Monday, April 30, 2007

"This Is No Time To Be Rescued!" - An Appreciation of GOLDFINGER

I've had a long held belief that GOLDFINGER is a near-perfect movie. Perhaps that's too strong a statement, but I honestly feel that it's not too far off the mark. If you think about it, how many movies provide this much entertainment? And not just "fun", but smart, classy, funny, sophisticated entertainment that pretty much anyone of any age and in any country could enjoy? One that holds up to contemporary films more so than any other film of its era? Call me crazy, but I can only think of one film that compares to it and that's NORTH BY NORTHWEST. GOLDFINGER is a unique film in a whole lot of ways and I don't think it's ever been recognized as such, but a weekend screening at NYC's Film Forum (first time ever in a theater) reminded me that this film's reputation as one of the best of the James Bond films is well deserved, but its reputation as an all-time classic is a bit too slow in coming.

Originally I had planned on writing a piece on CASINO ROYALE, a film which I absolutely love and was pleased to see become a surprise critical hit. Since Film Forum just started a 3 week retrospective of classic Bond films called "Vintage 007" (which goes up to A VIEW TO A KILL, which should officially go down as the worst film ever shown at Film Forum) I figured it was proper to add to the appreciation of Martin Campbell's 2006 film, which matches Peter Hunt's ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE as my absolute favorite Bond film. And while I may take the opportunity to discuss that film at a later date, after viewing GOLDFINGER on Saturday I was so impressed all over again that I felt I had to go into it. Like all really good films, you keep discovering new things about it every time you watch them (for example, I had no idea Garry Marshall of all people was one of the mobsters at Goldfinger's meeting). What was different here wasn't seeing little pieces on the big screen that I couldn't make out on the DVD, but rather a sense that this film was more historic than anyone seems to have realized. Viewed today it's looking more and more like GOLDFINGER was also the film that gave birth to the modern blockbuster.

To clarify a little something here, while I love the film and praise it to the skies, in terms of excellence in the James Bond series, I do happen to prefer ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE and CASINO ROYALE. If GOLDFINGER is missing anything, it's the dramatic heft that these pictures have thanks to their love stories. I know I said that GOLDFINGER is a perfect film, but just because something is perfect doesn't mean that it needs to have all that much substance; as the saying goes, you don't fault a theme park for not being a cathedral. I won't even say that the film is perfect "for what it is" (I hate that expression, although I tend to use it, too) because it has so much of what so many other films lack. Besides, writers have spent more than enough time applying tons of psychobabble onto the James Bond mythos, so I'll leave it to them to figure all that stuff out. Taken simply on face value, GOLDFINGER looks and feels like it was the first film of our modern movie age, not just the first blockbuster but the creation of the formula for crowd pleasers as it stands now. Feel free to debate whether that's a good thing, but it doesn't make the point less relevant; like PSYCHO is to the horror film, GOLDFINGER is the template for almost every film like it since. Even though it's the third James Bond film, GOLDFINGER is the film where the Bond "formula" was truly born and perfected. If you go back and look through those first two films, you'll see that's it's not all together like it is here (this is especially true of DR. NO, which hasn't aged that well in my opinion). I'm not just talking about the lack of Q or the quips (although they were always there), but it's in the style and the pacing; both films still feel like products of the early 60s, while GOLDFINGER has a timelessness to it that many of great classics have. By this film, the Bond team knew what was working and what wasn't and they were able to make this thing perfect without getting lazy or sloppy (kinda like they did on THUNDERBALL). They ended up with some kind of perfection that, in a sense, they haven't achieved since. GOLDFINGER has an efficiency in its filmmaking and storytelling that many great films have; there isn't a wasted scene or moment in it. That efficiency also means that it moves like a modern film moves, although perhaps I should say that it moves like a classic crowd pleaser of the modern era. Certainly the influence of the James Bond series has been credited to giving birth to the likes of Indiana Jones and Jason Bourne, but none of them moved as well. GOLDFINGER does. It's as fresh today as a Beatles song can be (OK, the Beatles knock is one of GOLDFINGER's few faults).

GOLDFINGER also carries a certain place in my heart because (very luckily for me) it was the first James Bond film I ever saw. I was 9 years old and all the neighborhood kids we gathered around our TV for a Saturday night airing on WHT (anyone remember that?), a local cable provider, long since gone. The first time you see a Bond film everything feels like it's something incredibly fresh and new and if you're going to start anyone with the series, GOLDFINGER is unquestionably the one to do it with. So maybe I'm a little biased since GOLDFINGER is such a long time favorite, but I'm telling you, watch it again and you'll see that it's lost none of what made it so special. Stack it up against most contemporary big budget blockbusters and it still comes out on top. That's a classic for you.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Forgotten Movies - Scott Reynolds' HEAVEN

Stuck inside all day thanks to the Nor'easter of 2007 from two weeks ago, I looked upon my frighteningly vast DVD collection (it's like a fungus, it just keep growing) and tried to figure out what I wanted to watch. When ever this happens I usually start with my Criterions, since there are still many I've yet to watch, and works its way into various different sections, like the box sets and the like. Then it occurred to me that there was a title I wanted to watch again because I was thinking of writing about it for the site. A film I saw back in 1999, purchased and loaned out a few times and then never watched it again, like much of my collection. I'm not one of those who will watch a film on DVD obsessively again and again, although I'll sample a scene here or a chunk there, mainly because I feel that if I'm going to devote my time to watching a film, it should be one I've never seen before. But there is a steadily growing list of films I liked very much that I want to revisit again, especially films I watched when the DVDs were new back at the start of the decade. One such film was Scott Reynolds' HEAVEN, a victim of the Miramax dump bin that played one contractually obliging week in L.A. before it was shunted off to video. The film probably would have stayed under my radar if it wasn't for my friend Mitch Davis, programmer for Montreal's Fantasia Film Festival and a longtime supporter of Reynolds' work. Despite the dumping, he was able to schedule the film at the 1999 edition of Fantasia and my friends who attended agreed that it was a film worth seeing. Once I did, later in '99, I found that I couldn't agree more and now, 8 years later, I'm glad to say it holds up very well.

