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...

Friday, 17 November 2017

"The American President" on BLU RAY - A Review by Mark Barry

"...And I Wanted To Be Better Than The Last Guy..."

Before the genius of "The West Wing" - uber-writer Aaron Sorkin gave us the prelude film "The American President" starring Michael Douglas as a handsome and popular POTUS - Andrew Shepherd. Opening with a 63% popularity approval rating after three years of office - Douglas plays a smart and restrained President who is widowed in his private life and trying to raise a young daughter while he runs a complex country and staves off war just about everywhere.

Martin Sheen is brilliantly cast as The President's pal and top advisor - A.J. - Sheen already displaying the dialogue subtleties that would endear him to the world when he took the big oval chair four years after the movie in 1999's TV winner "The West Wing" (a show he dominated for seven years until Season 7 brought it to a close in 2006).

Throw in quality actors like White House staffer Ana Deavere Smith (who would go on to be in the West Wing TV show), newspaper editor John Mahoney (from "Frasier"), Michael J Fox and David Paymer as the hopeful and driven writers and policy makers for Shepherd's administration and the outside menace - an effective bad-guy in a smugger than smug Richard Dreyfuss - a political opponent who spots that the President's 'new girlfriend' the environmental lobbyist Sydney Ellen Wade is an opportunity to be exploited in a re-election environment by claiming that she’s privy to too many secrets (beautifully played by a luminous Annette Bening). Combined you get a rom-com with brains, a modern-day political satire with heart and all of it washed down with state dinners, situation room pathos (someone somewhere dies under the guise of a proportional response) and the sheer sexiness of power in the hands of good guys actually trying to do something lasting with it. Deftly directed by Rob Reiner - 1995's "The American President" was slickly written, superbly played and classy to the hilt.

The BLU RAY has an immaculate print - the best I've ever seen the movie look (an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer). Re-watching it in this clarity has been a joy and makes me ache for the day someone-somewhere finally gives "The West Wing" a BLU RAY reissue akin to The Sopranos or The Wire - remastered and re-loaded. Disappointingly - and given that so much could have been expounded upon - the BLU RAY has zip in the way of Extras and Subtitles are only in English. At least there's a 5.1 Surround mix as well as the standard 2.0 Stereo.

So - beautiful to look at but let down by a lack of Extras that would have so enhanced this brilliant and underrated bit of movie magic. In the meantime enjoy this political feast - set back in a time when the words "American President" actually had some respect attached to them and not the buffoon presently disgracing the office on a daily basis...

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

Spines of Exceptional CD Remasters

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