Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Sick Animation- Sex Drugs and Rock n' LOL music review

In an era dominated by political correctness, where American culture has been rinsed out and squeezed dry like a dirty washcloth, true, no-holds-barred and independently produced comedy, unrestrained by pressure to appeal to a broad audience, can be truly refreshing to those seeking something different. Sick Animation’s new album, ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ LOL’, offers just that, an escape from the sterile and edgeless humor of our time. The lyrics are awash with one obscenity after the next, referencing almost every sexual taboo known to the western world, all the while retaining a sharp wit and a playful demeanor, even when shouting ‘You a Dike Ho! Now get the fuck off of my porch.’ It’s offensive, and it’s utterly wrong, but it’s all in good fun.

On the cover of the album is a drawing of the mustachioed creator and mastermind behind the album, Marc M, who has gained a cult following on the internet with his cartoon animations and comics. He released his first album, ‘The Ultimate party Collection Vol. 1’ a couple years ago. While the album contained some of his best material to date, highlights being the smooth ‘When I Lay You Down’ and the thigh-moistening ‘Black History Month’, with over 40 songs, it was hardly consistent.

‘Sex, Drugs, Rock n’ LOL’, on the other hand, is leaner, with only 18 tracks (including four skits), and all together more satisfying, in a narrower sense. What is truly spectacular about the record is its level of musical competence. One only has to listen to the infectiously hummable chorus to ‘Summer Rain’ or to the catchy vocal harmonies on ‘Put it on the Table’ to realize the true quality of the songwriting. Elsewhere, Marc M. recreates the magical flow found on ‘When I Lay You Down’ on the brilliant ‘This Slut’. With such reckless and taboo lyrics as ‘Osama got pissed off, cause I fucked his bitch with my infidel dick on soft’, and with a heavy and melodic chorus, the track is a true gem in the world of comedy.

Sick Animation is an underground hero in American comedy. This independently produced record, although crude and not tailored for mass consumption, is a testament to creativity and the ability to express oneself. With a distinctive style and personality, ‘Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ LOL’ should be on the shelf of anyone who has ever saluted an American flag, or has laughed at an anal sex joke.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

King Of The Dead: A Romero Retrospective

George A. Romero is considered by many horror fans to be one of the most accomplished and widely influential filmmakers of the genre, his specialty being the congested yet ever-popular sub-genre of zombie films. With his now-classic independent horror film ‘Night of the Living Dead’ in 1968, Romero established himself as a rare and indispensable innovator of the seemingly tired horror genre. By effectively mixing violent terror and campy sci-fi nightmare scenarios with genuine social commentary and quality film-making, Romero produced a horror film unlike any others of its time. Romero would build upon his legacy in the years to come, directing such major films as ‘Creepshow’ and ‘The Dark Half’, but what the films he will forever be associated with are those which comprise his acclaimed ‘Dead’ series. Although the ‘Dead’ films take place in the same universe, each installment is unique in its own regard, retaining their own separate merits and faults, distinguished by their methods of inspiring terror and fear. With a new Dead film, Survival of the Dead, lurking on the horizon, now would be an appropriate time to take a look back on these genre defining films.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)

Romero’s first film, produced on a meager budget of $114,000, has remained a fan favorite and midnight movie staple since its original release. Throughout the years the film has been widely praised for its serious, realistic tone, its documentary style black-and-white film stock and cinematography, and its bold yet refreshing observations on human behavior in times of crisis. What the film is arguably best known for is its ground-breaking depiction of violence, considered tame by today’s standards but horrifying in the 60’s. Theaters which screened the film upon its initial release would distribute barf bags to the audience members. It’s also worth noting that this film was brave enough to utilize a black man as its hero in the height of the civil rights movement.

