Tag Archive | Film Review

DVD Review: Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, a Documentary About The Damned

The Damned Documentary

Coming of age in the late 1970s, I was in the right place at the right time to enjoy the character-shaping birth of British Punk Rock,  as well as having a ground zero experience of the Southern California Punk Rock movement, which was equally legendary. It was a great time to be a teenage music lover! It was also a blessing that driving up to LA to see a punk band was not always necessary, because Orange County had its own live music venue that booked both US and UK-based acts; a dive-y little joint, hidden away in an industrial neighborhood of Costa Mesa, which was called The Cuckoo’s Nest. It was at The Cuckoo’s Nest in 1979 that I first saw The Damned live, on tour in support of what is arguably still their best and most popular album, Machine Gun Etiquette. Lyrics from that album’s eponymous track now lend themselves to the title of a fantastic documentary on The Damned, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead, which  has just become available on home video. I am overjoyed to report that this film is a must-see for all Damned fans, old-school punks, rock music historians and anyone who was a punk back when the guys in Sum 41 were still toddlers.

Directed, written and produced by Wes Orshoski (Lemmy) over a three-year period, with a limited theatrical release in 2015, Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead gets absolutely everything right as it brings to life the rich history and continuing artistic impact of The Damned; a group comprised of four distinct characters who beat both the Sex Pistols and The Clash to the punch by releasing the first punk single (“New Rose”), recording the first punk album (Damned Damned Damned) and being the first of their ilk to tour the United States. But what happens with many of those who blaze trails is that the financial rewards of their considerable efforts often bypass them, and go instead to those who follow in their wake. And this is the case with The Damned, because while they were out doing everything first, other punk bands were building an enigmatic reputation and getting hyped up-the-ass by Svengali managers (Sex Pistols), and scoring high-paying record deals (The Clash). It is sad, because it’s true.

The Damned 1977
The Damned: Dave Vanian, Captain Sensible, Rat Scabies, Brian James Circa 1977

Considered by their peers to have included the best musicians of any punk band, The Damned’s music still sounds as exciting and, to my ears, somewhat mind-blowing, today as it did when their debut album was freshly released, nearly 40 years ago. Orshoski uses archival footage of the band playing live, from their earliest shows up to the present, mixed with dozens of interviews and candid clips, to tell the story of a band who got in on the ground floor of a sociopolitical movement-turned pivotal music genre and rode a wave through countless creative reinventions and line up changes, and still have all four original members alive and well. Even Captain Sensible (real name: Ray Burns) admits “One of us should be dead.” How did it all go down? Watch and find out.

Orshoski is exhaustive in his research and coverage of  both the personal and professional history of key band members, and this makes for one of the most complete and engaging profiles of any band ever committed to film. Founding members Brian James, who was only in The Damned for one year and one album, and Rat Scabies (real name: Chris Millar), whose questionable business practices have caused great animosity and irreparable loss of professional trust between him and Captain Sensible, show up over and over again for lengthy interviews throughout the film. It should please diehard fans that Orshoski focuses mostly on the original line up, although when it comes to getting the full warts-and-all story of what went on in every incarnation of The Damned, no stone is left unturned. The result is a film which is both heartbreaking and hilarious, and endlessly entertaining.

If you’ve ever wondered “Where Are The Now?” about literally (almost) anyone who was ever in the band — and remember that The Damned has enjoyed a very fluid line up over its decades-long existence — this is the place to find out. Once Brian James left the band (before their second album — produced by Nick Mason of Pink Floyd — was recorded), and Captain Sensible took over as lead guitarist, The Damned went through bassists like Spinal Tap went through drummers. Many of those guys are interviewed for, and add great color to, Don’t You Wish…, including the late, great Lemmy Kilmister, who filled in on bass before Algy Ward joined for the recording of Machine Gun Etiquette. Other notable former members include future Culture Club drummer John Moss, who replaced Rat Scabies before the band broke up, and then reformed, in 1978.  Talk about a rich history of storied personnel! The only glaring omission is the absence of any visual presence (save for one photograph, which is on screen for a split second) or any reference at all to Patricia Morrison (ex Bags, Gun Club, and Sisters of Mercy) who joined on bass, and married Dave Vanian in 1996, remaining until she gave birth to the couple’s daughter in 2004. I can only guess that she specifically declined to participate in filming and asked that Orshoski respect her privacy by not including her at all in the project. That’s a shame.

Also being very generous with their on-screen contributions of memories and anecdotes are some of The Damned’s punk contemporaries, including Chrissie Hynde, Mick Jones of The Clash, Steve Diggle of The Buzzcocks (who still perform with 2 original members), and Billy Idol (who, as the lead vocalist for Generation X, was considered to be a complete poseur by Rat Scabies). Super fans who went on to have considerable careers themselves also offer enthusiastic praise for the band’s music and influence, including Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, who admits he ripped off his on stage persona and vocal style from Dave Vanian, Ian MacKaye (Minor Threat, Fugazi), Dexter Holland (The Offspring), Keith Morris  (Black Flag, Circle Jerks), Jesse Hughes (Eagles of Death Metal) and comedian/musician Fred Armisan.  It is such a blast to wax nostalgic with all of these guys while enjoying The Damned’s fantastic music, which absolutely refuses to date. High-fives all around on this one.

Don’t You Wish That We Were Dead is now available on DVD and Blu-ray at Amazon Dot Com and elsewhere.

