Holen MaGroin

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

PLANES, TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES (1987 Paramount)

Directed by John Hughes

Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of my top ten favorite films ever made. It’s in pretty good company with 12 Angry Men (the one from the ‘50s), Blue Velvet, Die Hard, The Godfather, Lethal Weapon, The Unforgiven, etc. On the surface it may seem absurd to place what seems like a goofy road comedy from the ‘80s on a list containing films of that stature, but I don’t think that it’s unreasonable at all. This film is the best road film ever made, and I have no reservations about calling it one of the greatest movies ever made. There’s no glowing pretension or aspirations to reach Citizen Kane levels of movie making, or bids for narrative complexity. It is a heartfelt holiday classic about a stubborn irate man just trying to get home in time for Thanksgiving. That man is ad executive Neal Page portrayed by Steve Martin, who is helped out in his travels by the loquacious shower curtain ring salesman Del Griffith played by John Candy. The two men are polar opposites that learn to care for each other under the extreme circumstances that impede their journey home. By the end of the film, both men have learned to let down their emotional guards and trust each other, a necessary step for the two of them to arrive at their destination.

It’s not a complicated plot, but it doesn’t need to be. There’s something about these characters and situations that seems to demonstrate real life in such a direct way. It’s not a puzzle, everything is clear cut. Not to say that the movie is all surface level, there’s plenty of stuff to dive into here between the two men, particularly through multiple viewings after you know Del’s secret. The level of character depth in these two men is particularly compelling to watch on screen, as seeing the psyche of two opposites gravitate towards each other giving each other strength is both stimulating and moving. Part of that depth comes from the fact that this film was perfectly cast. John Candy and Steve Martin don’t even seem to be playing characters, but amplified versions of themselves. The dialogue, the movements, the actions are all totally natural, and the responses appear to have weight behind them that suggest the character’s past experiences. Guest appearances from Kevin Bacon, Michael McKean, and Edie McClurg all appear in hilarious supporting roles as well, but I wouldn’t dare spoil them here. Well, maybe one.

Steve Martin plays Neal as an impatient cynical grouch who is dying to get out of the sales meeting he’s stuck in so that he can find a cab and get to the airport on time. Del plays the happy go lucky salesman that accidentally steals Neal’s cab during rush hour in New York City. Fate keeps these two characters together as they meet by chance at the airport again. Neal confronts Del about stealing the cab, and Del feels genuine remorse. He tries to be as affable as possible, offering up Neal a beer and a hot dog. Neal being a bit prudish rejects the peace offering with a snarky type of politeness. Of course, Del doesn’t immediately pick up on or at least chooses to ignore Neal’s hostility. All he wants is to get home in a timely manner to see his family for the holiday. A snowstorm prevents their plane from landing in Illinois, causing the flight to divert all the way to Kansas.

The two men book a hotel room together as the hotels fill up. It is at this point that the exposition ends and Neal lets out all the resentment he has towards Del.  The set up is complete and now the emotional core of the movie really begins to develop. Neal states in no uncertain terms every problem that he has with Del, not holding back any vitriol. Martin’s performance is so wonderful that it actually gets the audience to laugh along with all his complaints, even as John Candy’s face starts to sink. Martin plays it as a man who has seriously contemplated every perceivable flaw in Del’s character, and is eager to list out every mundane detail. When he says he could listen to the most boring insurance seminar for days on end “because I’ve been with Del Griffith!” his vocal inflections are so comically annoyed that the audience can’t help but laugh. The scene isn’t a joke, it’s clear that the man has been pushed to his limit, but the audience laughs because they understand his frustration. However, the way Neal starts and stops seems to suggest that it’s against his better judgement to be so mean. It all just seems to be slipping out, as one complaint leads into the next until he’s too far to back down. When Neal finally finishes venting, John Hughes hits us with the first emotional blast in the movie.

Del’s reply is an often quoted moment from cinema history. It’s so perfect in its raw emotional simplicity. Whereas the cynical Neal has been stewing over his anger and letting it out almost uncontrollably, Del’s reply is a brief calm statement of emotional truth. It’s a tender “take me or leave me” moment, but Del is clearly hurt deeply by Neal’s words. Del’s trying just as hard to convince himself that he’s strong enough to take it because of the love he has from his wife and customers. Candy’s performance completely sells the speech, and makes the audience feel remorse for laughing at Martin mocking him just a few seconds ago. You can see in his face that this isn’t the first time that someone has gone off on him for his sometimes overzealous extroverted personality, and the hurt in his eyes betrays years of pain in the past. Despite all this pain, he can’t help the way he his. He will never fight back. When he says that he doesn’t like to hurt people’s feelings, it makes the cynical viewers and Neal shameful for feeling any malice towards Del. The two men have been forced to share a bed, and they cozy up together for the night as Neal learns to be a little more accepting of other people.

This John Hughes road comedy distinguishes itself from a lot of his work in that it focuses on adult relationships instead of teenagers. The two main characters are middle aged men set in their own ways. These men learn to evolve the more that they learn about each other. This is similar to the plot of Hughes’ more popular The Breakfast Club, only in this film instead of the characters being locked together in one room, Page and Griffith can’t seem to shake each other as they both make their way from the streets of New York to Neal’s home in Illinois.

Every time that the two men try to separate they just end up in each other’s company again. Also every time that Del seems to be gaining Neal’s favor something ludicrous happens that screws it up. Del driving on the wrong side of the highway after falling asleep is one of these moments, particularly after the car is destroyed and lit on fire and it is revealed that Del used Neal’s credit card to rent it. Amazingly the machine is still able to run, and the two pull up to a motel for the night. All their money was stolen by robbers on the first night at the hotel in Kansas, and their cards were burnt up in the fire. Neal has to sell his watch to get a room, but Del cannot afford one at all. This is the climax of the film, as even after rendering Neal liable to the damage of an entire automobile, Neal finally decides to completely accept Del. He is forgiven. This acceptance materializes because Neal cannot stand the site of Del freezing outside in the burnt up car. Neal decides to throw out all his jaded cynicism and invite Del into his room. It is at this point that Neal is willing to forgive Del for anything, and accept him for who he is unconditionally. The journey the two men have been on together and the bond that has formed over just two days is so strong that Neal will never give up on Del again. The two men fall asleep drinking liquor and talking about how much they love their wives. Never again in the movie is Neal the grouch, he’s even a good sport about riding in the back of a refrigerated truck after their rental car is impounded for being too dangerous for the road.

They finally make it to LaSalle/Van Buren CTA station that will take Neal the rest of the way home. It is empty except the two of them now that it’s Thanksgiving day. This is where Del and Neal part ways for the holidays. That is until Neal begins to put the pieces together. Little scraps of what Del has said throughout the film finally begin to add up in Neal’s brain, and the ending scene that follows is one of the most heartwarming in any film ever. There’s no shame for any grown ass man to ball his eyes out watching it the first time. John Candy deserved an Oscar for the film closing smile he gives. For the sake of those that have never seen the movie, I won’t spoil the ending here.

Most comedies are not good movies. They simply exist to generate a few shallow laughs and leave no long term impression. Planes, Trains and Automobiles is one of the few comedies to transcend the limitations of its genre with genuine heart and characters that the audience can actually feel invested in. We want Neal and Del to succeed, as they seem like genuinely plausible people trapped in improbably unfortunate circumstances. They’re not one-note characters who simply exist for an endless barrage of sight gags to happen upon them, their choices are based on well established character traits, not just moving along because the plot needs them to. Anyone who has had to travel for the holidays feels the plight that these men are going through, even if they have never experienced it to the insanity that Neal and Del have. If you’ve never seen this movie because you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or some other reason, I implore you to seek it out and watch it today. This movie is a classic that stands up even if you don’t celebrate the holiday in the movie. As Neal puts it in the film, after the journey you’re, “a little wiser.”

5/5 Turkeys

 

Advertisements

READER SPOTLIGHT: Holen MaGroin

This is the second Reader Spotlight at mikeladano.com.  Last time we spoke to Harrison from Australia.  This time…it’s the man, the myth, the enigma…Holen MaGroin!


 

Mike: Holen, I’m glad you agreed to sit down and chat.  I realize that you want to retain your anonymity.  How would you like us to address you? 

Holen:  I shall be addressed as Sir Guybrush Threepmorningwood. Always address me as sir. I have a very fragile ego on account of my infamous pretension, and need consistent approval from my fellow human beings to function.

Mike:  OK, Sir Guybrush…it won’t be hard to remember at all, thanks for that.  Now there has been reader speculation that you are from Australia.  Care to comment?

