Friday, July 31, 2015

'Phantom of the Opera' to Return to Blu-Ray This October

While we keep our fingers crossed that Universal will issue some as-yet-unissued monster classics on Blu-ray sometime soon-ish, the studio's very first monster classic will be returning to the format on October 13 courtesy of Kino Classics. Rupert Julian's (or Lon Chaney's, if you prefer) Phantom of the Opera will appear in three different edits on a bonus-packed double-disc edition distinct from Image Entertainment's 2011 iteration

Here are the specifics announced today on

Disc One: 
24 frames-per-second version (78 Min.)
Music composed and performed by Alloy Orchestra
Theatre organ score arranged and performed by Gaylord Carter
20 frames-per-second version (92 Min.)
Musical setting composed by Gabriel Thibaudeau. Performed by I Musici de Montréal. Conducted by Yuri Turovsky. Claudine Côté, Soprano 
Audio commentary by film historian Jon Mirsalis

Disc Two: 
1925 Version (Standard Definition) 
Musical Setting Arranged and Performed by Frederick Hodges

Original Screenplay
Montage of Stills
Interview with composer Gabriel Thibaudeau
Two travelogues by Burton Holmes, depicting Paris in 1925: Paris from a Motor, A Trip on the Seine

Review: 'Psycho Beach Party' Blu-ray

In the seventies, movies like Pink Flamingoes and The Rocky Horror Picture Show revolutionized cult comedy by scandalizing Z-grade genre pictures. In essence, they were parodies of parodies, but they felt fresh because they piled up offenses that the movies they lampooned never dreamed of committing. A decade later, writer/actor/drag queen Charles Busch staged a play called Psycho Beach Party that he and director Robert Lee King adapted it into a movie in 2000. Coming some twenty-five years after Pink Flamingoes and Rocky Horror, the movies that established its brand of self-conscious camp, Psycho Beach Party ends up feeling like a parody of a parody of a parody. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though this slasher/surfer movie take-off about a schizophrenic surfer girl is a definite mixed bag of stuff. Interior scenes are nicely stylized with comic-book color and lighting, while exterior scenes rely way too much on natural light, the actors’ faces often slashed up with shadows. Since the script isn’t really that funny—at least for the first hour of the picture—a lot depends on the cast. The ability to rise to high camp isn’t in every actor’s bag-of-tricks. Some of the cast, such as Nicholas Brendon as the beach hunk and Thomas Gibson as the surfer king, don’t quite sell it. Others nail it: Lauren Ambrose as the personality-shifting surfer, Beth Broderick as her prim mom (who ends up really heisting the show), Amy Adams as the sex kitten, Kimberly Barnes as a sci-movie star, and Busch as the cop captain investigating the murders of people with disabilities.

That premise (likely pulled from the classic noir The Spiral Staircase where it wasn’t played for laughs) would be just one of many dicey elements in a John Waters movie, which loads up the outrageousness until it all ends up in a glorious wad of laughable absurdity. The problem with Psycho Beach Party is that it isn’t outrageous enough to mute the ugly nature of the killer’s crimes. Busch and Lee King dole out the offensiveness too judiciously. Their movie should have been bloodier, crazier, louder, nastier, and more vulgar. Psycho Beach Party ends up feeling like it was made by a John Waters who pulls his punches. The real John Waters would never do that.

Even though the script and tone are highly flawed, Psycho Beach Party still manages to be fairly fun because the actresses and actors seem like they’re having a lot of fun playing hooky from their day jobs on TV series such as “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” (Broderick), “Dharma and Greg” (Gibson), “Beverly Hills, 90210” (Kathleen Robertson), “The Drew Carey Show” (Jessica Bergere), and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (Brendon—actually, he doesn’t seem like he’s having much fun). Shortly before getting her own regular small-screen stint on “Six Feet Under”, Ambrose is also having a blast doing Florence “Chicklet” Forrest’s various personalities, although her impersonation of a black woman doesn’t play well, especially in a movie of wall-to-wall white people.

The other terrific thing about Psycho Beach Party is its vibrant period sets and costumes. Those colors get a chance to pop in Strand Releasing’s new blu-ray, though detail is a bit muted. Overall, the movie looks decent and natural, but it does look its age. Considering all the familiar faces in the cast—and the fact that Adams and Ambrose went on to major careers— some sort of current-day retrospective would have been a cool bonus. So would a bit of footage of the original stage play in which Busch played Chicklet, but there’s only a music video featuring Nashville rockers Los Straitjackets and a commentary track by Busch and Lee King, both ported over from the DVD. In the informative commentary, the filmmakers get into the movie’s casting, influence, music, and so on, though it’s a little dry for a movie as goofy as Psycho Beach Party.

