Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Onscreen Women Dominate Indie Memphis

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 10:51 AM

Eileen Townsend in "Two Whole Days of Nothing But Uppercase F*CK!"
  • Eileen Townsend in "Two Whole Days of Nothing But Uppercase F*CK!"

Indie Memphis' salute to the Bluff City in May continues this week with two programs featuring strong women.

On Tuesday, May 21st, Indie Memphis' venerable Microcinema series presents a selection of shorts by women directors from Memphis.

The program doubles as a who's who of Memphis female filmmakers, including Rachel Taylor's fantasy "Avarice," Sarah Fleming's whimsical travelog "Carbike," Munirah Safiyah Jones' savage comedy "Fuckboy Defense 101," Aisha Raison's "Girls Like Me: A Self Love Story," McGehee Montieth's Memphis Film Prize winner "He Could Have Gone Pro," Melissa Anderson Sweazy's childcare parable "John's Farm," Sissy Denkova's "Sabine," Nubia Yasin's Youth-Fest sensation "Sensitive," Kathy O. Lofton's "Tether," Laura Jean Hocking's surreal mood piece "Two Whole Days Of Nothing But Uppercase Fuck," and Deaara Lewis' "What If?"

Show starts at 7:00 PM at Crosstown Arts.

TETHER OFFICIAL TRAILER from Kathy O Lofton, MBA, MPA on Vimeo.


Then, on Wednesday at Studio on the Square, Memphis' indie originator Mike McCarthy is celebrated with a screening of his 2000 magnum opus Superstarlet A.D. McCarthy's career has been defined by taking high concept film, culture, and feminist theory and wrapping those ideas in the cinematic language of the low-budget, drive-in grindhouse. Nowhere is that more evident than in this post-apocalyptic romp.

Tickets are available at the Indie Memphis website
, but don't take the kids to this one.

Superstarlet A.D.
  • Superstarlet A.D.

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Monday, May 20, 2019

Game Of Thrones Ends With A Meditation on the Horrors of War

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Drogon is silently judging you.
  • Drogon is silently judging you.
Game of Thrones was a great show that grew to love the wrong thing. Its early adopters worshipped how it fully realized its alternate universe. Its increasing budget to film battle sequences (off-screen in the manner of a stage play at first) became what its makers thought its true worth. Seduced by the dark side of their production schedule, spectacle became their master, writing their afterthought. Details grew fuzzy, their beautifully constructed dollhouse fell apart, as its audience watched not with desire but light hatred, not in fire but ice.

But even in its death throes, the penultimate episode took time to be true to itself and deflate its heroes. It numbed the viewer with endless shots of medieval civilians running from dragon firebombing by former savior, Daenerys Targaryen. Innocents ran down corridors, caught on fire, and turned to ash. Modeled after U.S. and British massacre of German civilians in Dresden during World War II, it was disgusting. All-powerful ninja Arya and stern-faced warrior Jon Snow ran around helplessly while Daenerys and lieutenant Grey Worm went mad. It may be garbled Cliff Notes for an ending George R.R. Martin may never write, but I’ll hold onto it the way a housecat does a dead mouse: long past the point of usefulness. I loved this show.
It is not normal for TV shows to end well, especially sci-fi fantasy. Lost and Battlestar Galactica adopted religious smokescreens for their inability to come up with secular answers to long-posed riddles. Game of Thrones didn’t, completely abandoning the lore of its competing in-universe faiths. Instead, it built to tough-guy nihilism, followed by happy outcomes for the majority of its action heroes and some light Tolkien-style epiloguing. Bran is king, for some reason.

