Movie

Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker

Moonwalker is a weird, ambitious project by Michael Jackson. Released in 1988, the video is a collection of short segments all featuring Jackson. There’s no continuous narrative; just a lot of weirdness. The singer wanted the movie to be screened in theaters, but the budget fell through and was released straight to video instead. A video game of the same name was also released as a tie-in, but that’s for another day. To celebrate Jackson’s 59th birthday I wanted to look back on this movie, which is still one of my favorites.

It used to fill up many bored afternoons when I was a kid and it’s still something I love watching today. Whenever I need a good laugh or just want to smile, I put this on and get lost in Jackson’s weird, wonderful world for a little bit. It’s full of flaws and portions of it are ridiculous as hell, but it’s charming and a lot of fun. It’s hard to imagine this doing well in theaters since there really isn’t a plot. It’s more like a collection of segments all involving Jackson. Still, it’s an interesting project that reminds us what a visionary he was.

The film starts with a powerful performance of “Man in the Mirror” making you think that it’s a concert film. Then it goes straight into the best part, the retrospective. Following Jackson from the Jackson 5 all the way up to Bad, it’s a fun, creative look back at the music and career defining moments. This part has always been my favorite for the popping effects, different animation styles, and the great energy. Highlights include a Claymation Jackson 5 singing “ABC,” a stop-motion robot joining Jackson on “Dancing Machine,” a mini “Human Nature” video, and a creepy ode to “Ben.” Throughout, we also see related memorabilia, award ceremonies, and magazine covers showing what a big deal the singer was at his peak.

Once we reach the Bad era, we see condensed versions of “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Dirty Diana” before getting to ”Badder.” The strange segment features a bunch of kids recreating the “Bad” video with scary accuracy. This has always been another one of my favorite parts. I still love separating the good kids from those who just don’t have it (looking at you midriff kid). Did we need kids to recreate this video? No, but it’s charming and cute. Try not cracking up at the ten-year old with a five o’clock shadow.

Once mini-Jackson is done with his dance off, adult Jackson returns and proceeds to be chased down by weird, unsettling big headed people. Again, a very weird part of the film, but it’s a blast to watch. Even Jackson looks like he’s having a good time with a big smile rarely leaving his face. While on the run, he runs into a talking Statue of Liberty, chubby twin bikers who he’s clearly disgusted by, Stephen Spielberg losing his shorts, and a bunch of screaming fans. It’s a creative romp taking the piss out of Hollywood and obsessive fandom.

So how does Jackson make it out of this situation? With the help of his friend, Spike. He suits up as a Jackson-esque bunny and leads into the “Speed Demon” video. This is where the Claymation shines. Spike turns into different celebrities of the era, like Pee Wee, Tina Turner, and Sylvester Stallone. And there are clever jokes throughout the segment, like a stop at “Frank in a Box” named after his manager Frank DiLeo and even Jack Nicholson in the car chasing him. The video ends with a memorable dance off between Spike and Jackson. Yes, the whole thing is weird, but it’s imaginative. You get so sucked into the world you don’t even question how a bunny costume came to life. It perfectly shows off the child-like wonder Jackson often flaunted throughout his life.

After an interlude featuring the stop-motion “Leave Me Alone” video, we get to the extended “Smooth Criminal” segment. Sigh. Even as a kid I never really liked this part. Though the segment does look pretty slick, it’s confusing, poorly acted, and makes no sense. It follows Jackson and a group of homeless kids as they go up against Mr. Big (Joe Pesci) because Jackson found his drug den…or something. It’s not really clear why Mr. Big is trying to kill him. Also, it’s never clear what kind of world we’re in. Why are the kids homeless? Where are all the other adults? Why exactly does Mr. Big want to get kids high? And we can’t ignore that Jackson is somehow magical in this world. During the video, he turns into a car, a rocket ship, and a giant fucking robot. And the kids never find this strange. They go along with it as if it’s not weird for a man to turn into a fucking car.

They’re also never sure how to feel about Jackson. At one point he’s their friend and are concerned with finding him. When Katie finds him and points it out the other kids respond “so?” When he turns into a robot they act a little surprised but never bother to bring it up again. And when he flies over them as the rocket ship at the end, they say “Bye Michael” as if he just got on a bus. And let’s not forget how Club 30 is an abandoned, dusty place when the kids find it. But Jackson walks in and it’s a hopping bar from the 20s, which he proceeds to start trouble in. What exactly is going on here?

