FOLLOW US ON: follow us in feedly
GET THE NEWSLETTER
CONTACT US
‘Show Me Your Soul’: Amazing ‘Soul Train’ documentary from French television
03.21.2017
09:24 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
Show Me Your Soul: The Soul Train Years is a 2013 documentary produced for French television by filmmaker Pascal Forneri (who also directed the critically-acclaimed 2010 documentary Gainsbourg & his Girls). It uses wonderful rare footage, archival photographs, and brand new interviews to take the very first in-depth look at the history of Soul Train. Forneri not only highlights the amazing soul and R&B artists who performed on the program over its 35 year, 1,100 episode run, but also the real stars of the show: the in-studio dancers who would set the standard for future generations of contemporary urban dance.
 

 
Several recurring Soul Train dancers are spotlighted in this documentary who provide a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how the show came together. Most of the dancers were not professionally trained, they would spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to fly themselves out to Hollywood from cities all over the U.S. to be on the show. Those determined few who didn’t make the cut at the audition would sneak themselves onto the studio lot by any means necessary: including one dancer who got onto the set by hiding himself in the trunk of a car. As the show’s popularity in American households increased, so did the dancer’s popularity: week after week they’d try to outdo one another. First by their dance moves which became more and more wild, then by their fashion choices. Some dancers were so eager to get in front of the camera that they started bringing in props (a man known as “Mr. X” became famous for his dance routine that included a large, oversized toothbrush). Dancers began getting recognized on the streets of their home cities as if they were veritable celebrities.
 

 
Visionary host Don Cornelius always stated that Soul Train was a home for soul artists regardless of their race, and featured a long list of white artists who appealed to black audiences: Gino Vannelli, David Bowie, Beastie Boys, Elton John, Teena Marie, Hall & Oates, Pet Shop Boys, and Spandau Ballet were amongst the many white artists who appeared on the program over the years. As music trends slowly began to change, Don Cornelius struggled to keep Soul Train true to his original vision. When disco went mainstream, Cornelius made sure the show focused on only the most soulful disco artists that were being played on the radio. When rap music went commercial, however, Cornelius could not hide his contempt for the genre and made it very clear from the beginning that he wouldn’t get behind hip hop. Forneri documents this well, showing footage of Cornelius hanging his head in disgust following a performance by Public Enemy. As he slowly approaches Chuck D. and Flavor Fav for an interview he begins with a very long pause, and then exclaims, “That was frightening.” In the middle of a Kurtis Blow interview, Cornelius awkwardly admits on television “It’s so much fun, I mean, it doesn’t make sense to old guys like me. I don’t understand why they love it so much but that ain’t my job is it? My job is to deal with it and we’re dealing with it,” which was followed by uncomfortable laughter from the studio audience.
 
Watch ‘Show Me Your Soul: The Soul Train Years’ after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Doug Jones
|
03.21.2017
09:24 am
|
Discussion
‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’: Nipple guns, four tons of blood and a shitload of gore and mayhem
03.14.2017
01:11 pm
Topics:
Tags:


 
Yoshihiro Nishimura’s over-the-top, body-horror, sci-fi/fantasy Kodoku Meatball Machine had its world premiere at SXSW this past week and it more than lived up to its hype for being a splatter epic. In a video introduction to the film, director Nishimura claimed he used over four tons of fake blood in the movie. That might be a bit of hyperbole but Kodoku Meatball Machine has more arterial spray than the Bellagio Hotel has dancing waters. It’s a hilarious gorefest that combines sublime silliness with some cutting social satire. Plot? We don’t need no stinking plot! This film is a frenetic mash-up (literally) of everything we love about Japanese science fiction and horror. Shit happens. And keeps happening. Things fall out of the sky, humans mutate, chicks blow people away with nipple guns and limbs are severed with the maniacal zeal of a meth-crazed chef at Benihana.

Nishimura, who directed the insane Tokyo Gore Police and the 2007 short film Meatball Machine: Reject of Death, is justly renown for his superb special effects creations and wild makeup. He’s worked on dozens of Japanese horror films, creating brilliantly inventive costumes, prosthetics, masks and jaw-dropping visual mayhem featuring heavy metal samurais, wildly choreographedswordplay, kung foolery and flesh-fused weaponry from the planet Id. The cartoonish excess of his creations keeps them from being truly horrifying. There’s too much wit and absurdity in what’s on the screen to be truly upsetting. Laughter displaces screams in Nishimura’s bloody phantasmagorias. His atom-age nightmares are surrealist twists on Shaw Brother Toho flicks of the 1960s and 70s…with loads of viscera and severed limbs. A chase scene involving a topless woman astride a mutant who is half-man and half-motorcycle is like something from a demented western. Yee haw! 
 

