Thursday, March 23, 2017

Red Harvest -Texas Style-The Coen Brother’s “Blood Simple” (1984)-A Film Review     




DVD Review

By Film Critic Sam Lowell

Blood Simple, starring Francis McDormand, John Getz. Dan Heyada, M. Emmet Walsh, directed by the Coen Brothers, 1984


Anybody who as a kid like me, or even adults now that I think about the matter, who immersed themselves in the old time crime novels by the likes of Dashiell Hammett and Mickey Spillane, or even today’s better graphic novels knows that the success of the endeavor was to pile up the bodies and ask questions later. Keep the action, keep the guns firing. That premise, what that does to those under constant violent threat, that “red harvest,”  to take a title from one of Hammett’s early crime novels is what drives the film under review, Blood Simple, on the screen where much less is left to the imagination about what all that firepower was about.       


 Here’s the blood simple play. Abby, played by Frances McDormand, and Ray, played by John Getz, one of her husband Marty’s bartenders are lovers. Marty, played by Dan Heyada, hired private investigator Visser, played by M. Emmet Walsh to follow them. He gets the “skinny” on them complete with photographs. Then the madness-the skewing of reason among the parties when Marty hires Visser to kill Abby and John. Visser fakes their deaths and shows Marty doctored photos after grabbing ten thou from him for the job. Then he shoots Marty thinking he had killed him. Marty is left in his chair as Visser flees the scene. Ray shows up to collect his back pay and finds Marty slumped over presumably dead. Ray figuring the unhappy Abby had committed the deed decided to clean up her mess. But Marty is not dead at least not as Ray is driving away with his body. Marty tries to shoot Ray but fires empty cylinders and Ray subdues and buries that guy alive. 

Thereafter Abby and Ray think they were covering for each other but let those suspicions get in the way. Meantime Visser, worried that he might take a fall for the “death” of Marty starts covering his tracks. Tries and does kill Ray. Tries and does not kill Abby who winds up killing him thinking that he was Marty. Jesus. Yeah, here is the text book definition of blood simple-pure and simple.               
If Not For You-For Laura Perkins With Bob Dylan’s If Not For You In Mind 




By Zack James

Sam Lowell was riding in his car one morning to meet a fellow retiree in order to play a round of golf, a recreational activity that had helped keep him physically and mentally alert in his retirement days, when he decided to switch off the car radio which he had had for as long as he could remember been glued to the all-news National Public Radio channel and put on some CDs. He randomly picked one from the CD folder which sat on the empty passenger seat. A CD from the never-ending Bob Dylan bootleg series that had been given to them as a gift when his longtime companion Laura Perkins had renewed their  membership to the local folk music-oriented station in town, WUMB, the station run by UMass/Boston. These Bob Dylan bootleg series CDs, now in double digits, consist of variation on old standards, outtakes, concert performances, and material that could not find its way onto albums in the old days when the lyrics in Dylan’s head ran far ahead of the commercial ability to put all the work out into the public sphere.  

The very first selection on the CD that Sam had put the CD player was a variation on Dylan’s famous If Not For You done in slow heartfelt tempo with a meandering mellow fiddle in the near background something that was not featured on the original commercially released version. The slowing down of the tempo of the song allowed Sam to seriously listen to the lyrics and reflect on the meaning of the song. Allowed him too to reflect on how much his companion Laura had meant to him over the years, and how he would have been a very different person if not for her gentle influence in his life.

As Sam drove along, after replaying the song to hear that background fiddle again, he thought back to the days in the late 1970s when he, the consummate angry young man, if not for Laura would have gone on to some vagabond gypsy existence. Thought back to the times if not for her that he would not have done many things that he felt he had to do to make his place in the sun. If not for her would have been in endless despair about the world that he was desperately trying to change, to leave a mark in the struggle for the “newer world” that had animated the better instincts of his nature since he was fresh pup kid adrift in a sea of negativity and despond. He smiled to think that if not for her, and him too, continually showing up after their first improbable meeting in a country music bar in of all places Harvard Square that he would not have been able to offer her that gentle handshake that sealed their fate, the fate of two wandering waifs in the world.             

