Archive Film Review:
A Scanner Darkly-R
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane
Directed by: Richard Linklater

Drug Addiction, Darkly

(This review was published in the Indiana Daily Student July 13, 2006)

Science fiction author Philip K. Dick once said that, “Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error of judgment.”

The author, best known for his sci-fi short stories of the 60s and 70s, wrote his novel, “A Scanner Darkly,” as an allegory for the troubling epidemic of drug abuse that was plaguing not only those around him, but also himself (he was a speed junkie) during the early ’70s. The story is science fiction, relying heavily on futuristic technological advancements, but only on its surface. Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” marks the eighth film adaptation of a Dick story and is on par with previous successful films such as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.”

“A Scanner Darkly” is set seven years in the future in Southern California. Keanu Reeves (playing, well, the best Keanu Reeves he can) stars as Bob Arctor, a police officer who goes deep undercover to infiltrate a growing underground drug cartel of a new radically powerful hallucinatory drug called Substance D. The trouble is Arctor is so far involved that his mind starts to play tricks on him and he begins to question his true identity. On the one hand he is Arctor, the normal guy who spends his days getting high with his friends and constructing mind puzzles that tread the waters of paranoia. On the other hand he is a police officer who goes by the code name Fred. As the plot thickens Arctor begins to unfold the intricate inner workings of the cartel while also coming to grips with his shattered mental state.

“A Scanner Darkly” is complicated and plays tricks on the audience much like the mind-bending drugs play tricks on the main characters. Reeves is decent as Arctor, however, the true shining performances come from Robert Downey Jr. (“Chaplin”), Woody Harrelson (“Natural Born Killers”) and the horribly underappreciated Rory Cochrane (“Dazed and Confused’s” Slater) who all play Arctor’s Substance D fiend friends. Some of the best scenes of the film occur around Arctor’s run-down Cali bungalow where the friends get high, ponder meaningless notions about the current state of the world they live in and create elaborate, paranoia fueled puzzles and conspiracy theories.

Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater delivers a wonderfully written script and the film’s unique style of rotoscoping visual animation (a technique that Linklater helped create with his film “Waking Life”) never distracts the viewer and is a perfect counterpart to the Dick’s often-surreal story.

“A Scanner Darkly” deals with drug abuse and addiction in the same vein as David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” using bits of comedy and surrealism to show the chaotic nature of mind altering drugs. The film is often very funny and visually the equivalent of eye candy, however, there is an underlying level of depressing realization that Substance D or any drug for that matter can truly have devastating effects on the human psyche.

Film Review: A Scanner Darkly


Archive Film Review:
A Scanner Darkly-R
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Robert Downey Jr., Rory Cochrane
Directed by: Richard Linklater

Drug Addiction, Darkly

(This review was published in the Indiana Daily Student July 13, 2006)

Science fiction author Philip K. Dick once said that, “Drug misuse is not a disease, it is a decision, like the decision to step out in front of a moving car. You would call that not a disease but an error of judgment.”

The author, best known for his sci-fi short stories of the 60s and 70s, wrote his novel, “A Scanner Darkly,” as an allegory for the troubling epidemic of drug abuse that was plaguing not only those around him, but also himself (he was a speed junkie) during the early ’70s. The story is science fiction, relying heavily on futuristic technological advancements, but only on its surface. Richard Linklater’s “A Scanner Darkly” marks the eighth film adaptation of a Dick story and is on par with previous successful films such as “Blade Runner” and “Minority Report.”

“A Scanner Darkly” is set seven years in the future in Southern California. Keanu Reeves (playing, well, the best Keanu Reeves he can) stars as Bob Arctor, a police officer who goes deep undercover to infiltrate a growing underground drug cartel of a new radically powerful hallucinatory drug called Substance D. The trouble is Arctor is so far involved that his mind starts to play tricks on him and he begins to question his true identity. On the one hand he is Arctor, the normal guy who spends his days getting high with his friends and constructing mind puzzles that tread the waters of paranoia. On the other hand he is a police officer who goes by the code name Fred. As the plot thickens Arctor begins to unfold the intricate inner workings of the cartel while also coming to grips with his shattered mental state.

