Thursday, April 4, 2024

film review: Wicked Little Letters


Directed by Thea Sharrock

Written by Jonny Sweet

ChinoKino review: C

Reviewed by Allan Tong

In 1919, in the English seaside town of Littlehampton, two neighbours, Edith Swann and Rose Gooding, ceased being friends when Edith reported Rose to the authorities after Edith and other members of Littlehampton received poison pen letters full of threats and obscenities, including the C-Word. In Thea Sharrock's film treatement, co-scripted by Jonnny Sweet, Edith is prim and proper, upholding the values of early-20th-century England, while Rose is the free-spirited and feisty Irish immigrant. If the two were men, then no scandal or police investigation would have erupted. After all, it was fine for men to curse, at least in letters, but, oh dear, not women.

Though performances by leads Olivia Colman (as Edith), one of the Britain's top actors, and Jessie Buckley (Rose) are strong, their characters are thin and one-dimensional. I never got to understand them nor did I care to. Another problem with this film is the approach to race. Rose's lover is a Black man and Police Officer Gladys Moss (Anjana Vasan) is of South Asian decent. I don't know if these two are based on real-life characters, but racism was rife in 1919 England and yet race is never mentioned in the film. Instead, sexism is placed front and centre.


Look, I'm all for racial diversity in films, including the ones I have made and the many I have programmed for festivals, but this casting doesn't work in this context. Sharrock has applied 2023 mores onto a 1919 setting, and the juxtaposition just confuses the viewer. The non-white characters are elephants in the proverbial room and amounts to awkward storytelling.

A final flaw with Wicked Little Letters is tone. This is supposed to be a black comedy, but it's played for broad laughs and few of the jokes land. Instead, all the white guys, including the cops (except Moss) are sexist buffoons, Rose is party animal and Edith is uptight. Their dialogue lacks wit, lacks bite. The two leads never feel like close friends to start the story, so there's no sense of loss when they fall out. Moreover, the scandal over the foul language doesn't translate to audiences. So what? What's the big deal? Some bad language in letters. Shrug. Sharrock doesn't establish the milieu where these letters are shocking to the public.

In the end, Wicked Little Letters is a big misfire, led by good intentions, but misapplied in an historic story that fails to condemn sexism.

Wicked Little Letters opens April 5 in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, and expands to other cities on April 12.

Thursday, March 14, 2024

film review: They Shot The Piano Player


Directed by Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal

Written by Fernando Trueba

Review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: B+

This is a stunning, but flawed animated docu-drama about legendary Brazilian jazz pianist, Francisco Tenório Jr. who disappeared in 1976 after a gig. He was 34. You probably never heard of him, but Tenório Jr. he played a role in elevating bossa nova to world status in the 1960s and 1970s.

Part detective story and part history lesson about this wonderful music but also the totalitarianism that strangled South America, They Shot The Piano Player is told from the point of view of a writer. New Yorker Jeff Harris is researching a book about boss nova when he stumbles upon Tenório Jr.s' masterful playing and is hooked. He proceeds to interview the pianist's close friends, bandmates and family in and around Rio de Janeiro as well as Buenos Aires where Tenório disappeared. 

These include bossa nova's godfather, João Gilberto, as well as Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Vincius de Moraes and Paulo Moura. Their music is liberally heard throughout the film in dazzling, colourful sequences. Pure pleasure. Altogether, they tell the story about boss nova's rise until it broke internationally through in 1964, even challenging the Beatles on the charts.

Harris spends equal time, if not more, learning about the U.S.-backed military regimes which terrorized Brazil and Argentina in the 1970s. Credit the film for not pulling any punches. A harrowing sequence finds Harris touring Buenos Aires' ESMA (Navy Mechanics School), a notorious place in the 1970s where political prisoners (mostly innocent) were tortured and execute. Appalling, ESMA had a ward for pregnant prisoners.

A sequence involving jazz great Ella Fitzgerald is a highlight

Eventually, Harris solves the mystery of Tenório Jr.'s disappearance. The problem is that this moment is not a revelation. The audience has a good idea of what happened long before the ending, which is a key flaw in this film. It lacks suspense. Perhaps the directors got too close to the subject, but the film could have been more powerful after another edit to shuffle scenes and gradually build to this reveal.

Another concern, though not a dealbreaker, is why the filmmakers created the Harris character to tell this story. Was it necessary?

That said, this is a highly enjoyable film of a worthy subject.

They Shot The Piano Player opens March 15 in Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City; March 22 in Ottawa, Saskatoon and Victoria; then throughout the spring in other cities.

Monday, February 5, 2024

film review: Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer

Directed and written by Thomas von Steinaecker

ChinoKino score: A-

Review by Allan Tong

With Werner Herzog, warns German filmmaker Wim Wenders, "you can't be sure of anything. It's all unpredictable. You only know something will happen."

That something could be a dwarf rebellion, a doomed conquistador, Herzog eating his shoe onstage, or doing a guest spot in Star Wars. Great or disappointing, Werner Herzog's films are always interesting and unique. He follows neither formula nor agenda. This documentary makes that clear as it explores his life and career. It is worth watching.