There are many popular theories about why, outside of outpacing their source material, the writing quality of showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss has gone from more thoughtful than most fantasy to exactly as loose and empty as much of it. Cocaine and burnout are solid options, as is a desire to move onto their recently-announced Star Wars trilogy, or the cosmic injustice of a cruel god. I think that, just as they relied on assistant-turned-writer Bryan Cogman for heavy lore lifting in the first seasons, they are relying on a different one now, Dave Hill (who helped elevate the character of Olly), and he's just not as skilled at helping them craft sturdy plots.
A victorious Daenerys Targaryen addresses her troops in the ruins of King's Landing.
  • A victorious Daenerys Targaryen addresses her troops in the ruins of King's Landing.
As many have pointed out, the series dilutes the antiwar message of the novels by its sometimes glorification of the hard-bitten warrior. How cool the Hound looks fighting the Mountain with a dragon flying behind them registered more strongly than his late assertion to mass-murderer Arya that revenge is hollow. (Likewise the online cry of "Cleganebowl!" was initially ironic: people mocked treating a death fight between brothers like an organized sport, until repetition made them sincere). The point shouldn't be that Daenerys went crazy and killed civilians: it should be that all mass violence leads to noncombatant death, and warriors and states use it far too freely, with increasingly meaningless justification.

Director Miguel Sapochnik and Emilia Clarke did excellent work selling that slaughter. But the lack of characterization in Dany's turn from a protector of the common people to their mass murderer made the moment nonsensical. Her reasons work when written out: a need to rule by fear, losing advisors and dragons, and numerous surrender bells frustrating or stimulating her bloodlust. Onscreen it creates a disconnect, that does clumsily get the nature of being bombed right. One minute you're following the propaganda of a government at war, the next you're being indiscriminately killed. Violence does not resolve character arcs. It just ends you.
Iron Throne? Not so much.
  • Iron Throne? Not so much.
Martin's ongoing suggestion is that this would happen with any king or queen in the right circumstances. The show’s unfortunate implication is that Dany is worse than her formerly gray, also-murderer co-heroes because she is female, from a foreign land and rides magic lizards. It’s special pleading that the other warriors suddenly care so much about collateral damage.

For the American audience, the use of Dresden as source material is a quiet self-indictment. Your tax dollars prop up one of the most powerful militaries in the world. My favorite show is saying that all war is immoral. If only the comfort and catharsis its audience found in that message could translate into peaceful action by us.

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Music Video Monday: Marcella & Her Lovers with Spooner Oldham

Posted By on Mon, May 20, 2019 at 12:37 PM

marcella.png
Today's Music Video Monday's got soul to spare.

Last year, Marcella Simien got a temporary new addition to her band, Spooner Oldham He's a keyboardist, songwriter, and producer who has worked with Chips Moman at American Studios in Memphis and FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The studio produced hits like The Boxtops' "Cry Like A Baby" and Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally."

Oldham joined the Lovers at the Midtown-famous P&H Cafe to shoot a live video for Beale Street Caravan's I Listen To Memphis series. The song they performed was "I'd Rather Go Blind", a song Rock-and-Roll-Hall-Of-Fame-inductee Oldham first recorded with Etta James. Prepare to get smoky with this video, directed by Christian Walker and produced by Waheed Al Qawasmi.
 
If you'd like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Dr. William Ferris Brings Voices of Mississippi to Crosstown Theater

Posted By on Thu, May 16, 2019 at 10:08 AM

Dr. William Ferris with his camera in Mississippi in the 1970s.
  • Dr. William Ferris with his camera in Mississippi in the 1970s.

In the early 1970s, William Ferris was a graduate student studying folklore at the University of Pennsylvania. His specialty was studying the rich musical culture of North Mississippi. “I was doing field recordings and photography, and coming back and presenting that. I felt I couldn’t communicate the full power of the church services and juke joints I was working in. Film would be the best way to do that. No one there was willing to help me, at the film school. So I got a little super 8 camera and began to shoot footage and do wild sound on a reel-to-reel recorder. I put together these really basic, early films, which in many ways are the best things I ever did. It’s very visceral, powerful material. I brought those back, and people were just blown away by them.”

Ferris was particularly interested in the proto-blues fife and drum music tradition kept alive in Gravel Springs, Mississippi, by Othar Turner. “I was trying to finish a film on Othar Turner that I had shot, and David Evans had done the sound. Judy Peiser was working at public television in Mississippi, and she interviewed me. I told her about the fife and drum film, and she said she would like to edit it. That led to the creation of the Center for Southern Folklore in 1972, and to a long history of working on films. I would spend my summers in Memphis when I was teaching at Yale. We would work on films and other projects. I made a lot of wonderful friends that I’ve been close to ever since.”

