FlixChatter Review: The Sparks Brothers (2021)

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Director: Edgar Wright
Cast: Ron Mael, Russell Mael, Jane Wiedlin, Beck, Flea, Tony Visconti, Todd Rundgren, Simon Pegg, Nick Frost  

SparksBrothers-cool-placesAs a kid growing up in 1983, I’d watch Sparks’ Cool Places air a few times on MTV – back when it actually was “Music Television” instead of the reality TV monstrosity it’s become the past 3 decades. The video featured Jane Wiedlin from the Go-Gos. It was catchy as hell though way dated by today’s standards. But who were these other dudes in the video? The singer seemed normal enough, duetting with Jane and doing the 80s dance moves. But that other guy with the weird mustache – what’s his deal? An ear-worm of a song, cool as hell. But those guys were kinda strange… That singer is Russell Mael and the weird mustachioed guy is his real life older brother Ron. Together they are Sparks. 

And it was high time someone made a genuine documentary about these guys. That someone turned out to be Edgar Wright, who directed such high-profile films such as Shawn of the Dead, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Baby Driver and the upcoming Anya Taylor-Joy horror fest Last Night in Soho. This seemed fitting for Wright, tackling a group who on the surface never took itself too seriously. But what we find here in The Sparks Brothers is a duo of uncompromising artistry, full of humor, reinvention and musicality. Add to that an enduring though rocky longevity in the music business for 5 full decades.

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The documentary chronicles their early life in Culver City, CA onto Pacific Palisades in the 40s and 50s. They were highly influenced by their artistic father, a graphic designer and cartoonist by trade, who brought home rock & roll records. Interestingly, Wright doesn’t run the regular course here in peeling back history or mining for dramatics to expose familial eccentricities or trauma. Instead, it’s a carefully molded unwrapping of a musical and theatrical history that begins in 70s Glam to almost every possible genre of music that exist today. In a career that spans 25 albums and countless songs, their constant reinvention of themselves is mind boggling –  and at the same time remaining true to themselves as Sparks.

Along with assorted commentary from a plethora of celebrities and musicians, The Sparks Brothers begs the question, how could a band that’s been around so long be virtually unknown? Jane Wiedlin comments, “I think they were too much for most people.” Not unlike David Bowie, their constant reinvention from album to album never acquiesced to expectation. Though never really achieving mainstream success, they broke through the culture when Paul McCartney parodied Ron and his mustache in the video for his hit Coming Up.

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Interestingly, by film’s end we don’t really know too much more about the Mael brothers as we had expected. What we do end up with is a natural appreciation of Sparks the band; the weirdness of it, its strange sensibility and outright curiosity. Somehow they were able to meld cinema, humor and art into what Giorgio Moroder referred to as the music of the future. 

The Sparks Brothers achieves what most rock docs never get to – and that’s putting the concept behind the band first and foremost. The idea of musical persistence, self-awareness and an odd body of uncompromising creative work is the principle of the film. Full of humor and wit, rare footage and interesting anecdotes, The Sparks Brothers is a classic, up there with Jonathan Demme’s Stop Making Sense and D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back. Wright does right in adding to the band’s mystique rather than tarnishing it. In some parallel universe, Sparks is big and No. 1 in Heaven. Now that would be something.

4.5/5 stars
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So did you see THE SPARKS BROTHERS? Let us know what you think!

Weekend Roundup: Quick review of BABY DRIVER (2017)

Happy [almost] Fourth of July weekend! It’s not really a long weekend for me as I’ll be working both Monday AND Wednesday, though the office is pretty much dead today with everyone taking a day off.

Last week was a pretty hectic one, hence I hadn’t even posted anything other than my short film update. Well, as if making movies wasn’t nerve wracking enough, I also launched a crowdfunding campaign is Kickstarter campaign last week. We had a good start but we still have a long way to go before we reach our goal.

Shout out to Paula, Shivani, Mark, and Nostra for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

This weekend I did manage to fit in a movie night… and it was a ton of fun!

Move over Guardians of the Galaxy. I think the movie w/ the best retro soundtrack this year belongs to Baby Driver. It’s also one helluva heist action flick that gets your blood pumpin’ from start to finish.

I like Edgar Wright and his Three Flavours Cornetto film trilogy (especially Hot Fuzz!) but for some reason I haven’t been paying much attention to Baby Driver. I think I only read an article a while back when it was a hit at SXSW and then of course I was intrigued by the stellar reviews (97% on Rotten Tomatoes!) So naturally I had a high expectations going into this movie. Fortunately it didn’t disappoint!

