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by Bill Gibron

22 Apr 2009

In the big bad world of motion picture morality, there is a never-ending battle between good and evil. From the very foundations of the artform to the recent hits that bring audiences to their feet, heroes and villains are the reason for cinema’s lasting impact. They may not always be visible, and there are times when post-modern philosophies try to blur the lines between virtue and vice. Still, the war between ethical factions rages on - in dramas and action spectacles, horror narratives and standard morality plays…and linked in lockstep are the composers and musicians who make the differentiation between pro and con all the more recognizable. Indeed, aural symbolism works wonders in keeping the often cloudy contour between nice and nasty in check, and if it can add a little atmosphere and mood to the overall experience, then all the better.

This time out, Short Ends & Leader’s Surround Sound will look at three recent soundtracks that take the notion of white hats and black hats all too seriously. First up is the non-hit parade version of one of NBC’s biggest flashes in the pan. Luckily, the ladies behind the music make a much more profound (and lasting) impact. Similarly, a sedate update of a true terror sleazepit is buffered by a brilliant score from an unsung cinema MVP, while various tunesmiths see their work for a certain Bruce Wayne reworked by one of Eastern Europe’s most accomplished orchestras. Together, they take the notion of what constitutes merit and what emphasizes meanness and turns it into a jolting journey through the soundscapes of your own complicated perception, beginning with the brilliance that is:

Heroes: Original Score from the Television Series [rating: 9]

For many Prince fans, the contributions of Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman are crucial to the Purple One’s rise from studio savant to stadium superstar. They were pinnacle personnel in his band, The Revolution, and were literally instrumental in helping him achieve mass media prominence with many of his main ‘80s albums. But rising tensions caused the duo to leave their one time collaborator, and the rest is half-rumored history. While His Royal Highness went through a symbolic phase and continues to struggle for commercial parity, Wendy and Lisa have found cult success with a series of “solo” albums, as well as working on the score for the film Dangerous Minds. When NBC phenom Heroes bowed in 2006, the pair provided the sparse, ambient backing. Now collected in a soundtrack compilation, their contributions to the series mark an important development in both their professional direction and the concept of what constitutes television composition.

Tinged with Eastern flavor and running the gamut from straightforward and symphonic to ethereal and excessively moody, the work Wendy and Lisa offer for Heroes is nothing short of astonishing. Bringing everything to the table from their rock and roll roots to the slightest bit of blue-eyed funk, these unquestionable artists understand the inherent need to fuse drama with dynamics when backing a show of this style. Everything, from the eerie opening “Title” to the longer tone poems like “Peter”, “Claire”, and “Mohinder” (most of the songs here are themes for specific characters and/or show elements) effortlessly move between cinematic styling and aural splendor. Other highlights include “Kirby Plaza”, “Skylar”, and the terrific triptych “Jessica/Niki/Gina”. By the time the disc ends on the splashy “Fire and Regeneration”, we feel like we’ve traveled to a mystic land within the world, a place where sound fuses with significance to make the entire process seem important and oh so entertaining.

The Last House on the Left: Original Motion Picture [rating: 9]

He’s offered his composition skill to some of the best, most ambitious movies of the last ten years, from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels to Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later and Sunshine. Yet few outside these cult titles know John Murphy - and that’s a shame. Aside from Snatch and Miami Vice, he’s never been part of a monster mainstream hit, nor has his haunting, evocative scoring shown up on a brassy popcorn treat. Instead, he’s slowly worked to make his name as a writer of intense, interesting backdrops. One of his best comes from the unlikeliest of sources - a remake of one of the ‘70s most controversial and crude exploitation classics. Indeed, Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left remains a notorious video nasty, as much for what it actually accomplishes onscreen as for the unforgettable ad campaign asking audiences to remember “it’s only a movie.” While the revamp definitely suffers in comparison, Murphy’s musical contribution is amazing. It’s one of the best horror scores ever.

