From Dust To Dreams A Concert Dream Come True

Courtesy:  PBS

Courtesy: PBS

Las Vegas is typically known by its nickname, “Sin City.”  The other “city that never sleeps” is dominated by gambling, girls, and much more.  Because of that reputation, few people would ever associate the famed city with a center for the performing arts.  But there is in fact a center for the performing and cultural arts in Las Vegas now in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts.  Thanks to PBS, audiences that weren’t able to be in attendance at the celebration of the center’s opening can now re-live the concert event any time that they want.

from Dust to Dreams: Opening Night at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts chronicles the celebration held in honor of the center’s opening.  What can be said of this performance but it was an impressive show from a who’s who of the music and entertainment community.  Performers the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Mavis Staples, John Fogerty, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and more than can be named here took part in the two-hour long celebration of the arts coming to Las Vegas at long last.  Host of the Tonys and star of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother served as emcee of this presentation.  What’s interesting to note about his presence in this performance is how much different it was in comparison to what audiences have become accustomed to from the actor.  This isn’t a bad thing, either.  If anything, it only serves to heighten the enjoyment of the overall presentation.  Add in expertly mixed audio and video, and audiences get what is in retrospect one of the best live recordings of 2012.

The very first thing that can be noted of from Dust to Dreams is that it opens and closes in fine fashion.  The opening number performed by trumpet player Arturo Sandoval.  Sandoval’s performance was an outstanding opener for the two-hour event.  His control over his instrument shows the result of his years of training.  This is especially the case when he hits the final high note of his opening number.  Far too often, some overzealous performers hit high notes in songs, thinking they sound good.  But in reality the performers in question are blasting out the notes, resulting in a very harsh sound.  That wasn’t the case with Sandoval’s performance.  His performance got the energy flowing and set the bar for what was to come through the rest of the show’s performances.

The performances that follow that of Sandoval hold the bar quite well.  Whether the medley of songs from Man of La Mancha and West Side Story, the classic country of veteran artist Willie Nelson, or even the more rocking sounds of John Fogerty, this show spans the musical spectrum and will entertain audiences of all ages and musical tastes.  Adding to the enjoyment of the concert is the presence of emcee Neil Patrick Harris.  Yes, Harris was more subdued in his hosting duties here than as host of the Tonys.  But this was an entirely different event.  Even the performers had their time on stage limited as there were so many performers.  What’s more, Harris did offer his share of pretty funny jokes when he was on stage.  Audiences need to keep this in mind in considering his performance as emcee of this event.  In doing so, those same individuals will enjoy the laughs that Harris shares when he is on stage.

The performance of host Neil Patrick Harris and that of the show’s performers make from Dust to Dreams quite the enjoyable live recording.  One would be remiss though, to ignore the importance of the show’s audio and video mix.  Going back to the show’s opening number by Arturo Sandoval straight through to the show’s closing number, the audio and video have been expertly mixed.  There are some songs that absolutely soar throughout the course of this program.  And then there are other, more subtle pieces that were captured so well.  Whether one has a home surround sound theater or not, one can still experience so much.  Those that do have home theater systems will appreciate the performances even more.  That’s because the picture will look crystal clear on an HDTV and the sound will sound just as clear.  This is especially true for those with surround sound.  It is these aspects that make the overall presentation on this DVD so enjoyable.  In retrospect, it makes this collection of performances one of the best live recordings of 2012.  From Dust to Dreams is available now.  It can be ordered online direct from the PBS online store at http://www.shoppbs.org/product/index.jsp?productId=13233132&cp=&sr=1&kw=from+dust+to+dreams&origkw=from+Dust+to+Dreams&parentPage=search&searchId=1374600.

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Die Hard BD Set A Great Anniversary Gift For Franchise’s Fans

Courtesy:  20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Courtesy: 20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Detective John McClane is coming back to theaters one more time in only a matter of days in a brand new installment in the Die Hard franchise.  In celebration of the upcoming adventure, 20th Century Fox and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment have released a somewhat new collection of McClane’s adventures.  The new Die Hard 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection is an excellent addition to the home library of any action film fan that doesn’t yet have the franchise’s films or the previously released eight-disc Ultimate Collection.

