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Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher (2004)
Proof that hand-drawn animation is not dead!
Based on the independent comic book of the same name, Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher is a fun, highly entertaining animated short film by a group of students from New York University. It is a loving homage to those old pulp serials (like Doc Savage) from the 1930s and a playful satire of propaganda news reels from World War II.
One look at this short film and you would be hard pressed to tell that it was produced by students on a small budget. It has very professional looking production values on par with anything you'd see from the studios. One of the things that stands out is the great attention to detail. For example, the opening newsreel, which sets everything up, pays tribute to the same kind of prologue that begins Citizen Kane.
The presence of Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher proves that both computer and hand-drawn animation can co-exist harmoniously. This is an auspicious debut and one hopes that Hollywood will take notice and let these guys expand what they've done into a feature film.
Hard Core Logo (1996)
One of the best movies about a fictitious rock 'n' roll band ever made
This Is Spinal Tap (1984) is generally regarded as the quintessential rock 'n' roll mockumentarya hilarious look at the inept trials and tribulations of a heavy metal band. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Hard Core Logo (1996), a no frills balls-to-wall look at a fictitious punk rock band. Where Tap is a funny satire, Logo has a much darker undercurrent that gives it an unpredictable edge.
Retired for some years, legendary Canadian punk rock band, Hard Core Logo reunites for a one-off benefit concert for their mentor, Bucky Haight who supposedly had both legs amputated after being shot by a crazy fan. The gig goes so well that the band's charismatic lead singer, Joe Dick convinces everyone to go on a mini-tour across Western Canada with a documentary crew tagging along for the ride. It takes no time at all for all the old gripes and grudges to resurface, most significantly, the fact that lead guitarist, Billy Talent is close to signing on with Jenifur, an MTV-friendly band that has made it to the cover of Spin magazine. This doesn't sit to well with Joe who comes from the old school of punk rock that refuses to sell-out to major labels or appear in glossy corporate magazines. As the tour progresses, the friction between the band members becomes more palpable until it achieves a critical mass.
Hard Core Logo is the third film in Bruce McDonald's informal rock 'n' roll road movie trilogy that started with Roadkill and Highway 61. While something of a minor sensation in Canada, McDonald's films have been largely ignored in the United States, due mostly to lack of proper distribution. This changed somewhat with Logo when Quentin Tarantino saw it a film festival and liked it so much that he bought the US distribution rights under his Rolling Thunder vanity label.
There is a certain raw vibe that permeates Logo and this is perfect for its rough around the edges subject matter. The unrefined attitude is due in large part to the presence of Hugh Dillon as Joe Dick. Not a professional actor but rather lead singer of the Canadian blues punk bank, The Headstones, Dillon's lack of formal training gives his performance a certain unpredictability that is perfect for his character. He obviously drew a lot on his own real life experiences of being in a band and this makes everything he says and does that much more believable.
The interplay between the rest of the band is also very well done. Callum Keith Rennie plays the gifted, low key guitarist who has clearly surpassed his bandmates, Bernie Coulson is the crazy drummer who seems clueless but knows what to do when it counts, and finally John Pyper-Ferguson is the terminally burnt out bass player whose road diary provides the film's voice-over narration. The way these guys joke and argue with each otherlike adults who refuse to grow-upis so good that it feels like they've really been in a band together for many years.
Filmmaker Bruce McDonald keeps this all together with his solid direction. He has an excellent sense of pacingthe movie never gets boringand he instinctively knows that the essence of any good rock 'n' roll movie is, as he puts it, "extremely loud music and cool shots." Cinematographer Danny Nowak uses the shaky, hand-held camera-work that documentaries are known for and he also shoots the band in cool slow motion shots that emphasizes their iconic status.
Along with the aforementioned Spinal Tap and Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous, Hard Core Logo is one of the best fictitious rock 'n' roll movies ever made. It has a genuine appreciation for music and an acute knowledge of the conventions and clichés of the genre. Like Spinal Tap, McDonald's film isn't afraid to make fun of these conventions and like Almost Famous, there is an authenticity to how the band is portrayed and the music they make. Forget the Miramax version and hunt down a copy of this new special editionit's definitely worth those extra Canadian dollars.