Hot Sugar’s Cold World


The most erotic Pop Rocks recording ever.

The most erotic Pop Rocks recording ever.

(2015) Musical Documentary (Amplify) Nick “Hot Sugar” Koenig, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Jim Jarmusch, Rachel Trachtenburg, Shelby Fero, Martin Starr, Kool AD, Dapwell, Heems, Kathryn-Leigh “Kitty” Beckwith, William Edward Glen, Despot, Ariana, Himanshu Suri, Frank Andrews, Danny Brown. Directed by Adam Bhala Lough

Music isn’t just a collection of pretty notes played on instruments; in its most primal form it emanates from everything around us, from the noises of a drunk vomiting next to a cab door slamming to a pair of human skulls being smashed together in the Paris catacombs. In its most intellectually stimulating form, it challenges us to define it and redefine it – is music just a collection of sounds or is it something else?

Nick Koenig, a.k.a. Hot Sugar seems to think the latter. An electronic composer/musician/performer based in New York, most of his music has been released via the Internet. Thought by some to be a modern-day Mozart, he almost compulsively records sounds throughout his world (and any others he can find) and utilizes them to create beats and base music on. Some of the soundscapes he creates are incredibly beautiful; others are harsh and discordant; others are percussive and propulsive.

Like many artists, he doesn’t have a ton of humility; at one point he dismisses musical instruments like the piano and the guitar as “novelties” as if something that has been around more than a thousand years is just a passing phase. However, if you dig deep you can kind of see his point; musical instruments were essentially invented to be heard at a further range in a pre-amplification era; drums in fact have been used as devices of communication. Music going back to our most primitive past was essentially made via human sound – the voice and the beating of the chest and the clapping of hands.

Koenig is consumed by his muse; he can’t be bothered to devote a ton of attention to interpersonal relationships, although he has a girlfriend, rapper Kitty who like Hot Sugar, is more of an internet personality rather than a mainstream figure. When the two break up about 20 minutes in, the vitriol is incredibly toxic with Twitter and Instagram used as a delivery system for the poison.

Koenig responds by returning to his roots – visiting family in France including where his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, is buried. He goes on a world tour although he has reservations about it; one of his posts on the Internet can reach far more people than any club appearance. Apparently the necessity of face-to-face interaction with his fanbase eludes him.

Some of the better moments in the film come when Koenig is interacting with others – like astrophysicist and current face of scientific endeavor Tyson who discusses the science of sound with Koenig, as well as members of the hip hop group Das Racist and comedian/actor Starr (Silicon Valley), the latter who goes out with Koenig on a perhaps ill-conceived attempt to buy illegal fireworks to shoot off in a local gymnasium.

The documentary by respected filmmaker Lough captures Koenig in all his best and worst moments; from composing some really dazzling pieces to some thoughts that will bring the facepalms out in force. His single-mindedness and occasional bouts of Taking Himself to Seriously-itis can make him a difficult figure to relate to and one senses that it is perfectly okay with him. He’s not looking to be related to; he’s looking to challenge our concepts of what music is or should be, and to recreate it in his own image. It’s a brash and ultimately senseless undertaking, but one has to admire his guts to even try.

I can’t say I liked the documentary because ultimately I found Koenig to be the ultimate millennial; absolutely sure in his views that everything that preceded his existence was more or less wrong. It is a mindset in which the sum isn’t just greater than the parts but that the parts are irrelevant. I find that sort of thing to be a little bit disturbing but it is a brave new world and while being hip doesn’t interest me, being able to navigate the changes that come does. Hot Sugar may indeed be making the noise of the future that will replace music as we know it. That doesn’t mean I will embrace the change that he may very well have the talent to make.

The movie is currently set for a very limited release mainly in one-off screenings but as of November 6 the film will be available in on-demand or downloadable form; go to the website to see where you can find the film by clicking on the photo at the top of this review.

