C.A.T: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs

Derek and the Dominos – Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs (1970)
Now everyone knows Clapton is god. He’s had a long and successful solo career, jammed alongside slews of notable rock and blues artists and ranked up plenty of hits along the way. So he’s probably my favorite rock guitarist of all time and in 1970 he was a part of what’s probably my favorite album to ever feature old slowhand Derek and the Dominos’ Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.

Though Blues-Rock Supergroup Derek and the Dominos may have been a short lived venture, they sure did leave behind on hell of an album. Filled to the brim with raw bluesy jams, Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs not only spawned a legendary classic rock song in it’s title track, but also gave us a rare chance to hear such talents as Eric Clapton, Bobby Whitlock and the late great Duane Allman all together playing good old rock and roll at it’s finest.

Brilliant musicianship is the center piece here. Eric Clapton is in fine form working alongside Bobby Whitlock vocally as they seem to form a special camaraderie on Layla. Bassist Carl Radle and Drummer Jim Gordon are more or less the best rhythm section you could ask for and what can you say about Duane Allman? Perhaps the greatest slide player in rock history, Duane even gives Eric a run for his money, but they manage to find an appropriate middle ground to play off each other and continually deliver track after track of top notch riffs and energetic solos.

So what about the individual tracks? If you ask me they are some of the best songs Clapton and company ever been a part of. “I Looked Away” and “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” is blues rock perfection and “Bell Bottom Blues” is a bittersweet ballad of the best variety. Though what it all builds up to is truly unforgettable in the two part Clapton and Gordon penned rock epic “Layla”. Written about Clapton’s then-unrequited love for George Harrison’s then wife Pattie Boyd, it’s a passionate rocker, but it’s the musical content that makes this track so very special. Breaking out with a fiery riff “Layla” twists and turns through pure guitar driven intensity all the way to it’s beautiful piano progression outro written by drummer Jim Gordon.

Where Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs may lack in an overall polished sound it makes up for in brilliant musicianship and overall attitude. It’s too bad that this band was so short lived and could never really have an appropriate reunion due to Duane Allman’s death in 1971, Carl Radle’s in 1980 and Jim Gordon’s mental breakdown in 1983 leading to the murder of his mother and imprisonment. Kind of puts a sad spin on the legacy of Derek and the Dominos but if anything we should be thankful for the amazing music they contributed to the genre in such a short amount of time.

Favorite Tracks: “Bell Bottom Blues”, “Keep on Growing”, “Layla”

I Wear The Armor of God


With Doubt, acclaimed writer John Patrick Shanley brings his Pullitzer prize winning play to the big screen. And although the film doesn’t make a completely smooth transition from the stage to motion picture, the film will no doubt (no pun intended) get a number of oscar nominations for it’s riveting performances.

Doubt tells the story of a Catholic school in the Bronx in which a younger priest (Philip Seymour Hoffman) has come under suspicion by a tyrannical nun (Meryl Streep) after she has become aware of the priest taking a liking to the school’s first black student. This sets off a series of engrossing confrontations between the two actors as well as Amy Adams who also gives a respectable performance as another one of the school’s nuns.

I really enjoyed seeing Hoffman and Streep go toe to toe in the few scenes they have with each other, as they both are in fine form here. But I also enjoyed much of the quieter scenes in which we are able to see the inner workings of this Catholic school and the very traditional way in which it is run. And the idea of changing times and ideals of the early sixties in which the film takes place works as a great counterpoint for the story. I also should note that I wouldn’t be surprised if Viola Davis got an award nomination despite being in only one scene, because she certainly makes it a powerful one.

However, there were certainly moments when Doubt felt like it would’ve worked a little better on stage than on film. I’m sure Shanley could’ve rewritten some of the play to work a little better as movie, but I still found it pretty engrossing for the most part. The only other quibble I’d say would be that the story isn’t quite as profound as a one would like a morality tale like this be, but it still raises a few somewhat thought-provoking ideas.

So all in all, Doubt isn’t quite the awards contender it wants to be but is still a fairly interesting story. And if you want to see two of Hollywood’s finest actors at the top of their game as well as some noteworthy supporting performances I’d say Doubt is worth checking out.

