Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freaks in Love plays Baltimore!

My pal Skizz's movie, Freaks in Love, plays at the Maryland Film Festival on May 7, 2011 at 10:00 PM at the historic Charles Theater.

This is 25 years in the world of underground rock, as seen through the eyes of freakshow psych-punk band Alice Donut. From the glory days of CBGB to grinding nationwide tours in beat-up vans to the big time (sort of) opening for Blind Melon, Alice Donut lived indie music. We know the story of the bands that went international, led by Nirvana, but Freaks in Love is the story of the rest of the scene. Featuring Jello Biafra and the Meat Puppets.
Documentary: 100 min.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi (Andrew Thomas & Toby Gleason, 2009)

At the heart of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi beats a very great documentary. Much of the first half of the 2009 work from Andrew Thomas has been culled from a 1963 film by Ralph J. Gleason (co-director Toby Gleason's father), Anatomy of a Hit. This gorgeous, informative, interesting, black and white work provides a backbone for The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi but, sadly, once the time period covered by Anatomy of a Hit is over, the newer documentary dies a sad, spineless death.

Simply put, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi is a freaking mess. Little pockets of information pop up occasionally (in chronologically questionable order) in the post-1963 section of the film. The rest of the film's second half takes the viewer far afield from Guaraldi (or, at best, with some tenuous connections). The documentary suddenly veers into a discussion of race relations, "What's My Line?", JFK, Lenny Bruce, Irwin Corey, Dick Gregory, and a whole lot more that just doesn't add up to anything.

The few salvageable bits from the film's second half include Guaraldi's involvement with the Peanuts cartoon franchise, his playing the opening of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, and his later albums (which are glossed over all too quickly). These brief bits perhaps add up to ten minutes in total. The rest is excruciating, especially the film's finale where we get not one but two completely unnecessary renditions of Guaraldi's song Cast Your Fate to the Wind with tin-eared lyrics thrown on top.

There's no clear narrative voice to the second half of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi. It's not apparent why a lot of the people in interviews are even on screen. Meanwhile, people with obvious connections to Guaraldi, such as his son, David, aren't present. This leaves a huge, infuriating gap in the film. Other than one shot of David as a toddler, he isn't on screen. There's also nary a mention of Guaraldi's wife in the second half of the film. And, other than one mention of Guaraldi's passing and an image of an obituary (with headline text that suddenly starts moving around to no end), there's no discussion of Guaraldi's death.

It's sad that a five minute glance at Wikipedia will allow people to glean more information on Guaraldi than the 116 minute film! The interviews with Guaraldi's bandmates, a few other musicians, and Peanuts partner Lee Mendelson are interesting and add to the information presented by The Anatomy of a Hit but the rest of the material shouldn't even qualify as DVD extras.

According to this article in Variety, The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi has won best-doc honors at fests in Colorado and Utah. I'm not sure how this is possible. The more I think back about the film, the angrier I get at just how muddled it is. There are large chunks of the film that could be (should be) removed that would only strengthen what little narrative there is in the film's second half. It's shocking for me to read that "writer-director Andrew Thomas, [has] worked on A&E's "Biography" and History Channel's "Modern Marvels" documentary series." He should have known better.

In short, Ralph J. Gleason's original material (Anatomy of a Hit, Jazz Casual) should be released in whole and the rest of The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi needs to be junked or saved as supplemental materials to Gleason's work.

It looks like there may be another documentary about Guaraldi in the works, something called Cast Your Fate. I'm hoping that this is the antidote to Andrew Thomas's unsatisfying documentary. We can hope.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Caesar - Rise of the Apes

Dear Mr. White:

We are writing concerning the recent review of the Fox film project Caesar: Rise of the Apes ("Film") that is published on Impossible Funky at

While we appreciate your interest in the Film and your enjoyment of the script, the Film is a confidential project in development. Your purported review provides important qualitative details about character, plot, setting and mood, thereby violating Fox's rights in and to the copyrights to the screenplay. As you are likely aware, copyright law protects an author's right of first publication. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. v. Nation Enterprises, 471 U.S. 539, 554-55 (1985). Fox therefore demands that you immediately remove and not re-publish your "review," in whole or part.

