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Thursday July 19, 2012

Film review: Shut Up and Play the Hits

Shut Up and Play the Hits

It would be extremely easy to overstate the importance of LCD Soundsystem, the musical project of James Murphy. He makes dance and pop music. It’s very very good dance music that grooves with the best of them while hitting all the pleasure centers available to pop music. It’s epic and casual, bombastic and primitive, and arty and absolutely straightforward, but towering over all of that is Murphy’s knowledge of the history of the music he cares about and his extreme self-consciousness about his position in it. In conversation, stage persona, and appearance, he comes across as modest, and he’s managed to convince himself and the world that his centrality to the music he makes is unconnected to his ego. Famously, Murphy creates almost all the music on LCD Soundsystem’s albums himself, and while his live shows are joyous and free-seeming, the large group of talented musicians he’s assembled to perform the songs have little musical freedom.

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Wednesday July 18, 2012

Shut Up and Play the Hits, the L C D Soundsystem film, is playing tonight only at Tower Records, and as of right now there are still tickets available for the 9:30 pm showing. If you miss this you will be very sad watching it on your VCR or whatever.

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Monday March 10, 2008

miami.metblogs is “back,” with a curious new look and a new writer, currently serving up synopses of films at the Miami International Film Festival. Meh. Meanwhile, a more interesting writeup on the Miami Underground Film Festival (MUFF!) at Riptide.

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Wednesday December 12, 2007

List of films and television shows set in Miami

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Wednesday April 25, 2007

Cocaine Cowboys the movie

cocaine cowboys screenshot

Cocaine Cowboys is a documentary about the drug trade in Miami in the late 1970s and early 80s. Built around absorbing interviews with Jon Roberts, Mickey Munday, and Jorge “Rivi” Ayala, it’s intercut with occasionally cheesy reenactments and some fascinating stock footage.

In the first part, Roberts and Munday tell their stories. Small-time crooks who happened to be in the right place at the right time, they become two of the biggest importers of cocaine from Colombia to Miami. They share lots and lots of interesting stories about the technicalities of how they did it (many more are on the DVD’s great deleted scenes section), how much money they made, and all the cool shit they got to buy. There’s stories of destroying the private room at the Forge and just paying to have it restored, smashing cars as a form of tension-relief, and transporting coke in the trunk of a car on a flatbed truck. There are great stories about dropping loads with homing signals in the ocean, evading the Coast Guard boats at Haulover Park inlet, and flying around the West side of Cuba.

The focus shifts to the violence that came with the business in the middle section. From prison, Ayala tells the story of his quick rise through the ranks to become the main assassin for Griselda Blanco (“La Madrina”), and then the story pretty much stick with her. She’s painted as the leader of one side in the early 80s cocaine war, having guys killed along with their wives and children, laying waste to anyone who rubs her the wrong way, and generally being all capital-R ruthless. Ayala is the star of the movie, sympathetic and serious, even as he describes systematically tracking down and killing a dude who slighted Blaco’s son outside a police station.

In the third act the movie makes the case that the cocaine trade is singularly responsible for Miami’s current financial clout. We see the sleepy resort/retirement community of the 1970s, the building boom that came in the 80s, and the economic contraction that came when Regan cracked down on the drug trade in the mid-80s. At the time, 90% of the cocaine imported into the US came through Miami. There are enough quotes from experts that connect the dots between the drugs and the financial status of the whole city (why are there so many banks in Brickell, anyway?) that make the argument seem quite plausible. When the big bust came (Roberts and Munday both spent time in prison, as did Blanco), the city had supposedly been given enough of a push that the economy flew on its own.

I think everyone already knows that this is a fascinating film, but I’m throwing in my “me too” anyway. If there’s a complaint to be made, it’s how much it relies on straight interviews. Besides the three main guys, we get lots of police, experts, and a few smaller criminals. The filmmakers don’t help themselves by trying weird montage effects and transitions between the interviews and other bits. And there’s lots of use of photographs, sometimes manipulated for graphic effect. Maybe this is all done about as well as it could have been, but the fact is that the old-Miami footage is the only thing actually worth watching, and Cocaine Cowboys would probably work just as well with the picture turned off. But that’s not so bad — the three main subjects are intriguing, and the pacing of the narrative is perfect.

One other thing: it’s graphic. They went and got crime-scene pictures of all the shootings, and they sprinkled them throughout the movie at the appropriate points. No half-assing it here.

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Monday December 18, 2006

Miami Vice the movie DVD review

boats crusiing past the port of miami

Warning: Minor spoilers ahead especially for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie at all. If you haven’t seen the movie, watch the DVD, which is a big improvement over the theatrical release, before reading.

