and gritty (some of it filmed Dominican Republic), it never quite seems to be able to gear up to being a really good movie. The plot is typical of the 1980's ground-breaking television series this is based on: the lead detectives go undercover with lots of drugs, guns, and women around (this time posing as professional international drug smugglers). Things go wrong, people get shot, and in the end its just another day being on the vice squad of America's sin city.

Michael Mann's direction is certainly very competent but, at almost two and a half hours, I think there could have been some additional editing done to good effect. Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx were certainly appropriate choices to take over from Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas' classic vice detectives, Sonny Crockett and Rico Tubbs, but neither of them can quite break through the ice that keeps this incarnation from being a great movie (as an aside, Colin Farrell's Irish accent creeps out every once in a while, which sort of breaks me out of believing he's Sonny Crockett (or Don Johnson)).

I grew up when TV's Miami Vice was the coolest, grittiest thing you could see on television, and I'm not quite sure how or if that affects my view of this movie. I think I'll probably go back and try to determine when Miami Vice was at its height and then rewatch a couple of those seasons (the first two are out on DVD - the rest are held up b/c of music rights, etc.), because I remember it as being a really good and original show (the unprecedented $1.3 million per television episode budget might have helped separate it from the pack back then). In any case, I was happy to see this movie and, if they can haul in the running time a bit, I'd probably go see the next one. Not great, but frankly good enough for a popcorn flick.
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7/28/2006 09:08:00 PM  

Thursday, July 27, 2006

eyeCandy: Ultraviolet (2006) 1/5

Part of my obsessive-compulsive nature is that I will almost never not watch all of a movie, no matter how bad it is. By the end of what I thought was going to be a mercifully short 88 minutes, I deeply regretted not stopping Ultraviolet much, much earlier. I don't know anything about the comic this is based upon, but the movie is terribly lacking in almost every respect.

The storyline is convoluted and almost non-sensical: a genetically engineered super-virus goes awry and infects a great number of people, turning them into "Hemophages", also called Vampires (because of their pointy teeth, need for blood, and light intolerance, but who aren't actually vampires. Go figure). Leading lady Milla Jovovich, whose lamentable acting certainly doesn't distract us from the awful script, is a superhuman Hemophage called "Ultraviolet" and is sent to intercept some bad guy's package containing something that could destroy all of her kind. It turns out to be a child who has been infected in some way and who kindles lost feelings of potential motherhood in Jovovich's character. Touching. She subsequently tries to rescue him from a great many dangers, and there is a lot of running around so Milla can single-handedly kill dozens upon dozens of opponents. In fact, everything feels more like a video game than a movie. Unfortunately, this includes the graphics to some degree, which are too often a little "chunky" looking onscreen, like some inter-mission animated sequence from a high-end video game.

The film had an interesting visual character, but this was simply not enough to combat its many other inadequacies. Director Kurt Wimmer apparently had Ultraviolet taken out of his hands and completely re-edited by the studio after they did not like his original version. If the original was better than this one then this is a good example of how a studio can destroy a film - I shudder to imagine it being worse than what was released. This is just not a good movie (and Milla Jovovich's skeletal figure even robs us guys of the normally oh-so-hot super-futuristic-heroine costume perks ).
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7/27/2006 10:45:00 PM  

Friday, July 21, 2006

eyeCandy: Pirates of the Caribbean - Dead Man's Chest (2006) 4/5

Okay, okay, okay. Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest is probably a 3/5 movie if I wanted to be totally objective - it's a serious retread of the original film and, clocking in at almost two and a quarter hours, it's in dire need of tightening - but I just get too much enjoyment out of the marvelous visual work done on the oceany Davy Jones and his crew and, as I believe I've already mentioned on these pages, I think Johnny Depp is the greatest actor of his generation and is simply a pleasure to watch act.

