Saturday, May 30, 2009

Concert Blu-ray Review: Elton John -- The Red Piano -- Live from Las Vegas (2008)

Sir Elton John's
Sold-Out Las Vegas Concert Experience
Is Now Available on DVD & Blu-ray

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Never one to skirt around an issue-- although Elton John jokes that on the one hand, Las Vegas is the place “where musicians go to die,” on the other he acknowledges that “there's only so much Cirque du Soleil you can see.” So thankfully-- giving audiences a break from the inventive yet exhaustive array of acrobatics on display in Sin City-- in 2004 he took over the Caesars Palace Auditorium previously home to Celine Dion (whom he jokingly refers to as “the singing q-tip”). And with this in mind, he decided to bring a little Elton energy to town.

Building a theme entirely around the color red which to John signifies love which is a recurring through-line in the music he’s composed over forty years with his long time lyricist Bernie Taupin, Sir Elton John kicked off an enviable record breaking run of more than 200 sold out visually dynamic live concert performances dubbed simply The Red Piano.

And despite the fact that over thousands of people have flocked to the show to try and nab one of the 4,100 seats in the gorgeous, acoustically impressive yet intimate auditorium to dance along to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting,” fortunately both for historical reasons and out of necessity in this economy, The Red Piano has been transferred by Universal Music Group to DVD and Blu-ray high definition.

Whether it’ll make a valuable keepsake for the devoted audience who mouth along the words to such beloved greatest hits as “Daniel,” “Bennie and the Jets,” “Tiny Dancer,” “Candle in the Wind,” and “Your Song,” over the course of his fourteen track concert or offer the rest of us to see it for the first time—it’s a terrific move by executive producer Clive Banks and one that helps augment the multi-layered experience.

Although The Red Piano can be simply viewed as a concert, Elton John wanted to ensure that he was going to deliver something unique, creative, and fun to crowds in the city where anything and everything goes. In doing so, he consulted his good friend and artistic photographer David LaChapelle for an inspired creation that consisted of “multi-color neon sculpture, pop art, inflatables, bottles, balloons and the band.”

Additionally, since LaChapelle—whose impressive videography and portraiture of musicians including Britney Spears and Madonna have caught the attention of the industry-- had been a long time and highly knowledgeable fan of the music and the man, John gave him free range in the design. Or as John noted in the Blu-ray liner notes, he told LaChapelle to “go ahead and do what you want” in terms of creating innovative, short film interpretations of certain songs in John’s set list.

Projecting LaChapelle’s videos using state-of-the-art technically superior equipment on a screen that runs 120 feet wide by 40 feet tall, the videos in tandem with the music pounded away by a spirited John via a magnificent cherry-red piano on a stage filled with extravagant “only in Vegas” props certainly begs a repeat viewing due to the sheer overwhelm of the sensory experience.

While John’s performance is dynamic per usual as he banters with the audience and makes good-natured jokes about Dion, at times the short films accompanying the songs ultimately detract from the remarkable power of the music. Of course, in Vegas, it’s expected to go above in beyond in a presentation to remember and Red Piano succeeds on many levels with a few very beautiful pieces including the Marilyn Monroe (and possibly a look-alike) filled “Candle in the Wind,” and “Daniel” which—despite an eerily over-sexualized image of a bare-chested boy at the beginning laying in the foreground before he evolves into a man tells an earnest tale of loss from childhood to war, fully grasping the haunting pain of Taupin’s songwriting.

Moving to a classical black and white simplistic style of a solo man dancing his heart out in “Believe” is quite effective but honestly though, in the end even that track becomes repetitive as the near art-installation style of the films use the same imagery throughout.

The most twisted interpretation of a track, which as we see in the documentary also caught a band member off guard as he acknowledges that in the end the LaChapelle takes are “just one man’s impression of the songs,” comes in the form of a surprisingly violent and rather ugly domestic abuse ballet played throughout “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.”

Getting us fully immersed into the Vegas lifestyle-- “Pinball Wizard” relishes in the seedily, sexually charged erotic nightlife of adult entertainment in Vegas with plenty of shots of strippers and female entertainers gone wild before it leads up to a gratuitous, obvious, and uninspired stripper pole dance by Pamela Anderson throughout “The Bitch Is Back.” (Needless to say, parents may want to preview the unrated work before popping it in for the entire family.)

