Tag: music/musical

Movie Review: Cool as Ice (1991)

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Seen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s harddrive. Originally rented from Scarecrow Video in Seattle.

There was a time, way back in the early 90’s, when Vanilla Ice was a Thing. So much so that he was given his own movie, appropriately titled Cool as Ice. A loose remake of Marlon Brando vehicle The Wild One, the film stars Ice as Johnny, a free-spirited MC who rides around on his cool motorcycle along with his beat-supplying dance crew. One of their bikes breaks down in a small conservative town and they’re forced to stay a few days, shacking up with an old bike repair odd couple. Johnny immediately falls in love with a high school valedictorian named Kathy (Kristin Minter) and proceeds to seduce her away from her stuck-up white-bread lifestyle into his super-cool world of hip hop and freedom. They have one date hanging out at a construction site in the desert and now they’re together forever. But there are problems because Kathy’s dad is actually in a police-specific witness protection program and his identity’s been leaked and now some assassins are coming after him and he thinks Johnny is involved so he tries to keep the young lovers apart WHAT YES THIS IS THE PLOT.

I admit that when Cool as Ice first got going, I was totally into it. It’s got fresh beats, deafeningly loud fashions, hilarious side characters, and a frenetic visual style that had me reeling from weirdness. I loved the inescapable early-90s trappings and the stupid as fuck screenplay. But then. It just got dumb and kinda boring and like, where are the musical interludes? There are all of three breaks for rapping in this movie, and I wanted more of Ice and his awesome crew doing wacky dance moves and antagonizing the locals with their devil’s music. For real, this movie takes place in a town that has never heard hip hop and maybe has never seen a person of color, based on the reactions of the townspeople to the gang’s presence. There is definitely an MTV-ready attempt to satirize middle-class white suburbia, since it’s SO square, but that vibe dissipates when the story becomes more about the romance and Kathy’s weird family problems and criminal hitmen and stuff.

Cool as Ice is- surprise, surprise- a really bad movie, no question. There’s a reason Rifftrax did this a few months ago. The acting is horrendous, the story doesn’t make any fucking sense, the tone can’t figure out what it wants to be, and there’s barely any MC-ing despite this being a showcase for MC Vanilla Ice. But I can’t say I wasn’t pretty damned entertained because it’s all SO. SILLY. My favorite characters were Ice’s crew composed of Deezer D, Kevin Hicks, and Allison Dean, who are all too cool for school. They just hang out eating weird foods and talking about philosophy and dancing, always dancing. If the movie had been about their antics with the old couple fixing their bike (who live in a surreal, multi-colored barn, it’s beautiful), I would have been totally on board with the film! But it’s not. It’s all about this boring romance and some half-assed revenge plot and then Kathy’s annoying little brother gets kidnapped and like, do I care? Nope. Just show me some more dance moves and rock out with your amazing neon outfits and I’ll be happy as a clam. AS A CLAM.

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 4/5

Pair This Movie With: Well for a while I was convinced this was a secret sequel to Footloose so that’s one option. Alternatively The Wild One? If that’s a good movie? I’ve never seen it.

Movie Review: Smithereens (1982)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Embarrassingly, I got halfway through this movie several years ago when it was on netflix instant, and just never got around to finishing it. It wasn’t because I wasn’t enjoying it or anything, I remember I was watching it during a quiet shift at the gallery where I used to work, but I stopped it when visitors came in. Well I’ve finally righted myself and here we are. Smithereens is the debut feature of Susan Seidelman, who is beloved by me simply because she made Desperately Seeking Susan, a movie I watch really often. Her first film similarly explores a hip New York subculture, but this one focuses more on the fading punk scene of the early 80’s and the encroaching commercialism. This is a community that’s more style over substance, so self-centered they can’t see how lackluster their surrounding culture is. Susan Berman stars as Wren, a wannabe punk rocker who spends most of her time hanging around punk clubs and bars, trying to make connections with musicians. The film follows her over the course of a few days, during which she gets kicked out of her apartment and moves into a van with Paul (Brad Rijn), a naive country boy who digs her cool city style. She also cozies up to Eric (Richard Hell), an assholey singer who’s had one record made but isn’t going far in his music career otherwise.

I’m always fascinated by the punk/new wave scene of the late 70’s and early 80’s, it just seems like an interesting time. New York was a complete shithole, everyone had awesome outfits and hairstyles, no one seemed to have a job, and they all just hung around listening to records and getting drunk. Like, what kind of world is this? A GREAT ONE, THAT’S WHAT. Smithereens is equally loving and derisive in its portrait of this lifestyle, placing a self-absorbed jerk at the center but throwing her into so many shitty situations that you can’t help but feel sympathy. Wren is an interesting young woman, hiding behind a facade of over-confidence and attitude to protect herself from debilitating loneliness. She’s loud and kind of annoying, but she’s hard to keep down, and I liked that. Plus she always speaks her mind. She also gains some self-awareness as the film progresses, and by the end I was rooting for her even if I knew I’d probably hate her in real life.

