Tag: New York City

MOVIE REVIEW | New York, I Love You (2008)

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“But only if you’re comfortable with this, and if you’re not then you can just forget it, and you can quit, but if you are… then open this door.”

Anthology movies never really work.  Very few get good reviews and even less make good box office.  But despite this track record of little to no success, every few years, someone manages to convince another batch of directors and writers to contribute their own short film to something bigger, tackling some sort of common theme.  In the 80s, powerhouses like Francis Ford Coppola, Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese couldn’t make it work with New York Story.  In the 90s, break out rock star film makers like Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez couldn’t make it work with Three Rooms.


Not only do the film makers get tricked into thinking that somehow, this time, it might just work.  But I do as a viewer as well.  Sure, the above geniuses took a big swing and a miss at their own versions of the anthology movie, but surely, the next batch will get it right.  Won’t they?  It’s that optimism that lead to me buying the DVD of New York, I Love You back when it came out.  But it’s the practical part of my brain that has let it sit on my DVD shelf, collecting dust for the six or seven years since.  I want it to be good so much.  But I also know that the odds are against it.  But today, I bit the bullet.  I watched New York, I Love You. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #43. Midnight Cowboy (1969)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
 Midnight Cowboy

“I’m brand, spankin’ new in this here town and I was hopin’ to get a look at the Statue of Liberty.”

When it comes to choosing the winners of the big Oscars, the Academy is accused of being pretty conservative, old fashioned and predictable.  I like The King’s Speech, but it’s generally regarded as a vanilla, by the numbers prestige piece, that in no way deserved to beat The Social Network.  And I for one never miss an opportunity point out that the Academy chose the melodramatic syrup of Ordinary People over the amazing Raging Bull.  The latter might have won the battle of enduring iconography while no one really seems to remember the former, but that doesn’t put a trophy for Raging Bull on Martin Scorsese’s mantel, does it?


I bring up this Academy stodginess, because I just realised that in 1969, they were cool enough to give a couple of the biggest awards to a dark as shit, X-rated movie about a male hustler trying to make it as a gigolo in New York.  In 1969, they were cool enough to give a couple of the biggest awards to Midnight Cowboy. (more…)

MUSIC REVIEW | Beastie Boys – To the Five Boroughs (2004)

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With the more leisurely approach to making albums that kicked off with Hello Nasty, the Beastie Boys were in a new phase that would end up being the second half of their career.  The unfair label of gimmicky white guy rappers was long gone, the recognition as respected musicians and innovators was nothing new, and they were officially elder statesman of American music and pop culture.  With Hello Nasty, they came back from a four year hiatus by throwing absolutely everything at the wall.  Enough stuck to make that album more than worth my time.  But enough slid disappointedly down the wall to really test my patience.


With a massive six year break until their next release, I was worried that To the Five Boroughs might be even more bloated, representing what they’d been up to all those years.  Seeing that it’s only 42 minutes already had me liking this album before I even pressed play.  It also doesn’t hurt that it kicks off with Ch-Check it Out, my favourite kind of Beastie Boys song, ticking all the boxes.  Vocals traded at machine gun pace, old school beats that still sound fresh, and a chorus that you feel like you can join in on, regardless of your complete lack of MC skills. (more…)

MOVIE REVIEW | ***AFI WEEKEND*** #52. Taxi Driver (1976)

“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.

 Taxidriver3

“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

Martin Scorsese has a real knack for bringing iconic characters to the screen.  Joe Pesci’s benefitted from this more than once, Daniel Day Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio have several each under their belts, and there are notable one offs like Ray Liotta and Willam Dafoe.  But one man is responsible for more memorable Scorsese characters than anyone else.  Robert De Niro steals Mean Streets from Harvey Keitel, he won the Oscar for Raging Bull and is one of the most bizarrely sympathetic, terrifying, and goofy characters ever committed to film in The King of Comedy.  But above all of those, one De Niro role in a Scorsese movie reigns supreme; Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver.


