Tuesday, August 27, 2013

YOU CAN'T GO HOME AGAIN: a review of "The World's End"

Screenplay Written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright
Directed by Edgar Wright
**** (four stars)

"It's very important that we start creating new content again. We can only build on nostalgia so much before we have nothing left to build on. Before we're rebooting 'Spider-Man' AGAIN. It's dangerous to the culture, and it's boring to me."
-Joss Whedon

I hate to begin my latest review with such words of doom but the current state of motion pictures is in a perilously precarious state these days as superhero movies, sequels, prequels and all manner of re-boots, re-imaginings and re-inventions are the rule of the day, much to the detriment of new, creative and original material plus allowing filmmakers with a personal artistic voice to have their unfiltered shot at the multiplexes and theater houses. Now, truth be told, and certainly if you have been a frequent visitor to this site, you are more than aware of what movies I am seeing and championing so of course, I am plunking down my hard earned money and time to see many of the very same movies the rest of the general public has been seeing. That being said, I am growing increasingly weary of superheroes and re-treads of the same things that I have been seeing for much of my life and my hunger to be surprised again is growling that much more loudly in 2013, a year that has not been at its creative best and a sharp come down from the unusually strong heights from just last year. And then, I saw "The World's End"...

"The World's End," the latest directorial excursion from Director Edgar Wright is the second apocalyptic comedy to arrive in just three months, following Co-Writers/Co-Directors Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg's wildly inventive, bold and brazenly entertaining "This Is The End." Somehow, Wright has created a tremendously exciting, exhilarating and exceedingly well executed equal to "This Is The End" while firmly standing so tall upon its endlessly creative feet. Conceived as the third act in the so-called "Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy" with his compatriots Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, the triumvirate responsible for the cult classics "Shaun Of The Dead" (2004) and "Hot Fuzz" (2007), both of which I still have not seen (yes, I promise to catch up!), as well as being the follow-up film to the outstanding "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" (2010), Edgar Wright has proven again that he is a filmmaker of awesomely fearsome talents. Wright is a true cinematic magician as he somehow has the uncanny ability to keep this ferociously fast paced film completely on track while also spinning a variety of conceptual plates in the air, keeping them vibrant afloat from the film's first frame to the film's final end credit. Seeing a film this unique, so much of its own universe is blissfully refreshing to say the least and I would urge all of you to head right out and see something that is easily one of the most entertaining and original films of this bloated, and mostly creatively bankrupt summer movie season. "The World's End" is completely unlike anything else playing right now.

Set in the English town of Newton Haven, "The World's End" opens with a gloriously filmed and presented prologue in the summer of 1990 when we meet the five young man crew, led by the irrepressible and hedonistic Pied Piper Gary King, as they attempt to endure "The Golden Mile," an epic 12 bar "pub crawl," which falls apart before concluding at the final pub The World's End.

20 years later, we find our five not-so-young man crew, all estranged from each other and wrapped within the throes of their respective middle-aged lives...except for Gary King (Simon Pegg), for whom the summer of 1990 never ended. Desiring a sense of completion and reunion, Gary, still strutting around in his Goth wear and Sisters Of Mercy T-shirt, brashly invades the lives of  Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), Oliver Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) and the embittered and now sober Andy Knightley (Nick Frost) to invite them to return to Newton Haven and attempt their pub crawl once again. All four friends reluctantly agree, climb into Gary's ancient car known as "The Beast," and head back home.

Yet all is not remotely as it seems as the five-some soon realize that reaching The World's End is the least of their troubles...

Now, dear readers, just going from the film's title of "The World's End," it would be safe to assume that there is a cataclysmic aspect to this film and yes...you would, of course, be absolutely correct. But as to the whos, whats, whens, wheres, whys and hows, I will keep a tight lip upon those details as I do not want to ruin any surprises for you and "The World's End" s loaded with them. Edgar Wright has created a 100% irreverent and audacious comedy, fantasy joyride that owes as much to comic book and videogame aesthetics as it does to science fiction and horror films, British alternative rock music, a sharp social critique about our increasingly homogeneous consumerist culture, the novels of the late Douglas Adams, a taste of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan, the vibrant, dizzying wordplay of The Marx Brothers and the film even aligns itself very nicely with Ray Davies' absurdist automatronic nightmares contained in The Kinks' albums of the 1970s. How Wright kept even the slightest handle upon this kaleidoscopic cavalcade of material is astounding to me especially as every little moment and element made complete sense with everything else and it all felt so effortless while also daring the audience to keep up with its relentless pace, which can be found in the velocity of the dialogue, the wonderful visual display as lensed by veteran Cinematographer Bill Pope and the breathlessness of the beautifully choreographed fight sequences.

Like the film itself, the character of Gary King rests for absolutely no one and Simon Pegg's performance is a flat out dynamo of comic energy, almost balletic physicality and sheer existential rage. Yes, you read the last part of that last sentence correctly..."existential rage." It would have been very easy for Wright to conceive of "The World's End" as solely a fantastical apocalyptic comedy and just leave it at that, but I deeply appreciate that he and his cast and crew obviously had much more on their minds as they have injected the film with a surprisingly dark pathos that cuts to the core of the pain of growing older, especially when one's best days are long behind them and all they really have in the world are past glories to cling to. This quality places this film very confidently alongside recent dark comedies like Writer Diablo Cody and Director Jason Reitman's unrepentant "Young Adult" (2011) and Director Steve Pink's joyously vulgar but highly perceptive "Hot Tub Time Machine" (2010), as "The World's End" is painfully bittersweet as it examines just how certain friendships are probably not designed to extend themselves past a certain life period and also the very reason why the past is the past in the first place.

For Gary King, his sense of arrested development is fueled by those very hard lessons of aging and the accompanying issues of mortality and that is indeed the aforementioned existential rage that informs every single rash (and undeniably hysterical) decision that comes while trying to outrace or, in his case, out-drink the Grim Reaper. For all of the excitement, slapstick comedy, thrills and audio/visual flash and dazzle, Edgar Wright's "The World's End" is a film that looks square in the face of intense alcoholism, a crippling sense of lifelong failure and even death itself with a wry smile, high energy and an unblinking stature, defiantly refusing to go off into the cinematic good night quietly and nor should it. This is no holds barred, supremely confident filmmaking and entertainment done to perfection and we are so much the better for having the chance to witness something like this especially when Hollywood seemingly has less and less of a desire to produce films that do not already possess some pre-tested source material to fall back upon.

