Studio 666

Release: Friday, February 25, 2022

👀 Theater

Written by: Jeff Buhler; Rebecca Hughes

Directed by: B.J. McDonnell

Starring: Dave Grohl; Taylor Hawkins; Pat Smear; Chris Shiflett, Nate Mendel; Rami Jaffee; Jeff Garlin; Will Forte; Whitney Cummings; Leslie Grossman; Jenna Ortega

 

 

**/*****

In Memory of Taylor Hawkins (1972 – 2022)

Foo Fighters frontman Dave Grohl is a man possessed of more than musical talent in Studio 666, a gore-soaked, gleefully over-the-top horror comedy from director B.J. McDonnell, one in which the popular American rock band battles both creative droughts and supernatural forces during the recording of its tenth studio album.

With their obnoxious manager Jeremy (Jeff Garlin, one of the film’s few professional actors) breathing down their necks for the next hit, the Foos find themselves up against a wall as they brainstorm ideas for their landmark record. When they’re informed of a creepy old house in Encino, California, a sad-looking forties-era manor that has more than great acoustics going for it (and where the band put together its actual tenth album, 2021’s Medicine at Midnight), an optimistic Grohl jumps at the opportunity, enamored with the character of the place.

But as the band settles in the writer’s block hits hard and the typically ebullient musician starts to lose his cool, resorting to Youtube instructional videos and plagiarizing Lionel Richie all night long. Then he discovers a demo tape in the cellar, along with some other gubbins, and let’s just say things are never quite the same after that. As Grohl’s behavior deteriorates, a collective effort to complete a full-fledged record morphs into a nightmarish and one-sided obsession with finding an ending to a single song, a soul-sucking process that begins to tear the group apart figuratively and literally.

From electrocuted roadies and barbecued bandmates to decapitated delivery boys and mangled managers, this ridiculous horror-comedy makes sure you’ll remember the red syrupy stuff. Yet despite the former Nirvana drummer’s boundless supplies of energy and enthusiasm, Studio 666 fails to find a consistent rhythm with too many dead spots in the narrative where the camera just seems to roam the house, looking for something interesting to capture. Invariably the lightweight story meanders, leaving you with time to think about why John Carpenter’s score is more memorable than the music being produced by the actual musicians.

The writing doesn’t do the inexperienced actors many favors, either; drummer Taylor Hawkins, guitarists Pat Smear and Chris Shiflett, bassist Nate Mendel and keyboardist Rami Jaffee are predictably (dare I say acceptably) wooden in moments of high drama but surprisingly are also unconvincing during the quieter moments where they’re just hanging out, the band’s natural, time-tested camaraderie coming across more forced than it ought to. By contrast Grohl rocks pretty hard, his notorious perfectionism making him an ideal candidate for the role of Obsessive Compulsive Psycho, one that is part-trope, part-send-up of the trials and tribulations the band went through when putting together their official debut album, 1997’s The Colour and the Shape. 

Despite a nagging sense of unfulfilled potential, Studio 666 is a far cry from dire. Based on a story conceived by Grohl and written by Jeff Buhler and Rebecca Hughes, this is a novelty film where you have no problem believing those involved had a blast making it, and occasionally that enthusiasm possesses us as well.

Killer riffs but where’s the soul?

Moral of the Story: Though Studio 666 couldn’t be much gorier, it could in many instances be funnier and more impactful. Diehard fans of the band however are going to have an easier time overlooking the things the movie does not do so well. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “You’re my favorite band after Coldplay!”

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

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

Month in Review: November ’17

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

Time sure flies when you’re posting once a month! This November I think I spent more time growing a beard than growing my list of movies I need to keep tabs on. Now that we’re officially in the swing of the holiday season, awards chatter (and those WONDERFUL Christmas jingles . . .) have picked up dramatically. And there are questions. Lots and lots of questions. What movies are you most anticipating as this year comes to a close? What movies are you going to try and avoid because of crowds? Will Ridley Scott turn a miracle with All the Money in the World? What if Dunkirk takes home Best Picture? Could it be any more poetic that the great Daniel Day Lewis is choosing to bow out of the limelight after one more collaboration with Paul Thomas Anderson? And how will Phantom Thread stack up in the PTA pantheon?

There’s as much to chew on there as there was at Thanksgiving dinner. Without further ado, here’s my November in a nutshell. Movies AND music combine in this month’s round-up! Let’s do it!

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving!


New Posts 

New Releases: Thor: Ragnarok

Blindspot Selection: The Usual Suspects (1995)


Asbury Park in a Blur

On Saturday, November 18, my dad and I took a two-hour jaunt south to famed Asbury Park, New Jersey to catch Dream Theater on their 25th Anniversary tour commemorating the release of their classic ’92 album Images & Words. By the time we got there it was long after dark, and a relative ghost town, most of the shops along the boardwalk darkened in their off-season slumber. The show at the historic Paramount Theater was my fifth DT show overall, our second experience together and in as many years, and for me it’s the one that won’t be topped.

While I will forever lament my inability to time travel back to the mid-’90s, before the band’s front man and singer James LaBrie ruined his voice thanks to a bout of food poisoning, there’s something uniquely entertaining about the way he tries to compensate in the live setting. In his older age, for the notes he can’t hit (that F-sharp at the end of Live Another Day comes to mind) he simply substitutes volume for pitch. That tendency, along with the gesticulations, are the kinds of quirks that tend to leave the most lasting impression. That and Petrucci’s attempt to grow a Gandalfian beard. By the time I saw him, he was halfway there.

Saturday’s official setlist (for those interested):

Act I
Intro sample: “The Colonel” (taken from Two Steps from Hell’s album Skyward)
“The Dark Eternal Night” (Systematic Chaos)
“The Bigger Picture” (Dream Theater)
“Hell’s Kitchen” (Falling into Infinity)
“To Live Forever” (Images & Words b-side)
“Portrait of Tracy” (Jaco Pastorius cover by John Myung)
“As I Am” (Train of Thought) — segue in/out “Enter Sandman”
“Breaking All Illusions” (A Dramatic Turn of Events)
Intermission
Act 2 — “Happy New Year ’92!” sample
“Pull Me Under”
“Live Another Day”
(James LaBrie notes the strong whiffs of marijuana in the crowd. Proceeds to give the thumbs-up)
“Take the Time”
“Surrounded”
“Metropolis Pt1 Miracle and the Sleeper” — segue in/out Mike Mangini drum solo
“Under a Glass Moon”
“Wait for Sleep”
“Learning to Live”
Encore
“A Change of Seasons” (A Change of Seasons EP)