 
Cinematographer Keizo Suzuki has given Kodoku Meatball Machine a neon sheen that recalls some of Nicolas Refn’s recent work and there’s an eerie nightclub scene that evokes the palette and vibe of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Some groovy stop-motion animation comes on like Ray Harryhausen on DMT and a load of intentionally cheesy special effects give the movie a deranged hallucinatory brilliance. The second half of the film is a relentless mindfuck.


Fans of Takashi Miike, Sion Sono, and Shin’ya Tsukamoto will find Kodoku Meatball Machine an irresistible hoot and folks who’ve never experienced extreme Japanese cinema will be introduced to a unique viewing experience that really has no western equivalent in the world of film.

Watch the trailer for ‘Kodoku Meatball Machine’ after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Marc Campbell
|
03.14.2017
01:11 pm
|
Discussion
Meet the dude who perfectly recreated an ‘80s ‘ShowBiz Pizza’ in rural Mississippi
03.08.2017
10:03 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
The Rock-afire Explosion are considered the greatest animatronic rock band of all time. They were the subject of the wonderful 2008 documentary by Houston filmmaker Brett Whitcomb. They performed thousands of shows at restaurant chain ShowBiz Pizza from 1980 until 1992, when all ShowBiz locations were eventually rebranded as Chuck E. Cheese. I grew up in Los Angeles with only Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Time Theatre featuring Munch’s Make-Believe Band, which most Rock-afire fans consider a “bastardized” version of the original show, created by retrofitting and reprogramming the old characters into new ones. Dook LaRue became Pasqually The Chef, Beach Bear became Jasper T. Jowls, Fatz Geromimo became Mr. Munch, Mitzi Mozzarella became Helen Henny, and Rolfe Dewolfe became Chuck E. Cheese. Had my entire childhood been shortchanged by never experiencing the legendary Rock-afire Explosion? To find out for myself I had to see the show in person, but as of 2017 only three fully operating shows still exist in the United States.

One of them is housed at Creative Engineering in Orlando, FL, the original factory where the show was created and manufactured. In the early ‘80s, Creative Engineering, a 20 million dollar per-year business was home to 300 employees. Today, it is home to just one employee: owner and operator Aaron Fechter. The second two fully operating Rock-afire shows are owned by fans who purchased them directly from Fechter: Phenix City, Alabama car salesman and rollerskating rink deejay Chris Thrash (famous for his YouTube videos of the Rockafire programmed to sing current Top 40 jams), and Sandy Hook, Mississippi computer scientist and single dad Damon Breland. While vacationing in New Orleans, I e-mailed Breland and asked if it would be possible to come watch a show. He agreed to make my dream come true, and all he asked for in return was for me to bring him a large cheese pizza.

I went to meet Breland on a Saturday at noon but not everything went according to plan. After experiencing my first hailstorm the night before I pulled off the side of the road in my rent-a-car and stayed at the shadiest roach-infested $30-a-night (cash only) motel with no running water that only paper money can buy. I woke up early the next morning to find myself in an incredibly rural part of Mississippi with a dilemma on my hands: the closest Dominos or Pizza Hut was almost two hours away. I arrived late but with the box of cold pizza in hand as my price of admission. 38-year-old Damon Breland was an extremely tall, fun character and was excited to host someone who had travelled so far to visit what he calls Smitty’s Super Service Station, a wooden panel building that looks like an abandoned gas station from the outside and rests just off the highway in Swampland, USA. The only sign of life within 20 miles was the Marion Walthall Correctional Facility, which explained Damon’s warning via e-mail that said: “Make sure you don’t pick up hitchhikers in the area under any circumstances.” (Damon later revealed that he is in fact employed at the prison as a network computer IT guy).

While Smitty’s Super Service was very unassuming from the outside, I was amazed at what I saw before me as I walked in: a perfect recreation of ShowBiz Pizza Place, complete with original ShowBiz tables, framed posters, souvenir mugs, kiddie rides, and most importantly, The Rock-afire Explosion spread across three full stages. Smitty’s is Damon’s weekly escape from reality (and mine for the next three hours). He spent four long years building it, learning how to run it, and acquiring a digital show library (which runs on a Windows 95 PC in the back room).
 

 
The first “showtape” Damon queued up for us to watch was one that many Rock-afire fans consider the very best, a Magnum opus if you will. The showtape, titled “Magic Night” was programmed in February of 1984, and features the Rock-afire Explosion performing a medley of covers, all of which contain the word “magic” in the title. After some intro banter between the characters, the band launched into their setlist which included “Magical Mystery Tour” by the Beatles, “Black Magic Woman” by Santana, “Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf, “Magic” from the movie Xanadu, “You Can Do Magic” by America, and “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” by The Police. The songs were glorious, as was the playful dialogue between the band (recorded by Aaron Fechter and various members of Creative Engineering’s family supplying not just the character voices but the musical instrumentation as well).

