Album Review – Degrees of Freedom’s PERFECT WORLD

riserdrummer:

Here’s an album review – go check it out…..

Originally posted on riserdrummer:

It’s always a good feeling when you do something new – visiting a city for the first time, reading a new book, watching a new movie. So I was pleasantly surprised when my copy of the recent Degrees Of Freedom album, ‘Perfect World’ hit my doormat. Some new music by a band I’d never heard before was just what I needed.

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The story behind the album is interesting – it’s the culmination of guitarist John Aulabaugh’s mid-life crisis, which took a Blues Brothers twist when he decided to pull his band back together after a quarter of a century. I’m not sure if a 106-mile road trip or the Illinois Law Enforcement Agency were involved, but I’m sure the sunglasses put in an appearance!

As far as line-up goes, Degrees Of Freedom are guitarist John Aulabaugh, vocalist Michael Husler, Michael Murphy on bass and drummer Tim Murphy. In addition, the…

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Movie review – Electric Dreams

Year: 1984

Director: Steve Barron

Stars: Lenny von Dohlen, Virginia Madsen, Maxwell Caulfield, Bud Cort

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Miles Harding (Lenny von Dohlen) is a bit of a nerd. In fact he’s the quintessential 80s nerd, an over-intelligent architect who is trying to invent ‘The Earthquake-Proof Brick’. A smart guy…

Well, almost. He’s not great with computers. He’s not really great at life, as it happens. So when one of his colleagues convinces him he needs ‘organizing’, he buys himself a computer, connects it to all the gadgets in his house, and like all wannabe computer geeks, sets about running his entire house from the comfort of his swivel chair.

All goes well, until he accidentally overloads the computer with data from his office mainframe. Trying to put out the fire, he spills champagne over the keyboard. There’s some violent interaction between bubbles and circuitry, and, when he switches the system back after drying it out, Edgar (the computer, voiced by Bud Cort) comes strangely to life.

After a few initial doubts, Miles is fine with this and indeed comes to like it. That is, until cello player Madeline (Virginia Madsen) moves into the apartment upstairs.

Things begin to get out of hand when Miles falls in love with Madeline. Edgar, left alone in the apartment during the work day soon follows suit and seduces Madeline by accompanying her cello practice. Miles gets Edgar to write a love song for Madeline, in which Edgar pours out his silicon heart. In surely the strangest love triangle ever made, Madeline believes that her wonderful musical muse is Miles, whilst we all know better. A jealous clash is brewing. How can Miles win Madeline from a competitor she doesn’t know is there? What will Edgar do next to try to get the edge over Miles?

If you haven’t seen the movie, then all this probably sounds rather pitiful. And it would be, were it not for fine performances from the under-rated Lenny von Dohlen and Virginia Madsen. The emphasis here is definitely on ‘heart’ and ‘style’ and this magical urban fairytale is laced with some of the best pop music ever written for a movie. It’s also very well photographed and a bit surreal in places. A bit like a long pop video, which I’m sure is what mean-spirited critics would say about it.

There are also many little details that the scriptwriters used in the movie, which pre-dates the Personal Computer era, but cleverly predicts the hassles man would have with his silicon friends. An example is when Miles mis-types his name as ‘Moles’ during an initial setup screen and Edgar, the computer, refers to him by that name for the rest of the movie! (not much has changed since, in computer setup software, it would seem!).

I remember seeing this movie in London when it first came out, when computers were still unusual and fascinatingly, big clunky boxes with built in keyboards, and when Bill Gates was still just some guy with glasses in Connecticut or somewhere… Well, ok, Bill was actually already in there, but he wasn’t the household name that he is today.

The Apple II, Commodore 64 and TRS80 were still being sold through specialist outlets, running with their own versions of DOS and memory measured in a few K, not GigaBytes.

This movie was good on several levels, the love story was well crafted, the soundtrack is superb (Giorgio Moroder at his best) and Virginia Madsen looked marvellous (very much like a friend of mine years later – when I first met her, she reminded me of this movie immediately). The technology obviously dates the movie, but the ideas on how to expand the use of computers are still valid today. If you can, catch the movie whenever it’s on.

