Monthly Archives: August 2017

Live review: KISS at the Erwin Center, Austin, Texas

December 5, 2009

Gene Simmons prowled the giant stage, scanning the front rows for female fans to harass and thrill. Fingers fondling his bass, Simmons made hard eye contact with his victims, then subjected them to slow, grinding pelvis gyrations — his metallic cod-piece glittering in the lights — and that interminable, wet, wagging tongue. The women gasped and giggled. Simmons, a self-aware pro, laughed back.

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This was high comedy during KISS’ spectacularly silly and moderately fun rock extravaganza Friday night at a crowded Erwin Center, a cavernous venue that could barely contain the show’s endless eruptions of theatrical bombast and pyro-porn that finally, during the orgiastic three-song encore, struck a comical level of hedonistic overkill. (Fire! Fire! Fire!)

KISS is lowbrow performance art — children, like so many in the audience, devour this stuff — accompanied by a tinny but extremely loud soundtrack of mindless rock ditties. For 35 years, their concerts have been a savvy blend of bluster and balderdash, with a cloying infusion of Jerry Bruckheimer. (If they began today, KISS would be a CGI creation.)

They do it very well, and the four band members worked hard Friday to keep the audience involved with flattering between song banter, constant eye-contact, call-and-response games, and by anointing the masses with flurries of guitar picks.

Simmons, Paul Stanley and relative newcomers Eric Singer on drums and Tommy Thayer on guitar (who does a fine imperson-Ace-tion) never took the crowd for granted, constantly checking in, begging our approval and throwing it right back, like an enormous, flame-strewn self-esteem seminar.

They opened with old-timers “Deuce” and “Strutter” — great songs, though not the most muscular ones out of the gate — with Stanley promising a night of “classic vintage KISS.” For more than two hours, the band stomped through, and sometimes tiresomely dragged out, a hit-list of songs about sex, partying, sex, drinking, rocking and sex.

At least two songs, “Modern Day Delilah” and “Say Yeah,” from their new album “Sonic Boom” (“Get your butts down to Wal-Mart and get yourself a copy!” Stanley hollered) were beer-break tunes, but the crowd thrilled and sang along to “Hotter Than Hell,” “Cold Gin” and “Black Diamond.”

The show hit its stride with faster, hookier songs (“Calling Dr. Love,” “Parasite”) and foot-stomping anthems (“Rock and Roll All Nite”) that matched the volcanic production values.

Amid a backdrop of JumboTrons, swirling sirens, rising platforms, confetti and flaming mushroom clouds, Simmons spewed blood and fire, Thayer shot rockets from his guitar and Stanley wiggled his rear-end at fans before smashing his guitar. Singer’s drum platform spun around.

It’s no secret that Simmons, lascivious demon-beast, with that long-legged skulk and spiked armor, is the show’s cynosure. In a literal high moment, he was lifted by cables to the arena rafters, where he mounted a platform and gazed down upon his worshipful kingdom.

There he bellowed 1982’s “I Love it Loud,” his lips and chin stained with fake blood. The song ended and the lights went out. It was only in the safety of the dark that the winged batman could do something so ordinary and un-KISS-like as what came next: He descended back to earth.

 

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Movie review: ‘Miami Vice’

Awash in the blacks and blues of a fresh bruise, Michael Mann’s “Miami Vice” plays hard and mean to thrilling, often harrowing effect. Mann, who was an executive producer of the influential 1980s television series on which the movie is ever-so-loosely based, obliterates the glib sunshine and pastel glamour of the show to forge a dark, frighteningly real universe of undercover law enforcement and globalized crime. It delivers what no other movie this summer has or likely will: the pure pleasure of watching an intricate, perfectly calibrated machine kick, shoot and crank with dazzling power and efficiency.