There is so much more that I wish to share with you about this film but I cannot as I would just spoil it all for you but do trust me when I express to you how voluminously thrilling "The World's End" is. Who knew that in this cinematic year, the most entertaining and creative films of the summer would be two apocalyptic comedies? Just like "This Is The End," "The World's End" is a fearlessly dark and hilarious ride, fully designed to blow up the Hollywood rule book and start afresh, blazing its own terrific path.

Saturday, August 24, 2013


Based upon the Washington Post article 
"A Butler Well Served By This Election" by Wil Haygood
Screenplay Written by Danny Strong
Directed by Lee Daniels
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

I have to say that I was more than a little nervous walking into this film. Not that I have anything against Director Lee Daniels who made "Precious" (2009), an emotional steamroller of a film that I listed at #4 on my Top Ten Favorite Films of that year. Nor do I have anything against the subject matter, which depicts the life of an African-American man in the role of servitude. Dear readers, my trepidation had everything to do with the lingering sting of Director Tate Taylor's "The Help" (2011), a film, which all of you know, I loathed with a venomous passion as it was a film about racism that was completely terrified of its own subject matter and treated the entirety of African-Americans as noble, silently suffering victims just waiting for that well meaning, college educated, young white woman to arrive and save us all.

Most thankfully, I did not have that kind of an experience whatsoever as "The Butler" is a deeply resonant film that walks confidently forwards and is unafraid as it approaches its subject matter firmly from the inside and approaches history, most specifically our collective history with the Civil Rights Movement, through the filter of one man, his family, and the ensuing generational conflict between himself and his eldest son. Because of that intimate, personal touch, "The Butler," while set in the past, is a film that is very much of the present. Just as much as Writer/Director Ryan Coogler's excellent "Fruitvale Station," Lee Daniels has presented us with a film that fully examines what it means to be Black in America as he has merged the social/political landscape with powerfully probing self-examination via strong filmmaking skill, empathy and profound understanding. While the film has already received some snidely negative remarks as being a film that is nothing more than "Oscar bait," I firmly disagree with that sentiment as I felt that the wealth of emotions the film gathered up have been earned honestly, and at times, quite tremendously.

Based upon the life of Eugene Allen, who worked in The White House as a butler throughout eight Presidential administrations, Lee Daniels' "The Butler" stars Forest Whitaker in a stunning, eerily transformative and yes, Oscar worthy performance as Cecil Gaines, the film's titular White House butler who becomes an eyewitness of several key historical events, most especially, the formative events of the Civil Rights era, during his 34 year tenure. Beginning in 1926, we meet Cecil at the age of 8 years old, and right on the cusp of witnessing the traumatizing events that will shape the bulk of his life afterwards: the rape of his Mother, Hattie Pearl (a completely unrecognizable Mariah Carey) and the murder of his Father, Earl Gaines (David Banner) by a malicious plantation owner (played by Alex Pettyfer). Yet before his death, Earl imparts upon Cecil crucial wisdom at how to survive in America, to understand that he, as a Black person, is nothing more than a tenant in a White world.

Cecil is then taken in by plantation Matriarch Annabeth Westfall (Vanessa Redgrave), who introduces him into the life of a "house nigger," the servant who will tend to the needs and desires of White people so unobtrusively, that the room should always appear to be empty even when he is inside of it. Cecil eventually leaves the plantation to enter the wider world and eventually obtains a job as a hotel butler under the tutelage of veteran butler Maynard (a solid Clarence Williams III). Cecil's excellent abilities with courtesy, graciousness and the ability to completely avoid conflict of any kind, eventually catches the eye of a White House recruiter who soon hires him for a position within the Oval office during the Eisenhower administration.

From this point, "The Butler" follows Cecil in the White House from the late 1950's all the way through to Barack Obama's 2008 first Presidential victory as he receives a first hand viewpoint of the Federal Integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, the arrival and assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the introduction of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Vietnam War, the resignation of President Richard Nixon and the Free South Africa movement among other events. Outside of the White House, we follow Cecil's private life with his family, which includes his loving yet lonely, alcoholic, and adulterous wife Gloria (Oprah Winfey), his temperamental eldest son Louis (an outstanding David Oyelowo), who resents his Father's occupation and soon becomes a Freedom Rider and member of the Black Panther party, and finally, his youngest son Charlie (Elijah Kelley). In all aspects of his life, Cecil is burdened with the strain of living his existence while constantly wearing two faces: the one he is allowed to show in his public setting and the one he is able to have in private, a dichotomy that makes for a turbulent, complicated, and combustible state of being as his inner turmoil, anger, rage at an unfair world seeps, and occasionally explodes, in his own home and against the very people he cherishes the deepest.

At the outset of this review, I spoke about my initial nervousness with seeing "The Butler" due to its potential conceptual proximity to "The Help." What immediately sets "The Butler" miles ahead of "The Help" is that Lee Daniels completely avoids the tragic error made by Tate Taylor, which is that unlike "The Help," a film that was not really was not about "the help" at all, "The Butler" is indeed and entirely about...THE BUTLER! Lee Daniels places his film ultimately within the perceptions, growing worldview, deep psychology, and emotional landscape of Cecil Gaines. There is no White figure assigned to guide him through his story or serve as a savior. Cecil Gaines represents the very truth of what it was/is like to walk through a predominantly White world as a Black man and Daniels accomplishes this feat with an unapologetic matter-of-fact quality that was refreshing. To me, "The Butler" did not exist to serve the imaginary White audience that may be viewing this film or even the imaginary Black audience armed with their own pre-conceived ideas of what a film like this should or could be. Daniels leaves much for us to string together and formulate our own opinions and ideas and there is much on display to foster deep discussions after leaving the confines of the movie theater.

While some reviews would like for you to believe otherwise, Lee Daniels' "The Butler" is not nearly as melodramatic or as histrionic as I would gather you would find in a film by say...Tyler Perry. No, it is not a perfect film and no, I do not think that it is even one of the best films of this year. As for its flaws, Daniels does lay his foot a tad heavy on the dramatic accelerator a little bit here and there. Not every line of dialogue is as eloquent or as sharply written as they need to be. The "stunt casting" is a bit distracting as some actors fail to make much of an impression (Robin Williams as President Eisenhower), while others are either oddly chosen and executed (John Cusack, clearly too young for the role and channeling a certain paranoia as President Nixon) and others are completely miscast (Liev Schreiber as President Johnson and Alan Rickman as President Reagan) And aside from the excellent makeup artistry utilized upon the film's primary cast members, don't get me started on the "old age" makeup for the Presidential figures, while not nearly as horrifically disastrous as we saw in Director Ron Howard's otherwise wonderful "A Beautiful Mind" (2001), but surprisingly poor nonetheless.

