Saturday, August 2, 2014


Year 6, Day 214 - 8/2/14 - Movie #1,805

BEFORE: Linking actors from "Graffiti Bridge" to this film is impossible, according to the rules I've established.  However, I can bend those rules, or ignore them completely.  Since I count voice actors in animated films, I could also count musicians, singers, when their voices appear on a film's soundtrack.  So it should be simple to link between Prince and Sting, who appears in tonight's film - all I have to do is track down a movie that features songs from both Prince and the Police, right?  That's a snap - "Risky Business", for one, which featured a Prince song I'm unfamiliar with, and also "Every Breath You Take".  Thanks, internet.

THE PLOT:   Jimmy hates his parents and his job in a company's mailing division. Only when he's together with his friends, a 'Mod' clique, cruises London on his motor-scooter and hears music such as that of 'The Who', he feels free and accepted.

AFTER: I've heard about "Mods" and "Rockers", Ringo made a joke about them in "A Hard Day's Night", by calling himself a "mocker", sort of in-between the two.  But that's about as far as my knowledge goes - the rockers seemed to prefer 50's music, leather outfits and riding motorcycles.  The mods, on the other hand, seemed to enjoy the 60's rock, green overcoats and riding motor scooters - totally different, right?  They both seem to represent rebellious youth, so if there are other subtle differences, I'm not aware of them - but they can't seem to get along.

The lead character here, Jimmy, has mostly Mod friends, but also learns he has a former childhood friend in the Rocker gang, so this becomes like a London version of "West Side Story", only with a bromance instead of a male/female relationship.  Also, that sort of throws this back to Shakespeare, doesn't it?  "Romeo & Juliet", only with more amphetamines, and better music.

I thought that "Tommy" had been part of this project, but I can't find any review for it - I suspect I watched that film the year before starting the Movie Year, because I know I was quite confused by it.  I never fully understood that album either - blind people playing pinball must be a metaphor for something, but darned if I know what it is.  This film has a much simpler story, it's almost like a slice-of-life deal, but the gang violence does seem to add a bit of relevance. 

But it seems so tied to a specific time, a specific place - I'm not sure I can understand the plight of working-class Londoners (or some of their accents), just as I can't understand why a motor-scooter needs so darn many rear-view mirrors.  Part of me thought this would be more of a musical romp, like "Help" or "A Hard Day's Night", but it seems more like a precursor to films like "Snatch" or "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels".

It's odd that nearly all of this week's films have been set at the intersection of music and violence - I watched the "rap battles" and domestic violence in "8 Mile", then the rapper vs. rapper dispute in "Hustle & Flow", then the band battles in "Purple Rain" and its sequel.  Either music is a catalyst for violence, or filmmakers don't feel they can pull off a musical story without adding conflict.  Makes for better stories, anyway.

Also starring Phil Daniels, Ray Winstone (last seen in "Hugo"), Philip Davis (last seen in "Cassandra's Dream"), Mark Wingett, Leslie Ash, Michael Elphick, with cameos from Timothy Spall (last seen in "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events") and The Who.

RATING: 4 out of 10 pie shops

Friday, August 1, 2014

Graffiti Bridge

Year 6, Day 213 - 8/1/14 - Movie #1,804

BEFORE: Here's a quick preview of what's coming up in August.  After the rock chain, 4 films with Ewan McGregor, then 5 with Leonardo DiCaprio.  4 with Jane Fonda, 2 with Richard Pryor, 2 with Johnny Depp.   2 films about magicians, then it's the 9-film mostly random sci-fi wrap-up.  2 films with Harrison Ford and 2 with Michael Keaton, and then before you know it, it will be Sept. 1.  August goes fast, man, but I shouldn't have to tell you that.

I was out last night at a food & beer festival - Edible Manhattan's Good Beer event.  I could have given myself the night off, but I've already calculated that if I skip a night, then my horror chain won't line up with Halloween the way I want.  So now that my trips are over, I have to acknowledge that Halloween is just about 90 days away.  Then 5 days after that, I'll wrap up another movie year. 

Linking from "Purple Rain", Prince carries over, and so does Morris Day + the (MF) Time. 

THE PLOT:  The Kid and Morris Day are still competitors and each runs a club of his own. They make a bet about who writes the best song and the Kid's club is on the line.

AFTER: As you might imagine, I was more than a bit toasted after the food/beer pairing thing - I tried about 24 food samples paired with various local beers.  Really, getting into an involved plot was the last thing I should have been doing - fortunately I remembered that "Purple Rain" barely had any plot, and neither does its sequel.  Seriously, there's like one plot point.  OK, two.

