All posts filed under: Film

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2014 PICKS – A PLENTIFUL YEAR

Since I didn’t do this last year, I’m throwing my hat in with every one of the fine folks here at Popdose as 2014 was one of the most interesting, diverse and fruitful years – especially musically.  So rather than pontificate on the “why”, etc., I’m going to jump right in with both feet and revisit some of the music, et al., that stood out for me from January to now…: Albums by “new(er)” artists: LITTLE CHIEF:  Lion’s Den This wonderful, solid piece of work is the debut album from a recently-formed band out of Fayetteville, Arkansas.  I was immediately drawn into its warm, almost-understated production; the sharp on-pointness of the harmonies and the lushness of the arrangements.  Rarely have I ever been so moved immediately but Lion’s Den has lived with me from the first listen. JIMMY STEPHENS JR & THE BLUES CITY ROAD DOGS:  Road Ready The most explosive, pure rock & roll album to enter my consciousness in years.  Jimmy Stephens, Jr. is as fine a singer, songwriter, bass player (and guitarist) …

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DVD REVIEW: “Positive Force: More Than A Witness; 25 Years Of Punk Politics In Action”

VERY interesting and intriguing historic look at the Positive Force organization, which began in Nevada, but has thrived and stayed the course in Washington D.C. from 1985 onward.  Led by D.C. co-founder Mark Andersen, Positive Force ran parallel to the socially conscious punk movement (the majority of bands recorded for Dischord Records), which by 1985 had begun to widen its spectrum and become, itself, more politicized.  The rawness of the punk anger and ethos began to be pointing toward constructivity, rather than negativity and destruction, and found itself moving in a socially, morally and politically upward (and left-leaning) direction.  As seen in the documentary from director Robin Bell, Positive Force acts upon its words with deeds – from delivering groceries to those in need (especially the elderly) to holding benefit concerts to raise money for various causes, to orchestrating protests. This documentary is filled with news footage and interviews from the participants themselves – D.C. founder/director Mark Andersen, Dischord’s Ian MacKaye, Dave Grohl from Scream, Jenny Toomey from Simple Machines and Positive Force and so …

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DVD Review: “Magic in the Moonlight,” Woody Allen’s Lives Up to its Name

Berlin, 1928. Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) is a renowned magician working under the guise of Wei Ling Soo. He marvels audiences by making elephants vanish on stage, cutting women in half, and performing a trick in which he enters a box, disappears, and then rematerializes in a chair ten feet away. But there’s no magic involved here; there is logic behind everything Stanley does and if pressed, he can answer how he pulls off each trick. You see, Stanley doesn’t believe in magic, or God, or even true love. Much to the chagrin of his beloved Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins), Stanley is a cynic. One evening, Howard (Simon McBurney), Stanley’s oldest friend, visits the illusionist. Howard was hired by American socialites, George and Caroline (Jeremy Shamos and Erica Leerhsen), to debunk the clairvoyant powers of a woman named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), who has taken Caroline’s brother, Brice (Hamish Linklater) and mother (Jacki Weaver) under her spell. Brice is so smitten he wants to marry Sophie. Caroline is concerned for her brother’s well being, as …

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DVD REVIEW: R.E.M., “R.E.M. By MTV” (6 disc set)

It’s already three years since Peter Buck, Mike Mills and Michael Stipe officially announced the end of R.E.M. as a band (after a 30-year run as a recording unit and 14 years after drummer Bill Berry had left the group) but yet, it doesn’t feel like they’ve ceased to exist at all.  We’ve seen the 25th anniversary releases of Document and Green; Peter Buck’s two solo albums and the sanctioned issuing of the band’s performances on MTV’s “Unplugged” as a 2-disc set.  And there is still more to come. For the moment, MTV, in conjunction with Rhino, have now culled their archives to deliver R.E.M. By MTV, a six DVD collection, which includes most of R.E.M.’s appearances on MTV and MTV-aligned programs (at this point in time, shows owned by Viacom/CBS, such as the band’s appearance on “The Colbert Report” and Nickelodeon’s “Livewire”, are part of the package).  There are 6 live concerts, VMA appearances – both in the United States and Europe – and “classic” programs such as “I.R.S.’s The Cutting Edge” and the …

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MOVIE REVIEW: “20000 Days On Earth”

One of the more interesting (to fascinating) musicians/writers to come out of the post-punk era is unquestionably Nick Cave.  As the lead singer of The Boys Next Door and The Birthday Party in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s, he carved out a niche of notoriety, decadence and riveting music and performance.  After the 1983 split of The Birthday Party, Cave formed The Bad Seeds with ex-bandmate Mick Harvey and Einsturzende Neubaten mastermind Blixa Bargeld, amongst others.  A different affair than the sonic assault and raucous live style of The Birthday Party, The Bad Seeds were a more subdued, but equally dark musical affair – a mixture of religious imagery, deep Delta blues-styles and torch songs that add up to a very original kind of art.  Aside from his music career, Cave is a published author, poet and sometime actor. It is here, with 20000 Days On Earth, where Cave is front and center as the lead character of the movie, playing the role of Nick Cave.  Directors Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard deliver a …

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DVD, LP & CD REVIEW: Big Star, “Big Star Live In Memphis”

