“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Under the Cherry Moon

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

Remember in the ’60s when Prince starred in that French romantic comedy? Well, I guess that didn’t happen per se, but it’s kind of what his 1986 directorial debut UNDER THE CHERRY MOON feels like. It’s not really a period piece, but it’s filmed in gorgeous black and white (grain perfectly preserved on the excellent new Blu-Ray transfer), has a goofy old fashioned tone and doesn’t have many contemporary styles or references outside of the amazing soundtrack by Prince and the Revolution. The many songs we know as the album Parade (biggest hit: “Kiss”), but there’s also plenty of great instrumental music in there that’s sadly not on the soundtrack.

Prince plays Christopher Tracy, a slick gigolo type from Miami, currently on the Riviera living off of rich French women who he seduces during his job as pianist at a restaurant. He has it down to a science. Best friend/roommate/possibly brother Tricky (Jerome Benton from The Time) is a very effeminate fellow pussyhound who is in awe of Christopher’s skills as he lays in the bath tub improvising love poems over the phone. He’s designed to deliver a certain type of pleasure to a certain type of woman, and it helps that he looks like Prince.

The romcom formula kicks into gear when these love vultures learn of a party for the 21st birthday of the heiress Mary Sharon (Kristin Scott Thomas, ONLY GOD FORGIVES, in her first role), when she will inherit $50 million. They crash the party with plans for Chris to figure out how to marry her. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Michael Jackson’s “Black or White”

Monday, August 29th, 2016

tn_borwHappy Michael Jackson’s birthday, everybody! What did you get me? I got you this thorough illustrated analysis of the “Black or White” video from the album Dangerous!

The “Black or White” music video is the sort of weird, messy, well-meaning, overreaching, and fun piece of mainstream art that only the lightning rod known as Michael Jackson could’ve attracted. It was directed by John Landis (who had already done “Thriller,” of course) and shot by Mac Ahlberg (TRANCERS, GHOULIES, RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, STRIKING DISTANCE). Like “Thriller” it was a short film (11 minutes in its longest version), and its first broadcast (November 14th, 1991 simultaneously on MTV, VH1, BET and Fox) was a heavily hyped event. It was a Thursday night, playing right after The Simpsons on Fox (specifically, the soapbox derby episode “Saturdays of Thunder”), and receiving that network’s highest ever ratings at that time.

It had celebrity cameos (including The Simpsons), groundbreaking special effects, meta elements, and (still puzzling to this day) controversy that caused (or was the excuse for) the best part to be removed for subsequent broadcasts. While Michael sang and danced and visually symbolized in earnest about the lack of racial barriers in eligibility to be his “baby” or his “brother,” it became common to joke about not being able to tell if he was black or white due to his vitiligo-lightened skin. Most of the world could accept that “it don’t matter if you’re black or white” in theory, but that was not gonna stop them from making judgments about Michael’s racial identity.

Like the feature length MOONWALKER, this mini-movie is a jumbled mix-tape of stylistically clashing segments. For convenience I will break it down into four main sections. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Miles Ahead

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2016

tn_milesaheadad_milesMILES AHEAD is the directorial debut of Don Cheadle, and he stars in it as Miles Davis. I think it didn’t get much attention for the same reason it’s good: it’s a small, odd movie, not fulfilling most expectations of a musician biopic. I’m not sure if it even is a musician biopic. Maybe it’s a little of that mixed with Miles’ guest appearance on Miami Vice. It’s a small time crime story where the lead happens to be Miles Davis and the McMuffin is a reel-to-reel of the only recording session he’s done in years. He wants it for himself but Columbia Records has contractual claim to it, so people are trying to get it.

The story takes place over just a couple of days, with the device of Ewan McGregor as totally fictional Rolling Stone writer Dave Braden barging his way into the “black Howard Hughes” life of Miles, promising to write his “comeback story!” At first Miles gives him many variations of “fuck off, white boy,” but eventually the two are hanging out together. Making this odd couple happen requires deceit and cocaine and puts the reporter in the middle of many tense situations involving guns and/or a fierce insistence on artistic purity. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Purple Rain

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

tn_purplerainbtisl“Ladies and gentlemen… The Revolution!”

Those are the first words spoken in PURPLE RAIN, and that dude knew what he was talking about. The 1984 rock ‘n roll landmark opens with a bravura 8-minute sequence in which Prince and the Revolution – playing a band called The Revolution led by a musical genius named The Kid – perform “Let’s Go Crazy” at the 1st Avenue & 7th Street Exit. That’s a legendary Minneapolis club that still exists but of course is most famous as the place where Prince got his start. This scene, and this whole movie for that matter, are amazing because they capture Prince at the very height of his genius and his cool, playing what is now known as one of the greatest albums ever, full of classic hit after classic hit… but he’s playing the underdog. At the time it was just “the PURPLE RAIN soundtrack,” released a month before the movie. He’s peak-Prince and yet in this story he’s not blowing away stadiums of religiously devoted fans, as he’d do in real life from that year to today. Instead he’s just one of the acts playing a medium sized club, and not even the favorite of club owner Billy Sparks. Billy says the Kid’s not bringing ’em in like he used to. He’s thinking of dumping him.