All of that being said, overall, I found "The Butler" to be much more nuanced, subtle, perceptive, and even more haunting than it is being given credit for. There have already been a number of comparisons between this film and Director Robert Zemeckis' "Forrest Gump" (1994) and I truly believe that is more than a little unfair and short-sighted. "Forrest Gump" was a fable, a fantasy, a Voltaire styled odyssey. "The Butler" has both of its cinematic feet firmly planted within reality.

Yes, we are essentially given a travelogue through Civil Rights history with stop-gaps at key events and figures, but it is in the way Daniels guides us through the history that makes "The Butler" a revelatory and undeniably moving experience. He essentially accomplishes the same feat Ryan Coogler achieved with "Fruitvale Station," as Daniels has the audacity to present Black people as three dimensional human beings during a stage (or stages) in our nation's history when African Americans were/are being perceived as less than human. We are seeing these horrific perceptions and attitudes all over again and despite (or maybe even because of) the presence of Barack Obama in the White House.

What I really believe that we need to understand about "The Butler" is that Lee Daniels is actually giving us all a lesson about what history actually is. That Cecil Gaines is not a bystander to the tides of change in Civil Rights and therefore American history. Cecil Gaines is indeed a full participant in this changing history, as we all are in our collective humanity. Lee Daniels understands that history is not simply made by and consists of the key players. History is the cumulative experience of all who have lived through a period of time, making everything relative to the individual experiences we all have and can share with each other if only we were all willing to listen.What Daniels wisely executes in having "The Butler" transcend the standard classroom history lesson factor is by placing Cecil and his family at the film's core, and then seeing how the history that surrounds them shapes their relationships with each other, their community, the country and most importantly, themselves and their own sense of self-perception, awareness and evolution. This factor is a key element in the turbulent relationship between Cecil and Louis, an element which forces them, and the audience, to think seriously about what it means to be Black in America, what it means for any of us to stand up for ourselves and what it means to advance ourselves forwards in this country and the world at large.

The aforementioned "two faces" I described sits at the crux of Cecil and Louis' conflict and in many ways, both of their perceptions about their respective places in the world are correct. For Cecil, who saw first hand what can happen to Blacks when openly asserting themselves, as well as for the very inexplicable societal transgressions that can see an Emmett Till or Trayvon Martin senselessly murdered, Black people need to stay silent, to keep their true feelings hidden away from the world solely for the sake of survival. Yet for Louis, it is equally important and crucial to not live in fear, to claim our place in the world and most importantly to risk death in the ultimate fight for freedom. And yet, each of these two participants are unable to see the value and validity in their respective world views and personal methods due to the generational struggle and Father./son conflict. What takes them much of their lives to understand about each other is that they are actually two sides of the very same coin, and yet they just do not see it--for love and fear blinds them both.

Now any other film without a probing mind and agenda would just leave the conflict between Father and son at this point but Daniels smartly goes even further as he explores the subversive nature of servitude and how Cecil is indeed advancing himself, his family and African-Americans all while it seems as if he is in eternal subjugation. We see how Cecil's career has afforded him a car, a house, a standing within his community and the ability to send his children to college while also existing as a window for Whites to peer into the humanity that exists within all African Americans.

Also, Daniels provides us with a couple of powerfully presented montage sequences that would seem to be explorations of certain societal juxtapositions (which they are) but also serve to illustrate the similarities. One especially excellent sequence depicts the opulent life inside the White House alongside a brutal sequence set inside of a diner as Louis, now a member of the Freedom Riders, is attacked by racist whites. On the surface, this could just be a section of opulence of the White House against the violence in the streets but what Daniels gives us are two parts of America (The White House and the diner) where Black people are not welcome for no other reason than skin color.

With regards to the film's performances, our key players in "The Butler" all deserve high marks. David Oyelowo is an actor who is continuing to impress and enthrall me and with his performance as the militant Louis Gaines, he strikes a level of command that is riveting to regard. Furthermore, he is fully convincing as he is playing a character who is at times younger than himself and eventually much older and once in the presence of Forest Whitaker as Cecil, his transformation from adult man and community leader to a child endlessly desiring his Father's approval, love, and acceptance is heartbreaking.

While my feelings for Oprah Winfrey as a pop cultural figure have been and remain conflicted, as an actress, she is deeply affecting and has once again amazed me with her natural ability to channel a world's worth of range and emotions while building the full life of a character. It is a 100% committed performance that is entirely worthy of any and all attention it may receive.

I must give special mention to Cuba Gooding Jr. and even Lenny Kravitz, who take small roles and fill them very strongly as they portray Cecil's closest friends and confidants within the White House butler staff. And Terrence Howard, who portrays a neighbor with who Winfrey's character has a brief affair, plays a rascal unlike anybody else.  

But Forest Whitaker is a sight to behold. If he is not nominated for an Academy Award, that slight would be one of those unforgivable Oscar crimes as Whitaker's work as Cecil Gaines operates at a higher level of acting and is a performance of complete transformation. Like Daniel Day-Lewis accomplishes over and again, Forest Whitaker has embodies the life of this character so fully that I could not find even a spec of Forest Whitaker upon the screen. His face, his gait, his voice have all completely changed from anything I have ever seen him perform in the past and his eyes are indeed the window to the soul as they express the command of his resolve and the pain he cannot verbalize. I think what made his performance even eerier to me is how often as I had to do double takes at the screen as Whitaker seriously resembled, and therefore reminded me of...my Grandfather, who I am still blessed to have in my life even now as he is 92 years old and precisely the same man I have known throughout my entire life. As I watched Forest Whitaker...I mean, Cecil Gaines, I could not help but to have my mind flash to my Grandfather, who I know has seen it all from 1921 to the present. I could not help but to wonder exactly what experiences he had growing up during the same period as this character and how the history around him shaped him, how he changed or otherwise remained the same individual he had been in his youth. How did he build his life, career and family? What were his triumphs and sacrifices during a much more racially harsher time period and how did he view the changing social/political landscape during the Civil Rights era and how would he compare it to the growing overt racism of 2013? This is the achievement of Forest Whitaker's performance in "The Butler," to create a life on screen so vividly and with such understated, intense passion, grit, heart and truth that it feels as if we are seeing the real individual so beautifully that it would hopefully give a viewer a chance to pause and think about those who are indeed NOT like themselves and see the common humanity that we share.   

