Sunday, February 6, 2011

Bluesman Gary Moore Dies at 58

By Steve Evans

Blues fans are saddened by the news that former Thin Lizzy guitarist and renowned bluesman Gary Moore was found dead today in a hotel room in Spain. The Belfast-born Moore, 58, was a hard-rockin‘ founding member of Dublin band Skid Row before he hooked up with Thin Lizzy in 1973. He left after four months but rejoined in ’77 for the band's “Black Rose” album. Today, Thin Lizzy is best remembered for the classic-rock staple, “The Boys are Back in Town,” cut before Moore returned to the group. But Moore will always be remembered for his scorching blues-guitar work, a major influence on Stevie Ray Vaughan and a subsequent generation of musicians.

As a lifelong disciple of the blues and in memoriam to Moore, I’ve dredged the vaults and present my write-up of the bluesman’s gig at the 1990 Montreux Jazz Festival, part of the excellent Live at Montreux DVD series produced by Eagle Rock Entertainment. If you’re not hip to the Live at Montreux collection, you’re missing some of the greatest concerts ever committed to disc. This piece first appeared on

Bluesman Gary Moore seduces a Stratocaster

For the first time on DVD, Gary Moore and the Midnight Blues Band mark their premiere performance at the 1990 Montreux Jazz Festival. Though Moore has appeared at the festival many times since, this gig remains definitive: one hot night of mesmerizing music.

Moore was touring at the time in support of his album Still Got the Blues. This Montreux set features tracks from that CD, plus familiar gems like "Farther On Up the Road." Famed blues guitarist Albert Collins duels with Moore on three songs—with scorching results.

With incredible fretwork and musical instincts exceeded only by passion, Moore's playing holds its own with any contemporary bluesman—Clapton included. Yes, that's a big, bold statement, but the proof burns in digital immortality on this essential DVD. The hard rockin' Dubliner thunders through a 16-song set of furious blues and rock and roll, his vocals soaring across the soundstage in a superb 5.1 mix. From glorious anarchy and cocksure strutting, to aching lament, the man can surely sing them blues. Moore's mastery of the electric guitar is spellbinding. His white-hot chops weave around pin-point support from the Midnight Blues Band, who were hitting it tight that night with a hard set of soul-searing rhythm and full-tilt blues.

If you can sit still while Moore & Co. get off with Texas Strut you probably need defibrillation—or delivery of the last rites. Even the devil, his own bad self, would leave the stage weeping openly if he dared to match Moore chop for bone-crunching chop. Let's cut right to it: if you dig smokin' blues, this disc burns.

Looking for a point of reference? Fans of Robert Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, even ZZ Top, will dance for funky joy and make obeisance to the guitar gods for delivering this DVD into their collection. Buy one and score another for a friend; you'll both thank me later.

The cinematography is superb. Forget all those music videos with a cut every 12 frames. Here, the camera dwells on Moore or individual members of the band for minutes at a time, drawing viewers deep into the music. This is a refreshing change from the sadly typical concert videos that detract from a musician's performance by imposing a machine gun editing pace. Perhaps that's the key difference. Some directors may feel the need to fall back on a lot of fast cuts and camera whoop-de-doo to distract viewers from weak musicianship and facile songs. Moore and his band are brilliant musicians with magic to share. Thank God they've shared it with us.

Set list:
• "Oh Pretty Woman"
• "Walking By Myself"
• "The Stumble"
• "All Your Love"
• "Midnight Blues"
• "You Don't Love Me"
• "Still Got the Blues"
• "Texas Strut"
• "Moving On"
• "Too Tired"
• "Cold Cold Feeling"
• "Farther On Up the Road"
• "King of the Blues"
• "Stop Messing Around"
• "The Blues Is Alright"
• "The Messiah Will Come Again"

Bonus Tracks (1997):
• "Out In The Fields"
• "Over the Hills"
• "Parisienne Walkways"

The video and sound are terrific. Extras are limited to three bonus tracks recorded seven years after the main performance on this disc.

As a standing order (please), the producers of concert discs are admonished to include the DVD equivalent of liner notes on their products. Fans will always welcome contextual information about the musicians, the performance and its place within their careers. Notes are also an inexpensive way to add value while fostering tremendous consumer goodwill.

And with that, I gotta scoot. It's time to get back to some serious blues de-luxe.

Cinema Uprising copyright c 2011 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Academy Announces 2011 Oscar Noms

By Steve Evans

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 2011 Oscar nominations this morning. No big surprises in the noms, but some potentially serious upsets could be in the making on awards night Feb. 27.

