Tag Archive | Movie Review

Movie Review: It Was You Charlie

It Was You Charlie
Michael D. Cohen stars in It Was You Charlie

Sometimes, a film unfolds so quietly and subtly that to attempt to explain the plot is to spoil the entire story. It Was You Charlie, written and directed by Emmanuel Shirnian, comes together so invisibly that it’s very much like putting together a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle in which you can’t get a satisfying idea of the big picture until the final, tiny piece is locked in place.

Shirnian’s directorial debut tells the story of Abner (Michael D. Cohen in a spot on performance), a diminutive, shy doorman who works the graveyard shift in an apartment building where he and his fellow doorman are accustomed to secretly entering apartments while tenants are out to make a snack from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator. Through flashbacks, we learn that Abner was once a respected Artist and Professor whose unrequited love for a beautiful student, Madeleine (Anna Hopkins) is rendered all the more poignant by the fact that she has fallen in love with his tall, handsome brother, Tom (Aaron Abrams).

Abner’s loss of his love interest, which consequently results in a deep rift between him and his brother, pitches him into a downward spiral, leading to his involvement in a two car collision in which the driver of the other car does not survive. Despite his continued appreciation for art and his dream of one day moving to Greece, Abner’s world view is bleak and his thoughts of suicide are ever present.

Enter Zoe (played by Emma Fleury, who reminds me very favorably Greta Gerwig) an upbeat and outgoing cab driver who befriends Abner and attempts to cajole him out of his depression. Through his relationship with Zoe, Abner begins to emerge from his funk and seeks to mend his damaged psyche and relationships.

The film segues seamlessly between hyper-reality and surreal, dreamlike scenes that will keep you questioning how much of the action is going on only in Abner’s imagination. For me, being kept guessing also kept me engaged in the journey towards an emotionally resonant outcome that wasn’t necessarily predictable.

And for those wondering, as you should be, who the titular ‘Charlie’ is: “It was you, Charlie” is a quote taken from the most famous scene in the Marlon Brando classic, On the Waterfront, a film that Abner and Tom have a tradition of seeing annually on Abner’s birthday — an event on which several key plot points pivot.

It Was You Charlie is billed as a dark comedy/drama, and it definitely isn’t a traditionally funny film. Anyone going in with an expectation of seeing a silly, feel-good movie will be disappointed. While I did laugh out loud a couple of times, the moments of humor derive from the absurdity of the action and discomfort of the characters – not that there’s anything wrong with that. Just be advised that this film is unexpectedly heavy, and it will probably take you a few days to really digest and appreciate what you’ve seen.

It Was You Charlie will be available via Video On Demand as of September 23rd and will open in NYC at Cinema Village (22 E 12th Street) on September 26th, 2014.

The Worley Gig Gives It Was You Charlie 3 1/2 Out of 5 Stars

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Must See Movie: Snowpiercer

Snowpiercer Poster
Snowpiercer Movie Poster: International Version!

When it comes to taking on the hot button topic of Global Warming and its possible catastrophic effects, Snowpiercer is a movie that believes you should either go big or go home – and the films’ premise is a doozy. Set 17 years in the future, Snowpiercer drops us into the aftermath of a failed chemical experiment; one that was meant to slightly lower the global temperature but which instead propels the Earth into a devastating ice age, annihilating all life on the planet. However, a group of survivors have boarded a global circumnavigating high-speed train, run by a perpetual motion engine. The Snowpiercer, as it is called, is both a utopian haven and hellish prison for its passengers; depending on which car you’re in.

Aboard the Snowpiercer there exists a strictly segregated class system that doesn’t really make any sense, but which you just need to go with in order to let the film tell its story. People unfortunate enough to have boarded at the back of the train live in bleak, congested squalor that portrays a dystopian scenario similar to films like The Road and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. The train is governed by its mysterious Wizard of Oz-like inventor, Wilford (Ed Harris), and his strict rules of order are brutally enforced by Mason (Tilda Swinton), in a role that is by turns both terrifying and comical. Fed up with mere survival under constant oppression, those in the back of the train band together, deciding it is time to overthrow the nonnegotiable dictatorship and devise a way to advance to the front of the train in order to take control of the engine.

