Tag Archives: music

Movie Review: Hoffman, Nighy and Ifans struggle to keep ‘Pirate Radio’ afloat

13 Nov


cinemagrade c+ Richard Curtis is a bit of a cheeky monkey.

Having written British quirk comedies like Notting Hill, Four Weddings and a Funeral, and Love Actually (which was his directorial debut), Curtis has specialized in making off-color movies that are always more wholesome than they want to be.  His second film as a director, Pirate Radio, is a tune-filled anthem to the renegade rock jockeys of the 1960’s who would broadcast continual music from off-shore boats functioning as floating radio stations. Continue reading

This Is It! A fitting eulogy for the once and future King of Pop

8 Nov


This Is It (PG) 121 min. Directed by: Kenny Ortega.

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I am not a Michael Jackson fan.

Like many others, I listened to the music, sat there patiently waiting for the Black and White video to premiere on MTV, and found sadly I couldn’t turn away when the media circus went critical mass in the late 90s. But through it all, I always found following Michael to be more of a social obligation than the genuine interest of a true fan. When he died, I acknowledged the tragedy, but I didn’t think much more on it. Now, with Kenny Ortega’s ‘This Is It’, the bittersweet daydream of a concert that will never be, I’m finally beginning to realize why Jackson had rightfully earned the title ‘King of Pop’. Continue reading

Artscape uses Baltimore City as its Canvas This Weekend-Films, Concerts and Art, Art, Art!!

17 Jul


July 17th, 2009–

One of the really cool things about summers here in Baltimore is anticipating Artscape here in the city. For a period of three days every summer in July, a multitude of artists performers and creative venues head into town, or come out of the surrounding woodwork, selling goods, putting on shows and exposing the community to the considerable talent at work right here in the local art scene. In addition, musical guests like Dionne Warwick, Robin Thicke, and in a move that caused my wife to freak out with joy, the quirky rock band Cake are part of this year’s line-up. The best part of all of this; save for the vendors–it’s all 100% free.

There are chinese acrobats, opera performances, electronica music, crafts, fine arts, food, and in keeping with the aim of this site….there’s a Charles Theatre Shorts Program running all weekend in connection with Artscape that will showcase local andvaried short films every 30 minutes in one of their theaters. Here’s the synopsis from the Artscape website(CLICK HERE) which you can access here for showtimes and various other information. You can check out The Charles Theatre’s website and other short film info HERE. And finally, consider taking public transportation or the light rail into the city because a number of streets will be blocked off. Continue reading

‘It Might Get Loud’ Trailer Rocks Out

8 Jul


July 8th, 2009–

I hadn’t heard much on this one, but Simon Owens over at Bloggasm sent me a heads up on this. I love documentaries, and one that goes out and deliberately mixes the personalities of The Edge, Jimmy Paige and Jack White together in a pic about the history of the electric guitar has my attention. At the very least, it is sure to feature some killer music. Check out the trailer over HERE and consider why a musical documentary about the guitar is this well-shot. This one is coming hot off of Sundance and as I get more info on release dates and what not, I’ll post’em.

‘Guggenheim Grotto’ and ‘Pressing Strings’ tonight @ West Mt. Vernon Park!

2 Jul



July 2nd–

Hey everyone. Ready for the holiday weekend? I’m running errands today and then off to check out Transformers tonight, with two or three other reviews left to bang out –including two great new flicks playing at The Charles this weekend and The Weekly Creepy. Also hope to get a Fantastic Fest overview out and a Karl Malden tribute. Lots of stuff.  But, before I head out for the day, I wanted to give you a heads up on a FREE opportunity to see a couple of bands. This concert comes courtesy of WTMD, the Towson public radio station. TMD is a wonderfully eclectic station that represents the Baltimore musical scene, and independent music in general, well. The concerts are great fun, with food, drink and good times to be had in abundance. The performers really give it their all, despite the ‘free’ part. I’ve checked out the music of both bands playing tonight, and it sounds like good stuff. Wish I could make it. Alas, I’ll be watching giant things hit other giant things. Enjoy! Check out the WTMD website HERE and the info for the concert below. Continue reading

