DVD

REVIEW: Judas Priest – Angel of Retribution (2004 CD/DVD)

“Sabbath are heavy, but Priest are metal.” – K.K. Downing

JUDAS PRIEST – Angel of Retribution (2004  Sony CD/DVD deluxe set)

Like Iron Maiden before them, Judas Priest pulled off a successful reunion tour before venturing into the studio to record a new album.  When the new music finally came, a deluxe package was made available featuring live videos from the reunion tour.  In this deluxe-sized review, we’ll take a close look at both the CD and DVD content.


The CD

Pure anticipation preceded the arrival of the Angel of Retribution.  Two underwhelming albums with Tim “Ripper” Owens on lead vocals caused Judas Priest’s star to diminish in the 90s and 2000s.  The return of the Metal God, Rob Halford, meant a reunion of the successful 1990-1991 Painkiller lineup.  The new album cover even featured the return of the Painkiller character, now the Angel of Retribution.  But a long time had passed.  Could Priest hope to live up to the hype, and their legacy?

The answer is mixed.  While Angel of Retribution contains enough classic Judas Priest metal to consider it a success, it also has some truly legendary filler, of sub-Ram It Down quality.  Instead of running through the album track by track, let’s break it down in terms of song integrity.

Priest wrote a natural sounding album, with elements from virtually all eras of Priest past.  They say it came about organically, and it does sound that way.  Some of the best material are the songs that sound like variations of classic Priest.

The opening song “Judas Rising” brings it back to 1976’s Sad Wings of Destiny with that fade-in opener inspired by “Victim of Changes”.  Then it transforms right into the Painkiller era, with something that sounds like a far more intense “Hell Patrol”.  Solid 5/5.

The slightly psychedelic first single “Revolution” ranks among the better songs, although perhaps it’s actually most similar to “Little Crazy” by Rob Halford’s Fight.  It has flavours of Rocka Rolla and Killing Machine, and is far from what anyone expected Priest to put out for a first single.  Dig that slide guitar bit in the solo!  Solid 5/5.

Worth Fighting For” isn’t a ballad; it’s a little harder edged than that.  It’s the one song that is unique in the Priest catalogue, and remarkably strong.  The riff has a nice chug to it, while Rob ably carries the melody to a higher place.  A special song, and a 5/5.

Demonizer” is Jugulator meets Painkiller, faster than a hellriding devil dog (whatever that is), but “the Painkiller rises again!”   So testifies Halford.  It’s so ridiculously over the top that it can only be worth a solid 5/5.  Likewise the similar “Hellrider” on side two.  Both feature double bass so fast that it’s almost a parody of itself, but both rock so hard you’ll break your neck keeping up.  “Hellrider” is also notable as the song where Rob Halford inexplicably name drops “Megatron”.  Similar songs, both solid 5/5’s.

The ballad “Angel” is a little soft, unexpectedly so on an album with so much heavy metal.  Yet, Priest can do anything.  The acoustic “Angel” could be the quietest ballad since the early days.  “Put sad wings around me now,” sings Rob to the angel, an appropriate callback.  As his voice aged it acquired more depth.  That helps make “Angel” a respectable 4/5.

Deal With the Devil” and “Wheels of Fire” fall in a netherworld of pedestrian Priest.  These both feel like filler from Point of Entry or Ram it Down.  Less explosive, less memorable.  The autobiographical “Deal With the Devil” is amusing for its many lyrical callbacks: “Under blood red skies”, “Took on all the world”, references to razor blades.  Likewise the short one, “Eulogy“, which is really an intro for another song that we’ll get to.  “They remain still as stained class”, “Guarded by the Sentinel”, and so on.  3/5 each.

The worst of all songs is “Loch Ness“, a mess so atrocious that we had to devote an entire entry just to that one song.  Combined with its intro “Eulogy”, it’s over 15 minutes of mire that has no reason to exist.  Many people simply stop the album after “Hellrider” and leave this foul turd to rot unheard.  “Loch Ness” could very well be the worst Judas Priest song of all time.  A flaming turd to extinguish all flaming turds.  The worst of all putrid, rancid filler songs ever foisted upon the faithful.  0/5.

 


“Reunited” DVD

It’s worth getting a copy of this album with the bonus DVD.  For one, there’s a documentary from the Priest Reunited tour.  Secondly, there are seven uncut live songs here for you to enjoy, and it’s the only official video release from the Reunited tour.  The live footage is something to see, especially if you own the robotic Rising in the East DVD.  In that concert, Rob Halford was a stiff mannequin instead of a frontman.  Here, he comfortably in charge and engaged.  The entire lineup is energized.  “Breaking the Law” sees them powered up and working hard.

But how did the seemingly unlikely reunion begin?  According to the documentary, the band and Halford met to discuss the forthcoming Metalogy box set.  Glenn Tipton states that they decided to reunite later the same day.  It was like they’d never been apart.  Terribly British, says Rob.  “Have a cup of tea, see you later.”  Rob does express regret for his actions (reportedly he gave Judas Priest his notice in 1992 by fax), but it seems all was forgiven over time.