Before I close this review, I'd like to give you another personal anecdote, of which I have not shared before. In the summer of 1990, I was a member of a Summer internship program in Chicago. I worked in the Human Resources Department of the now defunct but then ritzy Hotel Nikko (a location where Oprah once booked her guests and a place I lovingly called "The Blade Runner Inn" as it was so high tech--the elevators even spoke to you!) Anyhow, my job that summer was to create and write an official Job Responsibility Handbook, a task I worked on until the absolute final seconds of my final day on the job. One day, as I was changing into my suit in the locker room, I was approached by a couple of African American gentlemen who worked as part of the hotel staff in more servitude roles. They inquired as to what I was doing there because I was quite possibly the only African American who was not cleaning clothes, doing dishes or anything of that sort. I informed them of my duties and after a fairly lengthy pause, one of them leaned in close to me and said pointedly, "Look...you do a great job and make US ALL look good and maybe then, they'll get some of us in positions like that." That moment rocked me to the core. What was just a summer job to me in that instant became something that represented so much more than I could have possibly realized or even took the time to understand. I realized that I was that window for the White staff into the world of what Black people could actually do, perform.and even be and I have played that role more times than I can count throughout my life during schooling, my career, my adulthood and even through my writings. Such is the reality of being Black in America.

That lesson is as much a part of the core of "The Butler" as what it means to be a human being at our specific points of time and place in our continuing experiences and history. Lee Daniels film, while with some flaws, is so earnestly, intelligently and emotionally presented that I believe that it has accomplished the wondrous feat of inviting the audience to truly think hard about who we are and what we can all be together in the world we share.

Any film that swings for those fences with this level of honesty and heart will always have high marks in my book. This time those high marks are awarded to "The Butler."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

REVOLUTION: a review of "Elysium"

Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp
***1/2 (three and a half stars)

"This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now."
-Neill Blomkamp

And so it is...or more truthfully, it is what I have been wondering what will ultimately be.

Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium," his engrossing and brutally pummeling follow-up to his outstanding "District 9" (2009), firmly establishes him as a filmmaking force to be seriously reckoned with. As so many big budget films being released today that have not an idea in their heads and try to get by with special effects that aren't the least bit special, sloppy, hyperactive cinematography and editing and over-active sound designs, Blomkamp is a most welcome presence as he firmly understands not only how to utilize special effects and cutting edge filmmaking techniques, but also how to make them resonate to terrifically disturbing fashion by ensuring the story, themes, characters and performances are front and center and "Elysium" is no exception. Where "District 9" posed as an allegory to examine apartheid, "Elysium" openly takes on the subject of immigration and our increasing divide between the 99% and 1%, a divide which I fear is bound to ignite some deadly consequences...that is if the bulk of the 99% finally refuses to remain complacent. Now dear readers, do not think that I am one to utilize this film review haven as a call for real world violence. Absolutely not! But that said, the rage that boils and explodes within "Elysium" is highly palpable, mirroring my own as I look at the world we all co-exist within and wonder just exactly how and when the tables will turn.

Set in the year 2154, "Elysium" invites us into a future Earth vision that suggests just what our planet might look like just before it is solely inhabited by Wall-E. It is a world where Earth's resources have been depleted, the population has been entirely overrun and everyone exists in a filth ridden pestilence and extreme poverty. The wealthiest citizens have all evacuated the planet to a heavenly space station called Elysium, a paradise on which Secretary Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) presides with a cruelly iron hand, determined to ensure that luxurious lifestyle is preserved only for the highly affluent citizens at all costs. This tactic includes attacking and destroying any space shuttles with illegal immigrants approaching in order to live a better life for themselves and in many cases, utilize the advanced technology of Med Pods, which are able to cure all illnesses.

Back on Earth, specifically in Los Angeles, we meet Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), a legendary thief and now ex-con who works on a factory line building androids and who houses large dreams on one day finally being able to purchase a ticket to Elysium. When Max is exposed to lethal radiation while upon the job and is told that he will die within five days, he strikes a deal with a notorious smuggler named Spider (an excellent Wagner Moura) to steal corporate information from which Spider can profit and in exchange, Spider will help Max infiltrate Elysium in order to use a Med Pod to save his own life. Inorder to accomplish this feat, a weakened and dying Max is scientifically merged with an exo-skeleton and bio-medical implants that will help him increase his strength and endurance.

Of course, this is all easier said than done as Max is doggedly pursued by Delacourt's hired mercenary and veritable psychopath Agent Krueger (a frighteningly unhinged Sharlto Copley) and his squadron. As Max attempts to blast his way to Elysium, he soon discovers that his journey contains much more purpose and meaning than just saving his own life as the fate of the lives on Earth rests in his hands and deep within his mind, the place where the stolen corporate information resides.

"Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" is an angry, passionate, two-fisted science-fiction action adventure that roars from start to finish via its urgent subject matter and intensely felt fever dream pacing and execution. Very much like "District 9" and so much unlike most movies that are released these days, Blomkamp ensures that our very humanity is truly at stake within the confines of this story, and therefore making our existence something to claw and fight for as if our last breath is imminent. This wrenching quality gives all of the action sequences a purposeful emotional weight that makes them operate on a richer, deeper level than mere escapism yet Blomkamp never forgets how to get an audience to be visually blown away. In short, you will give more than a damn over what is happening and to whom while your eyes are popping at the sights and spectacle. You are fully engaged with the entirety of "Elysium" and not bludgeoned.

Also as with "District 9," the special effects of "Elysium" are truly special as everything feels to be so photo-realistic and seamlessly combined with the real world surroundings. The film has a lived in, gritty quality that envelops the senses so strongly that Blomkamp's vision even suggests the potential rank scents on Earth (and the sound effects of buzzing flies certain helped in this matter). I should warn those of you with sensitive stomachs that the level of graphic violence in "Elysium" is quite high. But for me, I never felt that the gore was gratuitous and actually, I found that it really helped the film a bit as the human cost within the story was paramount (especially in regards to who is eligible to receive health care and who is not) and we weren't witnessing another cavalcade of anonymous CGI people being blown away.

But all of this would be for naught if you didn't have the right actors to pull this off. Matt Damon again shows why he is one of the finest actors of his generation through his 100% commitment to the role of Max which is copiously filled with existential anguish and a ferocious physical urgency. Sharlto Copley's vicious unpredictability is precisely what makes him such an an engaging, unnerving and formidable screen presence to watch and he makes his mercenary one of 2013's most frightening villains by far.

