Review: Zappa

When someone hears the name Frank Zappa the first words that might come to mind are bizarre, strange, unique or odd. Or one might recall his fight over music censorship in the late 80’s and may picture him wearing a t-shirt that says “Tipper Gore is a fascist”. The sad thing is this would barely touch the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the one-of-a-kind musician and composer that was Frank Zappa. 

Alex Winter brings his second hit film of the year, the first being the long awaited third installment of the always fun Bill and Ted movies in which he plays Bill Preston esquire. The other is his newest documentary film. Winter has become a well respected documentary filmmaker in the 30 years in between the second and third Bill and Ted installments. His latest film that examines the great career of the one and only Frank Zappa and his unique style of music might be his greatest film yet. 

The life of Frank Zappa begins and evolves as one might expect and has no profound events that created the person who would come to be known as just, Zappa. His view on the world and his discovery of music is what made him who he was. It’s apparent that he saw and heard things just differently. A young early friendship with Don Van Vliet (better known as Captain Beefheart)and a mutual love of the delta and Chicago blues, would help shape his sound. 

It wasn’t long before Zappa put together his first of what would be many bands usually known as The Mothers Of Invention. A mixed blend of black and white musicians with various backgrounds of various musical stylings. Frank tried always to find the best musicians who could not only play what he heard in his head but perform his art on stage musically and visually. 

Zappa’s career expanded and charged forward full force with a somewhat revolving door of band members Zappa never lost focus of what he saw for his music and his art and staunchly never conformed to the mainstream all the while maintaining a large and loyal fan base. 

Zappa was one of those rare humans who never compromised what they wanted, who they were and what they believed. Long remembered by a whole generation as the old guy on cnn who fought for musics right not to be censored was just one of his many crusades. Forgotten in that fight was that he and his music were never the target of the somewhat fascist group PMRC. He fought for his belief not himself. 

All of this is more than magically captured in the new Alex Winter documentary that makes you feel like you just dove into the box set videos of the best and most important times in Zappas life and career. 

Review: Belushi

John Belushi has been a subject of acting and comedic fascination since he first burst on the scene in 1975 as one of the not ready for prime time players of Saturday Night Live. It has been his talent and comedy that has made him a constant obsession more than his comedy and that is why there continue to be books and documentaries and compilation videos to this very day.

Belushi was nothing short of a genius. Having died before I was even two years old, I none the less knew his body of work as far back as I can remember. At a very early age I would watch old episodes of Saturday Night Live on Nickelodeon at night and can remember the characters he created being some of the most molding and ground breaking. The samurai and Greek cheeseburger order cook being just some of the many characters I imitated as a child.

As a kid I could see the effect he had and I desired to create that reaction in people around me so he quickly became part of my repertoire. I won’t say that he was my ultimate hero but he was on the top 5 list. When I discovered the Blues Brothers he became much bigger than I wouldn’t realize for years. I had the ray bans and the concert tapes and thought they were just pure gold.

This year R.J. Cutler made one of the latest documentaries on the legendary comedian and it is without a doubt one of the most definitive films about the great John Belushi. Cutler covers his entire career and only touches on his drug abuse when it becomes an obsessive point in his life.

With animated recreations and nothing but never before seen photos and videos that make the movie a perfect documentation of the life and budding career of John Belushi we can see how the world began to love him and how his began to spiral out of control.

As an alcoholic myself I can relate to many of his feelings that he wrote to his beloved wife Judy. He definitely hurt Judy too much with his addiction and actions and I was able to relate and feel connected to.

It was half way through the film that I realized how much I was connected to Belushi through his comedy and addiction. It was then the influence he had on my life came to the forefront.

I always considered Chris Farley and other members of the early 1990’s cast of Saturday Night Live to be the influences of my comedic taste and sense of humor but when I really look at it they just took the same influence of Belushi that I had and just obviously ran with it it a lot more than I did. He was my introduction to physical comedy and even great R&B Blues music but not until I watched this documentary did I realize how much so.

The film Belushi is a trip down memories for so many that will bring up barrels of laughter and even a bit of sadness when it is shown how much he wanted to be an actor and perform on all aspects and all stages but was genuinely cut down in his prime.

The interviews with Dan Akroyd prove to be the most pivotal in the film. But they just show how much he loved his craft and friends.

Review: Hillbilly Elegy

To describe Ron Howard’s career as a film director, distinguished, could almost be considered mild. He has made films of every genre from fantasy to sports to comedy to dramatic. Amongst all these genders and films he has made movies that are staples and now considered classics and he has yet to show signs of slowing down.

Howard’s latest project features a great cast which is both new when it comes to Howard films. Two of the world’s greatest working actresses go head to head for the first time on film with Glen Close and Amy Adams playing a mother daughter team that has a contentious relationship to say the least.

Hillbilly Elegy is the memoir of J.D. Vance who had to deal with the relapse of his mothers drug addiction at a most critical time while he is at Yale law school and is struggling to keep his head above water. He is out of place at one of the most prestigious institutes in the world coming from a background that many would consider by many as white trash, but is a proud background to those who lived in those very hills.

As J.D. fights to get his mom straight and keep his hopes of law school alive he looks back at his upbringing and that very strained relationship between his mother and grandmother and how it shaped him into who he is and even how he could have gone in a different direction in life if it weren’t for his grandmother.