Plagued by headaches and insomnia, Travis Bickle (De Niro) takes a job working 12 hour shifts, six days a week, driving a cab. This is 70s New York at its dirtiest, seediest and most dangerous, and Bickle is one of the few drivers who’ll go to any neighbourhood and pick up any kind of passenger.  The people and places he sees fuel monologues about the filth of the city needing to be washed away.  But he does see the odd bright spot, including Cybill Shepherd as Betsy. (more…)

***2013 RECAP*** MUSIC REVIEW | The Bronx – The Bronx IV

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It’s been five years and two albums from side project Mariachi El Bronx since the last album from Then Bronx.  All this time away has seen a new sense of melody make its way into their sound without sacrificing any of the attitude and aggression that made first three albums pack such a punch.


Sticking with the self-titled tradition they started with their debut a decade ago, The Bronx (or IV) opens with The Unholy Hand, a great reintroduction to that familiar Bronx guitar crunch and even more familiar vocal growl of Matt Caughthran.  Five years ago, a track like Past Lives pointed toward the possibility of more melody within the The Bronx sound and now IV delivers.

The influence of five years recording and touring as their mariachi alter egos is clearly seen in a song like Style Over Everything and closer Last Revelation, while Torches and Life Less Ordinary slow down to almost a ballad tempo (and hopefully these are the closest to a ballad this band ever comes).  But none of this is to say they’ve lost any edge.

There’s still plenty Caughthran rage to get the blood pumping, still that almost tribal drumming of Jorma Vik and still the kind of guitar riffage that feels like it could tear right through you if you’re not careful.  After such a long break, this is a more than satisfying return from The Bronx with plenty of what attracted fans in the early days.  But IV show a clear evolution as musicians and song writers that proves they’ve still got plenty to say and plenty of ways to say it.

The Bronx

MOVIE REVIEW | The Warriors (1979)

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This seems to be one of those movies American kids of the 80s and 90s grew up on.  Over the years I’ve read constant references and quotes in articles and reviews online.  A few years ago when it hit its 30th anniversary, I remember there being a lot of renewed interest on pop culture and movie sites.  I don’t know if it passed all of Australia by, or just managed to pass me by, but until last night, I had never seen The Warriors.

First of all, I have to say that after one viewing, I can see exactly why this seems to be such a favourite with people of a certain age.  Having watched it now, in my 30s, I really liked it.  But I have to imagine that if I’d seen it when I was 12 or 13, it would have blown my mind.

A gang leader named Cyrus calls a mass summit of all the major New York Gangs.  Nine representatives of each gang makes the trek to the Bronx, unarmed and ready for a truce.  Cyrus gives an impassioned speech about how if they could only unite, their 100,000 strong numbers would be more than enough to take the city from the 20,000 cops keeping them down.  Just as he works the crowd into a frenzy, Cyrus is shot by Luther, leader of the Rogues, who immediately pins the murder on Cleon, leader of the Warriors, a gang from Coney Island.  Now there are eight Warriors, unarmed and more than 20 miles from home, with every gang and cop in the city trying to find them.

As far as movie setups go, this is some efficient shit, right here.  Straight away, we have our core group, the eight remaining Warriors.  And we have stakes and a threat, as they’re established far from home with no protection and a city out for their blood.  Now it’s a race through the city to survive the night and make it home.

With Cleon dead, Swan (Michael Beck) assumes leadership of what’s left of his gang, with some jealous resistance from Ajex (James Remar), but The Warriors never slows down to really explore this.  It’s too interested in kicking ass and steamrolling through gang after gang of increasingly cheesy costume and theme.

It’s funny how perceptions change.  In 1979, this was an attempt to crate genuinely tough, threatening and masculine baddasses not to be messed with.  But today, if Saturday Night Live was doing a sketch about an overly camp Broadway musical version of The Warriors, the original costumes from the movie would seem too comedy-gay and over the top.

