Friday, June 29, 2012

Brian Hall's Excellent Road Trip Adventure!

Coming up on a year ago, during a time when I was unemployed, I decided I needed to do something I wouldn't have been able to do under normal circumstances and hit the road to check out a destination I'd always wanted to see -- Mount Rushmore.

Sweetening the deal further, I added Reno, NV as my first pit stop because thanks to perfect timing, my good pal Zaki Hasan was having a book release party there. At that event I met people who told me I had to see the monument Crazy Horse in South Dakota, which is on the way past a personal favorite movie location I never thought I'd see in real life, Devil's Tower, WY. I would go on to add welcome visits with my good friends The Trendas and The Thorwalls, who each offered lodging in Colorado and Arizona -- the former being home to the Budweiser brewery, another impromptu stop I added to my travels. 

While driving, I would occasionally pull out my camera and video what I was passing as a sort of a visual journal of what I saw. Recently, I finally got around to editing the footage into something coherent, set it to music, peppered it with moments of me talking with my doppelganger, making it into something I now like to call: Brian Hall's Excellent Road Trip Adventure! ©

It's a little lengthy but if you're interested and have the time, feel free to see what it is I saw on the freeways of the Western half of the United States.

Brian's Excellent Road Trip Adventure from Brian Hall on Vimeo.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Adventures of Brian and Tico

I always look forward to hanging with my good chihuahua friend, Tico. But no matter what grand plans I think up for the two of us, he usually has other ideas.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

"Moe, Moe, Moe..."

If I didn't live in an apartment, this would definitely be my lawn mowing uniform.

This shirt is available at

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Rock of Ages: Nothing But a Good Time, For Better or Worse

A few years back some friends invited me to see a Led Zeppelin laser light show. I sat just a few rows away from Christian Slater. True story! What followed was an ipod shuffling of the band's greatest hits as lasers strobbed and created rudimentary images of wizards riding horses across the planes. Walking out, my friends complained that the show was lame. I didn't protest but I couldn't help thinking, what were they expecting? We went to a cheesy laser light show and that's exactly what we got.

What I'm getting at is that Rock of Ages, director Adam Shankman's big screen adaptation of Broadway's version of 80's Guitar Hero, is basically a two hour laser light show. It's cheesy, has no depth - whatsoever, not even accidentally - but occasionally there's some fun tunes and pretty things to look at.

The movie opens with Sherrie, (Julianne Hough) a bright-eyed girl fresh of the bus from Oklahoma arriving on Hollywood's 1980-something Sunset Strip. Her dream is to become a singer and it isn't long before she meets-cute with another singing hopeful, Drew (Diego Boneta) who gets her a job at a club that's the epicenter of rock on the strip. The joint's owner, played by Alec Baldwin, is hosting the swan song performance of a huge rock band called Arsenal, headed by their comically zonked-out lead singer Stacee Jaxx (Tom Cruise.) This must see performance should help Baldwin's character reconcile the rent he's struggling to pay, thanks in part (I think) to a group of anti-rock mothers led by a Tipper Gore inspired caricature played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. I say, I think, because as much as the mothers sing and kick in the air, they never really seem to pose any sort of tangible threat.

With that in mind, the only real drama in the story come from a misunderstanding so thin and contrived that it makes the similarly silly misunderstandings from Three's Company seem as if they were crafted by Tolstoy. 

As far as acting and performing is concerned, everyone here is not only game, but admirably committed. There's Malin Akerman as a Rolling Stone reporter, Paul Giamatti as Jaxx's skeezy manager, and an underused Bryan Cranston as the mayor of Los Angeles. Cruise's turn as Jaxx, it should be noted, is actually a lot of fun. My friend pointed out that when someone as impossible to hide as Tom Cruise can act so ridiculous and actually make you forget he's Tom Cruise for a while, that's a quite a feat. It's just too bad his arc doesn't give him much to do with it.

Additionally, I told some friends who had seen the musical that I was a little disappointed the story didn't even go close to delving into darkness, or even surface level thoughtfulness. For example, at the end of her rope, Sherrie ends up working at a strip club - the cleanest, most colorful and friendliest strip club in town apparently. Oh and it's run by Mary J. Blige who the film spends about 11 seconds showing kicking out an ex-boyfriend or husband or someone who is apparently a problem, but since that's the total amount of time the film spends on it, my sentence here is already too long for me to have even brought it up. Anyway, the club... I was confused because this was apparently supposed to be Sherrie's lowest moment but that was never conveyed in any discernible way at all. It was simply an excuse for another song and some (admittedly) amazing acrobatics by some talented pole dancers.

