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

Maps to the Stars


Mia Wasikowska communes with the grime.

Mia Wasikowska communes with the grime.

(2015) Thriller (Focus) Julianne Moore, Mia Wasikowska, John Cusack, Robert Pattinson, Evan Bird, Olivia Williams, Sarah Gadon, Klara Glasco, Dawn Greenhaigh, Jonathan Watton, Jennifer Gibson, Gord Rand, Justin Kelly, Niamh Wilson, Clara Pasieka, Emilia McCarthy, Allegra Fulton, Dominic Ricci, Jayne Heitmeier, Carrie Fisher, Amanda Brugel. Directed by David Cronenberg

Hollywood is a seductive cocktail. You can hear it whispering “Drink me” in a throaty voice, promising fame, wealth, glamour and the opportunity to be beloved by minions. What you don’t hear it whisper is that it rarely bestows those things on anyone and when it does, the cost is unbearably high.

On a bus to Hollywood there is a young woman named Agatha (Wasikowska). She is, we find out later, hideously burned, wearing gloves and a body stocking to hide them, as well as long bangs to hide those on her face. She is coming at the behest of Carrie Fisher (whom she met on Twitter), she says (and it turns out to be true) to help her co-author a novel or maybe a project for HBO. She also has a bit of an obsession for the actress Clarice Taggart (Gadon), a beautiful and troubled soul who died tragically young in a house fire.

As it turns out, Clarice was the mother of Havana Segrand (Moore) who has had a lengthy career as an actress. Unfortunately, she didn’t have the good fortune to die young and beautiful in a fire and as she is getting older she is getting more and more invisible to casting agents. She is desperate to get a role in the remake of her mother’s most famous movie, Strange Waters  – and not just any role but the role her mother played. Alas, it seems destined for a younger actress named Azita Wachtel (Heitmeier). Nevertheless, Havana needs a new assistant and her close friend Carrie Fisher is happy to recommend the newcomer Agatha for the job.

Havana sees pop culture psychotherapist and self-help guru Dr. Stanford Weiss (Cusack) to help her deal with her mommy issues, which are severe. Havana has claimed to have been abused physically and sexually by her mom, a charge her mom vehemently denies – or rather the ghost of her mom who haunts Havana.

Dr. Weiss has issues of his own. His young son Benjie (Bird) is a child star whose career took a tumble when he went to rehab. Now clean and sober, he’s making a sequel to his best-known role, Bad News Babysitter with another young actor who seems to be stealing all the scenes, which irritates Benjie no end. Of course, everything irritates Benjie no end and he is bringing cruelty and all-around dickishness to a new art form. His mother Christina (Williams) is wrapped around his little finger but she’s been through a lot; a fire caused by Benjie’s sister took the life of a younger brother and caused the sister to be locked away in a mental institution.

As events begin to shift and roil, with Agatha striking up a relationship with a limo driver (Pattinson) who yearns to be an actor/writer and tragic circumstances awarding the coveted role to Havana, the tenuous connections between all these characters become much clearer and darker as things begin to move towards a horrifying conclusion. But then again, this is Hollywood, baby.

Cronenberg has had a career that is iconoclastic. While his output has been uneven, his films are generally interesting even if they haven’t always succeeded in resonating with audiences. This particular movie is as dark as they come with a cast of characters that is unlikable from top to bottom; from the self-centered therapist to the narcissistic child actor to the troubled assistant to the egotistic actress, this is the nightmare Hollywood in which self-serving lies are a kind of currency and kindness a mark of weakness – unless done very visibly in order to garner favorable publicity.

Moore, who recently was awarded the Oscar for her work in Still Alice is definitely on a role; she could easily have been nominated for this performance as well and may well have had the studio elected to release this last year. It may well be too early in the year for Academy voters to remember her work come the fall when ballots are mailed out but she deserves to have her name written down on at least a few of them.

Most of the rest of the cast does solid work as well, although special note should be made of Bird who is not well-known yet but may well be after his performance here. He makes Draco Malfoy look like a sweetheart, and made the character’s nastiness so palpable that Da Queen wanted to kick him in the genitals several times. My lovely wife doesn’t like spoiled brats overly much, particularly of the Hollywood sort.

There are a good number of insider references and those who are fascinated by that kind of thing will be in hog heaven here. However, this isn’t a movie that is going to have mass appeal; things get more and more twisted and perverse as the movie goes on with a dog getting shot (usually a deal killer for me) and even worse as things spiral towards their conclusion.

