Army of Darkness

You can’t spell “Swashbuckling” without A-S-H. Army of Darkness is a Herculean departure from the Evil Dead series, as different from the other entries as it’s possible to be. And to purists, this will matter a great deal.

The Evil Deal was so influential, and left so many imitators choking on its afterburners that it’s hard to really place this film, a matinee action outlier, into its rightful place.

So, there’s gonna be the temptation to treat it as a stand-alone, for better or for worse.

Ash and his iconic jalopy Oldsmobile, are transported back in time to the 14th century, when the Black Plague was ravaging Europe (here, blatantly and somewhat distractingly, California. At their sunniest, the British Isles would never be this sunny).

Ash is caught between opposing factions, a medieval turf war pitting Arthur against Henry, a kind of Scottish independence nod (probably) from the Clan of Campbell.

But all Ash wants to do, is get back to modernity (1980) and naturally, he needs “THE BOOK” to teleport his ass back to the land of cocaine, pastels and Reagan-era trickle down. That book Necronomicon Ex-Mortis (Also known as ‘Book of the Dead’ and ‘Naturom Demonto’ in the original script) is appropriately, the MacGuffin. Say that with a Scots brogue.

Ash finds the book, but bungles the incantation he’s supposed to repeat, unleashing a hell-storm of demons.

In Campbell’s book, Hail to the Chin: Further Confessions of a B Movie Actor, he claims that he “lost creative control of the editing and generally had a miserable time making the thing.” The finished product kinda looks like it.

Episodic, Army of Darkness has a few dynamite set-pieces, like when Lilliputian lil’ Ashes break forth from mirror, and tie down our hero before dropping one of their ranks down his gullet. Ultimately though, things tend to drag on toward the end, with knights battling skeletons and not the kind of blood and guts, full-on frights and zingers that made the first two films so inimitable.

*** (out of 5)

[Listen to our chat about Army of Darkness on the podcast!]

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown

JB and his poppa.

That’s MISTER James Brown to you, and he called everyone “Mr.” too. While technically growing up James, he was always called “Jimmy” and to a young Brown, “Mr.” connoted respect — both given and received. As a kid who grew up a call-girl wrangler and shoeshine boy in terrible circumstances in the Deep South, he almost miraculously morphed into THE greatest entertainer of the 20th century (forget Sinatra, Elvis, and yes, Michael Jackson). Much RESPECT indeed.

Mr. Dynamite: The Rise of James Brown is a a look at that journey, a peek into the life of a demanding, tyrannical (and at times lonely) genius who fined his bandmates for wardrobe slip-ups and missed notes, and even got into armed confrontations with them!

Drummer Melvin Parker (brother of sax legend Maceo) tells of a backstage altercation where JB had planned to pop Maceo in the mouth so he couldn’t blow his horn, so a packin’ Melvin intervened. It’s terrific pistols at dawn stuff, but really, that’s just one fascinating kernel in a documentary that puts Brown’s music into the context of the tumultuous Civil Rights movement and the assassination of James Meredith and Dr. Martin Luther King. Or, as it’s said in the doc: “Brown’s whole sound is an assertion of black beauty and black pride.”

There’s some great music nerd stuff, as trombonist Fred Wesley recalls how he was a less-than-enthusiastic funk music fan, but appreciated how James Brown was doing something different, so he decided to join the band when the offer was extended. Mick Jagger talks about 1964’s seminal concert film, The T.A.M.I. Show, and how he stole a bunch of Brown’s moves (Maybe Adam Levine would’ve written about JB if his name were an extra syllable). Questlove, the effortlessly cool drummer from The Roots, breaks down “grace notes” and how a tambourine is used in church and how JB’s two drummers created the nasty funk sound.

But what’s so great about Brown is…that he made poet Ezra Pound’s famous modernist injunction, come true: ‘Make It New!

That’s what Brown was all about.

Cold Sweat, is arguably the first funk track, throwing everything on “the one.” Brown basically created a sound that has its reverberations to this day in hip hop. Most people are lucky enough to create one style of music, let alone lay the foundations for another. LEGEND.

***1/2 (out of 5)