Dawn Of the Dead (1978)

Romero’s follow-up to Night is often considered to be not only the best of the ‘Dead’ series but also one of the greatest horror films ever made. In it, four police officers take refuge in a shopping mall during a zombie invasion. Dawn of the Dead retained a great deal of its predecessor’s best qualities, including its role as a social critique (this time as a condemnation of American consumerism), but it took its depiction of violence and carnage to another level of extremity, thanks in no small part to the make-up effects by industry legend Tom Savini. Bright red blood can be found in almost every frame of this movie, and the blue zombie make-up, new at the time, makes them look truly realistic and grimy. The violence can be excessive at times; resulting in moments which can be either terrifying or hilarious, depending on the perspective of the viewer. For example, in the opening scene of the film some poor guy’s head explodes in grisly detail after a crazy cop shoots him on a rampage. I guess that’s a pretty easy way to get the audience’s attention. The 2004 remake is also pretty good, but needless to say not as good as the original.

Day of the Dead (1985)

This film is hated by many fans simply because it doesn’t share the non-stop action and carnage of its popular predecessor. Instead, its main focus is on character, specifically on the human response to constant isolation and imminent death, one which will almost inevitably be of sheer panic and eventual self-destruction. It’s more similar to Night in that regard. In the film, several survivors of a zombie invasion, comprising of a mixed bag of scientists and army personnel, hide from the zombies in a military bunker underneath the Florida everglades. Throughout the film the soldiers, specifically the psychopathic Captain Rhodes, demand respect and immediate results from the unruly scientists, who want only to find a solution to the zombie problem. The film is slow-burning and talky, but it results in an exciting climax which features some of the most insane kills in the history of zombie fiction. The terrible 80’s synthesizer soundtrack and bizarre side-characters with wacky ethnic accents nearly ruin the tone of the film, but it is salvaged by one of the most loathsome villains in film history, Captain Rhodes, who steals every scene he appears in with his psychopathic rage and unpredictability.

Return of the Living Dead (1985)

This one isn’t technically part of the ‘Dead’ series and it wasn’t directed by George Romero, but because it considers itself to be an alternate sequel to the original Night, and because it’s so awesome, I feel it deserves a mention. Return tells the tale of two inept medical warehouse workers who accidentally release a gas which triggers an unexpected zombie awakening. Unfortunately for a group of partying teenagers (a strange mix of Brat packers and Lost Boys), the zombies interrupt their wild graveyard rave. Bogus! With hilarious writing and improve style acting, as well as the constant 80’s cultural references and unique zombie design (especially the classic ‘Tarman’), this a truly enjoyable zombie classic. Stay clear of its sequels.

Land of the Dead (2005)

It took Romero 20 years to produce the fourth installment of his Dead series, and many fans believe it wasn’t worth the wait. Land of the Dead tackles both social and political issues while retaining a constant sense of suspense and excitement, but the viewer is somewhat distanced by the over-stylization absent from Romero’s previous films. The film revisits the familiar idea that zombies have the ability to learn and will eventually adapt to the conditions around them, but some of the scenes in which a giant zombie pumps another zombie’s gas is just too silly to take seriously. That being said, Land of the Dead is a solid zombie flick, but it is not the same caliber film as its three predecessors.

Diary of the Dead (2008)

Filmed in the handheld style of Cloverfield, Diary of the Dead follows a group of aspiring filmmakers who document themselves as they run away from zombies. The film is exciting and continues the familiar social commentary one would expect from a ‘Dead’ film, but it lacks originality, perhaps because zombie films are so common nowadays and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd. Although it is by no means bad, the film simply doesn’t live up to the first three of the series.

The new Romero film, Survival Of The Dead, will be released on May 24th.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Runaways (2010)

This film had the potential to be great: a coming of age tale about a beautiful young girl who is suddenly drafted into the American dream only to be chewed up and spit out before getting her feet off the ground. Familiar story, yes, but a powerful one which would have worked well against a rock n’ roll backdrop. The story exists somewhere in the mess which is The Runaways, buried beneath a sea of corny dialogue and inane subplots. This film is one huge distraction from its mediocre screenplay. There are music montages, concert performances and random musical breaks littering the screen from the very beginning and it becomes exhausting quickly, especially considering how dreadful the actual music is. Somebody should have told writer/director Floria Sigismondi that she was making a MOVIE, not a music video.