Sir Guybrush Threepmorningwood:  Harrison needs to step up his deductive game if he ever wants to make it as a detective. I’m proudly a heartland American. Unfortunately I’m also in the Bible Belt though, so there’s a lot of evangelical bungholes here. My practicing religion is Transcendental Nihilism.

M:  You’ve written some great reviews for us, but also some of the most bizarre.  The Shining comes to mind.  If I may be so blunt…what the hell, man?

SGT:  I hope that greatness and bizarre intertwine. I’m not sure I quite understand what you mean, but I’ll put it this way. If you were a Blue Jay during a full moon on the last day of a leap year and you broke a bottle of water, what color would the sound make? You see? Now it is all clear, isn’t it?

M:  Clear as mud.  One of my favourite lyrics by the Canadian group Sloan goes, “It’s not the band I hate, it’s their fans.”  Name that band for you.

SGT: That would probably be Nirvana. I don’t hate their music. I hated what they did by saying all the bands before them sucked, and Kurt’s “I’m so scared of fame that I signed to a major label and wrote a pop album” bullshit seemed so transparent to me. Nirvana does have quite a few tunes I enjoy. But their fans are a different story, especially back then. Any time a rock band reaches a mainstream level of success, they’re going to attract some crazy people. Nirvana certainly did, and Kurt decided to eat lead when they were still huge. So we’ll never see how their audiences would behave once all the fair-weather crazies just at the show for “Smells like Liquid Ass” had left them for the latest trendy group. It was those simpleton fans that ruined good music by deeming all rock that wasn’t hair metal at that point “grunge”. Seriously, any new band that didn’t have gang background vocals was grunge in the magazines. So a fantastically underrated band like Blind Melon gets written out of history because they’re seen as just a grunge band. Most people thought a grunge band meant a lesser clone of Pearl Jam or Nirvana. That’s why that scene burned out in a few years. The music was either a bad Nirvana copy, or it was being buried by bad Nirvana copies because everything was considered grunge now. Blind Melon put out two classic albums in their debut and Soup, and not many people have ever heard them because they’ll only ever be known for that single “No Rain”, which couldn’t sound less like them if it tried. It doesn’t sound like anything else they did. They’re not grunge at all! People categorizing things and forming groups ruins everything. I don’t hate Nirvana though, just the fair-weather fans that jumped on the rock bandwagon only to jump ship immediately after Kurt checked out of Hotel California.

I will have to add that people who worship Mike Patton piss me off too, they’re such fan boys. The whole “Patton is God” doesn’t mesh well with the fact that Patton is a total contrarian and the antithesis of a rock god. I love Faith No More and Mr. Bungle (Angel Dust is probably my favorite album of the ‘90s), but I don’t feel the need to suck Patton off for all of his zany projects of screaming and nasal whining. I just hate this whole worship culture. Worshipping stuff is creepy. Religious or not, having so much blind devotion for something just rubs me the wrong way. If you worship some dude, it’s like you’re trying to give the guy an oversized ego and elevating him to a status greater than a man. You can respect a guy’s work without spooning him. If I see a celebrity on the street I really don’t feel an urge to bug them. It just seems artificial.

M: As a huge Faith No More for most of my life, I totally get it.  Do you have the gift of music?  Can you rock an instrument?

SGT: I played the trumpet in middle school, but I quit because our band director wasn’t a character whose company I enjoyed. I can rock the drums okay, mediocre at bass, and I can come up with some decent song structures. I’m working on a single that will see the light of day hopefully by this Christmas.

M: I’ll look forward to hearing that!  

I often talk of a moment of clarity.  A moment when rock and roll suddenly “clicks” with a person for the first time.  I wrote about mine in the first chapter of Record Store Tales.  It was Iron Maiden’s “Run to the Hills” and life was never the same again.  Do you have a similar story?

SGT:  I was into the rock in a casual kind of way for a while, just the singles and crap like that. I listened to the first few Van Halen albums quite a lot, but I didn’t feel like I was getting any kind of deep connection. It was enjoyable, but not much more. Then I got Permanent Waves by Rush and it all started to click. That’s still my favorite Rush album, every song is fucking spectacular. That’s when the album format revealed itself to me, and I truly took on the Kids in the Hall mantra of “greatest hits albums are for housewives and little girls” from their record store skit on The Doors.

I had a narrow mind of what I thought rock could be until I listened to Rush. They really opened my head because the next album I got after Permanent Waves was Signals. Signals happened to be way different than Permanent Waves. It had many more keyboard orientated songs and it didn’t rock quite as hard. Not nearly as guitar orientated, but I grew to love it because the songs were great. It opened my mind wide to diversity in rock music, and how it could incorporate influences from other genres and contemporary sources. It was also the first of many times I’ve pooped my pants listening to music. It was that good.

M:  Changing gears for a moment.  Farts:  proud of ’em?

SGT:  That depends on the situation and your relationship status. If you’re single and really looking to establish a connection with a nice girl, then it’s probably best to blame it on the dog. But if the two of you have been dating for a while, I say loud and proud, or as Pantera would say, “Hot and Heavy”.

Stand up and squeeze. That will single-handedly gain you the favor of her dad, more than anything else you could possibly do for her. If it turns out that it’s more than gas coming out, make sure to aim for the wall and do a terrible job cleaning it up. This will anger your girlfriend and she’ll ultimately just clean it for you. That way when you’re married you can shit all over the place and never have to pick it up, and you can still blame it on the dog for poops and giggles. Take extra care to miss the toilet when you’re in the bathroom. The more time she spends cleaning is less time she spends nagging. Just don’t get it on any of her things or you will feel the wrath.

M:  Who’s the coolest person you’ve ever interviewed?  How about the worst?

SGT:  I don’t know about coolest, but I once contacted a dead guy using an Ouija board. He was pretty rude. But I guess when you’re dead you’re entitled to be rude. I don’t think I should tell you what he said because it’s pretty heinous. Actually, the body part of mine he wanted to use rhymes with heinous. Let’s just leave it at that.

M:  What bands, still alive and kicking, do you still want to scratch off your concert bucket list? 

SGT:  I want Racer X to do another tour so Paul Gilbert can blow my mind with Street Lethal in person. That album slays, the riff to the title track is one of the coolest I’ve ever heard. So complicated and yet still pretty catchy.

M:  What’s the last great band you discovered?

SGT:  There’s this band that started up in the 1960s that I’m not sure how many people have heard of. I only found out about them because I read an article about them getting sued for this song they wrote called “Stairway to Heaven”. The band is called Led Zeppelin, I’m not sure if you’ve heard of them? I don’t know if they were ever that big, but they had quite a few albums and a weird concert movie. It’s a fun time; you should check them out if you’ve never heard of them. You’re LeBrain so you might know them.

M: You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?

SGT:  No, but have you ever rubbed another man’s rhubarb? Do you wanna get nuts? Come on, let’s get nuts! Honey-roasted preferably, those are the best kind. You’re buying, right?

M:  I’ll play the nut allergy card.  Thanks for doing this interview with us.  In the last Reader Spotlight, Harrison listed the members of his “dream super group”.  Care to take up the gauntlet and try your own?

SGT:  Yeah, I can manage that.

 

Roger Waters – Bass, backing vocals

Geddy Lee – Bass, backing vocals

Billy Sheehan – Bass

Tony Levin – Bass

Geezer Butler – Bass

Bob Daisley – Bass

Sting – Bass, backing vocals

David Ellefson – Bass, backing vocals

Jason Newsted – Bass, backing vocals

Steve Harris – Bass

Eddie Jackson – Bass, backing vocals

Derek Smalls – Bass, backing vocals

Ben Shepherd – Bass, backing vocals

John Paul Jones (he’s from that Led Zeppelin band) – Bass

James Lomenzo – Bass

Paul McCartney – Bass, backing vocals

Gene Simmons – Bass, backing vocals

Eric Avery – Bass

John Deacon – Bass

Jack Blades – Bass, backing vocals

Rob Grange – Bass

Billy Gould – Bass

Gary Karr – Bass

Flea – Trumpet

Glenn Danzig – Lead Vocals

Stewart Copeland – Hi-hat

Rick Wakeman – Keyboards

Bill Brufford – Drums

Phil Collins – Drums, backing vocals

Stephen Perkins – Steel Drums

Phil Rudd – Drums

 

They would ideally get up on stage and tour playing “Big Bottom” by Spinal Tap. They would immediately leave the building after playing this one song. Hopefully one of the bass players would hit the infamous brown note and the entire audience would shit their pants. If Chris Squire was still alive he’d be on the list too.

 

Thanks Sir Guybrush Threepmorningwood also known as Holen MaGroin!

