Friday, October 24, 2008

High Hopes & 'Bloody' Hearts

A glimmer of hope amongst the seemingly endless tide of 80's slasher remakes:

I was impressed by screenwriter Todd Farmer's passion for the project when I sat down and interviewed him over at Dark Scribe Magazine. It seems like all involved have (perhaps) made something worthwhile here. Plus, the film is in 3-D, but apparently using a new technology that really enhances the experience.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D opens in theaters on January 16, 2009.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Return of Alf

So I told you all a few weeks ago that I was going to see one of my favorite singers, the incomparable Alison Moyet, live for the first time in 17 years. Well, the occasion was last evening and the experience met and exceeded every expectation. Anyone with an ear for good music sung by an exceptional vocal stylist should run to the nearest box office and secure tickets for one of the remaining shows on the tour. Immediately. Now. I strongly encourage – no, implore – you.

I’ve long carried a torch for exceptional female vocalists, and most of my favorites have come out of the UK. True songstresses like Moyet and Annie Lennox and Lisa Stansfield and Julia Fordham and the lovely new Adele who know how to wrap disciplined pipes around each musical note, stylists who understand the nuance of a song. Moyet is perhaps the epitome of such vocal ability, with a lush voice that at times seems to erupt from the singer’s throat like a choral volcano. Even when her voice takes on a softer verse or a more delicate refrain, there is an underlying power – like the hum of an electric current – that reverberates in the ears and resonates in the soul. Alternately bluesy, brassy, smoky, and velvety, Moyet’s voice is an instrument of precision and restraint, even when she’s letting it off the leash a bit to grit and growl. Adding to the charm are her distinctive vocal inflections and decidedly British pronunciations of certain words that add an almost literary texture to her songs, like the musical equivalent of a Merchant Ivory period film.

The venue – the Capital One Bank Theater in Westbury here on Long Island – was (sadly and inexplicably) only half sold (and this was with the concert being held in the half-round). When Alison came out she made a few well-received humorous remarks about how if there were just a few more people it'd be almost enough for a concert. Lots of laughter from the audience. Small audience size notwithstanding, the eager crowd more than compensated for the empty seats with its unbridled enthusiasm. Seems that we all learned our lesson from message board reports from previous stops on the tour and there were no shouts for Invisible, Moyet’s highest charting US hit. I did risk shouting out during a quiet moment "Steal Me Blind, Alison!” which was promptly followed by two cries from the audience behind me — one for Ode to Boy, the other for Honey for the Bees. Alison looked over and playfully said "You want me to steal you blind? Reach inside your pocket!" She then mentioned that the tour had been put together in a few mere weeks and that the band couldn't possibly have been expected to learn her entire catalog. After her next song, she returned to the topic and said, laughing, something to the effect of having been apologetically thinking throughout the song about how she'd just reprimanded us. Lots of audience laughter. At another point in the show when someone again shouted out a song request, she asked us if we thought this was karaoke night. More laughter. Quite the easy rapport she has with an audience.

Alison was in top form — even with a slight cold that had her sipping chamomile tea (and a convenient drop of brandy from time to time) onstage. She's simply amazing and even better than I remember her from the ’91 quasi-concert I told you about. Her set list included a smattering of tunes from her new album and back catalog, with the popular Ordinary Girl from Raindancing added after fans coaxed a few bars out of the singer at the NYC show a few nights earlier (and perhaps at the expense of her cover of Billie Holiday’s That ‘Ole Devil Called Love which was MIA for this show). Standouts for me were the jazzy version of All Cried Out, hearing an older hit or two for the first time live like Love Resurrection and a beautifully re-arranged Is This Love?, This House and One More Time, both of which are guaranteed to raise gooseflesh (if they don't, check your pulse because you're dead, honey!), Almost Blue and Find Me, both of which were just lovely, the insinuating groves of Footsteps and Hoodoo (she wails on the latter and sways those marvelous hips on both!), three Yazz tracks (Don't Go, Only You, and Situation), which brought back nostalgic fun for those not lucky enough to catch her tour with former Yazoo bandmate Vince Clarke this past summer, a passionate cover of Melanie Safka’s Momma Momma that threatened to bring the roof down, and a rousing encore of Whispering Your Name. Surprisingly, my favorite performance of the entire night came from a reworked version of a song that I'd never before characterized as one of my "favorites," per se: Ski. Sheer brilliance in the way she sang that. There are a few others scattered in there – songs like Wishing You Were Here, Dorothy, Can't Say It Like I Mean It, Fire, and You Don’t Have to Go – and my lack of comment is in no way a snub on either the songs’ inclusion in the set list or a slight against Alison’s flawless delivery. (It’s just that I know my loyal readers — and I’m moments away from eye rolls that the fanboy’s at it again!)