Die Hard fans get in the new Blu-ray Collection much of what was included in the aforementioned DVD set with a few minute changes.  Those changes show up mainly in the removal of the unrated versions of the movies that were included in the original eight-disc DVD set and a couple of bonus features from Live Free or Die Hard.  But 20th Century Fox and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment have more than made up for that with seven brand new in-depth features included in their very own disc in the set, thus keeping this set as entertaining as the previously released mega set.  Included in this new five-disc set are features that any true movie buff and Die Hard fanatic will appreciate.  It starts with the bonus feature, “Reinventing the Action Genre.”  This feature provides a glimpse into how each one of the Die Hard movies came to life.  It’s interesting to learn from this feature that the series’ first two movies actually came from two totally separate books that were adapted into Die Hard and Die Hard 2: Die Harder.  Even more interesting to learn is that the author of the book which became Die Hard originally didn’t like the idea of his book being turned into the franchise’s base.  And that book in question was actually the sequel to another book that had been turned into a movie starring Frank Sinatra.  When asked about doing a movie adaptation of that book’s sequel, Sinatra turned down the chance, and thus Die Hard was born.  There is plenty more here for audiences to enjoy; so much so that there is neither time nor space to go into it all.  That’s something that audiences will have to discover for themselves.

The very first of the set’s new bonus features alone makes for plenty of extra insight into this landmark franchise.  It includes interviews with cast and crew of each movie, as well as each movie’s writer.  From here, audiences are taken on a journey behind the scenes of the movies’ special effects, the action sequences, the fights, and even McClane’s sidekicks and so much more.  This is just one part of what makes the new Die Hard 25th Anniversary Blu-ray Collection worth the money for any true Die Hard fan.

Also making this new set just as positive as the DVD set is its packaging.  Whereas the previous set was contained in a rather large, bulky box, this set is contained much like that of 20th Century Fox’s 2010 Blu-ray release of the Alien Anthology on Blu-ray and Paramount’s recently released Indiana Jones: The Complete Adventures on Blu-ray.  The set’s packaging is something of a book that is far slimmer than the previously released DVD set.  As impressive as the new set’s packaging is, it should be considered for any new box set released as part of the home release of It’s A Good Day To Die Hard later this year.  The discs are placed into sleeves of sorts, rather than regular disc “trays.”  This isn’t an entirely bad thing.  It isn’t without its concerns.  But considering that a new box set is highly likely upon the home release of the franchise’s latest installment, one can only hope that this single con will be turned into a positive in the next box set’s release.

Keeping in mind everything noted about this new Blu-ray box set, there’s no denying that it is well worth the money for any true hardcore fan of the Die Hard franchise.  It’s available now in stores now and can be ordered online direct via the 20th Century Fox store at http://www.foxconnect.com/die-hard-25th-anniversary-collection.html.

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Suddenly Re-Issue Another Welcome Remnant Of Hollywood’s Golden Age

Courtesy:  Image Entertainment

Courtesy: Image Entertainment/United Artists

Almost half a century ago, the United States suffered one of the worst tragedies of the twentieth century.  That tragedy was the assassination of then President John F. Kennedy.  Conspiracy theories aside, what many people might not know is that according to author Kitty Kelley, it was Sinatra’s 1954 movie, Suddenly that was the alleged influence behind Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of then President John F. Kennedy.  According to her bio on the singer, His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra, Oswald allegedly watched the movie the day before he changed history.  As a result of this accusation, the movie was pulled for years before it was finally allowed back into the public realm.  And now audiences can see how Suddenly may have played a role in that dark day for themselves as it has been re-issued on Blu-ray by Image Entertainment.

