2.11.2019

SOUNDS OF THE SEASON - Winter

Music is seasonal; I'm not the first to establish this approach - Vivaldi nailed that down 300 years ago. But what actually marries these pieces to a specific time of year is as subjective and abstract as the art form itself: there's no right or wrong, and sometimes no rhyme or reason.

Winter is the most challenging playlist to compile - probably because this time of year can be so divisive in its simultaneous beauty and brutality.
What I'm drawn to is stuff that compliments my environment, as opposed to being contrary to it. The soundtrack should serve the story as much as the other way around.
For one reason or another, here are 10 of my go-to albums that get me through the darkness.

- Paul

Blue Joni Mitchell (1971)
Acoustic dots & dashes sound as much like falling snow as Joni's falsetto meanderings. Her depictions of bohemian lifestyles and complicated romances paint varying concepts of intimacy and self-involvement - good stuff for tryin' to keep warm.
The album also boasts a Christmas song ("River") and even her ode to warm weather ("California") plays out more like long-distance yearning.



In Through the Out Door Led Zeppelin (1979)
For a band saturated in high blood pressure boogie and growling humidity, this - their final album - feels less bombastic and more melancholic in places (even when they're in your face).
There's a newfound sincerity in stuff like "In the Evening" and "I'm Gonna Crawl" that was always just-about-absent from everything that came before. In other words, they matured from "Whole Lotta Love" to "All My Love."



INLAND EMPIRE (Soundtrack) Various Artists (2006)
Nothing says 'bleak' like some sorta inter-dimensional Polish winter nighttime.
It's an eclectic mosaic of sounds that is uniformly unsettling (or, if you're like me, comforting): long intervals of spooky drones, ominous strings, and lonely piano notes are interrupted by splashes of pop music (Beck, Little Eva), jazz (Dave Brubeck), and whatever genre you put Penderecki under.
The real standouts are Lynch's "Ghost of Love" and Chrysta Bell's "Polish Poem" - both add extra chills as you're sitting in your car waiting for the heat to kick on.

Orphans: Brawlers, Bawlers, and Bastards Tom Waits (2006)
Spanning three albums and two decades, a marathon of Tom is exactly the smoky, boozy, gravely shades of blue, brown, and gray you'd expect: political commentary ("Road to Peace"), strip club anthems ("LowDown"), psychedelic r&b ("Dog Door"), and disjointed anecdotes ("The Pontiac") all barely amount to just one coffin nail to keep under your hat for luck.



My Generation The Who (1965)
Alone in your room with some brandy & uppers, protected from the harsh elements of the season and ensconced in the harsh reality of existence is how to indulge in Maximum R&B, and these four mods deliver it via "Out in the Street," "The Kids Are Alright," "The Good's Gone," et al.
Smash some stuff.




News of the World Queen (1977)
If you've ever seen the music videos for "We Will Rock You" or "Spread Your Wings," you'll always feel a bit of bitter cold in your shoes whenever you hear them.
Stuff like "Sheer Heart Attack" and "Fight From the Inside" gratify your punk/metal adolescent despair, while "My Melancholy Blues" gratifies your regular, everyday despair.




Spirit In the Room Tom Jones (2012)
If the dreary grayness is your focus of the solstice, then you could do worse than this assortment of bluesy covers from sexiest lounge singer from Vegas to South Wales.
His versions of "Tower of Song" and "Bad as Me" don't embellish much from the originals, but his trademark swagger & grumble do dispense some doom on "Soul of a Man" and "Just Dropped In."




Demolition Girlschool (1980)
If your winters consist of as much snow as we get here in the northeastern U.S., you may be aware that navigating a vehicle is like roaming a frozen tundra in some post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque terrain. In this event, you need a soundtrack to give you confidence in the road warrior that you are.
Behold, "Midnight Ride," "Race With the Devil," and especially "Breakdown" will give you the guitar-rock energy you need to get where you're going, or die trying.



Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac (1975)
Need a break from Rumours? Give this lighter but equally good singer/songwriter orgy a spin. The SoCal sound they became best known for once the new lineup was established hadn't entirely parted the clouds yet here, and while tracks like "World Turning" and "Monday Morning" are sunny, it's a cold sunshine. Actually, that applies to the whole album - just ask Rhiannon.




