TOP 5 DESERT ISLAND Directors! Part 1 of 3 Under Construction

UNDER CONSTRUCTION

This is an idea that the filmspotting podcast covered in their latest episode, and while they had intriguing choices it spurred me to a slightly different list and slightly different choices.

If you can only, for whatever reason, have the films of five directors to watch, on a desert island, for an uncertain amount of time, or for all time… what five directors do you choose? Fritz Lang? F.W. Murnau? Louis Feuillade? Alfred Hitchcock? David Lean? Orson Welles? Ousmane Sembene? Mary Harron?

They list very interesting choices, not as good as the names I list above (I’m joking), many of which I myself am a cheerleader for (Kurosawa, Howard Hawks), but it occurred to me that diversity, particularly when it came to Hollywood films, was a rare exception rather than a rule. And that concerned me because, if I am trapped on a deserted island with the filmography of only 5 directors, that I wanted the filmography of at least a couple of those directors to represent the ethnic width and breadth of the human condition. The beauty of a range of colors and women and cultures.

I being someone who even today gets bored with the lack of diversity of films, the idea of being stuck with films not representative of the larger world, and the rich tapestry of people in it, gave me pause. For all our berating of terms like political correctness (which when really defined is respect, so when people rail against political correctness what they are really arguing against is giving people respect) we have become a more intolerant and stratified society. And part of that I think has to do with our mass media. Our obsession with vilifying the other.

The (seemingly increasing) lack of diversity in recent films and television, being I think a dangerous sign of a tail wagging the dog society. Of a vocal minority calling for a return to ‘the good old days’ which, when finally viewed, never really were that good.

Hollywood has from its inception been a propaganda machine, where a few people’s fiction altered often negatively many people’s facts. And before discussing Desert Island directors, another discussion has to be had first… about the values of film. Not the value of film, but the values portrayed or reiterated or held dear, in perhaps too many films. We have to talk about exclusion and stereotyping in films beginnings, and in film’s present.

While willing to give a slight pass to pre-1960 films given their historic placement, I have less interest or sympathy for segregated and nearly Apartheid rich, post-1960 into 21st century, Hollywood films. Or worse the 21st century version of Step and Fetchit, black actors used to deliver White Messages. Be it MONSTERS BALL or TRAINING DAY it’s the eye-bulging, debasing, cartoonish extremes, that Black actors are saddled to wear, that hearkens to what is worst in cinema.

If the choice is between only debased caricatures… of people of color, ala Frank Darabont or David Ayer or practically no characters of color ala Woody Allen, I’ll take the latter evil. But ideally the filmmakers I want to support and revisit, are those who can represent characters of color with the same broad diversity we grant to the human race, the Michael Manns, the Carl Franklins, the Tony Scotts, the Gordon Parks.

This idea of us as hero and villain, Sexual and chaste, brilliant and imbecilic, honorable and flawed, important and funny, savior and victim. In the 21st century that diversity of roles is generally relegated to White actors. In the 21st century the number of Hollywood movies that portray characters of color with any of those positive aspects listed… are few and far between.

Even supposed mass market films like XMEN FIRST CLASS and SIN CITY reek of this ingrained stereotyping and caricature as truth, when it comes to the non-pale characters. And I could deal if this mentality and programming and white wish fulfillment was the occasional film, however in the last two decades it has become practically every film and tv show. The White hero has a woman of color pining for him, his backup girl typically. And the male actor of color, seldom a protagonist, and even less seldom does he get the girl, he is now relegated to comedy relief or side-kick; Rochester for the 21st century. Far have we drifted from the sexually virile Black stars of the 70s.

This creates a cinema of exclusion and to some extent, social engineering. Our facts are shaped by our fictions, arguably more than anything else, and a cinema of marginalization, legitimization and feminism of the male of color, bodes not well.

We are not DW Griffith we are not Cecil B. DeMills making entertainment for a virulently segregated, Jim Crow America. We have made some progress since then, and for filmmakers not to acknowledge that progress or that shifting audience, is to take a stance against that progress, and against that diverse viewing base.

