Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Jake and the Giants (2015)

You're indeed never too small !

My friends at Boat Angel family films have made a genuinely pleasant and kid friendly fantasy adventure for children of all ages or lets say anyone young at heart. 

Jake and the Giants directed by Kent Butterworth may not have the big budget of your typical Hollywood animated blockbuster but it has all it takes to appeal to young kids. Watch the trailer below or hop on IMDB and learn more! Support independent cinema! 

Watch out for Jake and the Giants at the American Film Market between November 4 - 11 at Santa Monica and help spread the word! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Beavis and Butt-Head Do America (1996)

Great stupid fun.. B & B super style!

This movie didn’t suck. It ruled! When I went to see Beavis and Butt-head Do America, it didn’t immediately occur to me how long it had been since I’d seen a film I could call truly remarkable. The dream sequence which opens the movie has the world’s most famous dilholes as modern-day King Kongs, stomping through a city and wreaking king-size havoc. They swat planes, crush cars, and reach at girls through broken skyscrapers, and it was hard not to read this gleeful gigantism as a metaphor for their own success. 

Who would have thought, five years ago, that one of the surprise Christmas-season movie hits would be an almost incompetently animated feature about two chronic masturbators who are unwittingly guarding a secret weapon? Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge stays true to the tone of his MTV series by piling on one ridiculous episode after another and adding a leitmotif of enthusiastic anal-cavity searches, and the movie is a ride worth taking. 

Beavis and Butt-head fall asleep on the sofa and awake to find that their television has been stolen. Searching for the cathode rays they need to sustain them, they stumble into a room in a cheap motel, where they meet a very drunk and dangerous redneck who offers them money to go to Las Vegas and "do" his wife. Beavis and Butt-head can’t believe their luck: They’re gonna score! And they’re even going to get paid for it! Thus ensues a round-trip cross-country odyssey that includes peyote, guns, nuns, the duo's long-lost fathers (fathers and sons remain oblivious to their relationship), and a cameo appearance by a cartoon Bill Clinton. Even Easy Rider didn’t offer such a smorgasbord of delights. It is very easy to like this movie.

The thing that's always fascinated me about the legions of Beavis and Butt-head fans is how they seem to feel like they have to justify it. "Hey, I went to school with people like that," they will say, defensively with an undercurrent of apology, as if acknowledging a visible birthmark. I've often tried to figure out what's implied by that statement and its remarkably few variations. 

We don't necessarily watch programs which recall for us the caste system of our youth, or else, for instance, My So-Called Life would never have lacked for viewers. We don't necessarily watch what assures us of our superiority to the life forms onscreen. You went to school with people like what? People without ambition, shame, or the communication skills necessary for successful negotiation outside a small homogeneous circle. (Huh huh huh – I said "homo.") People who make a career out of sitting in the back row of the classroom, willfully not learning anything. People left to their own insufficient devices, so much the objects of derision that this defines their social existence. 

If you didn't know I was talking about Beavis and Butt-head, would you still be settling back in anticipation of a punchline here? And, at the risk of being accused of various hypersensitivities and/or sympathies, would the moronic duo be as funny if they weren't middle-America white boys? My own theory is that B & B creator Mike Judge has tapped into the zeitgeist (and don't tell me that the trend is played out; I was in the line that snaked around the corner of the theater, and I've seen the grosses) by discovering a strain of humor just short of real horror. Because at face value, Beavis and Butt-head are castaways, doomed to a life at the helm of the deep fryer. I don't want to lose sight of the discontinuity between sociology and entertainment.

