I saw One Hour Photo when it was released in theaters in 2002. I’ve never forgotten it.
It was the first film I saw with Robin Williams playing against type as a truly disturbed character. Even 1991′s The Fisher King was Disney compared to One Hour Photo.
Writer and director Mark Romanek cut his filmmaking teeth on music videos for Nine Inch Nails, Madonna, Michael and Janet Jackson, and Fiona Apple. With the success of filmmakers like David Fincher, the stigma of transitioning from music videos into feature films has thankfully diminished. For a first feature, One Hour Photo is astonishing, but it would still be were Romanek a veteran.
In the May 1989 issue of SPIN, born-again Christian evangelist Bob Larson followed the band Slayer on tour and presented his account in an article called “Desperately Seeking Satan.” By the end, Larson determined that Slayer’s “root of evil” was “rock’n'roll stardom” and that their “act of iniquity” was not with Satan, but with the “Billboard charts and T-shirt sales.” Still, he prayed that “both their eternal and artistic souls” would be saved.
Almost 25 years later, musician and filmmaker Justin Ludwig decided to follow two bands from perhaps an even more mystifying and misunderstood genre of music: Christian hardcore. As Ludwig explains in the beginning of the documentary, hardcore music helped him to break free from the shackles of organized religion and the oppression of conformist thinking.
If ChristCORE were a fictional Hollywood story, it’s easy to imagine that by the end, Ludwig will recant and become a born-again Christian. But, this is real life, or at least the documentary film version.
Regardless of your gender, I Declare War will take you back to your childhood fantasies. The film opens with children playing a war game and the rules are quickly established. These two teams are deep in the woods playing Capture The Flag, but things change when some soldiers decide to take their lives in their own hands and defy their Generals.
During the film we are sucked into their world, becoming one of them, a solider. Hiding, crawling, always on the defense, and feeling like part of the squad. Waiting for the attack and watching your friends’ backs in hopes the enemy is not lurking behind you and trying to flank your troops. This is the level of realism I Declare War presents and it holds up until the end credits roll.
Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures
The period romance implied in A Royal Affair‘s title is fulfilled in the film, but if you’re looking for Shakespeare In Love, you may be disappointed. Rather than another version of the “love conquers all” fairy tale, it presents a nuanced, complicated, and not always flattering portrayal of the titular threesome.
There are two groups of people in the world: those who love Manborg and those who just haven’t seen it yet. (Too pompous?)
Let’s try this: anyone with only a cursory knowledge of Mystery Science Theater 3000 knows that there is an audience for bad movies. Although some of the most famously bad bad movies have escaped the comic commentary of MST3K (Troll 2, The Room), it doesn’t make them any less beloved in their awfulness. Yes, screenings are organized for fans to openly mock these movies, but if it brings people so much joy and it isn’t really harming anyone, is that necessarily a bad thing? Especially when it comes from the heart.
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Those who read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi towards the beginning of the last decade probably wondered how such a fantastic tale could ever be filmed. There were also those who, upon hearing that Ang Lee was tackling a film version of Life of Pi, felt elated and relieved that someone with such talent and commitment to a story was the one chosen.
In G.I. Joe: Retaliation, the Joes are no more. The entire squad and their leader were wiped out in a double-cross by Zartan, the Cobra lieutenant who has impersonated the president of the United States and is working from within the government to free Cobra Commander. The remaining Joes, led by Roadblock (Dwayne Johnson), are forced to take on a government that no longer trusts them and rescue the entire world from the brink of nuclear war.
You almost have to feel sorry for way the cards were stacked against G.I. Joe: Retaliation. The first film in the series, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, limped out of theaters as a critical failure, and many fans would have preferred to see the franchise die an ignominious death without any additional entries. Furthermore, Retaliation suffered from several delays in its production schedule, delays that allegedly arose regarding complications in the use of Channing Tatum’s character, Duke. This meant that the only actors who would reprise their roles in the second film would be Jonathan Pryce as the president of the United States, Byung-hun Lee as Storm Shadow, and the silent and faceless presence of Ray Park as Snake Eyes. Throw in a few quick scenes with Arnold Vosloo as Zartan and you had perhaps the most underwhelming core of franchise talent in summer blockbuster history.
When I first heard Big Star, I wondered “Why weren’t these guys huge?” like all their other fans have been wondering for the last 40-plus years. Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me answers the why, but their lack of mainstream success still boggles the mind. When Brian Wilson sang “I Just Wasn’t Made For These Times,” he could have easily been singing about Big Star.
The story of Big Star is full of both good things—talent, camaraderie, ambition—and terrible ones—bad luck, personal demons, and death. This mixture of the bitter and the sweet is a good metaphor for Big Star’s music, which fuses the two in an unforgettable aural and emotional experience. This is what drew fans and critics to the band and what continues to characterize their legacy.
In Olympus Has Fallen, Gerard Butler plays Mike Banning, a former secret service agent who has been reassigned to a desk job after the accidental death of the First Lady. It has not been an easy transition; Banning feels the loss of his extended first family and drifts through his life disconnected from those around them. However, his shot at redemption comes when a small band of terrorists take over the White House under the guise of a peace envoy from South Korea. As the only man left alive, Banner must overcome his past failures to ensure that the leaders of the country are not used as pawns in a nuclear war against the United States.
While Olympus Has Fallen received comparisons to Die Hard even before it was released, the movie is not content to draw on only one inspiration and borrows heavily from across the genre. There is no shortage of ’90s action films that pit a lone agent against a small force of terrorists who have taken over a building or installation. I lovingly refer to these films as Only Hope We’ve Got movies—they often feature a roundtable of government officials who argue over what to do with their inside agent, only to have one character pound a desk and announce that he or she is the Only Hope We’ve Got.
When it comes to bands like Bad Brains, genre becomes meaningless. Influenced by such disparate artists as Chick Corea, The Sex Pistols, The Damned, The Ramones, and Bob Marley, they combined a variety of musical styles into their own unique sound, going on to influence dozens of other musicians (Dave Grohl, The Beastie Boys, Cro-Mags, Red Hot Chili Peppers, to name but a few) in the process.
Bad Brains: A Band in DC, directed by Ben Logan and Mandy Stein, is not an exhaustive account of the history of Bad Brains; that would be impossible, although it would make for an extremely entertaining TV series. When watching the film, you’re not only left with the distinct impression that there are many more stories to be told, but also that you can’t wait to dig into the band’s discography, which includes nine studio albums, a couple dozen singles, a handful of live albums, and appearances on various compilations.