Tag Archive | Documentary

Movie Review: Stink!

Stink Animated Movie Poster

The plots of many horror films, both modern and classic, often center on the tragic fate of individuals who take an interest in suspicious matters where their attention is neither wanted nor welcome. And while things rarely, if ever, work out well for the protagonists of those films, a provocative new documentary entitled Stink! aims to benefit, potentially, every consumer on the planet by revealing hidden truths about carcinogenic chemical ingredients contained in an innumerable list of products that we all eat, wear and put on our bodies every day. The cosmetic industry, the film points out, is especially lacking in federal regulation. It isn’t at all unlikely that the Chanel No 5 cologne that you spray on your body contains some of the same ingredients as your toilet bowl cleaner. Are you horrified? You will be by the time you’re about 20 minutes into Stink!

It’s been said that it’s not about what you know or what you don’t know: it’s what you don’t know that you don’t know that can hurt you. That’s what Stink! is all about. Created and directed by Jon Whelan, Stink! is one man’s quest for transparency that was prompted when Whelan noticed an overwhelmingly foul chemical smell coming from Pajamas he’d purchased as Christmas gifts for his two young daughters. Whelan was left as a single father after his wife, Heather, succumbed to breast cancer in January of 2009. A beautiful and vibrant woman, Heather Whelan makes significant posthumous appearances throughout the documentary as Jon pays tribute to her inspirational life and vows to protect their children from the the toxic chemical product additives that she, in life, was so vigilantly wary of.

While consumer product package labeling is more and more widely available, what most of us are clueless about is the fact that toxins can very easily hidden in the guise of being labeled as “fragrance,” and there are no laws that compel companies to divulge the fact that they are using toxic chemicals in their products. Yes, putting poisons in consumer products is completely legal and, in fact, it is a widespread, cost-cutting practice that’s protected by lobbyists who are hired to fight for a company’s bottom line in order to pad their own pockets. It’s disgusting. The level of bureaucratic bullshit — much of which is starkly revealed over Stink!‘s 91-minute run time, is both staggering and infuriating.

Engaging, enlightening, and scary as hell, Stink! takes you on a three-year journey from the retailer to the laboratory, through corporate boardrooms, down back alleys, and into the halls of Congress. In Stink!, the viewer follows Whelan on his dogged search for anyone willing to be accountable as he clashes with political and corporate operatives all trying to protect the darkest secrets of the chemical industry.

Troubling facts revealed by Whelan in the film include:
1. Almost 1,500 chemical ingredients are currently banned in the European Union. Only 11 of those ingredients are banned in the United States.
2. Formaldehyde, Propylparaben, Lead Acetate and other dangerous, carcinogenic chemicals are often found in cosmetic products on shelves in US retailers.
3. The FDA has virtually no authority to test cosmetics and other consumer products for unsafe levels of harmful chemicals.

Yes, even the FDA can’t save you! This film is wildly eye opening and will surely prompt you to ask the question “Is this safe to use?” about virtually every item in your home, and rightly so. As Whelen says in the trailer (below) “It’s my story, but it could be yours.” If that doesn’t scare you, trust me; it should.

The Worley Gig Gives Stink! Five out of Five Stars.

Stink! Opens in New York on Black Friday (November 27th) at Cinema Village on Second Avenue and 12th Street, and in Los Angeles on December 4th, 2015, Before Expanding to Additional Markets. Watch the Trailer Below.

Movie Review: My Way

My Way Movie Poster

Reminiscent of inspiring music documentaries such as The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna (which provided the Riot Grrrl movement founder with the substantial props she deserved), and Anvil, the Story of Anvil (a film that completely resurrected an unsung band’s entire career), My Way, focusing on singer/songwriter guitarist Rebekah Snyder-Starr, showcases one musician’s quest to find success in the music business while doing things on her own terms.

Directed by Dominique Mollee and Vinny Sisson, My Way centers on an engaging cross-country road trip taken by Starr and her close friend Annika, one of two tambourine players/back up singers in the all-femme Rebekah Starr Band, based in Starr’s home town of Kittanning, Pennsylvania.  Unsatisfied in her marriage to her childhood sweetheart, and having recently been fired from her own family’s corporate business, Rebekah is clearly a woman whose dreams have outgrown her small town environment. With little to lose, and no one else in the band able to leave their day jobs or family obligations, Rebekah and Annika map out their adventure from PA to LA, where their goal is to play a gig on the Sunset Strip, and, ultimately, to shoot a video for the titular song, which is Rebekah’s personal “My way or the highway” mantra which keeps her focused on getting what she wants. It does not hurt that she is completely adorable and has actual musical talent.