GUEST REVIEW: Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

Happy Halloween, kiddies!  Here’s guest writer HOLEN MaGROIN with the final review in his series for Halloween 2018.  In case you missed ’em:

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews
Oct 17:  Fastway – Trick or Treat Original Music Score 
Oct 24:  The Shining movie review (?)

And now:

HELLOWEEN – Keeper of the Seven Keys: Part I (1987 Noise)

It’s 2AM in my land, and I really need to catch the Z’s. I put this review off way too long, and now I must suffer the consequences. But if you thought I was going to miss the last review of the month (on Halloween nonetheless) you are very incorrect. Sleep deprivation is no stranger to this man, I SHALL FORGE AHEAD WITH MY TRUSTY KEYBOARD TO REVIEW… Helloween – Keeper of the Seven Keys Part I. This is my review of the power metal classic, it’s going to be just as kickass as the album itself, and I don’t care if no one agrees. I’m right in my own little world, and that’s all that matters to me. Really this is just stream of consciousness, which is impressive because I’m barely awake. Awake as in “I Awake” by Soundgarden. There’s a good Halloween tune.

Holy shit, Batman! I’ve got to stay focused. Anyway, Helloween – We Couldn’t Think of a Longer Fucking Title if We Tried, So Fuck Anyone Trying to Review This You Stupid Pricks Pt. 1 is a classic power metal release. Manowar can piss off; Helloween is the real deal. Unlike Manowar, Helloween knows how to make an album with classics instead of just one to two good songs and a whole lot of Viking poser bullshit ballads (Manowar sux). This album is a real step up for the band in that Helloween finally realized that they needed a good singer, so they got Michael Kiske who basically sounds like a German Geoff Tate with a little less power. I’m talking prime real estate Geoff Tate too, so this is pretty good as far as metal singing goes.

When I first put on this album there were obvious classics, “I’m Alive”, “Twilight of the Gods”, “Future World”, and the epic “Halloween”, but all the other two full length tracks “A Little Time” and “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” revealed themselves to me upon repeated listening to be the genre staples that they claimed to be. There are only six songs on this beautiful slab of wax because “Halloween” is over thirteen minutes long, and two songs are an intro and outro respectively. And I do respect them, because they’re not very long and they add to the tension instead of impeding on the awesome. These are complex, compelling, melodic tunes that don’t get sunk by their European ambitions. “Holy wars… in the skYYYYYYY” the classic “Twilight of the Gods” bridge will have you tapping your fist against the wall in no time, because it’s so good. LOVE IT ALL. It’s worth it. If you’re a metal fan and don’t have this in your collection, you’re doing it wrong my amigo.

5/5 Pumpkins

 

Author’s Note: I’m sorry, everybody!

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: The Shining (1980)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

Welcome back to Halloween Wednesday!  Here’s guest writer HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews.  He’s got a scarrry one today. 

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews
Oct 17:  Fastway – Trick or Treat Original Music Score 

THE SHINING (1980 Warner Bros.)

Directed by Stanley Kubrick

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is one of the rare instances where the film greatly surpasses the animal hedge madness of Stephen King’s novel. King reportedly hated the film because it changed the details of his book so dramatically, but all of the changes made to the film serve to not only translate it better to a visual medium, but also to create a deeper and more compelling story with a much more satisfying ending.* Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is quite possibly the greatest horror movie ever made. It’s a deeply visceral thrill that deals with the supernatural and the psychological, while managing to include enough slasher elements to satisfy those types of horror fans. There’s really something for everyone in this movie, except Stephen King.

Everyone knows the story by now. Jack Torrance procures a job as winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel and takes his wife and young son to stay with him, alone in the mountains. Jack is a struggling writer looking for a place to concentrate on his work. One day his wife decides to make seafood, and accidentally under-cooks the crabs. Jack’s intestines are sent into an uproar. Unfortunately for him, someone has locked the bathroom door. He doesn’t want to run to another bathroom and risk more leakage, so he axes down the door. This leads to the iconic image of his face sticking through the bathroom door that has been used as the cover for all recent home video editions. If you look closely, you can see that Jack Nicholson accurately portrays a man that has liquid shit running down his leg into his shoe, a man about to have an anal geyser. It’s an absolutely brilliant performance of such raw ass… I mean raw emotion that has stood as one of the defining performances in any horror movie ever. Is there a greater horror than realizing you’ve just soiled yourself?

Unfortunately for our heroes, all the food in the Overlook Hotel has been stricken with Salmonella, leaving their butts so raw that they are shining, hence the title. The only one immune to the bacteria is Danny, as he has supernatural abilities to digest anything. That’s where the paranormal aspects of the film come in. Danny talks to some ghosts that try to help him save his parents from the torment of toilet time. Danny sends a telepathic message to the old Overlook cook, and he immediately moves hell and earth to get over to the Overlook hotel.

Once the cook arrives he brings new food to last them through the winter, and decides to stay and celebrate the holidays with the Torrance family. They all laugh and dance around the Christmas tree as Jack Nicholson does his Tonight Show impression.

“Here’s Johnny!”

The whole family laughs in wholesome unison as Jack professes his unconditional love for both his wife and child. It’s a tender moment, as the whole family embraces cook Dick Hallorann as the newest addition to the Torrance gang. Dick has secretly bought Danny the new fire truck he’d been wanting before he made his way up to the hotel. On Christmas morning, Danny’s eyes light up as he had not been expecting to get it. The four get together in a loving embrace and their hearts fill with jubilant joy. My God, I’m tearing up just thinking about it!

The horror has been evaded, or so they think. Everything turns around when they receive a package in the mail, despite no one being able to get up to the hotel. Who could have left this package? They open up the package, and find a VHS copy of Bobcat Goldthwait’s debut standup HBO special, Share the Warmth. What’s odd about this movie is that the standup special was not taped until 1987, and this film takes place in 1980. To film the movie, Kubrick actually was able to send the cast and crew into the future to 2012 in order to make it even more eerie by predicting actual world events.** Rather than predicting natural disasters, or sports scores or anything like that, Kubrick became highly intrigued by this Bobcat character, and decided to abandon the novel to make his own piece of art. This is ultimately why King was not satisfied by the movie, and didn’t understand it when it came out in 1980 given that Bobcat had not reached a world stage yet. When the family finds the movie, everything goes off the rails. After watching the VHS together, Danny learns a whole lot of naughty words that should never be used by such young children. They also all immediately become big fans of the man with such Kaufman style talents and his penchant for social commentary. Bobcat’s earliest fans!

As the weeks go by, the family is pleased to find another VHS of a film called Shakes the Clown in the mail. It’s a lot different than his standup special, and exceptionally strange, but they ultimately enjoy the ride, even if it was not nearly as strong as his standup special. The next week, the family receives the holiday Bill Murray film Scrooged that features Goldthwait as the fired assistant. They determine that the movie ultimately sucks hard, but they love the parts containing Bobcat as the holiday liberator. That’s when the spirits sending the tapes stop being so kind to the family. Next they receive Police Academy 2Police Academy 2 is easily the shittiest of an incredibly shitty franchise (only speaking for the first three, as that’s when I checked out forever), a series of films Bobcat himself would later call Police Lobotomy. The family is distraught over the wasted talents of Bobcat. Another week goes by and they find instalments 3 and 4 in the mail, and are just as horrified at the glaring examples of shit personified in Police Academy fashion. This is a franchise so shitty that the best joke involving them was actually in Wayne’s World. At this point in the film, Danny and Dick begin to have psychic visions. They can’t make out exactly what’s going to happen the next week, but they begin to have visions of a horse, and Bobcat. The horse seems to be talking. Their worst fears are realized the next week when a fresh copy of Hot to Trot is sent to the house.

The family is so horrified by the turn Bobcat’s career has taken that they all suffer terminal illness, an eerie omen of the five Razzie Awards nominations that this piece of shit would be nominated for. The next week, the critically acclaimed Bobcat film World’s Greatest Dad shows up, proving to be a chilling end to the Torrance family. If they had just hung in one more week, they would have been saved by seeing the great movie.

Years later in the early 1990s, Bobcat shows up at the Overlook Hotel to perform for the guests. He’s greeted by a bell boy, and tells him that it’s nice to perform at the hotel for the first time. The bell boy cryptically replies by saying, “I’m sorry to differ with you sir, but you are the comedian here. You’ve always been the comedian.” Bobcat looks puzzled, and spots a peculiar picture on the wall. He looks at it further and sees the picture on the wall from 1980 of the Torrance family all crying holding Hot to Trot in their hands. Bobcat lets out one of his trademark screams, and the credits role.

