EARLY AUTUMN FILM REVIEW ROUNDUP: “THE CREATOR,” “DUMB MONEY,” “SITTING IN BARS WITH CAKE,” “STOP MAKING SENSE”

By Matt Neufeld
Sept. 27, 2023

The autumn movie season kicks into a most welcome, excellent high gear as September ends and October begins, with four impressively high-quality, above-average, well-made films that everyone should go out and see in the theaters.

“The Creator” is a timely, moving, even appropriately sentimental science-fiction drama and action-adventure apocalyptic war movie that in a perfectly-timed manner offers an insightful commentary on–and a dire, terrifying warning about–dangerously evolving, and increasingly idiotic, modern artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

“Dumb Money,” also well-timed, is a drama-comedy based on a true story about a smart, savvy and visionary stock and tech whiz from Massachusetts who legally orchestrated the much-celebrated Game Stop stock frenzy in 2021 that literally–and wonderfully–upended uppity Wall Street corporate divas and sent shockwave warnings around the world about the financial and stock industries’ blatant and horrific runaway greed, arrogance, criminality and corruption.

“Sitting in Bars with Cake,” also based on a true story, is a bonafide, honest, open and gut-wrenchingly emotional and moving story of two beautiful, vibrant twentysomething girls whose beautifully close friendship is abruptly affected by one of the girl’s cancer diagnosis. The film does not flinch from the brutalities that a cancer fight inflicts in everyone in its orbit, but enveloping everything in this touching film is the true platonic love of the two main characters, and their powerful story of real friendship will leave you crying. But you’ll be crying a good, heartfelt cry because you care so much about these two lead characters.

And finally, there’s the re-release of Talking Heads’ and director Jonathan Demme’s 1984 classic concert film “Stop Making Sense,” which, forty years after the performance and filming in December, 1983, of the four live Hollywood concerts by the band that were edited together to produce the film, has lost absolutely none of its sheer, undeniable, unarguable stellar, smart, stupendous and crazily entertaining energy, vitality, charisma, spirit, talent, creativity, humor and musicality that simply makes this movie easily one of the absolute best rock concert films of all time.

“THE CREATOR”
Starring Madeleine Yuna Voyles, John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Allison Janney, Ralph Ineson
Written by Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz
Story by Gareth Edwards
Directed by Gareth Edwards

Just a few hours before this review was written, NBC News terrifyingly reported that the rapidly-evolving and increasingly moronic modern technology that has questionably been dubbed “artificial intelligence” (AI) and automation could cut 83 million jobs in five years. That’s right, you read that right–83 million jobs. That’s including the very real negative impact that AI could have on the film and television industry. And AI was one of the major sticking points during the recently-ended, prolonged labor negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. And, of course, there’s been a near-weekly barrage, or attack, of often-sensational, doomsaying end-of-the-world AI stories during the past few years.

If anyone believed everything that’s spewed out about the many possible dangers of AI, one could take director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’ new powerful science-fiction drama and concurrent apocalyptic war film “The Creator” as some type of dire doomsday documentary. In the name of John Connor, let’s hope it all doesn’t come down to that. In the film, continually evolving, increasingly powerful and dangerously self-aware AI beings drop a nuclear bomb, create their own AI/robot/cyborg/hybrid/human mixed-being society and initiate a nasty, violent and horrid war with increasingly militaristic and survive-at-all-costs humans. Like any war, it’s a scorched-earth, hell-on-earth war, filled with all of war’s brutality, barbaric and cut-throat corruption, criminal chaos and outright stupidity.

Thrown onto the middle of the ridiculous war is a disabled, ragged and war-weary former special operations human soldier, Joshua, who’s dragged into battle by military leaders to lead a mission to find an illusive AI leader that apparently has a new AI weapon that could wipe out most humans and enable the AI-dominated side to win the war.

Joshua takes the mission, but not exactly for the usual heroic, gung-ho, macho-man reasons. He agrees to find and destroy the new AI weapon, but he really wants to find his wife, Maya, who’s been captured by the AIs. Along the way, Joshua is surprised and shocked, even, to discover that the new AI weapon is actually a newly-created, unique and powerful hybrid…AI machine in the form of a beautiful, charming–and heart-tugging–little girl, who Joshua names Alphie. This young girl, who’s as cute, humble and nice as can be, and who’s certainly not aware of herself as being the all-encompassing death of mankind and representation of the end of the world as we know it, ends up changing Joshua’s mind and his view of his overall mission, and soon everything gets cloudy, confused, complicated and muddled. Alphie is otherwise known as the Creator in the AI world.

And soon Joshua’s mission changes to protecting Alphie, protecting her earnest AI comrades, who are revealed to be more than just machines, but machines infused and enveloped with genuinely human emotions, feelings, desires, wants and appetites, and protecting the myriad AI communities, cultures and lifestyles that have evolved throughout the country. Joshua comes to realize it’s not all about killing and eradicating the machines, but rather learning to accept them, live with them and even appreciating their newer, evolved and revolutionary existence not as a threat or an enemy, but as yet another comrade in arms, even if those arms are made of steel and metal.

“The Creator” does offer much to think about in terms of those evolving AI, automation, robotic, cyborg and android technologies, and the movie delivers a factory full of messages, themes, lessons–and warnings–about just how tricky it can, and will be, for humans to adequately deal with evolving technologies. The problems are already here, in real life, and, if they’re not handled and dealt with in a consistently intelligent manner going forward into the future, things could get pretty bad, the movie clearly warns. That’s a pretty good message and lesson, and it’s worth heeding as one watches the movie.

Young Madeleine Yuna Voyles will steal hearts as Alphie/the Creator. John David Washington is strong as Joshua, and there’s additional strong performances from Gemma Chan as Maya, veteran actor Ken Watanabe as Harun, one of the AI society’s top leaders, Allison Janney as the ruthless, cold-hearted and thoroughly unlikeable Col. Howell, one of the humans’ top military leaders, and Ralph Ineson as another one of the humans’ top, unlikeable military leaders.

The special, visual and computer effects are exceptional, especially the production of the numerous, varied AI-generated robots, cyborgs and androids. And the representation of the human army’s imposing, quite scary sky-based all-consuming and all-killing machine known as NOMAD is equally impressive. At least fourteen special effects shops, including industry leaders Industrial Light and Magic and Weta, worked on the effects. The effects are integrated well into the action, the story and the very heart of the movie, so they’re presented as a natural, organic part of the plot, rather than just some fancy high-tech CGI bells and whistles. Of course, technology itself is a major character in this movie, so it was essential that the effects be an integral, organic aspect of the story, plot, characters and characterizations.

There are two setbacks with “The Creator.” First, the level of the in-your-face bloody, graphic violence needed to be toned down. Yes, the movie is making a valid point about the general stupidity and unneeded violence of most wars, but filmmakers can more than adequately make these points effectively without blaring and blasting every violent moment with bloody bombast. Second, “The Creator” and director and co-writer Gareth Edwards don’t completely overcome the movie’s many too-obvious cliches. At times, too many times, while watching the movie, one feels they’re watching a montage reel of scenes from too many other familiar movies. There’s obvious homages–and too-familiar homages–to “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Avatar,” “Avatar: The Way of Water”–Edwards has obviously watched a lot of James Cameron, and to “District Nine,” “Children of Men,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Logan’s Run,” numerous Vietnam War-set movies (the Vietnam War imagery and references are obvious), and many other sci-fi, apocalyptic, war and robot-centric movies. A little less homage and a lot more originality would have made “The Creator” a much better movie.