Ride of the Valkyries


Based on the true story of a group of German officers that attempted to assassinate Adolf Hitler on July 20th, 1945, Valkyrie is a fascinating and razor sharp wartime thriller from director Bryan Singer (The Usual Suspects, X-Men). Although a tragic story that many have probably never even heard of, the men of Operation Valkyrie should be remembered just for how close they got to bringing down Hitler. Valkyrie gives us an interesting look at the dissatisfaction and disgust of Hitler’s Nazi regime within his very own military.

Tom Cruise plays Colonel Claus Schenk Graf von Stauffenberg, a German officer who after losing his left eye, right hand and two fingers on other hand from an attack in Tunisia becomes the leader of a plot to kill Hitler. Accompanied by an accomplished cast including; Kenneth Branagh, Tom Wilkinson, Terrence Stamp, Billy Nighy and Eddie Izzard and they really drive this one home. A lot of people seem to hate Tom Cruise due to his zany personal life, but if you can look past his celebrity persona he’s pretty good in this. Kenneth Branagh is another highlight but he doesn’t have too much screen time, aside from that everyone brings just the right amount of class and subtlety to their individual characters.

Valkyrie can be a surprisingly tense film despite the lack of any real battle scenes. There are some gun shots and a few ear shattering explosions here and there, but what really draws you in is every building moment that these men try to succeed with their essentially life or death mission. Any idiot could probably guess that they don’t succeed as everyone knows Hitler committed suicide in Berlin, but still you’re stuck in this film’s tight grasp to see how it all unravels.

I think this is an important WWII story for anyone to know, even if it didn’t really go quite as planned. You can’t really give this film a satisfying ending and it’s lack of resolution makes it feel incomplete, almost like it’s a random episode in some war miniseries. Then again what better way is there to inform people about important events than with a movie? Maybe that’s sad but people are dumb and sometimes a movie is just what we need to get talking about a certain topic. I’m not exactly sure how accurate this film was but I did find it informative more or less. It does seem to be lacking something but I can’t quite put my finger on it, though I should be lucky I have all of mine.

The Hardest Button to Button

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

As you all know, I’ve been anxiously awaiting this latest effort from director David Fincher for pretty much the whole year. He’s just been one of those consistently great directors and the premise is certainly a juicy one. Now that I’ve seen it, I’m happy to report that the film did deliver, but it didn’t blow me away like I thought it would.

Benjamin Button is born as a baby with all the signs of deterioration you’d expect to see in an 80 year old man. As the years go by, he grows into an old man, and slowly it becomes apparent that he is aging backwards. The film documents most of Benjamin’s adventures, but focuses on his relationship with Daisy, the love of his life.

The performances here are adequate, but I don’t think award worthy. Brad Pitt does a fine job with how difficult a role it is, and Cate Blanchett does the best New Orleans accent she can. The supporting cast is just as strong as the stars, with the always-good Tilda Swinton turning in another great performance and Jared Harris making his brief appearnce very memorable.

This is easily Fincher’s most ambitious film yet, with an epic duration and an astounding amount of visual effects. What’s so impressive is how often he is able to make the CG work here, there were only a couple scenes where I really noticed what we were looking at wasn’t “real.” Really a top notch effort here, and all the spectacle of 1920s New Orleans, Russia, WWII and Benjamin’s aging in reverse really make this film something to see.

The film is written by Eric Roth, the Forest Gump guy, and this film has the same sweeping feel that that one did. While it sure can deliver the romance, drama, and even the comedy (lightning guy!) I couldn’t help but feel it lacking. No one ever really questions Benjamin’s condition, nor is it used to delve into an understanding of the human condition, mortality, or even faith. Benjamin simply is the way he is. The climax feels a little off too, but that might just be because Benjamin’s demise is pretty weird. Then again, should things really be straightforward and heartwarmingly satisfying with such a bizzare character?

In the end, I think this is a movie people should go see. On a purely visual level, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is marvelous. It might not be perfectly executed, but the story is more than satisfying. At the very least, this is a film that will leave an impression on you.