Herzog guides us through his life, appearing on camera in L.A, his current home, and in Sachrang. His mother fled wartime bombing in Munich and sheltered Herzog and his brother in this remote Bavarian village. He grew up starving in the dying days of World War Two. Herzog points to a waterfall and declares that is him, his soul and identity. Seeing his old home makes him (and the viewer) emotional. He visits a ski jump and says he always wanted to fly. His brother recalls him breaking a few bones doing so.

Never mind. Herzog always shrugs off pain. He nearly died making two films in the jungle--Aguirre: Wrath of God (one of the greatest movies ever made) and Fitzcarraldo. The subject matter of his work spans an ocean, but a common thread is the obsession of a single character pursuing a dream at any cost. For instance, Fitzcarraldo is a rubber baron who drags a massive steamship uphill and across land so he can access rubber of the Amazon forest. This is a perfect metaphor about Herzog making this difficult film that he recast and postponed several times.

Of course, no discussion of Herzog is complete without Klaus Kinski. Intense, psychotic (and now discredited for abusing his daughters), Kinski was Herzog's leading madman, starring in Herzog's greatest fiction films, including the two made in the jungle. A lot has been said about their violent collaboration (watch Herzog's own doc, My Best Fiend), though Radical Dreamer does a good job of summarizing it.

Friends and collaborators lend additional voices to this documentary, including Volker Schlondorff (part of the 1960s German New Wave with Herzog), wives Lena Herzog (below) and Martje Grohmann, filmmakers Chloe Zhao and Joshua Oppenheimer, stars Nicole Kidman, Christian Bale and Carl Weathers (RIP), and fangirl and poet Patti Smith.

There's generous footage of Herzog on camera, accompanied by clips from his films, plus gorgeous establishing shots of Bavaria. The film is generally told chronologically, but footage of him in Los Angeles is awkwardly placed at the beginning and end of the film. Herzog workshopping a class of young directors is interesting, but disrupts the doc's momentum early on.

Another problem lies beyond the director's reach: there's so much to cover in Herzog 81 years and 60+ movies. For instance, nothing is said about Nosferatu or The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser. To get a fuller picture, read his recent memoirs, Every Man For Himself and God Against All, and the Les Blank docs Burden of Dreams and Klaus Kinski Eats His Shoe

And watch Herzog films.

Werner Herzog: Radical Dreamer is released on VOD February 6.

Friday, January 19, 2024

IDS kicks off design weekend in Toronto


ARD Outdoor

Story and photos by Allan Tong

The Interior Design Show opened last night with a party to interrupt the cold snap gripping Toronto. Occupying the northern end of the massive Metro Toronto Convention Centre, the IDS (as it's commonly known) kicked off with flutes of champagne and canopes amid booths and booths of the latest in home furnishings, bathtubs, lighting, wooden floors, ceramic tiles, and even cabins. 

The annual design show runs through Sunday, January 21 with Friday being Professional Development Day aimed at industry folk. Highlights include a keynote by Marva Griffin at 2:00-3:00pm. Griffin is the founded Salone Satellite, the renowned showcase of young designers. She will discuss her unusual career path and how the industry has evolved over the last quarter century. Following her will be Oskar Zieta at 4:00pm speaking about his innovative, inflated metal furniture and Poland’s role in the European design industry.

Saturday and Sunday are open to the public. The line-up:

Saturday 11am-12 noon: Safoura Zahedi (Architect, Interdisciplinary Artist, Educator and Geometry Expert), Beverley Horii (Managing Director and Principal, IA Interior Architects), and Tatiana Soldatova (Principal, Syllable) will be imagining the impact of technology, wellness and culture on the interiors of the (near) future.

Saturday 1-2pm: Tura Cousins Wilson (Studio of Contemporary Architecture), Chad Burton (Fashion Editor and Product Stylist), and Krisette Santamaria (Industrial Designer, Krisette Santamaria Designs) answer the question: Multifunctional, multigenerational, multiuse and multiunit spaces pack in all the needs of modern life, but how do you create a multifaceted living space that still feels cohesive and represents your sense of style? 

Saturday 3-4pm Michael Murphy (Vice President, Fogo Island Workshop & Design), Janet Langdon (Textile Designer), and Ernst Hupel (Partner, 2H Interior Design) will reflect on the design legacy of the innovative Fogo Island Inn off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Sunday 11am-12pm will see Brian Gluckstein dispensing his best design advice and predictions for 2024. Following him will be Christiane Lemieux discussing her collections at retail, books and online store as both an entrepreneur and designer. Also, she will offer tips on how she creates a minimalist, nurturing retreat. At 3pm, Aly Velji will reflect on his collaborations with Urban Barn and Rollout. Questions are welcome from the public.

 Of course, there are the exhibitors. Here's what caught our eye:

Kissing Chair by Alison Postma

Ruums repurposes this 160-square-foot cargo container into a painting or musical studio or as  a dwelling that's situated in your backyard. They'll walk through all the city permits and installing plumbing, if needed.

