Monday, November 18, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #231 - Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (1997, dir. Clint Eastwood)

         Anyone who knows me isn’t even a little bit surprised I’m writing a review about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. It’s got all the things I love: true crime, the occult, John Cusack, and it’s set in the South. Based on John Berendt’s non-fiction book of the same name and directed by Clint Eastwood, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil brings all the southern charm Savannah, Georgia has to offer - along with all of its dirty laundry.
The basic plot of the film is as follows. John Kelso (John Cusack), is sent to Savannah to write a 500-word article on a Christmas party held by eccentric local Jim Williams (Kevin Spacey). When Williams kills Billy Hanson (a baby-faced Jude Law) in what Williams said was an “act of self-defense,” Kelso decides to stay and cover the trial. Kelso gets sucked into the drama of the trial and Savanah itself, describing it as “Gone with the Wind on mescaline.” It’s the local characters that Kelso meets during his time in Savannah that really make the film.
 Mandy Nicholls (Allison Eastwood, Clint Eastwood’s daughter) is a love interest of sorts for Kelso, as well as helping him break into the morgue to solve the mystery of what actually happened the night Billy Hanson was shot. Sonny Seiler (Jack Thompson), Williams' attorney and the owner of the University of Georgia mascot - a long line of English bulldogs named Uga (pronounced “UGH – uh”), adds that unique Southern charm that only Savannah natives can offer. Fun fact about the film - the real life Sonny Seiler plays the judge in the murder trial. Kelso and Williams make a trip to Bonaventure Cemetery to see voodoo practitioner Minerva (Irma P. Hall) in an attempt to communicate with and help calm Billy Hanson’s spirit. Kelso is skeptical to say the least, and Cusack’s scenes with Minerva are some his best acting in the film; he seems genuinely bewildered by what she says and does. But in the end she gives him some great advice - “to understand the living you gotta commune with the dead.” Quite possibly the strangest character Kelso comes into contact with is Luther Driggers (Geoffrey Lewis), a man who keeps flies on strings attached to a shirt and threatens to poison the water supply almost daily with a mystery substance he keeps in a vial that goes with him everywhere, even while he eats his lunch at Clary’s Café. If he enjoys his lunch he will put the vial back in his pocket and be on his way while the entire café breathes a sigh of relief. Last, but certainly not least, playing herself because there isn’t another human on this planet that could do it, The Lady Chablis, a transgender club performer and all around iconic Southern Lady. Kelso comes into contact with her after learning she may have some information about Hanson’s relationship with Williams. The Lady Chablis has her fun with Kelso, making him take her along as his date to a debutante ball he is attending and delivering the best life advice and the best line in the film: “Two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it.” I quote it all the time and most people don’t have a clue where it comes from.
            I can’t talk about this movie without talking about the music. The real Jim Williams lived in famed songwriter Johnny Mercer’s house and Eastwood chose to use the real house in the film (which is now called the Mercer-Williams House and is open for public tours). Hell, I even made my parents take me on a tour of the Mercer-Williams House on a family trip to Savannah. Yes, that’s right, I’ve been in the room where all this went down. This is the reason every song used in the film is a song written by Johnny Mercer. It opens with an absolutely haunting version of “Skylark” sung by k.d. lang. Rosemary Clooney, Cassandra Wilson, Tony Bennett, Allison Eastwood and even director Clint Eastwood contribute covers of some of Mercer's most iconic songs. It keeps that theme of Southern charm going throughout the entire film.
What is most striking about this film is Eastwood cast as many real life people as he could, The Lady Chablis and Sonny Seiler are just a couple of them. It’s what makes the film, which is already based on a true story, work. What better to make something feel more authentic than casting the real life people who were involved? The entire film is a good romp around Savannah, and Eastwood made use of this unique southern town, highlighting many of its most iconic landmarks and colorful locals. I find it to be a highly entertaining film, perfect for a lazy afternoon watch full of laughs, voodoo, an invisible dog being walked on a leash, murder, and a whole lot of Southern charm.

-Anna Lathem  

Monday, November 11, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #243 - The Killers - Sam's Town (2006)