Another Two-fer

Coco · November 21, 2017 · Directed by Lee Unkrich; Adrian Molina · An absolute feast for the eyes and for the soul, Coco is another richly entertaining and emotionally nourishing adventure that follows a young boy in his quest to live a life just like that of his idol, the great Mexican singer/songwriter Ernesto de la Cruz (voice of Benjamin Bratt). Unfortunately Miguel (newcomer Anthony Gonzalez) has more than stage fright to get over if he wants to make it big. For generations the Rivera family has banned music because it is believed to be the source of great emotional pain, caused when Miguel’s great-great-grandfather walked out on his wife and child to pursue a career of fame and fortune. Rejecting music outright, each subsequent offspring turned to shoemaking as a way to make ends meet, and now that burden has fallen to Miguel. Yet for him the plucking of guitar strings is as natural as putting one foot in front of the other, and soon he finds himself going to extraordinary lengths to prove his talents as well as the fundamental flaw in his family’s extant beliefs. Coco, steeped in the resplendent color and conceptual profundity of Mexico’s “Day of the Dead” festivities, offers audiences both a reliable Pixar package and a unique opportunity to experience culture as few animated films have before. Pixar isn’t taking as big a creative leap as they did when they conceived of a plot about what’s going on inside a child’s head, but they manage to arrive at a similar emotional depth with the way Coco gives equal weight to both cultural and individual values. (4.5/5)

The Babysitter · October 13, 2017 · Directed by McG · The latest offering from the director of Charlie’s Angels takes an almost perverse pleasure in serving bullies a dose of their own medicine in a violent, profane and generally antagonistic tale about an outcast teen who learns a shocking truth about his babysitter. Australian actress Samara Weaving inhabits the role of the “hot but psycho” babysitter whose trust is violated one night when young Cole (Judah Lewis) begins to spy on her when she thinks he’s gone to bed. Somewhere in this sloppily made, middlingly acted drama you may find amusing if not righteous commentary about standing up for yourself and fighting back against . . . well, cult-y babysitters who hit (and hit on) you. It might have even worked as a suggestion of where sexual frustration begins its descent into sexual deviation. Alas, the film is more immediately concerned with the cosmetic — cleavages doused in blood-syrup; abdomens scarred by sexy wounds; the generally ridiculous way people lose their heads over things. Any number of more meaningful readings could well be accidental. The Babysitter gets decent mileage out of shameless exploitation, but it very easily could have been something more than a goofily-acted male fantasy.  (2.5/5)


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

Photo credits: my dad’s iPhone!; http://www.impawards.com

Sing Street

sing-street-movie-poster

Release: Friday, April 15, 2016 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: John Carney

Directed by: John Carney

John Carney returns to the emerald-green shores of his native Ireland for his latest quasi-musical/romantic comedy Sing Street, his third such feature after 2007’s Once and 2014’s Begin Again. Though it possesses many of the traits that made his higher-profile, New York-set dramedy an inspired blend of genre-blurring cinema and original sound, Sing Street is a woefully misguided venture that suggests people who form bands are really just in it for the notoriety and not the craft.

The film may be set in 1980s Dublin but the whole enterprise reeks of that part in Van Wilder where Ryan Reynolds professes his loneliness to some passing stranger — a college sophomore with a cute face — through the majesty of Air Supply’s ‘All Out of Love.’ Far from being the only flick to feature a boy trying to win over the girl by strumming a few chords on a Gibson acoustic, even in the context of that particular lampoon the level of cheesiness was shameless. But at least it wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. In Sing Street it is. This is a matter of love-and-death, a 14-year-old boy’s whole-hearted attempt to half-ass a band just enough to impress The Cool Chick fulfilling not only plot but thematic components.

Irish musician and singer Ferdia Walsh-Peelo makes his acting debut as Conor, the youngest of three in the Lalor clan, spearheaded by patriarch Robert (a criminally underused Aidan Gillen) and wife Penny (Maria Doyle Kennedy) who all throughout are falling out of love. With his family also plagued by financial hardship Conor finds himself transferring into Synge Street CBS, an inner-city public school where he is met on a daily basis with ridicule and hostility, most notably from bullying archetype Barry (Ian Kenny) and school principal Dr. Baxter (Don Wycherley), a disciplinarian plucked straight out of Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall.’

When Conor spots the mysterious Raphina (Lucy Boynton) standing on her stoop just across the street from his school, he’s instantly smitten — so much so that he tells her that since she’s aspiring to become a model in London she should appear in a music video he and “his band” are about to shoot. What he doesn’t tell her is that he is yet to form a band. So he sets about recruiting fellow classmates who might have some musical talent. It’s not so much recruitment as it is serendipity. A drummer, a keyboardist/pianist and a bassist all fall right into his lap. Oh, and there’s also Eamon (Mark McKenna, a 19-year-old who simply “has that look”), whose multi-instrumental abilities instantly liberate the band from sonic stodginess.

Carney strings together a few fun musical sequences where we see the band starting to find their groove. They dub themselves ‘Sing Street’ in an ironic gesture to the miserable school they attend. What begins in a back alley as a cringe-inducing exercise in amateur cover-band antics soon develops into a more unified, distinctive and fashionable quintet playing original songs. Such change is encouraged by Conor’s older brother, Brendan (Jack Reynor), a college drop-out who knows a thing or two about how this whole life thing works. Because music. Because records. Reynor is a wonderful presence, fully supportive of his brother’s decision to pursue music as a way to melt Raphina’s heart. Who knows, maybe Conor will end up finding success and breaking out of the depressing hole that is Dublin circa 1985.

Once more viewers will leave the theater with much of the soundtrack stuck in their head. And the way Carney infuses the work of real-life, established bands into the mix — Duran Duran, The Cure, The Clash, Genesis and others are called upon here — remains a strong draw. All the same, the very premise Sing Street runs with smacks of pretension. At its core Carney’s latest rings totally insincere. The music is good — often great — but the story is . . . well, it’s something else. Something kind of the opposite of good.

sing-street

Recommendation: Sing Street is bound to appeal to fans of John Carney’s previous outings as it stylistically shares a lot in common with Begin Again (this reviewer has yet to track down Once but I’d venture a guess that it’s more of the same) but the story is just god-awful. Unless you enjoy watching serendipitous little confections that make you roll your eyes so much they end up flipping backwards into your skull I gotta say give Sing Street the ole swerve. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 106 mins.

Quoted: “When you don’t know someone, they’re more interesting. They can be anything you want them to be. But when you know them, there’s limits to them.”

