Weird: The Al Yankovic Story

Release: Friday, November 4, 2022 

👀 The Roku Channel

Written by: Al Yankovic; Eric Appel

Directed by: Eric Appel

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe; Evan Rachel Wood; Diedrich Bader; Toby Huss; Julianne Nicholson; Rainn Wilson

Distributor: The Roku Channel

 

 

***/*****

Love him or just weirded out by him, there is no denying “Weird Al” Yankovic is a success story. Anyone who has survived four decades in the music business must be doing something right. The mop-topped accordion player who became famous for humorously rewriting other people’s lyrics has exploited a niche to the tune of five Grammy wins, six platinum records and well over 12 million albums sold — more than any comedic act in history.

Now there’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story, an appropriately whacky and over-the-top comedy that pokes fun at fame and films (specifically the musical bio-pic) with almost reckless abandon. Rather than offering a straightforward account of what created and sustained Yankovic’s career as a song parodist, Eric Appel’s directorial début instead takes a satirical approach, producing a movie that, like its namesake, more often than not hits the sweet spot by being both ridiculous and clever.

Daniel Radcliffe continues to reinvent himself by stepping into the shoes and loud Hawaiian shirts of the “Weird One,” again taking to the eccentric like it’s his second language. Co-written by Yankovic, the story broadly deals with a creative person’s struggle to win the approval of his conformist parents. When Al’s love for polka is exposed one night at a party a major rift in the family opens up, prompting him to leave home as soon as he can. Weird embraces tropes like these and exaggerates them to comedic effect.

Living with his roommates Steve (Spencer Treat Clark), Jim (Jack Lancaster) and “Bermuda” (Tommy O’Brien) Al finds himself in a nurturing environment. Then the bologna sandwich scene happens, setting the stage for a wild and often very funny ride that sees Al ascending on one of the most unlikely trajectories in music history, becoming a hit sensation overnight and shooting up the Billboard charts. His rendition of The Arrows’ “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll” (“I Love Rocky Road”) catches the attention of his childhood inspiration Dr. Demento (Rainn Wilson).

His quick wit and extemporaneous style earn him a record deal with the Scotti brothers (portrayed by Will Forte and Yankovic in hilariously terrible wigs) but with greater success comes greater complication. In saunters a perfectly-cast Evan Rachel Wood as Madonna, a bubblegum-chewing diva who seduces and manipulates her way into Al’s heart and back to another career high. The filmmakers take the “Yankovic Bump,” a real phenomenon which saw renewed commercial enthusiasm for the original songs he parodied, and create a whole new paradigm wherein Al develops full-blown egomania, determined to make it even bigger by coming up with his own original tunes.

A tale of two halves, the first much stronger than the second, Weird is nothing if not a showcase of personality. As the production threatens to come off the rails late you can’t help but admire its go-for-broke attitude. Radcliffe’s sincere performance may be the only thing you can afford to take seriously, but the cumulative effect of the weird makes for an experience that’s easy to enjoy.

Great acoustics, terrible smell

Moral of the Story: Though it would undoubtedly help to find “Weird Al” entertaining, being a long time fan of his is not necessary, especially considering how little truth there is in the way the story is told. Weird: The Al Yankovic Story is a pastiche of the peculiar that falls in line with the likes of Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story and This is Spinal Tap — so if you like those movies, good chance Weird will be right up your alley. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 108 mins. 

Quoted: “You think you’re going to stop me from playing? You’ll see. One day I’m going to be the best. Well, perhaps not technically the best, but arguably the most famous accordion player in an extremely specific genre of music!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com

Cemetery of Splendor

cemetery-of-splendor-movie-poster

Release: Friday, March 4, 2016 (limited) 

[Vimeo]

Written by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul 

Directed by: Apichatpong Weerasethakul


My  first review of a Thai film is brought to you courtesy of Mr. Rumsey’s Film Related Musings. James is the guy running the show over there and he graciously made this incredibly unique and moving film available to me. Please check out his site if you have a few moments. 