I was also told that the taming of this story from the stage incarnation doesn't end there. Major plot points that would cast main characters in whole new lights and a more sobering ending have been scrubbed down to essentially a two hour, feel good, let's-not-worry-about-anything karaoke sing along. There are so many potential obstacles for these characters to contend with: rock n' roll's impending decline, the closing of Tower Records and all that implies, studio manufactured pop music's take-over on the radio. The movie does touch on the pop music thing a little but all these other ripe complications and themes aren't even given a moments thought. I'm not saying the movie shouldn't be fun, but isn't the point of a good story seeing characters we like overcoming opposition?

So, still interested in this movie? Do you just want to see some good looking actors sing songs you love? Then I say go for it. And after all my pontificating you may be wondering, so what did I ultimately think of the movie? Well, there's certainly a more interesting version of this movie and that isn't what they decided to put on screen here, but at the same time, I fully recognize that Rock of Ages is just a laser light show. Set your expectations accordingly and it's occasionally amusing and at least pretty to look at. 


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Movie Review: Moonrise Kingdom

Moonrise Kingdom's co-writer/director Wes Anderson has a style that is immediately identifiable. His oeuvre typically involves also-ran's in vintage costumes blocked perfectly in the center of wide angle framing. It's a hallmark that tends to split audiences into those who find it charming and those who find it overly precious. I suppose I should start by saying that I've been a fan of Anderson's since his 1996, low-key losers on the run tale Bottle Rocket, and while I haven't been taken with all of his films, it was to my delight that his latest not only sees his distinctive voice evolving, but that this story also wonderfully benefits from it.

Kingdom is the story of two 12 year old outcasts - Sam, an orphaned khaki scout (think boy scouts), and Suzy, an angsty girl from an emotionally dysfunctional family. After a chance encounter and ensuing pen pal relationship, the pair decide to run away together for a brief retreat. Their abrupt exits leave Sam's
scout master (Edward Norton), a local cop (Bruce Willis), and Suzy's parents (Bill Murray and Frances MacDormand) in a tizzy as they try to locate the children.

What makes this movie special is how endearing the children's relationship is. While the adults are played perfectly by the seasoned cast, at times they can feel a few details away from being fully formed. The children, however, are perfectly nuanced in alternate but similarly appropriate ways that not only endear us to them, but help us understand why they are endeared to one another. Both have interests that seem probably suited to two loners looking to escape and entertain themselves. Watching them share their personal hobbies with one another is one of the joys of the film. Sam proudly demonstrates his scout training, explaining that they can combat thirst by sucking on pebbles - snd Suzy gamely obliges. Similarly, Suzy enjoys fantasy novels and invites Sam into her private worlds as she reads the books she's packed with her aloud to him.

While there's a playfulness in the air of this storybook-style world Anderson and co-writer Roman Coppola have crafted - where a pre-teen search party of scouts resemble a cute riff on a rag-tag military outfit - it's a credit to Anderson's abilities that he is able to properly balance the story's occasionally more grounded moments of vulnerability and aggression. Those moments are what keep this otherwise whimsical story of pre-teen innocence and anxiety tangible, reminding us that as much fun as we're having, these kids are carrying real emotional wounds that need tending.

On a technical level, Anderson certainly sticks with his familiar visual voice, including long dolly shots and groups of people walking in slow motion, but it also feels as if he's continuing to find ways to push it forward. There are some fun moments where he plays with composition for comedy that feel confident and not requisite. A cleverly framed moment where we see Bill Murray from the inside of a tent comes to mind.

As a fan of Anderson it makes me happy to not only have another film of his to enjoy, but also knowing that he is still able to craft satisfying stories that he specifically knows how to tell best.


Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Today's Movie You Should Know: Fish Story

Once in a while I'll come across a film or song that never found its way into popular culture that connects with me in such a specific and satisfying way I'll think, what if I had never come across this? How many other films or songs are out there, perfectly tailored for my sensibilities, that I'm missing out on, or may never get to enjoy?

After lighting a single candle and crying a righteous tear I settle down and vow to share these obscure gems with others who would likely enjoy them as much as me. So today I'd like to share a Japanese film I discovered and fell in love with called Fish Story

The plot in a nutshell (which isn't easy to do) is that an asteroid is headed toward earth and among the many people and factors that could possibly prevent it, the most important may be an obscure punk song from the 1970's most people have never even heard. Honestly, I could say more but that's all I went in with and I had a blast enjoying the discovery that ensued. Obviously this film won't be for everyone - it is subtitled after all and may move at a clip some aren't accustomed to. But for those who enjoy films that are slightly left of center, Fish Story is a playful, inventive, (and most importantly) original, rock and roll, end of the world story that ties everything together in such a way it'll leave a big, dumb grin on your face. It's easily one of the most fun and satisfying movie watching experiences I had last year.

Fish Story is currently available on Netflix streaming and if you decide to check it out, you'll have to get back to me and let me know what you thought.