The Dead Do What The Dead Do, Dude

George A. Romero had a way with zombies. His first three zombie films, the trilogy if you will, stand as a testament to the whole zombie genre of filmmaking in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were not only horrific tales of the dead rising from their graves(or from wherever they may have dropped dead initially), but there was real biting(no pun intended) social commentary within those two films.

Night came out at a time when the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and segregation were all still very much in the forefront of social and political discussion. He mixed old school horror, new school gore, and very real race issues into a one of a kind late night drive-in flick.

Dawn took a small group of survivors(including two from a news channel and two soldiers) and dropped them in the relative safety of an abandoned mall to attempt to rebuild their lives. It really spoke to a time in the late 70s when malls were becoming all the rage and on some existential level a place where we felt at home. A one stop shopping experience where we could buy clothes, appliances, semi-automatic weapons, jewelry, and grab an Orange Julius while we were at it. As our protagonists found out, no matter how many amenities we may have, life and living can’t be created out of thin air.

So that leaves us with the third film, Day of the Dead. It is obviously the lesser of the three. It had the potential to be another amazing horror film, but the budget was cut drastically which caused Romero to cut down the screenplay significantly which caused his story to lack. Here’s the thing, I think that may be partially true. There’s a feeling that Romero had a lot more to say about the militarization of the country in an apocalyptic situation such as a zombie invasion. And I could see a case for science vs soldiers. These could have been really interesting topics to explore had their been the money and proper resources for Romero to work with. As it turns out he took a 200 page script and cut it down to an 88 page script. I would’ve gladly sat through a 3-hour epic story about zombies, soldiers, scientists, and the battle to save civilization. What we got was a movie with a lot of overacting, scene-chewing, lots of yelling, a strong female lead, stereotypes, misogynistic soldiers, and some of the best gore from the 80s.

So many characters over shot in this film; in-particular Joseph Pilato as Capt Henry Rhodes, Anthony Dileo Jr as Salazar, and the gruesome twosome soldiers under Pilato’s Rhodes. There was just so much chewing of the scenes here that it made it hard to even concentrate on the well done acting that was going on(Lori Cardille, Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard were actually great in this.) I’m not against hamming it up a bit for the sake of fun, but the crassness of the soldiers towards the female doctor was just a little over the top for me. I think it would’ve been more effective for the misogyny to take a backseat to more existential dread of being stuck in an underground base for all eternity.

Despite all that I still love this film.

I recently grabbed the reissue of John Harrison’s excellent score courtesy of Waxwork Records. Putting this on the turntable I was reminded how much I really liked the music in this film. When it starts playing I’m instantly taken to those scenes. The opening scene of Dr. Sarah Bowman’s nightmare, to the title sequence with Tom Savini’s handiwork, to the scenes with Bub re-learning to be human again; the score was a very visceral experience for me. It’s the sort of thing that hits you like something locked away in your subconscious for years that’s set free at the drop of a needle.

Before I oversell this thing, let me first say it’s definitely a dated score. The film came out in 1985 and the soundtrack shows. There’s lots of 80s keyboard tones here. Some of these motifs could have been stand ins for 80s network TV melodramas, but don’t judge it on that. It’s all well done. Harrison made a career out of working with George Romero, having been a Pittsburgh guy himself. He seems to have locked into what Romero needed for his films. As well as Day of the Dead, he scored Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as well as serving as executive producer on Romero’s Survival of the Dead. He had a lifelong connection with the king of the Dead, so he added just the right touches to Day. It’s a very warm score; human, even. It goes a long way to help add humanity to a lot of living characters that come across as dead inside as the zombies they’re hiding from.

Though Day of the Dead didn’t turn out the way the late master of Horror wanted it to, it’s still a solid chapter in the zombie canon of George Romero. It also has some of the best gore from any film in the 80s thanks to Tom Savini. It’s also got one hell of a score by John Harrison.

October is finally here. Let the horror(of the cinematic variety) begin.

Tobe Hooper : 1943-2017

I was sad to wake up to the news that we lost yet another “Master of Horror”, Mr. Tobe Hooper. While he never quite had the career or accolades of guys like Wes Craven, John Carpenter, and George Romero, he still contributed to the genre in a big way.

His biggest and most prominent work was 1974s Texas Chainsaw Massacre. For me, that film felt like watching a snuff film. It was jaunty, awkward, and seemed to be cinema verite for horror. The way Hooper shot the film it almost seemed like a found footage movie. The frankness in the deaths made my stomach churn. The Leatherface family was scarier to me than any boogeyman hiding in my closet. It truly seemed to be the  bloody, violent death knell of the peace and love crowd. It was like Hooper was saying “The grand experiment failed, so here’s what you get. Don’t choke on your own rib while you’re at it.” This was one of those movies that sat on the wall of the video store with a gnarly layer of dust on it, taunting me each time I’d come in. It was daring me to take it home and destroy my psyche with it. When I finally did, it did not disappoint. In the 80s he made the sequel and did something amazing. He turned a horrifying, gut-wrenching film into something more. He added gallows humor and made the Leatherface clan into joke-cracking psychopaths and created something as equally entertaining as the original. It was much maligned when it was released, it’s now considered a cult classic. It was also the start for Bill Moseley, a Rob Zombie regular.