And all of those warnings about AI technology? In another NBC News report, two technology experts note that AI isn’t the first technology to disrupt the status quo. Industrialization in the 1800s, the advent of the car, assembly lines, early robotics, mass production, television, satellites, early computers and all of the technological crap–such as the internets, stupid social media, texting addictions, inane podcasts and obnoxious cellphones–that’s devolved during just the past twenty-five years have all prompted societal, cultural, business and psychological alarm bells to sound off about the end of all things. But, if anything, society and people have shown their adaptability and resilience through the centuries in the ugly, cold face of technological change. We will adapt, life will go on, and this, too, shall pass.

But what really ends up carrying “The Creator,” even beyond any obvious messages about technology, even beyond any fancy special effects and suspenseful action, is something that is more human than anything and more human than any technology could ever fully be: the human heart and the ability to love. Joshua, Maya and even Alphie, through some fancy lab work, are infused with the ability to truly care and to put themselves ahead of what they’re simply told to do and to work for what is right and just, and they’re equally filled with the simple, yet still so complex, ability to love. In the end, love transcends all. To watch the growing love that evolves between Joshua and Alphie, and to see a man sacrifice just about everything to save a little girl who he’s come to love and to reunite with his wife who he also loves is to see yet again that amid even the coldest, darkest worlds at war, amid the most seemingly hopeless dystopian nightmares, no amount of killings and fighting and death and destruction can overcome the power of the human heart and the power of love. That simple message remains, at the end of “The Creator,” the most important message of all.

“DUMB MONEY”
Starring Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogan
Written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo
Based on the “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich
Directed by Craig Gillespie

“Dumb Money,” too, offers up a slew of timely, important messages, mainly that we all need to remain on sharp, vigilant guard against the ever-present array of scams, cons, hustles, rip-offs, flim-flams and outright Mafia-style criminal enterprises that permeate our always-troubled finance, economic, investment, equity, stock and business industries and executives. Every few months, there it is in the very real world–another slimy, greasy business world scam, another multi-million-dollar fine, another plastic corporate apology, another civil slap on the wrist, another set of ruined lives, another setback for an already set-back financially drained society, and just another brick in the wall of an increasingly crumbling Wall Street.

“Dumb Money,” though, ends up being an enthralling, exhilarating celebration of the little guys’ much welcome complete takedown and legal shakedown of several of Wall Street’s most corrupt, slimy and abhorrent blue-blood robber baron criminals, idiots and morons. And man, does this movie feel good! And, it’s all true. “Dumb Money” is so good, in fact, that it’s a far better movie than the big-buzz, big-hype, big-budget “The Creator,” and “Money” delivers its many pertinent messages in an original, down-to-earth, gritty, renegade and neo-documentary style and manner that manages to elevate this film to the level of genuine heroic celebratory status. Go see “Dumb Money” and celebrate the fact that sometimes, the little guy wins, and the criminal Wall Street robber barons lose.

In January of 2021, just two short years ago, a smart, savvy and sly day and night trader, investor, financial analyst and stock and finance whiz, a down-to-earth, likeable, somewhat bohemian Massachusetts guy named Keith Gill, saw something interesting about the stock and possible potential of a gaming retail chain called GameStop, and he started an incredible chain of events that eventually led to the attention of the highest levels of business and government nationwide. Gill started buying up GameStop stock in a complicated financial maneuver called a short squeeze, which this financial dunderhead film review writer could not even begin to fully explain here. And, utilizing the very modern-day tools of computers, the internets, social media and cellphones, Gill just happened to get several hundred or thousand or million of his best friends to join him. Soon enough, and crazily enough, well, something happened. GameStop stock took off–and took off to the moon, Alice! And the stock took off to the point where, well, the buying and stock price surge and subsequent frenzy and attendant national attention became a news story, caught the attention of the robber barons–and suddenly literally brought the lambs of Wall Street straight down to their knees.

The robber barons–and that term is not used in jest or in a snarky manner, as many finance industry executives truly, literally and factually are robber barons–were so scared and shocked and shaken by the short squeeze and its subsequent domino affect on the finance, stock, investment and business worlds, they responded by crazingly battling the short squeeze through allegedly unethical, illegal and unprofessional actions–including, if you can believe it, actually shutting down trading and buying related to GameStop. Meanwhile, GameStop stock had surged to crazy heights, and the funky, giddy Gill army of investors were suddenly either rich or near-rich. They, and others, alleged that the moves to restrict GameStop buying and trading was outright illegal. The robber barons–billionaires leading shaky house-of-cards investment companies–started investing money to battle the GameStop short squeeze and other short squeezes. Some of those investment companies, if you can believe it, gambled, borrowed or flat-out lost—lost, I say—billions of dollars. The allegedly illegal actions by the suddenly cash-strapped investment companies prompted high-level corruption investigations by Congress and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. White House officials said they were monitoring the situation.

All of this is true. You can read about this anywhere. There’s a Wikipedia page titled “GameStop short squeeze,” for gawd’s sake. The crazy incident–a literally historical milestone and watershed event in business, finance and government history–prompted a book, “The Antisocial Network,” by Ben Mezrich, which “Dumb Money” is based on. The after-effects and lingering business, governmental and regulatory detritus of Wall Street’s allegedly illegal actions linger strongly nationwide to this day. It should be noted that Gill and his comrades in investing were and are not at fault in any way, they did nothing wrong, they have never been accused of doing anything wrong, and they are celebrated and praised to this day as heroes.

What a story! And it’s a story well-told in “Dumb Money,” which is a movie that is as smart, savvy, sly, insightful, visionary and entertaining as what Gill and his faithful followers did in 2021. “Dumb Money” is smart, funny, well-written, well-acted and well-directed. And, as noted, the movie delivers a host of important morals, messages, themes and lessons about those very real dangerous Wall Street, investment, finance and business scams. But the movie, even more importantly, sends an equally-pertinent message that smart investors outside the gilded bubble-world of bloated billionaire boobs can win, can upend Wall Street and can bring their own brand of legal, new age investment strategy and know-how to the business world–and to Wall Street.

Director Craig Gillespie grounds this story in a gritty reality, and he focuses the story on where it should be centered–on Gill and his faithful followers. These relatable folks are presented in likeable, relatable manners, showing them in their decidedly non-bubble-world, non-Wall Street middle-class, student and blue collar lives. They’re nice, normal folks, basically struggling to stay afloat and fighting, at times, to just survive. They’re single mothers, retail store workers (one of them actually works at a GameStop store!), students, deliverymen, blue collar workers. They’re just hard-working, decent people looking for a break in a broken world. Gillespie presents these good people as real people, living real lives. And the director does the same with Gill, letting talented lead actor Paul Dano give Gill’s characterization all of Dano’s unique, patented down-to-earth and understated acting style. Gill is smart, and tough, and independent, but he’s also quirky, a hybrid blue collar-white collar type and even a bit bohemian, working his financial magic on some simple desktops set up on a simple table in the simple basement of his nice middle-class house.

Gillespie also shoots the film in an atmosphere of gritty, grungy, dark-colored hues, tones and lighting, giving the movie that documentary-style feel. This grunginess appropriately grounds the movie in the reality that the movie is based on. Yet, these people and their lives are also inherently interesting and entertaining. Again, you care about Gill and his followers, and that gives the movie its big heart.