Lighting by Feelux

Wine flowed at Vicostone

Paint isn't just for walls, says Sherwin-Williams

Montauk Sofa

Roche Bobois

ARD Outdoor

Non-alcohol cocktails by Seedlip were popular

WOODca Design offered an example of cool wooden dwellings at this year's IDS, like this sauna

Of course, there are sinks at IDS, this sleek one by Facileklean

OCH Works

McKae Imaging's backlit canvases

Stylish sinks and faucets, indeed

Coffee's other use by Krisette Sanatamaria

For more coverage including videos, find us on Instagram at chinokino_to

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

film review: Anselm (3D)

Directed by Wim Wenders

ChinoKino score: B+

Review by Allan Tong

Wim Wenders returns to the 3D documentary form with a portrait of German painter/sculptor, Anselm Kiefer. Few will know his name outside the art world, though Kiefer has a celebrated body of work spanning half a century.

Kiefer peaked in the 1980s after retrospectives in Chicago and New York where critics heralded that “America has a new superstar.” His sculptures and giant canvases made of materials like straw, ash and clay, depict barren fields and empty rooms. They are moody and haunting. Some evoke (some say, provoke) Germany's Nazi past, such as his photos posing in the Nazi salute. Kiefer's intent is to force the German public to confront its dark past, though the film deflects accusations that these images can be misconstrued as pro-fascist.

As with his previous, stunning 3D documentary, Pina, Wenders does not editorialize nor intrude with narration or with titles on screen. Instead, he presents vintage footage of Kiefer, seamlessly blended with contemporary footage of the 78-year-old, intercut with that of his adult son, Daniel, portraying a younger Kiefer.

The documentary flows elegantly and in 3D offers a feast of visuals. You can see in dazzling detail for miles across a snowy forest illuminated by sunlight. The 3D opens up the detail in Kiefer's artwork, particularly his sculptures. 

That said, I would have liked to have seen more biography on Kiefer and other voices to comment on his work. Anselm is entirely seen from the artist's point of view, presumably to let his art speak for itself. Indeed, the 3D format presents his work in the finest way, far better than any future TV screening will.

Released by Mongrel Media, Anselm opens December 22 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal.

Thursday, December 14, 2023

film review: Immediate Family

Directed by Danny Tedesco

ChinoKino rating: B

Review by Allan Tong

This music doc is the logical and spiritual sequel to Danny Tedesco's impressive The Wrecking Crew from 2008. Both films profile groups of top session musicians, unsung heroes in the L.A. rock business who reflect on their past glories. Immediate Family are drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, and guitarists Danny Kortchmar and Waddy Wachtel.

Starting in the early 1970s, they as individuals performed on landmark albums, including Carole King's Tapestry, James Taylor's Sweet Baby James, Joni Mitchell's Blue, and into the late-1980s played for many stars, such as Neil Young, Keith Richards and Don Henley. They also went on tour with some of them, like Wachtel for Linda Ronstadt in her heyday. Hands-down, these are top-notch players and they step out of the shadows and into the spotlight in this enjoyable film.

If you've seen Tedesco's previous doc, you know what to expect. Interviews are generous as are music clips, over 80 in fact. Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, David Crosby, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett and producer Peter Asher are among the parade of rock legends who sing the Family's praises. It's entertaining to hear tidbits like the one of headstrong Wathtel insisting on a guitar solo to replace a planned saxophone one in Steve Perry's hit, Oh Sherrie (a good call). Another highlight sees Wachtel recalling Linda Ronstadt singing her way into a strip joint in the middle of nowhere while on tour, because she wasn't carrying any I.D. to get past the door.

In fact, the entire film is fun and nice. Perhaps too nice. Apart from a brief mention of butting heads in the studio, the Family come across as nice guys. But the music business is a place notorious for clashing egos and where sex, drugs and greed rule. There's none of that in this film. Kunkel confesses his one regret that he didn't spend enough with his children when they were growing up. However, we don't hear from any of his children or spouses.

Another weakness of the film (not fault of the filmmaker) is that Family aren't a self-contained unit like the Wrecking Crew of the 1960s and beyond. Sure, they are now officially a band, playing gigs under that name in New York. However, this doc comes across as a collection of personalities who cross paths over the years, but were never a unit like the legendary Wrecking Crew.

That said, Immediate Family is a fun film to watch and listen to. It'll hit home to those who grew up on this music and there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Immediate Family opens on Dec. 15 in Toronto (at the Hot Docs cinema), Vancouver (at Vancity)! and is also rent or buy across Canada on the Apple TV app/iTunes and Google Play. It is being released in Canada by Mongrel Media.

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Winners & Losers is a slam-dunk history of Toronto sports

Toronto is officially the most sport-crazed city in Canada, boasting big-league franchises in hockey, basketball, baseball and football (both kinds). Championships and chokes (see below) are embedded in the collective Torontonian memory.  That's why the new exhibition by Myseum is essential and a lot of fun.

