Posts Tagged ‘Music

10
Oct
14

Phantom of the Paradise (1974)

It’s inevitable that attempts to watch nothing but horror movies for an entire month will result in a few views that aren’t exactly horror films. Such is the case with Day 10’s selection, Brian De Palma’s Phantom of the Paradise, a twisted, rock version of The Phantom of the Opera (with a little Faust and Dorian Gray thrown in) starring Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, William Finley and my favorite, Gerrit Graham.

Paul Williams plays Swan, a mega-music producer and the owner of Death Records. He is responsible for the “nostalgia-wave” musical craze that is sweeping the nation. His hallmark band, The Juicy Fruits, dress up like greasers and sing music reminiscent of the 1950’s, while he rakes in the big bucks. But being the savvy music producer he is, Swan knows he can only ride this nostalgia wave for so long; it’s time for something fresh and new. And what better way to market the opening of his new music venue, The Paradise, than debuting a new star? But who could it be? And what song will they sing? The search is on.

Swan is such a charmer. What a trustworthy face...

Swan is such a charmer. What a trustworthy face…

Winslow Leach (Finley) makes the choice of song easy; he performs part of his rock version of Faust where he knows Swan can hear it. Poor Winslow optimistically believes that he will get credit for his music when he hands it over to one of Swan’s goons. But more than a month later Swan is holding auditions for singers who are to perform Winslow’s song, with no mention of Winslow’s name on the piece. While investigating the audition line, Winslow meets Phoenix (Harper), a woman whom he believes is perfect to perform his music. And though he tries to use her to get in to see Swan, Winslow is not only violently turned away, but sent to jail (Sing Sing, no less) where he can be out of Swan’s hair (and is also subject to several medical “experiments,” all of which the evil Swan is behind!).
Swan stole his music! William Finley as Winslow Leach.

Swan stole his music! William Finley as Winslow Leach.

Not to be so easily disposed of, Winslow escapes prison, and in the process is maimed and scarred almost beyond recognition. It isn’t until he makes it to the under-construction Paradise where he finds a mask befitting his new look. And that’s when the haunting begins! But Swan is not about to let a disgruntled, maimed phantom ruin the opening of his Paradise, so he makes a deal with Swan: finish writing his Faust and Phoenix, and only Phoenix, will sing it. After signing a contract the size of War and Peace, Winslow is holed up somewhere deep in the Paradise, working on polishing his masterpiece, while Swan plots his final destruction. Not only is he planning on sealing Winslow up in a secret spot of The Paradise, he’s going to relegate Phoenix to back-up singer and replace her with a glam-rock, speed-popping hot mess named Beef (Gerrit Graham)! As I’m sure you can guess, Winslow doesn’t take kindly to the change in plans…
Jessica Harper belts it out as Phoenix

Jessica Harper belts it out as Phoenix

I’ve seen Phantom of the Paradise three times now, and I must conclude that it is just an all right movie. It is one of Q’s favorites, and has a pretty strong cult following, but to be honest if Gerrit Graham weren’t in this, I wouldn’t really get the attraction. It is interesting to me that this is a De Palma film, though. Honestly I haven’t seen much of his stuff, but this is just about the last thing I’d have ever expected out of him. It is light-hearted, goofy, and funny – not like anything else of his I’ve ever seen (and quite a surprise given the subject matter he’s covering!). I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually did; it just seems to drag a bit at points and I found it a little boring. Somehow, it’s never really left much of an impression on me. This might have something to do with the fact that musicals, even tongue-in-cheek ones, have to be really good or really over the top for me to give them the time of day.
The "Phantom" sings.

The “Phantom” sings.

All that being said, everyone’s performances are pretty great. Paul Williams does an excellent job of playing a despicable music-industry devil. I love William Finley’s phantom, too: his constant look of surprise, disappointment and anguish all rolled into one is just about perfect. Then there’s Jessica Harper, who can do no wrong in my book. But, as I already said, Gerrit Graham is the real winner here. The movie is worth watching just for him! Long live Beef!

Gerrit Graham as BEEF!

Gerrit Graham as BEEF!