            When The Killers' debut album Hot Fuss came out in 2004 I begged and begged my dad to take me to see them at City Stages in Birmingham the next year. They played the entire album and I was hooked instantly; I became a forever fan and my poor dad had to stand there with a screaming teenage girl. I still wear the t-shirt I got at the show and am amazed it still fits me. I guess it’s just that Killers magic. When their second studio album Sam’s Town came out the year after that I instantly went out and bought the CD and later when I got my first turntable it was the first new record I bought with my own money. It was a departure from the synth and auto-tune featured heavily in Hot Fuss, while still being very much a Killers album at its core. It’s a love letter to Las Vegas - where the members either grew up or moved to when they were young, and where the band formed.
            I guess a little background on the band will make their love of Las Vegas and the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall make a little more sense. Lead singer Brandon Flowers, drummer Ronnie Vannucci Jr. and bassist Mark Stoermer grew up in Las Vegas while guitarist Dave Keuning moved there in his early 20’s. But all four of them met in the City of Sin under the bright lights and formed The Killers in 2001. As a child Stoermer could see the Sam’s Town Hotel and Gambling Hall sign from his bedroom window. Las Vegas gave them an edge that they couldn’t have gotten anywhere else. The album was even recorded in Las Vegas. With Vegas in their hearts and minds they as a group decided to move away from the new wave Brit-pop sound of Hot Fuss and record an album that sounded more like where they came from.
            Sam’s Town kicks off with the title track, a larger than life rock anthem. It gives you the feeling of walking down the Las Vegas Strip at night soaking in all of the bright lights and big sounds. It comes from a place in Flowers' heart, because he grew up doing just that. Two of my favorite things about Sam’s Town are the “Enterlude” and “Exitlude” tracks bookending the album. You can imagine Flowers as a lounge singer in a casino, welcoming in patrons as the night begins and softly letting them know it’s time to go when the sun comes up. My other two favorites off Sam’s Town, “Uncle Johnny” and “Bones,” fill in the sex and drugs part of “sex, drugs and rock & roll” for the album. “Uncle Johnny” is raw and feels like a person strung out on cocaine while living it up in Las Vegas. “Bones” is a throwback to the synth-pop sound from Hot Fuss, but with a little more Mojave Desert dirt mixed in. Both tracks don’t hold anything back and that is what makes them stand out on this album.
The Killers didn’t hold anything back when making this album, and while most reviews of the album were not stellar, the album holds true to their Las Vegas roots and that desert sound. It isn’t flashy, it doesn’t try to copy their sound from Hot Fuss, and it stands alone in the pantheon of Killers albums. It’s raw, it’s dusty and it’s very Las Vegas. While Hot Fuss tends to get all the glory, Sam’s Town in my opinion is a truly Killers album. They made it the way they wanted, they recorded it where they wanted and to me it works, even if the rest of the world didn’t seem to think so.
P.S. Brandon Flowers' debut solo album Flamingo is also a beautiful heartfelt love letter to the city of Las Vegas and is well worth a listen.
- Anna Lathem

Monday, November 4, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #230 - Ed and His Dead Mother (1993, dir. Jonathan Wacks)

In the early ‘90s, after falling completely in love with his character Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs, I became sort of fixated on consuming all the other films in which Steve Buscemi starred. That included a lot of late-1980s/early-1990s independent vehicles that were very hit and miss. Ed and His Dead Mother was one of the hits for me. It was one of the first Buscemi flicks that I watched period, let alone one of the first ones that I saw where Buscemi played a (relatively) normal schlub and not a psychotic, violent creep. Ed is also a comedy, which was (and really still is) my forte; my first love. And even though Buscemi was absolutely hilarious in most of his roles, he didn’t do a lot of comedic movies in his early days - at least not that I had seen. Buscemi’s turn as Ed, a sweetly naïve hardware salesman from small town Iowa is simultaneously charming and disturbing.
Ed is the third and final effort by American director Jonathan Wacks. Wacks is perhaps best known for his first film, the George Harrison (yes, THAT George Harrison) co-produced Powwow Highway, or for producing the cult favorite Repo Man. Buscemi plays the titular Ed Chilton, the ultimate mama’s boy. Ed receives a visit from a kind of shifty snake oil salesman (John Glover) from a company called Happy People, Ltd., who offer to reanimate his dead mother for a fee. After some consideration and a lot of resistance from his live-in Uncle Benny (Ned Beatty), Ed decides to go through with it. At first Ed is thrilled to have his mother back, as she picks up where she left off when she died, cooking and cleaning and generally helping Ed keep his life in order. But over time, as her behavior grows more and more irrational and bizarre, (hunting and killing living things for sustenance, for example), Ed must make a decision on what to do about mother.
The film itself is any indie film nut’s darling. In addition to Beatty, Glover and Buscemi himself, the film also stars a handful of other fairly well-known character actors, like Miriam Margolyes, Gary Farmer, Eric Christmas and especially Rance Howard, father of Ronnie and Clint, who plays the town preacher shopping at Ed’s store for tools to use to murder his unfaithful wife. The film also has one of the more curious set design choices I’ve ever seen. For the most part, the film looks like 1993, when it comes to wardrobe and hairstyles and things like that, but location-wise, the small Iowa town that’s supposed to be being portrayed here looks almost more 1953. Whether this was a conscious decision or a happy accident is beyond me, but somehow it works, adding yet another layer of strange to an already eccentric film.
Steve Buscemi is still one of my all-time favorites and I still tend to try to watch everything he appears in. Wacks, on the other hand, never directed another full length after Ed and His Dead Mother was released, most likely due to the poor box office activity of all three of his feature films. This would also explain why, up until 2018, the DVD was long out-of-print as well. This is a shame too, because I consider Ed to be kind of an indie classic. A deep cut that never tries to be anything it’s not. It’s just a quirky little comedy, in the tradition of Floundering or Living in Oblivion, with a little bit of a dark and macabre edge to it. Not a zombie film per se, but definitely a seasonally-appropriate film that offers a fresh take on portraying the undead.

