Actor Mel Gibson rose to stardom in the 1979 film Mad Max, an action movie set in a dystopian future. In 2006, Gibson directed and cowrote Apocalypto, a dystopian fantasy set in the past. Drawing on durable colonialist tropes, Apocalypto portrays the indigenous civilizations of a pre-Colombian Central America as irredeemably brutal and doomed; the film ends with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors. During the time that elapsed between the release of these two films, Gibson’s life took many sordid turns that land Apocalypto’s melodramatic tagline — “No One Can Outrun Their Destiny” — an ironic air. Mel Gibson Story (2010) by Jonathan Horowitz illustrates the actor’s downward spiral through a five-panel metamorphosis of the two movie posters.
Rosalyn Drexler’s work often explores the dark backstories of postwar media culture and gender roles through imagery taken from mass-produced printed materials. For Love and Violence (1965), she enlarged a poster from the 1963 Hollywood film, Toys in the Attic, collaged it onto canvas and then painted over it within a flattened visual field. In this image, the movie’s main character, played by Dean Martin, embraces the female lead, Yvette Mimieux, with his hands at her chin. By setting the image against a red background, above cinematic scenes of brutality, Drexler highlights the threat implied by the male character’s seemingly intimate gesture. In the artist’s words, these popular images were “hidden but present, like a disturbing memory.”
Growing up with an older sister who came of age amid the fever pitch of Beatlemania, I received an excellent education in British rock starting at about the age of five. I knew the music of The Rolling Stones because their hits were all over the radio and, because he was the lead singer, I thought of them as “Mick Jagger’s band.” For whatever reason, I don’t recall even hearing the name of the Stones‘ original guitarist and foundling member, Brian Jones, until I was in high school, which would have been in the late ’70s. At that time, I was completely obsessed with The Who.
One afternoon, I was pouring over an interview in Circus magazine with Who guitarist Pete Townshend, in which he cited Brian Jones as a key influence; not only on his playing, but on his personal image and sense of style. Townshend also mentioned having written and recorded a song called “A Normal Day for Brian, A Man Who Died Every Day” — the title based on an off-the-cuff quote he’d given to a reporter on hearing about Jones‘ untimely death in 1969. And I very distinctly remember pausing to think, Who the fuck is Brian Jones, because I had no clue. What I realized though is that if Pete Townshend — who was like a god to me — held him in such reverence that he wrote a song about him, then I need to do my homework. Sadly, the Internet did not exist in the seventies, so the life of Brian Jones remained a mystery to me beyond what I could glean from listening to his work with the Stones, which spans many studio albums including Their Satanic Majesty’s Request, which is a work of genius.
For decades Jones’ death at age 27 was ruled to be an accidental drowning: he was an admitted drug user, and there appeared to be no reason to suspect foul play. It took the 2005 biopic, Stoned (which features great performances and excessive nudity – two thumbs up) to explore an alternate version of Jones‘ demise, based on the deathbed confession of his (alleged) killer Frank Thorogood, who was employed as a builder at Jones‘ estate. Now, an exhaustive new documentary directed by Danny Garcia gives equal time to both Brian Jones‘ extraordinary life and his mysterious, controversial death.
Rolling Stone: Life and Death of Brian Jones, which I was fortunate to see at a NYC screening in late January, is a wildly engaging and meticulously researched documentary that I believe any music fan — whether or not they even know who Brian Jones‘ was — would enjoy viewing. Pardon the pun, but while the surviving Rolling Stones declined to participate in the making of this film, no ‘stone’ was otherwise left un-turned by Garcia in his quest to paint a complete picture of a vastly talented and charismatic musician who remains a juggernaut of pop future influence four decades after his death.
Life and Death of Brian Jones tells its story through archival footage augmented by dozens of first-hand interviews with the people who knew Jones personally — his friends, family, and fellow musicians — so the viewer really gets to know what Brian was like as a person from childhood through adolescence and adulthood. We learn that Brian was musically gifted, headstrong and rebellious from an early age (he had fathered 3 illegitimate children by age 19!) as he grew into the original Bad Boy of Rock and Roll who set trends on and off the stage, and raised the bar very high for living a hedonistic lifestyle. It’s truly amazing how much he accomplished in his short life.
The film also dives deep into the circumstances and the aftermath of Brian’s apparent drowning, including various conspiracy theories and documented evidence, building a very compelling case that Jones did not suffer a death by misadventure but, rather, was murdered; and there are more than a few suspects. Equal parts nostalgia-inducing, pop culture time capsule and riveting true-crime procedural, Rolling Stone, Life and Death of Brian Jones, is a story that likely took as long as it did to tell because Danny Garcia — who specializes in making films about controversial music icons — was the only filmmaker who could do it justice. It’s a film that will haunt you, as you think on who Brian Jones was, and who he might have become had he lived.