Dano leads an exceptional ensemble cast of actors who all deliver strongly, including Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen. Scriptwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo have taken a huge story, with a huge cast of characters and a potentially complicated and confusing plot, and crafted all of this, impressively, into a compact, smart, understandable, funny and entertaining morality tale that still manages to competently tell that big story without getting away from itself. Even financial dunderheads like this reviewer could at least understand the basics about what was going on, what it meant for the country, and what its meaning messages were and still are.

Yes, “Dumb Money” will remind people of several financial-industry-oriented movies, most notably “The Big Short” from 2015, which told a similar tale. “Dumb Money” also recalls “Wall Street,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and other movies about the business world. Nevertheless, “Dumb Money” proudly stands on its own.

Everyone should pay close attention to the lessons and messages presented in “Dumb Money.” Because what happens on Wall Street happens to every one of us. And as the arrogance, greed, corruption and criminality continues on Wall Street, it’s up to the Keith Gills of the world, and similar, fellow savvy traders and investors, to keep a close check, guard and watch on that corruption. It’s also up to regulators in government to keep up their watch, but, well, sigh, let’s keep things grounded and keep most of our hope focused on those grassroots folks. Hopefully, there’s another Keith Gill waiting in the wings to bring down the next batch of slimy, greedy corporate pirates, monsters and robber barons.

As for Keith Gill, in real life, he promptly amassed a small fortune of $34 million, retired, got offline and retreated from the public life. Hopefully, sometime within the next few weeks, Gill will venture out to his local neighborhood movie theater, sit in the comforting movie theater darkness with a nice big bucket of warm buttered popcorn, enjoy the company of his fellow moviegoers, flash a big smile, and celebrate his big short squeeze on the fat cat robber barons of Wall Street.

“SITTING IN BARS WITH CAKE”
Starring Odessa A’zion, Yara Shahidi, Rob Livingston, Bette Miller
Written by Audrey Shulman
Based on the 2016 book “Sitting in Bars with Cake” by Audrey Shulman
Directed by Trish Sue

Several years ago, author Audrey Shulman and her best friend, in real life, while in their twenties, living the good life in Los Angeles, came up with a most novel and funny and original way to meet guys in bars—they actually brought along their own beautiful, towering, delicious homemade cakes. They also set a goofy goal of baking fifty different cakes and bringing them out on fifty different nights. It helped that they baked some professional-level cakes that everyone loved.

So everything moved along fine for a while, and the cakes in bars exercise and social experiment was fun, funny, social and popular. The two young friends–beautiful, vibrant, outgoing, energetic, funky, smart, professional–were having the time of their lives. All was well with the world. But the world sometimes has a way of crashing down around even the best of us at the best of times.

Audrey’s best friend, named Corinne in the movie, is diagnosed with cancer at the height of their fun, and everything changes. That’s not really a spoiler, because this plot development isn’t really meant as a surprise and this plot point forms the basic core and foundation of the film.

“Sitting in Bars with Cake” thus turns from what appears to be a goofy, funny comedy about an original way of meeting guys in bars to a serious, moving, emotional drama about life’s quite real array of somber challenges and about nothing less than the importance of true friendship, true love and the true value and preciousness of life itself. The director, Trish Sie; the scriptwriter, Shulman herself, adapting her book of the same name; and a quartet of exemplary actors impressively rise to the challenge, and the result is a movie that will move you, inspire you, make you think deeply about the aspects of life and love that truly matter, and, yes make you cry. But, as noted, it’ll be a cry based on your caring for and about the lead characters and the dire hands they were suddenly dealt in life.

Cancer affects all of us, every one of us, whether we think it does or doesn’t. Even if you’ve never had a cancer fight or have never known someone with a cancer fight, cancer still affects you. That’s because cancer, due to it’s pervasiveness, affects all of us through a domino affect that touches all aspects of life–health, work, play, business, education, finance, everything. Cancer has affected millions of people, of course, either through outright death or lengthy, prolonged, horrific battles that decimate lives. We know this, but it remains important to always remember.

Thus, Corrine’s cancer fight becomes a story not just about cancer, of course, but about, as noted, the values of life, love and friendship. To watch Corinne and her best friend Jane, who bakes these glorious cakes, bond together through one of the hardest things anyone can go through in life, is touching, emotional, bittersweet, sad, heartfelt and, although steeped in tragedy, powerfully inspiring. Jane and Corinne are truly the closest, best of friends, and they both know that, being in their twenties, they’re not ready for this and they should not be going through this. They’re just starting out in life, for gawd’s sake, and they have their whole lives ahead of them. Of course, no one at any age should have to go through a cancer fight, but somehow it seems especially cruel to deal with this crap in your younger years.

The four leads, Odessa A’Zion as Corrine, Yara Shahidi as Jane, Bette Miller as Corrine’s sympathetic boss Benita and Ron Livingston as Corrine’s equally sympathetic father, Fred, are superb, all shining brightly in roles and a story that’s alternately dark and light, funny and serious, somber but somehow defiant and inspirational, and sometimes, all of the above at the same time. The script is smart, insightful, perceptive and full of heartfelt meaning. Sie, the director, skillfully and ably finds the right balance between the light and the dark, and she lets the emotions flow strongly, but always with a grounding in reality that avoids schmaltz and base sentimentalism.

And while all of the four lead actors shine, the real acting story in this movie is the true bravura, breakout and star-making performance by the astounding Odessa A’zion as the tragic, but inspiring Corinne. A’zion is only 23, but she turns in a stellar, exceptional, award-worthy, career-making performance in this film. Her Corinne is, throughout the movie, a rolling, twirling, moving, energetic, sexy, funny, smart, captivating and beautiful hurricane dervish of a girl. She’s a girl who just wants to have fun, a woman at the start of her adult life who’s ready to make things happen, a bundle of energy, a free-spirited bohemian hippiechick, a beautiful young woman, an independent, loveable force of nature. When A’zion is on screen, which is most of the movie, you just can’t take your eyes off her. And when the cancer tragedy strikes, A’zion’s Corrine somehow maintains her energy, beautiful spirit and charisma through the worst of it all, knowing she’s surrounded by caring and love, and knowing that that care and love will sustain her through this awful cancer fight. To see Corinne fight to maintain her spirit, energy and dignity through a cancer fight that robs fighters of much of their spirit, energy and dignity, is emotional, uplifting and inspiring.

Of course, it’ll be lost on no one that Bette Midler’s appearance in the film is a throwback, honor and homage to “Beaches,” a very similar 1988 movie that starred Midler and Barbara Hershey as best friends going through similar life challenges. It’s a nice, beautiful life circle to see Midler in “Sitting…,” thirty-five years after her own star-making, career-defining stellar performance in “Beaches.” The wind beneath Midler’s wings have carried her far, and kudos to the filmmakers for casting Midler in this new film.

“Sitting…” will also, positively, remind viewers of another similar film, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” yet another excellent film about life, love and friendship, from 2015.

As noted, “Sitting…,” like “Beaches” and “Me and Earl…,” is an affirmation and celebration of simply the most important things in life–friendship, love and life itself. And if a friendly reminder about the basics of life make you cry a little during a moving movie, then in this context, that’s only a good thing. There is crying in the movies, but even tears of sadness can always be mixed with tears of happiness, remembrance, joy and inspiration.