The theatrical release of the Miami Vice movie sucked. But guess what? The DVD version is almost a completely different movie. Masterpiece? No. But the new cut (Don’t call it a “director’s cut” says Michael Mann, the original was a director’s cut too) fixes the biggest problems of the original movie — it’s tenuous connection to the city of Miami and the original series, and the weakness of the bond between Sonny and the Isabella.

Good news: the opening “port of Miami” sequence has been restored. Bad news: it doesn’t show more of the port then you’d see from the MacArththur Causeway. Nonetheless, the speadboat opening sequence begins by firmly grounding the movie in Miami, which makes a crucial difference for how the rest of the movie plays, at least for this lifelong Miami resident. Now when a scene takes place in an empty lot with a vague view of downtown at night in the background, I’m not straining to see if it’s authentic or not, and the backgrounding of the landmarks actually adds to the credibility. The original movie’s incomprehensible nightclub-scene opening was one of its major blunders.

The second key sequence that’s restored to the DVD is Sonny and Isabella’s romp in Havana. The original version included only a few seconds on the island, while the new version tells the story of the two characters taking a couple of days there together, falling in love. Since their bond drives the resolution of the movie, it makes more sense with these scenes in place, though they do slow down the action in the critical second act. Incidentally, the scenes in Havana are carefully handled: the city is presented simultaneously as an international tourist playground (for everyone but Americans) and as a once-great but now decaying place of deep and soulful beauty (the latter sense is dealt with only briefly, but it rings true).

Lots of other new shit is in the DVD version too; mostly stuff that give the movie a grand feeling balancing the gritty gunplay which overwhelmed the original version. Little exchanges between Sonny and Ricardo. A second shower sex scene mirroring the one in the original (still the best scene in the movie).

You wonder, then, how the original edit could have been so thoroughly botched. Probably the idea was to put in as many action sequences and as little dialog and exposition as possible. The problem with that is that it was impossible for a first-time viewer to fully understand what was going on, which in turn made the action sequences less meaningful. The new film does a much better job of balancing all the factors that go into making a thriller — the intrigue, the action, the romance . . . it’s hackneyed, but at least it’s done well.

It also plays more like an episode from the original TV series, in which shifts in mood were so critical. This movie feels like an episode that just had too much good stuff that couldn’t be edited down (and in fact Mann has said that he wanted to do Miami Vice as a movie before even doing the TV show). So what we get then, is a movie with the same basic set of key scenes, but where all the in-between bits seem to have been switched out and rearranged. A movie that’s actually pretty good, and more importantly, makes sense.

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Wednesday December 6, 2006

Miami Vice was released yesterday on DVD. It’s an Unrated! Director’s Cut!! with Bonus Features!!! so we should all give it a second chance, even though it sucked the first time. I’m game; just moved it to the top of my Neftlix queue. I can’t tell from the marketing speak whether the Port of Miami intro sequence is on the DVD, but after seeing the second season of The Wire recently, I sure hope so.

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Friday October 20, 2006

Cocaine Cowboys movie/opening review. After the “those of us who aren’t fortunate enough to have tickets . . .” bit, Rick got an invite to the premiere!

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Monday October 2, 2006

“Miami was the most dangerous place on earth.” Cocaine Cowboys opens October 27. (via SotP)

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Wednesday September 20, 2006

a crappy horror movie

The original A Nightmare on Elm Street is showing tonight and tomorrow at the Lincoln Rd. movie theater. How about The Serpent And The Rainbow next? (via ignore)

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Wednesday August 9, 2006

DDS8IFF

awards ceremony
‘Audience Choice’ award winner Nastassja Schmidt, Julie Lara Kahn, and Brook Dorsch, at the Dixie Dingo Super-8 “International Film Festival”

Okay, so first of all, if Brook ever gives you a little film camera and asks you to make a little movie, only only only ever turn it on in full midday sunlight. OK, we’re talking about the film screening last night, and actually almost all the movies were pretty great. Taken as a group, they just about made up a poem about Miami. Nastassja Schmidt absolutely stole the show. She decided to sing Amazing Grace while her movie played. Now keep in mind that nobody saw the movies before they were screened, right? So, she starts to sing, the movie starts to play, and the screen is completely dark.

