Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bjork's Volta Tour Live & A Few Other New Live Concert DVDs

Although this is primarily a film blog I like to review recent concert DVDs and musician bio-pics every so often. Here are some brief blurbs about some new favorites:

(Nonesuch, 2009)

I was told that this was a "a gorgeous cinematic interpretation of the tour" and it certainly is. With all the theatrical bombast we're come to expect from Björk, this beautifully shot concert film features a 10-piece female Icelandic brass section augmented by Chris Corsano of Sonic Youth on drums, Jonas Sen on keyboards and electronic composer Mark Bell from LFO providing computer sequencing.

It's an energetic, at times fiery ensemble as on highlights such as "Army Of Me" and "The Pleasure Is All Mine". A showstopping "State Of Emergency" oddly doesn't appear in the track listing but that's my only quibble with this rousing and powerfully pleasing performance film.

As fans of the former Chicogoan band Wilco well know, there have been many personnel line-up changes in the 15 years since their debut. 

The highly recommended documentary I AM TRYING TO BREAK YOUR HEART (Dir. Sam Jones, 2002) is essential for some background dealing with one extremely pivotal era in the band's existence but this DVD isn't about their past; it's a representation of where the band stands now. Judging from this, they stand strong indeed.

Filmed at various venues over the last tour from Tulsa to Washington DC, Jeff Tweedy leads his crew through a set-list mainly made up of songs from their last few albums ("Monday" from the 1996 album "Being There" is the oldest selection). 

Fellow film makers Christoph Green and former Fugazi member Brendan Canty handle the camera and editing duties while Wilco brings the rock they've majestically fine tuned over the years. From their rapturous applause at the end of every song, the audience sounds very satisfied - viewers at home will surely be too.

Not a concert film or a bio-doc (though there are elements of both), this is more a "bonus featurette" DVD that accompanies the Brooklyn band's first live CD. That said this 53 minute film is as alive and boisterous as their live shows as it actually acts a sort of mission statement.

As front-man Craig Finn reflects right off the bat: "There's so many of these indie rock shows that you go to that are so joyless. I people to feel this joy and the celebratory nature of rock 'n roll when you go see the Hold Steady." 

From fan testimonials to scrappy live footage, "A Positive Rage" lives up to its title and gives newcomers an inside look at a band just starting to hit its stride. Because it only has a couple of full songs ("Chips Ahoy" and "Stuck Between Stations") coupled with the ramshackle approach of the interviews, it's not really one for repeated viewings, but as a companion to the live disc (which is pretty scrappy itself with its bootleg audience recording sound quality) it's worth one good concentrated viewing.

Okay! There's a few choice music DVDs for you. If you have any recent favorites - hit that comment box below and let me know.

More later...

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

TAKING WOODSTOCK: The Film Babble Blog Review

On Monday I announced a TAKING WOODSTOCK giveway (soundtracks, t-shirts, air-fresheners) - go here for information. I'll be taking answers until September 6th so get those entries in! Now onto the movie:

(Dir. Ang Lee, 2009)

In his first starring role, with eyes that look like the sewn-on big brown button eyes from the movie CORALINE, comedian Demetri Martin finds himself smack dab in the middle of the wheeling and dealing behind one of the biggest rock festivals in history. 

For Martin as Elliot Tiber, a closeted artist who manages his parents' struggling motel, this all begins as a whim one day in the summer of 1969. Hearing that officials for the town of Wallkill banned the concert from its original location, he cold calls Woodstock Ventures armed with the only musical festival permit in the entire town of Bethel, New York. 

Almost immediately promoter Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) and company arrive by helicopter to a nude welcoming via the avant garde theater troupe (led by Dan Fogler) that live in the barn behind the motel. Unfortunately, Martin's land, a swamp really, isn't suitable for concert grounds but there happens to be a farm with a lot of land just up the road owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy in a nicely laid back performance) that just might do.

It's tempting to ditch the plot summary here and just say 'and the rest is history' but there's so many endearing details in this low key but extremely likable film to address. Using the same split screen techniques of the original concert documentary WOODSTOCK, Lee has the look and feel down completely. Some shots look so amazingly like footage from the actual event that I was amazed to find out that none was used. 

There are no actors playing the musicians because the action never gets that close to the stage - miles away Martin navigates through the huge crowd, taking part in the mud slides and indulging in psychedelics with the music blaring off in the the distance but he never gets up close and personal with the performers and perhaps that's the point.

