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Stop Making Sense (1984, dir. Jonathan Demme)

Home – is where I want to be
But I guess I’m already there
I come home she lifted up her wings
I Guess that this must be the place
I can’t tell one from the other
Did I find you, or you find me?
There was a time Before we were born
If someone asks, this is where I’ll be . . . where I’ll be

There have been some great concert films over time; The Last Waltz that  followed the last ever show from The Band, Gimme Shelter that documented the tragic events of The Rolling Stones free concert at Altamont and the empowering Wattstax that covered the 1972 Stax concert in Watts (that features some excellent performances and also THAT Jesse Jackson speech). More often than not, these films would be time capsules for an important event in musical or history as a whole (with music being a tie in) that add some form of context to the film.

Despite lacking in historical significance or even a documenting a monumental gig (like LCD Soundsystem’s “Shut Up and Play the Hits” did for their last ever show), Jonathan Demme’s “Stop Making Sense” is without a doubt, the greatest Rock concert film ever made, even if (and lord knows why) you’re not a fan of Talking Heads.

The format and concept of the film is a thing of beauty. The show begins with lead singer David Byrne taking to a stark stage with a guitar and a cassette tape playing a click drum. As the show progresses and as each song passes, the show starts to come together; the rest of the band and backing band take the stage individually and the set is put together over time. It’s stunning to see these developments take place in front of your eyes as we’re accustom to an entire band taking to a stage together. Instead, we’re getting a progression and further layers of sound added over time.

Stop Making Sense is presented very much as a film. The footage is incredibly crisp and the choice of shots more focused on creating an enjoyable watch than you would expect. Take David Byrne’s freak-out near the end of “Psycho Killer” as it looks like stock footage from a film as opposed to something occurring in the middle of a live performance. Credit for that has to go to Demme and his quality of direction, something missing from the majority of concert films released.

What’s equally as interesting is the lack of crowd noise. Unlike many live recordings or concert films, there is very little audible crowd noise. Interestingly, it was David Byrne’s decision to mute the crowd noise as much as possible to allow the viewer/listener to make their own judgements on the performance and not to be swayed by the applause of a live crowd. Tied in with this is the severe lack of crowd shots of any kind with the cameras facing the band face on. Still, in place of relentless crowd shots, you get amazing close ups on the backing band at points, my favourite being the emphasis on the backing vocalists during “Slippery People” as they appear to be having the most amount of fun possible.

As innovative and visually stunning as the film is, what essentially matters is the music. Whilst not my favourite Talking Heads live performance (their other live compilation “The Name of this Band is Talking Heads” which is an absolute must have if you dig the band), the choice of mostly hit singles and a joyous appearance from Talking Heads side-project Tom Tom Club make it a really easy watch or listen. Even the songs you are less familiar with are still great, mainly due to the tremendous backing band, visuals and Byrne wearing a humongous suit at some point.

You also get a healthy dose of jamming and deviation from the original version of the songs performed. One of my absolute pet peeves of live music is hearing the song exactly as it was performed on record as it feels like it was a waste of money hearing a song you enjoyed performed just as you heard it. The band’s best remembered song “Once in a Lifetime” is far more enjoyable in this film with the backing vocals and wavy synths throughout. Another example is the outtake from the original film of “Big Business” and “I Zimbra” which are way more free-flowing live and way more experimental than the original recordings.

It’s thirty years old this summer and honestly, nothing has come quite close to it. Stop Making Sense is still the greatest Rock concert movie ever made and it will be some time before another film comes close.

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Blade Runner (Ridley Scott, 1982)

Blade Runner is probably the most awe-inspiring science fiction film ever conceived. There is no part of the film that isn’t utterly brilliant from it’s grim depiction of the future ruled by commercialisation to the unforgettable score provided by Vangelis that perfectly accompanied the onscreen events like no other soundtrack. The film is probably only rivalled by 2001: A Space Odyssey in regards to the claim of being the greatest sci-fi ever made.

