The Music Films of Houston Cinema Arts Fest 2014

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Images courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival
Bjork's Biophilia Live was partially recorded on an iPad.
Music-related films only make up about ten percent of the programming of this year's Houston Cinema Arts Festival, or five out of almost 50 films in all. But those five -- about far-flung subjects ranging from Indonesian street musicians, graffiti-strewn subway trains (set to a killer soundtrack), a Houston Ballet production, everyday citizens starring in impromptu music videos, and the one and only Bjork -- are easily as diversified and eclectic as both the six-year-old HCAF and the city that houses it. (See a full schedule of the fest, which runs tomorrow through Sunday, at this link.)

But besides its diversity, another thing that has become a calling card of the HCAF is its accessibility. Of this year's five music-themed selections, all except one are free to the public (space permitting), and the other -- the Bjork film -- is said to be like no other concert film in history, well worth the price of admission. Many other screenings are also free, while still others will be introduced by special guests like Houston rapper Bun B, who will do the honors for Jalanan (the Indonesian-musician film) tomorrow night at Cafe Brasil. Rocks Off will actually be on hand to introduce Bun and pick his brain about Jalanan afterward, so come up and say hi.


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Five More Epic '80s Tours That Deserve The Wall Treatment

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Photo by Jim Bricker
Roger Waters at Toyota Center, 2012
Ex-Pink Floyd bandleader Roger Waters celebrated his 71st birthday in typically dramatic fashion last Saturday: he premiered a new movie at the Toronto International Film Festival. Roger Waters: The Wall is a documentary chronicling the songwriter's massive, three-year world tour, "The Wall Live," featuring the famous tunes from one of rock and roll's greatest concept double-albums.

The new film is hardly the first time Waters has revisited The Wall, of course. The 1979 release spawned a cult-classic film version, a live album and even a home video of Waters and some famous pals performing it at the site of the Berlin Wall. But the most recent tour, which wrapped up just last year, was an unusual undertaking worthy of its own study. With two legs encompassing 219 shows, The Wall Live was the highest-grossing tour of all time by a solo artist, raking in nearly half a billion dollars.

And you'd better believe it cost money to make that money, too. An audiovisual extravaganza, the ultra-elaborate show required an estimated $60 million to stage and featured all of the inflatable puppets, projected animation, flying pigs and political demagoguery that one could ever want. Hell, it even featured a mega-super-rare guest appearance by Waters' estranged Pink Floyd ex-bandmates David Gilmour and Nick Mason at one London performance. If you don't want to hear the backstory on that little collab, you aren't a Pink Floyd fan.


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Devin the Dude Flies High in New Alamo Drafthouse PSA

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Photo by Marco Torres
Anyone who has caught a movie at an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema knows about the theater's anti-talking and -texting PSAs. The chain is as celebrated for its super-strict etiquette protocols as it is for its buckets of cold beer. Strike up a conversation or light up a touchscreen while a movie is in progress and you'll be out on your ass, and the Alamo makes sure you know it.

Since 1997, the cinema's many franchises have shown offbeat public service announcements regarding the rules before every film it screens, cobbled together both from classic (and "classic") film footage as well as pointed warnings by famous folks from Will Ferrell to Ann Richards.

Now, your favorite rapper's favorite rapper has filmed an Alamo clip of his own. A new "Don't Talk" PSA shot by none other than local underground legend Devin the Dude will premiere on Thursday at the Alamo's Vintage Park location. Mr. Copeland himself will be on hand to greet fans before the premiere and stick around to catch a special screening of his favorite movie, the '80s hip-hop classic Beat Street.

Now, the Dude being the Dude, you can bet that the herb-obsessed rapper felt the need to get high while rolling tape. What you might not have guessed is that the altitude came courtesy of the MC's favorite toy -- and it ain't a vaporizer.


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Discover A Hard Day's Night All Over Again

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Photos courtesy of Janus Films/Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Note: this article was written by VMG film critic Stephanie Zacharek.

Let's get the obvious over with: The early days of the Beatles, as reflected in Richard Lester's ebullient shout of freedom A Hard Day's Night, were all about the optimism of the early 1960s, a thrilling and energizing time when young people, and even some older ones, truly believed that the future held great promise.

There. Now let's talk about joy, and about wistfulness, because one so often trails the other, and both are woven into the DNA of A Hard Day's Night. To read it as a movie that the future proved wrong -- a movie that's somehow "about" our collective, historic innocence, a set of hopes that were dashed by Vietnam or by Nixon's betrayal or by anything -- is to miss the glorious reality that A Hard Day's Night lives so fully in its particular present.