Dr. Ferris, with the help of Peiser and others, acquired progressively better equipment and, over the years, created a series of short documentaries immortalizing the artists and traditions of the Mississippi Delta. His successful academic career would go on to include a stint as the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Currently, he is a Senior Associate Director Emeritus at the Center for Study of the American South at the University of South Carolina, Chapel Hill. The Center for Southern Folklore, which he and Peiser founded, became a beloved institution in Memphis. “The Center has made a mark, and continues to make a mark with its festivals and exhibits. Judy Peiser has continued it. She’s an anchor for all this work and Memphis, and really a national treasure.”

On Friday, May 17th, Indie Memphis will present “Voices of Mississippi,” a collection of Ferris’ now-classic short documentaries, beginning with “Gravel Springs Fife and Drum.” “Ray Lum: Mule Trader” introduces us to the title character, who Ferris calls “an amazing raconteur.” Ferris recorded the auctioneer’s stories and tall tales in film, and with an accompanying book and soundtrack. “There are two soundtracks. You can hear the wild sound, and his voice. I don’t think that had ever been done before. All of that was published and produced through the Center. I think it was really ahead of its time in terms of media and film.”

“Four Women Artists” documents writer Eudora Welty, quilter Picolia Warner, needleworker Ethel Mohamed  and painter Theora Hamblett  “Bottle Up and Go” records a Loman, Mississippi, musician demonstrating “one strand on the wall,” a precursor to the slide guitar that makes an instrument out of a house. “It’s one of the earliest instruments that every blues singer learned on as a child, because it was free,” says Ferris. “He also did bottle blowing. Both of those are sounds that have deep roots in Africa and are the roots of the blues.”

Dr. Ferris will bring along some of his Memphis-based collaborators and sign the Grammy-inning box set of his life’s work. He says that for him, this Memphis screening is like a homecoming.“To me, Memphis is the undiscovered bohemian culture,” he says. “You have black and white, rural and folk voices coming out of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, meeting this formally educated group of musicians and artists like Sid Selvidge, William Eggleston. Music and photography was a big part of the scene. The photography, because of Eggleston and Tav Falco and Ernest Withers, makes Memphis unique. It just has so many pieces that you don’t find in the French Quarter in New Orleans, where William Faulkner went to write. You have Julian Hohenberg, this very wealthy cotton broker whose heart is in music. He was involved in the music scene for many, many years. It’s the escape valve for people who love the arts. It’s really funky and countercultural. Everything they couldn’t do in these little towns and rural areas, they do in Memphis — and they do it with a passion.”

"Voices of Mississippi" will screen at 6 PM on Friday, May 17 at the Crosstown Theater. RSVP for a free ticket at the Indie Memphis website

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

N-Secure Intrigue, Women of Punk This Week At the Movies

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Cordell Moore in N-Secure
  • Cordell Moore in N-Secure

Indie Memphis and the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission continue their Memphis In May bicentennial series of films with Memphis roots this Wednesday at Studio On The Square.

N-Secure
is a paranoid thriller filmed in Memphis by director David M. Matthews in 2009. Commercial Appeal film writer John Beifuss will be on hand to conduct the Q&A and put the film in context for the audience. You can get tickets on the Indie Memphis website.




Then, on Thursday, the new Crosstown Arts film series continues with a cult gem from the punk age. Contemporary with Rock and Roll High School, The Decline of Western Civilization, and The Great Rock And Roll Swindle, Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains is one of the earliest onscreen depictions of the movement that was not an anti-punk screed like the infamous Quincy episode.

It's also the only one to embody early punk's feminist side. Starring Diane Lane as bandleader Connie Burns and a pre-Blue Velvet Laura Dern as a member of the sarcastic garage band who become media sensations with caustic music and incredible eye makeup, the low-budget cult film also includes cameos from Steve Jones and Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols and The Clash's Paul Simonon.

