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

Click the Button Below to
Download the Music of Elton John on iTunes

Elton John

Visit Elton John's Official Website

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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).

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Film Intuition's Interview with True Blood's William Sanderson

(New Trailer Featuring Bob Dylan's "Beyond Here Lies Nothin'")

Film Intuition's Interview
William Sanderson

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Although he jokes that he'd "rather be typecast than not cast at all,” versatile actor William Sanderson has portrayed more than his fair share of villains or types he classified in the start of his career as "prairie scum."

And finally he's gotten the chance to play a man on the right side of the law as the vampire hunting Sheriff Bud Dearborne in Alan Ball's Golden Globe award-winner True Blood which garnered Academy-Award winning Piano star Anna Paquin a statue as Best Actress. Moreover, thankfully for both fans of the series and those of us without HBO-- you can catch up with the vamps as True Blood's first complete season is released via HBO DVD and Blu-ray on May 19 before the second season kicks off on June 14.

(photo source)

Still, despite the new clean-shaven, clean-cut character-- Sanderson hasn't turned his back completely on those dark and quirky roles for which he's become famous. For, in a recent guest-starring role, he arrived on J.J. Abrams' cult-favorite Lost to very memorable effect. Likewise, Sanderson can similarly be found in current rotation in DVD players around the globe for his award-winning work on HBO's wild, wild west series Deadwood alongside Ian McShane as well as in the recent double-disc release of TNT's George Wallace (opposite Gary Sinise above) or in yet another awesome collection served up by Ridley Scott for his incredible science fiction cult classic Blade Runner. All in all, Sanderson is one of those actors whose stellar supporting performances keeps him in high demand and elevates those around him.

(photo source)

Frequently cast alongside Tommy Lee Jones since his one of his first acclaimed turns in the Oscar winning Coal Miner's Daughter, Sanderson first flew on my radar as a kid growing up watching the CBS sitcom Newhart. Taking what should have been a one-shot guest appearance, Sanderson turned it into one of the series' funniest running gags over the course of eight years as Larry (who always showed up at random with The Brothers Daryl).

Now as an adult who's seen so much of his work without even realizing it from one stunningly different turn to the next, I was honored that Mr. Sanderson would generously share his time and incredible stories with not only me but the readers here at Film Intuition.

So without further ado, here's the
Film Intuition Interview with Mr. William Sanderson:

(photo source)

1) Obviously, one-liner-wise you’re probably most famous for “Hi, I’m Larry, this is my brother Daryl, and this is my other brother Daryl” on the CBS sitcom Newhart.

Off the top of your head, do you have any other favorite lines you’ve gotten the chance to say in your career that have particularly stuck out as enjoyable or memorable personally?

(photo source)

Yes. Playing Loretta Lynn’s uncle, Lee Dollarhide in Coal Miner’s Daughter, I got to say “if you’re born in the mountains you’ve got three choices: coal mine, moonshine, or move it on down the line.” I loved saying that line. Another line that’s fun to recall and which fans of Blade Runner often ask me to write on autographed pictures is “home again, home again, jiggedy jig.” That’s the line my character, J.F. Sebastian, says to his toy friends upon returning to his apartment.

(photo source)

2) I have to ask—your bio says that as a kid you had the ability to assume characters and sneak into some pretty high profile places such as Graceland where you heard Elvis play a piano ballad. How’d you swing that and do you remember what he played?

As a young boy I did sneak into concerts and ballgames but the day I was in Graceland and watched Elvis play piano I actually was invited. Guy Lansky, owner of Lansky Brothers Clothing on Beale Street, let me ride out to Graceland with him to deliver some new clothes to Elvis. Guy told me to sit down in the living room. Elvis’s mother was standing, watching, off to the side. Elvis played three songs while I was sitting there. I remember him playing "Blueberry Hill" and "Don’t Be Cruel." I can’t remember the third song but I do remember as Guy and I were leaving Elvis said to Guy, “I wondered who that was sitting in my living room,” obviously referring to me.

3) Not too many actors can list the fact that they’ve completed a JD law degree from the University of Memphis but opted out of the bar examination to become a New York actor.

Was the law degree something you’d always wanted to achieve perhaps as the old “fall-back career” or was it just something you pursued, all the while knowing you wanted to do something else?