Plus, it's just about 90 min. long I figured I could just put in on in the background and let the music wash over me, sort of just take it in by osmosis.  But it's more akin to cotton candy - as in, it's very light, weighs almost nothing and has no nutritional value whatsoever.  You might get a sugar rush from it (especially if you dig Prince's music, but I can take it or leave it...) but it will never fill you up or make you feel satisfied.

I'm heartened by the number of Razzie awards this got nominated for - including Worst Picture, Worst Actor (Prince), Worst Director (also Prince), Worst Screenplay and Worst New Star.  I agree the acting is just abysmal, worse even than what was on display in "Purple Rain" - this is why pop stars shouldn't act, direct and play music all at the same time.

If future archaeologists study the last millennium and want to investigate what killed the music video format, they should start here.  Every cheesy music video stereotype is on display here, with no attempt to stretch beyond the form and form any kind of coherent point at all.  Hey, if you like arbitrary "battles" over who performs better, or really who can pose and preen better, this is for you.  If not, this is just the ultimate in nonsensical self-indulgence.

There was one point where Morris Day was performing, surrounded on stage by flames, where I thought maybe he's supposed to be the devil and Prince is God, or something along those lines, and the whole thing is a sort of parable, but no, that would be giving this movie a little too much credit.

Also starring Ingrid Chavez, Mavis Staples, George Clinton, Tevin Campbell.

RATING: 2 out of 10 paintbrushes

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Purple Rain

Year 6, Day 212 - 7/31/14 - Movie #1,803

BEFORE: See,  I didn't catch this film when it was first released, and then somehow thirty years went by, and I just never felt the need.  But when I knew I was going to watch other films about aspiring musicians, I saw a way to work it in.  Linking from "Hustle & Flow", Isaac Hayes was also in "I'm Gonna Git You Sucka" with Clarence Williams III.

THE PLOT:  A young man with a talent for music meets an aspiring singer, Apollonia, and finds that talent alone isn't all that he needs.

AFTER: There just doesn't seem to be much story here, if you ask me.  There's barely enough plot to get from one song to the next, which isn't all that uncommon.  Whether you enjoy this film or not probably hinges on how you feel about the soundtrack.  The acting is generally abysmal, much of it seems re-dubbed, which makes me wonder what was wrong with those actors' voices - do they all talk like Mickey Mouse, or worse, Donald Duck?

My first paid day of work in the entertainment industry was in 1988, and it happened to be on the set of a music video for Apollonia, titled "Since I Fell For You". (Sample lyrics: "I'm past the point of no return / The beating of your heart is all I yearn." What??)  I never met her, it was a prep-day where the equipment got picked up, the studio backdrop got painted, and the props were purchased.  I spent about 6 hours finding the perfect stool for her to sit on - first I was sent down to the Bowery (aka the restaurant supply district) to find a stool, and I had to verbally describe every stool I found over a payphone to the director - this was in the days before cell phones, digital cameras, or phones with cameras.  None of the stools were right (or perhaps I didn't describe them well enough) so I was then sent up to a real furniture store to get a catalog, and after bringing the catalog back to the director so she could select a stool, it was BACK to the furniture store to buy the stool.  By the time I got the stool back to the shoot, everyone else had finished their jobs and gone home, but I still had to assemble the stool and spray-paint it matte black, since it had a glossy finish that might shine on camera.

All for a stool, mind you, that would be under Apollonia's butt and hardly even seen - in the end I think the stool was in the video for about 7 seconds.  This was when I got my first indication that working in the film business wasn't going to be all sunshine and rainbows.  I was in class the next day, when they shot the video, so I missed hearing her manager say, "She's not that strong of a singer, so let's see some more cleavage!" and I also missed seeing her boob subsequently fall out of her blouse during a dance move. (You can see it on YouTube, though - pause at 4:00)  I got to work on another music video the next day, but for a different artist - Rick James.

But I find it hilarious that Miss "Apple-Baloney" was playing a 19-year old character here.  Her IMDB page says she was born in 1959, so that's means she was 24.  But she was born in Greece, so her age can't be verified, so I'm guessing she was at least 30 when this was filmed.

For the film itself, it's really not that different from "8 Mile" - and for the conflict (rap battle) part, there are several groups competing for their time on stage at this Minneapolis club, which apparently only allows a band to play one song at a time.  And we've got the same personal conflicts as well - domestic violence at home, and a rocky road with the girlfriend - so forgive me if I feel like I've seen this one before, even if I haven't.  The Kid is to Prince as B-Rabbit is to Eminem, that's all.

