Monday, July 24, 2017

Music Video Monday: Valerie June

Posted By on Mon, Jul 24, 2017 at 10:22 AM

Good morning from Music Video Monday.
Here's something to get your week started off right. It's a brand new video from Valerie June. "Got Soul" is the ecstatic closer to her album The Order of Time, and the songstress has never looked or sounded so good. Val's on the road for the rest of the year, playing tonight in Zurich, Switzerland before returning to the states for a Los Angeles show next week. If you missed her Hi Tone show earlier in the year, the closest she'll be to Memphis is Franklin on Sept. 24 and the Austin City Limits festival in early October. As for the video, all we can say is yasss!

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Monday, July 17, 2017

Music Video Monday: Young Warriors

Posted By on Mon, Jul 17, 2017 at 12:15 PM

Music Video Monday has a message of peace.
The Young Warriors are a group of students from Booker T. Washington Middle School whose lives have been touched by gun violence. One of the students, Antonio Luster, was shot in the leg and required months of therapy before he could walk again. With the help of their teacher Terrance Gray, these young rappers made "Stop The Violence", a song and music video dedicated to making Memphis a more peaceful place. Take a look:

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Monday, July 10, 2017

Music Video Monday: Aaron James

Posted By on Mon, Jul 10, 2017 at 10:31 AM

Today's Music Video Monday takes it all back home.
"I feel like to some people in Memphis, I'm seen as 'that kid from Pennsylvania', but I don't think anybody actually knows what that means," sats Aaron James. "Pennsylvania is very different from Memphis, and sometimes I worry about how my music will resonate with people that have grown up in this city, when a lot of my inspiration comes from the rural area I grew up in, and being in that nature."

James—with a little help from his friends and his father—shot the video to "Ends/Means" last December while visiting his family. He and his friends hike through the bucolic environs of Amish country, build a fire, and catch up. "It's just us being us. Intentionally not fancy, because I just want people to see what it means to be me. It's a very raw insight into my home, friends, and life, and because of that it's very special to me.”

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Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Beguiled

Posted By on Thu, Jul 6, 2017 at 5:15 PM

Sofia Coppola approaches The Beguiled like an scientist preparing an experiment. The source material—a novel that was already adapted into a 1971 film with Clint Eastwood and Dirty Harry director Don Siegel—provided her with an isolated community of women to work with. It’s the waning days of the Civil War, and Miss Farnsworth’s School for Young Ladies holds on by a thread in rural Virginia. Miss Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman) is left with only a few charges, girls and young women with dead parents and nowhere else to go. The atmosphere is made ominous by the low rumble of dueling artillery over the horizon, and teacher Edwina Morrow (Kristen Dunst) keeps a spyglass lookout for approaching soldiers.

Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled
  • Nicole Kidman in The Beguiled

One day, while foraging for mushrooms, Amy (Oona Laurence) finds instead a wounded Union soldier. Corporal John McBurney (Colin Farrell) caught a leg full of shrapnel before fleeing the battle and finding a tree to die against. Emily helps the Corporal back to the school, where he collapses. Miss Farnsworth decides the Christian thing to do is to show mercy, so they take the soldier into the mansion’s music room to treat his wounds. Jane (Angourie Rice) says he’s a obviously a rapist in waiting and wants to hand him over to the Confederate army, but Alicia (Elle Fanning) thinks he should be allowed to stay. Miss Farnsworth leads the group in a prayer for the Corporal’s “return to health, and early departure.”

But it’s too late. The Corporal lands in the midst of the women like a sex grenade, and the first to catch the shrapnel is Miss Farnsworth herself. The prim and proper woman who makes a living instilling values in young ladies finds herself overcome with lust while washing the naked, unconscious soldier. She recognizes the danger and makes the music room off limits to the girls, which quickly becomes the most-violated rule in the crumbling school.
Colin Farrell puts the moves on Elle Fanning.
  • Colin Farrell puts the moves on Elle Fanning.
Like in The Virgin Suicides and The Bling Ring, Coppola's subject is a group of women gone feral. As each of her characters sneak into the Corporals’ room for a little conversation and illicit hand-holding, their relationship to the group changes. Each of these scenes also explores how women of different ages relate to men. Miss Farnsworth offers brandy and conversation, while 18-year-old Alicia wordlessly kisses his sleeping lips. Even the youngest girls understand they’re supposed to dress up for the man, but they don’t really know why. Eventually, bodices are (literally) ripped, and jealousy and anger spiral out of control.

