Monday, 22 January 2018

"Amistad" - The Movie - A Review (2018 Warners 'Premium Collection' BLU RAY, DVD and Digital Download Reissue)

"...Is He The Chief? I Don't Think So..."

No. 51 in the Warners 'Premium Collection' for BLU RAYS is Spielberg's "Amistad" from 1997 – released 15 January 2018 alongside 2005's "Munich" which is title No. 52. In late February 2018 – the series will reach title No. 56 (I've compiled the full list below so you can locate the right issue).

First up the print for this film is beautiful in almost all places right from the opening sequence of Djimon Hounsou's wild eyes as he claws a nail out of wood aboard the 1839 Spanish slave ship "La Amistad". And it continues like that for most parts right to the end (when you see the Making Of – you will immediately notice the upgrade in image quality). The glossy card slipcase once again lends this 2-disc release a very classy feel and the banded four artcards clipped inside are a very nice touch indeed (principal actors in the movie). There is no booklet (mores the pity –only a few titles in this series have one) - but there is a digital download code sheet to watch the movie on the go. But for me that's where the good news ends...

Despite the amazing names in the cast (Nigel Hawthorne, Pete Postlethwaite, David Paymer, Stellan Skarsgard and Morgan Freeman) - re-watching "Amistad" is not a great experience. It's laden with lumpy unbelievable characters - ludicrously over the top acting (McConaughey's happy-wappy lawyer is grating instead of endearing) - and bumbling fun mixed with random horror. It all feels so dreadfully forced and clichéd and weighed down with its own importance unlike the far better "Lincoln" that touches on the same subject of abolishing slavery and uses courtrooms as a drama setting.

Hell even the Menu has music that feels like its some triumphalist Disney cartoon and when Hopkins appears in his bumbling rendition of an ageing President John Quincy Adams - we get the good-guy melodies just so we know we're in the presence of the benevolent white man. The Extras consist of a short "Making Of" and a Trailer (came with the DVD) and once again there's no Spielberg commentary - so in fact there's nothing new other than an upgraded image. Audio is English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround (French, Portuguese and Spanish) with Subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

If you're a fan - then the purchase is a worthy one - the best presentation of the movie so far. But if not - I'd advise a watch first before purchasing...

PS: For Info Purposes...

Warner Brothers 'Premium Collection' BLU RAY Reissue Series In Conjunction With HMV UK (releases 2016 to 2018):
Each 2-Disc Set Contains a BLU RAY, a DVD, a Digital Download Code (with Ultraviolet), an Exclusive Outer Glossy Slipcase and 4 Art Cards (usually one is the movie poster and others are stills from the movie). None of the 56 releases to date have booklets except where noted (11, 27, 31, 40 and 53) and “Casablanca” (No. 48) is the only issue in the Series with Three-Discs.
The Entire Series is numbered on the silver spine with the year of the film's release above that number (as per the list below)
Begun in October 2016 - releases are ongoing into 2018 and while some have been available in the USA - many titles are first time on BLU RAY in the UK and Europe...

1. Them (1955) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202770
2. Forbidden Planet (1956) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202985
3. The Omega Man (1971) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202763
4. Soylent Green (1973) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202756
5. All The President's Men (1976) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202626
6. Logan's Run (1976) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202718
7. The Shining - Extended Cut (1980) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202206
8. Diner (1982) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202664
9. Little Shop Of Horrors (1986) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202749
10. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) - released 3 October 2016 - Barcode 5051892202848