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The 8 Best Soundtrack-Exclusive Tracks

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Photo by Marco Torres
R. Kelly, whose biggest hit originally appeared on the Space Jam soundtrack.
Soundtracks were a huge deal in the '90s. It was a chance for us to get all our favorite bands together in one place, like a high class, far more expensive mixtape. They were such an affair that bands would release their best songs and greatest hits on these records, oftentimes sending a soundtrack soaring up the charts far past any one musician's own album.

For that reason, it's hard to look back at them as the cheap marketing ploys that they could be. When real musicians applied themselves to soundtrack appearances, and Hollywood execs allowed them free reign over the product, it often became a must own, even if the movie sucked.

Here are some of those songs which you could only get on a soundtrack that you just had to buy back then.

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A Fond Look Back at 1998's Godzilla: The Album

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The latest installment in the long-running Godzilla series, and the second American-produced version of the monster movie, comes out on Friday. Though I personally don't trust this one to go any better than the one in 1998 went, and the Japanese fanbase is already making fun of our "fat, American" Godzilla, it's shaping up to be the first blockbuster of the summer season, depending on your opinion of Spider-Man.

So it's as good a time as any to look backwards, particularly at the 1998 Godzilla film starring Matthew Broderick. It was a horrible movie, but it did have one thing going for it: an awesome soundtrack. Let's reflect on that a bit, shall we?


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Old Testament Tales That Fit Today's Musicians

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In April 2014, one of the hottest figures in Hollywood is an old-timer called God. He's the subject of Noah and God's Not Dead, two films that have somewhat surprisingly charted multimillion-dollar grosses this Easter season.

Whether the actors and producers are true believers isn't the point. Their personal salvation might not be assured, but it seems their bottom lines have been saved by bringing The Big Guy to the big screen. But in secular music entertainment, God's archrival gets all the run.

Whether the Stones are sympathizing with him or Jay-Z is illuminating on him, Satan rules, and folks like Jimmy Page and Ozzy Osbourne have ridden Old Scratch's coattails all the way to the bank. The only time music artists ever mention God is when they're receiving a trophy at some awards show, right before they head off to a drug-laden orgy.


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A Few Other Recent Oscar-Worthy Music Films

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Eat it, Putin.
On film's biggest night this past Sunday, music nudged onto Oscar's center stage and stole the show. Jared Leto's incredibly moving Best Supporting Actor acceptance speech was a beautiful way to start the night. Music-video directing legend Spike Jonze won the Best Original Screenplay award. Karen O and Ezra Koenig sounded fantastic and looked like the cover of a White Stripes album while singing their nominated duet from Her. Pharrell wore his hat. Bono was Bono.

John Travolta professed his love for musicals, then butchered the name of one of Broadway's biggest stars. Bette Midler's voice turned back time to remind us why we loved "Wind Beneath My Wings" before it became a maudlin funeral dirge.

The Lady In Number 6: Music Saved My Life, won for Best Documentary Short. Moments later, the very deserving 20 Feet From Stardom took home the Best Documentary Feature.


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The Reality Bites Soundtrack at 20: The Good, the Bad and the Totally '90s

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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Reality Bites, Houston's cinematic "'90s moment" starring Ethan Hawke's grunge locks and Winona Ryder's doily dress. It's a flawed film, and rather unsatisfying at times, but it's hardly without its charms -- quite like Houston itself, one might say.

Today, it's remembered fondly by many not so much as a classic love story or intimate portrait of life in our city, but as a perfect, time-capsule snapshot of our mass-culture conceptions of success, love and self-expression in the early '90s, before the whole decade lost its damn mind towards the end there.

But hey, we here at Rocks Off ain't film critics. What about the tunes?


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Mexican Music Is Violent. So What?

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Courtesy of Houston Cinema Arts Festival
An image from the new film Narco Cultura, now playing in Houston
America's liberal class and MSMers are abuzz right now over Narco Cultura, a documentary about Mexico's horrific drug war and the musical movement that has risen around it. These libs (and more than a few conservatives) are telling each other and the two Mexicans they know about how Mexican music nowadays glorifies the drug trade, how artists will write songs for narcos on commission, how musicians go on stage with AK-47s, bulletproof vests and bazookas, how those songs revel in being as gory as possible -- and how terrible all of this is.

Never mind that the music groups highlighted really hit their height in Mexican culture in 2010. Never mind that almost no media outlet had reported on this new wave of narcocorridos -- alternately called el movimento alterado ("the altered movement"; "altered" as in "high as shit") or corridos enfermos ("sick corridos") until now, and now everyone is tripping over themselves to report this "new" news.

NPR and The New York Times did stories on Narco Cultura recently, so it's now news! And you know something is the liberal flavor of the month when they're going to Ry Cooder -- the only person progressive gabachos trust for their ethnic music -- so he can cluck about the sadness of it all.

SNORE. Yes, America: Mexican music is violent. Get over it.


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