Besides TCM, Hooper also made Poltergeist, Lifeforce, Spontaneous Combustion, and The Mangler. While he never reached the plateau of the Chainsaw films and Poltergeist, he always made entertaining bad films. I quite liked Lifeforce and Spontaneous Combustion. The 80s were a great time for decadent, sleazy horror. Hooper was a big part of that.

He also did some great television work, most notably on Amazing Stories, Freddy’s Nightmares, and Tales From The Crypt. But the greatest thing he ever created for television is easily Salem’s Lot. To this day I’ve never been more freaked out or scared than I was watching that two-part miniseries based on Stephen King’s vampire novel. I still get freaked out if I hear something that resembles someone scratching at my window. If all Tobe Hooper had done was Salem’s Lot, he could still feel solid in knowing he made that truly horrifying film.

Another horror master gone. RIP, Tobe. I think I’ll have some roadside BBQ in your honor today.

The Kids Aren’t Alright

Imagine a future where the population is decimated by a virus that turns people into raving monsters, hell bent on feeding a bloodlust by tearing those not affected limb from limb. Cities overrun by droves of wild children, living like some urban version of Lord of the Flies. Only a small group of military soldiers and scientists are left to try and find a cure for this disastrous disease. They work with a group of infected kids to try and figure out how they can suppress the disease and its effects(aka, stop the kids from eating them all.)

No, this isn’t some real life scenario happening somewhere in a bunker in Washington, DC. And it’s also not the premise of a spin-off of The Walking Dead. This is the story behind the excellent sci fi/horror film The Girl With All The Gifts.

So the ideas that are in this film aren’t new, per say. There’s elements of 28 Days Later, The Walking Dead, George Romero zombie films, and even a bit of Let The Right One In, but none of these come close to explaining The Girl With All The Gifts. A fungal disease has nearly devastated mankind by turning people into mindless, fast monsters that devour the living. In a small military base there’s a group of second generation “hungries” that are children who are being studied. They have the disease but can somehow control their urges and can be suppressed by healthy people wearing an ointment to cover their scent. One girl in particular, Melanie(she’s the one with all the gifts in case you were wondering), is extremely intelligent and shows great affection to one of the teachers. This teacher shows her kindness and has grown fond of her as well. The base ends up being overrun and a small group of soldiers, the teacher, Melanie, and an army scientist played by Glenn Close escape in an army vehicle. The film shows the group attempt to find safety in a overgrown London and the world as it is in this dilapidated future.

I found this movie to be an exceptional and original take on the apocalyptic/dystopian future movie, as well as the virus sci fi flick. The acting by Gemma Arterton, Paddy Considine, Glenn Close, and especially Sennia Nanua as Melanie was incredible. Director Colm McCarthy does an amazing job of giving Gifts a truly cinematic feel. It looks great -like a blockbuster- but still feels like a gritty arthouse film. To me, this film reminds me of a movie I’d find sitting on Video World’s wall of sci-fi/horror films. I’d eye it for years and then on some nondescript Friday night I’d whine enough until my mom would rent it for me. It would’ve completely blown me away and I’d carry that film experience with me for the rest of my life. I’d be horrified, saddened, angry, and ultimately I’d want to see Melanie live on and succeed somehow(of course at the expense of mankind.)

And then there’s the score by Cristobal Tapia De Veer, which is absolutely brilliant.

One thing I’ve noticed is that there seems to be a movement of film composers stepping out of the typical symphonic box and doing something original in the field. Mica Levi, Johann Johannson, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, Wojciech Golczewski, and Cliff Martinez to name but a few are approaching scoring films in a very unique way. There’s nothing wrong with going the John Williams or Hans Zimmer route, but minimal isn’t always a bad thing either.

Cristobal Tapia De Veer’s approach to scoring The Girl With All The Gifts seems to fall into more of a visceral space. It’s a very percussive musical score, with voices taking the place of what may have been woodwinds and Latin percussion. It sounds electronic and synthetic, but at the same time it feels very organic. Opening track “Gifted” sounds like NIN performed in some Thunderdome-like construct deep in the rain forest. Voices take the place of droning electronic devices as a buzzing of some unseen force begins to envelope everything in a 10 mile radius. It truly sounds like nothing I’ve heard before, and that’s saying a lot. A track like “Pandora” folds in an unmistakable melancholy which leads into “Hunger”, another slow, dread-building track. “Hungry Classroom” sounds like Wendy Carlos performing The Shining score on aboriginal instrumentation and using throat singers.

De Veer doesn’t care about zombies and horror(he says as much in this interview.) What he cares about is getting us emotionally invested in the very unique story that plays out in front of us. He wants us to connect with this young girl named Melanie. A girl that could very easily tear us apart without batting an eye. His score does that, as well as help push the film along in both darker moments and lighter ones.