“A Scanner Darkly” is complicated and plays tricks on the audience much like the mind-bending drugs play tricks on the main characters. Reeves is decent as Arctor, however, the true shining performances come from Robert Downey Jr. (“Chaplin”), Woody Harrelson (“Natural Born Killers”) and the horribly underappreciated Rory Cochrane (“Dazed and Confused’s” Slater) who all play Arctor’s Substance D fiend friends. Some of the best scenes of the film occur around Arctor’s run-down Cali bungalow where the friends get high, ponder meaningless notions about the current state of the world they live in and create elaborate, paranoia fueled puzzles and conspiracy theories.

Director/screenwriter Richard Linklater delivers a wonderfully written script and the film’s unique style of rotoscoping visual animation (a technique that Linklater helped create with his film “Waking Life”) never distracts the viewer and is a perfect counterpart to the Dick’s often-surreal story.

“A Scanner Darkly” deals with drug abuse and addiction in the same vein as David Cronenberg’s film adaptation of William S. Burroughs’ “Naked Lunch,” using bits of comedy and surrealism to show the chaotic nature of mind altering drugs. The film is often very funny and visually the equivalent of eye candy, however, there is an underlying level of depressing realization that Substance D or any drug for that matter can truly have devastating effects on the human psyche.

Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

As Melquiades Lays Dying

One of William Faulkner’s best books, “As I Lay Dying,” tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America’s deep South carrying their mother’s decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother’s final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a “border hopper” or “wetback,” as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.

Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada’s decaying body riding with them.

“Estrada” is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.

Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins’ journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.

“Estrada” was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” both shared the same non-linear editing format that “Estrada” does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.

Watching “Estrada” one can’t help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.

Film Review: Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada

Film Review: The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-R
Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Barry Pepper, Julio Cedillo
Directed by: Tommy Lee Jones

As Melquiades Lays Dying

One of William Faulkner’s best books, “As I Lay Dying,” tells the story of a family who go on a mission to bury their recently deceased mother in her hometown. The family embarks on a hard and treacherous journey through America’s deep South carrying their mother’s decaying body. Along the way they hit a number of snags, meet some interesting characters and face numerous conflicts among each other. The book was riddled with the darkest of dark humor but at the same time was an honest and moving look at simple people who just want to please their mother’s final wishes. Tommy Lee Jones directorial debut film, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” is in no way an adaptation of Faulkner but would have made the brilliant American author proud nevertheless.

Melquiades Estrada (Julio Cedillo) is a Mexican cowboy who crosses the border illegally in search of work. He is befriended by Pete Perkins (Tommy Lee Jones), a soft-spoken, somber cowboy who sees Estrada not as a “border hopper” or “wetback,” as local police officers and border patrolmen call them, but as just another caballero working in the beautiful southwest. After an unfortunate accident involving a smug and careless border patrolmen from Ohio, Mike Norton (Barry Pepper), Estrada is shot and killed.

Fueled by a promise made to Estrada to bury his body in his small Mexican hometown, Perkins kidnaps Norton and takes him on a slow and arduous horseback journey across the border with Estrada’s decaying body riding with them.

“Estrada” is a film that is all about journeys. On the surface it is about the physical journey that Norton and Perkins undergo, navigating through the rough and unforgiving Mexican desert, however, the story is truly about the emotional journeys they take inside.

Norton is on a personal journey of accepting and understanding life in the Southwest and Mexico while Perkins’ journey is gaining an understanding of his duties to his dear friend.

“Estrada” was written by Guillermo Arriaga, a rising name in world cinema whose previous films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams” both shared the same non-linear editing format that “Estrada” does. The film is wonderfully shot and directed proving that like so many other successful actor turned directors of the past (Clint Eastwood comes to mind) Jones has a promising career ahead of him.

Watching “Estrada” one can’t help but draw comparisons to authors like Faulkner and the more modern Cormac McCarthy or filmmakers like Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpah. However, the film is unique in the fact that Lee manages to put his own personal touches in it. The film has its share of dark humor and melodramatic scenes, but above all it revels in themes of pure humanity and friendship at their finest.