In a sense, I can understand why HEAVEN got the treatment it did, because if you put it in front of a test audience full of normal folk in Clifton, NJ (one of Mirimax's old testing grounds), they're probably not going to take too kind to it. The story is sometimes told out of sequence and the characters are not always likable. There's a certain amount of violence and unpleasantness to the material, and on top of that, it requires the viewer pay attention and take several leaps of faith. To use one of my favorite expressions, this is not a movie for dumb people. But for everyone else, HEAVEN should prove to be an intriguing entertainment and the kind of movie that movie lovers like to love. To give you a basic rundown (while not giving away too much), it's the story of a nasty divorce between architect/gambling addict Joanna Going, perpetuated by her psychiatrist/lover (Patrick Malahide). Thrown into the mix are a strip club owner (Richard Schiff), a bouncer (Karl Urban) and a transvestite stripper named Heaven (Danny Edwards) with the power of second sight. While it's a small movie, it's a big story and Reynolds deftly juggles a lot of plot lines in the air all at once. Personally speaking, I never once lost track of what's going on, but at the same time when I was conditioning myself to expect the odd jump cuts in the narrative I often found the film surprising me by what was and wasn't going to happen. Actually, HEAVEN is full of surprises, which is what's so good about it. I wouldn't think that the character of Heaven would be so compelling (or so well played by Edwards, who hasn't done much since) or that the film's fits of humor and violence would be as impactful as they are, but they are.

In a way, HEAVEN looks like a prototypical indie movie of the 1990s, a sort of PULP FICTION meets THE CRYING GAME, but instead of being yet another tired example of its genre it turns out to be the last work of real substance. Credit this to writer/director Reynolds, adapting Chad Taylor's 1994 novel, for taking material that could have floundered on the screen and making it exciting storytelling. Setting the film in his native New Zealand, the fact that the three leads are all Americans in New Zealand (no efforts are made to disguise the location, thank goodness) is a little off-putting at first, but quickly brushes aside as the story progresses. This is one of the few films about divorce that lets things get really ugly and Donovan and Going are both sensational, never better, in fact. Schiff is likewise terrific as a sleazy nightclub owner, funny one moment (he has a great monologue where he describes his dream movie called "Chairman of the Board"), convincingly psychotic the next and, again, Edwards is excellent as Heaven. Reynolds' games with the narrative never once loses focus on the characters; he wisely keeps them the focus so that when he tells the story out of sequence we're still caught up in their plight. Knowing this was a Miramax release, I can't help but wonder just how much the Weinsteins tried to fuck with it and how much of Reynolds' vision actually survived. Considering that the film's running time in New Zealand is the same as it is here, I'm hopeful that it survived completely intact.

Reynolds has only made one film since HEAVEN (the slight but effective thriller WHEN STRANGERS APPEAR) and outside of some work on THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy for pal Peter Jackson (whose partner Frances Walsh gets a script consultant credit here), he's still M.I.A. and I'd love to see him come up with something new. Just as good, I'd love to see HEAVEN finally find an audience and get some recognition, because it's a good fucking movie.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I liked AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE COLON MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS. It made me laugh, which was pretty much what I was expecting of it.

What's surprised me, though, is the reaction that other have had to it. Beyond just a love it or hate it kinda thing, some of the reviews have been praising it for something that I don't think its makers have intended while others are deriding it for having a lowbrow sense of humor that is probably likewise off the mark. There have been certain reviews praising the film for its surrealist bent, but my impression is that the film owes less to Dali or Bunuel than it does to The Marx Brothers or Monty Python. Likewise, the film's harshest critics are claiming it's all nothing more than stoner humor and that's it's not funny to anyone straight, which is also incorrect. I would say that the film has probably been inspired by a certain amount of stoner humor, but I don't think that drugs are the driving force behind it. It takes a certain amount of intelligence required to create something this flat-out bizarre and you can't really do that when you're bombed out of your gord.

I've sampled the AQUA TEEN TV series a bit here and there since its been on the air and I've always found it amusing, but would never call myself a huge fan. But for some reason, I made a point of seeing the film theatrically, despite some of those bad reviews, because it was simply what I was in the mood for. I'm never in the mood for a SCARY MOVIE-type comedy anymore (that's just become a tired genre), but I saw the trailer to this and said to myself, "I can take a chance here". On top of that, I simply had to find out what Neal Peart was doing here. Peart is better known as the drummer and lyricist for Rush (or as his credit reads "Neal Peart of RUSH") and to see him here is something of a shock, since he's never done anything this out of character. He pretty much just plays himself, utters few lines and plays a drum solo or two, but his appearance (along with that of Bruce Campbell) gives you a perfect idea of the geek comedy chic that the AQUA TEEN creators are going for. Anyone taking amusement in a Neal Peart cameo isn't stoned, they've just spent too much time listening to Rush. And yeah, I fall into that category (the new album, Snakes & Arrows, in stores May 1).

The approach here is "Let's throw a bunch of jokes against the wall and see what sticks" and I'd say the success ratio is about 70-75%. Some jokes get big laughs, some get mild chuckles, but the fact that so many do is completely admirable. Obviously, co-directors Dave Willis and Matt Maiiellaro have been doing this for several years now, so they know this material's strengths, and they also wisely keep the film moving from one bizarre scene to another. There really is no plot to speak of, and that's OK, because the result is not unlike watching a bunch of ATHF episodes back-to-back and about as taxing, which is to say not taxing at all. It's important to pay attention so that you can hear all the one liners and look for sight gags and show cameos, but that's about as much as the standard viewer has to put into it. Just keep in mind that even for jaded "seen it all" viewers it's a strange thing, but if you have a taste for the absurd, you're definitely going to dig it, and maybe even recommend it to friends. It truly is something to see.

Monday, April 23, 2007

With Crazy Stunts Comes Great Responsibility

Since I’m sure most of you live and work in other cities (although if you live here you know there really are no other cities, with the possible exception of Los Angeles) many of you may not realize that next week is Spider-Man Week in New York City . There will be many spider and Spider-Man related events all around town, like a special spider exhibit at the Museum of Natural History (OK, that actually sound pretty cool), a scavenger hunt at The Bronx Zoo, original Spider-Man comics on display at the New York Public Library, a “Peter Parker Pizza Celebration” in various schools and (not making this up) a poetry slam at the Apollo Theater (winner gets a HD TV). I've also heard rumor that the hookers will be providing "We'll do whatever a spider can" specials, but that's unconfirmed, and apparently there is also a new film about the famed comic book character that will be opening in select theaters throughout the city as of May 3. I hope they’re able to get the word out about that, too.

So the city of New York is taking the week off to bend over to kiss Spider-Man’s hairy posterior. Hey, New York does stuff like this all the time, although I can’t ever remember them devoting an entire week to a fictional character. Sure, Spider-Man is a NYC-based comic and the movies are partially shot here (although sometimes they embarrass themselves by substituting other cites for New York, like when they tried to turn Chicago’s L train into the NYC subway), generating a certain amount of revenue, but to have gone as far as they have here is more than a little absurd. I’m sure Sony forked over a lot of dough to make this week happen, but when you consider that you have a movie here that people will go see regardless of whatever publicity your dredge up, what's the point of this entire endeavor? Especially when you consider the reports that SPIDER-MAN 3 might well be the most expensive movie ever made? When STAR WARS: EPISODE I opened, Lucasfilm took out very few TV ads or billboards simply because the awareness of the film and the release date were already off the charts. You'd think that Sony would know that the same is true with this film, but I guess that since they're in the habit of throwing money around, why not go all the way? In truth, however, this doesn't really impact anyone's lives that much (except maybe for those who have to work these events) and I can always ignore it if I so choose, although with all the billboards and bus ads all over the city, it's not going to be easy.