Grade: A+

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Movie Review: The Film Critic (El Critico )

FILM CRITIC Poster

A film critic whose intolerance for cliché-ridden, formulaic Hollywood romances has earned him a reputation as a merciless film curmudgeon experiences a kind of existential crisis when he falls hard for beautiful, mercurial woman in Writer/Director Hernán Gerschuny’s Argentinian comedy The Film Critic (El Critico). This fast paced, sharply written and well-acted film will entertain anyone who loves movies but also enjoys a hilarious, insider jab at the filmmaking industry.

The Film Critic - 5

Victor Tellez (Rafael Spregelburd) is a popular film citric who feels that the main responsibility of his job is to help the audience discern “Art from Schlock.” Tellez spends his days in dark screening rooms with his fellow critics, with whom he then retreats to a favorite local café to discuss what they’ve just seen ad nauseum. Tellez is so pretentious that, while he speaks Spanish, he thinks in French (thus the film is in both French and Spanish with English subtitles), which is hilarious in itself.

When Tellez goes to see an apartment that he hopes to rent, he meets the very enigmatic and sassy Sofia (played by Dolores Fonzi, who bears a striking resemblance to Mila Kunis), who has beat him out as the next potential tenant by arriving on the scene before him. Through his relentless attempt’s to convince her to let him have the apartment, Victor is unexpectedly charmed by this lady, the likes of whom he’s not met before.

The Film Critic - 2

As Victor finds himself falling hard for Sofia, a woman who playfully challenges his beliefs and tastes on almost every level, he struggles to reconcile this new relationship with the profound disdain he has always felt towards the romantic film genre.

Ironically, when he is commissioned to write a short screenplay in exchange for some easy cash, Victor bases his story on the seemingly formulaic trajectory of his relationship with Sofia, with hilarious results. Will Life imitate Art? You’ll have to watch to find out!

The Film Critic is marvelously meta, but engaging subplots that include Victor’s relationship with his snarky teenage niece (also an avid cinephile whose idea of a great film is Jerry Maguire); and his increasingly agitated interactions with a young filmmaker who takes Victor’s scathing criticism of his own film a bit too personally, keep the action lively. We loved this movie!

The Worley Gig Gives The Film Critic (El Critico) 5 out of 5 Stars. See it in Theaters and on VOD starting May 15th, 2015!

Recommended Viewing: David Bowie Is

David Bowie Is Movie Poster

It seems hilarious to think that I was six years old when David Bowie released his self-titled debut album, which would have been on June 1st of 1967. Coincidentally, and in an act of incredibly bad timing on Bowie’s part, that was the shared release date of another album you may have heard of: The Beatles’ Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. What a way to ensure that your most heartfelt artistic efforts are completely and totally eclipsed by another act! Bad Timing! In hindsight, also hilarious.

Point being that David Bowie has been part of the soundtrack for me since childhood. Surprisingly, this year (four decades on) I have learned more about the guy than I ever imagined I didn’t know. Just a couple of months ago, Showtime aired David Bowie: Five Years, a fantastic documentary spanning five key years in Bowie’s music career that was just one mind-blowing revelation after another. For example, I had no idea that Legendary keyboardist Rick Wakeman played piano all over Hunky Dory. Who even pays attention to stuff like that? Mind blowing. Five Years definitely deepened my respect and admiration for the man, his music and his insane contribution to global pop culture. David Bowie is a Musical Genius!

If you have ears and eyes and you are a David Bowie fan, then you’ve already also heard about David Bowie Is; the universally critically lauded, career retrospective that became the fastest-selling exhibition in London’s Victoria & Albert Museum’s history. David Bowie Is has already hit Toronto, Sao Paulo and Berlin, and on September 23rd, this exhibition — which features over 300 items including photos, costumes, artwork, hand-written lyrics, stage props, videos and other items from David Bowie’s Personal Archive — opened at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which will be its only stop in the US.

That same Tuesday, a documentary film about the touring art exhibition, also called David Bowie Is, had a one-night only screening in various theaters across the country. I saw the film in NYC and it was so exciting that it made me want spend a thousand dollars just to go to Chicago and see the exhibit. Directed by Hamish Hamilton, the film is an excellent primer and will greatly enrich your visit should you have exhibit tickets at the ready. But for those who will be unable to view the exhibition in person, this film is the next best thing. It may even inspire you to pull out all the stops in order to make it to the Museum of Contemporary Art before David Bowie Is moves on to its next destination in January of 2015.

In addition to a detailed tour of the exhibition’s key features, the film includes tons of back-story and insights from curators Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh who serve as onscreen hosts and narrators. And let me tell you, they know their shit. One of my favorite parts of the film is a viewing and explanation of extensive, illustrated storyboards that Bowie created for a film to be based on the Diamond Dogs album. It is unreal. You’ll also hear conversations with exhibit-goer-fans, and commentary about Bowie’s far-reaching influence with pop taste-makers such as Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker and fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto, who created the iconic costumes seen in the photo below.

David Bowie Costumes
Costumes Designed By Kansai Yamamoto: (left to right) Tokyo Pop vinyl bodysuit (1973), Asymmetric knitted bodysuit (1973); cloak decorated with kanji characters (1973), all designed for  the Ziggy Stardust tour.

If you missed the September 23rd screening and want to see what this exhibit is all about, David Bowie Is will have additional screenings around the country on November 20th. Visit This Link for theaters, show times and ticket purchasing information in your area.

The Worley Gig Gives David Bowie Is Five out of Five Stars!