The other interesting thing about its age is how hard it would be to make The Warriors today.  So much of the threat, tension and action comes out of their isolation.  They have no way to contact the rest of the gang back in Coney Island, and if they get separated, the chances of finding one another are slim.  All this while trying to find a train station to catch their salvation home.  You make that movie in 2013 and every problem can be solved in a few seconds with a mobile phone and ATM card.

The fact that terms like “Can you dig it?” and “Warriors, come out and play” had subconsciously worked their way into my brain years ago meant I knew I was dealing with a cult classic.  What I wasn’t ready for was how much fun it was and how much I liked it.  It’s rare that movies people love from their childhood hold up for someone who finally gets around to it as an adult.  But with the Warriors, I totally get it.

The Warriors
Directed By – Walter Hill
Written By – David Shaber, Walter Hill 

MOVIE REVIEW | Arsenic and Old Lace (1944)

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Murderess old ladies…  A terrifying serial killer…  Peter Lorre in all his bug-eyed, creepy glory…  The most suave dude in the history of Hollywood.  These things don’t sound like the makings of a comedy, but in the 40s, when screwball comedies were really firing on all cylinders, they’re exactly the kind of weird, disparate ingredients that lead to really funny movies, like Arsenic and Old Lace.

The movie starts with a crowd at a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankess that descends into a brawl.  I guess it kind of works as a setup to introduce us to the wild world of New York City where anything can happen, but it really has absolutely nothing at all to do with the rest of the movie which really starts a few minutes later.  Cary Grant is Mortimer Brewster, a newspaper theatre critic who has also written several books about the wonders of bachelorhood.  Despite that, he’s waiting in line for a quickie wedding with Priscilla Lane’s Elaine, a preacher’s daughter and next door neighbour of Mortimer’s two sweet, old, eccentric aunts.

Cut to the aunts’ house in Brooklyn where Mortimer races home to tell them the news before rushing off on his honeymoon to Niagara Falls.  Except, his quick visit turns into a long night of murder, misunderstandings, revelations of terrible family secrets, a nut job who thinks he’s Teddy Roosevelt and general wackiness.   And all that happens before Mortimer’s long lost brother Jonathan (Raymond Massey) returns as a horribly disfigured madman, accompanied by the creepy Dr Einstein, a perfectly cast Peter Lorre with his schtick turned up to 11.

There are times when the stage play origins of Arsenic and Old Lace become plainly obvious.  But while that’s usually a criticism of film adaptations of plays, it generally works here.  With the majority of the movie taking place in real time and on one set, it always works to highlight the constant pressure of the many balls in the air, countless spinning plates and other metaphorical obstacles, distractions and farcical contrivances that make it so much fun.

The real surprise for me was the performance of Cary Gant.  I don’t think I was overstating things when I called him the most suave dude in the history of Hollywood.  He has an effortless coolness and confidence that dominates almost everything he does.  But in Arsenic and Old Lace, he’s a mugging, broad, slap sticky goofball, and I loved every second of it.

It’s rare that a movie gets the mixture of terror and comedy just right, and they really nail it here.  Jonathan, the long lost, black sheep brother, is legitimately terrifying.  Peter Lorre basically plays his sidekick role for laughs, yet every time the two are together it works, and never comes off as two conflicting tones clashing or negating the other.  The two aunts and ‘Teddy Roosevelt’ are big, broad, silly and over the top, but close to perfect in everything they do.  And the out of character performance for Grant really was a great surprise.

I imagine Arsenic and Old Lace is the kind of movie people have in mind when they say, “they sure don’t make them like they used to”.