During the journey (which took place in 2010), the girls play impromptu acoustic gigs in whatever local roadside bar will have them, earn gas money and promote the band by selling their CDs to everyone they meet, reunite with old friends, and make lots of new ones, while working through challenges that arise in their friendship. The storyline is advanced by the appearance of various music industry insiders such as Poison drummer Rikki Rocket (also a Pennsylvania native) who keenly illuminates both what it really means to struggle as an unknown band, as well as the type of relentless effort involved in eventually making it professionally. Enuff Z’Nuff  songwriter/bassist Chip Z’nuff (who has written original material with Rebekah) and former Guns ‘n’ Roses drummer Steven Adler also add their insight, as does veteran Porn Star Ron Jeremy, who appears as comic relief in one of Rebekah’s music videos (available on the DVD as an extra).

Even if you have not heard the Rebekah Starr Band prior to seeing this film, you will become familiar with many of their songs due to the music’s near-ubiquitous presence on the soundtrack, playing like a car radio under almost every scene in the film, adding a kind of biographical narrative enhancement. Comparable to girl bands such as pre-fame Bangles (when the band was know as The Bangs) or Luscious Jackson, Rebekah has an appealing voice, knows how to write a catchy, pop-punk tune and is an accomplished guitarist. The music has both artistic and commercial appeal, and while she certainly cares about looking her best, Rebekah never tries to “get by” on her looks or exploit her sex appeal. Any woman with an ambition to be a rock musician or any genre of artist would take inspiration from Rebekah‘s story while being entertained and also hearing some good music along the way.

My Way opens at NYC’s Quad Cinema, located at 34 West 13th Street, New York, New York 10011 on Friday, February 27th. Run Time: 93 minutes. This film is Not Rated but is (probably) fine for ages 13 and up..


Movie Review: Art And Craft

Art and Craft Movie Poster

While watching the actions of Mark Landis, the undeniably creepy subject of the recently released documentary, Art and Craft (directed by Sam Cullman and Jennifer Grausman), I had the same feeling as when I watched I Think We’re Alone Now, an indie documentary that follows two obsessed fans of ’80s Pop singer, Tiffany. While the story of Landis‘ 30-year career of flagrant art forgery is truly fascinating — because, how the hell did he get away with it for so long? — his obvious mental illness gives the film a slight aura of exploitation. I do not think that was intentional but, rather, it’s an unavoidable side effect to telling his story. Landis is certainly committing some kind of fraud, which is infuriating, but as his multilayered mental-issues are revealed over the course of Art and Craft‘s 89 minute run time, it’s hard not to feel sadness for someone who is clearly addicted to his (some would argue harmless) pattern of deceptive activity. So, polarizing, I guess, is a good word to describe this film and its borderline unsympathetic anti-hero.

His authentic talent as an artist aside, the real life Mark Landis is a lonely, emaciated hermit, diagnosed with Schizophrenia and a laundry list of other mental issues, who resembles a less-attractive version of well-known character actor Zeljko Ivanek (Big Love, 24, etc). In fact, it’s likely his unassuming nature and lack of overt charisma that allowed him to dupe the representatives of over 50 art institutes across 20 states into accepting the gifts of his forgeries as highly desirable donations of legitimate original works of art. Landis also chose to imitate lesser-known artists, and made his philanthropic gestures (the forged paintings were always given as gifts, never sold or traded for any kind of monetary gain) toward lesser known museums and colleges, which probably did not raise as many red flags as it would have had he chosen to, say, present the gift of a DaVinci drawing to the MFA in Boston.

Landis‘ elaborate prank comes to light in 2008, when Matthew Leininger, Curatorial Department Head of the Oklahoma City Museum of Art — which had accepted multiple donations of the forged paintings — does his “due diligence” (a phrase that is repeated often in Art and Craft), and discovers the forger’s extensive trail of fakes that have been given to many and varied art institutes, even uncovering the fact that Landis had donated up to six copies of the same work to different museums. Mark Landis essentially becomes Leininger’s Great White Whale, as the registrar vows to out the forgers shenanigans and take him down. This is easier said than done, of course, since Landis has never accepted money in exchange for his forged paintings and therefore has not actually broken any laws. Leininger believes that the reward Landis reaps for his actions is the gleeful satisfaction that he has fooled seeming “Art Experts.”