“STOP MAKING SENSE”
Starring Talking Heads, who are David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz; with Lynn Mabry, Ednah Holt, Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, Steve Scales
Written by Talking Heads and Jonathan Demme
Directed by Jonathan Demme

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
“This ain’t no fooling around
“No time for dancing, or lovey-dovey
“I ain’t got time for that now.”
–Talking Heads

During four nights in mid-December, 1983, at the height of their fame and acclaim, and fresh off of releasing a stream of highly-successful, well-received and hit-filled albums, and after raising $1.2 million and hiring acclaimed young director Jonathan Demme, the cerebral band Talking Heads filmed four nights of live concerts at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. The result was the 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense,” an instant classic that, to this day, is still generally regarded as one of the best concert films ever made.

Now, in late 2023, in honor of the fortieth anniversary of those original four nights of concerts that provided the material for the film, a remixed, remastered and restored version of the film has been re-released in theaters nationwide. This movie, for any movie and music and rock fan, is one that you have to see live, in a theater, up on the big screen. And here’s a genuine statement that’s true: Even if you don’t like Talking Heads, just go and see this movie, anyway. Why? Because “Stop Making Sense” is a raucous, joyous movie that transcends, even, just one band’s music–this movie is a pure, exhilarating, energetic, happy celebration of life. The pure joy that flows off the stage and off the screen becomes something about even more than the songs. If that sounds hippie-dippie, mystical and zen-like, then good. Because there’s nothing wrong with being hippie-ish, mystical and zen.

But this is all true. “Stop Making Sense” is not only a great concert film, it’s also a great cinematic film.

There’s scores of live music concert films, from all styles of music, from all periods of film history, and for some reason, most concert films, no matter how good the inherent, core music is, they all seem to blur together. Many are just poorly filmed. Crazily, many concert films have awful sound, a bizarre, ironic, laughable failure on all fronts. And many have just about zero sense of any type of filmic time, place, history, meaning and cultural significance.

This is why when the rare truly well-made concert film rolls around, it’s a cause for celebration. “Stop Making Sense,” as noted, is indeed one of those rare films.

There are many reasons why “Stop” registers as a great concert film. One can easily think off the top of their heads something like, “Oh, well, it’s all those great Talking Heads songs,” but then you’d be missing part of the point. Film is more than just turning on a camera and filming something. Anyone can do that, and even there, most people are awful at that. Real film is utilizing all of the filmic skills, tools and aspects that make up the craft of film and then merging those filmic tools with whatever your cinematographer is pointing the camera at. It’s the same with a concert film. Real film is more than just pointing the camera at band members and filming them playing songs. There has to be a concurrent melding of cinematography, editing, timing, pacing, sound, lighting, emotion, acting, movement, energy, presence, costuming, scenery, chemistry, direction, blocking, choreography, sets, scenery, color, effects, art design, production design, storytelling and a hundred other filmic elements that seamlessly, smoothly and organically merge and meld with the music to create an actual….film.

All of that, and more, are present in “Stop Making Sense,” and all of that, and more, help to make the movie one of the best concert films ever produced.

All of that said, let’s get to the music. Beyond the filmic qualities, really, the Talking Heads music and accompanying, concurrent music-oriented dancing and movement form the true center, core and foundation of “Stop Making Sense.” Talking Heads music is crazily, enjoyably unique, original, diverse–and the songs are genuinely hook-filled, melody-filled upbeat, danceable tunes with bouncing rhythms and thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that are actually smartly and thoughtfully written. And the songs are at one time accessible but also difficult to easily categorize, as the songs smoothly incorporate blendable elements of rock, pop, new wave, funk, punk, world music, jazz, dance and even slight, hidden, barely-there suggestions of ska and reggae. Too much, too praiseworthy, you say? Not really. Listen to a hundred mainstream rock and pop albums, and then put on a Talking Heads album. You’ll see what many people mean.

Among the many classic Talking Heads songs performed in “Stop Making Sense” are “Burning Down the House,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Psycho Killer,” “Swamp,” “Take Me to the River,” “Girlfriend is Better,” “Genius of Love,” “Found a Job,” and others. Who on earth can argue against the unique, high quality of just those classic songs?

But, again, it’s not just the songs that elevate the film. The energetic, uniquely choreographed dancing and movement of the band during every song is the real, hidden key to much of the movie’s overall success. A movie, and a live concert, and a movie of a live concert, have to move in some big ways. And, man, can David Byrne move and dance in this movie. Byrne simply commands attention and center stage from the literal moment that he first walks out on stage to the final note of the final song and to the final stage bow. He moves like some inspired combination of Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Mick Jagger, Little Richard and James Brown. He’s all kinetic, edgy, funny, funky and athletic dancing, jerks, steps, running, choreography, bouncing, bobbing, spinning and just inspired movement. And that’s from start to finish. And that’s even more impressive considering that the film was actually shot at four nights of live concerts in a row.

And Byrne is joined in that nonstop energetic dance and movement–and concurrent high-level musicianship and singing, of course–throughout the film by bandmates Tina Weymouth on bass; Jerry Harrison on guitar and keyboards; and Chris Frantz on drums; and by guest musicians: backup singers and dancers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, who often join Byrne in his lively dances and movements; keyboard player Bernie Worrell (who many will recognize from George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic); guitar player Alex Weir; and percussionist Steve Scales. All are consistently, exceptionally in top form, from the first note to the last note.

Director Jonathan Demme weaves his magical directing skills by utilizing an army of cameras skillfully and strategically deployed from a variety of angles, placements and movements, all pulled together in a feat of editing from four nights of hours of footage. The lighting is subdued and somewhat moody and dimly lit, which gives the movie a natural, organic atmosphere. The camera work isn’t fancy or overdone and Demme is smart and skilled enough to let the camera mostly rest on where it should rest–on the band and the band’s dancing and movement. A primary key to Demme’s success here, which was intended, is to not over-shoot, over-edit or even over-move his many cameras. If you have such a charismatic, photogenic, energetic and pretty band and frontman performing such great, already-classic up-tempo, highly-danceable songs, then you just don’t need fancy, over-done, gimmicky editing, camera angles and lighting tricks. The energy, presence, music and movement are all there up on the stage–all Demme had to do was capture that lightning in a stage and film bottle and preserve it. And that’s exactly what he, and the band, accomplished.

There should be screenings of “Stop Making Sense” where filmgoers are allowed to simply get up and dance in their seats and in the aisles. When you see “Stop Making Sense,” you’ll want to get on up, krush groove it and dance the night away.

Once in a lifetime, go see “Stop Making Sense.” The movie is the same as it ever was–and that’s a good thing. You may ask yourself, “How did I get here?” The answer is, because you appreciate good music and good films. This ain’t no Mudd Club, no CBGB. You ain’t got time for that now. But it is time to start making sense and go see “Stop Making Sense.” Yes, some things can surely sweep you off your feet, like this movie. It’s time for burning down the house.

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EARLY AUTUMN FILM REVIEW ROUNDUP: “THE CREATOR,” “DUMB MONEY,” “SITTING IN BARS WITH CAKE,” “STOP MAKING SENSE”

By Matt Neufeld
Sept. 27, 2023

The autumn movie season kicks into a most welcome, excellent high gear as September ends and October begins, with four impressively high-quality, above-average, well-made films that everyone should go out and see in the theaters.