There are some mis-strokes, such as a traumatized Vietnam vet played by Emile Hirsch and a smug Liev Scheiber as a gun totting transvestite providing security. These are unnecessary devices in an already overstuffed scenario. Some of Martin's exchanges with his parents (Immelda Stanton and Henry Goodman) are far from fleshed out as well but this doesn't kill the film's beautiful buzz. 

I could also overlook the historical errors. For example, Wavy Gravy is mentioned but at Woodstock he was still Hugh Romney, he wasn't dubbed Wavy Gravy till 2 weeks later at the Texas International Pop Festival. Also the real life Michael Lang disputes that Tiber introduced him to Yasgur to get the ball rolling but again I can let these things go and bet you can too. Overall the humor ("Charging a dollar for water? Can you believe that?") and heart of this project are in the right place, with cynicism not being allowed entry. 

I've written before about whether or not Woodstock lives up to its legend, and I feel that Ang Lee's film here isn't interested in taking a stand. It's content with a simple story about a few days that changed a man's life (you could be forgiven in not knowing that Martin is dealing with his homosexuality - it sure isn't an element they're advertising in the trailers).

In my favorite sequence Martin gets a ride from a sympathetic motorcycle cop into what Scheiber calls "the center of the universe" (actually despite what I said above - Scheiber does have his moments). Martin then meets a hippy couple (Paul Dano and Kelli Garner) and takes LSD with them. Martin's already big pupils get bigger as he watches the colors from posters, crystals, and assorted paisley accoutrements swirl around the walls of their VW bus. 

It's a scene that could be so clichéd - the obligatory trippy scene - but Lee, here and in the rest of the film, sincerely just wants us to soak up the sights and sounds and be soothed by them. Dark clouds were on the horizon for the Woodstock generation but for one brief moment the light of possibility was blinding. Lee captures that dying light and gives us a film that gives off great vibes.

More later...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

IN THE LOOP: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Armando Iannucci, 2009)

Picking up comparisons to DR. STRANGELOVE and geared aesthetically as an anti-West Wing, Armando Iannucci's directorial debut posits people in power treading water in a sea of political spin. It all comes from a misspoken statement by the British Secretary of State for International Development played by Tom Hollander. Off the cuff, he says that a proposed war in the Middle East is "unforeseeable" on a radio talk show and that causes what one staffer calls "a catastrofuck."

Already strained relations between UK and US officials come to a boil. Hollander finds himself getting in deeper as obscenities fly at a ferocious rate from the Prime Minister's press secretary Peter Capaldi (reprising his role from Iannucci's TV series The Thick Of It), misdirections come from diplomat handlers (Chris Addison and Gina McKee), and then there are the astute observations of James Gandofini (The Sopranos) as a gruff general who when attempting to strategize finds himself musing: "At the end of a war you need some soldiers left, really, or else it looks like you've lost." 

The large intertwined ensemble cast also includes Chris Addison (also from The Thick Of It), Steve Coogan, David Rasche, and an all grown up Anna Chlumsky (MY GIRL). With literally over a hundred great lines (most of them coming from the foul mouth of Capaldi) and a wickedly wry tone, IN THE LOOP has enough laughs for several movie comedies. 

It's a window into the tangled tortured world of policy makers and those who toil in the trenches beneath them. They're all caught in a massive web of manipulation woven from competing self-serving ambitions and it's all rooted in cold sad reality. Such pungent political satire doesn't come around often so this is definitely one to look out for.

More later...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Giveaway: TAKING WOODSTOCK Soundtrack + More

Having just recently re-watched and blogged about WOODSTOCK, I was happy to take in a screening of the new Ang Lee film TAKING WOODSTOCK starring Demetri Martin - opening this Friday and really liked it (a full review will be posted on Wednesday).

I have some soundtrack CDs + T-Shirts and air freshers (!) to give away so the best answers to this question will get one of them:

What was the best act at the original 1969 Woodstock and why

Email your answer to:

By the way, the soundtrack is way cool with original '69 festival tunes mixed with a new Richie Havens track and a few Danny Elfman score selections. So get those answers in!

More later...

Friday, August 21, 2009

Quentin Tarantino's World War II: Electric Boogaloo

(Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2009)

Warning: This review is riddled with Spoilers!

