Every Little Step (2008)

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Just over forty years ago, a dancer and choreographer named Michael Bennett sat down with several dancers for a 1970s-style rap session, and recorded their thoughts on an old-fashioned reel-to-reel tape recorder. After listening to these dancers pour out their hearts, Bennett knew he had something special. These very personal words were set to music and became the Tony-winning musical A Chorus Line. Today, A Chorus Line is performed all over the world and has become a cultural touchstone.

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The documentary, Every Little Step follows a group of young dancers as they go through the grueling audition process for the 2006 Broadway revival of A Chorus Line. Though many of these dancers weren’t even born when A Chorus Line first debuted, they can’t help but want to be a part of something so huge. Most of them don’t expect this to make them mega stars; they just want to dance. And besides, they need to work. As one of them explains, “I need a job. I’m out of unemployment.”

The auditioning process takes several months, and soon the pool of dancers is whittled down to a handful of hopefuls. We get to see the dancers mostly through their auditions and the characters they want to play. Several are standouts. The already notable Charlotte d’Amboise seems almost destined to play Cassie the down-on-her luck hoofer who just missed the brass ring of stardom. A Broadway veteran (Cats and Chicago) and the daughter of famed dancer, Jacques d’Amboise, Ms. d’Amboise knows how stardom can be so close yet so far away.

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Jessica, auditioning for the part of sexy Val, is a sweet and talented girl from New Jersey who has completely devoted her life to dancing and is now ready for her big break. And when Jason Tam, auditioning as Paul, a young man who recently reveals his homosexuality to his parents, brings the casting panel to tears during his audition, you know it’s a very special moment. Jason is destined to play Paul.

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Interspersed throughout Every Little Step, are talking heads with some of the original cast members of A Chorus Line. Donna McKechnie was the original Cassie and won a Tony for her work. And Bayoork Lee, who played Connie in the original production, is back as a choreographer, and she isn’t shy about whipping the dancers into shape. The late Marvin Hamlisch, who composed the music for A Chorus Line, tells us that even after winning three Oscars, he knew he had to be a part of A Chorus Line. He also lets us know how the “Tits and Ass” song got its actual title of “Dance Ten, Looks Three.” Bob Avian, who along with Mr. Bennett, choreographed the original background, is also back but this time as a director.

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But most touching is seeing footage of Mr. Bennett who we sadly lost to AIDS in 1987. We get to see TV footage of him dancing, and we also get to see interviews with him after A Chorus Line debuted describing how important it was to bring dancers and their stories to the forefront. I found myself getting a bit choked up when he received his Tony and claimed, “I wanted one moment, and now I have it.”

Soon individual dancers get their moments as they are told they got the part. You find yourself silently cheering when these dancers find out all of their hard work and determination is finally paying off (and you really feel for those who don’t get the role they wanted).

Every Little Step meant a lot to me because A Chorus Line is one of the first Broadway musicals I ever saw, and I knew it would appeal to the theater geek in me. But I don’t think you need to be into the theater to enjoy this movie. We all have the desire to do what we love, be understood and reach for the stars.

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Last Days of Disco (1998)

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Written and directed by Whit Stillman, The Last Days of Disco takes place in the early 1980s during the waning days of disco’s glittery glory days.

The Last Days of Disco focuses on two recent college grads, Alice Kinnon (Chloe Sevigny) and Charlotte Pingress (Kate Beckinsale). They now live in Manhattan and work at a publishing house. Classmates at a prestigious east coast college, Alice and Charlotte seem to be friends more out of convenience, not actual affection. If Sex and the City had been around at the time you would call Alice and Charlotte “frenemies.”

After work, Alice and Charlotte spend their nights at Manhattan nightclubs socializing with the upper-crust elite and looking for fun and romance. Alice is quiet, soft spoken and intelligent. Charlotte is outgoing and spirited, but quite conceited. And she never fails to give Alice advice on men and dating. Desperate, Alice takes this advice even though it screws her up.