Hard question, probably a number of reasons. I had a juvenile offense when I was 15 and I remember telling my parents I’d make it up to them. I also thought it would look good on my resume. I loved acting more than the law. When I went to New York to pursue acting a fallback plan was never in my thoughts.

(photo source)

And how perfect was it when you returned to Memphis for a Grisham movie?!

It was great to go to Memphis to shoot The Client. In fact, ironic, because the character I played, Wally Boxx, had a law degree but didn’t know what to do with it. The Client was also the sixth project I did with Tommy Lee Jones so that made it special too.

4) Did you have any idea while you were making Blade Runner that it would eventually take on such a life of its own as a science fiction classic?

We thought Blade Runner might be a hit because of Harrison Ford. He was just coming off two huge hit films. I remember clearly the term “fascinating failure” being used to describe the film when it was first released. I’m happy to be in a cult film.

And likewise, are there any films or projects you’ve worked on that you were amazed didn’t catch on the way you and/or those involved assumed it or they might?

(photo source)

I thought the TV series Maximum Bob, based on the book by Elmore Leonard*, would be a hit. My character was an inbred alligator poacher. There was some funny stuff in that show. I was surprised when Michael Eisner canceled it after only 7 episodes.

* Note: One of Jen's favorite authors*

5) Having already worked successfully in your award-winning turn on HBO’s Deadwood, did you know Alan Ball from another network hit-- Six Feet Under—and/or how did you join the ensemble of True Blood?

I knew who Alan Ball was but I had never met or worked with him before I went in to audition for the role of Sheriff Dearborne. At that meeting, Alan told me he had never seen Deadwood. Maybe that helped? Whatever the reason was that I was cast as Bud, I truly feel blessed to follow working for one great writer, David Milch, with another, Alan Ball.

6) What was the biggest challenge and greatest pleasure of moving from Deadwood to True Blood?

The biggest challenge is to play a normal person. I usually play quirky off-beat and dirty characters. I love getting to wear clean clothes and shave. Having the scripts to read and ponder, in advance, is also a pleasure. I’m sure many are aware, because it has been written about many times, that on Deadwood we often got our lines just the night before shooting. I got used to it but it was nerve racking.

Shop the Deadwood Section at

7) What is it like working with the cast of Blood and filming in Louisiana?

It’s exciting to work with some of the best writers and young rising stars. My challenge is to keep up with them. I’m a gray-beard geezer now, you know, and I’m at the mercy of the writers. Louisiana is a very romantic and mysterious place. When I was there shooting my scenes the locals were wonderful to me. I also like getting Per diem when we are on location; I try to stay out of the casinos, ha ha.

8) True Blood fans will be dying to know—not to risk sending you to HBO jail—but can you offer us any hints as to what we can expect this season?

More murders and more romantic pairings. In the first episode you’ll see me out of my uniform and wearing an interesting outfit, for a brief time.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

DVD Release Announcement: TMNT-- Hereos in a Half-Shell: Turtle Power -- Season 7 Arrives Tomorrow

Coming to DVD
On May 12

In 4 Individual, Collectible Slices
To Celebrate The Turtles' 25th Anniversary

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Season 7

Studio News: HD-DVD Owners -- Upgrade from Red2Blu with Warner Brothers Studio's Official Loyalty Program

HD-DVD Owners,

Did the switch to Blu-ray make you see Red? Send in the cover art from your HD-DVD to Warner Brothers and receive a brand new Blu-ray disc of the exact same title FREE (plus shipping and handling).

To learn more, visit WB's Official REd2Blu Page for all the details and let your mood ring go back to Blu!

And for those of you who-- like me-- swear by life in Blu:

Here's a Look at the
Newest & Hottest Bestsellers & Pre-Orders
from Warner Brothers Blu-ray.

Order Yours Today To Experience the Beauty of Blu-ray

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Saturday, May 9, 2009

Soundtrack Review: Watchmen -- Music From the Motion Picture (2009)

Now Available:
Music From the Motion Picture

Watchmen: Original Score
By Tyler Bates

Related Items

Download the Soundtrack on iTunes

My Chemical Romance - Watchmen (Music from the Motion Picture)

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While I'll be the first to admit-- although friends assure me that I'd enjoy reading the Watchmen-- I was bored out of my mind watching the Watchmen on the big screen this past March. However... when it comes to listening to the Watchmen in the form of Watchmen's Original Soundtrack comprised of classics by such diverse artists as Nat King Cole, Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Billie Holiday, and Jimi Hendrix-- well, that's a different story altogether.

