review

MOVIE REVIEW: Man Of Steel (IMAX 3D)

MAN OF STEEL

Directed by Zack Snyder, 2013 Warner Bros.

I’m a child of the 70’s, therefore a long time Superman fan.  I’m also a fan of Zack Snyder’s The Watchmen.  I wasn’t sure if those two worlds should ever meet, and to be honest, after seeing a preview screening of Man of Steel, I’m still not sure.

The Good:

Michael Shannon as General Zod.  Rather than copy Terrance Stamp’s Zod, Shannon’s is grittier, more passionate.  His motivations are different.  Rather than revenge, this version of Zod seeks only what is best for the Kryptonian people.  As a general, he was born, bred, and trained for nothing but the betterment of his people.  Unfortunately, this is at odds with the interests of Earth.

Also great was Henry Cavill as Kal-El.  Nobody will ever forget Christopher Reeve, but Cavill’s talent, chiseled looks and physique will certainly have people forgetting Brandon Routh.  Cavill’s Superman was 100% flawless.

And finally, Russell Crowe as Jor-El.  I’m a not a Russell Crowe fan, not in the slightest, but he was great.  His Jor-El had a much larger role than the Marlon Brando incarnation had.  Jor-El is the architect of everything that unfolds.

The Bad:

I have problems with the wanton destruction.  Kal-El’s prime motivation is always the safety of others.  Yet he, Zod, and Zod’s henchmen pretty much destroy all of Metropolis and reduce it to dust.  Even though Zod seeks and needs Kal-El, our hero doesn’t use this to his advantage.  He doesn’t, say, fly to the Pacific Ocean to battle Zod.  Or Antarctica.  He stays right in the middle of Metropolis and is a party to damn near every building coming down!

I also didn’t like the look of the Kryptonian technology.  It was too monochrome and Cybertronian for my tastes.  (Yet, somehow Kal-El ends up with the only blue, red and gold suit on the planet?)

The Ugly:

I left the theater with a booming headache.  I don’t know if it was the 3D or the overly loud sound mix, but my head hurts.  To sum up the experience, the last hour of the film had too many missiles, airplanes, spaceships and carnage flying around.  The brain can’t process that much information.  I didn’t feel that the 3D really enhanced my experience.  (My brother in law Martin said the movie felt like a Michael Bay film, with all that crap blowing up.)

Man_of_Steel_37095Man of Steel had a decent story, that begins where Superman and Superman II did, but then goes in its own direction.  In many regards this movie is Superman:  First Contact.  It’s funny how often we forget that perhaps the most remarkable thing about Superman, is that he’s an alien!  Living among us!  Plotwise, the McGuffin here is something called the Codex, which contains the genetic blueprints for an entire generation of new Kryptonians.  As Krypton’s last defender, Zod wants it.  But his interests and Kal-El’s are at odds, since Zod plans to exterminate humanity and move in here!

I have to admit I’m surprised that Snyder got such great performances out of this cast.  Not that the cast are a bunch of hacks; they’re not.  Amy Adams was fine, and so was Diane Lane.  But let’s face it…we’ve seen other directors in the past get wooden performances out of Lawrence Fishburn and Kevin Costner.  Fishburn amounts to little more than a background character, but Costner’s role as Jonathan Kent is much more important than the version in Superman.  He filled the role appropriately.  My mother always said that Costner is best when he’s playing a farmer.

Much like The Watchmen, Snyder tells stories in multiple timelines simultaneously via flashbacks.  In Man of Steel, these flashbacks are all critical moments of character development.  This was done very well, with Cavill playing Clark Kent’s evolution perfectly.  At the same time, I’m surprised Snyder didn’t use more popular and classic rock music.  He did use a little bit, but certainly not on the scale of The Watchmen or even Suckerpunch.

I noticed two Battlestar Galactica alumni:  Tahmoh Penikett had probably 1 second screen time, but Alessandro Juliani had a bit more.  Why were they in it?  Because Man of Steel was partly filmed in Canada!

