Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

 

It’s been over a year since I updated this page.  A lot has happened.  I’d love to say I’ve been doing all my writing over at Daily Grindhouse, but the truth is, I haven’t done all that much writing in the past couple years. Trying mighty hard to change that. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get up in the morning and go to work and be there for my family and do the bare minimum required of me as a human being. It’s been that kind of a stretch. But there have been several things I’ve written at Daily Grindhouse and even a couple other places, so I’ll get back on track about sharing them here.

 

First, I’ll post my reflection on the movie MANDY, which I ran on Daily Grindhouse today. I saw the movie on my birthday, September 16th, and then again two more times on the small screen over the past two months before I was finally ready to write anything. Now I did, and it’s the one thing I’ve done in quite a while that I feel remotely satisfied with. I said what I wanted to say. Now I’d love to know what you think.

 

 

 

At best and at worst, movies serve as emotional prisms. Movies aren’t just stories, aren’t just artwork, aren’t just moving pictures with music. Movies are the baggage that we bring to them. A movie like MANDY, all baroque flourishes and deliberate broad strokes, is particularly revealing in the way it refracts its audience, splitting light in all sorts of directions. MANDY has been rapturously received by several. That’s an authentic reaction. But MANDY may not work for others, and they’re not wrong either. They can’t be. I’ve seen MANDY three times now and while I fall far more on the side of affection for it, even still, I’ve felt a little differently about it each time. How can that be? Some movies — maybe all — have a lot to do with the people watching them. A person’s reaction to a movie can and will vary, depending on whichever self shows up at in front of the screen on that day, at that time, in that exact moment.

 

The plot of MANDY is easily described, by design. A lumberjack named Red, when not working, lives a hermetic but harmonious existence with his girlfriend Mandy in the mountains of eastern California, an existence that is upended by the arrival of a would-be prophet named Jeremiah Sand, who becomes fascinated with Mandy and orders his acolytes to abduct her. When she rejects him, Sand murders Mandy horribly and grotesquely in full view of Red, which sets Red off on the bloody road to revenge.

 

With a storyline that elemental, the specifics are all in the presentation. That’s why the mileage varies so wildly.

 

The movie announces itself more like a 1970s rock record than a movie. In crimson, uncredited words appear on the screen, underscored by an electric-guitar overture: “When I die Bury me deep Lay two speakers at my feet Wrap some headphones Around my head And rock and roll me When I’m dead.” It took a little digging for me to find the source of that quote. Sure sounds like something a frontman might yell out to an arena while looking out at the tiny flames of a dozen-thousand cigarette lighters. But that’s not the source. Those were the last words of a murderer, just before he was executed for his crimes. In reality, in Texas, in 2005. So this florid, subjective, surreal film is grounded in a very distinct, very bleak place, though that would surely be lost on at least 99% of any audience, as it was on me.

 

The music opening MANDY is “Starless” by King Crimson, again placing this film musically and tonally somewhere between prog-rock and heavy metal. The visual world of MANDY opens as Red is completing a logging job, with a notably processed shot of a thick tree falling as Red turns from it to head to the helicopter airlifting him off-site. Red is a smoker. He tosses his cigarette away. He wears a baseball jersey with the number 44 on it. Shirts are important in this film. Inside the helicopter, a colleague offers Red a flask, but Red waves it away. Immediately that’s a detail that registers.

 

 

Mandy is introduced lips-first, as she takes a smoke. Her face is introduced alongside her painted artwork, currently in process. Red arrives home, turning off a radio playing a Reagan speech which pins the timeframe of this story in the early 1980s. A stylized, sparkling blue title card announces this is happening around the Shadow Mountains, ‘circa 1983.’ The Shadow Mountains are a real place which may sound like the name of a prog-rock or metal track title. When he enters the house, Red announces himself to Mandy with a knock-knock joke with no real punchline. He’s played by Nicolas Cage, instantly recognizable as such. Mandy is played by Andrea Riseborough, less world-famous, sure, but still a prominent talent, who here is unrecognizable by contrast. She shows him the painting she’s been working on, and he’s impressed, though not particularly articulate about it.

 

The scene shifts to the middle of the night, with a bluish glow reminiscent of the scene-setting title card. Red and Mandy lie together in bed, not sexually but intimately, talking of space and of the Marvel character Galactus. The cinematography by Benjamin Loeb, already flush with color, takes on a new glow here — the movie is already parting from reality long before any of the characters partake in mind-altering substances. In the morning, Mandy wakes to the sound of an unidentifiable animal. She goes out to the woods alone, where she finds a dead fawn. Was this the source of the sound, or the result of it? Either way, Mandy sheds a tear. That night, she shares with Red a troubling story about starlings from her childhood. Between small birds and small deer, Mandy appears to empathize with the peaceful creatures of the world. She identifies with the animals who are often prey. At the end of her story, Red says only, “Oh baby, come here,” and embraces her. It’s notable that what little personal background we get of these characters comes all on the side of Mandy. We don’t know anything of Red’s past, save one detail from which we can infer plenty.

 

 

Mandy goes for a walk and a smoke along a mountain road, which is where she encounters the van driven by Jeremiah Sand’s Children Of The New Dawn. The scene is filtered red, and everyone inside the van appears to be varying degrees of stoned. The heretofore idyllic score by Jóhann Jóhannsson turns malevolent. The screen freezes on Mandy’s face as she passes the van and her eyes meet Sand’s, in a stylish flourish that could just as well have come from an early Tobe Hooper film.

 

The narrative is hijacked here by the movie’s villain, a la PSYCHO or MANHUNTER, and not just the narrative, but the filmmaking style itself. In an interview with Rue MorgueMANDY director Panos Cosmatos reveals Linus Roache was not the first choice for Sand. In fact, he was thinking of Nicolas Cage. For sure, Jeremiah Sand is a role anyone can imagine Cage playing, with relish. Cage would not be the obvious choice for a taciturn character like Red, and likewise, Linus Roache, a fine actor, is not who any genre fan would have expected to play a deranged cult leader. In some ways, his performance is the boldest and most inarguably creditable aspect of the film. Roache invests the role with exactly the level of histrionic high-low ferociousness that Cage would have done, and he’s excellent.

