Tag Archive | Recommended Viewing

Recommended Viewing: The Stolen Lyric

Stolen Lyric Cast

If you’ve been around long enough, you might remember a genre of extremely clever novelty records — super popular during the ’70s  —   that parodied current events and news stories with fake interviews made up of audio clips taken from charting pop songs. Those early mash-up records were lots of fun, and if you miss them, and wonder why somebody hasn’t picked up on that idea for a long-form project, then a new animated film called The Stolen Lyric is going to really turn you on.

Directed by Chase Peter Garrettson, The Stolen Lyric is an animated retelling of the Robin Hood fable, set in the rock music world, and taking on  corporate greed as its chief nemesis.  While the film’s plot and episodic structure  closely follow Howard Pyle’s 1883 novel, The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood, in The Stolen Lyric, Robin H is the lead singer of a rock band called The Merry, whose members include Tucker (Friar Tuck), LJ (Little John) and Will Scarlet (Will Scarlet). What makes The Stolen Lyric absolutely groundbreaking is how the film’s dialogue is based exclusively on 555 song fragments from 129 different iconic recording artists. Imagine listening to a mind-blowing, deep-catalog mix CD that was created by a pop music audiophile with a ten second attention span, and that might give you an idea of the sweet nostalgic ride that is The Stolen Lyric.

Here are just a few of the artists whose songs you’ll hear in The Stolen Lyric:

The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Rolling Stones, The Who, Television, Sex Pistols, Ramones, Simon and Garfunkel, Jethro Tull, Queen, The Doors, Iggy Pop, Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Weezer, Radiohead, Outkast, Beastie Boys, Beach Boys, Elton John, Janet Jackson, Peter Frampton, Jefferson Airplane, Alice in Chains, Joy Division, Fiona Apple, Nine Inch Nails,  Buzzcocks and MGMT.

I must admit that I was very surprised to recognize a few song clips from the hyper-litigious Metallica, so perhaps the filmmakers are biding their time until the lawsuits start to flow in from that camp.

Because the film immediately immerses you in a familiar auditory environment, the action can be a bit fuzzy at first, so here’s an outline of major plot points:

Originally, The Merry included  a fifth member, Sherriff (The Sheriff of Nottingham) who, pre-fortune and fame, become disillusioned with a lack of commercial success, and quit the band to take a music business office job. Years later, the guys discover that Sheriff (who is now a wealthy corporate exective) has stolen a lyric from one of The Merry’s songs — “Time to Trade in Your Bike in for the Ride of Your Life” — and sold it for use in a car commercial. In their quest to get their owed-royalties from Sheriff, the story of The Merry unfolds in a series of flashbacks, and we see that Sheriff is also now with Rob’s former girlfriend who, for some reason isn’t named Marion, but Lorraine, as referenced in the lyrics to Lou Reed’s “Wild Child.”

stolen-lyric-band-cash

Here’s a bit of interesting trivia on the film: The characters in The Stolen Lyric were designed to look like hybrids of the traditional characters and modern-day rock personalities, with Rob’s look inspired by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, LJ’s look inspired by Joshua Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Will Scarlet’s look inspired by David Bowie, Tucker’s look inspired by Jonathan Davis of Korn, and Sheriff’s look inspired by Nick Valensi of The Strokes.

I think that the most fun you can have with The Stolen Lyric  is to watch it with group of your best record-collecting-music-nerd friends (adding lots of alcohol into the mix) and see who gets stumped the most when trying to identify the more obscure songs and artists. You could even make a drinking game out of it! Very fun! Although there are scattered swear words throughout (which most kids already know if they have ever ridden the subway in NYC, or own records by even one rap artist), and one fairly tame sex scene, I would say the film is age-appropriate viewing for mature 13 year-olds and up. It would absolutely be a terrific way to introduce kids to a top-shelf and somewhat eclectic collection of classic tunes that they are never going to hear anywhere else.

I watched The Stolen Lyric twice and enjoyed even more the second time.

