Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Frank - Music Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

Okay, let's just get this out of the way. Yes, this movie is a little weird. Actually, when I bring it up to people, their inquiry is concerning whether or not it is. Whilst I'm happy to see that they aren't judging a book by its cover, so to speak, this thing has Micheal Fassbender wearing a Stewie Griffin: Age 30 helmet on his head. Do you think it might be a tad on the odd side? Yeah. But that's not all there is to it. And no, they don't refer to it as a Stewie Griffin helmet, unless I missed that part. That's just how I see it. I can't be the only one. But more on the whole head thing later. So let's talk about Frank.

Frank is a 2014 indie film about a guy who joins a band of misfits, to say the least, but that guy is not Frank. Even though some people may disagree, I do not believe that the titular character is the main character. No, I would give that honor to Jon played by Domhnall Gleeson. He is an aspiring songwriter, who is...well, he's not exactly "good" at it, but he tries really hard. After meeting a guy named Don, played by Scoot McNairy, Jon is invited to play keyboards with a band Don manages. He accepts, but finds out that this band is not your average musical act, and it certainly is not full of your average people.

First, there's Clara, played by Maggie Gyllenhaal, who is not the nicest person in the world, but seems very protective of her band members, almost to a vicious degree. Also, she plays the theremin, because why not? Then, there's Baraque, played by Francois Civil, the french Bass player, who barely speaks English but still manages to find ways to communicate. We have Nana, played by Carla Azar, who barely speaks at all. And finally, there's Frank, played by Michael Fassbender as I mentioned. He's the leader of the band and is thought of by some as a musical genius, though most people just find him strange, possibly frightening. And, again as I said, he wears a huge paper mache head all the time. ALL the time.

Anyway, that first show goes a bit awry, and most of the band is not fond of Jon. But Frank decides to make him a permanent member of the group, which leads to all of them heading off to a cabin in the woods to record an album. They stay there far longer than Jon had expected, and they are forced to go through some difficult, even tragic, times there. All the while, Jon has been sharing their progress with the outside world, hoping to lead them to some real success. He keeps his hopes of being a legitimate songwriter, much like the way that Frank keeps his enthusiasm about their music, despite the problems they encounter.

Once their time in the cabin is over, we follow them as they move on to what the future holds for them, or what it doesn't hold. And things get even crazier, to put it mildly. Eventually, we start to see all the characters for who they really are and learn the truths that they weren't willing to tell anyone, even themselves. But somehow this leads to them finding their way and their place in the world, as out of place as those places may be. Yeah, I just said that.

Okay, so let's talk about Frank and his head, since this is what most likely attracts people to the movie in the first place. It becomes quite clear early on that Frank is not "normal", but you wonder exactly what it is that makes him the way he is. Also, you may start to wonder if he truly is a musical genius and we're all just not smart enough to get it. Turns out that the character was inspired by a few people. First off, a comedian named Chris Sievy, who has an alter ego of sorts called Frank Sidebottom. And if you see the pictures of him, you will definitely see the inspiration. As far as music influence goes, there appears to be some similarities to Captain Beefheart, but also a guy named Daniel Johnston. Out of those three, Johnston is the only one I know about in depth, having seen a great documentary about him. Actually, when I first saw Frank, I was curious if this character was at all based on Daniel Johnston. Mission accomplished, I guess. Come to think of it, I see his music and the music that Frank made as something that forces the listener to be honest in their reaction. It's easy to say what we think when everyone else already has an opinion and we can just take a side based on how popular or unpopular we want to be, rather than saying how we really feel. But with these guys, no one knows what to think, so we have to decide for ourselves. Just a thought.

And some of you may be curious about the casting of Michael Fassbender in this. Like why hire a guy who attracts many women to see his films because of his face and...well...other parts, to play a character who has his face covered for most of the movie? Well, that's easy. If there is one thing we women like more than a hot guy, it's a project. And Frank is kind of a "hug him and make it all better" type of character. That might have something to do with it. Not to say all women are like that. But, admit it, some are. I certainly am. Although, in all seriousness, I will say that this is easily my favorite performance by Michael Fassbender. Probably because I'm strange, too. He manages to balance the drama, the comedy, the sadness and the joy of the character quite flawlessly. I imagine it did not hurt to have such a stellar supporting cast.

Oh, I guess I should talk about the actual music in this thing, since I am referring to it as a Music Movie. Well, it's what you would expect from some experimental band that people just don't get, so I'd say it fits perfectly. Of course, the last song we hear does feel a bit different. More accessible, I suppose. Perhaps, that was a conscious decision, since there was much talk in the story of Frank trying to write a "likable" song.