The Long Run Eagles (1979)
Another decidedly warm-weather band, though this - their sorta final album - is full of less laid back moods and more sinister tones like "The Disco Strangler" and "Those Shoes." More than that is if you've ever spent a cold night in a dive bar or pool hall, you should already know all the words to "Heartache Tonight."

2.01.2019

BENNETT INVENTORY : That Moment


3 Ninjas -- In the 90s, basketball solves everything


"Crosses Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Home Alone!"
Not quite. Actually, that's pretty unfair to Ninja Turtles and Home Alone.
In this ultra-low budget, dreamed-up-over-a-weekend ripoff attempt at relevant family entertainment, three white preteen boys learn how to be ninjas from their Asian grandfather (?) and end up having to put their skills to use against a trio of Bill-&-Ted-like henchmen and a ponytailed crime boss straight out of a Baywatch episode. Oh yeah, and it comes in handy against school bullies -- but without the use of violence, because that's not the ninja way.
The reason we here at the site often call attention to this movie and actually watch it from time to time isn't because it's a quality film - it's not; it's needlessly convoluted with dumb dialogue, laughably choreographed fight scenes, and unlikable characters (particularly the 3 young ninjas). The way it does succeed as an art form is how effortlessly (or is it accidentally?) it embraces its time & place. Without a lotta cerebral nonsense and big budget fireworks to distract the mind & eye, we're left with a near-documentary of white suburban 1990s. Stylized for sure, but even the stylization is something that can never be duplicated (at least without free falling into parody). And perhaps no moment in this movie illustrates this more than a scene in which a couple of our heroes challenge some grade school dickheads to a game of basketball to win back the honor of a female classmate. (Just putting these words in that particular order makes me wanna do some Dew & play DK Country). How it plays out is as if Nike, Adidas, Gatorade, and Slim-Jims got together to sell us a vibe via sunshine, guitar riffs, and phat beats. It's so viscerally spot-on that it eclipses any kinda campy nostalgia you're thinking of and (very) surprisingly is just a great moment of cinema.

- Paul

1.26.2019

They say this one has a surprise ending


The attractive, magical idea of a standalone, sequel-less movie first entered my head when I was 7 years old, when my father offhandedly stated that he hoped that they would never make an Edward Scissorhands 2, citing how such a thing would detract from the already-perfect story and bittersweet closure. This was the first time I'd ever considered such a concept, and I was of a split mind (pause for laughter...) on the idea. It's difficult for the child mind to grasp the notion of not wanting any kinda continuation of a world I'd been so enamored with. (After all, isn't this the lucrative basis on which all franchises are born?) But what my father said challenged my superficial yearning for more of everything/anything and got me thinkin' about the sanctity and purity of a singular story and the allure of inevitable loose ends.

The point of this longwindedness is to hopefully set up a framework for: my indelible adoration/frustration with Unbreakable, my holy-shit-fantasy-come-true reaction to Split, and, yes, eventually my still-simmering 'hot take' on Glass.

Anyone who's kept up with this site for the past 10+ years should already be aware of how I've consistently championed Unbreakable as one of the best movies of the 2000s, and certainly M. Night's greatest cinematic achievement. To this day, I'm still pleasantly confused in regards to its popularity with other moviegoers who aren't me: billed as "From the director of The Sixth Sense," I'd've assumed people would've been put off by a slow-burn character study with very little 'action' and no second act. But I was pleased; it gave me hope as to how well it did financially and how post-1999 cinema could be about big marquee movies that focused on low-key moods & high-concept premises grounded in expert cinematography and fresh capabilities. And, as usual, it was nice to be on board with the public re. a popular culture signpost. And whatever everyone else took from it, we were all able to agree on one thing: the ending.
That goddamn ending.