This is a soundtrack that takes the position of locational substitution, placing us directly into the line of fire and inside the fear and danger of the film’s frightened characters. Random piano arpeggios underline the fatal, depressing nature of the crimes to come and throughout, the atmosphere is increased by frequent atonal blasts and moments of frigid silence. Beginning with the “Opening Titles”, and treading through an amazing set that includes “The Pool”, “The Boathouse”, “In the Woods”, and “Are You Ready to Be a Man”, Murphy prepares us for the terrors to come. By the time we experience the awful aural truths of “Killing Paige”, “Saving Mari”, and “John vs. Krug”, Last House on the Left has become a kind of radio play. We can see the shivers in our mind, witness the struggles between the innocent and the wicked. With “The End” putting a poetic, ambivalent cap on all the mayhem, the result is something sonically incredibly. For anyone interested in ambient music with an edge, Last House is a score to savor. 

The Music of Batman Performed by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra & Chorus [rating: 7]

They are such cultural linchpins, snapshots of cinema from the various decades they helped define, that it was only a matter of time before the Batman movies (as well as the seminal ‘60s TV series and recent animated reinventions) would get their own kind of aural scholarship. With contributions from compositional giants like Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, and Hans Zimmer, this compilation of all things Dark Knight offers the Prague Philharmonic covering all the caped crusader bases. We even get the highly effective work of Shirley Walker and Christopher Drake on the cartoon version of the masked vigilante. Of course, a little orchestral bombast can go a long way, but with the polished performances and brilliant sense of scope provided on this releas, the results more than speak for themselves.

Things begin with the most recognizable. When they arrive, it’s amazing how well known and culturally significant Elfman’s work on the Burton Batman really is. The CD offers cuts including the “Theme”, “Flowers”, “Love Theme”, “The Joker’s Poem”, “Clown Attack”, as well as “Up the Cathedral” and the creepy “Waltz with Death”.  Things shift significantly, both in quality and ability to entertain outside the cinema with Elliot Goldenthal’s work on the far less effective Batman Forever and Batman and Robin. Of course, things return to greatness when Howard and Zimmer amplify what’s epic about Batman Begins and the smashing Dark Knight. These final two selections, offering the cuts “Eptesicus” and “Aggressive Expansion” show how well Christopher Nolan redefined the comic book hero epic. The rest of the material, from Mask of the Phantom, Gothic Knight, and the ABC kitsch classic (including Nelson Riddle’s big band vamp for the eventual film adaptation) act like end notes to a symphony constructed out of Victorian swells and classical gas. It’s all so outsized and tonally terrific.

by Bill Gibron

21 Apr 2009

It’s not a hard genre to mess up. There are so many pre and post production hazards to overcome that the moviemaking winds up the easiest part - some of the time. Writers and directors have to deal with producers and advisors with a vested interest in the outcome (and in most cases, how they see themselves depicted onscreen) and the subject usually gets lost in a web of superficial anecdotes, obvious symbolism, and the sort of hackneyed hero worship that fails to get behind the reasons for their fame. That’s right, of all the Hollywood go-to categories, the biopic is the most misunderstood and misapplied. From the earliest days of the artform to the current cliché ridden examples, the cinematic retelling of a noted person’s life is usually decent, but not definitive - and that’s where the problem lies.

You see, it’s almost impossible to figure out - film wise - what makes a celebrity celebrated? After all, for the most part, they are just people given over to a remarkable talent or skill that few others have. They aren’t the people they play onscreen, or represent onstage, or muse over on the printed page. Instead, they are (usually) normal individuals who have the luxury of using creativity, imagination, prescience, ability, or physical/mental acumen to forge a path in this wounded world. We admire them out of inferred jealously and/or envy, secretly wishing that we could run as fast, think as quickly, or hold enough corporate sway to become the kind of limelight the movie moth is drawn to.

by Bill Gibron

19 Apr 2009

They’re gross, over the top, sexually pigheaded, and so filled with amplified ultraviolence that Alex DeLarge and his mates would definitely consider them “excessive”. The first film was a marginal success at the box office, but literally exploded on DVD. On home video, fans flocked to its mixture of video game hyper-action and subversive, in your face, cinematic counter-culturalism. So naturally Lionsgate would demand a sequel, especially since the last scene suggested the angry anti-hero Chev Chelios actually survived his thousand foot free-fall from an airborne helicopter. Yet with a mere $7 million in receipts over the 17 April weekend, it looks like Crank: High Voltage failed to find a warm Cineplex welcome.