In some ways, the escalating tension and subtly shifting allegiances in The Beguiled resembles the paranoid neo-horror of It Comes At Night. Coppola’s strongest points as a director serve her well. She has an incredible eye for composition, and her work here with French cinematographer Phillippe Le Sourd is beautiful and meticulous. Most impressive is the Kubrickian candlelight photography around the school’s tense dinner table.


Coppola is also top notch with actors, and she has a potent pairing with Kidman, nailing the pragmatism and repressed passion of the Southern spinster. Dunst deftly plays against type as the plain, desperate schoolteacher, and Oona Lawrence is outstanding as the budding tween naturalist whose compassion backfires.

Like a scientist, Coppola is controlling the variables of her experiment. A black slave character present in the original film is absent in this version. Taking race out of the equation keeps the focus on the female group dynamics and sexual selection pressures Coppola wants to pick apart, but setting the story in the Civil War makes the absence of racial tension obvious. Would we be less sympathetic to these ladies’ plight if we saw how they treated their slaves? Maybe. Or maybe, as with Marie Antoinette, Coppola wants to make beautiful images from the grand trappings of fading aristocracy without confronting the exploitation that created them. As it is, The Beguiled is a movie with no good guys or bad guys, just people responding to pressures in strange, but understandable, ways.

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Monday, July 3, 2017

Baby Driver

Posted By on Mon, Jul 3, 2017 at 2:08 PM

Of all the movies in theaters right now, Baby Driver kicks the most ass. Edgar Wright says he first conceived his film in 1994, and it shows. That was the year Quinten Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction premiered, plunging the indie film world into years of hep cat criminals snarling stylized dialog at each other. Tarantino’s use of pop music, drawn freely across genres from the past and present, was something new. Everyone wanted to try it, but not everyone had Tarantino’s ear.
Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver
  • Ansel Elgort in Baby Driver

1994 is also the year the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion recorded Orange. The former Pussy Galore frontman had made a pilgrimage to Memphis the year before to discover Stax soul and record with lo fi legend Doug Easley. Orange opens with “Bellbottoms”, a 5-minute epic that shifts gears from lush Issac Hayes strings to Oblivians-inspired, runaway train punk. Wright opens Baby Driver with a bank-heist/car-chase scene set to “Bellbottoms” that he’s obviously been planning in his head since the first Clinton administration. With Baby (Ansel Elgort) lip synching the words as he tears balletically through Atlanta’s nightmarish streetscape, the sequence plays as a perverse marriage between La La Land and Mad Max: Fury Road.
The best way to experience Atlanta.
  • The best way to experience Atlanta.

Atlanta is just as much of a character for Wright as Los Angeles was to Damien Chazelle. Baby (Ansel Elgort) is a creature of the streets, a supernaturally talented car thief whose knowledge of the city’s endless array of onramps to nowhere is surpassed only by his knowledge of banging tunes. His favorite leather jackets, with black body and white sleeves, make him look like Han Solo from a distance.

A while back, Baby tried to boost a car belonging to Doc (Kevin Spacey), a gangster in the mold of Harvey Keitel’s The Wolf. Rather than killing him, Doc decides to give him a job as a getaway driver, enabling a string of daring daylight bank robberies that, naturally, end in spectacular high-speed chases. The taciturn Baby is already having second thoughts about the collateral damage left behind by his partners in crime when he meets Debora (Lily James), a waitress at the local diner who instantly captures his heart. They make plans to run off together, but Doc keeps pushing him to do job after job, each one more dangerous and audacious than the rest.

Lily James and Ansel Elgort get cozy.
  • Lily James and Ansel Elgort get cozy.

The plot’s pretty standard grindhouse crime fare, but it’s the execution that matters to Wright. Baby Driver sometimes feels more like a series of intertwining music videos than a feature film, with its 30-song soundtrack bleeding into the film’s reality at unexpected times. The editing by Scott Pilgrim cutter Paul Machliss is as immaculate as it is propulsive.
Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Elza Gonzalez, and Jon Hamm taking no guff.
  • Ansel Elgort, Jamie Foxx, Elza Gonzalez, and Jon Hamm taking no guff.

Wright’s having a blast, and his fun infects the cast. Jon Hamm grows a beard and lays it on thick as a heavy named Buddy, who is hopelessly in love with the assault-rifle-toting sexpot Elza Gonzalez. Jamie Foxx brings unpredictable menace to Bats, a bank robber with a major impulse control problem.

But the music is the real star of the show. In yet another homage to Hustle & Flow, when Baby isn’t running from the law, he makes beats on his eclectic analog equipment. Carla Thomas, Sam and Dave, Martha and the Vandellas, The Beach Boys and The Commodores all get loving treatment. The Damned classic “Neat Neat Neat” becomes the car chase anthem it was always meant to be, while both T. Rex’s “Debora” and Beck’s “Debra” get dedicated to the leading lady.

