Michael John Dunaway Lifestream

February 18, 2009

2009 Dunnies for Achievement in Film

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 5:34 pm

the_wrestler_low_41In lieu of a full essay on Film in 2008, I have copied below my contributions to Paste’s “Who Will Win/Who Should Win/Who Was Overlooked” column, which you can see here.

As is my custom, I have also listed my top ten films of the year below, with my Best Picture nominees starred, and the 2009 Dunnies for Achievement in Film. This year I think I saw most of the most acclaimed films out there, including all 26 of the full-length narrative films nominated for Academy Awards. (more…)


February 11, 2009

Sundance Documentary Features Roundup (for Paste Magazine)

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 12:16 pm

Unabridged version of my article for Paste; published version here.

afghanstar_filmstill1Afghan Star was one of the real thrills of the festival. Originally I wasn’t interested in the film based on its written description – an examination of Afghanistan’s version of American Idol. I thought the point of the film would be “Look how cute, the Afghans have Idol!” But thank goodness I happened upon director Havana Marking being interviewed in the press room and talked to her afterward, because I couldn’t have been more wrong about the spirit of the film. At its heart Afghan Star is a social justice documentary, as it explores two of the most stunning effects the show has had on the country – an increase in national unity as contestants whon are members of different racial and ethnic groups from the bouillabaisse-esque mix of Aghans work together and are seen befriending each other on camera, and the debate engendered when female contestants are seen singing and even dancing on camera. It’s not entirely a feel-good story. There are tense moments of real danger (and they continue even now) for the female contestants. But the show, and the film itself, are inspiring testaments to the power of art to transform society. It’s a damn fun ride along the way, too — Marking won the documentary directing award, and it was richly deserved. Keep an eye out for this one. (more…)

February 8, 2009

Sundance Narrative Features Roundup (for Paste Magazine)

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 7:32 pm

Unabridged version of the Paste article — published version here.

Sundance Narrative Film Roundup
By Michael Dunaway

2-theinformers_filmstill2_mickey-rourke-as-peter-photo-by-juan-angel-urruzolaThe Informers is a hot mess of a film. Once I tell you it’s based on a Bret Easton Ellis novel, you probably have a lot of strengths and weaknesses running through your mind, and they all end up being true. The film does a great job of capturing a mood that I suspect really did exist among the young idle rich in the eighties, a mood of languid decadence, casual sex and creeping alienation. And cocaine. Lots of cocaine. And hair gel. The script has some really clever moments. The actors are mostly adequate, with Mickey Rourke turning in yet another pitch-perfect performance and Kim Basinger once again doing well the quietly desperate aging beauty. But at its core the film has nothing, is about nothing, says nothing. And if even if nothingness is the point, that’s not enough. (more…)

February 7, 2009

The Cult at Harry O’s, Park City — Sundance (for Paste Magazine)

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 12:48 am


Unabridged version of an article I wrote for Paste Magazine; published version here.

Sometimes you spend years waiting for something, then you turn around and see that it’s popped up out of nowhere, right in front of you. Of all the bands I regretted having never seen, The Cult was very near the top of the list. For one thing, no one else sounds like them – that crazy blend of rock, metal, and goth that I’m not sure anyone else even ever attempted, much less achieved. They also play music that always seemed to me to be perfectly suited to a live venue, and especially to the sense of Dionysian craziness that can grip a rock crowd in those magical, inspired moments.

The Cult were one of the seminal bands of my late high school and college years, and because I didn’t much care for their albums that came out later, they’re forever frozen in that time for me. Every time I hear She Sells Sanctuary, I’m back on the floor of my dorm room with a speaker on each side of my head, losing myself in the wild abandon of the song. Many of my other favorite bands from that time either moved on to become a part of my later life as well, or faded from influence in my life. But The Cult retains its place as the soundtrack to that era for me.

So when I rounded a corner at the world-famous Harry O’s in Park City Utah and came face to face with The Cult doing a soundcheck, my knees actually buckled. Ian Freaking Astbury was singing 20 feet away from me, and I was one of a dozen people in the room. I sat mesmerized and watched, feeling like a kid again. It was like being turned loose in Disneyland after hours. (more…)

February 5, 2009

Sundance Music Roundup (for Paste Magazine)

Filed under: Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 7:17 pm

Here’s the unabridged version of the music roundup I did for Paste. Published version here.

By the way, music was the biggest surprise of the festival for me. I was expecting to see world class films, but the folks at Harry O’s really put together an impressive roster of musical talent for the week. And those guys know how to throw a party! Be sure to include music shows at Harry O’s and Tatou in the budget for your next Sundance trip.

Sundance Music Roundup
By Michael Dunaway

Cee-Lo is best known by hipsters these days as the vocal half of Gnarls Barkley, thanks to the inescapable 2006 single “Crazy” and two smash hit albums. But he released a couple of truly brilliant solo albums in his own right (scoring a hit with “I’ll Be Around”), and of course before that was a driving force in the seminal hip hop group Goodie Mob. His show at Harry O’s in Park City UT during Sundance was somewhat hampered by his having to use Big Boi’s band (and by his not being able to rehearse with them until that afternoon), but his talent and charm are undeniable and carried the set. The aforementioned “I’ll Be Around” was a highlight, with one of the funkiest hooks in recent years and one of the greatest opening couplets in hip hop history (it’s got a word better left unprinted in Paste, so you’ll have to check it out for yourself). And of course the crowd was delirious when he launched into “Crazy.” Cee-Lo has one of the winningest personalities on the scene, and it shows on stage. (more…)