The score for The Girl With All The Gifts reminds me a lot of Mica Levi’s work for Under The Skin. It feels very minimalist, but it never sounds sparse. There’s darkness there, but not for the sake of being creepy and weird. Like I said before, this music works on a very visceral level. It moves you at your core. Cristobal Tapia De Veer seems to be pulling inspiration from some of his peers, but also from his surroundings. I could see him walking a trail in a woods somewhere and finding sticks, rocks, and a hollowed out tree trunk and seeing a musical score in those items. I’d like to hear that score, too.

The Girl With All The Gifts is well worth your time. It’s a brilliant film, with an equally brilliant score.

Dr. Destructo Strikes Again

Summer break is winding down. It hasn’t really felt like much of a summer break, honestly. Amid an early summer infestation, gutting the upstairs, and just trying to find some kind of normalcy the new school year has snuck up on us without a sound. We hit the southern hills of Brown County for a week’s length of recuperation, and just last weekend my wife took the kids to the great King’s Island in Ohio for some breakneck rollercoasters and much needed mania for a day. Me? I stayed home with the dog and did some much needed R&R. I did some weeding in the backyard early in the day. After that I did a lot of reading, some reconfiguring in the studio downstairs, and listened to some records. I also spent time with the extended cut of Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret. I highly recommend it if you can sit through over 3 hours of pretentious New Yorkers, self-centered teenagers, and adults that don’t know what the hell they’re doing with their lives. Despite that description I think it’s a new American cinematic classic.

I also watched Michael Mann’s Thief for the third time.

I bought the Criterion Collection edition of this classic Mann crime film over two years ago after I’d listened to Tangerine Dream’s excellent soundtrack. The film stars James Caan as a professional thief who decides to retire but is pulled back in for one last job. Of course you know how those kinds of stories go. They don’t go well. I loved the movie.

Even when Michael Mann makes a stinker, there’s something to love about it, whether it’s the cinematography or the soundtrack. The Keep was a turd, but it looked great and oozed mood. One thing that The Keep and Thief had in common, besides Mann himself, was Tangerine Dream. They scored Thief first for Michael Mann, and then scored The Keep. I think a lot of what went wrong for Mann’s The Keep was the fact that Paramount took his 210 minute cut and shaved it down to under 2 hours, then down to 96 minutes. They hacked it up so bad that the film had huge plot holes and the ending was even missing. Music cues were ruined as well. It ended up being an absolute mess by the end of it, to no fault of Mann as far as I can see.

Anyways, we were talking about Thief.

So the soundtrack by Tangerine Dream is pretty stellar. About a week after I had the movie in my hands I found a first pressing of the score on Discogs for well under $20. I couldn’t pass it up. It really is a classic in the Tangerine Dream discography, and as far as their soundtracks go I think it’s one of their best. Tangram showed a band that was lightening up their sound. The heady atmospheric sound excursions were becoming shorter songs with more of a melody-driven lean. Sorcerer was pretty dark, but Thief saw Froese and company heading into more of a rock sound, complete with drums and electric guitar solos. This didn’t diminish TD’s heady electronic soundscapes. To my ears it felt like they were just trying to accommodate the times and the story. Something like Firestarter benefited from a slower pace and more moody musical pieces, with Thief the rock and roll stance felt like the right feel for a tough Chicago crime story.

For me, Tangerine Dream seems to fill some musical cavern dug out by the slow migration of emotional icebergs over the course of my childhood. Things I never quite understood as a kid remained empty spaces in my head and heart until as an adult music I would rediscover seemed to fill those cavernous valleys in me. I think there needs to be a certain amount of intellectualizing in order for Tangerine Dream to connect with you on an existential level. As a kid they were a huge part of me and I didn’t even realize it. They soundtracked so much stuff that I wasn’t aware of until I was an adult looking to fill some voids of my own. Firestarter, Three O’Clock High, the short-lived TV show Street Hawk and it’s opening theme was Tangerine Dream’s “Le Parc”. Near Dark, Legend, Risky Business, The Keep,….

and of course Thief.

I sat in the family room in the basement writing this and spinning Thief, while upstairs my daughter conversed with old friends she won’t see for some time. She’s heading back to school this Friday. My son sat on the couch next to me catching up on some comic books he hadn’t read in awhile. Summer went by too quickly, as really all summers do. We’ve just got to enjoy the moments as we’re in them, I suppose. Why waste time lamenting about how quickly it goes? As long as we’re in it we can savor it. Summer break may be fading quickly, but there’s still those quiet moments to enjoy. Tangerine Dream is a great way to fill the empty spots and missing dialogue.

Dr. Destructo strikes again, thankfully.

6 Must Die : Revisiting John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’

There’s certain things in our lives we hold dear because we experienced them when we were young. Maybe a certain food or a song. Maybe it’s an old bomber jacket we were given on some nondescript Christmas morning when we were 7-years old. Maybe a special time with a loved one on a holiday when we were 10. For me, all of those things apply. My mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes, Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner”, a leather bomber jacket I got for Christmas when I was 15-years old, and a Memorial Day picnic with my grandma and grandpa Hubner at Ox Bow Park when I was 5. All of these things I will carry with me as long as the synapses are popping off in my head. Regardless of how significant or insignificant they may seem to the person outside looking in, for me they’re things that will always stay with me.

