recent writing

every camera I own and the photobook review will return shortly. Meanwhile my writing for other venues continues apace.

DCist: Out of Frame: Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life

Can a graphic novel successfully make the transition to a live action feature film? The attempts have varied wildly from sources both independent (Terry Zwigoff’s spot-on adpatation of Dan Clowes’ Ghost World) to blockbuster (Zach Snyder’s muddled vision of Alan Moore’s Watchmen). Comic artist Joann Sfar bypassed the usual artistic differences by adapting his own graphic novel based on the life of an iconic and controversial French singer. The resulting film, Gainsbourg: A Heroic Life, straddles the fence between graphic novel invention and cinematic convention. Its cinematic successes and graphic novel excesses make me wish it had taken the real life plunge and left the comic art world alone.
Read the rest of the review here

DCist: Out of Frame: 50/50

A lot of virtual ink and chatter has been spilled and offered about 50/50, directed by Jonathan Levine. The script by Seth Rogen’s longtime buddy Will Reiser is based on Reiser’s own cancer scare at the age of 24. The film is already being met with almost universal accolades that it Gets Cancer Right. 50/50 has a well-meaning script that gets a lot of the details right: of hospital life, of sickness and dying. But it’s so wrapped up in Hollywood convention that not even Seth Rogen, try as he might, can lift this out of the Lifetime Movie for Hipsters aisle.

Read the rest of my review here.

DCist: my review of Thunder Soul from Popcorn & Candy: The Funky Passage of Time Edition

Thunder Soul

What it is: The inspiring story of an unlikely funk success.

Why you want to see it: Director Mark Landsman hits one out of the park with his feature-length documentary debut. Thunder Souldocuments the history and reunion of a legendary 1970s funk band that happened to be made of high school students. At the end of the 1960s, band director Conrad O. Johnson took charge of the music department of Kashmere High, an all-black school in Houston, Texas. He instilled his students with a sense of dignity, discipline and showmanship, and with his own stirring original compositions and arrangements he turned the Kashmere Stage Band into an international success. The stage band scene grew out of the big bands but with a pop bent — think early Chicago or “Spinning Wheel” played in velvet suits. The bands were typically very square and very white, but Johnson proved that expert musicianship, both professional and soulful, could be achieved by inner-city kids — and that they could blow away the competition. The film is told in vintage footage and photographs of the band along with contemporary interviews, as well as a look at the rehearsal process of the band’s reunion for their 92-year-old prof.

You may have never heard of the Kashmere Stage Band, but the film opens with a sound clip that may sound familiar. It’s DJ Shadow, working with Handsome Boy Modeling School. Josh Davis (a.k.a. DJ Shadow) appears late in the film to explain that when he found that drum break (from the funky theme song Johnson wrote for Kashmere High) he had no idea he was listening to a student band. A hipper director might have taken the DJ Shadow angle and framed the entire story around it, but thank your documentary stars that Landsman focuses on Kashmere itself and treats the rediscovery of the music as a sidebar. It is an important sidebar, as the music reached an audience far beyond the Houston community that spawned it. Interviews with record label owner/”funk musicologist” Eothan Alapatt tell the story of rediscovery, as he tracks down the albums in thrift shops and is eventually introduced to Conrad O. Johnson and his treasure trove of master tapes. A CD compilation of the Kashmere Stage Band’s music band was, as Alapatt put it, popular with “middle-aged white people.” It climbed as high as number 3 on the Amazon charts, and if Thunder Soul has the legs it deserves, their numbers will be going up again. The reunited band is available for gigs, although many of the reuniting band members had not picked up their instruments in more than thirty years. You hear those missing years in the early rehearsals. But then the voices come together again in unity and all is fight and funky with the world. (Note: I could insert an Amazon link to the CD, but ask your local independent record store — if Melody Records doesn’t have it in stock, I bet they can get it).

View the trailer.
Still playing at E Street and the AFI Silver.

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