And yet, as terrific as "Elysium" is, it did not quite match the heights set by "District 9." First of all, there was Jodie Foster who has returned to her "Ice Queen" territory as we have already seen (and much better) in Spike Lee's excellent "Inside Man" (2006). With the ravenous, rapacious performance of Sharlto Copley in place, that excellence offset what could otherwise have been an even more terrifying villain-the politician with no soul, empathy or concern whatsoever for anything other than their own sense of self-preservation and feral desire for unrelenting power and control. Basically, many of the members that make up our United States Congress! (Ba dum bump!) Jodie Foster's performance as Jessica Delacourt, a political figure that only the likes of Dick Cheney and John McCain would envy, amounts to nothing more than clenched teeth and a bizarre, wandering foreign accent that sometimes sounds French, sometimes sounds British, or sometimes sounds South African. It is a sad miscalculation that undermines her imposing presence and it is the film's weakest performance by a mile.  

Even larger, is the fact that "Elysium" is yet another science fiction film that feels to be largely made up of spare parts from other science fiction films whereas "District 9" reminded me of nothing that I had previously seen. Blomkamp gives his nods to no less than George Miller's "Mad Max" series (1979/1982/1985), John Carpenter's "Escape From New York" (1981), James Cameron's "The Terminator" (1984), Paul Verhoven's "Robocop" (1987), and The Wachowski's "The Matrix" series (1999/2003). But unlike Joseph Kosinski's downright awful "Oblivion" from earlier this year, "Elysium" never devolves into outright plagiarism.

Blomkamp's personal stamp arrives with how he uses the landscape of science fiction to explore the social/economic/political landscape that is in front of us right now. "Elysium" is filled with Blomkamp's thought provoking anger which rallies against a broken political system, and most loudly at a health care system that is becoming more exclusive based upon ethnicity and one's economic class. One major plot point in the film involves a small Hispanic girl from Earth dying from Leukemia who desperately needs one of Elysium's Med Pods but is refused (and furthermore hunted down) solely because she is not a citizen. Now, this tactic may seem to be more than a bit purple to some of you but as we look out into the real world in which we all live, just look at the politicians in office right now who are denying the very same access to health care for the poor, especially small children. That level of moral outrage sits at the heart of "Elysium" and that is what makes the film overall so sobering and tumultuous to experience. And what else lies at the heart of "Elysium" is the sense of sacrifice in favor of the greater good of humanity itself.

For all of the fury and carnage, Neill Blomkamp has delivered another turbulent odyssey that explores and questions who we are and whom we would like to be at this specific point in time. How can we allow to call ourselves human if atrocities like these and individualistic displays of self-preservation are allowed to continue their stranglehold on the wheel of morality. Blomkamp knows that all it takes is one to light the spark to enact change. But what will that change look like?

By looking at our past and devising a grim future, "Elysium" gives us more than enough food for thought while it also blasts us around the movie theater and as far as I am concerned, that is a triumph.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013


August 6, 2013 will mark the fourth anniversary of John Hughes' untimely passing at the young age of 59 from a heart attack during an early morning stroll in New York City while visiting family. Although the shock, disbelief and sadness from his death has lessened considerably for me, I remain compelled to compose my annual tribute to him as he is paramount to why I am a writer in the very first place. This year, instead of focusing upon a particular film or favorite scenes from Hughes' oeuvre, I wanted to zero in on a specific and crucial piece of his filmmaking aesthetic that spoke, and continues to speak, volumes to me and that essential quality into sheer essence and excellence of his finest work is undoubtedly the music!


Simple Minds. Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark. Psychedelic Furs. Everything But The Girl. Oingo Boingo. Kirsty MacColl. The Dream Academy. New Order. Tortoise. And so many, many more...

At various points throughout my life, I have embraced all of those aforementioned musical artists. Some may have been the right music at the right time and others have become long standing musical fixtures that I have listened to and treasured over and again. No matter if I had listened to them for brief periods or if I have followed them throughout the decades, truth be told, I do not believe that I would have heard of many of these bands and artists or would have even given them a chance if not for John Hughes. For all that Hughes has given (and continues to give) to me throughout my life via his writing and his films, my musical universe would have remained considerably smaller if not for his massive influence.

"The only reason I got into movies 
was because I had no music talent."

John Hughes made that admission during an interview with writer Gil Kaufman for MTV.com which was published on-line one day after Hughes passed away. The bulk of that particular article only continued to confirm what had already become industry legend: John Hughes was a music fanatic. The stories were often reported in press junket interviews and later during remembrances from longtime collaborators and friends and every single one of them, from the time I was a teenager to this very day, left me enraptured. There were the tales of Hughes rapidly writing his screenplays to blaring music whether in his home or his offices, which were also filled floor to ceiling with his vast music collections. Hughes once cited The Clash and The Beatles as his favorite bands and throughout the 56 day shoot of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986), he reportedly listened to "The Beatles" a.k.a. "The White Album" every single day. And then, there were the stories of his frequent trips to Chicago's legendary Wax Trax record store (the very location which supposedly inspired the record store in 1986's "Pretty In Pink"), where he first purchased the then forward leaning independent music that peppered his films.

According to beautifully written and deeply fascinating passages in Author Susannah Gora's wonderful book You Couldn't Ignore Me If You Tried, Hughes' own teen years were spent being a self-described "frustrated guitarist" as well as a "music snob" who wanted to always be musically ahead of the curve of his peers as he refused to listen to Top 40 stations and read England's "Melody Maker" magazine and ordered music from overseas to get the jump on British artists before anyone else. Hughes' musical tastes were wide ranging from rock and roll and its offshoots of punk, new wave and all the way though to electronic and industrial to folk to country and western, blues, jazz and classical. But in 1983, when I was 14 years old, I had not yet heard of John Hughes (despite having seen that summer's "National Lampoon's Vacation" and "Mr. Mom," both of which he had written) and my musical universe was only just beginning to develop.

I was on the cusp of beginning high school in the fall of 1983. Music had already existed as a beloved and permanent fixture in my life. I was playing the drums and was then playing in my rock band Ground Zero. By this time, I had worshiped at the altar of The Beatles and found my musical home within the bands and artists that populated Chicago's classic rock radio stations, while finding a certain allegiance with 1970s progressive rock acts, with Genesis and Rush existing as my personal favorites. The genre of new wave had not quite taken hold of me at that time (and I was in fact a tad suspicious of them) but there were groups I gravitated towards, like The Police. But beyond that, I really never went any further. As I look back, I see how narrow my musical tastes actually were and while I was somewhat aware of some bands that were considerably left of center, if they did not happen to fit within a certain musical genre that I had already embraced, I tended not to pay them any attention.

