MOVIE REVIEW: Hobo With a Shotgun (2011)

HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN (2011 Alliance)

Directed by Jason Eisener

If you liked Grindhouse (you know, Planet Terror + Death Proof and assorted trailers) or Machete, then this Canadian-born movie, Hobo With A Shotgun, should also be on your radar.  The original Hobo With a Shotgun trailer, pre-Rutger Hauer’s involvement, originally screened with Grindhouse in Canada.

If you happen to notice a few of your friends from the Trailer Park Boys (Ricky AKA Robb Wells, as well as Sam Tarasco and others) that’s because it was filmed in Nova Scotia. And if you’re wondering why co-star Molly Dunsworth looks so familiar, there’s a good reason. She is the daughter of John Dunsworth (Jim Lahey) and sister of Sarah E. Dunsworth (Sarah). There’s lots of Trailer Park lineage in this movie.

However, that is where the comparisons end. When the Hobo (with no name!) shows up in Hope Town (renamed Scum Town) he immediately notices something amiss: Gangs and prostitutes running wild. Then he bears witness to Logan’s (Robb Wells) brutal death by the hands of his own brother and nephews (by decapitation no less) and realizes that this town truly is scum town.

What follows is a bloody cartoon-violent spectacle that really has no socially redeeming value, other than evil is evil and must be punished. The town is run by The Drake and his two nephews, Slick and Ivan, who make rape and murder a part of daily life. Torching a school bus full of kids just to keep the town in line is nothing to these guys. Although a certain hobo might have something to say about it….

This hobo doesn’t want to be a part of the violence. All he wants is $50 to buy a lawnmower and start his own business. After earning the $50 (in a exploitive Bum Fights style video) he has a change of heart, thanks to prostitute Abby (Dunsworth). A shotgun is also $50, and he’s just the right man to clean up this town.

You will see intestines, blood, gore, and plenty of sharp objects. This hobo takes no prisoners — but neither do his foes! Can the hobo clean up this town? He will be up against his match when The Plague (a mysterious supernatural armored duo) show up to do him in….

Not a particularly good film, but one that will find an audience with those who know how to appreciate it.  The acting in Hobo With A Shotgun is amateur and over the top, but Rutger Hauer keeps it grizzled and serious, turning in ironically one of his better performances.  If there ever was a grizzled action star ready for a comeback, it was actually Rutger Hauer all along.

Hobo With A Shotgun on DVD is loaded (pun intended) with extras including two audio commentaries and an alternate ending that might be superior to the real one. You also get the original trailer (with Mike Jackson also of Trailer Park Boys) that started it all.  A pretty easy purchase to complete your Grindhouse collection.


3/5 stars

#960: Spoilers? [Spoiler-free]

RECORD STORE TALES #960:  Spoilers?

How do you like to enjoy a movie?  Do you prefer to go in stone cold with no spoilers?  Or do you like to be hot with anticipation, awaiting every mega-moment that you have seen leaked on Reddit?

Spoiler alert:  I like spoilers.

Gimme them spoilers!  Movies today are so predictable anyway.  But I have zero tolerance for jagoffs who post this stuff in public.  It’s inconsiderate.  Therefore, this will be a spoiler-free chapter about spoilers.

We’ve all seen the classic Simpsons episode, am I right?  Homer walks out of The Empire Strikes Back, saying aloud, “Who’d have thought Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father!”  Everyone in line was furious at him for revealing the big one.  More recently came a douchebag who spoiled a Harry Potter book for all the faithful waiting in line to buy it.  “Snape kills Dumbledore!” he yelled from the safety of his car as he drove by like a true coward.

I think it’s safe to say that whether you are pro or anti spoiler in your personal lives, nobody likes an asshole like that who goes out of their way to ruin an experience for everybody.  Go back home to mommy’s basement, spoiler-troll.

When we were kids, we never went to see movies in their first weeks.  Our family waited until things had died down a bit.  By then we’d already bought the Marvel Comics adaptations.  The Empire Strikes Back was the last Star Wars movie I saw that wasn’t spoiled.  My dad bought the Marvel comic adaptation while we waited in the lobby.  It was just the two of us.  The big reveal had less an affect on me — I simply assumed Vader was lying, as did most of us kids.  We’d already seen him lie to Lando.   Then, starting with Return of the Jedi, pretty much every Star Wars movie I saw was spoiled in some way.  I discovered this didn’t hamper my enjoyment of the films at all.  In fact it made me want to see them even more, and savour the moments when they came.

Phantom MenaceSpoiled by Lucasfilm themselves, on the soundtrack CD to the movie.  Attack of the Clones?  By this time, Ain’t It Cool News was getting regular clicks.  I just can’t resist the allure of spoilers!  The internet has made it hard to keep a movie secret in any way.