One of the reasons why Spider-Man Week is, excuse me, bugging me is in part because it's reminding me of another Spider-Man who is synonymous with New York City but has been all but forgotten in this day in age, and that's George Willig. Known to some as "Spider-Man" but also as "The Human Fly", Willig was an active climber from Brooklyn who, on the morning of May 26, 1977, climbed the South Tower of the World Trade Center from the street level all the way up to the top. Starting at 6:30am (when there would be fewer people around to try and talk him down), he began his climb using standard gear, which he modified for the tower to make the climb go easier. A pair of NYC policemen got on a window washing basket to talk him down, but he wasn't having it. Realizing he wasn't some suicidal nutcase, they rode all the way up with him and arrested him when he got to the top. Willig later signed his name at the top and was charged for his crime - 1 cent for every floor he climbed, which he happily paid. He became a bit of a minor celebrity, did some chat shows, and went back to living a life of relative obscurity, eventually working for a construction company. He did a few interviews after September 11 and even volunteered to climb the new Towers when they opened. I sincerely hope he does.

As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with the World Trade Center. Like a lot of kids, I was fascinated by tall buildings and bridges, so when I saw Rick Baker in his ape suit climb the Towers in the 1976 version of KING KONG (vastly underrated!) my obsession became all-consuming. I got to visit them several times as a youngster and when this event occurred I was completely spellbound by it, posting the cover of the next day's NY Daily News to the wall in my room. In all honestly, I really don't know why this was, but it just was; we don't always have a choice in these matters. The 70s was also the era of the daredevil, Evil Knievel and the type, and while there had been a few other attempts at crazy stunts at the TWC (Phillippe Petit walked a tightrope between them in August of '74), no one ever scaled a skyscraper before and the TWC was the perfect choice. It also came at the right time, because NYC in 1977 was much, much different than it was today, more violent, not as tourist-friendly, not as economically robust and a hell of a lot scummier, too. They are often referred to as "good old days", but even back then the people needed heroes and while what Willig did wasn't really heroic, it gave the people something to root for and something to talk about that wasn't the crime rate or inflation. It was a positive in the face of a multitude of negatives the city was facing (and was about to face, such as the infamous blackout of '77 and the mayoral election of Ed Koch) and even with the towers sadly gone, this real life Spider-Man is more worthy of recognition than the fake one, especially with the 30th anniversary of his climb coming up next month. I like the comic book Spider-Man well enough, but as far as I'm concerned the only Spider-Man worthy of celebration is George Willig, because someone with the courage to do something that's never been done before, even if it is a little crazy, is always a true source of inspiration. Thanks, George!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

You've Had Your Time, You've Had Your Power - RADIO STAR

When attending the AFM in Santa Monica, I often find myself with down time where I don’t see anything on the schedule I recognize, so I take a chance on what seems like the most interesting title coming up in the next round of screenings. This usually does not yield great results (my attempts to make it through Toho’s YO-YO GIRL COP failed after about 30 minutes) but sometimes you can find something great, or at the very least something you like, among the multitude of unknown movies screening there. Based on the description, I thought I take a liking to RADIO STAR Jun-Ik Lee’s follow-up to his 2005 South Korean megahit, THE KING AND THE CLOWN. Simple premise finds a washed-up 80s rocker Joong-Hoon Park and devoted longtime manager Sung-kee Ahn taking an afternoon DJ gig on a small radio station, which, no surprise here, takes off. But RADIO STAR is not really a film about surprises or having a completely original plot, because it’s really a character piece. These two men almost have no one but each other; while it’s never acknowledged, they’re really best friends who happen to have this artist/manager working relationship. Park’s long-faded rock star never quite grasps why he isn’t getting the big gigs he thinks he deserves, while Ahn struggles the best he can to please him and get the jobs he can. Both stars shared the best actor awards at this year’s Korean Oscars and while Park is excellent, it’s Ahn who really makes the movie. He makes this character so warm and human that your primary rooting interest is in him, not his client. This is a guy who will only look at the up, positive side of things (no matter how down they really are) and you’re with him 100%. His enthusiasm, even if it’s forced at times, is there because he wants it to be, because he wants there to be success and happiness all around and Ahn really does a wonderful job inhabiting this character. What’s particularly humorous about this actor pairing is that Ahn and Park played characters on opposite sides of the law in Myung-se Lee’s 1999 classic NOWHERE TO HIDE, so to see them as allies here is especially amusing.

But to me, one of the real charms about RADIO STAR is its setting. I love radio. I grew up with a radio in my room and would spend most nights listening to every night until I went to sleep and on those rare occasions when I would do my homework (or even when I wasn’t, which was often). To this day I love radio, although I’m more attuned to freeform radio than anything commercial efforts, and both internet radio and online broadcasts are a joy to listen to (check out some of the links on the side). I can’t afford satellite radio just yet (and I’m waiting for the dust to settle on the Sirius/XM merger, anyway) but from what I’ve heard it’s always been a blast (especially considering the talent involved, meaning the old-time jocks being given a second chance), although NPR and the like leaves me cold (though I understand the appeal). Mainly I just love to hear good music (especially if it’s new to me) presented in an affable (but not obnoxious) manner and RADIO STAR gets that vibe. It doesn’t just want to be a good movie, it wants to be a good movie about radio, a respectful homage to the art form (and it is an art form) and the occasional magic of radio. Park’s radio show, a disaster at first, begins to take off and with it comes the love and support of the community, and while this is kind of a movie fantasy version of a successful radio show, this part of the fantasy really works in context. RADIO STAR may not be the best movie ever made about radio (I’m thinking there really is only one great film ever made about the subject, that being RADIO DAYS. Am I wrong on that?), but its love and respect for it is another reason why it’s so winning. This is one film with its heart in the right place.