Movie review – FAQ About Time Travel

Year: 2009

Director: Gareth Carrivick

Stars: Chris O’Dowd, Mark Wootton, Dean Lennox Kelly, Anna Faris

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Every now and then, a small-budget, small-scope film comes along and puts the mega-million blockbusters to shame. For me, FAQ about Time Travel is one such film.

It’s a simple story of three friends. Ray (O’Dowd) is a self-declared ‘imagineer’ (or what we would call a nerd), interested in his science fiction, his fantasies, and his desire for life to be more exciting than skipping from one dead-end job to another. Toby (Wootton) is a dreamer, constantly writing new ideas for movie plots in his little book, and desperately hoping one will be the idea that changes his life. Pete (Kelly) is the cynic of the bunch, constantly belittling the dreams of the other two, but in truth craving the company of his friends in his equally pointless life.

During a typical evening at the pub, Ray is approached by Cassie (Faris), who tells him a tale almost designed to appeal – she’s a time-traveller, sent across the centuries to fix a ‘time-leak’ and who couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet “Ray The Great”. Before he can fathom out whether she’s telling the truth (but not before embarrassing himself totally) she’s gone, and he returns to his friends to thank them for ‘setting the thing up’. They of course deny it and think Ray’s making the whole thing up, but as the evening progresses, the three are caught up in a series of leaps through time via the time-leak (which turns out to be an uncontrolled portal sending them back and forth through time, located inside the men’s toilets).

Cassie reappears to explain things to Ray, and eventually the three get back to the present, only to be confronted by an Editor – a rogue time traveler changing the future by killing people just after their most famous work. And somehow, this is the time for our three heroes, based on an idea of Toby’s……

O’Dowd is the lead character in the film, and brings a very similar style to that of The IT Crowd’s Roy. Wootton is great as the slightly spaced-out Toby, and Kelly brings a welcome warmth to the cynical Pete that his performances in Shameless would benefit from. Faris is suitably pretty and ditzy as Cassie, and this works well, as a more confident, forceful performance would have been too overpowering against the three male leads.

Produced by BBC Films, FAQ About Time Travel is a gentle, humorous and very enjoyable film, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments and a great outcome for all involved.

* Contains moderate bad language

Movie Review – High Road To China

Director: Brian G Hutton

Year: 1983

Stars: Tom Selleck, Bess Armstrong, Jack Weston, Wilfred Brimley, Brian Blessed, Robert Morley

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Imagine Indiana Jones with a big old moustache, flying goggles and a drink problem. In fact, imagine Tom Selleck in the role. Because that’s what we nearly got, until they realised that Selleck’s commitments to shooting Magnum PI got in the way. Harrison Ford picked up the role, and the rest is history.

History sometimes shows us what we missed out on though, and this is where High Road To China comes in. Some people say that this movie was given to Selleck as consolation for missing out before, and in the way he plays Patrick O’Malley, you can kind of see how his Indy would have turned out.

The basic story is as follows: it’s the early part of the 20th Century. and there’s these two businessmen, one an inventing genius (Bradley Tozer) and one a big money man (Bentik). Tozer goes missing when out in the Far East, and Bentik sees an opportunity to grab their company and all the cash by having his partner declared legally dead. To prevent this, Tozer’s society-girl daughter Evie needs to find him and get him before a British court before the end of the month. The only way she can get there is by hiring O’Malley, a former Air Force pilot and current flying instructor whose skills are legendary with plane and with the ladies – when he can stay sober, that is.

As Evie, O’Malley and engineer Struts journey from Paris to China, they have to battle natives, German fighter pilots, and chinese warlords on the long journey, where hopefully they will find Evie’s father still alive and willing to help them.

Selleck is actually pretty good in the role of the drunken Irish-American hero, and his growing relationship with Evie as they fly along works well due to his obstinance and her feisty attitude. The supporting actors are a key part of the charm, with Robert Morley as the slimy Bentik, and Brian Blessed as the native chief Suleman Khan the stand outs.