Same could be said for movies we saw in our childhood. There were certain films I saw as a kid that have stayed with me. Movies that I can’t necessarily say they’re great movies, but they moved me regardless. Audrey Rose, Phantasm, The Neverending Story, and The Road Warrior were movies I saw growing up that had a profound effect on a adolescent JHubner73. Of those movies, I still rank Phantasm and The Road Warrior up there, while the others not so much. John Carpenter’s The Fog is another movie I remember watching a few times when it was shown on network television that put me in a very specific place. It was scary, for sure, but it also had a very specific look to it. There was this overwhelming feeling of isolation in the scenes with Adrienne Barbeau in the lighthouse radio station, or with her son on the beach finding the driftwood. The drive Barbeau took to get to the lighthouse felt endless and almost magical. All these things stayed with me as a kid and the movie became this pinnacle of scary movies for me. Every time it was on TV I grabbed a blanket and a pillow and camped out on the living room couch. I wanted to be scared. I wanted to be transported to Antonio Bay for two hours. It’s a film that worked its magic on me when I was young. As an adult the soundtrack has become one of my favorite scores to get lost in. It evokes in me all those feelings I had as a kid bundled up on the couch waiting for a commercial break so I could go get a bowl of ice cream or go to the bathroom.

One thing I hadn’t done in years was sit down and actually watch the movie again. I recently picked up a limited edition 3-pack of Carpenter’s The Fog, Escape From New York, and They Live in steelbook case Blu Rays through Shout! Factory. Friday night my son and I popped in The Fog as he hadn’t yet seen it and I watched the film that sort of defined for me what great horror is supposed to be.

For the most part, my memory served me correctly.

If you’re not familiar with the story, here’s the Cliff Notes version:

The scenic ocean town of Antonio Bay is celebrating their 100th anniversary. The night before the celebration things go crazy in town; car alarms go off, dogs start barking towards the ocean, windows and clocks shatter, and out in the ocean three drunk fishermen are slaughtered by beings that appear out of a glowing, ominous fog. That same night the local alcoholic priest finds a hidden journal in the wall of the church that was written by his grandfather who was one of the founding fathers of the town. It seems the town was founded on lies, deceit, and murder. Back in 1879, a colony of lepers approach the small village now known as Antonio Bay and ask if they can settle and form a town just a few miles from the village. They offer gold as payment for this proposition. 6 conspirators, including the priest’s grandfather, decide to doublecross the lepers by leading their boat at night right into a bank of rocks which sinks their ship and kills all the men on board. The conspirators then retrieve the gold from the wreckage and with it founded their town, Antonio Bay. On the town’s 100th Anniversary the leper pirates have returned and want revenge. 6 must die in place of the original conspirators, plus they want their gold back. 

As a kid I loved this movie for the scares and creepy glowing fog. As an adult I find myself more mesmerized by the beautiful shots and Carpenter’s keen eye for forming scenes. The story isn’t complicated. This is basically The Blob, but with fog instead of a giant, man-eating ball of snot. In anyone’s lesser hands this would’ve been a movie that the sands of time would’ve devoured and spit out like so many other B-movies of the day. Carpenter made this with a$1,000,000 budget. With screw ups and re-shoots it ended up being closer to $1.1 to $1.3 million. Still, that’s peanuts in the scheme of things. His decision to shoot in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen made his low budget horror flick look more like an arthouse film. It’s simply gorgeous. There’s some truly effective acting here, as well as some not-so effective. Let me go over the good and meh.

First the good:

Like I said, this film is gorgeous. With Shout! Factory’s clean up of the print the film looks as good as ever. Carpenter is a visual guy more than a storytelling guy. He tells stories, but they’re simple ones. His strength is in putting scenes together and building tension, as well as his keen eye with the camera. Along with cinematographer Dean Cundey, Carpenter takes a little horror flick and gives it serious class in the looks department. His steadi-cam work, his use of light, and long, slow pans all feel revelatory in the field of horror. This film gave the horror genre a serious kick in the pants. It didn’t have to be grainy, choppily edited, and dubbed like a Godzilla picture in order to be a horror film.

The music is completely next level for horror films, or really any kind of genre. Carpenter used the synths for melodic dread creating and also to amp up intense scenes of terror. I think this is one score that stayed with me through my entire life. I always thought back to this music(even more so than his Halloween score) when I thought of great scores. When I started collecting film scores this was one of the first I wanted. Fortunately I waited a couple years till the Silva Screen reissue came out back in 2015. It’s gorgeous and sounds stunning.

