Tag Archives: Music

Movie Review: ‘La La Land’

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

In love with the magic of Old Hollywood.

“La La Land” is as much a movie about movies as it is an exploration of a relationship, at least within the unique confines of a musical. That’s a tall order but back in the heyday of movie musicals, the best ones managed to strike a chord that rang true. Even today, if you’re in Hollywood working toward your big break, part of you has to believe in make believe. We all do. The best of the musicals of yesteryear intertwined a believable depiction of the everyday with the large-than-life. “La La Land” rises to that level.

Going in, I wasn’t sure if this was going to be a revamping of 1964’s “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,” this time set in Los Angeles. By that, I mean that I was ready to hear every word of dialogue in song. That is not the case and I’m grateful. Maybe it would have worked but I cherish the moments the two leads have together. If two crazy kids aiming for the stars were ever meant for each other, it is Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone). I keep coming back to how the movie evokes a believable day-to-day reality. The fact is that this has more references to past musicals than any casual observer, including myself, would likely spot.

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) and Mia (Emma Stone)

Hollywood movie musicals used to be quite common, with a glorious run from 1929 to 1969, and occasional success ever since. With their unique capacity to fill the screen, a successful movie musical was easily a favorite pick for Best Picture come Oscar time. There have been some all-time greats that have done just that: 1951’s “An American in Paris,” 1965’s “The Sound of Music,” all the way to the most recent and last, 2002’s “Chicago.” Which brings us to “La La Land,” with its beautiful homage to that old Hollywood magic.

"La La Land," written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land,” written and directed by Damien Chazelle

“La La Land” wears its self-awareness well. Written and directed by Damien Chazelle, this musical provides that giddy feeling of uplift, a touch of irony, and a compelling contemporary narrative. These two star-crossed lovers don’t see stars for each other, at first. Aspiring actress Mia is too busy recovering from the latest humiliating audition. Aspiring jazz artist Sebastian is too busy trying to carve a place for himself with his idealism. It looks like boy will never meet girl and then they do meet and things get complicated as their relationship and dreams come into conflict. Interlaced within this story are songs to knock your songs off (music by Justin Hurwitz; lyrics by Damien Chazelle).

A special kind of fairy tale magic used to come more easily to Hollywood. The conflict between new and old is very much a theme here. Both Sebastian and Mia represent a standard of excellence that makes huge demands. The results are likely to be bittersweet. But when it looks like your dream will come true, then any hardship seems worth enduring. It’s a dream that may seem corny and unreal, but there are plenty of people in Hollywood right now that will attest to just how real it really is. Mia and Sebastian are wondrous, yet decidedly grounded, examples of contemporary, yet utterly timeless, star chasers. Sure, these characters were created from a runaway imagination filtered through some of the greatest musicals of the past. Ah, the stuff that dreams are made of!

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Filed under Academy Awards, Hollywood, Movie Reviews, movies, Musicals, Oscars

Seattle Focus: Rock Is Not Dead – October 22nd

oct22rockposter

For those of you in Seattle this Saturday, October 22nd, come out to the Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery for a launch party for “Rock Is Not Dead,” an international anthology of comics and prose based on rock songs with an accompanying covers CD. Seattle cartoonist Noel Franklin pulled together an artist team to contribute. Fellow cartoonist Mark Campos and Franklin created a comic based on the Throwing Muses song, “Not Too Soon,” and Amy Denio recorded the cover for the CD.

Noel Franklin is a Seattle cartoonist who, like many of us in this region, is quite active. We locals know her for such beautiful work as her tribute to the OK Hotel. Franklin recently received grants from 4Culture and the Mayors Office in support of her first graphic novel.

Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery is located at 1201 S Vale Street. For more details, visit them right here.