As I said before, RADIO STAR is nothing more than a crowd pleaser, but it’s a crowd pleaser done right, and it leads me to wonder just what it is they’re doing over there in South Korea that we’re not here. South Korean cinema has seen a renaissance of sorts over the last decade, making a slew of first-rate films and even a masterpiece or two (thank you, Kim-Ki Duk) and what particularly impresses me is how South Korean commercial cinema has some of the most entertaining comedies, action movies, romantic dramas, and just flat-out popular entertainments over the last few years. Sure there are a few clunkers here and there, but the hits-to-misses ratio on South Korean films has been surprisingly successful. I can only assume that their filmmaking system is not as bogged down in meetings and marketing executives as ours is and that the filmmakers have more say in the final product (I could be wrong, however). Either way, South Korea is helping to keep cinema fun and exciting and even an otherwise nominal picture like RADIO STAR is helping to do its part. Small and unasuming, it's a little winner.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

10 Hours At The 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival

Just before Sunday’s "Fuck you, East Coast" Nor'easter hit, I zipped down to Philly to sample what looked like some interesting flicks as part of the 2007 Philadelphia Film Festival. Even though it's only a 2 hour drive, I don't get down to Philly nearly enough, usually going there just for the film festival, but I've got to say that I like it a lot. It's a bitch of a city to navigate around (thanks to all those old buildings the city doesn't seem fit to tear down), but its treasures are small and plentiful and they usually revolve around really good, greasy food. The cheesesteaks are famous, justifiably so, and usually worth the long wait to get them, although I'll be damned if I ever go to Geno's again after seeing their "This Is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING `SPEAK ENGLISH."' signs (Pat's Steaks is right across the street and just as good - go there). The city still has a pretty diversified population (although gentrification is popping its ugly head around the city) and an active nightlife, but it's also got a pretty good film culture about it and as I've said before, the annual film festival is one of the best on the East Coast. Even though it would mean late night drives home and a lot in gas and tolls, I was happy to return there once again.

After chomping down on a tasty roast beef w/provolone over at Nick's in South Philly, I jetted over to the Ritz East with friends of mine to check out VIVA, Anna Biller's tribute/spoof to the pre-porn erotic films of the late 60s/early 70s. A friend of mine who programs another festival mentioned seeing the film elsewhere recently a few weeks ago and went into a long list of problems he had with it, but then admitted that he's probably going to program it at his fest because people will se it and because he admired that Biller wore so many hats on the production. I spoke to him before driving down to Philly and mentioned I'd be seeing the film and he said, "Hey, enjoy it, it's good". When I reminded him of his previous tirade and said that the film looked better in retrospect and that it's a unique film out there right now. I have to admit that he was more right the first time out than he was the second time. For all of the film's numerous problems, it does win you over somewhat and you have to admire how much effort Biller puts into it. She's not only the director, but also the writer, producer, editor, star, production designer, costumer designer and worked on some of the songs, but in addition to that, she's also her own worst enemy. VIVA is 2 hours long, about 40 minutes or so longer than the films she's supposedly paying tribute to and since her film is a spoof, she needs to take a lesson from the masters and learn that pacing is everything. If she were to tighten this puppy up she could also increase the laugh quotient by a large degree. I was reminded in the film's opening scenes of the kind of film parodies that SCTV would do so brilliantly in the early 80s and remembered they were only about 10 minutes or so (20 if it were a two-segment bit, like MAUDLIN'S ELEVEN or POLYNESIATOWN). While Biller has the look of her film down right, the tone is off in a lot of ways; sometimes it feels like a loving tribute, at others a gentle spoof and some times it feels like VIVA is "above" these kind of pictures, mocking them as if to say, "Weren't these movies terrible?" Well, no, they weren't, and if you took a real look at the works of Radley Metzger, Joe Sarno, or Russ Meyer, then you'd see that these guys knew how to tell a story, which is part of the reason their films are so memorable. Biller also suffers from the fanboy moviemaking syndrome of trying to remake movies you like without making them your own. VIVA's climatic orgy scene is directly inspired by Metzger's CAMILLE 2000 (down to snippets of the score and lifting a memorable zoom shot), but Metzger's film was at least trying to do something that was new and different while VIVA just wants to play with CAMILLE 2000 like it's a toy playset. Several musical numbers pop up for no reason, characters drop out for long stretches at a time and, worst of all, a rape scene occurs with absolutely no consequences for any of the characters involved. I know that I'm making it sound like VIVA is the worst piece of shit I've ever seen, but in truth there actually are some laughs, some amusing scenes and Biller is to be commended for the look of the film, which feels pretty accurate (especially for a low budget picture). There were a lot of possibilities for it, but like her lead character, Biller wants too much. She's got to learn some self-control or let someone else take the reigns. There's a really fun 80 minute movie somewhere in VIVA, but at 2 hours it's a drag.

Thankfully, my follow-up film was Kim Ki-Duk's TIME, much more of a real movie from a real filmmaker. Duk is, without question, the finest filmmaker in South Korea today (which is saying something) and a real favorite of mine and I'm pleased to say that TIME is another excellent work. What I thought was interesting was how Phillyfest programmer (and pal) Travis Crawford made a point in his introduction to the film by saying that the person who wrote the notes in the festival guide was wrong to say it had moments of comedy, since Travis himself found it more disturbing and unsettling than anything else. Well, Travis was both half right and half wrong, since TIME is very funny in spots and distrurbing in others, making it both a floor wax and a desert topping. More so than that, I would also add that the film is also one of the most perceptive romantic dramas I've seen in a long while. Duk has ventured into this kind of material before with his 2000 classic THE ISLE and 2002's BAD GUY, but this time out he leaves the queasy violence of those pictures behind and focuses strictly on the characters and the result is still solid. This is Duk's version of a Douglas Sirk-style melodrama (with a touch of Cronenberg thrown in), about an insecure woman who gets plastic surgery to keep the man she loves but can't hide the petty jealousies that we all keep inside. The twist here (and I don't think the film would have succeeded with out this) is that the male lead has exactly the same issues and this is what makes so much of it interesting. Duk has received a lot of gruff in the past for his portrayal of women in his pictures, but like in THE ISLE, neither side of the story is perfect here. All of the anxieties, obsessions and suffering that go into a relationship are all here, but so is that sense of hope, no matter how false or fleeting, that we all feel when we fall in love and I felt that Duk was in complete sympathies with his characters and not judging them by any means. Like his previous pictures things don't quite end cheerfully, but his last scene is a compelling one, making TIME a picture well worth thinking about and discussing long afterwards. Parsippany, NJ-based Lifesize Entertainment has picked it up for June release, so when it plays theaters, see it with a date. If your date hates it then it was never going to last, but if you spend a long time talking about it afterwards, you may have found the one for you. Good luck!

My final Philly film (try saying that five times fast) was DEAD DAUGHTERS, supposedly this year's hot new foreign horror film, but just more proof that since the fall of Communism, Russia wants to do nothing more than become America. And what's odd is that this is Russia's version of America by way of Japan, as DEAD DAUGHTERS is basically RING meets FINAL DESTINATION and nowhere near as inspired as either. It's another "vengful ghosts" story where a trio of ghost sisters go after anyone who is told of their story and when a group of young friends all hear about it at once, well, they're all pretty much screwed, aren't they? The film fails for the same reasons a lot of these types of pictures fail, because the charcaters aren't worth caring about, the film's style isn't very original, and it's all just plot, plot, plot. But I'll add two more strikes to the list: the fucking non-stop shaky camera (I know Russia's economy is in the shitter right now, but can't they afford tripods over there?) and the 2 hour-plus running time. 123 minutes for this shit! I sat through this thing so you don't have to, that's how I feel about this. Ever since NIGHTWATCH made a mint, Russia has seen a big upswing in genre cinema, and there's a long tradition of good Russian genre cinema, but from what I've seen these new films have all pretty much been calling cards to potential shallow U.S. careers. A U.S. remake of DEAD DAUGHTERS is already in the works, but I don't really see the point in it. This film is its own crappy U.S. remake.

