PICK! ASR Film ~~ “Stop Making Sense” Still Rules

By Barry Willis

Approximately forty years after its first release, Stop Making Sense is back, to near-universal acclaim. Jonathan Demme’s ultimate concert film chronicles art-rock band Talking Heads at the height of their frenetic creativity.

Pieced together from several performances at the same venue, the film famously opens with lead singer/band founder David Byrne solo on stage, accompanying himself on guitar with rhythm supplied by a boom box. Various band members appear one-by-one—bassist Tina Weymouth, drummer Chris Frantz, keyboardist Bernie Worrell, percussionist Steve Scales, guitarist/keyboardist Jerry Harrison, guitarist Alex Weir, and singers/dancers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt.

Stop Making Sense is a must-see…

As they appear, black-clad stage hands carefully assemble the set. It’s one of many moments of cinematic brilliance—matched by the musical and performance brilliance of one of the quirkiest and most talented bands of the late 20th century.

The amazing Talking Heads in their “Must See” movie! — Barry Willis

Talking Heads were unlike any group before or since. In an era of poseurs and pretentions, they delivered powerful commentary on everything in contemporary life, drawing from sources as diverse as snake-handling Pentecostal religious practices, black gospel traditions, and ongoing social problems such as the worldwide fear of nuclear annihilation that permeated the Reagan-Thatcher-Gorbachev period. Talking Heads’ music was—and is—both celebratory and cautionary.

The film has been re-released several times since its debut, but the latest stands far above its predecessors. Newly remastered, its visual impact features superior color saturation, focus, and detail. Supervised by Talking Heads original member Jerry Harrison, the discrete 7.1-channel 24 Bit/48Khz Dolby Atmos soundtrack is crisp, punchy, and completely engaging without any of the annoying artifacts often inserted into remasterings by engineers eager to put their personal stamp on iconic recordings.

Director Jonathan Demme passed away in April, 2017. He did not live to see his magnum opus lovingly honored as it is in this new release, essential viewing for film fans and rock music aficionados alike.

Now playing at a cinema near you, Stop Making Sense is a must-see.


ASR NorCal Executive Editor Barry Willis is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and president of the SF Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle. Contact: barry.m.willis@gmail.com.


Production  —  Stop Making Sense

Developed by  —  Talking Heads/Jonathan Demme

Directed by  —  Jonathan Demme

Rating  —  4.75 of 5. PICK!

PICK! ASR Film & Cinema ~~ New Film About Surrealist Salvador Dalí Depicts Artist’s Craziness, Torment, and Genius

By Woody Weingarten

Sir Ben Kingsley, as Salvador Dalí, portrays crazy rather well.

Kingsley also alternates Dalí’s comic and tormented turns rather well. In fact, the actor plays all the famed Spanish surrealist artist’s extreme aspects rather well in the new movie Dalíland. Without making a caricature of him.

Ben Kingsley, as Salvador Dali, is clearly ready for his close-up. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

Yet, arguably, a smidgeon over the top.

The film’s focus is on Dalí’s final years, when his octogenarian relationship with his older, tyrannical wife and muse, Gala, is disintegrating because, as one character contends, they no longer like being with one another since it reminds them “that they’re old.”

Gala, in fact, is constantly chasing her youth by bedding down with one of her boy toys, the latest being the actor then starring in the lead role of Broadway’s Jesus Christ Superstar.

Dalí, meanwhile, is relegated to voyeurism, which he apparently prefers anyway.

Salvatore Dali in his studio is portrayed by Ben Kingsley. Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

The movie’s point of view stems from neither Dalí nor Gala, though — we see the one-of-a-kind genius through the eyes of James, a Dalí acolyte-sycophant then fighting to un-immerse himself from the artist’s destructive lifestyle filled with ostentatious fame, bizarre parties, and erotica.

Canadian director Mary Harron starts Dalíland with an astute bit of character self-assassination, a clip of Dalí’s hysterically funny appearance on the TV game show What’s My Line? in which he answers every question with a “yes” even if it’s totally inappropriate and must be corrected by emcee John Daly. When Dalí answers affirmatively about being a leading man, panelist-columnist Dorothy Kilgallen smoothly chastises him with the comment, “He’s a misleading man.”