It sank quickly at the box office in 1982, but became a cult classic from years of cable TV screenings. It also just feels dangerous, like punk should. The screening begins at 7 PM on Thursday night at the Crosstown Theater.


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Monday, May 13, 2019

Music Video Monday: Marco Pavé

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2019 at 12:04 PM


Screen grab from "Sacrifice (ft. Thank Aaron)" by Marco Pavé. - DANA GABRION
  • Dana Gabrion
  • Screen grab from "Sacrifice (ft. Thank Aaron)" by Marco Pavé.

Today's Music Video Monday is playing catch-up.

In case you're just now joining us, the mission of Music Video Monday is to highlight the work of Memphis' musical artists and filmmakers. We've got a lot of both categories, and, unfortunately, they don't always have the proper venue to showcase their talents.

I've been gratified by the times when people randomly tell me that MVM has exposed them to new acts they didn't know about. "I had no idea we had so much great music here!" is a comment I hear a lot.

I am guilty of assuming everyone knows about MVM, and I've seen everything. I was recently reminded that is not so, when Dana Gabrion sent me this video she produced with director Chris Morgan for Marco Pavé in 2017. We're big fans of Marco here at the Flyer. So I assumed we had featured the video two years ago. In fact, we did not. And it's a good one!

"Sacrifice (ft. Thank Aaron)" was filmed in the abandoned Marine Hospital. Marco Pavé gets to go nuts in a straightjacket, and looks completely badass. Check it out.


If you're a Memphis musician or filmmaker with a music video you'd like to see on Music Video Monday, drop me a line at cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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Thursday, May 9, 2019

Blueshift Ensemble Live-Scores Memphis History Tonight at Crosstown Theater

Posted By on Thu, May 9, 2019 at 10:58 AM

membiboogie.png
Memphis' decentralized bicentennial celebration continues tonight at Crosstown Arts.

As part of the arts organization's new film series, which is devoted to "showcasing a diverse collection of independent, international, historically significant, artistic, experimental, cult, underground and documentary features," they're trying something new. Justin Thompson, Crosstown Arts Director of Film and Video Production, raided the film and video archives at the Memphis Public Library and created a montage of history. From the well-known images of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Sanitation Workers Strike to obscure footage of sock-hopping teens, our visual story will be accompanied by the Blueshift Ensemble. The neo-classical chamber music group, featuring film composer/cellist Jonathan Kirkscey and musical director/flautist Jenny Davis, will create a semi-improvised soundtrack for Bluff City history. It's a unique marriage of image and sound you won't see anywhere else.

The show starts at 7:30 tonight at Crosstown Theater. Tickets are $5 at the door.

CROSSTOWN ARTS FILM SERIES: MEMPHIS BICENTENNIAL BOOGIE TRAILER from Crosstown Arts on Vimeo.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Memphis Movies in May Continues With The Firm

Posted By on Tue, May 7, 2019 at 1:30 PM

Gene Hackman and Tom Cruise in The Firm.
  • Gene Hackman and Tom Cruise in The Firm.
Usually, Memphis in May honors a country like Chile or Sweden, in the spirit of cultural exchange. But this year marks 200 years since the founding of Memphis, so Memphis in May has officially decided to honor Memphis. Every year, Indie Memphis brings films from the honored country to town, and this year, in concert with the Memphis and Shelby County Film and Television Commission, they're presenting a retrospective of films shot in the Bluff City.

Last week, Craig Brewer's hip-hop classic Hustle & Flow screened to a big crowd at the Paradiso. It was most of the world's first look at how Memphis sees ourselves in the 21st century. This Wednesday, Indie Memphis brings The Firm to the Paradiso — the first look a mass audience got of the city since Elvis.

The story of the film begins with a legal thriller by John Grisham, a Memphis lawyer turned Mississippi legislator who pursued an unlikely dream of being a novelist. His first book, A Time To Kill, was a minor hit, but nothing compared to The Firm, a bestseller which earned him a huge movie deal. Directed by Sydney Pollack, the film adaptation starred Tom Cruise as Mitch McDeere, a Harvard Law graduate who gets a job offer from a prestigious law firm in Memphis. After convincing his wife Abby (Jeanne Tripplehorn) to move to the city they know nothing about, he is taken under the wing of Avery Tolar (Gene Hackman), a partner at the firm of Bendini, Lambert & Locke. What happens next is like Training Day, only with lawyers instead of cops.