So what's this one all about? Will Turner (Orlando Bloom) and his love Elizabeth Swann (Keira Knightley) have gotten into trouble for helping out that rascal Jack Sparrow (as accounted in the first film). Their only way out of this situation is to somehow acquire Jack's mysterious compass and return it to some scheming nobleman for a pardon. Unfortunately, this quest coincides with the supernatural horror of Davy Jones and his mutated crew of undead sea-men who have returned seeking Jack's soul in repayment of a debt. But what chance is there of defeating such horrors? Only to recover the Dead Man's Chest containing the still-beating heart of Davy Jones - possession of which allows you to control Jones and the waters he rules!

Johnny Depp once again does a great job on his cross-dressing, rock star pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow, but the impact is simply not as powerful as it was in the first movie, which isn't that surprising. For the most part, the other actors in the film perform aptly but the movie doesn't really seem to be moving until Depp hits the screen. Actually, there is one exception to this - Davy Jones is a wonder to behold. This computer animated creature (performed by Bill Nighy) is a phenomenal achievement in visual effects. His crew are similarly interesting to behold, but Jones himself really transcends his animated nature to become a suitably convincing foil for Depp's Sparrow.

Was this movie as good as the first one? No, I don't think so. Although director Gore Verbinski and co. definitely made a valiant effort to add more flash and flair to the proceedings this time, the fact remains that the results exhibit some poor pacing and, in the absence of the superb technical work that was achieved, could have resulted in a relatively flat picture. That said, I certainly enjoyed the Dead Man's Chest and hold out some hope that the third installment of the series will leverage this considerable technological investment while learning from the missteps made here.

PS: This film ends with a scene leading immediately into the third installment of the series - Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End, coming in 2007 - which was shot back-to-back with this movie.
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7/21/2006 11:57:00 PM  

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

newsFlash: Syd Barrett, founder of Pink Floyd, dies

I feel that given the impact that he and the early Floyd albums had in my high school and undergrad years, I should share with everyone that Syd Barrett, the founder and original lead singer/guitarist of Pink Floyd, died yesterday.

Barrett was responsible for the group's early singles, such as See Emily Play and Lucifer Sam, as well as penning almost all of their 1967 debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn . The ritualistic use and abuse of acid and other psychedlics, combined with the pressures of stardom, gradually incapacitated Barrett. In circumstances not unsimilar to Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys' collapse after Pet Sounds, the band tried to keep Barrett around as a songwriter but replaced him on stage with a young David Gilmour. Barrett played a role in a couple of tunes on Pink Floyd's sophomore release, A Saucerful of Secrets, but that was the end of his Floyd contributions (Shine On You Crazy Diamond off of 1975's Wish You Were Here was a tribute to him).

Thankfully some of the band and related others coaxed Barrett into recorded two fascinating solo albums in 1970, the Madcap Laughs and Barrett (Opel, which consists of previously unreleased materials, was issued in 1988). As stated in the New Rolling Stone Record Guide (1983), these albums are "a fascinating if disconcerting case study of someone who went the chemical distance and never returned". Thanks for all the beauty and madness, my friend. Rest in peace.
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7/12/2006 10:24:00 AM  

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

commandN: First Year Anniversary Episode (#52)!!!

commandN's first year anniversary episode is now online for your viewing pleasure! We've got Brian's interview with iconic director David Cronenberg (A History of Violence, Spider, Naked Lunch, the Fly, etc.), a review of the new iBeanbag chair, some security tips from Mike, plus Amber and I shot our headLINES and webPICKS (with Chris) from a boat on Halifax harbour. In short - lots of fun stuff!