Although I will probably buy Man of Steel on blu-ray to “have the whole collection”, I don’t have an immediate craving to see it again.

Man of Steel opens today.  Time for an Advil.

3.5/5 stars

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GUEST REVIEW: Black Sabbath – 13 (by Uncle Meat)

Uncle Meat is back to tell us about the new Sabbath — the standard 8 track retail version.  When I get the deluxe and Best Buy editions, I’ll do my own.  Until then, please welcome Uncle Meat for his insightful take on one of the most anticipated albums of the last 33 years.

BLACK SABBATH – 13 (2013 Universal)

What is your favorite Black Sabbath album?  How many times do you think that question has been asked over the last 30 years or so?  Before today, I would have said my personal favorite would be a tie between Volume 4 and Heaven and Hell (cop-out answer I know).   Expectedly, that has not changed after listening to the long-anticipated “reunion” album simply titled 13.  There is a case to be made that this is one of the most anticipated albums of all time.  So does this album live up to that hype?

Sabbath LogoThe true answer to that question lies within you as the listener of course.  Personally, I always find that something truly great will build momentum with every listen.   With that in mind, my first listen to 13 was one of pleasant surprise.  It has been a long time since Black Sabbath (or Heaven & Hell for that matter) has released something that I have connected with.   Even Dehumanizer, which I believe to be the last relevant Sabbath album, went in a direction that was not really what I wanted to hear from Black Sabbath.   My theory is that with Dehumanizer, they were trying to “reclaim the throne” so to speak.  Being overly heavy just for the sake of being heavy, and losing the diversity and groove that made them true rock royalty.  It appears Rick Rubin has brought back at least some of that old Black Sabbath magic.

Rick Rubin’s legacy is almost as iconic as Black Sabbath themselves.  He has been responsible for the re-birth of several artists such as Slayer, Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash et al.  The first thing that struck me about 13 was the bass sound.  Geezer has never sounded better and is hot in the mix, complimenting and adding to every track.  I also really like Tony Iommi’s guitar sound on this album.  More than a few times I found myself reminded of that classic Iommi riff sound.  Brad Wilk’s drums are great, and this could be nit-picking, but there is no doubt that Ward’s drum style is missed here on a few tracks.  Even Ozzy gets a passing grade here but I suspect that has a lot more to do with Rubin rather than a resurgence of Ozzy’s voice.  I was pleasantly surprised as well by the vocal melody lines on the album as a whole.

SABBATH CALM

TRACK 1 – “END OF THE BEGINNING”

The guitar parts in the verses paint an almost too-reminiscent picture of Black Sabbath‘s “Black Sabbath”.  But overall this track is strong throughout its 8:07 running time.  Definitely a great start to the album. Ozzy hits some notes at the end of this song that I find hard to believe even came out of the man. Steroids?

TRACK 2 – “GOD IS DEAD?”

I was not thrilled about this song when it was released prior.  Not that I dislike this song, just nothing special here to me. Next.

TRACK 3 – “LONER”

Good track.  They are somewhat ripping themselves off here to be honest, and that’s OK ’cause every band with longevity does it to an extent.  Main riff is VERY reminiscent of “N.I.B.”, and also Ozzy’s  “Alright now” and “Come on, Yeah!” made me genuinely smile.   Anyone remember Barry Horowitz?  Patting himself on the back?

BARRY PAT BACK

TRACK 4 – “ZEITGEIST”

More self-pilfering, this is the the “Planet Caravan” of the album.  Don’t particularly like that song to begin with. There are more strong vocals from The Madman here though.  But, still glad it’s the shortest song on the album (4:37).

TRACK 5 –”AGE OF REASON”

This track is in a tie right now with upcoming Track 7 (oh the drama!) as my favorite tune on the album.  Not only are the best riffs of the album on this song, I found myself loving the progressions here.  They remind me of the diverse song-writing on Sabotage, for example.  “Age of Reason” also contains a CLASSIC Tony Iommi solo.  This cannot be under-stated.  One kick-ass monster Tony Iommi solo!

