Wednesday, October 19, 2022

KING CRIMSON AT 50: Light On The Then, Heavy On The Now

(Dir. Toby Amies, 2022)

oday, Toby Amies' new documentary about the legendary British band, King Crimson, with a title as long as many of the prog rock band's epic songs, opens in a limited theatrical release, which will be followed by its worldwide one-night-only digital event release on October 22nd.

Now, I've never been into prog rock - nothing against it, there has been some of it that I dug, but just never really explored the genre - so the legend of King Crimson is largely new territory for me. Loving rock docs, even ones about artists/bands that I'm not into, I love to be educated by a well crafted film, full of archival footage, and insightful anecdotes, on the background of beloved musical icons, but early on in this half century celebration of Robert Fripp and company I could tell that this film is no cinematic Wikipedia page.

With only minor asides to the past, Amies' film focuses on King Crimson's pre-pandemic 50th Anniversary tour in 2019, as there's only a handful of clips from the band's late '60s and early-mid '70s heyday, so we spend more time hanging in hallways and mulling about in concert venues than informing newcomers like me to their history.

The film opens on vast shots of an elaborate theater, with stunning exteriors dominated by silver glass domes, and a majestic palace of an interior. Thing is, this beautiful venue is never identified (I learned later that it’s the Parca Della Musica Auditorium, and no date is given). This is the norm throughout the rest of the movie as much live performance material is featured, but without informative info presented. Venues aren’t even listed in the end credits so a rock geek like me who cares about such stuff has to do his own research to put this stuff in proper context.

But what I did get as a takeaway is that King Crimson leader / founder / conceptual mastermind Fripp is a pretty prickly fellow. Several times, Fripp acidly snips at Amies, putting down his questions (“preposterous tosh” he calls one line of questioning), and he just regularly seems annoyed, but he also waxes on wistfully, and pretentiously about the shaping of his vision through different line-up changes through five decades.

It’s impossible to not use the word pretentious when talking about King Crimson, as it’s my understanding that pretentiousness is imbedded in the prog rock genre. So a newbie like me, with little connection to their extensive catalog, may get lost in some of the lofty talk about their process.

But surrounding that is juiciness in the sideline interaction of band members like multi-instrumentalists Jakko M. Jakszyk, and Bill Rieflin, who was suffering from colon cancer on the tour, and passed in 2020. There’s also some cool commentary from the likes of Adrian Belew, Ian McDonald, and Bill Bruford.

There have been 22 members of King Crimson over the years, but this film only covers 14 of them. The rest are given an “Absent from the film, but not forgotten” mention at the end. I can’t decide whether it’s funny or offensive that Rieflin’s cat is given some screen-time over even a tiny mention of any a bunch of legit ex-members of the band, especially as it’s only a 96-minute film.

KING CRIMSON is undeniably for fans over the uninitiated, and the parts with the followers, whether joyous audience shots, or fun interview bits at whatever concert hall, are some of the best moments, but since a newbie like me got a taste of this grand band’s appeal, maybe you will too. But I would’ve preferred more back story as there’s only a handful of old timey TV and live clips, and it would have been nice to hear more about the songs, and the sets chosen for the tour - you know, the music itself, man!

I’ll have to do that research myself, I guess. Dammit, I hate when docs make me do my own research!

More later...

Friday, October 14, 2022


Opening in a limited theatrical release somewhere today:

(Dir. Martin Owen, 2022)

he genre of the undead flourishes again in this odd offering from Martin Owen (L.A. SLASHER, LET'S BE EVIL, KILLERS ANONYMOUS, THE INTERGALACTIC ADVENTURES OF MAX CLOUD), Releasing in theaters today, and dropping on VOD platforms on October 18th. Billed as “a modern fairytale, except with zombies,” the dark comedy stars Max Harwood as Oliver, a timid teenager trying to find his way through suburban life after his mother passes.

For this “zombedy,” as some are calling it, Director Owen worked from a screenplay by Piers Ashworth, and the project re-united him with cinematographer Håvard Helle, who had shot his last several movies. Notably, the one recognizable name involved is Emilio Estevez, who executive-produced the film.