In the end, I think it’s the musical numbers (except Beef’s, of course) that really kill this movie for me. Whenever they come on I kinda start tapping my foot a little bit faster, waiting for them to be over. After hearing me say that you may be wondering: why the hell are you watching this to begin with? Ask Q. It’s always his fault! I’ve seen The Apple and I think it is Phantom’s crazier counterpart. The Apple I really like, because it is such a wretched, messy train wreck how couldn’t I? I can tolerate Rocky Horror Picture Show, at least it’s pretty to look at and Tim Curry is amazing. But Phantom of the Paradise occupies this weird middle-ground territory between those two crazy musicals and, well, normal ones. It just doesn’t do it for me, I guess.
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18
Sep
14

Streets of Fire (1984)

Do you like the 1950’s and the 1980’s and just can’t decide between the two? No problem, there’s a movie for that! Walter Hill’s Streets of Fire doesn’t feel the need to define its setting in space or time. It is, after all, a “rock and roll fable;” a tale of love and drama so unrealistic and over-the-top it just wouldn’t make sense to give it a familiar setting. We’re notified right off the bat we’re going to be spending the next 93-minutes in “a different place, a different time,” and certainly these Streets of Fire don’t look like any I’ve ever seen…

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous... Ellen Aim...

Ladies and Gentlemen the fabulous… Ellen Aim…

Ellen Aim (Diane Lane) is a local singer whose star is about to sky-rocket; she’s got an amazing stage presence and she’s screwing her producer, Billy Fish (Rick Moranis). Everyone in town flocks to the club when she’s on the stage. What could go wrong? The Bombers, that’s what! Within the first five minutes of the film, Ellen takes the stage, rocks the crowd and is kidnapped by a motorcycle gang led by Raven Shaddock (Willem Dafoe). The thugs steal her away to “the Battery;” the part of town where nice folks like you and me just don’t go. Not only do they manage to take her without a problem, they leave havoc in their wake; it seems like The Bombers can just take whatever they want without consequence. Or can they?

Bombers come to town

Bombers come to town

Oh, hell no they can’t, says Reva Cody, as she pulls up a typewriter and pleads for her brother Tom (Michael Paré) to come home and kick ass. See, Tom and Ellen used to have a real hot and heavy relationship, but Ellen’s career-driven nature didn’t jive well with Tom’s bad-boy attitude, and the couple just had to call it quits. Upon his return, Tom is reluctant to scour the depths of the Battery to save a woman who left a nasty taste in his mouth, but Reva’s plaintive eyes and Billy Fish’s $10,000 endorsement help change his mind.

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Cody brings out the heavy artillery

Tom’s going to need help. A trunk-full of artillery is a good start, but he’s going to need a trusty second to get him through the worst of it. Good thing Tom has stumbled upon McCoy (Amy Madigan), a brash, no-nonsense female mechanic freshly home from the military herself, looking for a place to sleep and a job to do. McCoy’s proven herself quite the badass (though anyone can punch Bill Paxton in the face, amirite?), and trustworthy, too, so Tom brings her along. And whether or not he likes it, Billy Fish is coming, too! Can this unlikely trio really go into the depths of urban decay and save Ellen?

When doesn't Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

When doesn’t Bill Paxton need a good punch in the old face?

This movie is an incredibly delightful way to spend an hour and a half. As I mentioned before, the setting is fantastic in the sense that the total package bears little resemblance to any reality you or I are familiar with. This is no secret; from the very beginning we are well informed that we shouldn’t be asking too many questions in regards to the plot’s plausibility. And although the setting is unfamiliar in total, elements are lifted from all your favorite twentieth-century eras. Each character seems to be set in their own space and time; most of the Bombers are reminiscent of the 1950’s (though I’m not sure who ever wore that pleather onesie Dafoe dons halfway through the flick; yowza! Does dude work in an abattoir?) while Ellen is definitely a woman of the 1980’s, basking in synth-pop and eyeshadow. Then there’s Tom, who seems to be set apart from all the other characters wearing clothes and driving vehicles reminiscent of those you’d find in the 1920’s. The end-result is a pleasantly disorienting cast of anachronisms that all somehow manage to work together.

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

WHAT THE FUCK IS HE WEARING DUDES???

Personally, I think this is a genius way to keep the audience on board with the crazy plot that is about to unfold. There’s no need for the setting to be authentic or true to any one moment in time, because this is a story that just wouldn’t have happened. Like, ever. And maybe that’s why I like Streets of Fire more than other musicals like West Side Story or Grease; they’re so concerned with some measure of weird authenticity, and yet they’re fucking musicals. Like I’m supposed to believe these people just break out into song all the time, but god forbid the audience should question the authenticity of Maria’s clothes, or Rydell High’s school dance? Why is spontaneous song a more acceptable movie trope than Hill’s weird melange of historical trademarks? Now, I know, Streets of Fire is not a musical, but I still think it’s worth comparing it to one; not only is its drama similar to what you’d find in a musical, but the film itself is rooted heavily in music (songs by Ry Cooder, anyone?). I’m officially calling it the unmusical musical. But anyway, I digress…

You guys, it's a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

You guys, it’s a sledgehammer fight. A SLEDGEHAMMER FIGHT.