Cronenberg has always worked outside the Hollywood system which is a little bit easier when you’re Canadian (this movie marks the first time he’s even shot in the United States in a career approaching 50 years and that only for essentially a week) and this isn’t likely to get him any new invitations to parties, not that he would accept any. I will say that as bleak a characterization of Hollywood life as this is (and there is some truth to it), the reality is not quite so extreme as reality often is. There are plenty of people in Hollywood who are genuine and kind but that kind of thing is less interesting; we’d rather see the rich and famous be absolute bastards because it makes us feel better about ourselves, as in “they got rich and famous but they had to sell their souls to get it which I’m not willing to do, hence the reason I’m not rich and famous.”

This isn’t for everyone, nor should it be. There are plenty who will be put off by the pervasive self-worship and the skewed outlook on life by those who live the Hollywood dream. There’s nothing wholesome about it. However, I will point out that the trailers imply that this is something of a horror movie; yes there are apparitions and horrible things happen but this isn’t a horror movie per se, so be aware of that going in.

This isn’t Cronenberg’s best film, nor is it his most typical but this is a very good piece of filmmaking indeed. I was really drawn in, wondering what was going to happen next and that’s all you can ask of any movie. It may not have been a pleasant experience (and those looking for one can always go see McFarland) but it was an edifying one and that gets points in my book.

REASONS TO GO: Searing performances by Moore and Bird. Lots of Hollywood insider goodness. Some moments of genuine pathos and genuine hilarity.
REASONS TO STAY: Dark, dark, dark. Intrinsically shallow with characters you’re not going to like very much.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some unsettling violence and bloody images, graphic nudity, sexuality, foul language and some drug use.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Moore and Wasikowska previously appeared together in The Kids Are All Right in which they played mother-daughter.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 3/5/15: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews. Metacritic: 67/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Day of the Locust
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT: Leviathan

Shakespeare High


The play's the thing.

The play’s the thing.

(2011) Documentary (Cinema Guild) Richard Dreyfuss, Val Kilmer, Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, Julian G. Simmons, Luis Cardenas, Sue Freitag, Marisa Gold, Michelle Sui, Melvin Emesibe, Galvin Emesibe. Directed by Alex Rotaru

The English language is an amazing thing. It can communicate so much, so eloquently. It is distressing that of late we have chosen to dumb it down and simplify it to a series of catch phrases and abbreviations so that the things we express can fit in a Twitter feed.

Respecting Shakespeare, perhaps the most accomplished practitioner of the English language there ever was, is not something that comes naturally to most high school students. Acting out Shakespeare’s timeless plays can be daunting as well.

The Drama Teachers Association of Southern California has put on a Shakespeare competition for more than 90 years now. Each year it chooses three different plays from the Bard; schools from the region then are invited to either condense the play into an eight minute scene, or perform a five-minute scene from the play. They can use no props other than four folding chairs. They are welcome to interpret the dialogue and action however they wish so long as it conforms to the basic meaning of the play, or simply perform it as is.

Fifty schools participated in this particular year, from schools for the wealthy and privileged to schools for the disadvantaged and poor. Among them is the Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts whose students and teachers tend to prefer traditional presentations of Shakespeare. They tend to be dismissive of the other schools which is ironic because some of the other students seemed to have a deeper understanding of what Shakespeare was trying to get across than the snobs. I found that comforting, somehow.

Some of the stories of the kids who are involved here are downright heartbreaking. There are kids involved with gangs, kids dealing with personal tragedies, kids with hopes of becoming professional actors and kids who are just having a bit of a lark.

The documentary captures adequately how Shakespeare can change the lives of those exposed to him for the first time. What it doesn’t capture is what these kids thought of the plays they were performing. So involved do the filmmakers get in the competitive aspect of the competition that they forget the reason for it at times. I would have liked to have seen more details and fewer student portraits. It’s not that all of them didn’t deserve their 15 minutes, it’s just when a documentary tries to be all things to all people, it becomes so much more difficult to edit it down. I get the sense that Rotaru connected with the students so much that he lost some of his objectivity in terms of actually making the film.

This isn’t one of those life-changing documentaries that makes you aware of some aspect of life that you don’t focus on enough although I do think most of us could only benefit from a little bit more Shakespeare in our lives. It is however, interesting if not compelling in places and if you run across it in your browsing of things to watch and you happen to like documentaries, this isn’t a bad option.

