Archive for film review

all the way to 11: ‘this is spinal tap’ turns 30

spinal tap

spinal tap in 1984: derek smalls (harry shearer); nigel tufnel (christopher guest) and david st. hubbins (michael mckean).

“It’s such a fine line between stupid and clever.”

What a telling comment from guitarist David St. Hubbins, one of the three aging Brit rockers on a downward career slide in Rob Reiner’s still-gutbusting 1984 mock documentary This is Spinal Tap, which plays twice on Wednesday as part of the Kentucky Theatre Summer Classics series.

The joke, of course, is that despite the dimwitted revelations that flow from the lips of St. Hubbins (Michael McKean), Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) and Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) – insights like, “I believe virtually everything I read… that’ s what makes me more of a selective human than someone who doesn’t believe anything” – the fact remains that This is Spinal Tap is a wickedly clever film. It’s not just glammed up ‘80s nu-metal getting skewered, it is all things rock ‘n’ roll – the personalities, the egos, the banal stage productions, the even more banal music and the seeming implausible bits of dumb luck that play into stardom.

While it is most reflective of the ‘80s, there is also a gentle, almost reverential swipe at Beatlemania, especially in the Yoko Ono overtones of Jeanine Pettibone (June Chadwick), St. Hubbins’ girlfriend who takes over managerial duties for the band by booking one dismal show after another.

“If I told them once, I told them a hundred times,” she says after seeing the marquee billing for a humiliating gig at a children’s zoo. “Put Spinal Tap first and put Puppet Show last.”

Reiner gets in on the fun, too, inserting himself into This is Spinal Tap as filmmaker Marty Di Bergi. In essence, a director playing a director, he presents interview questions within what had to have been a heavily improvised script that are as vacuous as the band’s replies. A typical exchange:

Di Bergi: “Do you feel that playing rock ‘n’ roll music keeps you a child? That is, keeps you in a state of arrested development?”

Smalls: “No. No. No. I feel it’s more like going to a national park or something, and they preserve the moose. That’s my childhood up there on stage. That moose, you know?”

Di Bergi: “So when you’re playing you feel like a preserved moose on stage?”

Smalls: “Yeah.”

There are cameos galore by the likes of Anjelica Huston, Bruno Kirby, Billy Crystal, Dana Carvey, Paul Shaffer, Fran Drescher and others. But the film belongs to McKean, Guest and Shearer playing heavy metal lightweights as deliriously clueless to the star turns defining their celebrity status as they are, in one of the film’s most famous scenes, to directions to a concert stage from backstage.

All that plus an under-sized Stonehenge, albums with titles like Smell the Glove and Intravenous De Milo and pod-shaped stage cocoons that require blowtorches to open make up the world of This is Spinal Tap.

It’s only mock ‘n’ roll, but you’ll like it.

‘This is Spinal Tap’ shows at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. on Aug. 27 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Call (859) 231-7924.

making sense of talking heads

stop-making-sense

tales from the big suit: david byrne in ‘stop making sense.’

Above all its theatrical design and positively enchanted music, there is a performance aesthetic at work in Jonathan Demme’s remarkable Talking Heads concert documentary Stop Making Sense that is as inviting and as it vital.

If you had to pin down one single instance – one single frame, even – that captures such intent, it would be when head Head David Byrne, dancing like a child unbound in his famed Big Suit during Girlfriend is Better, hoists his microphone momentarily to the camera filming him as if to invite the audience to sing. It’s an astounding moment in a film filled with them.

Amazingly, Stop Making Sense has turned 30 with digital re-release that is making the rounds of movie houses this summer in much the same way Talking Heads might be had the band not split at the dawn of the ‘90s. It plays twice on Aug. 6 as part of the Kentucky Theatre’s Summer Classics series. What a fitting homecoming. Not only did the film play there upon it release in 1984, but Talking Heads performed in Lexington in May 1983 at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. It was the only regional stop of the tour Stop Making Sense was built around.

stop_making_sense_posterDemme’s film was a practice in simplicity. It presents an unbroken stage performance minus the gratuitous crowd shots, interviews and backstage nonsense. Then again, who needed frills when you had Byrne as your focal point? Throughout the film, he operates as a wiry stick figure of frontman who bends and dances like a rubber band and sings like an artist (and, at times, like a child) thoroughly consumed by the music around him.

