Sunday, February 24, 2019

In Memory of My Mentors, Steven H. Scheuer and John N. Goudas (Thanks to JB)

This is for JB, whose uncle was my mentor, John N. Goudas. I originally posted this in 2014:

I've just learned that Steven H. Scheuer, whom I did my New York University internship with from 1993 to 1995, passed away in late May/early June of this year. He was 88 years old.

Scheuer was recently mentioned in an online CNN article about movie critic Leonard Maltin's final movie guide. Maltin was influenced and inspired by Scheuer, who practically invented the art and industries of newspaper television reviews and movie guides.

I thought this would be a good opportunity to also mention John N. Goudas, who passed away in 2008 at the age of 72. Goudas was Scheuer's main writer for the TV Key newspaper column that was distributed by King Features Syndicate to over 300 newspapers across the country.

Although I worked with Scheuer and Goudas for only three years, they made a lasting impression on me personally and professionally. I still remember my “job” interview with Scheuer on a cold January morning back in 1993 in his New York City office in the lobby of a high-rise apartment building in the East 50s, where he showed me that he had many of the same TV, movie, and pop culture books that I had.

There were also many other wonderful moments in that office that I remember as if they happened yesterday, such as the time none of us were answering the phone for some reason that I've since forgotten, and Scheuer, who was making a rare appearance in the office while doing some errands, quipped, “Is this some sort of holiday where nobody is supposed to answer the phone?” We also watched the O.J. Simpson verdict live on the office television.

While Scheuer couldn't pay the interns as we all anticipated a deal with the fledgling Microsoft Network that never came through (this was the dawn of the Internet in 1995), he did treat us to many nice business lunches at fancy and renowned restaurants in New York City. I also had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of Scheuer's gracious wife, Alida Brill-Scheuer, who accompanied us on many of these outings.

My internship at TV Key was the launching pad that enabled me to go on to interview and write about the iconic actors and musicians that I grew up loving.

I consider myself very fortunate to have known and worked with these titans of television criticism. They were giants in their field. They were also a couple of lovable and fun-loving characters.

I can only hope that RajMan Reviews embodies something of their spirit, if not their brilliance.

The following links do them far more justice than I ever could. Thank you for everything, John and Mr. Scheuer. Rest in peace.

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations to All of My Favorite Oscar Winners!

For the first time in many years, if ever, many of my favorite films have won major Academy Awards.

Green Book (one of the best films of all time) -- Actor in a Supporting Role (Mahershala Ali), Best Picture, Writing (Original Screenplay)

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse -- Animated Feature Film

Black Panther -- Costume Design, Music (Original Score), Production Design

Free Solo -- Documentary (Feature)

Congratulations to all the Academy Award winners, especially my favorite ones above!

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations Again to Black Panther Composer Ludwig Goransson!

Coming on the heels of his Grammy Award win for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Black Panther, Ludwig Goransson is now the proud and well deserved owner of an Academy Award for Best Music (Original Score) for Black Panther.

Congratulations again, Ludwig!

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Peter Tork (1942-2019)

I had the pleasure of meeting Peter Tork in the early 1990s at Vision Cable Channel 10, a local cable television station where I had been working.

Tork was the latest in a long line of vintage celebrity guests on The Rik Turner Show, the poor man's David Letterman show that was produced there.

I was working master control for the station (I had nothing to do with the show at the time), and Tork came in asking for a bandage for his nicked finger. (I had actually met him earlier in the evening and gotten his autograph on a Monkees LP.)

I don't remember whether I was able to give him a bandage or had to refer him somewhere else – the more I think about it, it was most likely the latter – but, ah, what a memory!

--Raj Manoharan

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Congratulations to Black Panther Composer Ludwig Goransson!

Ludwig Goransson won the Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media for Black Panther.

Congratulations, Ludwig!

--Raj Manoharan

Black Panther Original Score (2018), by Ludwig Goransson

Black Panther is one of the absolute best Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and certainly the most unique, and its corresponding soundtrack is definitely the best of the bunch.

Ludwig Goransson has created music that is every bit as remarkable as the movie it underscores, especially in its visceral, life-affirming revelry of African sounds and rhythms.

Based on his personal, firsthand research into and study of African musical traditions, Goransson structured his compositions around indigenous vocals, tribal chants, and exotic ethnic instruments, especially drums and percussion (Police drummer Stewart Copeland employed a similar process for his groundbreaking 1985 Afro-pop/rock album The Rhythmatist).

The result is an incredible, epic work of Afrocentric world music fused with hip techno and electronica and rousing, soaring symphony orchestra.