TRACK 6 – “LIVE FOREVER”

The second shortest track on the album at 4:49, this is a good little song; and a great main riff on this track.  Very reminiscent of one of my favorite Sabbath songs, “Cornucopia” and even Brad Wilk seems to channel some Bill Ward in the open crash cymbal playing on this song.

TRACK 7 – “DAMAGED SOUL”

This is what we have been waiting for.  This is Sabbath being Sabbath better than all the bands that try, intentionally or un-intentionally, to be Sabbath.  [Wait until you see tomorrow’s story — LeBrain]  This is what I want from my Black Sabbath.  Doom meets gloom meets the blues.  There is something wonderfully sloppy about the guitar on this song.  Like a cross between Iommi and Keith Richards.  We even get some Ozzy harmonica in there.  Love the bridge in this song and the harmony vocals that come with it. The last third of this song is just lovely.  Yes… I said lovely. Check it out.  I must take back a proclamation made earlier in this review.  This is my favorite track on the album.  It’s that simple.

TRACK 8 – “DEAR FATHER”

The last track on the album is solid.  Once again there are some great drums on this song.  It builds momentum as well, getting more majestic as it goes along.  The last track on the album has a very fitting ending.  The track ends with the thunder, rain and tolling of the bell that started off their very first album 43 years ago.

The bottom line is this:  Black Sabbath have released a very relevant album in 2013.  I had my doubts if that was possible, and I am sure the presence of Rick Rubin was a big part of this being a very good if not great album.  Even without Bill Ward, there is life and inspiration within 13.  I find the ending of this album (hopefully) very fitting.  They have made an album which will be rightly recognized as something special, and this should be the end for Black Sabbath.  A glorious end indeed.

A solid 3 ¼ / 5 stars

Look for Mike Ladano’s upcoming review of the super duper extra-special royale deluxe version … containing several more tracks … coming soon.

Uncle Meat

BLACK SABBATH-13 SUPER DELUXE BOX

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Old School (1964-1974) (4 CD/DVD/LP/7″ SINGLE & BOOK)

ALICE COOPER – Old School (1964-1974) (2011)

This might be the last time I obsessive-compulsively buy one of these crazy expensive box sets. With fresh memories of how beautiful the AC/DC Backtracks Deluxe box set was, I eagerly placed my preorder. I mean, Alice Cooper 1964-1974! The golden years! The orginal Alice Cooper Band! When it finally arrived I was blown away by the packaging, bonus goodies, and other finds.

SAM_1972

However, musically, this is almost not even worth owning. You have to be a massive, massive, die hard Cooper fan to want to hear a whole five minutes of Bob Ezrin’s kids giggling and singing during the School’s Out sessions. You have to be a masocist to want to hear that horrible loud feedback that just goes on forever during a seven minute run through the same song. The radio ads are nice, but hardly what we as collectors want out of a box set of this stature. Sprinkled in with this junk are the odd good live takes, such as “Under My Wheels” in New York 1973. Unfortunately there are just as many early tracks from the Zappa years that aren’t nearly as good, nor recorded that well. Everything on the first two odds n’ sods discs are either live, rough sketches or demos, studio sessions, or radio ads. Lots of repeat too — there are three takes of “Muscle Of Love”, you will hear “School’s Out” three times in different forms, and “I’m Eighteen” three times as well.

The third CD is, disappointingly an interview disc. It’s a shame to spend this much money and only get three CDs worth of music (the fourth CD is a live one). I did enjoy hearing Alice discuss Muscle of Love and the end of the original band. The other surviving band members, and Ezrin, participate in the discussion.

The only real treasure here musically is the fourth CD, a 10 song set from the Killers tour in 1971. This set is duplicated on a 180 gram vinyl enclosed within. It is from bootleg sources, but where sound quality suffers, the band makes up for it in youth. Lots of static and noise but the band is absolutely on fire in a way that they are not on the first two CDs. I also like that they duplicated the look of 70’s bootleg vinyl with the packaging.

