"I'll just get my gear."

Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Disco 9000 (a.k.a. Fass Black)

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

DISCO 9000 – or FASS BLACK as it’s called on the Xenon Entertainment VHS tape I rented – is a 1977 movie about a super big shot who runs a record label and dance club in the top of a 26 story building on the Sunset Strip. It’s the second of two movies directed by the actor D’Urville Martin (GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER, ROSEMARY’S BABY, BLACK CAESAR) – the first one was DOLEMITE. So yes, he’s the guy Wesley Snipes played in DOLEMITE IS MY NAME.

Fass Black is the name of said big shot, played with distinct swagger by John Poole, whose only other role was as “Record Executive” in the Philip Michael Thomas movie DEATH DRUG (1978). He also has story and wardrobe credits on this. And wardrobe credit is big because that’s about half of the character. One notable thing about this movie is that he wears white-framed sunglasses more often than he doesn’t. It went long enough without showing his eyes at the beginning that I was convinced it was gonna be a DREDD thing where he never takes them off. (read the rest of this shit…)

The Commitments

Wednesday, August 18th, 2021

August 14, 1991

THE COMMITMENTS is the story of a wannabe music manager in Dublin convincing his friends (all white) to put together a soul cover band. The conceit is that ’60s soul music is beautiful and “honest,” that working class Dubliners have more in common than they realize with the African-Americans who created this music, and that the novelty of white Irish people pouring their hearts into these beloved songs would be a cute and fun way to celebrate them in the context of a comical underdog story.

This is one of Mrs. Vern’s favorite movies, so I wanted to be open to it, but I definitely rejected the idea at the time, not taking any serious offense or anything but just under the belief that at best white singers can do pretty good soul music. Dusty Springfield was a one off and Amy Winehouse was 9 years old at the time so it just seemed delusional. I imagined some kind of “let’s all clap for these white people pulling off pretty good soul music” story of triumph for people who don’t generally listen to the real thing. (read the rest of this shit…)

Medusa: Dare to Be Truthful

Wednesday, May 12th, 2021

Today in S91: JUDGMENT SUMMER I’m going to time travel slightly into the future for some supplementary material. MEDUSA: DARE TO BE TRUTHFUL was not released during the summer – it first aired on Showtime on December 1st. But seeing as how it was a quick-turnaround parody of one of the important films of the summer it seemed to me worthy for the time capsule as a document of attitudes in the culture at the time.

It’s not really a movie per se, but (thankfully) a 51-minute comedy special for Julie Brown (ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, BLOODY BIRTHDAY), transplanting her ditsy, entitled but well-meaning Valley Girl persona into a parody of Madonna. I was familiar with Brown in the ‘80s from her comedic songs “‘Cause I’m a Blonde” and especially “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun,” where she juxtaposed All-American high school imagery with violence (which seemed edgy in those days), and then from her MTV show Just Say Julie. I had seen her in EARTH GIRLS ARE EASY, but didn’t realize that she wrote and produced it based on one of her songs. At this time she had a sketch comedy show on Fox called The Edge, which co-starred Jennifer Aniston, Wayne Knight and Tom Kenny. (read the rest of this shit…)

Madonna: Truth or Dare

Tuesday, May 11th, 2021

May 10, 1991

There were several movies in the summer of ’91 that were major pop culture events, widely discussed, referenced, parodied. One of them, surprisingly, was a music documentary shot mostly in 16mm black and white.

Or really more of a tour documentary than a music documentary. One thing that’s unusual about MADONNA: TRUTH OR DARE is that it’s entirely about its subject being a performer, a troupe leader, and a celebrity, and not at all about her music, or even the creation of her show.

The Blond Ambition World Tour was not a normal concert – it was more like an extravagant stage musical. On the four month, 57-show tour from Chiba, Japan to Nice, France, Madonna promoted her 1989 album Like a Prayer and 1990 DICK TRACY tie-in I’m Breathless, backed by seven dancers, two backup singers, an eight-piece band and a $2 million, 80 x 70 foot stage set that was hauled in 18 trucks and set up by over 100 crew members. Every song we see in the movie has its own backdrop, wardrobe (by the fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier – or, as we know him, the guy who did the costumes for THE FIFTH ELEMENT – who Madonna recruited in 1989 by sending him a nice letter) and complex choreography. When the movie begins they already seem like old pros at performing it. If there’s drama about something going wrong it’s not any of them messing up. It’s the sound system or the weather. (read the rest of this shit…)

HiGH&LOW: The Movie

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

“Even scumbags like us could change the future!”