The rebel’s reluctant leader is Curtis (Chris Evans), who is joined by Edgar (Jamie Bell), Gillam (John Hurt) and Namgoong Minsoo (Koren actor Song Kang-ho), a notorious drug dealer with a keen knowledge of lock picking who is liberated from the train’s prison car in order to help the gang in their quest. The scenes at the back of the train are the least visually compelling of the film and tend to drag a bit, but aside from setting up the film’s main point of conflict, they seed the plot for events and revelations that take place further on, so you need to pay attention rather than just “waiting for them to be over.” As the rebels move forward, the settings of the various train cars change from ones depicting simple comforts to over-the-top opulence and outright hedonistic decadence. This is when Snowpiercer really gets rolling.

I enjoyed Snowpiercer, especially the amazing sets and captivating scenes of the train speeding through the frozen landscape, but I think the script could have used a bit more work, as there are continuity holes big enough to, well, drive a train through. The film does at least partially address the question of how passengers are fed, with the growing of fresh vegetation aboard the train, the aquarium car scene – which is marvelous – and the nauseating revelation of just want goes into making those Protein Blocks that constitute the sole sustenance of the train’s rear car inhabitants. But I couldn’t help but wonder how Namgoong Minsoo could have been able to make an annual observation of a plane crash landmark in the arctic wasteland as the train passes the Ekaterina Bridge each New Years Day, when he’s supposedly been living in a drawer in the train’s jail car for who knows how long? Perhaps I just need to see the film again.

It is worth noting that Snowpiercer is the first English-language film from Korean Director Joon-ho Bong, and while he succeeds in making a compelling film on many levels, perhaps the muddled script is an indication of too much ambition and an unwillingness to glean plot points that confuse and weigh the film down. Certainly it is no accident that Snowpiercer is already on DVD in Europe and Asia while its US theatrical release is not until June 27th. Based on the French graphic novel Le Transperceneige, Snowpiercer will surely appeal to fans of that genre and anyone who enjoys an original Sci-Fi Action flick.

The Worley Gig Gives Snowpiercer 4 Out of 5 Stars!

Rated R with a Runtime of 2 Hours, 5 Minutes, Snowpiercer Opens Friday June 27th, 2014. Find theaters and show times in your area at Fandango Dot Com.

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!

Must See DVD: The Punk Singer

The Punk Singer DVD Cover
Image Source

Confession: After hearing the names Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill and Riot Grrrl off and on for two decades, I really didn’t know anything about Hanna, her music or the highly influential feminist movement she co-founded until I watched Director Sini Anderson’s excellent documentary, The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna, on DVD last night. In fact, I admit that for many years I had confused Kathleen Hanna with Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses, which is just embarrassing.

So, I guess it’s extremely high praise for Kathleen Hanna, for being so doggedly determined and fiercely talented and also a thoroughly compelling human being – as well as Anderson, for coaxing her somewhat reluctant subject into revealing her life story with such profound intimacy – that I was completely engaged in The Punk Singer from the first few minutes. I mean, wow, this film is amazing!

If you are already a fan of Kathleen Hanna then you don’t need me to tell you about how Hanna and her band mates in Bikini Kill championed woman in rock like nobody’s business, performing songs about subjects that made people uncomfortable but that stayed true to Hanna’s vision of inspiring positive change. Scenes of Hanna performing on stage in The Punk Singer reminded me of a cross between the late Poly Styrene and Henry Rollins. Punk Rock!

There’s also an astounding amount of quality archival footage used in this film which will take you back in time to the beginnings of the Riot Grrrl movement as well as a time when Hanna was best friends with another rebel outsider, Kurt Cobain. I’m sure Kathleen Hanna could not have foreseen what would arrive in the wake if her casually scribbling the phrase “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Cobain’s apartment wall. That is a story that takes too long to talk about.

Former band mates and friends of Hanna including Corin Tucker and Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney, Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Hanna’s husband Adam Horowitz of The Beastie Boys help to color the film’s rich narrative with their stories about what made Hanna a special, unstoppable force in music. But The Punk Singer isn’t just a music documentary; it is a true life story and a film that will draw you in as much as other personal musical journeys such as Jobriath AD, Nothing Can Hurt Me and Searching For Sugarman. I cannot recommend this film highly enough.