11. King Kong (1933) - released 27 February 2017 - Barcode 5051892206600 (with 32-Page Booklet)
12. The Adventures Of Robin Hood (1938) – released 27 February 2017 - Barcode 5051892206921
13. Excalibur (1981) – released 13 March 2017 - Barcode 5051892206280
14. The Mission (1986) - released 13 March 2017 - Barcode 5051892206877
15. Jason & The Argonauts (1963) - released 13 March 2017 - Barcode 5050349003724
16. The Hunger (1983) - released 17 Apr 2017 - Barcode 5051892207638
17. Performance (1970) - released 17 Apr 2017 - Barcode 5051892207621
18. The Time Machine (1960) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208291
19. Outland (1981) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208215
20. A Scanner Darkly (2006) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208857
21. Gattaca (1997) - released 8 May 2017 - Barcode 5050349523925
22. Donnie Brasco (1997) - released 29 May 2017 - Barcode 5050349609926
23. Blow (2001) - released 29 May 2017 - Barcode 5051892208277
24. Battle Of The Bulge (1965) - released 5 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208260
25. The Dirty Dozen (1967) - released 5 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208284
26. Casualties Of War (1989) - released 5 June 2017 - Barcode 5050349145820
27. Gettysburg: Director's Cut (1993) - released 12 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208321
28. Jeremiah Johnson (1972) - released 12 June 2017 - Barcode 5051892208307
29. Legends Of The Fall (1994) - released 12 June 2017 - Barcode 5050629158823
30. Sex, Lies And Videotape (1989) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5050349292623
31. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5051892209236
32. Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1958) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5051892209274
33. Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? (1966) - released 17 July 2017 - Barcode 5051892209328
34. White Heat (1949) - released 14 August 2017 - Barcode 5051892209687
35. The Public Enemy (1931) - released 14 August 2017 - Barcode 5051892209656
36. Little Caesar (1931) - released 14 August 2017 - Barcode 5051892209618
37. Point Blank (1967) - released 18 September 2017 – Barcode 5051892209632
38. The Yakuza (1974) - released 18 September 2017 - Barcode 5051892209663
39. Body Heat (1981) - released 18 September 2017 - Barcode 5051892209557
40. Chinatown (1974) - released 18 September 2017 - Barcode 5053083131807
41. Shaft (1971) - released 2 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892209649
42. New Jack City (1991) - released 2 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892209625
43. Pet Sematary (1986) - released 16 October 2017 - Barcode 5053083131814
44. House Of Wax 3D (1953) - released 16 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892209984
45. The Haunting (1963) – released 16 October 2017 – Barcode 5051892209915
46. A Clockwork Orange (1971) - released 16 October 2017 - Barcode 5051892210867
47. The Maltese Falcon (1941) - released 6 November 2017 - Barcode 5051892209922
48. Casablanca (1942) - released 5 February 2018 (delayed release) - Barcode 5051892209816 (Three Disc Special Edition with Booklet)
49. The Big Sleep (1946) - released 6 November 2017 - Barcode 50501892209892
50. Lost Horizon (1937) - released 6 November 2017 - Barcode 5050629028638 (80th Anniversary Reissue/4K Restoration with Booklet)

51. Amistad (1997) - released 15 January 2018 - Barcode 5053083134747
52. Munich (2005) - released 15 January 2018 - Barcode 5053083134754
53. (Frank Capra's) Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1946) – released 5 February 2018 – Barcode 5050629038132
54. The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953) – released 26 February 2018 – Barcode 5051892212618
55. Clash Of The Titans (1981) – released 26 February 2018 – Barcode 5050189221263
56. Valley Of The Gwangi (1969) – released 26 February 2018 – Barcode 5051892212625

Friday, 19 January 2018

"Darkest Hour" - A Review by Mark Barry of the 2017 Film Starring Gary Oldman...

"...Facing Fearful Odds..."
Darkest Hour - The 2017 Film (A Review)

It's Friday, 12 Jan 2018 in the UK and we've just come from a packed cinema - opening night for "Darkest Hour" - so this review covers the film with the BLU RAY details to follow when its released later in the year.

First up – "Darkest Hour" is your first port of call for movie magic in 2018. Having said that and although it moved the audience I was with in a big way - it's far from perfect as a film - especially at the outset. But when it settles down and works - Joe Wright's latest is masterful stuff – rammed to the gunnels with a huge array of British talent and brilliance. The entire cast is magnificent - seriously stepping up to the acting plate for what you feel they instinctively know is a prestigious project.