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Filed under Comics, Fantagraphics, Fantagraphics Books, Fantagraphics Bookstore And Gallery, Noel Franklin, Seattle

Comix Scene: Bumbershoot No More

Bumbershoot Only in Brand Name

Bumbershoot Only in Brand Name

A lot of great things have happened in Seattle. Grunge. Coffee. Software. Amazon. And Bumbershoot, our Labor Day weekend music and arts festival. In fact, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, now known as Seattle Center, is the site of Bumbershoot. Through it all, Seattle had managed to somehow keep a relatively low profile. It used to be known as a place you could drift away to and that appealed to countless artists and dreamers. But, in the span of a generation, it has gone from being called “the nicest place to live in America” to being called “the fastest growing city in America.” That is quite a leap and it does not come without a steep price to pay.

The Anschutz Corporation’s AEG LIVE division bought out Seattle’s beloved Bumbershoot Music & Arts Festival from local nonprofit, One Reel. Bumbershoot was an emblem of that quirky egalitarian spirit that Seattle has been known for. Last year, was the first year under the control of AEG LIVE. The price hike on tickets raised eyebrows. People noticed. Locals noticed, for sure. Here is my recap from last year.

Here’s the thing, Bumbershoot has been in need of better organization for some time. Crowds keep growing while overall entertainment, including the arts, keeps decreasing. Like it or not, the Bumbershoot that all of us grew up with is no more. It’s not a lot of quirky, authentic, indie fun anymore. There is still a glimmer of the old ghost but it’s now mostly a corporate brand. Can we turn that around? I wish we could. There is a price to pay for being the biggest–and it’s too high a price! Burning Man was once just an authentic feel good thing but no more. So too for good ole Bumbershoot. Bumbershoot no more.

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Filed under AEG LIVE, Bumbershoot, Comics, Comix Scene, Corporations, Music, pop culture, Seattle

Seattle Focus: The Crocodile’s 25th Year

What we can always use is more love. Here is something special put together by cartoonist Noel Franklin that touches the heart of all us Seattle locals. This is Noel’s tribute to one of our great landmarks, one of the best music venues in town, The Crocodile nightclub. Here is a link back to where it appears at Seattle Weekly.

Noel Franklin's tribute to The Crocodile in Seattle Weekly

Noel Franklin’s tribute to The Crocodile in Seattle Weekly

And be sure to keep up with Noel Franklin right here.

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Filed under Comics, Music, Noel Franklin, Seattle, The Crocodile

Review: METROLAND #3 by Ricky Miller & Julia Scheele

David Bowie chats with Ziggy Stardust

David Bowie chats with Ziggy Stardust

“Metroland #3,” published by Avery Hill, is the best yet of this quirky series. Of course, you want to read it all as it builds! The hints have been made from the start that there is something unusual, perhaps other-worldly, about rock stars Jessica Hill and Ricky Stardust. They keep abandoning their band, Electric Dreams, leaving them cooped up in a small castle in Greenwich just outside London. Not the worst thing in the world, mind you. Although not until you take into account that the mysterious activities of Jessica Hill and Ricky Stardust could bring about the Apocalypse!

Alright, so the world’s fate may hang in the balance. But this comic’s main appeal is its style and humor. Let me tell you, it’s a particularly British club scene thing going on here but it’s also quite applicable to any scene. The recurring theme is looking and acting cool. Go to a club. See a show. Pose. Make pithy comments. The humor and the style are priceless, way before snark was ever born–and much better. It’s a world-view honed over generations. Funny I should say that, given the nature of this narrative.

Jessica and Ricky are compromising the space-time continuum!

Jessica and Ricky are compromising the space-time continuum!

Ah, yes, this is a story spanning generations–or should I say it goes much deeper than that. This is unnatural. This is cross-polinating generations! Let me come clean: Jessica and Ricky are compromising the space-time continuum in a huge way. Ever hear of President Elvis? No, that wasn’t supposed to happen. So, yeah, we’ve got a mad helping of Doctor Who with just the right hipster vibe.

Where is Ricky Stardust and Jessica Hill?

Where is Ricky Stardust and Jessica Hill?

