Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Stephen King's The Mist (Dimension Films, 2007)

Seduced by the idea of catching the first showing of a new Stephen King movie in King's home town of Bangor, Maine, combined with an interesting article about the movie in last Sunday's NY Times, and the happenstance of actually being in Maine this week, led to attendance of today's 1:20pm showing at the Bangor Mall Cinema. No special festivities to denote the event, just the debut showing of a first rate horror film, the likes of which I haven't seen since overdosing on over-the-top monster/gore pictures in the 80's. Aliens (1986) topped the original Alien (1979) in that department as well as John Carpenter's remake of The Thing (1982) after which I decided I had seen quite enough.

In The Mist, a small town in Maine (the perfect setting for such shenanigans) is enveloped by a strange mist that follows a severe thunderstorm, trapping assorted townsfolk both locals and those from away, together in a supermarket as it is quickly determined that malevolent creatures are inhabiting the mist. Human nature and the demons within us prove almost as dangerous as the monstrous threat lurking just outside the plate glass windows of the supermarket, as director Frank Darabont plays the human side of the drama for all it's worth.

Darabont is no stranger to adapting Stephen King for the big screen, previously directing The Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999), two King dramas with no monsters. He's no stranger to good horror either, having written the third, and many would agree the best Nightmare on Elm Street movie Nightmare on Elm Street III: Dream Warriors (1987). He honed his storytelling chops writing many excellent episodes of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles plus four more Young Indana Jones movies for network television.

While there may be too many characters trapped in this story to expect meaningful character development, the actors all do a superb job with what little and often stereotyped characters they are given to portray. Thomas Jane is totally believable in the lead role of David Drayton, a sharp minded and resourceful leader who is everyone's best and worst hope (though they don't realize it) of surviving the apparent disaster. It's always a treat to watch Andre Braugher act, here he plays Drayton's next door neighbor, a New York lawyer who proves to be such a jerk that it's hard to have any sympathy for him when he leads a band of like minded followers out into the mist.

William Sadler's acting shows perhaps why he's had more jobs in movies and television than any ten actors combined. Here he's a somewhat redneck reactionary (not too terribly far removed from his Roswell sheriff) who seems to be all too easily converted to a disciple of Marcia Gay Harden's religious crackpot character. Toby Jones is great as the dweeby store manager who rises to the challenge in a way that you won't see coming.

(Spoiler alert) One of Steven Spielberg's well known skills is that he can terrorize you for the majority of the movie without ever showing you the shark. The Mist might have been a more effective suspense drama, perhaps scarier but in a different way, if it had an implied threat rather than the explicit monsters that attack at every turn. The idea that military scientists' experimentation has accidentally opened a door rather than a window into another dimension is no more preposterous than the creatures that are unleashed in The Mist. The artistic conception of the creatures and the havoc they wreak is right up there with the best of the genre, perhaps serving the purpose of making seem all the more realistic that the characters in The Mist might actually believe that their world is coming to an end.

According to the NY Times article, Darabont changed King's less defined ending in a way that received King's wholehearted endorsement, "saying that he would have ended the story this way himself if only he’d thought of it". The new ending is not just shocking at face value, but the fact that a major studio would greenlight such an ending is maybe the real shocker; not to mention that Rod Serling may very likely be spinning in his grave as we speak. Cinematography, sound, and special effects are all first rate. If such movies are your cup of tea, The Mist is not to be missed.

Photos courtesy of Dimension Films.

The Mist website.
Stephen King's website.

Julia Fordham's Jazz Album Due Soon

Julia Fordham's long awaited jazz album, China Blue (her tenth), is finished with release imminent on a new download site called Novatunes and is also slated for sale at iTunes and CD Baby among other online retailers.

The album was produced by Grant Mitchell; the title track is a new version of a tune that was originally on the U.K. version of her classic Porcelainalbum (1989). "For You Only For You" is also a re-do of another great track from Porcelain.Rather than be the 999th artist to do an album of jazz standards, Julia elected to go with originals, including only one cover, "I Keep Forgettin'", the Michael McDonald song. When McDonald heard this version, he liked it so much that he volunteered his own distinctive voice on background vocals.

Here's the tracklist:
  • China Blue
  • The World Keeps Spinning
  • I Want To Stay Home With You
  • Funny Guy
  • Holiday
  • My Only Valentine
  • I Will Bring You Love
  • Almost Happy
  • For You Only For You
  • I Keep Forgettin'
"Funny Guy" was first heard as a bonus track on Concrete Love(2002), which Julia described at the time as indicative of her desire to record a jazz album. It seems that the actual release is waiting for Novatunes to launch (planned for end of November), but in the meantime you can check out two of the new songs including the title track at Julia's myspace page. Photo courtesy Julia Fordham.

Julia's website.
Julia's myspace.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

James Taylor - One Man Band (Hear Music, 2007)

As the third major artist this year to embrace Starbucks' Hear Music Label, James Taylor represents both one more reason for traditional record labels to pull out what's left of their hair and one more reason to give Starbucks a few more bucks to sit back and enjoy the soothing sound of James Taylor in a mostly acoustic concert. While the new material on Paul McCartney's and Joni Mitchell's recent releases on Hear Music didn't engage me as much as I'd hoped, this JT show satisfies like a hot cup of steamin' java (Starbucks, Wawa, or otherwise).

As one of our most durable singer-songwriters, hell he helped invent the genre, over the years his messing with his songs, changing melody, meter, etc., in concert has often seemed disconcerting, but he doesn't do that here; mostly he plays it straight, and with a large video screen on stage and a few other surprises, he turns in a totally entertaining two hour show. Accompanied only by Larry Goldings on piano and keyboards, James plays acoustic and sings, shows pictures, tells stories, and generally includes the audience, both at the show and at home, in what plays like a family reunion with great music. Aside from a couple of ill-advised jokes, James knocks it out of the park for the entirety of this two hour show.

Picture and sound quality is superb on the DVD, and the venue looks replendent as well. James chose to do the show at the refurbished Colonial Theater in his hometown of Pittsfield, Massachussetts, located in the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. The DVD contains a few very amusing outtakes, including James singing "Carolina in My Mind" in a Bob Dylan voice and then in a "sad gypsy" version. With a new release sale price of $17.97 at Amazon, this combination CD & DVD set is a huge bargain. One Man Bandis released Tuesday November 13th.

James Taylor's website.
James Taylor's myspace.