Given the press and attention lavished on it - you might also think the whole film is dominated by Gary Oldman's utterly extraordinary performance as Winston Churchill (Oscar nominated and surely his first statue in the bag – he's already taken the Golden Globe this week) – it’s not. What makes it work is a combo of three things actually. Oldman as lead of course giving his version of Churchill unbelievable humanity under all those superlative prosthetics. Second is stunning support parts from a whole array of quality actors - Ben Mendelsohn as the stuttering, smoking King George IV, Kirsten Scott-Thomas a Winnie's long-suffering but quietly supportive wife Clemmie and absolute career bests from Ronald Pickup as the beleaguered ex Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (a committed pacifist who had seen what carnage war brought to the ordinary man in World War 1) and especially Stephen Dillane as the capitulating silver-tongued Viscount Halifax (he played Stannis Baratheon in Game Of Thrones) - a performance so strong that it almost threatens to take Oldman's thunder. Add in great writing from Anthony McCarten and steady Direction from Joe Wright ("Pride & Prejudice" and "Atonement") - and "Darkest Hour" had tears streaming down our collective cinematic kissers - and on more than one occasion. Even Lily James whose beauty always sees her getting slotted into the 'pretty girl' role - gets her best part too as Churchill's secretary and typist Miss Layton. During one harrowing scene – she sits stilled in pain - unable to type any further - staring down heartbroken at a letter dictated by her boss that will send thousands of men to their death at Calais in order to act as a diversion for the hundreds of thousands stranded on the French coast at Dunkirk (the entire British Army) as European countries and freedoms falls like dominoes to Nazi invasion and tyranny. "Darkest Hour" is full of moments like this. The staggering sacrifices that had to be made and who had the sheer brass to make such crushing decisions...

A half-hour in and as "Darkest Hour" begins to settle down it starts to become an emotional stealth film - the information flow making you realize the sheer gravity of what was happening and to whom - the worst and best sides of humanity making you wince and beam in equal measure. Winston giving the order for Operation Dynamo - the flotilla of small privately owned boats heading to Dunkirk as a nation rallies around 300,000 of its stranded troops (Dario Marianelli and his score finally delivering an emotional sweep the movie really needed). The fabulous dialogue intensity in the War Room when Winston needs to silence the wimps and the naysayers – a one-on-one with the King in a quite bedroom where the PM finally gets the support of someone that matters (a former doubter) – a conversation with President Roosevelt on the phone (a wonderfully detached David Strathairn). In fact I can’t help thinking that it would be a hard heart indeed that would remain unmoved when faced with this level of emotional onslaught.

Then there’s the huge history of it – the fate of the Western World resting on such odd shoulders. His obvious big heart living in tandem with a monumental ego (many felt his initial speeches to the House of Commons were simply grandstanding by a washed-up aristocrat) – his sheer will of personality - instilling self-belief into a nation - understanding that they needed heady strength and even belligerence instead of tact and diplomacy (Spillane's character makes sense every time he speaks but also creepily lacks spine in the face of adversity). There are moments in this film when your chest heaves with the weight of what Churchill had to endure - the American Government hiding behind laws and agreements as England and its inhabitants lay moments away from destruction by true evil (and Roosevelt knew it) – a small man helpless in an even smaller broom closet with the walls slowly closing in. The cabinet bickering and jockeying for position of 'least personal blame' when a nation's very soul hung in the balance - his past military failures in Gallipoli constantly thrown in his face as evidence of his unsuitability for the job of waging war. His copious alcohol consumption, wheezing on chomped cigars, slurred speech, fits of forgetfulness and cantankerous outbursts with staff while he cheerily gives the public V-signs as if all is a bed of roses (apparently the government actively avoided public speeches because Winston came across as a sozzled mumbler). It's all here. And in the end - and perhaps even because of his faults and blemishes – a nation – our freedom - saved by an old beaten-up man with seemingly limitless inner reserves of oratory and grit. And of course as it all comes down to ‘that’ speech which Oldman delivers with beautifully controlled power and finesse - more than a few bodies in our row of seats applauded and felt their chests swell with British pride (and I’m an Irishman).