 

Sand sends his henchmen after Mandy. One of them, Mother Marlene, played by Irish stage actress Olwen Fouéré, first approaches Mandy at the convenience store where she works, posing as a friendly customer. Mandy mentions she lives “up by Crystal Lake,” the naming of which cannot be a coincidence in a film like this one. Meanwhile, another henchman, Brother Swan (also played by an Irish actor little known to American audiences, Ned Dennehy), uses an instrument called the Horn Of Abraxas to summon up fearsome figures from deep in the woods, who resemble something that could have resulted from a collaboration between George Miller and Clive Barker. These men are the Black Skulls, and the first time I saw this movie, it didn’t even occur to me that these characters WEREN’T supernatural in origin, which I think is probably the point. If MANDY is a film that exists apart from reality as we perceive it, the Black Skulls, whose closest cinematic precedents are the Gimp from PULP FICTION and the Plague in HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN, feel like they exist from a reality even apart from MANDY, if that makes sense. They arrive by sound first, monstrous, and pull up on motorcycles and ATVs. Their faces are masked in leather and they snarl inaudibly. Brother Swan is visibly terrified by them. The Black Skulls accept a human sacrifice, taking one of Sand’s more expendable followers with them for undisclosed purposes, before proceeding to siege and befoul Mandy and Red’s sanctuary of a home.

 

The abduction is a horror-movie scene, and a violation of the sanctity of the three-act structure to boot. The movie’s inciting incident comes at the midpoint, if not precisely then intuitively. This disregard for convention, the kind of convention that is traditionally comforting, I think is the main reason some people are turned off to MANDY. Others call it pretentious, or predictable, and while I can’t disagree, I perceive a sincerity in the making of this film that allows me to buy into it whole-heartedly.

 

From here, the film takes a hyperdrive warp into psychedelia, as Mother Marlene “prepares” Mandy for Sand by dosing her with a sting from a [noticeably fake-looking] giant wasp. As Mandy reels from the intoxicating effect, one of the film’s most indelible, disturbing, hilarious, and temporarily gratifying scenes transpires, as Sand plays Mandy a track from his terrible folk album (where he sings lyrics extolling his own greatness) and then literally exposes himself to her. It’s disgusting and weird and upsetting, which is why it’s such a hero moment when Mandy laughs in his face, spurning his music and his speeches and his dick.

 

The victory is short-lived, because that’s when Sand and his followers burn Mandy alive, with Red bound and gagged and forced to watch the entire destruction of the love of his life. This is an odd moment to bring up the matter of costuming, but I’d like to point out that in Mandy’s final scene, she’s wearing Red’s “44” jersey, while Red is wearing a black-and-red jersey (not for nothing, the same colors as Red’s truck), emblazoned with the face of a tiger. Again, these small details register. Swan hands Sand the “Tainted Blade of the Pale Night” — these people have florid names for all of their belongings — and Sand stabs Red in the gut, vowing he and Mandy will see “the cleansing power of fire.” The viewer realizes we’ve already seen Mandy for the last time, since the Children of the New Dawn carry her out of the house inside a burlap sack, which they string up and set ablaze. The camera hones in on Red’s tormented face, all the more painful because Mandy has already been turned into an inanimate object — neither Red nor we the viewer get a chance to say goodbye.

 

Again, mileage may vary, but for me this scene works as intended, not least because of the force of Jóhann Jóhannsson’s score — sadly, his last — which in this moment is equally sad and horrifying. If MANDY is a film that intentionally aligns itself with music, it’s impossible to overstate the heavy lifting this film’s score provides. Also interesting is how Cosmatos and Loeb handle the aftermath. The music subsides, and the lighting goes more “natural” and less apocalyptic. Sand and his people get into their cars and drive away, leaving Red tied up and bleeding, but alive. To me, this is how trauma feels, the way the most mundane observations of sight and sound register after one’s entire world has been altered forever.

 

Red frees himself and watches as the wind blows away the ashes which are all that remain of Mandy. He staggers inside, clad only in his tiger shirt and tighty-whities, and sees that the TV is still on. It’s playing what has already become MANDY‘s most meme-worthy (and in some quarters, maligned) element, the “Cheddar Goblin” commercial, for which Cosmatos recruited Casper Kelly, the absurdist mind behind “Too Many Cooks.”

 

 

Red mutters, “Cheddar Goblin,” and lies down, passing out. In a weird way, this was a relatable moment to me on par with the moment in this year’s HEREDITARY, the aftermath of the accident in which Peter realizes what’s happened to his sister Charlie and is stunned into catatonia. I’ve been there. I hope you haven’t been.

 

One more time, the very substance of MANDY alters as Red has a vision of Mandy in death — presented in a brief animated segment, which is something I don’t think we’ve seen since KILL BILL. And then Red wakes up. He grabs a bottle of vodka and still bleeding, storms into the bathroom, screaming gutturally in grief and drinking. He sits down on the toilet, still wearing only that tiger shirt and his underwear, and cries. This, to me, is the heart of the film. As I said up top, any one movie can be a lot of things to a lot of people. To me, MANDY is a story about a relapse.

 

 

 

Red goes to the trailer of his friend Caruthers, who is played by the estimable Bill Duke, an under-heralded filmmaker and creative force best known as a character actor, who I revere for his work in PREDATOR. Red tells Caruthers what happened, and says he’s come “for The Reaper.” All of this is bizarrely exciting because it suggests some odd backstory we can only invent for ourselves — how does Red know Caruthers? Why is Caruthers holding a weapon for Red? Why do these guys name their weapons? (And does that make them too different from the Children of the New Dawn?)

