From the Archive — “And we begin, as always, with the latest in movie news….”

reel

As I’ve done on two prior occasions, I’m using the weekly rifle through old writing to share one of the news segments that always started our weekly movie review program. As usual, I must note that the research and subsequent word arranging done here is not my handwork, but was instead handled by my estimable colleague on the show. Previously, I’ve tried to line up the vintage news segment with a spot on the calendar roughly corresponding to its original airing. This time, though, I’ve opted for a different impetus. It seems there’s some symmetry with this weekend’s big movie event and the third and fourth items in this newscast. 

A coalition of right wing religious and public decency groups met last week in Washington, D.C. to propose sweeping changes to the nation’s movie ratings system. The National Coalition on Television Violence called for volunteer citizen rating boards in communities nationwide, similar to one that exists in Dallas, Texas. Under the plan, local boards would assign the following ratings to each film: G, PG, R-13, R-16, R-18, or X. Each film would also carry other ratings: S for sexual content; V, VV, and VVV fir level of violence; D for drug usage (including tobacco and alcohol); L for language; N for nudity; P for perversion; and A for adult situations. These ratings would also be attached to videocassettes. MPAA President Jack Valenti criticized the proposal, saying that it “is not only wrong, but it would create chaos for moviegoers.”

The city of Kissimmee, Florida will not be leveling a fine against theater owners who allow minors into film rated NC-17. Following intensive lobbying by Motion Picture and Theater Manager groups, a proposed $500 fine for such violations was rejected last week by the city council.

George Lucas has won a court decision in Canada, fighting back a claim by screenwriter Dean Preston that the Ewok characters in Return of the Jedi were stolen from a script that Preston submitted to 20th Century Fox in 1978. Lucas testified in trial that he had never seen the script “Space Pets,” and the judge ruled that there was no similarity between the two works. Lucas had been fighting the case for five years.

Speaking of Star Wars and Lucas, word is that he is in pre-production on the early chapters of the series, dormant since 1983. He’s said to be considering shooting the first trilogy back-to-back, similar to the recent Back to the Future sequels, in an effort to save money. If he sticks to his early concept for the series, these films will explore the creation of the Jedi and focus on the young Obi Wan Kenobi.

And in other space sequel news, Paramount has announced plans for Star Trek VI, the release of which will coincide with the 25th anniversary of the TV series. Nicholas Meyer, director of The Wrath of Khan and co-writer of The Voyage Home, will be in charge of this one, and all the regular cast members have signed on. The production is slated to start filming in February, but may have to be pushed back to April to accommodate schedules. And the plot? All Meyers is saying is that Spock falls in love.

A new project has been announced for Mel Gibson. It’s a fantasy/comedy entitled The Rest of Daniel. The plot concerns a test pilot in 1939 who loses the love of his life and, rather than killing himself, he volunteers for a cryogenics experiment. Fifty years later, he’s unfrozen and inadvertently becomes father to a family of children. Warner Bros. paid $2 million for the script.

According to Variety, the film that currently tops the video rental chart is Total Recall.

And the top five films at the box office are:

5. Rocky V, $11.3 million

4. Dances with Wolves, $12.6 million

3. Predator 2, $13.2 million

2. Three Men and a Little Lady, $19 million

1. Home Alone, $28 million

One for Friday — Last Town Chorus, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”

last town

There was a time when one of my household charges was to collect covers. As chores go, it’s not bad. With a clear imperative to seek out novel versions of familiar songs, I scoured the internet in the hopes of finding material that was unique and fun. This task was mostly undertaken when there was a true free-for-all out there in the digital wilds, with emerging artists finding that a nicely crafted cover was of the best ways to distinguish themselves from the masses uploading Garage Band files onto MySpace pages. As a result, I have loads and loads of covers strewn about my computerized music collection, and everyone once in a while a great one shuffles up.

Last Town Chorus was essentially the creative outlet of singer/guitarist Megan Hickey. And it was a cover that briefly brought Last Town Chorus to prominence when her stately, spare version of David Bowie’s “Modern Love” was featured in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. It was Hickey’s pass at a different early eighties hit that hooked me, though.