We are not in the early days of the 20th century, we are in the early days of the 21st and while it is a filmmakers choice whether to be exclusionary or boring or homogeneous to a fault, you do so at the risk of failing to become a better filmmaker. You do so at the risk of making scared, redundant, and repetitive early 20th century films, here in the 21st century.

Well I’ve gone on about the pitfalls of cinema, here 15 years into the 21st century, now let’s discuss the strengths of film. The people I think are portraying an America and a world far more intune to the one I walk through, where heroes can be both Black and White.

In the Hollywood system the names are few, but welcome, and waiting… waiting for viewers, reviewers, actors, writer, producers, studios, and directors to recognize there is an inequity, a growing one, at the heart of our fictions, that much be addressed to make our cinema and ourselves… better.

Those filmmakers are (among others):

The late great Gordon Parks
The late great Tony Scott
The very much with us and Great Michael Mann
The very much with us and Great and underutilized Carl Franklin
Sergio Leonne
Ossie Davis

Very, very different directors, but what they were all able to do, sometimes for a single movie, sometimes for multiple movies, is something so rarely done in Hollywood today that it’s like there is an unofficial Hayes code prohibiting it…

…prohibiting having a movie with a character of color or Black character as both heroic protagonist and a male with a functioning libido, who doesn’t have to die or be sacrificed for the majority. :)

Outside of the great explosion of films in the 70s extending a bit into the 80s, and the subsequent eradication of locally controlled/independent theaters, The Heroic, virile Black hero has become a scare commodity on Theatrical screens.

Which is why when it gets done well… these days, such as in Peter Berg’s poorly named and badly marketed HANCOCK… the film becomes a wild success. Because there is a large population starved for empowering images of themselves. 2013 with its BUTLER and FRUITYVALE STATION and 12 YEARS A SLAVE, showcases Hollywood’s debasement attitude when it comes to theatrical releases. “Multiple characters of color? You better be a comedy, or telling us about getting your ass whupped.” :) .

Hence 2013s abundance of films of victimization, while they should be valid stories that have their place, if you counter them with just as many films of triumph, or winning, or adventure, or thrilling action and heroism. However the Heroic Tale is a rare one, and that is the failing of the system we have to change. Without the heroic myth to contrast it, tales of victimization are just an assault, a tool, a club… to beat a population into shape.

— to be continued —

Movie Review : CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER in 3D

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Helmed by relative directorial unknowns, Anthony and Joe Russo, there is a deft, assured hand steering this latest entry in the Marvel Studios movies franchise. CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER from title to end credit exudes an easy confidence in this universe, these characters, this path.

It’s an easy relaxed pace that begins the film, a film that is not afraid to have you wear these characters for a while, rest in their lives. But when the action sequences hit, they are stellar set-pieces of jaw dropping scale. The post-conversion RealD 3D is nothing to write home about, but neither is it a liability.

And the action and character moments are tied together by a strong script, and rich performances by Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie, and Scarlett Johansson.

However particularly Scarlet Johansson I find stellar in her role as Natasha Romanoff, the Black Widow. She brings a combination of strength and vulnerability to her performance, that can be felt. Here as in the AVENGERS she brings an emotional core, a thread of consequence and fear and reality, that is surely needed in this fantasy of men and supermen. She brings a dramatic level of truth, to the lie, which completes it.

It’s a role that uses her beauty and considerable assets, but it is also a role that lets her give a more impressive performance than any number of dramas.

CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER offers blistering action, enjoyable camaraderie, espionage, larger than life villains and heroes, diabolical world conquering schemes, humor, and even a bit of pathos and sacrifice, in short everything you want your ticket price to buy you. Add to that a brilliant end credit sequence and you have a film that earns its accolades. Grade: B+

MASTERPIECE THEATER : MR. SELFRIDGE Season 2 Now Available!

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One of the many discoveries of the 2013 television season was stumbling across season 1 of Masterpiece Theater’s MR. SELFRIDGE. A show about an American Entrepreneur creating one of the world’s first Department Stores in early 20th century London. While such a premise doesn’t sound like it would be gripping, it absolutely is.

