Category Archives: Film

Muscle Shoals

We watched the 2013 documentary Muscle Shoals last night on DVD. The film features FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Muscle Shoals Alabama and has appearances from (among others) Gregg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Aretha Franklin, Rick Hall, Mick Jagger,  Alicia Keys, Spooner Oldham, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, and Steve Winwood, with lots of commentary by the members of The Swampers, the back-up band on so many hits, who started with FAME Studios and later left to form Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.

There is some great historical footage, as well recent commentary by many of the performers who recorded there. An amazing amount of excellent music was recorded in this town over the years and it was fascinating to learn about how FAME was started, the affiliation with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records and all the performers who traveled to this community in Alabama to get a taste of the funky and soulful Muscle Shoals sound.

If you’re a music lover, I think you’ll like this documentary a lot.

Ain’t in it for my Health

We watched Ain’t in it for my Health tonight, the documentary about Levon Helm, directed by Jacob Hatley. It’s a lovely, intimate look at Levon Helm in the midst of his late career resurgence, spawned by two great recordings, Dirt Farmer and Electric Dirt. His voice came back years after radiation therapy for cancer left him whispering, but the film shows it is a voice that is very precarious (it can’t have helped that he appeared to be smoking weed all the time). Levon was a survivor – of drugs, cancer and bankruptcy, making some of the best music of his career in his last years.

Excellent film – recommended!

Inside Llewyn Davis: what’s all the fuss about?

1961 in Greenwich Village, the Great Folk Music Scare has begun, and Llewyn Davis is making the scene. He’s serious about his folksongs and he’s a bit of a crank, and he’s broke and homeless, sleeping on sofas of whatever friends will take him in. Davis has played the Gaslight many times, but he hasn’t been “discovered” and it’s not looking good.

This is a Coen Brothers film. I should like it, right? It’s about a folk singer. Maybe I should like that too. I’m pretty familiar with that bit of American cultural history. I mean, I know all the old Bob Dylan material and Phil Ochs and Eric Anderson and Ramblin’ Jack and Dave van Ronk and Paul Clayton and The Clancy Brothers and so on. Inside Llewyn Davis is the story of a guy who makes the scene, has some talent, but doesn’t have whatever kind of spark it took at that place and time to emerge successful from that scene. The problem is that the story just isn’t that interesting.

The film captures what I imagine could be what the historic Greenwich Village atmosphere was like. Justin Timberlake and John Goodman have smallish supporting roles and they do OK. Carey Mulligan does a nice job of Jean, part of a duo with Jim (Justin Timberlake). They remind me somewhat of Ian and Sylvia, or at least Jean reminds me of Sylvia.

There are two cats in the film, and they are as compelling as any of the characters. It seems to me there’s something wrong with that picture.

Inside Llewyn Davis is just OK, worth seeing, but nothing to write home about.

American Hustle – my kind of movie

Little Georgie, our Newfoundland puppy has been dominating our time since he joined our household last Saturday.  A puppy, as many of you know, takes a serious amount of time and attention. And then there is the job of house-breaking….

We did manage a couple hours to ourselves yesterday to see American Hustle, playing up the street at the Queensway Cineplex. Let me say up front: we both loved this movie.

It’s directed by David O. Russell and stars Christian Bale as small time con artist (and small businessman – he has a modest chain of dry cleaners) Irving Rosenfeld; Amy Adams as his lover and partner in crime; the amazing Jennifer Lawrence as Irving’s wife Rosalyn; Bradley Cooper as FBI agent Richie DiMaso; Jeremy Renner as Mayor Carmine Polito; and even a great cameo by Robert de Niro. I list these actors only because they all did a fantastic job.

I’m not going to get into the story beyond saying it’s a con-man movie. It’s just a very, very good con-man movie. The film has some very funny parts – I found myself laughing out loud a number of times, yet it doesn’t feel like a comedy because there is an underlying darkness and sadness about the characters. It’s very loosely based on the Abscam scandal from the late 70s, but it’s less the plot and more the character relationships that make American Hustle soar.

The film is a period piece that offered the film-makers plenty of opportunity to indulge in some great cars, music, and outfits,  not to mention some tragicomic hair. These props could come across as gimmicks but in this film they work perfectly and I think it’s because the actors are strong enough to carry it off.

American Hustle is fun, stylish, clever and entertaining. It’s apparently not for everyone, though. At the end of the film, a woman behind me loudly exclaimed, “this is so confusing!” I thought it was a great film, and I think you will too.

