Saturday, December 3, 2016

10 Stages of Drinking

Exploring the fine art of Alcohol Consumption

Everybody loves a drunk. Whether it be the melancholy humor of W.C. Fields, the dignified swagger of Dean Martin, or the testosterone bravado of Vin Diesel... well, nearly for every good drunk, the traits tell no lies. 

If you can suck down a six-pack of Budweiser through a funnel that 24 hours earlier served as the entry point for transmission fluid into a Dodge Charger and then wipe your chin and belch your Social Security number, let's face it, you're as cool as you need to be.

My old 64-ounce Budweiser stein has grown a bit dusty, and I've become accustomed to a highball glass filled with something dark mixed with something bubbly. Soon, I imagine I'll move up to straight scotch, or maybe martinis, although I refuse to sell myself into the ever trending martini craze. Thirty something adults acting like old sixty something adults is almost as silly looking as the opposite, a sort of mid-life crisis, if you will. 

I like drinking. I had stopped but its begun again. I think I am getting good at it. And not just the "I can drink forty eight beers and not die" good. I do it quite well. If I could make money drinking, I'd get bonuses. Quarterly.

I know alcohol is an addictive drug too. However, sometimes there's a little part of me that, I don't know, distracts the thinking part of me and sort of seduces me into getting ugly, bleached, stinking, three-sheets duhrunk. It happens all the time, to all of us. But as i told you before, I'm getting good at this too, and I've learned and mastered the stages. With expert help from ace researchers, who have taken painstaking notes and measurements of this drunken state of mind, I have gotten blotto down to a science which I am calling the fine art of consumption.

Stage 1: The Refusing
It holds true that the evenings I begin by refusing the first few drinks offered me are the ones where I end up emptying a fifth of Absolut. So take note, if you don't feel like drinking, either have one right away to take the edge off, or call a cab before the nightmare ensues. This is one of the most overlooked stages, which is a shame because early prevention is so key.

Stage 2: The Relaxing
After the first two drinks I'm in my normal routine, just hanging out, being smooth, having a good time, taking a load off. The most deceptive of the stages, stage two is almost always mistaken for a nice night out with friends.

Stage 3: The Reveling
Usually accompanied by erratic (and stupid) dancing, this stage is the latter of my normal drinking routine. By this time, I'm feeling great, not quite invincible, but definitely a few pounds lighter. If I go straight home after this stage, I've done my job.

Stage 4: The Ranting
I'm not sure why, but at some point my speech becomes littered with the "F" word. Without fail. And my proximity to the public rarely puts any restraint on it. Also, I tend to get a little mean here. Requests of "Excuse me sir, could you keep it down" are usually met with, "First of all, shave your back..." and so on. This is still a familiar stage though, and there are quite a few of us who can recognize it, or, this late in the game, have it recognized for us, and retreat back to the safety of our homes before we embarrass everyone or at least receive a good pummeling. Sometimes, I get all intellectual and talk like Noam Chomsky. 

Stage 5: The Shrinking
The first of the unrecognizable or "too late" stages, shrinking can only be detected by the shrinkee, and, thus, rarely gets caught in time. Every once in a while, I can spot shrinking. People get bigger, words get bigger, the ground gets bigger, yet I am powerless to stop it. In a most fascinating aside, the stages have begun to speed up drastically at this point, actually breaking several laws of physics.

Stage 6: The Crying
Don't laugh. And stop acting like it never happens to you. This is probably the most vulnerable point in human existence short of birth. It doesn't happen every time, but if ANY amount of tequila has made its way onto my menu, I end up weeping profusely. Usually about deep things like my life or a lost friend, but also stupid things like never having become a Pilot or the being angry at the kid who broke the egg statue I made for my mom in the second grade.

Stage 7: The Bargaining
"Oh God, oh Buddha,  just let me throw up. I promise I'll..."