Death of the 80s…Goodbye Captain EO

26 Jun


June 26th, 2009-

My wife and I were standing in line for Public Enemies last night, up at the Muvico Egpytian at Arundel Mills, when cellphones started going off in unison, the tap-tapping of furious texting filled the air, and people were gasping loudly. My first thought was that Kim Jong Il finally pushed the button. And then I got wind of the real issue; Michael Jackson is dead at 50…heart attack. Continue reading

Now Playing: Oscar winning ‘Departures’ embraces life and honors the dead

1 Jun


Departures (Page 1)

Okuribito (Departures) (2008) rated: PG-13 for thematic material. 130 min. Japanese with english subtitles.  directed by: Yojiro Takita. written by: Kundo Koyama. starring: Masahiro Motoki, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ryoko Hirosue, Kazuko Yoshiyuki. cinematography by: Takeshi Hamada. Original music by: Joe Hisaishi.

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The wanted ad says the position will help others find ‘peaceful journeys.’

Freshly unemployed 30-something cellist Daigo didn’t just lose a job when the orchestra he was playing for disbanded, he lost a direction and a purpose. When he comes across the ad during his job hunt, he thinks it describes the work of a travel agent. That will do, especially if it pays well. He has sold his cello and is ready for something new–but maybe not this. His prospective employer is eager to have him and explains that the ad was misprinted; the proper translation should be ‘departures’. Daigo is offered a substantial salary and encouraged to give this job a try, even if its different than what he expected.

The actual position is that of a nokanshi, or ‘encoffining master’ who works in tandem with the funeral homes to prepare dead bodies for burial in ceremonies that take place in front of the deceased’s family. Daigo didn’t plan to sign on for this, but he and his wife Mika, have just moved out into his family home (his mother is dead and his father abandoned him when he was young) and he has promised her a fresh start. He takes the job, but keeps its nature a secret from her. And thus begins Yojira Takata’s Departures, a japanese film that won the Oscar for best foreign language film at the 2009 Academy Awards. 


Departures is a surprisingly moving film that combines poetry and humor with a rich sense of cultural awareness. That may sound stuffy but it isn’t. To this westerner’s eyes, the process of ‘encoffining’ seems sterile, detached and perhaps a bit morbid; the family sits in front of the nokanshi as he bathes, cleans and prepares the body and then gently but expertly wraps it for its final journey. The entire process plays out like a somber dance, one final waltz whose purpose is clearly intended to benefit not the deceased but the living. The film is helpful in drawing out and exploring the assumed stigma that Japanese culture has towards death.

What Takita and his screenwriter Kundo Kayama do is instructively draw the lines between an aversion to death and a respect for the transition between life and death. If Departures were merely a study into the process of encoffining and an observation of its intimate details that would in and of itself make for a compelling film. The uncommon strength of Departures is that it manages to be so much more than just an explanation of a ceremony; it’s a warm and thoughtful exhaltation of the joy to be found in living and the catharsis that comes from properly acknowledging grief.


Motoki as Daigo narrates the film but never gets carried away with it. He is the neophyte into this world and through his eyes we see his own progression; not simply from a cellist to a nokanshi, but from a man without a purpose to an artist embracing a passion and a talent he never would have guessed he had. Daigo isn’t sure about the job at first and a few days are rough, like a visit to an elderly shut-in whose body has been in the house for over two weeks. But the first time he watches his boss, played by veteran Tsutomo Yamazaki, perform an encoffining ritual he is intrigued and enraptured.

There is an artistry to it, like playing the cello, and a strange thing happens to the family present. They move from inconsolable grief to a mournful but visible peace. It isn’t complete and sudden, but it does happen and in one instance, a man even credits Daigo and the job he has done with helping him accept his son as the person he was. The purpose that Daigo latches onto isn’t related to the aesthetic and precise nature of the work but to the people who attend the ceremonies. He, the typically despised nokanshi, becomes a guide of sorts, not ushering the passed away into the land of death, but leading the grieving to a place of closure and acceptance.


Its hard to describe exactly how Departures ends up being as great as it is. A large share of the credit goes to the excellent cast who embody their characters so perfectly that they convey their essence mostly through action and only occasionally with dialogue. In a film like this that spends so much of its time immersed in imagery, custom and tradition, long conversation scenes explaining processes and protocol would be tedious and besides the point. Motoko, who has had a long career as a Japanese pop star, is excellent here as a sensitive young man searching for his purpose and struggling with the memory of the father who abandoned him. Instead of just playing as a footnote in Daigo’s painful youth, the film expands and internalizes that conflict. Motoko makes it a large part of who the character is and how his new-found profession is bringing that pain back to surface and eventually calls it to be dealt with.