T3: Christmas Classics

Happy Holidays everyone! Were having a Cat Fancy Christmas here at the blog and in honor of this very special occasion, I thought I’d do a jolly top ten on some of my favorite holiday classics. Now we’ve all embraced our own holiday movies over the years and these just happen to be some of my favorites, so let’s unwrap these bad boys.

10. Gremlins (1984)
: It’s Christmas time in Kingston Falls when Billy Peltzer’s father brings home an unusual pet for his son. Purchased from a mysterious Chinese man, this friendly little creature is called a mogwai which Billy names “Gizmo”. There’s just two things Billy should have paid closer attention to; 1) Never get it wet and 2) Never feed it after midnight, of course things don’t quite go as according to plan. Gizmo gets wet spawning five new mogwai and after these mischievous new mogwai get their hands on some grub at the ungodly hour, they transform into something that’s not so cute. Definitely one of the darker christmas classics but a Christmas classic nonetheless. It’s got humor, horror and plenty of holiday cheer. Director Joe Dante basically made a live action cartoon and this Spielberg produced classic has been a staple of the holiday season ever since. Just flip over to AMC around Christmas time and your bound to get a taste of these feisty little scrooges.

Magical Moment: When Billy’s mom fends off the house from mischievous gremlins. We see everything from Billy’s mom wrestling a Gremlin filled Christmas tree, to her popping one in the microwave. Probably more messy than magical but definitely memorable.

9. Bad Santa (2003)
Easily the most vulgar film on this list. Bad Santa is dirty, offensive and gross but what makes it so redeeming is that it still has a heart. Following the misadventures of two thieves Willie (Billy Bob Thornton) and Marcus (Tony Cox), who work as a mall santa and his trusty elf in order to rob malls, Bad Santa is a laugh riot and one of my favorite holiday themed films of this decade. Of course what seals the deal here is the relationship between Willie and a young boy named Thurman and all of their hilarious exchanges such as;

Kid: Santa!
Willie: Yeah.
Kid: You’re bringing my present early?
Willie: No
Kid: But I never told you what I wanted.
Willie: I said I didn’t bring it, dipshit.

There’s just something about the innocence of the kid and his relationship with this surly fake santa, that makes this film quite compelling. The dialogue is hilarious and the characters are classic, if you haven’t seen this then you should check it out. It’s the perfect way to spice up you holiday!

Magical Moment: Willie delivering Thurman’s Christmas present even with the cops on his tail. That was pretty messed up but it was heartfelt.

8. Elf (2003)
Elf hasn’t been around for that long but it seems like everywhere I go it’s already been embraced by many as a staple of the season. The story is simple, sweet and the perfect vehicle for it’s masterful leading man Will Ferrell. You just got to love Buddy the elf and his enthusiasm for the holidays. Everybody loves “fish out of water” stories and Elf turns that concept into something completely off-the-wall and lovable. Fun for the whole family, child or adult, Elf is a delightful holiday romp that’s always worth a watch during the Christmas season.

Magical Moment: Hard to say as I enjoy all of Buddy’s encounters in New York. Though I am quite partial to the portion of the movie Buddy spends inside the toy department of Gimbels.

7. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation (1989)
It’s no cinematic triumph but one thing is for sure is that they sure nailed down the perfect comedic tone for the holidays. There’s tons of moments I think that in our own twisted ways can relate to. I mean I don’t know about everyone else but I’ve definitely had moments where Clark reminds me of my own dad. The perfect personification of the upbeat American dad and is enthusiasm really makes this movie a blast. Not to mention this a perfect venue for Chevy Chase to display his skills in physical comedy which he’s definitely got down. There’s also some great dysfunctional relatives here too, Cousin Eddie comes to mind as he was brilliantly played by Randy Quaid.

Magical Moment: Remember when Clark hangs from the gutter and that window breaks and stuff like that? I love that everything that could go wrong in this movie goes wrong and it makes for some pretty funny stuff.