Because these essays are written for entertainment purposes only, there will be minor spoilers throughout (which is actually pretty consistent with most published reviews). Also, while I don't feel like dissecting the guy's entire filmography movie by movie, I figure while we're here, we should address the 'twists' situation and get a few thing straight.
I like his endings - I like the idea of them. They're typically imaginative and organic to the stories they follow. But for a guy who's a competent screenwriter and expert director, he can't seem to exercise any tact when it comes to the art of the reveal (which, really, is the whole meat of the burger). These ideas must read fantastically on paper, but on the screen they play out like a recap of Part One of a two-part TV movie; recycled scenes and dialogue from earlier in the film play out in a jumble of bad editing and clumsy exposition. If an audience can't retain stuff they saw 90 minutes ago, what makes you think they're even paying attention at all? Notwithstanding, Unbreakable doesn't quite follow this model -- No, its conclusive gaffe is much more bizarre: a series of title cards assuring us that completely uninteresting events took place after the movie ended. It's a startlingly amateurish head-scratcher in an otherwise magnificent film, and will always be a big black asterisk next to the title.


Weak storytelling devices aside, Unbreakable's Dragnet-like ending all but guaranteed that it was closed-off from potential sequels. Part of me always kinda appreciated this guarantee - in the handful of things that make the movie unique is that it is just a first act that manages to be more engrossing than most traditionally-structured stories. And after 16 years it sits high as the crown jewel in an uneven film career -- and clearly I don't think I was alone in feeling that way.

In every instance, this 'ending problem' has overshadowed each individual movie. I can't think of Sixth Sense, Signs, or The Village without confronting all the same aforementioned hangups. Similarly - albeit conversely - Split suffers this same hiccup in a most ironic way. Watching it again recently, it's easy to forget that it's an all-around headbanger and effortlessly one of the best of 2016. The kidnapping sub-genre can often derail into grotesque places which sometimes diffuses what generates its suspense in the first place; and because of its Hitchcockian tones and performance-driven plot, it felt like a return to form for the man who was once supposed to be "the next Hitchcock."


And many will find it hard to believe: as I sat watching it for the first time - roughly halfway through - I thought (perhaps subconsciously) that this particular story could potentially serve as some kinda crossover device with Unbreakable. This thought left my head as quickly as it came in, and I wish I'd said it aloud so someone could've witnessed my premonition.
Call it wishful thinking, or maybe there actually are subliminal clues throughout that alerted me to what would be The Ending To End All Endings.

In fact, is it fair to say that we didn't even need a continuation? Was Split's ending enough of a rush that no movie could've lived up to what those last 60 seconds promised? In a non-rhetorical frame of mind, after taking a look at Glass, I would answer 'yes.'


But let's not come at it from that direction. All that really states is: in this disjointed trilogy, Unbreakable is the better movie. And that's fine - I can live with that. And while I've not read any fan or critical reaction (I rarely do), I can imagine that, as with any highly anticipated sequel, it doesn't meet expectation. I know - it didn't meet mine. And again, that's fine.

What it is is that, for years, I've wrestled with the frustration of, "Why won't this guy make a sequel to Unbreakable?" And what happened was that he made a sequel to Split instead. And once you stop crying and catch your breath, you realize that's not entirely a bad thing. And it's not an entirely missed opportunity either - the shades of Unbreakable are still there, and the attempts to get Samuel into center stage don't go unnoticed. Though the fact remains: there wasn't any story left in Unbreakable to tell -- like a comic book, it's just onto the next adventure, the next villain, the next locale.

But as I've stated so many times in the past, sequels aren't solely about comparison -- there's still a movie here to be seen.


While it's unfortunately not the Mr. Glass movie it could've been, it's also not the David vs. Beast movie it could've been either. What it does is tries to satisfy the needs of its two predecessors, and only manages a small portion for each. What it does accomplish as a Split sequel is that, while the story or the character didn't need any kinda continuation, the performance did. James McAvoy manages to transcend both realism and parody; while there's nothing too subtle about his portrayal, even still you watch extra close to make sure there aren't any flaws.
As far as I can tell, there aren't.

The hard sell is calling attention to the formulaic predictability of comic book structure and lore while most of the moviegoing public has been spoon-fed the real stuff year after year -- it's in their blood. Though not for lack of trying: once again, Sam Jackson's main function is to deliver expository monologues as to exactly what's going on; constantly calling attention to how things are playing out, even though we ourselves can see it plainly. And while this is clearly some shitty writing, you could do worse than giving it to Samuel L. Jackson.


