Pain and Glory (2019) Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Pedro Almodóvar has been directing films since 1980. Along the way he has gone through notable phases. He’s honed his skills incorporating various genres into his vision of the world, all the while maintaining his trademarks of sharp color palates and a proclivity for the wild side. His latest film Pain and Glory is an openly personal film. Antonio Banderas portrays a thinly veiled version of the director named Salvador Mallo. Mallo is suffering from various ailments. He lives in the shadow of his greatest success as a director: a film he criticized due to the performance of the main actor Alberto Crespo (Asier Etxeandia). Mallo’s criticism of Crespo caused a decades-long rift between the two. Before an anniversary screening of the film, Mallo goes to Crespo’s house to reconcile before seeing him in public. This leads to an unexpected twist causing the director reflect extensively on his youth.

Here is where you might imagine the beginning of a formulaic drama, but the reconciliation between the two takes on an introspective shape and is only one element in Mallo’s journey. Mallo also reflects on his life as a ten-year-old in Francisco Franco’s Spain in the mid-’60s during flashback scenes where Penelope Cruz portrays his mother as they relocate several times. Almodóvar’s typically transgressive humor takes a back seat as the main storyline is an insightful rumination on aging and what it means to continue creating when the drive to do so dulls. Banderas and long-time Almodóvar regular Cecilia Roth as Zulema, another former collaborator who steps in to help the director get his life in order, drive the film. The story gives insight into Almodóvar’s life and philosophy. It’s not your typical music-swelling-at-the-right-time drama. It’s a refreshingly thoughtful film with excellent performances. –Billups Allen (El Deseo)

Pick it Up! Ska in the ’90s: Directed by Taylor Morden

I can already hear everybody groaning. Yes, ’90s ska is something everybody at one point liked and then felt immediately embarrassed about. Or always hated it with a passion and wanted nothing to do with it. As someone in the documentary states, ska was tainted by a bunch of dumb white guys from California.

Pick It Up briefly goes over ska’s Jamaican beginnings (watch Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records if you want that story), how it became more punk, how it hit the mainstream, and how it became a dirty word. It features pleasant interviews from Christian Jacobs (MC Bat Commander), Leanor Ortega (Five Iron Frenzy), Mike Park (Skankin’ Pickle, Asian Man Records), and various members of notable ska bands I’m not mentioning because the list is too long. Basically, if you think of a ska band from 1988-2005, one living member was interviewed. The shining star of the interviews is Aaron Barrett, singer for Reel Big Fish. Even if you can’t stand Reel Big Fish, you will like this guy. He’s got charm and a very self-reflective sense of humor. You cherish every moment he’s on screen. He has a couple of “man on the street” segments that are also very funny.

Most of the interviews reflect on what a ridiculous and silly time it was being in a ska band in that era. Can you imagine sharing a tour van, splitting meals, and finding a place to stay with six to eight other people in your band? You can assume that most of the ska bands were just trying to make it big, but a hardy chunk of them felt it was important to their DIY ethos and continued to play all-age shows. But some other ska bands lost touch with ska’s original political overtones in favor of songs about food and girls.

Again, some would argue why this is an unnecessary documentary or should be packed with all those ska bands and shot into the sun. But the only unnecessary part of the documentary is the Tim Armstrong narration. But fortunately, you only have to hear a lot of it during a very good animated sequence by Sarah Schmidt about the history of ska.

The Blu Ray features some nice extended interviews with Angelo Moore from Fishbone and Elyse Rogers from the Dance Hall Crashers. You also get a tour of the Aquabats wild ass offices and the Asian Man Records offices (garage).

This documentary is solid even if you aren’t a fan of ska. I don’t think much of ‘90s ska but I found myself writing down names of bands I either overlooked or wrote off as bad. So watch it, and try not to cringe too hard at any of the ska puns. –Rick V. (Pop Motion Pictures, skamovie.com)

Featured movie reviews Razorcake 115: Anti-Nowhere League: We Are the League and Rudeboy

It eventually dawned on me that Anti-Nowhere League was a stubbornly out-of-lockstep representation of heterodox punk. I liked that. They were kindred oddballs, a subset of super-weirdos

I would recommend, before sitting down to watch this DVD, perhaps cleaning the wax deposits out of your ears as the British accents presented are brogue-ishly thick and laced with sometimes inscrutable slang; not to the point of listening to a Wattie interview where you actually need subtitles, but attentive listening is probably required.

