DVD Review: The Battle of Algiers

A Muslim has electrodes attached to his ears and is shocked until he names names, and gives vital information about the revolution. A band of children shout at an old man "drunkard" as they beat him and send him tumbling down a flight of stairs. A bomb explodes in a café, killing women and children. These are just a few of the horrific images seen in The Battle of Algiers, the 1965 film concerning the Algerian revolution against French colonization.From the start we are told that no documentary footage was used in the making of the film, that it is all staged. It is an important piece of information, for it looks and feels all too real. The filmmakers used newsreel film stock, existing light and actual locations to make the movie. This succeeds in sucking the viewer straight into the trenches. We feel as if we were there, plotting with the revolutionaries, struggling with the French army.

While watching this film in 2005 it is easy to think about the war in Iraq. There are many similarities including a large nation occupying a smaller, Muslin country; small bands of revolutionaries who have created an underground network of revolt. Even the methodology of the Iraqi insurgents is similar to the violent acts of the Algerian revolutionaries.

It is a disservice to the power of the film, though, to allow it to only serve our current political landscape. It is, in fact, important to realize that a film about an Algerian revolt against French oppression over 40 years ago, can serve as a spring board to discussion about US involvement in Iraq. It is a film, that is specifically located, and time capsuled and yet its message is so universal that it can be applied to any war, insurgency or revolution.

Though the film makers sympathies clearly lie with the Algerians, no side comes off as humane. The revolutionaries think nothing of bombing innocent people, some of them their own, in order to further their cause. There are multiple shots of the Algerians shooting policemen at point blank range.

The French fight dirty as well. In a particularly grueling montage we see them hideously torture the Algerians to get information. The French leader, Col. Mathieu, at one point mentions that the only way to fight off this type of revolution is by using such brutal tactics.

Ultimately, the film left me not with a feeling of rightness for either the French occupation, or the Algerian revolution, but rather despair over the horrendous acts we are capable of as humans.

It is a moving, often gut wrenching picture, but an undeniably important one. Gillo Pontecorvo has made a film that needs to be watched. Not only to understand the Algerian revolution, but to get a better understanding of any form of violence and revolt.

CD Review: U2 – Wide Awake in America

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I first bought this EP, in tape form, from a used record shop for about $3.00. I wore the sucker out playing on my way to and from high school.

It is really more of a CD single than any real album. Though the sticker price would have you wish for more. It has two live cuts, and a couple of B side singles.

The first track, a live cut of Bad, from the newly released (back in 1985) album, The Unforgettable Fire, is tremendous. It has a real laid back feel to it, with a nice groove running throughout. Adam Clayton's bass moves the song along while Bono is at his best as front man.

Bono sings the song like a preacher at the apocalypse. You can almost see him standing on the edge of the stage, thousands of fans reaching out to him in front, while fires ablaze from behind.

Another live track comes next, A Sort of Homecoming. It doesn't have quite the same magical feel of Bad, but is still played quite well, and is actually quite fun. What with the bouncy chorus, sing along chanting, you actually forget the darkness of the lyrics.

The final two cuts, Three Sunrises, and Love Comes Tumbling are studio offerings that didn't make the cut for The Unforgettable Fire. It is easy to see why. They are slower ballads, with little passion of delivery.

But if you can find the album in the bargain bin, the live version of Bad is more than worth a listen.

To read an essay I wrote on U2 featuring some stories culled from this album click here.

CD Review: Steve Kimock Band – Eudemonic

Rating: **

The first time I saw Steve Kimockplay was during the summer of 1998. He was one of twin guitarists (the other being Mark Karan) filling the big gap left by Jerry Garcia in the Grateful Dead reincarnation The Other Ones.

Kimock's stage presense was slight. Sitting on a stool, guitar in his lap, head bent down he looked more like some Buddhist monk contemplating the mysteries of the universe on a lonely mountain than a rock star.

In fact many Deadheads were complaining about his lack of presence during this tour. This always seemed ironic to me considering that Garcia had spent the last decade of his life, standing motionless on stage, with his chin resting on his chest.

While others complained about how Kimock looked on stage, I was awed by his chops as a guitarist. His playing was both fluid and tight. Technical and yet full of emotion. Much like Garcia himself, in his better days.

Soon after the Other Ones show, I did some tape trading for a live KVHW show. This was a short lived band Kimock formed with Babby Vega, Alen Hertz and Ray White. Again I was knocked out by Kimock's virtuosity on guitar.

For whatever reason, though Kimock's name was often batted about in musical conversations amongst online groups, I never gained another piece of his music. Various albums, live tapes, and concerts landed on my list of things to get, but never managed to materialize into reality.

So, it was with great anticipation that I found myself with the Steve Kimock Band's newest release, Eudemonic. The dictionary says the title means "producing happiness and well being." That's a lot to ask for in 66 minutes of music. I definitely had a few moments of happiness brought to me by the music on this album, but I'll leave my well being to a higher authority.