Somehow her movie was the most underexposed of them all, and with only one little flash spot of light (which—important—made it clear that the problem was with the film, not the camera), Nastassja sang to a dark screen. She seemed a little taken aback, but not at all thrown. So, ok, she’s an amazing singer, right? And she’s doing this incredible acapella version of Amazing Grace, with little slides and flourishes and stuff, and just as she gets to the “but now I see” line . . . the screen comes a live with just the briefest shot of light, something that looks like a chandelier, or an explosion, or a bouquet of flowers (of which the latter is what it was, she explained afterwards how she had mixed artificial flowers with real flowers, and it was supposed to be about how misleading hasty judgements can be).

So yeah, it was unbelievable. After that, nothing was going to compete, though Crispin Sylvester’s movie was great, and apparently lost by only one vote. Some more thoughts about the night:

  1. TM Sisters did some crazy good titles, which somehow made the whole thing feel a little like the Oscars, and managed to perfectly complement grainy B/W footage, feature dogs (the festival’s named after a dog, remember?), and still be in the TM’s trademark style.
  2. Faktura Pet Projects were taking donations and selling artwork to support animal adoption (the dog the festival’s named after was found and adopted by Brook and Julie).
  3. William Keddell’s amoeba pictures and 3d viewers are great. You’ve seen the picture on the Dorsch site? Well, then, you haven’t seen anything.
  4. Cinema Vortex was involved with the projecting and technical aspects of the whole thing, cause, you know, Best Buy doesn’t sell Super-8 projectors anymore. And for example how they transferred the TM’s titles to Super-8 was the mystery of the night for me.
  5. The Miami-Dade department of cultural affairs gave them a grant to throw this thing.

All of which brings me to say that the Dorsch Gallery has now completed it’s transformation into a full-on cultural center. This is the sort of event that the smartest non-profit in the world might try to do, but for a supposedly commercial gallery? I’d say it’s pretty singular. Just wait until the AC’s in place!

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Monday August 7, 2006

Dixie Dingo Super-8 Film Festival

This is a project that Brook Dorsch and Julie Kahn cooked up last year. They somehow came into the possession of eight Super-8 cameras, and gave them to eight semi-randomly selected people along with a three-minute spool of film. One week later, everything gets returned, developed, and subsequently screened. The screening is the first time anyone gets to see the movies, including the organizers. Nice. I missed it last year, and I’m not missing it again.

Tomorrow Night! (Tuesday, 8 pm) From the website (which as far as I know has no permlinks:

Julie Lara Kahn & Brook Dorsch announce the second Dixie Dingo Super-8 Invitational Film Festival at the Dorsch Gallery on 8/8/06 at 8:00 pm. The DDS8IFF is a free one-night festival of Super-8 films by Miami strangers. The festival celebrates the 3rd birthday of a stray Dixie Dingo puppy named Logan who appeared on the steps of the Dorsch Gallery on 8/8/03. We adopted him and he changed our lives forever. The festival pays homage to the creative possibilities of such serendipitous meetings with strangers. The evening will benefit Faktura Pet Projekts—a non-profit organization run by artists Jacquelyn Johnston and Angela Roell dedicated to using the arts to enhance community by raising awareness, funds and support for the rescue of stray pets. This year”s 8 filmmakers are: Elizabeth Howard; Eduardo M. Lopez, a personal driver, sailor and diver from Argentina; Teresa Mears, an assistant features editor for the Miami Herald; Crispin Sylvester, a Rastafarian; Bethany Quinn, a UM hunger striker; Nastassja Schmidt, a high school actress, singer, model, dancer & aspiring filmmaker; Us Not Him, a local collaborative; Alon Siso, a hairdresser and modern artist who works with oil and canvas.

On a hot day earlier this year, Brook & Julie cruised through Miami neighborhoods handing out cameras & film to 8 random people. Each stranger was provided with a super-8 camera, a 3-minute film cartidge & 1 week to shoot. Their exposed film was then collected, processed and compiled onto a single reel without any editing beyond what was done in camera. The reel will be screened via old-fashioned projector with the help of Barron Sherer and Kevin Wynn of Cinema Vortex at the Dorsch Gallery on August 8th at 8 pm. No one will view the films before the festival, not even the organizers or the filmmakers, we will all be virgins together. In addition to the 8 virgin films, the organizers commissioned credit trailers by Miami-based art duo, the TM Sisters, best-known for their xerography, sewn collage, animation, and video game collaborations. After the films and trailers are screened, the audience will vote for an Audience Choice Award Winner. The evening will conclude with a dance party featuring DJ le Spam and an opportunity to mingle with the filmmakers and their guests.

Update: No AC yet, so dress light.

Update: Sweet Jesus, I didn’t even realize (but KH points out) that it’s 8 folks making Super 8 movies, shown on 8/8, at 8 pm. I’m about to have a seizure.