Look at Spiderman: No Way Home.  The film’s not even out yet.  Pretty much everything has already been up on YouTube before Sony could take them down.  (And taking them down, they are!)  So I’ve seen everything.  I’ve seen all the villains.  I’ve seen the end credit scenes (both).  The heroes, the cameos, the big moments.  All filmed on some shitty, shaking cell phone where you can barely hear the dialogue.

My sister has rules about spoilers.  She doesn’t want to know anything that isn’t in the official trailers.  I think that’s a sensible policy.  For her.

These glimpses don’t spoil movies for me.  I still got the shakes, watching the terrible YouTube videos.  My tear ducts got a little wet when I saw…nevermind.  And based on past experience, it’ll happen again when I finally see No Way Home in theaters.  Whenever that will be.

See, that’s currently the problem.  With the latest Covid variants, who knows when I’ll be back in the theaters.  Originally I planned to see Spiderman during Christmas holidays.  Now I’m not so sure.  I have to play it by ear.  My grandmother (age 97) is in the hospital right now, and seeing her is more important than seeing Tom Holland and his new friends on the big screen.

So, yeah, spoil me!  Spoil me rotten — but ask me first.

#954/REVIEW: A Day at the Matinee – Eternals (2021) [SPOILER-Y]

The last time I went to see a movie, it was a V.I.P. experience and I had never heard the word “coronavirus” in my life.  This time was starkly different but enjoyable in its own way.

I’ve been wanting to see a movie in this pandemic ever since Tenet hit theaters in 2020, but that was before vaccines and many people were not ready to be back in cinemas yet.  2021 is different, and I’ve been enjoying stores and dinners out once again.  Time to go see a movie!  Eternals it is!  Now I’m completely caught up in the MCU, just in time for Spiderman:  No Way Home!

Eternals hasn’t been doing well, and for a Sunday matinee all that was available was the standard 2D showing.  (I could identify scenes that looked like important bits were cropped out from the Imax aspect ratio.)  My original intent was to see the movie with our friend Vu, but he’s a busy pharmacist and at the last minute, could not get away.  I was already at the theater, so I went ahead and bought my ticket.  Morning show:  less than eight bucks!  Occupany:  I was one of five people total!

I got comfortable in my seat; with the nearest person many rows away, I felt more comfortable than I’ve ever felt in a movie theater.  Not a sound from the others (not even a laugh at the funny scenes) and absolutely no distractions.  I don’t think I’ve ever had that experience in the cinemas before.  As per cinema rules, I was also masked for two and a half hours with no difficulty whatsoever.  In fact my usually cold nose was very happy to be masked.

I usually look forward to the trailers, but all I saw was shit.  Morbius looks awful and the fan-service trailer feels like a promotional clip for more than one movie.   I grew impatient.  Bring on the Eternals.

ETERNALS (2021 Marvel)
Directed By Chloé Zhao

I really wanted to like the Eternals.  Just days ago I acquired the last Eternals action figure of the ten:  Ajak, Salma Hayek’s character, healer and leader of the team.  She was a Walmart exclusive.  More like Walmart “elusive”!   The designs of the costumes, with unique colours for each character, were intriguing.  With all ten characters in hand, I was familiar with all their names and powers.

There’s Thena, Angelina Jolie’s goddess of war who can manifest blades and shields.  Gilgamesh (Don Lee), the powerhouse with a mighty punch.  Sprite (Lia McHugh), the master of illusions and storytelling, trapped in a child’s body.  Druig (Barry Keoghan), the brooding controller of minds.  Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), a star of the silver screen who can fire bursts of energy from his hands.  The master of technology, Phastos (Bryan Tyree Henry), can create devices of great power and ingenuity with his mind.  Makkari (Lauren Ridloff) is the speedster and seemingly much faster than Quicksilver himself.  She’s also deaf and signs with her teammates.  Ikaris (Richard Madden), upon whom the legend of Icarus is based, is perhaps the most powerful, with strength, flight, and cosmic energy eyebeams.  Finally there is Sersi (Gemma Chan), the actual central hero of the film, who can convert any non-sentient matter into anything else.  Air to water, earth to wood, her choice.  They have been here for 7000 years, shaping our history and becoming our heroes of ancient legend.

That’s a lot of characters, and doesn’t include the underused Dane Whitman (Kit Harrington), Sersi’s boyfriend and spinoff setup device.  Kingo’s valet Karun (Harish Patel) has more screentime than the future Black Knight.  Dane’s lineage is briefly hinted at, and the Ebony Blade mentioned, before being revealed in a post-credit scene that we’ll discuss later.  The point is, Whitman is not important to the story.  He begins as the “regular person” perspective character that we can relate to, as the strangeness unfolds.  But then he disappears and only at the end do we cynically realize his true purpose:  MCU world building.