Here’s the skeleton of the plot: Cherri Currie (Dakota Fanning) is a young girl living in Los Angeles who is constantly surrounded by sex and alcohol. She has seen these vices take a great toll on her family and friends, especially her father, who is an alcoholic dead-beat. At the same time, young rebel Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) wanders the city streets with a dream of becoming a rock star. The ambitious Jett convinces scummy music producer Kim Fowley to help her start her own group. Fowley, who recognizes this as an opportunity to exploit fresh young talent, embraces Jett and forms a band around her, a band which is completed by the addition of Cherri as the singer. Good girl Cherri is initially taken aback by the raunchy lyrics she’s asked to sing, but after a while Fowley and the other band members peer pressure her into singing them. Soon enough, Cherri becomes so consumed with the debauchery and decadence of rock star life that she abandons her morals completely and becomes a helpless victim of sex and drug abuse.

As I mentioned before, the music video style of this film is distracting and annoying at times, but the one critical error which manages to drag it down considerably is its confusion as to where to focus its story. The writers must have been torn as to what direction to take their film: whether it should be a rock n’ roll bio-pic focusing on the Runaways as a band, or a coming-of-age saga focusing solely on the singer Cheri Currie (whose auto-biography the screenplay is based on). Instead of coming to an actual creative decision, the writers went down both roads, focusing on both Cherri Currie and, to a lesser extent, Joan Jett at the same time.

Bad move. The sequences focusing on Jett seem peripheral and detrimental to the flow of the film, whereas the scenes featuring Cherri Currie seem to shine with greater depth and accuracy. Gee, I wonder why? Could it be because her story was based on another source (her auto-biography)? Yes, I would wager so. Eventually (and thankfully), the film abandons whatever Joan Jett story arc the writers were trying to establish to focus solely on Cherri Currie ( maybe because they ran out of ideas). Obviously, the film would have benefitted if its focus was exclusive to Currie from the beginning, but they just had to shove in an inane Joan Jett story (“Girls can’t play guitar!” “Oh yeah, I’ll show you!”) in order to appeal to a wider audience.

The decision to cast Dakota Fanning and Kristen Stewart as the leads inspired some undeserved controversy when it was announced, but they gave some good performances despite the confused screenplay. It seemed like they were using this film solely for the purpose of shedding their ‘good girl’ images, but after seeing the actual film I was impressed by their work. They prepared for their roles by rehearsing Runaway songs for a whole month, which is funny because they probably practiced more than the original band.

Overall, the film suffers greatly from a weak screenplay, a lack of clarity, and an ill-fitting tone. What could have been a great film about disillusionment with the American dream was instead turned into a late-night VH1 special. This film is like an AC/DC shirt for sale at WAL-MART; it has no soul or purpose, it just… exists.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The White Ribbon (2009)

The White Ribbon is a dark, quiet, brooding film which may isolate and divide many of its viewers, but those who truly engage themselves within its world will be surprised, disturbed, and deeply affected by the film’s uniquely brutal beauty.

Taking place in a small village in Germany the year before the outbreak of the First World War, the film follows the lives of several different characters. There is the local pastor, a serious, brutal man who, in the beginning of the film, punishes two of his children for staying out after dark by refusing them food and beating them with a cane. He later ties a white ribbon around their arms to remind them of purity and morality. There is also the local doctor, his daughter Anna, the school-teacher, and the Felder family, a poor family of farmers who are struck by tragedy when their mother dies in a work accident.

The village is plagued by a series of seemingly random acts of violence and malice. It begins when the local doctor is tripped on a wire while riding his horse, then continues with the torturing of the Baron’s son and the burning of a barn. Nobody in the village has any idea of who could be responsible for the crimes, but the school-teacher believes the children may have the anser.

This film is not an everyday ‘whodunit’ mystery, where the audience guesses who is behind the crime only to have the entire mystery wrapped up nice and tidy in the third act. Master director Michael Haneke doesn’t wrap the conclusion in a candy-colored ribbon and hand it to the audience. The ending is ambiguous in that the audience can come to their own conclusions as to who did what or if one character is right or wrong. This may be new to many viewers, but such a bold style of film-making is quite refreshing to see in a world of remakes and what-have-yous.