Shot in Canada (Vancouver, British Columbia), but set in an unspecified everytown, the film is set in 1987 amid a surreal blend of pastels, kitschy household trickets, and Alf reruns always on the TV. Harwood's awkward Oliver, after the tragic, yet deliciously colorful death of his mother (Carol Anne Watts), comes to a catharsis about his lonely situation at a cemetery, and starts to dig up various bodies, and bring the undead to live with him at his suburban home. Basically, Oliver has taken the initiative in his life to dig up some friends.

Oliver’s first post mortem pal is Mitch, played by a shades or bandaged head-wearing Hero Fiennes Tiffin in a tuxedo. After a close call, Oliver bandages the head of his corpse-lish companion, and asks, “You know, you could’ve been caught; what would you have done?” to which we get the plucky reply: “Play dead.” Yes, Tiffin, whose character is credited as Mitch, is a zombie, but a talking, aware one, so the undead aren't like the walkers in The Walking Dead or many of the other shows and movies in the wide genre.

Our protagonist even arranges the deteriorating undead like a family on a couch poised for a photographic portrait that’s used as a touchstone throughout the film. This sentimentality is balanced out with disgusting scatological humor like a vomit bit that goes on too long, and too many close-ups of gruesome organ mishaps presented as goofy sight gags.

Oliver’s supporting cast includes Susan Wokoma in a stand-out role as Oliver’s sassy maid, and a blonde/blue-haired punk Tallulah Haddon, as Oliver’s love interest. There’s also zombie friends such as Evan Ross, Hammed Animashaun, Ben Miller, and Jacob Sartorius who live it up in party and diner scenes. Some sketchy types like a dapper Nicholas Stone, and Ashley Benson as social workers decorate the fringes of the film but end up having little consequence to the story.

This fairytale concerning the undead as companions for a lonely boy conveys a tone and a stylistic approach recalling Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, and Edgar Wright, but the film isn’t fleshed out enough to stand with the works of those masters. THE LONELIEST BOY IN THE WORLD is likable enough, but is more weird than actually funny, and its characters aren’t as endearing as the film wants them to be. 

Funny thing is, for a film set in, and aiming to ape the ‘80s, it’s the type of movie that would’ve been a cult film back in the actual Reagan era of four decades ago. It would’ve most likely fallen in with the likes of DROP DEAD FRED, WEIRD SCIENCE, or even THE TOXIC AVENGER. But now it’ll likely fall through the cracks, and not gain the odd-interest audience that it’s looking for. While I may have found it too obtuse, underwritten, and just plain strange for the sake of it, I bet there’s some kid or lonely boy or girl out there it will speak to.

More later...

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Fun With Screener Watermarks

One perk about being a film critic is getting advance screeners of movies in the form of physical discs (DVDs, Blu rays), or private links to movies online. Because of piracy, many of them are watermarked because if the screener is bootlegged by way of discs or illegal Internet downloads, the watermark allows authorities to trace things all the way back to their disc of origin.

Sometimes the watermark pops just up every now and then throughout the film (like the one with my email address from GET BACK above), but a lot of the time it’s there the film’s entire run, and that can be annoying, especially when your name is misspelled, and right in the middle of the screen:

That may have impacted my review of CONFESS, FLETCH, which you can read here. But then one of the only plusses about CLERKS III (my review) is that they got my name right, and it was not in bold face so it was softly embedded, and appeared lower on the screen, so I could ignore it better:

The one for BREAKING (my review) was just my initials so that was an ideal one too:

And finally, here's a shot of Sigourney Weaver holding a picture of a young Kevin Kline from THE GOOD HOUSE, which you can read here.

So apparently this post was to clean out my picture folder, and to plug some recent reviews.