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

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

Dream Theater’s The Astonishing — Live

On Wednesday, October 19, 2016 the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark hosted Dream Theater for ‘An Evening With’ as the progressive-metal giants played in its entirety their brand new album, the sprawling odyssey that is The Astonishing — an epic tale of betrayal, loss, hope and redemption set in a dystopian future circa 2285 in an America not that dissimilar to the one you find in The Hunger Games.

emperors-palace

The Astonishing represents the band’s 13th studio release, and their third since the departure of original drummer and one of the band’s founding members Mike Portnoy in 2010. While the album certainly features all of the elements and ingredients that have helped maintain the band’s longevity (they’ve been rocking since 1989), The Astonishing is undoubtedly their most ambitious and most exhaustive undertaking to date, featuring 34 tracks and running over 2 hours in length over the course of two discs overflowing with virtuosic musicianship, deep emotional hooks and conceptual grandeur. It’s quite unlike anything the band has tried before and they have tried a lot of things in their 30 year history. Rumor has it that guitarist John Petrucci has ambitions of turning it into a Broadway play . . . although I’m not sure Broadway is ready for something like that. Or ever will be.

map_final

For those curious about what’s established here in The Astonishing:

The Great Northern Empire of the Americas would look eerily familiar yet terrifyingly primitive to the people who occupied roughly the same territory three centuries before. After a great calamity precipitated a gradual societal collapse, medieval-like feudalism reemerged alongside the relics of technology and “progress” from a now all but forgotten era. Safety in servitude replaced ambition. An aristocracy replaced nobility. The ever-watching omnipresent NOMACs (Noise Machines) broadcast an empty cacophony; all that remains of music and creativity in this dystopia. But in Ravenskill, a village situated on Endless Isleland, a lone voice heralds the arrival of a reawakening in human consciousness. Freedom of expression finds a way, in the purest of musical outpourings not heard in generations, to stir the hearts of the people and shake the very foundations of power.

For more, you should visit the band’s official website at dreamtheater.net.


So the Newark show was actually my fourth time seeing the band and while I can’t quite say it ranks amongst my favorite shows this experience reaffirmed the notion that Dream Theater is simply a band you have to see in the live setting. There’s something electrifying about seeing Petrucci take center stage when he dives into one of his incredibly complex solos, even if you are like me and don’t exactly count yourself amongst the elite musicians of the world (I can’t even hold a guitar the right way). The power of that musician is in itself astonishing. Every time I’ve seen the guy play — be it in Atlanta, Cleveland, Asheville or Newark — I’ve been amazed how effortlessly the guy manages to seduce his audience, holding thousands in the palm of his hand as he unleashes a maelstrom of sound through those ever-reliable Mesa Boogies.

Then of course there’s the lead singer, Canadian James LaBrie, who is a character unto himself. The number one complaint I’ve heard from people I have tried to recruit into Dream Theater Land is that they have an issue with the vocals. Why does the singer sound like that, they wonder. And I never have the right answer, other than the default “well, he’s sung opera before . . .” Come out to the live show and listen to him then. There’s a good chance he will persuade you. And last but absolutely not least the other musicians — bassist John Myung, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and drummer Mike Mangini — surround these guys with their own brand of face-melting awesomeness. It is such a complementary band, one fully attuned to its own idiosyncrasies. There’s no one quite like DT and they know it. That’s why they can get away with selling out major venues as a single act playing their new album from start to finish. How many other bands can get away with that these days? How many have albums that are long enough to sustain the length of a concert?

With all that in mind, I have to concede that The Astonishing represents my least favorite of the band’s thus far. In fact I hadn’t even listened to the entire album before seeing them reenact it on stage, a span of almost ten months. But that actually gave me a unique opportunity to treat the show as my proper introduction to the album and all that it entails. I don’t think I have ever had that experience before. Of course, that also meant not being able to sing along and anticipate some of the highs — those Petrucci solos seemingly came at random and largely caught me off-guard —  but in the end I don’t know if I would have had it any other way. This was such a different way to experience a concert, even if it ultimately hasn’t really had much of an impact on what I think of the new work. There are some good bits here and there but structurally I’m not a fan of it. And when I heard Petrucci comparing the album’s concept with that of something like Game of Thrones, I cringed. I mean, this has never been a band to float the mainstream. If anything has changed since the departure of Portnoy, it’s that they have flirted more with that line. It has gotten a little scary at times. I’m hoping with their next album we’ll revert back to stuff that’s a little more original.

The Astonishing — Live! also provided me a chance to share my love for this band with my dad, who had been getting into them ever since I introduced him to their 2005 album Octavarium some years ago. Getting him in to his first DT show was a bucket list item for me absolutely, and it feels great to be able to tick that off. There were a lot of nerves before the curtain went up for me, and I think that stemmed mostly from the fact that I was greatly anticipating how he would react. In the end, I needn’t have worried.

dream-theater

Janis: Little Girl Blue

'Janis - Little Girl Blue' movie poster

Release: Friday, November 27, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Amy J. Berg

Directed by: Amy J. Berg

Janis: Little Girl Blue isn’t the whole puzzle but it offers up a lot of significant pieces in its exploration of the life of iconic blues rocker Janis Joplin. The account offers a celebration of a life cut tragically short, packing in as much fascinating archived footage and interviews with famous faces as a 100-minute treatment can afford. Driven by a narrative that entwines tour/concert/backstage footage with letters she wrote to her family about her experiences, the film earns an emotional heft that also makes an otherwise broad documentary feel more intimate.

It’s a travesty that Joplin’s story feels so familiar. Her succumbing to a powerful drug addiction becomes downright surreal when you consider the company she keeps. Jimi Hendrix. Jim Morrison. Alan Wilson — all gone at 27. And that was just the ’70s. You would think a sense of inevitability would actually ruin the experience, and at times the knowledge of the tragedy and that this has happened so many times before (and since) does indeed loom larger than what’s taking place in front of you. Perhaps it is better, then, to think of the overdose in the motel room not so much as a destination but as just another terrible thing that happened to her. (Lest we forget her being voted ‘Ugliest Man’ in a local college paper before Janis Joplin became Janis Joplin.) Of course, it would be callous to write off her death as a footnote. The point is that this life, as writer-director Amy J. Berg thankfully recognizes, represents much more than a statistic.

Because it doesn’t focus on her passing or use the documentary format as yet another platform for stigmatizing drug abuse (though it certainly doesn’t support it), Little Girl Blue is more often than not upbeat. The singer is larger than life both in personality and reputation, her presence exuberant and ubiquitous. People surround her, if not fellow musicians and bandmates then strangers hoping some of her rubs off on them. Whenever there’s a chance for her to mug for the camera, she does. In frame she’s alluring, a rebellious spark of energy that betrays her small-town-Texas upbringing. Out of frame of course, she’s an entirely different story. When reflected upon, she’s a character in a Shakespearian tragedy.

We start by walking through her high school days where she became a target of vicious bullying not only for her physical appearance — Joplin never was the poster child for femininity but the antithetical nature of her image is partly why the world fell in love with her in the first place — but for her advocacy for racial integration in schools as well. Interviews with younger siblings provide some color to her home life and what motivated the future industrial icon to break free of her Port Arthur roots.

From there it’s a jump into Joplin’s first experiences in San Francisco. We head to North Beach and then to the intersection of Haight and Ashbury Streets, a hippie hot spot, where she’d hook up with many likeminded individuals who took notice of her natural inclination to hang out with the guys rather than the pretty Californian women. Her first stint on the west coast wasn’t great. She became heavily involved with drugs and ended up on a bus back to Texas where she’d vow to overhaul her life and adopt a lifestyle more befitting of her parents’ expectations. As history would have it, that wasn’t meant to be either.