Anyway, I know I called this movie weird, and I suppose that is true. But maybe a better word is quirky. Mostly because I've always defined quirky as weird plus lovable, and Frank is certainly that. They could have just made this a straight up, bizarre, artsy film, but it's not just that. It really does have a lot of heart to it, especially near the end. So, you might cringe with a "What the neck is up with this thing?" look on your face a bit, but you will also have your heartstrings tugged a little, too. Sounds good to me.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer


Thursday, January 22, 2015

The One Seasoner's Club - Law & Order: Los Angeles

Greetings Pups,

Some of you may recall that, last year, I dedicated an entire month to the awesomeness that is Law & Order. I put in a lot of work to honor that show and everyone involved with it, and I am so glad I did. So, clearly, there is not a single thing I could say against that show or anything that may have spawned from it. Yeah, so let's talk about Law & Order: Los Angeles.

Okay, back story time. I think most fans of Law & Order were upset about how the show ended. Not that the last episode or the last season weren't good. They were extremely good, actually, but they weren't FINALES! You get me. This show was on for twenty years! They deserved something more grand than what they got. Turns out, as the twentieth season ended, they were 'on the bubble', but someone thought that, instead of giving them one more, record-breaking, proper final season, they would much rather focus time and money on a new leg of the franchise. NO! And that's how we got Law & Order: Los Angeles. I mean, I assume. I wasn't in any meetings or anything.

Look, I'm not going to go too in depth about this show, because I can barely remember anything about it. Yes, I tried to re-watch via Netflix, but it just made me sad. Though maybe not for the reasons you would suspect. More on that later. Anyway, I don't know why someone though it was a good idea to move the franchise to Los Angeles. Seems to me that Law & Order has always been defined as a New York City show, and that was one of the best things about it. I know what you're thinking. Yes, I am a fan of Law & Order: UK, so doesn't that make me sound hypocritical. Perhaps, until you remember that Law & Order: UK takes place in London, which is just New York with more tea. So, there's that. Besides, this franchise was always divided by different types of cops or different aspects of the legal system. Location was a C.S.I thing. So, what the heck is up with that?

Okay, let's talk a little about the cast. To be fair, they did not slack off when it came to getting some great actors to be in this series. Most notably were the presences of Skeet Ulrich, Terrence Howard and the always fantastic Alfred Molina. But we also got a familiar face in my girl Alana De La Garza, who played Connie Rubirosa on the original series. Apparently, they were trying to use the same tactics for this that they used for SVU, which was getting someone from the original to either be a regular cast member or to just randomly show up numerous times during the first season. I guess it eased the transition. Not so much in this case, though. Still, I have no beef with this aspect of the show. Every one of these actors did a wonderful job.

And I also have no problem with the writing, which you all know I am a snob about, usually. It was fine. The stories were fine. Everything was just fine. I mean, it was still under the Law & Order umbrella, so it could never be that bad. But, as it turns out, it wasn't good enough. At least, not for the network.

So, what led to the cancellation? Well, it had a strong start. I think that was mostly due to fans of the original, like me, hoping for...something. Just hoping. But then, it got moved around and taken away, only to be brought back after a little revamping. Still, all of that wasn't enough to keep people interested. Therefore, Dick Wolf and everyone pulled a "Hey, we tried" and let it go. It happens. Bottom line, as good as the good parts were, as a whole, it just wasn't strong enough.

Now for the burning question of this series of mine - did it deserve a second season? I have to say this is a hard one for me. In and of itself, this was not a bad show. I've seen much, MUCH worse shows last much, MUCH longer. I'm just not sure if I was interested in seeing more, but I think that has more to do with things surrounding this series. Particularly how it connected to the end of original Law & Order. Part of me wanted this L.A. version to last a while. Why? Well, then the cancellation of the original would not have been kind of in vain. The L.A. version lasted but one year, so, in hindsight, would it not have not have been better to give us all one more year of the original? And as hindsight is 20/20, I suspect some people in the franchise wish that they would have gone that route instead. And it didn't even have to be a whole, 22-24 episode season. I would have been happy with a half season or thirteen episodes. Anything that could have been touted as a grand finale for a legendary show. Instead, they rolled the dice on something knew, and kinda crapped out. Now we have this one season show that was, and I hate to be mean by saying this, a bit pointless in the long run, instead of a memorable end to a downright masterpiece. I will say this, however. At least, they did try. They worked at this show, wanting to make it a success. So, I cannot really fault anyone involved for putting forth some effort to make it worthwhile. And considering how complacent and apathetic everyone in the TV world appears to be these days, that is a huge compliment.