SAM_1962

Finally, there is a 7″ single, heavy vinyl, a replica of Cooper’s first single from 1967 as Nazz. The tracks are “Wonder Who’s Loving Her Now?” and “Lay Down And Die Goodbye”.  (I only wish that there was a way to download this in mp3 format with the purchase of this set.)  See scan below for complete tracklist for the entire box set.  LeBrain is nothing if not helpful!

There is a documentary DVD included as well, which although containing lots of fun vintage clips, is very poor value for the money. You are treated to — for the second time now! — the same interview that you just finished listening to! And not only that, but they chose to shoot the interview with the original band in a noisy maintenance room. Why?

SAM_1964

Now, packaging wise, this box set is a whole other beast!

The box itself is shaped like a kid’s school desk. The old wooden kind that they had in the 50’s, with the top that opens up and the ink well. It’s hinged and it opens where the school desk would. It is very sturdy and the hinge is metal. Inside are, as discussed:

The 12″ vinyl of the live 1971 show.
The 7″ single reproduction.
1 DVD, Old School 1964-1974
4 CDs, Old School 1964-1974

There is a yearbook, with the whole story told by multiple sources. However, a few things are brushed over, such as the alcohol problems that were setting in. Alice was a full blown alcoholic, a 2 beer first thing in the morning kind of guy. His guitar player Glen Buxton was so wasted that they had him onstage with his guitar turned down to 0, and having a guest guitarist play way off to the side. So none of this is in the yearbook. Great photos though, particular of Alice’s own yearbook. The entire band were a highschool band. All five guys. Lots of great photos from this era, and on to the mid-70’s.

SAM_1969

There is a booklet, inside of which is a reproduction concert ticket from 1972 for Wembley. (£1.00 admission back then apparently, imagine that today!) There is also a 1971 tour book (Killers tour), a complete reproduction, and a whole bunch of 8 1/2 x 11 poster reproductions. Lastly there is a replica setlist, which is nothing special. The thing I don’t like about this booklet is that you have to be very careful when you put items back into it, or when you fold everything back together you’ll dogear something.

As I said in the beginning, I think this is the last time I buy one of these box sets compulsively. I knew the music was likely to be iffy and it was. I probably should have saved my money, although the box is a beautiful conversation piece.

2/5 stars, regrettably.

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

Alright folks, dig in, I plan to get as detailed as possible as to the different bonus tracks and versions.  Enjoy.

I make a point of trying to collect all the different bonus tracks for an album, if I really like it.  For this review, we’ll be taking a look at the contents of the Classic Rock Fan Pack edition, the Canadian retail version, the Best Buy version, the iTunes version, and the vinyl.

 

ALICE COOPER – Welcome 2 My Nightmare (2011)

At long last, we have Welcome 2 My Nightmare. Yes, it really does harken back to the Alice Cooper sound of old. Yes, you can definitely tell when members of the original band are involved. Yes, these songs are very diverse.

In fact Alice’s sounds from many eras are revisited: disco Alice, rocker Alice, campy showtunes Alice, a slight nod and a wink to the stone ages and some Zappa-like inspiration. There’s even surf-rock in “Ghouls Gone Wild”, and elsewhere, a Kip Winger cameo. Unfortunately there also a bit of a modern touch: an unfortunate cameo by the talentless Kesha.

Regardless, Alice and Ezrin (let’s give credit where credit is due, Ezrin is the George Martin of this album) have created here a modern masterpiece, a great record to cap Alice’s modern career with one more undenialble winner. Welcome 2 My Nightmare contains a few musical interludes and clues from the first Nightmare, particurly “Steven”, but it’s mostly it’s own beast. It is surprisingly listener-friendly, very melodic and 70’s sounding with plenty of instrumentation and production value.

The prime influence here seems to be sounds of the past, and that’s fine with me. Alice knows what he’s doing and sneers his way through these snappy numbers. Everything builds and changes and builds again, each song is constructed masterfully. Alice and Ezrin have a clear plot in mind. Don’t forget these are the guys who did “Gutter Cat Vs. The Jets” back in 1972.