The Punk Singer is available for purchase at Amazon.com and for rental and streaming through Netflix, where it has racked up a ton of well-deserved 5 Star Reviews.

The Worley Gig Gives The Punk Singer Five Out of Five Stars

Reccommended Viewing: Escape From Tomorrow

Escape From Tomorrow Poster

Do you like Disneyland? I sure do. I’ve been going to Disney parks since I was practically an egg, and I never, ever get tired of it. I was there two summers ago with my older sister and we had so much fucking fun, our heads almost exploded. Disneyland Rules! It is largely due to my obsession with Disneyland (or DisneyWorld, whatever) that I’m very excited to tell you about an independent film I just saw called Escape From Tomorrow which was filmed Guerrilla-style almost entirely on location at Disneyland and Disneyworld! Holy shit! How did that even happen?

Now, when you have been to Disneyland as many times as I have, you KNOW that they have plain-clothes spies all over the park watching you and just waiting for you to do something that could be perceived as a mild threat to the status quo — or “Un-Disney” — so that they can scold you, or worse, kick your ass out of the park. I have been approached by The Secret Disney Police twice in my life — once for wearing a red bandana on my head during my adolescent Punk Rock phase (Read: Wearing Gang Colors), and once for sitting on the back of the boat during the Pirates of the Caribbean ride to make it scarier (don’t ask) — and both times the experience was appropriately surreal, but considerably less than fun. My point is, when you are at Disneyland, you are “Under the Dome,” so to speak, and your every move is most likely being watched. This type of close surveillance and strict adherence to rules is why, in 50 years of operation, there have only been, say, a dozen or so murders or deaths at Disney parks. Those are good odds! But “Bad Things Happen Everywhere,” as the Movie Poster Tells us.

The plot of Escape from Tomorrow does not matter. You can read about the plot here. The plot is just a loose facilitator for what does matter, which is that the film’s writer/director, Randy Moore was able to film a fucking movie inside the rides at two different Disney parks and get away with it! If there were an Academy Award category for “Biggest Set of Balls,” the Oscar would go to Randy Moore! This movie is amazing! If you love the art of Independent film making, and/or Disneyland, you need to see it.  Just read the Wikipedia Entry first so you know what you’re getting yourself into.

The Worley Gig Gives Escape From Tomorrow Four and 1/2 out of Five Stars!

Escape From Tomorrow is currently showing at the IFC Center on Sixth Avenue and 4th Street in Greenwich Village, NYC, and I believe it is also available On Demand from certain Cable Channels. Consult The Google for Showtimes and to find where it is playing near you!

Escape From Tomorrow Marquee
Photo By Gail

Recommended Viewing: My Father and The Man in Black

Saul with Johnny and June
Saul Holiff with Johnny Cash and June Carter (All Images Courtesy of Johnny and Saul)

When Saul HoliffJohnny Cash’s one-time manager – committed suicide in 2005, he did so without leaving a note for his family. For Holiff’s eldest son, Jonathan, that meant he’d never get the chance to resolve the enigma of the man who had been an aloof, antagonistic and emotionally distant authority figure his entire life. But Jonathan got a second chance to “know” his father when requests for memorabilia received from Johnny Cash fans lead to the discovery of a secret storage unit that he elder Holiff had kept for most of his life. What happened in the wake of that discovery provided a revelation on many levels.

Saul Storage Locker
Saul Holiff’s Storage Unit

Saul Holiff’s storage unit was preserved as a true time capsule of his life and career managing Johnny Cash – a position he held from 1960 to 1973 – as well as his close friendships with Johnny and his wife June Carter, and his strained family life with Jonathan and his younger brother Joshua. Packed wall-to-wall with filing boxes stuffed with meticulously-kept written documentation, personal letters, photographs, print articles, telegrams, memorabilia and – what surely must have been a mind-blowing discovery for his son – audio tapes that included both Saul’s recorded phone conversations with Cash and others, as well as Saul’s insightful, deeply personal audio diaries.