"Wakanda," "Warrior Falls," and the last four tracks of the album are excellent, perfectly capturing the film’s interwoven themes of family, honor, and heroism.

The Black Panther score is not only the cream of the crop of Marvel and superhero movie soundtracks, but it also ranks among the most memorable film music of all time.

--Raj Manoharan

Congratulations, Sting and Shaggy!

The unlikely but dynamic duo of Sting and Shaggy won the Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album for their 2018 collaboration, 44/876.

Congratulations, Gordon and Orville (a former U.S. Marine and veteran of the Persian Gulf War -- thank you for your service)!

--Raj Manoharan

Good Luck at the Grammys, Sting and Shaggy!

The unlikely but dynamic duo of Sting and Shaggy are up for a Grammy Award tonight for Best Reggae Album for their 2018 collaboration, 44/876.

Good luck, Gordon and Orville (a former U.S. Marine and veteran of the Persian Gulf War -- thank you for your service)!

--Raj Manoharan

44/876 (2018), by Sting and Shaggy

This is more like it! This is the Sting we all know and love!

The 2016 back-to-basics guitar rocker 57th & 9th was a decent comeback for the veteran pop star, but where that album is merely good, the new release is great! 57th & 9th is fine, but 44/876 is fantastic!

In an unlikely but very agreeable collaboration that turns out to be his most enjoyable to date, the Englishman in New York (among other places) teams up with Jamaican superstar singer Shaggy for a collection of reggae-infused pop gems that are infectious, invigorating, and irresistible.

44/876 has been likened to Sting's experiments with reggae in The Police (“One World (Not Three)” comes to my mind), but overall the album is more similar to Sting's solo reggae excursions, most notably classic songs like “Love Is the Seventh Wave” and “History Will Teach Us Nothing.”

The album has also been described as a party record. Yes, the tone is definitely upbeat. But make no mistake – in many cases, the buoyant nature of the music belies the brooding ruminations of the lyrics. Sting is the King of Pain, after all – especially of wrapping pain up in sweet little pop packages.

Standout songs such as “Just One Lifetime,” “Dreaming of the U.S.A.,” and “If You Can't Find Love” prove that, at 66 years of age, Sting is back in top form and at his classic best.

--Raj Manoharan

Saturday, February 9, 2019

The Ultimate Collection (2016), by Roy Orbison

They aren’t kidding! This really is the ultimate collection!

Not only does this album feature Roy Orbison’s classic hits from all of his early and mid-career record labels, including “Oh Pretty Woman” and “Ooby Dooby,” but it also contains prime cuts from his smash posthumous release, Mystery Girl, and its follow-up, King of Hearts, as well as two Traveling Wilburys tracks!

The 1989 Mystery Girl and 1992 King of Hearts albums present Orbison at his finest, with a modern, updated sound from the Traveling Wilburys era courtesy of producer Jeff Lynne. The songs represented here include “You Got It,” “California Blue,” and “She’s a Mystery to Me” from Mystery Girl, and “I Drove All Night” and “Heartbreak Radio” from King of Hearts.

The Traveling Wilburys close out the collection with the Orbison-led “Not Alone Anymore” and the George Harrison-led “Handle with Care,” the latter featuring refrains by Orbison. (They could have also included “It’s Alright,” but that’s alright.)

So if you’re looking for one album with all the essential highlights, this is it.

This is a must-have for both casual and diehard fans.

--Raj Manoharan

Hits (2004), by Mike + The Mechanics

This album works best as a companion to Mike + The Mechanics’ first two releases, Mike + The Mechanics (1985) and The Living Years (1988), which have much better songs overall than this collection, aside from the obvious hits.

Those would be “All I Need Is a Miracle ‘96” (a remake, but still good, although the 1985 original is preferred), “The Living Years,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” “Silent Running,” “Nobody Knows,” and “Taken In.”

While The Mechanics had far fewer later hits than these in the US and the UK, the rest of the songs, as the liner notes themselves say, have been major hits in one part of the world or another.

Nevertheless, Hits features a nice sampling of the group’s overall work, most notably “Another Cup of Coffee” and “Beggar on a Beach of Gold,” and is worth having if you don’t own or intend to get all of their albums.

If the latter is true, another good collection with more different tracks is their 2014 retrospective.

This is definitely a pleasant and enjoyable listen from beginning to end, but if you really want the best of Genesis guitarist/bassist Mike Rutherford’s other band, you should get The Mechanics’ first two albums as well.

--Raj Manoharan