January 30, 2009

Thriller in Manila (review for Paste)

Filed under: Entertainment,Magazine articles by MJD,Paste articles by MJD,Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 10:18 am

thrillerinmanilla_filmstill11Talk about iconoclastic. The hagiography of Cassius Clay, aka Muhammad Ali, is so overpowering in the annals of American sports history (indeed, in American history full stop) that any whiff of dissent is treated as blasphemous and is grounds for immediate disdain and shunning. If you don’t believe me, just criticize Ali at a dinner party and watch the sparks fly. I speak from multiple experiences. So it’s all the more audacious that John Dower chose to film a feature-length documentary on the legendary Ali-Frazier fight in Manila from Joe Frazier’s point of view, a point of view that is awfully convincing and casts the legendary Ali in a decidedly less than flattering light. (more…)

Ma Bar (review for Paste)

Filed under: Entertainment,Magazine articles by MJD,Paste articles by MJD,Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 10:15 am

mabar_filmstill11It’s hard enough to leave a film audience wanting more when you’ve got 90-120 minutes to get their attention in a feature film, much less in the more limited span of a short. But if, in just three minutes, you can show enough of a story that the viewer can’t stop thinking about the “befores,” “afters,” and “concurrentlys,” you’ve really accomplished something. Such is the case with Ma Bar, a documentary short by a pair of Scots — rising star Adrian McDowell (nominated, among other things, for XFM Music Video of the Year) and hot newcomer Finlay Pretsell (shortlisted for the Grierson Best Newcomer award). In profiling 73 year old Scottish weightlifter Bill McFadyen, they make the audacious choice to jump straight in medias res, with no directorial narration or subtitling and no backstory. And there’s no “whatever happened to” at the end of the film either. All we get is the voice of McFadyen himself, speaking about his philosophy of competition, including the stunningly matter-of-fact “Losing I don’t tolerate,” which appears on the film’s poster. Beautifully shot black-and-white footage of the powerlifter in his home and at competition complete the piece. A week later, I’m still thinking about it. An impressive feat, indeed.

A Film From My Parish: Six Farms (review for Paste)

Filed under: Entertainment,Magazine articles by MJD,Paste articles by MJD,Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 10:13 am

afilmfrommyparish_filmstill4A Film From My Parish: Six Farms is over nearly before you finish reading the title, but what a fun ride it is. The seven-minute documentary exclusively uses stop-motion photography and animation (no video at all) to capture, condense, and illustrate director Tony Donoghue’s interviews with elderly farmers on six farms near his home. The film crackles with an almost manic nervous energy that is completely unexpected for a celebration of rural Irish life. Donoghue (the most entertaining and winning of all the directors I’ve met thus far) explained to me that he’d seen so many scenes of wind rippling through crops in the Irish countryside with harp music playing that he wanted to get as far away from that feel as possible (well, that was the gist of what he said — there were a few choice words peppered throughout). And what do you know, it really works — Donoghue’s old avant-garde filmmaking days serve him well. By the way, Donoghue is alo blogging about the Sundance experience here.

January 14, 2009

The Mahalia Jackson is reborn (article for Alarm Magazine)

Filed under: Culture,Entertainment,Magazine articles by MJD,Music,Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 3:53 pm

louis1Here’s the unabridged version of an article I wrote for Alarm magazine on the reopening of the Mahalia Jackson Theater at Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans. Published version here.

A symbolic act doesn’t actually change anything; it’s only a symbol, after all. But sometimes a symbolic act can change the way people see themselves, and change their understanding about what’s happening, and about what is to come. Wednesday night’s reopening of Louis Armstrong Park in the grandly restored Mahalia Jackson Theater was just such a moment. It was, as Mayor Ray Nagin told me afterwards, “awesomely, outstandingly, naturally New Orleans.”

The Mahalia Jackson Theater sits in the middle of Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans, which is also the home of Congo Square, where slaves used to gather and sing African songs, and the spot where jazz was eventually born. Both the park and the theater were casualties of Katrina flooding, and the wire that fenced them off has been a continual reminder ever since of the devastation that flooding brought. Many New Orleanians haven’t quite felt whole without the park open. (more…)

RIP: Stooges Guitarist Ron Asheton (1948-2009) (for Alarm Magazine)

Filed under: Entertainment,Magazine articles by MJD,Music,Uncategorized — michaeljohndunaway @ 3:48 pm

stoogesMy tribute to Ron Asheton, published by Alarm magazine here.

RIP: Stooges Guitarist Ron Asheton (1948-2009)

Simply put, Ron Asheton paved the way for the Ramones and then for everyone after. No Ron means no Ramones or Clash or Sex Pistols, no REM or U2 or Sonic Youth, no Nirvana, no who knows what else.

Iggy was the face of The Stooges, but Ron was the sound, that loud, chunky, aggressive Fender Strat that just always sounded so dirty and surly and cocksure. You might not know Ron Asheton’s name as well as those of Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, or Les Paul, but Rolling Stone ranked him higher than any of them in their 100 greatest guitarists.

In terms of sheer influence, he ranks much higher. Just listen to “Dirt” from the Fun House album (Jack White called it the greatest rock album of all time, and Henry Rollins said that everyone should own a copy), and you’ll know what the fuss is about.

He wasn’t a saint (though he was the only member of the band without a heroin problem). He wasn’t even a nice guy. But man, did he embody that sound — the sound of the biggest revolution in rock history coming just a few years down the road. Rest in peace.

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