It’s not surprising. The studio, clearly believing that they had something nominal and niche on their hands, decided against screening the film for critics. Even today, with few in the mainstream media present and accounted for, the title stands at 69% over at Rotten Tomatoes. Now, that’s currently better than Zac Efron’s 17 Again, Hannah Montana: The Movie, Observe and Report, or Knowing, but an argument can also be made that most of these opinions come from fringe geek onliners who fail to see cinema in the proper, non-blogger, perspective. Indeed, the overall view of the Crank films is that they are the byproduct of ADD-addled filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor (who use the oh-so-gauche moniker of ‘Neveldine/Taylor’ when they work), two a-hole hipsters who assault the artform with their too-cool-for-film-school sentiments. 

Granted, Neveldine and Taylor throw everything they can at the screen, both Crank and Crank: High Voltage perfected examples of surfeit giving way to a kind of crazed creative aesthetic. And they are disrespectful to the genre in the same way that exploitation challenged the notion of what could and could not be shown in a commercial motion picture. If having fun with the format is crime, Neveldine and Taylor are as guilty as a pow-wow between Phil Spector and OJ. But outside the need to be aware of the medium’s mandates, there is nothing wrong with spending megabucks to make a wild ass carnival sideshow of filmic freaks and celluloid tweaks. Deny their artistry or skill, but the Crank films are the guiltiest kind of pleasure - one that’s inexcusable and insatiable.

When the first film arrived in 2006, it played like the ultimate endgame in a post-millennial reexamination of the action epic. For decades, the same old buddy/stunt dynamic was utilized to bring audiences to the edge of their seat. Neveldine and Taylor took the interactive element from the console experience, placed the viewer in the position of the players, and then turned everything up to 11. By adding this nu-world odor aspect, by supplanting carefully choreographed mechanical mayhem for seat of your pants pandemonium, the duo laid the groundwork for such au current favorites like Shoot ‘Em Up and Wanted. Sure, it’s all been sifted out of the Hong Kong craziness of the mid ‘90s, but John Woo couldn’t hold a candle to the fanboy frenzy created here.

Indeed, Neveldine and Taylor are the exact filmmakers a demographic raised on the VCR and pay cable need. They are all allusion and homage, original thoughts filtered through a film education based in Cinemax and the faceless features of a direct to video market. They aren’t new or novel, but instead represent the necessary evil that arrives when you give audiences unlimited access to a specific artform and then provide the technology to help them copy their obsessions. They are Tarantino taken to ridiculous referential heights, one step ahead of the homemade auteur while barking up the talent trees that keep directorial dipsticks like Brett Ratner and Jon Turteltaub fully employed. And yet there is an artistry to what they do, a David Lynchian like dream logic which turns F-bombs and bare breasts into esoteric expressions of filmic fascination.

Some of the success has to do with their choice of leading man. For all his toned tripwire sexuality, Jason Statham remains one of the few examples of bristle bearded beefcake who’s not afraid to go balls out in pursuit of a performance. He’s willing to mock his own machismo, undermine his cool cockney charm, and wallow in wantonness both physical and ephemeral. There’s a moment in the first film when he literally exposes his behind in order to escape a predicament, proving that he’s more than just a typical Hollywood hero. High Voltage ups the ante, giving gal pal costar Amy Smart a chance to match the human adrenal gland naked thrust for thrust as they have public sex at a horse track…right on the finish line in the middle of a race.

Certainly, snobs who believe that names like Godard and Chabrol are the only ones capable of taking cinema apart and putting it back together in ways that countermand tradition and formula will be pissed, and for all this glorified grandstanding, Crank and Crank: High Voltage are really nothing more than cinematic confections, motion picture Pixie sticks laced with enough PCP, Meth, and Crack to keep audiences from seeing their Wizard of Oz like man behind the curtain crassness. Yet within a framework where everything reeks of high concept creativity, where stars and situations are dreamt up before a writer ever sees a single paycheck, Neveldine and Taylor work in wild, wicked, and wholly mysterious ways.