Stage 8: The Regurgitating
Look, you know it's coming. Don't make it such a big deal. Go to the bathroom, find a stall, and jump up and down in place. This usually gets it all out in one... heave. I know, it's disgusting, and I honestly hope you're not eating lunch or anything while you're reading this, but it's the dark fact of the social drinker. Sooner or later it's you. Note: If you've found that special someone to hold your hair, don't ever let them go.

Stage 9: The Bargaining (reprise)
"Oh God, just let me stop throwing up. I promise I'll..."

Stage 10: The Napping
I prefer to call it napping. After a hard night getting all tanked up and putting friendships and relationships and your general health on the line, you need some rest. So get home and get tucked in. And believe me, even insomniacs like me cant fight the napping power of alcohol.

These are the things society doesn't tell you. It's hard to imagine W.C. Fields bargaining, Dean Martin crying, or Vin Diesel refusing, but it happens. It happens a lot. So now, when you get set to go on that bender, you'll be prepared. And if I see you out there, let me know if I've made a difference. Unless of course I'm at stage four. Then just leave me alone until stage six, at which point I'll have all the love in the world for you.

To happy (and safe) drinking! J & W

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

A to Z for the Politically Illiterate

Your short cut to become politically enlightened 

The German dramaturgyst Bertolt Brecht once said "The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies". 

So, with the US presidential election round the corner, here is a A to Z to help you not become one..

The form of birth control most deserving of federal funds. It must be spoken of only with great solemnity,but otherwise treated the same as other birth control techniques.

The right to coerce. It is earned either by moral certainty or by polls indicating popular support by the non-voting majority.

The next best thing to one-party rule.

Dissent with authorities as to which books children should be forced to read.

Best form of birth control as it allows sex without trust or acknowledgment of mutual risks. This prevents perversion, and retards the intimacy that can lead to troublesomely atavistic nuclear families. The only drawback is that condoms are so prohibitively expensive that no one can buy their own, so they are completely unavailable unless provided by the State.

1. Intangible entity by which the State is able to determine intuitively what rights it will grant its subjects. Often confused with: 
2. Actual, largely static document which purports to dictate the "proper" way to conduct matters of State.Written in such opaquely complex phraseology that only twelve living people can interpret it, it is often taken literally by ultra-right-wing arch-conservative reactionaries.See Gridlock

1.Political strategy of buying votes and loyalty by redistributing the confiscated property of scape goats.
2.(Archaic) Spontaneous concern for the well being of an individual, on the part of a human being.

Treating animals differently than humans.

Means by which the State empowers female children and curbs the destructive phalocentric tendencies of males. This is especially important in a democracy, to insure that the electorate votes properly.

1.Opposite of morality (basis in self-esteem rather than humility).
2. Unwritten law by which intellectuals govern their behavior. Ethics vary according to group allegiance, but can always be determined by graduates of ethics courses.

Unnecessary philosophical consistency (with rabid stupidity and sheer hypocrisy)

1. Synonym for the State.
2. Ringleader of global reactionary phalocentric fanatic movement, and purveyor of the only pornography so vile the State must protect people from it. 
3. Sometimes useful word if used in a meaningless context.

System of checks and balances instated by vaginaless caucasians to impede progress. See Constitution

1. Anyone who participates in something they claim to be opposed to. For instance: someone who says they don't like feces, and is later caught defecating.
2. Any fanatical practitioner of religion. See Fanaticism

Any criticism from a member of a group known to be composed of bigoted worthless hypocrites

Lowbrow populist substitute for ethics. Requires less education, but more religious training, often of an unsavory Judeo-Christian variety. See Judgemental

1.Synonym for the State. 
2.A voter obsessed with the soccer matches of non-taxpayers. See Woman

The act of killing a warm-blooded organism that is able to scream. Illegal in some states without a note from a physician.

One who is grateful to the government for providing a free education

Sexual acts in which the partners; 
1. Trust one another more than the State,
2. Allow a chance for pregnancy to occur, 
3. Bring a penis into direct contact with a vagina, 
4. Have anything in mind other than physical pleasure.

Biological imperialism.

Belief in stereotypes that are not sanctioned by authorities.

