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2010/10/31

CLUE: One of the Best Ensemble Casts

By Jav Rivera

Jonathan Lynn's 1985 film, Clue: The Movie, based on the Parker Bros. board game, has one of the best ensemble casts ever put together.  It's also one of the best mysteries ever written.  And who’s behind the story?  John Landis* and Jonathan Lynn; both have had their share of hits in the 80’s and 90’s but Landis was on one of the best hot streaks in the 80's, and this is no exception.

(left to right: Lesley Ann Warren, Martin Mull, Madeline Kahn,  Michael McKean, Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, and Eileen Brennan)
Clue: The Movie finds six guests invited to a mysterious dinner in a frightful mansion.  All six have been invited under questionable circumstances and little by little they discover their host’s true intentions. Once revealed, the murders begin and making it alive through the night becomes everyone’s number one goal…or so it would seem.

The dialogue is whip-smart and the performances are impeccable.  Most of it feels highly improvised and I wouldn’t doubt it considering the caliber of talent.  Young as they were, Michael McKeon (Spinal Tap), Christopher Lloyd (Back To The Future) and Madeline Kahn (Blazing Saddles) were in full bloom and laying down a foundation for a career of even more incredible future performances.  And it would be a shame not to mention Tim Curry, Martin Mull and Eileen Brennan who never seem to get the attention they rightly deserve. 


One of the best aspects of the film is the alternative endings and how comedic their performances become.  The ham meter climbs to the top as the cast really lets loose.  Madeline Kahn's little moment when she tries to explain how much she hates the French maid is absolutely precious: “I hated her….SO much…..fah-flames….coming out of my ear….”

It’s a film packed full of great lines and if there isn’t already a yearly screening of this film at your local art house theatre, there really should be.  So spread the word, Readers.  This is one of those movies that should be in every household and shown to every generation.  And since at its core it’s really a mystery, this might be great for a Halloween treat.  Fun for the whole family - just like the board game!

For more information (and great trivia) visit their IMDb page here: www.imdb.com/title/tt0088930

And watch the trailer at the following link: www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi1207632665

*Keep an eye for John Landis' up-coming film, Burke and Hare starring Simon Pegg, Andy Serkis and Clue's Tim Curry.  www.imdb.com/title/tt1320239

TRIVIA: The first movie based on a board game. 

2010/10/30

10 Scary Movies!

By Jav Rivera


It's Halloween weekend!  Are you looking for some scary movies to watch?  Here's a list of 10 of my personal favorite horror and suspense films (listed in no particular order):
  • Låt den rätte komma in [English title: Let The Right One In] (Dir. Tomas Alfredson)
  • El orfanato [English title: The Orphanage] (Dir. Juan Antonio Bayona)
  • Psycho (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
  • Jacob's Ladder (Dir. Adrian Lyne)
  • The Exorcist (Dir. William Friedkin)
  • The Silence of the Lambs (Dir. Jonathan Demme)
  • The Shining (Dir. Stanley Kubrick)
  • Rosemary's Baby (Dir. Roman Polanski)
  • 28 Days Later (Dir. Danny Boyle)
  • Se7en (Dir. David Fincher)

And here's an addition 5 movies that are a little more fun than scary:
  • Young Frankenstein (Dir. Mel Brooks)
  • An American Werewolf in London (Dir. John Landis)
  • Shaun of the Dead (Dir. Edgar Wright)
  • Zombieland (Dir. Ruben Fleischer)
  • Evil Dead II (Dir. Sam Raimi)
These are the ones that came to mind at the time of posting this.  I'm sure after I post it I'll think of 10 more that I should have listed. Oh well.  If you have more suggestions, post a comment!  Have a great Halloween and happy haunting!

2010/10/24

Sala 67

By Lisa Adamowicz Kless

Sometimes, art gently moves you. Other times, it uses brute force and knocks you on your ass.

For me, it was the latter that inspired an epiphany. It happened when I came face to face with a monster created by Francisco de Goya y Lucientes. Allow me to explain.


I had the extreme good fortune to visit Spain for eight days in 1993. A starry-eyed teenager abroad for the first time, Spain had me at “bienvenido”. I was immediately and deeply in love with the country and its culture. I spent days and nights speaking faltering Spanish, missing home and wishing I’d never have to leave, all at once. And if the heavens hadn’t already smiled upon me enough, one lovely spring day, a visit to the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid was on our itinerary.