Before the heavens opened and the rains came down (no flooding in my area, thank goodness, but driving through it was a bitch and a half) I took in some time with friends at a downtown bar where Carey Means (voice of Auqa Teen Hunger Force's Frylock) was making a personal appearence and met up with pal Simon Rumley, whose film THE LIVING AND THE DEAD was being screened at the festival. I've hung out with Simon many times now, but I never before knew he stuttered like this when he was this drunk. It was something to see.

And that's Phillyfest for ya, all in about 10 hours. Beat that, Tribeca!

Friday, April 13, 2007

The Forgotten Movies - STUNT ROCK

As far as we know there is only one print of STUNT ROCK, Brian Trenchard-Smith’s 1978 ode to stunt work and terrible heavy metal, in circulation anywhere in the world (unless Scorsese has one) and I’ve seen that print projected twice. The first time I was more than happy to do so, the second time it was because I was in Vancouver and it was what all my Vancouver friends wanted to do. I don’t know much about the story behind this film (and when you consider what they ended up with, you assume there’s got to be an interesting one somewhere), but STUNT ROCK is kind of a pseudo-documentary about Grant Page, an Australian stuntman visiting his “American cousin”, a member of the incredibly crappy heavy metal band Sorcery (an alternate title of the film) in L.A. Whilst in the city of angels, Page meets up with actress Monique van de Venn (the star of Verhoeven’s TURKISH DELIGHT and KEETJE TIPPLE, playing herself), her agent Dick Blackburn (director of LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL and co-writer of EATING RAOUL), “reporter” Margaret Gerard, and the rest of the band Sorcery. Page does some stunts, the band plays some gigs, and in the film’s climax, Page incorporates his stunts into a Sorcery show. They sing a song in tribute to him called “Stunt Rocker” and then that’s pretty much it. End of STUNT ROCK.

Thing is, in an odd way, STUNT ROCK is much more than that. It’s an strangely fascinating thing, a movie comprised of nothing but filler. There really is no plot to speak of; it’s simply a series of interconnected scenes that try to make an entire movie. I guess the movie was made as a vehicle for Page, since he really is the star, and if so, man, the guy sure was hosed. He performs a number of dangerous stunts in the film (henceforth the title – duhhhhhh!), along with clips from films made in his native Australia, and they’re easily the film’s highlight. There’s one stunt he performs (perfectly captured in 2.35:1 widescreen) while crawling on a telephone wire between two buildings with a phone in hand (which he then hooks up and makes a call!) that’s really great, and all of Page’s stunts are fun to watch. Even better is Page himself, as he shows more than enough talent and charisma to have made it as a leading man had he been given a better vehicle than this. He’s a big, strong, likeable, handsome guy with a nice no-bullshit, no-ego approach and the scenes where he discusses the appeal and joy of doing stunt work with several characters show that he’s got some talent. He could have gone on to be one of those actors who could get by on playing variations of himself if given a chance and there’s no question he gives the best performance in the film. But the rest is a big mess. I suppose I could say it’s unpredictable, because you don’t know what’s going to happen from scene to scene (then again, I’m not sure the filmmakers did, either), but it’s also a big head-scratcher. After you’re done watching it you can’t help but say to yourself, “What did I just watch and why did I watch it?” In an odd way this movie sucks you in, and if there's anything that STUNT ROCK is especially good at, it's sucking.

The STUNT ROCK legend, as it is, is due to the film’s trailer, which seems to have gotten around to the right people over the years. After showing up in the DVD for Trailer Trash, Tim League of the famed Alamo Drafthouse Cinema began showing it regularly at Harry Knowles’ annual Butt-Numb-a-Thon 24-hour movie marathon. It became a running joke throughout the years and fans began to expect it as one of the festival’s traditions. But a print was finally located by super print collector Adam Hulin, and in December 2005 the film was sprung on the crowd at about 5am. The initial reaction was one of excitement (especially since the trailer played earlier that day), but as the film wore on everyone realized that their ideas of what STUNT ROCK would be like and the reality were, in fact, two different things. Once it was over everyone could at least say that they had lived to see it. As for everyone else, I’m pretty sure the DVD rights are held by Media Blasters, since they bought the rights to distributor Film Ventures International’s catalog and have been releasing various titles from them over the last two years of so, but it turns out that Sorcery is still very much around and selling bootleg DVD-Rs on their website. The discs are pan-and-scan rips off of an old VHS, so if you really, seriously feel that you must see STUNT ROCK some time soon, that’s your only source for now. They’re also selling the original soundtrack, and I must say that while they are terrible, they’re good-bad and I must admit that I do occasionally start singing “Stunt Rocker” to myself from time to time.

STUNT ROCK is something of an enigma, more so before you see it, but in an odd way, also afterwards. You don’t know what you’ve seen, but you feel the need to show it and talk about it (or write about it) to others. It’s weird. I honestly can’t describe it any other way and if you'd ask me to, I'd probably watch it again.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Cool of Cassavetes

I first saw MACHINE GUN MCCAIN a few years back at a private screening in southern NJ arranged by a film print collector friend of mine. He had just made a trade for his print with another collector and was running it one last time, so he invited me down to a local theater after closing to check it out. The print was particularly impressive because it was IB Technicolor, which meant that not only were the colors rich and stable but that they didn’t fade a single bit in over 30 years. Sure, the print had some damage, but in some ways it looked as good that night as it did when the film first came out. As for the film itself, I rather enjoyed it, feeling it was a rather solid Italian crime flick that had the benefit of brisk pacing, an ample budget and a kick-ass leading man in John Cassavetes. This was one of his follow-up films to both his Academy Award-nominated work in THE DIRTY DOZEN and FACES and there is a certain weirdness factor to watching this indie film icon single-handedly robbing a mob-controlled Vegas casino (and not to mention such Cassavetes alum as Peter Falk and Gena Rowlands also showing up in the film). It’s Cassavetes who makes MACHINE GUN MCCAIN more memorable than it really should be, because of something that few people, much less few actors are born with, and that’s natural born coolness.