And how refreshing to have a show that doesn’t involve solving the murder of the week. I found it far more enjoyable than more acclaimed shows such as DOWNTOWN ABBEY or SHERLOCK.

Season 2 is now available and it moves the series forward five years, but losing none of the richness and drama and period detail of the first season, while introducing decidedly new wrinkles to deal with.

You can catch the 2nd season via over the air broadcast or streaming via your local pbs affiliate.

Documentary Review: A BAND CALLED DEATH

“Try your best in life, to keep your promise to God; and give God time enough to keep His promise to you.” Bobby Hackney, quoting his Dad

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I am that most horrible of things. I am a collector and a romantic, and those two things together tend to make me… sentimental about certain things.

Those two things tend to make me extremely emotional about certain things.

And I try to avoid things that will make me either emotional or sentimental. But sometimes that’s not for you to say. Sometimes there comes along something worthy of both sentimentality and emotion.

The documentary A BAND CALLED DEATH is one of those things. The phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ is oft heard, but little acknowledged; you’ll acknowledge it in the watching of this film, about three Black Brothers in a thriving early 70s Detroit, creating a hyper brand of rock, a punk music, years before punk; and the winding road that winding music… takes them on.

Just a brilliant, wrenching film, the feature film debut of Mark Christopher Covino and Jeff Howlett makes you want to scream, and create, and believe in family and generations, and believe in being a better man… and that confluence of feelings, is a rare and rarefied thing. A gift.

A highly recommended documentary, viewable free via streaming, that will spur you for posterity and for joy… to buy not just the documentary, but the cds associated with it.

A Band Called Death (+ Digital Copy) –

For the Whole World to See – Here is the long awaited CD/Album referenced in the documentary. Here music that was almost lost for all time, but for a man’s faith… that the world would come

Maximum Soul Power – And here the next generation, inspired and building upon what came before

Just riveting all around. Click the links, and for little, own much.

Netflix Winners and Losers : DAVID O’ REILLY vs ROSALIND LEIGH in our Movie Throwdown!


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In this installment of MOVIE THROWDOWN let us start with a film from Netflix that falls solidly in the worth missing category:

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THE POSSESSION OF DAVID O’ REILLY- The audacity and body horror aspects of this film paints it as a decidedly different haunting/possession film, AMITYVILLE HORROR by way of Cronenberg-lite, but that’s not enough to offset the weaknesses of this film, Namely contrived overzealous performances, and a script that ignores the basic rationale of the protagonists not either committing or kicking out anyone behaving so mental.

It comes off as a manic exercise in filmic irrationality, that quickly wears out its welcome along with any modicum of sense. Grade: An intriguing premise that begins well, but quickly devolves into a hysterical mess. Avoid. D. The debut feature film of Andrew Cull it hints at definite promise, if he could reign in the excesses of script, acting and directing.

Of a similar type to THE POSSESSION OF DAVID O’ REILLY, even down to the nomenclature heavy title, but far better is…

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THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH- Directed by Rodrino Guidino, this is also a debut feature film, but you could not tell that by viewing it. The film has the assured look and deft touch of a master filmmaker. Impressive, grand opening sequence; beautiful use of visuals and sound. “Despair is an affliction of the godless.”.

Wonderful set design on the titular character’s cabinet of curiosities, filled as it is with religious iconography. If you are going to set a film in primarily one location, as this film does, it behooves you to have or create a location that will keep your audience captivated, and this film manages to pull that mandate off and then some.

Fluid and engaging camera work, such that it’s difficult not to stay rooted to the screen for fear of missing any of the striking imagery. The camera moves like a preternatural thing, and marries with the sound-work and set design, both of which are stunning, to create an engrossing experience.

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If a fan of HOUSE OF THE DEVIL you will adore this film and its uncoiling pacing. The unseen neighbor… very creepy. In fact this film is filled with wonderful voices, bringing to mind that this and PONTYPOOL use sound, specifically spoken word, so effectively they nearly create a whole new sub-genre of horror film.