Rick Deckard, a former blade runner, is persuaded to take up his previous role to find and ‘retire’ 4 replicants who have returned to Earth illegally, causing havoc. Replicants are androids who appear in most facets to be human minus the fact that their lifespan is a mere four years before they expire. The replicants who have arrived on Earth are nearing the end of their lives and have returned to find some way to prolong their lives. What ensues is a beautifully crafted and intense neo-noir tale with many twists. turns and questions thrown to you to interpret as no answers may be offered.

One of the more significant scenes within the film is the one I’ve chosen here. Roy Batty, the leader of the rogue replicants succeeds in his quest and tracks down the creator, Tyrell. It’s an interesting scene and one that sticks out to me mainly because it’s a strange scenario; coming face to face with your god and your maker of all that you know. The conversation between creation and creator is astounding in the sense that you have an erratic Roy questioning Tyrell on the various potential solutions to his impending death before Tyrell’s famous line “The light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long. And you have burned so very very brightly“.

Progressively, the scene gets more and more intense and it goes along and as the answers Roy had hoped for become like distant improbabilities. It’s one of the many moments within this masterpiece that stick with you and one where your reaction on the end may vary depending who you view as being the antagonists/protagonists of the narrative.

The following is a review I wrote some time ago after watching Second Glance in its entirety. I found a copy online and have now annoyingly broke the hard drive that I had it on. It’s a film that more people need to see for all the wrong reasons. Alas, enjoy my rant that I’ve somewhat edited to make it a little more palatable. That said, it’s still a little ranty and rugged. 

Second Glance (1992, dir. Rich Christiano)
Running Time: 50 minutes

“Hey Dan! the Bible’s coming alive to me, I just can’t get enough of it!!”

Religious films are interesting things to view from an Atheist, Agnostic or purely outsider perspective. There is a constant pattern within Religious films for there to be a great divide between those who are ‘believers’ and those who are ‘non-believers’ which seems to be the consistent crux in the narratives. This can take the form of the rapture films or, in the case of Second Glance, a zany teen film about not being cool or ever getting “the girl”.

Second Glance tells the story of Danny; a tragically unhip, zany young man who has “the hots” for a young girl called Tamra at his high school. The only problem is that he’s a “nice guy” which is carny for being Christian. After a failed attempt at asking her out and being suspended from school for being mistaken for cheating in an exam, Danny utters the words “I wish I was never a believer!” and throws the copy of the Bible he was intently reading before going to sleep.

Well, Danny gets his wish and wakes up the next day in a room strewn with beer cans and empty pizza boxes inexplicably wearing a backwards neon cap (standard décor for Atheists). He then lives a day in the life of a non-believer and realises that maybe being a believer wasn’t that bad after he takes “second glance” (yep).

The whole film is made of 50 minutes designed to make you believe that Christians are incredibly uncool and lame individuals, whilst non-believers are really popular and live a life full of sin (or “fun”). Even though Danny is instantly uncool with his wretched 90s fashion, it’s not like the non-believers he knows are remotely any cooler just because they drink beer and disregard authority of any kind.

The portrayal of non-Christians is borderline offensive on the level of casting a black person who merely eats chicken and watermelon. Danny’s parents divorce because he didn’t prey to keep them together resulting in his dad moving to LA (naturally) and his mum getting on anything that has a penis. As a result of Danny not being there to show him the light, his friend Scotty COMMITS SUICIDE because he wasn’t provided with the guidance of the lord. Oh yeah, and non-Christian girls seem to be devious, promiscuous bitches out to scale the social ladder by sleeping with the “cool” guys.

The comedy in the film is also another level of shitty. David White (who plays Danny) has the comedic timing of a stool. The highlight of his comedic capabilities is seen when his devious sister (Jenny) turns his alarm clock radio up high resulting his him falling out of bed due to shock. It’s the kind of lame humour that’s best left in lame sitcoms that everyone’s hopefully forgotten about.

One of my favourite scenes is where Danny tries to get his non-believing friends to come see a [religious] film on Saturday. Mullet brandishing Doug initially scoffs at the idea and refuses, but Danny asks him again and then gets kind of aggressive about it as he gets in Doug’s face and say “MAKE THE TIME…it‘s got the answers, man”. The whole interaction sums up the whole feel of the film’s idea that there is really only one way to live and that the Christian idea of God is the only true answer.