 

Another highly-stylized chapter heading comes on screen — Mandy’s name, in the form of red veiny lines that almost appear to be transforming the name into a beating heart. It’s also the movie’s title — here now, over an hour into the film, only now does the title screen appear. Red speeds out in his truck in search of the Black Skulls. It’s telling to note that what was for an hour’s time a dreamy romantic reverie and a phantasmagoric horror show has now transmogrified into MANDY in its most crowd-pleasing form, a full-on action-revenge picture, with action-film icon Bill Duke serving as its herald.

 

As Red tears through the Black Skulls in a fit of fury and blood, he cracks one-liners and absurdist Cage-isms (“You’re a vicious snowflake!”)  and snorts some of the coke they’ve left lying around their lair. Again, this is a relapse. The violence is relapse. That it’s the movie’s most entertaining mode is what makes it disturbing — again, to me. There’s a sort of release in relapse. It’s thrilling to rip shit up, even if what you’re ripping up is your own life, or someone else’s. It’s clear by now that Red has been holding back — declining to drink, committing no violence worse than cutting down trees, and choosing instead to love and live with Mandy — but the loss of her has given him permission to unleash whatever fury he’d been holding back. If this were an Oscar-minded drama about the struggles of alcoholism, we would not want to see Red drink again, but since it’s framed as a revenge picture, we crave the relapse as much as he does. And that’s upsetting. It’s upsetting in the pleasure of it.

 

 

Also intriguing is how Red is wearing the “44” jersey in the scenes where he tears through the Black Skulls. The last time we saw that shirt was on Mandy. Really, this is the movie’s least noticeable but most notable break from “reality” — how is Red wearing a shirt Mandy had on when she died? It makes no sense, unless you maybe want to consider that Red is now Mandy’s avatar, acting out the physical equivalent of the laughter she’d leveled at Sand. In other words, the only sense it makes is movie-sense.

 

After killing all the Black Skulls, Red makes his way to their drug supplier, The Chemist (Tom-Petty-esque character actor Richard Brake), whose warehouse includes a tiger in a cage. The Chemist introduces the tiger as “Lizzie,” and as Red glares at him, covered in the blood of dead enemies, The Chemist seems to get the message, and sets Lizzie free. (Remember Red’s tiger jersey?) This particular symbolism may appear to be peripheral, but it isn’t too subtle.

 

Red continues to travel north, and when he stops to rest, he has another animated dream, this time of a nude Mandy caring for a wounded and bloody half-tiger/half-man. She reaches inside his wounds and pulls out a glowing green diamond, and then Red wakes up. He continues on to his final battles, all of which transpire in a canyon which absolutely could have doubled for a FURY ROAD set. The most gore is yet to come. Red splits Brother Swan’s head apart to interrupt him when he references the quote, “Better to burn out than to fade away” (guess Red isn’t a Neil Young fan), engages in a duel of oversized chainsaws with Sand’s most formidable henchman that ends as you might expect, enters Sand’s triangular temple and beheads Mother Marlene, and crushes Sand’s skull with his bare hands. The last two victims both offer Red sex in an attempt to persuade him to spare their lives, but Red has no interest in anything but destruction. After killing them all, Red burns the entire place down.

 

Even during my first screening of MANDY, all this climactic violence felt inevitable. Though it’s never uninteresting to watch, not remotely!, the movie is long since out of surprises. That has significance. From that first absurdist knock-knock joke to Mandy’s harrowing story about the starlings, all of the mystery, all of the reward, was in the relationship between Red and Mandy. Once that’s destroyed, it’s not hard to predict where the movie will go. Without love, without hope, there’s nothing but death. In the final moment of the movie, as Red drives away from the battlefield still caked in blood so thick his skin itself appears red(!), he first flashes back to the very first time his eyes met Mandy’s — the film’s sole flashback — and then he has a vision of Mandy, looking at him from the passenger seat. She’s holding a cigarette and smiling. Many viewers will look at this moment as a last visit with an avenged loved one, a bittersweet moment, such as we get in films like THE CROW. That’s what I’d like to see. That’s not what I see.

 

In the film’s final moment, Red turns to his vision of Mandy and bares his teeth in something approximating a smile, but in truth he’s no longer capable. She’s gone. His hope is gone. The end credits roll without music, possibly only the first or second time the movie has been without it. There’s nothing left for Red. It’s over. This is why you fear the relapse.

 

All of that said, at the very end of the credits, you can hear starlings chirping. And after the credits, the final image we see is a portrait of Red, as done by Mandy and left on her drawing table. She’s not gone, not completely. There’s something left. There always is.

 

 

 

 

 

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WORDS ABOUT MUSIC: BOB DYLAN.

Posted: October 13, 2016 in Music

 

Everybody’s talking about Bob Dylan today, so I figured I’d check to see if I’d ever written anything about his work, and hey look, here’s this thing from 2011:

 

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For Bob Dylan’s seventieth birthday this week, Rolling Stone put out a list of the 70 Greatest Dylan Songs.  I’m no authority, so I’m not about to quibble with the ordering. In fact, it says plenty about the uncanny depth of this essential artist’s discography that he has so many more than 70 great songs. (So many prominent musical artists stop with the greatness after just three or four.) But Bob Dylan means a lot of things to a lot of people, and I thought it would be fun to name the songs that mean the most to me (off the top of my head).

 

My mom loves Bob Dylan and he means maybe the most to her generation, who came up with Dylan in the 1960s. That’s how I first came to hear Bob Dylan, with his protest songs and folk tunes. “Blowin’ In The Wind” (Rolling Stone’s #20) and “The Times They Are A-Changin’” (RS #28) were big around my house. When I was in college, I had a friend who listened to literally nothing besides Bob Dylan, which at the time I thought was pretty pretentious but also at the time I knew and in retrospect I still believe, there’s no faulting that dude’s taste. If you listen to nothing but Bob Dylan, you’re still getting as diverse a catalogue as could possibly be imagined from just one artist who writes and performs all of his own songs. The guy who sang “Like A Rolling Stone” (RS #1, predictably) and the guy who sang “Lay, Lady, Lay” (RS #24) hardly even sound like the same guy, let alone the guy who recorded Love And Theft. That’s why Dylan has stayed so relevant for so long, because of that creative restlessness and constant evolution.  (And why Todd Haynes had the inspired, understandable notion to cast six different actors in the role of Dylan in his recent sort-of biopic I’m Not There.)