While their only other collaboration - the stunted script for the incredibly dopey horror film Pathology - failed to fulfill the promise offered by Crank, and their newest effort (the surreal sci-fi showdown Citizen Game starring 300‘s Gerard Butler) still several months away, we are left contemplating the legacy leached out of two intertwined spectacles. Of course, High Voltage leaves the door open for a tre-quel, and knowing these inspired insaniacs, there’s probably an idea already brewing to turn Chev, Eve, and the rest of the Crank army into the Lord of the Rings of racially insensitive thrill rides. While the motion picture is indeed an artform, not all films are Van Goghs. Many can barely beat Warhol to the soup can punch. Crank and Crank: High Voltage are clearly the work of some crazed underground anarchists - and we can all thank God for such a needed shot in the arm. 

by Bill Gibron

18 Apr 2009

There is a fine line between insanity and eccentricity. There is also an even slimmer margin between desperation and dementia. Sometimes it’s hard to decipher between the various mental fallacies. Some people use idiosyncrasy as a way of coping. Others allow their craziness to create endearing individualistic personas. After you factor in such adjunct issues as wealth, health, status, and situation, it becomes clear that even the nuttiest of individuals can avoid the stigma of psychosis by merely staying locked in their own insular place. It’s what protected the Beales for almost 50 years.

As relatives of the rich and famous, themselves both minor celebrities in their own singular right, the mother/daughter combo lived a reclusive, bubble-like existence in a tumbledown manor in the swankiest part of the Hamptons. With the standard domestic amenities always in question (they lived, for a time, without running water) and an evershifting menagerie of animals invading their space (cats, mice, raccoons, etc.), these one-time society stalwarts are now viewed as lamentable lunatics, adrift in an unhealthy home and an even more damaging familial dynamic.

Strangely enough, their quirky escapades would have been reserved for the back pages of the New York dailies had filmmaking brothers Albert and David Maysles not stumbled upon their story while researching the life of Jacqueline Kennedy’s sister, Lee Radziwill. One of the family’s aunts, a defiant older woman named Edith Bouvier Beale, had recently had her home raided by health and human services officials who were worried that the septuagenarian, along with her nearly 60-year-old daughter Edie, were living in horribly unsanitary conditions. Required to clean up their Hamptons home, the duo claimed that local politics and a desire for their property was the cause of the personal persecution. But what the Maysles discovered once they contacted the Beales was startling to say the least.

Holed up in a couple of rooms in their massive manor, cooking on hot plates and eating not much more than canned soup, ice cream, and simple salads, the pair were isolated, alone, and rebellious. Constantly bickering back and forth, sending each other mixed messages about their devotion and their disgust for one another, the Beales barely connected with the humanity outside their door. While they were aware of the events transpiring around the globe, they were too involved in their complicated companionship to care. The original owner of the estate called it Grey Gardens, a quasi-criticism on the locale’s inability to sustain vibrant life. Apparently, the name applies to the interior as well as the exterior landscape. It makes a fitting moniker for the brothers’ amazing movie.

When we first see the home, it looks haunted. Even up close, the manor is draped in a heavy layer of age and decay. Windows appear broken out, shutters hang haphazardly from cracking sills, slats missing or misaligned. On all sides, stately homes gleam in the Hamptons sun, their rich inhabitants happy to polish their palaces to within an inch of their importance. It’s opulence as reflected by real estate, status centered in a concept of curb appeal—but not for the Beales. These old-money matrons could care less about the upkeep on their estate. “Big” Edith is 75, and more than settled in her secluded life, thank you very much. Her spinster daughter, “Little” Edie, views the last few decades as mother’s maligned helper as a premature prison sentence. Housekeeping is the last thing on their mind.

As a matter of fact, if it weren’t for government interference—and some latent familial charity—the pair would be practically homeless. But lineage won’t allow these ladies to live in the lap of self-determined near-destitution. The surrounding kin—the famous Kennedy and Bouvier clans—have cash, and they make sure the Beales are well-endowed. But neither one really cares about the money. For them, life has become a comical battle of wills, a mother vs. daughter dynamic that pits hopes against help, dreams against distraction. To call the Ediths hermetical would seem overly simplistic. They live in one great big wide world—it just happens to be of their own unusual creation.

Grey Gardens reflects the status of the Beales as women, socialities and—in some ways—human beings. They are femme fatales whom life has let die, upper-crust crones who sit around half-dressed in a mansion festooned with peeling paint, rotting wood, and the feces of various animals. Their relationship is like a contest, a “who will blink first” face-off in which old wounds, new foibles, and lamented losses pile up as potential ammunition. For Big Edie, old age has robbed her of the two things she built her entire personality on—her looks and her career as a singer. While still in good voice, her body has completely broken down. She can barely walk, her eyes and legs failing simultaneously. Still she fancies herself a captivating catch and flirts shamelessly with Jerry, a young handyman.