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That might sound oddly heady for a movie called “Miami Vice,” a title that instantly evokes Reagan-era gilt and South Beach deco. Don Johnson in a white linen blazer/pink T-shirt ensemble and an equally suave Philip Michael Thomas amid a backdrop of neon, glass bricks and palm trees — those soft-rock memories should be dispensed with. Instead, brace for an unflinching contemporary crime drama that makes no concessions to pop nostalgia or mocking remakes such as the no-brow “Starsky and Hutch.”

People forget that TV’s “Miami Vice” was more than its stylish, trend-making veneer, but a crack cop drama presenting sophisticated criminal situations through intelligent, movie-worthy writing that delved deep into character and emotion. Mann takes that as his springboard for a surprisingly emotional character-driven thriller that takes itself so seriously, there’s hardly a smile in the two-hour-plus epic.

While the plot is as rudimentary as a “Miami Vice” TV episode — vice cops Sonny Crockett (Colin Farrell) and Ricardo Tubbs (Jamie Foxx) go undercover for the FBI to unravel a multi-tentacled, international drug ring — Mann laces it with the themes and macho philosophy he’s so obsessively explored in similarly expert crime pictures “Manhunter,” “Thief,” “Heat” and “Collateral.” His heroes are really antiheroes who dwell in the shadows of film noir, be it James Caan’s riven criminal in “Thief,” Tom Cruise’s solitary hitman in “Collateral” or a superb Farrell as an undercover agent who drifts dangerously over the line.

The complicated loner wavering between the right and wrong — the blurring of human duality — fascinates Mann and has always been his subject. These men (Mann’s is a fiercely male-centric universe) are vessels for ideas and themes about choosing a way of life and pursuing it with as much iron-willed integrity the world will allow.

This is the loner’s existential struggle, which he carries out with a heavy heart and pensive mind. Working in either crime or law, he’s acutely aware of his mortality and life’s cruel vagaries. “Time is luck,” Farrell tells the woman (Gong Li) he falls in love with, as her life skids out. The same line is said in “Manhunter” — “Time is luck. I know the value of our days” — as well as “Heat,” when Robert De Niro’s career thief muses, “I know life is short, whatever time you get is luck.” (Sharp-eared Mann fans might also notice the reuse in “Vice” of the nicknames “sport,” from “Manhunter,” and “slick,” from “Heat.”)

Helicopters slash the skyline and power boats knife the ocean. High-tech surveillance gadgets crackle and heavy artillery blasts. Within the dizzying action and disorienting nation-hopping, a whip-fast Foxx and a brooding Farrell, who smolders with long, Johnsonesque hair and unchecked stubble, stand sturdy. The actors’ chemistry is sufficient and both men cut intense, sympathetic figures, whether they are taking down scum — the movie crawls with furry creeps and bald thugs — or making passionate love to their women. Mann’s lingering depictions of sex are the epitome of adult intimacy rarely seen in a Hollywood film.

There’s not a dud in the superlative cast, including Li’s flinty dragon lady, Naomie Harris as Foxx’s cop girlfriend, John Ortiz as the drug middleman and Luis Tosar as the drug kingpin. Mann’s dialogue, funny and profane, has a hard, urban pop, and the soundtrack is filled with interesting choices, from spare electric guitar and moody synthesizers to songs by Moby and Audioslave.

How “Miami Vice” is put together is as compelling as the story and characters. A notorious perfectionist, Mann demands technical verisimilitude, nailing the intricacies of how criminals and cops think and operate, down to their clothes, words and twitches.

He and cinematographer Dion Beebe return to the handheld high-definition video they used in “Collateral,” bringing a grainy, documentary vibe to the action that’s unnerving. It’s non-style taken to high style, soaked in ocean blues and inky nocturnal blacks. There’s not a wasted shot.

Since 1995’s “Heat,” Mann has been our greatest living action-crime director, edging ahead of past giants Sidney Lumet, William Friedkin and John Frankenheimer. The technical bravura and artistic depth Mann brings to his films has few rivals. He respects his craft and his audience. “I ain’t playin’!” blurts a character in “Vice.” Neither is Mann.

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