Beware which version you buy.  This CD/DVD combo set contains the documentary plus the full live songs:  “Breaking the Law”, “Metal Gods”, “A Touch of Evil”, “Hell Bent for Leather”, “Eletric Eye:”, “Diamonds & Rust”, and “Living After Midnight”.  The DualDisc version does not; it only includes edited fragments of those tracks.  Which is a shame, because the band sounded fantastic and Rob was in full-lunged form.  This is probably the best live version of “A Touch of Evil” available, for example.  Not everyone likes the acoustic version of “Diamonds & Rust”, but it’s certainly different. The only bonus to DualDisc is that you also get the album in “enhanced stereo”.  Avoid that; get this.


Although Angel of Retribution is overall a very strong Judas Priest album, “Loch Ness” is impossible to ignore.  It does serious damage to an album that was otherwise an impressive listen.  In the included DVD, K.K. Downing says they had to pick and choose from an overabundance of songs.  Can you imagine how bad the leftovers are if “Loch Ness” made the album?

3.5/5 stars

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DVD REVIEW: Blade Runner (1982) – Tribute to Rutger Hauer by Holen MaGroin

Guest review by Holen MaGroin


BLADE RUNNER (1982, 2007 Ultimate DVD edition, Warner Bros.)

Directed by Ridley Scott

The first time I saw Blade Runner, I was unimpressed. I didn’t believe it to be a bad film, but it inspired nothing inside me. However, something about it burrowed into my mind. It could have been the inspirational aesthetic, the cryptic atmosphere, or something operating deeper in my subconscious. Something I couldn’t place my finger on. Whatever it was, I had an undeniable desire to see the film again. When I acted upon that impulse, I fell in love with it. All the emotion and humanity that had eluded me on the initial viewing became elucidated the second time around. Since then, I’ve viewed the film many times. Each of my viewings reveals more secrets and offers new interpretations to this alluringly ambiguous picture.

I’m not entirely certain why Blade Runner went over my head the first time. If I had to speculate, I’d guess that my mind was so overwhelmed by the sheer visual spectacle, that I had a difficult time focusing on the movie behind it. After becoming accustomed to the astonishing world in which the story resides, it became clear to me that much more than just the design was awe-inspiring. Underneath the electronic digital exterior was a human pulse, one that beat the strongest in the characters that weren’t even human. It poses the existential question of the definition of life, and makes us wonder who should have the authority to define it.

The events take place in the future world of November 2019. Earth has become an overcrowded, polluted, and commercialized urban environment. The Tyrell Corporation manufactures synthetic human beings known as replicants. They are just as intelligent as their creators, while also possessing superior physical abilities. They’re used off-world for slave labor, and are forbidden on Earth. Deckard is a blade runner, the best there’s ever been. His job is to take out stray replicants, a process described by the euphemism ‘retiring’.

 

When we’re introduced to Deckard, it’s clear we’re observing a broken man. He lacks purpose, and hides his feelings of worthlessness behind alcohol and a bitter attitude. Having quit his job as a blade runner, he drifts around going through the motions. He’s living a very shallow existence, numbed by whiskey, afraid to feel, and terrified of self-reflection. He’s called in to do one last job, and does so only after being threatened by his old boss, Bryant. Six replicants escaped an off-world colony, and four made it to Earth with their lives. They’ve travelled to Earth in an attempt to extend their lives, which have been set to approximately four years. Their leader is the tactical and ruthless Roy Batty, an imposing figure played by the recently departed Rutger Hauer (R.I.P.). Deckard’s job is to retire them, as they are considered a threat to the public.

Despite being artificial, these four replicants are the most compelling characters in the film. They possess real emotions, and you can’t help but empathize with their plight for life. Their methods may be cutthroat, but understandable given the abhorrent treatment they’ve received at the hands of humans. Not excusable, but understandable. Roy is the most viscous, yet he is also the one we learn to care for the most. The other three want more life only because of their fear of death. Unlike his companions, Roy is a pensive philosopher that questions the nature of his existence, and sees the artificial manipulation of his life expectancy as an injustice perpetrated by Tyrell, his creator.

Contrarily, Deckard is a classic noir archetype inserted into a science fiction world as a way of contrasting him with his supposedly ‘less than human’ targets. He has no raison d’être, no philosophy, he simply exists. The very machines he’s been commissioned to destroy contain more human characteristics than he does. He has learned to detach himself from his emotions because somewhere inside he knows that his job is immoral. As the film progresses, it’s a truth that he finds harder and harder to deny.

His path to realization begins when he visits Tyrell at the onset of his case. While there he meets the beautiful replicant Rachel and is immediately captivated by her. Rachel isn’t initially aware that she is a replicant, as she is part of a new generation that has been fitted with memory implants. She’s rather sterile and distant at first, but ironically becomes more emotional as she comes to accept the fact that she is indeed a synthetic human being. This coincides with Deckard’s own increased feelings of guilt and empathy towards these machines as he approaches the completion of his job. Both characters struggle with the concept of humanity in a dehumanizing urban environment, falling in love as they relate to each other’s fear and uncertainty.