Suddenly is hardly the longest movie ever made.  But that’s not a bad thing, either.  In a time when it seems like so many movie studios seem to be competing with one another to see who can make the longest possible story, this movie comes in at a little less than ninety minutes.  Throughout the course of its hour and fifteen minute run time, audiences are kept engaged thanks to the growing tension between Sinatra’s psychopathic ex-military officer John Baron and Sterling Hayden’s clean cut fellow ex-military officer Sheriff Tod Shaw.  Much like 12 Angry Men which wouldn’t see the light of day for another three years, what really heightens the story’s tension is that the majority of the story takes place in a limited set.  This is a minor factor to some audiences.  But in viewing the movie from a more analytical vantage point, it’s a factor that plays a much larger factor.  Understanding this makes the movie that much more interesting and worth the watch.  Add in the understanding of the controversy surrounding the movie, and audiences get a movie that is that much more intriguing, underappreciated, and worth the watch.

A single viewing of Suddenly shows how Lee Harvey Oswald could easily have been influenced to commit a copy-cat act.  But it’s not necessarily the attempted act in question that will have audiences talking after watching.  If anything it’s Baron’s (Sinatra) comment late in the movie that he wasn’t the one committing the act.  Rather he was doing it for someone else, purely for the money.  Baron told Sheriff Shaw that he didn’t know for whom he was working and didn’t care to know, either.  If anything this brief moment will surely re-ignite the discussions between conspiracy theorists about whether or not Oswald worked alone.  On another level, it serves as one more example of the possible power of media to influence real life.  Should there be any credence to the influence of Suddenly on Oswald’s actions, it can be just as strongly used as another warning to the media in regards to taking responsibility for the potential impact of what is written for TV shows and movies.

Getting back to the story behind Suddenly as art.  Writer Richard Sale accomplished quite the feat with this movie.  It wastes no time establishing the story’s plot and its cast.  As a result of this quickness, the rest of the story is spent in just a few rooms of a house.  For most film makers and script writers today, limiting a story to so few sets would prove a mind twist, so to speak.  That’s because so many of today’s movies rely more on flash-boom-bang special effects and overt sexuality to drive their stories.  But for Sale, his writing was solely story based.  It allowed for more tension between Sinatra and Hayden.  And that tension is what keeps audiences so engaged.  There was obviously some chemistry between the two as they expertly played off of one another throughout the story making it increasingly emotional.  The chemistry between the two men made for a movie that was entirely enthralling; so much so that it’s ironic that it wasn’t Hayden whose character was ultimately responsible for the movie’s final outcome.  That outcome won’t be ruined for those who haven’t yet seen it.  But it is an ending that has quite the twist in and of itself.  It’s a twist that will leave audiences completely breathless after everything that had happened through the course of this underrated thriller.  That twist ending is the icing on the cake for Sale’s writing here.  And combined with the equally expert acting of both Hayden and Sinatra (and their supporting cast), it all comes together for a movie that is at the same time underrated and underappreciated.  And now that it’s available once more on Blu-ray, it’s a movie that every movie lover should see at least once.

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The Dean Martin Christmas Show A Standout Classic Holiday Special

Courtesy:  Time Life/NBC Universal

Courtesy: Time Life/NBC Universal

Time Life and NBC Universal have unearthed a nice piece of holiday television history with the release of The Dean Martin Christmas Show.  This holiday special is a relic of a bygone era.  It’s another prime example of everything that was once right with television.  Much like with the recently released Carol Burnett Show sets, this unearthing shows that there is still love and interest for classic television.  As great as all of the annual holiday specials are, this once forgotten special reminds audiences that there is still much more out there that is just as enjoyable as the aforementioned specials.

The Dean Martin Christmas Show runs at less than an hour long.  The majority of the material in this special is musical numbers.  Although there are some skits tossed in for good measure, too.  OF the few skits included in this show, the best of them is the cop skit with acting legend Dom DeLuise.  DeLuise plays a street cop who tries to give Santa a ticket for parking his sled in a no parking zone.  While audiences never see Santa, the ability of DeLuise to interpret what would have been Santa standing there before him shows his talent.  And his reaction after Santa gives him a present, despite the attempt to give him a ticket, brings the whole skit together.  It makes for lots of laughs even years after its original airing.