And I'll be the first to admit it, Beavis and Butt-head are really, really funny. This, I think, was Judge's intention, back in the days of animation-festival shorts featuring the boys – the I-can't-believe-my-reaction reaction. "Frog Baseball" hits the same chord as does the scene in Goodfellas where Joe Pesci shoots the kid in the foot during a card game for not bringing his drinks fast enough. It can be exhilarating to watch something so gross, or so violent, because it confirms our collective address not in the same neighborhood as such acts as these. I bet you didn't go to school with guys like Beavis and Butt-head. The ones you're thinking of as cartoonish hammerheads nevertheless had some level of self-awareness, and they either knew exactly what their place was in the pecking order (and I bet they started working out) or bamboozled themselves into thinking that the idea of a pecking order was society’s malicious joke (and I bet they got knives, or had restraining orders slapped on them). Or, more recently, they made the decision to embrace Beavisness and become louts on purpose, because Fools have a slight handicap in the social game and can at least rise above the bottom. Have some self-awareness yourself, and think about it for just a moment: Beavis and Butt-head have crossed the line, and they are cartoons of cartoons.

It was MTV that brought Judge's rude conception to its apotheosis. On one early episode of B & B, one of the boys says, "Man, the last eleven videos have sucked. Maybe the next one will be better." After the initial novelty of MTV wore off – and what with the game shows and gimmicks and all, this probably took a lot longer than it should have – that attitude is what we were left with. When Beavis and Butt-head assumed their places on their sofa in front of their crappy TV set, it was like the royal wedding of ennui and anomie. I can attest that the appeal is hard to resist. 

I used to live in a house full of marginally employed men in their early twenties, and B & B with Olde E was the highlight of the day. Someone would go from bedroom to bedroom knocking on the doors and saying, "Time for church!" Bad day on the job? Bad day not having a job? Feeling like a loser? Don't worry, Beavis and Butt-head will never make you feel worse. Because Mike Judge knows that his program is a spectacle but the spectacles themselves are blissfully unaware, you can laugh at and laugh with at the same time – in this sense the program is one smart product. 

James Wolcott wrote in The New Yorker that after watching many hours of Beavis and Butt-head in order to write an article on the series, it was weird to see videos without the yellow B & B logo in the corner, as if it were the series that identified the network instead of the other way around. The increasing tendencies toward the hormonal and the ironic (Remember J.J. Jackson? Martha Quinn?) in MTV's staff and programming would suggest that the network has embraced the laugh-at/laugh-with aesthetic. In this sense the patients are running the asylum. Beavis and Butt-head engender a sense of anarchy and liberation which is missing from most of what we can see on television – what's not to like?

I know: the movie, the movie. We are here today not to explicate Beavis and Butt-head but to praise them. You have to accustom your eyes and your brain to the low production values onscreen without the respite of videos, but Judge keeps the action moving briskly, and there are pseudo-video segments such as Beavis and Butt-head's dance-floor antics in Las Vegas, Mr. Van Driesen's hilariously, unconscionably P.C. "Ode to a Lesbian Seagull" (sung by Tom Jones), and, best of all, the Starsky-and-Hutch-style opening credits. Everything is over the top except for our two stars, who manage to stay reassuringly in the gutter. It's great stupid fun, and we are all invited to be in on its central joke. Which is, of course, that the two biggest screw-ups on the planet save all the rest of us and are acclaimed as quick-thinking, selfless heroes. Beavis and Butt-head snicker, we chuckle, and Mike Judge laughs all the way to the bank. What a country! A.G

Monday, August 17, 2015

Runaway (1984)

Evil robotic spiders from the future  versus an acrophobic super cop!

This tacky sci-fi thriller from the 80s was written and directed by Michael Crichton. Yes, before he took off with big-budget projects like Jurassic Park, E.R or Disclosure. Crichton made tacky movies like Looker and this one. But there's one constant in his work - Conservative Technophobia! And even though this was pre-marketed with great fanfare, James Cameron's Terminator completely nailed it. 

Tom Selleck plays Jack Ramsey, a cocksure cop on the Runaway squad. A few years earlier, Selleck passed on the lead in Raiders of the Lost Ark in favor of High Road to China. Apparently, he didn't learn from that mistake. Smart moustache, foolish choices. The very blonde Cynthia Rhodes plays Jack's new partner, who can't stop drooling over him. (Just like she threw herself at John Travolta in Stayin' Alive).  Together, they hunt and kill robots on the rampage! 