I bet some of you are way ahead of me on HiGH&LOW, and some of you will be hearing of it for the first time here. Either way I’m excited for us to talk about it. No, this is not related to the Akira Kurosawa classic, and I’m honestly not sure what the title even means. But it it’s how they’ve labelled what Wikipedia describes as an “action media franchise” that has been going on in Japan since 2015. I never heard peep of it until the always with-it Twitter-er @HeadExposure raved about it in August.

You can check out that thread for an explanation and some clips, but I’ll try to sum up my understanding from having watched one movie so far. It’s kind of a fun challenge – I feel like one of those people trying to wrap their head around the FAST & FURIOUS series or Marvel or Star Wars way after the fact.

I believe it was always planned to turn into a movie series, but the story began on TV with HiGH&LOW: The Story of S.W.O.R.D., which lasted for two seasons. Those characters and storylines continued into this movie, which has since had two sequels, three spin-offs, a TV comedy series spin-off and an anime. (The movies, but not the other stuff, are all available on Netflix.)

The part that’s definitely way beyond my understanding is that it was created by a former pop star called Exile Hiro, from a group called Exile, and many of the gangs in the movie are various boy bands/music acts that are part of “The Exile Tribe,” so they have albums and tours and stuff related to this franchise. It kind of seems like if the Back Street Boys had an extended family like the Wu-Tang Clan except way bigger and then they all learned martial arts and made violent action movies together. Or is it more like if everyone in the FAST & FURIOUS movies did a concert tour together? I don’t know, but to quote Marge Simpson, “Music is none of my business.” (read the rest of this shit…)

Delivery Boys

Tuesday, March 9th, 2021

DELIVERY BOYS is a breakdancing movie that, according to IMDb, was released in April of 1985. That puts it only a few months after BREAKIN’ 2. But the title and poster do not indicate a breakdancing movie, it was barely released in theaters, and on video it had the cartoony painted art of an ‘80s sex comedy. So I never knew it existed until I was researching RAPPIN’, saw that this was Melvin Van Peebles’ only previous major role, and read a plot description. Then some of you told me to check it out.

Although it’s weird that they hid the breakdancing on the posters, it’s also the horny pizza delivery comedy they advertised it as. It’s about a day in the life of a bunch of dudes who work at a New York City pizza joint called Ben’s, who also happen to be a breakdance crew called The Delivery Boys, and the hijinks that occur while they’re on the job are part of a scheme to keep them from making it to the Brooklyn Bridge Break Dance Contest tonight. (read the rest of this shit…)

Rock & Rule

Friday, March 5th, 2021

Somehow HEAVY METAL was not Canada’s only rock-soundtrack-animated-fantasy-feature of the early ‘80s. ROCK & RULE (1983) combines the sci-fi/fantasy genre with a story about rock music, as the main characters are a band and the villain is (at least according to the opening text on the American version) a “legendary superocker.” The opening credits list all the bands on the soundtrack before the cast.

This was the first feature film from Toronto-based animation studio Nelvana Limited, who actually turned down an offer to animate HEAVY METAL because they’d been developing this since the late ‘70s. Previously they’d done TV specials like A Cosmic Christmas and The Devil and Daniel Mouse, but I know them for their weird, rubber animation on the Star Wars Holiday Special, which led to them doing the Ewoks and Droids cartoons.