I found THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH ultimately a very, no pun intended, haunting and sad and lovely film, which is an odd thing to say of a horror film, but this is no ordinary horror film. I highly recommend it. Grade: A-.

This is one you can sample via Netflix, and then if you are as impressed with it as I am, buy the DVD (currently a bluray does not exist) to watch this film in the highest quality possible and to be able to listen to the director’s commentary to have him walk you through what was on his mind as he composed these shots, composed this sumptuous study in bravura film-making.

So this installment’s loser is THE POSSESSION OF DAVID O’ REILLY and the winner is THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEIGH. Both films are currently available for viewing on Netflix, and the winner available for purchase here:Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh

Tell em HT sent ya! And come back for more Movie throw-downs next time!

CD of the Day (and strong contender for CD of the Year) Gregory Porter’s LIQUID SPIRIT


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I’ve been listening to a lot of music recently. Actual cds not mp3s, not rough compressions or rough approximations of the song, but the full CD sound spectrum of the song.

MP3s were never designed as a replacement for musical CDs, it is a sampling medium, great for helping you decide what is worth buying (or even audio books where for the most part all you are reproducing is a person’s limited conversational speaking range) but not suitable as a replacement for a full range music recording. MP3s get rid of extraneous info, the highs and the lows, the extremes, but oft I’ve found it’s those very pauses and extremes… that compression schemes such as MP3 would lose, wherein we are best found.

I’ve listened to everything from Rock to Rap, sampling all those voices from the near and far. And some of those CDs are very good, but only one recently has been inspired, has been revelatory. Revelatory as in revelation. Gregory Porter’s LIQUID SPIRIT is that cd. Not since stumbling upon the works of Terry Callier or Solomon Burke have I been so impressed with a new discovery. It’s not just his voice, or even the lyrics, which as stated are inspired, it is his phrasing, his delivery. Smooth and easy crooning, holding at bay… a night falling into day. It’s a very relaxed delivery, crooning to you, as the stars… dim.

Melancholy. That’s the word, there is a vein of melancholy in Gregory Porter’s Grammy acclaimed vocals, but melancholy that is tempered by a fervent romanticism. This is timeless music, as valid for an audience of 1920 as it will be for an audience of 2020.

This is today’s MUST BUY, not just the CD of the day, but a CD to enjoy from first song to last for far longer than a day. An essential CD.

In an age of Itunes when everyone is satisfied with listening to the distant echoes of music (mp3s) this is a CD that will prompt you to invest in, that nearly extinct device, a portable CD player.

However, it is the 21st century so thankfully we have alternatives to just having a portable CD player. You can, for a little more, buy a simple media tablet about the same size and weight as a portable CD player, but that allows you to play your MP3 cd-rs and cd-rws (as much as I rail against MP3 for music, for audio books or Old Time Radio it works just fine) as well as view DVDs! That folks is what we call… a win/win!

Price both the CD and a good portable media player-tablet, at the links below. You’ll be glad… for both.

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Liquid Spirit CD

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Coby TFDVD7009 7-Inch Portable DVD/CD/MP3 Player, Black – nifty portable media tablet… now it appears Coby Electronics has gone the way of the dodo, so you may want to pick up these low cost DVD/CD/media tablets while you can.

Enjoy the links. And if you purchase through the links, I want to let you know it is always appreciated, and helps keep this Blog going. Thanks and enjoy the items!!!

And for those looking to catch Gregory Porter in concert, he has a pretty lively 2014 touring schedule, He’s currently tearing through Europe, but has a few stateside stops as well, to include, PA, New orleans, Colorado, DC, and a few more. View the whole schedule here!

15 Best Blurays in the age of Roku and NetFlix

The way I view streaming and on-demand and Roku and Netflix is very much as a great vehicle to try shows, and to find great shows and movies to love. But once you have found something that wows you, there is no substitute for owning that movie or tv show in the highest quality available; and for all the talk of HD quality picture, streaming and broadcast models, the highest consumer quality available is Bluray followed by DVD.