For once, the Leafs win this one

Winners & Losers celebrates the relationship between Torontonians and its teams over the decades in a city that has radically changed in terms of race and gender parity. The exhibit does not celebrate hall of fame ballplayers (the Hockey Hall of Fame down the street does a fine job of that already), though it name checks the likes of Joe Carter, Frank Mahovlich, Kawaii Leonard and Pinball Clemens.

The great Mahovlich scored for not one, but two Toronto hockey teams: the Maple Leafs (including the 1967 Stanley Cup champions) and the Toros of the short-lived WHA

The exhibit grans equal space to pioneers and local heroes, such as Billie Hallam, a female pitcher who was also crowned 1937's Miss Toronto, and the Toronto Huskies who were roaming NBA courts decades before the Raptors.

Winners & Losers also excels in being interactive. We're not talking smartphones and touch-screen TVs, but games, such as Playoffs (below) where visitors can choose Toronto great basketball moments, whether by Eastern Commerce or by Vince Carter. 

Of course, there's the requisite table hockey game (Leafs vs. Habs, of course) and finely chosen memorabilia, like a vintage boxing programme from Maple Leafs Gardens.

It's remarkable the span of artifacts that Myseum has assembled in a single room, which still allows space for interactivity and TV screens. Obviously, thought and care has been invested in how this compact space should look, sound and feel, from basketballs handling from the ceiling to gridirons covering the floor.

The only critique is the lack of football (soccer), the fastest-growing sport among schoolchildren, and of course the Toronto FC. This can be forgiven since Myseum occupies a tight space in the basement of 401 Richmond (though visible from the sidewalk near Peter Street).

Aside from that, Winners & Losers is an excellent show. Strongly recommended for sports fans, both adults and children, and it's certainly family friendly. Myseum is open Wednesday through Saturday from noon to 6pm (closed Sunday-Tuesday). Admission is free, though donations are welcome. Full details.

book review: Popartery by Andy Patridge

Illustrated by Andy Partridge (Published by Ape House)

review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A

Simply put, this large hardcover collects the 56 individual covers of a previous (but extremely limited) tome by author Andy Partridge. Each image illustrates a song from his days singing and composing for the British band, XTC. If you recognize these names, then this book is for you. 

To his credit, Partridge didn't choose only his hit songs for this collection. Sure, there's the popular Dear God (above), 25 O'Clock and This Is Pop (the cover), but there are also obscure numbers like Tin Toy Clockwork Train and Red. 

Popartery has been assembled with loving care: super-thick, glossy paper, a sturdy hardcover (no dust jacket, though), and arranged alphabetically with the author explaining his thoughts behind each painting, opposite each image. This is a book you leaf through while blasting Drums and Wires or Nonsuch on your sound system. 

It is an art book. It is a music book. It is special.

Thursday, November 16, 2023

film review: The Stones and Brian Jones

Directed by Nick Broomfield

ChinoKino score: A

Review by Allan Tong

Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are household names in 2023, but not Brian Jones. Only longtime Rolling Stones fans will know Brian Jones, who in a few years after founding the band was kicked out and found dead in his swimming pool in 1969.

Renown British documentarian Nick Broomfield has released a gripping film about this tragic figure that will impress both diehards and newcomers. The Stones and Brian Jones includes many extensive interviews with bandmates, lovers and friends, unseen footage and even a forgotten Jones song.

Broomfield nailed the right interviews. Stones' bassist Bill Wyman is the band's most reliable chronicler and the bandmate closest to Jones. Jones was a brilliant guitarist whose mission was to bring the blues to British then white American audiences. However, says Wyman, Jones was also cruel, driven by insecurities over his elfin stature and losing control of the band he founded to Jagger and Richards.

Jones was also charming and polite. He sweet-talked his way into the homes of families and impregnated their daughters (some less than 20). He sired at least five children. Two schools expelled him and his parents threw him out of their cozy, middle-class home in Cheltenham, England. The teenage Jones rebelled against his  strict parents who objected to his passion for jazz and blues. Their schism lies at the heart of this film.

Another key interview is Marianne Faithfull, the musician, actress and Jagger's lover in the mid-60s. Jones had "incredibly low self-esteem" and that relations with the two leading Stones were so bad "they would have killed each other." She refers to the infamous 1967 drug bust after Jones carelessly boasted to a journalist about his drug intake, but the newspaper mistook him for Jagger and nearly killed the Stones.

Jones was also a bastard. Ex-girlfriend Linda Lawrence recalls knocking on the door of his flat with their little boy in tow and begging Jones for more support money. Instead, Jones and his then-paramour Anita Pallenberg huddled inside and laughed at her predicament.

Pallenberg is a key character. Seen in archival footage (she died in 2017), Pallenberg transformed Jones and (with Faithfull) injected sophistication into a the yobbish Stones. The Italian-German model was wordly and fearless and looked like Jones' twin. However, Jones beat her and Pallenberg fled to Keith Richards. (One of the film's few flaws is that it allows filmmaker Volker Schlondorff to characterize Pallenberg as a gold-digger. This is false.)