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Alice and Charlotte strike up a friendship with Des (Chris Eigeman) an employee of one of their favorite clubs. Des is quite the ladies’ man but claims to be gay once a relationship sours. Alice and Charlotte also find romance at the club, often with men who turn out to not be Mr. Right. Charlotte dates a man named Josh (Matt Keeslar) even though he really wants to be with Alice. And Alice has a one night stand with a lawyer named Tom (Robert Sean Leonard), who leaves her with a venereal disease.

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Despite their “frenemy” relationship, Alice and Charlotte decide to move in together. Realizing their parents’ generosity can only go so far, they take in another roommate, Holly (Tara Subkoff). Holly may be Alice and Charlotte’s roommate, but she never quite becomes their friend. Alice and Charlotte often question Holly’s intelligence and choices in men.

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All this closeness proves to be too much for Alice and Charlotte, and they soon part ways after a bitter conflict. Charlotte commiserates with Des, claiming her personality is just too much for mousy girls like Alice. But things look up for Alice once she starts dating Josh.

The Last Days of Disco isn’t so much about action and plot as it is about relationships, feelings and catching a singular moment of time. Remember it was the early 1980s. The glamorous and glittery debauchery of the 1970s was starting to look cheap, tawdry and despondent. Soon AIDS would haunt our sexual consciousness, and before long school children everywhere would claim, “Just say no” when it came to drugs.

Like many other coming of age films and TV shows like Girls, The Last Days of Disco examines the idea of young people “finding themselves.” Characters, who at turns seem so sure of themselves, question their choices in love, careers and friendship. And the social dynamic between Alice and Charlotte is quite familiar to anyone who found themselves hanging out with people they didn’t really like but felt they needed them as some kind of life raft during uncertain times.

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The Last Days of Disco is considered the final chapter of Whit Stillman’s self-proclaimed “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love-Series,” which also included Metropolitan and Barcelona. All the performances ring true, and Chloe Sevigny is especially affective as the self-effacing Alice.

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Some people might be put off by a movie focusing well-to-do elites, but these are no Kardashians or younger versions of the Real Housewives. Alice and Charlotte’s difficulty in navigating a confusing world ring true whether you grew up with a silver spoon or on a steady diet of cheap mac n’ cheese.

Guilty Pleasure Movies: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (1979)

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In 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, Vince Lombardi High students love rock ‘n’ roll, but they don’t seem too interested in getting an education. The leader of these wayward students is Riff Randall played by PJ Soles (whatever happened to her?). Riff is a huge Ramones fan and would love for them to play at her school. Unfortunately, she has Principal Evelyn Togar (Mary Woronov) to deal with. Principal Togar hates rock music and vows to keep it out of the hallowed halls of Vince Lombardi High. After all, how can students concentrate on studying for finals when they’re too busy cranking up the Ramones to ear shattering decibels? Principal Togar recruits horrified parents to burn the offending records, which inspires Riff and the rest of the students take over the school. They are joined by the Ramones who are made honorary Vince Lombardi High students. Finally, the police are summoned and they demand the students evacuate the school, which leads to one hell of a finale. Hmm, my high school years certainly weren’t this explosive.

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Rock ‘n’ Roll High School is loads of fun and boasts a kick ass soundtrack. It’s the perfect guilty pleasure flick for anyone who has wanted to stick it to the man, or in this case, the principal. When you wanna rock, reading, writing and ‘rithmetic can wait.

The Soloist (2009)

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The Soloist portrays the importance of the printed word in the time of the decline of major newspapers. It also tells the story of the power of music and friendship.

Robert Downey, Jr. plays Steve Lopez, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. While on a break from work, he hears the beautiful sounds of a violin. He looks for the source of the music, finding Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a homeless man and musical virtuoso whose two-stringed violin is his one comfort in the world as he plays it under a statue of Beethoven, his favorite composer. Though a bit hesitant about talking to a clearly mentally-unstable man, the reporter in Lopez sees a story. And soon he begins to write a column about Ayers.

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It turns out Ayers was a musical genius as a child, and later studied at Julliard. But it was at Julliard where the darkness of schizophrenia took a hold of Ayers, and before long he was on the mean streets of Los Angeles, pushing his belongings in a rickety shopping cart, trying to survive, music his only friend.