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Monday July 31, 2006

Miami Vice the movie review

foxx and farrell play serious

Oh boy! I can’t even begin to explain to you how badly this movie sucked. Let me begin by saying, though, that making a bad movie is excusable. Making a bad movie with anti-piracy bullshit planted in it is just plain wrong. But on to Miami Vice:

The plot was sort of like the plot of a sub-par episode of the original TV show, ended three-quarters of the way through. I’m not sure the concept of a “spoiler” even applies here: knowing it’s close to ending might be a relief. Sonny and Ricardo set up a big fancy drug deal, Sonny falls in love with a girl on the drug dealer’s team, Sonny and Ricardo mess with the drug dealers a little, there’s a big gunfight (what was supposed to pass for the climax scene) during which Sonny’s main concern is to save the girl, and a little epilogue wherein the girl gets sent off (to Cuba, where an earlier scene had been shot, except of course not really). Just when I was getting ready for a third act to sweep in and save the day, the whole thing ends. And it ends ugly: a glimpse of a sad little version of a reworked Miami Vice logo, followed by the credits rolling over some crappy band’s cover of Phil Collins’ ‘In the Air Tonight’ (which was sort of a suspense-building time-filler in the first episode of the TV show, and a radio hit, and not so great then, and no better as a shitty remake filing-out-the-theater music).

Okay, so maybe I’m wrong about the plot, right? Maybe I missed all the finer elements of the intrigue, or whatever (or maybe not). What else has this movie got going for it?

The connection to Miami? Nope, sorry. Bad Boys II showed off Miami better then Miami Vice. One scene was nicely done on a highway overpass, but for the most part it could have been set anywhere. Almost the entire movie is shot at night and on super-fast, super-grainy digital with crappy lighting. It literally looks like shit.

Speaking of which, the chauvinistic aspect: The movie starts out with two strong-seeming female supporting cast members. One of them shares a shower-and-sex scene with Jamie Foxx (which was really well done, by the way; probably the best thing in the whole movie), and then proceeds to spend the rest of the movie in a coma. The other, played by Gong Li, starts out as a high-up in the drug cartel, and promptly gets sucked into an absurd, almost James-Bondian “romance” with her “nemesis,” Colin Farrell. As I said, towards the end the plot sort of revolves around her, yet she’s used more as a prop then a character. Irritating.

The leads? Well, Foxx is awlright, but he’s just not on the screen enough. Farrell is just plain sad. Who cast this schmuck? What the heck does Manola see in him? He acts like a sad little emo boy, and the movie becomes more laughable and absurd in direct proportion to the percentage area of the screen his face takes up. A lot of “bad acting” accusations got thrown at Don Johnson during the TV series, but one look at this guy will solidify Johnson’s reputation as the king of cool.

OK, so you’ve heard about how the pastel colors of the TV show are out, right? So they’re replaced by a “look” that consists of video-effect faux-grit, supplied by the high-definition digital cameras the movie was shot with. These are becoming more and more common, and allow directors to manipulate the look of a movie without having to go through the intermediary steps of scanning film. Here it’s mostly used to make things look crappy. Only slightly more successfully, a couple of the scenes employ what I believe is a frame-rate trick, giving them a weird home-video look.

I got home and talked to a friend of mine who’d just gone to see a 3D version of The Ant Bully, [actually, it was Monster House] and raved about how weird, beautiful, and great it was. And apparently you can see it in 3D even at regular theaters. Maybe your money is better spent there. Blah.

Update: Miamians agree that the movie doesn’t really have much to do with the city.

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Tuesday July 25, 2006

I sure hope Vice isn’t as boring as Rene Rodrigues’ review. Salvaged a choice Mann quote: “There was an opening sequence in the film that will probably show up on the DVD in which we started off with an offshore powerboat race that brings you into a big-money, expensive marina. That’s kind of educational about what Miami is today.” But so wait for the DVD release? Probably not.

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Wednesday May 10, 2006

An article that is nominally a criticism of the forthcoming Miami Vice movie turns out to be a celebration of the original series.

The dark and cynical “Miami Vice” blew open Reagan-Bush/Iran-Contra era America, and carved open the hypocrisy of the “war on drugs.” The show dared expose US government corruption, the CIA, covert operations, CIA involvement in narco-trafficking, and US imperialism. It dared show how rank and file cops, drug agents and whistleblowers who tried to do their jobs in earnest were manipulated, obstructed and betrayed by their own government.

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Sunday May 7, 2006

AMC movie theaters at Aventura Mall and Cocowalk will begin showing independent movies. Great, but the South Beach Regal has been doing that since it opened.

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