One refreshing masterstroke we're left with is that he does throw in one left-field mystery involving yet-another party of comic book villains that is left comfortingly unexplored.
Regardless, Shyamalan's back on track with a muddled ending bogged down with explanations, connect-the-dots resolutions, and zero faith in audience smarts. After a series of moody, captivating, borderline moving movies - Glass included - we deserved a much stronger ending. But ain't that always the case? We can't complain; if this is an inadequate ending to Unbreakable, well, we're already used to that.

What's important here is that this isn't M. Night at his worst -- it's not even him being mediocre. It's been a long time, but I'm gonna throw caution right into the wind and look forward to what he does next. In other words, party like it's 1999.

- Paul

1.20.2019

Back to the Past or: Anywhere But Here


Well it's 2019! ...Again?
And that can only mean that it's the 20th anniversary of 1999!
It's also the 25th anniversary of 1994, and the 30th anniversary of 1989, and so on (but let us hunker down in the safe zone of familiarity as usual).

Without analyzing the meaningless mile-markers or weep marvelously at the bittersweet passage of time, we're gonna use these birthdays as an excuse (like always) to talk about stuff. These particular milestones call attention to some pretty heavy pop culture confections - some obvious, some not so much. In short, there's a lot to consider from those aforementioned years (research it if you must) and we can't help but wonder: how many of these occasions are worth our time (and yours)? We've got our own passions/ideas/stories to tell, but are there any big deals from the past that you'd like to read about/discuss? Feel free to start a conversation in the comments. At any rate, the millennial age will be dissected & scrutinized all over this motherfucker for the year to come.


1.17.2019

NAME THAT MOVIE!

We got a handful of Facebook comments claiming that some of y'all knew the answers to a handful of these most recent frames. By all means: if you see something, say something - even if it's only a few.
Once again, the Dark Ethan Rose to the occasion with the most right answers (and by 'most,' we mean damn near single-handedly solved the puzzle -- as you can see in the comments).

Here are the answers:
EASY
Mrs. Doubtfire
Predator 2
Pee-wee's Big Adventure
The Sandlot
Speed

FAIR
The Sixth Sense
Throw Momma From the Train
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze
Don't Look Now
The Shining

DIFFICULT
Romancing the Stone
Collateral
Dead End Drive-In
Deliverance
Ernest Goes to Camp

One promise we will make: we won't intentionally make them easier or harder with each subsequent contest; the three levels of difficulty will remain consistently that. And, as usual, none of the movies (hopefully) are too indie/underground/obscure to put anyone out. After that, it's your job to know this stuff - we just work here.
Go ahead on. It's your move.


EASY






FAIR





DIFFICULT





1.11.2019

Movies You May Have Missed, Part 3


After a year of cinematic oatmeal (in a long series of many years of such blah) we thought it was a good time to revive an old series with endless content.
It is overwhelming sometimes to stand back and get an idea of just how many movies there are to digest -- and that's just considering the mainstream. And once you absorb these figures, it just seems easier and more fun to start going the other way on the timeline.
A lot of these you've probably seen, some maybe you've only heard of, and with any luck, some may be an entirely new trip for you. In any case, they're all Bennett Media-approved, and feel free to keep up the trend of leaving your own suggestions in the comments.


Amos and Andrew (1993)
In the sprawling filmography that is Cage-sploitation, this operetta of hijinks is pretty forgotten. But apart from having a mile-long cast of favorites, its post-Rodney King humor is even more relevant to today's sociopolitical climate.

Narc (2003)
Take away its film school editing and point-and-click cinematography and it could've been one of the greats. Strong performances and a visceral winter atmosphere give this French Connection wannabe some seasonal rewatchability.

Stakeout (1987)
Murkier than Part 2, but the undeniable (and inexplicable) chemistry between Dreyfuss and Estevez simply doesn't get old. It has a spectacular 80s soundtrack that comes outta nowhere, and for a mild Comedy-Thriller, it has an intense cat-and-mouse climax that elevates the whole damn show.