The transition from movie back to reality is rarely as jarring as when you are forcibly removed from the most recent effort of (judging by one film) cinematic poet Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Cemetery of Splendor (Rak ti Khon Kaen), the Bangkok-born filmmaker’s eighth directorial credit, plums the depths of the soul in a meditative and meandering narrative that simply defies categorization.

Let’s get one thing clear: if you’re searching for the literal, the low-hanging fruits of traditional storytelling — a conflict that arises that must be resolved, barriers to that attempt to overcome, resolutions that, tidily or not, seal the deal in one fell swoop — you’re probably going to hate Cemetery of Splendor. I mean hate it. On top of that, patience is absolutely key; this is a very deliberately paced production. At times it can be testing. It might be evident how radically different an experience we’re in for judging merely by the way Weerasethakul starves us for the very first image in an unusually protracted cold open — heavy machinery digging a big hole adjacent to a hospital in the Thai village of Isan — and how deliberately the vast majority of his shots remain static, filmed at a distance such that viewers must pick and choose what it is in the frame that interests them most.

This makeshift hospital is where our journey begins. We’re not traveling far and wide; rather we’re delving into the human consciousness, into the dreams of a man who has been struck with a mysterious sleeping sickness and who gains the friendship of a kindhearted volunteer named Jen (Jenjira Pongpas Widner). In this hauntingly quiet space we see several cots lined up with bodies in each one, all on the drip and seemingly lifeless. They’re soldiers but they’re not dead, nor do they seem like they’re suffering from physical ailments. Instead they’re sleeping — all day and all night. The camera eventually settles on one man all the way in the back corner, a man named Itt (Banlop Lomnoi) who has had no visitors. Jen decides she will take care of him.

This seemingly innocuous facility — a school that has been converted into a temporary clinic — has been said to possess ethereal power, having its foundations built directly upon the graves of ancient kings. The juxtaposition some believe is the very cause of the soldiers’ sickness: their strength in the real world is being manipulated by these kings who remain engaged in an eternal spiritual war. The clinic’s staff, housewives who are volunteering perhaps for no other reason than out of the goodness of their heart, have taken numerous approaches to ease their suffering. The most striking and perhaps most abstract method is their light therapy technique in which vertical tubes of neon light are placed beside each bed, the colors ever so slowly transitioning between red, green and blue.

Theoretically each color holds some sort of cultural and/or political significance (red symbolizes national pride; green represents Thailand’s military forces and blue indicates royalty and privilege), though if anything their application in this film contributes most apparently to the physicality of the experience. As Cemetery of Splendor opens up, these colors begin bleeding into the film reel itself, affording a psychedelic quality to proceedings. Even more experimental than this technique is Weerasethakul’s bold decision to have his actors reenact the process of communicating with the spiritual world. Early on we are introduced to a young woman named Keng (Jarinpratta Rueangram), a medium who helps visitors reach out to their loved ones — those soldiers imprisoned by silence. She decides to use her extraordinary gift to help Jen interact with Itt.

In one of the film’s most ambitious sequences, Jen and Keng take a walk about the quaint village, through a wooded park that’s more like a relic of a forgotten history than some place families go to take a stroll. And so develops a scene in which words simply do not do justice; in fact to actually detail what happens here would be ultimately to spoil its essence. Suffice it to say the moment is seized brilliantly by all involved, the actors bravely trusting in their director that they won’t look silly demonstrating what could arguably be the most complicated and most abstract concept any filmmaker could imagine recreating.

Here we have our best shot of actually witnessing the spiritual and the physical world colliding, at least thematically speaking. The young soldier, vicariously through Keng’s gentle mannerisms, “reveals” to Jen — whose American husband, by the way, has been intentionally kept out of sight throughout most of the narrative to give the impression Jen’s personal life is a wee bit complicated — precisely what he’s experiencing in his sleep. It is also in this protracted scene where we find out the devastating truth behind Jen’s physical deformity. One of her legs is significantly shorter than the other, which has prompted her to get around on crutches and with a specially-fitted shoe to help her balance. Heretofore the issue has gone unaddressed, but Weerasethakul has patiently waited for the right moment to drop the bomb.

