Music Video Of The Day: God’s Gonna Cut You Down (2006, dir by Tony Kaye)


This is a case where I like the song more than the music video.  This video was actually filmed three years after Johnny Cash’s death.  As far as “official” music videos are concerned, I always feel like a musician should have some sort of say into how their music is visually interpreted.  Obviously, Johnny Cash wasn’t around to have anything to say about the video for God’s Gonna Cut You Down.

Since Cash wasn’t available, director Tony Kaye filled the video with cameos from other actors and musicians, a few of whom (though not many) were previous Cash collaborators.  Among the celebs who make an appearance in this video: David Allan Coe, Patricia Arquette, Travis Barker, Peter Blake, Bono, Sheryl Crow, Johnny Depp, the Dixie Chicks, Flea, Billy Gibbons, Whoopi Goldberg, Woody Harrelson, Dennis Hopper, Terrence Howard, Jay-Z, Mick Jones, Kid Rock, Anthony Kiedis, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Lee, Adam Levine, Shelby Lynne, Chris Martin, Kate Moss, Graham Nash, Busy Philipps, Iggy Pop, Lisa Marie Presley, Q-Tip, Corinne Bailey Rae, Keith Richards, Chris Rock, Rick Rubin, Patti Smith, Sharon Stone, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, Brian Wilson, and Owen Wilson.  Some of the celebs — like Dennis Hopper and Kris Kristofferson — seem like they naturally belong there.  Others seem so out-of-place that you’ll want to throw something.  You know how that works,

God’s Gonna Cut You Down is a traditional folk song.  I’ve heard countless versions of it.  I prefer Cash’s version to the more traditional gospel arrangement but, then again, I tend to find gospel music to be dull in general.  Cash’s arrangement brought new life to an old song.

Enjoy!

A Movie A Day #350: The Chase (1994, directed by Adam Rifkin)


Why so serious?

Jack Hammond (Charlie Sheen) was just an innocent clown who worked birthday parties.  Then he was mistaken for an outlaw clown and was accused of a crime that he did not commit.  When police incompetence led to the only piece of evidence that could exonerate him being tossed out of court, Jack had no choice but to go on the run.  Now, he’s in a stolen car, being pursued by not just the cops but also the tabloid media, and he’s got a hostage.  Natalie Voss (Kristy Swanson) turns out to be a willing hostage, though.  She is the daughter of Dalton Voss (Ray Wise, playing a character who is literally described as being “the Donald Trump of California) and what better way to act out against her father than to fall in love with her kidnapper and help him as he tries to reach the Mexican border?

What’s this?

A good Charlie Sheen movie that was not directed by Oliver Stone or John Milius?

It’s a Christmas miracle!

Actually, it may be misleading to say that The Chase is good..  By most of the standards used to judge whether or not a film qualifies as being good, The Chase fails.  There’s no real character development.  The plot is as simplistic as a plot can be.  A good deal of the movie could be correctly described as stupid.  But The Chase has got to be one of the most entertainingly stupid movies ever made.  It is about as basic an action comedy as has ever been made.  Almost the entire movie takes place on highway, with jokes mixed in with spectacular car crashes and only-in-the-90s cameos from Flea, Anthony Kiedis, and Ron Jeremy.  The pace never lets up, Kristy Swanson again shows that she deserved a better film career than she got, and Henry Rollins plays a cop.  As for Charlie Sheen, he basically plays the same character that he always plays but at least, when The Chase was made, he was still putting a little effort into it.  Maybe because they had already previously worked together in Hot Shots!, Sheen and Swanson have an easy rapport and make even the worse jokes sound passably funny.

The Chase may not be great and it really would have been improved by cameos from Burt Reynolds and Judd Nelson but it’s still damn entertaining.

Film Review: Song to Song (dir by Terrence Malick)


You’re watching a movie called Song to Song.  It’s about beautiful people in a beautiful city.

In this case, the city is Austin, Texas.  The people are all involved in the Austin music scene and they’re played by actors like Ryan Gosling, Rooney Mara, Natalie Portman, Michael Fassbender, and Cate Blanchett.  A good deal of Song to Song was filmed at the Austin City Limits festival and several real-life musicians appear as themselves, though only Patti Smith is on screen long enough to make much of an impression.  To be honest, both the music and Austin are almost incidental to the film.  Though the movie was sold as an Austin film and it premiered at SXSW, it could have just as easily taken place in Ft. Worth.

