Monday, November 30, 2009

Music DVD Review: Christmas with the King Family (2009)

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Listen to The First Family of Song

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With the holidays upon us, it's a given that we will soon be inundated with photo cards of loved ones near and far, usually dressed up in some variation of either Christmas versions of vivid Cosby Show style sweaters or matching color schemes to rival that of a sports team. And these annual mementos arriving in our mailbox each and every year have become a favored tradition that allows us to witness the passage of time as appearances change, new faces enter the picture as the years go by.

Yet, instead of leaving us with simply a thin stack of seasonal snapshots, for two decades (the '60s and '70s respectively) America's First Family of Song provided us with seventeen television specials including twelve holiday specific programs that brought those photographs musically to life. Long before video cameras became a staple of family celebrations from the '80s onward and we embraced the idea of family sing-alongs (or sync-alongs) complete with matching apparel or their infamous sweaters as witnessed on The Cosby Show, the King Family gave us the real thing.

Although they also starred in specials which focused on other holidays and/or seasons, it was their distinctly authentic family themed Christmas creations filmed in October but aired closer to the date during those two decades that really set them apart. And garnering an audience in the '60s and '70s was no small feat, when you consider that it was essentially an era of variety shows ranging from Carol Burnett to Laugh In to extraordinarily lavish musical specials featuring stars like Mitzi Gaynor, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, Liza Minnelli, and others.

However, the four original Grammy nominated beloved King Sisters transferred their background performing in the recording studio as a Big Band sensation and in their appearances in Hollywood films to the silver screen with a very unique twist on TV's new variety special craze. Rather than fill their hour long programs with celebrity guest stars singing their latest chart toppers or tying in appearances with an upcoming feature film, the King Sisters chose a more natural approach.

Reasoning that it's how they would be spending the holidays anyway since the Kings always emphasized the importance of learning an instrument from childhood up through adulthood and music was a very real part of their conversation with one another, the King Sisters opted to build a show around their entire family.

While the family freely admits in this fascinating documentary that some have labeled the specials “corny,” there was nothing phony about the Kings themselves. Instead of annual televised family reunions nor the type of insensitive reality show gimmicks we see employed on television today,
within just a few notes contained in this informative documentary you intuitively sense their true enjoyment and love for one another.

This being said, when you discover that the Kings young enough to be in school had to work eight additional hours every day for rehearsal after their classes finished, the succinct but revealing comment that the teen members in the special have come to appreciate their involvement more with age seems very understandable.

Just as in the classic programs, which found the extended family children broken up into two distinct age groups of the adorable, unaffected King Kids and the tight-knit King Cousins who reveal that they were together so much they feel closer to siblings, in the documentary they're largely interviewed in groups by age.

And throughout this extremely well-edited documentary accompanied by a wonderful full length special that recently aired on PBS from the producers of last year's similarly themed classic TV celebration of Mitzi Gaynor: Razzle Dazzle, the Kings are introduced to another generation to celebrate the 45th anniversary of their original TV appearance. - All purchases support PBS programming

Bound by their love of one another as well as the groundbreaking musical experimentation they created in the spirit of the original King Sisters who were pioneers of four-part harmony, singing in rounds, and their Uncle Alvino Rey's magical sounding guitar, it's fascinating to see the footage of twenty-five to roughly forty relatives in the vintage footage through their eyes today.

Although I realized that I'd been mildly acquainted with the Kings as the Sisters appeared in a recent Esther Williams film I reviewed for a Turner Classic Movies/Warner Brothers set as well as being unknowingly familiar with the King musical legacy via their relatives who have formed the successful, critically acclaimed indie rock band Arcade Fire, I welcomed the opportunity to learn more.

Additionally I appreciated their gorgeous harmonies which hearkened to a Pet Sounds era Beach Boys and the fact that like the Boys or a modern day example or Rufus and Martha Wainwright, when relatives sing together, the result is harmonious magic. Yet more than that, I was also incredibly moved by what has easily become the family's most cherished memory of the 1967 special.

A standout in the documentary that's sure to drive you to tissues, luckily the “reunion” moment is again repeated to powerful emotional effect without the narrative interruption in the extra feature on the DVD. In this unforgettable segment, we witness the heartrending surprise of their Aunt Alyce who was unexpectedly greeted with the return of her Vietnam veteran son Ric during her tearful rendition of “I'll Be Home for Christmas” that she'd been singing to his framed photograph.

Similar to the family's adherence to the idea that not only did they avoid egos and the fears of upstaging one another with their gorgeous harmonies, it's immediately evident that not only did their sound benefit by singing together but that their relationship did as well. Moreover, it grew stronger with each successive note, song, or special with their unique legacy of a very rare version of a Christmas card shared by the Kings with audiences who kept tuning in year after year.

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved.

Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Music DVD & CD Review: Paul McCartney: Good Evening New York City

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Since at first it was difficult to discern which one was in fact the DVD as it was inconspicuously included in the set of 3-discs that all resembled baseballs signed by Paul McCartney, I wasn't expecting all that much from the CD's concert disc. This being said, of course McCartney's name promises quality, innovation and showmanship, considering the length and evolution of his career with The Beatles, Wings, or alone. Still overall I feared it would most likely be a nice but brief selection of clips and performances similar to the ones contained in Andrea Bocelli's breathtaking album but breathlessly short DVD last year.