Wandering amongst the collections was exquisite. I’ve always loved art in many forms, so while other kids were grumbling and wishing we were on the bus, headed back to the hotel, I was wide-eyed and soaking it all in. Then, my perception was forever altered. Unexpectedly, I was in front of a large painting that made the breath catch in my throat; it was equal parts terrifying and captivating. “Saturn Devouring One of His Sons” is one of Goya’s “Black Paintings”, as they came to be known. This particular piece is roughly 5’ by 2.75‘, and depicts Saturn eating a bloody, headless, one-armed human torso. With its gruesome subject matter and its substantial size, it’s not much of a leap to imagine that this painting immediately caught my attention. It was Saturn’s eyes that really froze me in my tracks though. Goya painted the eyes and the expression on the face with so much skill that madness pulsates off of the canvas.* In fact, I was half convinced that Saturn might pause his cannibalism for a moment to leap from the painting. I was awestruck. I remember the rest of the group beginning to walk on while I stood there, transfixed, wanting to get out from under that awful stare, yet still riveted. I finally had to break away to catch up with my group, but I walked away fundamentally changed. In those few minutes, “the power of art” became tangible. There have been plenty of other times that wonderful art has moved me since. Yet decades later and an ocean away, nothing trumps the moment that Saturn made my blood run cold and I was awoken to the sheer force of great art. Mil gracias, Goya. Mil gracias, Prado y España.


*According to information on the Museo del Prado’s website (www.museodelprado.es), this painting was originally part of a mural in a house Goya lived in. These works were painted on the walls, and later, the house’s new owner had the paintings transferred to canvas. It states that “the works suffered enormously in the process, losing a large amount of paint.” This only heightens the impact of my experience for me; I can’t fathom how amazing the original must‘ve been.

2010/10/23

M.C. Escher

By Jav Rivera

I love art and I love Photoshop. The two are almost intertwined these days. Some traditionalists will say that art has died with the invention of “digital” art but I embrace technology and its influence on art. I have to admit, however, that in my heart I know that digital art will never impress me as much as some of most bizarre traditional art. M.C. Escher is one of those who will forever amaze me. To think that his work was done prior to the computer age is often difficult to wrap my head around.

(Hand with Reflecting Sphere, 1935 Lithograph)

Maurits Cornelis Escher was born on June 17, 1898 and is recognized mostly for impossible architectural artwork that often reflect infinite loops.  In recent years, his work has been featured on t-shirts, posters, and calendars.  Most recently, Christopher Nolan referenced Escher’s work in his film, Inception (2010).

(Relativity, 1953 Lithograph)
Despite this, how many of you know the man behind these unique works of art?  I encourage you to Google him – I’m sure you’ll be surprised to learn how many obstacles he surpassed while pursing the life an artist.  Like other artists, much of his work is influenced and inspired directly from his travels and personal life.  Unlike others, however, his perception of landscape and personalities is exclusively unique.  You’ll really never see anything like him.   

(Dragon, 1925 Woodcut)
As always, my hope with these articles is to inspire you to seek out more information on the selected artist.  In this case, I urge you to thumb through books that highlight his work.  I’d be surprised if you weren’t absolutely astonished by his breadth of work. 

For more information on M.C. Escher, visit the official website: www.mcescher.com as well as books at your local library and book shops.

TRIVIA: Escher didn't have mathematical training and apparently taught himself.

2010/10/20

Once Upon A Time In The West: The Best Western

By Jav Rivera

In 1968, Sergio Leone directed his masterpiece C'era una volta il West (translated as Once Upon A Time In The West) starring Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, and Charles Bronson.  Many believe Leone’s best work was The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly starring Clint Eastwood, but in my opinion no other western embodies the isolation and mystery of character and the tension between civilization and wilderness.  It’s also one of the best examples of sound and cinematography.


Henry Fonda plays against his typically “good guy” character and embodies Frank, a heartless murderer with money and power in his sites.  The lovely Claudia Cardinale plays Jill McBain, a new bride who comes home to find her husband and adopted family murdered in their backyard.  Jason Robards plays Cheyenne, a thief and convicted felon who just escaped prison.  Charles Bronson rounds out the stellar cast as Harmonica, the lingering shadow whose intensions remain a mystery right up until the end.  Every main character carries a history as their stories meld.  Every character is also given their own distinctive musical theme.


They all play their characters with wit, charm and strength but it’s Bronson’s Harmonica who really draws me in viewing after viewing.  The title sequence alone is one of the most technically and aesthetically pleasing scenes I’ve ever witnessed.  It’s also probably the longest title sequence ever tried.  Really it’s just three men waiting for a train but Jack Elam, Woody Strode, and Al Mulock embody their sinister characters so well that the scene plays out like a climatic ending of a film.  