Though his occasional voice-over is unnecessary, Broomfield has done an outstanding research job, unearthing audio interviews of Jones' father, heartbreaking family letters, a song Jones had co-written that's never seen the light of day, childhood photos and even old film footage of him gamboling around his schoolyard. French singer Zouzou, "Lady Jane" Ormsby-Gore, photographer Gered Mankowitz, band insider Prince Slash and TV director Michael Lindsay-Hogg (Rock and Roll Circus) also weight in. Zouzou recalls that Jones "never" played Rolling Stones records at home (though spun the Beatles constantly). Broomfield's film untangles the psychological mess that was Jones, digging deeper than most chroniclers of the Stones.

Insecure, substance-addicted and self-destructive, Jones felt trapped being a Stone. To the world he was a rebel, but really he remained a little boy who sought his parents' approval and never got it. 

The Stones and Brian Jones will be released by Mongrel Media on November 17 in select cinemas across Canada, Apple TV and VOD.

Monday, November 13, 2023

record review: 1962-66 and 1967-70 (remixed)


The Red and Blue albums (officially 1962-66 and 1967-70) are out...again. These were the Beatles' first official greatest hits compilations (released in 1973) and introduced the second generation of fans who were too young to personally experience the Fab Four in the 1960s. In fact, these were my very first Beatles' albums and, like so many, I cherish them.

That said, I had mixed feelings about these double-LP being expanded and re-released in 2023. The Red and Blue have been released many times over the years. Sure, I'm thrilled that Peter Jackson and his wondrous AI software has demixed the pre-1966 Beatles' songs (recorded in mono, primitive stereo or four track), expanded the sound picture of nearly every song and let each instrument and vocal breathe.  (Demixing means separating each instrument and vocal from a mono track, something that technology finally allows.) Many of the results are stunning, reveal nuance and even instruments buried within previous mixes. They add bottom-end warmth and depth to some thin recordings that were original mixed for primitive turntables and basic speakers, nothing like today's high-end equipment and speakers.

However, I'm not so thrilled by the price of these triple-LP sets, costing C$120 (including tax) in Canada, though the CDs can be found for a third of that. Ironically, the Red Album holds better value, because every track has been demixed, including the eight Revolver session tracks in 2022, but the Blue features only six newly demixed songs, plus the Now and Then single (reviewed here last week).

What follows is a track-by-track review of each newly mixed song, with the lion's share coming from the Red album. I listened to these high-rest digital tracks on my phone with my faithful Panasonic bass-friendly earbuds (most earbuds sound tinny). I did not equalize any songs during playback.


The debut of The Beatles's first single in stereo, this new mix was lost amid the hype over Now and Then. (See our review.) This new mix is a revelation and served as a teaser for the new 1962-66. Love Me Do is one of a handful of early Beatles' songs that was released in mono and stayed in mono all these years (see She Loves You below). The result is liberating. John's harmonica shines in the left channel, slightly bleeding into the centre. The right (slightly panned centre as well) hosts the drums. The AI reveals an acoustic guitar that was buried in the muddy mono mix. Each note of Paul's bass rumbles in this track. Paul's lead and John's harmonies are locked firmly in the centre to anchor the song. Also, Apple got it right: this is the original October 1962 version with Ringo on drums (there's no tambourine, as found on the common Andy White version). A superb mix.


Guitars on the left, vocals at centre, and harmonica and drums on the right. Ringo is the winner of this new mix, because his drums are more distinct than ever. As a thrilling touch, they pan across the audio spectrum during the short drum fills. Yes, the sound is little muddy, but they was recorded in mono and the audio originated from 7' vinyl


This is the first of the new tracks added to the running order of the orignal 1962-66 release. A fine choice. Immediately, you notice an improvement in the sonic quality (brighter top, warmer bottom), reflecting the recording equipment The Beatles, George Martin and his engineers used in the February 1963 recordings, whereas the previous two songs were captured in 1962. Right off the bat, everything is brighter and clearer, led by Paul's rousing vocal. Again, his bass notes are defined while Ringo's drums flex muscle. Handclaps on the right and George's rockabilly-style guitar on the left and both distinct. An exciting mix.


Another new song to this album and the first of three covers. This stereo mix is straightforward and packs a punch: drums on the left, guitar on the right and vocals in the centre. One minor complaint: Paul's bass could have been a touch stronger. Overall, good.


Drums on the left, guitar on the right and vocals in the centre. Paul's bass notes are more distinct here than on Twist and Shout. Also, the harmonica breaks burst in the centre, an effective choice.


EMI long lost the session tapes to this song which kicked off Beatlemania in mid-1963. So, Giles Martin and Peter Jackson had only the finished mix to work with. There's a sudden drop in fidelity, sounding along the level of Love Me Do (whose tapes are also missing). However, the AI software has teased out Ringo's propulsive drumming which roar in the left channel, while the guitars chug along in the right. Though Paul's bass has never sounded clearer, Ringo is the star on this track. However, both channels bleed slightly into the centre which preserves the driving power of this song. This marks the first time She Loves You has ever been mixed in stereo.