WHY RENT THIS: Reminds us of how transformative Shakespeare can be. Some of the stories are compelling.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Too many stories. Could have used some judicious editing and more detail as to what the students thought and how they processed Shakespeare.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some foul language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Dreyfuss, Kilmer, Winningham and Spacey all appeared in previous competitions and Spacey executive produced this film. All four appear in the movie.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: Two schools that were cut from the finished film are shown here, as is a student from one of the schools that were included but whose story also didn’t make the final film. There are also three complete festival performances including one from the winning school.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.

SITES TO SEE: Netflix DVD, Amazon (rent/buy), iTunes

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Caesar Must Die

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

The Virginity Hit


The Virginity Hit

Nothing like the awkwardness of teen sex to draw an audience into the theaters.

(2010) Sex Comedy (Columbia) Matt Bennett, Zach Pearlman, Jacob Davich, Justin Kline, Krysta Rodriguez, Nicole Weaver, Harry Zittel, Savannah Welch, Seth Barrish, Tina Parker, Sunny Leone, Daniel Weber, John McLeaish, Ramona Tyler. Directed by Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko

 

When you’re a teenager, sex isn’t just a compulsion, it’s an obsession. Getting laid is one of the major rites of passage, particularly for young boys who yearn to be men. The hormonal nature of teen-ness has of late run head-on into the modern generation’s desire to document every aspect of their lives on Twitter and YouTube. You know something had to give.

Matt (Bennett) is the last of four friends to lose his virginity and that event will soon be taking place as he and his girlfriend Nicole (Weaver) intend to do the deed on their second anniversary. This will be marked with a hit on a special bong purchased for just that purpose – one which has been already used by the other three mates.

Things go horribly wrong when Matt discovers that Nicole cheated on him with a college frat boy. When confronted, Harry (Zittel) neither confirms nor denies that any sex took place. Matt’s adopted brother Zack (Pearlman) advises Matt to go through with the de-flowering, and then break up with Nicole. However when Nicole discovers she’s being filmed, she freaks out and angrily admits to having allowed Harry to suckle her breast but  only that. The two break up and Nicole’s father shows up to fetch his daughter, shoving Matt into the underbrush in the process. Matt’s fall becomes a YouTube sensation.

A beautiful young woman named Becca (Welch) sees the video and takes pity on Matt. Not only is she willing to be the one to take Matt’s virginity, she is experienced enough to make it memorable. She however makes the condition that Matt must purchase a nice suit. Matt, not able to afford such threads, goes to his biological father (Barrish) for the funds and finds out that the college trust that Matt’s mom left him had been emptied by his dad to buy drugs.

The guys – including the other members of the quartet Jacob (Davich) and Justin (Kline) – help Matt steal an Armani suit and when Matt turns up for the big night, Becca further stipulates that Matt must shave his pubic regions. Matt finally shows up for the gig and Becca tells Zack that the actual event cannot be filmed, but that Matt can practice on a blow-up doll in order to get started. Becca then leaves. Matt waits three hours before leaving himself.

It turns out that Becca isn’t her real name and that she’s a graduate student studying male behavior. The tape of Matt practicing on the blow-up doll becomes a viral sensation and Matt locks himself in his room for two weeks, completely humiliated. His friends try to get his favorite porn star Sunny Leone (herself) to help out a fan and she agrees to – for a price. The quartet and their friends raise the funds and it looks finally as if Matt is going to lose his cherry to a porn star. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, everything. This is kind of a mess, the conceit being that it is recorded by the cast (mostly playing themselves) on iPhones, video cameras and other recording devices. Given that the movie was produced by Funny or Die impresarios Will Ferrell and Adam McKay (of Step Brothers and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby fame) should touch a nerve with the Internet-savvy, at whom this is clearly aimed.

The problem is that for one thing, it isn’t very funny. Yes, it certainly has an authenticity about how this generation of teens feels the need to capture every aspect of their lives and share it via social networking and videos but there is a caveat there – most of our lives, teens and adults alike – are too damn boring to warrant much an hour and a half in the theaters let alone streaming video. The ad libs here are not what you’d call catchphrase-worthy.

The acting, pretty much by unknowns exclusively, is nearly uniform in its stiffness. None of the performers really capture my attention and create characters that I want to spend time with. I found my attention wandering throughout the movie, glancing at my iPhone and playing mah-jongg when I got bored which was frequently.