For, when this soundtrack landed in my lap courtesy of Warner Music Group and Reprise Records, it quickly found its way moving into the "most played tracks" list in my computer's iTunes application.

Opening with My Chemical Romance's punk anthem styled take on Bob Dylan's classic "Desolation Row" from my personal favorite record of all time-- Highway 61 Revisited-- in a chaotically crazed rendition that perfectly fits in with the film's 1985 setting, 300 director Zack Snyder was able to get Gerard Way and My Chemical Romance to break their tradition of seldom contributing to cinematic works based on the guys' major affinity for the original graphic novel.

Likewise, he managed one hell of a coup in persuading "Row"'s original singer/songwriter Bob Dylan to lend his '60s smash "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in the film's most effective usage of visuals and music transposed over a montage illustrating the glory, madness, nihilism, and bizarre re-interpretation of history when the Watchmen's actions are taken into account.

And it's precisely for this reason that the disc becomes far more successful than its overly long-winded and clinically cool film by establishing an attitude, immediacy, and instant connection with its audience based on the strength of the amazingly talented roster of artists whose music has become twentieth century staples.

This is emphasized by the darkly ironic utilization of Nat King Cole's "Unforgettable" as the film opens and the most notorious Watchmen member is pushed through the glass window of his tall apartment building in the unforgiving night sky several stories down until he lands on the hard concrete. And it's solidified even more by Snyder's bold decision to avoid period trappings in this historically strange alternate reality by weaving in classics like Simon & Garfunkel's "The Sound of Silence," K.C. & The Sunshine Band's "I'm Your Boogie Man," and Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" into some very atypical cinematic places.

Yet amazingly-- and just like Jackie Earle Haley's remarkable performance as Rorschach that constantly changes as the picture spirals out of control making his turn the movie's sole saving grace-- this gamble pays off extremely well from the Apocalypse Now images of "Ride of the Valkyries" that are called up in our mind and more.

The only song that seems like a strange fit and indeed, wasn't actually used in the feature film but rather its tie-in DVD and Blu-ray Tales From the Black Freighter that worked in a missing piece of the graphic novel in its animated Warner Brothers release is the otherwise talented Nina Simone's ill-placed closing number "Private Jenny." By including "Jenny" as the finale, the soundtrack meanders where it should have simply placed a final stamp on the powerful compilation.

Although undoubtedly, music fans most likely have all of the records and CDs in their collection or the wildly popular songs like "Me and Bobby McGee" in numerous other albums-- it's a cool, compact musical tapestry that weaves together some of last century's greats from various genres and for fans of the Watchmen universe, it has the added bonus of containing an insanely colorful CD insert comprised of portrait snapshots of its central ensemble cast of characters.

Music From The Motion Picture Watchmen

1. Desolation Row - My Chemical Romance
2. Unforgettable - Nat King Cole
3. The Times They Are A-Changin' - Bob Dylan
4. The Sound Of Silence - Simon & Garfunkel
5. Me & Bobby McGee - Janis Joplin
6. I'm Your Boogie Man - KC & The Sunshine Band
7. You're My Thrill - Billie Holiday
8. Pruit Igoe & Prophecies – The Philip Glass Ensemble
9. Hallelujah - Leonard Cohen
10. All Along The Watchtower - Jimi Hendrix
11. Ride of the Valkyries - Budapest Symphony Orchestra
12. Pirate Jenny - Nina Simone*
* - used in the end credits of the Tales From The Black Freighter DVD.

Watchmen Original Motion Picture Score

1. Rescue Mission
2. Don’t Get Too Misty Eyed
3. Tonight The Comedian Died
4. Silk Spectre
5. We’ll Live Longer
6. You Quit!
7. Only Two Names Remain
8. The American Dream
9. Edward Blake – The Comedian
10. The Last Laugh
11. Prison Fight
12. Just Look Around You
13. Dan’s Apocalyptic Dream
14. Who Murdered Hollis Mason?
15. What About Janie Slater?
16. I’ll Tell You About Rorschach
17. Countdown
18. It Was Me
19. All That Is Good
20.Requiem (Excerpted from Mozart’s Requiem)
21. I Love You Mom
Best Buy Co, Inc.