It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie without some deus ex machina to boot — or maybe characters just like to wait until the last possible minute before revealing their presence?  That said, Ikaris does know how to make an entrance.

Many of the characters are quite delightful.  One feels for the relationship between Thena and Gilgamesh; one the sick and one the caretaker.  Poor Sprite feels cursed as a 7000 year old child who can never age, never to know love or even what it feels like to be treated as an equal.  Phastos, the master of technology, is haunted by his past.  He thought aiding humans to develop new sources of energy would help their society advance.  As he stood in the ashes of Hiroshima, he realized how wrong he was.  He has retreated to an anonymous family life with a husband and a son.  Thena, wonderfully portrayed by Jolie, has the equivalent of Space Alzheimers, lashing out in violence in fitful rages of memory loss.

Other characters go undeveloped.  I loved watching the speedy heroics of Makkari (Mercury), the girl with attitude, but never get a feel for her character otherwise.  Kingo is the entertainer, loving the spotlight and admiration of humans.  He displays wisdom, insight and his own unique perspective on events, but we never really get a feeling for what makes him tick.

Then there is Druig, the intriguing Eternal who can control minds.  With a thought, he could end all war on Earth, but he is forbidden from interfering.  Forbidden by who?

The complex story of love, deception, legend, history and family takes two and a half hours to unfold.  It is told in the form of flashbacks and exposition, lots of exposition.  The initial cover story is that the Eternals were sent to Earth to protect intelligent life from predators called Deviants.  That turned out to be a lie, but they are forbidden from interfering in human affairs unless Deviants are involved.  This comes right down from those that created both Eternals and Deviants:  the Celestials.  The Deviants were their mistake, and the Eternals are the correction.

Again, a lot to sort out in under one movie.  So in sum:  11 new characters (including Whitman), and three new factions.  Sort of new.

We’ve seen Celestials before in the Marvel universe:  giant beings of immense power.  Peter Quill’s dad Ego the Living Planet said he was a Celestial.  The space colony of Knowhere was built in the severed head of a giant Celestial.  The ultimate villain of Eternals is Arishem, a planet-sized Celestial who helps creation continue in the universe.  Celestials create new suns and life in the universe.  meanwhile, new Celestials are born in the heart of planets and feed on the life energy of intelligent beings like humans.  And it just so happens that a new Celestial named Tiamut is about to be born right in the middle of our Earth.  We die so that the Celestials can continue to create new life.  It’s a cycle.

And it also turns out that the Eternals are not the protectors of humans that we assumed.  They were only to protect them until such time as the new Celestial growing inside Earth had absorbed enough life energy.  This happened after the “Blip”, the moment in Avengers: Endgame when half of life in the universe was restored with the Infinity Stones.  Now some of the Eternals have grown so attached to humanity that they don’t want to fulfill their purpose.  They want to stop the destruction of the Earth.  Others cannot imagine disobeying their Celestial masters.  As you can imagine, this boils down to an Eternal vs. Eternal showdown at the end.

Any battle scene with the Eternals in this film has merit.  Since each character has their own power, they find creative ways to use them in concert together.  Unfortunately, the Deviants (who are being sold as the main villains but are really a just side threat) are not very interesting foes.  They look like Bayformers from one of the really bad Transformers films; all sinewy with tentacles that seem to defy physics.  Generic and uninteresting to look at.  One of the Deviants learns how to steal powers from Eternals and becomes a new threat.  We’re never really told why he can do this, but he does, and he evolves.

With the battle lines drawn, two groups of Eternals fight.  Needless to say the do-gooders trying to save the Earth, led by Sersi, are triumphant.  However the planet’s surface itself is scarred by the near-emergence of Tiamut the Celestial, and this will undoubtedly be referenced in Marvel movies and shows in Phase 4.  Our heroes and villains split up and go their separate ways.  A defeated Ikaris flies into the sun, almost like his mythical counterpart.  A small group take their triangular spaceship the Domo to go look for more Eternals.  And they find one almost immediately, in the mid-credit scene!  Patton Oswalt fans will like this, and what it could mean for the future.

In a clunky but hype-worthy post credit scene, Kit Harrington reveals his family’s cursed blade, but before touching it, is asked by an offscreen voice if he’s really ready for it.  Of course we know he will be, in whatever spinoff he appears.  But what really matters is who the offscreen voice is.  Thanks to director Chloé Zhao, we know it was a guy who’s kind of an expert on blades.  Welcome to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Blade (Mahershala Ali)!