In the name of hyperbole, words will inevitably fail me when a friend asks what this movie is all about. I’m of a mind to tell them that it’s about everything. That’s simultaneously the least satisfying and the most accurate (and most concise) way of putting it. Unsatisfying in the sense that it’s hardly a descriptive response and it seems cheaply broad; accurate in that Cemetery of Splendor opens up so many doors for viewers to walk through and interpret things as they see them. This is going to be a different film to different viewers. Or I could be completely wrong and Weerasethakul actually has a much more specific, narrowed focus. I, a Westerner, might just be the guy who came before King Arthur who tried to wield Excalibur.

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Recommendation: An exquisitely complex, psychosomatic kind of experience that I am hesitant to say is one of the best films of 2016. I hesitate only in the sense that not everything in this Thai film will translate well (if at all) for international audiences. But Cemetery of Splendor is undoubtedly one of the most unique and entrancing films I’ve yet seen. Even if I don’t personally fully grasp it. This is nevertheless an incredibly profound piece and further confirmation that some of the most original works really do stem from foreign markets. If I were pressed to make comparisons, Terrence Malick and Nicolas Winding Refn come to mind.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “I’d prefer a European husband. Americans are too poor. Europeans are living the American Dream.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.recentmovieposters.com; http://www.imdb.com

New Cops

'New Cops' movie poster

Release: Monday, February 15, 2016 (online)

[YouTube]

Directed by: Timothy Morton

Timothy Morton’s New Cops has a cozy home-made feel to it and while the low overhead is certainly noticeable it doesn’t stop us from having a little bit of fun with these guys.

Morton’s latest, a project six years in the making, premiered on February 15 on NoBudge.com, a screening venue for independent film where a new short or feature film is added every Tuesday. The brainchild of independent actor and filmmaker Kentucker Audley, who has been running the show since 2011, NoBudge has become testament to what can be accomplished on practically zero-dollar budgets (hence the site title).

New Cops finds Morton playing a man in a funk, someone sleepwalking through his every day existence while experiencing bizarre yet fulfilling dreams every time he goes to sleep, where he enjoys the power and prestige that comes with being the President (of what exactly, I was never sure. Of the nation? Of a company? Does it matter?) One afternoon his friend Chet (Jimmy Kustes) shows up asking for a couch to crash on for a couple of days while a storm blows over at his house.

Soon enough Chet proves to be quite the nuisance as he tries to rope Tim into various schemes such as passing off neighborhood junk as usable on Craig’s List, and scamming fast food joints with expired coupons. If that wasn’t enough, it’s been several days since Tim has seen his girlfriend and he has not a clue as to her whereabouts, though he suspects she’s with another man. As his real world problems start to seep into his idealized existence, Tim is forced to take action in the only way he knows how: hire a private detective (David Maloney) to do the President’s dirty work.

New Cops, a title derived from a TV show Tim likes to watch, struggles to make a lot of sense. Given that its protagonist seems to spend more time in a dreamlike trance than out of one, I can let the lapses in logic and unexplained (or poorly conceived) developments slide. There is a lot of charm to the awkwardness and dialogue is largely improvised, giving conversations a natural flow, even if that flow is interrupted regularly by some jumpy editing.

Morton’s latest is a fun, creative slice of mumblecore cinema that explores the frustration of a man desperate to overcome self-esteem issues and it often does so to comic effect. It’s a strange adventure that interrogates the very nature and significance of our dreams.

Recommendation: While there are many issues I have with the film on a technical level, overall I think this is a fairly successful experiment that I have no trouble recommending to others who appreciate and actively support micro-budget independent cinema. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 52 mins.

[No trailer available; sorry everyone.]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

Park City

park-city-movie-poster

Release: Wednesday, April 1, 2015 (limited)

[iTunes]

Written by: Hannah Rosner; Julia Turner

Directed by: Hannah Rosner

Undoubtedly best viewed through the eyes of a filmmaker, Hannah Rosner’s mockumentary offers up a fairly fun adventure for those curious about behind-the-scenes action in the life of an aspiring indie film crew.