Yamazaki as the old boss does top-notch work and provides much of the comic relief without really saying much. Usually a film like this would revere the old pro and give him plenty of wisdom and perhaps even make him a father figure to Daigo. None of that ever happens, explicitly. Yamazaki’s master is a professional and a man who has organized a philosopy and lifestyle around what he does;he is completely at peace with it. Being in such close proximity to the dead amplifies everything in life and he models this for Daigo; the boss and his employees eating chicken with a discernable fervor right after an encoffining is a scene both odd and insightful.


The remainder of the cast do their jobs wonderfully and I honestly couldn’t find a single poor performance. So well crafted is Departures that even the dead have been chosen with care and the family members at the deathbed have some of the juiciest roles. The film takes it time and has a natural flow and rythym which is good for a story that tends toward the melodramatic. Instead of being mawkish, it’s moving and wise in the way it visualizes its narrative. The cinematography and score are two of the strongest elements and they are the backbone of the film; they don’t simply accentuate the story, they give it the power it has. I was reminded of the way a master like Akira Kurosawa would construct deep and meaningful structures out of simple quiet life moments. The  encoffining ceremonies are numerous and each one is presented in almost its entirety. This would almost assuredly be boring if it weren’t for the fact that when each one happens it means something different and the characters are learning and growing during them.

Not unlike Kurosawa’s Ikiru, Departures is a masterpiece of Japanese cinema and though it might be grudgingly recieved over here as solid but overly sentimental, it deals with mortality in a mature and expressive way. This is not a story of  grief but a call for embracing every facet that life has to offer, each in its own time and in its own way. We shouldn’t be surprised when it turns out that Departures is not a tear-jerker but a triumphant, humorous and satisfying drama that inspires us to consider the joys available to us that are all too often taken for granted.


Departures is one of the very best films I have seen this year and I encourage you to check it out. It’s completely wonderful and hearkens back to the work of the Japanese masters of the 50s and 60s while embracing the same kind of big-hearted entertainment that made 1996’s Shall We Dance? such a delight.

Balticon 43 hits town this Memorial Day Weekend

22 May


 Balticon, one of the longest running sci-fi conventions in the country,  heads into Hunt Valley this weekend and promises four days of sci-fi, fantasy and nerdy goodness. I noted on the website there are costume balls and LARPing (live action role playing). All of that was of less interest to me than the potential authors and guests present. Well, if you have got some time and money to burn this weekend and are looking for excuses to pull your latex Khan chest or black trenchcoat and sunglasses out of retirement this looks like your venue. Or if you are just looking to immerse yourself in pure unadulterated geekdom(nothing wrong with that), it sounds like there will be plenty to tickle your fancy. Wow, I used the phrase “tickle your fancy.”

Seriously, if anyone out there attends this lets hear about it. Maybe some pics too?

Ive always wondered whether it’s worthwhile for the more casual fan or similar to Otakon in that it caters to hardcore dedicated fans. To the point: Is there more to this than costumes and niche interest stuff?

These are the details for the convention, taken from the Balticon official site which is located HERE.


The Maryland Regional Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention

Memorial Day Weekend      May 22-25, 2009
At Marriott’s Hunt Valley Inn, Baltimore, MD

Author Guest of Honor:

Charles Stross

Artist Guest of Honor:

Kurt Miller

Music/Filk Guest of Honor:

Mary Crowell

Special Guest of Honor:

Scott Sigler

Ghost of Honor:

Edgar Allan Poe

2008 Compton Crook Award Winner:

Mark L. Van Name

2009 Compton Crook Award Winner:




We have made the Balticon 43 Pocket Schedule available online.

A Four Day, 24-hours-a-day Extravaganza!

Over 300 Hours of Multi-Track Programming featuring authors, publishers, editors, artists, scientists, musicians and other creative SF luminaries. Join over a thousand SF fans for the area’s largest and longest running convention of its kind! Visit our huge art show, dealer’s room, concerts, dances, gaming room, computer room and video room. Everything Science Fiction and Fantasy in one huge package.


