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
Vince_review


So did you see THE SPARKS BROTHERS? Let us know what you think!

Trailer Spotlight: HBO’s THE NEVERS (2021)

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I LOVE period dramas and the superhero/fantasy genre, so The Nevers seems to have been made for me! I saw the teaser a few weeks ago and was like, WHOA!! It’s like Jane Austen meets Marvel… ok that’s an oversimplification as Jane Austen stories are set in Regency, not Victorian era… but in any event, you get the point.

So here’s the full trailer:

So apparently the original show-runner is Joss Whedon who left back in November 2020. Per Variety, he cited that he couldn’t meet the physical challenges of making such a huge show during a global pandemic. Well, can’t say I’ll miss him. He’s been replaced by Philippa Goslett, British screenwriter who’s developed shows for networks such as FX, BBC and Channel 4, but this marks her first time as a show-runner.

Thanks to HBO’s official show page, here’s the full synopsis:

August, 1896. Victorian London is rocked to its foundations by a supernatural event which gives certain people — mostly women — abnormal abilities, from the wondrous to the disturbing. But no matter their particular “turns,” all who belong to this new underclass are in grave danger. It falls to mysterious, quick-fisted widow Amalia True (Laura Donnelly) and brilliant young inventor Penance Adair (Ann Skelly) to protect and shelter these gifted “orphans.” To do so, they will have to face the brutal forces determined to annihilate their kind.

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Judging from the trailer, looks like it’ll be an action-packed series with [hopefully] some thought-provoking commentary about the societal issues of the time. Despite having a woman reigning as monarch, that is Queen Victoria women did not have the right to vote, sue, or own property… women are basically property of their husbands. So seeing them take charge and even banding together to save the world is surely revolutionary. The trailer show these women being persecuted, well, naturally the men would be threatened by powerful women and they’d do whatever it takes to maintain status quo (what else is new?)

The cast looks amazing!! I recognize a bunch of them from previous British series/movies: Olivia Williams, Nick Frost, James Norton, Eleanor Tomlinson, Ben Chaplin, and Tom Riley. (see below for the complete list). I also noticed Jodie Comer from Killing Eve, but her name is not on the list in Part 1 of IMDb. Now the reason for that is that this is a two-part series, which is similar to Netflix’s LUPIN.

Part One of the first season debuts on April 11, 2021 with six-episodes on HBO Max. Part Two’s six episodes will follow at a later date, to be announced.

There are SO many things to look forward to in this fantasy series! A terrific ensemble cast with a diverse set of women, beautiful costumes + set pieces, striking cinematography… and gadgetry? Well one of the main character is an inventor, so she might’ve invented this steampunk vehicle which would be handy to outrun all those nefarious guys trying to imprison them!

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So here’s the full list of cast + who they’re playing:

Olivia Williams (The Ghost Writer) as Lavinia Bidlow, the wealthy benefactress funding the orphanage for Amalia’s outcasts, who are also known as the Touched.

Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead) as feared criminal overlord Declan “Beggar King” Orrun.

James Norton (Little Women) as Hugo Swann, the rich and irreverent proprietor of a den of iniquity.

Tom Riley (Da Vinci’s Demons) as Augustus “Augie” Bidlow, Lavinia’s sweet, awkward, younger brother with a secret of his own.

Pip Torrens (The Crown) as Lord Gilbert Massen, a high-ranking government official leading the crusade against our heroines.

Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line) as Inspector Frank Mundi, who’s torn between his police duties and moral compass.

Denis O’Hare (American Horror Story) as Edmund Hague, a deranged doctor searching for the source of the powers.

Amy Manson (Once Upon a Time) as the tortured, murderous Maladie, who derives power from pain.

Rochelle Neil (Terminator: Dark Fate) as the fire-wielding Annie “Bonfire” Carby, one of Maladie’s motley gang.

Zackary Momoh (Seven Seconds) as orphanage doctor Horatio Cousens, whose turn equips him with healing powers.

Eleanor Tomlinson (The Illusionist) as Mary Brighton, a broken and resilient performer pursuing her dream of singing on stage.

Elizabeth Berrington (In Bruges) as Lucy Best, adaptive and streetwise, her quick-wit and high spirits mask the pain of a tragic past.