- Jonathan Eagle

Monday, October 28, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #243 - Serge Gainsbourg - Histoire De Melody Nelson (1971)

  Melody Nelson lived fourteen autumns and fifteen summers when she was struck by the front end of a Silver Ghost. The driver, who we can only assume is some extension of the artist in question, was met with confusion and inexplicable lust. Melody survives the incident, but not without being subjected to the narrator’s bizarre, Nabokavian tendencies. Gainsbourg, with the help of partner Jean-Claude Vannier and guest musicians Alan Parker and Dave Richmond among others, spends just under 28 minutes unfolding a musical narrative to which there are many dark, euphoric, and ambiguous sides.
 Histoire De Melody Nelson is a landmark record looked upon by countless musicians as a sonic reference point, and by critics as a benchmark in the field of concept albums. It is perhaps the most influential French rock album ever released and has been covered, and to some extent copied countless times in the 48 years since its release. Beck, who notably paid homage to the album’s title track on his 2003 breakup bummer, Sea Change, called the album “one of the greatest marriages of rock band and orchestra” he’d ever heard. Upon listening, it’s not difficult to understand why. The record opens with a plodding, quiet bassline over jagged guitar riffs that are soon met with the sinister vocal delivery of Serge Gainsbourg relaying in spoken word the story of hitting Melody on her bicycle as he (or the narrator) haplessly drives his Rolls Royce. The darkness of it all becomes quickly euphoric as a swelling orchestra builds over the track’s otherwise brooding atmosphere. Highlighted by production that’s as rich as it is spacious, each musician is given their chance to shine here, but no one instrument distracts from or overshadows its counterparts. The tracks that follow act as vignettes, conveying the narrator’s increasing affinity for the album’s title character.
While the bookend tracks take most of the glory, the sheer musicianship flourishes throughout, without the end product feeling like homework or something that takes itself too seriously. The album’s studio playfulness leads to wonderful, slightly less musical moments. On the track “En Melody,” bursts of maniacal laughter break out over a ferocious drum beat as Gainsbourg relates the story of a plane crash that ultimately takes the life of young Melody. Violinist Jean-Luc Ponty adds a set of strings to the mix as tensions rise toward the fatal crash. The laughter coming from the voice of the titular character, played here by Gainsbourg’s then-wife Jane Birkin, was achieved by Birkin being tickled in the recording booth during the session. Her cackles add a layer of palpable anxiousness as Melody’s short story comes to a bloody, abrupt end.
Below the surface, Melody Nelson is a tremendously complicated exploration of masculinity and its dark, inherent sexuality viewed through the lens of tragedy - though Gainsbourg doesn’t really to seem to offer answers to this complexity here. Melody Nelson, like the strange relationship that unfolds through the album’s story, is another question mark in the life of the story’s recounter. Gainsbourg makes a point to state from the beginning that the story’s central characters are involved in this accident through naivety; in terms of childlike innocence via the story’s victim and by contrast, age and recklessness via its narrator. In the middle somewhere lie love and lust: two timeless themes that have been endlessly tackled by musician after musician. Perhaps Gainsbourg understood this to be heavily trod thematic ground and saw an opportunity to disclose a side of these feelings not often explored, and its provocativeness is nothing more than that. Or maybe the story is somewhat autobiographical and we’re getting a real look into the sinister, paranoid world of the musician in question. Ultimately that truth wouldn’t serve or enhance anyone’s understanding of the album, and its moral ambiguity factors heavily into the atmosphere of it all. The underlying story plays more of a supporting role to Gainsbourg and his band than it does actually try to say something about its subjects and their interactions.
The record’s cinematic nature was, at the time of release, unparalleled by anything else in its genre. While Melody Nelson isn’t exactly a rock opera in comparison to something like The Who’s Tommy, it does a brilliant job of creating a mood to match its subject and creates fertile ground for linear storytelling.

- Blake Britton (Initials B.B.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #229 - The Emigrants / The New Land (1971/1972, dir. Jan Troell)