 

Anyway, like I said, I’m hardly an authority on Bob Dylan and his music, though the older I get the more I have learned to appreciate him. Quite honestly, he’s come to mean more to me through the legion of artists that he has influenced. Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in some of my all-time favorite musical acts, from Bruce Springsteen to Jimi Hendrix to U2 to Cat Power to The Roots to motherfuckin’ Johnny Cash – they’ve all spent a significant amount of time not only talking about Bob Dylan, but performing his songs. At a certain point, your influences’ influences become important to you almost as much as your influences have, and so it has been with Bob Dylan.

 

So here are my top five songs, ranked in order of preference which is sure to change by tomorrow. These would be my top five if someone asked me TODAY.

 

 

  1. Series Of Dreams (not on Rolling Stone’s list)

 

This one came to me through seeing it in a Bruce Springsteen interview. Generally, when Springsteen says something, I listen, and when he recommends a song, ten to one I’m gonna check it out. I like the imagery of this song’s title, and I especially like the momentum of this song. Without getting too precious about it, this song sounds to me like the passage of time, and it sounds more optimistic than not (although as it happens, Dylan’s lyrics are a little more cautious here than the upbeat tune suggests).

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (RS #25)

 

 

 

You can tell a person’s age from how they came to certain Bob Dylan songs. I got into this one through Guns N’ Roses, so that’s the generation we’re dealing with. Dylan wrote this song as part of his soundtrack to Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid (which he also appeared in), a forever-underrated Sam Peckinpah movie that has come to mean almost as much to me as the song does. This song has such an immediate and potent mythic quality that it’s easy to see why it’s such a strong entry-way for younger romance-minded dudes like me into the Dylan discography.

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Not Dark Yet (RS #50)

 

A lot of Dylan songs can be inscrutable. It’s clear from most of the journalism I have ever read about the man that a lot of critics have a lot of fun trying to decipher his lyrics and deciphering how they may apply to his life story. I’m not that kind of a listener. Sometimes I like it best when I can tell what the song’s about, and when the melody fits the words so perfectly. The music here is a pretty simple and steady (but lovely) drone, almost a dirge, and if I had to guess, this song is about getting older, seeing the end coming and taking the moment to recollect before it gets here. Hopefully I’m not near that point in my life yet, but there’s something about that idea that has always been very profound to me. This is why people that know me best still struggle to decide whether I’m an old soul or an immature one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Shelter From The Storm (RS #66)

 

I put this song on a mixtape I made for my baby niece when she was first born. I know that there are several more valid interpretations of this song in many other contexts, but the great thing about music is its malleability of meaning to each listener, and to me, this song sounds like solace and safe harbor. And that’s what spending time with my niece means to me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Boots Of Spanish Leather (not on Rolling Stone’s list)

 

One of Dylan’s earliest songs, this is just plain one of the better love songs ever written, to my ears anyway. Is there more I ought to say about it? Take a listen:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Not that he will ever read this, but Happy Birthday Bob Dylan. You have affected a lot of lives in a deeply meaningful way with your art, which is art’s highest possible purpose in my dumb opinion.

 

 

 

Also…

 

 

 

 

 

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

A HARD DAY'S NIGHT (1964)

Having come up in the generation of hip-hop in the cool shadow of the Bronx, The Beatles have never totally felt like music meant for me. They have always been, to me, the music of my parents’ generation. That said; what has always worked still works. I love The Beatles too — how could I not? It’s impossible to discount their importance, to avoid their influence, to escape their music, to fail to be amazed by their story. I don’t own a Beatles album because I don’t need to — A HARD DAY’S NIGHT alone features several songs I know by heart: The title track, and “She Loves You,” and “All My Loving,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “And I Love Her”… I can’t remember wedding toasts I’ve given, or the names of several failed first dates, but these songs I know backwards and forwards. And that doesn’t bother me a bit. Note how many of those song titles feature the same word — “Love” — that’s a nice message to spread around the world, isn’t it?

 

RUN

 

It amazes me that these four musicians all came from one town, it amazes me that they found each other, it amazes me that they could come up with so many indelible songs. It amazes me that they redefined pop music, it amazes me that they put together that many classic albums, it amazes me that they found a formula that worked and then became increasingly experimental when they could have just rode out their own tidal wave. It amazes me that they broke up the band after what was basically only ten years of unprecedented success. It amazes me that they went on to forge four separate solo careers, some of which yielded nearly as many classic tunes as their original partnership did. There is little doubt that John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison could have been terrifically successful musical artists on their own — not to slight Ringo Starr — but the specific alchemy of the four of them combined to create a very literal legend.

 

WAY

 

There is nothing to compare to the Beatles. People love to debate the question “Beatles or Stones?” but the Rolling Stones, as phenomenal a band as they inarguably are, have a sound that owes more to their influences, and the arc of their artistic experimentation is nowhere near as astronomical. The Beatles were a supernova which both heightened and upended the pop vernacular of the day and then voluntarily disbanded mid-flight, whereas the Stones never stopped. The Stones soldier on, which is one of the many things that amaze about the Stones. But putting The Beatles against The Stones is a flawed comparison: It’s like comparing a great white shark to a grizzly bear. You don’t want to mess with either of them, but they ain’t the same species.

 

A Hard Day's Night

 

 

Likewise, it’s unfathomable to think of any act with as much initial teeny-bopper appeal as The Beatles did morphing into such an adventurous and sophisticated phenomenon which continues to resonate, more than forty years on. Can you name another boy band who entered a psychedelic phase? Can you name one that birthed as many major solo careers, one with that many musical virtuosos, one with such elementally excellent songwriting? The Beatles wrote pop songs at first that were brilliant but astonishingly simple. Later they added world music influences, orchestrations, literary inspiration, and the weight of life experience to fascinatingly complicate their sound. Today more than ever, there’s just no ready comparison to be made. The best I can come up with is The Beach Boys, but that argument will go too far off-topic.