Day of Anger (1967)
Not a fan of Westerns but you like what Quentin's been doing lately? Do yourself a favor and experience this obvious point of reference; influential not just for its subject matter and Riz Ortolani score, but also its wildly engrossing plot turns and attention to detail.

Howling III: The Marsupials (1987)
Even as a coupla Joe Dante admirers, we can't seem to give a shit about The Howling.
Nevertheless! The third installment (there are eight of 'em), born out of the blood and diesel fuel of Australia, is louder and sillier than all the others - making it the leader of the pack.

Trial & Error (1997)
At the height of Seinfeld/Kramer-mania, this failed to make any waves in the wide world of 90s comedy. After 20+ years, it feels smarter and funnier than a lot of the "classics" of that era.

Timebomb (1991)
For whatever amount of effort that was put into trying to fashion Michael Biehn into an action superstar, it could've been more. This scifi/action/mystery/thriller is in some kinda weird room by itself.
Also, Patsy Kensit.

Late Phases (2014)
Neat premise executed on a flimsy budget with mild thrills. But the real reason to watch is the remarkably awesome screen presence of its lead, Nick Damici. For the long list of whatever the movie lacks, it's all forgiven to bear witness to a career-defining performance.

Shaft (2000)
Here's an example of a remake far exceeding the quality of the original. It's packed with some of the greatest actors of a generation -- but this was right around the time when everyone took extra notice of Christian Bale in American Psycho. I always considered that only half of his one-two punch. Shaft is definitely the other half.

Evils of the Night (1985)
Few genre pictures manage to deliver this amount of blood, boobs, and honest-to-god suspense. Lo fi scifi and a gore-driven slasher story pair surprisingly nicely together.

Requiem For a Vampire (1971)
What could've been a nudie-vampire drive-in flick (which it mostly is) has enough shades of French New Wave, Avantgarde, and gothic ambience to make it really kinda great.
aka Caged Virgins

Innocent Blood (1992)
When it came out, all anyone cared about was how it wasn't as good as American Werewolf in London... Now that we've gotten that out of our system, it's worthy of a fresh take; it's the bittersweet imbalance of brutal carnage and mediocre slapstick that only John Landis seems to know how to do.

The Godsend (1980)
Strip away all the sensationalism and/or religious dogma of other evil kid movies and you're stuck with intense performances, beautiful shooting locations, and a villain worth rooting against.

Almost an Angel (1990)
'Crocodile' Paul Hogan is a thief who mistakingly believes he's become an angel following a near-death experience. With a new outlook, he sets out to do good - befriending paraplegic Elias Koteas and courting real-life wife Linda Kozlowski.
There's your synopsis - take it or leave it.

Deathtrap (1982)
Michael Caine, Dyan Cannon, and Christopher Reeve expertly act their way out of double-crosses, plot twists, and best-laid-plans in this Sidney Lumet potboiler of a movie of a play-within-a-play about plays.

Radio Flyer (1992)
I think people were bummed on the too-heavy subject matter wrapped around this kids' nostalgia ballet, but the hell with them - that formula never hindered To Kill a Mockingbird.
Trust us, you'll be immediately intrigued by the first frame of the movie.

The Entity (1982)
Imagine Poltergeist with more adult themes and a bigger focus on the scientific stuff, and you're left with a much more serious/consuming/realistic tale of how to confront an aggressive paranormal threat.

Pulse (1988)
Speaking of domestic spooks, specters, and ghosts, this suburban 'ghost in the machine' story pits a home's plumbing and electrical systems against its inhabitants. If that sounds too silly to be scary, you'd be skin-peelingly wrong!

Forget Paris (1995)
One way for the Romantic Comedy genre to stay relevant is to embrace cynicism, realism, and self-awareness. Writer and costar Billy Crystal has always been damn good at this, and this movie may be his best example of it.

Prelude to a Kiss (1992)
Body/soul-switiching stories are usually set up for laughs -- this is very much not the situation in this adaptation of the scifi/melodrama/romantic play about the desire for youth and the validity of 'soul mates.'
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