The YouTube videos I had watched of the Rock-afire at home did not do them any justice, seeing the show before my very eyes was glorious experience that is difficult to describe, all the while the loud chattering and clicking of the mechanics and compressed air working in the background rendered me slightly disturbed as I realized that I was in a room in the absolute middle of nowhere, alone with a large man that I had just met and a dozen artificial singing animals (It’s no wonder The Rock-afire Explosion inspired the popular horror video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s.
 
Much, much more after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Doug Jones
|
03.08.2017
10:03 am
|
Discussion
Baby knows best: ‘Prevenge’ is (already) easily the best horror-comedy film of the year
02.27.2017
10:29 am
Topics:
Tags:


 
Writing about movies for Dangerous Minds is not all bad you know. Sure, I can get critical about the films I don’t like, but I also get to wax lyrical about the ones that I love. Those films that make my skin tingle and send shivers up my spine. The films that send me out of the cinema with a stupid smile plastered all over my face and a burning desire to tell everyone I know to go and see them, like right now! Being able to turn people on to high-quality movies they may not have known about—and to bring a bit of much-needed attention to those small wonders that all too often slip through the net—now that is rewarding. So, before I get saddled down with being “That Unpopular Opinions” guy, I want to tell everyone reading Dangerous Minds to go and see Alice Lowe’s remarkable pregnancy-slasher horror comedy Prevenge. Like RIGHT NOW!!

Prevenge is the brutally hilarious story of the heavily pregnant Ruth who, spurred on by the threatening, sweary voice of her unborn child, embarks on a ruthless killing spree. If that short description doesn’t make you at least curious to see this film, then fair enough, it’s probably not for you. But if you are a fan of both low-budget horror (physical/psychological) and pitch-black British humor, then you really are in for a treat with this one. American audiences are probably most familiar with writer/director/star Alice Lowe as one-half of the murderous duo from Ben Wheatley’s similarly pitch-black Sightseers (which she co-wrote) but it’s worth mentioning that Lowe also played Dr. Liz Asher in the cult 80s horror parody Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace. So, as you can see, both her comedy and horror credentials are sound indeed.

Check out the trailer:
 

 
With Prevenge, her first film as director, Alice Lowe has crafted something quite unique and tremendous. As I have already mentioned, it is both truly brutal AND hilarious. For a film that is so deeply rooted in the improvised comedy method of writing, there is—ironically, for a story about pregnancy—precious little fat or navel gazing here. Those kinds of indulgences that are often to be found in first time and/or low budget film-making, but which usually only serve to make a film feel meandering and unfocused, are gloriously absent. Prevenge cuts straight to the kill with a skill and confidence and the belies Lowe’s first-time-director status. And that’s not even taking into account the circumstances of the production: Prevenge was filmed over the course of just eleven days, all while Lowe (the director, writer AND star, remember) was seven months pregnant. I mean, if that doesn’t impress you, nothing will!


 
I have seen Prevenge twice now (it’s one of those films I just had to see again despite its agonisingly limited run) and what appears on a surface level to be a playfully nasty romp, on second viewing reveals itself to be quite a layered, complex character study on a par with Henry: Portrait Of A Serial Killer or Maniac (though not quite as gory as either). Prevenge is really the story of one of life’s born losers—sad-sack Ruth, a natural loner even when with child—who finally discovers that she IS good at something in her life. Unfortunately, that thing is not motherhood, it’s murder. And as with all the greats, it is the genuinely unsettling ambiance that Prevenge creates that leaves the most lasting impression on the viewer (well, that and some of the belly laughs.) While numerous throats are slit and testicles lopped off, one of the most horrific images in the film comes from the voice on a pregnancy meditation CD that asks Ruth to picture everyone she has ever known in the entire world gathered round her in a circle and placing all their many hands on her baby bump. Understandably, Ruth stops that meditation CD by violently smashing the stereo into the ground. While it may be a bit rough around the edges and wear its budgetary limitations on its sleeve, Prevenge is shot in a claustrophobic style that perfectly fits the intense isolation at its core, and manages to change gears and tone more than once without losing any of its momentum. Oh, and did I mention that it’s fucking hilarious?

Keep reading after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
|
02.27.2017
10:29 am
|
Discussion
My Unpopular Opinion: ‘Arrival’ is the very definition of pretentious ‘artsploitation’ cinema
02.24.2017
02:37 pm
Topics:
Tags:


 

I’m back. Remember me? It’s time for another one of my unpopular opinion pieces, and this time it’s about everyone’s favorite 2016 artsy-fartsy sci-fi hit (and Oscar contender) Arrival. The film has gotten nearly unanimous critical praise, and if that wasn’t enough to raise your suspicions, how about the constant use of that critical kiss-of-death word “refreshing”? Were they all paid to use that specific word? Makes you wonder, huh? But before I get into the meat of this essay I’m going to offer up two definitions to bear in mind whilst reading:

1.) Pretentious: attempting to impress by affecting greater importance than is actually present.

