All posts by alanwp

The Zappa Family Trust and UMe make it easy to rock around the Christmas tree with 5 vinyl releases

And so the music is flowing, from A to Z, with the emphasis on Z . . . as in “Zappa.” Following this month’s release of three new Frank Zappa albums, the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are continuing their extensive reissue campaign by releasing five iconic works of the musical innovator on vinyl for the first time in decades: Cruising With Ruben & The Jets, Joe’s Garage, Lumpy Gravy, Weasels Ripped My Flesh and We’re Only In It For The Money. The albums spanning Zappa’s incredibly fertile late ’60s-late ’70s period will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl and available December 9. Talk about rockin’ around the Christmas tree!

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of Zappa’s first release, the Mothers of Invention’s debut album Freak Out!, and to celebrate the Zappa Family Trust and UMe are steadily reissuing the cultural icon’s catalog and rarities from his famed vault on CD, LP and digitally as part of a long-term licensing agreement. The five vinyl releases follow new albums Meat Light (The Uncle Meat Project/Object Audio Documentary) Little Dots and Chicago ’78, released earlier this month, and several other exciting projects. The 50th anniversary of Zappa’s first single “How Could I Be Such A Fool” is also being celebrated with a limited edition pink vinyl 7-inch; the flipside will feature “Help I’m A Rock (3rd Movement: It Can’t Happen Here).”

The five albums represent some of Zappa and his cohorts’ most challenging, exhilarating and groundbreaking work.

Zappa’s first solo album, Lumpy Gravy is the work of Zappa the composer. Recorded at Capitol Studios in 1967 by legendary producer Nick Venet, Zappa’s compositions were performed by the 50-piece Abnuceals Emuukha Electric Symphony Orchestra, which included several musicians from the legendary Wrecking Crew. Armed with the session tapes and a razor blade, Zappa sat in his New York City apartment and pieced together a masterwork that included the use of tape collages, dialogue, parody, musique concrete and DADAist tendencies. The self-produced album became one of his personal favorites. The LP will be pressed on 180-gram vinyl from a pristine 1968 analog safety tape found in Zappa’s vault.zappa

In the top 300 of Rolling Stone’s 500 greatest albums, We’re Only In It for the Money is a scathing satire of right-versus-left politics that’s as fresh in today’s charged political atmosphere as it was upon release in 1968. In part a parody of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, the album pits the hippies against the squares, skewering them equally, as pawns held sway by corporate sellouts catering to the masses in the name of profit.  The restored original 1968 mix is pressed on 180-gram vinyl from FZ’s approved Digital Master.

Cruising with Ruben & The Jets is the fourth Mothers of Invention album. Released at the end of 1968, the concept album was written in the style of 1950s doo-wop and classic R&B, a childhood love of Zappa’s and members of the band, including singer Ray Collins, who all came up with the idea while in the studio recording other music. It is being reissuedwith the original 1968 mix from the master analog tape on 180-gram vinyl.

Weasels Ripped My Flesh is the last album of recordings made by the original Mothers of Invention lineup released after it was disbanded by Zappa. The group, which included a horn section, made the blend of studio and live experimental and traditional tracks from 1967-69. Weasels Ripped My Flesh, released in 1970, provides a fascinating look at the group’s range and diversity of influences, from avant-garde tracks like “Didja Get Any Onya” to the straight-up R&B of their cover of Little Richard’s “Directly From My Heart to You.” In an interesting historical footnote, Lowell George makes an appearance here with the band previous to forming Little Feat with bass player Roy Estrada.

Conceptually and musically as challenging as anything Zappa released in the ’70s, three-act rock opera Joe’s Garage was released as two separate packages in 1979 (the new release arrives as a three-LP set). Zappa described the dystopian tale as “a stupid little story about how the government is going to do away with music.” The rock opera proved prophetic years later when the government began to examine ways to limit the spread of explicit content in music. The song cycle, conceived over a weekend, tells the story of a young rock ‘n’ roller who’s thrown into prison and released into a world turned upside down by evil corporate, political and religious forces who’ve outlawed music. Zappa used the practice of “xenochrony” to record parts of the album, taking previously cut live guitar solos and overdubbing them onto new studio tracks. This 2016 vinyl edition is mastered in all analog by Bernie Grundman using the 1979 1/4” safety master tapes from The Vault.

Taken together the albums are a master’s class in subversive wit, creative genius and uncompromising artistry that flies in the face of convention.

 

Queen Latifah and a bunch of newcomers promise a gay ol’ time with the new series “Star”

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Gee, we hope the Queen doesn’t show up on “Star” this way . . .