What Else Makes The Film So Bad?

The Production – Terrible beyond belief. You know a film made in the 90s is bad when your opening credits shake in a totally amateurish way. That said, the final freeze-frame with Danny uttering the famous (and it is famous) line “Hey Scotty! Jesus Man!!”

The Acting – Yeah, it’s a Christian film so the talent pool is a little more scarce, but the acting is dire. The only really decent performance is David White’s as he is a genuinely believable conflicted Christian teen. By comparison to the rest of the wooden cast, he’s Sidney Poitier.

The Score – It’s bad, but I kind of enjoy the Seinfeld-esque basslines that start the film off. I refuse to believe that, outside of the Seinfeld theme, this kind of music was ever, ever cool.

The TRAILERS (Dear God, the trailers!) – On the copy I found online, you get trailers for upcoming releases, all of which look hideous. The worst of which is Time Changer; a film that looks a little bit like a Christian reverse-Back to the Future (did you ever wonder why nobody else did that?)

BONUS:- Time Changer (trailer)

 

Note: I wrote this a long time ago on my Tumblr and it kinda popped into my head the other day when I had the misfortune (or pleasure, depending on how you look at it) of stumbling on Street Fighter: The Movie. I still think every aspect of this top ten rings true with the film. I’ve incorporated more links to stuff and trimmed out the excessive all-caps swearing that it had originally. Enjoy and then go and endure the film. I’m sure it’s somewhere on the internet if you really want to watch it. 

 

TEN THINGS THAT MAKE ME LOVE STREET FIGHTER: THE MOVIE

  1. The fact that, even as a 5 year old kid, the film was a crushing disappointment to me. However, I did love the DC comic that was made to coincide with the film (I sadly lost the comic when I dropped it in some water when in a boat with my family. I’m still cut up about it today).
  2. The poor effort they did with incorporating Blanka into the film. Not to mention the fact that he looked like Carrot Top if you you squint hard enough.
    2.5. Whilst I’m on that tangent, what the hell was up with the lack of Dhalsim doing anything? Also, how racist is the Dhalsim character in general!?
  3. The MC Hammer (or HAMMER at the time the film was made) song on the OST.
  4. Kylie Minogue’s  English accent – There was seriously NO ENGLISH ACTRESS who could play Cammy!? Poor form, Hollywood.
  5. The fact they got a brilliantly skilled actor like Raúl Juliá to play M. Bison in what was his last film before his untimely death.
  6. The fact that Raúl Juliá’s performance is amusingly over the top and campy making it the best thing about the film.
  7. Jean-Claude Van Damme playing the all American hero Guile with his clearly European accent. Doesn’t get a pass like it did in Hard Target where his character was Cajun. Also, this speech is incredible. Great accent, JC.
  8. The fact that the two characters (well, one more so than the other) RYU and KEN barely feature in the film and are mostly dislikeable. This might actually be the best-worst thing about the film; ignoring the fact that nearly everyone sees Ryu as the main character over Guile and going full tilt with the Guile storyline.
  9. It has potentially having the best the freeze frame ending of all time with characters doing their winning poses.
  10. It spawned a game so appalling it made Shaq Fu look like Dead or Alive 2. The game also may have the worst title of all time; Street Fighter: The Movie, The Game.

And now, just for the simple fact that he makes the whole film watchable, some glorious Raúl Juliá going mental as M. Bison scenes from throughout the film.

I’ve been a fan of James Murphy’s LCD Soundsystem for years now, maybe just shy of the release of their 2007 opus “Sound of Silver”. They’ve gone from being simply a band I like to my favourite band to ever exist.  From their hugely danceable and glorious self titled debut, to the aforementioned Sound of Silver to their stunning send off album This Is Happening, they provided their fans with a truly consistent and varied trilogy of albums that had a lot of party tracks with a few emotional songs thrown in to boot.

When my life was going through a particular rough patch (and I’m talking incredibly rough patch), their song “Us v Them” was a song that helped me see these times through. It’s moment of joyous explosion at 3:15 is something of beauty that made me smile every time I heard it. It’s one of my favourite musical moments by an absolute mile.

