Talkin’ ‘Bout A Generation Gap With 2 New Release DVDs

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:""; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:"Times New Roman"; mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;A couple of new DVDs to review – one that has barely legal kids singing punk rock and the other features really old folks way past retirement singing, yes, punk rock. Let’s start with the old folks and then move backwards:

YOUNG@HEART (Dir. Stephen Walker, 2007)

I was hesitant about this indie documentary about a vocal group comprised of 22 senior citizens singing pop, rock, and punk songs. I mean, though this is a chorus that has been at it with different members for the last 20 years the prospect of hip-ifying old folks brings to mind Pepsi commercials with rapping GrandMas or lame cheap comedies that have elders speaking in hip-hop jargon made me think this was a possible gimmicky cringe-fest. Well, moments into YOUNG@HEART those short-sighted fears disappeared as choral director Bob Cillman introduced his singers to a song they’ve never heard by a band they’ve likely never heard of: “Schizophrenia” by Sonic Youth. They don’t seem to take to it (sideline sound bite interviews show that most of these folks prefer classical music and show-tunes) but Cillman presses on. They are more receptive to Jame’s Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good)” though the rhythm and getting the lines right throws members Dora Morrow and Stan Goldman as they prepare for a concert in their hometown of Northampton, New England.

The day to day toll of getting old hinders some rehearsals as the beloved Bob Salvini’s health worsens and his duet partner Fred Knittle struggles with his absence. They all struggle with the 71 “cans” in Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” which frustrates Cillman who threatens to scrap the number but nobody wants to give up. Not giving up is the-show-must-go-on bottom line here as these resiliant and enthusiastic folks do their best to get their vocals right and find harmony with each other knowing that every extra day to do so is a gift. At times cheesy (I could do without the flashy music video sequences for the Talking Heads’ “Road To Nowhere” and the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive”) but mostly a funny and heartfelt ride, it’s impossible to not be emotional when watching the climatic concert finale of this film. Knittle’s soft voiced emotional version of Coldplay’s “Fix Me” (pictured on the left) ripples through the hall with the light glimmering off the tears in the eyes of people of all ages. It’s not a spoiler to tell that they nail every “can” in Toussaint’s punchy positive action anthem; it’s really just an enhancement to my endorsement.

And now a DVD (complete with 80’s-style promotional buttons!) that I was very happy to win from a contest on one of my favorite film/music blogs ThePlaylist:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABULOUS STAINS (Dir. Lou Adler, 1982) What?!!? You’ve never heard of this film? Well, you’re not alone – very few have seen it as it has never before had a proper home video release and has only has the occasional revival screening. With this new DVD release that will likely change because I think they’ll be plenty of people who will want to see a 15 year old Diane Lane as the singer, songwriter, and manager of the Stains – a punk trio rounded out by a 13 year old Laura Dern and the still unknown Marin Kanter.

Virtually unrecognizable from his recent roles in THE DEPARTED and the last INDIANA JONES flick is Ray Winstone with a wardrobe cribbed from Joe Strummer as the leader of the Looters, a British punk band that tours with the Stains. Real life punkers Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols along with Paul Simonon of the Clash make up Winstone’s band who go head to head with an aging hard pyschedelic rock band named The Metal Corpses fronted by Fee Waybill of the Tubes.

After learning some sleazy lessons about life on the road and a drastic change in their appearance (mostly see-through blouses and white stripes in their hair) The Stains gain a following not from their talent (a few performances prove that they have none) but from some TV appearances. “Because they were on TV” one of their minions explains to a smirking overly ambitious newslady (Cynthia Sykes). “I’m perfect but nobody in this shit-hole gets me because I don’t put out!” Lane yells and it becomes a mantra of sorts to the copycat crowd that comes calling. “I don’t put out” doesn’t necessarily mean what you’d think – she does engage in sex but it’s on her own terms or something like that. Not sure if the movie makes a compelling case for that but what does it matter?

Director Lou Adler, whose only feature film before this (and after) was CHEECH AND CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE which says a lot, was no visual stylist and the film is certainly badly edited. Reportedely its original screenplay was so mangled that writer Nancy Dowd took the pseudonym Rob Morton as credit but as it stands it’s still such a scrappy, yet very guilty, pleasure. The DVD features a very funny commentary by Lane and Dern who seem so amused, and many times embarrassed, to be watching it again. Dern remarks: “We were just babies”. Lane: “I thought I was so experienced!”