Meanwhile, Roy and the seductive Pris manipulate genetic designer J.F. Sebastian into leading them to Tyrell. Sebastian is afflicted with a disease that accelerates aging, allowing him to relate to and take pity on the replicants and their limited lifespan. Roy and Sebastian visit Tyrell during the dead of night, under the pretense of a chess game. Roy’s patience has been rewarded. He is finally able to face his creator. His resentment towards Tyrell for manipulating his lifespan culminates in the line “I want more life, fucker.” The profanity underscores the pent up rage. It’s an emotional slip for the previously silver-tongued devil, and a subtle hint for his surprising climactic decision at the end of the film. When Tyrell informs Roy that there is no way to extend his lifespan, he disposes of his creator and Sebastian.

Deckard learns of the deaths of Tyrell and Sebastian on his radio, and decides to check out Sebastian’s place. What follows is the infamous final confrontation between Deckard and Roy. Deckard offers absolutely no challenge to Roy. Roy’s methodical killings of before are replaced by a sadistic playfulness. Driven past the point of caring upon the realization of his inevitable mortality, he plays cat and mouse with Deckard. In the middle of their game Roy’s hand begins to seize up; his time has come. Deckard attempts to jump from one building to the next to escape, but doesn’t go the distance, grasping the edge hanging precariously high above the ground. Roy catches up to him and easily makes the jump to the next building, standing above Deckard as his fingers slip. But just as Deckard’s grip fails, Roy grasps Deckard’s arm and hoists him up onto the building, saving his life.

In this moment Roy realizes that the most human gesture he can make before death is forgiveness. Saving Deckard even after he killed all his companions was an act of mercy and forgiveness that made his final deed a human one. Roy has reached the stage of acceptance, and ponders in his death soliloquy that once someone dies, all of their memories are lost. All their experience is gone forever. As he puts it, “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain.” An immortal line written by Rutger Hauer himself, it fixes an image to the human fear that we won’t have a legacy, and that all we’ve learned and experienced will be lost forever. Roy believes that with the loss of his experiences, humans will remain ignorant of the nature of replicant life, and that humans will continue to view them as objects to be used instead of living creatures. As he dies peacefully, a dove ascends out of the oppressive city. The shot seems to suggest that Roy does have a soul, and the dove symbolizes something pure and innocent. Roy has redeemed himself by saving Deckard, and his purified spirit ascends to heaven.

Blade Runner is a pensive film. It takes its time unravelling to give the viewer a chance to think along with it. It’s about a man that learns to embrace his humanity from the very machines he’s expected to kill. He even falls in love with one. It makes us wonder what truly constitutes life, and what value a life has after it’s gone and forgotten. Blade Runner is moody, stylized, and very open to interpretation. It’s certainly not a film for everyone, but for the people that enjoy when movies offer more questions than answers, there are few that have done it better.

5/5 replicants

Version Guide

There are five distinct cuts of Blade Runner available on Blu-ray, so I figured I’d do a quick version guide and offer my opinion on the best version of the film (it’s not the Final Cut).

  • Work print (1982) – The original work print shown to test audiences. It is a few minutes shorter than the other cuts, which are practically all the same length. It contains different opening credits, and one instance of voice over narration during Roy’s death scene different than the one heard in the theatrical cuts.
  • U.S. Theatrical Cut (1982) – Voice over narration was added that elaborates on certain plot points and offers background information. This version also contains a happier ending.
  • International Theatrical Cut (1982) – Identical to the U.S. Theatrical cut, only it has a few instances of unedited violence.
  • Director’s Cut (1992) – This version removes all voice over narration, and the happier ending. It also inserts a unicorn dream that heavily suggests that Deckard is a replicant. This version doesn’t contain the extra violence.
  • The Final Cut (2007) – Everything in this cut is cleaned up. The visuals, the sound, etc. Visible wires were removed from the flying cars, and an obvious stunt double’s face was digitally replaced with the actress’s face. Includes a longer unicorn dream, no narration, Roy apologizing to Sebastian before killing him, a different background for the dove shot, the violence from the international cut, and green color grading. Roy also says “I want more life, father.” This is the only version besides the work print where he says father instead of fucker.

My favorite (short version): The director’s cut.

My favorite (long version): The green color grading of The Final Cut is awful. It buries the spectacular world and neon colors in a gross green. Using CGI to replace a face and cover up wires is also a bit too revisionist for my tastes as well. I also think the assertion that Deckard is a replicant ruins the theme of the movie. Therefore, I don’t like the unicorn dream. I also don’t like Roy apologizing to Sebastian, it’s out of character. And father just isn’t as powerful as fucker, even with the God complex connotations. As for the theatrical cuts, the narration isn’t all that awful in my eyes (it’s performed pretty badly), but it is a better film without it. It has some interesting background information, but it ruins some of the ambiguity. I do like that the theatrical cut doesn’t push the idea that Deckard is a replicant, because it’s missing the unicorn dream. The happy ending is inconsistent with the movie’s tone though. So my ideal version would be the international theatrical cut without the narration, and without the happy ending. But since we don’t have that cut, my preferred version is the director’s cut, with the international cut coming in a very close second. You should watch both of those cuts just to get the full experience. I switch back and forth depending on my mood.

