Tuesday, April 28, 2015

National Superhero Day

According to IMDb, it’s National Superhero Day.

To facilitate an appreciation of the greatest titans of all time, here is a link to IMDb’s photo gallery celebrating superheroes both official and unofficial – as well as some not-so-superheroes, a couple of all-out villains, robots, star warriors, an identity crisis, super pets, and super geeks and super nerds.

By the way, super geeks and super nerds are cool nowadays.

Just surf up, up, and away to http://www.imdb.com/gallery/rg2851576576?ref_=hm_mtv_ph_sm.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, April 26, 2015

CD Review – Shivoham: A Journey into Bliss, by Manish Vyas

For the second week in a row, we have another album of Indian music framed in the context of western sounds, this time presented by world music artist and tabla player Manish Vyas.

Vyas sings a variety of Indian mantras and devotional songs, and the combination of his entrancingly hypnotic tenor and Indian and western instrumentation blended together results in lush and soothing sounds that make you feel like you're traveling through exotic lands.

Like last week's featured album, this is a great introduction to Indian music that is both accessible and enjoyable.

--Raj Manoharan

Monday, April 20, 2015

CD (Fan) Review – Chappie Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, by Hans Zimmer (Additional Music by Steve Mazzaro and Andrew Kawczynski)

In an era when Hollywood film composers are concocting increasingly complex and convoluted themes that are melodically elaborate but ultimately unmemorable, veteran Hans Zimmer continues to prove himself to be a master of minimalist motifs that leave long-lasting impressions. Such is the case with his excellent score for the equally excellent and unfairly underrated film Chappie.

Once again, Zimmer demonstrates that less is indeed more, achieving with just a few simple riffs what others fail to do with a preponderance of notes. The result is a masterpiece of percussive, pulse-pounding industrial techno music that brilliantly underscores the film's explorations of sentient technology, unconventional families, human and artificial existentialism, and societal breakdown and chaos.

What sets this soundtrack apart, aside from its addictive appeal, is that it is Zimmer's first entirely electronic score in over two decades (with the exception of, as Zimmer puts it, “a chap whistling”). Zimmer and his team – which includes Steve Mazzaro, Andrew Kawczynski, and Junkie XL among others and which Zimmer dubs the Chappie Elektrik Synthphonia – created and programmed the music on 40-year-old analog synthesizers.

The electronic sounds and textures recall Jan Hammer's acclaimed pioneering work on the iconic 1980s Miami Vice TV series, but on a much more grandiose and epic level. Others have also likened Zimmer's score to Vangelis's electronic music for Blade Runner. Like those other scores, the soundtrack for Chappie not only perfectly suits the movie, but stands on its own as a compelling and bold work of art.

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, April 19, 2015

CD Review – Kirtan Aid: Orphans of Rishikesh, by Various Artists

Kirtan Aid is a series of charity albums produced by the Sat Nam Foundation and Spirit Voyage Music, with various sacred chant artists from around the world donating tracks and one hundred percent of the profits funding humanitarian concerns.

The latest edition focuses on the plight of the Orphans of Rishikesh, abused, abandoned, and destitute children who receive care and rehabilitation at Ramana's Garden, a safe haven and home tucked into the foothills of the Himalayas.

Contributing artists include Krishna Das, Snatam Kaur, Deva Premal and Miten, Ram Dass, Jai-Jagdeesh, Harnam, Nirinjan Kaur, Tina Malia, Shimshai, Jai Uttal, Wynne Paris, Simrit Kaur, Dave Stringer, Karnamrita Dasi, Sudha, and Maneesh de Moor.

The music is primarily classic and traditional Indian chants, framed within the context of modern Western instrumentation and mixed with exotic ethnic sounds. The result is a worthwhile listening experience that also benefits a worthwhile cause.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, April 18, 2015

RajMan Reviews' Top Four Star Wars Movies

To mark the occasion of the recently released teaser for Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens, here is my list of my top four Star Wars movies of all time. Initially, I was going to make it a top three list, but then the list would have been dominated entirely by the original trilogy. So to make the list more fair, I am expanding it to the top four.

1. Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
2. Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
3. Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
4. Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero Movies

To mark the occasion of the recently released teaser for the highly anticipated 2016 movie Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, as well as the forthcoming releases this year of Marvel's Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, and Fantastic Four, I offer my list of what I believe are the top ten superhero movies of all time.

1. Superman (1978)
2. Man of Steel (2013)
3. Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)
4. Batman (1989)
5. Batman Begins (2005)
6. The Dark Knight (2008)
7. The Dark Knight Returns (2012)
8. Batman (1966)
9. Iron Man 2 (2010)
10. Thor (2011)

--Raj Manoharan

RajMan Reviews' Top Ten Superhero TV Shows

With all the superhero shows proliferating on television lately, I think it's about time I offer my list of what I believe are the top ten superhero TV shows of all time. Here it is.

1. Adventures of Superman (1950s)
2. Batman (1960s)
3. The Amazing Spider-Man (1970s)
4. The Incredible Hulk (1970s/1980s)
5. The Greatest American Hero (1980s)
6. Superboy (1980s/1990s)
7. The Flash (1990s)
8. Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman (1990s)
9. Arrow (2010s)
10. The Flash (2010s)

--Raj Manoharan

TV – Superman Returns! See the Dawn of Justice on Me TV Before It Arrives in Theaters!

This is what I wrote back on December 28, 2013:

Watching Batman and Wonder Woman on Me TV is a great way to prepare for the Man of Steel sequel set for release in 2015, with Henry Cavill reprising his role as Superman and joined by Ben Affleck as Batman and Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. Now all Me TV needs to do is add the 1950s series The Adventures of Superman to the lineup.”

My thought has become reality as The Adventures of Superman is now part of Me TV's Super Sci-Fi Saturday Nights lineup.

The classic show starring George Reeves as TV's first live-action Man of Steel kicks off a super-powered evening of super-heroics at 6:00 p.m., followed by Adam West and Burt Ward as the Caped Crusading Dynamic Duo in Batman at 7:00 p.m. and Lynda Carter as the original warrior princess in Wonder Woman at 8:00 p.m.

Now, thanks to Me TV, super fans will be super ready to anticipate the theatrical release (now set for 2016) of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, starring Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck, and Gal Gadot as Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, respectively, and introducing a host of other legendary DC Comics superheroes.

--Raj Manoharan

Paul Speer Live Online Concerts to Be Rescheduled Due to Technical Issues

Stay tuned for further information.

--Raj Manoharan

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Paul Speer to Perform Live Concerts Online This Weekend

If you aren’t familiar with the cutting edge sounds of electric guitarist Paul Speer, this weekend is the perfect opportunity for you to make his acquaintance.

The six-string ace will be performing three concerts live from his studio in Memphis, Tennessee, on Friday, April 17, and Saturday, April 18. He will also participate in online discussions with attendees afterwards.

The minimum ticket donation is $1 per show, with $10 fetching you not only the scheduled performance of your choice, but also a signed copy of Speer’s latest album, Ax Inferno.

Visit www.paulspeer.com for show times and tickets.

--Raj Manoharan

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Geoffrey Lewis (1935-2015): Fare Thee Well, Old Friend

Another star we said goodbye to this month is Geoffrey Lewis. He was not an icon on the level of Leonard Nimoy or even James Best, but he was a very familiar face in movies and on television, with a somewhat recognizable name. He appeared in many films with Clint Eastwood and was the father of actress Juliette Lewis.

I first became consciously aware of Geoffrey Lewis in 1990, when I rented a videocassette of the 1983 TV movie The Return of the Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Fifteen Years Later Affair. Lewis and Anthony Zerbe were the main villains facing off against Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, who returned to their roles as Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin from the 1960s TV series The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

I next saw Lewis in Only the Strong, a 1993 movie I reviewed for TV Key. Lewis played a veteran high school teacher who rallies behind new teacher Mark Dacascos, who steers wayward students onto the right path by teaching them a Brazilian dance-like martial art called capoeira. This was also the first time I saw Dacascos, who has since enjoyed a respectable career in film and television, including his recurring role as criminal mastermind Wo Fat on Hawaii Five-0.