You see, Ricky Stardust has been leapfrogging all through rock ‘n’ roll history making adjustments as he pleases. Rumor has it that he’s Ziggy Stardust and that he’s set into motion some cataclysmic jinx. Not the sort of thing the David Bowie we all know and love would ever do. Ricky Miller’s script has such droll humor and Julia Scheele’s artwork has such devilish wit.

Henry the Blogger!

Henry the Blogger!

As for comics about gloriously misspent youth, this is one I highly recommend. Come for the repartee and stay for the characters. There is even a middle-aged pop culture blogger who proves to be a pivotal character. Ah, there’s hope for me yet. Well, I must admit the character is pretty spot on in a lot of ways. Eerie, his name is Henry and my name is Henry. Okay, that alone gets my attention! Did someone travel back in time just to spook me? Ha, ha, I do like this Henry the blogger character!

Kevin refuses to meet with Henry!

Kevin refuses to meet with Henry!

“Metroland #3,” by Ricky Miller & Julia Scheele, is a 36-page full-color perfect bound comic. For more details, visit Avery Hill Publishing right here. You can also venture over to Retrofit Comics and find Metroland right here.

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Filed under Avery Hill Publishing, British Comics, Comics, Comics Reviews, David Bowie, European Comics, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, London, Music, science fiction, Time Travel

Book Review: ‘H8 Society – How An Atomic Fart Saved the World’

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Transmedia, content that includes more than traditional text and illustrations, is still so new. Basically, it is storytelling on multiple platforms: there’s not only a book but there is video, music, games, social media, and so on. I feel it’s going to take a number of years before the novelty wears off and things integrate more naturally, if they ever do. Take this latest hybrid of book, music, and social media: “H8 Society – How An Atomic Fart Saved the World.” It does not take on the whole transmedia spectrum but it is in the same ballpark. The intent is to bring in young readers and it is designed to be ideally read on a smartphone.

This is a young adult book which has an overall upbeat and dynamic vibe to it so there’s some real potential there to attract new readers. This is a sci-fi adventure of sorts that is meant to appeal to teens. That is absolutely the demographic that is being targeted. It is clearly stated in the title, and not just the idea of farts. The idea of haters is pretty obvious. A lot of buttons are pushed, including all the usual suspects of sex, drugs, and race. The story begins with a satire on a jihadist which is odd at best. There are also scenes you can call sexist at best.

The press release describes this book as “a first-of-its-kind ‘extreme reading experience’ that marries music, graphics, and literature to tell an unforgettable story about an apocalyptic American dream.” Much more to the point, this is light entertainment or contemporary pulp fiction. It is not literature. It’s just light stuff featuring popular music. This book is sort of a contemporary version of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon singing in “Beach Blanket Bingo.”

An illustration by Bill Sienkiewicz in "H8 Society"

An illustration by Bill Sienkiewicz in “H8 Society”

Something that is strongly in its favor is that the book is punctuated with vivid artwork by master illustrator Bill Sienkiewicz of DC and Marvel Comics fame. And the music peppered throughout this story is an impressive collection of twenty-six indie songs (curated from over 4,000 ReverbNation submissions). You’ll be reading along for a while and then have the option to play a song that sort of goes with the narrative. For instance, Boomer and the gang are right in the middle of an exciting scene. To add to that reading, you may want to listen to Valora’s “Extreme.”

While you read "H8 Society" on your smartphone, you can listen to songs like Valora's "Extreme."

While you read “H8 Society” on your smartphone, you can listen to songs like Valora’s “Extreme.”

The story is a caper involving two rival teen gangs who must confront a global network bent on taking over the world through mind control. It’s not the most cutting-edge scenario but it gets the job done and proves to be as entertaining as any light sitcom you might stumble upon. The choice of music is fun and that’s probably the most intriguing thing about this project. From time to time, a reader, immersed in his or her own reader’s world, is open to supplemental material. If you get that right choice of song, it can have a very moving and lasting effect upon a reader and actually enhance the reading experience.