"Once upon a Nazi occupied France." So begins Quentin Tarantino's long awaited mock epic war movie in which slaughter and blood are upstaged by talky tension. This is expertly displayed in the first scene (or chapter as the title card calls it). An SS Colonel (Christoph Waltz) proud of his nickname "the Jew Hunter", questions a French farmer (Denis Menochet) who is suspected of hiding a missing Jewish family.

The scene takes its time with their back and forth before the camera pans down to show us that the farmer is indeed harboring the family beneath his floor boards. The set up and powerful payoff of this chilling opening confirm that the pulse and tone of Tarantino's best work is intact and while subtlety was never a strength of his, he is learning to exercise some patience and restraint. However, patience and restraint both stand down for most of the rest of the film. 

In the second "chapter" we meet Brad Pitt and his crew of "Basterds" - a team of Jewish American soldiers intent on killing as many Nazis as possible. As Pitt puts it in his unconvincing yet still appropriately comedic Southern accent: "We're not in the taking prisoners business, we're in the killing Nazi killing business, and business is boomin'!" 

Along the way a few big 3-D style block letter intros to characters like Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger) thrown in (with Samuel L. Jackson narration no less) prove that you can't completely take the 70's comic book cinema leanings out of Mr. Too Cool For Film School. The Basterd crew also includes Eli Roth, B.J. Novak, and Sam Levine (Freaks And Geeks) Once we fully get that our heroes are way into collecting scalps and branding Swastika's into survivor's heads it's on to the next chapter.

The only hiding member of the first scene to escape, Mélanie Laurent ends up owning a Paris theater under a different identity. To her dismay when changing the marquee she catches the eye of a soldier (Daniel Brühl) who played himself in a film made by Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels (Sylvester Groth). 

Despite voicing her disinterest, Brühl proceeds with his plan to premiere his film at her cinema with an Nazi audience topped off by Goebels and other German bigwigs like Hermann Göring, Martin Bormann, and the Furher himself, Adolf Hitler (a blustery red faced Martin Wuttke). 

Laurent with her projectionist boyfriend (Jacky Ido) plots to burn the theater down with all the Nazi's locked inside. Meanwhile the Basterds have a plan of their own for the same event. Even with his preposterous accent, Pitt's performance is one of his finest. 

So much better as a Basterd than he was as Benjamin Button, mainly because here he actually has a character to play. His salt of the earth manner peppered with no holds barred brutality is a joy to behold. 

As the slick but slimy opportunist Colonel,Christoph Waltz has the most dialogue and he makes the most of every word of it, he's definitely worthy of a nomination. The action primarily revolves around these 2 men with Laurent's well timed turn rounding it out. 

There are few lulls as the story strands come together and the pace pleasingly pulsates quickly towards the end where an intensely satisfying conclusion (which I won't spoil) awaits. 

It's too early to tell where INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS falls in Tarantino's canon but it's sturdier and significantly more solid than his last few films (the KILL BILL flicks and DEATH PROOF). 

If you go looking for historical accuracy or anything resembling reality you'll definitely come up short, but if you go expecting Tarantino's patented brand of film geek gusto infusing an alternate history graphic novel of a movie, you should do just fine. 

More later...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Frank Zappa's 200 MOTELS May Be The Most WTF Movie Experience Ever

To the elation of film buffs and '70s art rock fans all over, MGM has just released a new 35 MM print of Frank Zappa's 1971 freak-fest flick 200 MOTELS. The film played earlier tonight as part of the "Cool Classics @ The Colony" series at the Colony Theater in Raleigh and I was very anxious to see it for the first time.

When I was much younger I went through a bit of a Zappa phase, yet while I collected dozens of his albums somehow I never saw 200 MOTELS. I had wondered what it was exactly. Well, after seeing it tonight I see that it's not a concert film, though there are long sequences that make it seem otherwise, it's not a tour documentary, and it sure isn't any kind of musical with a linear narrative. Actually I'm still trying to figure out what the Hell it is.

Despite that it was "written" (that's highly debatable), and directed by Zappa with wall-to-wall music of his composing, it's really more his band's - The Mothers Of Invention's movie than his ultimately.