Eventually, Leininger’s incredible sleuthing leads to Mark Landis being nationally exposed as an art forger via articles in publications such as The Art Newspaper (in 2010) and the Financial Times. Since there is no real legal recourse for his actions, it is the strong desire of Leininger and others that Landis simply stop the forgeries. Without spoiling anything, I’ll conclude by admitting that, by the time the movie wraps up with a rather extensive gallery exhibit of Landis’ forgeries and a few of his original pieces, I went from wanting to punch Mark Landis in the face to feeling like he deserved at least a little sympathy.  Mark Landis may be an ass, but he’s obviously battling a few personal demons. I’m not sure he would know how to stop, even if he wanted to.

For a list of theaters showing Art and Craft in your area, visit Art and Craft Film Dot Com.

The Worley Gig Gives Art and Craft 4 out of 5 Stars

Modern Art Monday Presents: Max Ernst, Napoleon in the Wilderness

Max Ernst Napoleon in the Wilderness
Photo By Gail

Max Ernst (born in Germany on April 2, 1891) was a prolific artist and a primary pioneer of both Dada and Surrealism. Seriously, his life and career are so mind-blowing they almost take too long to talk about. In Ernst’s painting Napoleon in the Wilderness (1941), a semi-nude female figure (representing his mistress at the time, Leonora Carrington) holds a strange, whimsical trumpet while almost encased inside one of several organic rock and coral formations amide a decaying fantasy landscape. Like many of Ernst’s rather eerie landscapes, Napoleon in the Wilderness is loaded with symbolism including the artist’s own sense of loss and grief, and the promise of decay and renewal. It was around the time of this painting that Ernst, who was a bit of a Ladies Man (to put it politely) abandoned Carrington to marry American socialite and art patron, Peggy Guggenheim (known for having an uncle who lent their surname to a number of large Art Museums).

Napoleon in the Wilderness is part of the permanent collection of The Museum of Modern Art, where it resides on the 4th floor. For anyone interested in learning more about the wildly fascinating life and career of Max Ernst, I recommend the excellent documentary, Max Ernst, which is available through Netflix.

Recommended Viewing: Super Duper Alice Cooper

Super Duper Alice Cooper Poster

I’m going to assume that everyone reading this not only knows who Alice Cooper is, but is also aware that “Alice Cooper” was originally the name of a band with five guys in it. If you don’t know that much, you need to do your homework. Aside from getting your hands on Bob Greene’s long out of print book, Billion Dollar Baby, this film is as good a place as any to get schooled.

Although many only know Alice Cooper as an individual solo artist and Pop Culture icon, there are legions of devoted fans who are deeply dedicated to the music, history and memory of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame-inducted original band called Alice Cooper – a group that recorded seven groundbreaking gold and platinum-selling albums of original material and set single concert attendance World Records before disbanding in late 1974. For that latter group, let me speculate now that there will never be a better-made, more authentic public vehicle for telling the story of that original band, in as close to the ‘true story’ as possible, than this film. If the statement “Alice Cooper was a Band” resonates with you, then there is no way you will want to miss seeing this film.

Super Duper Alice Cooper is a highly entertaining documentary that aims to tell the life story of Vincent Furnier, the lead singer of the band Alice Cooper, who took the name as his own when the group disbanded. Vince/Alice’s story is told via first person voice over and vintage interview clips with Alice, but Alice Cooper band bassist Dennis Dunaway (whom Furnier met in high school) and drummer Neal Smith, who joined the band when they were still called The Nazz, also contribute to its engaging narrative. Furnier’s early days playing in local Phoenix bands with Dunaway and AC co-founder and lead guitarist, the late Glen Buxton are discussed in fairly minute detail, so you get a really good idea of the struggle that these guys went through on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world. Oddly, rhythm guitarist and primary songwriter, Michael Bruce is never mentioned by name even once in the film.

The most enjoyable parts of the film, for me, were the up-and-coming story of the band, its transition into becoming Alice Cooper, and the insane live performance footage, 90 percent which I would guess has never been shown in public before. It is one thing to read about how the band Alice Cooper invented Shock Rock, but it is an entirely different animal to see it play out before your eyes. No wonder that fans who were lucky enough to see the band live 40 years ago still talk about those shows to this day.