While it’s safe to say you may prefer your own personal music videos that play in your head to the songs or even some of the traditional ones—which in fact LaChapelle seems to parody in “Rocket Man” as a look at Elton’s fame and nature of celebrity—luckily they just serve as a background throughout the hyper-edited concert on the Blu-ray.

However, the rapid number of edits that initially cut in time with the music as seen in the opener “Bennie and the Jets,” takes a near The Bourne Ultimatum style two second ADD approach that finds your eyes straining to adjust from one quick movement to the next damn near ruin your appreciation of the beloved hit. Luckily, though eventually the style gives way to a bit more fluid movement throughout… at least most of the time.

The high definition quality of the disc is stellar indeed given its terrifically transferred concert level sound although strangely despite the fact that it boasts several subtitles in a wide variety of languages, I couldn’t even get English to work to see if there was a “read the lyrics option.” However, the picture suffers slightly from grainy and muddied color appearance during the concert footage that most likely can be attributed to the neon lights and challenging color reflection on the camera that gives the edges a soft feel.

The gorgeous night shots of Vegas that open the disc are exquisitely captured in HD, seemingly confirming the visual challenges in “cleaning up” or augmenting the concert’s look but the option of watching LaChapelle’s short films alone (either by flipping back and forth between the event and his work or choosing one option altogether) emphasizes the technical superiority of the format with their crystal clear transfer.

All in all, it’s a great opportunity to catch the concert without the cost of travel and tickets in these affordably priced releases. And while honestly I would’ve preferred a bit more Elton (and far fewer cuts) in the place of some of the distracting and downright unappealing video work completed by LaChapelle that takes away from the heartfelt earnestness of the music that made it so special-- Red Piano still made for an entertaining spectacle, even if personally I think I’d prefer Elton John in concert over The Red Piano any day of the week.

(Photo Source)

For, since music is the soundtrack of everyone’s life and John’s in particular has definitely been a part of so many lives and was one of the defining musical catalogs of the twentieth century--- I believe it would’ve benefited the work to incorporate that. Perhaps it could’ve been done in the place of even swapping out a few of the LaChapelle videos with some of the beloved footage dedicated to the man and his music like the Almost Famous “Tiny Dancer” sequence as a lead-in to that track or—despite it not being on the set list—the gorgeously simplistic music video of Robert Downey Jr. simply mouthing the words to “I Want Love” (view it here) as he walks from room to room that emphasizes John’s universal appeal in lieu of just one personal and mostly distracting vision.

Disc Details

DVD & Blu-ray:

[Band Instrumental Performance]

1. Bennie and the Jets

2. Philadelphia Freedom *

3. Believe *

4. Daniel *

5. Rocket Man *

6. Answer In The Sky *

7. Tiny Dancer

[Band Introduction]

8. Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On *

9. Candle In The Wind *

[Elton Suit Change / Vegas Montage Footage]

10. Pinball Wizard *

11. Bitch Is Back *

12. I’m Still Standing *

13. Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting *


14. Your Song

Blu-ray Only Extras:

1) Documentary [50 mins]:
The Life and Legacy of Elton John, with behind-the-scenes of David LaChapelle’s Red Piano treatment of Elton’s live stage show.

2) David LaChapelle Stage Projections:

The unique raw videos made for the stage back drop for tracks marked on the Blu-ray with a heart to switch back and forth between the concert and the short films (or with * as noted above).

Monday, May 25, 2009

New on DVD & Blu-ray for the Week of 5/24/09

Jen's Pick of the Week:

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All the Days Before Tomorrow

BBC History of World War II

Beyond Rangoon

Brother’s War

Children of Men

Cinderella Man

Cities of the Underworld:
The Complete Season Three

The Closer:
The Complete Fourth Season

The Closer:
The Complete Seasons 1-4

Dalai Lama Renaissance
(Narrated by Harrison Ford)