(Are you a fucking idiot? Are you hearing this song that he’s playing? What the fuck are you thinking?)

Throughout the song, director Albert Magnoli (STREET KNIGHT) and his co-editor Ken Robinson rhythmically cut in other elements to set the scene: face-painted clubgoers licking each other, chief rival Morris Day preparing to come in and play after him, rolling in with a long coat and driver/assistant Jerome. But this is the only time in the movie where we’ll see Morris’s humble home life. He gets ready in a small, cluttered apartment. Later he brags about a brass waterbed. He’s fronting. The movie is full of little sad details like this, because these are all the people “gathered here today to get through this thing called life.” (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Straight Outta Compton

Monday, August 17th, 2015

tn_socSTRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON is a movie that will smother your mother and make your sister think it loves her. Or at least it will give them more of an idea of what N.W.A was all about. Unless they already know alot about N.W.A, which come to think of it I do expect of your mother and your sister. They’re pretty cool.

I’ve been thrilled about the idea of an N.W.A biopic for years. So far The Notorious B.I.G. is the only rapper to get one of these (the better-than-I-expected NOTORIOUS), though I remember when Steve James of HOOP DREAMS fame was supposed to be doing one on Grandmaster Flash starring Don Cheadle. A story from that era could be epic. And I would like to see an O.D.B. movie and possibly Public Enemy would work, but I don’t know if there’s much of an ending on that. N.W.A, to me, seems like the best choice for this treatment.

And their movie is pretty much what you’d expect. It captures some of the vitality and power of N.W.A and also has most of the weaknesses of biopics. I can’t honestly claim it all works as a movie, but it celebrates N.W.A without being totally embarrassing about it, so I couldn’t help but enjoy watching it. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Battle of the N.W.A Parodies, part 2: Fear of a Black Hat

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

tn_fearofablackhatThough both were filmed in 1992, FEAR OF A BLACK HAT came out a year after CB4. It had a harder mountain to climb because it was a more independent movie without major movie or TV stars, big names on the soundtrack or celebrity cameos. The most recognizable actor in it is Larry B. Scott from REVENGE OF THE NERDS and SNAKE EATER II: THE DRUG BUSTER.

It’s the directorial debut of Rusty Cundieff, who also wrote it and stars. He’d previously written HOUSE PARTY 2, and we know him as an actor in 3:15, HOLLYWOOD SHUFFLE and SCHOOL DAZE. He went on to direct TALES FROM THE HOOD and alot of TV, including 25 episodes of Chappelle’s Show and one of that Clueless show we discussed a few weeks ago. I remember he was also a correspondent on Michael Moore’s show TV Nation, and I have just learned that his one credit as a TV writer is one 2009 episode of CSI: NY. That’s weird.

Ice Cold (Cundieff), Tone Def (Mark Christopher Lawrence, CRIMSON TIDE, HALLOWEEN REMAKE II) and Tasty Taste (Scott) are the popular gangsta rap trio N.W.H. The “H” stands for “Hats,” because their trademark is wearing big silly hats. Unlike CB4, this one is fully documentary style, so throughout the movie they get to talk to the camera explaining their work, sometimes cutting to clips of videos and performances, or following them backstage, etc. The director and interviewer is Nina Blackburn (Kasi Lemmons, VAMPIRE’S KISS), who puts up with alot from them but is smarter than them, like the Source writer in CB4.

(And before we go on, you’re right, this is not as N.W.A-specific as CB4. Obviously they get the name from them, and they have a song called “Fuck the Security Guards.” But really they’re a mish-mash of every notable rap group of the time, from Ice-T to fuckin PM Dawn.)

(read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Battle of the N.W.A Parodies, part 1: CB4

Monday, August 10th, 2015

tn_cb4CB4 is the comedic story of a fictional West Coast gangsta rap trio out of not-real Locash, CA. They exist in the same world as N.W.A (Ice Cube and Eazy E both appear as themselves in documentary style interview segments) but also they’re kind of supposed to be N.W.A. They dress like them, they have a similar “world’s most dangerous group” image, their videos are shot-for-shot imitations of N.W.A videos, and their hit song “Straight Outta Locash” is done over the music from “Straight Outta Compton,” but nobody accuses them of being a rip-off. Their song is not as good, in my opinion. They copy Cube’s line “Straight outta Compton, crazy motherfucker named Ice Cube” not just once, but before each verse. Watering it down.

One of the more brazen boasts is “I fucked your sister, I fucked your cat / I would’ve fucked your mom but the bitch is too fat,” which is absurd enough, sure, but it’s not as deviously clever as Eazy’s actual line, “Straight outta Compton / is a brother that’ll smother your mother / and make your sister think I love her.”

One difference from N.W.A: they don’t have an exploitative white manager from outside the world of hip hop. They have Trustus (Willard E. Pugh, THE COLOR PURPLE, ROBOCOP 2).

