Whether you know it or not, Harold Ramis has bettered your life. With his passing earlier this week, I felt most saddened to hear person after person say “Harold who?” when I shared or discussed the news. These same people brightened quickly, before their faces dropped upon realizing the great loss as I listed titles from Harold Ramis’ career. His filmography is impressive. Even more impressive is the number of truly funny, talented people Ramis pushed forward into more name-worthy careers. But even this is to Ramis’ credit. He was a gentleman. He was a true comedian. And although the material was his, the jokes forming in his unique curly-headed brain, he always gave the best laughs to another man. Take Bill Murray, for example. Look at Stripes, Ghostbusters and its sequel, Groundhog Day, even Meatballs and Caddyshack. Lord, I don’t know the whole story between those two. Who knows the truth behind any story starring Bill Murray? But behind all those classic Bill Murray deliveries was a Harold Ramis script. The truth is that Harold Ramis knew comedy. He knew what was funny and who was funny. And he stepped to the side, into the alcove far too often, to let another voice deliver his material. Harold Ramis was one of the good guys. A fellow with a perpetual smile. A unique talent. An unfortunately stoic snot-balled voice. A man with a beloved fan-base of millions, many of whom never knew his name. God bless Harold Ramis for the laughter he shared, the brilliance he challenged, the humility he personified. And God bless his people.
Tags: Bill Murray, Caddy Shack, Eulogy, Ghostbusters, Good guys, Groundhog Day, Harold Ramis, Meatballs, Stripes, Tribute
Tags: Against Me, Laura Jane Grace, Record Reviews, Tom Gables, Transgender Dysphoria Blues
Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is the first Against Me! album to feature vocalist/guitarist/songwriter Tom Gables performing as Laura Jane Grace. Yes, Tom is a chick now. Yes, Tom’s journey to become Laura Jane is explicitly addressed on this record (check opening two tracks and the closer). No, that is not why this record is a front-runner for my favorite rock record of 2014.
If “controversy” alone determined the value of rock-n-roll, Miley Cyrus’s Bangerz would be topping Lorde’s Pure Heroine, which would be topping the new Beyonce porn-package, which would be topping this new Against Me! But we’re adults here (sort of), so we should be enjoying the music for the music. And, in the Transgender case, I only needed one play through the snare-snappy, rolling-riffs, angry Tom Petty-esque opening title track – “You want them to notice / The ragged ends of your summer dress / You want them to see you / Like they see every other girl / They just see a faggot / Hold their breath not to catch the sick” – to lay my dollars down. I’ve had it in constant rotation since it’s late January release.
Controversy and autobiographical journeys aside, this is good rock-n-roll. This is roll the damn windows down and let this record spin three times to Austin on a fine day rock-n-roll. This is curious, questioning, angry, fist and stiletto hells rock-n-roll. And it’s solid cover to cover.
Confession: I’ve never been a die-hard Against Me! fan. I left all that sweaty band-sticker-on-my-dashboard love to my buddy Pepe. But this record took me back through Against Me!’s discography, through records that felt familiar but still relatively fresh, and the experience won me over fully.
Transgender is a culmination record, capturing several different sounds Against Me! has charted and, at times, perfected. You like the The Eternal Cowboy and In Search of a Former Clarity brass-knuckle, bar-room, steel-toed era, you’ve got tracks like “Drinking With The Jocks” and “Osama Bin Laden As The Crucified Christ” and “Unconditional Love”. You prefer the poppy, high-hat dance-ability of New Wave, you’ve got the title track and “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Paralytic States”. You fancy the stripped down arena rock of White Crosses, you’ve got “FuckMyLife666” and “Dead Friend” and “Two Coffins.” Here’s a ten track retrospective album, picking up various licks and sounds from a fluctuating career.
But the clincher track here for me, the one that pulls the entire AM! canon together and simultaneously pushes it forward, capturing Laura Jane’s grittiest angst, is the closing “Black Me Out”. Opening with a simple strum, Laura Jane chimes in calmly before the entire track erupts – “I wanna piss on the walls of your house / I wanna chop those brass rings / Off your fat fucking fingers / As if you were a king-maker / As if, as if, as if black me out”. The message here being that we haven’t heard the end or the even best from Laura Jane Grace, yet. There’s more clattering about in that shifting soul. Great. Bring it on. I’m already pining for the next Against Me! release.
Tags: American Mary, Austin Chick, Danielle Panabaker, DVD Collection, Exploitation, Film Reviews, Girls Against Boys, I Spit On Your Grave, Revenge, Teeth
Perhaps it’s tempting to lean on exploitative visuals to tell certain stories or explore particular ideas. For instance, I Spit On Your Grave is now a three film “franchise”, featuring the Meir Zarchi original (1978) and two modern retellings / reimaginings. These films are known for pushing the boundaries of cinematic acceptability over the edge into blatant exploitation. The film-makers justify the exploitative imagery by pointing to the themes of the films: how else could / should the story of a woman’s violation and need for vengeance be told except explicitly? And shouldn’t the cinematic portrayal of the woman’s violation be just as explicit and vile as her cinematic acts of vengeance? Isn’t cathartic cinema valuable? And how dare the audience shy away from merely seeing such a violation when so many women actually experience similar atrocities?
Yeah, I don’t know about all that. All I know is that I’ve seen all three I Spit On Your Grave films, and I walked away from each one feeling that justice and awareness and communication weighed far less than amplified shock value in the filmmaker’s process. I could be wrong, but these films felt more pornographic – in their treatment of both violation and vengeance – than honestly cathartic.
