Film

Part Two: October 2009

The banquet continues to get bigger during this equally elephantine cinematic salad course. Everything, from another unnecessary helping of serial killer Jigsaw to a pair of takes on two famous literary classics turn up this month. So do the standard spook shows, Romcoms, stunt spectaculars, and other familiar (if often tasty) samples of celluloid cuisine.

Films That Should Satisfy
Director: Joel & Ethan Coen

Film: A Serious Man

Cast: Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Sari Wagner Lennick, Fred Melamed, Aaron Wolff

MPAA rating: R

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2 October
A Serious Man

How do the Coen Brothers do it? How do they keep coming up with inventive narratives, complicated characters, and directorial flair that's as reverent to the past as it is indicative of film's future. Aside from a rough bit from 2003 through 2005 (in which the subpar Ladykillers remake and Intolerable Cruelty resulted), they've delivered nothing but brilliance -- and if the trailer for this latest period piece is any indication, they have crafted another amazing masterpiece. Man deals with the late '60s, a Midwestern college professor with marital troubles, and from what we can tell from the preview, elements of Judaism and faith. While the subject matter sings pure Coen, it's the visual look that's so compelling. As they do with almost every film they make, there is an artistic approach here that's impossible to ignore. It bodes well for this dark comedy's chances at connecting with audiences.

A Serious Man

 
Director: Michael Moore

Film: Capitalism: A Love Story

Cast: Michael Moore

MPAA rating: R

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2 October
Capitalism: A Love Story

Michael Moore is often lamented as the liberal's liberal mouthpiece, a man so far to the left of center that he literally tilts every documentary he designs toward his proto-pinko-peacenik politics. Even when he's right - Roger & Me, Bowling for Columbine, Fahrenheit 9/11, SiCKO - he's seen as a whack job working out his obvious anti-American feelings on a blindly faithful fanbase. None of this will change with his latest fact-based rant, yet another attack on how corporations are killing the economy. This time around, however, he has the ear of an unemployed and disenfranchised populace angry over how Wall Street worked the entire country into a bankrupt, bail-out frenzy. Sure, there will be the typical nitpicking and Hell fire, but here's betting more people are willing to hear him out than shout him down.

Capitalism: A Love Story

 
Films That May Leave You Starving
Director: Ruben Fleischer

Film: Zombieland

Cast: Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin

MPAA rating: R

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2 October
Zombieland

Oh boy…something about this film stinks. Unless your Edward Wright making Shaun of the Dead, or Dan O'Bannon delivering The Return of the Living Dead, zombie comedies just don't work. Granted, this one does have Woody Harrelson in full blown cornpone mode, Adventureland's Jesse Einsenberg doing his best deadpan drollness shtick, Abigail Breslin growing up and Emma Stone for added sugary eye candy. Still, jokes about cannibalism and the end of the world? Preview clips that argue over the "best kill" for a certain segment of the storyline? Huh? The talent behind the lens also inspires little hope. Director Ruben Fleischer has limited credits, comedy or otherwise, and writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick are responsible for such ribticklers as The Joe Schmo Show and Invasion Iowa. Maybe they can pull it off. Don’t be surprised if they don't.

Zombieland

 
Director: Drew Barrymore

Film: Whip It!

Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis

MPAA rating: PG-13

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2 October
Whip It!

In which Drew Barrymore does roller derby -- and brings along such fetching female talent as Ellen Page, Zoe Bell, Juliette Lewis, and Kristin Wiig along for the ride. And we're not talking about old school '70s skate smash-ups like those in Rachel Welch's classic Kansas City Bomber. Instead, this story (based on the book Shauna Cross) seems invested in the desire to show how organized team sports and gender equity leads to a sense of purpose and amplified self-esteem. This is Drew's first effort behind the lens as well, and from the trailers currently making the rounds, she seems pretty adept at both the action and the dramedy. If it finds the right audience, an alternative crowd who want to see girls getting physical and finding their own source of power, this could be a big hit. Here’s hoping Drew and her excellent cast deliver the damage.

Whip It!

The Ala Carte Menu
Director: Kristopher Belman

Film: More than a Game

Cast: Lebron James, Dru Joyce, Romeo Travis, Sian Cotton, Willie McGee

MPAA rating: R

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2 October
More than a Game

He is basketball's reigning god, a deity among men who are already pretty close to immortal in the eyes of their fans. So what does this documentary about Lebron James have to offer the already devoted? Well, apparently, a paycheck for the four other teammates who played with the high school phenom before his early jump to the NBA. Indeed, Kristopher Belman had long decided to follow King James as he played his way through poverty and peer pressure, all while leading his team to several titles before he became Cleveland's savior. As much a work of happenstance as hype (Belman indeed started this film before the much ballyhooed media meddling in James post-interscholastic plans) this is Hoop Dreams without the depressing downside, a story of inner city struggle where the end game turns out to be a shot at a National Championship - as well as several multimillion dollar years as a professional. Could be good. Could also be grating.

More than a Game






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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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Music

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

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Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

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