By autumn 1963, The Beatles were recording in four-track and the fidelity immediately leaps forward. I Want To Hold Your Hand has been released before in stereo, but in annoying hard panning between left and right with little in the middle. Here, the recording's elements are balanced with the vocals anchoring the centre, drums in the left and guitars at right. A good job, but this mix doesn't leap out of the headphones or speakers like the fragment mix included in the Love project.


Another new song, and a good choice. Placing the acoustic guitar on the left, John's rhythm guitar and Ringo's brush strokes on the right with the vocals (and glorious harmonies) in the centre is simple, but works. Also, the awkward tape splice from John's "middle eight" back to the group harmonies is gone. Very good.


The mix is the same as This Boy's and works just as well. Note that this and the followingtwo songs were recorded in basic two-channel stereo and released in mono in stereo with vocals in one channel and all instruments in the other. Needless to say, the 2023 mixes are a huge leap forward.


A new song. This was a minor hit in the U.S. and a single released in Canada during Beatlemania. This mix features hard panning in the left and right channels with little bleed: guitar in the left, handclap in the right and George's vocal at centre. While not a deal-breaking, a touch of bleeding into the centre would have been nice. The hand claps are a tad loud for my taste while the guitar could have been stronger. That said, this is overall good.


A new song and the last of the album's covers. It's a great composition by Smokey Robinson and a Motown classic, but Money features a better vocal by The Beatles (particularly John Lennon) and should have replcaed this. This remains, though, a fine cover, highlighted by the stop-start vocal interplay between John and Paul with George. The sonics are a leap forward from previous mixes where you could easily hear the tape slices connecting various tapes.


The instruments leap out of the speakers with this powerful mix. Drums, bass and guitars are indeed distinct, but partially blended into one another to pack a wicked punch. The guitar solo is mostly centred and it shines. The drums are muscular and drive the song. This is one of the Red Album's highlights.


The B-side of Can't Buy Me Love is a worthy addition to the Red. It's another driving rock song and again the new mix brings up Ringo's drums. Guitars are subtly split between the left and right channels, while the guitar solo bursts in the mix. Very good.


The original stereo mix was nicely balanced, but this 2023 brings out details in the acoustic and rhythm guitars. Bongos are more prominent, though not overpowering, in the right channel.


Straightforward and effective with guitars tastefully split between left and right. I had no idea there were bongos recorded on this track. Very good.


Good and bad. Good are Ringo's drums. His cymbal crash in the intro is a sweet surprise. Bad: not enough bass.


The bass returns. The mix is balanced, and I like how the guitar solo covers both channels. However, I wish there was little more reverb on John's vocals (though not like the original American mix).


True, this song is mixed the same way as the other songs with the vocals anchoring the centre and the various instruments positioned left and right, but the end result lacks the punch of the mono mix found on the original North American Red album of the 1970s. The opening drums found on original mono mix, including the one on my vintage copy of 1962-66, explode, like a canon. Not here, though the bass has muscle.


Paul sounds as if he's singing in the room to you. That's how crisp he sounds. A nice touch: splitting the string octet between the left and right channels. Well done.


Well-balanced with drums on the left and the driving acoustic guitar in the right. George's descending guitar bursts in the centre, slightly right, to great effect.


This has a similar mix and feel to Yesterday. John's vocal sounds vivid and intimate as if he's singing to you. The guitars have never sounded so detailed.


Among the more bottom-heavy mixes on this collection, but not overpowering. A clean separation of the various instruments spread across the channels. Overall balanced with the harmonium in the right.


Wisely, this stereo mix retains the feeling of the mono mix. Heavier, guitar-driven rock songs work better in mono. The two guitars are separated between left and right.The solo is a matter of taste. I would have preferred bleeding more across both channels instead of staying sequestered in the right.


Play this one loud. Paul's Stax-inspired bass line (from Otis Redding's Respect), is an absolute monster, driving the funkiest Beatles song. Hands-down, this is a highlight.


The stereo mix of this song was always awful, with vocals on one side and everything including the kitchen sink in the other. This 2023 mix cures that instantly, with John's vocals planted in the centre. All elements sound clearer, like a dirty car that's been polished and now shines. I hear what sounds like someone slapping his legs in rhythm at certain times. Not intrusive, but interesting. George's sitar is placed in the left while the acoustic guitar remains in the right. The new mix finally corrects the stereo picture.


Like Ticket To Ride, this mix is underwhelming. The accepella hamronies which open this track should leap out of your speakers. Instead, they limp along. Also, the bass is a tad strong, even for me. Something is off. I prefer the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songtrack mix.


An improvement over previous stereo mixes. Nicely balanced with the crucial bass line given a little more prominence.


Like Norwegian Wood, this track also suffered from a brutal stereo mix all these years. This mix is light-years better. Centering the lead and backing vocal are crucial, as is centering George Martin's solo. The tambourine is a touch loud, but this is a minor quibble of an otherwise strong mix.


George's second vocal and first composition on this collection. (The original Red release had zero George.) A good choice, though I'm Looking Through You is also worthy. Like In My Life, If I Needed Someone always had suffered from a lopsided stereo mix that sounded flat. Here, the bass injects muscle into the song, and George sings from the centre. However, the Byrds-inspired guitar solo is buried in the right channel and needs a lift. Overall, a major improvement.