So why the four-star review and not five? There are times - especially in the first half hour - when it all seems incredibly hammy in places - and you fear that all those glowing reviews must have been carefully placed hype. And it's not really helped either by a Dario Marianelli score that often feels more 'Carry On' than 'Keep Calm'. The jokes are good but can too often grate or worse - feel forced (what a jolly old curmudgeon he was). And a very staged 'Meeting The Ordinary People On The London Underground' scene where an embattled Winston takes solace from the common folk’s stoicism and courage feels like a Richard Curtis outtake complete with the token coloured passenger amazingly able to quote McCauley's poem "Horatio At The Bridge" verbatim and right on cinematic cue (its famous words title this review). And when it comes to the all-important and rousing speeches - did Churchill actually borrow from an American Journalist (William Simms not mentioned) for his penultimate speech of never surrendering made in the House of Commons post Dunkirk. And where's his Irish friend and lifelong advisor Tipperaryman Brendan Bracken who was a key player behind the scenes and some say also contributed to the famous monologues. But despite this - through it all is Oldman delivering a mighty acting performance that brings mammoth-sized pathos to the man – filling him with doubts – tenderness – hurt – even childishness – behavior the Nazis used as actual propaganda during the Blitz to come. Flaws or not – such is his investment in the part – Oldman has you glued - hanging on his every word and gesture. It's a career best and when you take into account the dark power and honesty in his astonishing Directorial debut about working-class alcoholism "Nil By Mouth" (a difficult watch worth the difficulty) – long overdue credit.

Given John Lithgow's truly extraordinary and humane turn as the great man in Season 1 of "The Crown" (a performance he should have won awards for) - Oldman delivers even more Winston - layer after layer of Churchill the man and the endless enigma. Beautifully done boys - flawed in places for sure - but a triumph nonetheless.

And come Tinseltown's Big Day - if Gary Oldman doesn’t win the Oscar for Male Lead in "Darkest Hour" then the UK Government can toss aside leaving the EU for the moment and concentrate on a land-based invasion of America. Given their present President's appalling leadership – hell they might even welcome it...

Saturday, 6 January 2018

"Bored Civilians" by KEITH CROSS and PETER ROSS (April 2014 Esoteric Recordings 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

"…I Planned To Get To You..."

(This review and 299 more like it available in the following e-Book from Amazon
No duplicates with Volume 1 or 3)

Housed in a dreadful sleeve (front and rear) that gives no indication of the mellow musical brilliance that's contained within - our songwriting heroes KEITH CROSS and PETER ROSS saw their hugely accomplished 1972 platter on Decca Records disappear without a trace on release. In fact as a long-time collector myself and rarities buyer at Reckless Records for nearly two decades - I can remember seeing this album in secondhand racks in the Eighties and Nineties when you couldn't give it away. Nowadays of course it's been rediscovered and clocks in a princely £300+ on the collector's market.

And re-listening to it on this gorgeous-sounding April 2014 CD remaster (Esoteric Recordings ECLEC 2441 - Barcode 5013929454149) - it's easy to hear why that amount of money is being exchanged whenever it comes up for sale. The cliché of a 'lost classic' immediately jumps to mind - and in my mind - reissue of the year too (52:34 minutes).