Anna Devlin (All the Money in the World) as Primrose Chattoway who, at ten feet tall and a dreamy demeanor, wishes to be an ordinary girl not taking up too much space.

Kiran Sonia Sawar (HBO Max’s Pure) as Harriet Kaur, a young Scottish Sikh and aspiring lawyer, determined to live her life as she planned.

Viola Prettejohn (The Witcher) as Myrtle Haplisch, a middle-class girl rescued from a family who cannot understand her – literally, as she can no longer speak any form of language they understand.

Ella Smith (Ray & Liz) as Désireé Blodgett, a prostitute with a power that gets her in trouble and a six-year old son who never speaks.

Vinnie Heaven as Nimble Jack, a rakish and charming young thief and an expert at breaking and entering.

So yeah, I know what I’ll be watching in April!! Perfect timing as I need something to fill the void of LUPIN and Ted Lasso, two of my new favorite shows.


Are you excited for THE NEVERS?

Rental Pick: PIRATE RADIO (2009)

PIRATE RADIO

A period comedy about an illegal radio station in the North Sea in the 1960s.

PirateRadioPosterSo I guess not all *pirates* are bad. This Richard Curtis‘ comedy is [loosely] based on a true story in the 60s era Britain when the then-traditionalist British government deemed it illegal for radio stations to play rock music. I didn’t even know that this actually went on in England, but clearly, making something illegal would only make something even more popular. Kids and adults alike secretly flock to the radio, whether on their own or in a group, hanging on every broadcast and songs played by these pirate radios. The term pirate radio not only refer to the illegal nature of their broadcasts, but there were apparently pirate off-shore radio transmissions in those days. In fact, the original title of this movie was The Boat That Rocked, which I think is a better title.

I had wanted to see this for a while but given that it’s got Philip Seymour Hoffman in it made me want to see it more. He once again displayed his incredible versatility and keen ability to embody a role like no other. Hoffman played the lone American D.J. ‘The Count’ in a group of all-British staff on the Radio Rock station anchored in the North Sea, ran by Quentin (Bill Nighy). It’s quite a rambunctious but lovable bunch, and the arrival of Quentin’s godson Carl (Tom Sturridge) made for an even more interesting dynamic. He’s sent by his mother to spend time on the boat due to his problems at school, as if she thought he’d learn to be a good boy on THIS boat, ahah. The term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll is really not far from the truth, surprise, surprise.

The arch nemesis of the group is Sir Alistair Dormandy (played with mustache-twirling kind of villain-y by Sir Kenneth Branagh) whose the quintessential hoity toity persona who thinks everyone beneath him has low morals. Branagh is pretty much chewing the scenery here as he instructs his subordinate, appropriately named Twatt (Jack Davenport), to find a way to somehow shut down Radio Rock.

PirateRadio_StillsWhilst continuing to dodge Alistair’s ruthless advances, the boat has its own shares of drama amongst its crews. The arrival of popular D.J. Gavin (Rhys Ifans) increases tension given the rivalry between him and The Count, not to mention his massive celebrity status also cost fellow DJ Simon (Chris O’Dowd) his new bride. January Jones pretty much just strutted around here, I never really liked her as an actress and her role here didn’t exactly change my mind. All the chaos are done in the spirit of fun however, it’s refreshingly not mean-spirited. And for a British film about rock ‘n roll, it’s not as foul-mouthed as one would expect, which is a pleasant surprise for me. It may appear that the filmmaker is demonizing the British government but really the focus is more on the ridiculousness of Alistair’s holier-than-thou attitude even towards his own cabinet members! There is a subplot about Carl finding about his real father that doesn’t get explored as well as it could, but his unabashed naïveté is pretty endearing to watch. His relationship with Nick Frost‘ character is hilarious but also quite moving.

As for the finale, it’s truly the kind of ending that made you want to get up and cheer! Yes, a little mawkish perhaps, but not devoid of wit and charm. The music here well, rocks, which is what one would expect. The who’s who of rock music in the 60s are on display here, from The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield, The Hollies, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly, etc. add to the feel-good fun vibe of the movie. There’s also no real protagonist in terms of one specific actor dominating the screen, I think the entire boat is the star and you could say even say the rock music is the protagonist. Though the narrative is far from being perfect, it’s still quite heartfelt and entertaining that I’d recommend this for a rental. It’s another fun one from Richard Curtis‘ filmography.