We've been pushing to make each episode better than the last over commandN's first year, and we're all very happy to be able to share our awesome 52nd episode with you. Thanks for watching and here's to many more episodes to come!
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7/11/2006 10:41:00 PM  

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

eyeCandy: Superman Returns (2006) 4/5

Superman Returns is an attempt to revive the Superman franchise, much in the same way as Batman Begins, and, I'm happy to say, it's a very successful attempt. Unlike Batman Begins, Superman Returns doesn't scrap all the movies that came before it and start from scratch. Although there is a certain amount of re-envisioning, Superman Returns picks up after a five-year absence from Earth by the Man of Steel. During that time Superman was in deep space investigating the remains of his home planet, Krypton, and Lex Luther was sitting in jail (a convenient convergence of events :-) ). I've heard people refer to this as "Superman 3", essentially, on the basis that the original 1983 Superman III and 1987's Superman IV are movies best forgotten. Having recently re-watched the original 1978 Superman, I'm not sure I wouldn't say that about the first two as well. In fairness, though, at least Superman I and Superman II were fairly true in spirit to the legend of Superman, whereas nothing so generous can be said about III and IV (the addition of Richard Pryor to the cast for the third installment should have been a strong hint).

Superman Returns is superbly directed by the talented Brian Singer, of Usual Suspects and X-Men fame (Singer also has a hand in the story development here as well). Singer was brought on after Brett Ratner left Superman Returns to direct X-Men 3, which Singer was supposed to direct but wanted to put off until he had a chance to try his hand at Superman Returns (the result: a big step up for Superman and a step down for X-Men 3). Brandon Routh does a fantastic job as Superman - he intensely evokes the memory of Christopher Reeve's original performance as the Man of Steel, not only bearing a physical resemblance, but carrying himself similarly and even emulating Reeve's speech (not since Ewan McGregor's takeover of the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Alec Guinness have I seen such a pitch perfect interpretation of character). Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor, while generally (and correctly, I think) harsher and more ruthless than Gene Hackman's original, is also inspired. In fact, all the characters (including Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane, who is now a mother and living with another man) have been fleshed out nicely and given a grittier edge than in the originals (Clark Kent even drinks a beer! :-) ).

I saw the IMAX version of the movie not only because I love the big, big screen, but because it presents some parts of the film in 3D. The 3D scenes were pretty neat and I was happy to see a major live-action picture experimenting with this kind of technology. That said, your seating position does have some effect on how realistic the 3D parts are (try to get to the middle of the theatre for this one to avoid the minor "double vision" you can get from some angles) and the fact that you have to put your glasses on and off at several different points in the film (there are only a few segments that are 3D, so you don't need to wear those goofy glasses the whole time) takes you out of the story a bit. Given that this is basically a "popcorn" movie, I don't think that's a major problem, though.

A couple of other pieces of trivia worth noting. Singer makes multiple references to the original movie in this film (e.g. the closing lines in Superman Returns, see PS below; when Superman saves Lois from a plane crash he says: "I hope this doesn't put any of you off flying. Statistically, it's still the safest way to travel", the same words Reeve spoke when he saved Lois from the helicopter crash in the first movie), but the one that really stood out for me was when it is said that Superman stands for "truth, justice, and that kind of stuff" (I'm paraphrasing) instead of "truth, justice, and the American way" - quite a telling amendment reflecting upon the perception of the United States in today's world. In other trivia, Superman's father, Jor-El (cast as Anthony Hopkins by Ratner), is actually played once again by Marlon Brando. Singer used Brando's parts from the original Superman, and discarded scenes from Superman II, to assemble an effective performance from the now-deceased actor.

All in all this is a wonderful new beginning for one of the most iconic characters in our culture. The hokiness and comedic relief (e.g. Luthor's bumbling cohorts in the originals) are pretty much gone, as is, thank god, the completely unbearable Margot Kidder poem from the first movie (I can't recall cringing so intensely at any part of any movie in recent memory). Despite his humble small-town roots, this is a 21st century Superman and one who I hope to see again before too long.

PS: There is a pretty major twist in this movie that doesn't fully reveal itself until close to the end. I won't mention it here but it shouldn't be hard to find out about if you're curious.
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7/05/2006 09:22:00 AM