Producer Michael Hausman, who helped shepherd Amadeus and Silkwood in the 1980s, was instrumental in getting this film in Memphis in 1992, and would go on to bring The People vs. Larry Flynt production here a few years later. He would later go on to work with Ang Lee on Brokeback Mountain.

The Firm's plotting is solid, and if it feels a little cliched now, it's mostly because the hugely successful film been copied by TV shows for years. But for Memphis audiences, it's not a series of unfortunate haircuts and just the origin of the "Tom Cruise Running" trope that's interesting about the film. It's now a scrapbook of what the city looked like in the 1990s. For many, it was the first time anyone knew we had a monorail here. (You did know we had a monorail here, right?)

The Firm will screen on Wednesday, May 8th at 7 p.m. at the Malco Paradiso Theatre. You can get your tickets here at the Indie Memphis website.

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Monday, May 6, 2019

Music Video Monday: Webbstar

Posted By on Mon, May 6, 2019 at 11:16 AM

Music Video Monday is raking it in.
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"Cash." That's the name of Webbstar's MVM debut. It's a rap-rock grinder about getting that paper. The video was directed by Ryan Peel, with Bronson Worthy lensing, and editing by Hot Key Studios. It'll get you in the mood for the work week.



If you'd like to see your music video featured on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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Friday, May 3, 2019

Long Shot

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 3:59 PM

Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron in Long Shot
  • Seth Rogan and Charlize Theron in Long Shot

Long Shot is a new film starring Seth Rogan and Charlize Ther…

ALL HAIL IMPERATOR FURIOSA, WARRIOR OF THE WASTELAND, CONQUERER OF THE CITADEL!

I’m sorry. That happens sometimes when I try to talk about Charlize Theron. She is one of our greatest living screen actors, with dozens of film credits and an Academy Award she earned for playing serial killer Aileen Wuornos in 2003’s Monster. But for many cinephiles, she is now indelibly associated with her role in Mad Max: Fury Road, where she stole the show from the title character of George Miller’s 2015 masterpiece.

Furiosa is an icon of female power, and liberation from the patriarchy. In Long Shot, Theron plays Charlotte Field, the blisteringly competent Secretary of State under President Chambers (Bob Odenkirk) who is blisteringly stupid.

Before we continue drooling over Furiosa, I want to praise Odenkirk, director Jonathan Levine, and writers Dan Sterling and Liz Hannah. Long Shot is a romantic comedy, but its setting is contemporary American politics, which is a bloody minefield. The overwhelming presence of the orange criminal in the White House threatens to crowd out any comedy potential. And yet, he must be acknowledged in some way. Chambers is clearly not Trump, but Odenkirk plays him as a distracted, incompetent, and thoroughly corrupt rube, because portraying the president as a reasonably competent patriot would simply be unbelievable in 2019. That’s where we are as a nation.

Anyway, Charlotte is a Hillary-esque figure trying her best to put together an international agreement to curb climate change. She’s also in the midst of putting together a run for the presidency herself, assisted by Maggie Millikin (June Diane Raphael) and Tom (Ravi Patel), her fiercely loyal aides.

Meanwhile, Seth Rogan plays Fred Flarksy, a crusading investigative journalist whom we meet in the middle of a farcical attempt to infiltrate a group of neo-Nazis. Fred finds out his newspaper is being bought by Parker Wembley (Andy Serkis), a Rupert Murdoch stand-in who will stymie Flarsky’s truth seeking. Fred quits in a rage, and his rich friend Lance (O’Shea Jackson, Jr.) takes him to a ritzy party to help him forget his troubles. There, he sees Charlotte, who he remembers used to babysit him when she was a hyper-responsible pre-teen and he was even more awkward than he is now.
"They're called fingers, but have you ever seen them, like, fing?"
  • "They're called fingers, but have you ever seen them, like, fing?"
The party scene, which is long and complex and ends in horrible (read: hilarious) humiliation for Fred, is a joy. It’s a fine piece of comedy writing, well-staged by the director and effortlessly executed by the cast, that seamlessly integrates the personal and political. When the dust clears, Fred has a new job as a speech writer for Charlotte, and a new, very unlikely romance is brewing—a “long shot”, if you will.

