Friday, March 28, 2008

WWE: The Music Volume 8 - Review

It’s probably safe to say that very few people are buying WWE theme song albums because of their originality or artistic merit. Most folks who purchase these albums are probably either die hard wrestling fans or stone deaf. Since I own a few of them and I passed my most recent hearing test, I’m going to put myself in the former category.

For years now, Jim Johnston has been the musical mastermind behind the WWE wrestlers theme songs, crafting tunes with driving, repetitive beats that might be well suited for action movies or workout tapes. With this effort he delivers yet another album full of derivative theme songs. “WWE: The Music Volume 8” offers a smorgasbord of unoriginal tunes: songs that sound like bad bar band versions of AC/DC songs, Jimi Hendrix songs, and a variety of pop music clichés.

This is not to say that pro wrestlers’ theme songs should be totally original works of art. Theme music is primarily used to get a crowd reaction. It’s an easy way to get a characters persona across to a large audience who might be sitting in the nosebleed seats. It’s a way to show folks watching at home who the wrestler is and what he represents. “Hey, this guy’s music sounds a lot like AC/DC. He must be a badass!” To say that a wrestler’s theme music sounds derivative isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, sometimes it’s quite necessary. Theme music should not, however, be bland and uninteresting.

In a business that thrives on getting a pop from a live crowd, introducing a character with boring music is akin to committing a form of career suicide. I’m going to assume that most of you who are reading this review are fans of professional wrestling, so I’m going to throw a few names at you: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. The Rock. Hulk Hogan. Triple H. Ultimate Warrior. Ted DiBiase. The Road Warriors. What do these men all have in common? When you heard their theme music, you knew that business was about to pick up. You knew that the fit was about to hit the shan, in a manner of speaking. Their music was synonymous with their character. It put goosebumps on your skin and made your hair stand on end because when that music hit, you knew that the hard-earned money you plunked down for those tickets or for that Pay-Per-View show was going to be worth it. The theme songs on “WWE: The Music Volume 8” will put you to sleep, if you’re lucky.

Typically in a music review, I might focus on several songs that caught my attention. I might tell you about a track that was particularly good, or one that was abysmally bad. Unfortunately, I can not do that with this album, because it all ran together similar to the way that whatever foods you have eaten throughout the day might join together to form excrement at the end of the day (or the beginning or middle, or perhaps several times over, depending on how regular you are). But you’ve continued to read this far, so I guess I owe it to you to give it a shot.

I suppose I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a couple of standout tracks on the album. “Sliced Bread”, performed by WWE Diva Jillian, is a terribly sung rip-off of a Brittney Spears-style piece of pop trash, but since it’s supposed to be a terribly sung rip-off of a Brittney Spears-style piece of pop trash, I guess I would consider it to be good (I have a hard time bringing myself to use that word in association with this album). Considering his recent suspension for violating the WWE’s Health & Wellness Plan, the lines “… so you see the writing on the wall” and “You’re the architect of your own defeat” in Jeff Hardy’s theme song seem somehow prophetic and a bit ironic.

In a sense, the album does what theme music should do: there’s a boring hair metal song for the guys with long hair, a power ballad of sorts for the guys who’re supposed to be known for having a lot of heart, and a faux reggae song for the guy from Jamaica. In that sense, they do represent the wrestlers’ personas, but if I listened to this album without being familiar with the WWE’s current product, I would assume their matches consisted of little more than a series of wristlocks and rest holds, with no fun, and no fast-paced, high flying action. I would assume that the show was outdated and couldn’t hold my interest for more than 30 seconds. Long story short, I wouldn’t be interested in the least.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Into The Wild - DVD Review

Into The Wild, based on the book by Jon Krakauer, tells the true story of Christopher Johnson McCandless, aka Alexander Supertramp, and his journey of self-discovery. After graduating from Emory University in 1991 at the top of his class, McCandless donated his entire $24,000 life savings to charity, severed communication with his family, and hit the open road in an attempt to live as simply as possible, exchanging services for food and shelter. His ultimate goal was Alaska, to live in the manner of his heroes Jack London, John Muir and Henry David Thoreau: on his own, in communion with nature.

I read Jon Krakauer’s book last year, shortly before the movie was released. To say that it was a moving account would be putting it mildly. Krakauer, through interviews and tales of his own experiences in the wilderness, gives the reader a very complete picture of a young man searching for something modern society could not give him. Though I’m not much of an outdoorsman, I found a lot I could relate to in McCandless’ disillusionment , and the book became an instant favorite of mine. It’s the type of book that makes one very hesitant to see a filmed version of the story. It didn’t seem possible that a movie could hit the same notes, and have the emotional resonance that the book did. There simply would not be enough room for detail.

Who am I to doubt Sean Penn? The man was so in love with the book, he fought for ten years to finally secure the film rights before not only writing the screenplay, but directing as well. Penn is as talented behind the camera as he is in front of it, and with Into The Wild, he has delivered a masterpiece, doing justice to both Krakauer’s book and the real life of Chris McCandless. It’s as good of an adaptation as one could hope for.

The movie takes a slightly different approach than the book, going for a less documentary style, and a more linear storytelling technique. For those of you who haven’t read the book, that probably doesn’t matter much. For those of you who have: it’s pretty amazing how well this film manages to adapt the story, and how completely it gets into McCandless’ head to examine all of his motivations. Certain elements are embellished somewhat, but the focus of the book remains intact.

But you’re not reading this review for a book-to-film comparison, you want to know how the movie was, right? It’s amazing. The scenery in this film is absolutely breathtaking and awe inspiring. Since this was the source of McCandless’ inspiration, a lot of attention is shown to the beauty of the natural world.

The same could be said about the actors. Emile Hirsch plays McCandless with such a gee-whiz naiveté that while you can’t help but like him, you also see a clear view of the lost little boy in his soul. If the real life Chris McCandless was this genuine, then it isn’t hard to figure out why this young man touched so many lives on his journey. William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden, Catherine Keener and Vince Vaughn each play their parts to perfection. Hal Holbrook is just… wow. The story of the character he portrayed was one of my favorite parts of the book, and Holbrook did it a great service with his performance.

Of course, one cannot overlook Eddie Vedder’s contribution to the film. Hand-picked by Sean Penn to provide a few original songs, Vedder enriches the entire experience, whether he is singing an obviously McCandless-inspired song, or simply wailing and plucking strings on a guitar. There’s a very ethereal quality to his music which gives the film the same sort of feeling that one might have when looking back fondly on a particularly moving experience in their own life, melancholy and heart warming at the same time. The movie is top-notch all the way around.

In addition to the film, the DVD also features two short documentaries on the filmmaking experience. One focuses on the characters, the other on the film as a whole. Featuring interviews with the director, most of the actors, and even author Jon Krakauer, it’s well worth your time to watch them. The only thing missing from this 2-disc set was a copy of the book, which deserves a spot on everyone’s personal “to read” list just as the film deserves a spot on their “to watch” list.