Tuesday, June 22, 2010

U2 360° At The Rose Bowl [Blu-Ray review]

* Released June 3rd
Timed to coincide with the resumption earlier this month of the second North American leg of their juggernaut U2 360° Tour, U2 360° At The Rose Bowl will have to act as a temporary satisfier for those of us on this continent who are left holding tickets for their postponed shows (until next year) after lead singer Bono's recent unexpected back surgery. Loathe as I am to trot out a cliched "but it's the next best thing to being there" line, this new DVD/Blu-Ray release does do a standout job in capturing the Irish band's ambitious live production, which is more a credit to U2's brilliant show than any superlative directing, editing, or fancy camera shots.
The concert, performed on October 25th of last year, was broadcast live on YouTube, the first time the site has streamed a full-length live performance. The show had over 10 million views in just its first week, which included myself. I had seen the band live and close-up just five weeks earlier (read my review here), but still found new things to appreciate, and I was particularly impressed with YouTube's audio and especially the video quality. Cut to seven months later and I found myself wondering how significantly the YouTube version would differ from the new DVD/Blu-Ray version. Some shots and stage dialogue I recognized, but for the most part it felt like I was watching a completely new show. While I've got a pretty solid video and audio setup with my iMac, the added "oomph" from experiencing the show again with the sharp Blu-Ray picture and a good set of speakers is substantial.
Director Tom Krueger, who worked as a cinematographer on the band's stunning (and overlooked) U2 3D film, does have a lot to work with here, considering there were 27 HD cameras used for this shoot and, well, it's only the biggest rock touring production ever. High marks to Krueger for almost completely excluding pointless close-up shots of audience members, which rarely add anything to a live video. Remarkably, I only counted three such shots. For the most part, the enormity of the production translates comfortably, especially during "City Of Blinding Lights". Some well-timed aerial shots from cranes and helicopters provide impressive visuals of the band playing to their biggest crowd on the tour and their biggest U.S. crowd ever, at 96,000 (also a Rose Bowl record...the band broke numerous attendance records due to the unique setup of the stage, which, even with it's massive size, still allowed them to increase a venue's capacity by an average of 20%). The jarring quick edits that have marred some recent U2 home video releases are thankfully not overdone this time around.
The Pasadena, California show finds the band on the second-last date of their 2009 tour, and they are clearly a well-oiled machine at this point. The setlist, clocking in at a little over two hours, is a nice balance of strong new material, U2 staples, and underplayed gems (such as "In A Little While" and "Ultraviolet", with the latter marking one of the high points of the show). Curiously, the show's opening track, "Breathe", is omitted from the main program and included as an extra.
Once again, U2 pushes the envelope as far as electrifying stage productions, an especially gutsy move given the relatively poor reception (commercially and critically) that their last huge live presentation, 1997-98's PopMart Tour, received. The stage, which was conceived to be so big that it almost becomes part of the stadium, provides clean, open sightlines and successfully facilitates the band's performance, rather than overwhelming it. During some numbers, the massive structure (and its amazing, shapeshifting video screen) are actually used quite sparingly and the show far from suffers. As a matter of fact, some of the most memorable and genuine moments of the concert occur during scaled down acoustic versions of "Stuck In A Moment You Can't Get Out Of" and "Stay", as well as another great sequence where the entire band eschews the stage's expanse and gathers tightly around the drum riser during "Where The Streets Have No Name".
This is the band's first Blu-Ray release and is being sold in a number of formats, most notably the super deluxe boxset (only $160 at Amazon.ca!).
Blu-Ray extras: overall, the extra/bonus content is quite underwhelming, to be honest. There's an insightful documentary titled Squaring The Circle about the creative process behind the show, but other than that and the inclusion of some of the official music videos from their last album that didn't get much airplay, there's little here that's noteworthy. Most of the tour clips here have already appeared at U2.com and are shot in relatively unimpressive looking standard definition...and are boring as hell (or perhaps you care to waste numerous minutes of your life on footage like watching a street artist in Milano who breaks into U2 songs and preaches his love for the band). The BD Live feature, which allows you to access additional content through your Blu-Ray player's online connection, shows some promise, but still needs some refinement. The video quality of the clips available (only six so far, although clearly more will be added when the tour resumes) isn't great, and neither is the content yet, with the selections limited to mindless 1-2 minute heavily edited clips, such as the one that will only interest the members of the Glasgow audience shown on screen singing along to "With Or Without You".
Rating: ★★★★★★★★★☆

