Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hall & Oates live at the Troubadour, 5/23/08

After sitting through the drudge that was 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Golden Skull', I felt let down by one of my favorite 80s icons. Fortunately, the very next night, the 80s were proud and potent at the Troubadour, where I saw the triumphant return of Daryl Hall and John Oates, playing the venerable club for the first time in over 30 years.

I've been a Hall & Oates fan since the first time I heard 'Sara Smile' at a high school party. I've been seeing them live in concert since 1977. I've seen them in concert more than any other artist, by far. H&O were the first band that I'd ever seen who rearranged their songs for a live presentation, giving me a fuller experience of their music.

Now, over 30 years later, Hall is 62 years old and still a full-headed blond, while Oates, 63 and still fit, anchors the show. What made the show extra special were two things: an opportunity to hear rarely or never before performances of songs from their earliest albums, in addition to all of the hits; and hearing Daryl Hall's voice in spectacular shape. I saw them at the Hollywood Bowl last summer and Hall sounded better than I had heard in twenty years. He was even better at the Troubadour. He hit high notes he hadn't hit confidently in a long time and his interpretative skills gave classic hits new life.

H&O have always had an outstanding band, and this time was no exception. Former bassist T-Bone Wolk handles lead guitar now and keeps the band on its toes. They played almost everything you'd want to hear, from She's Gone to I Can't Go For That. Playing for over two hours with two encores, there were still dozens of familiar songs that they never got to.

The crowd was a mix of middle-aged fans (like myself) and a lot of kids in their early twenties, who seemed to know the words to all of the songs. Daryl Hall looked like he was having the absolute time of his life onstage and the audience clearly shared his enthusiasm. Walking back to my car, the bad taste of 'Indy' was replaced with the sweet realization that sometimes you can go home again. Hall & Oates were as good in 2008 as they were in 1978, and I took great comfort in that.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kinda Can't Go Home Again

I pretty much ran the gauntlet of movie fan emotions when it came to the new Indiana Jones flick, 'Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull'. When it was announced, I wasn't interested, largely because George Lucas hasn't had a good story idea in decades and Harrison Ford has been a constipated curmudgeon onscreen for the last fifteen years.

Then I saw a photo for the film and Ford looked right, and I started having a bit more interest mixed with anticipation. Then I saw the poster, a great illustration by Drew Stuzman, and I started getting excited. Saw the trailer and it felt right. I thought to myself, 'well, I enjoyed Rocky Balboa and had a great time with Live Free or Die Hard, so I applied the same logic to 'Indy'. Unfortunately, Indy was a huge disappointment. I left the film feeling insulted and disrespected by the filmmakers.

The story is too convoluted to delve into, but the biggest crime is that it was an expensive example of lazy filmmaking. Nothing about it was inspired, the special effects looked about 25 years old and it just laid flat. There's a great deal of exposition, which I'd imagine will have kids squirming in their seats looking for more action.

Ford was fine, nothing was wrong with Shia LaBoute, and it was nice to see Karen Allen back on the scene. But to see them just go through the motions was painful. It feels like time has just passed Indy by, but it really didn't have to. New blood a' la 'Live Free or Die Hard', could have approached the franchise with fresh eyes and new energy, resulting in a film for a new generation.

Sad to say, while it was incredibly flawed, I had a much better time watching Speed Racer. The movie was a mess, but it was inspired and never boring, the exact opposite of 'Crystal Skull'. Here's hoping Lucas, Ford and Spielberg will see the sour taste they've left in moviegoers mouths and leave bad enough alone.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Bronson's best

For a brief period in the seventies, Charles Bronson was the biggest movie star in the world. A working actor for over two decades, Bronson was featured as a thug or henchmen in a number of films ('Crime Wave', 'House of Wax') in the 50s and 60s. His luck started to change in the early sixties, when he was cast in a trio of all star action flicks that gave him a larger profile than he had previously enjoyed. The films, 'The Magnificent Seven', 'The Great Escape' and 'The Dirty Dozen', are commonly regarded among the best of the epic action films.

Bronson, born Charles Buchinsky, in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania, brought a grounded, earthy, no-nonsense persona to the screen that took American cinema awhile to warm up to. Internationally, he developed a massive fan base, with films like 'Violent City', 'Cold Sweat' and 'Rider on the Rain'. Most famous for the original vigilante film, 'Death Wish', Bronson scored several overlooked films during the seventies that bear mentioning. 'The Mechanic', a story about a James Bondian hitman grooming his protege', Jan Michael Vincent, 'Chato's Land', a western starring Bronson as a nearly mute Indian out for revenge, and 'The Valachi Papers', a fact based mafia wise guy story. But the best of the bunch is screenwriter Walter Hill's directorial debut, 'Hard Times', known outside the US as 'The Streetfighter'.

Set in depression-era New Orleans, Bronson plays a mysterious drifter named Chaney, who winds up in a series of streetfights for cash. James Coburn plays his fast talking manager, Speed, Strother Martin is Poe, the alcohol medical man and Bronson's real life wife Jill Ireland plays the hooker who has a thing for Chaney. The story is simple, but effective. Bronson plays Chaney like a man with a past that's never too far from his future. The fights, and there are a lot of them, are brutal but never gratuitous. At 54 years of age, Bronson convincingly handles all of the action with dispassionate grace.

The cinematography captures the dreary depressed feel of the Crescent City in a way that has additional resonance post Katrina.

There have been many 'streetfighter' movies since 'Hard Times', but nothing hits like the original. Add it to your Netflix list, along with 'The Mechanic' , 'Violent City' and 'Once Upon A Time In America', and you'll have the best of Bronson.