I dig car chases!! I grew up w/ two brothers and played with matchbox cars instead of Barbie dolls as a kid so I always enjoy a thrilling car chase in the movies! Man, what an opening scene!! You can watch how they made it in this featurette. That’s perhaps one of the best car chases since the first Transporter flick, but this time we’ve got a kid at the wheel with a cutesy name Baby (Ansel Elgort). Yep it’s B-A-B-Y. Hence the title.

It’s obvious Wright himself is a big fan of heist movies and crazy car chases, and it shows. He’s also got an ear for music, and music is truly the fuel for this exciting ride. You go see this for the action, but there’s also a pretty compelling story and a character worth rooting for. Elgort isn’t the most charismatic young actor but he acquits himself well here and it’s easy to root for Baby who’s had a tragic past and wants out of the crime business. He’s surrounded by a fun supporting cast: Kevin Spacey, Jamie Foxx, Jon Bernthal, Jon Hamm, Eiza González, and Lily James as Baby’s love interest. I’d say it’s quite inspired casting, especially in regards to Jon Hamm. The romance between Lily and Ansel seems deliberately too cutesy, cheesy even, but it’s kind of sweet, too.

In a way, Baby Driver is a heist flick & coming-of-age movie in one. And that makes it refreshingly original, as we see this kid who gets picked on and taken advantage of finally breaking free and coming into his own. The rather restrained ending is quite a pleasant surprise to me given how many blockbusters seem to go for deafeningly-bombastic finale.

So if you’re in the mood for fun music, crazy action and some sweet little romance, you can’t go wrong with Baby Driver.This movie’s also got heart to go with all the cool moves. And of course, plenty of Wright’s cheeky brand of humor too.

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Have you seen ‘BABY DRIVER’? Well, what did you think? 

FlixChatter Review: Ant-Man (2015)

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Marvel has been dominating the box office with their superhero flicks for almost a decade now and it’s inevitable that they’re going to bring out some of the lesser-known superheroes to the big screen. Even though it’s not well known to non comic book readers, Ant-Man movie has apparently been in development for many years. For anyone who’s been following the movie business, you’ve probably read the development dramas of this movie, from director Edgar Wright leaving the project to script changes and so on.

Personally I didn’t know anything about Ant-Man, the idea of a superhero the size of an ant just sounds too silly to me and didn’t really care about the movie version. Fortunately, the movie was very entertaining and I don’t mind seeing it again.    AntMan1AntMan2

After being released from prison, Scott Lang (perfectly-cast Paul Rudd) is trying to go straight because he wants to spend more time with his daughter. Lang was sent to prison because he tried to do the right thing, but in life doing the right thing doesn’t mean you’re going to be appreciated. He met up with is buddy Luis (Michael Peña) who tells him that he’d found a new gig that will make them a lot of money. Lang declined the offer because he wants to find an honest job but because he’s an ex-con no one will hire him. So after couldn’t find a steady job, Lang finally agreed to listen to Luis’ gig. According to Luis’ sources, there’s a house that belongs to a retired old man who’d stashed away some valuable items in his safe. All Lang has to do is break in and take whatever is in the safe and they’ll be rich.

Unfortunately when Lang got into the safe, all he could find was a weird looking suit, which he took. The suit and the house belongs to a man named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), Pym has been following Lang for years because of his skills as a thief. He and his daughter Hope (Evangeline Lilly) are trying to break into a highly secured building and they need Lang’s help. Unlike other Marvel’s superhero flicks, the scope of this film was quite small and the whole plot is actually a heist rather than a full-blown superhero story we’re use to seeing. We still get to see the usual hero learning to control his new power and so on. But the tone of this film was definitely on humor and lighter side and I’m glad they went that route.

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All the performances by the actors were great, I mentioned that Rudd was perfectly cast and he truly embody this character. He’s charming, quick witted and you want to see him succeed. Instead of the usual hero whose motivation to save the world was because he lost something important to him, here Lang is just a guy who wants to do the right thing and see his daughter. Douglas was also great as Pym, he has the same amount of screen time as Rudd, I didn’t want to talk too much about his character because I don’t want to ruin the story for anyone who wants to see this film.

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Lilly played the tough female lead and I thought she did a good job; I’m so glad the filmmakers didn’t make her into another damsel in distress type. Of course in this kind of movie, there’s always going to be the token minority/comic relief character and here I thought Michael Peña was very funny. Some of the jokes didn’t work but most of them had the audience laughing. The villain in the film is played by Corey Stoll, even though they tried to give him some motivations as to why he’s evil, he’s still a one dimensional bad guy.

This is still a Marvel comic book film so they need to show us some big action sequences and director Peyton Reed delivered on that end. I was surprised because his background is mostly in comedy but I thought he did a great job of staging the cool and kind of inventive action sequences. If you’re on the fence about seeing this film in 3D, I highly you seek it out in that format. Once Lang became the Ant-Man, the film showed some really eye-popping 3D effects.