My favourite tune: The Tom Waits-ish “The Last Man on Earth”, a 1930’s sounding showtune-esque classic, along the lines of Alice’s previous song “Crazy Little Child” from Muscle of Love.

Second favourite: “The Underture”, which reprises the greatest musical anthems from both Nightmare albums in one grandios outro.

One really important thing I want to mention: This is the most fun Alice Cooper has been in while. Welcome 2 has humour and the musical chops to make the album a fun listen from start to back. Whether you like albums such as Brutal Planet or Along Came A Spider is not really the issue.  They’re just not albums to make you chuckle along while you snap your fingers. Welcome 2 My Nightmare, like the original Nightmare from 1975, is a lot more fun.

And now, for the collectors, a word about bonus tracks and the versions you’ll find them on.  Clickity-click for bigger pictures.

   

On the LP you will find the exclusive bonus track called “Flatline”.  I will say though, this Cooper platter really is one to own on vinyl. The sounds are rich and deep. The packaging is gorgeous, gatefold sleeve and nice big booket and all.

“Flatline” is a little staggering, though. Alice did not write it and does not perform on it.  It should best be considered a Bob Ezrin construction.  It consists of the sound of a hospital heart monitor beeping and flatlining for 3 minutes and 30 seconds, with electronic sounds and music in the background. Yet if you are into the concept of concept albums, this song might be a must-own.  It seems to conclusively answer the disposition of the album’s main character. His fate, left somewhat ambiguous in the final vocal song, “I Gotta Get Out Of Here”, is sealed.

(Oh!  And I love that titles such as “I Gotta Get Out Of Here” refer back to earlier Alice nightmare-esque characters such as Dwight Fry.)

The Canadian standard retail edition is full of excellent bonus tracks.  You get three live tunes, all recently performed:  “Poison”, “The Black Widow”, and “No More Mr. Nice Guy” are from the Download Festival.

“Under The Bed”, is also on the Canadian edition, and it is a studio original.  It is an excellent song that would have fit seamlessly right near the start of the story, lyrically and musically. Great song. Don’t know why it’s not in the main body of the album.

While collecting online, I found tracklistings that seemed to indicate that the US Best Buy edition had different bonus tracks.  It does not.  I mistakenly purchased it myself.  The only difference between it and the Canadian edition is a Best Buy sticker on the wrapper, advertizing the bonus tracks.  Therefore US readers, you can get these valuable extra songs at Best Buy.

iTunes, of course, has its own bonus tracks, forcing me to buy the album again.  One is the video for “I’ll Bite Your Face Off”, a good performance-style video.  Its only flaw is that it was filmed before the lovely Orianthi joined the band.

iTunes also has two exclusive studio songs.  “A Bad Situation” sees Alice singing in an exagerrated Elvis Presley type-voice, but the song is a pretty straightforward rock track.  According to Alice, a bad situation would be the nightmare of working 9-5 every day in the same day job.  That’s how this song would have fit into the concept of Nightmare.

“We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” is a cover of The Animals classic, recorded specifically to be a bonus tracks, also on the iTunes version.

ITunes has a 25 minute audio dialogue with Alice Cooper as a final bonus track.  This worthwhile listen has Alice discussing all the songs, their makings, and meanings.  Very cool bonus feature.

Lastly, we have the Classic Rock Fan Pack.  Click to embiggen.

             

The Fan Pack was a pain in the ass to buy and I do not at all recommend the experience to anyone.  It was something like a month late and they were impossible to communicate with.

But you get one of those cool 132 page full colour magazines, including interviews with everybody from Ezrin to Kip Winger to Kane Roberts.  You get posters.  You get a cutout Alice Cooper mask (yippee?).  You get a little metal School’s Out badge.  (No idea why not a Nightmare badge but oh well.)  And lastly, Alice Cooper face paint, that will no doubt be cracked and dried when you open it.

For the album:

5/5 stars