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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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…)

Rocketman

Monday, March 30th, 2020

Remember that scene in SCHOOL OF ROCK where the character Tomika (Maryam Hassan) timidly tells her enthusiastic substitute teacher Dewey Finn, played by Jack Black, that she doesn’t want to be a roadie, as she’s been assigned? He tries to tell her it’s an important job, but he’ll let her do something else, like security, or…

She’s really trying to tell him she wants to be a singer, but she hesitates, so he doesn’t take her seriously. And then—

That’s Taron Egerton in ROCKETMAN. Oh my goodness, nice pipes, Egerton! I thought I already liked him, because he was good in KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE and LEGEND, and I even kind of enjoyed that fake-Guy-Ritchie version of ROBIN HOOD he starred in. But I thought he was just… a dude, you know? I didn’t see this coming from him. I didn’t know he had this kind of power, to become Elton John. And make me care about Elton John. (read the rest of this shit…)

Body Rock

Monday, August 12th, 2019

I’m into the early hiphopsploitation for many reasons: they’re a time capsule of an era and culture I’m fascinated by, they’re sometimes humorously dated or clueless about the subject, and they were what introduced me to that world, accurately depicted or otherwise. The BREAKIN’ movies were the big ones, but at the time I liked BEAT STREET better – it felt more authentic, and didn’t center on an outsider. Years later I discovered WILD STYLE (definitely the most legit one) and STYLE WARS (the documentary that seems to have inspired some of BEAT STREET), but also started to be much more enamored by the cartoonish world of Special K, Turbo and Ozone in the BREAKIN’s.

WILD STYLE was first, released in 1983. But check out the release schedule for ’84:

May 4: BREAKIN’
June 8: BEAT STREET
September 28: BODY ROCK
December 21: BREAKIN’ 2: WE ALREADY MADE A SEQUEL TO BREAKIN’

BODY ROCK – the one from New World Pictures – is the one I never knew about back then. It’s also by far the dumbest one. Therefore I have no choice but to recommend it. It stars Lorenzo Lamas (in the midst of Falcon Crest, five years before SNAKE EATER) as Chilly D, a… graffiti artist? He keeps saying he is, but we only see him helping with one subway car during the opening credits. He’s the founder and namer of the Body Rock Crew, his friends who breakdance, and he seems to be some kind of club promoter who introduces them when they dance at a place called Rhythm Nation. Then he stands on the side awkwardly doing a few moves. (read the rest of this shit…)

Bohemian Rhapsody

Monday, January 7th, 2019

NOTE: This movie’s win for Best Picture – Drama last night at the Golden Globes has been received with controversy, mostly involving the morality of rewarding a director who is awash in allegations of sexual assault. I barely mention that aspect in this review because I was able to separate the art from the artist and completely reject the movie on its own merits. It would be an embarrassing choice even if it was made by saints.

You know I’m a positive guy and I don’t do negative reviews that often, and also I tend to think even movies like ROBIN HOOD are okay. Lately though I’ve been watching last year’s awards-nominated type movies to prepare for the season and now I’m finally seeing movies I really don’t like.

I’m afraid I must report that BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY is the new gold standard for horse shit musician biopics. It feels simultaneously adapted from Wikipedia and fudging every single detail for pandering dramatic license.

Rami Malek (NEED FOR SPEED) thankfully abandons his one bug-eyed expression of intensity I decided I was done with after the first season of Mr. Robot. Instead he throws every actorly actor thing he’s got at playing Freddie Mercury, frontman of Queen, essayers of the HIGHLANDER theme (not pictured). Many have said he’s great in the role, and I don’t entirely disagree, but it is a fact that I spent the early scenes wondering why Malek believed Mercury should always look like he was sucking on a lemon.

Then they started talking about him having extra teeth and I remembered hearing something about Malek’s special dentures for the role. And pretty much for the entire rest of the movie I couldn’t stop thinking he was struggling to keep those things in. You see the mouthpiece poking out of his cheeks, his lips frequently moving over it, preventing it from popping out. I kept thinking how sore his face must’ve been.

