Friday, April 21, 2017

THE AFTER MOVIE DINER EPISODE 217: TAPEHEADS

It's one thing to appear on a podcast focused on movies & diners (two of my all-time favorite things). But it's a whole 'nother thing to be on a diner-centric movie podcast to talk about one of my all-time favorite movies.
On the most recent episode of The After Movie Diner John Cross & I discuss the underrated cult gem that is Tapeheads. Click the image below to go to the episode.

Enjoy...

http://aftermoviediner.com/feed/podcasts/the-after-movie-diner/217/tapeheads

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE 4!!



We are finally up on iTunes! Make sure to subscribe, download and leave positive comments & reviews.

On episode 4 (technically episode 5 but we had a temporary glitch with episode 4) we discuss Eliza Hitman's It Felt Like Love and of course we branch out to a million other movie-related sub-topics.

enjoy...




Friday, April 14, 2017

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS: A MOVIE THAT ALMOST WORKED


Breakfast Of Champions is Kurt Vonnuget’s story of car salesman “Dwayne Hoover” and obscure aging author "Kilgore Trout" (a Vonnegut regular). Dwayne Hoover is on the verge of a nervous breakdown while Kilgore Trout is on the eve of receiving an award for his mostly overlooked writing. It was adapted for the screen in 1998 and I’m almost certain no one has thought about it since then. …Except me. I don’t like Alan Rudolph’s adaptation but I also kind of secretly do. Whenever it comes up in conversation (…conversations that I usually initiate) I always talk about how terrible it is yet I still own the DVD that I purchased at full price. In the 14+ years that I’ve owned it, I’ve had countless opportunities to get rid of it (I’ve been giving away quite a few DVDs in the last 5 years) yet it still sits in my collection. I just can’t let it go. One of the reasons I keep it is because I like to re-cast the movie in my head every time I watch it. It’s a fun little exercise that makes the viewing experience easier. Alan Rudolph’s ensemble cast is an all-star lineup (on paper) made up of folks like Bruce Willis (Hoover), Albert Finney (Trout) Glenne Headly, Barbara Hershey, Nick Nolte, Buck Henry, Michael Jai White, Omar Epps, Lucas Haas, Owen Wilson and countless others. However, my cast is made up of folks like Tom Hanks (Hoover), Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Gianna Michaels and a few more odd choices under the direction of Steven Soderbergh. Lucas Haas’ role as Dwayne Hoover's son "Bunny" would remain. That casting was spot on in my opinion. I would also keep Albert Finney on board as Kilgore Trout only with a slightly toned down performance. And if not Albert Finney I’d probably cast Werner Herzog in his place.

Part of my fascination with this movie has to do with the similarities between director Alan Rudolph & Kilgore Trout. Rudolph & Trout are the kinds of artists that are respected by their peers and small cult audiences. Rudolph is/was a personal favorite and/or friend of legends like Robert Altman & Martin Scorcese (Altman & Rudolph have worked together on more than one occasion). The way in which Kilgore Trout’s work is re-discovered & re-appraised in Breakfast Of Champions is no different from Rudolph’s work. He’s the kind of filmmaker that will get ignored while he's active then suddenly get a career retrospective at a major repertory arthouse theater like The Lincoln Center or The Brooklyn Academy Of Music.

Alan Rudolph's cameo in Robert Altman's The Player
Robert Altman was originally supposed to adapt Breakfast Of Champions in the last 70's. Perhaps Altman had something to do with Alan Rudolph directing it years later...

Breakfast Of Champions is another example of how an all-star ensemble cast doesn't always guarantee that a movie is going to be good. We’ve all seen people get excited about a movie because the cast is stacked. Look at the movie of discussion. Doesn’t something co-starring Buck Henry, Omar Epps, Lucas Haas & Albert Finney sound interesting? Sure it does. But names don’t make a movie great. We’ve seen this over & over. From Southland Tales & The Ten to The Grand & Grand Budapest Hotel (admit it – that movie is overrated and coasts on its quirkiness),these types of movies sometimes fall flat. I understand the hype behind ensemble casts but that’s still no reason to think a movie is going to be great. The acting, chemistry, ambiance, story, direction and so many other things have to be on point. Unfortunately, none of those things were really on point in Alan Rudolph’s film (there’s some irony in my criticism of ensemble casts given Steven Soderbergh would be my go-to director for this and he’s kind of the king of ensemble cast movies).
It should be noted that a lot of the cameos & small roles in Breakfast Of Champions are made up of the supporting cast of the Bruce Willis-starring Armageddon (both movies were made around the same time so I imagine Bruce Willis had something to do with this).