Archive Album Review:
Katy Lied (1975)
Steely Dan
MCA

The Ambassadors of Musical Perfection

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student August 3, 2006)

During their zenith Steely Dan was a pioneer of highly polished and perfected music that somehow managed to dodge one specific genre. While some might liken the unique group to fellow rock bands like The Doobie Brothers or Chicago, Steely Dan stands out as innovators of a sound and style that can only be described by listening to its music. It’s not quite rock, not quite jazz. It’s riddled with subtle laid-back R&B and soul flavors, but only below the surface. Dan is poppy when it wants to be but gives straight pop a twist. Above all, the band has always relied on the best musicians around to create the slickest of the slick.

Katy Lied, Steely Dan’s fourth studio album, followed the highly notable and successful Pretzel Logic and is important as being the first album recorded after the band’s major decision in 1974 to stop touring and focus solely on studio sessions (a decision that cofounders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would maintain up until the ’90s). The result is an album that is not only nearly flawless but dabbles in a slew of diverse styles and utilizes an eclectic group of talented studio musicians including the crooning soul vocals of future Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald.

Songs like the funky melodic rock anthem “Bad Sneakers” or the mock jazz ballad “Your Gold Teeth II” feature tightly composed guitar solos, lounge style piano riffs, lyrics that don’t insult our intelligence and an overall feeling of precision that shows a devotion to the music that is often absent from bands in the studio.

Katy Lied may not be Dan’s best album to date since the band has a rich cannon behind them but it is important, as it served as a vehicle for future studio focused endeavors. The album is easily accessible–clocking in just above 30 minutes. The collection of songs are all catchy but also force the listener to appreciate the sound much like a great jazz player, and for anyone who says that the music sounds dated, corny or overworked…Well, only a fool would say that.

Album Review: Katy Lied, Steely Dan


Archive Album Review:
Katy Lied (1975)
Steely Dan
MCA

The Ambassadors of Musical Perfection

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student August 3, 2006)

During their zenith Steely Dan was a pioneer of highly polished and perfected music that somehow managed to dodge one specific genre. While some might liken the unique group to fellow rock bands like The Doobie Brothers or Chicago, Steely Dan stands out as innovators of a sound and style that can only be described by listening to its music. It’s not quite rock, not quite jazz. It’s riddled with subtle laid-back R&B and soul flavors, but only below the surface. Dan is poppy when it wants to be but gives straight pop a twist. Above all, the band has always relied on the best musicians around to create the slickest of the slick.

Katy Lied, Steely Dan’s fourth studio album, followed the highly notable and successful Pretzel Logic and is important as being the first album recorded after the band’s major decision in 1974 to stop touring and focus solely on studio sessions (a decision that cofounders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker would maintain up until the ’90s). The result is an album that is not only nearly flawless but dabbles in a slew of diverse styles and utilizes an eclectic group of talented studio musicians including the crooning soul vocals of future Doobie Brothers member Michael McDonald.

Songs like the funky melodic rock anthem “Bad Sneakers” or the mock jazz ballad “Your Gold Teeth II” feature tightly composed guitar solos, lounge style piano riffs, lyrics that don’t insult our intelligence and an overall feeling of precision that shows a devotion to the music that is often absent from bands in the studio.

Katy Lied may not be Dan’s best album to date since the band has a rich cannon behind them but it is important, as it served as a vehicle for future studio focused endeavors. The album is easily accessible–clocking in just above 30 minutes. The collection of songs are all catchy but also force the listener to appreciate the sound much like a great jazz player, and for anyone who says that the music sounds dated, corny or overworked…Well, only a fool would say that.


Archive Album Review:
Red Clay (1970)
Freddie Hubbard
Columbia

The Birth of Funk, Soul, Cool

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student April 27, 2006)

In the world of jazz there are the major players — cats like Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Bird, Gillespie — then there are the musicians who, although were equally as talented and important to the music, did not gain the same colossal level of popularity as the bigger names. Trumpet legend and Indianapolis native Freddie Hubbard is one of these artists.

While Hubbard had a strong early career as a backup player for bebop artists like Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins some of his most brilliant and often overlooked recordings came during the 1970s funk/fusion exploration era with collaborations with pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson and bassist Ron Carter.

Hubbard’s Red Clay was released a year after Miles Davis’s monumental crossover into fusion territory Bitches Brew and four years before Hancock’s hugely popular funk odyssey Headhunters. The album, while more straight jazz than the avant-garde sounds of Brew, might be one of the first escapades into the fusion of soul, funk and R&B, with conventional jazz sounds.