The film is made up of short, deliberately obscure shots.  The camera never stops moving, floating over images of sunsets, sunrises, and oddly empty streets.  Because the film was shot with a wide-angle lens, you’re never not aware of the expanse around the characters.  At times, all of those beautiful film stars run the risk of become specks on the landscape, as if the film itself is taunting the characters for thinking that they are more important than nature.

Who are the characters?  It’s not always easy to say.  There are plenty of voice overs but it’s rare that anyone directly states what they’re thinking or who they are.  When the characters speak to each other, they mumble.  The dialogue is a mix of the banal and the portentous, a sure sign of a film that was largely shot without a script.  Eventually, you turn on the captioning so that you can at least understand what everyone’s muttering.

Michael Fassbender plays Cook.  Cook appears to be a music producer but he could just as easily be a businessman who enjoys hanging out with and manipulating aspiring stars.  People seem to know him but nobody seems to be particularly impressed by him.  Cook spends a lot of time standing in front of a pool.  Is it his pool?  Is it his house? It’s hard to say.  Cook is obsessed with control or maybe he isn’t.  Halfway through the film, Fassbender appears to turn into his character from Shame.

Ryan Gosling is BV.  BV appears to be a lyricist, though it’s never made clear what type of songs that he writes.  At one point, you think someone said that he had written a country song but you may have misheard.  BV appears to have an estranged relationship with his dying father.  BV may be a romantic or he may not.  He seems to fall in love easily but he spends just as much time staring at the sky soulfully and suggesting that he has a hard time with commitment.  BV appears to be Cook’s best friend but sometimes, he isn’t.  There’s a random scene where BV accuses Cook of cheating him.  It’s never brought up again.

Rooney Mara is Faye.  Faye contributes most of the voice overs and yet, oddly, you’re never sure who exactly she is.  She appears to be BV’s girlfriend and sometimes, she appears to be Cook’s girlfriend.  Sometimes, she’s in love and then, just as abruptly, she’s not.  She may be a singer or she may be a songwriter.  At one point, she appears to be interviewing Patty Smith so maybe she’s a music journalist.  The film is centered around her but it never makes clear who she is.

Natalie Portman is Rhonda.  Rhonda was a teacher but now she’s a waitress.  She might be religious or she might not.  She might be married to Cook or she might not.  Her mother (Holly Hunter) might be dying or she might not.

And there are other beautful people as well.  Cate Blanchett plays a character named Amanda.  Amanda has a relationship with one of the characters and then vanishes after four scenes.  There’s an intriguing sadness to Blanchett’s performance.  Since the first cut of Song to Song was 8 hours long, you can assume her backstory was left on the cutting room floor.  (And yet strangely, it works that we never know much about who Amanda is.)  Lykke Li shows up, presumably playing herself but maybe not.  Berenice Marlohe and Val Kilmer also have small roles, wandering in and out of the character’s lives.

There’s a lot of wandering in this movie.  The characters wander through their life, stopping only to kiss each other, caress each other, and occasionally stare soulfully into the distance.  The camera seems to wander from scene to scene, stopping to occasionally focus on random details.  Even the film’s timeline seems to wander, as you find yourself looking at Rooney Mara’s forever changing hair and using it as a roadmap in your attempt to understand the film’s story.

“I went through a period when I thought sex had to be violent,” Rooney Mara’s voice over breathlessly explains, “We thought we could just roll and tumble, live from song to song, kiss to kiss.”

As you watch Song to Song, you find yourself both intrigued and annoyed.  This is a Terrence Malick film, after all.  You love movies so, of course, you love Malick.  Even if his recent films have been flawed and self-indulgent, he is a true original.  You want to support him because he’s an artist but, as you watch Song to Song, the emphasis really does seem to be on self-indulgence.  The images are beautiful but the characters are so empty and the voice overs are so incredibly pretentious.  Should you be mad or should you be thankful that, in this time of cinematic blandness, there’s a director still willing to follow his own vision?