The teen sex comedy has been done to death with the American Pie and Porky’s movies, and the found footage phenomenon that started pretty much in the horror genre with The Blair Witch Project has also been overused of late. While the melding of the two seems like a good idea on paper, to be honest the execution lacks wit or cleverness enough to capture my attention for more than a few minutes. In that sense, it brought me back to my teen years perfectly.

WHY RENT THIS: Captures the connection between the Internet generation and their obsession with documenting everything in a very authentic way.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The jokes aren’t particularly funny and watching teenagers awkwardly try to get laid isn’t my idea of a fun 90 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES:  As you might imagine, there’s a good deal of sexual content and nudity, a little bit of drinking and drug use and a whole lot of bad language.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Almost all of the dialogue is ad-libbed.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: There’s some audition footage, as well as a focus on Nicole Weaver, who worked at a popular theme restaurant in New Jersey at the time this was filmed and continued to work there after the movie was released.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $636,706 on a $2M production budget; even with no budget at all it lost money.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: End of Days

Program Notes


There are a lot of things going on here at Cinema365 and I just want to share a few things with you.

First of all, we set a new site record for views in a single day with 177 on Monday. Most of you came in to read my review of The Bounty Hunter but a lot stopped in at other pages as well. Thank you all for your continued support; I’ll admit that was a bit flukey, but overall, viewership/readership/whatever you want to call it is up. I’m not sure if I’m ready for the site to start <gulp> making money but hopefully it will start to attract some attention.

As I mentioned in a post last week, the Florida Film Festival is coming and Cinema365 will be attending six screenings at the three main venues, including the brand spankin’ new Plaza in downtown Orlando. All save one of the movies I’ll be seeing will get full reviews within a day or two of me seeing it (the films have all been released on the limited market prior to the Film Festival). The lone exception is Winter’s Bone which is not scheduled for its limited release until June. Out of respect for the filmmakers and the distributor, we will only run a mini-review for the film during the festival and will post the full review on its scheduled release date.

My wife, Da Queen and I will be taking a vacation starting May 15 – we’re going to be going to China! Quite frankly, I have no intention of lugging the laptop all over Asia with me, so the site will not be updated during the nearly three weeks we’re gone. This is smack in the middle of May, one of the most important months for major studio releases of the year. The intention is to see Robin Hood the day its released on May 14 and post the review early the next morning before we leave. That will be my last posting until we return. We will be trying to catch up with the other big studio releases of late May and the first week of June (which will include Shrek Forever After and Prince of Persia: Sands of Time) and begin playing catch-up when we get home. Hopefully this won’t inconvenience you too much.

Previews are a big part of what we do here. Along with the weekly previews of movies opening up in Orlando every Wednesday (this week’s edition will be posted later this afternoon), we also do two seasonal previews as well as an annual preview. The first seasonal preview of the year is the 2010 Summer Preview and it will be posted on Thursday, April 29 for your reading pleasure. It will cover the months of May through August and will be as complete and as accurate as I can make it as of that date. Both the 2009 Fall Preview and the 2010 Preview have received some of the largest number of view of any pages here at C-365 so hopefully you will find the 2010 Summer Preview useful and fun.

In the spirit of that Iam going to be presenting a new monthly feature that will be debuting tomorrow. It’s called “Four-warned” and will act as a kind of anticipation meter for all the films scheduled for release for the upcoming month. In the future I will try to post this around the 15th of every month for the month following. I will choose the four movies I’m most anticipating for that month (which will all generally be reviewed as a new release that month) and rate my level of anticipation on a scale of one to four. This is not meant to be a review of the quality of these films – merely a way of communicating whether or not I’m looking forward to seeing them. There won’t be a lot of prose other than one or two sentences concerning the plot and the type of release its getting (wide, limited or special run) but hopefully this will serve to help you get a handle on what’s due to come out in the next four weeks and the information should be a bit more up-to-date than the seasonal previews.

This site is a labor of love and obsession, and its gratifying to know that it is catching on with some people. We’re averaging about 175 views a week (although this week will be significantly higher than that) and hopefully that will continue to grow. If you like what you see here, feel free to talk it up with your friends or post the link on your social network page (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter etc.). Oh, and for those who are interested, yes indeed I have accounts on all of those networks; if you want to add me as a friend or follow me, leave me a comment with a link to your page or your e-mail address and I’ll add you or send you a link to mine.

Thanks again and happy movie-going!