REASONS TO GO: The music can be incredible. Some fascinating images. Interesting look at the creative process.
REASONS TO STAY: Koenig comes off as a bit self-important. The breakup of his relationship takes up too much time. Hot Sugar is not necessarily a film subject that people will go out of their way to look for.
FAMILY VALUES: Some profanity, sexual images and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Koenig lives in New York City now, he was raised in Paris and speaks fluent French.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet. Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Exit Through the Gift Shop
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Miss You Already

Fireflies in the Garden


Family dinners in indie films rarely end well.

Family dinners in indie films rarely end well.

(2008) Drama (Senator) Ryan Reynolds, Julia Roberts, Willem Dafoe, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Watson, Ioan Gruffudd, Hayden Panettiere, Shannon Lucio, Cayden Boyd, George Newbern, Brooklyn Proulx, Diane Perella, Natalie Karp, John C. Stennfeld, Philip Rose, Babs George, Frank Ertl, Grady McCardell, Chase Ellison, Michelle Brew, Gina Gheller, Stayce Smith. Directed by Dennis Lee

There are those who say that we cannot escape childhood. Like death and taxes, it pursues us with relentless ferocity and those things in childhood that wounded us remain with us, periodically picking at the scabs.

Michael Taylor (Reynolds) is a best-selling author although what he writes is generally considered “light” reading. His relationship with his father Charles (Dafoe) is strained at best. Charles is himself a frustrated writer who retreated into the halls of academia when his career as a novelist didn’t pan out. A strict disciplinarian with his children but mostly with his son, Charles meets any indiscretion with the most horrific and overreacting punishments imaginable. You can imagine what this academic does when Michael as a boy (Boyd) shames him by plagiarizing a Robert Frost poem and presenting it as his own.

Michael is definitely abused but he has two women in his corner; his gentle mother Lisa (Roberts) and his feisty aunt Jane (Watson as an adult, Panettiere as a teen) who protect him against the worst of his father’s rages and comfort him when their protection is breached.

As an adult Michael has definitely made some errors. He has separated from his wife Kelly (Moss) and continues to have a contentious relationship with his father. When a family tragedy brings the family into the same place, Michael and Charles will have to confront their feelings for one another perhaps for the first time in their lives.

Although set in Illinois, the movie was filmed in Texas and has a kind of Southern gothic feel to it that is almost soap opera-esque. Dafoe is note-perfect as Charles whose anger issues and self-loathing point to deeper waters that the film doesn’t explore but that Dafoe seems to have a handle on. Roberts’ Lisa at first glance seems like the long-suffering wife archetype but it turns out that she has some secrets of her own and not all of them are pleasant. Roberts, normally a star who appears in much higher-profile movies, imbues Lisa with decency and humanity.

Reynolds in recent years has gotten all sorts of flack for appearing in some sub-par films but to my mind is actually capable of some pretty good work. This is an example of him at his finest, showing that Reynolds can really deliver when given the right script.

The jumps between present day and past can be jarring and with all the souls revolving around the story here it can be difficult to distinguish one character from another. Simple linear storytelling might have served the film better, or failing that cutting down on the superfluous characters would at least be helpful.

The pacing here is as slow as a tax refund when you really need it which suits me just fine but some viewers who prefer a more robust pace might find frustrating. Lee does have a good eye and some of the scenes have an artful grace to them, such as when the family is swatting fireflies with badminton racquets or the bookending scenes in which young Michael is forced to walk home in the rain after a transgression in the car and his nephew Christopher (Ellison) runs away from nearly the same spot 22 years later. Despite the star power for this indie feature, there isn’t enough here to really sustain interest over the course of a full film although there is enough promise in Lee’s work to keep me interested in his future endeavors.

WHY RENT THIS: Fine performances by Dafoe, Roberts and Reynolds. Some graceful touches.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Multiple actors playing the same role gets confusing. Storytelling is a bit muddled. Languidly paced.

FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of foul language as well as some sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moss and Panettiere share a birthday.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $3.4M on an $8M production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Tree of Life

FINAL RATING: 5/10

NEXT: Bad Words