3.5 reels


Have you seen this movie, 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.

2.5 out of 5 reels

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

Weekend Roundup: Snow White and the Huntsman review

Hope your first June weekend was a good one, folks. I finally made my way to the cinema since The Avengers a month ago. That movie is still box office gold as it still place third this weekend with over $20 mil, so it’s overall worldwide gross now stands at 1.3 Billion, wow, hulk smash all right! The reigning champion is Snow White and the Huntsman which beats expectation with $56 mil, which actually beats the Universal studio’s expectations.

I was quite looking forward to this movie because of Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth’s casting, and the trailer was pretty impressive. Well, did it live up to my expectations? Read on…

SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN

With TWO Snow White movies released within the same year, this one promises to be the grittier and perhaps takes the most liberties with its ‘re-imagined’ version of the fairy tale. Well, one thing for sure this one offers more twists than the curliest branch in its mythical dark forest.

The first part of the ‘origins’ story starts off promisingly. It opens with a beautiful shot of Snow White’s kingdom in the Winter time, and where her beauty and her name comes from. She seems to have merry childhood with his valiant father and beautiful, kindhearted mother. But soon tragedy strikes with the death of her mother and her father being drawn into a peculiar battle, followed by a hasty marriage to an equally mysterious beautiful blond named Ravenna in the form of Charlize Theron.

Unlike in the Disney animated feature, we get somewhat of a back-story of how the evil queen becomes obsessed with her looks and why she is so threatened by Snow White, whom she locks in a dark tower until she reaches adulthood. To her chagrin, her inept brother somehow lets her get away as he’s about to retrieve her for Ravenna. How the frail-looking princess is able to outrun Ravenna’s army is perplexing, but I chug it out to this being a ‘fairy tale’ after all, so anything is possible, ehm.

With the help of a pair of little birds and a white horse conveniently waiting for her to aid her escape, Snow White manages to outrun the evil horsemen riding bareback into the dark forest. Impressive indeed! Good thing she’s got some rugged boots under her dress though, instead of some flimsy slippers like Cinderella’s, as those come quite handy in the muddy and damp environment she now finds herself in. I have to admit I was quite spooked by the scene where Snow White is haunted by visions of a terrifying forest in the animated feature, but it’s nothing compared to the horror our heroine is facing here.

To make matters worse, now Ravenna has hired a Huntsman to track her down. Despite all her powers, she doesn’t seem to have any power in the dark forest, and we’re left to our imaginations as to why that’s so. The Huntsman is no other than Thor, er I mean Chris Hemsworth, who’s now lived as a mischievous drunkard following his wife’s death. But the evil queen gives him an offer he can’t refuse so off he goes to retrieve Snow White. The movie is true to its title in that the seven dwarfs take a backseat to the Huntsman as the protector and mentor of the princess. The movie even hints at something more perhaps, as Prince Charming (Sam Claflin), despite his Legolas-like archery skills, is not given much to do in the entire movie.

Before I get to the um, shortcomings, I have to hand it to newbie director Rupert Sanders [so new he doesn’t even have a bio on IMDb yet!] for making a visually-arresting spectacle. The cinematography is beautiful, offering a stark contrast between a dark and eerie mythical world and that of a bright, enchanting realm where the fairies live. The costumes are spectacular, especially those worn with such exquisite grace by Theron. No surprise as the costume design is done by triple Oscar-winner Colleen Atwood (Alice in Wonderland, Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago).