Breakfast Of Champions is bad and entertaining at the same time. Now…I don’t know about you guys but the combination of something that's bad and (genuinely) entertaining is sometimes interesting. This movie is bad because it feels like Alan Rudolph and his team sat down in a pre-production meeting and said something like; “Guys – we’re going to make a weird movie”. I’m sure that didn’t really happen but no matter how you rationalize it, this movie’s weirdness & surreality comes off super forced to the point where it’s kind of embarrassing. It’s the kind of weirdness that a clueless/basic film blogger would compare to David Lynch because apparently weird in cinema = David Lynch. I’m willing to bet there are people out there who saw this movie and said something like; “David Lynch should have totally directed this!” But I don’t think David Lynch could have adapted this successfully either. And I’m a David Lynch fan saying this. Lynch adapting Vonnegut is almost like Scarlett Johansson doing porn. It sounds intriguing but the final product would more than likely be disappointing.


Perhaps this particular Kurt Vonnegut story wasn't meant to be a movie. This isn’t the only Kurt Vonnegut story to be adapted for the screen. Prior to this, we got Slaughterhouse Five in 1976 & Mother Night in 1996 (another Vonnegut adaptation starring Nick Nolte). As a movie Breakfast Of Champions is short considering the source material. Less than two hours just doesn’t cut it. I know Slaughterhouse Five is only 100 minutes but the word count for Breakfast of Champions is a lot more than Slaughterhouse Five.

Breakfast Of Champions is kind of like Uma Thurman’s scene in Nymphomaniac stretched out in to a feature length film. There’s something “off” about the whole thing but you recognize & respect the dedication so you keep watching. No matter how much of a misfire most of the performances are, you have to respect specific actors like Nick Nolte & Omar Epps who really gave it their all…


And maybe that’s why I’m so attached to this movie. No matter how terrible it is, the actors in this movie did not phone it in. It’s kind of like when your math teacher would give you points for “showing your work” on a test even if you got the answers wrong. Certain actors in this movie really did step outside of their comfort zone. I normally like when people stay in their lane and stick to what they’re good at but every once in a while that gets boring. Michael Jai White will probably go down in history as a varsity letterman of the direct-to-video action market but at least he has this one strange movie under his belt. Omar Epps will probably forever be remembered for his roles in “urban dramas” like Juice & In To Deep (probably Love & Basketball as well) but he also has some random stuff under his belt like this & Brother. Nick Nolte will forever be remembered as the quintessential disheveled grumpy guy, but his performance as "Harry" is a break from the norm. I want to call his performance a breath of fresh air but nothing about Breakfast Of Champions is a complete breath of fresh air (I still have a soft spot in my heart for it at the end of the day).

All the pieces were there to adapt this movie in to something good but all the parts didn't fit for whatever reason(s). It’s like a relationship between two good people. Sometimes it just doesn't work and it's no one's fault...

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA EPISODE THREE!!



This is a good one!

In the third episode of Zebras In America we delve in Get Out and other films concerning race & racism. Hopefully Armand White listens to this.

Enjoy...


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

ZEBRAS IN AMERICA: EPISODE TWO!




Hopefully you enjoyed episode one (thank you to all those who listened and downloaded). If you're still on board, here's the follow up episode where we discuss everything from Claire Denis to Post Tenebras Lux.

Enjoy...


Monday, April 3, 2017

WHITE FACE (A NEW SHORT FILM FROM MTUME GANT)



Between Moonlight, I Am Not Your Negro, Get Out & Atlanta, there is a lane/audience for White Face – the latest short film by director Mtume Gant about racial identity (which is an understatement to say the least). I don’t mean to be that guy to compare one “Black movie” to another “Black movie” but all the aforementioned films deal with racial identity on some level so it only makes sense to mention White Face in the same breath. The only difference is that White Face is much more transgressive and (intentionally) uncomfortable. So in a sense, you could say White Face created its own lane outside of the aforementioned movies & TV shows.
While many young/new/up & coming filmmakers model a lot of what they do after the obvious sources like Spike Lee & Ava Duvernay (which is fine I guess), White Face is a more progressive (dare I say dangerous?) film that draws more (possible subconscious) inspiration from the likes of Charles Lane, Wendall B Harris & Melvin Van Peebles.
The story of a Black character in white face is going to get an immediate comparison to True Identity (Charles Lane) and/or Watermelon Man (Van Peebles), but White Face is specific to 2000-now. Back in the 1960’s when Watermelon Man was made you were hard-pressed to find a Black American who would vote for an openly bigoted racist presidential candidate (like the main character in White face). But today we really do have Black people (and other people of color) openly supporting an openly bigoted racist president like Donald Trump (he’s also sexist and just an all around terrible human being but we’re just focusing on race right now).

