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Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Step Up: Year of the Dance (a.k.a. Step Up China)

Wednesday, January 25th, 2023

STEP UP: YEAR OF THE DANCE (a.k.a. STEP UP CHINA) is a Chinese production developed by Lionsgate as an official entry in the STEP UP franchise, though it’s not connected by any characters. It was released in China in 2019 and apparently here (digital only) in 2020, but I didn’t find out until recently. I watched the English-dubbed version that’s on Tubi because I wasn’t sure if the VOD release would be different. (That’s not the ideal way to watch it, I imagine, but I got over it.)

My podcast friend Michael Scott of Action For Everyone shares my love of the STEP UP series and the dance movie genre, and we’ve talked about doing a STEP UP episode some day. He always says that dance movies are martial arts movies, and this one really literalizes that notion. It actually starts with a fight, and has more of them later, and the central dance crew find their success by starting a fad of “kung fu street dance.” So it makes sense that YEAR OF THE DANCE is directed by the great American stunt veteran and martial artist Ron Yuan, who you’ve seen in many movies including DOUBLE DRAGON, BLOOD & BONE, THE ACCOUNTANT and THE PAPER TIGERS, and who recently directed BLADE OF THE 47 RONIN.

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Light of Day

Wednesday, December 7th, 2022

Some time around the mid-‘90s I took a weekly screenwriting class for a while, and the teacher loved Paul Schrader. He seemed to bring him up in every class. The guy who wrote TAXI DRIVER. The guy with the strict Calvinist upbringing. Eventually he had us watch a Paul Schrader movie, and he chose LIGHT OF DAY – the one where Michael J. Fox plays in a rock band with Joan Jett. I had seen it before and I didn’t dislike it but I thought it was a weird choice to represent Schrader. I think maybe the teacher hadn’t seen it yet.

But, you know, after THE CARD COUNTER last year and finally watching LIGHT SLEEPER this year I was kinda high on Schrader and thought it might be worth going back to this one to see if there was something I was missing. Well, no, not really, but that’s okay. It’s not in the vein of those ones I just mentioned and it’s not as powerful or as distinctly Paul Schrader, but I don’t think anybody else would’ve made exactly this rock ’n roll movie.

I used to think of it as corny because it’s a rock star acting and a sitcom star rocking, but what’s cool about it is that it’s thoroughly working class. It’s about a band, but it’s never about the record label guy is coming to the showcase and it’s their big chance and they write a hit and they get the cover of Rolling Stone but then it’s the pressures of fame or whatever. No, they’re just a small band that plays at a little tavern in Cleveland called the Euclid (“the Euc” for short) and they try to keep that gig or set up a small tour or play in a different band that will pay better. They do pull a pretty good crowd for the size of the place, but they’re not famous. Nobody knows who they are. And they gotta have jobs. (read the rest of this shit…)

Ricky Powell: The Individualist

Wednesday, May 11th, 2022

RICKY POWELL: THE INDIVIDUALIST is a 2020 documentary about the late New York City photographer/scenester who documented the golden age of hip hop and the ‘80s New York City art scene. Most of us know of him because of a line in a Beastie Boys song – he grew up with Ad Rock and went with them on their tours for around a decade, hanging out and taking photos. He also took many famous pictures of Run DMC, LL Cool J and Public Enemy.

And it was more than that. He just lived in an interesting place and time, and knew a ton of people who went on to do big things, who were comfortable with him and let him take candid photos of them. Club kids, actors, graffiti artists. Some of his old friends are interviewed in the movie: Natasha Lyonne, Debi Mazar, Fab 5 Freddy, Laurence Fishburne, the graffiti writer Zephyr. (read the rest of this shit…)

Wild Zero

Monday, April 4th, 2022

WILD ZERO (1999) is something that I was aware of as a major cult movie twenty-some years ago, but I never got around to seeing it until now. So young people, please ignore that first sentence and pretend this is an impressive find on my part.

I remembered it because I watched that Japanese post-apocalyptic punk movie BURST CITY not too long ago. WILD ZERO is very different, but it’s another crazed genre movie starring rowdy Japanese rock ’n’ rollers who play music and get into trouble. A trio called Guitar Wolf (led by Guitar Wolf, backed up by Bass Wolf and Drum Wolf), who play a garage rock style they call “jet rock ’n’ roll,” star as themselves in a goofy zombie/sci-fi movie. (read the rest of this shit…)

Burst City

Monday, February 7th, 2022

BURST CITY (1982) is more of an immersive experience than a movie. It’s very light on plot, and I couldn’t tell you any of the characters’ names, and only what a couple of them were up to. But I thought it was great as sort of a travelogue to a dystopian near future as imagined by the early ‘80s Japanese punk scene.

It’s about the gangs and punk bands in a very filthy and crowded slum. They live in wrecked buildings and abandoned factories, covered in graffiti, strewn with junk, wreckage, the occasional mannequin. They sit around on the floor, playing instruments, watching a TV, giving commentary through a megaphone. One such place is presented with a title card that says “BATTLE ROCKERS SECRET BASE.”

Some of them have drag races and work at garages, but quit that job because they’re “much too artistic” for it. (read the rest of this shit…)

Good to Go a.k.a. Short Fuse

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

“They’ve got a sound that the world is gonna love. The world.”

For many years I was aware that there was an old ‘80s movie released on VHS called SHORT FUSE starring Art Garfunkel. Because of that tough sounding title I figured it was some kind of WALKING TALL or DEATH WISH type shit where Art Garfunkel had a short fuse and some motherfucker made the mistake of lighting it. And then Art Garfunkel went off faster than expected on account of his fuse’s shortness.

Then Mr. Subtlety told me I should check out this movie called GOOD TO GO “a deliberate attempt to make a Go-Go version of THE HARDER THEY COME, with a bunch of local artists playing themselves,” which he noted was called SHORT FUSE on video and had Garfunkel in it. He knew I was into funk, and go-go is a related subgenre I could theoretically be into.

I was intrigued, but then kinda forgot about it until I was record shopping and bought the GOOD TO GO soundtrack because it was cheap and had Trouble Funk and Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers on it. And then I saw Art Garfunkel on the back and could tell from the picture that this was a guy with a really short fuse. (read the rest of this shit…)

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…)