The review is harmful to Fox and to the filmmakers hard at work on the project. Disclosure of uncontrolled information about the Film prior to its release diminishes the value of Fox's rights in the Film and deprives the filmmakers of the opportunity to present the film to the public the way they intended. It also spoils the theater experience for fans who do not want to know even the rough storyline beforehand.

The Film and its screenplay are confidential. The script you reviewed is Fox's property, and we consider copies of the script disseminated outside the development process to be stolen property. We, therefore, require that that you provide us with all information relating to your acquisition of the screenplay, including by identifying the source by which you obtained it.

Please confirm that you have removed the infringing material.

This letter is without prejudice to any of Fox's rights and remedies, all of which are expressly reserved.

Very truly yours,

Kasimira C. Verdi
Director – Intellectual Property
Fox Group Legal
Fox Plaza/2121 Avenue of the Stars, Rm 782
Century City, CA 90067

Originally Posted 8/3/10

Rather than rebooting the Planet of the Apes franchise with a do-over of Tim Burton's dreadful 2001 film, 20th Century Fox has opted to have its cake and eat it too. It's jumping right into the middle of the original franchise and, in the twisted timeline of the film series, gets to tell an origin story. Avoiding the self-fulfilling timeline of the original franchise (the rise of the apes would not have happened had not an ape from the future come back to the past), screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver turn the story of Caesar into a genetic thriller similar to Splice by way of Daniel Keyes's Flowers for Algernon (with a dash of Michael Crichton's Next).

Dr. Will Rodman works to improve the brain functions of chimpanzees with hopes of curing his father of Alzheimer's. Apparently he's never seen Renny Harlin's Deep Blue Sea in which sharks are genetically modified to fight Alzheimer's. Sure, chimps are a little less violent but they get around on land a lot easier. And, most folks would think they're cuter, too.

When a turn of events leads to the apes going... well... apeshit, Will's program gets scrapped and all of the apes euthanized with the exception of a second generation chimp, the titular Caesar. He's raised by Will and his father (who gets a good dose of drugs that cures him of his Alzheimer's. Meanwhile, Will goes back to the drawing board at work, trying a new compound on mice. Things start to fall apart when the drugs lose their potency -- the mice start forgetting how to run their mazes as Will's father begins to lose his marbles again. When he's nearly hit by a car while wandering through his neighborhood, Caesar springs into action. His defense of Will's father goes too far and he ends up in an animal sanctuary along with a few more chimps, a trio of orangutans, and a gorilla.

While Caesar learns the intricacies of social interaction amongst apes, Will strikes up a relationship with Caesar's vet, Dr. Stewart. Fans of Planet of the Apes will remember Dr. Stewart as the lone female passenger of the Icarus, the ship that brings the human astronauts to the Planet of the Apes. This is just one of a dozen-odd nods to the original film. The sadistic guard of the animal sanctuary bears the name "Dodge" while there are characters named "Landon", "Maurice", "Evans", etc. At one point in the story Dr. Stewart goes missing and, shortly afterward, an announcement of the Icarus's launch (the mission led by a man named "Taylor") can be heard. This might lead viewers to believe that Dr. Stewart has left the planet but, nope, she only changed jobs. Wouldn't you know that she's working at that same animal sanctuary? Woah.

Back at Will's lab, a new batch of chimps has been brought in. A new compound makes the chimps highly intelligent, especially one sinister simian, but has one tricky side-effect. It kills any human unlucky to come into contact with it and spreads like the flu, especially after a carrier takes an international flight (Cough-Twelve Monkeys-cough).