Notice to prospective Balticon program participants. Invitations will start going out by Oct. 17, 2008. If you wish, you may download the survey (in Word) here and email it to program@bsfs.org. A list of potential program ideas is available here. You may send additional ideas to program@bsfs.org. Inquiries received after Jan. 15, 2009 will not be guaranteed a program slot. –>


The POCKET PROGRAM is now available as a PDF download! Come and get it!




Most areas of the convention will close at 3:00am each night with the exception of Anime, Video, Filk and the Frankie & Vinnie’s Con-suite. These will be open 24 hours a day or as close to that as our volunteers can manage.



Membership rates are


  • $48.00 for adults and $24.00 for children (age 6-12) till February 28, 2009
  • $53.00 for adults and $26.00 for children (age 6-12) from March 1 through April 30, 2009 –>
  • Full Weekend: $60.00 for adults and $30.00 for children (age 6-12)


On-line registration is now available!

Pre-registration is also available by mail. Please send name, address, email address & phone number with payment to:

Balticon 43, PO Box 686, Baltimore, MD 21203-0686 or click here for membership form.

Single day registration rates are now available!

Single Day Rates (at the door only):

Friday: $29 Adult / $15 Child
Saturday: $41 Adult / $22 Child
Sunday: $36 Adult / $18 Child
Monday: $15 Adult / $8 Child
Sunday/Monday: $46 Adult / $23 Child
Monday (Teachers for AboutSF Teachers Workshop only): $11
Balticon 44 Early Registration: $44 Adult / $22 Child
Active duty military receive free one-day membership on Monday


Buy ten memberships at one time of one type and get the eleventh free. Must provide names and addresses and pay with one check or credit card transaction. Great for fan clubs, family groups or circles of friends. Buy 20 and get two free. For details write registration@bsfs.org or use mail in form. This offer is ONLY available by MAIL. This offer can NOT be completed online.

If you have already pre-registered, you may now check your status online. Please allow five (5) business days for online pre-registration and ten (10) business days for pre-registrations sent in via postal mail. To check the status of your pre-registration, please use our Am I Registered? page.

Balticon Podcasts! There will be Podcasting during Balticon 43, if you need some information before arriving at the con, or if you want to listen to our recent podcast interviews, check out our web site: www.balticonpodcast.org

Now Playing: The Story of Anvil searches for a happy ending

22 May



Anvil! The Story of Anvil (2009)  90 min. directed by: Sacha Gervasi. featuring: Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow, Robb Reiner,Tiziana Arogoni, Slash, Lars Ulrich. cinematography: Christopher Soos. original music: David Norland

Anvil photos(color) by Brent J. Craig.


” Honestly, how many  bands do you know that are still together after 30 years ? You’ve got The Rolling Stones, The Who…you’ve got Anvil.”–Slash, guitarist for Guns and Roses.

cinemagrade bNever heard of Anvil? Don’t worry, neither had I until I saw this wacky, warm-hearted documentary by Sacha Gervasi, script-writer for Spielberg’s The Terminal.  If you do remember Anvil, then it’s because you were around and alert during the mid-80s, the only time the metal band experienced anything remotely considered popularity. Back then they were fiery, reckless newcomers touring with bands like Whitesnake and Bon Jovi and being called “the hottest thing in heavy metal music”.

The likes of Slash, Lemmy from Motorhead and Lars Ulrich from Metallica  provide talking heads at the opening of the film, praising Anvil and their influence on the metal scene. And then all of them get quiet, solemnly wondering what ever happened to Anvil? They had the talent, and the drive, but it just didn’t seem to hit for them.

The film then flashes forward 25 years and we see what happened to Anvil. Lead singer Steve “Lips” Kudlow, who used to come on stage in fetish gear brandishing sex toys with which to play his Flying V, is now a blue-collar worker whose vocation is delivering meals for the Choice Children’s Catering service. Living an obscure, fallen existence that would make Randy the Ram shake his head with sadness, Kudlow keeps talking about his band and the promise of the future the entire time he’s schlepping frozen shepherd’s pie all over Toronto. 