There are individual moments of genius here. The opening sequence with John Houseman as the crusty sailor telling the tale of Blake and his comrades dying in the sinking ship to a bunch of kids around a campfire is classic. It sets the stage for what’s to come. And then the move from there into the town where lights flicker, windows explode, and things just get generally strange is exceptional. Carpenter’s use of light and his gorgeous widescreen shots go a long way to making this a classic. For me the scenes with Adrienne Barbeau’s radio station owner/DJ in the lighthouse radio station are some of the best. Her drive through the California countryside to the radio station located on a lighthouse cliff is just stunning. Walking down the long, narrow concrete stairs to the lighthouse is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Even hearing the repeating promos of KAB-radio is poignant. You get this overwhelming sense of isolation. And her play-by-play reports from the radio station to the town regarding where the fog is heading is tense as hell. Besides the fog itself, this is Adrienne Barbeau’s movie for sure.

The fog itself is ominous and creepy. This is a point that could’ve sunk the film had it not been done right and Carpenter and his effects crew did an amazing job here. There are three main players here: Adrienne Barbeau, Hal Holbrook, and the fog itself. These three are what push the movie forward. There’s plenty of characters, but they are all here in order to react to the actions of these forces of nature.

Blake and his leper ghost pirates are done right. You see enough to know you wouldn’t want to run into them on your morning commute, but not enough of them to see this is a movie with a $1 million budget. The ghost ship is effective as it silently moves along the drunk fisherman’s vessel. And the scene at the end in the church with Holbrook is intense as hell, glowing eyes and all.

And now, the not-so good:

Honestly, there isn’t much I can  complain about here. But watching it 35 years on from the first time I saw there were just a couple things that bothered me. For one, some of the characters just didn’t seem fleshed out enough. The Tom Atkins/Nick Castle and Jamie Lee Curtis/Elizabeth Solley characters, while serving a definite purpose here(they’re a pivotal part in one of the most intense scenes in the film) just don’t seem all that interesting. Curtis was amazing in Carpenter’s Halloween as Laurie Strode, basically defining the female heroine in that role. But here, her easy hitchhiker just feels like any other character in the background. Tom Atkins seems like Tom Atkins in every role he’s in. Here he’s fine, but him hooking up with the MUCH younger Curtis(he’s 23 years older) seems more creepy to me now than it did when I was younger. They both serve the film well, but in as simple a way as they can(Atkins played the angry, abusive dad in Creepshow wonderfully, btw.)

Elsewhere Hal Holbrook does the stereotypical alcoholic priest as well as he can(he does resemble Edgar Allen Poe quite a bit.) The local townies all show up in fine form, but nothing really makes me care whether or not the Fog gets ’em or not.

The Fog isn’t any one person’s movie. It’s an ensemble built to serve us some existential dread in the form of a glowing fog that hides inside of it regret, guilt, lies, deceit, and stone-cold revenge(as well as some pissed off leper pirates from beyond the grave.) This is an old-timey campfire ghost story, much like the one we see transpiring at the very beginning of the film. It’s a lesson in “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”, but done up in a nightmare-ish fable by the sea. John Carpenter put a unique spin on a story about ghosts, revenge, comeuppance, and where greed will get you. He made one of the most gorgeous, midnight b-movies ever made.

38 years on, this fog still glows brightly.

 

 

Looped

For as long as I can remember I’ve been obsessed with time travel. Messing with time and heading forward or backwards in one’s life has always been one of those things that is usually in my brain taunting me at some point every few days. Whether it was to head back to the 3rd grade and knock some sense into a bully or tell that girl I had a crush on what I really thought of her(I’m sure neither would’ve ended well, but still.) Or maybe shooting into the future of JHubner73 and see if maybe cutting back on the stouts and cups of melted butter might give me a few more years on this miserable planet. Or you know the usual ones, like taking Hitler out, saving Kennedy and King, or buying a few thousand dollars worth of a fledgling Microsoft’s stock. And there’s the vinyl collector in me that thinks heading back to the 60s and buying up a few hundred copies of various Blue Note records would be a smashing idea as well.

Point is, time travel would be a portal to so many things and so many opportunities to destroy existence as we know it. The Butterfly effect and all(but still, Blue Note. Blue Note!) Of course time travel at this point is delegated to leafing through old photo albums(or flash drives) and visits with older relatives that can still stand to be around you. You sit and pretend to care as Great Aunt Colleen starts talking about the time she and your grandma burnt all of old Man Higgins’ wheat field down smoking stale Chesterfields and drinking a mess of hooch they found in Higgins’ dilapidated barn.

I think the first time time travel became interesting to me was watching the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve. I was probably 4 or 5 years old and my parents took my brother and I to see it at the Warsaw Drive-In. Towards the end where Superman flew against the earth’s rotation and caused it to rotate in the opposite direction, causing time to go back and save Lois Lane from being crushed in the earth stuck with me. Of course that was ridiculous, but it was still something that stayed in my brain. Then when I saw HG Wells The Time Machine with Rod Taylor as Wells the idea of time travel hit me even more. His time travel on that steampunk-looking machine made me want to build a time machine of my own. I had to settle for a blanket draped over two chairs in the living room, but still in my head I traveled far and wide.