(read the rest of this shit…)

A Star Is Born (from director Bradley Cooper)

Monday, November 12th, 2018

A STAR IS BORN, from director Bradley Cooper, is a very good adaptation of the trailer that played before every single movie I saw in a theater for the last three months. I saw that trailer so many times I would try to act it out and could sing the two songs (one with correct lyrics, even). I would get just those song fragments stuck in my head for days. So it’s exciting to discover that they have second verses.

I don’t know if it’s as good as an adaptation of the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March, or the 1954 one starring Judy Garland and James Mason, or the 1976 one starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson, or the 1998 made-for-cable one starring Brandy and Casper Van Dien, because I haven’t seen any of them and made up the last one. I have to assume it’s closest to the ’76 because actor Bradley Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) definitely seems to be channeling Kristofferson’s rugged country poet vibe. I even contemplated whether or not he should be allowed to play Whistler if they ever do a new BLADE. Then I realized that really the voice he’s doing is Sam Elliott, so I was delighted when the actual Sam Elliott (ROAD HOUSE) showed up, playing his older brother/road manager. I wondered if that was awkward between the two actors, and then I found a Good Morning America interview where Elliott says Cooper (THE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN) warned him “this is gonna be a little weird” before playing him a tape of the voice he was working on. “And it was a little weird.”

What if Elliott hadn’t been available? If they ended up casting, like, Don Johnson or Willem Dafoe or somebody, would they have to imitate Sam Elliott too? (read the rest of this shit…)

Michael Jackson’s “Earth Song”

Wednesday, August 29th, 2018

Had things gone differently, Michael Jackson would’ve turned 60 today. Every year on his birthday I like to write about one of his videos. This year I chose “Earth Song” because it seems like we need it – it sadly seems more and more relevant as time goes on – and because I think it’s one of his lesser known videos.

At least it was to me. It was the third single from the 1995 album HIStory: Past, Present and Future, Book I, which I didn’t actually buy when it first came out. I don’t know if it was wherever I was in life or the fact that it was half greatest hits, but I didn’t pay as much attention to that album as I had some of the other ones. I did really enjoy the weird promo they were showing on BET and MTV, where Michael leads a scary army and a giant statue of him is forged and unveiled to a crowd of screaming fans. And at the time I thought those were Rambo-style bullet straps on the statue. I still don’t know what the fuck he was trying to communicate with that short film, and also I still enjoy the audacity of it.

(read the rest of this shit…)

Roxanne Roxanne

Monday, March 26th, 2018

Do you guys know who Roxanne Shanté is? In the early days of hip hop, back when it was still pretty much just a New York thing, she was one of the greatest battle MCs. And she was also a 14-year old girl. Marley Marl, the producer behind Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, MC Shan, Kool G Rap, and others, was her neighbor in the Queensbridge housing projects. The way she tells it, one day when she was going to do her laundry he yelled down to her from his window to ask if it was true she could rap, and would she come up and record some rhymes for him. When he played her the beat that had been sampled in UTFO’s hit “Roxanne Roxanne,” she says she freestyled about being the Roxanne in the song. Ten minutes later she went back to the laundry and forgot all about it until her friend called and told her it was playing on the radio. And then it became a phenomenon.

I never knew much about her or heard that story until she was on Ice-T’s podcast three years ago. I actually wonder if that interview gave writer/director Michael Larnell the idea to make a movie about her. Either way, a bunch of the details she mentioned to Ice ended up in the biopic ROXANNE ROXANNE, which played Sundance in January and was released direct to Netflix on Friday.

I think Shanté’s story is more natural for a movie than your usual superstar music biopic it was more neighborhood legend than media event. I know her voice and style and “Roxanne’s Revenge” and some of the responses it inspired from rival female MCs, like when UTFO came back with someone calling herself “The Real Roxanne” added to the payroll. But she’s not like Johnny Cash or someone where they’re wedded to depicting the creation of all the most famous songs and their climbs up the charts and a bunch of iconic moments that people would be mad if they skipped. And there’s not a bunch of footage we’ve all seen a million times and can’t help but compare it to. (read the rest of this shit…)