ROCK & RULE takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where (again, according to the text in the American version, unexplained in the original) “The War was over” leaving only dogs, cats and rats alive, and “a long time ago” those evolved into “a new race of mutants.” In other words, it’s a “funny animal” cartoon, where humanoid animals rule the earth and either humans don’t exist or maybe they’re being milked on a dairy farm or something off camera. (read the rest of this shit…)

American Pop

Monday, March 1st, 2021

“Music is about the full range of the human condition – good, great, bad, sad. That’s the thing about a classic song – it can keep you going, even if you’re bleeding from the heart.” —Ralph Bakshi

You know who Ralph Bakshi is, right? An animator who worked for Terrytoons as a teenager in the ’50s, did the Spider-man cartoon in the ‘60s, then became sort of the godfather of adult animation in the U.S. by directing the X-rated FRITZ THE CAT. After a few years of that he switched up to be the animated fantasy guy with WIZARDS (1977), THE LORD OF THE RINGS (1978) and FIRE AND ICE (1983). The only movie I’ve reviewed by him is his last animated feature (he’s retired from animation now), 1992’s COOL WORLD, which I did as part of my ‘Summer Flings’ series (“a survey of summer movies that just didn’t catch on”).

Now that I think about it I really should write about more of his movies some day, especially those urban ones from the ‘70s. But for now I had this whim that I want to look at the brief, strange trend of rock ’n roll inspired animated features in the ’80s. And that started in February, 1981 with the release of Bakshi’s unique, odd epic AMERICAN POP.

How’s this for a highfalutin premise: it’s about four generations of an immigrant family and how the history of American popular music weaves through their lives. It starts in Imperial Russia in the 1890s, with intertitles like a silent film, and ends with a stadium rock concert in the ‘80s, animated in a flashy style more inspired by music videos of the time. After young Zalmie Belinski’s rabbi father is killed by the Cossacks, he moves to New York City, where he hangs out backstage at a burlesque show, becomes the back half of a horse costume, then a clown, but wants to sing. The movie follows Zalmie and his descendants through World War I and II and Vietnam, through Vaudevillians, mobsters, beatniks, hippies, punks and, uh… Bob Seger. (read the rest of this shit…)

Breakin’

Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

I’ve written about a bunch of these corny 21st century dance movies, and I always seem to be comparing them to the BREAKIN’ movies, but I’ve never actually reviewed the BREAKIN’ movies. That ends now. I’m reviewing the BREAKIN’ movies. The world could use more focus on the BREAKIN’ movies right now.

In a certain way, BREAKIN’ changed the whole world for me. I’m pretty sure it was BREAKIN’ and/or the cultural conversation around BREAKIN’ that first opened my eyes to this movement of music, art and dancing that older, cooler kids in far away New York had been building for several years. If you weren’t alive then I’m not sure you can imagine what a phenomenon it was. I remember a music teacher giving us diagrams of moves, trying to teach us (what she said was) the moonwalk, talking about Michael Jackson being inspired by breakdancers and breakdancers being inspired by James Brown. It was the music part of hip hop culture that would become important to me, and (as I said in my review of the companion movie RAPPIN’), at that time I don’t think I even knew the word “rap.” I called it “breakdancing music.” (And, though I kind of like this soundtrack, I don’t associate it much with the type of rap I soon fell in love with.) (read the rest of this shit…)

Rappin’

Thursday, May 21st, 2020

May 10, 1985

As I might’ve told you before, I’ve got a soft spot for the hip hop movies of the ‘80s. None are exactly great films, and most are made by people who could’ve just as easily been doing one about BMX or video game competitions or something. WILD STYLE is one of the few that could be argued to genuinely come out of the hip hop culture, and I never saw that until I was older. But BREAKIN’, BREAKIN’ 2 and the more legit BEAT STREET (all released in 1984) were formative for me, softening me up for Raising Hell and Licensed to Ill to come along and change my life.

For me, enough time has passed to forgive any lacking in authenticity and enjoy these movies as time capsules of a time when exploitation filmmakers valiantly tried to straddle the zeitgeist, grab the horns of a movement they didn’t understand, and somehow wrestle it to the ground.

I must’ve known the word “rap” in ’85 – as in “a rap,” because everyone knew about “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” and I was obsessed with the Grandmaster Melle Mel song “Vice” from the Miami Vice soundtrack. But I also called it “breakdancing music.” I was learning. It might be for the best that I didn’t learn from RAPPIN’, a movie I didn’t know about back then even though it was from the same studio and director as BREAKIN’, and supposedly released as BREAKDANCE 3: ELECTRIC BOOGALEE somewhere, though I haven’t been able to find any advertising art to support that claim. (read the rest of this shit…)