After defeating Mr. Big and his faceless soldiers, Jackson comes back after Katie makes a wish and whisks the kids away to a precarious backstage area with sparking plugs never explaining to the kids what the fuck just happened. Suddenly, he’s on stage performing “Come Together” in front of John Lennon’s kid. What is even happening? No bothers to pull him aside and say “Michael, what are you exactly?” The kids just take it as is and we’re supposed to say “this is fine.”

Honestly, it was hard to sit through this segment again. The entire time I wanted to skip straight to “Smooth Criminal” and turn off the rest. While I was willing to never question anything in the first segments, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief here. Perhaps if there was a flowing story to follow it wouldn’t be so bad. But there is little explanation for anything we see. The “Smooth Criminal” video itself is great, minus the weird breakdown, but the “story” around it is mind boggling. Jackson isn’t the worst actor, but he’s by no means amazing. The highlight is when he turns into the ultimate transformer. The special effects haven’t aged all that well, but there’s something about it that’s still unsettling, especially when he starts shooting crotch rockets. Otherwise, it plays out like bad drug trip starring the King of Pop.

Moonwalker is a unique, yet weird experience tailor made for Jackson fans. For casual fans or anyone who doesn’t like him, it looks like a vain, unintelligible film. It’s a long ad for the Bad album, fans will find it a fun trek through Jackson’s career and his imagination. While the first half of the movie shows off the creative flair the singer had videos, even though it all falls apart with the bigger “story.” It makes sense for Jackson to come up with something so bonkers because it sounds like something a ten-year-old would dream up. This is a movie you don’t take seriously. You’re there to enjoy the cool visuals, Jackson’s dancing, and the kick ass music. If you take it for what it is, you’ll find an anthology that’s a blast to watch especially with friends.

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Mini Music Movie Review: Downloaded (2013)

By now most people know the Napster story: people shared music for free, Metallica whined about it, and it got shut down. But this documentary goes deeper into the story of the infamous company, how it got started, and what lead to its downfall. And what you learn is how the media only provided the surface of the tale. There were so many more details and arguments most of the public didn’t get to see. They were concerned with setting up a villain and a hero. Of course, Napster was the villain. This film provides information from the creator, Shawn Fanning, people who were part of the company and lawsuit. What’s great about it is it presents all sides of the story and never feels like it’s trying to convince you Napster good, record companies bad.

Whether you think Napster’s instincts were good or bad the documentary gives the back story about how it started and what its original intentions were. While so many who were against the company felt it was all about getting music for free, the creators felt it was about creating a sense of community and sharing cool music with others who were passionate about it, similar to the views about pirating today. It was just two college kids who were savvy enough to create the program.

Not only are the main players in the rise and fall of Napster interviewed, there’s tons of news footage from the late 90s talking about the controversy. The best clips feature Trent Reznor, Dr. Dre, Eminem, and Spice Girls sharing their thoughts about Napster. The best part of course when Metallica comes into the story. It’s interesting to hear the different opinions on the software. Some thought it meant the death of music industry (though it wasn’t) while others thought it was a great way to get their music spreading. Depending on your stance on file sharing some of the arguments made against Napster are fucking hilarious and make it clear a lot of it was a generation of people not understanding the technology. There is also courtroom footage from the initial hearings where you can hear the final nail in the coffin.

Throughout you actually feel pretty bad for Fanning. Just imagine the amount of stress he was under when the RIAA started knocking and at only 19 years old. And you thought worrying about final term papers was a nightmare. A bit of this felt a bit manipulated since there was a random section providing Fanning’s not so perfect family background. It didn’t really fit into the story of Napster. This is more about the company, not a bio about those who created it. It’s even a bit more perplexing since none of the others involved received any of the same treatment. Still, it doesn’t change the fact that you feel pretty bad for him in the end.

It’s a captivating look at one of the most controversial moments of the 90s. For some viewers it’ll be a nostalgia ride. For others it’ll be at music history. One thing you will come away with is how Napster made way for pirating, which is facing similar backlash. Funny, how some things never change.