A star is born. Well at least not until December 14, when Star, a new series featuring original music and stunning music performances, set for a special  premiere on FOX. Republic Records and Twentieth Century Fox Television have entered a partnership to present music from the show.

Created by Academy Award and Golden Globe nominee Lee Daniels, co-creator and executive producer of Empire, and Tom Donaghy, Star follows three talented singers–running from their pasts and desperate for a new start–with ambitions of stardom, as they navigate the cut-throat music business on their road to success.  But reality soon dawns on the girls’ fantasies, and they start to learn that ambition often comes at a cost.

“Monte Lipman and his team at Republic Records continue to be at the forefront of what’s new and evolving in today’s current music scene,” says Daniels. “They know how to push boundaries and take risks–which is the essence of this new series and our group of girls.  We’re looking forward to what is going to be a beautiful collaboration.”

Adds Mark Pearson, Executive Vice President, Brand Management and Digital, TCFTV: “Monte, Tom and everyone at Republic demonstrated a passion for STAR that impressed us all. They understood the show, they had a vision for what to do with our performers and they offered really innovative A&R and marketing ideas. Republic is the perfect musical partner for Lee and Tom’s inspired new series.”

So what the fuss? Meet Star (played by newcomer Jude Demorest), a tough-as-nails young woman, who came up in the foster care system and decides one day to take control of her destiny. Star tracks down her sister, Simone (second newcomer Brittany O’Grady), and her Instagram bestie, Alexandra (third newcomer Ryan Destiny), and together, the trio journeys to Atlanta with the hope of becoming music superstars.

Queen Latifah stars as Carlotta, a surrogate mother to the young crew;  the series will also feature guest star Lenny Kravitz.

Watch the official trailer for STAR HERE

 

 

The legendary book “Hitchcock/Truffaut” turns into a film that brings the pages to life

It’s been called “The Greatest Story Hitchcock Ever Told”. In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock, then at the height of his fame, sat down with acclaimed director Francois Truffaut, the rising star of the French New Wave, to reveal in detail the making of the long string of hits that earned him the title “Master of Suspense.”

The interviews became the basis for the book Hitchcock/Truffaut, one of the most acclaimed and widely read books about the cinematic process. Now, critic and filmmaker Kent Jones “brings the pages to life” (Robert Lloyd, Los Angeles Times) in a feature film that honors its source material while also serving as a moving and entertaining portrait of two great directors talking shop. Fresh off the heels of a successful theatrical release by Cohen Media Group, Hitchcock/Truffaut arrives on Blu-ray and DVD on December 20, 2016, from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.unnamed-1

Hitchcock and Truffaut locked themselves away in Hollywood for a week to excavate the secrets and meaning behind Hitchcock’s greatest achievements. Based on the original recordings of this meeting, Jones’ film illustrates the greatest cinema lesson of all time and plunges us into the world of the creator of Psycho, The Birds, Vertigo and dozens of other thrilling masterpieces.
Jones has expanded on the original book by including insightful new interviews with many of today’s most renowned directors and Hitchcock aficionados, including Martin Scorsese, David Fincher, Arnaud Desplechin, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Wes Anderson, James Gray, Olivier Assayas, Richard Linklater, Peter Bogdanovich and Paul Schrader.
This is a fascinating journey between two geniuses.

Dig in! Chef Vivian Howard offers a mighty tasty fourth season of “A Chef’s Life”

More food for thought, brought in a delicious serving by PBS Distribution: The release of the Peabody and Emmy-winning docu-series A Chef’s Life, Season 4 on DVD. (The program is also available for digital download.) The character-driven series takes viewers inside the life and kitchen of acclaimed Chef Vivian Howard and her restaurants located in the low country of eastern North Carolina.

This season Vivian takes viewers on a culinary journey that stretches from Kinston to Portland to the Big Apple. Things kick off in melodic gear with a benefit dinner where The Avett Brothers play second fiddle and spring onions take center stage. The program explores a lush landscape of watermelon, sunchokes, field peas, catfish, mayo and other unlikely food stars.

The program spans both American coasts, and the self-professed “Collard Queen” cooks cabbage and crowns it king. Vivian also realizes a longtime dream and embraces her new role as cookbook author;  this season takes viewers into the high-pressure and rewarding business of book writing. Major staff changes at the restaurant, a heavier workload and the drama of heightened emotions make each portion of this fourth season all the more delicious.

Some more tasty info: The program won a Peabody Award in 2014, a Daytime Emmy Award in 2015 and a James Beard Award in 2016.  Dig in!