Simply put, LCD Soundsystem were one of the most important bands I ever listened to and one that has remained close to me after several musical taste transitions.

When news broke that This is Happening was to be their final album, I was gutted. Why would a band at their absolute musical peak break up? Afterall, their music was transitioning from simply being ‘dance’ music to something with a  deep emotional core. Thankfully, I saw them on that final set of gigs when they played the O2 academy in Leeds back in 2010. In what was, without a shadow of a doubt, the best gig I’ve ever attended, they showed that whilst their albums were stellar, their live performances were  beyond most (if not all) of their contemporaries. It therefore made sense that the band went out with a bang and the biggest gig they ever staged; a 3 hour and 41 minute au revoir at a sold out Madison Square Garden.

 

This gig, the build up and aftermath are documented in “Shut Up and Play the Hits“, a film that takes fans of LCD on one hell of an emotional rollercoaster. Documenting the band’s lead singer James Murphy life over a period of 48 hours (before, during and after the band’s final show), you get a rare insight into the mostly enigmatic lead singer’s life and in contrast to his music, it’s oddly normal and a little mundane. He walks his dog, gets a cup of coffee and gets a taxi…and nobody seems to recognise him. This anonymity is something he yearns for in the interview that’s interspersed within scenes of Murphy before/after the gig and clips of the gig itself. Fame isn’t something that Murphy wants as it seems to only be a burden to him.

Some of the more visually spectacular moments of the entire film involve clips of crowd members at the gig, in particular the one person who showed the degrees to which this band have touched some it’s fans. The 16 year old LCD Soundsystem fan who is caught twice within the film bawling his eyes out was a moment within the screening I attended where the audience seemed to be divided; one half saw it as hilarious that this kid loved this band so much that he weeped inconsolably whilst the other half saw it as a perfect example of what the band meant to someone. After all, this was their final gig, if you saw your favourite band perform their final ever show, surely you wouldn’t be remiss of a few tears or a moment of sadness?

Another moment of crowd induced goodness (besides a GREAT cameo with a crowd surfing Aziz Ansari) is the binary opposite of the crying fan; it was the couple gleefully dancing together without a care in the world. It showed what an LCD Soundsystem show should be about which is having fun. Yes, there’s going to be sad emotional moments, but what the band really represent live is having fun and losing your inhibitions.

The last half an hour or so of the film gets pretty deep. Whilst the band’s break up was amicable, reality begins to sink in and you can see a genuine sense of loss and regret in James Murphy’s eyes. He even expresses that his biggest regret was splitting the group when they were still hugely popular and still making great music. You can see this in one of the film’s great moments where Murphy visits the band’s warehouse, surrounded by equipment, alone. Pictures of the band from the earliest moments to the present day are interspersed with this moment as Murphy cries. It’s a tough scene to view as the realisation begins to sink in to him and the viewing audience that LCD Soundsystem are no more. Maybe it won’t mean as much to non-fans watching, but I found it a bit of a difficult scene to get through, same goes for the gut wrenching performance of Someone Great.

There are a lot of great concert films out there, but the best (apart from the all-concert Stop Making No Sense) don’t tend to focus on the gig itself. Gimme Shelter has several great performances throughout the film but the story of the concert and the tragedy that ensued is as captivating as the music if not more. Dave Chappelle’s Block Party is mainly brilliant because of the journey Dave goes on to put on the show and inviting people. Shut Up and Play the Hits features snippets and songs from the MSG show shot with some high quality cameras as it looks phenomenal, but it’s the footage before/after the show that make the film so memorable. Sure, it could have done without the somewhat pretentious interview (which features about 95% Chuck Klosterman and 5% James Murphy), but in the grand scheme of things, that’s only really a small critique.

Shut Up and Play the Hits is out on DVD/Blu-Ray on 8 October 2012. A further incentive to buy it is the bonus feature of having the ENTIRE NEAR FOUR HOUR gig as a DVD extra. Trust me when I tell you that it’s one of the great farewell gigs you’ll ever see; there’s Arcade Fire, Reggie Watts, Shit Robot,  45:33 playing in it’s entirety and the Twin Peaks opening theme.