This review is dedicated to Rutger Hauer. Thanks for the films, man. We’ll miss you.

 

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 Japanese import)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Cynjas Japanese import CD)

So you got the new Whitesnake.  Think you got all the songs just because you got the deluxe version on CD or iTunes?  Naw!  Think again!  Once again, it’s Japan with the hardest to find bonus tracks.

To be fair, it’s a give and take.  While Japan often gets their own exclusive songs, they also miss out on others.  In North America, we got a deluxe edition with “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong”, “If I Can’t Have You”, and three remixes of album tracks.  The Japanese CD has none of those, but instead has its own exclusive remix.

The ballad “After All” is surely one of the highlights on Flesh & Blood.  As a simple, fairly unadorned acoustic love song, it’s right in the wheelhouse of more recent “unzipped” ‘Snake.  Well, the Japanese bonus remix is even more stripped down.  The “Unzipped” mix is the same recording, just with less stuff in the mix — no electric guitars, no keyboards.  An insignificant difference?  Absolutely.  But with an acoustic song this fucking good, you may enjoy the purity of the unembellished version.  Up to you really, but if you’re the kind of collector that needs “all the tracks”, then you do need this, don’t you?

“I don’t care about bonus tracks,” you say.  “Just tell me if the album is any good!”

Check out our track by track review for full details, but in short:  fuck yes!

Flesh & Blood is being described by enthusiastic fans as “the best album since Slip of the Tongue.  They are probably correct in that declaration.  It’s stunningly good:  diverse, well written and well played.  It draws from a broader palette of sound than many of the past albums, and even dips back into the 1970s on “Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong” (which isn’t on the Japanese CD).  There are no songs to skip through, and while not all are equally strong, none suck.  It has a high ratio of songs that could become future classics, like “Gonna Be Alright”, “Good To See You Again”, and “Sands of Time”.  So yes, to answer your questions, it’s a bloody good album no matter what version you can afford.

The domestic CD is the best buy for its songs-per-dollar value (18 tracks on the deluxe), over the Japanese (14 tracks).  Rating this purely as an album with its bonus track, it’s still a solid:

4.5/5 stars.  Could be the album of the year.

REVIEW: Whitesnake – Flesh & Blood (2019 deluxe)

WHITESNAKE – Flesh & Blood (2019 Frontiers CD/DVD deluxe edition)

What’s the year again?  You’ll want to check, because David Coverdale just released the best Whitesnake album since the 1980s.  Swollen with fresh song ideas, this ‘Snake has more bite.  Maybe it’s the unleashing of Reb Beach or the new contributions of Joel Hoekstra.  Whatever the cause, Flesh & Blood is sheer nirvana for fans of classic hard rock and technical guitar playing.  The album is evidence that this could be the best lineup David’s had since Steve Vai.  For guitar geeks, there are lead break credits for each song, a-la Judas Priest.

“Good to See You Again” is an ideal opener and you could hear it working that way live.  David then assures you it’s “Gonna Be Alright”, on a slick number with a darker vibe and major hooks — almost more 90s Queensryche than Whitesnake, but with a good time in mind.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the lead single, shows that David isn’t afraid to get sleazy even in his senior years.  It’s good time party rock, expertly delivered.  A clear choice for single.

Going heavy, “Hey You (You Make Me Rock)” grooves like the ‘Snake you remember.  The soloing here will make you wet your pants.  “But it’s not John Sykes!” scream the unbelievers.  Well, check out “Always & Forever” for a hint of that Thin Lizzy regality.  It’ll bring you back to the days of Jailbreak but with David instead of Phillip.  Then comes the first ballad: “When I Think of You (Color Me Blue)”  Reminiscent of “The Deeper the Love”?  There are many who love ballads — more power to ’em!  This is a good one.  Things get greasier on “Trouble is Your Middle Name”.  Pedal to the metal — not sure where David is getting the fuel from, but it’s potent.

Halfway through now, it’s the title track “Flesh & Blood” sounding a lot like Slip of the Tongue era ‘Snake.  Think something like “Slow Poke Music”.  It leads perfectly into “Well I Never”, soulful but dark and heavy.  Amazing stuff.  Another ballad, “Heart of Stone”, brings to mind the glory of Coverdale-Page.  This is heavy stuff for a ballad, loaded with integrity and delivered expertly by the master.  Then it’s the bluesy boogie of “Get Up”, a song clearly designed to get asses shaking, and air guitars a-picking.  One more ballad:  “After All” is pleasantly acoustic, and an
appropriate respite from electric shreddery.

The final song of the main 13 track songlist is an epic:  “Sands of Time”.  David explored Arabic sounds before on “Judgement Day”, and this is another foray into the exotic.  Something about those scales automatically make a song huge in scope.  “Sands of Time” is really impressive, and Reb & Joel compliment it with the perfect solos.

There are two bonus tracks on the deluxe CD.  The first is a callback to early Whitesnake.  “Can’t Do Right for Doing Wrong” sounds like the kind of blues David was playing in the 1970s.  It’s sheer delight hearing him revert to pure bluesy ‘Snake.  Lastly it’s “If I Can’t Have You”, a good if unremarkable song after all this epic madness.