Hubbard blends his fiery trumpet licks with the cool mellow grooves of Hancock’s legendary Fender Rhodes (an instrument that has since been forgotten) and Joe Henderson’s dark yet slick tenor saxophone accompaniments. The players are at the top of the game and the songs have the kind of crisp delivery that resonates long after the opening chords are played.

The smooth grooving title track is one part Hancock’s “Chameleon,” one part Brew with a little Issac Hayes’ Shaft! soul flavor thrown in to the equation. The 12 minute cut features a driving melodic funk beat, crisp drum chops by Lenny White and scorching trumpet solos by Hubbard.

Red Clay is not Hubbard’s most recognizable album and might not be his finest in terms of musical chops, however, for jazz enthusiasts or those just jumping into the genre, the album acts as a wonderfully accessible collection of ’70s funk/jazz music that truly embodies the jazzism, “the birth of cool.”

Album Review: Red Clay, Freddie Hubbard


Archive Album Review:
Red Clay (1970)
Freddie Hubbard
Columbia

The Birth of Funk, Soul, Cool

(The following review was published in the Indiana Daily Student April 27, 2006)

In the world of jazz there are the major players — cats like Miles, Coltrane, Monk, Mingus, Bird, Gillespie — then there are the musicians who, although were equally as talented and important to the music, did not gain the same colossal level of popularity as the bigger names. Trumpet legend and Indianapolis native Freddie Hubbard is one of these artists.

While Hubbard had a strong early career as a backup player for bebop artists like Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins some of his most brilliant and often overlooked recordings came during the 1970s funk/fusion exploration era with collaborations with pianist Herbie Hancock, guitarist George Benson and bassist Ron Carter.

Hubbard’s Red Clay was released a year after Miles Davis’s monumental crossover into fusion territory Bitches Brew and four years before Hancock’s hugely popular funk odyssey Headhunters. The album, while more straight jazz than the avant-garde sounds of Brew, might be one of the first escapades into the fusion of soul, funk and R&B, with conventional jazz sounds.

Hubbard blends his fiery trumpet licks with the cool mellow grooves of Hancock’s legendary Fender Rhodes (an instrument that has since been forgotten) and Joe Henderson’s dark yet slick tenor saxophone accompaniments. The players are at the top of the game and the songs have the kind of crisp delivery that resonates long after the opening chords are played.

The smooth grooving title track is one part Hancock’s “Chameleon,” one part Brew with a little Issac Hayes’ Shaft! soul flavor thrown in to the equation. The 12 minute cut features a driving melodic funk beat, crisp drum chops by Lenny White and scorching trumpet solos by Hubbard.

Red Clay is not Hubbard’s most recognizable album and might not be his finest in terms of musical chops, however, for jazz enthusiasts or those just jumping into the genre, the album acts as a wonderfully accessible collection of ’70s funk/jazz music that truly embodies the jazzism, “the birth of cool.”


Archive Review:
Viridiana-NR
Starring: Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey
Directed By: Luis Buñuel

A Surrealist Atheist In A Spanish Fascist’s Court

(The following review was published June 8, 2006 in the Indiana Daily Student)

Spanish film director Luis Buñuel used to say, “thank God I’m an atheist.” The highly outspoken, anti-fascist filmmaker is best known in the world of cinema for his early collaborations with Salvador Dalí and surrealist films such as “Un Chien Analou” and “The Golden Age.” While these two crowning achievements garnered him international praise and jumpstarted his long and prosperous career, Buñuel was also considered to be somewhat of a political menace.

“Viridiana” was shot in 1961 and was Buñuel’s first film in Spain since his departure to France and later Mexico in 1939. Upon its release the film was not only banned in Spain (a ban that lasted till the ’70s after the fall of Franco’s regime) but it was also fully denounced by the Vatican for being inappropriate and blatantly anti-Catholic.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a young, beautiful woman on her way to becoming a nun and entering a life of religious piety, chastity and above all, a strict moral lifestyle. Her lonely uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), who has just lost his wife, summons his niece to visit him before she makes her final vows and in turn he asks for her hand in marriage because of her striking resemblance to the said wife. Viridiana denies, Don Jaime drugs her in order to take care of his physical desires, then hangs himself and leaves his estate and wealth to Viridiana and his son Jorge, thus prolonging her path to sisterhood and creating tensions in the manor.