With its sloppy unbalance between a gritty social statement and ABC afterschool special aesthetics, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, THE FABOULOUS STAINS is simply great schlocky fun. Thematically this exists in the weird realm between such a lofty loved work as Elia Kazan’s A FACE IN THE CROWD and the 80’s tacky yet still very much loved THE LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN. For a could-be cult classic that’s not a bad place to be.

More later…

New DVDs – REDBELT, RECOUNT, & BABY MAMA (for reals!)

Time to take a break from the big screen and review some new release DVDs – all with quick easy titles! So here goes it:

REDBELT (Dir. David Mamet, 2008)

A David Mamet Martial arts movie, well, how about that! Actually, since Mamets films usually offer double-talking con artists scoring a scam, the seedy world of strong armed prize-competitions is a perfect fit. Chiwetel Ejiofor, working his worry-lines particularly this one popping vein on his forehead, is a jujitsu master and self defense instructor who lives by a moral code and has perfected a new strategy. Which is, to determine the fight, Ejiofor explains with three marbles: Each fighter has a two-in-three odds of chosing a white marble. White marble’s a pass and that the black marble is a handicap meaning the fighter loses the use of his arms. He considers this his training method trademark despite its historical precedent and it is grifted from him by the business that is show – a movie star (a gruff thick Tim Allen) and his film production cronies and a big league televised championship. Other pressures mount with his nagging wife (Alice Braca) bitchin bout huge debts, a frazzled lawyer (Emily Mortimer) who accidentely shoots out the window of Ejiofors studio with a cops gun, a hot wrist-watch that competes with the marble method to be the films meta-MacGuffin. There is always an escape” Ejiofor often states though it gets so dicey you doubt whether he believes it.

Mamets trusty regulars Joe Montegna, Ricky Jay (stiffer than usual but still effective), and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamets wife) all do their wicked best with the barbed wordings while curiously crafted fight choreography marks the set pieces. Along with the surpisingly deft Tim Allen (atoning for WILD HOGS I hope) the always affable David Paymer has a brief bit as a loan shark and look for Jennifer Grey (DIRTY DANCING) in a nothing part as Montegnas lady-friend. Ejiofor is the one to watch though; he carries every scene with a gravitas only hinted at in previous works like DIRTY PRETTY THINGS and AMERICAN GANGSTER. His sparring both with his fellow thespians in tense talks and in the ring is engrossing. REDBELT isnt Mamets best film (thats GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS IMHO) but it is meticulous and gloriously manipulative in many pleasurable ways. It’s a thinking mans Martial arts movie that, for all the abrasiveness of its characters plans, has a careful respectful grace that so much modern drama is missing.

RECOUNT (Dir. Jay Roach, 2008)

Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. And then theres that little known third category.
– Al Gore

This HBO telefilm tells an all too familliar tale – the maddening election result fiasco that was the Bush/Gore Presidential campaign of 2000. No need to worry about any Spoilers here – everyone knows how this turned out but what makes this compelling and essential is the devil in the details. A solid cast staffs both sides of the debate – Kevin Spacey, Dennis Leary, and Ed Begley Jr. in the Democratic corner facing off Tom Wilkinson, Bob Babalan, and Bruce McGill as the rebuking Republicans. Laura Dern as Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris is the icing on an already very tast cake. As Warren Christopher, John Hurt makes a much more striking note (described by Leary as “so tight he probably eats his M&Ms with a knife and fork”) than he did in the whole of that last Indiana Jones flick.

The real star here is the story though – biased towards the Democrats as one would figure and fudging with some minor facts aside, the topsy turvy twists of the road to the White House turned me inside-out with some of the same feelings I had when the real thing was happening getting stirred up. I got so into the frustrating back and forth that I thought it was again possible for Gore to win only to have to take a big bite of a stale reality sandwich. Sigh.

Except for archival footage and some over the shoulder shots we never see Gore or Bush, we just hear their voices on phones or see doubles at a distance and this was a good decision. The meat of the matter was those toiling beneath them epitomized by Spacey’s part as Gore’s former Chief Of Staff. Klain was actually fired from his position but still came to work on the campaign and then the recount commitee. Spacey brings his usual slick glide to the role which can be annoying in films like BEYOND THE SEA (actually everything was annoying in that movie) and THE LIFE OF DAVID GALE (ditto) but it works wonders with such lines as “the plural of ‘chad’ is ‘chad’?” Leary pretty much hammers down his standard schtick but his jaded cynical demeanor is definitely necessary considering.