Baby Driver aspires to be cinema, a film experience that brings fans together. It should definitely been seen in the theater, if for no other reason than to fully experience the mesmerizing sound design. It’s a terrible shame that, with a dozen channels of flawless digital sound reproduction at their disposal, the vast majority of filmmakers are content to just make explosions louder, or do that awful “whamp” noise from Inception again. Wright aims for a much higher bar, and clears it with ease.

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Music Video Monday: B.B. King

Posted By on Mon, Jul 3, 2017 at 11:03 AM

This music video Monday, we celebrate a great American.

B.B. King at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1967
  • B.B. King at the Monterey Jazz Festival, 1967
From 1949, when he began recording with Sam Philips, until his death in 2015 at age 89, B. B. King was the voice, face, and guitar tone of the Memphis blues. To keep his legacy alive, the B. B. King estate has started a YouTube channel to make the musicians' extensive archive of live performance footage available to the public. Fifty years ago this summer, B.B. headlined the Monterey Jazz festival. Here, for your patriotic enjoyment on this July 4 holiday, is video of the man trading licks with Texas electric blues legend T.-Bone Walker. God bless America!

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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Love Cat Videos? Kedi Is The Movie For You

Posted By on Wed, Jun 28, 2017 at 6:08 AM

As you're probably aware, the internet is made of cats.
A still from Edward Valibus' "Cat/Yoga".
  • A still from Edward Valibus' "Cat/Yoga".
And yet, aside from a pair disastrous vehicles for Sandy Duncan and Hallie Berry, cats are sadly underrepresented in feature films. That is about to change.

Tonight at the Malco Ridgeway, Indie Memphis is presenting Kedi, an epic documentary about seven feral cats who live in Istanbul. If you've ever had the misfortune to sit through Lil Bub & Friendz, you might not feel that a feature length cat documentary is in your best interest. Be assured, this is not like that. Indie Wire called Kedi "The Citizen Kane of the cat genre." Behold, this fancy feast of a trailer.

Kedi - Official U.S. Trailer - Oscilloscope Laboratories from Termite Films on Vimeo.

Preceeding Kedi is a short film by Memphis filmmaker and noted cat enthusiast Edward Valibus. Shot by Valibus and Kevin Brooks at Crosstown Arts, "Cat/Yoga" pretty much does what it says on the label. The first show have already sold out, but a second 9 PM show has been added, and you can purchase tickets at the Indie Memphis website.

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Monday, June 26, 2017

Music Video Monday: Chris Milam

Posted By on Mon, Jun 26, 2017 at 10:48 AM

It's just another gig for Music Video Monday.
There are lots of songs about life on the road. But when it's the Rolling Stones or Bob Seger singing about the hardships of the tour, it falls a little flat. Those songs are more like humblebrags than honest laments. But the video for Chris Milam's "Kids These Days", shot by Andrew Trent Fleming, and co-directed by Milam and MVM frequent flyer Ben Siler, rings true to the struggles of the small timer trying to break in to the business. But it's not all grim grind—there are little moments of magic that keep Milam going. It's those evocative mood swings that make this video work so well.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

On Location: Memphis Brings 15 Films to Clayborn Temple

Posted By on Thu, Jun 22, 2017 at 1:35 PM

In this month's Memphis Magazine, I wrote about the rebirth of the Clayborn Temple. As part of the program to breathe new life into the Downtown landmark, the On Location: Memphis Film Festival is sponsoring a 15 week film series.
Sebastian Banks of Black Rock Revival in Verge
  • Sebastian Banks of Black Rock Revival in Verge

The series kicked off last Thursday with the acclaimed Fruitvale Station, and most of the works screening in the storied sanctuary share some element of social awareness in their theme. This week's offering is Verge, a music documentary by Lakethon Mason that made its debut at last year's Indie Memphis Film Festival. Verge tells the story of several independent Memphis musicians struggling to get ahead in the modern music industry, including Black Rock Revival, Faith Evans Ruch, Nick Black, and Marco Pave.

VERGE:MEMPHIS trailer from oddly buoyant productions on Vimeo.

The screening is free to the public, and kicks off at 6:00 PM at Clayborn Temple, 294 Hernando Street.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Tav Falco Premieres New Feature Film Urania Descending

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 4:46 PM

Tav Falco, long known for his game-changing musical ventures with the Panther Burns, will forever be associated with Memphis, for it was here that he and Alex Chilton collaborated in the late 1970s to found the group. But ultimately he doesn't feel bound to any one place or time. “I'm an American living in Europe,” he says. “I'll always be that. I'm not trying to be what I'm not. But even in Memphis, I was always on the outside looking in. And that is the fate of artists in many cultures. In fact, it could be the job of the artist. To exploit this perspective.”