Some background first - Lead Guitarist Keith Cross had been in the hard-rocking British band BULLDOG BREED who made a lone album on Decca's Progressive Rock label imprint Deram Nova in January 1970 called "Made In England". Cross then left to form T2 who put out a similarly blistering hard-rock effort shortly after (July 1970) called "It'll All Work In Boomland" on Decca. So those expecting more of the same genre when Cross teamed up PETER ROSS of HOOKFOOT would have been in for a short sharp shock with their combo-credited effort "Bored Civilians". Musically it's more Matthews Southern Comfort meets Help Yourself circa their first Folky LP meets Elton John's "Madman Across The Water". There are elements of Nick Drake, Smith-Perkins-Smith, CSYN, Brinsley Schwarz and Caravan too coming out of these beautifully recorded tracks.

1. The Last Ocean Rider [Peter Ross song]
2. Bored Civilians [Keith Cross song]
3. Peace In The End [Trevor Lucas/Sandy Denny song - Fotheringay cover]
4. Story To A Friend [Keith Cross song]
5. Loving You Takes So Long [Peter Ross song] [Side 2]
6. Pastels [Keith Cross song]
7. The Dead Salute [Peter Ross song]
8. Bo Radley [Keith Cross song]
9. Fly Home [Keith Cross and Peter Ross song]
10. Blind Willie Johnson - non-album B-side to "Can You Believe It" released September 1971 in the UK on Decca F 13224 and in the USA on London 45-20069

11. Prophets Guiders - non-album B-side to "Peace In The End" released May 1972 in the UK on Decca F 13224 and in the USA on London 45-20073

Released September 1972 on Decca SKL 5129 (Tracks 1 to 9) - the album was produced by one of Decca's top people at the time - PETER SAMES - and along with Engineer DAVE GRINSTEAD - they achieved truly gorgeous warmth on every track. That has been completely captured by PASCHAL BYRNE and his remaster from original tapes - this CD sounds just glorious.

KEITH CROSS and PETER ROSS share Guitars and Lead Vocals while the quality guests include NICK LOWE on Guitar (then with Brinsley Schwarz), DEE MURRAY of the Elton John Band and CHRIS STEWART of Spooky Tooth on Bass, JIMMY HASTINGS on Flute and Saxophone (Caravan, Soft Machine), PETER ARNESEN on Keyboards (later with If, Ian Hunter and The Hollies), STEVE CHAPMAN on Drums (Judas Jump, later with Poco), TONY CARR on Percussion and Pedal Steel Guitar legend B.J. COLE.

The album opens with the massively impressive "The Last Ocean Rider" where a soft melody, harmonizing vocals and BJ Cole's Pedal Steel go into a near seven-minute overdrive. The album's title track floats in like a Simon & Garfunkel song circa "Bookends" when you're then hit a minute-in by the gorgeous string-arrangements done by TONY SHARP (he also arranged and conducted on "Loving You Takes So Long" and "Fly Home"). It's followed by an inspired cover-version choice tailor-made to the Folky feel of the whole album - Fotheringay's "Peace In The End". The cops-hassling-the-band-at-customs "Story To A Friend" has fantastic mid-song arrangements where Elton John type piano chords mix with Jenny Mason and Nicholson's ethereal backing vocals and brill Flute playing from Jimmy Hastings. Side Two opens with the piano-drum beat sound of "Loving You Takes So Long" which aurally reminds me of another forgotten classic - the Side One brilliance of "Foreigner Suite" by Cat Stevens. The pretty "Pastels" follows with immaculate acoustic guitars swirling around your speakers like some David Crosby "If I Could Only Remember My Name" outtake. But best of all for me is the seven-minute album finisher "Fly Home" - it's magnificent in a grand way - a superb combination of highly produced acoustic guitars, languid melody and those beautifully complimentary vocals and strings. It sounds so David Crosby and Graham Nash - so sophisticated West Coast - and quite brilliant. Very, very nice indeed...lyrics from it title this review.

Slip-ups - Esoteric have included the superb B-sides of both rare singles listed above - but they haven't thrown in the uber-rare non-album A-side "Can You Believe It" from 1971 nor have they explained why. And the even harder-to-find six-track EP on Decca EPS 1 is pictured in the excellent booklet but it doesn't explain that each cut was a promo-only `edit' and could therefore have been added on as six extras too. Minor points but worth noting. "Prophets Guiders" is particularly lovely.