Okay, let me wrap this up. In good conscience, I can't recommend this show, nor can I not recommend it. I'm just so indifferent to it as a whole. I don't love it. I don't hate it. I just have no emotional attachment to it. I guess I...nothing Law & Order: Los Angeles. So, whether or not you check it out on DVD or wherever, that's entirely up to you.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Saturday, January 17, 2015

To Not Know Them and To Love Them

Greetings Pups,

I don't know if you guys have noticed this, but I talk a lot about the entertainment industry on this little blog of mine. I talk about music and movies and TV and books, and I often talk about those involved with the making of said things. I have discussed those people who I am not particularly fond of and those I admire greatly. Now, when it comes to the latter, I'll say this. When I refer to loving someone or thinking that they are a fantastic person, I say this with only the hope that I am correct about them. I have done this my entire life, because I have never been naive enough to believe I can know how someone is as a person if I don't actually know them as a person. For crying out loud, I barely know people who I've met a million times.

So, have I been disappointed in my life at some of those people that I have admired from afar? You have no idea how much. Granted, I always feel I'm prepared for that. It's still not so good of a feeling though. I have actually been dealing with situations like this forever. But I take chances all the time. Mostly, because I am an artist surrounded by not many other artists or people who are like me. And I tend to gravitate toward anyone who I might have common ground with. They are often people I have never known and probably never will. But there is always a comfort in knowing they are out there, so I let myself get close, in a way. A totally non-stalker way, so relax. I don't think I'm the only one who has felt this way, and I think some of us might build up and an illusion about who they really are to suit our own needs. Part of me still does that, but part of me also keeps my guard up. Therefore, you'd think I would be ready for things that occurred in the past one year alone.

HO-LY CRAP!

Yeah, I don't think so many people have "fallen from grace" in my eyes in my entire life as have in the last twelve months or so. Now, believe it or not, I am not standing in judgement of these people. I certainly am in no place to do that. But when you convince yourself that someone is a good person, or as close to that as they can be, and then, they say or do something that gives you concrete proof that they're kind of not, it's pretty awful. And I am not exactly talking about petty things here. I am talking about hateful, attempted life-ruining, possibly criminal behavior, depending on what your definition of defamation is. Point is, a lot of people that I once liked, who inspired me, who I even looked up to, kind of hurt me lately. It's seems strange and even crazy to say that, but it's how I feel.

The bottom line is that some lessons never end. There's always a part of you that knows what is right, but we all tend to maneuver around it at times. Again, I know that I should never make assumptions about people I don't actually know. I try my best to judge people on how they behave and what they say, but even that can be a crap shoot. Maybe I just wish that everyone can be honest about who they are all the time. That would make things easier in the long run.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Family Band: The Cowsills Story - Documentary Review

Greetings Pups,

I am someone who cannot stand when anything is overrated. I especially hate it when it's things like television, movies, music, anything to do with the arts. I hate it mostly because the more things that we give undue credit to, the more things that are legitimately great get shoved aside. And I'd say one of the most egregious incidents of this concerns a musical group and family known as The Cowsills. So, in hopes to rectify the behavior of others, I decided to talk about a documentary done on them called Family Band: The Cowsills Story.

This is a 2011 documentary that tells the tale of an incredibly talented group of brothers, a sister and their mother who ended up singing in a rock band that got very popular in the sixties. What's that you say? That setup of a mom and her kids in a band sounds familiar to you? Well, it should. You see, the Cowsills were the inspiration for The Partridge Family. And where would we be in a world without The Partridge Family? I don't want to think about that. But we're not here to talk about the fictional group.

The Cowsills began as a band with four of the brothers; Bill, Barry, John and Bob. Oh, and Bob, by the way, is the narrator for the documentary. I don't know how others feel, but sometimes I like it when the narrator has a personal connection in films like this. It works well here. Anyway, they had hopes of making it, having been inspired by The Beatles, which is very evident. But then, someone decided that they should include their other brother Paul...and their little sister Susan...and their mother, Barbara! The teenage boys were, apparently, not too thrilled about that, especially the "mom thing". They loved their mom and she had a beautiful voice, but come on now. The only one not involved with the band was their brother Richard, though we hear a story about how that came very close to changing. And that brings us to the dad, Bud, who was always running things behind the scenes, for better or worse. Yes, there were some serious "dad issues" in this family, ones I almost feel I have no place to share, even here. I think the only way to hear the stories is from the kids themselves. And they have plenty of stories to tell.