First, you need a worthwhile reading experience before you can enhance it. In the case of this book, it is what it is: a simple caper story. And maybe that’s just what some readers will want during a commute. One caveat, the creators of this book go by the name of 2Dans. They are two former MTV executives which adds to the sense of this being more of a packaged deal and less of something to take too seriously. But then, atomic farts were never meant to be taken seriously, right? Find out how you can access this book for free by visiting the official book site here.

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Filed under 2Dans, Bill Sienkiewicz, Book Reviews, Books, Mark Z. Danielewski, Marketing, MTV, Music, Transmedia

DVD Review: LOVE & MERCY

Paul Dano becomes Brian Wilson in "Love & Mercy"

Paul Dano becomes Brian Wilson in “Love & Mercy”

The two cello players had been rapidly playing to the direction of Brian Wilson (played by Paul Dano). He had wanted them to evoke the sound of propellers. Each time, they got closer. But, after three hours, Brian’s brother Dennis (played by Kenny Wormald) had had enough. What was Brian trying to prove anyway? Moments later, we hear that iconic perfectly rendered propeller sound. There it is, for all eternity, an essential part of one of the greatest songs of the ’60s and of all time, “Good Vibrations,” and it was worth it! Not to confuse you, this is not a documentary, but, just for fun, here’s a studio session that is beautifully evoked in this film:

How could Brian Wilson have known it was going to be worth it? He had been getting resistance from all sides by his own family. It wasn’t just his backward-thinking brother, Dennis. It was also coming from his own father. The chasm between father and son had grown so large that Brian was forced to fire his dad (played by Bill Camp) from his role as manager. Murry Wilson wasn’t fazed by it and simply managed another band. It was all just business to him. But rigid adherence to the bottom line is anathema to creativity. What it requires is continuous leaps of faith. This is what Brian Wilson is all about and what this film is all about. Ah, here’s our trailer right below:

Paul Dano, as Brian Wilson, is profoundly good. I can only imagine how inspiring it was for him to be, in a sense, taking direction from Brian Wilson. The script is based on Wilson’s 1996 autobiography, “Wouldn’t it be Nice: My Own Story.” Well, Dano was certainly in good hands with the film’s director, Bill Pohlad (12 Years a Slave and The Tree of Life). As we come to find, Wilson was truly up against it and yet remained open to experimentation. Imagine those two cello players, pretty much out of their element and yet they were open to experimentation. And it would lead them to greatness: zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda, zuba-da-da-buda…faster and faster…until they got it just right.

But there’s so much more. John Cusack is equally miraculous as Brian Wilson in later years. We see hints of a downward spiral as the young Wilson courts disaster but we can’t help but think the eccentricity is too important. By the time we fast forward to the ’80s, we see Cusack portray only a shell of a man. On one particularly good day, he manages to muster up enough strength to flirt with a Cadillac salesperson, Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks). It is in her eyes, that Brian Wilson sees a possible way back to a meaningful life.

Love and Mercy-Brian Wilson.jpg

And so begins a romance, a way back, and a way out. No sooner has Brian made contact with the outside world, than Dr. Eugene Landy (played by Paul Giamatti) has swooped down to control the situation. Giamatti does have a tendency to chew up the scenery but, in this case, his overacting seems to be spot on. It would take a larger-than-life character like Landy to try to hold back the likes of Brian Wilson. Cusack, who is usually quite good at striking a balance, gives us a portrayal of a man who genuinely, and quite humbly, feels in touch with great artistic ability.

There’s a wonderful scene during his courtship of Melinda where he plays a little tune for her. She says it’s beautiful. He responds that he wrote it for her. “And what happens to it now?” Melinda asks. Brian responds without even a hint of irony, “Nothing. It was just meant to be for that moment.” It is a scene like that one that just adds to the belief in a man who would have cello players repeat the same passage of music for over three hours.