Anti-Nowhere League: We Are the League: DVD/CD

For the longest time I never knew what to make of Anti-Nowhere League; they always seemed to get lumped in with the stalwarts of early ’80s Brit hardcore like Discharge, G.B.H, and the Exploited, however ancillary that relationship may have been. But they stood out in my mind because, unlike those bands, they never sported the officially sanctioned hardcore look. No colorful Mohican or porcupine hairdos. Instead, they wore top hats and gay biker hats with short hair and came across as slightly fetishy low-rent goons, each a walking menagerie of nits and unusual rashes. With their striped shirts and gobs frozen into exaggerated snarls, they had the petty criminal charm of any gang of henchmen on the old ’60s Batman show. I could even picture the ANL lair with floors tilted at angles no innocent person would architecturally allow. And of course, they were fronted by this loutish biker dude wearing crisscrossing chains like a vest and menacingly clutching a large ax for some reason, who would’ve seemed out of place at a punk show if he wasn’t surrounded by his similarly misfit bandmates. All in all, they seemed like Motörhead’s filthier little brothers, with a biker/skinhead/punk twist.

It eventually dawned on me that Anti-Nowhere League was a stubbornly out-of-lockstep representation of heterodox punk. I liked that. They were kindred oddballs, a subset of super-weirdos within the larger group of regular weirdos, and for that reason alone, I owed them a listen. It didn’t take long before I found myself in heated arguments with Metallica fans about whose version of the politically incorrect classic “So What” is better.

We Are the League is the ANL documentary I always wished existed. It presents the infamous oddball “anti-band” from Tunbridge Wells warts and all, including sordid carrots-up-rectum stories, frank recountings of racially-tinged band tensions, and even an unflinching look at their incongruous stumble into Tears-For-Fears-like sensitive, soft metal realms with the release of their Perfect Crime album in the late ’80s. Included with the DVD is a CD of raw live recordings from 1982 featuring ripping renditions of their early classics along with hilarious samples of snide audience baiting.

I would recommend, before sitting down to watch this DVD, perhaps cleaning the wax deposits out of your ears as the British accents presented are brogue-ishly thick and laced with sometimes inscrutable slang; not to the point of listening to a Wattie interview where you actually need subtitles, but attentive listening is probably required.

It could be said, given that the subject of this documentary is a band notorious for its low-brow crudeness, that this is a surprisingly well-crafted film. Even more surprising might be that the blokes in the band come across as genuinely affable chaps, whether having had their barbs shaved down by advancing age or clever editing. Seriously imposing and yet self-deprecating at the same time, Anti-Nowhere League is a grimy enigma in leather and this film gives you a gritty look at the goons behind the legend, free of any threat of being bit or gobbed on. Essential viewing. –Aphid Peewit (MVDvisual.com)

Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records Directed by Nicolas Jack Davies

Rude Boy opens with a quote from D.J./filmmaker Don Letts: “Music is an open letter to the world…” It might sound corny, but that bit of optimism sets the tone for this documentary about one of the most iconic record labels in the world. The timeline begins with Jamaica’s independence from Brittan in 1962 and the rise of the sound system. Late-night parties staved off some of the stress of financial struggles and political uncertainty. Anecdotes in the film range from massive parties, unshakable gangsters, and serious competition to acquire new records and equipment. Talking heads include some of the most influential living reggae icons. Producer Bunny Lee, singer Derrick Morgan, filmmaker Don Letts, and Selecter vocalist Pauline Black are among those illuminating the details as both fans and participants. The stories are told with enthusiasm. Despite some of the bravado, participants come across as understanding they are part of something bigger than themselves.

Trojan was born out of mass immigration to London. Between 1955 and 1963 over 100, 000 Jamaicans relocated to England. This phenomenon brought reggae and rocksteady to the youth of England. Street cred elevated demand. Trojan began as a small distro in 1968 and ended in 1975 under the typical weight of problems and financial burdens. In just a few years they became the face of ska, reggae, and rocksteady. This film covers some well-worn territory with fresh attitude. If you know the basic narrative already, it fills in the holes nicely. If you don’t, it’s a compelling and efficient film about the rise and fall of an icon told without excessive drama. It’s sad some people got screwed in this process, but I walked away from this telling with a positive attitude. –Billups Allen (Pulse Films)

Rudeboy: The Story of Trojan Records Directed by Nicolas Jack Davies

Many music-related documentaries are being released these days and we should all be very grateful. A lot of those documentaries are informational, yes, but all kind of follow the same formula: fast-paced interviews with archived footage of whatever events the subject matter or narrator mentions.

Rudeboy takes a slightly different approach. First, there is no narrator. The narrative is done by the musicians, producers, and people involved in the rise and fall of Trojan Records. And during those interviews, there is some archive footage here and there. But the majority of what you see is dramatic recreations of whatever story is being told. In those recreations, there is little to no dialogue and the cinematography is great.