Technology is bad. It's supposed to be the future, and robots are working as maids and construction workers, so why are the cops driving Ford Tempos? Big Problem with this movie: robots aren't very scary. If you don't believe me, rent breastcentric filmmaker Jim Wynorski's Chopping Mall (1986), a cheesy horror movie where robot security guards zap teens with lasers. Although the movie is set in a mall, there is no chopping. I felt gypped but its at least good fun. 

But I digress... Jack, a widower, has a young son and a robot housekeeper named Lois. She looks a lot like Rosie from The Jetsons. "Lois, you can't keep giving him hot dogs for dinner," says Jack. "It is all he would accept," says Lois. Jack's partner warns of the perils of the older model maidbots: "My mother had a Series 10. It kept burning the toast." or so the dialogues run.

KISS fame Gene Simmons is miscast as Dr. Luther, the mad scientist who is making the robots wreak havoc. He's got a big gun! It shoots heat-seeking bullets that can go around corners in pursuit of their targets! "You've heard of a bullet that has your name on it? Well, this one really does." Without the aid of his KISS makeup and costume and axe bass, Simmons has trouble being menacing. Even though he leers and over-acts, the other characters feel the need to keep reminding us that he's the villain. "This is a bad guy" "He's evil, I'm telling you!" "His name is Luther...like Lucifer." Luther launches little spider-like robots on his enemies. They're kinda cute. "My little machines will follow you wherever you go. They're loaded with acid!" C'mon, Gene, show us your tongue just once. No? You're no fun at all. 

A cute looking Kirstie Alley plays  Luther's secretary/girlfriend who helps Jack track down Luther, then reconsiders and begs forgiveness. Luther kisses her, then stabs her in the back of the head! Yeah, her head!

In the first reel, we're told that Jack has only one weakness as a supercop - he's pathologically afraid of heights. How ironic that the finale takes place at a skyscraper construction site! Luther has kidnapped Jack's son and climbed to the top. And the spiderbots are everywhere! RENT IT YOURSELF to see the exciting conclusion. I'll tell you this much--the spiderbots kill somebody and it's not pretty. I won't tell you who, but apparently they like ham. Also watch out for Jerry Goldsmith's great score, it was his first all electronic soundtrack. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Radiohead - Kid A (2000)

The weirdest Alt rock album to ever sell a million copies 

The English rock band Radiohead’s fourth studio album, the radically different Kid A severely divided critics when it was released, some ruing that it probably would not sell many copies. Cant blame them too much because this is indeed a challenging, often downright confusing piece of music that will leave even ardent Radiohead fans scratching their heads. The trademark guitar bits are few and far between, there are large chunks of experimental avantgarde orchestration, the vocals are often ambient & distorted, and the songs rely more upon mood and rhythm than actual melody. No wonder Radiohead chose not release a single from this album – there simply aren’t any either
But while Kid A is a difficult record, it is also an extremely rewarding one. In fact, it is a reason why Kid A is still remembered as the best album of the year 2000 and a deserving winner of a Grammy award for the Best Alternative Album. One could say, no other album released in 2000 even came close to matching the daring and complex artistic vision that Radiohead brought to life with Kid A. While evidently a giant leap away from Radiohead’s early guitar-based brand of rock and roll, Kid A was as big a leap from 1997's OK Computer as OK Computer was from 1995's The Bends. At the time, OK Computer sounded like an exciting and entirely new direction for modern music. Instead, we now realize that Radiohead was just taking a small step forward with that release. 

On Kid A's hypnotic opener, “Everything in its Right Place,” lead singer Thom Yorke repeats the song’s title as a mantra. This song could be about our search for order in a society that is beginning to lack any semblance of order – a time when nothing was/is really in its right place. Even as Yorke sings, his own vocals are repeated back to him backwards and distorted – out of place. Later, the heavy bass line of “The National Anthem” propels Yorke to new heights of angst and tension. The last three minutes of this track is a wonderfully chaotic piece of experimental jazz – horns wail, screech and collide to create a sheer wall of noise. 