Indeed, he was very much an outsider when he first arrived here. “One day I just rode my Norton motorcycle up to William Eggleston's house on Central Avenue, after I'd moved here from the hills of Arkansas. And he comes out of the house, and greets me in the driveway, and we spoke a few words and he said, 'Well come into the lab, let's just start right now,' and that's what we did.” Falco also learned from Carl Orr, another photographer/filmmaker living in Memphis at the time. “Both of them had the idea that if you want to learn something about film and images, just get into the middle of it and start doing it. Like William Burroughs said, you ask enough questions, you'll find the answers. Don't worry about the answers, just ask the questions.”

While Falco has labored for decades asking the musical question, “got WHAT??”, he has of late returned to his original passion for the image, culminating in Wednesday's Memphis premiere of his new feature length film, Urania Descending, Pt. 1, the semi-mythic tale of an American woman caught up in a dark Viennese mystery. “It's predicated on the serial films of Louis Feuillade, Les Vampires, or the Fantômas series, based on the intrigue crime novels of the time. These were an inspiration in part for my film. In this particular triptych of stories, black and white is the only possibility. Color would have killed it.”
“I think of silent film as visual music,” he goes on. “If you add sound, it becomes something else. However, in my film, I have somehow captured the timeless, or outside-of-time, quality of silent cinema with sound effects. With no lip sync dialogue to speak of, but very little dialogue disembodied from the characters. Someone said, 'The footsteps in your movie are almost another character unto themselves.' It has an atmosphere and an ambiance that is really off the grid, outside the box. People somehow get drawn into this movie, even though the production values are nothing like you see today.”

But, lest we think of it as pure nostalgia, he adds: “It's not a period piece. It's set in the near future. In a place like Europe, Austria, Italy, Baroque architecture exists right alongside very state-of-the-art, contemporary architecture. So it's not a museum piece. It's a world in which the past has been cultivated, where that which was built to last for generations and generations is not destroyed and not discarded, but cultivated and lived in and maintained alongside truly modern architecture. So this is a movie where the past overtakes the present and the present overtakes the past. It is a continuum.”

Falco's partner in intrigue was Richard Pleuger, the director of photography. “He's a film correspondent from Munich, Germany. I met him after a Panther Burns gig in San Francisco in the 80s. He was a student at the San Francisco Art Institute. And we became immediate friends. He came to Memphis in the 80s and made 'Shade Tree Mechanic,' a short film dealing with one of the songs I had recorded. He came to Austria to do the camera work on Urania Descending, and he had a lot of good ideas about lighting. He knew I wanted an expressionistic atmosphere. We both are totally into the films of Louis Morneau , G.W. Pabst, all the great expressionistic filmmakers.”
Summing up, Falco says: “This is not a profound movie, on the surface. This is not a grand exercise in theatrics, or classic acting, or realistic acting. Far from it. It's more expressionistic acting. It's acting that suggests something. I think it's convincing, but that's not the point. It's trying to make a gesture, working with gesture rather than psychological verisimilitude of some kind. It's not a psychological drama. It's symbolic. It's a little bit of an exercise in semiotics, signage. It's like what a poem can do.” And when it's over, don't expect any tidy sense of resolution. “People will come away from the theater,” Falco reflects, “with a certain residual experience.”

Urania Descending premieres Wednesday, June 21, 7:00 PM at Studio on the Square. Tickets are available from the Indie Memphis website.

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Music Video Monday: Me & Leah

Posted By on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 4:46 AM

Slow down for Music Video Monday.
Jeff Hulett, familiar to Memphis music audiences from Snowglobe and his solo appearances, and Leah Keys, organizer of the ultimate audience participation storytelling show, Spillit, have been strumming partners for a minute. With Hulett on the guitar and Keys on the banjo, the duo frequently pop up for shows in Midtown. Now they have completed their first album and are ready to unveil it this Friday with a party at Amurica.  
Hulett produced their first video, "Moving So Fast", by cutting together 8 mm film of his family's home movies. The place is upstate New York, the year is 1948, and the kid is Hulett's father, age 4.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Never Seen It: Watching Citizen Kane with Inside Memphis Business Editor Jon Sparks

Posted By on Fri, Jun 16, 2017 at 7:00 AM

For this installment of Never Seen It, we welcome Jon W. Sparks, editor of Inside Memphis Business. Sparks is a longtime journalist who came from a community newspaper in New York City in 1981 to work at The Commercial Appeal. Since taking a buyout 10 years ago, he’s written for several local and national publications before taking the helm of Inside Memphis Business. He is also an actor familiar to Memphis film and theater fans for his appearances in both locally produced films and on the stage. We were joined by Sparks’ wife, Memphis College of Art professor Maritza Dávila, and my wife, filmmaker Laura Jean Hocking.