The faces and voices of Martin Volman (Flo), Eddie (Howard Kaylan) and Jeff (Martin Lickert) dominate the screen with random pop-ins from ex-Beatle Ringo Starr as Larry the Dwarf who is oddly outfitted as Zappa. There's also Keith Moon (infamous drummer from The Who) as a nun, Theodore Bikel as the Devil, and famous Hollywood groupies Pamela Miller, Miss Lucy Offerall and Miss Janet Neville as, well, groupies.

To complain that this movie is a mess misses the mark because it's a mess by design. the comedic musical numbers like "Mystery Roach" and the Indian of the group (that's how hi introduces himself) Jimmy Carl Black's over-the-top redneck vocal on "Lonesome Cowboy Burt" are surrounded by the sketchiest of sketches involving the oppresive "Centeville community" and a lengthy discourse on the "Penis Dimension."

Then there's a cartoon called "Dental Hygiene Movie" that may stand as one of the most amusing bits in the heavy mist of this wild offkilter "happening" disguised as a movie. Or is it a movie disguised as a "happening"? I dunno. Noted as the first feature-length movie to be shot on video tape and later transferred to 35mm Technicolor film, 200 MOTELS is on surface a trippy experience. 

It sinks in though pretty early on that Zappa didn't not partake in, in fact distained, the psychedelic drugs of the era. The footage is screwed around with considerably - sped up slowed down with certain actions repeated over and over, but not in a way that would soothe hippies' mindsets whatever their level of chemical enhancement. In his 3 star review (from the original release), Roger Ebert said that it was "not the kind of movie you have to see more than once. It is the kind of movie you can barely see once."

I have to agree with that. Though I know that this has appeared to be a less than stellar review, 200 MOTELS is still somehow an experience I recommend. It's like some half remembered dream in which Monty Python silliness is filtered through Sid and Marty Kroft imagery with what sounds like Spike Jones discovering funk blaring overhead. 

If a circulating print comes to your area - check it out. Sure, it's dated and weird as all get out, but it's still an extremely worthwhile demented diversion.

More later...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It Was 40 Years Ago Today: Re-watching Woodstock

“It’s really amazing. It looks like some kind of Biblical, epochal unbelievable scene!” - Jerry Garcia (The Grateful Dead) 

“A bunch of stupid slobs in the mud.” 
- Grace Slick (The Jefferson Airplane)

     Yeah, Woodstock divides folks - even folks supposedly on the same side.

Whatever your feelings on the famous Woodstock Festival, currently celebrating its 40th anniversary, it’s impossible to deny its lasting impact and cultural importance. 

For a number of reasons (one of which being the upcoming movie TAKING WOODSTOCK) I felt like re-watching the movie that was made of the event that fateful weekend. I've seen it before a number of times -usually on anniversaries it seems.

I remember a party in '99 with it on in the background via VH1 and I remember seeing it constantly on the monitor of the video store I was working at in '89. 

I borrowed my brother's DVD of it from the late 90's for my recent re-viewing. 

As Martin Scorsese, who was assistant editor on the project, said the film "has shape-shifted quite a bit over the years," so I felt I was fine with the 1994 "Director's Cut" and didn't need to shell out for the new lavish 40th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition for an anniversary re-viewing.

This was an old school DVD - it didn't even have a proper menu and the video quality was pretty VHS, but that's apt because that's how I saw it originally, so screw digital remasterings! 

For now anyway. The film makers had some fun with the standard ratings disclaimer at the beginning of the film - the "R" starts to ignite at the sound of Jimi Hendrix's "Star Spangled Banner" guitar solo.

It extends to the word "Restricted" which quickly goes up in flames and the implication is clear - this movie is fiery cataclysmic stuff, watch out. That notion though disappears rapidly once you see laid back shots of farm fields and hippie folk arriving to take them over. Workers building the stage and setting up sound equipment while people arrive - some in colorfully painted vehicles, some on foot climbing through holes in the fence. 

This all goes on a bit too long as it's a while before we see an actual live performer. 

We hear studio versions of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Canned Heat tunes with a split screen image showing simultaneously Michael Lang talking to a reporter from ABC News while the second half of the screen shows the unwashed masses making their way through paths of parked cars and campers.

24 minutes into it, Richie Havens is the first performer. He does his hard acoustic guitar strumming thing on a few songs, stopping in between to tell the audience that the next day the whole world will read about how groovy they were. 

Out of sight, man! From there we see Wavy Gravy (still going by the name Hugh Romney) mulling about hamming it up and then hear his announcement that the acid circulating is not poison - it’s just been poorly manufactured.