1. Member of a small minority of extremely wealthy bunny-stompers. 
2. Member of a large majority of xenophobic, carnivorous, ignorant, trailer park dwelling Garth Brooks fans.

1. Synonym for the State. 
2. Total set of causes for all negative behaviors in individuals. Must be eliminated.

Synonym for the State.

1. Crypto-feminist. 
2. Voter so receptive to education that her support can be counted on, even if you drop your pants and say "Kiss it". 
3. Breeder. 
4. A type of voter best appealed to by fear and compassion. 
5. Gynaecologicaly- endowed- american.

A chromosome that must be apologized for when it appears in conjunction with heterosexuality and melanin-deficiency.

Concentration camp for quadruped-americans.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Lost Highway (1997)

90s bizarre erotic mystery for true blue Lynch Fans!

All right, let’s get this on the table. There are two kinds of people in the world, those who divide the world into two kinds of people and those who don’t. No, I’m kidding. There are those of us who go into a swoon when David Lynch hits the mark (The Elephant Man, Eraserhead, the first ten or twelve episodes of Twin Peaks) and give him our patience when he doesn’t, quite (Wild at Heart, Twin Peaks after its degeneration into soap opera); and then there are those whose minds flat-out cannot process Lynch and his idiosyncratic liberties. Members of this latter group are inclined to demand "Yes, but what does it mean?" with varying degrees of patience. I accept that there are such people, and I accept that they feel justified in their frustrated distaste for my main man Lynch. Me, I can’t deal with televised football, not even for a few minutes at a time while I’m waiting to see the new commercials. Never liked it, never will, would rather give a cat a bath than have anything to do with it. But some people, even some of my friends, are crazy for football and even find themselves moved to stand up and shout and cheer. To each his own; it’s a big enough world for all of us.

I speak, then, as a longtime member of the former group of Lynch-watchers. And for me, Lost Highway is like some kind of Super Bowl. Critical scuttlebutt on Lynch’s film is that he’s only rehashing the cockeyed voluptuousness of Blue Velvet, which when it was released in 1986 was acclaimed as one of the most daring and original films in many many years, maybe one of the best ever. And what of his newest? Normal people descend into indescribable weirdness, we’ve seen this all before, sniff those in my opposing contingent. Pimps, casual brutality, and car chases – even I will not deny the existence of such Lynchian motifs. (In particular there has been some carping that the Robert Blake character in Lost Highway is drawn too closely from Frank Booth, Blue Velvet’s sociopathic nitrous-sniffing freak, of which comparison more anon.) 

But the implication being made by such comments is that having discovered, with Blue Velvet, the formula for critical success, Lynch has attempted to bluff his way to a by-the-book reinterpretation of it, and this is simply not the case. The descent into weirdness traced in that film was hero Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan)’s introduction to, and induction into, the underbelly of his cozy hometown, his realization of all that had lain just outside his range of vision. At a very basic level Blue Velvet was a sick and twisted coming-of-age story; at the end, Jeffrey, older but wiser, has a new sense of hope and the perspective to know what a precious commodity it is. (Whether Lynch is with Jeffrey on this score is a subject much open to debate.) Lost Highway affords the viewer no possibility of hope. It picks you up and throttles you like the cinematic embodiment of Frank Booth, and it casts off the supersaturated realism ofBlue Velvet in favor of surrealistic body blows.

With Lost Highway, you get two stories for the price of one that sort of, kind of come together at the end of the film. In the first, Bill Pullman is avant-garde saxophonist Fred Madison, who with his vampy wife Renée (Patricia Arquette) is the victim of a weird prank: someone is breaking into their house and videotaping them while they sleep. In one of the series of videotapes – these are left on the Madisons’ front porch with the morning paper – Fred is suddenly horrified to see Renée dead on their bedroom floor amid a pile of gore, and himself in the middle of it. The next thing he realizes, he is being interrogated by the police in connection with her actual murder. In the next scene, he is convicted and sentenced to death. End of Part One. 