Is there any more tired cliche than the perfect woman romantically paired with a schlubby guy? From Married With Children to The Simpsons, it’s been pretty much the norm on TV sitcoms for decades. And yet, somehow, we come out believing that the guy who wrote an article called “The Two Party System Can Suck A Dick (Actually Two Dicks)” could get it on with the Secretary of State. Theron and Rogan present the ideal avatars of the stereotypes as they fall in love during the film’s globe-hopping middle acts. Rogan’s got the comedy chops to spare, and Theron…

HAIL IMPERATOR FURIOSA!

…Theron is an effective straight woman. Director Levine wisely doesn’t saddle her with schtick, but uses her acting skills strategically. In one rollicking sequence, Theron gets laughs with a realistic impression of a partier rolling on MDMA. She doesn’t go big and mug for the camera (that’s Rogan’s job) she just delivers the lines while low-key trying to keep it together. The implied joke that maybe negotiations between politicians would go better if one or both parties were on drugs that enhanced their empathy lands naturally.

The way Long Shot differentiates itself from the sexist sitcom cliche is by exploring the difficulty men have in ceding power to women, even if—perhaps especially if—the women are clearly more skilled and intelligent. Frank thinks he’s woke as he can get, but time and again he runs up against his own self-righteousness and unexamined assumptions. As the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl rom-com cycle plays out, he’s just trying to hang on as she is making the kind of career-over-home decisions that a male character would be saddled with in earlier decades. By the time the When Harry Met Sally-inspired denouement rolls around, the couple have found a unique equilibrium that they are still trying to understand. Maybe that’s the portrait of all successful relationships that the romantic comedy, when done right, points us towards.

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Thursday, May 2, 2019

Game Of Thrones Lives To Fight Another Day

Posted By on Thu, May 2, 2019 at 11:18 AM

The Night King (Vladimír Furdík) rides Viserion into battle. - COURTESY HBO
  • courtesy HBO
  • The Night King (Vladimír Furdík) rides Viserion into battle.
How I feel about my longtime favorite show, Game of Thrones, crystallized recently when I saw a behind-the-scenes promotional video featuring George Lucas' visit to the set. The show has journeyed from Star Trek to Star Wars, from science fiction carefulness about its worldbuilding to fully realized mythic fantasy. And within that, another movement: from the revelatory appeal of the original trilogy to the bloated nature of the prequels. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were adept at adapting George R.R. Martin's novels, cutting the excess and creating momentum from the morass of detail. But having run out of novels to adapt, they now make up material whole cloth. They favor sudden reveals of plot and character development, twists which pay off simultaneously with half-convincing explanations of how they occurred.


Now it’s unclear where characters’ foibles end and where their stupidly for the sake of plot movement begins. The political bickering is nonsensical, the speech less thoughtful and more modern. The pleasures of the show are that of any well-made spectacle. Dragonriders Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington) have fallen in love with the all the conviction of bored real estate attorneys in a late afternoon deposition. Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) gets chided for his lack of cleverness, in a retcon of how TV has softened him from the novels, where he is a more murderous and angry drunk. A long-awaited battle has come and gone.
Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Wildu) and Ser Brianne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) prepare for the undead onslaught during the Battle of Winterfell. - COURTESY HBO
  • courtesy HBO
  • Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Wildu) and Ser Brianne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) prepare for the undead onslaught during the Battle of Winterfell.
Because the second half of this season is yet to air, I cannot say whether these storylines will pull together into a beautiful meditation on all that comes before (online spoilers work like prophecies in the books—vaguely and inconsistently). They still could. I still worship the show even as I criticize it, and spend free time discussing and studying it. But always at my back, I hear my snobbery toward sports. How am I different from a casual football fan? Where the avid sports watcher admires the skill of athlete, I admire the production craftsmen who make this extravaganza. Both are fundamentally passive relationships. The only difference is when the show was better, I was using my brain to work out the mechanics of a fictional world. Now I just receive it, like dictates from the Pope.