“The Creator” is a timely, moving, even appropriately sentimental science-fiction drama and action-adventure apocalyptic war movie that in a perfectly-timed manner offers an insightful commentary on–and a dire, terrifying warning about–dangerously evolving, and increasingly idiotic, modern artificial intelligence (AI) technology.

“Dumb Money,” also well-timed, is a drama-comedy based on a true story about a smart, savvy and visionary stock and tech whiz from Massachusetts who legally orchestrated the much-celebrated Game Stop stock frenzy in 2021 that literally–and wonderfully–upended uppity Wall Street corporate divas and sent shockwave warnings around the world about the financial and stock industries’ blatant and horrific runaway greed, arrogance, criminality and corruption.

“Sitting in Bars with Cake,” also based on a true story, is a bonafide, honest, open and gut-wrenchingly emotional and moving story of two beautiful, vibrant twentysomething girls whose beautifully close friendship is abruptly affected by one of the girl’s cancer diagnosis. The film does not flinch from the brutalities that a cancer fight inflicts in everyone in its orbit, but enveloping everything in this touching film is the true platonic love of the two main characters, and their powerful story of real friendship will leave you crying. But you’ll be crying a good, heartfelt cry because you care so much about these two lead characters.

And finally, there’s the re-release of Talking Heads’ and director Jonathan Demme’s 1984 classic concert film “Stop Making Sense,” which, forty years after the performance and filming in December, 1983, of the four live Hollywood concerts by the band that were edited together to produce the film, has lost absolutely none of its sheer, undeniable, unarguable stellar, smart, stupendous and crazily entertaining energy, vitality, charisma, spirit, talent, creativity, humor and musicality that simply makes this movie easily one of the absolute best rock concert films of all time.

“THE CREATOR”
Starring Madeleine Yuna Voyles, John David Washington, Gemma Chan, Ken Watanabe, Sturgill Simpson, Allison Janney, Ralph Ineson
Written by Gareth Edwards and Chris Weitz
Story by Gareth Edwards
Directed by Gareth Edwards

Just a few hours before this review was written, NBC News terrifyingly reported that the rapidly-evolving and increasingly moronic modern technology that has questionably been dubbed “artificial intelligence” (AI) and automation could cut 83 million jobs in five years. That’s right, you read that right–83 million jobs. That’s including the very real negative impact that AI could have on the film and television industry. And AI was one of the major sticking points during the recently-ended, prolonged labor negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. And, of course, there’s been a near-weekly barrage, or attack, of often-sensational, doomsaying end-of-the-world AI stories during the past few years.

If anyone believed everything that’s spewed out about the many possible dangers of AI, one could take director and co-writer Gareth Edwards’ new powerful science-fiction drama and concurrent apocalyptic war film “The Creator” as some type of dire doomsday documentary. In the name of John Connor, let’s hope it all doesn’t come down to that. In the film, continually evolving, increasingly powerful and dangerously self-aware AI beings drop a nuclear bomb, create their own AI/robot/cyborg/hybrid/human mixed-being society and initiate a nasty, violent and horrid war with increasingly militaristic and survive-at-all-costs humans. Like any war, it’s a scorched-earth, hell-on-earth war, filled with all of war’s brutality, barbaric and cut-throat corruption, criminal chaos and outright stupidity.

Thrown onto the middle of the ridiculous war is a disabled, ragged and war-weary former special operations human soldier, Joshua, who’s dragged into battle by military leaders to lead a mission to find an illusive AI leader that apparently has a new AI weapon that could wipe out most humans and enable the AI-dominated side to win the war.

Joshua takes the mission, but not exactly for the usual heroic, gung-ho, macho-man reasons. He agrees to find and destroy the new AI weapon, but he really wants to find his wife, Maya, who’s been captured by the AIs. Along the way, Joshua is surprised and shocked, even, to discover that the new AI weapon is actually a newly-created, unique and powerful hybrid…AI machine in the form of a beautiful, charming–and heart-tugging–little girl, who Joshua names Alphie. This young girl, who’s as cute, humble and nice as can be, and who’s certainly not aware of herself as being the all-encompassing death of mankind and representation of the end of the world as we know it, ends up changing Joshua’s mind and his view of his overall mission, and soon everything gets cloudy, confused, complicated and muddled. Alphie is otherwise known as the Creator in the AI world.

And soon Joshua’s mission changes to protecting Alphie, protecting her earnest AI comrades, who are revealed to be more than just machines, but machines infused and enveloped with genuinely human emotions, feelings, desires, wants and appetites, and protecting the myriad AI communities, cultures and lifestyles that have evolved throughout the country. Joshua comes to realize it’s not all about killing and eradicating the machines, but rather learning to accept them, live with them and even appreciating their newer, evolved and revolutionary existence not as a threat or an enemy, but as yet another comrade in arms, even if those arms are made of steel and metal.

“The Creator” does offer much to think about in terms of those evolving AI, automation, robotic, cyborg and android technologies, and the movie delivers a factory full of messages, themes, lessons–and warnings–about just how tricky it can, and will be, for humans to adequately deal with evolving technologies. The problems are already here, in real life, and, if they’re not handled and dealt with in a consistently intelligent manner going forward into the future, things could get pretty bad, the movie clearly warns. That’s a pretty good message and lesson, and it’s worth heeding as one watches the movie.

Young Madeleine Yuna Voyles will steal hearts as Alphie/the Creator. John David Washington is strong as Joshua, and there’s additional strong performances from Gemma Chan as Maya, veteran actor Ken Watanabe as Harun, one of the AI society’s top leaders, Allison Janney as the ruthless, cold-hearted and thoroughly unlikeable Col. Howell, one of the humans’ top military leaders, and Ralph Ineson as another one of the humans’ top, unlikeable military leaders.

The special, visual and computer effects are exceptional, especially the production of the numerous, varied AI-generated robots, cyborgs and androids. And the representation of the human army’s imposing, quite scary sky-based all-consuming and all-killing machine known as NOMAD is equally impressive. At least fourteen special effects shops, including industry leaders Industrial Light and Magic and Weta, worked on the effects. The effects are integrated well into the action, the story and the very heart of the movie, so they’re presented as a natural, organic part of the plot, rather than just some fancy high-tech CGI bells and whistles. Of course, technology itself is a major character in this movie, so it was essential that the effects be an integral, organic aspect of the story, plot, characters and characterizations.

There are two setbacks with “The Creator.” First, the level of the in-your-face bloody, graphic violence needed to be toned down. Yes, the movie is making a valid point about the general stupidity and unneeded violence of most wars, but filmmakers can more than adequately make these points effectively without blaring and blasting every violent moment with bloody bombast. Second, “The Creator” and director and co-writer Gareth Edwards don’t completely overcome the movie’s many too-obvious cliches. At times, too many times, while watching the movie, one feels they’re watching a montage reel of scenes from too many other familiar movies. There’s obvious homages–and too-familiar homages–to “The Terminator,” “Aliens,” “Avatar,” “Avatar: The Way of Water”–Edwards has obviously watched a lot of James Cameron, and to “District Nine,” “Children of Men,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Logan’s Run,” numerous Vietnam War-set movies (the Vietnam War imagery and references are obvious), and many other sci-fi, apocalyptic, war and robot-centric movies. A little less homage and a lot more originality would have made “The Creator” a much better movie.