A mostly satisfying blend of documentary-style intimacy and mumblecore imperfection, Park City follows passionate director Joey (Joey Mireles), diva actress Jill (Jill Evyn), business-savvy producer Hannah (Hannah Rosner) and stoner/moral support/assistant Dave (David Hoffman) as they make their first trip to the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah armed only with their first film Hearts and Cash, and a few dollars to their name.

Crammed into a Prius with her co-stars and camera equipment (iPhone(s), perhaps?) Rosner makes the most of a literal low overhead by intercutting footage of the adventure with interviews with the crew as they describe the experience before, during and after. The crux of Park City arrives when, after a successful evening of “mingling” with some of the movers and shakers and partying down with the more accessible crowd (that was more the successful part), Hannah and Joey are rudely awakened by the discovery that their only copy of Hearts and Cash has disappeared.

With mere hours before their screening, they attempt to rationalize last night’s events and possibly track down the film reel. Naturally there are obvious suspects in fellow filmmakers, and Jill’s self-centeredness makes her a candidate as well. Meanwhile, Dave’s eyes have glazed over in the fog of marijuana and he doesn’t seem to be bothered by the developments. With frustration mounting and time running out, will the team’s first attempt at getting exposure end up blowing up in their face? Is a generally bad experience ultimately still good experience?

In posing these questions this low-key, relatively amateurish misadventure doesn’t aspire to reinventing the reel. It aims for crowd-pleasing, if not the general public then a specific group of like-minded individuals. Then again, and in spite of an ostensibly exclusive subject and a starlet who seems intent on portraying performers in an unflattering light (Evyn ironically might be the best actor on display as she is good at getting on your nerves), Rosner is knowingly winking at anyone who has taken those first, scary steps in pursuing a life goal. Okay, so perhaps this generalization overloads the film’s quota of cliché, but I’d like to think Rosner’s work isn’t as pretentious as some are likely to write it off as.

While it’s difficult to overlook the shaky acting and occasional technical difficulties — audio seems to be spotty in places and it’s more than likely this film was shot using an iPhone — Park City is an experience worth soaking up.

park-city-hannah-rosner

3-0Recommendation: Park City might be aimed more for those plugged into the industry but there’s enough here to recommend to anyone with a general interest in film and the filmmaking process. The mockumentary has its moments of weakness (what film doesn’t?) but Rosner manages to overcome many of them by offering fun and interesting twists along the way. Think The Hangover on a much more modest budget, and with less set destruction, less vulgarity and definitely less Mike Tyson.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 86 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.ptsnob.com 

Spare Parts

spare-parts-movie-poster

Release: Friday, January 16, 2015 (limited) 

[Theater]

Written by: Elissa Matsueda

Directed by: Sean McNamara

Well-intentioned but also thoroughly cliched, Sean McNamara’s strict adherence to the inspirational Wired.com article ‘La Vida Robot’ still manages to surprise with an atypical performance from George Lopez.

Lopez plays Fredi Cameron, a substitute teacher whose inexperience with the troubled Carl Hayden Community High student body is predicted to eventually overwhelm him. A grilling interview with the principal (Jamie Lee Curtis) suggests he should take his engineering mind elsewhere. His character is actually an amalgamation of real-life instructors Fredi “Ledge” Lajvardi and Allen Cameron and is a personality that meshes well with Lopez’s kind eyes and warm smile.

Mr. Cameron decides to tough it out and soon discovers a group of students with some unique talent, the likes of which are doomed to be overlooked in favor of the statistical probability their undocumented status in the States will lead them down a dead-end road. There’s Oscar (Carlos PenaVega), a senior with aspirations of joining the Armed Forces after school and whose confidence masks his deep-seated fear of being deported; Lorenzo (José Julián), a 16-year-old with a penchant for getting into trouble on the streets but more importantly a mind for building and designing things; Cristian (David Del Rio), a genuinely good kid whose youth belies one of the sharpest minds in the community, possibly in the greater Phoenix area and whose home life has him living in a small shed off to the side of the house; and Luis (Oscar Gutierrez), a quiet and unconfident young man undoubtedly conscientious of his physical size and self-assessed lack of practical skills.