But looks alone doesn’t make a movie. And the pretty scenery can’t possibly makes up for the terribly uneven pacing, uninspired acting and gaping plot holes all around, and I’m already setting aside the fact that Ravenna already IS fairer than Snow White! There are too many unexplained circumstances but the biggest one involves a magical white deer with tree branches as antlers. That scene itself is breathtaking to behold and for a while I was quite engrossed in it. It reminds me of the scene where Lucy meets Aslan in the Narnia movie, except that we’re never told just what that deer represents and its significance to the story [scratch head]

Now, the acting. Theron makes for a fierce villainess but her range is not utilized at all as the script only requires her to be a slithering and conniving beauty. She even looks bored in some scenes, all that scenery-chewing surely gets to be laborious after a while. Hemsworth is much more captivating, his character seems to have more depth compared to the rest (though that’s not saying much), plus the Aussie actor has such strong screen presence and undeniable magnetic charisma. He’s the saving grace in the movie for me, and every time he comes on screen, the movie seems to ‘pick up.’

Can’t say the same thing about Kristen Stewart. In fact, the opposite is true. My husband said that she was mediocre in the beginning of the movie and he’d be ok with it as long as she just stays that way. Alas she seems to progress downward as the movie goes on, and the worse part is when she has to give a rousing speech to a flock of people to fight against the evil queen. Ok, I’d be hard pressed to believe Stewart can inspire a four-people book club, let alone an entire village to take back her country! I mean, suspension of disbelief is a given in any movie, but this is just too much. She’s also not believable as a kindhearted princess that everyone is immediately drawn to, as she comes across cold and standoffish most of the time. I’m even more baffled why Stewart is in such a high demand as she seems to only have two forms of expression, one of nervousness and one of sorrow, that’s it. She alternates between those two no matter what scene she’s in.

Last but not least, it’s really a crime to hire some of the best of British actors to play the dwarfs and not give them hardly anything to do. We’re talking about the likes of Ian McShane, Bob Hoskins, Ray Winstone, Toby Jones and Nick Frost, and they’re all practically wasted here. They all seem a surly bunch and there’s no sense of fun other than a couple of wisecracks by Nick Frost.

Final Thoughts: I think if they had cast someone else besides Kristen I’d have been kinder on the movie, but there are some scenes with her that remind me of the Twilight and that’s NOT a good thing at all. At least the visuals keeps it from being a complete waste of time, but I can’t give it a high mark just for that. I’d say my rating is mostly for the visuals, Hemsworth and Theron, in that order 🙂

2.5 out of 5 reels


Have you seen this film? I’d love to hear your thoughts on it and the cast, particularly miss Stewart.

Upcoming Project Spotlight: ‘Paul’

The Cast of Paul – clockwise from top left: Pegg/Frost, Weaver, Bateman, Rogen, Hader, Wiig & Lynch

Originally this was one of my most anticipated flicks of 2010, but it turns out this road trip comedy is delayed to 2011. Via Twitter, the prolific Twitterer Simon Pegg wrote this last February: Due to an extensive post production schedule you won’t be seeing our little desert caper any time soon. Rest assured it will be worth it.

Well, it does sound like it’ll be worth the wait. I’m a big fan of Simon Pegg/Nick Frost duo, and the storyline sounds like a hoot: Two British comic-book geeks traveling across the U.S. (to attend the San Diego Comic Con, no less) encounter an alien outside Area 51. As if the Pegg/Frost combo isn’t enough, looks like some of the top Hollywood comedians have joined the cast: Seth Rogen (as the voice of the alien), Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader and Jane Lynch. Oh, there’s also Sigourney Weaver! She might be known for kick-ass or dramatic roles, but she’s proven her comedic chops in the underrated sci-fi comedy Galaxy Quest, as well as the TV pilot satire The TV Set. What a cast! I’m really excited to see Weaver and Bateman here, and Wiig and Hader are definitely the funniest SNL regulars of the current season.

First Look from the movie, photos courtesy of Collider.com

This project will mark the first time the two real-life buddies are working on the screenplay together, though Pegg is no stranger to screenwriting. Per IMDb, he also penned the script for Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Run, Fatboy, Run (I’d recommend all three of these fun comedies if you haven’t seen them).

Instead of Edgar Wright, who’s a frequent collaborator with Pegg/Frost, we’ve got Greg Mottola (Superbad, Adventureland) at the helm. He’s also directed a few episodes of Arrested Development, which is probably how Jason Bateman comes in.

Check out this clip of Pegg and Frost introducing the story, cast and crew:

Nice tees, guys! It’s always fun to see them together again, I’m definitely looking forward to this next year. What about you, folks?