The Stolen Lyric can be viewed on Amazon Prime.

stolen-lyric-robin-hood

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Recommended Viewing: Author: The JT LeRoy Story

JT Leroy Story Movie Poster
All Images Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

If you enjoy the slow reveal of a real-life mystery that unfolds with greater intrigue and a higher ‘WTF’ factor than the most oblique, multi-layered David Fincher script, then Author: The JT LeRoy Story is your wet dream of a documentary film. Author is the true story of wunderkind picaresque novelist JT LeRoy and the elaborate machinations behind the facade that disguised the Literary Hoax of the Century. Because, despite being one of the most popular and critically lauded writers of an entire decade (1996 to 2006), JT LeRoy never existed: he was merely an elaborate persona created by author Laura Albert  to take credit for stories she wrote from the perspective of an emotionally and psychologically traumatize teenage boy. When the JT LeRoy books reached a level of mega-success that required LeRoy to do press and make personal appearances, Albert got to work on fabricating one of the most brilliant and convoluted schemes ever conceived in the mind of someone who was hiding behind a pretty hefty stack of neuroses.

JT and Laura
Savannah Knoop as JT LeRoy, with Laura Albert as Speedy

Backed into a corner, Albert, with assistance from her husband Greg Knoop and sister-in-law Savannah Knoop, created a physical world that JT LeRoy could move around in, with Savannah portraying JT in public (Albert had already been impersonating him on the phone for years)  and Greg playing the part of JT’s lover/roommate, Asher. Albert took on the role of JT’s handler/sidekick, the British-accented ‘Speedy‘ (Albert is American). Together, the trio fooled everyone.

JT and Bono
JT and Bono

What makes Author: The JT LeRoy story such a complete success is that you don’t need to know anything about the backstory coming into it, to become thoroughly transported into the world of Laura Albert’s dual realities, and to stay engaged and outraged as those world’s fall apart over the course of two hours.  This film is just amazing on so many levels. There’s no doubt that Albert is, well, crazy; but that doesn’t make her any less of a creative genius. The lengths that Albert and her family went to to keep the JT LeRoy ruse alive, and the degree to which dozens — if not hundreds — of huge celebrities were either authentically duped, or, like Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan, were just playing along is nothing short of mind blowing.

JT Michael Pitt Gus Van Sant
Actor Michael Pitt, JT and Film Director Gus Van Sant

Currently, Author: The JT LeRoy Story is tied with Wiener as the best documentary I’ve seen so far this year.

The Worley Gig Gives Author: The JT LeRoy Story Five out of Five Stars!

Author: The JT LeRoy Story Hits Theaters on September 9th, 2016 and will be Showing in NYC at both the Landmark Sunshine Cinema and Lincoln Center’s Elinor Bunin Munroe Theatre. Directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, the Film has a Running Time of 110 Minutes. Watch the Trailer Below!

Recommended Viewing: Naz & Maalik

Naz and Maalik Movie Poster
Curtiss Cook Jr. and Kerwin Johnson Jr. Star in Naz & Maalik (All Images Courtesy of Wolfe Video)

One day in the life of a pair of Brooklyn teenagers moves beyond their typical routine to mark an emotional turning point in the lives of the two best friends in Naz & Maalik; an engaging new film from screenwriter/director Jay Dockendorf. The film’s dynamic script is based on a first-person account from one of Dockendorf’s former neighbors; a gay Muslim man who revealed his own experience as a teenager living in Brooklyn, at a time when the NYPD and FBI were spying on Muslims across the country. In Bed-Stuy (Bedford Stuyvesant, a heavily African American neighborhood of Brooklyn) in particular, COPs would infiltrate mosques with undercover agents, coerce civilians arrested for petty crimes into becoming informants and conduct door-to-door interviews with Muslim citizens in front of their homes. The overbearing presence of the police created a charged environment, and a similar atmosphere of consistent tension infiltrates this bittersweet coming-of-age story that is expertly directed and acted.

Naz and Maalik Screen Shot

Portrayed by Curtiss Cook Jr. (Maalik) and Kerwin Johnson Jr. (Naz), two young actors both making their feature film debut in these roles, Naz and Maalik spend their days together, earning cash by selling Lotto tickets, Saint cards, candy and scented oils on the streets of their neighborhood, as well as while riding the subway lines. Their faith is also made evident, as they make a stop at a local mosque during their day to pray with the faithful. Their bond of friendship is fast and tight, and, as we learn early on, their relationship has only just taken a romantic turn — something that Naz is way more comfortable with than Maalik. As devout Muslims, their love is forbidden, and it doesn’t help that Maalik’s bratty younger sister has already threatened to “out” the couple to their parents. As if being a teenager wasn’t hard enough.

And then there’s the matter of that FBI agents that starts following the boys’ every move…

Naz and Maalik In Park2

As their story unfolds naturally, Naz & Maalik takes on many hot-button issues — racial profiling, religion, sexuality — as the streets and subway trains of Brooklyn advance the backstory of just who these kids are without a need for superfluous narrative dialogue. In fact, to suggest that Brooklyn is also a main character in the film is not out of line.