6. Home Alone (1990)
John Hughes was basically your “go to guy” screenwriter of the 80s and 90s and with Home Alone he yet again hit another one out of the park. Starring the fresh talent Macaulay Culkin as the pesky yet crafty Kevin McCallister, Home Alone is an incredibly imaginative film with a strong cast, loads of off-the-wall gags and many touching moments (I mean it made George Costanza cry). Kevin facing off against two bumbling crooks Harry (Joe Pesci) and Marv (Daniel Stern) is stooge-esque comedy at it’s best. Another key component of why this film works so well, is it’s fantastic holiday score by who else but John Williams. Definitely one of those movies I used to watch over and over again as a kid and even today I hold it dear to my heart.

Magical Moment: When Kevin’s creepy old neighbor comes to his rescue and turns out to be nice guy… That always gets me.

5. A Christmas Carol (1951)
There’s got be about a bazillion versions of this classic tale by Charles Dickens and there’s definitely a good share of both bad and good ones. I’ve seen plenty adaptations but I have to say my favorite is easily the 1951 British version starring Alastair Sim. Many great man have taken on the role of Ebenezer Scrooge; George C. Scott, Michael Caine and even Patrick Stewart, but if you ask me Alastair Sim made the role what it is today. His goofy appearance and ghoulish voice set the perfect mold for the crusty old miser, but his hilarious and heartwarming performance is what really leaves you in awe. The script is well crafted but want can you expect when the man who penned the script also co-wrote The Wizard of Oz? That’s a sentimental masterpiece in the bank and this penned to perfection, showcase of strong acting and moving moments is in mind the definitive version of this iconic tale.

Magical Moment: The ending is a definite tear jerker.

4. Die Hard (1988)
“Ho ho ho now I have a machine gun.” That’s what I’m talking about! It made a star out of Bruce Willis, brought the action genre to new heights and is probably the greatest movie to ever combine explosions with christmas. Die Hard is an adrenaline rush of unforgettable one liners, through the roof action, and most importantly holiday cheer. The characters are fun and clever and the direction and script are tight and punchy. John McClane is a classic character and I’ll always welcome him into my own at this time of the season.

Magical Moment: Remember when he walked on the glass? That was awesome…

3. Miracle on 34th Street (1947)
A movie centered around the belief that a department store Santa is indeed the real Santa Claus is a pretty fun premise to start with. Though that does mean that the quality of your movie basically lies within the strength of your Santa’s performance, but here there are no worries. Edmund Gwenn (Who dons the iconic red cap) gives what’s probably the greatest performance by any actor to ever play Santa. He was so good that he even won a “Best Supporting Actor” Oscar at that years ceremony. A guy playing Santa winning an Oscar, how cool is that? Though it’s not that surprising as he’s marvelous in the role. You can’t count out the loving supporting cast either, Maureen O’Hara, John Payne and Natalie Wood don charming characters that leave for a warm viewing experience. All in all Miracle on 34th Street is fun for the whole family and hopefully it’s age won’t weigh it down from being passed on to future generations.

Magical Moment: When Santa speaks dutch to the foreign girl who desperately wanted to see Santa.

2. It’s a Wonderful Life (1946)
Definitely up there with some of my favorite movies of all time It’s a Wonderful Life is probably one of the most emotional and powerful films I’ve ever seen. The legendary Jimmy Stewart gives what’s probably his most iconic performance of his entire career. The characters are all lovable and memorable in their own ways, even the douchebag Mr. Potter (Played by the very talented Lionel Barrymore) is a hoot. George Bailey’s relationship with Mary (Donna Reed) is romance at it’s finest and who doesn’t love other oddball characters like poor old Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell) or the wise yet silly guardian angel Clarence (Henry Travers). This is probably my favorite movie on this list, but I didn’t give it the top spot for one reason. As much as I love it, it’s not really about Christmas (aside from the finale) rather it focuses more on the decisions we make in life. I mean the sacrifices George makes for the people around him and all his selfless gestures truly brings a tear to your eye. Nothing short of an American classic and a must see.

Magical Moment: When the whole town comes to aide George in his financial woes and George’s brother says “To my brother George, the richest man in town.” Yeah, you just try and fight back those tears of joy.