 

TRAIN

 

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT is an integral building block in the legend of The Beatles. Richard Lester, an American director in Britain, got the gig and worked off a soon-to-be-Oscar-nominated script from Alun Owen, with cinematography by Gilbert Taylor, now likely best known as the DP of STAR WARSA HARD DAY’S NIGHT is a mockumentary which details the supposed life of the Beatles at the height of “Beatlemania,” not two years since they exploded into international fame, dodging fans and getting into comical hijinks. A HARD DAY’S NIGHT has a documentary aesthetic which makes The Beatles engaging and relatable, while simultaneously managing to make them bigger than life, bigger than what’s-his-name.

 

FOUR THE HARD WAY

 

 

What A HARD DAY’S NIGHT did so smartly was to cement the personas of the four band members. It turned them into recognizable archetypes, almost cartoon characters; only all of them are the hero. They’re all Bugs Bunny. They’re all equally lovable, a four-man comedy troupe who can totally rock. John was the smart one, Paul was the cute one, George was the quiet one, and Ringo was the funny one. (Although here they all get a bit of a chance to be the funny one.)

 

 

In many ways, those delineated perceptions of the four endure to this day. Paul isn’t as cute as he used to be and Ringo definitely isn’t as funny (“Peace and love!“), and two of them (my favorite ones, unfortunately) aren’t even alive anymore but we still generally think of them that way. It’s little surprise that Richard Lester went on to direct THREE MUSKETEERS and SUPERMAN movies — he has a smart sense of iconography and in A HARD DAY’S NIGHT he turned a pop phenomenon into icons.

 

And also, you know, this movie has one of the greatest soundtracks of any movie ever made, obviously.

 

Jon Abrams.

 

 

A HARD DAY’S NIGHT runs through July 17th at Film Forum in New York City.

 

If you can’t make it, Criterion just released a beautiful new Blu-Ray package of the film. 

 

This piece originally appeared on Daily Grindhouse. 

 

 

 

PIANY

 

Considering as a whole of the soon-to-be thirty-eight films directed by Clint Eastwood, this latest could easily seem to be more of a departure than usual.

 

Jersey Boys (2014)

 

 

Just so we’re clear, there actually is a precedent for a Clint Eastwood musical.

 

CLINT V. LEE

 

 

One of the great ironies of movies is that two of the ultimate tough-guy actors in American film history, maybe THE two — Clint and Lee Marvin — only ever acted against each other in a musical, 1969’s PAINT YOUR WAGON. It isn’t one of the great spectacles of the genre, but it does provide the unlikely event of a Lee Marvin vocal solo, and then a Lee Marvin vs. Clint Eastwood duet, and hey, here’s Clint singing about nature:

 

 

Clint has always been a music enthusiast, as a pianist and jazz singer, and while he isn’t the most dynamic vocalist in the world, it’s a fun novelty when it does happen. For ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, the second comedy Clint made with Clyde the orangutan, Clint got to team up with Ray Charles for the single:

 

 

More recently, he rasped the theme song to 2008’s GRAN TORINO, which I still think is charming and fun.

 


More importantly, music is a lesser-discussed leitmotif of Clint’s long career as a filmmaker. His first film as director, PLAY MISTY FOR ME, finds Clint in the role of a radio DJ in California. The title is a request he gets from a female admirer. “Misty” is a jazz standard, famously performed by Johnny Mathis, a favorite of Clint’s.

 

CLINT DJ

 

One of Clint’s greatest directorial triumphs, 1988’s BIRD, about legendary saxophone player Charlie Parker, was not only a well-made biopic, unfliching and meticulously performed and executed, but it was also Clint’s full-on love letter to jazz music.

 

 

BIRD

 

One of Clint’s most under-valued films as both actor and director was 1982’s HONKYTONK MAN, a small-scale period piece in which he plays a country-western singer on the trail to Nashville. One of the films closest to Clint’s heart, his son Kyle, now a respected jazz musician himself, plays the young boy in the story.

 

HONK

 

In 1984’s raucous CITY HEAT, Clint leaves his buddy Burt Reynolds in the middle of a huge brawl just so he can play the piano. He also plays piano onscreen in 1993’s IN THE LINE OF FIRE.

 

PIANO MAN

 

 

While it isn’t one of his better films, 1997’s MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL serves in part as an extended tribute to Savannah native and piano-playing jazzman Johnny Mercer, another Eastwood favorite. The movie is also a nice (and rare) acting showcase for his daughter Alison.

 

ALISON

 

In his role as composer, Clint’s scores for MYSTIC RIVER, MILLION DOLLAR BABY, CHANGELING, HEREAFTER, and J. EDGAR are highlights of those films, whatever else you think of them. (A couple are better than others, I will admit.)

 

jersey

 

All of that is to say that it’s not entirely crazy that Clint’s newest film as director is a film adaptation of the stage musical JERSEY BOYS.

But it is a little bit crazy. For one thing, Clint Eastwood has one of the richest and broadest filmographies, in the way of subject matter, of any major American director outside of maybe Hawks and Kubrick, but Broadway is decidedly not Eastwood turf. Dancing is not an Eastwood thing. I’m not sure if longtime Eastwood editor Joel Cox has even cut a full-on musical sequence. And Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, while certainly fine and pleasant, don’t seem like Clint’s type of band. Maybe I’m wrong, but I gotta ask: Is Clint’s heart really in this one?