Dom DeLuise isn’t the only star who gets his chance for laughs in this special.  Fellow veteran actor Bob Newhart also gets his time to shine.  Newhart stars alongside Martin as a customer trying to return a toupee.  Martin plays the part of a clerk in the complaint department in the store where Newhart’s character is returning the toupee.  The chemistry between the pair is obvious as Martin can’t even hold back his laughs throughout the course of the skit.  Yet by contrast, Newhart somehow manages to maintain his character’s deadpan persona, which is probably why Martin was unable to contain his laughs.  It’s just one more moment that viewers yearning for that nostalgia will enjoy and appreciate with every watch.

The skits included in this roughly forty-eight minute holiday special make for their own share of enjoyment.  The musical numbers add even more nostalgia and enjoyment, too.  Martin and company share their own renditions of a number of Christmas carols.  Home viewers won’t be able to resist signing along a little bit, too.  When it’s all said and done, audiences of all ages will realize that what they’ve experienced is something very special.  Add in the original quality of the broadcast and that feeling gets even stronger.  Audiences can experience that feeling for themselves now as The Dean Martin Christmas Show is available now on DVD courtesy of Time Life and NBC Universal.  It can be ordered online direct via Time Life’s store at http://timelife.com/products/the-dean-martin-christmas-show.

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The Greatest Matt Monro shows why Matt Monro is one of The Greatest

Courtesy: EMI

Matt Monro is one of the greatest singers in the history of both jazz and popular mainstream music.  It’s been just over two decades since the world lost this vocal giant.  But thanks to work from his daughter, Michele, and the people at EMI, Monro’s legions of fans worldwide get to experience many of his greatest songs thanks to the 2010 release of “The Greatest Matt Monro.”

“The Greatest Matt Monro” is a fitting title for this recent compilation.  There are many people out there who know of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and so many other vocal legends.  But there are just as many who don’t know about Matt Monro.  This compilation could change all of that.  It includes many of his own pieces, as well as covers of other greats such as ‘Fly Me to The Moon (In Other Words)’ and ‘Yesterday’ among others.  Most audiences know ‘Fly Me to The Moon (In Other Words)’ thanks to Frank Sinatra.  But Monro’s rendition of the hit gives it a whole different life.  It’s a much smoother take on the song.  And his take on ‘Yesterday’ is just as powerful as the original.

This compilation also has more than enough songs to make for plenty of memorable moments for couples and happy couples to be.  From ‘Let There Be Love’ to ‘When I Fall in Love’, to ‘The Nearness of You’, there is plenty of material for a romantic moment any time of the year.  And the control that Monro had over his voice shows through in every song.  He was able to capture every little nuance of every song.  That ability to voice so much emotion so beautifully makes this compilation an absolute must have for any true jazz fan.  It’s just as beautiful an introduction for those who are unfamiliar with the work of a man who is at least one of the Greatest–if not THE Greatest–vocalists of all time.

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Hitting the note with Michele Monro on The Singer’s Singer

Happy Memorial Day and happy Monday, everybody.  I hope everybody had a safe and happy weekend.  Mine was pretty relaxed.  Went through some more music that I’ll be reviewing later this week, and another season from another classic Nicktoon.  And also, I finally managed to sit down at watch We Bought a Zoo.  I’ll have a review of that movie alter this morning.  But while you wait for that, I’ve got another treat for you this morning.  As you’ll recall, I recently reviewed the new paperback edition of the bio on singer Matt Monro, “The Singer’s Singer.”  Well, I am happy this morning to share an interview with the legendary singer’s daughter, Michele, who wrote her father’s bio.  Michele shared her thoughts with me on taking on the duties of writing her father’s bio herself, life with her dad and more.  That’s in this special bonus edition of Phil’s Picks.  Read on!