Our film is Orson Welles’ masterpiece Citizen Kane.

Chris McCoy: Tell me what you know about Citizen Kane.

Jon Sparks: I know it makes most of the top ten, if not five, lists of the greatest movies ever. But I’ll be the judge of that.

CM: It was just dethroned in the last Sight & Sound poll after fifty years at number one.

JS: I know it’s heralded for the brilliance of its writing, the concepts, the ending, the black and white cinematography. Orson Welles, of course, leaves a mark on everything he does. Maybe not always good, but he leaves a mark. And I have seen a little bit here and there.

CM: Anything specific?

JS: I’m remembering shouting crowds and Joseph Cotton. I think there were some spinning newspapers.

119 minutes later…

JS: I’m not accustomed to being on this side of the recorder. This is uncomfortable.

CM: I know! OK. Citizen Kane. What did you think?

JS: When you see films that are biographies, essentially, this film set the standard cinematically, and in so many ways. Movies made today that are biographies don’t have the surprises and the approach this one does. This one is fresh today, because of the story angles it takes and the conclusions it reaches with each scene, the time line going back and forth, with Joseph Cotton reminiscing about the old days. But even then, it’s stitched together differently from anything today.

CM: It’s not a three act play, for one thing. It’s six or seven. It lays out the whole story in the opening newsreel. There are no plot surprises after the first ten minutes.

JS: It’s interesting that the newsreel looked so rough. It was really cheesy, the effects were pretty low grade, which is what you would expect out of a newsreel. Then it begins to tell the story, and it’s very theatrical. They even stage a lot of things in a theater.
Title card from the newsreel sequence.
  • Title card from the newsreel sequence.

CM: Does the acting feel theatrical?

JS: The acting is all uniformly good, but you can recognize the skills of the theater people doing it.

Laura Jean Hocking: When they’re talking over each other, that seems very theatrical to me. I don’t think you saw that very much before this movie. I associate it with like, Rosalind Russell and the sort of sassy dame stuff. There’s so many things that happened for the first time in this movie.

JS: You pointed out when they started the shot with a close up of a face and then pulling back into the establishing shot. But the acting was so incredibly skillful. I was knocked out by Everett Sloane’s Bernstein. I love how, in the beginning, an editor is barking out orders to reporters: ‘Go find that guy! What’s his name? Its Bernstein! The manager!’ Then the next time he’s mentioned, it’s again ‘What’s his name? Bernstein!’ It’s like he’s so inconsequential, but he’s the thread that goes through Kane’s life. He never divorced him or ran away from him. Bernstein was there and he understood Kane probably better than anyone.

CM: Bernstein’s take is the most objective of all of them. He never really took Kane seriously, but he didn’t hate him, either.

Agnes Moorehead as Mary Kane.
  • Agnes Moorehead as Mary Kane.

JS: But he understood him well enough to function with him. The same actor did him from old to young, but in a way he always looked old….And that’s just one great performance. Anges Moorehead, forget about it! She’s got that face that is so hard, and here she is a mother giving up her child.

CM: Her voice breaks when she says ‘Charlie’, and that’s the only bit of emotion that she lets slip through. It tears your heart out! One of my favorite things that has trickled through films ever since is the ‘Citizen Kane shot’, where there are two people in the foreground framing one person in the background. The two people in the foreground are talking about the person in the background, but the person in the background doesn’t know they’re being talked about. That happens at least twice in this movie. The first time it’s mom and dad and the banker, with Charlie framed in the window in the background. The second time he does it, there’s a freakin’ musical scene going on! He shows you how the composition is going to work in the first angle, then he goes to the reverse angle and boom, it’s exactly the same shot from before, with two people discussing Kane’s fate while Kane is dancing around trying to get their attention. Welles rubs your face in it.
The first instance of the "Citizen Kane shot".
  • The first instance of the "Citizen Kane shot".
Ten minutes later, the second instance.
  • Ten minutes later, the second instance.

#2 in context:

Maritza Dávila:
I thought the acting was so natural. The first wife was such a lady, and you could tell she always had to act like that, so proper. And Orson Welles. Wow.

LJ: How old was he?

CM: I think he was 24. It’s ridiculous. I’ve wasted my life.