Zhao’s knack for an outdoor scene made this Marvel movie seem bigger than any before it.  The cosmic themes with a grounded Earth setting helped the movie stay accessible.  At all times, our characters feel like humans.  Her direction provides a visual feast, as well as human characters.

But it’s congested.  While not fast paced, it feels like characters and concepts are rushed.  Who is Phastos, who is Kingo?  Let’s find out more about them.  What has Sprite been doing all these centuries?  Are Druig and Makkari ever going to hook up, and if so, why has it taken them 7000 years?  Seriously, you could do an entire film on Druig and what he could have been up to, building strange utopias in the jungle.  Makkari looks like she’s been on a hell of a lot of adventures, plus she can read a book in seconds.  Let’s find out more about her, please.

Nitpick:  in the film, Dane Whitman asks why the Eternals didn’t try to stop Thanos or anything else that’s happened in the MCU.  I would also ask where the other Marvel heroes are when a giant head and hand start to emerge from the ocean.  Where’s that beeper to Captain Marvel at a time like this?  (Granted, she had to go somewhere pretty urgently at the end of the last Marvel movie, perhaps excusing herself from helping out in this film.)

Following so closely behind the truly Marvel-ous Shang-Chi, Eternals feels like an unfortunate misfire.  The proof will be how it goes in rewatches.  Two or three years down the road, it might be better appreciated.  Or, it might be seen as an unfortunate corporate launchpad for new characters and concepts in the MCU.  Those who enjoy the cosmic side of the universe, as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy and Loki, will delight in the massive Celestials, very well executed on screen.  Could this all be priming our senses up for the eventual arrival of Galactus in Phase Five?  Just speculation of course, but it seems more than possible.

See Eternals, but maybe do some research on the characters first before you go in completely dry.

3/5 stars

On my way out, I said “screw it, I’m getting some popcorn”.  I didn’t have any during the film having just had an early lunch.  I buttered it extra heavy and brought it home with me.

That was what I’ll call a positive experience.

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Clash of the Titans (2010)

Clash of the Crappy CGI Images, by Dewey Finn

CLASH OF THE TITANS (2010 Warner Bros.)

Directed by Louis Leterrier

I saw this movie theatrically in 3D, which was an awful, headache-inducing experience. Lesson learned: Movies filmed in 3D look great. Movies converted to 3D look like there is a fine layer of mud on the screen. Then I saw it on Blu, during a movie night where my choice (District 9) was voted down.

At least the 2D Blu-ray disc looks better than the 3D. However, that can’t save this movie, which is over-reliant on CG creatures and settings; all action, no pacing, no story, no character, no emotion. Let’s face it, there was never a legitimate reason to remake Clash of the Titans. There was never anything wrong with the original, except perhaps a lil’ too much homage to Star Wars (robotic owls and young men looking to escape the doldrums of their isolated lives).

When this project was first announced, I knew it had the potential to be a disaster. The only thing that could have saved it would have been going deeper back into the original Greek mythology, which the original film used only sparingly. I mean, there was no robotic owl in Greek mythology. But no, this film is even more loosely based on the source material, while continuing to use made-up characters from the original (Calibos), and let’s face it…the script sucks. The CG is hit and miss, with some things looking great and others just awful. The direction leaves something to be desired, and character development isn’t even in this movie’s vocabulary. It’s a shame, because while Sam Worthington does nothing for me, Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes are not too bad. The rest of the performances are like cardboard, with only the odd cameo (Pete Postlethwait’s comes to mind) having any sort of spark.

I do think it it’s funny that we always hear the same argument: “It’s a summer action movie, it doesn’t need a good script.” Why not? You see that same argument in defence of numerous action movies online. Action and script are not mutually exclusive. But it’s your brain cells you’re killing, not mine. And it’s not just just the script in this case. It’s the crappy acting, the generic CG, the fact that it’s an unoriginal remake of a classic movie, etc. Rotten Tomatoes readers have spoken: a 29% rating. Near universal bad reviews everywhere? Action movies don’t have to be stupid. I don’t want to turn my brain off when I’m being entertained. I don’t know about you, but just looking at action on the screen without any sort of raison d’etre puts me in a coma.

Bonus features: Deleted scenes on the Blu-ray are actually better than a lot of the movie itself.

Take a stand against Hollywood remakes. Don’t buy this. Hell, don’t even rent it. Just avoid it. Go get the original. It’s available on a really nice Blu-ray. Burgess Meredith, Sir Lawrence Fuckin’ Olivier, Maggie Smith…and, of course, the brilliant animation of Ray Harryhausen. I met Harryhausen once. This remake was in the works even then, and he didn’t even want to talk about it. He knew it would be not only a disaster, but would tarnish the reputation of the name Clash of the Titans. He was right.