Is that all?  Of course not; David Coverdale is known for giving value to the fans.  There’s a DVD with different mixes and videos too.  This disc sounds huge.  The bass — woah!  First:  “Shut Up & Kiss Me”, the video “classic Jag” version.  Because David is driving the Jaguar from “Here I Go Again”, obviously.  It’s Whitesnake on a small stage, in a club, up close and personal.  Unsurprisingly the “Club Mix” of the same is just the video without the Jag.

Three remixes are presented in hi-res.  “Shut Up & Kiss Me” is the “video mix”; nice to have a clean audio version of that.  To hear the differences will require further investigation (clapping at the end aside).  An impressive “X-tended mix” of “Gonna Be Alright” is pretty cool.  Last is a “radio mix” of “Sands of Time”, which is strangely longer than the album version.  Unusual for a radio mix.  All the remixes are slightly longer.

Japanese customers got one exclusive bonus track, an “Unzipped” mix of “After All”.  It doesn’t have any of the other bonuses.  That CD is in the mail and when it arrives we’ll review it too.

Finally, the DVD contains a 15 minute “behind the scenes” of the making of the album.  David reveals that The Purple Album was intended to be his last.  The passion returned and he followed it.  Sounds like beautiful women are still inspiring to him.  As far as the album goes, you’ll notice the background vocals are quite thick.  David says that all the Whitesnake members…all but Tommy Aldridge anyway…are capable lead vocalists in their own right.  All six band members get their chance to speak.

This is an album you’ll be enjoying all summer.  Dig it.

4.5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Grandma’s Boy (Unrated 2006)

GRANDMA’S BOY (2006 20th Century Fox Unrated Edition DVD)

Allen Covert finally got to step out from Adam Sandler’s sizable shadow in Grandma’s Boy, one of the best, most re-watchable weed comedies this side of Half Baked. Covert can’t really do an entire comedy on his own so expect to see Sandler’s other reliable sidemen:  Peter Dante, David Spade, Kevin Nealon and Rob Schneider.  Joel Moore (Avatar) and Linda Cardelini (Freaks & Geeks, Captain America: Civil War) are on hand, but check out a super young Jonah Hill!

The setup is pretty simple. Allen Covert has been evicted from his apartment (not his fault!) and decides to go live with some new “roomates” — his grandma and her two friends. But he can’t let his co-workers at a video game company know that he’s not throwing it down with hotties every night, so he keeps it on the downlow. Covert has the best job for his lifestyle — he tests video games all day. If you like video games, this movie is for you.

Things come to a head when Linda Cardelini shows up to get the delayed game back on its release schedule, The head designer J.P. (Moore dressed up like Neo) seems a little jealous of his teammates. During the course of the movie, copious amounts of the herb are consumed before the action packed video gaming climax.  Even Grandma might partake…accidentally of course.

If you like those Happy Madison movies, but are sad they don’t make ’em like they used to anymore, give Grandma’s Boy a visit.

3/5 stars

REVIEW: Quiet Riot – One Night in Milan (2019 CD/DVD)

QUIET RIOT – One Night in Milan (2019 Frontiers Deluxe Edition CD/DVD)

James Durbin made me a believer.

On paper, the current Quiet Riot shouldn’t be my thing.  A band with no original members and a frontman from one of those singing contest shows?  No thanks.  Except it’s actually good.  After years of flailing around with different replacement singers, Frankie Banali finally hit gold when he got James Durbin.  Wisely, Frankie chose to do a live album with him.

One Night in Milan is a terrific live CD/DVD set, aided and abetted by a singer who is 100% into it.  Durbin has charisma and the frontman chops, but importantly, he’s not trying to be Kevin DuBrow.  He still uses the striped mike stand, but otherwise Durbin is his own person.  His range is out of this world, and though his voice may grate on some ears, he sounds terrific to this listener.  The whole lineup, including Alex Grossi on guitar and veteran Chuck Wright on bass, has gelled.

Quiet Riot get points for doing the opposite of what most bands do.  They didn’t ignore their 1990’s albums!  “Whatever It Takes” (from Down to the Bone) and “Terrified” (from “reunion” album Terrified) sound awesome live.  “Terrified” in particular has been a long time coming, a true hidden classic from a forgotten era.  On the other hand, there are only two songs (“Freak Flag” and “Can’t Get Enough”) from their newest album Road Rage.  There’s only so much room on a live CD, and it’s otherwise stuffed with stone cold Quiet Riot classics.  It’s cool to hear deeper cuts like “Condition Critical”, “Thunderbird” and “Let’s Get Crazy” live.

The DVD, featuring all the songs from the CD, is even more convincing.  Banali continues to thunder like no other drummer, a true phenomenon.  There’s more stage talk included, and Banali introduces “Thunderbird” performed live for the first time ever with piano.  Durbin is always the focus on stage, although Wright and Grossi are both mobile, entertaining performers.