The foursome rally around an extremely amiable Lopez even as he’s somewhat reluctant to invest his own time in the school’s robotics club. He sees the kids desperately need some direction, but it’s not until he’s finally won the support of a cute colleague (Marisa Tomei), who believes the students don’t need any more misleading, that Mr. Cameron realizes his passion for engineering can actually marry with his desire to help others. The robotics club sets their sights on the underwater robotics competition hosted at the University of California, Santa Barbara where they will have to pit their $800 robot, built out of PVC piping and nicknamed ‘Stinky,’ against teams with arguably more talent, confidence and community support and most assuredly more financial aid.

The end result of said competition is a foregone conclusion since there’s now a film based on the story, but in getting there the journey really has to be seen to be believed. Spare Parts falls back on trope after trope but it’s not doing this to intentionally harm anyone’s image, least of all those of the student subjects. If anything — and here’s a more cynical way of considering the production — this is a career-booster for the Californian talk show host who has made a habit of providing ridiculous faces and fluff commentary on his show Lopez Tonight. Here he is putting in substantive work and it is appreciated. The actors portraying the students leave a stronger impression than Lopez, though and are the real stars of the show. Convincingly portraying the utter despair and turmoil that their individual situations have thrust them into, these relatively undiscovered actors will hopefully pick up some more work later on down the road.

Richard Wong’s gritty and saturated color palette tends to flick the dirt and grime of the Phoenix area in our faces with an effectiveness that might overshadow any other element present here. This world looks and feels real; intimate and often dimly-lit settings emphasize serious overtones that are otherwise frustratingly undermined by cringe-inducing dialogue and contrived plot development.

Spare Parts manages to sustain its enthusiastic spirit and reverence for not only Joshua Davis’ excellent in-depth examination but the team itself. It is a joy to see a visual interpretation of an extraordinary chapter in this Phoenix-based school, a school that has since gone on to receive global recognition for its technical achievements. However, that’s nothing compared to what these trials and tribulations have done for young Oscar, Lorenzo, Cristian and Luis. How do you not applaud these kids.

george-lopez-in-spare-parts

3-0Recommendation: An uplifting family drama through-and-through it’s difficult not to root for Spare Parts. It’s full of heart but also filled with a lot of things that could have been done much better to limit the eye-roll factor. And why, again, does Marisa Tomei have to be relegated to such a restricted role? Ugh. I’m getting tired of this; she’s better than this! Or, maybe not? Cliched or not, this is a story that does deserve to be watched. I give it one-and-a-half Roger Ebert thumbs up (one of my thumbs is like, turned sideways . . . or something).

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 115 mins.

Quoted: “They’re not adults, they’re kids. Every day in a hundred ways they are told they are worthless. . .”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

Screen Shot 2013-10-24 at 2.45.59 PM

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the number of my followers drop after I admit that today’s entry is a movie I had never seen until now. . . Somehow, some way this classic from the mid-80s has eluded me. I can report that after all this time this movie remains just as terrifying as it was when first exposed to audiences in the day. Its easy to look past the dated acting, corny dialogue, and campy 80s effects because the story here is just so thrilling, and quite honestly scary. I had a blast with this TBT. ’twas a much more memorable one than last week’s, that’s to be sure. 

Today’s food for thought: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). 

nightmare-on-elm-street

 

Release: June 1, 1984

[Netflix]

No rest for the mentally disturbed/possibly stalked. . .

The spirit of a vicious child serial killer resurfaces in the nightmares of teens in modern-day and is responsible for their subsequent and shocking deaths in this tense, spooky thriller from who else, but Wes Craven (I’m actually not that familiar at all with his style, but since this is a horror film for the ages I figured I’d best get ahead and jump on the bandwagon as quick as possible to make up for lost time).