More anticipated chapters unfold soon hereafter. We chat with members of Big Brother and the Holding Company, a psychedelic rock group on the rise (at least as far as the local counterculture of the mid-60s was concerned) and to whom Joplin fully committed herself having gained recognition for the power in her voice and the pain with which she expressed herself having endured a tortured and confusing adolescence. The story then tackles head-on the turbulence of the following years with grace and dignity: the post-BBHC fall-out, the press surrounding her decision to form a new back-up band (who remembers the Kozmic Blues Band?), flirtations with Dick Cavett, the Woodstock gig and fleeting female lovers. The ebb and flow of an infatuation with drugs and alcohol becomes more flow than ebb as romantic prospects similarly come and go.

Away from her personal troubles, mounting pressure within the industry generated by speculation over what Joplin should do with her career continued to drive the nail deeper. What is a girl to do when she becomes bigger than the band she is a part of? One might naturally assume cultural evolution would eventually create an atmosphere of acceptance and comfort. Someone with talent of this magnitude should never have to feel alone but time and again we are reminded of Joplin’s sense of isolation and helplessness as she, as some interviewees put it, grew into a caricature of herself. How much imitation is considered flattery? Was she trying too hard to be the next Aretha Franklin? Should she have stayed with BBHC?

If Joplin were any less interesting an individual Little Girl Blue would suffer from its cookie-cutter design. Along with her spunky personality it’s the little things that help set it apart. Contemporary American singer-songwriter Cat Power gives voice to Joplin’s telegrams. A view from the back of a train as it winds through California hills becomes a motif. And of course the interviews are (mostly) unique to this production. In truth, it just wouldn’t be a bonafide rock-and-roll documentary without a few well-worn edges. Almost obligatorily we have to explore beyond what’s captured on camera. Misery as a motivator. The irony and general strangeness of fame and popularity. Like with a great many acts, Joplin had a serious problem with the post-show comedown. Walking onstage is a totally different experience than walking off of it.

Berg’s efforts shouldn’t be taken as the definitive account of such a pioneering woman, but she has created mandatory viewing for anyone looking for a way to get to know the person behind the music a little bit better. The regular rhythms of a documentary based on the life of a famous person are always present but here they are as powerful as the subject is empowering.

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Recommendation: Documentary takes viewers on a tour of the many ups and downs of the life and career of one Janis Joplin. While doubtful there’s anything here that long standing fans of the blues/folk rock singer haven’t already been exposed to but the film will be a good crash course for anyone who doesn’t have much history of her. Highlights: loads of archived footage including concert performances and awkward talk-show appearances; great interviews. Lowlights: very little about the overarching narrative comes as a shock. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that this is a retrospective, not a fluff piece. Nor is it a hagiography.

Rated: NR

Running Time: 103 mins. 

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

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

Deathgasm

'Deathgasm' movie poster

Release: Friday, October 2, 2015 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jason Lei Howden

Directed by: Jason Lei Howden

Visual effects artist Jason Lei Howden’s blood-splattered horror-comedy debut may operate within some fairly limited confines but budgetary constraints seemingly have no effect on the creativity of his project and its metal-as-f**k attitude.

So you come to expect a few things with a title like Deathgasm. Those who can’t handle copious amounts of red syrup blood, here’s your exit door. Don’t let it hit you on the way out. Three-parts grindhouse gore-fest, one-part supernatural thriller with just a sprinkling of awkward humor to keep a narrative of grossness lubricated just enough, this New Zealand-produced film is, yes, absolutely ridiculous. It is so over-the-top violent I don’t know where to begin.

Let’s start at the beginning. Set in the fictional sleepy town of Greypoint, Brodie (Milo Cawthorne) is forced to move in with his religious fanatic uncle and bullying cousin after his mother is carted off to an asylum. His dad’s dead. Life is miserable for Brodie, even at school. His friends, much like himself, are clinging to the fringes of high school society and so he often finds himself diving into music to escape the humdrum of his every day existence, while keeping an eye on the cute girl, Medina (Kimberley Crossman), of course. Also of course: she is the girlfriend of none other than Brodie’s cousin.

One of the positives in Brodie’s life is the local record store. There he happens to come across Zakk (James Blake), whose unconditional love for violent-sounding but ultimately galvanizing death metal is evidenced by his all-black attire. The two decide to pour their mutual love for music into forming a band that Zakk will christen ‘DEATHGASM.’ All capital letters, because that’s f-ing metal man. One day Zakk talks Brodie into breaking-and-entering into an abandoned-looking home rumored to be where metal legend Rikki Daggers (Stephen Ure, looking somewhat more human than he did in his contributions to both the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises) still lives.

It’s here where they come into possession of some sheet music that’s simultaneously being protected by Daggers and coveted by a local cult. Soon enough the metalheads, along with dorksters Dion (Sam Berkley) and Giles (Daniel Cresswell), are experiencing first-hand the power of the music they’ve just stumbled upon. If played, what’s on the page will summon demons from the underworld. They rock out, and sure enough the world as they know it becomes overtaken by bloodthirsty creatures. The biggest problem though, is that they’re being targeted by the very cult that was originally after that sheet music.

Here’s where I should probably make mention of how much more bloodthirsty Howden is, his direction spinning off into some crazy territory where once-living humans turn into ghouls that meet some very, very messy fates. One guy gets his face removed by a belt sander. Another accepts a chainsaw where the sun don’t shine. Gorehounds and metalheads are sure to come together to champion the film for its sweet, sweet brutality and unapologetically cheesy escapist frills. The movie is pretty goddamn metal. It’s also, sadly, too sloppy for it’s own good.

Everything boils down to a confidence issue. Brodie is still learning how to jam like a bonafide rockstar and he wants to be with Medina (but only because she showed an interest first). When push comes to shove, will he be able to send those pesky demon bastards back to where they belong? Will his playing save the girl before it’s too late? Okay so I admit I just made the premise sound worse in writing but in execution there’s a lot to like, even if you just can’t avoid addressing what’s painfully obvious: learning how to play the right chords at the right moment makes for a kinda lame horror finale.

And that’s certainly not the only weak spot; half-baked logic abounds when it comes to how they plan on solving the issue (which I won’t spoil) and the usual wooden performances. And perhaps most surprising of all, there’s actually not a great deal of music. Deathgasm holds so much potential to be better, and I’ll even forgive it for it’s occasional shameless elitism (see how Brodie and Zakk introduce themselves to one another for a prime example). It’s all too easy to lay out all of the ways in which this film is just . . . plain . . . silly, but let’s not overthink things too much. Let’s take it for what it is: pretty bloody fun.

deathgasm-2

Recommendation: Bonafide guilty pleasure material, Deathgasm doesn’t quite capitalize on its whacky premise but it’s worth a watch for genre fans and it might even entice anyone who calls themselves “not much of a metal fan” because they believe they’re communicating with the Devil through their music — just to see these kids do literally just that. If you want certain stereotypes confirmed in a suitably twisted and hilarious fashion, this is totally your jam. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 86 mins.