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I didn’t really have any expectations for this film and I’m glad I saw it because it’s very entertaining and a lot of fun. In fact, I think this maybe the only comic book film from Marvel that the whole family can enjoy. Color me impressed.

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So have you seen Ant Man? Well, what did you think?

Weekend Roundup and mini review of ‘The World’s End’

Hello everyone, hope y’all had a nice weekend. It’s scorching HOT here in Minnesota with heat index topping 100 degrees!! I’m not fond of extreme heat and humidity so I stayed mostly indoors, went to the movies Saturday night and cooling off at Mall of America on Sunday. Not much of a home-viewing weekend, as I only watched an episode of Shark Week on Netflix from Discovery Channel, ahah. I did see Austenland earlier in the week which I really enjoyed (review later this week as it opens at Edina Landmark Theaters on 8/30).

At the movies The Butler is still well-served by moviegoers, topping the box office again with $17 mil, whilst all of the new releases made barely $10 mil each (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, The World’s End and You’re Next). I guess this weekend and the next few weeks are the dead zone of sort, as Summer movie season is pretty much over. I’m quite looking forward to Fall/Winter schedule though, so look for my Most Anticipated List around Labor Day. Below is my mini review of …

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Five friends who reunite in an attempt to top their epic pub crawl from 20 years earlier unwittingly become humankind’s only hope for survival.

This film is the conclusion of the Cornetto or Blood and Ice Cream trilogy, a series of British comedic films by Edgar Wright, written by him and Simon Pegg. I’m a big fan of the last two in the trilogy, Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, so that’s the main draw for me to see this one.

This film also reunited Pegg with his longtime BFF Nick Frost in a slightly different role than what I’m used to seeing him in (more on that in a bit). Pegg plays Gary King, a bon vivant alcoholic who’s pretty much still stuck in the past (literally), obsessing over his teenage days in his hometown of Newton Haven. He can’t get over the fact that him and his posse failed to complete the Golden Mile, an infamous pub crawl encompassing 12 pubs that ends in the last one called The Worl’ds End.

So he sets off to track down his old mates, and soon he realizes each of them has moved on. Peter Page (Eddie Marsan), Oliver “O-Man” Chamberlain (Martin Freeman), Steven Prince (Paddy Considine) and Andy Knightley (Nick Frost) all have a steady job and family of their own, with their own set of responsibilities. But Gary is far too self-absorbed and oblivious to let that stop ’em, but yet somehow, he managed to convince them all to actually join him! So off they go in Gary’s beat up sedan, the very same one he has from his teenage years, bound to Newton Haven!

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I have to admit the film started off a bit too sluggish for my liking. Even as they arrive in their old hometown, the pub crawl itself aren’t as hilarious as I expected. I don’t know if I’ve grown tired of Simon Pegg’s schtick or what, but he’s just not as funny as he was in the other two films. In fact, I find Gary to be pretty irritating most of the time, which doesn’t help. I’d say the scene-stealer here is Nick Frost (I guess you could say the same about the rest of the trilogy), as he plays a responsible, thoughtful and actually wise guy with a good career, it’s an interesting role switcheroo as he’s not the typical dumb slob he’s played in the past. His straight-laced Andy provides the most laughs for me as the antithesis of Pegg’s character.

I guess I have a similar complaint on this one with Elysium in that this film is much bigger in terms of budget and special effects, but overall the quality isn’t on par with Wright’s smaller projects in the past. Some of the jokes made me cringe and it just feels forced, which is too bad as I know the talents are capable of something great. Given that we’ve seen a lot of apocalyptic themes in movies lately, the film also suffers from originality, I could see the plot reveal from a mile away and the finale seems to go on forever. Oh, and there’s a cameo from another Bond actor (Timothy Dalton was the scene-stealer in Hot Fuzz), but I think Pierce Brosnan is utterly wasted and devoid of humor in his role. Interestingly, Rosamund Pike (who was the Bond girl in Brosnan’s worst Bond movie ever), also didn’t have much to do in this male-dominated comedy.

Now, there are some fun moments to be had and I like the all-British cast, but I wish I had just rented this one instead of paying top dollars to see it on the big screen. Truthfully, I’m surprised by its high rating on RottenTomatoes. Ah well, I had expected the trilogy to end on a high note, alas, I feel that the Wright/Pegg/Frost trio is perhaps a bit complacent about their work. That’s never a good sign no matter how good they think they have it.

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Well, that’s my weekend roundup, folks. What did you see this weekend, anything good?