Friday, May 30, 2014

DVD Review: All Access Edition of Hard Core Logo; Hard Core Logo 2

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

For this “All Access Edition,” the Hard Core Logo film has been joined with its sequel onto a single blu-ray disk. Not having a blu-ray player, it took me a while to get to these, but thanks to my friend Wilf, as they say in the Canadian prairies, I was able to “get ‘er done.”

Hard Core Logo
Directed by Bruce McDonald  
Video Services Corp.                            
92 minutes, 1996 / 2012

It’s been well over 10 years since I’ve seen this film, and I had forgotten how brilliant it is. Yeah, I’m showing my hand at the beginning.

For those who have not seen it, and you really must without seeing too many clips and ruin it, I guarantee you will be impressed on so many levels. This is a fake documentary (not a “mockumentary” because it does not make fun of these characters, it explores them) about a Vancouver hardcore band called, well, Hard Core Logo. They’re on tour heading through the Rockies to play Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, and finally Edmonton. Like Henry Rollins’ book Get in the Van: On the Road with Black Flag (1994), or Joey “Shithead” Keithley’s  I, Shithead: A Life in Punk (2003), the film explores their lives playing and traveling on the tour.

There is a lot of tension within this group, who had broken up and have reformed just for this tour of duty. They all have their own issues (anger, hope, drugs and schizophrenia [aka lack of drugs]), and we get to know each one intimately, and even with their fucked up personality tics, we care about them, as they are framed in director Bruce McDonald’s vision, who plays himself as the director of this meta feature.

The acting is simply superb from beginning to end. There is no wondering if this band is real, like in Josie and the Pussycats, these guys bring it. The main focus of the story is on the lead singer/guitarist Joe Dick, a rough and tumble punker with a Mohawk, played by Hugh Dilon, nearly unrecognizable in his later and award winning role as the bald cop on the television series, Flashpoint.  It’s not surprising he brings such reality to the role as he actually fronted a hardcore band called the Headstones, who released six albums. Making Dick fearsome and also adding some pathos is worth applauding.

Dick started the band with lead guitarist Billy Tallent, engagingly played by Callum Keith Rennie, who would go on to many, many credits, including regular stints in Battlestar Gallactica and Californication. The love and tension felt between these two is palpable, and they keep dancing between keeping the band going and disbanding again.

John Pyper-Furgeson is soulful as the twitchy and poet bassist, John Oxenberger (the only one without a nom de band), and Bernie Coulson plays Pipefitter, a drummer so in Keith Moon territory that he no longer remembers his real name. Both of these characters are on the edge in different ways for opposite reasons, but they are given life by these two actors so that they are not support roles, but rather presented equally by McDonald.

One of my favorite characters is Dick’s mentor, Bucky Haight (get it?), chilling presented by Julian Richings. With all the strong characters in this film, Richings’ unusual looks and sheer strength makes him stand out even among a cast of this caliber.

How good is everyone in this film? All one needs to do is check out the sheer girth of the actor’s credits, which in itself speaks in volumes. Sure it’s a nearly all boys film (other than a groupie with a possible secret past and a couple of girlfriends who barely last a scene), but… punk rawk!! Sorry, I panicked.

McDonald doesn’t use stereotypical and cliché shots of the band, he lets his imagination go wild and has four frames with the band members talking at once, he sneaks around, and he even breaks documentary protocol and becomes a key part of the narrative at once point, sort of like the “crew” of the fake Belgian documentary Man Bites Dog (Belgian; also worth seeing, FYI), as he gets swept up in the band’s personae.

I didn’t get a chance to see the extras, unfortunately, but they include a commentary track by McDonald, music video and an obscure trailer. I couldn’t really tell the difference between blu-ray and – er – regular ray, but that should not stop you for a second from choosing to see this.

From beginning to shocking end, this is a beautiful film, easily one of the best rock’n’roll fiction films to date (though there are some real musicians, such as Joey Ramone, and bands, such as D.O.A., in the film as themselves). Even if you’re not into hardcore, this is a fascinating study of a band of, well, not exactly brothers. And yes, that is a cover of the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer" at the end of the trailer.

Hard Core Logo 2
Directed by Bruce McDonald  
Video Services Corp.                            
100 minutes, 2010 / 2012

Whatever wonders director Bruce McDonald picked up from making Hard Core Logo, apparently somewhere in the 15 years between that and this sequel, he apparently has if not lost it, then certainly had it misplaced.