Quoted: “Three AM Pacific . . . or three AM Eastern time? Do demons recognize daylight savings?” 

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

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.ilgiornodeglizombi.wordpress.com

On Dream Theater and the upcoming concept album

Dreamtheater-logo.svg

It’s no secret that yours truly is a diehard Dream Theater fan. (I suppose it’s somewhat of a secret seeing as I’ve only mentioned the New York-based band once on this site in the last four years.) I have attended three concerts — one in Atlanta in 2005, one in Cleveland, OH in 2007 and one in Asheville, NC (of all places) in 2010. That is precisely nowhere near as many as I would have liked to have attended so far, considering the band has released two new albums since my last trip. Despite feeling I haven’t gone to enough of them, these are without a doubt among the best experiences of my life. You want an immersive concert experience? Go to a DT show.

I regularly steer new listeners of this very niched band — so named after a now-demolished movie theater in Monterey, California — to their live performances if I learn those listeners are on the fence about them. This is a band that demonstrates profound, technical musicianship in the studio but to bear witness to this spectacle is something else entirely. I also tell these people they should take lead singer James LaBrie’s vocal approach with a grain of salt (this is the hurdle a great many people have unsuccessfully cleared when popping in one of their albums for the first time). The guy has a distinctive, powerful and often goofy operatic singing style. It took me several albums to decide if I liked him or not. Now, I can’t imagine the band without the Canuck.

Dream Theater hair fashion show

Oh, the ’80s. Gotta love ’em. Band from left to right: John Petrucci; Mike Portnoy; Charlie Dominici; Kevin Moore; John Myung

On November 2, the band had hinted through their Twitter a new album was on its way. About time! It’s been more than two years since their last effort, the longest turn-around time between releases following their split with Elektra Records in 1999. Since joining their current label Roadrunner for their first self-produced concept album, the commercially and critically acclaimed ‘Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory,’ founding members Mike Portnoy (drummer) — who departed in 2010 and was replaced by the equally talented Mike Mangini — and John Petrucci (guitars) have ensured their fans will have something to look forward to at the end of every tour, which for the most part have consumed an entire calendar year.

They then hibernate in their favorite New York recording studio to jam and eventually turn that session into a beautifully orchestrated and produced symphony of notes, harmonies, face-melting solos, and high-concept lyrical content, the likes of which have more often than not ended up in international metal magazines’ year-end lists of the greatest stuff you’ll hear all year (it is with some hesitation that I clarify: I refer more to the music than the lyrics; DT doesn’t necessarily hang their hat on their lyrics, even if this aspect isn’t by any means a weakness).

Yeah, someone here is biased. I know that. I’m fully aware that my publicizing — and premature celebrating — of the upcoming album is predicated by my long-standing relationship with the band. Time and again, however, I’ve been shown that lofty expectations be damned; the new album will always find its place somewhere in the greater story that is Dream Theater. The 2016 release, their 13th, bears the official title ‘The Astonishing.’ Leaps out of chair, fist-pumps and pulverizes knuckles on ceiling fan on accident. Music is tough love. \m/ \m/

Dream Theater's 'On the Backs of Angels' was nominated as Best Metal track of 2011. Their first nomination

Dream Theater’s ‘On the Backs of Angels’ was nominated as Best Metal track of 2011. Their first nomination. Left to right: Mike Mangini; John Myung; Jordan Rudess; James LaBrie; John Petrucci

In light of the exciting news, I’d like to attempt to back-up some of my verbal diarrhea with some factual tidbits. Well, not necessarily ‘factual’ in the strictest sense of the word; more like evidence that this is a band well worth listening to even as the members enter their late 50’s (keyboardist Jordan Rudess, who joined on the aforementioned ‘Metropolis’ album, is the oldest at 58) and despite the fact this will probably forever be the Biggest Band You’ve Never Heard Of. Below you’ll find an arrangement of their discography that I’ve prioritized based on my preferences.

It should go without saying that you shouldn’t take this as an ordering of their most popular or their most commercially viable releases or anything like that. This is my attempt to highlight their prolificness, in case anyone needs a head start on where to go — and trust me, if you like what you hear at first, there is A LOT to get into. It can be a little overwhelming. I’ll include the track I’d recommend starting with on each album, and which album I think best defines this ever-changing band. Bear in mind this is a group that has been influenced by everything from Pink Floyd to Ozzy Osbourne; from pop to blues. If you dig deep enough you’ll find references to John Lennon’s poetry and tips of the hat to Yes’ early etchings of the progressive rock scene. DT is quite literally in a category all their own. One reason I love them and can’t wait to see what they will have come up with next year.


'Octavarium' album coverAlbum: ‘Octavarium’

Release: June 7, 2005

Track:Octavarium

Recommendation: I have to send up one flag with this, my immediate go-to: it is, in DT terms, a true ‘epic.’ Clocking in at 24 minutes even, it’s one long listen. But these are some of the fastest-passing 20 minutes you’ll likely hear once you commit past the trance-inducing opening. Built upon the concept of the passage of time and sharing the album’s obsession over the musical application of ‘8’ (octave is an important element here) ‘Octavarium’ is simply a work of art. It is perhaps my all-time favorite song. Possibly because it recalls early Pink Floyd more than anything; is that ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond?’ No, it can’t be. This is a 2005 track. . .


'Scenes from a Memory' album coverAlbum: ‘Metropolis Pt 2: Scenes From a Memory’

Release: October 26, 1999

Track: Fatal Tragedy [Scene 3]

Recommendation: On an album marked by some of the most beautiful and brilliantly constructed progressive music in the last several decades, ‘Fatal Tragedy,’ merely a small part in the bigger picture of a tale about a murder and its consequences on a family and a lover caught in an affair, is one heck of a jam. It may not be the most accessible track on the record but it’s probably the most fun passage. It starts slowly and rather unsuspecting, building rapidly towards an energetic and complex battle between Petrucci’s mind-numbing guitars and Rudess’ keyboard wizardry.


'Images and Words' album coverAlbum: ‘Images and Words’

Release: July 7, 1992

Track: Learning to Live

Recommendation: Dream Theater’s most celebrated (and in my book their third greatest achievement, especially considering they were just kids when it was released . . . okay, they were roughly 20 years old) piece boasts eight tracks, each of which are essentially better than the last. It is capped off with this incredibly rich 11-minute romantic flourish with a rare lyrical contribution from bassist John Myung (a.k.a. the guy who never speaks). ‘Learning to Live’ takes some patience to digest but once you’ve opened up to it the song just gets better and better, and it features one of Petrucci’s select Spanish guitar solos. You have to hear it.