And there's still a lot I don't understand - why is the rain purple?  What does it sound like when doves cry?  Why are the animals striking curious poses?  And I was THERE in the 80's, man - it's hard enough trying to explain why famous singers chose to dress like revolutionary war soldiers, and the boys wore more make-up than the girls.  But that's how we liked it - we wore our sunglasses at night, our girls just wanted to have fun, and we all wanted a new drug.

Points for trying to update the classic Abbott + Costello routine ("What is the password?"  "That's right."  "The password is "that's right"?"  "No, "what" is the password.") but in the end the bit just didn't work.

Also starring Prince, Apollonia Kotero, Morris Day.

RATING: 3 out of 10 puffy shirts

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hustle & Flow

Year 6, Day 211 - 7/30/14 - Movie #1,802

BEFORE: I admit it was a big thematic jump from "Captain America" to "8 Mile", so to make up for that I'm sticking with the rap theme - or is it hip-hop?  Again, I don't know the difference - I'm way off the reservation here, outside the comfort zone, but I'll transition to films about rock music (again) in a couple of days and then I'll feel much more at home.  Linking from "8 Mile", I'm rewarded for sticking with a theme, because Taryn Manning carries over, and I didn't plan that.

THE PLOT:  With help from his friends, a Memphis pimp in a mid-life crisis attempts to become a successful hip-hop emcee.

AFTER: I think this story was a little stronger than the one in "8 Mile", if I'm being objective about it, because I agreed a little more with the message.  No, not the one that says "it's hard out there for a pimp" or anything like that, I mean the one that says "everybody gotta have a dream", and that you've got to keep working at it until you achieve it.  I'm a little more comfortable with that than I am with "You only get one shot, so you better take it."

How many people, not just pimps and hos, feel like they're trapped in their jobs?  Or stuck in a career rut and unable to advance?  Sometimes it seems like everyone wishes they were doing something else, or would be happy if only they could skip a couple of steps on the career ladder.  Very few are able to do that, so progress sometimes feels like it's moving at a glacial pace.  So you count the number of years you've been at it (or, say, the number of conventions you've attended) and you watch that number increase, and after ten or twenty years go by, you feel like you've got to break out somehow - record that demo tape, write that screenplay, or maybe just pull up stakes and move to another company or another city because whatever's there, it can't be any worse than the current situation. 

I suppose there are two kinds of people, the kind that make those bold lateral moves, and the kind that just shrug and learn to abide the routine and its lack of progress - perhaps because they feel that there IS something worse than being a cog in the machine, namely being a useless cog without a machine.  Routine work, pimping or otherwise, is still good, solid work with guaranteed pay, right?  But I'm projecting.  I mean, I'm digressing.  I'm hear to talk about "Hustle & Flow". 

I still worry about the kids who will see this movie, though, and pick up on the subtext regarding success, namely that the path to success goes through drug dealing and prostitution, and then scamming an already established artist into listening to a demo.   I work in an animation studio, and every day we get e-mails from students asking us to take a look at their work, and there's just not enough time for my boss to view all of those films, or offer any constructive criticism.  Umm, "keep drawing?"  Yeah, that advice will get you far. 

In fact, the situation is such that any established artist (writer, filmmaker, musician, whatever) could be putting themselves in jeopardy by listening to a demo tape, or reading an unsolicited screenplay or novel draft.  If any of the songs on that tape or plot points in that screenplay seem similar to work that the artist later produces, he could be sued for copyright infringement, and the repetition of words or themes might not even be intentional.  While we were at Comic-Con, a young animator approached my boss and asked him to judge a short animation he had made, and showed it to him on a tablet.  He then asked me to take a picture of my boss watching the animation and text him the picture - and then two days later I realized what I had done.  If my boss should make a film in the future with a similar-looking character or even a similar idea, I'd texted him all the evidence he'd need to prove that he could have been influenced, however slightly, by watching that film.  Whoops...

So that's my NITPICK POINT of the night.  If you give someone your demo tape and they throw it in the trash, it doesn't necessarily mean they hate it.  It could just mean that they're savvy about copyright law and they don't want to get sued.  Other than that, I don't have much to offer about this film, it just kind of is what it is.

I guess I missed a lot of the backstory, because I didn't understand why DJay cut Lexus loose, or even whether he was Shug's baby daddy or not.  I mean, I do NOW, because I read the plot on Wikipedia - I just think the film could have cleared up a couple of these points. 