“The Durrells in Corfu” is rewarding, though producers are under fire for “straight-washing”

We promise this won’t be Greek to you. Indeed, the PBS Masterpiece drama The Durrells in Corfu is a terrific event. Keeley Hawes stars as an intrepid widow who decamps from dreary 1930s England to a sun-dappled Greek island with her four recalcitrant children, ages 11 to 21, in this adaptation of conservationist Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals and its two sequels.

Missed it on the tube? The Durrells in Corfu is now on Blu-ray and DVD; the program will also be available for digital download.

Co-starring with Hawes, who plays Louisa Durrell, are Josh O’Connor as her eldest son, Larry, the instigator of the family’s sudden move to Corfu and a budding writer on his way to becoming the famous novelist Lawrence Durrell; newcomer Callum Woodhouse as son number two, Leslie, an impulsive firearms enthusiast; Daisy Waterstone as daughter Margo, a man-crazy teen; and Milo Parker as 11-year-old Gerry, who only has eyes for wildlife and grew up to be a world-renowned naturalist.

Also appearing are Alexis Georgoulis as Spiros, a Greek taxi driver and all-around fixer for the disoriented Durrells; Yorgos Karamihos as Dr. Theo Stephanides, Gerry’s zoological soulmate; and Ulric von der Esch as Sven, a handsome Swedish expat, living his own bucolic fantasy on Corfu, into which he entangles Louisa.

A tight budget and desperation—not holiday-making—originally drive the Durrells to sink their meager savings into boat fare to Corfu, where they hope to find a refuge more welcoming for their unconventional ways than the stuffy UK. They arrive on an island with no beach resorts, night clubs, tourist shops, or even electricity—for this is 1935. What Corfu does have is endless opportunity for living, loving, shooting and animal collecting—depending on your preferences.

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Ulric von der Esch as Sven: gay in the books, straight in the film

Gerald Durrell drew on (and embellished) the family’s real-life adventures to create three bestsellers: My Family and Other Animals (published in 1956); Birds, Beasts, and Relatives (1969); and Fauna and Family (1978).  The PBS drama has come under pressure: Producers of the ITV drama are still under fire for changing the storyline to make a gay character straight. Handsome Sven, kisses Louisa Durrell in the show, but in the book by conservationist Gerald Durrell, Sven prefers men.  In 1971 novel Fillets of Plaice, Sven says of Louisa: “She’s so beautiful, in fact, it almost makes me wish I weren’t a homosexual.”

ITV’s response? “The series is loosely based on Gerald Durrell’s books and is not intended to be true to life. Characters originally included have been adapted and new characters have been created.”

Screenwriter Simon Nye created an adaptation that has a bit of the epic quality of Greek myth: There’s Gerry’s enchantment with the marvelous animals that populate the island; Margo and Leslie’s quest to cast a spell on members of the opposite sex; Larry’s titanic struggle to produce a novel that someone will publish; and Louisa’s futile stratagems to force her children to get jobs.

But the central odyssey is the children’s search for a suitable mate for their lovelorn mom. Of course, success hinges on whether mother and offspring can agree on what constitutes “suitable.”

Rob Zombie and wife Sheri go “Berserk!” and add “31” to their nasty nightmares

Leave it to Rob Zombie (real name: Robert Bartleh Cummings) and his macabre mind to add another twisted terror tale to his resume. The naughty nightmare, 31, arrives on Blu-ray and DVD December 20 from Lionsgate. Just in time for stocking stuffing!0-jdeh7n9su_lfjulw

Clowns have never been as terrifying, especially in the course of one shocking evening in the middle of nowhere. Currently available on Digital HD and On Demand, 31 stars scream queen Sheri Moon Zombie (born Sheri Lyn Skurkis; she legally changed her name to Sheri Moon and later Sheri Moon Zombie after she married her longtime boyfriend . . . Rob Zombie), Jeff Daniel Phillips, Elizabeth Daily, Meg Foster, Kevin Jackson, Richard Blake and Malcolm McDowell. Judy Geeson also stars in 31, and we strongly suggest you check out her over-the-top (read: great) performance as Joan Crawford’s daughter in the 1967 camp classic, Berserk!

31 (which was partially crowdfunded) came from the visionary mind of Rob Zombie comes the horrific story of five carnival workers who are kidnapped on Halloween and held hostage in a large compound.  At the mercy of their captors, they are forced to play a twisted game or life or death called 31.  For the next 12 hours they must fight for their lives against an endless parade of homicidal maniacs.