At times, Song to Song is brilliant.  There are images in Song to Song that are as beautiful as any that Malick has ever captured.  Sometimes, both the images and the characters are almost too beautiful.  The music business is tough and dirty but all of the images in Song to Song are clean and vibrant.

At times, Song to Song is incredibly annoying.  It’s hard not to suspect that the film would have worked better if Natalie Portman and Rooney Mara had switched roles.  Mara can be an outstanding actress with the right director (just check out her performance in Carol) but, in Song to Song, her natural blandness makes it difficult to take her seriously as whoever she’s supposed to be.  Portman has much less screen time and yet creates an unforgettable character.  Mara is in 75% of the film and yet never seems like an active participant.

At times, the film is annoyingly brilliant.  Malick’s self-indulgence can drive you mad while still leaving you impressed by his commitment to his vision.

And then, other times, the film is brilliantly annoying.  Many directors have mixed overly pretty images with pretentious voice overs but few do so with the panache of Terrence Malick.

Even fans of Terrence Malick, of which I certainly am one, will probably find Song to Song to be his weakest film.  Even compared to films like To The Wonder and Knight of Cups, Song to Song is a slow movie and there are moments that come dangerously close to self-parody.  Unlike Tree of Life, where everything eventually came together in enigmatic poignance, Song to Song often feels like less than the sum of its parts.  And yet, I can’t totally dismiss anything made by Terrence Malick.  Song to Song may be empty but it’s oh so pretty.

 

Film Review: Baby Driver (dir by Edgar Wright)


Baby Driver, the new film from director Edgar Wright, is awesome!

That’s the succinct way of putting it and, if you really want to fully enjoy this film, I suggest that you stop reading this review now. There’s no way that a review cannot, to a certain extent, spoil a movie.  Baby Driver is a kinetic blend of action, comedy, romance, and music and it is a movie that you should see without any preconceived notions and expectations.  It’s a movie that earns the right to surprise you with just how good and entertaining it is.  It’s a movie that you should experience fresh.

So, go see the movie.  Seriously, go right now.  GET OUT OF HERE AND SEE THE MOVIE!  This review will still be waiting for you when you get back.  Who knows?  Maybe, while you’re watching the movie, I’ll actually correct some of the typos.  Or maybe not.

Anyway, go away.  I’ll wait for you to return.

la dee da la dee da…

Okay, did you see the movie?  It’s really great, isn’t it?

As a result of the childhood car accident that killed his parents, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been left with a permanent case of tinnitus.  He uses music to drown out the constant ringing in his ears.  There’s almost never a time that Baby isn’t listening to his ipod.  When we first see Baby, he’s sitting behind the wheel of a car, singing along with Jon Spencer and the Blues Explosion.  The second time that we see him, he’s getting coffee while listening to Harlem Shuffle.  In a delirious homage to Singin’ In The Rain (and in a scene that puts the opening traffic jam of La La Land to shame), Baby literally dances across the streets of Los Angeles.  For Baby, every day is a musical.

Of course, Baby doesn’t just use music to block out the ringing.  He also uses the music (and an ever-present pair of sunglasses) to keep the world out.  He rarely speaks or even makes eye contact and, as long as he’s listening to his ipod, he has an excuse not to interact.  He doesn’t have to explain the small scars around his eyes or how he makes his money.  The few times that he does speak to people, it’s to record their voices, which he then turns into music.  Music and the driving are the only two ways this orphan can express his feelings.

When the movie begins, Baby appears to be close to only two men.  One is his deaf foster father, Joseph (CJ Jones).  Baby lives with Joseph, in an apartment where Baby regularly stashes thousands of dollars.  Joseph always watches in disapproval as Baby hides the money under the floorboards.  Joseph signs at Baby that he deserves better than the life he’s leading.  Baby always signs back that he’s only a few jobs away from being done.

Baby’s other father figure is Doc (Kevin Spacey).  Doc is a rich and connected man.  At times, he seems to sincerely care about Baby but there are other times when Doc is just as quick to threaten to kill him and everyone that he loves.  Doc plans bank robberies for a living.  Doc may change associates from robbery to robbery but one thing always remains consistent.  Baby is always his driver because Baby is the best.  As Doc explains it, the first time he saw Baby, he was stealing Doc’s Mercedes.  Baby drives for Doc as a way of paying off his debt to the older man but you still believe Baby’s sincerity when he tells Doc, “We’re a team.”  (One the film’s best throw-away jokes is the line where Doc reveals that he knows where Baby got the idea to say that.)