The only way to stop Hollywood from making dumb, brainless remakes is to vote with your wallet. I got chills when I heard this was the first of a trilogy. Lord, no.

No stars!



MOVIE REVIEW: Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020)

Bill & Ted Face the Music (2020 United Artists)
Directed by Dean Parisot

I went into Bill & Ted 3 not expecting much, due to the poor reviews and long-ass time since the second movie (1991).  I came out thinking everybody else got it wrong, and Bill & Ted Face the Music could actually be the best of the series.

Keywords:  “the series”.  This isn’t The Godfather we’re competing with.  Once you shed the rosy glow of nostalgia, realize one thing:  Bill & Ted were never great.  They were always fun, headbanging nonsense.  There was some wit and some great performances thanks to George Carlin and William Sadler, but Bill & Ted were never great.  The movies didn’t make a lot of sense where time travel is concerned, and were essentially just vehicles for the two dumb guys to have dumb adventures.

What is amazing is that the two “dumb guys” (Keanu Reeves and Alex Winter) wanted to come back.  They seemed to be having fun making the movie, which means it’s fun to watch.  What’s new in the last 30 years?  Not only are Bill & Ted still together, but they are still together with their medieval princesses too!  And they even have children — Thea and Billie.  And they are chips right off the old blocks.

One catch though.  Although Bill & Ted’s band Wyld Stallions achieved some early success, they quickly dropped off the map* and never wrote the song that would bring the world together.   And if they don’t do it before 7:17 PM, the universe will cease to exist!  (That doesn’t make sense?  Well neither did the first two films!)

The movie splits into two tangents here, both equally entertaining.  The affable Bill & Ted decide to go into the future, and just steal the song from their future selves.  Meanwhile, Billie and Thea have their own idea:  form the band that will back their dads when they play the song.  They borrow a time machine from Kelly, who is the daughter of Rufus (George Carlin).  Kelly is trying to warn their dads about a time travelling assassin robot (named Dennis) sent back to kill them.

While Bill & Ted encounter increasingly older versions of themselves as they travel further trying to find the song, Billie and Thea recruit Jimi Hendrix, Louis Armstrong, Mozart, legendary Ling Lun, and a cave drummer from the stone age named Grom — the greatest musicians in history.   This is where Bill & Ted Face the Music really surpasses its forebears.  While it was fun seeing Bill & Ted recruit historical figures and going to hell in the past, this time it’s actually about the music.  For three movies, we are told that Wyld Stallions will unite the world in music.  Only in the third is the music actually a significant part of the movie.  It’s fun seeing Hendrix jam with Mozart despite the language (and time) barrier.

Spoilers from this point.  Bill & Ted screw up worse and worse the further they go.  Their future selves try to trick their past selves into stealing a song from Dave Grohl, which backfires and ends up with future Bill and future Ted in the slammer.  Their princesses abandon them.  Dennis lasers everybody to death (including himself) and they all end up in a familiar landscape:  Hell.  But that’s OK.  Turns out that Bill & Ted’s former bassist lives nearby.  Yes, it’s William Sadler as Death, who we learn quit Wyld Stallions to go solo years ago.  (We couldn’t get George Carlin back, but we did get William Sadler, and that’s just awesome.)  The clock ticks on and all seems lost, but don’t worry — Kid Cudi shows up to help with the quantum mathematics.

But what about the song?  As Mr. Holland’s Opus proved adequately, when you build up a piece of music in the audience’s mind, nothing will meet that expectation.  And as Dave Grohl is well aware “this is not the greatest song in the world, this is just a tribute.”  Given that no piece of music will ever satisfy an audience when you build it up as “the song that will save the universe”, this movie took an interesting turn.  It is revealed that the song itself wasn’t as important as getting everyone in the world to play along simultaneously.  It’s like a big “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and sing in harmony” situation.  And our heroes have a time machine, so they can make sure they get the message (and an instrument to play along) out to everyone in the world.  Don’t think about it the time travel stuff too hard!

End spoilers.  

Keanu Reeves, and Alex Winter in particular, are so much fun to revisit as these characters.  Keanu is a little more laid back, but Bill & Ted are in their late 40s (while the actors are in their 50s).  They’re not as enthusiastic as they once were.  But they are still Bill & Ted, bonded at the hip, and going to couples therapy as a quartet with their princesses.

Because of its focus on the music, Bill & Ted 3 surpasses the previous two movies.  There’s little “wheedly-wheedly” air guitar and shenanigans.  They don’t run around saying “excellent” and “bogus” all the time.  The endgame of Bill & Ted has always been that one day they would save the world with their music, yet the previous two movies didn’t focus on music.  The first one was about collecting historical figures to pass the highschool history exam.  A fun and fresh premise indeed.  The second went dark, having them assassinated by future robots and journeying through hell.  The third combines the two ideas, but this time with historical musicians.  Rock, jazz, classical, and I had to look up Ling Lun!

