Tuesday, December 13, 2016

December Top 40 Rogue One, Sinatra, Brian Wilson, Kenny Selcer, April Martin, Marty Balin and more

Joe Viglione's Interview with star Felicity Jones


Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Review by Joe Viglione

Forty-one year old director Gareth Edwards (Godzilla, 2014; Monsters 2010,) inspired by the Star Wars franchise according to IMDB (he was born two years before the 1977 release of the very first George Lucas film in the series) sets an amazing tone with the opening shots which feature appealingly large Saturn rings, exotic cinematography and futuristic esoterica which delves into a dark, creepy, eerie – quite scary – feeling of imminent doom.   Star Wars, after all, is as much a horror movie as it is science fiction.  With Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing tied in to the series, Lucas indeed created a revved up old-time serial taking the 1936 13-part Flash Gordon story idea into a new dimension. Adding Cushing and Lee, the Karloff/Lugosi of the next generation, was pure “give the people what they want,” which is why Star Wars, like Star Trek, is so successful.   There is also a cleansing going on with this 2016 film, purging the awful experiences that were delivered in 1999’s Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith.  Those three “prequels” were as beautifully filmed as they were empty with some terribly forced acting and an arrogance that derailed the fun and excitement of 77’s Star Wars, 80’s The Empire Strikes Back and 83’s The Return of the Jedi.

To put it all into its proper context, thirty nine years after the initial blasts from the Death Star comes a film that is as good as the first three.  It is even better than The Force Awakens which by any standard was a mere reboot, not actually something that added to the franchise in any way other than it brought things back on track, got serious again, generating anticipation for the next phase of the blockbuster series/serial/anthology.

*  *  *   *   *

Rogue One is the critical space in between the saga, connecting Revenge of the Sith – the best of the three prequels – to Star Wars 1977, the “new hope.”   Director Edwards hits a grand slam, giving an even darker look at the perpetual war, the Emperor’s Hitler-like approach to domination of the universe (forget a few galaxies, they were going for the whole enchilada) and James Earl Jones indulging in a unique savagery as Darth Vader. It is a Deep Dark Vader here, more terrifying, more villainous, as out of control in his obsession as Ricardo Montalban in The Wrath of Khan.  Much, much better than The Force Awakens, the serious dominance of the empire, the plight of the rebels – and the dissension amongst them – something unseen up to this point in time, all brilliantly written and delivered with a vengeance.

This is an adult science fiction movie keeping a lid on the humor provided by Anthony Daniels’ CP30 – C-3PO – Co3P (it’s C-3PO) making just a cameo. The levity is brought to you by a new main character, a reconfigured Empire droid K-2SO (played by Zootopia’s Alan Tudyk )  It is one of two elements taken directly from the Terminator series. In 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines - where Sarah Connor sends back a reprogrammed T-850, Model 101 (Arnold Schwarzenegger,) the rebels in that film turned their opponents' strength against them. Same here as the  K-2S0 mimics some of the same C-3PO one-liners, but does so in a tongue-of-cheek way (a clever tongue-in-cheek, if you will) which adds to the film’s charm.  That is to say, no Jar Jar Binks or Ewoks or Wookies.  

This is serious stuff, leave the children at home.   You won’t be troubled by a ten year old Jake Lloyd playing young Anakin Skywalker (as bad a performance as Hayden Christiansen who followed as the twenty-something Anakin, or – (back to the world of Schwarzenegger) the awful acting in 1993’s Last Action Hero by child actor Austin O’Brien. This is a story about the Force.   It gets down to business and is what Star Wars was (and still is) supposed to be about, domination, rebellion and blowing things up.

The other “borrow” from Terminator, this one the Christian Bale / Sam Worthington 2009 Terminator Salvation, was when the audience applauded to see the CGI Arnold come to life.  

  We are only going to see lots more of this in the future with digital resurrections of Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Jimi Hendrix – and, perhaps, a JFK president with hologram to go along with its infinite capacity computer brain.   Thus, a famous, late actor from the Hammer Film studios entertains us again - after the fact, and it is worth the price of admission.