Please allow me the embarrassing opportunity to admit that I’m not up on Cassavetes work as a filmmaker, although his reputation is undoubtedly the stuff of legend. I know, I know, I call myself a film lover and yet I've never seen a Cassavetes film, so maybe I'm not a film lover, after all. There’s no real reason behind this outside of sheer laziness on my part (maybe if I got that Criterion set…), but his reputation is such that I’m sure I’m missing out on something if I don’t sit myself in front of one of them one of these days. I’m much more familiar with Cassavetes the actor, having seen various performances of his throughout the years, such as in the aforementioned MACHINE GUN MCCAIN and THE DIRTY DOZEN, ROSEMARY’S BABY, DePalma’s THE FURY, TEMPEST, WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY?, Siegel’s THE KILLERS and CRIME IN THE STREETS (as a juvenile delinquent!) and John Hough’s THE INCUBUS, which I’m sure he left off his resume. Cassavetes had an ability that few actors could ever convey, of not just being a total badass but of being a very intelligent total badass. Obviously, Cassavetes himself was a very smart guy, very well read and no doubt a man of big ideas who liked to ask a lot of questions, but he also looked and acted like a guy who had been around some, spent some time in the streets and knew their rules. Cassavetes himself was a child of the New York City streets (although he later moved to Long Island and went to a private school in New Jersey ) and it seems like he picked up a lot from those experiences. The guy could never really play stupid, because he simply didn’t have it in him; like his sometime co-star Lee Marvin, he could play characters that were somewhat dense, but they would pick on things up very quickly. These were characters, while not always heroes, that you could never turn your back on. Cassavetes may not have played many violent roles, but he played plenty of characters you didn’t want to fuck with, and I suspect the man himself was not too far removed from this.

Another element of natural coolness is style, and again, Cassavetes was a natural in this respect. Obviously a very handsome man, he could look good in most any role (although his DIRTY DOZEN buzz cut did him no favors) and in several roles he sure as hell did. I love his look in MACHINE GUN MCCAIN, the tan suit with the blue shirt and tie doesn’t necessarily scream tough guy, but that’s part of the mystique. Make them think you’re harmless and you’re able to inflict more harm when the time comes. But Cassavetes would look good in a t-shirt and jeans and even in something like TEMPEST, where he’s basically dressed in a smock, he’s still the sharpest-dressed person in the picture. And when he played an authority figure, like the doctor in WHOSE LIFE IS IT ANYWAY? or the S.W.A.T. Team captain in TWO-MINUTE WARNING, he still wore the outfits like he was born in them. He seemed to have casual wear down to a science, something I personally aspire to, but it all had less to do with the clothes he wore than the attitude he conveyed, one that said, I'm cool, I can't help it, and I don't want to talk about it. It just came to him.

In a lot of ways, I would consider Cassavetes as one of my style and fashion icons (and if you saw the way I dressed you'd realize I don’t have many of those), although like all the good ones he made it look so damn effortless. Again, it’s something that you’re born with and not something you can re-create, but if you’re going to have one of those it might as well be a class act, to boot. Now all I have to do is commit to watching one of his directorial efforts. Where do I start?

Monday, April 9, 2007

GRINDHOUSE is a Very, Very Fine House.

I missed the grindhouse era. I was very much around during its last 25 years or so, but I never once took up the opportunity to experience it in all its glory. Having grown up in the NJ suburbs, grindhouses for me meant the Paramount Theater in Newark and, of course, The Deuce, 42nd Street in New York City. I was mesmerized by the ads for these films I would see in the movies section of the Friday Star-Ledger, but they never played in my area and even if they did, I could never get anyone to take me to see them. As is a right of passage for most NJ teens, once you discovered the bus line that would pick you up in the center of town and drop you off in Manhattan one hour later, you would also discover The Deuce in all its sleazy and frightening glory. As tourist-friendly (and, in a way, scarier) as it is now, 42nd Street was pretty fucking oppressive to a shy white kid from NJ, and you made a point of getting the hell off that block toot suite. While the huge marquees and strange titles of three kung-fu hits in a row held a certain amount of fascination, what was inside those theaters, or more to the point what went on inside those theaters, was a little too daunting. The closest I ever came was almost 20 years to this day in mid-April 1987, as I took a day from my high school spring break to venture into Manhattan to see some films that were not playing locally. As I walked past one theater, I noticed that THE NIGHT STALKER was playing; I took an interest in it because it starred Charles Napier, who I liked in RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II, and because The Phantom of the Movies, who used to write a weekly exploitation column in the New York Daily News, gave it a good review. I stood outside that theater for about a good 10 minutes, looking at the poster, looking inside the lobby, checking out the showtimes, and thinking to myself, “Should I go in?” Ultimately, I chickened out and attended a showing of HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE at the Embassy 2 in Times Square (why I thought that was any safer, I don’t know) and I never came that close to seeing a film on 42nd Street again.

But I have long taken an interest in exploitation films. On one fateful Saturday night in January 1985 the NYC PBS affiliate aired Christian Blackwood’s excellent documentary ROGER CORMAN: HOLLYWOOD’S WILD ANGEL, the film that sparked my initial awareness of these films. Since it featured such Corman grads as Joe Dante, Jonathan Demme and Allan Arkush, all of whom were becoming big things at the time, I realized I must see these films and well over time I began to watch all the New World films. I loved them then and love them still (they all hold up or get better with time) and while I didn’t dive into the deep end of the exploitation pool for a long while, I had a respect and admiration for much of it. It was around the mid-90s, when my friends and I would get together for daylong festivals called Sleazefest, enjoying the finest exploitation cinema from the U.S., Europe, Asia and the rest of the world over, that I began to realize how much I loved these films. They expanded my horizons, made me appreciate different styles of filmmaking and storytelling and made me realize that all types of films and styles of filmmaking are legitimate as long as they’re good. My friends and I still do the Sleazefests a couple of times a year and while we’ve gone from crowding into a tiny basement apartment in Brooklyn to a loft in Tribeca with a big old home theater, the content hasn’t changed much. It has also lead me to film festivals and markets all over, like Fantasia in Montreal and the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin, where I have made dear friends who share my love of these films. The Sleazefest crowd has been pretty much the same core group over the last decade or so with some members trickling in and out, but the objective is still the same, to have fun. But to me it’s more than that, it’s the thing that bonds me and my friends together, a love of this kind of cinema. Many of us met through this fest and have remained friends for a very long time because of it. I never would have expected that exploitation movies would bring me friends that I will probably have for life, but I couldn’t be happier about it. And along the same lines, I never would have expected that GRINDHOUSE, the new “double feature” from Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino, would also lift my spirits not just with the joys of its filmmaking, but with its spirit of camaraderie and friendship that flows throughout it. Likewise, I couldn’t be happier.