'A Dramatic Turn of Events'Album: ‘A Dramatic Turn of Events’

Release: September 12, 2011

Track: Bridges in the Sky

Recommendation: ‘Bridges in the Sky’ serves as both a centerpiece for the band’s first album following the departure of long-standing (and founding) member Mike Portnoy as well as the epitome of what DT can do with some classic, hard-hitting riffs. ‘Bridges’ boasts one of the most uplifting and exhilarating lyrical breaks/choruses in DT’s catalogue, providing LaBrie another opportunity to display his vocal range and prove that he’s not all about the excessive wailing and tongue-sticking-out stuff. (Watch him on a DVD or in concert and you’ll see what I mean.) This is a great modern metal tune with some particularly memorable lyrics. 


'Systematic Chaos' album coverAlbum: ‘Systematic Chaos’

Release: June 4, 2007

Track: The Dark Eternal Night

Recommendation: I might be venturing out into Dream Theater purist territory here but there’s no denying this heavy, morbid track epitomizes the uniqueness of DT’s sound. The ominous, heavily textured guitars and crazy lyrical inflections make ‘The Dark Eternal Night’ one of the most distinctive releases in their catalog. I’d be lying if I said this isn’t something the sickly curious should check out. Listen to that chorus. Listen to that bass line. And then the musical interlude that consumes you after the second refrain. Oh man. What a track.


'A Change of Seasons' album coverAlbum: ‘A Change of Seasons’

Release: September 19, 1995

Track: A Change of Seasons

Recommendation: Technically speaking, this is not an official studio release, as this oft-forgotten EP from the mid-90s features only one original work (the title track) amidst a collection of live cover songs, each of which are interesting in their own right. But this sprawling adventure is too good not to recommend. This 23-minute long track encompasses a variety of strong emotions and manages to sneak in a quote or two from the hugely successful drama Dead Poets Society. Lyrically inspirational and featuring one of the more blues-y guitar breaks in recent memory, this utterly progressive epic is a must for DT completionists.


'When Dream And Day Unite' album coverAlbum: ‘When Dream and Day Unite’

Release: March 6, 1989

Track: Afterlife

Recommendation: Arguably the stand-out track on the debut album from a band that at the time called themselves Majesty, ‘Afterlife’ is an exciting, enchanting pondering of what lies beyond. While clearly lacking in the clean production of later albums — this was the band’s first and only album to fail to produce a subsequent tour — WDADU (which has a hilarious phonetic pronunciation of “what’d I do?!”) represents several hallmark idiosyncrasies that would later endear millions to the band. This track in particular features a wicked guitar solo that leads into one of the best guitar-keyboard unisons I have ever heard. This album also marked the first and only album featuring former singer Charlie Dominici and the first of two collaborations with then-keyboardist Kevin Moore, who has since disassociated himself with the band for reasons unknown.


'Train of Thought' album coverAlbum: ‘Train of Thought’

Release: November 11, 2003

Track: Stream of Consciousness

Recommendation: I have debated inserting this selection as my #1 choice as its distinct lack of vocals makes it a potentially more accessible passage, given singer James LaBrie’s unique singing style, yet I wouldn’t quite feel right doing so on the virtue of specifically excluding one of the core members. Nevertheless, ‘Stream of Consciousness,’ which represents one of several of DT’s instrumental tracks, is absolutely classic. It features exquisitely complex guitars and drums, both in hair-tearing medleys and in isolation; and one of the most recognizable riffs in DT’s catalog. It is available on an album that is more straightforward metal than anything they’ve done and is one of the first songs that got me into the band.


'Falling Into Infinity' album coverAlbum: ‘Falling Into Infinity’

Release: September 23, 1997

Track: Trial of Tears

Recommendation: The band was going through a particularly difficult patch in their careers at the time of this release. As a band that has largely been defined by their unique sound and bold decision to consistently produce lengthier songs in an era where songs seem to only be getting shorter, DT was facing incredible pressure from the label to put together a more radio-friendly product. The tension was enough to almost end the band completely, but rather than folding they came up with perhaps their most overlooked album. It’s a shame because it features ‘Trial of Tears,’ a gorgeously composed, relatively mellow exercise in aural hypnosis. Penned once again by the quietly prolific John Myung, it’s an exclamation point on a strong album that has perhaps taken far too much criticism


'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' album coverAlbum: ‘Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence’

Release: January 29, 2002

Track: Misunderstood

Recommendation: There are too many choices when it comes to DT’s follow-up to their seminal ‘Scenes From a Memory.’ ‘Six Degrees’ manifests as another concept album, one split over two discs and featuring five lengthier tracks on disc one — each one a build-up to disc two’s “six degrees of inner turbulence,” a nod to the various states of psychological distress and ailments. While I could spend hours nitpicking through the brilliance of the second disc, ultimately what this comes down to is uniqueness. And track #3 on disc one is the epitome of it. Some have made it known that they weren’t overly enamored by DT’s more experimental movement in ‘Misunderstood,’ and even I have to admit the last few minutes of the song remain bizarre to me but it’s the overall piece I’m concerned with. ‘Misunderstood’ is atmospheric and its lyrical content is a highlight. John Petrucci wants to know, “How can I feel abandoned even when the world surrounds me?”


'Awake' album coverAlbum: ‘Awake’

Release: October 4, 1994

Track: Lifting Shadows Off a Dream

Recommendation: This is certifiably obscure DT but I love ‘Lifting Shadows Off a Dream.’ Leave it to John Myung to provide dense, mysterious yet ultimately optimistic lyrics. The ninth in an 11-track collection of decidedly heavier songs following 1992’s break-out hit ‘Images and Words,’ this song ultimately falls on the generally more accessible side of the spectrum as it restrains technicality in favor of melody and lyrical content. A perfect example of the band knowing when it’s appropriate to scale back their almost obsessive meticulousness. 


'Dream Theater' album coverAlbum: ‘Dream Theater’

Release: September 23, 2013

Track: Illumination Theory

Recommendation: E-hem. Yes. At 23 minutes, ‘Illumination Theory’ puts the finishing touches on an album marked with a distinctly cinematic motif, with many a riff and refrain echoing the grandeur of movie scores. Just once I’d like for this band to score a movie, and well, I guess the guys have already played with that notion. Here’s one idea of what that might sound like. Though I still don’t fully grasp what the title refers to, suffice it to say the musical content speaks for itself. Sitting pretty in the middle of this gorgeous epic is one of the most extensive orchestral breaks DT has yet featured, leading listeners to believe the song may bow out on a quieter note. But any regular listeners aren’t likely to be fooled so easily. Indeed, Petrucci and friends erupt into a spectacular crescendo down the stretch, and, along with an almost never-better LaBrie at the mic, finish the song and their most recent album off in traditionally dramatic fashion. 


