Non-TIFF movies. Films reviewed: Nightclubbing, Honk for Jesus, Save Your Soul

Posted in African-Americans, Christianity, comedy, documentary, Music, New York City, Punk, Religion, Satire, Sexual Harassment by CulturalMining.com on September 3, 2022

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

TIFF, the Toronto International Film Festival starts in less than a week, and kicks off fall film festival season in Toronto. 

I‘ll be bringing you lots more about TIFF later, but don’t forget the other festivals on this month. Caribbean Tales International Film Festival runs from Sept 7th through the 23rd; The Toronto Independent Film Festival is on from September 14 – 17; and the Toronto Palestine Film Festival opens on September 22nd.

But this week I’m talking about a couple movies not playing at festivals. There’s a documentary about the rise of punk rock in New York City, and a mocumentary about the fall of a Baptist preacher in Atlanta. 

Wri/ Dir: Adamma Ebo

It’s springtime in Atlanta, Georgia, and churchgoers are preparing for Easter. It will also be the date of the triumphant re-opening of a Baptist megachurch, under the direction of Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown). Along with his wife, “First Lady” Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall) are looking forward to the triumphant return of their flock. But he has important issues to deal with  — like what suit should he wear — his pink Prada, his purple Prada or his periwinkle Prada. Presentation is important. Trinitie, likewise, has been shopping for a particular beaded church hat, the perfect combination of beauty, wealth and reserve. But so far the response has been less than stellar; only a handful of true believers show up for the first Wednesday night service. 

The Pastor is known for his fiery, passionate preaching, about things like the “sins of homosexuality” and other such vices. But he fell from grace after his own sexual dalliances came to light. Nothing illegal — “consenting adults” and all that — but his reputation as a trusted guide and healer is in tatters. Meanwhile a rival church has sprung up down the road. Run by a younger couple, Keon and Shakura Sumpter (Conphidance, Nicole Beharie), their church has no dark clouds hovering overhead. A few of the faithful have stuck with the Pastor, but most of them switched churches. Can Lee-Curtis and Trinitie convince their flock that all is well and it’s time to come home? Can Trinitie stand by her husband after what he did? Or is this the beginning of the end?

Honk for Jesus, Save your Soul is a satirical social comedy about hypocrisy in religion. The title refers to one of their many attempts to get people to come back to the mega-church’s reopening. The film is done in the form of a documentary, an invisible crew that follows them around, unwittingly exposing their embarrassing or horrible behaviour. (Through no fault of her own, the “First Lady” suffers the effects of his misdeeds.) This alternates with off-camera moments, like Lee-Curtis and Trinitie attempting to have sex in bed (apparently, for a man with a mission, he doesn’t want anything missionary-style just from behind with his eyes closed, to her great disappointment.) 

Does this movie work? Only partly. It’s a comedy but it’s rarely funny. The camerawork is well done — from their gaudy suits and the royal thrones they sit on, to poignant images like a tiny black Jesus statue wheeled out in a last attempt. And the acting is very good: Sterling K. Brown perfectly plays the pastor as a conceited show-off, bearing his near-naked body whenever possible. Regina Hall as the always suffering Trinitie — who has to face the vitriol of her former friends — gives a nicely  sympathetic performance. But the movie itself drags. There are few surprises. It feels way too long, and it’s not very funny… it just makes you squirm uncomfortably. Honk for Jesus all you want, but don’t rush to see this one.

Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in New York City

Wri/Dir: Danny Garcia

Its the 1960s in a rough neighbourhood in Manhattan. Max’s Kansas City is a restaurant with an upstairs bar and lounge, where musicians perform before small audiences. Its down the street from Andy Warhol’s factory whose denizens hang out there along with writers and artists. But everything changes when the Greenwich Village mainstay, The Gaslight, loses its lease. Its manager moves to Max’s and starts booking bigger and bigger acts. Velvet Underground, establishes its rep there, as a place for independent bands. Iggy Pop meets David Bowie at Max’s and start to collaborate, and the New York Dolls set up camp there. As its fame grows, punk becomes a phenomenon with lots of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Max’s washrooms double as a notorious site for quickies. Someone in the film says they everyone there was high all the time, with heroine the drug of choice. Malcolm McLaren shows up after Sid Vicious leaves the Sex Pistols and becomes the Doll’s manager, bankrolling their rehab in exchange for them wearing his clothes on the stage. Though CBGBs ends up more famous, it’s Max’s that really starts the punk scene in NY.

Nightclubbing is an oral history of the early days of the NY punk scene told by the musicians themselves, their fans and followers, staff at the clubs, family and friends. Featured artists include Billy Idol, Alice Cooper, Penny Arcade, Sylvain Sylvain, and many many others.

Illustrated with still photos and archive footage, it is meticulously researched and edited into a continuous seamless narrative. And the music never stops.  Some people are on the screen for just a few seconds, with maybe a simple line or two, while others, like Jayne County, provide the funniest and juiciest bits.  And it’s a pretty juicy story. Like did you know Deedee Ramone’s girlfriend tried to pull a Lorena Bobbitt on him when she discovered he was hustling on 53rd st? Or that Max’s owners were busy counterfeiting hundred dollar bills in the back room? The club closed forever in 1981, but its legend lives on. If you’re into the history of early NY punk, Nightclubbing is a must-see.

Nightclubbing: The Birth of Punk Rock in New York City will be playing at the Carlton Cinema in Toronto on September 16th-18th; and you can catch Honk for Jesus, Save your Soul across North America starting this weekend; check your local listings.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Saturday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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