The narrative is sort of choppy, circling around Wren’s friends and connections, moving from dirty rock clubs to dirtier apartments. Everyone wants to be part of something, but they’re not quite sure how to get there, or what that “something” even is. They all think of leaving, looking to LA as some magical sunny city, but New York’s crumbling lure keeps its hold. At first I wasn’t sure about the film’s tone- it’s kind of funny, mostly because the characters are all a little ridiculous. It becomes bleaker and bleaker as it goes on, with Wren losing everything she has bit by bit, often because of her own cold and misguided opportunism. The ending is unexpectedly dark, and while that makes it more realistic, I wasn’t really ready for it. It felt out of place, and left me with mixed feelings about the film as a whole.

The soundtrack is excellent, with a rambling guitar score by The Feelies and tunes from various hip punks, and I dug the overall grungy aesthetic. Also this was one of the first independent American films to make it to Cannes, which is pretty cool. Lady filmmaker power!

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: I immediately watched Desperately Seeking Susan, obviously. Then I just listened to The Feelies and Richard Hell & the Voidoids for a while.

Movie Review: Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare (1987)

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Seen: On dvd on my tv, rented from netflix.

Ok I have to preface this with saying that I did NOT know what I was in for with Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare, and it turned out that was a very good thing. So if you don’t want to know anything else, just be aware that this movie starts off as a seemingly cliche cheesy horror movie but then it has this magical ending. MAGICAL. The story is generally concerned with rockers Triton and their supportive ladies/wives, who all take refuge in a remote Canadian farmhouse to record their next album. But uh oh, turns out the house is haunted by a variety of demons, who can take the form of their victims and seem to be as hungry as they are sexually frustrated. Will the band make it through the recording session?

Starting off as a laughably stereotypical slasher movie, what the film lacks in acting, pacing, and dialogue it makes up for tremendously with gratuitous sex scenes and bodacious hair metal. At various intervals little demons pop up and wreak havoc, and it’s kind of hilarious and kind of super gross at the same time, and I actually really appreciated the creature effects just because I generally dig prosthetics and puppetry over CGI. Screenwriter/star Jon Mikl Thor (a bodybuilder turned rock star turned actor/producer turned jack-of-all-trades) leads a gang of big-haired, fun-loving ditzes who just want to hang out and have sex and rock on, with some couples happily married and another just forming a surprisingly cute romance. The script is light, throwing in some pro-Canada commentary and some goofy jokes and Terminator references, until there’s this wacky curveball towards the end. Like, seriously, I did NOT see that coming. I know saying there’s a twist ending is a spoiler in itself but well I can’t help but comment on it. Because it’s FUCKING AWESOME. The ending of this movie is crazy enough to completely redeem the so-so first two-thirds of the film, both blowing the preceding events out of the water and somewhat explaining their vibe.

I don’t have much more to say except that Rock ‘n’ Roll Nightmare is everything I thought it would be and more, and even though I started to get a bit bored halfway through it was all worth it!

4/5

Pair This Movie With: A few films sprang to mind with this one. The 80s cheese and rock band protagonists made me think of Miami Connection, while the creature effects and horror/comedy elements had me thinking of Evil Dead. BUT really I think the best pairing might be The Cabin in the Woods because they both deal unexpectedly with horror stereotypes.

The 2013 Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, Part I

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Is it that time of year again? WHY YES IT IS! Every year the Somerville Theatre hosts the 24-Hour Boston Science-Fiction Marathon, which in recent years has also expanded into a festival for new sci-fi films, and the marathon itself now includes a few of the festival picks. So it’s basically a lot of nerds young and old gathered together in a gorgeous and spacious theater, armed with pillows, blankets, laser blasters, and caffeine, yelling geeky jokes at the screen. This year (my fifth in a row!) I’m proud to report that I stayed up actually the entire time- usually I nod off during one or more movies, but I was honestly 100% awake for the whole event, which means I won. The line-up was pretty damn solid this year, which I think helped, though there were one or two uncertain choices in the mix (more on that later). And we had this weird problem where people kept coming in at random times and sitting right in front of us? Like where did they come from? You should stake your claim on a few seats and set up camp, guys! There’s plenty of room! Anyway, the way these posts work is I will break down the 24 hours into three segments, and my memory might get a little loopier as it goes on due to the sleep deprivation. So here we go, erm, BLAST OFF!

1 John Carter (2012)
I missed this when it was in theaters so I was excited to see it here, and it made for a fun opener to the Thon. The somewhat convoluted story focuses on the titular gold-digging Civil War soldier who is accidentally transported to Mars, where he discovers warring aliens and an uncanny ability to leap tall buildings due to the lesser gravity. Overall it’s kind of silly but I found it generally entertaining- great effects and action sequences, imagination, a kickass warrior scientist lady, and a lot of shirtless Taylor Kitsch. Like, A LOT. I think the biggest problem is that it’s way too long. I felt like Andrew Stanton just got really wrapped up in this fantasy world and wanted to hang around in it for a while and really situate his audience within it, which I can understand. It is very beautiful.
4/5

I also want a quick shout-out for the well-done “In Memorium” segment that was shown after this, for those connected to sci-fi media who’d passed away last year.