MD: His acting…even when he is so restrained, you can just feel it in him, the feeling that, ‘I have to win!’ All that childhood trauma that he was never able to get rid of. The same behavior that he has with his guardian, he continues that behavior over and over again. With everything.

CM: He would redirect that energy towards somebody else, but it was always the same energy.

JS: I love some of the choices Welles makes. When he gets married for the first time, they tell the whole story with a series of scenes at the breakfast table. They just get farther and farther apart….Now the other relationship, a bit more traditional.

CM: He uses the other relationship to sneak in the jigsaw puzzle, which is really the overarching metaphor for the whole thing. He just sneaks it in there. That’s one of the things that’s great about the screenplay. Everything pays off. Everything you think is just a throwaway detail turns out to be a setup.

MD: The comedic relief throughout the whole movie is so well placed.

CM: One thing that struck me this time through—and maybe this is a result of reviewing movies all the time—is that this is so much denser than anything you see today.

JS: Part of that is at the beginning. They hit all these high points and then never visit them again. I thought, well OK, they tell the story fast, then they’re going to tell it slow. But they didn’t do that. They filled in the spaces. The death of his first wife and son is never dealt with at all. The stock market crash and the Great Depression is the same thing. They kind of go, ‘Oh, well, we don’t have as much money as we used to.’ But expanding on those obvious points is something that would be done today. They would show it with all the tears and everything.

CM: And hearing you say that makes me think, if I was giving advice on a screenplay, I would give that note. ‘Why don’t we get to see him losing all his money? Why don’t we get to see his wife and son dying?’ I would have given bad notes to Orson Welles.

LJH: Once his wife and kid leave you never see them again. You don’t have to.

JS: And that’s good writing, to only say something one time, and say it right. You see that in beginning writers. They’ll tell you the same thing a bunch of different ways, because they’re just so in love with the idea. Just express it one good way.

CM: Have faith that your audience is smart enough to put the pieces together.

CM: So, Mr. Editor of Inside Memphis Business, this is a movie about business and wealth and capitalism.

JS: He was a very rich man who was on the side of the poor man. He was going to devote his life to making the plight of the underdog much better. He was clearly going to make the country great again, in some fashion.

CM: It’s very relevant today, because he feels like Trump. He even does the ‘Lock her up!’ stuff.

JS: That was prescient.

CM: Obviously, the character is based on William Randolph Hearst, but he becomes Teddy Roosevelt for a minute there.

MS: One thing that occurred to me, with all of the things that happened to him, he never matured.

LJH: When Susan leaves, he throws a tantrum and tears her room up.

MD: That was the most out of control he found himself. And then he died. Before that, he was like, ‘I want to make you a singer. Not because you want to be a singer, but because I want you to be a singer.’ He was just putting all of that need into every single person he meets..

CM: And when she says she doesn’t want to be up there in front of an audience that doesn’t want her, he says, ‘That’s when you have to fight them!’ This time, I was like, wow, that’s exactly the wrong thing to do.

JS: He has the resources that, if people don’t want him, he can change. He can buy a newspaper. But she is stuck in that one role, playing that one thing. She doesn’t have the versatility that he has, but he doesn’t see that. If there is anything that’s repeated, it’s that insecure side of him that people kept reminding him of. You just want to be loved. You just want to love yourself. That’s what she tells him when she finally stomps out. He says ‘I need you to do this!’ She says, ‘Oh yeah. It’s about what you need. Adios! Tear up the room! I’m outta here!’

CM: What is this film’s view of business, of capitalism?

JS: It was not very positive, as Hollywood films often are. It had a very low opinion of business. In the very beginning, before we see him as the shabby character he really is, we see him as a heroic trustbuster. This comical character, his stepfather, is the goof. But he’s a typical trust guy. He’s a slumlord who embodies all the evils of capitalism. So Kane goes after him, but not because he believes it.

CM: Kane is not a Marxist.

JS: Kane is a Kane-ist. He’s just sticking it to the old man because he’s the old man…They don’t really make a whole lot about how Kane acquired these newspapers and built an empire. They throw a little bit at you about how he says, ‘We need to raid that newspaper and get their best people.’ Then he just does it. There’s no particular shrewdness that you see in any of that. There’s no great lessons to be learned about how to run your business. You do have the conscience, Jed, who is something of a besotted conscience, who tries to keep him a little bit honest. For god sake, don’t start a war!

CM: The point of view that the Spanish American War was a media phenomenon was not a widespread thing in 1940. People did not think that yet. And they were literally in the middle of a media push to start another war. I feel like it has a much more sophisticated take on politics than on business.

JS: Yes. And again, just an interesting, savvy, storytelling. He runs for office and fails.