That stands as a touch of foreshadowing to a deep dive into the artist’s darker aspects — to wit, the scene quickly shifts to a party in which Dalí focuses on Amanda Lear, a trans, and Alice Cooper, a friend.

Harron may have been a superb choice for the biopic. Her work-life began as a punk music journalist, immediately integrating oddball characters into her sphere of influence. In 1996, her first feature film, I Shot Andy Warhol, depicted a wannabe assassin as a feminist hero. She also directed The Notorious Bettie Page, about the famous nude pinup subject.

Kingsley, of course, won a best actor Oscar for his title role in 1982’s Gandhi.

In Dalíland, the artist doesn’t come off as the least bit likeable. Rather, he’s annoyingly egocentric (“I do not compare myself to God,” he pontificates. “Dalí is almost God”) and self-indulgent (he rents space at the St. Regis Hotel in New York City at $20,000 a month).

And he doesn’t blink at the knowledge that endless prints of his works are criminally being peddled at extraordinary prices as lithographs.

The main weakness of the low-budget, 1 hour, 43-minute film is the absence of the artist’s paintings (the producers clearly couldn’t afford reproduction rights). A second flaw is an overall lack of tension. And although the costumes are effective (especially Dali’s long, ornate dressing gowns and vests that look as if they’d been replicated from an 18th century operetta), and despite a hand-held camera frantically scooting here and there during frenzied party scenes, Kingsley’s man-of-many-faces performance is so melodramatic everything else fades into near-nothingness.

Still, considering the impossibility of accurately depicting a mad, alluring, repulsive womanizer in a story that’s not unlike watching a train about to derail, screenplay writer John C. Walsh, director Harron, and Kingsley do admirably well.

A pair of flashbacks, intended to lay the groundwork for the artist’s later behavior patterns, ironically feature Ezra Miller, who identifies as non-binary and who’s faced a series of disorderly conduct and assault charges and been treated for “complex mental health issues.”

Chris Briney as James, a gallery assistant, dresses Ben Kingsley as Salvador Dali in the film “Daliland.” Photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures.

But perhaps the strongest image in the Magnolia Pictures-distributed film — which is set in Spain and New York during the mid-1970s — is when Dalí talks of a mountain peak that “appears in my painting The Great Masturbator” and remembers that “this is where [Gala] asked me to kill her, you know.”

A second memorable cinematic moment shows the artist asking James to bring him “many beautiful asses,” followed by his having the girls dip their rumps into paint and press them onto paper so he can instantly convert the images into saleable “art.”

Everything in Dali’s mind, in fact, becomes art — even his dyed, waxed handlebar mustache, which is treated as if it’s a priceless sculpture.

My own favorite moment is the chunk of a flashback where Dali wildly waves his cane as if conducting a distorted symphony of life, seemingly a summation of what his essence really is.

A personal note: Because I greatly admired Dali’s imagination and groundbreaking work when I was young, I paid $1,200 for an early lithograph — despite my being unsure at the time that lithos were truly art, and despite my being only 93.7 percent certain that the “certificate of authenticity” was actually authentic. Dalíland not only brought back a vision of that transaction but of the artist’s most famous work, The Persistence of Memory, and my own memory-regret that my ex-wife ended up with the extremely valuable litho.


ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle,  he is the  author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmatesand Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: voodee@sbcglobal.net or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/

Directed byMary Harron
Screenplay byJohn Walsh
Distributing CompanyMagnolia
Production DateOpens June 9th
Runtime1 hr 56 min
ShowingLandmark’s Opera Plaza Cinema, 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco;
Rialto Cinemas Elmwood, 2966 College Ave, Berkeley;
Century Regency, 280 Smith Ranch Road, San Rafael.
Reviewer ScoreMax in each category is 5/5
Aisle Seat Review PICK?YES!


ASR Video ~~ ‘Air’ is Fun Film to See — Despite Its Flaws. Despite Its Absence of Basketball Superstar

By Woody Weingarten

I hate myself for enjoying Air, the longish film journey of how 21-year-old future basketball superstar Michael Jordan signed a zillion-dollar contract with Nike for his own line of basketball shoes.