Another one: these guys aren’t exaggerated characters based on their real lifestyles. They’re straight up phonies dressing up like gangstas as a gimmick after their corny Native Tongues copycat act didn’t catch on. And they, uh, pretend they were in prison, which they weren’t , and that gets them into some awkward situations. Hmm. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Get On Up

Tuesday, January 6th, 2015

tn_getonupFor several years Spike Lee talked about doing a James Brown biopic starring Wesley Snipes. This was fairly recently, like while Wesley was locked up. Man, I couldn’t quite picture what that would be like, and I really wanted to find out. But I figured even if Wesley could pull off the role I wasn’t sure a movie about James Brown could ever work. Would a movie really be able to show his incredible genius without toning down what a horrible person he was?

When I heard somebody besides Lee was doing the James Brown biopic, and that it was the guy that did the fucking HELP, I was not happy. And who do they have playing The Godfather? Chadwick Boseman, same guy who already played Jackie Robinson in that other movie that that other white director did before Spike Lee could. I bet this Boseman guy has nightmares about getting stomped by Air Jordans.

And the trailers didn’t help. With quick clips of Boseman in a wig lip synching James Brown, you couldn’t really tell if he looked that much like him, same with the dialogue. And there was a version with interviews of rappers and Mick Jagger and stuff talking about how important James Brown is. What the fuck is this approach? Who is this demographic of fucking weirdos who have no idea who James Brown is but will see a movie about him if Mick Jagger recommends it? What, did they already see a video of Taylor Swift or Macklemore or somebody explaining how important Mick Jagger is? (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Jersey Boys

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

tn_jerseyboys“Frankie’s okay. He’s no Neil Sedaka.”

Here it is again, the ol’ New Movie Directed By Clint Eastwood But Without Him Acting In It rigmarole. It goes like this: New Clint movie comes out. It doesn’t seem like my kind of thing. It gets bad reviews (at least if it came out in recent years). I genuinely intend to see it in theaters, but I keep putting it off. There’s always something I’m more excited for that’s playing. Like, uh, I believe I might’ve seen some robot/dinosaur related picture around the time JERSEY BOYS came out. So I end up missing the movie in theaters. Months later it comes out on video. I’m not excited. I feel like I’m doing my homework. I watch it.

And then the Hey, this is pretty good!

I wouldn’t say this surprised me as much as J. EDGAR (which I still believe is totally underrated, and got 10% worse reviews even than JERSEY BOYS, according to Rotten Tomatoes) but I’m happy to say I enjoyed it. It’s a solid, entertaining biopic of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons based on a Broadway show of some kind. Vincent Piazza of Boardwalk Empire plays guitarist Tommy DeVito and then the guys from the stage version play the other three: John Lloyd Young as lead singer Frankie Valli, Erich Bergen as songwriter/keyboardist Bob Gaudio and Michael Lomenda as bassist Nick Massi.

I thought it was gonna be a musical, but thankfully it’s not. It’s just a story about musical performers doing musical performances, recorded by the actors. I don’t know about the show, but the movie version only has one actual musical number and it’s during the end credits. In my opinion it is more of a blooper reel than an official part of the movie, because why would they be dancing around on a soundstage street singing songs, I mean it just doesn’t make sense.

The rest of the time it’s them singing “Sherry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” and stuff, and these are good songs. So it’s not a problem. (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

Whiplash

Monday, November 17th, 2014

tn_whiplashWHIPLASH is one of those movies that you hear about playing at Sundance and what not and going over like gangbusters. But you have to take that praise with a grain of salt. You know those festival-goers, they can get excited about seeing something first, something brand new without a bunch of pre-release expectations, with a big audience, usually with the directors and actors there. Sometimes it’s a great movie and they get to call it first, other times nobody really cares as much when the movie comes to the civilian world. Sometimes it’s good but you feel a little let down from all the build up. Sometimes you don’t really know what anybody saw in it at all.

I had none of those problems with WHIPLASH. It would actually be hard to exaggerate how strong its effect was on me. You know how a hyperbolic critic would say they had to catch their breath after a movie? That was literally true for me. When the credits rolled I felt my skin tingling and then I realized I was breathing fast. Honest to God exhilaration from this movie.

The set up and the execution are very simple. Nerdy loner Andrew Neyman (Miles Teller, who I have liked since the remake of FOOTLOOSE) is a student drummer at an elite music conservatory in New York. He idolizes old timey jazz drummers like Buddy Rich and wants to get into the top band at the school, the one conducted by Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, THE JACKAL). Fletcher is maybe some kind of genius teacher, but for sure a total fucking asshole. I’m not talking a strict teacher, a grouchy curmudgeon, a Joe Clark type guy that’s gonna turn out to have a heart of gold. I’m talking just… you want to punch this fucking guy in the face in the opening scene and I’m pretty sure you’re not gonna love him by the end. One of the most abusive, hateful non-murderers ever put on screen, and not in an endearing Billy Bob Thornton type of way. He doesn’t even give you the usual cinematic satisfaction of going too far and becoming a psycho in the criminal sense. It doesn’t turn into THE STEPFATHER or something. He’s just… a Total Fucking Asshole (TFA). (read the rest of this shit…)

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.