As everyone knows, GRINDHOUSE is actually two movies in one, PLANET TERROR from Robert Rodriguez and DEATH PROOF from Quentin Tarantino (with several fake trailers thrown in) and it was a film that was born out of the friendship between Tarantino and Rodriguez and their mutual love of these films. It’s also a tribute to a different kind of “event” movie, not PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN but the very idea of a night at the movies circa the late 70s, although PLANET TERROR is more early 80s. This is one of the things that I loved so much about it, that GRINDHOUSE is the sleaze equivalent of “let’s put on a show”, or more like a night at the Alamo Drafthouse. It’s two buddies taking control of the programming for a night to show you stuff that they feel that you’ve just got to see, but this time they’re not only hosting it, they’ve made the damn flicks, too. Like a house party where the host has made sure there’s more than enough beer to drink, good music to dance to and the proper ratio of girls to boys, Tarantino and Rodriguez want to make sure that everyone has more than just a good time, but a night to remember. Even if this isn’t your idea of a good time in the first place, there should be no denying that there is a spirit of showmanship to this film that hasn’t existed in a while. As a piece of entertainment it’s ambitious in a way most films aren’t. There’s spectacle and there’s awesomeness and GRINDHOUSE is unquestionably the later.

There are, of course, two films to be discussed here, but to be honest there really is only one worth discussing. Rodriguez’s film is certainly diverting, but it’s pretty much instantly forgettable, although one could argue that it doesn’t matter any. It’s an all over the place kind of thing, coming together only in its final reels, but it has its charms, no question about it. One of the biggest surprises was seeing Jeff Fahey doing very well in an offbeat character part, like the kind he hasn’t played since WYATT EARP (Jesus, I know more about Jeff Fahey’s career than anyone should!). He steals PLANET TERROR and supplies a surprising amount of charm and you’ve got to give Rodriguez credit for trumping Tarantino on brining an actor back from the brink to give the best performance he’s delivered in years. And it has to said that in casting Rose McGowan as his lead, he’s given her something she hasn’t really had in her career thus far (unless you’re a fan of THE DOOM GENERATION), which is an iconic role. You see her looking fabulous with that machine gun leg and you can’t help but smile and think that this is what she’ll be remembered for (although she gives a better performance in DEATH PROOF). The majority of it is all special effects and gore, which are fine in their own right, but it just goes to show once again that Rodriguez doesn’t really seem to care about making the kind of movies only he wants to see as opposed to making something with some substance to it. Yes, there are more than enough fun moments to make this worth at least one viewing, but we all knew that this segment was going to be the lesser of the two and Rodriguez doesn’t disappoint.

Which leads us to DEATH PROOF, which through me for a loop in so many ways that I’m still in the process of soaking it all up. I mentioned before how this film was not unlike a night at the Alamo Drafthouse and to be more specific, this is the Rolling Roadshow equivalent of a QT Fest, Tarantino’s own festival of prints from his personal collection which he does once every so often at this miraculous venue. I’ve attended several of these throughout the years and always have a fantastic time there. Tarantino is a great host and his selection of films is often first-rate, having unearthed some real gems over the years. It was because of one of these events I went down to Austin for the first time in August 2001 at the invitation of my friend Anthony Timpson and it was there I made friends with the Alamo staff, all of them good friends to this day, and fell in love with the city of Austin, a town I now return to at least twice a year. So while watching the first half of DEATH PROOF, the one set and shot in Austin, an unexpectedly warm, happy feeling came over me. It had more to do than just seeing so many of the Austin haunts that I know and love (like the Drafthouse itself!), but that, in a way, I have experienced this movie long before I ever saw it. Those nights at the Drafthouse, watching the QT fests and other film events I’ve experienced there, surrounded by great friends, having great times: I’ve been there. The friends may not have all been totally hot chicks (a few of them were) and maybe we’re not all stoned (because I don’t roll with that crowd), but it’s still the same. The Austin bars and BBQ joints, all of them came back to me while watching this part. All I needed was a nice, warm breeze and maybe some Amy’s Ice Cream and I would have felt right at home. (And to make matters even better, three of these friends end up getting a special thanks in the end credits!) I loved his selection of actresses, especially Vanessa Ferlito, and could have watched this segment go on for an extra reel (which it seems I will eventually). Of course, the Tarantino dialogue is a pleasure and it’s obvious that he loves these women and so do we. He also gets a mid-70s slasher vibe going very well and I was reminded (in a good way) of the scenes between Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis and PJ Soles in HALLOWEEN in that what these women were saying sounded very natural. It’s high time that we give Tarantino props for being a great writer of women, both in characterization and in dialogue, as this segment easily cements. Then, about halfway through, the story changes venues and a new group of women are introduced, all of them equally lovely and even more likeable, all of them portrayed by a wonderful group of actresses. As with the first half of DEATH PROOF, we’re interested in them and enjoy their company, but for me it once again got much deeper than that, because two of the lead characters are gearheads. I also happen to have another dear friend (this one in in L.A.) like that, who I know had already seen and loved the film, and I was reminded of her throughout most of this segment, which I found to be a wonderful thing. I don’t know if she likes to ride on the hoods of muscle cars (I probably wouldn’t put it past her), and since I know that she’s as film obsessed as I am, the smile simply could never leave my face, even in the midst of scenes of unrelenting terror. That’s the other thing about DEATH PROOF that I absolutely fucking loved: It’s a goddamn brilliant horror film.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned Kurt Russell’s Stuntman Mike character yet and I felt that I shouldn’t mix him in with my praise of the rest of the film, but rest assured that Russell hasn’t been this good in a long, long time. Stuntman Mike is a fascinating character in his own right and Russell handles both the psychotic and the sociopathic elements like a real pro. He’s even very funny in several moments (especially one bit where he runs down his credits) and completely intimidating as a ruthless killer. And there’s no way I can write about this film and not mention the amazing car stunts, not just the chase in the latter half (which literally, no bullshit, had me on the edge of my seat) but one car stunt that was so amazing and intense that it literally left me stunned. In this moment, Tarantino out-Argentos Dario Argento himself and creates what is unquestionably one of the greatest scare scenes in all of movie history, right up there with the chest buster in ALIEN and the first shark attack in JAWS. In a sense, the film peaks at that moment, but the car chase finale is so brilliantly done that it nearly catches up (although I have to confess that the truck chase in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK is still the finest car chase in movie history. Sorry, Quentin). SPOILER: And I loved how Stuntman Mike reacts to his comeuppance like a baby, so beautifully handled by Russell and wonderful (and true) in concept that it had me laughing out loud END SPOILER. I’m not going to try and rank DEATH PROOF with the rest of Tarantino’s other work, but I simply have to say that I am unabashedly a fan and have yet to be disappointed. As time goes on and the haters find someone else to harp on, Tarantino will be seen as what he is, a one-of-a-kind true cinematic talent and quite possibly one of the all-time greats. He keeps doing new things and keeps succeeding and how you can’t see or admire that I’ll simply never know.