Worst Album of 2015

Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings

Montage of Heck was both one of the best and worst things about 2015. The movie was an intimate look at Kurt Cobain and though it may have fudged some things and didn’t really give fans anything new, it finally felt like we had our essential movie about the late rock star. Then comes the soundtrack that shat over all the good the film did. Fans were disgusted with the content and cried exploitation. Look, Cobain has been exploited since his death and we probably should’ve been outraged a long time ago. But that doesn’t stop the soundtrack from being a poor excuse for raking in money.

Out of everything I listened to this year, this soundtrack was the only one I got absolutely no enjoyment from. I wasn’t even halfway through the album before I got bored and wanted to turn it off. As I pointed out in my review, the biggest problem is without Cobain’s perspective the recordings feel pointless and random. There were times where it sounded like my ears were being tortured with all the weird samples, distorted vocals, and various screams. The album was so bad that as a Nirvana collector I refused to buy it. Yes, I still want it for collecting purposes but I don’t want to pay more than 2 bucks. And since the LP only sold 5,000 copies in its first week I’m sure it’ll pop up in bargain bins soon.

The biggest issue with the album is these recordings meant something to Cobain, but they mean very little to listeners. Montage of Heck: The Home Recordings was a poor way to show Cobain’s genius or whatever shit Brett Morgen was spouting. The saddest part about this whole thing was how Cobain had no say over the release. It’s not his fault the record is shitty, but rather the fault of Morgen and his estate for giving it the green light. As many critics pointed out, there isn’t anything new to say about Cobain, so maybe it is time to stop talking about him.

Backstreet Boys: Show Em’ What You’re Made Of (2015)

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 7.5/10

It’s hard to believe that one boy band from Orlando who made girls scream their lungs out from the 90s has been making music for 20 years. While others wanted to write them off as has-beens, they’ve been pulling off successful tours and making several albums ever since. To help celebrate their longevity as a group, the band began filming a documentary about their history together and preparing for an anniversary tour. The result is a heartfelt, dramatic, and sometimes unsettling inside look at the best-selling boy band in the world.

Being together for such a long time there’s a lot for the boys to celebrate, which they do a lot in the film. There’s lots of moments of looking back at their major releases, biggest shows, and the numerous awards they’ve won over the years. Even though it’s expected, it’s still fun to revisit these moments and bask in the nostalgia. But the rewarding part of the film comes when they talk about the earliest days of the band when they were nobodies performing in high school gyms. The rare photos of five fresh faced guys, some who look way too young to be singing about love, make you smile and giggle. There’s also tons of great footage of their rehearsals, backstage antics, and rare performances fans rarely get to see. It’s a real treat for those who’ve followed their career since the 90s. It’s fun to hear them talk about their awful haircuts, garish costumes, and embarrassing moments.

Of course you can’t talk about the Backstreet Boys without mentioning their founder Lou Pearlman. Even though they were notoriously screwed by Pearlman, they approached the topic with respect and a calm you wouldn’t expect. They map out how they met him, how hard he worked them to become the best, and the seemingly good times. Then things started to go wrong. They’re not afraid to go into the lawsuit, the money they lost, and their feelings on Pearlman’s arrest, but one of the biggest shockers of his story is the connection to Nsync. One of the guys recounts how Pearlman pulled him aside and showed him a tape of the competition, who they later found out he had a hand in creating. They admit how they felt betrayed and played by Pearlman at this revelation. It also shines some lights on the great boy band rivalry of the 90s that so many fans remember.

This bounce between the good and bad is the basis for the documentary. Each of the members share their difficult moments, including AJ’s drinking habits, Nick’s broken family, the death of Kevin’s father, and Howie being pushed to the sidelines. The biggest revelation was Brian revealing he suffers from muscle tension dysphonia, which ultimately affects his vocal range. It’s something that obviously worries Brian and something he rarely talks about, which leads to a heated and uncomfortable scene with him and Nick. One minute there’s footage of them joking around and dancing, the next they’re at each other’s throats with Nick addressing the problems Brian’s voice presents the band. Any illusion of this band being brotherly and friendly all the time was shattered with this heated argument, which shows the issues they come across. Along with that, there’s a lot of crying in the film. Just about each member breaks out in tears and it’s a little awkward. You don’t know how to react to seeing your teenage crush bawling in front of a camera about his family life. At times it was almost too much where you start to wonder if some of the tears were prompted by the presence of the camera.