He doesn’t sound that crazy when you realize that while Anvil’s fame evaporated in the 80s, the band itself did not. They are still playing together, and as the film opens Steve has just landed a new agent in the form of  Tiziana Arrigoni, a loopy Swede who books the band on a whirlwind, haphazard European tour. What follows then made me initially doubt the film’s authenticity.


Tiziana doesn’t speak english very well, and she doesn’t seem to be adept at scheduling the proper transportation to and from events for the band. Steve, ever the sad-eyed optimist stands at the window watching the packed bus they were supposed to be leaving on and says ” Until you become a real commodity, this is what you deal with.” Later when they miss the plane, sleep in the airport and then arrive two hours late to a gig in Prague where they play and the promoters refuse to pay them Steve ultimately brushes it away with “”Everything on the tour went drastically wrong. But at least there was a tour for it to go wrong on.” And that, more or less, is the reason Anvil is still around at all. Steve keeps one eye fixed on the future with anticipation as he and his bandmates keep toiling in the face of a less than stellar present.

Reiner and Kudlow have been friends since they were 14 and Steve’s the goofy, energetic lead while Robb stands around glaring like Heathcliff on the moors. Over the course of the film, the pair have numerous heated fights and Robb quits at least three times, always re-emerging to Steve, reconciling and then moving forward again. Their wives and family members acknowledge the bond and we realize their off-kilter brotherhood is the glue that holds this way past its sell-by date band together. After the European tour ends with a wheeze–the Transylvanian concert only draws 178 in a venue that the promoters tell him can seat 10,000–Anvil regroups, ditches Tiziana and plan to record their 13th album with no funds left to do so. All of this would be horribly depressing if Steve weren’t so hopeful and the band themselves so quirky. Really, really quirky in fact. To the point that it would be easy for one to assume this was a mockumentary.


Christopher Guest’s This is Spinal Tap! haunts every frame of this movie. So on point was that original satire and so typical are Anvil as a metal band that there are hilarious overlaps. Besides the fact the drummer’s name is Robb Reiner, a knob gets turned to 11, and Anvil makes an almost spiritual sojourn to Stonhenge, both films boast  the colorful antics of the band’s members. One of Anvil’s original written songs is called Thumb Hang, an ode to the Spanish Inquisition. Robb turns out to be a painter in his spare time. I was  suprised to see that his work bears a resemblence to Edward Hopper in its construction and it’s really not that bad. He talks about the lonely qualities of his art, and then shows us his masterpiece: a still-life of a turd floating in an austere toilet bowl. He is most proud of the realistic texture.

Eventually Steve’s sister gives him the money( inspiring the line “Family is important s**t, man!”) necessary to produce a new record with their old producer and he and Robb squabble, break up the band, repair it an hour later, and manage to finish the job. Where the film goes from there should be left to the viewer. At this point we have wriggled on the hook with Steve and Robb and their families and the future is uncertain, but it doesn’t look good. Anvil find themselves back in Japan and watching the two lifelong friends wander the streets of Tokyo while Chris Sool’s melancholy score plays, we hope for the best for these guys even if Anvil fails.


The film is very, very funny and it’s also good-natured, despite the occasional strong language from the aging rockers. Director Sacha Gervasi has an interesting connection to Anvil; he was their roadie when he was 16. His affection for them shines through here, and he edits the movie with a knowing gentleness–even when things are falling apart between Robb and Steve, the film knows better and follows them long enough to show that they know better too. Gervasi captures the chaos of their tour, the oddness of their Toronto fan-base including Mad Dog and Cut Loose–two guys who have been following Anvil for years, and the bitterness of their obscurity in the face of their short-lived success. There is a great bit of incongruity when Lips, who once ran across stage in the 80s wearing nothing but rubber straps, struggles with being pushy on a telemarketing job he has been given by Cut Loose. “Ive been raised to be polite all my life, and I don’t think I can do this.”

In the end, it’s a surprisingly moving film that captures steadfast dedication to a dream and an  idea, and  to a friendship. I can’t guarantee you will be won over by Anvil’s music, or think Robb and Steve are swell guys who have made clearly wise decisions and have appropriately stewarded their dreams. I do contend though, that you will walk away from Anvil with a smile on your face and a refreshed sense of hope in the power of optimism.

Anvil! The Story of Anvil opens in Baltimore today at The Charles Theater. Find showtimes and theater info HERE.