Designing Women:
The Complete First Season

The Devil’s Tomb

Diana Krall: Live in Rio


Don Giovanni

Dora the Explorer:
Super Babies' Dream Adventure

Edward II

Falling Down:
Deluxe Edition

Field of Dreams

Forever Strong

Gunsmoke-Season 3 Vol. 2


The Invisibles

Jeeves & Wooster:
The Complete Series


La Traviata

Land of the Lost:
The Complete Series

Law & Order Special Victims Unit--
The Ninth Year

The Legend of Fong Sai Yuk


M. Butterfly


Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

The Mod Squad:
Season 2, Vol. 2

Murder Most English—
Series 1

New in Town


Powder Blue

The Princess of Nebraska

The Ramen Girl

Revolution: Revisited

Robin Hood:
Prince of Thieves

Saturday Morning Cartoons:
1960s Vol. 1

Saturday Morning Cartoons:
1970s Vol. 1


The Secret of Loch Ness

The Sky Crawlers

Spy Game

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers

True Romance

The Universe:
The Complete Season Three

A Village Affair

We're Back!
A Dinosaur's Story

World War II:
Behind Closed Doors


Sunday, May 17, 2009

New on DVD & Blu-ray for the Week of 5/17/09

Jen’s Pick of the Week:

Terminator 2: Judgment Day
(Skynet Edition) [Blu-ray]

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24: Season 7

3 Days of the Condor [Blu-ray]

30 Rock: Seasons 1 & 2

8 Simple Rules: The Complete Second Season

Astral Weeks Live At The Hollywood Bowl:
The Concert Film
( Exclusive)

Bank Robbery Collection
(The Great Bank Hoax / The Great Bank Robbery)

Barney: Family Fun Pack (3pc)

Barney: Let's Go on Vacation

Batman: 20th Anniversary

Battlestar Galactica: Season 2.0 and 2.5

Billy Jack

A Bug’s Life [Blu-ray]


Changing Lanes [Blu-ray]

Charles Bronson Collection

Circle of Iron [Blu-ray]

Clifford: Family Fun Pack (3pc)

Detective Story

The Devil's Ground

Dinosaurs Trucks & More Scholastic Treasury of 25

Dr. Dolittle: Million Dollar Mutts

Doodlebops: Family Fun Pack (3pc)

Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn / Wrath of the Dragon
(Double Feature)

Dragon Ball Z: Season Nine (Majin Buu Saga)

Driven to Kill

Eden Log

El Dorado: Paramount Centennial Collection

Enemy at the Gates [Blu-ray]


Fairytales Magic & More Scholastic Treasury of 25

Fast Company [Blu-ray]

Fireman Sam: Hero Next Door

Friday Night Lights: The First & Second Seasons

Friday Night Lights: The Third Season

Girl on a Motorcycle

The Guild - Season One ( Exclusive)

The Guild - Season Two ( Exclusive)

Heroes: Seasons 1 & 2

House: Seasons One & Two

House: Seasons Three & Four


Invasion Iowa

Jo Koy: Don't Make Him Angry


Lions for Lambs [Blu-ray]

The Friends of Eddie Coyle (Criterion Collection)

The Machinist [Blu-ray]

Man Hunt

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (Paramount Centennial Collection)

Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus

Monk: Seasons One & Two

Monk: Seasons Three & Four

Monk: Seasons Five & Six

My Bloody Valentine 3-D (2009)

The New Detectives Season 3 –
As Seen on Discovery Channel!

Nightmare Castle

The Office: Seasons One & Two

The Office: Seasons Three & Four


Paul Blart: Mall Cop

Paul Simon And Friends: The Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song

Paycheck [Blu-ray]

Peyton Place: Part One

Princess Resurrection: Collection 2

Psych: The Complete First & Second Seasons


Russell Brand in New York City

Sister, Sister: The Second Season

Taggart - Hit Man Set

Taggart - Ring of Deceit Set

Taggart - Violent Delights Sets

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Skynet Edition) [Blu-ray]

Taking Chance

Titanic: How It Really Sank

The Town That Was

Trevor Horn and Friends: Slaves to Rhythm

True Blood: The Complete First Season

Click Here to Read Our Interview With William Sanderson

TV Is My Parent


WWE: Wrestlemania XXV - 25th Anniversary

Yonkers Joe

Best Buy Co, Inc.