Through the years time travel has stayed with me. Time travel films have always been a favorite, with movies like Back To The Future, Peggy Sue Got Married12 Monkeys, The Terminator, Primer, and Synchronicity being favorites. I’m not sure if Groundhog Day would be considered a time travel film more than a Frank Capra-esque morality play, but I’m giving it props anyways.

But I think one of my favorite time travel films in the last few years has to be Rian Johnson’s Looper.

Looper, if you haven’t seen it, is about a future where time travel has been created but is outlawed. Crime syndicates illegally use it to get rid of people that they want to disappear. They toss the unlucky saps in the machine with their faces hidden and some silver bars attached to their backs where they’re then shot back in time 30 years where a weird looking Joseph Gordon-Levitt is waiting in a corn field with a shotgun. He blows the sucker away, takes the loot from their back, and disposes of the body where there will never be a trace of the person. Now the reason Levitt looks so weird is because he’s sort of made up to resemble Bruce Willis who Levitt is playing in a younger version. After a looper has done his time he retires from the crime syndicate and has 30 years to live their life. Once the 30 years is up the looper is sent back 30 years for his younger self to kill himself, which is called closing the loop. Once your loop is closed you retire and the cycle continues. What happens, though, is that Willis decides to change the past in order to change his future, which requires him to escape his fate of being blown away in a field by his younger self.

Are you lost yet? Listen, it’s not as hard to follow as that last paragraph made it out to be. Johnson does an amazing job of taking the usual time travel tropes and making them into something new and unique, and also adding a lot of heart. There’s a couple love interests, a cute/creepy little boy with a unique ability, and plenty of futuristic action and violence. Everyone in it, from Levitt to Willis, to a sweaty Emily Blunt and the aforementioned cute/creepy kid(played by the great Pierce Gagnon) all do amazing work in this. Willis, for my money, is still one of the great actors. He seems to make five or six middling films then churns out winners like this. He’s especially great in this. Same with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Despite my family obsessing over how weird he looked in this I think he did an amazing job pulling off Willis’ mannerisms and squinty looks.

Rian Johnson, who is making The Last Jedi currently, has a great eye for a eye-catching scenes. He fills the screen with beautifully built shots and goes from gritty city shots to wide open spaces. The film is a take on the old noir film(much like Johnson’s excellent debut Brick, also with Gordon-Levitt.) There are nods to Blade Runner for sure, but Looper is its own cinematic beast.

I must also mention the score by Nathan Johnson is absolutely beautiful. There’s a great mix of modern and classic sounds here. A little Blade Runner, a little Solaris, and a little Star Wars if you will. This is one I need to own someday.

I think one thing that got me the most about the film is the idea of the younger self and the older self. The idea of how different we are 30 years apart. In the film, the young Joe and older Joe meet in a diner and the older Joe is disgusted looking at his younger self. He sees a kid wasting his life, getting high, and not appreciating how great life can be. He just sees his own regrets incarnate sitting across from him. I could see myself now having similar conversations with myself in my 20s. While maybe not thinking I’m wasting my life away, I could certainly tell my younger self to maybe take care of himself a little better and to appreciate each day. Or something like that. I just like the idea of seeing ourselves at a different age as someone completely different. Someone foreign to ourselves at our current age.

Time travel, man. Time travel.

I recently bought Looper. It was the Mondo Steelcase edition and when I realized Mondo has a whole series of Blu Ray releases with special artwork done for these I saw lots of money disappearing from my wallet. Looper will certainly be the first in many special editions I’ll buy and hide from my wife for a year.

There you have it, folks. A time-traveling post. I actually did create a time machine. I traveled into the future and saw that I buy lots of records, drink lots of stouts and many cups of melted butter. It was a strange future, let me tell you.

 

Breathe Easy : The Legendary Trainhoppers Ready New Album ‘Let It Breathe’

I always look forward to talking with Fort Wayne’s The Legendary Trainhoppers. That’s a group of six guys that are at an age of mature comfort. What do I mean by that? I mean they’re middle-aged dudes with careers, kids, mortgages, and all the dad life fixings, but are still willing to take risks for the sake of the muse. After a years-long hiatus from the Trainhoppers in 2015, the guys broke out the mandolins, Telecasters, and tube amplifiers to find that magic they used to make together. They found it and then some. Family Tree was a sweeping and rugged collection of dusty Americana and buzzing rock and roll. It wasn’t a weekend warriors kind of record where dad hangs in the garage with his pals and swills Natural Lights and jams on Petty hits. The boys really did get the band back together and it was glorious.

We’re not even at a year and some change since Family Tree was released and they’re already readying a new record they recorded back in March with Jason Davis at Off The Cuff Sound. It’s called Let It Breathe and it’s their best yet. It features contributions by Cassie Beer and The Hoppin’ Horns. But not only did the guys record an all-analog warm and fuzzy beauty of a long player, they had filmmaker Brad Bores document the whole process. On June 10th at Artslab you’ll be able to hear the guys debut the record, pick up a copy of the album on CD(0r download code if that’s your thang), and see the film and relive the making of the Trainhoppers beautiful new record.