Everyone who is interviewed, from family members to friends to colleagues in the business to even Shirley Jones, helps to tell the tale of the group. And, though I think some have forgotten or maybe never knew, The Cowsills were huge for quite a while. Of course, as with most musical acts, that does not last forever, and we are taken through all the trials and triumphs that happened after that initial success. It is an extraordinary story, one that definitely should be told and heard. And no, it does not count to just watch old reruns of The Partridge Family. I mean, you can do that, no problem, but you should watch this film, as well.

But let me get back to my initial statement about The Cowsills being underrated. They were and still are. Sure, they were very successful, and I don't doubt that people back then were amazed at how fantastic these kids were as musicians and writers. But, for some reason, they don't seem to be remembered as prominently as I, and most likely others, think they should be. I suppose you can chalk it up to the competition of the times. Come on, the mid to late sixties? I don't think you can find any time period with more stellar music, so it was clearly easy for even an amazing group like The Cowsills to get lost in the shuffle. It's not like today, where literally anyone can become famous, talent not necessary. And yet, I feel as though it is our responsibility as music lovers to keep their legacy alive. And holy smokes, these people are insanely talented. They need to be remembered as such, and if I can help, even through my little blog here, I am happy to do so.

I'm going to conclude this by, of course, telling you to watch Family Band: The Cowsills Story. As I said, it is an amazing story, especially if you love to know all the behind the scenes goings on of artists. I know I do. I will admit that some of this is difficult to watch, because they all went through a lot. A lot of heartbreak and anger and abuse, but also a lot of success and joy and, not the least of all, love. But that's life. That is family. And, you know what? At the end of this film, after you hear everything, the good, the bad and the ugly, you see the family that is left and you see love. There is still so much love there. And also forgiveness. So, if you're looking for a happy ending, I think there is one. It was a tough road to get to it, for all of them, but they got to it.

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Akeelah and the Bee - Movie Review

Greetings Pups,

Well, as I said in my last post, I am hoping for good things in 2015. Therefore, what better way to put that into motion than to do a review of a very good movie. Yes, it is quite fun to rake a terrible movie over the coals, but it also makes me warm and fuzzy inside to give praise to a movie that actually tries. Tries and succeeds, in this case. So, no more waiting. Let's talk about Akeelah and the Bee.

Akeelah and the Bee is a 2006 family film about a smart, young girl with a troubled life who has a huge goal to accomplish. Our titular character, Akeelah Anderson, played by the adorable and gifted Keke Palmer, is 11-years-old, attending a middle school that does not excite her. By that, I mean she is very intelligent and the school does not challenge her, so it appears that she just doesn't care about her education. The truth is she cares a lot; she's just bored. Actually, a teacher notices that she excels at spelling and asks her to compete in the school's spelling bee. She is cheered on by her friennd, Georgia, played by Sahara Garey, but is also mocked by some bullies. It is here that she meets Dr. Joshua Larabee, played by Laurence Fishbourne. YAY! Dr. Larabee is a friend of Akeelah's principal, Mr. Welch, played by great character actor Curtis Armstrong, and he is also someone who competed in spelling bees in his youth. He did very well in them, actually, and he is brought on to coach her and hopefully get her to the National Spelling Bee, which would help the school.

Unfortunately, Akeelah's mother is not sure she should be worrying about that when she has real school work to deal with. And her mother is played by Angela Bassett. YAY...AGAIN! I guess I should about home life for Akeelah's home life. Well, there is the aforementioned mother, and sadly, her father was killed when she was younger. She also has three older siblings: Devon, played by the sorely missed Lee Thompson Young, who is in college but also training to be an air force pilot or something, Kiana, played by Erica Hubbard, who is living at home with her baby, and Terrence, played by Julito McCullum, who is starting to hang around some shady characters in the neighborhood and getting into trouble. You can tell that the mother, Tanya, is trying her best with her family, but she is clearly exhausted. So, she seems to think Akeelah's hopes with the bee are nothing more than a distraction and a pipe dream. Akeelah understands this, but she still continues on with it.