And all of those warnings about AI technology? In another NBC News report, two technology experts note that AI isn’t the first technology to disrupt the status quo. Industrialization in the 1800s, the advent of the car, assembly lines, early robotics, mass production, television, satellites, early computers and all of the technological crap–such as the internets, stupid social media, texting addictions, inane podcasts and obnoxious cellphones–that’s devolved during just the past twenty-five years have all prompted societal, cultural, business and psychological alarm bells to sound off about the end of all things. But, if anything, society and people have shown their adaptability and resilience through the centuries in the ugly, cold face of technological change. We will adapt, life will go on, and this, too, shall pass.

But what really ends up carrying “The Creator,” even beyond any obvious messages about technology, even beyond any fancy special effects and suspenseful action, is something that is more human than anything and more human than any technology could ever fully be: the human heart and the ability to love. Joshua, Maya and even Alphie, through some fancy lab work, are infused with the ability to truly care and to put themselves ahead of what they’re simply told to do and to work for what is right and just, and they’re equally filled with the simple, yet still so complex, ability to love. In the end, love transcends all. To watch the growing love that evolves between Joshua and Alphie, and to see a man sacrifice just about everything to save a little girl who he’s come to love and to reunite with his wife who he also loves is to see yet again that amid even the coldest, darkest worlds at war, amid the most seemingly hopeless dystopian nightmares, no amount of killings and fighting and death and destruction can overcome the power of the human heart and the power of love. That simple message remains, at the end of “The Creator,” the most important message of all.

“DUMB MONEY”
Starring Paul Dano, Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley, Seth Rogan
Written by Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo
Based on the “The Antisocial Network” by Ben Mezrich
Directed by Craig Gillespie

“Dumb Money,” too, offers up a slew of timely, important messages, mainly that we all need to remain on sharp, vigilant guard against the ever-present array of scams, cons, hustles, rip-offs, flim-flams and outright Mafia-style criminal enterprises that permeate our always-troubled finance, economic, investment, equity, stock and business industries and executives. Every few months, there it is in the very real world–another slimy, greasy business world scam, another multi-million-dollar fine, another plastic corporate apology, another civil slap on the wrist, another set of ruined lives, another setback for an already set-back financially drained society, and just another brick in the wall of an increasingly crumbling Wall Street.

“Dumb Money,” though, ends up being an enthralling, exhilarating celebration of the little guys’ much welcome complete takedown and legal shakedown of several of Wall Street’s most corrupt, slimy and abhorrent blue-blood robber baron criminals, idiots and morons. And man, does this movie feel good! And, it’s all true. “Dumb Money” is so good, in fact, that it’s a far better movie than the big-buzz, big-hype, big-budget “The Creator,” and “Money” delivers its many pertinent messages in an original, down-to-earth, gritty, renegade and neo-documentary style and manner that manages to elevate this film to the level of genuine heroic celebratory status. Go see “Dumb Money” and celebrate the fact that sometimes, the little guy wins, and the criminal Wall Street robber barons lose.

In January of 2021, just two short years ago, a smart, savvy and sly day and night trader, investor, financial analyst and stock and finance whiz, a down-to-earth, likeable, somewhat bohemian Massachusetts guy named Keith Gill, saw something interesting about the stock and possible potential of a gaming retail chain called GameStop, and he started an incredible chain of events that eventually led to the attention of the highest levels of business and government nationwide. Gill started buying up GameStop stock in a complicated financial maneuver called a short squeeze, which this financial dunderhead film review writer could not even begin to fully explain here. And, utilizing the very modern-day tools of computers, the internets, social media and cellphones, Gill just happened to get several hundred or thousand or million of his best friends to join him. Soon enough, and crazily enough, well, something happened. GameStop stock took off–and took off to the moon, Alice! And the stock took off to the point where, well, the buying and stock price surge and subsequent frenzy and attendant national attention became a news story, caught the attention of the robber barons–and suddenly literally brought the lambs of Wall Street straight down to their knees.

The robber barons–and that term is not used in jest or in a snarky manner, as many finance industry executives truly, literally and factually are robber barons–were so scared and shocked and shaken by the short squeeze and its subsequent domino affect on the finance, stock, investment and business worlds, they responded by crazingly battling the short squeeze through allegedly unethical, illegal and unprofessional actions–including, if you can believe it, actually shutting down trading and buying related to GameStop. Meanwhile, GameStop stock had surged to crazy heights, and the funky, giddy Gill army of investors were suddenly either rich or near-rich. They, and others, alleged that the moves to restrict GameStop buying and trading was outright illegal. The robber barons–billionaires leading shaky house-of-cards investment companies–started investing money to battle the GameStop short squeeze and other short squeezes. Some of those investment companies, if you can believe it, gambled, borrowed or flat-out lost—lost, I say—billions of dollars. The allegedly illegal actions by the suddenly cash-strapped investment companies prompted high-level corruption investigations by Congress and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. White House officials said they were monitoring the situation.

All of this is true. You can read about this anywhere. There’s a Wikipedia page titled “GameStop short squeeze,” for gawd’s sake. The crazy incident–a literally historical milestone and watershed event in business, finance and government history–prompted a book, “The Antisocial Network,” by Ben Mezrich, which “Dumb Money” is based on. The after-effects and lingering business, governmental and regulatory detritus of Wall Street’s allegedly illegal actions linger strongly nationwide to this day. It should be noted that Gill and his comrades in investing were and are not at fault in any way, they did nothing wrong, they have never been accused of doing anything wrong, and they are celebrated and praised to this day as heroes.

What a story! And it’s a story well-told in “Dumb Money,” which is a movie that is as smart, savvy, sly, insightful, visionary and entertaining as what Gill and his faithful followers did in 2021. “Dumb Money” is smart, funny, well-written, well-acted and well-directed. And, as noted, the movie delivers a host of important morals, messages, themes and lessons about those very real dangerous Wall Street, investment, finance and business scams. But the movie, even more importantly, sends an equally-pertinent message that smart investors outside the gilded bubble-world of bloated billionaire boobs can win, can upend Wall Street and can bring their own brand of legal, new age investment strategy and know-how to the business world–and to Wall Street.

Director Craig Gillespie grounds this story in a gritty reality, and he focuses the story on where it should be centered–on Gill and his faithful followers. These relatable folks are presented in likeable, relatable manners, showing them in their decidedly non-bubble-world, non-Wall Street middle-class, student and blue collar lives. They’re nice, normal folks, basically struggling to stay afloat and fighting, at times, to just survive. They’re single mothers, retail store workers (one of them actually works at a GameStop store!), students, deliverymen, blue collar workers. They’re just hard-working, decent people looking for a break in a broken world. Gillespie presents these good people as real people, living real lives. And the director does the same with Gill, letting talented lead actor Paul Dano give Gill’s characterization all of Dano’s unique, patented down-to-earth and understated acting style. Gill is smart, and tough, and independent, but he’s also quirky, a hybrid blue collar-white collar type and even a bit bohemian, working his financial magic on some simple desktops set up on a simple table in the simple basement of his nice middle-class house.

Gillespie also shoots the film in an atmosphere of gritty, grungy, dark-colored hues, tones and lighting, giving the movie that documentary-style feel. This grunginess appropriately grounds the movie in the reality that the movie is based on. Yet, these people and their lives are also inherently interesting and entertaining. Again, you care about Gill and his followers, and that gives the movie its big heart.

