Thursday, September 29, 2011

Young Man With the Big Beat Out Now

One of the most important archival music releases in recent memory landed in stores this week and I wanted to take a moment to mention it. The five-disc Young Man With the Big Beat from Sony Legacy is the ultimate celebration of the historic year Elvis Presley had in 1956. The beautiful oversized box includes all of the 1956 RCA master recordings
remastered, outtakes, live performances (including an entire unreleased concert) and rare interviews. It also includes a near 100 page coffee-table book and various memorabilia such as concert poster reproductions and even a copy of the Venus Room Flyer from Elvis' infamous 56' New Frontier Hotel Appearance. For those who can't splurge for the box-set, Sony is also offering a condensed 2CD Legacy Edition of Presley's legendary first album. Both collections are invaluable and offer up some of the best music ever recorded in deluxe packages that are essential for Elvis fans or for anyone interested in the year rock really exploded.


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Operation Screenshot (Films of the 2010s): Lew Xypher’s Malice in Lalaland (2010)

This is what I had to say about Malice in Lalaland when I included it on my best of 2010 list:

"Imagine if David Lynch, Terry Gilliam and Alex Cox got together to make an adult version of Alice in Wonderland and you would have Lew Xypher’s off the wall and surreal Malice in Lalaland. Produced by the ambitious Miss Lucifer Productions, shot on 35mm and starring Sasha Grey, Malice in Lalaland is, simply put, one of the best and most imaginative adult films since the golden era of the seventies. Featuring a fantastic score, startling animation and a wickedly delicious turn from Grey, Malice in Lalaland is an essential work for more adventurous and open-minded film-watchers. Keep a look-out especially from scene-stealing Andy San Dimas as the beautiful and brutal Black Queen."

My enthusiasm hasn't waned. I think this is one of the most visually striking and interesting films of the decade so far so I wanted to include it in this series.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Stephanie Rothman's The Velvet Vampire (1971) on DVD

The Velvet Vampire, one of the most interesting if little seen horror films from the early seventies, has just been given its first proper DVD courtesy of Shout Factory's Roger Corman's Cult Classics Collection. Stephanie Rothman's fascinating chiller, which features a lovely Celeste Yarnall as its title-charcter, has been grouped in an odd collection entitled Vampires, Mummies and Monsters and it shares space with Lady Frankenstein, Time Walker and Grotesque. Even though it has been released as part of a collection, Shout Factory has given The Velvet Vampire slight deluxe treatment and the film features an audio commentary with Yarnall and film-historian Nathaniel Thompson. Plus, Rothman's film has never looked better and comes in 16:9 enhanced widescreen. The Velvet Vampire is a flawed but important work from the undervalued Rothman and I am glad to see it has finally been given a good home on disc after years of shoddy treatment.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lou Reed and Metallica's single "The View" now available

"The View", the first single from the upcoming Lou Reed and Metallica collaboration Lulu, is now available to download via iTunes. Here is the full track to listen to from Lulu's official site. People who know me know that there isn't anything in the world that excites me more than a new Lou Reed album so I am counting down the days till the full length album lands right around Halloween this year.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

This is How it's Done: John Carpenter's The Ward

While I am one the biggest Ghosts of Mars fan on the planet, I think that John Carpenter’s latest film The Ward may very well be his best work in more than twenty years. Carpenter’s first feature-length film since Ghosts of Mars a decade ago might not be as ambitious as his In the Mouth of Madness (1993) or as exciting as his Vampires (1996) but he hasn’t delivered a work directed quite as beautifully directed since They Live, his sadly undervalued masterpiece from 1988.

Set in the mid-sixties and starring the fascinating young actress Amber Heard (finally an ‘it’ girl with some real chops) as Kristen, a troubled girl who ends up in an all-female wing of a mental hospital after burning down a farm house for no apparent reason, The Ward is a smart and sneaky fright-film from the pen of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, a young writing and directing team responsible for 2005’s Long Distance. While there isn't anything particularly original about the script and the film's ending is perhaps a little too transparent, The Ward is a real filmmaker's film as Carpenter's skill behind the camera easily makes up for any pedestrian moments the plot suffers from.

