Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Pittsburgh, PA

Last week I got to visit my good friends Sean & Adele in Pittsburgh, PA. I had a great visit so I thought I'd share some pics and a couple of highlights. Sean & Adele actually live in Glassport which is about ten miles southeast of Pittsburgh proper. Their lovely home overlooks the Monongahela River. We couldn't have asked for better weather too while I visited. Just earlier in the week it was actually still snowing so I'm pretty thankful that cleared up as I am allergic to snow. As an avid film connoisseur, one of my favorite things to do while on vacation is to visit local filming sites. The town near Glassport called Clairton was used as the setting for the Oscar winning film, THE DEER HUNTER. You can actually see the largest coke manufacturing facility (Clairton Works) in the United States from Seandele's home. I also got to see the town of Braddock, PA which was the backdrop for the film OUT OF THE FURNACE.

Monroeville Mall
I finally reached one of the holy grails of filming locations, Monroeville Mall. Any horror diehard knows this iconic location as the setting for George Romero's masterpiece, DAWN OF THE DEAD. I have certainly been dying to cross this off my list. The commentary for DAWN OF THE DEAD will give more insight on the actual filming if anyone is interested. DAWN OF THE DEAD was filmed in 1977 and although much has changed since then, parts of the mall still look familiar. The mall was also used in a few scenes of ZACK AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO. It was pretty cool to stand on the site of such a quintessential film like DAWN OF THE DEAD.

Carnegie Museum of Natural History
I love museums, especially science and history museums. This one did not disappoint! It was a lot bigger than expected with several floors of everything from dinosaurs to statues to botany. Come to find out, Carnegie Museum of Natural History was also one of the locations used in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. They have an incredibly vast collection of bugs and insects similar to the moth from the film. The hall of statues was really cool too.

The Warhol
I can't tell you how excited I was to visit the Andy Warhol Museum. It was absolutely amazing; I could have spent an entire day there. You can't take photos of the actual pieces, but no photo could do them justice anyway. It was incredible to be able to see such historic works of art up close. The texture and colors are truly amazing. One of my favorite pieces was the Jackie Kennedy painting. There was an entire wall covered in Mao wallpaper and the classic Mao paintings hanging on it. The museum was six floors of various work that included items from his college days to his commercial work. One thing I did not know was that his mother Julia was also an artist. The museum contains several pieces of her work as well. I had always presumed the famous pop art pieces were made on canvas, but I found that they were done on linen which makes sense when screen printing. I was also pleasantly surprised to find a whole section of collaborated pieces by Warhol and Basquiat. I definitely recommend visiting this amazing museum if you have a chance.

Monongahela Incline
We rode this cable lift to the top of Mt. Washington. We had the most beautiful view of the entire city. One thing Pittsburgh is known for is its many bridges and sprawling hills. The city is surrounded by so much amazing architecture. There's a ton of history in Pittsburgh and I can see why Christopher Nolan chose is to portray Gotham city in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. I had such a wonderful time and hope to make it back again. Special thanks to Sean, Adele, Liam, Shiloh, and Chambers for being such gracious hosts.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Punk Singer

Documentary film is one of my favorite genres. I will almost always watch a doc on just about any topic. I’ve seen films about everything from skateboarding to freemasonry. I love the idea that someone could have so much passion for a particular subject that they would make a film about it just to share that passion with others.

I came of age just as the riot grrrl movement was at its peak. As an angry/snotty teenager, I was definitely the target audience, but I could never relate to it for some reason. It’s not that I did not identify with feminism, the combination of the bad music and abrasive characters (notably Hanna) were a complete turn off for me.

I’m really struggling to say something positive about this film, but I am at a loss for words. I watched it in hopes that I would get a better understanding of where Hanna is coming from. I gathered nothing from this other than the fact that Hanna is still a bratty teenager trapped in a 40 something (apparently failing) body.

I understand that she was prominent in advocating a very important movement, but what did she actually contribute? Just the music alone from Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Julie Ruin, etc. is so sophomoric it is almost embarrassing. Let’s face it; Kathleen Hanna is not a great lyricist. He rants resemble something I wrote in 10th grade. Her voice is earsplitting at some points, musically and just in general. They even address her “valley speak” vernacular in the film, but there is still no excuse for it.

Her stories are so self indulgent that I almost feel sorry for her. Just hearing Hanna describe how she “was SOOO wasted” while hanging out with Kurt Cobain is awful. I do not dislike Hanna because of her ideas or her past, I dislike her because she has nothing of substance to say. I feel like Hanna is the face of the riot grrrl movement in the same vain that Sid Vicious is the face of punk rock. Neither contributed anything to their respective genres excerpt for an aesthetic that certainly gives them far more credit than deserved.

I would love to see a doc on other key players from this movement like Kim Gordon. In some ways, I would Courtney Love (bitter rival) a more positive feminist than Kathleen Hanna. I guess if this film or the music of Bikini Kill encourages a young woman to further investigate feminism than that's one good thing to come out of this train wreck. I do respect her for her intentions; I just wish she had a more tactful way of expressing them.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

I had always considered myself an average Wes Anderson fan. My favorite films of his are RUSHMORE and TENNEBAUMS. The others I enjoyed, but they never really stood out for me. I definitely enjoyed MOONRISE KINGDOM upon initial viewing. Then after a while, the sugary sweet love story kind of gave me a toothache.

However, THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL really made me appreciate Anderson’s entire body of work as a whole. I also think GRAND BUDAPEST is the bookend to MOONRISE. I just really love when films compliment each other. I view MOONRISE KINGDOM and GRAND BUDAPEST as the yin & yang of Wes Anderson. I have the utmost respect for a filmmaker that can really explore the depths of his talent like this. It shows that he is open to examining his style to keep creating unique and exciting films.

I love the cinematography in GRAND BUDAPEST more than any of his other films. What I loved the most about this film is that there was a bit of underlying darkness within it. Standout roles were certainly Adrien Brody and Willem Dafoe which is interesting since Bill Murray usually outshines all. As the two villains in the film, I enjoyed the fact that they were a little more sinister than other villains in Anderson’s films. I love Bill Murray just as much as the next guy, but he can’t always have the best performances.

It's so easy to get lost in Anderson's universe. His stories remind me of early Tim Burton (pre-PLANET OF THE APES years). They have both created worlds I want to be apart of. I certainly suggest seeing this film as it will bring a smile to your face and make you long for the German alps.