Of course they have help from the sound department using a squeaky windmill, a buzzing fly, knuckle-cracking and dripping water on a cowboy hat to assist in the annoyance of waiting for something to happen.  It’s in this scene when we’re introduced to Bronson’s Harmonica with one of the best one-liners ever written.  To recite it in this article would be to ruin a great moment in western cinema history. 


The pace of the film is generally slow but one must understand its reason.  Leone was a believer in dramatic tension.  The film could not – and should not – be faster. Much like another great western, the recent The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (another personal favorite), the film had to be this pace or it would lose much of its charm.  If you are delighted by the title sequence then sit back and be comforted by the fact that the rest of the film will equally delight you.  If not, then I’d still say give it a try because this is one of western cinemas best.

Spread the word, cowboys and girls.  To watch the film’s trailer click on the following link: www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi239075865.  And to read more about the film, visit their IMDb page here: www.imdb.com/title/tt0064116

UPDATE: Once Upon A Time In The West is now on Bluray.

TRIVIA: The first draft of the script was 436 pages long.

2010/10/15

Welcome to 2nd First Look!

Today, we officially launch 2nd First Look.  Our goal is to highlight the works of filmmakers and musicians who don't normally get attention.  Check back often for new articles.  Feel free to make comments to our articles and we always encourage you to email us with suggestions to: 2ndFirstLook at gmail dot com

Spread the word!

2010/10/14

Perry Farrell Says We’ll Make Great Pets

By Jav Rivera

Back in 1993, alternative rock band Porno For Pyros released their single, Pets, as well as a very unusual video.  The single received heavy rotation on alternative radio stations and the video, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, got major airplay on MTV and went on to be nominated in the “Best New Artist Music Video” category. 


Porno For Pyros is the brainchild of Jane’s Addiction front man Perry Farrell and drummer Stephen Perkins who were joined by guitarist Peter DiStefano and bassist Martyn LeNoble.  Their self-titled debut album reached the #3 position on the Billboard top 200 list and Pets reached #1 on Billboard’s U.S. Modern list.

The first time I heard Pets I was intrigued by the calmness of the music and child-like voice of Perry Farrell – not to mention that wonderfully weird video.  In a time when grunge music was at its peak, came a song that was oddly tranquil and seemingly sweet - seemingly so because most people couldn’t understand the lyrics.  Here in lies the reason I’ve named it one of my favorite songs of all times.  With music that could ease a child to sleep, there was much to be interpreted by the lyrics.  (Click here read the lyrics: "Pets").


The song refers to human race's steady decline and the fact that we would make “great pets” for the new race, which may or may not be aliens.  It’s an honest opinion of mankind and cleverly hidden within a pop song that reached a mass audience.  Unlike other artists who focus on what we can do to help make a positive change, Farrell instead focuses on the inevitable result of mankind’s destructive behavior. It allows the audience to find their own reasons for change and I personally feel it’s a stronger method. 

And if you don’t care about change, just enjoy the tune.  It’s smart, simple and a pleasure to listen to.  And of course that video is just great to watch.  Spread the word!

For more information on Porno For Pyros, visit the official website for Jane’s Addiction at: janesaddiction.org

TRIVIA: Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris later went on to direct the feature film Little Miss Sunshine and the VW commercial featuring Nick Drake’s "Pink Moon" (see Nick’s article here: Nick Drake Article).  

2010/10/12

Let The Right One In….Pleeeeeease!

By Jav Rivera

I just fell in love with a Swedish film about a vampire. Let The Right One In or in its native tongue, Låt den rätte komma in, follows Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant), a quiet boy who’s harassed by school mates and ignored at home. He finds friendship with his new neighbor, Eli (Lina Leandersson).



The acting is impeccable especially from the two children, Lina and Kåre. There’s something mysteriously genuine about these two young actors taking on such troubled characters. And as serious and dark as these actors have to portray their characters, there are still several moments when you see the child inside. Never do you feel as if they’re acting.


Kåre Hedebrant as "Oskar"
I wonder, then, why this film requires a U.S. remake, and so soon. The American version, directed by Matt Reeves, was release just two years later. The reviews have been positive for the most part but I can’t help but feel that it’s a cheap ploy to mooch off of a successful foreign film. It’s happened in the past with films like The Ring, which was based off the Japanese film, Ringu, and about to happen with David Fincher’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo based off of Män som hatar kvinnor from Denmark. As much as I adore Fincher’s work, I’m still apprehensive about the need for a U.S. version when the foreign version is so excellent.  