Like many I’ve never really gotten over the 2000 election. It was one of the most disappointing and devastating events of my lifetime. That a lot of the mitigating factors haven’t completely been resolved is very troubling in light of the upcoming election. There’s a lot to recommend about RECOUNT but the most vital message it contains can be summed up by the words of poet George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. While I don’t think we’ll ever forget this story, I still fear it may be repeated.

(Dir. Michael McCullers, 2008)

Former SNL head writer and currently the star of 30 Rock (which she also created and writes) Tina Fey never appeared to aspire to motion picture leading lady status. My role model is Harold Ramis she told Time Magazine in an interview when promoting MEAN GIRLS. She went on: I want to sneak into movies. I have no pretensions of thinking people will pay to see me. Well, this was #1 at the box office its opening weekend (I know that doesn’t necessarily mean hit – i.e. BANGKOK DANGEROUS) so plenty did pay to see her but I didnt. Mainly because the lame looking clips on the commercials – I mean, did anyone bits like Fey getting mad at Amy Poehler for sticking gum under her prized coffee table were that funny? Well, nothing here is that funny. This is light comedy – a rom com that was marketed as a crude offensive Farrelly brothers type affair.

Fey is a 37 year old career woman who one day wakes up and wants a baby. She is told by a doctor (John Hodgman – the PC guy from those get a Mac ads) that the chances of her getting pregnant are one in a million so she looks into adoption but is discouraged by the long waiting list. The idea of employing a surrogate mother pulls her in and before long she is set up with Amy Poehler as a white trash loon. Poehler and Fey have worked together a lot so they have a great clashing chemistry but the tone here is too comfortable to really take off. It does contain a good cast with appearances by SNL folk (Will Forte, Fred Armisen, Siobhan Fallon), a mildly amusing performance by Steve Martin as Fey’s pony-tailed new agey boss, Sigourney Weaver being a good sport about aging jokes as the surrogacy firm head who boasts about conceiving naturally, and Greg Kinnear as a smarmy but charming possible love interest for Fey.

The problem is that it’s all too light and trivial. Poehler could have really gone somewhere with her crusty character, there are hints of that when she’s going into labor and freaking out in a hospital hallway: It feels like Im shitting a knife! but director/writer McCullers (also a former SNL alumni) seems to have decided to play one tone and never vere far from its self imposed sentiment. Still, Fey and Poehler have their moments and its nice to see a quasi-smart comedy involving the needs of women protagonists thats not trying to fake sincerity. Its small success will, with hope, give them the chance to try for something that has more teeth and will really leave more of a mark than this.

More later…

Inland Empire Burlesque

“I was watching everything go around me as I was standing in the middle. Watching it like in a dark theater before they bring the lights up.” – Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) INLAND EMPIRE

I was surprised when I got the latest David Lynch film (released on DVD August 25th) from Netflix to see on the envelope that it was 172 minutes. Now, I’ve had a ‘love/WTF?’ relationship with the films of Lynch for a long time so I was a bit ambivalent about spending nearly 3 hours with Lynch’s particular brand of operatic weirdness. It turned out to be more than that of course, because I re-watched many parts in a futile attempt to really understand what exactly was going on. As many critics have said really understanding it is not the point. It’s supposed to wash over you or something like that. So let’s let it wash:

INLAND EMPIRE (Dir. David Lynch, 2006)

Writing about a David Lynch film can be one of the most intimidating tasks a critic can have. No straight plot description or analysis can be made and working out character motives or the real from the imaginary will leave one’s mind tangled up in Jungian knots. But I’ll roll up my sleeves and at least put on the table what I could decipher.

One narrative thread emerges early on out of the chaotic kaleidoscope of dream like imagery. It involves Lynch regular Laura Dern as an actress who accepts a part in what she and fellow actor Justin Theroux are told is a remake of a never completed Polish film named 47 – not completed that is because the two leads were murdered. After that premise is established the film disintegrates, or melts rather, into an endless seemingly random series of dream-like sequences.

In arguably the most abstract film-within-a-film in history the actors and the film itself become one another and the entire thing turns inside out and back again. Oh, and throw in a living room set with people with large rabbit heads with a laugh track and then another room with 60’s décor in which 9 casually dressed women (models/prostitutes?) who after some simplistic girls-talk break out into a spontaneous but still choreographed dance and lip synch number to “The Loco-motion”. Oh yeah – there are also scenes interspersed from what looks like a orange-hued Foreign film. Whew! That’s the best I can do!