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Photo credits: http://www.wikipedia.org; http://www.teamrock.com; http://www.musictimes.com; http://www.metal-archives.com; http://www.amazon.com; http://www.blabbermouth.net 

Straight Outta Compton

Release: Friday, August 14, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: Jonathan Herman; Andrea Berloff

Directed by: F. Gary Gray

F. Gary Gray’s first directorial outing in six years debuted last weekend to the most successful opening for a musical biopic in cinematic history. Ignoring the 20 years that have elapsed since the tragic passing of N.W.A founder Eazy-E the occasion might not seem auspicious, but for anyone who has been keeping track they would hardly describe the film’s release as straight out of nowhere.

It probably would help make an already solid production even more absorbing if I weren’t so ignorant to the history and culture this iconic group were simultaneously being molded by and molding themselves. To me, Gray’s latest seemed like a random and trivial release. That’s why it has taken me a week to get to it. And though it still feels more random than commemorative there’s very little about its raw power and dynamic beat that feels trivial. Straight Outta Compton is a very good film, made so by the fact that you don’t need to dig hip hop to appreciate the gravity of this story.

Its total run time of two and a half hours at first seems daunting — ultimately it is a little too long — but the number of scenes in which checking one’s phone is tempting is kept to a surprising minimum. Like N.W.A in the prime of their hard-hitting and layered lyricism, the narrative is a well-oiled machine, boasting fluid pacing, lasting momentum and confident direction. More importantly, since there will be far more than gangsta rap fans in attendance, the chronicle is straightforward and digestible, navigating the tumultuous formative years through to the crescendo of success and ending, as many musical biopics do, on a bittersweet note as the group fragments.

Compton requires a modicum of patience, particularly in the opening third where Gray takes his time developing by-now highly recognizable personalities in the form of Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Ice Cube (played by his real-life son O’Shea Jackson Jr.), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge) and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.). Interestingly Arabian Prince, despite having a role in the formation of the group, was deemed too much of a peripheral character to warrant inclusion. The opening sequence sees Eazy-E flirting with death during a chaotic police raid on a drug den, a nod toward an alternative future a few of these young men might have faced were it not for the forthcoming tête-à-tête shared between E and Dre in a night club, the same club in which the latter had been struggling for some time to get himself recognized as a DJ/producer.

It’s not long before the pair are able to spin an argument that will convince Cube to leave his current group, C.I.A., as well as the high-spirited DJ Yella and loyal MC Ren to offer their talents to this mix of raw, surprisingly focused talent. A rudimentary sound studio becomes quickly filled with groupies and curious listeners. And then E is approached by music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti), with whom the rapper co-founds their first label, Ruthless Records. The rest, as they say, is history.

Giamatti could have been the x-factor in Compton as his celebrity status, despite his affinity for disappearing into his roles, flagged up a potential distraction. But once more he pulls a Houdini, seemingly comfortable with a striking wave of white hair and that glint in his eye that gives us pause for concern whether he is a man to be fully trusted. You can almost picture an honorary gold chain necklace draped around his neck but fortunately this is not a movie built upon stereotype or offensive fabrication (despite the real Heller’s reactions to his portrayal).

There is a caveat to that, though. Or, I guess a second. The biopic isn’t immune to all forms of stereotype; that it focuses so intensely on the group (read: the trio of E, Cube and Dre) means there are casualties of Gray’s fixations. Women — special shout-out to Felicia! — fare worse than the police, coming in droves, forming the requisite mise-en-scene once the group starts stockpiling dollar bills faster than ideas for potentially future hit singles. But given the lyrical content of much of N.W.A’s work, is the visible misogyny all that shocking?

This could be controversial, but I argue that the harmony between Compton‘s scantily clad extras and Cube’s verve for undressing and (swear-word)ing them umpteen to the dozen doesn’t quite ring alarm bells like the racial tensions that ever more define the thrust of the narrative. A well-timed insertion of footage of the Rodney King beating and subsequent fall-out inspire outrage, an outrage that strengthens our bond with these characters. If N.W.A’s personal experiences with the hostile LAPD didn’t create a united front then this disturbing news reel is the insurance Gray needed. The acquittal of the officers on obvious charges — abuse of power and excessive force, the mechanism that drove songs like ‘F**k Tha Police’ and ‘Gangsta Gangsta’ — signals a low point in the sociopolitical climate specific to the film and the decade it damns in its final act.

Compton is consistently compelling, becoming a party as quickly as it turns ugly, examining extraordinary lives in perpetual transition. While it’s not always fun to watch it is important and the three-act structure serves the material well. The voices of Compton needed more microphones, a bigger stage. In Gray’s testament to the power of music they get both.

Recommendation: Straight Outta Compton is a very well-acted and confidently directed tale that serves its unique subject well. It’s a testament to the quality of Gray’s direction that it remains a highly involving story even when knowing next to none of the lyrics that have popularized N.W.A since 1986. I highly recommend giving this a watch on the big screen as these personalities, as influential as they have been, somehow feel even larger than life in this format.

Rated: R

Running Time: 147 mins.

Quoted: “Speak a little truth and people lose their minds.”

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

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

Love & Mercy

Release: Friday, June 5, 2015 (limited)

[Theater]

Written by: Oren Moverman; Michael Alan Lerner

Directed by: Bill Pohlad

Capturing the life of one of rock’n roll’s most luminous figures in The Beach Boys’ very own Brian Wilson poses obvious challenges. Painting broad strokes risks missing all those curious little imperfections, while delving into a day-in-the-life could yield a movie so large a mini-series event would seem a better format. There’s also the issue of casting the part.

Bill Pohlad’s love letter to the heyday of The Beach Boys phenomenon opts for the general specific, briefly opening a window into two different phases of Wilson’s colorful life, offering intimacy before slamming shut and locking forever once again. Despite aching with nostalgia Love & Mercy‘s potency actually stems from its uncanny ability to translate a simple cause and effect into an immersive experience. How Wilson’s young star (Paul Dano), brilliant but troubled, begets an aging, broken man (John Cusack), housebound and saddled with a routine that sees him less functional and more conforming. Some might describe it as a typical downfall, but typical isn’t the word I’d use to describe Wilson.

Pohlad might have gone the documentary or mini-series route, but then he’d have missed the opportunity to showcase Oscar-worthy performances from his leads, both of whom are clearly smitten by the chance to simultaneously dramatize this most peculiar musician. In the sixties, following the critical and commercial successes of albums like Surfin’ U.S.A. and Today!, Dano is magnetic. He becomes Wilson, dropping his trademark and quite contradictorily unsavory appeal in favor of an effusive personality tailored to fit the profile of musical genius. He’s pushing for a new Beach Boys sound as the band enters its eleventh studio album in Pet Sounds, a production that didn’t see the warmest reception on American shores due to its detouring into the . . . well, weird.

Love & Mercy provides ground-floor access into a studio that can’t hope to contain all the ideas young Brian Wilson, already fragile, has pouring out of him. But the story moves beyond those walls and into the eighties, embracing Cusack’s forty-something version, a character who, while representing a stark contrast from Dano’s, arguably is a more crucial component. Similar to young Brian’s often happenstance discovery of unique acoustics (the aforementioned 1966 release certainly hints at a memorable recording experience), older Brian’s stumbling into a car dealership has profound implications for his life post-Beach Boys.