1. A Christmas Story (1983)
Can you think of any other movie that so perfectly embodies what it means to be a kid around Christmas? Bob Clark’s 1983 classic is the perfect representation of not only the magic and wonder of the holidays, but also the disfunction that can sometimes follow. The Parker family are really a bunch of screwballs that I think everyone can relate to in one way or another. Melinda Dillon is great as Ralphie’s concerned mother, while Darren McGavin easily gives the best performance of his entire career as Ralphie’s “Old Man” and even the kids are pretty good. Peter Billingsley gives a surprisingly professional performance considering his age and all the over kids have their moments. Though what really ties this all together is Jean Shepherd’s narration. The whole basis for the movie was based on the true life experiences of Jean Shepherd (who wrote the film along with Bob Clark) and his radio friendly voice perfectly suits the midwest 40s setting. If you haven’t seen this you’re probably insane as TBS runs a 24 marathon every year (I Watched it twice today) and it just wouldn’t be Christmas without A Christmas Story

Magical Moments: I really can’t decide, I mean there’s when Flick gets his tongue stuck to the flagpole, going out for “Chinese Turkey”, all of Ralphie’s fantasies… You know you have something special when there are that many memorable moments.

Honorable Mention
Jingle All the Way (1996): It’s dumb but it’s just so zany that it’s hard not to enjoy.
Scrooged (1988): A sarcastic Bill Murray + Christmas ghosts = Awesome
The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992): A surprisingly entertaining take on the story.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Happy Holidays!

The Cat Fancy crew would love to wish all of our faithful readers a merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah or fun-filled Kwanza. If you celebrate any other holiday, we hope that either did or will go well too. No hatred here, not at this time of the year.

As you celebrate… let’s face it, Christmas, we’d like you to keep the blog in your heart and mind. Sure, we may not update as much around the holidays, but that doesn’t mean we don’t care. Expect some exciting updates in the days to come, and end of the year awards are coming soon too!

Also, we recently passed the 300 post mark, so, it’s almost like we earned a break. Almost.

Some math:

  • 33 Albums declared classic
  • 6 Retrospecticus(es?)
  • 340 Top ten items
  • 33 Posts by Nancy
  • 31 Posts by Colin
  • 135 Posts by John
  • 102 Posts by Sean

C.A.T.: A Christmas Gift For You from Phil Spector

Darlene Love, The Ronettes, The Crystals, Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans – A Christmas Gift For You From Phil Spector (1963)

Seeing as though Christmas is almost here, I might as well review this masterful collection of some of the most beloved Christmas songs overseen by none other than producer Phil Spector at the height of his powers. I really can’t say I’ve heard a better collection of Christmas songs, and it’s all thanks to Spector’s signature sound combined with his love for the music of the Holiday season.

With A Christmas Gift For You, Phil Spector focused the attention that he had been put into all of the singles he was producing into a full album, and he used all of his most successful artists at the time. However, the album was initially somewhat of a flop considering the amount of success Spector had been having up to this point. This was basically due to the fact that this jolly collection of songs unfortunately was released on the same day as the Kennedy Assassination, but the album has been acknowledged as a classic in later years. Many of the versions are staples of the Christmas season, especially Darlene Love’s original version of “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”.

Most of these songs are ones that we’ve all heard a gazillion times, but it’s the way that Phil Spector utilizes his signature “Wall of Sound” technique that makes these songs seem so fresh and inviting. You hear plenty of the driving strings, thunderous drums, and lush vocal arrangements that you’d come to expect from a Phil Spector single. Most of the recognizable standards such as “White Christmas” and “Frosty the Snowman” have pretty unique arrangements to them and there’s also a few underrated less-popular Christmas song such “The Bells of St. Mary” and “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” that are also found on the album.

It’s kind of hard to escape many of the versions of these holiday classics this time of year, and it’s not hard to see why, Spector’s musical style works great with the music of Christmas. I certainly look forward to listening to this album whenever Christmas is upon us, and I’m sure I’ll keep coming back to it with each coming Holiday season.

Favorite Tracks: “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)”, “Sleigh Ride”, “Marshmallow World”