While Carpenter's direction controls the film, The Ward is a production overflowing with talent in fron of and behind the camera. With its splendid supporting cast, including Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsay Fonseca and the always great Jared Harris, lively score courtesy of Mark Kilian (sitting in for Carpenter who opted out of providing the music for this one), and eerie photography by talented cinematographer Yaron Orbach (a man not usually associated with horror films), The Ward is an extremely well-rendered film that is so much more successful as a true fright-film than any other released in 2011.

Even though Amber Heard is absolutely terrific as the lead, the real star of The Ward is indeed Carpenter’s direction, which is at its confident and controlled best. When I met John Carpenter a few years back, around the time he had finished up working on his Masters of Horror episodes, about the last thing he seemed interested in was directing another feature so to see him come back with a work so polished, muscular and beautifully finessed is a really fabulous. The Ward is also incredibly contemporary feeling and outside of a marvelous visual and musical cue inspired by Halloween this is not at all Carpenter in summation mode…this is the man firing on all cylinders again and the news that he is preppy another film is extremely welcome.

Like most of John Carpenter’s great films, The Ward was released to a mostly hostile critical reception earlier this year and sadly it didn’t even have a chance to become a popular success as its time in theaters was limited at best. Pity, as this is a wonderfully elegant and well-made horror film overflowing with style. Watching this I kept saying to myself, 'This is how you do it…this is how its done', and I felt truly privileged to watch a new film by of our great American masters, who has been out of sight far too long.

The Ward looks fabulous on both DVD and Blu-ray but sadly it has arrived with only extra, an enjoyable audio commentary track from Carpenter and Jared Harris. While many have gone out of their way to trash The Ward, I found this to be quite a return to form for the great Carpenter even if it finally doesn't rank among his very best, as it doesn't have the transformative power of Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Escape From New York or Christine. I am confident that time will catch up with The Ward though and it will eventually be viewed as quite a special little-film from one of our great American auteurs.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Loneliness of the Short Distance Driver: Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive (2011)

Every time I go to the movies I hope and pray that I will come across a new film that moves me as much as my favorites from the seventies and early eighties. With each passing year it seems like I find fewer and fewer modern works that spark that special flame in me but when I do I am both exhilarated and grateful. Drive, the masterful new film from director Nicolas Winding Refn is one of those rare new movies that hits me as hard as those films that I routinely list as my favorites, like Arthur Penn’s Night Moves and Wim Wender’s Paris, Texas. It’s an audacious, gripping and absolutely pulverizing work that combines the themes of the seventies existential neo-noirs with the dazzling style of the eighties Cinema du Look.

Like a film that it owes much to stylistically and thematically, Paul Schrader’s still-stunning American Gigolo (1980), Drive is centered on man who has become a prisoner of a persona he has tried so hard to cultivate. Like Schrader’s lonely Julian Kaye, Drive’s unnamed main-character is a man who has worked his whole life pushing people away when all he truly wants is to let someone in. As played by Ryan Gosling, who delivers a elegiac and poetic performance that stands with the best I have ever seen, the character in Drive is a man who seems to be having a constant inner-monologue...a man who finally realizes that beneath the cool façade he has worked so hard to create lies a human being with the capability of doing something meaningful and pure. As my buddy James Hansen writes in his eloquent piece over at Out 1, "He is nothing if not a reluctant super hero decidedly unaware of his powers due to their quotidian function in his life."

Opening with a long near-silent sequence that pays homage to the works of Michal Mann (who owed much to Jean-Pierre Melville), Drive suddenly becomes a work driven by sound during its striking opening credit sequence, which seems to pay homage to incredibly both American Gigolo and Risky Business. From the first frame to the last, Drive is a stylistic triumph for Refn but it's also filled with the kind of emotional depth rare for American films released today, especially the many modern action films that Drive could have become in less intelligent and thoughtful hands.