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Lopez’s columns soon make Ayers a celebrity among his readers. And in one pivotal scene, a reader sends a cello to the newspaper office for Lopez to give to Ayers. Ayers, who studied the cello in his younger years, is overcome with gratitude over this simple act of kindness.

Lopez’s relationship soon goes far beyond his byline, and he wants to help Ayers, not just write about him. Of course, wanting to help and actually helping do not always work out easily. Lopez tries to get Ayers involved in Lamp Community, a skid row homeless shelter for the mentally ill. The scenes at Lamp Community are about as far from the glitz and glamour of LA as one can get. The Soloist does not shy away from the ugliness of mental illness. The drug use and violence are very much on display. But The Soloist also gives these people their dignity, often letting them speak in their own words. And Nelsan Ellis, as the Lamp Community’s social worker, David Carter, is very convincing in his role. He is both realistic and compassionate when it comes to the people he is helping at Lamp Community.

Beyond getting Ayers help at the Lamp Community, Lopez also tries to get him medication and an apartment. He also acquires Ayers cello lessons with a local musician, and gets him into a Los Angeles Philharmonic rehearsal at Disney Hall. But not surprisingly, things don’t always go so smoothly. Ayers isn’t too happy about the apartment, feeling more comfortable on open streets of LA. Perhaps, the four walls of the apartment would only remind Ayers of the time he was in his New York apartment as a young man when the tormenting voices of schizophrenia took over his mind. And when Lopez sets up a recital for Ayers to entertain music patrons Ayers becomes overwhelmed and breaks down. Lopez becomes frustrated with Ayers need for him, and at the same time, his tendency to push him away. Yet, Lopez knows he can’t give up on Ayers.

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Both Downey and Foxx are tremendous in their roles. Downey is subtle, the straight man in the relationship. The reporter side of him is curious, but the human side of him is both patient and exasperated with Ayers. Foxx, as Ayers, is at turns paranoid, talkative, angry and fearful. His eyes and body language convey the terror of mental illness, and he often talks in a slipstream of jumbled words that seem to make sense only to him.

At times The Soloist falters like when it uses a light show to show how music affects Ayers. The light show looked right out of a middle school dance circa 1978 and cheapened the experience. I also didn’t like the liberties the movie took with Lopez’s personal life. In the movie, Lopez is divorced from his wife (played by Catherine Keener) who is also his boss, Mary. In real life, Lopez is still very much married to his wife. I have no idea why the screenwriter, Susannah Grant, had to do this. Maybe she did it to bring more drama to the film.

But The Soloist doesn’t need any extra drama. The relationship between Lopez and Ayers is strong enough. The Soloist never gets preachy or wrap things up with a treacly happy ending. Ayers will always be mentally ill, and Lopez will always have to find a story. And just a warning, if you do watch The Soloist, you might want to have some tissues nearby. You’ll find yourself shedding some tears.

T2: Trainspotting (2017)

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Over 20 years ago, I saw a movie called Trainspotting, a movie about Scottish heroin addicts that couldn’t be more different than my life as an American more addicted to caffeine, potato chips and various TV shows than deadly smack. Nevertheless, Trainspotting became a cultural celluloid touchstone for me and many of people of my generation. My friends and I didn’t exactly condone the characters action but oddly understood why they acted in the way they did.

Trainspotting (based on the novel of the same name by Irvine Welsh) was directed by Danny Boyle, whose later film, Slumdog Millionaire, garnered quite a few Oscars, including best film and best director. Trainspotting also starred four unknowns who didn’t stay that way for long. Ewan McGregor who played Mark Renton has starred in critically acclaimed indies as well as a young Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. Both Robert Carlyle (Begbie) and Jonny Lee Miller (Sick Boy) come into our living rooms via their respective TV shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Elementary. Ewen Bremner (Spud) has starred in movies like Blackhawk Down, Pearl Harbor, and AVP: Alien vs. Predator. He will soon be seen in the latest Wonder Women movie this summer.

Now Renton, Begbie, Sick Boy and Spud are back in T2: Trainspotting, twenty years older, but are they wiser? Well…that is debatable.

