Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Know the Way to San Jose

I gave a friend a ride to the San Jose airport on Saturday.  Being in the area, I decided to make a day of it.

I saw two films.

Machete Kills starring Danny Trejo; with Demian Bichir, Amber Heard, Michelle Rodriguez, Sofía Vergara & Mel Gibson; directed by Robert Rodriguez; (2013) - Official Website
Muscle Shoals; directed by Greg 'Freddy' Camalier; documentary; (2013) - Official Website

I saw Machete Kills at the Camera 12 and Muscle Shoals at the Camera 3.  I thought about seeing ComedyShortz at the Camera 3 but instead decided to see The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at the The Stage Theater.


Robert Rodriguez is director I'm ambivalent about.  I'm a big fan of Desperado and Sin CityFrom Dusk Till Dawn is ok.  I preferred Tarantino's Death Proof to Rodriguez's Planet Terror.  Beyond that, he has made films I haven't seen or didn't like.  That includes the original Machete (2010).  Machete was a fake trailer in Grindhouse, the Tarantion/Rodriguez double feature which has now spawned two movies and leaves the door open for another sequel. 

Machete (Danny Trejo) is one tough Mexican.  Machete is an operative reporting to the President of the United States (Charlie Sheen, billed as Carlos Estevez).  Sheen's appearance and voice reminded me quite a bit of Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen) in West Wing.  Anyway, some contrived plot is cooked up where Machete has to kill a Mexican terrorist who has a nuclear bomb detonator wired to his heart.  If his heart stops beating, the bomb goes off.  Along the way, Machete encounters his CIA handler (who is beauty pageant contestant), a whorehouse madam (Vergara), a one-eyed sidekick (Michelle Rodriguez) and an American capitalist (Mel Gibson) who wants to destroy the world while a select few are safe in outer space on his rockets.  This sets up the sequel - Machete Kills Outer Space.

Mostly a comedy, Machete Kills never quite gets the mood right.  Quite violent at times, the film was too campy for my tastes.  I was hoping for grindhouse exploitation with Scream-type self-referential black humor.  Instead I got Austin Powers with extra gore.  I wonder who this film is targeted to.  The gags are too silly for most adults and the violence is to extreme for most kids.  The film has an R rating so kids shouldn't be watching it anyway.


Disappointed by Machete Kills, I decided to stick around to see Muscle Shoals.  If you have never heard of Muscle Shoals, then you must not be a fan of Lynard Skynard.  Quoting lyrics from their song "Sweet Home Alabama,"

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers 
And they've been known to pick a song or two 
Lord they get me off so much 
They pick me up when I'm feeling blue 
Now how about you? 

I always thought that was spelled Mussel Shoals.  The film didn't address the origin of the name although the city's website states “No one knows when the name Muscle Shoals was first used for this area, however, there are many theories of where the name originated.  One theory is that at one time there were piles of mussel shells found along the shoals in the Tennessee River.  Another theory is that the shape of the river looks like the muscle in a man’s arm, therefore, Muscle Shoals.  The last theory comes from several booklets that were published before Muscle Shoals incorporated.  This theory states: 'Muscle Shoals, the Niagara of the South, derives its name from the Indians, who, attempting to navigate upstream, found the task almost impossible because of the strong current.'  Thus came the word muscle, symbolic of the strength required to 'paddle a canoe up the rapids.'”

Muscle Shoals is a small town in northwest Alabama, best known for its recording studios which worked with an impressive number of rock and R&B musicians.  The first recording studio to set up shop was FAME Recording Studios.  Co-founded by a trio in 1959, Rick Hall eventually took sole ownership and established the "Muscle Shoals Sound."  Hall had a life that was made for blues music.  His younger brother died from scalding, his parents divorced, his mother abandoned the family to become a prostitute, his father died when his tractor overturned and crushed him (Hall had given the tractor to his father as a present).

Hooking up with Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, Hall produced a number of hit records with his house band backing up the headliners.  Wilson Pickett and Aretha Franklin are among the artists who recorded at FAME.  Eventually a feud with Wexler resulted in the house band (aka the Swampers) leaving FAME to set up their own recording studio across town, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio.  The Swampers' studio was, arguably, more successful than FAME.  The Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar" was recorded there.  So was Paul Simon's "Love Me Like a Rock" and numerous Bob Seger and Lynard Skynard hit songs.

The music was the main focus of the film.  Although Hall's life was mentioned at length.  His success was tacitly ascribed to the tragedies which befell him.  However, Hall appeared stoic and stiff on camera.  Beyond reciting the facts of his life, Hall wasn't one to share his introspections.  Wexler's feud with Hall emanated from a fight Hall and Aretha Franklin's husband had.  This occurred despite Wexler's explicit instructions to Hall to not talk to Franklin's husband.  Something tells me there is more to the story.

The reason so many talented musicians came out of Muscle Shoals is also glossed over or given a spiritualistic angle.  The Swampers were Hall's second studio band.  He had hits with his first band and later studio musicians.  Muscle Shoals is on the Tennessee River and Hall relates a story of his native American ancestor who was forced to relocate to Oklahoma (presumably the Trail of Tears).  Hearing no "music" in the natural environment of Oklahoma, the woman walked back to Muscle Shoals where the melody of the Tennessee River was central to the local tribes.  Percy Sledge grew up in the area and he says he sings the way he heard the sharecroppers sing in the cotton fields.

Hard answers were hard to come by in Muscle Shoals but I nonetheless enjoyed it greatly.  There were lots of still photos, old movies and talking head interviews with famous musicians (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, etc.).  Reminding me of 20 Feet From StardomMuscle Shoals made up for any shortcomings with a great soundtrack.


The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity wasn't bad either.  Set in the fictional THE Wrestling league, Chad Deity is set in the world of WWE style professional wrestling.  The set consisted of a small but functional wrestling ring.  The actors even performed some wrestling moves includingh body slams and punches.  Dispensing with any suggestion that pro wrestling is "real," the play explored the plot lines being advanced by the fictitious wrestling league and the wrestlers/actors who perform their parts.  In many ways, the play was about class warfare.  The "losers" in pro wrestling are typically the most skilled athletes so that they can make the "winners" look good.  The stars in pro wrestling are chosen based on their ability to connect with the audience and sell tickets.  The powers that be often forget that the matches are fixed and the star is the top of the pyramid...a pyramid which would collapse without the other wrestlers forming the foundation by losing on command.  It reminded me of work where some employees get all the attention and accolades despite the fact that they are only presenting the cumulative work of others.  That's enough of my workplace discontentment.  I'm not sure if Chad Deity is worth a special trip to San Jose but if you are in the downtown area, the play and theater company are a scrappy little bunch which makes them worthy of my patronage as far was I am concerned.


I also noticed there were fewer vacancies in downtown San Jose compared to Cinequest in March.  There is a Japanese store called Muji which was full of fun little knickknacks.  The San Jose store is at 170 S. Market St. right at S. 1st St and Paseo de San Antonio pedestrian mall.  There is a San Francisco location at 540 9th St. which I have not been to.

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