Little Edie, on the other hand, has bigger personal fish to fry. Feeling hemmed in by her mother’s constant demands and constantly threatening to move back to the big city, she understands implicitly that most of her dreams are unobtainable. Having given up any concept of a career decades before, and taken care of financially by a complex series of trusts and trade-offs, the aging beauty believes she’s still fated for fame. Dressed in bizarre designs of her own making, shawls and scarves covering her seemingly bald head, Little Edie is a fatalistic fashion plate, a woman desperate to escape but unable to find the proper route out.

Together, in front of the Maysles’ constant camera, these reckless and refined relatives square off, trading praise and poison back and forth like volleys in a country club tennis match. Little Edie will cheer her mother’s rendition of “Tea for Two,” then mimic and mock her recordings in the next catty breath. Big Edie will criticize her child’s increasing weight while wondering aloud why her stunning singing voice never eclipsed her own. They will share simple memories and melt down over comments concerning the late, lost Mr. Beale. Men are a mitigated factor in Grey Gardens, Big Edie having shunned her spouse early on in their marriage, her two sons nowhere to be seen in and around the home (we do glimpse them, as babies, in some old photos). Even Jerry, the slightly slow hippie who seems to have moved in with the ladies, is seen as a cog to be used between the fighting females.

Big Edie sees his attention as verification of her stunning sexuality. Little Edie views him as an interloper capable of stealing her antiques, precious books—and her place in Mother’s heart. Indeed, the minor interaction we witness between the Beales and the rest of the world is presented as uneasy and unreal. A birthday party for Big Edie finds the guests sitting on newspapers (the chairs are dirty and haven’t been cleaned in years) and drinking vintage wine out of Dixie Cups (the glassware having mysteriously disappeared long ago). Even the Maysles, who have become like ancillary family, face considerable limits, since they’re not allowed by Little Edie to venture into other areas of the massive, 24-room home.

From a pragmatic standpoint, it all seems so nutty. Though we slowly become aware that the implied wealth that comes with the Beale/Bouvier name is not as comforting as we assume (these women appear to be living right on the edge of abject poverty), their situation is obviously the result of a surreal self-fulfilling prophecy. By returning home without establishing her own identity, Little Edie was destined to fall under Big Edie’s demonstrative domineering. All throughout Grey Gardens, the Maysles catch her scampering about and giggling like an arrested adolescent and, in essence, that is exactly what Edie is. Isolation has stunted her social skills to the point where, while refined and well turned-out, the younger Beale sounds like a lost and troubled teen.

As she slinks around in scandalous, revealing clothes (so stylish that she actually inspired several famous fashion designers to copy her clever combinations) and bats her eyes at the camera, we see an aged youngster trapped in a wrinkling body. Big Edie is also ensnared by the past, but her feelings are very focused. She hates the fact that her marriage and child-rearing responsibilities misdirected her profession, and has apparently tried several times to jump-start her career (mostly by inviting men to live in Grey Gardens with her). For the meditative matron, fame flew away the minute she turned her back on what she really wanted. Now, with daughter Edie flaunting failure in her face on a rather consistent basis, Big Edie is bitter, a battleaxe ready to wield her own personal blade at anyone within range.

That Grey Gardens gives us all this via a non-intrusive, fly-on-the-wall perspective, says a great deal about the Beales’ desire for attention. Though they claim to hate the interference of outsiders, they are more than happy to make room for the Maysles and the genial Jerry. In fact, as natural performers, the pair is desperate for almost any audience. There is lots of singing and carrying on in this film, almost as if the filmmakers fancied they were making a musical. During uncomfortable quarrels or awkward personal insights, one of the Beales will break out into song, stifling the moment with a melodious mist. Frequently, when confronted in lies or contradictions, Little Edie will just caterwaul away, keening in a juvenile, off-key manner that makes her mother furious. It could all be part of a battle plan made up of disappointment and deflection, but one senses something consistent here.