Actually, it might have been traded for his ego. You see, even though this supposed documentary is about an actual band from Toronto called Die Mannequin, fronted by Caroline “Care Failure” Kawa, who play themselves within the framework of the film, they don’t seem to be in it much. The fiction part is that Failure believes herself to be possessed by the spirit of Joe Dick.

For the film, McDonald joins up with fictional filmmaker and Wiccan nut Liz Moore (Shannon Jardine) and heads out to film Die Mannequin as they record an album at Manitou Beach, Saskatchewan (at a town called Watrous), a place I’ve been to a few times. We see the hot springs (a truly wonderful, if sulfuric smelling and tasting place), and the infamous Dancehall, where most of the “action” takes place.

The key problem is that whereas with the previous release, we get to know and care about each of the four members of the band Hard Core Logo, now the key character of the film is McDonald himself, and personally, I couldn’t care less about him.  This premise was handled better in the true documentary, It’s About You (2010), where filmmaker Kurt Marcus becomes the locus of his following a super rock star, thankfully making it more interesting than its subject, the overrated John Mellencamp.  I was more interested in Die Mannequin than the person behind – and too often in front of – the camera in this case.

Even though the members of Die Mannequin are its actual musicians, we learn almost nothing about them, including its supposed center and front person, Care Bea…I mean Failure. As the (lack of) action happens, we hear McDonald’s narrative and it ignores what the film is supposed to be about. There was a level of excitement and danger in the first film, but here we get to see the drummer get annoyed because he has to go get Care out of her rented cabin. Ooooooo. More attention is paid to Anthony “Useless” Bleed, the (real) bassist who, in the story here, has left the band, than to the other “current” members. There is a shot of him in a kitchen of what is hinted to be Saskatoon’s infamous Amigos Cantina (where I saw D.O.A. play a couple of years ago), though none of the film is actually shot in that city. None of this is the fault of Die Mannequin, but rests squarely on the shoulders of the ego-burdened director.
Oh, as a sidebar, why would the band fly into Regina and drive two-and-a-half hours up to Watrous, when they could have flown into Saskatoon, which is only 45 minutes away, especially in the dead of winter?

Another annoying element of the film is its heightened religious undertone, though not for or against. You have the aforementioned Wiccans, a Christian television show that McDonald directs (with a nod to Gary Glitter), Bleed wearing a tee-shirt for a non-defunct Canadian Christian-based puppet show, and Failure is always wearing numerous crosses (which she apparently does in real life, as well). This all was a major distraction to the story, what ridiculously little there was of it.

There was little of the amazing camerawork and editing of the first film, no tension whatsoever, and such a total misdirection, that even the only resurrection from the previous release, other than McDonald and interspersed clips, Julian Richings as Bucky Haight, is lost and wasted. As we watched it, we kept waiting for something-anything to happen. To give you an example of the lack of imagination present, the last shot of Failure and Bleed is of them leaning against a large dumpster that is almost identical to the iconic shot from the film Sid and Nancy (1986). The entire ending of this film is a groaner and cop-out.

At the end of the credits for the film, there is a notice about how the film was funded by the province of Saskatchewan film board. The current premier of the province has cancelled this, coarsely constricting any future large-scale film industry. Reminding me of that got me more agitated than the entire rest of the 100 minutes that had just passed..

After watching the original Hard Core Logo, I can understand why someone would want to see the supposed sequel, but I have to say, it won’t be worth it. Also, I will not put up the trailer for this film because it has too many spoilers in it for both films. Even that was a failure. Instead, I will put up a clip of Die Mannequin, which is not related this film at all.


Bonus Clip:


Thursday, May 15, 2014

DVD Review: Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony

Text © Robert Barry Francos / FFanzeen, 2014
Images from the Internet

Bronies: The Extremely Unexpected Adult Fans of My Little Pony
Directed by Laurent Malaquais
87 minutes, 2013

You know, we live in pretty amazing times. I remember going to the first ever Star Trek convention at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, back in the early 1970s. I’ve been to comic cons, rock cons, and horror cons. I’ve always been amazed at the dedication of fans for a particular topic.

As time has passed, the subject of cons has become more focused, including anime, porn (yep, the AVN in Las Vegas, and no, I’ve never been), and I have a cousin and aunt who used to go from Edmonton to New York to attend a con for a soap opera.

These kinds of cons are similar to trade shows and in some ways use them as a model. There are products to be tested and bought, meet with people in the same industry (or same interest), and make some backroom deals (I’ve saw an interesting mass buy of bootlegs in years gone by in the rooms, though for the life of me I can’t remember who was involved 30 years later). The difference is there is a larger element of talent. For example, at a plumbing show, they may hire a Kardashian to get the guys sweaty, but for a con, it’s more artistic and people who are actually associated in some aspect with product (for example, at a Beatles con, I saw a presentation by their limo driver, Alf Bicknell).