Caesar unites the apes, locks up his keepers, and learns to speak. The apes make their way across San Francisco, releasing the chimps from the lab and at the city zoo. When he sees that another ape that bit him has started to get smarter he deduces that his blood is the key. In a scene that should be shot like The Last Supper, Caesar shares his blood amongst the apes.

They're pursued across the Golden Gate bridge, escaping into the woods. The power dynamics amongst the apes as well as the impending doom of the human race leave the film wide open for the next chapter.

Though fairly derivative (I haven't even mentioned Project X), the script has some clever allusions and makes for a quick read, though doesn't leave that great of a taste in one's mouth after it's all over.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Projection Booth - Episode 6 - Dead Ringer

Are you hungry for a little Meat Loaf? How about a LOT of Meat Loaf? This week Mike & Mondo Justin look at the rare flick Dead Ringer starring the one and only Mr. Loaf.

The show features an interview with Dead Ringer director Allan Nicholls in which he gives the SECRET ORIGINS OF PAUL NEWMAN'S SALAD DRESSING! You heard it here first, folks. Oh, Mr. Nicholls also talks all about going from a rock star to working on just about every Robert Altman film made from Nashville on.

Right click and “Save Link As” to download it:
Right click and 'Save Link As' to download it

Or, listen to the episode here:

Dead Ringer Clip 1
Dead Ringer Clip 2
Meat Loaf in To Catch a Yeti
Meat Loaf Melt Down

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Get Ready for Movies and Music at CIMMFest

Starting Thursday night (4/14), Chicago will play host to a wide range of music-related narrative films and documentaries at the Chicago International Movie and Music Festival (CIMM Fest). The films are as diverse as the musicians that they feature from industrial rockers Ministry (FIX)to the smooth jazz of Vince Guaraldi (The Anatomy of Vince Guaraldi).

Devin DiMattia's Firewall of Sound tells the story of the demise of physical music media (cassettes, CDs, vinyl) and the rise of digital music. I can see Firewall of Sound being an important document of the last fifteen years some years from now. Coming out in 2011, the material is far too fresh (and still too painful). The documentary explores how insubstantial music as files can be and the loss of the communal experience of learning about and sharing music with friends.

I went into Upside Down: The Creation Records Story with an open mind only to realize that I still can't stand the loopy guitars and whiny vocals of shoe-gazing bands like Ride, Swervedriver, and Jazz Butchers. (I still think "Upside Down" by Jesus and Mary Chain sounds like the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme, "Love is All Around").

I'll be honest and say that I wasn't a huge fan of The Ballad of Mott the Hoople. It's very much a talking-head documentary that managed to keep my interest for a little over an hour but then started to drag. Maybe that's due to the typical "band trajectory" where the mighty always fall.

Likewise, FIX doesn't do the job it should; proving that Ministry has much of anything to say. The interviews with front man Al Jourgensen just make me dislike him even more (I wasn't sure that was possible). I guess if you think Ministry is talented, immature behavior is cool, and Jourgensen isn't a nob, then maybe you'll like FIX but if you're on the fence about them or don't like them... prepare to get your hate on even more.

A good ironic double feature would be FIX and Bob and the Monster to see just how heroin can fuck a person up. Seeing it glamorized in FIX does everyone a disservice.

I won't profess to be familiar with all of the films and bands that CIMM has and that's the real fun of it. Attendees can learn the tragic tale of Blaze Foley in Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah or Bob Forrest from Thelonious Monster in Bob and the Monster. Even when it comes to bands with which you may be familiar, the better films still manage to pack some surprises.

An interesting game to play during the festival will be to see who the biggest documentary whores are these days. My money is either on Gibby Haynes or Jello Biafra. (They're the John Waters and Quentin Tarantino of the music world).

The two Canadian narratives I caught, Ivory Tower and Score: A Hockey Musical, really scratched an itch. Like most Canadian cinema, these were low key, quirky and humorous.