A million thoughts flooded his mind about different times more recently when if not for her he would have been rudderless. About the night he was so proud of her when she had been so nervous she could hardly sit still since she was at heart a very private person and yet she sang to make the angels weep for their inadequacies in her first public singing performance. Or the time up in Maine the summer when she had just retired and they were sitting in an ice cream shop with a jukebox and she swaying to some old time rock and roll record like a young schoolgirl. Or the time in Paris when she sat like some fairy tale princess on a merry-go-round horse and he was so proud to be in her company. His thoughts just then so numerous and jumbled that it would take half of cyberspace just to express them.

As he made the turn to the golf course parking lot Sam thought about something from just the night before that made him smile. He and Laura had been watching television, one of the twelve million reality shows that have inundated the airwaves during the last decade, and when the show was over he called her to the couch to say good-night and give each other a good-night kiss. He swore something in her laughing eyes and her slightly parted lips making her look very young made him realize how at times like that she made him feel very young again. Yeah, if not for you.  




If Not For You

WRITTEN BY: BOB DYLAN
If not for you
Babe, I couldn’t find the door
Couldn’t even see the floor
I’d be sad and blue
If not for you

If not for you
Babe, I’d lay awake all night
Wait for the mornin’ light
To shine in through
But it would not be new
If not for you

If not for you
My sky would fall
Rain would gather too
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
I’d be lost if not for you
And you know it’s true

If not for you
My sky would fall
Rain would gather too
Without your love I’d be nowhere at all
Oh! what would I do
If not for you

If not for you
Winter would have no spring
Couldn’t hear the robin sing
I just wouldn’t have a clue
Anyway it wouldn’t ring true
If not for you
Copyright © 1970 by Big Sky Music; renewed 1998 by Big Sky Music

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yeah, Talk To Me Of Mendocino-The Voices From Up North The Music Of The McGarrigle Sisters   





By Zack James

“Jesus, Seth did you hear that Kate McGarrigle of the McGarrigle Sisters had passed away,” lamented Jack Callahan to his old-time high school friend and fellow folk music aficionado Seth Garth. Seth replied that since he no longer wrote music reviews for anybody, hadn’t since The Eye the newspaper that he had written for had gone out of business that he did not always keep up with the back stories of those who were still left standing in the ever decreasing old-time folk performer world. Jack’s sad information though got Seth to thinking about the times back in the early 1970s when he and Jack had gone out to Saratoga Springs to visit a cousin of Sam Lowell, also an old time friend and part-time folk aficionado, who thenn lived in nearby Ballston Spa and had invited them to go to the Caffe Lena to listen to a couple of young gals from Canada who would make the angels weep for their inadequate singing voices. In those days Seth was free-lancing for The Eye so he had called Oakland, California where the newspaper then had its offices to see if they would spring for a review, a paid review of the performance. They agreed although there was the usual haggling over money and whether they would actually use the sketch.            

That night after Lena’s introduction (the late Lena the legendary, now legendary, owner and operator of the coffeehouse) the McGarrigle Sisters did two sparking sets, a few songs in French, since they were steeped in the increasing bilingual Quebec culture which was demanding French language equality in the heated nationalist period when many were looking for independence. They also did a wonderful cover Heart Like A Wheel, a song that Linda Rhonstadt had had a hit with. But the song that Seth found his hook on, the one that he would center on to insure that his piece was published (and paid for) was Talk To Me Of Mendocino, their homage to Lena who desired to go out and see the place along the rocky ledges of Northern California, land’s end. (Whether Lena ever went out there subsequently Seth was not sure but he rather thought not since she was totally committed to the club in those days, was something of a homebody and perhaps wanted the memory more than the actual experience.)    