This is where I get weary of reporting on everything in this already well reported movie and will just hit the highlights (or lowlights) as I saw them:

The Who’s bombastically beautiful “See Me, Feel Me” and “Summertime Blues” performance shakes things up after Joan Baez's stoic stance of an act.

Then the audience is blown away by Joe Cocker’s ferocious “With A Little Help From My Friends” Beatles cover (wonderfully parodied by John Belushi on SNL Oct. 25th, 1975).

Jeez, there's way too much drum circle footage combined with people running and sliding in the mud after the infamous downpour that the crowds tried to stop with a chant: “No rain -no rain!” Doubt this bit was what won the film a “Best Documentary” Oscar.

The most treacly bit: John Sebastian solo acoustic singing his song “Younger Generation” concluding by saying “That kid’s gonna be far out.”

Jimi Hendrix's set is definitely the highlight of the entire event - despite that he was the last performer and it was early Monday morning and most of the massive crowd had left.

Hendrix's mind bending take on "The Star Spangled Banner" is the bit that alone singed the "R" rating above. The set is available separately and for good reason.

When all is said and done in my book (or on my blog) there's just this music on record that lasts from this colassally overwrought event: The Who, Sly and The Family Stone, Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin, and Jimi Hendrix. The rest is pretty iffy. For example: none of the Grateful Dead's set has ever been released because it sucked - as band members have repeatedly alleged. And who invited Sha Na Na?

As a cultural historical document WOODSTOCK is essential, however as a fun rock concert movie it is bogged down with an unnecessary hyper significance - I found myself siding with Grace Slick's quote above most of the time watching it. 

It's an event ripe for major cherry picking - in this era of ripping a decent mix could be made of this but I may suggest alternatives like FESTIVAL EXPRESS and WATTSTAX for more consistent goodies. Just sayin'.

More later...

Friday, August 14, 2009

DISTRICT 9: The Film Babble Blog Review

DISTRICT 9 (Dir. Neill Blomkamp, 2009)

WARNING: This review contains Spoilers!

The documentary-style opening with faux cable news coverage and staged interviews with various talking heads depicts diseased extra terrestrials quarantined in a section of Johannesburg, South America that quickly becomes a Hellish slum. Because this is presented so soberly with flawlessly faked footage, this sci-fi concept is immediately easy to accept and go with. 

Political red tape and alien racism are all the rage as we are introduced to Sharlto Copley as a field operative for Multi-National United (MNU), a huge conglomerate that, surprise surprise, may not have the aliens best interests in mind. Copley is promoted to the position of relocating a million or so of these slimy creatures that talk with voices that sound like Jabba the Hut with a vocoder (don't worry, subtitles are provided) and who are derisively labeled as "prawns."

Copley's gung ho demeanor - he's acts like he's never been out from behind his desk on the job before - gives the film a comic tone for a brief bit; going from door to door to get grotesque CGI creations to sign eviction notices is more like something out of "Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" than it is ALIEN. It goes quickly from sci-fi social satire to an extremely unpleasant yet still gripping sequence in which Copley accidentally sprays himself with icky black fluid from some alien device he happens to pick up and confiscates. After his left arm mutates into a "prawn" claw, MNU officials sequester him for experimentation.

Once they determine that his changing DNA allows him to operate alien weaponry they decide to dismantle him in true Josef Mengele fashion. This seems appropriate as Copley tells one of the "prawns" that the new district 10 they are being moved to is more like a concentration camp than a new housing situation. 

 There is so much invention amid the brutality and visceral impact of this film that it's just a bit of a letdown that it descends into a 3rd act of routine action movie convention bombardment. However Copley's interaction with an alien that goes by the name Christopher Johnson, who may be able to help reverse the effects of Copley's virus, saves the concluding scenes from soullessness. 

As a protégé of Peter Jackson (who produced this film) Neill Blomkamp has for the most part made a sturdy study of alien/human conflict that actually comes off as plausible considering all past human conflicts. DISTRICT 9 isn't a rousing crowd pleaser - the summer season may not be the best time for it - but it's an incredibly strong sci-fi flick as well as a gritty thriller that has a lot of guts.

More later...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chatting With The Creators Of Cinema Overdrive Part 2 of 4

As I reported in part one of this rambling but wonderful conversation, tomorrow night a new repertory series starts at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh. "Cinema Overdrive" which is billed as the best in high-octane cult/horror/exploitation/drive-in and forgotten films that are waiting to find an audience."