There are a number of flicks I'm excited to see at CIMMFest; Rock 'n' Roll… Of Corse!, Le Tigre On Tour, Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then, and Freaks in Love.

CIMMFest starts Thursday April 14 and runs until Sunday April 17.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Alice Donut - War Pigs

Really looking forward to seeing Freaks in Love - the Alice Donut documentary - at CIMM this Friday. Here's my favorite Alice Donut song. Yes, it's a cover but it's amazing.

Freaks in Love plays CIMM at Society for the Arts, 1112 North Milwaukee, Chicago on Friday, April 15 at 10pm. Buy tickets here.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Brand X Plays NYC!

How I wish I was in NYC!

On April 9, 2011 there will be a screening of Wynn Chamberlain's Brand X at the New Museum Theater (235 Bowery, New York, NY 10002). I've been wanting to see this film for years -- a screening is quite an event.

Here's information from the New Museum site:

Wynn Chamberlain’s Brand X is a nearly lost masterpiece of 1960s counterculture cinema. Primarily known as a painter, Chamberlain’s sole film stands alongside the best work of experimental filmmakers Jack Smith, Ron Rice, and Jonas Mekas, combining the energy of jazz improvisation with the new truths revealed by the cut-up method. Produced during the aftermath of the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X, the film uses the medium of commercial television to expose and ridicule the politics of the era. Brand X parodies the creative bankruptcy of the medium by following Taylor Mead’s aimless TV channel surfing. As he jumps from one program to another, his lingering on commercials and sudden distractions perfectly reveal the terminal boredom guaranteed by the networks. Chamberlain’s fecund parody of soap operas, game shows, sermons, and late shows unravels the sexuality, brainwashing, and stupidity of these programs.

Brand X combines an incredible cast of Factory regulars and downtown legends including Mead, Tally Brown, Candy Darling, Sam Shepard, and Frank Cavestani to tell this story. Chamberlain lived and worked at 222 Bowery throughout the planning and production of Brand X, and the building’s converted gymnasium, which was a studio for both Mark Rothko and Michael Goldberg, also doubled as a soundstage for the filming.

Held hostage by a film distribution company since 1971, this is the first public screening in four decades. It will be followed by a discussion with filmmaker Wynn Chamberlain, music director Ken Lauber, and others.

Be sure to check it out!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Miami Blues & Shock Treatment - 35mm!

Miami Blues
Miami Blues stars Fred Ward as crusty Miami detective Hoke Mosely. Directed and adapted by George Armitage from a book by Charles Willeford, Miami Blues pits a sociopath con man (Alec Baldwin) and his naive prostitute girlfriend (Jennifer Jason Leigh) against Mosely. Peppered with a host of character actors, Miami Blues captures the crazed prose of Willeford in a tale that turns the detective trope on its ear.

Director: George Armitage. 97 min. 1990. 35mm. Purchase Tickets

Shock Treatment
Picking up a few months after The Rocky Horror Picture Show left off, we find Brad (Cliff De Young) and Janet (Jessica Harper) an unsettled married couple who become trapped in the television world of Farley Flavors (also De Young) in a Denton television station. Predating Reality TV by two decades, Shock Treatment reunites much of the Rocky Horror cast in another musical with songs by original composer Richard O'Brien. Originally castigated as a poor follow-up to Rocky Horror, Shock Treatment deserves a second chance.

Director: Jim Sharman. 94 min. 1981. 35mm. Purchase Tickets

Often confused with the ginger director, Mike White is creator and editor of Cashiers du Cinemart magazine, the best of which has been collected as Impossibly Funky. White's magazine ran since 1994 and covered overlooked cinematic gems. He'll introduce the films and take questions after the screening.

Date & Time: Fri, May 27, 2011, 7:45pm & 10:00pm
Location: 92YTribeca, 200 Hudson Street Directions
Venue: 92YTribeca Screening Room
Price: $12.00 each

Friday, April 01, 2011

Rare Film Found!