With regards to movies, I was already well on my way with that aspect of my education as I was trying to watch anything and everything that passed my way. In the Spring of 1984, near the end of my Freshman year, "Sixteen Candles" was released to theaters and while I still had no idea of who John Hughes was, I did have scant knowledge of it being filmed just outside of Chicago in the Northern suburbs and by being a film about and being marketed towards teenagers, my interest had been piqued. The surprisingly strong reviews from the late, great Gene Siskel and the late, great Roger Ebert (I still cannot believe that all of these major influences are now no longer with us) were also a major plus as the teen film genre had rightfully received no critical respect due to much of the genre existing as pandering puerile fodder that had no understanding of the teenage experience whatsoever.

One night, on the WGN news, Roy Leonard, the film critic on that channel, was reviewing the film and it was there on which I saw my first film clip from "Sixteen Candles." It was the scene at the high school dance when Samantha Baker (Molly Ringwald) stares longingly at the seemingly eternal out of reach dreamboat Jake Ryan (Michael Shoeffling). The song to accompany her heartache...Spandau Ballet's breathless ballad "True." Hearing that song in that film clip was a surprise as that very song was all over the radio at that specific moment in time. To that end, "Sixteen Candles" felt to me particularly up to the minute and therefore, it was something that was speaking to me even before I realized it.  By the time I did finally see the film on videocassette that fall, "Sixteen Candles" had changed my life and to date, I believe it to be not only one of the funniest, most quotable films I have ever seen, it remains the most romantic by a mile. And as much as the performances and Hughes brilliant writing and direction created this piece of move magic, it cannot be said enough how music the music added to that film's incredible artistic success.


Hearing rock music in films was certainly not a new thing for me by the time of "Sixteen Candles" but I would gather that at that time, it was indeed the very best usage of rock music I had experienced in a teen film to date, even eclipsing the stellar work achieved in Director Amy Heckerling and Writer Cameron Crowe's "Fast Times At Rigemont High" (1982) and Director Martha Coolidge's "Valley Girl" (1983).  If "Sixteen Candles" had any peer in this regard, I would say that it operated on the same level of genius as Writer/Director George Lucas' seminal "American Graffiti" (1973), as the music was plastered throughout the entire film as sonic wallpaper that essentially became an additional character as well as a storytelling device. What John Hughes accomplished was extraordinary and I still marvel at it today, but to my ears, Hughes' work with the music of "Sixteen Candles," all of which he handpicked himself while also working in collaboration with Composer Ira Newborn, was to create a sonic palate that was as orchestrated as the slapstick comedy on screen, the crackerjack dialogue, and the full emotional landscape of the story while supporting and even commenting upon the action from one end to the other. 

Just look at the opening sequence set during the daily whirlwind of the Baker family household. After being blasted with the sound of an air-raid siren once the morning newspaper hits the front porch, Hughes immediately takes us into the eye of the Baker family tornado with misplaced briefcases, sibling battles, bathroom territorial wars, befuddled parents and the additional stress of an upcoming wedding to boot. But aside from the dialogue, I want you to just listen to the scene. Listen to how we are hit with AC/DC's "Snowballed" when pre-pubescent smart mouth Mike (Justin Henry) enters the scene but then abruptly changes to Darlene Love's "Today I Met The Boy I'm Gonna Marry" the moment we are introduced to bride-to-be Ginny (Blanche Baker) and then back to AC/DC again once her bedroom door closes sharply. From here, we are presented with our introduction to 16 year old Samantha, studying her body in the mirror while listening to the radio, which is playing Paul Young's "Love Of The Common People." The film has not even hit ten minutes and Hughes has quickly and deftly demonstrated how to utilize music to help an audience fully understand who these people are, how they behave and their respective inner states. So impressive and it just sets the stage for everything yet to arrive.

After Samantha's classic petulant statement of incredulous disbelief ("I can't believe it. They fucking forgot my birthday!), Hughes brings us what is essentially his opening credit sequence fanfare, Kajagoogoo's eponymous theme song, and from this point onwards, the music of "Sixteen Candles" ping-pongs from the rambunctious new wave of Oingo Boingo's "Wild Sex In The Working Class," The Specials' "Little Bitch," The Revillos "Rev Up," and The DiVinyls "Ring Me Up," to the hard rock of Night Ranger's "Rumors In The Air" and Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell," David Bowie's classic "Young Americans," the wistful romantic pop of Nick Heyward's "Whistle Down The Wind" and Tim Finn's "Growing Pains," the raucous punk rock ravings of Patti Smith's "Gloria," a smattering of classic television and movie theme songs ("Peter Gunn," "Dragnet," "The Godfather") and even a kazoo version of Prince's apocalyptic classic "1999" to accompany the Dante's Inferno hellhole of the school bus.

Connecting all of those musical puzzle pieces together like the strongest of glue is Ira Newborn's film score which itself zig-zags from broad and brassy to doo wop vocal harmonies to sensitive string sections to tasteful new wave textures with effortless ease. And then, Hughes hits us all with a whammy at the film's conclusion when Samantha and Jake at long last unite with the woozy synthetic dream pop of The Thompson Twins' "If You Were Here." No other song would have possibly been more perfect to cement the ache and wonderment of teen love and wish fulfillment than that song. The merging of this music with the images and performances made you feel as if you were falling in love as rapidly and as completely as Samantha and Jake and I have never seen anything more blissful than that moment on screen.

John Hughes' "Sixteen Candles" announced the arrival of a unique creative talent in full auspicious and audacious style as with this one film, he had firmly established his own film universe. Hughes' slapstick and situational farce was Shakespearean, his brilliantly heightened dialogue was snappy, sharp, smart and everything we wished that we could possibly say in the exact ways we wished that we could say them, and most importantly the emotional states of his teenage characters were fully drawn and completely respectful of his audience especially in regards to matters of love and sex as Hughes presented characters that were more romantic than sexual. And then, there was the music! Man, the music!! The music of this film, and for most of John Hughes' films hereafter, courageously and defiantly showcased the very music he adored himself and then inserted it all into his film universe as if this music is what EVERYONE just naturally listened to. By doing so, John Hughes appointed himself as a pop-cultural tastemaker and what incredible musical taste he had.

While watching "Sixteen Candles," it was as if we were hearing a John Hughes radio broadcast during which he, as the DJ, would spin the knob up and down the dial, taking records on and off, all the while finding the perfect pieces to augment the characters he created and the situations he had placed them into. There are 31 song selections in all of "Sixteen Candles," a massive collection certainly, and somehow, every single selection was perfect, even when they should not have been. Hughes' work within the film's two party sequences were especially outstanding as song after song appeared to help keep up the film's overall momentum while also underscoring every character's inner motivations. And still, he always knew when exactly to slow things down and find moments that were quieter and more meditative like the classic auto shop sequence where Samantha and The Geek (Anthony Michael Hall) share secrets, hopes, wishes and fears while taking a respite from the school dance and Stevie Ray Vaughan's gorgeous instrumental "Lenny" graces the six minutes with some elegant blues.