Dern (who co-produced) does probably her best work here and that’s saying a lot for a project that mostly appears to require her to run around re-interpreting Munch’s painting ‘The Scream’ in every actor variation there is again and again. Grotesque Fellini-esque extreme close-ups dominate, non-sensical soundbites seep in from every corner of the screen (“it had something to do with the telling of time” somebody says at one point – uh, thanks) and while it was filmed on digital video the film nicely lives up to Lynch’s previous aesthetics. One can not casually watch INLAND EMPIRE – that would be like casually visiting somebody in prison.

So when the question comes down to whether I liked or disliked it, well trying to figure that out feels like deciding whether to give “thumbs-up or thumps-down” * to a Rorshach test. I can only say I found parts of it intensely absorbing and I cared about what was happening even if I didn’t always ‘get’ what was happening. Still it was a bit much and perhaps should have been edited down a tad. Of course though, that would probably be like cropping sections out of a Jackson Pollack painting.

“Thumbs up-thumbs down” is a registered trademark of Disney-ABC Domestic Television.

Okay! So while we are on the subject let’s take a look at :


Jeanne Bates ERASERHEAD (1977), MULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001)

Frances Bay BLUE VELVET (1986), WILD AT HEART (1990), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) : Also episodes of Twin Peaks (1990).

Laura DernBLUE VELVET(1986), WILD AT HEART(1990), INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

Brad Dourif DUNE (1984) , BLUE VELVET (1986)

David Patrick KellyWILD AT HEART (1990), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) : Also (again) episodes of Twin Peaks.

Diane LaddWILD AT HEART, INLAND EMPIRE : Film fun fact – Ladd who is Laura Dern’s real life mother has played Dern’s mother in 4 movies. WILD AT HEART was the best of them in my book (or on my blog).

David Lynch himself – Starting out in one of his short films THE AMPUTEE in 1974 playing an “unable and scared nurse” (IMDb) Lynch has not quite been a Hitchcockian cameo player but has shown up from time to time. In DUNE he made an uncredited appearance as “Spice worker”, he played FBI Regional Bureau Chief Gordon Cole in the ill-fated TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (Cole was a character he played in 6 episodes of the original TV series Twin Peaks), and though he cut himself out of LOST HIGHWAY he had shot some scenes of himself which he would have been credited as “Morgue Attendant”. How fitting.

Kyle MacLachlanDUNE (1984), BLUE VELVET (1986), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992) Sure he’s known these days for toiling in television on shows like Sex and the City and Desperate Housewives after years of commercial movie dreck like THE FLINTSTONES and (gulp) SHOWGIRLS but back in the day MacLachlan was Lynch’s alter ego go-to guy. Especially with the Twin Peaks TV series which peaked (pun intended) long before the prequel-styled movie. I guess that’s when Lynch’s and MacLachlan’s association peaked as well. Sigh, those days will never be again.

Everett McGillDUNE, TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME, THE STRAIGHT STORY (1999) : Also various episodes of Twin Peaks.

Jack NanceERASERHEAD (1977) , DUNE (1984), BLUE VELVET (1986), WILD AT HEART (1990), TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME (1992), LOST HIGHWAY (1997) : One of Lynch’s most valued players – Nance played the lead in Lynch’s first full length feature ERASERHEAD and had a part in everything including many episodes of Twin Peaks TV series until his death in ’96. His last film was LOST HIGHWAY.

Isabella RosselliniBLUE VELVET(1986), WILD AT HEART : Rossellini dated Lynch from 1986-1991 making this entry a no-brainer.

William Morgan SheppardTHE ELEPHANT MAN (1980), WILD AT HEART (1990)

Harry Dean StantonWILD AT HEART, TWIN PEAKS : FIRE WALK WITH ME, INLAND EMPIRE Seems perfectly suited for the world of Lynch so it’s nice to see him in IE. Hope he uses Stanton again.

Dean StockwellDUNE, BLUE VELVET – ditto.

Justin TherouxMULHOLLAND DRIVE (2001),INLAND EMPIRE According to Wikipedia “some think he has taken the place of Kyle MacLachlan as director David Lynch’s doppelgänger/Protagonist” but yet again there’s that dreaded [citation needed] – damn you non-source referencing Wikipedia contributors!



That’s enough Lynching for now.

More later…