Directed with a fierce fluidity by Refn, Drive is a, rightfully, propulsive experience that manages to feel frenetic even when it is chillingly still. While the film features several of the most shocking and well-done sporadic moments of violence I have seen in quite a while, Drive is at its most potent in the scenes between Gosling and the character played by Carey Mulligan, who says more with her touching smile than most actresses can say with the best dialogue at their disposal. The two have a palatable chemistry that radiates off the screen, and at times it feels like Refn is allowing us to look at a private, but destined to be doomed, intimacy we probably shouldn’t be allowed to see.

While the film is controlled by Gosling and Mulligan’s poignant performances, Refn has gathered together a truly outstanding cast of supporting players including a magnificent Albert Brooks, a menacing Ron Perlman and a wonderfully damaged Bryan Cranston, who plays Gosling’s mentor and only friend in the world. Christina Hendricks (good in a part originally meant for Bobbi Starr), Oscar Isaac and Andy San Dimas also pop up in the film, one of the most perfectly cast of the year.

Along with Refn’s confident and expertly handled direction, and the performances given by his cast, much of Drive’s success is due to the wonderfully sleek and shimmering photography of cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel, a gifted artist who has usually been confined to photographing films that aren’t deserving of his talents. With Drive Refn really allows Sigel to shine, and if all the film had to offer was its look it would still be among the most notable of the year.

Also delivering devastating work is composer Cliff Martinez, as his score here joins the ranks of his best (which include Solaris and the more recent Contagion). His music, as well as the songs carefully selected for the film, tells us as much about Gosling’s character as Tangerine Dream’s score did for James Caan in Thief or Moby’s "God Moving over the Face of the Waters" did for De Niro and Pacino in Heat. Martinez's score becomes its own character in Drive, a work in which each sound seems as carefully chosen as every movement.

Drive has had its critics (including my friend Tony Dayoub over Cinema Viewfinder) but it moved me like no other film has in a very long time. It even provoked a physical response as I left the theater shaking and I have barely slept since I saw it, as images of Gosling’s haunted stare keep replaying in my head. Drive left me feeling shook-up, dazed and, like my favorite films, if left me feeling like I had been granted a glimpse into part of myself that I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sergio Martino's Torso on the way from Blue Underground

Blue Underground is getting ready to unleash Sergio Martino's Torso (I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale), one of my favorite films from the seventies, in a couple of weeks on brand-new DVD and Blu-ray versions and I wanted to make special mention of it here and supply links. Martinos ferocious 1973 Giallo starring the dream-team of Tina Aumont, Suzy Kendall and Luc Merenda is absolutely brilliant and hugely influential, more than any other film Torso laid the blueprint for the so called Torture-Porn (a term I despise) genre that came about this past decade, and it has lost none of its power. Eli Roth's equally brilliant Hostel Part 2 is particularly indebted to Martino's shocking classic, and it would make a perfect companion piece for a DIY double-feature. Written by the great Ernesto Gastaldi, Torso will be released on September 27th on a DVD featuring the uncut English language version of the film and Blu-ray, which comes armed with the uncut Italian version as well. Both also feature a new interview with Martino and information can be found at the above links.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Operation Screenshot (Films of the Nineties) W.I.Z.'s Suede: Love and Poison (1993)

W.I.Z.'s extraordinary concert film, Love and Poison, that captured Suede during their legendary stand at The Brixton Academy in May of 1993 has recently been reissued in the astonishing 3-disc deluxe package celebrating Suede's masterful debut album. Love And Poison remains a stunning experience and is as dazzling (and dizzying) as any concert film ever made. More than just a typical performance based film, Love and Posion captures all of the manic energy and blinding brilliance of Suede in those early years and it is one of the definitive portraits of a truly great band ever caught on film. The entire Suede catalogue has recently been remastered and re-released in these incredible 3-discs sets and I highly recommend them.