Dano leads an exceptional ensemble cast of actors who all deliver strongly, including Pete Davidson, Vincent D’Onofrio, America Ferrera, Anthony Ramos, Sebastian Stan, Shailene Woodley and Seth Rogen. Scriptwriters Lauren Schuker Blum and Rebecca Angelo have taken a huge story, with a huge cast of characters and a potentially complicated and confusing plot, and crafted all of this, impressively, into a compact, smart, understandable, funny and entertaining morality tale that still manages to competently tell that big story without getting away from itself. Even financial dunderheads like this reviewer could at least understand the basics about what was going on, what it meant for the country, and what its meaning messages were and still are.

Yes, “Dumb Money” will remind people of several financial-industry-oriented movies, most notably “The Big Short” from 2015, which told a similar tale. “Dumb Money” also recalls “Wall Street,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” and other movies about the business world. Nevertheless, “Dumb Money” proudly stands on its own.

Everyone should pay close attention to the lessons and messages presented in “Dumb Money.” Because what happens on Wall Street happens to every one of us. And as the arrogance, greed, corruption and criminality continues on Wall Street, it’s up to the Keith Gills of the world, and similar, fellow savvy traders and investors, to keep a close check, guard and watch on that corruption. It’s also up to regulators in government to keep up their watch, but, well, sigh, let’s keep things grounded and keep most of our hope focused on those grassroots folks. Hopefully, there’s another Keith Gill waiting in the wings to bring down the next batch of slimy, greedy corporate pirates, monsters and robber barons.

As for Keith Gill, in real life, he promptly amassed a small fortune of $34 million, retired, got offline and retreated from the public life. Hopefully, sometime within the next few weeks, Gill will venture out to his local neighborhood movie theater, sit in the comforting movie theater darkness with a nice big bucket of warm buttered popcorn, enjoy the company of his fellow moviegoers, flash a big smile, and celebrate his big short squeeze on the fat cat robber barons of Wall Street.

“SITTING IN BARS WITH CAKE”
Starring Odessa A’zion, Yara Shahidi, Rob Livingston, Bette Miller
Written by Audrey Shulman
Based on the 2016 book “Sitting in Bars with Cake” by Audrey Shulman
Directed by Trish Sue

Several years ago, author Audrey Shulman and her best friend, in real life, while in their twenties, living the good life in Los Angeles, came up with a most novel and funny and original way to meet guys in bars—they actually brought along their own beautiful, towering, delicious homemade cakes. They also set a goofy goal of baking fifty different cakes and bringing them out on fifty different nights. It helped that they baked some professional-level cakes that everyone loved.

So everything moved along fine for a while, and the cakes in bars exercise and social experiment was fun, funny, social and popular. The two young friends–beautiful, vibrant, outgoing, energetic, funky, smart, professional–were having the time of their lives. All was well with the world. But the world sometimes has a way of crashing down around even the best of us at the best of times.

Audrey’s best friend, named Corinne in the movie, is diagnosed with cancer at the height of their fun, and everything changes. That’s not really a spoiler, because this plot development isn’t really meant as a surprise and this plot point forms the basic core and foundation of the film.

“Sitting in Bars with Cake” thus turns from what appears to be a goofy, funny comedy about an original way of meeting guys in bars to a serious, moving, emotional drama about life’s quite real array of somber challenges and about nothing less than the importance of true friendship, true love and the true value and preciousness of life itself. The director, Trish Sie; the scriptwriter, Shulman herself, adapting her book of the same name; and a quartet of exemplary actors impressively rise to the challenge, and the result is a movie that will move you, inspire you, make you think deeply about the aspects of life and love that truly matter, and, yes make you cry. But, as noted, it’ll be a cry based on your caring for and about the lead characters and the dire hands they were suddenly dealt in life.

Cancer affects all of us, every one of us, whether we think it does or doesn’t. Even if you’ve never had a cancer fight or have never known someone with a cancer fight, cancer still affects you. That’s because cancer, due to it’s pervasiveness, affects all of us through a domino affect that touches all aspects of life–health, work, play, business, education, finance, everything. Cancer has affected millions of people, of course, either through outright death or lengthy, prolonged, horrific battles that decimate lives. We know this, but it remains important to always remember.

Thus, Corrine’s cancer fight becomes a story not just about cancer, of course, but about, as noted, the values of life, love and friendship. To watch Corinne and her best friend Jane, who bakes these glorious cakes, bond together through one of the hardest things anyone can go through in life, is touching, emotional, bittersweet, sad, heartfelt and, although steeped in tragedy, powerfully inspiring. Jane and Corinne are truly the closest, best of friends, and they both know that, being in their twenties, they’re not ready for this and they should not be going through this. They’re just starting out in life, for gawd’s sake, and they have their whole lives ahead of them. Of course, no one at any age should have to go through a cancer fight, but somehow it seems especially cruel to deal with this crap in your younger years.

The four leads, Odessa A’Zion as Corrine, Yara Shahidi as Jane, Bette Miller as Corrine’s sympathetic boss Benita and Ron Livingston as Corrine’s equally sympathetic father, Fred, are superb, all shining brightly in roles and a story that’s alternately dark and light, funny and serious, somber but somehow defiant and inspirational, and sometimes, all of the above at the same time. The script is smart, insightful, perceptive and full of heartfelt meaning. Sie, the director, skillfully and ably finds the right balance between the light and the dark, and she lets the emotions flow strongly, but always with a grounding in reality that avoids schmaltz and base sentimentalism.

And while all of the four lead actors shine, the real acting story in this movie is the true bravura, breakout and star-making performance by the astounding Odessa A’zion as the tragic, but inspiring Corinne. A’zion is only 23, but she turns in a stellar, exceptional, award-worthy, career-making performance in this film. Her Corinne is, throughout the movie, a rolling, twirling, moving, energetic, sexy, funny, smart, captivating and beautiful hurricane dervish of a girl. She’s a girl who just wants to have fun, a woman at the start of her adult life who’s ready to make things happen, a bundle of energy, a free-spirited bohemian hippiechick, a beautiful young woman, an independent, loveable force of nature. When A’zion is on screen, which is most of the movie, you just can’t take your eyes off her. And when the cancer tragedy strikes, A’zion’s Corrine somehow maintains her energy, beautiful spirit and charisma through the worst of it all, knowing she’s surrounded by caring and love, and knowing that that care and love will sustain her through this awful cancer fight. To see Corinne fight to maintain her spirit, energy and dignity through a cancer fight that robs fighters of much of their spirit, energy and dignity, is emotional, uplifting and inspiring.

Of course, it’ll be lost on no one that Bette Midler’s appearance in the film is a throwback, honor and homage to “Beaches,” a very similar 1988 movie that starred Midler and Barbara Hershey as best friends going through similar life challenges. It’s a nice, beautiful life circle to see Midler in “Sitting…,” thirty-five years after her own star-making, career-defining stellar performance in “Beaches.” The wind beneath Midler’s wings have carried her far, and kudos to the filmmakers for casting Midler in this new film.

“Sitting…” will also, positively, remind viewers of another similar film, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” yet another excellent film about life, love and friendship, from 2015.

As noted, “Sitting…,” like “Beaches” and “Me and Earl…,” is an affirmation and celebration of simply the most important things in life–friendship, love and life itself. And if a friendly reminder about the basics of life make you cry a little during a moving movie, then in this context, that’s only a good thing. There is crying in the movies, but even tears of sadness can always be mixed with tears of happiness, remembrance, joy and inspiration.