When the first Trainspotting ended Renton had taken most of the ill-gotten monetary gains of some drug money (he did leave some of the money to Spud but stiffed both Begbie and Sick Boy). He’s made a new life for himself in Amsterdam working as an accountant. He’s off the smack and is fully into health and fitness. While at a local gym he has a health scare while jogging on a treadmill. Freaked out, Renton goes back to Scotland.

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Hoping to make amends with his old mates, Renton finds them still caught up in a life of addiction, crime and other assorted bad acts. Spud is still addicted to heroin and in a downward spiral that includes the possibility of suicide. Begbie is in prison, still scarily violent and about to break out. Sick Boy runs a pub, has replaced heroin with cocaine, and blackmails successful men by filming them in various sexual acts with hookers, one of them being a Bulgarian immigrant named Veronika (a terrific Anjela Nedyalkova). Sick Boy and Veronika are also planning to open a brothel with Veronika having designs on being the brothel’s madam complete with her own office. When Begbie escapes prison he tries to make amends with his estranged wife, which includes some less than satisfying sex (Begbie is suffering from what polite society calls erectile dysfunction). Begbie is also trying to get closer to his son who is in college studying hotel hospitality. However, Begbie’s idea of father/son bonding is a life of crime, something his son would rather avoid.

Once Begbie finds out Renton is back in town, he goes off the rails and pursues Renton in the only way he knows how, as a confirmed psychopath. These scenes of mad pursuit are both chilling and funny. I found myself both cringing with terror and trying to stifle the giggles.

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Renton also tries to make amends with Sick Boy to rather interesting results. Sick Boy is still ticked over being ripped off but the two of them make some kind of amends, which include criminal acts. One of these acts includes visiting a loyalist pub (loyal to the British and the Queen of England) to steal wallets. At this pub, the customers celebrate the year 1690 when a violent battle between the Catholics and the Protestants left the loyalist Protestants victorious and the Catholics defeated and many of them dead. The loyalists sing songs devoted to England and the Queen while celebrating the death of the Catholics. Renton and Sick Boy get caught up in the revelry and entertain the pub with an improvised song called “1690” the most notable song lyric being, “there were no Catholics left!” As someone who was raised Roman Catholic, and who even went to a Catholic college, I should have been offended, but instead I laughed so hard I almost dropped my bag of popcorn.

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Renton also gets closer to Veronika who has a lot more going on that she is given credit. Sure, she is a “hooker with the heart of gold,” but she’s also pretty smart and has a past that includes heartbreak all her own. Becoming a madam isn’t just a promotion; it’s a way to improve her condition and her life back in Bulgaria.

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Throughout T2 are scenes from the original recipe showing a much younger Renton and the gang, including the song “Lust for Life” written by Iggy Pop and the late David Bowie and sung by Iggy Pop (the song later became the theme song for several Royal Caribbean cruise line commercials).  Renton also revisits one of the coolest movie dialogue ever uttered in film “choose life.”

“Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television, Choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players, and electrical tin can openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol and dental insurance. Choose fixed-interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisure wear and matching luggage. Choose a three piece suite on hire purchase in a range of fucking fabrics. Choose DIY and wondering who the fuck you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing fucking junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, fucked-up brats you have spawned to replace yourselves. Choose your future. Choose life . . . But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life: I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

The lads turned middle-aged men often look at their youth with some nostalgia and wrong-headed pride only to realize they’ve made quite a few mistakes and haven’t come to their dotage fully clean and healed of addiction, violence and other deplorable acts that defined them when they were younger. And somehow they do manage to make some small acts of contrition that prove that they aren’t wholly awful people, the greatest being Spud’s act of simply keeping a somewhat messy journal of collective memories, ideas and opinions.

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Ultimately, I found T2 a fully satisfying and worthy sequel to its original, and one that stayed with me after the credits rolled. After I saw the film I discussed it with my fellow film goers and we all agreed that T2 tapped into the malaise that seems to define our generation no matter whether you live smack dab in the middle of the United States or somewhere in Scotland.