This is the second of a 4 part talk with a couple of the creators of the series - Denver Hill and Matt Pennachi. I hope to speak another co-creator, Adam Hulin, in the near future as what Pennachi calls "a social experiment" progresses into fall and beyond. The main topic was tomorrow's premiere feature DEATH RACE 2000 but we also chatted about future showings like VICE SQUAD and PIECES.

FBB: So DEATH RACE 2000 kicks off “Cinema Overdrive”. What made you decide on that for the first one?

DH: Well, we picked it the day before David Carradine died.
Matt: He died the next day!

DH: It was very bizarre.

MP: Why did we pick that? Because it’s something that we had in the collection that has the “Cinema Overdrive” flavor, but it’s also the type of film that enough people will have heard about it but never seen.

FBB: That’s just me! I heard about it, I worked in a video store and I remember the cover of the VHS box – it was one that nobody ever rented. People would pick it up and joke about it but put it back down.

MP: (laughs) It’s a lot of fun. This particular print has Swedish subtitles on the bottom because I got it from a collector in Sweden.

FBB: (laughs) Well, I think that might add something to it!

MP: It does actually. DEATH RACE 2000 has the right flavor to kick off the series because a film like VICE SQUAD is a great high energy movie but you can’t lead off with it – not enough people have heard of it.

DH: We want to pull people in, and then gradually get crazier, more obscure with films.

MP: We want to create a community.

DH: VICE SQUAD, though, is one film buffs go crazy over. It’s like total kick ass non-stop…

MP: Yeah, it’s pretty much as soon as the opening credits start they step on the gas and don’t let up ‘til the end credits; it’s very full throttle. It’s kind of mean in parts. Original MTV VJ Nina Blackwood gets beat up by her pimp in the movie!

FBB: Well, you sold me!

MP: (laughs) Exactly! Have you seen PIECES?

FBB: I’m ashamed to say that’s another I’ve never seen.

MP: PIECES is insane!

Dan: I don’t think I’ve even seen a second of it …oh wait, there was that trailer you put up on Facebook.

Matt: It was a TV spot. (click here to see it) They never made a trailer because that one was of the very last films that FVI (Film Venture International) released before their President, Edward L. Montoro, embezzled a million dollars from the company and was never seen again.

The rumor is that he either fled to South America or is in the trunk of a car somewhere so they never got around to making the trailer. I like to give a little back story, like on THE DEVIL’S RAIN years ago, I didn’t even plan this but I was up onstage and I said: “When this movie starts you’re going to see the logo for Bryanston Entertainment – is anybody familiar with what Bryanston Entertainment is?” 

They were like “uh no” I went on: “They released THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and they released Andy Warhol’s FRANKENSTEIN. They were owned by the mafia. The mafia created this company because they made so much money off of DEEP THROAT, they needed a legitimate company to fence it through. Here’s Bryanston Entertainment.

DH: I don’t want to put Matt on the spot but that’s another draw of “Cinema Overdrive” - he’s like a walking encyclopedia of cult film knowledge.

MP: I mean, I like art but I love trash! (laughs) I love art too.

I mean, my favorite cinematic experience of all time is still 2001. I just find it very moving, but that being said, there are other shared social experiences that are really…fun and energetic.

This summer, going to the movies, like with a lot of first run movies…how often is it fun? Maybe one or two times out of ten?

That’s why I get excited about a film like UP or ANVIL that actually hits on all cylinders and they really did a good job with it. So many things are so half-assed productions. With “Cinema Overdrive” though, granted I’m not foolish - I know what people think about these films in the grand scheme of things. That being said I don’t feel irreverently about them. I enjoy them for what they are. 

A lot of times regardless of where they fall in the scheme of art, these films work awfully hard to entertain you. Awfully hard. There’s something to be said for that… because the great rule of exploitation film making is shoot whatever you want, just don’t be boring!

If you are anywhere near the Triangle area tomorrow night - try and make it out for DEATH RACE 2000 at the Colony Theater @ 8:00 PM. Matt promises a slew of jaw dropping vintage trailers to accompany it and for $5.00 it's a deal you can't pass up.

More later...