Arsenic and Old Lace
Directed By – Frank Capra
Written By – Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein  

MOVIE REVIEW |Danielson: A Family Movie (2006)

Danielson-_A_Family_Movie
Where do I start with this one?  Do I start with the bloke who performs live, dressed as a giant tree?  Do I start with the band who’s members perform dressed as nurses to signify the healing power of music?  Do start with he dude who’s part of all of this, then goes on to be one of the biggest names in new millennium folk music?  I watched Danielson: A Family Movie.  I liked Danielson: A Family Movie.  But I’m still not really sure what to say about Danielson: A Family Movie.

I guess I’ll start by trying to sum up the story.  Danielson: A Family Movie is a documentary primarily following artist and musician, Daniel Smith.  As part of an art school thesis, he recruited his siblings to perform as his band playing his weird style of experimental music.  For some reason that only becomes more confusing when he tries to explain it in the documentary, Daniel started going by the name Brother Danielson.  The art school gig got a good response, so he, and his family and friends kept on playing as a band, known as Danielson.  Oh, and they’re all full blown Christians.

Actually, the faith part of the story is the easiest to follow.  Daniel, his brothers and sisters grew up in a super happy home with awesome parents who loved music…  Music and Jesus.  When Daniel went to college, he ended up in some sort of hippy / Christian commune and decided to channel the whole god thing into his music.  As far as Christian music goes, this seems the least on the nose.  They never try to hide their faith, but the never seem preachy or pushy about it either.    Instead, Smith seems more intent on promoting the ideas of his religion, positivity and basically just being a good person.

Danielson: A Family Movie highlights this by cutting to footage of fans talking about the fact that they might not be Christian, but they dig his music and positivity.  In fact, it cuts to this footage a little too often, almost as if director JL Aronson was worried people might stop watching his documentary if he doesn’t reiterate the non-preachiness of Smith’s message every five or ten minutes.

Smith’s music is…  Weird.  There’s no other way to describe it.  He has a perfectly fine, but not remarkable, singing voice, yet he chooses to deliver most lyrics with a kind of cat like wail.  Some songs show signs of really catchy hooks and melody, but never for too long before an odd left turn into some crazy time signature or deliberate lack of melody.  By the end I had no idea anymore whether or not I like his music.  I do know for a fact that I don’t understand it at all.  But that’s kind of cool.

One thing I did realise by the end of Danielson: A Family Movie though, is that Daniel Smith is a true, legitimate artist.  That doesn’t mean I think he’s a genius, it means when you watch him do his thing, you know he had no choice in following this career path.  His music, his painting, his sculpture, his ideas all seem like they kinds of things that would send him crazy if he didn’t let them out in all the wild and wacky ways he does.

Danielson: A Family Movie
Directed By – JL Aronson

MUSIC REVIEW | The Bronx – The Bronx IV (2013)

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It’s been five years and two albums from side project Mariachi El Bronx since the last album from Then Bronx.  All this time away has seen a new sense of melody make its way into their sound without sacrificing any of the attitude and aggression that made first three albums pack such a punch.


Sticking with the self-titled tradition they started with their debut a decade ago, The Bronx (or IV) opens with The Unholy Hand, a great reintroduction to that familiar Bronx guitar crunch and even more familiar vocal growl of Matt Caughthran.  Five years ago, a track like Past Lives pointed toward the possibility of more melody within the The Bronx sound and now IV delivers.

The influence of five years recording and touring as their mariachi alter egos is clearly seen in a song like Style Over Everything and closer Last Revelation, while Torches and Life Less Ordinary slow down to almost a ballad tempo (and hopefully these are the closest to a ballad this band ever comes).  But none of this is to say they’ve lost any edge.

There’s still plenty Caughthran rage to get the blood pumping, still that almost tribal drumming of Jorma Vik and still the kind of guitar riffage that feels like it could tear right through you if you’re not careful.  After such a long break, this is a more than satisfying return from The Bronx with plenty of what attracted fans in the early days.  But IV show a clear evolution as musicians and song writers that proves they’ve still got plenty to say and plenty of ways to say it.