Kubrick knows to end the film on such a disturbing note, because he knows how to play his audience. That’s why this film is considered to be one of the most classic examples of modern horror cinema released today. The feelings that you experience watching this movie moves you in such a way that you feel afraid to ever travel to a hotel, or watch one of Bobcat’s many shitty movie decisions from the 1980s. This is the greatest horror movie ever made, and there’s simply nothing else to say.***

5/5 Pumpkins

* LeBrain agrees wholeheartedly and is jealous he hasn’t written this one up yet.  But he will.  The soundtrack including music by Wendy Carlos is genius too.

** Not to mention the NASA conspiracies.

*** That sure was something!  I hope readers get it.

GUEST REVIEW: Fastway – Trick or Treat (1986 Soundtrack)

 

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

It’s not about the candy!  It’s Halloween Wednesday again, so here’s HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews. 

Oct 3:  Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp EPs
Oct 10:  Batman / Batman Returns movie reviews

 

FASTWAY – Trick or Treat Original Music Score (1986 Columbia)

Some albums excel by being excellent; Trick or Treat is not one of those albums. It excels because of its banality. There’s nothing on this album that you’ve never heard before, but the band sells it with such conviction that you buy into about as much as the band itself does. This is the soundtrack to the best forgotten 1986 film starring no one worth remembering, with a couple of cameos from Gene Simmons and Ozzy Osbourne. The film was such a dud that once it was released on DVD, they changed the cover to feature the faces of Simmons and Osbourne despite the two of them being in the film for a collective total of about five minutes.  The journey I went through listening to this album impacted me in such a way that I feel obligated to elaborate on it here, and that journey will essentially act as the review. I didn’t intentionally go anywhere while listening to this album; the music was such a powerful agent that it literally shattered the very fabric of space and time. The film is not as strong.

However, this review isn’t about that film. This is about the Fastway soundtrack to the film. You’d think a band taking on a film as gloriously moronic as this one would whip up some tracks that were appropriately tongue in cheek, but nope. Fastway plays it 100% straight, which actually makes it funnier than if they’d been going for laughs. The songs that follow are a complete artistic tour de force that will leave your soul shaken by the depth and insightful words of automatic poetry.

The first time I heard the opening song and title track, I pooped my pants.* The song’s unparalleled emotion and tenacity penetrated the very depths of my being, and left me quivering unequivocally with raw radiant emotion. The spiritual rebirth was enough to temporarily reset my bowels back to their earliest stages, causing a stinky disturbance. Joy mixed with sorrow as the cool tears streamed down my face like a river from the ice caves of the indigenous population of Mars. The deep prose of the chorus commanded deeper attention, as Dave King eloquently belted out the most imaginative lines in all of rock. “Rock and roll! Rockin’ on at midnight, steal your soul!” So much can be determined from the hermetic intangibility of this expertly crafted piece of macaroni and songwriting. Never before has a rock vocalist journeyed to such spiritual and internal truths. This has elevated to a level beyond art, beyond comprehension, beyond all human understanding! It has encompassed all the ostentatious pretension and grandeur of the art world, while maintaining a close link to the blue collar worker! This is a work of God!

By the time the song is over, my hands are bloody from the sheer force with which I was gripping my security blanket. My nails dug through the blanket into my fist. My material possessions (except the stereo and the blanket) had burned up in the intensity, as music so self-aware could only be absorbed by living tissue. I feel so weak that I can barely discern the ends of the blanket from my fragile body. I press pause on my CD player, and I begin to cry. After a healthy drink of water, I decide to venture on to the next potential masterpiece, and continue on with my expedition into the brilliantly alluring tapestry of the Fastway facade. The opening chords of “After Midnight” burst out of my speakers directly into my chest, and they blow me into another dimension.

I awoke in an alternate reality where candy was made of fish, and fish were made of candy in the chocolate river of wind city sticks. A man dressed like a woman and a woman dressed like a woman approached me and gifted me a dishwasher. A balding wildflower called my name and I decided to investigate his store front. He was selling music, but only two albums. Those two albums were a copy of Steve Vai’s Flex-Able, and Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy. Considering the fact that it was Fastway that knocked me into another dimension, it was weird getting this musical inception to other artists’ records. The orange label on the Vai album began to swallow me, and my spirit was floating above my unconscious body as I returned to my room, hovering over my body as Fastway played. My spirit re-entered my body as I discovered I had soiled myself again. What high art!

After a quick attire substitution, and a breeze through the mediocrity of the song “Don’t Stop the Fight”, “Stand Up” began to emanate from the speakers. The ceiling shattered as I was abducted by alien people that looked like Jon Bon Jovi and Sam Kinison fused their DNA together. They drank wine like classy sophisticates. Fastway is the only music good enough to satisfy their cultural needs, and they intended to harvest my Fastway collection, but I was able to fight them off by comparing their acting skills to Rob Lowe’s. As they nursed their bruised egos, I leapt out of the spaceship and slid down the rainbow from the clouds of snow and weather pulses.

I went on a series of comparable journeys throughout the process of listening to the album, with tribal incantations and aristocratic meat loaf simulators, but nothing could prepare me for the climatic showdown induced by the closing track masterpiece “If You Could See”. Apparently, the reason that Fastway was able to lift itself to such scholarly levels of uncompromising respectability is because the band wasn’t a band at all. Fastway was a hype mind suffering from malignant narcissism due to a computer virus uploaded into the mainframe by a ghost bearing a striking resemblance to Herbert Marcuse. The hype mind was designed to make the greatest music imaginable that would only reveal itself to the chosen one. I guess I was the chosen one. Luckily the hype mind was printing dot matrix still, and was running on a Pentium processor from the ‘90s. I was able to overload it by switching the computer date to 2000. Y2K! Escaping the area would manage to be the greatest magic trick I was able to conjure upon the underpopulated document absence of consequential thought and sound devised by the penultimate direct access line to the semi permeable ancestors of the Pagan worship center of healthcare management fiscal responsibility drones. To combat the territorial dipping sauce from the entrée dessert filibuster mustard, swans arose from the pie crust to entrench the moon beams of reflective solar glares in Jimmy Stewart fashion. And that’s how I escaped!

So in the end the album was only a half-baked set of ideas that didn’t quite measure up to the level of the first two Fastway albums, but easily left the third album in the dust. I trust you were able to ascertain that from my last paragraph, but I may as well summarize for clarity’s sake. There are enough inspired moments on this release to merit owning it as a good enough novelty Halloween disc, but if it didn’t have the gimmick of being attached the holiday there would be little reason to own this. It’s pretty generic ‘80s rock, with Dave King sounding like a hybrid between Jack Russell of Great White and Kevin DuBrow of Quiet Riot. However, sometimes generic can hit the spot if you’re not sure what specific flavor you want, and the holiday connections make it go down with a little less guilt. “Hold on to the Night” knocks off half a point for being maddeningly repetitive, but it gains that half point back for not sucking as much as the movie it’s featured in.

Score: 3/5 (Smashing?) Pumpkins

* There is no shame in that.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEWS: Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

It may be considered a childish holiday, but it’s not about candy!  Here’s HOLEN MaGROIN with the next in his series of Halloween themed reviews.  For the last, Soundgarden’s Screaming Life/Fopp EPs, click here.

 

BATMAN (1989 Warner Bros.)
BATMAN RETURNS (1992 Warner Bros.)

Directed by Tim Burton

Given the influx of homogenized yet generally consistent MCU movies, and the equally homogenized yet generally inconsistent DCU movies, it’s almost hard to remember a time when superhero films were not guaranteed billion dollar investments, or when they had a shred of character and individuality. The first film that truly hinted at the superhero genre’s potential to be taken seriously was Richard Donner’s Superman. It was a huge financial and critical success, with Gene Hackman giving the movie a professional actor that legitimized the comic book superhero film as an art form, and not just a niche market for children. However, DC was unable to sustain the quality of the Superman franchise, and it slowly fizzled out until crashing and burning with the critically mauled fourth installment The Quest for Peace. The future of comic book movies looked grim. That is until Warner Bros. handed the keys to the Batmobile over to the artsy and dark visionary Tim Burton, who created two acclaimed and commercially successful Gothic Batman films that work great as Halloween viewing.

At this point in his career, Tim Burton had only made two films, the eccentric road comedy Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and the twisted paranormal comedy Beetlejuice. It’s not evident what Warner Bros. saw in those two comedic movies to make them think Tim Burton would be the proper choice to direct a Batman movie, but choosing him to helm the franchise would turn out to be one of the least controversial moves. The much more derided decision would be the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman, an actor primarily known for his comedies. Because of his credentials, physique, and height, many believed that Keaton was the wrong choice to portray the Dark Knight. Thankfully, these fears were unfounded as Keaton would go on to become one of the most beloved actors to don the cape and cowl. Fears were also alleviated by the casting of Jack Nicholson as the Joker, a man who does what Gene Hackman did for Superman in granting the movie a certain ethos just by being present.