In his jail cell one night, Fred ceases to be Fred – as the guards notice immediately, the person in Fred’s cell is someone else. A computer search reveals the inmate ex machina to be Pete Dayton (Balthazar Getty), a junior car thief who went missing some time ago. Pete, who can’t remember how he got into Fred’s cell or much of anything in the way of an explanation, is released into his parents’ custody and resumes his former life – going out with his buddies, working as an auto mechanic. One regular customer at Arnie’s Garage is Mr. Eddie (the beautifully cast Robert Loggia, a demonic Dick Vitale; actually, his is the character most like Frank Booth), who seems to want to involve Pete in some shady dealings but just drives him around in his car while his two bodyguards ride in the back. Dropping off his Caddy one day to have Pete work on it, Mr. Eddie arrives with his girlfriend, Alice (Patricia Arquette again), who is drawn to Pete. The two embark on a motel-room affair, and when Mr. Eddie finds out, Alice and Pete plot to rob a pimp (Michael Massee) and run away together. They escape into the desert to find a fence she knows. Here Pete changes back into Fred, who pursues both Alice and Mr. Eddie through some kind of brothel in hell (cameos from Marilyn Manson and Twiggy Ramirez as porno actresses, so you know Lynch means it), ends up back at his house to deliver a mysterious message Fred also received at the beginning of the film, arouses the interest of the detectives who have been watching the house, and is chased down an open highway as another metamorphosis begins to overtake him. Roll credits.

Lost Highway, to me, recalled Eraserhead more than it did Blue Velvet, and I felt like Lynch was getting back to his roots: an elliptical, grotesque narrative lacquered over with sound and light. Many of the same cinematic elements are present in this film as in Eraserhead – in particular, the utterly contrary use of sight and sound, as if a screenful of pixels and some audio feedback constitute an offensive weapon – but here they feel more decisive than experimental; instead of trying almost overhard to distinguish himself as a brash auteur, Lynch is by now so far immersed in his medium that he feels it at an elemental level. The big difference here is that these days everyone knows his name, and he can score budgets chunky enough to bring locations, special effects, and name actors (not to mention color film) to the mix. His movies look more like regular movies now. This false relationship heightens their onslaught.

The primary way in which Lynch movies are not like regular movies is in their nonchalance where conventional plot is concerned. Plots to Lynch are a function, related to his endeavor as knowing how to drive is to wanting to see new places. But because getting there is half the fun, you have to want to enjoy the ride. And man oh man is there a surfeit of roadside attractions. Not the least of these is the cast. 

As the credits flashed (and they do flash) at the start of the film, from Henry Rollins to Richard Pryor to Gary Busey, my friend Steve said, "I feel like I should go out there and give them some more money." It is almost an embarrassment of riches in terms of the play of familiar and half-recalled faces across the screen, but it’s not shock casting. It’s like some mean flip side of the Love Boat, or the Hollywood Squares on a chain gang; there’s nothing comforting about it. 

Bill Pullman, who resembles Lynch himself, makes the quick dive from Presidential to vice – fleshy, sweaty, and surly. Balthazar Getty’s confused composure occasionally recalls Montgomery Clift, and as for Patricia Arquette, what other actor or actress can you name who has been in consecutive movies as schizophrenic as Beyond Rangoon,Flirting With Disaster, Infinity (about the life of Richard Feynman; she played his first wife) and this one and managed to be individualistically credible in all of them? When I first saw her, as the kooky, weepy failed hooker in True Romance, I thought for sure she was a fluke, but she seems to be hell-bent on convincing me and everyone else who goes to the movies that this ain’t the case. Other standouts are two pairs of detectives, who provide some welcome moments of deadpan absurdity, and Busey and Lucy Butler as the enigmatically bereft Mr. and Mrs. Dayton.