Since I started writing about movies, I’ve written more about Clint’s movies than I have any other filmmaker’s. A while back, William Goldman claimed Clint’s career is the single best in all of movies, and I surely agree. Because, while you can debate the specific merits of each of his soon-to-be-thirty-eight films, you would be hard pressed to argue that this is not one of the most intellectually curious directors there has ever been. If he was just the mindless, expressionless acti0n star his critics once dismissed him to be, he could easily have made a long line of DIRTY HARRY knock-offs. Instead, his Westerns are more thoughtful than almost anybody else’s, his action films are more surprisingly personal than almost anybody else’s, and his dramas show an uncommon interest in people and perspectives unlike his own.

Is that why he’s doing a musical about a bunch of doo-wop singers with over-the-top falsettos? I hope so. I think the last few Eastwood efforts — INVICTUS, HEREAFTER, and J. EDGAR — show the same kind of intellectual curiosity and ability to surprise. Maybe it’s always bothered Clint that PAINT YOUR WAGON was so poorly received, and maybe this was his best shot at making a full-on musical, one of the few genres he’s never attacked as a director.

I can’t say for sure, obviously. I guess what troubles me, looking forward, is all the stuff that shouldn’t trouble me — the peripheral stuff, the uncharacteristic allowance of a reality show about his family, the TV commercial, the movie with Justin Timberlake, and the super-uncharacteristic chair incident. You don’t have to agree with everything an artist does to love their art, but some of that stuff is pretty out there. (The chair thing I can handle. The Timberlake movie… it’s still hard for me to talk about.)

Maybe I should shut up and trust in one of my artistic heroes, but if I’m being honest, I don’t really want to see a JERSEY BOYS movie — I’m just plain not at all a doo-wop enthusiast — and that’s the first time I’ve been disinterested ahead of a Clint Eastwood movie.

As of press time I still haven’t gone to see it, but I will be happy to have my reticence proven wrong. It’ll get a fair shot from me no matter what.

 

@jonnyabomb 

 

 
Bert & Janelle Monae

I started out 2013 with lofty proclamations about all the writing and drawing I was going to do all year. I did more of the former than the latter, with highlights being taking a more central role on Daily Grindhouse and getting a piece published in Paracinema — but still, I feel like I underachieved.

My resolution for 2014 was simply this: Follow through. Do all the things I said I was going to do last year. Finish up some ongoing ideas I’m excited about and continue with all the things that are already working for me. Be realistically ambitious — and then surprise myself.

Meanwhile, I want to post here more often, and one way I resolved to do that is to more frequently mention the things I enjoy. There’s plenty enough negativity and bad vibes elsewhere on the internet. When people come to my page, I want them to encounter positivity, enthusiasm, or at the very least, trustworthy, educated opinions when those first two elements are less possible.  If you see a post with the heading ALL GOOD THINGS periodically, that will be my eager recommendation of art, music, movies, Blu-Rays, books, comics, podcasts, or whatever. Things I enjoy. Things you might enjoy too. If you do, please let me know!

 

MOVIES

Heat (1995)

HEAT.

One of my favorite movies of all time, I got to see HEAT on the big screen in 35mm again for only the second occasion in my life. The first time was when I saw it during its initial theatrical release in the mid-1990s. Back then, it was such a memorable moviegoing experience that I wondered if I’d ever need to see it again. Could it ever be as complete an experience as it was at first? A couple dozen viewings later, I’m still entranced. To me, this is one of the truest movies.

Her (2013)

Everyone else has long since released their Best Of 2013 lists, but I didn’t feel I could honestly put one out until I saw this movie. Now I can. Stay tuned!

anchorman2

ANCHORMAN 2: THE LEGEND CONTINUES.

Loved the original; had a healthy fear of going back to the well. But I love what McKay and Ferrell do, Trojan-horsing some pretty emphatic politics into their broadly absurd epic comedies. ANCHORMAN 2 has a reason for being, a very definitive target that I think it hits. Plus, there’s great white shark humor and minotaur humor. That’s irresistible to me.

BOOKS

AVA GARDNER

I put this unusually-structured autobiography on my list of twelve great books from 2013 at Daily Grindhouse, but quite honestly I hadn’t finished it at the time. It’s great. Surprising, reverent, funny, and irreverent, it’s the record of the outspoken Ava Gardner, then in her mid-sixties, dictating her memoirs to the very British Peter Evans. She works hard to shock him and sometimes it works. Sometimes she only shocks the reader (and any of the family of her ex-husbands, most likely). When it was done, Ava didn’t want it published. She died in 1990. Peter Evans wrapped up the book, right before his own death, in 2012. Then, finally, this book appeared.

TAMPA

 

I’m reading TAMPA for my book club. It was my turn to choose, so I picked this pretty shocking (and topical) novel about a hot young teacher in Florida who pursues an adolescent boy. The writing is pretty unassailably terrific, I think; it’s the subject matter I expect to be a point of controversy. We’re recording our talk about it this weekend. Hopefully I can collect myself by then.

COMICS

Maximum Minimum Wage

 

Last week I picked up Maximum MINIMUM WAGE, the collection of the 1990s underground comic by Bob Fingerman. I haven’t dug into it yet but I can’t wait. Surely I’ll be mentioning it again here.

PODCASTS

WTF

The great WTF podcast doesn’t need any press from me, but the recent interview with Artie Lange was terrific. I’m a longtime fan of Artie and got to see him perform at the Comedy Cellar with Dave Attell in 2013. He’s promoting his latest book here, so a lot of this episode is painful personal stuff. That’s intense and brave, but I also like Artie when he’s speaking universal truths. One of my favorite insights he makes here, and I’m paraphrasing, is how you can’t count anyone out entirely. Everyone you meet in life, even if they’re an asshole, you can learn from. If they’re an asshole, discount their asshole side and look at what they do that’s successful. You can learn from everyone. He’s right about that, in my opinion. He just says it funnier.

 

Ice-T Final Level Podcast

Ice-T has a new podcast and it’s everything you’d want it to be. He talks about his love for Brad Pitt and the differences between men and women, and gives some behind-the-scenes description of Law & Order: SVU. I think his co-host Mick Benzo does a good job: He bounces off Ice-T well, giving him ammunition for rants, then steps out of the way when they come. Since I just started taking part in podcasts, I appreciate ones that are well done. I need to learn! So far there’s only been one episode of FINAL LEVEL but I’ll be subscribing.