There were a number of Indy impersonators around at the time, and this one is the best of the bunch. Probably because only the hawaiian shirt and Ferrari kept him away from the fedora in the first place.

Movie Review – Being John Malkovich

Year: 1999

Director: Spike Jonze

Stars: John Cusack, Cameron Diaz, John Malkovich, Catherine Keener, Orson Bean, Charlie Sheen

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We all dream of being someone else once in a while, of seeing life through someone else’s eyes. For out-of-work puppeteer Craig Schwarz, this became a reality. When necessity (and his wife Lotte) dictate that he get a ‘proper’ job, he ends up working for Lestercorp, in a small – and I mean small – office on the 7½th floor of a Manhattan office block. There he finds a hidden door, which opens to a portal into the mind of actor John Malkovich….

At the same time Craig becomes infatuated by his colleague Maxine, who – on hearing of the portal – sees the commercial opportunity right away and starts up in business with Craig charging two hundred bucks a time for people to spend their 15 minutes inside John Malkovich before being spat out onto the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.

Trouble starts when Lotte tries it – at the same time that Maxine starts an affair with Malkovich. Their actions become an obsession – they fall into a love affair that can only be fulfilled whilst Maxine has sex with the Lotte-inhabited Malkovich. But then Malkovich gets suspicious and discovers their little game…

Spike Jonze’s movie is one of the most original, unique movies of recent years. It’s a very dark comedy, full of surreal situations and bizzare plot twists. However, at its heart this is a character-driven movie. Cusack plays Craig with such a pathetic, helpless kind of obsession that even his most extreme behaviour seems totally appropriate for him. Diaz’s portrayal of Lotte shows a woman uncomfortable with life and people, and who looks for escape where she can find it, in the simpler needs of the many animals they own, and then in the more complex love quadrangle between herself, Craig, Maxine, and the unwitting Malkovich. Maxine is played very well by Keener, at first brash, hard-nosed and arrogant; she softens as the movie progresses as her own insecurities and frailty are revealed. And what of John Malkovich? He’s shown as a parody of his real persona, but not held to ridicule – he’s the ultimate victim in all of this, as is revealed when the movie reaches its climax and the true nature of the portal is explained.

Charlie Kaufman deservedly won accolades for his very claver script, and Spike Jonze directs the cast with skill and intelligence, wringing just the right amount of pathos and humour out of their performances.

Being John Malkovich is a movie unlike any other – and needs to be seen to be understood.

Note: Contains frequent strong language and occasional violence and sexual scenes.

Movie Review – Ghostbusters

Year: 1984
Director: Ivan Reitman
Stars: Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis, Sigourney Weaver, Rick Moranis, Ernie Hudson

When there’s something strange in your neighborhood, when there’s something weird and it don’t look good, an invisible man sleeping in your bed, when you’re seeing things running through your head, who ya gonna call?

That’s right, the source of one of movie history’s most bizarrely successful franchises: Ghostbusters!

In 1984, the franchising world was overtaken by Ghostbusters fever, with the theme song by Ray Parker Jr hitting the top of the charts the world over, and images and toys emerged on the market that are still being peddled to this day.

The movie itself is fun and original. Murray, Ackroyd and Ramis play three parapsychologists (that’s ‘ghosthunters’ to you and I) who are in the gig for different reasons: Whilst Egon Spengler (Ramis) is deadly serious, Ray Stantz (Ackroyd) loves the university life just as much as the kooky science, and Peter Venkman (Murray) knows it’s a great way to get girls, safe in the knowledge that there’s no such thing as ghosts.

Then a real, spooky, actual ghost appears at the public library….

Just as they get their breakthrough, they are kicked off campus and are forced to set up in business doing all they find themselves qualified for – ghost hunting. After they catch a spook in a New York hotel, they become instant stars, recruit a fourth employee called Winston (Hudson) to help with the workload, and are called in by Dana Barrett (Weaver) after she sees strange things in her apartment.