Sunday, August 09, 2009

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER: The Film Babble Blog Review

(Dir. Marc Webb, 2009)

I’m just going to say up front that I found this “boy meets girl...” movie to be an absolute winner.

The tagline, “This is not a love story. This is a story about love,” is apt because it isn’t really a rom com. However, it does sometimes venture into that territory in appropriately cringing measures. 

As the boy in the equation, Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a clumsy charm that is easily relatable especially in the premise here: going back and forth over the 500 days that he and Zooey Deshanel (named Summer - hence the title) spent together, both good and bad times given equal measure.

Working together at a greeting card firm, Gordon-Levitt falls for Deschanel over a drawn out meet cute that culminates in her complimenting his musical tastes when she hears The Smiths coming from his headphones.

After that he's completely smitten and directs all his energies to getting closer to her. Once he gets her, she's still elusive as she tells him she's not looking for anything serious: “Relationships are messy and feelings get hurt. Who needs all that? We’re young. We’re in one of the most beautiful cities on earth. I say let’s have as much fun as we can.” He goes along with that but you can tell he'd do anything to change her mind.

The camera seems to be as infatuated with Deschanel as our protagonist. Her wide eyes and knowing smirk filling many frames; one of many amusing bits has the same series of shots of her being used when Gordon-Levitt describes how much he loves her early on and how much he hates her later when he’s heartbroken. 

It’s impressive how this film never loses it’s footing as it bounces around its time-line.

It’s cleverly crafted with a sharp screenplay by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, whose (surprisingly enough) only other film work is THE PINK PANTHER 2

With its extremely appealing leads, durable dialogue, savvy sensibility, and absence of contrivance, (500) DAYS OF SUMMER is a “story about love” well worth savoring.

More later...

Friday, August 07, 2009

Chatting With The Creators Of Cinema Overdrive Part 1 of 4

Next week, a new series starts at the Colony Theater in North Raleigh, NC (Yes, this is another local-centric post) entitled "Cinema Overdrive."

As readers should well know, I've been a huge fan of the theater's ongoing series "Cool Classics @ The Colony" which has long provided area movie goers with special showings of 35 Millimeter prints of long loved cult movies like ERASERHEAD, LABYRINTH, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and PURPLE RAIN.

"Cinema Overdrive" however, goes much further. As the description on their website says they present "the best in high-octane cult/horror/exploitation/drive-in and forgotten films that are waiting to find an audience."

The series kicks off next Wednesday (August 12th at 8:00 PM) with DEATH RACE 2000. Future showings will be of SHOGUN ASSASSIN, VICE SQUAD, PIECES, and LADY TERMINATOR (see the picture montage above). 

I had a cool chat with a couple of the creators (the other being Adam Hulin who I hope to talk to soon) of this exciting new series: Denver Hill and Matt Pennachi. Both are 35 MM film collectors and fellow film fanatics so it was an engrossing conversation I'm anxious to share.

In this first part we discuss just what "Cinema Overdrive" is about, what was wrong with the movie GRINDHOUSE, and why everybody should make it out to SHOGUN ASSASSIN in September.

Film Babble Blog: How did “Cinema Overdrive” come together? What was the impetus for it?

Denver Hill: Well, Matt and I have been friends for a couple of years. We both collect 35 millimeter, and I’ve always been a fan of “Retrofantasma” (Pennachi’s former series at the Carolina Theater in Durham, NC). That actually inspired the “Cool Classics” and we had the opportunity, I just said “hey, do you want to try this in Raleigh?”

Matt Pennachi: Yeah, well, one thing I’ll say about “Cinema Overdrive”, there’s other repertory series in the area including “Cool Classics,” but with ours we’re bringing a little danger back to movie going. All the others are kind of safe, this one - the faint of heart may not necessarily need to apply. If you have even the worry that it may not be politically correct enough for you, you shouldn’t buy a ticket. The '70s weren’t very politically correct.

DH: But that’s what we want though, we want to challenge. Like with “Cool Classics” it’s like maybe one of your favorite movies but you never saw it in the theater, but with “Cinema Overdrive” it’s probably a movie you’ve never seen before. It maybe offend or shock or just make you go “Oh my God!” you know, but we just want to bring the excitement back.

MP: I think we have the opportunity because I have enough respect and faith in film fans in the Triangle. I think there’s a lot of really savvy film people in this area.

FBB: Oh yeah, absolutely.