To say that Batman was a success would be an understatement; it was a cultural phenomenon. People were getting the bat logo shaved into their head, before anyone had even seen the movie. It became the highest grossing movie of the year in North America in 1989, being beat out internationally by the third Indiana Jones picture.*

The film opens at night as a family of three leaves the theatre, and I’m pretty sure anyone seeing this movie for the first time assumed that they were the Wayne family. No, the movie was playing a trick on you. It’s just a normal family in the present time being mugged, with Batman running to apprehend the criminals as they make their way up to a rooftop to count their loot. As one criminal discusses his fear of being on the roof because of mysterious bat rumors, the other tells him that it’s all hogwash and that he needs to shut his mouth. That’s when Batman glides in behind them, ready to strike. The two criminals look up at a creature that they can’t fully identify. One opens fire and they see the bat creature fall to the ground. The fear reignites in their eyes as they see it menacingly rise off of the ground, presumably from the dead. After incapacitating one of them with a kick to the chest, he grabs the other and holds him above a ledge, as the bat creature asks him to tell all his criminal friends about him, and to be very afraid. “What are you?!” the criminal asks. The creature simply replies, “I’m Batman.” He sees Batman walk off the building, and the criminal scrambles to look over the ledge to see the Batman nowhere in sight.

This opening scene sets the tone for the film, and illustrates the brilliance of Michael Keaton’s Batman. This is a far cry from the campy ‘60s movie. While Adam West was a public servant, and Christian Bale was a ninja, Keaton is a creature that no criminal understands. No one even knows if he’s human, and by allowing himself to get shot, he creates the illusion that he can’t be killed when he rises from the ground. This iteration of Batman is fully committed to theatricality and mystery. Keaton’s portrayal is very effective at representing the tortured soul of Batman, how he feels completely obligated to fight crime because no one else can. He feels the need to avenge his parents, and his dedication to fighting crime has left him lonely and obsessive over his one goal. His motives had never been clearer, and the film also makes the wise call of making Bruce Wayne more of a recluse in this film than a playboy. While it is ridiculous writing that a man as famous as Wayne does not even have a picture on file at the newspaper for reporters to find, the idea of Wayne’s isolation as a character makes perfect sense in this movie. He is a man driven to fight crime no matter the personal sacrifice or threat to his own mental health, which happens to be pretty unstable throughout the movie.

More unstable is main villain Jack Napier, a nasty gangster that is sold out by mob boss Carl Grissom after Grissom learns that Napier is boning his girlfriend. Grissom sends Napier to clean out a front company, and then calls a Lieutenant that happens to be on his payroll to kill Jack. However, Batman turns up and ruins the operation. Napier opens fire at the Batman, who deflects the bullet sending it straight through Napier’s face. Napier then stumbles over a rail above a vat of chemicals. Batman extends his hand in an attempt to save him. In this scene you see a close up of Batman’s eyes. This creates ambiguity. It’s almost as if he recognizes the man that killed his parents, leaving the audience to decide whether he lost his grip or intentionally let the man go as Napier takes the plunge into the chemicals that will turn him from Jack to Joker. This is another point in which Keaton’s acting deserves praise. He’s able to convey so much emotion with only his eyes visible, something that he’d carry over to the next film.**

The film proceeds with a dark atmosphere, reminiscent of a noir story from the 1940s based on the clothing and set design. Gotham City is a very repressive setting because of all the Gothic architecture. The movie is grim. Napier transforms from a nasty gangster into a full on “homicidal artist”. Nicholson sells the material with great conviction, and manages to be simultaneously hilarious and absolutely terrifying. He strikes this crucial balance arguably better than even the late Heath Ledger, a tribute to the ethos Nicholson lends the picture. We see the Joker proceed with his plans of anarchy and death as the world’s greatest detective does all he can to stop him, culminating in a final steeple confrontation.

Since the Batman creates the Joker in this film, and Burton decides to make the flimsy and misguided creative decision to make the Joker the murderer of Wayne’s parents, a fundamental aspect of the movie is how these two characters are connected. They are two sides of the coin as Ace Frehley would say. They’re both highly motivated and highly intelligent characters set on achieving their own goals without any regard for the law, and they’re both a little crazy. Even after all Joker has done to him, after Batman knocks him off the bell tower, he still tries to save him by looking over the ledge, only to be surprised by the Joker and put into a precarious situation. While Joker does end up getting killed, it’s more of his own fault for not telling his chopper to land on the roof so he could detach the rope from his leg.

By no means is it a perfect film, there are some pacing issues with the third act dragging on too long, the Prince songs don’t work particularly well,*** the issue of Batman killing in this movie, and the fact that the cops don’t just arrest the Joker when he held the bicentennial in the streets after he announced it. Main love interest Vicki Vale is also completely disposable, as is proven by her absence in the second film with only a few sentences explaining where she went. Many of the secondary characters in this movie aren’t needed or even interesting, something remedied in the second film. The main draw of these pictures is the adversarial relationship between Batman and the Joker, good and evil. The first two Nolan Batman movies are ultimately better, but this movie has a 1980s charm and a personal directing style that makes it feel uniquely enjoyable, and it still holds up remarkably well today.

The film itself is highly stylized thanks to Tim Burton’s direction. It also has a camp factor that would disappear from superhero movies altogether after Sam Raimi’s very personal and excellent Spider-Man trilogy.  Camp isn’t necessarily bad, it’s actually very pleasing to see a movie acknowledge its own ridiculousness, and bask in it. Relish the goofiness in order to make a more entertaining picture. This actually feels like a Tim Burton movie, whereas many superhero movies today are devoid of any style or originality. They take themselves way too seriously, and sacrifice being fun. This movie manages to blend serious story telling while still acknowledging the inherent silliness of a man that fights crime dressed up like a bat.

When the time came for a follow up picture, Burton was initially not interested. He felt he had done all he could with Batman, until the studio offered him total creative control, something that he hadn’t had the first time around. If the first movie felt like a Tim Burton film, this one ups the ante by a factor of 100. This was an improvement in some areas, and a detriment in others. Tim Burton has never been overly concerned about a coherent plot, or the quality of the plot, tending to focus more on characterization and style. Batman Returns is arguably the most polarizing film in the Batman cannon, and it’s really easy to see why. Burton has little regard for the comic book origins of the characters, and decides to make the film in his own way more so than the first one. Because of this fact, both Michael Keaton and Tim Burton have expressed their preference for this sequel over the original.

A creative move like this would never be allowed today. There is no way that a studio would agree to a film so warped, dark and sexually charged. It takes place at Christmas time, to provide an interesting contrast to all the dark mayhem. Burton loves monsters, and his love of freaks is the engine of this second film. Danny DeVito plays the penguin, who is not the sleek slimy opportunist of the comics, but an actual deformed baby with flippers abandoned by his parents and raised by penguins in the sewers under Gotham City.  Now, if that sounds absolutely ridiculous it’s because it is. The suspension of disbelief in this movie is very high. As a matter of fact, to enjoy this movie you have to give in and let it all happen. The movie is absolutely absurd, but the imagination and the character development that went into making it is breathtaking and deserves appreciation.

The plot of the movie is ridiculous, and a little dumb. Cobblepot runs for mayor at the suggestion of corporate tycoon Max Shreck (played by Christopher Walken) because Shreck knows he can control the Cobblepot in order to get his power plant built, that will ultimately suck power from Gotham so he can store it and sell it for a higher price. The citizens of Gotham line up behind the Penguin as a serious candidate after his gang creates chaos to make the current mayor look bad. He becomes a heartwarming story around Christmas time as he creates a public image of goodness by forgiving his deceased parents for abandoning him. Batman reveals Cobblepot for the sleazebag he is in public, and the city immediately turns on him. He responds by trying to kidnap their first born sons as he feels betrayed by his fellow humans and has abandonment issues from his parents. This movie isn’t really about the plot; few Tim Burton movies actually are. This movie succeeds in its own way because of the strength of the characters, and the affection with which Burton treats them. Penguin elicits great sympathy despite being an absolutely grotesque monster, because he was never given a chance. Businessman Shreck is the true monster, as the movie makes the point that not all monsters are disfigured, ugly, or even hated by their fellow man. As the Penguin himself puts it to Shreck “We’re both monsters, but you’re a well respected monster, and I am to date…not.” Shreck is the real monster, it is impossible to feel sympathy for him at all. The first time I saw this movie, I disliked it because of the outrageous plot and the high campiness factor despite being an even darker and more Gothic film that its predecessor. However, on subsequent viewings it became clear to me that the story in this movie is really just sandbox for the characters to play in, and they’re the main reason to watch the movie because they’re so damaged and complex. The movie is like a fairytale, ungrounded and not obeying the normal laws that govern reality. While the first Batman movie seemed to be a studio compromise with Burton’s vision, for better and worse Batman Returns is a true Burton piece of work.