Admittedly, much of the film’s fascination deals with Byrne’s performance design as his actual performance. It opens with the singer alone onstage belting out the misanthropic Psycho Killer before instruments and musicians are added with each successive song until Talking Heads stands as a nine-member post-punk funk army. The unit’s single-mindedness comes through during a version of the radio hit Life During Wartime, transformed here into calisthenics workout with half of the Heads running in place for much of the song.

But Demme is right on his target here, too. One of the film’s most arresting shots occurs during the thick funk of Swamp where the camera slowly pans across the front of the stage to catch Byrne s he pops into view like a jack-in-the-box.

Sadly, Stop Making Sense was also the beginning of the end for Talking Heads. The band never toured again after 1983. After three more studio records, it quietly dissolved. But what Demme and Byrne leave behind in this film isn’t just an ensemble snapshot or a chronicle of its time. This is instead a living portrait of performance joy and invention in fascinating motion. And that makes outstanding sense.

‘a hard day’s night’ 50 years on

a hard day's night 2

on set, but offscreen: ringo star, john lennon, paul mccartney and george harrison during a break from filming ‘a hard day’s night.’

The mood is set the instant A Hard Day’s Night begins.

From the soundtrack, we hear that single isolated guitar chord – the signal that kicks one of the Beatles’ most familiar and endearing hits into gear.

From the screen, we see Beatlemania in all its 1964 splendor with the boys from Liverpool racing down a backstreet pursued by the screams and cheers of teen hysteria. It’s a staged scene of a very real pop phenomenon. But within this segment there is a moment of priceless spontaneity. Within seven seconds of the opening frame, down goes George Harrison. It’s a moment worthy of Monty Python, not because the guitarist stumbled on the sidewalk but because director Richard Lester – presumably with Harrison’s approval – left the shot in.

a hard days night 2Thus begins the remarkable moment-in-time that is A Hard Day’s Night, which celebrates its 50th anniversary with a fully restored version that will be screened Wednesday as part of the Kentucky Theater’s Summer Classics Movies series.

A Hard Day’s Night isn’t a documentary, but it might as well be. With the Beatles’ global popularity having just spread to America, the film follows the band on a supposed day of promotional activity and improvised mischief. That’s it. There is no real plot and no conflict to speak of other than the brief disappearance of a hapless Ringo Starr before a TV performance and the innocuous sideline exploits of Paul McCartney’s “very clean” grandfather.

The obvious intent at the time was to capitalize on what was already a boundless pop enterprise. But what the film translates into today is a remarkable time capsule of the Beatles at perhaps the most seemingly innocent point of their career. American audiences already saw how the four, especially John Lennon, won over the media during press conferences marking their Stateside TV debut the previous winter. That charm plays into the seemingly unscripted remarks and asides that pepper A Hard Day’s Night. A personal favorite comes offscreen from Lennon as Starr gathers his cash winnings from a card game: “That will never buy you happiness, my son.”

In the end, A Hard Day’s Night revolves around its presentation of the Beatles’ still spectacular music – the railway storage car setting for I Should Have Known Better, the swinging social club backdrop for All My Loving, Lennon’s playful rehearsal serenading of Starr for If I Fell and the gloriously dated outdoor foolery (“Sorry we hurt your field, Mister”) for Can’t Buy Me Love that reminds us this was, indeed, 1964.

For better or worse, A Hard Day’s Night stands as the template for countless teen pop and boy bands over the generations as they created their own commercial profiles. But it’s also more than mere nostalgia. Viewing it today is like looking at any snapshot of youth. Captured by Lester and crew in brilliant black and white, A Hard Day’s Night is a chronicle of promise. Within it, we witness up close the vigorous, playful personalities of four pop soldiers merrily conquering the world.