With everything that I loved so dearly about "Sixteen Candles," I fell so deeply in love with the sound and the overall musicality of the film. While I had already loved the more traditional film scores of John Williams and I was completely blown away by Tangerine Dream's electronic film scores to Michael Mann's "Thief" (1981) and Paul Brickman's "Risky Business" (1983), John Hughes taught me to begin to pay stricter attention to how music was, and could be, utilized in the movies. In "Sixteen Candles," Hughes created a cinematic musical universe that functioned much like how sample heavy hip-hop albums are today--seemingly disparate elements fitted together to create a musically resonant whole. That unique quality makes "Sixteen Candles" a film that is a joy to listen to as well as view. Beyond that, what John Hughes gave to me through the music of "Sixteen Candles" was the very music I urgently began to seek out for myself.


If John Hughes' work with music within "Sixteen Candles" was akin to a radio show or a cinematic jukebox filled with a collection of great singles, Hughes' second film, "The Breakfast Club" (1985), marked the point when he seemed to begin to think of his films, and the music contained within, as full albums (in fact, the iconic one-sheet poster for "The Breakfast Club" was reportedly designed to resemble an album jacket).

Hughes repeated the sonic formula of "Sixteen Candles" for his third film "Weird Science" (1985) to great effect and with a slightly harder edge (thanks to music by Van Halen, Lords Of The New Church, Ratt and Killing Joke among others), possibly to reflect the raunchier and more testosterone elements of that film. But the music of "The Breakfast Club" showcased Hughes' growth with mature, complex themes, a greater sense of nuance and mood shaping, a technique he continued to utilize over and again as he worked with specific musical collaborators to ensure that each and every film obtained a signature sound.

While Hughes continued to work with Ira Newborn for his broader comedies like "Weird Science," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Planes, Trains And Automobiles" (1987) and "Uncle Buck" (1989), Hughes began to work even more closely with the musicians and producers he adored from the alternative rock world. With "The Breakfast Club," Hughes collaborated with Producer Keith Forsey who composed the film's score (his pretty "Love Theme" essentially picks up where The Thompson Twins left off) and had a hand in writing and producing all of the film's songs, including the now iconic "Don't You (Forget About Me)," the song that gave Simple Minds its breakthrough (and inspired me to discover their albums). As Hughes recalled in a 1986 interview with the Chicago Sun Times regarding Forsey's crucial involvement with the film and this song in particular, "Keith watched rehearsals, read the script, met the actors, hung around with us, then went off and wrote this song. You can't take the song out of the movie and can't take the movie out of the song." Amen...

For "Pretty In Pink," Hughes with Director Howard Deutch delved even further to make the music and the film congeal more completely. As Composer Michael Gore provided the film's more traditional romantic score, Hughes achieved something even greater by beginning to utilize the songs themselves as the film's score. Certainly there was the equally iconic "If You Leave" by Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark (OMD) which scored the film's final 10 minute climactic prom sequence but what I found to be truly special was how he worked with bands reluctant to venture into Hollywood by ensuring that the integrity of their music would not be compromised or bastardized. This is most notable with the inclusion of New Order as they contributed three tracks to the "Pretty In Pink" music score. As "Thieves Like Us" provided an energetic warm up to the prom sequence with a montage of all of the film's major characters, their haunting "Elegia" was used the very best for the sequence where the conflict is highest and all of the major characters have hit their lowest, most turbulent emotional points.

As euphoric as "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" is, the film is also achingly melancholic and bittersweet as the concept of the speeding passage of time is paramount to the overall story, the inner states of our truant trio, as well as for the personal philosophy of John Hughes himself. While music by The English Beat, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Big Audio Dynamite, General Public and of course, The Beatles' "Twist And Shout" brings the movie so happily to its feet via an infectious joie de vivre, Hughes never forgets to remain focused upon the film's very serious core which features Cameron Frye's (Alan Ruck) depression and family trauma combined with being terrified of his impending departure from high school into the unknown and eventual separation from his best friend Ferris Bueller (Matthew Broderick). Hughes utilizes the music of The Dream Academy (providing an instrumental cover version of a song by The Smiths) to wordlessly underscore Cameron's inner state during that stunning Art Institute sequence. And Ferris himself provides one of the film's most self-aware monologues as Cameron lays catatonic by Lake Michigan while being backed by Blue Room's "I'm Afraid."

As with his actors and several key members of his behind the scenes collaborators and crew, John Hughes worked diligently to build relationships with the musical artists he treasured while gathering new musical collaborators along the way. By "Some Kind Of Wonderful" (1987), Hughes (again with Howard Deutch) worked with legendary Producer Stephen Hague who composed the film's score as well as shepherded the soundtrack which featured The Jesus And Mary Chain, Stephen Duffy and The March Violets. And dear readers, by the time Hughes wrote, produced and directed his masterpiece "She's Having A Baby" (1988), I would absolutely LOVE to hear the stories of how in the hell he gained the opportunity to have music provided for him by The Police's Stewart Copeland (who scored the film) and the otherworldly and idiosyncratic Kate Bush (who wrote and performed the shattering "This Woman's Work" for that outstanding and heartbreaking birth/waiting room sequence)!

Hughes' relationships with musical artists strengthened to the point where they made repeat appearances in his films, much like his actors. The Dream Academy has music in two films ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and so powerfully in "Planes, Trains And Automobiles"), Blue Room shows up in three ("Ferris Bueller's Day Off," "Some Kind Of Wonderful," "Planes, Trains And Automobiles") and even Yello, whose "Oh Yeah" became Ferris's unofficial theme song, contributed several tracks to Hughes' and Director Peter Faiman's underseen, undervalued and second Thanksgiving themed road comedy-drama "Dutch" (1991). 