You get the sense that Keanu and Alex realized that there is a certain innocence to Bill & Ted that requires younger characters.  Their daughters (played by Samara Weaving – niece of Hugo, and Brigette Lundy-Pain) fill those roles and do it, pardon the pun, excellently.  You need that wide-eyed excitement.  Bill & Ted have already travelled through time, met Socrates and did it all twice — they have nothing to be wide-eyed about.  To them it’s old hat, even ending up in Hell one more time.

The Bill & Ted movies are, objectively, dumb movies.  The two lead characters are, objectively, dumb.  But dumb can be classic, as Stooge aficionados know, and updating a classic is really difficult to do.  Just ask the Farrelly brothers.  Ted Theodore Logan and Bill S. Preston, Esquire managed to have a third adventure appropriate to their ages, while finally saving the world as George Carlin promised they would.  Nothing new added to the stew.  By finally focusing on the music, potential is fulfilled.

3.5/5 stars

* Their experimental opus “That Which Binds Us Through Time: The Chemical, Physical and Biological Nature of Love; an Exploration of The Meaning of Meaning, Part 1” is not a hit.

Music Movie Mania on the LeBrain Train

An epic six-member panel!  Mega mega movie lists!  Another great show in the books.

Music movies were the focus of the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten tonight, and we brought you so many that your head will spin.  In a good way.  Like a record.  Thanks to everyone for coming on tonight:

Here are your timestamps for various parts of the show:

  • For a cool Japanese import music unboxing, go to 0:03:50.
  • For the start of the lists, skip to 0:23:20.
  • General discussion & current events begin at 2:10:10.

We hope you find at least one new music movie to watch and enjoy!



Friday Live Stream – Music Movie Lists & Guests

The LeBrain Train – 2000 Words or More with Mike Ladano
Episode 29

Another week, another list show, and this one comes courtesy of the founder of the Nigel Tufnel Top Ten list, Uncle Meat himself.  Music Movies — with one caveat.  No documentaries.  Those would make a fine list on their own.

Lists by:


Friday September 25.  7:00 PM E.S.T.  Facebook:  Michael Ladano or Facebook:  MikeLeBrain.  YouTube:  Mike LeBrain.


MOVIE REVIEW: ZZ Top – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

ZZ TOP – That Little Ol’ Band from Texas (2019)

Directed by Sam Dunn

Banger Films have never released a dud, have they?  Their latest documentary, ZZ Top: That Little Ol’ Band from Texas is another well made, entertaining film to add to your collection.

And it’s about time, isn’t it?  50 years?  And not just that, but the same three guys for 50 years solid!  The only thing that changed were the grooming habits.  Frank Beard tried to grow one but just couldn’t pull it off.  I think it’s better that way.  Two guys with beards plus a moustache guy in the back on the drums.  Although it was completely accidentally, it’s so genius it seems planned.  The beard tale, and many more like it, make up the backbone of this film.

As it turns out, there isn’t a lot of craziness and drama in the official ZZ Top story.  We never learn much about their personal lives outside the band.  Beard is quite “frank” about his past drug situations, but Aerosmith they were not.  This movie is actually mostly about the music.  Imagine that!  About the influences — both blues and rock.  About opening for the big boys like the Stones.  About Texas.

Texas plays a huge role in this film, and in ZZ Top.  That unique blend of forces that spawned ZZ Top came together in Houston.  But then they got too big to be just a Houston band.  Things were about to happen.  Their sound is half nurture, and half nature.  Yes, Texas (the nurturer) had its influence on the three, but so did their sheer talent and chemistry (the nature).  Hill and Beard talk of playing together for the first time, and it was obviously just meant to be.  As much as ZZ Top rocked, their down-home country image certainly confused people in the early days.

What really comes across is the music.  Via the old recordings, and brand new footage of the boys playing in the studio, you can hear just how little they have lost over 50 years.  What a tight, yet thick sound.  Overdubs were a part of the ZZ Top studio sound early on (though not without some doing).  Of course, we know that ZZ Top made a massive sonic change in the 80s with Eliminator.  This is briefly discussed, as is the MTV revolution and just how ZZ Top came to dominate in that era.  Unfortunately that is where the film ends.  Potentially you could have added another hour just talking about the seven albums that followed Eliminator, some of which were pretty big.  Or another hour getting to know the three guys a little better. That Little Ol’ Band from Texas goes no deeper than just the bare surface when it comes to the guys and their interpersonal relationships.  Surely in 50 years there must have been some drama.  You won’t find much of it in this film.  Clearly, that’s the way ZZ Top want it.  Maintain the mystique.  Never reveal too much.  Hone the mythology.