Seth mentioned to Jack that night that the sisters had evoked just the right mournful tone in presenting the song, and recalled how majestic they had thought they place was when they and their wives (Seth’s first  wife, first of three, all failed, Martha, and Jack’s one and only Chrissy) had gone from San Francisco up the Pacific Coast Highway and basically stumbled on the place with its sheer rock formations, fierce ocean waves beating against the rocks and the then quaint and unadorned town that sat just off the rocks. So Seth was able to close his eyes and envision travelling from the overheated, over-crowded over-wrought East and pinpoint a map to head out West “where the rocks remain.” The rocks, the ocean, our mother and some solitude in world gone mad with having to run away from what it had built. Seth was sorry that he had not been back there in many years. Hoped that Lena did get to go out to the rocks and glad that Kate and Anna McGarrigle spoke of the place, made it immortal in song.    
Reacher Creature-Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher”(2012)-A Film
Review




DVD Review

By Sandy Salmon

Jack Reacher, starring Tom Cruise, 2012

There have been plenty of cinematic detectives private and public in film history but Jack Reacher in the film under review, Jack Reacher, is an odd-ball combination of drifter, military cop, information analyst and mad monk human weapon. Tom Cruise, a familiar action actor (Mission Impossible film series for one), plays the role to the hilt and naturally gets whatever job he had to accomplish and then drift (to resurface again recently as Jack Reacher II).  

Here’s his task. A fellow former Iraq War soldier, MOS, sniper, James Barr is accused of a mass murder of several people in Pittsburgh and before going into a coma asks for Jack to come and help him out of the frame he was in. (Jack served as a MP investigator in Iraq himself and had investigated Barr for some civilian murders which were swept under the rug by the brass during his service time.) Of course Barr did not know he was being framed, though he might have done it since he had an itchy trigger finger. Jack thought so too based on that war time criminal activity. Jack wanted to see him take the big step off, the death penalty but something kept sticking in Jack’s craw about why someone whom he hated would call on his services.


So out of the boonies of America Jack comes to see what is what. And what is what starts with checking in with Barr’s defense attorney whose only hope at that point was to keep her client out of the big step-off. Seemed hopeless until Jack put his relentless investigative skills together after he was hired by the lawyer to be her lead investigator in order to have full access to the evidence. Once he saw that evidence, put the crime scene together, made some connections that led toward the murder spree not been random acts, he had that funny feeling that something had been staged. Something had been set up because knowing Barr who was an average sniper at best the whole thing smelled funny. And it was as the facts became clear that there was an ulterior motive working to have Barr be the patsy, Jack’s word, in some nefarious scheme. That, and the fact that Jack was being pursued everywhere he went by some rough customers, some life-takers. So naturally until we get near the end Jack has to not only use his powerful analytical skills but his physical ones as well (and his nerves of steel in a hopped car chase). Not to worry the miscreants are brought to justice, rough justice when the deal went down. The motive for setting up Barr up? See the film for that. As for Jack well you know his just drifted off into the hobo sunset.                

Monday, March 20, 2017

In Honor Of Legendary Rocker Chuck Berry Who Passed At 91- When Mister Beethoven Got Rolled Over-With The Music Of Mister Chuck Berry In Mind




CD Review

By Zack James

Chuck Berry: The Definitive Collection, Chuck Berry, Chess Records, 2006 

You never know when two or more old guys, two or more mature forget calling the old at your peril gals too but this one is about guys, will gather down memory lane or what will trigger that big cloudburst. Seth Garth and Jack Callahan two old time friends from high school in Riverdale about forty miles west of Boston had an abiding interest in music successively rock and roll, the blues and folk music (never losing interest in any in the process just that one genre would wax and wane at any given time). Seth had eventually become as an early part of his journalistic career a music critic for the now long defunct The Eye, an alternative newspaper out in the Bay Area in the days when he, Jack and a few other guys like Phil Larkin headed out there to see what everything was all about in the later part of the 1960s.

Recently though Seth and Jack, and occasionally Phil would get together and talk music shop at the Erie Grille where they would down a few scotches to level out (their expression). One night they had been at Seth’s request discussing the first time they had heard the legendary Woody Guthrie sing his songs, or one of them anyway. As it turned out Seth had drawn a blank on when that might have occurred and he begged Jack to think the matter through since he was preparing an article, an unpaid article, for the American Folk Music Review and needed a frame of reference. Jack had come up with the answer-in Mr. Lawrence’s seventh grade music class when he put on Woody and a bunch of other stuff to try to ween them off rock and roll which he hated (and which they loved, loved to perdition). Seth had accepted that answer (although later he contacted Phil and Phil reminded him about the song This Land Is Your Land covered by the Weavers with Pete Seeger in Miss Winot’s fourth grade class on her cranky old record player and he would use that source in the article).      