I think it’s a general desire to distance myself from having too many nightmares myself that kept me away from this vintage piece of cinema. You will not find me in my most comfortable state during scenes of teeth-grinding suspense and dramatically low-lit, creepy stalking sequences, but I had to make an exception here. Craven’s direction is superb, fully taking advantage of a disturbing premise and several buckets of blood syrup to create scene after scene that’s filled with dread, suspense and gore in ways that are rarely seen in today’s horror offerings. Within the first ten-ish minutes, I yearned immediately for a time machine to go back in time and just have horror films like this exist and nothing else — this, coming from a non-horror movie watcher. I’m sure that I’ve said this often enough, I just want to make it even more clear how much fun this movie is.

After Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) experiences the death of her friend Tina, she’s not fully convinced it was the murder that everyone understands it to be, and sooner rather than later she finds herself deeply personally involved in the mystery also, and the dream world she goes to when sleeping starts to blur with the real world.

Years ago, a terrible hat-wearing man (yes his hat was terrible) who killed children was tracked down by enraged parents, who then cornered him in a basement and set fire to the house. Now he lives on in the nightmares of other kids living on Elm Street, killing children as his revenge. With each passing day and seeing more and more disturbing things in her dreams, Nancy is increasingly scared to go to sleep and her mother (horror regular Ronee Blakely) becomes increasingly worried about her daughter’s mental state. Finally enough is enough for Nancy, and she becomes determined to both prove that Freddie is indeed still alive (no one believes her since, well. . you know. . . he was a pariah from yesteryear and is long gone now), and that she is not insane. Nancy makes attempts several times to have someone watch over her as she sleeps and attempts to drag her monstrous stalker from the dream world to the real one so the terrorizing can be stopped, once and for all.

Freddy-in-the-Wall

The Dreams:

  1. A very young Johnny Depp, as Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen Lentz. His big-screen debut.
  2. The bedroom scenes and “I’m your boyfriend now, Nancy. . .”
  3. Charles Bernstein’s score is really damn cool and suitably eerie.
  4. The fact that Freddy Krueger is played by an actor (Robert Englund). Thank god this guy isn’t real. . . . . . .right?
  5. There’s a heavy use of cheesy 80s props/effects here but they are so well-used these have ended up scarring me temporarily. Hopefully I’ll recover in a few days.

The Nightmares:

  1. Some acting bits are pretty questionable but in general these don’t even really bring the intensity down. Also, it is a film from the 80s. I should probably have expected a bit of camp in the dialogue every now and then.
  2. The fact there are so many sequels to this that I will likely never watch because I have this general understanding of how terrible they are.
  3. How dumb must you be to stay in the same town after you’re being suspected of murdering your girlfriend? (Rod Lane, I’m talking to you.) Why didn’t you just blow dodge? Hiding in the bushes, and then whispering to a passing-by Nancy doesn’t seem to be a terrible effective way of hiding yourself from the cops. I think he would have avoided his death if he hadn’t been so foolish.
  4. The ultimate show-down between Nancy and Freddy was a little silly. I was actually hoping for something more, but it still worked.
  5. The ending!!!!!! I am a person who appreciate finality, having some knowledge of things being over, whatever. Uh, this didn’t really satisfy that, but at the same time its not a bad ending at all. I’m very, very torn on how A Nightmare on Elm Street goes out. Still, I refuse to see the sequels.

nightmare-on-elm

Well, that’s it. That about wraps us up for this disturbing week on Throwback Thursday. Thanks for revisiting this one with me, and for still reading after I told you it took me almost 30 years to see it.

 

4-0Recommendation: Simply a classic, Craven’s low-budget and extra-creepy psychological thriller is both atmospheric and unnerving, and should be a permanent installment in any horror fan’s list of films to watch in the run-up to Halloween.

Rated: R

Running Time: 91 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.pophorror.com; http://www.imdb.com