If you remember that I'm a nut when it comes to finding rare films, you won't be too surprised that on my recent "vacation" in Barcelona recently I had an agenda to get in to a cinema school there (the Bande à Part esquela de cine) in order to bargain for a copy of what I've long considered the holy grail of "lost" films, The Day The Clown Cried.

I'll be sure to cover this in the next issue of Cashiers du Cinemart. Before that, I sat down with Mondo Justin and talked about the movie for the latest episode of The Projection Booth. Be sure to download and take a listen!

Listen to the episode:

Or, right click and "Save Link As" to download it.

Those Unhappy Days: The Disappearance of Chuck Cunningham

Along with the frothy good times that television sitcoms gave audiences in the '70s and '80s, studio mandated "very special episodes" proved that comedy is serious stuff. In the '80s, sitcom characters often dealt with drug addiction to appease the Nancy Reagan "Just Say No" campaign, meaning that one could turn on their television set on a given week and see some of their favorite sitcom characters addicted to narcotics; a problem they'd not had the week before nor would they have the week after. Yes, life's problems can be solved in a half hour.

In the '70s social ills such as rape and pedophilia cropped up on occasional sitcoms. Often these episodes became the most memorable only because they were the most disturbing; the sour notes in an otherwise simple sitcom song. Yet, the hardest hitting television episode of the 1970s never made it to the air.

Set in the idyllic 1950s, "Happy Days" began as an episode of "Love, American Style" before becoming a show in its own right. The gritty tone of this pilot and the show's early episodes are all but forgotten. The original first season's finale episode would have changed the tone for the subsequent season and the show overall. This had been the plan of producer Tom Miller but the executives at ABC wouldn't allow the finale to be shot.

The main characters of "Happy Days," the Cunningham family, consisted of father Howard, mother Marion, sister Joanie, and brothers Richie and Chuck (played by both Gavan O'Herlihy in "Happy Days" and Randolph Roberts in "Love, American Style"). While Chuck appeared in a few episodes of the show's second season, he disappeared with nary a mention before the third season began. Some have jokingly reported that Chuck died in the Korean or Vietnamese conflicts or that he got a scholarship to outer Mongolia. But Chuck's original fate had been Miller's brainchild.

It's uncertain whether Chuck would have remained in the Cunningham household after the bombshell dropped but his spirit should have loomed long over the family. The affects of Chuck's acts could be witnessed in the way that Joanie focused on sexuality, always describing things told to her by an off screen (until season 8) character, Jenny Piccolo.

The first season's finale should have revealed that Jenny Piccolo was the name of Joanie's other personality. Joanie's psychic schism had been the result of long-term abuse by her older brother Chuck (who demanded that Joanie "play his piccolo"). The revelation of Joanie's multiple personality disorder and the incestuous rape by Chuck would have made "Happy Days" a completely different show.

When ABC executives caught wind of Miller's plan they demanded a rewrite and forbade him from ever broaching the topics of the show again. Their mandate allowed Chuck to stay but Miller quickly wrote him out of the second season's episodes as his role had been negated -- The Fonz would be toned-down from a greaser to Richie's mentor. Later, Miller would attempt other controversial subject matter when an Oedipal relationship between Fonzie and Marion Cunningham went too far with Fonzie threatening to kill Howard Cunningham and take Marion away from Wisconsin on the back of his motorcycle.

Miller lost this battle with ABC as well and spited the network by making Fonzie more and more a parody of the character, resulting in the infamous "jump the shark" moment of the show (and let's not forget the replacement of the leather jacket with the "pleather" jacket").

Not only did Chuck disappear from the show but several of the show's writers wiped him from the face of the earth. When introducing his family, Howard Cunningham often remarked that he had two children, leaving out Chuck completely. Is it any wonder, with his crimes, that Howard would disown his first son?