Movie Review: The DIRT

Leave a comment

dirt, theNetflix
2019
TV-MA

“We wanna knock people on their asses and we gotta give them a show. I’m talking like on stage or in clubs. The fans, they’re ding for some anarchy. So let’s give it to them.”

This seems to be the era of the biopic; we’ve already had the Queen / Freddie Mercury biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and there’s going to be one for Elton John starring that kid that was in the Kingsmen movie (probably part of the deal Elton made for being in the second Kingsmen movie…?). Of course, for those of us who grew up in the 80s instead of the 70s, the long-gestating movie-fied version of Motley Crue’s tell-all memoir book The Dirt was the one that many an old metalhead was waiting for. Finally, then, the movie was made, and released…on Netflix.

Yeah, despite evidence to the contrary, I still have this stigma about movies being released to a streaming service directly, rather than to the theaters. I know, that shouldn’t be an indication of the quality of the movie itself; however, it’s hard to not equate Direct To Streaming with Direct To Video (or DVD), and there are many bad movies released directly to that format. It doesn’t stop me from watching them, mind you.

Anyway, being a fan of the 80s iteration of the ultimate sleazy glam metal mo-fos to come out of the Sunset Strip–yeah, they lost me when they canned Vince back in 1992, and never really got me back when they came back to their senses after that self-titled album–I was interested in watching this movie. I’ve read bits of the book itself, but I don’t own it. Though, being a voracious reader of all of the rock and metal mags back in the 80s, I knew my Motley Crue history…or, at least the history that the media portrayed. So, the question was, is The Dirt going to dive into the dark, seedy underbelly of the band’s history and unearth things that even the hardest of hardcore Motley Crue fans didn’t know? Or is this going to be more of a self-serving edited down history that glosses over a lot of things and presenting hardly anything anyone already knew?

The answer is, “Yes.”

Just like with Bohemian Rhapsody, we’re talking about a band that had been around for over three decades before calling it a career. This isn’t like The Doors, where the band itself was only together for a handful of years before the singer died and no one cared about the band carrying on anymore after that. Anyone expecting an exhaustive documentary-style biopic…well, I don’t think anyone was actually expecting that kind of movie.

The movie glosses over some things, and leaves some things out entirely, and plays a bit loose with some facts, in the interest of time and streamlining things for the viewer. And I’m okay with that. I was expecting that, actually. And the movie itself realizes this, and lampshades some things directly explaining how things are different here than what really happened; there’s a scene where the band’s soon-to-be manager “Doc” McGhee shows up at the band’s apartment during an after-show party to introduce himself, and Mick Mars turns to the camera and starts explaining that McGhee never really went to their apartment, but they cut out the actual guy because of reasons. That was rather brilliant, really, I kind of wish they did that in Bohemian Rhapsody. It would have explained some of the editing choices.

The Dirt doesn’t flinch away from portraying the overtly decadent side of things. Within the first five minutes, the movie earns its TV-MA rating (which is the equivalent to “R”), with enough nudity, drug use and sexual debauchery to make you wonder if you stumbled upon a remake of Caligula by mistake. The actors, while not exactly replicas of the band members they’re portraying, retain the exact spirit of the band, with Machine Gun Kelly being the best Tommy Lee clone going. Who’da thunk that a rapper would play a metal drummer so affably? Though, it makes sense, given Tommy’s foray into rap back in the 90s, there.

Long story short, The Dirt was far more entertaining than it should have been. I found myself chuckling at the era that I grew up in and embraced as a pimply, overweight Midwest teenager who didn’t look all that flattering in spandex and hair spray, but that didn’t stop me darn it. And in case you’re about to do a Google search, no. No pictures exist of me like that. So don’t waste your time. Do I recommend watching The Dirt? Yes. Yes I do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m gonna go throw on Shout At The Devil and Dr. Feelgood, in that order.