Clearly, I’m fixated on the weird setting in which Streets of Fire takes place, but fear not folks, there’s plenty of other weird stuff in store for you! The plot itself is bonkers; how is it so easy for this gang of greasers to waltz into a nightclub and kidnap the star of the show, and while she’s on stage no less? You know, like, in front of everyone? Is this a town full of wusses or what? And the thought of Billy Fish accompanying two badasses with nothing to lose into the sixth circle of hell for a woman who is really just eye candy to him, well that’s not really believable either. Weirder still are the relationships these people all have with one another, most notably Tom and Ellen’s. I’ve never met people that talk this way to each-other, which leads me to think Hill set this film not just in another place and time, but another solar system.streetsoffirelastkiss

I want to be clear about something, while I really like Streets of Fire, I don’t think I could go and say it’s actually a good movie. Worthwhile, yes. Entertaining, you betcha… but good? Not a chance in hell. But, I don’t think it wants to be good. There’s no Oscar bait here, and there’s a lot to be said for a film that wears its weirdness on its sleeve while also trying to appeal to everyone and no one at the same time. The biggest disappointment about the film for me is the fact that Diane Lane is pretty much wasted in this role. After having just recently watched Ladies and Gentlemen, the Fabulous Stains for the first time and realizing how good Lane is at playing a put-out badass, I expected more out of her performance here. Unfortunately, she just isn’t given much to work with; she’s little more than a damsel in distress with a bad attitude. You can do better than that with Diane Lane! But anyway, I do recommend seeing Streets of Fire, just remember to let your mind go free and that anything can happen in Walter Hill’s world!

24
Jan
14

The Punk Singer (2013)

punksingerWhen I hear there’s a documentary out about one of my favorite singers, songwriters, authors, filmmakers, etc., I get really nervous. Will the director paint them in a negative light? Will it be a crappy, half-hearted documentary that reveals nothing interesting and only repeats hollow, lame garbage we already knew? Sometimes, the answer is yes. Other times, I leave the theater relieved, maybe even elated at the picture they’ve painted of the artist in question. I’m happy to report the latter is the case with The Punk Singer, a documentary about one of my all-time favorite ladies, Kathleen Hanna.

When I was an angsty little teenager, nothing made me happier than listening to Hanna’s band, Bikini Kill. Except maybe the look on that curious boy’s face in photography class when he asked to hear what I was listening to and I blithely let him listen to Alien She. The look of shock and horror on his face made me smile deeply, and it still does today. I’m glad Bikini Kill gave me at least one thing to smile about in high school.

Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill, and all the members of the Riot Grrrl movement didn’t give a fuck, and that’s what made them so attractive to me as a kid. As an adult, watching this documentary made me remember exactly what I felt back in high school, and my respect for Hanna and the movement actually grew. Those ladies have some serious balls. They didn’t like the sexist rules society was making them play by, so they wrote their own. They didn’t like the fact their female friends were getting harassed, raped and murdered and no one gave a damn, so they spoke up about it.

The documentary covers all of this territory through face time with some major players, and plenty with Hanna herself, who tells us her story pre-Bikini Kill all the way through to Le Tigre’s final show and her newest musical project, The Julie Ruin. It’s kind of hard for me not to fawn all over this documentary, and Hanna, because I just freakin’ think she’s so damn cool.

Before I sat down and watched this, though, I have to admit I didn’t realize this stuff was going on right in my backyard – Bikini Kill and some others in the Riot Grrrl movement were very active in the Washington, DC area. Unfortunately for me, I was around eleven years old when it was going down. I was, no doubt, obsessively listening to Pearl Jam’s Ten at the time. I guess I just missed being part of the revolution, but it still touched me just a few years later, and I know high school wouldn’t have been tolerable without it.

Well, this is more a reminiscent love letter to Kathleen Hanna than a review of this documentary, isn’t it? I guess that just speaks to how difficult it is for me to have an unbiased opinion about this film. I can say pretty firmly that it affected me in a very positive way. It made me feel lucky for having stumbled into Riot Grrrl bands as a kid. And I think it would do anyone involved with Riot Grrrl proud. Having also just read Sara Marcus’ chronicle of the Riot Grrrl movement, Girls to the Front, which talks a whole hell of a lot about the issues the movement suffered with the media and its many proposed media blackouts, I think it is save to say this documentary does Hanna and the movement justice. Definitely recommended for anyone who gives a crap about feminism, punk rock, and the 90’s.