2.) Artsploitation: the exploitation of an art-house cinema audience, especially in regard to the critical merits of a film.

Thanks to Google for number one and as for number two, it’s my own coinage. Artsploitation refers, like other exploitation genre tags, to a particular audience’s desire to consume a particular kind of film regardless of its quality. In the case of “art-house” cinema, this means that as long as a film looks pretty or conforms to the audience’s notion of “artistic” merit—most often translating to a level of incomprehensibility that one viewer can use to claim a superior “understanding” over others—said “art” film can then be excused of all its flaws. Regardless of how bad they are or how poorly it may conform to other essential tenets of “good” cinema such as writing, editing, acting and directing.*

If you ask me, Arrival fits both of these definitions down to a tee.

 

 

“God Niall, why do you have to keep shitting on the things that everyone else loves?!” I can hear an imagined reader crying out from the deepest recesses of my ego. But this is the thing: I love genre movies. I love them in their own right, in-and-of themselves. There is no shame in genre cinema for me, there is no shame in gleefully enjoying well-executed action, in impressive explosions or a well-crafted monster, in camp humor and in over-the-top bad acting.

What pisses me off is directors/producers/writers who are unwilling to interact with genre works on their own terms. There is a palpable sense of fear and shame from these arty “updates” and “fresh retellings,” as if the director is afraid of getting tarred with the “genre film director” brush and losing their artistic cachet, or even of stooping to the level of less-acclaimed directors who work within the actual genre. An auteur placing themselves above a genre, not within it, never, ever works. Instead of making a decent movie based on a true understanding of what makes a genre film work, they instead force their own artistic aspirations on the audience, missing the point of why audiences love genre films in the first place. 

Now, Arrival may not be the worst contender—and I’m a big enough man to admit that there were some moments I kinda enjoyed—but it IS guilty of these crimes, nonetheless. I have divided my critiques up into vague categories for clarity, and need I mention: SPOILERS AHEAD! Okay, here we go…

 

 

THE FILM’S SUPPOSED AND WIDELY DISCUSSED “ORIGINALITY”

There’s only one shot in the entire film that stayed with me, and if you have seen the film, you’ll know the one: the slow-motion, aerial approach to the alien ship via a mountain range with cascading clouds. And that shot, indeed, is breathtaking. If only the rest of the film could have stayed at this level of artistry. Unfortunately, it didn’t. So it is surprising to hear seasoned critics gushing over the supposed “originality” of this film, when it’s really not that original at all. The story is a slightly modified take on Contact, the tone of detached wonderment is cribbed from 2001: A Space Odyssey,  the alien ships are lifted from the opening of Prometheus, and the aliens themselves are your bog-standard “tentacled” creations that recall both the mighty Cthulhu and the not-so-mighty Karg and Konos from The Simpsons. None of these are in any way obscure references, so it puzzles me as to why they have not been acknowledged more honestly. But it’s not just Arrival‘s concepts that lack originality: it’s the film’s execution.

DENIS VILLENEUVE

Denis Villeneuve attracts a lot of critical praise for his directorial work. This is the first film of his I have actually seen, so I guess I was expecting a lot. And in the end I couldn’t help but feel utterly disappointed at a film whose central conceit is the power of new forms of language, but which itself leans so heavily on so many tired-ass cinematic cliches. The flashback/forwards/dead daughter “memory” sequences in particular rely on the worst kind of Hallmark-esque imagery. You know the type, it’s on page one of the playbook titled “How To Crassly Manipulate Feelings Of Warm Sentimentality in Your All-Too-Willing-to-be-Manipulated Audience.” Turn on your television right now and you will be bombarded this within kind of imagery in hundreds, no thousands, of adverts: tiny hands brushing through the long grass of a sunny meadow, colourful wellingtons splashing the clear waters of a babbling brook, a laughing baby’s face shot in floaty shallow focus and obscured by lens flare. An old couple holding hands on the porch. All that was missing was a breathy-voiced, piano-ballad cover version of some trashy dance-pop (“Can’t Get You Out Of My Head” perhaps?) Arrival uses a visual language so cliched that I kept expecting to see the Vodaphone or Ikea logo materialise in the corner of the screen, with details of the great new offers available at my local branch. In effect, the director has taken a lazy visual short-cut to the audience’s emotions. And it’s not the only one.

Keep reading after the jump…

READ ON
Posted by Niall O'Conghaile
|
02.24.2017
02:37 pm
|
Discussion
Page 1 of 116  1 2 3 >  Last ›