If you’re just not into Quiet Riot without Kevin DuBrow, that’s fine and you should stick to what you like.  However it’s safe to say that James Durbin has saved Quiet Riot from becoming a pointless parody of itself.  With James center stage, this band has a future again.

4/5 stars

 

 

DVD REVIEW: The Orville – The Complete First Season (2018)

THE ORVILLE – The Complete First Season (2018 20th Century Fox 2 DVD set)

We like Star Trek: Discovery, we really do.  At the same time, we wonder, “Why do studios insist the only way to do Star Trek today is to modernise it into a gritty action drama?”  Does it have to be so?  Is Roddenberry’s utopian vision of the future somehow outdated?

Though CBS Paramount seem terrified of anything “too Trekky”, others have not been timid.  Sensing the wide-open void for something styled in the old spirit of Trek, Seth MacFarlane (of all people) made his move with The Orville.

Before you scoff, let’s not forget that MacFarlane clearly knows his Star Trek.  1) Patrick Stewart regularly appears on his shows.  2) He reunited the entire Next Generation cast for the first time on an episode of Family Guy.  3) He cast Michael Dorn in Ted 2 and dressed him up as Worf.  It should surprise no one that The Orville is closest in spirit to Star Trek:  The Next Generation.  In fact, not even Deep Space Nine or Voyager are this close.  From the gentle pastel sets including conference rooms, hallways and holodecks, to the techno-babble, to the minimal use of violence, The Orville is the NEXT Next Generation.  It is the Enterprise D, but if Captain Picard allowed the crew to crack wise when opportunity knocked.

It would take only the slightest nudge to turn The Orville into Trek canon.  Change some names and terminology, tone down the humour slightly, and you’re there.  Humour on a starship?  Yes, of course, but The Orville is not a comedy.  It is first and foremost science fiction, and indeed some of the best science fiction on television since Star Trek: Enterprise was cancelled.  The episodes are generally commentary on modern society, much like Star Trek has always been.  Change the setting to outer space and suddenly it’s parable.  Topics covered include the “court of public opinion” seen in social media today, gender reassignment, underachievers, religion in society, and making the most difficult decisions.  The biggest difference between the voyages of the Orville and the Enterprise isn’t even that big:  on the Orville, there are no transporter beams.

The crew of The Orville is obsessed with Earth culture circa 1980-present, but that is to be expected given Seth MacFarlane’s own interests.  References to movies and TV shows of today are rampant.  Jokes are toned down from the usual modern fare, but the pilot episode sets up a comedic premise.  Captain Ed Mercer (MacFarlane) catches his wife, Commander Kelly Grayson, in bed with a blue alien (Rob Lowe).  When Grayson is assigned as his first officer on the Union ship the Orville, the entire crew learns of their marriage issues.  Captain Mercer’s best friend (and best pilot in the fleet) is Lt. Gordon Malloy played by Scott Grimes of American Dad.  Seth’s buddy Norm MacDonald also shows up as Lt. Yaphit, a gelatinous yellow blob based on Odo from Deep Space Nine, but played for comedy relief.

Too much science fiction today has flimsy barely-there characters.  The Orville’s crew are more fully formed than the usual, with a few receiving interesting story arcs.  They are all new versions of classic archetypes.  The robot Isaac (Mark Jackson) is the twist on Data.  He is still immensely curious about humans, but knows he is vastly superior and considers everyone on the Orville his inferior.  Bortus (Peter Macon) is your “Worf”, a deep voiced, strong alien species with head ridges.  His unique trait is that his race is single-gendered, and much of his character development is in tandem with his partner Klyden (Chad L. Coleman).  Halston Sage plays the inexperienced security chief Alara Kitan, a young alien from a planet with such high gravity, that their species have evolved tremendous physical strength.  Though small she can easily throw a punch to send Bortus flying, or re-shape a cube of titanium with her hands!  Yet she lacks the confidence that her crewmates have in her.

More casting genius:  Penny Johnson Jerald, Deep Space Nine‘s Kassidy Yates, as ship’s doctor Claire Finn.  In cameos or recurring roles are Ron Canada (Next Generation), Charlize Theron and Liam Neeson (A Million Ways to Die in the West), Victor Garber (Titanic), Mike Henry (Family Guy), Robert Picardo (Voyager‘s Doctor), and Jeffrey Tambor (Arrested Development).  One has to respect both the sheer talent involved, and the willingness of Star Trek actors to participate.

As the show grows during its first season, comedy takes a back seat to science fiction.  In the bonus features, MacFarlane states that he paid attention to fan feedback, and he noted that fans were discussing the legitimate characters and science fiction tales.  Episodes feature a new twist on classic sci-fi (and even Star Trek) themes:  living in a simulation, a space zoo, Flatland, a civilisation living in a generation ship without its own knowledge, interference with space-time and developing cultures, and many planets with Earth-like societies that act as a mirror for us to view our own.  Ray guns are rarely used, and monsters are usually misunderstood.

