Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Spotlight on Cinema- OUR MAN IN HAVANA

Brought to you by the same team behind the great 1949 classic "The Third Man," writer Graham Greene and director Carol Reed once again fashion a wickedly funny look at the world of espionage in pre-Fidel Castro Cuba.

Alec Guinness plays a British vacuum cleaner salesman living in Havana when he is enlisted by an English spy, played Noel Coward, to be an informant in the region. Needing the money, Guinness reluctantly accepts the job and finds himself in ridiculous situations. When the spy agency headed up by Ralph Richardson don't receive any reports from their man, Guinness gives false accounts of a secret atomic bomb in the works. He sends the secret agents drawings of the supposed weapon...inspired by the vacuum cleaners. Now Guinness's is in deep trouble. There's even a plot to assassinate him which leads to some clever and funny results.

Like the aforementioned "Third Man," "Our Man" contain moments of intrigue mixed with a sly sense of humor. Guinness' comedic work can be best described as Bob Hope meets E.M. Forster. Classically subdued, but not without feelings of cowardice, the scene on the balcony when his daughter approaches left me in stitches. Added to the mix a great cast including Ernie Kovacs as the military/police muscle makes this a gem.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spotlight- Top Influential Bands of the Rock era

Every year publications like Rolling Stone magazine compiles a list of the top (insert category here) of all-time, with a twist. It's compiled not by journalists, or by fans, but by other musicians. Whatever. Here is my assessment of the top influential bands of the rock era according to my research from countless hours of reading and listening to music.

The "punk" movement may have started with The Sex Pistols, but the Clash took the torch and added depth by merging political awareness and catchy rock n' roll music, throwing out the silly "fashion" associated with it. Added to the mix was their introduction of reggae to the mainstream world. Their cover of "Police and Thieves" inspired a new generation of musicians to cover reggae (i.e, Elvis Costello's "Watching the Detectives" and The Police's early work). Though they may have had the image of rowdy punkers, deep down Joe Strummer's taste in music was very eclectic and Mick Jones' guitar work was amazing.

Photo by Caroline Coon

London Calling
Police and Thieves
Magnificent Seven

Yes, we have all heard The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and The Who, but give credit to the Brothers Davies for doing their own thing while the other artists dabbled in Psychedelia or sessions with some spiritual guru. That's all fine and dandy, but these boys were interested in melding the ironic, poignant world of Ray Davies with the hard-driving, aggressive sounds from Mr. Dave Davies. Though not as outwardly political as say The Clash, the band did capture the hypocrisies of middle class Suburbia cleverly.

This Time Tomorrow
Too Much On My Mind
Animal Farm
Sunny Afternoon
Waterloo Sunset


4 Canadians and 1 American comprise probably the best bar band in the world. Without a doubt The Band's trio of vocalist are the greatest in the rock era. Richard Manuel's gritty soul phrasing gave Ray Charles a run for his money. Rick Danko's lovely higher register worked great alone or harmonizing and Levon Helm's defiant intepretation of "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" from the movie "The Last Waltz" still gives me chills. What made The Band so great was their versatility. Whether it was Country, Blues, Soul or just rocking out, they took on every genre with heart and never cheapened the experience.
King Harvest
The Weight
When You Awake
Up On Cripple Creek
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

I have followed these guys since "La Bamba" but it was 1992's KIKO that made me realize that these guys were not some novelty act that sang in Spanish and English, these guys were for real. While fans and journalists point to U2 or REM's independence, the Wolves have quietly existed independent of corporate record companies and have been putting out fantastic music for over 25 years. Like The Band, Los Lobos' versatility and verisimililtude is legendary and earns respect from their peers. Back when the movie and the song "La Bamba" became a hit the band went into the studio and recorded an album of Mexican folk Spanish. That's balls.

One Time One Night
Don't Worry Baby
Kiko And The Lavender Moon
Wicked Rain
Road to Gila Bend
Good Morning Aztlan


Though very short-lived, the coupling of Alex Chilton and Chris Bell produced some of the best Power Pop songs of the 1970's. Their songs evoked the hazy, lazy days of just "hanging out" and smoking joints on the street corners. Chilton's veteran (formerly of the Box "The Letter" Tops) soul voice somehow found a home with Chris Bell's artful pop instincts and they created a series of memorable, catchy tunes meant for the radio but sadly didn't see the daylights of fame

September Gurls
Back of the Car
I'm In Love With a Girl
When My Baby's Beside Me
Watch The Sunrise

Innovators. Humble. Hard-working. The New York quartet started the punk movement with what the late Johnny Ramone referred to as "sick, bubble gum music." Deceptively simple, their sound inspired a generation of musicians to stop taking lessons, learn a few chords and go out on the stage. As a concept, The Ramones were unique. The leather jackets, the name, a tall, intimidating lead singer, but Joey Ramone's voice echoed the lament of the social outsider honestly.