Things start to change for Baby when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress who appears to love music just as much he does.  For Baby and Debora, it’s love at first sight but Doc has one more job that he needs Baby for.  It’s their most dangerous job yet and, making thing even more complicated, are the three people who Doc has recruited to work with Baby.  Buddy (Jon Hamm) is a former wall street banker who is eager to prove what a badass he is.  Darling (Eiza Gonzalez) is his wife, who enjoys talking about how many of their former partners have died.  And finally, there’s Bats (Jamie Foxx), a complete and total psycho who brags about never telling a single story that doesn’t end with someone getting killed.

Baby Driver is a propulsive blast of pure adrenaline, perhaps the closest that we will ever get to a genuine pulp musical.  The action scenes left me literally breathless.  I saw the movie at the Alamo Drafthouse and, before the film started, there was a clip of Edgar Wright listing his favorite car chases.  He listed all of the usual suspects, Bullitt, The French Connection, Mad Max: Thunder Road.  The chases scenes in Baby Driver can proudly be listed next to all of those scenes.  This is genuinely exciting crime film, featuring wonderfully over-the-top turns from Foxx, Hamm, and especially Spacey.

But you know what?  Baby Driver may be a great action film but what makes it special is that it’s also a film with a heart.  Rather bravely, Edgar Wright has not only made an action musical but he’s also mixed in a very sincere and unabashedly sentimental love story.  You never doubt for a second that Baby would give up everything — music, driving, even his life — for Debora.  The scenes between Baby and Debora are almost deliriously romantic.  Ansel Elgort and Lily James both share a very likable and very real chemistry.  You want things to work out for Debora and Baby.  You feel like they belong together and, when it looks like either Baby or Debora might be in danger, you worry for both of them.  As exciting as the film’s action sequences were, it was the ending that brought tears to my eyes and that was almost totally due to the performances of Elgort and James.

Baby Driver is one of the best films that I’ve seen so far this year.  See it this weekend!  If you’ve already seen it, see it again!  This film deserves to be rewarded.

 

 

Pixar Does It Again With Inside Out


Inside_Out_(2015_film)_posterInside Out is the latest brilliant film from Pixar’s Pete Docter and it will remind you why you fell in love with Pixar in the first place.

There are no talking cars or lovable monsters in Inside Out.  Instead, it’s the story of a very normal 12 year-old girl named Riley (voiced by Kaitlyn Dias).  Or rather, it’s the story of what goes on in her head.  For most of the movie, Riley deals with experiences to which we can all relate: she moves to a new city, she struggles to relate to her well-meaning parents (voiced by Kyle MacLachlan and Diane Lane), and she tries to fit in at a new school.  Inside Out is a film about the small moments of life and how they all add up to create a bigger picture.

What sets Inside Out apart is the way that it tells its deceptively simple story.  Inside Out takes place almost entirely inside of Riley’s brain.  And it turns out that her mind is gigantic wonderland, one that is so big and complex that not even the characters who live there quite understand how it all works.  Bing Bong (Richard Kind), a pink half-elephant, half-cat, half-dolphin creature, spends his time wandering through the halls of memory and mournfully thinking back to when he was Riley’s imaginary friend.  Whenever Riley goes to sleep, the actors and directors at Dream Productions film a different nightly movie.  Meanwhile, Imagination Land is a fun place to visit but not a good place in which to live and past childhood traumass — like a gigantic stalk of broccoli and a terrifying birthday clown — are locked away deep in Riley’s subconscious, where they are guarded by officious policemen.   Zigzagging through this mental landscape is the literal Train of Thought.

And then, above it all, there’s Headquarters.  This is where five different emotions take turns “steering” Riley through life.  Fear (Bill Hader) is always nervous but, at the same time, keeps Riley safe.  Disgust (Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from eating broccoli and hanging out with the wrong crowd.  Sadness, meanwhile, hasn’t had much to do over the past 12 years and, as a result, she spends most of her time standing in a corner and feeling … well, sad.  Sadness is voiced by Phyllis Smith, best known for playing Meredith on The Office.  Smith proves herself here to be a strong and empathetic voice artist.