But what I can’t get out of my mind is Robert Blake as the "Mystery Man" (this per the closing credits), the one major character Fred’s and Pete’s trajectories have in common. If you’ve seen previews for Lost Highway, you’ve seen a piece of the party scene where Fred first encounters him, and you’ve seen what Blake is up to – you may well have been unable to take your eyes away from it. I wasn’t a Baretta fan, but my sister and I used to watch Blake as a crusading ghetto priest in a one-season TV flop called Helltown, and on a few occasions in the years since, I wondered what this amiable actor had been doing with himself. Having face lifts and selling his soul to the devil, that’s what. 

Blake’s voice vibrates laryngectomy-like almost imperceptibly out of sync with those of the other actors (Lynch’s real genius is as a sound designer), and he twists it as if it’s a knife. The effect of Blake’s characterization – voice, freakshow makeup, demonic eyes, and all – is cumulative, so that at one point late in the film I caught myself whimpering when he appeared. Unlike Frank, the Mystery Man will never make you laugh. He is more contained, so the fear he inspires is writ larger. And he performs on a larger stage: Lost Highway’s vast milieu, interior and exterior, blows Lumberton out of the water. The last movie to which I had such a visceral reaction, some years back, was a Jonestown docudrama starring Powers Boothe, and that was because it gave me flashbacks to the news footage I’d forgotten I really saw televised when I was a tyke. Blake builds a little Jonestown in his heart and holds it out to us, and it’s terrifying. Lost Highway mostly packs its wallop to your psyche because of the narrative authority given to Blake’s character. Is this the linchpin we keep coming back to? With everything you’ve got in your mind and body you make a futile plea: no. Yes, says Lynch, and that’s that.

If you want, you can try to figure out what it all means, you can attempt to use the film’s recurrent themes and images as keys to unlock the rest of it, you can try to get inside Lynch’s head and poke around for buried treasure. (I would in fact be very surprised if hundreds of would-be Film Ph.D’s have not already given this the old college try.) 

If you’ve got more fortitude than I apparently have, you can think long and hard about the Mystery Man and how he brings Fred's and Pete’s stories together in a grotty exploding shack in the desert. But although I did feel a sense of real despair during the film that made me scan its addresses and license plates as if under the influence of a fever, wanting so much to read something in them, in the final analysis I can’t make myself believe that this is the point. Anyway, David Lynch doesn’t want me to pin his movies’ wings down and put them in a case, he wants me to enter the insect kingdom, so to speak, and wonder at the life in it. And with Lost Highway and Blake’s central performance, the nightmarishness of which can only be a long-incubated dream for my old pal Lynch, he wanted me to get stung and see what poison feels like. I submitted.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Café Flesh (1982)

X rated Sci-Fi hardcore of the retro kind

"So close you can almost feel", a porn movie about porn movies, in a thematic sort of way. The director claims in an interview that he originally intended this to be more of a softcore sci-fi piece, but the only backer he could find for it was a hardcore financier so he slipped in the insertions and money shots to make his investors happy. 

Cafe Flesh even had a brief theatrical run in an R-rated version with all the fun stuff cut out because believe me, minus the hardcore sex, there is a cerebral nice sci-fi heart hiding beneath in this adult comedy. Cafe Flesh gives us a post-nuclear holocaust world hobbled with radioactive fallout where 99 percent of the population has been rendered "sex-negative" (i.e) incapable of achieving orgasm and suffering nausea at the touch of another. The sex-negatives, men and women alike, become sex addicts as they watch "sex-positives" - those whose potencies have been left unscathed - perform sex acts at racy nightclubs such as Cafe Flesh. In doing this they hope to fulfill the lust that war has made insatiable. 

The setup is perfect for offering the conventions that are the skin flick's stock-in-trade: a fantasy-world where nothing except sex is important, and where women are as obsessed with watching people screw as men are. (Cafe Flesh's audience I guess is roughly 50/50 men and women, which is generally not the case with your average real-life porno theater.) But unlike most adult movies, Cafe Flesh is aware of these conventions and reflects them back at you. 

