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October 22, 2013

Upside Down (2013) - Big Budget Flopperoo

Upside Down is a strange movie, even for a Science Fiction Fantasy. Actually, it's quite a silly movie in many ways. However, the special effects that take us to this bizarre universe where two planets are interlocked by what is called duel gravity are quite spectacular at times. Without getting into the complications of the science, suffice it to say that the below planet is where all the poor people live in a dark, hellish nightmare of an environment and the 'upside down' planet, up above, is where all the wealthy elites live in a beautiful, bright city. The two planets are connected by a huge skyscraper owned by the Trans World corporation.

Despite the science fiction elements, the plot is your basic Romeo and Juliet scenario where boy gets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back, then loses her again before they finally get back together one last time in a final glowing, spectacular balcony scene. The two lovers, played by Kirsten Dunst (Eden) from the above world and Jim Sturgess (Adam), from the below world, are being kept apart by the rules of society that don't allow people from the upper and lower worlds to get together for any reason.

Does this sound somewhat familiar? — other than the upside down worlds, of course.

For me, this is where the writers and producers of this film went terribly wrong. Science Fiction is my favorite movie genre, and what I expect is a story that I've never seen before or at least some new element that takes me by surprise and makes the spectacle of the special effects meaningful in some way.

As I watched Upside Down, I kept thinking this story really didn't need a Science Fiction setting. In fact, all these elements just distracted from the story of the star crossed lovers. This plot could have taken place anywhere at anytime without the gimmick of this alternative universe.

Upside Down reminded me of two other Science Fiction films. The special effects were very similar to the Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (which I loved) and Gattaca, also a Jude Law film with Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman. I enjoyed these two films much more than Upside Down because, even though there were some romantic elements to them, there was much, much more going on beyond boy meets girl.

Kirsten Dunst and Jim Sturges are both attractive actors who do a fine job playing the romantic couple, but the really fun character is Bob Boruchowitz as played Timothy Spall who is best know for the part of Wormtail in the last three Harry Potter films. Bob is from the upper world, but befriends Adam and helps him perfect a chemical that changes the future of this weird universe.

Another good element to the movie is the soundtrack by Benoît Charest. The music has a familiar ring to it, but is never intrusive and doesn't try to overwhelm the scene.

Upside Down isn't a totally bad movie, but the gimmick of the upside down worlds was silly and stretches reality a bit too far to be even a little bit credible. I'd give the film a 6 out of 10. If you're looking for a Science Fiction romance on a Saturday night, it might make a decent DVD rental and I
have a feeling there will be some people who will love it to death.

The film is a Canadian/French production and was filmed in Montreal. This may explain why Upside Down appears to have had such a limited release and why domestic box office totalled a paltry $105,095. In fact, the opening U.S. weekend box office was just $28,722 in very few theaters. The film managed much better in world box office earnings of $8,001,380, but on a budget of $60,000,000, Upside Down must rank up there as one of the biggest movie flops of all time.

You can judge for yourself on this movie, here's the official trailer.

Kirsten Dunst  ...  Eden 
Jim Sturgess  ...  Adam 
Timothy Spall  ...  Bob Boruchowitz 
Original Music by Benoît Charest
Box Office
Budget: $60,000,000 (estimated)
Opening Weekend: $28,722 (USA) (15 March 2013)
Gross: $102,118 (USA) (5 April 2013)
Worldwide:  $8,106,475


October 03, 2013

Jeff Beck - The Gentle Beck

Jeff Beck is one of the greatest rock and roll guitarists of all time — of that there is no doubt, but there is much more to Beck than plain old rock. Certainly he's rocked with the best of them, from the early days with the Yardbirds, through various versions of The Jeff Beck Group, but his many solo albums also feature some very fine jazz fusion.

Beck is also one of the very best sidemen any singer could hope to have accompany them. His solo guitar work on so many songs by other artists are numerous, from the lovely Stevie Wonder tune Looking for Another Pure Love to the great Rod Stewart vocal on People Get Ready. However, along with his heavy rockin' tunes, sprinkled throughout his albums are some of the most beautiful and haunting melodies this side of rock 'n' roll heaven. Definitely Maybe and Cause We've Ended As Lovers come to mind, along with a few others.

Nadia is from the 2001 album You Had It Coming, The album features Beck going full electronic on a heavy duty slam of driving tunes, with the exception of Nadia and one other track. This is typical of a Jeff Beck disc. Hard driving, relentless, in your face tunes filled with harsh reality, and then, amidst the dystopia, a soft, violet of light and beauty.

In this live performance at Ronnie Scott's, Beck is at his best. His band includes Vinnie Colaiuta on Drums, the amazing Tal Wilkenfeld on Bass and Jason Rebello on Keyboard. This tune is simply haunting. Beck is the master of the tremolo bar and he puts it to good use here. For someone who can rock you out of your socks until your eyeballs pop, his light, gentle touch is simply amazing.

Here's another haunting tune featuring a great Beck solo from the same Live Concert at Ronnie Scott's. Imogen Heap is a sexy, beautiful lady who has a unique vocal style that makes your toes tingle.

I said Tal Wilkenfeld is amazing on bass guitar. Here's a live rendition of Cause We're Ended As Lovers from Eric Clapton's 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival. Beck is at his usual best — that guitar is actually crying! But watch for Tal's bass solo. 'Nuff said.

I've watched these three videos over and over again and never get tired of them. And just to round out the Gentle Ben videos, here he is with The Jeff Beck Group in the early 1970's doing Definitely Maybe. He really knows how to make a guitar cry.

Jeff Beck - Guitar Hero