I’d say that a good 80 percent of Super Duper Alice Cooper is dedicated the formation and disintegration of the band (and holy shit, what a great fucking band they were), with the other 20 percent covering Alice’s budding solo career, alcoholism, cocaine addiction and recovery. So, there’s something for everyone. Consult Google to find a showing in your area, or wait for the DVD release. Either way, you gotta see this film.

The Worley Gig Gives Super Duper Alice Cooper 5 out of 5 Stars!

Trailer for New Alice Cooper Band Documentary

Super Duper Alice Cooper is a new documentary film due for release in the Spring of 2014 that will be previewed at the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC in April. While the film’s storyline seems to be based on Alice’s time fronting the band from whom he would eventually take his name as a solo artist, it appears, sadly, that it also focuses fairly tightly on the myth and legend of Alice (AKA Vince Furnier) as an individual, rather than on the story of the band which was made up of five individuals. Not that the filmmaker isn’t allowed to make the film he wants, if he wants to just focus on Alice. But it’s like every time somebody refers to the band called Alice Cooper as a “He” it just makes me want to scream. And this is kind of more of the same. Alice Cooper was a band.

I have heard that Dennis Dunaway and Neal Smith, as well as producer, Bob Ezrin were interviewed for the film although there are no on camera appearances. But at least fans will get to see classic performance footage of the original band including Dennis, Neal, Michael Bruce and the late Glen Buxton. This would be my main motivation for seeing the film.

Alice Cooper Was a Band

Big Star Documentary Nothing Can Hurt Me Comes to DVD

Big Star Nothing Can Hurt Me DVD
Photo By Gail

Perhaps you are unfamiliar with musician Alex Chilton, but if you’ve heard The Replacements’ song by that same name, then you at least know that children by the millions sing for him and are in love with his songs. And that’s all you really need to know in order to enjoy the sublime documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, a profoundly detailed love letter to the wildly influential, Memphis-based 1970’s power pop band that Chilton co-founded along with guitarist/songwriter Chris Bell, drummer Jody Stephens and bassist Andy Hummel. Directed by Drew DeNicola, Nothing Can Hurt Me is by turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, as band members, journalists, photographers, label employees, family, fans and friends recount their own experiences with and memories of a band whose three albums (#1 Record, Radio City and Third) garnered volumes of critical praise, but whose record label lacked the distribution necessary for Big Star to break commercially. Despite its music being virtually unheard during the band’s existence, Big Star songs deeply influenced bands as diverse as Cheap Trick, The Bangles, REM and The Posies, making them possibly the first cult band, ever.

Like I said, you don’t need to know anything about Big Star or its music to be completely engrossed by the band’s story and be charmed as well as intrigued by its four very talented members, particularly the enigmatic Chilton and the insightful (and still devastatingly handsome) Jody Stephens. The band’s music, as well as Chris Bell’s post-Big Star efforts and Chilton’s many and varied solo projects, are featured prominently in the film, and I can guarantee that if you do not already own Big Star’s catalog you will be downloading it from iTunes directly after watching this film. Like another great music documentary film released in 2012, Jobriath AD, Nothing Can Hurt Me provides a bittersweet hindsight to what went wrong and what might have been done differently. Most importantly, it provides a showcase for music that is timeless, amazing and simply should not remain a well-kept secret.

Adding an additional note of melancholy to the film is the realization that any true Big Star reunion is now impossible, with Stephens being the sole surviving member of the group. Chris Bell joined the 27 Club – the victim of a single-vehicle car cash – in 1978, and both Chilton and Hummel passed away within months of each other in 2010. It’s very likely though that this film will reignite a following and lead to more musicians being influenced by a band that never got to enjoy the fame and fortune they deserved.

Nothing Can Hurt Me is due for release on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 26th, 2013 via Magnolia Home Entertainment. The DVD includes 70 minutes of awesome bonus features, such as Big Star in the Studio, scenes deleted from the theatrical release and bonus chapters on both Chris Bell and Alex Chilton, plus the film’s theatrical trailer. With a suggested retail price of $29.98, Nothing Can Hurt Me is available from Amazon Dot Com at This Link.

The Worley Gig Gives Nothing Can Hurt Me Five out of Five Stars!