As with any music documentary, other stars must be interviewed in order to gush and add context and detailed observations.  These include Josh Homme (what isn’t he in?), Steve Miller, Billy Bob Thornton (?) and Dan Auerbach.  But you’ll also hear from Tim Newman (director of those classic videos and brother of Randy Newman), and Robin Hood Brians, a studio owner who helped shape their early sound.

Any Banger film is going to be a quality product going in.  It’s not so much “will it be good?”  It’s more “what nits will I pick?”  Because any serious fan will have some with any rock film.  I have very few to pick with this film.  Just that I wish it was an hour longer.

4.5/5 stars

MOVIE REVIEW: Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker [Spoiler free] 2019


Directed by JJ Abrams

The greatest saga of a lifetime; the story that began in 1977 when I was 4 years old has finally come to its end.  And what a satisfying end it is.

JJ Abrams had an unenviable task: fix the mess that Rian Johnson created with 2017’s Episode VIII: The Last Jedi.  Instead of winding towards a logical conclusion, the Johnson film steered the story into strange new directions poorly suited to the second-last film in a nine movie saga.  The death of Carrie Fisher the same year threw a giant wrench into the whole thing.  How was JJ to wind up a massive story like this, finishing not only his trilogy but the other two as well?

I’m not going to tell you, except that he managed to do it.  It’s not perfect, but no Star Wars movie has been perfect since 1980.  Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the best movie of this final trilogy, and is certainly better than 66% of the prequels.  He managed to pick up the ball that Johnson shat out, weave it tighter, and make lemonade from lemons.

The Carrie Fisher scenes are somewhat difficult to watch.  You know the actors are not reacting to her, but performing to pre-recorded scenes.  Her dialogue is necessarily vague and cloudy.  It’s unfortunate because Episode IX was supposed to be her film.  Nothing can be done about that.  But wisely, JJ recruited Billy Dee Williams back into the fold as the debonair rogue, Lando Calrissian.  Lando’s role is larger than expected which will please many fans.  The film is also bolstered by cameos from just about every living Star Wars actor (no, not Jake Lloyd) in ways that brought nothing but smiles.  Look for Hobbits and late-night talk show hosts too.

The villain this time, as you know from the trailers, is Ian McDiarmid’s Emperor Palpatine.  How did he survive the events of Episode VI: Return of the Jedi?  It only takes one line of dialogue to sell it.

With the stakes higher than ever before, the Sith and the Jedi meet one last time.  If you’re looking for an inkling of the plot, read the old Dark Horse comic series Dark Empire.  Not only did that series feature a resurrected Palpatine, but also Luke Skywalker doing Force projections.  It’s highly likely that JJ Abrams took inspiration from Dark Empire, though The Rise of Skywalker is far superior to that old book.

Suffice to say, our heroes once again must face incredible odds with little on their side except friendship and heart.  The movie stumbles after we are told repeatedly that they must succeed, or all of this – everything – has been for nothing.  Then they go on a silly rescue, instead of completing their mission.  There are also, perhaps, too many meetings between Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) which blunts their overall effect.  At least the heroes, Rey, Finn (John Boyega) and Poe (Oscar Isaac) bond like the classic trio.  You’re aware that you are watching a knockoff Luke-Leia-Han trio, but don’t forget, that’s the kind of stuff fans used to say they wanted.  “No more wooden crap like the prequels,” they moaned.  Now they moan when it’s what they said they wanted before.  Sceptics will not be won over by The Rise of Skywalker.

Another possible weakness that fans might resist is a tenuous connection to the Disney+ TV series The Mandalorian.  Rey and Kylo Ren can do something that a Mandalorian character can do.  Some will accept it as fitting in with classic Star Wars lore.  Others will baulk and call it “Disney ruining Star Wars again.”

The cutesy stuff is kept to a minimum (though there is a new droid called D-O introduced for no reason) and emotions run high.  Nostalgia is heavy.  Action is fast, though JJ unwisely resorted to slow motion techniques again, which breaks visual style from the six Lucas-guided movies.  He would have insisted on the movies being consistent.  Lens flare, though, is gladly reduced.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and The Rise of Skywalker must stand up to repeated viewings and further analysis.  It does drag at various times in the middle, but when it drops bombs, it goes nuclear.  Special mention to Keri Russell for a fine performance as spice runner Zorri Bliss, and again to Billy Dee Williams.  He never abandoned Star Wars, you know.  He returned in the animated series Star Wars: Rebels as suave as ever.  And of course, John Williams.  His score contained some really cool motifs, like a re-imagined Emperor’s theme that fit like a glove.