Choose life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a fucking big television. And choose to see T2: Trainspotting.

Guilty Pleasure Movies: Grease 2 (1982)

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When we became “hopelessly devoted” to the movie Grease in the summer of 1978, little did we know we’d be revisiting Rydell High a few short years later. But Hollywood had different ideas. And in the summer of 1982 we got the sequel, Grease 2.

However, Sandy and Danny from the first film had long graduated. Olivia Newton-John (Sandy) was getting “Physical” and John Travolta (Danny) was in a bleak period of his career only to have a comeback with Pulp Fiction more than a decade later. Nope, Grease 2 featured a cast of unknowns (most of them stayed that way), and brand new shenanigans at Rydell.

As the school year of 1961 commences at Rydell High the T-Birds and the Pink Ladies still rule the school. Head Pink Lady, Stephanie Zinone (Michelle Pfeiffer) has just broken up with head T-Bird Johnny Nogerelli (Adriam Zmed). However, that doesn’t mean Stephanie’s loins don’t get all warm and toasty over a leather-clad, motorcycle-riding bad boy.

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Enter Michael Carrington (Maxwell Carrington) who just happens to be Sandy from the first film’s cousin. I guess Rydell has a special student exchange program with Australia. From the moment Michael lays his peepers on Stephanie he is smitten. But Pink Ladies can only date T-Birds, and Michael is way too clean-cute a wholesome for a bad ass like Stephanie.

Stephanie gives Michael the cold shoulder and tells him her feelings in the song “Cool Rider.” Not one to be deterred, Michael develops an alter ego to his goody-goody persona, a mysterious man on a motorcycle with only a helmet and goggles to hide his true self. Stephanie falls hard for this biker stud, and soon she and “Other Michael” are an item. “Other Michael” is sexy and brooding, and he’s got a bitchin’ motorbike. But he’s also kind and respectful towards Stephanie, exactly what she wasn’t getting from dating a T-Bird.

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Stephanie soon finds out it’s Michael Carrington who is her dreamboat on a bike because how much of a disguise are a helmet and goggles anyway? Not surprisingly, Stephanie is in an age-old dilemma: stay true to her high school chums or be with her one, true love. Can she possibly have the best of both worlds? You have to watch to find out.

Grease 2 features songs that make the original’s look like Cole Porter’s. However, they are rather catchy. “Score Tonight” combines bowling with a teen’s burgeoning sexuality. And in “Reproduction” the kids pay homage to doing it with lyrics like “Reproduction (reproduction)/Put your pollen tube to work/Reproduction (reproduction)/Make my stamen go berserk.” Sex is also heavy on the students’ minds in a patriotic “Do It For Our Country.” But things aren’t so sex-drenched with songs like “Who’s That Guy?” and “(Love Will) Turn Back the Hands of Time.”

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Besides featuring a cast of newbies, Grease 2 also featured stars including Eve Arden, Tab Hunter, Connie Stevens, Dody Goodman and Sid Caeser reprising their roles from the first Grease. As for the newbies, well, only Michelle Pfeiffer reached stardom. As for the rest? Well, I’m too lazy to look up their names on IMDB.com.

Grease 2 was a commercial and a critical flop, and didn’t quite live up to its predecessor’s glory. Besides in the summer of 1982 the monster blockbuster E.T. was taking over the cineplex, and another teen movie, Fast Times at Ridgemont High spoke more to the teens of the early 1980s than Grease 2.

Still Grease 2 had its cheesy charm. My sister and I saw it countless times once it hit cable TV. We knew it wasn’t cinematic art, but we enjoyed Grease 2 in all of its “so bad, it’s good” glory, and isn’t that what guilty pleasure movies are all about?

Look At Me (Comme Une Image-2004)

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The French comedy of manners, Look at Me (Comme Une Image), centers on Lolita (Marilou Berry) and her famous writer father Etienne (Jeanne-Pierre Bacri). Lolita is plain and overweight, and assumes most people want to get to know her because of her father. And usually, she’s right. However, she does have one thing going for her, a lovely singing voice, and is taking voice lessons.