‘A Hard Day’s Night’ will be shown at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. July 16 as part of the Summer Classics Movies Series at the Kentucky Theater, 214 East Main. Admission is $6. Call (859) 231-6997 or go to www.kentuckytheater.com.

a day for revolution

One of the few failings of Soundtrack for a Revolution is its title. While the music that served as a backdrop for the civil rights movement of the 1960s is certainly a key component of this very absorbing 2009 documentary by Bill Guttentag and Danny Sturman, the film is far more an oral history of Martin Luther King Jr.’s non-violent protests in eradicating segregation and the racial unrest that grew from it.

That alone makes the film essential viewing on King’s birthday. One World Films will present a free screening of Soundtrack for a Revolution on Monday at the Kentucky Theatre.

But music still speaks volumes in the film, perhaps more so than Guttentag and Sturman intended (more on that in a moment). The thrust is upon performances of songs of solidarity and protest long associated with the civil rights movement as performed by artists of the present day. But even here, such music is very much a “soundtrack” for the story of the movement itself, which is told by those were witnesses to it – namely Ambassador Andrew Young, Congressman John Lewis and the ever eloquent Julian Bond.

The Rev. Samuel Billy Kyles cuts to the quick, though, when exploring the implausibility of segregation extending to graveyards. “Dead people,” he says soberly, “get along with each other.”

A few of the contemporary performances miss their mark simply because the artists – specifically, Joss Stone, Angie Stone (definitely not related) and Mary Mary – sing over fussy, funkified arrangements that tend to dramatize moments in history that need no artificial embellishment. As such, Angie Stone’s performance of Wade in the Water seems a touch redundant when played almost side by side with newsreel footage of crowds singing the song in the early ‘60s accompanied only by handclaps. The sense of soul in the latter is considerably more profound.

Other performances are almost heartbreaking, especially Richie Havens’ sublimely and spiritually subdued reading of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which is interspersed with photographs of the individuals – black and white, male and female, adult and child, military and civilian – murdered during the era’s protests.

Turning up the turbulence are The Roots who breathe new but unforced urgency into Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around. Later, John Legend, accompanying himself on piano, serves Stayin’ on Freedom as an affirmation as the film concludes with King’s 1968 assasination in Memphis.

But there is a truly frightening musical moment early in the film that quietly underscores the depth of cultural division that existed, especially in the south, prior to the civil rights movement. It’s a film clip designed like a piece of war propaganda titled The Message from Mississippi. It details segregation and racial inequality as absurdly acceptable components of daily life in the early ‘60s. Employed as a backdrop is a bit of orchestral muzak, the kind of music one might have heard on period family TV shows like Leave it to Beaver. It chirps along unassumingly, as if to enforce the fact that social injustice was, in that day, perfectly acceptable, that life in Mississippi was fine just the way it was.

It’s an effectively disgusting reminder that we have indeed traveled far from the days before King’s dream took hold. Luckily the music that Soundtrack for a Revolution can truly call its own, speaks in louder terms of an honest and more lasting truth.   

Soundtrack for a Revolution will be shown at 2 p.m. Monday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 East Main. Admission is free. Call (859) 231-7924. The film is also available on DVD.

`The Dress’

The Washington Post December 11, 1997 | Meg Dennison My daughter reaches for the worn cotton-knit dress in my closet, yanking it from the hanger to the floor. “How about this one?” she inquires sweetly. go to website easrer dresses

My normal uniform of jeans and T-shirts is wearing on 3-year-old Alison, but that doesn’t deter her from pulling another dress from the closet for me when I decline the cotton knit.