 

A No. 1

We watched Emperor of the North on DVD the other night, starring Lee Marvin as A No. 1, Ernest Borgnine as Shack and Keith Carradine as Cigaret, directed by Robert Aldrich. This 1973 flick features Marvin as the king of the hobos vs Borgnine as the violent and ruthless railroad bull, who will do anything to ensure nobody rides for free. Keith Carrodine plays a talented young hobo, full of piss and vinegar, who thinks one day he can take over as king. This movie has trains and hobos and Lee Marvin, not to mention a theme song by Marty Robbins, a recipe for success if you ask me. It’s very stylized in parts and the violence in it is quite nasty, but overall both Tuffy P and I enjoyed it. Tuffy remembers seeing it on television years ago, but this was the first time I saw this film.

Songcatcher

We watched the film Songcatcher tonight. It’s a 2001 flick directed by Maggie Greenwald and starring Janet McTeer with cameos by Taj Mahal and Iris Dement. The music is mostly good but still this movie was disappointing. Neither the characters nor the story are very convincing, and I didn’t learn anything interesting about life in Appalachia. No wonder I didn’t even know this one existed when it came out a dozen years ago. Let’s call this one an OK Timewaster.

Computer Chess

This afternoon Tuffy and I and our friend Toni trundled down to the Bell TIFF Lightbox to see a movie called Computer Chess. It’s a film set in the early 80s about a weekend tournament in which computers play one another at chess. It is a very odd film, but not without its moments. I confess I wanted to like it a lot more than I actually liked it and I think it lulled us to a state of collective semi-consciousness at one point. I think it was a comedy (I hope so), and parts were indeed very funny, particularly a strange sub-plot involving a therapy group, as well as a number of unexplained shots of various cats residing in the hotel hosting the tournament. There are some interesting ideas in this film, but it suffers from being too slow and clunky. I know, it tries to be slow and clunky. Don’t you get it, silly? Ya, I get it.  Parts of this oddball film are strangely compelling, but just not enough parts of it.

Tuffy P, me and Toni just before watching Computer Chess
Tuffy P, me and Toni just before watching Computer Chess

Mud

Mud is a coming of age boys adventure story, a tried and true (if possibly tired old) genre. There was plenty of opportunity for this to be a bad movie, but no, no, no, go see this one. Writer/director Jeff Nichols pulls it off. Great story, fine acting, a well-paced atmospheric presentation. If I have any beef with this film at all, I would say it is a little bit longer than it needed to be, but that can easily be forgiven in a movie that has so many positives.

The Cincinnati Kid

We watched The Cincinnati Kid the other night, the 1965 flick directed by Norman Jewison and starring Steve McQueen. I’ve never been a big Steve McQueen fan but I really liked this poker movie. This was made back when people played stud poker as opposed to whatever that Texas Holdem game is that’s so popular today. In this film they played 5 card stud. I remember as a kid that my dad liked to play 7 card stud or straight 7 as he sometimes called it. I’m not a poker player. I like games but I didn’t inherit the gambling gene from my father. I don’t enjoy casinos or the horse races or any of that. I did like this movie though.

Steve McQueen played the Kid. The Kid wanted to be The Man but he wasn’t. The Man was Edward G. Robinson. The Kid was good and The Man appeared to be ripe for the taking, but he wasn’t The Man for nothing. Karl Malden played The Shooter. I think that was because he was a straight shooter. That’s why they wanted him to be the dealer, because they could trust him. He was being squeezed by Rip Torn though, who wanted to see The Kid take down The Man, squeezed into doing a little cheating to help out The Kid. The Kid wanted none of that. He wanted to take down The Man fair and square. Ann-Margret played Melba, who was married to Shooter but who wanted to jump in the sack with The Kid. Tuesday Weld played Christian, who was with The Kid, but who knows why, since he didn’t treat her very well. The cast was filled out by the likes of Joan Blondel and Cab Calloway.

I enjoyed McQueen’s understated performance and also the quirky moodiness of the film. It’s your basic poker film, done up just right with a fine cast and a decent script.

Anatomy of a Murder (the movie)

Recently I wrote about re-reading Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver (who also wrote my fave fishing book, Trout Madness). Tonight we watched the film. Do you remember it? It was made in 1959, directed by Otto Preminger and starring Jimmy Stewart and Ben Gazarra and Lee Remick and Eve Arden and Arthur O’Connell and George C. Scott as Claude Dancer. What a cast, what a movie. What a soundtrack too, by Duke Ellington, who also has a cameo. I’ve traveled around the Upper Michigan Peninsula, where the film was made, chasing trout, and I camped at Big Bay where the film was shot. I have to say though, that I’ve never heard any jazz on the UP. Maybe it had a happening jazz scene in 1959, but I bet when I was there, you would have a hard time finding a live jazz band in the nearest small city, Marquette. Parts of the film are very faithful to the novel and other parts were invented for the film. The courtroom drama is brilliant! If you’ve never seen this movie, I highly recommend it.