When these two 3-hour Swedish films opened in Denver in the early 1970’s I would have been about 14. I honestly can’t believe my parents thought it was a good idea to take me to six hours of subtitled historical drama, but it is even more surprising that I sat through it, and remembered it fondly. I was thrilled to see that Criterion released them together in one package, and, that after three decades I would be able to revisit this experience. I spent the better part of my day off with Swedish farmer Karl Oskar (Max Von Sydow) and his bride Kristina (Liv Ullman) as they try to succeed in their native Sweden, but failing that, emigrate to mid-1800’s America and help settle Minnesota.
The first movie The Emigrants finds Karl Oskar toiling on his Father’s farm working like a dog, barely making ends meet, and finding it almost impossible to feed his new and growing family. At the same time, his brother Robert and other relatives are finding the Swedish environment of conservativism and religious piety oppressive. They start talking and reading about North America and the promise of freedom and success in the United States. Braving the emotional and financial consequences, a group of them decide to leave their home and make the voyage to America. That’s a neat little synopsis of the first three hours, but it does nothing to convey the overwhelming beauty and power of this great movie. Filmed with loving attention to detail, director Jan Troell puts the dirt under your fingernails, makes you smell the bread baking, and puts the thought in your mind and belly that this will be the last bread of the winter because the harvest is bad. Troell’s movie is in a class by itself. It’s hard to think of another movie that so vividly takes the audience into the lives of simple people so effectively. There is little romanticizing of their plight, everything is shown with a matter-of-fact clarity which conveys both the pain and drudgery of their existence, but also offers a fleeting, bittersweet glimpse at a not so distant past free of technological intrusion and environmental annihilation. The scenes and one’s emotions fly from backbreaking toil to exhilarating natural beauty with the fluency of life itself. The cinematic achievement is profound. Like so few movies (Boyhood is one of the only others that comes to mind), The Emigrants and its sequel The New Land actually capture the huge artistic ambition of showing a life lived.
The lengths of these movies might seem gratuitous, but as they unfold, it becomes clear that this is the only way to portray such overwhelming scale. The sequence showing the boat journey from Sweden to New York is forty minutes of harrowing aquatic nightmare, and when it ends you feel a physical relief as the actors set foot on solid ground. Likewise, the final scenes of The Emigrants show Karl Oskar trekking through unsettled Minnesota looking for the perfect spot to settle. Without any dialogue, it is actually possible to lose yourself in the fantasy of discovering America. It is one of so many beautiful and emotional moments. If you love this country, and believe its inherent greatness is connected to its natural beauty and those who first settled it, this is a rare experience.
 Many social issues are also tackled in these movies. Especially in The New Land, timely themes of immigration, racism, sexuality, class warfare, dirty business and Native American rights are shown, again with the seemingly spontaneous intrusion of true life. Perhaps because everything is from the Swedish perspective, rather than the jingoism we often see in modern Hollywood, it is possible to reflect upon these issues from multiple perspectives. The story climaxes with twin tragedies. First, younger brother Robert heads west to participate in the gold rush. He is exposed to greed, disease, theft, and death, before returning to the disapproval of his own family. It is the Horatio Alger myth in reverse. Then comes the controversial telling of a massacre (part of the Dakota Wars) of many of the settlers by the Native Americans who originally inhabited the land the Swedes were settling. A series of horrifying scenes of violence, retribution and execution bring in to focus one of the more unsettling aspects of the founding of our country and the treatment of its first citizens. Again, it is the non-Hollywood perspective that lends these scenes such veracity and makes them so hard to ignore or forget.
The Emigrants and The New Land are incredibly important films to see at this particular moment in America’s history. The ambitions of these films are as big as America’s endless horizons, yet they focus on the small details of humanity we all share. The endless vistas of this new country tamed by the tiny voice yearning for home.

- Paul Epstein

Monday, October 14, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #242 - The Cure - Disintegration (1989)