Egon and Ray discover that the plans for her building include metalwork that somehow acts as an ‘antenna’ to attract the spirits of ancient Sumerian spirits, but before they can get to the building they are thrown in jail, apparently for contravening ‘Environmental Safety’ regulations. The moronic ESA guy shuts the power to the Ghost Containment field, which releases scores of captured spooks into the city.

Meanwhile, Dana and her geeky neighbour (Moranis) have been possessed by the Sumerian Spirits and are on the verge of releasing the evil Gozer, when our heroes arrive in the nick of time to save the day….

Ghostbusters quickly became one of the 80s’ box office success stories, making it’s $30 million budget back in a little over a week. The stars of the show are brilliant, each bringing elements of their own flawed characters to the roles. Murray in particular comes across as very much improvising much of his mannerisms and speech, drawing on his Saturday Night Live experience to the full.

The effects are cool, the script funny, the supporting cast (which at some points seem to include most of the New York public) throw themselves in with gusto, and in hindsight it’s not hard to see why the franchise movement took off as it did.

Overall, Ghostbusters marks a milestone in movie history. Pretty much everyone has seen it. for those who have not, waddya waitin’ for?

Movie Review – Johnny Dangerously!

Year: 1984
Director: Amy Heckerling
Stars: Michael Keaton, Marilu Henner, Joe Piscopo, Griffin Dunne, Peter Boyle, Danny Devito, Maureen Stapleton

 

It’s the 1930’s and we find kind-hearted, good-natured Johnny Kelly (Keaton) at work in his pet shop. Johnny is a bit like Dr Doolitle: he talks to the animals, feeds them regularly, and above all, tries to turn an honest dollar.

One day, he catches a kid trying to steal a puppy, and as punishment the kid is forced to sit and listen to Johnny’s tale – a tale of crime, glamour, and adventure…..

Turns out that Johnny’s mother (Stapleton) is a typical irish washerwoman, who also happens to be a hypochondriac. She’s always needing money to pay for the treatment she feels she needs and so, while his studious brother Tommy (Dunne) studies law, Johnny goes out to work. He gets caught up with local gang boss Jock Dundee (Boyle) when needing a few extra bucks for his mother. Tagging along on a raid on a rival casino, he manages to snatch the raid from the jaws of failure and turn it into a glorious success. His future is secured – but not as honest Johnny Kelly, but under his new name – Johnny Dangerously!

Time progresses and whilst Johnny makes enemies, such as the slimy Danny Vermin (Piscopo), he also makes friends, especially Lil (Henner) a singer in Dundee’s club who is curvier than a very, very curvy thing. Stars, flowers, rainbows, and soon they are married and living in magnificent splendour. Johnny always stays one step ahead of the law and his family – a task that becomes even harder when brother Tommy becomes District Attourney after turning in his boss the DA (Devito) for fraud and embezzelment. Johnny can’t let his family know what he does for a living, despite the close attentions of Tommy, the new DA – it would kill his mother.

When Jock Dundee is nearly killed by a booby-trap bomb in his toilet, Johnny takes over the gang, and tries hard to turn them all legit. But this is not enough for Danny Vermin, who shops Johnny to his brother the DA, and takes over the gang whilst Johnny is sent to death row, framed for murder.

Will Johnny escape in time to foil Danny Vermin’s plot to kill Tommy and rule the city by fear? Only watching the end of the movie will tell!

Johnny Dangerously! is undoubtably one for watching whilst wearing a corset. There are sight gags from start to finish, the strangest situations and incredible dialogue that really should be locked away, never to be quoted again! It’s very much along the lines of the Police Squad/Airplane/Top Secret type of movie and this is helped by some great performances, particularly by Joe Piscopo as the extremely nasty Danny Vermin. Danny DeVito is also very good in a cameo role and look out for Dom DeLuise as the Pope.

It’s a laugh a minute, and then some. If you like sight gags, then this is the movie for you.