“STOP MAKING SENSE”
Starring Talking Heads, who are David Byrne, Tina Weymouth, Jerry Harrison and Chris Frantz; with Lynn Mabry, Ednah Holt, Bernie Worrell, Alex Weir, Steve Scales
Written by Talking Heads and Jonathan Demme
Directed by Jonathan Demme

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco
“This ain’t no fooling around
“No time for dancing, or lovey-dovey
“I ain’t got time for that now.”
–Talking Heads

During four nights in mid-December, 1983, at the height of their fame and acclaim, and fresh off of releasing a stream of highly-successful, well-received and hit-filled albums, and after raising $1.2 million and hiring acclaimed young director Jonathan Demme, the cerebral band Talking Heads filmed four nights of live concerts at Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre. The result was the 1984 concert film “Stop Making Sense,” an instant classic that, to this day, is still generally regarded as one of the best concert films ever made.

Now, in late 2023, in honor of the fortieth anniversary of those original four nights of concerts that provided the material for the film, a remixed, remastered and restored version of the film has been re-released in theaters nationwide. This movie, for any movie and music and rock fan, is one that you have to see live, in a theater, up on the big screen. And here’s a genuine statement that’s true: Even if you don’t like Talking Heads, just go and see this movie, anyway. Why? Because “Stop Making Sense” is a raucous, joyous movie that transcends, even, just one band’s music–this movie is a pure, exhilarating, energetic, happy celebration of life. The pure joy that flows off the stage and off the screen becomes something about even more than the songs. If that sounds hippie-dippie, mystical and zen-like, then good. Because there’s nothing wrong with being hippie-ish, mystical and zen.

But this is all true. “Stop Making Sense” is not only a great concert film, it’s also a great cinematic film.

There’s scores of live music concert films, from all styles of music, from all periods of film history, and for some reason, most concert films, no matter how good the inherent, core music is, they all seem to blur together. Many are just poorly filmed. Crazily, many concert films have awful sound, a bizarre, ironic, laughable failure on all fronts. And many have just about zero sense of any type of filmic time, place, history, meaning and cultural significance.

This is why when the rare truly well-made concert film rolls around, it’s a cause for celebration. “Stop Making Sense,” as noted, is indeed one of those rare films.

There are many reasons why “Stop” registers as a great concert film. One can easily think off the top of their heads something like, “Oh, well, it’s all those great Talking Heads songs,” but then you’d be missing part of the point. Film is more than just turning on a camera and filming something. Anyone can do that, and even there, most people are awful at that. Real film is utilizing all of the filmic skills, tools and aspects that make up the craft of film and then merging those filmic tools with whatever your cinematographer is pointing the camera at. It’s the same with a concert film. Real film is more than just pointing the camera at band members and filming them playing songs. There has to be a concurrent melding of cinematography, editing, timing, pacing, sound, lighting, emotion, acting, movement, energy, presence, costuming, scenery, chemistry, direction, blocking, choreography, sets, scenery, color, effects, art design, production design, storytelling and a hundred other filmic elements that seamlessly, smoothly and organically merge and meld with the music to create an actual….film.

All of that, and more, are present in “Stop Making Sense,” and all of that, and more, help to make the movie one of the best concert films ever produced.

All of that said, let’s get to the music. Beyond the filmic qualities, really, the Talking Heads music and accompanying, concurrent music-oriented dancing and movement form the true center, core and foundation of “Stop Making Sense.” Talking Heads music is crazily, enjoyably unique, original, diverse–and the songs are genuinely hook-filled, melody-filled upbeat, danceable tunes with bouncing rhythms and thoughtful, intelligent lyrics that are actually smartly and thoughtfully written. And the songs are at one time accessible but also difficult to easily categorize, as the songs smoothly incorporate blendable elements of rock, pop, new wave, funk, punk, world music, jazz, dance and even slight, hidden, barely-there suggestions of ska and reggae. Too much, too praiseworthy, you say? Not really. Listen to a hundred mainstream rock and pop albums, and then put on a Talking Heads album. You’ll see what many people mean.

Among the many classic Talking Heads songs performed in “Stop Making Sense” are “Burning Down the House,” “Life During Wartime,” “Once in a Lifetime,” “Psycho Killer,” “Swamp,” “Take Me to the River,” “Girlfriend is Better,” “Genius of Love,” “Found a Job,” and others. Who on earth can argue against the unique, high quality of just those classic songs?

But, again, it’s not just the songs that elevate the film. The energetic, uniquely choreographed dancing and movement of the band during every song is the real, hidden key to much of the movie’s overall success. A movie, and a live concert, and a movie of a live concert, have to move in some big ways. And, man, can David Byrne move and dance in this movie. Byrne simply commands attention and center stage from the literal moment that he first walks out on stage to the final note of the final song and to the final stage bow. He moves like some inspired combination of Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Mick Jagger, Little Richard and James Brown. He’s all kinetic, edgy, funny, funky and athletic dancing, jerks, steps, running, choreography, bouncing, bobbing, spinning and just inspired movement. And that’s from start to finish. And that’s even more impressive considering that the film was actually shot at four nights of live concerts in a row.

And Byrne is joined in that nonstop energetic dance and movement–and concurrent high-level musicianship and singing, of course–throughout the film by bandmates Tina Weymouth on bass; Jerry Harrison on guitar and keyboards; and Chris Frantz on drums; and by guest musicians: backup singers and dancers Lynn Mabry and Ednah Holt, who often join Byrne in his lively dances and movements; keyboard player Bernie Worrell (who many will recognize from George Clinton’s Parliament-Funkadelic); guitar player Alex Weir; and percussionist Steve Scales. All are consistently, exceptionally in top form, from the first note to the last note.

Director Jonathan Demme weaves his magical directing skills by utilizing an army of cameras skillfully and strategically deployed from a variety of angles, placements and movements, all pulled together in a feat of editing from four nights of hours of footage. The lighting is subdued and somewhat moody and dimly lit, which gives the movie a natural, organic atmosphere. The camera work isn’t fancy or overdone and Demme is smart and skilled enough to let the camera mostly rest on where it should rest–on the band and the band’s dancing and movement. A primary key to Demme’s success here, which was intended, is to not over-shoot, over-edit or even over-move his many cameras. If you have such a charismatic, photogenic, energetic and pretty band and frontman performing such great, already-classic up-tempo, highly-danceable songs, then you just don’t need fancy, over-done, gimmicky editing, camera angles and lighting tricks. The energy, presence, music and movement are all there up on the stage–all Demme had to do was capture that lightning in a stage and film bottle and preserve it. And that’s exactly what he, and the band, accomplished.

There should be screenings of “Stop Making Sense” where filmgoers are allowed to simply get up and dance in their seats and in the aisles. When you see “Stop Making Sense,” you’ll want to get on up, krush groove it and dance the night away.

Once in a lifetime, go see “Stop Making Sense.” The movie is the same as it ever was–and that’s a good thing. You may ask yourself, “How did I get here?” The answer is, because you appreciate good music and good films. This ain’t no Mudd Club, no CBGB. You ain’t got time for that now. But it is time to start making sense and go see “Stop Making Sense.” Yes, some things can surely sweep you off your feet, like this movie. It’s time for burning down the house.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.