            You’ve almost certainly heard of the Cure. And you’ve almost certainly heard at least one song off their 1989 album Disintegration. It’s hardly obscure; after all, we’re talking about the album that brought us “Lovesong.” But there’s nothing quite like listening to the whole thing all the way through for the first time. It’s brooding. It’s melancholy. It’s like watching a thunderstorm happen in reverse. This album is quintessential for the Cure; it combines the darker, moodier feeling of early albums like Faith and Pornography with the accessibility of albums like Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. There’s a reason this album is a classic, which still earns acclaim thirty years after its release. If you’re gonna get into the Cure, this is the album to start with.
            Disintegration was written at a rather turbulent time for the Cure. During its production, the band’s keyboardist and one of its founding members, Lol Tolhurst, left the band and was replaced by touring keyboardist Roger O’Donnell. Robert Smith, the band’s frontman, was suffering from depression and turned to psychedelic drugs to cope. His introspection about turning 30, and about the legacy of the band, also influenced the album; they’d begun writing poppy tunes to avoid being pigeonholed as simply a Goth band, but Smith now wanted to get back to their roots. This resulted in an album which kept some pop elements, but returned to a darker sound.
            To start with, there’s the opening track, “Plainsong.” It starts out quiet, with gently ringing bells, and then explodes rather suddenly into an atmospheric, warm, shimmery intro that hits like the first burst of sunlight through the clouds at the end of a storm. Then comes the guitar, dripping with melody. By the time the vocals hit, you’re fully immersed. Their echoes complement the atmosphere of the song perfectly, and Smith’s voice blends in, rather than being sung over the rest of it.
            After “Plainsong” is “Pictures of You.” Like much of the album, the keys, the shimmers, and guitar sounds from “Plainsong” carry over to this track, but Smith’s vocals take on more of a leading role. Then comes “Closedown,” which continues the feeling, but brings in more of Simon Gallup’s bass and Boris Williams’ drums. By this point you can tell the album has been building up to something, but you’re not sure what.
            And then there’s “Lovesong.” It’s an achingly sweet declaration of love, written as a wedding present to Smith’s wife (and high school sweetheart), Mary Poole. With its heart-melting lyrics and yearning melody, it’s easy to see why this song is so well-loved by fans and casual listeners alike. I can’t hear it without wanting to sing along; it’s beautiful. It starts out softer and subtler than previous tracks on the album, with a catchy bass line and quiet keys. Then come the vocals and the iconic guitar and keyboard riffs, adding a new energy to the album and giving it new depth. This song is where Disintegration goes from good to great.
            "Lovesong" is followed up by “Last Dance,” a heart-shattering track that brings back the shimmery atmosphere from earlier in the album, but makes it colder and sadder. The tender nostalgia in the lyrics is matched by Simon Gallup’s melodic bass and the reverb-heavy guitar that seems to drift down like snow over the listener. There’s a subtle desperation conveyed that sticks with you long after the song ends.
            And then there’s “Lullaby,” easily one of the top three tracks on Disintegration. It’s a bit of a departure from the earlier sound of the album, but it’s a perfect fit. The frantic, paranoid vocals are whispered rather than sung, fitting perfectly with the eerie lyrics, which describe being eaten by a spider man in a nightmare. It’s isolation, it’s terror, it’s helplessness, and it’s so strangely pretty you can’t help but listen again.
            Next comes “Fascination Street.” The reverb-laden guitars are back, echoing in a kind of organized chaos over the bass that draws you in. It’s a while before the vocals come in, which gives the listener a chance to get used to the building tension. But when the vocals hit, the tension only continues to build, which keeps the listener engaged and yearning for more.
This leads into the angst-ridden “Prayers for Rain,” a dark, gloomy track, with bleak imagery in its lyrics and simple but captivating guitar. Of all the tracks on Disintegration, this one is the closest to the deliciously nihilistic, desolate sound on earlier albums like Pornography. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album. The way it takes the warm elements of earlier tracks on the album and darkens them keeps me coming back to this track over and over again.
“The Same Deep Water As You” starts out with the sound of thunder and rain, which sets the pleasant but melancholy tone for the whole song. It’s not as dark as “Prayers for Rain.” Instead it’s a warm and mellow type of yearning, in striking opposition to the next song on the album, “Disintegration,” like the calm before a storm. It has a way of washing over the listener, bringing back the shimmering atmosphere that characterizes so much of this masterpiece of an album.
The title track, “Disintegration,” is much more fast-paced. It has a frantic, desperate feel to it, which persists until the last chord. It’s about selfishness, deception, and endings, and you can’t help being pulled into the narrative by Robert Smith’s deeply emotional vocals. The album has felt like it was building up to something, and with this track, it finally comes to a head.
After this is “Homesick,” for which Lol Tulhurst provided the basis before he left the band. It’s full of dramatic, aching sadness. Like most of the Cure’s work, it’s melody-driven. Disintegration feels like a breakup album, and this feels like the aftermath to the ending “Disintegration” represents.
Finally, the album ends with “Untitled.” It has a happier, warmer tone, in contrast to “Disintegration” and “Homesick.” This provides some closure, and ensures the listener doesn’t leave feeling too broken down. It’s still sad, but it’s less intense, and the lyrics echo back to the perception of unreality expressed in “Pictures of You.”
The Cure were one of the biggest bands of their era, transcending genre and crafting a legacy that will endure for generations. Disintegration is an album that captures all their best elements, and it’s the album that changed me from a casual listener to a fan. It’s melancholy and it can be dark, but it’s intensely beautiful. Is there really any better album for when you’re feeling down?
- Madden Ott

Monday, October 7, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #228 - The Host (2006, dir. Bong Joon-ho)

            Meet the Park family, proprietors of a snack stand along the touristy Han River in the South Korean capital of Seoul:
Gang-Du, the eldest son of the generous and caring widower Hie-bong, Gang-Du’s wife left him with their precocious young daughter Hyun-seo years ago and left him emotionally arrested at that stage in his life.
Nam-Joo, Hie-bong’s youngest, a champion archer with a penchant for choking when the pressure is on.
Nam-il, the educated activist middle child who has been unable to find gainful employment despite his education and who drinks to cover up his anger.
Hie-bong, the gentle patriarch who is struggling to care for his family economically, and who is ready to fight to hold them together.
Hyun-seo, youngest of the Park clan, trying to succeed in school despite a difficult upbringing and a father who, though he tries his best, fails her in many ways.