CM: Do you think we’re seeing what would have happened if Charles Foster Kane would have won?

LJH: You have the fraud at the polls headline and everything!

JS: I think it’s futile to try to draw too many parallels between the movie and today. What’s happening today has destroyed satire as an art form. Veep is one of the funniest shows on television. You can laugh at the jokes, but the absurdity of the situations aren’t quite as effective compared to our daily headlines.

CM: You’ve been a journalist for a long time. This is about journalism more than it is about business or politics. Kane today would be, who, Murdoch? Roger Ailes?

JS: He’s more of a Murdoch. Ailes was more ideological about it. Murdoch is all about acquiring the properties and getting the reach.

CM: …and this is all collateral damage from Murdoch’s drive to be number one in the ratings. Which is also kind of Trump’s thing. He really doesn’t care about anything about ratings.

JS: His stated need was to go get the people. He wanted to be the voice of the people, and for the people to come to him. He wanted people to love him, and that was through numbers, how it worked for him. Of course today it is so different. Back then one story in one place could make a huge difference. Now a story has to appear in a lot of different places to make any big deal about it.

LJH: But now you see a story that pops up in multiple places and then Fox News will go ‘No! No!’ and it will disappear. Who is even listening to them?

CM: In Kane, you see the end of that phenomenon. You see the Kane network slowly lose relevance because people stopped believing it. I feel like that’s the process you’re seeing right now, a disenthrallment. They’ve finally gone too far. There’s too much evidence. Trump not only is Kane, but Trump is Susan. He gets in the opera house and has to sing, only to discover he’s not a good singer.

JS: But Susan goes on tour. You see Inquirer papers all over America proclaiming her a great singer, and saying ‘sold out audiences!’ But then people go see her and she’s not a great singer. The truth really does matter.

CM: So, is Citizen Kane the best movie ever made?

JS: No. It’s not the greatest movie ever made, but you shouldn’t wait until you’re 67 to see it. It’s a movie that needs to be seen. It’s important on a number of levels. It’s an incredible story about America…In a way it’s like Death of a Salesman. It shows how business and money can take over someone’s life and crush you.

CM: What’s better?

JS: I don’t know…

CM: Vertigo is the one that overtook it in the Sight & Sound poll. Is that better?

JS: I don’t know. I do love Hitchcock.

CM: Personally, I don’t agree. I think this is better than Vertigo. I don’t even think Vertigo is Hitchcock’s best movie. I like Rear Window better. So what do you think is better than Citizen Kane?

JS: I think probably the two Godfathers, just in terms of sheer scope and artistry. There’s brilliance from top to bottom. Another one of my favorite films is Seven Beauties. And I have a real soft spot for 8 1/2.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Music Video Monday: Fredd Velvet

Posted By on Mon, Jun 12, 2017 at 11:19 AM

Today's MVM wants to stare deeply into your peepers.
Fredd Velvet's "Green Eyes" is a shambling rocker about relationship dysfunction that's pretty relatable. Erica Qualy teamed up with Ben Siler to translate the song's frustration into images. Appropriately, there are a lot of ocular close ups. So if you spent your weekend drinking alone in your kitchen wondering what the hell your boyfriend/girlfriend was thinking, this one's for you.

If you would like to see your music video on Music Video Monday, email

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Friday, June 9, 2017

It Comes At Night

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 1:49 PM

It Comes At Night is a monster movie about an invisible monster.


The invisible monster here is not like the invisible monster in the similarly named It Follows. The unseen antagonist in David Robert Mitchell's 2014 creeper is a definite, distinct entity with an agenda. If you are pursued by it, there are concrete steps you can take to save yourself. The threat in It Comes At Night is amorphous, seemingly coming at our protagonists from everywhere and nowhere. It is impossible to know whether the actions they take are helping or harming their cause. It is, in this way, a strong metaphor for our age.

The deadliest threat in human history (so far) was not war or famine, but a disease. The 1918 flu pandemic killed a million people a week for eight months. Then it got worse. As much as 6% of the population of the world succumbed to the virus before it burned itself out in 1920. When It Comes At Night opens, a family is facing the same agonizing situation that plague survivors have faced since the beginning of time. One of their own is infected, in this case grandpa Bud (David Pendleton). No words are exchanged wondering about the nature of the unknown disease, but with pustules spreading over Bud's body and his delirious fever, it looks like good, old fashioned bubonic plague. Bud's son-in-law Paul (Joel Edgerton), grandson Travis (Kelvin Harrison, Jr.) and daughter Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) are as yet uninfected, but they have to figure out at what point the needs of the entire family outweigh the needs of the sick patriarch.