The rest of the film is filled with standard preparing for album/tour footage. The guys writing music, the guys in rehearsal, the guys talking about their expectations. It’s nothing we haven’t seen before from other “making of” documentaries and is actually the least engaging part of the film. Of course it’s interesting to see their recording process and such, but it doesn’t really keep your attention for long and it doesn’t make the film stand out from other music documentaries out there. Also, some of the scenes of them returning to their hometowns were a little dramatic. After a while the heartwrenching stories, tears, and constant hugging grew too mushy. They laid that portion of it on a little too thick.

While this isn’t the best or most groundbreaking music documentary, it is entertaining and insightful. There’s a lot of rare footage and photos that make it worth watching at least once. It also gives us the Backstreet story that fans haven’t heard before. It actually provides new information and revelations, rather than rehashing information we’ve known since the 90s. At least when watching it, the feeling that they’re only making music to for money never feels true. Seeing what they go through and the challenges they face and are willing to overcome show they still care about the group. One thing is for sure, you’ll be in the mood for some classic BSB after viewing.

The Crow Original Soundtrack

The_Crow_soundtrack_album_coverRelease Year: 1994

Rating: 8/10

On this day The Crow was released in theaters 20 years ago. Since then, it has gained a huge cult following. This moment is bittersweet because it also brings up the loss of the talented Brandon Lee. Aside from that tragic event, the movie is also remembered for its amazing soundtrack. This isn’t a collection of popular artists of the time singing their biggest hits. For this compilation, the makers of the film tracked down some of Crow originator James O Barr’s favorite artists like The Cure, to create new songs specifically for the movie. Listening to the tracks and seeing how they connect to the film show the time and effort put into the project.

The album seems to be broken up in two parts. The first half is filled with dark, brooding, somber tracks while those found on the second half are aggressive, heavy, and fast. There are lots of notable song here, but one that stands out is “Burn” by The Cure. What’s great about the song is not only does it sound like a classic Cure track with the crashing drums and sweet guitar, it directly references the comic book. The line “Don’t look, don’t look” is what the crow tells Eric throughout the comic. The band also references their song “Birdmad Girl” with the line “this trembling, adored, tousled bird-mad girl.” I’m not sure if it was intentional, but it’s cool either way.

Nine Inch Nails show up on the album with a cover of Joy Division‘s “Dead Souls.” I find this to be the better version because Reznor slows things down to make the vibe dark, brooding, and enigmatic. It also allows different elements of the song to be showcased like the tribal drums pounding throughout. Also, the repetition of “They keep calling me” makes it the best hook. “Golgotha Tenement” is another great addition to the soundtrack. This track by the small time band Machines of Loving Grace has a great bass riff. The music in general is killer; it sounds dirty and sinister. It really fits in with the grittiness of the movie. Personally, it always makes me think of the scene where Eric cradles his head against the light bulb when he confronts Funboy.

Rage Against the Machine makes a notable contribution with “Darkness,” while Thrill Kill Kult mix their industrial side with their love of techno music on the explosive and energetic “After the Flesh.” It’s one of their best and most well known tracks. With a riff that sounds like it’s slashing through the song and a terrorizing Groovie Mann, it’s a perfect introduction to the band. Pantera offers up “The Badge,” an ode to the corruption of cops, but it almost sounds out of place due to it’s brash, metal sound. The Violent Femmes get psychedelic on “Color Me Once,” a great track from the band. Even though there are a number of great songs, there are some that don’t stand out like the others.

Time Baby III” by Medicine is a pretty weak song. It’s too soft and isn’t very memorable. Fans of the movie will recognize it only by the simple chorus of “No they don’t have to take it away,” that was featured in the film. The closing track “It Can’t Rain All the Time” is even worse. Taken from a song by Eric Draven’s band, this version is slow, dull, and boring. With the weak vocal delivery and the generic slow music it ends up sounding like a bad ’90s love song. Everything about is too sentimental and corny, which is a shame because it’s supposed to close the LP on a thoughtful and powerful note. The rest of the songs are pretty good, but nothing that really holds your attention.

Overall, the soundtrack gets 8/10. Even though some of the songs are obviously influenced by the grunge era, the collection has aged pretty well. There are some songs that don’t fit in or are just bad, but the good out weigh the bad. The LP showcases amazing tracks from great bands that’ll often relate directly to the source material. Put on this soundtrack to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this film and hey you may as well watch the movie again too.