It’s remarkable but not untrue to say that The Orville is Star Trek, but without infringing any copyrights.  Dig a little further in the credits and you’ll have a better understanding of how they managed to play The Orville so close to classic Trek.  In the director’s chair:  Jonathan Frakes, AKA Riker, and director of Trek on both TV and in cinemas.  Also directing:  Robert Duncan McNeill, AKA Tom Paris and also director of many Voyager episodes.  Behind the scenes is Brannon Braga, a producer on The Next Generation, Voyager, Enterprise, Cosmos…and The Orville.  Jon Favreau even directed the pilot episode.  With a team like this in place, MacFarlane and friends were more than capable of making a show truly within the optimistic Roddenberry philosophy.  Guys like Braga, Frakes and McNeill spent years living in that universe.

The DVD includes your traditional special features, the best of which is a Q&A session with the cast and creators of the show.  Another interesting featurette is about the physical model of the Orville spaceship, used for those slow “beauty shots”.

The Orville is the show that Trek fans have wanted for years now, at least since JJ Abrams brought it back to movie screens.  The true Trek on TV is not Discovery.  It’s not Short Treks.  It is The Orville.  If that pisses off CBS Paramount, then too bad.  If they won’t make the Trek that fans want, then someone else will — and did.

5/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: THX-1138 (George Lucas Director’s Cut)

THX-1138 (Originally 1970, 1998 George Lucas Director’s Cut, Warner DVD)

Directed by George Lucas

Anyone claiming to be a Star Wars fan that hasn’t seen THX-1138 isn’t really a Star Wars fan…yet.  You really can’t grok one without assimilating the other.  They are reflections of each other.  Themes and techniques intertwine.  Sometimes they are opposites, at others, cousins.

This is hard sci-fi. There are no cute furry Ewoks, there is no “villain”, there are only glimmers of heroics. This is a dystopian future brought to you by the once-brilliant director George Lucas, unhampered by his own commercial drives. This is as pure a vision as it gets.  One viewing is not enough to digest THX-1138.  There is little dialogue or exposition. There is no traditional music, and the story plods along in a very Kubrickian fashion.

The setting is not a long time ago, nor far far away.  It is the future right here on Earth, and humanity now lives in a vast underground city.  It is so vast that nobody ever ventures out to its superstructure where malformed, monkey-like “Shell Dwellers” remain. Perhaps they are mutants, victims of a long-forgotten nuclear holocaust.  It is a surveillance society.  Like today, there are few places you can escape the view of a camera lens.  Humanity lives in the bubble of a sterile, pristinely white city that resembles the dullest of shopping malls.  They are told to consume.  At strange Catholic-looking confessionals, one prays to the State and the Masses and a weird Christ-like face. Children are taught entire school courses via a chemical IV. Sexual activity is forbidden unless you are scheduled to produce a child. Sedation by drugs is compulsory. Failure to take your medications will result in drug offences and rehabilition. Some humans are deemed defective and left to themselves in a strange white prison, an asylum that seems to go on forever.

Our protagonist is THX-1138 (Robert Duvall), called “Tex” for short.  He does not feel well. He is sick, shaky, because he is secretly off his medication. Feelings of love and lust are stirring for his roomate, LUH. The lack of sedation has allowed those feelings to surface for the first time. It has also, however, affected his work, and one error is all it takes to clue in the powers-that-be that THX is a drug offender.

Themes turn up again in Lucas’ later films. See the totalitarian faceless government, complete with masked law enforcement (not Stormtroopers but robot officers).  Constant, overlapping staticky background dialogue makes up the most of the soundtrack to this film. Lucas has taken sound effects and used them as music, yet they still convey information crucial to the plot. For further comparison, some shots are even duplicated in Star Wars; see if you can spot them.

THX-1138 isn’t Lucas’ fairytale vision of sci-fi.  Scenes are chilling. THX is channel surfing and comes upon a program of an officer beating a human repeatedly for no apparent reason. This is the entertainment of the future.  The brutality is so iconic that Trent Reznor used the sounds in Nine Inch Nails’ song “Mr. Self Destruct”.  In another scene, two techs are tormenting THX’s body, but their dialogue betrays absolutely no connection whatsoever to the human being they are hurting. “Don’t let it get above 48,” says one, as THX is writhing in agony. “Oh, you let is get above 48, see, that’s why you’re getting those readings.”

The theme of escape, which was common with Luke Skywalker in the first Star Wars, is what drives THX. He eventually finds an ally in a “hologram” (Don Pedro Colley) that he meets in the white asylum. SEN (Donald Pleasance) is suitably creepy as a man obsessed with THX and LUH.  Can they escape the city and see what is beyond?

Lucas loves tampering with his films and THX is one of them. CG race cars and cityscapes enhance the film, while CG Shell Dwellers look phony and out of place. I would have preferred the original Shell Dwellers, but in the cityscapes, the new effects certainly add depth and believability.  Just like the Star Wars special editions, some things work and others do not.  Cloud City worked well in the Star Wars digital tweaks, just as the underground one does here.

DVD bonus features are awesome, including ample documentaries.  For a treat, check for the original black and white student film that Lucas made: THX-1138-4eB – Electronic Labyrinth. See how his vision survived intact to the big screen, and see how ideas such as dialogue acting as the soundtrack was present in the original short.