While the Parks work their snack stand, miles away an American military scientist examines the contents of his laboratory with his Korean assistant, sees hundreds of bottles of chemicals he deems to be spoiled, and has a conversation that culminates in the words “That’s right, let’s dump them in the Han River” - we know this can’t be good. Sure enough, shortly the local fisherman begin to notice fewer fish, and some of the ones they catch seem… different, perhaps with more tails than they usually have, and also perhaps a little more bite-y than usual. A man preparing to jump off a bridge sees a huge black shape moving in the water but can’t tell what it is.
And instead of spending half the film building up to the reveal of the monster as in most monster classics (Alien, Jaws, King Kong), we’re suddenly right into the thick of it - a mutated, amphibious monster that resembles a giant, dangerous tadpole with legs and too many teeth is running rampant along the walkways of the Han, crushing and flinging aside onlookers, grabbing some with its mouth or its tail, going in and out of the water. Naturally this happens right by the Park family stand at the most crowded and busy time of day, and as the monster runs wild through the crowd Gang-Du sees young Hyun-seo in danger and springs into action intent on protecting his family, one of the few onlookers who dares to assault the beast instead of running away screaming. But the monster nabs Hyun-seo with its tail, flees back to the water and off to its lair. Shortly afterward those who have come into contact with the monster are quarantined by the military because of their exposure to a virus the beast is carrying, and this includes the entire Park family. And so begins the meat of the film - the family coming together over their longstanding personal difficulties to find Hyun-seo. Which means that they not only have to find the monster's hidden lair in the city, but also evade the authorities who want them locked up and away from the general populace as they prepare to test a new chemical agent to destroy the beast - and possibly sell it for chemical warfare in the future.
Gang-Du (Bong regular Kang-ho Song) is both funny and touching as the eldest son, a slacker father lamenting his departed wife and dotingly focused on his daughter Hyun-seo (superbly played by Ko Asung), suddenly awakened out of his torpor to rescue his captured child. The film follows out many threads of the progress of different family members - Gang-du’s younger archer sister, his activist younger brother, and his father Hie-bong trying to keep them all together (and who, like his surprisingly active slacker son, is a real fighter when it comes to the monster). And of course there's resourceful young Hyun-seo, cool-headed under threat of being eaten by the mutant tadpole threatening all of Seoul.
Bong Joon-Ho's ease in genre - and also rejection of it - is a major plus here. Like all his films (that I've seen), he starts with what appears to be a straightforward genre piece and slowly sends it off the rails until it's something else entirely. Is this a thriller about a government cover-up? A family drama? A giant monster horror film? A black comedy? The answer is yes to all of those things. And the reason I've spent so much time talking about the family is because Bong took the time to think about them as well - he invests what could be a tawdry CGI-centric genre piece with real, flawed, believable people (helped immensely by an excellent cast who make us care about their foibles, about their problems), and helps us believe it when a giant killer tadpole snatches their daughter to its hidden lair to be eaten at a later time.
If you need a great horror film for your October viewing, check this one. If you need to see the earlier work of this year's Palme d'Or winning director, check this one (and also check out the superb Memories of Murder, itself another genre-defying genre film - this time a police procedural) before you go see the excellent Parasite when it opens. But really, Bong Joon-Ho hasn't stepped wrong in anything I've yet seen - I started with The Host and have yet to be disappointed, and you won't be either.
-         Patrick Brown

Monday, September 30, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #241 - Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind (1983)

Entering into the world of Iron Maiden can be very intimidating from the outside, you rarely meet a fan who isn’t a die hard, or someone who doesn’t love this band more than some of their own family. They’ve been around long enough where they’ve been passed down from parents to children, aunt and uncle to nephew and niece, but still have the appeal to be able to get the attention of the teenager who feels like they don’t fit in. How can a band with a zombie-like mascot that is on every album cover sell out arenas across the world? It’s very strange, but it shows how far good songwriting, melody, and work ethic go in the music business.
 Most bands have something very special about their first couple of albums - there is something so raw, hungry, and primal that you cannot ignore them. Iron Maiden embodied that with their self-titled debut and sophomore album Killers. Those albums were recorded with their original singer Paul Di’Anno, and most metal fans will defend those albums until they’re blue in the face, but there is so much gold to be found deeper in the well. After Killers, the band decided to hire vocalist Bruce Dickinson, and he brought the band to the next level - they were able to soar over every other band’s vocal abilities. His debut was on The Number of The Beast, which is a classic from the very beginning to the last guitar solo, but following that classic up was the hard part. Luckily for metal fans all over they nailed it with Piece of Mind, their fourth album, stuck the landing, and cemented themselves as a major piece of rock history, even outside of metal. They feel like a brand new band and they aren’t letting their past define them. Piece of Mind is an album presented by a band that is completely confident in what they’re doing. Their main song writer - bass player Steve Harris - now has a few albums under his belt and a new voice to really complete his vision, and he uses that to his full advantage.
            The album starts off with a powerful drum intro for the song "Where Eagles Dare" (a song based on the Clint Eastwood movie of the same name), after which the guitars just pummel you with their power, and the bass is crisp, clear, and forward in the mix, which you don’t hear a lot of in metal at this time. It's followed by "Revelations," "The Flight of Icarus," and "Die With Your Boots On," where the lyrics start to go a little deeper than movie references. Diving into literature of Crowley and Greek mythology, listening to this as a freshman in high school it opened up this whole world of wonder. These stories and themes now felt way more accessible instead of being homework. Nothing makes Greek mythology cooler than Iron Maiden as the soundtrack, and that’s a fact! At the time I first heard this I was also pretty heavily into hardcore punk, being able to pull out the themes from songs like “Die With Your Boots On,” and comparing it to the more straightforward lyrics in Gorilla Biscuits' “Hold Your Ground,” they felt like the same song to me. Right in the middle of the album they throw in what might be their biggest hit, “The Trooper.” At this point it feels like this song is bigger than the band itself; it is the song that even if you don’t like the band, you know this song. This band has a heavy emphasis on bass, but it feels like the bass is carrying this song more than any other. It’s the kind of song that makes you want to play bass instead of guitar - even as I’m writing this and listening to the album again I took a brief break to grab my bass to play along with the song; I couldn’t help myself, it just has that effect on people.
How this album ebbs and flows is a very important part of it too. After the exhilarating highs of "The Trooper," they have a cryptic, reversed spoken word into for "Still Life," which is a song that has more gradual build up, keeping the momentum going until the last song. With the songs "Quest for Fire," "Sun and Steel," and the finale "To Tame a Land," they really show off how fantastic their production is, with high-flying shredding going on between the dual guitars, and the bass also carving itself a comfortable spot in the mix. The vocals lay on top of all of it like a blanket and the drums are so precise that it never feels like there is a single hit out of place.  They just nail every bit of it.
This album has the perfect mix of hits and deep cuts, they're still in their prime as a band and creative force. They keep the momentum going with three more great albums that are just as good as this album, even if they don’t have hits like "The Trooper." Once you start listening to this band you become branded for life; it becomes a gateway into a whole other world of great, heavy music. You never stop being an Iron Maiden fan when you grow up - you may listen to them less, but you never stop being a fan.