Girls Against Boys, despite its dramatic title and provocative poster, does not rely on exploitation to explore similar issues of violation and vengeance. It’s more akin to films like Teeth and American Mary, working more in visual subtlety, relying more on the strength of the narrative and the precision of good performances, which is a far-cry from simply being “tasteful” in dealing with a delicate situation.
Girls Against Boys tells the story of Shae (Danielle Panabaker) who befriends Lu (Nicole LaLiberte) shortly after a nasty break-up and immediately before falling victim to a new possible love interest. Shae reaches out to family and friends for support, but no one proves available except Lu. And if hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned, Lu gladly saddles up alongside Shae as fury personified. The girls quickly become a Thelma and Louise pair hell-bent on vengeance, but inevitably the vengeance reaches farther than anticipated.
On the surface (and by mere appearance), Girls Against Boys looks like a simple bad-girl-with-a-gun B-grade sleeper, but there’s some real heart to the telling of Shae’s story. Kudos to writer / director Austin Chick for rising above the possible trenches of genre trappings and avoiding simple exploitation maneuvers. He’s created, instead, a unique character study of a young woman caught a painfully dichotomous mindset. Not to mention, I never imagined the nonchalant enjoyment of Captain Crunch could be so creepy. Girls Against Boys gets a solid 3.5 geisha blades out of 5. Here’s proof again that the viewer’s imagination and sympathies are far more vicious than any camera’s eye.
Tags: 2013 Movies, Abigail Bresline, Car Trunks, Film Reviews, Halle Berry, RedBox, Spouse Film, The Call
They put Halle Berry on the poster, but The Call is totally Abigail Breslin’s movie. Little girl’s hardcore! She performed two thirds of the film in the trunk of a car and the last third strapped to a table. Even with all these confines, she made Halle Berry look like a mannequin. I guess without the pressure of being under Billy Bob, Halle Berry ain’t got much to offer. Put the Oscar winner in a trunk, yo!
Also, those first two-thirds are nail-biting awesome-sauce. I got suckered in against my will when I walked in on Abigail Breslin beating the tail-light off the car from inside the trunk. Little girl is bad ace! But it all dissolves to a ridiculously forced female superhero scenario when Halle Berry decides X-Men’s Storm ain’t enough action figure fodder for one career.
Overall, The Call gets 2.5 fully clothed Morris Chestnuts out of 5. You can skip this entirely, unless your spouse brings it home from the RedBox.
Tags: All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Amber Heard, DVD Collection, Jonathan Levine, Slasher flicks, Teen screams
I’m addressing this to you because I cannot fathom for a moment that Grave or Dr. Wertnz would be much interested in an indie-flick (by Jonathan Levine, director of 50/50 and Warm Bodies) that collides a John Hughes highschool drama and an early 80s slasher-whodunnit so masterfully that I cheered at the end, spilling a sleeping pug from my lap onto the floor. Oh, and Amber Heard, before she was a lesbian or dating Johnny Depp, leads as Mandy Lane – the Amanda Jones of scream queens if Some Kind of Wonderful had been a slasher. Reasons to watch All The Boys Loved Mandy Lane keep stacking like bodies on a weekend woodland getaway!
There’s some indie-film lore surrounding this film about it making the tiny theater circuit back in 2006, then somehow landing on underground video (online or VHS, I’m not sure), and the rights were greatly debated for a spell until the director Johnathan Levine finally made name enough for himself with Warm Bodies to interest a distributor in releasing this thing to your local RedBox and BestBuy. I probably got all that wrong, having read about it in an Entertainment Weekly during a morning constitutional, the details are fuzzy at this point. What I do know is that the release of this sucker is considered a high-fiveable victory for indie-film, and film-buffs in the know were stoked. I tend to trust film-buffs in the know more than critics, and this time it worked in my favor.
This film looks and feels amazing. The music is creepy perfect, swimming all the way in-between Robert Earl Keen (who makes a cameo at a gas station) Texas country to the Go-Gos to Beethoven and back to something you’ve never heard but that fits the visual tone like a Nintendo PowerGlove that actually works. Levine choreographs a few montage scenes that lift the film above its horror genre trappings, tricking the viewer into believing this is all a sweet, Sundance coming-of-age drama rather than the kind of film where girls are slaughtered by shotguns literally shoved down their throats. The gore is good. The kill scenes are fun. And the acting is above expected par. Amber Heard is always great, even when the film sucks lobotomized brain balls (ie. John Carpenter’s The Ward).
But what makes this movie is Levine’s direction and Jacob Forman’s script. Again, Levine pitches this thing perfectly, allowing tensions to build while flinging red herrings like a Seattle fish market pro. My only complaint with the direction was Levine’s necessity to fill 90 minutes. Time swam around a few supporting characters’ existential crises, which felt laborious. Fortunately, this made the audience cheer for certain deaths all the more, so perhaps it worked afterall. Forman’s script is interesting because his characters are paper thin. However, combining the script and the direction – which shows us the majority of the story from Mandy Lane’s perspective – the viewer begins to wonder if they’re seeing the actual character or Mandy Lane’s impressions of each person. It gets a bit meta (as the kids are want to say these days), unless I’m just reading too much into it. The latter is usually the case when it comes to films like this.
Overall, I gave All The Boys Loved Mandy Lane 4 roof high swimming pool dives out of 5. This film was a pleasant surprise, convincing me all the more that the nerds know more than the critics. And since we’re nerds, that puts us on the winning side.
I heart you, John Barber, more than Keith hearts Watts, but not in a I’m-giving-you-my-future-in-the-form-of-earrings kinda way,
Tags: 12 Years A Slave, American Hustle, Film Reviews, Frances Ha, Fruitvale Station, Gravity, Lana Del Rey, Mud, The Conjuring, The Great Gatsby, The Way Way Back, This Is The End