As I did with the recent re-issues of #1 Record and Radio City, I went into listening and watching Big Star Live In Memphis with open mind and fresh ears, especially since I’ve never seen a full-length performance of the band.  The 1993 release, Columbia – Live At Missouri University 4/25/93 is almost a table setter for this, but that was their first show with the new line-up (Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies – who would be with the band until Chilton’s death in 2010), so I discount it.  This show, filmed and recorded at the New Daisy Theatre in the band’s hometown of Memphis, is a different affair – over a year later; they’re much tighter, confident and conveying a power in their playing and singing, especially those glorious harmonies. Filmed by a friend of Chilton’s, Danny Graflund, the 20-song (19 songs on the DVD) set is a joy.  Even if you’re not a great fan of Big Star, you have to appreciate the guitar mastery of Chilton and the interplay …

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MOVIE REVIEW: “Frank” (2014)

The story of director Lenny Abrahamson’s Frank is simple:  Jon is a would-be songwriter with endless ideas in his head, but no outlet.  He winds up joining, due to an accident, an unusual band called “Soronprfbs” which is led by the title character, Frank – a singer/songwriter who does not reveal his face at any time as it is covered by a huge paper-mache head of a neutral-looking being.  This clever, dark and sweet film stars the always-riveting Michael Fassbender as the enigmatic Frank and the equally wonderful Maggie Gyllenhaal as Clara, the band’s theramin player and antagonist to Domhnall Gleeson’s warmer/sympathetic Jon – the “accidental keyboardist”. Emotional ups-and-downs are well played in this story, which sees the band go through Smile-like paces during recording sessions at a secluded cabin in the Irish hills; the discovery that they have a following, thanks to Jon’s Tweets and YouTube postings and the chance to perform at South By Southwest – all of these situations are met head on with believable acting.  There are some genuinely hilarious moments; …

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DVD REVIEW: “Looking For Johnny – The Legend of Johnny Thunders”

As unusual as it is to think of a hardcore heroin addict as a “legend”, that word is truly applicable to the one and only Johnny Thunders, guitarist with The New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers.  Thunders is a myth, a ghost, a story, a hero, a villain and a tragic superstar who never made it big but was and, 23 years after his death, still is larger than life.  Looking For Johnny – The Legend of Johnny Thunders helps shed a broader light on that still-beloved myth. This documentary traces Thunders’ (John Genzale) early years in Queens, New York; his pain of growing up without a father and being bitten by the rock & roll bug after being a skilled baseball player as a teen.  His joining up with the band that became the New York Dolls sealed his reputation; upon their split in 1975, his forming the Heartbreakers with ex-Dolls drummer Jerry Nolan sealed his legend.  There are many testimonials and recollections by friends such as the Dolls’ Syl Sylvain; Walter Lure of …

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DVD REVIEW: “B.B. King: The Life Of Riley”

What can one say about Riley King, better known and loved by the world as B.B. King, one of the greatest blues guitarists ever, that hasn’t been said a million times before without sounding insincere or hackneyed?  Not much, frankly.  He’s a legend and an American treasure.  He’s 89 years old now and not in the best of health, but he is as beloved as ever and will always be looked upon with respect, admiration and pure love by all. This excellent documentary, filmed over a two year span by Jon Brewer, is fascinating, riveting and interesting for its detail; archival footage and stories abound.  From his youth as an orphan in the cottonfields of Mississippi to his earliest days on WDIA in Memphis (complete with a glimpse of the late Rufus Thomas doing his radio show) to the Civil Rights era to the endless guest tributes and testimonials.  Watching B.B. King doing his thing with Lucille (his trademark Gibson guitar) is, as it ever was, a joy to behold.  Seeing the footage from his …

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Blu-ray Review: “Chef,” the Best Movie of the Summer

Back in April I had the good fortune of seeing a preview screening of Jon Favreau’s Chef. At the time, I effused about the movie and all of its merits. Whenever I pour my heart out like I did back then, I wonder whether I was right or wrong in my perception of the film. That Chef became a hit film this summer excited me, but I was still curious if I went overboard. Thus, when the opportunity presented itself to take a second look at Chef, I leapt at it. After watching the film again, I think I love the film even more. After directing several big budget Hollywood films, Favreau went back to his indie roots (he wrote Swingers and directed Made) and went against the grain with Chef. First of all, it doesn’t adhere to the traditional three act structure of most movies. The second half switches from the narrative of a man in crisis to a road movie. The big studios would never allow this kind of tonal shift (something Favreau …

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Roger Dean Vs. James Cameron: Are These Your Floating Islands?

This week, director James Cameron laid claim to mountains coming out of the sky and standing there. Anyone who has a thing for 70’s prog rock and science fiction probably wondered if Cameron did too when they saw 2009’s Avatar, with its alien territories and sky-borne islands that seemed suspiciously close to those of famed Yes album cover artist Roger Dean. Apparently Dean felt the same. In June 2013, Dean filed a legal action at a court in New York against Cameron, accusing him of “willful and deliberate copying, dissemination and exploitation” of his well-known designs. Dean was looking for damages of $50 million dollars. This week, U.S. District Court Judge Jesse M. Furman dismissed the suit, saying that several of Dean’s claims were “misguided.” Cameron has three sequels planned. One takes place on a dark planet with a giant rainbow-making prism and another features a big, screaming, pink face with bad teeth. Upon the dismissal, Cameron’s representatives were heard to say that those who put up lawsuits against them “should not surround themselves with …