RR — This bio is one of the most extensive that I’ve  read to date.  I’m
curious how long did it take just to gather all of the information for the
bio?  How long did it end up taking to actually write your father’s story?

MM — This book was really a labour of love and was written for my son Max. 
I suffered a near-fatal car crash a few years ago and it struck me 
that if anything happened to me, my son wouldn’t know anything more 
about his grandfather other than he was a great singer. It upset me 
that he wouldn’t know his origin or roots or what Matt Monro had 
contributed to the music business so as soon as I was able I started 
the process. It took three years to do the research and interview more 
than 200 people. A further year was spent actually writing the book 
and a further year with publisher’s re-writes and edits.

RR – What led you to choose Titan Books to  publish your dad’s bio?  Were
there other publishing companies to which  you had sent your manuscript?

MM — The fans had been begging for years for a book of some sort as there 
had never been one written. I sent a synopsis by email to 10 
publishing houses and I had replies from all of them within a week. In 
fact one company actually sent me a contract without talking to me 
first. The contract specified that the manuscript be delivered by a 
certain date and be no more than 80,000 words. I rang them up, thanked 
them for their interest and explained that 80,000 words was the size 
of my index! I had no interest when I first started writing the book 
of having it published so hadn’t bothered to find out any guidelines 
or pointers. It turned out that all publishers aim for books between 
80,000 – 10,000 words so to keep costs down. That was one of the main 
reasons for going to Titan. They really loved Matt Monro’s music and 
were passionate about doing the project correctly rather than worry 
about every penny. My conditions were simple.

The title had to stay intact. My father was the singer’s singer and 
there could be no other title for the book as far as I was concerned.
Secondly it had to come out in time for dad’s 25th anniversary (7 
February 2010)
Lastly the manuscript couldn’t be butchered or hacked to death.

Titan were happy to meet my terms and have been true to their word the 
whole way through. It was definitely the right choice.

RR – Your father’s work has been released many times  over the years.  Now,
with the release of his bio both in hardback and paperback, are you seeing
any type of resurgance in popularity of his  music?  If so, are you seeing
it in a particular audience or is it more spread out?

MM — My father’s popularity has been amazingly steadfast over the years 
since he passed. The website I created – www.mattmonro.com- gains 
about 5,000 hits a month and it has been excellent means of letting 
the fans know what is imminent. It has also allowed them a voice as to 
what they would like to see released. I have been doing radio 
interviews over the years and have programmes running on hospital 
radio so this has been brilliant at promoting whatever needed 
highlighting. The book of course has made the public even more curious 
as to who the man was behind the music and it has allowed Matt Monro 
to gain a newer and younger fan base than before. The book has also 
garnered interest from television programmes and that gets my message 
across to even more people than before. I am passionate about keeping 
my father’s legacy going as long as I can.

RR — In gathering the information for the  book, it all had to have brought
back a flood of memories.  Were there any moments included in the book that
were especially funny or emotional for you, in writing your father’s
story?

MM — I was rather worried about writing the ending of the book thinking 
that all the way through the process I would have it at the back of my 
head that the end was nigh so to speak so I decided to write about his 
passing first, thinking that would get me over the hardest moment but 
it didn’t work out that way. Like any child there are a thousand 
moments that you will always remember, some sweet, some bitter and 
some that you don’t want to remember. The foreward was very hard to 
write, those were the last few days of his life and as anyone who has 
lost a loved one will tell you, it is impossible to put that grief 
into words for there are no sentences that will adequately express the 
pain you go through.

There are a multitude of moments that made me smile or made me laugh 
out loud as certain memories flooded back but overall the journey was 
an emotional one. I didn’t write a fairy tale and there could be no 
happy ever after, you know the ending before you start and that makes 
it hard. I also lost my mother shortly after the book was published. 
It meant so much to her that a story was finally in print and would sit 
in the British Library forever, she felt he deserved that, but in the 
five years it took it never occurred to me that my mum wouldn’t be 
here to share in the accolades that have followed. That was a bitter 
pill to swallow.