Naz and Maalik Park

Naz & Maalik isn’t so much a film about easy resolution as it is about tackling life’s curve balls and trying to stay true to yourself and your beliefs while also embracing the uncertainty of new love. Naz and Maalik are extremely likable characters and their story is both straightforward and nuanced, and highly engaging overall. The film’s original score, also written by Dockendorf is also fantastic. I can’t say enough good things about this film.

Grade: A

After Debuting at NYC’s Cinema Village, Naz & Maalik is currently available via Wolfe on DVD and Video On Demand.

Naz and Maalik on Street

Recommended Viewing: The Circle (Der Kreis)

The Circle Poster

Love doesn’t have to look a certain way, and it is a thoroughly compelling love story that anchors the Gay rights battle at the heart of The Circle, a new German language film from Director Stefan Haupt. In this engaging film that mixes a scripted dramatic narrative (set in 1950s Zurich) with present day documentary interview footage with film’s real-life main characters, The Circle (Der Kreis) is also the name of a gay social organization and the multi-lingual, borderline-homoerotic magazine/newsletter it publishes and distributes to an extensive international list of subscribers.

Although post WWII Switzerland has no laws banning homosexuality, The Circle’s staff members are always careful to avoid excessive censorship by keeping the publication’s nudity “artistically tasteful” and ensuring that any provocative articles are written in a language that the censors don’t speak. It’s obvious from the beginning that The Circle offers an invaluable social outlet and sanctuary for its members; one which they will go to great lengths to preserve and protect.

It’s at one of the organization’s formal dances that reserved Girls School teacher Ernst Ostertag (Matthias Hungerbuehler) meets flamboyant drag performer Robi Rapp (Sven Schelker), and Ernst is instantly smitten. While Ernst’s profession and desire to achieve tenure necessitate that he remain closeted to anyone outside of The Circle — including his ultra-repressed parents —Robi is openly gay and very comfortable inside his own skin. Robi has particularly charming relationship with his very warm and accepting mother (played by actress Marianne Sägebrecht ).

As Robi and Ernst’s relationship develops into a committed romance, Ernst becomes more self-confident and accepting of his sexual identity while also growing more passionate toward his involvement with The Circle and the cause of Gay rights.

Robi and Ernst
Sven Schelker and Matthias Hungerbuehler Portray Lovers Robi and Ernst

Both actors are brilliant in their respective roles, sharing a palpable onscreen chemistry that really brings the deeply loving relationship between Ernst and Robi to life; but it isn’t all about romance. When several friends of The Circle fall victim to a series of murders within the gay community, the formerly liberal authorities begin to crack down on suspected same-sex behavior. This leads to The Circle’s regular dances and social events being declared illegal, and police using strong arm tactics to collect the personal details of all members. With the resulting turmoil, the organization becomes impossible to maintain and must be disbanded.

A unique aspect of The Circle’s method of storytelling is the interspersing of documentary interludes, featuring present-day interviews with the real life Ernst and Robi, now in their eighties. Not only are they still happily together but, in 2003, they actually became the first legally married same-sex couple in Switzerland. Friends and family of the couple, as well as former members of The Circle also contribute their personal stories, to create a very satisfying and entertaining movie-going experience. I really loved this film.

The Circle (Der Kreis) – which is the Official submission of Switzerland to the best foreign language film category of the 87th Academy Awards 2015 – opens in NYC on November 21st and in Los Angeles on December 18th, 2014. Runtime: 102 minutes.

The Worley Gig Gives The Circle Four out of Five Stars

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!

Recommended Viewing: This Is The End

This is the End Poster

Hey what’s up. Remember that movie from last year, The Cabin In The Woods? That was awesome, right? Everybody saw it. But like The Crying Game, the thing about that movie was there were so many crazy plot twists that it was really best to go in without knowing anything about the movie at all. Such is the case with this new film, This Is The End, which I saw at a screening last night. Walking into the theater, all I knew about it was that I recognized a bunch of actors on the poster from various Judd Apatow movies. And I’m telling you, that is all you need to know.

This movie is extremely hilarious despite a not insubstantial amount of gross out humor, and the plot is completely original. So, I really don’t want to tell you anything about it, because I want you to be surprised! But here’s what I will say: This Is The End is about a bunch of actors (all playing themselves) who are friends in “Real Life,” being trapped inside James Franco’s Hollywood home when the Apocalypse arrives during one of Franco’s debauched house parties. What a great location to experience the End Of Days!