However, this epic November 17 release, which was also issued on vinyl and part of a 4-disc collection that boasts an extra DVD for McCartney's most ardent admirers, treats us to a full out, state-of-the-art concert with dozens of songs and hours of incredible footage. Surpassing some of the individually sold live concerts that have premiered on DVD and Blu-ray this year, Concord Music, Paul McCartney and Hear Music's Good Evening New York City is the closest thing to experiencing the genuine feel of a concert in your own home due to its phenomenal technical specifications.

And since the main focus is on the music, instantly the sound mixes are what grabs you both in the 5.1 and stereo track. Yet once you become acclimated to McCartney's continually playful and infectious delivery of songs he's performed thousands of times before, you're soon overwhelmed by the mixture of musical adrenaline and sheer joy apparent in the guitar pic precise visual presentation. Even before I read that fans in the crowd were given 75 Flipcams to achieve an unparalleled sense of “you are here” digital authenticity in tandem with the fifteen professionally manned high definition cameras during the trio of New York Evenings in July from which the footage was pulled, I could sense that groundbreaking techniques were at work.

And the mesmerizing experience is well worth it as the concert DVD contained in this set preserves the historic three-night event of McCartney's return to musically christen the new site of the landmark Shea Stadium, which was torn down, rebuilt “a few hundred yards away” and renamed Citi Field. The engagement from July 17-21 critically dubbed “the experience of a lifetime” is especially significant considering McCartney's Good Evening was staged both one year after joining Billy Joel's farewell to Shea Stadium in the last concert before its demolition and forty-four years after The Beatles played the venue and gave birth to stadium rock in 1965.

On August 15, 1965, The Beatles played a twelve song set filling out just thirty-four minutes for 55,600 screaming fans (that also included McCartney's future wife, Linda Eastman) who drowned out the sound of the band during their sold-out performance. And in the three Good Evenings in 2009, 109,397 people gathered in Citi Field to celebrate the lineup captured in this two hour and forty minute concert which consisted of thirty-three songs.

From beloved hits that span the course of his impressive career including rousing renditions of “Drive My Car,” “Band on the Run,” and “Live and Let Die,” and many others, McCartney switches instruments several times throughout. Effortlessly he moves from a ukulele that was given to him by George Harrison to the piano and several guitars including one enviable brightly colored electric model on which he wails Hendrix's “Foxy Lady." And at the same time, Paul McCartney proves that his vocal and instrumental musicality is still top-notch even after all these years.

With footage from longtime collaborator Paul Becher, McCartney thrills us as light beams out onto the audience like snow and video installations change from incredibly well-designed visuals to enhance the meaning of the music with a multimedia approach that mixes nicely with enhanced live closeups of the band at play. Therefore, McCartney's dazzling Evening concert DVD manages to engage us even more than the 2-CD set of the exact same performance since the event transcends just the audio and becomes a full-blown concert right in your living room via the third inconspicuous baseball DVD.

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited.

Music DVD Review: Rare & Unseen: The Beatles -- The Unofficial Account of the Biggest Band in the World

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In order to be a real "rocknrolla," eventually you have to ask yourself if you want to actually “make it” or if you'd rather just perform your way on stage by eating fistfuls of chicken in between singing and cursing. Although I'm sure a few would choose the chicken, the rewards are far greater for those who are as passionate about music as the late and legendary Beatle, Mr. John Lennon whose anecdote from a French television interview is included in this unofficial documentary. And for those of you scratching your heads, the chicken reference Lennon cites in regard to the Beatles' decision to gravitate towards professionalism refers to the musical career the group had before and after signing on with Brian Epstein.

Yet despite the fact that the production quality of the DVD is exceedingly poor since it feels like it's an overlong paid program for itself complete with voice-over lead-ins for "faux" commercial breaks, die hard fans of the Fab Four will want to seek out some of its one-of-a-kind inclusions. However, it's nearly killed with padding including some of the worst Dick Clark inspired narration to have been written for someone other than Dick Clark or a Dick Clark related infomercial and odd choices for talking heads including Dancing With the Stars judge Len Goodman don't do much to change our mind about its validity.

On the plus side however, this chronicle of the group back when Pete Best was a member boasts the earliest footage ever recorded of the band on stage in Liverpool in 1962 as well as the only existing film of the guys on tour in Scotland. Unfortunately, it isn't enough to recommend the DVD which is edited into five parts with would-be commercial breaks that tease at what's to come, again adding to an infomercial feel.

While the same typical points are covered including speculation on why the group broke up and reiterating just how original and successful they were in their heyday, the presentation isn't successful as a whole as it moves from reconstructed footage (a la E! Channel) to candid authentic video. Still, aside from some of the rare and unseen clips, the one benefit served up in this documentary is by inviting some valuable early sources who usually aren't asked to speak to do so, which opens your eyes to other musical performers of the era who shared the stage with the guys (minus the chicken) including Sylvie Vartan.

Text ©2009, Film Intuition, LLC; All Rights Reserved.
Unauthorized Reproduction or Publication Elsewhere is Strictly Prohibited.

Monday, November 16, 2009

FilmIntuition.Com's October Poll: In Honor of Halloween, Please Select the Freakiest David Lynch Movie

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FilmIntuition.Com's October Poll: In Honor of Halloween, Please Select the Freakiest David Lynch Movie.

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