Like a perplexing puzzle made up of heartaches and histrionics, Little Edie annoys her parent to prove the old gal’s feelings—she can’t live without the child. Similarly, Big Edie criticizes her only daughter as a way of keeping her practical and present. This is necessary since, throughout Grey Gardens, we see how easily disconnected the wayward woman can become. Perhaps the best example of an inaction film ever fashioned, neither resident of this rotting façade wants to leave. They may clamor for greener pastures or broader personal horizons, but there is something queerly comforting about their seemingly haunted home. Within its walls, a kind of truce has been forged, a peace between ladies who would rather suffer than live alone. It’s what makes Grey Gardens such a stunning documentary. It’s also what has made the Beales’ legacy live on long after they finally found their eternal peace.

Interesting enough, Grey Gardens is a fairly balanced presentation. Both Edies get their moments, and when one occupies the screen solely, the other is not far behind—either physically or spiritually. For the 2006 sequel, Albert Maysles, the remaining living member of the filmmaking brotherhood, decided to unearth as much footage as he could from the hours the pair spent in the disintegrating home. Oddly enough, it seems that Little Edie got the shortest end of the original’s editing stick. Much of the new material in The Beales of Grey Gardens centers on her, her tendency toward awkward musical moments, and those oddball sequences where she reads from a well-worn horoscope paperback and tries to make sense of her life. In an introduction to the film, Albert hints that the reason most of these scenes were excised was because they show how intertwined the brothers were in the Beales’ life.

Edie obviously fancied David, and spent untold screen time commenting on their future together. Similarly, the filmmakers didn’t like to prompt their participants, and all through the update, we hear them asking questions in hopes of spurring some interesting exchanges. This is more of a supplement than a true sequel (Grey Gardens maintains a sort of implied narrative while The Beales is more like a collection of outtakes), but anyone who believes that more of the Edies is an entertainment windfall will thoroughly enjoy this companion piece. While it lacks some of the original’s psychological insight, the Edies remain fascinating, factual entities.

It seems odd that, for two people fiction could not possibly create, mediums other than the documentary have embraced and are interpreting the baffling Beales story. An off-Broadway musical (which recently shifted to the Great White Way itself) and a full-length feature film (with Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange attached) are set to keep the ladies’ story alive for future fans to discover. Yet no matter how good (or bad) these versions eventually are, nothing can compare to that first fleeting moment when we see the vine-covered Hamptons home, wood cracking as uncontrolled vegetation hides it from view. Suddenly, from out of the darkened back doorway, a decidedly older lady, her head wrapped in a telling turban, announces the situation for the day. “Mother’s complaining about something,” she winks, before flitting off like a preoccupied pixie lost in her daily designs.

As an illustration to what makes Grey Gardens so special, such a sequence seems less than auspicious. But once we learn that this is just the icing on an unusually dense and deliciously cloistered cake, the anticipation for another slice becomes unbearable. It is easy to see why, as symbols or kitschy cult icons, Big and Little Edie Beale have endured. Something about them is so timeless, so vibrant and vulnerable, that they have no choice but to enter the realm of myth. Even though it has long been sold and re-modeled to modern specification, Grey Gardens will always be a dark, desolate place. Luckily, the ladies who once lived there lit it up quite well.

by Bill Gibron

16 Apr 2009

In independent film, emotion is everything. Since budgets don’t allow for much visual flair, locational variance, or narrative diversity, movies of this nature must rely on people, their personalities, and the feelings that derive from same to get the message across. Most of the time, that’s all said cinema has to offer. Originally released as Rigged, but now renamed Fight Night, Jonathan Dillon’s feature film debut falls into a lot of the standard outsider traps. The cinematography is desaturated to the point of almost nonexistence, and the script (by Splinter scribe Ian Shorr) is so desperate to be a post-modern Million Dollar Baby that it practically exudes Eastwood’s sweat. But if you cast aside the obvious attempts at anti-mainstream grit and faux fictional realism, you find a surprisingly intelligent and heartfelt film. Too bad then that the boxing blocks the audience from really getting to know these marginal characters.

For Michael Dublin, the last few years have been a blur. Since leaving the employment of gangster fight promoter Clark Richter, he’s been trying to hustle matches in the highly illegal underground boxing scene. Unfortunately, his lack of ethics and smooth talk swagger gets him in more trouble that his pugilists can make up for. After a particularly pesky con, Dublin is saved by gritty, no nonsense gal Katherine Parker. Quick with her hands and lethal when need be, our huckster sees instant success. Indeed, within weeks, the newly named “Kid Vixen” is the talk of the lawless scarp circuit. Naturally, Richter is aware of the situation, and does whatever he can to preserve his power. But as Parker continues winning, the heavy can no longer ignore her potential. Dublin also sees dollar signs, but his ex-boss may be about to make an offer he can’t refuse…that is, if he wants to live.