The documentary starts in Jamaica in the ’50s, where instead of people filling a room to see a band perform, they would flock to the place with the best sound system and DJ spinning the best records. Then it takes us to the U.K. in the ’60s where two record store employees took their mutual interest in Jamaican music to the next level by starting a record label. They hit up all the producers in Jamaica to release records through Trojan, hence introducing a bunch of British youngsters to a new sound that made them want to shake their butts.

There are many great and deep interviews with folks that were around Trojan Records before day one, including Bunny Lee, Derrick Morgan, Toots Hibert, wild-man Lee “Scratch” Perry, and Roy Ellis (Symarip), who cuts quite a rug in this movie. There are also some memorable interviews with Neville Staple (The Specials), documentarian Don Letts (Big Audio Dynamite), and Pauline Black (The Selecter).

Without giving a whole lot away, in this documentary, you will learn how Millie Small put ska on the charts, what a rudeboy actually is, why politician Enoch Powell is a piece of shit, why skinheads carried around copies of Tighten Up Volume 2 under their arms, and why the staff at Trojan Records had to go out back and smash their records every once in a while.

Rudeboy was released last year via streaming services (for some reason it’s rated NC-17 on Amazon) but has yet to get a physical release other than a soundtrack. I would be hyped to see what special features or extended interviews would exist on a DVD or Blu-ray. Or at least more footage of Roy Ellis dancing around an empty warehouse. –Rick V. (Pulse Films, pulsefilms.com)

Bill Direen: A Memory of Others: DVD

Two types of music documentary are becoming very formulaic. One is the obligatory doc about a seminal band with a boring origin story. The second is a documentary about how mainstream success has eluded some artist. In A Memory of Others, director Simon Ogston dodges the typical pitfalls of the latter while still exposing the enigmatic career of Bill Direen to a larger audience. Ogston breaks from convention, not by dramatically categorizing the ups and downs of Direen’s career in a conventional timeline, but instead choosing to showcase Direen’s phases based on the flow of their discussions.

Direen is New Zealand’s punk-Shakespeare, similar to John Cooper Clarke or Jim Carroll. He’s played in punk bands, written poetry, and done experimental theater. Direen is a humble optimist with rough charisma. Ogston follows Direen on a recent tour of coffee houses, art spaces, and small bars in New Zealand. Direen makes music, gives talks, and reads poetry in front of small gatherings of enthusiastic fans, all the while gently proselytizing about what it means to be an artist through discussions about his career.

Ogston takes a refreshing turn by utilizing few talking head interviews and their footage of the New Zealand landscape is masterful. The only frustration with the film comes with the decision to tell the story out of order. There is no cataloguing of bands’ eras, more or less. As the film unfolds, it makes sense in congress with Direen’s attitude towards art. The film paints a portrait of an interesting artist and a nice guy who is relatively happy with what his compulsion to create has brought him in life. He’s an inspiring man and the film does Direen’s attitude justice. –Billups Allen (Self-released)

GG Allin—All in the Family: DVD

GG Allin—All in the Family illustratoin by Rick V

As a new age of barbarism is dawning across America, it seems like a good time to drop in on everyone’s favorite punk rock barbarian, GG Allin. And though the new documentary GG Allin: All in the Family gives no indication of GG’s possible political leanings—a true anarcho-primitivist nihilist is not easily plotted on the conventional left/right political spectrum—it’s intriguing to speculate if GG could be claimed by the barbarians of the Alt Right now that they’ve asserted republicanism as “the new punk rock.” His mongoloid misogynism is guaranteed to set off a million #MeToo alarms and not even the most primped and pumped-up Proud Boy could touch him in raw yobbish political incorrectness. “GG Allin, Conservative Icon” may sound absurd at first, but is anything really absurd anymore in the socio-political realm?

Unlike Todd Phillip’s 1993 GG documentary Hated, where the Allin family was a mere footnote to Kevin Allin’s Rock’n’roll Terrorist act, what’s front and center here is, as the punny title states: ALLIN, the family. That would be brother Merle, GG’s mom Arleta and, to a lesser extant, the damaged drummer Dino Sex. Each is shown going about their post-GG life, each dealing with their grief with their own reconstructive narratives, as the psychologists say. It would be oversimplified, but it could be crudely said that the spirit of Kevin primarily lives on through the filtered memories of Arleta, while the spirit of GG primarily lives on through the filtered memories of Merle. Each has chosen their own ghost to haunt them.

Merle, for example, basically lives in a GG shrine which doubles as a GG Allin merchandise warehouse. And incidentally, Merle is in the privileged position, solely because of his infamous brother, of being able to profit from scooping his own mushy grunt-pie out of the toilet, brushing it onto a canvas and selling that canvas as an object d’art. Similar to how Donny Trump Jr. is—solely due to his relationship to the pear-shaped plutocrat currently infesting the White House—able to scoop the brain turds from his own cranial cavity, compress them into book form, and profit from it. Fame and infamy are funny things.