Similar reaction to In My Life. No doubt, this 2023 mix is a leap forward.

The remaining eight tracks on the Red Album are taken from the 1966 Revolver sessions, including Paperback Writer, and previously released on last year's Revolver remix. These mixes are excellent, correcting the harsh left-right panning of the original stereo versions while revealing details across all instruments and vocals. The song selections make sense, but a glaring omission is Rain, one of the greatest b-sides and most innovative recordings in the Beatles' canon. Why is this missing?

The six newly mixed tracks on the Blue album:


An amazing song, but a terrible mix. Actually, the song is fine until the long fade-out, which features a live BBC broadcast from fall 1967 of Shakespeare's King Lear. John found out of serendipity and literally grabbed it during the original mixing session in an early example of sampling. Until AI, all the other elements of this song were locked together and inseparable. Now, we've gone too far—King Lear has been isolated, but it is FAR TOO LOUD, drowing out everything else. The entire point of the Walrus coda is to descend into chaos. Instead, this sounds like John Gielgud performing Shakespeare to some background music. This mix ranks with last year's She Said Said She Said as a godawful mess of a mix. “Oh, untimely death.”


In total contrast, this ballad works perfectly. With piano on the left, recorder on the right and Paul's vocal in the centre, this mix is balanced, elegant and strong. The cherry on top is the bass drum sounding richer.


Amazing. In the left channel, the horns drive the song much like they do in Got To Get You Into My Life, but there's an entirely new instrument in the right: John's rhythm guitar. It simply growls, and helps propel this song and gives it bite. This is a superb mix that surpasses even the Magical Mystery Tour blu-ray.


This new mix is actually not far removed from the existing stereo, but the key change is centering the vocal. Wise move. Drums are in the left while loud, fuzzy guitar screams in the right. Not bad, but I would have preferred both channels bleeding more into the centre in order to resemble the mono mix. Hard rock songs sound best with the elements blended together to create a wall of sound. Still, this is a decent mix and much better than the hard-panning original stereo.


A close call and worth comparing to the 1999 Yellow Submarine Songbook mix. In the latter, Ringo's drum leaps out of the sonic picture. Here, the drums are slightly subdued, though the excellent McCartney bass dominates. Fortunately, the biting guitar solo is centred.


The bass (played by George, not Paul) dominates the track. I love bass, but find it too heavy while the vocals are buried, particularly in the fade. The track does punch harder and remains a pleasure to listen to. Background shouting a la Hey Bulldog is new.

Verdict: Love the Red album's new mixes (most of them), though shake my head that Rain is missing. However, the Blue album is not essential except for diehard Beatlefreaks and casual fans who don't own the remixed Sgt. Pepper, White Album, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Coming soon: A review of the Atmos mixes

Sunday, November 5, 2023

book review: Triggers: A Life in Music by Glen Matlock


review by Allan Tong

ChinoKino score: A-

        In 2023, a first-pressing of the Sex Pistols' one-and-only studio album, Never Mind The Bollocks, in VG condition commands $500 in Toronto shops. In 2023, their original fans are paying down mortgages while the Pistols themselves are members of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (though they never showed up). All bandmates are alive, and in fact Glen Matlock is playing bass on the current Blondie tour.

Thankfully, Matlock took time out to pen his second set of memoirs, following 1990's long-out-of-print, I Was A Teenage Sex Pistol. Whereas that earlier book ended when he left (not fired for liking the Beatles, he stresses), Triggers is his update, covering his later years to the present, including his band, The Rich Kids, and the Pistols' lucrative mid-1990s reunion.

Triggers is a fuller book, covering much more time and written by a man looking back on his life. He celebrates, laments and forgives. Both books detail his time working at Malcolm McLaren's provocative fashion shop in London, SEX, and yes, both books declare the infamous manager McLaren as full of shit. Then again, his bandmates agree, which is the only thing they agree on.)

Triggers, though, offer a few new details about the Pistols. I like reading about Matlock's writing process behind the band's early, key song, Pretty Vacant. It started with a raw riff, but he needed to hear the bassline in Abba's SOS to complete it. In that chapter, Matlock explains that a song can feature a melody like the Kinks' Waterloo Sunset, a driving riff like Whole Lotta Love, or both as in the Stones' Satisfaction. After all, Matlock was the Sex Pistols' main songwriter, and it's a shame his partnership with Lydon didn't last.

Matlock also opens up about his personal life, like his struggles with booze, and his ups and downs as a musician searching for a gig. The tone of his book is personal and warm, no posturing, as he offers historic details married with personal observations. He compliments each of this bandmates for their talents. True, there's no love lost with John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), who comes across in the book as a talented wordsmith and performer, but also a diva, wanker and a millionaire cheapskate.