Kid A then returns to earth with “How To Disappear Completely,” a song that features acoustic strumming coupled with a simple, wailing two-note echo. Heartbreaking in its beauty and simplicity, this track ranks right up there with Radiohead’s best work yet. Yorke’s high-pitched vocals perfectly complement the other instruments as the song enters an achingly moving rhythm. 

While there’s technically not a “single” from Kid A, “Optimistic” was the first song sent to radio stations and has been called the “target track” by some of the band’s publicity. This claustrophobic-sounding track finds Yorke singing, “You can try the best you can/ The best you can is good enough.” Later, “Idioteque” opens with an electronic drum rhythm followed by a wash of keyboards. Yorke repeats the line, “Ice age coming” with a growing intensity as the track progresses. This psychotic episode is similar in form to OK Computer’s “Climbing Up the Walls.” Kid A closes with “Motion Picture Soundtrack,” an epic, plaintive ballad with Yorke singing, “I think you’re crazy/ Maybe.” 

Fifty years from now, young bands will still be inspired by the music Radiohead has created on albums such as The Bends, OK Computer and Kid A. With these three albums, Radiohead established themselves as one of the most important and most creative bands of the 90s/2000 era. So even if Kid A didn't please all critics, you can be rest assured that people will still be listening in the future to Kid A long after most of those other bands have long gone. As a matter of fact, it still ranked 67 on its Rolling Stone list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Why I love Movies ?

Much more than just a rarefied vacuum of a shared obsession

It happened to me again last weekend. At my cousin's birthday party, which I had not expected to be a stinker by any means but honestly had neither expected to put me in a state of being all fired up about anything – no offense, cousin, and many happy returns – one of the party guests and I discovered that we were both cinemaphiles or shortly cinephiles. ("Movie freaks" is probably the term everyone else in attendance would have used, but we wouldn’t have heard them call us that or worse, because we were operating in the rarefied vacuum of a shared obsession.) 

And suddenly there was one of those moments that all of us movie freaks simultaneously crave and dread: "All right," said my cousin’s friend, giving me a sly look as if he had my number and it wasn’t as great as I thought it was (We love that look!), "Night on Earth."

What the look and the identification mean, loosely translated, is as follows: "It seems to me from my interaction with you thus far that your film creds check out and that you are at least of mammalian-level intelligence. I now wish to bring our collegial vibe to a slightly higher frequency and either build a sense of case-specific solidarity with you or see with what bonhomie and pluck you are able to argue your opposition to my perspective. The film I have most recently named is one which, for some reason which I will later describe, resonated powerfully with me. Without having clued you in to that reason, I will now judge you based on your response to the same film

Got that? I will judge you. I’m not judgmental, we say, and Everyone is entitled to an opinion. Mostly this is true. You like dogs? I prefer cats, big deal. But it’s the case that in some ways it’s easier for me to be friends with someone whose politics I almost loathe, for instance, than with someone who thinks that Robert Altman's Nashville is boring and dated. And, as Don Corleone said, it’s nothing personal – this film meant something to me, note emphasis, and if it left you cold, then I am left with a practical tool, a partial map of what you and I won’t have in common. Why shouldn’t I have that? Why shouldn’t I want it?

Sometimes a movie is more than just a movie; sometimes it is a thing to go to battle over. It’s as if I’m both dictator and loyal resident of a peaceful, neutral republic (work with me on this metaphor, if you would), the boundaries of which are constantly being redrawn. 