Also starring Terrence Howard (last seen in "Red Tails"), Anthony Anderson (last seen in "Kangaroo Jack"), Taraji P. Henson (last seen in "Larry Crowne"), Ludacris (last seen in "No Strings Attached"), DJ Qualls (last seen in "Comic Book Villains"), Elise Neal, Paula Jai Parker, Isaac Hayes. 

RATING:  5 out of 10 microphones

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

8 Mile

Year 6, Day 210 - 7/29/14 - Movie #1,801

BEFORE: I came back from San Diego last night - when you fly back from the West Coast, it's hard to not feel like you just lost a whole day of your life, thanks to the time zone thing.  Forget that, I just lost 5 days of my life selling DVDs and animation art - sure, there were fun times and I took a lot of pictures of silly people dressed as superheroes and cartoon characters, but I was also exhausted and mentally worn out.  Being surrounded by over 100,000 geeks got me to a point where I just didn't want to overhear any more pointless conversations - whether at the convention, or at a restaurant, or on the plane.  I want to go live in a cabin in the woods for about a week, but instead I'm just sliding back into my old routine in NYC, which seems less than ideal.

I'm starting a new chain, it's sort of a continuation of the one I did about famous singers, like Patsy Cline in "Sweet Dreams" and Loretta Lynn in "Coal Miner's Daughter".  We're just going to bust it into a rap direction.  Oh, and Anthony Mackie carries over from "Captain America: the Winter Soldier".  That was planned, not necessary, but why not?

THE PLOT:  A young rapper, struggling with every aspect of his life, wants to make the most of what could be his final opportunity but his problems around gives him doubts.

AFTER:  I'm well out of my comfort zone tonight, maybe even more so than when I watched horror films.  I don't listen to rap, I've never paid it much mind - not in the 80's, not in the 90's, and not now.  And then rap gave way to hip-hop, and house music, and then trance and dub-step and countless other variations.  I sort of get beat-boxing, but when it comes to scratching and whatever else the DJ guy does, I've got no clue. 

So I'm starting way behind the pack tonight - perhaps there are some things in the story of this Eminem fellow that are universal - for example, coming from a poor background, and that's the same as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn's story, he just grew up in Detroit and not down South.  And there was domestic violence in his background, and I kept encountering that again and again in those movies about singers in the 1950's. 

I suppose this film lost me when it came to the "rap battles" - again, this is something that exists in a world that I don't travel in.  I'm familiar with celebrity roasts, sure, where people get on stage and make fun of each other, and it gets really personal, but it's also all in good fun.  This is two people getting on stage and trashing each other verbally, but it's also got to showcase clever rhyming.  When you think of poetry and poets, it's hard to think of an angry poet - even the beat poets of the 60's seemed like they were trying to enact social change and fight the system, but they weren't all nasty about it.

I guess I don't why understand why someone would get up on stage and allow the other person to tear them down in such an aggressive fashion - the main character here, Rabbit, comes out on top by using some of his time putting himself down, which then gave his opponent nothing to work with.  I guess that's an original solution - there's certainly nothing in "The Art of War" about falling on your own blade to win the battle, is there? 

The other problem here is that footage of someone trying to learn to rap, to come up with rhymes, is just not very interesting.  Neither is watching an author typing on a typewriter or computer keyboard - another thing that Hollywood shows us over and over, hoping that we'll be so enamored with the process we'll forget that it's more boring than watching paint dry. 

I have to take issue with some of the messages sent out here - if Mr. Eminem is going to put himself out there and show how he got his start, I fear the devil is in the details.  "Opportunity comes once in a lifetime"?  Wait, I thought America was the land of opportunity.  We've been raised to believe that if we concentrate and work hard, we'll succeed - telling the kids that opportunity only knocks once seems like it could discourage a lot of people.  "You only get one shot" - again, I worry about the kids, and what they believe after listening to the rap music, and I'm not sure this sends out a very positive message.  OK, kid, you had your shot, now you might as well work a menial job for the rest of your life, because you don't get a second chance. 

Also starring Eminem, Kim Basinger (last seen in "The Real McCoy", Brittany Murphy, Mekhi Pfifer (last seen in "O"), Omar Benson Miller (last seen in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice"), Evan Jones (last seen in "Gangster Squad"), Taryn Manning (last seen in "Cold Mountain"), Michael Shannon (last seen in "Man of Steel"), Eugene Byrd, with a cameo from Xhibit.

RATING:  4 out of 10 paintballs