There’s no way for me to wrap us this piece except to say that even if you have a remote interest in seeing GRINDHOUSE you absolutely should as soon as possible. See it in a theater and experience the love of not only going to the movies but of seeing a film that will shock, surprise and amaze you. I, for one, can’t wait to see it again.

Friday, April 6, 2007

I've Got Something To Say/That Might Cause You Pain - The Action's Rolled Gold

I used to spend a lot of time volunteering at WFMU, America’s finest radio station, as a call screener on one of their chat shows, and I got to spend a great deal of time in their record library. As one could imagine, it’s an impressive library, filled with tons of vinyl and CDs, much of it rare. I was particularly drawn to their new release bin, which collected the last two months’ worth of new releases of note into one place for the DJs to pick and sample from. This being WFMU, the selection was a bit more esoteric than most, but for any music fan it’s a dream come true, a one-stop shop for any and all of the new music and hot new re-issues and imports making their way into the marketplace. For about two years my “payment”, since FMU is completely volunteer run (even the DJs don’t get paid), was the opportunity to burn most any CD I could as the show was progressing and on a good week I would leave there with about 10 new CDs. In most cases I had no idea what I would be getting myself into, since this was as much of a lesson in music than anything else, and I would often pick CDs based on their look or style of music than do any kind of research on the artist. Sure, there were some CDs that I burned that I took one listen to and never dared to tune in again, but many of my all-time favorite CDs have come out of this experience, and if anything I owe this opportunity my thanks for introducing me to one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard, Rolled Gold by The Action.

While The Action’s music wasn’t completely unfamiliar to me, having heard two of their songs (“Shadows and Reflections” and “I’ll Keep on Holding On”) on Nuggets II, the name simply didn’t register with me. I looked at the cover, figured it was late 60s psych rock/mod Brit pop and just put it on the pile. This ended up being one of those albums that got to me in almost instantly. I can recall that by the second listen there was one song that I quickly took a liking to and it just snowballed from there. In early ’03, Rolled Gold and I spent a lot of quality time together. Each song has a power of its own, certainly inspired by much of the great music of its era (the album was recorded in ’67) but it could stand very much on its own. That it never was given an opportunity to do so was and is one of rock’s greatest injustices, in my opinion. One of the things that make this album so enticing is the history of it, the fact that it took over 30 years for any of it to ever gain a release. The Action’s story is that, like many bands of the era, they started out recording singles (mainly cover songs) with Beatles producer George Martin, and then recorded demos for their first full album of original material. However, lead singer Reg King (an absolutely brilliant vocalist) left to record a solo album, the rest of the band members formed another band and the demos, intricate and very polished, never saw the light of day. Despite such artist as Phil Collins and Paul Weller sighting the band as a major influence, The Action’s reputation never branched out among Brit pop aficionados and music journalist. There was finally a limited edition release in 1998, but it wasn’t until late 2002, when the album was reissued on Parasol in the U.K., that it finally made its way across the Atlantic, then into the FMU new release bin and eventually, into my heart. And it’s been there ever since.

What’s always impressed me about Rolled Gold is that even though it sounds like an album from the late 60s, it doesn’t sound much like the other albums of its time. You can certainly hear a Beatles influence and a bit of The Who, but had this album come out when it was supposed to it could have easily go on to be massively influential. The Action seemed to know how to write solid pop songs with more complex arrangements and thoughtful lyrics that stand up all these years later. I think the key to this is in The Action’s early singles, which can be heard on the stellar compilation Action Packed! on Edsel Records. Those songs were heavily soul influenced (they included excellent covers of “In My Lonely Room” and “Baby You Got It”) but The Action made them their own, so much so that I prefer many of The Action’s versions to the originals. Lead singer Reg King had this incredible voice that could do anything – rock, pop, you name it – but it was soul music that seemed to be his calling. Why he, like the rest of the group, never went on to have a great career must be a story in itself, but the songs on Rolled Gold would mean nothing without him. My favorite track, without a doubt, is “Look At the View”, a song so full of life and passion that it was what made me begin to worship the entire album. It’s not so much that it’s got this great message (it’s basically a love song) but it has everything you want in a great rock anthem and deserves to be a classic. Other great tracks include “Strange Roads”, “Something to Say”, and “Little Boy”, but the entire album is one standout after another in my eyes.

And so, in summation, buy or download this album. Like you couldn't guess that already.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Odds 'n' Sods/Three Possessions

Kudos to NY Post film critic Lou Lemerick for being the first to film critic of note come out and admit that the Tribeca Film Festival's selections are generally, in a word, lacking. And you get to pay $18 for the privilege of watching them!

My god, does Levon Helm look old. When he showed up in SHOOTER (which I saw over the weekend), I couldn't believe it was him. I understand that he beat cancer several years ago and congratulations for that, but the man does not look his age (66) at all. At least he still sounds like Levon Helm, thank goodness.

Speaking of SHOOTER, I found it amazing that one of the dumbest movies I've seen in a while is based on a novel written by a film critic, who is apparently happy with the movie. And, according to this article, also insane.

And now, with all apologies to the lovely, beautiful, immensely talented and hopefully forgiving Kim Morgan, it's the debut of...

Three Possessions:

Yeah, I know, it's a radio. It came with the apartment when I moved in two years ago and I've rather taken a liking to it. It's nice and small and picks up the local stations well, so I always tune it in in my kitchen. I pretty much just listen to WFMU on it, which comes in OK considering I'm in the same town they broadcast out of, and I like that it's sole function is to be a radio and not a clock radio or radio/CD player. I suppose I could go out and buy some fancy-schmancy solo radio, but I like this one just fine.

This DARKMAN t-shirt holds sentimental value because it was given to me by none other than Sam Raimi at the 1990 Fangoria Weekend of Horrors in NYC. Sam and his brother Ivan gave a presentation there about 7 months before the film opened and I was hooked the minute I first saw the footage. I wore this shirt quite often that summer and I must say I was not disappointed with the film one bit. I don't wear the shirt so much anymore as it no longer fits me (I've gone from XL to M, thank you very much), but I wouldn't dream of parting with it. And if I ever meet Sam Raimi again, I'm going to thank him for it to me.

I spent a blazing hot Sunday afternoon last summer helping a dear friend move and, like most moves, not everything was packed up by the time I got there. One of the many discoveries was that my friend had not one, not two, but three DUNE pop-up books in his possession. We're both unashamed fans of David Lynch's 1984 sci-fi epic, but even my DUNE fandom had a limit back in '84 (I drew the line at the action figures). However, all these years later I was begifted with one and, dammit, I'm going to hold onto it. After all, where else are you going to see the late, great Kenneth McMillan in pop-up form?

I hope you liked Three Possessions, folks. I got plenty more crap where these came from!