Advertisements

Movie Review: LORDS OF CHAOS

Leave a comment

lords of chaosGunpowder & Sky
2018
R

Oslo, 1987. 17-year-old Euronymous is determined to escape his traditional upbringing and becomes fixated on creating ‘true Norwegian black metal’ with his band Mayhem. He mounts shocking publicity stunts to put the band’s name on the map, but the lines between show and reality start to blur. Arson, violence and a vicious murder shock the nation that is under siege by these Lords of Chaos.

Black Metal is such an interesting and entertaining genre. It’s an acquired taste, to be sure, and to get involved with the scene takes a special type to withstand the intensity levels it can get to. Me, I can never be considered Trve Kvlt due to the fact that A) I’m a professing Christian, and B) I have a sense of humor. Also, I do enjoy a good Scorpions song from time to time. If you get the reference, then you’ve already enjoyed this particular biopic about one of the more infamous scenes in metal, Lords Of Chaos.

Ostensibly, Lords Of Chaos is based on the book of the same name, which chronicles the rise of the Norwegian Black Metal scene in the 80s and early 90s, specifically focusing on the Black Metal Circle and the band Mayhem and its two key figures, Euronymous and Varg Vikernes, and they *ahem* mayhem they caused while trying to one-up each other. And that pretty much boils down the whole second-wave Black Metal scene: A bunch of rich Norwegian kids trying to outdo each other with their evil posturing and production of crappy evil sounding music, all the while whining about posers and taking things way too seriously.

Lords Of Chaos, the movie, focuses on this brief window in time, going through Euronymous forming the band Mayhem, the suicide of their first vocalist Dead, the opening of his record shop Helvete and the formation of the “Black Circle” with members of other local Black Metal bands, his rivalry with Varg, the arson of several churches, and finally wholesale murder, including Euronymous’ at the hands of Varg. All of which is narrated by Euronymous’ own inner monologue, American Beauty style.

First and foremost, let me get this out of the way: I realize that Lords Of Chaos isn’t 100% accurate to how things went down. But, the movie itself admits to this at the very beginning; if you’re familiar with the book, or just the whole Black Metal scene itself, no one can get their stories straight. What Lords Of Chaos is, is more of a Natural Born Killers style psychological horror movie with some very dark humor tinting things.

See, the thing about the Black Metal scene is, everyone is so serious that they don’t realize how hilarious it all is. And Lords Of Chaos manages to get that perfectly. It really does subtly take the air out of the over-bloated ego of the scene, while still maintaining a certain respect for the series of events that transpired. Mind you, there were some artistic licence used, especially in scenes where no one was really there to know what really went on, like with Dead’s suicide, or what was going on in Euronymous’s head.

Lending to the feel of this being more of a legend rather than a fact-filled docu-drama is the actors using American accents, with the only Norwegian accent I could detect were from the reporter who interviews Varg, and the guy who played Faust’s murder victim. It works, really. All of the actors worked well, especially Rory Culkin as Euronymous. Fantastic performance, methinks. Also, the style of shooting used reminded me of Edgar Wright, managing to capture the manic craziness of the era, there. That includes a lot of gore and unflinching violence, among other rather graphic content, that typified the scene. That may make some unaware soul queasy. You’ve been warned.

Overall, I rather enjoyed Lords Of Chaos. This was one movie I was looking forward to watching since hearing about it being produced a year or so ago. It didn’t make it to the theaters in my neck of the woods when it was finally released; by the time it did get a showing at the Alamo, the VOD was already released and I watched it that way. Still, I enjoyed the movie for what it is. Take this with a grain of salt, like I do with movies like Oliver Stone’s The Doors, or the recent Queen bio-flick Bohemian Rhapsody. Corpse paint is optional.

Movie Review: BOHEMIAN RHAPSODY

Leave a comment

bohemian rhapsody20th Century Fox
2018
PG-13

“We need a song teenagers can bang their heads to in a car. Bohemian Rhapsody is not that song.”