They're not the only ones having to make these hard choices. There's a full pandemic raging, and society has broken down. The family made their way from the city to Bud's cabin in the woods, where they have holed up to wait for things to blow over. But the relative safety of their isolation is shattered when Will (Christopher Abbot) breaks into their cabin. His family of survivors mirrors theirs. He and wife Kim (Riely Keough) have a toddler son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner). After a brutally tense confrontation, the two families decide to work together for survival. But that's where things get complicated. There's another menace out in the woods, unseen and more quickly deadly than the dreaded plague. The combined threats and confined space ratchets up the tensions between the two families until it becomes unbearable.

Like many of the current crop of art horror films, director Trey Edward Shults's film has a strong social subtext. Like most zombie movies, it's about what happens when society fails and it's every man and woman for themselves. But by removing the zombies from the equation, its solutions to the question become much more stark. What happens in a hypercapitalist society where everyone is heavily armed, resources are scarce, and cooperation is taboo? It looks something like Travis' nightmares, which provide the spooky counterpoint to the brutal, bloody realism of the rest of the film. What is the frightening "it" that comes at night? It's us.

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My Cousin Rachel

Posted By on Fri, Jun 9, 2017 at 6:11 AM

Femmes fatales in film are regarded as misogynist for their kneejerk evil but feminist for lacking the doormat and sounding board qualities which define the majority of cinematic female characters. We don't know whether the title character in the period suspense drama My Cousin Rachel is one, or just a woman subject to the whims of an obsessive suitor. Philip (Sam Claflin), our main character, treats her alternately as angel of light and an exotic figure of suspicion. First we hear about her in letters which imply she poisoned his cousin/adoptive father in Italy, after marrying him. When she arrives, she is gentle and charming, although with a penchant for serving people vats of specially made tea. An offscreen doctor says her husband died of a brain tumor which made him paranoid.

Rachel Weis and Sam Clafin in My Cousin Rachel.
  • Rachel Weis and Sam Clafin in My Cousin Rachel.

Philip, who heretofore spent his scenes detailing the harm he will cause Rachel (Rachel Weisz), is immediately smitten. An orphan entering his mid-twenties, he notes he has "never seen a woman cry," and his need for love overrides his caution. Weisz must play Rachel both as a widow getting over her loved one's death by hanging out with someone who looks like him, and also as a figure of mysterious Italian letters, unexplained horse rides and inquiries about the will. The film's only problem is Philip's inexperience and gullibility which, while provoking suspense, are a little repetitive. The family attorney (Simon Russell Beale) and his godfather (Iain Glen, a.k.a. Jorah Mormont, in best unheeded counselor mode) warn him again and again, yet he seeks to woo Rachel with the wealth he will soon inherit. It’s hard to root for someone who only makes bad decisions to further the plot, which weights our sympathies with the possible murderer.

Notably for a period film, Philip's servants are visible. Outnumbering him, they live lives unconcerned with his affairs, eating, cussing and getting paid all while knowing to steer clear of his drama. (They also find time to ominously sing the British folksong "The Three Ravens", about birds discussing a knight's corpse abandoned in a field. I would have preferred The Twa Corbies.)

Director Roger Michell (Changing Lanes, Notting Hill) and cinematographer Mike Eley start with what looks like most British period dramas, but as Philip loses focus, so do they, using objects blocking the frame, rack focuses and a handheld camera to mirror Philip's mental state. The editing speeds up as things get more intense, and overall the film holds you in suspense. Based on a novel by Daphne du Maurier, it nevertheless is a bit old-fashioned. Du Maurier provided the basis for two Hitchcock films, but not for the one this film most resembles, Suspicion. Because the character of Rachel remains too elusive, the psychology is old hat. We never leave Philip's viewpoint, and Rachel's ambiguity is never big enough to let Weisz make a complete portrayal. She suggests a grieving woman constrained by her time and relationships, via half-sentences and shyness. The film is best as a haiku-like sketch of a widow in need of different social norms.

For a more vibrant period drama suspense thriller, I would recommend Chan-Wook Park's The Handmaiden, which replaces that director's appetite for violence with sex. Here Weisz's “limitless appetite" is alluded to a few times as warning to Philip, but during the only sex in the film she stares at the sky and thinks of England. For a more adventurous movie with Weisz, I'd recommend Yorgos Lanthimos' The Lobster, which segues from a meditation on socialized monogamy into a critique of how everything is socialized. My Cousin Rachel is enjoyable but not ambitious. Its sex is restrained, its deaths hidden. The tactfulness that just happens to beits style is also that of the endless wave of British period dramas that have washed on our shores every year since before I was born.

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