In covering Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” Hickey essentially pulls the same trick as she did with Bowie’s classic, but it’s a good one. The song is slowed to an agonizingly slow pace, with a ruminative pedal steel guitar and Hickey drawing out the lyrics to accentuate the heartbreak embedded in them. It does what a great cover should: It reveals something new about the song, or at least offers a reminder of some aspect that might have gotten lost after years of repetition.

It seems Hickey is largely retired from music these days, but some cursory research shows she still know her way around a cover.

Listen or download —> Last Town Chorus, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me”

(Disclaimer: To my knowledge, this cover version wasn’t dropped onto an official release that could generate revenue for either the original songwriter or Hickey, so I’m sharing it here with the belief that doing so won’t steer anyway away from engaging in proper commerce. Even so, I will gladly and promptly remove the track from my little corner of the digital world if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

The Art of the Sell — Converse, “For guys who want to keep playing….”

These posts celebrate the movie trailers, movie posters, commercials, print ads, and other promotional material that stand as their own works of art. 

converse

Friends, Converse shoes have been my primary footwear for a long, long time, and I can assure you that I have never found them to have this sort of effect on lounging, bikini-clad companions. To be fair, I’ve always worn Chuck Taylors rather than Coach or Jack Purcells, but I refuse to believe those low-top compromises would produce superior outcomes in attracting other sentient human beings.

This is such an odd ad, anyway. It’s like someone in the pitch room said, “Well, sex sells,” and everyone shrugged and replied, “Good enough.”

Laughing Matters — Muppets Tonight, “Sid Knishes and His Mosh-Pit-atoes”

Sometimes comedy illuminates hard truths with a pointed urgency that other means can’t quite achieve. Sometimes comedy is just funny. This series of posts is mostly about the former instances, but the latter is valuable, too.

In the past several days, I’ve taken great delight in the Emmet’s Otter’s Jugband Christmas outtakes making the rounds, and I’ve done everything I can to avoid the new trailers for The Happytime Murders, convinced to the pit of my stomach that a deliberately edgy, R-rated adventure populated by Muppets is a bad idea, even if a Henson scion is behind it. The brand of character crafted into life by Jim Henson and his compatriots haven’t been nearly as durable and adaptable as their less-than-benevolent corporate overlords at Disney surely hoped. Jason Segel’s valiant effort to return them to the big screen was enjoyable, if only because his clear affection cast a golden glow on the entire endeavor. Most other attempts has been messy, rife with evidence that no one quite knows what to do with these frolicking, felt vaudevillians

Although I’m must sure the answer truly lies there, as a lifelong fan I’ll note my enduring affection for the mid-nineteen-nineties stab at securing them a spot on television, a program called Muppets Tonight. Following the rough template of the original The Muppet Show, but with the conceit of a theatrical performance replaced overtly replaced with that of a television show, Muppets Tonight at least recaptured some of the joyously maniacal idea-flinging of the earlier success. Some of the best bits were over in a snap. The most recent prime time series tried to hard to wedge the Muppets into a sitcom template, with ongoing story lines that were an ill fit. In an era that thrives on shareable chunks of content, the little throwaways did far better.

Muppets Tonight wasn’t comprised of nothing but throwaways, by any means, but I could imagine the show thriving if it had existed at a time when people were eager to log into social media so they could share their favorite new discoveries. One of the bits from the episode of the show featuring Prince as a guest star even made the rounds not so long ago (though sadly not the sketch that should’ve taken off). I know this for sure: had I the means at the time, I would have cross-posted the live performance of Sid Knishes and His Mosh-Pit-atoes onto every digital platform available to me.

From the Archive — Deceived

hawn deceived

In the early nineteen-nineties, drab psychological thrillers were inescapable at the multiplex. At around the same time, Goldie Hawn clearly felt a need to take her career in a different direction. These situations converged, and it was not pretty. This was written for the weekly movie news and review program I co-hosted at my college radio station, early in our second season.  