I talked to Matt Kelley and Phil Potts about the record, as well as Brad Bores about the music doc and how he got involved.

J. Hubner: So we’re just a little over a year from the release of the last Trainhoppers album ‘Family Tree’ and now thanks to the wonders of internet voyeurism I know you guys have been recording a new record. The Trainhoppers are in one hell of a creative streak. How did this new one come about so soon? Was it a strike while the iron’s hot sort of situation? Is this a whole new batch of tunes?

Matt Kelley: We definitely felt like we were on a streak, and even when promoting Family Tree, we continued to write—fear that if we stopped, we might lose momentum. All of these songs but one were written in the 15 months since recording the previous album. I think our velocity has been helped by a couple of things; for starters, we’re a six-piece and everyone contributes song ideas (rather than there just being one songwriter), and second, we’ve hit a really great collaborative place where we share ideas very early in the process, and pass ‘em around to be made different and better.

Phil Potts: There are 6 of us in the band and we’re all songwriters, so while having so many creative voices has its challenges, the upside is there is a lot of material. It was a challenge just picking which 10 to record. . .so we recorded 11.

J. Hubner:  So the album’s called ‘Let It Breathe’. You recorded this time around over at Off The Cuff Sound with Jason Davis. What made The Trainhoppers decide to go full-on analog? It seems like a perfect fit. How was the experience with Jason?

Phil Potts: It was a very different process than our last album. With the last one, we made the conscious decision to produce it ourselves. We recorded it in a more modern way, digitally. On ‘Let It Breathe’ we decided we wanted input from someone who could help us best shape the songs for recording. Not everything that is great for a live performance translates well to the studio, so having someone like Jason who has so much experience in that realm was revelatory. Having input from fresh ears was helpful because we’d been living with these songs for a year now. The real artistic benefit to recording to tape in an analog studio, in my eyes, is not some fetishization of  is that there are limitations. Constraints can be immensely beneficial to creativity. You can’t have 100 tracks. You can’t Auto-Tune a bad vocal. You don’t make everything mathematically perfect and that’s what makes it beautiful.

Matt Kelley: Well, we’ve known Jason and known about Off the Cuff for a very long time, but had never been to the studio. We had the option to record in The B-Side again—it’s comfortable (it’s where we write and rehearse) and convenient, and there’s no clock running. Which is to say, it’s an easy option. So, we checked out Off the Cuff, considering it part of our due diligence. About ten minutes into the studio tour, we were in love, and sharpening our resumés in hopes that we might work there someday. Of course, folks often thing “analog tape” immediately when they hear about Off the Cuff, but it turns out that’s the smallest part of the story. It all starts with Jason Davis and his perspective and approach and process to making a record. The incredible collection of instruments is a blast, too. Using real instruments and real gear slows everything down, forces you to make more deliberate decisions, and cranks up the pressure.

So yes, The B-Side would have been the easy choice for us. But easy is a four-letter word, and we felt Off the Cuff was the more challenging direction, and could lead to a better album. We certainly believe that to be the case. It was an experience—grueling, hilarious, brilliant—that the seven of us (band + Jason) will never forget.

J. Hubner: Song-wise did the Trainhoppers go into Off The Cuff with completed songs ready to hit record or did you guys leave space to experiment a bit? What’s the overall vibe of ‘Let It Breathe’?

Phil Potts: We had the songs completed, but we were open to changes. And they did change. Off the Cuff Studios is an inspirational environment.

Matt Kelley: The songs were ready to be performed live. But live, The Trainhoppers are often pretty busy—very loud, everything and the kitchen sink, loud. The studio often gave us the chance to actually play a little less, and be very purposeful with what we played when, and how. Also, of course, the studio’s collection of gear gave us the opportunity to experiment more than we might in a digital environment. If you have a million options, you might just choose the one you know. When you have a dozen, you might find you want to try ‘em all…

Vibe-wise, you know, it wasn’t quite spring, and definitely not summer, when we recorded. Our final pre-production and early studio days were when winter was hanging on, and the rainy season had begun. I think there’s part of that in the album, but it’s also jubilant, and it’s got some real fight to it. We stretch into some places we’ve never been before, including a song pretty much without guitar, and working with a horn section. But hey, if The Replacements could bring in the horns with Jim Dickinson on “Can’t Hardly Wait,” we can do the same, right?

J. Hubner: The album release is Saturday June 10th at ArtsLab. Besides the album, the band will be premiering a film on the making of the LP that evening, too. How did the film come about?

Matt Kelley: I first met Brad Bores when he attended a Rayland Baxter show at The B-Side with some dear mutual friends. We hit it off, and share a love for a certain loose Americana music. We were getting the band together and talking about why we did, after almost a decade off, and I left Brad a five-minute voicemail essay about it, and it just seemed like there might be a story worth telling here.

J. Hubner: Is there any ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart’ drama in the film? No personnel changes or vomiting mid-mix I hope.

Phil Potts: Unfortunately for the Brad Bores, the filmmaker, we all get along and had a blast making the record.