During the sex scenes the audience's faces become blank, pained, fixated stares (and if you quickly grab a mirror you might catch yourself with the same expression). Cafe Flesh's emcee, Max Melodramatic, provides intermittent commentary explaining the audience's pain. It has to do with dwelling on a need you can't fulfill, trying to think about it until you make it happen. It's the porn-movie equivalent of the TV spots that tell you to stop sitting around watching TV. You'd be better off getting off your ass, the movie seems to scold, and trying to find a date for Saturday. But since you can't always do what's best for you it's probably okay to watch this movie once -- if you take the phone off the hook and stop going to work, you might want to entertain the possibility that you have a problem. 

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Exclusive Interview with Brian Stewart

Meet the force behind "Jake and the Giants (2015)", one of the best indie animated movies of the year.

To find an indie animated movie for small kids is a rarity these days. "Jake and the Giants" may not be your typical Disney fare but it has its heart at the right place and an inherent innocence in its characters. And good folks like Brian Stewart make it possible. Brian not only helped producing it but also wrote the script and helmed the beautifully composed music and songs. 

Brian Stewart is a writer, composer  and producer, known for A Federal Case (2008), Sugar Baby (2011) and Inside Out (2011) besides the super group Northern Light Orchestra.  A native of Bay Village, Ohio; he  is a graduate of University of Arizona  where he studied screenplay writing and drama. Brain is also the author of the popular children’s television show - Adventures of Donkey Ollie which is shown on many  popular cable and satellite stations throughout the  world.  The Forty Tales of Donkey Ollie is a popular books series having been translated for Ethiopia and Mozambique by Aberle Film Group  and  this is currently being taught to young children as part of an ongoing sports camp outreach.

Along with Ken Mary, former drummer for the Alice Cooper Band,  Brian also plays keyboards and writes song  for the  Christmas themed superband – Northern Light Orchestra which features musicians from popular Heavy Metal and Classical rock groups such as Kansas, Korn, Megadeth, Beach Boys, Def Leppard  and many others. Their hit song “Celebrate Christmas” has been featured on many well known radio shows including Dee Snider’s and Alice Cooper’s  weekly radio show.

Brian Stewart works as the  program director for Boat Angel Outreach Center which also produces the episodic television show "Hollywood Makeover” a series geared to helping high school and college students learn about independent film making.

Here's a small chit-chat with Brian on his role in the making of Jake and the Giants.

1. You seem to have an eclectic career transcending music, writing, TV and movies. How do you get to blend this all and why? 

My favorite writing combines my love of songwriting and story writing. It is nice to combine the both it works especially well in children’s animation as the songs can drive the story forward and give the director an area for his or her personal vision. 

2. How did you begin writing? Did you intend to become an author, or do you have a specific reason or reasons for getting into writing? 

First time I remember was 7th grade my teacher put a bunch of words on the blackboard and said make a poem. I did and I loved it. And that's how it all started,

3. How did you end up writing Jake and the Giants and what were the challenges you faced while writing it? 

It was a gift to a film Company in India - Laughing Lions. When they were not able to produce it, we pitched in and decided to do it ourselves as we loved the idea. We trimmed it down a bit as we did not have as big of a budget as they did but we are glad, it still came out to our satisfaction.

4. Tell us a little more about Jake and the Giants and genesis behind it? 

It is based on the everlasting story of David and Goliath.. The small can overcome the big when their heart and cause is right. Evil does sometimes win but it will never triumph over good. Our kids need to realize this basic concept of good vs evil. 

5. What do you think makes Jake and the Giants a special kind of a kids movie? 

I think the characters are unique a little like the Dutch Paint Boy and the Jolly Green Giant with a bit of an Irish feel to the clothes and a Maxwell Parish color scheme. For an indie budget, we created a distinctive look, plus how can you miss out the flying Monkeys. 

6. How was it to compose music for Jake and the Giants ? How would you rate your work? 

With my musical background, it was rather easy getting the song keys but it was a challenge getting the right singers and musicians. This work is close to my heart so I would rate it one of my best. 

7. When did you start composing film music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? 

I loved the theme for Chariots of Fire by Vangelis and have always loved the theme song Beauty and the Beast. My first favorite was the song from Sound of Music.. the Hills are Alive I learned a lot of that soundtrack in college while studying jazz. 