The Rise of Skywalker is probably the best ending to a saga we could have expected (and certainly better than what Lucas had planned).  If you want to live your life as a person who only has six Star Wars movies in their head-canon, that is absolutely fine.  (I know people who to this day consider Star Wars to be three movies.)  It can easily be argued that this entire trilogy was just tacked on.  But JJ did his best for it not to feel that way; for it to appear like this was always the ending.  Did he succeed?  That’s up to you.

4/5 stars

GUEST MOVIE REVIEW: Eraserhead (1977) – Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza

Review #3 in Holen’s Halloween Extravaganza 2019!

ERASERHEAD (1977 Libra Films)

Directed by David Lynch

“That was even more unsettling than I remember,” said Holen after viewing Eraserhead for the first time in many moons. You see, I hadn’t planned to review this surrealist masterpiece for my Halloween reviews, but then a funny thing happened. Criterion Collection had a 50% off sale, so I decided to order the Blu-ray of Eraserhead, finally adding one of the few missing pieces to my David Lynch collection, and securing one of my favorite films of all time in the process. I’m in pretty good company calling it a favorite, as it’s beloved by talents as diverse as Mel Brooks, Crispin Glover, and Stanley Kubrick. As a matter of fact, Kubrick screened this film on the set of The Shining in an attempt to express the mood he was trying to capture with his own film.

If you’ve never seen it and you believe that the following tidbit is giving you a solid idea of what to expect, you’d be pretty wrong. Eraserhead and The Shining may share similar abilities to cause tension, but that’s about it. Eraserhead honestly has more in common with 2001. It’s an overwhelming barrage of images and ideas, rather than concrete dialogue or relatable characters. Filmed in hazy black and white, the movie can best be summed up as a dream. Not dreamlike, but a dream. There’s very little in this film that we can connect back to our own world, and even the things that we recognize act in ways that we’ve never seen before. That process of making the common seem alien births fear. Like the chickens that come alive on their plates as you try to cut them.

But this fear is anchored in a sense of wide-eyed wonder. We’re unable to turn away, and much like a dream, we’re helpless to resist the unsettling events we’re seeing on the screen. The plot is simple. A man on vacation from his printing job in an industrial town learns he’s impregnated his girlfriend. She gives birth to a premature baby that doesn’t look humanoid at all. She doesn’t have the endurance to take care of the child, so he’s left to deal with it on his own. We see our “hero” Henry Spencer (Jack Nance) struggle with the realities of being a new father, and all the fear and repressed emotions that accompany this time. The film takes an unflinching look at the ID surrounding fatherhood. Henry fears being usurped by his own son, and worries that his status as a father will make women turn away from him in fear. He struggles with whether he should kill his “child”, being egged on by a woman that lives in his radiator with swollen cheeks

None of this is dealt with in a traditional way, and none of it is expressed through dialogue. It’s a visual film that manages to deal with the harsh realities of these subliminal primal feelings by masking their brutal nature in the ambiguous whimsical wrap of dream logic. It would be impossible to feel any empathy towards Henry in a traditional film, but this movie gives us a disturbing look into the inner psyche of a man pushed far outside of his comfort zone, outside of his sanity. None of Henry’s actions until the end of the film could be considered sinister at all, as his worries are almost entirely projected out through the world around him.

At first, Henry seems to be quite caring to his child in every way. He’s there when the mother is not, is concerned when the baby is sick, and generally seems to be a polite mild-mannered man. Like many David Lynch films, Eraserhead searches past the shiny surface into the dark underbelly of reality, however unpleasant it may be. He did the same thing with small town American suburbs in Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks, and Hollywood in Mulholland Dr.

For my money though, he never created another picture as personal and as inimitable as Eraserhead. It achieves what it sets out to do with no fat, no moment wasted in its brief 89 minute run-time. I don’t understand everything in Eraserhead, but to me that’s part of the charm. It’s a riveting picture more disturbing than most horror, it forces you to be an active viewer by constantly engaging your brain, and it explores aspects of fatherhood most of us would rather deny existed. The 4K restoration done by Criterion looks and sounds wonderful, as the soundtrack is as much a part of this movie as the visuals are. I didn’t know that industrial noise could be so involving and manipulative, but the oppressive sounds reinforce the images on screen with masterful synchronization. The minutes on end of heavy bass make your entire body clench up until it suddenly ceases and you sit wondering what the hell just happened to you. It’s truly a masterpiece of cinema, and an extraordinary debut film. If you can stomach the supreme tension, seek one out today!

5/5 Pencils