First of all, it’s refreshing to see Goldie Hawn taking on a role that directly counters the cute, flighty airhead roles that she’s been typecast into for most of the nineteen-eighties. It seemed as though every film she was in required her play a slight variation on her admittedly terrific performance in Private Benjamin. But from Protocol to Wildcats, the material she was given was lacking, and eventually seeing that character over and over again grew grating. So the new film Deceived deserve praise for the simple that it gives Hawn a chance to play a different character. However, it’s not much of a character, and it’s not much of a movie.

In the film, Hawn plays a woman whose life appears to be perfect. She’s got a loving husband, an adorable young daughter, her own business. Things couldn’t be better. But then her world starts to crumble when she begins making discoveries about her husband. First, there are little things: lies about people he knows, lies about work. But soon, she’s discovering the deceptions run far deeper. The film then develops into a thriller, but it’s a limp one. Mary Agnes Donoghue’s script is so devoid of suspense that director Damian Harris has to resort to screeching cats to make the audience jump.

Both Hawn and John Heard — playing the husband — are talented performers, but there’s so little substance to their characters and their relationship that it would be nearly impossible for them to draw us into the film. They simply don’t have enough to work with. They have nothing to do except move through shadows and dimly lit corridors as the film drags along. There’s a very clever ending, but it’s a case of too little, too late.

Hawn is viewing this film as the beginning of a new direction for her career. I admire the effort, but Deceived is an awfully shaky film to start over with.

1 and 1/2 stars, out of 4.

One for Friday — Frightened Rabbit, “Oil Slick”

Frightened-Rabbit
(via)

I wrote about Frightened Rabbit only once. When I was regularly churning out copy for Spectrum Culture, I put in to detail the ingenuity of a track from the band’s sterling 2013 album, Pedestrian Verse, as a contribution to the recurring Monthly Mixtape feature.

This is what I wrote:

The closing track off of Frightened Rabbit’s Pedestrian Verse, their fourth full-length
overall and major label bow, is a lean, emotive affair, ending the fine record on an
appropriately contemplative note. Even better, it has a touch of meta playfulness that
undercuts any self-seriousness that could trickle in. Lead singer and chief songwriter
Scott Hutchison uses the oil slick of the title as a metaphor for his own gloppy, gooey
feelings that can ponderously darken his songs, noting, “Only an idiot would swim
through the shit I write.” Hutchison has noted that he originally intended Pedestrian
Verse to be relatively free of relationships songs, until a break-up during the creative
process thwarted that plan. “The Oil Slick” comes across as his cleverly abashed way of
acknowledging his own inability to steer clear of the lovelorn pining that has long been
the lifeblood of pop music.

Those words still encapsulate a fair amount of the appeal I found in Frightened Rabbit’s music. The open-hearted poignancy of Hutchison’s songwriting was a wonder. At a time in pop music when it often felt like artists were holding themselves back, hiding within the affectations of studio tricks or arch, ironic posturing, Hutchison always seemed to be right there in the lyrics of his songs. It’s precisely that quality that made the witty meta flourishes of “Oil Slick,” and other similar intellectual playfulness, feel like avenues to deeper understanding rather than guises that pushed the listener away.

Listen or download —> Frightened Rabbit, “Oil Slick”

(Disclaimer: I haven’t checked, but I suspect Pedestrian Verse and the bulk of the Frightened Rabbit discography remains available as physical items that can be purchased from your favorite local, independently-owned record store in a manner that compensates both the proprietor of said store and the original artist. I’m sharing this track as an encouragement to engage in precisely that commerce rather than a replacement for such an action. This strikes me as fair use. However, I do know the rules. I will gladly and promptly remove the file if asked to do so by any individual or entity with due authority to make such a request.)