8. What do you personally consider to be incisive moments in your musical career?

There are incisive moments all the time. I mean, it is always developing as you go from project to project and when you go back to listen to some of them you sometimes say.. “Wow, I don’t remember writing that but is seems to work well with the show.” “I feel fortunate to work with a great producer Ken Mary who makes everything sound great. 

9. What, to you, are the main functions and goals of good scripts and film music and how would you rate their importance for the movie as a whole?

Wow, that is a hard question. The story has to be unique.. You have to care about the characters, the villains can be bad but they have to be more than one dimensional and they definitely cannot be stereotypes.. There must be something likable in everyone. No one is all good or all bad. The music gives the characters a chance to stretch out to show who they are. Sort of like the office party when you learn the secretary has a great set of pipes and can belt out a mean Christmas Carol or your boss can do a great impression of an actor. 

10. What do you think is the harshest reality for indie film makers and producers? 

The reality is you are the small guy. You are up against a machine that has billions and billions and want not just the majority but wants everything. They want every screen, every TV station, every spot on every shelf and they are looking to keep their market share and have no problem crushing everyone who gets in their way. It is like our story the corporations against the indies. The thing is you do it anyway because that is who you are and that is what you do. If you get lucky you get lucky, if not you know you gave it your best shot. If you don’t try what do you get ….Nothing.. So you try you get better at what you do and with help from the good Lord above sometimes you might get your lucky break.

Know more about Brian Stewart on his IMDB profile here or visit the Jake and the Giants website. And here's a trailer for your viewing pleasure! 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Girl, Interrupted (1999)

A melodramatic biography that will open your eyes on mental illness

The title of Girl, Interrupted bears a singular subject, but audiences would have felt to walk out of James Mangold's adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's memoir thinking of two "girls"- Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, who fully cemented their reputations as two of the most gifted young screen actresses of the late 90s. It's unfortunate, however, that the script often isn't as strong as they are. But what is fortunate is that their performances more than compensate for the shortcomings in the writing department. 

Ryder plays the "girl" of the title, Susanna, who in the 1960s is sent to the Claymoore mental hospital after pressure from her parents and a therapist. Though she is hospitalized for chasing a bottle of aspirin with a bottle of vodka, Susanna is more depressed and unmotivated than truly mentally ill - a statement which doesn't necessarily hold true for her peers at Claymoore. Her roommate is Georgina (Clea Duvall), a pathological liar; she also spends time with self-inflicted burn victim Polly (Elisabeth Moss) and laxative junkie Daisy (the late Brittany Murphy). 

Susanna ends up bonding most strongly with the most volatile patient, Lisa (Jolie), whom we first meet being dragged back into the ward after an escape attempt. Dangerous, carefree, and intensely charismatic, Lisa cannot help but captivate Susanna's attention - and that of the audience. It's a role perfectly suited for Best Supporting Actress Oscar aspirations, and Jolie (who did go to win a Oscar besides a Golden Globe and the Broadcast Film Critics Association's Supporting Actress prize) runs with the opportunity. There's more to her performance than the expected fits and teary breakdowns; she is able to make Lisa into a multidimensional person, with real humanity behind the histrionics. 

By comparison, more likely to be overlooked is Ryder's performance, which is very much Jolie's equal. Susanna is basically the calm audience surrogate in the middle of the storm, but the fact that she remains a strong presence amid the flashier turns is a tribute to the effectiveness of Ryder's measured, no-frills work. Despite the many spotlight-stealing moments afforded to Lisa, Girl, Interrupted is Susanna's story of growth, and one is able to see her progression through Ryder's nuanced performance. 

Less subtle, however, is the script by Mangold, Lisa Loomer, and Anna Hamilton Phelan. While one may think the honest portrait of these troubled young women makes engrossing enough viewing, the writers decide to manufacture blatantly "movie" situations for dramatic purposes. It's an understandable decision, but the mechanics behind such contrived scenes as an angry, tear-stained climactic confrontation between Susanna and Lisa are a bit too obvious and distracting to be completely believable. 