Michelle Pfeiffer plays Catwoman, who is licked back to life by alley cats (just go with it) after sifting through confidential files by her boss Max Shreck. There really is no competition, Pfeiffer is the definitive live action Catwoman, and the movie should have focused on her character more in the movie. Her suit in this movie is intimidating, and at the same time strangely alluring. Her antagonistic relationship with Batman is one of the most interesting parts of the movie, and her life as Selina Kyle with Bruce Wayne represents how uncomfortable the two are as themselves. Before becoming Catwoman, Kyle was a ditzy, timid, awkward secretary. Bruce Wayne, when not being Batman, looks uncomfortable in his own skin and the two together seem to sense there’s more to each other than a lonely secretary and a reclusive billionaire. This tension in the relationship comes to a head in the scene where they both show up to a costume party being the only two people seemingly not wearing costumes, because their day personas are their costumes. They both feel more comfortable as Batman and Catwoman than as Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle. You can see it in Keaton’s face as he stumbles around as Bruce Wayne, but looks right at home in the Batcave. It’s apparent in Pfeiffer when Batman implores her to spare Shreck’s life at the end in order to come and live with him. He rips off his cowl and tries to appeal to Selina Kyle as Bruce Wayne to live a normal life, but Kyle ultimately decides that she has to be Catwoman and “couldn’t live with myself” if she settled down again as the pushover Selina Kyle. The Penguin’s attempts to fit in and be accepted as mayor under his Cobblepot name are also thwarted, and he ultimately only reacts in anger because of the rejection, crying “I am not a human being, I am an animal!” This statement could be equally true for any of them. The three characters find different ways to handle their isolation, and they are all essentially animals that cannot be tamed. Catwoman knows that both she and Batman could never be content living together as Selina Kyle and Bruce Wayne.

Possibly one of the best aspects of this movie I have yet to mention is the score. Danny Elfman brought his absolute best to the first movie, creating the definitive Batman theme and a fantastic score. He ups his game even more for this sequel, creating the perfectly dark and enchanting soundtrack to match the movie that elevates each scene to that surreal fairytale level that Burton seems to be operating on throughout the movie. The soundtrack is absolutely perfect, especially the sections that deal with the Penguin. They generate actual sympathy, and the theme that connects to him is melancholic. It achieves Burton’s goal of making you sympathize with the monster, because even as he commits all these egregious acts of violence and hate, the theme calls back to early in the movie where he was ostracized by his own parents at birth near Christmas time. The theme of the movie seems to be that people can only act in their own nature, and that society’s view of monsters is only skin deep. That is why Penguin can never truly be accepted, and Max Shreck can.

Despite the blatant disregard for the source material, I find both of Burton’s Batman pictures to be thoroughly enjoyable entertainment that contain enough thought provoking content to merit repeated viewings. Some people say that these movies are all style and no substance because of the stunning atmosphere yet underdeveloped plots, but those people fail to realize that the substance in these movies aren’t found in the plot, they lie in the complex characters, their motivations, and the superb acting that goes into portraying them. While I consider the first Batman to be the superior film in a traditional sense, Batman Returns is more enchanting, captivating, visually stunning, personal, and unrestrained. They both have their own merits that make ranking them a tough call. If I’m being objective I’d say…

Batman 3.5/5 stars

Batman Returns  3.25/5 stars

If I was to state my personal feelings and attachments to the movies…

Batman 4/5 stars

Batman Returns 3.75/5 stars

 

 

The Last Crusade, which ironically LeBrain reviewed for his Grade 11 Film Class essay, comparing and contrasting it with Steven Speilberg’s first film Duel.  And I lost a mark for using the word “picture” instead of “film”, which is why I applaud Holen MaGroin for describing it as a “picture”.

** Holen MaGroin has convinced LeBrain to watch these again soon, to pick up on all these things I apparently missed when I was a kid.

*** Before Prince fans get all medieval on Holen, let me point out:  he’s right.  Every time a Prince song comes on, it causes a mental “skip” in the brain.  Like, “Hey, it’s one of those Prince songs from the album.”

GUEST REVIEW: Soundgarden – Screaming Life/Fopp (1987/88)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

SOUNDGARDEN – Screaming Life/Fopp (1987 & 88 EPs, released combined on Sub Pop CD 1990)

I love Halloween. I love autumn. I love horror films. I love metal. When you combine the four of those things that complement each other so well, it adds up to be one of my favourite times of the year. It may be considered a childish holiday, but to me it’s not about the candy. The entire atmosphere of the world seems to change around and on a holiday. The world almost seems to become more surreal, taking on aspects of life that only seem normal in films. There’s no reason Christmas should feel any lighter or peaceful than a regular day, but it does. Halloween has a certain feel too, an eerie one that goes perfect with metal and horror films, the cooling weather, and the waning sunlight. It’s about the deception, the masquerade, the vaudeville, the showmanship that keeps me intrigued by Halloween. Throughout the month on Wednesday’s I’ll be writing reviews of albums that are important Halloween albums to me, finally culminating on the big day (10/31). I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do writing them.

1987 was the peak year for mainstream metal*, but it was also the starting point for an underground movement that would upset the entire genre of rock for good. Some call it grunge, but I think that term is as disrespectful as “hair metal”, especially given that the so called ‘big four’ of grunge didn’t sound alike at all. My favourite of those four bands was always Soundgarden. Chris Cornell was easily the best singer out of the bunch, and the group’s songwriting was also superior to the other bands from the same town. None of the other bands came close to writing an album as undeniably badass as Badmotorfinger. They were also the most metal out of the Seattle scene, and Chris Cornell didn’t seem to be a whiny punk like Kurt Cobain or Eddie Vedder. Cornell didn’t shy away from success and intentionally sabotage himself like the other two guys, at least not publically. His passing was one of the few times that a ‘celebrity’ death had actually impacted me, and was a horrible loss to the music world.

In the aftermath of his passing, it makes sense to start back at the beginning to see how he progressed throughout his career. Soundgarden made their debut on Sub Pop with an EP called Screaming Life. They followed it up the next year with the Fopp EP, and they were eventually packaged together on CD in 1990 by Sub Pop under the clever title Screaming Life/Fopp. I bought this CD, and Lynch Mob’s Wicked Sensation at the same time in mid October, so both of these albums have a strong mental link to Halloween for me, but the Soundgarden EPs have more than an emotional attachment to the holiday. This is some evil sounding stuff that fits absolutely perfectly with the time of the year. This is partially because Kim Thayil exhibits a much stronger influence on the band’s music than he would on the last few Soundgarden albums. While on later Soundgarden albums, Chris Cornell wrote a substantial amount of the group’s music as well as its lyrics, here a good share of these early songs were written by guitarist Kim Thayil and original bass player Hiro Yamamoto. All the music on Screaming Life was written by one of the two, with Cornell handling only the lyrics. This is a different sounding band than the group that wrote “Black Hole Sun”. There are some punk roots showing with the obvious Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin influences.

The aforementioned Black Sabbath influences are blended seamlessly with the brevity and relentlessness of punk in the album opener “Hunted Down”. This is the group’s first of many classics, and was also their first single. It’s an absolutely evil sounding number, with a hypnotic riff that sounds like the band are summoning demons themselves. The lyrics tell the story of a convict escaping prison and being hunted by the authority figures. He copes by changing his face permanently to avoid detection. The band follows the “Paranoid” single mold by making the song less than three minutes, which gives it a lethal efficiency. The melody is somber, and compliments the music accordingly. Chris Cornell was not yet the consummate vocalist that he would become, but his chops here are impressive for a youngster starting out on his first recording. The song was so good that Sub Pop chose it to be their hold music when people would call the label, prompting the group to call them up just to hear their song on the phone.

That Soundgarden classic is followed up by the much more obscure “Entering”, a four minute song that is so doomy that you think it goes on much longer (before checking the CD again, I had originally typed in the review that it was a seven minute epic!). It begins with slow ringing guitar notes that are enchanting in a dark way. It’s unsettling, yet you’re intrigued by it. This is one instance in which the song perfectly mixes with the stark visuals of the black and white cover. The beginning of this song is actually reminiscent of early 20th century horror films. It wouldn’t sound out of place being played on a grand piano in Dracula, Nosferatu, or Frankenstein, that’s how ominous it is. The song then goes through a dynamic shift and is kicked into high gear by the frantic drumming of the great Matt Cameron as Chris Cornell begins to wail with a slap back delay on his vocals that gives the song an energetic live feeling. The production is rough, but the muddiness only helps enhance the songs.