Bohemian Rhapsody is a foot-stomping celebration of Queen, their music and their extraordinary lead singer Freddie Mercury. Freddie defied stereotypes and shattered convention to become one of the most beloved entertainers on the planet. The film traces the meteoric rise of the band through their iconic songs and revolutionary sound. They reach unparalleled success, but in an unexpected turn Freddie, surrounded by darker influences, shuns Queen in pursuit of his solo career. Having suffered greatly without the collaboration of Queen, Freddie manages to reunite with his bandmates just in time for Live Aid. While bravely facing a recent AIDS diagnosis, Freddie leads the band in one of the greatest performances in the history of rock music. Queen cements a legacy that continues to inspire outsiders, dreamers and music lovers to this day.

Queen. This is a band that, on paper and in theory, should not have worked. And yet, not only did it work, but some would argue that they made a mark on the rock and roll world that has yet to be duplicated, before or since. It was just a matter of time before a big screen biopic was made, and in the waning months of 2018, we got one. Whether we asked for it or not.

A little personal history: The first Queen song I ever heard was their hit “Another One Bites The Dust”, played at a skating rink in Grand Island, Nebraska, while I was in 2nd Grade, attending a birthday party with my Cub Scout troop. This was back in 1982. Come to think of it, that was probably my very first exposure to this wacky thing called “rock n’ roll”, as my parents had more of a taste for schmaltzy AM Gold type music, if they did play music. As time went on, I was familiar with Queen’s singles, and while I knew a handful of outright fanatics of the band in High School, I never really graduated past “listener” of the band. Meaning, I never owned a full album, maybe one or two singles; but, if one of their songs came on the radio, I wasn’t exactly clamoring to change the channel. Also, my English teacher taught me how to play “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” on the guitar.

Anyway, like any other biopic/docudrama/whatever, I went into watching Bohemian Rhapsody with a generous amount of salt grains. Obviously, I don’t expect accuracy in these kind of movies; not only are we essentially trying to boil down three decades worth of a career into over two hours of run time, but artistic licenses abound to make things much more interesting for the movie goer. The same thing goes for Bohemian Rhapsody: I’m not expert on the band or their front-man Freddy Mercury, but I still got the sense that a lot was glossed over, and some context was sacrificed for streamlining the run time.

So, what we’ve got here is a trip of highlights following Freddy Mercury’s first hookup with the band that would become Queen, record their first album after selling their van, getting signed by EMI, getting engaged to his girlfriend, questioning his sexuality while the band tours America, recording the titular song, getting bigger, starting an affair with their manager, coming out to his fiance who then breaks things off with him, recording “We Will Rock You”, getting even more popular, recording “Another One Bites The Dust”, estranging himself from the band after he signs a two-album solo deal with CBS Records, contracts the AIDS, makes up with the band just in time to play the Live Aid festival in 1985. The end.

Of course, I understand why the makers of the movie would focus more on the hits and ending things on the big triumphant comeback at the Live Aid concert. This wasn’t an exhaustive documentary, this was a biopic of sorts. As such, it’s an entertaining soap opera drama of sorts that happens to be based on the life and times of Freddy Mercury and the band he helped to make famous, and the wackiness that came with it. Everyone doe a decent enough job playing their respective parts; I do have to say, though, that while Rami Malek does a bang-up job portraying Mercury, he always looks like he’s about to sneeze. My favorite bit, though, happens to be with the band’s interaction with EMI executive Ray Foster, who is played by Mike Myers. The guy from Wayne’s World is telling Queen “Bohemian Rhapsody” will never be a hit. I don’t care if it may not have happened, that was too good to pass up.

Overall, Bohemian Rhapsody was a rather entertaining diversion, based on a band I had a mild interest in. Unlike Oliver Stone’s The Doors, though, watching Bohemian Rhapsody didn’t really kickstart an interest to really research the history of the band or really dive into their discography, like I did with The Doors back in the day. But, I did feel it was engaging and heart-rendering and joy-inducing all the same. At least they played my favorite song over the end credits, albeit an edited version of “The Show Must Go On”. I’m not crying, there’s something in my eye…DON’T LOOK AT ME!