Yet one does buy into such scenes to a certain degree, again thanks to the work of the cast and the overall power of the story. Girl, Interrupted may ultimately be a film, underrealized; but its desired emotional effect is more than adequately achieved. M.D.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Lazarus Effect (2015)

JohnnyTwoToes trashes this insipid thriller that tries hard to blend Flatliners with Pet Sematary and fails!

In 1990, Joel Schumacher directed a film called Flatliners with starred Kiefer Sutherland, Julia Roberts, Kevin Bacon, Oliver Platt and William Baldwin as med students who decide to explore the near death experience. They would slow the heart down of a subject (themselves, actually), somehow record what the brain sees and record what their body does while in this state. Afterwards, they are revived and talk about what they saw and felt. It was a remarkable film and did a good job of probing the psyche of each of the students. It really explored each of their own demons and how traumatic events shaped their lives to make them the way they are now. Flatliners was a sharply observant and intelligent film. The Lazarus Effect tries to be Flatliners but, unfortunately with its horror and supernatural undertones, cannot make up its mind what it wants to be. 

The Lazarus Effect refers to the Biblical figure of Lazarus who was brought back from the dead. In the film, a group of medical students led by Frank (Mark Duplass) have seemingly found a way to bring back the dead. This film also stars Sarah Bolger, Evan Peters, Donald Glover and Olivia Wilde as Zoe, Frank’s girlfriend and fellow student. When an accident kills Zoe, they use their new found technology to bring her back with limited success. She is still Zoe……..or is she something else. Since the students are not even supposed to be in the facility they are using they are now at the mercy of whatever Zoe has returned as. She ain’t the old Zoe, that is for darn sure. 

I did not have any problems with the premise and kind of knew what to expect. But The Lazarus Effect seems bent on being a horror film. The problem is that it is not scary. We get lots of jump scares but no sense of real terror. So does it try to be a deep film about life and death and how it affects us? No. The acting is decent enough and I especially like Sarah Bolger and Olivia Wilde’s interaction together, but the film is in such a hurry to give us another jump scare that it never develops any of the characters. They are simply used as plot devices that are to be eliminated one at a time. 

The Lazarus Effect is rated PG13 and is only 83 minutes long yet, it goes absolutely nowhere. Instead, what the viewer gets is a film that is not scary enough to be a horror film and not smart enough to be a psychological thriller. Everything seems to be hampered by its rating and run time. The characters have apparently never have seen a horror film either, since they decide to go off on their own, one by one. These are med students and to be in med school means you have to be a smart person. But, in this case these characters are only as smart as the action of the film dictates. The characters so underwritten and uninspired that I never believed any of them were in into med school. I did not buy a minute of this film, have any vested interest in these characters or see this film as anything other than a sloppy and unfocused mess. 

Luke Dawson and Jeremy Slater’s script is nonsensical and never gets into the brain of any of these characters.Slater (who is credited as one of the writers for this summer’s atrocity Fantastic Four) and Dawson (writer of the B-titled horror film Shutter) have only written these characters as one dimensional so there is no emotional hook in any of them. First time director David Gelb lets the pacing of The Lazarus Effect sputter along and although this is a short film, it seems longer than it is. It is basically the same scene over and over. The characters talk and yell at each other and then there is a jump scare. Then, more talking and yelling and another jump scare; maybe a quick shot Zoe tilting her head in an ominous way. It takes mere minutes for the viewers to figure out that Zoe is evil, but the smart med students don’t catch on until the whole place is locked down. By then it is too late for them and for the viewers 

The Lazarus Effect has a great idea, the acting is sufficient and I liked the score by Sarah Schachner, but it is so ineptly handled that it becomes a burden to get through. I almost turned it off a couple of times just to take a break from the banality of it all. It was still a chore to get through. Save your money and watch (or re-watch) Flatliners a ten times better film or Stephen King's Pet Sematary. The Lazarus Effect-*1/2 out of 5

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