All this talk of that fateful seventh grade music class, and Mr. Lawrence, is probably what solidified everybody in the class in their devotion to rock and roll. Mr. Lawrence was just the front man for all kinds of parents, school principals, priests minsters, mayors and city councilors, cops and whoever else weighted in on the deleterious effect of rock and roll, on the “devil’s music in some quarters on the youth of the nation. So that unanimous devotion to rock and roll was a hard fought and paid for devotion. A few days after the night drinking with Jack at the Erie Grille Seth woke up from a nap thinking about the time in Mister Lawrence’s class when he was being crazy about Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and wanted the class to appreciate classical music, wanted the class to appreciate the finer things in life.  Seth, Jack and Phil had had enough and started in one class singing Chuck Berry’s throwing down the gauntlet song Roll Over Beethoven and the class cheered them on. 

Of course in this penalty-ridden world Mr. Lawrence took his revenge and the trio spent several afternoons after school listening to Beethoven and his crowd since they had adamantly refused to apologize for their outbursts. Seth smiled to himself-Yeah, rock and roll will never die. To prove that assumption just listen to Mister Chuck Berry’s gold star compilation here. And be prepared to do something rash.    



*In Honor Of The Late Legendary Chuck Berry- The King Is Dead- Long Live The King- Elvis When He Was Elvis





CD compilation Review

Elvis; The King Of Rock And Roll, Five CD Set, BMG, 1992



I have been doing a series of commentaries elsewhere on another site on my coming of political age in the early 1960s, but now when I am writing about musical influences I am just speaking of my coming of age, period, which was not necessarily the same thing. No question those of us who came of age in the 1950s are truly children of rock and roll. We were there, whether we appreciated it or not at the time, when the first, sputtering, moves away from ballady show tunes, rhymey Tin Pan Alley tunes and, most importantly, any and all music that your parents might have approved of, even liked, or at least left you alone to play in peace up in your room hit post World War II America like, well, like an atomic bomb.

Well, as most of us know and believe, I hope anyway, the subject of this review, Elvis, is gone now. But it is hard to go back to the roots of rock and roll without paying much lip service to his musical influence, his showmanship, his energy when performance time came and he was in the mood to kick up some dust, and his sneerily-etched good looks. I will tell you that Jerry Lee Lewis was most of an influence on my early music tastes than Elvis. I also believe pound for pound that Jerry Lee had more energy on almost all days than Elvis could release in his early career. But on the one proverbial any given day, and this day is it and this massive CD compilation serves as proof, the king was the King.

Later Elvis, the Elvis of Las Vegas, except for severe aficionados, was almost entirely forgettable but in the early to mid-1950s, and maybe a little later, when he was still hungry and still wanted to fight to be king of rock he more than held his own. That is the time of this compilation and the Elvis time any serious rock aficionado, or historically-inclined rock fan wants to look at. This five CD set provides all the ammunition you will ever need for the why behind why he drove the girls wild in the 1950s, and the rest of us, just ordinary teen guys, crazy trying how to figure out to break his spell. It’s wasn’t pretty because no way we could win.

But enough of that. Elvis sneers, swivel hips and those long side-burns aside what in this compilation goes down in rock history. Please note that some of these songs that are outstanding examples of his early work are done in several versions here, some very well done others less so. “That’s Where The Heartbreak Begins” has a nice talking part. “Heartbreak Hotel”, of course, although the lyrics are hardly the stuff of teen romance. The Carl Perkins rockabilly classic, “Blue Suede Shoes”, which Elvis made his own. Other rockabilly classics like “That ‘s All Right” and “Good Rockin’ Tonight”. Some covers like Roy Orbison’s “I Got A Woman”. “Big Mama” Thornton’s “Hound Dog”. Ballads like “Love Me Tender” and “True Love”. And so on. If you want Elvis, good bad, or indifferent this is a primer, no, a graduate course in Elvisology.

Note: I have not mentioned “One Night” above because I want to pay special to that song. On every variation in this set he smokes it. This song, more so that “Jailhouse Rock", “Heartbreak Hotel” or “Don’t Be Cruel” gets my nod as the epitome of Elvis rock, sneer, and swivel. This is one time that he is not mailing it in. Now I know, finally, why those young girls of my generation were swooning, getting all sweaty and more over the mere mention of Elvis’ name. On this one Jerry Lee takes a back seat, way back. Wow!