Why? Well, because my delight, and that of millions of others presumably, stems from the feel-goodness, underdog-winningness, and Black fairytale-ness of the star-studded Amazon original — despite the movie I’m helping pay for is little more than a 112-minute, 100% unabashed commercial for the footwear company.

Matt Damon in “Air”. Photo, IMDB.

Watching the Matt Damon-headliner, I feel, is almost as bad as if I were 17 and constantly wearing Nike’s shoes, clothing, and accessories (all of which make sure no one can miss the name and/or Swoosh logo in deep red or ebony).

I gave up counting how many times the brand or shoe popped up in the fluffy comedy-drama, which also stars Viola Davis as Jordan’s mother, Deloris, and in secondary roles Damon’s longtime buddy Ben Affleck (who directed the movie) as Nike’s co-founder and chief exec, John Bateman as the corporation’s marketing director, and Chris Tucker as a mediating former player.

Ben Affleck in “Air”. Photo IMDB.

Rarely can I forget that Damon is Damon, but as usual he’s easy to watch — this time with protruding gut as Sonny Vaccaro, Nike’s consummate player-recruiter — because it never feels like he’s acting. In contrast, I always know Davis is acting, but her chops are normally so much fun to see, I don’t mind (here, she’s even better since she’s not doing her typical chewing up of the scenery).

In truth, all the acting’s as smooth as a baby’s bottom…

My guilty pleasure in liking Affleck’s kiss-kiss ode to Jordan, not incidentally, is based mostly on its high energy and high-polished entertainment. I also found it effortless to enjoy the soundtrack, which features tunes by Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and Chaka Khan. And pure joy can spring from a comedy scene accentuating an eardrum-busting, obscene phone conversation.

But those looking for Jordan, or his iconic ball-handling and scoring, will walk away unhappy. He’s only in a few short clips and mentioned in headlines at the end. The actor playing him in Air is hidden from sight most of the time (you do get occasional glimpses of an ear or the back of his head).

Viewers who desire ethics lessons will likewise be disappointed. The aim here seems to be to ignore philosophy and instead pay tribute to business wheeling-and-dealing, winning, and, especially, to money-making.

Viola Davis and Julius Tennon in “Air”. Photo IMDB.

Still, Air didn’t lose one bit of my enthusiasm by veering from the truth. I didn’t mind at all, for instance, that the real Sonny never traveled to the Jordan home in North Carolina, that Jordan hadn’t been the first athlete to get a piece of the merch pie (tennis players had been there, done that), or that he ultimately signed for half a million dollars a year, not $250,000.

I also didn’t care that Air deemphasized or altogether skipped over Jordan’s many controversies and difficulties, which are, to say the least, legion.

It’s probable that I’ll never be mega-rich like Jordan, who’s already netted more than $1 billion from his Nike endorsements, or like a corporate powerhouse such as Nike, whose logo symbolizes not only the winged goddess of victory but the sound of speed, movement, power and motivation.

“So what?” I say — their film was fun to watch.!

Air is still playing in a handful of movie houses around the Bay Area but it has also start streaming on Amazon Prime.


ASR Senior Contributor Woody Weingarten has decades of experience writing arts and entertainment reviews and features. A member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle,  he is the  author of three books, The Roving I; Grampy and His Fairyzona Playmatesand Rollercoaster: How a Man Can Survive His Partner’s Breast Cancer. Contact: voodee@sbcglobal.net or https://woodyweingarten.com or http://www.vitalitypress.com/

Other Voices…

"...these exceptional actors who, with heart and talent, ever so briefly turn a story about capitalism into a referendum on the soul of a nation..."The New York Times
"Air"...is effortlessly entertaining..."NPR
“Air”...it’s old-fashioned in the best sense: solid, confident, simple, straightforward and entirely entertaining. It’s the work of an intelligent classicist..."San Francisco Chronicle
"...Air is a light, well-paced film that makes two hours fly by. It will leave you thinking, ‘wow, I can’t believe I got so invested in a pair of shoes’..."The Film Magazine
"["Air" is]...an underdog story with the greatest basketball player of all time at its heart...."USA Today