MP: I mean if your idea of being a real film nerd is having an in depth conversation about Tim Burton, we’re probably not for you. But I mean if you really love…you know, we’re everything that Quentin Tarantino’s GRINDHOUSE was supposed to be.

FBB: What did you think of that film? That’s a movie that comes up when I think of the idea behind “Cinema Overdrive”. Was it too much that it was fake “Grindhouse”? I had a friend who said that “if only Tarantino and Rodriquez worked with real Grindhouse budgets”, you know?

MP: I feel the same way. My major problem was when I first saw it I was like well, it’s relatively entertaining…but my main problem is when I heard it was that it was a 72 million dollar film I was like wouldn’t it have been more interesting if they said we’re going to try to recreate 1974, and put it on a inflation adjusted dollar and that means, okay Jack Hill would’ve made that for $800,000 - inflation adjusted that’s 3.4 million so meaning if we can’t get Kurt Russell and have to make the movie with Ken Wahl from Wiseguy, somebody call up and find Ken Wahl.

That would’ve been a more interesting experiment to me. And the thing is, I think particularly with Rodriquez’s segment, he brought the poster to life more than the actual film. There were no “Grindhouse” movies that had people jumping on motorcycles with monstrous town-size explosions - they never could afford it.

DH: Well, I didn’t like all the fake scratches and fake splices.

FBB: The “missing reels”?

MP: First of all, the “missing reel” thing is something that never ever existed in a “Grindhouse” cinema. You know why? Because if you were in a shit-hole cinema and there was a reel missing there’s no way on earth they were going to let you know. Never.

DH: You know, the Triangle is one of the top 5 growing areas in the country. We have people from all of the country moving here so there’s definitely a demand for all these types of movies that we’re showing.

MP: Even though I don’t make it out because I have kids basically and my wife works in the evening, I love the concept of “Cool Classics”. It’s a lot of movies you know but it’s not fixated to one genre.
There might be something mega-famous and safe like LABYRINTH, and then there also might be something that’s famous in the sense that a lot of people know what ERASERHEAD is but haven’t necessarily seen it. (To Denver) Oh, Phil Blankenship, I told him about your PURPLE RAIN show, and he said PURPLE RAIN is just a home run ball – we did it out here in LA and it was the same thing. Patton Oswalt came! It’s like I said, ‘I wouldn’t have guessed it’, he was like “I wouldn’t have either, but PURPLE RAIN is still huge!”
DH: Yeah, we need to show that one again.

MP: I’ll be honest I’ve never that movie. I’ve always meant to.

FBB: Last summer was the first time I’d seen it all the way through.

MP: Did you like it?

FBB: Oh, I liked it a lot. There’s a huge cheese factor to it, but that’s what makes it great. The live sequences at 1st Avenue and the Morris Day whatnot, all of that is crowd pleasing stuff. In fact, not long ago on “Sound Opinions”, you know that show? NPR?

MP: That’s a great show!

FBB: Yeah, they were doing one of their “album dissections” on “Purple Rain”, because it’s the 25th anniversary. One of them, Jim I think, was saying “You see it once and you don’t ever have to see ‘Purple Rain’ again”, and I was like ‘are you crazy? There’s a high re-watchability factor!

MP: Maybe they haven’t watched it enough to know that.

FBB: Yeah, that’s the thing I was wondering, have they really re-watched it lately?

MP: It’s like there’s millions of people that went out and saw KILL BILL: VOL. 2, right? Well at the end there’s that touching scene where the Bride and her daughter watch SHOGUN ASSASSIN. Well, how many people have seen SHOGUN ASSASSIN? If they come here in September we’ll show them SHOGUN ASSASSIN.

FBB: I’ve never seen it. There are so many films, that as a “film guy” I am ashamed to admit that I’ve never seen.

MP: Oh my God! That movie is amazing theatrically. It’s just jaw dropping. I feel so ebullient when I run the print. I love this movie.

DH: We joked about it at first but I think we really are trying to educate people about film.

MP: It’s not like Mystery Science Theater 3000, it’s like going to church. You go to have a social experience but you also go to learn about something that you have great faith in! 

Next week: Part 2 of my chat with Denver and Matt. We'll discuss their premiere showing of DEATH RACE 2000 and go off on more crazy tangents surrounding "Cinema Overdrive" and other obsessive film fodder. Please stay tuned.

More later...