The battle between the living and the dead in episode 3 of this season was wonderfully tense. I like director Miguel Sapochnik's continual stress on the confusion of violence, and how one's personal narrative gets lost in the chaos of battle. Jon Snow again unheroically flounders through combat. His dragon collides with his lover/aunt’s, foreshadowing what I suspect will be the real conflict post-White Walker. However, that the series’ demonic threat would be defeated in one moment after a single battle with many survivors, felt like a cheat and a mistake.

Criticisms of the episode’s lack of battle geography and dark cinematography miss Game of Thrones’ current strengths. In large setpieces, it gets the feeling of small horrific or supernatural details right. Commenters pointed out that it was an incorrect use of cavalry for the mounted Dothraki to charge into blind darkness and a zombie horde from an opening defensive position, but the visual of soldiers watching their comrades’ fiery swords go out in faraway silence communicated the ebb and flow of hope in a battle. You get the sense of how it feels to be an individual swept up in a mass event.
Maisie Williams as Arya Stark - COURTESY HBO
  • courtesy HBO
  • Maisie Williams as Arya Stark
As a fan of this one, sometimes my only recourse to imaginatively engage with a story is to criticize how it fails my expectations. At worst this can be criticism similar to a shoe-buyer complaining about a tight fit: the consumer and his product, in a swan song as their life goes by. But at best the simple act of discussion can engage with communal storytelling, and the ideas stories communicate. Two here are that might makes right, not honor, and that the upper classes focus on increasing their power instead of dealing with threats to the lower classes. I would say this is a general condition of humanity. How can the majority of us be truly free when the powerful always corrupt whatever structure contains them?

Where before describing these ideas was exciting, the show is now something like America’s Most Photographed Barn in Don DeLillo’s White Noise. I can feel the meaninglessness of my voice among the din. But the ritual is a balm, and the central allegory is still there, and still important.

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Monday, April 29, 2019

Music Video Monday: Rev. John Wilkins

Posted By on Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 11:33 AM

Music Video Monday is bringing it all together.
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Last Saturday night, Beale Street Caravan held their annual Blowout party at Crosstown Arts, to celebrate moving to the Concourse. The finale of the hugely successful Blowout was a performance by Rev. John Wilkins. The current pastor of the storied Hunter's Chapel in Como, Mississippi, Rev. Wilkins was returning from New Orleans, where he and his band, which includes his three daughters, played Jazz Fest.

Beale Street Caravan's I Listen To Memphis series made a music video with Rev. Wilkins in 2018. Director Christian Walker and producer Waheed AlQawasmi captured the family singing "May The Circle Be Unbroken" live in the country church. Here to lift you up for the tough week ahead, is the Reverend.


If you would like to see your music video featured on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com.

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Monday, April 22, 2019

Music Video Monday Special Edition: RIP Omar Higgins

Posted By on Mon, Apr 22, 2019 at 12:58 PM

Omar Higgins
  • Omar Higgins
The Memphis music community was emotionally crushed this weekend as news spread of the death of Omar Higgins. The bassist and bandleader was universally admired for his talent, his activism, and, as he would have put it, his vibe. We'll have a more detailed story about Omar — who, like Elvis, Isaac, and Alex has achieved "first name" status in the Memphis music community — in the near future, but for now, let's celebrate some of his life's work.

He might have not sold as many records as the other first-namers, but Omar made an indelible impression on everyone who saw him. He grew up playing punk rock in Brooklyn, but the first exposure Memphis had to his genius was with his reggae band Chinese Connection Dub Embassy. Here they are in 2011 on the Live From Memphis 60 Seconds web series, doing a haunting, stripped down version of "Heavy Meditation".