Lina Leandersson as "Eli"
The best I can hope for is that people who watch the U.S. versions will seek out the original sources. I’d say it’s a safe bet to say that the originals will almost always be superior to the remakes. Even if you disagree about the reasons for U.S. remakes, I highly recommend you seek out the originals, especially Let The Right One In. It doesn’t matter if you like vampire movies; it’s a great story with flawless acting, beautiful cinematography and amazing sound design. Honestly, I could write a series of articles just on this film but, alas, I have to have an ending. So here it is…it’s great….PERIOD.

Spread the word!  And for more information on Let The Right One In, visit their official website: www.lettherightoneinmovie.com.

TRIVIA: The title of the film refers to the fact that, according to myth, vampires must be invited in before they can enter someone's home.

2010/10/10

Just The Ticket Is Just Right

By Jav Rivera

I remember back in mid-90’s, I hated Andy Garcia.  Not because I was judging his performances in anything – I’m not sure I had even seen him in anything at that point.  I was just jealous because every girl I met was in love with him.  This jealously is much like the one I had with Brad Pitt until I finally watched his incredible performance in 12 Monkeys.  Garcia was one of those “gorgeous” men with matching talent.  Something I was completely unaware until I watched Just The Ticket, that is, and then all prior judgments went out the window.

Just The Ticket (directed by Richard Wenk) came out in 1999 without much notice or publicity.  I was working at a department store at that time and noticed the DVD on the shelf.  Bored as any department store employee would be during an 8-hour shift, I decided to pick the DVD up and read the back.  I’m not a romantic-comedy fan so I was immediately turned off – not to mention it starred Andy “Gorgeous” Garcia.  But I was bored so I read on.  Turns out the premise seemed clever – a ticket scalper named Gary Starke (Andy Garcia), a man with no identity and no responsibilities, is trying to make up with his ex, Linda Palinski (played by the lovely Andie MacDowell) by proving that he can be a legitimately honest man.


I was intrigued so I declared the DVD the property of the electronic department and opened it to watch on one of the thousand monitors at work.  Now that I think about it, it seems like something Gary would have done.  (Don’t worry – I ended up buying it).  Anyone who knows this film understands why I was hooked the second it starts. Over the United Artists/MGM logo at the beginning of the film we hear a deep breath followed by a couple of knocks.  A moment of silence and then another knock but this time it’s the famous “Shave and a haircut – Two bits” knock.  A confessional booth window slides open and we see our hero waiting for the priest.   Gary is a man with a million scams but is at a loss when it comes to winning back the heart of Linda.  This is apparently his last resort.


Andy Garcia is guaranteed to charm the pants off of you but a lot of credit also belongs to MacDowell’s brilliant performance as a gifted chef with a tough-love mentality.  Credit also goes to the superb supporting cast – much of whom have worked with Garcia in the past and chipped in favors to the production.  The script had been around the block more than a few times before Garcia finally decided to “just make it” with little-to-no budget. 

The DVD includes an audio commentary where it’s explained that many of the ticket scalping scenes took place on real streets with real customers.  Several of the other scenes were improvised as well, including a hilarious moment when Garcia fakes a pain in his side fooling even MacDowell.  Garcia is no doubt at the top of his game – something we don’t see again until City Island (2009), which has much of the same charm and strength of Just The Ticket.

Find it at your local rental shop or just buy the DVD – it’s well worth it.  Spread the word!  For more information on Just The Ticket, visit the IMDb page here: www.imdb.com/title/tt0134948.

TRIVIA: Andie MacDowell improvises a jingle to mock Gary about his idea for a drive-thru dental service called Gary's Plaque-O-Rama.  A full big band version of that jingle is later used for the ending credits.

2010/10/09

Nick Drake | Pink Moon

By Jav Rivera

Nick Drake was 26 years old when he died in 1974.  In that short time he produced 3 studio albums and several tracks that were released decades after his death.  His colleagues as well as his manager, Joe Boyd, believed there was incredible potential in this young prodigy.  But not only was his style of music difficult to sell, but Nick was also a reluctant performer.  After a few ill-fated performances, Nick decided to never perform live again.  Not much attention was given towards this unique musician until decades later, mostly due to a Volkswagon commercial that used the title track from Nick's most daring album.