The New Releases Shelf — Dirty Computer

monae
(source)

It seemed entirely possible that any new music from Janelle Monáe would be a long time coming. Although she had already started the process of developing her third studio album when she stepped into the job of big-time movie actress, the tremendous success she enjoyed as a cast member of 2016 awards season titans Moonlight and Hidden Figures carried her to a whole new level of fame. That ascendency was further enhanced by Monáe’s grand sense of style naturally aligning with the fervent need for glamour, all but guaranteeing she’d become a red carpet stunner. Surely the atrophying music industry had to look a little less appealing from the vantage point of newly shining stardom.

Luckily, Monáe decided she had to tend to her unfinished business. It’s unclear if Dirty Computer would have followed the same rough trajectory without Monáe’s forays down other artistic avenues, but it certainly crackles like the product of a creator whose had their fortitude and confidence bolstered by a few spare triumphs. Where her other two fine albums — ArchAndroid and The Electric Lady — were constructs build around the frame of entertaining but distancing science fiction conceits, Dirty Computer reverberates with the seismic tumult of blazing personal revelation and fearless truths. Monáe has conceded the songs are freer expressions of self than she’s allowed before, but that’s clear without the explication. It feels like everything Monáe is — spiritually, politically, emotionally, sexually — is laced through the soulful grooves and snapping lyrics.

The flashing headlines sparked to existence by the album — and its consistently striking accompanying videos — are preoccupied with the hints of revelation associated with Monáe’s romantic attractions. And the album does indeed sometimes seem as if came to life after Monáe pushed vast skies of fluttering bisexual lighting through some magical reverse prism that transformed it all into vivid pop music. And Monáe is thrillingly upfront — even brash — about deploying delightfully salacious language against her fulsome neo soul.

On “I Got the Juice,” Monáe sings, “Got juice for all my lovers/ Got juice for all my wives/ My juice is my religion/ Got juice between my thighs.” It’s not exactly coy, but Monáe’s intriguing gift across Dirty Computer is making all the randy come ons play like sweetly innocent seductions, a flirty magic act that was previously mastered by Janet Jackson. The trick is present within the glorious flow of “Take a Byte,” the gorgeous fragility of “Pynk” (featuring a guest appearance by Grimes, a splendid returned favor), and across the whole album, really. Monáe is so overtly powerful in her evocations of sexuality that she’s able to position them as a particularly joyful version of political defiance. “You fuck the world up now/ We’ll fuck it all back down,” she proclaims in “Screwed,” as a rubbery Prince-like guitar line slips in and out.

The influence of the purple-hued icon is also ever-present on Dirty Computer. According to Monáe, Prince helped her out during the early stages of the album’s creation, and at times the influence is so evident he may as well have his spectral fingers interlaced with hers at the base of an especially fabulous torch. Single “Make Me Feel” almost sounds as though it was pulled whole out of Prince’s fabled vault, even as it inevitably calls to mind one of Michael Jackson’s finest hits. Monáe isn’t slavish to Prince’s sound, though. She incorporates what she’s learned from her forebear and makes it her own, just as she does with Stevie Wonder on the intricate and lovely “Stevie’s Dream,” which features its namesake providing “oratory blessings.” There even seems to be a sly reference to TLC on the airy R&B track “I Like That,” when Monáe sings, “‘Cause I’m crazy and I’m sexy and I’m cool/ Little rough around the edges but I keep it smooth.”

Monáe pulls all of these ricocheting pieces together on the album closer, “Americans.” Soaring and punchy at once, the song is a scathing history lesson, a statement of belief, and an act of defiance in the face of grotesque fools who want to eradicate the hard-earned progress toward a valuing of all people: “Love me baby, love me for who I am/ Fallen angels singing, ‘Clap your hands’/ Don’t try to take my country, I will defend my land/ I’m not crazy, baby, naw/ I’m American.” It’s the spirited anthem to an uncompromising resistance that will not give anything back, no matter how much clawing and whining there is from those who’ve become accustomed to unearned privilege. Hold speakers aloft and blare “The Americans” from the rooftops.

If Monáe has moved away from the safety of casting her eyes to fanciful, robotic futures, it’s in part because the here and now needs her voice. Monáe has made terrific music before, but she’s shifted to a different plane. Dirty Computer is vital.