- Max Kaufman

Monday, September 23, 2019

I’d Love To Turn You On At The Movies #227 - The Social Network (2010, dir. David Fincher)

My freshman year in college I somehow got my hands on a screener copy of The Social Network. I think a friend of a friend was in film school at Auburn or maybe it just magically appeared in my apartment, I'm not sure. One thing I am sure of is that I watched the hell out of it. It grew on me the more I watched it. It is after all a movie about Facebook. But not just about Facebook, it's about all of the people Mark Zuckerberg stepped on the heads of on the way to the top. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin weaves two complicated legal cases into an epic story scored by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. The cast is all over the place and yet somehow it works perfectly to tell this story. In the end, it might just show you that if more people had stopped, watched this film and looked into the deceitful things Zuckerberg did to make Facebook, some of you wouldn’t have been so surprised when Facebook itself became a deceitful thing.
            The first thing that won me over about The Social Network was that Aaron Sorkin wrote the script. As a massive fan of The West Wing, I love a good Aaron Sorkin walk-n-talk peppered with iconic lines. What better than for him to write about than a bunch of nerds arguing in court over who came up with what. There is a reason he won an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay. Sorkin adapted Ben Mezrich’s book Accidental Billionaires into an amazing script that was easy to follow, interesting and still had enough tech lingo to be not dumbed down for the masses.
This film has a massive cast, some big names and some unknowns at the time. Jesse Eisenberg plays insufferable nerd Mark Zuckerberg like a super villain with absolutely no regard for people other than himself. Watching him tell an attorney for the Winklevoss twins that he doesn’t deserve his attention with not one single human emotion on his face was insane, seeing as I had only seen him in Adventureland before this. In the role of Eduardo Saverin (AKA best friend and cash cow for Zuckerberg), is the adorable Andrew Garfield, who even with his adorable face he still does the job of showing just how far Zuckerberg went to get to the top. You understand his frustration with the situation - Zuckerberg made him not a part of Facebook. Armie Hammer - man if only there really was two of him. But alas, there isn't. He plays the Winkelvoss twins as two big dumb (but not that dumb, because they go to Harvard) jocks and still gives each twin their own personality. Who better to play Napster founder and all around douchebag Sean Parker than Justin Timberlake, a musician who was definitely affected by the creation of Napster? He did an amazing job of playing Parker as the paranoid bad businessman that he was. 
And finally, the music. If the score wasn’t super-duper out of print I think I could do an entire review about it. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross - Boy, what a team! I wouldn't have passed a few college classes if it weren’t for this score. As soon as I saw the film I had the music stuck in my head and to this day it's my go-to study/get things done music. It’s honestly worth a listen on its own, but hearing it woven into this complicated story is really something. “Hand Covers Bruise,” a melancholy tune that you can hear throughout the film, is also my favorite of the tunes. An intense, strange version of “In the Hall of the Mountain King” sets an even stranger mood for the Henley Royal Regatta where the Winklevoss Twins lose the race. Again, there is a reason this won an Academy Award for Best Original Score. While the score dominates the film it is opened and closed with two great song choices. Opening the film in a crowded college bar is The White Stripes' “Ball and Biscuit,” which sets a mood for the verbal beating Zuckerberg is about to receive from a soon to be ex-girlfriend. Closing out the film with The Beatles “Baby, You’re A Rich Man” while Zuckerberg sits alone after a deposition refreshing his Facebook page, waiting to see if the same ex-girlfriend from the beginning accepts his friend request is just the icing on this cake to an already fantastic sounding film. 
I find it kinda funny that this blog will be posted on the Twist & Shout Facebook page. The version of Facebook in The Social Network isn’t the same Facebook as today. In The Social Network it was exactly that, a network for socializing, that isn't the case anymore. Today it’s for arguments and weird relatives that overshare among other things. Around the time I was obsessed with The Social Network I also stopped putting every second of my life on Facebook. I don’t know if I was just bored with it or if the film made me see it in a different light. All I can say is that I am not one single bit surprised by all of the chaos Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook have created in the decade since the film was released.