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The most badass drummer ever...

Beneath the unassuming exterior of wedding band Rick K. And The Allnighters lies the most visually flamboyant drummer I've ever seen (with apologies to Rikki Rockett from Poison). Skip ahead to the 40 second mark during their cover of ZZ Top's "Sharp Dressed Man" for the over-the-top goodness.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work [movie review]

* The following review from the Hot Docs festival was written for Toronto Screen Shots
Joan Rivers: A Piece Of Work's co-directors, Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg, previously explored sombre subjects such as Rwandan genocide and the story of a death row inmate in some of their previous films. Their latest documentary tackles a decidedly less heavy subject in the trailblazing comedienne, but don't be fooled by the notion a movie about somebody that makes people laugh for a living will be devoid of its own share of (relatively) darker areas. Comedians have historically been a fairly screwed up bunch and Rivers is no exception, as the film captures by chronicling her roller coaster career that has met with numerous personal struggles along the way.
The film was shot over 14 months, during which we see Rivers celebrate her 75th birthday (she is now 77) and wear the many hats which make up her almost 50 years in show business: stand-up comedian, QVC (and any other product that'll use her) shill, author, TV personality, philanthropist, and actress. The filmmakers had the good fortune to be shooting during a short, but eventful period that is fitfully emblematic of her entire career. Early scenes show a restless Rivers fretting over the empty pages in her day planner that symbolize another professional valley, and by the end of the movie we've seen her hit a career peak with a high profile win on NBC's The Celebrity Apprentice, which turns out to be even more satisfying because of Rivers' claim that she was blackballed from the network after leaving her job as the permanent guest host on The Tonight Show to host her own late night show on Fox in 1986 (when she called Johnny Carson to inform him of her decision he was so mad he slammed down the phone and never talked to Rivers for the rest of his life). Along the way, the viewer also sees Rivers' personally crushing defeat from the failed 2008 London run of her autobiographical play, which she had aspirations would eventually make it to Broadway.
The 1987 suicide of her husband, Edgar, is obviously brought up, although nothing terribly enlightening about it is revealed, having already been heavily discussed by Rivers over the years. The seemingly overprotective nature of the relationship with her daughter, Melissa, is addressed, but one only need to have seen a single episode of The Celebrity Apprentice (on which Melissa was also a contestant) to have gotten a good sense of it. And then there's the plastic surgery aspect of Joan Rivers...clearly, no writing piece on her would be complete without it. Rivers' propensity for going under the knife has become her trademark and she has gotten plenty of mileage out of it in her career. A current print ad campaign for Snickers features Rivers' face with the tagline "When I'm hungry, I get my face lowered". Frankly, I'm not even sure what the hell that means, but she's obviously poking fun at herself. The opening shot of the movie features an extreme close-up of Rivers' significantly reworked face, sans makeup, and it's not a pretty sight, folks. It was certainly a ballsy move to have subjected herself to such visual scrutiny, especially in the age of HD. I'd love to know how much trouble the filmmakers had in convincing her to do it, or if she actually suggested it (I tried asking the directors at the post-screening Q & A, but didn't get picked by the moderator to ask my question).
Joan Rivers turns out to be rich fodder for an in-depth bio like A Piece Of Work, based on her legendary career, still sharp wit, workaholic nature, frank opinions, and fascinatingly complicated personality.
Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