“This one would be bootiful,” she insists. I try another tactic. “Aren’t I beautiful to you because you love me?” I see she’s considering this. She looks at me, then the dress in her hand, then back to me with my unbrushed hair, my frumpy dressing gown, my wool socks that have fallen down below my ankles. “No,” she says firmly, shoving the dress in my direction. Alison believes in dresses for any occasion, a strict outlook on life that I only really began to understand with the arrival of the Christmas Dress. Her grandma sent her the dress to wear for Christmas dinner, a dress-up occasion in our family when I get out of jeans and even put on perfume. The children’s clothes are usually festive reds or greens, in velvet, and sometimes even the very dress that I had worn at the same age. The Christmas Dress that arrived one day in early December was a departure from the traditional. But Alison fell in love with it immediately. It is green gingham with puffed sleeves and a fitted bodice. It has a detachable ruffled white yoke that’s decorated with a hand-painted jolly red-cheeked Santa and elf. When Christmas is over, the yoke comes off and two happy green turtles, painted on the bodice, take over. Alison wore the dress that night. All night. She slept in it and wore it to the park the next day. It was on day three that I knew we were in trouble. “How about this dress today?” I suggested, holding up one of her other favorites. Alison just wasn’t interested. She wore the Christmas dress every day, and a whole bunch of nights, too. It’s hard to describe how much Alison loves this dress. She walks up to complete strangers, runs both hands down over the turtles and skirt, and says, “Do you like my Christmas Dress?” To friends, she doesn’t have to ask. They have, by now, learned to comment on its beauty. As you might imagine, washing the dress has been a problem. Logistically, much harder than snatching a kid’s blanket while she sleeps. I was forced to resort to some serious bribery. “If you let me wash it, I’ll wear a dress today — any dress you want to pick out,” I promised. This approach taught me one thing: As much as Alison dearly wants me to dress up, she wants to wear the Christmas Dress more. A friend said I should be thankful. Her daughter wore a pumpkin outfit for a year. It’s been three seasons now and the Christmas Dress is still a daily favorite. Miraculously, it still fits, although last month my mother had to sew the buttons on tighter and hem it again. The turtles are beginning to fade. We hardly notice it anymore. She wore it last weekend on a hike in the woods, and while the other kids might have thought it was an odd outfit, we saw no problem. It’s no longer catalogue-cute, but it’s a dress that can hold up to the monkey bar climbing and wrestling with a big brother. In fact, I think something here is starting to rub off. The other day I was shopping in the funky secondhand store where I buy my T-shirts and shorts and I found myself reaching past the pastels and grabbing instead a slinky, leopard print blouse. It slipped easily over my head and immediately felt just right. I stood in front of the mirror, admiring the way the gold brought out the blond highlights in my hair. I loved the way the accordion folds fell so nicely on my bare shoulders. This is it, I said. I’ve got to have this. In that moment, standing there in front of the mirror, I knew just how Alison felt. I knew, at last, the power of the Christmas Dress. And I finally had something to wear with those plush purple shoes, the ones with the rhinestones, the ones that Alison loves me to wear. web site easrer dresses

Meg Dennison

another loud week

jack white, jimmy page and the edge trade riffs and conversation in "it might get loud." the documentary has been held over for a second week at the kentucky theatre.

jack white, jimmy page and the edge exchange riffs and conversation in "it might get loud," which is still playing at the kentucky theatre.

If you were late to the party that is It Might Get Loud, as I was until last night, cheer up. The extraordinary documentary by An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim that brings together three landmark rock artists from three generations for conversation, shop talk and some honest artistic reflection, is being held over for an extra week at the Kentucky Theatre.

If you’re a guitarist, the film is loaded with obvious appeal as Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White discuss their instruments, their hardware and the ingenuity that transforms the simplest of riffs into monster musical hooks. But the appeal of It Might Get Loud is by no means exclusive to gear heads. Anyone who has experienced a serious rock ‘n’ roll itch, especially fans, will get a royal kick out of being a fly on the wall as the three guitarists gather with a ton of equipment on a Los Angeles soundstage to swap stories, divulge influences and share a few impromptu jams.