- Anna Lathem

Monday, September 16, 2019

I'd Love to Turn You On #240 - John Coltrane - Blue Train (1957)

Blue Train, the only record by John Coltrane on Blue Note records, came out in 1958. The personnel is an all-star lineup, with members from Miles Davis’s and Art Blakey’s bands. John Coltrane was a creative force, having just working with Miles Davis, and being in the process of working with Thelonious Monk while Blue Train was being recorded. He would go on to put out some of his most influential music, including the landmark record Giant Steps on the Atlantic label, shortly after recording Blue Train. This album consists of all original material with the exception of one standard, "I’m Old Fashioned." John’s Coltrane’s creative energy was on full display for this session, not only as a composer but as an improviser.
One of my favorite things about this record is the arrangements. The band is big enough to function as a multi-timbral ensemble, smaller than a big band and larger than a traditional trio or quartet. It displays a fullness and lushness in the arrangements, yet it is lean enough to let each of the members shine as soloists. Curtis Fuller adds not only sonic dimension on the trombone but crystal clear solo lines. Handling trumpet duties is Lee Morgan. He was propelled to fame with a series of hit records for Blue Note after this session. Both He and Fuller were playing with Art Blakey at the time. The rhythm section consists of Paul Chambers on bass and Philly Joe Jones, both of whom had played with Miles. Finally, on the keyboards Kenny Drew harmonically glues this talented band together.
"Blue Train" is the first track, and the opening melody is one of the things that will keep you coming back to this record. It is simple, catchy, and bluesy. After the melody is stated a couple of times Trane takes the first solo on the 12 bar blues. His impressive technique allows him to surprise us with unexpected turns of phrase. The choices he makes are inventive and innovative, and the energy he brings to each solo is impressive. As Trane ends his solo it provides a perfect simmering point for Morgan to come in a play it cool for a little bit. The sax has been playing super energetic jam-packed lines, so in contrast Lee Morgan starts his solo by playing some cool repeated note motifs. The ensemble supports in various ways. Philly Joe Jones energizes the soloists at times by switching to a double time feel, drawing them into denser rhythmic activity. In other places the horn ensemble unites to provide background textures as support for the soloists.
"Moment's Notice" is a cool midtempo swing tune. It starts out featuring the quartet of Coltrane, Chambers, Drew, and Philly Joe in a broken down version of the ensemble playing the initial statement of the melody. Philly Joe Jones’s hi-hat work is amazing - he compliments and punctuates the melody. The melody is eventually supported with the full ensemble using the horns as rhythmic and melodic thickeners. This tune could work as a quartet arrangement but this elaborate architecture is a treat for the ears. Eventually a harmonic pedal point is established and Trane begins his solo. Trane’s three choruses are packed full of ideas, already showing glimpses of how he would further develop his approach to harmony. He is incorporating massive amounts of material, working on developing his own language. Curtis Fuller’s choruses, perhaps some of his best on this record, are precise and technical, a model of post-bebop. Lee Morgan plays technical ideas but utilizes more repeated note motifs, bluesy bends, and wide interval leaps. It's more of a showy style, while still being hard bop.
"Locomotion" is a blistering call and answer between the trumpet and trombone with Coltrane playing shorter solo response phrases. It is a great example of how Coltrane’s musical energy can propel a rhythm section. With Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones, the rhythm can have a laid back feel at times, but with Coltrane taking a solo at this tempo listeners can definitely feel him leading this band with a musical dexterity and intensity that lives up to his legend as a larger than life performer. As Trane works his way through the first chorus you can feel the groove settle in. Curtis Fuller is next up, and I love the way his solo is introduced over an 8-bar drop out by everybody else. His use of sequence or recurring ideas similar ideas, such as the chord change, is a highlight of the solo. Lee Morgan once again dazzles with his proficiency. This solo highlights one of the great things about Lee Morgan's playing. Even in an uptempo tune while playing fast lines he can make certain notes pop and stand out. It really is a cool aspect of his playing, not only are the lines melodically working their way around the harmony but at the same time he is adding another dimension to the dynamics by attacking and easing off certain notes.
The ballad "I’m Old Fashioned" is next. In this thinner texture where Trane plays the melody, Paul Chambers' excellent bass work can be appreciated. As Curtis Fuller takes the first solo Philly Joe moves from ½ time to straight quarter notes on the ride cymbal providing a perfect solo bed for Fuller to work in. For Kenny Drew’s understated piano solo Philly Joe switches to just brushes on the snare. It is here that you can hear the synergy between the piano, bass, and drums, as they just relax in the groove. Morgan follows with a sultry solo, eventually resolving to the melody to end the tune. "Lazy Bird" finds Morgan introducing the melody after a brief introduction by Drew on piano. At the bridge horns play harmony hits before Morgan restates the melody. Morgan takes the first solo, navigating the song with his typical fleet-footedness. He is followed by Fuller, whose brief solo gives way to John Coltrane’s solo. Trane has a way of using variation within his improvisation that avoids direct repetition. He might use something close to a motif, but it will rarely be the exact thing twice. He also uses unexpected starting and stopping places along with dense phrases that make it hard to predict what he might attempt to play. His choice of using harmony that exists within the chord structures or incorporating outside harmonic tones belonging to his developing vocabulary was another factor in his growing sound. One of the joys of listening to him play is the unexpected nature of his performances.
I think this record is a must have for a Coltrane fan. It sits firmly as a marker between the Prestige recordings and the Impulse recordings. It has iconic cover art - a contemplative Coltrane with that classic blue filter over it - all the sidemen are playing out of their minds, and the songs are all very catchy. As far as Coltrane’s playing he is giving it everything he has. His tone is balanced and even, his ideas are focused and evolving, and his energy as a band leader produces a true classic.
-         Doug Anderson