Visit the official “Love & Mercy” website right here.

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Filed under DVD Blu-ray Reviews, Movie Reviews, movies, Music, pop culture

Open Letter to Bumbershoot: You are Too Expensive! And I Won’t Go Anymore.

Has Bumbershoot Become Seattle's Burning Man? Photo: Trey Ratcliff / Flickr

Has Bumbershoot Become Seattle’s Burning Man? Photo: Trey Ratcliff / Flickr

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a great piece in The Seattle Times by Danny Westneat that sheds light on the upsurge in Bumbershoot ticket prices. I wasn’t aware of this development but Bumbershoot, according to Westneat, is now run by Anschutz Entertainment Group. That doesn’t change what I have to say below. But it adds more information to work with. Read it here.

For those of you in Seattle, Bumbershoot is this Labor Day weekend, September 5, 6, and 7, 2015. I suggest that you NOT go. That is, unless you really want to burn through what have recently shot up to $100/day tickets. I was reading an insightful look at how Burning Man went from a groovy and authentic happening to a corporate playland just the other day. And it got me to thinking about Bumbershoot. If nothing else, maybe this could open up some discussion.

“Today is the last day to buy the $29 any day tickets, with which you can buy now and choose later.” — The Bumbershoot website, May 31, 2011

For those in Seattle, this letter to Bumbershoot may seem harsh or even unpatriotic somehow. But hear me out. For those outside of Seattle, here’s a taste of what happens when something good turns sour. Just how do you go from a $5/day, to a $30/day, to a staggering $100/day event–and pretend nothing’s wrong? And now you’ve got additional VIP-enhanced ticket prices too for an event that originally was simply a place to hear a lot of great music. At some point, Bumbershoot had no business expanding in size. It’s still held within the 74-acre Seattle Center. Total attendance last year was estimated to be 125,000 visitors. The venue has NOT gotten any bigger. Bumbershoot is a study in an overwhelmingly clogged gridlock of humanity. At some point, bigger is by no means better. That should be a lesson to the City of Seattle in general. And it should be something that compels Bumbershoot to stop and rethink.

What is, or was, Bumbershoot? This article from The Seattle Times from Sunday, August 27, 2000, proves useful. Read it here.

Dear Bumbershoot,

I wish we could somehow turn back the clock and return to a more carefree time. I’m wondering if that’s possible. I believe that it is. How do other similar events manage to entertain the city for a weekend and even do it for free? Now, I fully understand that there is only one Bumbershoot but I think you could learn a lot from the free and fun Northwest Folklife Festival. Sure, they incur plenty of expenses themselves and they make an organized effort to collect donations. Couldn’t Bumberhoot make a serious effort to drop ticket prices and seek out donations?

You don’t have to be an old fogie to recall when it was relatively cheap to buy tickets to go to Bumbershoot, Seattle’s landmark music and arts festival. Just observe the notice above. $30/day tickets were still a reality only four short years ago! Maybe you have to be a bit older to recall when it was totally affordable to the point that you bought a pass for the whole shebang without blinking an eye. And for you new locals, check this out, the event used to be free!

The Wikipedia post on Bumbershoot is rather thin. But it begins with one intriguing fact: the event was first run by the City of Seattle. It began in 1971 as a way to lift everyone’s spirits amid a major economic slump. Talk about doing the right thing! Bumbershoot ultimately fell under the control of the nonprofit, One Reel, which is known for a very expensive cabaret show, Teatro Zinzanni. I’m sorry but I’ve tried it, byway of a gift, and found their glitzy dinner theater extravaganza to be an overpriced spectacle. And I see that is what has become of Bumbershoot. As a nonprofit, you would think that One Reel would have it worked out where its ongoing Teatro Zinzanni, geared to upscale customers, would help finance the so-called people’s festival, Bumbershoot.