RR — So many of the bios that I’ve read over the years have been written by
either friends of the subjects or someone that had no connection to said
individuals.  So what was it that made you  personally want to write your
father’s story, rather than have someone else do it?

MM — Several authors had approached my mum and I since my father passed 
away but it never felt right. They were some that were only really 
interested in dad’s alcoholism and the salacious moments that they 
thought they could write about. Yes my father was an alcoholic but it 
was a segment of his life, it didn’t define him as a person. There is 
a huge difference between a drunk and an alcoholic and I didn’t want 
them getting the two confused. About eight years ago, I was approached 
again by an individual who wanted to write the book. I talked it over 
with Steve Woof, the head of EMI, who I work closely with in bringing 
out the albums and he told me “the only one who should consider 
writing a book is you”. It made me stop and think but before I had 
come to any conclusion I had the car crash. That crisis made my 
decision easy.

RR — Reading through your dad’s bio, he worked with a  who’s who of jazz and
pop of the time.  Were there any that really stood out as favorites with
whom he liked to work?

MM — He adored working with his mentor Winnie Atwell. She had a certain 
funk going on that he loved and of course Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis 
rank highly on his list. He loved them as people and to him that was 
important because they gave their music heart and soul. He would have 
given his right arm to work with Sinatra but something always 
conspired to get in the way. He actually had the opportunity of 
signing with Reprise and he would have jumped at the chance had it not 
been for his advisors. They read more into it that just an innocent 
offer – had my father signed with the company they could in fact have 
prevented him from recording at all. Some thought they wanted this so 
Sinatra had no competition – but like so many rumours – they were 
without substance.

RR — Is there any one song that your father sang that you would say is your
favorite to this day?

MM — There are so many that my dad sing that I love but it really depends 
on my mood. Sometimes when I’m down I want songs that reflect that 
feeling but at other times I want to feel elated by the performance. I 
particularly love the album ‘The Rare Monro’ purely because it is 
songs that had never been released before and there are some stellar 
moments in those 50 tracks. It actually took me five years to convince 
the record company that it would sell even if ‘Born Free’ and ‘From 
Russia With Love’ weren’t on it. Thankfully I was right and that has 
spurned the follow-up “Matt Uncovered – The Rarer Monro’ which is due 
out at the beginning of July. The one song that holds a special place 
in my heart is ‘Michelle’. Dad had arranged for me to go to the 
studios with him. It was my first time and I was hugely excited. I had 
no idea what he was recording but at the given time George Martin 
tapped his baton to gain silence from the orchestra, my dad held my 
hand and started singing to me. It was actually that rendition that 
was cut and pressed. Moments like that stay with you throughout your 
life.

RR — This bio is a great recollection of your dad’s life.  For those who
have either never heard your dad’s music or don’t know about your dad, what
would you want audiences to know more than anything about your dad?

MM — The one word used more than any other to describe Matt Monro’s show 
business image is professionalism. He gave his audience his best, he 
gave his musicians respect, he possessed unmistakeable tone, flawless 
diction, was subtly sparing in the use of grace notes and sang in the 
accent of his speaking voice. He made a huge impact on the business 
when talent and style still had a part to play. That he was surely one 
of Britain’s greatest exports is not in question. His record career 
alone must be a significant milestone in the annuls of the music 
business. But go beyond the tabloid image and you find a staunch and 
supportive friend, a man who cared deeply about other people, a humble 
man with no ego who didn’t believe his own hype. But this is a man of 
so many different parts, a meditative soul who was overwhelmed by his 
own press and seemed genuinely surprised that people would want to 
listen to him. He was the most wonderful husband and father who 
cherished his family deeply. That he was sparing of the time he could 
give them was unfortunate, but he was not sparing of the love he gave. 
He was caught in the headlights of an industry that exuded magic, at 
times torn between the two, but he made the right choices – his family 
wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

To really understand Matt Monro all you have to do is one simple thing 
– listen – his voice is the clue to his humanity. Through his music 
Matt lives on.
He is irreplaceable.

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