Rigged/Fight Night is as schizophrenic as its two names suggest. One moment, we are watching a waif like young woman beat the ever loving snot out of some roided up Central Casting cliché. She even battles a meat puppet whose cowboy hat becomes an object of comedic personal pride. But then writer Shorr and direct Dillon drop all the backdoor Fight Club junk and actually let the characters talk. What comes out is so intriguing, so against everything else the movie wants to accomplish that you can’t help but be thrown off a little. For all their faults, their complete and utter cinematic contrivance and lack of real world authenticity, Dublin and Parker are interesting, especially when they stop talking shop and start talking…life. Had Rigged removed 10 or 15 minutes of the so-called action sequences and stuck with the story of a small town boy struggling to escape his past with the help of an equally alienated girl, we’d have something special. Instead, Dillon tries to have it both ways, and as a result, he undermines each,

Indeed, the fight scenes require a massive grain of suspension of disbelief seasoning. It’s not that Parker couldn’t contend with some of the beef sides she’s paired against. No, she’s so dominating, so Mike Tyson in her proposed talent that there’s no suspense in what transpires within the squared circle. It’s all choppy edited, thrash power musical scoring, and our duo walking away with fattened wallets. Even when her opponent is evenly matched (the aforementioned spit-kicker), she’s unbelievable - literally. Dublin also offers his own unique set of problems. He’s a fairly inept trickster, unable to get away with many of the scams we see him pull. It makes one wonder how he managed to survive this long, especially with the villainous reach of Richter being so overpowering. Indeed, this is one bad guy who has to be actually beaten…to be beaten.

Since the neo-noir dramatics don’t quite gel, it’s up to the more personal stuff to save Rigged/Fight Night, and it almost does. Indeed, thanks to Chad Ortis’ Tom Cruise take on Dublin and Rebecca Neienswander’s “is she or isn’t she” sexual ambiguity, we are willing to follow our leads through some fairly precarious plotpoints. There is an initial meeting where the two have a jailhouse talk that’s quite effective and a long road trip and eventual bus ride gives them other moments of meaningful conversation. Sadly, the film fails to find the same balance within the ancillary characters. Dublin’s mother is introduced and then almost immediately swept away, while an important woman with whom our hero has a history gets equally short shrift. Sadly, Parker’s past is all inference - talk without a face or performance to help us understand. Even an eventual homecoming is vague.

And then there is the look of this film. Cranking down the color to make everything bleak and monochromatic would definitely work had Dillon understood the first thing about black and white cinematics. Instead, this is a clear case of an almost homemade digital production getting its glare turned off to try and make something visually profound. It doesn’t work. The style by DP Hanuman Brown-Eagle announces itself so often that you get tired of the attention grabbing. Add in the less than effective subplots involving Richter, his link to Dublin, and their last act showdown and you can see where Rigged goes astray. Even with a name change, this is the kind of movie that gives other similarly mounted efforts a real case of the respectability heebie jeebies. You can just see the other filmmakers, desperate to get their dreams off the ground, looking at this overly ambitious attempt and more or less giving up.

Still, there is something inherently attractive about the relationship between our two leads. It’s not sexual - that is made clear many times. It’s also not professional, since only one party to the agreement holds up their end of the bargain. And it’s definitely not spiritual, since neither character has much of a soul. Indeed, the real allure of Rigged (or Fight Night - whatever you want to call it) is the growing connection between marginalized members of society’s fringe. We don’t quite root for Dublin and Parker as much as decide not to root against them and no matter who comes out of the woodwork to threaten their pact, there’s never a real fear that they won’t be there for each other. In a genre that relies on sentiment over most other motion picture possibilities, this movie makes a lot of decent decisions. It’s the ones that don’t work which ultimately threaten its entertainment viability.

//Mixed media

Tibet House's 30th Anniversary Benefit Concert Celebrated Philip Glass' 80th

// Notes from the Road

"Philip Glass, the artistic director of the Tibet House benefits, celebrated his 80th birthday at this year's annual benefit with performances from Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Brittany Howard, Sufjan Stevens and more.

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