Following a throwaway screeching punk number, the band turns in one of the best songs in the gloomy and slow drop D tuned “Nothing to Say”. This song can only be described as “Electric Funeral” with better vocals updated for the late ‘80s. The group would never again sound this evil excepting their debut album Ultramega OK, which was actually released on Halloween. Perhaps to break up this seriousness, the band included many joke songs on their early albums. “Little Joe” is one of these, a funked up strange number about a Hispanic kid crossing the border. It’s totally disposable, just like all of their joke songs they just take up space and distract from the better music (except “Big Dumb Sex” from Louder Than Love). It’s still slightly demented in a off-putting way, which keeps it from ruining the mood of the EP.

The Fopp section is much lighter, in content and in mood. It contains just three songs and a remix, with only one original Soundgarden tune. The Chris Cornell’s first sole songwriting credit is with “Kingdom of Come”, a fun little tune, that doesn’t amount to much, but sounds good enough when you’re listening to it. The production on this half of the compilation is much clearer than on Screaming Life. The guitars have much more midrange energy, and the most of the muddiness has been cleaned up. If the first EP sounded like a cult ritual, this seems like the light-hearted after party. The set is rounded off by the covers of “Swallow My Pride” and “Fopp”.  These are a couple of tunes just like “Kingdom of Come”, in that they’re enjoyable in a fun way, but there’s not a lot of substance underneath them.

Overall, the Screaming Life section is the superior EP, but together the shades of light and dark are an interesting insight into Soundgarden’s later, more developed sound. This is an absolutely wicked sounding release that most be listened to on headphones at night at least once around the Halloween season. While it’s not perfect and still shows a band in development, it is haunting and helps to scratch that horror metal itch if you’ve already exhausted Welcome to My Nightmare and your Black Sabbath collection.

3.25/5 stars

 

* LeBrain respectfully disagrees and remembers 1989 as the peak year for mainstream metal.

GUEST REVIEW: Jane’s Addiction – Jane’s Addiction (1987)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin

JANE’S ADDICTION – Jane’s Addiction (1987 Triple X)

In 1987, the stage was set for a new exciting sound to challenge the successful glam metal scene. Some thought that metal had become gluttonous and bloated, filled with commercial aspirations that betrayed the genre’s roots. The alternative revolution started not with Nirvana’s Nevermind, but four years earlier when Jane’s Addiction chose to begin their recording career in an unorthodox way. They decided to make their debut LP a live album. Several of the songs on this live album would never be re-recorded for a studio LP, leaving these the only official versions of the songs. At the height of the glam metal craze, Jane’s Addiction was a much needed breath of fresh air in the rock world. Many different styles of rock were being played on the Sunset Strip, but up to this point only the more pop-oriented groups were receiving mainstream attention. This self-titled album at points is a heavier, more aggressive album than a lot of the stuff that was being passed off as “metal” at the time, without actually being metal. At other points, it displays an emphasis on songwriting depth over quick catchy gang chorus melodies. The ballads on this album are of an organic nature, and acoustic guitars play a dominant role in the proceedings.

Jane’s Addiction is an emotionally honest offering. It is a very passionate and energetic recording that shows the full dynamic of the band better than any of their later releases. While their first two studio albums are superior efforts overall, they don’t display the many different influences of the group’s sound as clearly as they do on this record. While they would distill those influences into something truly unique and original on Nothing’s Shocking and Ritual de lo Habitual, this eponymous album shows the influences spread out further into different songs, offering a unique glimpse into what makes the band’s later material tick. Compare the brash speedy opener “Trip Away” with the earnest bass driven ballad “I Would for You”. Or the dirty distorted Zeppelin style struts of “Pigs in Zen” with the acoustic roots rock of “My Time”. It’s a unique experience that doesn’t at all feel like a band trying to find their footing, but one that is about to achieve their full potential.

This concert at The Roxy Theatre captures them as raw as the band would ever be. The recording isn’t stellar, but the production fits the music quite well. The music is emotionally raw and open, so the recording should and does match. Some studio overdubs were utilized during post-production, but these don’t bother you in a way that they would on another live album. Despite being recorded live, Jane’s Addiction doesn’t feel like a conventional live record in the way it progresses. This recording was meant to be an introduction to the band, and it seems as though they thought that the best way to capture the pure power of their sound would be to record the basics in a live setting, while enhancing the recordings with additional guitars, drum parts, and things of that nature to create a hybrid. You get the power of a live recording, with the addition of multiple guitars to hold down the rhythm when Dave Navarro takes a solo. These overdubs aren’t deceitful, because the band doesn’t make any effort to conceal them. They are simply meant to augment to original recording, to give the songs the best possible presentation on the band’s first outing.

The songs themselves are superb. Jane’s Addiction had a well of talent from all four members. In the inspired tribal beats of Stephen Perkins, who is better described as a percussionist than as a drummer. In the urgent bass lines of Eric Avery, whose playing propels the songs along and keeps them from plodding. In the great feeling of Dave Navarro, who isn’t the flashiest player, but knows how to fill space and throws in some of his tastiest soloing to the aggressive punkish “Whores”, one of the heaviest tunes on here that blends the aforementioned punk influences with a metallic sheen and a good portion of spirited melodic vocal chants from Perry Farrell that call to mind a world music influence. Perry Farrell’s voice is more aggressive and gravelly on this recording compared to his screechy sound on later albums. He’s not a great singer, but he possesses a unique voice that sells the material with conviction. His lyrical abilities are also superlative, with many of them being very personal.

Nowhere is this more evident than on “Jane Says”, an early version of the song that would later become their biggest hit on Nothing’s Shocking. The song is just two chords, yet the words tell a tale that is so entrancing that it maintains attention throughout its entire run time. It’s a song about a real life woman that Perry Farrell knew named Jane, and her struggle with drugs and abusive relationships. The re-recorded version is superior, but it’s interesting to hear how the song got its start. It conveys a message that many living in modern society can relate with. The feelings of being so overwhelmed and disenfranchised with your current way of life that simple change is not enough to satisfy you. You feel as though you need to completely overhaul your life, and leave what you have behind to start a new beginning in a foreign land “…Jane Says I’m going away to Spain…”, but practical reasons keep you from fulfilling that daydream “…when I get my money saved…”. It’s truly an alt-rock classic, proving that you don’t need hundreds of layers of backing vocals to write a song that connects with people.

To offer their fans an even greater connection to the music, they use familiarity in two spirited covers. Lou Reed’s “Rock & Roll”, and Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, known here as simply “Sympathy”. These cover versions are done in the band’s style, and actually expand upon the originals thanks to Dave Navarro’s perfectly melodic playing in “Rock & Roll” and the unmistakable percussive backbone from Stephen Perkins in “Sympathy”. All the band’s strengths come together on“My Time”, one of the finest selections on the entire album. It’s a folksy rock song with acoustic guitar and harmonica parts, complimented by the perfect amount of percussive flair. This song is more melodic than many of the others on the album, and gives the listener a transcendent feeling. It’s one of those songs that is so beautiful and so moving that it makes the listener feel as though they’ve broken through some new musical barrier, and are floating in a state of emotional and sonic bliss. “My Time” is even more potent when listened to on headphones, and under the dark cover of the night.

As the night wears on, the record bookends “Trip Away” with “Chip Away”, containing some tribal beats and appropriate African influenced chanting from Perry Farrell. While Jane’s Addiction would garner endless acclaim for their first two studio efforts for Warner Brothers, this independent live debut on Triple X would go sadly overlooked. The band can be considered the alternative spiritual successor of Led Zeppelin. However, their music and style is clearly their own. They capture the transcendental sprawl, intensity, and intimacy of listening to a Led Zeppelin album in a way that copycats like Kingdom Come or Greta Van Fleet cannot.* Those two bands and others like them can ape Zeppelin riffs, vocal styles, and stage moves, but they don’t capture that unique and adventurous feeling that listening to one of their records always brings. Jane’s Addiction manages to capture that feeling three times over, with the first of those three times being on this absolutely enchanting live outing.