That summit is then balanced with footage shot at three locales reflecting the musical heritage of each player. Page pokes about East Hampshire’s Headley Grange, where Led Zeppelin recorded its third, fourth, fifth and sixth albums. But nothing compares to watching Page, 65, beaming like a child at Christmas as he listens at home in London to a recording of Link Wray’s Rumble.

Similarly, the film allows The Edge to revisit the school where the U2 members met and initially rehearsed. But the shadows of Dublin’s violent political past remain vivid as he describes the climate surrounding the band’s beginnings. That, in turn, leads into The Edge working alone on the riff that was to become the backbone of the recent U2 single Get on Your Boots.

White, who seems a touch stand-offish at times around the guitar elders, nonetheless confides his love of the blues as he roams the American countryside outside of Nashville detailing stories of a Detroit upbringing that are every bit as deflating as those The Edge reveals about Dublin.

Finally, the three square off on trademark songs from each of their respective careers with only their mutual guitar voices as artillery. White unleashes the dirty blues of the White Stripes’ Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground while The Edge offers the chiming stutter of the early U2 favorite I Will Follow. To no one’s surprise, though, Page steals the show as he cranks up the Zeppelin warhorse Whole Lotta Love. There, the good-natured Edge and the initially distant White sit transfixed and trumped by the true guitar hero.

Dig into It Might Get Loud and you will be, too.

Mexico’s Caribbean coast braces for Tropical Storm Ida

November 8, 2009 CANCUN, Mexico – Officials readied storm shelters along Mexico’s Caribbean coast Saturday and told fishermen and tour operators to pull in their boats amid warnings that Tropical Storm Ida could become a hurricane as it neared the resort city of Cancun.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida’s winds strengthened to near 70 mph, just short of a Category 1 hurricane. A tentative forecast track predicted Ida could brush the U.S. Gulf Coast this week as a tropical storm.

Tropical-storm warnings were issued for the Mexican coastline from Punta Allen, south of Tulum, to San Felipe at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula, an area that includes Cancun. The warnings were also in effect for western Cuba and Grand Cayman Island. web site category 1 hurricane

A hurricane watch was in effect from Tulum to Cabo Catoche. Authorities in Cancun started up a reporting system used to locate tourists and plan potential evacuations or shelters. Quintana Roo state Tourism Director Sara Latife Ruiz said there were about 36,000 foreign and Mexican tourists in Cancun.

“We can locate them and if necessary, take them to some temporary shelter,” said Latife Ruiz. “Right now, no flights have been canceled … and there has been no evacuation of tourists.” – the Associated Press State civil defense Director Luis Carlos Rodriguez said “there is still time to protect property, so we have advised fishermen, small boat owners and those living in low-lying areas of Tulum, Holbox, Cancun and Playa del Carmen to take safety measures for their property.” Juan Granados, assistant director of civil defense, said the state was on yellow alert and that Ida was also expected to brush the nearby island tourist destinations of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.

Ida was projected to pass the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula today.

Granados said seven storm shelters were being readied on Cozumel, five on Isla Mujeres and seven on Holbox, an island north of the peninsula. Statewide, dozens more were being readied for use if needed.

Authorities suspended fishing along part of the coast and told tour operators who offer reef snorkeling and diving excursions to stay in port, Granados added.

Popular Mayan sites such as the seaside ruins of Tulum were to remain open, but employees worked to clean up debris that could become a hazard in high winds, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement.

John Cangialosi, a specialist at the Hurricane Center, said that as Ida heads north across the Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to meet a cold front that is moving south – making longer-term forecasts complicated for now. go to website category 1 hurricane

“There’s going to be some sort of interaction between the two, but where they interact, and how, and the timing of the thing, that’s kind of the big question mark,” Cangialosi said.

Regardless of how the cold front affects the tropical system, Cangialosi said residents on the north Gulf Coast can expect lots of wind and heavy rain.

Ida plowed into Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast on Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane, damaging 500 homes along with bridges, power lines, roads and public buildings.

Cuba’s national Meteorological Center said it did not expect any direct impact from the storm, but noted it could cause heavy rains in the western province of Pinar del Rio.


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