 

DG LOGO

So this is a new development: I am currently the co-host, along with the much more eloquent Joe and Freeman, of the Daily Grindhouse podcast, for the time being at least. In our first episode as a team we talked about STREET WARS, which is hilarious and strange. Check out that conversation. They had me choose the next movie we discuss, so our next episode, which comes out tomorrow night, will be about VIGILANTE FORCE, which stars Kris Kristofferson, Bernadette Peters, and a bunch of explosions.

 

I’m planning to have a lot of fun in 2014, so please follow me here and on Twitter for updates!

 

 

@jonnyabomb

My Top 10 Favorite Albums Of 2013.

Posted: December 28, 2013 in Boobs, Music

I wrote my ass off in 2013, which means I listened to a lot of music.  I also covered a lot of city miles, walking with the earbuds in, which means the same thing.  Now I’m not really in my element when it comes to writing about music:  To me it’s like describing emotions.  It’s not like movies with me, where I can talk about how much I love them while still speaking analytically, like a student, and also riffing off them like a bad comic.  Music is a singular experience for me; it’s straight to the heart, where movies hit my heart and my brain equally.

JANELLE-MONAE-ELECTRIC-LADY

I’m making this list of my favorite albums of 2013 — in no real order — in case anyone who feels simpatico with my taste in movies might find a recommendation here they haven’t checked out yet.  I made it albums over songs to keep it manageable.  If I made a list of favorite songs, it’d be pages long.  Hit me up in the comments; I’ll make you a mixtape.  But if I had to name my single favorite song of 2013, it would probably remain this one.

Autre Ne Veut

Some of the albums I bought this year include Atoms For Peace, Beyoncé, Burial, Daft Punk, Fitz & The Tantrums, Flume, Iggy & The Stooges, Joseph Arthur, Kavinsky, The National, Neko Case, Nine Inch Nails, RJD2, Run The Jewels, and Talib Kweli.  I also got that Jimi Hendrix album of unreleased songs.  I don’t think that can count, although I’m not sure there are any rules here. Anyway, here we go.

Janelle Monae: The Electric Lady

Janelle Monáe: The Electric Lady

Janelle Monáe is the closest thing we have right now to Prince, and I say that even though we still have the actual Prince.  There’s not another artist I can think of making such buoyant, eccentric, genre-hopping music.  As a live performer, she’s pure positive energy in human form.  I like how her artistic through-line is the movie METROPOLIS.  Mine is MOTHER, JUGS & SPEED.  Which is maybe why it’s good thing I don’t make albums and she does.   The song above is called “Primetime.”

Mark Lanegan: Imitations

Mark Lanegan: Imitations

Mark Lanegan fronted an alternative band in the 1990s and has in recent years become a go-to featured player for a variety of artists who are looking for his distinctive gravelly growl.  Lanegan writes and sings like a man who has stared into the dark heart of midnight.  It’s sometimes chilling and often profound to hear the cold rasp of his instrument.  I like his originals, but this is an album of covers, pf songs made famous by folks like Vern Gosdin, Nancy Sinatra, Frank Sinatra, Bobby Darin, and Nick Cave (more on him in a second.)  As usual, Lanegan’s approach to music very specifically captures both the fragility and the strength in heartache.   The song above is “I’m Not The Loving Kind.” It’s a John Cale cover.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds: Push The Sky Away

Even by the standards set by the inimitable Nick Cave, this album is spooky, ominous, and frigid.  His records often sound like dispatches from the edges of the world.  This one sounds like a looming apocalypse.  As ever, there are many moments of funereal swagger and jet-black humor, but by the time he gets around to mentioning Miley Cyrus floating in a swimming pool in Toluca Lake, without mentioning the specifics of her vital signs, it’s hard to escape the sense that Cave is reminding us how we’re all ultimately doomed as a species.  The song is “Higgs Boson Blues.”

Jean Grae: Gotham Down

Jean Grae: Gotham Down

Jean Grae is one of the most innovative, confident and nimble lyricists in hip-hop, an absolute thrill on every single verse she turns out.  In earliest 2013, she released Dust Ruffle, a collection of previously unreleased tracks, and didn’t slow down from there.  Gotham Down is an ambitious three-album cycle, released independently and telling a continuous story about a futuristic assassin.   You can get the whole thing here.   The song above is “Kill Screen.”

Ghost B.C.: Infestissumam

Ghost B.C.: Infestissumam

In 2013, the new Pope was named Time’s Person Of The Year.  In a possibly unrelated story, the lead singer of Swedish metal band Ghost B.C. calls himself Papa Emeritus.  While the rest of the band are hooded figures known as Nameless Ghouls, Papa Emeritus wears papal robes and a cardinal’s hat over his face, which is painted black and white like a skull.  The theatrics wouldn’t mean much if the music wasn’t awesome.  Surprisingly, this isn’t the heaviest metal you’ve ever heard.  To me, they sound more like Blue Öyster Cult than anything else.  That’s a lot funnier than if they were to sound like Slayer.  The costumes add to the showmanship but the tunes are solid apart from the visuals.  The song is “Secular Haze.”

Ghostface Killah Twelve Reasons To Die

Ghostface Killah: Twelve Reasons To Die

Another year, another Ghostface album on my list of favorites.  Probably the most consistent artist in all of hip-hop, Ghostface is a killer storyteller and this album as a whole is more of a story than most.  It tells the story of Ghostface’s character, a mob enforcer for the DeLuca family in 1960s Italy.  He falls in love with the capo’s daughter and gets gunned down, only to take his revenge.  What?  Is there a problem?  The melodies may sound like vintage soul samples, but they were produced by Adrian Younge, a composer who did the score to BLACK DYNAMITE, among other amazing things.   The story continues in an accompanying comic book series; hopefully another collaboration is upcoming soon.  The song is “Enemies All Around Me.”