It’s funny that just a couple of days ago I was talking shit on FaceBook about what a douche James Franco is, mostly for being a pretentious doofus who has helped to ruin the reputation of all Contemporary Art by selling bags of air, or whatever ridiculous thing it is he does in the name of Art. Please give me a break. Despite the fact that he was really hot in the first Spiderman movie, and also Pineapple Express, and that movie where he plays the guy who has to cut off his own arm to escape from being trapped between two rocks, that looks pretty good, but other than that, he kind of skeevs me out.

This Is The End stars Seth Rogan, Jay Baruchel (you will recognize him when you seen him), Danny McBride, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and of course James Franco, plus there are cameos by every single famous person on the planet, including Rihanna (barf), who mercifully is killed off early in the film. The best cameo is by Michael Cera, who is the butt of a running joke during his brief appearance about what a cocaine fiend / sex addict he is. Hilarious! Anyway, go see this movie, because if you don’t mind a bit of projectile vomiting and incessant jizz jokes, you’ll laugh your ass off.  This Is The End opens in U.S. theaters on June 12th.

The Worley Gig gives This Is The End 4 Out of 5 Stars!

Recommended Viewing: Full Circle, The Kostabi Story

Mark Kostabi Full Circle
Image Source

The art world is filled with enigmas, and that’s what keeps it exciting. This week, I attended a screening of a new documentary film about American contemporary artist/painter Mark Kostabi, called Full Circle, The Kostabi Story, directed by Italian filmmaker Sabrina Digregorio. The film is amazing, but before I get into it, I need to get something off my chest about another excellent Kostabi documentary from 2011, called Con Artist. Because, to me, Full Circle felt very much like the bookend to Con Artist, though I am sure that was unintentional.

While Con Artist did an excellent job of distilling Mark Kostabi’s colorful life, undeniable scenester status and celebrated art career up to that point, the title of the film referenced the fact that Kostabi, like so many modern art superstars, employs a staff to execute his paintings. I’ve met Mark Kostabi casually a few times (he is extremely friendly and approachable) and even visited his Chelsea based studio, Kostabi World, so it’s not like his process is a huge, dirty secret.

Far from it. This “revelation” is not at all scandalous when you consider that Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, among many others, employ assistants and craftsmen to execute their projects, without being subject to serious flack as to whether this step in the creative process detracts from their legitimate artistic credibility. Hell, even Michelangelo had a staff. Con Artist is an enjoyable film, but the filmmakers definitely had an agenda, and I’m still not sure if Kostabi was complicit in the way it came off. I could have asked him about it, but I never did.

Con Artist left me with a weird feeling of emotional manipulation: like I wasn’t supposed to respect Mark Kostabi or admire his art because he doesn’t personally paint every single one of his paintings. The conclusion I drew was that Kostabi had become disillusioned, abandoned the creative process and simply turned to manufacturing art, instructing his art-drones to paint in the prescribed style of “a Kostabi,” and then signing his name to that canvas. As if, by being labeled a “Con Artist,” he had surrendered to and embraced that accusation. For lack of a more eloquent phrase, it was kind of a bummer, but one that nevertheless added an additional layer of enigma to the artist.

Full Circle, on the other hand, is an extremely uplifting film. While providing only the most cursory background information on Mark, the film opts for a tight focus on his current career, his reputation among Italian art critics (Kostabi spends half the year living in Rome) and an in-depth exploration of how he works with his staff to fully realize more of his paintings – from idea to canvas – than he could possibly create physically on his own. What you get to see in full glorious detail is how all Kostabi paintings are born not just from a vague idea or rote instruction but from complete sketches that Mark provides to the painter. While the employees of Kostabi World transfer Mark’s detailed sketches to canvas he continually consults with each until the painting is up to his standards and just feels “right.”

I think that anyone who’s been confused by seeing Con Artist definitely needs to see Full Circle. Mark Kostabi really is a talented, wildly passionate and unique artist, an amazing modern classical pianist, a knowledgeable art historian and a reputable teacher. Beyond that, he is a very nice, interesting and cool person. Mark Kostabi!

I recommend Full Circle, The Kostabi Story not just to art fans who already know Mark’s work, but to anyone who is curious about Contemporary art and artists, or who feels like they don’t “get” art. I learned lot from this movie and my only minor complaint is that, at just over 60 minutes run time, it is not nearly long enough.

Watch The Trailer Below!