Lewis’s role in Only the Strong made an impression on me. As much as it was his performance, I think it was also the fact that Lewis very closely resembled my high school journalism teacher John Urciuoli. That’s probably why, in addition to his reliable acting skills, Lewis seemed natural as an educator.

You can find out more about Geoffrey Lewis at his page on the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0507212/?ref_=nv_sr_1).

--Raj Manoharan

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

James Best (1926-2015): Thanks for the Laughs and the Memories – Kyugh! Kyugh! Kyugh!

Just over a month after Leonard Nimoy beamed up for the last time, now another of my lifelong childhood favorites has become a part of history: James Best, best known as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane on the classic 1979-1985 action-comedy television series The Dukes of Hazzard, has crashed his last patrol car.

Although John Schneider and Tom Wopat were ostensibly the stars of the show as country cousins Bo and Luke Duke, it’s really Sorrell Booke and James Best’s performances as Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco that made the show what it is.

The proof of this was when Schneider and Wopat left the show for one season due to contract disputes and were temporarily replaced by Byron Cherry and Christopher Mayer as cousins Coy and Vance Duke. The show wasn’t the same without the original Duke boys, but Boss Hogg and Sheriff Rosco’s silly shenanigans kept the chuckles coming, so much so that the show was intact long enough for the return of Bo and Luke Duke and several more years of crazy car chases.

While Best will always be remembered as Sheriff Rosco, he was so much more, with an illustrious show business career before the Dukes and plenty of pursuits afterward. You can find out more about this amazing man at his page on the Internet Movie Database (http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0078940/?ref_=nv_sr_1), and if you’re a fan and haven’t already done so, buy a copy of his autobiography at his Web site, www.jamesbest.com.

As my tribute to Best, I am posting a fan e-mail I sent to him last year after I received my autographed copy of his autobiography, as well as his e-mail reply, in which he graciously included a digital copy of one of his many recent paintings.

--Raj Manoharan

My E-Mail to James Best on February 20, 2014:

Dear Mr. Best,

I received your book in fine condition. Thank you for your autograph.

I quickly skimmed through the entire book, and I was deeply inspired by what you and Mr. Sorrell Booke went through during the Dukes of Hazzard years and how you both handled it. Your account of that ordeal provides me with serendipitous hope at this particular time.

By the way, even though your role as Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane bears all the hallmarks of classic typecasting, I have to say that for me, your performance is in the same category of acting greatness as Ed O'Neill, and I don't mean his current role on Modern Family. I am, of course, talking about his legendary turn as ne'er do well shoe salesman Al Bundy on Married With Children.

As great and talented an actor as he is, Mr. O'Neill's role on Modern Family could have been played by other actors. However, what he did on Married With Children and what you did on The Dukes of Hazzard take real acting chops, to completely lose yourselves in roles so unlike any other you did before or since that we see beyond the acting and totally buy your characters as real people.

Sure, I have favorite actors who are pretty much themselves in every role they play, and that's part of their charm. But for you and Mr. O'Neill to have done something so unique and different from everything else you've done before and since, which not a lot of performers can do – that's acting.

Thank you for my childhood memories that I can continually relive through reruns and now through your book, and which wouldn't have been possible without your immense talent.

I wish you continued success in your endeavors, and my best to Best and family.

Kyugh! Kyugh! Kyugh!

Raj Manoharan

James Best's E-Mail Reply to Me on February 23, 2014:

Your letter was indeed very touching, I have always tried to be as versatile as possible. I love acting but my love now is for painting. here is a small example.
my very best to you and yours.

James Best

Sunday, April 5, 2015

CD Review – River of Light, by Ashana

What's remarkable about this album is that while it is pretty much entirely devoted to Indian religious traditions, it is accessible to diverse tastes in new age and world music.

Ashana plays crystal singing bowls and sings both Indian and English lyrics. However, her vocal style is very Western, especially with accompaniment on bass, keyboards, and vocals by co-composer and producer Thomas Barquee and acoustic and electric guitars by Simone Sello. Ethnic accents are provided by Sheila Bringhi on flute and Neelamjit Dhillon on tabla.

The result is a dynamic cultural exchange of music that makes the best of both worlds available for the enjoyment of all.

--Raj Manoharan