Some things I learned:

* Matlock's son was nearly cast as Johnny Rotten in Danny Boyle's rubbishy mini-series, Pistol (streaming on Disney+ of all places)

* Matlock is furious at Boyle for portraying that the band fired him, when he insists he left

* there will unlikely be another Sex Pistols reunion, because Lydon lost his silly lawsuit against his bandmates over letting Pistol use their music; and because Matlock can't see himself sharing a stage wearing a singer wearing a MAGA cap (don't blame him)

* Debbie Harry pecked him on the cheek backstage in 1978 (an experience Matlock mentions twice, though I don't blame him)

* speaking of Blondie, drummer Clem Burke tried to recruit Matlock for the band's 1999 reunion, but couldn't reach Matlock who was in Paris in those pre-cell phone days

* Matlock wanted to write a musical about Sid Vicious called Sidney

* offstage, Iggy Pop is a very polite guy

* Steve Jones actually likes The Beatles (but never said in the 1970s, because it was uncool among punks)

        Of course, the highlight of the book are the early Sex Pistols years. The infamous Bill Grundy story has been told a million times, so there's little new here, but the months leading up to and following that pivotal moment demand non-stop reading.

Fans of the Pistols, punk rock and rock itself should seek out this book to get a good picture of the seminal rock band. If you can, also track down Steve Jones' memoirs, Lonely Boy, but think twice about Lydon's memoirs, which tends to self-promote and exaggerate.

Now, piss off.

Thursday, November 2, 2023

Now and Then - the last Beatles single and the start of AI


by Allan Tong

Beatle fans around the world released their collective breath this morning at 10:00 am EST to hear the new--and last--Beatles single, Now and Then. They were not disappointed.

John's vocal is clear and drives the song. The strings are subtle and add depth, not sappiness. Paul's new lyrics complete John's sentiment. The harmonies, new ones from Paul and existing lines lifted from Because, Eleanor Rigby and Here, There and Everywhere, do not intrude. Same with Ringo's drums--it gets the job done. Paul's solo is finely delivered on slide guitar in tribute to George.

On the whole, the song works. What began as John's home recording c.1977 at a piano on a boombox has been expanded into a fully realized production. Now and Then has gone from a sketch into a fully framed painting.

Of course, it would have been impossible without the technology of AI (artificial intelligence). Full marks to filmmaker Peter Jackson for employing AI to isolate and highlight the various voices and instruments in the Get Back documentary which showed Paul, Ringo and their fans what this technology can do. What AI does on Now and Then is divorce John's vocal from his piano which were locked on a single mono track. Listen:

Paul, George and Ringo attempted to record Now and Then in 1994-5 for the Anthology project and would have found it a place on the third installment of that CD series, but George vetoed the song's inclusion because of the 60HZ him that ran through the demo tape. The technology simply didn't exist in the mid-90s. I suspect that with AI today George would have granted his blessing.

Now and Then is the last Beatles single ever. It's appropriate that it's coupled with the band's very first 7", Love Me Do, released in October 1962. This too has been touched by AI magic to separate the mono track into two: John's harmonica and Paul's bass guitar in the left channel, acoustic guitar and drums on the right and the vocals in the centre, which follows the formula that Giles Martin has applied to all the Beatles remixes since 2017's Sgt. Pepper. The left and right bleed slightly to avoid the "hard panning" that has afflicted many 1960s stereo mixes. Listen to the results, especially on earbuds: 


The effect is subtle, yet revolutionary. AI has liberated the old mono recordings into stereo to let each instrument and vocal breathe. John's harmonica has never sounded so distinct, You can hear layers of background vocals and instruments that were buried in the mono mix all these years. Yes, we've heard Love Me Do a million times, but never like this.

Today's release is a canny way to promote the forthcoming 1962-66 re-release (on Nov. 10 along with 1967-70) that has been expanded from the original 26 tracks to 38. Thirty are new remixes, and I'm eager to hear them with the AI touch, especially She Loves You, which exists only in mono (because EMI Records lost the master tapes years ago). That said, fans have already "demixed" this song into stereo and the results sound pretty good. Can Apple surpass it?

In fact, anyone who can get their hands on the right AI software can demix at home. Witness this fan's remix of Free As A Bird, where John's vocal is no longer muddied and buried in the track (it too originated from a home demo), but shines in the forefront:

What this means is extraordinary for music history. AI can demix old recordings of not only The Beatles and their contemporaries, but of Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday and others to enhance the sonic quality of their music, present it to today's audience and capture new listeners. Of course, the demixing has to be done with care and taste. The new  Love Me Do mix preserves the original overall sound of the single, but brings out the performances of each musician that were previously overlooked. Fans have already successfully demixed old Beatles demos and even the December 1962 Star Club tapes, which sound primitive. Rumour has it that Peter Jackson wants to demix these tapes. Why not? The Beatles were always innovating with new technology. 

November 3, 2023: A day after the audio release comes the video. Inserts of John and George over contemporary footage of Paul and Ringo recording the track brings home an overwhelming sense of closure. Though these inserts are technically clumsy at times and overdone, they are at other moments poignant. The closing montage of black-and-white photos of the band members growing ever younger is moving. It's impossible not to feel moved, that the final chapter to a grand story has been written.