Like on the sleeve they went down different roads after the failure of the album and little seems to be known of their post life. But man what a legacy.

With Mellow Candle's "Swaddling Songs", their Help Yourself double CD retrospective "Reaffirmation" and this - Esoteric Recordings are rapidly carving their reissue name in my Irish heart.

Brilliant - and well done to all the good people involved...

Monday, 20 November 2017

Complete Motown Singles CD Book Sets - A List of the 14 Releases from Hip-O Select with Basic Catalogue Numbers and Barcodes by Mark Barry...

Complete Motown Singles CD Book Sets
A List of all 14 Volumes Released Jan 2005 through to Dec 2013 (with Barcodes)

"The Motown Singles Collection" by Hip-O Select

75 x CD Volumes in 14 Volumes, 1847 CD Tracks Plus 28 Tracks On 14 x 7" Vinyl Singles:

Volume 1: 1959-1961, Released January 2005, Catalogue No. Hip-O Select B-0003631-02 (Barcode 602517643310), 6CDs, Ltd Edition of 5000 (Non-Numbered), 155 Tracks, CDs are Volumes 1 to 6

Volume 2: 1962, May 2005, 4CDs, B-00004402-02 (Barcode 602517807552), Ltd Edition of 8000 (Non Numbered), 112 Tracks, Volumes 7 to 15

Volume 3: 1963, October 2005, B-0005352-02 (Barcode 602517845691), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 7500 (Non-Numbered), 119 Tracks, Volumes 11 to 15

Volume 4: 1964, February 2006, B-0005945-02 (Barcode 602517882443), 6CDs, Ltd Edition of 8000 (Non-Numbered), 163 Tracks, Volumes 16 to 21

Volume 5: 1965, August 2006, B-0006775-02 (Barcode 602517789414), 6CDs, Ltd Edition of 8000 (Non-Numbered), 166 Tracks, Volumes 22 to 27

Volume 6: 1966, November 2006, B-0007872-02 (Barcode 602517092761), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 6000 (Non-Numbered), 125 Tracks, Volumes 28 to 32

Volume 7: 1967, May 2007, B-0008993-02 (Barcode 602517341906), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 6000 (Non-Numbered), 120 Tracks, Volumes 33 to 37

Volume 8: 1968, October 2007, B-0009708-02 (Barcode 602517431775), 6CDs, Ltd Edition of 6000 (Non-Numbered), 144 Tracks, Volumes 38 to 43

Volume 9: 1969, December 2007, B-0010270-02 (Barcode 602517507722), 6CDs, Ltd Edition of 6000 (Non-Numbered), 148 Tracks, Volumes 44 to 49

Volume 10: 1970, June 2008, B-0011056-02 (Barcode 602517659209), 6CDs, Ltd Edition of 8000 (Non-Numbered), 144 Tracks, Volumes 50 to 55

Volume 11A: 1971, February 2009, B-0011579-02 (Barcode 602517776555), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 8000 (Non-Numbered), 119 Tracks, Volumes 56 to 60

Volume 11B: 1971, January 2010, B-0012227-02 (Barcode 602517876903), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 8000 (Non Numbered), 120 Tracks, Volumes 61 to 65

Volume 12A: 1972, May 2013, B-0012935-02 (Barcode 602527044453)), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 7500 (Non Numbered), 117 Tracks, Volumes 66 to 70

Volume 12B: 1972, December 2013, B-0019213-02 (Barcode 602537532193), 5CDs, Ltd Edition of 7500 (Non Numbered), 100 Tracks, Volumes 71 to 75

PS: If you can't afford the physical product in 2014 - the MP3 Downloads of each volume appear to be only £14.99 at present with individual tracks at 99p on Amazon...

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

INDEX - Artists, Albums, Record Labels, CD Remaster Engineers, Liner Notes Authors, Links etc