Streaming and Broadcast delivery methods inherently suffer from throttling, a bandwidth and cost-savings measure, that makes the quality at any given moment variable and uncertain; that adds another level of degradation and compression, onto an already compressed source. Add to the uncertain quality aspect the fact that the duration of these shows is likewise variable, shows and movies subject to disappearing as licensing deals demand, and owning your own physical copy of your favorite show or movie remains the best way to make sure you can view that show when and how you would like.

The above is why there remains no substitute for watching that first season of THE HUMAN TARGET in its reference quality Bluyray mastering, or METROPOLIS the Fritz Lang opus, or that first elegiac season of SPACE 1999 or any of the following. Without further ado I present you today’s 15 best Blu-rays in the age of streaming, Enjoy!

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Human Target: The Complete First Season [Blu-ray] – One of the most action packed and enjoyable tv shows, with some of the best fight choreography, looks jaw dropping stunning in this superb quality Blu-ray

Space: 1999: The Complete Season One [Blu-ray]

Metropolis (Masters of Cinema Series) [Dual Format Limited Edition SteelBook] – One of the greatest films of all time, and one of the greatest Blu-rays

RATING THE SEASONS : The Best Television of All Time – Alfred Hitchcock’s THE GLASS EYE

“The loneliness… the desolation of her life, were beyond belief. For she herself was unaware of how lonely and desolate it really was.”

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And with that line, we are introduced to one of two great ventriloquist themed episodes from the original 1950s run of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, namely 1957′s THE GLASS EYE.

Starring the great Jessica Tandy and narrated by an extremely young, pre-Star Trek William Shatner, it is a shining example of that currently extinct format, the 30 minute dramatic anthology. These are tales that have been much retold in the 6 decades since their inception, but arguably never better than in these original shows.

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The endings naturally are hard-pressed to surprise a jaded 21st century audience that grew up on 4th and 5th generation tawdry knockoffs, but knowing where the story is going does not change the masterful solemnity in which these tales are told (written by the prolific and justifiably acclaimed Stirling Silliphant).

This episode in particular, poetically directed by the stellar Robert Stevens, almost 6 decades after its making; remains an excellent way to pass 25 minutes. Grade: Imminently Re-watchable.

Get this Emmy Winning episode and the rest of season 3 here:
Alfred Hitchcock Presents – Season Three

The Best & Worst of FOUND FOOTAGE films

Got the idea for this post from the excellent HORROR ETC podcast. So without further ado the best and worst of found footage films.

ENJOYABLE
REC
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 1,3
EUROPA REPORT
FRANKENSTEIN THEORY
CHRONICLE
TROLL HUNTER
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS
APARTMENT 143

GOOD
THE BAY – Starts off well, but the third act/ending is a disappointment
LAKE MUNGO – Movie never really takes off, or lives up to the hype, but it was well done for what it was

MEDIOCRE/POOR
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2
REC 2
BLAIR WITCH PROJECT
DIARY OF THE DEAD

Favorite Films discovered on Streaming On-Demand in 2013!

Favorite Films discovered on Streaming On-Demand in 2013!

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2013′s most interesting films for me weren’t found in the theater, or backed by major studios. They were small, even intimate, Independent films found courtesy of the new distribution opportunities that venues such as Amazon Prime and Netflix have opened up.

HALO 4 FORWARD ONTO DAWN, BOY WONDER, ANOTHER ZERO IN THE SYSTEM, and HOUSE OF THE RISING SUN are films seen in 2013, that here in 2014 still stand tall as memorable and commanding viewing experiences. The last three being some of the most haunting examples of existential angst meets neo noir meets anti-hero you are likely to find. And HALO 4 FORWARD ONTO DAWN on a shoestring budget, creates a scifi epic with more heart and style than any ten STARSHIP TROOPERS.

These are films so good that having seen them for free courtesy of streaming, I had to purchase them on DVD/Blu-Ray. After viewing them you may agree. You can price them at the links below.

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Another Zero in the System

Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn [Blu-ray]

House of the Rising Sun