Elizabeth Banks’ Melinda Ledbetter isn’t aware to whom she is potentially selling a Cadillac in an opening scene. Cusack is unabashedly sincere, playing a man mellowed almost to the point of self-denial, though he’s polite and charming. Melinda will be his saving grace, an oasis of beauty whose infatuation is reciprocated across a number of romantic escapades. In middle age, Brian has deteriorated considerably and is kept watch over by his suffocating psychotherapist, a Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti, also fantastic). Supposedly the man is Brian’s legal guardian after the death of his father. As Melinda spends increasing amounts of time with Brian she realizes there is a great deal more to the story behind his darting eyes and weary smile.

Love & Mercy isn’t quite like its subject; it doesn’t exactly reshape the biopic if even subtly. There are tropes and there are predictable resolutions. Yet the two timelines complement one another so well the journey resonates on a much deeper level than average entertainment. Beyond superb performances from an engaging cast, Love & Mercy lives up to its title, offering up an abundance of both in its intense scrutiny of a figure many shouldn’t be blamed for assuming is a perpetually upbeat, satisfied human being. Melinda’s introduction is hardly a product of genius screenwriting but let’s not dismiss her as a product, period. Banks — as does Cusack — breathes life into her character, committing some of her finest work to date.

Pohlad’s fascination with the enigmatic also gives fans new context for some of The Beach Boys’ less recognizable tracks as well as those that have been played mercilessly over and again. We are privy to Wilson’s iconic vocals as much as we are to the tension he creates between his bandmates as his grip on reality slowly but surely loosens. Love & Mercy is as much an auditory sensation as it is visually arresting. Settings and wardrobe take us back several decades; tranquility eventually wins out over the disturbing, often painful psychological and emotional bruising. In many senses it is heartbreaking. Uplifting. Intoxicating. Bound to be a classic.

Brian Wilson’s cinematic treatment may never convince major theaters it’s worth their while but it won’t need to. Love & Mercy is a biopic gifted with a massive fan base already built in and, impressively, doubles as an eye-opening experience for general audiences as well as those leery of the California dream.

Recommendation: Love & Mercy isn’t a film just for fans of the legacy of Brian Wilson and/or The Beach Boys, though it’ll no doubt help elevate the experience. This is a profoundly touching experience, one that I couldn’t help becoming more enthusiastic about in the days following. It may not haunt you the same way it has me, but may I recommend this one on the strength of its performances at the very least. A very welcomed surprise in the middle of this summer blockbuster bash. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 121 mins.

Quoted: “We’re not surfers, we never have been, and ‘real’ surfers don’t dig our music anyway!”

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

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

Frank

Release: Friday, September 5, 2014 (limited)

[Netflix]

Written by: Jon Ronson; Peter Straughan

Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson

Any film that strives to turn Domhnall Gleeson into a thoroughly unlikable character is one I’m uncomfortable watching. Frank is just such a film.

Focusing on an aspiring musician who stumbles upon an eccentric pop band with an unpronounceable name (they call themselves The Soronprfbs), this oddball comedy does its best to distance itself from an audience looking to make connections with key characters. Its best is more than enough.

After witnessing a drowning at a local beach, Jon (Gleeson) finds himself being ushered into the band. They have a show to play that night and they need his help filling in on keyboards as that was in fact their keyboardist trying to drown himself. Excited for the opportunity, he shows up for a bizarre display of nonconformist musicianship, the heir apparent to a suicidal keyboardist — what a great guy.

Jon initially assumes his role in the band would be that of a temporary hired-gun. His involvement soon extends to filling in on a more permanent basis as The Soronprfbs seclude themselves in an isolated cabin in the Irish countryside to record a full album. Jon bemoans the fact no one told him this would be more than a weekend gig, citing he has to return to work as soon as possible. His kidnappers don’t much care though, for they have a lot of work to do. Seemingly this is now his job, trying to find a way to fit in amongst a crew of ragtags who themselves don’t fit in elsewhere.

There’s the dude who first offers Jon the chance to play, Don (Scoot McNairy). His determination to become someone he’s not is simultaneously driving him mad. We’ve got the non-English speaking Baraque (François Civil) and Nana (Carla Azar), who don’t do much beyond moping about and remaining wary about Jon’s presence. Then, chief among the antagonists — I’m sure none of these people are meant to be perceived that way but let’s just say these are some talented actors here — is Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Clara, a nutcase who takes an instant dislike to Jon and makes life in the band a living nightmare for him. Her role is akin to that of someone you come across in your early grade school years who constantly picks on you, but all along the bullying is that person’s way of saying they dig your vibe.

Unfortunately the only person’s vibe I can really dig in this oppressively odd film is Michael Fassbender and his papier-mâché head/mask. As Frank, Fassbender is simultaneously the leader of The Soronprfbs and the stand-out acting talent. He’s empathetic given the obviousness and severity of his mental condition. He’ll never remove the head/mask, a fact that yields all sorts of questions ranging from his ability to function in social settings to his general hygiene. Answers to a few of these are admittedly provided with a compelling, brutal honesty when Jon is able to convince the band to make an appearance at the SXSW festival, where he hopes their efforts to represent a very . . . different . . . music experience will finally provide them an audience willing to reciprocate their uniqueness. It’s an undertaking that does not at all go according to plan.

Despite few of the members being likable on any level, it’s clear there are sides to be taken in this awkward, personal tug-of-war. Jon’s main purpose is to become the wedge between Frank and the rest of the band. Amidst the hostility and intolerance that defines The Soronprfbs’ dysfunction there exists this competition to be ‘the next Frank.’ It’s a mentality that explains Clara’s treatment of Jon — she doesn’t believe he has any talent or originality whatsoever and is trying too hard to be like Frank; a mentality that also sums up the fates of other members who have stepped out of the band.

Abrahamson’s fourth directorial effort manifests as a sincere reflection of mental illness but sadly this is a production difficult to enjoy or even sympathize with. An hour-and-a-half featuring people arguing and making something akin to music. Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn about any of it.

Recommendation: If kinky films are what you dig, then maybe Frank will be something you might enjoy. With disagreeable characters, languid pacing and a band that makes no sense, it is a difficult one to recommend to anyone else. Even though the characters are largely detestable, my bigger issue is that it combined that with a theme of social anxiety that didn’t really work. Plus the film feels so much longer than 95 minutes would suggest. I was prepared for a different kind of watch, but maybe not one this repellent. It’s almost as if the film was actively trying not to be enjoyable.

Rated: R

Running Time: 95 mins.

Quoted: “Stale beer. Fat f**ked, smoked out. Cowpoked. Sequined mountain ladies. I love your wall. Put your arms around me. Fiddly digits, itchy britches. I love you all.”

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