Wikipedia sheds some enlightenment on the Terminator CG with these gems:

·         Arnold Schwarzenegger's facial likeness was utilized via CGI, with a mold of his face made in 1984 scanned to create the digital makeup.

Roland Kickinger as The Terminator / T-800 (Model 101): the first Terminator covered in living tissue. Bodybuilder and actor Kickinger, who previously portrayed Schwarzenegger in the 2005 biographical film See Arnold Run, was his physical double on set.

In Rogue One Disney recreates the late Peter Cushing in similar fashion. Grand Moff Tarkin returns in a demonic, yet artistically splendid, way -  as the powers that be at Disney nicely thank the Estate of Peter Cushing.

The settings – with palm trees juxtaposed to the crushing feet of the Imperial giant robots (think Sentinels in the X-Men series) along with a blind master of the mystic arts (Chirrut Îmwe played by Hong Kong film star Donnie Yen) who might as well be Dr. Strange inside a Star Wars film,* Rogue One touches on all the points that science fiction fans rabid for comic book heroes and the characters of George Lucas crave.   With Disney owning the rights to both franchises (Marvel Comics and Star Wars,) are you surprised to see the unique crossover appeal?

Two hours and thirteen minutes of spectacular Star Wars fun the way it should have been in the first place. Rogue One could be the template of what is to come.  It is – finally – a worthy edition of the sacred canon, a worthy addition as well.

*A blind Jedi is in a Star Wars fan film, though Donnie Yen's
Chirrut Îmwe is the not-a-Jedi Jedi)

DVD: The Frank Sinatra Collection
Happy Holidays from Frank and Bing
Vintage Sinatra

Review by Joe Viglione

This beautiful package from Eagle Vision/Universal is unique in that new magic is injected into what are over-played holiday favorites when this time of the season rolls around.  “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” as performed here embracing unique nuances, as does Frank Sinatra’s rendition of “Santa Claus is coming to Town.”  Be it the audio playing with its big band brass or the wonderful film texture pleasing to the eye (such a lost art in the digital age,)  the 1957 Christmas TV special is remarkable in its warmth and how it captures these talents without distractions. This critic was a mere three years old when the Sinatra/Crosby presentation aired so if it played on the family TV it didn’t register until viewing this DVD package.    Bing Crosby and Frank engaging in The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) has the two icons merging their deep voices into a timeless interpretation of the timeless classic, with a quiet segue into Bing’s all-time multi-million selling smash “White Christmas.” A solitary figure against the window, joined by Frank for a chorus, perfectly framed and looking like it is out of an expensive Hollywood movie. They just don’t make them like this anymore.  With music from Nelson Riddle and directed by Frank Sinatra himself, there are no quick cuts every ten seconds as you find today. Just a delightful collection of music that is perpetual every December put together with love and care. Performance, technical expertise and magic.  A wonder why this is not a perennial favorite on television and radio, but that’s the times we are in.  Pure class.

The DVD then flips to black and white with “Come Fly with Me,” a selection from the 1950’s TV show which is narrated by Frank Sinatra Jr., Nancy Sinatra and Tina Sinatra.  Elegant reminisces by the children and rare takes of melodies that this generation would know from use in modern films, these black and white performances give a glimpse into a past when significant performers were using this medium before it became cluttered on the “information superhighway” decades later.  “Night and Day” oozes out with exquisite majesty, smoothly and in an attractive fashion missing from the plethora of concerts taped and aired as if off an assembly line in the new millennium.  The textbook is here for that superhighway of information, the contributions from his offspring as enlightening as their dad’s work is entertaining …and equally historical.

A collection for the ages.

May Top 40 Mare Winningham, Planet of the Apes, Andy Mendelson

  Happy Birthday Mare! Years ago Mare Winningham and her husband saw me at the Paradise Theater in Boston, a club I booked for many years....