So most of the film, as you may have guessed, follows Akeelah through her spelling bee adventure. And it's a good adventure, because we get some more great characters with it. First, there's Javier Mendez, played by J.R. Villarreal. He becomes a good friend to Akeelah as well as a confidante as he has done a lot of spelling bees in the past. And, wow, do I love this kid? He was hilarious, and their friendship was so sweet. Loved the whole thing. Then, there's Dylan Chiu, played by Sean Michael Afable. He's the oldest of the three and has competed twice in the National Bee, coming in second both times. So, he is very motivated to win, and his father is very...motivating. Yeah, his dad, who is played by another great character actor, Tzi Ma, is very hard on Dylan. In turn, that has kind of made Dylan develop a very hard personality, shutting people out, even potential friends. And if I may be so bold to make a suggestion. If you are ever subjected to the terrible acting of the youngsters in The Last Airbender, this would be a good brain scrubber, as well as serving to give you back your hope about child actors.

Anyway, the whole time she's going through this thing, we see how it starts to have an effect on everyone around Akeelah. Her family, her school, her entire community. Even the town "bad guy" Derrick T, played by Eddie Steeples, takes notice. And all of that has an effect on her. Naturally. I love the way they handle this part of the film. You never think she's really giving up, but you understand her fears as the hopes of so many people start resting on her. It's clearly something she didn't expect, but eventually she sees the good in this, as it is bringing people together. And Keke acts in these scenes so beautifully, with all the chops of someone much older than herself.

Now I won't tell you how this all ends, because it's probably not what you will be expecting. I certainly wasn't. But there is something that does not happen that I think was a wise choice. Again, I won't say what it is, but you'll most likely be able to guess it. I will tell you this, though. Some people may think it was sappy, but Akeelah gives a lovely voice over at the end of the film. It brings tears to my eyes every time. So, if you get a little misty as well, you are not alone.

So, I think I should talk about my favorite part of the film, which is the relationship between Akeelah and Dr. Larabee. At first glance, it seems to follow the path you would expect. In the beginning, they don't get along very well. He even tells her that if she cannot speak properly, she will not speak at all around him. Yeah, I think, at that point, I simply froze with widened eyes, staring at Mr. Fishbourne, and the only words I could manage to utter after he made that statement was "Marry me?" But moving on. After the initial tension, they become closer and the symbolism that he is becoming a father figure will not be lost on anyone. And, of course, though he is the teacher, he will learn something from her, as well. Still, it's all about the execution and the chemistry between the actors. Well, no problem with any of that here. The story is extremely well-written, and Keke and Laurence work so amazingly well together. It's almost unbelievable.

Oh, and speaking of chemistry, the answer is yes. Angela Bassett and Laurence Fishbourne are still fantastic acting partners, too. Did we expect any less?

In conclusion, this is a stellar family movie. It's touching and funny and very uplifting, without being overbearing with any message. I would actually consider it one of the best family movies I've ever seen. Even though, throughout all the spelling bee competitions I had to watch in this thing, it got to a point where I just said, "No! You totally made that word up!" I mean, I consider myself to be well read, but no word's letter count should be higher than room temperature. But, seriously, Akeelah and the Bee is wonderful. In fact, I think if more films were made like this, I would have far less to complain about in the cinematic world. And you know what? I'm okay with that!

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer

Saturday, January 3, 2015

High Hopes for 2015

Greetings Pups,

Happy New Year to one and all! I'm going to be brief today again, because things in offline life are a little crazy...again. But I wanted to say a little something to all of you who are kind enough to read what I post here.

As tough as things have always been for me, I still remain mostly an optimist, and my faith remains fully intact. Doubts will attempt to creep in and plant themselves, but I manage to dig them out like the weeds that they are as early as possible. So, should anyone or anything try to convince me that this year will not be overflowing with blessings...Yeah, bye!

I must say, I have so many hopes for this new year, not only for myself, but for all the people I want to and intend to lend a helping hand to. Sure, I like when I get good things for myself, but there really is something other worldly special about giving someone else something that they need. I've done it as much as I can in the past, and I plan to turn it up, full blast, in the future.

And that is really going to be my, I guess, theme for the year. Giving and giving back to those around me, and, in turn, giving back to God for all He has blessed me with. Whether it is with my writing or otherwise, I am going to do my best to bring good things to people as much as I possibly can.

So, that's about it. I hope you are all blessed in the New Year, and if I can be even a little part of that, if I can do even a little to brighten your day or make you laugh or smile through something even as simple as this blog, I'm happy that I can do it.

God bless us, every one! (Sorry, but I feel like I stole that line. Doesn't make it not true, though!)

Love and full moons,
Becky the Writer