I have to admit right upfront here, that I'm not a fan of instrumental music, especially instrumental rock music. Sure, I've got some classical music, your Beethoven some Mozart and what not. But I generally regulate this to back ground music; something to play when I'm a little sad, or to back me up during a romantic dinner. But with the music coming out of my car stereo, or pulsating through my home, my music life consists of some lyrics, some singing.

Don't get me wrong I can totally dig a 10 minute improvised jam in the middle of a song, but in the end, I want it to come back to a melody, a hook, a chorus. Walking down the road, I need a lyric to sing.

Eudemonic, in fact, feels like the middle jams to some really great songs. I just keep waiting for them to go somewhere, to crescendo and soar back down to a rousing final verse or a sing-a-long chorus.

The instrumentation is admittedly quite good. I still hear the passion and performance behind the Kimock guitar, and the rest of the band plays extremely well. Alphonso Johnson, especially proves his ability to hit the right groove on bass.

The standout songs are the retro groove opening track, Eudemon, the moe. inspired Ice Cream, and the bouncy Bouncer. The songs are often lengthy, averaging at a per song length of about 6 minutes. There is plenty of groove laid down in all the songs, I just wish there was either a consistency through the entire album, or a bigger hook to song ratio.

Fans of instrumental guitar rock will have a lot to dig into with Eudemonic. The jams are flowing, and Kimock is a fine guitar player. It is, in fact, my predilection of turning instrumental music into background fodder that gets me in trouble here. There is just too much going on here, musically, to allow it to stay in the background. A person need to really listen to the interplay between musicians on this album. Because of this, I'm afraid Eudemonic is something that will probably not get a lot of play around my house. But for those of you willing to take the time to dig into a piece of music, there are many treasures to be found.

CD Review: 2 Days in the Valley Soundtrack

Rating: **

Once in awhile I'll leave the movie theatre and head straight to the music shop, knowing I simply must purchase the soundtrack album. I leave thinking the music was just so perfect, so wonderful, that it would simply be a shame to not have it for my collection.

Usually the soundtracks turn out to be absolutely friggin' brilliant. To this day I play the Swingers soundtrack and dig nearly every swinging note. When I'm jonesing for some classic 90's grunge I always turn to the soundtrack to Cameron Crowe's less than stellar film, Singles.

But sometimes, as it turns out, the music on a soundtrack turns out to be better suited for the cinema. The songs fit the scene perfectly, but taken outside of the Hollywood lights, the sounds fail to perform. Somehow the mix of images, lights, and sounds gelled, but when left alone, the music falls flat.

The soundtrack to 2 Days in the Valley is one of these disks. I literally walked straight out of the movie theatre and into the record shop and picked up the soundtrack. While watching the film all I could think about is how great the music is.

Truth be told, some of the songs are fantastic. Wilson Picket (Hello Sunshine) and Otis Redding (Down in the Valley) kick out the R and B jams like only they could. One of Lyle Lovett's greatest and saddest songs (Nobody Knows Me) is included in the package.

Both Taj Mahal's Rolling on the Sea, and Erin O'Hara's Down in the Valley are very listenable, but fail to be enough to make me want to dig out the album to listen to just them. Other songs, such as Morphines' Gone For Good, seemed wonderful in the cinema. That song fit the scene perfectly, and brought home the loneliness of the moment, but left playing in my car, or the home stereo and it just seems rather sappy, kind of silly.

The few bits of score included fail to gain any interest. And songs like Scott Reeder's Gold are barely palatable. They are the type of songs that go unnoticed in a movie, playing in the background, but get quite annoying when played on their own.

Ultimately I have the Lyle Lovett song on his own album and the two remaining standouts aren't enough to make me shuffle through the rest to play this album often.

CD Review: Neil Young – Silver and Gold

Rating: **1/2

His first acoustic album in seven years, Silver and Gold sounds shamefully thrown together. His last effort (not counting the MTV Unplugged release) Harvest Moon is one of my all time favorite albums. There is some lovely song writing in there, with some nice back up singing by the likes of James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt. It was a throwback to Young's most successful album, Harvest. And it sounded marvelous.

In the time between Harvest Moon and Silver and Gold released some seven albums. He paid tribute to Kurt Cobain, rocked live with Crazy Horse, recorded with Pearl Jam, wrote the soundtrack to a Jim Jarmusch film, all of which were pretty ragged, electric, and very loud.

I was very excited to get some more acoustic Young, but find myself disappointed with this release. That's not to say it is a bad album, for there are several really good tunes here. The opening track, Good to See You is a fun, jaunty little thing. His ode to his first band, Buffalo Springfield Again is a great deal of fun, and makes me wish that band really would get back together, though I've never been much of a fan.