Unfortunately, her father is too wrapped up in his own world to take notice of his daughter. One of his books has just been made into his movie. He has a stunning second wife. And people are constantly vying for his attention. He has no interest in his insecure daughter, and seems almost ashamed of her. Lolita herself is not without her faults. She is distrustful of anyone who makes overtures of friendship. And at times her self-pity is off-putting.

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Yet, Lolita does seem to have one bright light in her life-music. And her singing teacher Sylvia, played by Agnes Jaoui (who also directed and co-wrote the script) takes a special interest in Lolita. Initially, Sylvia’s interest is rather self-serving. Her husband, Pierre (Laurent Grevill) is a fledgling writer. Sylvia assumes if she befriends Lolita, she’ll introduce Pierre to her father, and Pierre’s writing career will finally get off the ground.

But it isn’t long before Sylvia realizes Lolita has a talent that must be nurtured, and that Lolita, herself, is worthy of attention and praise. Sylvia especially notices this when she and her husband are invited to Etienne’s country estate, and he berates everyone around him including Lolita.

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At the same time Lolita’s musical talent is being developed, she begins a friendship with a young man named Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza). Sébastien is also a writer, and Lolita once again thinks his friendly overtures are only to connect with her father. Lolita tries to get her father to help Sébastien, too dense and insecure to realize Sebastien is actually interested in her, and her only. Yes, he’s a writer, but he’d rather concentrate on developing a writing project with his friends rather than be mentored by an egotistical blowhard like Etienne. Will Lolita wise up and realize Sébastien really likes her for her, and she has value all on her own?
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Look at Me is at turns funny and mortifying. Ms. Berry is wonderful as Lolita, vulnerable, heartbreaking and all to easy to identify with all at once. At times you don’t know if you want to shake her or hug her. And you will find Mr. Bacri positively maddening as the selfish Etienne especially in one scene where he walks out of his daughter’s choral performance to take a phone call.

Look at Me takes an unflinching look at our narcissistic celebrity culture, especially once we learn those we worship often have feet of clay. It also examines how feeling like loser in a sea of success, fame, money and beauty that is so crippling we can barely break out the box we’ve put ourselves in.

Highway 61 (1991)

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In the dark comedy/road movie Highway 61, small-town barber (and sometime musician) Pokey Jones (Don McKellar) seems to be content with his life. Then he finds a dead body in his backyard. Jackie Bangs (Valerie Buhagiar), a rock band roadie, sees a picture of the dead body in the newspaper and decides to pay Pokey a visit. While Pokey dyes her blonde hair red, Jackie tells him that the dead body is her brother Jeffrey, and she has to get him back to the States, New Orleans to be exact, to bury him.

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Pokey then realizes he’s up for some adventure, and he decides to drive Jackie and her dead brother to New Orleans. However, unbeknownst to Pokey, Jeffrey is not Jackie’s brother. She’s using the corpse to transport drugs back to the States. Still, the naïve Pokey is drawn to the seen-it-all Jackie, and he puts the corpse into a makeshift coffin and straps it to the top of his car. It’s New Orleans or bust!!!

During their journey, most people are vaguely intrigued by the coffin on Pokey’s car. You can always seen odd things while traveling in America. One of the people along the way, is a father trying to make stars out of his weirdly-talking daughters who dance like in a stilted, robotic style. A dead man on the roof of somebody’s car? Who cares? Stardom awaits for this man’s brood.

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But what else awaits? Could it be Satan? Among the group of ragtag characters is Mr. Skin (Earl Patsko) who is basically the devil in the disguise of a sleazy, polyester-wearing huckster. Mr. Skin is buying souls on his journey through America. And just how much is a soul? At times, a bottle of whiskey will suffice. People are cheap. While tempting them to sell their souls, Mr. Skin takes cheap Polaroids of them, and then uses these shots to do not so nice acts on the victims.

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Pokey may be naïve, but he isn’t dumb. And he begins to figure out that something is up with Jackie and her dead non-brother. But due to his growing attraction to Jackie, and his new found love of America, Pokey sets his reservations aside. He’s finally connecting with places he could only read about in a small-town Canada. It’s time to break the shackles and get wild!! And Pokey and Jackie act on their attraction while enjoying their travels.

