Leonard Cohen: Bird on a Wire
Palmer's film is that rare concert doc that isn't for established fans only.
This bulletin just in: If you use cocaine or heroin, you are very likely to become addicted, and if you become addicted, there are usually two choices: (1) get clean, or (2) die. The math is clear, and has been proven in countless biopics about addicted musicians. The presumption in many of the pictures is that artists somehow need drugs, because they are so talented they just can't stand it, or because of the "pressure" they're under, or because they need to be high all the time and not just on the stage, or because people won't leave them alone, or because they feel insecure or unworthy.
All lies. They are addicted because they are addicted. They got addicted by starting to take the stuff in the first place. It's chemistry. At some point, they don't use it to get high, but to stop feeling sick. It is a sad, degrading existence, interrupted by flashes of feeling "OK." George Carlin once asked, "How does cocaine make you feel?" And he answered: "It makes you feel like having some more cocaine."
"El Cantante," the life and death story of Hector Lavoe (Marc Anthony), the godfather of salsa, retraces the same tired footsteps of many another movie druggie before him. He lies, cheats, disappoints those who love him and finally dies, although even the movie loses patience with the dying process, and cuts out before getting to his years with AIDS (from an infected needle). All along the way, he is enabled and berated in equal measure by his wife and sometime manager Puchi (Jennifer Lopez), who is our guide to his story in black-and-white flashbacks.
The end of the movie is a foregone conclusion, and Hector's inexorable descent is depressing, although interrupted by many upbeat musical numbers. Indeed, there seem to be two films here: A musical, with Anthony doing a terrific job of covering Lavoe's music, and a drugalogue. The soundtrack album would be worth having. But there is nothing special about Lavoe's progress toward the grave: Just the same old same old.