It is when Young decides to sing a ballad that things get difficult here. Eight of the ten tracks on the album are slower numbers. With the exception of Silver and Gold (a song I included on my wedding reception msuc) and Razor Love, the slow songs are boring. There is nothing to set them apart musically, and the lyrics don't say anything particularly moving.

It is an album worth buying for the standout tracks. But you would be better off importing those tracks onto a mix tape, or your Ipod and then selling back the album to someone else.

DVD Review: The Postman Always Rings Twice

Unlike the other classic masters of crime fiction (Hammett, Chandler, and even Christie if you must) James M Cain wrote not from the perspective of the cop, or the detective, but from the side of the criminal. He wasn't really interested in the methods of detection, but in the methods and reasons crimes were committed.

There are no Phillip Marlowes or Hercule Poirots out to solve the case in Cain's fiction. The righteous bringers of justice are regulated to a secondhand role in his stories, and are often as slimy and unrighteous as the criminals.

In his first novel, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Cain weaves a complicated plot in a very simple manner. This was never meant as anything more than a pulp novel, it's aim was to titillate, shock, and most important of all, sell gobs of books.

Though told in the first person from a main character, the book is all action. There is some internal dialog, but it sheds very little light on who the characters are, what motivates them.

It is in fact, perfect for a screen adaptation. Which is probably why it is credited as the story on at least 5 times on the Internet Movie Database. The lack of complicated internal though processes, and the predilection for talking and doing, makes it the ideal movie. That, and great lumps of sex and violence.

The two most famous screen adaptations are the 1946 Lana Turner/John Garfield version and the steamier Jack Nicholson/Jessica Lange released in 1981. Everyone refers to that one as a remake of the 1946 version which gets me riled up for some reason. To me it is simply another version of the novel, rather than a remake of the old film. There are about 8 million versions of Hamlet out there, but no one refers to the next one as a remake of an earlier film. It's simply another version of the play. But perhaps this is because I'm a fan of the novel, and I probably shouldn't make too big a deal out of it.

The plot takes on several turns but is essentially about lust and violence. Drifter Frank Chambers lands a job at a road side diner owned by Nick Papadakis (Smith in the 1946 version). Chambers falls immediately in lust with Nick's unhappy wife, Cora. They cook up a plot to kill Nick making it look like an accident. Complications ensue.

The biggest difference between the two pictures is that the 1981 version has got more sex. The book is loaded with sex, or should I say simulated sex, or rather off screen (or off page) sex. Due to the prevailing censorship at the time the novel was written the sex had to be hinted at, double entendred and written in such a way as to let everyone know what they were doing and not get banned from book shelves. Even with that, it was still quite controversial at its time.

The 1946 version hints at all the deep seated passion going on without actually showing us anything more than a few kisses. (Though on a side piece of trivia audiences were shocked that Garfield obviously used his tongue in one of the kisses) By 1981 Hollywood was no longer under the strenuous Production Code and morals had loosened up more than a bit through the 60's and 70's and the new version of Postman all the sex was brought out front.

The kissing gets more passionate, there is touching, rubbing and a good deal of nakedness. The steamy sexuality of the characters now scorches off the screen. They even added a new sex scene that wasn't in the book, just for kicks.

But even with all the nakedness and sexing, this newer version doesn't have all the lust of the original. Though Cain was unable to fill in all the sexy details of their affairs, the raw sexuality burns through each page. The characters are led by their passions and you can feel it in every word and deed. In the same way though nary a thigh is even shown in the 1946 version, the passions full of lust are ignited on screen. Turner and Garfield exude sensuality without any sex that far surpasses what Nicholson and Lange can manage with a movie filled with on camera love scenes.

The violence remains pretty much the same in both versions. As a culture, we Americans have always seemed to have less of a problem with violent deeds than any amount of sexuality. Neither film is particularly graphic in its violence, though murder and attempted murder hangs throughout both plots.

My biggest problem with the 1981 version is that first time screen writer, David Mamet, tries to fill out the characters, and give more story to the story. In the book Nick is not a bad man, and we are given no real reason why Cora would be unhappy enough in the marriage to kill. Mamet offers a few small scenes to try to show the darker side of Nick, not enough for the audience to truly hate him, but enough to give some justification for his murder.

Likewise, Frank is a pretty worthless drifter in the novel, but is given a more tender side through the pen of Mamet. Both of these additions serve to lesson the story, not give it greater depth. Cain wrote characters full of selfish lusts. Frank and Cora's passion for each other moves them to do horrible deeds, not out of any love for each other, but for reasons all their own. While it seems admirable that Mamet would attempt to bring human reasons for the characters actions, it only serves to muddle the story. The local news and true crime shelves are filled with real life atrocities committed for no real reason at all.

The 1941 version sticks very close to the novel's plot. There are a few minor changes, I'm sure, and some things left out due to the time restrains of a film. But mostly it sticks closely to the book.

Sadly the great ending of the novel is removed from the 1981 version. This makes the end a little more sad, but the great irony of Cain's closing is all but lost.