Realizing he has discovered not only his father’s hidden life story, but also a treasure of Behind the Music-style grit on Johnny Cash that wasn’t even addressed in the Oscar-winning Biopic, Walk The Line, Jonathan Holiff began painstakingly creating this fascinating documentary with a very unique insider’s viewpoint.

Jonathan and Johnny
Jonathan as a Child with Johnny Cash

Although an ultimate goal of seeing this project through to completion was achieving closure for himself regarding his troubled relationship with his Dad, Holiff also succeeds in producing an fascinating and authentic snap shot of American life in the ‘60s and ‘70s (such a great time to be alive!), an insider’s look at the music business of those decades and a terrific “dark side” companion piece to any Johnny Cash Biography.

While it must have been excruciating for Jonathan Holiff to have to hear his (obviously emotionally stunted) father confess in one recorded entry that he was basically incapable of feeling any love for him or his brother, perhaps that also allowed him to achieve a sense of compassion that transcends mere forgiveness. At the end of the day, My Father and The Man in Black goes easy on the pathos to become simply great storytelling, adding an additional human-interest angle to an entertainment industry tale that any film or music fan can engage with. Highly recommended!

My Father and The Man in Black Opens in New York City and Los Angeles on Friday, September 6th, 2013.

The Worley Gig Gives My Father and The Man in Black 4 Out of 5 Stars!

DVD Review: Darnell Dawkins, Mouth Guitar Legend

Darnell Dawkins DVD Cover
Ross Patterson Stars As Darnell Dawkins

If the cast of Saturday Night Live set out to make a feature-length skit that aspired to be the This is Spinal Tap of the Woodstock generation, they might come up with something similar to Darnell Dawkins: Mouth Guitar Legend. This fairly clever and rather historically accurate (as satires go) ultra-indie Mocumentary traces the remarkable story of “mouth-guitar” legend Darnell Dawkins (played by Ross Patterson, who also wrote the script).

The story goes that Dawkins was a childhood friend of Jimi Hendrix (played by comedian R. Ernie Silva), who ended up filling in for the legendary guitarist at Woodstock after Hendrix missed his flight. Sadly, Dawkins’ disapproving father suppressed much of the filmed footage of Darnell’s performance career from public release – until now. The confusing thing is that, while Dawkins is described as a “Mouth Guitar” legend, he does not actually play the instrument with his mouth (as Hendrix famously did) but, rather, he made the sounds of the guitar with his mouth. So, no guitar playing is actually involved, and “mouth guitar” is somewhat like air guitar, in a way. While it’s probably funnier to not be entirely clear on this until you see the film, I think I am okay with this degree of a spoiler, since it’s easy to figure out pretty early on, and it makes the film’s tagline, “He only spoke with his mouth” seem worth a few extra laughs.

Considering the slim budget on which the film appears to have been made, the filmmakers pulled together a cast with a remarkable number of recognizable faces, including Ray Wise (Laura Palmer’s Dad from Twin Peaks) as Darnell’s Dad, Christine Lakin as Wilhemina, Darnell’s muse, William R. Mapother (Lost, who is also Tom Cruise’s Cousin!), Michael Raymond-James (Rene from True Blood), Curtis Armstrong (Booger from Revenge of The Nerds) and Veteran B Movie Actor Richard Riehle.

Darnell Dawkins Jimi Hendrix
Darnell Dawkins with Jimi Hendrix

Darnell Dawkins: Mouth Guitar Legend, which could be compared to a bare bones budget version Walk Hard, is not a genius film or anything, but it’s pretty funny (funnier than Walk Hard, to be honest) and especially endearing if you’ve seen the Woodstock concert film and know your stuff when it comes to classic sixties acts such as Hendrix, The Jefferson Airplane and other bands of that time. It’s a film that would be fun to watch with a small group of like-minded friends at a house party where you are perhaps drinking and smoking a bit too much and just want to be silly. I enjoyed it.

The disc can be purchased for under $12 on Amazon.com and it’s worth that price just to have it around the house so you can whip it out when your friends who like this kind of film are over and say, “Hey, check out this crazy thing!” Also there’s lots of nudity (read: naked chicks) in it, if that’s something that interests you. Run Time: 87 Minutes.

The Worley Gig Gives Darnell Dawkins: Mouth Guitar Legend 3 out of 5 Stars