The 31 Blu-ray and DVD release special features include a two-hour behind-the-scenes documentary and audio commentary with Rob Zombie. The 31 digital HD release will include a four-hour behind-the-scenes documentary with two exclusive hours of footage not included on the Blu-ray release. For those who have previously purchased the digital release, the documentary will be available to watch beginning on December 20.

“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” returns on Blu-ray, still brilliant, still bloody

 

And you thought Hannibal Lecter was scary. Think Henry . . . a common name, an uncommon film. It was a true game-changer, a film so upsetting in its blunt depiction of an amoral murderer that it made the slasher films of its time look like cartoons.  Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer became a lightning rod in heated debates about cinema and censorship but has only grown in stature since its first showing in 1986. Now, on the 30th anniversary of its momentous debut, it returns in a 4K restoration on digital platforms and Blu-ray on December 6, following a nationwide theatrical release.

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer is a chilling profile of a cold-blooded killer that, 30 years after its historic festival premiere, has lost none of its power to shock. The film, loosely based on a true story, has been hailed as one of the most disturbing and terrifying examinations of mass murderers ever filmed.

960Henry (Walking Dead icon Michael Rooker) is a psychopathic drifter who has coldly murdered a number of people for no particular reason and without any remorse. Leaving bodies in his wake, Henry makes his way to Chicago, where his he settles into the run-down apartment of his drug-dealing former prison friend and occasional roommate Otis (played by Tom Towles).

Also moving into the space is Otis’s younger sister Becky (Tracy Arnold), who is fleeing her abusive husband. As she fends off her brother’s incestuous advances, Becky finds herself attracted to Henry – unaware that he, along with Otis, are continuing their murderous rampage.

Director John McNaughton completed the film in 1986, and it was shown at that year’s Chicago International Film Festival. Yet it wasn’t until 1990 that a U.S. distributor was brave enough to give it a wide release. Henry predates the NC-17 rating and received its predecessor, the X rating, on three separate occasions.

51954287As a result of it and related issues with Almodovar’s Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down, Phillip Kaufman’s Henry & June and Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, the MPAA created the NC-17 as its replacement on September 26,1990. Henry‘s current rating is “X (Surrendered)” though a renewed rating is pending.  The film’s violence, and the clinical, detached portrayal of Henry by the unforgettable Michael Rooker, originally earned it the MPAA’s highly restrictive NC-17 rating.

The response from both critics and the public was as visceral as the film itself, and it went on to gain praise as one of the most compelling and disturbing films of modern cinema. A whole new generation of film-goers will be introduced to Henry with an amazing new transfer that puts the film firmly back into the vanguard of contemporary cinematic horror.

In celebration of its 30th anniversary, the film returns with a thrilling, cinematic presentation that cements its reputation as one of the most harrowing and original American films of all time. Dark Sky Films, a division of MPI Media Group, proudly presents it in a brand-new 4K scan and restoration from the 16mm original camera negatives, and featuring a new 5.1 audio mix from the stereo 35mm mag reels, all approved by director John McNaughton.

They special features also make a killing and include:

  • In Defense of Henry: An Appreciation
  • Henry vs MPAA: A Visual History
  • Henry at the BBFC
  • It’s Either You or Them: An Interview with Artist Joe Coleman
  • In The Round: A Conversion with John McNaughton
  • Portrait: The Making of Henry
  • Deleted Scenes & Outtakes
  • Feature Commentary with John McNaughton
  • Interview with John McNaughton, 1998
  • Trailer (original)
  • Trailer (30th anniversary)
  • Still Gallery
  • Storyboards
  • Reversible Sleeve featuring original Joe Coleman artwork

 

 

Masterworks Broadway raises the curtain of three top-notch CDs

Once again, Masterworks Broadway has raised the curtain on a triumvirate of classic albums from the archives. Each CD is accompanied by new album pages and photos. Brava!

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Claudia McNeill rehearsing “Simply Heaven,” May 19, 1958

Starring Claudia McNeil and Melvin Stewart, Simply Heavenly was written by Harlem renaissance poet Langston Hughes based on his novel “Simple Takes a Wife and Other Simple Stories.” With music by David Martin, Simply Heavenly was originally produced for the Off-Broadway 85th Street Playhouse. The show transferred to Broadway’s Playhouse Theatre on August 20, 1957, when fire violations forced the closure of the original venue.  Hughes continually looked to the musical stage for success following the groundbreaking 1947 original production of Kurt Weill and Elmer Rice’s Street Scene for which he wrote lyrics. Set in Harlem of the ‘50s, Simply Heavenly follows Jess Simple as he tries to raise enough money for a divorce so he can marry his new love and eloquently captures the color, humor and poetry of that time and place.
McNeil had made her Broadway debut as a replacement cast member in the groundbreaking original Broadway production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. She would later originate the role of Lena Younger in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun both on Broadway and in the feature film.