The adult J.D. is played by Gabriel Basso who did some fine work as a young actor in Super 8, The Kings Of Summer and the Showtime series, The Big C. He has really come into his own showing some range he didn’t really have early on and that his ability to play convicted characters is not out of reach.

Glen Close and Amy Adams give truly powerhouse performances and will without a doubt land them each Academy Award nominations just as one would expect. As much as fans of Amy Adams are used to seeing her nominated every year or two and hoping that this will be the year for her to bring home the gold this feels very much like it is Close’s award to lose at the moment. It is the performance of her long and storied career.

Close and Adams have 13 nominations between them both and zero wins. It currently feels like the streak (especially for Close) will come to and end. There will most likely be other nominations to come but aside from Close I don’t really see any other wins coming its way.

Hillbilly Elegy is available on Netflix now for your viewing pleasure. I must say that it isn’t exactly a feel good film but that takes nothing away from the great performances and well made film that it is. Ron Howard has once again delivered a fine film that is worthy of his mantle of excellent works.

Bill And Ted Face The Music Is The Movie 2020 has needed

It had been rumored for years that beloved time traveling musicians Bill & Ted would be getting their just return and it was announced on Alex Winter’s (Bill) Twitter account in February of 2019 that Bill & Ted would make their most excellent return in Bill & Ted Face The Music.

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been one of the most dark and disappointing years in recent memory. For us movie fans it has also been hard as our beloved theaters have been dark for months. That is of course a first world problem but that is also just one of the plethora of normalcies in our lives that has gone away. With all this darkness we all need a bright spot here and there. Well the movie industry has provided just what we need; pure fun.

Bill & Ted have a destiny to fulfill in writing the song that would unite the world and 29 years after their Bogus Journey they have yet to fulfill their destiny. They now need the help of their princess wives and two bodacious daughters to accomplish their mission which now includes keeping the universe and time from folding in on itself.

Bill & Ted Face The Music Is just as fun as their adventures 30 years ago. The advancement of the on screen career of Keanu Reeves and the off screen success of Alex Winter really made me question whether or not this could be pulled off. I was more than pleasantly surprised and my prize was many hearty barrel laughs from a hilarious couples counseling scene to the reunion with their great band mate and friend, Death played by the great William Sadler.

The fact that so many originals were able to make their way back to San Dimas, California for this awesome adventure makes it that much more great. One of the other great aspects of this movie is that it was made not knowing the world would need to have fun when it did.

The world is in turmoil and what everyone could use is a great escape no matter how short and there is no question just as 31 years ago we unexpectedly get it from Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted Theodore Logan take us by surprise. This is without a doubt the movie the year 2020 needed and didn’t know it was going to.

Don’t take Bill & Ted serious just like we never did but sit back and enjoy them for who they are, the most excellent friends that just want the world to be happy. There is one thing missing from Face The Music and that is the legendary George Carlin, while he does make a brief digital cameo, having a real life Rufus would have been the cap on another excellent adventure. None the less it doesn’t lessen the fun, it just makes us more nostalgic for what we once had that we no longer do. So grab the family and grab the popcorn as William Sadler told me and just enjoy the film and have fun and take 90 minutes away from the chaos of our current existence.

Review: Buffaloed

Buffalo, NY, isn’t exactly the center of excitement in the country, but here, we possess culture and way of life that we are extremely fond of and proud to have. When you meet someone from Buffalo, they make no bones about the fact that this is and always will be home. We love our heartbreaking sports team and are proud of the fact that we can handle arctic-like winter weather that cripples most of the country if they ever experienced it. So when a movie is filmed here and especially based here, the filmmakers better get it right because we are all watching.

Many movies are filmed here, especially lately, but most are small and unheard of for the most part. The latest effort has gotten some national love and exposure, Buffaloed staring young starlet Zoey Deutch is the latest to go under the microscope of Buffalonians to see whether it does our way of life justice or if it’s just a mockery.

Buffaloed was written by Brian Sacca, who went to high school at Buffalo’s prestigious Nichols School, so he definitely has ties to the area and enough knowledge to be able to tell a story where our lifestyle and city is another character to the story. The only thing left to see is if the director and actors understand what is on the page and whether or not it’s funny or a farce.

The story of Buffaloed focuses on Peg Dahl, who, from a young age, is embarrassed by her home and wants nothing more than to make enough money to get out of Buffalo. While Peg is whip-smart and can out-hustle anyone, she eventually gets aught running one too many hustles. Thanks to an inept attorney find herself doing three years in prison instead of plea dealing herself down.

Upon return, she needs to find a way to replenish her nest egg and quickly and is soon introduced to the terrible world of debt collecting. The underground world of debt collecting she discovers is a good way for someone like her to make her hustling skills help her build up her bank. The trouble is she sees the dirty side just as much as the beneficial side at the same time.

Peg decides opening her own debt collection service is the best way to bring in that paper she so richly desires. The trouble is in such a cutthroat world; this immediately makes enemies and attracts law enforcement to look at her closely.

Zoey Deutch clearly did not take this part lightly and did her Buffalo research, including having the dialect down just right for the part. The film without question takes its shots at Buffalo as all films based here generally do, but it is done lovingly, and in a way, those native to the area will find humorous and charming. While many may not find the greatness in its homage to the Nickel City, we natives will see the love and importance in it, which, in the end, is all that matters.

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