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Monday, November 27, 2006

Review: Q: The Winged Serpent

Larry Cohen makes films that are awesome examples of why I love so called B movies. His films all have a unique vision, are slightly off center and unafraid to be different. The low-budget, almost guerilla way in which they are made seem to work in their favor and give them a look and feel that major studio releases can't replicate if they try, and believe me they have.

Don't get me wrong. Q also has many of the short comings typical of B movies. Even if one cast aside the absurdity of a giant half reptile and half bird Aztec god coming to life in modern (circa 1982) New York, you're going to find it hard to believe that only one guy, a spazmotic petty thief named Quinn (played by Michael Moriarty,) stumbles across the thing. The special effects are cheesy, the story gets a little convoluted and a little slow.

But there's no denying this is a very entertaining film. The cast (which, in addition to Moriarty includes David Carradine and Richard Roundtree) is great and plays with appropriate amounts of tongue in cheek. Really, it's the characters that drive this film and while the story has the usual Cohen mixture of horror, supernatural and religion, Quetzlcoatl almost becomes second to just watching the characters interact.

Of course, I also love watching the way Cohen stitches together scenes. There's a lot of subtle little touches that are clever and add to the humor of the film. It's also great to watch the way he nearly turns New York into a character in the film. Considering it was the architecture of the city (and specifically the Chrysler Building) that inspired the film's story, it's only appropriate you see so much of the city in the film.

The only thing that's kind of a bummer about Q is knowing they just don't make films like this anymore. Movies like these that don't try to bowl you over with effects or star power, and aren't afraid to laugh without going over into self-conscious parody or gross out humor just don't seem to come along too often anymore.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Review: Ray Sings, Basie Swings

Despite the title, this isn't really a recording of Ray Charles singing with Count Basie. The thought of those two titans of music collaborating is a pretty tantalizing prospect so when the producer responsible for "Genius Loves Company" discovered a 1973 tape of Ray Charles from a gig he shared with the Count, he decided to make it happen. Taking Ray's vocals from the otherwise unusable concert recording, he got the modern Count Basie Orchestra to lay down the tracks and "Ray Sings, Basie Swings" was born.

On the surface, it really looks like a grave robbing Frankenstein job going on here. Basie has been dead since 1984 and this Ray Charles tape is over 30 years old. The fact that Charles died in 2004 and had one of his biggest years in decades only adds to the feeling of exploitation.

Oddly enough, this album works in spite of it self. Mind you, this is nowhere near as good as an actual meeting of Charles and Basie would have been, but for a vocal track recorded with a different band, laid on a new track from a ghost band, this is a lot more enjoyable than it should be.

It helps a lot that Ray was in fine form on that night in 1973. He's got a lot of energy and sounds like he's having a lot of fun. Though it wasn't intended, Ray's style actually fits in well with the Basie sound which the current orchestra does a pretty good job of emulating. I don't think ghost bands are ever as good as the same band with their leader, but this isn't bad.

The end result is an album that is sure to make purists gag but if you can get past the feeling of necrophilia, is actually a fun listen. No, it's nothing essential, but it's far from the travesty it probably should have been.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Review: Candy Tangerine Man

Candy Tangerine Man starts off similar to a million other blaxploitation films. We see Baron pimping his girls, cruising around in a Rolls Royce (that looks like it was stolen from Ronald McDonald) and generally being a stone cold player. When he drops a young girl he's won in a pool game against his rival off at a bus station with a wad of cash and tells her to leave prostitution, we get a hint that Baron is a pimp with a heart of gold.

That act of kindness doesn't quite prepare the viewer for what comes next. Baron drives to a secluded location, ditches the fly threads and the Roller, dons a square shirt and tie and drives a four door back to suburbia where he has a wife, two kids and a yard to mow. Our hero leads a secret life, it seems.

Like every blaxploitation hero, Baron is looking to get out of the game after one last score. In this case, it's some sort of fake bond paper scheme. (See, it's hard out there for a pimp, so Baron has to diversify.) Along the way he has to fight off his rivals, corrupt cops and even associates turning on him.

In many ways Candy Tangerine Man is every blaxploitation film you've ever seen. It's kind of disappointing that the one thing that really sets it apart, the whole secret identity angle, isn't pursued more. In fact, it really serves as little more than showing Baron's motivation for leaving the game.

The other thing that was kind of disappointing was the two cops following Baron. It's as if the director couldn't decide if they were supposed to be slapstick comic relief or psychopathic scum, so they alternate roles from scene to scene. They also give one of the slowest, most boring car chases I've seen. Of course, between the Baron's Rolls and the 70s cop car, you probably had ten tons of steel on the road so I shouldn't be to surprised they couldn't break 40 MPH.

While there isn't a lot here that hasn't been done before, fans of the genre will probably enjoy this one quite a bit. It manages to have a very sleazy low budget vibe without looking like a completely low budget production. It isn't the best blaxploitation film I've ever seen, but it is one that deserves to been seen more than it has been. With what looks like a legit DVD issue on the way finally, that should be a little easier to do soon.