A fantastic visionary sci-fi film, and a warning to us today. We must not allow our society to become as controlled as THX’s.

Not for everybody. Only for those who like thinking man’s sci-fi.

4/5 stars. Near-perfect dystopian vision.

REVIEW: Dokken – Return to the East Live (2018 Japanese CD/DVD set)

DOKKEN – Return to the East Live (2018 Frontiers Japan CD/region 2 – DVD set)

Even the most devout Dokken fan must acknowledge that Don is not the be-all and end-all of singers.  A good singer, yes, but never in the top tier.  Now that age has taken its toll (as it always does), Don relies on the backup singing of Jeff Pilson, Mick Brown, and George Lynch to hit those high notes.  The classic Dokken lineup reunited for some shows in Japan, and even recorded a new song to go with it.  Fortunately Dokken were up to the challenge, even with the shortcomings that age creates.

Some of the audience looks too young to have known Dokken when they first rocked Japan back in the 80s, but most are die-hards.  Don himself looks cool as a cucumber, with George and Jeff on either side holding down the fort.  Most importantly it seems they had a good time.  Lynch is simply compelling to watch, as he plays impossible licks while making it look so easy.

There’s no messing around with this setlist.  All classic Dokken, all 80s, no filler.  They focused on what the fans wanted and they delivered.  The band sounded great.  Pilson’s all-important bass is given enough room in the mix to be effective.  Songs like “It’s Not Love”, “The Hunter” and especially “Alone Again” buzz with electricity.  Vocally, with great backup singers like Jeff, the band were able to pull it off.  It’s a high energy reunion show.  It’s just too bad so many people in the audience spent it on their phones.

The DVD and CD tracklists are, strangely, not in the same order.  You can hear some obvious vocal overdubs in places, most notably “Kiss of Death”.  There are some sloppy edits on the video.  Don’s lips don’t always match the words, and there are annoying graphic overlays, but it’s a good show with plenty of closeups.  Jeff Pilson is a dynamo on stage, but Wild Mick has lost nothing over the years either.  He hammers on his kit as if he’s still 25 years old!  There is little interaction between the members on stage, except for Jeff who is all over the place, including the keyboards.  Don grins like a Cheshire cat when George lays down those familiar solos.  He picks up the guitar himself for oldies like “Breakin’ the Chains”.

Both the CD and DVD portion have unique bonus content.  After the main feature, you will find 45 minutes of behind the scenes footage, directed by Don.  Shaky camera work aside, this is fascinating fly-on-the-wall stuff.  Chatterbox Don is full of energy, even when losing his fedora hat. Eagle-eyed Trailer Park Boys fans will recognise road manager Tom Mayhue, their nemesis in the Out of the Park series.  As the band pick apart the set and put it back together again, you get a real sense that they just wanted to get it right but not at the expense of fun.

You will find two exclusive bonus acoustic songs on the CD.  “Heaven Sent” (with congas) and the obscure “Will the Sun Rise” are studio re-recordings, giving both songs a fresh, mellow gleam.  That’s not the main feature, however.  For obvious reasons, the brand new song “It’s Another Day” is the centrepiece, and as such it is presented as the very first track on the disc.  While the live set is undoubtedly a very significant memento for fans, nothing really excites them like a brand new song — their first together as the classic lineup two decades.  And it’s a solid B+.  Grooving with a head of steam, “It’s Another Day” is very reminiscent of the excellent and underrated Dysfunctional album from 1995.

The Japanese bonus track this time is the early Dokken classic “Paris is Burning” live, which is also on the DVD but not the standard CD or download versions. Don’t you hate when a track is missing that is only on the DVD? Sure you do.

Jeff Pilson says that he wanted Dokken to end (if this is the end) on an up note.  “Just a really positive  exclamation point to a great career.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?”

4/5 stars

DVD REVIEW: Van Halen – Video Hits Volume I (1998)

VAN HALEN – Video Hits Volume I (1998 DVD)

Van Halen had some of the best videos of the 80s, bar none. After David Lee Roth, the visionary behind the videos, left the band, they refused to film any new clips for their first six singles with Sammy Hagar! They didn’t want the comparisons.  Instead they released live versions of singles as videos.  They finally filmed an actual studio video for the ballad “When It’s Love” in late 1988.

It seems Van Halen still can’t reconcile all the different singers from the past.  That is obvious by the omissions from this disc.  Go ahead and list the missing videos:

The excellently corny “Oh Pretty Woman”. “You Really Got Me”, the timeless Kinks cover. The live videos for “Unchained” and “So This Is Love”. All the live video clips are missing, even Sammy’s debut in “Why Can’t This Be Love”.  As is Gary Cherone’s “Fire In The Hole”. “Feels So Good”, “Top of the World”, “Amsterdam”…all missing.

At least they included one Cherone video (“Without You”), but then again, he was the band’s current singer when this was released in 1998.  It would have been weird if he wasn’t on it.  He hasn’t made an appearance or even been mentioned on any Van Halen releases since.

For Van Halen to refuse to release those videos on DVD just indicates they’re scared of their own shadows. You can’t bury your past, you may as well celebrate it.

2/5 stars