Speaking of the fanboys, I had the pleasure of meeting several other diehard Moyet fans outside the theater after the 1½ hour show. Folks like Meredith and her lovely mother (also fellow Julia Fordham fans) and Dennis (a fine gent who we discovered was also there that long-ago night at the Mulcahy’s show) and the utterly delightful "other Allison," with whom Alison proper was quite taken. (Their rapport is like that of two old school chums. There was a whole story that involved a wheelchair and front row seats that had us – and Alison – in stitches!) Our meager crowd waited for Alison outside the artist entrance of the venue. True to form, she appeared and spent a solid half hour or more signing everything (and I do mean everything) that was placed in front of her, posing for pictures, giving endless hugs, and chatting up a storm. At one point, it almost seemed like it would have been more polite of us to have invited her out for coffee instead of having her stand around in the chill. Alison was so lovely and gracious, and seemed genuinely appreciative that we had come to the show. Having met and interviewed numerous celebs over the years, I can honestly say that Moyet is the quintessence of fan friendliness. And, yes, in addition to getting my CD covers of Voice, Raindancing, Hoodoo, Hometime, and Alf signed, and my program signed (lovely tour books, BTW), and a poster from the Alf days that I've kept meticulously rolled in a tube and in pristine condition for the last 24 years until I could get her to sign it, I got what I came really hoping for:

They say that all good things are worth the wait. Alison Moyet made her US fans wait 14 years to hear the gift of her amazing voice live, and the payoff was considerable. A virtuoso performance, a fantastic trip down memory lane with some of the material from a back catalog that most of us have never had the opportunity to hear her sing live, and a glimpse into the genuine, offstage Alison and her pure radiance of spirit and affection for her fans after the show — magical elements whose combination made for one spectacular evening I’m not soon to forget. 

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Trick 'r Treat

Hadn’t heard about this holiday-themed horror nugget before, but the trailer was posted on the Shocklines message board recently and really grabbed my attention. Boasting the killer tagline “Drowning, poison, claw, or knife. So many ways to take a life” and a beautiful, atmospheric look, Trick 'r Treat is an anthology movie that highlights the scary (and deadly) consequences of dismissing a tradition. Four vignettes are (according to advance reviews) seamlessly interwoven Creepshow-style (minus the clearly defined segments) in what Bloody Disgusting compared to a live-action Nightmare Before Christmas. From Warner Bros:

It is said that Halloween is the night when the dead rise to walk among us and other unspeakable things roam free. The rituals of All Hallows Eve were devised to protect us from their evil mischief, and one small town is about to be taught a terrifying lesson that some traditions are best not forgotten. Nothing is what it seems when a suburban couple learns the dangers of blowing out a Jack-o-Lantern before midnight; four women cross paths with a costumed stalker at a local festival; a group of pranksters goes too far and discovers the horrifying truth buried in a local legend; and a cantankerous old hermit is visited by a strange trick-or-treater with a few bones to pick. Costumes and candy, ghouls and goblins, monsters and mayhem... the tricks and treats of Halloween turn deadly as strange creatures of every variety-human and otherwise-try to survive the scariest night of the year.

Indeed, watching the superb trailer brings to mind Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. See what you think:

In yet another testament to the inanity of the Hollywood machine, Warner Bros. Pictures dropped the film from its roster last year — despite excellent advance word coming out of test screenings — leaving it in distribution limbo. Keep in mind that this is the same company that opts for wide releases of subpar J-Horror remakes like One Missed Call, the sequel to Rest Stop (!), and duds like The Reaping. Enough said.

On a positive note, Trick 'r Treat has been given the honor of opening the 2008 Screamfest Horror Film Festival at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood on October 10th. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with first-time director Michael Dougherty. Dougherty is also an accomplished artist and has chronicled how his artwork inspired the film in the new book Trick 'r Treat: Tales of Mayhem, Mystery & Mischief, which he’ll be signing on October 9th at Dark Delicacies in Burbank.