Movie Review: RAGAMUFFIN

Leave a comment

1-26 - Movie Review: RAGAMUFFINDuality
2014
PG-13

Ragamuffin is based on the life of Rich Mullins, a musical prodigy who rose to Christian music fame and fortune only to walk away and live on a Navajo reservation. An artistic genius, raised on a tree farm in Indiana by a callous father, Rich wrestled all of his life with the brokenness and crippling insecurity born of his childhood. A lover of Jesus and a rebel in the church, Rich refused to let his struggles with his own darkness tear him away from a God he was determined to love. As he struggled with success in Nashville and depression in Witchita, Rich desired most of all to live a life of honest and reckless faith amidst a culture of religion and conformity.

Well, now. Here’s a rarity: A Christian film that I was actually looking forward to watching. This one being a dramatic biopic of CCM’s favorite hippie, Rich Mullins.

If you’re not familiar with Rich Mullins, he’s the guy who inadvertently wrote all those youth group campfire worship songs you were forced to sing. He was second only to Kieth Green as far as ironically being embraced by CCM culture while actively and vocally despising it himself. And like Keith Green, he too was taken from us tragically at too young an age.

As far as I go, I do have an appreciation of the man’s music. I mean, I happen to be one of those part-time WGWAGs that accompanies the the youth group in singing “Awesome God” ad nausium. Although, I do have a bit of a liking for more of his “screw the Christian Industry” period, as I did actively own A Liturgy, A Legacy, And A Ragamuffin Band at one time. Lost in the shuffle. Haven’t replaced it yet. Waiting for it to come out on vinyl. Carrying on…

Long story short, I was anxious to watch Ragamuffin, not because I’m a big fanboy of his music (I’m not), but more because I’m a fan of what he had to say about his faith and his interaction with other Christians in this world, and more to the point, what he had to say about the Christian culture and industry he found himself in.

After an opening where the movie Rich Mullins is talking on-air with a radio DJ that looked more like Rich Mullins than the actor did (because the DJ was played by Rich’s brother Dave), we go through Rich’s life growing up a farm boy who looked at things a bit differently, much to the chagrin of his old-fashioned father. He then heads off to college, where he meets up with like-minded friends, share a house, and start playing music in various churches and coffee houses. He finds himself pursued by CCM suits due to Amy Grant wanting to record one of the songs he wrote; he’s hesitant at first but then relents and goes to Nashville, where he at first works with Amy Grant, then manages to start a solo career. The response is lukewarm at first, but then he writes “Awesome God” which explodes and becomes his most famous song he never wanted to play live again. The CCM execs want more, but then Rich gets sidetracked by wanting to voluntarily live in poverty teaching music to Navajo children. All the while, he’s wrestling with God and his faith in a world he views as superficial and draining, his depression starting to get the best of him, until he happens upon a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel. Then he gets into an accident and is killed. The end.

I know, I know, it sounds like I’m doing one of those sarcastic irreverent reviews, but I assure you I am not. As a matter of fact, I would like to say that Ragamuffin was one of those Christian movies that happens to be the exception that proves the rule: This movie did not gloss over things and presented a shiny, happy portrayal of the artist. Neither did the movie seem to over-exaggerate the more controversial aspects to the story for the sake of sensationalism. It did a great job in presenting a man who was a broken servant of Jesus, struggling with his faith in a very real way. There’s a scene here where Rich, in the midst of a depressive swing and crushed with lonliness in Nashville tries to call his parents and his friends, but just misses them as they leave right before the phone rings, and he finally collapses in the phone booth in tears. I actually had to pause the movie more than a couple of times, due to the emotional response this movie had on me. Well played, movie. Well played.

On the other hand, though, I don’t think the movie really captured Rich Mullins’ sense of humor. Mind you, I never met the man and cannot claim to personally know this, but from what I’ve read from people who did know him, that’s the one universal complaint from them: that they didn’t capture Rich’s sense of humor. And I have to admit, much of the time the movie Rich just comes off as more cynical and angst-ridden. And maybe as an unintended contrast to that, the end credits have a video of the real Rich Mullins on stage telling a story which ends in a punchline that had me laughing pretty good.

That said, Ragamuffin is a great movie, it doesn’t gloss over things that I myself have been open about struggling with, and is a movie I think every youth group in America should be forced to watch at least once. Bring the snacks and the tissues.