Get the new Psycho Beach Party blu-ray on here:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: 'Small Faces' and 'From the Beginning' Reissues

Universal Music last remastered and reissued Small Faces’ first two albums in 2012 as double-disc deluxe editions in conjunction with Sanctuary Records. Remastered from second-generation tapes, the discs sounded really good and you can read my original review here to also get my assessment of the music (spoiler alert: it’s great). Shortly after the release of these discs, UMe and Sanctuary parted ways, which may account for why UMe is currently mounting a whole new SF reissue campaign, although those old deluxe editions are still in print. The gem of this latest campaign will apparently be The Decca Years, a five-disc CD box coming next month that was “remastered from the original analogue sources,” according to the official copy. However, the campaign began late last month with 180 gram vinyl reissues of Small Faces and From the Beginning. I received CD review copies to examine, and after A/B-ing them against the 2012 deluxe editions, I can’t really discern any significant mastering differences. So I guess the big draw of these initial reissues is that they’re on vinyl. As I said, the mastering sounds really good, but I’d hesitate to purchase these new discs if you already own the bonus track-laden 2012 deluxes and youre primarily looking for a significant mastering upgrade. Presumably, these review discs contain the same masters that will be included on The Decca Years. I’m going to try to get my hands on a review copy of that box set to confirm whether or not it features any significant sound upgrade from the 2012 editions. Stay tuned…

Meanwhile, get UMe’s new vinyl editions of Small Faces and From the Beginning on here:

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Review: Reissues of Procol Harum's 'A Salty Dog' and 'Home'

After their debut black mass and the more colorfully proggy Shine on Brightly, Procol Harum once again shifted sails for an album that was both more stripped down and more elaborately adorned than their first two. With its simple folk and blues songs and more ambitious orchestral mini-epics, A Salty Dog was Procol operating at full maturity. The democratization of vocal duties further set it apart from the two records before it.  Needless to say, Matthew Fisher and Robin Trower couldn’t beat Gary Brooker’s magnificent voice, but they both add variety to the proceedings (Fisher’s reedy though earnest voice is particularly pleasing), and Brooker gets what may be his most stunning vocal spotlights with the title track and “All This and More”. A Salty Dog is a masterful album, both Procol’s finest, and as far as I’m concerned, the finest by any artist in a year that included Led Zeppelin, Let It Bleed, Abbey Road, Tommy, and The Band.

Then Fisher departed and the band changed more significantly than ever. Without Fisher’s signature organ parts, Trower stepped in to fill the gap, and the band made its most guitar-heavy record with Home. Keith Reid’s death-obsessed lyrics are pretty heavy too, often crossing into outright horror. Brooker didn’t allow the lyrics’ thematic consistency to beat his music into a sort of Gothic monotony. He danced all over the place with Hammer horror doom and gloom (“The Dead Man’s Dream”), rollicking pop (making the ridiculously violent “Still There’ll Be More” all the more ridiculous), folk balladry (“Nothing That I Didn’t Know”), pub sing-along (“Your Own Choice”), and outright prog (“Whaling Stories”). With Trower, he co-wrote “Whiskey Train”, the hardest rocking thing in Procol’s valise. Without Fisher’s voice and organ flourishes to add extra color, or the sweeping orchestrations of A Salty Dog, Home isn’t as grand as the previous record, but it is another excellent record and the capper for the band’s most satisfying period.

Since Esoteric Records has not announced remasters of Broken Barricades or Live with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra as of this writing, A Salty Dog and Home may also be the cappers of the label’s current remaster series. That would be a shame, since all of these discs re-mastered from the original tapes sound fabulous. As I wrote in my review of the first two remasters, Salvo was the last label to reissue Procol’s catalogue, and its versions of the first two albums both contained tracks running at the wrong speeds. That label’s issues of Salty Dog and Home suffered no such issues, but Esoteric’s still sound markedly superior to Salvo’s relatively thin and bright masters. This is never clearer than on Esoteric’s remaster of A Salty Dog, which really allows its roomy acoustics and eclectic instrumentation to live and breathe. The improvement in the resonance and depth of B.J. Wilson’s drums is striking on both discs.