2 Reptilicus (1961)
This was the “so-bad-it’s-good” pick for the night, which allows everyone to get out their wannabe MST3K snark. A Danish production but scripted in English, the film is a goofy monster movie with old European charm and an actually kind of cool dragon-like creature design. The effects are outdated and the acting is laughable, plus there’s a musical number for no reason, but it fits decently inside the mold of so many of those mid-century monster flicks. And it’s got a guy who kinda looks like David Bowie, and he was definitely trying to date the main military dude, so I may have had a little fanfiction going on in my head the whole time, no big deal. It’s enjoyable for how ridiculous it is and I was definitely entertained, but I wouldn’t put it high on a list of my favorite b-movies or anything.
As a movie: 2/5
As entertainment: 3.5/5

3 The Ghastly Love of Johnny X (2012)
This one has really stuck with me, and I think I’m liking it more upon reflection even if I was torn as I watched it. I mean the premise alone suits almost all of my tastes- a black and white rock musical about alien punks who are exiled to earth and the main guy has an electric suit that he uses to save an aging rock star and they’re all dressed like they’re in Grease. The tagline is “They Sing! They Dance! They’re Juvenile Delinquents from Outer Space!”, I mean this movie was clearly made for me. Also the lead guy (Will Keenan) is fucking adorable, even if he’s a dick to his girlfriend at the beginning and I was a little uncomfortable. Mostly I dug the wacky visuals, the 50s atmosphere and characterization, and the splashy musical numbers though the songs weren’t the most memorable. (Still good tunes, though! I just kinda wish the amazing Paul Williams had expanded his cameo appearance and maybe contributed to the score? We could’ve had a Phantom of the Paradise-vibe!) The story’s all over the place but I guess that doesn’t actually matter, since for the most part it was funny and weird enough to keep me watching. It’s like if somebody mashed up Cry-Baby and Matinee and Alien Trespass and maybe Richard Elfman directed it? Kinda? Check out this video about it, that might give you a better idea. Also definitely wins best title of anything at the Thon, easily.
4/5

4 War of the Worlds: Goliath (2012)
Ok ok here’s where we cheated a little. After about 15 minutes of this animated steampunky alien invasion movie, we decided to head across the street for some dinner, since it just wasn’t especially appealing. I’m sorry guys, I felt bad leaving a new animated sci-fi movie since usually I’m all into that, it just looked sort of derivative and I didn’t love the visual style. We caught the very end though and uh it looks like the good guys won! Yay humans! And Nikola Tesla was there to help out, thank goodness. I’ve never seen/read War of the Worlds so I’m not sure how it all connected, I believe it’s meant to be a speculative sequel. Luckily we returned in time to catch “Asternauts“, a charming short about farmers who manage to contact alien life, from Marta Alicia Masferrer, who directed the excellent “Conlang”, a short from a previous Thon.

Alright so now that we’re back from Chinese food and really settled in, it’ll be time for Part II! Check back next time for more sci-fi fun, eager young space cadets!

Movie Review: Searching for Sugar Man (2012)

sugar manSeen: On our projector set-up, streamed from Miles’s harddrive.

Well you know me, consistently behind on all the hot documentaries of any given year, but I finally caught up with Searching for Sugar Man. Tracing the short-lived career of folk-rock singer Rodriguez and its strange aftermath, the film follows the impact of his music on the people of South Africa during Apartheid. Though virtually unknown in his United States home, there Rodriguez is more revered than Elvis Presley and his politically-charged songs are considered integral to the development of revolutionary opposition in the 70s and 80s. Long thought dead by a dramatic on-stage suicide, he is discovered alive and working in construction in Detroit decades after his only two records had been released, thanks to the efforts of diehard South African fans in the music business. His rediscovery leads to huge shows in South Africa and the possibility of a new album.

I’ve got some mixed feelings on this one. It’s an interesting story and Rodriguez himself makes for a fascinating and likable subject, but the actual doc has some problems. Certain information is passed over to make the story of his rediscovery more dramatic, and the talking heads seemed intent on maintaining a sensationalist approach to the tale. The thrust of the film is definitely the musician’s impact on and loyalty of his South African fans, as opposed to Rodriguez himself. He remains something of a soft-spoken mystery, either because that’s how he actually presents himself or that’s how the filmmakers wanted him to appear. It’s a little frustrating, because while he seems like a really talented and intelligent guy, I felt like there was this manufactured enigma built around him. His music is great (I don’t really care about the “cheap Bob Dylan” comparisons since I don’t listen to much Dylan), and his biography is pretty engaging. The scattered and questionable nature of the film’s narrative is what made it disappointing, since it always felt like there was more to tell about a certain aspect of it. I wanted more of Rodriguez himself, more about his short career, more about his music’s impact during Apartheid, more about the search for him and the record company who owned his work. It’s not that the doc needed to be longer, it just could have been more focused or more comprehensive.

3.5/5

Pair This Movie With: Ack, I don’t know, I haven’t really seen many music documentaries. Maybe Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods since that’s another portrait of a somewhat enigmatic artist with a cult following?