If you think certain elements of White Face are too far-fetched - like a Trump supporting Black person - look no further than someone like Steve Harvey...

The problem with all this is that there is an office in this country called the ‘president,’ and you have to respect the office. You really do. Whether you want to or not. You have to respect the office. They got laws... -Steve Harvey




The basic plot of White Face – the story of a trump supporting Black man ("Charles") who walks around in actual White Face - reminded me of the lyrics in the second verse of the Ras Kass song; “The Evil That Men Do”

In eighty-one I remember the night
I covered myself with baby powder, so my black ass could be light
Cause God is white, and Bo Derek is a ten
I hate my black skin, it's just a sin to be a nigga - Rass Kas

This song was released in 1996 and there haven’t been many (or any?) verses before or after to address issues like this in such an unapologetic way. There are plenty of Hip-Hop lyrics calling out other Black folks who have the illusion of inclusion but very few to take on the first person perspective of questioning their own identity as a Black person. This is similar to White Face. Throughout the film we see Charles study white people (most notably his next door neighbor that he spies on through a peep hole) in an effort to perfect his self-adopted white identity.
With all the recent success of predominantly Black films right now, there are very few non-sympathetic Black characters. Even Denzel Washington’s portrayal as Troy in Fences has some sympathetic moments. Right off the bat White Face gives us a hateable/dislikeable main (BLACK) character to counter Chris (Get Out) and all the Chirons (Moonlight) of the present cinematic universe. Contrary to what a lot of modern-day cinema would have us believe, some black characters can be antagonists, villains & “bad guys” (it should be noted that the main character in White Face is certainly dislikeable but, given his mental state, some viewers who are more forgiving than me might feel sorry and maybe a little sympathetic for him).


This is a racially & politically charged film but it’s also very much about the moving image itself (a lot of films that set out to deliver a “message” sometimes fall short in the visual department but that isn’t the case here). When you put aside the very heavy plot and just look at some of the standalone images you’ll see that Gant has a unique eye and an appreciation for visually stimulating imagery…





While I cringe at words like "better", White Face is definitely a maturation & progression from Gant's previous short film S.P.I.T., which is always a good thing (I imagine filmmakers want to grow with each project).


Neon lighting (in conjunction with Scott Thorough’s Hal Hartley-esque score) also plays a huge part in the film’s comically unsettling ambiance…





To say that you enjoy stuff like Get Out or Atlanta but find issues with White Face would be a little strange to me. It’s almost like loving the music of A Tribe Called Quest but hating De La Soul. Sure you’re free to like and dislike anything you want but at the same time, examples like the ones I just gave kind of make me a little perplexed. Do you like Quentin Tarantino but dislike the work of Takeshi Kitano, Martin Scorsese, Jean Luc Godard & Jim Jarmusch (just some of the many filmmakers that helped birth Tarantino’s style)? No. The same should apply to White Face. The exploration of the complexities concerning racial identity shouldn’t stop at stuff like Get Out & Moonlight. No one should be satisfied. There needs to polar opposites to all the popular films concerning race right now and White Face is very much that. It isn’t safe and everyone wont like it but I’m almost certain that is one of the goals behind this project. Race isn’t easy & simple so why should films on the same subject be?


Sunday, April 2, 2017

WRONG REEL FLIXWISE DOUBLE FEATURE

Even though I started a Podcast (along with my friend Scott Thorough), I assure you that my output on this site, as well as my regular guest appearances on other podcasts, will not stop.
Case in point - here are two recent podcast appearances I made on Wrong Reel & Flixwise, respectively.

Listen as I discuss the importance & artistry of side-by-side movie comparisons with my friend Martin Kessler on Flixwise: Canada (click on the image below to go to the episode)...



After that, head on over to Wrong Reel to listen to an all-star lineup consisting of myself, John Cribbs, Chris Funderberg, Kevin Maher & James Colebrax where we discuss the selected filmography Tobe Hooper (click the image below to go to the episode)


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