One Night - Elvis Presley

One night with you
Is what I'm now praying for
The things that we two could plan
Would make my dreams come true

Just call my name
And I'll be right by your side
I want your sweet helping hand
My loves too strong to hide

Always lived, very quiet life
I ain't never did no wrong
Now I know that life without you
Has been too lonely too long

One night with you
Is what I'm now praying for
The things that we two could plan
Would make my dreams come true

Always lived, very quiet life
I ain't never did no wrong
Now I know that life without you
Has been too lonely too long

One night with you
Is what I'm now praying for
The things that we two could plan
Would make my dreams come true
A Writer’s Tale-Vincente Minnelli’s Film Adaptation Of James Jones’ “Some Came Running” (1958)-A Film Review




DVD Review

By Josh Breslin  

Some Came Running, starring Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Shirley MacLaine, Martha Hyer, directed by Vincente Minelli, adapted from the novel by James Jones, 1958  

No question I was first drawn to Some Came Running, a film based on the novel of the same name by James Jones whose more famous novel Here To Eternity also was adapted to the screen and stands as one of the great classic films of the modern cinema, by the ex-soldier’s story and then by his plight as a blocked writer. The draw of the ex-soldier’s story reflected something that had been in my own experience about coming back to the “real” world after the military. That seems to be the character played by Frank Sinatra Dave Hirsh’s situation. That inability to go to the nine to five routine, to settle down after military service had shaken him out of his routine rang a bell. In my own military service generation, in my own service, I ran across plenty of guys who couldn’t deal with the “real” world coming back from Vietnam and who tried to hide from that fact as “brothers under the bridges” alternate communities out in places like Southern California. I see and hear about young Iraq and Afghanistan War service personnel having the same woes and worse, having incredibly high suicide rates. So yeah, I was drawn to Dave’s sulky, moody, misshapen view of the world.           

The story line is a beauty. Dave, after a drunk spree, finds he was shipped by bus back in that state by some guys in Chicago to his Podunk hometown in Parkman, Indiana, a town he had fled with all deliberate speed when he was a kid orphaned out by his social-climbing older brother Frank because, well, because he was in the way of that social-climb after their parents die. Dave was not alone in his travels though since he had picked up, or had been attached to, a floozy named Ginny, played by Shirley MacLaine, who will make life hell for him in the end. As he became accustomed to his old hometown and while deciding whether to stay or pick up stakes (the preferred fate of his brother and his also social-climbing wife) he was introduced to a local school teacher Gwen, played by Martha Hyer, who will also make hell for him in the end since he was quickly and madly in love with her but she was seriously stand-offish almost old maid stand-offish since she had had a few tastes of his rough-hewn low life doings. Doings which were encouraged by a gambler, Bama, played by Dean Martin who became his sidekick.        


But here is the hook that almost saved Dave and almost lit a spark under dear Gwen. Dave was a blocked writer, had some time before written a couple of books that were published and had gathered some acclaim, were well written. Gwen attempted to act as his muse, and did prove instrumental in getting a work of his published. To no avail since Dave was not looking for a muse, well, not a muse who wasn’t thinking about getting under the silky sheets. No go, no go despite Dave’s ardent efforts. Frustrated Dave turned to Ginny and whatever charms she had-and the fact that she loved him unconditionally despite their social and intellectual differences. In the end Dave in a fit of hubris decided to marry Ginny after being rebuffed by Gwen enough times. The problem though was that Ginny had a hang on gangster guy trailing her who was making threatening noises about putting Dave, and or Ginny underground. In the end they were not just threatening noises as he wounded Dave and killed poor bedraggled Ginny. Watch this one-more than once and read James Jones’ book too which includes additional chapters about those soldiers who could not relate to the “real” world after their military experiences. This guy could write sure write about that milieu based on his own military service. (There is a famous photograph of Jones, Norman Mailer, and William Styron, the three great soldier boy American literary lights of the immediate post-World War II war period with Jones in uniform if I recall.)