“Viridiana” is very much a film that deals with issues of lust, devotion, love, sin, civil humanity and, of course, religion. The film is a scathing look at both social politics in Spain and a departure from strict, sacred religious morals. Surrealistic images like a crucifix that doubles as a pocket knife or a scene where drunken vagabonds reenact the Last Supper, are examples of Buñuel’s persistent desire to criticize and satirize the state of Spain during the Franco fascist regime.

The wonderful Criterion DVD release features a stunning transfer of the film, an interview with Mexican actress Silvia Pinal and author/Buñuel expert Richard Porton and an extensive booklet featuring an essay and interview with Buñuel. The most significant extra, however, is a fascinating mini documentary about Buñuel’s career from a 1964 French television show, chronicling his early work and his cinematic styles.

Buñuel is to this day one of the most important filmmakers to come out of Spain and has no doubt influenced modern Spanish directors like Alejandro Amenábar or Pedro Almódovar, both who dabble in Buñuelesque dark humor and eroticism. “Viridiana” is an interesting vision that exposes the problems that Buñuel believed plagued Spain under fascism. It is shocking, funny and disturbing, but also has a certain level of humanity and questions morality, beliefs and basic human desires.

Film Review: Viridiana, Luis Bunuel


Archive Review:
Viridiana-NR
Starring: Silvia Pinal, Fernando Rey
Directed By: Luis Buñuel

A Surrealist Atheist In A Spanish Fascist’s Court

(The following review was published June 8, 2006 in the Indiana Daily Student)

Spanish film director Luis Buñuel used to say, “thank God I’m an atheist.” The highly outspoken, anti-fascist filmmaker is best known in the world of cinema for his early collaborations with Salvador Dalí and surrealist films such as “Un Chien Analou” and “The Golden Age.” While these two crowning achievements garnered him international praise and jumpstarted his long and prosperous career, Buñuel was also considered to be somewhat of a political menace.

“Viridiana” was shot in 1961 and was Buñuel’s first film in Spain since his departure to France and later Mexico in 1939. Upon its release the film was not only banned in Spain (a ban that lasted till the ’70s after the fall of Franco’s regime) but it was also fully denounced by the Vatican for being inappropriate and blatantly anti-Catholic.

Viridiana (Silvia Pinal) is a young, beautiful woman on her way to becoming a nun and entering a life of religious piety, chastity and above all, a strict moral lifestyle. Her lonely uncle Don Jaime (Fernando Rey), who has just lost his wife, summons his niece to visit him before she makes her final vows and in turn he asks for her hand in marriage because of her striking resemblance to the said wife. Viridiana denies, Don Jaime drugs her in order to take care of his physical desires, then hangs himself and leaves his estate and wealth to Viridiana and his son Jorge, thus prolonging her path to sisterhood and creating tensions in the manor.

“Viridiana” is very much a film that deals with issues of lust, devotion, love, sin, civil humanity and, of course, religion. The film is a scathing look at both social politics in Spain and a departure from strict, sacred religious morals. Surrealistic images like a crucifix that doubles as a pocket knife or a scene where drunken vagabonds reenact the Last Supper, are examples of Buñuel’s persistent desire to criticize and satirize the state of Spain during the Franco fascist regime.

The wonderful Criterion DVD release features a stunning transfer of the film, an interview with Mexican actress Silvia Pinal and author/Buñuel expert Richard Porton and an extensive booklet featuring an essay and interview with Buñuel. The most significant extra, however, is a fascinating mini documentary about Buñuel’s career from a 1964 French television show, chronicling his early work and his cinematic styles.

Buñuel is to this day one of the most important filmmakers to come out of Spain and has no doubt influenced modern Spanish directors like Alejandro Amenábar or Pedro Almódovar, both who dabble in Buñuelesque dark humor and eroticism. “Viridiana” is an interesting vision that exposes the problems that Buñuel believed plagued Spain under fascism. It is shocking, funny and disturbing, but also has a certain level of humanity and questions morality, beliefs and basic human desires.