In this immensely likable and entertaining film, the American south is used to show the type of oddball characters you probably won’t find in a travel brochure. Don McKellar (who also wrote the screenplay) is sweetly dorkish as Pokey Jones, and Jackie Buhagiar is spot-on as a cynical  roadie. And Earl Patsko nearly steals the show as the devilish Mr. Skin. The movie also uses both irreverent conversations and peculiar observations that will ring true to anyone who has taken a road trip. Highway 61 is wacky, funny and real, and just might inspire you to fill up the car and hit the road…minus a dead body and the Devil, of course.

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Things Behind the Sun (2001)

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For the past few years, singer/songwriter Sherry McGrale (Kim Dickens) shows up at the same house out of control and completely drunk. Just what is going on, and why does Sherry do this on the same day year after year?

In Things Behind the Sun, Sherry sings and writes music that is deeply personal and filled with raw emotion. Her most notable song about getting raped as a young girl is getting a lot of play on college radio, and the music magazines are starting to take notice of her.

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Owen Richardson (Gabriel Mann) is a rock reporter with a vague connection to McGrale. He mentions to his editor (Roseanna Arquette) that he knows who raped Sherry, and she assigns a story to him to profile this up and coming singer with the tortured past.

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Getting to Sherry for an interview is not easy. First, Owen has to deal with Sherry’s immensely protective manager Chuck (Don Cheadle). Chuck’s protection goes beyond the professional realm. Chuck and Sherry used to date, and Chuck still has feelings for her that are often put to the test when he sees how quickly she can degrade herself. Yet, he also knows this degradation is the consequence of her being violated so many years ago.

After some finagling, Owen finally gets his chance to talk to Sherry and possibly interview her for the magazine. Despite their past friendship, Sherry barely recognizes Owen. This is partly due to being in a drunken haze most of the time and also due to trying to bury the past.

But Sherry soon realizes who Owen is as he drops hints of their childhood friendship and their shared love of music. In fact, Owen probably wouldn’t be a writer without Sherry’s influence. But unfortunately, Sherry and Owen’s past also deals directly with Sherry’s rape. It was Owen’s older brother Dan (Eric Stoltz) who initially raped Sherry, and then forced Owen to violate Sherry, too. Will Owen’s confession further scar Sherry’s emotional wounds (and his own, too)? Or will it lead to some much needed healing for the both of them?

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Things Behind the Sun could easily fall into Lifetime movie territory, but in the expert hands of the woefully underrated Alison Anders, it never does. Anders herself was a raped as a young girl, and bravely captures the raw degradation of sexual violence and its fall out. And though the ending is slightly pat and tidy, most of the film is raw and riveting. Most of this is due to the very honest performances. Dickens is brutally real as Sherry, victim and victimizer. Mann makes Owen sympathetic and pathetic at the same time. Cheadle is at turns nurturing and tough. And the late Elizabeth Peña brings a compassionate pathos as the current owner of the house where Sherry was raped. Dickens and Peña’s scenes are brief, yet commanding. In fact, Things Behind the Sun is a deeply potent film that combines tragedy and healing one that truly makes you think.

The Spotlight

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Movie studios’ plans for the home movie rental  business.

AFI (American Film Institute) 100 Best Movie Songs. My favorite? “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Henry Mancini. My favorite version? Audrey Hepburn’s, of course. I miss her every day.

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Is your movie a “Chick Flick?” Good luck in getting it screened in India.

Yes, I know we’re only two months into 2017, but Thrillist has a list of the best movies of 2017 so far…

Movies that created a buzz at this year’s Sundance.

Here’s a gallery of actors turned directors and their debut films.

The documentary “I Am Not Your Negro” about James Baldwin is still timely in 2017.

How Indian film director Mira Nair’s body of work richly portrays the complexity of mixing cultures.

Bitch magazine’s list of the best movies from 1999-2016.

The worst movies of 2016 according to the Razzies. And 10 people who actual showed up to pick up their Razzie. Hmm, I knew there was a reason why I like Sandra Bullock.

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