Based on Charles Dickens’ 1843 classic novella, A Christmas Carol was presented annually at New York City’s Paramount Theatre in Madison Square Garden from 1994 through 2003.

Over its nine years, A Christmas Carol featured a slew of notable actors as “Scrooge” including F. Murray Abraham, Tim Curry, Tony Randall, Roddy McDowall (in his final role), Frank Langella, Tony Roberts, Jim Dale and Roger Daltrey.

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The cast of “Spoon River Anthology”; Joyce Van Patten (left) and Betty Garrett (center) . . . their backs, at least!

Charles Aidman adapted and starred in Spoon River Anthology, a play with music based on Edgar Lee Masters’ renowned collection of short free-form poems. With music by Naomi Caryl Hirshhorn and Hal Lynch, Spoon River Anthology weaves the epitaphs of the residents of fictional small town Spoon River into a chilling history of turn-of-the century America. Also starring Betty Garrett, Joyce Van Patten and Robert Elston, the show opened at the Booth Theatre on September 29, 1963 and ran for 111 performances. This original Broadway cast recording of Spoon River Anthology is making its CD debut.

 

HBO offers the perfect holiday present for those addicted to really good TV shows

Stop gifting your friends and family members with ugly sweaters, uglier ties and “stuff” that they would love to stuff . . .

HBO is making holiday shopping easier than ever this year, offering TV fanatics the chance to give a gift everyone can enjoy—the HBO NOW gift card. HBO NOW gift cards are available now in denominations of $25 and $50 at Walmart, Best Buy and GameStop stores throughout the U.S. and will launch at H-E-B grocery stores in Texas later this month . . . just in time for TV fans to add an HBO NOW subscription to their holiday wish lists.

HBO NOW provides audiences with instant access to all of HBO—addictive series, unforgettable movies, thought-provoking documentaries, thrilling sports programs and entertaining comedy and music specials—across a variety of their favorite devices, including Android phones and tablets, Amazon FireTV, Fire Tablet, iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Chromecast, Roku, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Samsung Smart TVs.

Subscribers can catch the latest must-see box office hits like Deadpool, The Revenant, Ride Along 2 and Sisters, plus HBO’s amazing line up of current series including Game of Thrones, Westworld, Silicon Valley, VEEP and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, plus the recent seasons of Ballers, Vice Principals and Girls. HBO NOW also features every episode of every season of HBO classics like The Sopranos, Sex and the City, True Blood, The Wire, Six Feet Under and Deadwood

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The Sopranos: Still a bloody good time!

 Whether your best friend is a Carrie or a Samantha, your brother is a Dinesh or a Guilfoyle, or your father is a Stark or a Lannister, the HBO NOW gift card is the perfect gift to help everyone on your wish list channel their inner HBO star.  

Taking a fresh (and often funny) look at “Movie Comedians of the 1950s”

We’ll make it fast. Wes D. Gehring makes it funny.

With his new book Movie Comedians of the 1950sDefining a New Era of Big Screen Comedy (McFarland, $39.95), Gehring takes a detailed look at just how the ’50s were a transitional period for film comedians; for example, the artistic suppression of the McCarthy era and the advent of television often resulted in a dumbing down of motion pictures. Cartoonist-turned-director Frank Tashlin contributed funny, but cartoonish, effects through his work with Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope. A new vanguard of comedians appeared without the stock comic garb or make-up-fresh faces not easily pigeonholed as merely comedians, such as Tony Randall, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. Some traditional comedians, like Charlie Chaplin, Red Skelton and Danny Kaye, continued their shtick, though with some evident tweaking.

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The book provides insight into a misunderstood decade of film history with an examination of the “personality comedians.” The talents of  Martin and  Hope are reappraised and the “dumb blonde” stereotype, as applied to Judy Holliday and Marilyn Monroe, is deconstructed.

“Beyond a general revisionist look at 1950s film comedy, the goals of the work were to knock down Lewis’ perspective that Martin was just a straight man, to undercut the dumb blonde stereotype, and to examine game-changing TV, often via the neglected Frank Tashlin” says Gehring. “I really think I provided important new insight on Tashlin by reading his films through his children’s books.”

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The underrated Holliday. Begin a new chapter in your film fandom and read about her genius.
Those born yesterday and the some who like it hot will enjoy the the introductions to the funny girls and boys.