So why is Pink Moon so daring?  It’s not because of the production costs, nor the endless recording sessions, nor the hundreds of performers hired to play on the album.  It’s none of those because the album didn’t have any of them.  The album was extremely bare and deceivingly simple.  Even his engineer, John Wood, was surprised when Nick stood up after finishing his 2nd two-hour recording session declaring the album complete.  The album consists of Nick’s voice and his guitar (with one piano overdubbed on the title track).  Of course, Nick’s guitar playing was always anything but simple.  He used unusual guitar tunings – of his own devise – and sang in unique vocal melodies.  It has been theorized that his vocals stem from his saxophone background.   When you hear his melodies, you can almost hear his voice in place of a saxophone.

The stark sound of Pink Moon was also a dramatic turn in comparison to his previous two albums, which were full of orchestral arrangements and jazz-influenced, folk music.  Pink Moon was a dark, blues-influenced sound with lyrical themes of hopelessness.  It comes to no surprise then that Nick had a low opinion of his place as an artist.

Nick Drake
He considered his previous two albums as failures because of the lack of sales.  Any Nick Drake fan, however, will tell you differently.  The 3 studio albums were all successes as far as significance and originality.  Nick was a proficient guitarist with a warm, husky voice and poetic lyrics. 

Sometimes a man’s greatest work comes from the darkest places. Pink Moon is the sound of a man at a low point in his life. How unfortunate that Nick isn’t around to receive the validity he lacked when he was creating his masterpieces.  But it’s wonderful to know how much attention Nick Drake is getting these days.  He’s a great example of talent being unrecognized despite the quality of work.  Personally, I hope his music will be appreciated for generations – as I’m sure it will.

For more information, visit the official Estate of Nick Drake here: http://www.brytermusic.com/

Spread the word.

TRIVIA: During his school days, Nick Drake was very athletic and won several awards in track and field. His record for the 100-yard dash at Marlborough College in Wiltshire, England still stands (as of 2012).

2010/10/07

Kula Shaker: Not Run of the Mill

By Jav Rivera

Current band members L-R: Harry Broadbent, Crispian Mills, Paul Winterhart, and Alonza Bevan
Don’t be surprised if you don’t know who Kula Shaker is despite the fact that they’ve been making music since 1995, have 4 studio albums, 1 tenth anniversary reissue, credits on movie soundtracks, several critically-acclaimed covers (including Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Deep Purple), worked with renown producers Rick Rubin and Bob Ezrin, and have a huge following in the UK and Japan.  Instead, let me tell you why you should know them.


Kula Shaker was one of the many English bands that were smooched into the Brit-Pop category during the mid 1990’s – in the heyday of bands like Oasis and Radiohead.  A unique sound seriously overlooked, it’s not fair to say Kula Shaker fits that category.  They blend traditional Indian music with 60’s psychedelic rock with an ease that reminds you of The Beatles’ experimental phase.  And along with English lyrics, they also write and sing in Sanskrit (Google “Sanskrit” if you want to be more impressed).  Their albums consist of a wide range of styles – from hard rock anthems to delicate acoustic ballads, Indian chants to radio-friendly pop rock.  One thing is for certain; this isn’t your run of the mill Brit-Pop band.

Original band members L-R: Paul Winterhart, Crispian Mills, Alonza Bevan, and Jay Darlington
The band consists of Crispian Mills (guitars/vocals), Alonza Bevan (bass), Paul Winterhart (drums), and Jay Darlington (keyboards/organ) who was later replaced by Harry Broadbent.  Though their debut album K was critically a smash and brought them to the forefront of UK audiences, it was their sophomore effort, Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts where they had perfected their sound and energy.  In fact, they’ve admitted to spending every penny they had on this album.


Unfortunately, not long after its release the band decided to part ways in 1999.  They each worked on their own separate projects including Crispian and his new band, The Jeevas, which had a more classic 70’s rock sound (they are definitely worth a search as well by the way).  By 2004, Crispian produced an album of all-traditional Indian music entitled School of Braja.  It featured many artists including a reunited Kula Shaker.  They announced news of their reunion and upcoming record Strangfolk due out in 2007.  Fans didn’t have to wait long for their follow up album Pilgrim’s Progress, which was released in 2010.  It has been applauded by the music press and is becoming their best-reviewed album since their debut.  

Spread the word, Folks.  For more information, check out Kula Shaker’s website: www.kulashaker.co.uk.

TRIVIA: The cover of Kula Shaker's debut album K contains famous persons and characters whose names begin with the letter "K".