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Friday, October 07, 2022

Majorly Problematic David O. Russell’s Mildly Problematic AMSTERDAM

Now playing at a multiplex or arthouse near you:

AMSTERDAM (Dir. David O. Russell, 2022)

To say that it started out so richly promising, but then got all screwy could go for this movie, and for David O. Russell’s entire filmmaking career. After making a minor splash back in the ‘90s with such offbeat comedies as SPANKING THE MONKEY, and FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, then making a breakthrough with THREE KINGS, Russell has built a reputation for abusive behavior on his sets.


Tales have run rampant of Russell head-butting George Clooney in a fight while shooting THREE KINGS, and verbally berating Lily Tomlin (calling her the C-word in a video you can still find on YouTube), and Amy Adams on I HEART HUCKABEES, and AMERICAN HUSTLE respectively. However, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and even Tomlin herself have made more than one film with him so there’s that.


Then there’s the allegations of sexual assault involving his 19-year old trans niece, so, yeah, Russell has baggage, and he’s never been a favorite filmmaker of mine. But I’ve liked some of his films albeit in a fairly superficial way, as they are usually visually appealing, have fine casts, and zippy narratives. I haven’t felt that they’ve added up to vital cinematic statements, and I sure don’t see that in his latest offering, the so-called mystery comedy thriller, AMSTERDAM, which stars Bale, Margot Robbie, and John David Washington as a trio of World War I combat vets, who come together in 1933 to foil a fascist plot to overthrow the U.S. government.


Bale is undoubtedly the lead protagonist as he anchors nearly every scene as the crochety Dr. Burt Berendsen, a war veteran with a prosthetic eye. It’s another fully realized Bale character, and he’s a joy to watch fumbling through the film, whether lovelorn over his estranged wife Beatrice (Andrea Riseborough), or bantering with Washington as his best pal lawyer, Harold Woodsman, who glides through the movie’s snazzy set-pieces with his smooth, dapper demeanor.


Rounding out the triad that recalls the trios of hipster friends in obvious Russell touchstones as FrançoisTruffautJULES AND JIM, and Jean-Luc Godards BAND OF OUTSIDERS, is Robbie, working those saucer eyes as nurse Valerie Voze, who Bale’s Burt, and Washington’s Howard first meet in 1918 WWI, and re-unite in Manhattan in 1933. 

The complex, or clunky (or both) plot mechanics, housed in a lot of talky exposition, involve the murders of General Bill Meekins (Ed Begley Jr.) and his daughter Liz (Taylor Swift), and a political scandal with a surprisingly invested Robert De Niro as General Gil Dillenbeck, who is based on real-life figure, Major General Smedley Butler, keying into the film’s opening declaration that “A lot of this actually happened.”


Russell has amassed a film full of stars as we’ve got a straight faced Chris Rock as another war buddy turned legal associate, an elegant Zoe Saldaña as a coroner /possible love interest for Burt, Michael Shannon, and Mike Myers as bird-watching spies (my favorite characters); and a wonderfully smarmy Rami Malek, and an an amusing uppity Anya Taylor-Joy as Valerie’s wealthy, snobby brother Tom, and his wife Libby. 


When the strands of the narrative, which is based on the 1934 “Business Plot,” a scheme hatched to overthrow the democratic government in place of a dictatorial regime, lead to a messy reveal that somehow doesn’t have its intended impact, the film’s capering falls short of the cleverness it’s straining for. 

Misguided moments abound, like a fantasized shooting of someone because they’re annoying gag, and a number of attempts at Coen brothers-style comic set-ups that don’t pay off, so the film falls short of a romp, but it still has a likable bounce to it as the camera of master cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki crisply bops around the nifty New York-period sets, courtesy of designers, Patricia Cuccia, and Erin Fite. 


I consider Russell’s AMSTERDAM to be only mildly problematic, because it’s a light endeavor thats ambition feels like an afterthought after all the polished stylings have gone through their paces. Much like AMERICAN HUSTLE, the film is style over substance, but it can be quite enjoyed on that surface level. Bale’s performance alone makes it worth seeing, and there are other considerable artistic merits such as its great visuals, so if you don’t try to dig too deep, or expect a mind-blowing history lesson, you’ll get a decent, but disposable time at the picture show.

More later...