While John Hughes continuously ensured that his films' musical world remained surprisingly diverse (take "Planes, Trains And Automobiles" where Book Of Love, Ray Charles, Gene Loves Jezebel and Emmylou Harris can all co-exist happily), when it came to the actual soundtrack albums, Hughes was just as diligent with ensuring the album worked as a complete listening experience and not as a random collection of tunes or as a cynical marketing ploy. The albums of "Pretty In Pink" and "Some Kind Of Wonderful" are two of the finest of its genre and beautifully representative of a collection of forward thinking artists of varying notoriety that Hughes wanted to showcase for anyone who chose to listen. With the albums for "She's Having A Baby" and "Planes, Trains And Automobiles," Hughes reached for an even more creative approach to the music by dividing the album's sides into "He" and "She" and "Town" and "Country" respectively. Hughes even began a short lived music label called "HUGHES MUSIC" where the songs were all copy written under the name "NANCY HUGHES SONGS," in tribute to his wife. To give an extra push, Hughes issued the first two albums by Flesh For Lulu (who contributed the track "I Go Crazy" to "Some Kind Of Wonderful") under his new label. And then, there was the very surprising and bold decision to NOT issue a soundtrack to "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" as Hughes felt that the wildly diverse nature of the songs would actually not make for a good album experience.

Hughes' musical integrity was steadfast and on the soundtrack album to "Pretty In Pink," he expressed as much to all of us when he wrote on the liner notes the following:  "The music in 'Pretty In Pink' was not an afterthought. The tracks on this album and in this film are there because Howie Deutch and I believe in the artists, respect the artists, and are proud to be in league with them."

Never had I read anything like that upon a soundtrack album before that point and because of those words, I just felt that the artists would reciprocate Hughes' feelings as he obviously cared for them so completely. And since, I was always on the lookout for a new sound and anxious to snap up anything remotely related to Hughes' work and building legacy, I began to expand my musical universe, discovering and loving one new band after another.


"It's really important to John that the music has integrity. He wouldn't use a song that didn't really mean something to him."
     -Howard Deutch, Chicago Sun Time 1986 interview

By the time of Hughes and Director Chris Columbus' "Home Alone" (1990) and Hughes' final directorial effort "Curly Sue" (1991), the musical soundscapes of John Hughes films became more traditional with good but unsurprising orchestral film scores that were not remotely as inspiring as the bulk of his earlier material. Certainly, songs by Simple Minds, New Order and XTC would have had no place in a child's Christmas adventure comedy film, and despite how perfect John Williams' film score was, I missed that element of discovery just the same. Maybe at first, the discovery was for Hughes himself to work with a renowned composer in a more traditional way--something he really had not done at that time. But by the time of the sequels and copycat slapstick films that followed, it seemed, much like the films themselves, that the musical outlook was not that inspired no matter how competently and professionally the films were made and executed. But Hughes had one more musical hurrah, which surfaced in two films that were barely seen or even released: the dramas "Reach The Rock" (1998) and "New Port South" (2001), which featured mostly instrumental and electronically driven music from Tortoise, The Sea and Cake and Telefon Tel Aviv. And he even had one of his sons to thank.

John Hughes III is the label creator and owner of Chicago Hefty records where he records electronic instrumental music that bridges the gap between electronica, jazz, lounge and hip-hop under his own name as well as his aliases of Slicker and Bill Ding. It was through his love of the Chicago post rock/instrumental band Tortoise that perked his Father's musical ears again. As Hughes explained the genesis of "Reach The Rock" to Gil Kaufman for MTV.com, "My son had been listening to a lot of Chicago music-Tortoise, Shellac, the Sea and Cake-and I wrote the script to that music. I'm from Chicago, I live in Chicago and I wanted very much for the music in Chicago to succeed. It made sense to me to use local music, and I wanted a lot of instrumental music, but it's hard to find instrumental music for films that has any integrity. You don't want to hear another love song. I'm sure when I listen to Tortoise I'm hearing something different than someone else. It's so powerful and moving."

Powerful and moving. That is what the lasting legacy of the music of John Hughes' films means to me. For much of his career as a filmmaker, Hughes' musical integrity placed him within the upper echelon of film directors (Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, Jim Jarmusch, and Spike Lee for example) whose soundtracks were highly celebrated. He remained defiantly steadfast as he refused to latch onto the Top 10 artists of the day in favor of the very music and artists he cherished the most. It was as if he was that big bother with the expansive record collection and with each film, we were able to get a peek into his personal vaults even more. John Hughes championed new and unknown artists and through his films, they all nailed the comedic and dramatic moments with high class and endless creativity.

As for me, I could never begin to have thanked him enough for all he has given to me, especially the music. How my musical horizons have grown over the years and how many times have I looked to an artist and thought to myself, "I first heard of you through a John Hughes movie and if I had never seen it, I would not know of you now." How he taught me the many ways music and writing could come together magically to create a piece of work that was especially individualistic and meaningful. When I engage my creative spirit with creative writing, I can still point to the very albums and artists that have inspired me from an idea's conception through the full laborious act of writing. I have even created "soundtracks" to help me remain on track and even after a lengthy spell of not writing creatively, I can reach for those CDs, put them on and I am instantly re-inspired and re-engaged to re-connect with my own characters once again. Without John Hughes to point me in the right direction, I am unsure if I would have found it in the first place.

To John Hughes, how I miss you, cherish you, celebrate you and thank you all over again for your writing, your films, your humor, your creativity, your heart and this time, for all of that gloriously sweet music.

If you were here...

Friday, August 2, 2013


The "dog days" of the cinematic movie year have officially arrived as August is typically a slow month for quality new releases. But, for your friendly neighborhood film enthusiast, this may be a blessing in disguise as the weeks of playing "catch -up" were busy indeed. Even so, there is always something new on the horizon and for this month, I am hoping to view the following....

1. If Woody Allen's highly rated new film "Blue Jasmine" hits the local Sundance theater, you KNOW that I will be there excitedly!

2. I am very excited to see "Elysium," Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp's follow up to his outstanding "District 9" (2009). In a year where the bigger films have faltered considerably, I am anxious to see if Blomkamp is able to once again show how art, vision and entertainment can be combined in captivating and thrilling ways.

3. I never thought that I would see two apocalyptic comedies in the same summer but that time has arrived with the release of Writer/Director Edgar Wright's "The World's End." Most surprisingly, I still haven't seen Wright's "Shaun Of The Dead" (2004) or "Hot Fuzz" (2007), and I do still wish to, it was his wondrous work with "Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World" (2010) that is excitedly getting into this theater seat.

4. Buzz has been high for the new teen drama "The Spectacular Now," which is supposedly in the vein of classic teen films like Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything..." (1989) and the work of John Hughes. We shall see...

5. Speaking of John Hughes, August 6th will mark the fourth anniversary of his passing. To commemorate, Savage Cinema's annual remembrance will focus upon one specific and crucial feature of Hughes' finest work: the music!!!!

That is more than enough to keep myself occupied this month and I am hoping all of my plans and schemes happily fall into place.

Stay tuned and I'll see you when the house lights go down...