Their unquestioned leader is Joy (Amy Poehler).  As befits her name and job, Joy is always positive, always upbeat, and always optimistic.  For 12 years, Joy has been in charge of steering Riley’s life but that all changes when Riley and her family move to San Francisco.  Suddenly, Joy finds it more difficult to keep Riley permanently happy.  Memories that were formerly color-coded yellow for happy start to turn blue.

When both Joy and Sadness are accidentally expelled from the Headquarters, it’s up to the three remaining emotions to try to keep Riley well-balanced until they can return.  However, the journey back up to the Headquarters is a long and dangerous one, full of some of the most imaginative (and metaphorical) imagery in Pixar’s history.  Joy and Sadness will have to work together to make it.

And really, that’s what makes Inside Out so special.  It’s the rare family film that acknowledges that allowing ourselves to feel sad is often as important as being happy.

Inside Out is a brilliant coming-of-age story and one of the best films of the year.  It’s a film that will make you laugh and cry and will remind you of why you fell in love with Pixar in the first place.  Kids will love the humor and adults … well, adults will probably be trying to hold back the tears.

What a great film!

Thank you, Pixar.

Back to School #34: Suburbia (dir by Penelope Spheeris)


tlc_spheeris_suburbia_poster

I’ve been reviewing film on this site for over four years now and one theme that I find myself returning to, time-after-time, is that I love movies that serve as time capsules.  I love movies that were made specifically to capitalize on specific trends, culture, and fashion.  Many people dismiss these films as being dated but that’s precisely why I enjoy them.  I just love seeing how the world once looked and how life was once lived.

The 1984 film Suburbia definitely falls into that category.  Produced by the legendary Roger Corman and directed by documentary filmmaker Penelope Spheeris, Suburbia tells the tale of The Rejected, a group of teenage runaways and other outcasts who, having both rejected and been rejected from conventional society, now illegally live in an abandoned house in the middle of the suburbs.  The film focuses on two runaways — Sheila (Jennifer Clay), who was abused by her father, and Evan (Bill Coyne), who is fleeing an alcoholic mother.  Both of them — along with yet another runaway named Joe Schmoe (Wade Waltson) — are invited to live in the “T.R. House” by the group’s leader, Jack Diddley (Chris Pedersen), on the condition that all three of them allow themselves to be branded with the letters “T.R.”  In short, when you’re rejected, you’re rejected for life.

Eventually, all three of them settle into life at the house.  Joe and Sheila start a tentative relationship.  Evan brings his younger brother Ethan (Andrew Pece) to the house.  They spend their days frightening their conventional, middle class neighbors and being harassed by a group who, rather ominously, refer to themselves as “Citizens Against Crime.”  When they need food, they either steal it or they rummage through other people’s garbage.  Jack’s stepfather, a cop named Bill (Donald Allen), drops by the house and tells them that they need to leave before someone tries to make them leave.  The Rejected, however, refuse to forced out.  It all leads to both violence and tragedy…

What makes Suburbia an interesting film (even for someone like me, who would probably be spit at by the residents of the T.R. House) is that Spheeris is both clearly on the side of the Rejected but, at the same time, she also makes no attempt to idealize them.  The film does not shy away from showing that the residents of the T.R. House are, for the most part, angry, violent, and self-destructive.  However, Spheeris suggests that, in a society that continually tries to co-opt and neuter all forms of rebellion, the Rejected don’t have much of a choice but to continually go to the next extreme.  She finds a humanity and a beauty in their often hopeless existence because, even if they are doomed, at least they’re going to be doomed on their own terms.

Spheeris filled the film with non-actors and local Los Angeles musicians (A very young Flea plays one of the residents of the house) and, as a result, Suburbia features some of the most wooden performances and awkward line readings that I have ever seen or heard.  But, what the cast lacks in acting ability, they make up for with the right attitude and the right look.  And you can see that in perhaps the film’s best and most iconic scene, the infamous punk parade.

And you can watch that parade below!