Film Review: Cassette

1cassetteZach Taylor’s wistful documentary Cassette is an in-depth exploration of a recording format that lives on despite having been declared dead more than 20 years ago. It’s not just niche hipsters and nostalgic punk old timers that are keeping it alive.

It’s the concept of the “mix tape” in particular that endures. The mix-tape is an ideology. It’s the notion that we can curate what we hear and what we share with others. Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose work is undeniably cool but also inarguably mainstream, originally called his smash Broadway musical “the Hamilton Mix-Tape.”He later released a successful album of re-mixes and covers with that title. Taylor’s documentary is also a mix-tape. It’s a compilation of tributes to the format alongside more factual information about its history.

Read the rest at Hammer to Nail!

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FILM THREAT REVIEW: RAZING THE BAR

2014 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
83 minutes

****

Ryan Worsley’s debut documentary lovingly profiles a now defunct Seattle bar and night club called “The Funhouse.” But her film is more than just a scrapbook. It also explores how much a place like that means to the community that embraces it and critiques the morality of gentrification which often means the death of DIY institutions.

As “Razing the Bar” illustrates, the Funhouse was more than just the divey rock and roll bar that dared to stare down Paul Allen’s Experience Music Project in tourist-laden Seattle Center. To the uninitiated, it was “the scary clown bar,” but to a group of entertainment misfits, it was a hangout, a home and an incubator. You didn’t have to be fully formed to play there, and for many young bands, it was the “first show that mattered” thanks to receptive audiences and a talented and fair booker who always made sure his acts ended the night with dollars in their pocket and a place to crash.

That booker, Brian Foss, is also the protagonist of the story. To many, the Funhouse was Foss. Worsley makes this clear through interviews with Funhouse alumni, peppering their anecdotes with photo collages, old show footage and scores it with the music of the bands who played there. One former patron calls it the Punk Rock Cheers, which perfectly sums up how much it meant to so many people.

The story of the Funhouse extends beyond the local scene. Every great city needs a place like the Funhouse, an indispensable part of the underground entertainment scene. Regardless, the building was sold in 2012 and razed to make way for luxury apartments, an all-too-common story in many burgeoning cities. Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in America, so it makes sense that these new transplants would need somewhere to live. But the tragedy is that it is at the expense of the spirit of the city, which makes it a unique and desirable place to live in the first place.

As one interviewee points out, many of the musicians celebrated in the EMP would have relied on a place like the Funhouse to showcase their early work. Little by little, we lose the small venues where the next Kurt Cobain could play. Many credit the Funhouse to the current Cabaret and Vaudeville revival.

The Funhouse wasn’t just a springboard for acts. One of Foss’ apprentices started there at a very rough time in her life. Today, she holds a prominent position at Austin City Limits, one she never would have been considered for as a drug-addled runaway.

Despite the inevitable destruction, “Razing the Bar” does have a happy ending. The communities that formed at the Funhouse are still as active and close-knit as ever. Foss also continues to book shows for two like-minded clubs around town. He’ll carry the torch as long as he can. The Funhouse may be gone, but the spirit lives on in all those who touched its sticky floors.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).

FILM THREAT REVIEW: TO BE TAKEI

2014 SEATTLE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SELECTION!
Unrated
90 minutes

****

We all have our baggage. But that doesn’t mean we have to let it weigh us down. Just ask George Takei. He came to fame via his role as Sulu in the Star Trek franchise but has since reinvented himself several times over, first as an aspiring politician and most recently a gay rights activist and playwright. His activism stems well beyond equality for sexual orientation. He’s also a spokesperson for universal love and acceptance and seeing the humor in everything. He has spread his relentless optimism to over 7 million Facebook followers, not to mention comic con attendees the world over. Jennifer M. Kroot’s documentary profiles the life and achievements of this undeniably charming man and explores just why it’s so awesome “To Be Takei.”

What’s George got to be so happy about? Well, for starters, he’s alive and well. Having spent part of his childhood imprisoned in American internment camps for U.S. citizens of Japanese descent (thanks to a shameful decision by Roosevelt following the bombing of Pearl Harbor) he appreciates the little things. He’s got a loving, supportive husband and partner of 25 years named Brad, who also keeps the show running behind the scenes, handling the dirty work so that Takei can remain upbeat and affable.

Surprisingly, not everyone loves George. Of course, there are all the anti-gay politicians who look terribly foolish whenever they attempt to engage him in an equality debate. More puzzling is the animosity from his former colleague, William Shatner. Shatner waffles between denying a personal relationship with Takei (despite having worked on 6 movies and 3 seasons of television) and acting hurt because he (erroneously) believes he was left off the invite list for George and Brad’s wedding. Another thing Shatner is weirdly sore about: Sulu’s character getting a promotion to Captain in “Star Trek VI.”

Because of his positive attitude, Takei has very few regrets in life, though one of them is listening to his agent early in his career and taking stereotypical Asian roles to “further his career.” He also regrets having blamed his father for extending their stay in the camps by refusing to sign an entrapping “Loyalty Letter” to the U.S.

Though Takei never had the chance to apologize to his father before he died, he was able to exorcise his regret through an original musical about the internment camps called “Allegiance.” He sang to his father every night on stage during its successful run in San Diego and later on Broadway.

Despite a slightly meandering structure, “To Be Takei” is a highly entertaining and moving portrait. Like Takei himself, it doesn’t dwell in the negative. It covers all the trying times in his life. But just when your eyes start to sting, the levity returns. Takei’s philosophy is simple. “It takes an optimistic attitude to get over something like internment and be able to achieve things… you determine your own destiny.” Mission accomplished, Captain.

Originally published on FilmThreat.com (now defunct).