4.9/5 stars (only because the next two are even better)

1. “Trip Away”
2. “Whores”
3. “Pigs in Zen”
4. “1%”
5. “I Would for You”
6. “My Time”
7. “Jane Says”
8. “Rock n Roll” (Velvet Underground cover)
9. “Sympathy” (Rolling Stones cover)
10. “Chip Away”

* LeBrain agrees

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Hot Wire (1991)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 5 in his KIX series

KIX – Hot Wire (1991 Atlantic)

It took the almighty Kix three years to follow up their commercial breakthrough Blow My Fuse. When they did, they had a new record contract, and an assload of debt from their first three albums. Being that this was 1991, the clock was ticking before that putz from Seattle would change the face of rock music forever by replacing talented musicianship and fun with glorified punk songs about deodorant. The resulting album Hot Wire was the band’s heaviest album to date, with their hard rock influences taking over their sound completely. While Hot Wire is still an entertaining listen, it’s not as consistent as the albums that preceded it, and is a little derivative at times.

Hot Wire is jumpstarted by the title track, which starts off with a riff that sounds like Ted Nugent’s “Just What the Doctor Ordered”, and ends with a loving homage to “Have a Drink on Me”. The sonic annihilation in between is a whole hell of a lot of fun, and has Kix playing some of the most aggressive music of their career. Steve Whiteman in particular is taking no prisoners with an absolutely electrifying vocal performance that commands attention and respect. The song juggles the head banging verses with a trademark melodic Kix chorus that will blow your mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain was listening to this when his Kurt Cobrains hit the floor in April of 1994. It’s a great choice to open the album with, as it dispels any notion that Kix has become less hungry as a result of their platinum success.

Kix follows it up with what could only be described as a tribute to AC/DC’s “Big Balls”, complete with a Bon Scott impression. In lead single “Girl Money”, Whiteman channels Scott while talking about a woman of low moral fibre across the bar. The chorus is an absolute explosion of melody, literally. If you listen carefully, you can hear cannons going from the left to the right speaker after the lyrics “bang boom party”. The attention to detail is not only amusing, but it reflects the sonic identity of the record. The production on this album serves to polish the rough edges while retaining all the sonic power that Kix have to offer. It sounds good, but there are no frills to be found. This is a rock and roll record, and the band is going to treat it as such. No more Cool Kids new wave pandering, the group is out to rock your world.

 The fourth slot on the album is left to “Tear Down the Walls”, a weak ballad that was probably recorded to capitalize on the success of “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. It’s pleasant enough, but one can’t help but compare it to superior ballads on past Kix records. While it’s not nearly as iconic or enjoyable as “For Shame”, “Walkin’ Away”, or “Don’t Close Your Eyes”, it’s still a much better decision to listen to it than to marry Courtney Love, in my opinion only of course.

Kix only has one ballad again, and gets away with it by preceding it with the hook laden “Luv-A-Holic”, which has a similar structure to “Get It While It’s Hot” from the previous record, done in a heavier style that is more representative of the Hot Wire sound.  It’s one of the best songs on the album, and the deal only gets sweeter when “Rock & Roll Overdose”, (a song title I believe Kurt took too literally) greets the listener after the lacklustre ballad. One of the heaviest tunes Kix have ever done, it’s a nice ode to rock and roll itself with Whiteman bringing back his powerful raspy vocals from the title track. Guitarists Ronnie “10/10” Younkins and Brian Forsythe really get to shine on this track with each getting a chance to show off their solo chops. It’s much more enjoyable than listening to nursery rhyme melodies over three chord punk songs and pretending like you hate any band that has reached any kind of success, including your contemporaries that praise you.

What sinks the album is a sense of monotony. Some of the lesser tunes begin to sound the same, and some of them are lyrically lacking. “Hee Bee Jee Bee Crush”, “Bump the La La”, and “Same Jane” were in desperate need of penmanship reform. There’s also not as much variety as you would normally expect from a Kix album, as they seem to be firmly rooted in a hard rock sound. Choruses lack some of the staying power that they had on earlier albums, and the songs begin to run together.

While by no means a bad album, Hot Wire comes as a bit of a disappointment after the quality of the two previous outings. Unfortunately, due to shifting (shitty) tastes, Kix would only release one more album on their major label (1993’s appropriately titled Contractual Obligation Live!) before being pushed to the indie world. The mighty titans would regroup for one more studio album with the original lineup.  They disappeared for the better part of twenty years before reemerging with a new bassist as strong as ever.  As for Hot Wire…

3.5/5 stars

Authors note: I don’t really hate Nirvana, but they’re just so easy to poke fun at. I would take Badmotorfinger, Ten, & Ritual de lo Habitual over Nevermind any day of the week though.

GUEST REVIEW: Kix – Blow My Fuse (1988)

Guest review by Holen MaGroin – part 4 in his KIX series

KIX – Blow My Fuse (1988 Atlantic)

When Kix released their fourth album on Atlantic, the band would finally receive the recognition and popularity that they deserved. Blow My Fuse is one of the most fun hard rocking albums of the late ‘80s without the guilty feeling that you get listening to the other “hair bands” that were dominating MTV. You could blast this record in a way that you couldn’t with say, Warrant, and not care who heard you, because Kix aren’t a hair band. They’re a hard rock band. These glorious Maryland hicks with a collective explosion fetish crafted a glorious hard rock album in the mold of AC/DC, with the pop hooks necessary to get proper attention on the radio, without ever watering down the rock. Produced by Tom Werman (with help from Duane Baron and John Purdell), Kix finally teamed up with a production team that knew how to turn their material into charting hits without diluting it.

Album opener “Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT” displays Jimmy “Chocolate” Chalfant reclaiming his territory after an Anton Fig substitution due to a broken arm on the end of the last album. Pounding away with a simple but effective beat, he sets the stage for the duo of Brian Forsythe and Ronnie “10/10” Younkins to blanket the track with midrange guitar goodness. The production on this album is really outstanding. The power of Kix clearly shines through, but with a new sheen to polish some of the rough edges. Steve Whiteman builds anticipation with restraint in his singing at the beginning of the song. Kix are masters of both tension and dynamics. They know just how long to string the listener along before delivering the heavy payoff. The twin guitar duo comes in with the song’s main riff, and Steve Whiteman pumps on the gas taking his vocals full throttle with rasp and power. Note the background vocals before the chanted chorus, which add some killer harmonic melody to the blistering hard rock. A call and response section between the harmonica and the guitar build off each other to end the song leaving the listener with his ass bruised and sore from being kixed for four euphoric minutes.

After taking a minute to ice the destroyed rectum, “Get It While It’s Hot” starts with a synthesizer run and some backwards vocals that recall their new wave roots. However, this is a clever ruse. Soon the guitars come in and betray the intro. This is another full on rock tune with the drums really in the driver’s seat during the verses. The guitarists play a few chords, rest, and then play a few chords, then rest; each phrase expanding upon the last to complete the picture at the end of five measures. It’s a tension building technique Kix would use again. The chorus drastically changes things up, but the energy level doesn’t dip at all. At this point we’re greeted by the song’s hook. With some era appropriate multi-tracked backing vocals, it drives the point across well.

Even with all the fantastic tunes, the reason that this album went platinum was because of the ballad “Don’t Close Your Eyes”. A number eleven hit in America, the song put the band on map, and on MTV. However, it wasn’t originally released as a single. When Kix were on tour with Great White, their manager Alan Niven asked the band why the song hadn’t been released as a single. Niven, despite being the manager for Great White, called up Doug Morris (president of Atlantic Records at the time) and told him they were sitting on a massive hit. They released it, and the rest is history. As for the song, it’s not a typical fluffy power ballad of the late ‘80s. It has more in common with “Dream On” than it does “Home Sweet Home”. The song is an anti-suicide PSA, a reassuring topic that proved Kix had more on their mind than just sex and explosions. It’s a great song, haunting and emotional. The lyrics and the conviction with which Whiteman sings them makes the hairs on your arm stand up. “Don’t Close Your Eyes” is a powerful song that has probably saved more than one or two lives as well, and is one of the most respectable power ballads of the 1980s.

But who cares when they’re singing about sex when the music backing it is of such high caliber? “Cold Blood” was the first single, and it sold much better after “Don’t Close Your Eyes” became huge. This song deserved to be a huge hit. It’s a stone cold classic. Starting out with a riff sounding like Electric-era The Cult, and progressing to total pop harmony payoff, this one is definitely one of the band’s best tunes. It also received moderate MTV airplay, and became the band’s second most popular song, a place only challenged by the album’s title track. A very fun and electrifying number about singer Steve Whiteman getting his fuse blown, his tower shook, his wires crossed, his hair lit up, his senses overloaded, and his juice felt. The lyrics speak for themselves; this one is another genre classic.

The album is rounded out with several other dynamic hard rock tunes, and a supernatural ability to insert pop melodies into them without diminishing the power one iota. There is no filler on this album, every song is a keeper. A 30th anniversary edition remixed by Beau Hill was announced earlier this year. Start off with the original that has been serving the public well for three decades now. If you were only to buy one Kix album, this is the one.

5/5 stars