Rolling Stone, Life and Death of Brian Jones, will receive a very limited, select-market run of theatrical screenings in April 2020 before the film’s release on DVD later that month. Check the website of your favorite local Art House theater to find out if it will be playing in your area, and watch the trailer below:
Let’s play a game: would you rather be poked incessantly with sharp objects, or be forced to relive the eighth grade? You might need a minute to think it over. No one wants to be tortured, but eighth grade is a special kind of hell. It only lasts for one year; but what a socially awkward, puberty-riddled, emotionally agonizing year it is. Eighth grade blows, but now you can vicariously cringe your way through the gauntlet that is the last week of middle school for an earnest, 13-year old wallflower in director / writer Bo Burnham’s fantastic debut feature, Eighth Grade. He went back to eight grade, so you don’t have to.
If you’ve seen the two previous feature films by writer/director team Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, then you understand that these guys enjoy being meta. Both their 2013 breakout sci-fi flick, Resolution, and 2014’s body horror/romance, Spring include references to a common character (“Shitty Carl”) who is never seen onscreen, and the duo even appear together in one scene in Resolution. Impressively, their new film, The Endless, takes meta to a delightfully mind-bending level. Not only do audiences finally get to meet Shitty Carl, but the two main characters (and one minor character) from Resolution appear in a few pivotal scenes of The Endless, reprising their roles from the previous film. Stephen King does this type of cross-referential thing in his novels all the time as a way to expand and validate his fictional worlds, and here the device works well to let The Endless serve as both a possible sequel to Resolution, while also letting it stand alone as a solid, separate story that contains a few winks and nods for hardcore fans. You don’t need to see one to ‘get’ the other, and to infer that this reveal is a ‘spoiler’ would be like saying that seeing Rogue One spoils the plot of Star Wars.
The Endless stars Benson and Moorhead as brothers Justin and Aaron Smith, roommates who own and operate a small housecleaning business, but struggle to pay the bills. Although they appear to be about the same age, it is inferred that Justin is the elder sibling by, say, ten years. One afternoon, Aaron receives a battered package in the mail, containing a video tape on a format that is long obsolete. After hitting up a couple of yard sales, he finds a device that will play the tape, which shows footage of a young woman who speaks to the camera about an unspecified, upcoming event. Aaron recognizes her as Anna (Callie Hernanadez), whom he knows from a cult-like commune that took-in the brothers after their parents died in a car accident. It’s unclear how long they lived at the commune, but suggested that ten years have passed since they left – or was it ‘escaped’?
Aaron shares the tape with Justin, insisting that the two make a return visit to the commune so that he can gain some type of closure, and also make sure that Anna and the other friends they left behind are all okay. Justin has zero desire to go back, but indulges his younger brother on the condition that the trip be limited to just one day. Right.
There Might Be Something in the Lake Other Than Fish
Though it’s not immediately obvious that the group worships or follows the teachings of any particular figurehead, guru or phenomena, things get weird right away. First off, Justin quickly observes that residents of the commune appear to not have aged a day in the ten years since the brothers left. Aaron sees flocks of birds flying in odd, circular patterns, and surprise photographs and other recorded media containing images of the two just kind of ‘show up’ randomly. And, oh yeah, isn’t that a second moon up in the sky? What’s that about? And who, or what, is on the other end of the rope in that midnight Tug-of-War ritual?
Make that Three Moons
The Endless is one of those films that’s comprised of multi-layered mysteries and plot twists that you won’t see coming no matter how much you think you know what is going on. The subtle horror, slowly-mounting suspense and ever increasing sense of dread will have you on the edge your seat, and it’s really best to go into the theater knowing as little about what happens as possible. While it could be described as Cabin in The Woods meets Primer, The Endless will also appeal to those intrigued by the exploration of cults and cult-mentality, as addressed in the Netlfix documentary series, Wild Wild Country. It is certainly a film that invites multiple viewings, and it will leave you with lots to discuss with fellow viewers long after leaving the theater.
The Worley Gig Gives The Endless 4 1/2 out of 5 Stars!
The Endless Hits Theaters on Friday April 6th, 2018. Find a Showing Near You at This Link!
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead Direct and Star in The Endless.
“America, they want someone to love; but they want someone to hate, too.” These words, concisely distilling the public’s obsession with celebrity scandal, are spoken by Tonya Harding, former Olympic figure skater and one-time champion competitor, in director Craig Gillespie’s outstanding new biopic, I, Tonya. For those who are late to the game; back in 1994, Harding found herself at the center of one of the most sensational scandals in sports history after being linked to a physical attack on her teammate Nancy Kerrigan shortly before the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. In the seemingly endless media circus that surrounded ‘the incident’ (as it is referred to in the film) and its far-reaching consequences, Tonya Harding became a walking punch line and arguably the most-hated woman in America. In the aftermath, she was sentenced by the court to probation, community service, ordered to pay a large fine, and forced to resign from the United States Figure Skating Association, effectively ending her career. Twenty three years later, I, Tonya gives Harding a compelling confessional with which to tell the whole sordid story, and it is a tale based on true events that’s as crazy as any absurdist, darkly comic fiction you could make up.
Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan) with Tonya as a Newly-Dating Couple.
With a tight script based on dialogue from recent interviews by the director with both Harding and her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly, plus archived interviews, You Tube videos and meticulous research, I, Tonya traces Harding’s life and career from age 4 to 44. Growing up in a broken home (her mother’s fifth child from her fourth marriage) Harding’s focused passion for skating took her out of her reality of incessant beratement by her stage-mother-from-hell, LaVona Golden (an astounding performance by Allison Janney) and transformed her into a disciplined athlete who didn’t take any shit from anybody. Performing in homemade costumes because she couldn’t afford to buy them, and constantly standing up for her right to compete and be judged on her ability despite not fitting the mold of a squeaky clean all-American girl, it’s exhilarating to watch her come up in the sport (Harding was the first American woman to complete a triple axel in competition) while gaining a voyeuristic perspective on the circumstances that shaped her complicated character.
Allison Janney Steals Every Scene She’s in as Tonya’a Mother, LaVonna Golden
As Harding hones her craft and becomes an increasingly successful, award-winning competitor, her already volatile relationship with Gilooly becomes even more physically abusive, and the film’s depiction of domestic violence is very realistic, harrowing and difficult to watch. By the time Gilooly and his half-witted friend Shawn Eckardt (Paul Walter Hauser) begin brainstorming a plan that will ‘intimidate’ Olympic teammate Nancy Kerrigan, who is perceived as Harding’s stiffest competition for Olympic Gold, it is already too late to stop the downward spiral.
Jeff, Tonya and her coach Diane Rawlinson (Julianne Nicholson) first hear of the attack on Kerrigan
Despite the violence and serious subject matter, I Tonyais a wildly enjoyable ride, filled with many hilarious moments thanks to the absurdist situations and excellent comic timing from the top-shelf group of actors cast in this strange-but-true story. A well-curated film soundtrack can always advance the action and evoke keen emotions in ways that dialogue alone cannot, so it’s worth noting that, along with a terrific original score by Peter Nashel, I, Tonya makes brilliant use of popular radio hits of the era such as Cliff Richard’s “Devil Woman,” Hot Chocolate’s “Everyone’s a Winner,” Laura Branigan’s “Gloria” and Siouxsie and the Banshees’ cover of Iggy Pop’s“The Passenger” sound tracking the film’s closing credits as they scroll over archival footage of Tonya Harding skating in competition, which is unexpectedly quite moving.
Expect I, Tonya to garner a considerable number of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress for Robbie and Best Supporting Actress for Janney (at the very least), and Best Director.
Opening Nationally on Friday December 8th, 2017, The Worley Gig Gives I, Tonya Five out of Five Stars. Watch the Trailer Below:
If you’re a fan of Dan Stevens from his tenure on the period drama series, Downton Abbey, not to mention (but you can see I am about to) his current roles in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and the hit TV series Legion, you can get another fix of the wildly popular British actor in a new independent film, The Ticket. As the first American film directed by Ido Fluk (Never Too Late), The Ticket offers an intimate, engaging and well-acted take on a familiar cautionary tale. James (Stevens) has been blind since childhood due to an inoperable pituitary tumor pressing on his optic nerve. Despite his blindness, he appears to enjoy a good life; being happily married to Sam (Malin Ackerman) and father to a 13 year-old son, Jonah (Skylar Gaertner). James also works at a Real Estate firm making cold sales calls with a group of other blind employees that includes his close friend, Bob (Oliver Platt). There’s no reason to think that James‘ life isn’t as fulfilling and productive as a sighted person, until his circumstances change drastically.
James‘ eyesight suddenly returns shortly after the film’s opening credits sequence, which plays out over a playful morning conversation with Sam as they lay in bed. Set against a dark screen that is occasionally punctuated by a brief mix of faded shadows and light, this montage is highly effective in putting the viewer inside James‘ world as a blind man. But by the time that James makes his way into the bathroom for his morning shower, he sees his adult reflection in the mirror for the first time. At this point, the plot of The Ticket might be described as Awakenings meets 99 Homes, as James becomes almost frantically driven to make up for opportunities lost due to his blindness, and get what he feels he deserves as a sighted man.
James bonds with his son (Skylar Gaertner) while swimming in one of the film’s best scenes
With his vision restored, James is no longer content to work the phones in the office, and makes a pitch to the firm’s executives to launch an ambitious but ethically dubious marketing campaign which Bob immediately sees as a scam. He also becomes increasing preoccupied with his appearance; preening over his hair and investing in tailored suits to fit in better with the professional group of his co-workers that he aspires to join. As he butts heads with Sam over his desire to branch out into new activities — she prefers to stay in their comfortable routine (going dancing at a social center frequented by blind people, which is where the two first met) — he also develops a wandering eye.