No concrete answers are given to the question of what caused Kevin to transmogrify into GG. That mystery is left hanging like a pair of besmirched underpants on Arleta’s clothesline. But disturbing hints are dropped about Merle Sr., GG and Merle’s father, who looms over this film like a twisted specter and who only peeks out of the interstices of the storyline briefly. One can only guess what sort of “Daddy-Dearest” secrets disappeared with that kook.

If TV execs are paying attention: this fascinating, almost Dadaistic showcase of the Allin family should be fleshed out into a TV series, one that would make The Osbournes look like Leave It to Beaver. And then maybe Merle, Arleta, and Dino can be the new Reality TV family to finally dislodge our embarrassing national fixation on the Kardashians. I think that would make GG proud. –Aphid Peewit (MVD visual, MVDvisual.com)

Be Natural: The Untold Story of Alice Guy-Blaché, Directed by Pamela B. Green

This excellent documentary begins on shaky ground with a quick-fire montage of industry big-timers and indie heroes engaged in talking head interviews. The gist of this segment suggests a lot of industry insiders and intellectuals have not heard of pioneering filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché. The film asks: “How could such an important filmmaker not be known?” Here lies my only contention with the film: it struggles to present itself as a mystery unnecessarily.

Guy-Blaché’s memoirs were published in 1996. She is the subject of several books. She had a retrospective at The Whitney Museum of Art in 2010. Every year since 2012, an award is given in her name at the Golden Film Festival. She’s not a household name, but she hardly wallows in obscurity. I embrace the film’s contention her work was not taken as seriously as her male counterparts, but I also believe filmmaking in general was not taken seriously nor was it well-documented as it could have been during this crucial time of its infancy. And like many filmmakers working from the early nineteenth century through the 1920s, much of Guy-Blaché’s footage has literally disintegrated. Only about a third of her films survived.

But the film settles quickly and begins to write Guy-Blaché into the tapestry of film history. This aspect of the story is rich enough to carry the film. It provides an invaluable opportunity to categorize and observe her surviving work. Director Pamela B. Green makes the case for Guy-Blaché with compelling use of footage, interviews, and an excellent timeline moving the film forward at an entertaining and informative pace.

Guy-Blaché is widely believed to be the first director to make a narrative film. She also holds the distinction of being the first filmmaker to use an all African-American cast, although the result is objectionable, thematically, by today’s standards. She is also credited as first filmmaker to use close-ups, hand-tinted color, and synchronized sound (although the film never fully qualifies the contention she was the first to use close-ups). She also started Solax Films, snapping up the title of first female head of a studio. A sign on the studio wall is one of her prime directions to her actors: “Be Natural.” It was Guy-Blaché’s philosophy.

What is most astounding is all of this happened over an approximately twenty- year career. By the 1920s, film production was relocating to Hollywood, California, and Guy-Blaché encountered setbacks that pushed her studio (and much of the film business in Fort Lee, New Jersey, an early hub for film production) out of business. Guy-Blaché moved to Paris to find work, but struggled and eventually gave up or lost interest. “Why?” is a mystery Green chases to a logical conclusion. Guy-Blaché disintegrated into history like her fragile celluloid catalogue. She was a pioneer whose work would further an industry that certainly turned its back on her. This film does a first-rate job of telling her story. –Billups Allen (Zeitgeist)

Blood and Steel, Cedar Crest Country Club: Streaming, Directed by Michael Maniglia

In 1986 a group of kids built a giant halfpipe in a country club in Centreville, Va. The project was funded by one of their dads who owned the country club and even set them up with an architect to make the ramp perfect. The frosting on the cake was that the ramp had sheets of steel opposed to plywood for the top layer. It even had an apartment and a garage built under the decks. For years the Cedar Crest Country Club (aka the CCCC or The Crest) became a destination spot for skateboarders and punk bands from across the country. People moved to the area just to be closer to this Mecca of a ramp.

This documentary covers the closing of the skateparks and the destruction of wood ramps that lead to this project. How a bunch of frustrated kids who had nowhere to skate took the initiative and used their blood, sweat, tears, and happy-go-lucky dad’s money to build the ramp.

We hear testimonials by Ian MacKaye, members of Gwar, and many others on what it was like to play on a ramp in the middle of the woods to hundreds of sweaty kids. You get to see actual footage of bones being broken during some rowdy “snake sessions.” Other than those incidents, the punks, skaters, metalheads, and even country bumpkins got along just fine at the tent-filled grounds of the CCCC.

It’s a good documentary with a lot of archived videos and photos from CCCC’s five-year run. It would’ve been nice if the doc went into more detail on why the patrons just stopped showing up. But then again, if it was any longer than ninety minutes I could have seen myself getting bored. –Rick V. (Subterra Films)