I can give you directions to get there, I can brief you on our constitution, but I can’t promise you a visa. For that, you have to be of some proven use to me and my country: a friend of the cause, or something against which I can set myself and look all tough and purposeful and not impotent. (Do I take myself way too seriously here? Please go ahead and judge me, judge me right back.) When confronted with a circumscribing challenge like I was at the party, I similarly have two options, diplomacy or nationalism. "It was all right; on the whole I enjoyed myself," I can say when I don’t want to risk being offensive (or when I don’t want to bother engaging an uninspiring opponent in a skirmish), or I can channel the spirit of Tom Paine and start declaiming. On the basis of my fervor, I declare my due citizenship. 

Back to the party. It so happens that yes I do have strongly held beliefs about Night on Earth, and about one segment in particular. At a cozy family party of all places, where I didn’t know any of the non-family guests, maybe I should have just bowed and smiled. Instead I swung the bat hard, and I can still hear the whistle of it slicing through the air. Times like that remind me all over again why I love movies. Thanks for stopping by. Let us know what you think. A.G

Sunday, August 2, 2015

What I Saw Last Night - 6 Movie Reviews

Its been a busy month but here are some of the films that have kept me awake.

Armored (Nimród Antal, 2009, Crime, Thriller) - With a stellar cast comprising Matt Dillon, Jean Reno, Skeet Ulrich, Lawrence Fishburne, Fred Ward and more, this should have been a winner. Yet, this 2009 heist gone wrong thriller of Armored Guards making the perfect robbery has an uncanny feeling of “been there, done that” throughout its 90 minutes runtime. However, if you have nothing else to do and are willing to ignore the countless clichés, it’s a not so boring time passer. This is a dissapoitment considering its from the same director who gave us the Kate Beckinsale horror film Vacancy (2007) and the superb but dark Kontroll (2003)

Der Baader Meinhof Komplex / The Baader Meinhof Complex (Uli Edel, 2008, Crime, Thriller) - Based on the best selling book of the same name by Stefan Aust, this is a sensational piece of German cinema chronicling the rise of the left wing Baader Meinhof (Red Faction) radical group that was famous in the 1970s and the 1980’s for staging audacious arson attacks and bombings in West Germany and beyond. With spotloss performances from it stars Moritz Bleibtreu, Martina Gedeck and Johanna Wokalek and a water tight screenplay, this is a pleasure to watch. No reason why this was nominated for an Oscar under the Best Foreign Language Film in 2008. Truly unmissable. 

Lucky Luciano (Francesco Rosi, 1974, Crime, Drama) - This Italian-American co-production was a disappointing attempt to cash in on the Godfather craze of the early '70s. The talented Francesco Rosi, known for capturing detail in his films, here uses authenticity to his disadvantage. The movie plays like a mediocre documentary. It is disjointed, with frequent crosscutting between New York and Italy and unannounced flashbacks and flash forwards. Gian Maria Volante, a very good actor, does a credible job here as Luciano when he speaks Italian, but when he speaks Brooklynese English his voice is poorly dubbed.

Peggy Sue Got Married (Francis Ford Coppola, 1986, Comedy, Fantasy) - Never has Coppola been so lighthearted and romantically bittersweet as in this candy-colored retro fantasy that was nominated for three Academy Awards including Best Actress, Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design. Kathleen Turner delivers an impressively nuanced performance as a soon-to-be-divorced woman who goes back in time to the '50s at her high school reunion. Suddenly she's a cheerleader dating her future husband again (played with false buck teeth and unintended Pee Wee-isms by Nicolas Cage). What would Peggy Sue do if she could change her destiny? Funnier, flakier and more poignant than the similar Back To The Future (1985). Kevin J. O'Connor makes an impressive debut as the wild-eyed, poetry-spouting Kerouac clone Peggy Sue secretly desires. 

The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963, Drama) - In his first collaboration with playwright Harold Pinter, exiled director Losey creates a stunning surrealist look at power plays and decadent perversity in the relationship between a handsome, very proper member of the British upper crust (James Fox) and his seemingly dutiful manservant (Dirk Bogarde). All runs smoothly in their tasteful townhouse until the arrival of Bogarde's so-called "sister" (played with youthful sensuality incarnate by a nubile Sarah Miles). Then all hell breaks loose, including the notorious concluding orgy scene. A distinctive ever roving camera, brilliant performances and psycho-sexual dynamics with homo erotic overtones make this one of Losey's best. 