That isn’t to say the film is at all unsatisfying. The entire film is a series of scenes which can shock, disturb, surprise, or enlighten the viewer. The plot is thick and involving in that every scene is important to the narrative. Not a second is spared, and every frame has a meaning. The cinematography of the film is superb. It was filmed in color then rendered into black & white. This was a wise decision on Haneke’s part, not only because the black &white perfectly suits the dark tone and setting of the film, but also because it resulted in beautiful, sometimes mesmerizing images which can linger in the mind for days on end.

I remember first reading about The White Ribbon winning the palm D’or (grand prize award) at the prestigious Cannes film festival early last year. Little did I know that it would be almost an entire year before I would get to see the film in American theaters. I was slightly disappointed when I actually went to see the film only to realize that my brother and I were the only ones in the theater. I strongly urge you to see this film, as I believe it is one of the most original and thought-provoking films of the last ten years.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Paris, Texas (1984)

‘Paris, Texas’ is a stunning yet sublime portrait of the human spirit’s quest for redemption and belonging, an extraordinary film which displays a remarkable understanding of its characters and of the vast, lonely world they inhabit. Through beautifully photographed images and flawlessly executed movements and dialogue, the film manages to elicit complex and profound emotions while still managing to maintain a genuine and personal perspective of reality. Rarely are films successful in presenting a world so rich with such authentic humanity, but ‘Paris, Texas’ is unique in its ability to transcend the artistic boundaries of dramatic film-making, and will slowly but surely integrate itself into the lives of those who accept it for the quiet masterpiece it truly is.

The severely underrated Harry Dean Stanton stars as Travis Stockwell, a lonely drifter who wanders aimlessly through a spacious and empty desert somewhere in the American Midwest, endlessly searching for something profoundly important, yet he can’t quite remember what that something is. Travis is eventually discovered by his successful brother Walt, who is shocked that Travis is still alive. Walt explains to the dirty and mute Travis that he had completely disappeared for four long years, during which time he and his wife had been raising Travis’ eight year old son Hunter for him. After Travis lays eyes upon Hunter for the first time in four years, memories of love and loss flood back into his conscious, and he soon embarks on a journey to rejuvenate his long disbanded family.

What proceeds is a tale of reunion and rediscovery, where cherished memories of love and loyalty are finally restored and the emotional bonds tattered by years of loneliness and alienation are once again restored. One of the more remarkable aspects of the film is its dedication to the development of its characters; it takes its time to illustrate their often complex feelings, and the story is told through their context. Travis’ early attempts to earn the trust of Hunter are so moving and sincere that it becomes heart-breaking to see him fail. The scenes are effective without the aid of melodramatic music or phony dialogue. They exist within a solid reality, where organic human emotions take center stage.

Harry Dean Stanton delivers a brilliant performance, capturing every obscure idiosyncrasy and mannerism of his eccentric character with outstanding authenticity and style. His performance is almost haunting in its power to inspire such a wide range of emotions. His soul-bearing monologue near the end of the film is a high-water mark for character acting and the undisputed highlight of the film. It’s one of the most beautifully emotional scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of viewing, one which has stuck in my mind months after originally seeing it. It’s such a brilliant monologue that I would feel guilty spoiling the context in which it’s delivered.

Paris, Texas is an American fairy tale of love and redemption, where the loneliness of the vast desert plains is echoed in the sprawling cities which surround them. It defies all stereotypes and genres, creating a world unique to the art of film, where the story relies not on a sequence of contrived events but on the genuine feelings and individual experiences of the characters. It’s a slow and quiet meditation on life, a subtle film of unparalleled beauty and substance. There’s no doubt in my mind that it’s one of the greatest films ever made. A new reissue of Paris, Texas will be released on Blu-Ray and DVD on January 26 through the Criterion collection.