Kanye West Yeezus

Kanye West: Yeezus

I love Kanye.  If Kanye himself can’t stop me from loving Kanye, then surely none of y’all can.  People dog Kanye for his public persona, his arrogance, but I don’t know… Is he wrong?  As long as his music is this creative, I don’t care how he talks in interviews.  I listen to the albums.  I’ve been listening to his stuff since he was a producer only; I bought his first album the day it came out, as I’ve done ever since.  A lot of people I know have trouble with Kanye because they had a vision of what they wanted him to be; a conscious rapper, in the mode of Black Star, or Common, or some of the other artists he worked with as a producer.  I admit I may have expected that too at first, but Kanye had a singular path in mind.  He’s certainly a provocateur, which rubs more superficial minds the wrong way, but I kinda think we need to be provoked, in an era of TV singing competitions and bubble-headed pop singers.  I don’t agree with everything Kanye is about, but I don’t have to.  His ambition is to art, and art rarely brings consensus.  You get to decide for yourself how you feel about it.   Currently, Kanye’s art seems to be addressing the topic of fame.  Is it a coincidence that Kanye hooked up with the Kardashians and made his angriest album yet?  I kinda don’t think so.  It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.  You may not agree.  But you probably won’t be bored.

The song, as you most likely know already, is “Bound 2.”

Blue Sky Black Death Glaciers

Blue Sky Black Death: Glaciers

This is an intriguing case, a two-man team of producers who create music for hip-hop artists which is equally listenable as instrumental music.  They’ve worked with the aforementioned Jean Grae, as well as less famous rappers like Nacho Picasso and Deniro Farrar, and more famous rappers like Cam’Ron.  The Blue Sky Black Death sound is epic and colorful, and will no doubt score one hell of a movie scene one day, but it equally fits the heightened drama of hip-hop.  Glaciers is an instrumental album, one which makes Blue Sky Black Death the first hip-hop producers to evoke Brian Eno, the Cocteau Twins, or Vangelis.  This is the first hip-hop-based music I can name which sounds equally good working out or zoning out.  The song is “IV.”

Xander Harris The New Dark Age of Love

Xander Harris: The New Dark Age Of Love

My favorite discovery of the year, Xander Harris is as prolific as Blue Sky Black Death, which means there was a lot of music to dig up and enjoy all year.  Buffy The Vampire Slayer fans may recognize that name.  It indicates the intention.  This is an artist more influenced by Lovecraft and Carpenter than Dylan or Lennon, an electro-spin on spooky orchestration.  Check out Black Moon, the three-song EP Xander Harris put out at Halloween time.  And The New Dark Age Of Love is a spectral masterpiece.  If you’re like me and you like to listen to Goblin soundtracks from July to December, Xander Harris is the motherlode.  I’ve been inspired to come up with three or four movie ideas while listening to this music, and I couldn’t ask for anything more from an artist.  The song is “When Prophecy Fails.”

Demon Queen The Exorcise Tape

Demon Queen: The Exorcise Tape

Not really sure how to explain this one.  It’s a weirdo.  I don’t even remember how this album came to me.  I only know that I like its style.  Two beings, presumably humans, made it, and their names are Tobacco, from the band Black Moth Super Rainbow, and Zackey Force Funk.  I got that from Google, dude.  I don’t know what to do with the information, except to direct adventurous listeners to this album.  As the name implies, it sounds like angry aerobics for ghosts and goblins, or a porno score to a 1980s skin flick starring skeletons and zombies.  It’s louche-sounding electro-lounge music, really difficult to pigeonhole (which now sounds like a perverted term by proximity).  I like movies to show me things I’ve never seen before, and I like music to give me sounds I’ve never heard before.  This surely fits that bill.   The song is “Love Hour Zero.”  In the video, a disembodied boob goes on an adventure.

So that’s it.  Here’s to a musical 2014!

@jonnyabomb

Hardware (1990)

Richard Stanley is a drastically-underrated director and Sergio Leone enthusiast from South Africa whose work is ripe for rediscovery.  I’d seen his 1992 film DUST DEVIL before, but not his debut feature, HARDWARE, which I happened to finally get around to during the same weekend I saw the new DREDD movie.

Hardware (1990)

From where I’m sitting, there aren’t many movies as true to the post-punk 2000 AD aesthetic as these two movies, DREDD and HARDWARE, although my friends in the UK will definitely have more trustworthy opinions on the matter.  HARDWARE is based on a short strip from 2000 AD, the same series from whence Judge Dredd arrived.  It actually is derived from a Judge Dredd storyline!

Hardware (1990)

Hardware (1990)

This is the basic pitch:  A trenchcoat-rocking soldier named Moses (Dylan McDermott) purchases the wreckage of a robot found in a post-apocalyptic desert, and brings it back to his sculptor/artist girlfriend Jill (Stacy Travis). While Mo is out, the robot activates and attempts to murder Jill in her apartment.  It may visually call to mind the Terminator of 1984, but this guy’s got some even nastier moves than that cyber-Arnold had.

Hardware (1990)

The deceptively-cheap movie — it’s stylish and relentless and looks like plenty more than a million bucks — is almost entirely about this battle, although it makes time for awesomely bizarre and/or disturbing performances by John Lynch (BLACK DEATH), Mark Northover (WILLOW!), and most unshakably, William Hootkins (STAR WARS, BATMAN, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK) as maybe the grossest movie pervert ever.  Iggy Pop and Lemmy also briefly contribute their talents, but with all that craziness surrounding, it all comes down to Jill and her fight to stay alive under attack by that freaky, ferocious robot.  It plays out, under Stanley’s direction, as an intensely tangible experience, despite springing out of a totally bonkers sci-fi set-up.

HARDWARE is available for purchase from Severin Films.

Hardware (1990)

This piece originally appeared on Rupert Pupkin Speaks.

@jonnyabomb