Matt Kelley: Fortunately—I think—Brad wasn’t there on those days, lol. But really, this band is far more in simpatico in 2017 than it was in 2007. We did have conflict in writing and making this record, but it was always ultimately in service of the song, and the album, and ideas bigger than any of us as individuals.

J. Hubner: So what can folks expect on June 10th at Artslab?

Matt Kelley: We’re really excited to present a very focused show—a concert performance, rather than a gig. We’re doing two shows, one at 6:30 and one at 9:30. Each will open with Brad’s film, which will be around 15 minutes. We’ll then have a Q&A with Brad, and then the band will perform the album in its entirety, and maybe a couple of requests. It’ll be a fun, all ages show. The ArtsLab is an awesome venue, and we’ll have a bar by The Brass Rail.

Phil Potts: They can expect the rain to stop falling and the clouds to part. We advise bringing extra socks because we will have rocked them off by the 3rd song. All of the ladies in the first two rows run the risk of immaculate conception just by looking at our drummer, so sit accordingly.

J. Hubner: After June 10th where can folks pick up copies of ‘Let It Breathe’?

Matt Kelley: We’ll have hard copies at shows and at TheTrainhoppers.com, hopefully Neat Neat Neat and Wooden Nickel, and digital copies on all the usual outlets, including streaming services. I’m pretty proud of the album cover, so I do recommend the CD to those who still have a way to play such a thing…

J. Hubner: Any favorite memories of making the album?

Phil Potts: There was a game of HORSE. I was draining long distance shots over and over again while missing 5-footers. I think that’s a metaphor for this album. As John Irving said “If you don’t feel that you are possibly on the edge of humiliating yourself, of losing control of the whole thing, then probably what you are doing isn’t very vital.”

Matt Kelley: A long, long time ago I worked on the website for a studio in Nashville that was up in the holler surrounding the city, a getaway, a destination studio that was down-to-earth, outside the music industry and all about the song, and the art. This was when I was first discovering this guitar I had picked up was lucky. Well, I never had the chance to be part of recording there, but working with this band, with Jason at Off the Cuff, I really felt like I finally got to live an experience like the one I had daydreamed about all those years ago.


So June 10th, Artslab, and bring extra socks. And if you don’t want to be carrying an immaculate Trainhoppers baby sit in the back row. Seriously get out there. It’s gonna be great, and you’ll get to see the great film about the making of ‘Let It Breathe’ which was directed by Brad Bores, who I talked to as well.

J. Hubner: So how did you get involved in documenting the Trainhoppers recording sessions for ‘Let It Breathe’? Were you a fan of the Legendary Trainhoppers prior to the film?

Brad Bores: Yes but I wasn’t living in the Fort Wayne area for the first coming of the Trainhoppers so I am a newer fan. I met Matt Kelley at a B-Side show back in 2013(?) and when I heard his band was making a comeback a few years later I knew I would dig the music, just from knowing Matt and his musical tastes that align pretty closely with mine. Last summer the B Side hosted a screening of another music doc I made on Fort Wayne Musician PJ Sauerteig. While I was setting up Matt was talking about the Trainhoppers recording a 3rd album and I think it just clicked that this could make a great short film.

J. Hubner: Were there any music docs you were pulling inspiration from while filming?

Brad Bores: There are quite a few music docs I admire and I’m sure subconsciously elements may show up, but I was more focused on the inspiration coming from the Trainhoppers story and how the visual elements of Fort Wayne (trains, rivers, winter) are connected to the themes of their music.

J. Hubner: Did the filming take place specifically with the recording process or were you involved before that?

Brad Bores: I was filming sporadically the entire process starting last fall when they were still writing and assembling the songs. I also spent the winter chasing down countless shots of trains, bridges and rivers leading towards downtown Fort Wayne as well as the harsh winter vibes in general. The last phase of filming was in the studio this spring as they recorded the songs.

J. Hubner: How long have you been making films? Who were some of your early inspirations? Do you prefer docs to scripted films?

Brad Bores: I have been making films on some level since my college days back in the mid 2000’s. My first serious project was a feature length documentary titled “When the Bell Rings” completed in 2013. The Maysle brothers and John Cassavetes would be earlier inspirations with Roberto Minervini being a more contemporary filmmaker I have followed. I enjoy all types of films but only create docs.

J. Hubner: Will you be documenting the album release show on June 10th?

Brad Bores: Nope. I plan to just relax and enjoy the evening.

J. Hubner: What’s your overall takeaway from this experience? Could there be another music doc in your future?

Brad Bores: This isn’t my first music doc and I’m pretty certain it won’t be my last. There is such a strong relationship between film and music that when the right story or theme lines up it makes the process very conducive. I’m excited to screen this film as it is a departure from my typical style of verite into something more visual and stylistic.


Get to Artslab on June 10th for either the 6:30pm or 9:30pm all ages performances. The cover is $12 and includes a CD copy of ‘Let It Breathe'(or a download card.) Brad Bores’ short documentary will be shown first, followed by a Q&A with Bores and then a performance of the full album by the Trainhoppers. Don’t miss this one.