CCDE has been one of the most prolific and best-loved live bands in Memphis, a city not usually associated with reggae.

Omar understood that, like soul, reggae is secularized sacred music. They could be crowd pleasers without pandering, as you can see in this clip. Who else is going to play Steel Pulse's call for revolution "Tyrant" in front of thousands of basketball fans?


But Omar knew a great pop melody when he heard one. Here's CCDE doing their most famous reinterpretation, "Take On Me" by A-Ha, at the Beale Street Music Festival.


Recently, Omar returned to his punk roots by forming Negro Terror, an anti-racist hardcore band. Their first statement of purpose was covering "Invasion" by the notorious skinhead band Skrewdriver. In the documentary Negro Terror, which debuted at Indie Memphis 2018, Omar said he wanted to rock the song harder than the racists who wrote it.



Negro Terror was chosen for Beale Street Caravan's "I Listen To Memphis" video series. This fierce performance was recorded live in a Memphis skate park.


We'll have more on Omar's life and legacy in the coming days. 

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Friday, April 19, 2019

John Hughes Big 80s Films At The Time Warp Drive-In

Posted By on Fri, Apr 19, 2019 at 3:03 PM

The gang's all here for The Breakfast Club at the Time Warp Drive-In
  • The gang's all here for The Breakfast Club at the Time Warp Drive-In
Time Warp Drive-In organizer Matt Martin says the most requested theme in the six-year history of the monthly retro movie night has always been the teen '80s movies of John Hughes. Saturday night, April 20th at the Malco Summer Drive-In, Time Warpers will get their wish.

Hughes grew up in suburban Grosse Point, Michigan. After getting his start with National Lampoon, he became one of the most prolific and successful writers of his generation. For better or worse, his insightful depictions of high school hierarchy became the default view of teenage life in the '80s and '90s. When they were released, they were often controversial due to their frank depictions of teenage sex, drugs, and rock and roll, while teenagers of the time praised the emotional honesty. Today's audiences in the teenage target demographic might find the film's almost exclusively white cast and creaky gender role assumptions problematic. It's the rare artist who can remain controversial over the decades, only for changing reasons.

Ferris Bueller's Day Off is probably Hughes' tightest screenplay, comedy wise. Putting the majority of those words in the mouth of a fourth-wall breaking Matthew Broderick made it an instant classic. Would Bueller have gotten away with his low-key crime spree if he'd been a black teenager who couldn't leverage his white privilege? Probably not. Does he show signs of borderline sociopathy? Arguably. But when this film is really clicking, you can't help but root for Broderick's portrayal of the consummate teenage con man with a heart of gold.


The Breakfast Club is Hughes at his most empathetic. He created the perfect portrayals of the teenage stereotypes of the jock, the beauty queen, the introvert, the waste-oid criminal, and the geek, and then proceeded to rip them to pieces by revealing the scared and hopeful people underneath.


Weird Science was Hughes' second film as director in 1984, and, as the title says, it's probably his weirdest. In what must be the most egregious example of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl in film history, two nerds, Gary (Anthony Michael Hall) and Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell Smith) use...well, weird science...to semi-accidentally create a super-powered supermodel, played by real life supermodel Kelly LeBrock. But like most stories of summoning a genie from a lamp, the wishers end up getting more of what they need than what they think they want.


The Time Warp Drive-in rolls at 7:30 PM on Saturday, April 20th at the Malco Summer Drive-In. 

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Monday, April 15, 2019

Music Video Monday: Grace Askew

Posted By on Mon, Apr 15, 2019 at 11:46 AM


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Jump into the workweek with Music Video Monday!

Have I used that lede before in the history of Music Video Monday? Maybe so. A good music video needs eye-catching motion, and jumping is a reliable provider of good moves. But Grace Askew's new video is the jumping-est one yet.

She's been working on her new full-length record—her first since 2014—at the Tumbleweed Ranch, an "old, creaky farmhouse in the middle of the woods." Ahead of the May needle drop, she shared the video for first single "This Is Everything". Looks like she's ready for takeoff.


If you'd like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email cmccoy@memphisflyer.com. 

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