Under Fire (Roger Spottiswode, 1983, War, Drama) - A gravel-voiced Nick Nolte stars as a photojournalist asked by Nicaraguan Sandinistas to photograph their murdered leader as though he were alive to save their cause. This easy-to-swallow primer of Nicaraguan Revolution that toppled the Somoza regime has lots of great kinetic action complemented by a great Jerry Goldsmith score. Cinematography by John Alcott (who shot Kubrick's Barry Lyndon) is consistently inventive. Good peripheral performances from Gene Hackman, Ed Harris, Jean-Louis Trintignant and Joanna Cassidy (who has a stunningly cool-sensual presence) make this a solid political thriller along the lines of Costa Gavras' Missing (1982).

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Paul Weller - Illumination (2002)

Chas Newkey-Burden warms up to the original Modfather

Illumination, the sixth studio album of celebrated English rocker, singer & songwriter Peter Weller released in 2002 can be described as Weller's boldest solo effort, bursting with soul, character and sentimentality. Weller's never been one to play the game in the music industry but you sense that this, more than ever, in this album. It as if he didn't give a hoot to the music industry or the critics or whether they like it or lump it. 

It opens, as did his last two studio albums Heavy Soul and Heliocentric, with a long, mellow and mysterious track - 'One x One' which clocks in at over five and a half minutes. Featuring Noel Gallagher and Gem Archer of Oasis, it builds into a pleasing crescendo and grows with every listen. After the many masterpieces he produced with The Jam, The Style Council and during his solo career, for a song to be called a 'classic Weller tune', it has to be something special. 

The album's second track 'It's Written In The Stars' is something very special - a soul jive Stevie Wonder would have been proud of. With interesting brass effects, it deserves to be the soundtrack for driving around on a sunny day, with the roof of the car back. Also oozing with soul is 'Standing Out In The Universe', which marked the welcome return of Carleen Anderson and Jocelyn Brown on backing vocals.

So too is 'Leafy Mysteries' which is one of the catchiest tunes on the album. If it's rocking tunes you're after, you'll enjoy 'A Bullet For Everyone' which takes us back to the territory Weller stomped over during his Stanley Road era. But it's on 'Call Me No. 5' that your air guitar will get some real punishment. Weller duets the song with Kelly Jones of the Stereophonics, and the senior statesman wins the who-can-sing-the-most-croakiest-and-bluesiest contest hands down. 

But such noisy moments are few and far between on the mellowest studio album Weller's ever released. There's lots of quiet, acoustic stuff going on here with 'Bag Man' and the title track 'Illumination' most enjoyable, particularly to those still hooked on his acoustic live album Days Of Speed. They're sound of a mature artist for sure, but one who is quite at ease with his age. 

There are a few tracks that don't quite do it. 'Who Brings Joy', the album's most sentimental moment, is the musical equivalent of being cornered by a slightly tipsy man who has just become a father and wants to show you his photos. It's so slushy, it makes his last weepie, 'Sweet Pea', sound like 'Eton Rifles' in comparison. Some people will enjoy the mysterious two and a half minute instrumental 'Spring (At Last)'. But for me, it sounds a bit too much like the background to a self-help hypnosis tape. The final track, 'All Good Books', is a decent enough gospel tune but lacks the importance to work as the closer to the album. 

Overall, though, a cracking album. Weller, his superb material oozing soul, humanity and musicianship, continues to stand head and shoulders over any other British artists of his time. Perhaps his best studio album since Stanley Road, Illumination reminds you that we bandy around the world genius with far too much aplomb nowadays. Weller's one of the very few around at the moment to richly deserve that title. So lets paray he doesnt go hanging up that guitar for a while.  

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