Nominees in the main categories:

Best Picture: Black Swan, The Fighter, Inception, The Kids Are All Right, The King's Speech, 127 Hours, The Social Network, Toy Story 3, True Grit, Winter's Bone

Director: Darren Aronofsky, David O. Russell, Tom Hooper, David Fincher, Joel Coen and Ethan Coen

Best actor: Javier Bardem, Jeff Bridges, Jesse Eisenberg, Colin Firth, James Franco

Best actress: Annette Bening, Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lawrence, Natalie Portman, Michelle Williams

Best Supporting Actor: Christian Bale, John Hawkes, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo, Geoffrey Rush

Best Supporting Actress: Amy Adams, Helena Bonham Carter, Melissa Leo, Hailee Steinfeld, Jackie Weaver

Thoughts & predictions:

Whew! That’s a lot of nominations for best picture. Wanna bet the academy expanded the roster to help the box office of more films? Although The King's Speech leads the race with 12 nominations, my Best Picture money is on The Social Network, David Fincher’s insightful commentary on the creation of Facebook by drunken Harvard students, one of whom became a billionaire. Fincher lost his bid for best director with Benjamin Button two years back, so I suspect this is his year for Oscar gold. His only serious competition is Aronofsky, whose output is thin and spotty. If Aronofsky couldn't win for The Wrestler (2008) he won't likely win for Black Swan, which is a lesser film and wildly overrated. The Coen Brothers won with No Country for Old Men only three years ago, so the Academy will give those boys a rest. Russell and Hooper are perennial also-rans who'll have to be content with nominations.

I’ll take Colin Firth to win the Best Actor category. James Franco hacking off his own arm in 127 hours could be the upset of the night.

Best Actress is dicey. Natalie Portman as an unhinged ballerina in Black Swan is the crowd pleaser this year. That must really irritate Annette Bening, who’s staring down her third nomination after losing twice in the last decade to Hilary Swank.

Supporting Actor? Geoffrey Rush as an Aussie elocution expert in The King’s Speech.

And Helena Bonham Carter takes supporting actress for The King’s Speech, which will also cop a screenplay Oscar.

Toy Story 3 takes Best Animated Film.

Christopher Nolan’s tricky mindbender Inception wins for special effects and sound effects.

What?! Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island gets no Oscar love? Christopher Nolan gets snubbed, again, in his quest for a directing Oscar yet his picture, Inception, gets nominated? The Academy Awards are becoming almost as silly as the Golden Globes.

You heard it here first, film fans.

Cinema Uprising copyright c 2011 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Wild Turkey: Aronofsky's "Black Swan"

By Steve Evans

Nothing flatters an artist so much as an homage, which can sometimes be a fancy word for plagiarism. It was with this in mind that I saw Darren Aronofsky’s “Black Swan” at the umpteenoplex last night with the lovely Claudia.

If “Black Swan” isn’t exactly a rip-off of that 1948 Technicolor wonder, “The Red Shoes,” directed by the brilliant team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, it’s still impossible to believe that a devout film student like Aronofsky hasn’t studied the Powell-Pressburger playbook with slavish attention. Homage is indeed a delicate term.

(Watch the trailer:

Give credit to “Black Swan” cinematographer Matthew Libatique for framing exquisite images that elevate this B-movie psycho-thriller a notch above the grindhouse exploitation fare that once unspooled in sleazy cinemas along Times Square, not too far from New York City‘s theater district and the world of the ballet that serves as the milieu for Aronofsky‘s crazed candygram.

Yes, “Black Swan” is a good-looking film. Yes, Natalie Portman delivers a heroic performance rife with eye-bulging fear, homicidal urges and masturbatory self-indulgence as she pursues perfectionism in the self-destructive way of the obsessive-compulsive personality. But my gripe has more to do with the constant sub-referencing and obvious influences from other, better, films that Aronofsky borrows to pump up this sad and rather obvious exploration of a delicate psyche in the Big City. I was led to believe that "Black Swan" was a fresh, vibrant work of original filmmaking.

What I got was a mash-up of “The Red Shoes,” cross-pollinated with some of David Cronenberg’s nastier visions and some genuinely repulsive metamorphosis sequences with jazzed-up CGI. Sprinkle liberally with Roman Polanski’s “Repulsion” (1965), and you can witness head games galore in "Black Swan," though it's still just another trumped up tale of an artist driven to the brink by her own unquenchable thirst for perfection.

If originality was part of a filmmaker’s own quest for perfection, going to the movies would be a lot more fun.

Since the audience who saw “Black Swan” with us spent more time texting, talking and inhaling hotdogs slathered in pickle relish than in watching the show, it’s doubtful they caught even a fraction of the influences Aronofsky deploys in the creation of his own films. He‘s no better than Tarantino, that other post-modernist whose “inspirations” are all drawn from better artists.

On the way out of the cinema I overheard a woman tell her date that Aronofsky is “a true original.”

Oh, please. Shut up and eat your hotdog.

Cinema Uprising copyright c 2011 by Stephen B. Evans. All rights reserved.