One socially interesting aspect of these cons I find is that most of the ones I’ve been to started out as mostly male fan boys, and as time went on, more and more women joined in (with the exception of the Beatles and Monkees cons run by Charles F. Rosenay!!! [sic] in Connecticut, which has always been pretty even). Sort of like how Penny is starting to quote Star Trek more on Big Bang Theory.

A more recent fixation that has laser focused into the form of conference loci is a show meant for the demographics of young girls, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. However, the die-hard fans of this show seem to be male, ranging from teens to full grown adults. And that is the focus of the film.

Right off the bat, the director, Laurent Malaquais, wisely addresses the core issues by presenting visual soundbites of people being interviewed who are not fans of the show, stating how if men like the series, they must be pedophiles, gay, or mentally ill.

It is on this question that we are introduced to a collection of Bronies (that’s a mixture of Bro and ponies, so it’s pronounced broh-nies not brown-nees) from all over the world, including the US (Maine and North Carolina), Germany, Holland and even Israel. We meet these guys (and in one case a girlfriend equally devoted to the show) and their families, who occasionally struggle to understand just what is the male fascination of a tween girl show.

It is interesting to see how these guys are outsiders who have found a single thing to be fascinated by that is just outside the accepted norm (remember when punk was like that before the jocks joined?). The most noteworthy to me is the gender blending. A question that is raised in the film at nearly the half-way point, which is the most germane to me, is that wonder of what it is about males enjoying a female show that other members of society find so scary; would it be the same if a girl would be fascinated by, say, GI Joe?

As for the female fans? This, too, is addressed in the documentary, in My Little Pony adapted cartoon form, stating that even though ‘bro” is used at the beginning of the term brony, it also applies to female fans, as well, and is not proprietary. Good to know.

Personally, I find the whole idea of this level of this type of obsession interesting. I mean, I have my own, which are varied (just look though this blog), but even my devotions pale in comparison. There are, of course, unhealthy fixations when something becomes too much of power thing (jingoism, some religious zeal, some sports fanaticism, the occasional star fandom), and then there are healthier ones that become outlets. In the case of the Bronies, their focus – at least the people in this documentary – is the same as the show: friendship can conquer anything, positive triumphs over the  negative, and the like. For some who are lonely, or are in need of something in their lives, this positive message is important, no matter where it comes from, and if it’s accompanied by music (remember the psalms?), it can go a longer way. When you are feeling like a misfit, a kinship is also an opiate of the masses. This can also work in other ways within culture, such as music.

The star of this documentary, and yes it does have one, is John De Lancie. You know, the guy who played Q on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Apparently, as a once forgotten gig, he voiced Discord, the “evil” character that is defeated by the positive energy of the ponies. Since then, he has been embraced by the Bronies (One of us! One of us!) and has taken the role as a symbol of the movement, helping to mentor the younger ones. Here, he comforts a conservative dad to help him see that being a Brony doesn’t mean his 16 year old son is not a man.

Most of the other voice actors are interviewed individually, but the main focus is on Lauren Faust, who created the show, and Tara Strong (landsman!), the Canadian who voices the central character. They swirl around the Bronies at the New York Brony Con, lighting up faces along with Lancie, who really seems to be enjoying himself. He even voices the animated wraparound musical pieces of this film.

But the New York con is not the only one we take a boo on. There’s also one in Manchester, and another in Stuttgart. The theme to all of them is peace, harmony, being good to one another. And buying plushies and posters.

The third act of the documentary is also about focusing outward, as well as in. We see how one of the aims of the cons is to raise money for charities, and to promote original art and music (with a Ponies theme). The viewer meets musicians, laser artists, and some with the talent to draw the Ponies in ways that make others very, very happy. People dance, they jump, they fist bump and hug, and mostly they let everyone be themselves, including the 60 or so Bronies from the US Armed Forces. In other words, everything Robert Bly was trying to accomplish in the 1980s.

The two extras are interviews with voice talents and an overview of the BUCK con in the U.K. (6 min.) and the Galacon in Germany (10 min.) Both are well paced and varied enough to keep it going.

While it may be a bit of a head scratcher as to why, especially as I am not a Brony myself (is there a My Little Ramonie?), this is definitely a feel good film from beginning to end. Yes, it could have been a bit shorter, but love is all around, and watching this may make you 20% cooler.