Once again, I received single-disc versions of Esoteric’s reissues to review, each containing just one bonus track. There’s the mighty B-side “Long Gone Geek” on A Salty Dog and the radio edit of “Whiskey Train” on Home. Both CDs are available in two-disc editions with about a dozen bonus tracks each: mostly BBC sessions and live cuts on Salty Dog and backing tracks and alternate takes on Home. Obviously, I can’t comment on those, but I’m still confident that Esoteric’s Procol Harum reissues will rank among this year’s best reissues for sound alone.

Get Esoteric’s new re-masters of Procol Harum’s A Salty Dog and Home on here:

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: 'Under the Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush [New Edition]'

Kate Bush seems to reveal so much of herself in her songs despite being more of a storyteller than a self-dissecting singer songwriter. So much of her own intense connections to family, sex, love, and nature bleed through her tales of soldiers, ship-wreck survivors, ghosts, monsters, talking houses, and amorous computers. In reality, Kate Bush is an extremely private person, but the personal air of her music breeds a great deal of curiosity, empathy, and speculation in critics and fans alike.

Biographer Graeme Thomson is clearly a fan, though his work also requires him to be a critic. That work puts him in the tricky position of balancing his gasping admiration with professional distance, to respect the artist for whom he has so much respect while also telling her story with honesty and thoroughness. He did an exceptional job of traversing that tightrope with Under the Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush, which examines her life, music, working methods, and frustrating relationship with the media. Thomson waves away the rumors incessantly fluttering about her like moths. Ill-informed and disgruntled journos love to paint Bush as a pretentious thrush, a pampered rich girl, an airhead speaking in constant “Wows” and “Amazings!”, a recluse, or all false impressions bundled together. The author calls out the less spectacular moments of her career (such as The Red Shoes) with all due frankness and as much tact as he can muster. He also gets deep into fascinating little side roads of Bush’s career, such as her collaboration with Donald Sutherland on the “Cloudbusting” video.

Thomson originally published Under the Ivy in 2010 when Kate Bush’s career may have seemed like it had wound down. She hadn’t released an album in five years at that point. A year after the book’s publication, Bush revisited some old material on Director’s Cut and released an album of new material, 50 Words for Snow. Since then she has done the unimaginable by staging concerts for the first time in 35 years with her triumphant “Before the Dawn” series at the Hammersmith Apollo. Thomson rightfully sensed this would be a good time to revisit and revise his landmark biography, and the updated edition subjects Bush’s post-2010 work to the same scrutiny, praise, and criticism that her first four decades received in the first edition—his intense look at “Before the Dawn” gave me a serious yen for a DVD release of the show.

Get the updated edition of Under the Ivy: The Life & Music of Kate Bush on here:

Friday, July 17, 2015

Find Out the Horrible Fate of a Beloved X-Files Denizen in New TV Ad

With the possibility that we may have to wait until 2017 to see new episodes of "Twin Peaks" (or the possibility that one of the show's co-creators knows neither when the series originally aired nor when it's coming back), we fans of supernatural nineties shows will have to channel all our geeky energies into that upcoming "X-Files" return, which has a specific air date and now has an official TV ad. The ad reveals little aside from the presence of Mulder, Scully, several cops, and a great deal of mist. Sadly, it also reveals that one of the most beloved denizens of X-Files Land comes to a disgraceful fate. Yes, it's true, Mulder's "I Want to Believe" poster has fallen on the floor and someone steps on it. This is just another awful injustice faced by the poster, which apparently has not worked since  playing the title character of a terrible movie in 2008. See the poster's latest humiliation play out here:

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Criterion's 'Mulholland Dr.' Blu-ray Has Finally Been Announced for October!

Fans of the Criterion Collection tend to look forward to the company's mid-month new-release announcements with crazed anticipation, and perhaps no long-rumored Criterion release has been more crazily anticipated than David Lynch's Mulholland Dr. Well, today Criterion announced its October 2015 roster, and I'm thrilled to announce that the release of Lynch's magnificent mind-bender is finally official. On October 27, we'll get a 4K digital transfer of Mulholland Dr. with vintage and brand new bonus interviews with David Lynch, stars Naomi Watts and Laura Harring, soundtrack composer Angelo Badalamenti, and casting director Johanna Ray. Some of the bonus features details are a tad sketchy at this moment (Criterion's site simply says "More!"), but I'm sure many fans are hoping that the unaired "Mulholland Dr." TV pilot might be included. In any event, this is one of the most important Blu-ray releases of 2015. It will be a tough one to top, though Criterion also has some other great titles--including Japanese horror portmanteau Kwaidan and David Cronenberg's The Brood--in store for October.
Pre-order Criterion's Mulholland Dr. blu-ray from here:

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