24
Jan
14

The Nomi Song (2004)

Up until two years ago, the name Klaus Nomi meant nothing to me. After a quick first impression he still meant nothing more to me than a cool logo and a falsetto coverer of Elvis songs. But I was promised if I watched Andrew Horn’s documentary The Nomi Song that would change. It definitely did.
My first thought after watching The Nomi Song was: how did I not know this guy existed? Perhaps Nomi’s musical career was too short-lived and strange to stand the test of time. Heck, he wasn’t more than a blip on the New Wave scene during his heyday. Still, one would think an operatic New Waver from space in a rubber suit with giant shoulder pads wouldn’t easily be forgotten.nomi1
Okay, Nomi wasn’t actually from space. He was from Germany. He loved baking pastries and singing opera, and dreamt that one day he’d be able to sing it for a living. He first found his niche in New York City, performing in the New Wave Vaudeville in 1978 (yes, that’s a thing that happened!). As described in the documentary, his earnest arias mixed with space-themed aesthetics captivated the crowd; though I think it would be going a little too far to say a star was born. After that event, though, the word spread about Nomi and he began playing shows, writing songs with friends, and cultivating an out-of-this-world image that somehow landed him as a back-up singer on stage with David Bowie for a Saturday Nite Live performance.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all fun and games for Nomi. He had an incredibly difficult time getting a record label to put out his music, and when he finally found one that would, certain of his collaborators (namely Kristian Hoffman of The Mumps) didn’t get the credit (or the money) they deserved. Plenty of bridges were burned, and when Nomi ended up sick with AIDS, a disease no one knew anything about in the early 1980’s, he was abandoned by most of his close friends and died alone in 1983.nomi2
Well, I never said it was an uplifting documentary. His story is incredibly sad, and not only a reminder of what a beast the music industry can be, but also how terribly lonely it must have been to be one of the first victims of AIDS. It made me wish he was still around. It made me want to listen to his records. It made me want to try one of his pastry recipes (a special feature on the dvd) to celebrate his memory. This documentary is definitely worth a watch. Check it out.
04
Jan
14

Privilege (1967)

There was a time in my life when I worried that movies would bore me. That, eventually, I’d have read about everything and seen everything and there’d be no surprises left, ever. And what a sad day that would be. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the realization that this is just about virtually impossible; this is something I don’t have to worry about at all. There is such an amazing wealth of stuff out there that I want to watch; I’m not even sure if I’ll be able to watch all the stuff I own before I die. That being said, the one worry that remains, in traces, is that all of the good and interesting movies would have been consumed by a certain age. Then, a movie like Privilege comes along and I realize I probably don’t have to worry about that, either.

Steven Shorter, the brooding artist

Steven Shorter, the brooding artist

I’d never heard of Privilege. Despite the fact that I watch a lot of movies, I’m no encyclopedia; I leave that up to my better half, who had of course known about this movie and picked it for a Sunday afternoon’s viewing. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: going into a movie totally cold, having no knowledge of it, is definitely the best. Good or bad, you’ll probably find yourself saying: “what the hell did I just get myself into?”

Unfinished portrait

Unfinished portrait

Privilege is almost a mockumentary, but not quite. It tells the story of Steven Shorter (Paul Jones), a British pop singer of unimaginable proportions. Your grandma and your neighbor’s kid both adore him. They throw parades in his name. He’s bigger than anything anyone could possibly imagine. And he’s also completely at the mercy of his managers: they choose what he wears, what he sings, what lifestyle he endorses, who he hangs out with. They’ve hired an artist, Vanessa (Jean Shrimpton) to paint his portrait, but it’s the darndest thing: she just can’t seem to finish it. She can’t get a read on who Steven Shorter really is.

They're laying it on pretty thick, eh?

They’re laying it on pretty thick, eh?

That’s probably because, increasingly, Steven Shorter doesn’t know who he is. Things seem to be getting out of control, and his management team has decided it’s time for Shorter to quit the quasi-rebel act and… say yes to the Church? Seems unlikely, but whoever’s pulling the strings knows Shorter’s fans don’t think twice about embracing whatever it is he’s selling. When Stephen tries to reject the proposition, things get rather nasty…

Awarded

Awarded

Um, wow. This is a pretty scathing critique of corporate pop music and fandom and I loved it. Shorter’s incredible stardom is an obvious (and cynical) nod to Beatlemania, but Paul Jones wasn’t a complete stranger to rock stardom himself, being the frontman for Manfred Mann before going solo just before this movie was put out. It is shocking, surprising and awesome and I highly recommend it!




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Old Wave