Anyway, all I wish to do here is say that I’ve got some good memories from Bumbershoot. However, I’ve also seen Bumbershoot become less accessible and more limited in its overall offerings. Keep in mind, I do appreciate that these packaged experiences don’t come cheap. I used to go to Lollapalooza when it was affordable too. Well, no one is going to boycott one of these events if they’ve convinced themselves it’s the most amazing thing ever. Bumbershoot used to be pretty amazing but I’ve seen the life sucked out of it. And part of the problem, the ongoing problem that will only get worse, is too many people! So, to some extent, if I were to persuade anyone to stay home, I’m doing Bumbershoot a huge favor.

I’m sorry, Bumbershoot. I’m just not feeling the love, despite your branding yourself as a people’s festival. But I still hold out some hope. Maybe you’ve just let yourself fly too close to the sun. It’s time to come down back to your roots. What do you say, Bumbershoot? Do you really want to be seen as Seattle’s Burning Man, a rich person’s version of cutting loose and having fun? I hope this may strike a chord with some old Bumbershoot fans from over the years. Again, I’m sorry but I had to say something. Did you think that no one would notice the skyrocketing prices? Or, if they did take note, did you think people would simply shrug it off? Well, maybe you did. But I speak for those who can’t just shrug it off. If you are truly a people’s festival, you will find a way to scale back and bring this event back to the people. Bumbershoot, you are no longer being true to yourself.

Think about it. Help me understand. But, at the end of the day, there’s got to be a way to lower those ticket prices. Don’t worry, we won’t miss any of the razzle dazzle that you may feel you need to cut from the schedule. One Reel, you can save that for Teatro Zinzanni. Hey, the show wasn’t all that bad. Just consider this: You won’t lose your core audience if you scale back and scaling back can be a good thing. Also look at it this way, it is a very practical idea. I miss you guys already.

Sincerely, your friend,
Henry

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Filed under Bumbershoot, Entertainment, Music, One Reel, pop culture, Seattle

Movie Review: FROM INSIDE, Directed by John Bergin; Original Music by Gary Numan & Ade Fenton

From-Inside-John-Bergin-Gary-Numan-2014

John Bergin is a very interesting illustrator. He’s out there. He’s got a touch of gonzo to his style. He’s a cross between Ralph Steadman, Dave McKean and Tomi Ungerer. Just the sort of chap you’d want to guide you through a dystopian nightmare such as “From Inside,” his animated adaptation to his graphic novel of the same name.

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Filed under animation, Comics, Dave McKean, John Bergin, Ralph Steadman, Tomi Ungerer

Comic-Con 2014 Interview: Becky Cloonan

Becky Cloonan’s artwork is one of the most distinctive, energetic, and pleasing styles in comics. We chat here a bit about process. As a cartoonist myself, I appreciate the “controlled chaos” of laying down lines of ink on paper. For a casual reader, that means an expressive line with the marks hitting where you want them to hit. This fluidity only comes with practice. As a top professional, Cloonan can modulate that line as needed.

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For some comparison, in “The Mire,” a work that Cloonan both wrote and drew, she turns up the volume a bit on her brush work. Another great artist who loves to play with process is Paul Pope. There are so many to name. And they all have tons of fans who appreciate that playful linework. If you’re new to comics, you will instinctively know what I mean. For her art in “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys,” published by Dark Horse Comics, she provides a line that, as we say in comics, is more “clean.” There are flourishes too and an overall boldness. Cloonan goes on to offer that the clean line here serves the narrative as we navigate through various characters.

From the back of the newly released trade paperback to Killjoys:

Written by Gerard Way (The Umbrella Academy) and newcomer Shaun Simon and beautifully rendered by award-winning artist Becky Cloonan (Demo, Conana the Barbarian), The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys foretells a not-too-distant future where fear reigns and freedom fails.

You can find more details by visiting our friends at Dark Horse Comics right here.

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Filed under Becky Cloonan, Comic-Con 2014, Comics, Dark Horse Comics, Interviews